Wednesday, December 02, 2009

It's not a bug, it's a feature!

Cute video from the Sun (UK), in the style of an Apple new product video.

I'm not sure how much I want to nitpick. I've spent a lot of time in this space arguing that print is a highly developed technology (and I know you read Tim Carmody at Snarkmarket who makes it a real argument and not just an assertion), but other than the humor, which is nice, there's a real misstep in this ad—which is to engage the iPhone on its own terms. 7 games? *yawn.* 3-D graphics? Not really. Never have to turn it on its side? That's all you have to give me?

So in short, chuckle, but don't think about it too hard.

(via Sullivan)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Theses on journalism: an experiment in format

(I posted the following on Twitter earlier today.)

Fair warning: I don't really spend much time thinking about journalism.

However, prompted by an interesting albeit somewhat roundabout (my fault, not hers) discussion with @motheroflight, a few theses:

1. @motheroflight: "It's a bad idea to equate the decline of newsprint with the decline of journalism."

2. When newsprint circulation was higher, "the news" wasn't why most people bought a newspaper.

3. Regular purchase and consumption of a newspaper was a cultural impulse: a way to participate in a particular community.

4. This is actually in continuity with the internet and cable news's splintering of the "news" audience.

4a. Historically, most major urban areas had not one newspaper, but several, each with a distinct viewpoint/community.

5. In this way, the decline of the newspaper can be traced to the decline of classified advertising more than a decline in reporting.

5a. I think the history bears this out: decline in the newsroom follows and reinforces declines in circulation, it doesn't initiate them.

6. What we consider "objective," but more importantly, authoritative reporting is a result of national network newscasts, not newspapers.

6a. That is to say, the proliferation of 24-hour cable news was not an innovation as much as an unintentional echo of historical print.

7. The idea of the news as serving the public interest might also be traceable to FCC requirements for broadcast licenses.

7a. This one might be the most problematic, as I don't have research to back it up.

7b. Particularly because I'm not as interested in whether journalists consider themselves as serving the public interest

7c. so much as whether the idea of news reporting as serving the public interest had credence with the broader public.

8. Insofar as journalism is "in decline," what is really happening is that the idea of objective/authoritative news has collapsed.

8a. Part of this can be traced to an argument starting in earnest with Nixon that all reporting is biased.

8a1. Most left-wing media critics/theorists would actually say that Nixon was right, even if he used the argument speciously.

8b. Further stress was put on the idea of objectivity/authority in the postmortem examination of reporting leading up to the war in Iraq.

9. So what we have are three interrelated but not identical "declines."

9a. A decline in newsprint circulation, linked to a community function and caused by the migration of communities to other (free) outlets.

9b. A decline in reporting (newsroom employment) caused by circulation declines.

9c. A collapse of the idea of journalism (and especially newspapers) as custodians of the public interest.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Because steampunk is really all about the joy of being alive

A steampunk take on the conclusion of the Original Series Star Trek episode, "The Menagerie"

I also rather enjoyed this strip, which is hotter than your mom.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A quick break

I haven't abandoned CADS, and while I'm overdue for a post, I'm up-to-date on my reading, and will try to have something tonight.

In the meantime, however, I have another pressing issue on my mind. DC Comics lately has tried to drive sales with big identity mystery/reveals: who is Superwoman? Who will be the new Batman? I didn't care much about the former, and the latter turned out to be pretty much exactly who you would expect. (This is not a complaint. The last time there was a new Batman, it was a character that was introduced specifically to take over the role, and it sucked hard.)

A new Batgirl ongoing series goes on sale today, and the promotional material is trying to drive speculation about who exactly the new Batgirl will be. Casual fans may or may not know that Barbara Gordon hasn't been Batgirl since the late 80s, and a new character, Cassandra Cain, took over the role in 1999.

Without rehashing the whole sordid story, Cassandra Cain has been a bit of a hard-up character lately. Her own unlimited series ended in 2006, and she was turned into a villain as part of the "One Year Later" storyline. This move proved to be unpopular, and so Cassandra was revealed to have been under the influence of a mind-control drug. She floated around the second-tier "Batman and the Outsiders" title until that team collapsed during the "Batman: RIP" storyline, and Cassandra went to work organizing a new Outsiders team to help fill the gap left by Batman's apparent death. Oh yeah, she also had her own six-issue miniseries where she sought revenge for the mind control incident, learned a bit about herself, and finally was going to be adopted by Bruce Wayne (as Tim Drake, um, Tim Wayne, um, Robin had already been.)

