Archive for the ‘Beachcombing’ Category

Beachcombing:
Summer Hours
July 2012

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

¶ Tom Phillips has served, amazingly, as the British Ambassador to both Saudi Arabia and Israel. His ten-point argument that “There May Never Be Peace” in the Middle East is chillingly convincing. Much seems to depend, however, upon continued US support for Israel. That’s rock-solid now, to judge by appearances, but few things are more fickle than foreign policy. (Prospect; via The Browser) ¶ A number of items appeared during July that helpfully explain just what “Alawite” means in Syrian affairs, and why talk of an “Alawite homeland” is (probably) nonsense. Here are two: Joshua Landis (Eurasia Review; via The Browser); Faisal Al Yafai (The National; via Real Clear World). Plus a very useful essay on the origins of the Alawi “heresy” by Steve Tamari. (Jadaliyya; via The Browser)

¶ Our first response to V X Sterne’s confession that he’s finding it a bit tricky to compose a meaningful profile for online dating sites was to recommend slipping in a link to Outer Life. That way, prospective girlfriends could read all about it. Our instant second response was to scratch that. Would they be “reading all about it,” really? And would VX want them to? For all its discretion and anonymity, Outer Life manages to be rigorously unsparing without being at all self-indulgent. A pleasure to read, but not compliant with generally-accepted principles of advertising. ¶ We’re not sure that we followed everything that Rebeka Cox has to say about identity in the age of WiFi, but the gist of it is certainly intriguing: “I think in its most basic form, your identity is the product of how you manage your attention and others’ access to that attention.” (Quora; via Snarkmarket) ¶ In “Happy Birthday Dad,” Steeforth wishes that his father were still around, for his 86th birthday. A beautiful card. (The Age of Uncertainty)

¶ How nice to see Maria Bustillos at Page-Turner. She confronts the awful truth about not being able to read everything, and confronts it with recommendations by Orwell, Miller, and others. (We would not have picked Ms Bustillos as a likely fan of Ivy Compton-Burnett!) ¶ At the Awl, she interviews Tom Scocca, whose Beijing Welcomes You has just come out. Quite beside the point, but most memorably, Scocca opines that (the Times column) “‘Modern Love’ is, to me, basically an ongoing crime against humanity. (The Awl) ¶ Greer Mansfield considers Lawrence Durrell, whose centenary year this is. (Bookslut)

Durrell fans are still devoted to the series. Current bookchat writers, when they mention it at all, seem fixated on (and a bit embarrassed by) its luxuriant prose style. “Purple prose” is the lazy epithet that critics use for this sort of thing, forgetting that a rich prose like Durrell’s paints with a variety of colors. The merely verbose writer uses an inflated vocabulary to avoid contact with anything graspable; this isn’t the same as a writer who has a sensual love of the language and the things it describes.

¶ At The House Next Door, Odie Henderson argues con brio that Steve Martin’s Roxanne is an improvement upon Rostand’s original. (We’ve always thought so, too.) ¶ At The Hairpin, Kase Wickman talks to Lauren Greenfield about her friendship with the Queen of Versailles, Jackie Siegel. ¶ Also at The Hairpin, Anne Helen Petersen combs out the career of Warren Beatty, with many dishy pictures. ¶ Scott Esposito holds up Geoff Dyer’s Zona to the clear light of Roland Barthes’s S/Z and finds it wanting; but he also makes Dyer’s book sound a lot more readable. But then we always roll our eyes when Dyer talks theory. (Barnes and Noble Review; via Conversational Reading) ¶ Scott also tips us off to another smackdown of sorts, Brian Platzer’s argument that The Art of Fielding is no more “literary” than The Hunger Games. (Salon) ¶ Lesley Downer reviews Timon Creech’s Obtaining Images: Art, Production and Display in Edo Japan, calling it “a beautiful book, full of insights on every page.” If the review itself is any indication, we’ve got to get a copy! (Literary Review; via 3 Quarks Daily) ¶ Julian Barnes, in a piece about his book-buying life, puts it with the artful simplicity of a great Latin motto: “The dividing line between books I liked, books I thought I would like, books I hoped I would like and books I didn’t like now but thought I might at some future date was rarely distinct.” (Guardian; via Arts Journal) ¶ PEN alert from Turkey: works by William Burroughs and Chuck Palahniuk may be unpublishable as “obscene.” Nobody actually reads Burroughs in Turkey (or out of college anywhere, we’d venture), but “Palahniuk is popular.” It will be interesting to see how that distinction plays out in currently-postponed judgments. (via The Millions) ¶ At the Guardian, P D James answers readers’ questions. Autumn is the season for murder.

¶ Bill Morris extols the Fifth Edition of the (traditionally prescriptivist) American Heritage Dictionary, calling it fun to read; but he wonders how in hell Steven Pinker was assigned the introductory essay? (The Millions)

I can still remember the night in high school when I finished typing up a 17-page paper on my latest passion, Albert Camus. It was due the next morning, and I took it downstairs to present it to my father, terribly proud of myself. He read the opening sentence and immediately reached for the Cross pen in his shirt pocket. I looked on, aghast, as he circled a word in ink. He read the sentence aloud: “Before his premature death in a car crash in 1960 at the age of 46, Albert Camus had cemented his reputation as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.”  Then my father said, “The word premature usually refers to a birth that takes place before the baby is ready. Untimely is the word you want if you’re referring to a man’s death at a relatively early age. Or possibly inopportune.” He continued to carve up my paper with ink marks, then sent me back upstairs to rework it. I spent most of the night editing and retyping the mess. Of course I got an A+ for the paper. Far more important, I’ve never forgotten the difference between premature and untimely.

¶ Three pieces from The Bygone Bureau, jolly, triste, and amazed by turns. ¶ Not just a great letter (to Maurice Sendak, telling him not to mope about his “vagueries“), but a good picture, too, of legendary children’s-book publisher Ursula Nordstrom, @ Letters of Note. ¶ Elon Green writes about the beginning of Maureen Dowd’s long career at the Times, recalling the AIDS beat that never was. (The Awl) ¶ Dylan Nice (still a young man today) looks back to his freshman year of college, and the dent that George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” put in his backwoods armor. ”In the span of a few thousand words over a half-century old, the world got bigger for me in a quiet way.” (The Rumpus) ¶ Maria Popova continues her exploration of not-new books about imagination and discovery with An Anatomy of Inspiration, a “slim” volume from 1942 by Rosamund Harding. How did notions of inborn genius survive books like this? (Brain Pickings)

¶ July 2012 is going to be remembered as the month in which former Master of the Universe Sandford Weill surprised everyone by calling for a restoration of a Glass-Steagall-like barrier between investment banking and deposit banking. We take this as the sign that Big is no longer Beautiful. James Kwak seems to have seen it coming at the end of June: “Who Wants Big Banks?” (Baseline Scenario) ¶ Felix Salmon argues that Smaller is Better because small organizations have to compete for trust, but he is not optimistic about bank breakups. ¶ In another piece from this month, Felix dissects the problem of public education — his dramatis personae is worth the click all on its own — and urges that ”the management” — everyone from the principals to the President — work hard at giving up as much control as possible. Consolidation of power is, once again, a bad thing; yes indeed!   

¶ Sad but true: we remember when  Naked Came the Stranger came out, so to speak. Aside from the naughty bits, which were either improbable or Eeew!, it was a terrible book, a dumptruck of clichés excavated from lower drawers otherwise a-clatter with old bottles of whiskey. As Nicole Cliffe observes (though hardly from experience, one imagines, “the late 1960s were a golden era of terrible writing. (The Awl) ¶ Sadder but just as true: if they legalized marijuana, and it was as cheap as Matthew Iglesias says it would be, we’d be too old to care. (Slate; via The Morning News) ¶ At The Millions, Michael Bourne says grown-up things about the High Line, not that he doesn’t like it. “The underlying aesthetic of the park’s design may be a tad fatuous, girded as it is by unexamined assumptions about working-class authenticity, but the park itself is a gorgeously executed gem.” ¶ Who can tell us what Robert Sullivan is satirizing in “Me and My Adult Stroller“? (The Awl)

In fact, I have a great relationship with my pusher, Paul. Paul just graduated from Cornell, a finance major, and was already my personal assistant when he took on his extra duty. All I had to do was tweak his pay. Now, he gets to stay in shape while on the job, and the new arrangement keeps us at a healthy and ultimately more comfortable distance, since we now mostly communicate by cell phone and text.

New: ¶ John Simon is not only alive and well &c but blogging!

Have a Look: ¶ Ryan Brenizer’s photos of the derecho storm over Manhattan @ GOOD. (That’s exactly what it looked like from our balcony). ¶ What cricket looks like to Americans, @ kottke.org. ¶ The Saddest House in New York City, @ Scouting New York. ¶ Choreography for Plastic Army Men, @ Three Quarks Daily. ¶ Happy Birthday to Milton Glaser, @ Brain Pickings. ¶ Web Browsers Jason Kottke has known. ¶ New American Painting‘s list of ten most important post-2000 American painters. (via The Morning News) ¶ English Church Architecture. (via MetaFilter) ¶ Studio Bumpers. (The Awl) ¶ Higgs Boson Explained @ Brainiac.

Noted: ¶ DIY non-toxic household cleaners (also cheap), @ GOOD. ¶ Nige on Spem in alium. ¶Teju Cole on the “Man in a Turban.” (New Inquiry; via 3 Quarks Daily) ¶ At The Millions, a roundup of new fall books. Also: “A Beginner’s Guide to Alice Munro.” ¶ Kasia Ceplak-Mayr von Baldegg explains one of the more bizarre modern products, sliced bread. (The Atlantic; via The Morning News) ¶ Popehat’s Bar Exam Story. ¶ Alec Nevala-Lee on The Lehrer Affair. (The Rumpus) ¶ No buyers for Dawn Powell’s diaries. (Page-Turner) ¶ Daniel Gelernter’s blithely bad temper about intellectuals. (Chron Higher Ed), while Sean Collins calmly reconsiders Allan Bloom big book. (Spiked Review of Books; via Arts Journal) ¶ Wallis or Elizabeth? (The Awl) ¶ The gene behind cardboard tomatoes. (Not Exactly Rocket Science)

Beachcombing:
One Hundred Years Too Soon
June 2012

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

¶ James Baldwin’s letter to his fifteen year-old nephew (also James Baldwin) no longer seems as bitter as it might have done when written; the shock of Baldwin’s message has completely worn away, and we are left with the simple truth of what he says, which is, alas, still with us — check out “stop and frisk” on Google if you have doubts. (Letters of Note)

I said that it was intended that you should perish in the ghetto, perish by never being allowed to go behind the white man’s definitions, by never being allowed to spell your proper name. You have, and many of us have, defeated this intention; and, by a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grasp of reality. But these men are your brothers—your lost, younger brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.

¶ Proof that the legal system is seriously broken is offered in a series of entries at Popehat concerning a preposterous lawsuit against The Oatmeal. (Thanks, Megan!)

See, a legal threat like the one Charles Carreon sent — “shut up, delete your criticism of my client, give me $20,000, or I’ll file a federal lawsuit against you” — is unquestionably a form of bullying. It’s a form that’s endorsed by our broken legal system. Charles Carreon doesn’t have to speak the subtext, any more than the local lout has to tell the corner bodega-owner that “protection money” means “pay of we’ll trash your shop.” The message is plain to anyone who is at all familiar with the system, whether by experience or by cultural messages. What Charles Carreon’s letter conveyed was this: “It doesn’t matter if you’re in the right. It doesn’t matter if I’m in the wrong. It doesn’t matter that my client makes money off of traffic generated from its troglodytic users scraping content, and looks the other way with a smirk. It just doesn’t matter. Right often doesn’t prevail in our legal system. When it does, it is often ruinously expensive and unpleasant to secure. And on the way I will humiliate you, delve into private irrelevancies, harass your business associates and family, disrupt your sleep, stomp on your peace of mind, and consume huge precious swaths of your life. And, because the system is so bad at redressing frivolous lawsuits, I’ll get away with it even if I lose — which I won’t for years. Yield — stand and deliver — or suffer.”

Our system privileges Charles Carreon to issue that threat, rather than jailing or flogging him for it.

¶ No less screwed-up, in our view, is the idea that creative work posted on the Internet ought to be available without charge. Maria Bustillos and David Lowery (author of the “Letter to Emily“) discuss the possibility that legal arguments advanced by Lawrence Lessig and others have no foundation in the realities of excellence. (The Awl)

What this really is, is a simple political issue: a labor issue. It should be possible for a working musician to support a household without having to tour twelve months out of the year, just like it should be possible to live modestly on minimum wage (which it ain’t). But because “art” and “artists” are seen in our world less as craftsmen, and more like these special magical unicorns who are “compelled” to “make art” and can live on air, we are taking our eyes off the ball. Let’s agree on the obvious, and figure out how we can all be paid fairly for our work.

¶ Ian Hacking’s introduction to a new edition of Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm-shifting book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, appears at the Los Angeles Review of Books. Hacking notes that Kuhn was hostile to the development of “science studies,” a field of which his book more than any other factor caused explosive expansion. At issue, it seems, was truthiness. “Kuhn cannot take seriously that “there is some one full, objective, true account of nature.” Does this mean that he does not take truth seriously? Not at all.” ¶ Maria Popova’s appreciation of WIB Beveridge’s 1957 guide to The Art of Scientific Investigation suggests that this book ought to be as well-known as Kuhn’s. Beveridge certainly seems to have had an advance line on the Cognitive Revolution. (Brain Pickings)

It is not possible deliberately to create ideas or to control their creation. When a difficulty stimulates the mind, suggested solutions just automatically spring into the consciousness. The variety and quality of the suggestions are functions of how well prepared our mind is by past experience and education pertinent to the particular problem. What we can do deliberately is to prepare our minds in this way, voluntarily direct our thoughts to a certain problem, hold attention on that problem and appraise the various suggestions thrown up by the subconscious mind.

***

¶ Money — the problem with money — will always be with us. The worst of it is that, if money is not an end in itself (it can’t be), where should the pressure to acquire it let up? Robert Skidelsky and his son, Edward Skidelsky, explore the question in an essay, “In Praise of Leisure,” adapted from a forthcoming book. They find authority in that old fun-seeker, Bertrand Russell. (Chron Higher Ed; via Brainiac) 

We cannot expect a society trained in the servile and mechanical uses of time to become one of free men overnight. But we should not doubt that the task is, in principle, possible. Bertrand Russell, in an essay written just two years after Keynes’s effort—a further illustration of the stimulating effects of economic crisis—put the point with his usual clarity:

“It will be said that, while a little leisure is pleasant, men would not know how to fill their days if they had only four hours of work out of the 24. Insofar as this is true in the modern world, it is a condemnation of our civilization; it would not have been true at any earlier period. There was formerly a capacity for lightheartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. … The pleasures of urban populations have become mainly passive: seeing cinemas, watching football matches, listening to the radio, and so on. This results from the fact that their active energies are fully taken up with work; if they had more leisure, they would again enjoy pleasures in which they took an active part.”

¶ We can only imagine what Tyler Cowen, with the collapse of public trust at the forefront of his thinking, would make of the Skidelskys’ musings. “Politicians do not have enough trust that voters will reward them for being courageous, if that is the right word, and voters do not have enough trust that the political act is in fact one of courage.” (Marginal Revolution) ¶ Tyler’s observations make it difficult to see how to implement the spending program that Brad DeLong and Barry Eichengreen recommend urgently in their introduction to a new edition of Charles Kindleberger’s The World in Depression 1929-1939 (1973). ¶ It’s probably too late, anyway, suggests Michael Pettis, who asks “Will Globalization Go Bankrupt” at the thrillingly-titled site, Credit Writedowns. “The “Greenspan put” was once again exercised and the market bailed out, but as Hyman Minsky would probably have pointed out had he been alive, this would only ensure that the crisis, when it eventually came, would be worse.” ¶ We’re all going to hell in a handbasket, anyway, argues Chris Hayes in a new book, Twilight of the Elites, excerpted at The Nation. Oligarchy is inevitable!

Michels’s grim conclusion was that it was impossible for any party, no matter its belief system, to bring about democracy in practice. Oligarchy was inevitable. For any kind of institution with a democratic base to consolidate the legitimacy it needs to exist, it must have an organization that delegates tasks. The rank and file will not have the time, energy, wherewithal or inclination to participate in the many, often minute decisions necessary to keep the institution functioning. In fact, effectiveness, Michels argues convincingly, requires that these tasks be delegated to a small group of people with enough power to make decisions of consequence for the entire membership. Over time, this bureaucracy becomes a kind of permanent, full-time cadre of leadership. “Without wishing it,” Michels says, there grows up a great “gulf which divides the leaders from the masses.” The leaders now control the tools with which to manipulate the opinion of the masses and subvert the organization’s democratic process. “Thus the leaders, who were at first no more than the executive organs of the collective, will soon emancipate themselves from the mass and become independent of its control.”

All this flows inexorably from the nature of organization itself, Michels concludes, and he calls it “The Iron Law of Oligarchy”: “It is organization which gives birth to the dominion of the elected over the electors, of the mandataries over the mandators, of the delegates over the delegators. Who says organization says oligarchy.”

¶ So now we know why zombies are so big right now. But, argues Kristin Rawls at AlterNet (via The Millions),

It’s not zombies we have to fear. It’s the pervasiveness of the belief that extreme disparity is the natural state of things. It’s alarming that these attitudes persist without question or analysis amid media circuses that offer nothing but spectacle.

Zombies promise certain doom that we cannot possibly defeat. The promise of impending self-destruction, by contrast, offers us a shred of agency – that is, the slight possibility that we can fix this. And however small or unsatisfying this reminder may be, we can at least remember that we have a little more hope than, say, the characters who appear in “The Walking Dead.”

¶ Not so fast with the badmouthing of “media circuses”! The Wire star Wendell Pierce is using his ill-gotten (?) gains to irrigate food deserts in his native New Orleans. (GOOD)

***

¶ The most moving aspect of Jeremy Mesiano-Crookston’s collective interview with a handful of Trappist monks is the preoccupation with sin as an everyday, low-grade distraction from what’s important. It is quite as though these men have set up in a Colonial Williamsburg of the mind, one which catechism-defined souls still fall away from God. (The Awl). ¶ Richard Ford finds that, in Canada — the country, not his new novel — he feels released from “this fierce sense of American exigence.” (Guardian; via The Millions) ¶ At The Age of Uncertainty, Steerforth is careful to point out that, having grown up at Richmond, he is not a true Londoner. (We had the same feeling about growing up in Westchester.) But he highly recommends Craig Taylor’s collection of interviews with 200 Londoners.

¶ Felix Salmon goes straight to the heart of what’s useful about blogging (and what’s not) in his appraisal of the Jonah Lehrer kerfuffle. As Felix points out, you can be charged with plagiarizing yourself — repeating yourself is, in certain contexts (scientific ones, especially) tantamount to misrepresenting what you’re saying as new. So, instead of offering fascinating (but occasionally repetitive) magazine articles in blog format, Jonah ought to use Frontal Cortex as a notebook, for sketching ideas, noting links, and responding to commentary. Hard to put into practise, but a beacon to steer toward. ¶ In another vein altogether, Brian Platzer decides to put Imagine to the test, and faute de mieux pursues creativity with the aid of Dewar’s, and also with Red Bull and No-Doze, all in an attempt to resolve his desire to move to California. “My wife hugged me and called me an idiot in the way I liked.” I guess they’re staying in New York. (The Rumpus) ¶ Not surprisingly, David Edwards finds the atmosphere at a monastery/resort near Bordeaux more conducive to creativity. Who wouldn’t? Reading about “Le Laboratoire: a place where ideas could be born, evolve, and be “exhibited” to the public for feedback” had us reaching for the plonck. (GOOD)

¶ Satoshi Kanazawa believes that “less intelligent people are better at doing most things.” We hate to say it, but this sounds like a perfectly Japanese idea, as does the notion that extra intelligence is associated with other kinds of deviance. “Intelligent people are more likely to be nocturnal because humans are designed to wake up when the sun comes up and go to sleep when the sun goes down.” (Prospero; via Arts Journal) ¶ Is Felix Salmon saying something of the same when he cautions against the use of models as weak but plausible as the Gaussian copula? Probably not; possibly the very opposite. “Every bank has graybeards who love to talk about how tools like Gaussian copula functions or value-at-risk are massively inadequate. Those graybeards get a lot of lip-service.” ¶ One thing seems settled: male morality takes a nosedive when masculine appearances are at stake. “Nonetheless, these findings suggest that if ethical standards are a significant factor in your choice of financial advisors or real estate agents, it may be safer to go with Bernadette than with Bernie.” (Scientific American; via 3 Quarks Daily)

¶ Doubtless because we’re reading nothing but English fiction these days, and not recent English fiction at that, there appeared very little of interest on the books front during June. Culpa nostra. There was Tim Parks’s incredibly interesting “Found in Translation,” at the NYRB, about the extent to which Anglophone (especially American) fiction is consumed in translation by European readers with a strong background in English. (via Paperpools) ¶ At the Guardian, Greg Dyer manages to put a lid on the snark for a review of Jonathan Franzen’s new collection, Farther Away:

Franzen doesn’t engage with Tolstoy and Flaubert because he figures (I figure) that they can look after themselves. He prefers to deploy his power as a lobbyist, “a pleader on behalf of yet another underappreciated writer”. (In the case of Munro, Franzen seems somewhat to overstate the extent of her underappreciation.) No binoculars are needed to see the overlap between this kind of literary activism and his dedication to bird-watching and protection (the subject of the two longest pieces in the book). He’s pledged to the protection of endangered species of writers whose books are rarely but eagerly sighted in secondhand shops.

¶ And, at The New Yorker, Mark O’Connell brings out the tender subtext of How to Sharpen Pencils: “The idea of a broken pencil tip bringing into focus all the unhappiness of a person’s life is, on one level, a richly comic one, but on another level—and particularly when you realize that Rees started writing this book in the aftermath of the breakup of his marriage—it’s a quietly poignant one.” (via 3 Quarks Daily) 

¶ Jim Emerson’s Scanners is one of the best sites going for criticism of any kind — for the purpose and practise of criticism. Mention has already been made of his lord-’a'-mercy response to a “discussion” of film criticism between two Times staffers. Other great June entries included his respects for Andrew Sarris (noteworthy for generous quotes from the late critic) and a “non-review” of Moonrise Kingdom that changed our mind about going. (“Friendships are shared fantasies, conspiracies of affection and loyalties and imagination. So is love. And marriage. And family. And a scout troop. And a profession.”)

¶ Ela Bittencourt wraps up her remarks on Cindy Sherman with a compelling observation. (The House Next Door)

Finally, there’s the importance of the masks themselves; on film, but also in life, we are what we make ourselves out to be. The mask isn’t arbitrary. Through her many guises, Sherman demands that we look at it not as a wanton distraction or whimsy, or solely as a social convention, but as essence, asking how each particular mask is constructed, and what function it serves. In an inversion of the common understanding of the term, Sherman’s masks expose rather than conceal.

¶ The former V X Sterne is back at Outer Life, now nameless as well as anonymous. He is also wife-less, and, if we’re very lucky, we’ll get to see him build his new life insight by insight. “I fear that much of my life is, indeed, a lowest common denominator life, as so much of what I do is automatic and easy, most likely because I race through life so fast there’s no time to think.” That’s healthy fear to have. ¶ Jim Behrle concludes that there must be a God because, frankly, the world is just too weird to have happened by accident. ” Tapestries don’t lie, people! And there are lots of dragons on all kinds of tapestries. So dragons existed!” (The Awl) ¶ R P Bentall proposes to classify happness as a psychiatric disorder. “More importantly, the argument that happiness be excluded from future classifications of mental disorder merely on the grounds that it is not negatively valued carries the implication that value judgments should determine our approacah to psychiatric classification. Such a suggestion is clearly inimical to the spirit of psychopathology considered as a natural science.” (Journal of Medical Ethics; via Discover) ¶ The Awl has been running a series of pieces under the heading “Bad Influences.” We particularly liked Josh Fruhlinger’s contribution, “Giving Bad Advice to Kings.” ¶ We had great fun reading Brent Cox’s totally unscientific survey of bridesmaids and their dresses. “As for wearing it again, I would fish clothes from a foetid river before wearing that dress again.” (The Awl)

Have a Look: ¶ Seymour Chwast: Get Dressed @ Brain Pickings.  ¶ Elizabeth in Pantone. (via The Millions) ¶ 10 Best Decorative Arts History Books @ Design Sponge. ¶ Scout in the Keys: Vizcaya and the Dry Tortugas. (Scouting NY)

Noted: A new address for Mnémoglyphes. ¶ Susan Cheever @ Days of Yore. ¶ Postcards and Borges’s “Aleph.” (The Millions). ¶ Ted Wilsonreviews Facebook; runs for President. (The Rumpus) ¶ The Queen’s English Society gives up. (Guardian; via Arts Journal) ¶ June faves @ Brain Pickings: What makes the I Ching different; What is art? ¶ Bill Murray on avocados. (Esquire; via kottke.org)

Beachcombing:
Hole in the Middle
May 2012

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

¶ The most memorable long piece that we read this month was Michael Sandel’s essay ”How Markets Crowd Out Morals,” in the Boston Review. And the most compelling paragraph in the essay was certainly Sandel’s quizzical dismissal of Kenneth Arrow’s economics of love (the second of the two following).

It is easy to see how this economistic conception of virtue, if true, provides yet further grounds for extending markets into every sphere of life, including those traditionally governed by non-market values. If the supply of altruism, generosity, and civic virtue is fixed, like the supply of fossil fuels, then we should try to conserve it. The more we use, the less we have. On this assumption, relying more on markets and less on morals is a way of preserving a scarce resource.

But to those not steeped in economics, this way of thinking about the generous virtues is strange, even far-fetched. It ignores the possibility that our capacity for love and benevolence is not depleted with use but enlarged with practice. Think of a loving couple. If, over a lifetime, they asked little of one another, in hopes of hoarding their love, how well would they fare? Wouldn’t their love deepen rather than diminish the more they called upon it? Would they do better to treat one another in more calculating fashion, to conserve their love for the times they really needed it?

We came away from this not only refreshed but convinced that, one fine day, modern economists are going to take their place alongside the Scholastic “philosophers” of the late Middle Ages as spouters of nonsensical cant. (via The Browser; 5/29)

¶ J Luis Martín interviews Daron Acemoglu, co-author of Why Nations Fail, and a convincing discussion of the primacy of political institutions ensues. (Truman Factor; via The Browser; 5/2)

In Greece, for example, people don’t work hard and evade taxes not because of their inherent values or some ethnic disposition to such behavior, but because the incentives that have been created. Politicians created a system in which work was not rewarded, tax evasion was easy, almost encouraged, and clientelistic transfer payments made entrepreneurship and innovation less attractive.

¶ Every time we see a link to some TED presentation or other, we’re reminded of the fantasy, sprung when we were young, of learning difficult subjects (such as foreign languages) by “listening” to lectures on headsets — while asleep. We’ve watched a few of the videos and found them entertaining and “thought provoking,” although they’ve never inspired us to sit down and work out any of the thoughts provoked. That’s of course where the work, the real learning, would lie. Learning is hard work, and watching TED videos is easy. So: we were not horribly upset or disappointed by the Hanauer Affair, nor alarmed to read that the heart of TED is a Davos-level confab for moneyed brainiacs (who probably aren’t very good listeners anyway). (Good; Salon; 5/24) 

¶ John Scalzi explains the matter in plain terms: In the game of life, “straight white male” is the lowest difficulty setting. It’s a pity that so many of us are under the impression that they’re keeping the world turning. (via kottke.org; 5/24) ¶ Don’t miss the always-amazing Maria Bustillo’s take on “l’affaire Scalzi,” as she calls it. (The Awl) ¶ Are you a guy who’s having trouble putting his finances in order? Studies show: you ought to get married. Then, perhaps, you’ll stop listening to “the swashbucklers and the cowboys,” according to Reformed (!) Broker Joshua Brown. (5/29)

¶ JRParis’s kiss-off to Nicolas Sarkozy reminds us of an abbreviated Declaration of Independence in which the sins nevertheless do pile up. (“Ses rodomontades.”) We’re glad to see his coattails, too. (5/9) ¶ As the United Kingdom celebrates the Queen’s 60th, we believe more than ever that the success is all hers, not that of “the monarchy” — which, a little bit of medieval history will teach you, always had to be reinvented by new incumbents. Nevertheless, it is nice to think that the Brits have figured out how to do the magic. (Globe and Mail; 5/29)

¶ Alison Bechdel’s new book, Are You My Mother, has just come out, and it’s certainly going to be one of the most talked-about things this month. Maud Newton interviews the author at Barnes and Noble Review. As graphic writers go, Bechdel, without stinting on the drawing, is decidedly at the writerly end of the range. She begins with blank frames and dialogue boxes; amazingly, her editor can make sense of this. (via Maud Newton; 5/3) ¶ Elif Batuman visits the (actual) Museum of Innocence, in Istanbul, writing a report that fills us to overflowing with envy and admiration. (LRB; 5/30)

The evening of the opening, Pamuk hosted a cocktail reception for 385 people on the terrace of a nearby restaurant. Waiters passed among the guests, distributing cloudy glasses of raki that looked exactly like the plastic replicas in the museum. I met Pamuk’s editor, who made my head explode by relating that, since he hadn’t ended up writing the novel in the form of a museum catalogue, Pamuk had recently decided to write the catalogue as a separate book. (The English translation, The Innocence of Objects, will be published later this year.) Borges could have written a four-page story about the madman who builds a museum while writing a novel about building the museum, but Pamuk wrote the novel, built the museum, and then wrote a book-length catalogue about it.

¶ Ellen Moody writes about Colm Tóibín, and the similarities between her own background and that of Eilis Lacey (Brooklyn). When Ellen notes how her feelings about Eilis changed at the end, it’s almost as thrilling as reading the novel. ¶ At The Bygone Bureau, Kevin Nguyen and Julie Disparte confer about Fifty Shades of Grey. Upshot? Kevin liked it better than he thought he would, but will not, unlike Julie, read the next two. (5/3) ¶ Jonah Lehrer’s Rumpus interview left us wondering what Lehrer thinks a book is for. On the one hand, he finds a book project to be a great excuse to explore all sorts of interesting things. On the other hand, a great many of those explorations would end up on the cutting-room floor, if it weren’t for miscellaneous publication in magazines. Next up: love. (5/4) ¶ Bezalel Stern interviews Damion Searls, the translator of Nescio’s Amsterdam Stories. (The Rumpus; 5/9)

One of the things I like about Nescio is that our sense of the Dutch character is so split: there are all these stereotypical boring, badly dressed businessmen and then the occasional flamboyant utter genius: Van Gogh, Rembrandt. How could Dutch culture produce both? I feel like Nescio is the missing link—he shows us both the bohemian visionaries and plodding bourgeoisie, each turning into the other, each from the other one’s point of view.

¶ Eventually, either Alan Hollinghurst or Andrew Motion will have to find a new literary executor (unless they die in a plane crash together, on the way to some awards ceremony — happily unlikely. With endearing cheek, Hollinghurst describes his first book, a collection of poems called Chats With Boys, “intensely rare.” (Guardian; via Arts Journal; 5/24) ¶ Speaking of Hollinghurst, our Man in Manila reminds us that literature does not grow on convenient bookshelves everywhere. ¶ Nige recommends casting a gimlet eye on the best-sellers on your shelves: they’ll probably be considered unreadable in a generation or two. Consider, as he did, Edward “Dark and Stormy Night” Bulwer-Lytton. Nige tried to, but was defeated by the writer’s “peerless unreadability.” (Nigeness) ¶ Two pieces on Joan Didion caught our eye: Maria Popova’s excerpts from “On Self-Respect,” a piece that, from Michelle Dean’s overview of early criticism of Didion, we learn was written in two days, to fill suddenly empty space in Vogue. (Brain Pickings; The Awl; 5/29)

¶ Alex Ross hails Andrew Ford for a valiant rebuttal to Steven Pinker’s claim that music is “auditory cheesecake.” But the column is important because it lays out the three simple steps to developing a musical intelligence. (Inside Story; via  The Rest Is Noise; 5/9) ¶ Leo Carey contemplates the voice of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the great German baritone who died on 18 May. There’s a lovely clip of DFD singing Schumann’s “Ich grolle nicht,” for all the world as though he was making it up as he went along. (New Yorker; 5/24)

¶ We heartily agree with Felix Salmon’s implication about Munch’s The Scream: it’s worth more money precisely because it’s not unique. Art in the Age of Branding.

And while the Scream is an extreme example of the phenomenon, it can be seen in every major modern and contemporary art auction. It explains pretty much all of Damien Hirst, for instance, not to mention Takashi Murakami, a man whose paintings go up in value proportionally with the number of Murakami Louis Vuitton handbags spotted in the wild.

All of which just softens you up for Felix’s amazing China kickler. (5/9)

¶ At AltScreen, Dan Callahan writes about Romy Schneider, whom he thinks has been forgotten. Not by us, for damn sure! How do we get our hands on all her French movies? (via The House Next Door; 5/3) ¶ At Café Muscato, a really good appreciation of Alice Faye. “Within her fach, as it were, there’s no one better, but there’s no denying it’s very narrow terrain.” ¶ Jim Emerson reminds us that the good critic’s bottom-line judgment is always the least interesting part of a review. (Scanners; 5/24)

¶ As only he can, Tom Scocca excoriates the food writers for lying about how long it takes to caramelize onions. Onions cannot be caramelized in ten minutes. One senses the anxieties of food editors: anything too difficult-sounding will put off readers (so it’s better to lie?) When we prepare onions for a quiche, they’re stirred over the lowest heat for upwards of two hours. (Slate; via The Awl; 5/4) ¶ If these were the bad old days, we’d probably say that Victoria Johnson has a great sense of direction foragirl. We, of course, never get lost — but then, we haven’t been to Venice yet. (The Awl; 5/24)

Have a Look: ¶ Maria Popova shares Alice and Martin Provensen, noting that Alice is still at it. (Brain Pickings; 5/2) ¶ Geoff Manaugh stretches topography a bit in search of the “Lost Lakes of the Empire State Building.” (BLDGBLOG) ¶ Steerforth picks up a Ladybird book from the Fifties and wishes that he’d been born in 1946. As only someone who wasn’t would. (The Age of Uncertainty) ¶ People born long after 1946 may never have appreciated the impact that American Gigolo had on men’s fashion. Chris Laverty fixes that. (Clothes on Film; 5/9) ¶ Well, not in our back pocket. (@ Joe.My.God) ¶ Popcorn Explained. (Brainiac; 5/24) ¶ Jane Hu on Felix Salmon on Gerhard Richter. (The Awl; 5/29)

Noted: ¶ Reformed Broker Brown joshes all that dirty old M&A spring-fever sex. (5/2) ¶ The Branson cube, smiling up from your drink. (Telegraph; via Kathleen!; 5/3) ¶ Broccoli it’s not:? “Roman Emperors, Up to AD 476 And Not Including Usurpers, In Order of How Hardcore Their Deaths Were.” (The Awl; 5/4) ¶ The Full English Breakfast via MetaFilter. (5/6) ¶ Jonathan Franzen gets a friendly, favorable review! (The Millions) ¶ Wayne Koestenbaum on parataxis. (Bookforum; via 3 Quarks Daily; 5/9) ¶ Douche Parking, @ kottke.org (5/24) ¶ Edward Mendelson on ”The Demonic Lionel Trilling“; we’d say more, but we haven’t digested it yet. (NYRB) ¶ You’ll be happy to know that Martin Amis lives in Cobble Hill because it’s “like living in the 1950s!” (Telegraph; via 3 Quarks Daily; 5/29)

Beachcombing:
Righteous
April 2012

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

¶ At Gene Expression, Razib Khan comments on Jonathan Haidt, whose book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, is just about the most interesting thing that we’ve read in the past year. (4/3)

Finally there’s the point about human flourishing, and Haidt’s contention that conservative political and social philosophy has a lot of insight in fostering human happiness. I agree with Haidt broadly on this. That’s why I’m a conservative. But a key point I want to inject here is that I personally am not the type of person who flourishes in a conservative society. I’m too individualistic, egotistic, and lacking in the depth of moral sentiments which are the human norm (I am a natural libertarian). This is why another important insight is that societies need internal structure and genuine diversity of niche, so that people with different lifestyles can flourish. There does need to be a Castro district in San Francisco, but there also needs to be conservative small towns which are relatively homogeneous in population and values.

