Archive for the ‘Body Politic’ Category

Big Ideas:
On Persuasion

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Forty-odd years ago, it seemed that, week after week, the Notes and Comment piece that opened the Talk of the Town section of The New Yorker  (now just “Comment”) launched a new attack on the conduct of the Vietnam War; failing that, the administration of the day was taken to task for bungling the Cold War. This scolding seemed brave and daring at the time; national magazines didn’t the government in a relentlessly unflattering light. It wasn’t the magazine’s disagreements with specific policies that one remembered. It was its impatience with the clutch of morons who seemed unaccountably to be in charge of things. In the end, The New Yorker turned out to be right: Vietnam was a pointless waste — we are doing business today with the same government that we sought to crush for nearly twenty years — and when the Cold War came to an abrupt end in 1989, it was clear that George Kennan’s modest policy of containment would have been sufficient to halt the spread of Russian influence in the world — without the need for bellicose imagery. But the fact remains that  nobody in power paid attention to The New Yorker while the war was underway, and nobody in power is paying attention to it now, when climate chance poses a far greater menace to the American way of life than Communism ever did, and the magazine is still at it, scolding away, week after week, in pieces that are signed, usually, by Hendrick Hertzberg. 

It’s not enough to be right; what’s wanted is persuasiveness — persuasiveness aimed at the unpersuaded. What would such exhortation look like? It would not look like this: 

Meanwhile, the “overwhelming evidence” that Obama used to cite continues to mount, relentlessly and ominously. The decade just ended was the warmest since systematic recordkeeping began, in 1880; the year just ended was tied (with 2005) for the warmest on record, and it was the wettest. The vast energies released by moister air and warmer oceans are driving weather to extremes. Hence epic blizzards as well as murderous heat waves, unprecedented droughts alongside disastrous floods, coral reefs bleached white and lifeless while ice caps recede and glaciers melt. 

We may ask, what is the point of this paragraph? Aside from the pleasure, which for Mr Hertzberg, we imagine, must be considerable, of delivering the thwack of a sound, articulate rebuke, we can’t imagine what sort of effect the passage is supposed to have on those who peruse it. No individual reader is in a position to do anything about moister air or bleached coral reefs. Surely no one at The New Yorker is naive enough to suppose that Mr Hertzberg’s words would serve their purpose if the magazine’s readers were motivated by them to vote, en bloc, for a slate of candidates committed to reversing the dire trends herein outlined. Any such candidates, once elected, would be mown down by representatives of the much larger portion of the electorate that wants to muddle through, with as little inconvenience as possible — the majority of Americans who will never be prodded into constructive action by being made to feel ashamed of themselves. Nor will ordinary homeowners ever worry more about faraway environmental problems than they do about their own real estate; they won’t even worry half as much. 

Maybe concern for the environment isn’t much of a prod when it comes to reducing the consumption of energy and the production of waste. Complaining about the callousness of the general public isn’t going to accomplish anything. Fear isn’t much of a spur, either; it makes people either sullen or escapist (or unhelpfully crazy: remember those bomb shelters!). It’s unlikely Americans will do much of anything about the environment until they feel good about trying, and can see that their efforts are making their own territory a better place. Just how to make them feel good about visible results — that’s probably as daunting a challenge as actually reversing global warming. (It is certainly not the job of the President of the United States, whose principal duty is to hold the country together, or at least to prevent it from flying apart.) But reversing global warming isn’t going to happen first. And for my part, instead of rapping the knuckles of politicans who oppose the progressive environmental agenda, and spanking their supporters, I prefer to bemoan Hendrik Hertzberg’s failure to write something useful. 

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

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¶ Matins: Tyler Cowen’s thoughts about Swiss minarets are appropriately complex. Referendums are deplorable, because they open the door as nothing else does to prejudice. “…knowing how and when to defuse an issue is one very large part of political wisdom.  The Swiss usually pass this test but this time they failed it.” (Marginal Revolution)

¶ Lauds: The painter Francis Bacon could write well enough, but, John Richardson informs us, he could not draw. (NYRB; via 3 Quarks Daily)

¶ Prime: Felix Salmon, with the help of a commenter called Dan, advances a new theory of investing — one that is market- (and liquidity- !) shy.

