Internet, yay! Internet, oh no!—surely, it’s obvious by now that there is as much reason for hope as there is for fear from our technological future. A rational and nuanced criticism will seek to define our true circumstances, identify dangers, and encourage beneficial progress. Thus far, however, tech critics have tended to extremes, either for or against the Internet: wringing their hands á la Nicholas Carr (The Shallows), or busting out the pompoms in the manner of Jeff Jarvis (What Would Google Do?). This simple-minded stuff will no longer do. It's into the vacuum of a powerfully felt need that contemporary theorists like Evgeny Morozov and Jaron Lanier have been [...]
When editors and sponsors demanded changes to his copy, the legendary absurdist comedian and radio star Fred Allen used to reply: "Where were you bastards when the pages were blank?"
This joke is about the common misconception about what really happens between writers and editors, which is a kind of alchemical collaboration, provided that the collaborators in question are in sympathy and closely attending to the matter at hand. Granted, that doesn't happen every time, on either side, but at its best there is no hostility, and no jockeying for an advantage in this symbiosis: no ego, no performance, just an intent shared focus on making something good together for [...]
When but a girl, I used to stay up quite late watching TV (exciting in itself!) trolling for Fred Astaire or Marx Brothers movies in a sea of horrific late-night jangling commercials like those featuring, in his white cowboy hat, the car dealer Cal Worthington "and his dog, Spot" (who turned out to be an elephant, often as not). Thus it was that one night I discovered "Monty Python's Flying Circus," a phenomenon that roared like a hurricane across the plain of my tender psyche, ending in an hoarse, explosive "It's!" How can I tell you what this meant to me? It was just a TV show, but "Monty Python" [...]
While interviewing author George Saunders last week on the release of the audiobook of his new story collection, Tenth of December, my Skype connection cut out maybe four times. Such a miserable and embarrassing development on so many levels—maybe the worst being that Saunders is one of the best talkers I've ever met, and in the middle of this incredible riff his voice would just float and burble off, culminating in that awful, plopping Skype disconnection sound. Indescribable, like getting a long letter from Oscar Wilde and someone sets fire to it as you're reading, or you've just been poured a delectable glass of Château d'Yquem and suddenly there [...]
Can you go to college on your computer? Some say yes, and others respond with a resounding no. But one thing is for sure: there is a boatload of public money to be vacuumed off an overcrowded, underfunded educational establishment desperate for at least the appearance of a quick fix.
Enter Udacity, the foremost provider of Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. Does what's above look like college to you? Or rather, is this how college should look now?
They've been described as "a relentless force that will not be denied," revolutionary, "the single most important experiment in higher education." Also MOOCs are getting a drubbing from [...]
My leftist friends are mainly baffled by how much I like Andrew Sullivan. His blog, the Daily Dish, presents a libertarian-inflected center-right political stance. He supported the Iraq War; he is gay and a practicing Catholic. As Ken Layne recently remarked here, Andrew is "by any rational assessment, a demographic of one—a conservative liberal gay Republican Obama loyalist and Irish-English Oxford man who sought and secured permanent U.S. residency."
But the Dish is intelligent, rational, mannerly, and welcoming, in stark contrast to the common run of right-wing blogs. Here is a conservative who accepts me and my views freely, however much they may diverge from his. It was [...]
The suicide of Aaron Swartz last week has brought attention to a lot of things in need of immediate and substantial change: the unchecked power of ambitious, self-serving federal prosecutors; the curious disconnect between the ferocity with which those prosecutors hunted down a 20-something political activist, and their respectful reluctance to disturb the potentates of Wall Street; the absurdity of our current copyright laws; ditto, the outmoded laws still on the books with respect to "hacking."
There's also an important point to reiterate. I've seen a number of angry commenters on Twitter and elsewhere claiming that JSTOR "has blood on its hands." This is false. JSTOR declined involvement in [...]
Anybody who supposes himself wise is already demonstrating the reverse. Therefore the cleverest, most beneficial advice must always come disguised as something else. Because who can ever really believe that he knows better? I didn't even recognize the best advice I ever got for what it was until many years after it was given to me, and I don't flatter myself that I get it, even yet.
In the mists of antiquity I embarked on what would prove to be a mortifyingly checkered academic career at St. John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was a very idealistic, very deluded kid. Ambitious, too. There was no such thing [...]
An op-ed appeared in The Times a couple of weeks ago, called "How to Live Without Irony," and it tore around the Internets like a brush fire. In this essay Christy Wampole, an assistant French professor at Princeton, complained and complained about the hipster, or "urban harlequin" as she styles him. He is "our archetype of ironic living," who "harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness."
So what are we supposed to act like, Prof. Wampole, if we do not want to act like an ironical hipster? A four-year-old, it emerges! Or a tree.
Observe a 4-year-old child going through her daily life. You will not find the slightest bit of [...]
