The website I write for a living -- HardballTalk at NBC Sports -- is ten years old today.
The longest I ever held any other job was five and a half years. I only practiced law, in total, for eleven years.
Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans.
An article appeared in the Washington Post yesterday about a lynching in Wytheville, Virginia in 1926. A man named Raymond Byrd was arrested after being accused of raping a white woman. He was killed in his jail cell by a mob, his body was dragged through town behind a car and he was hung from a tree. Only one person was ever charged with a crime after it occurred and he was quickly acquitted by an all-white jury. That was the end of that.
The Post’s story is less about the lynching itself, though, than it is about a man named John Johnson. Johnson is in his 80s and he has spent the past several decades researching Byrd’s killing. He has complied newspaper articles, documents and artifacts. Most importantly, he has complied a list of names of many of the people who likely took part in Byrd’s lynching. Johnson has been trying to figure out what to do with his information and how — or even whether — to publish it or otherwise make it public.
Part of the problem is that Johnson is a black man and fears both for his own safety and the safety of other blacks in Wytheville who have helped him in his research. It may seem odd for someone to worry about such a thing in 2019, especially over an event that occurred in 1926, but as Johnson’s story makes plain, racial animus and the desire to shield those responsible for racist acts has followed him his whole life and remains strong to this day, even nearly a century later.
But this is not just a matter of open and obvious racists standing in the way of enlightenment. It is the case even among those who are otherwise sympathetic with Johnson’s cause.
In the story we meet a fellow researcher — a white woman — who has information about the lynching and a list of several names Johnson does not, yet she is unwilling to share it with him. Why?
I’ve got relatives all over the county, and I don’t want to hurt them. We’re not up to making people feel bad about their ancestors . . . Being eight generations, I feel very connected to them and wouldn’t want [people] to be negative toward me,” she continued, not elaborating, as she would later, that she’d “resent it” if anyone asked her to bear responsibility for what a relative had done because “I’m not guilty of any of that,” and “nobody today is guilty of that,” and that while she was in favor of museums and Civil War memorials, she did not think the lynching needed a memorial, or a place in a museum, or a public reckoning involving names because “people would be very angry about it — I can feel it.
This despite the fact that no one here is seeking anything from anyone. Everyone who could be held legally or financially accountable for the lynching is long dead and all relevant statues of limitation have run. No one is suggesting actual consequences for anyone because such a thing would be impossible. All Johnson is looking for is a basic acknowledgment of history and even that is too much for some. It's ironic that, in an age when a certain sort of person finds it fashionable to profanely and giddily tell others than their actual, current feelings matter less than facts, some people’s feelings about their relatives’ complicity in a 93-old murder are so precious and fragile that they are effectively foreclosing any examination of a literal criminal atrocity.
We’re supposed to care about the feelings of the descendants of murderers, but imagine how this must make the black citizens of Wytheville feel. Imagine how the relatives of people who were murdered or who were put in fear of racial violence on a daily basis for decades and centuries on end feel to hear that it may make someone uncomfortable to be told that their great-grandfather was a murderer. As a white man who hasn’t known much in the way of adversity in life I can’t put myself in their shoes of course, but as someone who is both descended from a long-dead murderer and whose family was upended and, in many important ways, still suffers from the consequences of that violence, I can tell you that (a) the skeletons in your family's closet can't really hurt you; and (b) knowledge and understanding of a dark history can be beneficial to healing and improvement. In my family’s case that violence was an isolated and random act no one had to worry too much about after the fact. I can’t even begin to imagine how it would feel to be the target of centuries of systematic, state-sanctioned violence and be told “sorry, it would hurt some people’s feelings to talk about it.”
Not that such denial to confront past racism is limited to over-the-top violent acts like the lynching of Raymond Byrd.
Unapologetic racists, the sorts of which who may have, at an earlier time, lynched a black man, exist and will always exist, but those sorts are pretty easy to spot and pretty easy to deal with in modern times. The problem is that they are held up as the only example of actual racists in this country and everyone who falls short of the standard set by hood-wearing, cross-burning klansmen are implicitly absolved. The people in Wytheville are turning away from a shocking, violent act, but a bigger practical problem are the millions of people who simply do not understand the consequences of our far more common and run-of-the-mill racist past and/or refuse to reckon with them in any meaningful way. They likewise refuse to understand how much they themselves benefitted from it either directly or, because they are white, benefitted from it in comparison to people of color.
We refuse to appreciate that our family may have acquired some degree of current wealth because our parents and grandparents owned homes or property in which equity was built while people of color were prohibited from owning property for centuries (because they were property) and have been subjected to housing discrimination for the past 150 years, thereby impacting their financial prospects to this very day.
