Like most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.” Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment. But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached … I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.
—Bertrand Russell, “In Defense of Idleness,” Harper’s Magazine (October 1932)
Most people who read as children have fond memories of the bookmobile. One had normally thoroughly ransacked the age-appropriate shelves at the local public library and the thin offerings in the school itself. So having an RV pull up with an appropriately stern librarian with some new offerings (or at least the old offerings newly presented) was manna from heaven.
In Portland, Oregon, a phenomenal little nonprofit group is taking that idea in an entirely different direction. Street Books is a small band of dedicated booklovers who spend a few hours each week bicycling books around to the city’s homeless population. From the Times writeup:
The Street Books project is nothing if not messy. The librarians — the three salaried employees, including Ms. Moulton, are paid $60 a week for a three-hour shift — fill their carts based on their tastes and their patrons’ tastes.
Diana Rempe, 48, a community psychologist who recently completed her Ph.D. and pedals the bike one afternoon a week, stops at a day-labor assembly site on the city’s east side, where many Mexican and Latin American men gather, waiting to be hired. So she loads up on books in Spanish. (Her proudest book coup, she said, was getting a hard-to-find book on chess moves in Spanish for two Cuban players.)
In Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Michael Keaton plays a onetime action-hero star whose grip on reality becomes a touch, well, fragile after his career falls on hard times and he tries mounting a Broadway play with a hot-shot theater actor (Edward Norton) to prove his relevance.
Birdman opens this week in limited, stoke-the-Oscars release; it’ll go wider around the country later in the fall. My review is at PopMatters:
Part backstage melodrama and part screed in the name of art, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is nearly as frazzled as its protagonist, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton). Back in the pre-Marvel movie era of the ‘90s, Riggan was the winged superhero Birdman. He made three movies that grossed billions and then chucked it all away. And, like many other actors blessed with the role of a lifetime, he is both embarrassed by his legacy and eager to regain its mantle of fame….
You can see the trailer here:
- And now the protests come even to Plaza Frontenac.
- Pushing black voters to go Republican in St. Louis.
- If the CDC’s budget hadn’t been cut in half since 2006, we might have an Ebola vaccine by now.
- Signs of real-world openness, and reactionary backlash, at the Vatican synod.
- The gentrification of the humble dosa and inconvenience as a indulgence of the rich.
- It’s not good enough to just jog anymore, the truly fit must now train as if for the apocalypse.
- The abandoned mall in Kurdistan where Iraqi Christian refugees hope to wait out ISIS: “There are only 200,000 of us, Europe could take us.”
- Print and read: The most devastating thing Europeans introduced to the Western Hemisphere was the pig, and other surprises about pre-Columbian America.
The oil boom in the Bakken shale of North Dakota has had a broader effect than just the local economy. Because of the Wild West boomtown pressures, rents have skyrocketed in the small prairie towns nearest the fields, leading to homelessness among the many workers flooding here from around the country. A fascinating new documentary about one town describes the struggles between a Lutheran minister who opens his church to those jobhunters without a place to sleep, and a town and congregation who are nervous about the new arrivals.
The Overnighters is now playing in limited release and should likely be broadcast on public television next year. My review is at Film Journal International:
The prospect of plentiful jobs paying $100,000 has brought a Wild West mentality to this spare and abstemious high-plains town, with all the economic pressures and outer-world decadence that entails. Rents have tripled and quadrupled, forcing out longtime residents and leaving the new jobseekers nowhere to stay. Concordia, the local Lutheran church, has become something of a temporary shelter for some of those migrants. They bed down on the pews, on the floor, in their cars in the parking lot. This strikes some of the parishioners as excessive. Some say they feel uncomfortable or unsafe in their own church. Referring most likely to the uptick in crime that the oil rush of new money brings, one refers to the men as outsiders “who rape and pillage and burn.” Their tenor varies from quiet to loud, but overall the response is: Stay away….
You can see the trailer here:
In The Judge—aka the movie that most people will assume was based on a John Grisham novel but wasn’t—Robert Downey Jr. plays one of those smart-ass big-city lawyers who has to finally use his sleazy skills for good when he is forced to defend his father (Robert Duvall) on a murder charge.
The Judge is playing now in wide release. My review is at PopMatters:
The Judge offers little that feels like an original movie. It has actors and dialogue, conflict and locations, but it’s so vaguely familiar at every turn that watching it is like trying to decipher a blurred Xerox copy…
You can see the trailer here:
- Ferguson racial tension stubborn and deeply rooted.
- The disunited state of Missour-ah.
- As of this week, for the first time most Americans live in a state with marriage equality.
- Mission creep, again; also, Syria could be to Barry as Vietnam was to LBJ.
- Back in 1976, Henry Kissinger seriously considered bombing Cuba.
- How the U.S. government negotiates for your release if you are kidnapped by terrorists.
- Hmmm, maybe we shouldn’t have given away billions.
- No more smokes on base.
- Matching cardigans and other awkward bookseller moments.
- It’s about time: Archie meets Predator.
- Yes, there will be a Minecraft movie.
- Print and read: Louisiana loses a football fields’ worth of land to the Gulf every day; guesses as to who is responsible/won’t pay to stop it?