November 2013 in Review

This past month, two of the greatest music videos in history were put out – Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone gets a multi-channel video 48 years after the song’s release and Pharrell gives us a 24 hour video to Happy. In other music video news, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is featured in a music video which kinda feels like will.i.am’s 2008 Obama video.

Researchers at Cornell University accidentally destroyed more than $200,000 of horse semen by using a defective cryogenic storage tank. According to the US government, you do not own your smartphone upon purchasing it. There is a high school football team in Arkansas that never punts. Compton has a cricket club, and they even had tea with the Prince of England. Officials in Beijing are fighting air pollution by destroying barbeques.

The ACLU of Colorado released a documentary on Sam Mendez, a man who wrongfully spent half his life in prison (15 in solitary confinement), for a murder that he supposedly committed when he was 14 years old. More than 70% of Walmart’s employees will be working on Thanksgiving. Walmart decided to help out its less fortunate employees by holding a food drive. Americans are driving much less, and it’s not because of the economic downturn. Seattle elected a socialist to its city council. A sperm whale exploded.

The General Synod of the Church of England voted in favor of ordaining women bishops by 2014. Islamists in Turkey think about sex – a lot. People living in diverse communities do not trust one another. Rihanna rocked a doobie at the American Music Awards.

J.P. Morgan agreed to pay the US Government $13.1 billion in the largest settlement in US history. Magnus Carlsen of Norway becomes the new world champion of chess and attains the highest international rating ever. After learning that an ad of theirs featuring a man in a turban had been vandalized with racist graffiti, GAP placed his image as their new Twitter background.

Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah fell on the same day, and this is supposedly bad for Jews and everybody else. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford might smoke crack (only when he gets wasted though) but his city still loves him, or maybe not.

 

 

 

 

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May 2013 Takeaways

Selfish women, fatally unarmed, normal Americans, Arrested Development and creepy doll twins.

This month’s review is a bit different. Rather than a list of forgettable headlines juxtaposed with ridiculous stories, I share with you a few items from the concluding month that deserve a bit more attention.

Women breadwinners are destroying society.

The men at Fox News are shocked and appalled that in 40% of American families, women are now the breadwinners. To them, this is a sign that “society is dissolving” because “having moms as the primary breadwinner is bad for kids and bad for marriage”. This is yet another example of folks wishing they could go back and live in some sort of Norman Rockwell painting that never actually existed. God forbid they get a woman’s opinion on that panel.

Tsarnaev friend killed by the FBI was unarmed

Even if Ibragim Todashev was a murderer and/or terrorist, this shooting is cause for concern. He was shot seven times, once in the head. The FBI is conducting its own internal investigation while the Council of American-Islamic Relations is calling for an independent investigation. A lot more people should be asking questions when an unarmed man is shot seven times and killed. This is not an Islamic issue – it’s about the relationship between individuals and state authority. 

But where are you really from?

Most non-white people living in the US (the entire Western world even) have encountered this at some point or another. The most interesting thing about this video is the guy’s use of the word “regular American”. As the demographics of the US point towards a country without a majority race or ethnicity, it remains to be seen whether or not we will lose this idea of what it means to be normal.

A new media platform comes of age

It’s easy to take things for granted in the digital age. In a few years, we probably won’t think twice about Netflix as a producer of original content. When Arrested Development was cancelled several years ago, millions of its die-hard fans were hurt and confused. How could a show with such a loyal following get cancelled? Network television needs mass viewership, whereas Netflix has a different model – high quality niche products. The strangest thing about the new season is that all 15 episodes were released at once, which meant that fans could binge on them. It seems Netflix is trying to adapt to the needs of viewers who are already so accustomed to illegally streaming and downloading their shows all at once. Following the success of Lilyhammer, House of Cards and now Arrested Development (success measured by viewership, not reviews), expect many more shows from Netflix and other non-traditional companies.

American Girls dollsAMERICAN GIRLS

There have been creepy dolls before. There have been creepy little girls before. But when Ilona Szwarc decided to photograph girls with their customized lookalike dolls for the New Yorker, she, perhaps inadvertently, captured the creepiest combination of girl-doll imagery I have ever seen. I smell a slasher movie in the making. The full slideshow is available here.

Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest BookIt’s been almost a month since my last post. I have not been ill – not physically at least. The last few weeks of my life have been consumed by completing and digesting one book – David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. It’s safe to say that I have now recovered, but before I move on with the rest of my life, allow me to share with you my thoughts.

