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Humbled

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A fellow St. John’s alumn describes why the ridiculous “Safe Spaces” thing would never fly there

Fellow St. John’s alumn William Kowalski writes a post I should’ve written about how the current craze against anyone who might say something offensive to someone else would never fly at St. John’s. Here’s the good stuff, but the whole thing is worth a read:

…after four years of intensive practice, most of us were able–wonder of wonders–to hold a coherent, focused, two-hour conversation on topics such as what makes a good person, what is a just state, and what Kant meant by a priori knowledge (to name just three of an infinite number of topics).

The purpose of this was to get us to form our own understanding of complex subjects–the most complex of which was ultimately our own selves. It was a lot of reading and a lot of talking. When you spoke, you were guaranteed a respectful audience. If you said something that was poorly thought out, you were going to be challenged on it immediately. Not by the administration, or by the faculty, but by your peers. Furthermore, you were expected to listen respectfully to other viewpoints, some of which you might have found odious at first, but which you might have found yourself agreeing with after a while, to your great surprise–which was, after all, the point of the whole undertaking: not to reinforce the things you already believed, but to find the holes in your system, and either make the necessary repairs or tear the whole rickety structure down and begin again.

My letter to my representative in response to the 355th mass shooting in the US so far this year

Please use this website to look up your representative, and then feel free to copy, edit, and paste this letter to your heart’s content:

Dear Mr. Van Hollen,

It’s tough to describe the anger I have with every new mass shooting. It strikes at the heart of what I think about this country and what this says about us to the world, to say nothing of my pain for the victims. I am a loyal Democrat and understand you are in a competitive primary and running for Senate, so I just wanted to take this time so you can hear from a constituent that “thoughts and prayers” are not enough on this issue.

It’s time to move the bar – asking for something small in response to tragedy, after tragedy, after tragedy, all of them preventable, is not enough. The response to mass murder on this scale cannot simply be, “well we need stronger background checks.” It must be a full-scale cultural war waged against what Warren Burger called one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated on the American people. That is, special interest groups’ redefinition of the 2nd amendment.

In my mind, it ought to be repealed outright, and I am willing to get behind whatever movement is organized to undertake 2nd amendment repeal. However, former justice John Paul Stevens suggested a 5-word fix to the amendment, which would add “when serving in the Militia” to the amendment, just to make it absolutely crystal clear.

The point is that only suggesting half-measures in response to perhaps our greatest national shame is not likely to get us any further than we’ve already got, which is to say nowhere. The scale of this tragedy, and the scale of this shame, deserves an appropriately proportional response: assault weapons ban, the most stringent background checks possible, limits on the size of magazine clips for all weapons, mandatory waiting periods, higher taxes, and more. Essentially, the kitchen sink.

Thank you for your time and attention to this.

– Russell Max Simon

Islamophobia and Michel Houellebecq’s Submission

IMG_20151125_124321Apparently there is an absolutely sickening “spiraling out of control” of Islamophobia in America, which means I should probably finish my Houellebecq Submission post.

Most Americans only know Michel Houellebecq (if they know him at all) because of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France earlier this year, which occurred the week Hebdo put Houellebecq on its cover and the day Houellebecq’s new book, Submission, came out.

The Muslim terrorists who stormed the Hebdo offices and killed 11 were reportedly motivated by the book’s “blasphemy,” which envisions a near future in which Muslims win the French elections and begin to institute aspects of sharia law. Houellebecq, for his part, was reportedly grief stricken over the killings, and stopped promoting the book as a result.

Finally, a modern art exhibit that I love

Ai Wei Wei’s exhibit at the Royal Academy is the thing to see right now if you’re gonna to visit an art museum in London. To me, it’s what modern art should be, but hardly ever is: a clearly articulated, original, possibly provocative but essentially subversive vision – all of which is accessible to the layperson.

Ai himself stressed this last point. In one of the commentaries which accompanied the exhibit, he said that “of course you can not force anybody to thinking or to feel the same way, but you have a responsibility to make sure your language is clear.”

I couldn’t agree more.

What tribes do I identify with?

One of the best pieces I’ve ever read about what’s responsible for the Internet-outrage cycle comes from this past January, from Scott Alexander in New Statesman. It’s worth reading in absolute full and contains far too many excellent passages for me to excerpt any particular one.

Without getting in to the argument (again, read it for yourself), the story got me thinking about tribalism generally, specifically the tribes I identify with personally. These are the groups I give the benefit of the doubt, or instinctually feel as if I should defend. The groups whose bad behavior I am more likely to excuse.

Foundational Texts: The Myth of Sisyphus

Some time around College I read Camus’ The Stranger, which I loved for its final, climactic interrogation of faith. After finishing, I immediately went in search of other books by Camus and soon came across The Myth of Sisyphus.

I read the opening two lines, which were immediately and forever imprinted in my mind:

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.

Just to set your mind at ease, both Camus and myself answer this fundamental question in the affirmative. That is, life in fact is worth living. And yet The Myth of Sisyphus is still a constant presence for me. I still fundamentally question what life is and what about it makes it worth continuing on (though for sanity’s sake I have long since made an agreement with myself that this questioning will not result in a reversal of previous said conclusion regarding life).

Project Greenlight: It’s amazing how willing I was to forgive bad behavior in exchange for good art

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A few nights ago I watched The Leisure Class on HBO, the movie which was made during Season 4 of the resurrected Project Greenlight. This is the reality show in which Ben Affleck and Matt Damon pluck an aspiring filmmaker from nowhere and partner with HBO to give the director money, a script, and distribution. Dreams come true, roll credits.

Every episode of Project Greenlight was fascinating, beginning with HBO’s decision to “bet on the director,” not on the script they’d chosen to give that director. Their pick from among a panel of finalists was Jason Mann. This is the guy who basically walked into the final pitch session trashing the script while professing only minor interest in actually directing it as his first feature film.

Mizzou and Tim Tai: Un-fucking-believable

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For the base primer, read Conor Friedersdorf, “Campus Activists Weaponize ‘Safe Space.” The YouTube video of a student photographer on assignment from ESPN who inadvertently has become the story, is embedded in the piece, or you can watch it here.

Some of that student’s previous photographs for ESPN are here. Activists who shouted at him that he is an “unethical” journalist clearly haven’t seen these photographs… otherwise they would have invited him gladly into their quote-unquote, safe space – which, as Friedersdorf points out, is a public space, entitling Tim Tai, as a matter of law and the First Amendment, to take photographs there.

Watch, watch, watch the video. Here it is again.

Personal Identity as Commodity

Todd VanDerWerff over at Vox.com nails it (bolding is mine):

What links these seemingly dissimilar stories is a very basic fear — the idea that the internet as we knew it, the internet of five or 10 or 20 years ago, is going away as surely as print media, replaced by a new internet that reimagines personal identity as something easily commodified, that plays less on the desire for information or thoughtfulness than it does the desire for a quick jolt of emotion.

It’s an internet driven not by human beings, but by content, at all costs. And none of us — neither media professionals, nor readers — can stop it. Every single one of us is building it every single day.