Archive for October 2013

A Stilletto Leaves Such A Nice Tidy Hole

October 30, 2013

Oh those Edwardians could push the knife in so … elegantly. Thomas Seccombe on Thomas Love Peacock:

His philosophy was for the most part Tory irritability exploding in ridicule, but Peacock was one of the most lettered men of his age and his flouts and jeers smack of good reading, old wine, and respectable prejudices.

This from that insomniac’s friend, the Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica — from the “English Literature” entry in Volume IX.

I had a conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates in the run up to last nights events, about whether or not our current snarkalicious age is nastier, more insulting than any pre-‘net political or cultural affray.  We both came to the conclusion it was not — and if you demur, then get back to me after you check out just about any random 19th century campaign cartoon:

Ma_ma_wheres_my_pa

But I felt there still was a difference between then and now.   Last night’s 4 a.m. reading reminded me of what it was….

Style, man.  Style:  “…good reading, old wine, and respectable prejudices.”

That’s poetry, that is, guv’nor.

Image: The Judge magazine, “Another voice for Cleveland,” political cartoon in the 1884 campaign, referencing the rumors Grover Cleveland had sired an out-of-wedlock child.

For a Good Time In Cambridge — Hendrik Hertzberg/Ta-Nehisi Coates Edition (reminder)

October 29, 2013

Hey, all you Greater-Boston folk, a reminder:

Tonight at 7 at MIT, Ta-Nehisi Coates will talk to Hendrik Hertzberg about the state of opinion journalism…

Lesser_Ury_Im_Cafe_Bauer_1898

and the related matter of the debased (my word) state of American politics.

Location:  32-123, which translated out of MIT-speak, denotes the big first floor lecture hall in the Gehry-designed building known as the Stata Ctr., located at the corner of campus where Vassar St. hits Main. See this interactive map for details.

Ta-Nehisi, as most here know, is a blogger and senior editor at the Atlantic Monthly, writing about race, culture, politics, history, hip-hop, e-gaming, French language studies and anything else that comes to his notice.  Winner of the National Magazine Award for his essay “Fear of a Black President” he is also, to my great pleasure, my colleague in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing Program.  Hertzberg, senior editor and staff writer at The New Yorker led the New Republic won three NMAs, while taking home the hardware (is there any?) for his solo commentary at the home of the monocle and the top hat.  As I noted the first time I plugged this event, “he is one of those writers on whose work other writers take notes.  He takes writing very, very seriously — talking to one of Ta-Nehisi’s classes yesterday he let them know that the craft isn’t just hard for beginners, that he still sweats and agonizes over getting right with every single piece he publishes.

In other words — whether you want to know about the craft or the content of major-league political analysis, this should be a fun evening.

For those of you who cannot make your way to 02139 tonight, we will be recording the event, and though it may take a little bit, we’ll get the video up in reasonably short order.  I’ll let y’all know when and as that happens.

Image:  Lesser Ury, In the Cafe Bauer,  1898

For A Good Time In Cambridge, Take Two: Hendrik Hertzberg-Ta-Nehisi Coates edition

October 23, 2013

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Once again:  all y’all in the greater Boston area, something surpassing cool to do next Tuesday, October 29. Ta-Nehisi will be talking with New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg at 7 p.m.  The event description isn’t up on the MIT calendar yet, but it’ll read something like this:

Hendrik Hertzberg has been one of the most influential opinion writers in and around Washington for decades. Most of his career has been spent at the home of the monocle and the top hat (The New Yorker), but he’s also had two stints as editor of The New Republic, during which he led the publication to three National Magazine Awards.

Hertzberg returned to The New Yorker for good (so far) in 1992, and is now senior editor and staff writer (mostly of the Comment section  in Talk of the Town).  He’s won yet one more National Magazine Award — in 2006, for his opinion writing.  In between writing gigs, he’s also worked as a speechwriter for President Carter and has done a pair of tours as a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.  He has three books to his credit, including the 2009 reissue of his 1976 prefiguring of data journalism and visualization, One Million.

The other thing to know about Hertzberg is that he is one of those writers on whose work other writers take notes.  Ta-Nehisi Coates and he will talk about how writing opinion can and/or should be informed by the practices and habits of journalism — and much more, including, no doubt, something about what to make of the current predicaments of American politics.

I don’t think I’m breaking any confidences to tell you that Ta-Nehisi basically reveres Hertzberg — for the reason hinted at above.  Hertzberg works his writing.  Don’t be fooled by the light touch of which he is capable: that comes from the kind of effort John Kenneth Galbraith had in mind when he said (I paraphrase from memory) “the treasured note of spontaneity critics find in my writing comes in between the seventh and eighth draft.”

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Ta-Nehisi and I talk a lot about that:  how to write with honesty, passion, and perhaps above all a love of beauty in words that isn’t just about aesthetic — it’s how you infuse your argument with power and meaning both.  I’ve never met Hertzberg, but Ta-Nehisi tells me that it’s that kind of thing that he studies in the work.  So those of us who love the craft, who want to get better at it, should have a lot to chew on Tuesday night.  And, of course, Hendrik Hertzberg has a bit to say about the bitter comedy that is contemporary American politics, so there’s that — should be good for this crowd.

