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John Ratzenberger is a Time Lord: The Life and Work of Jacob Riis

Forget about the alleged image of Jay-Z from the 1930s.

John Ratzenberger and groundbreaking photojournalist Jacob Riiss are one in the same.  They even have the same initials.  Nice try, Cliff Clavin.

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Riis most likely invented the phrase “how the other half lives,” the title of his epic 1890 publication exposing the squalor of New York’s tenements and the plight of America’s urban poor to middle and upper classes through emerging media.  Read How the Other Half Lives, now in the public domain, here (or download to your digital device free of charge).

A pioneer of visual story-telling, Riis may not really be the Voice of Pixar.  He was, for certain, a voice of and for millions with no other.

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With Super Bowl Looming, New Study: Youth Football Participation Down 29% Since 2008

“Football as mass spectacle has never been bigger.”   But youth participation is down 29% since 2008.  – ESPN Outside the Lines.

Christopher Cocca

American football, (that is to say, football), is a fascinating game.  Its history is complex and nuanced.  Like all the major professional sports, it emerged from somewhere in our collective memory, developed through amateur associations of working-class athletic clubs, became an outlet for the ambitions and frustrations of American male adolescence and is now one of the biggest industries in the world.

Even if you prefer baseball or hockey or basketball as products, hobbies, or metaphors, even if you know or care nothing about the game, you’d likely grant that much of its attraction among the faithful is visceral.   My playing experience starts and ends on the playground and in the backyard, with Nerf and, later, synthetic pigskin.  I don’t have a shared locker-room history, I didn’t play the organized game as a child, and I’ve always cared much for more baseball, likely for narrative and immigrant reasons, also visceral.

In the 80s and 90s, we had no way of knowing, as children, what CTE was or that some of our favorite players (Jim McMahon, Junior Seau) would suffer or die from it.  Our parents had no way of knowing that it existed, that playing the full-contact game as young boys even in the best of organized settings could damage our brains and limit our cognitive skills, or that if we played through our teens, that damage could increase our risk of suicide.

But we all know differently now.  I’ve argued before that game’s continued success, especially at the college level (the biggest piece of ESPN’s revenue, and thus a huge piece of Disney’s) requires that our kids keep playing and that the NCAA’s and NFL’s media partners keep mum about the true risks that have evolved alongside bigger bodies and harder hits.

Now, between Super Bowl Media Day and Super Bowl Sunday, ESPN’s Outside the Lines reports on a new study from Boston University claiming that “former NFL players who played tackle football as young children were more likely to have thinking and memory problems as adults.” I’m not a neuroscientist or a youth football booster, but people from both camps weigh in here.

Interestingly, Dr. Robert Stern, lead author of the study, says:

“To allow your child to be subjecting themselves to repetitive head injury at a very early age when they could be doing the sport a different way and minimizing their chances [of brain injury], to me, is just insane,” he said. “It’s wrong. We should not be allowing this to happen.

“Tom Brady didn’t play football until high school. He picked up the game pretty quickly.”

Why didn’t Brady play youth football?  His dad, citing health concerns, forbade the game until Brady’s freshman year.

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Andrew Sullivan Retires from Blogging

Christopher Cocca

I have progressed past my libertarian stage, but this piece at the libertarian venue Reason.com does a good job of capturing the gist of what made Andre Sullivan’s blogging so mercurial and important: A Fond Farewell to Andrew Sullivan, Who Is Retiring From Blogging – Hit & Run : Reason.com.

Sullivan himself says:

One of the things I’ve always tried to do at the Dish is to be up-front with readers. This sometimes means grotesque over-sharing; sometimes it means I write imprudent arguments I have to withdraw; sometimes it just means a monthly update on our revenues and subscriptions; and sometimes I stumble onto something actually interesting. But when you write every day for readers for years and years, as I’ve done, there’s not much left to hide. And that’s why, before our annual auto-renewals, I want to let you know I’ve decided to stop blogging in the near future.

 

Also:

I want to spend some real time with my parents, while I still have them, with my husband, who is too often a ‘blog-widow’, my sister and brother, my niece and nephews, and rekindle the friendships that I have simply had to let wither because I’m always tied to the blog. And I want to stay healthy. I’ve had increasing health challenges these past few years. They’re not HIV-related; my doctor tells me they’re simply a result of fifteen years of daily, hourly, always-on-deadline stress. These past few weeks were particularly rough – and finally forced me to get real.

 

Sullivan is part of an increasingly rare breed.  Even when you disagreed with him, vehemently, you always appreciated him.  The way his mind worked, the way he could write…and write and write and write.  He helped define the best of what blogging could be, while also, like all of us, struggling with the realities of displaying deeply held passions in real time, of working hard, maybe harder than anyone, to synthesize a genius’ command of historic, social, political, and religious metanarrative with the many strains of their echoes across great and vast swaths of “digital saturation.”   He was and is brilliant.  He was and is essential.  I can’t imagine my own development as a writer or thinker without him.  He wasn’t always right, and it wasn’t always pretty.  That he could and did evolve in public on any number of issues was always part of the deal.  That he loved what America can be at its best was clear and infectious.

I’ve always loved this video, now two years old, in which he explains  his time as a Young Thatcherite.

Spread love, Andrew Sullivan.  Thanks for teaching us a whole hell of a lot.

 

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Planet Tolkien: Let’s Name J1407b, the New Exoplanet With Rings to Rule Them All, After J.R.R.

Christopher Cocca

It feels like astronomers are finding new exoplanets (planetary bodies outside of our native solar system) all the time in their quest for potential Earth-like worlds.  Just a few years ago, we’d only indirectly observed a handful, and, until 1992, as far as we knew, they existed only in theory.  According to the never-wrong stewards of Wikipedia, we’re now up to “1885 planets in 1184 planetary systems including 477 multiple planetary systems” as recently as yesterday.

Earlier this week, scientists reported discovering an exoplanet (J1407b) with Saturn-like rings for the first time ever.  Except these rings are so massive, if they were around Saturn, we’d see them dwarf the moon in Earth’s night sky.  They’re thought to be at least 200 times the sizes of Saturn’s banded system.

Truly, then, a Lord of the Rings.  I’d first thought we should name this planet Gandalf, but Tolkien, having created a marvelous literary world influencing the lives and work of millions, deserves a real world named for him.  Such a move is not without precedent:  the International Astronomical Union honored the literary giant (a Saturn for sure, if not a Jupiter) with Mercury’s Tolkien Crater.  In 1982, astronomer M. Watt named a newly discovered asteroid for Tolkien and a second after Bilbo Baggins.

People have talked for years about naming one of Pluto’s moons Mickey.  Fears of a dawning Starbucks Nebula mounting, a Tolkien namesake is so much less corporate than all of that.

Get it done, science.

Get it done, overlapping science and Tolkien fandom.  There should be a petition.  Like this one.

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The Problem with The Fantastic Four Trailer

Christopher Cocca

The Fantastic Four teaser trailer has been released by 20th Century Fox/Marvel, and there are problems.  First and foremost, it mimics the gravity of the Man of Steel promos (a tone that translated well to the film) unconvincingly.  The Richards family may be superdom’s “First Family” and represent an important moment in the history of comics (which, are, of course, an abiding part of American folklore, just as Brian Wilson is our greatest folk musician), but you don’t get that feeling from the teaser.  Comparisons to Superman don’t help.  There’s even the classic car shot from the Star Trek reboot, making all of this feel re-tread.

Reed’s outsider-genius status will always evoke a certain pathos, but the downright absurdity of his acquired powers sort of ruins everything.  Using IN CINEMAS SUMMER 2015 instead of simply SUMMER 2015 is another stab at unearned weight, and the most egregious.

Yes, this is just a teaser reel, but the best thing about it is the way the title is rendered at the end.

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Andrew Peterson: After All These Years

Christopher Cocca

I was unfamiliar with Andrew Peterson until reading this review by Adele Konyndyk Gallogly.  For some reason, maybe just the word “folk” and the album cover’s aesthetic, I was expecting something closer to Steven Delopoulos when I fired After All These Years up on Spotify. That said, there’s a sort of deftness to the writing, a lot of ideas and images and call backs you don’t typically hear paired with the kind of production Peterson seems to favor. As a writer, I appreciate the lyrical work he’s doing, and “Don’t You Want To Thank Someone” is an all-around standout with a Rich Mullins feel.  Peterson’s penchant for this-is-how-it-was biography aside, “Dancing In the Minefields,” even as a phrase, is a great metaphor for marriage.

After All These Years develops a lived-in feel as it progresses, and the songs starting with “Don’t You Want To Thank Someone” are generally better than the ones before it.  That could be because, on first listen,  it takes that long to warm to concept of Christian pop-folk, or because it takes that long to hear musical traces of Mullins and even Bruce Hornsby.  Still, forgiving cameos by Illinois on three tracks in a row (if you’re an artist working out faith in public, writing about Illinois, and are not Sufjan Stevens, the deck is stacked against you), the lyrics, as images, are interesting and often nuanced.  Mixed with occasionally straightforward Protestant catechesis, their spiritual appeal will, as with anything, come down to the listener.

Production-wise, Peterson would benefit from a fuller band higher in the mix.  I can imagine these songs getting that kind of treatment live to strong effect.

 

 

 

 

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Mark Twain on Ambitions

Originally posted on Bookshelf Battle:

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
― Mark Twain

Not sure I have anything profound to say about this one, other than I generally find that in life, one often meets many people who feel they have to knock others down just to make themselves look good in comparison.  Why do people feel the need to do that?  I don’t know.

This quote can definitely apply to writing.  Show of hands – how many of you have been laughed out of the room after mentioning you’re working on a novel?

It’s ok.  The people who haven’t been bitten by the writing bug will never understand.  Just hang out and commiserate with other writing bug bite sufferers.

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$3650 puts you squarely in the richest half of the world’s population

Hopefully, this staggering fact will register in ways the 1% thesis didn’t.

To think that Roger Ailies urged Richard Nixon to make the elimination of poverty by 1980 a talking point in the ’72 election.

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Open Submissions: Blog Posts, Features, and Fiction

 

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Starting today, you can submit blog posts, features, and original fiction to Rad Infinitum through Submittable.  We’re looking forward to hearing from you.


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How do you fight cheating in the NFL? Ban the Patriots from the Super Bowl.

How do you fight cheating in the NFL? Ban the Patriots from the Super Bowl, suggests Nico Lang.  I say he’s on to something, but it’s also patently obvious that the league has no credibility.  Just look at the CTE scandal and how the league’s broadcast partners keep their journalistic wings mostly silent.

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Bob Dole’s 1996 Website is Still Online, is an Historic Treasure Trove, and is All in Third-Person

Among the revelations:

his concern about governments cyber-spying on their citizens

his team was ahead of the interactive and meme-making curve.

In 1996, Bill Clinton’s team predicted sluggish economic growth for the early years of the 21st century.

The August redesign was, according to the team, the first-ever customizable political website in history.

The day after the Oct. 6 debate in Hartford, during which Dole mentioned the site, over 750,000 new visitors logged on (with AOL and Netscape, no doubt) in a four-hour period, with an Oct. 7 total as high, perhaps, as 2 million.

When you have some time, pour over some of the agenda details.  Where do you think Dole ’96 stands in relation to today’s Republicans?  It’s worth noting that Pat Buchanan beat Dole in New Hampshire that spring.