Buzzless and overfed

Lileks contemplates the horror that is BuzzFeed:

Ninety-two percent of the content on the site is mediocre; seven percent has a serious subject and relies on other sources rewritten in VERY BIG TYPE yelling at you in between the pictures — there are lots of pictures, there have to be lots of pictures — and one percent might be “long form” stuff that’s supposed to make you nod and say “my, BuzzFeed is really upping their game. Bow. Down.” The rest of it is obviously juvenile, but it’s neither aimed at juveniles or written by juveniles. It’s written by self-infantilizing adults for peers who are equally unaccomplished. It’s a a bunch of chickens running around in circles, and none of them have the skill to get off the ground and fly somewhere higher.

Ever since the flowering of the hated Baby Boomers, the prolonging of adolescence past all understanding has been a priority of this culture; BuzzFeed was inevitable under those conditions.

This is the part that hurts, though:

Here’s the thing: appearing on that site is regarded as a résumé builder.

Well, yeah. It’s not that Serious Journalism is actually serious anymore: it’s a mixture of thinly disguised hit pieces, utterly undisguised hit pieces, and lots and lots of filler. There isn’t an online editor out there who wouldn’t sell her own never-to-be-born children for ten percent more clicks. Forget Strunk and White; today belongs to Titus Andronicus.

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Meanwhile in Texas

James Lileks, on the Texas Cartoon Flap:

Today brought out the HATE in innumerable tweets about the Garland TX shooting, intent on letting everyone know that the authors weigh intentions over freedom when it comes to speech. The percentage that said “I am in favor of free speech BUT the event was provocative” exceeded the reverse formulation by 200%, it seemed, because A) the target was on the wrong side, and B) the victims — being the people who were offended — belong to a group that must be protected lest the roiling waters of hatred boil over had flood the land, which they’re due to do any time now. Shootings like this are inconvenient, inasmuch as they seem to conform to a general preconception about young men of a particular doctrine, and inasmuch as that idea interferes with the daily elevation of all the really important things we have to hate on cue, like Joss Whedon, it must be explained away.

The most pathetic excuse I keep reading attacks the event for being provocative. Not just because it turns the objects of its muted sympathy into bulls who cannot resist the fluttering flag, but because it pretends that the entire point of the last 100 years in art hasn’t been provocation. It’s been the safest kind, of course; the arts have been poking beehives for years with the confidence of someone who knows they are vacant or otherwise occupied. For decades a thing has been judged less on its artistic merits than its intention, and if its intention is pure — that is, a handful of mud in the face of those who use the word “pure” without the requisite ironic inflection — then its demerits are waved away in favor of an enthusiastic endorsement of its transgressive nature, or how much rubble of the old paradigm it produced.

Giving offense has been a badge of courage and truth since the frickin’ Yippies, and now I’m supposed to believe that comity is prized above the foundation of the Bill of Rights.

The answer to speech, as always, is More Speech. For instance:

By now we’ve had enough “transgessive” art to put almost anyone to sleep.

But some people will continue prattling on about “hate speech” and other arbitrary subsets of speech, because their values are sacred — and yours are not. Not that I have any particular desire to shoot them or anything.

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A whole new class of victims

There are apparently people who sit alone in the dark of night, muttering to themselves: “God damn it, I want to be a victim too!” Because, you know, sympathy. And federal programs that have dollars attached.

There can be no other explanation for this:

According to Bella DePaulo and Rachel Buddeberg, the singles activists and authors who wrote a Truthout.org piece titled “Do You, Married Person, Take These Unearned Privileges, for Better or for Better?” discrimination against single people is a problem so huge that it’s actually “jarring” that our culture doesn’t talk about it the way it talks about racism and sexism.

The piece defines “singlism” as “the stereotyping, stigmatizing and discrimination against people who are not married” and “marital privilege” as “the unearned advantages that benefit those who are married,” an “emotional privilege” where “other people express happiness for people who marry but pity for those who stay single.”

