Two Limericks About the Cash Value of Blogging

Frankly CuriousI was thinking of writing limericks for all my family rather than presents that I’m definitely not giving out because I have no money. By the way: see that Amazon banner there at the top of the screen? If you are going to buy junk (or great works of literature, music, and cinema) from Amazon, use that link or any other on the site to buy it and 4% that would normally just go to Amazon goes to us. In case there is any doubt: it doesn’t change your cost at all! Now, if you would rather do this for some other (less) worthy cause, I understand. But if you just go to Amazon directly, stop! At least make Amazon pay for all the advertising it is getting by going through a worthy cause or the most worthy cause.

I am very pleased with how Frankly Curious has grown over time. It is an amazing process starting a blog from nothing. If you work it long enough, people do start to notice. I think there must be a limit. But we have not apparently reached it. Every week we seem to get more traffic. And more people link to us. And most of all, the quality of the writing improves. These are all things that make me very happy.

But financial gain is not one of the benefits of running a blog. Don’t get me wrong: I never thought that blogging would be profitable. I thought it would be an adjunct to my other work. The problem is that blogging takes on a life of its own. I need to branch out, and I am trying. It requires setting aside time for other projects and I am working on a book about mysticism and paradox and community. We’ll see if anyone is interested in reading that! But a blog itself offers damn little it terms of paying the bills. So I wrote a couple of limericks to sum up the situation. The first one is the better one. The second is kind of a parody of the most famous limerick of all time.

There once was a writer named Rogg
Who founded a popular blog
With all of his cash
He threw a big bash
Consisting of just one hot dog.

This second one has a naughty word in it. But as it is used, it would still be allowed in a PG-13 film. And I’ve put in asterisks, although I don’t really know what the point is. It still means the same thing!

A blogger there was from Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket
When it was all gone
His laptop was pawned
To blogging he said, “Oh just f**k it!”

So in case I wasn’t clear enough: If you are going to buy junk (or great works of literature, music, and cinema) from Amazon, buy it through Frankly Curious. Or at least someone like The Majority Report or The Young Turks. But you know who is most worthy. I mean, Sam Seder has those Bob’s Burgers residuals coming in!

Pernicious Colorblind Myth

Quin HillyerJonathan Chait wrote an interesting article this morning, Obama Calls Racism “Deeply Rooted.” He’s Right. Mostly, it is about our subconscious racist attitudes that we aren’t in control of. I’m extremely aware of these in myself, and I find it very troubling to have to fight gut reactions. And that is to say nothing of the things that I’m not even aware of. Chait made the point that it is hard to deal with our cultural racism when so many of us refuse to even admit it.

He quoted Quin Hillyer of National Review, who said, “We’re not oblivious to racism; we just want to transcend it by leaving it out of discussions where it doesn’t belong.” That’s just code for, “We want to pretend it doesn’t exist so we don’t have to do anything about it.” In my experience, people who make these kinds of arguments are the worst kind of racists: the ones who think that as long as they don’t use the n-word, they aren’t racists. (Interestingly, fifty years ago, their argument would have been that they aren’t racists because they don’t support lynching — it’s progress at a glacial rate.) To give you an idea of Hillyer’s seriousness, he complained about Obama telling Black Entertainment Television (BET) that racism is “deeply rooted” in America. Chait noted that his claim about where racism should and shouldn’t be discussed don’t mean much, “Apparently the places it doesn’t belong include an interview about race with BET — which is to say, it doesn’t belong anywhere because Hillyer and many of his allies believe it does not exist.”

Joe ScarboroughBut I have to disagree with Chait on one point. I’m just not sure that things are better for African Americans now. They are certainly different, but that is hardly the same thing. I was looking at some statistics about lynching in America. From 1882 to 1968, 3,446 black people were lynched in the United States. That’s roughly 40 per year. Lynching wasn’t so much about killing any particular person. It was part of a campaign of terrorism against the African American community. The message was clear: get out of line and we will murder you.

The police now kill a whole lot of people in the African American community. I can’t say if it is more. Police at every level and in every region have gone out of their way to avoid researchers to put together a complete picture of the problem. But let’s just look at one city: Oakland. During the five years from 2004 to 2008, the police shot 37 African Americans — only 40% had guns on them. So that’s 22 unarmed. And one-third were fatal shootings. So that’s seven fatalities — over one per year. That’s in quite a small city.

