“Being led by Barack Obama is like being trumpeted into battle by Miles Davis. He makes you want to sit down and discern.”—David Brooks in his column about the contrasting management styles of Chris Christie, Rahm Emmanuel, and Señor Obama.
Only in our wildest dreams [as pre-adolescent boys] did we think that the show might celebrate its liberation from network television by letting loose with a curse word. And only in our scariest nightmares would we have imagined that a mere 20 minutes into the movie, Optimus Prime, the most beloved of Autobots, would be killed by Megatron.
(Oh, and Orson Wells’ AND Scatman Curuthers’ final performances. For real.)
You have a hundred trillion of these guys in you right now. Before you were born, you had hardly any.
Back then, you were floating in amniotic fluid, protected, sanitized. Bacteria kept their distance. Until you slipped down that birth canal, you were pretty much spic-and-span.
Then came your birthday, and all of a sudden, you were invaded. From the delivery, from the doctor’s hands, from the first meal at your mother’s breast, from your older sister who kisses you (or, if no one’s looking, spits on you), from everyone, from everywhere came an army of bacteria that moved in and stayed.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Right now, in your mouth, in your gut, on your skin, you are carrying about 10 times more bacteria cells than human cells. If you swallow antibiotics and kill a lot of them, a few weeks later, the same bacteria come bounding back. They’re staying.
"We are, in essence, only 10 percent human," Dr. Roy Sleator, lecturer at Cork Institute of Technology in Ireland, told The Daily Telegraph. “The rest is pure microbe.”
What are bacteria doing in you? For you? Against you?
They look, yes, a little alien. This image of hairy lozenges cruising through an intestine are Escherichia coli (E. coli, for short), the bacteria now making people sick all over Europe. Bacteria also come in all kinds of shapes, strings, spheres, oblongs. But they aren’t all bad guys. In fact, without them, we wouldn’t survive very long. We need them to digest food, to produce vitamins. We use them to fight off the bad bacteria. In spite of what you’re reading in the papers this week, they are more helpers than hurters.
Now comes the big (and double) surprise.
First (I wrote about this a few years ago), scientists discovered that people around the world can have different communities of bacteria in our intestines. If we are hotels, we seem to attract very different guests. So as adults, we become identified with certain bacteria. Which has consequences.
I, for example, might have a lot of bacteria in me that are great at digesting oats. You? Your bacteria may not care much for oats. What happens if both of us have a giant bowl of Cheerios for breakfast?
I gain weight. You make more frequent trips to the rest room (and stay skinny). The bacteria in your gut may make you susceptible to certain diseases, to obesity, or they may make you less susceptible. Bacteria matter.
So why do different people attract different bacteria as they grow up? Here comes the second surprise.
Scientists assumed it must be cultural. Babies born in northern Alaska presumably drink milk from moms who eat fish, who live in cold, snowy places, have dogs as pets and attract one mix of bacteria.
Indian babies, on the other hand, have mothers who eat rice, potatoes, spices, have different pets, birds maybe, and create a different mix of bacteria. Different worlds produce different environments. That makes sense, no?
But — along come Peer Bork, Manimozhiyan Arumugam and Jeroen Raes from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany. They took a look at stool samples (aren’t you glad you didn’t become a biologist?) from a small group of Europeans and read similar studies from Japan and America and, startlingly, found that gut bacteria in humans don’t reflect local cultures. Not at all. Instead, said Peer Bork:
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
We found that the combination of microbes in the human intestine isn’t random. Our gut flora can settle into three different types of community — three different ecosystems, if you like.
And weirder still, food, diet, culture don’t seem to matter. Nor do age, gender or nationality. So if we look at a bunch of Alaskans and a bunch of Indians, it now seems their gut bacteria will not look that different. What’s more, all three “gut types” will show up in both groups. As blogger Ed Yong puts it, “In gut bacteria, we are united.”
The scientists don’t know how to explain this finding. It’s so startling.
Maybe further studies will change the result. After all, these subjects all come from rich countries (where packaged food and imported food may dramatically reduce the range of what people eat). Perhaps the pattern will change when they check stools in central Africa or Borneo. Plus, the initial data sample was small, just 39 people. But they’ve now looked at an extra 85 people from Denmark and 154 in America and the pattern is still there.
