Best-selling author and Hugo Award winner that he is, John Scalzi still maintains his fine blog, Whatever, and today on that fine blog he’s ranked the 14 Republican Presidential candidates according to how likely it is he would vote for any one of them, which by the way, is not at all likely, but still...He’s tanked them from, more or less, “Wouldn’t Vote for Him/Her to Save My Life” to “Ok, Maybe If the Future of the Universe Depended On It.” Trump, it turns out, doesn’t rank as his top Never In a Million Years Candidate. That distinction goes to Mike Huckabee for hard to argue with reasons. Trump comes in at Number 11. That is, there are 10 others Scalzi would vote for before he’d vote for Trump, and three, including Huckabee, he ranks worse than Trump. So Trump doesn’t win at either end of the scale and he’d hate that. You know how he always has to win. But Scalzi does give the Donald the best summing up:
The GOP establishment would like you to believe Trump was their summer fling, who in September didn’t take the hint that it was over, followed the GOP back home, and now drives by its house every hour to peer through the window, and texts at 4 am asking if the GOP wants to go to the local Waffle House just to talk.
But in reality, it’s terribly unfair to Trump to suggest this has not been an entirely consensual affair. Fact is, the GOP has been actively looking for a populist demagogue for years, one it could control with money. The GOP’s problem is that Trump has money — as he’s very happy to tell you, as often as you would like to hear and then again a few dozen more times after that — and he’s apparently perfectly happy to go full fascist, when the GOP knows you never go full fascist, you just hint and wink. But Trump’s looking at his supporters and seeing that they, at least, are ready for him to go full fascist, and Trump didn’t get where he is in American culture by being subtle, now, did he?
It’s a surprise to me, at any rate. I used to do this regularly and people said they appreciated it. Don’t know why I stopped and I don’t know what made me decide to bring it back, but here it is, an aggregation of my better posts from the previous month, December 2014, starting off with the end of the month and the end of the year and working backwards:
“Good cops, bad cops, hero cops, bully cops, corrupt cops, brutal cops, and bullies with badges.” This was supposed to be a three-part series of posts, my attempt to deal with protests following the Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict the cop who choked Earl Garner to death, but things escalated and I couldn’t keep up. I still don’t know how to complete it. But here are the first two posts.
Our late comrade in blogging, Al Weisel, known affectionately and infamously by his nom de blog Modest Jon Swift, started this tradition a couple years before he died in February 2010 at only 46 years old. He rounded up links from other bloggers and posted a year end compendium that resulted in lots of great reading for blog readers and much appreciated traffic and attention for the bloggers themselves. Jon’s/Al’s blog was widely read but unlike many A-list liberal bloggers he believed fervently in spreading the wealth and many of us owe our continued presence on the web to his generosity. Since his death, the Vagabond Scholar has honored his memory by taking on the job of putting together the roundup and this year’s has posted. Lots of great posts to read and new bloggers to discover. Topics are mainly political but also include, among other things, flowers, “Crazy Women”, how to write fiction, good dogs, good students, arctic exploration, and, appropriately, absent friends.
On her train ride home the other night, Mrs M found herself seated---stuck---across the aisle from a guy she described as a typical conservative loudmouth sounding off to a companion on various Fox News-approved Right Wing angers and resentments as if going down a list and checking off boxes. His running theme was that somebody, somewhere was getting way with something at his expense. Teachers! (For instance.) They make over a hundred and twenty grand while working only nine months out of the year!
The guy was in his mid-fifties, which I’ve noticed is about the age when men begin to become addicted to Fox News and also the age when they begin to face up to the fact they are going to get old and die, and as I’ve said before, I think the two are related. From other things he said, Mrs M deduced he’s in real estate, although she couldn’t tell in what way. All she could be sure of is his income depended on what other people decided to do with their money on any given day and it ate him up that he had no control over that. There are lots of ways to be in real estate and none of them guarantee you’ll get rich at it. The prospect of making a killing on any given day is what’s attractive about it to many people. The need to make a killing to compensate for the lat month of worse than no killings and to give you a cushion to cover you through the next month or next year is probably what drives many people mad. Mrs M couldn’t tell if he’d made any killings lately but if he had they weren’t giving him any satisfaction. He was too angry at how one way or another he’d be done out of money he should have and would have in the bank if not for Fill In the Blank With Anything But Bad Luck or His Own Mistakes. It’s always THEIR fault.
I must have been in a self-critical mood, though, because none of the usual sneering at conservatives passed through my mind as Mrs M related his rants and raves. What I thought instead was, He sounds like me.
I don’t mean in his politics, of course, or even in his tones of anger and resentment. I mean just in his spouting off in public without regard for the sensibilities of people stuck across the aisle and forced to listen as they try to unwind, relax, rest, read, and otherwise put their own hard days at the office behind them.
