Les nouvelles tristes: Marc Favreau — the greatest hobo clown on Quebec history, I feel comfortable asserting — has died at age 76. I’ve written before about Favreau’s French-language kiddie programs, which I loved as a kid.
Great piece in the LAT on the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s heroic post-Katrina coverage. The reporter asks: “The newspaper’s success in the face of disaster raises a question: Are objectivity and dispassion in journalism overrated?”
Which is, of course, the wrong question to ask. Objectivity is not overrated. But dispassion is another thing entirely. Newspapers get in trouble when they confuse the two. Being an objective source of information does not mean being a cold fish. We should be passionate. We should inspire our readers to be passionate. We should make them gleeful and angry and sad — hopefully all three every day. Newspapers need a personality, and the T-P — by becoming a clear, angry voice on behalf of its city — has accomplished that.
Here’s the terrific Chris Rose column the LAT piece refers to. It’s amazing, and you should read it first. People, it may be about to be 2006, but I beg of you: Please don’t make New Orleans yesterday’s news. The city needs our love.
As an education reporter, I get education-related books in the mail all the time. Publishers want us to review them, even though that never happens. (I’ve reviewed one book in five-plus years here.)
Anyway, today I got this book in the mail. It’s one of the famed “Dummies” series of books, several of which I’ve found useful in the past.
But this book, released just yesterday, is called “Overcoming Dyslexia for Dummies.”
Wrong message, perhaps?
A great article from 1966 on the Long political dynasty of Louisiana, by a then-young Stephen Hess. While it was 31 years after Huey’s death and six after Earl’s, the piece is optimistic about the Longs’ continuing power and influence in Louisiana, saying that Huey’s son Russell was a rising national figure and cousins Gillis and Speedy were comers.
It didn’t work out that way. Speedy and Gillis swapped the 8th District seat in Congress between them for a while, but to no great effect. Russell became a drunk. (Or, more accurately, was exposed as a drunk. That’s what the “tempestuous, moody, unpredictable charmer” quote from Russell Baker was about.) And no one else seemed to pick up the Long mantle after that. I guess Jimmy Long was in the state House for a while, but that’s about it.
I’ve always been surprised some enterprising Long hasn’t jumped back into the ring. The name still means something in Louisiana — if not as much as it used to, since anyone who once voted for Huey is dead and the last to vote for Earl are now in their late 60s.
A polished 30-something Long could play the same divide Russell did: being a Long gives you populist credibility among the poor, but being a city-slicker can get you the business interests. And there’d be no shortage of media attention. The closest analog I can think of would be Richard M. Daley following his dad, the old boss, Richard J., as mayor of Chicago. (Richard J. and Huey would have gotten along just fine.)
(I’ve been on something of an Earl Long kick lately. Here’s a great subjective take on him by Jason Berry, one of the state’s best journos. He’s the guy who broke a lot of the first priest abuse stories in the 1980s. And here’s a Rick Bragg piece on the remaining Longs [that, frustratingly, doesn’t get at my above question]. Key quote: “People feared Huey, and loved Earl.”)
While I’m sure that Tannya Joaquin is a heck of a reporter, I’m not sure I believe in the meatPod. I’d be scanning eBay for a nice new iPod up for auction.
It’s great fun looking at the weekend’s box office totals — particularly if you focus on the lower end, not the top.
Take this past weekend. Instead of worrying about King Kong’s financial health, look at the film that finished in last place: something called Ellie Parker, starring the pulchritudinous Australian Naomi Watts. (Who, ironically, also stars in “King Kong.”)
As in, less money than I have in my wallet right now. As in, what, maybe eight people total saw the movie over an entire weekend? Despite cameos by Keanu Reeves and Chevy Chase? Sad.
Although I must say that a key plot point — a man has sex with Naomi Watts and, at that moment, realizes he is gay because he spent the entire act thinking of Johnny Depp — seems to push the bounds of reality. The act of having sex with Naomi Watts, I would imagine, crosses all lines of sexual proclivity and would be enjoyable by all, would it not?
