Monogamy and Anthony Weiner

Mark Oppenheimer, writing in The New York Times about columnist Dan Savage's sexual ethic and how it relates to the Weiner scandal:

Savage believes monogamy is right for many couples. But he believes that our discourse about it, and about sexuality more generally, is dishonest. Some people need more than one partner, he writes, just as some people need flirting, others need to be whipped, others need lovers of both sexes. We can’t help our urges, and we should not lie to our partners about them. In some marriages, talking honestly about our needs will forestall or obviate affairs; in other marriages, the conversation may lead to an affair, but with permission. In both cases, honesty is the best policy.

The Importance of the Oxford Comma

Linda Holmes, writing on why serial commas are vital:

The balancing act between how much rule-making you like in language and how much you like language to evolve naturally isn't necessarily the point of the serial comma debate (to me, the reasons to keep it have absolutely nothing to do with tradition and everything to do with actual utility), but that's where almost any discussion of almost any arcane point invariably winds up. Language is alive, you see, and it changes, and its beauty lies in its ability to be shaped by an entire society that calls upon its collective wisdom and experience to create a means of communication that accomplishes what it needs to AND NO THAT DOESN'T MAKE "IRREGARDLESS" OKAY AND STOP USING "LITERALLY" TO MEAN "FIGURATIVELY" I AM BEGGING YOU.

Fuji Finepix X100: First Impressions

The Fuji Finepix X100 camera is one of the hottest cameras on the market today. It is completely unavailable at any online camera store and there's are good reasons why: not only does it sport an incredibly attractive retro look and feel, it takes spectacular images with its fixed-focal length lens (23mm). Recent events in Japan have also significantly affected Fuji's production rate, making this camera extremely difficult to come by.

After repeated and failed attempts to purchase this camera at places like Amazon, Adorama, and B&H, I decided to try calling some local places. I was extremely fortunate to find a unit at the Hunt's Photo down in Kenmore Square. It was the last one they had, and they had gotten it into the store only a couple of days before. In its entire lifetime, this Hunt's Photo shop had only sold six Fuji X100s. I was number seven. 

Here's a video of me unboxing the camera:

You can't tell from this crappy iPhone video, but the box and packaging is super sleek and classy.

Once you try to get your hands on the controls, it is immediately clear that this is not a camera for beginners. There are no "automatic" modes such as "landscape" or "portrait." Instead, you're greeted with these dials:

The X100 is strictly for intermediate or advanced users and even professional photographers have had problems getting a handle on how to use it. This thing is very quirky and there are a couple of nearly deal-breaking annoyances that I've had to contend with. First of all, the Fuji X100 takes amazing portraits, but due to the wide angle lens, you need to get really close to your subject. This necessitates switching into macro focusing mode on the camera to get the subject in focus, which involves going into the menu and making a specific selection. This is extremely cumbersome and I missed a lot of great portraits this way (the focusing also performs quite poorly in low light). 

There's also the annoying fact that I can't replicate my normal DSLR shooting workflow while on this camera. When I'm shooting with, say, a Canon 50D, I'll look through the viewfinder, take a photo, then hold the camera away from my face so I can look at the photo on the display. For some reason, the X100 doesn't allow a similar workflow, as it has very limited "View Modes." 

There are a bunch of other things here and there that are annoying and just plain weird (example: the ridiculously overpriced lens adapter/filter/hood isn't even available for purchase, due to constrained supply), but once you can overcome those, the images you can get are pretty incredible. Moreover, the hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder is one of the coolest things I've ever seen and looks like it came straight out of a Mission: Impossible film. It needs to be seen to be believed.

A few other things deserve mentioning. The low-light performance on this camera is simply phenomenal. This thing does better in dark situations than my much heavier, much more expensive Canon 7D. I can easily take images at up to ISO 3200 that are usable and that fact absolutely dumbfounding to me. Here's an image I took at ISO 2000. In my opinion, the grain is barely noticeable!

Linda Farewell Dinner 69

For strobist purposes, the camera can also sync at much higher speeds than 1/250th of a second (the maximum sync speed on most DSLRs these days). This means I can experiment with flash using wider apertures in broad daylight, something I've always wanted to do but never had the chance to. I'm really looking forward to the images I'll be able to create with off-camera flash.

Here is a photo set I took with the X100 at a farewell dinner last night. Judge for yourself whether the camera is worth the price and the quirks:

By the Docks

I recently had the opportunity to photograph a couple with my colleague, Evgenia (Eve). Eve has studied under the tutelage of the master photographer Jerry Ghionis, whose 5-day Boston seminar I will be attending next week. You can expect more thoughts on that after its over, but in the meantime, here are some photos from our shoot:

What was awesome about this shoot was that I shot using artificial light almost exclusively, while Eve shot using natural light. I'll update this post with some of her photos when they're ready, but they have an distinctly different feel to them.

