That #Oscars thing

Of course I missed it.

For most of the last 16 years, I covered the Oscars — a few times from the ballroom of the Renaissance (now the Loews Hollywood) Hotel at Hollywood & Highland, more often from my desk at CNN Center. Inevitably, the show would end past midnight here on the East Coast — and then I’d be at work for another hour or two, putting the finishing touches on the wrap story and making sure all the galleries worked. Sleep came sometime between 2:30 and 3 a.m.

I’m no longer at CNN — some of my old tasks have long since fallen to the amazing Lisa Respers France, who has supervised Oscar Night for awhile and done an amazing job (especially with social media, which didn’t exist in the Old Days) — so last night I did something I haven’t done since 2000: I hosted my Team Trivia show at Manuel’s Tavern, came home, watched the Oscars for a bit … and went to sleep.

So I had no idea how things ended until this morning.

I thought I’d wake up to the news that “La La Land” had won handily, or that “Moonlight” had pulled off an upset. I didn’t think I’d see both.

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Belated Sunday read: What’s everyone clicking on?

top-news
Image from istreetwire.com for the three people — including me — who a) actually read physical newspapers and b) own an elaborate pen.

Whoops! I didn’t have a Sunday read prepared this morning. So let’s just go to the vox populi and see what the Internets are yammering about. Here are the most-read stories on a variety of sites:

The Atlantic: I Was a Muslim in Trump’s White House. Rumana Ahmed talks about what it was like to be one of many enemies of the people — even as she tried to bring down those other enemies, the ones from other countries threatening America, as a National Security Council staffer. Chilling paragraph:

The climate in 2016 felt like it did just after 9/11. What made it worse was that this fear and hatred were being fueled by Americans in positions of power. Fifth-grade students at a local Sunday school where I volunteered shared stories of being bullied by classmates and teachers, feeling like they didn’t belong here anymore, and asked if they might get kicked out of this country if Trump won. I was almost hit by a car by a white man laughing as he drove by in a Costco parking lot, and on another occasion was followed out of the metro by a man screaming profanities: “Fuck you! Fuck Islam! Trump will send you back!”

The New York Times: Trump Intensifies His Attacks on Journalists and Condemns F.B.I. ‘Leakers.’ One wonders who’s calling all those journalists and saying outrageous things. Perhaps it’s John Barron?

Slate: Fox News Interviews Fake Expert on Sweden to Warn About Immigration Threat. Apparently a guest on Bill O’Reilly’s show wasn’t really a “Swedish Defense and National Security Adviser.”

Rolling Stone: Bill Paxton, Versatile ‘Big Love,’ ‘Twister’ Actor, Dead at 61. Paxton was great in pretty much anything he was in. Let’s also give shout-outs to “One False Move” and the underrated “Apollo 13,” the latter — in my view — Ron Howard’s best movie.

BBC: Warren Buffett upbeat on US business growth. The Oracle of Omaha praised “a tide of talented and ambitious immigrants” and said “babies born in America today are the luckiest crop in history” in his annual letter.

Also in the news: the death of Judge Joseph Wapner, the Mardi Gras parade accident in New Orleans (the driver of the runaway pickup truck had a blood-alcohol level of .232), and the Oscars.

Your regularly scheduled Sunday read will return next week.

A break from social media

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Image of Hendy Woods State Park from Wikimedia Commons.

I’m going to see if I can go the weekend without checking social media — or most any media.

I used to joke with my friend John Blake about how my media and political intake would increase during election years. I’d start out in January checking a handful of sites maybe once or twice a day, including social media sites like Facebook, to see what was going on. By October I was practically living in cyberspace.

Then the election would come, and regardless how I felt about the result, I would wean myself away, paying attention to major events but generally letting the country flow on the way it has for 200-plus years.