I do this all the time. And not just about politics. Name a topic, get a lecture. I’d like to think I at least know to keep it down, but I don’t always. I can get carried away. I can be like that pompous professor in line at the movies behind Woody Allen in Annie Hall and I’m sure many people trapped within earshot long to reach behind a poster and drag out Marshall McLuhan to tell me what an ass I am and to shut up.
I call this blogging in public, and I hate it when I catch myself at it. I hate it more when I catch myself at it with a group of friends blogging in public right along with me. I have many intellectual friends and a defining characteristic of intellectuals is we love to hear ourselves talk, especially when we don’t know what we’re talking about. We enjoy making it up as we yammer on. We call it theorizing but it’s mostly just mental games-playing and showing off like Tom Sawyer walking along the top of the fence, except we often don’t need there to be a Becky Thatcher there to impress.
(You saw what I just did there, didn’t you?)
Catching the group of us strutting our intellectual stuff like this can ruin a night out for me. I feel bad for everyone around us at a restaurant, in a bar, in the bleachers, on the train, or in line at the movies stuck nearby and forced to listen. But it’s not just that. I feel like we’re spoiling our own good time. We’re taking ourselves out of the moment, removing ourselves from the physical world, losing the connection between what’s actually occurring outside our heads and what we’re thinking. I especially hate it when the subject is politics, which it too often is, because then not only are we mentally removed from the scene, we’re in Washington or Albany, doleful places to be.
I’d blame our obsessing over politics on our spending too much time on the internet and watching the television bobblehead shows except that it’s been a feature of my social life since high school when there was no twenty-four hour news, when all you could watch on TV in the daytime were soap operas and game shows, when social media was a note taped to a locker, and when my communist girlfriend and I used to sneak off into a field next to school between classes and she’d instruct me on the evils of capitalism while we were both thinking about what we should have been doing under the circumstances and would have been doing if we weren’t a couple of shy, nervous, timid, and inexperienced proto-intellectuals distracting ourselves with talking about politics.
By the way, she’s a rabid Right Winger these days and refuses to read my blog.
I think politics is still a distraction for my friends and me, and I do blame the internet, social media, and twenty-four TV news, to an extent. Blogs, Twitter feeds, and television punditry encourage a reductively political view of life. The timelines of many of my Facebook friends are relentlessly political. Oh, they’ll interrupt themselves to post pictures of their pets and their latest meal and tor pass along news about their health or their jobs or their family and friends but they’ll quickly follow up with post after post after things in the news that have made them mad.
It’s the making ourselves mad that’s the trouble. Our anger isn’t productive. Nothing comes of it but frustration, discouragement, and more anger. There are problems that can be solved by talking about them but talk only goes so far in helping to solve others, political problems chief among them: it has to lead to action. And for too many of us political obsessives, the talk doesn’t even lead to the simple and easy action of picking up the phone and calling our Congresscritters. RT-ing a trenchant Tweet is fine, but it’s better to write an editor or call the mayor’s office. Even better, of course, is to go knocking on doors and showing up at offices. What’s happening in the streets of Ferguson, New York, D.C., Boston, and Berkeley shows what can be done through the internet and social media, although unions organized, Civil Rights were won, anti-war protestors marched without smart phones, and I’m an advocate of being politically informed and engaged simply as a basis for the most minimal forms of good citizenship. But for most of us most of the time the talk is just talk, the Tweets are just Tweets, and not because we don’t follow it up with action but because we know or at least feel there’s no action we can take that will change things. There are too many problems, too many competing interests, too much power and money allied against the change, too much else for us to worry about and to do. All we can do is get mad.
And that’s another trouble. Discouragement is pervasive. When we’re discouraged by one thing, we tend to let it discourage us about other things. The whole world begins to look bleak.
But I also think obsessing over politics is a distraction in another way. It’s a way to think about other people’s problems instead of our own, that is, we use it to avoid thinking about what else is bothering us and making us unhappy. And then it can become the case that we start mixing up our personal unhappiness with the general and from there we can trick ourselves into believing it’s up to politicians to solve our troubles---“If only those damn Democrats would get it together!” “If only the President would stand up to the Republicans!” “If only Elizabeth Warren would run!”---and we lose sight of the fact that there are ways besides taking partisan political action to make ourselves happier and improve our own lives and the lives of others.
And, as I suspect it does for that guy on Mrs M’s train, politics can provide an excuse for not owning up to our own mistakes and bad decisions and selfish and foolish choices. It’s always THEIR fault.
We just identify a different THEM.