¶ Maria Popova praises Stuart Firestein’s Ignorance: How It Drives Science, and does a dandy job of placing the book in the burgeoning field of wrongology. (Brain Pickings; 4/3) ¶ Jason Kottke considers Instagram and Facebook as “company towns.” (kottke.org) ¶ Why, Felix Salmon thinks, the $1 billion purchase of the former by the latter makes sense: “Think of it as a $1 billion way to make your parents’ status updates more interesting.” ¶ Why belle-époque Vienna still matters: Jonah Lehrer interviews Nobelist Eric Kandel, author of The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind and Brain: From Vienna 1900 to the Present. (Frontal Cortex; 4/13)

¶ ”What if Schools Weren’t Schools Anymore,” asks Liz Dwyer, reporting on an inquiry into education reform the reminds us of the Editor’s crackpot scheme. (GOOD) ¶ The poor design of the Retreat at Twin Lakes, the “gated community” in which George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin, confused essentially public roads with private driveways, making a trespasser, Zach Youngerman writes, out of almost any pedestrian. (Boston Globe; via Things; 4/18)

¶ Timothy Garton Ash explains why the major powers’ preoccupations elsewhere are working to a resurgent Turkey’s advantage. Questions for Syrians: to be Arabs in an Ottoman world again? (Globe and Mail; via Real Clear World; 4/13) ¶ Kaya Genç tells us why conservative backbiters created the plagiarism scandal out of thin air when Elif Shafak’s new novel, Honour, proved to be a hit. (LRB; 4/18) ¶ The interesting takeaway from Nicholas Burns’s Turkey-as-superpower piece is the argument that President Obama is playing a very smart game. (Globe; via Real Clear World; 4/30)

¶ Tadas Viskanta joins Joshua Brown in calling for more financial blog entries about the problems faced by ordinary investors.He notes that “by and large the finance and investment blogosphere exists apart from the everyday needs of most savers.” (Abnormal Returns; 4/3) ¶ Matt Stoller lists three things that progressive Democrats will have to learn how to do in order to beat back the neoliberal juggernaut: Get the voters to turn out in primaries; deliver goods (information, mostly) along with the arguments; and remount the neglected “radical” issues. (Naked Capitalism; 4/13) ¶ Blake Masters’s notes on Peter Thiel’s Startup 101 lectures will teach you a great deal about good business thinking, but we cite the piece because we agree with Mr Thiel’s first principle: “A startup messed up at its foundation cannont be fixed.” His example? Regarding the US Senate’s unrepresentative constitution, he writes, “Some say that’s a feature, not a bug. Whatever it is, we’re likely to be stuck with it for as long as this country exists.” Can we please have a real American Revolution? (via The Browser; 4/30)

¶ Peter Dinklage built a career on never playing leprechauns. And he doesn’t like “lucky” (NYT; 4/3):

Saying I was lucky negates the hard work I put in and spits on that guy who’s freezing his ass off back in Brooklyn. So I won’t say I’m lucky. I’m fortunate enough to find or attract very talented people.

¶ Something about Whit Stillman’s interview with David Coggins, at A Continuous Lean, suggests that Mr Stillman himself would have to be played by Colin Firth. ¶ Iris Veysey writes about the power of Edith Head’s costume designs for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. We always feel that Judy Barton’s clothes embody Scottie Ferguson’s ache for Madeleine Elster: he has to get rid of them. (Clothes on Film) ¶ We already knew this, and so did you, but Ben Fritz reminds us that movie trailers are evolving under serious pressure from the Internet, and movies along with them. (LA Times; via Arts Journal; 4/11) ¶ Josh Lieberman does his best to dust off the reputation of Orson Welles, which, if Google is any indication, is in pretty bad shape. (Splitsider) ¶ Jim Emerson shouts out Wesley Morris, a writer at the Globe who is only the fourth film critic to receive a Pulitzer Price. The entry includes generous extracts. Morris has his own voice and looks to be well worth following. (Scanners; 4/24)

¶ Levi Stahl wonders what we’d like if we had, or were, servants. Without literature, who would even think of such a question? (Ivebeenreadinglately; 4/13) ¶ Janet Potter lays down the rules — and now that she’s done so, everybody ought to know them — about introducing authors at bookstore readings. Basic rule: “Any synopsis you do give of the current book should be one sentence long.” Rule Nº 2: Don’t synopsize anything else. (The Millions; 4/30)

The literary life is famously short on pleasure, but it does equip its acolytes with tools for amusing others. Three cases in point: ¶ Rob Roberge remembers a particularly unsuccessful writing class that he was saddled with teaching; there were some good women in the class, but they were driven away by the two men, who ranged from creepy to creepier. (The Rumpus) ¶ Jim Behrle, who claims to be writing “on a blue Selectric II typewriter in a meadow filled with ducks” (he has “a very long extension cord”), unfurls a list of pitfalls to be avoided by would-be Roths: Brooklyn, Starbucks, adultery, &c. (The Awl). ¶ And the always edgy Jimmy Chen defends, sort of, his excellent infographic on modern literature. (HTMLGiant; 4/3)

I will not apologize for my non-inclusive list. This website’s width is 600 pixels, and I wanted the font to be legible, so you can imagine my constraints.

¶ Books that we loved when we were young but that make us wince now: Nadia Chaudhury polls a number of people familiar in the Blogosphere, but see if you can guess which writer Edmund White has outgrown. (The Awl; 4/5) ¶ Russell Smith agrees with the suggestion that we ventured the other day: How is Damien Hirst different from Thomas Kinkade? (Globe and Mail; via Arts Journal; 4/13) ¶ Brian Dillon’s catalogue essay on Damien Hirst places the artist in the Wunderkammer tradition. (Ruins of the 20th Century; 4/18) ¶ Two really good Rumpus interviews, with John Jeremiah Sullivan (“Yes, my whole interest in the early eighteenth century is a sublimated interest in the present.”) and Elif Batuman (“In a way, the Mike Daisey story was perfect for This American Life – except that this time they were victims of the hoax, which maybe interfered with how they covered it.”) Fab stuff. (4/30)

¶ Checking in at Wuthering Expectations, we found a raft of great entries, a few of them about the great Portuguese novelist, Eça de Queirós. “Modeling the Canon,” however, caught our fancy, with its demonstration that we can never know who the great writers are, because the readers of the future make it an open question. As if that weren’t bad enough, everyone has his or her own canon, and we’red quite unequally persuasive. (4/5) ¶ John Self’s write-up of Greg Baxter’s novel, The Apartment, is very appetizing. (Asylum; 4/13) ¶ Alizah Salario’s review of Leigh Stein’s The Fallback Plan is also an autobiographical fragment. (The Rumpus) ¶ “Very quickly these poor young men are reaching that critical juncture in life that decides everything, though they are heedless to this fact.” Kevin Nolan reviews Nescio (The Rumpus) ¶ We’re in no hurry for Maria Bustillos to make up her mind about Tom Bissell — no sooner does she scribble “v true” in the margin, than she hurls the book across the room. She makes us laugh! (LARB; via 3 Quarks Daily; 4/24)

¶ Helen DeWitt goes to Meeting (in Berlin) and silently applauds standing in silence. (Paperpools; 4/4) ¶ There are few surprises (for anyone familiar with the school) in Janet Reitman’s Rolling Stone story about Andrew Lohse, the Dartmouth undergrad who blew the whistle on his fraternity’s hazing rituals, and who may wind up the only man punished. (via The Morning News; 4/5) ¶ At The Rumpus, a collection of reader contributions on the conundrum of having sex without having a relationship: Friends with Benefits. (4/11)

¶ At The Age of Uncertainty, Steerforth looks back with fond regret on his dealings with publishers’ sales reps, even though as a rule they had no use for books as such. “When I left high-street bookselling, one of the things I really missed was having a good gossip with a rep.” (4/3) ¶ Levi Stahl reviews Emily Cockayne’s Cheek  by Jowl: A History of Neighbors, which seems to collect a great many grumbles from ages past. He reasonably concludes that the best way to avoid problems with the neighbors is to know them no better than strictly necessary. (I’ve Been Reading Lately; 4/4) ¶ We cite this Discover piece about Driverless Cars not because it’s astute but because it points to one of the gaping holes in American jurisprudence, the other being corporate-executive criminal library. Sometimes, don’t you know, the law has to be fundamentally updated. A government that controlled the roads on which driverless cars operated would also be the government that provided healthcare to occasional accidental victims: end of story. (4/30)

Have a Look:  ¶ Move over, Monet. Another stunning picture of water lilies at JRParis’s country retreat in Touraine. (Mnémoglyphes; 3/3) ¶ New from Rufus (with Helena Bonham Carter) @ Joe.My.God. ¶ Got a minue? Rear Window compressed @ kottke.org. (4/4) ¶ Fragments of a Gerard Hoffnung spoof interview, guaranteed to make you laugh unto weeping. (@ Nigeness; 4/5) ¶ Scouting NY tracks the Titanic trail in Manhattan. (4/11) ¶ The Existential Housecat, who speaks absolutely murdered French. (Thanks, Susan!) ¶ David Olivier has a vision. (Slimbolala; 4/18) ¶ “Should I Check My Email?Wendy MacNaughton thinks, probably not. (The Rumpus; 4/24) ¶ The Most Average Girl in the World, Florence Colgate. (Artifacting; via MetaFilter; 4/30)

Noted: ¶ Why you ought to have 3 children, or none. (New Yorker; 3/3) ¶ Shawn Cornally discovers the awful truth about American “schooling.” (GOOD; 4/4) ¶ Killer Book Club. (The Millions) ¶ Perez Hamilton. (via kottke.org; 4/5) ¶ The strangely breathtaking Ted Wilson writes about a movie that he hasn’t seen (involving a zoo) — natch. (The Rumpus; 4/11) James Surowiecki on “Club Med” and the globalization of hip surgery. (New Yorker; 4/13) ¶ Titanic fragment: How there came to be a Widener Library at Harvard. (Brainiac; 4/13) ¶ All about iceberg tracking. (MetaFilter) ¶ Terry Teachout discovers the jewel of his neighborhood, Fort Tryon Park. (About Last Night) ¶ George Frazier’s duende. (Ivy Style) ¶ Jason Diamond visits Chartwell Books. (Paris Review Daily; via The Morning News; 4/18) ¶ Gel, foam, or emulsion: Rishidev Chaudhuri knows from eggs. (3 Quarks Daily; 4/24) ¶ Coffee is a lot more expensive than you think. (GOOD; 4/30)

Beachcombing:
Then read some more.
March 2012

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

¶ Here’s a fascinating little video about robots that reminds us how important it is to sit down and think through the problem of jobs for people. These little Kiva fellows are doing work that no human being ought to be asked to do for an extended period, much less a career, so they’re not the problem. Ask yourself: why is there no national chain, no McDonald’s, of dry cleaners? What can we learn from that? (kottke.org; 3/29)

¶ Tony Judt’s widow, Jennifer Homans, writes that “ideas were a kind of emotion” for her husband, and what better evidence of this could we have than his determination to continue working through the ravages of ALS. This is what enabled Judt’s humanism to prevail over his intellectuality. (NYRB; 3/5) ¶ Kevin Hartnett is inspired by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s thoughts about colonialism and the “single story” to translate the concept to family dynamics. (The Millions; 3/8)

All parents tell single stories about their kids and all kids wish they didn’t. Single stories are the principle reason that, eventually, kids become so eager to leave home — they want to escape the simple narratives told about them since they were born, to jar their parents into recognizing that they’re no longer (and maybe never were) the person they were made out to be when they were eight years old.

¶ Richard Wolin visits China and delivers lectures on the impact of the Cultural Revolution upon French intellectuals. Quite aside from negotiating the tricky political implications of his scholarship, Wolin is disappointed by mindless modernizing. “I traveled to China in search of otherness and cultural difference, only to discover how homogenous and uniform the world has become.” (LARB; via 3 Quarks Daily; 3/16) ¶ Benjaming Fong, a scholar at Columbia, argues that the only way to keep the world from degenerating into Hannah Arendt’s “heap of things” is to conduct the Freudian psychoanalytic conversation. (NYT; via 3 Quarks Daily; 3/20) ¶ At The Crux, Julie Sedivy reports on the work of linguist William Labov, which suggests an interesting link between regional pronunciation and political alignment in the “Inland North.” (3/28) ¶ John Lanchester, I’ll bet, never expected to become the financial expert that he has become. He wouldn’t be so fresh if he did. What Marx got right and wrong, at 193. (LRB; via The Awl; 3/29)

¶ Benjamin Wallace considers TED, noting that the conferences founder, Richard Saul Wurman, plans new conferences in the original TED’s spirit, less packaged and high-minded than Chris Anderson’s curation. We think that Wurman is on the right traack: the only guests will be the speakers. (New York; via MetaFilter; 3/1) Wallace writes,

Until recently, the universal self-­actualizing creative ambition was to write a novel. Everyone has a novel in them, it was said. Now the fantasy has changed: Everyone has a TED Talk in them.

¶ Jonah Lehrer explains why the brain’s capacity for the subconscious parallel processing of massive amounts of data makes our emotions more reliable than our reasoned recollections. (Frontal Cortex; 3/2) ¶ Tim Requarth and Meehan Crist, however, argue that Mr Lehrer has gone too far in the claims about “creativity” (which, we agree, is an awfully nebulous portmanteau) in Imagine. (The Millions; 3/27) ¶ Laura McKenna casts a gimlet eye upon the Pinterest phenomenon. “We may never make that bucolic scene a reality, but in the meantime, Pinterest is making big money off letting adults play make-believe.” (GOOD; 3/5) ¶ Whatever you do, don’t go whining to Felix Salmon about the cost of living in New York City. It’s “the ultimate in parochialism.” (3/6) ¶ Speaking of reasons and emotions — well, you can’t, and Sam McNerny explains why (in case you hadn’t guessed) at Why We Reason (he’ll have to come up with a new title now!). “Reason” and “emotion” are ancient concepts, conceived in utter ignorance of neurology. But they’re hardily planted in our minds, and they’re proved to be helpful in explaining what neuroscientists are discovering about memory, decision-making, and so on. Now we’re on notice that, since neither reason nor emotion actually exists in the mind, the words are just as likely to skew our understanding. (via The Browser; 3/8) ¶ Alex Engebretson appreciates the thought of Marilynne Robinson, while noting that it takes no notice of intellectual trends emerging after her undergraduate days. Also:

She includes almost zero references to TV, movies, Facebook, celebs, or anything to do with pop culture. Her lonesome distance from the mainstream is eccentric, but it’s also what gives her essays their strange power to diagnose America’s discontents.

Indeed. (The Millions; 3/16) ¶ Flight simulator for the sociable soul: reading fiction really does exercise the brain, which, according to Annie Murphy Paul, “ does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.” (NYT; 3/19)

¶ For those of you who persist in regarding Harvard as some kind of school, Yves Smith has a bridge for sale. (Naked Capitalism; 3/5) ¶ Worst US President ever? Just what we thought: Andrew Jackson. Akim Reinhardt has good reason to leave a trail of tears. (3 Quarks Daily; 3/12) ¶ Felix Salmon makes us wonder: does the term “banking client” make sense? How did it come about that everyone expected banks to act altruistically? On the other hand, perhaps they ought to. (3/16) ¶ How do you feel about Mike Daisey “improving” a few anecdotes for his powerful, anti-Apple theatre piece, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs? Some people, it appears, believe that Daisey is to be saddled with the responsibilities of a journalist. We should have thought that it was enough that his monologue inspire real journalists to go after the story. We’re afraid, then, that Jen Paton seems to us to be confused. (3 Quarks Daily; 3/19) ¶ Ian McEwan writes (or speaks) with characteristic fluency about the drive to be first, experienced (to their surprise) by both Darwin and Einstein; and about the elegance exhibited by novel theories that find rapid acceptance. In short: the art of science. (Guardian; via Cosmic Variance; 3/27) ¶ Mark O’Connell thinks out loud about John D’Agata, Mike Daisey, and even Kony 2012, all in one go. “The poetry of fact is inevitably less poetic when the facts turn out to be counterfeit.” Hear, hear. (The Millions) ¶ And, while we’re on the subject of Mike Daisy, let’s hear from Maria Bustillos — who, having worked there, actually knows something about China — with an update on “orientalism.” (The Awl; 3/29) 

¶ Rohan Maitzen proposes a return to the free and impressionistic criticism  exemplified by the two series of Common Reader pieces written by the very uncommon Virginia Woolf. (Open Letters Monthly; via 3 Quarks Daily) ¶ Also arguing that we need to re-establish a common language that explains the world to non-specialists, Carl Zimmer proposes Alan Alda’s Flame Challenge. (The Loom; 3/5) ¶ Never mind bad books; Tim Parks wonders if it’s really necessary to finish reading the good ones. (NYRBlog) ¶ Everyone wants to beat up on Jonathan Franzen, most recently for writing that Edith Wharton wasn’t pretty, and have to agree that he brings this hostility upon himself. We should have said that what made Edith Wharton unattractive was her impatient intelligence, which was a great deal less becoming in constrained Old New York (which she quitted) than any degree of plainness. In any case, we’re glad that Laura Miller sees Franzen’s point. (Salon; 3/16) ¶ Notes on Edith Wharton br Francine Prose, who is unblinking but also unjudging about Wharton’s casual, cringe-making anti-semitism. (NYRBlog; 3/22) ¶ Cory MacLauchlin is tantalized by the possibility of palpating the manuscript of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. No such luck, but a warm reminder of what is still a prime example of the posthumous hit. (The Millions; 3/26) ¶ Michael Hingston writes admiringly of Lysley Tenorio’s linked story collection, Monstress. (The Rumpus) ¶ Michelle Dean wishes that she’d been there when Wallace Stevens took a swing at Ernest Hemingway — and broke his hand. (The Rumpus; 3/27)

¶ Nicole Cliffe captures the great fun of having read The Secret History, which certainly would have inspired us to major in Classics, had we been younger. Also: why nobody will ever make a successful film adaptation. And don’t skip the discussion questions. By the way, Nicole, The Little Friend is pretty good, too; it’s sort of Harper Lee’s second novel. (The Awl; 3/22) ¶ Susan Orlean @ Days of Yore: “Write, write, write, and then read. Then read some more. Then sit down and write some more. (3/27) ¶ We have no idea what makes this timely, but Karen Cook’s Village Voice appreciation of Louise Fitzhugh, the creatrix of Harriet the Spy, is clearly General Delivery. (via MetaFilter; 3/29)

¶ Whit Stillman has a new film coming out next months, his first since the Nineties. To prepare for Damsels in Distress, have a look at Lindsey Bahr’s review of Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco, at least two of which are concerned with such damsels. (Splitsider; 3/1) ¶ A profile of Whit Stillman, who “extols the overlooked merits of convention and the hidden virtues of the status quo.” As who wouldn’t, with such wicked stepmother issues. (NYT; 3/19) ¶ Even we were too young to watch Sid Caesar when he was new, and our appreciation of his artistry has nothing to do with nostalgia. Speaking of Artistry, nobody has mentioned the undoubtable influence of Caesar’s Aggravation Boulevard on the new Best Picture. (Splitsider; 3/2)

¶ Julia Felsenthal’s “curious history” of faux-traditional West African prints reminds us of globalization’s dense colonial roots. (Slate; via The Morning News; 3/5) ¶ Kyo Maclear visits The Monkey’s Paw used bookshop in Toronto, and realizes something that it’s easy to overlook in this networked world: the connection between a reader and a book is unique. No two people like a book in quite the same way. And every book is dead when it isn’t being read. (The Millions; 3/12) ¶ We’re all for livening up symphony orchestra concerts, but fisticuffs in the box seats is going too far! (Sun-Times; via Arts Journal; 3/16) ¶ How gurls talk! Mary HK Choi and Natasha Vargas-Cooper dish The Hunger Games. (The Awl; 3/26) ¶ JR Paris recalls a former friend who used to eat dinner seated in a chair at his open refrigerator while driving himself crazy reacting to radio news. That’s wilder than any of the Watergate characters he’s reading about in Thomas Mallon’s novel! (Mnémoglyphes; 3/27) ¶ Felix Salmon explains Damien Hirst (3/28):

Hirst, for better or worse, has moved himself out of the art market and into the consumption-goods market: he manufactures art works, sets the prices for them, and sells them to anybody willing to buy them. Once you have bought a Hirst, you then exhibit it as a way of displaying your wealth and, um, taste. Hirsts have not been a speculative investment since 2008, and I very much doubt the Tate retrospective is going to change that.

Have a Look: ¶ Maria Popova’s selection of vintage posters from 20th Century Travel. (Brain Pickings; 3/3) ¶ The new look at kottke.org, which reminds us of what we did almost two years ago. Except of course for the vastly superior tech. Where can we buy some of that? (3/5) ¶ Intersections in the Age of Driverless Cars. (@ kottke.org; 3/19) ¶ Melissa Broder’s Lit Scene Tarot. (HTMLGiant; 3/22) ¶ Clothes link the characters in the two tales of W./E. (Clothes on Film; 3/27)

Noted: ¶ Count Lustig’s Ten Commandments for Con Men. (Lists of Note; via kottke.org; 3/1) ¶ Hey girl. Ryan Gosling meme roundup @ MetaFilter. (3/2) ¶ Tyler Cowen is “pleased to have no middle initial.” ¶ The actual Irish speak up: “We don’t really like “Danny Boy.” (IrishTimes; via Real Clear World; 3/5) ¶ Next time you cut your finger, save a life. (GOOD) ¶ What happens to clothes that you donate. (GOOD; 3/8) ¶ Armistead Maupin looks back sweetly to the days of writing on carbon paper. (Guardian; via The Browser)  ¶ Jed Perl thinks not highly of Cindy Sherman. (New Republic; 3/16) ¶ Tyler Cowen is enjoying his advance copy of Sergio de la Pava’s A Naked Singularity. (3/19) ¶ Books Re-read by Helen DeWitt. ¶ 42 Common Kitchen Fails. (via The Morning News; 3/21) ¶ Vita Sackville-West @ HiLobrow (3/26) ¶ Tumblr: the public commonplace? (The Millions) ¶ The hygiene hypothesis regarding autoimmune diseases. (80beats; 3/27) ¶ “Fighting Polluters Pits Environmental Groups Against Each Other.” (GOOD; 3/28)

Beachcombing:
Blocking Coalition
February 2012

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

¶ At Grantland,Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier foresee the death of the NFL over the next ten to fifteen years. (via Marginal Revolution; 2/13)

This outcome may sound ridiculous, but the collapse of football is more likely than you might think. If recent history has shown anything, it is that observers cannot easily imagine the big changes in advance. Very few people were predicting the collapse of the Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany, or the rise of China as an economic power. Once you start thinking through how the status quo might unravel, a sports universe without the NFL at its center no longer seems absurd.

¶ Whatever else you make of it, we think that Maureen Tkacik’s consideration of Walter Isaacson’s book suggests that the hitherto much-admired biography is not likely to be the last word about Steve Jobsor the manufacturing practices that made him rich. Tkacik also sounds a new alarm (Reuters; via The Millions) :

t gradually dawned on me after this encounter that much of the cultural nonsense I presumed had died with the tech bubble was alive and well. Especially wherever brands had adequately inoculated themselves against the threat of the proverbial “burst,” which in this case just happened to involve a ban on bubblegum. And the nonsense was proliferating. It occurred to me at some point that exploitation would be accepted as so fundamental to the general “lifestyle” that slavery itself could be recast in the jargon of “aspiration.”

¶ What’s the most exciting part of Jonah Lehrer’s piece about “obliviating potions” at Wired? It’s hard to say, there are so many. This long read about the latest thinking about the nature of memory, plus treatments that have chemically enhanced the talking cure to free some patients of intolerable PTSD, suggests, even more than Mr Lehrer’s reports usually do, that we are speeding down the Informatioin Superhighway toward unimaginable destinations. (via The Browser; 2/20) ¶ On the occasion of what would have been David Foster Wallace’s fiftieth birthday, Letters of Note publishes an anguished plea for advice sent to Don DeLillo when Wallace was 33. (2/27)

This is not coming across like I want it to; I can’t make this clear. Maybe your work is this form of profound marriage only to and for me; maybe it’s some weird subjective misprision that has to do with me and not your fiction; maybe you have no thoughts on how you’ve come to make (apparent) Respect and Dedication seem so fuck-all much (apparent) Fun. If you do have any thoughts — together with a couple minutes to rub together — I’d be grateful for them. I’m about as professionally flummoxed as I’ve ever been.

¶ The Economist reviews the new Charles Murray book. “Your own columnist, a jaundiced Brit residing temporarily in a SuperZip, wonders how the lower class will respond to hearing that the main help it needs is an infusion of its betters’ morals.” Indeed. (2/8) ¶ Axel Preston considers four new novels inspired by Trollope’s classic, The Way We Live Now, and argues that they do indeed have to be set in London. We can’t wait for the Lanchester! (Guardian; via Arts Journal; 2/13) ¶ Andrea Scrima writes about Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods as the political tract that, however funny, it really is. (The Rumpus; 2/17)

When Renée says: “You could argue that a deal that asks you to do something physically disgusting for a limited period, and gives you free use of your own mind in exchange, is actually not such a bad bargain,” what DeWitt really seems to be addressing is the agony of not having free use of your own mind, of being hindered by the exigencies of making a living, trapped in stupefying wage-earning work and forced to perform a mundane function that serves someone else’s purposes. In an America obsessed with success and failure, with getting a shot at the ever-elusive American dream, it’s the plight of a brilliant mind with a set of skills not immediately convertible into currency—damned to being part of the ant colony, the beehive, to eking out the hours in a task far below its capacities—that pains us the most.

¶ Not so fast, cautions Tyler Cowen, reviewing ballyhooed experiments showing that rich people are more likely than others to cheat and to steal. We didn’t buy it, either, but Tyler does a better job than we could of putting the “results” where they belong. (2/28) ¶ Why this is a good time to invest; no, seriously. (Abnormal Returns, 2/29)

¶ Don’t be surprised if the permanent title of this month’s edition of Beachcoming (affixed when it is no longer a page in progress) turns out to be ”Blocking Coalition.” We’ve just come across the term in an entry at Overcoming Bias. Robin Hansonasks why companies pay consultants so much money for what is basically the advice of recent college graduates. He answers that the prestige of the consulting firms enables CEOs to undermine the “blocking coalitions” that in any large organization emerge as a mutual-protection society among senior bureaucrats. We’re not persuaded that consulting firms contribute anything of actual value, but we’re delighted to have such a sterling addition to our collection of reasons why large corporations make no sense. When Mr Hanson writes, “My guess is that most intellectuals underestimate just how dysfunctional most firms are,” we hope that he’s right, and we hope that they’ll wake up. (via The Morning News; 2/3) ¶ According to Farhad Manjoo, even without a Facebook IPO, Mark Zukerberg has made Silicon Valley’s engineers richer — by refusing to cooperate in an anti-poaching scheme currently in anti-trust litigation. (Pando daily; via Abnormal Returns; 2/6) ¶ We don’t allow New York Magazine in the house, and Chris Lehman’s dismantlement of Gabriel Sherman’s intellectually vegetative report from a Wall Street “emasculated” by financial regulation reminds us why. (The Awl) ¶ Although he recommends reading the Sherman piece, Joshua Brown retains our trust with his complaint that “No One Is Ever Wrong Anymore.” (The Reformed Broker; 2/7) ¶ Too brilliant for words: an unprecedented way of making schoolwork benefit everybody!

According to the Wikimedia Foundation blog,professors from nine nations are participating in the two-year-old Wikipedia Education Program, which allows them to assign articles to their students. In the United States, about 50 classes are participating in the editing effort. Student contributors “are expected to put in as much work into the Wikipedia assignments as they would put into a term paper or other large assignment,” the program’s founders say.

We think that this is only marginally less amazing, and vastly more useful, than squaring the circle. (GOOD; 2/23) ¶ Nick Paumgarten went to Davos this year, and Felix Salmon assures us that he got it more or less right the first time, even though that’s not supposed to happen. From this week’s New Yorker (2/28):

People like to project onto Davos their fears and fantasies about the way the world works. Right-wingers see insidious, delusional liberalism, in its stakeholder ethos and its pretense of world improvement. They picture a bunch of Keynesians, Continentals, and self-dealing do-gooders participating in some kind of off-the-books top-down command-control charade. Left-wingers conjure a plutocratic cabal, a Star Chamber of master puppeteers, the one per cent—or .01 per cent, really—deciding the world’s fate behind a curtain of heavy security and utopian doublespeak. The uninvited, the refuseniks, and even many of the participants see a colossal discharge of hot air, a peacock strut.

¶ Jonathan Franzen may be convinced that serious readers will always prefer books, but Avi Steinberg, exploring the latest developments in librarian porn, reveals apocalyptic misgivings. (The Paris Review; via MetaFilter; 2/1) ¶ Writing about Pulpheadwith great élan, M Rebecca Otto asks, “The question facing us at millennium’s end was: how can we possibly survive all this goddamn freedom?” Indeed. (The Rumpus; 2/1) ¶ Reif Larsen writes about infogasms; the powers and pitfalls of visual storytelling. (The Millions; 2/8) ¶ Catching up with Levi Stahl’s blog, we came across some invaluable musings about Barbara Pym, Iris Murdoch, and Anthony Powell, dating from the middle of last month. Our apologies! (I’ve Been Reading Lately) ¶ Abby Mims, surrounded by cancer, appreciates Joan Didion more than ever. “I feel I will live much the same haunted way when my mother dies.” (The Rumpus; 2/13) ¶ Do not fail to read Maria Bustillos’s amused but fertile essay on romance fiction, which contains one of the clearest analyses of genre fiction that we’ve ever come across. Hint to male would-be romance writers: women do not appraise themselves admiringly in the mirror. No, sir. (The Awl; 2/14) ¶ At The Point, a lengthy, anti-”liberal” defense of David Foster Wallace in particular and the experimental novel in general, by Jon Baskin. Or is it an attack on Jonathan Franzen and the anti-American novel? Whichever, it’s quite well-written and -thought-out, even if it does almost completely overlook both writers’ problems with American family life. (via 3 Quarks Daily; 2/20) ¶ An anonymous philosophy grad student appraises Jane Austen as a moral philosopher and finds that she’s very good at it. Curiously, he seems to believe that Austen’s fiction is unrealistic, and that her plots and characters are mere confections designed to illustrate her philosophy. We suppose that it is a lot to ask, to expect a philosopher, especially one in graduate school, to understand the comic. (The Philosopher’s Beard; via The Browser) ¶ Colm Tóibín speculates on the role of parental death or frustration in the making of a writer. “…the idea that I was writing, pushing myself to work, almost because they could not or did not…” (Guardian; via The Browser; 2/27) ¶ Lisa Peel reminds us of the strange career and luminous work of Walker Percy, whose The Moviegoer we’re thinking of re-reading as a result. (The Millions; 2/29)

¶ A brief but sobering essay on how persistent racism in America can ”grind a man or woman down in horrible ways,” by James McBride, who is not best pleased that Oscar nominations are still being handed out to black actors who play housemaids. (40Acres; via MetaFilter; 2/1) ¶ Jason Kottke notes what looks to us like a Jobs Hangover: a minitrend of entrepreneurs who have slowed down since Steve Jobs died. Was Jobs “the John Henry of our time?” The exciting thing is realizing how unimaginable such misgivings among men would have been a generation ago.(2/8) ¶ Choire Sicha implores the young people of Gotham to “put a fucking boot in the face of the soulless careerist.” Don’t let the vampires, the drama queens, and the bitter underminers distract you from the real wickedness! Choire throws in a picture of Tracy Flick as a reminder. (The Awl; 2/13) ¶ Emma Garman discovers that her inborn rejection of all things princess has been overcome by the delight of watching tabloid hacks tear their hair out waiting for Kate to do something wrong. As for Uncle Gary, “perhaps it’s not too much to hope that he’s been taken under the wing of Prince Andrew.” (The Awl; 2/17)

¶ It’s sweet to think that Verdi’s greatest contribution was the Casa di Riposoin Milan, a retiremement home for musicians that’s still going. But of course it’s not. We can’t think of any other philanthropists who gave us the likes of Don Carlo. (LA Times; via Arts Journal; 2/6) ¶ Simon Schama’s visit with Cindy Sherman yields a dandy preview to the coming MoMA show. “Hers is the real Facebook (the one we all mistake for human connection, she avoids like the plague).” (FT Magazine; via The Morning News; 2/10) ¶ Jonathan Blumhofer’s review of The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras, by Stanford professor Robert Flanagan, covers all the bases in the world of arts financing, and raises good questions about arriving at the right dollar figure to attach to the living of a highly-trained professional musician. (The Arts Fuse; via Arts Journal; 2/17)

¶ Jim Emerson almost says that The Artist is fun — but he stops at calling it an interesting movie to watch. Same thing, in our book, but we like the great critics to spell it out now and then. Maybe next time. (Scanners; 2/6) ¶ Sonia Saraiya watches Atonement on a gloomy day, and learns that her own just-ended romance “had a great trailer, but the movie never worked right.” (The Awl; 2/17) ¶ Have you got all day? Jim Emerson has rounded up some corking reviews — analyses, really — of Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy that establish the film as the best-made movie of 2011. (Scanners; 2/17) ¶ We think that it was ill-advised of James Fenton to make use of the jump-the-shark trope when dismissing Downtown Abbey, but we were still secretly pleased that we hadn’t tuned in. (LRB; 2/20) ¶ What is the mot juste for Maria Bustillos’s enthusiastic piece about The Artist? “Sprawling” — that’s the word for it. But enthusiastic! Liberté! Fraternité! Amitié! (The Awl; 2/23) ¶ Bill Morris identifies himself as an anti-Kaelite film viewer. It all comes down to whether you prefer blinking or thinking. He’s a thinker. Kael, famously, boasted of never seeing any movie more than once — the most asinine claim that any critic has ever made. Morris is only too happy to let Geoff Dyer’s new Zona guide him through Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. (The Millions) ¶ Virginia Postrel has three very interesting ideas for improving the Academy Awards show. Although we’re very happy about The Artist and all, we do agree that commercial popularity deserves its own Oscar spotlight. (Bloomberg; via Arts Journal) ¶ Charles McNulty fesses up to his “Meryl Street problem.” We know what he’s talking about, but we suspect that he’s thinking too hard about Ms Streep’s talents. She always makes us forget who she is; she also makes us forget that the person whom she’s impersonating is not “her.” (LA Times; via Arts Journal; 2/27)

¶ What we wouldn’t give to hear Greta Gerwig do a podcast of Logan Sachon’s dating tips for men as compiled from 2,208 questionnaires. “Girls are really, really, really sick of wasting first dates talking about The Wire and Game of Thrones.” (The Awl; 2/15) ¶ Stephany Aulenback makes Impossible Pie with such intellectual excitement that you never wonder “why?” (The Awl; 2/17)

Have a Look: ¶ Eye candy for the non-squeamish: “Aspergillius fumigatus botrytis mucor trichoderma cladosporium.” (via MetaFilter; 2/1) ¶ “Judging Books By Their Covers” — last year’s dust jackets from both sides of the pond. (The Millions; 2/8) ¶ Jean Dujardin To Star In Everything. (Funny or Die; 2/10). ¶ Michael Cunningham’s bath room. (via The Morning News; 2/15)

Noted: ¶ We’re old, but not this old:  “Six Things That Are Dead, According to Harold Bloom.” (Big Think; via 3 Quarks Daily) ¶ Movies that all at The Awl will drop everything to watch on TV. Groundhog Day is a clear favorite. (2/1) ¶ Top 5 regrets of the dying. (Guardian; via MetaFilter; 2/6) Gillian Steinhauer on lists: “We risk becoming masters of our own triviality.” (The Awl; 2/8) ¶ Open Stax College, a line of free textbooks from Rice University. (GOOD; 2/13) ¶ Shocking art more shocking if shock precedes art. (Miller-McCune; via Arts Journal; 2/15) ¶ 2012 doomsday nonsense is scaring kids, and may trigger suicides. (Bad Astronomy; 2/23) ¶ Should 3 year-olds learn computer programming? (GOOD; 2/27) ¶ McDonald’s fries at home. (Serious Eats; via The Morning News; 2/29)

Beachcombing:
“Ready to Die”
January 2012

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

¶ Jonathan Lehrer: “If the sport of football ever dies, it will die from the outside in.” High school students, whose brains are still growing, will withdraw from the game as the risk of concussion is ever more frankly addressed. Don’t expect helmets to help. (Grantland; via The Browser; 1/11) ¶ Philip Kitcher lays out a “Darwinian” approach to ethics: “a human phenomenon, permanently unfinished.” But none the less stable for that. We applaud. (Berfrois; via The Browser; 1/13) ¶ Thomas Rogers interviews Hanne Blank about Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality. Briefly, Blank agrees with Cynthia Nixon, that preference is a preference. (Salon; via The Morning News; 1/24) ¶ After the initial bewilderment — for whom, exactly, is Caitlin Flanagan writing? — Maria Bustillos and David Roth consider the matter from the hubbie angle: Rob Hudnut, “Mr Flanagan,” writes Barbie specials. There you go! (The Awl; 1/25) ¶ Exorcizing the Wicked Witch of “Maybe It Will Come In Handy Someday“: Cara Kitagawa-Sellers and Doug Sellers discuss the agony of breaking the spell. (GOOD; 1/27) ¶ Historiann teaches a pilot course in American sexuality 1492-2011; students find the history depressing rather than sexy. (1/30)

¶ While we heartily agree with Amar Bhidé that what the world needs now is lots of “boring banks,” we agree even more strongly with Felix Salmon that unlimited deposit insurance would be a dim move. “If you guarantee everything, you guarantee nothing.” (NYT; 1/5) ¶ Crisis of capitalism? Nonsense, says Nige: we’re experiencing the death of (soft) socialism. (Nigeness; 1/11)

By soft socialism I mean the kind that takes money from taxpayers and spends it in a well-intentioned (and at times quite successful) attempt to make the world a better place. Then – because there’s no natural end to this project – it runs out of money, so it starts borrowing, then borrowing more, until it’s borrowing simply to service its ever-increasing debts, and eventually it runs out of road.