We laud the example and legacy of our fathers or grandfathers who may have moved around to take advantage of educational or professional opportunities that helped them, and thus us, move up in the world but refuse to acknowledge that such opportunities were almost totally foreclosed to people of color until very, very recently and that even now such opportunities are not offered equally.
We live in an era in which the consequence-free extrajudicial killing of black people occurs with disturbing regularity. Part of the reason such a state of affairs persists is because we simply refuse to see it as the logical and inevitable extension of such killings which took place in the past, which went unpunished then and go unexamined to this very day.
George Santayana famously said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. I would offer that those who refuse to remember the past are complicit when it does so.
The Mueller Report is finished and it has been given to the Attorney General. We now begin what I suspect will be a nasty, extended fight over whether and/or when it should be released to the public.
I'm struggling to think of a single reason why it should not be released, in full, to the public. While there may be some security concerns around the edges of the thing they can be dealt with easily via redaction of names and the like. All other objections to releasing it would seem to be political in nature.
Republicans will not want it released because it will, in all likelihood, serve to make some Republicans look bad. Either because they were involved in the underlying matters (a small number of them to be sure) or because they have said and done things in the past two years which will prove to be embarrassing or stupid in light of what the report has to say (a great many of them, particularly Members of Congress).
I'd like to say I'll be surprised when Republicans object to the report's release but, sadly, I will not be. These are people who argue, with a straight face, that it's good to make it hard for people to vote, after all. Fighting against transparency and sunlight won't trouble them a lick.
As for the substance: I've been far less caught up in the Mueller Report hype than most of my friends on the political left. While I think the investigation was and is important, the idea that Mueller would indict multiple figures in the administration, let alone anyone close to Trump personally, has always seemed like fantasy to me, both for legal and practical reasons (more on that below). Mueller is no avenging angel and possesses no magic bullets which will end the nightmare of the past two years and change. The only thing that will effectively deal with that are effective oversight and pushback from Congress, political action, and elections. Mueller ain't no Jesus gonna come from the sky, even if he found out something big.
Which is not to say that what's in the report is not important. There are many things Mueller has already uncovered for which a full explanation and accounting must be made and a lot of questions about Trump, his campaign and his administration which must be answered, whether or not any indictable criminal activity was found. A non-exhaustive list:
It should finally be noted that, even if Mueller has not sought any further indictments, that does not mean that he has not found potentially criminal conduct on the part of either Trump or high-ranking campaign or administrative officials. There is a well-established -- and well-founded -- hesitance on the part of prosecutors to seek criminal charges against a sitting president and a strong belief among legal scholars that doing so is impermissible under the law. Rather, the notion is that Congress, a co-equal branch of government, is the primary means of sanctioning criminal conduct on the part of the executive. As such, it quite possible that Mueller has uncovered acts which are, in fact, criminal, but which are not appropriate for indictment given the figures involved or, possibly, are simply not appropriate for indictment at this time.
More likely, it is possible that the facts and conclusions presented by Mueller constitute a basis for Congress to act in some way, shape or form, be it action taken directly against the administration or legislation aimed at ameliorating what has happened or preventing it from happening again. We are entitled to know what Congress knows regarding all of this, both because Congress is the surrogate for the people, and because we are entitled to know the basis on which Congress acts in our name and in our stead.
The Mueller Report, in its entirety, must be released. Anyone who stands against its full release -- anyone who stands for anything less than full and total transparency regarding the important effort which has been undertaken these past two years -- stands against democracy.
Over at the baseball site I wrote about Angels outfielder Mike Trout and his new contract extension.
Short version: Trout is the best player in baseball and, perhaps, is the best player in baseball history. He is about to sign a contract extension that will pay him $430 million over the next 12 years.
A lot of people think ballplayers make too much money but, by any objective measure, the Los Angeles Angels are getting a bargain.
. . . it points to something much more frightening — that love itself exists outside the framework of justice. There is no court at which to plead your case, no authority who can grant you recompense.
On Friday Larry Baer, the CEO of the San Francisco Giants, was caught on tape having a loud, public argument with his wife. In the video he tried to rip a cell phone out of her hands, which caused her to tumble off of her chair and to the ground as she screamed "help me!" Baer walked away and made no effort to help his wife or act in any way to suggest that he cared that he sent her down to the asphalt.
It was a disturbing scene and the lack of criminal charges and the couple's later joint statement that it was all just an embarrassing misunderstanding did nothing to make it better. Whether you or the authorities consider it a crime or not -- I think it could be classified as battery, even if I do not believe Baer will actually be charged -- you cannot say Baer's behavior was acceptable. If you saw that happening to your mother or sister or daughter or friend, you would not be blasé about it, charges or no charges. You would consider it abuse.
