Monthly Archives: March 2012

“I am done with my graceless heart”: Listening to Florence + The Machine

Florence + The Machine fans: I’m a little late to this, no? My apologies. I had no idea that Rossetti’s Proserpine is walking among us, and singing with the astonishing voice of Annie Lennox 2.0:

Ho. Lee. Crap.

Between the phantasmagoric power pop of Florence + The Machine, the dark Americana of Anaïs Mitchell and The Civil Wars, the righteous folk-punk of Frank Turner, and many others, the musical landscape seems to be alive and thriving and as full of surprises as ever.

More, please.

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Why stereotypes need to die, cont’d: “Do I look suspicious?”

In the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin, the men of Howard University have put together a compelling video that challenges racial profiling and reminds us of its lethal consequences:

On a related note: In a previous post on “identity beyond ethnicity,” I’d written about Touré and the notion of post-blackness, questioning whether there’s any limit to the infinite flexibility of “racial” identity — whether, in an age when skin color doesn’t limit our desires, abilities, interests, and ambitions, being “black” (or any other color) means anything at all. But clearly it still does. Touré’s recent essay for Time, “How to Stay Alive While Being Black,” makes it clear to me that choosing your own identity is only half of the equation; the other half is how people see you — and how your reaction to their perception also shapes who you are:

You will have to make allowances for other people’s racism. That’s part of the burden of being black. We can be defiant and dead or smart and alive. I’m not saying you can’t wear what you want, but your clothes are a red herring. They’ll blame it on your hoodie or your jeans when the real reason they decided you were a criminal is that you’re black. Of course, you know better. Racism is about reminding you that you are less human, less valuable, less worthy, less beautiful, less intelligent. It’s about prejudging you as violent, fearsome, a threat. Some people will take that prejudice and try to force their will on you to make sure you feel like a second-class citizen and to make certain you get back to the lower-class place they think you’re trying to escape. The best way to counter them involves not your fists but your mind. You know your value to the world and how terrific you are. If you never forget that, they can’t damage your spirit. The best revenge is surviving and living well.

What does it mean to be a black man? It means that no matter what kind of human being you are, you can still be shot dead because of the color of your skin, the hoodie you happen to wear, and the prejudices of all the bigots around you whose existence you can’t afford to deny.

The day we put all this bullshit behind us can’t come fast enough.

(h/t Feministing)
Update: A heartbreaking take from David Brothers:

Martin’s story — all of these stories — is a reminder. It’s a reminder that you have so little control over your life that who you are doesn’t actually matter. All that matters is what other people can make you into. You’re not a person, not in the end. You’re just a thing to be used and discarded, no matter how good of a guy you were, no matter how cute your daughter is, they’re going to find something on you and that’s going to be that. Sorry, but Mister Charlie needs grist for the mill. […]

And it’s racism. All of it. It is unquestionably, objectively racism. It’s not some guy going out to lynch nigras for looking at white women, but that’s not the entirety of what racism is. Racism is a system. Racism is a way of thinking. Racism is subconscious. Racism is an entire country being trained to suspect an entire race of being shifty, lazy, or suspicious by default. I have to prove that I’m not a threat? How about I make America prove it doesn’t want to murder me, since there’s way more precedent for that than some skinny kid being a savage. If I have my hood up and I’m not smiling because I’m having a bad day, I’m a threat, someone to make you clutch your purse or hug your girl closer. I’m a thug? C’mon son. I’m just having a bad day in the big city. Get real. You’ve been trained to see brown skin and go to “Threat!” first instead of “Person!” You’ve been brainwashed. […]

The experience of being black in America is one of being constantly reminded that you are black in America, with all the drama that comes from it. The preferred term online amongst… whoever for black people is People of Color, or POC. I hate it, because yo, first, everyone has color, and second, how about you don’t define me in opposition to somebody else? I feel like that should be a basic human right. The right to not be not-White. It’s basic things like that that are what I mean. I can’t escape the fact that I’m black and have built-in baggage, even if I wanted to.

The whole thing is very much worth a read.

(via Let’s Be Friends Again, via

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Billy Collins animated, cont’d

My favorite living poet Billy Collins provides some context for his animated poems. Stick around for the hilarious piece he reads aloud at the end.

(via TED)


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Savage humanism, cont’d

Adam Savage’s outstanding speech at last weekend’s Reason Rally in Washington DC:

Transcript here. My previous post on Savage and the skeptical spirit of Mythbusters here.

