Archive for the ‘seriously’ category

Pick Up The Damn Phone — The Phonening

August 25, 2015

Yup — that time again, the time when I get to nag  y’all about calling your representatives about the Iran deal.


Here’s the menu:  if they’ve already said they support the deal, thank them.  I’m just about to do that for Senator Markey.

If they’ve already declared against the deal, tell them, politely, that you disagree, and that you’ll remember this at the next relevant November.  Even if your senators and/or congressperson are utterly safe seat types, they and their staffs hate hearing from a constituent directly that they’re doing a bad job.  Think of it as a long game:  they’re on the wrong side of this one.  But it doesn’t take many calls — shockingly few — to make them just a touch gunshy, which softens them up next time.  That matters, articularly on matters that you may care deeply about, but that haven’t risen to the level of automatic partisan division.

Most important:  if they are still undeclared, tell ’em what you think and emphasize how much this means to you.  I told my peeps that everyone has a make or break issue, and this one is mine.  YMMV — but make sure your representatives know you care. Joe Kennedy is about to hear — again — from me.

Speaking of which — it’s OK to call a second time if your folks are still in play.  That shows you mean it — and that’s what your representatives need to hear.

It really does make a difference.  They keep records of these calls.  The anti-deal folks are funded, out in numbers, and very, very dangerous. This is your chance to punch back.

House of Representatives numbers.

Senate numbers.

You know what to do.

Image: Julius Kronberg, Mushrooms1908

April 5, 2015

The good news:

Anthony Ray Hinton walked out of the Jefferson County Jail at 9:30 a.m. today a free man for the first time in 30 years. “The sun does shine,” he said as he was embraced by family and friends.

The bad:

One of the longest serving death row prisoners in Alabama history and among the longest serving condemned prisoners to be freed after presenting evidence of innocence, Mr. Hinton is the 152nd person exonerated from death row since 1983.

Our justice system is neither just nor, really, a system.  It is instead capricious and often malicious all the way down the line, from cop to court to cell.  It does contain a certain strain of systemized function, of course:  an institutional inability to grasp the meaning of “innocent until proven guilty:

For more than fifteen years, EJI attorneys repeatedly have asked state officials to re-examine the evidence in this case, but former Jefferson County District Attorney David Barber, and Attorneys General from Troy King to Luther Strange, all failed to do so.


Only when the Supreme Court forced Alabama officials’  hands did the tests that failed to show a match between the gun Hinton was alleged to have used in two murders and the weapon actually involved did such testing take place.  This man lost 30 years of his life because the engine of justice was rigged that way.  Hinton’s attorney, Bryan Stevenson makes the obvious explicit:

“He was convicted because he’s poor. We have a system that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent, and his case proves it. We have a system that is compromised by racial bias, and his case proves it.”

Malice has a face — several faces.  Stevenson again:

We gave the prosecutors every opportunity to do the right thing. They just would not do it.”

And one last note:  Hinton could be dead.  The state of Alabama wanted him dead.  The miscarriage of justice, huge as it is, could have been worse — to a certainty, has been worse over and over again. In that context, Hinton’s reaction to this latest turn in his life is almost unbelievably mild:

Outside the jail this morning, Mr. Hinton said he will continue to pray for the families of the murder victims, who together with him have suffered a miscarriage of justice. “I shouldn’t have (sat) on death row for 30 years,” Mr. Hinton told reporters.“All they had to do was to test the gun.” He expressed the wish that prosecutors and judges who were indifferent to his innocence be held accountable.

Punish first; ask questions later.  That’s no way to run a country.

You may consider this an Easter commentary.  Has Passover resonance too.

Image:  Devotional image from Blaindt Abbey, Christ in Chains, c. 1720

Winner Of The “I Need A (Chocolate) Cigarette After Reading That” Award

October 22, 2014

Chris Kluwe on Gamergate:

Dear #Gamergaters,

Do you know why you piss me the fuck off?

Because you’re lazy. You’re ignorant. You are a blithering collection of wannabe Wikipedia philosophers, drunk on your own buzzwords, incapable of forming an original thought. You display a lack of knowledge stunning in its scope, a fundamental disregard of history and human nature so pronounced that makes me wonder if lead paint is a key component of your diet. You think you’re making piercing arguments when, in actuality, you’re throwing a temper tantrum that would embarrass a three-year-old.


Read the whole thing.  It’s a truly righteous rant.  The man has a gift for invective.  One more brief sample:

There’s this herd of people, mainly angsty teenage caucasian men (based on an informal survey of 99 percent of the people who feel the need to defend this nonsense to me on Twitter), who feel that somehow, their identity as “gamers” is being taken away. Like they’re all little Anne Franks, hiding in their basements from the PC Nazis and Social Justice Warrior brigades, desperately protecting the last shreds of “core gaming” in their unironically horrible Liveblog journals filled with patently obvious white privilege and poorly disguised misogyny. “First they came for our Halo 2’s, and I said nothing.”