Yet, so many of my readers and people responding to my stories about it online are blasé about it, or worse. Sometimes far worse.
I've blocked dozens of men calling Baer's wife a "bitch" or worse, or claiming that she was "looking for attention." Despite clear video of the incident, several people have defaulted to the old stand-by, "hey, we don't have all the evidence" or "maybe there's more to the story here, don't jump to conclusions." This morning someone commented, saying, "[h]e grabbed for the phone. Perhaps his wife was talking loud on it and embarrassing him. So he appeared to have a negative passionate moment, not a planned one." I wonder what would happen if a black man or a poor man or -- heaven forbid, a woman -- upon being arrested for something, attempted to get out of trouble by saying they simply had "a negative passionate moment."
Over at my website we, unfortunately, have an upvote/downvote system for comments, allowing readers to agree or disagree with other readers. A fun thing is happening with those: anyone voicing criticism of Baer or condemnation of domestic violence is receiving tons of downvotes. Far, far more than comments on most articles ever get. I have deleted the misogynistic comments, but those generally defending Baer or condemning those who would criticize him are receiving upvotes, again, in far greater numbers than our site normally gets. I strongly suspect that the articles have been picked up by various men's rights forums -- which are a cesspool of misogyny as it is -- and that they are very sending traffic over to specifically upvote and downvote comments which conflict with their pro-abuse world view. It has happened before, to my site and to other sites.
I, like anyone with decent parents, teachers and other adults in his life, was taught growing up that violence against women was abhorrent and unacceptable. That it was the worst thing a man could do. When I was young I believed, naively, that most people were taught this too. As I got older I lost my delusions on that score. If I held on to those delusions at all into adulthood they were lost after a friend got jury duty on a domestic violence case in the late 1990s. The defendant threw a phone -- an old dial-up desk phone that had some weight to it -- at his wife, hitting her and splitting her head open. The trial resulted in a hung jury. One of the jurors who would not vote to convict the guy said in the jury room, "I'm not gonna send a guy to jail for hitting his wife with no phone." This, by definition, was a man who passed a voir dire that, theoretically, was aimed at weeding out people with preconceived views on the matter at hand.
Evidence doesn't matter to some people. Even when abuse is caught on video it is meaningless to them. The "hey, people are innocent until proven guilty" and "let's not rush to judgment" responses in these instances are, usually, a dodge and, since we're not the cops and are not on a jury, they're also irrelevant.
It's simply the case that, as most women know but most men, I suspect, don't quite appreciate, there are a lot of men out there, more than you think, who simply do not think it's wrong to abuse women. Who think it's far worse, in fact, for a man to be held accountable for abusive behavior than it is for him to engage in abusive behavior to begin with.
It makes me sad. It breaks my heart. But it's the truth.
Steven Spielberg has a problem with the movie "Roma." Maybe not artistically -- I'm guessing that he, like most people, liked it -- but with who produced it and distributed it and how. And after learning about his objections to it, I'm choking on the irony of it all.
"Roma" is a Netflix movie. It made a brief, small-scale theatrical run to qualify for the Academy Awards, but the vast majority of people who have seen it have watched it via Netflix, either on their TV, laptop or tablet. Spielberg does not like that what he considers to be a TV movie was eligible for the Best Picture Oscar for which it was nominated. He thinks it should've been up for an Emmy instead. I read this morning that he intends to use his considerable power to prevent that from happening again in the future by getting the Academy Governor's Board to bar Netflix movies from Oscar consideration.
Spielberg has both aesthetic and business objections to Netflix flicks. On the aesthetic side, he is said to "feel strongly about the difference between the streaming and theatrical situation" as it relates to screen size, sound, and overall experience. For this I do have some degree of sympathy. I watch far more movies at home these days than I do at the theater, but I still have a soft spot for the moviegoing experience. If I am truly interested in a new release, I will make a point to get to the theater to see it.
But I don't have to. Maybe Spielberg assumes that those of us not rich enough to have a dedicated screening room in our Pacific Palisades homes are watching VHS cassettes on a 19" Magnavox sitting on a metal TV stand, but the fact is that it's not hard or even super expensive anymore to get a really nice visual and audio movie experience in our living rooms. I have a rather crappy TV by today's standards -- it's an HD flat screen, but I bought it like 13 years ago and it's not paired up with a big sub-woofer or surround sound or anything -- but it's still pretty good for anything but the grandest epics and most intense special effects-laden movies. For most movies I watch, including movies like "Roma," it's perfectly fine.
For the sake of argument, though, let's grant Spielberg's point about aesthetics. Let's defer to his obviously hefty cinephile bonafides and grant him that it's better to see a movie made for the big screen than made for Netflix. I'll grant that because what I find far, far more objectionable are his complaints about the business side of this.
