This City of Islands is back... and (seriously) better than ever! by Lars Garvey Laing-Peterson


The Great Internet Drought of 2013 ended last Sunday—just in time for me to come down with a terrible summer cold!

Luckily, This City of Islands has grown to include two of my favorite peoplewho also happen to be damned talented, smart, and witty writers—Lauren Lauzon and Patrick Thomson. Yes, yes, I'm in a relationship with one and am related to the other, but nepotism and cronyism is what this country was built on, so write your local political representative if you have complaints. Anyways, Patrick has already proven himself with his fantastic essay on Lil Wayne, and as any dedicated readers of This City of Islands have already seen Lauren's influence has popped up quite a bit, especially in this piece, so adding them to the team wasn't really a hard decision.

As I am recovering from both internet deprivation (it's a real thing) and a more realistic illness, I've posted both Lauren's and Patrick's sections of the second Quarterly Report, with my section (complemented by friends' lists and notes) to follow shortly. Not that you'll care too much about my piece after reading the first two parts, which amazingly didn't overlap at all, suggesting at the wondrous glut of fantastic music that sprung forth in April, May, and June.

This City of Islands will resume normal (and hopefully better than our usual "normal," i.e. "useless") business next week, with "In the News" pieces occurring at a more regular frequency, further "Dispatches" dispatched, and the rest of the site not so criminally neglected. 

I've also started an Instagram account for This City of Islands—you know, if you care to follow us there. And I promise to get better about the Twitter, too... not that you follow TCoI on Twitter, but you can! Even out of pity. I won't mind.

Michael Hastings, Melville House Thoroughly Condemns Vice's "Suicide Spread," and Spin is Streaming Palms' Self-Titled Debut by Lars Garvey Laing-Peterson


Michael Hastings, the journalist best known for taking down General McChrystal, died yesterday in a car crash in Los Angeles. He was 33. Ben Smith of BuzzFeed has written a touching and honest tribute to his former colleague.

I first came to read Hastings' work after a friend compared him to Hunter Thompson, a journalist I am rather fond of. Soon after the recommendation, Hastings published his searing indictment of General McChrystal and I was sold. Longform has put up a collection of Hastings' work and I can't recommend these articles highly enough. I will miss reading Hastings' journalism—all the stories "he didn't live to write," as Ben Smith puts itespecially as there are too few journalists like him working today, and now more than ever we need journalists of Hastings' caliber and talent.

My girlfriend Lauren passed along this fantastic piece from Melville House responding to Vice's ill-conceived, tasteless "suicide spread" fashion shoot, callously titled "Last Words," in which models reenact the final moments of many well known female authors' lives, including Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Wonderfully it is Sylvia Plath's daughter's wordsnot even aimed at Vice's desensitization, but at the English Heritage for initially wanting to place a plaque at the home best known for Plath's suicide and not at the residence where she wrote most of her finest work—that condemns the magazine in a way the many critics appalled at the photographs cannot. As Frieda Hughes said in 2000:

"I do not want my mother’s death to be commemorated as if it had won an award. I wanted her life to be celebrated, the fact that she had existed, lived to the fullness of her ability, been happy and sad, tormented and ecstatic, and given birth to my brother and me. I think my mother was extraordinary in her work, and valiant in her efforts to fight the depression that dogged her throughout her life. She used every emotional experience as if it were a scrap of material that could be pieced together to make a wonderful dress; she wasted nothing of what she felt, and when in control of those tumultuous feelings she was able to focus and direct her incredible poetic energy to great effect."

As Melville House points out, "That’s not something you get in the Vice photograph of a model staring into a gaping gas oven—and that’s the real sin here." 

On a more upbeat note, my former editor at It's a Trap!, Mr. Avi Roig, clued me into Palms, the intriguing marriage of members of Isisbassist Jeff Caxide, keyboardist Clifford Meyer, and drummer Aaron Harriswith Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno. Spin has been kind enough to stream the self-titled debut due out next Tuesday (25 June). Palms' record will bring the number of fantastic records released this month to five by my count: Jon Hopkins' Immunity, Boards of Canada's Tomorrow's Harvest, Sigur Rós' Kveiker, Deafheavens' Sunbather, and soon Palms' self-titled offering. If you like Yeezus (at least more than contributing writer Andy Minor did) then June's been an even more bounteous month. And we still have Earl Sweatshirt, Weekend, Washed Out, and Holograms set to release albums later on this summer. Wonderful time to be a music fan.

Art Deco Automobiles, the Birth of a Cannabis Empire, and a Mother is Arrested After Donning a Mask and Chasing Kids with a Chainsaw by Lars Garvey Laing-Peterson


Ken Gross grew up fascinated by cars and has spent a good part of his life writing about them, including a 35 year stint as Playboy's resident car reviewer. Over the past few years Gross has helped a number of museums display cars as art in galleries across the United States, to quite a bit of success. Gross' most recent exhibit, "Sensuous Steel: Art Deco Automobiles,"  opened this past weekend in Nashville (runs through 15 September), and perfectly exemplifies why I am fascinated with America's past, especially the 1930s and 1940s. The Art Deco era cars are truly gorgeous—it's not hard to see why the era's aesthetics inspired movements such as retro-futurism. Among the cars on display are a 1936 Cord 810 "Armchair" Beverly Sedan (pictured above), a 1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow Sedan, and a 1938 Hispano-Suiza H6B Dubonnet "Xenia" Coupe, which looks like it inspired retro-futurism all on its own.

It's not often you get to read the words "cannabis empire" in the pages of USA Today  (though, truth be told, they borrowed the story from The Associated Press). In any case, Jamen Shively, a former Microsoft manager, apparently wants to be to pot smokers what Starbucks is to bleary eyed drones on their way to work. Despite promising a "cautious and measured" approach to his so-called cannabis empire, Shively is worrying quite a few people with his obvious zeal for the sticky icky. While the Justice Department has no intention of going after sick people with medical marijuana cards, the legalization of recreational pot use in Washington and Colorado opens up new markets and a rather grey, unsettled legal area. Guess we'll have to sit back and see how this plays out. I'm sure Shively's story will eventually get bought up and used as the basis for AMC's next show.

