An Email From a Reader Living in Baltimore


Hey Christian,

I’m not sure if any of your other subscribers live in Baltimore and I’m not sure what the perspective is on your side of the country, but if you were going to have a story, video or picture about Baltimore, I want to make a plea for coverage that depicts how the community lives day to day or their positive response, as opposed to the riots.

Today (yesterday) I was inspired working alongside residents cleaning up their streets in West Baltimore and gathering for song and prayers in my neighborhood, East Baltimore.  There are images of riots playing over and over again on TV, but all I’ve experienced are community members cleaning the streets and community centers and churches opening their doors to provide a safe place for children to go and for families to eat.

In contrast, I’m heartbroken by the messages calling people in Baltimore “animals” and am exhausted defending this great city that I live in.  I firmly believe that racism, economic disadvantages, social inequalities and policing strategies are underlying causes of the violence, and that it would be more beneficial to focus attention on the decades-old stressors that led to this week’s events or the community organizers that are taking charge to counter the negativity. I’ve never been more proud to call Baltimore home.

Here are a few items that I think are worth sharing:

The perspective of a Baltimore native

A Google Doc set up to communicate community-directed efforts

The true spirit of Baltimore

What the Bloods and the Crips are actually saying

Thank you so much for helping me showcase the awe-inspiring community members who are working for change in Baltimore!

-Shayanne Martin




What We Knew About the World Cup

06.11.14

It’s the most wonderful time of the (four) year(s)!  With the World Cup starting today, we asked some friends of the Brief  to put down some thoughts on the greatest competition in the world..

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Why the Heat Will Win


For the other half of our NBA Finals preview, click here.



Dynasty.

The power in the word is palpable.

From the Greek dunasteia, it evokes thoughts of dominance and longevity that all sporting franchises covet, yet few ever achieve.

These Finals, therefore, gives us a treat we haven’t seen since the ‘80s, a matchup of two truly titanic franchises not only vying for dominance over each other, but arguably the entire post-Jordan era.

Even notorious curmudgeon and former swimmer Tim Duncan has shown some emotion (and perhaps a sense of entitlement) by declaring, “This time we’re ready.”

I can’t wait.

The Heat barely carried last year’s meeting on the back of an all time great and one of the greatest shots of all time, and the Spurs are back and somehow better than before.

The Heat, however, will win the series. In 7.

If it goes 7, however, I will be watching in Italy at 3 a.m. after a wedding. Having been in China when the Heat beat the Thunder, I’ve had enough championships while overseas.

As such, I’d really like to see 6.  I want to bang some pots and pans with my peoples.

But I digress.

As my friend David Magruder will no doubt argue, the Spurs are the only team with a whole greater than its parts. They have their own ageless great, a budding young star, and a roly poly Diaw who just dropped 26 on the Thunder.

They also have the greatest coach in the league and a system in which any player can thrive.

I posit that last point is moot, for over the last four seasons, the Heat also have developed a system in which any player can thrive.

Case in point, Rashard Lewis:

+35 in Games 3 and 4 against the Pacers despite not scoring a single point.
+58 in the final four games of the series.

While they have no roly polies, the Heatles will have a healthy Dwyane Wade, and the one and only LeBron James.  (My thoughts on that man are well documented in haiku form.)

The Finals, however, will not be determined by Wade, the system, or King James XXXII. They will be determined by Chris Bosh.

There is a reason Erik Spoelstra frequently calls Bosh the Heat’s “most important player”.

Not only is a consummate teammate and perhaps the best role player in the league, what he does on the floor goes well beyond any box score.  Bosh allows the the Heat to be the Heat.

In last year’s Finals, the Spurs encouraged the Heat’s midrange shot by going under screens and protecting the rim.  This proved highly successful, as LeBron, Wade and Bosh struggled to knock those jumpers down.

Should they do this again, however, there will be tons of space for Bosh’s silky smooth jumper as well as newfound three point shot.

Fun Fact: Chris Bosh has the most threes of any Heat player in this playoffs.  Dude is 6’11”.

If he can make those shots, as he has been able to for most of these playoffs, the Spurs will have to spread to him, abandon their pack the paint strategy, and gaps will open for LeBron and Wade to carve up the defense.

And if that happens, the Heat win.

On the defensive side, his defense on Duncan and Splitter and ability to erase mistakes made by the perimeter players (see Ibaka, Serge – Game 3) will determine whether the Heat can continue roll out their vicious brand of small ball/perimeter oriented lineups while keeping the Spurs’ offensive juggernaut halted.

Bottom line, if Bosh holds it down on both ends it’s game over.

Somewhat (but not really) Bold Prediction: Norris Cole, the little brother of the Heat and probably the most spoiled player in NBA history (3 years = 2 rings and 1 Finals trip), will make a massive impact on this series.

This most likely will be on the defensive end, hounding Tony Parker or whomever else Spoelstra wants to plague. For evidence of Cole’s ability, see his defense on the…shall we say…”misguided” Lance Stephenson.

The series will be close, no doubt about it, but again, the better “team” is not as clear as everyone seems to believe it is.  The Spurs are not the only team in this series that thrives due to a great system.

Most experts are picking the Spurs. Which is great.  There is no better place for a two-time defending champion to operate than as an underdog.

The knowledge and familiarity this team has, the younger, better Big 3, and the whole “we have LeBron” thing will carry the Heat to victory.  .

Can you feel the Heat?


Richard Lamondin has actually been a Heat fan since before they were good. He also supports the Dolphins, so you know he’s not fair weather.



Why the Heat Will Win


For the other half of our NBA Finals preview, click here.


Richard Lamondin

06.04.14

Dynasty.

The power in the word is palpable.

From the Greek dunasteia, it evokes thoughts of dominance and longevity that all sporting franchises covet, yet few ever achieve.

These Finals, therefore, gives us a treat we haven’t seen since the ‘80s, a matchup of two truly titanic franchises not only vying for dominance over each other, but arguably the entire post-Jordan era.

Even notorious curmudgeon and former swimmer Tim Duncan has shown some emotion (and perhaps a sense of entitlement) by declaring, “This time we’re ready.”

I can’t wait.

The Heat barely carried last year’s meeting on the back of an all time great and one of the greatest shots of all time, and the Spurs are back and somehow better than before.

The Heat, however, will win the series. In 7.

If it goes 7, however, I will be watching in Italy at 3 a.m. after a wedding. Having been in China when the Heat beat the Thunder, I’ve had enough championships while overseas.

As such, I’d really like to see 6.  I want to bang some pots and pans with my peoples.

But I digress.

As my friend David Magruder will no doubt argue, the Spurs are the only team with a whole greater than its parts. They have their own ageless great, a budding young star, and a roly poly Diaw who just dropped 26 on the Thunder.

They also have the greatest coach in the league and a system in which any player can thrive.

I posit that last point is moot, for over the last four seasons, the Heat also have developed a system in which any player can thrive.

Case in point, Rashard Lewis:

+35 in Games 3 and 4 against the Pacers despite not scoring a single point.
+58 in the final four games of the series.

While they have no roly polies, the Heatles will have a healthy Dwyane Wade, and the one and only LeBron James.  (My thoughts on that man are well documented in haiku form.)

The Finals, however, will not be determined by Wade, the system, or King James XXXII. They will be determined by Chris Bosh.

There is a reason Erik Spoelstra frequently calls Bosh the Heat’s “most important player”.

Not only is a consummate teammate and perhaps the best role player in the league, what he does on the floor goes well beyond any box score.  Bosh allows the the Heat to be the Heat.

In last year’s Finals, the Spurs encouraged the Heat’s midrange shot by going under screens and protecting the rim.  This proved highly successful, as LeBron, Wade and Bosh struggled to knock those jumpers down.

Should they do this again, however, there will be tons of space for Bosh’s silky smooth jumper as well as newfound three point shot.

Fun Fact: Chris Bosh has the most threes of any Heat player in this playoffs.  Dude is 6’11”.

If he can make those shots, as he has been able to for most of these playoffs, the Spurs will have to spread to him, abandon their pack the paint strategy, and gaps will open for LeBron and Wade to carve up the defense.

And if that happens, the Heat win.

On the defensive side, his defense on Duncan and Splitter and ability to erase mistakes made by the perimeter players (see Ibaka, Serge – Game 3) will determine whether the Heat can continue roll out their vicious brand of small ball/perimeter oriented lineups while keeping the Spurs’ offensive juggernaut halted.

Bottom line, if Bosh holds it down on both ends it’s game over.

Somewhat (but not really) Bold Prediction: Norris Cole, the little brother of the Heat and probably the most spoiled player in NBA history (3 years = 2 rings and 1 Finals trip), will make a massive impact on this series.

This most likely will be on the defensive end, hounding Tony Parker or whomever else Spoelstra wants to plague. For evidence of Cole’s ability, see his defense on the…shall we say…”misguided” Lance Stephenson.

The series will be close, no doubt about it, but again, the better “team” is not as clear as everyone seems to believe it is.  The Spurs are not the only team in this series that thrives due to a great system.

Most experts are picking the Spurs. Which is great.  There is no better place for a two-time defending champion to operate than as an underdog.

The knowledge and familiarity this team has, the younger, better Big 3, and the whole “we have LeBron” thing will carry the Heat to victory.  .

Can you feel the Heat?


Richard Lamondin has actually been a Heat fan since before they were good. He also supports the Dolphins, so you know he’s not fair weather.



Why the Spurs Will Win


For the other half of our NBA Finals preview, click here.

David Magruder

 06.04.14
The scene: June 2013.  Game 6.  4th quarter, 28 seconds remain.  Spurs by 5. The powers that be have already begun carting champagne into the Spurs locker room and have moved the Larry O’Brien trophy courtside for the postgame ceremony. Then, MIRACLES!  And plenty of them: Ginobili missed free throw, two tips leading to a Miami offensive rebound, 3-pointer by LeBron.  Leonard missed free throw, offensive tip out, SHOT OF THE CENTURY.

The series didn’t end right there, but it sort of did.  Miami wasn’t going to lose in overtime and certainly weren’t going to let Game 7 slip away. One year later and we have the same two teams, similar implications, and an amazing series ahead of us.  But this time, the celebratory champagne won’t need to be removed from the Spurs locker room.  Here’s why: The Spurs have home court advantage. This is perhaps the biggest difference from last year’s match up, and as I mentioned in the Playoff Preview, home court advantage in the playoffs is just that–an huge advantage. Additionally, for the first time in 30 years, the team with home court will have even more of an advantage, as the home-away format changes back to 2-2-1-1-1 from 2-3-2. History Lesson: The NBA switched to the 2-3-2 in 1985 during the hey day of the Lakers – Celtics rivalry to accommodate the media.  In 1985 it was pretty difficult (and expensive) for the media to travel back and forth from Boston to LA for games 5, 6, and 7 hence the travel friendly format of 2-3-2. The updated 2-2-1-1-1 format will work to the advantage of the Spurs because throughout the series they will always have played one more home game than the Heat. In the 2-3-2 format, by Game 5, the team without home court has already played 3 home games while the home court team only 2. Reason 2 The Spurs Will Win: They have the most important X-Factor in the series. Boris Diaw.

Boris is like lightning in a bottle.  Chubby lightning.  Or, maybe a chubby bottle. Boris is lightning in a Red Stripe bottle; ‘Hooray Boris!’ Some quick numbers: Average points per 2014 playoff series: 8.1, 8.8, 13.2 Average rebounds per 2014 playoff series: 2.9, 3.4, 5.3 The dude has gotten better in every series this year, despite the competition getting harder each series He just put up 26 points in the deciding game of the Thunder series–a game the Spurs needed to win in order to get similar rest time as the Heat. Even without the offense, with his doughy frame and suspiciously quick hands and feet, Diaw can body up LeBron as well as anyone in the league.  Because Diaw is so wide, LeBron has had trouble and will have trouble exploding around/past Diaw. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely no stopping LeBron–he will get his, and the Spurs know that–but if you can contain LeBron enough by forcing him to take open outside jumpers and limiting his assists, well you might just have a formula to beat the ThreepHeat hopefuls (is that word copyrighted yet? If not, dibs). Speaking of containing otherworldly basketball players, here’s this fun bit about how the Spurs D limited that one guy who has won 4 of the past 5 scoring titles and was voted Most Valuable Player in the league this year: And while we’re at it, here’s LeBron’s field goals made – field goal attempts through the first three games of last year’s series: 7-16 with 18 points 7-17 with 17 points 7-21 with 15 points.

Perhaps this was just a case of those Ned Stark Spurs starting off great,  because LeBron woke up eventually.  But then again, that was LeBron 2nd worse FG% of any post season series while on the Heat. Again, I ain’t saying they’re gonna stop The King, but they seem to have a formula to limiting him. It’s no secret that the Spurs are aging, albeit as gracefully as any team ever, but among the old folks is a man that Pop essentially anointed as the future of the franchise: Mr. Kawhi Leonard Last year in the series, as a twenty-freaking-one year old, he averaged 14 points and 11 boards in 36 minutes.

Those might see a slight drop this year as LeBron will be D-ing him up, but as productivity against the Heat goes, both offensively and defensively, Leonard is both individually elite and perhaps the most important cog to the Spurs Machine. I expect him to be the Spurs MVP of the series (though he won’t win the award, more on this later). Another advantage for the Spurs is the fact that they lost last year.  Yes, that’s right, that will work to their advantage.  The Spurs have studied that tape.  They know every play of every game.  They know what they need to tweak/fix.  The Spurs Big Three (no, not the ones you’re thinking of…Holt, Buford, Popovich) have put their team in the best position possible to win this year and have been battle tested by virtue of playing in the West.  Think about it: has Miami felt ANY pressure yet this post-season?  The Spurs felt pressure in their very first series.  It almost seems like if you fool Pop once, shame on Pop.  If you fool him once though, you ain’t gonna fool him again.

I’ll never say that Spoelstra outcoached Pop last year, but Spo coached well enough to hang around with Pop and his team, which is all you can ask.  This year though, I believe Pop and the Spurs will come out swinging an might even put the Heat in their first ever 0-2 hole. Get ready for an amazing series with unarguably the two best clubs in the game.  We’re going 7 again.  This time the Spurs win it. Somewhat (but not really) Bold Prediction: Despite Leonard’s or Parker’s amazing play, the Big Fundamental gets the nod for series MVP. And…well…to harken on what someone wrote earlier this year, I think The Greatest Power Forward Ever goes out much like his predecessor, to the saddness of both Spurs fans and NBA fans everywhere.

Let’s play ball!
David Magruder deals with the complete and total agony of being a Kansas City sports fan by living in beautiful Los Angeles, CA and loving the Spurs.

For the other half of our NBA Finals preview, click here.



What We Knew About the NBA Playoffs

04.22.14

We asked some friends to pick a playoff contender and tell us why they’ll win the title. We’ll check back after a while to see how wrong/right we were, and what we learned in the meantime.

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GChats that (Probably) Didn’t Happen at Work: Vol. 6



wikipedia.org
wikipedia.org

The following conversation took place in response to this Wikipedia article listing the all time best selling musicians. 


who do you think is the most out of place on this list:

Dire Straights?
I mean, I never realized AC/DC was that popular
i just thought they were what 15 year olds listened to when they wanted to seem hard rock

that’s what I thought!!!
it was Dire Straights that led me to that page
also Rihanna
whoa

i believe Rihanna–she’s pretty much the most bankable pop star not named Beyonce
though it’s interesting that Beyonce is not ranked above her
Rihanna also spits out an album with 2-3 singles every 9 months
Dire Straights tho

yeah she’s a machine
maybe the most depressing stretch:

The Doors
followed by Reba, Meat Loaf, Barry Manilow, and New Kids on the Block

Also, Tupac and Nirvana sandwiched between Enya and the Spice Girls

haha i was gonna say…that whole group is kinda sad
the pics…

Jay Z, Bey (cool, i get those)
then Journey, Black Eyed Peas, Enya, Green Day, Kenny mothafucking G
that is the blandest white people music I’ve ever seen

hahaha mix them all together and you get Dire Straights

who the hell was buying Dire Straits albums?

[my parents]

[my parents] definitely contributed to putting Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen in that group
and Garth Brooks and the Eagles
also, Bryan Adams…suprisingly high
i guess a lot of people loved the song from Prince of Theives
not that i listen to it on repeat while driving…or anything

i think we can all agree on the real winners here, though
Abba
sorry, ABBA

those damn Swedes!

abbafanatic.com
abbafanatic.com

also, we should really be combining Phil Collins and Genesis
that would put him in the Madonna/Elton range

yes, but
there are some people who really like Genesis but find Phil Collins solo career a musical abomination
i am not one of those people
but apparently, everyone at Flavorwire is
they literally compare him to Voldemort.

what a find!
maybe part of the reason all is forgiven is because phil also inadvertently produced the world’s most attractive person as a daughter

 

inadvertently might be wrong
it could have been vertent

she is pretty cute
seems at less semi-vertent

http://sciencelakes.com/
http://sciencelakes.com/

I wonder if deep down phil collins knows that everything that man said is true
and loathes himself
and will one day drive off a cliff listening to Strangers Like Me

That’s the Tarzan song you listen to as you drive off a cliff?
Also, if you haven’t listened to the This American Life, where Phil Collins helps the reporter write a break-up song, you should
all is forgiven

ok, new interesting fact about that list
only five bands produced music during a period of less than 10 years
three of them appear in a row

Tupac, Nirvana, the Spice Girls
then The Doors
then The Beatles

making the Beatles extra ridiculous

yeah definitely
the only thing i would say about the beatles versus the other ones is that Beatles marketing machine only got more ambitious after they broke up

obviously there’s still an effort to push Tupac and Nirvana as cultural icons going on
but the Beatles machine is still going strong 50 years later

it really makes Barry’s question more poignant here

i love that movie!
Lisa Bonet – the original manic pixie dream girl

i love that movie so much
definitely in the top 5 movies
along with Ferris Bueller
I don’t know the others
why did you like Frances Ha so much?



HIMYM Ended the Right Way (If Not Exactly at the Right Time)



Kevin Osman

04.01.14

Alert: Spoilers Ahead! If you haven’t seen the series finale of How I Met Your Mother, please avoid the emotional turmoil and go back and watch seasons 1-4 instead.  

If you were along for the whole ride, let’s work through this moment together.


himym, horn, ted, blue

Having had a full 24 hours to process my thoughts regarding the finale of How I Met Your Mother, I have come to the conclusion that the show ended as it should have:

With Ted standing out on that stoop holding the Blue French Horn.

Truly, it wasn’t the story that failed, but the execution of that story that really missed the mark. The show was a victim of its own success, sticking around too long and making the pre-determined ending feel cheap in comparison to what fans had been force-fed for the nine years prior.

HIMYM has had its ending written in stone since season 2, when the creators filmed scenes with Ted’s children that they knew would be a part of the show’s ending no matter how many times they were renewed.

While it’s romantic to imagine the series finale was the culmination of some beautiful narrative arc that that the series was always destined to follow, it’s frustrating to know that these characters were merely traveling in circles once that ending was decided.

Regardless of whether the show went for three seasons or ten, by 2030 the Mother would be dead for years and Ted would be emotionally ready to go back to the also-alone Robin, who would of course accept him with tears of joy. That is the ending the creators dreamed up in season two, and they stuck to their guns.

What about the character development that happened in seasons 3-9?  Nobody is the same person at 34 as they were at 27, yet that was irrelevant to the characters endgames. By going with an ending that ignored seven years of on-screen development for Lily, Marshall, Barney, Robin and Ted,  the creators lessened the importance of those experiences, in turn lessening the viewers’ collective experience.

This issue is especially hard to swallow in light of how Barney’s story played out, as his was often the emotional crux in of the show’s later seasons. It felt as if we were really watching Barney become a good, responsible, respectable person in these last few years, and yet we now know that any changes we thought we saw were just temporary phases in his life.

Nothing we saw Barney experience on screen led to any true emotional development. Nothing, that is, until 15 minutes were left in the finale, and Barney got to hold his baby girl (who’s mother shall remain nameless, faceless, and French for the rest of her life) and in one moment experience 20 years of emotional growth.

No matter how profound Barney’s experiences with Nora, Quinn, or Robin may have been, the ending made each of them nothing but another phase for him and a prelude to the truly important portion of his life.

himym, robin, barney, wedding
Don’t worry, you may have spent a whole season waiting for this wedding to end
but you only had to wait 19 minutes for the marriage!

Did we need to spend 20-odd episodes leading up to a wedding that would fail 19 mins into the finale?

Did we really have to watch Robin float away like a 2-cent helium product?

Was it truly necessary for the daughter to be so excited for her dad to go bang Aunt Robin 20 seconds after her mom died?

(I realize it was six years after the Mother’s death, but couldn’t there have been a bit more filler, at least for the audience’s sake?)

That turnaround smacked me with a particularly massive emotional wallop, as I was not prepared for that quick of a grief period. For me, it also reinforced the fact that while the logic of the story was solid, it was the execution that failed in the end.

Lastly, how do we feel about the fact that the title of the show served as one big, fat, stinky red herring?

This show was never about how Ted met the mother of his children.

Optimistic fans will say that the show was about a Dad asking for forgiveness and requesting his kids’ permission to go after Aunt Robin, explaining to them why him going after Aunt Robin was so important and meaningful.

Cynical fans will posit that the show was about a Dad explaining to his kids who his one true love really was (read: not their mother), and trying to explain to them why Aunt Robin was “The One” for him.

I tend to lean towards the former, if only to soften the blow of what the latter represents.

HIMYM, red, herring
Really should have seen this bad boy coming.

All of that being said, after watching nine seasons of the two of them dancing around each other, it’s hard for a fan to think that anyone is better for Ted than Robin.

Had the show run for only three or four seasons, it is likely that this idea would be less fully-formed, making the ending a clever story about a man spending a few years finding his “#2” girl before meeting “The One.”

However, almost a decade of back and forth between the two characters taught us that Robin (likely) was “The One” for Ted, and the Mother was merely a well-timed somebody that served to fulfill the “kids and stable family” portion of his hopes and desires.

From the positive note the show ended on, its almost as if Ted was thinking the same thing the whole time.


  • Kevin Osman

    Has many thoughts that are irrelevant to people’s lives, and wants to share them with you.

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With Love, Nereya: Vol. 1

amazon.com
amazon.com

Dear Glitter,

I have a couple things to say to you. We’ve been acquainted for quite some time now and, in all honesty, I found you quite fascinating in the beginning of our relationship. Necessary, even. But as I have grown and you have stayed the same, I find you riddled with faults that I feel compelled to explain to you at this point in time.

First off, I understand you are not all bad. In fact, your little iridescent delights have so happily adorned my gift cards, bedazzled my jeans and boosted many a unicorn into the fantastical sphere for ages. It’s just that I feel you are embarrassingly attention-seeking and it is high time someone told you so.

You are a luxury with no tangible benefits. You stay long over your welcome. You always bring too many friends to whatever event may be at hand – and without explicit permission from the host. Worst of all, you prey on unsuspecting bystanders. It seems you go out of your way to mingle with the peripheral people.

Just because my little cousin wanted to employ you to jazz up her rainbows does not mean you should be inviting yourself along to my professional meetings four days later. I honestly do not know where you get the gall.

Your attachment issues go far beyond “clingy.” From the moment someone so much as thinks about you, suddenly it is “til death do us part.” You are an unnatural appendage with the solitary use of drawing confused stares from passersby, colleagues and potential bed-sharers.  You are an entity that cannot be easily removed and, once noticed, makes others weary of getting too close. Demetri Martin was right when he said, “Glitter is the herpes of craft supplies.”

You need to control yourself. You need to learn to let go. We will all benefit.

With love,
Nereya


  • Nereya Otieno

    Fresh out of grad school with enough time to project her opinions on others. Living the dream and hoping nobody finds out.

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Ukraine Pushes World to Brink of New Cold War

Ukraine Main Photo.

Update: Ukraine has chosen sides, and things aren’t looking pretty. Since the time this piece was written Friday evening, Russia has admitted to the presence of its army in Crimea (to the tune of 16,000 troops), surrounded Ukrainian military posts on the peninsula, and has refused to remove its troops in an effort, it claims, to preserve democracy and protect the millions of Russians living in Crimea.  Many Western governments have condemned Russia’s actions and threaten sanctions, including potential removal from the G-8 group of nations.  Should Western powers decide to respond with more than just rhetoric, Russia’s place within the Security Council makes United Nations action impossible.  This would force an intervention by an EU/US-led group (economically and politically) and/or NATO (militarily).


Note: This article was originally posted on February 28th, with the update on March 3rd.  More updates will follow as the situation continues to develop.

Did you guys see that? No, seriously, did you?  Because, if you blinked, I think you might have missed some of the most significant activity in the Eastern bloc since the fall of the USSR.  We’ve heard first-hand the difficulties of life in Ukraine and now the Ukrainian revolution, which began with peaceful protests encouraging Ukrainian/European integration in November 2013, has turned progressively violent in recent days and is becoming an international clusterfuck that makes up the wet dreams of Model U.N. students everywhere.

After the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych last week, Ukraine’s new government was dealt a serious blow with reports that unidentified troops (bearing matching camouflage uniforms and automatic weapons) had entered the historically pro-Russian Ukrainian region of Crimea.  These forces, who have refused to identify themselves, have secured the two airports in the region, established armed checkpoints on roads, and took control of Crimea’s parliamentary building.  And, while these anonymous soldiers reek of Russian involvement, Russia’s government denies being involved in anything outside of the legal bounds of pre-existing agreements it has with Ukraine’s government.

Russia’s denial, while seemingly par for the course, raises a number of important questions that will come to define Eurasian politics for years to come: If Russia is telling the truth, then who are these heavily armed, well-organized soldiers? Who is their leader and what is their purpose for becoming involved?  How did they have access to their not-insignificant equipment and logistical capabilities? And why come out of the shadows now, when the tensions in the country could have called for their appearance at any point over the past week?  However, given the extremely pro-Russian actions of these anonymous forces (these forces just happen to be guarding the road that leads to the Russian naval base in Crimea, while hardline pro-Russian politicians now somehow populate the newly-formed Crimean government created by decree of these anonymous forces) it is fair for observers to take Russia’s proclamations of non-involvement with a grain of salt.

Crimea Soldiers

In addition, everything I’ve written of so far has ignored the increasing involvement of the Russian nationalist motorcycle gang known as the Night Wolves. When you think of the Night Wolves imagine Hells Angels, only if President Obama went on annual rides with them through disputed territories and awarded their leader (lovingly known as ‘The Surgeon’) with national medals.  The leader of the gang, Alexander Zoldostanov, flew into Crimea on Friday, with plans for a Night Wolves ride along the Eastern border of Ukraine on Saturday.

Ostensibly, the purpose of the ride is to improve spirits and to deliver supplies to ethnic Russians in the Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine.  Yet, upon landing, Zolostanov crushed any (faint) hope of limiting the violence by stating, “Wherever we are, wherever the Night Wolves are, that should be considered Russia.”  I’m sure Ukraine’s current government would have a few points of contention with that statement.  With significant records of the relationship between Vladimir Putin and ‘The Surgeon’ available for all to see, it is highly doubtful that the gang leader would take any action without the implied approval of the leader of Mother Russia.

The Surgeon

All of this leaves Ukraine’s current leadership with little room to maneuver as it looks longingly towards Western governments to assist (economically, politically and militarily) with its transition to legitimate authority.  However, Russia’s insistence on non-involvement with these rouge troops severely limits the legal remedies available to foreign powers.  Economically, old and continuing woes within the US and Europe (remember Greece and Spain?  Yep, they’re still there) leave little likelihood that Ukraine’s government will receive the Western bailout it desires while Ukraine’s recent checkered past with the IMF leaves that path very difficult to follow, as well.  Not to mention Ukraine’s extreme reliance on Russian natural gas, which will surely dry up or increase in price should the new Ukrainian government deviate from Putin’s preferred route.

This is all to say that we are now entering territory that should be very familiar to anyone versed in international relations post-WWII.  Whether it’s Georgia, Syria, or Edward Snowden (that international eavesdropping program could be pretty helpful right about now), the U.S. and Russia have shown a willingness to be directly at odds over some very important issues.  This embrace of conflict between the two powers pushes the stakes in Ukraine ever higher and, like a number of countries had to do in the last half of the 20th century, Ukraine must quickly decide whose side it’s on.




What We Knew About the Oscars

02.27.14

We asked some friends a few days back to send us their thoughts on the Oscars.

We’ll check back in after a while to see how wrong/right we were, and what we learned in the meantime.


eonline.com
eonline.com
Derek Schuffenhauer

This is Matthew McConaughey’s year.

Rising like a phoenix from no-longer-relevant-leading-man obscurity, and transforming from the bongo drumming, happy go lucky charmer to a respected Hollywood elder statesman, I could not get enough of Matty Mac.

Even while facing stiff competition from Chiwetel Ejiofor (an actor I’ve had a man crush on ever since his role as The Agent in Joss Whedon’s Serenity), Leo, and Bale, he’s racked up so many awards on the road to the Academy Awards (Golden Globes, Broadcast Film Critics, SAG) it will be tough to derail the Matthew McConatrain. Plus, his excellent turn as the nihilistic detective Rust Cohle on True Detective has kept him in the pop culture zeitgeist and ensured no one will forget how great of an actor he can be.

Then again, what the fuck do I know. Bruce Dern will probably win.

guim.co.uk
guim.co.uk
Joe Smith

I have a whole litany of thoughts about the above-the-line categories, but I won’t waste your time with them here.  Just stop me on the street and say Inside Llewyn Davis.

I’d like to talk about the Academy Award for Best Editing. (which was won last year by the two folks in the picture above that no one can name).

Aside from the Sound categories, this has to be the least understood by both the audience and the voting body.  Year after year, the winner winds up being the movie that feels like it was “cut”–movies like The Bourne Ultimatum, with fast moving cuts that ratchet up intensity.  And sure, using editing to make things feel fast and intense is a perfectly fine demonstration of the importance of editing.  BUT the art of editing is so much more than that.

Most directors and editors refer to the editing process as “the final rewrite.”  Great editors function, under the guide of the director, to take hours and hours of raw footage and forge from it a finished picture.  It means choosing from among a dozen shot options to establish perspective and meaning.  It means shaping performances from takes that vary in intensity, pace, clarity.  It means creating powerful emotional moments by juxtaposing one moving image next to another different one.

Sometimes great editing can be so subtle you just assume the director had always intended it to play that way.  Sometimes he or she did, most times it was a discovery made months after the film was done shooting.  Editing–like writing and acting–is at its best when its at its most invisible.

So, knowing what I know about Oscar, I’m pretty certain that Gravity or Captain Phillips will win on Sunday, because they boast the most visceral of the editing in the list of nominees.  And that’s fine, because both evidence worthy work.

That said, I’d really like to see American Hustle or 12 Years a Slave, where the editing is subtle in service of sprawling performances and emotionally-driven formalism, respectively.

http://gorgview.com/
gorgview.com
Charles Qian

Like the other “major” awards shows, the Oscars represent a double edged sword that, in all likelihood, doesn’t accurately represent the “best” films of the year so much as the ones that mattered, for whatever reason, to a very specific group of people whose tastes often have very little in common with my own.

Coming to this realization was difficult, and no matter how regularly I think there’s a clear cut “best” choice for each category, I realize that the voters, and other people who care greatly about film and are equally or more knowledgeable than I am about it, can feel equally as strongly that another choice is the right one.

With that said, I know that, in 2014, the three best films I watched were 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, and Upstream Color, probably in that order.  I say “best,” because my personal favorite of those three is the last.

I feel strongly that 12 Years a Slave should win Best Picture, Alfonso Cuaron should win Best Director, Matthew McConaughey and Amy Adams should win Best Actor and Actress, and Jonah Hill and Lupita Nyong’o should take the supporting awards.

Gravity should win just about every technical award, because damn.

forbes.com
forbes.com
Kevin Osman

Each of the Best Picture Nominees I’ve seen has bothered me in some way.  The protagonist of Her dismissing physical contact as a necessary aspect of a relationship, Jennifer Lawrence’s nomination for a comedy-heavy role portraying a woman who committed suicide as a result of the events the movie portrays, just a few things that I couldn’t really get behind.

The Wolf of Wall Street director Martin Scorsese has stated that he was trying to share a cautionary tale, thus forcing the audience to examine society’s role in encouraging this type of activity.

From where I sat, when the secretary was paid thousands of dollars to shave her head, no time was left for reflection before the conga line of money, drugs, and hookers retook the frame.

While positive intentions may have been there, I think more Americans left wishing they could experience a piece of Jordan Belfort’s life than thinking of the need for serious financial regulatory reforms and re-calibration of America’s moral compass.

In actuality, all Scorsese accomplished is another Best Director Nomination on his CV and the lionization of a man that represents everything he claims to be trying to fight against.

Should his movie win, Scorsese’s speech will represent the lasting impression of his movie and the message he feels the audience should take from it. Right now, I know I will be very interested to see what exactly that is.

onsugar.com
onsugar.com
Charlie Thaddeus

American Hustle is going to win a lot of awards and I think that this is going to piss people off.

I feel like this happened with Argo last year. Everyone enjoyed Argo when it came out, but then when it won Best Picture, instead of a some of the other, more divisive choices, people decided that Argo wasn’t “worthy” of the prestige. Whatever that means.The Best Picture win has somehow altered the legacy of Argo, which went from being a well-made, entertaining movie to a flawed, impostor Oscar winner.

I hate that this happens.

Is American Hustle the best movie that was made in the last year? No. But it’s safe to pick David O. Russell (all of a sudden an Oscar darling) and his cavalcade of enjoyable actors, which is why the Academy will do it. People will all of a sudden forget how much fun they had in the theater watching it. They’ll see it inevitably pop up on FX or AMC in a few months and scoff at it or make some snide comment. They’ll forget the whole reason we watch movies in the first place.

I hate that this happens.

cloudfront.net
cloudfront.net
Wesley Burger

The Oscars are out of touch and tend to lag behind reality, offering people makeup awards for the performance after the one they really should have been rewarding.

I see the ceremony this year as as series of snubs (Her and Inside Llewyn Davis were two of my favorite films), business decisions (winning an Award can great increase an actors asking price or a movie’s overall box office), and foregone conclusions (the same celebrities being celebrated, the same red carpet shtick).

That said, at it’s best the Academy Awards are an appreciation of art and a chance to turn the national conversation toward the arts and some of the really important issues in areas film often explores: Race, class, violence, history, love, family, politics, and the environment.
Film is good at that and America is good at / in love with film — it’s a mixed bag, but ultimately a cultural bonus for our country.
http://thefunambulistdotnet.files.wordpress.com/
thefunambulistdotnet.files.wordpress.com
Christian Edwards

Gravity was entirely unlike any film or life experience I can point to previously.  The most enjoyable, impressive and emotionally draining 90 minutes I’d had in some time.

For myself, and perhaps others that support this as the “best” picture of 2014, the experience of interacting with a story in the context of an unique visual and audio environment is an central tenet of the media.

I fear that we are perilously close to losing the appreciation of that interaction.  Netflix, Redbox, and other, perhaps more nefarious, ways to watch movies on your couch/laptop/tablet/phone have subconsciously removed our necessity of being “there”.

I don’t like this. I need to be “”there”.

I need my movies to be made with the intention of being consumed on a screen that can’t fit in my house.

I need the same for sound.

Mostly though, I need to not be concerned with my phone or computer or dishes or laundry and focus on the film.

If/when I won/win the lottery, I’d open an IMAX theater that only shows Star Wars IV-VI, Gravity, Avatar and Raiders.  

I’d then buy a few smaller theatres, pick some other movies that were meant to be seen on a big screen (Return of the King, Jaws, The Goonies), create an elaborate advancement/relegation system and allow the audience to vote which movies make their way up and down.

I feel like Gravity, along with Raiders and Empire, stay on that IMAX for quite some time.



HIMYM and the Dilemma of Jumping the Shark



Kevin Osman

02.25.14

http://theculturallabyrinth.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/how-i-met-your-mother.jpg
theculturallabyrinth.files.wordpress.com

I can recall the exact moment that my favorite sitcom took a great metaphorical leap over a certain deadly fish, kicking-off its slow spiral into the depths of mediocre-TV land.

Season 6, Episode 5: Ted Mobsy gets the break of a lifetime, designing a skyscraper in New York City, and who does he run into? A beautiful protester named Zoe, who would go on to terrorize How I Met Your Mother fans for the remainder of the season with her low-stakes storyline and countless boating-related jokes. I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back it was so clear.

Now don’t get me wrong, there were some standout moments and episodes that occurred after Zoe’s introduction (Barney’s duck tie was fun, Robin choosing Kevin over Barney was one of the most powerful scenes in the series, and the episode dealing with the death of Marshall’s father unfortunately came on a night I was cutting up a LOT of onions). But, it was clear from season 6 forward that the HIMYM crew’s magic was dwindling.

Still, despite my complaints in the paragraph above, I have stayed and will remain a devoted fan.  I have seen every episode of the series and have no plans on giving that up with only 7 weeks left.  But, as I watched a recent episode in which Barney continued the longest night in the history of television, I thought to myself: Would I want it any other way?

 

Office Cast 850x350

Sure, I’ve cringed more than I’ve laughed for most episodes this season, but would I trade the last 3+ seasons of added episodes for a cleaner narrative arc?   And for any HIMYM fan out there: would you give up an extra 50 hours of time with characters you came to love for the opportunity to see their story lines end on the producer’s original creative timeline?  And what about fans of Lost, Homeland, Californication, House, Scrubs (but only season 9! I’m an original 8 die-hard), The Office, Glee, Roseanne, Heroes, and countless other shows?

Was Lost’s last season really that bad? Was it really such a bad thing that all the actors on The Office (many of whom will have limited opportunities to have feature roles on network sitcoms) got to collect paychecks for an extra 2 seasons?  And who doesn’t want to see David Duchovny treat Los Angeles like a sexual lazy river for as many episodes as possible?

At this point, my various feelings regarding this issue start to clash.  Take, for example, Homeland, a show whose first season was, to me, one of the greatest single seasons of television history. Watching Brody in that bunker was a revelation to me in terms of a show’s ability to build tension within the smallest of moments.  Never before had I been compelled to frantically pace around my living room on the middle of a sunny Saturday afternoon, unable to look at the screen for too long because of the intense anxiety I felt, yet at the same time unable to push pause on the intense roller coaster.

Watching Season 2 (and a few episodes of season 3… Caracas lost me there) just felt like an unnecessary epilogue to an amazing story that had already been told.  I wish my last image of Carrie was of her about to undergo electroshock therapy, straining to share the truth with the world but having her desire for justice go unrequited.  However, the logical aspect of my knows that the show won a bunch of Emmys, Showtime needed a tentpole show to compete with HBO, and Claire Danes and Damien Lewis weren’t exactly drowning in high-quality roles prior to the Homeland’s success.

fanpop.com
fanpop.com

Some bemoan the lack of artistic integrity or the cash grabs made by lazy actors and producers, but who can get mad at people making money doing something they love and other people love watching them do? Last time I checked we are living in America, and the if someone can make millions of dollars coasting through 24 episodes (Hey Jason!) then who are we to be upset?

My personal opinion, as much as it bothers me, is that it is highly selfish of any fan to be bitter about the continuance of a show, no matter how painful the death spiral becomes.  Even if that death spiral includes the main character of your show spending an entire episode eating bacon. (Yes, in one recent episode HIMYM spent 22 minutes with Ted Mosby & Co. with Ted’s sole plot point being that he needed to eat a tray of bacon, but hadn’t eaten bacon before. He then proceeded to eat lots of bacon.)

In my mind I can never shake the idea that, no matter the quality of the product, there are still 200 people getting paid to do lighting, sound, catering, and costumes.  There are still writers, editors, and set builders that exist in a fickle profession which doesn’t need to be made worse by fans demanding a show stop lest it ruin its integrity.  And besides, there have gotta be people out there that feel the last two seasons of The Office is when the show really hit its stride, and who are we to tell them any different?  Not every show can have a Breaking Bad-esque run of growing popularity and critical acclaim that peaks for the final season.

There are real, normal, white-picket-fence-and-2-and-a-half-kids people affected by a show being cancelled, and their needs should be put above those of the fans being disappointed in a season 7 plot point.

Besides, if you didn’t watch Season 8 of House, did it really even air at all?




High Maintenance and the American New Wave 2.0

Joe Smith

imgshack.us
imgshack.us

Note:  This post contains discussion about various episodes of High Maintenance.  It’s not Lost or anything, but you might enjoy it more without it being spoiled.  So do yourself a favor and maybe check out a few episodes first (particularly “Heidi”).  

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What We Knew About the NBA’s 2nd Half

We asked some friends a few days back to send us their thoughts on the NBA’s 2nd half.

We’ll check back in after a while to see how wrong/right we were, and what we learned in the meantime.

sportschump.net/
sportschump.net/

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Derek Recommends: Vol 1

what I’m reading, what I’m watching, what I’m playing

Derek Schuffenauer

02.18.14

In a semi-regular series, I’ll be giving y’all an update on the various media I’m currently consuming. Because I know you care. And thank you for caring.

It’s a transitional time for me, as I just recently picked up a new game, a new TV show, and a new book. These are my experiences with each.

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Feeling Some Type of Way About Type of Way

Dantonio

I’m pretty sure my favorite song of the last two months, a song that I’ve walked around mumbling the chorus to in business attire, is about partaking in the gangbanging of someone else’s girlfriend, then subsequently mocking dude’s response while continuing about your day to day showing literally zero remorse.[ref]

The song in question is Type of Way, and it goes hard. My reading entirely depends on the line “me and my homies g’d your ho, you feel some type of way.” but Rap Genius says I’m right.

Back[/ref]

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On the Situation in Kiev


12.20.2013

Hey Christian!
 
I look at your morning brief whenever I get the chance and I love it, but I am a little sad that you haven’t mentioned an article about the protests in Kyiv.
 
I am not sure if you know but I am currently finishing my final year of service as a Peace Corps volunteer here in Ukraine. What is happening here in this country is incredible. People are finally standing up against complete corruption and injustice. To be honest, I was a little surprised that these protests started.  People in Ukraine have been so hopeless and frustrated for so long, but I guess the frustration and injustice was too much.