The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Lots going on

Yesterday started with a performance on local television and ended with a three-hour rehearsal and midnight showing of Star Wars. I'd already planned to go into work late today, but Parker didn't eat dinner last night and he refused breakfast this morning, so I'm waiting to see if I can get him to the vet.

With that and other things up for grabs today, plus two more performances this weekend, posting might suffer a bit.

Cat Person gets people's hackles up

A few days ago I lined to a story in the New Yorker by Kristen Roupenian called "Cat Person." I enjoyed the story, and identified to some extent with both characters. My takeaway was that being 20 sucks, and some guys are dicks.

Apparently the story got a lot more heated reactions than I imagined:

The story has run the gamut of viral reactions – from the initial chorus of sharing "this story is important", "everyone should read this", "it's almost too real"; to the inevitable backlash (over the fat-shaming descriptions of Robert's body, the focus on white middle class experience, the clumsiness of the prose, and of course the "not all men" contingent); to the inevitable defences against the backlash.

Many would now say we've reached the thinkpiece-overload stage.

Although the protagonists in 'Cat Person' have a real-life "meet cute", their relationship starts out mostly via text message. They only meet in person twice. Perhaps because of this, their interactions involve projection, suspicion and performance. At more than one point on their "date", Margot wonders whether Robert will murder her. Yet she also gets into his car, goes to the movies, invites him to have a drink and then sleeps with him.

Margot's underlying self-loathing and narcissistic gaze (she's attracted to the fact that Robert desires her, rather than Robert himself); the soul-deadening banality of their attempts to create magic through banter; the discomfort and obvious risk involved when interpreting a stranger's motives; her willingness to do things she doesn't really want (including have sex) to avoid hurting Robert's feelings and "seeming spoiled and capricious" – and likewise, her inability to bluntly reject him ... these aspects of the story speak to many young women on a deeper level than outrage over the final dump of abusive text messages.

New Republic thinks pieces like Jenny Noyes' (above) comprise a new form of literary criticism:

In this case, the media has been thrust in the position of the literary critic, drawing lines between the artwork and the broader culture. This isn’t a bad development, exactly—it’s great that a short story is making headlines. But it is also worth noting that the boundaries of literary criticism, at least as they are traditionally conceived, are being exceeded across the internet. The response to “Cat Person” is the latest evidence that we have entered new territory for online criticism, and no one quite knows what to make of it.

“Cat Person” is a short story, not a book, so until Roupenian publishes her collection it is not eligible for a review in one of the influential old literary criticism hubs. Instead, it has been treated as a quasi-news story, to be caught before its moment on Twitter has faded. It is being digested by critics whose job it is to digest cultural news, then regurgitated to readers as more fodder for the news cycle.

So when a literary phenomenon happens on social media, readers get the story-about-the-story, a commentary on how the conversation played out before it’s even finished. It’s the “Here’s Why You Can’t Stop Talking About ‘Cat Person’” style of take, and it treats you—the conscious and collaborative reader—like a consumer. This state of affairs is horribly unfair. It does no justice to the richness of literary conversations online.

I'm not even going to quote some of the less-formal criticism the story received on Twitter, because ew.

The sad history of the Uptown Theater

Chicago's largest auditorium north of the Loop needs saving soon, or it might be lost forever:

At the intersection of Lawrence, Racine and Broadway in Uptown, the massive, once-grand Uptown Theatre, a shuttered movie palace that has awaited restoration for nearly 40 years, is slowly deteriorating. Its reopening—an expensive proposition that would require public and private funds—is key to the neighborhood's vitality and could make it a premier destination for live entertainment.

Preservationists say that because of its decrepitude, something needs to happen fast to save the theater from permanent ruin. "If this isn't resolved soon, this building will continue to deteriorate," says Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago.

A reopened Uptown would, at 4,500 seats, have the largest theater capacity north of downtown (the Auditorium in the Loop has nearly 4,000). Mark Kelly, commissioner of the city's Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, shares Emanuel's vision that the Uptown would solidify the intersection of Lawrence, Racine and Broadway as a destination for live entertainment. "What would be most desirable is we get a mix of these awesome performance venues at a very high level to accommodate a lot of people," Kelly says. "Then it's a real entertainment district."

