Greetings from Syracuse. Got my analog self up here ok for class yesterday. Students seem just as nice in real life as they did virtually. They're eager to get going on their blogs. They're required to write at least three posts a week. Last week we gave them two prompts to get them started. This week we gave them just one, so the other two are theirs to do with what they will. Here's this week's prompt. I showed a scene from Office Space, the scene in which Jennifer Anniston's character's passive-aggressive boss at the chain restaurant "suggests" that she should put more "flair" on her uniform.
In that short scene from Office Space a bunch of issues are at
work. Or at play. It's a satire, after all. E.g. What makes a good
boss? What makes a good employee? What is
work for? What are workers for? Are you really expressing yourself if
you've been ordered to express yourself? Has Jennifer Aniston been
managing her career well since Friends? What's her best movie? What was
she thinking when she agreed to do Meet the Millers? There are more.
The answer to any of those questions would make a good blog post. So
that's your assignment:
a movie, any movie you've seen recently, and think about what issues or
questions it raises in your mind, choose one and make that a part or the
whole of your post. You don't have to write a formal review, although
you can. And
the issue doesn't have to touch directly on the subject of your blog
(if you've decided on your subject yet). Just remember that not
everyone reading your post will have seen the movie so you'll have to
include a (short) synopsis of the plot and the scene that prompted your
post or a scene that illustrates the point if it was the whole movie
that got you thinking. Some quick character description might be
helpful. If the movie was a summer blockbuster or a movie that has
become a classic, you have something else to keep in mind: a lot of your
readers won't need you to remind them about what the movie was about.
You have a balancing act you have to manage there then.
And Honors 340 Public Intellectuals and the Digital Commons with Professors Steve Kuusisto and Lance Mannion is underway.
Watch the video of Christopher Hitchens talking about The Ten Commandments again and read his essay "How to be a public intellectual". (The links are right here on Digital Commoners. Btw, a few of you still haven't joined us on Facebook. Please sign up today). Then think about what Professor Kuusisto said about what makes a public intellectual, what their role is, and what it means to be a contrarian, that person who's always asking why? Why, you ask? Wiseguys. Or Whys-guys. I'll tell you why. In your first post you're to write a bit about how you can play the role of public intellectual on your blog. What issues would you like to explore? What dogmas or doctrines in your field do you think need questioning? If there were powers-that-be you could talk to and ask "Why?" who would they be and what whys would you ask? In a sense that's what you're doing with your blog. Remember Professor Kuusisto's anecdote about being called by the Congresswoman whose committee's work he criticized on his blog. You're reaching out into the cloud and you never know who's waiting to reach back.
Think about the classes you have taken outside your major/minor/concentration. Was there one that gave you insight or knowledge or a skill that you could apply to your major, that, in other words, helped make you a better student in your chosen field? How so? It doesn't have to been the course itself. It might have been one thing you studied in the class or something you read; it might have been the professor or teacher or something they said; it might have been one or more of your classmates and things they said. And it doesn't have to be a course you took in college. It may have been one you took in high school.
Both assignments are due via email by noon on Monday, September 2. Posts should be sent as Word attachments. Each one must be at least 250 words.
Let us know right away if you have any questions.
Assignment One is kind of specific to the class, but feel free to do Assignment Two, right here in the comments or on your own blog.
Don’t worry about grades. Everybody gets an A for effort and participation.
As much fun as I have on Twitter, as much use as I make of Facebook, as grateful as I am for all the rewards, pleasures, and friendships I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy as a blogger, and as excited as I am to be teaching a course this fall that might as well be called The Romance and Glory of a Life Lived Virtually, it’s really the case that as a writer whose medium happens to be a blog, I’m really an enemy of social media and everything blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine, reddit and all the rest stand for.
The effect---in fact the purpose---of social media is to keep people glued to their computer screens.
My intention is to drive you away from your keyboards at least as far away as your couch and maybe only to another screen, the small one that’s your television, the large one at the multiplex, but preferably out the door and into the great wide analog world beyond.
The message of almost all my posts is the same. Get offline and do something real.
Read this book. See this movie. Watch this show. Go to this play. Take a walk. Take a drive. Notice this bird, that tree, those flowers. Visit this museum, that gallery. Head on down to the library. Go out to the garage and fix something. Go to the hardware store to get that tool or that part you didn’t know you needed until you started to fix whatever it is you decided to try to fix because if that incompetent Mannion can do it, how hard can it be? Go out for a cup of coffee, pay attention to the person pouring it for you. Sit out on the porch tonight and listen. To the geese down on the river. To the peepers in the trees. To the children laughing somewhere out there in the shadows. Have some pie.
