Date Me, The World Is Ending

No, seriously.

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Waterfalls

In response to Olafur Eliasson’s upcoming NYC waterfalls installation (which is going to be a huge, wet let down), Curbed has come up with some artist renderings of what actual waterfalls would look like in the city.

Delightful chaos!

Real Long Distance

I a big fan of Josh Ritter and he’s recently made a (very) low-budget video for “Real Long Distance,” from his latest album The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter.

This goes out to all my women living oh-so far away (“You’re a real mean Mama but you got a lot of time for me“).

Idle is the New Ambitious

Scribblerist is a Senior Fellow at the Ida May Gurkis Institute for Idleness. He has not published since 1983. [Note: Originally posted on One City]

For graduation last year I was given Tom Hodgkinson’s How to Be Idle, a somewhat-revolutionary, pseudo-intellectual, rather-Marxist treatise on idling, creativity, and how to live life. My friend bought it for me because, he claimed, “you kinda look like the guy on the cover.” Translation: you’re the type to hob-nob at cafes, chatting about whatnot, procrastinating that novel you’re endlessly writing about Small Town America. He was, of course, dead on.

In the frenetic haze of post-graduate life, How to Be Idle was tonic. It often gave me that particular sensation that comes only from reading a good book, the feeling that “this book gets me.” I’ve zealously defended my idleness ever since.

At it’s core, How to Be Idle is a critique of capitalism in Western societies (what I heard Thom Yorke refer to as “Advanced Capitalism,” which made it sound like some kind of terminal illness that had nearly run it’s course). Hodgkinson is saying: industrialization came along and robbed us of leisure time, and all our various and sundry problems with stress, obesity, depression, and lack of agency could be solved with a little idling. Work, particularly in an urban office, is de-humanizing drudgery and should be avoided. We are so caught up in acquiring, scheduling, meeting, climbing, envying, and wanting that we have forgotten the art of simply doing nothing.

In fact, idling enables you to accomplish fewer things better, with a greater sense of reward because you have time to enjoy the doing of the thing. Dear recent and striving graduates: Idle is the new ambitious.

In an interview with Mother Jones, Hodgkinson lays out the basic tenants of his philosophy of non-doing, and I highly recommend it. He says:

MJ: When I first picked up the How To Be Idle I thought it was a self-help book, which in a way it is–but it’s actually more of a social commentary and a look at the history of overwork.

TH: I gave it that title slightly deliberately because it sounded more commercial. I didn’t want to call it A Disquisition on the Benefits of Idleness. The title How to be Idle, as you say, is self-help, but it’s a slightly satirizing self-help. The self-help thing always seems to be something like, “Ten Ways to be More Efficient,” and it’s so depressing. I used to try to do those things, and could never remember what the ten ways are. A lot of that adds to your pressures: now there’s a whole new set of rules you’ve got to try to remember and live up to.

MJ: Can you offer some practical first steps on how to be idle?

TH: Part of this individualism is you feel this pressure that you alone have to conquer the world, and if you don’t work all the hours God gives then you start feeling really guilty. If you can stop feeling guilty, then I think it’s easier to start doing what you want to do. The way to stop feeling guilty is to read stuff–I’m not saying my book, but works by Bertrand Russell or Oscar Wilde, people who weren’t losers but who didn’t believe in the work ethic, and argued this thing about guilt or wrote philosophy about idleness.

And I like his vision for an idle society:

TH: Hopefully it would be full of people bicycling along the streets and whistling and raising their hats to each other [laughs]. Going for long walks in the countryside, and mucking about each day. What would it take for that to happen?

It struck me that Hodgkinson’s thoughts on idling dovetail nicely with the hoped-for consequences of Buddhist meditation, if not the actual method. Idling is a gateway to a restful mind, where inspiration has space to arise naturally; Strolling in the park lends a connection to the natural world; sleeping in and waking slowly sets the tone for a calm day; free time lets you become involved in local politics or activism; myriad simple pleasures, instead of material or chemical stimulants, become paramount.

I’m taking up Hodgkinson’s banner. I urge you all to quit your jobs (or take a day off), spend a week in bed (or sleep late on Saturday), and devote yourself a simple art, such as playing the lute (or stay in tonight and cook dinner with your partner instead of seeing another big-budget Hollywood Suck-a-Thon).

Opportunities for idleness are all around – you just have to stop and take notice.

The Truth About Blogging

With bloggers getting book deals left and right, and a growing popular awareness that yes, blogging produces real writing and reportage, the reactionary, anti-blog voices in the MSM are beginning to sound like global warming deniers: shrill, stupid, and kind of sad.

That said, it’s no secret that, for me, blogging is often a distraction from writing fiction. This Candorville strip sums it up depressingly well.

The Interdependence of Illicit Trade

Scribblerist has been on sabbatical from this blog while researching a book he is co-authoring with Sean Hannity. The working title is Liberals and Other Single-Celled Organisms. He is happy to be back.

A few Sundays ago I met some friends near Confucius Square for dim-sum at the Golden Unicorn, a restaurant famous for a dining area spanning three floors and gaudy ball-room style décor (replete with massive green plaster dragons breathing dry-ice mist) There were crowds of tourists and swarms of sullen wait staff and a never-ending stream of dim-sum dishes filled with flavorless, low-quality meat. It was an experience, but certainly not because of the food.

Leaving the Golden Unicorn (to my mind, an already-improbable creature rendered ludicrously unlikely if composed of a precious mineral), I strolled leisurely down Canal, past Lafayette and Broadway, admiring the relative calm of a Sunday afternoon in New York.