 Donning a ski mask and revving up the chainsaw, Lynn Marie Herzog chased off her own kid and others from the neighborhood after they allegedly threw rocks at her house. Even though she's was arrested for her actions, I'm pretty sure those kids aren't going to be throwing stones near her home again, so I still think we have to count this as a win for moms who were forced to draw from a horror movie's playbook in order to teach kids a lesson.

Pynchon's Absence, a Comparison of the NSA Leaks and the Pentagon Papers, Online Reputation Management, "Vinestagram," and the Alphabet on Acid by Lars Garvey Laing-Peterson

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For some literary and cultural critics, there's something maddening about the absence of Thomas Pynchon as a literary and cultural figure, and as such, given the influence his work has had on literature and culture, these critics seem to need to fill the void he has quite purposefully left, to attempt to know the distance between the author's public works and their mysterious private origins. While I understand wanting to trace an echo back to its source, much of me recoils from these investigations of Pynchonattempting to manifest some semblance of presence in Pynchon's absence involves either explicit attempts to violate the author's privacy, which he obviously holds quite dear, or by filling the void with one's own thoughts, theories, reading, analyses, etc. of Pynchon and his works. In other words, many of those who claim to be so desperate to know and understand Pynchon appear quite content creating an idea of Pynchon; his absence allows them the freedom to create their own illusion of presence, with their own ideas of the author and his novels acting as the glue to hold together what little evidence of his existence Pynchon has been forced to leave behind, adding yet more of their own interpretations to this flimsy skeleton in an attempt to flesh it out. As The Atlantic Wire's J.K. Trotter remarks, "Like so many other New Yorkers, [Pynchon] has lived a fairly normal life—unlike Jonathan Franzen, Pynchon never appeared on the cover of Time—while maintaining a subtle but powerful influence over the country's broader culture. It seems urgent, then, to figure out where Pynchon fits into it. And who, of course, Pynchon really is."

Why urgent? And what does it mater who Pynchon really is? Would critics be able to better "fit" Pynchon into "the country's broader culture" or know who he "really is" if he were a more public figure? And if so, why? And, quite seriously, by this point Pynchon-as-reclusive-author is the figure who's caused all the fuss, and as such is the only figure worth trying to fit into "the country's broader culture"—he's provided us with the texts through which he wants to be known, and trying to know or understand Pynchon now seems somewhat unnecessary. As some wise person once said, "We are what we do," and Pynchon writes and keeps to himself.

There is, however, also some part of me that agrees with Trotter's statement that while "invasive," there's something "fascinating" about the many attempts to track down Pynchon—fascinating for me because of the investigators' inability to not pour much of their own selves and ideas into the mysterious absence. And it's this part of me that enjoyed Trotter's piece on Pynchon, written in anticipation of his upcoming Bleeding Edge , due out in September. The article about Pynchon and New York City is awash with what Trotter imagines Pynchon to be (perhaps even to mean). In a particularly striking moment, Trotter claims that Pynchon's reclusive nature (his alone, eh?) "anticipated, by several decades, our country's massively expanded security apparatus, and the swell of recent reports  exposing its inner workings." A strange statement to make, and arguably one that would never have found a home in this piece were it not for the current interest in the NSA, Prism, and Edward Snowden. It also demonstrates how the absence of Pynchon allows others to manufacture presence and attach his name to it.

In Trotter's (and others') defense, there is an undeniable weight to the statement, "It is uncertain whether Pynchon would have achieved the same kind of immortal literary fame had he not encouraged his readers, knowingly or otherwise, to construct the extratextual mystique surrounding him." I won't deny that I clicked on the story because Pynchon was its focus (though, to be honest, I expected more about Bleeding Edge and less daytime Mystery Channel), and now here I am responding and directing your attention to the piece. I don't have many stones to cast, obviously, and I have no issue pointing this out. I respect Pynchon's decision to shy away from the spotlight, yet I find myself interested not particularly in his absence, but by those, like Trotter, who seem perplexed by his secretive and reclusive nature, hungering for whatever little information they can scare up, for a few more dots to connect lines to. Trotter's piece definitely contains a number of the dots people have uncovered over the years.

And speaking of connecting dots (or, rather, disconnecting them), The Atlantic Wire did a fine job of this in their article on the intriguing differences between Snowden's NSA Leaks and Daniel Ellsberg's Pentagon Papers. My mother and I have been having a number of conversations about Snowden recently, and Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers, and a few of Garance Franke-Ruta's points have come up in some guise or another during these talks, but the piece does a solid, comprehensive job charting the various issues that surround, affect, and in fact color and influence our impressions, good or bad, of Snowden and his actions, many of which I hadn't fully considered before. However you feel about Snowden or Prism or the NSA, Franke-Ruta's article is well worth a read. Instead of trying to label Snowden a hero or a traitor, the piece attempts to track why people come to these opinions.

On the theme of how others see and feel about us, New York Magazine ran a fantastic article on "black-ops reputation management" yesterday, and while a bit lengthy, I highly recommend finding time to read Graeme Wood's piece. You won't regret it. Not since Tom Wolfe's "Eunuchs of the Universe" have I enjoyed such an intriguing and disturbing piece of a journalism—it exists somewhere between American Psycho's fascination (and repulsion) with surface and appearance, and the deft absurdist satire that George Saunders and David Foster Wallace explore(d) so well. There are some problematic aspects, as there often are, but it's easy to overlook a few small stumbles with a piece like this.

In less serious news, the rumor mills are still going full tilt regarding Facebook's mystery-laden product launch on Thursday. I will, however, be disappointed if it is nothing more than a ripoff of Vine. Hopefully Facebook will deliver something a bit more innovative. We'll see if I even remember there's a new feature launching come Thursday.

