Monday October 09, 2023
Well-Intentioned White People and Person-of-Color Pabulum
“What seems clear enough is that Kendi and Minhaj both believed that they could reap all the rewards of the mass market and still maintain an edge and a sense of political purpose. And, while there are certainly differences between them—I don't agree with any of Kendi's prescriptions or, really, the concept of anti-racism, but I still believe he's a more sincere operator than Minhaj—they captured huge audiences filled, in large part, by well-intentioned white people who wanted a person of color to deliver the pabulum they wanted to hear.”
-- Jay Caspian Kang, “Ibram X. Kendi, Hasan Minhaj, and the Question of Selling Out,” on The New Yorker site
I hadn't heard about Ibram Kendi's problems (laying off much of the staff at his Center for Antiracist Research despite many millions in donations), and barely knew of him, to be honest; but I knew of Hasan Minhaj, I was just never a fan, so his controversy (fabricating stories of racism in his standup for greater moral authority) didn't exactly make me wring my hands. That said, “selling out” feels an odd way of getting at what connects these two. I think the quote above gets closer to it. Indeed, it made me flash on post-George Floyd, 2020, and how some white people were suddenly very, very earnest about establishing their anti-racist credentials and recommending X, Y or Z to watch, read or listen to. It got old fast. If it was ever young.
One over-recommended book was Robin Diangelo's “White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism,” whose very subtitle seems like a bulwark against criticism. I never read it, or even picked it up, I just remember asking someone for an example from the book. That example involved Jackie Robinson: How white people, according to Diangelo, think Robinson broke the color barrier because he was the first African American that was good enough to play in the Majors rather than the first that was allowed to play in the Majors.
Me, after a beat: Who the fuck thinks that?
Obviously I'm not the demographic here. I know too much about Jackie Robinson, for one, but it didn't take much. It wasn't work, learning about him and other race matters, but whatever non-work it was, a lot of people didn't do it; and then it felt like they wanted to lead the rest of us to where many of us had already been.
Anyway, I hope that time is over.
Saturday July 29, 2023
Curtains for Zoosha?
I think I saw this via Mark Harris' Twitter account before Elon musked everything up. For a time, as a non-user, I couldn't even access Twitter. Yesterday I found I could again, though if you go to anyone's page you don't get their tweets (Xes? Echhs?) in reverse chronological order, as before. Now they're all over the place: 2022, 2017, 2020. Interesting snapshots, though. Right, that particular Trump idiocy. Right, another one. Right, the first awful days of the pandemic. Good times.
The point is, I don't know if I've ever felt so seen in a cultural tweet before.
Damien Owens, it turns out, is a writer, with several novels. I bought one of them on the strength of this tweet. You can find him on Amazon here. Yes, for some reason, I don't do Facebook or Twitter but still do Amazon. I'm not saying it makes sense.
He's also on Mastodon, and on the Blue Sky thing that's still in beta. We're all trying to figure it out. We all want to hang but the guys throwing parties are such, such assholes.
Monday March 06, 2023
Dreaming of Clearing My Name in Esperanto
I am accused of something and there's a lot of innuendo in the accusation. I'm at a bar that's long and low-slung, with a lot of old, distressed wood—floor, walls, tables, benches. I pick up a magazine, and on the cover the accusations continue. In one subhed, an ex of mine apparently had defended me and the subhed is accusing her, or us, of collusion or something, some kind of plot, and it's so far afield as to be laughable, but if you don't know us you might believe it.
Then the accuser is actually there, talking into a microphone, regaling the crowd with more accusations, including studies he'd done, like of our toothbrushes, and why, for six of the seven, was the result this and yet only mine was the toothbrush with the plastic cover? Finally I got so fed up that I brandished my toothbrush, which still had toothpaste on it, and yelled, “HERE! Take it! Do your fucking study!” and the guy grabbed it greedily and did his test. And how long would the results be? Almost immediate? I was wondering if it had been smart to allow this to happen. The results were coming in, but in some obscure language like Esperanto. You had to go to a certain website and plug in the results in that language, and what you got back was an image, a gif, which was a metaphor for the result. A guy next to me at the bar was doing this on his phone. There was a race to be the first to do it, as if it was breaking news. The image I saw on his phone was of a dark blue bird with wings flapping, and he said that was a good sign and I was in the clear. Later, in the bar's backroom, my accuser appeared, apologetic, with a plate of cookies, sugar cookies with frosting, and he was as insistent in his apology as he'd been in his accusation. He kept hovering. I said nothing. I looked at him but revealed nothing. I took the plate of cookies but left them on the bar.