Let me repeat that: I strolled leisurely down Canal street on a Sunday afternoon in spring. The Canal street, the seething nexus of knockoff handbags, belts, sunglasses, umbrellas, shoes, shirts, jeans, and custom-stamped license plates, and probably second-hand kidneys and eyeballs if you bother to leave the street stalls and enter the warren of back-alley shops and dumpling stalls that are Chinatown. Most days, the bargain hunters clog the sidewalks of that stretch of Canal like locusts, making it impossible to walk at a normal pace – If I’m unfortunate enough to find myself at Canal & Centre at noon on a Sunday, I take my chances with the cabs and walk down the middle of the street. At least, I figure, I’m moving.

On this particular Sunday there were no crowds because there were no stalls. The little nooks and street-closets normally bursting with fake Prada and Versace were shuttered and locked with heavy padlocks and sealed with NYPD notices that read, in part, “Closed due to Copyright Infringement.” The fashion industry, or some Elliot Ness-like task force within the NYPD, or perhaps both had done the impossible and shut down, at least for now, the heretofore unchecked flow of illicit goods from China to Chinatown to the hands of tourists and New Yorkers looking for fake designer labels.

I was impressed not because it is particularly difficult for the cops to shutter two dozen street vendors selling fake luxury products, but because, for as long as I’ve lived here (4 years), Canal street was like the aging gay uncle who hadn’t yet (and probably wouldn’t ever) come out of the closet: everyone knows it’s there but no one addresses it directly. Canal street’s illegality was harmless and understood and useful. Everyone participated, even me – I never purchased anything but I accepted it as a necessary facet of capitalism. It’s there, it’s fine, no one really cares.

Apparently, people do care. Writing in the New Yorker, James Surowiecki described how much the fashion industry cares, very much:

And almost as soon as hot new designs appear on the runway, photographs and drawings of them are on their way to Chinese factories that can produce reasonable facsimiles at a fraction of the cost. Designers are as annoyed by this as their prewar forebears were, and so Congress now finds itself considering a bill, pushed by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, that would give original designs a legal protection similar to copyright.

Which brings me to the point of this post: We are all inter-linked by the tendrils of the environment and our emotional states and our politics, media, and governance, but we’re also interdependent when it comes to the illicit, the subterranean, and the unlawful. In fact, the illicit trade in guns, drugs, people, and fashion knockoffs connects us more than we care to admit or understand.

I’ve been thinking about this kind of interdependence since reading Illicit, by Moisés Naím, an editor at Foreign Policy Magazine. In it, he traces the tangled, intermingling webs of illicit global trade, from failed states like Moldova, where organized crime takes over the traditional roles of government, to a brothel run out of a suburban home in Florida and staffed with prostitutes trafficked from China and eastern Europe. Writing in an urgent, even tone, Naim connects the local and the international, revealing just how pervasive the illicit trades have become. Naim begins the book by addressing three illusions the public has about illicit trade. He writes:

The third illusion is the idea that illicit trade is an “underground” phenomenon. Even accepting that trafficking has grown in volume and complexity, many — not least politicians — seek to relegate it to a different world than that of ordinary, honest citizens and constituents. The language we use to describe illicit trade and to frame our efforts to contain it betrays the enduring power of this illusion. The word offshore — as in offshore finance — vividly captures this sense that illicit trade takes place somewhere else. So does black market, or the supposedly clearly distinct clean and dirty money. All signify a clarity, an ability to draw moral and economic lines and patrol their boundaries that is confounded in practice. This is the most dangerous of all these illusions, because it treads on moral grounds and arguably lulls citizens — and hence public opinion — into a sense of heightened righteousness and false security.

Canal street is, in my mind, the perfect illustration of the kind of false moral grouping that most people, myself included, participate in. We say, “I know it’s out there, but not in my neighborhood.” We can no longer afford to draw these distinctions because trafficking networks have become too complex and embedded in the legitimate flow of goods.

For example, many (if not all) trafficking organizations have diversified, trading in not just guns or drugs, but people, counterfeit pharmaceuticals, and pirated software, often transporting them together. Naim writes about a particular tactic used by the Italian Camorra: Speedboats are loaded with drugs and trafficked women (often eastern Europeans) bound for the Italian coast. If they are spotted by the authorities, the women are simply thrown overboard, forcing the coast guard to stop and rescue them while allowing the traffickers to escape with the product of greater value. And this is simply a dramatic example. Pirated software or knockoff industrial parts can be smuggled in the same shipping container as legitimate goods, used as a screen.

It is therefore not inconceivable – in fact, it’s likely – that the same smuggling networks that bring rural Chinese workers to New York to work as indentured slaves in illegal garment workshops are the same ones transporting bogus prescription drugs and knockoff Vuitton handbags. You, me, your friend who likes to shop in Chinatown – we are all connected by ebb and flow of global illicit trade.

As I left Chinatown that afternoon, my stomach beginning to ache from eating too much dim-sum, I tried to figure out what I owned that was likely the product of trafficking, but I gave up. I don’t own any guns and I don’t patronize sex workers, but what about the generic prescription drug I take for heartburn? Or the pirated copy of Superbad my friend lent me? And what about my clothes – what else was in the shipping container that brought my favorite gray GAP t-shirt from China or Cambodia?

If you want a good, alarming read, check out Illicit, or the excellent PBS show about it. It’s one of those books that will change the way you look at your material world – as not simply impermanent, but interrelated by the grey and illegal.

Keeping Up with the Jones Boys: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Keesup here. In anticipation of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, due out Thursday, I naturally wanted to catch up with the first three Indy movies directed by Steven Spielberg. Rather than critique the movies in a traditional manner, I’m going to try a longer, looser format, somewhere between live-blog from an event and an A.O. Scoot review. First up, the movie that started it all, Raiders of the Lost Ark (or, as it was cleverly re-titled for DVD packaging, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, as if we would forget it was an Indiana Jones movie unless they added that).
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