Musings

Hating Zooey Deschanel


With Gawker seeming to dominate the news this week, I thought I would dig up this rusty, worn-out old post about how they have relentlessly targeted Zooey Deschanel and serve it up like something I just found.
Even today, whenever Gawker posts about Deschanel, I usually just ignore it. However, in the comments, people are basically calling out the site and pointing out that bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have similar bans on the use of phones. So, you know, blog fail or whatever.
This is the 'mean girls' aspect of Gawker that doesn't get enough attention. Why do they go after people like Deschanel and why is it newsworthy? She's a celebrity, she can probably handle a fair amount of attention, but Gawker usually goes above and beyond normal decency. We saw that last week and I think we'll see it again unless someone dismantles Gawker and fires everyone.
The gist of my original post centered around trying to get people to watch the show instead of taping it on their phones. Artists have begun trying to separate fans from their phones and from the practice of holding this rectangular plastic thing in front of them so that they can claim to have watched the show in person. How that translates into an experience is beyond my grasp. Why not enjoy what you are seeing without worrying about your phone?
If you have to record something just to remember it, your mind is already gone.

The BBC Has a Jeremy Clarkson Problem


Somebody did somebody wrong at the BBC:

With Clarkson being an already heavily contentious media personality in the U.K. following remarks over the past few years that have been deemed racist and xenophobic, the news has made headlines nationwide, sparking widespread debate over his future and that of the show, which airs in more than 100 countries and brings in some $220 million for BBC Worldwide.
Within minutes, an online petition calling for the BBC to “Bring Back Clarkson,” was posted online. It has been signed by more than 250,000 people as of Wednesday morning London time.
On announcing the suspension, the BBC also confirmed that the episode of Top Gear due to air this Sunday would not be broadcast. A spokesperson has now confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the following episode, the penultimate one of the current season, has also been canceled, while they haven't yet decided on the final installment. "It's a moving situation," they said.
If you were of the opinion that Clarkson is an out of control asshole who brings in hundreds of millions of dollars for his employer, you'd probably have a lot of soul mates at the BBC. They are caught between the liability this man brings to their venerable business and the profits generated by a show that, quite frankly, could be successful if the right person were to appear.

Why not do it with Jason Statham or Clive Owen? Why not give Liam Gallagher a call? Hell, you could do it with Bez and no one would notice.

On second though, yeah. They would notice. Clarkson is almost irreplaceable, giving him a lot of power. He'll come out the other side of this with offers if they fire him.

Whose Ordered Plan?


The British say this is a work of madness:
An eccentric architectural plan thought to have been drawn by George III during his period of "madness" has been discovered at the British Library.
It is part of a huge collection of papers put together by the King during his reign from 1760 to 1820.
The loose piece of paper was tucked inside a volume about the Palaces of Hanover in Germany.
The diagram of a building was drawn in ink over a pencil outline "in a rather savage way", according to experts.
Peter Barber, head of map collections at the British Library, said the drawing, scribbled on the back of an order of service from St George's Chapel in Windsor, was "not an ordered plan".
It looks like someone was working out some ideas; if this is what madness looks like, oh well.

We have to remember that this was drawn with a crude implement, dipped in ink, and probably not in the best of light. It could have been a sketch to work out some ideas or it could have been the work of someone trying to amuse themselves. It could also have not been drawn by George III at all and it could have been done by a servant or someone at his direction.

The Economist Reviews The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.


How slaves built American capitalism


Patsey was certainly a valuable property
The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.
By Edward Baptist.
“FOR sale: a coloured girl, of very superior qualifications…a bright mulatto, fine figure, straight, black hair, and very black eyes; very neat and cleanly in her dress and person.” Such accounts of people being marketed like livestock punctuate Edward Baptist’s grim history of the business of slavery.
Although the import of African slaves into the United States was stopped in 1807, the country’s internal slave trade continued to prosper and expand for a long time afterwards. Right up until the outbreak of the civil war in 1861, the American-born children and grandchildren of enslaved Africans were bought cheap in Virginia and Maryland to be sold dear in private deals and public auctions to cotton planters in the deep South.
Tall men commanded higher prices than short ones. Women went for less than men. The best bids were for men aged 18 to 25 and for women aged 15 to 22. One slave recalled buyers passing up and down the lines at a Virginia slave auction, asking, “What can you do? Are you a good cook? Seamstress? Dairy maid?” and to the men, “Can you plough? Are you a blacksmith?” Slaves who gave surly answers risked a whipping from their masters.
Raw cotton was America’s most valuable export. It was grown and picked by black slaves. So Mr Baptist, an historian at Cornell University, is not being especially contentious when he says that America owed much of its early growth to the foreign exchange, cheaper raw materials and expanding markets provided by a slave-produced commodity. But he overstates his case when he dismisses “the traditional explanations” for America’s success: its individualistic culture, Puritanism, the lure of open land and high wages, Yankee ingenuity and government policies.
Take, for example, the astonishing increases he cites in both cotton productivity and cotton production. In 1860 a typical slave picked at least three times as much cotton a day as in 1800. In the 1850s cotton production in the southern states doubled to 4m bales and satisfied two-thirds of world consumption. By 1860 the four wealthiest states in the United States, ranked in terms of wealth per white person, were all southern: South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia.
Mr Baptist cites the testimony of a few slaves to support his view that these rises in productivity were achieved by pickers being driven to work ever harder by a system of “calibrated pain”. The complication here was noted by Hugh Thomas in 1997 in his definitive history, “The Slave Trade”; an historian cannot know whether these few spokesmen adequately speak for all.
Another unexamined factor may also have contributed to rises in productivity. Slaves were valuable property, and much harder and, thanks to the decline in supply from Africa, costlier to replace than, say, the Irish peasants that the iron-masters imported into south Wales in the 19th century. Slave owners surely had a vested interest in keeping their “hands” ever fitter and stronger to pick more cotton. Some of the rise in productivity could have come from better treatment. Unlike Mr Thomas, Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.

Anthony Cumia Wanted to Get Fired


This really doesn't change anything because Anthony Cumia (and Opie & Anthony as a whole) thrives on the notoriety and shock of being fired from their gigs.  Someone somewhere is dying to hire him and pay him more money than he was making because people want to hear what he does. Apparently, the Sirius XM gig wasn't working out. Something else will.

On satellite radio, they're allowed to say whatever they want and that's okay. The culture has accepted what they do and they have been given a platform to do it. There's money in it, so someone is always going to give Cumia a job.

When the audience for this kind of thing dries up, then we'll have a news story.

Your Kids Will Always Find a Better Way to Waste Time


Time wasters never go out of style:
I have a terrible feeling that the game “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral” is an endangered species. Granted, my evidence is strictly anecdotal—several kids I know had never heard of it—but this is nonetheless a cause for serious concern.
It’s not that I was ever so great at the game; on car trips, my heart always sank when anyone identified the category as “mineral” because my knowledge was so scant. And let’s face it, as guessing-games go, it’s a bit of a dud: with none of the urgency of Twenty Questions and none of the glamour of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, poor old Linnaeus can feel like a bore.
But I don’t think the game is in trouble just because it’s slow. The contemporary material world is complicated. Last night, I put myself to sleep going through the various objects in my bedroom and attempting to classify them. It did not go well; several times I had to cheat by looking up the component parts of my humidifier (mineral), the shell of generic ibuprofen (animal) and the filling of my knockoff Tempur-Pedic pillow (surprisingly, vegetal). Short of a degree in inorganic chemistry—or a bylaw prohibiting the inclusion of anything invented after, say, 1950—the game is nearly impossible. “Mineral ascendant,” I scrawled in my notebook.
You could wax nostalgic or you could accept change and roll with it. The best way to play animal, vegetable or mineral is to engage your kids in Minecraft.


Now, go explain Steampunk and Minecraft to someone. You'll wish you had it as easy as A, V, or M.

Who Cares What Lana Del Rey Was Paid?


No one would ask a male singer what he was paid to sing for a wedding, so why does it matter if Lana Del Rey was paid to sing for a private event?

