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One thing I haven't settled in my mind is to what extent my commercial tastes are a function of my privacy and personality. Since those tastes are constantly changing, I don't have a clear sense that they are worth very much. Favorite movies, books, songs, television shows, paintings, etc. all seem so fluid; I'm not sure I'd want to buy anything sold on the basis of what I liked several years ago. Facebook is an incredibly useful way for me to share photographs and keep in touch with people I know I wouldn't really keep up with otherwise. I know greater minds that my own have debated how "real" I am on Facebook, but that also seems more of a meta question than a practical one. Do I like living on the grid? Will this post be archived somewhere forever? Good post, here, Marcus.
Toggle Commented Jul 3, 2012 on What Facebook Can and Cannot Do at Marcus' World
There might be a genre distinction to make here, too. If Daisy's piece was intended as journalism, then the obligation to fact and truth is equal, in my mind. If it was intended as creative nonfiction, then there is certainly a precedent for privileging truth over fact. This American Life fudges the genre distinction pretty often, which is why I think it is in trouble now. For example, as a monologist, I would think Daisy has some flexibility in how he approaches his material, in order to craft a literary work. But if TAL picked it up as reportage, and represented it as such, then it seems wrong to me that Daisy takes the fall. He is, in the end, only an artist. If they wanted reporting on the situation, then they should have hired a journalist, bound by pretty straightforward journalistic ethics, to report on it (much more expensive to do so, I imagine).
Toggle Commented Mar 24, 2012 on Mike Daisey, Apple, and Truth at Marcus' World
Great closing King, Jr. quote, Marcus. I saw "Milk" in the Castro on Thanksgiving morning, and walked out absolutely shell-shocked, sad, and strangely heartened. I haven't felt so exhausted by a movie, and so hopeful about what a movie could mean to a country, as I did by Milk, in quite a while. Excellent, from start to finish. Thanks for "spreading the word."
Toggle Commented Dec 2, 2008 on At the Movies: "Milk" at Marcus' World
Isn't there a kind of existential/theological split on the difference between these two phraes? I like "it is what it is" because it doesn't require causation: things happen, not things happen because of X or Y or Z (so therefore I need to accept them). The serenity prayers asks God to grant you the calmness to passively accept something that cannot be changed. The presence of God, and the asking her for serenity, implies an order to things and why they happen, and a lack of understanding on the part of the witness/requester of serenity. "It is what it is" for me, also often means, "hey this is the best we can do," sort of as a reply to "how the heck did we end up here/with this?!" I friggin' hate the serenity prayer, because I feel like it is used by organized religion to encourage people to passively accept a lot of bad things in their lives: abusive spouses, totalitarian governments, pedophiliac priests, head lice, etc. That said, "it is what it is" is kind of a hipster cop-out these days. Sadly, I say it more often than I wish I did. To agree with Happy Chandler: "it is what it is" :)
Toggle Commented Aug 8, 2008 on "It is What It Is"-itis at Marcus' World
I enjoyed reading this, Marcus. You have a keen eye, and it's cool to see what you pick up on. Living in Indy the last year, I sometimes think that patriotism is just too private, subtle and diverse a belief system for anyone to express collectively and publicly. I do tend to believe much of the hype about the United States; it certainly thrives on providing opportunities (if not always much access), in a way that many countries do not. But I don't like wearing a flag anything because I'm always wary that someone will interpret my patriotism as their own. Maybe that says something about my own lack of faith in my fellow citizens, or my elitism--that their patriotism would somehow be different from my own. Fortunately, I'm moving to San Francisco soon, where my patriotism will probably be more garden variety than I want to admit. For that (among many other reasons) I will miss living in the Midwest! :)
Toggle Commented Jul 9, 2008 on Greetings from New York City at Marcus' World
Just read through you and Lacy's exchanges on your respective blogs, and it actually looks like you really resolved things well. Different points of view, but hey, we're all sensitive about our writing, and how it is received, I guess. Thank god I'VE never gone off the handle writing on anyone's blog :)
Marcus, you are many objectionable things, but a sexist is definitely not one of them :) The phrase man-crush (or my favorite, bro-mance) is such a gender-driven phrase that it's funny to see its author so sensitive to gender distinctions. Why does either need a gender distinguisher, except to say that there is something decidedly (and again, strangely) nonsexual in one specific type of same-gender relationship? The whole thing smacks of headache-inducing political correctness--had you used better words, apparently, the idea would have stood fine? Either way, the much more important thing: congratulations on getting your review published!
