The Fifty Shades of Grey traileris technically SFW but, I mean, you’re probably going to have some NSFW feelings about it.

American TV casts may be looking more diverse these days, but their writers are as white and male as ever.

“The last sketchbook he showed me was titled The Best Way to Smoke Crack. (Once, when asked by an interviewer if he had ever smoked crack, Vollmann memorably responded, ‘I guess that I would say that I have.’)” Tom Bissell hangs out with William T. Vollmann in Sacramento.

Now seems like a good time to be nostalgic about the music of last week.

 

The bodies of the passengers of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 began arriving at Eindhoven airport in the Netherlands yesterday—40 simple wooden coffins unloaded from military transport planes while a single bugle played on the tarmac.

The ceremony marked the end of a trip that had been, to that point, significantly less dignified. Shot out of the sky, the bodies had been left for days in a Ukrainian wheat field while the sun beat down and untrained volunteers, townspeople, and coal miners picked through their belongings. They’d been squabbled over by rebels, packed into black plastic bags, stacked onto refrigerated trains that gave off the powerful stench of decomposition.

For the relatives of the passengers, the delay has been excruciating. “If I have to wait five months for identification, I can do it,” said Silene Fredriksz-Hoogzand, the mother of one of the victims. “Waiting while the bodies were in the field and in the train was a nightmare.”

“Whenever Bill Vignola typed his own name in MS Word, the email to Gates explained, it was automatically changed to Bill Vaginal. Presumably Vignola caught this sometimes, but not always, and no doubt this serious man was sad to come across like a character in a Thomas Pynchon novel.”

“It’s totally reasonable to freak out over how good the essays in Consider the Lobster or Slouching Towards Bethlehem are, but for my money, the writer who has had just as much—maybe more—influence on the style and tone of many of today’s writers is Nora Ephron.”

Feminist horror? Yes please.

It’s been a brutal and confusing week for complex and violent geopolitical issues, which, oddly, has likely served to highlight the one true constant in your life: your ill-informed, barely conscious social media acquaintances trying to make sense of said geopolitical issues in semi-public forums. It’s frustrating enough when educated individuals make foolish statements about Gaza in the news; it’s an entirely different problem when your Facebook friend Taylor—you know the one; you used to get high with her in your dorm room in Vancouver six years ago and now she lives in Red Deer and is really sad about it—thinks she knows what she’s talking about. She does not.

On Monday, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a paper about some startlingly good news: researchers at the Temple University School of Medicine and the Case Western Reserve University say they may have found a path to, per their article, “a viable path toward a permanent cure for AIDS, and … a means to vaccinate” against HIV. There’s a plain-English explanation of their research here, in which the author notes that even if this approach doesn’t work, there’s still other promising research being done in gene therapy to combat HIV.

We’ve seen good news on HIV research go sideways before, of course. Recently, an HIV-positive baby doctors believed they’d cured with aggressive treatment in the first day of her life was revealed to still have the virus replicating in her cells. It’s a terrible reversal, not least of all for the child herself. Meanwhile, clinical trials for prospective HIV vaccines have been stopped more than once without forging that sharp sword for which we’ve been waiting for more than 30 years.

As part of his ongoing efforts to bring the entire Southern canon to the screen, here is a 25-minute test reel of James Franco’s as-yet-unmade adaptation of Blood Meridian.

“He still hates The Wire with a taut fury,” but David Simon was at least able to reminisce with Maryland Governor (and Tommy Carcetti inspiration) Martin O’Malley about the Pogues when the two wound up on the same Amtrak car.

My favourite theories of technology are the ones that argue we create tech in order to become cyborgs—that through everything from the hammer to the smartphone, we express our fantasies of becoming more than ourselves.

It’s the kind of explanation I find deeply satisfying because it gets at the unconscious desire that drives our relationship to these tools. Particularly fascinating, to me, is what social media says about our desires to both speak and write our identities in the spaces beyond our bodies. In the creation of a sphere in which we can publicize and externalize our thoughts, there is a profound something being said about our wanting to inscribe our words into a visible place and have the world see it.

The downside, however, is the twisted vortex of narcissism that is both Mayor Rob Ford and his legions of critics.

