December 27, 2013

December 20, 2013

December 19, 2013


From the Edinburgh Evening News: Electronic cigarette started council HQ fire blaze of irony
AN electronic cigarette burned a section of carpet at the council’s administrative HQ after it “exploded” while being charged on a computer.
Jesus. Can't a man plug his cigarette into a USB port these days without fearing for his life?

...and other sentences 1980s Andrew cannot parse.

(See also: "Can't a man track his run on a smartphone these days without worrying about his data allowance?"; "Can't a man update his blog these days without worrying about his Google juice?"; "Can't a man vote in a democratic election these days without worrying the winning candidates will purposefully make it harder for people to go to the doctor?" etc.)

 In answer to my original question, though, apparently the answer is no:
Councillor Ricky Henderson, the city’s health, social care and housing leader, said: [...] “I suppose we all have to be careful about what devices we plug into a computer in this day and age, especially if they are left unattended.”
Councillor Henderson then narrowed his eyes and looked over the reporter's shoulder, shouting "I'VE GOT MY EYE ON YOU, MOUSE!"
...There have been [other] reports of the devices 
exploding. In one incident in the US in September, Elizabeth Wilkowski described plugging a Chinese-made electronic cigarette into her computer to charge it up when it exploded, rattling her entire house in Atlanta, Georgia. 
She compared the explosion with a bomb detonation.
Good to know that simile is not completely dead, then.

December 13, 2013

December 06, 2013

December 04, 2013

I Was Just Happy To Be Asked

From's weekly Q&A feature called "Five Questions With ..." runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game today and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.
The latest edition features... Andrew Ladd.
As a guy who has won the Stanley Cup twice, can you describe what it has been like going through the process now in Winnipeg of trying to build a winner, being at the forefront of it as the team's captain and dealing with the frustrations that come with it?

Actually, this is awkward, but I haven't won the Stanley Cup twice... The only thing I've won recently is the AWP Prize in the Novel, for my novel What Ends. I also don't live in Winnipeg. I think maybe you're thinking of the other Andrew Ladd?

But anyway, no big deal. Let's not dwell on it. Oh, and in answer to your question: frustrating or not, I can't think of a better place to build a winning team than in WINnipeg, am I right!!!???

What are some reasons, some signs, that would allow you to be optimistic about this club now?

Well, the bread is really nicely toasted. And this chicken salad looks very fresh. Overall, I think it will be an excellent sandwich.

Is that part of a team still being in the growing, building phase?

Uh... Yes? Teams in the growing phase absolutely need a lot of good sandwiches.

It sounds like you believe there is enough talent in the room to take the Jets to the next level. So, how do you do it? How do you get to the next level? How do you move ahead of average?

I don't mean to be a pedant, but that already takes us up to six questions. It seems like kind of an unfair loophole if you can just squeeze a whole load of different questions into one block of bold text and call it "one" question.

Anyway, I guess what I would say about this is that, obviously, the Jets' record against the Sharks is definitely the most important thing to focus on. I mean, absolutely, the Jets have talent, but Russ Tamblyn only gets you so far, you know?

You were one of 45 players at the Canadian Olympic orientation camp in August. It's December now, so have you been thinking about the Olympics, making Team Canada, and what you can add to the team if you are selected?

Again, I think you must be confusing me with the other Andrew Ladd.

November 29, 2013

November 22, 2013

November 15, 2013

November 13, 2013

Seeing Red

For readers just joining us, a little bit of context: the completely irrational and unjustified superiority complex New Yorkers have about how great their city is drives me up the wall.

I also like to exaggerate my anger, often with gratuitous profanity, for comic effect and/or to emphasize my opinion.

Okay, now that we're all on the same page, let's get started.

From The New Yorker: Hannah Goldfield: Toro’s Uneven Tapas

(The following is the opening line of the article.)
Aside from the occasional outfielder, there’s not much Boston has that New York wants.
OHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Well I've got news for you: there's not a whole goddamn lot New York has that Boston wants, either. I know, I know, you have SO many great restaurants, and we're real fucking jealous, but all this irritating humility and realistic perspective on what's important in life is just keeping us too busy to do anything about it.
But ever since Toro, the popular South End tapas restaurant, opened a location on the West Side Highway several weeks ago, New Yorkers can’t seem to get enough. The hundred-and-twenty-seat dining room, which takes reservations, is consistently booked, and the line at the door is long with hopeful walk-ins.
Heavens! What could possibly be wrong with them? Will any rube overlook the stinking taint of Bostonianness just to taste James Beard-nominated cooking these days? It's positively ghastly.
The paella de langostino, with its mess of gummy, over-seasoned rice and measly scattering of lobster chunks and Brussels-sprout leaves, is, at ninety dollars (in a lobster glut!), downright insulting... and it’s disappointing to discover that the grilled Catalan sea cucumbers you just paid twenty-seven dollars for amount to a tiny tangle of bland, shredded muscle, drowning in butter. In a city with so much great, affordable food, not to mention transcendent, expensive food, it’s a little hard to understand this uneven newcomer’s appeal.
Really? I think it's pretty easy. Here's what happened in the Toro head office last year:
AWARD-WINNING CHEF KEN ORINGER: Man, running these numerous nationally acclaimed restaurants is hard work.


KO: But I guess I just can't ever feel successful until I have a restaurant in New York. I mean, it is the greatest city in the world and has all the greatest restaurants in the world.

JB: Um...

KO: That's funny, I can't feel the right side of my face.

[later, in hospital]

KO: Seriously, though. We should open a restaurant in New York. Did you know those idiots will pay $90 for fucking paella?

JB: Let's toss some foreskins in butter and call them sea cucumbers and you've got a deal!
But no, wait, what am I saying? There is obviously a much simpler explanation for Toro's popularity in New York: Bostonians dress badly.
You could chalk it up to buzz—or maybe those people clamoring for tables are actually all homesick Bostonians. On a recent evening, one particularly jovial diner was wearing pants patterned with large, colorful sailboats.
So, to recap: Boston is a shitty city; the numerous national critics who think Toro's chefs are amazing probably just didn't realize that Toro is in Boston, and thank god they had some snotty New Yorker to point it out to them; expensive food is bad unless it's expensive food served by a New York restaurant, in which case it's transcendent; and people in Boston wear trousers with sailboats on them, and/or/hence/because they don't know anything about truly good food. Obviously.

No doubt any New Yorkers reading this... Well, no doubt they're not real New Yorkers, because what kind of self-respecting New Yorker would read a blog by someone who used to live in Boston? But if any real New Yorkers were to accidentally stumble into this Dantesque circle of the internet, they would no doubt say I'm only providing another classic example of how insecure Bostonians are, and how they feel the need to lash out at even the slightest suggestion they're not capable of competing with New York.

So let me clarify for you: that is not the issue here. Frankly, I couldn't give a fuck how Boston compares to New York on anything. But then, it's usually not the Bostonians making the comparison, is it?

November 08, 2013

November 01, 2013

October 30, 2013

More from the Google Alert Hinterlands

If you've been following my road-to-publication updates the past few months, you'll know that the Google Alerts I've got set up to track my book ("Andrew Ladd" and "What Ends") generally provide very little useful information at all.

For instance, Andrew Ladd was the only person to score in a penalty shootout against Dallas the other night.

Yesterday, however, I got a link to this mildly interesting article from Salon, reporting on a study from PLOS One, which explained that "WHAT ENDS up on a diner's plate is determined by the presentation order of food"—a story that, back in my fevered, blog-filled youth, I may well have chosen to write about of my own volition. e.g.:
While [the] tendency to grab what’s in front of you is obviously problematic, newly published research finds one environment where it can come in very handy: The buffet line.
Also: the driver's seat of a car.

Also, ahem (cf. Andrew Ladd): the mouth of a hockey goal.
Cornell University researchers Brian Wansink and Andrew Hanks... describe a study featuring 124 human resource managers attending a conference on behavior change and health. Unwittingly, they found themselves part of an experiment one morning.
Ah-ha! So the testers have become the... testes?
The conference-goers began their day by being randomly assigned to one of two breakfast buffet lines. The food served at the two locations was identical, but the order of the dishes was reversed....

“Over 75 percent of diners selected the first food they saw,” Wansink and Hanks write...

The researchers caution that they did not measure portion size or actual consumption. It’s possible that the people who chose the unhealthy foods had second thoughts once they sat down, and decided to eat only a small portion of what they took.

Possible, but unlikely.
...added the study's third author, David Caruso.
The takeaway from the experiment is clear: Encouraging healthy eating may be as simple as offering nutrient-rich, low-calorie items as a first choice...

Better yet, it sidesteps issues of the “nanny state” telling us what to eat.
Oh, THANK GOD. If the nanny state started limiting my access to unhealthy food, that would really take the biscuit/get me steaming mad/cheese me off/SPLABANGO.

October 25, 2013

October 23, 2013


I wouldn't generally wade into the swampy bed of sin that is predatory open access publishing on my blog, because:

(1) It's esoteric even by my standards
(2) Given the luck I've had attracting unwanted Google attention, it seems to be asking for trouble, and
(3) It's just too damn easy.

However, today I found myself giggling so much over one particularly egregious example that I decided to throw caution to the wind.

But first, for the uninitiated, a brief primer on said esoterica, folded into the jump...

In the beginning, there were Science and Nature, the two holy grails of scientific publishing. (...and The Lancet, and the New England Medical Journal, and...) They acted as gatekeepers for scientific research, carefully evaluating all submitted articles to make sure they met rigorous standards, thereby guaranteeing that only the best research was published. (N.B. Open-access proponents may quibble with you on this point, but when was the last time PLOS ONE discovered DNA?)

Anyhow, over the years more and more of these traditional journals proliferated, and during that time the internet was also invented, and so naturally all these journals wanted to be online to permit wider dissemination of their scientific knowledge. But, like subscribing to the paper version of one of these journals, to get their online version you had to pay. This in itself wouldn't have been a problem, except a few large and mildly evil academic publishers realised that they essentially had a monopoly and raised subscription prices by about 600%.

Now, scientists, being the high-minded folks they are, began to feel a little squeamish about the hundreds if not thousands of dollars readers were paying to access research that the scientists had carried out purely to advance human knowledge (and not at all to advance their own progression up the tenure ladder). So some of them started publishing in the above-referenced open access journals, in which reading is free and journal costs are defrayed through a combination of ads, grants, and publication fees.

That in itself also wouldn't have been a problem. (Though, side note: jeez, if you're squeamish at the thought of paying to read research, you ought to be at least as squeamish at the thought of paying to publish research.) No, the real problem arose when internet scammers realised they could take advantage of those junior scientists desperate to publish articles (not at all to advance their own progression up the tenure ladder), and start up fake journals that took your article and "published" it in exchange for an exorbitant publication fee. And these days there are literally dozens of these "predatory" open-access publishers, producing hundreds (if not thousands) of predatory online journals.

Which brings me back to the impetus for this entire ramble.

And now, witness: BioInfo Publications, whose website is riddled with spelling errors and broken English, and whose FAQ page is like some glorious piece of surreal, postmodern performance art, e.g.:
Can I know the Publication Charges for Bioinfo Publications Journals?
(For answer, see International Journal of Epistemology.)
What do the article-processing charges pay for?
● immediate world-wide barrier-free open access to the full text
● securing inclusion in Open Access
(See also International Journal of Ontology, for discussion of securing inclusion in something that has no barriers.)
How do Bioinfo Publications charges compare with other publishers?

Bioinfo Publications article processing charges are extremely less and competitive.
Don't submit your work to one of those journals whose charges are extremely more!
I want to know where Bioinfo Publications Journals are indexed ?
Do you know what a question is.
Bioinfo Journals Open Access Model?

If you are not in academia, don't worry—I'll toss you a dick joke or something in Conversations With Greatness this week.

October 18, 2013

October 11, 2013

October 08, 2013

I Guess This Makes McCain a Bipartisan

From the New York Times: Lift ‘Threats,’ Obama Insists, Spurning Talks
Eight days since House Republicans refused to finance the government because Mr. Obama would not defund or delay the new health care law, and nine days before the Treasury Department says it will reach the legal limit to borrow money for existing bills and obligations, the two parties showed no movement toward an accord...

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, blamed both parties. “Shouldn’t we be embarrassed about this? Shouldn’t we be ashamed?” he said, his voice rising in anger as he described how death benefits were being denied to families of fallen troops because much of the government is closed. “And the list goes on and on of people, of innocent Americans who have fallen victim to the reality that we can’t sit down and talk like grown-ups.”
Well said, John McCain. It's good to see that even after your decades of service in the Senate, you've managed to avoid the jaded, partisan cynicism keeping the government shuttered this month, and that you're still speaking up for a mature, accommodating approach to political negotiation.
Separately, Senate Democrats introduced a measure to raise the debt limit without any conditions, and initial votes could come by Friday. Yet it is far from clear whether Democrats will have support from six Republicans to break the likely Republican filibuster... Mr. McCain, [a] frequent bridge between the two parties, said Tuesday that he would vote no.

Can somebody please call Congress and tell them that governance is not just one big fucking talking point? Thanks.

October 04, 2013

September 29, 2013


I was a sociology undergrad and — as clearly evidenced by my ongoing comic strip about Karl Marx — I'm still kind of a sociology nerd. I love seeing the social phenomena I studied all those years ago continue to play out in real life. And now (as then) one of the phenomena that always tickles me the most is unintended consequences. You know, you pass a law intended to do one good thing, which it usually does to a greater or lesser extent, but at the same time it ends up causing all these other problems that nobody ever predicted.

Well, today observer has become the observee.

Regular readers will know I hate the American healthcare system and am super-pro-Obamacare, as well as super-pro government-run healthcare, free healthcare, death panels, etc. So I'm glad Obamacare is finally chugging to life this week. But today I was thinking about its core component, the "Individual Shared Responsibility Provision," or "the mandate," or the requirement that everyone purchase health insurance or face a fine — and I realised: oh fuck.

Not because I don't have health insurance or wouldn't pay for it if I didn't — but because eventually I plan to move back to the U.K. (partly for the free healthcare, ahem). And according to the IRS, U.S. citizens living abroad are still subject to the mandate — meaning they're still subject to a fine if they don't have coverage that qualifies under the Affordable Care Act. And in July, HHS went on the record saying that
foreign health coverage is not designated as minimum essential coverage in this final rule.
In other words: if you're a U.S. citizen living in another country and fully covered in another country (free healthcare, ahem), you are still, in theory, subject to a penalty for not having coverage.

Now, you might be thinking: WTF? Why would you be subject to the penalty if you're no longer taking part in the incredibly ballsed-up American healthcare system that the mandate is designed to kind-of repair? Well, actually, you are and you aren't. Here's the official guidance from the IRS:
12. Are US citizens living abroad subject to the individual shared responsibility provision?

Yes. However, U.S. citizens who live abroad for a calendar year (or at least 330 days within a 12 month period) are treated as having minimum essential coverage for the year (or period). These are individuals who qualify for an exclusion from income under section 911 of the Code.
Basically, under an existing rule, U.S. citizens living abroad are generally allowed to not pay U.S. tax on their foreign income as long as they meet certain requirements. Those requirements have gotten a lot stricter in recent years, but the gist is, once you've spent a full year (or almost a full year) living abroad, the IRS no longer considers you resident in the U.S. and you may go tax-exempt bananas. And if you qualify as non-resident for these purposes, the IRS will also treat you as having satisfied the mandate, so you won't have to pay the penalty after all.


The very technical rule about who's not a resident specifies that, among other things, you either have to have spent an entire tax year outside the U.S., or you have to have spent 330 days in a consecutive 12-month period outside the U.S. So unless you move to another country at the very beginning of the tax year, you're probably not going to qualify the first time you file as an expatriate. This kind of amounts to a bullshit exit tax on its own, but there are — legitimate — ways to offset most or all of your actual U.S. tax liability if you're already paying income tax in another country, so generally it works out okay.

However, as far as I can tell, there is no way to offset the ACA's penalty for failing to maintain minimum essential coverage. Ipso facto, now when you leave the U.S. you may have to pay a fine the first time you file taxes — ostensibly for not having healthcare but practically because you decided to live in another country. It's not a trivial fine, either; once Obamacare kicks in completely in 2016, it will be the larger of $695 or 2.5% of your family income.

To be fair, the penalty is pro-rated to account for any months in which you did have recognized coverage for at least one day, and you're also not liable if you didn't have health insurance for less than three months out of the year. So I guess if you leave the U.S. after September (and were covered while in the U.S.) you're also safe. But at the very least having to consider this kind of thing adds an extra layer of hassle to what is already a pretty hassle-heavy life decision. And what if you get offered a job elsewhere that starts in February? Good thing there are no good reasons to want to live in another country (free healthcare, ahem).

I should emphasise that I could very well be interpreting this entirely wrong — and even if I'm not, I'm not a tax attorney and you shouldn't be taking tax advice from me regardless. I would also note that the law has a pretty vague get-out-of-jail-free clause that says HHS can ultimately decide what constitutes coverage — so perhaps eventually they'll change their minds and come up with some system for counting foreign healthcare (whether private or state-run) towards your fulfillment of the mandate.