There’s a lot to be wary of and a lot to criticize about a life lived too much in the cloud, as Aristophanes noted two and a half thousand years before there was an internet. But I’m not truly an enemy of the online life in the main, or social media in particular. I call myself that to describe an effect of my interests as a writer not as a purpose born of philosophical or moral principle.
I have good times in the ether, I learn stuff, I meet good people. And of course, never mind LanceMannion.com, Lance Mannion himself, myself, whateverself wouldn’t exist without the web.
And here I am, on the first day of class, preparing my introductory lecture for a course whose main object is to help students prepare to live their professional and intellectual lives at least partially online.
If that’s not enough irony for you, try this.
I’m not even going to be there.
One-eyed blogging I’m a whiz at. One-eyed driving? Probably not a good idea. So I’m staying put this week and sending my virtual self up to Syracuse to sub.
I’m Skyping in.
Boy, I love the 21st Century!
So, at least for today, I’m doing what I usually try not to do. Forcing people to look at a computer screen.
Even though I'm feeling less gimpy than I was a month ago, I'm still having trouble finding a comfortable position to write from. Makes for very slow going. But fear not, faithful readers. I will persevere. Posts are on the way. Meanwhile, I think you'll like this one by Steve Kuusisto about how the poet Robert Bly saved a young poet's life one day.
In 1982 Robert Bly came to the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill at my invitation. I was a troubled Ph.D. student, more than half
blind, in the wrong place, post-Fulbiright, post Iowa MFA, alone,
neurasthenic, and recently injured by a freak accent: while reading a
book of poems in bed, holding the book up close to my one good eye, a
paper bookmark flipped out and sliced open my only functional reading
orb. Carl Jung and Freud both said there are no accidents. The book was
Linda Gregg's terrific volume: Too Bright to See.
been endorsed six ways from Sunday on LinkedIn by many friends and
colleagues and I really appreciate it, but, folks? I'm ashamed to admit
this. I really don't get how LinkedIn is supposed to work. It's my one
big social media fail. If you don't count Pinterest. As I understand it,
as a guy I'm not supposed to understand Pinterest.
Just a reminder. Unless there's news I haven't heard, Google Reader is over and done as of tomorrow, Monday, July 1. But there are plenty of good replacements out there. A lot of people I know are happy with Feedly but I've also been hearing good things about The Old Reader.
Please remember to add LanceMannion.com to your new feed. Pretty please? Pretty, pretty please? Pretty, pretty, pretty please with ice cream and sprinkles and a cherry on top?
I've said this before but conservatives often perceive liberal attachment to diversity as a kind of "everyone's a winner" cuddle party, where we sit around exchanging rice-cakes and hating on the military. But the great strength of diversity is it forces you into a room with people who have experiences very different from your own. It's all fine and good to laugh at Sherrod Brown dancing to Jay-Z. But dude is outside his lane and he's learning something. M.C. Rove should be so lucky.
If you are not around people who will look at you like you are crazy when you make stupid claims about other people's experiences, then you tend to keep saying stupid things about other people's experiences. It is not enough to pay a political price, or even to be shamed into silence. You have to come to believe -- in your heart -- that sincerity itself is not the same as accurate information. It is not enough for you to not be "the party of stupid" or to "stop saying stupid things" you must show some active commitment toward being less stupid.
This is Part Two of Three Four. Part One is here. Moment of self-doubt here. Based on some of the comments on Part One, I feel like I have to point out that, although I’m being critical, skeptical, and a bit cynical, I am working my way towards a defense of the Reality-based Community.
Kevin Drum knows stuff.
Everybody who reads his blog knows this. Of course he knows stuff. And he thinks about stuff. He’s a smart and thoughtful guy.
Sometimes, though, he mixes up what he thinks with what he knows.
Happens to the best of us.
Happens to the rest of us.
Happens to the me of us more than I would like or like to admit.
Sheryl Sandberg has written a book. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. When Mark Zuckerberg says jump, Sandberg makes sure everybody jumps the right height and the right distance in the right direction and comes down on the right spot. Among other things, her book offers advice to women on asserting themselves at the office. The world needs more women in positions of influence and power, and Sandberg believes that if young women follow her example at least some of them will rise to those positions and from there they can help make the world jump to a better place.