And to finish off this edition of "In the News," Creative Review put up this fun, bizarre video about the alphabet, appropriately entitled, "LSD ABC."

Nerds Debate Merits of New Star Trek Film and Orson Welles' Neglected Noir by Lars Garvey Laing-Peterson


I can't seem to find anything in the news that doesn't have to do with Syria or PRISM. Okay, I lied. I didn't really look, but that's all that was on the radio this morning, and I'm not expecting too much from today.

Instead of tuning into the 24-hour news cycle today (or, like, at all this week—sorry), I prepared two pieces for publication: "Star Trek: Into Snarkness," in which my friend Paul Alexander and I boldly go where many a nerd has gone before and debate the merits and shortcomings of Abrams' latest installment of Star Trek, and a rescued, reworked review of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, a fascinating, frustrating, and often neglected film, which also serves as the first entry in This City of Islands' newest section,"Notes on Noir."

I'll try to get back in the saddle this weekend with "In the News."

Satanic Yoga, Rumsfeld "Can't Tell" if Obama Wants Terrorists to Win, WaPo Employees Outside Paywall, Superman's Panties, Exoplanets, and a Smiths-esque Tribute to Dickens by Lars Garvey Laing-Peterson

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In 2008, Virginia gubernatorial candidate E.W. Jackson took a position that should seem rather extreme, even bizarre, but apparently is rather common among conservative Christians: those who practice yoga are at high risk for demonic possession. For Jackson and other rightwingers, yoga is not just something your coworker seriously won't shut up about, but makes said coworker a likely candidate to be a plaything for Satan. In the words of Jackson, "The purpose of such meditation is to empty oneself. . . . [Satan] is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul and possess it." While you're trying to figure out how in the world these people exist, or why The Atlantic is only now reporting on position a politician took five years ago, rest assured that the Christian right has developed a "safe" and "non-Satanic" alternative to yoga. It's called PraiseMoves. Makes you proud to be an American.

Speaking of proud Americans, Donald Rumsfeld apparently "can't tell" if Obama wants the terrorists to win. I guess killing Osama Bin Laden and pushing the envelope on drone attacks, let alone failing to close Guantanamo Bay, isn't enough for the disgraced, half-bright former Secretary of Defense. The Atlantic Wire's Philip Bump sums up Rumseld's plan for Obama to win the War on Terror(ism): "One: Bring back forced renditions. And, two: Insist that the terrorists are everywhere, waiting, lurking. Only then will [Obama] earn Rumsfeld's respect." No word on whether Rumsfeld is relieved that there is no evidence that Obama practices yoga.

To continue this entry's theme of ridiculousness, The Washington Post is going to make its own employees pay for access to the site they work for. Along with the rest of us, Washington Post employees will have to pay $9.99 to access more than twenty articles on the WaPo website starting 12 June. Seems that The Washington Post felt that the US Department of Justice wasn't doing a good enough job oppressing journalists.

Because nerds will take issue with just about anything (trust me), including a Superman film that actually looks half decent, Filmdrunk presents Zack Snyder's reasoning behind the decision to do away with Superman's panties. Just a mild warning to readers, Filmdrunk's Vince Mancini likes to use terms like "flicks my boner," so just know you're in for some quality journalism.

Ever since my girlfriend Lauren watched Melancholia she's been quite interested in astronomy, particularly rogue planets. Today she retweeted a story from The Atlantic Wire about an exoplanet that's been photographed, a rare event, at over 300 lightyears away. This planet is the "lightest such object ever to be directly filmed by human beings."

And, finally, my friend Andy Minor brought the following video to my attention. Are you interested in the Smiths and/or Charles Dickens? Yes? Then this video is for you.

Matt Smith Returns Honorary Doctorate, Dan Harmon Back in Community College, Unheroic Behavior, Ricin Investigation Drama, and Boards of Canada to Stream New Album Tomorrow by Lars Garvey Laing-Peterson

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Such was the news of Matt Smith's departure from Doctor Who that not only was it set to make front page news today, but despite the British press trying to play ball with the studio these front pages start leaking out last night. And now that the initial shock of Smith's impending exit has worn off—not only do we live in the world of drastically reduced attention spans, but Smith is the eleventh actor to depict the Doctor after all—everyone is now wondering who will be the next Doctor. BBC News has put forward a number of the names swirling about in the rumor mill, including Luther's Idris Elba, Dame Helen Mirren, and John Hurt, who already appeared as one of the Doctors at the end of last season, and is also set to reprise this role in the highly anticipated 50th anniversary episode. There appears to be both the desire and support for a woman and/or a minority to become the Doctor for the first time in the show's history, and why not for the show's 50th anniversary?

While I was a bit more of a David Tennant fan, I grew to quite enjoy Matt Smith's Doctor Who, and it's impossible to deny his role in the show's renewed popularity. Like any good Doctor, he left his mark on the show and, along with the most recent actors who took on the role, set the bar quite high for the next incarnation of the Doctor. So farewell, Mr. Smith, and all the best in your future endeavors. You did a whole lot more than just make bow ties cool again.

Alongside loss (and rumors of regeneration) in Televisionland, there is also the return of the prodigal son: ousted showrunner Dan Harmon is returning to Community. Also returning is writer and producer Chris McKenna. Hitfix's Alan Sepinwell provides one reason for this unprecedented move: seeing as wresting control of Community from Harmon didn't result in a major success, "[Sepinwell] can see Sony deciding to appease both their stars and the fans, and perhaps enhance the show's afterlife on DVD, streaming, etc." In some ways this infers that NBC/Sony may not foresee Community living on too much longer, especially if they're already thinking about the show's "afterlife." In any case, the show is back for a fifth season with its former captain back at the helm, and that's reason for Community fans to celebrate.

