Bob Schwartz

Category: Entertainment

Winnie-the-Pooh

winnie-the-pooh

Winnie-the-Pooh is not only a children’s book, not exactly, though it should be read to and by every child. It wasn’t read to or by me as a child, but I found it later anyway, and have never let go of it since.

Pooh, as you know or might have heard, is a bear formally known as Edward Bear, but nicknamed by his friend Christopher Robin. He lives with his other friends Rabbit, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga and her baby Roo in the Hundred Acre Wood.

In this bit from Chapter 7, Pooh and friends are trying to distract Kanga so that they can capture her baby. Pooh recites some spontaneous poetry:

“Talking of Poetry,” said Pooh, “I made up a little piece as I was coming along. It went like this. Er–now let me see–“

“Fancy!” said Kanga. “Now Roo, dear–“

“You’ll like this piece of poetry,” said Rabbit

“You’ll love it,” said Piglet.

“You must listen very carefully,” said Rabbit.

“So as not to miss any of it,” said Piglet.

“Oh, yes,” said Kanga, but she still looked at Baby Roo.

“How did it go, Pooh?” said Rabbit.

Pooh gave a little cough and began.

LINES WRITTEN BY A BEAR OF VERY LITTLE BRAIN

On Monday, when the sun is hot
I wonder to myself a lot:
“Now is it true, or is it not,”
“That what is which and which is what?”

On Tuesday, when it hails and snows,
The feeling on me grows and grows
That hardly anybody knows
If those are these or these are those.

On Wednesday, when the sky is blue,
And I have nothing else to do,
I sometimes wonder if it’s true
That who is what and what is who.

On Thursday, when it starts to freeze
And hoar-frost twinkles on the trees,
How very readily one sees
That these are whose–but whose are these?

On Friday—-

“Yes, it is, isn’t it?” said Kanga, not waiting to hear what happened on Friday. “Just one more jump, Roo, dear, and then we really must be going.”

Note to English and philosophy professors: Shakespeare is great, but if you are not including A.A. Milne and his Pooh books in your syllabus, you are shortchanging your students. As for philosophy, “what is which and which is what?” and “who is what and what is who?” are questions that could take up a full semester, if not a lifetime.

Note to parents and children of all ages: If you are not reading Pooh to your kids or you haven’t read the book yourself, just do it.

Note to lovers: This may not seem like very romantic literature. But it contains the sort of sweet nonsensical silliness that love, stripped down to its unserious basics, is all about.

WARNING TO ALL: The Disney version of Pooh is known and beloved by many, maybe including you. Sweet Christopher Robin and Pooh would never say unkind or harsh things, such as saying that the Disney version completely misses everything wonderful about the Pooh books and characters, and that it might be deemed a creative desecration. They would never say anything like that.

We Need a Doctor: Who Hasn’t Seen Jennifer Lawrence’s Breasts or Why We Need Social Therapy

Bohemian Paris of Today

One of the biggest stories of the weekend was the posting of nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and other female celebs, apparently stolen from their cloud storage accounts. The search activity for these photos almost brought the Internet down.

So in the immediate aftermath, with more to be revealed, what might we learn, besides how these beautiful strangers look without their clothes?

We are no closer than ever to figuring out what we think about privacy, or even what privacy means, especially now.

Digital didn’t create the issue, just heightened it exponentially. Inquiring minds have always wanted to know, and see. Celebrities, some though not all, have used degrees of exposure for publicity—or in some cases to put curious fans off the trail of the truth. Now we have an entire industry of programs about the “real” lives of unknowns, used-to-be-knowns, just-a-little-knowns, and soon-to-be-knowns because they are on a reality show.

Then there is the willingness of many people to chronicle everything. Twitter long ago dropped its signature question, but the most important phrase of the century so far may be “What are you doing?”, which was supposed to be answered in 100 characters or less. It turns out that people are more than willing to talk about what they are doing, what they are thinking, how they are looking, and anything else.

This doesn’t mean people don’t deserve privacy, morally and legally. It’s that line-drawing is now so hard for so many, and that goes along with a certain amount of confusion or even hypocrisy. The same people who searched for these photos or others like it in the past would be fuming if anyone stole their private shots and published them. They might try to rationalize the distinction, but it would be pretty feeble. Yet, not to forgive their double-standard, it is not surprising under the circumstances.

When we are confused about anything, and have difficulty drawing a line, sex makes it worse, clouding our judgment and our actions. Private parts are signifiers of sex, and if the private parts of loved ones or of strangers are arousing, the private parts of the quasi-strangers who are celebrities are positively crazy-making. So it is understandable, if not acceptable. People are only human, or so we say. But that doesn’t mean a little help and discussion—about privacy, about the cloud, about celebrity—might not be valuable. Maybe a little social therapy is in order.

