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Urban Mountain Biking Looks Both Extremely Fun and Extremely Dangerous

VCA 2010 RACE RUN from changoman on Vimeo.

(h/t Mike)

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Tina Brown is the Antichrist (Or, Upon the Purchase of Andrew Sullivan by the Forces of Evil) [Updated!]

While Andrew Sullivan spends an awful lot of time concern trolling about debts and deficits and “entitlement reform,” you have to admit that his blog, The Daily Dish, pretty much sets the industry standard. He somehow covers everything, and even if he’s a bit too earnest for my tastes at times (“Know hope!”), and a bit of a moonbat at others (“Trig Palin Truth Now!”), he’s usually worth reading. That’s why I was sort of disheartened to hear of his upcoming move to Tina Brown’s Evil Media Empire, The Daily Beast:

But there are some opportunities you just can’t let pass by. The chance to be part of a whole new experiment in online and print journalism, in the Daily Beast and Newsweek adventure, is just too fascinating and exciting a challenge to pass up.

Translation: Tina Brown offered me a shit-ton of money, which was too “shit-ton” to pass up.

Le sigh.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with making money, and it’s not like Sullivan wasn’t surrounded by some pretty terrible bloggers at The Atlantic (ahem, McArdle, Goldberg), but I can’t help but think that being Meghan McCain’s colleague — of all the people in all of the world — will damage the Sullivan brand a little bit. Meghan McCain’s only accomplishment is being born to noted confused and curmudgeonly old person John McCain, who you may remember from some election a couple of years ago. Meghan McCain writes an occasional column for Tina Brown, who for some inscrutable reason deigns to publish it at the Beast. I would like to take this opportunity to introduce Sullivan to his new co-worker:

What’s happening in Wisconsin? The state in the Midwest is looking more like the Wild, Wild West.

This is Meghan McCain’s lede for a recent column on the protests in Wisconsin. If you think about it for even a second, you realize how nonsensical it is. When did Wisconsinites start having duels at high noon and panning for gold and wearing cowboy hats and spurs and chaps? And when did they start riding horses and moseying through saloon doors to order bourbon and play high stakes poker? When did they start warring with Injuns and lassoing bad guys and dodging dust-bunnies? WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN, MEGHAN McCAIN?

The answer is that it didn’t, and that either the “Wild, Wild West” connotes something very, very different for Meghan McCain than it does for the rest of the world (possible, if not plausible!), or that Megan McCain is a bad writer.

Inevitably, the rest of the column is a ringing endorsement of the latter possibility. It can be summarized, fairly accurately, as “I am a bad writer. I am a sloppy thinker. I am also a bad writer. I do not understand anything at all, and my writing skills are also poor. But I’m getting paid by Tina Brown and so, conclusion… wait for it… Unions bad!

I will miss the veneer of respectability The Atlantic lent you, Monsieur Sullivan.

[Update!] Alex Balk points out some more trailblazing journalism published in The Daily Beast today: a lovely photo essay called “30 Deadliest Pasta Dishes.” No, I am not making this up.

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Ever wonder what the other head-phoned people are listening to?

Headphones bring privacy into public. Or something. Anyway, they’re neat and ostentatiously mysterious. And I’ve often wanted to do exactly what these guys in Sao Paolo’ve been doing – just ask people what they’re listening to and why. I often guess. My fav:

 

Thiago Roque was listening to Life Wasted, by Pearl Jam. Thiago likes mainly rock and black music. He particularly likes rock music from the 70’s, he lists as his favorite bands: Led Zeppelin, Roling Stones, Pearl Jam and Nirvana.

Everytime he listens to Pearl Jam, he regrets a little bit the fact that he did not see the live concert in SP some years ago, so, whenever the shuffle chooses a song from them he said that he feels a bit sorry about missing out on this one.

Hat-tip.

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David Brooks is Always Wrong About Everything Always

While there are much abler debunkers of David Brooks’ brand of “respectable conservatism” than me, I thought I would take a moment to highlight a particularly lovely takedown from within the Times‘ readership itself. So, brief background: today, Brooks argues that the problem with our country is that old people have too much dignity, for which we can blame Social Security and Medicare, obviously. His solution? I dunno, something about everybody except rich people making painful sacrifices to reinvigorate the American spirit for The Children of the Future. Or something! It really only makes sense if you’re an apologist for oligarchs and charlatans, too!