¶ Tierce: 350 years of important publications by the Royal Society, celebrated at a new site, Trailblazing. (MetaFilter)

¶ Sext: In the rarefied world of dissertation-land, is one woman’s prudence another man’s paranoia? (Chron Higher Ed; via The Morning News)

¶ Nones: The Vatican continues to regard its affairs as lying beyond the writ and ken of civil authorities. “The Vatican should apologise for failing to co-operate with an inquiry into sex abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland, a Dublin bishop has said.” (BBC News)

¶ Vespers: The Clutter murder, 50 years on. (Ed Pilkington at the Guardian)

¶ Compline: Shock and Awl: Choire and Balk both driven batty by current events. Choire returns from Thanksgiving weekend viscerally alert to the Idiocracy afoot in the land. “Craziness: it’s not just for wingnuts anymore.” Meanwhile, Alex has Lady Gaga issues.

Although both pieces are nicely funny, the two pieces are salt and pepper as to coherence. Choire, slightly hysterical perhaps, nevertheless sticks to his topic. Balk, in contrast, is almost grotesquely inconsequent. But that’s why we love him!

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, November 20th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Is Bob Cringely mad? His vision of the future, “Pictures in Our Heads” — well you can see where he’s going. (“And the way we’ll shortly communicate with our devices, I predict, will be through our thoughts.”) But it’s the beginning of the entry that caught our eye. The power of Mr Cringely’s assumption (with which we’re ever more inclined to agree), that the iPhone/iTouch is today’s seminal device, from which everything in the future will somehow flow, seems to mark a moment.

¶ Lauds: Isaac Butler outlines just how very hard it is to apportion praise and blame in the highly collaborative atmosphere of the theatre. Mr Butler winds up by pointing out how much easier it is to judge the performance of a classic play, because one of the variables — the text, usually unfamiliar to premiere audiences — is taken out of the problem. (Parabasis; via Arts Journal and the Guardian)

¶ Prime: Jeffrey Pfeffer discusses the “Sad State of CEO Replacement.” His remarks prompt a question: Is the typical board of directors a band of masochists in search of a dominator? The minute a self-assertive bully walks in, they tend to submit with rapture. (The Corner Office)

¶ Tierce: Dave Bry is delighted to learn that the Milwaukee M12 2410-20 won a Popular Mechanics rating for Best Small Cordless Drill (or somesuch). Not that he’s ever going to use one. (The Awl)

¶ Sext: Adam Gopnik addresses the evolution of cookbooks, from aides-mémoire intended for professionals to encyclopedias for novices, and beyond. Oakeshott and gender differences are dragged in. The recent fetish for exotic salts is explained. (The New Yorker)

¶ Nones: Another winter of discontent for Europe? Yulia Tymoshenko is cooking with gas. The new tariff will “ensure  stable supplies of gas,” quoth the prime minister. Really? (NYT)

¶ Vespers: Our favorite literary couples, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, sits for an interview with the Wall Street Journal. We knew the basics. But it’s nice to have a bit of detail. (Who knew that Pasternak’s style is “studied”?) (via The Second Pass)

¶ Compline: At NewScientist, a slideshow taken from Christopher Payne’s Asylum: Inside the closed World of State Mental Hospitals. The show, presumably like Mr Payne’s book, ends on a guardedly positive note. (via  The Morning News)

Bon weekend à tous!

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Monica Howe writes about a problem that appears to be on the increase: drive-by porn and its variants. You’re sitting in some sort of traffic, minding your own business, when the guy next to you…. (Washington Post; via The Morning News)

¶ Lauds: Yasmina Reza, in town to promote her directorial début, Chicas, with Emmanuelle Seignier — and to catch the first cast’s final performance of God of Carnage — talks to Speakeasy about all of that, and her friendship with Ms Seignier’s husband, Roman Polanski.