There was a sporting event I was trying to drive my car into, and there were two lanes on the grass, taking turns, and eventually it was my turn. I thought I was taking a short cut like that other cooler, car before me had done, but it led to a dead end, areas too narrow to get through—all of this on the sidelines of a football-ish game—and at one point, unable to go forward, I simply picked up the car and moved it to the path where it should be and kept driving. I was driving onto the field. The car was a purple convertible with Minnesota Vikings logos, and, crap, I was actually driving on the field in the middle of the game. At the far end of the field, which is where I was driving, there were eight or nine athletes lined up, like in a swim meet, but it was for a kickoff. They were returning a kickoff and I was in the way. But then it was made better. A fair catch or something? The kick went out of the end zone? The play had stopped. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time but hadn't affected the outcome. Then there was a kind of Native American ceremony hovering above the far sidelines and in the air above me, three warriors with tomahawks all lit up, and I wanted it to go away. It was highlighting the fact that me and my purple Vikings convertible were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Wednesday May 25, 2022
I can't remember if two kids were known dead at that point or 14 but yesterday afternoon I went onto The New York Times site looking for more details about the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. I saw the shooter was 18; I saw he'd been killed. Vaguely, I wondered if we'd find out why he did it. Then I stopped myself. Why? A guy walked into an elementary school and started killing children. There's no why to that. There's nothing that'll make sense of that.
Is there anything that'll make sense of us? Maybe Yeats. The usual Yeats.
The Republican party is a party of child killers. They're opportunists who know the problem and pretend the problem is something else in order to get votes and stay in power for the next two or six years and then do nothing. They're cowards who can seriously go fuck themselves. That's the only proper response when they start spouting their bullshit. Go fuck yourself.
The best reaction I saw yesterday was from an NBA basketball coach.
Saturday March 19, 2022
Criminal Charges 1, Lessons Learned 0
I began this story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune because it seemed another example of our rage-filled times. Earlier this year, at a high school basketball game in northwestern Minnesota, a man jumped from the stands to attack the ref, with whom he disagreed. He ripped off his whistle and tore his shirt. Then he got ejected. The other day he was charged with misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct. I was shaking my head over the stupidity of it all when I got to this sentence about the man and laughed out loud:
In response Tuesday to a request for comment about the charges, he told the Star Tribune, “It's not any of your [expletive] business what I did”...
Criminal charges: 1. Lessons learned: 0.
Wednesday March 02, 2022
Just for Laughs: Not Seeing John Mulaney in Concert
This is how I first heard about it, via email on Dec. 7, a date which will live in somethingorother.
How did the emailer know I was a John Mulaney fan? I assume the usual online trail we all leave. I've watched his concerts on Netflix, went down the YouTube rabbit hole to find appearances on the various talk shows, and SNL, and at the Independent Spirit Awards, and I've tweeted and blogged about him. It's out there.
But initially I was like: So what? No Seattle. Appreciate the news but let me know when it hits closer to home.
Then I saw this at the end:
Vancouver! Hey, we have family there! Hey, we could go up for a few days, see them, see John, enjoy the Canada craziness! (JFL, by the way, stands for Just for Laughs, a two-week long comedy festival. It's like SIFF but funny.)
I was particularly curious what his standup might be like now. For most of his career, Mulaney's been the smart, teetotaling, former blackout-drunk and “Mad Men”-looking standup with the Jewish wife and no interest in having kids. His persona was “boring ol' me, vaguely gay ol' me.” I think he once referred to himself as a slice of white bread. Then, beginning in late 2020, he:
- went into rehab
- divorced his wife
- took up with hottie Oliva Munn
- had a baby with her
Now he's tabloid fodder. In the New York Post headline hierarchy he once riffed on (angel, hero, tot, bozo, perv), he's the bozo. “A bozo is any man who cheats on his wife,” he said back then. That's him. Which, no judgment, I'm just curious how, with such massive changes in his life, how his standup might change. I mean, I'd seen him on Seth Meyers' show last September and it was kind of shocking how unfunny he was. Could he bounce back? I'd love to find out. Hell, since these “Just for Laughs” gigs predated his official “From Scratch” tour, we'd actually see it first.