(via Twitter)

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It’s International Anti-Street Harassment Week, and you must read this

Coinciding with International Anti-Street Harassment Week, Alice Xie has written a powerful essay, “My Street, My Body, My Right,” that’s a must-read for everyone who thinks that their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, colleagues, girlfriends, and women everywhere deserve better:

I was sexually harassed on a regular basis from the year I turned fourteen until the year I left for college. I tried so hard, every day, to ignore it. But I couldn’t. It changed me. The irrepressible nervousness when a stranger approached. Being afraid to look any man on the street in the eyes. Worrying I was being followed. Not wanting to leave my house unless I had to. Crying. Not crying until I got home, then crying. Hating myself for crying. Playing the faces of dozens of men back in my mind — I remember them all. Wondering what would have happened if I had bumped into them in a deserted area. The rape nightmares.

But the worst part was how it warped my own view of myself. Maybe it was my fault, I thought. Maybe I was asking for it. It was because I was small and weak, I thought. I hated myself for my own helplessness. Hated myself every time the snappy retort, the “leave me alone,” the “stop,” bubbled up furiously in my heart only to wilt in my throat. The tiny, illogical, and unshakable fear that no matter how hard I worked, I would never amount to anything more than a body. That my feelings — my disgust, the anger and loathing written all over my face — would deter no one because they simply did not matter. That it would only get worse as I grew older. That my only worth was sexual. That I was less than human. That I was nothing.

Go here to read the rest, and to find resources for more information and action.

(h/t The Dish, with follow-up posts here and here.)

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Space is big

There are lots of powerful ways to convey the scale of the universe, but it never fails to blow my mind that space is really, really big. Check out this infographic from the BBC — and be sure to scroll down to the paragraph at the bottom, for a taste of the unimaginable vastness of the cosmos around us.

(via Tim Minchin)

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Miscellany, and an apology for long silence

I’ve been away from this blog recently, trying to devote some more time to fiction writing (but not yet quite comfortable enough to talk about that personal creative process, as I know others do). Working on this blog has been, and continues to be, an interesting writing experience — but a reactive one, a curatorial process of finding and commenting on cool things that others have said or done. It’s rewarding to be plugged in to the cultural conversation on the net, adding my humble two cents; but it’s been a while since I’ve made something of my own, and that’s something I’d like to spend a little more time doing. If you’ve been following my posts, I’m very grateful for your time and attention. I’ll try to keep it up as best I can.

Meanwhile, some things of interest:

1) Gregory Benford writes about the future of space exploration, arguing that the time has come for NASA to give way to commerce-driven space initiatives. Neil deGrasse Tyson (whom my family and I just saw giving a brilliant talk at the American Museum of Natural History) offers a different take on NASA and the vital importance of government funding for exploration. (Tyson videos have been popping up all over YouTube recently, eloquently presenting and sometimes re-editing his arguments: some choice ones here and especially here.)

2) A fascinating talk by author Neal Stephenson on our society’s increasing inability to get big stuff done, and why it’s important to revive that sense of ambition and possibility.

3) Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie has a must-read essay on “The Storytellers of Empire,” asking America why “Your soldiers will come to our lands, but your novelists won’t.” She makes a compelling argument for empathy, connection, and identity beyond ethnicity: “The moment you say, a male American writer can’t write about a female Pakistani, you are saying, Don’t tell those stories. Worse, you’re saying, as an American male you can’t understand a Pakistani woman. She is enigmatic, inscrutable, unknowable. She’s other. Leave her and her nation to its Otherness. Write them out of your history.”

4) NPR host Bob Mondello points to a science fiction story by E.M. Forster, “The Machine Stops,” that eerily predicts our (sterile?) virtual culture, our overreliance on technology, and what that says about who we are.

5) Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova asks: “what if we engineered […] selective attention purposefully and aligned it with our emotional and mental well-being?” She calls our attention to Ruth Kaiser and the Spontaneous Smiley Project, which invites us to see — and photograph — the smiley-face configurations that are literally everywhere around us. Kaiser makes the case for optimism on her blog, and quotes some inspiring Dr. Seuss passages as well. You can also watch her TED talk here.

And now I’m off. Have a great day, wherever you are. Go make something beautiful. Make someone smile.

(Photo via Do Something)

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