Saturday, December 15, 2012
On Sandy Hook
My response to all the soulful outrage and calls for change in the wake of Sandy Hook-like incidents is to urge the recognition that our American exceptionalism -- our embodiment of what Seymour Martin Lipset termed "liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism and laissez-faire capitalism" -- produces both our historic greatness as well as our particular, sometimes horrifying, flaws. Among those flaws are alarming levels of violent crime and incarceration, as well as occasional but all-too-common mass murders. While I agree with common-sense proposals like banning civilian ownership of assault rifles and doing much, much better by the mentally ill, gun ownership is an intrinsic element -- both a producer and a product -- of the American way of life. National self-incrimination -- see James Fallows here -- misses the point that you can't make us like Canada, Norway and Britain in regard to violence without making us into Canada, Norway or Britain. Simply put, and maybe it's callous to say right now, but I'd rather live here with mass murder than in those places without it.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
If there is a naked man dead on a highway with a liver full of bath salts and a jaw full of face, there is a 95% probability he is in Florida.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Friday, June 17, 2011
Casey Anthony makes OJ look like Captain Dreyfus.
Friday, January 28, 2011
The Audacity of Shlock
When a congresswoman is shot in the head in the very act of democracy, we should all pause.
Poseur alert! -- this pronouncement must be the choicest pseudo-profundity to emerge from the shooting in Tucson of Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others. For many, Andrew Sullivan is The Blogfather. If the "MSM" -- how pompous is that invidious classification -- is superseded, it won't be for reasons of quality.
Reading a book like Daniel Boorstin's The Image (1961) will tell you more about blogs and Internet media than the whole middlebrow masturbatory mandala spun by Sullivan, Clay Shirky and TED. The more information there is, the greater becomes the need to digest it. Perhaps it began with law. First the Roman ("Digests" of the Corpus Juris Civilis, 529), then later the English (1700-1900) and American (1823), codes were summarized for interested specialists. Literature followed suit in the 19th Century. Cheapening the production of printed matter brought great works to a wider and less rarefied audience, which led to bowdlerization and abridgment. Then came mass-produced encyclopedias, journals and magazines. Review of Reviews and The Literary Digest (1890) arose to suggest interesting articles so people could find their way to what they cared about. As with literature the enterprise of being informed became more middlebrow. Reader's Digest (1922) condensed primary material and surpassed it in popularity. In a sense, motion pictures (~1900, 1927) began to digest historical works and novels. Radio news (1920) summarized newspapers, and then television news (1940-50) emancipated the reader from having to reassemble the data in his head.
Blogs are just a contemporary part of this process; they mostly digest printed news. In ten short years blogs have proliferated to the point of opacity, which is why "microblogging" platforms such as Twitter -- mostly a digest of blogs -- have achieved prominence.
This relentless drive to abbreviate is a mixed blessing. On one hand, we have not so much democratic as demotic access to more information than ever. On the other, such atomization reduces the scope of our knowledge -- it shortens our perspective. That's why Sullivan and company can fool you into thinking they are some sort of information vanguard, when at best they are surfing today's minute of a centuries-long process. Contextualizing the information players casts the meagerness of much of their output in stark and sensible relief.
Footnote: This post, fittingly, is based on a digest of Chapter 4 of The Image, "From Shapes to Shadows: Dissolving Forms", especially pp. 118-149.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Friday, April 23, 2010
David Mills -- RIP
I'm stunned: the writer David Mills (The Wire, Treme), known online as Undercover Black Man, died late last month. It's rarely merited to interpret the person as well as his text, but Mills' decency and intelligence were palpable in his writing. I had a half-buried hope that one day I'd meet him, since we were both bloggers, writers and lovers of similar, rare improvised music.
He bought Javon Jackson's "Good People" on my recommendation, left in a comment on a post he made about the group Garaj Mahal. I checked in months later and asked him if he had listened to it, and he said he hadn't yet had time. I wonder if he ever did.