The neglect dates to the 1970s, when the Uptown was used primarily for closed-circuit boxing matches and rock concerts by acts including the Grateful Dead and Bruce Springsteen. Accelerating its demise was co-owner Lou Wolf, a notorious Chicago slumlord and felon who purchased the theater in 1980 and shuttered it the following year. Unoccupied and uncared for for more than three decades, the building suffered water damage after the heat was turned off. In 2014, 6 inches of ice covered the grand stairway and 4 feet of water rose in the basement. Broken windows, animal infestation, vandalism and plaster-killing summer humidity followed, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid property taxes.

Fortunately, the city designated a landmark district in 2016 that includes the Uptown, but that only means it can't be demolished. But it still needs maintenance, desperately. I hope someone steps up. I'm looking at you, Rahmbo.

Friday afternoon reading list

The following appeared in my inbox while I was in the air. I'll read them later:

I'll probably read them after my body wakes me up at 6am local time tomorrow. The westbound time change is so much easier than eastbound, but it's still hard to sleep in.

Middle-seat windows?

Emirates, despite what I may think about its ownership and massive state subsidies, has some of the coolest equipment in commercial aviation. Their latest innovation is to provide virtual windows for their interior first-class suites:

See, Emirates laid out its new First Class suites in a 1-1-1 configuration on the 777. The suites on the sides are treated to several windows, but what could Emirates do about the suites in the middle? Some people love aisle seats and others love windows. (And there are probably a strange few who even prefer neither for some unknown reason.) But people generally prefer to have an aisle AND window when possible. And if you’re in First Class, that seems like quite a reasonable request. There obviously can’t be windows in the middle of the aircraft, so Emirates did something awesome. It installed virtual windows. You can see them in action in this video:

I mean, that's just cool. And it has some really interesting implications:

This kind of technology can also allow designers to really get creative on new aircraft. Think about the B-2 stealth bomber. That kind of triangular “flying wing” design” could lend itself to commercial aviation some day, but windows would be a real challenge. Now imagine that could be built with virtual windows throughout the cabin, giving people a constant ability to look out without requiring any structural work.

Heck, you could make the whole airplane a virtual window if you want. That would result in something similar to Airbus’s 2050 concept airplane (though that plan apparently would, in theory, use transparent cell membranes or something crazy like that).

Yes, this may seem like it’s just a fake window, but it’s so much more. I’m excited about what it might mean for future aircraft development. Oh… and yeah, those new Emirates suites look pretty darn nice too.

I don't think I'll ever actually fly in an Emirates first-class suite, but I agree with Cranky Flier: there's a lot to be excited about in there.

Stuff to review

I've been in frenetic housecleaning mode today, since it's the first work-from-home Wednesday I've had in...let me see...10 weeks. And apparently I last had my housekeeping service here 16 weeks ago. (It wasn't that bad; I do clean up occasionally.)

The activity and actually having to do my job has led me to miss a couple of news stories, which I will now queue up to read:

  • Former President Obama spoke at the Economic Club of Chicago last night, and said, at one point, "American democracy is fragile, and unless care is taken it could follow the path of Nazi Germany in the 1930s."
  • Citylab outlines how the tax bill now working its way through reconciliation between the House and Senate will be really, really bad for cities. As if we didn't know. As if that wasn't a feature, rather than a bug.
  • And it doesn't take a Nobel-winning economist to understand the chutzpah behind the Republican Party's bait-and-switch on taxes and deficits. "Now, to be fair, there are some people in America who get lots of money they didn’t lift a finger to earn — namely, inheritors of large estates." How true.
  • In more neutral news, the Atlantic has the the year in photos (part 1), with more on the way later this week. I especially like the Turkish seagull (#22).
  • Finally The Daily WTF has an example of life imitating satire, and it's sad and funny all at the same time.

I'm now going to throw out all the empty boxes in my office closet, though it pains me to do so. After all, someday I might need to return this pair of wired headphones from 1998...

How will we react to aliens?

According to a new study, it seems to depend on how big they are:

Michael Varnum, a psychologist at Arizona State University and a member of its new Interplanetary Initiative, is trying to anticipate this response.

The scientists asked 500 people to describe their reactions to a hypothetical discovery of alien microorganisms. Respondents also had to predict how humanity at large would react. Like the journalists, people in the study used positive words. There were no characteristics that set responses apart, not a person's income, ethnicity, political orientation or traits such as neuroticism or agreeableness. But people felt that the rest of the country would be generally less agreeable.

That may be because “most Americans tend to think, on any desirable trait or ability, that they're better than the average person,” Varnum said.

So tiny aliens are OK, but larger ones are scary? Has no one read The Andromeda Strain?