30 April 2010

The 20-somethings running the free world

In the NY Times Magazine, Ashley Parker looks at the lives of 20-something White House staffers. At a party thrown by a few staffers at their shared house in Dupont Circle:
Downstairs in the kitchen, a collection of young West Wing aides, former members of the advance staff on the campaign, newly minted press officers, White House softball regulars and the occasional journalist crowded in front of half a dozen bottles of cheap liquor, trying to get a drink. Obama’s chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau, a sloe-eyed 28-year-old, was politely letting a stream of people cut in front of him to refill their beer, only to step up to find a dwindling trickle of foam. The keg was kicked.

Back by the front door, Ziskend’s eyes widened. “Look who just walked in!” he said. “The counsel.” It was the principal deputy White House counsel, Daniel Meltzer, who is 58, in a pale green T-shirt and slacks. “Looks like you’re O.K. here,” he said to Lesser, surveying the sweaty scene.

“You have to do a keg stand,” Lesser said.
When I think of the White House and other hallowed government institutions, I conjure a feeling of almost religious reverence. A sacred ideal of people who hold such power and sway over our country and world -- certainly they must be old and wise and very serious. But ultimately, they're just...people. Like you and me. They are, for the most part, smart and capable, but they also occasionally trip walking up some stairs, fall in and out of love, and spill on themselves at lunch.

I think it's pretty shocking for people to learn the young ages of the majority of staff for campaigns and in government, and these young staff people are the ones doing a lot of the researching and writing that eventually becomes policy pushed by their older and more visible bosses. Not that their youthfulness makes them inherently bad at what they do, but I've wondered if campaign staff were a little older (perhaps a little mellower), might we have calmer political debates? Maybe. Maybe not.

Anywho, all of this reminds me: have you seen In the Loop? You haven't? You need to. Seriously, Netflix it right now. One of the best movies of 2009. Continue reading this post >>

28 April 2010

Casting the HBO financial crisis movie

I want Wallace Shawn to play Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.
Senator Levin: You knew these shitty deals would topple the economy, didn't you, Mr. Blankfein?

Blankfein: (pause) Inconceivable!
Continue reading this post >>

27 April 2010

The stages of a photographer

This could apply to pretty much any vocation in the creative realm.

(via Kottke) Continue reading this post >>

26 April 2010

Bipartisan hilarity

The picture below has been on the front page of the Huffington Post all day. Regardless of where you sit on the political map, I think we can all agree that it is effing hilarious.

Dodd is all, "Oh, Richard, I love you so much! You give me the warm tingles!"

And Shelby is all, "Uh oh, I just poopied in my pantsies."

Continue reading this post >>

23 April 2010

Musical Theatre Nerd Alert: Sondheim on Fresh Air

Stephen Sondheim turned 80 years old this year, prompting a worldwide Sondheim-palooza. On Wednesday, he was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air. Here's an excerpt:
Sondheim: I'm not very influenced by jazz. First of all, the whole idea of jazz is improvisation and instrumentalists. And because I'm only a piano player and have never played in a band, I don't have a feeling for that. Also, I think by nature I'm too conservative. I'm just - I only improvise at the piano when I'm writing a song but I never improvise for anybody else or in front of anybody else or at a party or anything like that. And I dont think I would be good at it. I'm much too constrained.

It's partly my training. My first music teacher, which who was a professor at Williams College, was a very very kind of "Mary Poppins" kind of teacher with, you know, he laid down the rules. And that appealed to me a lot, the idea of rules of how you write music, that say what music consists of. That it's not just sitting and waiting for an inspiration but that you take a melodic idea that you have that might be an inspiration, but then you develop it and you work with it and work it out.
Suck on that, Andrew Lloyd Webber!

Oh, and do yourself a favor and watch this....

Continue reading this post >>

A former slave writes to his old owner

In 1865, Jourdon Anderson wrote a letter to his former owner, Colonel P.H. Anderson. It seems the Colonel had requested Jourdon to return to Tennessee for gainful employment. Here's an excerpt:
As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost- Marshal- General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has been kept back and deduct what you paid for our clothing and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to.

