Archive for the ‘In Memoriam’ category

On David Carr

February 13, 2015

Update: see the error correction (in bold) below.

I know a lot of people who are both tremendously fortunate and terribly abandoned today. They are the ones who knew well David Carr,who died yesterday.

You can find testimony today to the depth of feeling Carr, the New York Times’ media correspondent, inspired across the mediascape among those who worked with him, knew him, benefited from his kindness and his rigor .  Here’s A. O. Scott’s obituary; Anthony De Rosa’s remembrance; Muck Rack’s compilation of tributes; Weigel’s take. I’m sure there’s much more — this is just a semi-random starter kit as it came over the Twitter cascade.  Speaking of Twitter, Seth Mnookin’s tweet stream is hard for me to read, only because the loss there is palpable; Ta-Nehisi Coates is as sharp as we’ve all come to expect. And for the man himself, this sampler of quotes is as good a place as any to begin to measure the loss (more here) — but the snap of one liners (or two or three) shouldn’t obscure the work itself.  He was a great and meticulous reporter — and, to my eye and ear, a better writer.

Edwaert_Colyer_Still_Life_ca_1696

I’ve got nothing really to add to the tributes above, and those flowing in from all over the mediascape.  I met Carr once, a couple of years ago.  Ta-Nehisi was a visiting scholar at MIT then, and Seth was and is my colleague in the science writing program.  Carr had hired and molded both of them at critical points in their careers, and they invited him up to give a talk. (Alas, not recorded. Damn.)  I was there, and went out for the ritual post-colloquium dinner.  Carr was great in both settings.  Talking to him at the restaurant, I was struck by what those who knew him much better keep emphasizing:  he was a magnificent listener, which helped make him the formidable reporter he was.  With old friends he would banter and bust with the best of them. But with those he hadn’t met, like me, he’s peel back layers of conversation ever so gently, utterly implacably — you never felt the probe until it was lodged in your intestines.

My impression of him on that one meeting again tallies with all the actually informed stuff you can read:  what a nice man! What a smart one! Tough as shit.

But that was it.  One conversation, a pleasant evening and off home in the night.  The sense of loss I feel as I write this is wholly disproportionate to that level of acquaintance.

I think I know why.  I’ve got a couple of possible reasons. The first is evidenced by the links above:  he was simply one of the best working journos around, and for very many on the job  he was proof that it was possible to be that kind of a reporter, that good a one.  Recall, he was at the Grey Lady, the mothership, the freaking New York Times.  Can’t get more establishment than that, and yet Carr was proof that you could be the kind of journalist for whom the story and not the status or the institution or the common “wisdom” was all that mattered.  You get the sense reading what Times folks have to say today that they really feel it — that the paper needed Carr as much as or more than the reverse, to keep front and center within the building what it can and should mean to write for the most influential newspaper in the English-speaking world.

The other reason is a bit more personal.  In the math wheeze, there is something called an Erdös number.  Your Erdös number is determined by how many people stand between you and a co-authored paper with Paul Erdös, a famously collaborative thinker who wrote papers with on the order of 500 colleagues.  If you were one of those co-authors your Erdös number was 1.  If you didn’t, then you would get the lowest number of any of your co-authors on any paper +1.

Carr was a notoriously tough-but-fair mentor, and there’s something of Erdös in him, in that those he trained carry something of his sense of what it takes to be a reporter and a writer into everything else they do.  I have the good fortune to know pretty well two folks with a Carr number of 1 — Seth and Ta-Nehisi, as mentioned above.  They are both writers, thinkers and people I admire enormously.   I take inspiration from them both.  Both of them have Ta-Nehisi has told me several times what it meant to have Carr work him over at the Washington City Paper.   His body of work and more, the way they approach the craft as I’ve seen it up close bear the marks (block that metaphor!) that Carr left on their hides as they were learning under his unsparing eye.  I’m taking notes all the time from those two (and many others, of course) — as I did and do from Carr’s own writing.  So I guess in this loose sense I’d claim a Carr number of 2.   I can tell you, though, that the difference between 1 and 2 is not one of species or even genera…we’re talking orders at least here.

It’s a sad day.  But more, it’s one that’s bereft.  Carr left a circle of influence that vastly exceeds his already large circle of friends and fortunate co-workers.  The loss reverberates there.

Image:  Edwaert Colyer, Still Lifec. 1696.

Wha’d You Bring Him In Here For?