A couple of housekeeping notes.  I’ll be moderating the event, so it’ll be good to put faces to names/handles of any Balloon-Juicers in the crowd.  Another thing:  last time I promoted one of these in this space we had Chris Hayes and Ta-Nehisi together in a hall waaaaay too  small for the crowd, and too many got turned away.  We’re in the biggest lecture hall in MIT’s Stata Center this time, (r00m 123) three times bigger than that first venue, so don’t be deterred.

I’ll probably be posting a reminder or two a little later, but for now, consider yourself invited.

Images:  Paul Cezanne, The Artist’s Father, Reading “L’Événement,1866

Thomas Eakins, The Writing Master, 1882

For A Good Time In Cambridge: Coco Fusco, Junot Diaz, Ian Condry Edition

October 22, 2013

Hey, all — or at least all of you in reasonable range of Cambridge, MA (Our Faire City).  Day after tomorrow, Thursday, October 24, will see writer, performer and curator Coco Fusco talking at MIT, in an evening moderated by my colleagues, novelist Junot Diaz and Cool Japan majordomo Ian Condry.

The event begins at 5 and 7 p.m in MIT’s Media Lab rm 633. Details and map here.

Fusco’s title, “A Performance Approach to Primate Politics” leads to the meat of her talk — which investigates what “Planet of the Apes” (the original) was really talking about.

Apes_in_a_persimmon-tree

Smart people taking on the world at an angle.  Should be fun.

Image: Mori Sosen, Apes in a Persimmon Tree, before 1821

Yo! You There! Call Yourself “Pro-Life” Do You…

October 20, 2013

Portrait_of_a_Dead_Child)_by_English_School

…Then what do you have to say about this:

A 2-year-old girl died Saturday afternoon after she found a loaded handgun and accidentally shot herself, Fayetteville police said. [via]

This latest report is not an anomaly.  Leaving aside malice — murder and random mayhem; leaving aside adult folly, when individuals supposedly at or past the age of reason self-nominate for Darwin awards; leaving aside the great gaping hole in families all over the country left by suicide-by-gun; kids, guns, and accidental deaths offer a blunt and clear test.  A neighbor said of this kid that she was “a 2-year-old baby who hasn’t even lived yet.”  So are they all.

If you think of the defenceless as deserving of special care…if you think that kids are the fit objects of national attention, of such importance that we must enact a rule of law so that such innocent lives may be absolutely protected…then what are you willing to do about the guns?

Let me be clear: I know that plenty of people who oppose abortion are horrified by American gun law and culture, and I honor that.  But lots do not, and there is a pretty fair correlation between the states that have the most restrictive abortion laws and the most relaxed legal framework for gun .  Those are the folks, those are the legislatures that I’m talking about.

Let me be clearer: my deepest sympathy goes to the family who just lost a daughter.  Doesn’t matter what their politics are. Doesn’t even matter to me what their role in the sequence of events that led to this little girl finding that weapon. Their hell is with them now and there’s nothing I can or would wish to  do to make it worse.  It can’t get worse.*

I’ll even admit that pointing to (what seems to me to be) a glaring inconsistency between anti-abortion politics and concern for the living is something of a cheap shot in this context.  The issue here is guns and the way some Americans have created a culture in which minimal moves to safer gun regimes are seen as the ultimate in tyranny. That’s what has to be confronted head on, I agree.

But I can tell you that I’m heartsick at reading story after story of babies killing babies or themselves.  And if you think children are actually something other than little adults, that they do need special attention, protection, care — and I do — then, yeah, I do think its fair to ask of anyone who presumes to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves where they stand.

That’s it.  I got nothing more on this.  I keep thinking about my boy when he was two and what I would felt had I found him on the floor…

Can’t bear it.

*This isn’t to say that I don’t favor criminal negligence charges against anyone who leaves a gun where a kid can get at it.  That’s a social sanction, and  it is vital that we as a society make it consequential to own a gun.  There’s reason they call it “deterrence.”  But as an individual?  I would never say to someone in this family’s position how sinfully dumb it is to keep a loaded gun anywhere near a kid.  They know

Image:  English School, Portrait of a Dead Child, 1624.

Cue the World’s Tiniest Violin, Ted Cruz (Office) Style

October 16, 2013

Ambrogio_de_Predis_007

Via Brad Friedman, we learn that Sen. Ted Cruz’ speech writer and senior communications adviser Amanda Carpenter put this up on the Twitter machine:

It’s almost November and I have no idea what my health plan will be or what it will cost in January. This. Is. Awful.

Well, maybe if you hadn’t spent the last whatever helping your boss help the GOP conspire to take away your congressional staff health benefits…

…Aww.  Fekkit.  Not even going to try to argue the logic.  Just — if you don’t want gov’t. to help you, don’t kvetch when it doesn’t.

Or, to put it another way:

BWAHAHAHAHAHAH!

Image:  Associate of Leonardo da Vinci (Francesco Napoletano?), Angel with violin / Panels from the S. Francesco Altarpiece, Milan, between 1490 and 1499.

Stephen Fry Shows How It’s Done

October 16, 2013

Via BoingBoing, I came across a clip in which the Stephen Fry demonstrates how to get an idiot to hoist himself on his own petard:

Seriously.  Not only is this a beautiful sequence, one that can be admired (and dissected) purely for its documentary technique, it’s also a brilliant tutorial on the art of interviewing.  Look at how Fry permits his subject to give the viewer precisely what he or she needs to get the point — with never less than perfect politesse from Fry himself.  You could call it interlocutory murder — but there’s nary a scrap of blood on our Stephen’s hands.
A masterclass.
Enjoy.