14 September 2015

The Jargon of Sincerity

I'm all for a little forthrightness, but Christy Wampole makes a couple of assumptions I'd question. She seems to take umbrage at the mere existence of fads--if there's a fad for fixies, so what? It'll pass.  (And why, by the way, is this an 'outmoded mechanism'?).

Worse, Wampole mistakes some honest pursuits for fads. Why should we dismiss an interest in vinyl, or in SLR film cameras, as ironic faddishness in the first place? You can argue for vinyl or film on their merits--better sound quality, for example, or the tactile pleasures of working with knobs, dials, and levers versus Graphical User Interfaces.

Finally,  who's to say that something lived ironically can't ultimately be appreciated for its unironic charms? (Why assume, IOW, that 'outmoded fashions' are destined to remain outmoded?) I say this as someone who's contemplating revisiting the handlebar moustache for a third time--I've just come to like the way I look as a Frito Bandito.

Observe a 4-year-old child going through her daily life. You will not find the slightest bit of irony in her behavior. She has not, so to speak, taken on the veil of irony. She likes what she likes and declares it without dissimulation. She is not particularly conscious of the scrutiny of others. She does not hide behind indirect language.

Ironically enough, one of Wampole's prescriptions to a 'self-infantilizing' generation is to take on the earnestness of a child. But that's already been done, Christy, by Zeitgeist poster children Animal Collective. Fucking hipsters.

01 September 2015

Going Greener with the Cleaners

I'm trying to go a little greener around the house--or if 'green' has too low of a signal-to-noise ratio for your taste, perhaps I should just say that I'm trying to make my life a little less toxin-filled. To that end, here's a recipe that I'm gonna try for homemade dish soap. And I'll try not to think about the fact that the original source of this is someone who willingly calls herself Mommypotamus.

01 August 2015

Pests? The Times Has Had Your Back for a While Now

Follow the link to their handy-dandy pest field guide. (Mice can live on less than a crumb a day!?)

12 January 2012


No, that's not the number of posts thus far (actually, this would be my 74th, but the first in a loooong while). '52' stands for the rate at which the writer Russell Shorto's income is taxed in the Netherlands. This is not a very nice-sounding number to American ears, but Shorto finds himself getting used to it.  Meanwhile, Robert Frank argues that a (slightly) higher tax rate would be fairer than we think.

13 October 2011

Numbers and Politics

This strikes me as a bit of a knee-jerk feminist critique of Anna Faris's new movie, What's Your Number?  (Full disclosure:  Anna is the sister of a good friend of mine from grad school, and very simpatico in person--but I'm not sure I've seen any of her movies since Lost in Translation.)

What’s Your Number?, the new Anna Faris comedy about a 30-something woman named Ally Darling who is fixated on the fact that she’s slept with 20 men, is a critical and box office failure, with reviewers slamming the film’s retrograde sexual mores. For those of you who missed this flop, here’s a quick synopsis:  Ally, who has just lost her job and hit bottom, becomes obsessed with the significance of a woman’s “number”—the number of men she has had sex with—after reading in a women’s magazine that women who have sex with more than 20 guys are much less likely to get married. As Slate movie critic Dana Stevens notes, the film doesn’t really argue with the notion that Ally is a capital-S slut. As Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum put it, “Whore is the kind of descriptor the creators of What's Your Number? think is hilarious for a woman to apply to herself, one whose only ‘scandal' involves a head count of her sex partners. And by the way, who in this day and age is counting?”

I am, for what it's worth (not that I'd give you the number).  But back to the review:  there's nothing wrong--and a lot right--with feminist critiques.  But can't a film find humor in the 'retrograde sexual mores' at play in a story about a woman who obsesses about her head count (a misleading phrase, surely...) and considers herself a slut without endorsing these mores?  This seems like textbook 'implied author' stuff--is there a literary critic in the house?--but presumably a film mocking racism would also catch heat in this narrow-minded political climate.  These days, you practically have to put a written disavowal up on the screen if your work deviates at all from the received pieties of the day.

28 September 2011

Mom & Apple Pie

Lots of buzz about a speech potential GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie gave at the Reagan Library last night.  Most of the chatter focuses on the big guy's will-he-or-won't-he game, but the following little dig at the current administration is what really caught my eye:  the Times reports that he had this to say about the current leadership in Washington:
Unfortunately, through our own domestic political conduct of late, we have failed to live up to our own tradition of exceptionalism.
First of all, doesn't the '-ism' suffix suggest that Christie is referring to a tradition of thinking in a certain way about something?  But this is misleading; although he seems to be referring to that lame GOP trope according to which Barack Obama doesn't pay enough obeisance to the idea that America is an exceptional country, one somehow not subject to the same moral and geopolitical constraints and expectations that people in other times and places are subject to (in other words, a way of thinking), my take is that he explicitly wants to say that we're currently falling below our own high standards of, er, exceptional-ness.