Strike Debt, an offshoot of the Occupy movement, recently launched a project called the Rolling Jubilee, which has raised over $350K as I write; the money will be used to buy, and then forgive, around $7 million worth of distressed medical debt. That's what a "jubilee" meant, in Old Testament times: a period for cancelling debts, and for the manumission of slaves, that came around every five decades: "And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every [...]
Earlier in the week I casually retweeted a note from the activist Bob Fitrakis. He'd posted a story about secret new software patches that had been rolled out to Ohio voting machines, with dark suggestions of shenanigans afoot in the counting of the votes there. Election maniacs may recall Fitrakis from the Ohio debacle of 2004, when he worked with Cliff Arnebeck to try to prove election fraud. (The questionability of the 2004 results is not quite in tinfoil territory; many not-outwardly-foaming observers do still believe that the Kerry-Bush election was stolen in Ohio.)
Soon a response came from one @JoeBeOne:
Please don't spread shaky voting machine [...]
Part of a series about monsters and other scary things happening here through Halloween.
My grandmother was a witch: a species of santera from Havana, to be more exact. Not like she was decapitating chickens all over the place or anything, but she did speak in tongues and believe in demons, and in hell and especially, in the Devil, who held a good deal more sway over her beliefs and activities than God or Jesus ever did, as it still seems to me. Only now do I see the intensity of her superstitions, her prayers and novenas, her gloomy foretelling of the future, her brooding certainty about every damn [...]
News that "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is being made into a big new movie starring Ben Stiller is somewhat worrying, and I say this as one whose favorite movie may well be Zoolander. Tad Friend's recent New Yorker profile of Stiller, "Funny is Money" (subscription-only) is full of disquieting (and fascinating) details about the project; apparently there's a comic shark attack involved. It's a mystery how Thurber's 1939 story of an ordinary man's daydreams, so small in scale, so evanescently brief (just 2,200 words), and so deceptively modest in its message, should have attracted the notice of so many producers of large and noisy entertainments. But it [...]
Part of a series for the new Awl Music app.
For me it was "Bitter Heart" by Seona Dancing, feat. a slender, Bowiefied Ricky Gervais singing the lead vocal ca. 1984. Such a shock he was really quite lovely in that dandified way boys had about them in those long-ago days. I, then a callow goth, was partial to this exact varietal, and should certainly have been setting my turban at M. Gervais had the opportunity presented itself. At the Batcave in London or at the Camden Palace I accidentally went in the men's room once to find the most ravishing sight, some fifteen boys crowded along a [...]
The Australian art critic and historian Robert Studley Forrest Hughes died yesterday at the age of just 74. He'd withstood such a lot, coming back after weeks in a coma following a terrible car accident in Australia in 1999. I thought he was so strong that he would still live to be 100. Part of his name, even, was 'Studley'! And that is just what he was.
What is the best thing Hughes ever did? How to choose from this embarrassment of riches? The obvious answer would be his stately, gorgeously comprehensive history of the convict settlement of Australia, The Fatal Shore (1987). Equally obvious: the 1980 TV [...]
Tom Scocca's Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future has just come out in paperback. This distinctive American's-eye-view of China's capital is bracingly cerebral without didacticism, intimate and touching without the slightest trace of "self-realization." I loved it.
Maria Bustillos: There is so much I want to know about your book, and about China. How long has it been since you were last there? How has the book been received? How old is [your son] Mack, [who was born in China], now?
Tom Scocca: We haven't been back since I was doing the epilogue, in May 2010. The book's been received pretty well, I think. Or [...]
Little did I realize, when I popped over to the Urth Cafe on Beverly a few days ago to talk with the musician David Lowery about artist compensation in the music business, that within the week he would be at the center of one of those "Media Firestorms." Founder of the bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, Lowery is a big, charming, voluble, bearded ginger who natters as fast as I do; he also has a mathematics and programming background and knows a lot about amateur radio, and is a big dork. We had a marvelous talk about the above-named topics over coffee. I'd become interested in his recent work [...]
In June of 1889, Andrew Carnegie published his essay "Wealth" in the North American Review: a famous document, as remarkable for the author’s delusional self-regard as it is for the case he makes for private philanthropy. The steel baron launched his argument with the dumbfounding claim that until "the past few hundred years [of human history] there was little difference between the dwelling, dress, food, environment of the chief and those of his retainers." He then sails blithely along to insist that we should all welcome the changes in society that make violent wealth inequality inevitable, because the benefits of wealth must inevitably trickle down to the least [...]
In 1914 Max Beerbohm wrote to Vyvyan Holland, the younger son of Oscar and Constance Wilde, on the occasion of Holland's wedding. Beerbohm sent his regrets for not having been able to attend the wedding, together with a present.
It has the advantage of being easily breakable if you don't like it. The glasses are (you will be relieved to hear) of British manufacture, but I can't tell you just when they were made. I asked the old man in the shop to tell me the date of them. Whereat he stroked his chin and, looking at me over his spectacles, said "Well, Sir, what would you say to [...]