Marcus, You write excellent blog, but this entry in particular stood out for me. You chronicle some nice, powerful moments from your youth, with a good humorous touch, and the entrance of Helen onto the scene feels like you found a good spiritual mentor when you needed it most :) Thanks for writing this, John
Toggle Commented May 10, 2008 on My Bubbly Atheist at Marcus' World
Some good analysis here, Marcus. Thanks for devoting attention to this important issue.
I agree, generally, with what you say, Marcus. I don't at all mean to dismiss this opportunity to raise awareness of a morally-offensive situation, but I do wonder where we draw the line. Is only the host country worthy of scrutiny? Should we invite any athlete to use the global soapbox of the Olympics to invite scrutiny of other global human rights issues? Darfur feels weirdly "safe" because the perpetrators are a non-global-elite "other." I would kind of like to see a Chinese athlete win an event, then make some sort of powerful visual protest of human rights atrocities tacitly condoned by G8 countries in Iraq, Palestine, Bangladesh, Russia, etc., but I feel like "the West" would quickly dismiss such a protest as in poor taste and/or violation of Olympic protocol. I guess I just hope that any critical dialog happening at the Olympics can truly be an open discussion between all participants, in the apolitical and ecumenical (probably using that world wrong) spirit of the Olympic games.
Toggle Commented Apr 2, 2008 on Darfur and the Olympics at Marcus' World
A young, inexperienced politician with at best urban and a little statewide experience, and a taste of national legislative experience, insisting he can assume the mantle of the Presidency? Sounds like Lincoln. Theodore Roosevelt. Harry Truman. To name three of the Presidents who consistently make the shortlist of Great American Presidents. Some Presidents who proved themselves in the "big league" and went on to be mediocre or terrible Presidents: Hoover, Taft, Nixon, Johnson, Harding, Pierce. Clinton? I admire Obama as a candidate--admire him as I have connected to no other President or Presidential candidate in my lifetime--because I believe that, as President, he will empower a coalition of young Americans to pursue a broad agenda of social change and policy innovation. For Hilary, such idealism is "a fairy tale," and for the Republicans it's anathema to their style of governing. Policy-wise, Obama is as thoughtful and nuanced on the debate platform as any of his rivals. Look to his team of advisors, and how could he not be? But Obama also possesses the "vision thing" and rhetoric required of a President to inspire Americans to accomplish great things. They are not a predictor of a great Presidency, but are certainly its prerequisite. I want to work for the man, and I love America whenever I think of him representing it.
Toggle Commented Feb 8, 2008 on A Political Dynasty at Risk at Marcus' World
Need and want are, by definition, very different concepts. Need implies necessity. I need clean air, water, food, shelter, sunlight, fellowship, etc. Want implies desire. With a nod to Marcus's blog readers, I'll not catalogue my personal desires :) Suffice it to say, a flat-screen plasma television falls well outside the realm of personal need. Personal savings are important because they give us a hedge against future uncertainty. When I am unable to work and need to buy food, or need an operation, or if a family member is in a similar situation, I will need to draw upon my savings to (hopefully) pay for these things. Blowing personal savings on the whims of want is a bad idea, unless you just have so much money that you can afford both everything you want and everything you need. Personal savings historically have given the U.S. economy a hedge against runs on currency, or liquidity crises, like the one we are having now. In the short run the Fed can borrow money and lower interest rates to its heart's delight, but it will need to cover those debts with foreign investment, whose trickle-down effect is at best murky. Sadly, we must borrow from those who want to lend us money. To conflate need and want may be a nifty trick for corporations (and their marketers) to attract consumer dollars, but hardly reflects the reality of consumers living within that economic system. Put another way: take away all the marketing strategies, and consumers will still put roofs and windows on their houses. But take away the consumer dollars, and the marketers will need to find another line of work.
I may be co-opting a part of Marcus's "impervious" argument that he does not intend to make, but given our national savings rate, one might also argue that consumers in a market economy are incapable of distinguishing want from need, indeed have no agency to do so, as marketing is so insidious and deft at conflating the two. I'm not sure that we need any "thing" that we cannot create ourselves, but I am sure that we want them.
I agree with all of your analysis here. I would also add that I feel strongly that Bill Clinton's behavior is not Presidential. I am a pretty big fan of Bill Clinton's Presidency, but I feel that he is bound by the office to keep above the fray during election cycles (at least in public). You have to go back to Hoover's offhand comments about the private lives of Eleanor and FDR to find such blatant pandering and uncivil behavior from a former President during an election cycle.
