Tag Archives: The New Yorker

Me, Human. Me, Dumbass.

Image result for tripping and falling

Call them mistakes. Call them errors. Call them whatever you want (except late for dinner, of course), but the point is we do some pretty stupid things every year to injure ourselves in what many would consider “safe” situations/conditions.

Even though countless people suffer from aviophobia (fear of flying), your chances of being in an airplane accident and hurting yourself are effectively nil. Alternatively, crossing the street at a crosswalk can be treacherous; thirty-eight percent of all pedestrian accidents happen there!

Writing for The New Yorker, Joshua Rothman wrote a thoroughly interesting/frightening piece on the role the mind plays when we make mistakes, errors, or otherwise follow through with dumbass decisions that inevitably lead to us harming ourselves. Titled “Be Careful! Your Mind Makes Accidents Inevitable,” Mr. Rothman goes over some strange, funny and scratch-your-head statistics from noted psychologist and safety expert Steve Casner and his book Careful: A User’s Guide to Our Injury-Prone Minds.

As the most highly developed species on this planet, we sure as shit make some questionable assumptions and decisions in our lives. Mr. Casner actually argues that we are “in the midst of a safety crisis.” For example, from 1918 to 2000, the accidental death rate dropped from about one in 20 people to one in 40 people. This was largely the result of better education, public safety campaigns, stricter laws, innovations and regulations.

However, since 2000 that figure has been on the rise; more of us are dying accidently than did 20, 30 or even 50 years ago when people like Don Draper were drinking and driving, smoking indoors (and on airplanes!), not wearing seatbelts in any vehicle, swimming in restricted areas for fun, and a whole other bunch of stuff that someone today would freak out about if asked to do.

Steve Casner has a few theories as to why this is, including “risk homeostasis” (the tendency to take more risks once we feel safer), a surge in DIY go-getters (you think that crunching stock market numbers all week on a computer will prepare you to properly use a chainsaw next weekend?), constant imaginative behaviour (why can’t I use the butt-end of a screwdriver to break up the ice in my freezer?), and the “social appeal of the daredevil” (how many chicks are going to dig my gear if I can Frogger through traffic in midtown Manhattan!).

Finally, there are lots of weird stats involved in Mr. Casner’s book that should give us pause and make us think the next time we want to do something out of the ordinary for no real purpose. These include:

  • 40,000 Americans are sent to the ER annually after wounding themselves with their washing machines.
  • In 2010, 51,000 car crashes and 440 deaths resulted from mattresses falling off car roofs and into traffic.
  • According to the American Cancer Society, an untold number of Americans die every year from cancer because they believe their symptoms “will resolve themselves with time.”
  • Many of the 140,000 people who fall off ladders every year do so because they step on the rung labelled “Not a step.”

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The Useless Agony of Going Offline

Image result for man walking off cliff

His title. Not mine.

Last year, Matthew J.X. Malady wanted to try an experiment: He wanted to go dark for 72 hours. No phone. No computer. No tablet. No social media. No nuttin’, honey. Part of the impetus for his project came from reading about a man who literally walked off a cliff to his death because he was so glued to his electronic device that he didn’t notice he had come to a precipice and there was no fence to stop him. He tumbled more than 40 feet to the jagged rocks below him.

For Mr. Malady, burning questions included, though were not limited to, (a) could he do it?; and (b) what effect would this have on him and his hardwiring. Upon completion of this experiment, Mr. Malady then wrote about his experience in a piece for The New Yorker titled “The Useless Agony of Going Offline.”

Did Mr. Malady succeed? Did he shrivel up and die before the third day? Did his head turn into a multi-coloured pumpkin? These are all fine and fair questions but will have to wait until I wax poetic about this whole ADHD/wired-all-the-time tendency that many of us have adopted not only willingly but wholeheartedly. When did we cross the proverbial Rubicon of Internet-based technology?

Technically speaking, I signed up for my first electronic mail account in 1996 through my university. I never used the account once. It wasn’t until moving to Korea (No, not North Korea) in 1997 that I set up a real e-mail account through…Hotmail (groan).

I like graphs, charts, timelines and the like, so let me present mine here and see how it stacks up against your own experience with this wonderful world called the intercyberweb.

1996               Set up my first email account

1997               Began regular use of commercial email

1998               Wrote and received my last handwritten letters to friends and family

2000                Bought my first computer (a Commodore 64 doesn’t count, right?)

2000                Wrote my first story on a word processing program called Word

2001                 Began using my computer for employment-related tasks

2004                 Became a full-time freelancer and depended on my laptop 24/7 for work

2007                 Joined the Gmail Revolution

2007-09            Travelled five continents over 24 months, using my laptop for work in locations that spanned the border of Uganda and the DRC, the beaches of Fiji, the bridges of Venice, the Black Sea port of Varna, the jungles of Vietnam, the coffee shops of New York City, and 28,000 miles of airplane travel time.

2009                  Signed up for Facebook

2013                  Designed my own blog and began posting regularly

2014                   Joined Twitter

2017                   Joined Instagram

I suppose when I write it down like that, I’d have to say my “Rubicon moment” had to be 2004, when the almighty computer and being online was directly tied to my ability to pay the rent. Over that time, I think I’ve gone through something like one desktop and 10 laptops, most of them destroyed by attrition rather than viruses. The longest I’ve gone without using any Internet-related technology is three weeks, though I didn’t have much choice as I was travelling through India and Nepal and it was 1999, so the technology wasn’t so ubiquitous in remote parts of Kashmir and Pokhara.

More recently, I went two full days without checking emails, using my phone, surfing the Internet or looking in on my social media sites. I considered that an accomplishment. (Does that make me a slave to the Internet? Perhaps Brian Ferry can rework his 1985 classic and call it “Slave to the Net.”)