I mean, I remember this guy in college who was a devout heterosexual, but also a devout David Bowie fan. He was such a fan that, if at some future date David Bowie decided he wanted to have sex with him, he’d be fine with it. “I mean, we’re talking David Bowie!” he said. “Of course I’d have sex with him!” I like to think of Naomi Watts as the gay analog.
Three videos of people doing stupid things with their cars:
A bunch of Magnolia Electric Co. live shows available for download. They’re in the unwieldy FLAC format, but you can easily convert that down to MP3. (My fellow Mac users can use xACT; Windozers would use something from here, I suppose.)
I’ve been finding myself wildly intrigued by Magnolia Electric Co. lately, even though much of their oeuvre is nothing to write home about. I just keep listening to the apocalyptic Youngian (and hell, Jungian) propulsion of “Farewell Transmission.” It’s like Bob Seger after a little whiskey and a kick to the kidneys. Or maybe a grim, paranoid Lynyrd Skynyrd. There’s a lot of power in there for a deceptively simple song.
You’ll want the MP3 here.
(And, if we want to be technical, “Farewell Transmission” is actually by the band Songs: Ohia, on their last album, which was entitled “Magnolia Electric Co.” After that album, they changed the band’s name to Magnolia Electric Co. If you want to be technical.)
I remember, a few days before my college graduation, running across an article in The New Yorker about genetic variability. I thought it was just about the most fascinating thing I’d ever read. For some reason, I felt the urge to track it down: here it is. The best quote, from a Yale researcher: “I would say, without a doubt, that in almost any single African population — a tribe or however you want to define it-there is more genetic variation than in all the rest of the world put together.”
I think this whole subset of issues — particularly the issue of how self-perception impacts achievement, in sports or academics — is really interesting. And really important. (I wrote a column about the academic end of things last year.)
I always find it a little jarring when Malcolm Gladwell (the author of the piece) talks about being the subject of black stereotypes, though. He’s part West Indian, but when he wrote the piece, he looked like this. He’s grown out his ‘fro since then, but I doubt many folks seeing him on the street as a kid would have pegged him as black. But hey, it’s not my life, and what do I know?
To answer that last trivia question:
The five professional team leagues that have average attendance over 30,000 spectators are the National Football League (U.S.), Major League Baseball (U.S./Canada), the Bundesliga (Germany — soccer), the FA Premier League (U.K. — soccer again), and the Australian Football League (which is, duh, Australian rules football).
At least according to here. I used to love watching Aussie rules football on ESPN when I was a kid. ESPN was better back when it couldn’t afford to show the showcase sports and had to rely on things like badminton and Irish hurling.
Trivia question: There are only five professional sports leagues in the world whose average attendance at a game/match/whatever is over 30,000 spectators. Can you name them?
An opening sentence you don’t get to write every day: “The Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the creation of Planet of the Apes-style warriors by crossing humans with apes, according to recently uncovered secret documents.”
Weirdly, this is the second article I’ve run across in the last week on early-20th-century Soviet mad scientist Ilya Ivanov, who was the USSR’s top man when it came to human-animal crossbreeding. There was also this King Kong-themed piece in the NYT. Interesting, the two pieces look at the same chain of events but ascribe totally different motives — either a desire to stamp out religion or to create ape superwarriors.
Two facts needed to understand this post: 1. My employer lets workers submit questions/complaints about the workplace to the top bosses via the internal web site. 2. A lot of people here are out of shape, so the company sponsors various aerobic, weight-loss, and yoga classes for employees on site.
Anyway, here’s a question one of my stupider coworkers apparently submitted: “I find the yoga room offensive. Despite its secular popularity, it is a form of Buddha worship. If it is to remain, will the company consider a Muslim prayer room or Christian chapel?”
Man, those Buddhists are out to destroy Christmas too! It’s not just the Marxists who run Target!
(Buddhists, Hindus…they’re all the same, I guess.)