Once again, I am indebted to the work of David Hobby, without whose blog these photos would simply not be possible.

Stephen Colbert's Jack White Interviews

Stephen Colbert's Jack White interviews are the funniest thing I have seen all year (and I include all the comedic films I've seen, although I exclude Bill Maher and Jane Lynch's performance of Anthony Weiner's sexting). White is the perfect foil for Colbert, with his deadpan, catatonic, and totally unimpressed demeanor. Together, they create comedic, musical gold.

Here's part one of the three-part interview:

Be sure to check out part two and part three as well.

To Catch a Plagiarizer

A fascinating dialogue between a professor who's caught students plagiarizing and a person who gets paid to write papers for students (via Maud):

[In the case of grammatical errors,] I was alerted to plagiarism by the sudden appearance, in a paper that is otherwise a morass of grammatical errors, of a series of flawless sentences with complicated structures. The correct use of a semicolon is a big red flag for me. As is the use—and often misuse—of specialized jargon or technical language that I’ve not discussed with them in class. Then I type those sentences into Google, and they all wind up being smoking-gun cases of plagiarism. My favorite case this semester was plagiarism within plagiarism. When I informed this student that I suspected her paper was plagiarized, she said to me, “I got my paper from one of the students who was in your class last semester. How was I to know that she had plagiarized?” Which indicated to me, along with a number of the other email responses I got from students, that many of them don’t even know what plagiarism is.

Did Apple Just Walk Away From the Professional Video Editing Market?

I have never edited any video professionally, but with the recent purchase of my Canon 7D, I was really excited that Apple would be releasing a new version of Final Cut Pro that not only simplified and expedited the video editing process, but also only cost $300 in the Mac App store. However, the recent firestorm surrounding the release of Final Cut Pro X has given even me pause about clicking that "Buy" button.

Professional video editors all over the web have been howling about how the new software resembles and functions more like "iMovie Pro" than "Final Cut Pro." Many of the crucial features from Final Cut Pro 7 have been excised or hidden, and Final Cut Pro X appears to be extremely buggy to boot (based on reviews from the Mac App Store). More damningly, Apple is no longer selling Final Cut Pro 7 and is discontinuing support for it. This means that millions of people who have spent years building their livelihoods around learning and using Final Cut Pro can no longer have confidence that they will be able to depend on this software for the foreseeable future.

Read the rest of this post at /Film.

Not All Calories Are Created Equal

It turns out that a pound of potatoes weighs more than a pound of nuts (via Kevin):

“The conventional wisdom is simply, ‘Eat everything in moderation and just reduce total calories’ without paying attention to what those calories are made of,” said Dariush Mozaffarian of the Harvard School of Public Health, who led the study published in Thursday’s edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. “All foods are not equal, and just eating in moderation is not enough.”

The Things You Always Wanted To Know About 'Cars' (But Were Afraid To Ask)

Eric D. Snider, with his usual hard-hitting (AKA hilarious) analysis.

Anti-Immigration Law Works As Planned, With Disastrous Results

Georgia recently passed House Bill 87, a bill aimed at driving out the state's 425,000 illegal immigrants (similar to Arizona's controversial measures last year).

As with most sweeping measures passed with only a modicum of thought and research, the effects have been disastrous (via Kyle Baxter):

After enacting House Bill 87, a law designed to drive illegal immigrants out of Georgia, state officials appear shocked to discover that HB 87 is, well, driving a lot of illegal immigrants out of Georgia. It might be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Thanks to the resulting labor shortage, Georgia farmers have been forced to leave millions of dollars’ worth of blueberries, onions, melons and other crops unharvested and rotting in the fields. It has also put state officials into something of a panic at the damage they’ve done to Georgia’s largest industry.

Why I (Probably) Won't Buy an Engagement Ring

Meghan O'Rourke wrote this piece about the shady origins of diamond engagement rings a few years back, but Slate is re-running it this week for their wedding-themed issue. It's as relevant today as it was back then:

[T]here's a powerful case to be made that in an age of equitable marriage the engagement ring is an outmoded commodity—starting with the obvious fact that only the woman gets one. The diamond ring is the site of retrograde fantasies about gender roles. What makes it pernicious—as opposed to tackily fun—is its cost (these days you don't need just a diamond; you need a good diamond), its dubious origins, and the cynical blandishments of TV and print ads designed to suggest a ring's allure through the crassest of stereotypes.

The Company That May Change Photography Forever

Ina Fried has an interesting profile of Lytro, a start-up that's releasing a digital camera containing some exciting new technology:

The breakthrough is a different type of sensor that captures what are known as light fields, basically all the light that is moving in all directions in the view of the camera. That offers several advantages over traditional photography, the most revolutionary of which is that photos no longer need to be focused before they are taken.