There is a double standard out there for performers and for the arts--it only matters if a woman is paid for something (and thus, she must be some sort of a prostitute). A male can whore himself out--and Elton John, cough cough, the entire world is looking in your direction--and no one says anything at all.

Charles Taylor is Hilariously Wrong About Music


It's just too easy sometimes:
Music continues to be the prime cultural vehicle each generation uses to identify itself. It’s also the means each generation uses, no matter how hypocritically, to proclaim its superiority over succeeding generations. Nothing has ever summed up that attitude like the installment of Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury that ran in Sunday papers on August 26, 1979, in which Mark, the radical DJ, is ordered by his station manager to play more disco. “Let’s start out with the Village People’s ‘YMCA’ and Donna Summer’s ‘Bad Girls,’” he says, “two exciting testaments to the social sensibilities of disco. One of them is about meeting adolescent homosexuals in a public gymnasium, and the other is a celebration of prostitution.” A strip to make William Bennett or Donald Wildmon smile. Trudeau is telling us that the drugs and sex he and his contemporaries engaged in was about changing the world. This new stuff? It’s just hookers and queers cruising the showers.
Music has lot a great deal of cultural importance over the last decade or so. And if you want to see where the culture is headed, look no further than the fact that I can find five Game Stops any day of the week but I can't find a single place to buy new music that isn't a severely over-priced retail outlet like Target or Wal-Mart that seems to actively shrink the size of their music department on a monthly basis.

Remember the days when Best Buy and Circuit City had a price war over CDs and that meant being able to find virtually every title available by damned near every good band for $11.99? Yeah, me neither.

I do think Taylor is honest about wanting to make the band Wussy relevant but there's no way to do that without coming across as being old and grizzled and out of touch. No matter how hard you try to get people to care, they just don't anymore. The last three albums of original songs by The Church, for example, were absolutely stunning works of art. If you stacked Untitled #23, Uninvited Like the Clouds, and Forget Yourself against everything out there and judged them fairly, you'd have to conclude that the Church are criminally ignored everywhere in the world, and have been so for over twenty years. People tuned them out and moved on, and nothing they do seems to catch on anymore, no matter how good the work and no matter how often they go on tour.

This is because music doesn't matter anymore. Entertainment has to be a video game or a television show to resonate with people. They have their throbbing beats in their ears but that's only to drown out other sounds and isolate them from weirdos on the street. How is it that Dr. Dre can get rich slapping his name on headphones with heavy bass built into them and virtually no one making the music played through those devices can ever count on a decent royalty check for providing the very thing that makes the headphones relevant in the first place? Device makers and streaming service providers are filthy rich--iPods, Spotify, Beat Sounds--you name it. If you are the maker of some product that can steal music from artists or change it in any way, you can count on making cash. But if you actually make that music, go fuck yourself for wanting to get paid. See Sean Parker on your way out the door for an explanation as to why you're stupid for thinking you should get paid for making him a billionaire douchebag.

For every ten listeners of music, is there one person who could engage something like Wussy? Good luck competing for that person's attention.

I get that people want to be in their forties and still get excited about bands and albums and vinyl and continue working retail jobs and not having kids, but when you actually grow up and pay attention to the world, stop condescending to anyone with a different path through life. The central conceit of the Baby Boomers was the supremacy of all of their cultural touchstones. On further review, none of their bullshit could stop wars, end poverty, end racism, or change the hearts of the record company execs who stood by and let Napster, et al, eat their business and shit it out before their eyes. Where there were once piles of cash and cocaine now sit pennies from Spotify. Suck on that and try to live.

My Whole Life is a Trigger Alert


Whoa, my friends, whoa!

