— Chelsey Pettyjohn is an artist from Oklahoma, living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She is interested in articulating a specific loneliness that can be viewed as delicately, strangely beautiful.
What do you see when you stop to pay attention? Take a moment to consider it today. So many days feel rushed, and with the cyber world at our fingertips, it can be easy to forget to take note of our surroundings. Today, photographer Jennifer Chen shows us a few things she’s noticed lately and challenges us to practice the art of paying attention. Join the conversation throughout the week on Instagram with #IEQuestionsStop.
—Jennifer Chen is a photographer and clinical psychologist living in Brooklyn, NY. Her interests include surfing, making terrariums, lugging around books to read on the train, and engaging in restorative justice. To see more of her work, visit www.jenericphotos.com.
It’s Lucca Herward and Madeleine Pay-ne, here for for Five & Five this week, according to the Travoltify your Name Generator over at Slate. If you missed the Oscars, you missed out on some star-studded tweets, good laughs, and even some inspirational tear-jerkers. Now, Hollywood moves on from awards season and looks ahead to Bryan Cranston’s (the star of Breaking Bad) upcoming stint on Broadway. Or at least Madeleine and I are! In other news...
1. Wednesday marked the birthday of the world’s oldest person. Misao Okawa turned 116. The Japanese woman is one of five others still alive who were born in the 19th century. That's right—she was born in 1898. (via Mashable)
2. Researchers announced that a second baby had been cured of HIV after birth. At a conference in Boston, scientists outlined a planned to run a clinical trial to treat 60 more babies, testing the breakthrough. (via the New York Times)
3. The voice of NPR, Carl Kassell, announced his retirement on Tuesday. After five decades in the business, Kassell will wrap up his role in Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me in the coming months and take it easy from here on out. (via NPR)
4. The crisis in Ukraine continues this week as Secretary of State John Kerry visited Russian leaders. Many fear the revolt could spur a large-scale war as Vladimir Putin flexes his muscles in the region. Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Putin, “A tough guy with a thin skin,” at an event at UCLA this week. (via NBC and the Los Angeles Times)
5. The Pope this week suggested that women should play a greater role in the Church, noting that he would offer females broader decision making power. The Pope may also be reconsidering the Church’s stance on divorce, birth control, and other issues. (via the Wall Street Journal)
Op-Eds and Features
1. In “The Archipelago of Pain” over at the New York Times, David Brooks examines the distinction we make between physical and social pain and presents a compelling case against isolating prisoners. Imprisoning people “doesn’t mean you have to gouge out the nourishment humans need for health, which is social, emotional and relational,” he writes.
2. Chick-fil-A? Froot Loops? Lands’ End? Over at Slate, Matthew J. X. Malady explains why corporate brands use weird spellings and punctuations in their names in “Off Brands.” If you are a nerd, you love this piece. (Yes, I loved this piece.)
3. Do you daydream, people-watch, and surround yourself with beauty? Creative people do. Head over to Huffington Post to be inspired toward creativity by “18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently.”
4. Over at First Things, B. D. McClay has a delightful piece, “Pope Francis Has a Secret: He’s Jennifer Lawrence,” comparing two of the media’s darlings (spoiler warning), Pope Francis and Jennifer Lawrence. The uncanny similarities will give you a good laugh.
5. Over the past few weeks, NPR’s Planet Money asked readers to answer two questions: What’s your job title? And what do you really do? Some of the answers.
You’re at a party. You meet someone new. Despite your sparkling personality and conversational adeptness, you find yourself wanly asking, “Oh, and what do you do?” and you feel like a complete square.
Sound familiar? It does to me. Despite my best efforts at asking better questions when I meet new people, I often find myself falling back on the old job trope. It’s not a bad thing to ask what someone does—and it does provide some context for a person—but it’s just such a boring question usually, since most people tend to answer with a title—“associate” this or “assistant” that.
Titles are a necessary part of the workplace, but most of the time they tell us so little about what a person does and who a person is. I appreciated Planet Money’s feature this week, because it got beyond the title and showed just how many different ways there are out there for people to work and contribute to society.
So, In Earnest crew, in hopes that you’ll be reminded this Friday that you aren’t your job title, I’ll throw the questions out to you. What’s your job title? And, what do you really do? Oh, and do you have any go-to questions you ask when you meet new people? I’d love to hear them. Join the conversation in comments below.
— Laura Herrod is an associate editor at In Earnest. Madison Peace is editor-in-chief at In Earnest. Five & Five is a weekly feature on news and opinion by two women who love nothing more than nerding out over a good article.
