Monday, November 28, 2016

Is this thing still on? Podcasting Done Right

Over the past few years I've become increasingly hooked on podcasts.  I listen while I walk, while I eat, while I do chores, and when I can't sleep.  Perhaps I'll have more to say, but want to highlight the recent episode of Slate Money.  In this episode (Episode No. 133: The Optimism Edition), the usual hosts (Cathy O'Neil, Felix Salmon, and Joran Weissmann) were joined by Laura Arnold to discuss various aspects of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.  Nothin too remarkable about that -- a post-Thanksgiving show focused on philanthropy seems pretty standard.  What made this remarkable was the presence of Cathy O'Neil in the discussion, and her ability to challenge the assumptions and highlight ideas otherwise skipped over, particularly in the realm of models related to the use of statistical models in the  criminal justice system.   O'Neil has real expertise in this area, and opinions supported by research and thought and contemplation.   This makes the conversation much more meaningful than so many other podcasts focused on some issue of the day that devolves into punditry.

Expertise is valuable.  Who knew?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Review: Hitch-22

Christopher Hitchens is best consumed in small doses. This makes him a wonderfully infuriating essayist. His memoir, Hitch-22, however is much longer than an essay and at times takes some dedication to plow through.


The memoir focuses on the upbringing and social scene that Hitchens became a part of. Following along is his stories of dinner parties and friendships offers a crash course in the names and personalities of the 20th century leftist public intellectual literati. Here is one example of the sort of banter associated with this set:

At all events there came a time when someone arrived late at a dinner party complaining of having been stuck at an airport with nothing to read but a Robert Ludlum-style novel. This didn’t seem worth pursuing until the complaint was refined somewhat: “ I mean it’s not just that the prose is so bloody awful but that the titles are so sodding pretentious … The Bourne Inheritance, The Eiger Sanction; all this portentous piffle.” Again, not a subject to set the table afire, until someone idly said they wondered what a Shakespear play would be called if it were Ludlum who had the naming if it. At once Salman [Salman Rushdie] was engaged and began to smile. “All right, Salman: Hamlet by Ludlum!” At once—and I mean with as much preperation as I have given you – "The Elsinore Vacillation.” Fluke? Not exactly. Challenged to the same for Macbeth, he produced “The Dunsinane Reforestation” with hardly a flourish and barely a beat. After this it was plain sailing through “The Kerchiefe Implication”, “The Rialto Sanction”, and one about Caliban and Prospero that I once knew but now can never remember.

The parts I found most interesting involved Salman Rushdie, Edward Siad, and Hitchens’s opinions on the war in Iraq. Of course, must also mention Hitchens and Martin Amis. This seems like a wonderful and true friendship. We get it. It is touching how Hitchens admires him, and knowingly compares his own literary abilities with those of his friend.


The parade of authors and poets and Marxist intellectuals gets a little wearisome at times. But still, few can do self-righteous rage of the intellectual liberal sort as well as Hitchens. Again, on Rushdi:
“When the Washington Post telephoned me at home on Valentine’s Day 1989 to ask my opinion about the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa, I felt at once that there was something that completely committed me. It was, if I can phrase it like this, a matter of everything I hated versus everything I loved. In the hate column: dictatorship, religion, stupidity, demagogy, censorship, bullying, and intimidation. In the love column: literature, irony, humor, the individual, and the defense of free expression. Plus, of course, friendship—though I like to think that my reaction would have been the same if I hadn’t known Salman at all. To re-state the premise of the argument again: the theocratic head of a foreign despotism offers money in his own name in order to suborn the murder of a citizen of another country, for the offense of writing a work of fiction. No more root-and-branch challenge to the values of the Enlightenment (on the bicentennial of the fall of the Bastille) or to the First Amendment to the Constitution, could be imagined. President George H. W. Bush, when asked to comment, could only say grudgingly that, as far as he could see, no American interests were involved.

The description of the friendship and then falling apart (personally and intellectually) of Hitchens and Edward Said offers a wonderful description of the nature of such intellectual relations. The chapter on him is great, and it inspired me to look up and read Hitchens’s essay after Said's death. It, as well as other writings revealed by Google, make me think that I may not actually understand what Said is really trying to say in Orientalism.

Some of these best parts of Hitch-22 have appeared elsewhere. Also, there is no denying the negative qualities of Hitchens (he can come across as an ass and a misogynist). But, anyone who enjoys or loves to hate his essays would get something out of Hitch-22.

Review: Crazy, Stupid, Love

You’re a double negative!

