The Brooklyn Museum of Death

I attended my first rat class on a Sunday afternoon in January. The snow melted overnight, but by morning it had refrozen into black ice, which made the walk between the 4th Avenue-9th Street stop and the future Morbid Anatomy Museum, located in a vacant, pre-renovation nightclub in industrial Gowanus, extremely terrifying. This probably explains why most of the registered students bailed at the last minute, even after paying $185 for a dead rat, scalpel, access to a box of accessories fit for Barbie and expert instruction.

When I arrived, Katie Innamorato, the teacher, was wearing a polyester wolf jumpsuit with pointy ears, a row of white fangs, and a lolling red fabric tongue. She was arranging the rats on a folding table as if setting up a child’s birthday party. The rats, bright white and all the same size, were “feeders,” or mass-market snake snacks. After the three other students who braved the elements—a bearded deer hunter from upstate, his amulet-necklaced wife, and a teenager in a hoodie whose mom dropped her off with lunch money—were settled in, Katie started instructing: massage some warmth into the rat’s limbs, then place its belly flat against the table, and part its fur along the spine.

A Conversation With Matt Taibbi and Molly Crabapple

On one side of The Divide—the gap in the justice system between the rich and the poor that provides the title for Matt Taibbi’s brilliant and enraging new book—financiers and other wealthy people commit egregious crimes, including laundering drug money, and rarely face jail time. Prosecutors worry about “collateral consequences” before filing charges.

The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, by Matt Taibbi with illustrations by Molly Crabapple, will be published on Tuesday. You can order it now now now, wherever capitalism allows you to obtain books:

Spiegel & Grau / Random House

McNally Jackson

Amazon / Kindle

Powell’s

Previously in this interview series:

Discussing the labor of sex work with Melissa Gira Grant.

Returning to Marxism with Ben Kunkel.

The new story of labor unions with Micah Uetricht.

On the other side is Andrew Brown, who lives in a neighborhood obsessively monitored by police and is arrested for standing outside his own building talking to a friend. The arresting officer defines this behavior as “obstructing pedestrian traffic,” despite the fact that there are no pedestrians on the street to be obstructed. Unlike most of the horrifying anecdotes Taibbi recounts, this one has a more-or-less happy ending; when the judge learns the facts, he dismisses the case. But this dismissal happens only after Brown presses for his case to actually be heard, which surprises both the judge and Brown’s defense attorney. He is expected to accept whatever plea deal he is offered rather than contest the charges. That’s what usually happens at that point in the script.

That theater metaphor is cribbed from “The Theater of Justice,” an excellent recent piece in Vice by Molly Crabapple, who in the years since Taibbi called her “Occupy’s greatest artist” has also established herself as a stellar writer. For The Divide, she has contributed illustrations of great terror and beauty.

I recently sat down with Taibbi and Crabapple over coffee in the West Village. (Crabapple joined late.) In writing the book, Taibbi said, he consciously count down on the profanity that marked his prose when he was writing for The eXile and the New York Press, as well as much of his work at Rolling Stone. This is effective: The Divide’s calmly presented material will make any reader equipped with a basic sense of decency do the swearing themselves.

2014 March Madne$$: The School Tuitions Of The NCAA Bracket

Click for large version.

It is once again time for the NCAA “March Madness” basketball tournament. The eventual champions will get to bask in the national spotlight. And sure, winning a basketball title is worth bragging about—but we all know the real champion is the institution of higher education that can charge the most tuition and still have enough students to keep its rejection letter printer warm. It’s The Awl’s annual NCAA bracket by tuition, using the college information resource Peterson’s. (Where available, in-state tuition was used.) Since we first began March Madne$$ in 2009, the winning tuition has risen from $38,622 to $47,290.

Inside The Barista Class

One of the most obscene things I learned as a barista was how eager people are to be liked. NYU sophomores, the ones with Jansport backpacks in full makeup at 9 a.m., stuttered their orders and shyly complimented me on my nose ring. I semi-patiently listened to innumerable Wikipedia-style monologues about the music I was playing from men in their twenties trying to render their business attire invisible with cultural know-how. I was given zines, mixtape-party fliers, home-recorded chillwave demos.

I said things like “How’s the app going?” and “Welcome to the neighborhood.” I answered questions for new Greenpoint residents—of which there were more each year—about the best place to grab wine and tapas, get a shave and drink a beer at the same time. How myself and my co-workers became to be known as experts in such matters was largely beyond me, particularly since many of us shortly couldn’t afford to live in the neighborhood in which we served. More than anything else, though, I was asked what else I did.

