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By Ryan

NobelAlfredEFSWith all the controversy surround President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize win, little discussion has taken place regarding the other 2009 Nobel laureates.  This is surprising given that not only is the Nobel the most distinguished award in Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Peace, Medicine, and Economics, but that, as usual, most of the winners are from the United States.  Yes, those United States.  Come on, Europe, what are doing over there?  Let’s break it down.


Willard S. Boyle (dual citizenship—Canada, U.S.) and George E. Smith (U.S.) “for the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit.”  This sounds pretty good, until you realize that Boyle and Smith invented their charge-coupled device at AT&T in 1969.  Really, no one did anything more impressive in physics last year?  Or the last 40 years?


Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (India, U.K.), Thomas A. Steitz (U.S.), and Ada E. Yonath (Israel) “for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome.”  A female winner from Israel?  Now, we’re talking.  I guess technically Ramakrishnan works in Cambridge, but he was born in India and educated in the U.S.


Herta Müller (Germany) “who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed.”  Alright, finally, a true European.  This category is usually pretty favorable to Europe, with Toni Morrison (1993) the only U.S. writer to win the award in the last twenty years.

Physiology or Medicine

Elizabeth H. Blackburn (U.S., Australia), Carol W. Greider (U.S.), and Jack W. Szostak (U.S., U.K.) “for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by miniature bodyguards trained in the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu .”  I did not make that description up, I promise.  It makes sense that the U.S. would lead the way here, due to our heavily-funded medical research, about the only part of our healthcare system that’s worth celebrating.


Elinor Ostrom (U.S.), and Oliver Williamson (U.S.) “for analysis of economic governance.”  This one really gets me fired up.  The U.S. has had this category on lockdown since 2004.  Does the Nobel committee even read the newspapers?  If the U.S. has the best economists in the world, we’re surely misusing them.

In some ways it’s comforting to know that the rest of the world thinks we’re doing better than them.  But mostly it’s pretty disturbing when a country embattled in multiple wars, struggling with one of the worst health rates in the developed world, and scrapping by on poor economic indicators can take home the highest awards for peace, medicine, and economics.  If this is the best of what humans did in these fields last year, we’re all in serious trouble.


By Ryan

youtube-logoViacom’s $1 billion copyright-infringement lawsuit against YouTube seemed from the beginning more of a statement than an actual attempt to recover damages.  Hey, do not steal our stuff; we have top-notch lawyers and the ability to sue you for far more than you’re even worth.  But now, it seems that Viacom may actually have a solid case, based on recent evidence that suggests that YouTube employees were among those who illegally uploaded Viacom clips, and their managers knew about it.  Now, I don’t expect Viacom to be awarded $1 billion (Google only paid $1.65 billion for the entire company), but, as some experts are pointing out, this could have huge ramifications for YouTube, leading to at least a restructuring of how uploading clips works and perhaps even to a temporary shutdown.  While that’s probably a bit excessive, the primary question remains: does the profit Google makes from copyrighted clips exceed the promotional value of those clips being on the most popular video site in the world?

To be sure, I think user-uploading of full episodes of television shows anywhere on the internet is just as bad as uploading music, yet it is behavior that many users—myself included—benefit from.  We assume that because the show has already aired, everyone has been paid, and no one is hurt by watching it on YouTube instead of OnDemand, Hulu, or a network website.  The truth is that much of the 2007-2008 WGA strike that shut down television production was based on artists wanting returns for the burgeoning field of online video.

Still, if I just want to see a two-minute clip of David Letterman joking about his extortion situation, should I really have to sit through a 45-second ad?  Wouldn’t having that Letterman clip on YouTube actually promote interest in the show?  I recognize why full episodes shouldn’t be on YouTube, and I agree with such a sentiment, but I think clips usually serve to highlight one small thing that was funny or interesting about a show, which should serve to drive people towards the show.  And let’s face it: if I have to go to the CBS website, a site I never visit, to watch a Letterman clip, I probably just won’t watch it.  However, if that clip was on YouTube, I probably would, and it may even prompt me to tune in to The Late Show.

Of course, the difference between clips and full/part episodes can be tricky, and the distinction seems all but lost on most network executives.  Still, perhaps this Viacom-YouTube mess will lead somebody to figure out what’s an effective use of content that helps everybody, and what’s a clear violation of copyright.  And heaven help you, Viacom, if you lead to YouTube getting shutdown.

By Ryan

460523_poker_chipsPeople are interesting.  When it comes to their relationship with other people, they often struggle with commitment, afraid of investing too much of themselves in something that could potentially hurt them later on.  When faced with more abstract ideas, however, many tend to overvalue commitment to the point that it actually fosters a relationship of hurt with the very thing to which they commit.  I’ve done this, but I’m trying to do it less; I’ve found a helpful phrase to express this idea: choosing to not engage with things that don’t engage me.

Take, for example, the area of politics.  I’ve been so sick of politics, politicians, pundits, and the way we choose to talk about politics in 2009 that, frankly, my only experiences in a realm I once enjoyed have been mostly negative.  Almost every time I choose to engage with political ideas, via reading about them or talking about them, the end result is me feeling disappointed with myself and others.  Politics is prime area of interest that forces one to have conversations on the turf of others, refusing to meet the needs or interests of those not highly-attuned to what happens in D.C.

