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19 Sep 15:39

That Last Phone You’ll Ever Buy

by Andrew Sullivan
John B

a bit old, but an interesting idea

That’s what the Phoneblok hopes to be:

Ben Richmond is intrigued:

One reason iPhones are rendered steadily and predictably obsolete just months after it debuts heralded as world-changing—is tied intimately to what many like about the iPhone: the attractive and smooth design. Apple’s seamless aesthetic doesn’t leave room for you to customize or upgrade the hardware and once the hardware is worn out, dropped into water or at its limit. When one part goes or is faulty or just doesn’t do what you want it to, the whole phone has to go. How many iPhones have been replaced just for want of an uncracked screen?

Apple is easy to point to, because it’s popular, and if you believe the lawsuits, where Apple goes, so do consumer electronics. But in at least one respect it’s far from unique. As last year’s Apples go to the dump, so too do other electronics. In 2010 the United States generated an estimated 3 million tons of e-waste, and only about a quarter of that is thought to be recycled. The rest is going to the dump or incinerators. Cell phones, while small, are a special problem because they are replaced on average every 12 months.

Brian Heater thinks that “this seems like one of those ideas that’s just too good to be true.” K. T. Bradford points out that Phonebloks isn’t close to coming to market:

Right now, Phonebloks is still in the concept stage. So concept-y that the inventor isn’t even asking for money yet, just attention. He’s gathering people for a crowdspeaking campaign (like a small version of Kony 2012) that will send out a huge burst of social media noise about the phone all at once to prove there is great interest. The thunderclap is scheduled to happen on October 29. The website and YouTube video aren’t too clear on the next steps. Will they try a Kickstarter campaign? Raise venture capitalist money? Bring the idea to an existing manufacturer? Maybe all of the above.

Todd Wasserman wonders how this phone would change the smartphone industry :

While the idea of cutting down on cell phone waste is appealing, such a design would greatly limit design possibilities. The industry also thrives on an upgrade cycle which this design would negate.

16 Sep 21:49


Points to anyone who hacks the Flickr devs' computers to make their text editors do this when you click on anything.
23 Aug 17:16

Mental Health Break

by Chris Bodenner
John B

our dog does the drink out of the refrigerator water thing. though not at our new place. . . YET

by Chris Bodenner

18 Jul 21:17

Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 4

by Andrew Sullivan
John B

for link number 3 about the all-american "Carolina" dog breed.

All NYT links:

1. Fewer people are suffering from dementia than in the past.

2. We could soon have a pill to replace the gym.

3. DNA has discovered authentically American dogs – and they’re super-cute.

4. There will be fewer brown-outs in the future.

5. A large fan outside can keep mosquitoes at bay.

6. Woody Allen may return to stand-up (and work with Louis C.K.)

Update from a reader:

Love the new feature. I hope this a new regular. We need more of this. It counterbalances the fatigue effect. If every day all you hear is bad news, you start being pessimist. There is still, despite the daily chaos, plenty of reasons to be happy about the road traveled and the possibilities ahead. Cheers to that!

11 Jul 13:45

The oboe, for example

by Alex Ross
John B


11 Jul 13:43

Ligeti at the 50-yard line

by Alex Ross
John B

no audio at work, but i'm guessing this is cool

Several times, on this blog and in The New Yorker, I've delved into the world of drum-corps modernism: high-school- and college-age bands who venture into twentieth-century classical repertory. With the decay of music education and the general indifference to classical music in mainstream media, drum-corps groups and the more ambitious school bands have become a valuable avenue for the propagation of post-1900 fare. They have also produced any number of professional instrumentalists — among them Chris Martin, the principal trumpeter of the Chicago Symphony, who once played in the Spirit of Atlanta.

Back in 2006, Matthew Guerrieri drew attention to a video of the Austin High School Bulldog Band performing Shostakovich and Schoenberg. In 2010, I wrote two more posts on drum-corps Shostakovich. The topic recently surfaced again on Twitter, when Mark Stryker highlighted a video of the Carolina Crown freely adapting Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach, with a little Zarathustra on top. Ensuing discussion revealed that quite a few groups have played Glass over the years; Ben Coleman and others pointed me toward the Drum Corps Repertoire Database, a handy resource. I wondered just how far into the fields of the avant-garde the drum-corps movement has strayed. Stockhausen? No. Babbitt? Not yet — although The Bad Plus have a highly adaptable version ready to go. But Ligeti, yes indeed, thanks to the appropriately named Santa Clara Vanguard, whose repertory has ranged all over the musical map. Their 2011 program included Barber's First Essay for Orchestra, Avner Dorman's Piano Sonata No. 2, something by Karl Jenkins, and Ligeti's Etude No. 13, "L'Escalier du diable." The Ligeti starts at around 8:20, when a guy says, "Yeah."

More: The Blue Devils of Concord CA, who won the 2012 drum-corps championship with a program including music of John Adams, Thomas Adès, Antheil, Mingus, and Satie, are devoting their 2013 show to the Rite of Spring. The Phantom Regiment, meanwhile, has the "Storm" interlude from Peter Grimes in its current program. (See 3:12 in this video.) Look for a potential Einstein on the Beach vs. Rite of Spring vs. Peter Grimes showdown at the Drum Corps International championships in Indianapolis next month.

See also: "Learning the Score," my 2006 piece on the Malcolm X Shabazz band, reprinted in Listen to This.

09 Jul 16:10

Knee. Jerk Response.

by TBogg
John B


I truly like Glenn Greenwald but he is so deeply invested in the Snowden story that it’s hard to tell where journalist  ends and Sue Mengers begins.

This exchange:

This is Daniel Serwer:

Daniel Serwer (Ph.D., Princeton) is a Professor of Conflict Management, as well as a Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He is also a Scholar at the Middle East Institute.

Formerly Vice President for Centers of Peacebuilding Innovation at the United States Institute of Peace (2009-10), he led teams there working on rule of law, religion, economics, media, technology, security sector governance and gender. He was previously Vice President for Peace and Stability Operations at USIP, where he led its peacebuilding work in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and the Balkans and served as Executive Director of the Hamilton/Baker Iraq Study Group. Serwer has worked on preventing interethnic and sectarian conflict in Iraq and has facilitated dialogue between Serbs and Albanians in the Balkans.

He was a minister-counselor at the Department of State, serving from 1994 to 1996 as U.S. special envoy and coordinator for the Bosnian Federation, mediating between Croats and Muslims and negotiating the first agreement reached at the Dayton peace talks. From 1990 to 1993, he was deputy chief of mission and chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, where he led a major diplomatic mission through the end of the Cold War and the first Gulf War

Referring once again to The Book of Chait:

This way of looking at the world naturally places one in conflict with most liberals, who are willing to distinguish between gradations of success or failure. Nader and Greenwald believe their analysis not only completely correct, but so obviously correct that the only motivation one could have to disagree is corruption. Good-faith disagreement, or even rank stupidity, is not possible around Greenwald. His liberal critics are lackeys and partisan shills. He may be willing to concede ideological disagreement with self-identified conservatives, but a liberal who disagrees can only be a kept man.

I think we can all agree that Daniel Serwer has a farly impressive résumé when it comes to conflict resolution and could maybe even teach Greenwald a thing or two, so this was, not to put too fine of a point on it, kind of a dick move on Glenn’s part.

Having said that, I think the appropriate response should have been :

Edward Snowden is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.