If you're of the skeptical bent, I did attempt to find some verification of authenticity. And there was nothing definitive, except a scan of its publication in the New York Daily Tribune on August 22, 1865. Ultimately, though, I don't care if it's legit -- its power is in the matter-of-fact, bordering on sarcastic tone.

Really, you should read the whole letter.

(via @maxsparber) Continue reading this post >>

22 April 2010

Tony La Russa's need for control

Sports Illustrated's Joe Posnanski on Tony La Russa's overmanaging in the 20-inning Cardinals-Mets game on Saturday.
I must admit: I do get a kick out of overmanaging. Sure, mostly it's like a kick to the sternum... but there's something utterly human about overmanaging that I can appreciate. A baseball manager has so little he can CONTROL on a baseball diamond. He can't design a play -- hit and runs and wheel plays don't satisfy. He can't make halftime adjustments. He can't substitute players in-and-out or change up his lines. You don't think about this much -- or I don't -- but perhaps the biggest thing is that a baseball manager can't even put his best player in position to make the big play. In basketball, you get LeBron to take the last-second shot. In football, you have Tom Brady throw to Wes Welker on fourth down. In baseball, sure, you can put in your closer. But you can't just send Albert Pujols up there with the winning run on third base. And even if you DO happen to be at Pujols place in the lineup, they will walk him.

It's just a whole different type of game, and I think overmanaging really is a natural reaction to the frustrations of the job. Tony La Russa has been managing baseball games for more than 30 years -- he has managed almost 5,000 games in his career. And even now, he HAS to use the most pinch-hitters, and he HAS to change around his lineup, and he HAS to use a lot of relievers, and he HAS to move runners, and he HAS to sacrifice. It's his nature. He has to attack the game before it attacks him. Why? I think it's because he knows the limitations of the job. And he can't help but rage against them.
Posnanski goes on to detail the key moves/missteps in each inning.

Over the last 30+ years, Tony La Russa has managed 4,780 major league games. And he is still intensely engaged in each game, each at-bat...there's something cool about that kind of passion. Continue reading this post >>

20 April 2010

Writers hating writers

Michelle Kerns at Examiner.com has compiled a top-50 list of writers critiquing other writers. Much of the criticism being not constructive in nature. It feels weird to hear a favorite author so harshly rejecting another favorite. I turn into my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Boge. No put-downs!

Here a few highlights from Kerns's list (with Jane Austen receiving the most hate):
John Keats, according to Lord Byron (1820)
Here are Johnny Keats's piss a bed poetry...There is such a trash of Keats and the like upon my tables, that I am ashamed to look at them.

Oscar Wilde, according to Noel Coward (1946)
Am reading more of Oscar Wilde. What a tiresome, affected sod.

Jane Austen, according to Charlotte Bronte (1848)
Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. What induced you to say that you would rather have written 'Pride and Prejudice'...than any of the Waverly novels? I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.

Mark Twain, according to William Faulkner (1922)
A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.

Jane Austen, according to Mark Twain (1898)
I haven't any right to criticize books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice,' I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

Jane Austen, according to Ralph Waldo Emerson (1861)
I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen's novels at so high a rate, which seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in their wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world.

Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full, according to Norman Mailer (1998)
The book has gas and runs out of gas, fills up again, goes dry. It is a 742-page work that reads as if it is fifteen hundred pages long....
At certain points, reading the work can even be said to resemble the act of making love to a three-hundred pound woman. Once she gets on top, it's over. Fall in love, or be asphyxiated. So you read and you grab and you even find delight in some of these mounds of material. Yet all the while you resist -- how you resist! -- letting three hundred pounds take you over.
Lord Byron's nickname for William Wordsworth? Turdsworth. Continue reading this post >>

Kermit and Fozzie turn existential

I fucking love the Muppets. Watch it all the way through. Seriously.