Finally---and this is not trivial---a political view of life is a critical view of life. Politics is about making things better which is a way of saying it’s about fixing what’s wrong. And that’s important, but we shouldn’t lose track of what doesn’t need fixing. Not everything is wrong. A lot is right and much is good and some things are wonderful, even beautiful. And we often miss that the right and the good and the wonderful and the beautiful are right in front of us because we’re talking politics instead of paying attention to the nice meal on the table, the good company around us. With so much to catch up on, so much to share, our attention is focused far away on the likes of John Boehner and Ted Cruz, Bill O’Reilly and George Will. Bad enough we spoil our own good time by making ourselves listen to ourselves talk about them.
Pity the poor people around us.
I’ve got several posts in the hopper that are partisanly political and having written what I’ve written here I almost feel like I should apologize in advance. I’m even tempted not to post them. And maybe I won’t. Do you really want to know what I think about Elizabeth Warren running for President? More than you want to know what I thought about The Theory of Everything or about my other high school girlfriend’s---the Republican, not the Communist---confrontation with the relicts of dead saints on her first trip to Italy when she was twelve?
Ok, I’ll keep at it too, for a while longer anyway. Not that I was seriously considering walking away from my keyboard.
As a company, we are getting back to blogging. It’s the only truly new media in the age of the web. It is ours. Blogging is the essential act of journalism in an interactive and conversational age. Our bloggers surface buried information, whether it’s in an orphaned paragraph in a newspaper article, or in the government archives. And we can give the story further energy by tapping readers for information, for the next installment of the story, and the next round of debate.
One of my dreams since I’ve been blogging has been to make a road trip around the United States visiting friends I’ve made online along the way. Some of these friends I’d be meeting in person for the first time. At the top of my itinerary was Texas where I’d get to meet one of my very favorite online friends Phil Barron and his wife M and their famous cats. I really wanted to meet those cats, even though as you probably know I don’t like cats. But they were Phil’s cats.
I was also looking forward to eating some of his cooking which he routinely teased his virtual friends with on Twitter, always making it sound and look like what I’m sure it was, delicious.
And we’d trade medical tips. Phil and I routinely monitored each other’s health and reminded each other to listen to our doctors and take better care of ourselves. With Phil around---and it always felt as if he was around, even though he was a thousand miles away and only reachable through the ether---I felt I had somebody looking out for me.
A lot of people felt that way with Phil.
Here’s the thing. When you plan to do something like this, do it right away.
Over the last ten years I’ve read many great blogs that have been informative, many that have been entertaining, many that have riled me up and set me to work. There have been blogs that have made me think, blogs that challenged my thinking, some that have regularly changed my mind. There have been blogs that have made me feel smart for reading them.
There have been few that have made me smarter, very few that have done it while doing all the above. One of those very few, maybe chief among those, has been Lawyers, Guns & Money.
A decade ago today, when LG&M started, the liberal side of the bandwidth was crowding itself with blogs dedicated to proving that the legacy media was wrong about Iraq and George W. Bush, a worthy and necessary endeavor. Passionate and creative opinionizing and invective spewing ruled the day. But Rob, Scott, and Dave (djw) gave themselves the additional job of being right…about whatever subject they posted on, and their subjects were from the beginning, varied and wide-ranging. They made sure they knew what they were talking about before they started talking and they showed their readers where and how they’d got to know what they knew.
When they didn’t know, they were careful not to let opinions and speculations pass as knowledge. They made it clear they were still working things out, and they made that work interesting, fun, and enlightening. They were thinking out loud and made that both an entertainment and a lesson in how it should be done.
They were practicing the almost lost of art of being public intellectuals.
In the years since, the team has expanded, contracted, and expanded again, but each new member has blogged by that standard. Whatever their individual area of expertise, whatever their personal style and approach, they have all been careful to know what they’re talking about and to separate what they know from what they are working towards knowing. They know their stuff and they know lots of stuff about lots of other stuff, and the result has been that their thinking out loud has been an ongoing lesson in how to think about, well, everything really, politics, history, baseball, hockey, movies, teaching, art, dinosaurs, and, of course, law, military and foreign policy, and economics.
And they have one of the rare comment sections that are not just worth reading and contain real discussions but that actually enhance and expand the posts being commented on. So congratulations to Rob, Scott, Dave, and the gang for putting that community together and congratulations to that community for all they do for LG&M.
Oh, one more great thing about LG&M, at least in my opinion.
Thanks for that, gang, and thanks for ten great years!
But I didn’t know it. And it wasn’t that I thought she was straight. I didn’t think she was one way or another because I didn’t think about her one way or another apart from what I thought about her performances in movies of hers I’d seen.
What I knew about her sexuality was the result of a quick edit my ego did on my memory so I could appear smart to myself.
This is a favor people are always doing for themselves.
“I knew that!”
“I was just going to say that!”
“Tell me something new.”
All of the above are usually lies or, more charitably, the after-thoughts of reflexive acts of self-deception.
