Errata from today

Great few days of random stuff on the internet. A gourmet sampling for you:

Great Salon piece by Mary Elizabeth Williams on the new Star Wars film showing an aged Carrie Fisher as an aged Princess Leia, and how much of a departure that is for Hollywood.

The most breathtaking moment in the new trailer for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” trailer doesn’t involve explosions or lightsabers or ominous references to the Dark Side. It’s an eyeblink-long shot of Princess Leia herself, Carrie Fisher, in the embrace of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. It’s a moment of a weary-looking woman with graying hair and lines on her face. Holy science fiction, Hollywood — somewhere, in a galaxy far, far away, a grown woman has been given permission to look like a grown woman. I want to go to that planet!

Lots more quotable passages in that piece, but go read it yourself.

That porn playing over the PA systems in Target? Was a result of both a technological and personnel weakness where pranksters called stores and requested a specific extension that gave them complete control over the PA remotely.

Insecure wifi-enabled tea kettles allow researchers to crack the password of the networks they’re connected to.

A hummus joint in Israel is offering a 50% discount to tables with Arabs and Jews sitting together.

Incredible TEDtalk by Martin Pistorius on his experience with locked-in syndrome. His early experiences are as close to hell as I can imagine. Tremendous respect for the person he is.

And via Jamie Ford’s facebook, “Ursula K. Le Guin’s reaction, when asked to blurb a short story collection with no female authors.”


I am the problem

Saturday night I figured out the problem: me.

It came up in a conversation with my good friend Jennifer Austin, a font of knowledge and my go-to on all things Hollywood and Broadway. I consider myself a progressive guy and in that context consistently bemoan the lack of diversity in content creation. Not just writers but actors and even characters. I find myself significantly worried about the people underrepresented in primary content roles. The conversation centered around Jennifer Lawrence seeking equal pay to her co-stars, something I absolutely support. I wondered if a ground-level consumer could affect that landscape, or if it was a top-down issue to be worked out between actors, writers, agents, lawyers and more. But the answer is clear: consumers matter because consumption matters.

Which means the problem is me.

The content I choose to consume is overwhelmingly by and about white men. While I try to choose stuff that reinforces a progressive narrative, I’m still unwittingly subverting that narrative in the real world by refusing to engage with media in a targeted way. I choose media that speaks to me and my experience – and don’t often consciously seek out work by women, or people of color. I don’t shun it. But reviewing the movies and shows I’ve watched lately, and especially the books I’ve read, a change is needed. Because if I want to support diversity in content creation vocally, I have to walk that walk as well. I have to move outside my bubble and seek content far outside my typical scope.

A principle reinforced this morning by another conversation with another good friend, Ola Jacunski (one of the many reasons I’m so thankful for my friends is their willingness to tolerate my questions, ponderings and philosophical fumbling toward making myself a bit of a better person). Ola’s an even more voracious reader than I and she’s made a point this year to look for books by these same underrepresented groups. We spoke about how that’s going, and it spurred me to look at my own “To Read” list – which is more or less curated via my Amazon wish list for now. And the truth spoken by that wish list was bleak: out of over a hundred books waiting to be read, less than ten percent were written by anything other than a white male.

I’m an ecclectic reader – mostly but not exclusively nonfiction, and everything from hard physics to business and economics to philosophy and technology. And it struck me as I scrolled through the list that it’s not as easy as just buying books from different authors. While there are many non white-male authors covering the stuff I read about, I realized I need to change the content I look for. I have to change what I read about.

I can’t call myself a progressive and just read books about white men, whether they’re by underrepresented authors or not. I need to cast my subject net much wider, create a much more inclusive criteria. If I want to support a more diverse creatorship I need to explore a more diverse world. This truth underscores the narrow nature of my life experience and there’s a primal lizard-brain part of me that wants to react defensively to that. But I recognize that kind of reaction (thanks largely to meditation), I acknowledge it and I let it go.

The white male narrative is also popular, I’d guess, because it’s the only one that many white male consumers can imagine themselves in. But it’s time to grow up and realize that as invested as I get in stories, they don’t all have to revolve around me (or a proxy-me) anymore. And maybe if I engage with a more diverse world my own world will be so much more rich for the experience.

In weighing my content preferences against my desire for progress, the latter needs to win. So I need to change. I am the problem but the solution does not revolve around me. I need to start focusing on movies and television shows written by women or people of color, with a diverse set of actors and characters and narratives. I’ll use my consumer dollars as well as whatever voice I have to emphasize to Hollywood, to publishing houses, to new media outlets like Netflix Originals: diversity matters to me at every level. AS DOES EQUALITY OF PAY. And not only will I pay for content in line with these principles, I’ll damn well withhold my money from outfits that don’t serve them.

I hope you’ll join me.

Thoughts on the First Democratic Debate

Watched most of the first Democratic primary debate last night in spite of planning not to. I did miss an opening statement or two as I turned it on just in time to see Bernie’s. Sanders came out damn strong and I was glad to see it – and I should note before going much further that I’m incredibly partisan for Bernie Sanders and that will no doubt inform my comments in a particular way.