The Legal Battle Over Geeks

As if Best Buy could not be any more ridiculous.

'The Killing' Is Bad, Apparently

As a writer/broadcaster, I have limited time to take on watching new TV properties, so I have to choose wisely. Awhile back, I asked my Twitter followers whether I should begin watching HBO's Game of Thrones or AMC's The Killing. Overwhelmingly, people insisted I check out Game of Thrones. While many said The Killing was good, everyone insisted that Game of Thrones was incredible. Thus, I've been watching Game of Thrones religiously and it has rekindled my love of television and shot to the top of my list of favorite TV shows of all time.

Both shows had their season finales last night. And based on the reviews of TV critics, it looks like I made the right choice. Here's Maureen Ryan:

'The Killing,' in the last two months or so, has been a waste of time. This week, it turned into a giant insult. This wasn't a swing and a miss. Those are forgivable and expected on networks that take chances with their material. This hour was, in my opinion, the worst season finale of all time, because it was a terrible execution of a set of colossally stupid, misguided and condescending ideas. And clearly, people at the network have known about what would be in the finale for some time. They should have stopped it. All of it.

Alan Sepinwall agrees:

[T]his will be the last review I write of "The Killing," because this will be the last time I watch "The Killing." Because I have no interest in going forward with a show that treats its audience this way.

It is unusual for me to post reviews of shows/films I haven't watched, but this criticism is so brutal and withering that it is fun to read even if you don't follow The Killing (Just know that spoilers are included).

Also: the disparity between these shows reinforces my inclination that when dealing with serialized shows that have season-long arcs, sometimes it is best to wait until the end and see whether the showrunners did right by the audience before investing 10 hours of your life into what may be a pointless waste of time.

Happy Father's Day

A moving meditation by Charles M. Blow on every boy's need for a father.

Jon Stewart Takes on Fox News Face-to-Face

Jon Stewart squares off against Mike Wallace. It gets heated.

A Twitter Sting Against Anthony Weiner?

Jennifer Preston assembles the evidence that one or more users faked identities on Twitter to make Rep. Anthony Weiner look bad. To what end? It is still unclear, but if they bore him ill will, they are probably pretty happy at the moment:

At least three months before the revelation that former Representative Anthony D. Weiner was sending lewd messages and photos to women online, a small group of self-described conservatives was monitoring his exchanges with women on Twitter. Now there is evidence that one or more people created two false identities on Twitter in order to collect information to use against him.

Mildly related: I really appreciated Dan Savage's epic rant about the hypocrisy surrounding the Anthony Weiner story on this week's episode of "Savage Love." Here's a direct link to the audio file. The rant is right at the beginning.

Behind the Success of Amanda Hocking

The New York Times has a rare look at Amanda Hocking, the 26-year old literary phenomenon who's already made millions by self-publishing her books on Amazon.

[Side note: I'm usually a fan of the work of photographer Ben Innes, but that is not a flattering photo of Hocking.]

Louis C.K. Defends Tracy Morgan

Slate has an interview with comedian Louis C.K., who took to Twitter recently to defend fellow comedian Tracy Morgan's recent homophobic remarks. After much reflection, I have to side with C.K. on this one, based on the very limited information I have. C.K. himself routinely makes outrageous statements that provoke laughter from his audience (and me), so it did not surprise me to see him taking a stand for free speech on the comic stage.

The overarching question in this whole ordeal is: is there anything that is in such poor taste it should never be made a topic of comedy? C.K. thinks the answer is no, and I'm inclined to agree.

[Update: Ta-Nahesi Coates chimes in with a measured, even-handed take on C.K.'s defense. Coates does not agree with C.K. And he's really convincing! (If you can't tell, this is a topic I'm pretty torn about)]

Who Killed The Internet Auction?

Read this awhile back, but loved it. James Surowiecki explains why the internet action has lost its excitement:

Why did auctions, in a matter of years, go from world-shaking innovation to seeming curio? To begin with, the experience of auctions changed over time, generally in ways that made them less appealing to both buyers and sellers. Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor, which consults for ecommerce companies, points to the advent of sniping—the practice of placing winning bids at the last second—as something that has alienated ordinary shoppers. “New bidders don’t understand or expect sniping, so when it happens, you see people leave in frustration,” he says. It’s not that sniping is illicit—depending on the kind of auction, bidding as late as possible often makes sense. But sniping has stripped auctions of much of their entertainment value. What fun is it to wait for seven days, only to be outbid at the last second, with no chance of competing?