April 20, 2014

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Sad news:

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the former boxing champion whose conviction for a triple murder was overturned after he served nearly 20 years in prison, has died of prostate cancer. Carter, whose story inspired a Bob Dylan song and a Denzel Washington film, was 76.

Too soon gone; too much life stolen.

Carter fought the good fight — long after his days in the ring were taken from him:

He was active in the movement to free wrongfully convicted prisoners, reports Jon Kalish for our Newscast unit.

“There are far more people who are wrongly convicted than people would like to think about,” Carter said of his activism. “And this is my work because people came to help me when I was in dire need of help.”

Those who talk of post-racial America forget too easily, I think, how ferociously state violence was employed to enforce racial hierarchy here.  For a different story that conveys this, check out Devil in the Grove, and consider how long the sheriff at the heart of the judicial murders documented there held on to terrifying local power.  It’s a little less explicit now — but those days aren’t all gone yet, not by a long shot.  That’s why, in part, Carter’s post prison cause could keep him so fully occupied.

But for now, let us remember Rubin Carter himself.  A 20th century American life.

R.I.P.

Image:  George Bellows, Both Members of This Club, 1909.

Good One

December 13, 2013

The Soweto Gospel Choir and a local Woolworths got together to organize this Mandela tribute/remembrance:

(Lyrics and translation.) (h/t GOS)

Gotta have something of an anecdote antidote to all the crap out there, and this is it for me today.

Enjoy.

Redemption Singing…

February 7, 2013

Bob-Marley-in-Concert_Zurich_05-30-80

Lots of people die young, as the news daily tells us (and as many here, myself included, know from deep personal experience.)

The deaths of strangers don’t strike home in the same way as those of people close to us, of course.  There’s a kind of disembodied quality to any sorrow, a regret at the abstraction of lost years, lost human experience.  But I feel a barb that lodges within a particular vein of sadness — or perhaps better, regret — when a musician’s voice goes dumb too soon.

The reason is pretty obvious.  Mark Knopfler (happily very much still with us) nailed it, I think (about 8:50 in): “…songs are milestones for people in their lives; they use them. They use them to live with.”

I’ve been moved by lots of songs, singers, players.  But I can think of few — none really — who combined the power of music itself with the rush that came with utter, marvelous strangeness that I encountered late in high school when first heard this.

That was (I think — it’s been a while) Bob Marley’s first big hit to chart beyond Jamaica.  I know that it is almost a cliche now — and there are other songs in his catalogue that probably move me more.  But try to imagine hearing that for the first time after a steady diet of (often great) straight rock and roll.  Skull shrapnel ain’t in it; it truly blew one’s mind.

Marley’s suffered a fairly common post-mortem fate for iconic figures:  he’s been mythologized out of recognition.  Gone is the radical, redemptive, political, demanding man who explained why he made it on stage for a concert in support of Michael Manley two days after being shot, saying, “The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?”  Now, too often, Marley has become an almost generic figure of benevolence, which is too bad, because I don’t believe he ever lost the sense that there is something of a Manichaean struggle to be waged against those who (still) act to make this world worse.

But this is certain: Marley broke through any niche ceiling to become the first (that I can think of) truly global musical voice to come from what used to be called the Third World.  For that alone, he has had more to do in shaping the landmarks of people’s lives, to give them songs — and a sense of the world within those songs — that we use to live our lives.  Forty years or so on from his breakout, we’ve grown so much richer in our musical lives, sounds from anywhere weaving through our culture, our headphones, one pair of ears at a time.  I won’t go so far as to say that Bob Marley makes Barack Obama possible — but the demographic shift that so troubles the latter-day Republican Party is not simply political.  It’s incomprehensible, I think, to many who came of age in the last twenty or thirty years to know how transformative it was to hear other voices — and not simply as a novelty, or some in-group marker of cool found in a few basements in college towns.  Marley was HUGE from the 70s, and stayed so after his death.

Now his music is the stuff of the shrinking pool of oldies radio — except of course, that his influence and that of his 60s and 70s reggae comrades shoots through our current musical culture.

But even so — it’s hard not to wonder what he could have sung and said if he had managed to beat the cancer that got him in 1981, when he was all of thirty six years old.

Bob Marley would have been sixty eight yesterday.

Bonus full concert (complete w. a fifteen minute bonus opening by Dick Gregory that truly captures some of the deep strangeness of the late 1970s. Trust me; it was far wierder than I can hold in mind most times. This concert, btw, at Harvard Stadium (!) occurred while I was still in college — which means that I could have been there. That’s a regret I’ve nurtured since the day-of):

Image: Bob Marley in concert in Zurich, May 30, 1980

In Memoriam, Aaron Swartz

January 12, 2013

Aaron Swartz committed suicide yesterday.

