It’s a funny world when T.V. show creators write long diagnostic pieces about the broken state of capitalism in the United States, but hey, this dude did create The Wire. The essay is broad, sweeping, abstract, reductive, and makes some great points. I kind of love it:
Mistaking capitalism for a blueprint as to how to build a society strikes me as a really dangerous idea in a bad way. Capitalism is a remarkable engine again for producing wealth. It’s a great tool to have in your toolbox if you’re trying to build a society and have that society advance. You wouldn’t want to go forward at this point without it. But it’s not a blueprint for how to build the just society. There are other metrics besides that quarterly profit report.
The idea that the market will solve such things as environmental concerns, as our racial divides, as our class distinctions, our problems with educating and incorporating one generation of workers into the economy after the other when that economy is changing; the idea that the market is going to heed all of the human concerns and still maximise profit is juvenile. It’s a juvenile notion and it’s still being argued in my country passionately and we’re going down the tubes. And it terrifies me because I’m astonished at how comfortable we are in absolving ourselves of what is basically a moral choice. Are we all in this together or are we all not?
There is a lot more to it, and it’s worth a read.
Photo: SPACES (Cleveland)
The New York Times’s 22,000-word piece about Dasani, an 11-year-old who is part of an “invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America” has been making the rounds on the internet, and yes, it is most definitely worth reading.
The story focuses on New York, but of course, there are stories about people living below the poverty line all across the country. Here are more stories as documented by a filmmaker from North Carolina earlier this year:
And another by Frontline last year called “Poor Kids,” which looked at poor children living in cities across the U.S. (also highly recommended).
Having curtains in your windows is one of those adult-ish accomplishments that at least gives you the chance to walk into your apartment at the end of the day and say, “Ah, if nothing else, I have curtains,” or “If nothing else, I finally have an overpriced, ‘real’ trashcan.” “If nothing else, my sponges are less than 6 months old.” <-- one day!
I bring this up because over at Brooklyn Magazine our old friend Edith Zimmerman has taken us through her curtain-based journey, under the title How To Achieve Everlasting Happiness (And Install Curtains). It is both enlightening — on a curtain as well as Edith’s soul level — and hilarious:
You often consider getting curtains, but something always stops you. Mostly it feels like there are just a few too many elements—would you need a rod? Or another kind of thing to hang the curtains from? And then there’s the curtain fabric itself. And would you have to hammer things into the wall? Drill? You don’t know, but somehow it feels like too much of a commitment, or effort, even though you know it isn’t. Tension rods? And then how do you get the fabric “on” them? And would you need fabric with grommets on it to thread the rod through? Would homemade look bad if you’re not good at this kind of thing? The bunching, pull-up, pull-down curtains also seem like an option, but somehow the versions you find—wood, pretty slats, nice canvas, etc.—are too fancy and crazy expensive, so eventually you stop looking. But not before you accidentally (or was it?) sign up for the Shade Store’s daily newsletter. And yes, in fact, they are daily. Or sometimes daily. It’s a lot of emails from a curtain store! But it’s a well-done newsletter, and you never unsubscribe.
Not to give away the ending, but things turn out okay for Edith, and if you have some curtain-based woes of your own, there are some helpful tips to aid you in your journey.
Photo: Stephen the Photofan
Is the rent too damn high? A Harvard study says yes, according to Bloomberg Businessweek:
If you can’t afford to own, you can rent. But what if you can’t afford to rent, either? Millions of Americans are in precisely that situation, according to a study released today by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. The availability of apartments, especially cheaper ones, hasn’t nearly kept up with demand, and the problem has worsened since the 2007-09 recession, the study says.
“In 1960, about one in four renters paid more than 30 percent of income for housing. Today, one in two are cost burdened,” according to the study, America’s Rental Housing.
“Cost-burdened” means you’re paying more than 30 percent of income for housing and “severely cost-burdened” means you’re paying more than half. “By 2011, 28 percent of renters paid more than half their incomes for housing, bringing the number with severe cost burdens up by 2.5 million in just four years, to 11.3 million,” according to the Harvard study, which was conducted with partial funding from the MacArthur Foundation.
Beyond the low inventory for affordable apartments, the chart above shows that adjusted for inflation, rents have steadily risen while incomes have fallen (notice the dive during the financial crisis).
In this survey we had earlier this year, we asked everyone what percentage of their take-home pay was dedicated to rent—many said they were paying more than 30 percent, which meant they are cost-burdened, but also detailed the trade-offs they make to live where they do (people in large cities with access to public transportation, for example, don’t have to deal with paying for and maintaining an automobile). If the rents get much higher, I’ll start living with roommates again. Who’s looking?