Here’s a possibility: It may turn out that when you take your first drink from your mother’s breast, the earliest bacteria set up shop and decide who gets to follow. In other words, instead of humans choosing their bacteria, the bacteria choose each other. A Daniel Boone bacterium arrives in your gut, builds some kind of barrier, and like a bouncer at a night club, only lets its “friends” in.
The mystery deepens: Why only three types? Nobody knows yet. Gut bacteria may turn out to be like blood types. We know there are A people and O people and B people. Now there may be Gut Type A, B and C people.
And if this turns out to be true, we may be able to go to the doctor, get our “gut profile” and discover that because of the population inside, we are slightly more likely to get fat or get ulcers, or hormone problems, or autism (yup, there’s a studyabout that), or at least get a little peek into our probabilistic future. While tentative, this science is telling us that each of us is a package composed of Mommy’s genes, Daddy’s genes and the bacterial genes that have moved in and stayed. We have a genome and we also have a “microbiome.” And the microbiome is a whole new window into who we are and are going to be.
(A great little musing on riding your bike home after going out. Bike-riders take note.)
I don’t think I could ever live somewhere you can’t bike wildly home after bar hours, in the summertime, with a low probability of harm. Sorry, Manhattan. It’s just the thing that makes me feel most alone in the universe and in the best possible way. It’s a thing that makes my heart beat control-free. Like I’m racing all of time. Like so thrilled. Like… I’ve never felt this way in a taxicab even when the driver was going like I’d said “follow him!” and was also a member of the 1970s Italian mafia, which is something that happens in Manhattan, I’ll give you that.
I’ve careened westward home all wind-beneath-my-wheels what feels like a million times, and is probably more like 275. I’ve biked high as a goddamn Boeing and sober as my mom. I’ve biked while smoking, crying over dick-all, eating banana popsicles, listening to M83 at like Fucked Up volume, wearing heels most people couldn’t climb stairs in, doesn’t matter. At night, biking, I’ve always known nothing could hurt me. At the time of writing this—it is night, but I am not in fact biking—I know this to be a lie. But sshhh. Lies are all we have, etc.
The other night it was really truly finally summer and I left my friend’s house alone on my bike. Sped along the bar-studded edge of gentrification. Plucked from the multi-tangle of side roads a skein to follow home. Skidded into the park next to our building. And collapsed. And actually saw, no, looked up at the stars. Which frankly is a movie-style thing I haven’t done much since I was a kid who visited my grandparents in the country and wrote poems.
Then I laid there and laid there still, forgetting to be depressed.
So this is the closest thing to an actual reason not to kill yourself I’ve ever told anyone, I mean, I thiiiink? I don’t know. You should try it, though. Drink a little but not too much and say goodbye to people you like at a reasonable semi-adult hour and get on your bike and fly home over the city, under the cooling sky, and believe but like actually believe you’ll never have to stop. Then when you do stop just try, in that heart-stopped, helplessness-attenuated minute, and tell me there’s something life isn’t doing for you.
The Zagat History of My Last Relationship (by Noah Baumbach)
I have no idea what reminded me of this but I went back and found it (from the New Yorker’s Shouts and Murmurs in 2002). It still makes me smile when I think of it.
Bring a “first date” to this “postage stamp”-size bistro. Tables are so close you’re practically “sitting in the laps” of the couple next to you, but the lush décor is “the color of love.” Discuss your respective “dysfunctional families” and tell her one of your “fail-safe” stories about your father’s “cheapness” and you’re certain to “get a laugh.” After the “to die for” soufflés, expect a good-night kiss, but don’t push for more, because if you play your cards right there’s a second date “right around the corner.”
“Ambience and then some” at this Jamaican-Norwegian hybrid. Service might be a “tad cool,” but the warmth you feel when you gaze into her baby blues will more than compensate for it. Conversation is “spicier than the jerk chicken,” and before you know it you’ll be back at her one-bedroom in the East Village, quite possibly “getting lucky.”
the chick & hen
Perfect for breakfast “after sleeping together,” with “killer coffee” that will “help cure your seven-beer/three-aquavit hangover.” Not that you need it—your “amplified high spirits” after having had sex for the first time in “eight months” should do the trick.