The Short-Sightedness of iTunes Match

When iTunes Match was first announced as part of Apple's iCloud initiative, many thought that the benefit to consumers would be obvious. But Rob Sevier, co-owner of indie label Numero Group, doesn't see it that way:

The company also prides itself on making "cultural artifacts," replete with extensive liner notes, lyrics, album art, and more. For Numero in particular, iCloud doesn't offer any tangible benefits. "We'd rather the CD, or better yet the LP, be the backup, not iCloud," he said.

But, there are bigger issues that could have serious repercussions for artists and labels, especially independent ones. "We could have quietly opted out and not said anything," Sevier said. "We don't think most of the people that read our blog really care much about the finer details of copyrights. But we know a number of other people in the industry who might go for this without thinking though all these other issues."

Conservatism and the Death of Empiricism

Andrew Sullivan critiques the Republican party's complete ignorance of empirical evidence:

Back in the 1980s, conservatism was a thrilling empirical, reality-based challenge to overweening government power and omniscient liberal utopianism. Today, alas, it has become a victim of its own success, reliving past glories rather than tackling current problems. It is part secular dogma - no taxes, no debt, more war - and part religious dogma - no Muslims need apply; amend the federal constitution to keep gays in their place; no abortions even for rape and incest; more settlements on the West Bank to prepare for the End-Times. Although there were inklings back then - Stockman was right; Iran-Contra should have been a warning - they were still balanced by empiricism. Reagan raised taxes, withdrew from Lebanon, hated war, and tried to abolish all nuclear weapons on earth. The first Bush was an under-rated deficit-cutter and diplomat, a legacy doubly squandered by his son.

Now it's Levin-land: either total freedom or complete slavery and a rhetorical war based entirely on that binary ideological spectrum. In other words, ideological performance art: brain-dead, unaware of history, uninterested in policy detail, bored by empiricism, motivated primarily by sophistry, Manicheanism, and factional hatred. This is not without exceptions. Douthat, Brooks, Zakaria, Bacevich, Bartlett, Frum, Manzi, Salam, Lomborg, Mac Donald, et al. are still thinking. It's just that many of them are now deemed - absurdly - to be liberals. And none will have or does have any real impact on the base of the party.

A Point-And-Shoot for Pros

Speaking of Neil Van Neikirk, he's just published a review of the Fuji X100, which looks like a pretty spectacular camera. This joins the Leica M9 (extensive review here) as a compact digital camera that I'd love to get my hands on one day.

Photo Shoots: Grace Van't Hof and Amanda

It used to be that my goal in life was to become a good photographer with a solid journalistic style. That all changed when I started reading the work of David Hobby. Hobby has built an empire out of blogging about mostly one thing: off-camera flash. For the uninitiated, off-camera flash is the use of a flash unit that is not attached to the camera. This sounds like a small difference, but it can make for brilliant photos that were previously thought to be impossible. As netizens, we've often seen the results of a point-and-shoot aimed and flashed right at a person, who has that dear-in-the-headlights look and a white, washed out face. Off-camera flash allows you to mitigate those types of photos and create true art. I had used it before for weddings, but Hobby allowed me to see it in a different, more refined way, and I'm eternally grateful to him for it.

[FYI: I'm also a huge fan of the work of Neil Van Neikirk, whose detailed blog also provides a lot of help in the off-camera flash area]

I had the ability to use some off-camera flash extensively with a couple of shoots that I did recently. First up is local musician Grace Van't Hof, who plays a pretty mean banjo. I went over to Grace's very-interesting-looking house and we did a lot of profile-style shots as well as some more interesting poses.

In addition, I worked with a classmate recently, Amanda, to produce shots for use in her online portfolio and website. These are almost all exclusively done using off-camera flash and shoot-through umbrellas (Lumopro 160s fired through Westcott 43" umbrellas).

Stephen Tobolowsky on the Kevin Pollak Chat Show

Speaking of good podcasts, Stephen Tobolowsky recently appeared on the Kevin Pollak Chat Show to promote The Tobolowsky Files. It is a pretty dynamite episode, if I do say so myself. Listeners of the Files will recognize many of the stories that Stephen tells, but he also pulls out a few that even I haven't heard yet.

The whole thing is 2 hours long, but I found it enthralling enough that I was able to watch it in its entirety within a few sittings. Also of note: around 53 minutes into this episode, Kevin Pollak mentions my name numerous times! I mean, he doesn't know who I am or anything, but still! Stephen Tobolowsky and Kevin Pollak discussed me like I am actual person or something! Another life goal achieved.

Podcasts I Currently Listen To

I've been getting a bunch of e-mails/tweets asking about specific podcasts I've mentioned on the /Filmcast, so I thought I'd put together a brief post compiling them all. I listen to a lot of podcasts, not just for enjoyment, but because I think it's important to figure out what makes shows work (or not work), and try to incorporate lessons learned into my own show(s).