Times reader Gemli provides a succinct response, which I’ve taken the liberty of reprinting in its entirety below. It’s really that lovely.

When I hear conservatives talk about the economy I am reminded of a type of stroke that makes the sufferer unable to recognize half of their body. Mr. Brooks can’t see his left side, that’s for sure. Only the right, deficit-cutting side is operational. Only by starving the old can the young thrive. Only by crushing unions can workers flourish. Instead of funding schools, we have to find ways to creatively strangle their resources.

Conservatives cannot even mention raising revenue. They physically can’t say the words, much less consider the actual possibility. They’re as afraid of t-a-x as they are of s-e-x, another taboo subject that makes them sweat and mutter and make up crazy medieval punishments for things like family planning, unwed mothers, and gay people. Make everybody hurt, that’s their motto.

You may remember that conservatives destroyed the economy. But we can’t talk about responsibility for the meltdown, because apparently that’s somehow controlled by the left side of their brains. We can’t talk about the wars, either, which put untold billions into the hands of war profiteers that could have been used to build schools by the hundreds.

All we can do is divert money from the poor, the old, the sick, the unemployed, and the homeless, and give it to the rich. Even people with half a brain should be able to see that there’s something wrong with that strategy.

That is all.

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The New Gawker is still a Giant, Glitchy Mess

A metaphor for the new Gawker, featuring Nick Denton and pie.

I don’t know who Nick Denton, Gawker guru of operations, is trying to fool here, but judging from the (1200+ mostly negative!) comments on the article, he may have missed his target. He begins with an admission, of sorts:

I should first explain the radio silence of the last couple of weeks. We’d wanted to respond to feedback not with promises of future improvements but with actual fixes.

Okay, so there were problems with the roll-out of the new design. Nice of Denton to acknowledge that much. But it turns out that the problem wasn’t that the new Gawker was a giant, unwieldy, monstrous piece of shit; it’s that the readers weren’t ready for all this change, which, after all, is the way of the future:

We had mistakenly thought mouse scrolling (via scrollwheels or trackpads) and keyboard shortcuts were enough for story navigation—an overly optimistic expectation to say the least.

Translation: You people are dumb! Sorry I didn’t realize how fucking dumb you are! Maybe if you learned how to navigate a website, we wouldn’t be having this conversation! Dummies!

Denton’s solution to the problem of the Ludditism and ignorance of his audience was to add a scrollbar in the right sidebar to improve navigation. Needless to say, the second scrollbar is glitchy, too! And it’s also slow! Which means it doesn’t really address the new Gawker’s overarching problems of glitchiness and slowness, because it’s both! And it compounds those problems by adding another layer of navigation to a site that doesn’t need another glitchy and slow piece of shit plugin on the front page!

Denton wants you to know that he’s been listening, though, and that he’s addressed another concern he’s heard from the commentariat:

For devotees of the traditional blog view, we preserved a version of the site in which the story excerpts (not just the headline index) are arranged in reverse chronological order much as in the past. But it wasn’t obvious how to set that option. So you’ll see a button at the top of the page which allows a reader to switch back and forth.

Yes, we all preferred the blog view. It was simple and elegant, as blog views are wont to be. So Denton would like to remind us that it’s still there, because he cares! But what he fails to address is the fact that the blog view, like the rest of the site, is slow! And glitchy! As fuck! Which is sort of the main problem with the redesign!

Next, Denton winningly addresses the problems with the new commenting system:

Yes, we thought that commenters could do for a few weeks without the fancier functionality such as reply notifications. We had a rollout deadline to meet.

[...]

[W]e should have at the very least restored the basic reply notifications. I hadn’t realized the extent to which the most avid commenters relied on that feature. It’s back.

From a glance at the comments on the article, reply notifications are back — with glitches! And not before half of the commentariat engaged in a voluntary exile to Crasstalk. I don’t know if it’s utter tone-deafness or just plain arrogance, but Denton seems to have forgotten that a good part of his business model relies on readers poring over the comments on any given article — which, I might add, are often better than the articles themselves! And bear in mind, too, that the commenters are people who stuck around through the infamous Gawker hack — i.e., they are pretty fucking hardcore. Now they’re fleeing en masse due to UI issues, and Denton has the gall to condescend to them by saying, “we thought that commenters could do for a few weeks without the fancier functionality”? I don’t know precisely what Denton has in mind when he uses the word “fancier” here, but an inability to navigate through comment threads counts as a pretty “basic” functionality problem. One that still hasn’t really been fixed. Bravo!

