Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Year in Media and Cities, 2010

Still inspired by Jason over at Kottke.org, I'm continuing my practice of cataloging some of the things I've done and the places I've been over the past year. You can find 2008's and 2009's lists by clicking on the numbers.

Here we go with 2010.

Cities I've attended, spending at least a day and a night in each locale
Alon Shvut, Israel
Jerusalem, Israel
Manhattan, New York
West Orange, New Jersey
Teaneck, New Jersey
Lake George, New York
Edison, New Jersey
Woodmere, New York
Honesdale, Pennsylvania
Spring Lake, New Jersey
Brooklyn, New York
Kiryat Arba, Israel
Hewlett, New York

Movies I've seen on the big screen
Sherlock Holmes
Crazy Heart
Hot Tub Time Machine
How to Train Your Dragon
Death at a Funeral
Iron Man 2
Shrek Forever After
Toy Story 3
Annie Hall
Inception
Despicable Me
The Social Network
The Town
Jackass 3D
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
Tron: Legacy
The Iron Giant
True Grit


Movies I've seen on the little screen
Young @ Heart
The Botany of Desire
Adaptation
Inglourious Basterds
Best in Show
Do the Right Thing
Winning Time
Big Fan
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
June 17, 1994
A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy
Futurama: Bender’s Game
Cyrus
X-Men
Pulp Fiction
Fargo
Get Smart
Futurama: Bender’s Big Score
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs
Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder
Zombieland
Little Shop of Horrors


Books I've read
How Fiction Works
Eating the Dinosaur
Anathem
Killing Yourself to Live
The Mystery Guest
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
The Art of a Beautiful Game
Persepolis
2666
Here is New York
Although of course you end up becoming yourself
A Sense of Where You Are
Cardboard Gods
Blankets
Netherland
Baseball Prospectus 2010
Loose Balls
Best American Non-Required Reading 2009
Baseball Between the Numbers
Into the Wild
Kafka on the Shore
The Book of Basketball
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
My Losing Season
Levels of the Game
The Human Stain
Freedom
FreeDarko’s The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History
Cooking for Geeks
The Case of the Gilded Fly
Missing


TV I've watched
The Simpsons
Seasons 6-8, 13

Mad Men
Season 4

Party Down
Seasons 1-2

Futurama
Seasons 1-4

Archer
Season 1

The Wire
Season 1

The Walking Dead
Season 1

Louie
Season 1

Each new episode of:
The Simpsons
Futurama
30 Rock
Parks and Rec
Community
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Modern Family


Sporting events I've attended
Monday, January 18
New York Knicks 99, Detroit Pistons 91
Madison Square Garden

Tuesday, February 9
Sacramento Kings 118, New York Knicks 114 (OT)
Madison Square Garden

Saturday, February 20
Oklahoma City Thunder 121, New York Knicks 118 (OT)
Madison Square Garden

Wednesday, March 3
New York Knicks 128, Detroit Pistons 104
Madison Square Garden

Monday, April 12
New York Knicks 114, Washington Wizards 103
Madison Square Garden

Wednesday, May 5
New York Yankees 7, Baltimore Orioles 5
Yankee Stadium

Monday, August 9
Boston Red Sox 2, New York Yankees 1
Yankee Stadium

Tuesday, August 10
New York Mets 1, Colorado Rockies 0
Citi Field

Tuesday, August 17
New York Yankees 6, Detroit Tigers 2
Yankee Stadium

Tuesday, September 7
Fernando Verdasco defeats David Ferrer
Louis Armstrong Stadium
US Open

Saturday, October 9
New York Yankees 6, Minnesota Twins 1
Yankee Stadium

Monday, October 18
Texas Rangers 8, New York Yankees 0
Yankee Stadium

Tuesday, November 23
New York Knicks 110, Charlotte Bobcats 107
Madison Square Garden

Wednesday, December 15
Boston Celtics 118, New York Knicks 116
Madison Square Garden

Plays I've attended
Tuesday, February 23
Rock of Ages
Brooks Atkinson Theater

Sunday, March 7
The Tempest
BAM’s Harvey Theater

Wednesday, June 23
The 39 Steps
New World Stages

Saturday, July 31
Twelfth Night
Divine Park, Spring Lake, New Jersey

Music concerts I've attended
Steve Earle with Allison Moore and Greg Trooper
City Winery

Saturday, November 13
The Baltimore Symphony
Carnegie Hall

So, on average, I've:
  • visited a new place every ~28 days;
  • seen a movie on the big screen every ~20 days;
  • seen a movie on the little screen every ~16 days;
  • read a book every ~12 days;
  • attended a live sporting event every ~26 days;
  • watched a season of TV every ~24 days (not including all the partial seasons);
  • attended a play once every three months;
  • attended a concert once every six months;
  • and composed a blog post (including this one) once every ~3.5 days.
It's been a busy year.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Paragraph of the Week

James L. Brooks, interviewed in the January 2011 edition of Esquire:

I had an argument years and years ago with another comedy writer. Jack Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman were biggest guns at the time--long may they wave--and we had ad argument about which one was number one. I took Jack, and I finally won the argument by saying he could play either role in The Odd Couple.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

An Important Announcement Regarding Beans

The recipe for white bean and garlic soup in Jeff Potter's Cooking for Geeks calls for soaking the white beans for several hours before bringing them a boil and simmering for fifteen minutes. The recipe is great and--as it turns out--informative. Mr. Potter notes:

Don't skip soaking and boiling the beans. Really. One type of protein present in beans--phytohaemagglutinin--causes extreme intestinal distress. The beans to be boiled to denature this protein; cooking them in a slow cooker or sous vide setup will not denature this protein and actually make things worse. If you're in a rush, use canned white beans; they'll already been cooked.

You can read more about phytohaemagglutinin here. So please, folks, soak and boil your beans.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Portrait of the Artest as a Young Man

A small art gallery in Toronto recently devoted a night to Ron Artest. The results were fantastic. Here's a slideshow of the works on display.

The Basketball Jones, an NBA podcast and blog, sent an intrepid reporter to check out the scene. Stick around for the end: Artest shows up.


TBJ: Ron Artest crashes Ron Artest exhibit from The Basketball Jones on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Paragraph of the Week

From Nick Paumgarten's "Master of Play," a profile of Nintendo genius and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto, in the December 20, 2010 issue of The New Yorker:
Miyamoto recognizes that there is pleasure in difficulty but also in ease, in mastery, in performing a familiar act with aplomb, whether that be catching a baseball, dancing a tango, doing Sudoku, or steering Mario through the Mushroom Kingdom, jumping on Goombas and Koopa Troopas. His games strike this magical balance between the excitement that comes from facing new problems and the swagger from facing down old ones. The consequent sensation of confidence is useful, in dealing with a game’s more challenging stages, but also a worthy aim in itself. “A lot of the so-called ‘action games’ are not made that way,” Miyamoto told me. “All the time, players are forced to do their utmost. If they are challenged to the limit, is it really fun for them?” In his own games, Miyamoto said, “You are constantly providing the players with a new challenge, but at the same time providing them with some stages or some occasions where they can simply, repeatedly, do something again and again. And that itself can be a joy.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hand Models: Creepy or Creepiest?

Ran across this interview with Ellen Sirot, hand model. Haven't been able to get these three minutes of weird goodness out of my head since.



Jason Kottke hit the nail on the head: "Sirot is constantly performing with her hands but it's also like she hasn't got any hands, not functional ones anyway."