(via @sandentotten) Continue reading this post >>

Help me out?

I'm working on a story idea and want to hear some different ideas about how people define 'art.' As in, would you call a Danielle Steel book art? Mamma Mia the musical/movie? A Van Gogh painting? A Beyonce song? Do you judge creative products on an artistic spectrum? Do you like aspects of pop culture that aren't artistic? Is it important to make such judgements?

You can write a word, a line, or a 3-page report -- I'm eager to hear what you think. Anything would be much appreciated. (Also, feel free to e-mail/message.)
Continue reading this post >>

19 April 2010

Spring cleaning on Mount Everest

MPR reports on a Nepalese program to clean Mount Everest. 20 Sherpas will remove some of the dead bodies and garbage that have collected over the years.
The team said it plans to remove at least five bodies from a narrow trail between South Col and the summit, but has not identified them. In the past bodies have generally been removed only from lower elevations, because dangerous conditions have made removing bodies from the "death zone" nearly impossible.

The team also plans to remove some 6,600 pounds (3,000 kilograms) of garbage from the zone.

"We will carry empty sacks and fill them with empty oxygen bottles, food wrappings, old tents and ropes from the area," Namgyal said.
Continue reading this post >>

Lying to show truth

On nola.com, David Simon explains the creative liberties taken in Treme.
Well, Pablo Picasso famously said that art is the lie that shows us the truth. Such might be the case of a celebrated artist claiming more for himself and his work than he ought, or perhaps, this Picasso fella was on to something.

By referencing what is real, or historical, a fictional narrative can speak in a powerful, full-throated way to the problems and issues of our time. And a wholly imagined tale, set amid the intricate and accurate details of a real place and time, can resonate with readers in profound ways. In short, drama is its own argument.
Does anyone know if Picasso originated the "art uses lies to show truth" line? I've seen forms of it elsewhere. Tom's opening monologue in The Glass Menagerie. V for Vendetta. Just curious.... Continue reading this post >>

Damn Yankees

Joe Queenan's Yankee-hate extends into literature.
My refusal to read books about the Yankees or their fans also extends to books written by supporters of the team. Thus, when I learned that Salman Rushdie had adopted the Yankees, who beat my Phillies in the World Series last year, it eliminated any chance that I would ever read “The Satanic Verses,” no matter how good it is. This attitude is rooted partly in principle and partly in pathology: I, like most Americans, resent the Yankees’ success while secretly wishing that my cheapskate teams would imitate them and go out and purchase championship after championship. But I further ridicule the notion that Yankees fans experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat the way the rest of us do. Rooting for the Yankees, as a friend of mine said, is like rooting for the air. It’s about as daring as rooting for a pack of ravenous pit bulls in a showdown with a blind, one-legged bunny rabbit.
Continue reading this post >>

17 April 2010

Census too mainstream for hipsters

NPR reports on the lack of census participation in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, an area heavily populated by hipsters and Satmar Orthodox Jews.
Robert Smith (reporter): These few blocks around Wythe Avenue and 6th Street have about a 36 percent return rate. Nate Stark has an explanation.

Stark (hipster): I guess it's laziness and like, what's the point? When it comes down to it, nobody wants to fill out like another form that's just like getting sent to your house that really relatively has nothing to do with your life.
No worries. Stephen Colbert picked up on the story. (Relevant stuff at the 1:48 mark.)

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Tip/Wag - Forbes & Hipsters
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorFox News
Continue reading this post >>

16 April 2010

Hope for the cilantro-ickies

I can only handle cilantro in small doses. I've heard of some people having a genetic disposition to the plant, but this NY Times piece clears things up a little bit.
The senses of smell and taste evolved to evoke strong emotions, he explained, because they were critical to finding food and mates and avoiding poisons and predators. When we taste a food, the brain searches its memory to find a pattern from past experience that the flavor belongs to. Then it uses that pattern to create a perception of flavor, including an evaluation of its desirability.

