Friday, December 28, 2012

Anil Dash Take Heart: Jon Swift's Smaller Blog Roundup Continues

Back on December 13, someone I follow retweeted this from Anil Dash:

"I am very appreciative of the very kind responses to my piece about The Web We Lost. But if you liked it, BLOG ABOUT IT. Don't just tweet."

I was intrigued. Someone entreating blogging over tweeting. 

I clicked back to find his article, on his blog, lamenting what we've lost in the blogosphere as the web has evolved. 

Here's one of Anil's points, about linking:

"Ten years ago, you could allow people to post links on your site, or to show a list of links which were driving inbound traffic to your site. Because Google hadn't yet broadly introduced AdWords and AdSense, links weren't about generating revenue, they were just a tool for expression or editorializing. The web was an interesting and different place before links got monetized, but by 2007 it was clear that Google had changed the web forever, and for the worse, by corrupting links."

And who is Anil Dash? His site says "I'm an avid and unabashed student of pop culture, extremely versed in the minutia of funk music and hip hop history, and obsessive about the details of how the modern technology industry came to be." He's turned his passions into a tech/strategist career, and a blogger since 1999. More about him here.

The comments on his "The Web We Lost" are equally interesting reading:

Ryan Sholin ·  Top Commenter
Of all these things, I miss Technorati the most, but I also miss the culture of blogging that powered it. 

Now we (well, Anil and Jason and Gruber and obviously many prominent others excluded) barely use our blogs, content to share half-passively, doing things like posting a comment and leaving the box checked to post it to Facebook as a method of exposing our thoughts on a link to a wider audience. 

Is that enough? Have I sufficiently participated in the conversation? Should I tweet this, too? Maybe I will.

As a blogger since 2006 I am witness to what Anil is talking about. The blog culture in general has changed. It's not as vibrant as it was "in the beginning," with voices subsumed into the impersonal, megalopolis world of the HuffPos and the enticements everywhere to be pithy, and only pithy.

But not entirely.

Vagabond Scholar Continues Jon Swift Tradition

Back starting in 2005 there was a blog/blogger named Jon Swift: "I am a reasonable conservative who likes to write about politics and culture. Since the media is biased I get all my news from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Jay Leno monologues."

He had quite a following of people who "got" that he was a faux conservative and it was satire (Swift, hint, hint)  or didn't and followed him straight.

Everything about "Jon Swift" is the antithesis of Anil's observation. Everything about Swift is highly unique, highly individual.

Swift was in reality the freelance writer Al Weisel, but he took the literary tradition of a nom de plume very seriously, going so far to fight Facebook for his right to have an account with that name.

He participated in a the collective of bloggers that Tom Watson brought together under the umbrella Newcritics.

Swift's blog had a large following and "famous" friends. He started an end-of-year roundup where he asked smaller bloggers of his acquaintance and circles to chose a post of theirs from the year and he would link to it in a roundup. Very nice thing for a blogger to do. Great way to learn about new ideas.

All of Swift's creative engery was stopped by an aortic aneurysm that erupted as he was driving down to his father's funeral in Virginia in 2010. A tragedy on every level for this 46 year old man. His death saddened a good chunk of the blogoshpere, because everything about his work was smart, funny, and perceptive, but above all, unique and individual, on its own platform.

To honor Jon Swift, blogger Vagabond Scholar picked up the tradition of the blog roundup, which I'm granfathered into. (My contribution is about Paul Fussell.) It's another year of great links, many of them from the political side of the blogosphere, which is interesting to me because that's not my usual beat to read.

And so, Anil Dash, here's a bit of the web we knew in 2006, alive and well.

The Jon Swift Memorial Roundup

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas, to the Charlie Brown in Us All

A "Charlie Brown Christmas tree." A poignant concept that has entered the language. Things we try to do, things we make that don't work out all well by arbitrary, limited human standards. But it's the trying, with a sincere heart full of love, that's important. It's something which hopefully even the Lucys in our lives will eventually appreciate. And that leads to transformation, of trees, of many, many things.

Charles Schulz and team picked the perfect hymn to end A Charlie Brown Christmas. "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," says it all, very clearly and succinctly. And starting with the children humming the tune first is so very musical, so very beautiful.

This scene popped into my head thinking about the Newtown children. I keep their memory in my heart through all the services I'm singing, and pray for their families.

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.

Joyful all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies,
With the angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem!

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.

Mild, he lays his glory by;
Born, that man no more may die,
Bom to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Snoopy and the WW1 Christmas Truce

Six crazy guys from Ocala, Florida, wrote a great Christmas song for everyone's favorite World War I Flying Ace and his Christmas Eve battle with his archenemy, Manfred von Richtofen, the Red Baron. It recognizes the actual Christmas Truce of 1914. Pop song with a little history.  I love that.