A friend once told me how Charles Manson fed his followers LSD before he, sober, spoke to them: the drug caused his words to imprint on their minds in a way that felt intensely, spiritually truthful, dictating their beliefs and actions even after the trip ended. Film requires a similar cultish devotion: viewers relinquish control, submitting their money, time, and (in a theater) environment, and are rewarded with entry into a new, exciting world. A compelling narrative carries rhetoric and emotion along in its current, and the combination of these elements has a transcendent effect on anyone exposed. Story takes many forms, manifesting itself in books, music, advertisements and television, but film, to me, is its most intoxicating guise.
Although the idea of story as a mind-altering drug is terrifying, it is this power to transfix and transform audiences that makes film an important medium. A film’s virtue lies in its use of a combination of narrative and theatrical elements to create shared experiences for all viewers, regardless of whether they are watching in a theater on opening weekend, or on a tablet twenty years later.
While you and I might read the same novel, there are infinite variables that may conflict: our images of characters, respective comprehension and paces, et cetera. Many of these divisions are eliminated with film. (You may wish to hurry things along, but you’re just going to have to watch all 216 minutes of Lawrence of Arabia.) In addition to comradery among audiences, the collaboration required to make a movie keeps the medium inherently communal, whereas a book is largely the work of the author. Viewers invest in films, committing to their length and language, and expect to be repaid in entertainment and artistry.
Walt Whitman’s couplet about the child who “went forth every day;/ And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became” is an almost perfect description of the way that I consume film. I remember movies that appealed to me because I see how their stories rippled into the rest of my life. When the Lord of The Rings movies were released, my brothers, our friends, and I spent hours studying the trilogy. We filmed our own versions of the films over the course of a summer, and eagerly awaiting the next installments. (I’ll spare you further details of my Tolkien mania to save my pride, but there may have been several dialects of Elvish spoken.) Beyond the appeal of heroes and romances, Lord of the Rings draws clear lines between light and darkness; the story was able to steer me toward virtue—friendship, loyalty, valour—as I played.
The transformative power of story extends beyond childhood preoccupation. While a significant story may not drive us outside to play as heroes anymore, it still manifests itself in our lives. Though The Lord of the Rings confronts us with the balance of good and evil on an epic scale, even prosaic movies can comfort or guide us. Whit Stillman’s stylistically subdued films, such as The Last Days of Disco, test the bounds of friendship, while Martin Scorsese’s tales of greed, such as Goodfellas or The Wolf of Wall Street, illuminate what is ethical by exploring what isn’t. With age and maturity comes access to an ever-broadening array of genres and styles, and, as anyone who has ever browsed Netflix knows, deciding what to watch is overwhelming. However, if what we consume is correlated to what we become, then choosing a movie on a quiet evening is far from trivial. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a formulaic chick flick or action movie, the reward for devoting time to a quality film is much greater.
I didn’t start watching film intentionally until college, around the time that I started directing for theater and was looking for inspiration. One of my favorite film directors, Quentin Tarantino, once said in an interview, “When people ask me if I went to film school, I tell them, ‘No, I went to films,’” and his attention to the craft motivated me. I already spent a lot of time watching movies, but I wanted to focus my consumption on more significant films, including those outside of my comfort zone, instead of just watching something comfortable or familiar.
On New Years Eve 2012, I resolved that one of my projects for the next two years would be to watch all of the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Films. I had seen some, but there were many titles that I wasn’t familiar with, alongside enduring classics like Citizen Kane that I had never quite gotten around to watching, though I knew I ought to. Today, I am a little over halfway through. I’ve made it through the lighter fare (Star Wars, Tootsie) and the “classic” classics (The Godfather, Rocky), and have now reached films that require more focus and energy (The Deer Hunter, Schindler’s List).
The more great films that I watch, the more I am amazed at the medium’s power. Characters find love, overcome adversity, and embark on adventures, and my understanding of the world expands, changing how I see situations in my own life and those that would otherwise only be abstract. I’m also increasingly fascinated by what films have to say to each other, and at the parallels that can be drawn between selections from the most disparate genres.
There’s a learned balance required in watching films intentionally, surrendering to the story and not over-intellectualizing at the cost of enjoyment, but the reward is great. Falling under the influence of the story means that, afterwards, when you contemplate what you’ve absorbed, you can drive deeper into the heart of the film. What excited you? What made you uncomfortable? Why does a character remind you of someone you know? Will you ever watch it again? I’ve found that through thoughtful consumption, the initial act of submission—which seemed so dangerous—gives way to deeper clarity and fuller truth.
— Corinne Cordasco is a writer and director residing on the Upper West Side. When she's not watching a movie, she can be found trying a new recipe or in the cheap seats at the Metropolitan Opera.
Whether we were watching a figure skater pirouette across the ice or were shocked by the violence unfolding in the Ukraine, February was a big month for international events. Meanwhile, at home, there’s always the debt ceiling and Obamacare to talk about. Here’s your last look at February.