How elite colleges kept out the Jews. It’s interesting to see how the techniques developed to exclude a certain minority persist — and are now (some folks could argue, at least) used to keep out a different one, Asian Americans. (Related: A bio of Kingman Brewster, the Yale president largely responsible for ending anti-Jewish and anti-working-class bias in college admissions. A great man. Also, he has a hot granddaughter.)
Video of a man skydiving from the edge of space, 1960.
Poor Nauru. First, the source of their fabulous 20th-century wealth, the Pacific island’s massive phosphate deposits. (Those deposits had supported one of the developing world’s highest per-capita incomes. Nauru only has about 12,000 people, one of the smallest countries in the world.) Then corruption and mismanagement pisses away all the island government’s savings, despite efforts to turn the place into a tax haven for the Russia mafia.
Then, on top of all that, they lose their one plane. “The impoverished Pacific island of Nauru will throw itself at the mercy of the U.S. to try to recover its only passenger jet, which was lost in a court case last week. The loss of the Air Nauru 737 to a U.S. government credit agency has forced the struggling airline to charter planes from other Pacific airlines to prevent the island’s 10,000 residents from being cut off from the outside world.”
Read that link from The Australian for a bizarre tale of espionage, hidden terrorists, and North Korean defectors. Poor Nauru.
My boss, as her Christmas present to her underlings, baked us all bourbon brownies. Man, you can taste the bourbon in these things.
I had a couple this morning and, man, am I sleeeeepy.
Len Pasquarelli is one of the best — if not the best — writers on the NFL beat. He knows his stuff, has unparalleled sources around the league, and is an entertainingly informal writer who seems to have fun penning some purple prose on occasion. (Plus, unlike some of his colleagues, he doesn’t focus on the big-market teams at the expense of others. He’ll have more Saints items, for instance, than his peers.)
Every Monday during the season he writes the “Morning After” column, which sums up his analysis of the previous weekend’s games. And one of the best parts of that column is the “Scout’s Take” sidebar, which is supposed to be a bunch of anonymous quotes from sources around the league, evaluating players and coaches. It’s great stuff.
But I don’t believe a word of it! The quotes always sound like the same voice — a sort of forced folksy manliness, with sentences twisted into form halfway between writen and spoken. For instance: “Shawne Merriman really did a number on the Indianapolis offensive line. He went around them, over them, through them, you name it. Amazing what a pass rush can do, isn’t it? That San Diego secondary isn’t very good, but pressuring Peyton Manning up front made it a lot better unit on Sunday. Even Quentin Jammer played pretty well. The guy had five or six [breakups] and an interception. One of the better games he’s played all year, even if he gave up some balls to Marvin Harrison.”
No one speaks that way! The clauses are all wrong. Len adds a bunch of edits to bleep out the “swear words,” which makes it seem real, and I’m sure these are real ideas expressed by real scouts to Len. But I’ll eat my hat if those are exact quotes week in and week out.
In non-sports news, this might make a good gift for all your easily depressed friends. The DMN photo staff really did a bang-up job on Katrina, and it won’t shock me one bit if they win another Pulitzer because of it.
My internal class-warrior really wants to have a gut opposition to all the 20-something Foer brothers — novelist Jonathan Safran and journalists Franklin and Josh — because they all seem to have been bred like racehorses for wordsmithing success. (JSF getting on the NYT bestseller list in his early 20s; Josh getting his byline in top pubs while still at Yale — it just feels like they’re all behind a clubhouse door somewhere.) But in the end, I’ve got to admit they’re pretty good. Frank, in particular, just plain kickass. He’s been on a real roll at The New Republic, and he’s a very reliable voice on their very good new(ish) blog.
Saw Syriana over the weekend and ended up actively disliking it, to my surprise. Didn’t care too much for Traffic either, and for similar reasons. They both make art-house audiences feel good about themselves because they get to “see” past the surface to the conspiracies and intrigue Stephen Gaghan “exposes.” But they’re really just feeding into viewers’ preexisting assumptions.
