On David Carr

Posted February 13, 2015 by Tom
Categories: In Memoriam, media

Tags: ,

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.

Brrrraaaaaiiiiiiinnnnssss…

Posted February 6, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Decline and Fall, public health, ridicule, Stupidity, The Way We Live Now, Things that actually matter

Tags: , , ,

Or rather…

MMMMMorrrrrronnnnns:

The reanimated corpse of Dr. Jonas Salk, the medical researcher who developed the first polio vaccine, rose from the grave Friday morning on what authorities believe is a mission to hunt down idiots.

Wiertz_burial

The usual suspects beware.

Another drive-by post, but go read the whole of Andy Borowitz’s update to his eponymous report.*  It’ll help your mood.

You’re welcome.

*Yes.  I did put this post up solely for the purpose of getting to type “eponymous.” It’s the little pleasures…

Image:  Antoine Wiertz, The Premature Burial, 1854.

Christie Agonistes

Posted February 5, 2015 by Tom
Categories: bad behavior, Republican follies, Republican knavery, ridicule

Tags: ,

Drive-by post here, as I grapple with a deadline alas already in my rear view mirror, but I couldn’t resist offering up a taste of David Sirota’s latest for the commentariat’s mastication:

Federal law enforcement officials have launched a criminal investigation of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and members of his administration, pursuing allegations the governor and his staff broke the law when they quashed grand jury indictments against Christie supporters, International Business Times has learned.

Beached_Whale_-_Jacob_Matham_1602

Two criminal investigators from the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday interviewed the man who leveled those charges, Bennett Barlyn. He was fired from the Hunterdon County prosecutor’s office in August 2010, and subsequently brought a whistleblower lawsuit against the Christie administration, claiming he had been punished for objecting to the dismissal of the indictments of the governor’s supporters for a range of corrupt activities.

…The investigators are examining what state and federal laws may have been broken in the process. Barlyn said the investigators appeared to be at an exploratory stage, with no certainty that criminal charges would ultimately be filed.

Early days, obviously, and nothing yet (publicly) that links Christie himself to the events under scrutiny.  Seems unlikely that this could be Bush Crime Family action either.  I’d like to think the Bushies are at least smart enough not to get their mitts dirty when they don’t need to.*

So, I guess my take-away is that Christie-gigging has truly bipartisan appeal.  Nobody likes the man.

IOW:  Moah popcorn, please. (and my deepest sympathy to the citizens of New Jersey for being saddled with this sterling example of a public servant. Except maybe not that deep — y’all elected the guy yourselves, as I recall.)

*Christie in recent days has seemed to be his own circular firing squad.  In such moments, it would seem to me to be the wisest course to let your rival keep enjoying the carnal knowledge of his own domesticated flightless fowl.

Ferdinand_Richardt_-_Still_Life_with_Chickens_and_Fish

Images:  Jacob Martham after an engraving by Hendrik Goltzius, Beached Whale, 1602.

Ferdinand Richardt, Still Life With Chickens and Fish, before 1895.

David Brooks Auditions For Graham Greene

Posted January 30, 2015 by Tom
Categories: bad ideas, bad writing, MSM nonsense

Tags: , , ,

 The Quiet American  is a marvelous book, or rather, it is one in which Greene’s utter disdain for the reckless incompetence of power gets a near perfect expression.  Take this snippet from near the end of the work:

Pyle said, “It’s awful.” He looked at the wet on his shoes and said in a sick voice, “What’s that?” “Blood,” I said. “Haven’t you ever seen it before?” He said, “I must get them cleaned before I see the Minister.” I don’t think he knew what he was saying. He was seeing a real war for the first time: he had punted down into Phat Diem in a kind of schoolboy dream, and anyway in his eyes soldiers didn’t count.

“You see what a drum of Diolacton can do,” I said, “in the wrong hands.” I forced him, with my hand on his shoulder, to look around. I said, “This is the hour when the place is always full of women and children-it’s the shopping hour. Why choose that of all hours?” He said weakly, “There was to have been a parade.” “And you hoped to catch a few colonels. But the parade was cancelled yesterday, Pyle.” “I didn’t know.”

“Didn’t know!” I pushed him into a patch of blood where a stretcher had lain. “You ought to be better informed.”