Zoolander wasn't that far off...

Movie Videos & Movie Scenes at MOVIECLIPS.com

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Paragraph of the Week


What made Wallace’s work so phenomenally powerful for so many readers, I would argue, has to do with its ability to connect three consistent impulses in contemporary fiction in a way that no other writer has managed quite so well. In Wallace’s work, we repeatedly see wed high-modern/postmodern experimental pyrotechnics not only with an incisive cultural critique but also with a deeply personal concern for quotidian human suffering. That is to say that Wallace’s fiction combines rich investments in form, in ideas, and in emotion. Any number of writers of the last fifty years can be read as bringing together two of these strains in contemporary fiction, but hardly anyone else has managed all three in a way that feels to the reader not simply sincere but unflinchingly honest. And it’s these three factors together, I would argue, that have something to do with the degree of connection that readers have felt with Wallace’s writing: not only is that writing serious enough to make the reader work non-trivially in its apprehension, and not only does the writing cause the reader to think seriously about the world in which she lives, but it also helps the reader, on some too often devalued level, to understand herself within that world.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Inconspicuous Consumption Key to Romance Novels

I love this. Romance e-books are flying off the virtual shelves at an unprecedented level.
Dominique Raccah, the publisher and chief executive of Sourcebooks, an independent publisher in Naperville, Ill., said her romance e-book sales had grown exponentially this year, outpacing any other category. In the first quarter 8 percent of total romance sales at Sourcebooks were from e-book sales. By the third quarter that number had gone up to 27 percent. (Major trade publishers say e-books now make up about 9 to 10 percent of overall sales.) “You’re seeing the real development of a market,” Ms. Raccah said.
Why? Some romance readers are embarrassed by the books' covers. But with the advent of dedicated e-readers that do not display book covers--or even let others know what book is being read--bashful romance readers are free to read away, without fear of being noticed by people you know.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Blog-iversary, 2010

Well, it's that time of year again. It's my blog-iversary.

Since we last celebrated together I've become something of a professional blogger, by which I mean that I get paid money to write on the internet. It's something of a dream come true, because I had been doing this for free. I've been fortunate enough to publish something in the neighborhood of 160 posts for Ifbyphone and PMI since January 2010. And yet this year has managed to be the busiest yet for The Daily Snowman, with more than 100 posts published since my last blog-iversary. As always, I'm surprised and grateful that many thousands of you decided to come visit (or, I suppose, a few or you visited many thousands of times), to read what I have to say. I truly appreciate your support.

My advice to anyone hoping to be paid to write is this: just start writing. My paid gigs are a direct result of this humble blog, even though I never would have predicted the path from a blog about snowmen to multiple paying blogs about phones. Writing begets writing.  Just choose a topic and start writing. You never know who'll be reading.

Let's go now to this year's edition of the Snowies. (Any resemblance to any of these Urban Dictionary definitions of the word "snowy" is mostly accidental.)

Snowiest Embedded Videos



and



Snowiest Series
  1. The Internet is Distracting
  2. Zippers on Baseball Uniforms
Snowiest Update on a Multi-Year Series 
  1. Yet More Evidence That Laugh-Tracks are Bad
Snowiest Recognition of TDS
  1. Matt Bucher's Las Obras de Roberto Bolano
  2. FreeDarko's Twitter
Snowiest 2666 Posts
  1. Initial 2666 Thoughts
  2. 2666's The Part About the Crimes and Literary Realism
Snowiest Weekly Paragraphs

From Pat Conroy's My Losing Season:
As a boy, I had constructed a shell for myself so impenetrable that I have been trying to write my way out of it for over thirty years, and even now I fear I have barely cracked its veneer. It is as rouged and polished and burnished as the specialized glass of telescopes, and it kept me hidden from the appraising eyes of the outside world long into manhood. But most of all it kept me hidden and safe from myself. No outsider I have ever met has struck me with the strangeness I encounter when I try to discover the deepest mysteries of the boy I once was. Several times in my life I have gone crazy, and I could not even begin to tell you why. The sadness collapses me from the inside out, and I have to follow the thing through until it finishes with me. It never happened to me when I was playing basketball because basketball was the only thing that granted me a complete and sublime congruence and oneness with the world. I found a joy, unrecapturable beyond the realm of speech or language, and I lost myself in the pure, dazzling majesty of my sweet, swift game.
And the great Will Leitch on LeBron's decision:
No, tonight, it felt like everyone involved — LeBron, ESPN, Bing, the University of Phoenix, Stuart Scott, the man who once chastised fans for having the audacity to boo, Jim freaking Gray — treated the millions of people watching like stupid, mindless consumers, empty lemmings ready to follow Sport into the abyss. Here, here are the Boys & Girls Club props. Here, here is your search engine. Here, here is your online college, Here, here is your Athletic Hero. Eat. Eat. Consume. You like it. You love it. You'll always come back for more.

They're surely right, of course. But never has it been laid more bare, and never did it feel so empty. It felt like a break, the moment when the tide crested, when we looked at the games, and their players, and ourselves, and wondered: Why in the world are we watching these awful people? It was a question impossible to answer.
Snowiest Posts About Ivy League Schools
  1. Yale School Musical
  2. Is Larry Summers the Key Character in The Social Network?
Snowiest Video Essays



and



Snowiest Movie Reviews
  1. June 17, 1994: Subtle Choices Are Choices Nonetheless
  2. Reviewing Avatar
Snowiest Books/Reading Posts
  1. How We Remember Sports: FreeDarko's Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History 
  2. Helplessness of the Self: James Wood on David Foster Wallace
Snowiest Posts That Don't Fit in Another Category
  1. Steve Earle in Concert
  2. Reader's Despair Syndrome
Lastly, I'd like to wish a happy blog-iversary to my blog-brother, Ariel at Troubled Souls Unite, now in its second incarnation. He's essential reading if you love music or if you would like to understand the ways in which the love of music is expressed in America in 2010.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Happy Repeal Day

Call it coincidence or call it an expression of the zeitgeist, but sometimes the media output of a single year focuses heavily on a surprising subject. For example, two biographies of Pistol Pete Maravich were released in 2007. And when historians look back on 2011, they will remember it as the year which witnessed the release of two movies focused on superheros with the word Green in their names.

For some reason, people focused on Prohibition in 2010. Dan Okrent's book Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition was named to The New York Times' list of 100 notable books of 2010 and the HBO's Boardwalk Empire proved to be one of the most discussed shows on TV.

Again, I'm not sure what motivated this sudden interest in a thirteen year stretch of history that concluded in 1933, but I'd like to think that the invention of Repeal Day had something to do with it. Repeal Day was started by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, a bar manager and blogger living in Eugene, Oregon. His initial Repeal Day post was published in November of 2006; maybe it just took a few years for the popular culture to catch on.

Repeal Day, of course, commemorates the ratification--on December 5th, 1933--of the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition. To learn more about it, visit Morgenthaler's Repeal Day site or, if reading is too hard, watch this video:



So remember, remember, the fifth of December, and celebrate by enjoying your constitutional right to have a drink.