“Family is super cool. Going home to one girl every night is super cool. Just going home and getting on the floor and playing with your child is super cool. Not wearing a red leather jacket, and just looking like...

His purview is supposed to be limited to the last week, but John Oliver has spent the first few months of his HBO show’s run reaching a lot further back into America’s psyche. Whatever nominally topical subject he’s taking on, he uses Last Week Tonight to treat it like a springboard, launching off of a piece of congressional testimony or a Supreme Court decision into a kind of miniature State of the Union, a barbed look at how this ridiculous bit of news is a data point on a much broader, and often considerably less funny, chart.

Not quite a year removed from his name-making summer of guest-hosting work on The Daily Show, the crown of seven years spent as the dryly sarcastic Senior British Correspondent, Oliver still isn’t entirely out of that show’s long shadow, nor is his approach really light years away from the exaggerated exasperation that is Jon Stewart’s most exportable good. Still, if Stephen Colbert is (soon enough, was) the satirical Satanic message you get from playing TDS backwards, Oliver so far is its slowed-down SoundCloud track, explicating and dissecting exactly why so much in the news deserves to be treated with bitter irony.

As we consider the wreckage, carnage, and heartbreak of the latest Malaysian Airlines flight to crash—this one, by all appearances, shot down by rebels in eastern Ukraine—it’s important to acknowledge criminal incompetence as a thing that exists in this world. People can do extraordinarily stupid things that have tragic consequences, and those things should ideally be punished, in turn, without assuming that incompetence and sadism are the same thing.

So when a Soviet fighter jet shot down Korean Air 007 in 1983, during the latter, hotter days of the Cold War, it didn’t need to be a deliberate act or murder to want to see someone punished. And when the USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air 655 in 1988, it was possible for that to be a tragic accident, too. MH17 now joins the surprisingly substantial list of horrible things that have happened because someone in charge of a deadly weapon pointed it at a civilian airliner.

INTERVIEWER: What advice would you give, then, to aspiring writers, especially those—and there are many, by now—who don’t wear your influence lightly? MCCARTHY: Towelettes. Moist towelettes.” Cormac McCarthy is the greatest troll of all.

To hear Russian media tell it, Flight MH17 veered wildly from its intended flight path, had recently been re-insured, and was full of corpses when it left Amsterdam. These tellings are incorrect.

The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal never intended to post baby photos on the Internet, until he had a baby.

“What if I told you that mozzarella sticks never had to end?” So begins Caity Weaver’s opus.

The D-list, so far: I went on some dates for paparazzi to photograph. I folded shirts. I got a few modeling gigs. I found cash inside of a fire hydrant. I changed my outfit but not my makeup. I lined up a lucrative appearance at the Immaculat Vodka party tonight. I enlisted an unscrupulous talent-management type to help troll my nemesis on Twitter, until she started yelling about Obamacare (very realistic). I hung out with Kim Kardashian. It’s like Louise Brooks wrote at the end of Lulu in Hollywood:

Although our sexual education had been conducted by the élite of Paris, London, and New York, our pleasure was restricted by the inbred shackles of sin and guilt. Thus at the same time our reputation for immorality excluded us from the parties of respectable Hollywood, which devoted itself to presenting a picture of moral beauty to the world, our reputation for sudden attacks of puritanism excluded us from the delights of the carefully arranged parties that ended for us after lunch or dinner when we were dismissed with a firm goodbye.

In 1992, MTV premiered a reality TV show, billed as the true story of seven strangers picked to live in a house, to find out what happens when people stop being polite and. Start. Getting. Real. The Real World, about to enter its 30th season and often credited with spawning the reality television phenomenon, is successful because of this simple premise: stick a group of young people with different backgrounds in a house, turn on some cameras, invite a bunch of voyeurs to tune in and watch in thirty minute installments. It’s not scripted, just edited.

Shuichi Yoshida’s novel Parade is not The Real World: Tokyo, but it’s not entirely dissimilar. Four twentysomethings and one teenager, all with the loosest connections to one another, share an apartment in Setagaya, Tokyo. They are intimately familiar with each other in ways made possible only by living in the same space: washing each other’s laundry, sharing a bathroom, seeing each other during the most vulnerable moments of the day. But none of them really know each other, not in the ways we consider that one human can truly understand another. They are five private people, each with their own secrets.