Eventually this will become the default answer…

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03 Jul 14:57

The Cannabis Closet: Home Invasion

by Andrew Sullivan
John B

fun times. jesus what a stupid fight this country is having over a relatively harmless substance.

A reader adds to the classic Dish series:

I’m a long-time reader for many reasons.  I’m a writer, Anglophile, was raised Catholic, and have a gay ex-husband whom I love dearly.  I’ve also been a long-time crusader against the IMG_1ridiculous war on marijuana.  About a month ago, I experienced firsthand the persecution that comes from these terrible laws.  I want this story to get out, so that I can help open eyes in any way I can.

For starters, some background.  I’m a 34-year-old woman, divorced in 2006, who has since struggled to put my life back together and garner some stability.  I feel like I’ve done a pretty damn good job, and quite frankly, in the absence of therapy, marijuana has been helpful in managing stress and thinking through issues stemming from childhood abuse so that I can be a whole and healthy person.  I don’t do it in the street, or in cars, or in public at all.  I keep it to myself, behind closed doors, in the privacy of my own home.  I don’t sell, and only have enough on hand for personal enjoyment.

A few years back, I was able to get my financial life together and go back to school to (finally) finish the BA that has eluded me due to these personal and financial issues, with a plan (still in the works) to follow my ultimate dream: moving to England to get my MA and PhD and make a go at a career as a historian and writer, so I can leave the restaurant industry behind.  Well, after 17 years (!!), I graduated with honors in May.  I easily worked 80-90 hours per week, with a two-hour commute to school each way, to make this happen.  I can’t tell you the triumph I felt walking out of my last final.  Too bad it was short lived.

I live in an apartment building in Alexandria, which as a former DC person, you know is the liberal bastion of northern Virginia.  Apparently this does not extend to police harassment.  In March, I was at home, minding my own business, when I heard a knock on my door.

It was a forceful knock (everyone knows how the police knock) and when I looked through the peep hole, I saw a person I did not know wearing blue who claimed to be “building maintenance”.  My father is an attorney, and I interned at the Marijuana Policy Project a few years ago, so the first words out of my mouth were “do you have a warrant?”.  It was amazing how quickly Officer “Building Maintenance’s” attitude changed.  I was told that he did not need a warrant because he had “plain smell”.  I told him that I knew that wasn’t true, and that I was not opening the door without a warrant.

I was then told that if I did not open the door I was “obstructing justice” and that I was “under arrest right now” if I didn’t open the door.  I informed the officer that he was violating my Fourth Amendment rights and that I was not opening the door without a warrant, so we seemed to be at an impasse.  I also informed Officer “Building Maintenance” (who never identified himself as an officer) that I was not clothed, and he told me to open the door anyway.

IMG_2I ended up climbing out of my bathroom window to end the harassment, and eventually he went away.  I was astounded that this happened, and took steps to contain the smell even better.  I started exclusively using a vaporizer and burning candles and spraying absurd amounts of air freshener.  I was worried, though, that I became some sort of white whale to Officer “Building Maintenance” because he didn’t scare me into opening the door that day with his threats.  I was also disgusted that some busy body in my building couldn’t mind their own damn business.  This is MY PERSONAL SPACE and what I do in it should be none of your concern.  But my attempts to be as inconspicuous and inoffensive as possible while still living my life the way I choose weren’t good enough for these crusaders.

Fast forward to May, the day after my last final.  The week that was supposed to be full of triumph for achieving a goal that had eluded me for half my life, and to celebrate my perseverance.  I got home after a long shift at work (after midnight), to an apartment that looked as if a hurricane had blown through it.  I honestly thought that I had been robbed (photos attached).  Then I noticed that my TV was still there, as was my computer.  I was confused.

Then I looked at my wall.  There was a search warrant tacked to it with a cop’s card that says “call me”.  The mix of emotions that washed over me were overwhelming: fear, anger, relief (that I wasn’t there and that my poor kitty had died a few months earlier before going through that kind of trauma), and what the hell am I going to do?

I texted a friend for support, started attempting to clean up (I’m still not done with that, by the way), and searched the Internet for “marijuana lawyer”.  I’ve always known that justice in this country depends upon the representation that you can afford, and I knew that at this point my amateur’s knowledge of the law wasn’t going to cut it.  I also wasn’t going to cut any kind of deal with these bastards to rat anyone out for leniency, because I have principles.

Luckily, I have been saving for two years to make my dream of graduate school come true, and what they found was laughably minor (a coaster with literally a pinch of weed on it in my freezer … another part of my attempt to be as unobtrusive as possible).  At about 3AM, totally exhausted and stressed, and having not made a dent in the destruction, I knew that I had to get out of my apartment.  I had to work for the next three days, and there was no way I would be able to get any kind of rest there.  I also didn’t want the police to come back without my having legal representation.  So I took pictures of the apartment and the warrant, then packed my bags and walked to a hotel in the middle of the night, with a supportive friend on the phone.

The next day I heard back from the attorney, and spent all of my savings ($3000) to retain her, IMG_1014while at the same time being afraid that I would be evicted.  I sent her pictures of the warrant and gave her all of the absurd information about what was “seized”.  She told me to be prepared to be arrested at any time (even at work … god what a nightmare) and to keep my phone on me.  She told me that she would try to arrange for me to “turn myself in, but that if it went to trial we could probably get the whole thing thrown out”.

I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me. I had never even heard of search warrants being obtained for busting up “smoking weed alone on your couch watching Mad Men” rings. And the justification for the warrant was ridiculous in itself.  The incident where the officer did not identify himself was cited, and another incident was simply made up.  Dirty police work all over the place.

A little while later, I heard back from my lawyer.  She noticed that my name wasn’t on the warrant, which most likely meant that the officer’s information was scant and that there was not likely to be a warrant for my arrest without a name.  So instead of calling the officer, she emailed him with the attitude of “what the hell”.  She immediately heard back, and told me that she thought he was looking for information on me to escalate the situation.  She told me if anyone approached me regarding this situation to tell them to speak to my attorney and give them her information.  I spent a week living on friend’s couches, mostly because I was scared to go home due to the unbelievable personal violation.  What a way to celebrate my graduation!

However, just like I already knew, justice depends on the kind of representation you can afford.  My hiring an attorney effectively ended this once they knew they could not intimidate me into flipping on anyone, and that the pinch they found in the freezer would not stand up in court.  So this turned out as “well” as could be expected, I suppose.  I’m only out my dignity, celebrating my graduation, the savings for making my dreams come true, my sense of security in my own home, and any sense of respect for the police.  I also am not free to relax behind closed doors in the way that I choose because some asshole in my building doesn’t like it.  Also, they sliced up my bedspread in their “search” (god knows why).   That’s being “fortunate” in this type of situation.

So that’s my story.  Keep up the good fight.  I know that I intend to.  I’m going to finally get to England, too.

25 Jun 01:05

David Gregory Is What’s Wrong With Washington

by Andrew Sullivan
John B

i'm not the biggest fan of greenwald (or sully for that matter). but this is pretty much right on.

There has been an understandable collective wince at David Gregory’s asking a fellow-journalist whether he should go to jail (I speak of Glenn Greenwald) for helping a whistle-blower. Now, as readers know, I’m somewhat skeptical about the large claims made by Glenn and Snowden as to PRISM but, equally, I emphatically do believe that these revelations were clearly released to further what Snowden felt in good faith was the public interest. In a piece that would be close to perfect if it had any acknowledgment of the other side of the equation – that plenty of fanatical Jihadist extremists are trying to kill us every day – Glenn explains:

In what conceivable sense are Snowden’s actions “espionage”? He could have – but chose not – sold the information he had to a foreign intelligence service for vast sums of money, or covertly passed it to one of America’s enemies, or worked at the direction of a foreign government. That is espionage. He did none of those things.