If the flavor doesn’t fit a familiar food experience, and instead fits into a pattern that involves chemical cleaning agents and dirt, or crawly insects, then the brain highlights the mismatch and the potential threat to our safety. We react strongly and throw the offending ingredient on the floor where it belongs.
But there is hope! Apparently, people (like me!) who get the cilantro-ickies can re-train their brains to have positive responses to it. Continue reading this post >>

All-Jane Austen Baseball Team

I like this.
C: Taylor Hill Teagarden
1B: Joshua S. Whitesell
2B: Brent Stuart Lillibridge
SS: Clifton Randolph Pennington
3B: James Gordon Beckham III
LF: Aaron R. Cunningham
CF: Jonathan Eugene Van Every
RF: Joshua David Willingham
DH: Thomas James Everidge

BENCH-C: Dustin Eli Whiteside
BENCH-IF: John Joseph Hannahan
BENCH-OF: James Micah Hoffpauir
BENCH-BAT: Robert Michael Aubrey

SP: Justin Brooks Verlander
SP: Chad Ryan Billingsley
SP: Robert Nicholas Blackburn
SP: Adam Parrish Wainwright
SP: Jeremy Allen Bonderman

RP: Jonathan Robert Papelbon
RP: Blake Edward Hawksworth
RP: Kyle William McClellan
RP: Joel Ryan Hanrahan
RP: Nathan Daniel Robertson
RP: Clayton C. Richard
RP: Hayden Andrew Penn

Manager: Ronald Clyde Gardenhire
Pitching Coach: Roger Alan McDowell
Hitting Coach: Donald Arthur Mattingly
Bullpen Coach: John Karl Wetteland
Bench Coach: Alan Stuart Trammell
First Base Coach: Daniel John Radison
Third Base Coach: Timothy Earl Flannery
Thanks, Brandon P. Continue reading this post >>

14 April 2010

Kids send the darndest hate mail

Undergoing a major renovation between 1997 and 2000, the Natural History Museum's Hayden Planetarium decided that Pluto wasn't a planet. Controversy followed. And so did hate mail from kids.

The "Mr. Tyson" in the letter is Neil deGrasse Tyson, the Planetarium's director. He has a book out, The Pluto Files, about the hoopla surrounding the former planet.

(via Kottke) Continue reading this post >>

13 April 2010

Time-lapse of Target Field's big day

MPR has a time-lapse video of yesterday's goings-on at Target Field.

Continue reading this post >>

I need to stop playing so much Minesweeper

Yesterday, on MPR's Midmorning, Kerri Miller interviewed David Shenk, the author of The Genius in All of Us, wherein he argues that our talents and traits aren't as genetically predetermined as we thought. In fact, a lot of science is showing the opposite. Basically, it isn't that someone has a genetic disposition to be a great writer, athlete, musician, photographer, accountant, actor, doctor, etc. Rather, a person's environment and effort (disciplined practice) go a long way in determining their gifts and attributes.

And that goes for physical traits as well. Here's an excerpt from Shenk's book (via NPR):
One of the most striking early hints of the new understanding of development as a dynamic process emerged in 1957 when Stanford School of Medicine researcher William Walter Greulich measured the heights of Japanese children raised in California and compared them to the heights of Japanese children raised in Japan during the same time period. The California-raised kids, with significantly better nourishment and medical care, grew an astonishing five inches taller on average. Same gene pool, different environment — radically different stature.
I'm drawn to this idea, because, well, it's empowering. I have the power to control who I am and what I want to do! Of course, the flip side to the responsibility for success is the responsibility for failure. I can't just look around at the successes of other aspiring writers and brush it off with a "Well, they're just more naturally gifted than I am. Back to Minesweeper and Facebook!"

Here's the audio from the Midmorning interview:

And if you're interested, Shenk has a blog to promote the book. Continue reading this post >>

12 April 2010

TPT launches site/show about Minnesota arts

Twin Cities Public Television has used Legacy Amendment funds to create MN Original, a show and companion website that "will take viewers behind the scenes to meet the elders and the emerging talents in all of the arts disciplines."

