Beckett on language

“Since we cannot dismiss it all at once, at least we do not want to leave anything undone that can contribute to its disrepute. To drill one hole after another into it until that which lurks behind it, be it something or nothing, starts seeping through – I cannot imagine a higher goal for today’s writer.”

Letter to Axel Kaun, july 9, 1937

Up From Ugliness: NYT Jobs tribute

Like the glories of Art Deco and the allure of the “Mad Men” era, his products were a rebuke to the idea that the aesthetics of modern life needed to be utilitarian and blah. From the Apple store to “The Incredibles,” Jobs revived the romance of modernity — the assumption, shared by Victorian science-fiction writers and space-age dreamers alike, that the world of the future should be more glamorous than the present.



David Simon: “What I have found myself writing about is the end of empire: what happens when the affluent decide not to pay their share.”

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that David Simon has transformed the way many of us think about the interconnectedness of the social issues that plague our cities and communities in the C 21st. The Wire zoomed out, from the street corner to city hall, weaving an epic narrative on the political and economic pressures fracturing labor rights, hollowing-out education and crippling policing.

At the very least, he changed writing for television, and raised the bar for all comers.

So of course I was stupidly excited to hear that he’d be speaking at the BMW Guggenheim Lab on the LES. Simon took the mic and spoke honestly, angrily and informally, without notes, for two hours straight. I found myself agreeing with almost every point he raised. I stood on the edge of the crowd and took notes till my thumbs hurt.

Here’s all the quotes I managed to capture. They’re a bit random and disconnected, but you’ll get the general idea of the tone of his talk.

David Simon, NYC. August 31, 2011.

What I have found myself writing about is the end of empire: what happens when the affluent decide not to pay their share.

What we’re looking at now is the moral equivalent of a gated community…. I’ve got mine, so fuck him.

What we are looking at is the triumph of capital. I would date it to 1980: there has been a class war, and my class is winning.

Capitalism is the only way to build mass wealth: it is not a meaningful blueprint for a just society.

It’s a casino: if you mistake it for a mechanism that will build a just society, you do that at your peril. We’ve been doing that for 30 years.

The good news is that it’s going to get worse… It won’t be in NY, it’ll be in St Louis or another place like that… It’ll happen in places where the game is so rigged, where the crumbs that fall from the table are so small, that people will rise up.

The thing that made America great is organized labor… If you look at what labor gave us, it didn’t just give us a living wage. It created a consumer class, people who were willing to buy shit, that is the engine that drives the American economy.

If you come to NY you feel like the center of the universe, everything happens first here… It’s the triumph of NY that the rest of the world doesn’t matter that much. The problem is that whatever cancer the rest of the country is experiences, you don’t feel it here.

People are being thrown away, people that we dont need, people being trained for the corner. When you just don’t need 15-20% of your population anymore, economically, all you can do is make them chow for the system. It makes economic sense to make money off human misery.

Our prisons are publicly traded companies. How do you get 6 or 8% profits when you’re running prisons? You have to make it a growth industry: you have to send more people to jail.

We have more people in jail in America by sheer number and percentage than China, than any other state in the world…. Criminal justice is the largest growing lobbying group. The core chow is people trying to move to a better life, and low-level drug offenders.

Capital has not only achieved this for itself, it has also purchased the government that you might want to use to do something about it.

Two things: opt out for drug wars, acquit low level offenders.

Question time: usually 50% of questions about Omar

Question on the response to Obama’s healthcare plan: this is about the upper middle class, the middle class, and even the working class saying: if someone is below me, fuck em. What do you think the concept of group healthcare is? It’s socialistic. What they’re saying is I want socialism for me, for people who look like me, who work where I work. When people who are affluent do this, that’s a society in decline.

I’m not looking for moustache twirlers: I just think money routes itself. I think the collapse of high end media isn’t a conspiracy, I think that it’s just good luck for capital.

