Saturday, January 10, 2015

Austin Dispatch Part I

I don't miss Phoenix, and only the Facebook feed of Arizona Highways magazine, with its occasional grandiose photos of rugged craggy sandy-colored Saguaroed desert, is capable of inspiring a pang in me.  But I've always loved the high desert and the forested west and the canyons and peaks and plateaus - who wouldn't?  I remember driving north on the I-17 as a twelve year-old with my dad, off to see some family in Cottonwood, staring out the truck windows at the sun setting over canyons spotted with pinions and junipers and thinking, I love you! I love you, desert.

One of the most annoying things about recent transplants to new cities is their tendency to draw constant comparisons between places.  I did it every minute for months.  Fog?  Oh we don't do that.  What are all these stickers for my car?  I don't like IPAs!  Don't you guys know Four Peaks, jesus I thought the whole country loved them.  Sometimes I don't feel like having a taco for breakfast.  Toll?!

I'm finally beginning to stop as the treeish, big-little city of Austin starts to feel like home.  I think I offended my dad when I called here "home" on the phone the other day, but I can only have one home at a time and Arizona ain't it.

I love a new place because I love learning new history and new plants.  I have a thousand questions, and I feel frustrated when locals don't have the answers.
  • What's the difference between an oak and a live oak?  Are they different?  Oaks here are often smaller than I expect, and twisty like an olive tree.
  • Is this an acorn? Is this other thing an acorn? 
  • Do you call it a crik or a creek?  
  • What is cedar fever?  When will I get it?
  • What's with the whitish-yellow granite?  Slabs of this locally harvested stone are EVERYWHERE.  Houses are built from it, and long rectangular hunks line freeways and parking lots all over the county.  Pieces of it are arranged artfully in front of city hall as makeshift benches that no one uses.
  • Conversely, the Capitol building is built seemingly exclusively of a decidedly pink granite, which I understand to be found in the hill country.  It's everywhere in there, dusty pinky gray.  The Capitol is an expert combination of gilded era polish and 19th century rusticity.  Inside, you will find quality oil paintings of every governor of Texas since the Confederacy.  I happily took a photo of poet/ladies man/Texan president Mirabeau Lamar, but Bush II was also there.
  • Where are all the references to native tribes?  Streets and areas here are named after the topological features, or early Texan politicans.  Cedar-this and lake-that, Lamar here and Houston there.  I have observed zero references to native culture.  There is a modicum of Spanish names, but nothing remotely proximal to the Mexican heritage or population.  Even crazily-racist Arizona has native names galore.  What the fuck, liberal Austin?
  • Why is everyone so nice to me?  Do they want money, or sex?  I don't understand.  
  • What will happen when even more people move here?  The city, small until approximately 8.5 years ago (based on a verbal Pew poll, just kidding, based on anecdotes) is bursting with obnoxious new people who drive the rent and traffic snarls up up up!  How dare they?!
I don't know if I'll stay here forever, probably not, but this is the only place I've ever been where I can eavesdrop on the conversations of construction workers and find they're talking about how to blanch kale, and where I can chat with a bus driver about the premier bat caverns of the world (hint: they're here!) and where the best Detroit pizza is (yes this is a thing), and where people on the street smile at me for no reason in a non-sexual way, and where twenty-somethings who elect to be homeless sit on Congress and bang on overturned buckets next to dogs lazily blinking in the sun.  Those guys aren't unusual in a city, but the ones who hang out around my office are clever even by my asshole standards, and when someone can call something to me in a street and I don't get offended and possibly even laugh openly, then magic has happened.  

The end.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Final Mitford

Debo Cavendish, nee Mitford, has died at 96 years old.  Sad.  I last mentioned her in this post.

You can't blame a 96 year old for up and dying, but it does make the world feel more colorless when the last vestiges of better generations (ok, granted, she probably was THE last vestige) fall off.  There's something a little fascinating knowing that one of those participants is still kicking around, someone for whom amazing stories are memories rather than myth.

She's not famous like her sisters were because she preferred to live a quiet, unostentatious life.  She liked country life, chicken-raising, children, and farming.  Nice work if you can get it, as the sisters Andrew said.

Those Mitford girls were the cutest, though.  I think Debo most resembled Decca.  Nancy looks like the milkman's child, a dark and angular girl in a crowd of soft and peachy blondes.

