The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century Joey deVilla's Personal Blog Thu, 18 Sep 2014 21:41:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Rejected wedding theme #4: Buffalo Brawl! Thu, 18 Sep 2014 21:41:07 +0000

wedding brawl

Not a scene from the Buffalo Wedding Brawl, but from this funny Windows Phone ad.

Continuing my series of themes that I will not be using at my upcoming wedding, here’s one: Buffalo Brawl!

“I’m telling you, there was blood everywhere,” said one of the staff at a wedding reception in Buffalo that ended in a 100-person brawl. “There was holes punched in the walls. Words couldn’t describe it. Just when you thought it was over, another fight started.

(“There was holes punched in the walls.” Never mind the guests — even subjects and verbs were in disagreement at this wedding!)

Police got a call last Saturday night at 11 p.m. about a fight breaking out at a wedding reception at Orchard Park Country Club. An officer who was among the first to respond says that more than 100 people were fighting both inside and outside the club when they arrived. The bride and groom were apparently not involved in the brawl — she had been hustled out the back, while he tried to get the guests to leave.

There’s still no clear explanation for what started the fight, although there’s a report that earlier that evening, a wedding guest was accused of groping a woman and then punched in the face. That guest was escorted off the premises, and the reception went back to normal until it was time to leave. Apparently there was still some lingering ill will, and that’s when the fights broke out. The fights got larger as people tried to break them up, only to be drawn into the melee. “There were intoxicated individuals who were not helping us at all and had to be sent along with a sober individual,” said a police officer who was at the scene.

Seven police departments showed up in response. This may have been because of the size of the fight, but I’m not going to discount the explanation that upstate New York is a crashing bore on most Saturday nights.

The Wedding-Industrial Complex doesn’t like anything tarnishing its image, and Orchard Park Country Club’s manager was quick to deny that the fight even took place. He showed Buffalo News their main lounge and dining areas, which didn’t look as if they’d been through a bunkhouse brawl. “Look around,” he said. “Does it look like there was any damage?”

It should be noted that the wedding reception was held in a side banquet room that wasn’t shown to Buffalo News. In the meantime, the officer who first arrived at the scene said damage included holes in walls, blood, broken crystal bowls and glasses and damage to property in the main banquet area, hallways and basement. “For them to say nothing happened is 100 percent wrong,” he said.

The best observation about the story comes from Gawker, in response to a witness who said “Things were said that can never be taken back.”: “Hey! It’s like a metaphor for marriage!”

Previously, in the “Rejected Wedding Theme” series…

  1. Catch the camo craze
  2. Faking my own death
  3. Asses of Fire
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T-shirt of the day Wed, 17 Sep 2014 21:22:39 +0000

you can have me chest

This shirt is available right now at Tampa International Airport. Toronto lady friends, who wants me to bring them one when I come up for Thanksgiving?

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If you can’t wait for the Apple Watch and like your fixes quick and dirty, I’ve got a solution for you Fri, 12 Sep 2014 17:19:51 +0000

diy apple watch

It’s got a nice big screen, front- and back-facing camera, and you’ll always have your sync/charging cable handy.

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If you can’t solve this simple math problem, you may have a problem with simple math Fri, 12 Sep 2014 13:28:53 +0000

jerak math problem

Okay, the written-in answer is correct in the practical sense, but if you can’t figure out the mathematically correct answer — that is, the distance and time by which Jerak missed the elevator, you may have a math problem.

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Sign of the day: “No hipsters” Thu, 11 Sep 2014 19:32:05 +0000

no hipsters

Found via Reg Braithwaite.

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How “Guardians of the Galaxy” should have ended: ’80s-style, of course! Thu, 11 Sep 2014 15:58:35 +0000

I think that Marvel Studios should add AC Stuart’s suggestion as an alternate ending when they release the DVD/Blu-Ray/whatever edition of Guardians of the Galaxy

guardians 0

guardians 1

guardians 2

guardians 3

guardians 4

guardians 5

guardians 6

guardians 7

guardians 8

guardians 9

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The Falling Man, the Fallen Man, and the James Foley memorial scholarship Thu, 11 Sep 2014 14:45:52 +0000

falling man

The Falling Man is the name of the photograph above, taken 13 years ago today. Taken by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew, it shows a man — still unidentified to this day — falling from the World Trade Center’s North Tower on September 11, 2001. Of all the images from 9/11, I believe this one is the most powerful. As theologian Mark Thompson of Moore Theological College says:

“…perhaps the most powerful image of despair at the beginning of the twenty-first century is not found in art, or literature, or even popular music. It is found in a single photograph.”

