Another Week Ends

1. A touching piece by dying atheist Christopher Hitchens in the recent Vanity Fair, writing […]

Ethan Richardson / 5.27.11

1. A touching piece by dying atheist Christopher Hitchens in the recent Vanity Fair, writing quite confessionally on the loss of his own voice in his bout with terminal cancer. The way it is written, and through reference to a heart-piercing Leonard Cohen lyric, one can sense that this silencing is a deeper sort of loss of self, the “unspoken truth” that what he was by way of his voice, exposes a deeper presence of something in its very disappearance (ht AZ).

My chief consolation in this year of living dyingly has been the presence of friends. I can’t eat or drink for pleasure anymore, so when they offer to come it’s only for the blessed chance to talk. Some of these comrades can easily fill a hall with paying customers avid to hear them: they are talkers with whom it’s a privilege just to keep up. Now at least I can do the listening for free. Can they come and see me? Yes, but only in a way… What do I hope for? If not a cure, then a remission. And what do I want back? In the most beautiful apposition of two of the simplest words in our language: the freedom of speech.

2. Speaking of voices and its influence of selfhood, over on Pen vs. Paper this week, blogger Jeffrey quotes James Shelley on the power of social media on the human tendency to live via avatars. With our newfangled abilities to network, check the status of distant friends, retrieve information on infinite social media, Shelley points to the phenomenon that we are, in short, everywhere and yet nowhere at the same time.

Paradoxically, human individuals can now interact with everything as if they themselves are organizations; descriptive, third-party entities that are calculated, defined and abstracted from any actual “self” at the centre.

When people “become” organizations they begin behaving like them too: they start placing their value on their market share, or how many friends or followers they have, who’s listening to them, and who endorses their carefully calculated “identity package.”

3. In sports, New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon was reamed this week by Mets fans everywhere for the harsh criticism he placed upon his star players for their lack of performance, inspiring the Wall Street Journal to line up a comparative piece to famous home-team-bashing owner George Steinbrenner. The piece is a statistically adept look at what this kind of public criticism ends up doing to the team’s success in the long run (ht BFG).

Steinbrenner’s scathing critiques of his employees are legendary. In 1985, after the Yanks lost two straight to division-leading Toronto in a key September series, The Boss publicly wished for a new Mr. October instead of struggling slugger Dave Winfield. The man Steinbrenner called “Mr. May” hit .256 with two homers the rest of the season.

In the middle of a game in August 1982, Steinbrenner ordered pitcher Doyle Alexander to leave the team and undergo a physical examination because the opposing team was hitting the ball so hard off him. “I am afraid some of our players might get hurt playing defense behind him,” Steinbrenner said at the time. Alexander finished the year 1-7 with a 6.08 ERA.

4. Also in sports, and also New-York-baseball-related, NPR’s series “Sweetness and Light” covered why aging is so painful, and so often denied, for heroic athletes. Discussing the waning success of superstars like Jeter, Federer, and Kobe, Frank Deford discusses why it’s difficult to quit it. Like any addiction, fame—especially fame rooted in the finicky and fragile nature of athletic success—is hard to leave once it provides its satisfaction, however short-term it may be (ht NM):

But alas, it’s only an accident of odds, an evening’s triumph of muscle memory over athletic actuarial. The next day, the next game, age wins again. Only of course, the athlete has been seduced by the aberration: “See, I’ve still got it.”

It’s so hard for anybody who’s been extraordinary at something glamorous, as thousands cheer, to admit, as a relatively young person, that, “Now I’m passing on, too, just as even Babe Ruth did once.”

But no: In all sports, the irrefutable models show again and again that once age begins to affect a player, the die is cast.

5. It turns out that powerful men aren’t the only ones susceptible to being pigs! From last week’s “Week in Review,” studies show that, though power (affluence, vocational leadership) isn’t a precondition to predatory behavior, it’s only enabling that which was already there:

Sure, becoming a big shot can bring out a guy’s inner Boy Scout, his gentleman philanthropist and, even in later years, his bushy-browed wise man. But the headlines are a relentless reminder of how often success seems to breed serial philanderers, groping boors and worse, sexual deviants. Does power turn regular guys into sexual predators?

The answer in most cases is no, say social scientists and therapists who have long experience working with men. “Power is a facilitator,” said Ronald F. Levant, a psychologist at the University of Akron and co-editor of “Men and Sex: New Psychological Perspectives.” “It provides opportunities to men with certain appetites but seldom changes personality in any fundamental way.”

Make no mistake: Many men are faithful partners and remain so for life. Others would play the course like Tiger Woods if they had the opportunity and the chops.

6. In the Lessons-in-Futility department, anger rises as the smoking ban makes its home in none other than New York City.

7. In film, the rave reviews are in! Also here, and here. Malick’s Tree of Life is out today, after its Palme d’Or reception at Cannes last week. “The way of nature…and the way of grace.”

8. In music, lots of good stuff on its way as we approach the heat of summer, including a well-reviewed reissue of Nick Cave’s “Let Love In” and “Murder Ballads” and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth has apparently been reading the 1982 Hymnal. Mark your calendars for June 7, which brings us beloved Dawes’ second studio album “Nothing is Wrong” and a debut album from Cults, which is bound to make some waves. (Human love as mutual abduction, ouch!)


P.S.) For fun, from the AV club, you are ugly enough to win an Oscar.