Saturday, August 20, 2011

This week in awesome: Cookie Monster, heroin, corn dogs, and soulless employers

Perhaps the most perfect mashup ever:

Pictures of politicians eating:

The last episode of This American Life featured Cole Lindbergh, perhaps the most enthusiastic amusement park games manager in the history of time. Lindbergh's preposterous enthusiasm is infectious, but you also emphasize with Lindbergh's dilemma about having a job you thoroughly enjoy and are amazingly good at, but that job offers no opportunities for life or career advancement and your employer is institutionally incapable of recognizing or rewarding your efforts and skills. If there was any sense at all, this guy would be a vice president or at least a regional training manager.

Also first heard on This American Life may be what is a perfect joke by comedian Kumail Nanjiani. It holds up on repeat viewings and I still marvel at the craftsmanship of it. Hopefully we'll see a lot more of this guy.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Remembering Robert Novak, Douchebag of Liberty

Robert Novak was a rumpled, absent-minded political reporter in the late 50s and early 60s, frequently seen forgetting to shave or tie his shoes or even sticking lit cigarettes in his pockets. He teamed up with button-downed reporter Rowland Evans to become the Laverne and Shirley of political commentators, running an inside baseball column and political report together from 1963 to Evans' death in 2001. So eagerly they printed leaks and fresh information that didn't turn out so well they were nicknamed "Evans and No Facts". Novak later became a frequent presence of dyspeptic misogyny in the early days of cable news, at one point even declaring that the sight of homeless people on television news ruined his Thanksgiving dinner. It's not for nothing that he was nicknamed "The Prince of Darkness".

Novak will likely be best remembered for revealing the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame in 2003. Members of the Bush administration leaked her identity to Novak in retaliation for her husband Joe Wilson publicly demolished the line pushed by the administration that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger. Despite the fact that this revelation outed Plame, her CIA cover organization, the other CIA operatives working for that organization, and all of their informants, no one was charged or convicted of this crime, excepting Scooter Libby's perjury conviction. Novak doubled down and insisted he'd done nothing wrong because "left-wing critics" were meanie pants to him. One persistent critic was Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, who awarded Novak the "Congressional Medal of Douchebaggery."

In 2008, Novak hit an 86 year old pedestrian with his black Corvette convertible. Despite the fact that the poor guy (who thankfully escaped with minor injuries) bounced off Novak's windshield, Novak claimed he never saw him. After a lifetime of reckless driving, speeding citations, douchebaggery, and not giving a shit about anyone, many concluded he was lying. But a few days later, Novak was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He died a little over a year later, on August 18, 2009.

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Intro - Bob Novak
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Monday, August 8, 2011

Nevermore to the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum?

The New York Times reports that The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum faces possible closure. The House has lost its $85,000 annual subsidy from the city of Baltimore and is limping forward by draining its reserve funds. It would be a loss, to be sure, but I'm wondering how much we'll really lose here.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a steadfast advocate for saving and archiving as much as we can, and for the government providing as much funds as are necessary to accomplish this. But I'm wondering if it's really feasible to save every house lived in by every prominent writer? Poe is most associated with Baltimore and died there, but at the end of his life he was living in New York and that house is preserved. His childhood home in Virginia is a successful museum and a Pennsylvania home is operated by the National Park Service.

It would be a loss to Baltimore's heritage, but let's look at precisely what's being lost. Some early key works like "Berenice" were likely written here, but none of his famous works. Do we really need to see where Poe may have written "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall"? And there are no artifacts of note in the House. Much of what is on display are reproductions alongside authentic artifacts of dubious significance such as a lock of his hair and a telescope that he may have used.

The problem is that the museum is not and likely can never be self-sustaining. It's in an out of the way location in the middle of a housing project. (The Times has a wonderful photo of a Poe reenactor in front of the house juxtaposed by some residents on the stoop in the background.) New exhibits won't cut it, you're not going to drive traffic into the middle of The Wire without a more serious and safer draw. Unless they can get an adjoining property (like that vacant lot you can see across the street on Google street view) for event space and parking, self-sufficiency will never be an option. And given that they can't even get funding to stay open much longer from donors or the city, I doubt that kind of investment, as smart as it may be, will be forthcoming. Baltimore has more pressing things to spend its money on these days, unfortunately.

One of the Poe society officers said that a hope is that "the city comes to its senses and realizes they’re not saving a lot of money, so they might as well keep running it." Even if the museum closes its doors, the house will still have to be preserved. Future renovations will cost a lot more in the future, and hopefully the city will be sensible enough to take appropriate steps to make sure the house remains intact. It might be cheaper just to keep the place open and let the volunteers do all the work of keeping it up.