[Newsreel video via @winemakerguy]

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What "Come Together" Means to Me

My friend Ariel recently put together a series of posts on the songs that get people through their teenage years. It's a rather excellent series of posts on what is a rather excellent blog. He did some crowdsourcing, putting out a call for examples of these songs. I responded somewhat lengthily, nominating "Come Together." Ariel didn't have room for elaborations on why these songs meant something to the several hundred people who replied to his call for submissions, but he did include my song. Going with the theory that whatever I write should see the light of day, here's my nomination for "Come Together," from The Beatles' Abbey Road:
 
I didn't have many strong musical influences during my teen years. This happens, I suppose, when your parents listen exclusively to AM radio in the car and you don't have any older siblings. I clearly remember, though, going with my mom to Livingston Mall and buying a CD called Abbey Road from some music store which is, undoubtedly, no longer in business.
 
My mom said I would like it. She was right.
 
I particularly liked "Come Together," possibly for no reason other than its placement as the opening track on the album.
 
This song--this album; this band--made me feel as if I was a part of this larger thing called music, as if I understood something that just about everyone else in the world knew about, as if I fit in. And isn't that all a teenager really wants?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving at the Movies

Celebrate Thanksgiving with this ode to food in film, from the master of the video essay, Matt Zoller Seitz.



MZS correctly recognizes that the preparation, presentation, and plating are just as important as the eating.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How We Remember Sports: FreeDarko's Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History

The title of the FreeDarko collective's latest book--The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History--is something of an elaborate joke. The only part of the title that accurately reflects the book's content is that two-word segment about Pro Basketball. If not for the need to market this thing with a keyword friendly title, it very well might have been called The Subjective and Personal Recollection of Pro Basketball Memory.

FreeDarko's first book-length effort--The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac--presented its thesis right at the start, with a six-part manifesto outlining the group's conceptual approach to basketball, elaborating on such concepts as the primacy of the individual and the superficiality of judging basketball players and teams solely by the unforgiving categories of wins and losses. The Undisputed Guide, on the other hand, hides its working thesis on page 210, in the book's afterword.

And I quote:

As historian Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi wrote, "Certain memories live on; the rest are winnowed out, repressed, or simply discarded by a process of natural selection which the historian, uninvited, disturbs and reverses." In sports, history is winners and losers, statistics and dates; memory, which is where the stories start, is imperfect, stylized, personal.

The chapter introduction pages contain the most basic achievements of history--NBA champion, MVP, along with per game leaders in points, rebounds, and assists--but the meat of the book, as one might expect, is devoted to topics more closely associated with memory. This most often takes the form of re-readings of accepted wisdom, interpreting, for example, Red Auerbach's Celtics not as the embodiment of slow, stodgy, right way basketball that have become the darlings of strong-willed coaches over the last forty years, but, instead, as a fast-breaking, ass-kicking team that was "tough and focused, sure, but a hell of a lot of fun."

The book's strongest sections, though, describe not the result but, rather, the process of memory. Two examples will suffice here. The first is the essay "Cult of Personality," which examines the ways in which shoe commercials redefined or defined basketball stars of the 1990s. Chris Webber's barbershop commercials amplified his essential character. Larry Johnson was viewed as Grandmama, that slam-dunking old lady in Converses, even after he "grew a beard of Abrahamic proportions to signify his conversion to the Nation of Islam, called his Knicks a teams a group of 'rebellious slaves,' and remarked that he and Avery Johnson were from the 'same plantation.'" Dikembe Mutombo overcame the affected Africanization of his Adidas-designed multicolor shoes through the sheer force of his personality. Perhaps most interesting, though, are those players whose personalities are seen entirely through the prism of their sneakers. When Penny Hardaway's personality was found by Nike to be lacking, the marketing folks replaced it with a stronger one. Thus was born Lil' Penny, voiced by none other than Chris Rock. And Dee Brown simply "was his shoe," the Reebok Pumps. This chapter may necessarily oversimplify these complex athletes, but it serves as a forceful reminder that in the public memory, the shoes really do make the man.

Appropriately enough, the book's ultimate chapter, "Arbiters of Amazement," discusses YouTube's democratization of basketball's public memory. No longer does the NBA and its corporate partners hold exclusive control over the dissemination of basketball moments. They're not mentioned by The Undisputed Guide, but Ron Artest's various post-game interviews given during the 2010 postseason are perfect examples of this new democratic spirit. Artest's meandering conversations with Craig Sager and Doris Burke would never have been given a place in the sanitized official history of the league, but they have been viewed many hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube.



This book is really strong. While other recent additions to the basketball enthusiast's library have claimed to tell the story of the NBA from a fan's perspective, I much prefer to align myself with the approach espoused by these fans and with their thoughtful conception of the game I love.

Recommended.

The Suburbs

This makes me sad that it's no longer summer and that I'm no longer a teenager and that I can't ride a bike and that suburbs are, apparently, now operating under martial law.



The song is not really my style, but the, oh my, the video. Music by Arcade Fire. Video by Spike Jonze.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Paragraph of the Week

From "Mikan and Modernity," an essay in FreeDarko's The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History:

When [George] Mikan joined the pros as a member of the NBL's Chicago American Gears, the challenges posed by the 6'10" star were undeniable. No longer was an irregularity of space something that could be corrected through a strong governing body. It now arose not from the field of play, but from the differences between the players on it. Mikan led the NBL in scoring for six straight seasons; basketball's best player was also its most unique.

For more on the geometry of sports, see Infinite Jest.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Paragraph of the Week

David Owen's article "Taking Humor Seriously," a profile of longtime The Simpsons' writer George Meyer, from the March 13, 2000 issue of The New Yorker:

"I just watched everything," he [Meyer] told me, "and always with the same slack expression on my face. I watched so much and from such an early age, in fact, that I didn't understand what TV was for. I say this to people and they think I'm kidding, but I didn't realize that 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' was supposed to be funny I thought you just watched it. The people said things, and they moved around, and you just waited till you saw the kid-you know, you liked to see Richie. My brothers and sisters and I rarely laughed at anything we watched. We watched more to learn what the world was like and how adults interacted, and what a cocktail party was, what a night club was, what you did on a sea cruise -- although I did like shows where the joke would be that somebody got shot or fell out of a window. When you're a kid, you like to see adults getting away with stuff; because you hope to join them one day in anarchy and mayhem."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Don Draper, Saying What



I'm partial to angry what? (around the 17 second mark, for example). But bemused and cocky what? is also great.

[via Skeets]

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Is Larry Summers the Key Character in The Social Network?

In my last post I mentioned in passing that Larry Summers is the only likable character in The Social Network. Let's revisit that idea.

I still think I'm right about the Summers character's likability. But as I was discussing the film with my roommate, I realized that this issue might be more complicated than I initially thought.

Your thoughts on Larry Summers in the film--played by Douglas Urbanski--most likely depend on your thoughts on the Winklevoss twins. Are they spoiled brats who expect the world to conform to their expectations or are they the victims of a serious case of intellectual property theft? This, of course, is the main question of the movie.

I initially read the twins as the former, but there's reason to reconsider this approach. After all, Zuckerberg did steal their idea, even if he did all the coding from scratch. The courts agree, to the tune of a $65 million settlement. (I'm talking here only about the universe of the film; I have no idea what happened in real life.) They're honorable gentlemen--or, at least, one of them is--who believe in the ideals of a Harvard code, initially refraining from suing Zuckerberg. They've previously succeeded in business, sending a programmer off to work for Google. They're athletic. They're attractive, no small thing for audiences who love identifying with good looking characters.

So why am I introducing the film's overarching theme through Larry Summers? Because the twins' quick interaction with the Harvard president may be the crucial scene to determining their character. Summers dismisses the Winklevosses and their claim pretty conclusively. If the scene were played differently, it might have added additional support to the idea that their legitimate claims are being ignored by the very people entrusted to safeguard their success. But, as shot, this short scene lends credence to the opposite approach.