I don't listen to each of these every single week, but they're all in the rotation to some extent on my iPhone. Links to reviews if I have them (otherwise I link to iTunes listing). In no particular order:

I may be leaving out a few, but that's the bulk of them. I realize there are a lot of excellent shows that aren't on this list, but sometimes you have to make difficult decisions in order to survive the pop culture landscape.

Is The Article a Byproduct of Journalism?

There's been some interesting debate recently about whether or not the concept of "the article" is still valuable in an age of Twitter and Facebook. Not too long ago, Jeff Jarvis published an article claiming that the article was a byproduct of journalism, as opposed to its teleological endpoint:

The bigger question all this raises is when and whether we need articles. Oh, we still do. Articles can make it easy to catch up on a complex story; they make for easier reading than a string of disjointed facts; they pull together strands of a story and add perspective. Articles are wonderful. But they are no longer necessary for every event. They were a necessary form for newspapers and news shows but not the free flow, the never-starting, never-ending stream of digital. Sometimes, a quick update is sufficient; other times a collection of videos can do the trick. Other times, articles are good.

Frédéric Filoux wasn't having any of that, and he chimed in with a response:

The problem is not Jarvis’ views of journalism. He’s a talented provocateur who sometimes smokes his own exhaust. But punditry isn’t reporting or analysis. Still, his talks, books, multiple appearances and knack for self-promotion are quite influential with many young journalists. They shouldn’t be misled. It’s not because news organizations tend to spend less and less on original reporting or on expertise, that those assets ought to be declared unimportant. Also, it’s not because a growing proportion of journalists are actually unable to produce high value stories or articles that the genre is no longer needed. On these matters, Jarvis is reversing cause and effect.

Jeff Jarvis responded to Filoux, saying that Filoux "willfully misrepresen[ted]" him. And he makes some good points:

First, far from denigrating the article, I want to elevate it. When I say the article is a luxury, I argue that using ever-more-precious resources to create an article should be taken seriously and before writing and editing a story we must assure that it will add value. Do most articles do that today? No. Go through your paper in the morning and tell me how much real value is added and how much ink is spilled to tell you what you already know (whether that is facts you learned through Twitter, the web, TV, radio, et al or background that is reheated more often than a stale slice in a bad New York pizzeria).

Conan O'Brien's Amazing Commencement Speech at Dartmouth

Conan O'Brien's commencement address at Dartmouth College this year is a thing of beauty. Not only is it laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it also contains meaningful lessons from Conan's (relatively) recent late night wars. Many of the topics that Conan discusses resonated with me deeply, such as the value of trying new things, ignoring the fear of failure, and understanding that even if our dreams change, they aren't worse for it.

Highly recommended (via Sara):

Graduates, faculty, parents, relatives, undergraduates, and old people that just come to these things: Good morning and congratulations to the Dartmouth Class of 2011. Today, you have achieved something special, something only 92 percent of Americans your age will ever know: a college diploma. That’s right, with your college diploma you now have a crushing advantage over 8 percent of the workforce. I'm talking about dropout losers like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg. Incidentally, speaking of Mr. Zuckerberg, only at Harvard would someone have to invent a massive social network just to talk with someone in the next room.

The Lens Flare in 'Super 8'

Here's a fantastic essay by Adam Nayman about the J.J. Abrams' use of lens flare in Super 8 (via MattZollerSeitz):

Appropriately for something that makes it difficult to look directly at the screen, the meaning of this literally flashy technique can be a little bit tricky to discern. The artificial lens flare is a manufactured defect, a means of approximating the fallibility of human vision even when all or part of what’s being glimpsed by the camera eye has been created in a digital void—making it the perfect aesthetic signature for the CGI era. But Abrams, supposedly, is some kind of throwback analog figure: a commercial entertainer more interested in building his characters than blowing them up. How anyone could seriously make this assertion after seeing this transplanted television-auteur’s choices of feature film material (two mammoth studio franchises) is another good question, but we’ll go with it long enough to point out that the best thing about Super 8 is a scene that directly interrogates its director’s relationship to cinematic spectacle—a scene framed by, you guessed it, a lens flare.

Todd VanDerWerff's Extraordinary Interview with Dan Harmon

Todd VanDerWerff over at the AV Club has just finished publishing his complete interview with Community creator and showrunner Dan Harmon. This interview is extraordinary for its length and insight. Harmon is an articulate man with big ideas about television, and is probably one of the most compelling and interesting people working in the medium today. He's also exceedingly good at speaking at length about his own show (as well he should be).