We need a doctor, call us a doctor
We need a doctor, doctor to bring us back to life

(apologies to Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Skylar Gray)

The Aereo Case and Media Reality

Aereo

Today the Supreme Court hears arguments in the case of ABC, et al. v. Aereo. Some characterize it as the most important media case in decades, one which could destroy broadcasting as we know it.

That is both overstated and understated. The big broadcasters who claim this is the apocalypse won’t go out of business; they will continue, though they might make a little less money or have to work a little harder for it. On the other hand, nothing less than the nature of modern reality is being considered, which is what makes the case so interesting and ultimately so hard to decide.

In a nutshell, this is what Aereo does:

Aereo sets up lots of tiny (thumbnail) antennas in your locality.

The antennas pick up the same over-the-air (OTR) TV signals you would if you had an antenna at your home (but you probably don’t).

You subscribe to Aereo for as little as $8 a month.

When you want to watch something from the stations that are on the air in your locality, Aereo assigns you an antenna, collects and records the signal from that antenna in its cloud, and streams that signal the way you want to the device you want, now or later.

The question is whether Aereo is retransmitting copyrighted content to subscribers, cleverly skirting retransmission fees that cable systems and others must pay, which would be stealing. Or whether Aereo is simply enabling you to do something you are legally entitled to do: receive OTR TV and then watch it, record it, or redistribute it to your own devices for your own personal use.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeal decided in favor of Aereo, with a vigorous dissent and with other Circuit Courts disagreeing, and now the Supreme Court will decide. If you read the briefs you can get an idea of the difficulty and the possible impacts.

One can say, as the big broadcasters do, that Aereo may be trying to fit through a loophole in the law, but that isn’t quite right. Aereo is taking advantage of a reality so profoundly new and so newly understood that every medium and every media business is just barely beginning to come to grips.

When you reduce things to information and can move that information around infinitely and frictionlessly and at relatively low cost, the processes and regulations meant to handle grosser things are of limited value.

First a book was a thing made of paper, then there was a copier which could copy pages on paper, then there was a scanner that could turn paper pages into digital images and, with OCR, characters, then there were entire books that never had anything to do with paper, ever, just pure arranged information. The same goes, with slightly different details, for every medium. The solution for the producers who wanted to control things (often with legitimate interests, such as creators being compensated), was to put the information in some kind of box, which to some looked like an information jail. It was and is this simple: once it gets out of the box, catching it and catching up with it is quite a chore. Because, as Stewart Brand famously said, information wants to be free.

If you had to characterize the actors in this case as good guys or bad guys, it does look like ossified old school versus new school, mega-corporations versus insurgents, or as one of the briefs says, David versus Goliath. Any way you put it though, and wherever your opinion lies, this is a hard case, and the maxim is that hard cases make bad law. In this case, bad law would mean that even if progressive principles are maintained, more looking forward than back, we are still in an astonishing mess when it comes to dealing with all this. One case at a time won’t do, and the expectation that Congress will seize the reins and lead us boldly into an enlightened future on digital intellectual property is, at least for the moment, not in the cards or the cloud.

Comic Book Plus: Digital Superheroes

Comic Book Plus
If it isn’t apparent from previous posts, the premier pop cultural medium of these times (meaning the last century) may not be movies or music or television or any of the usual suspects. It is comic books, and while explaining that in detail will have to wait for another post, just ask the entertainment enterprises that have built billion-dollar franchises on that foundation. Hint: Don’t just look at the movies; look at video games, which are sometimes expressly, sometimes implicitly interactive comic books at heart.

Digital has provided new ways to enjoy the old and the new. Comixology, for example, offers an excellent cross-device platform for digital comics. But if you love comic books as essential cultural artifacts, the digital pickings have been slim and erratic. Of course comic book connoisseurs and scholars have been scanning and distributing them for as long as there has been an internet, but organization, information and, above all, copyright integrity has been missing.

The developers of the Comic Book Plus are digital and cultural superheroes. “Free and Legal” they trumpet, and nowhere in the universe can you both read and download such a collection representing decades of this historical basis of American—of world—culture. Free and legal. (Note: The downloads are in special comic book file formats that require some sort of reader. One way to deal with this is with Calibre, the world’s most popular free ebook manager and converter. Calibre will convert the comics to any format you choose, e.g., epub or pdf, to be read on your existing readers.)

