Blog

The wide, wide world of sports

Three items:

1. The winner of this year’s Indy 500 is named Will Power. That’s pretty much a mic drop right there. But I guess you could also throw in a line about what if his middle name was To. Maybe it’s best just to linger on his actual name, now that I think of it.

2. Under the current administration, everything feels like a metaphor for the administration. Or, if not a metaphor, then everything somehow has a certain . . . resonance. If I’m reading about the nature of autocracy under Nicholas II (administrative chaos, chronic infighting and backstabbing, everyone trying to anticipate the whims of the Tsar), I’m thinking, “Hmm–this sounds so . . . familiar.” Or if (here comes the sports reference) I’m listening to an ESPN podcast about the founder of Bikram yoga, Bikram Choudhury–a self-mythologizing charlatan who created a cult of personality, abused his power in dozens of ways, and reveled in Vegas-style displays of wealth–it feels rather pointed. Oh, and it just so happens that Bikram is prone to rambling, hours-long monologues about his genius, his fame, his enemies, whatever–in other words, he’s a guy whose character, whose humanity, whose feeling for the lives of others has been burned away, leaving only the white flame of pure ego. So, you know: make of that what you will!

3. Another example of item 2: the Stanley Cup–the championship series of the country’s whitest sport–will be played between teams from D.C. and Vegas. Which is perfect, since we’re living in a moment when D.C. has become Vegas. See how this works?

A name for the nameless feeling

I was listening to an interview with a guy called James Williams on a podcast called Talking Politics. Williams writes about technology and culture, and he coined a term for a feeling I’ve felt for the longest time but haven’t found a name for: the feeling of being constantly more stupid than the technology you depend on.

He calls it “the treadmill of incompetence.” You buy a piece of technology, and before you’ve learned how to operate it, before you understand exactly what it’s capable of doing, it gets updated; so you buy the update, and now you’re two steps behind; and then it’s updated again, or perhaps there’s an entirely new device that obviates the need for the device you’ve been updating, so you buy the new device, and you don’t totally understand how to operate it, and then an update is released, and there you are on the treadmill again.

Your technology affirms your incompetence, again and again, day after day. Williams has worked in tech, and he says that tech engineers aren’t malicious people–and yet they’re working in an industry that is in some perverse way engaged in a project of mass bewilderment. Which is different than a project of mass wonder.

Where you’ll find me

I’m reading a biography of Coleridge, not because I love Coleridge’s poetry (it feels antiquated to me–because, you know, it is!–but I think I mean it feels antique) but because the biographer is Richard Holmes, the most marvelous companion you could want if you were wanting to conduct a psycho-socio-literary autopsy of a writer.

Anyway. The point is that Coleridge once frequented a tavern called The Salutation & Cat. The Salutation & Cat! I would like to live at a tavern called The Salutation & Cat. (And indeed it takes lodgers.) I’m reading a book filled with striking insights about everything I care about, but what I will most remember from this experience, I’m sure, is that there was once a tavern called The Salutation & Cat.

A word in Spanish

I was walking J. to school this morning, the sun was warm in our jackets, and he was talking about words he’d been learning in Spanish class, the words for the seasons, and he was saying that words in Spanish are either male or female, el or la, fall and winter and summer are el, but spring–“spring is the only girl.”

Top 10 Things To Know about Me!

An assignment completed by my eight-year-old son:

10. My favorite books are field guides.
9. I love CUPCAKES.
8. I celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah, but I’m an atheist.
7. I want to learn how to code.
6. I aim for the stars.
5. I like making stuff up.
4. My favorite time is bedtime.
3. I LIKE SYNTHESIZERS.
2. I got poor grades in school.*
1. I grew hair that covers my eyes.

* I asked him about this. His grades are fine. He said: “This is sort of looking back on myself. That’s what Albert Einstein said about his grades.”

The Last Bad News Bears Strike Back

No one has asked for my opinion of the new Star Wars movie. I am delighted to respond to this non-call. Here is a short list of observations:

> This movie, like so many movies, is actually The Bad News Bears. A ragtag band of misfits overcomes huge odds and shows us something about courage.

> Mark Hamill can’t act. Adam Driver can. That’s a good torch to have passed.

> There’s no plot, is there? It’s just: We’re doomed; only this one crazy plan can save us; we did it; we’re doomed; only this one crazy plan can save us; etc.

> The franchise seems unable (or unwilling) to stop itself from repeating its own gestures. There’s always a wacky bar/casino scene; there’s always a pasty British commander standing on the deck of the Death Star (or whatever) and saying, “Soon they will be finished”; the one last Rebel fighter always has one last chance to drop one last bomb into the one slot/tunnel/cannon that will blow everything apart. There’s always a brash flyboy, a cynical quasi-outlaw, an irrepressible robot, and so on.

> The dialogue is 80s-era CBS-sitcom bad. Fine actors (plus you, Mark Hamill!) are made to say things that only a young Scott Baio and the children under his loving watch would say. In a film that is eager to be relevant (the casting is a model–almost too perfect a model–of diversity), the “wit” of the script (including a number of visual gags) feels conspicuously stale.

> One of the franchise’s telling weaknesses has always been the names it gives to its characters. Leia Organa, Kylo Ren, Maz Kanata–these are not serious names. These are names that were rejected during a brainstorming session to name a new model of Toyota. If you can’t name your characters, you don’t really have characters.

This is not a movie you should love. And yet we want to love it.

The truth is that no film in the franchise has recaptured the sense of awe that so many people felt when they saw the first Star Wars. And so when we say we’re in love with The Last Jedi, what we’re really saying is that we’re in love with the memory of having once loved a movie so much.

The collected wit and wisdom of my children

My 12-year-old daughter, W., was preparing to brush her teeth and reflecting on how she’s changed over the past year. She said, “I’m about 10% more mature and 20% more gay.”

The other day, W. was telling my mother the story of the Torah portion she’s studying for her bat mitzvah. When she finished, my mom asked, “So–what’s the moral of the story?” And my 8-year-old son, J., said: “Don’t insult a Jew or you’ll fall off your donkey.” Which is funny even if you don’t know the original story (which I don’t).

W. was feeling sad because J. had received a great deal of praise for swimming underwater for the first time, while W.’s achievements in the pool, including swimming a slightly longer distance than usual, had been overlooked. As W. and I sat on her bed and talked through her feelings, J. would drift in and out, waiting for the conversation to end so he and W. could start playing together. Eventually he passed through the room and said, in a mock-formal tone, “I myself often feel that I am too spoiled.”

And then later, as he was getting ready for bed, J. said to me: “The attention I get is both a blessing and a curse.”

What I saw

An entry in my son’s April journal, a regular writing exercise in his second grade classroom:

What I saw was not normal. It had a cat’s head and a wolf’s snout. It had monkey fur too. But whatever I saw I want it.

Generation  Branding & Communication for Nonprofits