Toggle Commented Jan 29, 2008 on A Political Dynasty at Risk at Marcus' World
Marcus, Congrats on the publication--Rain Taxi is a great journal! John
Toggle Commented Jan 29, 2008 on First Book Review in Rain Taxi at Marcus' World
Hi Marcus, I wonder if another way to look at this situation is to say that we need to reform the economic system that puts us at such a polar extreme from the manual laborers of the world. I do think that shareholder activism and public relations pressure has, for example, forced industry leaders like Starbuck's (especially) and Costco (somewhat) to revise some of their business practices. Has there been a wholesale change in global economics? No, but it's a start. In the meantime, I think it's fine to refuse gifts of chocolates (for example) from friends, with a polite explanation. If you suspect/feel moral outrage at how chocolate is made, surely that takes precedent over decorum? And, won't your strong opinion spark some curiosity in them to better understand the global system of chocolate production? The flip side of your information dillema is that you can find organizations that do conduct business without slave labor. For chocolate, coffee, tea, fruit, rice, spices, etc., here's a good start: http://transfairusa.org/content/certification/licensees2.php I think you're right to say that it's tricky to live and spend ethically in our consumer culture. But, if that's really a priority, I don't think it's impossible. It reminds me of two quotes I like, both from Gandhi: "Be the change you want to see in the world." "Hate the sin. Love the sinner."
This is a song I always associate with Marcus Banks, and only Marcus Banks. Do you remember talking about this song, and how funny you thought it was at the end, when the lyrics slightly change, and he sings, "I never knew you liked making love at midnight!"? Interesting factoid: Rupert Holmes is a Tony-award winning playwright, poet, and author of the novel, Where The Truth Lies.
Marcus, Is there a way to add to the sum total of human understanding other than through the creation of works of art? I feel that most understanding comes with the distillation of works of art. It's why "poetic" is used so frequently and incorrectly in popular culture. For example, the BBC's (then NYTimes') suggestion that Obama is poetry while Clinton is prose. It's as though any attempt, in any field, to do something new is understood automatically to be a creative act. Something new is added. Benchmarks of the new are, in my opinion, what comprise the majority of art collections. We collect those cultural and historical moments when something new was initiated, and we preserve that moment and concretize our understanding of it by displaying them in public. "Beauty" seems, to me, to be the single quality in what endures, and the representation of one sterling example of that beauty is what we display. Art allows us moments of communion. We can come together and find common purpose in those moments of unity. Across culture, ethnicity, politics, etc. Even the supreme and terrible beauty of nature, when it destroys something or some peoples, in a huge and spectacular and inexplicable manner, stuns us and brings us together. Obama's rhetoric is beautiful, but of the museum. He reminds us of FDR, JFK, MLK, and those moments of communion when we can together for great and terrible occassions. I want to believe in Obama, I think I do, but as Turd Blossom himself said so eloquently yesterday, Obama cannot yet close the deal. Or, maybe art is empire. Maybe the new art is the power to repeat and manipulate images to jam-pack meaning beyond the ways that words can. Once a work of art starts to lose its power, it becomes representational and something we can all come together safely to admire. That reminds me of an article about Michael Jordan's 1999 comeback, from Harper's, which basically made the point that Americans can only love their sports heroes once they've seen them in decline, and thus seen them as human and mortal, just like us. We topple them, then venerate them for what they were. And we appreciate the reassurance of what we thought we previously understood: politicians are in the end just politicians, water lillies water lillies, shooting guards men.
Toggle Commented Jan 10, 2008 on Sentence of the Day at Marcus' World
Hi Marcus, I think Kristol is a fine hire for the Times. It adds a prominent establishment conservative voice to the Op-Ed page that has been absent since William Safire devoted himself exclusively to language. Kristol had an interesting and prescient take on the 2004 Presidential election, when he said, on CNN, that political climates move in cycles and everyone gets a turn. I do think it's reasonable to say that, as a macro-level concern, newspapers in general should start moving past the idea that there is a strict political line running left to right, and every citizen occupies one fixed point on that line. The hiring of Kristol is problematic to the extent that it reinforces this perspective on American politics. Hopefully, larger forces reshaping party politics in America will continue to move toward unity rather than division, but that's probably wishful thinking. The NYTimes should return to viewing itself, rightly, as the paper of national record, rather than some Fox-News-prescribed tool of the left that needs to pay lip service to the right by hiring the Bill Kristols of the world. In the meantime, I look forward to reading what the guy has to say. He's certainly earned a column at whichever newspaper would have him.
