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More Public-spirited Pigs, and Other News

May 27, 2016 | by

Eliot (not pictured) disapproves.

  • As an editor at Faber & Faber, T. S. Eliot had the chance to publish Animal Farm. He declined. And he had sound porcine reasons for doing so, according to a newly digitized letter he wrote Orwell in 1944: “The positive point of view, which I take to be generally Trotskyite, is not convincing … After all, your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm—in fact, there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm at all without them: so that what was needed (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.”
  • Memorial Day has only been around for about 150 years, meaning it’s not terribly old as far as memorials go. Consider instead the Bayeux Tapestry, which likely dates to the 1070s. Alison Kinney writes, “It’s a seventy-by one-half-meter length of linen panels worked in crewel, its madder-, mignonette-, and woad-dyed yarns still as vivid, after a thousand years, as the tints of the Art Nouveau comic strip Little Nemo … The medievalist Valerie Allen writes about the Bayeux Embroidery’s ‘dynamic things grounded in space and time,’ ‘from kitchen utensils to war gear … Objects acquire a kind of agency by exerting their inherent “virtue,” wearing down conventional distinctions between human and non-human to the point that a hand, a sword and a relic can all share in the same phenomenal luminosity.’ The Embroidery itself is just such a luminous agent: a war memorial—a Normandy Beach war memorial, no less. In this place occupied by hundreds of memorials, planned and incidental, fleeting and obdurate, from funerary sculpture to the bunkers that, after seventy years of coastal weather, still bear flamethrowers’ char marks, memorials develop unpredictable, unaccountable vibrancies that can shape the conflicts, even the topography, of later battles. That is, if they can first escape violence, neglect, and ordinary wear and tear.”
  • Because your day needed the phrase intravaginal hardware for the pregnant body in it, here is Sasha Archibald on a thrilling development in consumer electronics: “A company in Spain recently released a new product, the Babypod. The device entails a small roundish speaker … The idea is to insert the speaker inside one’s vagina, like a tampon, and connect the auxiliary jack to an iPhone, from which the mother-DJ selects a playlist. The music is piped in directly where it can be heard best … Women have presumably always enjoyed the utility of an interior pocket, though no one has written this history. The nineteenth-century spirit medium Eva C. had a trick of producing ectoplasm from her vagina, and police report finding jewels and drugs, money and handguns, stolen phones and credit cards. In these cases, the vagina is treated as a secret lockbox—a hiding place no one will think to look, the corporeal equivalent of a buried treasure chest. The Babypod inhabits the woman in a totally different fashion. The very purpose of the device is to announce itself and broadcast sound. It makes the vagina speak. The Vagina Monologues didn’t need to get more literal, but they have.”
  • While we’re in the vicinity of the genitals: “When reporters are forced to write about sportsmen kicking each other in the nuts, what do they write? This week has provided some answers … In ninety-six articles, totaling a little more than fifty thousand words, groin was used 148 times across headlines, body and photo captions. Of course, in sports, groin injuries can mean something very different from your basic knee to the crotch. So at best, this creates unnecessary ambiguity in order to demur from coarser language. The next most frequently used was some form of below the belt with seventeen appearances, followed by nuts with fifteen, low blow with fourteen, a few variations of private parts totaling twelve, between the legs with ten, and balls with nine.”

Take Me to the Burger King Spa

May 26, 2016 | by

One way to spend your free time.

I read that a Burger King franchise in Helsinki has opened an in-store sauna, serving Cokes and fries to visitors as they sweat it out, and my first thought was: I want to go there. I don’t mean “go” in the sense of an ironic pilgrimage, the way some people go to Dollywood or the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum. This is a more disturbing impulse. Even if I recognize the sauna for what it is—a cynical ploy by a multinational corporation to hijack a local tradition, down to the inclusion of BK-branded robes and towels—I have an ingrained affinity for Burger King that resists rational argument. I could hurl a brick through the window of their corporate headquarters, but I know I’d only end up wanting a Whopper as the cops handcuffed me.