They have some videos up on the site (the broadcast show premieres on April 22). This one -- On Dying by Peter Nelson -- caught my eye. Young actors lip-sync audio from old people.

Continue reading this post >>

A world of old farts

From Frank Pearce's New Scientist op-ed on aging. Yikes.
In 19 countries, from Singapore to Iceland, people have a life expectancy of about 80 years. Of all the people in human history who ever reached the age of 65, half are alive now.
Continue reading this post >>

11 April 2010

Fresh Air's Baseball Show

On Friday, Fresh Air aired two great baseball interviews. The first is with Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Reggie Jackson, and the second is with journalist Bruce Weber, who trained and worked as an umpire (and, of course, wrote a book about it, titled As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires).

Gibson and Jackson were the focus of the book Sixty Feet, Six Inches, which looks at the battle between a pitcher (Gibson) and a hitter (Jackson). 60'6" is the distance between the pitcher's mound and home plate.

I came to baseball later in life, and one of the biggest steps I took from this-is-boring-as-shit to I-effing-love-this-game was learning about the subtle battle between a pitcher and a hitter.

Here's an excerpt from the Gibson/Jackson interviewer, where Dave Davies asks about pitching on the inside part of the plate. Gibson was known for aggressively pitching close to hitters to get them off the plate. It's, well, more complicated than that. But seriously, even if you're not a baseball fan, the interviews are great.
Davies: I want to talk about throwing inside and guys getting hit by pitches because you guys are both on opposite ends of this. And Bob Gibson, with your permission, I'm going to read a section from you, from the book that you've collaborated with Reggie here, where you're talking about -you're saying basically that you liked to pitch on the outside part of the plate, that is the part - pitch away from the batter, and you say that nobody's really going to square on a pitch and hit you when you pitch it outside. And then you write: unless he cheats.

What I mean is unless he leans in and dives at that outside corner. Obviously, I can't let him do that because that's where I'm trying to pitch. So if he tries it, I have to stand him up a little bit. Think of the hitter as dog with an electronic collar. You just administer a slight correction, as they call it, if he tries to get out of his yard. Throw the ball inside, and he can't wander into the wrong area. That's what you were doing when you pitched inside, right?

Gibson: Pretty much. Yeah. I was getting him to think about the ball inside. Now Reggie - Reggie likes to hit the ball out away from him. That's where I want to get him out. So what do I do to keep him from hitting that ball out away from him? I pitch him inside. And I don't just pitch him inside once, I come in there often. And so now, he's going to think about me pitching him inside.

If he's thinking about that ball inside, then I can get him out away. If he's thinking outside, and I throw outside, he's more capable of hitting the ball. But if I get inside and do it often enough, he's not going to go leaning out there because sometimes when I'm pitching inside, and he's thinking outside, you know, the ball comes inside, and I'll hit him.
Continue reading this post >>

10 April 2010

TV isn't real, who knew?

I probably shouldn't be so mesmerized by this before and after reel from Stargate Studios, but alas, me likes the shiny moving picture shows!

Continue reading this post >>

09 April 2010

New baseball stat: Butt Shape

Apparently, a ballplayer's butt shape can help predict his success. From Tom Verducci's Sports Illustrated article on Phillies' ace pitcher Roy Halladay:
There is an adage among scouts that the shape of a player's butt helps project what the prospect will become. Kids with flat butts generally don't fill out much. Kids with a curved butt will add strength to their frame—what the scouts call good weight. "Roy looked like he could easily carry another 15 to 20 pounds," says Mike Arbuckle, who ran the draft for the Phillies then and now is a senior adviser to the general manager in Kansas City. "That kind of frame with good arm speed, those are two rare elements."
(via Slate) Continue reading this post >>

David Cross a debbie-downer about Arrested Development movie

In an interview with TV.com, David Cross (aka Tobias F√ľnke) was asked...
Should I even ask you about the Arrested Development movie or should we just move on?
[Laughs] I hope this is a harbinger of things to come, because you're the first person who has ever asked me whether you should ask me the question as opposed to just saying "So what's up with the movie?" Hopefully this ushers in a new era of people understanding that there is not going to be a movie. I just don't see it happening. It's been years. Michael Cera is 32 years old now. I will be the first to say it ain't going to happen.
For what it's worth, Michael Cera is actually 21 years old. Even though I'd love to see more Bluth family shenanigans, I've always been worried about a movie not living up to the TV show.

