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Food For Other Thought: Marriage, Urbanism and the Next Great Migration

1 Apr

Today has been the highest-ever traffic day for Vision of the City, a separate blog I maintain for the sake of occasionally tossing out conversation fodder for folks who like to think and talk about the intersection of Christian faith and civic life. If that sort of thing is your bag, then head over to Vision of the City for some quick thoughts on a telling transition a Christian radio figure recently made between two topics.

For everyone else, I’m finally going to watch the How I Met Your Mother finale tonight, so I’m sure some thoughts on that will be coming your way later this week.

The Unpretentious Connoisseur: Roger Ebert Dead at 70

5 Apr
roger-ebert-jaw-cancer-photo-esquire-0310-lg

The great Roger Ebert, after losing his jaw to cancer several years ago.

Well, this sucks.

Roger Ebert died just hours ago of complications from a long fight with cancer.

I didn’t know Roger Ebert personally—though I did meet him once at a book signing less than a year before the cancer took his jaw—but I had a world of respect for him, and the number of lives he’s enriched is inestimable.

Over the next few days, the internet will be replete with obituaries written by fans who, like me, related to Ebert’s work the way we relate to the friends whose conversation we most enjoy. (I don’t know anyone who always agreed with him, but his reviews were always substantive and fun to wrestle with.) Before too many of those get written, though, I want to let you know why you should care:

Roger Ebert was probably one of the most widely engaged art critics ever. Part of that is an accident of history: His career spanned the mid-1960s to early 2013, the most populous half-century in human history. And at the same moment that traditional media were at their peak in terms of the percentage of that large population they could reach with a single, unified message, his newspaper columns and television shows were syndicated across the country (and around the world).

Ebert’s nearly peerless knowledge of cinema history and deep appreciation for its potential as an art form made him someone academics and film students read for fun when they put down Aristotle and Kael. Three generations of writers, directors, producers, actors and photographers—the people who shape our cultural values and teach us how to live and feel—have had their hearts and minds shaped by Roger Ebert.

Meanwhile, a contagious, indefatigable love for the experience of going to a movie and being transported into another world made Ebert someone that everyone outside of the academy and the arts turned to for advice. Ebert never stopped loving movies. He never lost his ability to get lost in the stories playing out on the screen in front of him.

Roger Ebert’s greatest accomplishment was not fifty years of separating wheat from chaff. No, his great legacy is that he rescued art from the prison of the arthouse. He defied the notion that entertainment needed to be diversion, or that we couldn’t get swept away by stories that also evoked deeper truths. For Ebert, a film’s ambition was not anathema to its ability to be damn fun to watch.

He knew as much about cinema as almost anyone else in history, but he didn’t need to flaunt it. His public and professional identities weren’t built around being someone who knows a lot about film, they were built around the fact that he knew how to enjoy film. That crucial difference is how he taught millions of friends—er, readers—to not be afraid of classics, to let themselves get lost in Casablanca and enjoy the mind-bending ride of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s why he championed breathtaking thrillers like Dark City. And that passion is what enabled him to write some of the most blisteringly funny eviscerations of crap-tastic movies ever written.

If you had to boil 50 years of Roger Ebert’s writing about film down to a single message, it is this: You don’t need to be afraid of things that matter. For all of life’s messiness, ambiguity and hard lessons, you can still enjoy it passionately.

In the morning, we’re all going to wake up in a world without Roger Ebert, and that’s a pretty damn good reason for us to all be a little sad for each other. Don’t worry, though, because he left us plenty of artists who we’d want to help us through the grief.

Yes, I’m Back. Now Who Am I Gonna Call?

14 Jun

A love letter to one of the best movies of the 80s, a call-to-arms to save a vital piece of American cultural history, and a startling confession from your intrepid writer. All this and more, after the jump. Continue reading

The Fonts Are Too Damn Small

3 Nov

I don’t mean to brag, and I don’t want to lose you guys by getting all technical or jargony, but I’m going to go ahead and talk about the fact that I have a subscription to this “social networking” website called “Facebook.”