Anyway, back to Mr. Malady’s experiment. Did he indeed self-combust in fiery flames after the 72nd hour? Here’s what he had to say about finishing his pet project:

“At the end of the experiment, I wasn’t dying to get my phone back or to access Facebook. I just wanted to get back to being better informed. My devices and the Internet, as much as they are sometimes annoying and frustrating and overflowing with knuckleheads, help me to do that. If getting outside and taking walks, or sitting in silence, or walking dogs, or talking with loved ones on the phone got me to that same place, I’d be more than happy to change things up.”

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A Dictionary of Canadianisms

Image result for  Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles

Jesse Sheidlower (@jessesheidlower) over at The New Yorker had a fantastic piece appear in the magazine a couple of months ago called “A Delightful Dictionary for Canadian English.” No surprise, then, that this post is dedicated to all those woeful souls in other countries who, over the years, have asked me, “Do you speak American?” (and something I got to poke fun at in the story “Everybody’s Dictionary (& Other Semantic Debacles).”)

Uhhhhhhhhhhh…only when south of the 49th?

However, I must say that question about my ability to communicate in “American” was only topped when a Canadian – a freaking CANADIAN! in frigging Canada – once asked me after learning that I lived in Korea for a decade, “So, like, do you speak Asian?”

Oy vey, I thought, wishing I’d responded, “Yes. I am fluent in Asian, England, Molson Canadian, European and several South Africas.”

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Kellyanne Conway’s Future Book Reviews?

Image result for kellyanne conway reading a book

Not surprisingly, The New Yorker has managed, once again, to combine literature, politics and humour. Sorry, humor.

Writing for that rag of a magazine that the REAL media uses to wipe their arses with, Bob Vulfov (@bobvulfov) imagines what book reviews written by Donnie T.’s Counselor to the President – and co-author of What Women Really Want (no joke) – might look like in a piece called “Kellyanne Conway Spins Great Works of Literature.”

Although all of the reviews are literary gold, this one just might be my favourite. Sorry, favorite.


Time after time, I see the land media refer to Moby Dick as the embodiment of evil, and, frankly, this sort of coverage disappoints me. If they keep this up, partisanship will continue to divide creatures of the sea and creatures of the land. Throughout his campaign, Captain Ahab constantly blamed someone else for his own despair, but sometimes you just have to take a look in the mirror. All the polls said that Moby Dick had no shot against Captain Ahab, but look at what happened. Ahab’s ship was destroyed in a nautical landslide. The land media, the pollsters, the crew aboard the Pequod—they all got it wrong. Now it’s time to let the large whale-beast govern.

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The Slow Death of Cursive

 Image result for beautiful cursive

Jeez, I remember when I used to write like that! Sort of…but not really. Actually, my cursive was always more akin to a drunk, blind, mentally frail chicken scratching at a piece of paper with a pen that’s recently exploded all over its pristine claw.

But on the plus side, I can actually read that image above, and as frightening as it sounds to anyone born before December 31, 1999, that is now actually considered a skill.

Do I show my age by bemoaning the lost art of cursive and its gradual disappearance from our schools and the fabric of our everyday lives?

If so, good on me!

Mark Oppenheimer (@markopp1) wrote (though not in cursive) a heartbreaking piece (for sentimental farts like me) in The New Yorker called “The Lost Virtue of Cursive” about one man’s fight to keep the storied craft alive, if only to communicate with his children in a world overrun by the typed word and – if this trend keeps up – emoji and emoticons.

Perhaps this calls for a revolution. We’ll call it #BringBackCursive, but we’ll type it out on a keyboard and ensure it comes complete with a hashtag.

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Adventures in Russia’s Far East

I’m a sucker for good adventure stories, fiction or non-fiction. From The Count of Monte Cristo, The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights and Heart of Darkness to Herodotus’s The Histories, The Travels of Marco Polo, Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and Robert Young Pelton‘s The Adventurist: My Life in Dangerous Places, they all have a jaw-dropping story to tell in far-off lands and bygone eras.

But not all great adventure stories are by famous writers or about well-known places like Mt. Everest, Timbuktu or Shangri-La.

Take, for example, Donald Clark’s Living Dangerously in Korea,  easily one of my favourite books on my second home.

Another example is a new literary work to join the ranks of awesome adventure stories, an updated translation from the legendary explorer of Russia’s Far East named Vladimir Arsenyev. While serving in the Russian Imperial Army, Arsenyev travelled extensively throughout the region from 1902-1930, subsequently wrote about his experiences in great detail, and, so I’m led to believe, in beautiful prose devoid of any hubris. (NOTE TO SELF: Does every Russian writer always knock it out of the park?)

Yet Stalin, in all his wisdom, thought it would be a stupendous idea to censor much of Arsenyev’s writing (the original books were finally released in Russian in 2007). However, it was only when a young go-getter from the U.S. named Jonathan Slaght recently retranslated the original account (written in Russian) of Arsenyev’s first book, Across the Ussuri Kray (1921), and published it under the same name through Indiana University Press (2016), that we English readers got a sense of what the Wild East was once like.

Slaght is now the Wildlife Conservation Society’s coordinator for Russia and Northeast Asia, and Michelle Nijhuis wrote a thoroughly engaging piece in this week’s The New Yorker about Ansenyev and Slaght (make sure you check out the photo gallery, which is almost like a journey to another world). If you’re intrigued about what a pre-industrial Russia’s Far East looked like a century ago – the only place on Earth where brown bears, leopards and tigers co-exist because the region was spared from being touched by glaciation during the last Ice Age – take the time to read this article entitled “A Fuller Vision of Russia’s Far East.”

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