Racine, Wisconsin: Kites flying at S.C. Johnson Elementary school on December 29, 2022
People flying kites at S.C. Johnson Elementary school in Racine, Wisconsin on December 29, 2022, when the high temperature reached 60° F. Six days earlier, the high was 0° F.

Another Week: Number 1

by | January 1, 2023

Since exiling myself from social media last April 25 when Twitter accepted Elon Musk’s $44 billion acquisition offer, I have been bumping into my new self-erected walls like a robot vacuum.

I used to depend on Twitter as my carefully-curated main pipeline of news and information and a handy outlet for spontaneous self-expression. Now, with Twitter removed, whenever I habitually peer into my phone, I am left to choose between the Google News app and Card Games by Bicycle.

Google News can be personalized to a certain extent, and it does pretend to learn my interests now and then. Still, it will never voluntarily offer me an item from Wonkette no matter how many ways I try to hint that I really want Wonkette in my mix.

Card Games by Bicycle: MarkCz won!
Of the card games, I play only gin rummy against bots, and I mostly win. The satisfaction is similar to getting two likes on Twitter.

So starting today, as someone who preaches to clients that your website must be your hub, I’m going to try my own medicine for a while.

Old people may remember that the word “blog” is shortened from “weblog,” coined by the great Jorn Barger for his daily list of links, Robot Wisdom Weblog.

Daily is way too ambitious for me, but maybe weekly will work. Sunday is the first day of the week, so I guess I’ll set this thing to publish at midnight on Sunday mornings with whatever I have collected in the previous seven days.

After link lists, blogs morphed into personal journals. I imagine this will be somewhere between the two — more context than just a list of items, but not a deeply introspective diary.

Welcome. Thanks for reading, and let’s all have a prosperous new year.

Below are my notes from the week that was.


William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury

I worked my way through plenty of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald in my twenties — their novels, their short stories, and several biographies of each. Later, I gave myself a fairly thorough tour of Mark Twain. James Joyce has been more of a multi-decade project to which I return now and again. The summer before last, I read Moby Dick and researched Herman Melville online a little.

But I didn’t get around to William Faulkner until recently. His first novel, Soldier’s Pay, is grim, tedious, and soaked in archaic idioms voiced by indeterminate characters. His second novel, Mosquitoes, concerns a boatload of poseurs blabbering aboard a yacht stuck in the mud of Lake Pontchartrain eating nothing but grapefruit. Both books took me several attempts to complete.

I spent the Christmas season reading Flags in the Dust, a bit of a mess pieced back together from found drafts, but a work in which Faulkner is able to kindle the sparks of genius flickering through the first two into real fire here and there.

Now I have begun The Sound and the Fury, which I already presume is one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century because those exact words appear on the back cover of one copy we own — part of a three-volume Oprah Book Club set, put out for “A Summer of Faulkner” in 1995. Amy picked it up at Goodwill for $2.99 some time ago.

But dammit — if I’m going to read one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, I would like to know what’s going on. So I ordered the third Norton Critical Edition for its comprehensive footnotes and essays, “Contextual and source materials,” and “Seventeen interpretations representing eighty-five years of scholarship.”

Unfortunately, it’s not available in handy Kindle form.

Stagey but fascinating CBS profile of William Faulkner that aired 70 years ago on December 28, 1952.
Writer Shelby Foote discusses William Faulkner on May 2, 2002, for C-SPAN’s “American Writers II” series. In addition to tidbits about Faulkner, the interview includes Foote’s discomfortingly frank reflections on race relations in the American South.

Southwest Airlines flight cancellations

Here’s a Tuesday post at Wonkette:

Guess Southwest Airlines Picked Wrong Week To Stop Sniffing Glue

I love how Republicans spend all day, every day complaining that we don’t need no regulations, that business always knows best, that a businessman should run this country, and that business could produce heaven on earth if only the government would stop interfering and get out of the way.

But when business instead produces a stinking nightmare mess all by itself, Republicans expect the Secretary of Transportation to be on the taxiway — with aircraft marshaling wands — personally making the planes take off and land on time.


Moonage Daydream (2022)

On Monday, I bought Moonage Daydream, the new David Bowie documentary by Brett Morgen. Having seen the trailer and the Breakfast All Day review, it seemed like the rare sort of movie I would want to view multiple times.

The film is a firehose of vibrant graphic art paired with snatches of Bowie’s music and a zillion excerpts from Bowie interviews, grouped and arranged to address various periods of his life and career. It’s just him performing, talking, and traveling over a two-hour and fifteen-minute blitz of color and sound.

Bowie explains himself, contradicts himself, recreates himself, looks bizarre, makes experimental music, looks handsome, gets popular, sells Pepsi, and gets obscure. Snippets (no complete performances) keep coming at you with no letup, and it’s all fantastic and powerful — but I felt pretty drained when it ended.

It’s well worth seeing, but once may have been sufficient.


If These Walls Could Sing (2022)

On Tuesday, we watched If These Walls Could Sing, the new documentary by Mary McCartney, on Hulu. It’s a fond appreciation of London’s Abbey Road Studios (formerly EMI Studios) that focuses especially on The Beatles’ recording sessions there and includes interviews with former Beatles Paul and Ringo, as well as producer George Martin’s son Giles.

The film supplies some basic history — the building was originally a nine-bedroom townhouse, and Edward Elgar was the first to record there, leading the London Symphony Orchestra.

Other notable non-Beatles are featured. Elton John (Reg Dwight at the time) got some early studio gigs at Abbey Road — as did Jimmy Page, who, along with Shirley Bassey, tells a sensational story about laying down the Goldfinger theme. Cello virtuoso Jacqueline du Pré made her greatest recordings at Abbey Road. Composer John Williams considers it the perfect studio for his film scores, including those for Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars.

There’s an extended muddle on Pink Floyd, who recorded their masterpiece The Dark Side of the Moon at Abbey Road while the Beatles were in the next studio creating Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. (Noel Gallagher attributes the astonishing creativity of that generation to its forward-looking orientation, pivoting from the horrors of World War II.)

There are short segments on Cliff Richard, Fela Kuti, and, awkwardly in retrospect, Kanye West.

If These Walls Could Sing is a comfortable, reasonably entertaining watch, but not must-see viewing. I can’t say I came away from it with a whole lot. It simultaneously has too much and not enough Beatles (understandably, after the recent Disney film, the Let it Be/Get Back sessions are barely even mentioned), and more time could have been spent on stories instead of touchstones.


Melissa Villaseñor: Laughing With Myself

Melissa Villaseñor is the best. I have had a crush on her for a while now, so I can’t tell you how heartening it is to hear that she gets along well with “older dudes that are hippie types.” Subscribe to her podcast and give her some likes.


This Way Up

On Thursday, we finished Season 2 of 2 of This Way Up, the British comedy-drama, on Hulu after spreading the 12 total episodes out over maybe a year (we rarely binge-watch anything).

It’s a brilliant series with some rib-tickling sister energy, and we now love writer/star Aisling Bea, having already loved co-star Sharon Horgan from Catastrophe on Amazon Prime.


The Big Brunch

Friday morning, we finished Season 1 of 1 of The Big Brunch on HBO Max (or just plain “Max” if you’re reading this in the future).

The Big Brunch is an 8-episode cooking competition between 10 chefs created by Dan Levy of Schitt’s Creek fame, who co-judges along with Sohla El-Waylly and Will Guidara.

We have seen a lot of cooking competitions going back to Season 1 of Top Chef on Bravo in 2006. On its surface, The Big Brunch is just another cookie from that same cutter — the chefs get a challenge, they do their thing, they get judged, and ultimately the judges send someone home.

As you watch this one, however, you might notice that one ingredient common to reality competition shows is missing here. There’s no backstabbing, no secret seething in confessional sequences. The judges respect all of the competitors, and the chefs all respect each other. For a reality TV show in which the word “fuck” flies on a regular basis, there’s an unusual level of human decency, similar to that seen in Dan Levy’s little sitcom that could. You might guess the niceness comes with Levy from Canada, but Will Guidara hails from New York, and he may be the nicest judge in reality TV history.

Meanwhile, the cooking is high-level, and the pacing is comfy — not the usual palpitating edit-barrage. This is a good show for daytime viewing, when you may not be in the mood for bloody true crime brainwashing cult murders.


The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

Friday night we got around  to a movie that had been waiting on our HBO Max list for a couple of weeks, The Banshees of Inisherin.

We loved it. Amy was giggling throughout and declared it “a masterpiece.” I ate it up like a pot of stew.

The movie reunites stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson with director Martin McDonagh. The trio worked together on McDonagh’s directorial debut, In Bruges, back in 2008. We saw that as well, but fifteen years later I can’t tell you much about it, except that it was good. I remember a canal and a bell tower.

Somehow, before watching The Banshees of Inisherin, I got the mistaken impression that it’s a deep, psychological drama — hence my delay. It’s set in Ireland, somewhere very rustic and sparsely populated. I knew it concerns two friends, one of whom abruptly stops talking to the other.

But once it actually starts unfolding onscreen, you soon detect that things are fetched just a wee bit farther than they should be. Not long after that, you’re laughing at truly horrible events — yet falling in love with an adorable miniature donkey.

I’ve already said too much. Just go watch it. Rent it, if necessary.




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