April 10, 2016

Meanwhile, In The Ivies

Today I would like to take my quarterly break from Total Blog Silence to talk about this story from The Harvard Crimson: Berries Sour Debate Over UC Funding
On Sunday, Freshman Class Committee Treasurer Scott Xiao ’19 introduced legislation to appropriate $850 to Harvard University Dining Services for a “Berry Brain Break” on Tuesday, as part of this week’s Freshman Health Project. The legislation proposed funding an assortment of strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries to feed about 400 students.

“Our constituents say they want to see berries at our enhanced brain break,” Xiao said.
I'm sorry, a "Brain Break"? Way to bury the lede. The headline for this whole story should really be "Harvard students find way to make even snacking sound fucking lame."

But apparently not all on the Undergraduate Council were convinced that spending two thirds of one credit hour of undergraduate tuition on some berries was such a good idea.
Oak Yard representative Olu Oisaghie ’19 called such an allotment “irresponsible.”

Leverett House representative Jullian A. Duran ’18 said “there are definitely other foods that are healthy that don’t cost $850.”

“This didn’t feel like the best appropriation of money,” Oak Yard representative Nicholas D. Boucher ’19 said at the meeting, explaining his opposition to the berry bill when the Freshman Class Committee debated it.
To be honest, I feel like the real headline here should be: "Harvard doesn't already serve berries to students." Like, really? What kind of place can charge $63,000 per year per student and then turn around with a straight face and say "ooooooh, berries? IDK, seems kind of pricey." At $15,000 per student in room and board each year, they should have berries pouring from faucets all over campus on demand.
Some representatives pointed to survey results that indicated that berries were popular among freshmen and argued that the committee still had close to $2,000 in its budget remaining for the rest of the school year.

Others, however, were not sold on the alleged popularity of berries.

“I hear people talking about how a lot of their constituents are so excited to have berries at brain break. I’m not sure we have the same constituents,” Oisaghie said.

Speaking of making even snacking sound lame, how about we wrap up this debate with pretty much the nerdiest Harvard kid quote we can find?
Winthrop House representative Vimal S. Konduri ’17, a Crimson news editor, said that “technically, there are berries at every brain break, because botanically, bananas are berries.”
*slow clap*

Anyway, spoiler alert, the student council ultimately voted in favour of the berry spending bill, only to have the School of Public Health step in and offer to pick up the tab anyway. And in the event:
Hundreds of freshmen crowded Annenberg Hall to enjoy an assortment of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries during Tuesday’s Brain Break, but some...
...were left with just sour grapes.

“There were a bunch of people who took two bowls so that they could get as many berries as they could,” Catherine Y. Zhang ’19 said. “I’m pretty sure there were some people who brought tupperware.” [...] Though the event was scheduled to last from 9:15 p.m. to 11:15 p.m., all the berries had been consumed by 9:40. [...]

“I wish there was a more sustainable solution for students to get berries as opposed to one day for one hour,” Deepika S. Kurup ’19 said.
I mean, seriously, how expensive can it possibly be to buy a couple of punnets of strawberries every now and then? You'd think these kids had never seen a piece of fruit before.

Finally, the interview scoop that every journalist reporting on a story like this dreams of getting:
Katie C. BERRY ’19 was one of many students who arrived after all of the berries had disappeared, and said she was “devastated.”

“I was looking forward to having some berries, but there was nothing for me," Berry said.
I take it back. This is really what I'd call...

...berrying the lede.

December 07, 2015

Things Andrew Can't Believe Today, In No Particular Order

1. America is a real place.

2. Brooklyn Beckham is old enough to leave school.

3. No, really. America is a real place?

4. The lengths people will go to get a ticket for a free event.

5. Seriously, though. You're kidding, right?

6. There was an episode of House about SARS.

7. I got nominated for a Pushcart Prize!

8. Just the general pervasiveness of a sense of entitlement in the world.

9. How important a single bridge can be.


November 13, 2015

Rat Race

I would like to begin by acknowledging the obvious irony in me, a white man, saying the following:


Of course, you know, I'm a liberal guy with a sociology degree. I've always known in the abstract that white men are awful. But having taken a commuter train from central London home yesterday with my six-week-old baby (context: I had a baby six weeks ago), I now understand far more viscerally just what colossal cuntbags white men can be.