¶ At Dissent, Steve Fraser identifies the weak spot in Jeff Madrick’s generally masterful account of The Age of Greed: faith in the New Deal. “It is strange that progressives should become a party of the past, preoccupied with the restoration of American capitalism’s golden age. It is not an inspiring vision for those seeking a way out of this killing impasse.” (via 3 Quarks Daily) ¶ And while we’re on the topic of malignant capitalism, consider Ingrid Rowland’s commentary on the Costa Concordia disaster, which may have originated in bad ideas at corporate headquarters. (NYRBlog; 1/24) ¶ You can talk about job creation as much as you like, but the simple truth is that capitalists hate to hire people. (Felix Salmon; 1/30) ¶ Chris Whalen has set up a hedge fund, Tangent Capital Partners, that will vindicate, he believes, his faith in small, traditional banks, and his conviction that the big Wall Street banks are destined to be broken up. “We don’t need to have these behemoths. It’s just a total fallacy.” When Mr Whalen was growing up, Paul Volcker was a friend of the family. (NYT)

¶ Cory Robin discusses The Conservative Mind with Philip Pilkington, in two parts, at Naked Capitalism. The second part begins with an interesting attempt to get to the bottom of the craziness that is Ayn Rand’s popularity.  (1/13) ¶ Worth looking into: Clay Johnson’s The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption. Maria Popova is good enough to quote Johnson’s dismantling of the nonsense term, “information overload.” (Brain Pickings; 1/19)

¶ Reviewing Jody Kantor’s book about the Obamas, David Remnick reminds us of something about the White House that the president and his wife appear to have forgotten: “The Presidency is not a career.” (New Yorker; 1/10)

While Kantor seems, on the whole, quite admiring of the Obamas, she also cites their moments of self-pity—Obama has said that he can hardly wait to begin his life as an ex-President—which sit awkwardly with their tremendous good fortune. The Obamas (particularly Michelle) grew up in modest circumstances, but they come out of a collection of privileged institutions: Punahou School, Occidental, Columbia, Princeton, Harvard Law School; their daughters are healthy and bright, students at the Chicago Lab Schools and, now, Sidwell Friends. All the talk of lost privacy, the difficulty of living in the White House, the yearning for the normalcy of Hyde Park—we read it in “The Obamas” and have read it many times before—is understandable but also a little unseemly. The Presidency is not a career. Nor is it a component piece in a greater picture of familial contentment. It is an unimaginably demanding mission that inevitably exacts a toll. To carry it out, a President is going to miss some dinners, acquire wrinkles, gray hair, and worse. But we don’t want to hear complaints. We prefer our warriors happy.

¶ The admissions process at Cambridge University (Churchill College in particular) comes across, in Jeevan Vasegar’s account, as harder on the staff than on the applicants. The essay also offers an interesting summary of Britain’s version of Affirmative Action. (Guardian; via The Morning News; 1/11) ¶ Maria Bustillos launches one of her bazookas at the idea of “value-added” teacher-testing. “What is glaringly obvious to those of us who’ve actually spent some time in schools is that teachers in this country are already hamstrung by excessive testing requirements and all the rest of the crazy demands of a Kafkaesque bureaucracy that does our students far more harm than good.” (The Awl; 1/17) ¶ Ha! We always thought so. Scout’s mail bag has fewer holes than the New York Film Academy’s curriculum. (1/19)

¶ At TLS, John Barrell gives a new book about Vauxhall Gardens, London’s famed pleasure grounds for over a century, an extremely informative review. (via 3 Quarks Daily; 1/24)

¶ Steve Inskeep on Pakistan: “I wanted to capture a picture of a country that is not necessarily at war with the United States, but is at war with itself.” (Guernica; via 3 Quarks Daily; 1/10)

¶ At n + 1, Cary Sernovitz appraises Mike Daisey’s monologue, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, and comes away determined, if nothing else, to deny the late manufacturer an Artists’s Exemption. Greediness has nothing to do with innovation. (via 3 Quarks Daily; 1/4) ¶ The misanthropy of Paul Kingsnorth’s ecocentricism is not explicit; we’re not sure that the environmentalist sees it himself. While we agree that human beings have done a lot of damage to Planet Earth in recent decades, we stop short of scolding; you can’t misbehave unless you know any better, and society-averse writers like Kingsnorth have absolutely nothing to tell you about behaving better as a social animal. (Orion; via The Browser; 1/5) ¶ Soon to be a major motion picture: Robert Harris’s The Fear Index, which Felix Salmon praises as the first realistic high-finance novel that he has ever seen. (1/17)

¶ Madison Smartt Bell arrived in New York (from Tennessee via Princeton) in 1979, and in “Writing the City” he reminds of the literary landscape that reflected the gritty actual one. (The Millions; 1/11)

¶ How Edward Burns made his latest movie, Newlyweds, for $9000, and brought it to your house for you to watch whenever. (Speakeasy; 1/14) ¶ Virginia Postrel is disappointed by The Iron Lady — she doesn’t find it particularly feminist; rather the reverse — and she decries the new Hollywood Code, which ”declares that one’s worth depends on personal relationships, not public actions, and that sacrificing family time for the sake of achievement is nothing but short-sighted selfishness.” (Bloomberg; via The Browser; 1/17) ¶ At HTMLGiant, A D Jameson asks, first, “How Many Movies Are There?” — an infinitude, he concludes — and then, somewhat more intriguingly, “How Many Movies Have You Seen?” He estimates that he has seen .7% of the total. (1/17) ¶ Andrew Dickson looks into the current popularity, in Britain, of Jacobean revenge tragedies. He never mentions “snark,” but isn’t that what it comes down to? (Guardian; via Arts Journal; 1/25) ¶ The Epicurean Dealmaker views Margin Call; thumbs up. (1/26) ¶ David Cronenberg talks about his career, raising money and writing scripts and being amazed that you could make a movie in Toronto. (LARB; via MetaFilter; 1/30)

¶ Luke Epplin considers butter a “sauce.” Luke hates all sauces. He is a Food Plainist. (The Bygone Bureau; 1/17) ¶ There’s nothing like a “simple and basic” recipe for weeknight cooking that’s published at The Awl. This week: pasta sauce. We recommend Brian Pritchett’s method highly. (1/25)

¶ Drew Demavich takes a closer look at Thomas Kinkade’s calendar for 2012 and discovers one of America’s most important conceptual artists! (The Awl; 1/23)

¶ V X Sterne, happily for him, doesn’t know how right he is about private jets. We know. (Outer Life; 1/4) ¶ The fun thing to do with “David Shapiro’s” account of DJing a New Year’s Eve party for “one of the richest men in America,” in a Lower East Side basement, is to imagine Evelyn Waugh’s version. More arrests, certainly! (The Awl; 1/5) ¶ Salon editor Sarah Hepola has an unpleasant experience at a Barnes & Noble in Dallas. We think she handled it well. (via The Morning News; 1/10)  ¶ Jonathan Gourlay, whose return from Micronesia remains indefinite, encounters a woman who was “ready to die.” (Maybe she saw Facebook coming.) (The Bygone Bureau; 1/30)

Have a Look: ¶ In the middle of a recession, what’s an architect to do? Design for fairy tales,  of course! Maria Popova finds plans for Baba Yaga’s hut, Jack’s beanstalk, and (our favorite) Rapunzel’s tower. (Brain Pickings; 1/5) ¶ Jeff Harris: A series of daily self-portraits 12 years long, uninterrupted by cancer. (Time; via MetaFilter; 1/9) ¶ Scout discovers an Adirondack chalet with a secret — a nine-storey missile silo. Where’s Hitch when you need him? (1/11) ¶ Superb fun: Doodling in Math Class @ Brainiac (1/13) ¶ Maria Popova discovers Scrap Irony. (Brain Pickings; 1/19)

Noted: ¶ “Don’t Be A Di*k During Meals With Friends.” We strongly endorse the playing of this game. (Blk.Grl.Blogging; via The Morning News; 1/5) ¶ Regretsy. (via Discoblog; 1/9) ¶ Jim Emerson’s Desert Island DVDs. (Scanners; 10/10) ¶ Where the “ivy” comes from in “Blue Ivy.” (Speakeasy) ¶ Geoff Manaugh revisits (the loss of) the Guggenheim silver, in Arthur Kill in 1903. (BLDGBLOG; 1/11) ¶ Sarah Weinman makes the case for Penelope Gilliatt. (Slate; via Arts Journal; 1/17) ¶ A Few Things That Andrew James Weatherhead Likes More Than Commenting On The Internet. (HTMLGiant; 1/23) ¶ Captain Schettino and ”the Birkenhead Drill.” (Brainiac) ¶ Grey’s Misconception Rundown. (1/24) ¶ Daniel Orozco’s Orientation. (The Millions) ¶ Bikes on the subway. (The Awl; 1/30)

Beachcombing:
Pre-Seasonal
December 2011

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

¶ We’re still reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (slowly), and we haven’t reached the part about the two selves, but we liked the nugget of great wisdom that we found in an interview that the author gave to Sam Harris. We only hope that Kahneman is wrong, or at least unduly pessimistic, when he asserts that few people would want to pursue his course for merging satisfaction and happiness. 

There is a road to convergence, but few will want to take it:  we could suggest to people that they should adopt experienced happiness as their main goal, and be satisfied with their lives to the extent that this goal is achieved. This idea implies the abandonment of other goals and values, which is surely unappealing.

We would argue that other goals and values can be folded into the pursuit of experienced happiness. (Sam Harris; via 3 Quarks Daily; 12/8) ¶ Alva Noë at the Opinionator:

What we do know is that a healthy brain is necessary for normal mental life, and indeed, for any life at all. But of course much else is necessary for mental life. We need roughly normal bodies and a roughly normal environment. We also need the presence and availability of other people if we are to have anything like the sorts of lives that we know and value. So we really ought to say that it is the normally embodied, environmentally- and socially-situated human animal that thinks, feels, decides and is conscious. But once we say this, it would be simpler, and more accurate, to allow that it is people, not their brains, who think and feel and decide. It is people, not their brains, that make and enjoy art. You are not your brain, you are a living human being.

We need finally to break with the dogma that you are something inside of you — whether we think of this as the brain or an immaterial soul — and we need finally take seriously the possibility that the conscious mind is achieved by persons and other animals thanks to their dynamic exchange with the world around them (a dynamic exchange that no doubt depends on the brain, among other things). Importantly, to break with the Cartesian dogmas of contemporary neuroscience would not be to cave in and give up on a commitment to understanding ourselves as natural. It would be rather to rethink what a biologically adequate conception of our nature would be.

Another way to put this important thought is to say that every part of you is vital to the person you are at the moment; you will be different when you get older. To be alive is to change. There is no all-time you, which is what makes paradise truly incomprehensible. (NYT; via 3 Quarks Daily; 12/6)

¶ Of all the screeds generated by Farhaed Manjoo’s rebuttal of Richard Russo’s praise of independent bookstores, we like Rachel Meier’s defense the best. It stresses the social, live-action  nature of bookshops. We believe that every reader ought to support at least one local bookstore, and for the same reason that one might have supported a church. (Monitor; via The Millions) ¶ Johannes Lichtman writes about the suicide’s Suicide: the book that Édouard Levé submitted ten days before taking his own life:  ”a nonlinear, almost plotless meditation on living and dying, and the torment of time.” (Rumpus; 12/19)

¶ The key phrase in Felix Salmon’s shout-out for Nicholas Dunbar’s The Devil’s Derivatives is this, about the behavior of the New York Fed when confronted by tough questions from the central bank in Washington: it “behaved exactly as you would expect from an institution captured by its big-bank shareholders.” It’s not enough to wave flags and hymn democracy. You have to know how regulation works in order to understand why it doesn’t. (12/2)

¶ It appears that the Eurozone crisis has concentrated the minds of Belgium’s politicans, who are nearing agreement on a coalition government. The nation has lacked a formal government for nearly a year and a half. And there’s more: the likely new prime minister will be Elio Di Rupo, a gay man of extremely humble origins. (BBC News; via MetaFilter; 12/1) ¶ An interesting debunking of Friedrich von Hayek, at least as a neoclassical economist, by David Warsh at his blog.

These are today lively concepts in laboratories and universities around the world. “It could have been that Hayek was running a different race, and the fact that he didn’t do well in the Walrasian race was that he wasn’t running in it—he was running in the complexity race,” says David Colander, of Middlebury College. Hayek may yet enter history as a prophet of evolutionary economics, a discipline dreamt of since the days of Thorstein Veblen and Alfred Marshall in the late nineteenth century but not yet forged, whose great days lie ahead.

Walrasian“? We learn something new every day. (via The Browser; 12/7)

¶ Using Google Scholar, Mark Bauerlein has developed a way of measuring the effectiveness of academic publications, and discovered that most articles sink without a trace. He argues that the time has come to put quality before quantity, and reduce the pressure to publish. We thought that the time for that came long ago, but better late than never. (Chron Higher Ed; via Arts Journal; 12/6) 

¶ Not surprisingly, The Epicurean Dealmaker comes down hard on office romance.

So keep it in your pants, boys. Keep your legs crossed, girls. At least with each other. Because if anything interferes with getting that big LBO pitch for Yahoo! done this weekend, I swear I will fucking geld you.

The problem is, Wall Street is the home of “this time, it’s different!” ¶ Imagine Jessa Crispin’s dismay when a German gent in the Berlin subway told her that she looked like Cosima Wagner — and turned out not to be nuts. It’s not fun to resemble a woman so easy to dislike. (The Smart Set; 12/2) ¶ Alexandra Molotkow, now 25, writes of “coming of age” on the Internet. Needless to say, and notwithstanding, she’s worried about “kids today.” But not too seriously: of one rather gruesome recent story that we’re glad we missed, she writes: “It’s a classic worst-case scenario, and a reminder of how kids have ruined their own lives for millennia, through any medium they can master.” (Toronto Life; via The Morning News) ¶ Nice guys do finish last! They make less money, anyway. (Frontal Cortex; 12/5)

¶ A holiday post-mortem by Craig McCarthy, who went out of his way to have a depressing Thanksgiving, but ended up having an interesting one, that ended nicely. (Bygone Bureau) ¶ Katy Henriksen remembers growing up to Joni Mitchell’s Blue. (The Rumpus; 12/2 ) ¶ Why Love Actually, despite being a terrible movie, is a Christmas classic. Maybe we have that backwards, but you can sort out Bobby Finger’s pros and cons yourself. His lists will definitely make you want to see the film again. If you haven’t already seen it — but of course you’ve seen it! (The Hairpin; 12/12)

Have a Look: ¶ Better than flashmob dancing, an Add-A-Pearl (if abbreviated) performance of Ravel’s Bolero in a Copenhagen’s Central Station. (ClassicalArchives; via MetaFilter; 12/1) ¶ A newly-discovered portrait of Jane Austen? (Guardian; via Arts Journal; 12/6)

¶ The New York Architectural Terra Cotta Works in Queens: is resurrection in the cards? (Scouting New York; 12/13)

Noted: ¶ Leonardo da Vinci was right about trees. (Physorg; via 3 Quarks Daily) ¶ Claire Potter’s Top Ten Turkeys in American academia, 2011 edition. We couldn’t wish Linda Kathei a sweeter prize. (Tenured Radical; via Historiann; 12/2) ¶ Maybe everybody who watches football has CTE: anything less than the “full 22” zoom shot is fragmentary and arguably misleading. (kottke; 12/6) ¶ All about the creators of Marcel the Shell. (The Awl; 12/12) ¶ The Imperfect Husband (Daily Mail @ Hairpin; 12/19)

Beachcombing:
Beauté Tous Les Jours
November 2011

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

¶ Never mind the turkey; gratitude is good for you! Just be careful, John Tierney rightly warns, not to confuse thanksgiving with indebtedness.(NYT; 11/23)

¶ It  is very difficult to pretend to outrage over the Penn State scandal, not least because we believe that tackle football ought to be simply illegal all by itself, making what goes on in the showers only quantitatively worse. But we have no trouble endorsing Joe Nocera’s lucid recommendations for atonement. ¶ In a companion piece, David Brooks suggests that it’s very hard to reform the instinct to look away from colleagues’ bad behavior, and we agree that it’s difficult. But we also believe that it would be a lot less difficult if collegiate football were not wallowing in a pigpen of money. (NYT; 11/15)

¶ The most interesting thing about Jonah Lehrer’s Book Bench review of Thinking, Fast and Slow is, unfortunately, his failure to mention Daniel Kahneman’s stated “premise of this book”: “it is easier to recognize other people’s mistakes than our own.” (11/1) ¶ Michigan Law professor William Ian Miller laments the shrinking of his brain in old age (he’s 65), but his last word is much, much too funny for a dirge. “..whatever the city was, Tangiers, Marrakesh, I forget which.” (Chron Higher Ed; via The Morning News; 11/2) ¶ Joshua Brown insists on marking the distinction between smart and stupid;  stupid people aren’t just “different.” Abnormal Returns wishes The Reformed Broker a happy third birthday, praising Josh’s generosity especially. PS: This is as close as we’re going to come to the Kardashian Kase. (11/7) And, if it to prove the point, Josh defends Zero Hedge, in an entry that’s well worth reading even if you’ve given up on the apocalyptics. (11/8) ¶ Jonah Lehrer looks at the status angle of supersizing (The Frontal Cortex; 11/9)

The larger point is that we don’t just eat to fill the void in our belly. Instead, we eat excessively to fill all sorts of empty spots, one of which is a chronic lack of status.

¶ Good advice from my friend, JR Paris: “C’est important de chercher et de trouver de la beauté tous les jours...” (Mnémoglyphes; 11/3) ¶ We don’t share Nicholas Carr’s fear that the Internet (or any other form of technology) is dumbing us down; we’re quite sure that the dumbing-down began in the era of Model Ts at the latest. But we are happy to endorse his plea (and to double it with our own) to pay attention. (Rough Type; 11/22)

¶ Jeremy Denk writes with characteristic élan about making his debut — at his parents’ assisted-living facility in New Mexico. On a Baldwin electric that either “whispered or grunted.” (Think Denk; 11/7)

¶ At The Awl, Evan Hughes weighs and considers the demerits of the Kael-Didion fight, which the accidents of publishing have made newly piquant, and concludes with regret that it never took on the real issues. (11/2)

The rivalry missed its chance to rise to the level of the great ones, despite the titans involved. Kael and Didion didn’t tussle often enough, for one, but they also didn’t fight over the right things. When a leading critical mind takes Didion’s work as a cue to pull out the cudgel that a rich person doesn’t get to be depressed, we all lose. And does Didion still feel that Kael needed “vocational guidance”? If only they had fought about the movies and what they meant to the culture during Kael’s heyday, one of cinema’s golden ages. And I’d love to see Didion assess Kael’s legacy now in more than a one-line zinger. She would do it as no one else could.

