Wednesday
Dec022015

Thinking about Obama in Newtown

One of the most powerful paragraphs in anything he's ever said? Twenty first names of little children.

The context, according to the transcript from December 16, 2012:

"Let the little children come to me," Jesus said, "and do not hinder them -- for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven."

Charlotte. Daniel. Olivia. Josephine. Ana. Dylan. Madeleine. Catherine. Chase. Jesse. James. Grace. Emilie. Jack. Noah. Caroline. Jessica. Benjamin. Avielle. Allison.

God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on, and make our country worthy of their memory.

Read it. Better yet: Watch it. This part starts around 16:20.

Tuesday
Dec012015

This month's Findings

Three things I underlined in the latest edition of one of my favorite regular features in magazines:

1. American drivers at crosswalks are less likely to yield for black pedestrians.

2. Mystical experiences are not ineffable.

3. The tweets of the rich express more anger and fear than the tweets of the poor, which express more disgust, sadness, and surprise; joy does not vary.

Monday
Nov302015

Bernie Sanders on Washington

In the new Rolling Stone:

The truth is, Washington is a very strange world. Before this campaign, I would always go home to Vermont on weekends. That's where we did town meetings, that's where I was with my family. And I would find when I would come back to Washington, I would suddenly feel myself a little bit depressed. It was the transition of coming from Vermont back to D.C.

There is a style here, a way of life here in D.C., which is significantly phony. In that everybody is nice to each other — "Oh, my good and honorable friend" — and then they're spending $18 million to try to destroy who you are. That's the nature of it. And you've got staffers who butter up their bosses and everything else. There is a very high level of phonyism and careerism. And you go back to Vermont — and I see it in Iowa and you see it all over the country — where people are people. That's all. And when you go home, you settle into a way of life where people are people.

Sunday
Nov222015

Artful Journalism

Some of what I underlined in Walt Harrington's new book:

1. ... most of us struggle through life seeking small redemptions, which is what many of my profiles are about: people struggling fitfully to be better people, struggling in their own ways to find mastery over their lives, to feel they are in control in the face of the conflicting demands and expectations of parents, family, and society. ... Always, I begin my research looking for continuities or rifts in each subject's life that might help clarify how he or she came to be the person he or she is.

2. In the introduction to her book Character, a collection of profiles about the presidential primary candidates of 1988, journalist Gail Sheehy wrote that she always tries to compare her subject's "personal myth" with her own reportorial assessment.

3. ... full-blown profiles need to be written differently from slice-of-life profiles. But as a ageneral rule, it seems best to create a narrative that moves through time from when the subject isn't revealed to the reader — and sometimes not even to himself — to a time when the subject is revealed.

4. The journalism of ordinary life is a way to repair the torn social fabric that hard-edged journalism has undeniably helped to shred.

5. It's the kiss of death for anyone aspiring to do intimate journalism to think of what he or she does as lighteners, brighteners or human interest stories.

6. Remember to collect, in the moviemaker's parlance, not only long shots but tight shots. My father was an amateur painter, and he used to tell me that there were two ways to paint a picture — one was to stand back and squint your eyes and see shapes and colors emerge in a beautiful blur, and the other was to get down on your knees and examine the flower, petal by petal. It's important to think of the details you're gathering in that way ...

7. You have to gather the material that you will need to make an anecdote a scene.

8. Think of your stories as pieces meant to be read out loud.

9. We have this idea in straight journalism that stories are supposed to tell themselves through the way we lay out the facts. We pretend this because it fits our mythology of objective newspaper journalism. Yet stories don't tell themselves. Mike Sager wasn't writing Greg Smith's story. He was writing Mike Sager's version of Greg Smith's story. Get used to it.

10. If a story isn't animated by an idea, it will fall flat.

11. Growing up is a pretty important part of doing grown-up work.

Sunday
Nov082015

Maraniss on Obama

From his biography from 2012:

When examining a subject's ancestry and early life it is important to draw a distinction between revelation and responsibility. No one wants to be judged or held responsible as an adult for how they behaved in their youth, or for how their relatives behaved. That should be neither the function nor the intention of a biographer. But there is an important difference between laying blame and searching for clues to a life, and many important clues come in the early years. The point in any case is to explore that  territory in search of understanding, not retroactive condemnation. It seems obvious, but it demands explanation in the modern American political culture, where facts are so easily twisted for politcal purposes and where strange armies of ideological pseudo-historians — predominantly, these days, on the irrational flank of the political right — roam the biographical fields in search of stray ammunition.

Sunday
Sep132015

John Cassidy in the New Yorker

Being more realistic about the role that college degrees play would help families and politicians make better choices. It could also help us appreciate the actual merits of a traditional broad-based education, often called a liberal-arts education, rather than trying to reduce everything to an economic cost-benefit analysis. “To be clear, the idea is not that there will be a big financial payoff to a liberal arts degree,” Cappelli writes. “It is that there is no guarantee of a payoff from very practical, work-based degrees either, yet that is all those degrees promise. For liberal arts, the claim is different and seems more accurate, that it will enrich your life and provide lessons that extend beyond any individual job. There are centuries of experience providing support for that notion.” Click.

Sunday
Aug232015

Think THIS will work on my wife?

"The books are there not just because I esteem them and need to look things up, but also because they represent an external hard drive for my mind. That is, running my eye down the rows will refresh my memory, reframe my thoughts, alert me to counterexamples and lacunae in my lines of argument." Click.

Sunday
Aug162015

How would David Simon fix the system?

"The government would finance elections. Nobody could give any fucking money to any candidate, ever." Click.