As even passing fans of superhero comics and films know, when you get more than a few superheroes in a room there's often the potential for conflict. Fan favorite Joss Whedon made quite a bit of this in his rather successful Avengers film. And so life imitates art: a rather unheroic superhero brawl broke out on Hollywood Boulevard last week. Apparently some "heroes" were pickpocketing tourists and other "heroes" took issue with this, leading to violence. And no, it wasn't just Catwoman robbing people.

Speaking of keeping it classy, a divorcing couple's accusations have placed them at the center of the recent ricin-laced letters investigation. The story is almost has tragic as it is ridiculous, and as such I highly recommend giving it a browse. Nothing like a pregnant actress (best known for her role as one of many zombies on The Walking Dead) accusing her husband, who still contracts for the Department of Defense, of sending the letters, only for him to accuse her of the same crime. Oh, and this is all set in Texas, in case you were wondering.

And from the absurd to the (hopefully) sublime: Boards of Canada will stream the entirety of their new album Tomorrow's Harvest tomorrow, Monday, 3 June. The album is out in Europe on 10 June and here in the United States the next day.

The Skyscraper Forest of Hong Kong, the Teapot That (Kind of) Looks Like Hitler, Another Push for a Name Change in Washington, Happiness and Aging, and Regaining Time by Lars Garvey Laing-Peterson

 Photography by Romain Jacquet-Lagreze

Photography by Romain Jacquet-Lagreze

Romain Jacquet-Lagreze's Vertical Horizon, a fantastic collection of photographs, depicts the skyscrapers of Hong Kong in an intriguing way, demonstrating the massive scale of the buildings by using low-angle shots with the camera lens pointed straight up, capturing the sky above city framed by towers of glass and steel. Fast Company's article on the photographer and his recent work has a number of the photographs from Vertical Horizon (with a link to even more), and provides some of the inspiration behind the series: "Hong Kong is not a 2-D place that follows the flatness of a map, but instead a volumetric place..." In a world full of Instagrammed cats—and where "to Instagram" is a verb—it's nice to see some quality photography every now and then.

In other photograph news, JC Penny was forced to deny that a teapot on one of its billboards looks like Adolf Hitler. The Obama camp is waiting to see how Republicans will link this new "scandal" back to the administration. Hitler wasn't exactly a Kenyan socialist, but I'm sure those clever minds on Capitol Hill will find a way to besmirch the President yet again and add yet another candle to the ever-growing Scandalabra.

Speaking of the 113th Congress, ten members are urging Dan Snyder to change the name of his Washington Pro Football club. The elected officials wrote:

"In this day and age, it is imperative that you uphold your moral responsibility to disavow the usage of racial slurs. The usage of the ["R-word"] is especially harmful to Native American youth, tending to lower their sense of dignity and self-esteem. It also diminishes feelings of community worth among the Native American tribes and dampens the aspirations of their people."

Sadly, seeing as Snyder isn't known around town as the most decent or civilized of human beings, and as his stance on the issue has been made rather clear ("We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER—you can use all caps"), it's not expected that much will come of this letter, as admirable as it is. What's truly surprising about all of this, however, is that Snyder's baser qualities should be rather keen on the idea of a name change—with one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league, an up-and-coming young running back, and a fan base who finally believes in their team again, changing the name to something like the Washington Warriors spells only one thing: more jersey and merchandise sales. It would be a win-win: the team (and its owner) come out looking rather decent, get a ton of free (and positive) publicity and in many ways dictate the storyline, and then make a boatload of cash. Not sure what's unappealing about any of that. 

According to the Atlantic, the fact that I'm getting more lame with age is actually quite natural. In her article, "How Happiness Changes With Age," Heidi Grant Halvorson charts the evolving idea of happiness from her teenage years through to her current age of "just shy of forty." For social psychologists, the evolution of our concept of happiness has a lot to do with the shift from "promotion motivationseeing our goals in terms of what we can gain, or how we can end up better off, to prevention motivationseeing our goals in terms of avoiding loss and keeping things running smoothly." The article is interesting, enough so for me to take stock of where I am in my life, though it seems to apply more to successful people with families. This may lead me to write a response of some kind soon. Until then, definitely give Halvorson's article a read.

And finally, James Gleick's article "Time Regained," a review of Lee Smolin's Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe, is one of the most interesting things I've read in quite some time. I shan't spoil it for you; hell, I'm not even sure if I could as I'm rather out of my depth wading around in the philosophy of science. That said, Gleick's review is highly recommended reading. It'll make you feel smarter for having read it. And on a Tuesday night, sometimes that's exactly what you need.

Apartment Poetry, Washed Out, Boards of Canada, Scandalbra, Syria, and Facebook Addiction by Lars Garvey Laing-Peterson

Hey there. It's been a while. As I already dedicated one post on this site to excuses for my silence, I'll just try to make this good.

Three talented poets and former classmates—Jack Snyder, Bryan Koen, and Mike Walsh—and have launched a fantastically clever poetry journal, Apartment, and I highly recommend checking it out. Their first issue features the works of Ben Doller, Meg Ronan, Rob Halpern, Brian Henry, Eric Suchère (translated by Sandra Doller), and Matthew Henriksen. The authors' poems inhabit one of the six apartments on the site. The innovative concept is more than matched by its content. Seriously, even if you aren't really into poetry, I recommend giving Apartment a chance. That way you can tell inquisitive coworkers next Tuesday that you read some poetry this Memorial Day weekend. You'll come off as both artistic and deep, which people rarely do after a long holiday weekend.

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Over the last year or so I've probably asked my girlfriend Lauren a hundred times if she's heard anything about a new Washed Out album—and yesterday she passed along some of the best news I've heard this year: Washed Out are readying the release of Paracosm, due out on 13 August. At the moment there appears to be only a "trailer" for the album, but I'm hoping that there will soon be a single—and where there are singles, there are b-sides and remixes, and I imagine those should get me through all the long, humid summer days separating me from Ernest Greene and company's new record.