I would like to pause to acknowledge the obvious truth that sweeping generalisations about any group of people based on their gender and/or race are by necessity not accurate for every person belonging to that group. Though I think white men can handle it.

More than any other kind of person with whom I came into contact last night, white men were far more likely to (a) fail to acknowledge the existence of another person trying to wrestle a large pram through commuter pedestrian traffic on a narrow pavement; (b) (on a related point) cut me off, especially with their own LARGE FUCKING SUITCASES; (c) just stand in the fucking way because they were too engrossed in their own newspaper/smartphone/wet dream to pay any attention to the world outside their own soma. Once I finally got on my train, parking my pram in the doorwell because there was nowhere else to put it, some dude in a suit proceeded to stand next to me and block the other half of the door for the rest of the journey reading his goddamn broadsheet, even when the train stopped at the next station and people needed to, you know, get off. That's right: the person standing reading a newspaper didn't move a fucking inch, so that the person standing with a pram had to awkwardly squeeze around said pram to make even half a channel through which other passengers could get off, and through which many of them had no choice but to jostle the sleeping baby while squeezing out the door.

I would like to pause once more, by the way, to acknowledge the perhaps less obvious but no less important truth that, in the business district in central London, the sample is heavily biased towards incredibly egocentric assholes who wear suits and read broadsheets on busy trains, and also that this population self-selects heavily for white men — and so the fact that I observed a lot of white men acting like douchebags last night doesn't in itself prove as much about white men in general as it does about rich pricks in central London. Then again, the two black dudes in the doorwell on the same train immediately offered to move, and the white woman who had to jostle my sleeping baby on her way out apologised to ME, even though I was more (inextricably) in her way than anyone.

(And if I could just digress from this digression, I would also like to once more acknowledge my own inherent privilege as a white man and wonder what might have been different about all of the above interactions had I been, say, an Indian woman. Other than the fact that my book would be a few spots to the left on the general fiction shelf and I would have won the fucking Pulitzer already, perhaps white asshole would have moved; perhaps polite black dudes wouldn't have; perhaps apologetic white woman would have silently glared at me. Identity politics, amirite?)

When I did get to my station, by the way, in marginally more suburban London, two white dudes did offer to help me get the pram off the train and over the particular large gap beside the platform — so maybe it really is more about rich pricks than white men. But then again, show me that Venn diagram and I'll show you a guy with a pram and a chip on his shoulder.

September 09, 2015

Get Your BAPs Out

If you're one of those people who likes to keep on top of the latest poetry controversies (and who isn't!), you might be having conflicted feelings right now about Yi-Fen Chou, aka Michael Derrick Hudson, aka some white dude who occasionally submits poems using an Asian nom de plume in order to increase his chances of getting published, and who was (un?)lucky enough to have one of those pseudonymous poems picked for Best American Poetry this year (by a Native American, just to really throw a racial politics spanner in the works), thereby catapulting him into the realm of internet infamy.

But did Hudson actually do anything wrong? And who is allowed to say so? And does agreeing/disagreeing with other white/Asian people on the topic make me racist/enlightened myself? These are the questions that observers have been endlessly, hand-wringingly asking about the affair for several days now—so to try and set everyone's mind at ease, I present here a handy Guide to Calibrating Your Moral Outrage:

SCENARIO: Asian Poet Is Published In Prestigious Publication


1. Was he actually Asian?
YES: Great! No moral outrage necessary
NO: WTF? Go to 2.

2. But at least he was non-white, right?
YES: Phew! Let's talk about hierarchies of oppression.
NO: WTF? Go to 3.

3. Did he actually pretend to be Asian beyond using an Asian name?
YES: Probably safe to commence moral outrage. (See supplementary guide 37A: How Racist Is My Impression of an Asian Person?)
NO: Hmm. Go to 4.