What he did instead was give up his life of career stability and economic prosperity, living with his long-time girlfriend in Hawaii, in order to inform his fellow citizens (both in America and around the world) of what the US government and its allies are doing to them and their privacy. He did that by very carefully selecting which documents he thought should be disclosed and concealed, then gave them to a newspaper with a team of editors and journalists and repeatedly insisted that journalistic judgments be exercised about which of those documents should be published in the public interest and which should be withheld.

That’s what every single whistleblower and source for investigative journalism, in every case, does – by definition.

More to the point, Glenn’s role in this was at first passive. Snowden contacted him, not the other way round. He then did what any non-co-opted journalist would do – and examined the data independently, with other independent journalists and published the truth. He’s a role model, not a target.

So why would a journalist like Gregory ask such a question?

Two theories:

first, underlying a lot of this, is the MSM’s fear and loathing and envy of the blogger journalist. Notice that Gregory calls Greenwald a “polemicist” – not a journalist. The difference, I presume, is that polemicists actually make people in power uncomfortable. Journalists simply do their best to get chummy with them in order to get exclusive tidbits that the powerful want you to know.

Second: ask yourself if David Gregory ever asked a similar question of people in government with real power, e.g. Dick Cheney et al. Did he ever ask them why they shouldn’t go to jail for committing documented war crimes under the Geneva Conventions? Nah. Here’s a question Gregory asked of Petraeus during the Obama administration:

Presumably, US forces and Pakistani officials are doing the interrogations, do you wish you had the interrogation methods that were available to you under the Bush administration to get intelligence from a figure like this?

Notice the refusal to use the word “torture”. Note the assumption of the premise that torture actually provides reliable intel. Note also Petraeus’ polite dismissal of the neocon question. Gregory has asked this question before:

Can you address my question? Did harsh interrogation help in the hunt for bin Laden?

Again, note the refusal to use the word torture. That would be awkward because Gregory is a social friend of Liz Cheney (Gregory’s wife worked with Cheney’s husband at the law firm Latham & Watkins). Who wants to call their social friend a war criminal? Notice also this classic Washington discussion by Gregory on torture. It’s entirely about process. There is no substantive position on something even as profound as war crimes. The toughest sentence: “This is a debate that’s going to continue.” Gregory is obviously pro-torture, hides behind neutrality, and beats up opponents with one-sided questions.

It just hasn’t occurred to him that the only place for Dick Cheney right now is jail.

But an actual journalist, Glenn Greenwald, not part of the Village, who has made more news this past fortnight than the entire coterie Gregory lives among and for? The gloves are off. I’m not going to attack Gregory for asking a sharp question of another journalist, however odd? I am merely going to note that he has been far tougher on this journalist for doing his job than on Dick Cheney for abdicating his.

At some point the entire career structure of Washington journalism – the kind of thing that makes David Gregory this prominent – needs to be scrapped and started over. And then you realize that it already has.

And the change is accelerating.

25 Jun 00:53

America’s New Favorite ASL Interpreter

by Andrew Sullivan
John B

i haven't even watched the video for this yet (slow hotel internet) but just the idea of this is amusing to me

Move over, Lydia Callis - meet Holly Maniatty, whose signing of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Bonnaroo show is burning up the Internets:

[Besides] memorizing their lyrics and watching past shows … [h]er prep work also includes researching dialectal signs to ensure accuracy and authenticity. An Atlanta rapper will use different slang than a Queens one, and ASL speakers from different regions also use different signs, so knowing how a word like guns and brother are signed in a given region is crucial for authenticity. … Of course, hip-hop is a highly improvisational art, and no amount of careful research can prepare an ASL interpreter for what might happen at a live show. “There are lots of times people freestyle; you have to go with the moment,” she said. “For some reason my brain is dialed into the hip-hop cadence and is able to process language really quickly.”

The rappers she works for seem to agree. At one point during Wu-Tang’s performance of “Bring Da Ruckus,” Method Man came over to Maniatty, mid-signing, and gave her a hug and a fist bump. He had been looking at her every time he said “motherfuckin” during the song and wanted to see if she signed it and how. Maniatty told me she thought to herself, “Of course I’m gonna say it, you’re saying it. Your words, not mine.”

On that note, Eric Sundermann interviews the woman who is “almost more fun to watch than Wu-Tang themselves”:

Is it weird to do interpretation for stuff that might make you uncomfortable? 


At one point I was interpreting for Tenacious D, Jack Black’s band, and he was singing that song “Fuck Me Gently.” I was like, I cannot believe I’m signing this in front of 10,000 people.  But you know, it’s something he wanted to sing about. It’s Jack Black and you just do it.

There’s been some discussion about me signing the ‘N’ word, but that’s the word [Wu-Tang] uses and they have the rights to use it or not to use it. I wanted to make sure that the patrons can make their own political opinion, either being “okay, cool,” or be offended by it. To steal that opportunity from them is not the role of an interpreter. You know when you go to a concert and you’re like, who are these performers? And then you’re like, oh my god, they’re awesome! That’s the kind of experience you want [deaf people] to have.

For more Maniatty, watch her dance and sign with Bruce Springsteen here.

11 Jun 18:48

A Man Who Resisted the Security State

by James Fallows
John B

things that make you go hmm (particularly the update part)

Thumbnail image for LivesOfOthers.jpg

I'm not referring to Edward Snowden (nor to the man* above) but instead to someone who resisted in a different, very quiet way, more than a decade ago. The account below comes from a person I have known for a long time, and it describes someone I also know. It's worth reading both for the observations in the first half and for the personal story in the second. This reader writes:
I've been thinking about the recent leak investigations.  I'm usually very sympathetic to my  dad's [ca. age 80] very liberal take on these sorts of things.  But I've been having a hard time getting too excited about it. To me, this is the inevitable result of the way that technology has developed

Sadly, the tech visionaries who predicted that the internet would be revolutionary were correct, but not in the way that they expected.  We all want to be able to seamlessly move our work and online lives from desktop to laptop to smartphone to ipads.  Tech companies have given us this, and in the process have created vast warehouses of our digital lives that are assumed to have great value and you can bet that there is a constant effort at these companies to figure out how to monetize this digital storehouse.  So the NSA is simply getting a copy of the information that already is being saved to be mined for possible profit.

The companies, like Obama, assure us that they strip out identifying information.  The companies, like Obama, are asking us to trust them.  To me, the only way to change this threat to our individual liberties would be to make it illegal for any collection of our digital footprints by anyone.  And I don't see this happening.

This brings to mind a story about XX [our mutual acquaintance] not long after 9/11.  He was head of the technical team at YY [one of the former Baby Bell companies] and he was getting pressured to set up digital taps based on secret government warrants shown to the company's executives by government representatives where the company could only look at the secret warrant, but not make a copy or take any notes.  XX was bothered by the fact that once YY set up these digital taps, they were never turned off.  He also was concerned that there was no way even to validate whether these requests even came from legitimate government representatives.   And yet he wanted to keep his job. 

So he told his bosses that he would be more than happy to have his team of engineers comply, but just needed to have the exact procedures written down so that they could keep accurate records because, "at YY, we are trained to document everything we do in writing very carefully to protect ourselves and the company." 