I don't think Gore seems well-balanced these days, quite the opposite--he's the same raving lunatic who lashes out at the president with wild claims about immoral and poorly-planned action in Iraq, losing sight of the larger hunt for Osama bin Laden, unfair tax cuts and short-sighted economic policy, lack of oversight, and kooky notions about humans impacting the environment! What a whack-job! How out of touch with the mainstream! I'd hate to see a candidate like that throw his hat in the ring. Don't we know that Gore 2000, with his exasperated sighs (why would Bush duck obvious questions?) and awkward "lock box" metaphors (why would we need the money?) just doesn't have what it takes to appeal to the everyman? Much better for the Democrats to choose electability among nominees who already don't differ in their centrist approaches to major policy issues, and keep these lightweights off on the sidelines where they belong during an election year.
Toggle Commented Oct 24, 2007 on Draft Gore at Marcus' World
Thank you, Marcus, for this wonderful tribute to Katie. I linked to it on my blog. Best, John
I agree with Jane--way to go Marcus!
Marcus, This is a fascinating post and issue. I keep trying to post some questions, and then realize that I don't know enough about the topic to say anything helpful. So instead, I'll say, "Good luck!"
I think it's reasonable to appreciate Falwell's impact on a portion of Americans, while remaining confused and disturbed regarding the content of his message, and its appeal. Falwell was a true American archetype, the second, third, fourth coming of Charles Coughlin, and his message of righteous inclusion appealed to Americans of all varieties of Christianity. Great. On the other hand, the content of that message was underlined by an "us and them" mentality; as he succeeded, the "them" because more and more ridiculous and simplistic. It is hard to maintain that you are a persecuted minority when that minority swings elections and greatly influences the larger national political coalition. His enemies became cartoonishly larger than life, as did he. I grew up in a middle-class Kansas Catholic church. People there were as compassionate, intolerant, gracious, ignorant, zealous, humane, and as two-faced as people anywhere I've lived. Participate in the public forum, and you deserve the scrutiny that that participation brings. Politicians are generally hucksters, no matter who their base, and Falwell was no exception.
Marcus, I cringe (cringe, I say!) at your saying that "we all know plagiarism is wrong." Joking aside, I do challenge the notion that plagiarism is some easily-defined, monolithic concept that invites moral absolutes. For every Wikiplagiarized essay I read from my high school students, there are ten famous poems that generously borrow content, and sometimes direct lines, from source material without citation. It used to be (back in the good old days, when I walked ten miles uphill one way to school) that writers could trust readers to see the reference, or even better, to admire it, or even even better, to take pleasure at being hoodwinked at the theft. Of course, it wasn't ownership that the writer was after, but here homage, there laziness, and over there, just a good line to close out a poem, essay, story, or plotline. NPR did a story on this a few months back, highlighting Edgar Allen Poe's generous plagiarizing in critical essays, pounding them out as fast as he could to be new TB medicine for his wife. There were no copyright laws, and it was sort of accepted in the closed-off "gentleman's" world of academia that people borrowed from each other and older source material. The most conservative writing ideology, new critical formalism, into which I was indoctrinated at a very vulnerable age (Go Cats!), holds that "new" writing is the perpetuating of a canon of literature, to which the lucky few contribute, building on the past to ensure its evolution. One could argue that in a world of hyper-personal free verse, in which self-expression is the only precondition for "art," we sorely miss the brick-by-brick approach of previous generations. Consider that the far left of the spectrum is the absurdist/surrealist approach, in which writing can express NO meaning, given the limitations of the page, and plagiarism becomes downright quaint! Or, to borrow from my absurdist/surrealist colleagues: blue pinochle orangutan 714113986 is the heart. All writers repeat themselves ad naseum--they find a couple of points to make and keep making them, over and over, until readers stop reading them. For essay, why not repeat your point in every venue that will give you a platform to advance your ideas? Why re-word, if your previous rendering did the job before? Is language functional, to get the point across, or must we always make it new and fresh, even as the function repeats? Make the categories broad enough, and we all self-plagiarize. Most writing is an attempt to understand the self, the world of the self, and to find communion with other selfs who see some truth in the writing. I wonder if, in our effort to protect writers in the marketplace, we don't give the market its own space to self-correct, that our rush to copyright doesn't go hand-in-hand with the decline in reading. In an open society, if we actually read all that our colleagues, friends, blogsters, et al, were writing, wouldn't we be less shocked to go back and see so much repeated by so many, including ourselves?
Toggle Commented May 3, 2007 on Self-Plagiarism at Marcus' World