The business objections of Spielberg and others on the Academy Governor's Board to Netflix movies are varied. Some of it is just that they don't like the money Netflix throws around, which is nothing I particularly care about. For the most part, though, Spielberg and his friends don't like the way Netflix interacts with movie distributors and theaters when it does those limited theatrical runs required for Oscar consideration. Specifically, Spielberg doesn't like the manner in which they rent theaters out instead of licensing films, which allows them to keep, rather than share, ticket sales, and allows them to avoid reporting box office numbers. In the aggregate, Spielberg's complaint is that Netflix is messing up a well-worn and established movie distribution model.
Which, when you think about it, is pretty damn rich coming from Spielberg. Because while I love a great many Spielberg movies, the guy's business legacy is that he fundamentally altered the model of film distribution in this country which, in turn, had a massive and, many argue, negative impact on the artistic side of filmmaking.
Spielberg broke into the business as part of the "New Hollywood" generation of writers and directors who came of age in the 60s and who came into professional prominence in the 70s. These were young auteur-types to whom Hollywood studios gave unprecedented freedom and autonomy because, frankly, the studios were losing money, were out of touch with the prevailing culture and had no idea how to woo audiences anymore.
New Hollywood movies focused on characters -- often characters who lived on the margins of society -- over spectacle. They trafficked in dark and often violent themes. Plots and storylines were heavy on ambiguity. Happy endings were not necessarily, or even often, the order of the day. From "Bonnie and Clyde" to "Five Easy Pieces" to "The Godfather" to "The Conversation" "Nashville" to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" to "Raging Bull" and any number of movies I could name in between, some of the greatest movies in American history were made during this period.
The distribution model of these films was radically different than what we see today. Whereas now films open in thousands upon thousands of theaters on a single day, in the 1970s, films opened in a handful of cities at first and were rolled out to other cities over time, allowing word-of-mouth and critical consensus to build. This helped filmmakers gradually sell what were often tough sells, artistically speaking, to audiences. It's not fair to say anymore that certain things simply won't "play in Peoria," but it's probably the case that it's easier for things to play in Peoria if the people in Peoria hear that something played pretty well in Chicago, Indianapolis and Rockford a couple of weeks ago.
Then in 1975 Steven Spielberg made "Jaws" and it changed everything.
Rather than rely on word-of-mouth, Universal Studios spent millions on a well-planned and highly-coordinated marketing campaign to promote "Jaws" before its release. TV and Internet trailers are ubiquitous now, but they were rare in the mid-70s. "Jaws," however, featured a high-profile national prime-time commercial buy. The producers and the author of the novel on which the movie was based hit the TV talk show circuit to promote the film and the publisher of the book worked with the studio to ensure that the paperback version matched the film poster as a means of cross-promotion. The movie also had the most elaborate array of marketing tie-ins of any film to date, including a soundtrack album, T-shirts, plastic tumblers, a book about the making of the movie, beach towels, blankets, shark costumes, toys and games.
More significant was the abandonment of the slow-roll distribution. "Jaws" opened simultaneously in hundreds of theaters across the entire United States. It was more than a movie, it was an event. It made a massive amount of money in its first weekend and, in so doing, single-handedly ushered in the Blockbuster Era. Today we take first weekend box office figures for granted as a measure of a film's success -- indeed, we deem a film a success or a failure based, almost exclusively, in how that first weekend goes -- but we didn't start doing that until "Jaws" came out in June of 1975.
There is no question that the blockbuster distribution model makes way better business sense than the old way of doing things -- studios are rolling in cash now in ways no one every could've imagined back in the 1970s -- but it fundamentally altered the artistic and aesthetic sense of Hollywood as well.
Marketing is essential now in ways it never was before "Jaws." It's far easier to market spectacle and thrills than it is to market character sketches and ambiguity, so we get more of the former now than we do of the latter. It's far easier to get people into a movie theater if they have a really good idea of what they're going to see than it is to spring surprises on them, so modern marketing gives far more away about a movie's plot than it holds back and sequels, copycat films and films with shared universes proliferate. People like to feel good far more than they like to be challenged so, while movies have always been about entertainment, the product is made to go down with a few more spoons of sugar than they did during the New Hollywood era. The "Hollywood Ending," primarily a function of morality in the Golden Age, is now a function of test marketing and focus groups.
Which is not to say that good movies aren't made now and the the industry has gone to hell. There were a lot of truly crappy movies made in the early-to-mid 70s (we remember the good ones and forget the bad). There have likewise been tons of fantastic blockbuster movies that followed "Jaws" into America's multiplexes, many of which form the cultural DNA of people of my generation and beyond, many of which were made by Steven Spielberg. And despite the now 44-year-long blockbuster mentality of Hollywood, there have always been a handful of good, small, dark, morally ambiguous or challenging artistic movies that slip past the beancounters every year. And yes, even a couple of those were made by Steven Spielberg.
But it is inescapable that Spielberg almost singlehandedly changed the moviemaking business. He did it by basically blowing up one distribution model and replacing it with another and in so doing he fundamentally changed both the business and artistic sides of Hollywood. For him to now bitch that someone else is doing that is quite the damn thing.
I just read the statement from Micheal Cohen prefacing his testimony before Congress.
Cohen is simultaneously believable about which he speaks yet is still delusional about his role and his own character. What he said is simultaneously revealing by virtue of the fact that someone is actually, finally, giving voice to those words in an official setting yet obvious in that nothing he says is at all surprising to anyone who has paid even a bit of attention. Overall, his statement speaks to how villains believe themselves to be the heroes of their own stories. His statement will not change Trump supporters' views, because they are lost causes who are even more deluded than Cohen is.
Trump was and is unfit. He was and is a lying, crooked, racist imbecile. This is not news nor should it be news to anyone.
Neither this testimony nor any magic from Robert Mueller is going save us from that because so many people want it or, at the very least don't care. Trump once famously said that he could shoot someone in the middle of the street with impunity. I don't know about that, but I am confident that he could be found to have committed the highest of crimes or misdemeanors and the United States Congress would do nothing to stop him or punish him. That is simply where we are as a country right now.
The only way through it is to elect someone who is not him and to begin the long and hard work of fixing all that has been broken. Unfortunately a whole lot of people are going to actively or passively prevent that from happening for many different reasons.
At least the ones who actually love Trump will be straightforward about it. A lot of other people who claim they hate Trump will nonetheless help his cause because they hate other things and other people more. They hate Democrats or they hate progressive policies or they hate the media or what have you and, while giving lip service to their disdain for Trump and all he represents, they get something out of him that they fear they would not get from someone else. They want to let corporations poison the water, let banks put poor people in debtors' prisons and ensure that the judiciary is in their pocket as they do it, and Trump is in the best position to do make that happen. These people, too, believe themselves to be the heroes of their own stories.
The Cohen statement is a good read. But if it takes his words for you to believe that Donald Trump is unfit and deserving of removal from office -- that, in Cohen's words, Trump is a "racist, a conman and a cheat," -- I'm not sure what planet you've been living on, because it's been manifest for years and years.
Over three years ago I wrote an essay about how environmental calamities that have hit the places where I grew up -- Flint, Michigan, Parkersburg, West Virginia and Southern West Virginia -- were not mere accidents. They occurred because those with wealth and power consider the lives of poor people in poor places like that to be cheap by design.
I ended the essay by noting that such has always been the case and that, in all likelihood, it always will be the case. It will happen again and again because politicians simply don't care about the people who live there and the general public, for the most part, cannot be bothered to care.
This morning I woke up to see this:
I've lived long enough and I know enough history to know that our system is frightfully efficient at crushing both hope and the hopeful. I know that powerful forces will align in an effort to thwart anyone who dares push back against the power and the priorities of the wealthy. I know that a handful of progressive politicians and activists are, at present, no match for both the machinery of corporate America and the apathy of most Americans.
But seeing a politician actually say things like this out loud is unbelievably inspiring. Every bit as inspiring as it is shocking.
"Green New Deal backers say they want more high-speed trains to make airline travel less necessary, and more electric cars and charging stations. But experts warn that changing the existing fleet of cars in the U.S. would be an extraordinary effort." -- NPR tweet, February 9, 2019
"Colonists say they want to throw off the yoke of royal tyranny and form a new nation founded on the principles of self-evident truths about equality and liberty. But experts warn that winning a revolution against England would be an extraordinary effort." -- 1776
"Abolitionists say they want to end slavery, America's original sin and an atrocity of untold depths and darkness. But experts warn that changing the economic model of southern agriculture would be an extraordinary effort." -- 1852
"New Deal backers say they want to rescue the nation from economic catastrophe and take steps to both prevent another one and mitigate the effects of another one should it occur. But experts warn that doing literally anything would be an extraordinary effort." -- 1932
"World War II backers say they want to stop the march of fascist tyranny that promises untold death and destruction and imperils the very notion of freedom and democracy. But experts warn that defeating Germany and Japan would be an extraordinary effort." -- 1941
"Civil Rights activists say they want to end a century of Jim Crow laws and extend Constitutional protections to everyone, not just whites. But experts warn that asking people not to discriminate and actually abide by the law would be an extraordinary effort." -- 1954
"President Kennedy says he wants to put a man on the moon in an effort to inspire a nation, prove its superiority to communist dictatorships and to open up a new frontier of scientific discovery and human imagination. But experts warn that landing a man on the moon would be an extraordinary effort." -- 1961
Doing anything that truly matters takes extraordinary effort. Aid in that effort. Help direct that effort if you genuinely feel that it is misguided in some important way. But don't sit the hell back and whine about doing something simply because it takes effort.
