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An Interview with ‘Kottke Ride Home’ Host Jackson Bird

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2020

Last week, I told you about the launch of kottke.org’s new podcast, Kottke Ride Home. The podcast is a 15-minute show with smart news and info hosted by Jackson Bird. I recently “sat down” with Jackson to ask him some questions. In this (very) lightly edited interview, he talks about how the podcast comes together every weekday, provides some insider knowledge on TED Talks, suggests about how we might relate to Harry Potter given JK Rowling’s repeated airing of her anti-trans views, and shares some media suggestions like YouTube videos, podcasts, and movies.

Let’s start with something easy. What are you up to these days, apart from hosting the podcast?

Apart from the podcast, I make videos for my YouTube channel, which I’ve been doing in various capacities since 2007. These days my videos are mostly on LGBTQ+ topics, but sometimes I throw random things on a waffle iron to see what happens. I also co-host a podcast about masculinity with my friend Bo Méndez called Everything’s Bigger. Before the pandemic, I was a pub quiz host. Since bars aren’t opening for indoor activities anytime soon here in New York City, I’m glad to have the Kottke Ride Home to fill my thirst for random knowledge.

How do you go about deciding which stuff to feature on the podcast? What are you looking for? Do you have a system? Is it a gut feeling? How do you know something’s right? (This is something I struggle to explain when I get this question, so I’d love to hear your perspective.)

I have a huge RSS feed list and bookmark anything I see that could possibly be interesting for the podcast, but as far as narrowing it down for what makes the cut each day, that’s a bit tougher. I like to have a nice balance of different genres (i.e. not too much science or too much history in any one day) and try to keep most of it fairly topical, even if I dive into older, archival finds here and there. When we were first developing the show, Brian suggested that each day listeners should learn something new, hear something that makes them smile, and learn something they might share at a dinner party (remember dinner parties?). I still try to stick to that for the most part. I’m aware that some listeners might be more into pop culture and others into scientific discoveries and still others looking for weird cultural finds, design, uplifting stories, and more so I try to make sure there’s something that would keep people listening everyday even if they aren’t interested in every single story. Sometimes it also comes down to length. We try to keep Ride Home shows to 15 minutes, which means each segment is ideally 400-500 words. If I got really into a story and accidentally wrote 1000 words, then the other segments have to be a bit shorter and lighter that day so another long story might get pushed to the next day. I don’t get it perfect everyday. It really is an intricate dance and truly a lot of gut feelings.

Over the past decade, TED has grown into a huge cultural juggernaut. What was it like on the inside, being a TED Resident and doing a TED Talk?

It was really surreal. I still sometimes can’t believe that I was not only picked to be a TED Resident, but also that I actually worked out of TED’s global headquarters in Manhattan everyday for over three months. My fellow residents were all working on amazing projects like an app to locate land mines, a VR time capsule of Coney Island, and a documentary destigmatizing mental illness in communities of color, but just being inside the beating heart of TED was inspiring all on its own. There was always something happening and residents were invited to be a part of most of it — like the day Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of Donald Trump’s The Art of Deal, came to speak in TED’s in-house theater just weeks after Trump’s inauguration. Or the day I turned around from my desk and realized the woman who had been working in the conference room behind me for two hours was Monica Lewinsky.

Giving a TED Talk was massively intimidating. Having a TED Talk under your belt is a huge thing so I didn’t want to mess it up and blow the opportunity. I also knew that much of TED’s leadership would be watching from the audience. Part of what makes it so nerve-wracking is that it’s both a live performance and something filmed and shared in perpetuity. I’ve grown up doing both live performances and plenty of on-camera work, but rarely both at the same time — and certainly not for something that would have such a huge impact on my career. If you mess up in a live performance, you try to cover it somehow and keep going. It might not be your best night, but that’s okay because you feed off the audience and no one will ever see it again. If you mess up for a camera, you stop and start over. Because TED uses something like a dozen cameras all over the theater aimed at both you and the audience, we were instructed to use that latter method if we messed up, to stop and start over. With just one shot though, I still wanted to give my best performance for the audience so I just worked as hard as I could to not mess up. I must have practiced my talk close to a thousand times in the month leading up to actually giving it. That was a challenge in and of itself because it meant finishing the talk soon enough to get a month of practice in.

The process of writing, however, was really invigorating. We had a number of sessions with a speaking coach to help us craft our talks and hone our delivery. As someone who has been an independent creator for so long, it was really great to get so much feedback and spend so long making sure every single word had a purpose. TED Talks for residents are only six minutes, so every second has to count. As nervous as I was, I don’t think I could’ve done any better on the night, but I still never watch it back. I can’t stomach it. But it has been really nice to have one quick talk to point to as an example of my work and as a resource for people looking to learn more about transgender topics. If you watch on TED.com, there’s an extensive list of footnotes and further reading that I curated along with the video. TED staff thinks I may have broken a record for most extra resources added at the time.

You wrote a memoir that was published last September. Was writing a book something you’d always wanted to do?

Yeah, I always wanted to be a writer. I was “writing” stories on the family typewriter before I could spell any words. Growing up the only two things I cared about was writing and acting. I more or less quit acting when I went to college and between college papers and then copywriting for a nonprofit, I kind of lost any drive for creative writing for a while. The book kind of happened by accident. I set out to write a zine, something usually in the 3-10 page range, and ended up writing 75 pages. From there, I started thinking maybe I could expand the project into a memoir. I went back and forth for years on if I actually wanted to publish a memoir, but at the end of 2018 the opportunity presented itself and less than a year later I had published a book. It was a whirlwind and has been an awesome experience, but I can’t wait to write more books on a more normal timeline and which aren’t about me. I’ve got a picture book I’m working on, two young adult novels I’m trying to make headway on, and ideas for several other novels and works of creative nonfiction I’d love to one day write. And if Marvel ever let me write a Captain America novel, I’d be over the moon.

My kids and I are big Harry Potter fans. I read the entire series aloud to them, they’ve read all the books more times than I can keep track of, and they know an absurd amount of Potter trivia. The books have spurred & facilitated all kinds of conversations about the value of friendship, the acceptance of differences, and even the dangers of fascism. Their mom and I have told them about the statements that J.K. Rowling has made about trans people and how they differ from our views and seemingly from the inclusive messages in her own work. But I struggle about what guidance to offer them in how they should continue to relate to this entire world that she created that they love. You wrote about this separation of Potter & Rowling in the NY Times back in December before some of her most recent comments. Where are you on this these days?

I used to be the Communications Director for the Harry Potter Alliance, a nonprofit that uses the power of story to mobilize fans towards social action. With over a hundred chapters all over the world, the HPA uses parallels from Harry Potter (and other books, comics, movies, etc.) as an entry point for teaching leadership skills and educating on particular issues and then taps into the inherent enthusiasm and organizing power of fans to effect real change in local communities and around the world. I didn’t write the book on how the Harry Potter series is saturated with inclusive and fairly progressive values, but I did write a peer-reviewed paper on it. So I’m extraordinarily familiar with how people have found solace and inspiration from the books as well as the amazing things fans have created around the books (from fanfiction and fan art to small businesses and an entire genre of music). Which is why I’m both completely nonplussed how the author of a series about unconditional love could have missed the message of her own books entirely and why I personally don’t care anymore. For me, the true magic of the series has always been what we’ve made of it ourselves, and what we’ve made from it. I know not everyone has deep and meaningful fandom experiences like I do to cling onto, especially young kids reading it for the time, but I do think we can separate the author from the art a little bit here. Authors being on social media and clinging ever steadfast to their opinions does make that a bit more challenging than in the past and, admittedly, I don’t think I’ll be able to stomach reading the books anytime soon without hearing her Twitter voice in my head, but I think there are ways to enjoy the books and acknowledge how her views may differ from your own. It’s a chance to interrogate our own biases and have a discussion about important topics. That said, for anyone for whom this was the last straw (because it was certainly not JK Rowling’s first offense), I completely understand. While Harry Potter will always hold a huge place in my heart and in the cultural consciousness of my generation, there are so many other amazing works out there by authors who live out their values and by trans people themselves.

And for anyone who has been a bit confused about the controversy surrounding JK Rowling, I highly recommend this extensively-researched video from YouTuber creators Jamie and Shaaba, a trans man and his fiancée. They’re doctoral researchers in England in the fields of transgender well-being and psychology so they know what they’re talking about. I also recommend this episode of Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, which discusses how fans can continue to be fans (or not) and gives several trans people (admittedly including myself) a chance to share how they’re feeling.

Ok, speed round. Are you a city person or country person? Or suburbs, I guess?

Country. I’ve reluctantly been in New York City for ten years and dreaming of moving to the country for at least five of them. I grew up in Texas so I’m used to more nature and wide open spaces than the urban jungle can in any way provide.

Optimist or pessimist?

Optimist, definitely.

What’s your favorite podcast (other than the one you host)?

So tough to choose just one podcast! I think I’ll go with One From The Vaults, hosted by Morgan M. Page. It’s a history podcast that focuses on one trans or gender nonconforming person from history each episode. Our history has been largely ignored so it’s really cool to learn about unknown or little mentioned individuals in great detail. As an honorable mention, WNYC’s Dear Hank and John always brings a smile to my face. Brothers (and authors/YouTube creators) Hank and John give dubious advice and update listeners on all the news related to Mars and third-tier English football team AFC Wimbledon.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A sidekick.

Favorite book, movie, or TV show?

I don’t know if I could ever choose a favorite book, but my favorite movie is hands down Back to the Future and my favorite TV show is a tie between Parks and Recreation and Downton Abbey.

Who was your favorite teacher?

Dr. Eric Selbin who taught my first year seminar at Southwestern University.

And finally, what question do you wish interviewers would ask you that they never ask?

What’s your most-watched YouTube video?. (Answer.)
—-

Thanks Jackson, not only for taking the time but also for indulging my parenting question. You can listen to Jackson every weekday on Kottke Ride Home. And look for an episode of the podcast in the next few weeks where Jackson will subject me to similar but probably better questions.

Feeling Loved From a Distance

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2020

This is a great interview with Jia Tolentino in Interview magazine. Take for instance her answer to the question “What has this pandemic confirmed or reinforced about your view of society?”:

That capitalist individualism has turned into a death cult; that the internet is a weak substitute for physical presence; that this country criminally undervalues its most important people and its most important forms of labor; that we’re incentivized through online mechanisms to value the representation of something (like justice) over the thing itself; that most of us hold more unknown potential, more negative capability, than we’re accustomed to accessing; that the material conditions of life in America are constructed and maintained by those best set up to exploit them; and that the way we live is not inevitable at all.

From later in the interview:1

I think the American obsession with symbolic freedom has to be traded for a desire for actual freedom: the freedom to get sick without knowing it could bankrupt you, the freedom for your peers to live life without fearing they’ll be killed by police. The dream of collective well-being has to outweigh, day-to-day, the dream of individual success.

And I’m struggling with quarantine in this way as well:

In quarantine I’ve been aware of the intellectual stagnation that comes when you stop physically seeking out and experiencing new things. There’s a loss that comes from not meeting strangers, not doing things just for the hell of doing them, not having everyday avenues of discovery and surprise.

Ok, one more thing and then I’ll just let you read the rest of it in peace:

People ought to seek out the genuine pleasure of decentering themselves, and read fiction and history alongside these popular anti-racist manuals, and not feel like they need to calibrate their precise degree of guilt and goodness all the time.

“The genuine pleasure of decentering themselves”. Yep.

  1. See also Pete Buttigieg’s progressive definition of freedom.

The USPS Introduces New Hip Hop Stamps

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2020

USPS Hip Hop Stamps

On July 1, the USPS is introducing a set of four stamps celebrating hip hop. The stamps were designed by Antonio Alcalá based on photographs by Cade Martin. In an interview with Steven Heller, Alcalá explained how he thought about the design process:

Hip Hop has a long and rich history, and from the start, I knew I wouldn’t be able to represent its totality in one set of stamps. But because it is such an important part of our nation’s art, and one of our most significant cultural contributions to the world, I knew we needed to at least begin representing it somehow. Hip Hop has four widely recognized key elements, or “pillars”: Rap, DJs, Graffiti, and B-boying (known more broadly as break-dancing). Using contemporary images that quickly and accurately depict the genres eased the burden of having to represent the many histories within the subject.

You can preorder the hip hop stamps on the USPS website.

How to Process Our Collective Global Trauma

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2020

Do you feel tired, scared, angry, sad or numb? Are you having trouble concentrating or sleeping? How about all of the above? Because of the events of the last few months — *gestures around at the pandemic, violence against Black people, climate change, global inequality, , etc. etc. etc.* — many people are experiencing trauma on an individual level as well as together on a collective level. Erin Biba interviewed psychologist Dr. Renée Lertzman, an expert on large scale trauma, about what we can do to address how we’re feeling in order to move past feeling like shit and become more useful to ourselves, our families, and our communities.

The next really important piece is stabilizing ourselves with the bigger context. Really putting things in perspective that this is an event that is in fact legitimately destabilizing. It is stretching all of us in ways we haven’t anticipated and it’s important to have that context to make sense of what we’re experiencing and why. This is in fact, my brain is struggling to process what’s going on because it’s on a level that’s so beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before, so I’m struggling to even know how to be. Of course, I’m feeling this way, These are global events that are having all kinds of unexpected and traumatic impacts. How we live with that level of uncertainty is huge. Everyone is outside of their levels of tolerance right now.

“I’m struggling to even know how to be” is a really accurate summary of how I’ve been feeling recently. See also What To Do About Our Collective Pandemic Grief Before It Overwhelms Us and Trouble Focusing? Not Sleeping? You May Be Grieving.

A Powerful Lesson in Discrimination

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2020

Calling it one of their most requested videos, PBS’s Frontline has uploaded to YouTube their 1985 program on schoolteacher Jane Elliott’s powerful lesson in discrimination. The video shows how, in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Elliott divided her third-grade class into those with blue eyes and those with non-blue eyes and then instructed the non-blue-eyed group to treat the blue-eyed group as inferior. The resulting behavior is fascinating, upsetting, and illuminating.

Elliott went on to become a noted antiracism activist and has done blue eyes/brown eyes workshops with groups of adults and teens. And she goes hard at them — see this video and this video for instance.

I’m trying to get the people who participate in this exercise the opportunity to find out how it feels like to be something other than white in this society. ‘Alright people, I’m Jane Elliott and I’m your resident bitch for the day and make no mistake about that, that is exactly what this is about.’ I do this in a mean, nasty way because racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, ethnocentrism are mean and nasty.

I would also highly recommend watching this brief clip of a talk by Elliott. In less than a minute, she deftly skewers the idea that racial discrimination doesn’t exist in America and calls out White Americans’ complicity in allowing it to persist.

I want every white person in this room who would be happy to be treated as this society in general treats our black citizens — if you as a white person would be happy to receive the same treatment that our black citizens do in this society, please stand.

[Nobody stands.]

You didn’t understand the directions. If you white folks want to be treated the way blacks are in this society, stand. Nobody’s standing here. That says very plainly that you know what’s happening, you know you don’t want it for you. I want to know why you’re so willing to accept it or to allow it to happen for others.

Freedom for some is not freedom.

Update: Alisha Haridasani Gupta recently interviewed Elliott for the NY Times. In it, she reveals that she doesn’t do her workshops anymore because people are increasingly close-minded.

I’ve been doing the exercise with adults for about 35 years. But in the last few years, I’ve only been doing speeches about it because we now live in a situation where people turn off immediately if they think they’re going to learn something counter to their beliefs, and I don’t want to be threatened with death anymore. I’m tired of receiving death threats.

The Joy of Werner Herzog

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2020

I missed this David Marchese interview of Werner Herzog back in March but was happy to run across it today — it is the perfect lunchtime read.

When you pulled Joaquin Phoenix from a car accident, did you know it was him? Yes, although he was upside down in this car, squished between airbags that had deployed and wildly trying to light a cigarette.

That could be an image from one of your films. I knew he must not light his cigarette, because there was gasoline dripping and he would have perished in a fireball. So I tried to be clearly commandeering to him and tell him not to. But I was worried that if you gave him a command, he would strike his lighter even harder. So I managed to snatch the cigarette lighter from his hand. Then it became completely clear that it was Joaquin. But I didn’t want to speak to him after. I saw he wanted to come over and thank me. I just drove off.

Herzog talking about his time making The Mandalorian:

What about baby Yoda? Did you think baby Yoda was cute? No, not cute. It was a phenomenal achievement of sculpting mechanically. When I saw this, it was so convincing, it was so unique. And then the producers talked about, Shouldn’t we have a fallback version with green screen and have it be completely digitally created? I said to them: It would be cowardly. You are the trailblazers. Show the world what you can do.

See also 24 Pieces of Life Advice from Werner Herzog, including “Take revenge if need be” and “Carry bolt cutters everywhere”.

What To Do About Our Collective Pandemic Grief Before It Overwhelms Us

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2020

For That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief, HBR’s Scott Berinato interviewed David Kessler, who he calls “the world’s foremost expert on grief”, about what we’re collectively feeling as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

HBR: People are feeling any number of things right now. Is it right to call some of what they’re feeling grief?

Kessler: Yes, and we’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.

HBR: You said we’re feeling more than one kind of grief?

Kessler: Yes, we’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.

And what can we start to do about our grief?

Understanding the stages of grief is a start. But whenever I talk about the stages of grief, I have to remind people that the stages aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world. There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.

Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.

Kessler recently came out with a new book called Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.

I wrote a bit about grief a couple years back in this post How Do You Help a Grieving Friend?

One of the odd things about getting older (and hopefully wiser) is that you stop chuckling at cliches and start to acknowledge their deep truths. A recent example of this for me is “the only way out is through”. As Devine notes, in this video and her book It’s OK That You’re Not OK, there’s no shortcut for dealing with pain…you have to go through it to move past it.

See also a collection of resources for dealing with death compiled by Chrysanthe last year. (via laura olin)

Update: Trouble Focusing? Not Sleeping? You May Be Grieving by novelist R.O. Kwon:

Other people who couldn’t stay home were going to work every day — many without the option, the privilege, of doing otherwise — while here I was, home, and I couldn’t, of all things, write. Yes, there’s a pandemic, and yes, I felt by turns anxious, furious, and terrified, but it’s 2020 in America, and I’ve felt quite anxious, furious and terrified for a while. The inability to work, though, was new.

But then it occurred to me, as I ate another astringent chip, that this lassitude, the trouble focusing, the sleep difficulties, my exhaustion: Oh yes, I thought, I remember this. I was grieving. I was grieving in early March, I’m still grieving now, and chances are, you are, too.

(via @_chrysanthe)

A 1929 Interview with a 103-Year-Old Man

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2020

The Great Span was Alger Hiss’s term for the personal links of living humans across large periods of time. For instance, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. shook hands with both John Quincy Adams and John F. Kennedy, linking the Revolutionary War with the Vietnam War. This interview with 103-year-old Galusha Cole filmed in 1929 is another instance of this phenomenon:

This was part of a series of interviews with the elderly on the cusp of the Great Depression. Cole was born in 18261 during the administration of John Quincy Adams, was alive at the same time as Ludwig van Beethoven, and lived just long enough to be captured in voice and picture on film.

  1. Although this page on Find a Grave claims that Cole was actually only 92 at the time of the interview. Which would be interesting vis a vis his proclamation that he doesn’t have any vices.

The Long Life and Fun Times of Roger Angell

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 18, 2020

This interview with living legend Roger Angell, whose writing first appeared in the New Yorker in 1944 and is still writing for them at the age of 99, is full of gems like this one, when he interview Benny Goodman as a high schooler:

Then in high school, at Pomfret, I tried out for the school newspaper, and one of the first people I interviewed was Benny Goodman. I was fourteen or fifteen, and I went to the Madhattan Room, at the Hotel Pennsylvania, where he was playing, and one of the people there was S.J. Perelman, a young humor writer my mother knew, and he knew Benny Goodman.

I asked Benny Goodman if I could interview him, and he said, “Come to my hotel room tomorrow, at one in the afternoon.” So I went up at one and rang his bell and rang it and rang it, and then he came to the door wearing his jockey shorts and his eyeglasses, very sleepy. I’d woken him up. My lede on the story was “Great bandleaders get to sleep late.”

And this one, about Joseph Mitchell:

The thing about Joe Mitchell is that he knew everything. No subject escaped him, from James Joyce to horse breeding, backcountry life, culture. A.J. Liebling, his close friend and colleague, resented this. So one day Liebling is wandering around Sixth Avenue — it still had the elevated track — and there was a little taxidermy shop under the subway, and he goes in and finds a little set of bones. The owner says, “These are very interesting. They’re the bones of a young male opossum, which has a bone in its penis.” Liebling buys this collection of bones for six dollars and brings it over to the office wrapped up in a paper bag. Mitchell is typing. Liebling knocks on the door, comes in, unwraps the package, and puts it on the table. Mitchell looks at it and says, “Pecker bone of a young male opossum — anything you want to know about that?”

Billie Eilish Interviewed by AI Bot

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2020

Collaborating with the team at Conde Nast Entertainment and Vogue, my pal Nicole He trained an AI program to interview music superstar Billie Eilish. Here are a few of the questions:

Who consumed so much of your power in one go?
How much of the world is out of date?
Have you ever seen the ending?

This is a little bit brilliant. The questions are childlike in a way, like something a bright five-year-old would ask a grownup, perceptive and nonsensical (or even Dr. Seussical) at the same time. As He says:

What I really loved hearing Billie say was that human interviewers often ask the same questions over and over, and she appreciated that the AI questions don’t have an agenda in the same way, they’re not trying to get anything from her.

I wonder if there’s something that human interviewers can learn from AI-generated questions — maybe using them as a jumping off point for their own questions or asking more surprising or abstract questions or adapting the mentality of the childlike mind.

See also Watching Teen Superstar Billie Eilish Growing Up.

Dozens of Classic Interviews from The Dick Cavett Show

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2020

Open Culture’s Josh Jones takes us on a tour of the amazing YouTube channel for The Dick Cavett Show. The show ran from 1968 well into the 80s and Cavett was known for having on big name guests and getting them to talk about important and interesting topics, making the show a more serious older sibling to The Tonight Show. Jones says Cavett “had a way of making everyone around him comfortable enough to reveal just a little more than they might otherwise”.

The show’s YouTube channel contains dozens and dozens of interview clips, including Marlon Brando talking about rejecting his Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather:

Some of the other videos feature John Lennon on why The Beatles ended, Jimi Hendrix talking about performing at Woodstock, Orson Welles recounting a dinner with Adolf Hitler, Janis Joplin’s final TV interview, Joni Mitchell, Jefferson Airplane, and David Crosby fresh off of their appearances at Woodstock, Robin Williams on depression, and Carly Simon talks about stage fright. Check out the post at Open Culture for more or cross-reference this Wikipedia list of the show’s most memorable moments with the YouTube videos.

Watching Teen Superstar Billie Eilish Growing Up

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 27, 2019

It is an understatement to say that a lot has happened to Billie Eilish in the past three years. She has gone from being a well-regarded but little-known singer/songwriter to being Grammy-nominated and one of the biggest young stars in the world. For the third year in a row, Vanity Fair sat down with Eilish to ask her about her life and career, what being famous is like, and how she views her past selves.

As I said last year, the video is fascinating to watch, like a teen celeb version of the 7 Up film series. She seems much happier and more confident — “I want to stay happy. That’s a big goal for me.” It will be interesting next year to see how this bit ages:

I like being famous. It’s very weird and it’s very cool.

(via @fimoculous)

Phoebe Waller-Bridge Answers

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2019

The Guardian got a bunch of writers and performers — folks like Olivia Colman, Roxane Gay, Nigella Lawson, and Victoria Beckham — to ask the delightful Phoebe Waller-Bridge a bunch of questions and the whole thing is delightful because she is, as I said earlier, delightful.

Lucy Prebble, playwright: How many really good works do you think a writer has in them?

PWB: I’m going to say infinite for the sake of my own professional optimism, but I don’t think there’s a rule. I do think there are only so many things you can pull out of the bones of you … and they are usually the good ones. I don’t have a number for you. Fuck it, six.

Jack Thorne, playwright: Did you ever consider an ending where the Priest — I refuse to call him Hot Priest — said yes?

PWB: May I clarify that I never scripted him as Hot Priest! That was the good work of the internet meeting Andrew Scott’s impossibly intense charisma. There was an idea for an alternative ending, but I’ll never say what it was…

Anne Enright, novelist: Is it better to be fucked up by religion than by life? And why is damage so sexy?

PWB: If I was going to choose, I’d rather be fucked up by religion. At least that is something I could feasibly escape and still be breathing.

Damage is indicative of vulnerability, which I think always feels a little dangerous. It is evidence that a person can feel deeply, that they can be open … then that delicious wall goes up and we just want to scramble over it and save (and feel) the person. It’s irresistible. I also think damage is a glimpse of something honest, and that’s always attractive.

National Geographic Asked Women from Around the World About Their Breakthroughs and Challenges

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2019

As part of their Nov 2019 issue focusing on women, National Geographic asked a group of women six questions:

What Is the Most Important Challenge That Women Face Today?
What Is the Greatest Hurdle You’ve Overcome?
What Was Your Breakthrough Moment?
What Needs to Change in the Next 10 Years?
What Is Your Greatest Strength?
What Advice Would You Give Young Women Today?

The interviewees include Jacinda Ardern, Melinda Gates, Roxane Gay, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Goodall, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. When asked about the most important challenge facing women today, the answer was almost universally “lack of equality” (although Laura Bush turned it into an opportunity to worry about boys being left behind educationally in the US). Here’s Jane Goodall’s answer:

In so many developing countries, women have no freedom. In poor communities families tend to provide money to educate boys over girls. In many cultures women have no access to family planning, have numerous children, and are solely responsible for their care. For these reasons not only women but children — and thus our future — will suffer.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote this about her breakthrough moment as a student in Nigeria:

It was when I was nine years old, in the third grade, and I remember this very clearly. My teacher had said that the child with the best results on the test that she gave would be the prefect. So I got the best result — and then she said, ‘Oh, I forgot to mention, it has to be a boy.’ I just thought, Why? It would make sense to have said the class prefect has to be the child with the best grades or the child with some sort of useful skill. But the idea that this position of prestige and power in the classroom was reserved for somebody by an accident of being born a particular sex — that was just strange. So my sense of righteous indignation flared up, and I said to my teacher, ‘That makes no sense.’ That was the first time that I spoke up about sexism. It didn’t work, but it was the moment for me that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

Oprah Winfrey on what she perceives to be her greatest strength:

No question, it’s connection to other people. You know, I’ve interviewed rapists and murderers and child molesters and all kinds of people who have done terrible things — but I can put myself in the space of where they are in that moment and meet them where they are. So my ability to connect to where you are in that moment — not to the thing that supposedly defines you — that’s one of my great strengths. I think that had I had the love, the attention, the family surroundings that would have nurtured and supported me in the way that I thought I needed, I wouldn’t have it. I think that this connection and yearning to know the heart of other people came from my own sense of loneliness, my own sense of wanting to be understood and know that whatever I’m feeling, somebody else has felt it too.

Zach Galifianakis’ Brief Stint at Saturday Night Live

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2019

In this clip from a longer conversation in the Off Camera interview series, Zach Galifianakis talks about his brief two-week stint on Saturday Night Live and how he felt when a sketch he wrote totally bombed at the cast table read.

Here are all 10 clips of the interview. See also Robert Downey Jr. recounting his year-long SNL career.

Interviewing Ira Glass

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 19, 2019

ira_glass.jpg

One of the troubles with interviewing Ira Glass is that Ira Glass has a lot of thoughts about interviews.

Claudia Dreifus: When we first discussed doing this, you asked if I had heard a recent Terry Gross interview with Howard Stern. Why was that?

Ira Glass: Because it was an interviewer interviewing an interviewer. It was interesting to hear him appreciate her moves. He also clearly had no idea who she is. He admitted, “I sort of looked you up last night.” Whereas I know Terry has been listening for years.

To be clear: he’s an excellent interviewer. Part of the pleasure was hearing these two iconic radio voices talking to each other. Stern clearly admired the interview she was doing. She did such a good job of pointing him to things, being appropriately critical of the way that he talks about women, but also being appropriately admiring.

If I were to interview him, I’d feel intimidated.

Really?

Yeah. He’s a bossy sort of presence. I don’t like interviewing famous people. They make me nervous. I’ve always tried to avoid interviewing famous people.

Is that because they are usually over-interviewed or because they arrive at an interview with impenetrable masks?

All of these things.

It’s just more difficult. To get them to say anything real, you have to find an angle on their experience that will open them up. And there are things famous people want to keep private, things they’re tired of talking about, things they’ve told so many times that they have no interest in telling them again—but will tell again in exactly the same words they’ve used in the past…

Can I go back to something? And feel free to edit this any way you like. I’m already editing this interview in my head because I’m a crazy person and can’t stop myself. This idea of not wanting to interview famous people, that’s one of the things that led to the work I’m doing today. I knew in my twenties, while at NPR, that the thing I wanted to do was document regular people’s lives. The question then was, “How do you do that?”

It is weird to me that Ira Glass in his sixties. (He just turned 60 in March.) All this time, Ira Glass was less than a year younger than Prince.

Ira Glass has a lot of thoughts about podcasts that he doesn’t seem ready to share. You can see it, he kind of schtums up and falls back on generalities and a few broad compliments. I don’t know. Maybe that’s all he’s got, maybe that’s all we can have.

Ira Glass says he borrowed and borrows a lot from Roland Barthes’ S/Z when trying to get interviewees to structure a story, but I don’t really see it. This line made me laugh though.

At college, we were assigned Barthes’s S/Z , which made me understand what I could do in radio.

Really? How did the French semiotician help shape your journalism? Frankly, a lot of people find semiotics to be…

—this incredibly pretentious literary theory that takes as its thesis that narrative is part of the general conspiracy of language to imprison us in our place in society. I ignored that.

Ira Glass should find more ways to tell stories about what working in radio was like in the seventies. There’s something there. He doesn’t catch it all.

The Forgotten Power of Government

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 03, 2019

David Remnick recently interviewed Robert Caro and if you’ve read Caro’s book, Working, or the New Yorker article based on the book, there’s not much new here, but this exchange at the end is worth highlighting:

Remnick: We are living in a political moment, and when you watch the current President it seems that one of the saving graces is that, for all his erratic thinking, insulting thinking, his insults directed at minority groups — and, well, practically everyone — that he’s not that good at the exercise of power. He won the election, but if he had Johnsonian capacities in terms of the exercise of power, we might be even in deeper trouble than we already are.

Caro: Well, I think that that’s correct. And I think, [what] you say about Johnson, what does it mean to [be like] Johnson? You say, well, he wins election over Barry Goldwater, in 1964, by this tremendous majority. So the next morning he’s on the phone — or the morning after, he’s still hoarse the day of the election — calling the House Majority Leader and saying, “You know, the only thing that can hold this up here is the Rules Committee. Now is the moment to change the Rules Committee. Here’s how to do it.” And in the next couple of months he passes Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, the voting-rights bill… I’m forgetting the rest of it. The most amazing — he could seize a moment because of this political genius that he has, and change, really, the face of America. It’s hard to remember a day when there wasn’t Medicare or Medicaid.

Remnick: You write in “Working” that there is evil and injustice that can be caused by political power. But there’s also great good that can come out of it. It seems to me sometimes that people have forgotten this, you write. Why have we forgotten it?

Caro: You ask very good questions. I think we’ve forgotten it because we’ve had too many Presidents who don’t use political power — you say, what are things that change people’s lives? In the last century, Social Security, Medicare-like, right now I’m working on a section that, you could say, if I wanted to call it this, is what it was like to be old and sick in America before Medicare. And as I’m doing this I’m thinking, People aren’t even going to be able to imagine this. What was it like to be old in America before Social Security? People can’t imagine it. The power of government to do good for people is immense. And I think we have forgotten that power.

An Interview with a Contemporary Russian Spy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2019

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Deniss Metsavas served for many years with the Estonian Defense Forces and was, at the same time, a Russian spy. In this video for The Atlantic, Metsavas describes how he was recruited by Russian intelligence using kompromat (compromising material).

For years, Metsavas navigated his disparate allegiances. He got married and started a family. But as he grew in prominence in the Estonian Defense Forces, his Russian handlers began to demand highly classified information on Estonia’s involvement with the United States and NATO, specifically with regard to weapons. Metsavas tried to extricate himself, only to find that his handlers would stop at nothing to obtain the intel-including ensnaring a family member in the increasingly dangerous situation.

Watching the video and reading the accompanying article, you get the sense that maybe the Cold War never ended…

Still Ill: 25 Years of the Beastie Boys

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2019

Still Ill is a short documentary about the Beastie Boys’ career from approximately Paul’s Boutique to Ill Communication.

The 15-minute documentary tracks the Beastie Boys’ rejuvenation in the years after the release of 1989’s Paul’s Boutique — now considered a masterpiece but at the time a commercial flop — first with 1992’s Check Your Head and ultimately with Ill Communication, which produced the epic single and music video “Sabotage” and returned them to playing arenas.

Featuring interviews with Diamond and Horovitz from this March in Austin, Texas — as well as new interviews with keyboardist Mark “Money Mark” Nishita and producer Mario Caldato and rarely-seen 1990s footage of the band - Still Ill focuses heavily on late Beastie Boy Adam “MCA” Yauch and his contributions to Ill Communication. Through footage and the words of his friends, the documentary captures Yauch’s journey into activism, which would blossom with the Tibetan Freedom Concerts later in the decade, as well as his famous denunciation of misogyny in hip-hop on the single “Sure Shot”: “I want to say a little something that’s long overdue / The disrespect to women has got to be through / To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends / I want to offer my love and respect to the end.”

If you’re an Amazon Prime member or subscriber to Amazon Music, you can listen to a 40-minute mix of commentary from Mike D and Ad-Rock about Ill Communication and songs from the album.

Meeting Gorbachev

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2019

Werner Herzog’s latest film is called Meeting Gorbachev, in which he sits down with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for a series of interviews about his life, political career, and his role in ending the Cold War. From a review in the NY Times:

The two men appear to like each other immensely — in narration, Herzog calls Gorbachev “one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century” — but Gorbachev can be a cool customer. He sometimes seems guarded in his assessment of what he might have done differently. He says he believes the Soviet Union should have given its republics more rights instead of dissolving entirely. As for Boris Yeltsin, who became the first president of a post-Soviet Russia, he says, “I should have sent him off somewhere.”

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists interviewed Herzog about the film.1

It’s not easy to speak of what I tried to accomplish. I think as a natural concomitant you get the feeling that there should be better times between the West and Russia. The demonization of Russia is a great mistake of the Western media and Western politics, and we should try and seek a climate that was created by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the most improbable characters you could ever put together in one room.

Meeting Gorbachev is out in US theaters now, but just barely. Probably best to catch this streaming in a month or two.

  1. I love the in situ audio clips in this piece. I’ve only seen this technique used a few times…more sites should do this.

Robert Caro on Writing and Understanding Power

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2019

Working, a memoir from master interviewer and researcher Robert Caro, is coming out next week. David Marchese, no slouch himself when it comes to interviewing people, talked with Caro for the NY Times Magazine about his career, his process, and his ongoing multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson. Caro allows that his insatiable curiosity about getting the whole story might not necessarily be a good thing at times.

I would like to have written more books. I’d like to finish this last Johnson book. But it’s the element of time — you’re always thinking no one will know if the thing you’re working on isn’t in the book. Take the Margaret Frost thing. [The introduction of “Master of the Senate” tells the story of Margaret Frost’s humiliating and failed attempts to register to vote in Eufaula, Ala., in 1957.] You say everybody knows about blacks not being able to vote in the South, so you don’t have to go into that. But I’d remembered coming across testimony from the Civil Rights Commission and I went, This is horrible. A sense of anger boils up, and it leads you to say, “What was it like if you tried to register to vote?” Don’t just say, “It’s hard.” What was it really like? You think you understand how hard life is in the South because you’ve seen movies about it. But then you learn about a guy who wanted to vote, Margaret Frost’s husband, who sees someone drive to his house and shoot out the light on the porch. He was going to call the police but then saw it was a police car driving away from his property. It was like the Jews in Nazi Germany: There was no place for these people to turn. So, do you want to write the book without showing that? The answer is no.

Has anyone ever done an interview with an expert interviewer about the experience of interviewing another expert interviewer? I would definitely read a debrief of Marchese on how to get someone like Caro, who knows all the tricks of the trade, to actually tell you something that they don’t want you to know. I’m also thinking of Errol Morris and Seymour Hersh at the end of Wormwood and how Morris can’t quite get what he wants from Hersh.

Monica Lewinsky on Public Shaming

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 18, 2019

This week, Last Week Tonight covered the topic of public shaming and the episode included an interview by host John Oliver of Monica Lewinsky, who shared her experience of going through perhaps the most intense and enduring instance of public shaming ever.

The whole video is worth watching, but if you want to skip to the Lewinsky interview, it starts around the 15:00 mark. Lewinsky doesn’t do a lot of interviews, and it’s interesting that Oliver has built enough trust to get one, especially as the host of a comedy show.

How People Spent Sudden Financial Windfalls

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2019

Topic asked more than a dozen people how they spent sudden windfalls of money. Among those queried were two MacArthur grant winners, people who inherited money, game show winners, a professional poker player, and a woman who lost her house because of Hurricane Maria. TV writer & editor Danielle Henderson:

The only directive I’ve ever given my agent, my manager, anyone on my team, is to make sure I get paid like a white man. I do not want to get any offers that are lower than average because I’m a woman or I’m black. I’m not out here demanding a quadrillion dollars, but if I see that somebody’s sold a project for a certain amount and my project is in a similar vein, I’m not settling for less than that.

Planetary scientist Sara Seager:

When I got my MacArthur award in 2013, they asked, “What are you going to spend the money on?” I said, “I’m going to spend it all on household help so I can spend more time with my kids and more time on my job.”

If you have kids, or a person who relies solely on you, not only do you have to take care of them and want to spend time with them, but you have to make their breakfast and their lunch, if they’re really little. And then clean up after them. There’s this endless series of chores. I got tons of responses from people saying, “I can’t believe you said that,” because people won’t admit that. People don’t want to admit the price you pay for working.

Author Ijeoma Oluo wrote a separate article about spending the royalties from her bestselling book on a house for her mom.

A big check, for $70,000. No, we’re not talking a big Publishers Clearing House grand-prize check, but it was definitely the biggest check I’d ever held with my name on it.

I gazed at the statement, then closed my eyes for a moment and said to myself:

“I can build mom a home now.”

It was the first time I felt truly successful in every sense of the word.

Remembering Anthony Bourdain, The Last Curious Man

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2018

For GQ, Drew Magary talked to the family, friends, and coworkers of Anthony Bourdain for this piece on the life of the late chef/traveler/writer/explorer/whatever. Here’s how he got his big writing break, which led to so much else:

David Remnick (editor in chief, ‘The New Yorker’): My wife came home one day, and she said, “Look. There’s a really nice woman at the newspaper. Her son is a writer. She wanted you to take a look at his work,” which seemed…adorable, right? A mother’s ambition for a son. I took this manuscript out of its yellow envelope, not expecting much. I started to read. It was about a young cook, working at a pretty average steak-and-frites place on lower Park Avenue. I called this guy up on the phone. He answered it in his kitchen. I said, “I’d like to publish this work of yours in The New Yorker. I hope that’s okay.” That was the beginning of Anthony Bourdain being published. I don’t know if there’s any way to put this other than to say he invented himself as a writer, as a public personality. It was all there.

Prior to becoming the best-ever host of a travel show, he’d actually traveled very little internationally (only France and Japan) and his first go of it wasn’t successful:

Tenaglia: Japan was a fucking disaster.

Chris Collins (co-founder, ZPZ): The mistakes were very clear. He did not engage with us. He would not acknowledge our presence and that we were there working together.

Tenaglia: I think he was thinking, “Great! I just got a free ride to all these countries.”

Collins: It was a ruse. It was, I’m gonna double dip here. I’m going to be able to get paid to go make something, and I’m going to write articles.

Tenaglia: We would go back to the hotel and say, “We are so screwed.”

But it turns out this inexperienced traveler & newbie TV host was the exact right person for the job.

He came alive, because those frames of reference were starting to pop. His sudden inclination was to turn and share that with us. You could sense this excitement, like, “Holy crap, I’m actually on the ground in a location that I have studied, that I know, that I have references to.” You know, Apocalypse Now, Heart of Darkness, Graham Greene, the Vietnam War. He was percolating with an excitement that was very genuine.

My only complaint about this piece is the length…I would have happily read on for hours.

Paula Froelich (author, journalist): I’ll never forget laughing my ass off because he was obsessed with my dog, who’s a small dachshund. He’d always walk my dog, and he was so tall and the dog was so long and short, they would look like this movable L.

How Fascism Works

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2018

Yale philosopher Jason Stanley recently published a book called How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. Sean Illing interviewed him for Vox about what fascism is and isn’t and whether Trump is practicing fascist politics (spoiler alert: yes). I found this bit about how America is particularly susceptible to fascism interesting (italics mine…that is an amazingly succinct paragraph about American culture):

Well, the Ku Klux Klan deeply affected Adolf Hitler. He explicitly praised the 1924 Immigration Act, which severely limited the number of immigrants allowed to enter the US, as a useful model.

The 1920s and the 1930s was a very fascist time in the United States. You’ve got very patriarchal family values and a politics of resentment aimed at black Americans and other groups as internal threats, and this gets exported to Europe.

So we have a long history of genocide against native peoples and anti-black racism and anti-immigration hysteria, and at the same time there’s a strain of American exceptionalism, which manifests as a kind of mythological history and encourages Americans to think of their own country as a unique force for good.

This doesn’t make America a fascist country, but all of these ingredients are easily channeled into a fascist politics.

This has been on my mind lately; here’s what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, reflecting on a trip to Berlin:

With overt anti-Semitism growing in the US (as well as other things like the current administration’s policies on immigration and jailing of children in concentration camps), it’s instructive to compare the German remembrance of the Holocaust to America’s relative lack of public introspection & remembrance about its dark history.

In particular, as a nation the US has never properly come to terms with the horrors it inflicted on African Americans and Native Americans. We build monuments to Confederate soldiers but very few to the millions enslaved and murdered. Our country committed genocide against native peoples, herded them onto reservations like cattle, and we’re still denying them the right to vote.

See also Umberto Eco’s 14 Features of Eternal Fascism.

Update: In a video for the NY Times called Is President Trump Fascist?, Stanley goes over the three elements that are always present when fascism takes hold of a country.

Open Culture has a good summary of the video if you prefer to read.

Fascist leaders sow division; they succeed by “turning groups against each other,” inflaming historical antagonisms and ancient hatreds for their own advantage. Social divisions in themselves-between classes, religions, ethnic groups and so on-are what we might call pre-existing conditions. Fascists may not invent the hate, but they cynically instrumentalize it: demonizing outgroups, normalizing and naturalizing bigotry, stoking violence to justify repressive “law and order” policies, the curtailing of civil rights and due process, and the mass imprisonment and killing of manufactured enemies.

Watching a Teen Music Star Grow Up

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2018

Vanity Fair interviewed singer/songwriter Billie Eilish last October just as her career was taking off. A year later, they repeated the interview with her, now 16 years old, using the same questions to see what had changed — 2017: 257K followers on Insta, playing to crowds of 500 people. 2018: 6.3 million Insta followers, crowds of 40,000+. The result is really affecting, particularly on questions like “Do you feel pressure?” where the difference in answers is greatest.

Eilish’s situation is extreme, but some version of this is playing out with all of America’s youth right now, dealing with how to be in the world when interacting with thousands or even hundreds of thousands or millions of other people, far beyond Dunbar’s number, is increasingly commonplace. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have something in my eye and who’s playing that Cat’s in the Cradle song anyway?!

American Dharma, Errol Morris’ upcoming documentary about Steve Bannon

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2018

Errol Morris has made a documentary film about Steve Bannon called American Dharma that he refers to as “a kind of horror movie” for folks uneasy in Trump’s America. There’s no trailer yet but a pair of recent interviews with Morris shed light on the film, the third installment of the director’s American Political Monsters trilogy (along with The Fog of War and The Unknown Known).

Both interviews are quite good. Here’s a bit from Frank Bruni’s chat with Morris in the NY Times:

Bruni: Is Steve Bannon an earnest ideologue or is he a cynical and grandiose opportunist?

Morris: It’s the big question. And everybody, including myself, wants a pie graph. They want to be able to say what percentage is ideologue, what percentage is snake-oil salesman. And I’m not sure I can answer the question. We all know that being an effective salesman is coming to believe in what you’re selling. You know, I like to think that the human capacity for credulity is unlimited, unfettered. But the human capacity for self-deception — the ultimate self-credulity — is also unfettered, unlimited. I look at him and I think to myself: You can’t really believe this stuff. And yet, for all intents and purposes, he does.

Bruni: Which stuff do you find it hardest to believe he believes?

Morris: I find it hardest to believe that he thinks that Donald Trump is an honest man. I find it hard to believe that he thinks that Donald Trump is enabling populist programs. How is this tax cut or the attempt to roll back capital gains taxes — how does that benefit the people? Is allowing all kinds of industrial pollution populism? I could go on and on.

I try making fun of him. You know, he was reading a book about tariffs and China and the Great Wall. And I said to him, “You know, the wall really worked in China.” He said, “How’s that?” I said, “No Mexicans.”

And from Deborah Chasman’s conversation for the Boston Review:

DC: It’s clear that he’s good at giving voice to a legitimate grievance, at least in some contexts. In the United States there’s the legitimate grievance that a corrupt political machine has left a bunch of people behind. But I’m unclear what he is actually delivering to these people, or even just thinks he is giving them, other than this permission to hate.

EM: I think that’s certainly part of it. He told the French National Front, “Let them call you racist. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativist. Wear it as a badge of honor.”

I also think you see it in his reaction to Charlottesville. He basically says, “You’re making a mountain out of a molehill. The neo-Nazis have no currency in our culture.” In my movie he even says that the neo-Nazis are a creation of the liberal press. Which, of course, is absurd. Yes, the liberal press gets upset by neo-Nazis being coddled by the president, and why shouldn’t they? But that’s not to say that journalists parked them in Charlottesville and caused them to run over people.

Bannon also called Macron “a little Rothschild’s banker.” He said, “The French are realizing how much Macron has become an embarrassment. He’s a Rothschild banker who never made any money, the ultimate definition of a loser. He would sell his soul for nothing.” I did not like that. He doubtlessly would say that his remarks were not anti-Semitic, but I would respectfully disagree. He knew what he was doing. He knows who he’s appealing to.

DC: So why talk to Bannon at all? What’s to be gained?

EM: I think there’s a lot to be gained. I consider myself a journalist, proudly so, and the job of journalism is not to have five pundits sitting around a table on Fox News or CNN. The job of journalists is to report-to go out, look at stuff, and report on it. I went out in the field and this is what I saw, and I would like to present it to you for your consideration.

I find Morris’ constant interrogation of the truth — in politics, in photography, in storytelling, in people’s own minds — endlessly fascinating. I’m looking forward to this one, despite the subject matter, and will share the trailer when it arrives.

Paying the stereotype tax in poker

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2018

Maria Konnikova is a writer for the New Yorker. Or she was until she went on sabbatical to play poker professionally. After immersing herself in the game while working on her third book, The Biggest Bluff, Konnikova discovered she was quite good at it, winning over $230,000 and a major tournament in a year.

Claudia Dreifus recently interviewed Konnikova for the New York Times and asked her about how she handles being one of the few women on the pro circuit.

When you see someone looking a certain way, you assume they play a certain way. So once I figure out how they view women, I can figure out how to play against them. They’re not seeing me as a poker player, they’re seeing me as a female poker player.

There are people who’d rather die than be bluffed by a woman. They’ll never fold to me because that’s an affront to their masculinity.

I never bluff them. I know that no matter how strong my hand, they are still going to call me because they just can’t fold to a girl.

Other people think women are incapable of bluffing. They think if I’m betting really aggressively, it means I have an incredibly strong hand. I bluff those people all the time.

There are people who think that women shouldn’t be at a poker table, and they try to bully me. So, what do I do? I let them. And I wait to be in a good position so that I can take their chips. Just like life, right?

In a 2015 NPR interview, pro player Annie Duke talked about getting her opponents to pay the stereotype tax.

VEDANTAM: She says she divided the men who had stereotypes about her into three categories.

DUKE: One was the flirting chauvinists, and that person was really viewing me in a way that was sexual.

VEDANTAM: With the guys who were like that, Annie could make nice.

DUKE: I never did go out on a date with any of them, but you know, it was kind of flirtatious at the table. And I could use that to my advantage.

VEDANTAM: And then there was the disrespecting chauvinist. Annie says these players thought women weren’t creative.

DUKE: There are strategies that you can use against them. Mainly, you can bluff those people a lot.

VEDANTAM: And then there’s a third kind of guy, perhaps the most reckless.

DUKE: The angry chauvinist.

VEDANTAM: This is a guy who would do anything to avoid being beaten by a woman. Annie says you can’t bluff an angry chauvinist. You just have to wait.

DUKE: What I say is, until they would impale themselves on your chips.

Update: In an episode of The Pay Check podcast, Duke and Konnikova “discuss power dynamics and sexism in the ultra male dominated field” of poker.

Being the book, an interview with an audiobook narrator

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2018

If you grew up in the 80s, you might remember Bronson Pinchot as Balki Bartokomous in Perfect Strangers or Serge in Beverly Hills Cop. But Pinchot has built a second career as an award-winning audiobook narrator. I recently listened to him read A Man on the Moon and while the story of the Apollo program is engrossing all by itself, his narration is fantastic. This interview of Pinchot by Jeff VanderMeer (author of the Southern Reach trilogy) is really interesting, particularly the bits about how he approaches his work.

Q: Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?

A: I do, though, like all philosophical resolutions, I only intermittently achieve it. The essential task facing the narrator is to identify or invent a vivid personal definition of what “narrating” ought to be. I am uncomfortable with the chilliness of the word narration. It sounds very much outside the action - the voice on a National Geographic educational film intoning, “These giraffes are just learning how to mate”; or my mother, upon Audrey Hepburn’s entrance in My Fair Lady, informing the room: “She used to have such big doe eyes; what happened to her eyes?”

Simply “reading a book” aloud in an airless audio booth is the kind of mental and physical punishment only ever glimpsed in the lower section of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. I decided early on that I should not “read” the book but “be” the book, the way I imagine Homer, in performance, “was” the Odyssey. We know he wasn’t “reading” it. In any case, if an audiobook listener doesn’t have the time to curl up with the actual physical text, he or she still yearns for, and deserves, the experience of being carried away by the author’s vision.

Anthony Bourdain on travel, luxury, the Despot’s Club, and more

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2018

Back in February, Maria Bustillos was set to interview Anthony Bourdain and she figured she’d get about 15 minutes of his highly scheduled time. Instead, the pair spent two-and-a-half hours chatting about anything and everything and the result is this great dialogue, one of the last extensive interviews Bourdain gave before he died in early June.

I like the idea of inspiring or encouraging people to get a passport and go have their own adventures. I’m a little worried when I bump into people, and it happens a lot — “We went to Vietnam, and we went to all the places you went.” Okay that’s great, because I like those people and I like that noodle lady, and I’m glad they’re getting the business, and it pleases me to think that they’re getting all these American visitors now.

But on the other hand, you know, I much prefer people who just showed up in Paris and found their own way without any particular itinerary, who left themselves open to things happening. To mistakes. To mistakes, because that’s the most important part of travel. The shit you didn’t plan for, and being able to adapt and receive that information in a useful way instead of saying, like, “Oh, goddamnit, they ran out of tickets at the Vatican!” or whatever, “That line at the Eiffel Tower is you know, six hours!” and then sulk for the rest of the day.

On my recent trip, I had some things that I wanted to see but largely ended up playing it by ear. And that thing about the mistakes…that hits really really close to home. I also loved his recontextualization of luxury:

I do find that my happiest moments on the road are not standing on the balcony of a really nice hotel. That’s a sort of bittersweet — if not melancholy — alienating experience, at best. My happiest moments on the road are always off-camera, generally with my crew, coming back from shooting a scene and finding ourselves in this sort of absurdly beautiful moment, you know, laying on a flatbed on those things that go on the railroad track, with a putt-putt motor, goin’ across like, the rice paddies in Cambodia with headphones on… this is luxury, because I could never have imagined having the freedom or the ability to find myself in such a place, looking at such things.

To sit alone or with a few friends, half-drunk under a full moon, you just understand how lucky you are; it’s a story you can’t tell. It’s a story you almost by definition, can’t share. I’ve learned in real time to look at those things and realize: I just had a really good moment.

Luxury as freedom of time, place, and companions. Read the whole thing…lots of great stuff in there. Like: he gave away all the royalties to Kitchen Confidential to “various deserving people”.