If you love comic books and graphic novels, no more needs to be said. If you love pop culture and its origins, immerse yourself in the sequential art of these digital waters. Just make sure you have some time to spare because you won’t want to come out. And for those in the know, just tell them Will Eisner sent you.

Annals of Journalism: The Best Lead Paragraph Ever (Hint: It Involves Miley Cyrus)

Miley Cyrus Joint Dwarf

The Associated Press has issued the following lead paragraph for a story about Miley Cyrus’ most recent antics. It is the best lead paragraph ever.

AMSTERDAM (AP) — In an unabashed — and likely successful — bid for attention, singer Miley Cyrus smoked a joint on stage and twerked with a dwarf during the MTV Europe Music Awards.

Journalism students and logicians, please don’t focus on the joint smoking and the dwarf twerking, and for God’s sake, avert your eyes from the videos and photos (okay, you peeked; it’s irresistible, isn’t it?).

Instead, pay attention to this phrase: “unabashed — and likely successful — bid for attention.” What makes that phrase so delightful, the cherry on the Miley Cyrus-joint-dwarf news sundae, is that one of the largest news organizations in the world is covering the story, moving the success of her bid for attention from “likely” to certain and actual. As sure as the sun rises, Miley Cyrus will do something outrageous (the dwarf is an interesting touch, though it’s hard to say whether it’s trite or hip old school), and even the most respectable media outlets will cover it. So Associated Press, you just made your journalistic prediction come true. Oh the humanity! What would H.L. Mencken say?

 

There Is Still a War in Syria

Paris Hilton As Miley Cyrus
When there was less to people’s news and info lives—a newspaper or two a day, a half-hour network news show, a couple of news magazines a week—there were stories that rose to the top and stayed there, depending on importance. This didn’t mean that second-tier or frivolous stories didn’t get coverage or traction. People always loved celebrities, always loved hearing gossip, and when man bites dog, that’s always news. The down side was a certain provincialism that came with a narrow channel and less worldly attitudes: if millions were suffering in a place nobody heard of, with people unlike us, most readers and viewers might have no idea.

Now we can know anything, though we don’t know everything, or care about everything. This has left news leaders in a delicate position. There are going to be stories that appeal to a journalist sense and a humanist sense, that deserve at least regular mention, if not coverage that might only say, “And in the misery of this place or that war, it’s still happening, with no end in sight.” The dual problem is that people can find and figure that out for themselves, without a multi-billion dollar media enterprise telling them, and those media consumers might just as well pay attention to something else.

Which is why, unlike its predecessors World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War, the Iraq War was not the top story every day of its ten years. Which is why the current violence in Iraq is barely covered, a turning away that in part must come from some profound but unspoken embarrassment.

For a few moments a few months ago, Syria was a bright shiny object. Red lines, chemical warfare, threats of military action, etc. After some erratic movement, slight progress is being made. But that progress does not include ending the civil war.

The New York Times, still possibly the world’s greatest news enterprise, has an ongoing section devoted to the Crisis in Syria. The increasing numbers stupefy: 6.5 million Syrians displaced from their homes, more than 2 million of them seeking refuge in other countries. Now we hear about a cluster of polio cases among Syrian children.

We have plenty of our own problems, individually and as a country. Some of those are not small at all. But there is no polio. And the entire population of the state of Tennessee or Indiana has not had to leave their homes behind, dodging mayhem, unsure if they will ever return, or if there will be anything to return to.

We shouldn’t expect ourselves to be exhausted or crushed by the miseries of the world; that’s what keeping track of all the problems all the time would do. So yes, you can argue that it is important to learn from the news today that Paris Hilton has spent $5,000 on Halloween costumes so that she can dress up as Miley Cyrus. But for a change of pace, a regular, maybe daily, reminder that there is still a war in Syria might be of value.

George Zimmerman: Not Guilty. Responsible? Sorry?

George Zimmerman
It’s easy to see how we’ve come to confuse the legal and the moral. Here and everywhere, laws are put in place that offend a general or specific sense of what is right, so we tend to connect the two. We’re also so used to seeing the legal system in media that it occupies a lot of our thinking. Even though those movies and shows try to include moral dilemmas for lawyers and clients, it’s the law that intrigues and entertains us. We have not yet had a hit television show featuring a team of super-attractive philosophers hammering out the fine points of moral right and wrong.

George Zimmerman is not guilty, at least of the crimes charged in Florida. We are awaiting possible federal civil rights charges or a wrongful death civil lawsuit. But we have no official moral court, and so we can consider where he might stand before that bench.