Trigger warning--this post is not about dead parrots. Stop reading right now if you are terrified of being confronted with things that are readable:
Trigger warnings have become a common staple of internet conversations for years now, a means of alerting readers – especially those who’ve experienced trauma and especially women — to subject matter that could kick up intense reactions. And they are, depending on the things you tend to read and your perspective on healthy discourse, a useful tool for greater sensitivity or a chilling means of putting a fence around certain kinds of dialogue. Either way, they’re unavoidable. It’s already been two years since the Awl declared the phrase had “lost all its meaning” and noted “this useful thing has spread a litttttle far afield.” Yet unlike other phrases that have come and gone since, “trigger warning” has only grown more ubiquitous, more recently moving from online debates to cropping up on college syllabi. Salon observed the phenomenon earlier this year, calling them “an imperfect but sometimes necessary band-aid on the open and gaping wounds plaguing college campuses — rampant sexual violence, for starters.” And then the New York Times took on the issue this week, with a feature on how “The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm.” In it, writer Jennifer Medina reports that students at “Oberlin College, Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, George Washington University and other schools” have this year all requested trigger warnings accompany certain classroom materials. And at the University of California, Santa Barbara – where this spring associate professor Dr. Mireille Miller-Young had an altercation with anti-abortion protesters because she said she’d been “triggered” by their signs —  the Associated Students Senate and Office of the Student Advocate General has formally requested “professors alert students of class content that can potentially ‘trigger’ symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in those who have experienced traumatic experiences such as sexual abuse or fighting in war.” Santa Barbara sophomore Bailey Loverin, a sexual abuse survivor, explained to the Times, “We’re not talking about someone turning away from something they don’t want to see. People suddenly feel a very real threat to their safety — even if it is perceived. They are stuck in a classroom where they can’t get out, or if they do try to leave, it is suddenly going to be very public.”
That whole paragraph should come with a trigger alert. But the problem with all of this is that we are trying to use sensitivity when we should be using the rule of law.

The fact that America's college campuses are teeming with rapists is entirely due to the fact that the police aren't arresting serial date rapists and that judges are not putting these men in jail. The law is failing people and, by extension, the foolishness of having campus police forces who do nothing about rapists means that failure will be common until someone successfully sues a university and takes millions from them.

Exposure to the culture should not require trigger alerts. It should include accountability and honesty. When those things fail to be applied to the very real trauma of rape or the indifference of society towards victims, the exposed wounds are incapable of healing. And, really, that should be the provision of mental health professionals, not amateur sensitivity cops. Mental health professionals should have, as one of their first tasks, a plan for helping people get past traumatic trigger events and help create a working method for mitigating exposure to elements of the culture that can trigger a negative response.

I am all for being sensitive, but let's assign blame to the incompetence of the people who should be righting wrongs by using the law.

Don't You Know Who I Am?


The sad decline of Alec Baldwin continues unabated:
Actor Alec Baldwin was arrested Tuesday and issued two summonses -- one for disorderly conduct -- after riding a bicycle the wrong way on a New York street, police said.
The "30 Rock" star allegedly became angry and started yelling at cops after they asked him for identification to give him a summons, police said.
Baldwin was not carrying identification and police took him into custody, a law enforcement official said.
The actor reportedly became angry at the officers, yelling "Give me the summons already," a law enforcement official said.
Baldwin was taken to a nearby precinct, where he reportedly asked the desk supervisor: "How old are these officers, that they don't know who I am?" according to a law enforcement official.
The last thing anyone should ask a police officer is if they know who you are. That's the loaded question of the age. In all of the English language, there's nothing sadder than trying to exchange accountability for being a celebrity.

If you're an adult male, and if you're riding your bike in the wrong place and going the wrong way in a large urban area, shut the hell up and do what the cops tell you to do. This is not abuse of power--this is traffic and safety enforcement. Big difference.

Mr. Baldwin needs to move to Malibu. There, the cops won't immediately beat him senseless when he asks them if they "know who he is." They'll politely assess his value to the film community, whether or not he's had a recently large grossing film, and then they will call an agent or a publicist and behave accordingly. He's not Mel Gibson, so he should be fine out there.

Ridiculous


Nigella Lawson's admission of using cocaine has resulted in her being barred from entry into this country. I think that this is absurd and opens up the policy behind it for ridicule.

The list of people who have admitted doing cocaine and/or worse is too long to even begin to contemplate. There is no reason whatsoever for this country to admit the likes of Eric Clapton or Keith Richards and yet, it would be unthinkable for U.S. authorities in this day and age to deny them entry to the United States.