Let's start with Summers. As Harvard president, he starts off in a position of authority. This appeal to stature is only strengthened when he mentions that he understands the financial considerations of the case because, after all, he had served as Treasury Secretary of the US. But beyond that, Summers is quick and confident and funny, a likable combination. Compare this to the Winklevosses, who repeatedly lose their cool throughout the meeting. Not as much room for sympathy with them. It only gets worse as the viewer learns that the twins relied upon their father's connections to secure this meeting. Score one for the privileged brats theory. Their petulance and immaturity are again highlighted as one of the brothers breaks the knob off a historic door.

This scene, short as it was, sealed my interpretation of the Winklevoss twins. If it were shot just a bit differently, my entire approach to the movie would have been different. It might not be true, then, that your understanding of the Winklevosses guides your take on Summers: your analysis of Summers just might determine your reading of the Winklevoss twins and, I believe, the film as a whole.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Facebook, Privacy, and the Bettering of Society

All everyone's been talking about is The Social Network, the so-called Facebook movie. And with good reason: it's a damn good film, even if it took some time on the way home from the theater to come up with even one likable character. (We eventually settled on Larry Summers, and, maybe, Erica and Rashida Jones' character.) I'll have some more thoughts on the film, I hope, later this week, but I found it interesting that so many publications used the occasion of the film's release to talk about Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. As opposed to the usual formula of the movie following a book--even as The Social Network is based on Ben Mezrich's The Accidental Billionaires--here we have an outpouring of the written word following a film.

The best of these, at least of the ones I've read, is Jose Antonio Vargas' profile of Zuckerberg in the September 20th edition of The New Yorker. There's the usual history and background, but where Vargas really excels is in discussing issues familiar to any of Facebook's users, a number somewhere around half a billion worldwide.

Here's Vargas on Facebook and privacy, one of the recurring issues of our new digital lives:
Danah Boyd, a social-media researcher at Microsoft Research New England, added, “This is a philosophical battle. Zuckerberg thinks the world would be a better place—and more honest, you’ll hear that word over and over again—if people were more open and transparent. My feeling is, it’s not worth the cost for a lot of individuals.”

Zuckerberg and I talked about this the first time I signed up for Facebook, in September, 2006. Users are asked to check a box to indicate whether they’re interested in men or in women. I told Zuckerberg that it took me a few hours to decide which box to check. If I said on Facebook that I’m a man interested in men, all my Facebook friends, including relatives, co-workers, sources—some of whom might not approve of homosexuality—would see it.

“So what did you end up doing?” Zuckerberg asked.

“I put men.”

“That’s interesting. No one has done a study on this, as far as I can tell, but I think Facebook might be the first place where a large number of people have come out,” he said. “We didn’t create that—society was generally ready for that.” He went on, “I think this is just part of the general trend that we talked about, about society being more open, and I think that’s good.”
I've never understood Zuckerberg's claim that openness is good. I always pictured this as the posturing of someone whose billion-dollar company requires the redefinition of online privacy in such a way that maximizes profits. But, now, I'm not so sure. I still don't necessarily want my grandmother to see all the pictures I'm tagged in, but it might actually be a good thing--both for individuals and our society at large--if, for example, people felt more comfortable being honest about their sexuality. Who knows, maybe Facebook is doing some good after all.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Vote for my Boss

Hi there, Snowman enthusiasts.

Take a minute, if you can, and vote for my boss in this video competition hosted by Crain's Chicago Business. He's the one labeled The Sky's The Limit, by Irv Shapiro--it's about a third of the way down the page.

There's no registration or log-in required.

Thank you.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Video Essay of the Week

Jim Emerson on the shared physical memory of Mad Men, also featuring the gaze. (Spoilers through season 4, episode 9.)


Beautiful Girls (and Mad Men): Ghosts of the 37th Floor from Jim Emerson on Vimeo.

His comments here are also worth reading.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Pale King Cover



Two things to note about the cover of DFW's latest (last?) book, The Pale King.
  1. In publishing, it's kinda a big deal to have the author's name in bigger print than the book's title. DFW's been at this for a while.
  2. The cover is designed by DFW's widow, Karen Green.
The book, set largely in an IRS tax-processing center, will be released on April 15, 2011. Seven months.

[via The Howling Fantods!, naturally]

    Sunday, September 12, 2010

    Paragraph of the Week

    From David Foster Wallace's Kenyon Commencement Speech, two years to the day of his suicide:

    As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.

    Monday, September 6, 2010

    Paragraph of the Week

    From Ian Frazier's "On the Prison Highway," from the August 30, 2010 edition of The New Yorker:

    Beneath a surface layer of unbelief or Orthodox Christianity, Russia is an animist country. Ordinary physical objects are alive in Russia far more than they are in America, and, however Russia's religious or political currents flow, this native animism remains strong. Trees, streets, utensils, groves, machines--each has its own spirit and its own personality, like the cabin belonging to the witch Baba Yaga that could get up on its chicken legs and run around. A Russian telephone isn't just a phone, it's a being; once, at my friend Alex Melamid's mother's apartment when I was having trouble dialling her phone, she showed me how, explaining, "He likes to be dialled slowly." In Russia, alarm clocks don't ring; they burst into rooster-crowing.

    [snip]

    In Russia the windshield wiper on your car isn't called a mechanical name--it's a dvornik, a word whose more common meaning is "custodian." What we call a speed bump in America the Russians call lezhachii politseiskii, which means "lying-down policeman."

    Sunday, September 5, 2010

    Video Essays: The Wire's Opening Credits and Man Men's Visual Style

    Looking back, the thing I liked most about Phillips' description of Pele from two posts ago is that it felt very much like a video essay, just with the commentary separated from the video, in this case taking the form of the paragraph preceding the video. Video essays are one of my favorite things about the internet: the mixing of mediums allows for smart people to demonstrate arguments and theories with the very evidence needed to best convince the reader of the point being made. Phillips did exactly that and this is why I was struck by the beauty of what he accomplished. I only recognized what he did as a video essay in retrospect.

    These essays are perhaps the best form of commentary because it requires the writer to show his work. Video essays are particularly well suited to visual mediums, and there are loads of great ones illuminating films. But the low technological barrier of entry has allowed for some wonderful pieces on serious TV dramas. Here are two examples of what I mean, the first on the visual language of the first two seasons of Mad Men and the second on the opening credits of The Wire's first season.


    RETRO: The Camera & 'Mad Men'
    Uploaded by Jefferson_Robbins. - Full seasons and entire episodes online.

    And:

    Thursday, September 2, 2010

    Pele's Brilliance and the Art of Description

    Here's something surprising: Brian Phillips, of the great Run of Play, composed a fantastic post analyzing Pele through the prism of DFW's famous "Roger Federer as Religious Experience" article. That isn't the surprising part. Wallace's piece is ripe for analysis and extrapolation. No, the surprising thing is that, as good as Phillips' application and critique of DFW's is, it pale in comparison to this brilliant description of how Pele does work:
    There are moments in Pelé’s games when he dribbles straight into a crowd of three or four defenders. He seems to have done that often, though in the videos now it’s sometimes hard to say who he’s playing against or what year it is or even what the score is or how much time is on the clock. He’ll dribble into a crowd of three or four defenders, which is suicide for a footballer, even in Brazil in the 1960s. 