This didn't make the government or the YY executives happy, so they flew him out to headquarters in [city ZZ] and basically tried to strong arm him into just doing it without asking any questions.   He stuck to his "I am very happy to do this, but  just want to protect my team and the company and make sure that we set up the same procedures here that we have for everything else we do" mantra.  When he went back home he sent an email to company lawyers who had called him in laying out what his understanding of what they wanted him to do and how he should document the work.

And that's the last he heard and YY was one of the only phone companies that didn't comply with secret government digital tapping requests that came to light during the Bush presidency.  Sadly, it seems that there are very few people like XX out there, so there you go...
If we finally are beginning the security-state "debate" that is many years overdue, one crucial element to examine is the interaction among technological possibilities, institutional imperatives, and the pressure on individuals to say Yes or No. It is too much to expect everyone, or even most people, to do what this telecom-company employee did. Yet his quiet example should be noted.
* The picture is of course from the wonderful German movie The Lives of Others. If you have seen it, you'll immediately understand why this image comes to mind. If you haven't seen it, please check it out soon.

UPDATE A reader writes in response to this message: 
..when everything is so secret, how can one be sure that one is following orders (even a Court order -- ever heard of forgeries?)  from legitimate authority?
   ("He also was concerned that there was no way even to validate whether these requests even came from legitimate government representatives. " -- from your latest post a few minutes ago)

I think that the danger of PRISM etc Is misuse of the data bases by people who are clearly operating _outside the law_... Snowden (for example and by his own claim) could have been using his data resources for insider trading...just go look into the email of the honchos at Morgan Stnley. They've made an information monoculture -- and you know how risky monocultures in agriculture.

21 May 19:58

How the Obama Administration Talks to Black America

by Ta-Nehisi Coates
John B

worth the read and the comment thread, as always, is the best on the internet

The first lady went to Bowie State and addressed the graduating class. Her speech was a mix of black history and a salute to the graduates. There was also this:

But today, more than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, more than 50 years after the end of "separate but equal," when it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can't be bothered. Today, instead of walking miles every day to school, they're sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they're fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper.

And then this:

If the school in your neighborhood isn't any good, don't just accept it. Get in there, fix it. Talk to the parents. Talk to the teachers. Get business and community leaders involved as well, because we all have a stake in building schools worthy of our children's promise. ...

And as my husband has said often, please stand up and reject the slander that says a black child with a book is trying to act white. Reject that.

There's a lot wrong here.

At the most basic level, there's nothing any more wrong with aspiring to be a rapper than there is with aspiring to be a painter, or an actor, or a sculptor. Hip-hop has produced some of the most penetrating art of our time, and inspired much more. My path to this space began with me aspiring to be rapper. Hip-hop taught me to love literature. I am not alone. Perhaps you should not aspire to be a rapper because it generally does not provide a stable income. By that standard you should not aspire to be a writer, either.

At a higher level, there is the time-honored pattern of looking at the rather normal behaviors of black children and pathologizing them. My son wants to play for Bayern Munich. Failing that, he has assured me he will be Kendrick Lamar. When I was kid I wanted to be Tony Dorsett -- or Rakim, whichever came first. Perhaps there is some corner of the world where white kids desire to be Timothy Geithner instead of Tom Brady. But I doubt it. What is specific to black kids is that their dreams often don't extend past entertainment and athletics  That is a direct result of the kind of limited cultural exposure you find in impoverished, segregated neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods are the direst result of American policy.

Enacting and enforcing policy is the job of the Obama White House. When asked about policy for African Americans, the president has said, "I'm not the president of black America. I'm the president of all America." An examination of the Obama administration's policy record toward black people clearly bears this out. An examination of the Obama administration's rhetoric, as directed at black people, tells us something different.

Yesterday, the president addressed Morehouse College's graduating class, and said this:

We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. Growing up, I made a few myself. And I have to confess, sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. But one of the things you've learned over the last four years is that there's no longer any room for excuses. I understand that there's a common fraternity creed here at Morehouse: "excuses are tools of the incompetent, used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness."

We've got no time for excuses -- not because the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they haven't. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; that's still out there. It's just that in today's hyper-connected, hyper-competitive world, with a billion young people from China and India and Brazil entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything you haven't earned. And whatever hardships you may experience because of your race, they pale in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured -- and overcame.

This clearly is a message that only a particular president can offer. Perhaps not the "president of black America," but certainly a president who sees holding African Americans to a standard of individual responsibility as part of his job. This is not a role Barack Obama undertakes with other communities.

Taking the full measure of the Obama presidency thus far, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this White House has one way of addressing the social ills that afflict black people -- and particularly black youth -- and another way of addressing everyone else. I would have a hard time imagining the president telling the women of Barnard that "there's no longer room for any excuses" -- as though they were in the business of making them. Barack Obama is, indeed, the president of "all America," but he also is singularly the scold of "black America." 

It's worth revisiting the president's comments over the past year in reference to gun violence. Visting his grieving adopted hometown of Chicago, in the wake of the murder of Hadiya Pendleton, the president said this:

For a lot of young boys and young men in particular, they don't see an example of fathers or grandfathers, uncles, who are in a position to support families and be held up in respect. And so that means that this is not just a gun issue; it's also an issue of the kinds of communities that we're building. When a child opens fire on another child, there is a hole in that child's heart that government can't fill. Only community and parents and teachers and clergy can fill that hole.

Two months earlier Obama visited Newtown. The killer, Adam Lanza, was estranged from his father and reportedly devastated by his parents divorce. But Obama did not speak to Newtown about the kind of community they were building, or speculate on the hole in Adam Lanza's heart.

When Barack Obama says that he is "the president of all America," he is exactly right. When he visits black communities, he visits as the American president, bearing with him all our history, all our good works, and all our sins. Among recent sins, the creation of the ghettos of Chicago -- accomplished by 20th-century American social policy -- rank relatively high. Leaving aside the vague connection between fatherhood and the murder of Hadiya Pendleton. Certainly the South Side could use more responsible fathers. Why aren't there more? Do those communities simply lack men of ambition or will? Are the men there genetically inferior?

No president has ever been better read on the intersection of racism and American history than our current one. I strongly suspect that he would point to policy. As the president of "all America," Barack Obama inherited that policy. I would not suggest that it is in his power to singlehandedly repair history. But I would say that, in his role as American president, it is wrong for him to handwave at history, to speak as though the government he represents is somehow only partly to blame. Moreover, I would say that to tout your ties to your community when it is convenient, and downplay them when it isn't, runs counter to any notion of individual responsibility.

I think the stature of the Obama family -- the most visible black family in American history -- is a great blow in the war against racism. I am filled with pride whenever I see them: there is simply no other way to say that. I think Barack Obama, specifically, is a remarkable human being -- wise, self-aware, genuinely curious and patient. It takes a man of particular vision to know, as Obama did, that the country really was ready to send an African American to the White House.

But I also think that some day historians will pore over his many speeches to black audiences. They will see a president who sought to hold black people accountable for their communities, but was disdainful of those who looked at him and sought the same. They will match his rhetoric of individual responsibility, with the aggression the administration showed to bail out the banks, and the timidity they showed  in addressing a foreclosure crisis which devastated black America (again.)They wil weigh the rhetoric against an administration whose efforts against housing segregation have been run of the mill. And they will match the talk of the importance of black fathers with the paradox of a president who smoked marijuana in his youth but continued a drug-war which daily wrecks the lives of black men and their families. In all of this, those historians will see a discomfiting pattern of convenient race-talk.