So what if she thought the movie was “pretentious and contrived” and you felt it was a “masterpiece” and are dying to inform her that “she doesn’t know what she’s talking about”? Remember, you were looking for a woman who wouldn’t “yes” you all the time. And after one bite of chef Leonard Desarcina’s “duck manqué” and a sip of the “generous” gin Margaritas you’ll start to see that she might have a point.
Don’t be ashamed if you don’t know what wine to order with your seared minnow; the “incredibly knowledgeable” waiters will be more than pleased to assist. But if she makes fun of “the way you never make eye contact with people,” you might turn “snappish” and end up having your first “serious fight,” one where feelings are “hurt.”
“Bring your wallet,” say admirers of Louis Grenouille’s pan-Asian-Mexican-style fare, because it’s “so expensive you’ll start to wonder why she hasn’t yet picked up a tab.” The “celeb meter is high,” and “Peter Jennings” at the table next to yours might spark an “inane political argument” where you find yourself “irrationally defending Enron” and finally saying aloud, “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Don’t let her “stuff herself,” as she might use that as an excuse to go to sleep “without doing it.”
At this Wall Street old boys’ club, don’t be surprised if you run into one of her “ex-boyfriends” who works in “finance.” Be prepared for his “power play,” when he sends over a pitcher of “the freshest-tasting sangria this side of Barcelona,” prompting her to visit his table for “ten minutes” and to come back “laughing” and suddenly critical of your “cravat.” The room is “snug,” to say the least, and it’s not the best place to say, full voice, “What the fuck were you thinking dating him?” But don’t overlook the “best paella in town” and a din “so loud” you won’t notice that neither of you is saying anything.
Prices so “steep” you might feel you made a serious “career gaffe” by taking the “high road” and being an academic rather than “selling out” like “every other asshole she’s gone out with.” The “plush seats” come in handy if she’s forty-five minutes late and arrives looking a little “preoccupied” and wearing “a sly smile.”
Be careful not to combine “four dry sakes” with your “creeping feeling of insecurity and dread,” or you might find yourself saying, “Wipe that damn grin off your face!” The bathrooms are “big and glamorous,” so you won’t mind spending an hour with your cheek pressed against the “cool tiled floor” after she “walks out.” And the hip East Village location can’t be beat, since her apartment is “within walking distance,” which makes it very convenient if you should choose to “lean on her buzzer for an hour” until she calls “the cops.”
zacharia and sons & co.
This “out of the way,” “dirt cheap,” “near impossible to find,” “innocuous” diner is ideal for “eating solo” and insuring that you “won’t run into your ex, who has gone back to the bond trader.” The “mediocre at best” burgers and “soggy fries” will make you wish you “never existed” and wonder why you’re so “frustrated with your life” and unable to sustain a “normal,” “healthy” “relationship.” ♦
We’ve seen plenty of companies that build furniture from reclaimed materials, but creative collective Unite Two Design caught my eye not only for the quality of their stuff, but for their ethos:
Sticking to our roots, UTD now recovers material from local farms, industrial sites and residential projects. Our raw, homegrown designs draw inspiration from the past, present, and future while working with the original form…Our unique, farm-raised furniture has a character and style all its own. Call it what you want, we call it farmpunk.
Things like these wine racks (the first made from a bulldozer sprocket and the second made from a drainage pipe and support beam from the 1800s) make me want to buy them, and I don’t even drink wine. Their website is loaded with a surprisingly dense collection of objects considering there’s only three members—Keith Traub, Jonny Sinclair and Theresa Daddona-Traub—and their Flickr page features even more projects, like the kick-ass gas tank lamp up top, and plenty of in-progress shots.
Be careful if you click the links. Unite Two Design’s sites are like quicksand—easy to get into, not so easy to get out of.
Here’s to the death of the everything-is-disposable culture.
Now that the economic downturn has well set in and there’s no booming recovery around the corner, it’s a good moment to take stock of the little things that have changed. Ed, a dry cleaner in Brooklyn, says, “I’m seeing a lot more repairs, a lot more patches.”
This is a long read for the weekend on how “big L”-Libertarianism has strayed from it’s founding ideas. I’m looking forward to digging into it.