“I was out of town,” he said, looking down at his shoes. “They should have called it off.”

“And missed the fun?” I asked him. “Do you expect General The to lose his demonstration? This is better than a parade. Women and children are news, and soldiers aren’t, in a war. This will hit the world’s press. You’ve put General The on the map all right, Pyle. You’ve got the Third Force and National Democracy all over your right shoe. Go home to Phuong and tell her about your heroic deed-there are a few dozen less of her country people to worry about.”

A small fat priest scampered by, carrying something on a dish under a napkin. Pyle had been silent a long while, and I had nothing more to say. Indeed I had said too much. He looked white and beaten and ready to faint, and I thought, ‘What’s the good? he’ll always he innocent, you can’t blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. Ail you can do is control them or eliminate them. Innocence is a kind of insanity.’

He said, “The wouldn’t have done this. I’m sure he wouldn’t. Somebody deceived him. The Communists…”

He was impregnably armoured by his good intentions and his ignorance…

Peter_Paul_Rubens_Massacre_of_the_Innocents

“Impregnable armoured by good intentions and ignorance.”  That is what will — or at least should be — engraved on David Brooks’ tombstone.  And I’m only giving him the props for his intent there out of whatever residual nil nisi bonum remains to me.

Why the vitriol, and memory of stupid wars, with the overwhelming weight of the violence reserved for far away others who don’t look like “us”?

Today’s column.

Read the rest of this post »

What Could Possibly Go Wrong

Posted January 21, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Decline and Fall, Guns, Stupidity, The Way We Live Now

Tags: ,

When self selected vigilantes assaulting armed strangers in public spaces?

Consider this incident:

According to the Hillsborough  Sheriff’s Office, [African-American] 62-year-old Clarence Daniels was entering Walmart with his legally concealed firearm to buy coffee creamer on Tuesday when he was spotted by 43-year-old vigilante Michael Foster.

Foster, who is white, had observed Daniels conceal the weapon under his coat before he came into the store. When Daniels crossed the threshold, Foster tackled him and placed him in a chokehold…

Florida, Jake…but at least the worst outcomes were avoided:

He’s got a gun!” Foster reportedly exclaimed.

“I have a permit!” Daniels repeatedly shouted back.

After a struggle, the men were separated. Deputies later arrived and Foster was charged with battery.

V0017125 Head of a man, composed of nude figures. Oil painting.

So:  no one died.  Good.

A couple of thoughts, though:  (a) what kind of asshole do you have to be to decide that you want to walk around looking for folks to bash based on whether they look hinky to you?  B)  if it’s really all about guns, then what’s going to keep you from going all George Zimmerman at any point in the drama?  That this ended with neither the victim nor the self-appointed asshole on a gurney is just a signal that FSM was dangling its noodly appendage down Hillsborough way that day, nothing more.

The most obvious take away is, of course, that this couldn’t possibly be about race because (nods to Charlie Pierce) it’s never about race.  Except…

Again, I see it as a near miracle that the legal gun owner who happened to be black is still alive right now.  The white vigilante is lucky too, certainly — jumping a guy with a gun is not a long-term health strategy — but we’ve seen too much lately of what even the merest hint that an African American man or kid! might be armed does to their odds.

But I want to point out the essential current here, the unifying thread that runs through all of these incidents, the tragedies and the bathetic ones alike.  That’s fear, brought on by the worship of the gun.  How on earth is vigilante-ism even a thing in 2015 America?  It’s because the toxic combination of racial and class politics and unlimited arsenals produce terror and rage in equal and toxic admixture.

Worst of all is then how normal this all seems to those in the midst of it.  Consider this advice:

“The Sheriff’s Office recommends that vigilante-inclined citizens refrain from taking matters into their own hands, especially when an incident is gun-related,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.

McKinnon said that vigilantes should “make sure there’s a good reason” before tackling gun owners.

Ya think?

In the end the fact that actual bad guys do not in fact carry neon signs to identify them  (no Poor Impulse Control tattoos yet) means that, well, it’s a target rich environment.

“Unfortunately he tackled a guy that was a law-abiding citizen,” McKinnon noted. “We understand it’s alarming for people to see other people with guns, but Florida has a large population of concealed weapons permit holders.”