I think the president owes black people more than this. In the 2012 election, the black community voted at a higher rate than any other ethnic community in the country. Their vote went almost entirely to Barack Obama. They did this despite a concerted effort to keep them from voting, and they deserve more than a sermon. Perhaps they cannot  practically receive targeted policy. But surely they have earned something more than targeted scorn.


16 Apr 04:34

Video Tribute to 2 Decades

by James Fallows
John B

for the panda video. to lighten a not so great day.

The best part of the 1980s:

The best part of the 1960s—OK, there were a lot of them, but this is one that is particularly unbelievable in retrospect.

The "Hah!" at time 1:50 is the part that I always thought would make Frank Sinatra proudest of his daughter's ability to express the meaning of a song.

For myself, I am proud to be an American.


Update OK, here is a third video tribute-to-a-decade. It is of toddler-aged pandas playing on a slide at the Panda Base in Chengdu, and it is from the 2010s. I am still proud to be an American, but I'm glad to have seen animals like this at Sichuan province panda reserves.

Thanks to DL for this one, and thanks to the world for providing such riches.


03 Apr 21:46

A Leave of Presence

by Roger Ebert
John B

a national treasure

Thank you. Forty-six years ago on April 3, 1967, I became the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. Some of you have read my reviews and columns and even written to me since that time. Others were introduced to my film criticism through the television show, my books, the website, the film festival, or the Ebert Club and newsletter.  However you came to know me, I'm glad you did and thank you for being the best readers any film critic could ask for.

Typically, I write over 200 reviews a year for the Sun-Times that are carried by Universal Press Syndicate in some 200 newspapers. Last year, I wrote the most of my career, including 306 movie reviews, a blog post or two a week, and assorted other articles. I must slow down now, which is why I'm taking what I like to call "a leave of presence."

What in the world is a leave of presence? It means I am not going away. My intent is to continue to write selected reviews but to leave the rest to a talented team of writers handpicked and greatly admired by me. What's more, I'll be able at last to do what I've always fantasized about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review.

At the same time, I am re-launching the new and improved and taking ownership of the site under a separate entity, Ebert Digital, run by me, my beloved wife, Chaz, and our brilliant friend, Josh Golden of Table XI. Stepping away from the day-to-day grind will enable me to continue as a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, and roll out other projects under the Ebert brand in the coming year.

Ebertfest, my annual film festival, celebrating its 15th year, will continue at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, my alma mater and home town, April 17-21. In response to your repeated requests to bring back the TV show "At the Movies," I am launching a fundraising campaign via Kickstarter in the next couple of weeks. And gamers beware, I am even thinking about a movie version of a video game or mobile app. Once completed, you can engage me in debate on whether you think it is art.

And I continue to cooperate with the talented filmmaker Steve James on the bio-documentary he, Steve Zaillian and Martin Scorsese are making about my life. I am humbled that anyone would even think to do it, but I am also grateful.

Of course, there will be some changes. The immediate reason for my "leave of presence" is my health. The "painful fracture" that made it difficult for me to walk has recently been revealed to be a cancer. It is being treated with radiation, which has made it impossible for me to attend as many movies as I used to. I have been watching more of them on screener copies that the studios have been kind enough to send to me. My friend and colleague Richard Roeper and other critics have stepped up and kept the newspaper and website current with reviews of all the major releases. So we have and will continue to go on.

At this point in my life, in addition to writing about movies, I may write about what it's like to cope with health challenges and the limitations they can force upon you. It really stinks that the cancer has returned and that I have spent too many days in the hospital. So on bad days I may write about the vulnerability that accompanies illness. On good days, I may wax ecstatic about a movie so good it transports me beyond illness.

I'll also be able to review classics for my "Great Movies" collection, which has produced three books and could justify a fourth.

For now, I am throwing myself into Ebert Digital and the redesigned, highly interactive and searchable You'll learn more about its exciting new features on April 9 when the site is launched. In addition to housing an archive of more than 10,000 of my reviews dating back to 1967 we will also feature reviews written by other critics. You may disagree with them like you have with me, but will nonetheless appreciate what they bring to the party. Some I recruited from the ranks of my Far Flung Correspondents, an inspiration I had four years ago when I noticed how many of the comments on my blog came from foreign lands and how knowledgeable they were about cinema.

We'll be recruiting more critics and it is my hope that some of the writers I have admired over the years will be among them. We'll offer many more reviews of Indie, foreign, documentary and restored classic revivals. As the space between broadcast television, cable and the internet morph into a hybrid of content, we will continue to spotlight the musings of Pulitzer Prize-winning TV critic Tom Shales, as well as the blog "Scanners" by Jim Emerson, who I first met at Microsoft when he edited Cinemania. The Ebert Club newsletter, under editor Marie Haws of Vancouver, will be expanded to give its thousands of subscribers even bigger and better benefits.

For years I devoutly took every one of my tear sheets, folded them and added them to a pile on my desk. The photo above shows the height of that pile in 1985 as it appeared on the cover of my first book about the movies published by my old friends John McMeel and Donna Martin of Andrews & McMeel. Today, because of technology, the opportunities to become bigger, better and reach more people are piling up too. The fact that we're re-launching the site now, in the midst of other challenges, should give you an idea how important and Ebert Digital are to Chaz and me. I hope you'll stop by, and look for me. I'll be there.

So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies.

03 Apr 19:48

4 Things to Read About China

by James Fallows
John B

"as many as 15% of overall recent deaths in China may be due to pollution". wow.

1) Yan Lianke, in the NYT, on "China's State-Sponsored Amnesia." Sample:
[Widespread Chinese ignorance of the "June 4 1989 episode"] reminded me of something another teacher told me. She had asked her students from China if they had heard about the death by starvation of 30 to 40 million people during the so-called "three years of natural disasters" in the early 1960s. Her students responded with stunned silence, as if she, a teacher in Hong Kong, was brazenly fabricating history to attack their mother country.
2) Christina Larson, in Bloomberg Businessweek, about new evidence on the birth-defect epidemic being caused by pollution in China. Sample:
In the U.S., for every 10,000 live births, there are 7.5 infants with neural tube defects. In Shanxi province, that number is 18 times higher: 140 infants....

Over a 10-year period, the researchers gathered placentas from 80 stillborn or newborn infants in Shanxi with the disorder. Based on their analysis, they confirmed that those infants had been exposed in utero to significant levels of pesticides, industrial solvents, and especially polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are released into the air when fossil fuels are burned.
3) A Chinese language report saying that as many as 15 percent of overall recent deaths in China may be due to pollution; to similar effect in the NYT.

4) A Xinhua report saying that March in Beijing -- when we were there -- was the smoggiest in modern history.

And this is without even getting into the dead pigs, the new cases of "bird flu," etc. China is a big, exciting country. But it has very serious problems, and different problems from those in the Western world just now.
__ Bonus, these are not about China but among the offerings not to miss from the Atlantic recently:
A) Matt O'Brien on why David Stockman's "sky is falling" recent piece was so wrong-headed;
B) Robert Vare with an extended appreciation of Michael Kelly;
C) John Gould on why the return of Hannibal Lecter is more interesting than you might expect; and
D) - Z) Ta-Nehisi Coates's reports from Europe and Conor Friedersdorf's reports from all over , both too numerous to itemize with links right now but worth seeking out.
And many others ...