My point in that post was that memories aren’t to be trusted because they’re easily revisable. It’s as easy and as much a matter of course to “remember” something that didn’t happen as it is to forget something that did.
I figured what happened is that the file clerk in my brain stuck Page’s news with all the other information about Page I had stored in my mental attic but wasn’t careful about where he put it. It was just jumbled in there so that it looked and felt like something I’d known before. When I reached in to pull it out, I didn’t double-check the date stamp because I liked thinking I was in the know, even though I don’t really care about being in the know when the subject’s gossip about celebrities’ sex lives.
At least, I thought I don’t care.
Turns out I may actually have known and that, if I don’t care, I don’t not care, at least not enough to make sure I don’t pick up on any of the gossip.
Not too long after Page’s announcement, we were talking about her my Wired Critics class, not so much about her announcement, but how it might have an effect on her career, and not her sexuality so much as any information about her audiences have in their heads when they’re watching her on screen. I was leading into talking about John Wayne and The Searchers, which we’re going to be watching soon, and how what we know about movie stars and what we remember of them from other movies can affect our perception of their performances---that Ethan Edwards is played by the good guy might make it hard for some people to see him as a bad guy while the fact he’s a bad guy, or at any rate not the kind of good guy we’re used to see John Wayne play, might give other people a new appreciation for Wayne’s talent as an actor. But the discussion got deflected when my students expressed their surprise that anyone would be bothered by Page’s news in this day and age.
Bless their sweet, idealistic Millennial hearts.
This was the week after Arizona passed its No Gays Served Here law.
One of them went on to say that not only was she surprised anyone might mind that an actor in a movie happened to be gay, she was surprised anyone didn’t already know about Page.
It’s been pretty much an open secret, my student said. The reason for the announcement was that Page’s partner wants to get married and she didn’t want the news of their engagement to be overshadowed by the “news” a movie star is gay.
Now, it’s possible that my student was editing her own memories, “remembering” she’d read articles or seen stories on the web (Honors Students apparently don’t watch television) before that she’d actually read after. I didn’t quiz her. I just accepted that she kept on these things and knew what she was talking about. What occurred to me, however, is that whatever she’d read or seen I might have read and seen too.
Could have been an article. Could have been a video clip. Could have been a photo of Page with her partner, identified as a “friend”, in which their body language gave the “secret” away. Whatever it could have been, what very likely happened is that I read it, saw it, or decoded it, filed the information away, and then forgot about where and when I’d acquired it.
It was up there in my mental attic on an out of the way shelf that I had no reason to look into until Page’s announcement made the news.
So I did know it. (Maybe.) I just don’t know how I knew it.
And not too long after that class, I was talking to a friend about I forget exactly what except that it wasn’t about Ellen Page but must have been about some celebrity because whatever or whoever it was my friend took the opportunity to observe that I sure seem to know a lot about the lives of the rich and famous.
“A lot” is relative. She meant in comparison with herself.
She was curious about where I picked this stuff up, I think so she would know what to avoid and her mental attic wouldn’t get cluttered with it.
I couldn’t tell her.
I didn’t know.
But then, not long after that conversation, I was signing onto Yahoo to check my mail and instead of going right to my inbox as I often but not usually do, I decided to scan the headlines on Yahoo’s front page to see if there was any news I needed to know and that’s when I noticed!
I should say that’s when it dawned on me.
I don’t have my filters set so that the headlines get sorted into categories. This means that along with the news I get “news.” Stories about Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke are mixed right in with stories about the Crimea, health care, earthquakes, and traffic accidents in my home town. Lots of sports in the mix too. And when I scroll through the lists, looking for stories I want to read in full, I necessarily although reflexively and almost unconsciously read the headlines and blurbs of stories I don’t want to read.
Tell myself I don’t want to read.
Doesn’t take much to get the gist.
There’s more to it.
You can’t escape this stuff.
It pops up on Twitter. It’s all over Facebook. Tumblr, Reddit, even Instagram. Never mind social media. I might think I’m paging by it when I read the newspaper, but I probably read or at least skim whole stories without thinking about it on my way to reading something else or after reading something else on the same page. Watch TV anytime but especially as it gets closer to the time for the news and you’ll see it teased during commercial breaks. It gets into articles I do want to read, reviews, interviews, making-of stories. It’s there in the sidebars of serious websites. Can’t read Pierce’s blog without learning important stuff like “Olivia Munn Gets All the Sunshine She Needs.”
So far I haven’t learned who Olivia Munn is, but it’s just a matter of time and a few absent-minded page clicks.
Turn off the TV, shut down the computer, leave the newspaper out on the porch, and still, all it takes is for my gaze to wander while I’m in the checkout line at the supermarket.