“Someone is happier than I am, and it can’t possibly be my fault.”

And apparently there are Jim and Sheryl Crow(e) laws thwarting their happiness:

One example: Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, married workers can take time off to care for their spouse, but single people can’t take time off to care for a person “just as important to them, such as a sibling or close friend.” Note that they did not just describe this as “unfair,” but specifically as “discrimination.”

I surmise that there is a world-wide shortage of big-girl and/or big-boy pants, as no one — no one in the spotlight, anyway — seems to be able to put them on anymore.

Lileks observes:

[E]veryone and every state and every condition needs to be celebrated, or it is not validated; if it is not validated, it is marginalized. If it is marginalized, it is oppressed. If it is oppressed, it is virtuous. Then again, if it’s celebrated, it is virtuous as well. So either way you’re covered.

I think we can just about retire the word “marginalized”: with everyone and his half-sister’s llama crowding into the margins in search of that sweet, sweet victimhood, those of us who stay the hell off the edge are slowly becoming official nonpersons. Obviously it’s discrimination.

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The unchanging of the guard

James Lileks, on the occasion of the (presumed) retirement of Andrew Sullivan:

I can’t imagine not doing this, and I hope you can’t imagine not expecting something. I mention this because Andrew Sullivan announced he was retiring from blogging today, and given his longevity this was seen by some as one of the great tent poles of the Golden Age of Blogging toppling over. Perhaps. The notion of individual sites with individual voices has been replaced by aggregators and listicles and Gawker subsites with their stables of edgy youth things, and public squares like Medium where dross and gold abound. But there will always be a place on the internet for individual sites like this one, because there is nothing from stopping all the rampant egotists from braying bytes over this matter or that. I’ve always been a diarist, and this iteration happens to be public.

As the edgy youth are wont to say: +1.

It was a home page, and then personal website, and then a blog, depending on the terminology of the era, but it really hasn’t changed at all. Next month, I think, is the 18th anniversary of the Bleat.

The mind boggles at the thought of keeping a Web site open for eighteen whole years.

Not going away. Why would I? This is fun.

Make that +2.

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Off the reading list

Some of the browser tabs that Lileks will no longer be opening:

Another thing I do at the end of the year: ruthlessly cull and trim bookmarks. I look at the site I have set aside for regular visits, and regard them with a total lack of ruth. Every year a big site gets cut, it seems. A tentpole falls. This year it was Fark. I’ve been on Fark forever, but it looks old and the comments are … well, it’s like Reddit. A lot of clever males unmoored from anything but tech and snark. The sort of smug adolescent impotent anger that makes them feel superior because everyone else is deluded or stupid. For some this lasts their entire life, and while it’s cute in the young it’s unbearable in those who carried this guttering pitch-stinking torch into middle age.

I have always believed that the way to handle Fark — and probably 60-80 percent of all sites with umpteen thousand visitors a day — is simply to avoid the comment threads at all cost. (I break this rule for things about which I may have personal knowledge, and for the weekly thread that accompanies any new My Little Pony episode, but for nothing else.) Also, some planetary alignment involving Adobe Flash, the Pale Moon Web browser, and whoever is providing Fark advertising these days invariably results in a lock-up resistant to anything short of Fletcher’s Castoria. I dislike ad blockers, but I can’t have stuff crashing my browser either, so I compromise by toggling off Flash.

But I also tire of the places where the men of my demographic cohort have pulled away and disconnected and have no interest in the world at large, and seem content to shoot little toothpick arrows down at the pullulating hordes banging on the gates. Most of all I tire of the sites and comments that luxuriate in their critiques of West as the most perfidious manifestation of human nature that ever blackened this innocent orb. People who put the seed corn in the microwave and complain because it takes two minutes to pop, is probably GMO, and was marketed in a way that reinforces some horrid old social norm. And then bitch because you don’t have French sea salt to sprinkle on it.