¶ Prime: Felix Salmon continues the debt-bias discussion, evaluating two reasons not to tax interest payments, and, not surprisingly, dismissing them even when he agrees with supporting arguments. (That’s what makes this discussion so interesting.)

¶ Tierce: The extraordinary Mandelbulb. We’ve been so hynotized by the latest in fractals that we’ve neglected to share.

¶ Sext: What to read next? Well, you could let your dreams determine the title — if you were Philip K Dick and strong enough to read “the dullest book in the world.” (Letters of Note)

¶ Nones: With a grim sort of relief, we note that intransigence is still the prevailing note in Honduran politics. (BBC News)

¶ Vespers: Terry Teachout encounters a stack of his new book(s), Pops, at the Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side. He registers his reaction as closer to Mencken than to Hindemith. (About Last Night)

¶ Compline: Two lawyers from the Genomics Law Report consider the “intriguing question” of how personal DNA data might be handled in the event (an event in Iceland) of a direct-to-consumer’s genomics company’s going bankrupt. (Genetic Future; via Short Sharp Science)

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

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¶ Matins: (Note: this item is not about classical music.) In her WaPo piece about classical-music CDs, Anne Midgette labors under the impression that serious music recordings require the brokerage of a healthy “industry.” We agree with Henry Fogel: leaving industry behind is what’s healthy. (via Arts Journal)

¶ Lauds: Why is Britain’s National Trust spat taking us back to the 1640s? Surely not just the coincidence of princes called “Charles”?

¶ Prime: Robert Cringely thinks out loud about the ethics of technology. He used to think that Google’s motto was silly, but not anymore.

¶ Tierce: Is it possible? The Marshall Trial’s case for the prosecution was slated to end yesterday— two days into the trial’s 17th week. On Friday, the jury and the court will take a two-week vacation.

¶ Sext: At The Onion: “Film Adaptation Of ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ Ends Where Most People Stop Reading Book.” And where is that? 

The 83-minute film, which is based on the first 142 or so pages of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s acclaimed work, has already garnered attention for its stunning climax, in which the end credits suddenly appear midway through Katerina’s tearful speech about an unpaid debt.

(via The Morning News)

¶ Nones: China is upset with Australia, about Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer’s visit. When will China learn that foreign public opinion can be controlled no better by overt interference than by armed occupation?

¶ Vespers: Amazing news! Six million subscribers take Reader’s Digest. Still! So don’t over-interpret news of the publication’s bankruptcy filing.

¶ Compline: Natalie Angier writes lucidly about a murky subject: stress. Bottom line: it’s up to you to break out of the stress feedback loop.

(more…)

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

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¶ Matins: At Politico, nutritionist Katherine Tallmadge writes from up close and personal about the runaway unhealthiness of life in our Capitol. (via The Morning News)

¶ Lauds: At the London Review of Books, Michael Wood exposes the “rococo” nonsense of North By Northwest, and thereby explains why Hitchcock’s masterpiece is so gripping.

¶ Prime: In two posts, Felix Salmon asks two good questions: Has the NYC housing market bottomed? (No.) Have we “wasted” the financial crisis? (Yes.)

¶ Tierce: Lee Landor, deputy press secretary to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, resigns subito when some of her Facebook comments, calling Henry Louis Gates a racist and referring to “O-dumb-a,” were forwarded to her boss.

¶ Sext: In a somewhat more serious social app boo-boo, Amanda Bonnen of Chicago has been sued by the company that managed her former apartment, for libel by tweet.

¶ Nones: At the London Review Blog, Hugh Miles writes about a scandal in Libya — or is it a scandal on Capitol Hill?

¶ Vespers: In The Atlantic Fiction 2009 issues, four international writers, all of them Anglophone but none American (although Joseph O’Neill has become a US citizen), discuss the tension between nation(alism) and literature.

¶ Compline: Any story that links soldiers and information makes us happy. “In Battle, Hunches Prove to Be Valuable.” And we remember when intuition was for girls.