Finally, Denton addresses the elephant in the room:

I’m hesitant to provoke the server gods by declaring the worst is over. But the headline index was loading pretty swiftly and consistently last time I looked and all the comments on a post should now be displayed. (Neither of these things were reliably true the first week after the launch.) The pages are also lighter. As we further simplify the javascript on the page, they should load faster.

No, dude. Just, no. If my computer’s fan has to turn on every time I open a new tab on your Website of the Future because my RAM is 95% committed to loading the damned thing, you’re doing it wrong. Denton wants you to pretend that the new Gawker is not incredibly slow anymore. But it is! And if it’s sped up at all since the redesign, I certainly haven’t noticed it.

Look, Denton, I’m going to join the angry mob here for a second and get my pitchfork on: Go back to the way things were. Design a beta version of the new and improved Gawker Media Empire, toy with it for however long you need to until it actually, you know, works, and roll it out when it’s ready.

Thanks.

(FYI: You can still access the old Gawker sites by pretending you’re Canadian.)

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The Insufficient Impracticality of David Foster Wallace, Pt. 3

All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, Free Press, 256 pp., $26.00 (C$29.99)

***

Part 1 (Monday, 21 February 2011).

Part 2 (Wednesday, 24 February 2011).

***

I left you last Wednesday with a sketch-summary of Dreyfus and Kelly’s narration of the West’s odyssey from the divinely-fingerprinted world of Helen of Troy, to a world that we see as essentially banal and inert, organized around the often unconscious, self-eviscerating pursuit of an abstract, unattainable, and depressingly content-less ideal of the perfect distraction.

The next question seems fairly obvious: Recognizing that the Greeks had a receptiveness to the immediate world that we’ve largely, but not entirely (remember Wesley Autrey), lost, can we get this receptiveness back? What, aside from almost three thousands years of intellectual history, stands in our way?

***

As the authors see it, one of the main forces driving us away from the world is our technology. In the following passage, they describe the consequences of adopting a GPS system as a navigational tool:

For those of us who are directionally challenged (and both authors count ourselves among this group) the GPS seems to offer a great technological advance.

But notice the hidden cost to this advance. When the GPS is navigating for you, your understanding of the environment is about as minimal as it can possibly be. It consists of knowing things like “I should turn right now.” In the best case — and we want to take the best case here — this method of navigating gets you to your destination quickly and easily. But it completely trivializes the noble art of navigation, which was the province of great cultures from the sea-faring Phoenicians to the navigators of the Age of Discovery. To navigate by GPS requires no sense of where you are, no sense of where you’re going , and no sense whatsoever for how to get there. Indeed, the whole point of the GPS is to spare you the trouble of navigating.

But to lose the sense of struggle is to lose the sensitivities — to landmarks, street signs, wind direction, the height of the sun, the stars — all meaningful distinctions that navigational skill reveals. To navigate by GPS is to endure a series of meaningless pauses at the end of which you do precisely what you’re told. There is something deeply dehumanizing about this: it’s like being the central figure in a Beckett play without the jokes. Indeed, in an important sense this experience turns you into an automated device the GPS can use to arrive at its destination..

This gives you some sense of why DFW’s “perfect distraction” is of such interest to them. Imagine the utility of the GPS universalized such that one’s responsibilities for navigating through life were completely alleviated by technology. Do we not catch a glimmer of what it would be like to be perfectly distracted? Think of Wall-E, the 2008 Pixar masterpiece in which humanity is so blissfully distracted that the only place where life and romance can exist is among the robots built to service it.

The beauty, though, is that the world is still there — as the humans in Wall-E’s world are delighted to recognize when they’re jarred from their absorption in the distraction machine. Technology may turn our eyes from the inspirations the world offers, but as long as the world still exists, the potential for it to inspire us does too.