Why even Robert Nozick, the philosophical father of libertarianism, gave up on the movement he inspired.
Recently, I overheard a fellow Amtraker back off a conversation on politics. “You know, it’s because I’m a libertarian,” he said, sounding like a vegetarian politely declining offal. Later that afternoon, in the otherwise quite groovy loft I sometimes crash at in SoHo, where one might once have expected,say, Of Grammatology or at least a back issue ofElle Decor, there sat not one but two copies of something called The Libertarian Reader. “Libertarianism” places one—so believes the libertarian—not on the political spectrum but slightly above it, and this accounts for its appeal to both the tricorne fringe and owners of premium real estate. Liberty’s current bedfellows include Paul Ryan (his staffers are assigned Atlas Shrugged), Glenn Beck (he flogged The Road to Serfdom onto the best-seller list), Slate's Jack Shafer, South Park, the founder of Whole Foods, this nudnik, P.J. O’Rourke, now David Mamet, and to the extent she cares for anything beyond her own naked self-interest—oh, wait, that is libertarianism—Sarah Palin.
Step 2: End up over 10,000 field workers short of what you need to harvest crops before they go bad because the immigrant workers afraid of being arrested in the ensuing immigration crackdown.
Step 3: Realize that the immigrant workers were way better and less whiney than the unemployed on-probation ex-cons that you now have to try to convince to work for minimum wage… and there’s not even enough of them to begin with.
John Dickerson defending Roger Ebert over on the Brow Beat blog… I think he’s spot on.
I’m glad Roger Ebert spoke up. Jackass performer Ryan Dunn killed himself and Zachary Hartwell Monday night in a car accident after leaving from a bar. Afterward, Ebert tweeted, “Friends don’t let jackasses drink and drive.” He was immediately set upon. How could Ebert be so crass? “I just lost my best friend, I have been crying hysterical for a full day and this piece of shit roger Ebert has the gall to put in his 2 cents,” Jackassstar Bam Margera wrote.
Ebert was right. I was sick to my stomach when I read about Dunn—but not because I knew Dunn or was a fan. I was sick for his friends and those who loved him, and for those who loved Hartwell, a former Navy Seal and newlywed. You can see the anguish in Margera’s face. What a waste.
But it wasn’t Ebert’s gall that bothered me. It was Dunn’s. He was driving 130 to 140 mph in his Porsche, endangering not only his life but Hartwell’s and that of anyone else on the highway. It takes gall to be that cocky with other people’s lives. It takes gall to be that careless with the love and friendship of your friends and family. Dunn, who’d been busted for speeding and drunk driving before, was also drunk. His blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. That takes gall, too.
Maybe Ebert spoke too soon, especially since at the time all he knew was that Dunn had been drinking, not that he was legally drunk. We withhold immediate judgment on the dead for a reason: We don’t want their last foolish act to be all that defines their life. We also want to be sensitive to the loved ones who are experiencing such pain.
But all of this pain is exactly why Ebert was right to speak up. This is the kind of pain that is caused by acting selfishly. Let the moment pass, and the lesson fades away. Maybe it’s insensitive to make a lesson of death, but when you break the public trust by driving at murderous speeds—and you further break that trust by doing it at twice the legal drinking limit—you lose the protection of privacy.
We just spent several weeks hearing thousands of opinions about Rep. Anthony Weiner’s lewd tweets. No one worried about crossing lines then, and few seemed to care about what the effect of the snickering commentary on Weiner or his wife or his family. It was as if his behavior opened the door to anything.
All Weiner did was send pictures. The stupid behavior underlying the sad deaths of Dunn and Hartwell is so much worse, and yet somehow Ebert isn’t supposed to speak up? If only someone had the courage to speak up and keep Dunn off the road before this awful thing happened.
John Dickerson is Slate’s chief political correspondent.
I just grabbed the earliest episode of You Look Nice Today that I could get. Hilariously. It”s not necessarily the kind of funny where you laugh out loud constantly, but I was smirking like a total fool the whole way through it. If you like your humor smart and wildly digressive (al la Paul F. Tompkins) you should check it out.
On a side note, I now know that callipygian means having well-shaped buttocks—but not necessarily because you’ve been walking around your office all day forgetting you had a softball-sized loofah in your back pocket.