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Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

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¶ Matins: A counter-intuitive HIV-prevention strategy that is gaining traction. (via Good)

¶ Lauds: At The New Republic, Antoni Cimolino argues against “adapting” Shakespeare for modern ears. (via The Morning News)

¶ Prime: Felix Salmon (who happened to see the eclipse in China) is not convinced that the advent of 401(k) plans was a positive financial innovation.

¶ Tierce: Nothing really happened in the Marshall trial today, but I sense a sea change in the case.

¶ Sext: Tom Scocca sings of time and the bed — and a kid who’s discovered “testing.”

¶ Nones: Sudan takes an important step toward partition (between North and South) — at The Hague.

¶ Vespers: Anglophone literature in India takes a new turn: with more Indian readers, writers can focus on local life to an extent that makes their work difficult to follow outside of India. (via Arts Journal)

¶ Compline: The story following this headline actually lives up to it: “Laptop? Check. Student Playlist? Check. Classroom of the Future? Check,” by Jennifer Medina.

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Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

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¶ Matins: At Coming Anarchy, the entry “Microstate Madness” describes potential breakaway statelets across Europe, from Sardegna to Scotland. (via Joe.My.God)

¶ Lauds: Now that the bubbling (not to say gaseous) wake of the Venice Biennale has subsided into the barcarolle of the canals, Barry Schwabsky’s lucid report, “Hubbub and Stillness,” in The Nation, is an even greater pleasure to read.

¶ Prime: Variation on an old Chinese curse: business narratives have become (Titanically) interesting.

¶ Tierce: What if the Marshall case veers from incompetence to duress? It’s just as bad.

¶ Sext: How TV news would cover a first moon landing today.

¶ Nones: Honduran would-be president (the only kind, these days) Manuel Zelaya might well take a look at what his opponents are afraid of, as it plays out in Venezuela’s Barinas State.

¶ Vespers: At Intelligent Life, Tom Shone inquires:  Is sobriety good for literary types? (via The Morning News)

¶ Compline: Boudicca Downes discusses her parents’ decision — somewhat more controversial in the case of her conductor father, Sir Edward — to take their lives at Dignitas, a clinic in Switzerland.

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Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Is the Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound a template for health care reform?

¶ Lauds: My friend Ellen Moody writes about the strange success of Ronald Colman.

¶ Prime: According to Patrick Devedjian, the French stimulus minister, “The country that is behind is the U.S., not France.”

¶ Tierce: Defendant Anthony Marshall called in sick today, and the jurors were excused. Vanity Fair comes to the rescue, with a slideshow of sketches by Jane Rosenberg.

¶ Sext: It’s time for lunch: think I’ll cloud up my vital fluids.

¶ Nones: Coup or clean-out? The fact that the Obama Administration can’t seem to decide upon a characterization of recent events in Honduras suggests to me that we’re going to support the new regime.

¶ Vespers: Richard Crary writes about youthful reading and outgrowing writers.

¶ Compline: Remember the “Peter Principle”? Italian researchers have confirmed it. (via reddit)

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Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Ross Douthat writes lucidly about the the problem posed by someone like Sarah Palin to American politics. It has a lot to do with that problem that Americans don’t like to admit that we have: class distinctions.  

¶ Lauds: Plans to house Gap founder Don Fisher’s modern art collection in San Francisco’s Presidio have been gored by a combination of  NIMBYism and very mistaken preservationism. (via Arts Journal)

¶ Prime: Felix Salmon argues very persuasively against subjecting credit default swaps to regulation by state insurance commissioners. Although slightly daunting at the start, Mr Salmon’s entry is definitely worth the effort.

¶ Tierce: They wanted to put Cecille Villacorta away for a long time. But her lawyer, Joe Tacopina (get his card, now!)  convinced the judge that the Saks saleslady had been trained to increase her commissions by sending kickbacks to favorite customers.

“Basically, Cecille’s saying, ‘You told me to do this. You trained me to do this. I made you $27 million. And I became a defendant,” Tacopina said after court yesterday.

¶ Sext: In case you’ve ever coveted one of those Gill Sans “Keep Calm and Carry On” T shirts (complete with crown), Megan Hustad’s write-up may cure you, at The Awl.

