He was described as ascetic, or as ascetic as someone in the habit of renting out entire hotels could be.It wasn't easy to find just what I wanted to say about Charlie Hebdo last week. I had the feeling that no matter what I said, I'd at some point need to go into more detail and address questions. This I now do.
My sympathies are not with those who have presumed to tell Charlie Hebdo what they should and shouldn't publish, as did White House Press Secretary Jay Carney a couple years ago: "Well, we are aware that a French magazine published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the Prophet Muhammad, and obviously, we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this."A person having questions about the judgment doesn't bother me. But when someone talks that way in their official capacity as a White House spokesman, that's a step in the direction of government telling people what (not) to publish—people in another country, no less.
When Charlie Hebdo's staff was murdered, I wanted my response to be one of undiluted support. I wanted to avoid even hinting at ceding any ground to the killers. That may not be everyone's response, but it was my choice.
Religions—the Abrahamic monotheisms in particular—have a history of telling people what not to say, think, or read. This isn't an accident; authoritarianism is baked into any system that holds a scripture or a person to be authoritative. That is contrary to my own values, and I make no apology for saying so. I support asserting the right to be thoroughly critical of religion, especially given the history of religions to wish that their demands have the force of law. Note the statement quoted in the 1979 newspaper article excerpted here: a movie was called a crime against religion.
It touches a nerve with me when people try to suppress satire. Humor is an elegant and concise form of expression. I marvel at the effectiveness of the Tom Lehrer song I posted a link to yesterday. The lyrics don't argue against anything, nor do they reach for the coarseness used at times by Charlie Hebdo (or even Monty Python). And yet, as Mr. Lehrer recounted,
Many people over the years have said, "Oh, 'The Vatican Rag' changed my life." It's not that they were convinced of something they weren't convinced of before; it's just that now they realize it's okay to laugh.There are times and places to show courtesy. I wouldn't mock someone's religion while I was a guest in their home. But consider what the pope said in the quote I posted yesterday: his vision for a better world is one where nobody makes fun of religion. That's not a free world. Jorge "Pope Francis" Bergoglio said
You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.Well, yes you can. I'll go farther and say that in the case of Mr. Bergoglio's organization, it's essential to do so. I defer to a satirist of great skill: Tom Lehrer, whose song The Vatican Rag is a gem, without which the world would be a poorer place. Have you seen the pics from the Ukrainian and Russian dudes who climbed the crane on top of Shanghai Tower? If not, hie thee to Vitaliy Raskalov's livejournal forthwith. Fine photos, brazen (and well-planned) trespassing, lithe youths: what's not to like?—although Chinese authorities were not amused, nor were Egyptians after the boys climbed a certain pyramid.
Their site at ontheroofs.com has commentary and stunning pics from tops of buildings and bridges around the world.
My friends and I climbed stuff we weren't supposed to when we were teenagers but nothing close to this scale. And stakes are higher nowadays. I'm not sure I'd want to find out just how much the powers that be have lost their sense of humor.
Circa 1979, a groundskeeper at a state park saw me climbing a tree and asked, "Do you know you're committing a felony?"
I wonder how much further Messrs. Raskalov and Makhorov will be able to climb and photograph, at least when it entails border crossings. Enjoy their pics while they last. I'm hardly the first person to note this, but US television has made some surprisingly good shows recently. And a good thing too, in light of how I'm running out of movies to watch on DVD (where "movies" means ones that are to my taste).
The 110th episode of a certain series I've been watching struck me as having more artistic cinematography than was the norm in the preceding 109, and I wasn't surprised when the end credits rolled and the DP's name wasn't any of the ones I was familiar with from previous seasons. I emailed him to say I liked his work, he wrote back to thank me for contacting him and to tell me about another series he's working on (that hadn't been on my radar).
In many endeavors, feedback consists mostly of complaints. I always heard from users when my code didn't work, not so much when it did. That's life, one gets used to it, but it makes the occasional word of thanks all the more appreciated.
Friends and I put out a magazine in the 1990s with a circulation of about 3000. It was great to have that many people reading, I miss it, but the paucity of response was at times frustrating. There were issues where we didn't have material for a letters to the editor column.
This is not a plea for more comments on this here blog. It feels like people have been commenting when they see fit and that's as it should be. I'm just saying there's probably an artist out there whose work you like who would be happy to hear from you. Yesterday's attack on Charlie Hebdo hit me pretty hard.
First things first: I support freedom of expression and I deplore this attack in the strongest possible terms. My sympathies and thoughts are with the families and friends of the deceased, with the French people, and more broadly with all who cherish freedom.
My sympathies are not with those who have presumed to tell Charlie Hebdo what they should and shouldn't publish, as did White House Press Secretary Jay Carney a couple years ago: "Well, we are aware that a French magazine published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the Prophet Muhammad, and obviously, we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this."
And make no mistake, the objection isn't just that Charlie Hebdo's tone was too crude or satirical. It's not just cartoonists who get killed. The Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses was stabbed to death. In 2012, Salman Rushdie said he didn't think a novel like his would be published anymore because of a climate of fear and nervousness.
I deplore authoritarianism, be it religious or secular. Russian journalists are in danger if they are too critical of the Putin regime. After Anna Politkovskaya was murdered, the White House didn't question her judgment in what she had written about.
In a 2012 interview (after Charlie Hebdo's offices had been firebombed), editor Stéphane Charbonnier said, I'd rather die standing than live on my knees. We need more of that kind of courage, not less.
Even if you don't like the organ, or sequins, or Chopin (not my favorite either), it's worth seeing him play the bass line in the Revolutionary Étude with his feet (YouTube, about 3 minutes). It's full of measures like this:
When I watch movies, I pay attention to (among other things) lighting. I'm impressed by how cinematographers consistently get the light they want. I wish movies on DVD came with an alternate track that showed the whole set so you could see where the lights and cameras are and learn something about how it's done. That's asking a bit much, but hey—one can dream.
From an interview with Haskell Wexler:
... every producer I've ever worked for thinks that you spend too much time lighting because they think of lighting as illumination. At least in those days, if you have enough light to shoot the picture, what are you fucking around for? And... that's a good question. (laughs)Happy MMXV, everyone.