Should we do it? I asked my wife.
Yes! she said. She likes Mulaney, too. Plus she's never said no to travel.
What about this new variant that I'm hearing about?
Oh, I'm sure it'll be gone by then, she said. Plus we can't not make plans forever.
So we jumped. And despite Omicron not going away, we kept pushing forward. We got a hotel just three blocks from the Queen Elizabeth Theater. We figured out all the border-crossing hoops we had to jump through. There was an app, ArriveCAN, where you had to fill out all your info, upload a photo of your passport, and upload a photo of your vax card. And did Canada still want proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival? Yes, they did. Were PCR test hard to get? Not really. But to get a free gov't test, you had to either have symptoms or be exposed to someone who had it. But you could pay for one: a mere $175-$300 a pop. Those were our options: shell out $400 or lie. We lied.
The trip up was lovely, Vancouver was more beautiful than I remembered, it was great seeing family. The concert was scheduled for 9:30 on a Tuesday night, and we kind dithered away the time beforehand. Well, the morning and afternoon were good: walk to Stanley Park, visit to the Vancouver Art Museum. But then I tried to take a nap because 9:30 seemed late to me (I'm 59), but the nap didn't take. Then we got nearby sushi but it wasn't particularly good. Then we watched some episodes of “Community” on my laptop but it was odd, fifth-season stuff. Basically we were just biding our time before the show because I didn't want to miss the show. Then we left our room at 9 PM, even though Patricia thought that was way too early for three blocks away, because I didn't want to miss the show.
Three blocks away, at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, we disagreed about which entrance to go to. Patricia went to the side. “There's some light here,” she said. Then she paused. It wasn't much light. In fact, the whole place seemed rather dark. In fact...
A slight panic crept in. Had we missed the show? Did I misread the time? Or the date?
About a dozen people were milling about on the Hamilton Street side, most dressed for a show, so we went toward them. They pointed to these signs taped to the inside of the darkened front door.
My wife and I looked at each other and just started laughing. All that hoop-jumping. All that waiting around. All that fear of missing out.
Then I began to wonder why it was cancelled. Was he relapsing? I was concerned. We talked to the other disappointed fans out front. It turned out, no, the entire Just for Laughs festival had been cancelled. Because of Omicron. One woman, thumbing through her smartphone, said the emails had wound up in her Spam folder. They'd sent one on Feb. 7, she said, and another on Jan. 21.
“January 21st???” I said. “They've known for weeks?”
Initially I was amused. Then confused. Then I began to get angry. And since this is the modern world, I didn't quite know who to be angry at. Just for Laughs? Mulaney? Me?
The week before I'd actually had an inkling something was off. I don't remember why, but I'd done a double-check on the concert and was somehow assuaged. Maybe because Mulaney's Twitter feed said nothing about a cancellation and neither did his website, and a Google search, and a Google News search, brought up nothing. It brought up ticket sales.
But apparently I hadn't dug deep enough. So some part of me was angry at me. Some of the anger, too, I think, was simply to cover up embarassment. I was a 59-year-old crossing borders in the middle of a pandemic to see some punk thirtysomething comic in concert? What had I become? What had my life become? I really was thinking this. It's a few weeks later and I'm cutting myself some slack. I was a 59-year-old crossing borders in the middle of a pandemic to see someone who had given me hours and hours of joy. I just wanted another hour.
Besides, by now I know whose fault it was: the Just for Laughs festival.
Back at the hotel I doublechecked my Gmail account. I checked the inbox, the deleted folder and the spam folder. Nothing, nothing and nothing. Deleted emails are kept for 30 days, so it went back before Jan. 21. But there was nothing from Just for Laughs or about John Mulaney or about cancellation. They'd never let me know.
So when I got home I shot off an email to Just For Laughs explaining all this. I got this a day later:
Thanks for your message and apologies for the confusion! We had send out updates about this postponement by email on January 21st, February 7th and 11th, but we've been ending up in junk mail, and we had also posted on social media and our website.
Even though I said the notice didn't wind up in my spam folder, they said check your spam folder. They also said they were working to reschedule him but if I wanted a refund I could have a refund. I went for the refund. And I reiterated the fact that they should recheck their system that sends out these emails since I never got one. They said they would. Or one guy said they would. One guy who's answering emails and probably has no say-so at any level of the organization.