Until then, however, the sociology nerd inside me will continue to geek out, and the aspiring expat in me will continue to fume.

September 28, 2013

For Fox Sake

I know it's basically a professional sport among liberals and/or thinking people these days to question Fox News's bona fides as a news organization because of its clear ideological slant. But guys: I actually went to the Fox News website today to see how they were spinning the whole government shutdown thing, and I have to tell you, there's really no reason to make this a discussion about politics; we can question Fox News's bona fides as a news organization based on their complete inability to compose or copyedit a simple paragraph. To wit:
House Republicans meet to plot next move, as shutdown deadline nears 
...The major issue remains whether the divided Republican House will pass simple legislation approve[d] Friday night by the Democrat-led Senate that funds the entire federal government through Nov. 15.[,] O [o]r will [whether] members [will instead] send another temporary spending bill to the upper chamber with no ObamaCare funding, which would most likely result in a stalemate and partial shutdown Monday night. 
The House sent its first temporary funding bill, without ObamaCare money, to the Senate earlier this month. But Senate Democrat[s] re-inserted funding for the health care law, despite efforts by Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz --— [N.B. two hyphens instead of an em-dash] a conservative, Tea Party-backed lawmaker — [N.B. en-dash instead of an em-dash] to block that effort.
I mean, good grief. Does Fox News hand over its website to a high school newspaper on Saturdays? Or is it like this all the time? If it's not clear from the above, actually copyedited quote, I just want to draw your attention to this ACTUAL SENTENCE published on a purportedly journalistic website:
Or will members send another temporary spending bill to the upper chamber with no ObamaCare funding, which would most likely result in a stalemate and partial shutdown Monday night.

Incidentally, as I was writing this rant the Republicans announced their "compromise," so I can't actually link to the offending page. However, I did screenshot it so you know I'm not making anything up:

Seriously, guys. Seriously.

September 27, 2013

September 20, 2013

September 19, 2013

That's Pretty Rich

James Surowiecki has an article in this week's New Yorker about how basically New York City will always have disgusting levels of inequality because... well, just because.

Now, I will fully admit that this kind of BS economic just-so story is a bugbear of mine, but regardless this particular version is totally infuriating — especially coming from someone who usually brings a certain level of finesse to economic analysis. Here's the worst part from his current article:
Decrying inequality on the campaign trail is one thing. Actually doing something about it is infinitely harder.

In part, this is because New York’s economy is absurdly dependent on its main driver of inequality — the finance industry. Finance accounts for roughly forty per cent of all the wages paid in Manhattan, and almost a quarter of the city’s G.D.P. (That’s not even to mention the myriad businesses — high-priced law firms, say — that service the financial hub.) Wall Street’s importance limits what a mayor can do to reduce inequality from the top down. The same is true of the city budget’s dependence on the wealthy — the top one per cent of earners pay forty-three per cent of the city’s income tax. In other words, the rich we will always have with us.
I am so freakin' tired of hearing this ridiculous "logic." Heavens no! We can't raise taxes on the rich! Then they'll just LEAVE and we'll all be lost. LOST! We can't imagine what we'd ever do without them! Just when did we become Wall Street's clingy codependent partner, anyway? (Wait, never mind.)

Here's the thing: if we called the bluff and raised taxes on the rich, or the banking industry, or whatever, you know what would happen? NOTHING. Because where are they going to go? The finance industry isn't in New York just because New York provides a cushy environment in which to do business; the finance industry is in New York because there's no other city in the country that can cater quite so well to stupid rich whims. If you want a car to pick you up at 3 a.m. and drive you to an artisanal sausage cafe on the Upper West Side where you'll be treated like royalty precisely because you have no concern for the sleeping schedule of less fortunate people, well, you can do that pretty easily in New York — but it ain't gonna fly in Cincinnati. Put another way, bankers like being rich so they can spend their money on stupid, unnecessary shit—and they don't have quite so wide a variety of stupid shit to spend money on anywhere else in the country. (Well, maybe San Francisco. But more on that in a second.)

Now, of course, the shrill Surowieckis among us will protest that if we really stop kowtowing to the rich in New York, the banking industry can always move, setting up a horrific, exploitative infrastructure somewhere else. And it's true that there are horrific, exploitative infrastructures already blossoming in other cities, San Francisco and L.A. among them. No doubt there are also people out there making similar doomsday predictions about how tech will leave San Francisco if we stop cutting them a break, and Hollywood will leave L.A., and blah blah blah.

Except the same people who make these arguments frequently turn around and tell us that a large part of what makes these industries so efficient and innovative is their geographic concentration. Surowiecki's among them:
Marshall’s basic point about why companies in the same industry congregate still holds: industrial districts enjoy the same economies of scale that only giant companies normally get. Specialized suppliers arrive. Skilled workers know where to come to ply their trade. And everyone involved benefits from the spillovers of specialized knowledge.
Or here it is in a slightly different form:
The fundamental point is that much of the value that gets created in a company comes from the ways in which workers teach and learn from each other... Face time is still the easiest way to build connections.
So on the one hand we're being told that big industries like finance and tech and film would be crazy to move, because it's precisely their concentration in one place — and the specialized networks that have built up in that place over decades — that make them so successful. On the other hand, we have the same people telling us that raising taxes will instantly frighten the rich away like startled cats. Obviously they can't both be true — and like I said, my money is on the former.

Because here's the last thing: regardless of any fancy economic theories you might believe or not believe, I'll wager that a nontrivial proportion of the rich finance types in New York are here because they saw Wall Street once and want to be like Gordon Gecko. They want to be in New York. The city has a cachet (for better or for worse) that won't go away, even if Goldman Sachs and Bank of America and Wells Fargo and Citibank do all suddenly decide to close up shop and move to the Midwest. Which they won't, because they want to be in New York for those same, silly, intangible reasons. What kind of a global bank doesn't have an office in the Big Apple, right?

So let's cut this crap. We CAN fight equality from the top down — it's real easy. And hey, if we raise taxes on the rich and they all end up leaving, you know what we'll be left with? Exactly what we wanted: less income inequality, because all those high earners will be gone. And in the meantime, we'll have used the millions of extra dollars we taxed them for, while they were still around, to make prudent plans for a future where 40% of income tax doesn't come from the megarich.

And, best of all — without all the stupid luxuries that New York bankers demand driving up the cost of living for everyone — we'll be left with a wage that goes a lot further. Sounds pretty awful, right?

September 17, 2013

Itemized Billing

I was dismayed to realise, last week, that it has been just about two months since I actually *wrote* anything on this blog. (It was this post about my battle with the cable company. SPOILER ALERT: after several more increasingly delirious phone calls to retention, we now have an antenna.)

I don't intend to bore you with excuses or self-reflection on why I haven't been writing here a lot lately, because god knows I've done that before and, you know, there's a war in Syria and stuff. Nobody cares about the ins and outs of my weekly time management dilemmas.

Still, here's a list of things you can read now/look forward to later so that you don't feel like I've been totally dropping the writerly ball the last two months*:

(*N.B. writers always drop the ball. Or, we would, if anyone ever passed to us.)

ITEM: my Twitter. Yeah, yeah, I know, it's not exactly voluminous, and it's a total echo chamber, and Franzen says we're all leaking spinal fluid with each character. (Though, hello, has he read his novels? They ALL have like 140 characters.) And I do get wistful sometimes that I can't work a few of my one-liners there into longer, more coherent rants like the pundigrions of old. But in the meantime, that's where you can find the sophomoric jokes I always used to make here, so.

ITEM: my novel. Now, I know what you're thinking. ANDREW, you're thinking. DO YOU THINK I HAVE SOME KIND OF MENTAL BRAIN DAMAGE, ANDREW? YOUR NOVEL BOOK WAS ACCEPTED TO BE PUBLICATED OVER A YEAR AGO. CLEARLY YOU HAVE NOT BEEN WORKING ON IT IN THE LAST TWO MONTHS. Well, no, I haven't been. Not exactly. But many of my waking moments have been devoted to marketing and publicity stuff for the novel, including two brand-new shorter essays that should be getting published sometime in the next few months for purposes of raising my online visibility etc. etc. So watch this space.

ITEM: also, actually, really my novel, because I sold the U.K. rights and my publisher there wants more revisions.

ITEM: my second book, which is nowhere near publication or even contract negotiations or even representation, but is — FRABJOUS DAY! — a complete first draft as of two weeks ago.

ITEM: the Ploughshares blog, which if you ask me is getting better every week. (e.g. this cartoon, which had me LOLing all over the place.)

I have also, I admit, been watching football. But nobody's a saint, right? Except, you know, the New Orleans Saints.

It's good to be back.