Coming soon to California’s 2016 ballots (maybe), thanks to the efforts of a local billionaire: a proposal to divide the country’s wealthiest, most populous state into six separate states, because reasons. You’d think that a plan to divide up one of the world’s better-scoring subnational governments (and, despite its problems, you’d probably prefer to live in California than the Luhansk Oblast right now) into its poorest and richest regions would be a non-starter. And yet, here we are.

Let’s start with the obvious: the proposal to divide up the state of California into six states will never go anywhere ever at all, in large part because the hypothetical maybe-states would mostly return Democrats to the US Senate from now until the heat death of the universe. So the US Congress, which gets a vote on these matters and where Republicans exist in some number, will not allow it.

But even if they did, it would be a very stupid idea—which, on its own, just means that in America money can buy even very stupid ideas. So let’s lay out some of the most obvious reasons why dividing up California along the lines proposed is a very stupid idea.

Joy Biggs watched her sister die in prison for possession of an ounce of marijuana. Now she’s facing her own criminal charges.

Benjamin Boles on the impending death of MuchMusic.

“I’m almost 89, I’m gonna have a drink a day or two. I know how to handle it, so there. I’m proud of the fact that I can handle a couple of drinks.” Bless you, 
Elaine Stritch, with your giant specs, your oversized men’s dress shirts, your black leggings, your sharp tongue. 

Last week, Islamic State militant leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was caught on tape railing against western decadence while seemingly wearing a luxury wristwatch (his supporters quickly countered that the watch was, in fact, a cheaper Saudi Arabian make). That same week, the Wisconsin Republican party attacked the Democratic gubernatorial candidate for calling for an end to out-of-state campaign donations while accepting a million bucks herself, the British Education Secretary was criticized for demanding low-cost schools and then approving a fancy new headquarters, and Ottawa sex workers briefly considered outing a specific group of clients—Conservative MPs currently pushing through a harsh anti-prostitution bill.

Throughout all of this, Rob Ford continued to live and breathe, speaking words and performing actions in perfect opposition to one another, rumbling through an election campaign as if propelled by the electromagnetic force of his perpetual hypocrisy.

I met Nadine Gordimer when I was 17, or not quite, not really; I did not meet her in person, but was introduced to her as a figure, one of 30 individuals collected together for study in America’s Academic Decathlon under the heading “A Diversity of Achievers.” For the purposes of high-school study she was judged notably “achieving” because she had won the Nobel Prize for Literature the year before, and a symbol of “diversity” because she was South African, or perhaps because she was what then seemed still so exceptional and no doubt teachable: an older white woman who had always been on the side of her country’s liberation struggle, who could be presented as a positive force operating in a country that had not yet arrived at its appointment with democracy. What was odd about this encounter in a dull public-school classroom was that we learned about her life and her achievements but never read a word of her writing, or so I remember. It would be more than 15 years before I opened The Late Bourgeois World, and then The Conservationist and Burger’s Daughter and July’s People and other of her works, prompted by my partner, a South African, who was himself reading the texts that would become my own first novel, Absolution, and who suggested you really ought to read Gordimer.

Turns out those vials of smallpox discovered in a National Institute of Health storage room weren’t alone: “The discovery actually included 12 boxes and 327 vials holding an array of dangerous pathogens, including the tropical disease dengue...

Before starting this week’s column, I discussed with my editor what the topic of the introduction would be, and he reminded me not to get us sued for libel. “It’ll come straight out of your salary!” he joked as I wrote his name down in a book I have called Bossy People To Kill Later.

Under the right circumstances, everybody cheats. Like anyone else, the key question for a teacher is: can you convince yourself that cheating is the best possible course? Are you even, perhaps, helping people who desperately need it? And, even better for your conscience, is everyone else doing it?

That’s the story, more or less, behind the increasingly common non-scandal of teachers and boards of education cheating on standardized tests. The New Yorker has an excellent article about one teacher in the Atlanta area in 2006, but a cursory Googling provides examples in Peoria last yearLas Vegas this year, and 33 New Orleans public schools from 2010-12. Oh, and for good measure, 10 schools in Ontario in 2010, so you can pack up your Canadian smugness for a bit.

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