    [snip]


    It’s almost impossible to keep the fine control you need to take a decent shot when all the defender needs to do is wallop the ball away from you. Pelé dribbles into a crowd of players who have put themselves between him and the goal and whose whole purpose is to get the ball away from him, to keep him from scoring, which again is infinitely easier than the task facing the attacking player, and often in these situations, instead of trying something dazzling or virtuosic, Pelé will just stop. He’ll come to a sudden halt, with his foot lightly resting on top of the ball, and a ripple of confusion and wrong-footedness will go through the crowd of defenders as it tries to react and not fall over. Pelé will do one of those dancing shivering whole-body fakes he excelled at, dropping his shoulder, say, as if he’s about to lunge to the left, but almost simultaneously hinting right with his hips, and rolling the ball just slightly in a teasing way under his toes. Half the defenders start to guess one way and the other half start to guess the other way, but they recover, they’re professionals paying attention, and then just at the precise moment when it looks like a stalemate Pelé knocks the ball through the semi-opening created by their split-second almost-guess and tears through after it, so that one of them falls over and one of them whips around in the wrong direction, and then he’s one-on-one with the goalkeeper and it’s easy to flip the ball up into the corner of the net, in that afterthought way that characterized a lot of Pelé’s strikes. He leaps up in the air to celebrate, that famous happy hop, and the surprising thing about the way he jumps is always how much he seems to belong on the ground; there’s something physically dense about him, something that looks like it wants to sink, so that you sometimes have the impression that the game is keeping him afloat the way the ocean keeps up a battleship. So he comes down, and you laugh, because you have just seen an intelligence perform the remarkable task of solving the complete problem represented by the presence and position of the defenders and the need to control the ball without the use of hands, and you have seen a body so perfectly balanced and controlled that it could act transparently as the agent of this solution even where the solution itself required timing, strength, speed, and awareness far surpassing what most athletes possess. You have seen a thousand different soccer players face this position, and Pelé probably faced it a thousand times, but even if you were reluctant going in, the effect of the Pelé Moment is that for as long as it lasts you are prepared to swear that no one who ever got into this situation got out of it quite like Pelé.
    It's a long quote, but I love how Phillips here gives context and meaning to the variety of Pele's actions, a variety that represents one particular skill-set and form of physical genius. Phillips' video compilation illustrates his points:




    I think I'm finally starting to understand what makes Pele Pele.

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    Lorin Stein on Publishing

    Even as I contemplate my exit from it, publishing holds a special place in my heart. It most likely always will.

    Lorin Stein has been blogging at The Atlantic on the topic of publishing. As one would expect, it's excellent. After discussing the the death of book reviews in local papers, Stein says this:

    I left book publishing to edit The Paris Review because I think the situation can be dramatically improved. Not in the high-stakes game of bestsellers and Time covers, but down here on the ground, where reputations and markets are built and readers make up their own minds. I want there to be a magazine where fiction and poetry come first, where there's no hype, and where the aim is to reach the 100,000 people who, a few years ago, had never heard of Roberto Bolano—but whose lives have been slightly changed by his fiction.

     Stein writes often at The Paris Review's blog, by the way. They do good things there, they do.

    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    Yet More on Zippered Baseball Uniforms

    Let's revisit baseball uniforms that close using a zipper, that topic that interests no one except for me.

    I probably should have checked this site a while ago, but Paul Lukas' Uni Watch blog centered a 2008 post on the auction of a somewhat rare St. Louis Cardinals jersey, a somewhat rare jersey that happens to feature a zipper.


    Lukas consults with Brian Finch, manager of the Cardinals Hall of Fame, who reveals that 1955 was the last season for zippered uniform shirts. What happened after that year? Did zippers suddenly go out of style? Did interlocking metal teeth pose a safety hazard for diving ballplayers?

    Still not sure about the answers to any of these questions, but at least we have a time frame to work with here. The mystery is slowly unraveling.

    Monday, August 23, 2010

    The Limits of Pop Culture

    This is not one of those stuffy posts, questioning the value of popular entertainment in artistic terms. That's a worthy line of inquiry, but it's not for now. I have in mind a way more basic question: will anyone even remember the popular culture which today seems ubiquitous and permanent?

    Here's my starting point, a quick anecdote shared by Jim Emerson in June of this year:

    Over Memorial Day weekend I attended a high school graduation in Albuquerque. One of the graduating senior boys gave a speech in which he used car parts as a metaphor for the components of one's personality or identity. It was a clever piece he'd co-written with a friend, delivered with wry humor. Afterwards, the head of the school -- a man I'd estimate was in his 60s -- took the stage and thanked the student, quipping: "Baby, you can drive my car anytime."

    Thud. Thunderous silence mixed with scattered, bewildered titters.

    The next night at a graduation party, the kid who'd given the speech was standing around with a few friends and the uncomfortable subject came up.

    "What was that?" he said. "'Baby, you can drive my car?!?'"
    "It was creepy," said one of the girls.
    I piped in: "It was creepy -- because it was totally inappropriate and made no sense. Unless he was attempting to seduce you. He was just trying to make a Beatles reference for some reason."
    "Oh!" exclaimed a couple of students.
    "I didn't even think of that," said the boy. "But still, it was creepy."

    This is The Beatles we're talking about. I honestly don't think it's possible for anything today--in our fractured culture--to be as popular as The Beatles were in 1965, the year in which "Drive My Car" was released in the UK. And now, a scant 45 years later, burgeoning adults don't recognize some of the most recognizable lyrics of our most recent century.

    You'd think the documentarian nature of the internet would help keep these fleeting bits of culture alive, and, to a certain extent, this is true. I had no idea who these John and Marsha people were that Peggy and Joey kept prattling on about in the premiere episode of Mad Men's fourth season. But, thanks to the web, I was quickly able to find out. It seems to me that this general procedure is how memory will work from now on. Someone will encounter an obscure reference, and she'll proceed to look it up. Even a site like Retro Junk works largely in this way. But what happens when no one's left to make the reference in the first place? I don't encounter many references these days to the outstanding comedy routines of the 1870s, for example. (Though, if I had to guess, I'd wager that there were some wickedly funny Civil War jokes to be had.)

    Esquire's short review of Jonathan Franzen's upcoming Freedom was long on praise for the cojones the book's author displays in writing a big book, a book that attempts--according to the Esquire reviewer, who knows a surprising amount about Franzen's unspoken intentions--to join the canon of great literature. (To highlight this point, the header image features Freedom alongside works by Twain, Faulkner, DeLillo, Melville, and Fitzgerald.) The canon of American literature is notoriously fickle. If nothing else, I learned that in my last college literature class, on Melville and Ellison. I'm not sure what, exactly, Franzen will earn with acceptance to the above mentioned group, but if long-lasting notoriety is what he's shooting for, a big, serious novel seems to be the way to do it. Pop culture, no matter how popular, doesn't seem to last very long at all.

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    Steve Earle, In Concert

    Here is a partial but representative list of things I like because of The Wire: Honey Nut Cheerios, Tom Waits, Baltimore, Jameson, Idris Elba, nail guns, Gus Triandos, and, maybe most of all, Steve Earle.

    I was first introduced to Earle as Bubbles' sponsor and was surprised to see him pop up on that episode of 30 Rock in which Jack holds the musical benefit for his father's kidney. Intrigued, I looked into this fellow from The Wire, and realized that he first became known for his music. That episode aired on May 14, 2009. I borrowed some music from Ariel, found a concert on NPR, went nuts on the Amazon MP3 page, and have been listening to Earle ever since. And on Thursday, August 5th, I saw Steve Earle in concert.

    It was my first time seeing a concert on purpose. And, you know what, I kinda liked it. It definitely helped that I knew roughly three-quarters of the songs he played. I liked that there were seats to sit upon. (I'm not much of a dancer. The expectation of standing and dancing make me nervous; this would most likely dampen my enjoyment of the experience.) I liked the friendly strangers that sat next to me, one of whom asked me if I take drugs. (He responded with a terse "Good for you" when I informed him that I do not, in fact, take drugs. I did soon after, however, order another Jameson.) I liked that Earle opened with his cover of Tom Waits' "Way Down in the Hole," tying together another one of those things I like because of The Wire.



    And, mostly, I liked the music. It put me in a reflective mood, reminiscing on the two years--nearly to the day--since my stint at Publishing Camp officially ended, most of which time (since that fateful episode of 30 Rock) has been spent with Steve Earle as my life's soundtrack.

    I have some definite thoughts on these last twenty-four months, as I transitioned from student to employee, from a person enrolled in a set course of action to someone who needs to decide how I want to spend my time and live my life, from someone who hadn't really faced adversity to one who is slowly realizing that success--however you might want to define it--is not automatic.

    But exposition of those thoughts will have to wait for a different time. For now, Copperhead Road:

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    More Evidence of Zippered Baseball Unis

    Apparently Warren Spahn and the Boston Braves weren't the only ones who secured their uniform tops with the interlocking metal teeth better known as zippers. Here's the cover of Sports Illustrated last week:


    Stan the Man zipped up his shirt. Why wouldn't these teams use buttons? Why did this stop? The mystery grows.

    (Great article by Joe Posnanski about Musial, by the way.)

    Sunday, August 8, 2010

    Paragraph of the Week

    From Pat Conroy's My Losing Season:

    As a boy, I had constructed a shell for myself so impenetrable that I have been trying to write my way out of it for over thirty years, and even now I fear I have barely cracked its veneer. It is as rouged and polished and burnished as the specialized glass of telescopes, and it kept me hidden from the appraising eyes of the outside world long into manhood. But most of all it kept me hidden and safe from myself. No outsider I have ever met has struck me with the strangeness I encounter when I try to discover the deepest mysteries of the boy I once was. Several times in my life I have gone crazy, and I could not even begin to tell you why. The sadness collapses me from the inside out, and I have to follow the thing through until it finishes with me. It never happened to me when I was playing basketball because basketball was the only thing that granted me a complete and sublime congruence and oneness with the world. I found a joy, unrecapturable beyond the realm of speech or language, and I lost myself in the pure, dazzling majesty of my sweet, swift game.

    I had a hard time settling on this particular paragraph because the 42 pages I've read from this book offered several candidates. The fourteen pages of prologue with which this book opens may be the best I've ever read.

    Tuesday, July 27, 2010

    How Chris Kaman Celebrates July 4

    Chris Kaman is a professional basketball player, currently employed by the LA Clippers. He makes a lot of money, somewhere around $12 million per year. He's incredibly goofy. And he also really likes fireworks, or, at least, I hope he does, because he dropped $10,000 on fireworks for his personal July 4th party, and it'd be a shame if he spent that much money on something he didn't like. Video evidence below, via Ball Don't Lie:



    I'd like to think that I would celebrate July 4 in the exact same way if I had made $12 million this year.

    Two Quick Announcements

    As the title of this post suggests, here are two quick announcements:

    Announcement the first: I've changed the layout of this blog. It's somewhat sharper and cleaner than the old one. I hope you like it.

    Announcement the second: If you've been reading me over at PMI, you may have realized that things have slowed down there. There's good reason for this: things have slowed down over there. We're moving to a once-a-week publishing schedule, with the possibility that even this will be suspended sometime soon. I'm thrilled with the time I spent there, getting to dig in to a field of interest and publishing something every working day of the week. I might write down some longer thoughts here about writing everyday, but, in short, I recommend it. The good news is that I'll be able to hang out more consistently at The Daily Snowman. I'm going to take a few more days away from writing, my compy, and the internet, but then expect more regular posting here. Sorry for the slow July.

    Sunday, July 18, 2010

    Paragraph of the Week

    Chad Harbach, as part of a round-table discussion on sports and writing, convened by The Morning News:

    And yet! I go back to D.F.W.’s essay about Michael Joyce: “The radical compression of his attention and self has allowed him to become a transcendent practitioner of an art—something few of us get to be.” I guess I care about sports because I consider athletes artists, and admire their art, and also because (this is largely what Wallace’s essay is about) they’re the artists that our society most nurtures and encourages—as a group, you could say that we’re so-so at producing poets or novelists or painters, but tremendous at producing athletes. Which means not only that our athletes perform at levels that are extremely fun to watch, but also that they play out our personal struggles on the biggest possible stage.

    Sunday, July 11, 2010

    Paragraph of the Week

    The great Will Leitch on LeBron's decision:

    No, tonight, it felt like everyone involved — LeBron, ESPN, Bing, the University of Phoenix, Stuart Scott, the man who once chastised fans for having the audacity to boo, Jim freaking Gray — treated the millions of people watching like stupid, mindless consumers, empty lemmings ready to follow Sport into the abyss. Here, here are the Boys & Girls Club props. Here, here is your search engine. Here, here is your online college, Here, here is your Athletic Hero. Eat. Eat. Consume. You like it. You love it. You'll always come back for more.

    They're surely right, of course. But never has it been laid more bare, and never did it feel so empty. It felt like a break, the moment when the tide crested, when we looked at the games, and their players, and ourselves, and wondered: Why in the world are we watching these awful people? It was a question impossible to answer.

    Monday, July 5, 2010

    Paragraph of the Week

    From Frank Kelleter's "1776: A Dialectics of Radical Enlightenment," published in A New Literary History of America:

    To found a country and constitute a "people" on the basis of natural rights--rather than to commit an existing country or an existing people to such principles--is an improbable thing to do. It marks that country for utopian overreach or constructive despair. It produces forms of self-obsession that often lead one to forget that there is a world outside one's own country. It produces perennial disputes about the meaning of one's communal existence in the world. To the extent that the United States was founded by force of documents, texts, and clashing forms of rhetoric, the United States is bound to be a nation of competing readers and competing readings. And to the extent that even the most self-evident propositions are invariably confronted with local meanings and interests, the United States has always been a nation divided in trying to become one nation. There can be, then, no such thing as a nonpartisan American literature--political, historiographical, or otherwise.

    Sunday, June 27, 2010

    Paragraph of the Week

    From Wyatt Mason's article on David Mitchell, "David Mitchell, the Experimentalist," in the June 27, 2010 edition of The New York Times Magazine:

    When writing is great, Mitchell told me of the books he loved as a reader, “your mind is nowhere else but in this world that started off in the mind of another human being. There are two miracles at work here. One, that someone thought of that world and people in the first place. And the second, that there’s this means of transmitting it. Just little ink marks on squashed wood fiber. Bloody amazing.”

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010

    Reader's Despair Syndrome

    Hello, my name is Avi, and I'm a readaholic.