Speaking of which...

Continue reading this post >>

08 April 2010

A Robbery of Three Liberal Arts Graduates: The Police Report

This McSweeney's piece by Eliot Nelson is over a month old, but I thought about it today. And, well, it's just really fucking funny. An excerpt:
Perp One then informed Mr. Wilson-Stern, Mr. Miller and Mr. Goldstein that if they followed instructions and kept their "bitch" mouths shut that it would be over soon and they could return to having sex with each other. Mr. Wilson-Stern informed Perp One that his assumption of their sexuality was indicative of America's entrenched heteronormative value system. Mr. Miller then informed Perp One that he was perpetrating society's patriarchal norms by using the word "bitch." Mr. Goldstein then asked Perp One to turn the television to The News Hour with Jim Leher.
Continue reading this post >>

Michael Steele, the muppet

Michael Steele the person wouldn't come on the Daily Show, so Jon Stewart interviewed Michael Steele the muppet.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Michael Steele Plays the Race Card
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party
Continue reading this post >>

Fun with Graphics: Baseball Edition

Craig Robinson loves baseball and infographics. We reap the rewards. For more baseball-y graphics like this, check out FlipFlopFlyBall.com.

(Click the graphic to make it BIG.)
Continue reading this post >>

07 April 2010

Bestsellers of 2009

If Dan Brown ever writes a book about the mystery of Sarah Palin, it'll be booksellin' gold!!! Publisher's Weekly lists the top-selling books of 2009.

Top ten in hardcover fiction:
1. The Lost Symbol: A Novel. Dan Brown. Doubleday (5,543,643).
2. The Associate: A Novel. John Grisham. Doubleday.
3. The Help. Kathryn Stockett. Putnam/Amy Einhorn (1,104,617).
4. I, Alex Cross. James Patterson. Little, Brown (1,040,976).
5. The Last Song. Nicholas Sparks. Grand Central (1,032,829).
6. Ford County. John Grisham. Doubleday.
7. Finger Lickin' Fifteen. Janet Evanovich. St. Martin's (977,178).
8. The Host: A Novel. Stephenie Meyer. Little, Brown (912,165).
9. Under the Dome. Stephen King. Scribner
10. Pirate Latitudes. Michael Crichton. Harper (855,638).
And hardcover nonfiction:
1. Going Rogue: An American Life. Sarah Palin. Harper (2,674,684).
2. Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment. Steve Harvey. Harper (1,735,219).
3. Arguing with Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government. Glenn Beck. Threshold.
4. Liberty & Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto. Mark R. Levin.
5. True Compass: A Memoir. Edward M. Kennedy. Grand Central (870,402).
6. Have a Little Faith: A True Story. Mitch Albom. Hyperion (855,843).
7. It's Your Time: Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God's Favor. Joel Osteen. Free Press.
8. The Last Lecture. Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow. Hyperion (610,033).
9. Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books Not Bombs. Greg Mortenson. Viking (515,566).
10. Superfreakonomics. Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. William Morrow (487,977).
(via kottke)
Continue reading this post >>

Taiwanese boy lives out dream of American gays

This was probably viral about 10 years ago, but alas, I'm slow on the uptake.