What's the point, you ask? Exactly, I say. What's the point of all this if there's going to be a new Batgirl? What happened to Cassandra Cain? Is this just a Cassandra Cain Batgirl relaunch? (Which, I should say, would be well deserved) I'm going to be a bit peeved if I'm being sold a "who is Batgirl?" storyline if the answer turns out to be "the person who was already Batgirl before we started this storyline."

All the same, I'm going to be equally peeved if I don't find out exactly what Cassandra Cain is up to. Dick Grayson and Tim Drake make a big deal of the fact that they are adopted brothers, and there's a real bond between the two characters. It would be very un-Bat-Family for Cassandra to be adopted and for no one to know or care what she's up to.

However, I got to thinking this morning about the Battle for the Cowl storyline, and how while it really made sense for Dick Grayson to take over as Batman, part of me was hoping that Tim Drake would do it. It would be a bolder choice, as Tim is far younger than Bruce Wayne was when he first became Batman. (Tim is in his late teens, and Bruce is normally presented as being in his mid to late twenties on his first adventures as the Batman.)

In that spirit, I realized that there is a similar option for the new Batgirl, another character besides Cassandra who has been abused in every possible way, and largely overlooked even after her recent reintroduction: Stephanie Brown. It would be totally in character for Stephanie to take on the Batgirl mantle without asking permission, and I'd really like the character to come into her own as a full member of the Bat Family and become more than an ongoing well-intentioned troublemaker and comic relief.

So if DC had any guts, or ever did anything unexpected, Stephanie Brown should be the way they go. Based on the covers of the first few issues, however, I think it's going to be Cassandra (and I fear that it might just be a new character altogether.)

(Update, 11:38AM: Woot!)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The eternal present

Observation #2 on time: when it starts moving in CADS, it moves fast. We've shifted from an eternal world in the first 50 pages, where no one dies and all history exists at once (as Tim observed), to the third generation gaining influence and beginning to die. It was striking to me, after reading again and again about the circumstances under which Colonel Aureliano Buendía faced the firing squad, to see him survive and his corrupt nephew Arcadio executed (in a figurative, narrative sense) in his place.

It's interesting to me as well the way that the transition between the mythic, deathless world, and the world of history is so seamless. It is never commented upon in itself, but is demonstrated only by the way that it affects the lives of the characters. It's not really fair, for example, to trace the beginning of history to the arrival of Don Apolinar Moscote, or the priest, Father Niancor. Even if the conservatives are read as the instigators of history, the exit from a mythic time, it is made clear that neither Mosciote nor Niancor are up to the task themselves, and when the revolution comes (my term, not García Marquez's), it passes Mosciote and Niancor by. The army takes authority, not Mosciote, and Niancor has his head "split open," becoming, paradoxically, something of a cause for the anti-religious liberals.

In fact, potency and inadequacy seem to be constantly at play on both sides of the conflict. Colonel Aureliano Buendía is something of a mythic figure himself (the son of a Titan, if you will), who cannot be killed by poison or bullet, and who fathers 18 children (17 Aurelianos and Aureliano José) by 18 different women, but he is also a figure of failure. He "organized thirty-two armed uprisings and lost them all." If Mosciote and Niancor are incapable of instigating history, Buendía is incapable of stopping it.

So we've talked about magical realism, and time, but what do we think García Marquez is trying to do or trying to say through the way that he makes time operate? Post-colonial conclusions seem apparent—that the local, marginalized village operates outside of what is considered time and history in a way that allows for the possibility of giants, and it is the outsider, the colonizer, the post-European, if you will, although perhaps Sir Walter Raleigh himself, who institutes time and history for his own gain—but somehow, I want García Marquez to be doing more than that, and I think he is. But what?

Also, what's up with all the incest? :-)

Friday, August 07, 2009

Reading 100 years of solitude nearly ruined all literature for me.

The night I finished it, the summer of 2007, I lay on my stomach in bed and looked across the pillows at Jeremy and said, I don't think I'll ever read another novel again.

What shocked me, in the last 30 or so pages of the novel, was how perfectly and precisely plotted the whole book was. That what happens in those first few pages, first few chapters, sets into motion something cyclical and inescapable. Like "Love in the Time of Cholera" this novel is just as much about the inescapable realities we create for ourselves and others, and time, and its effects. Here, you'll find, there's a sense that time is more fluid. (In "Love", which I recommend, the construct is much more rigid.)

What I am reveling in, right now, is seeing it all set up so minutely and intently. It's all the stuff that hit me like a tsunami, the revelation, the oh-my-god-that's-what-this-is-all-about kind of thing.

Things I underlined and want to discuss, or return to: (all page numbers from my copy, an Avon books PB, which is probably a lot different than yours.)

"Things have a life of their own," the gypsy proclaimed with a harsh accent. "It's simply a matter of waking up their souls (11)."

