my deep appreciation for terrible places and what they can teach us

  • Duke University: Society bloomed with gentler personalities, more feminine faces: Technology boom 50,000 years ago correlated with less testosterone.

    My first impression was of taupe, tan, plush, dark wood, and cream velveteen. The hotel seemed built with an eye for what someone imagined inoffensive luxury would look like. Everything that wasn’t gleaming stone was either shining metal or carpeted. Staff stood by every door to insulate guests from carrying bags, opening doors or having to walk ten feet alone from the front desk to the concierge. A bronze Richard MacDonald sculpture of a slim, impossibly elegant trumpeter stood alone on a round marble table in front of the elevators. (I ran a finger down the length of her spine, wondering at her musculature. She was pointed a different direction almost every time I went by. Moved by staff or guests, I never found out.) We had lunch on a veranda surrounded by palm trees and water fountains and ignored napkins with a higher thread count than most sheets. Very little felt real.

    Thirty:ninth floor. Top button in the lift. As couch-surfing goes, I leveled up. The room was a four minute walk from the elevator. Again with the scale. The closet was big enough to hold a mattress, the bathroom that and half again, and the room was even more meticulously crafted than the hall to imply richness yet stay innocuous. Nothing was brightly coloured or printed with a solid pattern. Nothing looked experimental or even extravagant, but more as if everything had been chosen through focus group. Magazine cover bland and comfortable.

    In spite of the obvious tax bracket of untouchable leisure, I rearranged the furniture as soon as I arrived, hauling a heavy glass table aside so the eight-foot sofa could be turned around the face the floor to ceiling window wall. (The bed was gigantic, too, but not mine.) Having such a thing face the room was a waste. The photo here is the view from my pillow of The Strip. Though it was nicer at night, it was more difficult for a phone to photograph.

    As an introduction to a trip, I had never experienced anything quite like it. I had expected to be buffered from Vegas toxins by people I like, but I did not expect to be buffered by trickle-down economics as well. Moving from a mattress on the floor of a sketch-fest apartment to one of the aristocratic hotels was a more interesting leap than I am accustomed to. Vegas is decadently artificial, yet there I was, swaddled by an extraordinary amount of care. It didn’t make it better to be in such a place, but it changed the timbre of the thousand cuts I experienced there, a socially conscious mermaid visiting the shores of privilege. For example, the only white skinned workers I could see were the ones who interacted directly with hotel guests. Another, everyone is paid to pause and greet you when you walk by, no matter how involved or strenuous their current task might be. Just by your presence, you interrupt their flow. It’s mandatory. It’s awful. It made me deeply, visibly uncomfortable. My skin crawled a tiny twitch with every hello.

    The so-called city of excess, pleasure, and party doesn’t back up what it markets. Be wild! But within very particular measures. Stay up all night! Except that everything is closed by four. Go crazy! But only in ways the powers that be have measured and accounted for. It’s the most proscribed public place I have been.

    I was waiting for my ride to the DefCon shoot, an event where a bunch of hackers all ride out into the desert to destroy a variety of targets with advanced and complicated weaponry, when I decided to demonstrate the peculiar boundaries of the city of sin. I had been talking with a friend, tracing in the air the imaginary and artificial cultural box we were standing in. The easiest way to offer my point, though, was to lie down on the ground, so I did. Nothing more complicated than that. I lay down on the polished and sealed cobblestones of the sidewalk next to the valet pick-up of one of the more expensive hotels on the Strip and started counting. I did not look distressed. I did not make any noise. I simply stretched out and waited.

    It took less than a minute. Someone was there almost immediately, “Miss, what are you doing? You can’t do that. You have to get up. You are upsetting the people on the cameras.” The man who calls the taxi, hand to his ear, up to an almost invisible microphone, his thirty minute line-up forgotten, less of a priority than I was, peacefully lying on the ground.

    Not many places in the first world are so terrifying or for so many reasons.

    I am glad I went for a completely different set of events, I’ve come back from Vegas with a lot healed in my head and heart, but I have to admit that little moment was a source of intense satisfaction as well. Part of the way I’m wired declares that it’s important to be able to social hack a place as efficiently as possible. Can’t break the rules properly until they are fully understood.

  • still deeply enchanted by this tribe

    WIRED has a really nice new piece (with photos and a video of some of the clock restoration!) on one of my favourite inspiring secret-art collectives, UX, the dreamy Parisian group that specializes in fantastical heritage restorations and interstitial spaces:

    A mysterious band of hacker-artists is prowling the network of tunnels below Paris,
    secretly refurbishing the city’s neglected treasures.

    Thirty years ago, in the dead of night, a group of six Parisian teenagers pulled off what would prove to be a fateful theft.

    […] This stealthy undertaking was not an act of robbery or espionage but rather a crucial operation in what would become an association called UX, for “Urban eXperiment.” UX is sort of like an artist’s collective, but far from being avant-garde—confronting audiences by pushing the boundaries of the new—its only audience is itself. More surprising still, its work is often radically conservative, intemperate in its devotion to the old. Through meticulous infiltration, UX members have carried out shocking acts of cultural preservation and repair, with an ethos of “restoring those invisible parts of our patrimony that the government has abandoned or doesn’t have the means to maintain.” The group claims to have conducted 15 such covert restorations, often in centuries-old spaces, all over Paris.