First, a brief plot summary. Some time in the near future (the book was published in 1996, and scholars agree that that future is more or less now), mostly in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment (years are no longer numbered but offered up for corporate sponsorship), the Organization of North American Nations (a sort of NAFTA on steroids) is fighting a clandestine war with les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents (the wheelchair assassin terrorist group pursuing Québécois independence), among others. Both parties are pursuing the original copy of a film made by James O. Incandenza, the mad genius physicist, film maker and founder of the Enfield Tennis Academy who killed himself by sticking his head in a microwave (sounds impossible but James the genius was able to figure out a way). The film, referred to as “the entertainment”, is the ultimate weapon of mass destruction because it is so good that anyone who views it falls into a state of catatonic bliss, out of which they can never recover. The viewers entertain themselves to death, shitting their pants and starving their bellies along the way. The terrorists are targeting America at its Achilles’ heel – our endless appetite for entertainment. The novel mainly takes place at the Enfield Tennis Academy and the Ennet House, a drug recovery center, where the main characters and their relationship to the entertainment emerge.

Had the story concerned itself with this overarching satirical story, the novel could have been the best read of my life. Wallace was a brilliant writer. There were countless instances in the book when I was simply in awe with his powerful wordplay.

“I do things like get in a taxi and say, “The library, and step on it.”

‘What if sometimes there is no choice about what to love? What if the temple comes to Mohammed? What if you just love? without deciding? You just do: you see her and in that instant are lost to sober account-keeping and cannot choose but to love?’…Marathe’s sniff held disdain. ‘Then in such a case your temple is self and sentiment. Then in such an instance you are a fanatic of desire, a slave to your individual subjective narrow self’s sentiment; a citizen of nothing. You become a citizen of nothing. You are by yourself and alone, kneeling to yourself.’

Molly Notkin often confides on the phone to Joelle van Dyne about the one tormented love of Notkin’s life thus far, an erotically circumscribed G.W. Pabst scholar at New York University tortured by the neurotic conviction that there are only a finite number of erections possible in the world at any one time and that his tumescence means e.g. the detumescence of some perhaps more deserving or tortured Third World sorghum farmer or something…Molly still takes the high-speed rail down to visit him every couple of weeks, to be there for him in case by some selfish mischance he happens to harden, prompting black waves of self-disgust and an extreme neediness for understanding and nonjudgmental love.

The problem with his genius as a writer is that it is too often interrupted by the level of detail he wishes to employ. It’s almost as if he didn’t have an editor who was willing to stand up to the literary giant and tell him to chop sentences, pages, paragraphs and entire sections. Perhaps he had an editor who, like many, were unable to finish the book and just gave up and and approved it for publication. A 1996 review of the book in the New York Times stated “While there are many uninteresting pages in this novel, there are not many uninteresting sentences”. Infinite Jest is a lot like Melville’s Moby Dick – most readers agree on the quality of the work but lament the unnecessary tedium that connects the more meaningful parts of the narrative. 

The novel goes on for 981 pages and includes 388 end notes, some of which are dozens of pages long. A long story is not, in and of itself, bad. But when an author complicates the narrative in order to make the reader work harder, one can’t help but feel a sense of condescension that the reader is being treated like a child. The best parts of Infinite Jest were the simple ones. It reminds me of the feud between William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway in which Faulkner said of his rival “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary” to which Hemingway responded “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”

The non-linearity that Wallace was hoping to achieve adds virtually nothing to the story. At best, it bestows a sense of satisfaction, as though one had just completed a literary boot camp. In short, the book is more complicated than it needs to be, and suffers as a result.

I was filled with excitement when I began reading/listening (I consumed the book through a combination of book and audiobook). I finished feeling cheated and angry, and maybe a little stupid¹. Wallace has an almost religious following in literary circles. Infinite Jest is the magnum opus of the man who is considered by many to have been the greatest American writer of his generation. His suicide only magnified his status as a deity. It’s easy to read online essays excusing the saint of the blatant and unnecessarily racism found throughout the book. Perhaps the most like annoying thing in like the book, like however, was like his incessant use of the word “like”.

I recommend everyone to read and enjoy Wallace’s other works, particularly, Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. As for Infinite Jest, acquaint yourself with the story, read excerpts, but don’t waste your time. If you do decide to read it, do so in a group – a collective effort is certainly required to find the random detail on p.38 that is essential for understanding what happens on p. 894. But this runs the risk of wasting the time of multiple people, so proceed with caution.  In between the encyclopedic descriptions of various drugs and mundane activities, there is an utterly brilliant, hilarious story that deserved to be cut down to 500 pages.

I was told that Infinite Jest is like a modern day Ulysses. I guess this means I won’t be reading Ulysses.

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1. There is a strong possibility that I am, in fact, too stupid to have enjoyed this book. If you feel that you are exceptionally smart and capable of enjoying the jigsaw² puzzle that is this book, then by all means, give it a go!

2. When’s the last time you truly enjoyed completing³ a jigsaw puzzle by yourself?

3. And the story does not even complete itself, which isn’t even a problem. I merely wanted to clarify the usage of the term jigsaw puzzleso that I did not give the reader the wrong impression that Infinite Jest provides a complete narrative story. So much of the story is suggested and must be constructed as a projection into the future, following the completion of the novel’s last sentence.