But this isn’t a rant about the way the information stream is polluted with gossip and how all the news has been reduced to entertainment and entertainment is assumed to be gossip of one kind or another with the point being to use sex and celebrity to sell us more and more useless toys and junk.
This is a long sigh about the problematic nature of memory.
I don’t look for this stuff, but I don’t filter it out. Not enough of it. I’m not Sherlock Holmes keeping a jealous guard on the door of his mental attic---“I have Mrs Hudson on semi-permanent mute.” Stuff gets up in there and stored away without my noticing and I wind up knowing stuff I didn’t know I knew and don’t really want to know or need to know.
What’s more, it’s useless, not just in its being mostly trivial and irrelevant to my life. Since I don’t know how I know it, it’s filed away undated, unlabelled, and unsourced, I know it without knowing if it is in fact fact.
I can’t verify it. I can only go by memory, and my memory is unreliable.
And this is the case with just about everything I know.
Everything you know too.
It’s the problem with how we acquire information.
We pick things up and put them away as we go along without taking note of where we picked them up or taking care where we put them away in our heads. Things get mixed up, not just the good and the useful with the trivial and the false, but the apples with the oranges, the A’s with the B’s, the B’s with the apples, the oranges with the tangerines and grapefruit and kumquats and horseradish and car batteries. Little of it labeled. Little of it dated. Little of it sourced. All of it only there to the degree we clearly remember it.
We mix up fact with opinion, speculation with observation, fiction with history, not just mistaking one for the other but accepting all of them as valid at the same time and treating them as interchangeable, even as the same things.
We reach up into the spot where we’re sure we stored the socket wrenches and take down a unicorn and then fail to notice it’s a unicorn or even convince ourselves that the unicorn is what we meant to get.
Once upon a time, human beings knew and had to remember only what they picked up from direct personal experience or what they were learned from people they knew intimately telling them stories about their personal experiences.
This is how it went for millennia and it seems to have worked out well enough, except for its getting in the way of the development of civilization as we sat around the campfire telling each other the same old stories over and over again. But then somebody went and invented writing and all hell broke loose.
Now it was possible to know things second and third and fourth hand from people we didn’t know and wouldn’t ever know because they lived too far away or were dead. This should have meant that we no longer had to rely on our own memories or the memories of the people right next to us. We could just look it up. But that’s not how we’re wired.
We’re none of us Sherlock Holmes who actively and diligently doesn’t remember things in order to have room in his attic for other things as he needs them and in order not to make the mistake of depending on his memory.
Trust that we’ll remember it’s there, remember it completely, and remember it exactly.
All conversation that isn’t about what’s in our hands at the moment is a memory dump.
We think we’re stating the facts but it’s the facts as we remember them and while some people are by training, habit, and temperament better at remembering than others, most of us remember very badly. We end up telling each other stories based on what we remember we remembered.
This is just the nature of things, and I’m not sure how much it matters since most of the time what we’re saying to each other is just talk.
We need to be careful when the talk occurs on the job or in the classroom, but most of the talking we do we do to keep ourselves and each other amused, diverted, consoled, comforted, or from getting lonely. It doesn’t matter what we say as much as how we say it. It doesn’t matter what we think but what we feel. It’s the sound more than the sense we need. We talk to hear ourselves talk. We talk so that we know someone’s there to listen. We talk for the pleasure of each other’s company.
But what’s been true offlline for centuries has been true online for the past two decades, at least.
Here we are in the Information Age exchanging not information but opinions and just-so stories.
We sit at our computers or stare at our mobile devices and tell each other stories over and over again, depending mainly on our memory and assuming our memories match with everyone else’s because, well, that’s the way it happened, I remember it plain as day!
This is mainly a concern when the subject is work or learning, not so much when it’s cake recipes and cats. Most of us are mostly online for the company. But it causes trouble in the political precincts of Blogtopia (TM Skippy) where the virtual talk is intended to have consequences in the analog world.
It’s hardly worth mentioning the Right Wing Blogosphere here. It’s always been a department of the Republican Party’s Ministry of Propaganda. It’s a fact free zone devoted not to passing along information but to sharing outrage. Truth is decided by the degree of anger against THEM a story or a post incites an email incites. The object is to shout down opposition, especially the opposition that occurs inside one’s own head.
So forget them.
But it presents a problem for us on the western side of the bandwidth, precisely because we pride ourselves on having the facts. We are the reality-based community and we make a point of testing what we “know” against what’s really going on in the world.
We think we do, at any rate.
We’re constantly and voraciously gobbling up information, diligently and obsessively storing away facts. We visit all the important websites, read newspapers and magazines, check in with the A-list bloggers. We follow the links. We promise to Google it and sometimes actually follow through. We bookmark and like and favorite, reblog, retweet, and embed. The hopelessly optimistic among us g+. We watch Maddow, and Matthews, and Moyers, and Colbert. We live-tweet Presidential addresses and Cosmos. Some of us still even read books.