I avoid such places like the plague they are. To compensate — I really dislike the idea of living in an echo chamber, even if it echoes me — I leave Progressive hash-houses like #p2 open on Twitter.

And really, the cure for hatred of Western civilization is to be parachuted, in the dead of night, into some place that has little or no trace of its presence.

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Negative thrust

James Lileks, who’s had to take a lot of trips in those horrid aluminum tubes of death, probably won’t be won over by incidents like this:

Speaking of Frontier: worst website in the history of aviation, and that includes YTMND sites that show the Hindenburg exploding. Once you’ve checked in, a pop-up window offers you seats with more legroom. I declined. Next page loads: you have no assigned seats. You can get one at the airport or restart the check-in process. What a load of steaming codswaddle. Who designs a website that requires people to restart the entire process to perform the basic function of the purpose of using the website?

I mean, does upper management of the airline use the site? Of course not. Their staff does it for them. And if it’s hard for staff, well, they’re staff, and that’s why they’re there. If some conscientious member of Staff tells the boss that the website is ugly, old, and barely functional — just like some bosses, come to think of it — then perhaps the boss makes a note to bring it up in a meeting, whereupon someone will be tasked to form an exploratory committee, which will bring in all the stakeholders, and move forwards the end goal of arranging a mission statement, after which they can start to look for vendors to build the website. By then people are ordering mobile molecular-transmission units from Uber via a patch they wear on the underside of their earlobe.

Then again, it’s not just the online experience:

It’s an awful airline. They don’t nickle-and-dime you, though, I’ll grant them that. They twenty-and-fifty you.

They can get you to Oklahoma City, though, if you don’t mind a side trip down the Kessel Run.

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Quote of the week

There has been much wailing and gnashing of lipstick-stained teeth over the continuing presence of those horrid little micro- (and sometimes macro-) aggressions known as gender roles; what’s more, a not-quite-insignificant percentage of one-half the species has sworn eternal enmity toward the entirety of the other half. James Lileks sums up (some of) the kerfuffle:

Modern-day sororal self-segregation is more of the same, and if they wish to form their own mutual-assistance societies of whatever form, go right ahead. No man will sue to join. To paraphrase Groucho, they wouldn’t want to join a club that wouldn’t want him for his member.

As for the male-free Internet thing, I can sympathize. Most of the vicious, idiotic, miserable, weevil-souled trolls are men, or rather largish boys who grew up on the internet and have not quite grasped the idea that there are true, actual human beings on the other side of the screen. Comments and tweets are just another form of electronic play; you shoot a hooker in the head in Grand Theft Auto, call a strange woman nasty names because she criticizes, say, the fact that you can shoot a hooker in the head in Grand Theft Auto. It’s just a game you **** and someone should do it to you. And so on.

It’s odd. You know most of these boy-men were brought up in solid homes with religious grounding, taught to respect women in the old chivalric sense of courtesy and respect, right? My heavens, what went wrong? You could say it’s confusion over how they’re supposed to behave: if you hold the door open for a woman, you’re a sexist, unless she likes you, in which case it’s romantic, although if you don’t hold the door open and it slams in her face you’re a jerk. But these roles were in flux when I was in my twenties, and we didn’t react by sending obscene postcards to strangers. It has to be something else. The internet, in general, has not created more idiots, fools, miscreants, pedants, and fiends; it has simply revealed their numberless hordes, and given them a limitless plain on which to play.

I’ve said this repeatedly at concentrations of douchery like, say, Yahoo! Answers: The asshats have always been with us. It’s just that they’ve made themselves marginally harder to ignore.