¶ In a promotional interview for his new book at Slate, Adam Gopnik takes a moment to anatomize the house style at The New Yorker; we’re inclined to believe that he gets it right, especially the part about “an openness to experience, a well-wishingness, a willingness to be wide-eyed in the face of new material even at the risk of seeming a little silly or insufficiently self-protective and knowing.” (via Arts Journal; 11/8) ¶ In a lovely interview with her mother, Kiran Desai observes that Anita Desai’s favorite poets are, like her, exiles. Where’s our copy of Clear Light of Day? Nowhere to be found! (Guardian; via 3 Quarks Daily; 11/14) ¶ Nige gives Clive James’s new book of ten-minute broadcast transcripts an inviting review. (Dabbler; 11/15) ¶ Kevin Charles Redmon discusses to books from the “Shallow South” — that would be the south of Indiana — by John Jeremiah Sullivan (Pulphead) and Frank Bill (Crimes in Southern Indiana: Stories). On the evidence, the region is not a safe one for civil life. (The Rumpus; 11/22) ¶ At the Guardian, Stephen Moss interviews the “optimistic, eclectic, eternally young” Umberto Eco. Every time he publishes a novel, sales of The Name of the Rose go up. (via Arts Journal; 11/28)

¶ At The Smart Set, James Polchin amplifies some of the background (unmentioned in the catalogue) behind the current exhition, at the Frick, of early drawings by that dodgy artist, Pablo Picasso. (11/3) ¶ Tom Engelhardt explains how the foreign movies that he saw as a young teenager helped him see through the mirage of American fantasy in the Fifties. (HuffPost; via Mnémoglyphes; 11/22) ¶ We loved Margin Call, but we agree with Felix Salmon: it’s a (grim) fairy tale, one that probably “couldn’t really happen.” (11/24

¶ What could be better than unearthing a dinosaur fossil in Egyptian marble? Unearthing a protocetid — whale precursor — that’s what. This one still had a nose (of sorts), vestige of its terrestrial past. (Not Exactly Rocket Science; 11/9)

¶ Bethany McLean asks, “Did accounting help sink Corzine’s MF Global?” What she means to ask, we think, is whether mere accounting tricks kept MF Global afloat during Jon Corzine’s tenure. (Reuters; via Abnormal Returns; 11/2) ¶ Roger Lowenstein, who wrote the book on Long Term Capital Management, writes, with wry dismay, that Jon Corzine “ wanted a firm like Meriwether’s, and he got one.” (Bloomberg; via Abnormal Returns; 11/3) ¶ In the space of a brief but briskly self-evident blog entry, David Merkel anatomizes the key feature of investment bubbles: greatly increased debt financing. (The Aleph Blog; via Abnormal Returns; 11/7)

Most bubbles end with some sort of financing time-mismatch, where the inability to renew short-term indebtedness in order to hold the asset leads to a panic, which leads some to say, “This is a liquidity crisis, not a solvency crisis.”  When you hear that leaden phrase, ordinarily, it is a solvency crisis, with long-dated assets of uncertain worth, and near-term liabilities requiring cash. 

¶ Felix Salmon discusses Judge Rakoff’s rejection of the SEC-Citi settlement, which may prove to be a seminal decision. “But in hinting that the settlement might be downright unconstitutional, Rakoff has raised the stakes so high that it’s far from clear that he can ever lower them again.” (11/30)

¶ Does Anatol Lieven really recommend enmity as the better way of getting along with Pakistan? Or only post-Manichean realism? (NYT; 11/3) ¶ At Grey’s Blog, a stirring graphic indictment of the Electoral College, which has foiled the popular will in 5% of presidential elections. (11/8) ¶ Felix Salmon, writing about “Europe’s Leadership Deficit,” makes us wonder why — as well as wondering why we’re only now wondering why — Europe has not produced any European Community leaders. If anything, the Eurozone seems to have intensified everyone’s sense of nationality, the very thing that wasn’t wanted. ¶ Louis Menand’s review of a new biography of George F Kennan ably untangles what went wrong (in Kennan’s view) with “containment,” and also makes a point of showing how un-, almost anti-American this very old-fashioned American was. (emphasis supplied; The New Yorker; 11/9)

Kennan’s next posting was to Lisbon. The Ambassador, a man named Bert Fish, was a patronage appointee and rarely visited the Embassy. His sudden death, in 1943, left Kennan free to negotiate, face to face with Salazar, for the use of bases in the Azores by U.S. aircraft. In January, 1944, when the end of the war was in sight, Kennan served in the American delegation to the European Advisory Commission, in London. Bohlen (who had been in Tokyo when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and was interned for six months) remembered Kennan returning to Washington “appalled by the behavior of American soldiers—their reading of comic books, their foul language, and their obsession with sex, among other things. He wondered whether the United States was capable of being a world power.”

¶ Reviewing John Lewis Gaddis’s new biography of Kennan in the Book Review, Henry Kissinger takes pains to portray Kennan as a man who could not resolve his intellectual contradictions. It seems clear to us that what Dr Kissinger is really saying is that the exercise of power is not for intellectuals. (11/14)

¶ Maria Bustillos tries to comfort David Roth as he contemplates “guillotining himself” because, in the end, he can’t sustain his outrage at Adam Gopnik’s enjoyment of a meal at La Grenouille. As always Maria is good company. (The Awl; 11/5) ¶ Amanda Hess compares Andy Rooney and Joan Didion; even though we’re antique ourselves, we share her regard for the lady while also having no use whatsoever for the gent. (GOOD; 11/6) ¶ At HTMLGiant, Katherine Karlin has some good things to say about writing workshops; she’s convinced that they made her a better writer not so much via the criticism that she received but because they forced her to pay attention to the writing of others. Also, this nugget: 

More problematic are the students whose imagination has been blunted by the formulas of television, pop fiction, movies, and video games. For these students, the safety of a collaborative environment can help them tune out the babble of sit-com dialogue and dig deep into their own creative impulses.

¶ We don’t know where to put Nick Martens’sConversations With Fruit,” but we were charmed and impressed by the piece. We cannot imagine being able to invest a pear with so much personality. (The Bygone Bureau; 11/9) ¶ Although there would be far fewer great Harrison Ford movies if scriptwriters were obliged to follow “The Truth About Violence: Three Principles of Self-Defense,” we could not agree more with Sam Harris about the foolishness of heroism. (11/14) ¶ Speaking of violence: it seems that Jane Austen died of arsenic poisoning. Almost certainly, the novelist ingested the toxin for medicinal reasons, , thinking that it would ease her rheumatism. Crime novelist Lindsay Ashford, who has more or less established the cause of death, has written a lurid tale in which Austen is actually murdered. “Unlikely,” says Cambridge Austen editor Janet Todd (and so say all of us!), adding pointedly that exhumation, whatever it might show, “would not be appreciated.” (Guardian; via Arts Journal) ¶ Speaking of stupid, Martin Amis declares, with spectacular fatuousness, that Jane Austen’s fans are in denial about her strengths and weaknesses. “ And Janeites will never admit that three of the six novels are comparative weaklings (I mean “Sense and Sensibility,” “Mansfield Park,” and “Persuasion”).” Right-O! Persuasion is not as good as Northanger Abbey! (We disagree about Mansfield Park as well, of course; we agree with Rachel Brownstein that it may be a substantially different kind of novel from the others.)(New Yorker; 11/19)

¶ We’re glad that we didn’t read Ari Steinberg’s musings on airline-safety cards until we got back from vacation. (Paris Review; via The Morning News; 11/30)

If shit goes down, if that horrifying alarm is sounded, will your fellow passengers really calmly place oxygen masks over their faces? Will that crazy lady sitting next to you inflate her life jacket in a quiet and orderly fashion?

Have a Look: ¶ Mourir auprès de toi. (Nowness; via The Millions) ¶ The Clavilux of Thomas Wilfred. (MondoBlogo; 11/3) ¶ A Year in New York. (via MetaFilter; 11/8) ¶ The Internet is a vaster galaxy than you might think: it took from 2006 until just the other day for this astounding clip of a Lipizzaner high-stepping to hip-hop to reach Jason Kottke. (11/14) ¶ “The Worst Book Ever Is Microwave For One.” (PWxyz; via Arts Journal; 11/30)

¶ The Easter Island heads have bodies! (Follow the Money; via Abnormal Returns) ¶ Men at “Work.” (A Continuous Lean; 11/19) ¶ “A Field Guide to Your Office Nemesis.” (The Awl; 11/22) ¶ Potemkin Paris. (Strange Maps; via Mnémoglyphes; 11/28)

¶ A Cidade Branca, a tumblr of black-and-white building plans, featuring many remote monasteries (Things; 11/29)

Noted: ¶ Senescent Cells, getting rid of (Not Exactly Rocket Science) ¶ German Transport Minister cuts CD of himself playing Mozart, to counter road rage. (SeattlePI ; via Arts Journal; 11/6) ¶ What was special about the Trib: Stephen Weil wrotes about Richard Kluger’s rather out-of-print history of the Herald Tribune (The Second Pass; 11/15) ¶ At home with Andrew Sullivan. (Esquire; via The Awl; 11/19) ¶ Why the Germans? Why the Jews? (signandsight; via 3 Quarks Daily; 11/23) ¶ Mark Ames digs into Linda Katehi. (Naked Capitalism; 11/24) ¶ Walter Kirn reads the Bible. (11/30)

Beachcombing:
Lightning Rods
October 2011

Monday, October 31st, 2011

¶ We don’t share Daniel Engber’s skepticism (“The Effect Effect”) about the utility of buying and reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, but we see his point. (Slate; via Arts Journal; 10/27)

More effects crop up in Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s Nudge (2008), in Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide (2009), in Malcolm Gladwell’s books, in pieces about Malcolm Gladwell’s books, in Slate, in Slate, and in Slate. The same catchphrases even recur from one best-seller to the next, emerging in different contexts, slightly altered or not at all, like a thinking man’s LOLcats. If these ideas are good and useful—as many of Kahneman’s seem to be—then everybody wins. But how would you know for sure?

¶ A long but very engaging essay by Kate Bolick, “All the Single Ladies,” begins with the difficulty of finding a marriageable mate at age 39 and winds up at the Begijnhof in Amsterdam, where at least one resident spends the odd night at her boyfriend’s flat. Bolick covers a great deal of ground, but most of it is still awash in confusion about freedom and satisfaction. The only clear thing: if you don’t marry into a family, you must assemble one. (Atlantic; 10/13) ¶ We can’t help feeling that Alex Balk would be a much happier guy if he would just go and watch Almost Famous or Fool’s Gold; maybe then he could keep track of what Jeff Madrick has to say. (The Awl; 10/19)

¶ Paula Marantz Cohen is not impressed by the Jacqueline Kennedy who emerges from the interviews that she recorded with Arthur Schlesinger Jr in early 1964. “ I heard only the flat, smug tones of a woman of privilege who was something of a mean girl. Her relentless focus on herself and how people treated her and her family make her seem, for all her style and taste, rather vulgar.”  (Smart Set; 10/6) ¶ Jenny Diski has a look at Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project. Ordinarily, we take a very dim view of extravagantly negative book reviews, but — first of all, not everything that’s printed between covers is a genuine book; and, second, it’s a  “Diary” entry, not a review. Most of all, though, we hopelessly indulge Jenny Diski, self-described “miserabilist.” (Does Diski know Anna Russell’s great spoof, “Miserable“? I hope so!)

Previously happiness has been understood to be a matter of happenstance – most of the words for ‘happy’ in European languages originally meant ‘lucky’. Now it’s a project. Probably has been since it was incorporated into the Declaration of Independence and the bit about securing the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness through the means of an elected government was overlooked in favour of an individualist reading. More recently, goodness in the world started to be measured by value for money and achieved targets. It starts with a five-year plan and gradually, via the defeat of universal education and social welfare, it becomes the happiness project. You fill in grids, put crosses in boxes, look for four truths and follow 12 commandments and you will get that indefinable something that you don’t have but which you know you are entitled to. Rubin, I learn, was raised in Kansas City. She’s not in Kansas any more, she lives in New York, but I think that, unlike Dorothy, she got stuck in Oz.

¶ A propos Ross Perlin’s Intern Nation, Jen Paton, who has enjoyed four internships herself, writes about the problematics of working for free. Oor worse, paying to work, as at the outfit known as the Universe of Dreams. (3 Quarks Daily; 10/6) ¶ Scott Timberg may be overstating the case with his headline, “The Creative Class Is A Lie,” but “the dreary combination of economic slump and Internet reset” has certainly crippled the market for creative-class products. (Slate; via MetaFilter; 10/11) ¶ At The Baseline Scenario, James Kwak tips us to Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind,  which, among other things,  emphasises the role of victimhood (often vicarious, as witness Edmund Burke’s for Marie Antoinette) in the conservative make-up. (The Baseline Scenario; 10/6) ¶ Why “market reports” are worse than useless. (Felix Salmon; 10/11) ¶ Robert Shiller writes about “winter work,” and the “balanced-budget multiplier.”  We wonder when Occupy Wall Street is going to adopt the Yale professor as their patron saint. (New York Times; (10/20)

¶ Alex Tabarrock points to The Ethics of Voting, Jason Brennan’s ten year-old treatise on the imperatives of responsible voting. What brings this up now is not clear, but it’s new to us, so we’re glad to have the link. At his blog, The Art of Theory, Brennan presses some interesting “disanalogies” between elections and markets. (10/19) ¶ At the Jerusalem Post, David Nisman sums up the adroit statesmanship of Turkey’s Prime Minister ErdoÄŸan. (via Real Clear World; 10/11)

What can be said with a high degree of certainty is that Turkey has staked its claim as the gate-keeper to the Middle East, abandoning indefinitely any aspiration to be a part of Europe. Instead of acting as a subservient nation begging to join the European Union, Erdogan has used his new foreign policy to send a message to the world: Turkey is a strong, Muslim, Middle Eastern nation, which now has the final word on any and all action taking place within its realm.

¶ The awful truth about Helen DeWitt’s amazing Lightning Rods — it has been lying around, unpublished, for over a decade. (Bookforum; via paperpools) Another, even more lively interview at BoingBoing; toward the end, DeWitt outlines the books in her hopper. (10/11) To Jenny Davidson, at The Awl, DeWitt observes that “selling was always bound up with some kind of theory of human nature….  (I thought you were just buying a place to live.)” (10/19) At The Millions, Garth Risk Hallberg’s super review of Lightning Rods distinguishes typical satire from the superior strain that DeWitt works. Sentence we wish we’d written: “Joe’s target demographic – office worker – gives DeWitt a chance to luxuriate in the eloquent dumbness of the corporate idiom.” Although we’d have said loquacious instead of eloquent. (10/26) ¶ And, finally (at least for this entry), the n+1 treatment, which is almost deranged but none the less entertaining for that. “Coming back to America always feels like defeat, I hate to say it. I don’t like living here—it feels like being trapped. If I could somehow make money out of being a writer it would be great, because I could just live in Europe and not come back.” (10/31)

¶ Alexander Nazaryan explains why the narcissism of big-boy American fiction puts our novelists out of the running for the Nobel Prize. He hails Joseph O’Neill and Dave Eggers by the way; he omits Jennifer Egan. (Salon; via 3 Quarks Daily) ¶ Why Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk is not a well-liked writer in Turkey, and especially not in Istanbul. (Fıkır Mahsulleri Ofisi; via The Morning News; 10/11)

The publicity put books like The Black Book into homes where no other writer than Barbara Cartland and Agatha Christie had entered before. Many who bought Pamuk’s books had never read anything ‘serious’ – I am talking about writers like Tolstoy, Kafka, Camus, whatever; let alone the unfamiliar (and sometimes more intellectually demanding) postmodern stuff. Just as they would not have liked Tolstoy had they tried to read him, they did not like Pamuk either.

¶ Matthew Galloway finds the lightning-bolt homosexual relationship in Chad Harbach’s ambitious new novel, The Art of Fielding, to be, well, unconvincing. (The Millions) ¶ Fredric James’s review of Henrik Pontoppidan’s Lucky Per, newly translated by Naomi Lebowitz, makes this novel, written by a Danish Nobel Prize winner who died in 1943, sound both interesting and deep (and important, too), but the £44 tariff is a bit steep. The Danish original can be had for a song. (LRB; via 3 Quarks Daily; 10/13)

¶ At The Rumpus, an excellent interview with critic Laura Miller. Lamentable observation: (10/31)

Will this reader understand a reference to Edmund Spenser? Some won’t. It’s particularly important to keep this in mind with American readers because they tend to get angry when they don’t understand references, which is unfortunate, but once you’ve put someone’s back up by indicating that you know something they don’t, they tend to be unreceptive to whatever else you’ve got to say. And to be fair to those readers, some critics really are just interested in showing off.

¶ Jim Emerson is crazy about all the red in Drive. Then he snacks on it.  (Scanners) And while we’re on the subject, somebody at The Awl unearthed a breathless but impossibly long description (that we dare you to stop reading) of what happens in Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest movie. (Crushing Death Blow) At HTMLGiant, A D Jameson, who is so tired of guy films that he would limit the next century to “gay Puerto Rican women” directors, makes a big exception for Drive, listen ten reasons why it’s great.  ¶ Anne Helen Petersen explains why Brad Pitt is a big movie star; then she explains why he’s also an interesting one. “Someone who goes through life with that ease exists.  Or at least that’s the promise that “playing oneself” makes.  It’s a beautiful illusion to watch — and it’s the reason the film [Moneyball], no matter its merits, will make money, and why Pitt receives the paychecks he does.” (Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style; via The Browser) ¶ Helen Mirren talks about building hospitals. (The Talks; via The Morning News; 10/13) ¶ At The House Next Door, Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard take on the challenge of making Stanley Kubrick’s eye-candylicious Barry Lyndon seem compelling, and they succeed. They even demonstrate Ryan O’Neal’s rightness for the role. (10/26)

¶ Mitsuko Uchida explains the meaning of the three languages in her life: she thinks (and loves) in English. Also: success as a musician will come if “your love of music is stronger than your love of yourself.” (FT; via Arts Journal; 10/19)  (Thanks, Susan!)

Have a Look: ¶ The artist’s rendering of a General Motors research facility in 1950s Michigan so closely resembles bird’s-eye views of the great baroque palaces of the Age of Absolutism that I feel doubly convinced that the courtly life of the ancien régime did not wither in the Nineteenth Century, but rather moved into the boardroom. (Brainiac; 10/6) ¶ What Occupy Wall Street protesters want, and how to get them. (GOOD) ¶ Andrew Zuckerman’s Wisdom interviews — four books of insight by (it seems to me) handsome and fortunate people — is the first of seven interview anthologies curated by the tireless Maria Popova, at Brain Pickings. Oh, and we forgot to say old — handsome, fortunate old people. Gives us a feeling of hope! (10/11) ¶ Dave Maier struggles valiantly with “The Paradox of (Some) Conceptual Art,” but we’re afraid that he’s bested by his own cleverski. “Conceptual art” is no more art than a woman in a wedding dress waiting tables is a bride. “A rose by any other name…” (3 Quarks Daily; 10/31)

¶ Scanwiches. Yum! (Good) ¶ Anyone interested in fashion will have to accept that the Seventies weren’t so bad after all, not at any rate in Pascaline Chavanne’s astute reconstruction in last year’s Potiche, soon to appear on DVD. (Clothes on Film) ¶ Pedestrian crossing signals from around the world. (Spiegel; via MetaFilter; 10/13) ¶ Art/Not Art: A Test, at MondoBloggo. (10/20) ¶ Eli, no! @ Brain Pickings. ¶ John Snyder, a sound young newlywed (and Hotchkiss alum, apparently), took his wife, Nelle, on a honeymoon to Europe. They sailed home on the RMS Titanic. Ten days after the sinking, Snyder wrote to his father from Minneapolis. (Letters of Note) ¶ Feminist Ryan Gosling (via The Morning News; 10/24)

Noted: ¶ Joshua Brown supports Occupy Wall Street; read why. (The Reformed Broker; 10/19)  Ditto Justin E H Smith. (10/20) ¶ We are all Manchurian Candidates, suggests Jonah Lehrer (Frontal Cortex; 10/20) ¶ Who’s making reggianono parmigiano? Men in turbans. (MySinChew; via The Morning News; 10/27)

¶ Ted Wilson’s (red) suit. (The Rumpus; 10/26) ¶ “[N]eurasthenic seismographs.” (Slate; 10/27)

¶ Matt Taibbi on Rick Perry, the “human price tag” (Rolling Stone; via The Browser) ¶ Samhita Mukhopadhyay on MWLSE. (GOOD; 10/31)

Beachcombing:
Wrapping Up
July 2011/Fourth Week

Friday, July 29th, 2011

¶ Prableen Kaur’s direct and unpolished first-hand account of surviving the massacre on Utøya Island. (Eurozine; via 3 Quarks Daily)

¶ Choire Sicha’s advice for close encounters with large, deadish-looking cucarachas on the floor of your apartment. (Our latest lease renewal listed the floors on which bedbugs have been reported — ours, mercifully, not one of them.) (The Awl) ¶ The ever-modest Mike Johnston proposes a a critical method for appraising your own photographs, if you’re serious about them. (The Online Photographer) ¶ On Maria Popova’s say-so, we just ordered a copy of Langston’s Hughes’s The First Book of Jazz. Okay, so we didn’t go for the other famous-authors-for-kids books by Huxley or Sandburg or Stein. We just happen to have a very musical little relative…. (Brain Pickings) ¶ The art is, well, arm, but the book is as sweet as can be: a comics handbook for the children of men who have left their marriages for other men. Dad’s new boyfriend “liest mir was vor, schmiert mir leckere Marmeladenbrote, und tröstet mich, wenn ich Alpträume habe.” (Gay.org.uk; via MetaFilter)

Have a Look: ¶ That it’s the world’s largest wooden structure is the last thing that’s great about Seville’s beautiful Metropol Parasol. (Gedankentank; Thanks, JRParis!)

Noted: ¶ Naked Vandals destroy mailboxes, probably pee on perennial borders. Whistle Dixie! (The Awl)

Beachcombing:
Associations
July 2011/Third Week

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

¶ Jonah Lehrer looks into the Google-makes-you-stupid claim, and finds that it wasn’t being claimed at all. Which we could have told him… At the end, Jonah cites Nicholas Carr’s “contrarian” take. Carr writes, “When we form, or “consolidate,” a personal memory, we also form associations between that memory and other memories that are unique to ourselves and also indispensable to the development of deep, conceptual knowledge.” The associations that we build facts and memories are indeed unique to the human mind and will not be uploadable anytime soon. We believe that Carr’s associations are indeed the jewels of the mind, but they are memories themselves. In other words, if you associate a fact that you’ve off-loaded with one in your mind, the association is itself in your mind. It’s not really an association anymore, but a new fact. So we don’t see any “contrarian.” (The Frontal Cortex)

¶ Felix Salmon appraises the “smart and charming” Larry Summers and finds that his skepticism recedes somewhat. It’s frustrating, though, to see that both Felix and Summers are complacent about the nature of any jobs program: it’s got to be public-sector stimulus. We believe that breaking up large corporations into much smaller units (think franchises) would generate not only a robust jobs market but a greener environment. ¶ All right, it wasn’t the death by a thousand cuts. Maybe just five or six, writes Annie Lowrey at Slate. It’s pretty clear from her analysis that Borders did almost nothing (effectively) to harness the Internet. (Slate)

¶ The reissue of Patricia Highsmith’s The Cry of the Owl gets an irresistible review from Richard Rayner (LA Times; via 3 Quarks Daily) ¶ Pointers for translators by Humphrey Davies and Jonathan Wright. Mr Davies counsels against consulting native speakers who aren’t readers and translating anything before the contract is signed. (Arabic Literature (In English); via Conversational Reading) 

¶ Scientists enlisted volunteers from the Royal Armories in London to hop on a treadmill kitted out in Fifteenth-Century armor. Guess what? It’s exhausting! But it’s probably unlikely that the wearers of these ceremonial outfits exerted themselves very much while so attired; it was the horses carrying them that bore the burden. That’s just our guess, though. (Discoblog)

Have a Look: ¶ Fabulously fabulous advice from humiliation expert Wayne Koestenbaum @ The Awl. ¶ Julie Kim’s bus-stop coffee table. (via GOOD) ¶ Jim Meskimen “interprets” Clarence’s Dream, from Richard III, in a host of (adroitly chosen) impressions, ranging from Richard Burton to Jack Nicholson and closing with the best match of all. (via MetaFilter)

Noted: ¶ Alex Steinweiss, graphics pioneer, 1917-2011. (The Atlantic; via Arts Journal)

Beachcombing:
Emerging
July 2011/Second Week

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

¶ Juan Cole’s list of ten things that emerging Arab democracies ought to do in order to avoid the failures that endanger that of the United States merits a ringing endorsement. (We would add only a caution about definining the legal status of corporations very carefully, with a view to ensuring that no business organization has more power than a human being.) It’s a reminder that our country has sunk back into the unsociable individualism of the Gilded Age. ¶ In case you think we’re exaggerating about Gilded Agery, have a look at Chris Hedges’s highly critical review of Andrew Rossi’s documentary, Page One: Inside the New York Times. As Yves Smith notes in her commenting blog entry, the ugly behind-the-scenes reality that Hedges outlines is common, with variations, to American elite organizations. (TruthDig; via Naked Capitalism)

¶ Never enthusiastic about Barack Obama, we have nevetheless resisted, until it was no longer possible, giving up on him entirely. We’ll let Yves Smith, as progressive a voice as we know, make the (ghastly) case for Obama as the worst president since Herbert Hoover. We can only hope that his failure will put an end to the elite faith in testable meritocrats who may or may not possess crucial political vision. (Naked Capitalism) ¶ The awful truth about H&M, which Sarah Laskow confesses she already knew, but how is one to stay cool in the summer heat? (GOOD)

¶ At 3 Quarks Daily, Jeff Strabone writes about Cy Twombly’s classicism, about which there is nothing neoclassical. “Were Twombly’s chalk-scribble paintings the next step beyond cryptography or its opposite?” ¶ John Warner writes about his great-uncle, Alan Seager, author of the widely copied and altered story, “The Window.” Will a New York Review Books edition of Amos Derby be long in coming? (The Morning News)

¶ Joe Moran watches the cricket at Old Trafford. Many of the other spectators don’t.

I never cease to marvel at the extent to which groups of men, despite having paid forty pounds each for a ticket and over the odds for countless pints of inferior lager with a fake German name, will spend the entire day doing almost anything – playing bongos, making towers out of empty plastic beer glasses, screaming at Robbie Savage in the executive boxes to try to get him to wave – rather than watch the unfolding spectacle in front of them.

Also in the entry, some neat quotes from Duncan Hamilton’s book, A Last English Summer. ¶ Infrastructurist‘s Melissa Lafsky is getting married, but she knows so much about the cyclotron of wedding planning that you wonder if it’s for the first time. “5. THE REAL STRESS OF WEDDING PLANNING IS THINKING EVERYTHING MEANS SOMETHING.” Major wisdom! (The Awl)

¶ Our admiration of Sam Sifton’s prose, whether or not he’s writing about restaurant, is second to no one’s — which is perhaps what reduced us to giggling with delight at Darryl Campbell’s parody, “Sam Sifton Reviews His Late Night Snack,” at The Bygone Bureau. Lashings of delight!

Have a Look: ¶ Ekaterina Smirnova. (Art Cat) ¶ Maria Popova has a little list. A list of lists! (She would be missed!) ¶ Andwhile we’re on the Popova, Strange Maps with a vengeance! (Brain Pickings)

Noted: ¶ Violinist/Violist/Composer Josef Suk, great-grandson of Antonin Dvorak, 1929-2011. (Telegraph) ¶ “Under the Sea: Life on a lost shipping container.” (BoingBoing; via Marginal Revolution) ¶ “Cities Soak Up More Carbon Than We Thought” (GOOD) ¶ The Turing Test, played between human beings (liberals versus conservatives; believers versus atheists). We’re not sure that the Turing template is helpful, because both players are, after all, human. and this sounds a lot like the Clarence Darrow test. (Cosmic Variance) ¶ There’s only one thing that we know about boat racing and that is J Class. (A Continuous Lean) ¶ Learning Chinese in Sweden. (GOOD)

Beachcombing:
Whom To Love
June 2011/Fifth Week

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

¶ Even if we don’t post another link this week, we’re so startled by the wisdom of Michael Drury — whoever he is — that we have to share it with our friends. At The Smart Set, Jessa Crispin reviews a couple of books about “the other woman,” and in passing refers to a book called Advice to a Young Wife from an Old Mistress. In a nutshell:

The only people worth loving are those who are determined to find life good whether you love them or not.

This is one of those observations about life that are so coldly, startlingly true when you first encounter them that you can’t imagine not having known them — or you just can, and it’s terrifying. Thereafter, you make them your own, and the excitement dies down completely — until, as in this case I expect must happen, you hear about someone who’s attracted to a deadly, somebody who wants to die. The only people who are worth loving are the ones who can live without you — but are happy that they don’t have to.

¶ Given the current “political ecosystem of influence and money,” Matt Stoller writes, it’s unrealistic to expect talented Washington operators to put principles first. Why should they throw away their careers? “ If you want to fix that dynamic, then make sure that people like Doug Thornell have places to go where they don’t have to work to help Google cut its own tax rate.’ Or amend the Constitution to provide for campagin finance restrictions that no Supreme Court can overturn. (Naked Capitalism) ¶ The always bright Ed Yong nails it: (Not Exactly Rocket Science)

Do bloggers “count” as journalists? Are blogs journalism? And I’ve come to realise that this debate is exactly like the film Titanic: it is tedious, it goes on forever, everyone’s a caricature and they’re stuck on a massive sinking ship.

¶ Nancy McDermott’s review of Brian Caplan’s Selfish Reasons for Having More Children makes a lot more sense than the book it discusses. Here’s a passage that pinpoints the American social crisis about as neatly as can be done: (Spiked; via 3 Quarks Daily)

In a culture as deeply ambivalent about adulthood as America, it is not surprising that socialising young people has become problematic. The rich web of traditions and conventions that governed the interchange between one generation and the next is broken – and parents are left to pick up the slack. Even something as simple as teaching children how to behave in public becomes difficult today because adults can’t agree upon common standards of behavior, let alone enforce them collectively. Children run wild, and naturally the parents are to blame.

It’s often observed that home ownership prevents workers from moving to where the jobs are. It also prevents parents from finding congenial neighborhoods. ¶ John Hyduk of Cleveland is a 59 year-old soda truck loader who can write about his working life and his resistance to regret well enough to listen to. (Esquire; via MetaFilter)

¶ Riverside fish-and-dance halls, guinguettes — immortalized by Renoir — never went quite extinct, and now are coming back, although it’s taking a while for the kids to master the old-timey dance staps. (LA Times; via The Morning News)

Beachcombing:
Dr Denkenstein
June 2011/Fourth Week

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

¶ Great pianist and occasional blogger Jeremy Denk inveighs against an odious comparison of classical-music performances to long-ago baseball-game re-enactments. He comes up with a much  better one. (Think Denk)

¶ At Academe Online, Eric Alterman outlines the differences in “truth” as understood by academics, journalists, and think-tank pundits. Journalists, of course, are harried opportunists who are satisfied with the truth of someone’s having said something, no matter how false that remark might be. The real struggle is between tendentious think-tank analysts, who are more or less baldly paid to advocate certain positions, and disinterested academics who will follow a thought wherever it leads. Unfortunately academics have become even more uninteresting than disinterested. (via Brainiac) ¶ Simon Mainwaring’s excellent and concise Four Reasons We Must Re-Engineer Free Market Capitalism, at GOOD. What we’d like to see is a painstaking historical account of how self-interest, that Enlightenment engine, became stupid and destructive. ¶ Jordan Michael Smith argues that David Mamet’s rightward swerve has nothing to do with liberal disenchantment — like all the other neoconservatives, Mamet never was a liberal, but a leftist. (The Awl)

¶ At the Guardian, a garland of summer-reading reveries by eminent novelists. A S Byatt discovered, the summer before she was married, that she was a writer, not an academic, and Proust was her teacher. Colm Tóibín, at 17, was turned on by Hemingway, which must explain his subsequent attraction to Henry James, no? (via 3 Quarks Daily) ¶ In a preview of coming attractions, Robert Gordon reviews A N Wilson’s Dante in Love, a companion to the Divine Comedy that’s due to appear here in October but that you can order right now from Amazuke. Which we’ve just done. (Literary Review; via 3 Quarks Daily) ¶ GThe Saxon exodus from Romania that followed the end of that country’s communist regime (and the recrudescence of nationalism) left behind a newly-discovered trove of baroque sacred music, now being edited by Kurt Philippi and performed by a trans-European ensemble throughout the region, which, by the way, is Transylvania. (Guardian; via Arts Journal)

¶ We remember it well… but, just the same, it’s nice of Jordan Barber to remind us of the “fun” of moving out of an old apartment and into a new apartment with new roommates. Mercifully, he doesn’t dwell on details. (The Bygone Bureau) ¶ If we don’t remember being taught by slovenly graduate students, that’s because they hadn’t been invented yet. (Pocket protectors were weird but not slovenly.) Robert Watts, considerably younger, was so demoralized by sloppy TAs in college that he grew up to look just like them — until, one fine day, he invested in the Medallion Fund. The Medallion Fund look, that is. (The Smart Set) ¶ In a decision that will make producers and restaurateurs think about repatriating to Formosa, a court in Taipei fined and jailed a blogger for “defaming” a noodle parlor. The plaintiff said that “he hoped the case would teach her a lesson.” You might want to bear this in mind if you’re planning to blog about Taiwan… (Taipei Times; via MetaFilter)

¶ At Wired, Thomas Goetz writes up the latest in feedback loops, which can be surprisingly effective in altering behavior — provided they’re neither annoying nor too easy of ignore. Inventor David Rose speaks of “enchantment.” (via Arts Journal)

New: ¶ “Enthusiasm For Heat” @ Fake Science (via The Morning News) ¶ Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Academy. (via MetaFilter)

Noted: ¶ Irrepressible general: Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, 1915-2011. (Telegraph) ¶ Knowing Urdu, Anjum Atlaf decides to learn Hindi and Farsi. All Indo-European languages, by the way. (The South Asian Idea; via 3 Quarks Daily)

Beachcombing:
Will Power
June 2011/Third Week

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

¶ We’ve never seen the play, but the film of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, with Jeremy Irons, Patricia Hodge, and Ben Kingsley, is one of our favorite hard-to-watch films. A revival in London with a cast that includes Kristin Scott Thomas occasions Joan Bakewell, the original of Emma, to write about her affair with Pinter (not for the first time). Bakewell makes the affair sound much, much jollier than the one represented in the play. (Telegraph; via Arts Journal) ¶ Francine Prose rightly desponds that her ten-plus year-old essay, “Scene of a Woman’s Ink,” weren’t still as timely as V S Naipaul’s petulant outburst has made it. (Harper’s) ¶ Ruth Fowler gives The Tiger’s Wife the stinko review that our Editor so dreaded having to write that he didn’t read the book. There are many things that 25 year-olds can do as well or better than anyone else, but writing great fiction just isn’t one of them. (HuffPost; via HTMLGiant) ¶ Laura Miller writes wisely about the problem of bad people who make good art — “bad eggs like Naipaul aside” (!). (Salon; via 3 Quarks Daily)

Part of the sadly underrated process of growing up is realizing that people, the world and life are no less beautiful and amazing for being imperfect.

¶ With Syrian refugees pouring over its southern border, Turkey has been obliged to re-think its friendly relations with Syria’s Assad régime. At The National Interest, Henri Barkey grasps the impact of this reorientation on Turkey’s delicate relations with the West. (via Real Clear World)

The US recognizes that Turkey has important cards to play because of proximity and recent history, and Ankara also understands that the problem is far too big to handle alone.

¶ If you want to know why nothing outrages us more than a sleek rentier urging poor people to take “personal responsibility” for their plight, read Jamie Holmes’s report at The New Republic. Willpower is a depletable resource that rentiers rarely need to expend urgently. With the poor, diligence and self-denial are demanded at every turn. (via Brainiac) ¶ Greg Beato writes drolly about the decline of RTEs — ready-to-eat cereals — which is taking place without any help from government action. “Fruit Loops are now the morning newspaper of breakfast food.” (The Smart Set) ¶ And light rail to Rockaway will make it perfect: the Interior Department plans to convert Floyd Bennett Field into a campground. Wouldn’t it be nice if, in addition to being the first in the city, it was also the first without a parking lot? (GOOD)

Have a Look: ¶ A collection of photographs of surrealist objects @ MondoBlogo. (We love the last one.) ¶ Bad Day at BlAscot. (Mail; via The Awl)

Noted: ¶ Where Mexico’s handguns come from (no surprise). (Foreign Policy; via The Morning News) ¶ In a breathtakingly unsurprising development, Salman Rushdie takes to writing for the small screen. (An option denied to Odets, Fitzgerald, Parker?). (Telegraph; via Arts Journal) ¶ Cord Jefferson wonders if he may be that rarest of journalist — the kind that makes things happen. Probably not, if you ask us, but he was certainly riding a trend about Facebook departures. (GOOD)

Beachcombing:
Hypocrites
June 2011/Second Week

Friday, June 10th, 2011

¶ We would not mention the Anthony Weiner matter at all if it were not for a scourging denunciation of everyone who has drawn attention to and from it by Glenn Greenwald. (Salon; via 3 Quarks Daily)

On some level, I find the behavior of the obviously loathsome Andrew Breitbart preferable; at least he’s honest about his motive:  he hates Democrats and liberals and wants sadistically to destroy them however he can.  It’s the empty, barren, purse-lipped busybodies who cannot stay out of other adults’ private and sexual lives — while pretending to be elevated  — that are the truly odious villains here.

