Notes Of Dankness And Blueberry

by Zoe Pollock

William Breathes, who writes under a pseudonym, reviews dispensaries and their various strains of pot for the alt-weekly Denver Westword and runs its cannabis news blog, Toke Of The Town. The best part of the job? Normalizing the drug:

[Readers] can go to to get news about the state legislature, or about education, about the prison system—and about marijuana. It’s not the old-school media approach to marijuana, where it’s like, “Let’s see how many pot puns we can cram into the lede and how many jokes we can make at the expense of marijuana smokers.” We definitely make jokes at the expense of marijuana smokers, but we also take news very seriously.

We’ve seen other news outlets come around on that.

The Denver Post—and I’m not trying to pick on another news media outlet—but for the longest time, their pot coverage was shit. It just was. Every time it was just them making fun of the pot smokers. But in the last year, they’ve realized that it’s important, and it’s not just 20-something stoners tuning in to figure out what’s going on. People wanna know because it’s a viable, million-dollar industry. In the sense of the media, that’s been an important role for my job.

But I think the obvious one is that I like to think I’m helping patients find really good places to buy medicine. Whether it’s for price or quality—for some people, as long as it’s clean, that’s fine to them, they just don’t want to go somewhere scuzzy. That’s why I still focus on what the interior of these places look like. I always think about it like this: if my mom was to read this and she had a medical marijuana card, what would she get out of this? ’Cause it’s not just people like me, it’s not just 20-somethings. It’s also baby boomers [and older people, too]. Our average-age patient is 41.

The Grey Lady Goes Zen

by Zoe Pollock

Justin Ellis applauds a new project from the NYT’s James Harris:

Times Haiku is a collection of what they are calling “serendipitous poetry,” derived from stories that have made the homepage of The haiku live on a Tumblr hosted by the Times. Harris built a script that mines stories for haiku-friendly words and then reassembles them into poetry. (For those of you that may have zoned out in class, haiku are comprised of three lines with, in order, five, seven, and five syllables.) The code checks words against an open source pronunciation dictionary, which handily also contains syllable counts.

“Sometimes it can be an ordinary sentence in context, but pulled out of context it has a strange comedy or beauty to it,” Harris said. … The result, much like @nytimes_ebooks, is bizarre, quirky, and kind of zen.

As Harris explains on the About page, it’s not a strict interpretation of the form:

Most of us first encountered haikus in a grade school, when we were taught that they are three-line poems with five syllables on the first line, seven on the second and five on the third. According to the Haiku Society of America, that is not an ironclad rule. A proper haiku should also contain a word that indicates the season, or “kigo,” as well as a juxtaposition of verbal imagery, known as “kireji.” That’s a lot harder to teach an algorithm, though, so we just count syllables like most amateur haiku aficionados do.

But it’s got a solid foundation:

Articles covering sensitive subjects are not scanned for potential haikus, and the bot knows to skip anything with awkward sentence construction. … “Over time we’ve added syllable counts for words like ‘Rihanna‘ or ‘terroir,’” the haiku Tumblr reports. Yesterday, Harris posted on Twitter that he was adding syllable counts for “gewürztraminer, vindaloo, sabermetrics, esoterica, mortarboard, defenestrate, koan, nametag, ceramicist…”

One more cool fact via Ellis: the blue lines behind the haiku are computer generated, based on the meter of the first line of text.

(Image: Times Preschool Haiku)

Faces Of The Day

by Zoe Pollock

Kottke compares beauty across the ages:

For his Alpha Beauties project, artist Nazareno Crea retouches paintings and sculpture from throughout history, a process which normalizes each period’s ideal of female beauty to that of the present day. That is, much skinnier, with smaller noses, higher cheekbones, and larger breasts.

For a similar eye-opener, check out these webcam workers posing like famous works of art.

Where Are The YouTube Politicians?

by Zoe Pollock

Seth Masket wonders:

A century ago, if you wanted to run for office, you needed the backing of a party boss or some major money figure; no one could do it on their own. You needed expertise, infrastructure, and lots of money—more than any one person could amass. Yet today, the thinking goes, it’s possible to put together a campaign by yourself. A charismatic speaker with a bit of money can just hire some people and use some clever marketing tactics (Facebook ads! Viral videos!) and get himself elected. You can probably do it all with an iPhone. Except… it doesn’t actually work that way. No, the party bosses don’t quite work the way they used to, but they’re still there, in one form or another. And people who think they can make it in politics on their own fail far more often than they succeed.

In research for my book, I studied the backgrounds of people involved in local politics in California. It turns out that lawyers and businesspeople, the people we tend to think of as strong potential candidates, have no real advantage in elections—they do about as well as anyone else. The people who do have electoral advantages are those who have worked for officeholders, are related to officeholders, or have ties to political organizations like unions or interest groups.

Listening To The Waves

By Zoe Pollock

Stefan Helmreich meditates on the act of cupping a seashell to one’s ear:

For generations, people who live by the sea have held that, when pressed to the ear, seashells resound with something like the roar of the ocean—a sensation whose explanation has offered a puzzle pleasurable and provocative to scientists and lay listeners alike.

In his 1915 Book of Wonders, popular science writer Rudolph Bodmer suggested that the association followed from the symbolic power of shells: “The sounds we hear when we hold a sea shell to the ear are not really the sound of the sea waves. We have come to imagine that they are because they sound like the waves of the sea, and knowledge that the shell originally came from the sea helps us to this conclusion very easily.” But the likeness, he urged, had a technical explanation—though one in which similitude still figured. Both sea and seashell sounds were generated by waves: “The sounds we hear in the sea shell are really air waves”—waves, that is, of concentrated, resonant noise from the listener’s surroundings.