At least, I think that’s what’s in her book. I don’t know. I haven’t read it. I have read a lot about it. Mostly by women who didn’t like what Sandberg had to say in her book. Or rather what they thought she had to say. Most of them hadn’t read Lean In. It hadn’t been released yet.
Boiled down, it seemed to me, their main objection was that, as far as they knew, Sandberg hadn’t written the sort of book they thought she should have written.
Other women came to Sandberg’s defense. Sandberg had the right to write any sort of book she wanted, they said, not that they knew what sort of book she’d written either. They hadn’t read it for the same reason the first set of women hadn’t. But they were pretty sure that whatever Sandberg had written, there was a message in it that needed to be taught and Sandberg was just the person to teach it.
What it came down to, though, was that both sides were made up of a lot of smart and thoughtful people who knew what was in a book they hadn’t read.
I noticed that the actual release of the book wasn’t followed by many blog posts, op-eds, or reviews in which writers on either side revised their initial judgments or stepped up to declare how right they’d been.
Probably this was because editors and producers decided the subject had been pretty well exhausted already. No more page views in it. No ratings increases.
But I knew better.
I knew that what had happened was that people in both groups realized that Lean In turned out to be what it always sounded like to me, another version of a sort of memoir a certain type of reader can’t get enough of, another How to be Me by a corporate careerist preaching a gospel of self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment through climbing the corporate ladder, this one being a little different in that the author appears to have more of a social conscience and more self-awareness than the usual perpetrators of these straight to the remainder table soporifics.
See, I knew what was in the book already too.
At any rate, as far as I know, Kevin Drum hasn’t presumed to know what’s in Lean In without having read it.
Norah O'Donnell: You know, Sheryl, people are going to say, "Oh she's got a charmed life, She went to Harvard. She's a billionaire."
Sheryl Sandberg: Yep.
Norah O'Donnell: "And she's telling me what I should do?" Do they have a point?
Sheryl Sandberg: I'm not trying to say that everything I can do everyone can do. But I do believe that these messages are completely universal.
....Norah O'Donnell: And for those who say, "Easy for you to say?"
Sheryl Sandberg: It is easier for me to say this. And that's why I'm saying it.
Can you imagine anyone posing questions like these to Richard Branson or Jack Welch? Last I looked, they were pretty rich too, and they've also written bestselling books providing advice on business and life. Nobody ever asks them why they think they can offer advice to the masses from their lofty perches, but apparently it feels natural to ask Sandberg these questions just because her primary audience is other women…
Makes sense to me. Except…
These are exactly the sort of questions guys who write the sort of book Sandberg appears to have written get asked. They’re old standards. The first question even the most gullible customer lining up at the wagon to buy the snake oil asks is How do I know this will work for me?
All those guys must have been asked variations of that question every time they sat down for an interview.
Of course I don’t know this. I don’t have the transcripts handy and my memory doesn’t serve because, as I’m sure I’ve made clear, the subject bores me silly so any memory I have of those guys being interviewed is a memory of when for some reason or another I couldn’t change the channel. Even so, my memory is pretty good, but it’s not so good I can remember every question asked and answered in every interview I caught in passing God knows how long ago.
And I’d bet it’s the same for Drum.
I doubt he has the transcripts handy either. If he did any googling, he’d have probably put it in his post. His memory may be way better than mine, but it’s probably not that good. And, in fact, since he’s only human, whatever memory he does have of any of those interviews has probably been…emended…by the assumption that questions like that wouldn’t have been asked.
We’re very good at “remembering” what it’s convenient for us to remember.
Drum's post isn’t a statement of something he knows. It’s just something he thinks.
He has good reason to think it, based on things he and we do know.
We know women in the public eye are subjected to different standards. We know they are patronized, that their opinions are trivialized and marginalized, we know they’re treated (and dismissed) as more emotional and reactive than men, as less logical, less practical, less intelligent. We know that if they are young and attractive, like Sandberg, they’re sexualized and in that way demeaned and dismissed as unserious. We know that women who resist this sexualization, either deliberately and consciously or because they just don’t fit the prevailing standards for sexy, are blamed and derided, insulted, mocked, and openly despised and attacked as if it’s their job and their responsibility to be young, pretty, charming, deferential, and willing to at least give the impression they’re open to, you know, the possibility.
We know women are discriminated against generally and more specifically on the job. We know they are denied promotions, raises, and perks that their male coworkers receive as a matter of course. We know they’re expected to defer to their bosses and take orders without complaint in a way the men around them aren’t and wouldn’t stand for. We know they have their ideas stolen when they aren’t outright dismissed. We know they’re harassed and we know that harassment isn’t about sex, it’s about asserting male dominance and often the goal is to drive them from the workplace.
