John McWhorter on Txting

O mores, o tempora?

Not quite. In this fascinating Ted Talk linguist McWhorter asserts that texting isn’t really writing as we know it. He goes on to assure us this is not the death knell of writing.

I’m relieved.

Parts Unknown

anthony b

Anthony Bourdain seems to be everywhere, not just everywhere in the world but everywhere on TV. He’s the center of ABC’s The Taste, the Travel Channel, PBS’ Mind of a Chef and now CNN’s Parts Unknown. The series premiered with Bourdain heading to Myanmar, a country I’ve wanted to visit for years and years, but couldn’t as I didn’t want to support that military.

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

In episode 1, Bourdain travels to Myanmar, a.k.a. Burma. As you’d expect he meets up with interesting folk over enticing food. Many of his interview subjects had been imprisoned when the military was keeping tighter constraints and they openly discussed politics, their experiences and their expectations for the future.

After a few days in the capital, Bourdain and his mentor take a clunky slow train to Bagan. The town of Bagan looked so inviting and untouched. Yet the train ride seemed so risky. Perhaps when/if I visit Myanmar, I’ll skip the trains, though air travel isn’t much safer.

The episode was fascinating and Bourdain’s insights were wry and wise.

The series is off to a good start, though I’m not sure I’d spend the time on the second episode, which is L.A. Yeah, L.A. has its bizarro pockets and its elegance and diversity, but who doesn’t know that? I watch travel shows to discover places I can’t easily get to myself.

Remembering Roger Ebert

RogerEbert-thumb-550xauto-34161I really was stunned and saddened to hear that Roger Ebert died. He was such a constant in my media life. I loved his writing and his lively discussions on At the Movies with Gene Siskel and later with Richard Roeper.

For a few years I took Roger’s film class through the University of Chicago’s adult ed program. It was tough to get a seat in the class. The first time I took it we watched Paul Schrader‘s films and Schrader even came to our class to screen Light of Day.

The following semester to cut down on students who would have to be turned away when the class moved from Spertus College to a screening room on Michigan Avenue, Ebert chose to focus on films by French director Robert Bresson. Bresson’s films are tough as he rejects everything Hollywood loves: surprise endings, professional actors, music, you name if it’s in a blockbuster, it’s not an element of a Bresson film. I love a good challenge I signed up again. Even in the smaller new space, the class was full and some were turned away. A lot of the people had been taking the class for 18 years by then and many were knowledgeable film viewers. Ebert never put anyone down or carried himself as if he was smarter or better than us. In fact, several times he’d point out that the only reason he was teaching the course was the roll of a die. Hardly, since he was an expert, but he conducted the class with such respect for all.

roger geneUsually the class followed the films of one director and we were able to see his evolution or what made him tick. I recall taking the Schrader, Bresson, Billie Wilder classes, but I think there were others. I do remember winning the Beat Roger Oscar contest in the class one year. Talk about a fluke. I got 8 or 10 books, one autographed, which I’ll have to dig out.

Beyond the class, Roger’s website and reviews continued me to seek out challenging films, to expand what I watched. Thus I discovered great films, old and new.

I admire how Roger wrote, how he curated outstanding web content on his blog, how he taught me to view films and how he exhibited joy in film. He wasn’t just a public intellect, he was a happy one. How often do we see that? He cared passionately about film, didn’t take himself to seriously, was honest about his likes and dislikes – even his early feelings for Siskel. He lived well. I was always awed by how bravely and openingly he continued to live and work while battling cancer.

It’s sad that he lost that battle, but we were lucky to have him all these years. For a reminder of Ebert’s passion and insight, take a look at the Chicago Tonight video, which you can watch online here.

Related stories

Armed & Ready

A few years back I met Kevin Connolly when he stayed with my friend in Aspen during the X-Games. He’s smart, down to earth and adventurous. I bet this will be well worth watching.

Stellar Wind


In episode 8 or The Newsroom, there’s a story brewing on a spy program called Global Clarity. I was alarmed to learn about a pervasive system of wire tapping that’s probably illegal. I had to stop the program and see if this was mere fiction. It isn’t. There actually is a program called Stellar Wind. However it hasn’t gotten much attention from the press or the public.
Why doesn’t this story get picked up?

CBS Evening News

After a top notch look at the hospitals caring for the shooting victims in Chicago, CBS Evening News interviewed Rahm Emanuel about the increased murder rate this summer. I found the piece disappointing. Since I live near Chicago, I know the statistics and the stories, such as seven year old Heaven Sutton’s murder. She was caught in the crossfire while she was selling snow cones and candy on the street with her grandma.

One shortcoming of the interview was its brevity. It seemed to last 2 minutes so by the time the problem was identified and Emanuel clarified Scott Pelley‘s depiction to his own liking as politicians do, there was little time to discuss how to address this problem. The other big problem was that Pelley just played softball with the mayor, whose chief of police is cutting the budget so that while in the past, when the murder rate went down, Chicago had 5 detective units, it now has 3. Also while after a shooting police strike force would move in, now they don’t.

Emanuel didn’t say much specific. He defended his new chief in spite of the poor results. He also went on a tangent about how it’s all about values and called for gang bangers to step away from children so that they don’t get hurt. His call seems unrealistic. Why would you assume a criminal is going to make it easier for someone shooting him to get shot? It’s incredibly naïve to appeal to a sense of valor. While the problem, like all crime, is a matter of morality, Emanuel had no plan on how to inculcate values. Pelley didn’t bother to question him on that. Pure softball.

Perhaps it’s not a national issue so Pelley went easy on Emanuel. Yet if it’s not a national story it doesn’t belong on CBS Evening News.  I wish Pelley would watch the BBC’s Hard Talk to sharpen his interviewing skills.

Marin conducting a different interview

Later Chicago Tonight did a splendid job on the same issue. Elizabeth Bracken recapped the issue and Carol Marin interviewed two aldermen, who’ve come forward questioning the new police strategy. Marin asked all the right questions and the interview never felt like a T-ball game. Pelley can attain this level and should.

Sound Cloud: Dr. Peter Kreeft

Here’s a recording of Dr Peter Kreeft talking to Act One screenwriters on Why What They Do Matters and Why it Matters to God.

Brain Pickings

Brain Pickings is a fun site I’ve recently discovered. It’s got all kinds of cool posts and videos on how to think better, how to be more creative and just some fascinating finds like a map of American Literature or the illustrations and story of Dr. Seuss’ one adult book about the Seven Lady Godiva’s. From street art to neuroscience, Brain Pickings has it all.