The episode where young Aureliano, age 3, tells his mother the pot of water will spill (23). This certainty in seeing the future, a sort of fatalism that doesn't change a thing, is compelling. It's as though, looking forward or back, nothing can be changed. It's almost what Daniel Faraday and Eloise Hawking tell Desmond Hume in LOST; you can't change it, and the more you try, the stranger things are that happen to keep time in order.

This sense of the unchangeable future, and the completely tangible and present "past," is echoed in JAB's sort of disinterest in his sons. When Ursula tells him of Aureliano's psychic fit, UAB dismisses it as a "natural phenomenon."

Somehow, that seems to be the point, here: none of this is fantastic, none of this is strange. It is just natural.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

". . . to have searched for the sea without finding it [...] and to have found it all of a sudden without looking for it . . ." (12)

Firstly, my experience with GGM is very limited and my experience with CADS is zero. This is surprising, considering my love for magical realist fiction (which began in grad school because of Professor A. Gilson). However, I have only ever read "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" probably once in high school and once again in college. Secondly, I enjoy books that come with a family tree on the inside.

What stood out to me in the first 40 or so pages were the concepts of discovery and knowledge (and how one acquires it). For JAB, sometimes the collection of knowledge was contingent on calculations and "directional instruments" (10). Sometimes, discovery only came when JAB's naiveté of the surrounding geography frustrated him to act. Sometimes, physical travel was hindered by JAB's lack of confidence, and therefore stifling his attainment of knowledge. Discovery would come from visitors. From the past. Perhaps knowledge isn't only extracted from how far you can see, how far you can walk. Knowledge will come even if you aren't looking for it. Even on an island. Even for a man of science. A practical man. Any kind of person.

And, isn't there a distinction among knowledge, discovery and learning? Learning means retaining, growing. Discovery means experiencing. Knowledge could be anything...fleeting, temporary, unnoticed...

I also liked the concept of how the past can be found as something physical--a path leading to memories so overwhelming that the men had to flee. Yes, objects serve as a reminder, a trigger for the past. But what about visiting--physically--the past. Often, I think of the past as purely a mental exercise--and this is part of what I love about magical realism--but I suppose it doesn't have to be only emotional or mental. It can be physical. You can physically go there and want to leave.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

First impressions

40 pages is just the first two chapters, so there's not that much for me to talk about yet—not because García Márquez isn't doing much. Indeed, quite the contrary. I'm just not sure where things are going yet.

So far, however, I love that ice is "the great invention of our time." Last fall I saw the Ridley Scott film Kingdom of Heaven, which includes a scene (historically accurate) in which Saladin offers a cup of crushed ice to the captured leader of the Christian army he has just destroyed, Guy de Lusignan. It's a striking scene of organizational and technological superiority, reinforcing the fact that the Christian army has been defeated after a foolish march through the desert in which they were cut off from their supply chains. But more than that, it's like magic when Saladin produces ice, as if it's the most natural thing in the world. That scene gives me just a hint of José Arcadio Buendía's awe. (As a whole the movie is okay. Hokey in places, but not terrible.)

I'm also not ready to go too far in-depth yet, but I'm enjoying how García Márquez's narration really tweaks the sense of time. The simple way of describing it is that by jumping back and forth as he does, giving parts of an old story, and then returning to it later, all interspersed with whatever functions as the narrative "present," gives the sense that everything in the book has already happened and it's coming into being as we watch (read). I think it'll be interesting to track how that functions as I continue to read.

So, fellow readers, what's your favorite scene from the first 40 pages?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Context, Then Content

The only thing I can add to Gavin's account of our gift-giving above is that for years, it was a double-blind gift; we would give each other books that NEITHER of us had read before, and then proceed to NOT read them, together.

It was an aspirational thing; if there was a book that you wanted to read, you would buy it for your friend, in the hopes that he might read it for you, and then entice you to read it.

I think Gavin gave me CADS/OHYoS in 1999, but it may have been as late as 2001. In any event, I didn't read it until the summer of 2003, when I read it out loud to my then-girlfriend, now-wife. If you can find a spouse who WANTS you to read highly literary Latin American fiction to them out loud, marry them.

Since I'm coming from the POV of a re-reader, I'm going to hold off on plot/theme analysis in the first post and just focus on Garcia Marquez's sentences.

Especially in these early chapters, the story, the plot, the characters, the world, are really constructed from sentence to sentence, and sometimes from clause to clause. GGM's sentences are elastic, but never distended; none of those Proustian contortions or Faulknerian agrammaticality. It's usually just one or two clauses, the first giving the content, and the second delivering the payload. Seriously, check the rhythm - every sentence ends with a satisfying solid phrase, usually joined to a concrete image.