If we don’t have the facts at hand ourselves, we trust that Ezra, or Digby, or Silver, or Pierce, Coates, Krugman, Greenwald, or name your favorite do. We rely on the professional journalists to have gone to the source, forgetting that not only do the journalists have depend on their memories of what their sources told them but what those sources are telling them is mostly what they remember.
It all goes up there, uncatalogued, undated, unsourced, and unverified, stored haphazardly in the mental attic where it gets mixed up, recombined, revised, while it degrades and decays.
The result is that we spend a lot of time telling each other stories and arguing for our beliefs and our opinions as though they are facts.
We can’t be sure if what we know is drawn from something we read or it’s something we concluded or even made up based on something we read. And what was that something? Did our favorite writer or wonk or pundit or journalist really say it and if she did was it something she knows for herself or something somebody told her. Was she stating her opinion or quoting somebody quoting somebody quoting somebody. It’s almost impossible to know if we know something’s because it is true or because we failed to follow a link.
We don’t keep in mind that the very act of remembering can alter the memory.
We don’t keep in mind how easily our vanity can edit our memories so that socket wrenches come out as unicorns.
We’re engaged in a World Wide Web-wide exercise in editing each other’s memories.
This isn’t a criticism or a complaint. It’s just an observation. I don’t know if anything can be done about it. It’s the way things are. It’s the way we are.
Blogging and Twitter pal Philip Turner reports in from NYC: “Out on a late aft bike ride at the Hudson & the great gray bridge, w/the little red lighthouse. Mid 40s, light wind’ Thursday. March 14, 2014.
Be sure to visit Phil at the Mannioville Daily Gazette’s Favorite Blog of the Week, The Great Gray Bridge.
The gremlins that have taken up apparently permanent residence in our plumbing kept me busy all weekend so I wasn't able to follow through with my ambitions for pre-Oscar blogging. Not that you lose much by that, except one or two of my planned posts might have given you something to while away the time during an interminable acceptance speech or another inexplicable appearance by Cirque de Soliel. But don't worry. I still got you covered.
Every year the question gets kicked around Is the Best Picture winner ever really the best picture? I think the consensus is it never is. Some are less Best than others though and this leads to lists along the lines of Best Best Picture Winners of the Past and Worst Best Picture Winners of the Past. At BuzzFeed, Kate Arthur has done it a little differently and ranked all 85 Best Picture Winners so far against each other.
As for this year's Best Picture nominees? Well, as I've said, I haven't seen most of them. I don't have a strong rooting interest in any of the three I have seen, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, and American Hustle. I didn't like American Hustle anywhere near as much as a lot of people. I'm with Oliver Mannion who likes to quote the Honest Movie Poster he saw at College Humor, "It was...good?" The other two I thought were fine but from what I've heard 12 Years A Slave is way finer. Of the others I haven't seen yet, it doesn't seem like there's one I'd really hate to see win, except maybe The Wolf of Wall Street. But I'll never know because it's almost certainly not going to win and I'm almost certainly not going to see it even if it does.
Just doesn't interest me.
I think Leo's likely much better movie this year was The Great Gatsby.
The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t really about money or greed or the broken American financial system.
It’s about gender.
Martin Scorsese used the convenient cover of the public distrust of Wall Street institutions to sneakily deliver a lowbrow bacchanal that doesn’t rise to the level of Caligula, the 1979 film it clearly sought to emulate. Yet, Tinto Brassproduced better social commentary. Worse, Bob Guccione had more respect for women. And Caligula had better acting.
The relentless, endless, repetitive, underlying message of Scorcese’s Wolf is simple and brutal: women are commodities to be bought and sold.
Don't hold back, Tom. Tell us what you really think.
From the needs to be created Department of Lance Loves Science and There’s Still a Part of Him that Wishes He’d Gone Down that Path, Brian Switek writing at Tor:
Dinosaurs are great. They dominated the world for over 170 million years, and one line has survived to the present day as birds. But they’re hardly the be-all and end-all of prehistory. In the wake of the mass extinction that wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs, prehistoric mammals proliferated into a variety of astounding forms that were just as fantastic as those of the dinosaurs they succeeded. Instead of letting them be persistently overshadowed by dinosaurs, it’s time to give fossil mammals their due.
From there, Brian goes on to give Uintatherium, Andrewsarchus, Amphicyon, Gigantopithecus, Amebelodon, Paraceratherium, Thalassocnus, Maiacetus, Doedicurus, and Homotherium their dues.
Not Roy Edroso. And as far as I know, not his cat either. But a link to his review of the Coen Brothers’ latest, Inside Llewyn Davis, starring Oscar Isaac (above) and the cat (above) is below.