    I've always been something of an obsessive reader. I read my first Dave Barry column on January 1, 2000, as the comedy writer presented his summary of the millennium. I proceeded, throughout the course of my high school career, to read every single archived column available on any of the dozens of Dave Barry fan-sites I found. I think I was using AOL search, so I may have missed a few columns, but I did manage to uncover a few hundred pieces.

    I repeated this general approach after reading Bill Simmons for the first time.

    I still remember that fateful day--I was a senior in college--when I first discovered Google Reader. This is awesome, I thought. Google will deliver updates from any website I want? Awesome. What started off as four or five subscriptions soon ballooned to a dozen. I unsubscribed during those summers when computer access was limited, but resubscribed as soon as I returned to civilization. I currently sit at 36 subscriptions, and that's after pruning three in the last week. I don't read everything written on each of these sites. But I read everything from two dozen of them and I skim the rest. This, as I understand it, is a mild case.

    At least according to Leon Neyfakh's article "Feed Me, I'm Hungry," published in The New York Observer:

    Legions of jittery, media-conscious New Yorkers are eating themselves alive signing up for feeds they never end up reading  in hopes of becoming better people—more knowledgeable, more fun to talk to, more in control of their Internet consumption. They subscribe to dozens, sometimes hundreds of news sources, each of them added to the list with the best of intentions, motivated by the knowledge that, if they really wanted to—that is, if they had it in them to be disciplined and vigilantly curious—they could know everything there is to know. And so these poor balls of anxiety walk around with a constant awareness of all the hundreds of unread news stories, essays, reviews, and blog posts waiting for them on computers—all the marvels they're missing on Boing Boing and Kottke, all the Marginal Revolution posts, all the oil spill updates from The New York Times' U.S. news feed.

    Call it Reader's Despair Syndrome, a condition that is afflicting New York's young and old with equal viciousness, but which tends to produce the most dramatic symptoms in people in their 20s and 30s, who retain hope that they will one day become more productive and virtuous in their Internet reading habits.

    I've been thinking about these issues for a while, but it's always nice to both know that I'm not alone and to have these nebulous concepts articulated clearly. I'm not sure that this form of reading is good. Forget about whether RSS reading is healthy. I'm more concerned about what this does to me as a reader. Do I want to feel obligated to read the blogs that I love? Can I keep up with my reading without it feeling like an assignment in need of completion? 

    Now, some of these subscriptions are for my blogging gig, so I don't really see a way to do without them. But I'm really curious about how I should treat my recently added subscriptions to The Paris Review Daily and Cardboard Gods. Would I enjoy these more if I visited these blogs only when I was in the mood to read them? I'm not sure what the answers are to these questions.

    Are you a readaholic? How has RSS feeds changed the way you read?

    Monday, June 21, 2010

    Warren Spahn's Zipup Jersey

    Warren Spahn was a superb pitcher. The all-time leader in pitching victories by a lefthander, Spahn's greatness holds up even under a more statistically inclined investigation. He never struck out a ton of batters, averaging only 4.4 SO/9 over the course of his career. But this unfortunate tendency to allow batters to make contact with his pitches didn't keep Spahn from compiling ten seasons in which he tallied at least 5 WAR, with a peak of 9.4 WAR in 1953. So yeah, obvious Hall of Famer.

    The most surprising thing about Spahn, however, might just be his uniform. Take a look. There're no buttons on his shirt. The thing zips up.


    This is crazy to me. I ran across a photo of Spahn in this zipup jersey over the weekend and I'm completely baffled by it.

    I can just about picture Eddie Matthews repeatedly unzipping Spahn's shirt in the dugout. Baseball players love pranks.

    Was this a standard practice in the early 1950s? Did the entire Boston Braves team wear these uniforms or did Spahn have some sort of aversion to buttons? Anyone have any more information on these shirts?

    Sunday, June 20, 2010

    June 17, 1994: Subtle Choices Are Choices Nonetheless

    ESPN's presentation of Brett Morgen's documentary June 17, 1994--part of the sports network's 30 for 30 series--opens with the director addressing the audience, saying:

    June 17, 1994 is not your typical documentary. There are no talking head interviews, there's no narration, there's simply my editor, myself, and a bunch of footage. Over the last ten years what I've been trying to do is create non-fiction films that are what I call experiential. They're movies that take place in the past but are presented in the present tense. The reason we chose June 17, 1994 is just about every emotion that one relates to sports took place on that day.

    I'm not sure whose idea it was to have Morgen describe his directing style before the start of the film, but that person should be commended. Leaving aside the fact that this introductory remark may provide evidence that there is, in fact, at least one talking head interview included in the film, Morgen's opening explanation is a necessary one. It's the first documentary I've seen that eschews reflective interviews and, even if the audience would be able to follow the action without this documentary staple, it takes something of a mental shift to realize that what we're watching is not a meditation on that June date through the lens of sixteen years of reflection: we're watching the on-the-spot reactions of those who witnessed these events unfold in real time. Morgen's introduction might not be the most elegant way to prepare the audience for this change, but I'll take what I can get from ESPN.

    The film follows a single day of events in the sports world. The New York Rangers victory parade down the streets of Manhattan. The opening day of the Chicago-hosted World Cup. Arnold Palmer playing his final round of golf at the US Open. Game 5 of the NBA finals, featuring the Knicks and Rockets. A full slate of baseball games. And, of course, OJ's car chase.

    The most interesting part of the film is some really great behind-the-scenes footage of Bob Costas, hosting NBC's coverage of the NBA finals. Costas, in these clips, discusses with his production staff how to handle the uncomfortable need to broadcast what was considered a rather important basketball game during what became one of the biggest news stories of the century. The viewer sees Costas desperately trying to determine how best to introduce the game even while OJ sits in the back of a speeding car with a gun to his head. This, in a nutshell, is the major theme of the movie: it's an exploration of how context and juxtaposition create meaning and how people respond to these juxtapositions. While Costas puts on a professional and appropriate face, Morgen throws everything together, forcing the viewer to assimilate six events at once. Trust me when I tell you that each event informs the others, as everything always does. What's fascinating here is that no one--except maybe those working the nation's newsrooms--could possibly have followed the day's events with a level of attention matched by Morgen's mashed-up day. June 17, 1994 as experienced by an average American bears only a slight resemblance to June 17, 1994 as experienced by the film's audience.

    And this brings us back to Morgen's opening claim. Just because Morgen claims that this is a thoroughly experiential film, throwing the viewer back in time to 1994, doesn't mean that we have to believe him. As in all films, what the audience sees on-screen is highly curated. The very editing itself is nothing if not a subtle form of reflection, offering moments of commentary through juxtapositions that are anything but neutral. Jumping from OJ's 1985 NFL Hall of Fame induction speech in which he thanks Nicole for some of the best years of his life to an image of a bloody garment at the Simpson residence in 1994 says something. Bringing together footage of a high-speed car chase and a clip of OJ running through an airport on Hertz's dime says something. Apposing the Rangers Stanley Cup victory parade with the throngs who lined the California freeways to gawk at and cheer for OJ's infamous white Bronco says something. Of course, films are supposed to say things. That's the point. And no, this documentary does not faithfully represent how anyone actually experienced that warm June day, but, again, this is the point of film: to selectively tell a story, bringing together diverse elements while omitting needless ones. Morgen does that in spades.

    Recommended.