“Oh you know,” the t-shirt designer or gallery assistant with blunt bangs or unpaid Harper’s intern would say on their way into the office. “When you aren’t making coffee.”

How To Ditch Your Job And Flee The Country

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, producer and editor Mike Byhoff tells us more about what it’s like to leave your job, get on a plane headed for a country you know nothing about, and then spend a month abroad without an agenda or being able to speak the language.

Leaving for central america for a month in 12 hours and don't speak spanish and have basically no itinerary what the fuck am I doing.

— Mike Byhoff (@mbyhoff) February 28, 2014

Mike! We spoke at the end of February after you frightened everyone with that tweet, and we decided to hold off on a Tell Us More until you got back. Now that you’ve returned home, let’s begin with this: So what happened here?

To get to me hyperventilating on a plane as it landed in Guatemala City, I should probably start from the beginning, which is the wonderful world of unemployment. I took a job as an editorial director of a video start-up in March of 2013. It seemed like the “right move” for my career, as it was part of a well-known company in the tech scene, the guy who started the company is one of the most brilliant people I have ever worked for, I got equity, and I could frame the editorial direction the way I wanted to.

Cut to 12 months later, and we’ve barely acquired users, we’ve pivoted three times, my job responsibilities shifted DRAMATICALLY, and we were going to partner with another company for content. I was sat down and given the option to take a scaled-back role or severance. Without much thought, I took the severance.

The Toilet Man

The toilet man was obsessed with numbers. Like the number of days he had left to live. Ten-thousand five-hundred was about how many days he said he had left, if he lived to be eighty. Thirteen years ago, the Toilet Man said, he turned forty and asked himself, how long is one lifetime? Then he checked the national statistic: eighty. So, forty more years; fourteen thousand, six-hundred days more days, give or take. “And then you die,” said the Toilet Man. He lingered over the last world, stretched it. “Dyyyyyyyeee,” it sounded like.

Back then, before he was the Toilet Man, he was Jack Sim, a rich Singaporean, running 16 businesses, having a midlife crises, searching for meaning and finding none. “What’s the purpose of having more money?” he thought. “I mean it’s crazy! When you have no money, you need to sell your time for money, and when you have money, you sell your time for money. It’s a losing business.” And it was confusing. “Time is the only currency of life” is what he concluded, and so endeavored to do something different with his.

How Can Unions Win?

Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity is is published by Verso’s Jacobin seriesand available wherever people have been taught by teachers to read.• Verso BooksMcNally JacksonYour local bookstore

Amazon

Previously in this series:

Discussing the labor of sex work with Melissa Gira Grant.

Returning to Marxism with Ben Kunkel.

Kevin Bacon’s new video imploring millennials to raise their 80s awareness did not mention Billy Bragg’s 1986 song “There Is Power in a Union,” but the idea that there is any power in a union probably seems as remote to many millennials as parachute pants or the White Pages. Actually, this is probably true of anyone born after about 1965. It’s been a long time since we have thought that most workers can realistically be something other than lone and lonely individuals forced to accept whatever terms of employment they can find and hope not to get fired.

Micah Uetricht is 26. After working for two years after college organizing car wash workers for Arise Chicago, Uetricht turned his attention to the Chicago Teachers Union and its fight against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Strike For America, his book about that fight, and the 2012 strike that resulted— a strike that the jacket copy characterizes as “America’s most important domestic labor struggle in decades”—has just been published.

That Emanuel had previously served as President Obama’s chief of staff underscores the increasingly antagonistic relationship of teachers unions to what was once their connection to political power, the Democratic Party. Uetricht writes that, under these conditions, teachers unions faced a choice between being deferential to “the neoliberal politicians and titans of capital who wanted to destroy them” and “confront[ing] those enemies head-on, with militant tactics like strikes and deep organizing within communities.”

How To Order A Croissant

Ordering a croissant is a perilous enterprise. It forces lovers of French pastries between the Scylla of pretension and the frying pan of provincialism. Actually that’s understating the case: The perils are not two, but manifold.

If you attempt the proper French pronunciation, krwa-san, and succeed, you’ll seem snobby. If you trip over the guttural R, as so many non-native speakers do, you’ll seem pseudointellectual.

If you go for the namby-pamby middle ground, kwa-san, replacing the guttural R with a W, you’ll sound terrible… and namby-pamby.