I took my buyout (from The Baltimore Sun) before the Internet, with 100 other reporters, when the Sun was making a 37% profit. This wasn’t a technological issue: only one thing makes society and people that stupid: money. They could make more money putting out a shittier product. All we have left is Barnum, putting our hand in the next guy’s pocket. If they can make money now, they don’t care if the industry survives the next three months.

I think things can change: I think the first good sign is the Times charging for content.

Question on whether is is better to make these points through art, than journalism: I get more attention: I get to do nice things like talk to you about cities tonight because I made a television show… I wouldn’t have been invited here if I was the police reporter for the Balitmore Sun.

It doesn’t work because it’s more expensive than journalism: it costs HBO $30 or 40 million to make a
season of the Wire or Treme… That’s too much money and it takes too long.

Question about filmmaking: I dont know anything about making a film. I have a general studies degree from the University of Maryland.

I can’t tell a story in a medium where you have to stop every 12 minutes to sell people shit. You need to keep eyeballs…. And you can’t tell a story that is dark, much less something that is tragic, because no one wants to watch that shit and then go out and buy iPads and Lincoln Continentals… Premium cable has taken that dynamic and shattered it…. Now that it’s about DVDs and on demand, the ratings mean even less. That economic model makes possible storytelling that is plausible.

I tend not to hire TV writers: I think it’s easier to bring journalists and novelists through the keyhole  into TV. If they make tv I don’t want them: I’m scared that it’ll end up too much like TV.

Next show: We can’t find anyone who is willing to do anything on organized labor. I’d love to do mini-series on key moments in organized labor, but no one is interested. It’s like talking about a museum piece for most people.

I see the American middle class as a person at a casino with the hand on a machine, not noticing everyone around them going bust. All they can see is the guy two rows over who is winning, and all the bells and whistles are going off… There is the secret notion among all these people who are getting creamed that one day I might be the guy on the machine that wins. It’s that level of perfect greed that our political demagoguery takes advantage of to get people to vote against their own interests.

What people forget when they bitch about welfare is that 99% of that money goes straight back into the economy. When rich people make money is goes into the bank.

Jeff Jarvis: A Hippocratic oath for the internet

I write from the city where Gutenberg’s erstwhile partner and funder, Johann Fust, was nearly arrested because he came here to sell printed Bibles. The booksellers in Paris called the policy on him, declaring there was no way he could have so many Bibles except from the work of black magic. Well, today, the internet is still black magic. We don’t know what it is yet. To define it, restrict it, regulate it, limit it before we even know what it is, there is danger there.

Yes, President Sarkozy, you can do harm.

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Peggy Orenstein: Cinderella Ate My Daughter

It was confusing: images of girls’ successes abounded — they were flooding the playing field, excelling in school, outnumbering boys in college. At the same time, the push to make their appearance the epicenter of their identities did not seem to have abated one whit. If anything, it had intensified, extending younger (and, as the unnaturally smooth brows of midlife women attest, stretching far later). I had read stacks of books devoted to girls’ adolescence, but where was I to turn to understand the new culture of little girls, from toddler to “tween,” to help decipher the potential impact — if any — of the images and ideas they were absorbing about who they should be, what they should buy, what made them girls? Did playing Cinderella shield them from early sexualization or prime them for it? Was walking around town dressed as Jasmine harmless fun, or did it instill an unhealthy fixation on appearance? Was there a direct line from Prince Charming to Twilight‘s Edward Cullen to distorted expectations of intimate relationships?

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Wallace Shawn: Why I Call Myself a Socialist: Is the World Really a Stage?

We are not what we seem. We are more than what we seem. The actor knows that. And because the actor knows that hidden inside himself there’s a wizard and a king, he also knows that when he’s playing himself in his daily life, he’s playing a part, he’s performing, just as he’s performing when he plays a part on stage. He knows that when he’s on stage performing, he’s in a sense deceiving his friends in the audience less than he does in daily life, not more, because on stage he’s disclosing the parts of himself that in daily life he struggles to hide. He knows, in fact, that the role of himself is actually a rather small part, and that when he plays that part he must make an enormous effort to conceal the whole universe of possibilities that exists inside him.