I'm an unpopular figure among a certain swath of media professionals. Newspaper folks, mostly, or people who started their careers working for newspapers. They don't like me because I've spent a good chunk of the past decade arguing that it's bad when old establishment media folks coast on their reputation, credentials and presumed authority and that the old media companies are flawed to the extent they are unable to quickly adapt to new information or ways of thinking, causing them to roll forward on inertia.
In other news, the former Executive Editor of the New York Times has written a book largely about how new, online-based media is bad and irresponsible and will lead to the ruination of society. The book has been found to include multiple, significant plagiarized passages and a plethora of errors that were likely overlooked because the author was deemed too important and established to edit and fact-check. Meanwhile, the book's old school publisher is standing behind the author, saying it'll fix what can be fixed. It's hard not to see that as an admission that, plagiarism and errors notwithstanding, it's simply not practical or viable for them to stop publication at this point.
A couple of years ago I wrote about my seven favorite movies in this space. Number one on that list was "The Conversation." It's still number one. I'm having a hard time imagining it will ever not be number one.
It's not a movie that, when you finish it, you say "ah, that was fun." It's not at all uplifting and there's very little action in it. Many people find it boring. I understand that. I don't blame those who don't like it for "not getting it" or whatever. Slow burns and character sketches are not for everyone. Most people watch movies to enjoy themselves and be entertained. They should, too. That's kind of the point of a movie, even if I like to torture myself with bleak, contemplative stuff like this on occasion.
Its lack of action and lack of feel-good appeal notwithstanding, aesthetically it's just a beautifully-shot and perfectly-acted movie. There isn't an ounce of fat on it. Gene Hackman is, if not my favorite actor of all time, in my top three, and this is his greatest role. And, as you can tell by our shared taste in eyewear, I like Harry Caul's personal style.
More deeply, I identify with its themes.
I've spent a lot of time in my life trying to find the right balance between observing the world with objective detachment and actively participating in it. When I was a lawyer I'd often find myself keeping myself too far removed from my clients when I found them or their interests objectionable or getting too close to them, sometimes losing my objectivity, when I did not. Since I've become a writer -- working at home, not interacting with many people in person on a daily basis -- I've felt like more of a voyeur than a participant in the world on occasion, with a tendency to disengage. This tendency is far more pronounced when I'm under stress or when I'm unhappy. It's not a good quality, and it's something I've worked hard to notice and head off when I slip into it, but I'll likely always have to work on it. To not become a low-tech version of Harry Caul, letting life simply happen to him. Either not caring to participate in the business of living beyond watching others do it or not knowing how to participate in it until it's too late.
I write all of this today because a friend of mine just pointed out a great interview of Francis Ford Coppola -- conducted by Brian DePalma of all people -- about the making of "The Conversation." It's from 1974, just as the movie was being released in theaters, so there is none of that reverent, "talk about your classic movie" stuff. You can tell Coppola knew he had a good movie on his hands -- it was nominated for Best Picture several months later, in a year that was stacked with amazing films -- but he freely talks about its flaws too, in a way I bet he wouldn't now if you asked him. It's also interesting because (a) there's an exchange in there in which I suspect DePalma got the seed for making the excellent "Blow Out" seven years later; and (b) based on stuff he says about his movie making style, you can see the hell Coppola would go through making "Apocalypse Now" a few years later coming straight down Market Street.
There are a lot of great technical details in the interview too. How Coppola went about filming the opening segment in the park, the choice of lenses to give it that voyeuristic feel and all of that. I've read a lot about that stuff before, but there's a new bit in there I hadn't read about the sound editing which kind of blew my mind. There are a lot of jarring transitions from loud to quiet in the movie and I used to think it was just because it was poorly mixed like a lot of 1970s movies are, but Coppola talks about how that was intentional and explains, quite satisfyingly, why that is so. It's one of those things that makes perfect sense and which I'm somewhat embarrassed I didn't think about while watching it, oh, 10 times.
It's been a year or two since I last watched it. After reading this interview, I'm going to have to make it 11 soon.
A couple of Twitter friends recently told me about how, as a fun exercise, they identified the number one song on the Billboard charts on their birthday for every year they were alive. It sounded like a fun idea.