We know all this happens.
And we know it happens not just in the business world but in areas that ought to be and routinely congratulate themselves on being more enlightened---academia, the sciences, the arts, the comic book and gaming communities, the liberal blogosphere.
But how do we know it?
We know because we’ve seen it happen. The women among us have had it happen to them, time and time again. The men among us have watched it happen. Sometimes we’ve even made it happen or let it happen by not speaking up or by not even noticing. All of us have read about it. Heard about it. There are studies! I can’t point to any at the moment. I don’t have any copies handy. I can’t remember any specifics. But I’ve read them or at least read about them, so I know they’re there and I know what they show.
So we know!
And if it happens in that many other cases, then we can assume it’s happening in this one.
It’s a good bet, at least.
Anyway, if it’s not happening here, it happens often enough that it might as well be, so I’m not really wrong if I talk about it as if it is happening even if I don’t know that it is.
Here’s the thing.
Much of what we know, we don’t know, we just believe. We accept it, usually without thought.
There may be lots of good reasons for believing it, but that doesn’t change what’s going on. We’re treating an opinion as if it’s a self-evident fact.
We do this. By we I mean people. Our thinking is lazy and besides there are only so many hours in the day. If we had to think everything through we’d never get out the door in the morning. We have to make decisions based on what we know, even though we know that a lot of what we know we don’t really know. We just assume.
And we have bad habits of mind. We over-privilege our own experiences. We are all subject to confirmation bias. We treat coincidence as causation. (That last one’s the basis of all religion.) We reflexively defend our egos and argue not about what’s happening but about what we want to happen or need to be happening to flatter our vanities and advance our self-interests.
And those of us who are politically minded have the really bad habit of applying our political beliefs as if they are scientific theories, proven beyond question and universally descriptive and prescriptive.
What Kevin Drum saw happening in that 60 Minutes interview with Sandberg might very well have been happening, but not in the way he thinks. It might not have been in the questions themselves that the double-standard was being applied against Sandberg but in O’Donnell’s tone or in her attitude or in her eyes. It might have been in a single, quick nod of the head or raising of an eyebrow or recrossing of a leg. Drum might have seen right but assumed wrong.
His assumption being that he knew what was going on based on stuff he remembered and not on what he was seeing and hearing at the moment, privileging his base of knowledge over his own instincts, a common mistake among intellectuals and another form of temptation for members of the reality-based community.
We don’t just think that because we respect the facts we have the facts. We think that if we think something, believe something, know something it must be based on our stored knowledge of the facts.
It can’t be based on something so fleeting as a casual observation or---ha!---a momentary impression.
End of Part Two. Don’t worry I’m getting there. Part Three is on the way.
Some mornings Twitter is a good way to catch up on the headlines. Other
days it’s like being on a packed subway full of people who got a lousy
night’s sleep and haven’t had enough coffee on their way to work at
jobs they hate.
I’ve long believed that people’s political views are more an expression of temperament than reasoned thought. We’re all a blend of liberal and conservative flavors and how liberal and how conservative we are depends on how much of each got poured into us at birth and what life has added to the mix or drained from it since. I’ve got enough conservative in me to make me worry about what I’ll be like when I’m old and cranky.
Older and crankier.
David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush speechwriter and now conservative blogger at the Daily Beast, has a good helping of liberal in him for as stanch a Republican as he insists he still is. The story goes that he let this side of himself show once too often and it got him frog-marched from the American Enterprise Institute. Frum himself denies that’s what happened. It was a simple salary dispute. He wanted one and AEI decided they did want to pay it. Whatever the case, it seems since he’s been blogging he’s felt freer to let his freak flag fly and while it’s more often the case that when I read his stuff I’m not out and out appalled, from time to time, and those times aren’t rare, I find myself nodding in agreement and even occasionally shouting out, “Yes! David! My man!”
Now, here’s the thing. Having a liberal streak doesn’t mean you necessarily endorse liberal policies. Nor does having a conservative streak mean you necessarily endorse conservative ones. It’s simply that you can see the other side’s point. But there’s more to it. It also means that you can see how a liberal policy can lead to a conservative goal or vice versa. An example of the former is same-sex marriage. Andrew Sullivan makes this argument forcefully and often. An example of the latter is Obamacare. It works like this.
