Cyberabusers—RIP trolls—have pushed Zelda Williams away from social media. But trolling highlights social problems that require a dialogue, and a terrain infested with such vitriol needs people like Zelda.
In the events of the last few days, it’s important to insist on the primacy of one fact: the events in Ferguson, Missouri, all flow from the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, and the local police department’s refusal to treat this traumatic event with even the basics of decency and respect owed the community they’re responsible for protecting and serving, without fear or favour.
It’s that trauma that put people in the streets, marching into the teeth of what can only be called a police riot, with protesters abused and (less importantly, but more visibly) reporters arrested for the crime of asking which door of a McDonald’s to exit from.
If you look for it, you’ll find that certain conservative dailies on this planet have made a small cottage industry of republishing reports that caged animals are, in fact, healthier than free-range livestock. Indeed, this argument comes up again and again and again in some places. As I write this, someone out there probably wants to have a detailed argument about poultry mortality, but suffice it to say that, whatever the other merits are, letting birds enjoy wide open spaces does, in fact, run the risk of them sharing those spaces with something that thinks chickens are tasty.
As unappealing as it is, this is part of the reason why the industry has mostly moved indoors: aside from the fact that the birds are going to be killed and eaten, it’s pretty safe for them.
Last week one of our colleagues here at the Penguin Random House office, Samantha Swenson, travelled home to Nova Scotia to visit her family. The trip was one she wouldn’t soon forget. And thanks to her tweets neither will we.
Few things remind me of what my friends and I don’t have in common than when, amidst talk of books or TV shows over drinks, discussion turns to baby names. Specifically, it’s the point at which they start to go on about how their grandmother’s names are making a comeback that I remember how different we are. After all, I’m pretty sure my grandmas’ names—Iqbal and Sundar—won’t be making an appearance on Today’s Parent’s top 100 baby names for 2014.
These kinds of gaps feel increasingly frequent. In part, it seems the cosmopolitanism of an urbanizing world makes common ground a little harder to find—closer together yet further apart, and so on. More than that, though, the “nichification” of culture—how the massive increase in access to culture makes it easy to sink into a narrow slice of it—means that, even amongst friends, shared tastes can be tricky. If it was once rare to like a TV show, author, or band your friends had never heard of, it almost feels like it’s become de rigeur these days.
I know Qatar’s not popular right now. Foreign workers. Probable corruption. Fifty-degree summers. And it’s not even a football country. I mean, sure, Brazil spent $18 billion for stadiums and other amenities aimed at the upper classes while 16 percent of the country is below the poverty line, has a GNI of under $12,000, and, according to the World Bank, “the distribution of the benefits of public social spending in Brazil is pro-rich.” But, hey, Pelé.
It’s great, though, that they’re getting the 2022 World Cup. I was there a couple of weeks ago, and saw posters around The Pearl, the big new landfill-constructed neighbourhood, with Olympic logos all over them. So they’re working on that, too, and more power to them. I hope they get it. They’ll have 13 stadiums already, and a subway, and everything else on which they’re currently spending $200 billion.
And after Madrid in 2017, I think they should get the next World Pride, too.
If you’ve ever been brave enough to delve into the roiling human cesspool that is Reddit, you might be familiar with phenomenon of “Ask Reddit,” a section of the site where someone can pose a question and have the legions of “redditors” respond.
Questions can be about pedestrian matters, such as tips for getting a job, or they can be oddball and fun, such as asking people to re-imagine world history as a film. The most fascinating, though, are those that ask for personal anecdotes, especially the lurid ones: your most embarrassing sexual experience, or why a revelation from a significant other made you break up with them on the spot.
Scrolling through these stories, you get lulled into a certain credulousness. “Isn’t the world a funny place,” you think to yourself after reading yet another tale of parents walking in on teens mid-coitus, never stopping to wonder at the veracity of anything you’re reading. It happens all the time, in those “inspiring” posts that your friends and family share on Facebook that bring a tear to your eye as you thumb through your feeds. One forgets: these online fora in which people gather—not just Reddit, but Twitter, Facebook, and the others—have a strange tendency to meld news and anecdote, fact and fiction, all within the same space. Much more so than with TV or print, as the web conflates my experience of both fantasy and reality, I frequently find myself asking: wait, is any of this actually true?
Part of the Pont des Arts collapsed this month under the weight of everybody doing tourism all wrong.