Every minute, people around the world, people you know, maybe even you, cross some pretty bright moral lines, and we don’t put them in jail. Not that they don’t deserve to somehow be punished, but the legal system doesn’t fit the deed, and anyway, our prison overcrowding would be exponentially more critical.

There are lots of killings we allow or sanction, including self-defense, war and capital punishment. (It would be disingenuous and dishonest not to include abortion—not because it is or isn’t killing, but because from the moral perspective of some, it is killing that we legally allow, and we can’t have the already underserved moral discussion without at least mentioning it.)

George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. It is an unrefuted, admitted fact. The legal system, in its first but maybe not last swipe at the situation, has found him not guilty of a particular crime. For the record, for those who think the justice system failed, be aware that it was never enough for the jury to believe that Zimmerman was a liar and that his version of the scenario made no sense at all. The jury could only convict on the basis of another, more damning scenario—a scenario many of us could easily imagine, but a scenario the prosecution could never paint from the evidence they had to work with. The jury is allowed to draw inferences but can’t just use their imagination the way we can.

George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, and many of us have come to the reasonable, non-legal conclusion about how it happened. People who reach that conclusion want him to be punished, not just for retribution, but to prevent something like this every happening again. Even if further legal proceedings don’t end up punishing him, many have the clear sense that he crossed a moral line and he was very wrong. That’s something that gets lost in all the fascinating legal discussion. You don’t have to be guilty to be wrong. And ever if there isn’t some sort of moral jail, that is still a big deal.

Which brings us to the apology. Even giving credit to the Zimmerman account, the killing happened, he did it, and all the legal exoneration can’t take it back or make it better. Apologies have gotten an increasingly bad name; just look at how the Republicans used it as pejorative in describing President Obama’s early “apology tour” of the world. (It does make you wonder what home life is like for some of those politicians, who in the face of expected apology refuse, not wanting to seem weak or ineffectual. Marriage counseling alert.)

George Zimmerman should apologize to Trayvon Martin’s family. Fully and sincerely. In legal terms, he can’t, of course, since there are still proceedings possible or likely. In moral terms, though, experts say that the need to confess is the best friend of police and prosecutors, because truth is a heavy weight that needs lifting. He is actually half-way to a confession anyway, since we know he shot Trayvon Martin. He doesn’t even have to detail the circumstances in any way different than he has, even if it’s not true.

All he has to say is this: I shot him I killed him. Whatever the law says, I was wrong. I’m sorry.

The Voice: “I Hate This Country”

Adam Levine - The Voice
Adam Levine is a popular musical artist with Maroon 5 and a coach on NBC’s singing competition The Voice.

Last night was an elimination round for two of the remaining eight contestants. Each of the four coaches (including Shakira, Usher and Blake Shelton) has members of their respective teams in the competition.

After the typical tense triage, three contestants remained. Only one would survive. Of those, two were from Team Adam, and one was a talented singer named Judith Hill. She may not have been destined to win, but she was a solid performer who had already had a career as a backup singer for Michael Jackson, and might yet get a chance on her own. The two other singers remaining were not in her league.

The camera was on those three as host Carson Daly pronounced the obligatory nail-biting “America has voted” spiel. In the background, you could hear a simple comment from Coach Adam, as he likely sensed that the most worthy of the three was about to be eliminated:

“I hate this country.”

Meaning, one presumes: I hate these stupid popularity contests, even one that I am a part of, where merit matters less than the judgment of numbers and the crowd. I don’t hate America, but I hate it when America speaks like this.

And then, Judith Hill was gone.

Every one of the artist-coaches has built a successful career, and knows that entertainment, like every other field, is not entirely a meritocracy. Still, even accounting for differences in taste, a few minutes of singing can reveal those with consistent control, those who can find and hit all the notes, those who can put power and style in what they sing—and those who can’t.

So Adam, and everybody else who gets frustrated by singing competitions that don’t always give us the best, or political systems that don’t either, embrace your frustration. At least it means that you haven’t given up, that you still have standards, that you still have hope and expectations that the competitions and elections will give us winners who really can sing—even if we lose some worthy ones along the way.

The Year Begins with Baseball

Mom Marlins
The New Year finally begins. It is Opening Day for Major League Baseball.

Non-baseball people are turning away with a lack of interest or understanding. Even non-sports people know that football long ago took over as America’s pastime. The Super Bowl v. the World Series? Who are you kidding? When’s the last time the Rolling Stones performed at a World Series halftime. (Note: There is no halftime in baseball. Just a brief break known as the seventh inning stretch, where we sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame, not a Stones song.)