The photo, for obvious reasons, isn’t shown much. It strikes a nerve that’s still raw. Still, it’s a necessary reminder of what happened and what has yet to be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Depending on your point of view, you and I may or may not agree on what should be done in response, but I’m pretty sure we can agree that this day should be remembered.

north tower windows

The Falling Man is also the name of an essay by Tom Junod published in Esquire in 2003. It’s about the Falling Man photo, which Junod describes as “the Unknown Solider in a war whose end we have not yet seen”. It’s still worthwhile reading eleven years later. Steven Church summed it up nicely when he wrote this about the piece:

My favorite sorts of essays are often those that advertise themselves as one thing while performing several different, often contradictory functions, essays where the stakes shift between the first paragraph and the last. “The Falling Man,” does this. It was a feature piece in Esquire, and I think at least part of why I like it is because it seems like the sort of piece that the Esquire editors would have normally sanitized and polished into something much smoother and less interesting, something less intimate and confrontational, less risky, digressive, and essayistic.


Junod’s The Falling Man has a new introduction, The Fallen Man, which talks about a more recent photo: that of American journalist James Foley being murdered by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL). Like the Falling Man photo, the New York Post’s publication of a still from the video in which Foley was decapitated was controversial. There are many more connections between the two photos, including this quote from Richard Drew:

“I don’t need to see the video the same way I didn’t need to see the Falling Man hit the ground to know the outcome.”

james foley

James Foley. Photo from Wikipedia.

Esquire published The Falling Man with the new introduction, The Fallen Man, with a purpose: to promote a memorial scholarship at Marquette University’s J. William and Mary Diederich College of Communications in Foley’s name. You can still read the essay and its new introduction for free, but should you feel the urge, there’s a link you can click to make a donation to the scholarship fund, which I did.

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Get well soon, Mayor Ford Thu, 11 Sep 2014 01:37:03 +0000

get well soon mayor ford

Rob Ford, mayor of my old home town, was hospitalized earlier today after complaining of abdominal pain. Doctors found a tumor and will spend this week determining exactly its type. Here’s hoping that it’s benign, that he gets it removed and gets back on his feet, and that his family are comforted during this time.

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Go home, Mayor Ford, you look drunk Tue, 09 Sep 2014 16:12:02 +0000

if youre not wated the subway ride is

Here’s a video showing Toronto mayor Rob Ford in an interview on Monday doing some ducking and bobbing that would impress Muhammad Ali. Unfortunately, he’s not in the middle of a sparring match, he’s doing interviews on Toronto’s Sheppard subway line as part of his mayoral campaign.

And lest you think that the subway train is going around some tight corners at high speed, you should know that the Sheppard line is pretty much straight. As my friend Kelly Kay points out, no one else in the video, including the person behind the camera, seems to have any difficulty staying upright.

And now, the video:

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Tropic Chillerz: Not refreshing as a drink, but refreshingly honest with their ingredients Tue, 09 Sep 2014 14:22:21 +0000

substandard orange wine

“Read this,” said my friend Erinn as he welcomed us to his party and handed me the grenade-shaped can pictured below. I had to put the can under a light to be sure, but there it was, just below the alcohol content: substandard orange wine.

“I like the truth in advertising,” I said, “but how is substandard wine legal?”

“If you don’t like substandard wine, there’s another flavor with other than standard wine,” he replied, showing me this can:

other than standard orange wine

Substandard and “other than standard” wine, it turns out, is wine that falls under this definition in the regulations for alcohol, tobacco, and firearms concerning the labeling and advertising of wine, section 4.21:

(2) “Substandard wine” or “other than standard wine” shall bear as a part of its designation the word “substandard,” and shall include: 

(i) Any wine having a volatile acidity in excess of the maximum prescribed therefor in §§ 4.20 to 4.25. 

(ii) Any wine for which no maximum volatile acidity is prescribed in §§ 4.20 to 4.25, inclusive, having a volatile acidity, calculated as acetic acid and exclusive of sulfur dioxide, in excess of 0.14 gram per 100 milliliters (20° C.). 

(iii) Any wine for which a standard of identity is prescribed in this §§ 4.20 to 4.25, inclusive, which, through disease, decomposition, or otherwise, fails to have the composition, color, and clean vinous taste and aroma of normal wines conforming to such standard. 

(iv) Any “grape wine” “citrus wine,” “fruit wine,” or “wine from other agricultural products” to which has been added sugar and water solution in an amount which is in excess of the limitations prescribed in the standards of identity for these products, unless, in the case of “citrus wine,” “fruit wine” and “wine from other agricultural products” the normal acidity of the material from which such wine is produced is 20 parts or more per thousand and the volume of the resulting product has not been increased more than 60 percent by such addition. 

Substandard wine used to be a way for small restaurants and bars that could afford only beer-and-wine licenses in Florida to serve cocktails. Banned from serving hard liquor, they served mixed drinks made with something called “Premium Blend”, a mix of 45% distilled liquor and 55% fermented wine that was labeled “premium substandard orange wine with natural flavors added”. At half the strength of standard liquor, it’s legally a wine.

With the amusingly-shaped can and fruit-drink flavors, “Tropic Chillerz” are clearly being aimed at the underage drinker. As for the taste: I tried some, and let’s just say that if you’re looking for a cheap, fruity drunk, you’re probably better off just mixing Everclear (or alcool, if you’re from Ontario or Quebec) with some Sunny D.

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Quote of the day: Senator Lindsey Graham on the angry white guy shortage Mon, 08 Sep 2014 17:08:08 +0000

Photo of Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) with quote: 'The demographics race we’re losing badly. We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.'

Click the image to see the source.

Thanks to for the find!

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Thoughts on life in Florida and the world’s largest, rowdiest, sexiest retirement community Mon, 08 Sep 2014 14:21:44 +0000

joey devilla giant mug

Yours Truly at a friend’s birthday party on Saturday night.

I moved to Florida a mere six months ago, and you may be concerned with the ease with which I’m taking up the lifestyle. The accordion, as you might expect, has been a hit here — it’s helped me strike up more than a few friendships, including one with a local winemaker, not to mention some fans at a Clearwater strip bar (long story). I wear Aloha shirts often, and regularly go for a fortnight without putting on long pants. My mobile worker schedule allows me to enjoy a 10:30 a.m. swim break and an afternoon trip to the gym or a bike ride which typically includes a stop the local farmer’s market. There are swing dancing and shooting lessons in my future. I’m in a townhouse with a younger woman with whom I’m planning my second wedding at a beach resort. I have a perma-tan that would make George Hamilton jealous. And I have developed a fascination with a retirement community called The Villages.

The Villages sounds like a nickname, but it’s the actual name of a census-designated place located in central Florida, about 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Orlando and 77 miles (120 km) northeast of Tampa:

villages florida map

Last week, Forbes identified The Villages as the fastest-growing small city in America. Between 2010 and 2013, it doubled its population to nearly 110,000, most of whom are over the age of 55.

villages couple

In a recent piece on BuzzFeed titled Club Meds (ha!), Alex French describes The Villages as:

“a notorious boomtown for boomers who want to spend their golden years with access to 11 a.m. happy hours, thousands of activities, and no-strings-attached sex, all lorded over by one elusive billionaire.”

villages tower

“This is one of the fastest-growing small cities in America, a place so intoxicating that weekend visitors frequently impulse-purchase $200,000 homes,” writes French. “The community real estate office sells about 250 houses every month.”

by the water

“The grass is always a deep Pakistan green. The sunrises and sunsets are so intensely pink and orange and red they look computer-enhanced. The water in the public pools is always the perfect temperature. Residents can play golf on one of 40 courses every day for free.”

villages street

“Happy hour begins at 11 a.m. Musical entertainment can be found in three town squares 365 nights a year. It’s landlocked but somehow still feels coastal. There’s no (visible) poverty or suffering.”

“Free, consensual, noncommittal sex with a new partner every night is an option.”

villages home

“There’s zero litter or dog shit on the sidewalks and hardly any crime and the laws governing the outside world don’t seem to apply here.”

“You can be the you you’ve always dreamed of.”

golf carts aplenty

The first thing you’ll notice when you enter The Villages is that there are golf carts everywhere:

villages - golf carts at day

The place is designed to be a self-contained small town, so a car seems like overkill. If it were in Europe, you’d see more bikes, but this is America, dammit, and right after the rights to big portions of cheap food and assault rifle ownership comes the right to drive anywhere you damn well please.

That bit of social commentary out of the way, I have to say that the custom golf carts they’ve got there — some of which cost as much as $25,000 — are pretty cool, and I want one:

villages golf carts

Since it’s the largest gated over-55 community in the world, life at The Villages is like an ongoing vacation with no shortage of activities. In Club Meds, French says that The Villages has over 2,200 “Resident Lifestyles Groups”, including “19 weekly opportunities for working with clay and 15 clogging groups”, a cheerleading club whose waiting list is two years long, a number of softball leagues,  and unsurprisingly, “no fewer than 39 clubs devoted to line dancing”.