4. Speaking of jigsaw puzzles, here’s a description of their history and development (now you can begin to see how annoying all the end notes are):

Most modern jigsaw puzzles are made out of cardboard, since they are easier and cheaper to mass-produce than the original wooden models. An enlarged photograph or printed reproduction of a painting or other two-dimensional artwork is glued onto the cardboard before cutting. This board is then fed into a press. The press forces a set of hardened steel blades of the desired shape through the board until it is fully cut. This procedure is similar to making shaped cookies with a cookie cutter. The forces involved, however, are tremendously greater and a typical 1000-piece puzzle requires a press that can generate upwards of 700 tons of force to push the knives of the puzzle die through the board. A puzzle die is a flat board, often made from plywood, which has slots cut or burned in the same shape as the knives that are used. These knives are set into the slots and covered in a compressible material, typically foam rubber, which serves to eject the cut puzzle pieces.

Beginning in the 1930s, jigsaw puzzles were cut using large hydraulic presses which now cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The cuts gave a very snug fit, but the cost limited jigsaw puzzle manufacture only to large corporations. Recent roller press design achieve the same effect, at a lower cost. By the early 1960s,Tower Press was the world’s largest maker of jigsaw puzzles, acquired by Waddingtons in 1969. New technology has enabled laser-cutting of wooden jigsaw puzzles, which is a growing segment of the high-end jigsaw puzzle market.

Many puzzles are termed “fully interlocking”. This means that adjacent pieces are connecting such that if you move one piece horizontally you move all, preserving the connection. Sometimes the connection is tight enough to pick up a solved part holding one piece.

Some fully interlocking puzzles have pieces all of a similar shape, with rounded tabs out on opposite ends, with corresponding blanks cut into the intervening sides to receive the tabs of adjacent pieces. Other fully interlocking puzzles may have tabs and blanks variously arranged on each piece, but they usually have four sides, and the numbers of tabs and blanks thus add up to four. The uniform-shaped fully interlocking puzzles are the most difficult, because the differences in shapes between pieces can be very subtle.

Some puzzles also have pieces with non-interlocking sides that are usually slightly curved in complex curves. These are actually the easiest puzzles to solve, since fewer other pieces are potential candidates for mating.

Most jigsaw puzzles are square, rectangular, or round, with edge pieces that have one side that is either straight or smoothly curved to create this shape, plus four corner pieces if the puzzle is square or rectangular. Some jigsaw puzzles have edge pieces that are cut just like all the rest of the interlocking pieces, with no smooth edge, to make them more challenging. Other puzzles are designed so the shape of the whole puzzle forms a figure, such as an animal. The edge pieces may vary more in these cases.

The world’s largest commercially-available jigsaw puzzle was released by Ravensburger AG (Germany) in September 2010. It consists of 32,256 pieces and measures 544 cm by 192 cm. The world’s largest-sized jigsaw puzzle measured 58,435.1 ft² (5,428.8 m²), with 21,600 pieces. It was assembled on November 3, 2002 by 777 people in Hong Kong.

Month in Review: March 2013

The Mars Curiosity rover drilled into a rock and found clay – yet another sign that the planet had flowing water and conditions that were potentially life-sustaining. Topographical analysis had led scientists to believe that if there were oceans on Mars, the planet would look like this. A man in New Jersey was arrested for stealing 21 tons of cheese, with an estimated street value of $200,000.

The Euro is doomed – here’s why, in 4 steps. Bassem Youssef, the political satirist known as the Jon Stewart of Egypt, faces an arrest warrant for insulting the President Morsi and Islam. Google has released street-view images of Namie, an abandoned town of 21,000 (now zero) just north of the Fukushima nuclear incident. Rush Limbaugh has thoughts on Beyonce’s new song, and he’s not completely wrong. Tiger Woods is once again the number one ranked golfer in the world. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took a picture with Shaq. Continue reading “Month in Review: March 2013”

Month in Review: February 2013

 A note to readers: the weekly reviews that I started posting in January were probably the most polarizing things I’ve written. Some of you loved them, some of you preferred the traditional narrative. In order to have fun with the format but not overdo it, I’ve decided to continue it as a monthly.

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American banks announced that 2012 was their second most profitable year ever. The Eurozone slid further into recession. Apple was denied the right the sell anything called “iPhone” in Brazil because a local company was already given the right to do so in 2008. Hillary Clinton stepped down as John Kerry became the new US Secretary of State. The Pope resigned.

A radical leftist group in Turkey bombed the US Embassy in Ankara resulting in the death of the bomber and a guard. A radical leftist group in Turkey apologized for injuring a journalist during its bombing of the US Embassy in Ankara.