And as if the news of the upcoming Paracosm hadn't already made this the "best summer ever," Jagwar Ma (10 June), Sigur Rós (18 June), Weekend (23 July), Crocodiles (20 August), Holograms (3 September), and Placebo (17 September) are all releasing albums this summer, and Koreless (who my girlfriend also turned me onto), the National, and Dirty Beaches all dropped albums this week. And if that wasn't enough to make this one hell of a summer for music, Boards of Canada are breaking a seven year silence with Tomorrow's Harvest, due out 11 June. They've also finally let slip a track from the album, "Reach for the Dead," which Pitchfork has paired with the album's "trailer" in their short piece. (When did album trailers becoming a thing?) 

Sadly, not even the promise of so much quality music could do much for Barack Obama's mood of late. Poor Barry's been rather caught up in what I have trademarked as a "scandalabra." The Atlantic Wire has done a fine job of summing up what they've chosen to call "Scandalmania." (As soon as they see "scandalabra," I'm pretty sure they'll regret not having offered me a job. I'm still interested, Atlantic Wire. You know where to find me.) We'll see if Obama can have a scandal free Memorial Day weekend. Vegas says the smart money's on "no." At least Obama's drone speech seems to have gone over well.

If you find yourself with some time on your hands over the long weekend, I recommend giving the New York Review of Books' David Bromwich's article "Stay Out of Syria!" a read. The article responds to Bill Keller's lengthy Op Ed column in the New York Times, which simultaneously admits a "humbling error of judgment" in supporting the Iraq War, yet pushes for American military involvement in Syria. Bromwich's piece is well worth your time and attention, and is intriguing the entire way through.

And spending some time reading about Syria has to be better than being a 14-year-old addicted to Facebook, right? I wonder how long until all of our inner children start to look a bit like this poor girl.

Jason Collins Comes Out, Mel Brooks Joins Twitter, Discovering the Eater of Darkness, the Unraveling of an Academic Con Man, and a Healthy Helping of Shoegaze and Dreampop by Lars Garvey Laing-Peterson

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Jason Collins' brave decision to come out a gay professional athlete made reading the news completely worth it today (and even forced me to shake off some of my uselessness and get back to working on this site). While there's a sense that things have taken a positive corner in the fight for equal rights and tolerance in this country, that isn't necessarily the case in the hyper-masculine world of American professional sports. For Collins to be the first active professional athlete in this country to come out is big, and I hope it's just the start.

Obviously there are going to be worrisome reactions to Collins' announcement—and it's sad that a 49er set the standard for ignorance in this regard—even of the less virulent (but still troubling) kind demonstrated by Mike Wallace, formerly of Pittsburg and now on the Dolphins' roster. Still, I hope that, as has been the case so far, the reaction to Collins' announcement is positive overall (see: Kobe's tweetthe Washington Wizards' reaction, and others) among athletes, fans, and sports journalists alike. It's a damned brave thing Mr. Collins has done, and I applaud and commend him for doing so. I hope his example, his honesty, and his courage resonate throughout the world of sports.

In less big news, Mel Brooks was forced to join Twitter—an event that actually highlighted one of Twitter's biggest drawbacks (and, arguably, one of its strengths): "Tweeting is hard. You've got to squeeze the joke."

One of my favorite aspects of the Flipboard app is that I continuously stumble upon interesting stuff I never did with RSS feeds. (Yes, I know, I was probably using them wrong.) My example today: Richard Poynor's article on Robert M. Coates' The Eater of Darkness, a novel I didn't even know existed until today even though Gertrude Stein, the godmother of modernism herself, helped facilitate its publication in 1926. Poynor first became interested in the novel due to his research into visual prose (also known as visual writing), and his article touches upon a number of interesting aspects of modernism and the advent of reissuing books (and how much can get lost in these updates). Definitely worth a look, especially as Poynor's article is both intriguing and not terribly long.

And in case "not terribly long" doesn't get your blood pumping, the New York Times Magazine has a lengthy, wonderful piece on an academic fraudster: Dierderik Stapel, once a highly respected Dutch researcher, who made up studies analysing human nature with fake results that he believed we wanted to hear. If you have some time on your hands, Yudhijit Bhattacharjee's piece is truly worth a read.

If music's more your kind of thing, I can't say enough about the site Sounds Better with Reverb. A little over a week ago, the site put up its favorite releases of the year so far, and its a list deserving of exploration. Among my favorites are the Italian shoegazers Brothers in Law (which I felt compelled to write about after having discovered them courtesy of Sounds Better with Reverb) and Dråpe, a group of talented dreampop upstarts from Norway's capital city. You can hear more over at Dråpe's bandcamp site.

First Look at Only God Forgives, Boy Walks Out on Girls, the Digital Public Library, Magic Mike in Space, Arrested Development, Mad Men vs. History, and a New Hollywood Novel by Lars Garvey Laing-Peterson

The first trailer for Only God Forgives, the follow up to Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling's last collaboration, Drive, dropped today. Other than learning that Gosling's character was "different" and "strange," even in the womb (and was almost aborted!), the trailer doesn't reveal too much about the story, but the characters, camera work, atmosphere, and mood are definitely intriguing. Hopefully another trailer will arrive shortly. The film debuts at Cannes next month.

Girls appears to have suffered a bit of a set back (and not in the writing room, for once). Christopher Abbott, the actor who portrays Charlie, is reported (by IndieWire, quoting from the New York Post) to have left the show as Girls started production on its third season. As I gave up on the show (at least for the moment) halfway through the second season, I did not see Charlie start to monopolize some serious screen time, but apparently he did. Something about an app. Wonder how the show will handle his departure. If anyone can make an awkward, exasperating mess out of the situation, one that the LA Review of Books will be sure to call brilliant, it's Lena Dunham.