I found Sanders to be the only candidate on stage who expressed passion for anything other than his own record. Clinton continuously reinforced the idea that she had been chosen for this or that role and the things she accomplished in them. O’Malley painted an incredibly whitewashed, inaccurate view of his time in Baltimore. Chafee emphasized his lack of scandals.

Wait – I missed one. Jim Webb expressed passion about something other than his record as he talked about killing a man. Right.

Right now the pundits are saying that Hillary Clinton won last night. I am flummoxed. Clinton hit mostly right notes but in a disconnected, dispassionate way. She seemed for all the world like a technically proficient pianist playing a master work note for note and yet without any understanding of the work or its accompanying emotion. Her debate answers consisted of a paint-by-numbers exercise that included none of the artist’s zeal. The performance underscored for me the idea that Clinton believes she should have the nomination in hand by virtue of her presence. Her answers on Snowden (lock him up) and capitalism (hey, we can make it good! and small banks are worse than big banks) struck sour notes with me. Her revisionist portrayal of Russian cooperation with Medvedev as president entirely pretended as if Putin didn’t exist or have any power at the time and ignored multiple atrocities Russia committed during that period.

One of the most interesting questions of the night also constituted Clinton’s biggest failure to me. “Which enemy are you most proud of?” elicited a list from her, ticking off boxes one after the other, well-rehearsed: “Well, in addition to the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies…the Iranians…. probably the Republicans.” Clinton’s answer is incredibly problematic on a few levels: first of all, there are a hell of a lot of perfectly nice Iranians (nearly eighty million) that she’s lumping in together, rather than specifying the Iranian regime. That’s not the message to be sent – especially to a population with a median age of less than thirty years old that knows, as Tariq Ali once said, only the reign of the ayatollahs. The second problem with Clinton’s answer is that it betrays a worldview of enmity and aggression (largely consistent with her portrayal across news articles as well as several books I’ve read) that doesn’t seem to be serving us well in leadership positions. I don’t want a Commander-In-Chief that approaches most situations in a way eerily similar to George W. Bush’s “you’re either with us or you’re against us” crap.

I found Sanders’ answers to be consistent with views he’s held for a long time and consistent with mine as well. His answer to the enemy question: Wall Street and Big Pharma, two topics close to my heart. His answer on the biggest national security threat had me cheering: climate change. Sanders unflinchingly, unhesitatingly called for the end to bulk communications collection by the NSA. His exchange with Clinton over capitalism highlighted some of the major differences between them: Clinton’s established record of working with and getting money from Wall Street, and Bernie’s absolutely passionate defense of democratic socialism. Again, Clinton came off technical while Sanders reminded me of a career civics teacher passionately trying to get students to buy-in, learn and involve themselves in the process.

I wish Sanders had taken a stronger line on Snowden rather than agreeing with the “he broke the law” silliness and mumbling about the effect mitigating his crime a little. Snowden deserves to come home without charges.

Last night felt like O’Malley lobbied hard for a VP spot he’ll never get and doesn’t deserve. He answered several questions by talking about how good he had been for Baltimore, something I’ve seen challenged in every camp possible so far. O’Malley couldn’t even bring himself to refer to a homicide as such, instead explicitly referring to “Freddie Gray’s tragic death” in just those words. His anti-NRA stance felt underwhelming, perhaps in the midst of the credibility hit he took in my head over Gray and Baltimore.

Chafee felt like a non-entity, another smiling face behind a podium without a hell of a lot of substance or passion.

And then there was Jim. Jim Webb’s performance I can only interpret in perhaps the context that the burger I ate a few hours prior maybe had moldy cheese with psychoactive properties and caused me to hallucinate each time he appeared. Jim Webb is the kind of guy Hunter Thompson was built for: an old ghost trying to gather enough substance to be a Jungian archetype while half his mind is still back in a war decades past. At various points I found Webb repeating the sad, false Republican trope about gun control advocates all having bodyguards; advocating immediate military force against China; and complaining multiple times, bitterly, about not being in the spotlight. He struck me as the kind of guy I’d never want to sit next to at a bar, never want to have a beer with, and never want in my party. Indeed, as David Corn pointed out, I identified most of Webb’s stances with Rand Paul.

And of course there was Webb’s answer to the “which enemy are you proudest of” question: an enemy soldier from his old war that lobbed a grenade at him. Webb implied that the man’s death followed. We’ve got a “presidential candidate” in a Democratic primary debate bragging over killing a man in Asia mere minutes after advocating war with China. Whatever kind of debate prep Jim Webb engaged in should’ve involved psychotherapy.

As is clear from my comments above, I think Sanders won. Clinton had a strong technical showing that never the less reinforced why I don’t believe she’s a preferable or viable candidate. O’Malley made things up, Chafee stood there, Webb should’ve been in the other debate instead.

Feel free to share your thoughts below.