David Brooks and the Sidney Awards

David Brooks is alternately interesting, thought-provoking, and punch in the face infuriating.

We reviewed his book The Road To Character here, published shortly before he divorced his wife and married his assistant? which kinda sums up the whole deal.  Believe we’ve read all his books, and most of his columns, so he’s doing his job of getting our attention.

Impression of Brooks was shaped in a new way when we read this book:

Bacevich reminds us of some of the brave, cavalier statements Brooks put out there in the runup to Iraq War Two

“Come on people, let’s get a grip!” says Brooks.

Bacevich’s son was killed in Iraq.

If you’re a columnist, you’re gonna be wrong a lot.  How should you deal with that?  Bacevich’s larger point is that we could all do a better job on behalf of the people we’re putting in harm’s way.

We do enjoy Brooks’ annual roundup of good essays, The Sidney Awards.

The oral testimony by Dr. Kevin Menes was a bit over my head in terms of technical, medical expertise, and Brooks’ summary sufficed for me.

Oral testimony is compelling, why isn’t more of it published?

Phil Christman’s essay On Being Midwestern: The Burden of Normality was interesting as well.

Christman touches on the Midwestern humor of Garrison Keillor and Letterman.  For our taste, writing about the Midwest gets stronger and more compelling the more humor it contains.  If you’re interested in a funny, personal, quirky take on the Midwest, might we recommend Andy Sturdevant’s book?

Full of drawings and peculiar observations, centered around Minneapolis.  We were put on to this one by the great and mysterious Raynor Ganan, an old Boyland discovery.  Raynor’s Internet presence has declined but one hopes his physical presence prospers.

Brooks includes Caitlin Flanagan’s article about a Penn State frat.  Caitlin Flanagan is a favorite of all of us at Helytimes.  All her writing is worth reading.  We thought this one of hers was a good one:

Next, Brooks has a Michael Lind essay about the rise of the managerial class, which was terrific.

In the American South, most populist politicians gave up or sold out. In some cases, like that of Texas governor and senator W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel, a country music singer, they were simply folksy fronts for corporate and upper-class interests all along. The few populists who maintained some independence were those who could finance themselves, usually by corrupt means. Louisiana governor Huey Long could battle the ruling families and the powerful corporations because he skimmed money from state employee checks and kept it in a locked “deduct box.” In Texas, anti-Klan populist governor James “Pa” Ferguson, along with his wife Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, who was elected governor after her husband was impeached on the slogan “Two Governors for the price of one,” sold pardons to the relatives of convicted criminals. As billionaires who could finance their own campaigns, Ross Perot and Donald Trump could claim, with some justification, to be free to run against the national establishment.

We took a class from Michael Lind at Harvard U., ground zero for managerial class thinking.  He was so cool!  One of the most profound, historically informed, balanced Big Picture thinkers out there.

(In this photo from Wikipedia he looks kinda like Steve Bannon’s better-behaved brother.)

But here’s a q: aren’t takes like this, taking on the managerial class, written by and for the managerial class, even if they’re attacking the managerial class, kind of a way of flattering the managerial class?

If David freakin’ Brooks is quoting approvingly an article about how guys like David Brooks are screwing everything up, where does that leave us?





(and now here we are writing about his take!)

Says Lind:

Neoliberalism plus, also called “inclusive capitalism,” is the preferred response of the transatlantic managerial class to the populist revolts in Europe and America. Essentially, neoliberalism plus is Reagan-Thatcher-Clinton-Blair neoliberalism with more subsidies to the “losers” of globalization. The disempowerment of non-elite citizens by the oligarchic capture of politics and the destruction of unions would not be altered. But the masses would be bribed into acquiescence by means of higher wage subsidies, like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in the United States, or perhaps a universal basic income providing every citizen a poverty wage.

Great!  Sounds good to me!  What is the next sentence?

While something like this will undoubtedly be tried in many Western countries, the economics do not work.

Dammit!  Elsewhere Lind is quite tough on The Economist’s worldview.

That is our roundup on the Sidney Awards, a subject that we predict will interest… Vali?  Maybe one or two other readers.

For those of you wondering, our series on the Book of Mark will continue in the New Year!

We’re developing a Very Interesting theory about who wrote Mark, and the bromance at the heart of the story.

“We’re working on a theory of the Gospel of Mark” is definitely something a not crazy person says on their website.

See you in 2018!



Westworld Criticism


Emily Nussbaum is very smart and a good TV critic, chipple on all that, but this bugged me:



First of all, are we sure we’re not watching the gayest male bachelor party of all time?



Plus, this knock on the show seems to me to go against one of Updike’s rules of (book) fair reviewing:

Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an idealogical battle, a corrections officer of any kind.

Sometimes I wonder if all criticism should begin with a little creed or prayer like: creating something like Westworld is such an incredible miracle combination of talent, craft, imagination, vision, perseverance, and courage.  To think of the efforts of hundreds that go into creating a single frame of this show is humbling.  BUUUUT: 

Some strong feelings about critics are expressed by the fictional narrator of this book.


Me, I appreciate critics, really enjoy Emily Nussbaum, and respect a take!

England forever!


From the Times Literary Supplement, this remarkable sentence in Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s review of Christopher Hitchens posthumous book of essays:

Born to a dyspeptic, reactionary naval officer and a mother whose Jewish origins Hitchens only discovered after her tragic suicide, he was educated at a modest public school and Oxford University, where he delightedly embarked on a double life – radical agitation by day, sybaritic lotus-eating by night – which set the tone for the years to come.

I can picture it.

10.[Wes Anderson] became close friends with Owen Wilson because Owen Wilson just suddenly started acting as if they were close friends.
Anderson and his frequent leading man and sometime screenwriting collaborator took a playwriting class together at the University of Texas at Austin, but they didn’t hang out or talk. Then one day Wilson came up to Anderson in the corridor of a building in the English department. “We were signing up for classes and he started asking me to help him figure out what he should do, as if we knew each other. As if we had ever spoken before or knew each other’s names. I almost feel like he was taking it for granted that if we didn’t know each other yet, soon we would.”

(from Matt Zoller Seitz roundup of Wes Anderson trivia he learned writing his book.  Huge soft spot for MZS here at Helytimes from back when he was a heroic drum-banger for The New World) 

(photo stolen from this mess)


I wish SDB were around to talk to me about Hunger Games.  I would definitely be exhausted long before he was even warmed up.

I read 1/2 of the Hunger Games book.  For that half, the book was “better” than the movie because there was much more backstory about Katniss and Peeta.

The book seemed to take place in a real, recognizable world.  I did not feel this way in the movie.  But if the movie were on that level of reality it would be too horrifying to make one billion dollars.

I thought the movie was shot kind of poorly.  The forest never looked awesome enough.  Maybe they should’ve gotten Debra Granik, who directed Winter’s Bone.

My favorite character was the Game Maker.

A complicated villain.

(photo from People Magazine’s website, where it is used to illustrate an article about “Why Wes Bentley’s ‘Hunger Games’ Beard Drew Stares Off Set.” The answer is because “while the beard’s futuristic design certainly fit in with the film’s stylized setting, it was less suited to rural North Carolina, where the cast and crew shot.”)

The Civil Wars

The Civil Wars won the Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance and for Best Folk Album of 2012.  I’d never heard of them until then.  I’ll be impressed if you can get through one of their videos without getting massively douched out:

The duo’s web site says that the name of their band, The Civil Wars, and their thematic direction, is best summed up in the lyrics of the song “Poison & Wine”. It is about the good, the bad, and the ugly of married life.