Fans of the old TV series The Prisoner, set in an isolated place called The Village, where ex-spies are expected to live out their days, will be amused that a CIA retirees group that meets on the second Thursday of every month.

villages parade 1

Click the photo to see it at full size.

In a piece published in Slate last year, Tampa Bay Times reporter Craig Pittman writes:

My buddy Jerry has parents who bought a home in the Villages 10 years ago. When Jerry visited his folks after they first moved in, the place creeped him out with its Stepford-like uniformity. “It was like Disney World for old people,” he said. Then about five years ago he started thinking of it as “a college campus for old people. It’s like an expensive party school.” (His dad drove one of the golf carts in the parade that made the Guinness book.) Now, he says, he thinks of it as being “like a landlocked cruise ship. It’s got everything you want to do, 16 hours a day. But then everything shuts down at 10 p.m.”

sarah palin crowd

You’ve probably been asked this hypothetical question late into a party, gathering, or snuggle-fest with someone special, at that point when things get more contemplative: If you knew the world was going to end soon — perhaps tomorrow, in a week, a month or even in a year – what would you do? Many people start with the socially acceptable answer of “I’d spend time with the people I care about most”, but everyone eventually adds in “…and I’d totally cut loose and do what I’ve always wanted to do.”

If you live in The Villages, you’re answering that question every day. And if there’s something a lot of people have always wanted to do, it’s getting laid more. Here’s a key excerpt from Club Meds:

A waitress tells me about key parties at an Italian restaurant on Sumter Landing: “Golf cart keys get put in a fishbowl in the middle of the table, wives wait in the parking lot for their mystery dates.” I’m told about a prostitution ring that has recently been broken up. Orgies are said to be a regular occurrence. I am warned about women prowling around bars indiscriminately offering oral sex. There is reportedly a black market for Viagra. One of Bob’s buddies confesses to watching a couple fuck in a golf cart on a dead-end street. I’m told that sticking a loofah on your cart antenna signifies you’re into swinging. So does wearing a crimson button. According to multiple people, wearing gold shoes or letting your shirt tag stick out in the back signals you’re on the prowl. I hear a story about a scorned woman painting “YOU FUCKING PRICK YOU GAVE ME HERPES!” in red letters on her lover’s garage door. Recently, a married 68-year-old woman became a folk hero after getting arrested with a 49-year-old man for having sex in the square at Lake Sumter Landing. The cops brought her to jail and a Villages restaurant named a drink after her — Sex on the Square. It involves whipped cream and a cherry.

I couldn’t stop laughing at the bit about putting a loofah on your golf cart antenna as a signal that you’re up for some nookie. It reminds me of that Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where Captain Picard went to Risa, the vacation planet where carrying a tiki-like sculpture meant the same thing:

what happens in risa

I also wondered how people there would interpret the antenna-topper currently on my car:

domo-kun antenna topper

Back when I lived in Toronto, I was in a condo that seemed to be a mix of young couples and retirees (“newly-wed and nearly dead,” I used to quip). I was on a floor where most of the people were retirees, and that’s when I learned something about the fear of being along as you get older.

When my wife left me, I ended up in the hospital. The older folks on my floor, who generally called me “Jose”, “Joe”, or “Accordion Man”, found out through the grapevine. After I got home from the hospital, I found myself inundated with casserole dishes from my neighbors and feasted well on Polish, Ukrainian, and Yugoslav meat-and-potato meals for a month.

I winced with a little self-recognition at this passage in Club Meds:

Cork moved down here four years ago; we get to talking about his wife of 37 years and the day that she learned that she had cancer and was going to die. “She was here and then she was gone,” he says. After her death, he got lost. His two sons got him through it. He spent a few months up in Maryland working on his oldest son’s house. They finished a room over the garage — kitchen, plumbing, the whole kit and kaboodle. When they were done, Cork’s son asked him stay there for good. He wasn’t about to put himself out to pasture. He had to make a new life for himself. “We busted our asses for retirement. We saved. She died so suddenly and now I’m reaping the benefits of all that hard work and I feel so guilty.”

He wound up down here. “When I moved, a friend asks me, ‘How many fridges you got?’ I says, ‘Two.’ He says, ‘Once the ladies find out you’re unattached they’re going to start bringing casseroles!’” And they did.