The plot is rather predictable, but Crazy, Stupid, Love was still a fair bit of fun. The beginning, with Steve Carell’s character (he has a name, but really, everyone will think of him as the Steve Carell character), jumping out of a car because is gripping in a sardonically tragic way. Some such moments hint that, despite appearances, this may be an unexpectedly deep or subtle movie. Then, instead, the predictably expected happens, followed by the expectedly unexpected. Expected doesn’t mean totally unfunny, but it does mean unimaginative and uninspiring. Hey--don't worry, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are amusing at times.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Review: Breakfast At Tiffany's

She's a phony, but at least she's a real phony.

I liked Breakfast at Tiffany's despite myself. I've managed to make it this far without seeing this movie. I'm not sure what I expected it to be like, but somehow my expectations were very far off. It was a lot of fun, and the images of early 1960s New York were wonderful.

Audrey Hepburn, a cat, and the early 60s. Plus, lots of drinking and smoking and not-subtle suggetions. What's not to like?


Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Legacy of DFW

It's like this criticism was aimed directly at me along with every other keyboard pounder out here. There is a lot of truth in Another Thing to Sort of Pin on David Foster Wallace, an essay by Maud Newton in this week's New York Times Magazine, argues that Wallace's tone of aware detachment was just as manipulative as the other styles he often pilloried. Worse, the Wallace style is itself highly addictive and, when employed by us lesser thinkers and writers, rather annoying.

Newton argues that the Wallace style is the default mode of discourse on blogs and in much other commentary. This constant qualification serve to undermine our own arguments, and to wrap ourselves up in verbal clouds of possible deniability.
How we arrived at the notion that the postmodern era is the first ever to confront the tension between sincerity and irony despite millennia of evidence to the contrary is no mystery: every generation believes its insights are unprecedented, its struggles uniquely formidable, its solutions the balm for all that ails the world. Why so many of our critics are still, after all these years, making their arguments in this inherently self-undermining voice — still trying to ward off every possible rejoinder and pre-emptively rebut every possible criticism by mixing a weird rhetorical stew of equivocation, pessimism and Elysian prophecy — is another question entirely. Perhaps even now some Wallacites would argue that we simply have yet to reach that idyllic moment at which our discourse will naturally transform into a sincere yet knowing cry from the heart. I would put it differently.

Newton goes on to say that this is because in the era of Facebook and Twitter, we all just want to be liked. I am not yet convinced of that, but it is hard to disagree that "the best way to make an argument is to make it, straightforwardly, honestly, passionately, without regard to whether people will like you afterward."



Saturday, August 20, 2011

Review: One Day

Like many movies, the best thing about One Day is Anne Hathaway. Still, the movie was quite enjoyable. The movie, based on a book, depicts the life of two British Gen-Xers through series of actions that all take place on July 15th. A.O. Scott is right to describe the resulting effect as "less a conventional story than a mixtape."

One's opinion is likely totally dependent on how one feels about the ending. I liked it, but can I see how others might not. But, I would like to see a film that tries to imagine that sometimes men and women can just be friends.



Reviw: The Help

I saw The Help after listening to the discussion on the Slate Cultural Gabfest. The gabfest discussion included Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe and mostly focused on a discussion of his review of the film. The thrust of Morris's critcism is about more than this one movie
Skeeter’s exposé is meant to empower both the subjects and the author, but “The Help’’ joins everything from “To Kill a Mockingbird’’ to “The Blind Side’’ as another Hollywood movie that sees racial progress as the province of white do-gooderism. Skeeter enjoys all the self-discovery and all the credit. She cracks the mystery of her missing childhood maid (Cicely Tyson). She finds a career at a moment in which women rarely had them. And she changes the lives of a couple of dozen black women whose change is refracted primarily through her. Skeeter’s awakening is a seemingly risk-free reassurance, just as Hilly’s Hanna-Barbera villainy is a kind of delight. The meaner she gets the bigger and higher her hair goes.
This was especially on my mind after watching the preview for the so-much-a-caricature-of-this-point I couldn't believe it film about some criminal who finds religion, builds villages in Africa and takes up arms. The downplaying (ignoring!) of the adjacency of others in favor of the white savior is really striking. When it is first pointed out you can't help but see it everywhere in the movies.

That said, the film is actually rather good. It is entertaining, and one can't help but get emotionally involved in the story. But, it could have been a much better film. Both with some mechanical cleaning up of some of the scenes and story arcs, as well as with a broader-based and reflective placement of the time, place, and continuing struggle.