I liked his use of the term “slackjawed pickletits” too.

(PS:  I know I’ve been even more conspicuous by my absence lately than my usual absent self.  This is kind of a peace offering.  I promise something at least a little bit more substantive (and hopefully not about Ebola) in the near future.)

Image Pieter Quast Jansz, Cellar Interior, 1636.

Very Serious Person Niall Ferguson Haz A Sad

October 10, 2013

Via TPM, apparently this happened on Morning Joe today:

During a segment on “Morning Joe,” conservative historian [former intellectual]* Niall Ferguson joined Scarborough to pile on Krugman. Ferguson said that Krugman lacks “humility, honesty and civility.”

“And there’s no accountability,” Ferguson said. “No one seems to edit that blog at the New York Times. And it’s time that somebody called him out. People are afraid of him. I’m not.”

Too much to do today to go all John Foster Dulles on Harvard’s Folly, but I can’t leave this without noting that if Niall’s honestly not scared of Krugman (he is), he should be.


Cases in point here and here and here and here.  This isn’t a fair fight.  Ferguson has the debate chops and the accent, but nothing else. Krugman has both technical skill and the willingness to engage actual data to gut the Harvard Bully Boy on the actual merits of the argument.  That Ferguson plays better on TV is his reason for being, but not a recommendation.  (BTW — for a devastating synoptic view of Ferguson’s style and (lack of) substance — and his pure nastiness in the service of the 1%, check out this overview.)

The bottom line:  how you know you’re winning?  When they talk smack about you from a very, very safe distance.

PS:  I also love the Scarborough line about some unnamed editor claiming Krugman’s column is a weekly nightmare for the paper.  I suppose it could be true, in the sense that someone might have said that to our Joe.  I kinda doubt it, but that’s the thing w. anonymous quotes.

But (a) this is how bubbles seal themselves — Scarborough’s trying to persuade himself (and viewers) that Krugman is wrong because he’s difficult…which leads to you know where.  And (b) if Joe is telling the truth, then it’s reasonable to ask the question: what so terrifying Timesfolk about Krugman’s work?  Here’s one possible answer.  It may be that Krugman’s writing discomforts the comfortable in ways that the NYT might find inconvenient.  People in power don’t like being called out; Krugman does that frequently on a very big stage.  That might inconvenience fellow cast members. (Beat that metaphor to death, why don’t you? — ed.) Those colleagues might grumble…and Joe Scarborough would run after that parked car like a loping hound.

In any event, I like anyone who makes the right enemies.  Krugman does, in spades.


Image:  Auguste Delacroix, Shellfishers frightened by the tide, before 1868.

Self Aggrandizement Alert + Some Kitchen Goodness In Aid Of A Friend

December 18, 2012

First — a head’s up to another one of my internet-radio conversations.  Tomorrow at 6 p.m EST I’ll be talking (live!) to David George Haskell.  David is a biologist teaching at the University of the South.  He blogs here, but the proximate reason for the interview is the publication of his book, The Forest Unseen.

The Forest Unseen is simply one of the best natural history cum science books I’ve read in years.  David’s concept — in less adept hands it would have been a conceit — was to take a single meter-in-diameter patch of old growth forest and visit it over the course of a year.


From those visits to what he called “the mandala” he drew essay after essay, pretty much all of them built on the idea of making a practice out of observation.  Most of the chapters in the book begin with a single point of entry into the life of the mandala, and then Haskell’s writing flows and leaps as he finds his veins of connection.  Along the way, quite gently, he leads his readers into an increasingly sophisticated understanding both of natural history side of things:  what’s there, what’s happening in that patch of forest (and through that one little scrap of land into the beyond, of course); and of the science involved, ideas from biology and ecology.  You learn a lot — I did — and it’s not until much later that you (I) realize just what a rich lode of fact and concept we’ve just taken on.

In all, a really worthwhile book — not a bad choice, if  I dare say it, to stick in somebody’s stocking in a few days.  (BTW — for more on the project, check out Jim Gorman’s article from October, published in the Grey Lady.)

Now to the kitchen goodness.  Fair warning:  what follows is a plug for something a good friend of mine is trying to do.  If you aren’t into knives, kitchens, or cooking, and/or don’t want to read about what is at bottom (and top, actually) an attempt at business, then please, get off the bus now.


So, back at the dawn of time, my friend Adam — Adam Simha — graduated from MIT rather at loose ends.   He found himself more interested in craft than formal science or engineering.  He bounced around some kitchens in town, and then found himself really looking at the tools chefs use, and then figuring out that he might have some skills and knowledge and sheer desire to see what he could do in that arena.