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The opposite of nostalgia

James Lileks is looking for a name for it:

What’s the word for an exaggerated dislike of a particular time? I know I am nostalgic for things I did not experience, and only see through the pop-culture elements left behind, which communicate incomplete and occasionally misleading messages. But I have antipathy for things I experienced at the fringe of adolescence — not because it was a bad time, or I didn’t like them then, but because they seem now to be the products of a culture that was getting cheap and lazy; it was full of gimcrack baubles turned out by an exhausted system that tried to adapt to the times, but had no strength to put forth any ideas or uphold any ideas that went before. The period from 1967 to 1975, with some stellar exceptions, was just a horrible time for everything, and you can reduce it all down to one middle-aged balding dude with wet hair plastered over his head in brown polyester pants and a mustard-yellow shirt approving one thing after the other because the kids will go for it.

I suspect we can generalize further: if anything worthwhile happened during your bête noire period, it happened in spite of that middle-aged balding dude.

My own “Oooh, take it away!” era runs roughly 1989 through about 1994 or so: it is delineated by changes in my own life, which had only just bottomed out and was in a tediously slow recovery, and by the fact that Mariah Carey was getting massive hit records by sounding like her record producer — Tommy Mottola, you may remember, lives on the road — had stuffed a live ferret into her pants.

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Songs that mattered

The Big Question on the back page of The Atlantic: “What is the most influential song of all time?” Lots of interesting answers, and two picked Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”: Rhett Miller of the Old 97s, which doesn’t surprise me, and Carly Rae Jepsen (“Call Me Maybe”), which does. Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! comes out for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the basis of sheer ubiquity: even old pharts like me know it. Still, I have to follow the lead of “Weird Al” Yankovic, who justifies the Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” this way:

Not many people had the courage to equate the word with the bird back in those days, but now it’s a widely accepted fact.

Except, perhaps, by James Lileks.

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Quote of the week

Two members of Congress who, you might think, ought to know better — until you remember that they’re members of Congress and therefore don’t know anything, better or otherwise — have proposed Federal regulation of photo manipulation. James Lileks says they’re aiming at the wrong target:

This still doesn’t address the real problem, does it? Advertising is the problem. Advertising holds up images of some ideal we cannot achieve, and thus causes aspiration, which ends in misery. Who among us hasn’t watched TV for half an hour, studied the ads like the revelatory playlets they are, then left the house to eat fried chicken, enlist in the Marines, buy a $47,999 car, and ask our doctor whether Vilevria is right for us? It’s all I can do after seeing an Oil of Olay ad to keep from running up to my wife’s drawer of potions, slathering the stuff on my face, and shouting HURRY UP AND DEFY THE RAVAGES OF TIME at my reflection. Ads are not suggestions. These are marching orders beamed directly into our quivering id, and we’ve no defense against them.

So we need to change the entire advertising paradigm: Companies will be permitted to show a picture of the product, and a monotone voice will describe its attributes as determined by an impartial board empowered to strike out any language that suggests that the consumption of this taco has any nominal advantage over the consumption of any other taco. The company will be allowed to assert that the “Mucho Fiero Grande” sauce has a more substantial “kick” than the competitor, based on lab analysis of the capsaicin content measured in Scoville units.

If you have a poor self-image because you don’t compare favorably to what you see in print or on television, you’re wrong; yes, you should have a poor self-image, not because you don’t own this or you don’t look like that, but because you’re credulous enough to think those things matter.

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Dot-conned

Remember that possibly apocryphal character who wanted half a million for his domain name? The prospective emptor might want to caveat a little more than usual:

In 2006, Cameras.com was sold for $1.5 million. Monthly traffic: 1,747 unique visitors. Computer.com was sold in 2007 for $2.1 million, and draws in an eye-popping 1,049 people per month. Vodka.com brought 3 mil, and gets 1,346 — no stats on Vodak.com, though, which might be what people type when they’re boozy and thick-fingered. Fund.com went for almost 10 mil in 2008, and doesn’t get more than 400 visitors a month. That just can’t be right, but that’s what BusinessInsider.com says.

“Vodak” is also an occasional Farkism for “vodka,” but then again, Farkers, by their own admission, are boozy, if not necessarily thick-fingered.

I paid $35 for this domain in 1999. Monthly uniques: over 2,000.

