★★ Cold air blew into the subway station. Children, suitably coated or hoodied, walked hand in hand with adults in a neighborhood of workplaces. The light got warmer and the temperature or the impression of the temperature followed. Then what had been various degrees of sunniness collapsed into a damp gray. The paler and darker patches in the clouds were too blurry to have identifiable topography, while the river below lay whitish and depthless as a cutout.
Discussing the latest tweak to a social networking service’s algorithm last night—yes, my life is exactly as sad and empty as even a cursory examination of my work would reveal—I compared Facebook to the coffee table on which people placed their unread copies of Thomas Piketty’s Capital, i.e. a space in which to display aspirational identity (although given what some of you share I might suggest that you aspire to something even slightly greater) with minimal effort. In the cold light of day I wondered if I hadn’t been a bit too harsh in my judgement of those who are trying to craft an image without doing much in the way of actual immersion in that which they are sharing, but along comes Science to confirm my prejudices:
“The man who brought you the Miracle Brush, the Veg-o-matic and millions of albums containing 25 Country Hits or Hooked on Classics died Wednesday. Philip Kives was 87. Born on a Jewish colony farm near Oungre, Sask., Feb. 12, 1929, Kives came to Winnipeg in 1962 to create the company that bore the first letter of his last name, K-Tel. Kives produced a live, five-minute TV commercial — the first infomercial, he claimed — to sell a Teflon non-stick frying pan, and sales took off afterwards. From then on he always wrote and directed all the TV commercials. But wait, there’s more.”
Related: Tracks From A K-Tel Compilation Tape I Purchased When I Was Nine Just So I Could Own The “Greatest American Hero” Theme Song, In Order Of How Frequently And Irritatingly They Pop Into My Head Unbidden Some Thirty Years Later
It was only a few minutes past nine in the morning, but the uneven concrete was already very warm below my feet. I was enjoying the rough surface on my soles. Going barefoot is the first custom of visiting Lalish, the most sacred village of the Yazidi faith, in Northern Iraq. Lalish was purportedly the spot where Melek Taus, a central figure in the religion also known as the Peacock Angel, first touched down to earth, immediately making the small valley a holy place. It is also home to the tomb of Sheikh Adi, the eleventh-century reformer of Yazidism. I walked up to the village among thousands of other pilgrims, all barefoot and budding with excitement. It was “Sere Sal,” the Yazidi New Year, also known as Red Wednesday, the day that Melek Taus descended upon earth. Rebirth, redemption and new beginnings are a focal point of the religion, and Sere Sal was the day to see it in full bloom.
Lalish lies in a valley with a narrow opening to the northern edge of the Plains of Nineveh. The valley is short and shallow, surrounded on three sides by the small mountains that make up the southern edge of the Zagros range in northern Iraq. The southern mountaintop above Lalish looks out above the vast plains of northern Iraq that slowly morph into the inhospitable Syrian Desert beyond the horizon.
From that same vantage point, the city of Mosul and Mosul Lake are clearly visible, the latter safely in the hands of the Peshmerga and Coalition forces, the former still under the control of the Islamic State, or “Da’esh” as it is known in the Middle East. It’s not unusual to drive along the Plains of Nineveh and see massive plumes of smoke on the horizon behind the rolling hills. Sometimes they are accompanied by the distant roar and fade of fighter jets.
On a perfectly clear day, Mt. Sinjar is visible from the mountain above Lalish. Sinjar, or “Shingal” as the Yazidis call it, is the next most sacred location after Lalish, and was home to one of the greatest concentrations of Yazidis prior to the 2014 Da’esh attack. The offensive led to a ghastly massacre that killed tens of thousands of Yazidis and displaced a few hundred thousand. The event was only retroactively labeled a genocide by the U.S. Government.
Jarvis has argued, somewhat diplomatically, that Bradbury is free to satirize him and his work—just as long as he keeps his name out of it. “The issue was not satire but acquisition of my name [and] fooling readers of an allegedly journalistic enterprise,” he tweeted yesterday. What Jarvis misunderstands is that a satire of Jeff Jarvis inherently requires using the name of Jeff Jarvis, just as a coherent satire of Donald Trump, such as this Onion column by “Donald Trump,” requires the use Trump’s name to have any comic effect. This tradition of humor-by-impersonation-and-exaggeration stretches back centuries, to the playwrights of Ancient Greece. And the ever-present possibility that certain people might mistake a satire for reality is the very thing that makes satire funny. As Ken White, the aforementioned First Amendment lawyer, observed, “The joke is not only at the expense of Jeff Jarvis. The joke is, in part, at the expense of people who read carelessly.”
“Across the span of their lives, the average American is more than five times likelier to die during a human-extinction event than in a car crash.”#
Now that the Internet has comprehensively eradicated our ability to maintain attention on one thing for more than a few seconds, they are telling us that “monotasking,” or what we might call “focusing,” is the skill we did you know that the reverse-chronological social media feed is dying? I didn’t even know that it was sick! But, like anything good, it has fallen victim to the profit motive of large corporations, while being assisted into the grave through the immutable law of everything getting intolerable as greater numbers of human beings interact with it. RIP, reverse-chronological social media feed. You helped kill my ability to focus and now you are yourself dead. Where was I?
Was yesterday the longest day ever or was it just me? No matter, we’re here at Friday now! In just a few hours we’ll flip the hourglass to “weekend” and the sands within will rapidly descend until you are back at your desk Monday morning, so try not to waste the very tiny amount of time you get over the next few days by doing dumb stuff like looking at the Internet. I mean, do what you want, but take it from your pal Al, you will hate yourself a lot less if you don’t spend any of your valuable time staring into the screen of disappointment, dysfunction, and sorrow. Hey, if you have not checked out Anna Meredith’s debut album Varmints, you absolutely should. (Lead track “Nautilus” is almost four years old and is still amazing.) It’s all over the place, but in a way that only really good things are. Enjoy.