There are occasions when I question the value of what we do at and in the entertainment press in general. Interviews like these reaffirm that we cultural commentators have the ability to produce and disseminate criticism and content that not only illuminates, but also in some way contributes to the conversation in a way that almost becomes its own artistic work. This interview is the full realization of that potential, and it's certainly made me better understand what is possible in this game (in other words: it is time for me to start demanding 90-minute interviews!)

You can read the interview in four parts:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

It took me probably about an hour or two to read through the entire thing, so make sure you make the time.

The Quest for the Cure

Tina Rosenberg has written a profile of Timothy Brown, the man who used to have HIV but, after leukemia treatment, no longer shows any signs of the virus in his immune system. I love pieces like this because not only do they delve behind the headlines to give us more background information on the broader issues at hand, they also follow-up with the people involved to give a fuller picture of what happens after the media attention has subsided. Well done, all around.

What's the Deal with the F-word?

Kathryn Schulz, on our society's confused feelings about "fuck":

For as long as some people have fretted about expletives in literature, others have seen fit to laugh at them. [...] This idea rests on the assumption that “bad” words really are bad—and ditto writers who use them without exceptional justification. In crime fiction, foul language is justified on the ground that it is lifelike. (Art just imitates that shit.) In Go the Fuck to Sleep, foul language is not simply justified but justification: The whole book is about the taboo status of the word fuck. By contrast, outside of books like Jesse Sheidlower’s The F-Word or Harry G. Frankfurt’s On Bullshit, it’s difficult to justify profanity in serious nonfiction.

But do we need such a justification, beyond the one a writer might mount for any word—i.e., that it works? There is, after all, no such thing as an intrinsically bad, boring, or lazy word. There is only how it is deployed, and one of the pleasures of profanity is how diversely you can deploy it.

What 'X-Men: First Class' Leaves Out

A brilliant essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates about how X-Men: First Class misses an opportunity to incorporate the very relevant civil rights movement into its 1960s plotline:

In print, the X-Men are an elite team culled from a superpowered species of human. The mutants, as they are dubbed, are generally handled roughly by the rest of humanity and singled out for everything from enslavement to internment camps to genocide. As if to ram the allegory home, the X-Men, for much of their history, have hailed from across the spectrum of human existence. Over the decades, there have been gay X-Men, patrician X-Men, Jewish X-Men, Aboriginal X-Men, black X-Men with silver mohawks, X-Men hailing from Russia, Kentucky coal country, orphanages and a nightmarish future.

But as “First Class” roars to its final climatic scene, it appeals to an insidious suspension of disbelief; the heroic mutants of America, bravely opposing bigotry and fear, are revealed as not so much a spectrum of humankind, but as Eagle Scouts from Mayfield.

Court Says Bank Is Not Responsible For Losing Man's Money to Hackers


My Biggest, Nerdiest Nitpicks with X-Men: First Class


[UPDATE: Thanks for the great, thoughtful comments on this post. At this point, many of the nitpicks in this post have been addressed already, but I'm leaving it up for posterity's sake. Be sure to read the comments if you're seeing this post for the first time.]

WARNING: the following post will be extremely nitpicky without discussing anything of actual importance, and contain SPOILERS for X-Men: First Class (listen to our review with director Vincenzo Natali for an actual, in-depth discussion of the film). You've been warned:

  • In the opening scene, how does Mystique know what Charles' mother's voice sounds like? Also, what is the power dynamic in that household? Does Xavier just get to do whatever the hell he wants (including taking in stragglers), regardless of what his parents think? If this is true, does Xavier control his parents using telepathy? If so, what a disturbing thought.
  • If Xavier lived in New York as a child (and his family has clearly been there for generations), why does he have a British accent, both as a child as an adult?
  • If Emma Frost is really able to convert herself into diamond form, how did Magneto almost crush her throat using the gold bed bannister? Diamonds are harder than gold on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. Also, how can Magneto control non-ferrous metals in the first place? (And if it was just some random metal that was colored gold, my first point is doubly true, since it probably wouldn't have been as hard as gold). 
  • In the first war room scene, after Colonel Hendry's encounter with Shaw, wouldn't Pentagon officials have known that Hendry wasn't supposed to be there, and found it odd that he showed up suddenly and unannounced? 
  • How did the Russians develop a helmet that could resist telepaths? This was before a time when people even had a widespread awareness that mutants existed.
  • Why doesn't Emma Frost use her telepathic or diamond powers to escape the CIA?
Have any answers, or more questions? Feel free to chime in in the comments and I'll try to update this list. I'm sure that some of these have simple explanations that escape me. Note: I chose not to include any of the retcon stuff in this list because I'm sure the list would be huge.

Behind-The-Scenes Linkjacking

One of my favorite film writers, Eric Vespe, has been painstakingly putting together amazing behind-the-scenes photos in a daily feature at Ain't It Cool News. When I spoke to Eric about this collection awhile ago during his most recent appearance on the /Filmcast, he mentioned that he assembled these photos from a variety of sources, including submissions from readers and his own personal collection. Here's an example of a post in this awesome series.