As proof, the authors point to a number of instances in which powerful flashes of such inspiration do break through the haze and register with us. Autrey’s experience is one example: The extreme situation he was confronted with gave him the opportunity to realize his courage, and his receptiveness to this extreme situation meant that he allowed himself to be pulled into action. But although we were able to see the flash of his heroism, it’s hard for us to decipher its actual shape — hence our incredulity at the inspired (and not deliberative) character of his action.

And then there’s sports. The authors describe a number of athletes expressing heroism both in their sport (Bill Bradley; Roger Federer via DFW), and because of what their sport allowed them to do — the story of Lou Gehrig’s riveting farewell to baseball in Yankee Stadium opens the book’s final chapter. These athletes’ performances create the opportunity for an entire community to “rise as one in joy to sing the praises of the Hail Mary pass, the Immaculate Reception, the Angels, the Saints, the Friars, or the Demon Deacons”; for all of them (hero included) to know, if only for a moment, “exactly what they [are] about.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Let’s Play “Guess the Black Person,” Academy Awards Edition (UPDATED, Tuesday)

The other day, when I was editing Tom’s Oscar Predictions post, I suggested that he might want to make a funny about the Academy’s sterling track record of recognizing black talent. Wikipediaing “Black Academy Award Nominees,” I control-’F'-ed “2010″ to see how they were celebrating the talents of black America this year, and, well, I just never would have guessed the ONE name (out of, what, 200 or so major nominees?) that popped up. Have you guessed? Well you’re wrong. Because apparently the ONE black person nominated for an Academy Award this year was Hailee Steinfeld, better known as the little (white) girl who’s at the center of pretty much all of the scenes in True Grit, which I guess translates to three-fifths of the scenes using the Academy’s rubric, which is why it makes sense that she was ghettoized to the Supporting Actress category? I’d been wondering about that.

Anyway, I just wanted to congratulate the Academy and the North American film industry in general, for…. um…. not using RACIST affirmative action? (Because as everyone knows it’s not exclusion that’s racist, but affirmative action). Look, Academy, you made Clarence Thomas smile.

***

UPDATE (11 a.m., Tuesday): I thought I’d relay a back and forth I’ve been having with a commenter on this post on Reddit. Hopefully it clarifies any ambiguities anyone might have had about what the intended takeaway from this post was:

Redditor: I fail to see why this is important. If there weren’t any good films put out there with black actors, then there aren’t going to be any nominees. Hate to say, but Tyler Perry isn’t exactly Oscar material.

Me: But why aren’t there any good films out there with black actors? Anyone that’s seen the Wire know that there are plenty “out there.”

Him: There are many reasons why an actor would turn down work. Prior engagements, salary requirements, etc might cause issues. Just because there was one movie this year that featured a “black” actress (who looks very much white, so I am putting that in quotes) doesn’t mean that next year there won’t be predominantly black actors next year. It goes with the natural ebb and flow of the business. Anyone who says otherwise is just trying to cause a stink to get their names in the papers, and helps propagate the racial intolerance across this country. As bad as it is for a white man to get promoted over a black man for his skin color, it is just as bad for a white man to get attacked or passed over for promotion because of his skin.

The issue here isn’t the academy, the issue here is shitty ass internet bloggers are trying to get their names out there, so they make a non-issue out into something that seems catastrophic. Oh no, lets call Al Sharpton because this year a good, black actor didn’t want to work on the right project.

Me: Yeah, total non-representation in a data set of 200 of 12% of the American population just wreaks of being the result of “actors turning down work.” You seriously don’t think this is symptomatic of a deep-rooted cultural problem in America? I totally agree that the Academy should nominate actors for the best performances of the year, but there is something rotten in the state of Denmark (where Denmark is the larger cultural equation).

PS – Did you even read the post? If not, read the last paragraph. If yes, reread the last paragraph.

Him: I read it, and it’s pretty obvious as to what it is. Reread my post, and you will see that I called it out for what it is- bullshit.

12% of the american population may be black, but those 12% aren’t in film. Those 12% aren’t putting the kind of work in to get close to being oscar worthy.

Why don’t we go ahead and complain about all the other actors and actresses that don’t get recognized -ever- by the academy? Oh yeah, because their work is shit.

Me: Your argument is that the world and the academy are a meritocracy? You crazy.