What’s more, this terror campaign works really well in that it often kills totally at random as in cases like Oscar Grant and Akai Gurley. This obliterates the “Twice as Good” concept that Ta-Nehisi Coates has discussed. This is the idea that if only the African American community (or any other oppressed group) would act twice as good as the powerful majority, they will eventually be accepted. This is certainly what people like Quin Hillyer believe. And it just isn’t true.

So have we really made progress? It used to be vigilante groups who killed African Americans to keep them in line. Now it has been institutionalized and police offers are held accountable. And by “accountable” I mean that in a theoretical sense. Of the 22 unarmed men who police shot in Oakland, not one was ever charged with a crime. For the bigots, this is perfect. In the past they couldn’t claim official exoneration. Today, as we’ve seen with people like Joe Scarborough in the Michael Brown killing, they do just that. The kangaroo grand jury decided not to indict, so that means Michael Brown was a thug who should have gone to the electric chair and Darren Wilson was a hero.

If this is a colorblind society, let me see all the colors. And let Joe Scarborough and Quin Hillyer say what they really mean, “We hate those n*****s who stand up for themselves!”

Representations of the Intellectual

Edward SaidLet me put this in personal terms: as an intellectual I present my concerns before an audience or constituency, but this is not just a matter of how I articulate them, but also of what I myself, as someone who is trying to advance the cause of freedom and justice, also represent. I say or write these things because after much reflection they are what I believe; and I also want to persuade others of this view. There is therefore this quite complicated mix between the private and the public worlds, my own history, values, writings and positions as they derive from my experiences, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, how these enter into the social world where people debate and make decisions about war and freedom and justice. There is no such thing as a private intellectual, since the moment you set down words and then publish them you have entered the public world. Nor is there only a public intellectual, someone who exists just as a figurehead or spokesperson or symbol of a cause, movement, or position. There is always the personal inflection and the private sensibility, and those give meaning to what is being said or written. Least of all should an intellectual be there to make his/her audiences feel good: the whole point is to be embarrassing, contrary, even unpleasant.

So in the end it is the intellectual as a representative figure that matters — someone who visibly represents a standpoint of some kind, and someone who makes articulate representations to his or her public despite all sorts of barriers. My argument is that intellectuals are individuals with a vocation for the art of representing, whether that is talking, writing, teaching, appearing on television. And that vocation is important to the extent that it is publicly recognizable and involves both commitment and risk, boldness and vulnerability; when I read Jean-Paul Sartre or Bertrand Russell it is their specific, individual voice and presence that makes an impression on me over and above their arguments because they are speaking out for their beliefs. They cannot be mistaken for an anonymous functionary or careful bureaucrat.

—Edward Said
Representations of the Intellectual

Pasolini’s Atheistic Tribute to Christianity

The Gospel According to St Matthew - Pier Paolo PasoliniI just watched Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1964 classic, The Gospel According to St Matthew. Leave it to a gay atheist Marxist to create the most reverential portrayal of Jesus that I have ever seen. What’s most remarkable is how true it is to the source material. And that is probably the key. Pasolini doesn’t bring his own belief to soil it. Even if one were to grant that the gospels are true, there is too much folklore that goes along with them. For example, the widely held belief that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, even though there is nothing in the Bible that says that. But I also think Pasolini’s choice to present a single gospel was the correct one, because it doesn’t offer up opportunities to pick and choose.

Because everyone knows the story, the film doesn’t need to worry much about transitions. As a result, it is very fluid. The down side of this is that there is relatively little dramatic momentum to the story until the third act. But that is true of the Gospel of Matthew, and indeed all the gospels. They are highly episodic. It isn’t hard to understand why people so easily accepted that Matthew and Luke were based upon some lost (“Q”) document of sayings of Jesus. That’s how they come off: a very thin plot to hang the sayings on. So it was necessary for the film to have this form.

Even still, The Gospel According to St Matthew is really compelling. Pasolini is not normally considered an Italian neorealist, but his early films do at least have that sensibility. And this one is very explicitly so. But given that it is still a historical drama, it misses out on some of the best aspects of the movement — most especially the natural street scenes. But the actors are amateurs and the camera work is easy, even careless at times. It might seem amateurish if it were not constantly interesting to look at. Also: Enrico Maria Salerno, who does Jesus’ voice, is an incredible actor.