Today, I was disappointed to find that a blogger (Angus Shamal) had assembled a bunch of Quint's photos and republished them into a new blog post. This post was then submitted to Reddit, where it quickly became a popular story. Later, popular blogger John Gruber linked to Shamal's post on his site as well. As a conservative estimate (based on my knowledge of the incoming traffic these two sites receive), Shamal's blog post probably received at least 100,000 visits today, only a small fraction of which led to visits/hits for Ain't It Cool News. Currently, the offending site is down from the massive amounts of traffic, although you can visit a mirror/cached copy of it by clicking here.

When I saw the story on Reddit, I was angered that someone had repurposed Quint's work and was using it to get a ton of traffic. I was about to take to the comments section and insist that Redditors visit the Ain't It Cool News site directly...except I couldn't find an easy link at Ain't It Cool News that assembled a bunch of the photos together in one place. Heck, I couldn't even find a link that led me to all the columns that Quint had written for this series. Ain't It Cool makes it difficult to surface this content, even for people who are looking for it. Chastened, I realized that as quasi-sleazy as it was for Shamal to copy all those images onto his blog, it actually served a purpose: it presented a bunch of Quint's content in an easy-to-read format that Ain't It Cool News either cannot or does not want to replicate.

Thus, there are several lessons I personally glean from this incident:

Always assume your work can/will be stolen - If you produce awesome material, it's possible that someone else on the internet will repurpose it in some way, then receive all the credit/pageviews/advertising/money. You can bitch and moan about this, or you can adapt and prepare for this eventuality as best as possible.

Make it easy for social media sites to link to your content - To promote virality of your work, these days, it is not enough to simply produce great content; it is also important to assemble it in such a way that facilitates easy linking from sites such as Reddit. If you don't do it, someone else will do it for you.

Protect your images - Some kind of watermark ensures that if your work is totally jacked by another blogger, you'll at least get some free advertising from it.

The Crimes of Dahl

I always thought there was mean streak to Roald Dahl's books. Perhaps that's why I enjoyed them so much as a child; Dahl indulged in that vengeful, immature side of little boys that we hopefully subsume by the time we become young adults.

Now comes this piece from Alex Carnevale explaining that apparently, Dahl was an anti-semitic womanizer. Does this make me think of his books any less? Yeah. It does.

An unhappy and bullied little boy, in adulthood he longed for the kind of dominance he never achieved as a child. Even from his earliest days, he was a hateful little fuck. He began one prep school essay, "Sometimes there is a great advantage in traveling to hot countries, where niggers dwell. They will give you many valuable things." From a very young age Dahl found himself attracted to older women, cultivating many secret relationships throughout his life, including a variety of affairs with married women.

The Horrors of Sex Trafficking

Amy Fine Collins has produced a staggering piece of journalism on the protracted takedown of several human traffickers in Connecticut. It is lengthy, gripping, and illuminating.

How The Medium Changed Everything

The always-awesome Maria Bustillos, on how Wikipedia is ushering in a new era of epistemology:

It's high time people stopped kvetching about Wikipedia, which has long been the best encyclopedia available in English, and started figuring out what it portends instead. For one thing, Wikipedia is forcing us to confront the paradox inherent in the idea of learners as "doers, not recipients." If learners are indeed doers and not recipients, from whom are they learning? From one another, it appears; same as it ever was.

The Tribulations of The Father

Shawn Taylor writes movingly on his struggles as a father of color:

Being tattooed, visually Black (I’m half Jamaican and half Puerto Rican), over six feet tall and muscular, holding a little ethnically-ambiguous toddler makes many people double, triple, quadruple take—and also, for some odd reason, loosens tongues, mostly of white folks, and creates an environment of familiarity. And yet they still manage to see me wrong: In my daughter’s twenty-two months of living, I have been labeled ‘uncle,’ ‘babysitter,’ ‘guardian,’ ‘cousin,’ but never father. I can’t tell you just how crushing a blow this is. I LOVE being a father and I think that I am becoming a better one by the day, but to have one of my greatest joys discounted is painful.

Sarah Palin Humiliates Self, Doesn't Back Down


The above video speaks for itself, but I think James Poniewozik has a smart take on it:

Palin's history lesson is a controversy different in character and content from Anthony Weiner's Twitter woes last week: no one suggests on the one hand that anyone "hacked" an interview with Sarah Palin, and on the other hand botching an American history citation is not allegedly tweeting a salacious picture in public. (Which is the worse offense, I leave to the voters.) But they are both examples of a common pattern: a politician, caught in a dustup, tries to brazen his/her way through it and ends up looking even worse. (While, maybe, rallying his/her supporters even more strongly.)