When she married her husband, Deborah became the Duchess of Devonshire, a title formerly held by the famous Georgiana Cavendish back in the 18th century.  More about her some other time.

The Duchess at home

Marrying the 11th Duke of Dev

Bye, Debo.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


I hate these people, and I feel justifiedish enough to be open about it it.

Of all the trifling, stupid ass things to be smug about - bicycling.  Not casual riders, but the intense hobbyists who buy the little 1920s swimsuits and thousand dollar bikes and race up Dreamy Draw like it's their fucking job.  Why I hate them: they are SO INCREDIBLY RUDE. ALL OF THEM.  They seem to feel entitled to the entire street.  Entitled in a resentful, angry way, as though cars are the enemy, as if you won't see them loading their bikes onto a Hummer H2 an hour from now.  I concede that they are pretty easy to kill/maim on their little bikes, which is why I do keep an eye out for them, but don't think I won't instantly lose my temper when some errant Lance decides to unnecessarily ride in the center of a neighborhood street, leaving no room for cars to pass.  When you do pass him, he is angry!  He wants you to drive 8 mph behind him, admiring his gristly, ropy body as he sways furiously on his dream machine.  Blow me, Lance.  Get a real hobby, you yuppie fool.  Try taking all of that time, money and anger and directing it into a more relevant occupation, LIKE BLOGGING.  Who could possibly derive such smug satisfaction from such a useless, pretentious engagement?  Riding your bike really hard over hills?  That's one for the history books.  Does the President know about you?

If my reaction seems strong, then I encourage you to live on a street favored by cyclists.  In 6 months, you would be sitting on your roof, trying to shoot tires out with a bb gun, I promise.

Oh, here's another thing - the ones whose little suits are covered in sponsor logos.  I KNOW YOU CAN BUY THEM THAT WAY, BLAINE.  No, I do not believe that Dyson has sponsored you for your weekly trek through the Squaw Peak Preserve.  Jesus Christ!  I can't deal with this.  Much of the point of this hobby is display.  Look at my bike!  Look at YOUR bike.  It is not as expensive as my bike!  Look at my calves!  Are they not hideous!  How do I even find pants to cover these things!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Written Language: It's over, find something else

Everyone is so tasteless and no one can write.

After months of composing all of our communications at work (as a favor: relevant), it has occurred to me that our director has no actual ability to see the difference between bad and good writing.  Not that I'm trying terribly hard or am turning out pieces that are spectacular, but they accomplish the purpose in an easy to read way that is appropriate for our audience.  Without explaining anything, partly because I'm lazy and partly because I don't want to be at all identifiable on the internet by people who know me in person except when I'm cursing and spitting on Facebook (and even then, I don't like it), I have to show all of my pieces to this facilitator we're paying before I put anything out.  This person is allegedly an expert in the field and, perhaps more importantly, is a personal friend of the boss.  Instead of making suggestions to me, she rewrites the copy and sends it back, but the rewrites seem to have been composed by a child, and they contain outrageous spelling errors as well as the most fragmented sentences I've ever seen.  Find the worst fragmented sentence in the world, and I will best it with the output of this titan of communications.  The errors are obviously not intentional, but this is no excuse because it means she didn't proof herself, because she apparently has no respect for the world or anything in it.  She just rewrote the copy like an asshole from her phone in bed or perhaps while drunk or on a rollercoaster and then sent it back.  And because she is apparently some kind of deity, like She-Ra, I get "the hand" when I complain, and the repeated answer that the facilitator knows best.  

Like these fucking spelling errors and half-sentences, which don't include any new or altered content and which disrupt any organic flow to the pieces, are all part of some master plan which is too complex for my puny mortal brain to understand, and that some day, in the future, we'll all look back and understand why it was necessary that we put out an annual report that contains the word "defiantively" instead of "definitively".  

This will not stand, of course.  Now I just show her the copy, she shows me her crayon drawings, and then I publish what I already had in the first place, and no one notices because they don't actually care.

Language obviously doesn't matter to many people anymore.  Half of my time on the internet is spent  making shitty remarks in the comments section on Gothamist about what duress the writers must have been under to have produced such tripe.  Not only that, but tripe that is hardly legible to the English-speaking audience.  Are these words?  Is this some kind language?  Did someone give you money to create this?  As Truman Capote said, "That's not writing. That's typing." (about Jack Kerouac. I agree. Sorry, latently literate 26 year olds.)

The problem with today's shitty writing is three-fold:

1. They're writing about something that is insultingly stupid and irrelevant to begin with. The intent is to create something where nothing exists.  This is possible if you are particularly witty or an expert comedian.  Unsurprisingly, people with these skills are not sitting around writing Buzzfeed articles.

2. Structurally weak pieces with poor word choices and awkward, stilted sentences.  There is generally no flow, and they often fail to make the intended points.  These pieces usually leave the reader with more questions than they had before they began.  The people who create these pieces are not writers, they are merely people who are trying to write, perhaps because their first career choice of being a music video producer didn't work out.

3. Basic grammatical errors, spelling errors, fucked up punctuation, weird capitalization.  The core elements of a sophisticated written language are missing.

Even blogs and publications that I like are turning out more and more items of dubious quality.  I don't want to be the uptight basketcase who's like, I ONLY READ LAPHAM'S QUARTERLY AND THE NEW YORKER BECAUSE I CAN'T EVEN, but I will be, eventually.  And it's not that I want everything to be written in the Queen's English, but there's a difference between an artful or playful flouting of "rules" and just plain boring, shitty, stupid fucking writing borne of ignorance and laziness.  I like to write in a conversational manner that echoes my speaking style because that's most amusing to me, but I think it's possible to write informally without creating something that would make Gore Vidal shoot himself in the face and then drown himself in a well.

At least SOMEONE cares:

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Interpersonal disputes with foreign language animals

I hate mockingbirds.  I never did before.  I guess their mocking was less noticeable to me in the past.  They used to build nests in our citrus trees, and I would drag a splintery wooden ladder just beneath them, and climb up to peer inside the nest.  Sometimes there were speckled eggs that looked like Easter candies, and sometimes there were a few bedraggled pinkish nubs with brown down and comically unhinged beaks.  I remember watching their tell-tale striped wings as they wheeled around our yard, hollering and screaming.

Mockingbirds used to torment my great-grandmother's cat, a marble-gray Persian named Sheena, who would be permitted on nice days to lay in the grass just outside the front door, and sunbathe.  It was only a matter of time, after a peaceful interlude of slow blinking in the sun and lazy tail waving, before the birds came.  They'd flit from branch to bush and circle in the air, hooting and jeering.  Eventually, the brave ones would dive bomb her, floating down with wings awkwardly splayed to seize a beak or clawful of the loose long hair, and then shoot away impossibly fast to stash it somewhere.  I couldn't believe the ego and audacity; Sheena was scary and everyone knew it.

I haven't thought about them much since, but they've been hell on wheels this summer.  One of them followed me for a long time after I passed under her tree, jeering and screaming and swooping as close to me as she dared, which was pretty close.  Now two more live at either end of my house, and all they do is charge around their respective trees, branch to branch, barking at nothing.  Their chirps are aggressive, loud and mechanical sounding, like something caught in a machine.  I don't know what they're angry about, no one ever goes outside now except for a few listless outdoor cats who lie like corpses on their sides underneath bushes, motionless except for wind ruffled fur and occasional tail flits.

The birds will bark for an hour after I've passed by, or after a cat has moved.  Their indignation is completely unreasonable.  So now I just yell at them like a common schizophrenic, shouting and gesturing at a tree. "Shut the fuck up! Right now!"  "No one cares about your nest!"  "Should I get the hose?"  They're very obnoxious.  Nothing like the distracted tittering of normal birds.  Normal birds aren't trying to talk to you.  They're just living their lives.

Mockingbirds have to talk shit, though.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

From the Personal Archive

Here's another one.  I found this in the pages of an old book at Qcumberz (seriously, that fucking name, I'm going to start calling it something else) a few years ago and was so amused by it, I kept it.

It's a packing list for a vacation, or camp or something.  The notepaper the list is written on is brittle and deeply yellowed at the edges where it peeked out of the pages of the book.  I instantly assumed it was at least 40 years old from the condition and the terminology used, but I could be wrong.  Things keep well when trapped in books.  It could be older, but I don't think it's newer.


church dress
shoes (shoe subcategory: 1. sandal  2. tennis  3. loafers  4. church  5. thongs)
everyday dresses
coat (1. raincoat  2. umbrella)
skirt and sweater
b. c. (!!)
bathing suit
pants (1. long wool  2. couch (illegible)  3. shorts)
shampoo (1. rinse)
lotion (1. suntan)
first aid kit
stationery (sp)
bubblegum - 100 pieces
shower cap
pizza mix
eye drops
fingernail polish (1. file)
knee socks

Obviously, items like stockings, girdles, skirt/sweater sets and everyday dresses indicate that this is pre-70s.

What cracks me up is the "b.c." which covers a line that had been erased in which it appears that she began to write "birth control," but then thought better of it.  This list could have fallen into the hands of a man, or a parent, or the Pope!

I assume this is a young person due to the need to put candy, sunflower seeds and gum on an important list of things to remember, as well as the awkward, flouncy cursive.  I also enjoy the order of the items, with curlers, the bible and makeup as the first things she thought of.

I wish I could remember what book I found this in.  Whatever it was, it was unremarkable, and I didn't buy it.  Yeah, I stole this letter too.

I have a rosy, incorrect view of girlhood in the 50s and 60s, mostly because I watched a lot of movies with heroines named Gidget or Tammy when I was a kid.  Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap was my fashion inspiration in ~1994.  Obviously, life as a female at this time was not quite as adorable as it looked in "Tammy and the Bachelor" (1957), but in my mind, when I'm not thinking clearly, it was.

For me, it felt kind of easy to relate to those times when I was 10, 11, 12 years old because we lived in a house built in the 50s and my bedroom was largely unchanged from the way it had looked then, with the same furniture that had been chosen for some other family's daughter 40 years before.  As I have mentioned, our house came with all of its original 50s & 60s furniture, mostly unused as it had been a summer home, and we moved in and left it pretty much as it had always been, down to the glass grapes on the coffee table.  This is weird, right?  I think it's weird.  My bedroom had a custom built blond wood vanity, dresser and desk built into the wall, with a little stool covered in pink velvet.  I used the 50s jewelry box to store my own stuff, and the old ceramic cocker spaniel coin bank that had been the other little girl's is in my bedroom right now.

So anyway, I imagine this list was written by some everyday Sandra Dee.  What would she think if she knew someone had her list, and that something of such bland utility then could seem so interesting now?


Thursday, July 17, 2014


I've collected a number of letters and bits of paper over the years that have held some historic significance to me.

This is from a series of pen pal letters written between two young girls in the late 60s, a Miss Delfina Sapien of Phoenix, AZ, and Miss Stella Hardacre of Lancashire, England.

The set of letters was donated to the Children's Museum, assumedly by Delfina's family, because the museum is housed in what used to be the Monroe School, a monolithic 1914 classical revival in downtown Phoenix.  Delfina would have been a student at Monroe.

To my knowledge, the pack of letters still sits unknown, un-transcribed and generally uncared for in a filing cabinet in the development office of the museum, which is not really a museum, but rather a giant Wonka factory of installations meant to encourage children to learn through play.  So far, the Children's Museum has failed to realize its duty as the steward of its building's history, but we don't get too snippy about it; 15ish years ago, a demo permit had been issued for the building when the Children's Museum chose it for its space, saving the perfectly sound yet uniquely unwieldy building from destruction.  The building has been largely renovated since, but there are still entire rooms left in disrepair, with rotten wood floors too scary to walk on and discarded furniture covered in a furry coverlet of decades of dust.  Neat!

When Delfina attended the school in the 1960s, it would have been old, outdated, and mostly attended by poor children from the neighborhood.  It was closed in 1972 due to low enrollment, as people filtered out of the downtown area and entire neighborhoods were razed for commercial buildings.  When it was built, the Monroe School was one of the most modern and progressive public schools in the country, filled with such cutting-edge technology as flushing toilets, early intercom systems, and a teacher's lounge, the latter two being unheard of at the time.

The letters are written on tissuey, pale blue air letter paper, pre-printed with ninepence postage featuring the profile of young Elizabeth II.  We only have Stella's letters, naturally, one of which I inadvertently stole.  I took it home to read it, and, woops, I still have it!

This one is postmarked 22 July 1967, in Burnley, Lancashire.  Delfina's address is listed as 114 S. 8th Street in downtown Phoenix. Her house would have been a little bungalow built between the teens and the 30s.  Not only is the house long gone, the street is too, having been swallowed by the widening of Jefferson St.  The house's foundation is probably now in the middle of Jefferson's westbound lanes, a stone's throw from Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe.

In the letter, Stella shares the details (all of the details) of a family trip to Spain, then refers disapprovingly to the arrest of Mick Jagger & Keef Richards on a drug bust earlier that year.

"Dear Delfina,

I am writing this letter the day after we arrived back in England.  We have had an unforgettable, wonderful holiday in Spain and come back with a sun tan.  Early Wednesday morning July 5th we got up, had our breakfast, and at 6-40 am we set off in our car for London.  It took us about 6 hours to get there and we waited for about 1 hour til our flight was due. We had our passports checked and then we got into a coach which took us out onto the airfield where our plane was waiting.  We were shown to our seats and after about 10 minutes, we took off.

It is lovely looking down from 17,000 feet onto the ground!  You can see all the fields and tiny dots of houses.  Soon we were over the English Channel and we passed many boats.  We crossed the coast of France and I noticed that this part of France was nearly all country, but my dad said that southern France nearly all was.  Then the captain came on the loudspeaker and he told us that we were climbing to 19,000 feet to fly over the Pyrenees.  I felt a bit air sick when we started to climb.  Soon we were above the clouds (you couldn't see the mountains, just clouds) and it looks like you are floating through a sea of cotton wool.

Then the stewardesses came round with snacks.  This was: ham sandwiches, piece of cake, cup of tea and an apple.  We landed at Barcelona airport where we went through the customs and then we got on a coach which was taking us to our hotel.  We went through Barcelona city.  I am glad I don't live there.  Just one road was 8 miles long.  There were 4 lanes of traffic on either side of the road and they were overtaking on the right, left and centre.  After about one hour we came to a small town and our coach went up a street and stopped outside a hotel called Mar Blau.  We realized it was ours and our luggage was carried in and we entered the lounge.  Unfortunately we found that no one could speak English in our hotel and we just had a representative man who spoke English coming over once a day to see everything was all right.

We went on two excursions: one to Montserrat, and one to a night club in a nearby town.  All the rest of the days we went on to the beach and sunbathed or did some shopping.  We did not like the food very much.  It was a bit sickly sometimes.  The meat was not good as well.  We are hoping to go to Spain again next year so we are all saving like mad.

I agree with you about the Rolling Stones.  It is awful.  I don't think they should let them go out on bail.
This is all for now.

Love, Stella

P.S., Did you get the postcard?  Also if the friend of yours is not going to write to Marlene, could you find someone else please?"

Stella - you can't please her!

Friday, July 4, 2014

It is very hard to feel patriotic about a country with so much potential, yet which has always been half spoiled by various unforgivable offenses, most of which have been unthinkable to our developed, western peers.  America seems to take so much longer than its sister countries to rise above its crimes against nature.  This is, of course, due to ignorance, arrogance, and religion: the trinity of American disgrace.

Not to get too heavy-handed - it is my favorite federal holiday, because it's the only time we, as a country, would ever engage in a wide discourse about stars of the Enlightenment period.

Even if you are suspicious and resentful of the current charade, there are writings from the Revolutionary period and after that can touch even the most offish of disaffected hearts.  Reading these documents is the only time I have felt legitimately, personally proud of the concept of America.  There have been other times, stories of bravery and humanity under duress by soldiers or nurses or civilians, positive Supreme Court rulings, certain elections, but these stories always seem to be marred with a rotten underside, an unexpected or hitherto unknown terrible repercussion, something.  Anyway.

The most important things you can read this summer:

The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine, 1791.  Before this, the concept of individual human and civil rights was almost completely undiscussed, unconsidered.  How terrifying and telling that we have been focused on this type of human cultivation for such a short time.

The Virginia Act of 1786 by Thomas Jefferson.  Introducing!  Freedom from religion.

George Washington's Farewell Address of 1796.  Sweet, articulate and inspiring.

Read while listening to this on repeat for max effect.

and this

Past 4th of July posts:

J.A. says N-O

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


My relatives are putting together a family reunion.  One of those giant outdoor picnics of heredity that I have only seen in comedies.  By popular request, it is being held at the old farmhouse where my grandmother was born, in Iowa. 

It's weird to me that over 50 people will be attending this and that many of them requested meeting at the house instead of the original proposal somewhere else in the Midwest.  Weird because that's my house.  It's mine, and I will always entertain illusions of living there someday.

Up until recently, the house was owned by my great-aunt, whose frostiness was tempered only by her antiquated sense of hospitality when we went to visit a decade ago.  She was nice because she had to be, but that didn't stop her from bitching about things her brothers in law had done to her 60 years ago.  After she married my great-uncle Chick, it was decided that she would move into his family home while he was overseas during WWII.  What I thought sounded like a charming prank still stuck in her craw: the night she was to arrive for the first time to her new home was a late one, and after long hours of driving, they pulled up in the middle of the night and trudged carefully up the dark stairs to their bedroom.  On the upper ledge of the door had been balanced an open box of shot pellets.  Instead of slipping into a quiet bedroom for some long-anticipated sleep, they got a cacophony of hundreds of little metal balls clacking onto the wood floors and bouncing down the stairs, accompanied by the belligerent male laughter of many new brothers-in-law.  One got the feeling she had hated them ever since.

When we chuckled at the story, my dad particularly as he remembered fondly his uncles, she shot us a poison-tipped glance.  "Well it was certainly not funny at the time."  I remember that she seemed to be bragging about being from Ohio, a place that she thought was considerably more refined than Iowa.  Being from Ohio, she said, it took some time to adjust to the country ways of Percival.  I recall marveling that someone would speak of being "from Ohio" with the level of righteous pretension usually reserved for New York natives.

She was kind of charming, though.  We were initially wary because my grandmother hated her, hated her fucking guts, because she had thrown out a bunch of family heirlooms when she and her husband took over the house in the 1960s.  Allegedly.  She never visited and we had never met her, only thought of her as an evil witch living in my grandma's house somewhere towards the middle of the country.  We only met her after my grandmother died.  She was cute and old, with a 1960s tv set and a wall-mounted kitchen phone as her only windows to the outside world.  And an old radio, of course.  She asked me if I wanted to see "the Monaghan family library," and opened a linen closet to reveal stacks and stacks of Louis L'Amour and Zane Grey paperbacks.  Lots of phrases began with "The Monaghans..." in which she would illustrate what they do and don't do.  The Monaghans love barbecue.  The Monaghans have lived in this town for 100 years.  The Monaghans were the first Catholics in Fremont County.  The Monaghans fly planes and write copy for Chevrolet!

The Monaghans also had a cross burned in the yard of that farmhouse by the Klan in the nineteen-teens,  because of the Catholic thing.  My grandmother's sister told us stories of going to class in the one-room school and being teased and pinched by all the little Protestant children, who called them "cat-lickers".

After the great aunt's death, I was terrified for the house's fate, but all is well in that it conveyed to her genial son, a lay historian and riverboat card dealer.  That means I still have a chance to someday acquire the house.  In fairness, they have been careful stewards of the building's integrity, and apart from various stumbles, they have preserved it admirably.  When they diverge, though, they really mean it.  There is an upstairs back bedroom that, when I saw it, had 4" rainbow shag carpeting.  I don't know if that's period correct.

In spite of the occasional dashes of gingerbread and scallops, it is a practical, sturdy example of rural Victorian architecture.   It's not as flouncy or dark as I like them, but it is charming in its farmy way.

I like the glossy, polished dark wood thing and hallways so dark you want to put your hand out.  The first thing I would do in this house is strip the paint on the walls and find the original wallpaper pattern.  SUCH EXCITE!  Then I would, of course, remove all carpet to reveal the original wood floors, but I might just leave that rainbow shag in the back bedroom, because fuck the police, right?

So from the second photo, it appears to me that the house was not white originally.  I seem to recall an ancient conversation with my grandmother in which she said it was a garish color to begin with, something that sounded ugly to me at the time.  Perhaps yellow?  We'd do some archaeological peeling on that as well, just to see.

Circa 1913.  Not much changed.  My great-grandma in the middle holding a baby.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

This just in: newsmedia totally sucks

Last week, I started watching the morning news while getting ready for work.  I never watch tv, but have done recently because I felt a sort of nostalgia for the unintelligible background electronic din it creates while one is doing something else.  I also feel uncomfortable sometimes, because I get my news primarily from the various hard left, feminist, gay, socialist, Jesus-hating blogs I read, which means that viral non-news always escapes my notice, and I'm constantly having to be apprised by my exasperated co-workers of whatever the hell they are talking about at lunch.

I don't know anything about the current pop culture.  I don't think I've willingly listened to any music made past 2003, I don't know anything about new movies or shows, I have no idea who most celebrities are or why they are famous.  It's like a blackout, I'm like that gay couple in Brooklyn who are living a completely pre-war lifestyle and don't allow anything manufactured after 1940 into their home.

So when I started watching the news, I observed a few things:

1. I can't overstate the term "non-news".  I can't believe that people accept this into their lives and don't get angry about the zillion media dollars spent and made in the effort of explaining to you that Demi Moore's kid went topless at Whole Foods to protest being banned on Instagram.  And that is one of the more interesting bits because I've forgotten all of the really awful ones.  Or what about the rich asshat in SF who is planting envelopes of cash around the city as a "philanthropic" effort when really he just enjoys seeing people crawl all over each other like insects trying to find negligible amounts of free money.  Why do we have to pursue super dry or super partisan shows to get info on the things that actually have the potential to affect our lives?  Like, I may be a crazy Rachel Maddow devotee, and it's partly because she's one of my liberal sistren, but it's MOSTLY because next to few others (Moyers, Olbermann), she 1. fact checks and 2. isn't afraid to aggressively editorialize.  #2 isn't exactly missing from networks like Fox, but the left is usually way too chickenshit to do the same.  NOT MY RAY THO

2. Everyone is so happy and excited about everything.  The hosts act like pageant queens, the music is all hyper blaring dance music, and there are colors and sounds and special effects whizzing by at all times.  The shows resemble something meant to appeal to dogs while they're home alone.

3. Hearing them talk about controversial, highly partisan political topics in objective ways is hilarious and disturbing.  That said, it seems like the mainstream media has officially accepted gays as a regular household occurrence rather than as novelty items.  Now the novelty items are trans people.  I felt a little surprised by that.

Overall, though, I can't even.  Normally when I'm getting ready for work, I listen to podcasts, or the sound of Christopher Hitchens destroying something.  I can't get enough of his smug velvet voice and his weary jokes, even when it means I have to listen to him support Bush II, blame 9/11 on the Clintons, and treat the Iraq war (in 2001) as a mere impending skirmish.  I guess when you love someone, you must take the bad with the good.  Right?  It's worth it when you hear him summarize the first 90,000 years of human life in 5 minutes and then unexpectedly recite 10 lines of Chaucer or something.  There is no comparison to this man.

Overall, the occasional bits of mainstream media that I take in remove all question re: why are Americans so desperately stupid and vapid.  It disappoints me in a time in which information is overwhelmingly available, that people simply switch on the tv and watch a show about former tv stars dancing.  If people took the time to cultivate specific interests, they would naturally be led away from the horde into something more localized, even if that is stupid too.  At least it's customized to you.  To be handed your tastes by sponsored media is very sad and unfortunate.

That said, television isn't all bad.  Two things that just killed me lately:

1. Cosmos.  Obviously!  With my two dads, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and the silent specter of Carl Sagan.  In the opening sequence, the letters "CS" appear before stretching into the word "Cosmos".  That almost made me want to cry a little, thinking about how hard it was for him to make the first Cosmos, and all of the anti-intellectual, anti-science shit that has gone on since then, and how amazing that it is back and so prominent, so much of the quality of which is thanks to Sagan's widow, Ann Druyan, who was such a major contributor to both the current and original series.

2. After the last episode of Cosmos, the Freedom From Religion Foundation aired a commercial ON the Fox network AT prime time ON a Sunday in which Ron Reagan, child of that Ronald and Nancy Reagan, unapologetically flips off mainstream religion and then does a wheelie chased by flames.  Basically.  Seeing that on tv felt kind of historic.