And it was a fun idea until I remembered that I'm older than them it takes me a lot more time to do this sort of thing. Which is fine. I got a lot of time. It's what I have most of, actually. So let's do this thing.
Per the Billboard Hot 100 chart archive, here is the number one song on July 14 of every year since I was born, along with a thought or two about each song or, short of that, a tangential thought or two each song inspired in my too-much-time-on-its-hands brain:
1973: "Will It Go Round In Circles" -- Billy Preston: Preston is one of many who has been called "The Fifth Beatle." In related news, just before this one took the top spot, a George Harrison song and then a Paul McCartney Song hit number 1, so he was the third "Beatle" to have a hit that summer. Note: I do not think he was the fifth Beatle. That was Clarence Walker.
1974: "Rock Your Baby" -- George McCrae: The second of three "rock" songs to hit number 1 in 1974, along with "Rock the Boat" by The Hues Corporation and "Rock me Gently" by Andy Kim. This one was the best of the three. In other news, I was baptized on my first birthday, so this is a fairly appropriate song.
1975: "Love Will Keep Us Together" -- Captain & Tennille: They actually divorced eventually, so this song was a lie.
Over at NBC Sports I wrote about the massive disconnect that exists between the stuff that wins baseball games and the stuff that makes baseball teams money. At present, the business arrangements of the league mean that teams can stink on ice yet still rake in cash while winning doesn't do that much for the bottom line.
It's an out-of-whack incentive structure that is bad for the game in both the short term and the long-term.
Last year I wrote a long true crime story that hit close to home. Like, really close to home: my great-great grandmother killed my great-great grandfather with an axe one snowy December morning in Detroit back in 1910. You'll be happy to know that she did this after my great-grandfather was born, thus allowing me to exist. Thanks for holding off on that, Nellie. I owe you one.
I had published all of this as a short ebook on Amazon and many of you bought it. Thanks for that! It's been out a while now, so I figured it was worth publishing the whole thing for free here, so here it is, in all of its dysfunctional family glory. Feel free to share it with family members who annoy you. It will really creep them out and, I suspect, treat you more kindly in the future.
If you paid $2.99 for the ebook and feel ripped off now that it's free, well, sorry. I'll make you a deal though: if someone important and powerful reads it and decides to option it for a Netflix movie or something fun like that, I'll invite you to the screening and/or buy you a beer at some point.
In September I wrote about Kenan Memorial Stadium at UNC Chapel Hill and its namesake, William Rand Kenan Sr., who murdered scores of blacks in the 1898 Wilmington Massacre.
This week I hosted NPR's sports show, "Only a Game," and produced a story about it.
The results of yesterday's midterm election defy hot takes and easy narratives. On one level -- in terms of just how overwhelmingly voters, in raw numbers, voted Democratic and/or anti-Republican -- it was a Democratic wave of historic proportions. The sort of wave which puts to lie the common Republican and media talking point that America is "a center-right nation." No, in terms of the sentiment of the people of this country as of November 6, 2018, it is certainly not.
That sentiment was clearly blunted in terms of results, however. Given that massive lean towards Democrats in overall vote totals, fair elections would have given them far more than a majority of a couple of dozen House seats. Indeed, in the past, a lean like we saw last night typically has given the majority party twice as much if not more of a gain in the House. That that's all Democrats got is clear evidence that Republicans' craven agenda of gerrymandering has benefitted them greatly.
But while that's disappointing -- and while a few specific, notable races did not go in Democrats' favor -- there is no way whatsoever to honestly spin last night's results as good for Republicans or bad for Democrats. To do so requires one to lose sight of how political tides turn in a lasting way in this country, just how badly things have gotten over the past several years and just how much work it takes, and was always going to take, to effect real change.
Anti-democratic forces and illiberalism did not spring up, fully formed, with Donald Trump's election in November 2016. As I have written many, many times in this space, we have experienced years and years of these corrosive trends. Just as Republicans' program of court-packing, tax cuts, deregulation and disinvestment in our nation's future has taken decades to bear the rotten fruit it is now bearing, so too has the erosion of campaign finance laws, the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act and the enactment of widespread gerrymandering. Republicans began making it their explicit agenda to deconstruct civil society, to benefit and protect the powerful and to cast the vulnerable aside in the 1960s, accelerated these efforts in the 1980s and accelerated them even more in the years since the 1994 Contract with America election. They likewise made it their agenda to rig elections many, many years ago. That agenda was not going to be stopped in a single midterm election.
That agenda was, however, chipped at in real and substantive ways last night:
It took years for Republicans to bugger up this country and a handful of big time superhero candidates were not going to fly in and fix things in a single night. Do not lose sight of the fact, however, that a lot of street level superheroes are starting to get results. In the past two years a hell of a lot of people have done the work to start the process of fixing things. They have knocked on doors, registered voters, and have persuaded millions that there is a better course than the course our nation has been on for so long. That work paid off in many, many positive ways last night, even if it did not do so in 100% optimum ways.