Aaron_Swartz_profile

Swartz was a prodigy computer science whiz (co-developer of RSS — at 14) and information-should-be-free activist who was facing up to 35 years in jail for downloading the JSTOR archive of about 4.8 million documents.

From The New York Times:

Mr. Swartz was 26, and his death was due to suicide. His body was found by his girlfriend in his apartment in New York, his uncle, Michael Wolf, said on Saturday. He had apparently hanged himself, Mr. Wolf said.

…Cory Doctorow, a science fiction author and an online activist, posted a tribute to Mr. Swartz on the blog he co-edits, BoingBoing.

…Of the indictment, he said, “The fact that the U.S. legal apparatus decided he belonged behind bars for downloading scholarly articles without permission is as neat an indictment of our age — and validation of his struggle — as you could ask for.”

…On Wednesday JSTOR announced that it would open its archives for 1,200 journals to free reading by the public on a limited basis.

Swartz had previously written about the vicious embrace depression could wrap around him, so his death cannot be reducded to a decision  “to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them” — not that it ever is (say I, as someone whose family has been very hard it by the pathology of depressive illness).

But I will say that whatever miseries led Swartz to this end, I am sorry indeed to live in a society where the crime of stealing  articles on 18th century monetary policy (inter alia, of course) is treated more harshly than the non-offense of terrorizing a public street through the display of firearms.

Last word: As Doctorow told the Times, we have lost someone to be missed.

Swartz, he wrote via email, was“uncompromising, principled, smart, flawed, loving, caring, and brilliant. The world was a better place with him in it.”

ETA:  Cory Doctorow’s remembrance over at BoingBoing is very much worth a read.  He knew and felt deeply for Swartz, and captures some of the spark there, and provides as well a sober and fair-minded account of the various woes that may have ensnared his friend.  Fallows also has good thoughts.

Image: Aaron Swartz at a Creative Commons event, 13 December 2008.

It’s Too Hot To Blog Plus Bonus Kitteh And The Obligatory Link To Charlie Pierce

May 26, 2012

Ponderous here in the Hub of the Universe.  Hot, humid — summer in May.

I’m trying to recover and get a bit done while the munchkin naps.

But as I make my move, what do I find at my desk?

This:

I’m guessing Tikka is saying “Don’t even think about working today.”

Not bad advice, actually.

As for the ritual nod in Charles Pierce’s direction…Charlie has written a truly fine Memorial Day piece.  A sample, his conclusion:

On Memorial Day, when I visit the family plots in the old cemetery in Worcester when they’ve planted my forebears, I always wander over to one of the older sections where lie interred the veterans of the Grand Army Of The Republic, row after row of those round, generic tablets, each of them weathered and indistinguishable now from all the others. Memorial Day, after all, is a product of their war. Abraham Lincoln presaged it in the peroration of his magnificent Second Inaugural Address:

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan-to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

After Lincoln’s murder, the spirit of his remarks took hold in curious ways. On May 1, 1865, freed black slaves gathered to honor the Union prisoners who’d been buried in unmarked graves at the Charleston Race Course in South Carolina. Elsewhere, in the South, what was first known as Decoration Day became essential to the Lost Cause mythology that became so destructive to the descendants of those freedmen who’d honored the Union dead in Charleston. Supporting The Troops always has been a more complicated business than applauding at the ballpark.

The whole essay is more than worth your time.

With that — it’s all yours. What’s on for your holiday weekend?

Just One Moment to Remember…June 6, 1944.

June 6, 2011

Because there are things that happened in the world before most of us were born, a belated remembrance of the longest day:

H/t for a reminder of the date to Paul Krugman, whose pun on this I cannot top.

Images: Chief Photographer’s Mate (CPHOM) Robert F. Sargent, U.S. Coast Guard, official U.S. Coast Guard photograph, 6 June 1944.

The build-up of Omaha Beach. Reinforcements of men and equipment moving inland. SC193082 {PD-USGov-Military}

Photograph by Taylor, American assault troops of the 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, injured while storming Omaha Beach, wait by the Chalk Cliffs for evacuation to a field hospital for further medical treatment. Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, 6 June 1944.

Tristan Nitot, The Omaha Beach Cemetery, aka World War II Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, near Colleville-sur-mer in Normandy, France


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