9/15/16: a few quick bites of criticism

Ian Parker’s 9/12/16 profile of NYT restaurant critic Pete Wells has a few choice cuts about the value and goal of criticism:

  • Wells: “It burdened my conscience to know that the existence or demise of an establishment might depend on the praise or damnation to be found in the Times.” Conscience aside, it’s unconscionable that any one authority should wield so much power, and yet just the other day, Long Island restauranteurs reacted with horror as the Times chose to shutter its local coverage of arts and food in the area. (This, even as they have been expanding their restaurant reviews to other major metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles.) We are healthiest when there is a range of qualified voices working together to provide consensus, especially when the topic is something as exceedingly subjective as taste. Yelp is a good start, but it needs to find a way to be more refined, or to better weight the words of its critics.
  • Wells: “No one likes one-star reviews…. It’s very tricky to explain why this place is good enough to deserve a review but not quite good enough to get up to the next level.” This is an excellent point, buttressed by Wells’s next line: “I’m looking for places that I can be enthusiastic about.” In a perfect world, with unlimited resources, we might review everything and genuinely be surprised by our findings–but if we’ve got to dine at a restaurant on three separate occasions before filing a review, each serving of ink must be precisely curated. In the end, the Times defaults to the numbers game, which is why they’ll cover bad Broadway shows as a warning to those who are more likely to stumble upon them, even if that means they run out of time to cover the best of off-off-Broadway, given the short runs and limited audiences. That’s obviously a bad model; again, the only way to fix it is to increase the number of available, qualified critics, a thing for which there simply isn’t any money. (Even when I was covering this beat with the best of intentions, I still prioritized companies with which I’d previously had good experiences like Flux, or theaters with good curatorial services like HERE, which means that I’m sure I missed out on many up-and-comers.

9/13/16: in my opinion, kate upton doesn’t know what an opinion is

In my opinion, one of the most beautiful things about this country is the way in which we honor everyone’s innate right to voice their own opinion. There are a few exceptions, sure, as when toxic slurs incite violence, but even those seem to be going away thanks to Donald Trump and his sense of “sarcasm.” We even allow politicians and educators to present opinions as facts: that’s how sacred we find opinions.

Of course, the one opinion we do not respect is the right for someone to have an opinion that differs from our own. This is especially true if we don’t have the proper education (see above) to understand how a difference in worldview and perspective might lead someone to a different conclusion than our own. It’s even easier if we ignore facts and data and rely instead on traditions that have been around for hundreds of years.

I’m talking, of course, about Kate Upton’s brave stand against those athletic “thugs” who chose to sit during the national anthem, on 9/11, of all days. (Note to Donald Trump: This is what sarcasm sounds like.) Continue reading

9/12: trolls are, unfortunately, not a hoax

In the September 5-18, 2016 issue of New York Magazine, Reeves Wiedeman writes about a particularly immoral type of person: those who would deny that a mass shooting has occurred, and who would actually go so far as to verbally attack surviving family members as they attempt to mourn. In the article, Wiedeman chronicles a shift from those who were initially skeptical of Sandy Hook–the conspiracy theorists, convinced that the government had arranged a stunt tragedy in order to pass gun legislation–to those who lingered on after all the questions had been asked, so as to troll the victims under the supposed guise of public service.

It’s hard to tell where the line between the two types of mental instability lies; the hoaxer might plausibly be denying reality in attempt to avoid responsibility or change. As Wolfgang Halbig, one of the most active hoaxers, stated in his interview: “I feel good, because I really feel deep inside my heart that no children died that day.” Note how he himself frames this (as many Republicans have): a feeling that overwrites facts. This is often coupled with impossible demands, knowingly requesting definitive things that those in mourning cannot provide (and dismissing physical evidence such as death certificates that could have been photoshopped, or funerals that might have been staged) so as to more comfortably assert that they must be correct. As Wiedeman notes, even Halbig doesn’t know what would convince him–an exhumation might not be enough; confirming that the bullets were made by the AR-15 in question might still leave doubt–which really means that there’s no risk that he’ll have to eat his metaphorical hat, or, in this case, to “pay for a billboard apologizing for all the harm [he’s] done and to promptly check himself into a mental institution.”

Continue reading

9/9/16: someone else’s problems

I’d forgotten how difficult it was to maintain a daily publishing schedule, especially when you’re also on deadline for the latest Phoenix Wright title and looking at wedding venues. I thought I’d kick off with some #FirstWorldProblems, because that’s what comes to mind upon reading Will Leitch’s New York Magazine (9/5-9/18/16) note about the persistent popularity of football, despite all of the continued controversy about how it leaves lifelong injuries on those who play it. Specifically, I wanted to focus on this observation:

A Bloomberg study in late 2014 showed that 62 percent of families making more than $100,000 do not want their children to play football, and it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that that percentage has risen since then. But there’s a big difference between not wanting your kids to play football and not wanting to watch football.