But there's always something hidden - a stray reference, an ellipsis, a digression, a temporal retread - either in mid-sentence or in the transition from one sentence to the next. One good example of this is the observation that José Arcadio was born in the mountains, on the way to Macondo, and his parents were relieved that he didn't have animal features. The narrator moves quickly to describe Aureliano's birth - and Aureliano is the son we're supposed to care about, kind of, maybe, since it's his firing squad that opens the book, so we move on, thinking "well, maybe there's a theory that a child born in the wilderness might look like an animal, or something" - and then in the next chapter, we find out that José Arcadio and Úrsula are cousins, and they've had another cousin who looked like a pig. Each clause provides an image, but it also seeds the backstory.

The rhythm of these sentences is hypnotic, almost enough to make you drowsy! It's only the vocabulary that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It's also pretty flexible - in fact, I teach my students to write expository prose using a similar construction style to what's adopted here.

I also don't know how much of the syntax is the translator's attempt to preserve Marquez's Spanish, whether the original text reads the same way, or if it's got a slightly different connotation in Spanish. In short, I don't know the Spanish text or Spanish well enough to say.

Let me also add that I love, absolutely love, José Arcadio Buendía. I feel like I AM him, or a version of him - his schemes, his energy, his fits of pique, his oscillation between apathy towards and intense devotion to his children. There's something almost Homer Simpson-esque about him - that oddly intelligent, "Father, give me legs!" Homer, who knows a surprising amount about Supreme Court Justices, whose half-assed overparenting is almost as bad as his half-assed underparenting, who still repeatedly falls down the same set of basement steps.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Getting started-Gavin

For years and years, Tim and I have given each other books as gifts. Birthdays, mostly, as I recall but sometimes Christmas too. I know I always looked forward to getting a book from Tim, and it was just as important to pick out a good one. It was a really cool thing.

And for years and years, Tim never read any of the books I gave him, and I never read any of the books he gave me. It became something of a running joke.

And that's the extent of my history with One Hundred Years of Solitude. I hadn't read it when I bought it for Tim, and my memory is of picking up a copy for myself shortly before Oprah picked it for her book club. Or just after, when I could still get a copy without the big "O" sticker on the cover. I could be wrong though. I may be confusing my copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude with my copy of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

I'm also fully expecting Tim to say, "You chump. You didn't buy One Hundred Years of Solitude for me. I bought it for you. And you still haven't read it."

But that all changes now! Tentatively, I think would should plan to each read a little before August 3, since that will allow us to break the book into segments of about 100 pages per week for the rest of August. I'm going to set a page number for each week, based on my 1998 Harper Perennial Classics edition of the Gregory Rabassa translation. I propose as a ground rule that no one should comment on events beyond the assigned page numbers, since some of us are reading for the first time.

August 3: p. 40
August 10: p. 153
August 17: p. 239
August 24: p. 337
August 31: End! (p. 448)

All right fellow contributors—what's your history with this book? First-timer? Favorite novel of all time? When did you read it for the first time, or what are you expecting if this is your first time though?

On the whole, I'm expecting each of us to write our own posts on the book, and let conversation flow in the comments. If you want to talk about something in someone's post comment away! If you want to change the subject or have something else you want to say, go ahead and write a new post. And of course, if you're stumbling across this conversation, please do comment. We're all really smart people, and should be able to handle a little argument, but please keep the ground rules in mind. Finally, this is my blog, so I reserve the right to delete any uncivil comments.

Friday, July 24, 2009

One month of One Hunded Years of Solitude

I'm very excited to announce for for the month of August Wordwright will become a group blog devoted to reading Gabriel García Márquez's One Hunded Years of Solitude.

I can confirm that Tim from Snarkmarket and my NLA collaborator Theresa will be participating in the discussion, and there are one or two others who may be posting as well. During the next week the plan is for each of us to introduce ourselves, talk very briefly about our history with the book (or, in my case, my lack of history with the book—I'll be reading it for the first time), and set some basic ground rules for the conversation. We'll start reading and talking in earnest on August 3.

We'd love if you came along for the ride, and comments, as always, are welcome. (At Tim's suggestion, we'll be using CADS, for Cien años de soledad to label posts.)

A quick note

I've been really exited to see New Liberal Arts making a bit of a splash, and it has been amazing to see talk about my entry on "Brevity" pop up here and there.

In the spirit of brevity, I'll let the links speak for themselves:

Jon Hansen at notes from the east side

Claudine Ise at Bad at Sports

Lila King on Twitter

Jill Stephenson on Twitter

I'm especially pleased with the last two, since "Brevity" (no surprise) was largely inspired by Twitter, and in a nod to Twitter's 140-character limit, is exactly 140 words long.