The vast majority of us share two broad goals, defending the status quo and expanding opportunity, the status quo being a generally well-ordered, safe, and comfortable society, in which we’re reasonably free to shoot our mouths off, go where we want, and spend what money we have as we see fit, and expanding opportunity means giving ourselves and our fellow citizens more of stake in maintaining the status quo by letting more of us share in more of the benefits of living in this well-ordered, safe, and comfortable society, although that often requires changing the status quo.
Simply put, conservatives are more inclined to defend the status quo, even if that means denying some people some opportunity, while liberals tend to want to increase opportunity even if that means disrupting some aspect of the status quo if not the whole of it. The point is that the interests of conservatives and liberals are often the same.
So, yes, Obamacare preserves the health insurance industry and gives insurance companies a huge infusion of cash, but everybody’s insured, so everybody shares in the order, safety, comfort, and freedom provided by the status quo, which gives everybody a stake in preserving the status quo.
You can see where this is going, right? Most self-styled conservatives these days can’t. Many progressives can and they don’t like it.
The object of liberalism is to create more conservatives.
It should be obvious to conservatives that the fewer people with a stake in preserving the status quo the more people you'll have with reason to disrupt it. It is obvious to some conservatives. It just used to be obvious to most conservatives. In order to give more people a stake in defending the status quo, increase people's opportunities to enjoy the benefits of the status quo.
Conservatives used to see the good in spreading the wealth---in redistribution. Although Republicans have always been fond of their millionaires, they used to be almost as fond of the middle and working class. The object of economic progress wasn’t just to create and coddle millionaires. The object was to give more people the same stake in maintaining the status quo that millionaires have. Conservatives, generally, think---or thought---this was best done on the local level and by encouraging private enterprise. But it's why there are conservatives who support expanding civil rights, strong public schools, and even--- a shocker---progressive taxation. (That's where the 47 percent comes in, Mitt.) The point is that sometimes the best way to be a good conservative is to be liberal, and once upon a time most conservatives understood that.
Here's how liberalism and conservatism are mixed up in me. As a straight, white, middle class American male, I have always benefited from the status quo. But being a kind, decent-hearted, well-meaning, and generous guy, I want everybody to have what I have; however, being a selfish, self-protective, and greedy guy too, I figure that the more people who have what I have, the more people I'll have on my side if somebody tries to take it all away.
At the moment, the people who are trying to take it away are rich Right Wing corporatists and their political henchmen like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Seeing this doesn't make me a liberal. You don't have to be a liberal to see that Romney and Ryan are threats to the status quo.
Defending the status quo by default means defending established privilege and more and more over the course of the last several generations the conservatism of the Republican Party has degenerated into an angry defense of privilege alone. Any and all privilege. White privilege. Male privilege. The privileges that come from having been born straight, Christian, and a citizen. The privileges that come from being rich. Especially the privileges that come from being rich. The corporatist Right and the Religious Right and the Tea Party Right are united in a common defense of their privileges and don’t give a damn about expanding opportunity. In fact, they look at expanded opportunities as a form of theft. They see life as a zero-sum endeavor.
“Whenever you get something, I lose something. However your opportunity expands, mine contracts. Whatever you have, you’ve taken from me.”
The corporatists, the Christianists, and the Tea Party types have as their common goal a taking back of America, by which they mean a taking away of opportunity from those they perceive as having robbed them of their privileges.
This isn’t conservative. It’s reactionary. It’s destructive. And it’s just plain mean.
David Frum sees that and it bothers him. In fact, it infuriates him. And it’s the basis for my finding myself in agreement with him from time to time.
It’s why, from time to time, he can sound like a liberal…because he is being liberal.
(4) How do you message: I'm doing away w[ith] Medicaid over the next 10 yrs, Medicare after that, to finance a cut in the top rate of tax to 28%?
And ends with:
(10) But voters do care about the q[uestion]: what will this presidency do for me? And "dick you over" is not a winning answer
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Neither my liberalism nor Frum’s conservatism are all that adulterated, so although I often find myself nodding in agreement, it’s usually the case that I see his point not that we’re seeing eye to eye. But one thing we do see eye to eye on, it turns out, is Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times.
Couple weeks back, in my post Shake every hand, kiss every baby, I mentioned, more or less in passing, how the “self-made” entrepreneurs who paraded up on the stage at the Republican Convention to congratulate themselves on their self-reliance and go-getterism and whine about how the President doesn’t appreciate their wonderfulness reminded me of Josiah Bounderby, the mill owner and banker in Hard Times who likes to boast about how he worked his way up from rags to riches all on his own while leaving out the part of his life story in which his mother beggared herself scrimping and saving to put him through school and give him his start in business.
