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 [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]
Maria Bustillos: I'm trying to parse all these Metacritic reviews of The Master. Mainly they seem to be saying, "I hate it, but I think I'm supposed to. A masterpiece."
David Roth: David Thomson, in the New Republic, had a great first line. Which was "Well, at least it's pretentious."
MB: Yay? I'll say this, whoever reconstructed M. Phoenix's shoulders deserves a special Oscar. His bod is all Cubist, suddenly.
DR: It seems to me like this: a fine director made a mostly perfect-looking film, with an interesting musical score and fine performances. Except that it is also totally inert, with no real characters one can or could [...]
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 [...]
Elmo Keep: So, THE BAT?
Maria Bustillos: Yes.
EK: I celebrated my 103rd birthday somewhere in the middle of this film.
MB: You look so young for your age!
EK: Thank you. It is the remarkably smog-free air we enjoy.
MB: This movie was very interesting to me as a political document.
EK: Because it was about Occupy?
MB: Yeah? But really, beyond that.
In which Maria Bustillos and David Roth venture to the movies to see the latest by Terrence Malick. It is called To the Wonder and it is 113 minutes long.
David Roth: There's a thing that happens to me watching Terrence Malick movies. I marvel at the way they look—which I know is a novel response, but I'm a unique dude—and kind of chuckle to myself at the involuted, ponderous what-if-God-was-one-of-us philosophical stuff. And then I walk outside secure in my sophistication and am instantly struck by how THE WORLD IS SO RICH AND BEAUTIFUL HOLY SHIT.
Maria Bustillos: Yes, first things first: I nearly died of the BEAUTY. Every [...]
I wrote a thing last fall about massive open online courses (MOOCs, in the parlance), and the challenge that free or cheap online classes pose to business as usual in higher ed. In that piece, I compared the people running colleges today to music industry executives in the age of Napster. (This was not a flattering comparison.) Aaron Bady, a cultural critic and doctoral candidate at Berkeley, objected. I replied to Bady, one thing led to another, the slippery slope was slupped, and Maria Bustillos ended up refereeing the whole thing here on The Awl.
Bustillos sees institutions like San Jose State experimenting with credit for [...]
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 [...]
David Roth: So, tell me again, please, how you found this novel, The Last Western? I know how I found it, which was by you giving me a copy and telling me it was important that I read it.
David Roth: It was like Natalie Portman's "The Shins will change your life" moment in Garden State, except you are shorter, smarter and less pointy than she is, and I am marginally less grumbly-sad than Zach Braff, and you were right and also The Shins couldn't conceivably really change anyone's life.
Maria Bustillos: A guy named Mark Harris went all crazy over it on this listserv I was on back [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]
"Here is a sad reflection for the ordinary reader, faced as he is with lifetimes upon lifetimes worth of books on entering even a small public library or a reasonably well-stocked bookshop. Since we can’t have very many, we must husband our time and attention carefully. But how to choose? The melancholy may lift a little when we realize that so many wise souls who have come before have been willing to serve as guides."
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" [...]
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 [...]
Which attractive celebrity is the most repinned of author Jackie Collins' Pinterest "Smokin Hot" guys? The answer, it may surprise you.
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 [...]
“In these populations, males are relatively common, hence females were not restricted from access to males, and therefore isolation from males is not a driving factor for parthenogenic reproduction (virgin births) here.” —Warren Booth, assistant professor of molecular ecology at the University of Tulsa’s Department of Biological Sciences, discusses his recent study of virgin birth among boa constrictors and copperhead snakes in the wild. Previously, the phenomenon of virgin birth—as documented among chickens, lizards, nurse sharks and lots of other animals—was assumed to be a freak occurrence; an emergency biological response to gender segregation brought about by captivity. But the findings of Booth and his colleagues indicate that [...]
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 [...]