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Quibbling over genres

About half of my music acquisition these days has been by way of the ponyverse, which has a thriving music scene and hundreds of worthy composers; if they haven’t yet produced a John Williams or a Thelonious Monk or a Joni Mitchell, well, it’s not for lack of effort.

A lot of the items I check off for future investigation are labeled “trance,” “ambient” or “chill.” Now “trance” I understand, more or less: faster than house, strict adherence to 4/4, and the breakdown somewhere in the middle of the track. The other two are not quite so clearly defined, so I went to someone who has had more MP3 tags than I’ve had breaths, and he explains it thusly:

Basically, if it can’t ever wake me up, it’s Ambient. If it’s something I can see playing while I’m standing on the balcony of a ship, it’s Chill.

On the basis of the above, I think we can call this Chill:

Though that ship had better be well out of port, I think.

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Quote of the week

However chilly it is down here in Baja Kansas, it’s just a hair worse in Minnesota, as James Lileks explains:

[A]ll of these fronts are coming from the south and the west. There isn’t anything sweeping down from Canada. We’re just in the path of this freakish insanity like the rest of the Midwest. The reason it rankles and galls has nothing to do with the length of the previous winter. It’s the fact that it’s consuming our ration of green.

The flowering trees are starting to sprout buds. The temps will not reach 60 until Monday.

Darth Weather has altered the deal, and we’re supposed to pray he does not alter it further.

In other news, it snowed today in Tulsa.

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Merch to be moved

Lileks is vending something called Tiny Lies, and this is what that something is all about:

Tiny Lies contains 150 + small ads from the back of old magazines and newspapers, annotated and commented upon with varying degrees of strained amusement. That’s right: less than a penny a page!

Provided you pay. If you don’t, there’s nothing I can do about that. This is an experiment, really.

Easily worth the equivalent of Daffy Duck’s quarterstaff. Hey, if it worked for Radiohead

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In future America, car drives you

Some of the way, maybe. James Lileks finds instances when this might not be such a good idea:

GPS and sensible routes cannot take into account Strategy. For example: When I come out of Trader Joe’s and head north on France, there’s four lanes. Just about everyone is heading for Target. Just about everyone gets into the right lane six or seven blocks ahead of their destination. The most efficient way to get to Target is to get in the left lane, cruise ahead of everyone, and make a series of safe, signaled turns that take me into the right lane ahead of everyone who’s starting and stopping and poking along. I never have to make a cruel merge and wedge in — something that would require The Wave of Thanks — because there’s space. If there isn’t, I stick to the left lane, turn left — the opposite direction I wish to go — and swing around a parking lot so I come at the street from the other direction. Computers cannot make that sort of decision. It’s illogical.

But driving is illogical, because it’s intuitive. You get a feel for the streets. You read the traffic; you forecast behavior.

And is Google going to pony up because their algorithms decided you didn’t really need to make a Cruel Merge some morning and you wound up with a garland of guardrail? Hold not thy breath, O Future Driver.

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Where all your time has gone

And by “your time,” I suspect I really mean “James Lileks’ time”:

Every day I encounter some site I like, but rarely promote to the daily bookmark. I find this interesting. Why wouldn’t I? Because it’s a peripheral interest, and I really don’t need to check up on someone’s vintage kitchen remodel for a month. If ever. So the list of secondary bookmarks grows and grows, until weeded out six months later after a cursory revisit. Each of these pages usually has a Facebook page. Never go there. Why would I?

I am something like that, though you should probably figure that if you read it here, I don’t consider that interest “peripheral.”

What I don’t like about all of this: the fragmentation of presence. If you just have Facebook, lucky you. If that’s what you want. But if you have a blog, you should tweet, and if you tweet, isn’t there a Facebook account and a Google+ account you might want to link to that? Ought not the Tumblr be chained as well, so all updates everywhere are sprayed across all possible platforms?