September 13, 2013

September 06, 2013

Conversations With Greatness CDXLV

...Two dick jokes in a row. Sorry. I'll do better next week.

August 30, 2013

Conversations With Greatness CDXLIV

I still consider it a victory when I can come up with a CWG that is both impossibly esoteric and yet 100% puerile.

Sorry for the delay in posting this week—various real-world crises got in the way.

August 23, 2013

August 16, 2013

August 09, 2013

August 02, 2013

July 26, 2013

Conversations With Greatness on a brief, one-week hiatus, while the author attempts to open a Fringe venue.

No refunds.

July 23, 2013

Things I Have Learned From Google Alerts This Week

1. Andrew Ladd has been invited to train with the Canadian Olympic Hockey squad.

2. It's hard to tell WHAT ENDS are what when you're looking at an early ultrasound of a foetus.

3. Google Alerts are not that helpful.

July 21, 2013

Conversations With Greatness CDXXXIX

Looking at this again, I realise that it's basically just combining two different jokes from two different episodes of The Simpsons. ("Bart vs. Australia" and "The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson.") Though to be honest, it feels kind of pointless to start citing The Simpsons now, when probably you can somehow attribute about 90% of the jokes I ever make to that show. Anyway. Influence acknowledged.

July 18, 2013

Next Time I'll Send A Carrier Pigeon

I know it's awfully unoriginal to complain about your cable company being evil, and I also know that I've had such a good deal on cable the last two years that I don't really have anything to complain about... But FFS, my GD cable company right now.

Two Years Ago:

ME: Hi, I'm moving to New York and need cable.

SLOPTIMUM: Do you currently have satellite?

ME: Why, yes. I do currently have satellite.

SLOPTIMUM: Great! You will pay a special price of $60 a month for cable, internet, and phone.

ME: [Inwardly: HOLY SHIT!] [Outwardly: My, what a generous offer. This must be one of those things that expires after six months though, right?]

SLOPTIMUM: Nope. That's just your price.

ME: It won't go up?

SLOPTIMUM: It won't go up.

Last month:
Dear Andrew Ladd,

Although your current promotional price, which you never knew you had because we explicitly told you otherwise, is about to expire, we're pleased to automatically place you in a new 12-month "promotion" [N.B. scare quotes may not have been in original] that will almost double your monthly bill. As part of your new "promotion" [N.B. yeah, thinking about it, they definitely weren't in the original], you will continue to receive the same frequently slow internet and unwatchably pixellated/jumpy cable, all for $105 a month, well below our regular rates.


H. P. Fuckenstuff
Director, Marketing and Advertising

ME: Hi. I wanted to speak to someone about my bill.

SLOPTIMUM: Okay. What pre-scripted response can I read you to pretend I'm able to solve your problem?

ME: Well, the thing is, when I first signed up I was told the price of my package was never going to rise. [Inwardly: Heh, package. Heh, rise.] And I understand that prices need to go up a little bit every now and then—inflation and all that. But I guess I don't really understand how you can unilaterally raise my bill by $45 without giving me any new features or better service.

SLOPTIMUM: We're a cable company, sir. That's our business model.

ME: Right, but look. I'm not going to pay $45 extra a month for nothing.

SLOPTIMUM: [This part she actually said:] Oh, but you're not getting nothing, sir.

ME: Oh? What am I getting?

SLOPTIMUM: [Still actually said this, with all the earnestness in the world:] You're getting our new promotional price—you'll be paying $41 less than our regular rates!

ME: ... But I'll be paying $45 more than I've paid for the last two years. For exactly the same thing. How would you like it if you bought the same sandwich for lunch every day, for $5, and then all of a sudden you went in one day and they told you it would be $10 for exactly the same sandwich? [I'm ashamed to admit that, in my blind rage, I did actually say all this stuff about the sandwiches.]

SLOPTIMUM: [After a few more minutes of the same:] Let me transfer you to my supervisor.

Yesterday, plus ten minutes:

ME: [Explains the principal of exchanging money for services, again.]

SLOPTIMUM: I'm sorry, sir, but there's nothing I can do.

ME: Well, if you're going to start charging me $105 a month, can you at least stop my internet being slow and my cable being unwatchably pixellated and jumpy?

SLOPTIMUM: [With audible relief] Yes! That is something my script allows me to help you with! Let me run a test on your line right now.

ME: Okay.

SLOPTIMUM: I'm happy to report that our tests show no problems on your line.

ME: ...But my internet is slow and my cable unwatchably pixellated and jumpy.

SLOPTIMUM: Is the problem occurring right now?

ME: No.

SLOPTIMUM: Well, I recommend you call back when the problem's actually occurring, so that we can run another test on the line. It's possible there's not enough bandwidth in your area at certain times.

ME: And what can you do about it if there's not enough bandwidth in my area at certain times?

SLOPTIMUM: We'll make an appointment for you to sit at home for ten hours waiting for a technician to spend five minutes telling you that everything looks normal.

ME: Great. I'd like to cancel my cable, please.

SLOPTIMUM: Let me transfer you to our retention department.


Postscript: the retention department didn't open for another twenty minutes, and I had to leave for work/transform into a cockroach. The saga continues.

July 12, 2013

July 05, 2013

Conversations With Greatness CDXXXVII

Apologies for the delay in this week's installment. I was unexpectedly and very pleasantly without a wifi connection for the weekend.

June 28, 2013

June 27, 2013

Border to Death

From the New York Times: Senate Passes Immigration Overhaul
WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday approved the most significant overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws in a generation with broad support generated by a sense among leading Republicans that the party needed to join with Democrats to remove a wedge between Republicans and Hispanic voters.
As some of you may know, when I'm not being a fabulously unprolific blogger slash aspiring novelist, I'm a paralegal and technical writer at an immigration law firm. I've also been working on my next book, a collection of linked short stories inspired by my work there. So I've been following the news about U.S. immigration reform with more than a passing interest.

And although some of the provisions in this new bill kind of throw a wrench in a few of the stories I've been working on, I'm not quite such a self-centered author that I can't appreciate that HEY!, this is a pretty good result.

On the other hand, there's also this albatross for the taxpayer:
The bill’s largest, and perhaps most critical, change came in a package that promised to substantially bolster security along the nation’s southern border. The proposal... would devote about $40 billion over the next decade to border enforcement measures, including adding 20,000 Border Patrol agents and 700 miles of fencing along the southern border.
I mean, Jesus. We need an extra 20,000 CBP agents in this country like we need a 12-year-old boy running the Pentagon (or, come to that, like we need a 700-mile fence). What kind of alarmist, right-wing, bordering-Mexico idiot senator came up with this stupid amendment, anyway?
The proposal, by [Senator] Bob Corker of Tennessee...
Oh, good, yes. We need a realistic proposal for the Mexican border—let's ask someone who lives nine hundred miles away and shares an international border with precisely no one. I'm sure he'll have some great insight.

Does at least one of the amendment's sponsors live on the border?
...and [Senator] John Hoeven of North Dakota.

I mean, yeah, okay, if I lived next to Saskatchewan and Manitoba I guess I would be worried about people escaping over my border, too. But I don't see anybody asking to build a freakin' fence to protect Bismarck from roving bands of Mennonites, you know?

On the bright side, this whole immigration bill process has finally clarified for me the Republican political strategy on... well, pretty much everything:
“No matter how many miles of fence we build and how many agents we station on the border, I truly believe people will come to this country illegally as long as they believe America offers a better life and a better job,” [Republican Senator Rob] Portman said on the Senate floor.
He then warmly spread his arms, adding: "So let's make sure the whole world knows that the life America offers is just as fucked up as wherever they're coming from."

June 23, 2013

I Guess I'll Take It

To try and keep better tabs on my web presence as my novel's publication date grows nearer, I've finally set up a couple of Google Alerts. (Apparently just in time for them to die, but oh well.) Mostly this means I get a lot of email about the hockey player Andrew Ladd (sigh), but because the book's title, What Ends, is a not totally uncommon pairing of words, I've also started getting random emails about, well... Pretty much anything.

Today, though, was definitely my favourite so far. Apparently, someone late last night asked "Is the male sperm what ends up becoming the baby in the women's fetus?" which a hilarious jerk (or maybe just an even more confused person) replied: "No, it's a small part of the males penis that breaks off and it's cells divide to create BABY."

Seriously, though, abstinence-only sex education is a great idea.

June 21, 2013

Conversations With Greatness CDXXXV

Sad, but too often true.

June 14, 2013

June 11, 2013

An Open Letter to Andrew Ladd

Dear Andrew Ladd,

First of all, congratulations on the really excellent name. I couldn't have done better myself.

Oh, sure, I'll admit I was a little miffed after your first Stanley Cup win, when you finally pushed my blog off the first page of Google results—but you know what happened next? You actually made my life better. All of a sudden it was so easy to make friends in bars ("Dude, you're playing hockey on TV!"). All of a sudden I had a go-to topic for small talk. And all of a sudden I also had another team to root for whenever, inevitably, the Bruins got knocked out.

So don't get me wrong, Andrew Ladd. I bear you no grudge. But here's the thing: I have a novel coming out in January and no official marketing budget, and it would be really great if I could own so that people can find me easily and buy my book. (The domain name is especially important because, ahem, I'm no longer on the first page of Google results.)

Now, you're probably thinking: "Why is he telling me all this? I don't own that domain name either."

True: you don't. But some squatter was betting that you wanted it and snapped it up to fill with generic hockey links. Which means instead of being able to buy it for seven bucks on GoDaddy, I have to bid at least seven HUNDRED bucks for it in some BS online auction.

You may still be wondering why this is your problem, and I guess the short answer is: well, it isn't. But I was wondering if maybe, as a gesture of solidarity with Andrew Ladds everywhere, you would go halvesies with me anyway.

Try and put yourself in my shoes, Andrew Ladd: here I am newly married, living in the most expensive city in North America, and attempting to save whatever I can for a house and a kid one day—all while trying to make a career doing what I love, in an industry that is not renowned for its high salaries. And now I have to shell out $700 for a domain name, just because some other dude with my name has already made a successful career doing what HE loves?

It's not sour grapes, Andrew Ladd. But it still kind of sucks.

And that's why I'm suggesting we go halvesies. I'm not looking for a handout—I'm really not. It's not like I think you can just spend $350 without batting an eye. You have a wife, you have a kid—and I'm sure you have a lot of other expenses that I don't. I mean, if I earned $4 million a year, I would join a gym and a wine-of-the-month club, you know? Money has a way of spending itself. I don't hold that against you either.

I'm just saying, though, I wouldn't be in this situation if it weren't for your success. So why not spread that success around a little? I'll even share the domain with you! You kick in your $350, I'll kick in mine, and we'll make sure the front page for is split in two: one half pointing to me and my book, and the other pointing to you and your multiple Stanley Cup victories (and whatever else you want to put up there).

As an added bonus, when your kid is old enough, you can show him the website (if websites are still a thing then) and teach him about the importance of cooperation, and sharing, and charity. I know that's what I'll do.

So what do you say, Andrew Ladd? What do you say?


Andrew Ladd

P.S. Incidentally, if you're not Andrew Ladd and are reading this open letter anyway: hi! Great job understanding the point of open letters. Also: if you think Andrew Ladd should do me a solid, why not comment here and let him know? Or write about it on your own blog? Or tweet about it? Don't worry, I won't ask you for money; I'm too classy for that.

Except, you know, of course: you should really preorder my book.


June 07, 2013

June 06, 2013

On Salads and Editorial Rigour

Here's an (abridged) email exchange that went on for the last week about a blog post I was editing:
ME: You appear to have left out a quote from The Corrections, about some salad or something. All there is in the post is a placeholder "QUOTE QUOTE QUOTE."

WRITER: Agh, Andrew, I know! I cannot for the life of me find that damn quote... But I know it's in the beginning of the book, so I've just been re-reading in the hopes that I'll get there in time!

ME: There is a line about a salad of green beans and walnuts, which I found while googling "Corrections Franzen salad." Not sure if that's what you wanted?

WRITER: Hmm. This one had more than green beans and walnuts—lots of good ole Midwestern mayo, at least. I'll keep looking...

ME: This is a hilarious problem for someone to have, by the way.

WRITER: Turns out it's a salad of water chestnuts and green peas (and lots of other stuff), which sounds a lot like the green beans and walnuts salad you found... Hmm! I couldn't find your same google results, so I can't be sure, but I just wanted to update you on the Salad Search...

ME: Also, I thought I'd let you know that I misquoted my Google results. It was green beans and HAZELNUTS. The plot thickens...
Anyway, just as I was getting ready to post this with a self-deprecating comment about the occasional ridiculousness of editorial work, I saw this tweet from Granta linking to an interview with Franzen himself, and mis-attributing a Mitch Hedberg quote to him. (Franzen does actually say it in the interview, but he's himself quoting Hedberg.)

Some other eagle-eyed reader had already pointed out the mistake, but Granta left the tweet up, and Franzen's publisher re-tweeted it—which in the grand scheme of things is not really a huge deal, I guess. But it struck me that, hey, given that it is so easy for little mistakes like that to spread these days, maybe Saladgate wasn't so ridiculous after all. So now when you go read the (hilarious) published post, rest assured that it has been double- and triple-checked. That really is a "salad".

June 05, 2013

My Sick Day So Far

• Carlton's Trekkie obsession keeps William Shatner from appearing on Hilary's show.

• Zack and Slater come to blows when they both fall for the new girl in their senior class.

• Niles asks Frasier for advice about his relationship with Maris.

• [Break for email/Facebook/Twitter/blogging]

• A secret service agent is framed as the mole in an assassination attempt on the president. He must clear his name and foil another assassination attempt while on the run from a relentless FBI agent.

• [Break for lunch/Sunday's newspaper]

• Bart becomes an overnight sensation as the "I didn't do it" boy on Krusty's show.

• Homer goes undercover to reveal that Apu is selling tainted meat at his convenience store.

• [Break for email/Facebook/Twitter/blogging]

May 31, 2013

May 24, 2013

May 17, 2013

May 11, 2013

Rip Off Van Winkel

I had three different piano teachers growing up, and none of them, thankfully, were metronome fascists; the few times I tried playing with a metronome I found it fantastically stressful. It was like trying to write poetry while watching 24. (Not that I ever wrote poetry, nor was 24 around when I was growing up. But anyway.)

The metronome, though, made a name and a fortune for its inventor Johann Maelzel. (Well, actually, Maelzel made a name for himself wheeling around his "robotic" chess player The Turk, a story that still gets dredged up every few years for a new magazine piece—most recently by Adam Gopnik on the BBC. But the metronome didn't hurt.) Maelzel patented the invention in 1816, and even today "M.M." (for "Maelzel's Metronome") is used to notate tempo.

Actually, though, according to my Word of the Day calendar for yesterday, Maelzel didn't really invent the metronome—he just modified the design ever so slightly from a poor sap who hadn't thought to patent it himself. (One of his... con-tempo-raries?)

I bring this up not for any profound reason, but because the name of the original inventor was Dietrich Winkel. And the only thing I could think of, when I read that, was: Hmmm... That's weird. Turns out that if your surname starts with Winkel, you're pretty much doomed to have someone take your great idea and change the world with it.

The moral of the story? Buy Bitcoin instead.

May 10, 2013

May 03, 2013

April 30, 2013

I Believe This Is What They Call "The Dominant Ideology"

From the New York Times: Who Says New York Is Not Affordable?

Regular readers may know that I have something of a love-hate relationship with New York—only without the love part. (And even regular readers haven't seen all the rants saved in my drafts folder that I deemed too vituperative!) I hate the inequality. I hate the pollution. I hate the selfishness. I hate the sense of entitlement. And most of all, I hate the cognitive dissonance that allows so many New Yorkers to live unequal, polluting, selfish, entitled lives, and still think they are the most liberal and cosmopolitan and amazing city in the world.

And this article pretty much encompasses all of those things.
New Yorkers assume that we live in the most expensive city in the country, and cost-of-living indexes tend to back up that assertion. But those measures are built around the typical American’s shopping habits, which don’t really apply to the typical New Yorker... Once you account for these different preferences, it turns out that living in New York is actually a relative bargain for the wealthy.
Oh, well, thank GOODNESS, Marcy! (N.B. The author of this article is named Catherine, not Marcy. Marcy is meant to be the stereotypical name of a rich New Yorker. I don't know if that's accurate because I can't afford to hang out within six blocks of a rich New Yorker.)

Sorry, I'm being told that for "rich New Yorker," I should be saying "average New Yorker."

Anyway, the first section of this article, as you have doubtless gathered, boils down to: thanks to market forces, your quinoa and caviar are actually cheaper in New York than if you were living somewhere else. So bully for you.

It then continues:
Of course, not everything that wealthy New Yorkers spend money on is cheaper here. Housing, after all, is absurdly expensive, even for the rich.
Yes, WOE IS THEM!, in those $27 million penthouses they're forced to buy! It's positively ghastly. Or so you might think. Actually, though, the next section of the article goes on to explain precisely why the outrageous rents are a good thing. See, "baked into" that high rent—literally!—is access to New York's fabulous amenities:
Those higher rents all but ensure that tenants will appreciate an amazing bakery or a fancy shoe store — and that retailers will have to lower prices to compete for their business... 
Professional-class workers who like to moan about the cost of living in New York — and I’m including myself in this group — don’t realize how spoiled we are by both variety and competitive pricing. Truthfully, things seem more expensive here because there’s just way more high-end stuff around to tempt us... We see a sensible shoe with a $480 price tag or an oatmeal cookie for $4 and sometimes don’t register that these are luxury versions of normal items available from Payless or Entenmann’s. The problem, in part, is that people tend to anchor their own expectations for what they should buy based on what their neighbors are buying, not what some abstract, median American buys.
I mean, good grief, I get exhausted just thinking about all the heady ideological rationalizing going on here:

1. Spending money is okay because it allows you spend more money. (i.e. It's okay that you pay $2,500 a month to live in Manhattan, because that gives you the privilege of spending $500 on a sock and $700 on a pizza.)

2. You might feel like you don't have enough money, but really you should be thankful at how many great opportunities you have to spend that money. (i.e. There, there. Eat some quinoa and caviar. You'll feel better.)

3. The problem isn't that THE ENTIRE ECONOMIC SYSTEM IN THIS CITY IS CRIMINALLY AWFUL, it's that the rest of the country doesn't spend enough money on the finer things in life. (i.e. Who are these poor dolts who enjoy Entemann's?)

Anyway, FINALLY, after 800 words telling us how thankful we should be for our high rents, we get to the "ominous flipside" of New York's demonstrable swellness: while all the grocery stores are falling all over themselves to get you the best deal on organic quinoa, a household living at or below the poverty line ends up having to pay up to 20% more for normal food staples. Plus they don't get federal assistance, half the time, because so many New York businesses pay them wages that are above the federal threshold for qualifying. (I mean, we're not MONSTERS. We won't pay you a living wage, but we certainly won't pay you minimum wage.) No, unfortunately for the poor,
it is impossible to unbundle apartments from all the perks that help drive up costs.
But we're still sure they're perks, right?

According to the article, the end result of all this is that the poor end up having to leave the city—which would be fine, except that they still have to come back into the city every day to cater to the rich people who are incapable of cooking a single fucking meal for themselves, or cleaning their own bathroom, or walking their own dog, or whatever. Indeed, commuting times in New York, according to the article, are now the longest of any metro area in the country. And sure, some of those commuters are equally rich people taking the train in from Connecticut—but basically, the gist is, the poor have to travel further so that the rich can have nice restaurants.

Now, don't get me wrong. The article does try to muster some genuine outrage about all this, in its last two or three paragraphs. But at the same time it also reassures us that "what's happening in New York is just part of a national shift." Um, well, maybe, but also: are you kidding me? You just spent the first 800 words talking about how atypical New York's economic situation is (Hello, hi! We were there at the beginning of the article too!), and now you want us to believe that the situation here is really no worse than... Chicago? San Francisco? What is the right comparison here, actually?

Again, to be fair to the article, it doesn't say that the national trend it identifies in diverging incomes is "inevitable." In fact, it offers a clear "third option," citing Houston as an example, where the local government deregulates the housing market to encourage the building of more (and more affordable) homes. Boffo. Except that earlier, the article already told us that such a third option was impossible for New York, because there's no more space to build anything.

So what's the solution for NEW YORK, New York journalist, writing in flagship New York publication? How do we escape the seemingly inevitable national trend here? Could it be, maybe, taking some real social responsibility, beyond voting Obama and driving your Prius and donating to Movember? Could it be demanding robust rent control, and raising the minimum wage to a living one, and, I don't know, considering the livelihood of the people around you as at least equally important to that great bakery on the corner?

Or should we just keep pretending that this city is great and call it a day?

April 28, 2013

There'll Be One Along Any Month Now

From Edinburgh tram shelters ‘inadequate’ say critics

Do we think the following is a misplaced modifier, or an editorial comment on the rubbishness of Edinburgh's trams?
PASSENGERS on Edinburgh’s £776m tram line will be left wet and windswept because of the “minimalist” shelters at stops, critics have claimed...

While the system boasts state-of-the-art trams that will speed people across the capital in just over a year’s time, those waiting to board will be offered little protection from the elements, it is feared.
Christ, how long would not-state-of-the-art trams take?

April 26, 2013

April 21, 2013

Panda-ing To The Lowest Common Denominator

From Edinburgh zoo panda artificially inseminated
THE UK’s only female giant panda has been artificially inseminated in the hope of making her pregnant.
That is generally why you would do it, yes.
Natural mating was not attempted between Tian Tian (Sweetie) and male Yang Guang (Sunshine) as scientists who have been monitoring them at Edinburgh Zoo decided that Tian Tian was showing signs that were not “conducive to mating”.
1. "I have a headache."
2. "I'm not in the mood."
3. "I have too much self respect to sleep with someone named Sunshine."
4. [Insert any number of other gender stereotypes here.]

A spokesperson for Edinburgh Zoo said that natural mating had not been attempted based on the advice of their panda mating expert. What was his name again?
“Natural mating was not attempted. Yang Guang had been interested and shown consistently encouraging behaviour, however based on his many years’ experience, our Chinese colleague Professor Wang felt that...she would not be conducive to mating."

April 19, 2013

April 16, 2013

For Boston

I've left Boston twice in my life: once in 2003, after spending my freshman and sophomore years at Emerson; and once in 2011, when I moved to New York, after another four years getting a Master's, and a wife, and a handle on the world. It was tough leaving, both times. But I've never regretted not being there as much as I did yesterday.

I should start with a confession: I never actually watched the Boston marathon while I lived there; usually, because of the long weekend, I was out of town. And yet one of my most vivid memories of the place is from the Sunday night before the race in 2006.

I was living in Montreal then, and had driven down with some friends for the premiere of an old Emerson dorm mate's first short film. We went out drinking afterwards, or tried to; I didn't have a U.S. license or a passport, so nowhere wanted to let me in. Until, finally, we got to the Bukowski's on Dalton Street, where I hopefully showed the bouncer my British license.

HIM [THE BEST BOSTON ACCENT YOU CAN IMAGINE]: Sorry, bro. Can't let you in on this.

ME: Please. Please. Look. I'm here with all my friends. We're going back to Montreal tomorrow. I'm driving. I just want one beer.


ME: Please.

HIM [LOOKS ME UP AND DOWN]: You ain't gonna start any bahroom brawls, are you?

ME: Are you kidding me? This sweater is from the Gap.

HIM: [LAUGHS] Okay, bro. You're alright.

So I had my one beer, and then I had another, and I made out with a cute girl. And then I drank two glasses of water and me and my two friends got back in our rental car to drive back to Weymouth, where we were staying that night.

The crowd barriers were already up for the race, and the BPD was beginning to close off the streets to traffic for the next day, too—but somehow, we made it through, and cruised down an almost empty Boylston Street, windows all the way open and WERS blaring on the radio, and I remember thinking (this is the vivid part): life is pretty good. And this is a fucking great town.

The first week I lived in Boston was the week of 9/11, and I guess that's the obvious comparison to make here, watching the news from afar just as I did with New York back then. But actually, even with the fighter jets overhead in Boston that week, the fact that it was all happening in New York made it seem unreal, somehow. Like something that didn't really affect me. Even when the BPD stormed Copley Square on 9/12, searching the hotels for signs of the hijackers, I watched it all from the big screen in the Emerson dining hall and it didn't really feel like it was happening.

Instead, here's a better comparison, and another of my most vivid Boston memories:

I'm sitting in my first ever apartment, a tiny nest on the "cheap" side of Beacon Hill. Again, it's a Sunday, the morning this time, and instead of dragging myself to campus to check my email, I've fired up my trusty old modem and am crawling through the internet. And there, on the front page of the BBC, was the headline: "Edinburgh fire 'could last for days'." A blaze had started in a nightclub in the historic city centre, and whole stretches of it were now destroyed. Bars. Homes. University buildings. Fringe venues.

I still get sad thinking about that day, about how terrible it was to watch from so far away as somewhere I care about—somewhere I think of as home—got so devastatingly gutted. I wanted to be there so badly, to go down and stand by the cordon and breathe in the smoke, not so that I could say I'd been there, but just so that I could have been there. So that I could suffer with everyone else. Because as good as TV and the internet are at broadcasting pictures and videos and words about events like this, they still can't communicate those intangible things, whatever they are, that let you grieve with friends and with the community at large. Those things that make you feel, no matter how little you're actually doing, like you're doing something.

And yesterday, ten years later, watching Boston suffer on TV: fuck. It felt—feels—exactly the same way. It feels painfully real, and painfully, laceratingly distant, and I wish I could do something other than sit here blogging about it. Part of me wants to hop on a Bolt Bus right now. Part of me wants it to be that first week in September again, or my first week back in 2007, or my last week there in 2011 when so many years of friends came out to see me off, just because those are the times when the city came into sharpest focus for me; the times when I really experienced Boston. All of me, though, wants it to be before yesterday, again and forever.

But then again, if yesterday hadn't happened, I wouldn't be able to watch over the coming days and weeks as Bostonians do what they do best, namely, go about life knowing that they live in the greatest town in the world, with such fanatical conviction that anyone else observing can't help but start believing it themselves.

Because you're going to get better this month, Boston. And you know what? Even from afar, it's going to be inspirational to watch.

April 12, 2013

April 11, 2013

Five From The Fire

Yesterday, on the Ploughshares blog—with which I have, uh, a modest affiliation—Rebecca Makkai had this to say:
I have favorite books. And then I have favorite books, as in, the objects themselves, the ones made weird and irreplaceable by the extra markings in or on them—the annotations, the inscriptions, the love notes.

When people ask for my “favorites,” this is the list I actually want to give.
And that got my thinking about the five books—books-as-objects, I mean—that I'd rescue from the fire:

1. My high school yearbook. Yeah, okay, it's totally nostalgic, but isn't that kind of the point of the exercise? I loved that thing. So many in-jokes. So much history. One, hand-scrawled message, written while so drunk that to this day neither I nor the writer can work out what it says. How could you leave that behind?

2. At Home by Bill Bryson. This is actually one of the annoying British airport editions that I hate—they are hardcover-sized and released simultaneously with the hardcover, but are in paperback so that it's (marginally) lighter for carrying on the plane—but it is PERSONALLY DEDICATED TO ME BY BILL BRYSON. I had him do it at the Boston Book Festival a few years ago. He made a joke about how awful the Red Sox were; I told him, in a vain attempt to impress him because he had been my literary hero since I was twelve, that he should go see the New England Revolution (soccer, i.e. British, i.e. relevant to his interests), which also happened to be what I was doing that night. My (now-)wife snorted at my pathetic toadying. Ah, memories.

3. Don Quixote, a special illustrated edition with colour drawings by Salvador Dali. I found this while clearing out my grandparents' attic a few years ago. I have still never read it, nor have I even actually read Cervantes in any edition. But it seemed like too kookily beautiful an object to get rid of; if nothing else I figured I could use it for hipster cachet at some later point in my life. Prophecy fulfilled.

4. Now We Are Six, by A.A. Milne. This was my (other) grandmother's. It has some cryptic in-joke inscription inside the front cover, which my dad tried to explain to me once but even he was kind of spotty on the details. [Edit: actually, it's House at Pooh Corner that has the inscription; all four of the classic Milnes are on my shelf.] It got passed down to him when he was a kid, and then to me, and now it's so tattered and falling apart you can't even look at it without a piece crumbling off. Most recently my dad read from it at my wedding—the poem "Us Two"—and brought the whole damn room to tears. So, yeah. Holding onto that one.

5. The Corrections by... oh, forget it. This book, when I read it at 21 years old, was the first time I really grasped the transformative power of literature; it genuinely changed my perspective on my life and (then-)relationship—I would say for the better. It struck me so much that I recommended and lent it to a string of subsequent girlfriends/girls I was dating/girls I wanted to date. Now it is a joke among my friends that if I recommend you read The Corrections I am trying to sleep with you. So—no offense—but I am not recommending it now; I'm just telling you that the original copy I read back in 2005 is still with me, all those girls later, dog-eared to death, and I will keep it as long as I can.

This will be the most personal information you ever get out of me on this blog.


April 08, 2013

Happy Monday

From the New York Times: The Slow Death of the American Author
LAST month, the Supreme Court decided to allow the importation and resale of foreign editions of American works, which are often cheaper than domestic editions. Until now, courts have forbidden such activity as a violation of copyright...

This may sound like a minor problem; authors already contend with an enormous domestic market for secondhand books. But it is the latest example of how the global electronic marketplace is rapidly depleting authors’ income streams. It seems almost every player — publishers, search engines, libraries, pirates and even some scholars — is vying for position at authors’ expense.
Still, at least we have Amazon under control these days.
An even more nightmarish version of the same problem emerged last month with the news that Amazon had a patent to resell e-books. Such a scheme will likely be ruled illegal. But if it is not, sales of new e-books will nose-dive, because an e-book, unlike a paper book, suffers no wear with each reading. Why would anyone ever buy a new book again?

Consumers might save a dollar or two, but the big winner, as usual, would be Amazon. It would literally own the resale market and would shift enormous profits to itself from publishers as well as authors, who would lose the already meager share of the proceeds they receive on the sale of new e-books.
Greeeeaaaaaaaat. But... But... We still have each other, right, authors?
For many academics today, their own copyrights hold little financial value because scholarly publishing has grown so unprofitable. The copyrights of other authors, by contrast, often inhibit scholars who want to quote freely from those works or use portions in class. Thus, under the cri de coeur that “information wants to be free,” some professors and others are calling for copyright to be curtailed or even abandoned. High-minded slogans aside, these academics are simply promoting their own careers over the livelihoods of other writers.
Now look, I didn't get into the writing game thinking it would make me rich—except in my most bracingly self-delusional moments—but this is too much. If writers aren't even going to buy each others' books, we might as well give up now.

That might seem glib, but I really do believe it. I've had too many conversations with otherwise liberal, intellectual, ethical non-writers, who "love literature" but read exclusively from the library and share each other's New Yorker/New York Times e-subscriptions, that I've stopped expecting most people to pay for writing. I mean, why would you, right? HuffPo is free. The internet is free. Besides, anyone can sit down and string a few sentences together. Writing costs nothing to produce, so it should cost nothing to consume.

This is a silly argument, of course. First of all, writing on the internet is not free—it's more like Netflix. You pay your ISP fifty bucks a month and in return you get access to all the text you can find. If you instead took that fifty bucks a month and spent it on magazine subscriptions, you could probably still read the same amount of content per year, only you'd be guaranteed better quality and would and still have money left over. (Though you would, admittedly, miss out on a whole lot of funny tweets.)

It might seem naive to suggest that people give up their internet connections for print magazines, and I don't really think it's the solution. But I do think it's important to realize how successfully the ISPs have made consumers believe that content should be free, while delivery should cost. Maintaining the infrastructure of the web ain't cheap, of course, but that doesn't mean the providers should be the only ones getting rich—it's like a major coffee chain charging four bucks a coffee and paying farmers four cents a pound.

The other reason why it's silly to believe that writing should be free to consume is that it's manifestly not free to produce. You think those Macbooks on all those coffee shop tables are cheap? Hell, even the coffees cost four bucks! And that's assuming you can even afford to spend all day sitting in a coffee shop instead of holding down a day job to pay the rent that your writing won't. A good New Yorker profile can take weeks if not months if not years to produce from start to finish. Do you really believe Adam Gopnik could write 4,000 words about 3D speaker systems if someone wasn't paying?

Yeah, well: the sad thing is, most people do. They think Adam Gopnik and the rest of us should be happy to share our thoughts and words just for the glory. That's why they're on WordPress, after all. And if you've ever tried to convince a non-writer otherwise, well, you'll understand how hopeless and thankless and fruitless it is. Even people who read the New Yorker—online, using their friend's borrowed subscriber password—balk at the idea it should cost money.

All of which to say: knock it off, writers. Our copyright is all we have. Let's protect it.

And please, buy my book. I'll buy yours.

April 05, 2013

March 29, 2013

March 28, 2013


From BBC News: North Korea 'readies rocket force' after US stealth flights

What's wrong with this sentence?
North Korea says it has put missile units on stand-by to attack US targets in response to US stealth bomber flights over the Korean peninsula.
Yeah, you spotted it. What kind of crappy stealth bombers are we flying over North Korea, anyway?

March 22, 2013

March 15, 2013

March 09, 2013

More Esoteric Writer Humour

Following the acclaimed success of my post at AWP 2011, listing the top ten conference panel titles... Today I present: the top ten questions asked in the Q&A session after AWP conference panels.

10. "Can someone please speak to the idea that people always ask panelists to speak to ideas?"

9. "I'm writing a book similar to yours. Do you think it will get published?"

8. "I thought it was interesting that your writing process is so involved. Someone—I think it was Peter Ho Davies—once wrote an essay about writing processes. My own writing process is I think very similar to yours in some ways, but also very different in others. I once tried writing a story entirely in iambs. How do you find time to write?"

7. "Could you please say something pithy that I can quote ad nauseam at parties, in speeches, on Facebook, etc., for the next twelve years?"

6. "Your book has a lot of strong themes. Did you consciously set out to write a book with themes?"

5. "Do you like this bow in my hair?"

4. "I'm writing a book similar to yours. Do you think your agent would represent it?"

3. "Could you please say something about your writing process that I can co-opt, in the hope that it will get my own writing published or maybe at least get me laid?"

2. "Someone—I think it was Peter Ho Davies—once said that writing was like a cat. Do you agree?"

1. "I'm writing a book similar to yours. Can you speak to that idea?"

March 08, 2013

March 06, 2013

But Actually, An Incredibly Pleasant Vacation

[My office, Manhattan, Wednesday]

CO-WORKER [speaking in the manner of a long-suffering New York native who has kindly and patiently endured hours of a certain blogger's anti-New York/anti-New Yorker rants over the past eighteen months]: You must be really excited to go to Mexico, huh? Just think, a whole week away from New Yorkers!


[Plane-side tarmac, Cancun, Thursday]

MEXICAN AIRLINE WORKER [speaking in the manner of someone who is amazed at the idiots he must sometimes deal with, no matter how often it happens]: Señor, please. You cannot smoke here.

FAT MAN IN YANKEES SWEATSHIRT [lit cigarette in hand; speaking in the manner of someone unfamiliar with fundamental relationship between jet fuel and open flames]: Ha-ha, yeah, good one.

SECOND MEXICAN AIRLINE WORKER [approaching quickly; speaking in the manner of someone terrified for own life]: Señor, please! You must put that out immediately!

FMIYS [speaking in the manner of someone who has just been told that he will be forced to watch while these two airline workers gangbang his wife, and then score their performance Olympic ice-dancing style]: Are you fuckin' kidding me?

MAW [speaking in manner of someone who never thought his spoken English would need to extend to this level of detail in this particular situation]: Señor, please. I... Is very dangerous.

FMIYS [throwing cigarette to ground in disgust, leaving MAW and SMAW to extinguish it with their feet while he boards airline bus; speaking, to entire bus, in manner of someone whose belief in his own country's superiority is so spectacularly firm that God appearing in the form of a bald eagle and explaining otherwise would not be enough to persuade him otherwise]: Can you fuckin' believe this? It's a four hour flight and I can't even have a fuckin' smoke?

FAT MAN'S WIFE [speaking in the manner of someone dressed head-to-toe in pink, Juicy Couture velour, and clutching duty free bag containing 1,000 additional cigarettes]: It's fuckin' unbelievable.


[Poolside bar, Cancun, Friday]

MAN DRESSED FOR JERSEY SHORE AUDITION: So you guys liking it here so far?


MDFJSA: You try many of the restaurants yet?

MDFMPSA: Just the grill. You?

MDFJSA [looking sheepishly at girlfriend]: We tried that tapas place.

MDFMPSA: Oh yeah? How was it?

MDFJSA: It was pretty good, actually. [leaning in now, sotto voce] But make sure you order a lot. The portions are tiny.


[Poolside seating, Cancun, Saturday]

FAT MAN UNFORTUNATELY NOT IN YANKEES SWEATSHIRT [spotting a pool cleaning employee; turning to his friends]: Oh, hold on, you gotta meet this guy. He's a real riot. [Turning, now, in direction of pool cleaning employee.] Hey, Julio! [N.B. "Julio" here is pronounced with a hard J, as in "Julius Caesar," not with a Spanish J, as in "mojito"... or "Julio."] Julio! Hey, Julio!

FAT MAN'S FAT FRIEND [joining in, while pool cleaning employee continues cleaning pool, oblivious]: JULIO! Over here Julio!

FMUNIYS: C'mon, Julio! Julio!



[Outside Penn Station, Manhattan, Wednesday]

CRAZY YELLING LADY CARRYING LARGE ASSORTMENT OF BAGS DOWN SIDEWALK: I'm in the road! Don't even try and tell me I'm not in the road! I'm in the road!


March 01, 2013

Conversations With Greatness

...will take a brief, one-week hiatus, while the author spends a week honeymooning in Mexico. Expect burrito puns on his return.

February 23, 2013

Don't Worry, It Won't Reach North America

Someone at the BBC is having a laugh:

I know my output's been pathetic here lately—I've been frantically working on my second book, among all the usual things. (I also got to look at mock-up covers for my FIRST book this week, which was super exciting.) If you're having withdrawal, you can go read my latest Blurbese post at the Ploughshares blog. And then you should really stick around and read some of the fantastic stuff our new crop of bloggers has been coming up with; it's so good that February has already been our best month ever for pageviews, even with a week left to go.

And more here later this week. I promise!

February 22, 2013

February 15, 2013

February 08, 2013

February 01, 2013

January 25, 2013

January 22, 2013

It Ain't Right

From Thought Catalog (as in: "This is so inane, I thought I was reading a catalog"): 25 Signs You're A Writer

Normally my opening gambit for something like this — In Which Andrew Angrily Eviscerates A Mindless Blog Post — would be a knowing "Gosh, I really hate to be snooty about this, but...". I've had enough random internet readers completely miss subtle matters of tone like that before, though, and I don't really want there to be any misunderstanding here. So let me be clear: I am being snooty. This article really bakes my Alaska.
1. You take a pen and paper with you everywhere, sometimes even into bed with you, just in case you have an idea at three in the morning that absolutely must be remembered. That idea never usually ends up good, but like everything you say when you’re stoned, it sounded very good at the time.
Here's my problem with it: these are manifestly NOT signs you are a writer. They are signs that you think you are a writer. Not even that: they are things you identify as writerly that you think you can use to impress other people with how writerly you are. They are like, the sort of stupid cliches that a bad movie would drop in during the first five minutes to really hammer home to you how much of a writer the person on screen is.

Here is the one real sign you are a writer: you spend at least twice as long writing each day as you do thinking about all the ways in which you are like, totally writerly.
2. You really, really want to buy a typewriter, even though you never expect to actually use it. You just want a typewriter because you’re one of the 10 people in the world who still finds them romantic and sexy. All of those people are writers.
Uh-huh, yeah, no. That does not make you a writer. It makes you a hipster. And notwithstanding that all hipsters also "write" a tumblr of some sort, that doesn't make you a writer either.
6. When you hear the words “I’m on deadline,” you immediately burst into action, a Pavlovian response to a) always having something due and b) always being behind on it. You’re certain that if they were able to make your procrastination into an energy source, it will solve our nation’s fuel crisis. Or at least make gas cheaper.
And, okay, everyone has a different way of working and a different experience of being a writer and whatever. That's fine. I accept that. What bothers me is that nobody accepts my version of being writer, viz. writing a lot every day and often feeling kind of miserable and/or guilty about it because you are ignoring your wife and/or missing out on fun social plans to do it. No. Because I'm "a writer," people assume that I have the stupid kind of work ethic where I buy typewriters and get stoned a lot by way of procrastination and then turn out something shitty to meet an arbitrary deadline.

What bothers me is that I have to put up with bloggers telling the world shit like this as if it applies to anyone who's ever strung more than 300 words together:
10. You sometimes refer to authors by their first name or a pet name you never realized you gave them, like calling Bukowski “Chuck” or “Charlie,” James Joyce “Jimmy” or Salman Rushdie “Sally.” Most people aren’t allowed to call him Sally, but it’s an in-joke between the two of you. And, yes, it still counts if he doesn’t know about it and you’ve technically never met him.
Oh, Andrew's a writer? He must refer to Jonathan Franzen as "Franny." Either that or he's not really a writer. Seriously, what is this shit? I get that it's probably meant to be, like, you know, not entirely serious, and, like, you know, I'm probably like, you know, totally missing the joke. But, I'm not. The joke just ain't funny.
14. You’re a little too obsessed with post-it notes and stationery and have a favorite pen. An alarming amount of your budget goes out every month to writing supplies, books and coffee — but mostly coffee. Fact: If I gave up drinking coffee, I’d probably be a millionaire. Is it sad that I choose my love of java over my love of money? No. Not expecting any fiscal reward proves you’re a writer.
22. You have a bad habit of solving your problems or conflicts by writing the person a letter, rather than just confronting them about it. In high school, my mother was in her “I want to be a romance novelist phase,” and I could tell when she and her husband were in a fight because there would be a letter on the table every morning until whatever they were going through was resolved. Some people fight, you start an epistolary novel of angry feelings.
I will be magnanimous and admit that (1) I do have a bad habit of doing this, and (2) I LOL'ed at the epistolary novel line.

HOWEVER, I maintain that this is in general a stupid article, and only makes me further hate poseurs who call themselves writers just so they can procrastinate/drink coffee/buy typewriters/whatever. PLEASE STOP.

January 18, 2013