The result has been a number of years developing himself into an exceptional knife maker.  You can see what he does here — check out the custom knives he’s made for chef-clients, and see also the ready-made line for the rest of us.  After some years of nerving myself up to it, I finally bought one of the latter — the 10″ chefs’ knife with the black rubber (Pedro) handle.  It is, simply, the best knife I’ve ever owned, by far.

How better?  It starts sharper than the decent knives I’ve used for decades; it holds its edge longer; it sharpens more easily, and being made of better steel than any other knife I own (a Wursthof and a Sabatier for chef’s knives), it is thinner, harder, and is easier in my hands to manipulate than any big knife has a right to be.

And yeah, it costs a fair amount.  Not an utterly crazy number for something that, properly cared for, should outlast me  — Adam’s prices for his ready-mades fall in the middle of what a yuppie cooking store charges for its cutlery.  And hell, I’ve been promising myself a really good knife since we first elected Obama, and finally I just decided that this purchase was going to be my victory cigar for the re-election celebration.

An aside:  I’m not a great person with my hands, but I purely love the knowledge and history built into any good tool — plus the fact that better tools make the jobs they’re designed for easier to do.


I learned this first when I started working with good camera-people when I was just getting going as a documentary film-maker.  One of those DPs, an older guy (Bob Elfstrom,* for those of you in the business), took me aside and made sure I understood how and why he used each of the bits and pieces he needed to make his images.  Great training!  Throughout he drummed into me the necessity, the almost religious obligation, to use the best tools to do a job one could possibly acquire.  And he was right, at least in my experience.  It’s because of him that I would hire or buy really good optics when I needed to —  leaving me fewer options on location than I would have liked, sometimes, but better, in ways I could see on screen.  And as I started to cook I found I didn’t like gadgets very much, but I truly valued a good knife.  Those of you who cook (and that’s most of us, I guess) know what it’s like when you get one that fits and balances and that takes and holds an edge without fighting you for it.  That’s the context in which I’ve come to Adam’s knives, and that’s why I am posting this to try and help him realize an ambition.

What Adam’s doing now is to take what he’s developed as he’s built knives for his custom clients to come up with versionss for a larger audience.  There are a fair number of costs that go with that ambition, mostly for a build out of his shop, and he’s launched an Indigogo campaign to try to raise the necessary.  He’s got a video up there that explains what he’s trying to do better than I can.

I’m a little diffident about putting this up.  A buddy of mine is trying to get a new business off the ground, and I’m using this community platform to spread the word.  But I guess the usual answer applies. Don’t bother with all this stuff if you aren’t interested.

But even if you have no time to cook, no money for what is indeed a luxury, or just own every last bit of kitchen gear you, your kids and their kids will ever use, still, if you’d like to get just a sense of what a wonderful obsessive does when unleashed on metal-working shop, check the stuff out; if nothing else it’s fine kitchen porn.

*Among much else, Elfstrom directed and appeared as Jesus in Johnny Cash’s rarely-seen feature film Gospel Road, and he was one of the Maysles brothers’ cameramen at Altamont.  Hell of a guy to take out on the road for one’s very first film.  I’m deeply grateful to him and to John Else (my other first-cameraman) for the generosity with which they made sure I didn’t do anything irrecoverably stupid — all the while teaching me a whole lot of stuff they don’t necessarily cover in film school.  I will say, though that even some jobs later it still came as something of a shock when Al Maysles showed up (unannounced) at the end of a day’s shooting in New York.  It had been a long day, and something of a fraught one, and it was literally the last set up on the final shoot for that particular film.  I was seriously ready for the bar.  But there he was, Mr. Maysles — who, it must be said, understood exactly the state I was in (had been there once or twice himself, I reckon). In the event, he was gentle, encouraging and blessedly brief in his hellos.

Images:  Paul Cezanne, Interior of a Forest, before 1890.

Totoya Hokkei, Still Life with Fish, Scallions and Large Knife, c. 1830

Folk Song Army

April 29, 2012

A few days late, but I was moved by this event. Murderous Pam Geller hero Anders Behring Breivik has gone on record as hating a children’s song that celebrates multi-cultural tolerance and mutual good will, taking the suggestion that getting along with each other as clear evidence of the  Communist plot to upend society or some such.

Once this view became known, Norwegians responded thusly:

I know, as those of you familiar with the work this post title references, that it takes a lot more than singing to overcome the many evils that attend the ideal of a civil society.  But it never hurts — and often  helps — to perform acts to remind ourselves and the enemies of civil society that we are here, and we are not alone.  The Norwegians kicked ass here, in my humble opinion.