I haven’t eaten at a Burger King in years, but I’ve accepted that the Whopper is my madeleine. I guess this makes BK—the world’s second largest fast-food hamburger chain, an amoral monolith helping to drive up the obesity rate by plying a misinformed, increasingly impoverished public with processed foodstuffs—something like my Combray. As sad as it sounds, to sink my teeth through that sesame-seed bun is to activate long-dormant memories of … the sesame-seed buns of my childhood. Read More »

Punk Is Dead, So We’re Burning It, and Other News

May 26, 2016 | by

Glenn O. Coleman, Election Night Bonfire, undated.

  • Raymond Carver’s fiction is good, sure, but you haven’t really lived till you’ve seen the guy’s family photos. His brother, James, has shared a few with a remembrance of Raymond: “I remember the years we shared living together in Sacramento during the midsixties … One of his few jobs in Sacramento was working at Mercy Hospital in housekeeping. He worked three or four hours in the evening but was paid for eight. We both had nothing but spare time; we continued to spend many hours hanging out together, talking, reminiscing, and drinking. We would get in the car and drive with nowhere special to go. We talked about all the moves we and our parents had made looking for happiness. We drank from a bottle of Ten High Bourbon we kept in the glove compartment. One of us would say, ‘Wait until spring.’ The other would say, ‘And things will bust wide open,’ meaning at last, everything would be better for all of us. We both would break into laughter. It was a private joke which we never forgot; Ray mentioned it a year before he died. We always had the ability to laugh at ourselves and our failures.”
  • Queen Elizabeth has declared 2016 the Year of Punk, so you know someone had to stand up and flip her the bird. Joseph Corré, the son of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, is doing it right: he “announced yesterday that he will set fire to his entire collection of punk memorabilia, estimated to be worth about £5 million ($7.1 million) … The bonfire is slated to take place in Camden, London, on November 26, to mark the 40th anniversary of the release of the Sex Pistols single ‘Anarchy in the UK’, off the album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols … ‘The Queen giving 2016, the Year of Punk, her official blessing is the most frightening thing I’ve ever heard,’ he says. ‘Talk about alternative and punk culture being appropriated by the mainstream. Rather than a movement for change, punk has become like a fucking museum piece or a tribute act.’ ”
  • There is but one effective way of drawing our attention to the inanity of online polls, and that is fake online polls. Jonas Lund’s new online artwork Fair Warningtakes the form of an eccentric online questionnaire or personality test. The pages invite the viewer to input their preferences. Duck or Rabbit? Window or Aisle? Idol or Douche? Apple or FBI? There are multiple-choice questions, photographs of sculptures and paintings, and news images, as well as, occasionally, solid blocks and color gradients. Each time the animated circle at the bottom of the page completes a revolution—this persistent, nagging counter mimics the buffering animations of video streaming sites and the multicolored wait cursor, aka the ‘spinning beach ball of death’ on Apple computers—there is a computerized chime. This happens every four seconds … Other than an animated ripple that appears onscreen each time you click, user input doesn’t affect the metronomic rhythm of the piece. Nor is it clear if your preferences are even being registered.”
  • With the rise of the suburbs came an almost simultaneous effort to theorize the suburbs—why had so many families marooned themselves in a new environment, and what was going on there? As Amanda Kolson Hurley writes, midcentury studies of suburbia were far from sunny: “Most strikingly, they reveal deep and widespread concern over the stability of mental and physical health in the new suburban environment … It was a social experiment unprecedented in U.S. history. The first suburbanites themselves were well aware of this. Although they felt the optimism of pioneers, they shared in the widespread anxiety that the experiment might not work, an anxiety that manifested as worries about unanticipated health effects. These ranged from the daily, cumulative frustrations of a Mary Drone to more significant problems: stomach ulcers, heart attacks, anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction, and juvenile delinquency.”
  • Or you can look at perhaps the suburbs’ most successful export, the mall. Alex Cocotas, being shown around on a visit to Tel Aviv, discovered how thoroughly the mall has metastasized abroad: “We weren’t there to take a dip in the Mediterranean or to feel the sand bunch between our toes; we were not there to admire the yachts or to dream of their interior lives. We were there to go to the mall. We walked down a passageway between the boats and a row of restaurants, and entered a world that was virtually indistinguishable from its American counterparts: multistoried, brightly lit, oozing an arctic tundra of air conditioning from unseen pores, perfumes enticingly wafting from open-door oracles to the ever-confounding enigma of next season, stores bearing a familiar, supranational aesthetic, cellphone stands clotting up busy causeways between them. Everything aspired to that same ethereal timelessness, a fantasy of pure transaction … Why take a foreign traveler to a mall at all? The way I see it, the mall trip is meant to communicate a message about the local culture—who they are, their country, their standard of living. They are taking me to the mall because there is a mall.”