03 Apr 17:34

Amazon launches AutoRip for vinyl, pairs MP3s with your records

by Carl Franzen
John B

ok this is pretty cool. even though most vinyl comes with a free DL of the mp3 these days. does this mean i can get my digital copy of the Beach Boy's Smile sessions records?


Earlier this year, Amazon launched a service called AutoRip for CDs, which gives customers free digital copies of every CD they purchased from Amazon going back to 1998 and going forward for new CD purchases. The copies can be streamed or downloaded as MP3s from Amazon's Cloud Player. It turns out, Amazon was only scratching the surface: starting today, the company is offering AutoRip for vinyl records purchased on Amazon since 1998 and for all new vinyl bought from the website going forward.

Continue reading…

27 Mar 12:27

What will the Court do with Proposition 8? Today’s oral argument in Plain English

by Amy Howe
John B

Seems reasonable enough. Curious to see what they say about doma arguments today

After more than an hour of oral arguments this morning in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the challenge to the constitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, it came down to this:  attorney Charles Cooper, representing the proponents of that ban, Proposition 8, returned to the lectern for his ten minutes of rebuttal time.  He immediately confronted a question from Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom many regard as the critical vote in this case.  Kennedy told him bluntly to “address why you think we should take and decide this case.”  And with that, the Justice may have confirmed that the real question before the Court is not whether it would strike down Proposition 8, or what the broader effect of such a decision might be, but whether it is going to reach the merits of the case at all – a prospect that would be (to say the least) anticlimactic but seemed to be a real possibility by the end of the morning.

Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg

At the beginning of the argument, Cooper was only a sentence or two into his argument on the constitutionality of Proposition 8 before he was interrupted by the Chief Justice, who asked him to address the question that the Court had added to the proceedings:  whether Cooper’s clients have a legal right – known as “standing” – to be in the case at all.  Cooper then faced a barrage of questions from the Chief Justice and the Court’s four more liberal Justices which strongly suggested that, in their view, the proponents do not.  Has the Court ever allowed proponents of ballot initiatives to defend the initiatives in court, asked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg?  No, Cooper conceded, it had not.  When Cooper emphasized that state law had assigned the responsibility to defend the initiative to the proponents, Justice Elena Kagan asked whether the state could assign that responsibility to any citizen, or only to the proponents.  And Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked Cooper to explain what kind of injury – required for standing in federal courts – the proponents of Proposition 8 have suffered due to the failure by California officials to enforce the initiative.

On the question of the proponents’ standing, three of the four conservative Justices – Scalia, Kennedy, and Alito – who chimed in appeared inclined to find that the proponents did have a right to defend the initiative in court.  Justice Scalia, for example, asked Cooper a friendly question, noting that although (like the proponents) the Attorney General of California does not have any actual interest in seeing that the law is enforced, state law still says that she can defend it.  And later on, when attorney Ted Olson – representing the two same-sex couples challenging Proposition 8 – told the Court that the state can’t create standing by designating whoever it wants to defend the law, Justice Kennedy expressed concern that Olson’s position would give the state a “one-way ratchet” that would allow state officials to block initiatives that they don’t like.

But Chief Justice John Roberts responded, suggesting to Ted Olson – in what could be interpreted as a blueprint for a future challenge to Proposition 8 – that even if the proponents lacked the right to defend the initiative, a state official who doesn’t want to perform same-sex marriage would have such a right.

Eventually the discussion shifted over to the question that has been the focus of the case:  whether Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional.  Here too, however, it became clear that a decision from the Court on that question is hardly a sure thing.  At first, questions from the four more liberal Justices left little doubt that they would vote to strike down Proposition 8.  Responding to Cooper’s argument that the state’s interest in “responsible procreation” justifies limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples, Justice Kagan asked him to identify the potential harms that would occur if same-sex couples were allowed to marry.  And Justice Stephen Breyer pressed him to explain how allowing same-sex couples to marry would be different from allowing opposite-sex couples who cannot have children to marry; Justice Ginsburg later noted that opposite-sex couples in prison were allowed to marry, even though there was no possibility of procreation.

At the same time, comments and questions by the Chief Justice, Justice Scalia, and Justice Alito seemed to place them solidly in support of Proposition 8.  (Justice Thomas as usual did not ask any questions, but he presumably provides a fourth vote for that view.)  And there was no sign that any Justice was interested in deciding the case based on the reasoning suggested by the United States – that it violates the Constitution for California (and seven other states) to offer the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples through domestic partnerships but prohibit them from actually getting married.

That left, as it so often does, Justice Kennedy as the critical vote in the case.  On the one hand, he expressed concern about the forty-thousand-plus children living with their same-sex parents in California, emphasizing that they want their parents to be recognized as married and asking Cooper whether the voices of those children are “important.”  On the other hand, he noted that sociological information about the effect of same-sex marriage on children, for example, was still relatively new, and he complained that the lower court’s decision effectively “penalized” California, which had been fairly generous in providing rights to same-sex couples through domestic partnerships, for not going far enough and allowing them to marry.  And later he told Ted Olson that Olson was asking the Court to enter “uncharted waters in a case with a very narrow decision” and a “substantial question” regarding whether the case could proceed at all.

Taking those comments by Justice Kennedy to heart, some of the more liberal Justices seemed to shift their focus during Cooper’s rebuttal.  Thus, for example, Justice Sonia Sotomayor echoed Kennedy’s comments to Cooper; she asked him to explain why, if the proponents are urging the Court to allow the states to experiment with same-sex marriage – the solution is for the Court to decide the Proposition 8 case now.  After all, she told Cooper, the Court allowed the issue of racial segregation to play out in the country for decades before finally stepping in.

Given the shifting alliances on view at the Court today, and the overall lack of enthusiasm on the part of some Justices for deciding the case on the merits, the Justices’ Conference later this week – at which they will vote on the case – promises to be an interesting one.  Will at least five Justices join forces to hold that the proponents lack the right to defend the initiative at all?  Will they instead decide that even if the proponents have that right, the time is not right to decide the merits of the case?  Or will they go ahead and reach the merits after all?

Depending on the answers to those questions, the case could proceed in several different directions.  If at least six Justices conclude that now is not the right time to rule on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, they could “DIG” the case – dismiss it as improvidently granted.  If that happened, the lower court’s ruling striking down Proposition 8 would stand, but it would have no real significance outside of California.  Getting to that result would almost certainly require the Chief Justice to join forces with Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor; nothing that we heard today provided any reason to believe that Justices Scalia, Thomas, or Alito would vote to dismiss the case.  In this scenario, Proposition 8 would be invalid, but another lawsuit – for example, brought by a Californian who opposed same-sex marriage – could eventually follow and reach the Court at a later date.

If the Justices do decide the case, they could vote in any number of ways, and so it’s hard to predict how the case will play out:  the Court could ultimately rule that Proposition 8 is invalid (for a variety of different reasons), or it could hold that the proponents lack the right to defend the initiative but set the stage for a new challenge later on.  Or they could surprise us all and simply send the case back to the lower courts for those courts to weigh in based on the Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, the challenge to the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, in which it will hear arguments tomorrow.  But in all events, it is difficult to count five votes in support of an opinion that reverses the court of appeals outright and holds that Proposition 8 is constitutional; Justice Kennedy seemed to be looking for a strategy to avoid that result.

The one thing we can be sure of, however, is that when the Justices finally let the rest of us know how they plan to resolve the case (or not), we’ll be back to report on it in Plain English.

In association with Bloomberg Law

26 Mar 18:51

Days of Ebertfest: The 2013 schedule

by Jim Emerson
John B

wish i had the time/money to make it to this festival this year. maybe some day.