Afterwards, Palin tried to explain that she was actually in the right and that she hadn't actually horribly botched her little history lesson. Mark Memmot explains why she was still wrong.

Boston: the worst place in the world in which to butcher American history.

The Trend of Celebrity Ghostwriters

The NYTimes, on how many celebrities are publishing ghostwritten books:

Like a branded fragrance or clothing line, the novel — once quaintly considered an artistic endeavor sprung from a single creative voice — has become another piece of merchandise stamped with the name of celebrities, who often pass off the book as their work alone despite the nearly universal involvement of ghostwriters. And the publishing industry has been happy to oblige.

Ghostwriting is a win-win for the publishing industry and for the celebrity. The publisher gets to make a mint by leveraging the celebrity's name, but still publish a book that is at least mildly readable. Meanwhile the celebrity doesn't need to do nearly as much work, and can pass off better-written prose as his or her own.

I don't see this practice stopping anytime soon, although ghostwriting as a concept is obviously not a recent development (it has been with us since time immemorial). What does concern me is the fact that Stephen Tobolowsky's book will be published relatively soon, and I fear it will get unfairly perceived as either a) a ghostwritten book, b) another "celebrity memoir" book, or c) both of the above. I believe that Stephen's stories, which are 100% his own words, transcend these categories and I hope the book is marketed that way.

(For samples of Stephen's stories in written form, click here and here)

Your Biggest Regrets

Nurse Bonnie Ware shares the most common five regrets people express on their deathbed. Moving stuff that may make you reconsider your own life (via Mark Krilley).

Love As a Two-Way Street

I've never read anything by Jonathan Franzen but after reading his powerful meditation on the relationship between technology and love, I think I'll probably start:

There is no such thing as a person whose real self you like every particle of. This is why a world of liking is ultimately a lie. But there is such a thing as a person whose real self you love every particle of. And this is why love is such an existential threat to the techno-consumerist order: it exposes the lie.

This is not to say that love is only about fighting. Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. And this is why love, as I understand it, is always specific. Trying to love all of humanity may be a worthy endeavor, but, in a funny way, it keeps the focus on the self, on the self’s own moral or spiritual well-being. Whereas, to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.

A Real-Life Serial Killer

Robert Kolker has written a moving story that brings together the family members of prostitutes who were slain by a New York serial killer.

The Obama Brand

Naomi Klein has written a foreword to the 10th anniversary edition of her seminal book, No Logo. Here, she takes on corporate branding in the age of Obama:

When Obama was sworn in as president, the American brand could scarcely have been more battered – Bush was to his country what New Coke was to Coca-Cola, what cyanide in the bottles had been to Tylenol. Yet Obama, in what was perhaps the most successful rebranding campaign of all time, managed to turn things around. Kevin Roberts, global CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, set out to depict visually what the new president represented. In a full-page graphic commissioned by the stylish Paper Magazine, he showed the Statue of Liberty with her legs spread, giving birth to Barack Obama. America, reborn.

So, it seemed that the United States government could solve its reputation problems with branding – it's just that it needed a branding campaign and product spokesperson sufficiently hip, young and exciting to compete in today's tough market. The nation found that in Obama, a man who clearly has a natural feel for branding and who has surrounded himself with a team of top-flight marketers.

A fascinating read well worth your time, even if you're not a fan of Klein's politics.

The Album That Was Born This Way

Ben Sisario, on how Lady Gaga's newest album was helped by a masterful promotional effort:

“We wanted to approach this like we were opening a blockbuster film,” said Steve Berman, vice chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M. “It became: ‘We’ll put a flag in that date well in advance. We won’t move. And what we’ll do for the next six months is pour gas on that fire every day, really branding the date.’ ”

Like any good movie campaign the selling of “Born This Way” began nearly a year in advance and continued as a well-timed drumbeat of promotional appearances, retail tie-ins and media deals that rose to a climax as the release date approached.

The Mail

I love the U.S. Postal Service, so I was sad to read this meticulously researched piece by Devin Leonard about how the whole thing is about to collapse:

Since 2007 the USPS has been unable to cover its annual budget, 80 percent of which goes to salaries and benefits. In contrast, 43 percent of FedEx's (FDX) budget and 61 percent of United Parcel Service's (UPS) pay go to employee-related expenses. Perhaps it's not surprising that the postal service's two primary rivals are more nimble. According to SJ Consulting Group, the USPS has more than a 15 percent share of the American express and ground-shipping market. FedEx has 32 percent, UPS 53 percent.

The USPS has stayed afloat by borrowing $12 billion from the U.S. Treasury. This year it will reach its statutory debt limit. After that, insolvency looms.