It’s not just politics, though.  I feel the same way about things that are more trivial (to some), like television.  I don’t care how long you’ve watched a series—if it’s bad now, then it’s not worth watching anymore.  People act like they’re “pot-committed” in poker; just because you’ve already put in a lot of money that you’re likely to lose is no reason to stay around and throw more money in the pot.  Furthermore, I can’t tell you how many people rave about certain shows that, upon viewing, I’ve stopped watching after the first episode.  Don’t tell me to “stick with it.”  If The Wire or Mad Men or whatever doesn’t make you want to watch more, then don’t watch more.  In fact, I think it’s kind of silly to watch more if that’s the case.

The same goes for reading a book, watching a movie, listening to music, going on a trip, going to church, etc.  This is your life; if you aren’t being engaged in a way that makes you want to engage, then, by all means, disengage.  There’s no prize for finishing something that you’re doing out of leisure, guilt, or self-assumed responsibility and you’re only hurting yourself to think there’s value in completion.

By Ryan

Okay, so I went away for a bit.  But I know you liked the podcasts.  And don’t tell me you didn’t click on every one of those links on Fridays.  Yes, it was summer, the time you’re most bored and also the time when I completely forget about maintaining any kind of update schedule for this blog.  Like Michael Jackson and propofol, it’s an unfortunate pairing.

Speaking of that, did you hear that he died?

HA!  Of course you did, it’s, like, literally, everywhere.  Literally.  I was watching The Battle Over Citizen Kane today, and one of the interviewees said that William Randolph Hurst literally shoved Marion Davies down the throats of the American public.  Naturally, I tried to find a picture of this, but to no avail.

Feel free to paint me one.

Look, we’ve got more of this burnished banter, along with fresh takes on social justice, pop culture, politics, and maybe even a poem or two in store for you this year at Reactionary Century.  Because we use school years here; calendars are so Mayan, and those guys predicted we’d be dead by 2012.  WE’LL SHOW THEM!

By Ryan

tonight-show-with-jay-lenoThe cool crowd, much like U2’s God, moves in mysterious ways.  Sometimes they back completely mainstream entertainment (Kanye West, Pixar movies, The Amazing Race, etc.), and sometimes they bristle at the very suggestion of liking something that’s remotely popular.  If you read the blogs—and you’re here, aren’t you?—you’ll notice that, as of late, Jay Leno has taken a beating simply for continuing his television career and, ostensibly, for not being Conan O’Brien.  And that’s not fair.

Before I start, let’s get one thing clear: I enjoy Conan as much as the next guy, unless the next guy is anyone under thirty with an “attitude” and internet access.  Seriously, the electronic-erotic-massage these bloggers give Conan is unbelievable.  He’s talented, sure, but he’s basically been doing a nerdier version of Letterman for fifteen years and still hasn’t figured out how to conduct a good interview.  He’s a bit like Robert Pollard (Guided by Voices): totally influenced by one source (Letterman, The Who, respectively), completely enthralling when you first get into their work, then less interesting (though still worthwhile and entertaining) when they hang around and do the same damn thing long enough that everyone has seen behind the curtain.  Let me put it this way: Conan’s good, but he’s not as good as you think he is.

Now on to Leno.  Here’s a guy who is a legendary standup comic (who still does over 150 dates a year), a consummate entertainer, and, by all accounts, one of the nicest guys in the business.  So he shoots down the middle.  Big deal.  Leno craves success, and he made The Tonight Show into a machine, one of the few valuable pieces NBC has left.  It’s also worth noting that Letterman too has expressed a desire to be number one, but he’s never been able to figure out how to grab the numbers Leno has.  There’s no shame in that: few can pull of the kind of universal humor that Leno trots out while still remaining inoffensive on issues of race, sex, and, most perhaps importantly, politics.

And it’s not that Leno isn’t funny; every time I watch his show—though I don’t watch late night television all that often—I laugh at something.  Is a lot of his material lowest-common-denominator?  Sure, but so is that of every other late night host.  You can’t play to a specific audience on a daily network show—it just doesn’t work.  Conan, Letterman, Ferguson, Kimmel, and even Stewart and Colbert do LCD too, though maybe in smaller doses.  That’s because Leno pioneered the monologue, transforming it from the three-or-four-minute bit it was under Carson to a fifteen minute centerpiece of the show.  When you do that much new material every night, you have to throw some cheap ones in there.

I don’t mind if people dislike Jay’s comedy, but to dislike him as a performer is downright stupid.  Regardless of how his new show works out, Leno will be remembered years from now as a legendary late-night host, a prolific and funny standup, and one of the nicest Hollywood guys of his day.  And the cool crowd might have you believe otherwise, except that by then they’ll be too busy burying Conan and praising whoever’s next.  I understand that’s just the way it works these days, I only wish people could see the longview and recognize that there’s nothing cool about trashing Leno.