¶ Nones: The death of Robert McNamara occasions a great deal of reflection — if only we can find the time.

¶ Vespers: Hey! See action in war-torn quarters of the globe while engaging in serious literary discussions with brainy fellow warriors! Join the Junior Officers’ Reading Club today!

¶ Compline: According to Psychology Today [yes, we know that we ought to stop right there], parks occupy an astonishing 25.7% of New York City’s surface area! That’s what density makes possible. (more…)

Daily Office: Monday

Monday, July 6th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Another way of looking at Earthly inequality: 50% of the world’s population inhabits nations that, in sum, produce only 5% of the world’s GDP.

¶ Lauds: Elliot Goldenthal discusses his beautifully moody score for Public Enemies with Jim Fusilli, at Speakeasy.

¶ Prime: Matt Thompson, at Snarkmarket, writes about the long overdue concept of “too big to succeed.”

¶ Tierce: Just when we thought that the prosecution had exhausted its witnesses hostile to defendant Anthony Marshall, in walks the accountant.

¶ Sext: So, we’ll bet you thought that a 50-pound ball of Silly Putty, if dropped from a 10-storey building, would do some awesomly rampaging bouncing. Not so.

¶ Nones: Ethnic riots in Urumqi probably don’t threaten the stability of the Communist Party’s regime in China, but they do suggest that Uighur “aliens” don’t cotton to Shake-’n'-Bake Han colonization.

¶ Vespers: At The Millions, C Max Magee looks forward to books forthcoming in the second half of 2009. It’s better than Christmas — even if all you want to read is the new Joshua Ferris and a genuine novel by Nicholson Baker.

¶ Compline: A phrase that’s altogether new to us: (to) gay marry. Friendship with (abstract?) benefits.

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Daily Office: Monday

Monday, June 29th, 2009

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¶ Matins: What is intelligence? Are there kinds of intelligence? Christopher Ferguson, at Chron Higher Ed, reminds us of the question’s politico-pedagogical nature.

¶ Lauds: At The Best Part, some pictures by Brett Amory.

¶ Prime: Jay Goltz poses a superbly sticky problem in business ethics that, unlike most such puzzles, has no leading dramatic edge to nudge you in the “correct” direction. Give it a think!

¶ Tierce: “Welcome to the flip side of homophobia.”

¶ Sext: Things to do with dead Metro cards, at Infrastructurist.

¶ Nones: Why is it so hard to find Osama bin Laden? Just think of the money that has been spent on the manhunt. Julian Borger and Declan Walsh outline the difficulties — and the limitations of whizbang technology — at the Guardian.

¶ Vespers: According to Martin Schneider, at Emdashes, Michael Jackson appeared three times in The New Yorker over the years. I expect that the number would have been rather higher if Tina Brown had taking over the editor’s job about ten years earlier.

¶ Compline: Everyday depression may be a survival tactic of sorts, by reducing motivation to pursue unrealizable goals. Conversely, the American ethos’s valorzation of persistence in the face of obstacles may explain why this country leads the world for clinical depression.  (more…)

Daily Office: Monday

Monday, May 25th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Frank Rich argues that the Obama Administration ought to take a firmer lead on same-sex marriage. I think it ought to do so as well. But it’s an ought that, like many liberal Southerners in the Fifties and Sixties, I find painfully premature.

¶ Lauds: Have a look at Mnémoglyphes, to see the photographs that Jean Ruaud took here in Manhattan last week. 

¶ Prime: The economics (or lack thereof) of the Susan Boyle Surprise.

¶ Tierce: Actor Jefferson Mays sat at Charlene Marshall’s side in court last week. Why do I think that this was a bad idea?

¶ Sext: Why does Mr Wrong (Joe McLeod) sound like Fafblog?

¶ Nones: China’s support of the Burmese junta suggests that the Central Country has made a thorough study of American foreign policy.

¶ Vespers: Join the Infinite Summer book club, and read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. (via kottke)

¶ Compline: Helen Epstein on America’s prisons: “Is There Hope?” Surprisingly, the answer is yes: the Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP).

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