Him: No, my argument is that to be recognized for doing good work, you have to do good work.

I don’t get a plaque for showing up to work every day. Fuck, I don’t even get a raise for showing up to work on a daily basis.

Could we see more black actors in better roles? Sure. Is that going to happen without black actors taking whatever paycheck they get (AKA Madea goes to the drive thru)? Hell no.

Me: Ya. Your life is really hard. Nigger please.

UPDATE: Okay, so I realized that I made a bit of a leap there that might have been a bit hard to follow. My point was that:

(a) Your whole position (even if you don’t realize it) is still premised on the idea that the world tends towards being “fair” (whatever that means)

(b) One can only believe what is not blatantly, undeniably contradicted by one’s own experience.

(c) People that have hard lives know that the idea that the world tends towards being fair is contradicted all over the place in the world, because they’re the ones that get smacked in the face by these contradictions, and therefore…

(d) You’ve had the privilege of not really having a life that’s all that hard. Whatever sucks about it /is/ largely your own doing.

But you can’t be faulted for not having a hard life. That’s not your fault. What you can be faulted for is failing to cultivate the imagination to see that your experience is far from a universal one.

There were no black people nominated by the Academy this year, because, yes, there were disproportinatly few prominent roles in “serious” movies that called for a black person. Why? Because middle, upper middle, and upper class people (aka people with money) don’t tend to buy shit that’s about black people, whether it’s good or bad. If there isn’t a clear market for something among the people with money, it’s going to be hard to get the money together to finance a product. Don’t believe me that this happens? A nice little case study is the ratings difference between the “white” season of the wire (season 2), and the subsequent even better but black season of the wire (season 3). That’s just one example.

The laziness and poor decision making of black actors are far from the primary factors here. And frankly, it’s racist as hell of you to suggest that they are.

So far that last comment has gotten a downvote but no response. To be fair, I only added the update this morning.

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America’s last WWI vet dies at age 110

***

As reported by various news outlets, including BBC News, Frank Buckles — the last living American to have fought in World War One — died last weekend at his home in West Virginia. His death came a mere four weeks after his 110th birthday — and a mere 94 years after he first lied about his age in order to join the fight overseas in The War to End All Wars.

In case math isn’t your strong suit (i.e., you’re an American secondary school student), that means that young Buckles voluntarily — even eagerly, according to reports — enlisted in our armed services at the tender age of 16 in order to risk life and Limburger to defend the world from Europe’s Central Powers (a.k.a., yesteryear’s “Axis of Evil”).

I don’t know about you, but when I was 16, the most pressing matter on my mind was how to get a clearer signal on the scrambled porn channel.

So here’s to you, young Buckles. I hope you finally get that war memorial you’ve been advocating for. After all, if anyone has waited long enough, it’s you.

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Weather Report: Portland, Oregon

“Got a cigarette by chance, Boss?” The kid steps through the train from behind me, puffing steam. I look up and shake a no. My brain automatically tallies up the time since my last smoke – two years? Two-and-a-half? Something like that. I was — just 15 minutes ago — strolling behind a fellow with a lit cigarette, matching my stride to his for a brief moment, in order to sniff the sweet-scented air that he trailed in his wake. This kid on the MAX doesn’t understand the significance of his question. He sucks his teeth at me and moves to the other end of the car.

It’s pleasantly warm in here. They heat these trains. It’s like a public service that they provide along with the cheap transportation.  I appreciate it. It’s fuckin’ cold outside. Waiting for the train, I stood on the platform with my back to the wind, facing down the stream of traffic. I watched a bicycle pass a car on the right, in the middle of an intersection, over the slick, metal MAX tracks. His flickering red tail-light was still visible two blocks away. That seems pretty safe.

The doors open at each stop and the fluid that moistens my eyeballs freezes in the icy blast of outside air. I have to blink a few times to thaw them out.

All day today people were talking about snow. It was forecast for last night, but it didn’t come. The meteorologists called it for this evening, between four and five. It didn’t come then either. I heard someone say that they were predicting snow by ten o’clock tonight. It’s 9:54 now, and let me tell you… it’s not snowing, but it’s cold.

(image via)

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The Week is Over

 

Here are some things that happened.

If you need anything else, I will be at the bar drinking myself into a coma.

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