Last week, I got to see some of the standup I might've seen in Vancouver when John Mulaney hosted SNL. He looks a little more worn, a little heavier, with less of an amused glint in the eyes, but it was much better than his Seth Meyers' appearance. He's worked his fall from grace into comedy. Not an easy thing to do. I particularly like the text exchange with the drug dealer. Also his son's reaction to the light.
Anyway we just got tickets to Chris Rock in October. Fingers crossed.
Sunday December 05, 2021
The Most Dangerous Person in the World
During my morning walk to Lake Washington today I listened to a fascinating Preet Bharara podcast with Scott Galloway as guest. Recommended.
Midway through the episode, they're talking about whether will people return to the office soon (no, and not like before, but maybe three days a week), and that leads Galloway to talk about how two out of three relationships used to begin in the office and now two in three begin online; and that's led to something called “mating inequality,” in which 8-20% of the men get 90% of the interest, leaving the majority of men fighting over a minority of women. And that leads to this scary stat: in 2008, 8% of men hadn't had sex before age 30, but now that number is 28% or 29%. Then Galloway adds this:
So when you're walking down the avenue that is America, and men and women pass by you, there's twice as many women with a college degree, and one in three of those men under the age of 30 has never taken that step toward an intimate relationship. And I think that's very bad for society. Because the most dangerous person in the world is a young, broken, alone male. And we're producing way too many of them.
Young, broken, alone men with easy access to guns, I would add.
The rest of the episode, dealing with the problems with the increasing exclusivity in higher education, is equally fascinating and relevant.
Saturday February 13, 2021
Most-Quoted: Calvin and Hobbes
I follow the Calvin and Hobbes twitter feed and they posted this beauty the other day:
I've quoted Hobbes' last line many times over the years—although I guess I've misquoted it. I usually say “Live and don't learn, that's our motto.” This is better. I love the joy on his face as he's saying it, too. Makes me happy. It's like, “What are you gonna do with us? Not much to do but enjoy the day.” So enjoy the day.
Tuesday July 07, 2020
Common Sense by Thomas Hanks
“The idea of doing one's part should be so simple: wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands. That alone means you are contributing to the betterment of your house, your work, your town, your society as a whole. And it's such a small thing. And it's a mystery to me how that has been wiped out of what should be ingrained in us all. Simple things. Do your part.
Tom Hanks, who contracted Covid in March, on the ”Today" show this morning.
Monday August 05, 2019
‘How Did Any of Us Walk Away Unchanged?’
In the wake of the mass murders in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio this weekend, Joe Posnanski wrote the following poem and posted it on his site, where he usually writes about sports. This piece is called “This Isn't Sports.” It begins this way:
Didn't a little piece of you die in Newtown?
A little piece of me died there.
They were just babies.
Cut down like wheat
Six and seven years old
Still learning how to read and write
Big block letters
Unicorns and baseball cards
Jumping in front of a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle
A Glock 20SF handgun
Hoping to save one
How did we not all die in Newtown?
How did any of us walk away unchanged?
It's that last line that got me. How did the NRA/GOP get away with it? They evoked Hollywood (“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun...”), whom they also attack. They also made asinine suggestions like arming teachers. There's this thing that kills people, see, so the way to reduce the killings is to make sure more people have this thing that kills people. It's Illogic 101.
Yet they got away with it. We let them get away with it.
Joe goes on to mention other places now marked as places of mass murder: Tucson, Vegas, Virginia Beach, Chippewa Falls, Sebring and Aurora. He goes through Yountville and Paintsville and Nashville and Asheville. He ticks off so many places, so many tragedies, for which we did nothing. Half of them I'd already forgotten. That's how often it happens here:
In Cleveland and Chicago and Detroit
Just as in Lutcher and Gravette and Ascension Parish
In a Pittsburgh Synagogue
And a Charleston church
And a Sutherland Springs church
And an Annapolis newspaper office
And an Orlando nightclub
And Marjory Stoneman Douglas High
And an El Paso Wal-Mart
And just outside a Dayton Bar
How do any of us walk away unchanged? Yet bit by bit we are changed. For the worse.
Friday March 15, 2019
Greatest Banksy Ever
OK, maybe a close second to the one at the end of this 2010 review.
Tuesday September 04, 2018
Just came across this. From a week ago Monday. Classy tribute.