The quotable Ezra Klein on Romney and the 47 percent:
Still, for my money, the worst of Romney’s comments were these: “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
When he said this, Romney didn’t just write off half the country behind closed doors. He also confirmed the worst suspicions about who he is: an entitled rich guy with no understanding of how people who aren’t rich actually live.
The thing about not having much money is you have to take much more responsibility for your life. You can’t pay people to watch your kids or clean your house or fix your meals. You can’t necessarily afford a car or a washing machine or a home in a good school district…. [Romney] is a guy who sold his dad’s stock to pay for college, who built an elevator to ensure easier access to his multiple cars, and who was able to support his wife’s decision to be a stay-at-home mom. That’s great! That’s the dream. The problem is that he doesn’t seem to realize how difficult it is to focus on college when you’re also working full time, how much planning it takes to reliably commute to work without a car, or the agonizing choices faced by families in which both parents work and a child falls ill. The working poor haven’t abdicated responsibility for their lives. They’re drowning in it….
For non-Catholics who might not know, the Society is the Society of Jesus—-the Jesuits. Here’s the quotable Charlie Pierce on Paul Ryan and the Jesuits:
A long while ago, I warned Paul Ryan about screwing with the Society. The Society has been at this politics thing for close to 500 years. The Society is very good at it. They were not afraid of kings, nor of Japanese emperors, nor khans of the deserts, nor of popes back when the popes had real armies. The Society, like nuns, will fk your shit up. With incense. You think the Society’s going to shy away from a two-bit zombie-eyed granny-starver from Janesville?
Long ago I came to the conclusion that John McPhee has the best job in the world.
He gets paid to go out into the woods, take a walk around, find somebody who knows those woods like the back of their hand, ask them some questions, and come home and write about it. Sometimes the woods aren’t actual woods. They’re basketball courts or art museums or laboratories or the cargo holds and bridges of freighters or the cabs of eighteen-wheel trucks. But often, they’re woods.
I was never able to get that job for myself, not as a full-time career at any rate. But from time to time I have managed to get paid to do it, take a walk in the woods and come home and write about it. My woods have been the backstages of theaters, the broadcast booth of a baseball stadium, a recording studio, a zoo, a guitar maker’s studio. Most of the time they’ve been the inside of a lot of smart people’s heads.
One of the best things about having this blog is that I’ve been able to do it again, take a walk in the woods and come home and write about it. Again, the woods aren’t always actual woods. Sometimes they’ve been the cafe at Barnes and Noble or the counter at the hardware store or the line at the post office or the hallways of my kids’ schools. Sometimes they’re the contents of a book I’ve just read or they’re what I saw up on a screen or on a stage. Sometimes they’re actual woods. And sometimes I find the woods close to home. Sometimes they’re on Cape Cod or in New York City.
I haven’t been able to make a living at it, but still, I’m grateful I get to do it at all, take a walk in the woods and come home and write about.
Wait. I forgot to mention the most important part of the job.
I get to take a walk in the woods, come home and write about it, and people waiting who want to read what I write.
I’ve been thinking about this the last couple of days because of what’s happened to Jonah Lehrer.
Lehrer is a brilliant young science writer who’s gotten caught plagiarizing himself for his blog at the New Yorker. He’s been cutting and pasting passages from work he’s published and posted elsewhere into his posts at the New Yorker without telling his readers---or his editors---when he does it.
Not what the New Yorker is paying him for.
It’s not Lehrer himself or the self-plagiarism that’s had me thinking. I routinely quote myself but I make it clear that I’m quoting and include a link to the post I’m quoting from. And of course I’ve revisited and rehashed ideas I’ve written about before. And I regularly re-post old posts, either because they’ve become relevant again or I’m feeling lazy, but I always make it clear that’s what I’m doing. But mainly every time I sit down to write a post, I sit down to write something new or at least to say something old in a new way. That’s the challenge. That’s the fun of it. That’s the point.
Blogging, according to Salmon, is linking. Linking to things other people have written.
There’s something like writing involved. You’re out to make your readers interested in reading what you’re linking to. This means you’ve got to give them the gist in an entertaining and lively fashion and that means you have to write. But it strikes me as a particular form of writing.
Now lots of bloggers---and this includes most of the best or most popular bloggers---do this. And it’s a good thing.