PRESS RELEASE: CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Terrence Malick's 1978 film "Days of Heaven" won an Oscar for best cinematography, and Roger Ebert likely found that no surprise. It is "above all one of the most beautiful films ever made," Ebert said in a 1997 review. So it's only appropriate that the film will open the 15th annual Roger Ebert's Film Festival on April 17 in the big-screen, newly renovated Virginia Theater in downtown Champaign.

Also among the 12 features and two shorts to be screened during the five-day "Ebertfest" -- running through April 21 at the Virginia and at the University of Illinois -- will be a kabuki-inspired drama from Japan; a recent silent film from Spain that deserved as much attention as "The Artist," according to Ebert; a sympathetic take on the "mad" painter Vincent Van Gogh, directed by frequent festival guest Paul Cox; and a documentary, which will close the festival, about veterans overcoming their wounds through fly-fishing on a Montana ranch.

Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton was a guest for the 2011 Ebertfest and returns this year with the crime thriller "Julia," in which she plays the title role of an unlikable "tough broad who is in way over her head," according to Ebert. Jack Black will be a guest with a very different crime story, "Bernie," in which he plays the title role of a funeral director who everyone likes but who has something to hide.

Other festival guests will include most of the films' directors, along with others connected with the films -- among them a U. of I. alumnus.

As usual, all the festival films will be screened at the 1,500-seat Virginia Theater, a 1920s-era movie palace, with other events (to be announced later) at the U. of I.

Since last year's festival, extensive work at the theater has brought in all new seating, extensive plaster repair and painting, installation of an elevator and other accessibility features, along with other improvements.

This year's schedule of films, with the current lineup of guests (Ebert's comments are from past reviews or his online journal):

Wednesday, April 17


7 p.m. -- "Days of Heaven" (1978), a drama that takes place in the years before World War I on the Texas prairie, in which a farmhand convinces the woman he loves to marry a rich farmer who appears to be dying. Told from the perspective of the farmhand's teenage kid sister, it features Brooke Adams, Richard Gere and Sam Shepard. Haskell Wexler, an uncredited director of photography for the film, will be a guest. Credited Director of Photography Néstor Almendros won an Oscar for the film.

Before the film will be the short "I Remember" (2012), with director Grace Wang as a guest.

Thursday, April 18


1 p.m. -- "Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh" (1987), a film that takes the viewer inside the life and work of Van Gogh, based on hundreds of letters the painter wrote to his brother. The director Paul Cox "adopts the role of a disciple of the painter," says Ebert, exploring Van Gogh's technique even down to the brushstroke at times, and portraying the painter as a "poetic, thoughtful man ... open to the full range of his experience." Cox will be a guest.

Before the film will be the short "To Music" (2013), with co-directors Sophie Kohn and Feike Santbergen and actor Paul Cox as guests.


4 p.m. -- "In the Family" (2012), a drama essentially about a father and son being separated against their wishes, according to Ebert, though the story is more complicated than that. The film "tells a quiet, firm, deeply humanist story about doing the right thing." First-time director Patrick Wang, who also wrote the screenplay and gives an "extraordinary performance" as the father, will be a guest.


9 p.m. -- "Bernie" (2011), a droll comedy based on a true story in Carthage, Texas, in which a much-liked funeral director befriends a much-older and much-disliked rich widow, before things turn sour. Jack Black plays the title role, giving "one of the performances of the year," says Ebert, with Shirley MacLaine as the widow. Black and director Richard Linklater will be guests.

Friday, April 19


1 p.m. -- "Oslo, August 31st" (2011), a Norwegian film about a day in the life of a drug addict struggling to stay clean and sober, and feeling that life has moved on without him. It is "quietly, profoundly, one of the most observant and sympathetic films I've seen," Ebert says. Director Joachim Trier will be a guest.


4 p.m. -- "The Ballad of Narayama" (1958), a Japanese film "of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty," Ebert says. That cruelty involves a village and its tradition of carrying those who have reached the age of 70 up a mountain and leaving them there to die. Presented in the style of kabuki theater, and structured around song and dance, it centers on the relationship between an elderly mother and her son. Film historian David Bordwell will be a guest.


8:30 p.m. -- "Julia" (2008), "one doozy of a great thriller," Ebert says, in which Tilda Swinton is "amazing." She plays an unlikable woman in search of a big score, on a "nightmare journey through a thicket of people you do not want to meet," at the same time protecting a young boy. Swinton will be a guest.

Saturday, April 20


11 a.m. -- "Blancanieves" (2012), "a visually stunning" silent film from Spain, accompanied by a "full-throated romantic score," whose story draws on the Brothers Grimm and Snow White and yet "is anything but a children's film," Ebert says. The plot revolves around the daughter of a famous matador who eventually becomes a matador herself. Director Pablo Berger will be a guest.


2 p.m. -- "Kumare" (2011), a documentary that follows filmmaker Vikram Gandhi, raised in New Jersey in a Hindu family, as he sets himself up as a guru in Arizona and begins to attract followers. The film is not satirical or snarky, as one might expert, Ebert says, and "seems to establish that a guru can be a complete fraud and nevertheless do a certain amount of good." Gandhi and executive producer Stephen Feder, a U. of I. media studies graduate, will be guests.


5 p.m. -- "Escape From Tomorrow" (2013), a fantasy/drama and "fun paranoia ride ... about the terror of ubiquitous entertainment," says reviewer Michał Oleszczyk. Shot guerrilla-style almost entirely at Disney World, the film revolves around a father who becomes obsessed with a couple of sexy French tourists and then "gets caught up in the dark underside of the surrounding kingdom." The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Director Randy Moore and producer/editor Soogin Chung will be guests.


9 p.m. -- "The Spectacular Now" (2013), a comedy/drama about a high school boy and girl and their developing relationship, which also premiered at the recent Sundance. Its characters "look, speak and feel like real 18-year-old middle-American human beings," which is rare for a film about high-school romance, Ebert says. Director James Ponsoldt will be a guest.

Sunday, April 21

Not Yet Begun to Fight.jpg

Noon -- "Not Yet Begun to Fight" (2012), a documentary about men of broken body and soul and their therapy through fly-fishing on a Montana ranch. The men are wounded veterans participating in a group called "Warriors and Quiet Waters." Guests will include the producer/co-director Sabrina Lee, the co-director and editor Shasta Grenier, and film subjects Erik Goodge and Elliott Miller.

The schedule also can be found at, complete with Ebert's reviews, information about other events, and a video retrospective from last year's festival. Also available on the website at the time of the event will be live streaming of panel discussions and the post-film Q-and-A sessions at the Virginia Theater.

The festival is an event of the College of Media at Illinois. Additional support is provided by the Champaign County Anti-Stigma Alliance, sponsoring "In the Family"; Steak 'n Shake, sponsoring "Blancanieves," and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Ebert is a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and co-hosted "Ebert & Roeper," a weekly televised movie-review program, until 2006. He also produced and contributed to "Ebert Presents at the Movies," which ran through 2011.

Ebert is a 1964 Illinois journalism graduate and adjunct journalism professor.

Ebert selects films for the festival that he feels have been overlooked in some way, either by critics, distributors or audiences, or because they come from overlooked genres or formats, such as documentaries. (The festival previously was called "Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival." It was renamed in 2008.)