An example: The movie (appropriately) takes pains to make every character’s POV understandable and even sympathetic — even (perhaps especially) a group of young Muslims training at a madrasa run by a terrorist. Every character, that is, except for every last Texan in the movie. They’re all reduced to blithering idiots, defined by their drawls. The normally more nuanced Chris Cooper becomes a parody of a Texas oilman, and Tim Blake Nelson is an absurd corrupt hick supreme. It’s Fahrenheit 911 rechannelled and given more legitmacy. Ergh.
Speaking of New Orleans, go read my friend Mary Tutwiler’s piece about the evacuation and return of her parents from the city.
If you’re looking for a musical gift for the holidays, buy the Our New Orleans compilation CD. All profits go to Habitat for Humanity’s homebuilding efforts in NOLA, and you get very fine (newly recorded) tracks from Dr. John, Buckwheat Zydeco, Wild Magnolias, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Allen Toussaint, and more. (That damned Randy Newman track makes me cry every damned time. And that guitar solo on the Buckwheat song — which sounds like producer Ry Cooder — rips your heart out.) There’s a nice mini-documentary of the recording sessions on the site, too.
Other New Orleans shopping opportunities: Renew Orleans and the t-shirts at Metro Three (although it looks they’re all sold out for holiday purposes). Love those slogans: “Go with the contraflow,” “Let’s mess with Texas,” “Make levees, not war,” “Nagin for President,” etc.
It’s not too late to buy a wedding present for Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau. Thank heavens they registered at Macy’s! Makes buying that perfect gift so much easier.
(If those names don’t ring a bell, go here.)
Somewhat related (in that it’s a partial explanation for the rapid success of Ahbez’s one hit song, “Nature Boy”): The Petrillo recording bans.
Somewhat related (in that it’s about ’60s and ’70s music from unexpected places): The complete catalogue of Sublime Frequencies. Would make an excellent Christmas present for the crazy person in your life.
Somewhat related (in that it’s about strange central Europeans): Germany or Florida, in which you, the reader, attempts to determine whether a bizarre occurrence happened in Stuttgart or Sarasota.
And finally, somewhat related (in that it’s about music both great and strange): My fave label, Stones Throw, has posted a streaming hour-long mix of holiday music, assembled by the great Peanut Butter Wolf himself. Some greatness (the buttery “Christmas Will Really Be Christmas” by Lou Rawls, the early ’90s Jeep beats of K. Nock, the Free Design’s “Close Your Mouth (It’s Christmas),” Caetano Veloso singing “In The Hot Sun Of A Christmas Day” — how very southern hemisphere), some lameness (“Christmas” by the still unlistenable Beat Happening), and some strangeness (the great old skool Christmas raps like “Seasons Greetings,” “Seven Days of Kwanzaa” by new label signee Georgia Anne Muldrow, the reggae “Broke at Christmas” — and last-minute guest appearances by Phil Spector and Esquivel).
The NYT on yawn contagion. A scientist argues that the fact that you want to yawn when others around you do is a sign of your empathy. More empathetic people yawn more often.
I don’t buy it. I’m sticking with my own longheld theory, first developed when I was about 12. To wit: Yawning’s main side effect is that it increases blood flow (and, with it, the flow of oxygen) to the brain. More blood flow increases thinking ability.
So, given the fact that you want to yawn when your neighbor does, there must be something about witnessing a yawn — or thinking about a yawn — that requires greater blood flow to the brain. My conclusion: A yawn must be the deepest, most profound thing a human can contemplate. Merely being confronted with the mental concept overtaxes the brain, rendering its current level of oxygen too low to contemplate such profundities — which then necessitates a yawn to bring the system full circle.
It seemed like a cool idea when I was 12, and I’m sticking to it.
Here’s my story from today’s paper: “The Wilmer-Hutchins schools have lost the final appeal of their death sentence.”
Here’s my column from today’s paper, on the subject of fake homeschoolers. (AP style requires that word to be “home-schoolers” in print, but I say kill the hyphen. It’s my blog, damn it!)