    […] UX’s most sensational caper (to be revealed so far, at least) was completed in 2006. A cadre spent months infiltrating the Pantheon, the grand structure in Paris that houses the remains of France’s most cherished citizens. Eight restorers built their own secret workshop in a storeroom, which they wired for electricity and Internet access and outfitted with armchairs, tools, a fridge, and a hot plate. During the course of a year, they painstakingly restored the Pantheon’s 19th- century clock, which had not chimed since the 1960s. Those in the neighborhood must have been shocked to hear the clock sound for the first time in decades: the hour, the half hour, the quarter hour.

    […] One summer, the group mounted a film festival devoted to the theme of “urban deserts”—the forgotten and underutilized spaces in a city. They naturally decided the ideal venue for such a festival would be in just such an abandoned site. They chose a room beneath the Palais de Chaillot they’d long known of and enjoyed unlimited access to. The building was then home to Paris’ famous Cinèmathèque Franèaise, making it doubly appropriate. They set up a bar, a dining room, a series of salons, and a small screening room that accommodated 20 viewers, and they held festivals there every summer for years. “Every neighborhood cinema should look like that,” Kunstmann says.

    save a life, pass it on

    CLOIHOUSE: Save the Life of Kiana Firouz:

    Kiana Firouz, 27 years old, is an outspoken Iranian LGBT rights activist, filmmaker, and actress. When clips of her video documentary work featuring the struggle and persecution of gays and lesbians in her country were acquired by Iranian intelligence, agents began to follow Firouz around Tehran, harassing and intimidating her. She fled for England where she could safely continue her work and studies. […]

    Firouz, understandably, has requested asylum from the British government. Much to everyone’s shock and dismay, the British Home Office has rejected her application for refugee status. Yes, they know she’s gay. Yes, they know she could be deported back to Iran at any time, and that if this happens, Firouz will most likely be sentenced to torture and death after being found guilty of the “unspeakable sin of homosexuality” because she has participated in explicit lesbian sex scenes in the movie, and been a fierce proponent for human rights in her country.

    In Iran, the punishment for lesbianism involving mature consenting women consists of 100 lashes. This punishment can be applied up to three times. After a fourth violation of Iranian law, a woman convicted of “unrepentant homosexuality” is finally executed by hanging, often publicly, in front of a howling mob.[…]

    The EveryOne activists invite concerned readers to send protest e-mail messages to the British Home Office ( requesting that Kiana receive refugee status as soon as possible, for she is a symbol of the international fight against homophobia and repression of gays and lesbians in Islamic countries.

    Here is the official Cul de Sac website.

    Here is the petition endorsed by Kiana Firouz herself.

    And this is her story.

    Let’s make some noise, comrades.

    Think globally, act locally

  • A clear explanation as to why the pseudo-science “Body Mass Index” doesn’t mean a thing.
  • Targeted magnetic fields can make people more inclined to judge outcomes, not intentions.

    We all stand like angels, every one of us, wings folded against uncertain futures, a string of decisions defining our wake. We stand like angels as we live, individual, unique. I want from you, you want from me, motivations building opportunities for happiness every day.

    Someone shouted at me from a car earlier today, calling me a hateful bitch when I responded to his catcalls with, “You’re being rude.” But you know what? I try to live well. I recycle, I use my purchasing dollar to support fair business, I pirate media but introduce it to people I know will buy it. I send TED talks out to everyone possible. I fight for science, literacy, and higher quality education. I encourage small, easy changes, like only using cold water for laundry, as well as the more difficult ones, like refusing to back down when people ask “what’s the harm in holistic medicine?”. I believe in equal rights, supporting charity, and changing the current paradigm with better information architecture. Plus, last time I heard, I’m phenomenal with the kissing. Guy in the car? You’re an ass. Go suck rotten lemons.

  • why I went brita and in part why I don’t drink soda pop

  • The Story of Bottled Water
  • Fiji Water: The only brand of bottled water supported by a corrupt military dictatorship.
  • World Water Day. (According to the UN, dirty water kills more people than violence.)
  • Lewis Black talks sharp about bottled water.
  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (As recently discussed on the David Letterman show by Charles Moore: Pt 1, Pt 2.)
  • Living without plastic.
  • Chris Jordan’s documentary photographs of albatross dead from eating plastic.
  • a modern horror epic

    video found via Kevin

    Names Of the Dead:

    Every year, more than 44,000 Americans die simply because have no health insurance.

    I have created this project in their memory. I hope that honoring them will help us end this senseless loss of American lives. If you have lost a loved one, please share the story of that loved one with us. Help us ensure that their legacy is a more just America, where every life that can be saved will be saved.

    A simple yet spooky and powerful little website, Names Of the Dead is collecting precisely what it says, the names, ages, and hometowns of everyone who’s died from being unable to afford healthcare. They scroll in a list on the left of the screen, white on black and gray, and it seems the names are almost endless, as every time you refresh, new names have been added.