Another aspect of the film is that it includes far more humanity than comes across while reading the gospels. I think this is to be expected, given Pasolini’s humanist instincts. The best example of this is the scene where Jesus repudiates his mother. I have always felt that it lays very flat on the page. If anything, Jesus comes off as a monster. But here it seems more like something that Jesus feels he must do as part of his ministry. And his mother, although hurt, understands. There are many other renderings such as Judas’ emotional reaction to Jesus’ death sentence.

One thing I really like is what a scold Jesus is. He spends half the movie quite angry. It’s rather nice for a change. As I said, most people’s conception of Jesus is based in large part on folklore. Maybe they’ve gotten the wrong idea from “prince of peace.” But in the gospels, Jesus is mostly pissed off. And in the film, he only manages to smile a couple of times — usually when observing children. His demeanor changes in the third act, just as it does in the gospel.

It’s sad that a film like this does not do it for the modern American Christian. But perhaps it is not surprising. It’s heavy on theology and light on blood. No wonder Americans would so love The Passion of the Christ. Is that really what they get from Christianity? Mel Gibson claimed that he was most impressed that Jesus could suffer so much. I really think that’s a psychopathic reading of the Bible. And that seems to be the American reading of the Bible too.

But not surprisingly, smelling money, the owners of The Gospel According to St Matthew put out a shortened colorized English dubbed version of the film. I have no problem with the dubbing. For one thing, it was dubbed originally in Italian, as was typical of Italian films of that era. And the English dubbing is very good as far as I could tell with a spot check. But 45 minutes were taken out of the film. No doubt little of consequence was taken out; Pasolini paced the film deliberately; but I think that’s an important part of its temperament. Of course, I can’t say for sure, because I haven’t watched it. But the worst thing — the totally unacceptable thing — is the colorization. The film looks good in black and white. The colorization takes away all the lighting subtlety and leaves just the most annoying pastels imaginable. Added to this, the black and white print is not presented in progressive scan — so it doesn’t fill widescreen monitors. It’s just shameful.

Nonetheless, the film is quite an experience. And it is a loving tribute to one of the world’s great religions, as could only be done by a non-believer. If you are into film, it is worth checking out. And if you are a Christian, I really think you ought to watch the film. It is the closest you are likely to get to a direct rendering of a gospel on the screen. And you might learn something too.


Look at this! The whole film is available on YouTube. And I can’t say that the quality is any worse than the DVD I watched. Of course, you won’t get access to the colorized version. But if you want that, you can do penance for your sin against me by buying the DVD through Amazon here and send a couple of dimes my way for the referral fee. Anyway, here’s the good version:

Yay, YouTube!

Diego Rivera

Diego RiveraOn this day in 1886, the great Mexican painter Diego Rivera was born. He is best known for his murals, but that came later. Born into a wealthy family, he got plenty of encouragement and instruction for his early obsession with drawing. In 1907, he went to study in Europe, eventually making it to Paris. He developed a close friendship with the slightly older Amedeo Modigliani. It was around this time that he started painting in the cubist style. Later he followed in the style of Cézanne. Rivera was something of an artistic sponge — an attribute that would serve him well in his later mural painting.

On his return to Mexico in 1921, Rivera got involved in a government sponsored mural program. This is also when he became actively involved in leftist politics. He combined the two beautifully. And it wasn’t especially controversial until he left Mexico. It’s funny the way countries are. They don’t have a problem with people like Rivera because of the specifics of their politics. They have a problem with such people for not telling them exactly what they want to hear. So first he was thrown out of the Soviet Union and then he was thrown out of the United States.

Between 1932 and 1933, Rivera created a 27-panel mural, Detroit Industry. Here is a detail of one particularly stunning panel:

Detroit Industry - Diego Rivera

In the early 1950s, when the country was crazy under McCarthyism, a large sign was put up that explained how great an artistic accomplishment it was, even though the politics were terrible. Again: what did they know of his politics? Only that they were “wrong.” When people act the way groups do, we call them neurotic. No one would take a person seriously who was so insecure that he couldn’t brook the smallest disagreement about how perfect he was. But when our country does it, it is considered noble. It’s very odd. It’s good to have artists and thinkers around to highlight our silliness.

Happy birthday Diego Rivera!