Policies like this hit people in the arts and entertainment field pretty hard. But they are rarely applied in a fair and uniform manner. Lawson may exist in that realm between reality television and non-fiction television where a specific set of professional skills are displayed, but she does not deserve to be barred from entry just because of an admitted use of drugs.

Now, if she shows up at the border looking like she smashed a powdered doughnut into her nose and carrying an Archer amount of cocaine, yeah, you could bar her.

The Demise of the E-book Market


Now that all of the book stores are gone, you mean to tell me no one wants e-books anymore?
Tim Waterstone, the founder of the Waterstone's book shop chain, has predicted that the "e-book revolution" will soon go into decline in the UK.
He told the Oxford Literary Festival printed books would remain popular for decades, the Daily Telegraph reported.
"E-books have developed a share of the market, of course they have," he said.
"But every indication - certainly from America - shows the share is already in decline. The indications are that it will do exactly the same in the UK."
For the first eight months of 2013, e-book sale were worth $800m in the US, down 5% on the same period the previous year, according to the Association of American Publishers.
The experience of reading a book on a device, no matter how expensive it is, still doesn't rival the actual experience of reading a printed book. The e-reader might be a permanent tool used by people who have to maintain and regularly use a lot of printed material, but the occasional reader still prefers a book. It's too bad we couldn't have saved more bookstores, however.

There may come a day when the only place to buy a book is online--from Amazon. Or in an airport. Maybe, someone will come up with a good hybrid for books and music and start a business model that will work as a retail outlet.

Bringing Stefan Zweig Back Into Print


Stefan Zweig is a writer everyone should know:
Stefan Zweig was once ‘the world’s most translated author’ – then he faded into obscurity in the English-speaking world. But a revival in interest is under way, reports Matthew Anderson.
A few years ago the director Wes Anderson was browsing the shelves of a bookshop in his adopted home of Paris when he made a chance discovery. He took down a copy of Beware of Pity, a 1939 novel by the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, recently re-released in English after years out of print. “I think I read the first page in the store and thought, ‘OK, this is a new favourite writer of mine,’” Anderson told Variety.
Anderson has used Zweig's work to make The Grand Budapest Hotel, a film that it's going to be impossible not to see. I don't know exactly how you would view Zweig today--and how are we going to view Anderson as well? Zweig, in his lifetime, enjoyed a popularity that has eluded Anderson. 

Zweig's impact across European culture has to be gauged in that arena. It would be too easy to categorize him as a popular author with little substance--that would be unfair. It would be unfair to try and rate him against authors that were in pursuit of other ideals and who eschewed commercial success. Zweig clearly went after popularity and wanted to be widely read--in other words, accessible in a medium that elevates the inaccessible to ridiculous heights. But there's no question that he had an impact on the culture:
“He was one of the first star authors, and even in an age with no TV and very few pictures in the newspapers, people recognised him wherever he went,” says Zweig’s biographer Oliver Matuschek, who has spent 20 years researching the writer’s life and works. “The sheer volume is unbelievable,” says Matuschek. “In the collected works in German there are 36 volumes, and that doesn’t include the 500 pieces of journalism that were published in newspapers and magazines in his lifetime.”
That may explain it--the fact that he wrote in his native German and not English. Translations of his work were commonplace enough, but without the advantage of being a native speaker of English, Zweig may have been forgotten almost entirely because we tend to place more value on English language writers. I would call that a bias.

Time to Write Poetry


If Obamacare has arrived in your life and if it has given you more leisure time, I guess you need to make the Republican Party happy and start writing poetry:
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) on Sunday said Democrats are pushing poetry as an alternative to holding a job.
During an appearance on Fox News, he referred to the results of a report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that finds millions of American workers might move away from full-time employment because of benefits offered through ObamaCare.
Some lawmakers, such as Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), say that the law allows workers to alleviate themselves from “job-lock” — staying in a job that’s otherwise unwanted or disliked, simply to collect healthcare benefits.
Media reports say Pelosi fired back at the Republican interpretation of the CBO report — that ObamaCare kills jobs — by saying the workers are now able to leave jobs to “[follow] their aspirations to be a writer; to be self-employed; to start a business.”
Gowdy honed in on the remarks, saying they are part of a larger effort to smooth over flaws with the healthcare reform law and its rollout during an election year.
“What the liberals and the Democrats want you to believe is, ‘Well, but you’ll have time to write poetry,’ ” Gowdy said. “Well, that’s great until you try and buy your grandkid a birthday present or you try and pay the heating bill.”
Robert Frost never had a problem buying farms or giving presents or teaching people how to write. Why do Republicans hate the Humanities? Why do Republicans hate Americans like Robert Frost?