About 100 years ago, a Serbian man and a Serbian woman fell in love. But then the First World War happened, and the Serbian man went off to fight, and fell in love with someone else. The Serbian woman never got over it, and died. Other Serbian women from the same small town, Vrnjačka Banja, were jolted by the fatal effects of lost love and started writing their names and the names of their loved ones on little padlocks, locking them to a bridge in the town where the couple met.
One of the increasingly reliable markers for the one percent seems to be that, with notable exceptions, they tend to be enormous assholes. But in a world where the wealthy compete to see who can give their children the most obscene display of wealth before they even enter adulthood, this perhaps isn’t news.
What is news is that, amazingly, wealth doesn’t seem to be universally invincible to accountability or taste.
Let’s start with Dov Charney, the founder of American Apparel who’s been booted from his company for unspecified “alleged misconduct.” There’s been nothing more official than that yet, but given the long history of allegations of sexual harassment (and worse) against Charney, there are some likely areas in which to start the guessing game. Reports this morning say Charney was thrown out because of “an attempt by Dov to discredit a number of women” that had come forward.
When I first moved to Toronto from Montreal, I was mildly obsessed with talking about how badly the city needed a makeover. I arrived in 2001, a year or so after my sister who’d been spending time here for business, and we indulged the same conversation on repeat: Where were the coffee shops? Why weren’t there delicious delis all over the downtown core serving up quality take-away? Why did everything look so drab and close so early? Street parking that expires at midnight—a municipal cash cow or a puritanical conspiracy against house parties and sexy-time sleepovers? (Probably both.) Then there was the city’s much bemoaned legacy of rule-bound puritanism: Why could you only buy beer from the most highly regulated and unimaginatively named place ever, The Beer Store? Every third business seemed to be named for a pun, the tangled mess of streetcar wires lacerated my sightline, and the ubiquitous wrought-iron railing work was like a never-ending proscenium for menagerie upon menagerie of unironic lawn ornaments.
Sure, I’d grown up drinking the terroir Kool-Aid produced by Canada’s fairer city where the food has always been better, the architecture more Ruskinian, the culture more avant-garde, and the hockey blessed by a force from on high. My 25-year-old snobbery was entirely unoriginal. But the criticisms weren’t without merit.
Beyond the blood and dragons and boiled leather, Game of Thrones (and the novels on which it’s based) may just contain the most varied, often celebratory depictions of characters with disabilities in all of pop culture.
We can all admit that, while we’ll quibble over where the exact threshold is, there’s some point at which additional wealth is just piling excess on top of the indefensible. When billionaires compete over whose mega-yacht has not just one helipad, but two helipads, or two helipads and a submarine launch, it’s pretty clear that they live in another galaxy from those of us who actually need to know what our bank balances are, never mind those who are legitimately struggling.
So it’s kind of quaint that the nouveau riche of the developing world have adopted one of the world’s more venerable status symbols as one of their newest: apparently, butlers are the new marker of wealth in China and in the oil-rich countries of the Middle East. But not just any butlers: white, European butlers—a sign, surely, that you can afford not just on-demand human labour of the kind the global one percent naturally assumes is available, but the kind of on-demand human labour that only chose to fly across the goddamn planet because you made it worth his while.
The Open Carry folks have a simple enough passion: they simply want to exercise the rights the US Constitution and various state law give them to roam around in public with rifles visible. This is a phenomenon we may associate most with, say, Texas, though the level of gun-nuttery we attribute to that state may occasionally be unfair: in Georgia, for example, you can even get away with carrying your gun into a little league baseball game and saying, in the creepiest manner possible, “You want to see my gun? Look, I got a gun and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Because freedom.
At least now we have an answer to that age-old question: what’s more American, little league or gun rights? (Better luck next time, apple pie.)
In Texas, though, things seem to have gotten a bit out of hand even by the lax standards of the pro-gun movement, with the Open Carry Texas organization testing the patience of minor political interests like the American food industry, by insisting on the right to bring guns into restaurants and mall parking lots.
The sound that a Barrett .50-calibre rifle makes is basically pure thunder, but the really disconcerting thing, when you are standing in its immediate radius, is the shock wave it sends rippling through your body. People are a little free with the description “bowel-loosening” these days, but it might be capable of actually physically doing that; especially if it catches you off-guard, it’s a bit like someone grabbed your internal organs by the esophagus and tried to whip them out like a sheet. And that’s when the bullet is moving away from you.