Yours Truly in the hospital, January 2011.

I shouldn’t be here. If the super-flu I caught at the start of 2011 had done its job properly, you wouldn’t be reading this because I wouldn’t have been here to write it. Every moment from that time onwards is bonus time, and I live with that awareness every day. Maybe that’s why I get what the people in The Villages are up to.

That awareness is what led me to go on two dozen flights in 2011, move to Ottawa for the summer, start dating a lovely young lady in Florida, take a chance of starting a business with an old friend (now ex-friend) from high school, and pull up roots and start over in Tampa, and I’m still a decade away from being eligible to live in The Villages. The people who live there have retired, and live with daily reminders that there are likely fewer days ahead of them than behind them, and they’re living in the best way they know how. Given that it’s Florida, where no idea is a bad one, and that they have fewer reasons to worry about what other people will think than ever before, many of them are living large.

They’re all facing the question “How do I want to spend my final years?”, and some of their answers are spectacular.

welcome to the villages

There’s a lot more in the Club Meds article, and I recommend it for your Monday reading. In the spirit of The Villages and as an expression of my own philosophy, I’ll close with this little ditty from 1997:

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Following up on The Economist’s infamous book review Sun, 07 Sep 2014 17:41:47 +0000


boingboing logo

Thousands of readers paid a visit to this site yesterday, thanks to Cory Doctorow’s article, The Economist defends America’s enslavement of Africans, which referred them to my article on the matter. Thanks, Cory!

I can’t think of a better description

A photo of my legroom in United’s “Economy Minus” class.

If you ever need to describe The Economist to someone, you might do well to borrow Leah Finnegan’s lede from her recent article:

The Economist is an intentionally fusty British news-aggregation magazine for people who pretend their Economy Plus airline seat is a wing chair by the roaring fire in a manor house.

The funny #economistbookreviews continue!


If there’s an upside to The Economist’s terrible book review, it’s that it’s given rise to a burst of creative writing. Ever since they published the review, and even more so after their retraction, Twitter users have been writing capsule reviews of well-known works (tagged with #EconomistBookReviews), in ways they imagine The Economist would’ve written them:

The other hashtag: #NotAllSlaveOwners

The other popular hashtag made in response to The Economist’s review is #NotAllSlaveOwners, which plays on the recent #NotAllMen, which summarizes this attitude:

Hipster Reagan was Economisting before it was cool

ronald reagan

Rick Perlstein observes:

So The Economist got in trouble for a review that complained a book on slavery was unkind to the people who owned the slaves. Guess who said something similar about “Roots”? Ronald Reagan, quoted in the Washington Post, February 14, 1977, p. A3:

“Very frankly, I thought the bias of all the good people being one color and all the bad people being another was rather destructive.”

Thanks to for the find!

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Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope), with its dialogue sorted into alphabetical order Sat, 06 Sep 2014 14:20:55 +0000


This video shows the first (or fourth, depending on your point of view) Star Wars film — Episode IV: A New Hope — recut so that its dialogue is sorted into alphabetical order. Each word is displayed on screen along with a count of its occurrences in the script. It runs 43 minutes and change, although you probably wouldn’t want to sit through the entire thing:

Everyone associates lightsabers with Star Wars, so you might be surprised that the word is used only once in the film:


Even Wedge — one of the few rebels who survives the original trilogy — gets mentioned more than lightsabers in the first film:


This is a project you wouldn’t want to do purely manually. If I were assigned this task, I’d write a program that would make use of the subtitle file to identify and sort every word in the dialogue, and the approximate time — give or take some fractions of a second — when each word is uttered. Courtesy of the people behind the Matroska file format for videos, here’s a sample of a subtitle file, which should give you an idea of the information they hold. Oddly enough, it features dialogue from another Star Wars film:

00:02:17,440 –> 00:02:20,375
Senator, we’re making our final approach into Coruscant.

00:02:20,476 –> 00:02:22,501
Very good, Lieutenant.


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The “slavery wasn’t THAT bad!” book review in The Economist, the hashtag that came from it, and some observations Sat, 06 Sep 2014 03:18:47 +0000

The review and its withdrawal

the half has never been told

You can generally count on The Economist to provide an amusing, and sometimes educational read, even when they’re trying a little too hard to be glib and clever-clever in that Oxbridge upper class twit kind of way. However, there are exceptions to every situation, and such an exception reared its ugly head Thursday night online and in print in the September 6th edition. That’s when they published an uncredited review of Cornell history professor Edward Baptist’s book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.