In other words:  be careful out there.  Someone, soon, is going to get killed in one of these stunts.  And once again the tree of liberty will be watered with the blood of someone just going about their business, or a kid who happens to be in the next aisle when the stray shot comes home or…

Not to mention, except I will, again:  the racial element here.  White guys chasing black guys they fear is an old trope in American life.  It’s with us still.  Video at eleven.

PS:  I’m totally with Bryant Gumbel here.

Image: F. Balbi, The head of a man composed of writhing nude figuresposs. 1868.

Annals of Gobsmackery

Posted January 19, 2015 by Tom
Categories: bad behavior, ridicule, Two Parties -- Not the Same

Tags: ,

Admittedly, he’s just trolling, but Dinesh D’Souza is a good troll.  I mean really:

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 6.24.41 PM

 

If there is the slightest chance he actually believes he merits comparison to Dr. King, all I can say is wow, dude,  That’s some fine delusions of grandeur you got there.

If in fact he is doing what I’m 99% sure he is, just acting like an asshole (i.e., naturally) and poking those who find in King an actual hero of social and racial justice, then what is there to say.

First, I guess, that living inside D’Souza’s head must be its own, truly horrible punishment.  And second — as stated above — that’s some world class classlessness all in less than 140 characters.  Good job, mate.

Guess The Complexion Of The Shooter

Posted January 18, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Guns, Race

Tags: , ,

Here’s all you need to know:

A Sentinel, Okla., man on Thursday shot the town’s police chief four times and was then released from custody after questioning.

All lives matter and I’m glad no one was killed in this bit of 2nd Amendment insanity — but if after Martin and Brown and Rice and Crawford you still somehow wondered if white privilege were a thing, just give it up.

Graveyard_in_the_Tyrol_1914-1915_JS_Sargent

More detail:

Sentinel Police Chief Louis Ross was shot in the chest three times and once in the arm Thursday morning after breaking down the front door and entering a house at 205 S 4, Sentinel Mayor Sam Dlugonski said.

The chief was wearing a bulletproof vest that was loaned to him by a sheriff’s deputy minutes before the raid on the home. He survived the shooting, and authorities said the vest saved his life.

Dlugonski and a neighbor on S 4 both said the man detained in the shooting was Dallas Horton, who lives at 205 S 4. Investigating authorities did not release the man’s name.

Agents with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said the man who shot the chief was released after hours of questioning when they determined they didn’t have enough evidence to arrest him.

“Facts surrounding the case lead agents to believe the man was unaware it was officers who made entry,” OSBI wrote in a news release.

Well, yes.  But then there’s this:

Chief Ross said Washita County 911 received two calls from a man who identified himself as Dallas Horton, and claimed to have a bomb inside the head start school….

Chief Ross told News 9 he called for county back up before entering Horton’s home.

Up to this point, Horton claimed he never knew any officers were in his home.

“Don’t know what he heard or didn’t hear screaming from five officers of the law announcing our presence, requesting to see hands,” said Chief Ross.

I’m going to go way out on a limb here and state (a) it’s amazing, just flat out gobsmacking, that anyone could shot a cop four times and not face a gazillion bullets coming the other way; and (b) that I simply cannot imagine the circumstances in which a non-white cop-shooter who did survive the initial event would be back on the street the same day.

That conclusion could just reflect my biases.  It certainly involves an inference beyond the facts known to me as I write this.  Still, American history and our recent past seem to tell a pretty consistent story to me:  African Americans, and especially black men, face the threat of violence under the cover of law to a degree that a middle class white guy like me cannot begin to fathom.  So I’m prepared to make the leap that the color of the shooter here made a difference in his treatment by law enforcement.  I certainly could be wrong:  any individual case can be an outlier in any direction.  But if I had to bet…

Again, I want to repeat something really important:  it’s a great thing that neither the police chief nor the suspect are dead.  That’s what we would want to see come out of moments of crisis in law enforcement.

I’m just noting here that I want that outcome for all those confronting the sudden presence of armed cops:  toy wielding shoppers, kids on a playground, young men walking, anyone.   Such happy endings shouldn’t be reserved only for a gun nut who can be distinguished from those less fortunate individuals by — among other things I’m sure — the fact that he happens to be white.

Image:  John Singer Sargent, Graveyard in the Tyrol, 1914-1915.

 


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