Governor Christie is entitled to his own opinion regarding how exceptional we're currently being.  But as for the doctrine of exceptionalism, that's just crazy talk.  The idea implied, namely, that we can and ought to play by our own set of rules, strikes me as little more than a license for imperialism.  And that's to say nothing of the epistemological hubris:  would I claim to have the best parents on earth?  No:  they're really the only parents I've ever had--how would I know what kind of parenting is available out there in the great, wide world?  Does that mean I can't love my parents?  Of course not:  there are many reasons to love my parents.  Similarly, I can love my country without claiming that it's the greatest country on earth, and it would be foolish of me, based on my biased experience, to make such a claim in the first place.

26 September 2011

Citizens, Disguised

The Times reports on the new realities of our campaign-financing sham:
While most of the candidates are backed by one or more superPACs — nominally independent groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on their behalf — Mr. Romney and Mr. Perry’s supporters have assembled what appear to be the most robust groups, staffed by former aides with longstanding ties to the formal campaigns and financed by the candidates’ leading donors.
The groups essentially function as auxiliary units of the campaigns, even though they are required by federal law not to coordinate their activities or messages. Mr. Romney is backed by Restore Our Future, a group founded this year by three veterans of his 2008 campaign for president. Recently, the chief fund-raiser for Mr. Romney’s campaign jumped to Restore Our Future, and he has already met with some of Mr. Romney’s major donors and supporters — a practice permitted by current campaign regulations
Mr. Perry is backed by Make Us Great Again, a group advised by a prominent Austin lobbyist who is his former chief of staff and financed by some of his leading donors...

19 September 2011

Grading Obama

Bill Keller provides a thoughtful appraisal of Obama's tenure thus far in today's New York Times.  On the one hand, as he acknowledges, critics on the left can rightfully complain about 'Obama’s deal to continue the Bush tax cuts, his surrender of a public option on health care, his refusal to call the Republicans’ bluff on the debt ceiling rather than swallow budget cuts', etc.  But regardless of his shortcomings, we need to keep in mind some considerable achievements; to the hyperbolator who claims that Obama hasn't done a goddamn thing, Keller replies that 'Obama pulled the country back from the brink of depression; signed a health care reform law that expands coverage, preserves choice and creates a mechanism for controlling costs; engineered a fairly stringent financial regulatory reform; and authorized the risky mission that got Osama bin Laden'.

18 May 2011

Berlin: Capital of Bohemia, or Global 'Pitstop'?

New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman recently published a thoughtful piece comparing SoHo in its artistic heyday to contemporary Berlin. On the other hand, and not to put too fine a point on it, Kimmelman compares 1970s SoHo--one neighborhood within the Big Apple--to contemporary Berlin. So it's not surprising that he is 'struck' by 'one obvious difference' between the two scenes:
SoHo then was a genuine community, a world within the art world, nested inside the larger world of the city. Berlin, for all its glories and advantages, has become, in terms of art, a pit stop on the global caravan. For better and worse, its cultural circles are in large part made up of transients who don’t necessarily speak the language and who live on top of the city. They’re there for the cheap rents, studio space, parties and one another.
Without denying that Kimmelman has a very good point, it nevertheless seems to me that there's a real lack of precision here. Why not compare 'SoHo then' to one of Berlin's arts clusters in, say, Friedrichshain, or Mitte, or Kreuzberg--especially when the differences between Berlin's different scenes can be rather intense? So what if there isn't a 'genuine community' that unites all of Berlin's art world? It's much more likely that one would find such community at the level of the neighborhood, or Kiez.

16 May 2011

You're Never Too Old to Scuba Dive

A fascinating look at the unlikely suburban roots of Animal Collective's mysticism:

“Magic and childhood and music-making are three things that just have a way of coming together, at least for us,” Portner says. “The idea of magic to me is similar to how a child relates to the world, and what a child is capable of, using its imagination. I think anyone is capable of it, all through their life, mostly they just forget how to do it.”

“The first thing we did this morning was take a walk through the woods to where the salamanders are,” Weitz says, gesturing to a cluster of trees behind the tennis court.

“I think it’s a shame because I don’t think most people do it consciously,” Portner says. “They let the repetition of their daily lives get in the way.”

“Josh and I both like to scuba dive,” Weitz says. “It doesn’t matter what age you are. You see people who are 60 years old who still look so excited when they’re scuba diving.”