Take a look through the reviews of Captain Phillips—Tom Hanks’ most recent essay on the greatness of America, this time using Somalia and its pirates as the pretext—and you’ll see khat mentioned quite a bit. In most of these pieces, especially the ones written by Americans, the substance is used as a kenning—as in, “khat-chewing Somali pirates,” a way to flick to their abject crazedness and to establish them as enemies you’re not going to feel too bad about seeing die in the third reel.
Khat’s handy that way. We don’t know too much about it in this part of the world (though increasing amounts of it are being brought in and, who knows, probably grown here), and the people who use it are sufficiently distant from the experience of many of us that, when we, or our journalists, see people using it—often poor people, often brown people—it’s easy to misinterpret.
This has happened before.
Date a girl who reads: whether said as a plea, a command, a suggestion or an aspiration, it’s become a routine truism in certain corners of the Internet. One might assume that, in a modern industrial society, this doesn’t narrow matters down much, but the invariably male speaker yawns at mere literacy. His Girl Who Reads would never be content reading fashion magazines, or actions. Like any fetishist of people, what enthralls him is not idiosyncratic passion, some glimpsed feature, but the bibliophilic construct inside his head. The dewy solemnity of the phrase fails to disguise how it pathetically displaces responsibility—recognizing an extractive leer driving men, you know, all those other ones, who aren’t me. I only want to objectify your mind. These would-be daters stagger unsteadily away from what Hannah Black calls “the disaster of straightness” and then phone the cops to pin it on women who care too much about makeup.
The documentarian-turned-activist writes about a campaign's unexpected success in erasing Americans' personal debt. And how when it comes to politics, failure is most often the thing that helps us find a way forward.
California is enduring its worst drought on record. San Francisco had, before getting some on Sunday, received less than four inches of rain since January 1. Quite aside from the fact that your average North American is a thirsty person, the problem with California not getting any rain is that a lot of people have bought flammable homes that are built too close to other flammable things—flammable things such as trees that have only gotten four inches of rain in 11 months. The state is still on high alert for wildfire season.
And since California is a state with more people than all of Canada, a drought in fire season is kind of a big deal.
Since I happen to be in the Galapagos right now, and since I haven’t been able to get David Mirvish out of my head since he announced the inevitable demolition of Honest Ed’s—his father’s investment in Toronto’s poor that turned into a temple of kitsch while never losing its essential utility—I’ve been thinking a bit about evolution. Looking at the flightless cormorant, a species endemic to these islands, makes me think a lot of us have evolution wrong.
We—or, at least, I—often think of evolution as a continual state of growth, improvement. Our growth-based economy seems based in it, and mostly, when we say that something’s evolved, we mean it’s gotten bigger and better.
An open letter to Rob Ford—from one addict to another—on the value of admitting to your addiction.
In Desmond Morris's The Naked Ape, how children play together and interact is boiled down to a set of biological rules. These rules aren't just patterns—they're rehearsal for survival.
40. Threw up everywhere.
39. Looked for pebbles in my backyard that are shaped like hearts.
38. Told my mom she is my best friend.
37. Took an 8-hour day-nap.
36. Cried over the ending of Dawson’s Creek without watching any previous episodes.
There are certain stories that get reported mostly out of pure reflex, bypassing the media’s consciousness and firing straight through its brain stem. One of my favourites of these is the “schools mollycoddling kids” article, such as the one that came out of Calgary last week, involving St. Basil Elementary and Junior High doing away with its honour rolls.
You already know the broad details: some aspect of education that seems so fundamental that none of us ever bothered to think about, much less question it, is being spiked. In this case, the school, concerned about the great masses of children who do not succeed wildly, will no longer officially recognize the highest achievers. It will continue to actually award the grades, of course, but all resulting certificate-based accolades will cease.
The argument, as it always does, relates to self-esteem. There’s no great evidence that such extra recognition actually does anything for the students receiving it, but it may serve to make those who don’t achieve at the same level feel bad about themselves. Making students feel bad about themselves fell out of fashion as an education technique some time in the mid-’80s, so maybe it’s not a surprise that this, too, has to go.
Fashion blogs were once the domain of misfit teenage girls. A few of those girls got famous, and now everyone wants in—and now the reverse is true.
Maintaining a casual fascination with serial killers is macabre and almost entirely unnecessary, but it may actually have psychological benefits for the obsessive. At the very least, you’ll never be totally surprised if someone tries to kill you.