It's easy to break things. It's way harder to fix them. You do so by putting your head down and doing that work. Continuing that work. You make some progress in 2018 and you make more progress in 2020. You win some elections. You take stock, get back to work and then you win some more in 2022, 2024 and beyond. The work is never done. But if the work is done right it can pay off, slowly, over time.
It began to pay off a little last night.
For three years, Donald Trump has courted and enjoyed the support of the "alt-right," which is a euphemism for white supremacists, anti-Semites and neo-Nazis. They played a very large role in his election, with their temporary, barely sanitized public image providing putatively respectable cover for base racism, anti-Semitism and fascism.
After his election, torch-carrying neo-Nazis marched, chanting their racist and anti-Semitic intent in no uncertain terms, and even murdered a woman. Trump refused to condemn them. To the contrary, he embraced them.
Since taking office, Trump and his supporters have rationalized, normalized and praised white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Just yesterday the president himself employed blatantly anti-Semitic rhetoric at a rally, scapegoating a wealthy Jewish man as a political enemy and joining a crowd which chanted its desire to "lock him up."
This morning, a man rushed into a synagogue, declared that "all these Jews must die," and murdered at least eight people.
Donald Trump is not legally responsible for the criminal actions of others. But as the President of the United States and the leader of a major political party, large swaths of which have embraced neo-Nazism, white supremacy and anti-Semitism, he and his supporters are damn well morally responsible.
We are what we do and what Donald Trump has done is well-documented. Our president is a white supremacist. Our president is an anti-Semite. Our president has no problem with political violence as long as it is used as a weapon against those he calls his enemies. This is not an opinion, it is documented fact. Our nation is under attack from white supremacist terrorism, our president has done nothing to even remotely condemn it, let alone do anything about it. To the contrary he has encouraged it. As such, our president bears a large amount of moral responsibility for it.
To suggest otherwise is to be willfully ignorant of history.
To suggest otherwise is to be willfully ignorant of how political, racial and religious violence is fostered and inspired.
To suggest otherwise is to be willfully blind to that which is going on before our very eyes.
To suggest otherwise is to be complicit in the ugliness and horror which has overtaken this country.
An awful lot of journalists were fired between 2015-17 because their companies went with a "video strategy" influenced strongly by Facebook's claimed video ad revenues and Facebook's direct encouragement of their media partners to pivot to video and away from a written product.
That didn't pan out the way anyone expected, however. Video engagement was far lower than expected and revenues followed suit. As a result of all of this a lot of video editors and producers were fired, joining their print journalism colleagues on the unemployment line. Online media, in many respects, is a flaming hole in the ground at the moment.
Why did the video strategy -- which Facebook claimed was the Way and the Truth -- not pan out?
Facebook knew by January 2015 that its video-ad metrics had problems, and understood the nature of the issue within a few months, but sat on that information for more than a year, the plaintiffs claimed in an amended complaint Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Oakland . . . Facebook in 2016 revealed the metrics problem, saying it had “recently discovered” it. The firm told some advertisers that it had probably overestimated the average time spent watching video ads by 60 percent to 80 percent. Tuesday’s filing alleged that Facebook had instead inflated average ad-watching time by 150 percent to 900 percent.
To be clear: the current state of affairs in online media is largely the fault of media companies for desperately and stupidly chasing trends that even a moment's reflection should've revealed were idiotic (note: NO ONE prefers video news content online over print), but it sure as shit doesn't help that Facebook, allegedly, was lying to everyone about user behavior and ad revenues.
There's a column at the National Review today which provides a good look into how blinkered and deluded conservatives are and how deeply buried in their ideology they have become.
The premise is not a bad one: "We're all in this together! What's good for my brother is good for me! Shared prosperity makes life better for everyone and brings forth harmony and not division!" It's a riff on Alexander Hamilton's understanding of what our nation was and could be.
I'm not the biggest Alexander Hamilton fan in the world but, generally speaking, I agree with that stuff. Shared prosperity is important, as is our sense of community as a nation.
There are just a couple of problems, though:
My conservative friends: there is absolutely nothing wrong with believing that "mutual economic gain is the keystone of The Union." If you do believe that, however, try advancing at least a single, solitary economic initiative that promotes mutual economic gain as opposed to the massive number of policies you support which serves the interests of business and the wealthy alone, does harm to the poor and to working people and fosters vast and, eventually, destabilizing economic inequality.
Until you do that, you're spewing empty ideology which flies in the face of the reality which you conservatives have created.