Monthly Archives: March 2015

Warm Notice




There’s something about translating things from other languages that accidentally ends up creating art. I’m guessing whatever was written in Chinese was more formal or “conventional”, but when translated to English we get the funny idea of a warm notice to not take drugs and go whoring.

There are other cool things that happen when we translate from other languages, or when we get writers who write in English but think primarily in their mother tongue. People from Ethopia write English very differently from people from Japan. It reminds us that language colors the way we think, and the way we see and view the world– the metaphors and lenses that we use.

It’s quite magnificent and mind-blowing. Especially considering how many problems only get solved when we look at things from a different point of view.

Street Art


It’s always interesting to think about the distinction between street art and graffiti. Graffiti makes the place uglier, street art makes it more beautiful. Graffiti makes you cringe, street art makes you think, makes you feel.

I especially like how the art here looks almost like it was written by an official town council or road pavement person. The semblance of official-ity makes it more powerful than if it were, say, “gangsta script”. It feels more authoritative.

I  suppose it boils down to context-sensitivity. Understanding why people are using something, what they expect to see, and how they expect to interact with things. If you disrupt or damage that experience, you’re a cost. If you add more than you subtract, that’s art.

Organized Violence


Wouldn’t it be interesting if the outfits were reversed– if it were dark-skinned men with batons and weapons standing in a circle around cowering light-skinned men with their hands clasped behind their heads?

I wish somebody would take that picture.

It’s interesting to think about organized force and violence. Where did the idea of property begin? We were nomadic at some point, hunting and gathering wherever we went. Then some of us become more territorial, when they found certain spaces that were recurringly more valuable to they  than others. They’d have guarded those territories by force– how else do you claim ownership to something? Can you claim to own something if someone can simply take it away from you?

So over time you have walled settlements, with men with clubs and swords and spears guarding them on behalf of everybody.

Today we have police forces, armies, jails. All of these things are simply organized force. Even if 99.9% of society never had to raise a fist at anybody else, the entire functioning depends on the promise of violence against anybody who flouts the rules that the rest agree upon.

Imagine if an alien showed up and decided to simply start killing people and taking their property for fun. Imagine if then the police arrested the alien, and they brought him to court for a trial. Imagine he then uses his alien powers to simply decimate the court itself, vaporizing the judge and jury with his alien powers.

Where are your laws now? What can you do against someone who has simply more sheer physical force than your entire justice apparatus?

I joked with a friend that a mafia mobster who wanted to fry bigger fish should go into banking. My friend replied, “Ah, yes, going clean.”

What’s the difference between clean and dirty?

It’s not as straightforward or substantial as you might think.




It’s really strange how we sexualize women’s bodies. Is there anything horribly wrong with the above picture? Why shouldn’t children be able to see this?

They shouldn’t be able to see this because we are perverts, and we can’t look at a woman’s nipples without thinking about sex, and we can’t think about sex without thinking about it as some sort of sinful, dirty thing.

And at the same time, we plaster our walls with almost-there advertising, our magazines are loaded with sex tips and insinuations that we’re not sexy enough. But sex is sinful and something to be hidden.

Sometimes we look at women in conservative Arab countries and go, “Wow, how can people live like that?” Well– how do we live like this?

We’re absurd.

What will they laugh at us for?


It’s very easy to look back at the past and laugh and mock at what we now know to be outright wrong.

It’s not so easy to realize that we are, right now, laugh-worthy ourselves.

Many things about who we are today will absolutely horrify our grandchildren.

It’s worth thinking about what those things are.

Good Samaritan


The power of the parable of the Good Samaritan is diluted, because we no longer know the context. A Samaritan wasn’t just a stranger– he was a person from a different tribe, from a different culture. He was the Other.

Today, it might be the Good Atheist. The Good Muslim. The Good Nigger. The Good Faggot.

The Good Person.




It’s very difficult for people to notice small differences, small changes. If you want to communicate something effectively, you almost always have to exaggerate.

I saw a piece of advice on reddit the other day, which said– if you’re not sure whether you should do something, ask yourself if you’d do it 100 times. Because ultimately life is the sum of small actions, so take ood small actions.

Call And Response



When I first started out as a writer, I often felt burdened with the need to embody every single point of view, to cover all the bases. Carl Zimmer pointed out that this isn’t possible, not at all. At most you can do one point of view really well.

A cool hack is– you can have multiple voices, multiple characters. Different people can embody different things.

The above ad is funny because of the response. There’s a video of a dancing newscaster that’s funny primarily because his coworker is so embarrassed and awkward. She makes the video work. Without her, he would just be a guy by himself, having fun. Nothing significant.

Conflict. Contrast. Interplay. It helps us make sense of things. We think and see in stories.



Virgin Airlines Dancing Safety Video


A strange bias that people tend to have when working on “important” things is to think that things need to be sombre, serious, boring. The problem is that we’re simply not wired to pay attention to things that bore us, even if they’re important.

So be interesting. Have fun. If people aren’t paying attention to something, give it a twist and mix in some fun. Do it differently. Check out Shopify’s Terms Of Service, for example.

Also, humans seem to be intrinsically won over by synchronized dancing, if done well. There’s just something about it that appeals to everyone. You can’t stop watching. It might be as simple as “visual interest”.

Unconventional Heroes



A quick and simple way to make art is to use a lens that’s normally applied to one subject matter, and then apply it to another. The juxtaposition forces people to look at things from a different point of view, questioning both their lenses and the subjects.