In a study led by David DuBois of HEC Paris, people who were observed choosing large coffees, pizzas, and smoothies were rated by others as having higher status. They scored an average of 4.98 on a 1-to-7 scale, versus 3.03 for people who chose the small size. Technically, the study doesn’t apply to managers: The researchers were studying obesity among underprivileged populations, and they found that extra-large food servings can serve as markers of social status. So for policy makers, the research suggests that there might be benefits to altering people’s perceptions about portion size. But this advice jives with the idea of wearing the clothes for the job you want, not the job you have. To take it one step further, surround yourself with the trappings of the salary and lifestyle you want, not the one you have.
This story from QZ says that the size of your latte is a signifier of your status at work—bigger means more power. Well, bigger means more power because people who order the largest size of anything can generally afford to do so. Also: “surround yourself with the trappings of the salary and lifestyle you want, not the one you have” sounds suspiciously like people who like to live beyond their means, so order that large latte if you want it and can afford it and not because it makes you feel important.
Also, good morning! If it’s snowing where you are like it is here, hope you’re somewhere warm with a nice hot drink.
Photo: Jeff Meyer
I took out one hundred dollars in cash on Black Wednesday and didn’t spend it. Then I decided to go full-on hermit (and straight-edge!) for finals, making it easy to keep track of where the cash went (which, let’s face it, I was stressed so my spending was focused on eating).
$8.75 – Pot of hibiscus tea and turkey sandwich (free Wi-Fi and old-school Shakira at no cost) while trying to write a paper on tax-increment financing and escaping my neighbor who thinks he is the second-coming of Jimi Hendrix. Spoiler-alert: he isn’t.
$9.97 – Container of salad bar fixins (pasta, bean salad, dolmades, cherry tomatoes) and bottle of wine for friend emergency. Then back to my hermit hut a.k.a. computer lab.
$8.00 – Tuna sandwich and the taste of despair that accompanies my inevitable once-a-semester visit to Jimmy Johns because of how I hate-love to eat it and if I went to the independent Italian joint next door, I would’ve dove into a meatball sub and couldn’t afford a digesting nap if I wanted to sleep that night.
Mark Wagner is a collage artist who uses dollar bills as his material. While watching this, I kept thinking, “ahh, isn’t it illegal to destroy currency?” (Yes.) But it’s art.
Into the Gloss has a fun dispatch up from Mandy Moore, where she shares the weird story behind her big break:
It’s a ridiculous story that sounds like a made-for-TV movie: I started by doing musical theater as a kid and I used to sing the National Anthem all the time around Orlando. That was my weird thing; I loved it. I sent an audition tape in to the Orlando Magic in which I was wearing an American flag hair bow—I was really patriotic back in the day. [Laughs] The team picked me to sing, and then it was sort of a domino effect: every other local sports team asked me sing, too… At one of the events, two guys approached my parents and me to ask if I had any desire to record in a studio and cut a demo. I’d never really thought of it before. I was like, ‘Sure. OK…’ It was the summer before 9th grade, and I used some of the money I had made from doing local commercials and went into the studio for a week. And a guy who works for FedEx was delivering boxes and heard me singing in the studio, and it turned out the delivery guy had a friend of a friend of a friend who was the head of Urban A&R at Epic Records. It was the weirdest chain. I had no idea at the time, but he talked to the studio managers and they all decided to send this unfinished demo off. I can’t imagine how terrible it must have been, because I had never been in a recording studio before.
So anyway, I got a call to meet with a big fancy A&R guy who had flown down from New York. The meeting was the same day as my high school homecoming football game, and I was more concerned about making sure this meeting was done in time so I could hang out with my friends! [Laughs] It was so beyond my comprehension that this could actually lead to a career. I was 14! But, I ended up signing a record deal—this was the time of the Britney/Christina pop explosion. I guess I was my record label’s answer to those girls.
Also, she goes on to list all of her favorite makeup and skincare products (44 of them!), if you are into that sort of thing. I now have approximately 17,000 tabs open in my browser.
See also: “My Life as a Jonas Brother,” as told by Joe Jonas
While the herds fight over art and VIP access down at Art Basel Miami Beach, a reminder that some things never change.
This was it, the start of the Biennale proper: the onset of party-anxiety and invite-envy, the fear that there were better parties you’d not been invited to, a higher tier of pleasure that was forbidden to you…You could be at a tremendous party, full of fun people, surrounded by beautiful women, booze flowing, totally happy– but part of you would be in a state of torment because there was another party to which you’d not been invited. There was nothing to do about it.