If baseball has somehow been eclipsed, it may be symptomatic. Whatever it is that has made football more popular than baseball might not be such a good thing. There are tomes by eminent scholars written about this. The time element alone is telling. Those leaning towards short attention spans and busy lives like football because something is always happening and it is time-constrained by a clock. For non-baseball fans, there are long stretches where nothing seems to be going on in a baseball game, except most of the players just standing around. Games can theoretically go on forever, and sometimes they seem to, exceeding five hours. Once again the chorus asks: Who are you kidding?

George Carlin, one of the sharptest and funniest observers of American life, focused on the differences between baseball and football. You can read the complete text and listen to a recording. Here’s an excerpt:

Baseball and football are the two most popular spectator sports in this country. And as such, it seems they ought to be able to tell us something about ourselves and our values.

I enjoy comparing baseball and football:

Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle….

Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.
Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.

In football you wear a helmet.
In baseball you wear a cap….

In football you receive a penalty.
In baseball you make an error.

In football the specialist comes in to kick.
In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve somebody.

Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness.
Baseball has the sacrifice….

And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different:

In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.

In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! I hope I’ll be safe at home!

There are dozens of books containing art, poetry and writing about baseball. The other sports may have some, but not of the quantity or the caliber of these. As pointed out before, and it will be pointed out again, for a brief moment in the late 1980s, cut tragically short by illness, A. Bartlett Giamatti was the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. Bart Giamatti was the President of Yale University, a professor of literature, and a writer of note. When and only when the NFL, NBA, NHL, or any other sports league decides to appoint a person of equal credentials as their commissioner, then and only then will it be worth having a conversation about the big picture relative merits.

Bart Giamatti also wrote the quintessential essay about baseball. The Green Fields of the Mind is written not about Opening Day, but about the last day of the season for his beloved Boston Red Sox in 1977. He didn’t live to see that one of baseball’s most hapless teams would go on to become a championship powerhouse years later.

The essay is a poetic take not only on the refrain of baseball fans everywhere—“wait until next year”—but on the way that refrain works in our lives. It reflects the progress from the hopes of spring to the dimming of prospects in the fall, but only in the meantime. There is no justice in an excerpt of it, but here is one anyway:

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone.…

That is why it breaks my heart, that game–not because in New York they could win because Boston lost; in that, there is a rough justice, and a reminder to the Yankees of how slight and fragile are the circumstances that exalt one group of human beings over another. It breaks my heart because it was meant to, because it was meant to foster in me again the illusion that there was something abiding, some pattern and some impulse that could come together to make a reality that would resist the corrosion; and because, after it had fostered again that most hungered-for illusion, the game was meant to stop, and betray precisely what it promised.

Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports. And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.

Finally, a rare personal note. Many, many families have memories tied up with sports. I am no exception. Those memories aren’t important because the game is, just as the game isn’t important because of the memories. They are just tied up in a package that you open on occasions. Opening Day is one of them. Above is a photo of my Mom, a few years before she passed away. She is watching a Marlins game. As Bart Giamatti wrote, “there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts.”

That’s another reason we love baseball and are happy it is Opening Day again.

The Day We Discovered the Gamers


It’s a cliché from a hundred movies: Right before the wedding, the father of the bride looks over at his daughter and discovers something: the little girl is all grown up. This isn’t the day she grew up; that has been going on all along, for years. This is just the day he learned that.

Sean Smith, the Libyan embassy officer killed yesterday along with Ambassador Chris Stevens and two others, was also a world-class online gamer. In the 400,000-member EV Online community, where his name was Vile Rat, he was known as perhaps the greatest of all space diplomats. Most did not know that was what he did in his other life.

The community responded immediately and in force. Members gave assurances that his family would be supported, including making sure that his children went to college. In the digital world, space stations were named in his honor.

Those two things may not make sense together to some, but it is fitting. There is an image, outdated if it was ever true, that digital gaming is filled with socially inept people, mostly men, suffering from some form of arrested development. To the contrary, just ask the digital gaming industry, which is reaping the rewards of one of the few truly healthy entertainment genres. Or ask the millions who are citizens of the communities, who are also grown-up, responsible men—and women—who live complete and complex non-digital lives.

Or ask the wife and young children of Sean Smith, who may or may not have understood the different way he was important as an online diplomat, esteemed member of that community, and friend to thousands who had never met him. As one member posted, it is a “stupid game” that stands in the shadow of Sean Smith’s real world contributions and passing. But the gaming itself and the community it fostered is not stupid.

This is the day we learned that.