This Guy Wanted to Sell You Some Furniture, and Other News

May 25, 2016 | by

An 1881 ad for the Brooklyn Furniture Company.

  • Jacob Harris was scoping out some nineteenth-century newspaper ads (don’t judge; this is how some of us get our kicks) when he stumbled upon an ad for the Brooklyn Furniture Company composed entirely of typography—a direct predecessor of the ASCII art that would come more than a century later. “The face resembles modern ASCII art, but it was published at a time—March 20, 1881—that seemed impossibly early,” he writes: “In many newspapers, these early examples of text art vanished not long after they arrived … Apart from the two advertisements I had found, the style apparently never caught on in the Times. But why not? To answer that, I looked more at the Eagle where I found the earliest ads—and where they survived for several decades longer than everywhere else. They are there in 1881, when one bold advertiser filled an entire page with ASCII text. They are there in 1888, when the Eagle advertised its election night almanac in the familiar large letters. They are there all the way up to July 3, 1892, a day the same Brooklyn Furniture Company again ran a half-page ad with their address in large ASCII letters. And, then, on July 5th, they were completely gone, replaced by modern layouts and fancy typography. Those upgrades likely explain, at least in part, what happened. ASCII art flourishes most when technology is limited; you don’t need Print Shop anymore when you can do digital layout on your computer and have an inkjet printer.”
  • In which Edward Docx attends the 2016 British Esperanto Conference: “There are few times in your life that you can be certain that you are doing what nobody else in the world is doing—or has ever done—or will likely do again. This was one of them. I was sitting at a table of six, with a Catalan, a Brazilian, a Belgian, a Londoner and a Slovakian, while they munched and guzzled their way through their kareos and had what I can only describe as the most kinetic, exciting and involving conversation in Esperanto that Spice City (of Stanley Street, Liverpool) is ever going to witness. The animation. The jokes. The asides. The soliloquys. The antanaclasis. Oh, if only I had known what they were talking about I could have … I could have told you. But I was converted. The whole idea and application of Esperanto was so obviously amazing, so demonstrably persuasive, so self-evidently practical that I forget all over again about English; English; English.”
  • The Internet is a fine place to find good writing. But it’s the best place to find moronic writing—just try. It’s such an effective moronic-writing delivery system that print media got jealous: “There are too many people filling every possible orifice of the Internet with their idiot opinions and comical prejudices and poorly constructed arguments … But: Have you seen what’s not on the Internet? You would think, what with the supposed influence of those who man the precincts offline, away from the free-for-all of our type-and-post world, that there would be safety in the smooth, heavy paper and creamy finish of print … And yet: THEY ARE NOT ALL THAT MUCH BETTER … It turns out most people don’t have anything very interesting to say and they’re actually a lot worse at saying it than we previously anticipated. Also, what no one expected is that shit flows upward, splattering the finer precincts we once looked to for wisdom with the same awful patina of chatty, ‘relatable’ garbage whose ultimate goal is to be passed around without anyone mentioning how gross your palms feel once you hand it off. We were warned and we didn’t listen and now we’re all paying the price.”