But maybe Salmon didn’t intend it, but I get the feeling he thinks that anything else is a waste of the blogger’s and the reader’s time.
And that’s what I’ve been thinking about.
I don’t do this to be useful.
I don’t write to be useful.
But should I?
Is that what I should be doing?
Like I said, the best thing about being Lance Mannion is that he gets to go out into to the woods, take a look around, ask some questions, and come home and write about it.
He’s only able to do it though because all of you are willing to read what he writes.
For which he’s very grateful.
Thank you all.
We’re off to visit Old Mother and Father Blonde today. We have a wedding to go to tomorrow but I’m sure that at some point over the weekend we’ll be able to get over to Valley Forge.
Apparently David Brooks thinks the United States Constitution, a purely political how-to manual for organizing and operating a strong, centralized government is a moral and economic treatise whose main purpose was to make the riff-raff aware of what they owe to their betters. In other words, he thinks it was written by Charles Murray and not James Madison in constant consultation with Thomas Jefferson. The problem today, according to Brooks, is that the riff-raff have gotten above themselves and need a good scolding if not a stern slapping down. How dare they think they are entitled to the easy life Brooks and his rich friends have earned by virtue of being, well, rich. Charles Pierce has a few things to say about that but he finishes with this:
Does this person, with his vast spaces for entertainment, honestly believe that the people who depend on things like Medicaid and Social Security, and small-business loans and Pell grants, are emboldened by the circumstances of their lives? Does he believe that these people who are living paycheck-to-paycheck and only asking that the system be a little bit more fair are actually as smug and entitled as every syllable he's ever written proclaims Brooks to be? All over America, people are absolutely petrified that somebody in their family might get sick, thereby bankrupting them forever. All over America, people are worried that their mortgages are laden with small-print land mines. All over America, people are living in sheer abject terror that the job will disappear, or the rest of their 401K will go up in smoke, or grandma's Alzheimer's will offer them the choice of eating government cheese or letting the old girl die in her own filth in some unregulated nursing home. These are the people that David Brooks believes are destroying the country because their unreasoning hubris prevents government from making their lives even more difficult.
Lance Mannion at Fox Island, outside Fort Wayne, Indiana, a hundred years ago.
When we lived in Indiana, because, once you got out of town, there was nothing much to look at in the distance but more distance, I developed the habit of looking in close. This was when I started stocking up on guide books, learning the names of birds and trees and wildflowers, and wandering about with binoculars, which, I know, are a tool for looking into the distance, but I mostly pointed them at nearby bushes and up into trees I was standing at the base of and overhead telephone wires and the far banks of streams I could practically step across. Our apartment in Fort Wayne was at the edge of the city and it was a short walk out of the urban into the suburban and then into the country and farmland, which, in that part of Indiana, is usually just another word for cornfield. The landscape wasn’t as flat as I liked to complain it was but to eyes trained by a boyhood and youth spent in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York, with summers in the Adirondack Mountains and along the Atlantic seashore, it was…undramatic. I wouldn’t get very far in my walks before I was bored with the view and ready to turn around and head home.
There just is no here here, I thought, with apologies to Oakland and Gertrude Stein.
I don’t remember when it dawned on me that although the landscape might be featureless it was not lifeless and I might find my walks more interesting if I started looking at that life.
I said this was when I started learning the names of birds and trees and wildflowers. But what really happened is that I started to see birds and trees and wildflowers.
When you are standing on top of hill, looking out over the treetops of a woods that fills the valley below, it seems enough to know that those trees are maples. But when you are standing next to a tree you have to make adjustments in your thinking, your remembering, and your seeing, that is if you’re confronted with the fact that this tree is a maple too but it’s a silver maple and those trees you grew up taking for granted were sugar maples and there’s a difference. There are differences. The leaves aren’t quite the same shape. The bark has a different texture, a slightly different color. And if you are standing under a silver maple you are probably standing on what used to be a farm. Farmers planted them or left them standing in their fields as shade trees. Oh, and sugar maples are hardier. You don’t want a silver maple in your yard. They have a tendency to rot from within. What looks like a sturdy old tree that could stand up to a winter gale might be as hollow as a drain pipe and ready to snap in a spring breeze and come crashing down on your house.
Similarly, I learned that what I took for flocks of blackbirds---as in birds that happened to have black feathers---were flocks of red-winged blackbirds and starlings and grackles and cowbirds, which aren’t even black but brown, the females, at any rate, males are brown-headed, and that every yellow flower in the grass that wasn’t a dandelion wasn’t a buttercup either.