As regular visitors know, I’ve been having a hard time keeping up with the blogging because my back problems make sitting at a keyboard for extended periods a challenge. (See below.) Slowly but surely though I’m coming to the end of my review of American Hustle. I should have it done this afternoon. I’d finish it up this morning but I have to spend the next few hours sitting with the car in the shop. (See a different below.) But I’ve got good news for those of you who are in the mood for some Monday morning movie reading.
Roy’s best known around these parts for his hilarious reports from the Right Wing territories of the internet, but as his fans know, he’s a terrific writer, one smart cookie, and a guy who knows his way around the cineplex. In short, he’s a very fine movie critic and recently he’s written about the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street in posts that make me really sorry I’m probably not going to be able to see either.
I’d direct you to our usual Twitter hashtag so you could look at their live-tweeted responses to the movie but they were forbidden to open their laptops. No live-tweeting. Their assignment was to sit back and celebrate the work they’d put into the course and enjoy the movie for the movie’s sake.
But it wasn’t as though Julie & Julia wasn’t relevant to the class. After all it’s about a blogger and it raises some good points about things we’ve discussed and our students have put into practice on their blogs about the art of blogging and what good it does for bloggers and their readers. I’ll be posting about that. But there’s actually more relevance than that.
I’ve liked to joke that the course should have been called Blogging for Fun and Very Little Profit. Its real name, thunk up by my teaching partner, Steve Kuusisto, is Public Intellectuals and the Digital Commons, which is not only more impressive but implies our aims for the course.
The object was for our students to use the blogs they started to begin to establish a professional presence on the internet and make connections through their blogs and other social media---Twitter, Facebook, reddit---with people working in their chosen fields of study and join the public discussions and debates taking place in those fields on the web. They were, Steve and I urged, to think of themselves as budding public intellectuals helping to ask and answer the questions that will define their fields and so shape their careers and their lives.
This required us to come up with a definition of public intellectual that did not necessarily include a sinecure at a think tank, tenure at an Ivy League-level university, or regular op-ed space in the New York Times.
This turned out to be trickier than we’d expected---mainly because a lot of the public intellectuals we pointed to as examples were completely unknown to our students, which I’m embarrassed to say is more of a comment our old fogeyness than on their youthful ignorance.
You never heard of Norman Mailer?
Oh, that’s right, he died when you were twelve.
(It should be noted that they now know who Norman Mailer was.)
It was easier, and more effective, to focus on what public intellectuals do, never mind who they are, and then tell them to do it themselves or at least make a point of trying when choosing what to write about on their blogs.
Public intellectuals don’t just join the debate. They help shape it. They work to decide what questions get asked, which questions get answered, which answers are correct, and what new questions those answers raise.
They have to be professional doubters. They have to be skeptical, self-questioning, contrarian. But not reflexively, crankily contrarian. Their professional attitude isn’t a grumpy Blow it out your ear! More of a politely put but still tough-minded, Sez you!
Public intellectuals spend a lot of their time saying, Hold on here. Let’s think this through. How do we know this is true or not true? What do we really know about this? How do we know it? What if we don’t actually know what we think we know? What if instead of things being this way they’re this other way or that other way or no way at all?
As they’re usually thought of, public intellectuals are mainly engaged in the broadly political debate---“broadly” as in encompassing the economic, sociological, and cultural issues that obsess the collective psyche.
But every field of endeavor has to ask and answer questions about itself. Within every course of study or profession, there are political, economic, sociological, and cultural debates. There are practical and ethical issues that need to be examined, re-examined, argued and re-argued. These are all subsets of society and what goes on within them affect the course of society at large so that within any of them there are thinkers and writers doing the work of being public intellectuals. And by that light, our other guest, Farran Smith Nehme, known far and wide as the classic film blogger the Self-Styled Siren, is definitely a public intellectual and a highly effective one.
Through the example she set on her blog with her fine and lively writing, demonstrable knowledge, high standards, and taste, as well as the calm, loving, and self-amused and self-deprecating approach she takes towards her subject, she has not only helped lead the online discussion of classical films but has been influential in building the community of classic film fans and bloggers that now exists on and offline.
And all of which taken together is why her influence extends beyond that community.
Plus she gets things done.
By that light, Julie & Julia wasn’t just relevant to the course, we might have been better off showing it the first day of class instead of saving it for last, because it is very much about a public intellectual.
Julia Child wasn’t just promoting a hobby. She was advocating an approach to life that was as intellectually rigorous, demanding, and subversive as it was joyful, sensuous, and physically and emotionally pleasing. (Its subversion lay in its joyfulness.) In order to do what she did, she had to challenge any number of orthodoxies, conventions, prejudices, and preconceptions; break down barriers, professional, cultural, and personal; set and re-set standards; and change the way people did things and thought about what they did and thought about their lives and themselves.