They were between Lagos and Enugu, the “Coal City State” in the southeast where I was doing some reporting on Nigerian Christianity. The planes didn’t seem particularly trustworthy; the interiors looked like they hadn’t been cleaned in a while, and I seem to remember a random wire dangling unfortunately from the ceiling. Even less inspiring, the sides of the plane sported a big “Macedonian Airlines” insignia. Apparently, this plane was a castoff from Macedonia. Again, not inspiring confidence.
But hey, I survived.
I’ve written about my affection for Granta before. And even though it’s known largely for debuting promising authors of fiction, my love comes mainly on the nonfiction side of the register. As editor Ian Jack writes in this retrospective, about the magazine’s earliest manifesto: “[It] speaks from a different age, when ‘literature’ was confined to fiction, the literary essay, and poetry. The paradox is that it was Granta, through [editor Bill] Buford’s early championing of forms such as the travel account, the memoir, and reportage, which did so much to expand the idea of what ‘literature’ could be or do.”
I hate the word “reportage.” It stinks of Gallic pretension, and presumes a sort of artistic reserve above plain old plebe “reporting.” But Buford and Granta did a lot to make my occasional literary aspirations conceivable.
Celebrities playing table tennis. Sometimes, it’s just what it sounds like.
Congrats to my old high school buddy Anthony for the publication of his first book.
Cool band of the day: Dengue Fever. Aside from being named for one of my very favorite tropical diseases, they’re a self-proclaimed mix of surf music, ’60s Cambodian pop, and Ethiopian music. Their album sounds supercool — loungy, but with the sort of druggy haze that Ethiopian music gives you.
The last time I wrote about Ethiopian music here, I said this about Getatchew Mekurya: “Picture a Quentin Tarantino movie whose climactic scene features John Travolta nervously making an opium deal in the back room of some Turkish bath. This would be the soundtrack.” Move the opium deal from Istanbul to a back alley near The Quiet American’s Continental Hotel and you’ve got Dengue Fever.
Finally, speaking of Graham Greene, I remember why I love The Super Friendz so much every time their song “Machine Green” pops up on the iPod. Gotta love those lyrics:
So tell me, who’s your favourite author? Mine’s Graham Greene
He started with the start and kept his sentences lean
Here’s my story from today’s newspaper, the product of the rare Sunday shift I had to work yesterday. Featuring a rare “Josh Benton” byline. (I’m supposed to be “Joshua Benton” in print, but I guess the weekend editors didn’t know.)
Proof that a good name never dies: GMC is set to debut a new eight-passenger car-ish thing called the “Acadia.”
Some random music notes:
- Band I should probably be ashamed of feeling affection for: Failure, a sort of paint-by-numbers mid-’90s L.A. alt-metal band. I totally dug Magnified, their second album, which I got as a freebie sent to my college paper.
(By the way: Doesn’t this biography of Failure co-leader Ken Andrews read like it was written by a slavering fanboy? I’d always thought of Allmusic as having some editorial standards, but this reads like something that’d get overwritten on Wikipedia. “The career development of Andrews…is an amazing testament to his intelligence, talent, and commitment to recording rock music at only the highest level”? Really? I mean, I like his band, but…really? Or this, on Failure’s mediocre last album Fantastic Planet: “although practically unknown, a record considered by a small but extremely passionate group of followers as the post-grunge bookend to Nevermind”? Huh?)
- Classic performer who indie kids should pay more attention to: Stevie Wonder. Seriously, go listen to Innervisions. Just the 26th best album of the ’70s? I’d sacrifice a lot of Neu and Eno to save this from the big magnet eraser in the sky. The handholding swirl of “He’s Misstra Know-It-All”? The burble-funk organ of “Living For The City”? The seduction soul of “Golden Lady”? Essential, as is just about everything he did from 1972 to 1978.
(By the way, if you’re ever wondering if an impossibly creative stretch of your career is coming to a close, ask yourself: Am I considering recording an album entitled “Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants”? If they answer is yes, your time may have run out.)