The Baron had Snoopy dead in his sights
He reached for the trigger to pull it up tight
Why he didn't shoot, well, we'll never know
Or was it the bells from the village below.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

The Baron made Snoopy fly to the Rhine
And forced him to land behind the enemy lines
Snoopy was certain that this was the end
When the Baron cried out, "Merry Christmas, my friend!"

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Looking at Fictional TV Shootings After Newtown

First graders. I often see classes of city kids on the #1 train going on a class trip amid the crush of morning commuters. When it's the first graders, you can't help but smile as they hold hands with each other, gently pushed by the teachers & parents into the middle of the car to hang onto the lower third of the silver poles. Their tiny height and bright faces are greatly accentuated by the towering, mostly dulled figures of the grownups going to work, and the high pitches of their new voices push through the heaviness and anxiety in the car with the eternal squeal of "Whoaaa" as the train jumps out of the station and the 6 year olds are thrown off balance with smiles and eyes wide.

Like 9/11, everyone not directly affected by the evil in Newtown is still drawn into all the larger issues of gun control and help and treatment for mental illness.

One part of my own reaction is a renewed consciousness that fictional gun killings permeate our TV storytelling to a shocking degree.

TV: Why Are Your Stories Shooting Us So. Many. Times?

Any reader here knows how much I'm interested in narrative, in storytelling, particularly in the art of TV.  I think the creativity and sophistication of fictional TV is enormous.

It has crossed my mind before how much of our mainstream TV storytelling is about killing someone with a gun. It's quite a spectrum: the Westerns of the 1950s & 60s; the singular murders in the otherwise cushy & peaceful worlds of Columbo and Murder, She Wrote; the ripped from the headlines shootings—singular, serial, and mass—of the Law & Order franchise; the exotic shootings of the CSI franchise; the cartoonish shootings of Castle and Bones; the gun deaths in the drug & vice lifestyle of The Wire, Breaking BadThe Sopranos; and many, many more examples.

As a lifelong TV fan, I know that I have become desensitized by this diet of fictional shootings.

But what really struck me was two episodes of The Mentalist that I saw just after Newtown. It was on in the background, and I wasn't following the story closely, but in one, the CBI gang is watching a home surveillance tape of a woman in her nightgown being shot in the stomach by someone off camera; and another about a group of clowns in a park and one is followed to an alley where he is shot at close range, and the blood goes into slow motion.

What the hell? The Mentalist has a horrific psycho killing at its root (yes, that's a ridiculous statement itself), but the show is usually psychological fluff with "Patrick Jane" doing a higher end "Shawn Spencer." (I have no idea why this show is a hit.)

So now I'm more focused. WHY are we telling so many stories of people being shot to death? What does this say about us as a nation? Do sponsors know that this kind of violence and death in our stories is what the audience wants, or have they just gotten lazy.

We Have to Remember: This Is Fiction. 

Storytelling is something that creative people have control over!

What if the TV writers just decided, 'hey, we are not going to write every plot with a gun ending a life.  And, if we occasionally tell that story, we aren't going to show it graphically.'

The AP said that Fox pulled new episodes of Family Guy and American Dad that were to air on Sunday the 16th "to avoid potentially sensitive content," a sign that there is some thinking going on in Hollywood. It's still a question, why do the episodes have plots about children and killing in the first place.

Since Cain murdered Abel, stories of killing have been part of the human condition, which the Greeks first raised to an art form. But we may be the first people in time to be able to see an escalation of gun killing while we continue an all-too steady diet of fictional killings. So let's be creative and stop feeding that diet. I'm not even arguing direct cause and effect. I don't know what societal changes are needed to stop the latest rise in gun murders in Chicago and Philadelphia,  and the various shootings at malls beyond the headlined Fort Hood, Tuscon, Aurora, Newton. But let's start by getting our fictional stories under control, because we can.

TV, in its dailyness in our homes, makes shooting someone far too ordinary, and small.

But we know that it shouldn't be either.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Light Within a Shimmering Aural Cloud

I was recently reminded of this piece by Morten Lauridsen, "O Nata Lux." It's part of his Lux Aeterna suite, and includes the main motif. I sang it once, and it was transcendent to be an inner voice within these stunning chords.

"O Nata Lux" is the office hymn for the Litugy of the Hours for Lauds (morning prayer) for the Feast of the Transfiguration.  It is very, very old.

O nata lux de lumine,
Jesu redemptor saeculi,
Dignare clemens supplicum
Laudes precesque sumere.

Qui carne quondam contegi
Dignatus es pro perditis,
Nos membra confer effici
Tui beati corporis.

O Light born of Light,
Jesus, redeemer of the world,
with loving-kindness deign to receive
suppliant praise and prayer.

Thou who once deigned to be clothed in flesh
for the sake of the lost,
grant us to be members
of thy blessed body.

Listening to it can lift you up, and float you away, whatever your own beliefs are . . .