Say this for the Humane Society of the United States: their political strategy for attacking Canada’s seal hunt is quite reasonable if you accept their goals. After all, we live in an age where the high practitioners of politics think up winning ideas like, “we’ll avenge the attacks of 9/11 by attacking Iraq,” or, “we’ll defund Obamacare by defaulting on the US debt, because reasons.” So, really, a high-profile segment of the United States’ environmental movement trying to end the seal hunt by targeting sealers’ bread and butter and starting a boycott on Canadian seafood is actually, by these standards, bracingly logical.
Of course, that’s about the only thing about the last few days—of back-and-forth over the seal hunt, a seafood boycott, and Anthony Bourdain’s defense of Canada—that we could call logical. For example, the Humane Society suggests boycotting Canadian salmon. There are many objections you could raise about farmed Canadian salmon—and almost all of it is farmed these days—but these aren’t the guys who are getting in boats in the off-season and killing harp seals.
I’ve tried to get the alphabet down here but it hasn’t been easy. There are a few characters I still don’t have a handle on. So when I look at this bottle in the cooler in a tiny corner store, I’m not sure what’s inside. There’s stuff I know is beer, in the same cooler, but there’s also some stuff I know isn’t. I buy the bottle because it’s got a polar bear on the label and an amusing pull-off cap. I walk outside, pull off the amusing cap, and take a swig. Yep, it’s beer.
It’s about 10 p.m. and well past dark, and I’m walking down a dark alleyway parallel to one of the town’s main streets, where they’ve hidden a few stores and restaurants. At the very moment I’m swallowing that first swig, I stroll past three policemen with comically large, upswooped police hats. The oldest one’s probably 23. They stop me, establish that I don’t speak either of the languages they try out on me, and one of them points at the bottle and crosses his arms into an X. They ask for my documents.
By the standards of the asteroids zipping around the inner solar system, 440 metres isn’t exactly large. But then, travelling at nearly 15 kilometres a second, it wouldn’t need to be if it hit the Earth. As lovingly described by Eric Holthaus at Quartz, being anywhere within 100 kilometres of ground zero when something like 2013 TV135 punches a hole in the ground is not a good place to be.
And something like 2013 TV135 will hit the Earth, someday. The skies are filled with buckshot, even if TV135 itself isn’t an immediate threat. The good news on the day something wicked our way comes will be if it’s merely catastrophic, instead of literally the end of the world. The meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February of this year is, in this story, like that time you absentmindedly step off the curb and don’t get hit by a car—terrifying, but an opportunity to learn a valuable lesson.
A couple of weeks ago, one of my favourite customers e-mailed asking about my thoughts on digital culture and books. I’m considered a bit of an easy touch when it comes to this sort of thing because I’m old, irritable, and generally indisposed to many facets of said evolving digital culture, but most especially when it comes to books.
I forgive you if you immediately dismiss my opinions because my horse, is, of course, as a bookseller, firmly tied to the wagon of the traditional printed book. But I think there’s much more at stake here than my continued prospects of gainful (a term I use advisedly) employment.
Something unusual happened at Y Combinator’s Startup School, an event for budding entrepreneurs in Cupertino: along with the typical testimonials, case studies, and motivational maxims, an influential co-founder of a Silicon Valley startup said something positively noteworthy.
Take a guess which one I’m thinking of:
Do you feel that? It’s the rush to find a last-minute Halloween costume the week before Halloween, just any dumb costume that makes even a little sense, if only to stave off the all but inevitable time-honored tradition of staying home and watching Archie’s Weird Mysteries while eating discount gummy candy in the dark.
The author of The Dogs Are Eating Them Now talks with playwright Hannah Moscovitch.
The good news is that nobody is dead. Last week the RCMP moved in on a protest against a natural gas fracking company by locals and the Elsipogtog First Nation around Rexton, New Brunswick. Using “sock rounds,” the Mounties enforced a court order clearing the blockade that protesters had erected around a property used by SWM Resources, which is currently engaged in seismic exploration in the area that the protesters worry will inevitably lead to hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for natural gas and the flaming garden hoses we’ve all heard so much about.
There is music and rhythm and beauty and joy to be found in both Jerusalem and Ramallah—despite the outrages, honest and otherwise, readily available in the space between.