This story is about the lamentable fact that there is a story, and for that Mr Weiner is not responsible. To say that he “should have known” that scandal might ensue when he yielded to erotic (but disembodied) temptation is inhumanly hypocritical. ¶ An amazingly moving and calmly vivisecting nonfictional-auto-Bildungsroman by Irish writer Brian Dillon. An early fascination with Roland Barthes misled him into a standard academic career, but it was Barthes who eventually rescued him. A long, beautiful read. (via paperpools)

But I did start to notice something about Barthes that I hadn’t before, or that perhaps had not occurred to me since I was seventeen: he was not really a scholar or a theorist, he was a writer.

¶ Whether it turns a penny or not, we can only applaud the establishment in London of the New College of the Humanities, intended, according to its founder-director, A C Grayling, to “bridge the C P Snow gap” between the “two cultures” of letters and science. For this to work, the pedagogy of mathematics will have to be reconceived for those without a natural aptitude — which ought to be the purpose of education anyway, but rarely is. (Brainiac) ¶ Rob Horning’s much-linked essay at n + 1, “The Accidental Bricoleurs,” does not impress us as a reasoned appraisal of “fast fashion” and social-network self-rebranding. “Neoliberalism” hulks in the corner like a criminal mastermind’s thuggish henchman, but the real malefactors are those who tell ordinary people that they have the right to be no more critical and attentive than they’re inclined to be. ¶ We’re all familiar by now with Anders Ericsson’s 10,000 hours rule, which not only claims that ten thousand hours of practice will make a virtuoso or an expert out of anyone but also that inborn talent is not a factor. The last part is deeply counterintuitive. Can it be tested? Christopher Chabris, co-author of The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us, outlines the difficulties of implementing a viable test for Scientific American. (via Arts Journal) ¶ The amazingly polymathic career of Erez Lieberman Aiden, co-developer of Culturomics and also the man who figured out that DNA folds in fractal globules first conjectured by an Italian mathematician in the 1890s. Ed Yong is so enthusiastic that we’re afraid he might have had to invent Aiden if he hadn’t actually existed. (Not Exactly Rocket Science)

¶ Felix Salman palpates a bubble, and decides that it’s probably not in canine umbrella stands, reminiscent as these might be of the days of Dennis Kozlowski.

¶ At The New York Review of Ideas, Elizabeth Vulaj interviews Jane Austen Education author William Deresiewicz, who points out an aspect of Austen’s writing that we much admire even though we never noticed it (that’s why): no metaphors. ¶ We absolutely do not condone the stealing of books, even from apathetic WaldenBooks outlets where the “ books were needed to take up the rest of the retail space, because there weren’t enough magazines.” (Nice try!) But we enjoyed reading how John Brandon became a reader, and we rejoiced that when he finally did get busted it wasn’t for book theft. (The Awl) ¶ At The Rumpus, Kyle Minor and Justin Taylor discuss A Heaven of Others and its author, Joshua Cohen, who also wrote Witz. We’re not convinced that we’d find these books anything but a trial to read (although we’re intrigued by the idea that the book reads as though it was written in a hurry, and was in fact read in a hurry by Kyle), but the conversation is interesting. ¶ At Jewcy, Adam Wilson interviews Paris Review editor Lorin Stein about being -Ish. (via The Morning News)

When I was a kid I wanted to have a bar mitzvah just so we [Stein and his stepfather] could have that in common. That’s how I discovered pretty much the one thing my four parents agreed about—the essential badness of this idea.

¶ Also -Ish: Arundhati Roy, daughter of a Bengal tea-planter and a  the daughter of a wealthy Christian family from Kerala. We’re aware that Roy is a prize-winning novelist and committed opponent of the glitzification of India, but there’s more than a whiff, in Stephen Moss’s interview, of Hemingway’s Lady Brett. (Guardian; via 3 Quarks Daily) ¶ The Internet Archive, cognizant of the material nature of digital storage, seeks to store one copy of every book that it scans in refitted shipping containeers. (via MetaFilter) ¶ James Kwak unpacks that right-wing shibboleth, “regulatory uncertainty,” booming from the wingnut echo-chambers but without real-world substance. (The Baseline Scenario) ¶ At Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrrok points to the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics on farm animals as a dangerous facilitator of bacterial gene transfers occuring faster than we can combat them. Denmark has found it to be unnecessary as well.

New: ¶ At Ironic Sans, David Friedman proposes .ugh domains, for people who are sick & tired &c, and ingeniously forbids the owner of CelebrityN.com from owning CelebrityN.ugh. (via The Morning News)

Have a Look: ¶ Christoph Niemann at the Venice Biennale. Not shown: missing luggage. (NYT) ¶ Manhattan in Motion @ Mnémoglyphes.

Noted: ¶ “Couple Forecloses on Bank of America — And Wins” @ GOOD. ¶ Yves Smith: “Is Facebook Foreclosure Coming to the US?” (Naked Capitalism) ¶ Jeff Martin sees Tree of Life at an Oklahoma preview, with the filmmaker’s 99 year-old mother, Irene, in attendance. (The Millions)

Beachcombing:
The Enlightenment Fallacy
June 2011/First Week

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

¶ Despite its odd and rather misleading title — the actual subject of George Soros’s epistle in the current issue of The New York Review of Books is the arguable failure of the United States as a truly open society — “My Philanthropy” is a compelling piece. One passage in particularly ought to be memorized by every reader:

[Karl] Popper’s hidden assumption that freedom of speech and thought will produce a better understanding of reality is valid only for the study of natural phenomena. Extending it to human affairs is part of what I have called the “Enlightenment fallacy.”

Except that there is an even more pressing bit of wisdom in the final paragraph:

 The fact that your opponent is wrong does not make you right.

¶ David Eagleman’s Incognito is going to garner a lot of attention, not because it’s another pretty book full of interesting stuff about the way our brains work but because it argues that many moral problems are neurochemical in origin, and that the idea of equal justice before the law may be unhumane. (Brainiac) ¶ We think that Laura Miller takes William Deresiewicz a tad too literally — perhaps more literally than his book actually is — when she insists (rightly) that reading good literature does not, by itself, make for better people. There must be some sort of readiness or predisposition. We don’t think that Deresiewicz was touting Austen as some sort of patent remedy that ails us, but it’s true that the passion of A Jane Austen Education might lead a reader, even a smart one like Miller, into unintended conclusions. (Salon; via 3 Quarks Daily)

¶ The sensible and successful Grace Bonney critiques the Times story about online shelter magazines, and while she’s at it she presents the state of play between print and online journalism. Bonney is one of the few writers and editors whom we regard as a Digital Grownup. Jason Kottke is another; but Bonney produces more content of the same high quality. (Design Sponge)

¶ This week’s Ingenuous Audiobook Review goes to David Fishkind, who has a summer job as a farmhand, shoveling you-know-what. To lighten the monotony, he listens to Richard Poe’s reading of Blood Meridian, that beach book by Cormac McCarthy. “Actually, I should point out that I didn’t follow most of the novel.” Lucky David! We;re particularly charmed by his doing almost everything to guarantee a failing grade but holding our interest all the same. What we remember best about Blood Meridian is how well Edward Jones retold it as an episode in The Known World. (HTMLGiant) ¶ Dan Hill is moving to Finland, and writes engagingly about making the change after four years in Australia. (City of Sound)

Have a Look: ¶ Disturbing Household Touches, @ Oddee. ¶ Scout’s Excellent Memorial Day Adventure: visiting the wreck of a Navy jet that crashed in the Jersey woods in 1962 (the pilots lived; amazingly, the Navy didn’t clean up the mess). (Scouting New York) ¶ Mondobloggo is among the guests at a mayoral event at City Hall Park, with sculptures by Sol Lewitt.

Noted: ¶ 29 things about H L Mencken — a list that will probably not be forgotten. (Letters of Note) ¶ Elderly Japanese engineers return to work — volunteering at Fukushima. They’re likely to die of other causes before radiation-induced cancers can kill them. (BBC News; via The Morning News) ¶ David Hawkes writes that we enjoy stories about revenge because it is an equalizer. (TLS) ¶ The Global War on Drugs Has Failed, @ Marginal Revolution.

Beachcombing:
End of Season
May 2011/Fourth Week

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

¶ While we work up the stamina to stand on line for Midnight in Paris, it’s amusing to contemplate the alternative universe in which Woody Allen took the parts that were offered to him first, such as Richard Dreyfus’s psychiatrist in What About Bob. From a series of “Lost Roles” by Bradford Evans, at Splitsider. ¶ Meanwhile, at the mothership, Michelle Dean argues that Bridesmaids is not much of a “woman’s picture.” We couldn’t agree more — we just never thought that that was the point. ¶ The Epicurean Dealmaker prescribes a course of art studies. That is, just plain old looking at paintings. The real, actual things, on museum walls. For ten or twenty minutes at a pop. “ Try to decide what you think about it. After all, the painting is there for you. It will wait.” We like his style.

¶ A cram course in Paul Taylor: “Neither a pioneer nor a revolutionary, but certainly one of its most idiosyncratic, critically lauded, and widely loved choreographers.” Complete with video links, by Sanjoy Roy at the Guardian. (via ArtsJournal)

Famously, at company auditions, he always looks at how applicants walk. His portrait of George W Bush in Banquet of Vultures (2005) came from the same insight (according to Taylor, Bush’s walk gave him away as “a total phony”.)

¶ Michael Johnston reminds us not to miss the Elliott Erwitt show at the ICP. “[D]are I say that he was a Jack of all trades, master of many.” (The Online Photographer) ¶ A pair of back-to-back stories at the UK theatre bulletin Stage News begs for follow-up. the London Borough Councils will cease pan-London arts funding in August; the amount to be withheld is in the neighborhood of £20 million. Meanwhile, Andrew Lloyd Webber is taking the £32 million in proceeds from the sale of a Picasso and socking it into a foundation that will award grants to arts organizations (presumably throughout the UK). Will any of the London Councils losers pick up some ALW money? ¶ The prospect of Mr Wrong’s developing writer’s block ought to cause rejoicing in the land, we know; but we’re perverts and we’re heartened by his observation about ants. “Hell no, they handle their business.” Which is why he has to kill them each spring. (The Awl) ¶ Sean Manning writes wrenchingly about his mom and Oprah. We wish that it made us feel better about the retired diva. (The Millions)

¶ Frédéric Filloux finds an electrifying point of comparison between tech and media companies: how they spend money on new projects. (Monday Note)

3 / How to spend it. In itself, the cash allocation illustrates the cultural gap. In a tech company, once a project is approved, money will be injected until the outcome becomes clear: success or failure. As I asked an exec in a large tech group what the budget of the project we were discussing was, he answered: “Look, honestly I’ve never seen any spreadsheets on this. This project has been decided at the highest level of the corporation. We’ll pour money into it until it works or closes”.

By contrast, in a media company, investment will be kept at a bare minimum. Any engagement is set as low as possible: temporary staffing,  outsourced work, everything is in penny-pinching mode. Not exactly the “No Guts, No Glory” way…

There does appear to be an irreconcilable difference between the two about the definition and treatment of a valuable employee. ¶ How we manage to continue holding the idea of regulation in high regard while outfits like the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency display such egregious regulatory corruption is hard to argue without beginning to wonder how “regulatory capture” can be so widespread. As usual, Simon Johnson stokes our outrage. (The Baseline Scenario) 

¶ A breathtakingly comprehensive, steamrolling take-down of Wallace, Vollmann, Eggers & Co, by Ramon Glazov at The Exiled. We don’t quite agree, but we can’t quite disapprove, either. We’re particularly taken by Glazov’s insistent harping on the Calvinism of these writers’ outlooks. (via MetaFilter)

That’s all Infinite Jest boils down to. An anti-intellectual (yet amazingly pretentious) Calvinist cautionary tale that makes the same death threats about thinking that Requiem for a Dream made about drugs – “Brains: Just Say No!” Plus a few voyeuristic scenes of depraved poor people in a rehab centre. Bum fights, in other words. Cleverish ones. Hobo torture porn for postgraduate smirkers.

¶ Let us pipe an eye for John Delany, the 42 year-old founder of Intrade, an “online market prediction company,” who was such a family man that he contrived to die near the peak of Mount Everest hours before the birth of his third child, who will be called Hope. His widow will have been well-prepared for his absence. (Belfast Telegraph, via MetaFilter)

New: ¶ At Three Guys One Book, Jennifer Tyler gives a hand to Europa Editions, which has published, as its 100th title, Alina Bronsky’s novel, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, translated by Tim Mohr. It sounds like a lot of fun, and we’ll probably have a copy in a day or two. (via The Morning News)

Have a Look: ¶ Le Palais idéal, built stone by stone by Ferdinand Cheval, aFrench postman. (via MetaFilter) ¶ Jim Henson, experimental filmmaker, @ Brainiac. ¶ Mr Stache, @ Joe.My.God.

Noted: ¶ “Metamaterials Could Help Wirelessly Charge Electronics by Making Space Disappear.” (80 Beats) ¶ Save water: grow a beard. Thanks, Bud. (Why does this leave us feeling ewwy, and since when does it require five gallons of water to shave every morning?) (via Joe.My.God) ¶ Long commutes correlate positively with divorce. (Did I say that correctly?) (GOOD)

Beachcombing:
Cosmpolitan
May 2011/Third Week

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

¶ Thanks to Tyler Cowen, we encountered Ethan Zuckerman’s “dance mix” on cities and serendipity. As we’ve pointed out in large ways and small ever since we took to the Internet eleven years ago, it’s possible to live the life of a villager in the most booming metropolis — and that’s what most city-dwellers do (even, and perhaps especially, the habitués of downtown clubs). That’s why we don’t put much stock in the utility of exposure to “opposing points of view.” What’s better, in our view, is constantly sifting through the differences among similar points of view.

The real takeaway from Ethan’s piece is the grandeur of using the Internet to make and maintain friendships around the world.  

Through my work on Global Voices, I’m blessed with a set of close friends from around the world, and I often catch glimpses of important breaking stories, either through the work we do on the site, of from my friends’ preoccupations on their social media feeds. In late December 2010, it became clear that something very unusual was happening in Tunisia – friends like Sami Ben Gharbia were both covering the protests unfolding in Sidi Bouzid and spreading across the country, and asking loudly why no media outside the region was covering the revolution underway. I got into the act with one of my better-timed blogposts – on January 12th, I published “What if Tunisia had a revolution, but nobody watched?“… and I got a lot of phone calls when Ben Ali fled the country two days later.

The revolution in Tunisia caught intelligence and diplomatic services around the world flat-footed. It didn’t have to – there was a wealth of information being published on Tunisian Facebook pages, aggregated by groups like Nawaat.org and distributed on Al Jazeera (primarily through their Arabic service.) But this shift from a world where news is dominated by superpowers to a multipolar world is a hard one for diplomats, the military, the press and individuals to get used to. And if I’m honest about my view of the world, I’m forced to admit that there’s no way I would have known about the revolution brewing if I didn’t have close Tunisian friends.

Note that  Ethan’s Tunisian friends were presumably not barraging him with points of view opposed to his own. Quite the opposite! (My Heart’s in Accra; via Marginal Revolution)

¶ In the Big Book of Perfect Timing, Alan Stillman will deserve a special place. He opened the first TGI Friday’s in 1965 — the Year of the Pill. Before Friday’s he says, there was no place for young women to go out to, alone or in groups. One thing led to another, and Mr Stillman dines at one of his own restaurants once a week — an empire that he began with no knowledge of the hospitality business.  (edible geography; via MetaFilter) ¶ As a rule, we have no time for books claiming that the Internet is sending us to hell in a handbasket, but an intriguing review by Michael Thomsen of David Thorne’s The Internet Is a Playground may require making an exception. (The Millions)

¶ Propeller Theatre comes to Boston. Edward Hall’s all-male Shakespeare troupe is into the artifice of acting, and also sticking with the text. Son of Sir Peter is too busy to worry about being overshadowed by famous parent. (Globe; via Arts Journal) ¶ “Personally, I can’t think of the last time I saw a show that really seemed truly new and boundary-breaking to me.” At the Guardian, Alexis Soloski calls for a new critical vocabulary. It may be a while before “avant-garde” means anything again. ¶ Reviewing Tony Kushner’s new play, Terry Teachout snipes. (About Last Night) 

Even if “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide” were 15% better than “Lear,” Mr. Kushner’s play would still have profited from being stripped of its lengthy digressions and superfluous subplots, most of which serve only to obscure the play’s good parts.

¶ We’ve been scratching our heads about Thomas Pynchon for more than forty years, so we’re grateful to Mark O’Connell for his theoretical breakthrough: reading a tediously endless novel with occasional flashes of set-piece memorability induces the literary equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome! When we picture the sullen young men who carry these books around, we get it entirely. (The Millions)  ¶ Bharati Mukherjee writes about her new novel, Miss New India, at Speakeasy. We’re intrigued by the theme of internal migration, in which people who aren’t too far from peasant roots approach the “Western” world in cosmopolitan cities. This is precisely what happened in that Western world two hundred years ago.

¶ “The Mother’s Curse” — a genetic problem that sounded a lot like hemophilia, but we kept reading: it’s mitochrondrial build-up, which in males remains unaffected by natural selection. Unless, that is, something on the Y chromosome fights back. (Not Exactly Rocket Science) ¶ We are all alcoholics now: in her compelling essay, “The Drunkalogues,” Denise Grollmus shows how pervasively the twelve-step program has influenced the template of alcoholic and drug-dependent memoirs, almost as though AA were running a Rod Serling program. Denise hails David Carr’s The Night of the Gun as an alternative tale, one built not so much on the power of drugs as on the faultiness of self-protecting memory. (The Rumpus) ¶ Poetic Justice? Maud Newton’s 40th birthday will coincide with Judgment Day. Given her antecedents — her ”ninth great-grandmother” was accused of witchcraft in the Seventeenth Century, not to mention her peppily dogmatic mother — she’s not really surprised. (The Awl)

New: ¶ Quelques mots sur la procédure new-yorkaise, in which our criminal procedure is explained to French readers, so that they can follow the Day-Ess-Kah imbroglio. Do admit: it’s much easier to say that than Dominique &c. (Diner’s Room; via Mnémoglyphes) ¶ While we are great fans of the tonic tone taken by The Epicurean Dealmaker, there is a rotting edge to his calls for those who would pitchfork bankers to put down their implements and consider “serious reform.” That rotting edge is a faith, increasingly unsustainable, in the way that the American legal system does business. Claiming that bankers need protection from lynch mobs, moreover, is insulting to black Americans.

Have a Look: ¶ Understanding Arab Culture Through Typography @ Brain Pickings. ¶ What Your Literary Tote Bag Says About You. (Vol. I Brooklyn; via Marginal Revolution)

Noted: ¶ Michael Stipe @ Interview. ¶ The “ultimate green burial.” (Mother Jones; via The Morning News) ¶ James Ward is thorly unimpressed. (I Like Boring Things)