Here’s a screen capture of this execrable article, complete with a photo of Lupita Nyong’o playing her role of “Patsey” from 12 Years a Slave — who was both a slave and a concubine to her white master — with the caption “Patsey was certainly a valuable property”:

economist book review screen capture

The Economist’s anonymous reviewer or reviewers hated the book, their complaint being that it cast slave owners in a bad light. The two final paragraphs of their writeup serve as both a summary of their opinion and as an example of bigoted sophistry that will be cited in writing and ethics classes for decades to come:

Mr Baptist cites the testimony of a few slaves to support his view that these rises in productivity were achieved by pickers being driven to work ever harder by a system of “calibrated pain”. The complication here was noted by Hugh Thomas in 1997 in his definitive history, “The Slave Trade”; an historian cannot know whether these few spokesmen adequately speak for all.

Another unexamined factor may also have contributed to rises in productivity. Slaves were valuable property, and much harder and, thanks to the decline in supply from Africa, costlier to replace than, say, the Irish peasants that the iron-masters imported into south Wales in the 19th century. Slave owners surely had a vested interest in keeping their “hands” ever fitter and stronger to pick more cotton. Some of the rise in productivity could have come from better treatment. Unlike Mr Thomas, Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.

The article is bad enough in and of itself. At a time when America is still feeling the after-effects of its slaver history, from the continued activities of the Tea Party to Ferguson, publishing it is…well…


Needless to say, all their equivocating — which boils down to “Of course people who were treated as sub-human farm equipment because of the color of their skin were going to be biased against slavery!” and “Sure, they were whipped, but not so badly that they couldn’t produce higher cotton yields!” — led to complaints aplenty from the still-sizable non-Klan portion of the internet, and The Economist withdrew the review. To their credit and in “the interests of transparency”, they left the text online (but thankfully removed the photo of Patsey along with that terrible, terrible caption), along with doing some editorial distancing:

There has been widespread criticism of this, and rightly so. Slavery was an evil system, in which the great majority of victims were blacks, and the great majority of whites involved in slavery were willing participants and beneficiaries of that evil.

The #economistbookreviews hashtag is born


In the age of social media, you have more options than writing a letter to the editor (although I’d still recommend doing so, just to make sure that they get the message), and thanks to this fact, the #economistbookreviews hashtag was born. On Twitter, it accompanied imagined book reviews written with The Economist’s ruthlessly amoral sensibilities:

Some observations

book in chains

These days, many people use the internet to inform their purchase decision-making, and it’s often the reviews that help tip the scales in the buy/don’t buy decision. If it was The Economists’ reviewers intent to kill the sales of this book for having the temerity to suggest some white people’s ancestors treated black people like beasts of burden, it’s likely backfired. The review has been covered in the Washington Post’s blog, Talking Points Memo, Slate (who give some advice, including the obvious “Don’t use movie stills in a review of a book about slavery”), The New Statesman, Poynter, Business Insider, and even Gawker.

but its capitalism

History professor Will Mackintosh has an interesting explanation as to how the review survived editorial scrutiny, and why the visceral response to it seems to have taken them by surprise:

Here’s my theory: as a magazine, The Economist is perhaps the most articulate, erudite defender of the neoliberal capitalist order. They are too smart to waste their time as Laffer curve snake-oil salesmen or crude economic nationalist (cough cough, Wall Street Journal, cough cough), but nevertheless, the main commitment of their reporting and their commentary is to defend late modern global capitalism as an economic and moral good. Think Davos, not the Tea Party. And that’s why they don’t like Baptist’s book: it demonstrates unequivocally that modern capitalism was born in blood. Let me say that again: whatever else you might say about capitalism, it took on its characteristic modern forms of capital accumulation and labor “management” in the context of American slavery. For a group of journalists with a deep, almost unarticulated commitment to modern capitalism’s fundamental benevolence, this is an uncomfortable truth indeed.