It’s sort of an online address book for people with Alzheimer’s: It not only allows you to keep people’s phone numbers and e-mail addresses in one place, but it also lets your contacts include photos of themselves so you remember what they look like and lets you include notes or classifications so that you know where you met them. It also has several options for continuing to communicate with them, all from the same “web page.”

Problem is, while the whole country was out voting last night, the people at The Facebook seem to have changed their font. If any of you are thinking about signing up for this thing, I just want you to be aware that you may need to strain your eyes to read it. This has been a public service announcement.

Go Vote. Seriously. Right Now.

2 Nov
Vote

Vote.

The last time Armenia had a general election, there were riots.  A couple friends of mine have been living in Tanzania, and haven’t been able to leave their home for two days now because of the fallout from an election being held.

Here in New York City, I just got back from voting, and I want to remind you all that polls are still open.  Go vote.  Right now.  As long as you get there by 9 o’clock, you have the right to vote, so get out there and celebrate the fact that you live in a country where you actually get a say.  And before I hear any lip from any of y’all, yes, we may have two parties that are both largely center-right, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are usually very real, substantive differences between candidates for major offices in this country.  And even if there weren’t, there are differences of competency to execute said offices, and–oh, yeah–the fact that we live in a place where you probably won’t die just from walking outside on election day.

The fact that we get a say in how, when and to whom power is transferred in our government is a huge responsibility, and it’s one we should absolutely be celebrating.

Vote

Seriously, go vote.

Suiting Up to Tweet Your Mother

20 Sep
A Misleading Promo Shot for HIMYM

Contrary to what this picture would lead you to believe, HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER is not about a crack squad of detectives who solve crimes under the leadership of a possibly sinister, supernaturally aided leader.

Just wanted to give you all a heads up: How I Met Your Mother comes back tonight.  I’ll be suiting up and enjoying the show with a bro or two, and for those of you who can’t make it, I’ll be live-Tweeting the season premiere.  Just follow me on Twitter and it will almost be like being in the room with us.  (Without the scotch-and-sodas.)

As an added bonus, anyone who tweets a photo of themselves with a yellow umbrella wins my admiration.

It’s going to be legen–meh.  You know the rest.

Barney's HOT/CRAZY scale

Barney's HOT/CRAZY scale, featuring the Mendoza Diagonal.

Even Vegan Doesn’t Think Vegans Need to be Vegan

8 Sep
Donut Burgers

No. Absolutely not. Even I have a line, and this is clearly on the other side of it.

In all likelihood, the closest I’ll ever come to being vegan is my nine-year stint abstaining from red meat.  I know that there are a lot of people who can make very passionate, very reasonable, very convincing arguments for vegetarianism, and even veganism, but all of my best intentions collapse when I’m staring down a medium-rare cheeseburger or almond-crusted tilapia.

For a few years there, it seemed as though The Guardian‘s George Monbiot was a better man than I.  I have no idea if he was keeping to a vegan lifestyle himself, but he was very clear in his assertion that veganism “is the only ethical response to what is arguably the world’s most urgent social justice issue.”   Famine around the world could be alleviated if the west weaned itself off of meat–which we consume in disproportionate amounts compared to the rest of the world–and dedicated more of its farmland to growing fruits, grains and vegetables for human consumption rather than for livestock feed.

Today, I salute Monbiot for his humility, because he just did something we should all be more willing to allow people to do and admitted that he was wrong.  He gave a well-researched argument an honest listen, and walked away convinced that being carnivorous really can be both awesome and socially responsible.

“I no longer believe that the only ethical [course of action] is to stop eating meat,” Monbiot wrote Monday, as part of a much larger and more fascinating article.  There’s no word as to whether he spent the rest of the day hungrily bobbing for chicken fingers at the nearest pub, compensating for needlessly spending eight years on the moral high road, but while I investigate that, you should read the whole article, which makes some pretty reasonable statements about the way the western world produces meat.

(Photo by Stephen Falk via nickmcglynn.tumblr.com.)

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