    Paragraph of the Week

    Lorin Stein, writing on the excellent The Paris Review Daily blog:

    The best thing that ever happened to me as a would-be writer was reading Infinite Jest. I was also twenty-four and spent my days sitting in front of an empty screen, full of a sense of duty and despair. That book cured me. It said all the things I'd have wanted my novel to say—things I'd never have dreamt up on my own in a million years. Keep reading and you will find the book that lets you off the hook. The world doesn't need your fiction. The question is whether you need it, and over time that question will answer itself without interference from you.

    Sunday, June 13, 2010

    Paragraph of the Week

    A selection of Roger Birnbaum's interview with The New Yorker's editor-in-chief, David Remnick, published in The Morning News:

    RB: How much is the New Yorker a barometer, a thermometer, litmus test, measuring stick of cultural developments in the United States? Does the ongoing success of the New Yorker say anything about literacy, book-buying, things like that?

    DR: Well, if that were the case than it would defy all [the] dark imaginings of all the prognosticators, because our circulation seems to go up. I have to tell you—one of the good parts about traveling or getting out of the house and the well-worn groove between my apartment and the office, and meeting people at this event or that event, is the number of people who come up and, in a non-routine sort of way, almost with an urgency, tell me how important the magazine is to them. Not me, not any single writer, even the enterprise by itself and its constancy. Not because it’s unfailing or because it’s perfect—that’s too ridiculous to hope for—but because of its ambition. I don’t think we are all alone, by the way. There are a number of magazines I really admire and respect that are quite different from ours. But I remember, one week after getting this job, in the almost absurd way I got it, I had to go to San Francisco, and I was at dinner and some guy came up to me. He had been in the Midwest and lived in San Francisco and he came up to the table where we were having dinner and grabbed my arm in a way that was slightly alarming and his message to me was, “Don’t fuck this up!”

    RB: (laughs)

    DR: “This magazine has meant something to me since I was 14 or 15 years old.” This guy had to be 50 if he was a day, and so his attachment to it was really important to him. And that happens all the time in one way or another.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010

    Have the NBA Finals Truly Begun?

    These NBA Playoffs have disappointed me. Sure, there've been moments of greatness. Artest's follow-up. Artest's interview. Los Suns. Westbrook introducing himself to the world. Nash's battered face. But, overall, a lack of competitiveness marked the first three rounds of this tournament. The losing teams just didn't compete, most prominently exemplified by LeBron and his Cavs surrendering to Boston. The Playoffs are meant to avoid the type of mismatches we normally see in a random February contest featuring Utah and New Jersey. They're fun because they offer the highest level of competition, pitting only the really good teams against one another. And we just didn't get that in the first three rounds. The four losing teams in the Conference Semifinals combined for a total of two wins. The average margin of victory for the Orlando Magic in its second round series was 25 points. Neither the games nor the series were all that close.

    The NBA Finals--or, at least, the initial three games of them--have suffered from a different problem. It's not so much that the losers have failed to compete as it is that the winners have failed to play their best. Let's take last night's Game 3 as an example. LA managed a pretty good 109 points per 100 possessions, but did it seem as if the team played well? Bad Kobe showed up, shooting 10-29 overall, including 1-7 from three. And it wasn't as if Kobe had good shots rim out. He was taking difficult, difficult shots, many of them out of the flow of the offense. Pau Gasol, one of the premier big men in the NBA, only attempted eleven shots. Seriously, who played well for the Lakers? Fisher and Odom. And Luke Walton? Is good performances from those three really enough to win an NBA Finals game? The same is true for Boston in its Game 2 victory. Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo had historically great games, but no one else really excelled, certainly not Pierce and Garnett.

    This series so far seems preliminary. LA looks like it'll pull things off because how often will Ray Allen make eight three-balls in one game? But maybe Boston will win it because there's no way that Allen will fail to make a field goal again. Garnett followed up two awful games with a great one. Kobe and Gasol had each provided their least in Game 3--and LA still won. What will happen if both teams play well in the same game? I have no idea. But here's hoping we get to find out.

    Sunday, June 6, 2010

    There is No Away

    I stumbled across an interesting public art project, located just down the block from my apartment. It's called The Landscape of No Away: A Community Eco-Art Project, with the subtitle "You cannot throw anything away. There is no away," created by Keesje Fischer and Patricia Eakins. The arresting display consists of fake plastic flowers hanging on a fence near the 190th Street A Train station, fake plastic flowers constructed from recycled beverage bottles and other such plastics which, as the artists state, are the least biodegradable materials. Take a look:






    I especially like this part of the artists' statement, even if it uses too many dashes:

    When a flower, a leaf, or a vine, has been created from objects ordinarily thrown in the trash--a plastic juice or soda bottle, a grocery bag, the plastic shells that encase many objects we buy in a store--the mystery of transformation that is central to art is glossed with playful irony--trash that mimics nature--yet it contains within it the seeds of hope: the least biodegradable materials, like plastic bottles, that persist in the eco-system and smother it, have the potential for change into art that honors the natural world.

    Paragraph of the Week

    Jonathan Franzen, in the June 6, 2010 New York Times Book Review:

    There are any number of reasons you shouldn’t read “The Man Who Loved Children” this summer. It’s a novel, for one thing; and haven’t we all secretly sort of come to an agreement, in the last year or two or three, that novels belonged to the age of newspapers and are going the way of newspapers, only faster? As an old English professor friend of mine likes to say, novels are a curious moral case, in that we feel guilty about not reading more of them but also guilty about doing something as frivolous as reading them; and wouldn’t we all be better off with one less thing in the world to feel guilty about?

    Friday, June 4, 2010

    Alain de Botton on Distraction

    See, I told you unitasking and paying attention and knowledge diets are the new hotnesses. Here's Alain de Botton:

    One of the more embarrassing and self-indulgent challenges of our time is the task of relearning how to concentrate. The past decade has seen an unparalleled assault on our capacity to fix our minds steadily on anything. To sit still and think, without succumbing to an anxious reach for a machine, has become almost impossible.

    [snip]

    The need to diet, which we know so well in relation to food, and which runs so contrary to our natural impulses, should be brought to bear on what we now have to relearn in relation to knowledge, people, and ideas. Our minds, no less than our bodies, require periods of fasting.
    The crazy part is that the three posts I've published on this topic in the last ten days are all based on articles that I've come across in my normal reading. I've done nothing to search out this theme. It's just there.

    Thursday, June 3, 2010

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010

    Unitasking is the New Hotness

    I don't like stunt journalism. It was interesting for about a minute, and now it's not anymore. I'm talking about those books which detail the author's attempt to do something for, let's say, a year. It could be following Oprah's advice. Living biblically. Living completely rationally. Following George Washington's 110 rules for life. Going undercover as a movie star. The last four of those, in fact, were all attempted by A.J. Jacobs, a writer for Esquire who also happens to have a new book out, titled The Guinea Pig Diaries.

    In general, I'm not sure how possible it is to write without having that very process of writing significantly affect the experiences and thoughts being written about. This, I think, is one of the very most important functions of writing. But stunt journalism is different. Instead of clarifying past thoughts and memories after the fact, this type of writing predetermines the actions themselves as--or even before--they happen.

    All that is by way of introduction to this piece by Mr. Jacobs, in which he attempts to unitask for a month. I'm not particularly impressed by the article, but, hey, if you're into this type of writing, go for it. Jacobs, if for no other reason than his impressive prolificacy, is the high priest of stunt journalism. I'm writing about it now because once A.J. Jacobs tries to do something for a month, that's a pretty good indication that the activity is one that people are thinking about. And so, get ready to hear a whole lot of simplifying our lives in the next few years. Unitasking is the new hotness.