At least two dozen people were killed when a truck carrying fireworks exploded on an elevated highway in China. Dozens of people died in a stampede at a railway station near the site of the Kumbh Mela, the largest religious gathering in the world. The Government of India secretly executed a man. The rest of the world continued to be fascinated by the weather in New York City.

A meteor exploded in the atmosphere above the Russian town of Chelyabinsk. The rest of the world discovered why so many Russians have dashboard cameras in their cars. Millionaire Dennis Tito is looking for a married couple to train as astronauts in order to study sex in space. Continue reading “Month in Review: February 2013”

The Week that Was (Jan 14-20, 2013)

President Obama signed 23 Executive Actions on gun violence. Conservatives argued that rather than creating new gun laws, the government should enforce existing gun laws. A comic pointed out that we have laws in place to prevent the government from enforcing existing laws (and more). Your second amendment rights are just fine – all the other ones are under attack though.

Sonia Gandhi, the President of India’s Congress Party welcomed her son Rahul as the new Vice President. A former California middle school teacher who was fired when students discovered her pornographic work from years ago lost an appeal to get her job back, setting a precedent against those looking to escape their embarrassing but legal pasts. A woman in Washington has been charged with 2nd degree manslaughter for smothering her boyfriend to death with her breasts during intimacy.

The separatist insurgency in northern Mali entered into its second year with French troops joining several African states in support of the government. Several hundred people were taken hostage at a gas facility in Algeria by terrorists who are thought to be opposing the opening of Algerian airspace to French warplanes involved in the conflict in Mali – 23 hostages and 32 militants died. Afghan teen, Fawad Mohammadi, was reduced to tears upon learning that the film in which he acted (Buzkashi Boys) was nominated for an Oscar.

Grammarians agreed that people should stop using the word “they” as a singular pronoun. NASA just sent Mona Lisa to the Moon…with lasers! Scientology is a lot like communism. Anthropologists get pissed off at Jared Diamond (of Guns, Germs and Steel fame) – maybe they’re just jealous. Kim Dotcom, the founder of the defunct web portal Megavideo has launched a new file sharing site that supposedly cannot be legitimately shut down by any government. Proposition Joe died.

Rumors that the age of innovation is dead have been greatly exaggerated. Television news is fast becoming the most dangerous extremist in Indian civil society. The attempted assassination of a Bulgarian politician was caught on tape. A Bulgarian man was given a beat down after failing to assassinate a Bulgarian politician. A bicyclist admitted to using drugs.

The Week that Was (Jan 8-14, 2013)

Nobel prize winning economist stated that Washington is too stupid to realize that the debt crisis has been mostly solved. Shortly after paying back a government loan of $182 billion, AIG said it may join a lawsuit against the government for being unfair when saving the company from bankruptcy. Jacky Chan called the US the most corrupt country in the world. President Obama would rather fight one duck-sized horse than 100 horse-sized ducks.

A man in California is contesting a traffic violation for riding alone in the carpool lane, asserting that the corporate documents in the passenger seat constituted a person under the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling. Ken Layne thinks Silicon Valley should be transformed into an urban paradise. The best aerial image of New York City ever has been identified.

A Swiss court has written off a family’s 655 year-old debt stemming from a murder committed by their ancestor in 1357. Italy’s right wing parties agreed that Silvio Berlusconi will not stand for the position of Prime Minister again. Rocks and petrol bombs were greeted by water cannons and rubber bullet as tensions between nationalists and loyalists continue to escalate in Belfast. There’s more to life than being happy.

Apple may drastically reduce prices in order to maintain market share in the face of competition from Samsung, Android and others. A 13-year-old Italian boy ran away from home and drove his father’s Mercedes to Poland in search of his birth family. A man in Oregon used his dreadlocks to choke his girlfriend.

A series of bombs killed nearly 100 people in the Pakistani city of Quetta. A French Soldier and 17 militants were killed in a failed attempt to rescue a French hostage in Somalia. Critics were unimpressed with the first official portrait of Princess Kate. In Australia, there was a snake on a plane.

Tensions flared between India and Pakistan after two Indian soldiers were killed and beheaded near the line of control separating the two countries. Near-earth asteroid 99942 Apophis passes close to the Earth. 24-year-old Brit Adam Paciti spent his last £500 on a billboard asking someone to employ him. A man named Kelly Hildebrandt and a woman named Kelly Hildebrandt filed for divorce in Texas.

Several residents of Norfolk Virginia called the police to report a baby lion on the loose, ruining the day of a Labrador poodle named Charles the Monarch. A record number of teens were arrested in Louisiana for whipping, the latest craze which involves rubbing ones penis on an object (and sharing said images on social networks). Police have urged residents to report any and all whipping incidents to the Whipping Hotline at (785) 273-0325.