4. Was he submitting to a publication reserved exclusively for Asian authors, or one that privileges Asian authors over non-Asian ones?
YES: That's pretty messed up. Commence moral outrage.
NO, he was submitting to the literary journal at the University of fucking Nebraska: Go to 5.

5. Did he self-identify as Asian?
YES: Good point. Who said he was a ciswhite man anyway? Let him be whoever he wants to be.
NO: Go to 6.

6. Wait, was he even a man?
YES: Great! Let's talk about intersectionality.
NO: Fuck it, let's talk about intersectionality anyway.

7. Did the person selecting the poem look at the author's name ahead of time?
YES: Commence moral outrage. (I think?)
NO: Jeez, is it getting hot in here or is it just me?

8. Was the poem selected by another Asian?
YES: Was it? Or was it someone pretending to be an Asian? Go to 1.
NO: Go to 9.

9. Was his poem selected by another person of colour?
YES: Wait, can I say "person of colour"?
NO: Of course it wasn't, because the chances of a person of colour being in a position of power in the publishing industry are offensively small. Unless we're talking about Sherman Alexie or Roxane Gay or Ta-Nehisi Coates.

10. Wait, are we talking about Sherman Alexie or Roxane Gay or Ta-Nehisi Coates?
YES: To Twitter!
NO: Toni Morrison?

11. Did the person selecting the poem realise it was actually written by a white dude?
YES: Go to 10.
NO: Go to 12.

12. Did the person selecting the poem not initially realise it was actually written by a white dude but then found out and decided to publish it anyway?
NO: Great! The system works.

13. Has anyone thought about the fact that some poet felt so strongly about getting his work into print that he was willing to submit it with a pseudonym that he could never credibly or noncontroversially take ownership of?
YES: Poignant, huh?
NO: Oh, boo-hoo, the white man's burden.

14. Was the poem so irredeemably shitty that it would never have been published if the author didn't have an Asian name?
YES: Commence artistic outrage. (Unless... Did we decide whether he was actually Asian? Because this is a pretty dicey statement otherwise.)
NO: Great! The system works.

15. Isn't there some major humanitarian crisis happening in Europe right now?
YES: But fucking poetry, man.
NO: Great! The system works.

April 30, 2015

And Other Katy Perry Songs

Here are some statistics about my night at the New York Public Library's Young Lions Fiction Award Benefit on Monday:

Drinks I had to calm down before the event: 3

Additional drinks I told myself I would have before announcement of award, in case I had to get up on stage and talk: 0

Seconds of deliberation between being offered free champagne on arrival and accepting: 2.21

Unintentionally insulting comments made to fellow nominee Ben Lerner: 1

Times Ethan Hawke manhandled me into position for a photograph: 2

(*Unrelated) times I said "Thank you" to Ethan Hawke: 2

Times I met Jenny Slate without realising it was Jenny Slate: 1

Times I thought "oh shit, that was Jenny SLATE": 1 (at least)

Embarrassed flinches at awkward phrasing while listening to actor Vincent Piazza read my work: 6

Moments during said reading when I thought "what do I know this guy from, he looks so familiar?": 16

Times I IMDB'ed him afterwards: 2

Things I've actually seen him in: 0

So why did he look so damn familiar?: beats me

Times I said "Thank you again" to Ethan Hawke: 1

Times I saw winner Molly Antopol and considered stopping her to tell her (genuinely) how much I enjoyed her book and that I thought she far and away deserved to win: 5

Times I actually talked to Molly Antopol: 0

Mini tacos I ate while continuing to drink at after party: SHUT UP I'LL TELL YOU WHEN I'VE HAD ENOUGH

Liquor stores I attempted to go to on way back to hotel: 3

Bottles of "Vineyard Creek" wine-based beverage I considered buying at Duane Reade: 0

Bottles of overpriced hotel wine I bought instead: 1

Glasses of wine anybody else actually wanted: 0

Times I would do it all again: ∞

April 04, 2015

Breaking: Earning Less Than Similarly Qualified Men Just A Bunch Of Whining Too

Last October, researchers at the Open University of Israel published the results of a study investigating the factors influencing how women recall the pain of labour. According to their rather dry abstract:
We found that despite the exceptional physical and emotional experiences of childbirth, the memory of the pain involved in labor was biased toward the average of the peak pain and the end pain, whereas the duration of the delivery had a relatively negligible effect on the recollected intensity of pain.... [Our analysis] corroborated previous findings that the level of pain toward the end of an experience greatly influences the way the overall experience is remembered.
The study was picked up by science journalism clearinghouse EurekAlert, who glossed it quite reasonably thus:
Memories of pain during childbirth tied to intensity rather than length of labor

Childbirth is physically intense and, for many women, it is the most painful experience they will have. And yet, new research shows that the amount of time a woman spends in labor doesn't seem to impact how she remembers her labor pain afterwards.
EurekAlert also explains the theory underpinning the experiment:
The idea that we tend to remember an experience as a joint product of peak point and end point of the experience while ignoring all other parts is well known to researchers, dubbed the "peak-end bias," but it has primarily been tested in lab settings using relatively brief experiments. Thus, it remained unclear as to whether the peak-end bias would apply to real life events.
So, there you have it. A couple of psychologists found a clever way to test in a real-life situation a phenomenon that has frequently been observed in lab tests.

Say, how did the press pick this up, anyway?
Study says child birth pain not as painful as women claim
That's right, folks. The take-home for the (male?) junior staff writer whose (female?) editor handed him the science beat this week was: why bitches always gotsta be complainin', man?

Okay, junior staff writer. Let's see how else you can completely botch this.
The researchers then called the moms twice, two days after birth and again two months later... The results show the women rated the process less painful two days after their delivery than they did when the researchers asked them again two months later.

According to the researchers, they conclude that moms are likely to forget all the points during labor that aren't quite as painful and just focus on the moments that were the most painful.
PEOPLE. Not "moms." PEOPLE. If a dude gets kicked eight times and one of those times happens to be in the nuts, he'll probably remember the whole experience as pretty freakin' painful. You'd never tell him he was probably recalling it as worse than it was. Jesus. If you'll permit a moment of angry feminist ranting, this is pure patriarchal devaluing-the-experiences-of-women bullshit.

It's also, maybe, a case of an idiot being put in charge of science writing, because...
The reason for the study? To determine if an epidural is helpful for moms.

March 13, 2015

He Was A Featherweight

From the Glasgow Herald: Edinburgh Zoo urged to cancel "party" nights after Peta claims bird punched at similar event at another zoo
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) [has reassured] People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) there will be no "drunken atmosphere" at evenings at Edinburgh Zoo after claims similar night events at another zoo led to one visitor trying to pour beer over a tiger and another accidentally punching a bird.
I say if you're the sort of person who wants to pour beer over a tiger, you should go for it and reap what you sow. But punching a bird? That's a chickenshit move. The guy probably winged it afterwards, too.
A spokeswoman for the RZSS said the events attract people who may not normally visit a zoo who learn about endangered species and how to help.
At similar recent events at the London Zoo, one person reportedly tried to pour beer on a tiger, another allegedly attempted to undress and enter the enclosure that held penguins and another fell and 'accidentally' punched a bird, among other incidents... [But] London Zoo was reported as saying earlier that its "Zoo Lates" evenings were safe and that only three people had been removed from events in two years.
I wonder which three people, right?
Edinburgh Zoo said that alcohol will be available at its Zoo Nights which are to be held over four nights in the summer but that entertainers and bars are situated away from the animals.
Funny, because usually zoos put their animals behind the bars SPLABANGO!