Guests connected with the selected films appear on stage for informal Q-and-A sessions after the screenings. Also attending and participating in panel discussions will be members of Ebert's "far flung correspondents," a group of film commentators from all over the world who regularly contribute to his online journal.

As in recent festivals, Ebert's wife, Chaz, will act as the emcee. Ebert will play a role through his computer-assisted voice.

Tickets for individual films will go on sale beginning April 1 through the theater box office (phone 217-356-9063; fax: 217-356-5729; open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday) and online through the theater website. The price will be $14 each for regular admission and $12 each for students and senior citizens. Sales will be limited to four per person.

The 1,000 festival passes, covering all festival screenings, went on sale in November and usually sell out -- though a few remain available.

Even if tickets for individual films are sold out, entrance can usually be obtained by waiting in a designated line that forms outside the theater prior to each screening.

More details about this year's festival, films and guests can be found at the official Ebertfest site.

15 Mar 03:27

The Congressional Progressive Caucus’ “Back to Work Budget”

by Anne Laurie
John B

counterpoint to ryan's budget

Per commentor PeakVT, the CPC — sponsored by Reps. Raul Grijalva & Keith Ellison — have released their proposed budget. It hasn’t gotten much attention from the Very Serious Media enablers pundits, possibly because that would involve actual reading (many more .pdf words, fewer colorful slogans than Paul Ryan’s recycling project). Also, to be honest, Rep. Ellison is an improbably fine specimen of what my Midwestern friends call ‘Scandinavian charisma’, which does not translate well outside of the potluck supper belt, and for the Media Villagers it’s all about the optics.

Steve Benen (where I found the video) likes it:

… Keep in mind, this isn’t a fiscally irresponsible budget plan or even a plan that says fiscal responsibility is unimportant. In fact, it’s the opposite…

Earlier, I suggested that the Senate Democrats’ plan offers a bookend to the House GOP plan, but upon further reflection, that’s not quite right. Ryan aims for radicalism; Senate Dems aim for modesty. Ryan throws caution to the wind and laughs at calls for compromise; Senate Dems deliberately identify a moderate middle ground.

The actual bookend for Paul Ryan’s vision is the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ plan — it’s bold and unapologetic, presenting an agenda without real regard for whether folks on the other side of the aisle will find it worthwhile.

We’ll never know for sure whether the public would be amenable to a vision like this. In fact, I have a strong hunch more than 99% of the population will never hear a single word about the “Back To Work Budget.” But let’s be clear about one thing: on Capitol Hill, when it comes to creating millions of jobs in a hurry, this is the only game in town.

So does Matt Yglesias at EventheContrarian Slate:

The upshot is that by 2023 spending will be about 23 percent of GDP with revenue coming in at 21.4 percent of GDP, leaving for a small and prudent budget deficit of 1.2 percent of GDP. In terms of timing, the fiscal consolidation happens pretty rapidly here. You run large deficits for the next few years, but by 2015 you’re already in arguably sustainable territory with a 3.3 percent of GDP deficit, and by 2016 it’s all the way down to 1.7 percent.

Obviously this isn’t going to be enacted and it’s in that sense not a “serious” budget. But people should take it seriously. The CPC envisions America becoming a country that has higher taxes, commits a much smaller share of national output to its military, and compensates its health care providers less generously. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s not a wild and crazy dream. It means America would look more like the United Kingdom. Most of all it shows that the passion for reducing elgibility for Social Security and Medicare isn’t driven by the laws of mathematics. It’s driven by a desire to protect the military budget, keep taxes low, and keep provider payment rates high. Those are all reasonable things to want to do and you can see why people would want to do them, but you can also see why people don’t want to be forced into a zero sum choice between welfare state programs for the elderly and education and infrastructure programs for the future.


29 Jan 19:42

Face Of The Day

by Andrew Sullivan
John B

treeing walker coonhound!


Turbo, a Russell Terrier, poses before a press conference January 28, 2013 by The Westminster Kennel Club to introduce two new breeds that will compete in the 137th annual Westminster Dog Show in New York. Treeing Walker Coonhounds will be the second new breed to compete in the show which will take place February 11-12. By Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images.

20 Jan 15:56

The Numbing Toll of 'Daily Gun Deaths'; Plus, 'Obama Overreach'?

by James Fallows
John B

mostly shared for the really good gun control statement at the top by the caller to diane rehm.

This morning I was on the "Domestic News Roundup" hour of the Diane Rehm Show, on WAMU in Washington. The topics naturally started with the latest gun-safety proposals and went on through Chuck Hagel, the economy, the Dreamliner, and so on. 
Here's a message from a listener in the Midwest, who objects to the way the gun discussion unfolded on this show and in most other political/media forums. Emphasis added:
This panel, and the rest of the media nearly always misses two points that are critical.         - Daily gun deaths [not the big massacres] are the real killer.         - The shooters are most likely to be either pissed off and jealous or perfectly rational with a heavily distorted value system, not mentally ill.  And mental health experts state whenever they can that it is very hard to determine which patients will become violent. Most will not, and that is certain.
The neglected mental health workers are glad to hear that they can get some attention and funding ... and the NRA is glad to put the blame on, of all things, lack of government funding for mental health.
Here in tea party country, my cousin, the local outspoken liberal, is afraid to write to the paper about guns.  Me, too.  We are rightfully afraid of being shot.  After all, the gun nuts don't have to be mentally ill to pull the trigger, just pissed off, and Limbaugh and Beck have that service covered.
This is an opportunity to mention again Dina Rasor's powerful article about the toll of the "daily gun deaths" as opposed to the too-frequent but not-quite-daily newsmaking mass killings. Previous discussion of it here. __ Bonus point: I also argued on this show that Barack Obama's long-standing success in luring his critics and opponents out onto extreme, hard-to-defend positions applies to several items in the news now. This is what Andrew Sullivan has often called the "meep-meep" effect, and what Chuck Spinney identified this way immediately after then-nominee John McCain chose then-phenom Sarah Palin as his running mate:
I am beginning to sense that McCain behavior is destroying himself and that Obama has the good sense or instinct to take a deep step back and let McCain dig a hole so deep he can not get out.
I think of this as "Obama overreach" in reverse: he has found a way to bait, lure, outwait, and in other ways entice his opponents to overreach themselves. And I think we see this now with:
  • the GOP threat to bring on a financial crisis by not raising the debt ceiling, a position from which the party is even now in evident retreat;
  • with differences in degree, the GOP positions on immigration, abortion, gay rights, etc: popular with a minority, very difficult to sell to a 51% majority;
  • the Wayne LaPierre-style angry counter-response from the NRA, which in the long run will put the NRA in a difficult position. (Though it will probably win this year's legislative battles.)
  • the over-the-top attempt to disqualify Chuck Hagel from Cabinet consideration by preposterously labeling him an anti-Semite rather than straightforwardly opposing him on policy grounds. This manifestly did not work in dissuading Obama, and if anything it rallied support for Hagel -- and increased denunciation of the groups and people leveling the charges. On the other hand, I agree with John Norris in Foreign Policy that the Obama administration has gone way too far in "vetting by trial balloon." That is, letting a potential nominee's name be "mentioned" and seeing how the pro-and-con goes.
These past five-plus years we've seen the mismatch of Obama playing long-game against opponents with a shorter-term focus. That has helped Obama long-term -- comfortable re-election, powerful demographic prospects that favor Democrats nationwide -- but has left Republicans with significant short-term blocking power and immediate victories (2010 elections, gerrymandered current control of the House). It's a leitmotif for the next few years.

18 Jan 02:21


John B