When a person has more free time to begin writing poetry and living a life of leisure and art, their quality of life skyrockets (unless they have no talent, of course). No one really believes that we will see a new poet laureate emerge from the ranks of those employed solely because they couldn't otherwise afford health care but we could see a happier society based on things that make Republicans shit their pants. Well worth it, in my opinion.

Jaime Fuller Shows Us How to Hate Lena Dunham


When this whole Lena Dunham thing exploded, I was living in Germany. I still don't get what it's about, other than that it fills a void in HBO's programming and gives hipsters something to fret about.

Jaime Fuller is the real star of this article--this is how to hate someone without actually giving us proof she hates Dunham. I suspect it is that intellectual envy that sets in when someone is given way more attention and money than they deserve. Elizabeth Wurtzel comes to mind.

In the arts, the worst thing you can do is become wildly successful at a very young age and enjoy your success. To the vast majority of people in this country, Dunham is a New York thing that they don't much care about. The entirety of that slice of the movie Frozen, where Idina Menzel--at the age of 42--sings Let it Go, is a thing. It is something that has resonated through the popular culture and will have a timelessness that will serve as a reference point for this generation of kids.

Your garden variety hipsters will never see a Disney film but what they are missing is the fact that Menzel--the consummate New York theater voice with Broadway chops and her own Tony--has crossed the hell over. There are a lot of other Menzels out there, but Dunham isn't one of them. That's because her thing is of precious value to a handful of people who write about their obsessions. She is the Captain Beefheart of modern popular culture. Everyone hip knows who she is, but the plebes and peasants ain't buying it.

The rejection of Dunham isn't about the fact that she is from New York. Good God, people are enthralled with New York because every single television show is about New York and stars interesting people from New York, right? What the hell were Seinfeld and Friends but an over-hyped pair of love letters to NYC mailed in each week from Southern California?

What will Dunham mean to kids who are now living in the American Midwest and will never see her show? Miss Fuller knows what the score is--Dunham isn't so much as a hit as she is a manufactured bit of old hat.

How Many People Stop Reading Entirely?


This is an interesting development for people who think there is still a market for the printed word.

In my opinion, the rise in the number of people who don't read books does not mean that people are not reading. I think it is more a case where what they read has evolved to the point where the book is an irrelevant item in the lives of many.

Have you ever walked into someone's house and noticed whether or not they have books? An absence of books means one of two things--either they don't read them or they have a robust E-reader or tablet and have no further use for books. I can sympathize with that--I have books that are in Rubbermaid containers precisely because there isn't room for them. Should I chuck them out or should I save them?

The E-reader market has tanked in some ways because of the flood of mediocre material (people trying to cash in) and because the devices are unstable. When you think back about all of the people who are holding Nooks and Sony E-Readers (hey, that's me!), there's almost no solution that looks like an upside. How do you carry around a library full of books on a device that is rendered obsolete in mere months? How many people are going to create a fully digitized library that has to be stored in the cloud or ported around or copied and re-copied? People are more likely to do that with the music they care about. Books, like old albums or songs that are tiresome, fall away.

And, yes, I thought of this as well. Literacy isn't an issue:

The percentage of people who are not educated but can read? Is that increasing? I have no idea. I suspect that it is.

Complex, inaccessible, and pretentious literary offerings don't actually kill off readership--they simply turn people away from writers but not the medium itself. Stephen King is widely read because he delivers; being able to deliver isn't the same as being good or bad, but there's no way King could be considered a bad writer.

I don't know if people stop reading so much as they stop trying to engage written forms of entertainment. The human need remains. What fills those needs has evolved and changed with the technology.