Continue reading this post >>

Us vs Them

A couple days ago, I wrote about an Eric Black post that covered a new study declaring "narrative" the buzz word du jour of political journalism and, perhaps more accurately, punditry. Today, Black has a follow-up that looks at the idea of paradigm.
In the U.S. Cold War paradigm, it was a "fact" that the Soviets were bent on world domination, whereas the United States wanted only to allow every country in the world to democratically choose its own system. There were dozens of other "facts," almost universally believed in our society, that mostly translated into a pure-good-versus-pure-evil simplification. One of the main points of my Strib series and subsequent book, "Rethinking the Cold War," was that we were more blinded than informed by such half-truths.

It's not much of a leap from the scientific or Cold War paradigms to the way many Americans see contemporary politics, believing that whichever side they are on is honest, clean, perspicacious and offers the policies that will be best for their state, the nation and for future generations.
I recommend reading the whole piece. It explains the concept in greater depth and looks at some of the implications for today's politics. Continue reading this post >>

Tarantino vs Coen Brothers

Continue reading this post >>

06 April 2010

Children's Theatre Co wants to remove yellow egg from face

A few weeks ago, the Children's Theatre Company caused a little controversy with their plans to cast Caucasian actors in Chinese roles in their upcoming production of Disney's Mulan Junior. On one hand, there is a high-demand for Asian-American actors in the Twin Cities theatre universe this spring. On the other hand, would any theatre company be willing to go black-face if they had trouble finding Black actors for a production?

Fortunately, CTC partnered with Mu Performing Arts on Monday night to host a panel discussion on the matter. Since that was opening day and I'm a good, baseball-loving American, I couldn't make it (kidding), but the panel's moderator Marianne Combs has some notes on the conversation posted on her MPR State of the Arts blog. Additionally, the good people at Twin Cities Theater Connection have full audio of the event. It's about two hours long and worth the listen if you've got the time. There were a number of productive ideas brought up, particularly better communication throughout the theatre community. (When is that not a good idea?)

When I was a senior in high school, I was in John Patrick's The Teahouse of the August Moon as Sakini, a Japanese translator employed by the U.S. Army during post-WWII reconstruction. In small town Charles City High School, we had very few Asian students. Our director brought in a Japanese-American member of the community to teach us pronunciation of the Japanese lines and other cultural details about dress and social norms. That being said, I still cringe when I come across a picture of myself in yellow-face and think about the stereotypical accent I used. Ugh. We should've stuck to Neil Simon....

Incidentally, a film version of The Teahouse of the August Moon was released in 1956. Who played Sakini? Marlon Brando. Apparently they couldn't find a Japanese-American actor in all of Hollywood.

Continue reading this post >>

Grilled cheese + Pam Beesly = Heart explosion

From the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board -- a cog in the Wisconsin Dairy Producers wheel -- comes the Grilled Cheese Academy, a website dedicated to the fine art of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. The site features 30 sandwiches and allows users to share their own recipes. And sorry veggie-luvahs, it appears a number of these delicacies contain meat.

Oh, and I almost forgot the best part. Each of the 30 featured sandwiches has a narrated description. And who is doing the voiceover? Jenna Fischer (aka Pam Beesly-Halpert from The Office)!

I haven't shown the Grilled Cheese Academy to Emily yet, but when I do, I'm guessing her heart will explode from excitement. Incidentally, if you eat too many grilled cheese sandwiches, your heart will also explode...from clogged arteries. Continue reading this post >>

Fish kill at Lake Shetek

MPR's Mark Steil covers the fish kill at Lake Shetek in southwest Minnesota. I'm no expert on fish kills, so I don't know how this one compares to others...but it looks pretty damn bad.
Thousands of dead fish--mostly dead carp weighing up to 20 pounds--float in a bay on Lake Shetek, packed in by the wind. Even fin to fin, they cover an area that is easily the size of a football field. A crew of more than 30 volunteers is picking them up with pitchforks.

"It's not probably the most pleasant work; it's kind of smelly," volunteer organizer Mark Slettum said. "But I think we all believe that we're caretakers of the lake and we certainly want to give back to it by cleaning it up and kind of being the custodians of the lake."

