Reminding You Who's In Charge

From ProPublica: the number of IRS audits of a poor county in Mississippi makes it the most heavily audited county in America.

In a baffling twist of logic, the intense IRS focus on Humphreys County [in Mississippi] is actually because so many of its taxpayers are poor. More than half of the county’s taxpayers claim the earned income tax credit, a program designed to help boost low-income workers out of poverty. As we reported last year, the IRS audits EITC recipients at higher rates than all but the richest Americans, a response to pressure from congressional Republicans to root out incorrect payments of the credit.

The logic is clear, as the final sentence indicates: Republicans in power want to remind you who’s in charge, no matter what the cost in dollars or fairness.

Who is our Community?

Brilliant, tough, compassionate story from Buzzfeed’s Joe Bernstein on the Baraboo photo:

The culture of racist irony that prevails online and offline today is, in part, a distancing technique that creates the space people need to dehumanize and harm other people. The Christchurch shooter’s video is the most chilling and extreme documentation of this phenomenon. But it’s a mistake to think this dynamic only exists in extreme cases. Intolerance in Baraboo frequently came from a distance: shouted from a speeding car, carved into a sidewalk and left to shock, posted to the doors of the middle school. What does a racist joke do except create the cognitive distance necessary to do harm, dissolve the bonds of moral obligation? Ironic hatred, captured at the wrong time, was capable of pulling bedrock feelings of belonging and safety in a close community into question.

Another part of the story got my attention: the lack of context not just of the photo, but of each community member’s — parent and child — lack of knowledge of history and in some cases willful blindness of possible harm caused to others.

My paper on Anton Chekhov's "On Official Business"

During the last semester of my master’s program, I was crunching the numbers on my survey and writing my thesis. Since I had to be on campus anyway, I wanted to take a fun, just-for-me course.

I found it in the Slavic Languages and Literatures Department: a course on Anton Chekhov, one of my favorite writers. The course surveyed his short stories, some of the longer works, and of course his plays.

After a particularly hellish year, this class was a tall, cool drink of chocolate milk. I loved the readings, the discussions and insights of my teacher, Dr. Radislav Lapushin, and simply the opportunity and luxury of spending time savoring and thinking about Chekhov’s remarkable, subtle, devastating writing.

For the final project, Dr. Lapushin suggested I take a story I’d not read before and really dig deep into it. I chose a late story, “On Official Business.” It’s one of Chekhov’s last stories and, typical of that period, nothing seems to happen yet everything changes.

I’ve scanned in the paper with my teacher’s handwritten notes and comments ON ACCOUNTA I’M PROUDA WHAT I DID. Reading it over, I’d certainly tighten it up, take some things out, emphasize other things. Do I repeat myself? Probably. But it turned out really well and was the best thing I wrote my entire time in grad school. It also confirmed for me that, if I get another degree, it will be an MFA in Creative Writing. Or at least lots and lots of literature classes.

My paper: Dreams and Reality in Chekhov’s “On Official Business”

Because They're There

From Robin Sloan’s latest newsletter:

Beware, anytime you hear anybody talking about reading novels as self-improvement – because they “increase empathy” or something like that. A close cousin is when people say you should read science fiction because it “helps you imagine the future.”

Here is my proposed alternative: read novels because there are novels…

It’s unfortunately very common in the San Francisco of 2019, this quest for a deeper “because” that finds its foundation in self-improvement. Resist.

MusicProf78's YouTube Channel

For the last few decades, I’ve loved listening to popular music of the 1910s, ‘20s, and ‘30s. They can be Tin Pan Alley songs, songs from popular Broadway or theatre shows of the era, or recordings of vaudeville performers who were captured on shellac before all memory of their performances faded away.

These old 78s captured a vitality, brightness, and joy along with sharp musicianship: the energy and craft of these performances make for constant delight. Occasional cringes, yes, but mostly delight.