(By the way, this is a good site for reviews of ’70s funk albums.)
- Album I’m ashamed I didn’t know existed until a couple days ago: Tete a Tete, the “secret” (to me at least) Calexico album, recorded in 2001 with the French Amor Belhom Duo under the name ABBC. I’ve no idea if it’s any good; I’m mostly ashamed because I’m a proud (and annoying) Calexico completist. Note to self: Must track down. Speaking of my annoying completism: the set list from the 10/29 Calexishow around these parts — songs 1, 2, 6, and 8 being unreleased numbers we can probably expect on the new album this spring.
I have such a huge journocrush on Dana Priest. She’s just so damned good. With most good stories I read, I can at least conceive of getting them myself — I can see where the leads developed, how the info came out, et cetera. But pieces like this are just beyond me.
(Maybe it’s a regular crush too: she’s pretty cute.)
The liberal anti-anti-Wal-Mart backlash. I’ve expressed my comparatively pro-Wal-Mart feelings before here. I grew up in a Louisiana town too small for a Wal-Mart — and trust me, the town fathers would have killed to get one.
My biggest problem with Wal-Mart critics is that their real complaints often aren’t about labor practices or trade with China or employee health care. They’re about class, pure and simple: a disdain for poor rural people and the things associated with them. Throw a thin veneer of “style” and hipsterness on top of it — in other words, call it “Target” instead of “Wal-Mart” — and they’ll gladly rave about the convenience and bargains. It’s the same bullshit reflex that afflicted so many of the people I went to Yale with.
I have relatives who have tried really hard to get jobs at Wal-Mart because they’re considered a better place to work than the other options available. When I lived in Louisiana, I did a ton of shopping there. I just went to the newly opened Wal-Mart supermarket in my Dallas neighborhood for the first time, and let me tell you — it was miles nicer than the safely middlebrow Albertsons I’ve shopped at for four years.
As one guy puts it in the comments to that post: “boy…talk about some typical, ignorant, stereotypical limousine liberal comments on this thread…as someone who actually grew up poor…fuck you.”
“‘Joshua Benton,’ Ethan Podell spoke. ‘Are you prepared to earn your passage unto our great master? Our [sic] you a worthy servant of Satan?’”
With writing and spelling that good, it really makes you wonder why it’s only self-published.
Oh, and this:
“‘Everyone, this is Josh Benton, he’ll be joining our group.’ Leesa opened the meeting.
“Josh sat on the small metal chair with legs open and slouched over his legs. He wore a baseball cap pulled low onto his forehead and tilted on an angle. Angry gray eyes glinted from under the brim, giving each member a hostile once-over.
“‘What brings you here? A big burly guy like you couldn’t have been raped,’ Kim asked, noted for her aggressive nature.”
It turns out that this “Josh” fellow is instead a rapist who — and this is where things get strange — was ordered by his judge to attend group counseling sessions with rape victims. Because, you know, that’s just what a bunch of rape victims want — a rapist in their counseling midst.
Some times, I wonder if I’m ready to write a book. Seeing writing like this really bucks me up at times last that.
Arrested Development fans: Have you ever noticed that Buster has never, in three seasons, spoken to Lindsay? Extremely curious.
On a more macabre note, everyone’s favorite female Canadian serial killer, Karla Homolka, has been unconditionally freed by a Quebec court. Here are some details of her case. Karla got only 12 years despite, with her husband Paul Bernardo, raping and killing three young girls, one of them her younger sister. The sentence was controversial because the plea deal was worked out when public perception was that Karla was purely a victim of Paul’s abuse; it turned out, over time, that she was more of a willing, even excited participant in it. (Bernardo’s away for life.) Sick lady. More background from the CBC.
Joshua Benton is the director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, among other things. Before that, he was a staff writer and columnist for The Dallas Morning News. (More.)
Any opinions expressed here are solely mine, and not those of my employer. In many cases, they may not even be mine.