Also, not specifically "Brevity"-related, but Janneke Adema at Open Reflections talked about NLA, and she recommends Nine Poems, so she's okay with me.

(Update, 7/26: Sugar Sublime quotes "Food.")

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

It's up

The New Liberal Arts is now available for free download as a PDF at Revelator Press and Snarkmarket.

Enjoy! (And send fan email. Always appreciated.)

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

What kind of a world do we live in?

I've spent the last few months working in an ancillary role with the really awesome people at Snarkmarket to put together a book on the New Liberal Arts. It went on sale yesterday and, um, sold out before I had a chance to blog about it here on Wordwright.


Kottke dug it. The Book Cover Archive loved the cover.

It's still pretty awesome, so you should check it out on Revelator when we get the PDF posted (today or tomorrow, I expect). If you would like a sample before then, Tim at Snarkmarket has posted links to segments of the books that are already online in one form or another.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Equal rights are not special rights

Essential reading from Frank Rich on Obama and Stonewall.

It’s a press cliché that “gay supporters” are disappointed with Obama, but we should all be. Gay Americans aren’t just another political special interest group. They are Americans who are actively discriminated against by federal laws. If the president is to properly honor the memory of Stonewall, he should get up to speed on what happened there 40 years ago, when courageous kids who had nothing, not even a public acknowledgment of their existence, stood up to make history happen in the least likely of places.

It's useful to be reminded that gay men and women were considered something less than human 40 years ago, and that we've come a long way from the days when "homosexual sex was still illegal in every state but Illinois [and] it was a crime punishable by castration in seven states."

But Rich is also correct that full equality in the eyes of the law has to be the goal, and that we need to get there now.

“There’s a perception in Washington that you can throw little bits of partial equality to gay people and that gay people will be satisfied with that,” said Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter who won an Oscar for “Milk,” last year’s movie about Harvey Milk, the pioneering gay civil rights politician of the 1970s. Such “crumbs,” Black added, cannot substitute for “full and equal rights in all matters of civil law in all 50 states

I, like many people, have a tendency to say that as an ally the politics are not my own, and that there's only so much I can do without co-opting someone else's autonomy and identity. But to settle into this mindset is to no longer be an ally.

This is not a question of one community against another.

This is a question of basic human rights.

This is not a question of tolerance.

This is a question of equality.

This is not a question of belief.

This is a question of justice.

I know too many good, well-meaning people who allow themselves to ignore the human consequences of legalized bigotry.

Justice and equality has to be for everyone. Now.

Monday, June 22, 2009

There is nothing that I could add

A letter from Tehran in the New Yorker.

On who was marching on June 15:
A little farther on, I found myself once again near Reza and Hengameh. (I've changed their names.) Reza, who has a thick beard, and Hengameh, in a chador, have an old-fashioned "revolutionary" appearance. They do not look like the sort of people who would attend an unsanctioned rally against the regime. But there were plenty of marchers who looked like them—pious, middle-aged Iranians. This is the generation that took part in the 1979 revolution, and then, as in the case of Reza, fought in the long war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and, finally, grew tired of all the lies.

I have known Reza and Hengameh for a decade. I know that they are unfailingly loyal to the memory of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, but not to the current generation of leaders, who, with their love of power and their financial corruption, have, they believe, spoiled Iran. In addition, everything I have seen of Reza and Hengameh tells me that they are true democrats—for example, the relaxed way they have brought up their teen-age son, Mohsen. "We never obliged him to say his prayers or observe the Ramadan fast," Reza told me once, "and now he does both, of his own accord."

Iranians can draw on a rich culture of resistance to authority, going back to the country's first experiments with constitutional rule, a hundred years ago, and this, combined with their celebrated verbal dexterity, makes them naturals in the art of political verse. As we passed the Employment Ministry, the marchers improvised a chant: "Ministry of Employment, why so much unemployment?" We passed under a pedestrian bridge, from which dozens of people were watching the marchers. Then came another chant: "You won't win freedom of thought by standing on a bridge!" My favorite slogan was one that referred to Ahmadinejad’s notorious claim, caught on film and subsequently made public, that he had been crowned by a "celestial halo" while addressing the United Nations General Assembly, in 2005: "He saw the celestial halo, but he didn’t see our votes." Standing on a balcony overlooking Azadi Street, a man held a copy of the Koran above the heads of the marchers.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The leaders

A supporter of defeated presidential candidate Mousavi is beaten by government security men as fellow supporters come to his aid during riots in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 14, 2009. (AP Photo)

As Saheli and Tim at Snarkmarket, and others have pointed out, one of the amazing (courageous, legitimizing, necessary) aspects of the civil activity in Iran is that from the beginning women have been at the forefront.

Roger Cohen in the NYT, from Tehran:
I also know that Iran’s women stand in the vanguard. For days now, I’ve seen them urging less courageous men on. I’ve seen them get beaten and return to the fray. “Why are you sitting there?” one shouted at a couple of men perched on the sidewalk on Saturday. “Get up! Get up!”

Another green-eyed woman, Mahin, aged 52, staggered into an alley clutching her face and in tears. Then, against the urging of those around her, she limped back into the crowd moving west toward Freedom Square. Cries of “Death to the dictator!” and “We want liberty!” accompanied her.

Andrew Sullivan:
I wrote a couple weeks back that something is happening in Iran. But it is not the only place where something is happening. The rejection of al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan; the ground-up election of Obama in America; and now the rising up of Iranians for freedom and civility with their neighbors: these are the green shoots of recovery from 9/11 and its wake. Empowered by new information technology, chastened by the apocalyptic conflicts of the last few years, determined to shift course away from civilizational warfare, the people of many countries are grasping for a new order and a new peace. It will not be easy; and it will not be short. But it is the only path worth taking.

And these Iranians are now leading the rest of us.

Right now, Iran is the center of the world. Right now, the women of Iran are the most important people in the world. May we be worthy of their example. May they not suffer unduly for their courage.

Tell everyone you know. Start now.

I am blogging though tears

The Iranian government has begun in earnest to use violence to suppress citizen gatherings and protests.

While I cannot call for U.S. intervention, and I cannot be in the streets of Tehran myself, I can call for everyone who sees this to voice their outrage.

Know what is happening. The NYT is updating in real time here. Andrew Sullivan has been one of the best voices on the web for days. Remember and remind everyone that the protests were peaceful.

Demand that the will of the people be heard. Tell everyone you know. Start now.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Politics vs. the political

I'm really dissatisfied with having labeled my last few posts on the mass protests in Iran with the category "politics." I think that a label like "the political" would be much more in the spirit of what is going on.

At the same time, I'm not willing to create a new category. The contrast between the mass protests in Iran and even the historic election of 2008 is, I think useful. So, in the short term, when you see the label "politics," read "the political." May it remind us that politics is about so much more than gossipy coverage of the candidates.

Politics is about people, and the real impact that ideas and policies have on them. And, as Iran is showing us, the real impact that people have on ideas and policies.

I don't know how to say anything other than wow

From Robin at Snarkmarket:
If you haven’t read Unconquerable World by Jonathan Schell, now’s the time. It’s about, among other things, the world-shaking changes that have been wrought by nonviolence in the 20th century.

I don’t read too many books more than once; I’ve read this one three times. Schell is not — I need to emphasize this — not a pacifist, and he’s not naive. But even so, he looks at the evidence and concludes: There exists in the world an unstoppable force. And it looks something like this:

Monday, June 15, 2009

More images from Iran's The Big Picture has a great photo essay on the past few days in Iran. (Thanks @robinsloan)

I'm not ready to build a narrative yet, but I'm going to pick out the one image I want to stay with:

A backer of Mir Hossein Mousavi helps evacuate an injured riot-police officer during riots in Tehran on June 13, 2009. (OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI/AFP/Getty Images)

This is beyond words. A demonstrator is protecting a man sent to attack him. There are photos of the wounded and dead, but there are more pictures like this as well.

When you no longer need to kill your enemy, then the revolution becomes possible

This is the most important thing going on in the world right now

Massive protests in Iran over election results.

Excellent coverage by Andrew Sullivan including Iranian Twitterers.

Live updates on NYT's The Lede.

BBC coverage of the protests runs the numbers

At 11:27 AM, CNN's "Live Developing Story" is "Will housing market rebound soon? Economists share views." I will never, never watch CNN again.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Collette should have been so much more awesome

The Mad Typist on OpenSalon bemoans the lack of female leads in Pixar films. Even better, she puts together a sharp, spot-on discussion of the major female characters in the 9 Pixar films released to date.

The only point I would disagree with is Collette from Ratatouille, and even then only slightly. Collette is a strong female character, and clearly was included as such. Early in the film, she's actually in the position of teaching the "genius" chef how to work in a professional kitchen.

The Mad Typist is correct that Collette ends up being relegated to a strange secondary role, but a big part of that is the film's narrative confusion over whether Remy or Alfredo is the primary character. It's hard to argue though, that in the end, Collette is sous chef to a rat, and seems happy in her subservient role.

So's it's a character with potential, but ultimately, the film isn't sure what to do with her. I'd give Ratatouille a B- to the Mad Typist's C.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Do your job, media! Do your job!