This election, of course, was different. The president loves his Twitter; his opponents and the news media do all they can to keep up. It’s wearying, and yet it seems like it’s all anyone can talk about. Or, more accurately, scream about. (A few days ago, I tweeted — sorry, even I can’t help myself sometimes — that we’re living in a “pro wrestling world.” I’d prefer a Dick Cavett world, but I’m very much in the minority.)

Yet instead of weaning myself, I’m probably clicking more than I did in October. So I’m going to try to go on a digital diet this weekend.

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Review: ‘The Sellout’ by Paul Beatty

The SelloutThe Sellout by Paul Beatty

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been trying to figure out how to review “The Sellout.” I wanted more and I don’t think the book gave it to me. But is that the book? Or me?

There’s no doubt Paul Beatty is a brilliant writer: nimble, knowledgeable, quick-witted. I read the first dozen pages and was overwhelmed, almost gleeful. Could he keep up such an amazing burst of imagination for an entire novel?

Well, yes. And no.

Because satire – and “The Sellout” is, if nothing else, a satire – is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can mercilessly (and often angrily) mock conventional wisdom and powerful, if wrongheaded, ideas. Beatty does this often and well. Everything in his path gets skewered: Los Angeles and its many neighborhoods and suburbs (this book may have the best feel for L.A. as a full, unkempt city of any book I’ve ever read) “Little Rascals” shorts (and, by extension, the movies, their stereotypes and their portrayals of children); gangstas; black neighborhood gathering places; well-meaning liberals; black intellectuals; sister cities; and pretty much the whole idea of a post-racial America.

The upshot is that race – and all that comes with it – is always present in these fractured United States, no matter how much we all try to ignore it (or, well, not).

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Atlanta has world-class traffic

Downtown Atlanta
Image from WSBTV.com.

News item:

To no Atlanta commuter’s surprise, the metro recently ranked among the top most congested cities in the world, according to a new report by transportation analytics firm INRIX.

According to INRIX’s 2016 Global Traffic Scorecard, Atlanta ranked eighth in the world for congestion with the average commuter spending 70.8 hours in traffic each year.

Good to see that, along with having the world’s busiest airport, the Region Too Busy To Invest In Mass Transit also has some of the world’s worst traffic. We are an international city after all!

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Sunday read: The little graffiti that started the great big Syrian civil war

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Image from Reuters via al Jazeera.

Power tends to corrupt, Lord Acton is credited with saying, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So it’s been for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who was supposed to be a mild-mannered, London-trained ophthalmologist but has proven to be at least as ruthless as his father, Hafez al-Assad.

That’s been particularly apparent during Syria’s civil war, during which al-Assad has presided over the destruction of his country, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and a refugee crisis that has shaken the world. Yet he holds on to power thanks to what an Atlantic writer called “the devil’s endgame.”

And the whole thing started with one scrawled line: “It’s your turn, Doctor Bashar al-Assad.”

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Waiting for the end of the world

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Image from bsnscb.com.

I’m just catching up with back issues of The New Yorker, as one does, and finally had a chance to read Evan Osnos’ piece on wealthy Americans who are building shelters and investing in New Zealand as a way to survive the coming apocalypse.

Their thoughts are full of doom. Such as this:

Last spring, as the Presidential campaign exposed increasingly toxic divisions in America, Antonio García Martínez, a forty-year-old former Facebook product manager living in San Francisco, bought five wooded acres on an island in the Pacific Northwest and brought in generators, solar panels, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. “When society loses a healthy founding myth, it descends into chaos,” he told me. The author of “Chaos Monkeys,” an acerbic Silicon Valley memoir, García Martínez wanted a refuge that would be far from cities but not entirely isolated. “All these dudes think that one guy alone could somehow withstand the roving mob,” he said. “No, you’re going to need to form a local militia. You just need so many things to actually ride out the apocalypse.”

And this:

He and his wife, who is in technology, keep a set of bags packed for themselves and their four-year-old daughter. He told me, “I kind of have this terror scenario: ‘Oh, my God, if there is a civil war or a giant earthquake that cleaves off part of California, we want to be ready.’ ”

Or this:

Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn and a prominent investor, recalls telling a friend that he was thinking of visiting New Zealand. “Oh, are you going to get apocalypse insurance?” the friend asked. “I’m, like, Huh?” Hoffman told me. New Zealand, he discovered, is a favored refuge in the event of a cataclysm. Hoffman said, “Saying you’re ‘buying a house in New Zealand’ is kind of a wink, wink, say no more. Once you’ve done the Masonic handshake, they’ll be, like, ‘Oh, you know, I have a broker who sells old ICBM silos, and they’re nuclear-hardened, and they kind of look like they would be interesting to live in.’ ”

Haven’t they read “On the Beach”? Margaret Atwood? “A Canticle for Leibowitz”? “The Road”? “Lord of the Flies”? Even T.C. Boyle’s “Drop City”?

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What I learned from going through my old college transcripts

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I recently requested my undergraduate transcripts. I hadn’t seen them since I graduated in 1986, nor had I thought about them much. (After all, the diploma is on the wall.)

So seeing them brought back a whole host of memories — or, in some cases, empty spaces. Herewith some thoughts as I dig into my wanderings on the bucolic quad of Emory University:

Math 111 (Calculus I). I got a D in this class, taken the first semester of my freshman year — the only D and worst grade I got at Emory. (Hell, the rest of college I had only two C’s.) I took it because a) it was a logical step after Advanced Math in high school; b) it was part of a list of requirements (though I could have substituted something else). The professor, who had obviously dyed hair, had just returned from some time off and had no idea how to teach freshmen. I, in turn, had no idea how to calculate a derivative. Can I drop this course now?

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Perhaps the saddest passage I’ve read in awhile

$6000 Sex Dolls Turn Fantasy To Reality, Almost
Image from Getty via the Huffington Post.

From “600 Miles in a Coffin-Shaped Bus, Campaigning Against Death Itself”, excerpted from “To Be a Machine,” in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.

Author Mark O’Connell is talking to Roen Horn, who’s accompanying transhumanist Zoltan Istvan on a trip across the country. Horn is 28 and hasn’t lived much — he’s the son of a devout Calvinist, though he’s become an atheist — yet he decides he likes the idea of living forever. “I want to have fun forever,” he says.

This is though he currently lives like, in O’Connell’s words, “a medieval monk.” No problem, Horn tells O’Connell, he’ll indulge later.

This leads to the following exchange:

“You know one really cool thing about being alive in the future?” he asked.

“What’s that?”

“Sexbots. … It’s something I’m very much looking forward to.”

He had a particular way of smiling that was half evasion and half challenge. Out of context, you might be tempted to describe it as smug, but the effect was somehow deeply endearing.

“The problem I have with sexbots,” I said, “is why wouldn’t you just have sex with an actual person? I mean, all things being equal.”

He said: “Are you kidding me? A real girl could cheat on you, sleep around. You could get an S.T.D. You could maybe even die.”

“Is that potentially a bit alarmist?”

“No way, man. It happens literally all the time. See, a personal sexbot would never cheat on you, and it would be just like a real girl.”

He said nothing for a time and drank at leisure from his glass of water. He consumed some further forkfuls of salad. He gazed out the window at the parking lot full of trucks, the Interstate beyond, the ever-present vultures hanging in the air.

I said, “Do you mind me asking if you’ve had bad experiences with people cheating on you?”

“I have so far abstained from sex,” he said. “I have never had a girlfriend.”

“You’re saving yourself for the sexbots?”

He nodded slowly, shrewdly raising his eyebrows. You bet he was saving himself for the sexbots.

“Fair enough,” I said, raising my hands in capitulation. “I hope you live that long.”

He said, “I’m pretty sure I will.”

Roen, I wish you well, but you might try a few human beings first — women, men, whatever works for you. They’re not all that bad.