July 13, 2016

In Which The Author Wonders How These People Find The Time To Actually Give A Shit About This Stuff

Top ten sentiments ACTUALLY expressed by REAL PEOPLE at my building's shared ownership residents' meeting this evening.

IMPORTANT CONTEXT FOR NON-BRITISH READERS: In Britain, as in most places, and especially in London, there is a shortage of affordable housing. This shortage affects both the very poor, who can't even pay private market rent, and the middle-class, who can afford rent but have little hope of buying property. To solve both problems, the government legislated a class of housing called "shared ownership," whereby middle-class people can buy a portion of a home and pay heavily subsidised rent on the other portion. The catch is that these shared ownership homes are usually only given planning permission if they are built into new developments that also include social housing for the very poor. The result is "mixed-tenure" buildings like mine where the middle-class share with both the very poor and often, in cases where the building also offers private rent and private ownership apartments, the moderately rich—the idea being that the richer residents effectively subsidise the poorer ones, while the melting pot of so many people from different backgrounds living in close proximity fosters mutual understanding and greater social cohesion.

That idea, at least if tonight's meeting was anything to go by, is rather seriously over-optimistic. END CONTEXT.

And so, without further ado:

10. "I paid a lot of money for my parking space, and you're just giving them away to disabled people for free?"

9. "Who's responsible for the roof of the new 24-hour gym opening next door? Because my window looks out over it and I've noticed a lot of debris collecting up there already."

8. "I'm a public school teacher and I'm all in favour of inclusion and I don't want to sound like an elitist twat and I voted 'In' and all that, but if I'd known there were going to be so many social housing units in the building I would never have bought here. We're all new homeowners and I think I speak for the whole room when I say that frankly it's been a disappointing experience."

7. "I think the 24-hour gym will make the building safer, because it will be manned all the... Sorry, "manned" is a terrible word to use, isn't it? It will be staffed by people all the time."

6. "I know we've established that the people on the lower floors can't let their kids ride bikes around the common outdoor area... But my kid can, right? He's only little." (*NB ADDITIONAL CONTEXT: the social housing is on floors one to six, the shared ownership housing on floors seven and eight.)

5. "Somebody keeps leaving cotton buds in the stairwell."

4. "Is it safe to leave my bike in the bike storage locker? Do the social housing units have access to that?"

3. "I mean, that is just horrendous. I'm genuinely offended. How can anyone not recycle?"

2. "Can we get some kid-friendly signs in the bin storage room? Because a lot of the social housing families get their kids to take out the rubbish and they leave it in the wrong place."

1. [Collective gasp of delight at rumour that a coffee shop will be opening downstairs.]

I didn't make up a word of this folks. Not. A. Word.

June 26, 2016

It's Fine, We're Already Making More Whine Than Europe

Dear sore losers,

1. You do not value diversity and condemn marginalization and exclusion above all else, because ever since the result you have been acting like people who think differently from you (i.e. Leave voters) are ruining the country. That is by definition marginalization.

2. The younger generation was not defrauded, or screwed over by their parents and grandparents. Younger people were half as likely to vote in the last general election, despite the unambiguous promise of an EU referendum if the Conservatives were elected. We screwed over ourselves a year ago when we let that happen.

3. It doesn't matter if a petition for a new referendum gets 1 million signatures or 2 million or even 18 million (i.e. more than the number of Leave voters). That is not how elections work. You ask the country once and then accept the outcome. In this case, the outcome was that more people wanted to leave. I cannot stress that enough. This was a democratic decision by the eligible voting population. Just because you don't agree doesn't mean you get a do-over. This is why older people think millennials have a sense of entitlement.

4. All Leave voters are not bigots, idiots, trolls, etc. Most of them just aren't happy with the status quo and are using the enfranchisement granted them by our democratic system of government to try and change the status quo. The complete failure of remain voters to understand that (a) not everyone has a cosmopolitan life in London, (b) not everyone wants a cosmopolitan life in London and (c) the above doesn't make someone an ogre, is part of the reason the leave campaign had so much traction.

5. Leaving the EU is not an irreparable disaster for the country. If you could stop complaining about having lost and start talking about how to ensure an out Britain will continue to reflect the cosmopolitan values you care about so much, a lot of things won't have to change at all.


June 24, 2016

Your Brexit Questions Answered

After Britain's vote to leave the EU, some members of the public are understandably worried about the consequences for their day-to-day lives. This guide covers some of the most frequently asked questions. 

1. Can I still eat hummus? Yes. 

2. Can Scotland qualify for Euro 2020 now? Absolutely not.

3. Oh shit. Is my cleaner an EU citizen? Probably.

4. Is this how Nazi Germany started? No. They had better sausages, for one thing.

5. Can I still get shitfaced and trash my Ibiza/Mallorca/Cyprus/Alicante hotel room? Yes, but it will cost more and you might need to pay for travel insurance if you still want your stomach pumped afterwards.

6. Is Donald Trump king of England now? No.

7. When are they going to let David Dimbleby go to bed? Hopefully soon. 

8. What if other countries now hold their own referenda? At least we'll have a lot of good pun opportunities.

9. Can I sweepingly write off the 17 million people who voted leave as stupid bigots who won't even try to be inclusive or sympathetic? Sure, if you like irony!

10. Are you totally sure about the hummus thing? Yes.  

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.