I know you all have cable, and have already seen this, but it's so essential that you won't mind watching it again.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
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Twitter is for listeners

The NYT's Economix blog has an interesting post citing a Harvard Buisiness School study on the gender dynamics of user trends on Twitter.

Although men and women follow a similar number of Twitter users, men have 15% more followers than women. Men also have more reciprocated relationships, in which two users follow each other.

These results are stunning given what previous research has found in the context of online social networks. On a typical online social network, most of the activity is focused around women — men follow content produced by women they do and do not know, and women follow content produced by women they know.

The study Economix cites includes two other interesting facts:

Among Twitter users, the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one.
[T]he top 10% of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets. On a typical online social network, the top 10% of users account for 30% of all production.

Both of these two facts stand in marked contrast to the typical image of Twitter as the outlet for the self-obsessed, arguing that most Twitter users are more interested in what other users have to say than in broadcasting themselves.

Of course, there are other possibilities, not the least among which are that many Twitter users create accounts in order to give themselves the impression of proximity to Twitter's many celebrity users, and that high-volume business Twitter users skew the data in a way that they do not on Facebook.

Those wishing to do empirical verification of their own, and who wish to include an example of the self-obsessed Twitterer in their sample can follow me at

Monday, June 01, 2009

Why I love Detroit

(In the basic style of CNN's story of the same name.)


Lived in Detroit: Technically never. Lived in Ferndale for a year, Oak Park for two years, and then Ferndale for ten years.

Favorite spot: Watching the July 4 fireworks from across the river in Windsor, Ontario.

I have always been outside Detroit, an inner-ring suburban kid. Even when I go back now, I visit friends in Hamtramck. I wasn't around for the city's industrial past, or the riots, or the exodus. I'm not there now. I did, however, go to ball games at Tiger Stadium. I watched the demolition of the Hudson's building. I had Kirk Gibson on the front page of the Free Press hanging on my wall in 1984. I eat Paczki on the day before Ash Wednesday. I remember the "Michigan Music is World Class" movement in the 90s. It was a load of crap. The White Stripes released their first album in 1999. I was in East Lansing by then.

Why I love Detroit: I don't. I don't know how to love a city, and I don't know many people who live there anymore. But I'm still shaped by it—by not having been there then and by not being there now. I'm fascinated by its open spaces and by the possibility of building a new not-city in the middle of the suburbs. I can see the community working to get a foothold so that they can do more than support each other. I can imagine a statement, a movement that start to inform other post-urban areas. I cannot imagine moving back there with my children.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The zeitgeist

It looks like the Snarkmarket guys aren't the only ones thinking about new liberal arts. (Which is no surprise, really.)

Mark Taylor writes in the NYT about the need for a new University. (Although it sounds to me at times that he's often just looking for a new organizational structure—there's not much that talks about changing the way scholars teach, or desired outcomes, particularly for undergraduates.)

Taylor asks us to:
Consider, for example, a Water program. In the coming decades, water will become a more pressing problem than oil, and the quantity, quality and distribution of water will pose significant scientific, technological and ecological difficulties as well as serious political and economic challenges. These vexing practical problems cannot be adequately addressed without also considering important philosophical, religious and ethical issues. After all, beliefs shape practices as much as practices shape beliefs.

A Water program would bring together people in the humanities, arts, social and natural sciences with representatives from professional schools like medicine, law, business, engineering, social work, theology and architecture. Through the intersection of multiple perspectives and approaches, new theoretical insights will develop and unexpected practical solutions will emerge.

Sounds like a good idea to me. Or perhaps, a fourth year organized around questions of food?

The Chronicle of Higher Education also presents evidence that "Digital Humanities" scholars are more likely to collaborate on publications than "traditional" scholars.

The New Liberal Arts are already out there. Our task is to organize, name, and continue to work.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Best. Easter Card. Ever.

I don't think it actually had anything to do with Easter, but it made my day.

Thanks, Theresa. :-)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Brevity, sweet brevity

A. O. Scott asks us to reconsider the downtrodden, undervalued short story:

Reading through their collected stories, you wonder if novels are even necessary. The imperial ambitions of a certain kind of swaggering, self-important American novel — to comprehend the totality of modern life, to limn the social, existential, sexual and political strivings of its citizens — start to seem misguided and buffoonish. More of life is glimpsed, and glimpsed more clearly, through Barthelme’s fragments, Cheever’s finely ground lenses or the pinhole camera of O’Connor’s crystalline prose.

What's more, Scott observes, I think correctly, that new formats demand the writers be able to work in a reduced form.