You could avoid these dangers by pronouncing the word in a straightforward American accident: kruh-sant. But then you’ll quite possibly become the victim rather than the perpetrator of snobbery. Recently I requested a kruh-sant and the server raised an eyebrow. “You mean a krwa-san?” he asked.

Having thought long and hard about this thorny problem, I’ve determined that it would be wise if everyone in America agreed to a standard pronunciation. And of the above-mentioned possibilities, it seems to me the best is kruh-sant.

I’ll dispense with the most obvious and weakest objection first, which is that croissant is a French word. Because: So what? Restaurant is a French word, too, but no one drops the final T.

Jane Setter, Professor of Phonetics at the University of Reading and an editor of the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary, suggested another reason why English-speakers might consider themselves justified in saying—or trying to say—krwa-san. Croissants, she told me, feel French. Doughnuts are American; croissants are French, even if they’re on sale at Dunkin’ Donuts.

But that’s not very rational. Croissants have been common in the United States for a long time. In 1981, Sara Lee’s parent company, Consolidated Foods, introduced a line of frozen croissants. By 1984 they were outselling pound cake. You can buy a croissant at any Starbucks. You can order one at Arby’s with a sausage, egg and cheese on top.

Ask Polly: Will Our Class Differences Tear Us Apart?

Hi Polly.

I’ve been with my current boyfriend for three years. We’re really great together—similar interests, senses of humor, great sex. I love him so much—the only issue is that of our respective backgrounds. He grew up in a tony suburb, went to prep school, then to a very prestigious college, and finally the very prestigious graduate school where we met. I went to public school in a bad neighborhood, put myself through a not-so-prestigious college, made a name for myself in my field, then got into that same prestigious grad school. Our families could not be more different. I didn’t think it would matter so much, but something happened recently that I can’t shake.

My little brother, who has been a fuck up his entire life, has finally gotten it together and joined the Air Force. I’m not super pro-military or anything, but he was on a bad, bad path and now he has a job and structure and it’s been really good for him. When he finished basic training, we (me, my mom, and my boyfriend—our father has long been out of the picture) went to his graduation. I’d never been to one of these things before but it’s a really big deal for the airmen. A lot of them, my brother included, had never really accomplished anything worth celebrating before. My mom basically cried the entire time.

Unfortunately, throughout the day-long graduation, whenever we were alone, my boyfriend would bring the subject back to him. He looked around anxiously when we got there because most of the young men were in uniform. He kept asking me if he thought people knew that he hadn’t served. Then he would go on these weird defensive rants about why he hadn’t served, one of which included some pretty fucked-up ideas about people who don’t go to college. I got pretty annoyed at him for being so self-involved on a day that should have been about celebrating my brother. I didn’t say anything, though, because it was so out of character for him to behave like that.

Checking In With My Pile Of Rejected ‘New Yorker’ Cartoons

In 2012, in a rare moment of actual confidence, I mailed an envelope of cartoons to famous New Yorker cartoon editor Robert Mankoff (who, for the short number of weeks surrounding this event, I referred to, in my head, as Bob). I never heard back. Which, I mean, was not a surprise. I’d been doing a lot of drawing, almost entirely for the Internet, and almost entirely for free. The Internet can be a tricky thing; sometimes it feels like there are countless outlets and platforms for creative people, and other times, it all just feels a little pointless. Content is disposable, and whether or not you contribute to it, and whether or not it’s good, a steady stream will keep coming, and it will fill up every space we are in, until our desperate little mouths are pressed up against a small air vent in the ceiling.

So, like I said, I sent some cartoons to the New Yorker. I felt ready. I asked an actual New Yorker cartoonist for tips. She told me I need to send 10 individual cartoons—photocopies only, by post. I wasn’t sure how it worked; if he liked one, did I get to redraw a nicer version? Did they have to be magazine-ready? Did the caption have to be in that font, or could I just do it by hand for now? The single panel thing was new for me—most of my cartoons are stories about myself, and not particular funny. And the bits I thought were funny were never the same as the bits other people thought were funny. But a lot of New Yorker cartoons aren’t that funny anyway, and like I said, I felt confident. I put all the original drawings away in a folder.

I pulled them out the other day. A few, I thought, were still good! Some were definitely past their sell-by date. And some were probably never funny at all. I felt embarrassed of how hopeful I’d been. Although, you have to feel hopeful sometimes—otherwise you’d never do things like go on dates and apply for jobs. Sometimes rejection happens! Rejection facilitates success! Right? Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Here are my dumb cartoons.