Short answer: no. Slightly longer answer: there are different audiences, at least in my case, for each of these platforms. (I don’t have a presence on Tumblr.) And nothing I say is so gosh-darn important that I have to push it out to everyone who’s ever heard of me.

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Time life

1970s clock“Sweet smoking Jesus, what was the matter with these people?” asked James Lileks in his epic Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible ’70s (New York: Crown Publishers, 2004), and you may be certain that this ghastly clock, which I bought in an Eighties garage sale for $1.50 or so, does not actually hang in my crisp mid-century house, but in the garage, where it’s kept indifferent time for the last decade.

Usually it loses about three minutes a week; when it stops doing that, it’s generally time for a new C battery. Since New Year’s, it’s been gaining about three minutes a week; yesterday, it stopped dead. I duly fetched another C-cell from the pile, and it refused to start. Okay, fine, it’s more than earned its eternal rest. I set it back on its mount and started contemplating its replacement. About two hours later, I went out to the garage, and it had started up again. I assume it can’t be due to temperature variations in the garage — it’s been within a couple of degrees of 45 since Saturday morning — so it must be Just One Of Those Things.

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Justice metered out

James Lileks tries out the new parking meters in Dinkytown:

Parked at one of the new meters, which is a really nifty thing. You don’t pay at your car. You memorize a five-digit number, walk to the middle of the block, put in your money, then walk back past your car, realize you got one of the numbers wrong because your short-term memory is what was I talking about? or because you read the wrong pole. Then you go back and feed the meter again. The amusing thing, in a bitterly unfunny sort of way, is that the terminal accepted a number that did not exist on the street. It’s programmed to take anything. Or, I paid for half an hour for someone downtown. In which case you’re welcome.

The New World Order, Malparkage Division, thanks you for your support.

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We’ve heard it all before

Excuse me while I borrow a tweet or three from Megan McArdle:

As @terryteachout pointed out to me, Google fragments of your own writing and by seven words, you get only one hit.

True “accidental” plagiarism, in other words, does not exist. An example she provides is slightly startling:

It’s actually kind of amazing: even a phrase as banal as “I attracted a lot of angry comments last October” is apparently unique.

I had to test this for myself, of course. My best-known seven-word phrase, which is actually only six words long if you count that hyphenated thing as one, is my description of the Grim Reaper as “that scythe-wielding son of a bitch,” which shows up four times in Google, all by me.

But that’s fairly distinctive. I pulled up an eight-word phrase from Vent #750 — “No two people have exactly the same schedule” — which produced three sources, of which I was the third.

“You’re never too old to yearn” (from Vent #341) brought me first and third place, the second being occupied by a Florida newspaper. And the third was from a comment I made to that now-infamous bit of fanfiction I wrote, which undeservedly still gets 20-30 readers a day. Amused by this, I keyed in the five-word phrase that ushers in the ending. It landed second.

Still, the best comment on plagiarism — all this, of course, was prompted by Time columnist Fareed Zakaria’s suspension — came from James Lileks: “You realize that Tom Lehrer totally copied ‘Lobachevsky’ from someone else.” Then again, Lileks was meta before meta was meta.

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With August yet to come

Lileks wanders into the mall and encounters a time-displacement phenomenon. And he does not like it, no sirree, does not like it at all:

There were great sales on clothes, because July is when everyone starts thinking about wearing heavy brown stuff, right? Aren’t we all just itching to get into fall clothes? TO HELL WITH THAT. Target has school stuff up: TO HELL WITH THAT. There will come a day when something in the air, something in the angle of the sun, something in the quality of light through the leaves, makes me think: Oatmeal. Leaves. Nip in the air. Woodsmoke. Halloween delights. But on behalf of July, still standing, hand on the doorknob of the exit, TO HELL WITH THAT.

Although, you know, I won’t mind a whole lot if August moves along at high speed and gets out of the way. Apart from my daughter’s birthday, the only thing that happens in August is that I will be handed the worst electric bill of the year, which I don’t find particularly endearing.

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