(Oh — and yes, I’ve noticed (as no one else has, or should) that I’ve been even more conspicuous by my absence here the last few weeks.  My day job still owns me more or less totally, and some family and fortunately minor health stuff have consumed all the free mental space left over.  But I’m not dead yet, and hope to rejoin the conversation in fits and starts as we engage the merry month of May.  Cheers all!)

All The World’s A Stage, But It Ain’t No Sitcom Out There

February 20, 2012

This is outsourced almost entirely to Wallace Shawn, who is one of those exceptionally intimidating talents who seem capable of making art and engaging ideas in almost any way he chooses.

He’s got a new book out, (that would be a new book in 2009; yes I’m that slow) which I’m about to buy, titled, simply, EssaysCommenter Arundel pointed me to this selection from that work, (an addition to the paperback) a piece published in 2011,  titled “Are You Smarter than Thomas Jefferson.”

It’s a genuinely wonderful example of essay-form, a direct descendent from the ur-specimen we credit to Montaigne.  Shawn puts on a masterly display, demonstrating  just how much power derives from the concentration of a sharply individual point of view on experience and ideas — which is the essence of the personal essay.

In this case, it’s the gaze of a man of the theater that leads us into a sequence of images and thoughts that land at a devastating moment of moral vision.Beyond the story it tells in it’s own frame, the piece captures for me some large part of why our current politics leaves me so full of dread and sorrow.

And with that, let me turn over the podium to Mr. Shawn, adding only that there’s more and better (for not being chopped and excerpted to avoid the charge of simply stealing the piece):

I’ve sometimes noted that many people in my generation, born during World War II, are obsessed, as I am, by the image of the trains arriving at the railroad station at Auschwitz and the way that the S.S. officers who greeted the trains would perform on the spot what was called a “selection,” choosing a few of those getting off of each train to be slave laborers, who would get to live for as long as they were needed, while everyone else would be sent to the gas chambers almost immediately. And just as inexorable as were these “selections” are the determinations made by the global market when babies are born. The global market selects out a tiny group of privileged babies who are born in certain parts of certain towns in certain countries, and these babies are allowed to lead privileged lives. Some will be scientists, some will be bankers. Some will command, rule, and grow fantastically rich, and others will become more modestly paid intellectuals or teachers or artists. But all the members of this tiny group will have the chance to develop their minds and realize their talents.

As for all the other babies, the market sorts them and stamps labels onto them and hurls them violently into various pits, where an appropriate upbringing and preparation are waiting for them.

If the market thinks that workers will be needed in electronics factories, a hundred thousand babies will be stamped with the label “factory worker” and thrown down into a certain particular pit. And when the moment comes when one of the babies is fully prepared and old enough to work, she’ll crawl out of the pit, and she’ll find herself standing at the gate of a factory in India or in China or in Mexico, and she’ll stand at her workstation for 16 hours a day, she’ll sleep in the factory’s dormitory, she won’t be allowed to speak to her fellow workers, she’ll have to ask for permission to go the bathroom, she’ll be subjected to the sexual whims of her boss, and she’ll be breathing fumes day and night that will make her ill and lead to her death at an early age. And when she has died, one will be able to say about her that she worked, like a nurse, not to benefit herself, but to benefit others. Except that a nurse works to benefit the sick, while the factory worker will have worked to benefit the owners of her factory….

Even those of us who were selected out from the general group have our role and our costume. I happen to play a semi-prosperous fortunate bohemian, not doing too badly, nor too magnificently. And as I walk out onto the street on a sunny day, dressed in my fortunate bohemian costume, I pass, for example, the burly cop on the beat, I pass the weedy professor in his rumpled jacket, distractedly ruminating as he shambles along, I see couples in elegant suits briskly rushing to their meetings, I see the art student and the law student, and in the background, sometimes looming up as they come a bit closer, those not particularly selected out — the drug-store cashier in her oddly matched pink shirt and green slacks, the wacky street hustler with his crazy dialect and his crazy gestures, the wisecracking truck drivers with their round bellies and leering grins, the grim-faced domestic worker who’s slipped out from her employer’s house and now races into a shop to do an errand, and I see nothing, I think nothing, I have no reaction to what I’m seeing, because I believe it all.

I simply believe it. I believe the costumes. I believe the characters. And then for one instant, as the woman runs into the shop, I suddenly see what’s happening, the way a drowning man might have one last vivid glimpse of the glittering shore, and I feel like screaming out, “Stop! Stop! This isn’t real! It’s all a fantasy! It’s all a play! The people in these costumes are not what you think! The accents are fake, the expressions are fake — Don’t you see? It’s all –”

One instant — and then it’s gone. My mind goes blank for a moment, and then I’m back to where I was…

As I said, there’s more, presented as Shawn intended.  Go read the whole thing.

Image:  Pieter Paul Rubens, The Massacre of the Innocents,  1611 or 1612.


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