Although Russia spent $5.1 billion on what proved to be the most expensive Olympic games in history, Sochi will be most remembered for the stray dogs, unfinished hotels, dangerously engineered ski courses, brown tap water and that, “Hey, where did the rest of the money go?” kind of corruption. Thankfully, the United States walked away with nine gold medals in freestyle skiing, snowboarding, alpine skiing, and figure skating, so it wasn’t all bad. On a policy level, the Olympics are important because they bring to light strengths or weaknesses in the hosting country’s government. Of this year’s Olympics, Louis Branson of USA Today wrote, “Olympic Games make less-than-democratic leaders confront realities they would rather ignore. The world makes judgments that speak uncomfortable truths to their power….That said, Putin's dictatorially inclined leadership can benefit from the political truths the Games are making him face.” There wasn’t too much disagreement between the left and right on this topic. For once, everyone was too focused on cheering for America.
Ukraine and Venezuela
Sadly, for the country of Ukraine, national unity fell apart as the Ukrainian government and pro-EU civilians violently clashed this past month. Back in November, Viktor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine, cut ties with the European Union, strengthening Ukraine’s longstanding (read: codependent) history with Russia. Frustrated with the president’s ever-growing powers and with his behavior towards the EU, thousands of protesters poured into Independence Square. On the most violent day, February 20, 77 people died and over 600 were wounded. At the end of the month, Yanukovych fled to Russia and Putin put 150,000 troops at the Ukrainian border to intimidate the interim government. To continue reading developments of this story, click here.
Violence erupted in Venezuela, as well, after students protesting against crime waves were tear-gassed and beaten. While many Venezuelans are frustrated over high inflation, food shortages, and corruption, the main conflict lies between a right-wing activist group and the current socialist government. (For an update on this crisis, click here.)
That VooDoo You Do
Back in the U.S., Congress committed a little budget voodoo by straight out suspending the debt ceiling, instead of raising it. Now, the Treasury can borrow as much money as it needs to and does not have to deal with the problem of debt until spring 2015. Moreover, when the suspension ends, the debt limit will rise to the old cap, plus whatever was borrowed during the suspension.
The Heritage Foundation quickly criticized the debt suspension saying, “The debt limit will not bind the Treasury until midnight on the day the suspension expires. This is like Congress handing the executive a blank check with an expiration date.” But Ed Lorenzen, a congressional budget expert, countered by saying that the suspension creates a defined time when the Treasury has to deal with the debt and that it cannot borrow cash in excess of the normal operating costs.
On February 10, President Obama extended until 2016 the Affordable Care Act deadline by which midsize companies must provide coverage to employees. Additionally, larger businesses now only have to provide coverage for 70 percent of their employees next year.
As Obama, once again, changed the requirements of the ACA, the right, once again, criticized him for writing an overly-complicated and unwieldy law. On the left, Sam Baker from the National Journal said that although Obama keeps hurting Obamacare with these rewrites, the wounds aren’t fatal. “Obamacare is moving forward,” he wrote, “and the doomsayers' prophecies have fallen flat.”
There were many victories for the LBGTQ community this month as three federal judges from Texas, Kentucky, and Virginia all struck down their respective state’s ban on gay marriage. Judge Arenda Wright Allen from Virginia said, “The court is compelled to conclude that Virginia’s marriage laws unconstitutionally deny Virginia’s gay and lesbian citizens the fundamental freedom to choose to marry.” To read responses from the six states that have now overturned their bans, click here.
Meanwhile, Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona vetoed SB 1062 -- a bill would have protected a business owner’s decision to refuse service to homosexuals, if serving them would violate the “sincerely held religious beliefs” of the owners. After the bill passed in the Arizona house and senate, it caught criticism as nothing more than a homosexual Jim Crow law that could harm the state’s economy. Ultimately, Brewer, a woman of faith herself, vetoed the bill, because she said it would cause unintended problems in the long run.
Think Progress explained why a religious business couldn’t possibly be discriminated against, saying, “Discrimination suggests that these vendors are being treated differently from other vendors, but that is not the case. If a state or municipality requires that public accommodations be provided equally regardless of sexual orientation, that applies equally to all businesses.”
On the other hand, Kevin Williamson from National Review said we should “try the ‘moral math’ in reverse,” asking, “Shouldn’t a gay restaurant owner have the right to refuse service to the Westboro Baptist Church? Should a black baker be forced to cater a wedding for the KKK?”
A Question to Consider: If you had the say, how would you handle America’s debt problem?
— Sarah C. Ferrara lives in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter @ferrara_sarah. “Earnest Knows” is a series that rounds up matters of politics and policy.