- from Guernica

Self-made, footloose plutocrats in The Atlantic: The Rise of the New Global Elite

It is perhaps telling that Blankfein is the son of a Brooklyn postal worker and that Hayward—despite his U.S. caricature as an upper-class English twit—got his start at BP as a rig geologist in the North Sea. They are both, in other words, working-class boys made good. And while you might imagine that such backgrounds would make plutocrats especially sympathetic to those who are struggling, the opposite is often true. For the super-elite, a sense of meritocratic achievement can inspire high self-regard, and that self-regard—especially when compounded by their isolation among like-minded peers—can lead to obliviousness and indifference to the suffering of others.

- from The Atlantic

Peter Hartcher: Give us $52m, and we will decide who runs the country

The miners saved $4.6 billion for an outlay of just $22 million, a return on investment of 20,800 per cent. This makes political activism one of the few activities in Australia more profitable than mining.

- from SMH

Alex Wodak: Agony over ecstasy is helping no one

If Chesher had been caught with an ecstasy tablet in Lisbon rather than Sydney, this would have been treated as a private health matter. He would still be employed and paying taxes. His family would have been spared considerable pain. Taxpayers would not have had their funds squandered.

- from SMH

Elizabeth Farrelly on Gehry’s ego-tecture in Sydney

Critiquing a building involves measuring it against three sets of criteria. First, does it fulfil its own intentions? Second, are these intentions valid? Third, does it synthesise these with the demands of structure, economy, use and context to form a single, coherent creation? Does it do the magic? This is resolution

Great buildings – like Palladio's Villa Rotonda or Mies's Berlin Gallery – tune inside and out in total harmony. Gehry's ''termite's nest'' (Greer's tag) does anything but.

If movement is his thing, he could at least move us forward to greener cultural pasture, rather than pretend Sydney needs more faux-habitable sculpture. It's not a choice between the dull box and the exuberant PR-driven sculpture. There is a third option: architecture. We deserve it.

- from SMH

Nicolas Lampert: The Problem With Taking "Art in the Streets" Into the Museum

I would be shocked if “Art in the Streets” reaches beyond anything but a gala celebration of the genre. An ominous sign is the name of the show itself, which ideally should have been titled “Street Art in the Museum.” That name alone might have suggested a more critical exhibition, one that would take a careful look at street art and its history and ask the tough questions. For starters, what happens when a subculture gets too cozy with the brokers of mass cultural and economic power, be it street artists showing in major museums or designing products for corporations? What happens when a genre becomes represented by two polar extremes — celebrated art-world stars and taggers who are viewed as criminals and vandals?

- from artinfo

David Mitchell: Gap-year travel won’t broaden the mind – it just turns the young into fantasists

For Britain, this could be the one good outcome from the whole tuition fees betrayal. For one generation at least, our student population won’t be contaminated by a vociferous minority who think they’ve seen the world and have the beaded bracelets and ethnic ponchos to prove it. And they haven’t seen the world – they’ve seen Peru. The world’s not like Peru – not the bit that Britons tend to inhabit when they graduate. It’s more like Reading.

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Let’s Bury the Not-a-Word Myth

Often, people just don’t trust their own (or other people’s) ability to use affixes, even though it’s the nature of prefixes, suffixes, and infixes to be versatile. In fact, affixes are so versatile that I can use one of each type in the word “pre-Mayan-freakin’-pocalypse,” which I just made up to describe 2011. As far as I know, “pre-Mayan-freakin’-pocalypse” has never been used before, but guess what? It’s a word. In fact, words like that are a huge part of why I enjoy writing and thinking about language. Without such Lego-like word-making power, we would be stuck talking about blizzards and snowstorms and never hear about a snowpocalypse, snowmageddon, or—more recently—snownado. Affixes are useful tools for making real words—even if they’re not in a dictionary or smiled upon by the chain-rattling ghosts of our sixth grade English teachers.

Fear has a lot to do with this topic, I reckon. Besides ghosts and English teachers, most of us fear chaos. That fear drives us to comforting ideas like, “There are real words and fake words, and all the real words are in ‘the dictionary.’” But the world is a helter-skelter place, especially in the lexicon. Dictionaries can never keep up with our ever-changing world of words, so we have to trust ourselves. We should listen to McKean, former editor of the New Oxford American Dictionary, who memorably wrote: “Being in the dictionary is not a badge of honor. People aren’t limited to words I’ve managed to capture and pin down. A dog doesn’t have to be registered with the American Kennel Association to be a dog. It still fetches your slippers; it just isn’t pedigreed.”

- from Let’s Bury the Not-a-Word Myth in GOOD

Santiago tops NYT’s "places to go in 2011" list

- from NY Times

Brilliant essay by Bernard Keane: The internet v the world part 2: why interconnectedness threatens the powerful

But interconnectedness also inherently political. The Reformation churches worked this out, learning a lesson the Catholic hierarchy had worked out long beforehand. People have to be locked within institutional structures where their interaction can be controlled, or they might get ideas of their own. The Reformation was, in part, perhaps the first great example of the impact of interconnectedness, which is why I’m talking about it in the middle of an essay on the internet. Reformed churches initially championed literacy and the vernacular, emphasising the empowerment of congregations to read and discuss the Bible in their own language. But eventually they learnt that if congregations took to interpreting the Bible and discussing their faith among themselves, unmediated by any institutional presence, the whole hierarchy of established churches would come under threat as people turned away from the allegedly beneficent representatives of established churches. No priests, therefore no bishops. And, as James I famously remarked, no bishop, no king.

But the internet offers interconnectedness of a far greater order of magnitude than elite institutions have ever before confronted. Only a government, like China’s, that is willing to throw vast resources at regulating its population’s internet usage can hope to partly prevent the impacts of interconnectedness. Or governments may succeed, temporarily, in individual cases. Napster is now the answer to a ‘90s trivia question. But all its destruction really managed was to demonstrate that decentralised file-sharing was the future for illegal music downloading. Julian Assange may be gaoled and Wikileaks destroyed, but the leaking and distribution of sensitive documents is unlikely to end.

- from Crikey

Jack Marx on immigration policy

The issue of immigration routinely becomes perverted by fanciers of political statistics – whether Australia is taking its “share” of asylum seekers, or at what point Australia’s population becomes “unsustainable”. The heart of the matter has nothing to do with these things. It’s a moral question about whether we have the right to declare a piece of earth our own to the exclusion of all humanity but those we deem “appropriate”. Anyone with a brain capable of a fleeting moment’s existential thought knows that we cannot possibly have that right. Whittled down to the bone, it’s a question of how many – and how much – Australians can’t tolerate wogs. The answer is evidently not a pretty one.

- from Jack Marx’s excellent blog.

Has Assange Turned Me Into An Anarchist?

We usually accept this just as we accept partisan gridlock and corporate lobbying: This is the way the system works. We take it for granted that very little can be done about it. Right up to the moment, that is, when someone plants himself, like the Tianamen Square tank man, squarely before the government juggernaut, and refuses to step aside. Then we’re treated to an amazing spectacle: This is what it looks like when power squirms.

- from a story by Oliver Broudy in MOTHER JONES.

Bob Ellis: The free market that never was

This is not free market capitalism. It was never free market capitalism, the sort of free market capitalism that punished failure and rewarded success; but it was what masqueraded under that name. It was, in Gore Vidal’s fine phrase, ‘Socialism for the deserving rich and free enterprise for the undeserving poor’. It was a restoration of the idea of Empire, and coolies, and black slaves, and cheap goods manufactured overseas that make some white rich men, and some young Wall Street coke-sniffers, very rich indeed. And it’s failed, as the British Empire failed, because of wage-slaves not wanting to pay that much to their masters in return for their enslavement. Of course it failed. It’s what empires always do.

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