I still think this is good! I like that it’s weird, and a little bit dark. I should have just posted it on Tumblr. “17 notes” is better than nothing. Or is it?

What Time Is The Revolution?

There were a number of reasons to be skeptical when I arrived at a very expensive bar in Fort Greene to talk with Benjamin Kunkel about Utopia or Bust, his new collection of introductory essays about contemporary leftist theorists, ranging from the literary critic Fredric Jameson to the anthropologist and prominent Occupy personality David Graeber. The most obvious reason to be skeptical was that we were meeting at a very expensive bar in Fort Greene to talk about Marxism. “An important part of Marxism is blaming others,” Kunkel said—explaining that this bar was the suggestion of a friend. “At least, in good proletarian fashion, we’re just eating French fries.”

Utopia or Bust, by Ben Kunkel, is published by Verso’s Jacobin series and available wherever capitalism is practiced.

Verso Books

Indiebound

Amazon

McNally Jackson

Previously in this series: Discussing the labor of sex work with Melissa Gira Grant.

Other reasons to be skeptical might be the choice of the word “Utopia.” Utopian thinking is supposed to be dangerous, except when it’s useless, and Marxist theory has a rather paradoxical (or maybe dialectical) reputation for being both. I’m not too worried about violent Marxist purges anytime in the foreseeable American future, but usefulness strikes me as a valid concern. Usefulness is on its Kunkel’s mind, too; he dedicates the book “to who can use it.” I found it thrilling a couple of years ago to march in Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and chant “We are unstoppable/ Another world is possible,” but frustrating that we didn’t seem to have much to say after that.

Kunkel’s book itself went a long way towards winning me over. “The time is past,” he writes in an incisive takedown of Slavoj Žižek, “for the left to content itself with the blank proposition that another world is possible.” This is a book with results on its mind. Kunkel—known as one of the founders of n+1 and as the author of the novel Indecision—is a gifted, clear, and eager explicator of extremely complex theories, whose prose is often at its most infectiously energizing and disarmingly giddy when it is at its wonkiest (“Doesn’t Brenner’s position acquire a more hopeful cast if you consider its unstated implications regarding consumer demand?”).

When considered in tandem with concrete suggestions that have been proposed, by among others, J.A. Myerson, whose recent Rolling Stone piece “Five Economic Reforms Millenials Should Be Fighting For” caused a lot of delightful panic in Fox News hosts and which Kunkel discusses below, Utopia or Bust’s usefulness begins to emerge. Kunkel provides an introduction to theorists who now look much more relevant, and who can now be used to formulate policy. (Myerson’s call for “Guaranteed Work For Everybody,” for instance, can be paired with Kunkel’s chapter on “Full Employment.”)

The words “Utopia” and “Marxism” still don’t sit right with me, since specific policies don’t seem to be helped by these labels. But maybe I’m wrong. The other day, as I was re-reading Kunkel’s book on the subway, a panhandler to whom I was giving money looked at the book and said: “Utopia or Bust? I feel that.”

The Great Crypto Stagecoach Robbery

Anyone holding Bitcoins—or pretty much any cryptocurrency, really—has taken a substantial hit in the last few months, with the exchange rate of dollars to Bitcoins dropping from a high of around $1200 last November to around $550 today. But it’s possible that those whose Bitcoins were parked at the long-troubled Mt. Gox exchange have suffered a near-wipeout, or even a total one, in what may have been the catastrophic theft of some 744,000 Bitcoin from that exchange.

Mt. Gox was the first big Bitcoin exchange; as such it attracted the most attention, the most traffic, and the most trouble. It was hacked repeatedly because, at one time, it was simply where all the Bitcoins were. Most knowledgeable Bitcoin enthusiasts took off for more modern, more reliable exchanges long ago.

Details began to emerge Monday night in a leaked document (“Crisis Strategy Draft”) of at least partial authenticity obtained by blogger Two-Bit Idiot. The document explained that Mt. Gox had been subject to years of uncaught theft. (A Hacker News post later claimed to have restored the redacted slide from the leaked document that detailed the full Mt. Gox financials.)

Mt. Gox CEO Mark Karpeles, who is apparently holed up at home in Tokyo with his cat, has since verified in an IRC chat that the document is “more or less” legitimate, though it was not prepared internally by his embattled firm. He says that he is still trying to save the company: “‘Giving up’ is not part of how I usually do things.”