    I just signed Congressman Alan Grayson’s petition to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid demanding he move the Senate forward and pass health care reform now.

    I hope you’ll sign too.

    Unbelievable, horrific behaviour. Washington state residents, go and vote Yes for human rights!

    via Ellen Datlow:

    A court case brought against Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida for denying a dying woman’s same sex partner and their children access to her in the hospital has found for the hospital.

    Nicola Griffith urges us all to do something so that this outrage won’t happen again, in her post Trembling with Rage.


    I tie our hair together in looping knots, gold twined with red and purple, my hair wrapped in his like set gemstones. We match our garnet earrings, I think, we match and are beautiful, here in this place, this tent of our tangled hair, in this moment where we’ve erased the entire world but ourselves.

    I think of the violence in Iran, the students shot for protesting, the plain clothes agitators hired by the police state to enact violence in the name of the wronged, and I am especially glad for this small green hill, our hair braided together, our eyes shining together like light. Such perspective is deeply important to me. There are no fires here, no government shootings, no rigged elections for despots. We are not threatened here in Canada, the country we’ve made of a million languages, stronger together, we are safe here, and no matter how complex or stressful our lives might be, we will not die from politics. We are not persecuted and can help those that are.

    How to fight from afar: seemingly levelheaded advice on aiding the protests online #iranelection via Eliza

    #iranelection cyberwar guide for beginners

    The purpose of this guide is to help you participate constructively in the Iranian election protests through twitter.

    1. Do NOT publicise proxy IP’s over twitter, and especially not using the #iranelection hashtag. Security forces are monitoring this hashtag, and the moment they identify a proxy IP they will block it in Iran. If you are creating new proxies for the Iranian bloggers, DM them to @stopAhmadi or @iran09 and they will distributed them discretely to bloggers in Iran.

    2. Hashtags, the only two legitimate hashtags being used by bloggers in Iran are #iranelection and #gr88, other hashtag ideas run the risk of diluting the conversation.

    3. Keep you bull$hit filter up! Security forces are now setting up twitter accounts to spread disinformation by posing as Iranian protesters. Please don’t retweet impetuosly, try to confirm information with reliable sources before retweeting. The legitimate sources are not hard to find and follow.

    4. Help cover the bloggers: change your twitter settings so that your location is TEHRAN and your time zone is GMT +3.30. Security forces are hunting for bloggers using location and timezone searches. If we all become ‘Iranians’ it becomes much harder to find them.

    5. Don’t blow their cover! If you discover a genuine source, please don’t publicise their name or location on a website. These bloggers are in REAL danger. Spread the word discretely through your own networks but don’t signpost them to the security forces. People are dying there, for real, please keep that in mind.

    6. Denial of Service attacks. If you don’t know what you are doing, stay out of this game. Only target those sites the legitimate Iranian bloggers are designating. Be aware that these attacks can have detrimental effects to the network the protesters are relying on. Keep monitoring their traffic to note when you should turn the taps on or off.

    7. Do spread the (legitimate) word, it works! When the bloggers asked for twitter maintenance to be postponed using the #nomaintenance tag, it had the desired effect. As long as we spread good information, provide moral support to the protesters, and take our lead from the legitimate bloggers, we can make a constructive contribution.

    Please remember that this is about the future of the Iranian people, while it might be exciting to get caught up in the flow of participating in a new meme, do not lose sight of what this is really about.

  • Images from Iran, unfiltered, unedited – this is reality.
  • The BBC has turned green in support of the Tehran protesters.
  • Sullivan running “a constantly updated feed of the best tweets [from] the resistance, real time.”
  • Reuters: The US State Dept is asking Twitter to delay their maintenance plans.
  • In San Fran, no less.

    As some of you aware, there’s a initiative measure on the 2008 California General Election ballot titled Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry. It’s called Proposition 8, and it’s the most unfair and hate-filled bit of judicial intolerance I’ve heard of in awhile. As far as I can tell, it’s another example of the last desperate gasp of people who don’t like change, who want time to flow backward, and the world’s progressive trends on equality to hit hard into reverse. No less than the mayor of L.A. and the California Teachers Association and California School Boards Association have donated money to fight it –

    The following video was taken by my friend, musician and writer Meredith Yayanos, who encountered a group of Pro-Prop 8 protesters in Oakland, California. She turned on her camera-phone when the protesters began to assault a counter-protester, a quiet, polite, calm man with an anti Prop-8 sign, as is his right. Unfortunately, that’s when they turned on her.

    “Something to keep in mind: when I hit the record button, I hadn’t said a single word to anyone, or interfered in the rally any way. I stood a fair distance away from all of the sign-wavers (remaining at least four feet away from all of them…until they approached me). But as soon as they noticed me filming them, I was greeted with curses and threats of violence. “Get that shit out of here. I’ll knock it out of your hand.” None of these folks knew me, yet they instantly knew they hated me …”

    Which soon became, “That’s when she attacked, clawing, grabbing and then shoving. I didn’t fight back; she was much bigger than me.”

    I think it’s very important that you press play, read the entirety of her story, which is posted here in her journal, and pass it on.