   [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="1280.0"]<img src="http://brownstudy.micro.blog/uploads/2019/246b851127.jpg" alt=" A side of one 78 RPM record had a playing time of between three-and-a-half and four minutes; hence the reason so many pop songs still rarely go beyond four or five minutes. For classical works, with of course longer running times, multiple discs were packaged into albums, evoking the look and feel of photo albums. Hence the reason we still call a collection of songs an “album” or so the story goes as I learned it. (Image by  Greg McMahan  from  Pixabay  ) " />  A side of one 78 RPM record had a playing time of between three-and-a-half and four minutes; hence the reason so many pop songs still rarely go beyond four or five minutes. For classical works, with of course longer running times, multiple discs were packaged into albums, evoking the look and feel of photo albums. Hence the reason we still call a collection of songs an “album” or so the story goes as I learned it. (Image by  Greg McMahan  from  Pixabay  ) [/caption] 

MusicProf78’s YouTube Channel collects hundreds of popular songs from this period and, wonderfully, breaks them into collections by year. And not only music from the early 20th Century: he has collections of songs by playlists from 1926 through 1966. His Miscellaneous Playlists also look enticing!

See also:


Critical MAS: Tips on Quitting Facebook

Michael Allen Smith’s nine tips for getting out of Facebook (see his post for details):

  1. Define the Reasons You Want to Leave

  2. Remove the Facebook Mobile App

  3. Log in and Out With Every Visit

  4. Stop Posting

  5. Find Other Ways to Connect to Good Sources

  6. How Will You Spend Your Liberated Time?

  7. Start Data Scrubbing (optional)

  8. Create a New Profile Page Elsewhere (optional)

  9. Walk On

I’m still tied to FB because of the various programs I’m a paid member of, so I have not quit yet. But my participation is minimal. I send direct messages to friends and will take a few minutes to scan the first screen of notifications once a day or so. But that’s it. I rarely post in any of the forums.

I’ve been on FB since 2006 or 2007, when it was available only to college students. Even if I left, they have years worth of analytics on me.

Dracula as Hero of His Own Story

The latest production from Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss is a revamping of Bram Stoker's venerable Dracula. Unlike their retooling of Sherlock for the modern-day, this version promises to stay in its late 19th-century setting. 

But what caught my eye in the Radio Times announcement is this passage, which hinges on what makes their adaptation unique:

...[T]heir big pitch to the BBC and Netflix has been to finally make Dracula “the hero of his own story” – the central focus of the narrative rather than a shadowy villain for more traditional heroes to overcome...

“Because we sort of made a promise to ourselves and the people who are making it, paying for it, that we’d make Dracula the hero of his own story, and less of a shadowy presence...[said Gatiss].

In Bram Stoker’s original epistolary novel of 1897, Dracula is only ever seen through the eyes of humans trying to escape him or bring him to heel, with the Count representing a malevolent threat to humanity without any real sense of his inner life or perspective.

According to Moffat and Gatiss, their new Dracula – played by Danish actor Claes Bang – will bring that interiority on screen. Though, as noted above, it’s not been quite as easy as they anticipated when they first pitched the reinterpretation…

“We quickly found out why he’s often kept a shadowy presence!” joked Moffat.

If Moffatt or Gatiss want to see one take on this approach, then I point them to the marvelous The Dracula Tape, a 1980 novel by the sf/fantasy author Fred Saberhagen. 

  <img src="http://brownstudy.micro.blog/uploads/2019/4e4c8e1042.jpg" alt="" />

In it, Dracula tells his story to a tape-recording interviewer and it is an absolutely bloody brilliant retelling. All of the novel's events are told from the other side of the mirror, as it were. Misunderstandings are made plain. Odd events are made sensible. For example, Dracula points out the idiocy of Van Helsing performing a blood transfusion without knowledge of blood types, which of course leads to disastrous consequences.