Hence the critical review, and the particular nature of The Economist‘s criticisms. The book has to be wrong, because if it isn’t, then capitalism isn’t an inherently moral economic system. And it has to be wrong specifically in its description of how capitalism exploits labor. The review has to hold out hope that slavery provided incentives for slaveowners to treat their slaves better, that “the rise in productivity could have come from better treatment,” because otherwise, the book gets uncomfortably to the reality that modern capitalism gets its increases in productivity at the expense of its workers, too. That last point is pretty obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention since 2008 (well, and since the 1970s), but it’s one that The Economist’s ideological commitments can’t allow it to confront. And that’s why we got such an ugly and weird review of Baptist’s book … and why they withdrew it, with such apparent bewilderment.

cotton plants

A blogger going by the nom de plume of Pseudoerasmus Boukephalos, whose primary interests are “economic growth, history & development, plus the related issues of political and social modernisation” also read the article and took a tack removed from any of the moral issues involved. He decided to challenge the book’s thesis that it was the judicious and careful use of beatings that boosted the cotton yield:

The Economist‘s elf was lazily speculating, a priori, about what could have been the determinants of efficiency in southern cotton production. It’s possible the reviewer is familiar with some of the arguments and debates surrounding Time on the Cross, one of whose many controversial arguments was that slaves were becoming ever more valuable property in the antebellum American South and were therefore better treated than commonly supposed. But I doubt that literature is known to the reviewer, because then he would have been familiar with recent research on the sources of increased efficiency of cotton agriculture in 1800-60.

He produces charts that show a 2.3% annum growth in the cotton yield for 60 years straight and argues that you can’t get this kind of boost except through technological innovation. Improvements in cotton harvesting tools along with the introduction of new strains of cotton plant that produced more white fluffy stuff and were taller, and thus easier to pick.

everything you were tauight about the civil war is wrong

Not a parody, but an actual book. Click to see its Amazon page.

If you’ve read this far, go and read this essay: In Defense of Revisionism. Here’s an excerpt:

There was a time, for example, when historians didn’t worry much about the slave trade and the emergence of an economy based on forced labor. Historians likened the plantation to a “school,” and emancipated people as children let out of class too soon. Only slightly more than a half-century ago, historians began to “revise” that narrative, examining sources previously ignored or unseen, informed by new ideas about race and human agency. More recently, scholars have revised 19th-century images of the “vanishing Indian,” a wildly inaccurate narrative that lives on in public monuments and popular lore, and has implications for public policy.

This essential process of reconsideration and re-evaluation takes place in all disciplines; imagine a diagnosis from a physician who does not read “revisionist” medical research.

Revisionism is necessary — and it generates controversy, especially when new scholarship finds its way into classrooms…

economist unpaid internships

In the same Economist issue as the review is an article on internship which has the subtitle “Temporary, unregulated and often unpaid, the internship has become the route to professional work”. I sense a pattern here.

Thankfully, none of their writers have used this to back a retort along the lines of “See? We know what toiling without a wage is like!”


We shouldn’t let The Economist off the hook so easily, but we should also remember the times when they do listen to the better angels of their nature (and yes, despite my foreign, non-American schooling, I know that’s a Lincoln quote). Last year, in honor of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, they published an essay that was considerably higher-minded, and which ended with this paragraph:

America’s shameful past is fading. Skin colour is nothing like the barrier it once was. But the “pursuit of happiness” to which King referred is never easy, and never ends.

There’s more in a follow-up article.

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Sign of the day Fri, 05 Sep 2014 15:25:07 +0000

sign of the day

Click the photo to see the source.

This photo, taken from @TechnicallyRon’s Twitter account, was taken at Covent Garden station on London’s Underground.

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T-shirt of the day Fri, 05 Sep 2014 13:37:04 +0000

screw your lab safety

Found via Peach Flambee. Click the photo to see the order page.

At $28.00, it’s a bit pricey for what you get. You can probably do better by going to your local “we’ll iron a custom slogan on a blank t-shirt” place.

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Worst. iCloud password. Ever. Fri, 05 Sep 2014 03:36:41 +0000

i am groot password

Comic via The New Yorker, found via Laughing Squid. Click to see the original.

If you read this blog, you know my take on taking photos of your pelvic sorcery. I should write an article on how to make a decent, more secure password.

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Meanwhile, in Austin… Fri, 05 Sep 2014 03:25:58 +0000


Found via Catsmob. Click the photo to see it at full size.

Oh, Austin. Please stay weird.

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In defense of the nude selfie Thu, 04 Sep 2014 01:57:52 +0000

joey devilla receives a pic from a lady

The author, enjoying a saucy selfie sent to him from a special friend.

Attention straight men: Due to some fortunate combination of your looks, likability, and luck, there may come a time when some lovely woman will write you a love note, in either paper or electronic form. If you’re especially lucky, you’ll get a lust note. And, if the stars align and you’ve made a particularly good impression on her, she’ll decide that you’re worth the risk and send you a photo of herself that’s a little more intimate than the usual. I’ve been lucky enough to receive all three kinds of gifts, and I’m grateful for each and every one.