The Peculiarities of the Olfactory Sense in Insects

May 24, 2016 | by

From a 1917 ad for Sagless Spring Mattresses.

It’s late, and you’re still awake. Allow us to help with Sleep Aid, a series devoted to curing insomnia with the dullest, most soporific texts available in the public domain. Tonight’s prescription: a chapter from Ants and Some Other Insects: An Inquiry into the Psychic Powers of These Animals, a 1904 book by the University of Zurich’s Dr. August Forel.

An insect is extraordinarily stupid and inadaptable to all things not related to its instincts. Nevertheless I succeeded in teaching a water-beetle (Dytiscus marginalis) which in nature feeds only in the water, to eat on my table. While thus feeding, it always executed a clumsy flexor-movement with its fore-legs which brought it over on its back. The insect learned to keep on feeding while on its back, but it would not dispense with this movement, which is adapted to feeding in the water. On the other hand, it always attempted to leap out of the water (no longer fleeing to the bottom of the vessel) when I entered the room, and nibbled at the tip of my finger in the most familiar manner. Now these are certainly plastic variations of instinct. In a similar manner some large Algerian ants which I transplanted to Zurich, learned during the course of the summer months to close the entrance of their nest with pellets of earth, because they were being persecuted and annoyed by our little Lasius niger. In Algiers I always saw the nest-opening wide open. There are many similar examples which go to show that these tiny animals can utilize some few of their experiences even when this requires a departure from the usual instincts. Read More »

My Chemical Romance, and Other News

May 24, 2016 | by

  • Today in fancy Russian plagiarism scandals: upward of a thousand prosperous Russian bureaucrat types, all with doctoral degrees, stand accused of having bought their dissertations on the black market. Leon Neyfakh reports: “The alleged fraud was exposed by members of a volunteer organization that calls itself ‘Dissernet’ … Started in early 2013 by a handful of scientists and journalists, the group has undertaken the task of identifying and publicly shaming government functionaries, academic administrators, and members of Russia’s so-called elite who allegedly hold advanced degrees they did not earn through legitimate means … Some of the intellectual theft Dissernet has identified is comic in its brazenness and absurdity. Duma member Igor Igoshin allegedly earned his economics degree by turning someone else’s paper on the Russian chocolate industry into a thesis on meat; the dissertation replaced every mention of ‘chocolate’ with ‘beef,’ ‘dark chocolate’ with ‘home-grown beef,’ and ‘white chocolate’ with ‘imported beef.’ ”
  • Finally, it’s back in print: the unforgettable story of an alchemical marriage and the horny old coot who watched it happen! Johann Valentin Andreae’s 1616 story, The Chemical Wedding, “opens as a winged woman, ‘so bright and beautiful, in a sky-coloured robe,’ invites Christian Rosencreutz—the real-life founder of the philosophical secret society of Rosicrucianism—to a ‘Royal Wedding.’ ‘If God Himself decree it, Then you must to the mountain wend Where three stately temples stand. From there you’ll know Which way to go. Be wise, take care, Wash well, look fair, Or else the Wedding cannot save you,’ says a letter which sends Christian on a seven-day journey to serve the Bridegroom and the Bride, in [John] Crowley’s new version of the text … ‘When Andreae confessed late in life to writing it he called it a ludibrium—a Latin word that can mean a joke, a skit, a jeux d’esprit, or a hoax. I don’t think he was trying to disown it, but he certainly didn’t seem to want it taken with full seriousness. And it’s the fun, the outlandish incident, the surprises, and the wonderful main character—Christian Rosenkreutz, an old self-doubting, curious, kindly, horny guy—all that’s what I wanted to bring to new readers.”