The smell of rotting fish fills the air. One by one, volunteers toss the carcasses into trailers and the buckets of front end loaders. They land with a squishy plop.
Visit MPR for the full story, with audio and a disgusting-but-you-have-to-look slideshow. Continue reading this post >>

05 April 2010

A sassy gay friend for Shakespeare

Second City has a series of YouTube videos out inserting a sassy gay friend for some of Shakespeare's leading ladies. They're hilarious.

Continue reading this post >>

Narrative trumps all in media

MinnPost's Eric Black reports this morning on a recent study that says "narrative" is the new political buzz word.
The Global Language Monitor uses some kind of algorithm that tracks the usage of words and phrases in all forms of news media plus now social media to spot such trends. This is way over my head, and I don't vouch for their finding, but as soon as you hear their big "narrative" conclusion, you realize there's something to it and that we've been hearing "narrative" a lot.

The GLM offers several sample headlines and excerpts to make the point, like "The Obama White House has lost the narrative in the way that the Obama campaign never did” (New York Times, March 6)," “Ok. Has the narrative changed because of the health care success? (Washington Post, March 26) and “The only thing that changes is the narrative.” (CNN, March 23).
I totally understand this concept. People dig stories. It's much easier to listen to a story with characters and a perception of dramatic conflict. I'm always drawn to journalism that has a strong sense of storytelling over sterile fact-telling. That's why This American Life episodes about the economic crisis are more interesting to listen to than, say, PBS Newshour reports.

Storytelling is exciting and suspenseful. It feels more human. And ultimately, a story gives an audience a nice framework in which to place all these little things it's learning.

But what's the danger? Well, at some point, the importance of the story arc takes precedence over the facts.

Here's a hypothetical: Let's say that I'm a media organization in a constant state of flipping shit about building/maintaining an audience to draw ad revenue, and I know that a strong narrative is more likely to achieve the aforementioned flip-shit goal than having a stream of accurate-but-sterile facts. Of course, I'm going to go with the narrative. It keeps the audience engaged and revenue stream flowing.

Now, obviously, narrative and facts don't have to be mutually exclusive. And, in fact, I think This American Life is a prime example of using a story structure to dispense oft-unreported facts. That being said, think back to the 2008 election. In the Democratic primary, it was the constant horse race between Hillary and Obama. In reality, though, it was going to be almost impossible for Hillary to overtake Obama's delegate count. But that's not a good story. The good story is the older, tough-as-shit woman fighting for her political life against the fresh-faced newcomer. Remember the constant comparisons to the I'm a Mac/I'm a PC ads?

And that continued into the general election. McCain was the old crusty guy, who was erratic and unreliable in the face of economic chaos. Obama was the calm, steady hand from a new generation who offered a bright, clean start in dark times. How many voters do you think were looking at the details of policy put forth by both campaigns? In the recent health care reform circus, polling was against the reform package. Until, of course, it passed. Then more people were supportive. Why? People like to win. They like a good story, and they want to feel happy at the ending. Continue reading this post >>

04 April 2010

The Clean Plate Club is real!

Turns out, the Clean Plate Club wasn't just some silly idea created by parents to manipulate their whimsical kids into eating veggies. The Big W explains:
The U.S. Food Administration was terminated after the First World War, but in 1947 the “Clean Plate” proposal came back and was encouraged by President Harry S. Truman, who aided in officially forming the “Clean Plates Club” in elementary schools across the country. This club was officially created after the Great Depression and World War II, when food was once again scarce. In 1947, the U.S. created the Marshall Plan, in which President Truman encouraged Americans to consume less poultry, to conserve food for starving Europeans. As a reaction to his plan, the “Clean Plate Clubs” were formed, and elementary school students were again taught to clean their plates.
I was raised to be a lifetime member of the Clean Plate Club. In the Curl household, we kids always had to finish our food, and rarely were there leftovers. To this day, I generally approach every meal as though it is my last, eating my food and the food of everyone within ten feet.

Let's just say, my lifetime CPC membership is rarely in danger. Continue reading this post >>