Each of these gifts comes with a certain amount of trust. She, either rightly or wrongly, has some faith that you’ll be a grown-ass man and have the good sense to use the sort of discretion that grown-ass men use in intimate conversations. What she sent was for you and you only, and that trust applies for all time. Even if decades have passed and you’re no longer on speaking terms, what she sent to you was private, and not something to share with your friends for bragging rights or post online because you’ve got issues, had a few drinks and want to score some points in a long-unresolved fight between the two of you.


Unfortunately, not all adult men are grown-ass men, and that fact, combined with a technology that turns all of us into publishers, is why we have revenge porn. Of the respondents to McAfee’s 2013 “Love, Relationships and Technology” survey, one in ten have “threatened that they would expose risqué photos of their ex online”, and nearly 60% of those people followed through with said threat.

Even if you’re a grown-ass man who treats such gifts with gentlemanly discretion, there are are still men who think of them as trophies to be mounted for the world to see, and will go to very absurd, very disturbed lengths to get them, and then defend themselves by misusing the right to free speech.

Telling women not to send naked pictures of themselves to their lovers is not the answer. Having received my fair share of saucy photos from full-on girlfriends and the occasional amie avec benefits, let me go on the record and say that I don’t want to live in a world where there isn’t a possibility that a special someone might send you a “for your eyes only” selfie.

Such admonishments also miss the point. Perhaps you and your significant others don’t send or store naked photos on your desktop and mobile computing devices, but surely there’s stuff that you’d like kept private. Perhaps it’s love notes, or other correspondence. Maybe it’s pictures of the kids. If you’re reading this blog, chances are that you’ve entered your credit card number onto a web page or have done online banking.
To put it more simply, why is it Jennifer Lawrence’s fault when someone breaks into the servers that store automatic backup copies of her private photos, but not a Target customer’s fault when their automatically-made records of their credit card numbers get stolen?

Part of the problem is that a too-large contingent of guys seem to have bought into Peter Griffin’s maxim about women: “Women aren’t people. They are devices built by the lord Jesus Christ for our entertainment.” Some of them have expressed outrage about the NSA and the government invading their privacy, but don’t seem to have any issue with someone invading an actress’ privacy. After all, the former is a violation of my rights as a citizen of a free country, while the other is just me getting some harmless stroke material thanks to some chick being stupid, amirite?

your porn collection

I bring up the topic of “stroke material” because I want to point out the fact that the internet is chock full of places where you can see naked women, and not just in still photos, but full motion pictures, and even in high definition! Hard to believe, but true. Better still, they’re doing it willingly. The problem is that for some guys, the “willingly” part just isn’t fun enough.

As David Futrelle points out on his excellent blog, We Hunted the Mammoth (a site devoted to skewering misogyny and the very messed-up culture of Men’s Rights Activists in particular):

The enthusiasm with which so many male Redditors – and skeezy dudes in general – have greeted this latest leak of celebrity pics makes one wonder if it is not the celebrity of the women in question that is the draw but the lack of consent. After all, there are plenty of other celebrity nudes out there that the celebrities in question consented to have taken and published.

erin andrews

Do you remember the story about the video featuring sportscaster Erin Andrews from 2009? It wasn’t a video she made, nor was it acquired by figuring out her password or electronically breaking into a computer. A sorry-ass sleazebag by the name of Michael David Barrett stalked Ms. Andrews, booked a hotel room next to the one she was staying in (which required the cooperation of some hotel staff), and shot video of her through a series of peepholes. It was posted online, and went viral because a lot of guys thought that their need to see Ms. Andrews nude trumped her need for privacy. It’s all part of a mindset that goes “She’s pretty, she’s famous, and she owes me some skin.”

Barrett ended up doing two and a half years in prison, which oddly enough, has led online “creepshot” forums to be very protective of the privacy of people who violate women’s privacy. Here’s what the subreddit (Reddit-speak for a subsection of the site) featuring Jennifer Lawrence’s image provides as a warning to would-be snitches:



The creeps live in a paradoxical state of both wanting to be with a woman and holding them in utter contempt. They get their kicks from violating women’s privacy, and you’re only feeding their fire by looking at the photos they’re circulating and parroting their “You took those photos, it’s your own damn fault” line. Don’t do that.

Instead, live your life in such a way that someone will find you worthy of a saucy selfie. Trust me, it’s a wonderful thing to get.

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