But, don't forget this is the Prince of Darkness, so he's the very definition of "unreliable narrator." Still, his contempt for Van Helsing is spirited and apt; Van Helsing is such a stick in the novel, so unlike the dashing and heroic Peter Cushing. (Stoker must have had in mind an actor in the troupe he stage-managed who specialized in German or Dutch accents; this is the only way I can comprehend the presence of such a bizarre character).

Saberhagen was a jobbing sf/fantasy author who wrote a similar "what-really-happened" story of The Monster in The Frankenstein Papers and went on to write a series of Dracula-as-avenging-good-guy novels, plus a Dracula meets Sherlock Holmes pastiche. I've not read all of these books; those I have I remember as average stories, competently told, not very memorable.

But The Dracula Tape is different. There is a magic and vivacity, a real grappling with structure, storytelling, and doing something new with this well-worn and familiar tale. For me, Saberhagen never bottled this vintage of lightning again in any of his other work.

As for Moffat and Gatiss's plans: I hope their production is a success. I worry a bit about their going back again and again to the pulp culture well of their childhoods. Moffat's career as a television writer saw him create a terrific series for young people (Press Gang) and several popular sitcoms set in the everyday modern-day where he honed his techniques; he also tried, bless him, to be up to date with the young people in Coupling. His modern retelling of Jekyll was big, colorful, and fast-moving; a great experiment on the way to his more successful Doctor Who episodes but not satisfying all on its own.

After spending so many years working with other writers' and creators' material -- Jekyll, Sherlock, Doctor Who, and now Dracula -- albeit with plenty of his own imaginative juice thrown in — it would be heartening to see Moffat go back and start creating again from whole cloth, maybe leave the toybox of his youth, with its spaceships and vampires, behind. I'd love to see him stretch his wings as Russell T Davies did with Cucumber Banana Tofu and A Very English Scandal

Ambling Through the Ambience

A great find, via the ever-essential Open Culture:

For those who think 50 minutes is too short and those piano notes too recognizable, may we suggest this 6-hour, time-stretched version of the album Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, created by YouTube user “Slow Motion TV.”

iPad Pro Observations

I subscribe to Daniel Lemire’s blog. He is a computer science professor at the University of Quebec.

While his posts on optimal sorting and benchmarking bounce harmlessly off of me, I appreciate his take on academe, research, and the state of science and technology. His weekly links of what he considers notable science and technology stories in the news or research journals consistently interests me (example).

In one of his longer posts, he had a few observations on his attempt to use an iPad for his daily work.

His point about focusing on only one application at a time is a good one; it’s not as limited as the old days of using DOS software, but when I’m writing on the iPad, task-switching is a little cumbersome. And I agree that working with text is awkward; I use a clipboard utility that helps a little, but I really prefer a mouse over tapping to select or move text.

I don’t use my 10.5 iPad Pro daily; I use it mostly for web surfing or reading; I can’t say I’ve noticed my reading comprehension or activity to have changed. Perhaps I’m not using it enough. I am one of those readers who remembers the quote is on the bottom of the right page (spatial/geographic memory), an ability frustrated by any e-reader.

I liked his last observation:

My final point is that working with an iPad is more fun than working with a laptop. I cannot tell exact why that is. I’d be really interested in exploring this “fun” angle further. Maybe it is simply because it is different, but it is maybe not so simple. My smartphone is “fun” even if it is old and familiar.

I think one reason an iPad might be more fun to use is that we still haven’t quite unlocked how to work with it effectively. Once it becomes as boringly dependable as a laptop, it will likely lose some of its allure. The fact that it’s still a little difficult to use, that we still have to think about it a little, gives it a little more challenge that makes the experience a little more fun.

"Dearest Liz"

Here, I am shamelessly aping Michael Leddy’s post, which should come as no surprise as I shamelessly steal many ideas and techniques from his blog.

What makes this video from Field Notes particularly dear to me is that 1) my wife’s name is Liz, 2) she is an editor, and 3) she is equally precise, though not as vicious.

[vimeo 317097991 w=640 h=360]