The Gitmo Hunger Strike

by Zoe Pollock

Last weekend Amy Davidson crunched the numbers on it and found that “there are six times as many [Gitmo] prisoners on hunger strikes as there are those who have actual charges lodged against them.” Olga Khazan is pessimistic that the strike will accomplish anything:

Nearly 70 percent of hunger strikes occur in prison, and government entities are the target of the vast majority of them, according to research by Stephen J. Scanlan, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio University, who examined hunger strikes over the past century. Few (6 percent) of hunger strikers die. Rather, about three-quarters of these protests are called off voluntarily — usually because demands have been met, at least to some extent. What’s more, Scanlan found that nearly 76 percent of strikers get at least some of what they want. …

However, hunger strikes are most effective when the protesters’ predicament presents an obvious solution, something Guantanamo doesn’t necessarily have. President Obama pledged years ago to close the facility, but now that the detainees are banned from the U.S. and can’t be sent back to their home countries out of fears that they’ll join back up with terrorist groups, they’re effectively living in a geographic and legal limbo.

Are Hand-Written Cards Obsolete?

by Zoe Pollock

Evan Selinger ponders the place of thank-you notes in today’s digitized world:

People like Nick Bilton over at The New York Times Bits blog argue that norms like thank-you messages can cost more in time and efficiency than they are worth. However, such etiquette norms aren’t just about efficiency: They’re actually about building thoughtful and pro-social character.

Take my six-year-old daughter. When she looked at her new iPod Touch (a Chrismukkah gift), she saw it as a divine labor-saving device. Unlike the onerous handwritten thank-you notes she had to do for her birthday, she envisioned instead sending quick thank-you texts to friends and family. Months later, she still doesn’t understand why her parents forbid the shortcut. And she won’t. Not anytime soon.

Why he’s sticking with the paper version:

At stake … is the idea that efficiency is the great equalizer. It turns every problem into a waste-reduction scenario, but its logic has a time and a place. Social relations are fundamentally hierarchical, and the primary way we acknowledge importance is through effort. Sending laconic thank-you texts to family treats them no differently than business associates.

Why Take His Name? Ctd

by Zoe Pollock

As I’m getting married in two months (!), I’ve been super into this Dish thread. I’ll be taking my fiance’s name for a variety of reasons. I think Zoe Di Novi’s got a nice ring to it. I always dreamed of getting a new last name when I was a kid, and I’ve got two brothers so the house of Pollock will likely live on. But I’m Jewish and my fiance is Italian American/ Canadian, so it’ll be odd to have a name that doesn’t match my heritage at all (Eastern European/ British).

Italians and Jews have enough in common (friends admit my swarthy, neurotic fiance “could pass”), but I understand readers who worry about the disconnect. I’d like to think that’s an important part of the American experience: With each successive generation we become harder and harder to pin down.

My own mother’s British parents disowned her when she married my Jewish father. Today, the only grief I get for marrying my Italian is of the Jewish guilt variety, insisting we should have the ceremony under some sort of makeshift chuppah. This is progress, no?

(Video: that other classic Jewish/Italian pairing, from Goodfellas)

The Best Wrong Way To Use “Literally”

by Zoe Pollock

Spencer Woodman appreciates how the word “can introduce gratifying little flashes of surrealism into everyday conversation.” Exhibit A:

[I]n The Metamorphosis—in which Gregor Samsa, who carries out the vermin-like existence of a traveling salesman serving the debts of his parents, turns into an cockroach—Kafka purposely misuses the word. After Gregor’s well-meaning sister removes the furniture from along the walls of his bedroom to allow Gregor to more freely crawl along the walls and ceiling; “the sight of the bare walls literally made her heart bleed,” Kafka writes. (In lieu of any knowledge of German, I’m taking Joachim Neugroschel’s translation of the story at face value.) The sort of literalized metaphor that dictates the impossible story is shrunk down to a simple turn of phrase. …

Even for those not attempting a great modernist novel, the effect is possible in everyday conversation. “She literally exploded with anger” is a commonly mocked example of the word’s misuse. Although it’s admittedly cliché, it still generates a gratifying cartoonish flash for me: the person in question actually blows to pieces, which is funny and also descriptive.

His advice:

The rule of thumb could be simple: that if the word’s misuse doesn’t create an interesting picture, it’s probably best to use another adverb or adjective.

Previous Dish on the subject here and here.

The Saddest Mall In The World

By Zoe Pollock

The title belongs to the New South China Mall in Guangdong province:

With more than 7 million square feet of leasable space, the mall was supposed to have over 2,300 stores and was meant to be the largest in the world. The developers estimated that the mega mall would attract at least an average of 70,000 visitors a day. As a comparison, the Mall of America in Minnesota, the largest in the US, is only about one-third of that size. Even the massive West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, the largest in North America, pales in comparison. In their initial promotional material, the developers boasted that the mall would become a “one stop consumption center” and “a global business model.”

However, since its opening, the mall has no more than a few dozen, mostly small tenants at any single time. Over 99% of the retail space has been vacant and will probably remain so. As a result of its disappointing performance, the planned luxurious Shangri-La hotel was never built; nor were some of the supporting facilities. Yet, given the magnitude of the project, the mall is not allowed to fail, and has even been designated as a tourist destination by the government.

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)