These discoveries were thrilling, but since regret seems to be one of my default emotions, they also had me kicking myself. Why hadn’t I seen any of this before? How could I have been so oblivious? How had I gotten so far in life without knowing that all of this was right in front of my eyes, if only I’d bothered to look?
It wasn’t Indiana that was boring, it was that I was boring myself.
Maybe I was a little harsh. What it was, likely, was that growing up where there were bends in every road and hills on the horizons, I’d learned to be on the lookout for what was around the bend or over the hill, which was usually another bend or another hill. I took it for granted that over there was very different from right here and, intrigued, was in a hurry to get over there to see. It didn’t occur to me that here might be an interesting place to explore.
In Indiana, here and there were pretty much the same place.
Roger Ebert grew up in Illinois, which has even more here and less there than Indiana, so he learned to look at here up close early, mostly while on his knees or stretched out on his stomach in the grass, peering at things---squirming things, swimming things, wriggling things, hopping things, slithering things---that would go unnoticed unless you got your nose right down next to them.
In my grandmother's back yard, I spent long periods frozen in immobility, a salt shaker clutched in my hand. My Uncle Bob had treacherously told me that if I could shake salt on the tail of a Robin Redbreast, I could catch it. This kept me out of his hair. There were robins everywhere, hopping on the grass, cocking their heads to the side, listening for the slithering sound that might betray a worm. I haven't seen a robin in a long time. I suppose there must be about as many around today, but my life isn't calibrated to see them…
On your knees or your stomach, the world revealed a hidden population. One day at Dougie Pierre's house, we climbed under the bridge over the Boneyard Creek to catch crawdaddies. We did catch a couple, using a kitchen sieve, and kept them in a Mason jar full of water, where I suppose they must still be. I had waded in the Boney a dozen times and never seen a crawdaddy. After I saw them, I waded no more. They're always up to something.
If you’re in the habit of thinking of Ebert as a movie critic, you should make a point of reading his blog where you will learn to think of him a writer who happens to write a lot about movies. This post, A natural history, is a good one to start with. But it’s about more than robins, snakes, tomato bugs, and crawdaddies, so be sure to follow the link at the end.
Marilyn Monroe, Lincoln Steffens, James Baldwin, Carl Sandberg, Abraham Lincoln…No, this is not a game of One of These Things Is Not Like the Other.
One of James Wolcott’s few weaknesses as a writer and blogger is his ability to summarize something he’s read, a book, an essay, a blog post, or something he’s watched, a movie, a TV show, a dance, in such a way that you feel you’ve read it or seen it yourself and don’t need to follow his link.
Yes, of course, I’m being a wiseguy. That’s one of his great strengths. But you should still follow the links. For instance, the link to this article in the London Review of Books, A Rumbling of Things Unknown, by Jacqueline Rose.
It’s been fairly widely accepted that Marilyn Monroe was much smarter than her onscreen persona, that in fact her onscreen persona was much smarter than her onscreen persona was taken to be by those who took it at face value. It’s also well-known---at least I think it is---that Monroe was a voracious reader and something of an aspiring intellectual and that she was both before she met Arthur Miller, who used to be given credit for “educating” her. But in her essay Rose makes the case that Monroe was better than smart and something more interesting than a would-be intellectual.
She was thoughtful.
And she was studious and not just of books, of life and people.
And one of the subjects she thought hardest about and studied most intently was the affinity between her personal unhappiness and the unhappiness of most people.
It's as if Monroe instinctively, empathetically practiced the liberalism that husband Arthur Miller grandly professed. It isn't that Miller didn't practice what he preached when it came to liberalism, but that everything with him seemed to emanate from his mountain brow; with her, injustice seemed to resound metabolically, her own inner bruising and estrangement.
Rose’s essay is a long-read but worth the time, even after you’ve read Jim’s post.
So why don’t I just send you straight to London Review of Books and skip the middle-Jim?
Because then you’d miss lines like this:
[Rose’s essay] makes a fine antidote to the candy-shop sentimentality of My Week with Marilyn, in which the best performance was given by Michelle Williams' right eye between strategically drooped blonde curls as everyone else fussed about in several coats of Masterpiece Theatre furniture polish.
Getting a lot of traffic from the American Prospect. Folks clicking through from an old post of Charles Pierce’s from 2006 about the egregious and fortunately now nearly irrelevant Ann Coulter. Mr Pierce graciously referenced a post of mine but linked to the blog and not to the post itself. So for those of you who are wondering what that was about, here’s the link: