Paris-Roubaix

Paris-Roubaix is a one-day, 259 kilometer, professional bicycle road race starting north of Paris and finishing in Roubaix, at the border with Belgium. It has happened every year since 1896 except during the world wars and in 2020 due to the ‘rona. It’s famous for iffy weather, rough terrain, and cobblestones, or “pavé”. It has been called the Hell of the North. The most recent edition, held last Sunday, was particularly hellish.

These images from Sunday’s race are the best collection of sports photographs I’ve ever seen. Read the captions. Take your time.

Netflix’s ‘The Chair’

Six very short episodes totaling three hours. Final grade, ‘A’. It’s the story of a newly appointed Chair of an English department at a fictional “near Ivy”. The larger stories are the corporatization of higher education, the declining status of the humanities, and the rising tide of social media-based groupthink among (many) students.

The filmmakers hit the elderly/senile/tenured faculty especially hard and it’s always hilarious. Sandra Oh is excellent as the besieged Chair, but her adopted daughter may be even better. Kids are usually filler, but she’s a complex, edgy, thoughtful human just in smaller form. Other filmmakers take note. 

The contrast between the young hip prof and the one well past his expiration date missed the essential element of excellent teaching—the degree and thoughtfulness with which students engage directly with one another. Had I consulted, I would’ve recommended substituting more poetry class-like dialogue for the Hamilton-like performance which was far fetched. Partial credit for that vignette though because with the exception of this all time great teaching film, t.v. and film teachers are almost always center stage. 

We don’t go to sporting contests to watch coaches. We don’t go to symphony concerts to (just) watch composers. So why do filmmakers take us into classrooms to primarily watch and listen to teachers? The answer of course is because way, way too many teachers talk way, way too much. And that teacher-centered model has seeped into our consciousness to the point that it’s rarely questioned.

Postscript: Clearly, no sophomore slump for Ted Lasso. Still so well written. A wonderful mix of intelligence, humor, and humanity.  

What I’m Listening To

Podcast. The Rise & Fall of Mars Hill by Christianity Today. Places the church’s decline in a broad sociological context, excellent production quality. Central question—Why do people keep elevating charismatic leaders whose fame and lack of character is their undoing? 

Related. Fav podcast host, Jack Hough, Barron’s Streetwise. Can’t get enough of his self deprecating sense of humor, smarts, and personality more generally. 

Music. Leon Bridges Essentials, Apple Music. Dig this profile of Bridges

What I’m Watching

Not counting the just completed Open Championship and the Tour de France, overlapping highlights of the sporting calendar that seriously taxed my DVR and remote control skills.

I’m deep into Shtisel on Netflix. I may as well be living in Jerusalem. The three season series was a huge hit among American Jews, but this gentile digs it too.

Tonight I watched Season 1, Episode 11 which is my favorite so far. The series beautifully depicts the costs and benefits of strict religious community. And also, the costs and benefits of extremely close families.

The slower pacing, the incredible background music, the covert sexuality all make for an incredibly unique and rewarding experience.

Unless you’re hopelessly modern, book your flight for Jerusalem soon, you won’t be disappointed.

The Biebs Ditches His Dreads

Before and after pictures and the story here.

The Bieb’s experience highlights how the lines between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation can be blurry.

Here’s a helpful start in distinguishing between the two.

“Appreciation is when someone seeks to understand and learn about another culture in an effort to broaden their perspective and connect with others cross-culturally. Appropriation on the other hand, is simply taking one aspect of a culture that is not your own and using it for your own personal interest.”

The social media mob immediately decided Bieber was not broadening his perspective or connecting with others cross-culturally, instead he was using his dreads for his own personal interest.

However, even if that assumption was correct, a few minutes of research into the history of dreads would’ve muddied the water considerably:

“One account claims that dreadlocks originated in India (unlike most who cite Egypt as their birth place) with the dreadlocked diety Shiva and his followers. It is likely that this is the spirituality origin of dreadlocks in Indian culture. However, the first archeological proof of people wearing dreadlocks came from Egypt where mummies have been recovered with their dreadlocks still in tact.

Regardless of their origin, dreadlocks have been worn by nearly every culture at some point in time or another. Roman accounts stated that the Celts wore their hair ‘like snakes’. The Germanic tribes and Vikings were also known to wear their hair in dreadlocks. Dreadlocks have been worn by the monks of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Nazarites of Judiasm, Qalandri’s Sufi’s, the Sadhu’s of Hinduism, and the Dervishes of Islam, and many more! There are even strong suggestions that many early Christians wore dreadlocks; most notably Sampson who was said to have seven locks of hair which gave him his inhuman strength.”  Source.

Which makes me wonder, why didn’t JB try to enlighten the mob with a similarly brief history lesson? It’s too bad he opted for hair clippers instead of the teachable moment.

Maybe I should take the baton and grow some dreads. I’ll report on my progress same time next decade.

‘Stop, Drop, Shut’em Down, Open Up Shop’

The Good Wife has taken to teasing me about becoming a monarchist as a result of liking Netflix’s The Crown so much. If that was true, this remembrance would be about “Prince” Philip, not DMX who also died today at age 50 after suffering a heart attack two weeks ago.

Nice tribute from Otto Von Biz Markie @Passionweiss:

“RIP DMX. No one radiated more agony, pain, and atomic energy. The Cerberus from Yonkers, who suffered for all of our sins and his own. Maybe the rawest rapper of all-time, no pretense or frills, just pure adrenaline, lawless genius, and reckless abandon. The struggle incarnate.”

Nomadland Reconsidered

This Joshua Keating critique of Nomadland is excellent. He starts off praising it.

“The film Nomadland, which cemented its status as the front-runner for Best Picture with six Oscar nominations this week, includes unforgettable characters and images. It heralds the arrival of a major directing talent in Chloé Zhao, nominated for Best Director, and features yet another masterful turn from Frances McDormand, nominated for Best Actress. But for anyone who has read its source material, Jessica Bruder’s 2017 nonfiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, the film feels oddly incomplete. The filmmakers chose to jettison the book’s muckraking journalistic spirit and economic critique, ending up with a film that’s supposedly an examination of contemporary society, but feels politically inert.”

Lucid, critical, respectful, the phrases “oddly incomplete” and “politically inert” strike the perfect chord.

His main critique:

“These are people who are adamant that they are not victims, have chosen the lifestyle they lead of their own free will, and are grateful for the opportunities they get. This is admirable in some sense, but in the case of modern nomadism, it’s part of the problem. As Bruder’s reporting shows, one of the reasons companies like Amazon like to hire retirement-age “workampers” for physically demanding jobs that seem better suited for young bodies is that they “demand little in the way of benefits or protections. … Most expressed appreciation for whatever semblance of stability their short-term jobs offered.” The scrappy, no-complaints stoicism that makes these people appealing movie characters also makes them extremely exploitable.”

Keating convinces me that a very good film could’ve been even better.