They also have a wide array of machine guns, but the Barrett and its even more hellacious twin, the Browning M2—which is, for reasons of safety and, I suppose, accuracy, generally mounted on something, in this case a disused army jeep—are the centrepiece of the Bullets and Burgers shooting experience and make up the central thrust of the description the guide provides to our bachelor party as we make the 51-mile drive from Las Vegas (of course Las Vegas) to the Arizona desert a couple Fridays ago. It’s 51 miles, see, because these sorts of weapons are technically classed as anti-aircraft guns, and therefore cannot be fired within 50 miles of an airport. The sniper rifle—which shoots a bullet roughly as long as a hand stretched thumb to pinky, and thick as a candlestick—has been credited with kills up to two miles away, at which point you actually have to account for the curvature of the earth when you are making your shot, our guide tells us. No doubt the Enemy Combatant basically evaporated by the unseen finger of god at the other end of this bit of trivia would be just as impressed with the technical achievement.
In a week that is already bringing the Second Amendment nutters out of the woodwork to defend the legal right to own killing machines, we’re also seeing an interesting case study in the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution. The Tenth, you’ll recall, gives states, “or the people,” any powers not expressly given to the federal government or denied to the states. And that, boys and girls, is why you can legally buy pot in Colorado.
Surprise, surprise: it turns out the legalization of marijuana in the Highest State hasn’t led to an epidemic of knifecrime or livestock pimping. Instead, the state has raised more than $12 million in taxes and fees for a state of five-plus million people. The main complaints have to do with a handful of people who have managed to consume so much pot they do something lethally stupid, and from Colorado’s neighbours we hear cries that people are going to Denver to buy their pot and then bringing the still-illegal-in-Nebraska drug home.
The good news is that nobody thinks any of the problems legalization has brought are worth turning back the clock. Note to Canadians: Yes, legalization here would cause some problems of the same kind Colorado faces, but no, that doesn’t make criminalization, and its enormous cost in human suffering, an even remotely defensible policy choice.
Like a reliable, rusty old factory machine, the Apple rumour mill recently sprang loudly to life in anticipation of the company’s rumoured purchase of Beats, news to which Apple fans largely responded with a resounding, “Ew, why?” Even though it’s pretty clear that if Apple does in fact buy Beats, it would be to acquire cachet, talent, and a promising music business, iPhone users still felt the whole thing was a bit off-putting: “Our beloved company is seeking help from a brand we associate with urban kids? Oh God.”
It was not a difficult code to crack. The Awl’s John Herrman cleverly suggested we just call it “Apple Privilege”: a tongue-in-cheek way of getting at the fact that Apple seems to be held up as a model of purity, and anything that “taints” it—you know, the masses, the lower-income, those pesky coloureds—is awful.
If this were some random occurrence, that would be one thing—but it’s a pattern now. It was only in 2012, after all, that many iPhone users worried that Instagram would be sullied when people without little apples on the backs of their devices could join in on the filtered fun. Couple that with the noise around the Beats story, and the fact that, at least in North America, Android is much bigger with visible minorities, and a question needs both asking and answering: Is Apple “white”?
It was dusk, in high summer, and the light was fading. I sat at the top of the garden, perched on my yellow Raleigh Striker XL, right pedal raised. My father, who had dutifully held the back of my bicycle those past weeks as I wobbled across the lawn, had gone inside. But as the dark crept in, I pushed my right leg down, and a few seconds later, I had done it. I had ridden a two-wheeled bike across the length of the back yard.
A couple of weeks later, after a quick road test administered by Dad, and I was free to ride my bike anywhere—so that’s just what I did. To the park, to the tennis courts, to the bridge over the train tracks, to the shopping centre, often from dawn until dusk. A bike was life, and cycling was how I chose to live it, free and unconstrained.
And now, apparently, you people want me to ride my bike to work.
A few weeks ago, I saw a video online. It was billed as the third webisode in a series called Can You Imagine? The hosts, Kevin and Steph, stand awkwardly on a set in dorky orange t-shirts with the letters RIT, for the Rochester Institute of Technology. Kevin is wearing his over top of a long-sleeve button-down shirt. The first 50 seconds are taken up with plugging the upcoming event Imagine RIT, the university’s innovation and creativity festival. “That’s right,” Steph says, nodding uncertainly and stumbling over the last word, “it’s where the left brain and right brain—collide.” After some frankly boring chit-chat, the hosts get down to the fun engineering feat they’ll be showing us today—a stairwell on the RIT campus with a neat architectural property.
Some relationships are artful; some relationships—say, ones in which the participants undergo surgery to look like each other—are art. Is that romantic?
Most of us disregard conspiracy theorists as cranks and zealots; at the same time, we value skepticism, and plenty of conspiracies have turned out to be true. Where is the line between skeptical inquiry and going off the deep end?