Neil Simon was a clutch hitter. When we needed the punchline on Your Show of Shows he delivered. He also delivered 32 plays and over 20 movies. He was one of the sweetest & least jealous writers you could ever work with. For all who knew him, this is a truly sad day.— Mel Brooks (@MelBrooks) August 27, 2018
Thursday May 11, 2017
My Impossibly Snobbish Salon Piece
The “Seven Samurai” photo Salon used confuses the issue, but I like the old “Jaws” paperback cover. This was everywhere in the summer of '75.
While I was in Rochester, Minn., last week I had another article on Salon: “Lost in translation: How often does Hollywood turn a great book into a great movie?” It's a piece that grew out of a Facebook conversation. As for my answer to the question in the subhed? I'd go with “Grapes of Wrath,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,” but mostly throw up my hands. The bigger point is that it doesn't happen often.
The piece generated a lot of comments, which I thought it would, since most people have an opinion on the subject. What I didn't see coming but should have? The commments inspired by this graf:
I was a bit thrown by the second category of answers because it's not what I had in mind and it's not in my wheelhouse. They're great genre novels that have been turned into great movies. Think sci-fi/fantasy (“The Lord of the Rings”; “Blade Runner”), westerns (“Shane,” along with two Coens: “True Grit” and “No Country for Old Men”), and crime (“L.A. Confidential”). I don't really read genre novels, so you can assess for yourself the greatness of those books.
I was saying “I don't really read genre novels” with a kind of shrug, not to mention laziness (I didn't want to read all those books just to write the piece), but that's not how it was interpretted. Here's the first comment, from a dude in Chapel Hill:
“I don't really read genre novels.” Reminds me of the woman on an episode of the '60s classic The Dick Van Dyke Show, who says snootily: “I don't own a television machine”.
Others piled on. It's kind of fun reading through them: “The snobbish dismissal of...” “This article is impossibly pompous...” Etc. etc.
Here's the sad part: These people don't know they've won. The movies they're championing, “Lord of the Rings” et al., are everywhere in the culture, while great authors like E.L. Doctorow and Norman Mailer are nowhere. We've become a candyland culture. If I'm snobbish, if I'm dismissive, it's because I think this is a problem.
Friday August 05, 2016
Your Olympic Moment
From George W.S. Trow's “Within the Context of No Context,” about American culture/pop culture, which was originally published in The New Yorker in November 1980:
The most important programming deals with people with a serious problem who make it to the Olympics. It is the powerful metaphor of our time—babies given up for dead who struggle toward national life and make it just for a minute. It's a long distance to come. People feel it very deeply and cheer the babies on.
That's dead on, prescient even, since coverage of the Olympics was fairly straightforward back in 1980. One wonders, though, if this Olympic moment is still the most powerful metaphor of our time. In some ways, it's been usurped by Simon Cowell and the “X's Got Talent” showrunners, who play down their talent, let it stand before Cowell's withering gaze, and then let it shine (and watch Cowell melt, with dollar signs in his eyes). The most famous of these is Susan Boyle. The most extreme version is probably from “Korea's Got Talent”: the homeless boy, abandoned at an orphanage at 3, who fled the beatings there at the age of 5 and lived on the streets, selling gum, and now doing manual labor; he makes the pretty lady judge cry with his western opera. It's a long distance to come.
Thursday December 31, 2015
The Man Standing Beside the Men Who Applied for the First Same-Sex Marriage License in 1970
As the year ends, I'm clearing the digital house and I came across this photo that I meant to post earlier. It came to me via my sister, Karen, an editor at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, who got it from a colleague. It shows the two men who first applied for a same-sex marriage licenese: Jack Baker and James McConnell. It happened in Hennepin County, Minn., in 1970. They were denied, of course, sued, and were further denied by 1) the Court of Appeals, 2) the Minnesota State Supreme Court, 3) the U.S. Supreme Court. This last one, I assume, didn't even bother to hear the case.
This year, of course, the Obergefell decision, just six short months ago, recognized a federal, constitutional right to same-sex marriage. We've come a long way, baby.
And the man standing beside the men applying for that 1970 marriage license? My father, Bob Lundegaard, reporting for The Minneapolis Tribune.
“Yeah, that's me,” he said when Karen and I asked him about it. “Always in the front lines of history. No, I don't remember anything about it. Who knew it was such a big deal?”
Front lines of history.
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