The new, post-print literary media are certainly amenable to brevity. The blog post and the tweet may be ephemeral rather than lapidary, but the culture in which they thrive is fed by a craving for more narrative and a demand for pith. And just as the iPod has killed the album, so the Kindle might, in time, spur a revival of the short story. If you can buy a single song for a dollar, why wouldn’t you spend that much on a handy, compact package of character, incident and linguistic invention? Why wouldn’t you collect dozens, or hundreds, into a personal anthology, a playlist of humor, pathos, mystery and surprise?

The real insight is that these are both/and positions, and not either/or. Books, as the best way to consume extended narrative, will survive, although when given the choice, many people may consume their narrative in bits. This is an opportunity, particularly for young writers, to shape new forms and craft new aesthetics. There are new tools. Let new fictions rise to meet them. It is time for a new avant-garde. May it shock us all.

Monday, March 30, 2009

It's all about timing

Today was the first day of the Detroit newspapers' reduced publication schedule. The NYT:

Maybe once a year, a city has a news day as heavy as the one that just hit Detroit: The White House forced out the chairman of General Motors, word leaked that the administration wanted Chrysler to hitch its fortunes to Fiat, and Michigan State University’s men’s basketball team reached the Final Four, which will be held in Detroit.

All of this news would have landed on hundreds of thousands of Motor City doorsteps and driveways on Monday morning, in the form of The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News.

Would have, that is, except that Monday — of all days — was the long-planned first day of the newspapers’ new strategy for surviving the economic crisis by ending home delivery on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Instead, on those days, they are directing readers to their Web sites and offering a truncated print version at stores, newsstands and street boxes.

I'm actually a big proponent of local papers. It's more and not less important to be informed at the local level in order to be an engaged citizen. It's far too easy to just vote in the national elections.

However, local reporting needs to find a new model that creates and engages actual information gathering and sharing. Three or four days a week isn't it. If a 24-hour news cycle is too long, how does a 48-to-72-hour news cycle make more sense?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

It's like an analog podcast

In a neat show of common interest between "old" and "new" media, Michigan Public Radio did a piece on the New Liberal Arts project. (Full disclosure: I was interviewed for the piece and show up at the one-minute mark.)

Interesting observation to come out of the story: while professors are notoriously liberal, students are actually rather conservative (in much more than the political sense):

Carolyn Racine is in [University of Michigan creative writing professor Emily] Zinnemann's class and a fan of Facebook. But that doesn't mean she wants her entire creative writing class or poetry class to happen via Facebook or Twitter or whatever is the next big online tool.

"I think," says Racine, that "students now shouldn't be completely into current processes like Facebook and forget about Shakespeare and the formalities. I think that's dangerous to forget about formalities."

When asked why, Racine hesitates and says, "Uh. I don't know. I'm still figuring it out as a student."

Resistance to the new in academia doesn't primarily come from administrators or parents; it comes from students. And rightly so, since they're the guinea pigs in all educational experiments.

Monday, March 02, 2009

He doesn't really have any idea how science works

Tax-cut fundamentalist Grover Norquist on the siren song of the new:

Norquist puts the "fresh ideas" people into two groups: Those who want to move the party to the left and those who want attention. "The only way to get attention is to come up with something completely new, which in life, usually means something completely stupid. There's a reason why scientists and inventors are known as crazy people: Because most of them are, and then every thousandth guy invents something really good. But most of the time they're lunatics. The guys who say, 'That won't work' "—he breaks into a whisper—"they're almost always right."

(Via Slate)

Monday, February 02, 2009

The snark and the chap

Call for Contributors and Revelator are proud to announce a new collaboration: The New Liberal Arts, to be published as both an electronic and printed (that's right, printed!) chapbook, and we're looking for contributors.

The time is ripe to expand and invigorate our notion of the liberal arts. Is design a liberal art now? How about photography? Food? Personal branding?

We don’t want to generate a canonical list, but rather a laundry list. We want pitches for new liberal arts that are smart, provocative, insightful, surprising, and/or funny.

Together, they’ll read a little like the course catalog for some amazing new school. (The College of Snarks and Letters? Our endowment is untouched by the financial crisis!)

So now we’d like to ask for your help.

Visit The New Liberal Arts at to get involved, and don't delay. We're looking to have a rough list of contributors by Monday, February 9.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

An alternate praise song

Maira Kalman's take on the inauguration. Which is, perhaps, closer to my particular odd sensibilities.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A final word on Updike

Thomas Mallon:

Perhaps the keenest compliment one can pay him as a man is to say that his life will make for a lousy biography: Just about no scandal; precious little feuding; almost no phony contretemps and posturing. He was deeply interested in sex and God, but more than anything he was interested in working—steadily and prodigiously.

(Via Sullivan, whose post also includes links to online archives of Updike's writing.)