–Geoff Dyer, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
During the time I had spent in Miami many people had mentioned, always as something extraordinary, something I should have seen if I wanted to understand Miami, the Surrounded Islands project executed in Biscayne Bay in 1983 by the Bulgarian artist Christo. Surrounded Islands…had been mentioned both by people who were knowledgeable about conceptual art and by people who had not before heard and then could not then recall the name of the man who had surrounded the islands. All had agreed. It seemed that the pink had shimmered in the water…. It seemed that this period when the pink was in the water had for many people exactly defined, as the backlit islands and fluorescent water and the voices at the table were that night defining for me, Miami.
-Joan Didion, Miami
When you get a call, where do you start?
First, I try to provide some education that will make the homeowners more comfortable and aware of snakes. A lot of fear comes from what they don’t know. If there’s a nonvenomous snake in their yard, I’ll just go up and gently handle it, and they’re just like, “Whoa … that’s it?”
And if it’s venomous?
I use tongs, similar to a trash picker-upper, to grab them by the middle of their body and put them into a 15-gallon, locking tub.
Then what do you do with them?
I’m required to release these snakes within a couple of miles from the removal site, as close as possible. Sometimes you can’t do that because of proximity to other houses, but I always take it to the closest wildlife area. If the snake’s unhealthy, it’ll stick with me until it’s healthy. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife won’t give me permission to release it because one with a bite, or tick, or respiratory issue could infect other snakes.
Today in “uncommon jobs,” Orange Coast magazine has an interview with a professional herper (basically a person who charms and removes snakes from people’s properties) named Jason Magee. Magee says he charges a flat rate of $115 to inspect properties and remove both nonvenomous and venomous snakes.
Also: Some servicey advice about getting bit by a venomous snake: “Take off jewelry in case swelling occurs, keep the bite below your heart level if possible, and don’t move around. You don’t want to ice it, you don’t want to put stuff on it, you don’t want to try to suck out the venom—which can make it worse. Above all, seek medical attention immediately.”
Good thing I read this, because I would have definitely tried to suck that venom out.
Photo: Lina Tanner
Autostraddle has a great interview with Emily Gould, which is mostly about Emily Books and you should read it. But this is the part that is relevant to us:
If you could chat to your twenty-four year old self, what is some advice you’d give her?
I used to answer this question by saying I didn’t regret anything and that the decisions I made, even the bad ones, shaped me into the person I am today so I wouldn’t take anything back. I regret giving that answer! (Haha.) No, I don’t really, and that’s still basically true. But if I could time travel I would try desperately to get my 24 year old self to understand money. “Just read one Suze Orman book!” I would tell her. “Acknowledge that money exists and is important. Value the present moment, but take care of future you, too.” I was just the classic person who doesn’t have much money and deals with it by imagining that some windfall will change her life forever. Then I got one, and it was the worst thing that could have happened to me. It wasn’t enough to change my life forever, and I would have realized it if I’d thought about it for more than two seconds. All it did was prevent me from developing responsible habits like budgeting and saving and opening my damn credit card statements. Then my fortunes took a turn for the worse, I didn’t have the habits I needed to survive a downturn. I had to learn the very, very hard way. I would recommend not doing that, if you can. Don’t get into a situation where you have to put taxes on your credit card, children.
More and more men are staying at home with the kids while their wives work outside the home, and the New York Times is ON IT.
When people ask what he does, Mr. Langley could say artist — he gives the buildings and landscapes he paints expressive personalities of their own — but he has just begun trying to sell his work. Other fathers in similar situations say they often tell white lies: They are retired, they are consultants, they work at home.
Mr. Langley generally goes with “stay-at-home dad.”
“That’s what I call myself,” he said over lunch at a restaurant in Rye, the other tables filled with groups of women. “I wouldn’t say I like it.”
What response does he get?
“There’s usually a long pause,” he said.
New York magazine has by-the-numbers look at shoplifting, including a list of the most frequently stolen items:
Highly targeted items:
• Designer handbags
• High-end vacuums
• High-end mixers
• GPS devices
• Kids’ electronics
Designer handbags, sure, but high-end vacuums is a surprisingly one to me! How do you make off with a vacuum? I guess if it’s a Roomba, it’s small enough to hide in a bag?
Also, a vital note: “According to a 2008 Columbia University study, shoplifting ‘was more common among those with higher education and income, suggesting that financial considerations are unlikely to be the main motivator.’”
Photo: Eirik Newth