On 18 March, the National Digital Public Library will be launched, according to the New York Review of Books. The DPLA "is a project to make the holdings of America's research libraries, archives, and museums available to all Americans—and eventually to everyone in the world—online and free of charge." As Robert Darnton writes, "It may be a small step, but it will be a pragmatic advance into the world of knowledge, which Jefferson, in a utopian vein, described as 'the common property of mankind.'" Looking forward to exploring the DPLA when it launches in two weeks.

Matthew McConaughey, everyone's favorite man to see shirtless, is slated to star in Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, which will involve space and time travel, multiple dimensions, and a bit of riffing on the theoretical physics of Kip Thorne. As the Guardian reveals, somewhat unsurprisingly, the film is "reportedly complex and multilayered," which is about par for the course for the siblings who brought us The Prestige and Inception. It'll be interesting to see how McConaughey, riding high on a wave of positive critical reception, will fit into Nolan's film, and who the director will fit around him. Is it too much to hope for David Bowie? I mean, the film does involve space travel.

A date has finally been set for Arrested Development's return: 26 May 2013. The new season has also been expanded to 15 episodes, up from the originally planned 10. According to IndieWire, "Due to budget reasons and the fact that the cast is now considerably more famous and harder to book all at once, the new episodes were written to each focus on a particular character's journey since the end of the show, with the family... reportedly only really reunited in full at the end." I'm curious how this plays out. Curious and worried.

Eventually some jerk was going to do this, and apparently that jerk is Mallory Russell of Business Insider: a comparison of the ads created in Mad Men and the real ads from the 1960s. Pretty interesting, to be honest, if only because it adds yet another level to the reimagining and replication of the 1960s in the show. Were the ads created to look like how people today remember/imagine the 1960s being, or were they based on the actual ads from the time period? I'm leaning towards the former rather than the latter.

And to prove that I don't just bash the LA Review of Books, a fantastic review/essay by Richard Rayner on Matthew Spektor's Hollywood novel, American Dream Machine. My second semester of graduate school I did a lengthy research paper on Los Angeles Noir. The opening paragraph of Rayner's piece alone was enough to get my attention, and the rest has sold me on Spektor's book. Adding it to the list of novels to tackle once I finish my MA studies next month.

Late Sunday/Early Monday Edition! On Tuesday! Murder Spree in DC, Indie Film Tax Fraud, "Spring Breakers," Screening Notes from "Blade Runner," Multitasking, and Sarah Palin by Lars Garvey Laing-Peterson

This is a much delayed edition of "In the News." In penance and to ask your forgiveness I've included pieces of journalism covering what my research consultants have assured me is all that Americans truly want to read about: violence and girls in bikinis.

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In March 2010, five people were killed and eight wounded in the DC neighborhood of Washington Highlands—over a fake diamond bracelet. In a surprisingly strong story for the Washingtonian, whose articles typically direct readers towards some recently opened fine dining locale or a new establishment in which to accrue a hefty bar tab, Kevin Charles Redmon captures not only the horrific violence on trial, but the participants in these murders, their victims, the neighborhood they all called home, and most importantly the street culture that keeps most witnesses from testifying in court. If you have some time, I highly recommend giving Redmon's piece a read.

This is a story that keeps on giving: the AP's Jill Lawless (love that she's covering a crime story) reported a few days ago that a group in Britain created a fake indie film, wonderfully titled A Landscape of Lies (which they also alleged won "an award" from some American festival), in order to claim money on work that never happened on a project that never existed by exploiting "a government program that allows filmmakers to claim back up to 25 percent of their expenditure as tax relief." The "budget" for this "film" was reported as 19 million British pounds, so 25% isn't a small chunk of change. And don't worry, Lawless did not miss the (albeit weak) parallel to Argo. In an attempt to evade prosecution a real film was hastily put together, ironically earning a Silver Ace award at the 2012 Las Vegas Film Festival. Silver Ace or no, the five "producers" were arrested and convicted of tax fraud. And no one was rescued from a hostage situation anywhere.

 This is literally the first image that popped up when I Googled "Spring Breakers"

This is literally the first image that popped up when I Googled "Spring Breakers"

In an example of a filmmaker actually making a film, Harmony Korine's highly anticipated Spring Breakers is, according to /Film, every bit as good as we all hoped. Beyond the joy of tits and drugs and James Franco playing a rapper (did he get another degree that I don't know about?!), it sounds like Korine's film isn't lacking in brains either. (Tuesday update: Spring Breakers is current at 64/100 at Metacritic and 70% at the more forgiving Rotten Tomatoes, though it seems to have split critics—Manohla Dargis of the New York Times absolutely loves it, Peter Travers of Rolling Stone loves James Franco's performance [and that's about it], and others downright hate the film.) This booze-soaked, drug-addled, bikini-filled film and alleged "thought piece" is doing pretty well, outgrossing all of Harmony Korine's other films in its limited opening debut weekend according to IndieWire (I'm sure the promotional photographs have very little to do with this). The film opens wide this Friday.

And to continue this cinematic thread, you really have to read the early screening notes for Blade Runner, courtesy of GeekTyrant. My favorite? A.L.'s comment that "They have to put back more tits into the Zhora dressing room scene." I think A.L. would have been much happier watching Spring Breakers.

Not sure too many parents are going to be thrilled about this Forbes article that claims first-person shooter games make you a better multitasker. Now that smart-mouthed brat you're raising can claim Gears of War is not just a violent waste of time, but a tool helping him to prepare for the real world... of sitting in a cubicle being asked to do a bunch of things all at once.

And to close this much delayed Sunday/Monday/Tuesday "In the News" segment: Sarah Palin continuing to act just like Sarah Palin should, criticizing Obama for running a permanent campaign, drinking a Big Gulp to show she isn't going to be pushed around by city slicker hippies who hate sugar, and then holding the monstrous beverage above her head as though it were an award she earned by being a true, God-fearing American! I am glad that in this cruel, confusing world, I can always count on the Atlantic Wire for something worth reading.

The Boston Phoenix Returns to the Ashes, Pastor Says Jesus Told Him to Have Sex With Minor, Breaking the Fourth Wall, Game of Thrones from 1995, and Virulent Internet Content by Lars Garvey Laing-Peterson

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Still reeling from the shock of Wes Welker's betrayal and now having to mourn the loss Danny Woodhead, Bostonians have yet another painful event to endure: the loss of the Boston Phoenix. Grantland's Charles P. Pierce wrote a wonderful memorial and eulogy to his former home, one of the most engaging, boisterous, and raucous collections of voices from the fringes of the alternative press, and the start of quite a few illustrious journalism careers. Longform has put up a wonderful collection of some of the Phoenix's best reporting as the paper puts out its final issue.

Surprise, surprise—yet another American religious authority has found himself tumbling from grace. How many "megachurch" leaders is this now who have ended up embroiled in some raunchy sex scandal? Jack Schaap, the now disgraced minister of the First Baptist Megachurch of Hammond, Indiana, told his teenage lover that Jesus wanted them to have sex according to the Huffington Post's crime section, and God's law always trumps the laws of man, right? Creep apparently texted 662 times in one month, too.

Yes, I miss Congressman Frank Underwood, too. Apparently some folks over at the Guardian do as well, and they've posted a near-nine minute video of actors breaking the fourth wall to tide us over while the minds and talent behind the American House of Cards work their way through the second season. And if you haven't already seen this, I very highly recommend the wonderfully satirical House of Cardinals.

The folks over at GeekTyrant stumbled upon one of the more entertaining offerings from the fans eagerly anticipating Game of Thrones' third season premier: what Game of Thrones would have looked like had it been made in 1995. Even if you aren't terribly enamored with the real show, this is worth a peak.

According to the Economist, Microsoft Research is looking into why some internet content goes viral and the vast majority of it does not. The good news: search engines may be either able to more quickly recognize and link to viral content, or completely block it from our searches. The latter would be truly wonderful, especially after the terrifying horror that is/was the Harlem Shake.

How the Wes Was Won (With $12 Million), McDonald's Expands Its Menu, Women Writers on Television, How We Can Know Anything At All, and Alex Smith (Officially) Departs the 49ers by Lars Garvey Laing-Peterson

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Really, Wes? Ditching the devastatingly handsome Tom Brady for his archnemesis Peyton Manning? I'd recommend not trying to get a drink anywhere in New England again. Like, ever. I'll let my girlfriend Lauren, a proud and lifelong Patriots fan (and also the author of the headline "How the Wes Was Won"), take this one: "I knew when his mustache got wider than his receiving, he was lost forever. He gripped those handlebars and headed west. RIP." For a more objective take on this sickening betrayal please feel free to read ESPN's version of events. As a 49ers fan, however, I think the Patriots aren't going to suffer too terribly, signing Danny Amendola to a five-year deal. That guy was a royal pain in my ass last season and I imagine the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins will soon feel the same way, along with many others. I just can't wait for the awkward post AFC Championship game encounter between Welker and Brady. "Should have stuck with the winning team, babe."

In an equally gut-wrenching story, Gawker has reported that a two-year-old ate a used condom at a McDonald's. This piece is worth reading for the final lines alone. Have to love classy reporting like this. I tip my hat to you, Gawker.

Now for some truly groundbreaking journalism: the Atlantic's Jamie Tarabay apparently spent a few hours of her life writing an article about the "similarities between Carrie Bradshaw and Hannah Horvath." Quite truly, I'd never picked up on any parallels between these characters or their respective shows! Just amazing insight on display here! Oh, and House of Cards' Zoe Barnes makes her way into this piece, too, so that it can be about women writers on TV and our "puzzling" fascination with them. (In all seriousness, it's not a terrible article.)

And if Wes Welker's betrayal, used condoms, and women writers on television don't float your boat, n+1 put up a truly intriguing article about Julian Jaynes and the existential question "How can we know anything at all?" Exploring Jayne's lone text, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (which is described thusly: "Drawing on evidence from neurology, archaeology, art history, theology, and Greek poetry, Jaynes captured the experience of modern consciousness—“a whole kingdom where each of us reigns reclusively alone, questioning what we will, commanding what we can”—as sensitively and tragically as any great novelist") and his thoughts on the development of consciousness, the article is definitely worth a read.

Also, according to the Atlantic Wire the Ukraine did not in fact lose any of its trained killer dolphins. No need to cancel that snorkeling trip to the Black Sea.

And, finally, so that my dear girlfriend does not have to suffer alone, Bleacher Report put up a fine article on the official departure of Alex Smith. I'm honestly torn on how to feel about all of this: Colin Kaepernick is a phenomenal quarterback and proved himself worthy of being QB1, but it was Alex Smith who was at the helm during the revitalization of the 49ers after a terrible dark period (granted, with a fair amount of help from Jim Harbaugh). Any way it finally shakes out for me, Alex Smith was a wonderful 49er (yes, it took him time to shine, but the fault for this does not lie with him alone, and he stuck it out when others would have bolted and more than proved his worth in the end) and acted like a true gentleman throughout his tenure (being booed by the 49er Faithful for years, during the off season when the 49ers flirted with Peyton Manning, and most tellingly when he was benched after being injured) when many would have thrown adolescent hissy fits. I'll miss you, Alex. Thank you for all you did. I hope you and Andy Reid prove all the haters wrong next season. Go Chiefs.

Wayne Coyne Warps Your Mind, Water vs. 24hz Sine Wave (aka Science!), The History of Jeans, Paul Ryan: Supposed Math Wizard, More Ravens Fly the Coop, and the Cyber Cold War by Lars Garvey Laing-Peterson

While some are surprised by the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne attempting to rewire our brains in order to shore up profits over at Virgin Mobile, I'm not. The man wrote an album entitled Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, you know? The short piece over at Pitchfork also pointed out this isn't Coyne's first foray into the advertising world. I guess I was too busy crying into my drink and/or screaming obscenities at Ravens fans in a Vikings bar in the East Village (seriously) to notice Coyne's Hyundai commercial during the Super Bowl.

Speaking of bizarre, my sister Anna showed me this crazy Water vs. 24hz Sine Wave video last night (this is just "Experiment #2," Google around for others), and now it's all over the internets. I appreciate Colossal's take on this strange phenomenon: "How is this even possible? Because science, my friends." If someone had only shown me this video back when I was struggling my way through GCSE-level physics, biology, and chemistry, I might have tried to stick it out with the sciences. Instead, I'm about to graduate with an MA in English Literature. Someone save a seat for me at the 1%ers annual dinner, preferably one close to the Romneys! (Don't worry, there's one more Romney joke yet.)

While I am typically wary of posting articles from both Pitchfork and Vice in the same segment (as it might give some the impression that I think that type of behavior is okay), I was intrigued by Vice's article on the history of blue jeans. Not a bad read at all, and filled with a fair amount of amusing asides about the formerly proletarian, very Western fabric.

And while on the subject of Americana, there's nothing quite as American a good old budget showdown (you know, while the country is already plunging ever further into The Great Sequestering), especially when Vice Presidential failure/supposed math wizard Paul Ryan is involved. NPR's Mark Memmott put up a piece this morning regarding Ryan's claim that his new budget proposal will balance out in 10 years (yes, that's 10 years quicker than what he promised earlier—Mittens must be so pissed). If you're interested, the entirety of Ryan's budget plan is included in the article, along with the obligatory White House response that Ryan's math "just doesn't add up."

Further details about the Baltimore Ravens bizarre implosion were released today. Along with news from ESPN that the Brown's picked up Paul Kruger (and that Dannell Ellerbe is now a Miami Dolphin), there was speculation over at Pro Football Talk that Ed Reed might join Anquan Boldin as a 49er, but this talk appears to have been dismissed as a "smokescreen aimed at creating interest in Reed." And according to ESPN, nobody bothered to mention to Boldin that he was even being considered for a trade. In an interview given during his mission to Africa, Boldin said he had "no idea" and had been rather shocked to learn the news. The best part of that whole ESPN article is the "Anquan was a great receiver... but at the same time" moment from Joe Flacco, whose new salary ($120 million over six years) probably played a rather large factor in Boldin being shipped out to San Francisco to free up cap space. If it's any consolation Anquan, I think you'll have a better shot at another ring out West with Brother Jim. And if, like me, you often find yourself reading the same sports news stories at different sites, here's Grantland's sharp take on both the Percy Harvin and Anquan Boldin trades.

And just in case you guys didn't think This City of Islands was taking the Cyber Cold War seriously enough, here's yet another piece from the Economist on the internet, this time: Cybercrime. And no, it's not a whole lot like Minority Report, sadly. Not yet anyways.

Feminist Donkey Kong, David Bowie's Not Dead, Four Tet Remixes JT, Percy Harvin's a Seahawk, Creepy (& Obvious) Stuff People Will Do with Google Glass, & the Internet's Value by Lars Garvey Laing-Peterson

After his daughter asked if she could play as the princess in Donkey Kong, Mike Mika hacked the game in order to fulfill this dream and, as the Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal put it, "casually cod[ed] some feminism into Nintendo's heroic myths." Wonder if this will be the start of a trend.

Grantland's Chuck Klosterman and Alex Pappademas released their email exchange from last summer when it was erroneously reported that David Bowie had died. Obviously, as the release of his new album demonstrates, Bowie is very much alive and well. Still, the exchange is not only entertaining, but rather insightful, just as Klosterman's emails to and from Malcom Gladwell about the Manti T'eo scandal/Fake Dead Girlfriendgate were. Fantastic read, and not bad press to come out around the same time as a new album.

Stereogum started a number of people's days off in spectacular fashion, uploading Four Tet's remix of Justin Timberlake's "Suit & Tie" this morning. Not to be outdone, Pitchfork also posted the remix and a new track from Four Tet, "For These Times," from the Nonplus Compilation Think and Change. I guess this is why Reagan was so keen on competition in the free market.

ESPN reports that the Seahawks are looking to make the NFC West an even closer race next season, picking up the Vikings' Percy Harvin in what looks to be a damn smart move. The trade isn't too unexpected: the Seahawks want give as many weapons as possible to their breakout quarterback Russell Wilson, and Harvin hasn't exactly been quiet about his desire to leave the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes. Like any 49ers fan, it pains me to see the Seahawks shoring up a Super Bowl-caliber roster more than capable of being division champions, but I have a soft spot in my heart for the city of Seattle, and for the NFC West as a division, so I'll let this bit of news pass without devolving into the proud and foul-mouthed San Francisco fan I sometimes allow myself to be. Any more shit like this, however, and I cannot be held responsible for the rage-laden prose that find their way onto this site or for the Twitter rant surely to precede it.

UPDATE: According to ESPN, the 49ers just grabbed the Ravens' Anquan Boldin for a 6th round draft pick! And just when I thought Pete Carroll might have been upstaging Jim Harbaugh. Not sure how this is going to effect Harbaugh relations, though, especially if Boldin helps lead us back to the Super Bowl.

Beyond the issues I am trying not to have with the Seahawks, ReadWrite has pointed out some obvious issues that are going to arise with the introduction of Google's anxiously awaited, yet highly unstylish product Glass. As far as this technologically challenged English major can figure out, these are basically the glasses that kid was wearing at the beginning of V/H/S, but now instead of winding up on video cassette in some old not-quite-dead dude's house, that type of nonsense is going to be far more widely available on the internet. "No like?" Maybe not, strange monster creature. Maybe not.

And to finish off this first edition of "In the News," the Economist's Hal Varian has written a very engaging column on "the value of the internet now and in the future." And no, dear reader, I didn't just throw this in here to make it look like I care about things outside of video games, music, sports, and horror movies. Honest.