She had to be contrarian in rejecting the ideas that the gourmet kingdom was a male kingdom, that high culture, that is, European culture (represented by French cuisine), was and should be available only to the well-off and the well-born and definitely not to “the servantless American housewife,” that a woman did things in order to "have something to do” when she wasn’t minding the children or picking up around the house and she needed “something to do” because she didn’t have any thing real to do, like a career, and then that a career was something you did for money and status and not for the joy it brought you and others.
And she was self-questioning, as well, constantly experimenting, testing, refining, reimagining, and reinventing recipes, redefining the whole process as she went.
Food and cooking were the medium and the process through which she explored one of the most important questions a society and a culture have to ask themselves in order to know themselves, What are we here for?
Her answer, at least as it appears in the movie, was We’re here to enjoy being here and to help others enjoy it to.
Her platforms were her cookbooks and her TV shows. Julie & Julia doesn’t get into the importance of the TV shows, particularly her first one, The French Chef, produced by WGBH in Boston and broadcast on the precursor of PBS, the National Educational Television. I don’t know how she thought about it herself, but I’m willing to argue that she and Fred Rogers, who was himself a public intellectual by any definition, were the driving forces that firmly established public television as an institution and a defining cultural presence. The point of television before they came along was to make money. In fact, it was more or less accepted that it could only exist as a money making enterprise.
The French Chef and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood proved television could be something more than “chewing gum for the eyes.”
The pizza was good. Meryl Streep was great. The course was fun. Our students were terrific and their blogs are all off to good starts. If you’d like to keep up with them and get an idea of what were doing in the course, our Facebook Page, Digital Commoners, is going to remain open for business. Please join the conversation. And please follow them on Twitter.
Frank Schaeffer, author, artist, blogger, and uneasily loving but apostate son of prominent fundamentalist parents:
To be true to the heart of the gospel message — redemption through selflessness, hope and Love — necessitates a fearless repudiation of parts of the same book (and tradition) that also brings us a message of hate. To find the spiritual truth that’s hidden within the Bible it must be edited by people of good will who are informed by the spiritual truth we carry within us.
The loyalty of those who wish to live as Christians as opposed to those who wish to force others to be like them, by using Christianity as a weapon, must shift from fidelity to the Bible (or any other text), to seeking the life-affirming message of transcendence buried within the madness, ignorance and fear that we discover not just in the darker portions of all “sacred” texts, but in every human heart.
Spock: Captain, I haven’t been able to locate Dr McCoy, but I believe I’ll soon be able to access his Twitter feed and we might find clues to his whereabouts from that.
It isn’t all skittles and beer over on my Twitter feed. Things are generally stern and earnest. But that doesn’t mean we never have any fun. One of my favorite games to play with folks I follow and who follow me back is to change the titles of movies, usually with the substitution or addition of one or two words, to evoke an ironic or snarktastic alternative universe film. Last night’s game was to make any film a Star Trek movie, for example, Roman Holiday became Romulan Holiday.
I can get carried away when I join in on these occasions, but here are a few of my Star Trek movies:
With Six of Nine You Get Eggroll.
The Voyager of the Damned.
The Worf of Wall Street.
For the Earth is Hollow and I Have Touched the Vanilla Sky.
Ferengi the Bell Tolls
Captain Sisko Pike. (I thought of making this one Captain Sikso Christopher Pike but decided that was too much.)
The Counselor Troi directed by Ridley Scott.
The Man Who Would Be Klingon.
Gorn With the Wind.
The Data of the Jackal.
And my personal favorite, The New Jack City on the Edge of Forever.
As digby notes, lamestream media types are beginning to wake up to the fact that the Republican Party has become the party of hateful and destructive and not particularly bright yahoos. Finally the Villagers are listening to us, right? I doubt it. I’m pretty sure that what’s opened their eyes is that the shutdown and the promised fight over raising the debt ceiling are threatening their stock portfolios. Back when the yahoos were only hating on African Americans, women, gays, immigrants, Muslims, the poor, and the sick, the Tea Party was “jess folks” and the yahoos reg’lar Merkins.
The New York Times’ Bill Keller thinks what’s happening in Congress is that the Republicans are “finally having their 60s” and he compares Ted Cruz’s fake filibuster to Abby Hoffman trying to levitate the Pentagon. To which driftglass points out:
For the historically and analogically-impaired, let me risk stating the blindingly obvious by reminding everyone that nobody ever handed the SDS a global economy to use as their personal pinata.
Nobody ever came within a skajillion miles of electing Abby Hoffman to anything, much less a position of real power within the Worlds Greatest Deliberative Body.