My first thought, and Leitch doesn’t disappoint in completing the connection, is that this is basically how the upper-middle class looks at military service: They’re all too happy to support the way in which others put their lives at risk for this country’s safety (or entertainment), but ask them to do the same, or even to help support our troops and athletes after they complete their contracts, and they back away. Patriotism, it seems, has a very low salary cap, and that’s especially relevant right now given the whole “Star Spangled Banner” protest currently playing out in the NFL.

Herein lies the problem: when we’re allowed to enjoy something without consequence, we have no incentive to actually fix the problem. The awful conditions in which most livestock are subjected to? Well, it keeps the meat cheap. The same can be said for the conditions imposed on a minimum-wage greeter at a Wal-Mart, and why so many people agitate against a living wage; it’s a problem that doesn’t affect them and a solution that would. (See also: Climate change. This issue of New York magazine also features some terrifying projections of New York City’s 2100 coastline.)

The easiest way to compel a change would be to remove the comfortable distance that so many of us currently and safely judge from. (Take away, for instance, the anonymity of the Internet.) Do away with private schools, or ensure that scholarships and vouchers are more readily available to ensure a diverse population. I’m not sure where I stand on magnet and specialized schools; is it actually such a good thing to keep the “smart” kids away from those who may have just gotten off to a slower start? Might not each group better inform the other and make them more well-rounded, fully accomplished individuals? Might this not teach us the most valuable social skill of all, empathy?

At the end of the day, many of us make the assumption that people freely chose to pursue football as a career, or enlisted in the military out of lofty ideals. And that’s probably true for some individuals, regardless of their backgrounds. But there are also many who enlist because they could not afford a college education without doing so, and footballers who end up playing because their athletic scholarship didn’t actually provide them with a free education so much as a narrowly focused track toward the big money of the NFL. You’d have to somehow strip all the incentives away from these activities and better provide for all of these children’s futures in order to get a real idea of who wanted to risk their health, their lives, for these pursuits. At this point, we’d essentially become their upper-middle class parents, and as the stats already suggest, we’d want to keep them safe, even if it might mean the end of a sport that we once enjoyed watching.

9/2/16: you stupid, small-minded people, now we know what YOU stand for

I very much appreciate Nate Boyer’s open letter to Colin Kaepernick, the football player making waves on account of not standing during the National Anthem. I actually appreciate it even more that there are some unedited, tone-deaf statements in his missive (such as when he writes “I hate that at times I feel guilty for being white”) because it makes the whole thing more honest, more human. More importantly, it’s an opportunity for an actual dialogue, because he doesn’t condemn Kaepernick’s right not to stand. He admits that he doesn’t understand what it’s like

to deal with prejudice because of the color of my skin, and for me to say I can relate to what you’ve gone through is as ignorant as someone who’s never been in a combat zone telling me they understand what it’s like to go to war.

What he does, instead, is to express why he stands, and what that means for him. The cynic might say that he’s just attempting to shame or guilt Kaepernick into standing, but the optimist–which I’m trying to be these days–hears the other people standing (or, I guess, sitting) with Kaepernick when they note that respect is earned. There are a lot of people who, whether they’re better off and more “free” here than in Darfur, are at best systematically being disrespected and have chosen a non-violent way to call attention to that. (Shaun King’s on to something when he asks, in the Post, how exactly people are supposed to complain, and hits the nail on the head when he notes that they’re not–unless they’re white, in which case they should be running for President.)

Those on Fox News who claim that Kaepernick should be grateful to this country because it’s no longer overtly enslaving him (such a high bar to hit) should ask themselves if they’d really be “grateful” to a university that gave them a free ride if, every day, that college not only did nothing to protect them from the other students who resented them, but actually punished him for speaking out against the injustice.

I was once bullied, but that’s not why this whole story resonates with me. No, what gets me is that don’t stand for the national anthem, and that’s never really been questioned. Granted, I’m not a public figure, and it’s tough even for a white politician to avoid a question about a missing flag pin, but I’m pretty sure that this just comes down to privilege. I don’t even have something to really protest–I  would just rather celebrate America, and all it represents, by taking advantage of the fact that I live in a country that does not force people to swear oaths of loyalty, or to kowtow to overlords, or to convert to a specific religion, or wear a specific uniform. So that’s why it kills me to recognize that we’re not all free to voice dissent. And that should shame all of us.

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