- Silent Missouri State protesters told to “go back to Ferguson.”
- Sullivan: Did a Times columnist actually “throw a hissy fit” about Francis’s reforms and suggest that there should be a schism in the Church?
- What happens when straight white boys text.
- Everybody needs to calm down about Ebola yesterday.
- In 1923, Virginia Woolf was asked by her two nephews to contribute to a family newspaper they were putting together; she went all in.
- The Israel-U.S. alliance isn’t quite irreversibly damaged yet, but it’s getting there.
- The dismal science and zombies: Economics and the dead.
- Who’s fighting ISIS on the ground while the West bombs from the air? Iran and Syria.
- Psst: Wanna buy an attorney general?
- Print and read: A shattered community regroups at the Ferguson Burger Bar & More.
Bong Joon-ho is a South Korean director who isn’t a household name in the States but by all rights should be. In his newest film, Snowpiercer, he imagines a quasi-steampunk post-apocalyptic thriller that’s also a handy little morality tale about class inequality.
Snowpiercer is available now on DVD and Blu-ray. My review is at PopMatters:
The physics of Snowpiercer’s futuristic plot are as stripped-down as the backstory is convoluted. Every human being left alive is on board one train snaking across the frozen wasteland. First class is up front, replete with late Roman Empire consumption and a mindset best described as rave-club Borgia. Everybody else is crammed cheek-to-jowl in the filthy back of the train. Those in back want to get up front. All that stands between them are many locked doors, squads of malevolent guards, years of social conditioning, and Tilda Swinton acting like a toothy Margaret Thatcher after one too many gin and tonics…
You can see the trailer here:
The Deepwater Horizon oil-rig explosion was just about the worst environmental catastrophe the country has ever seen. Margaret Brown’s new documentary explores how it happened and what has been done (or more properly, not been done) to ensure it never happens again.
The Great Invisible is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:
The hot lowlands sprawling around where the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico seem both disaster-prone and fated to be ignored when it comes time for clean-up. When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010, 11 workers were killed and millions of gallons of oil dumped into the gulf. It was the biggest oil spill in American history. That was horrific enough. But then came the investigations, the lawyers, and the intransigent power of a massive industry apparently powerful enough to devastate an entire coastal economy and yet still convince people that punishing it would only hurt themselves…
You can see the trailer here:
Now that the dream of the Amtrak writers’ residency is over and done with, it’s time for the rest of us to get back to the business at hand: crafting words and pages from nowhere out of nothing. Place matters; thusly the desire for inspiring places to put fingers to keyboards.
But there’s always that unfortunate reminder that, dream though we may of the perfect place and time to do one’s writing (cabin, nice view of the lake, maybe a dog who only wants to be walked at convenient 3- to 4-hour intervals), at some point one does have to get past inspiration and put one’s tender nose on that unforgiving grindstone.
Per Doreen Carvajal, who wrote about using the TGV train ride south from Paris as a way to unblock a long-dormant book proposal:
I settled into a cushioned seat by the window, thinking of my own family’s love affair with trains and the basic writing lesson they knew better than me. There is no better way to craft a book than to toil like a railroad worker, every day, all day.
- A common case of St. Louis Inferiority Complex as seen through a Wilco rarities box set.
- Cool chart time: The states where new restrictions make it hardest to exercise one’s democratic right to vote (good luck, Alabamians!).
- From living in a Rwandan garbage dump, to getting straight-A’s, to a scholarship at Harvard.
- The endangered raw-milk vending machines of Europe.
- Rwandan students in New Jersey have to stay home because people don’t understand geography.
- One-hour delivery for anything; the dot-bomb lesson of Kozmo.com.
- Here’s what’ll happen (or, really, what won’t happen) once the Republicans take the Senate.
- Ratings creep and how nasty PG-13 movies are allowed to be.
- Print and read: The Hot Zone author Richard Preston on genomics research and the war on Ebola.
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: