¶ If you want to lose our attention, just offer us a list of ten things. If we’re very bored, we may give it a glance, just to see how silly you are and probably to laugh at your expense. If Bob Cringely hadn’t been so entertainingly upset by a 24/7 list of the ways in which Americans “waste money” (ie, make discretionary purchases), we’d never have learned that there’s somebody out there who things that dry cleaning is optional — remind us not to sit next to that person! ¶ Abdul Fattah John Jandali, 80 and flourishing in Nevada, talks about his biological son, the guy who brought you the iPhone. (Ya Libnan; via 3 Quarks Daily)
¶ At the Guardian, Mark Prescott asks, “Opera reviews: why does no one write about the music?” Actually, music critics write about almost everything but the music, for the simple reason that writing intelligibly about music is just about the hardest thing in the world to do. With regard to opera, though, we’re living in an era of silly, director-led “conceptions” of familiar classics that, in our view, clutter the stage and get in the way of the singing — but provide critics with nifty copy. ¶ Helen Mirren compares Michael Parkinson (whose 1975 “sexist interview” with the actress remains a must-see) with Russell Brand, who, she tells the Guardian, likes women, and not a lot of men do.” Having played Prospero, she now wants to play Hamlet. ¶ Nige reminds us of the death of Eric Blore, foretold in the pages of The New Yorker by Kenneth Tynan.
¶ We used to think that Jamie Dimon was the one reputable banker on Wall Street. Simon Johnson’s story about the folly of banks paying dividends right now (thus reducing their capital) mentions Mr Dimon’s “theory of excess capital,” which sounds like the sort of thing that a powerful man can make others listen to, nodding approvingly — but still crazy. (The Baseline Scenario) ¶ Whatever your opinion of Keynesian fiscal theory may be, there’s no question that Tyler Cowen identifies the functional problem that, Clinton-era good fortune aside, has bedeviled its implementation:
The technocratic Keynesian recommendation was to run deficits in bad times and surpluses in good times. But except for one stretch during the Clinton administration, this notion has been broken since the early 1980s. In the United States, at least, Keynesian economics has failed to find the necessary political institutions to enact and sustain a wise version of the theory.
Curiously, Tyler doesn’t regard this absolutely crucial insight as one worth exerpting in his own afterpost at Marginal Revolution. At least he doesn’t see the political weakness of Keynesian theory to be too obvious to mention. ¶ A True Historie and Account of McKinsey & Co, by Yves Smith! We dropped everything and read to the last word. Our favorite line: the writer’s personal recollection of Citibank in the reign of John Reed. “ I was on the Citibank team, where the client was smart and aggressive but often didn’t apply its energies to the best ends: the joke was that it was a “fire, aim, ready” organization.”
¶ All about PKMzeta, the protein that strengthens synapses, thus enhancing memory. At Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong tells us how the elimination of PKHzeta — there’s a chemical called ZIP that does the job — erases long-term memories irreversibly. The discovery, made by a team led by Todd Saktor at SUNY Downstate, doesn’t so much answer questions as refine them. One conjecture: PKMzeta enforces the survival of the fittest memories.
Memories are incredibly important, so why are they always teetering on the edge of disappearance? It probably has something to do with flexibility. The vulnerable nature of our memories allows us to easily update our entire network with new information. Without this flexibility, we’d be incapable of learning new things – a flaw that’s just as dangerous as the threat of memory loss.
¶ At HTMLGiant, Amy McDaniel muses anecdotally on favorite authors and ageing — or, in her case, getting older. She doesn’t quite say so, but the suggestion is implicit that, while we do outgrow adelescent tastes, the books that we love in earlier maturity will probably always been dear. (If only we had more time to get back to them!)
¶ Whitney Carpenter discloses the delightful if sordid truth about her fondness for special notebooks, pens, and other writing paraphernalia (id est: they protect her from having to write) with an understated candor that brings the more unspeakable sexual preferences to mind. (The Bygone Bureau)
Notebooks, as any notebook enthusiast will tell you, have a legacy, and all of that timelessness can weigh on a person. The pressure to do justice to the notebook, to write something as classic and romantic as the paper housing it, is just too much; I can never muster the courage to begin.
But there is something worse than a lot of pristine, untouched notebooks, and that is a lot of notebooks filled with the logorrhea of callow youth. Whitney is right: get rid of the things now! ¶ How delicious: Walter Kirn on Charlie Sheen. It’s almost redemptive, but only almost. We’ve never seen the show about fractions of men, and we can’t imagine tweeting about degraded actors with “very small holes in the center of his pupils where the ‘twinkle’ used to go,” but this entry from the writer’s new blog, Permanent Morning, makes us feel that we’ve had all the possible fun of doing so. “ He is the great Third Person Outside the Room that allows loosely associated strangers interacting on Twitter etc. to engage in synthetic confidential intimacy.” ¶ The ever-bad Dave Bry owes Streit’s Bakery twenty-two cents, the thief. It seems that matzo and camembert go well together, especially if the cracker is a Moonstrip from Rivingtton Street. Also that the bakery isn’t a particularly well-run shop.
¶ At 3 Quarks Daily, Omar Ali tries to get to the bottom of the Raymond Davis affair: does it signify a spat or a divorce between Pakistan’s ISI and our CIA? The larger importance of his piece lies in its firmly post-colonial thinking. “First of all, it is true that I assume that people in Pakistan have plans and ambitions of their own. I also assumes that the US is not some kind of God-like power.” Indeed, in Mr Ali’s view, the people of Pakistans have less to fear of the Amerricans than of their own “suicidal” elites.
¶ Mary Beard is unhappy with a new book about “Elagabalus,” the Roman boy-emperor who reigned for four years from 218 and to whom the most shocking reputation for “decadence” was attached by the fourth century. The author of the new book, a Spaniard with a grandee’s name, Leonardo de Arrizabagala y Prado (we like the hint of acronymic connection to the emperor), has set out to distinguish fact from fiction, and wound up with a long, and in Beard’s view fatuous, list of “don’t knows.” The one story that Harold Nicholson omits from his tut-tutting account of Elegabalus is the one about smothering his dinner guests with rose petals. (TLS; via Brainiac) ¶ At Speakeasy, a taste of Anne Roiphe’s “Memoir of Lus Without Reason”: the glory (gory?) days at The Paris Review, when men wore ties and arm candy.
And then there was alcohol. It is hard to imagine these parties, this world without the clinking of ice in a glass, without the amber liquids loosening tongues, inhibitions, raging ambitions, hiding fears of failure, covering the tracks of depression and insecurity that might otherwise blight the scene. Yes, these were very intelligent and enormously gifted men and they lusted and they argued, they had sex like cave men on the savanna, or so they hoped.
Today’s writers seem a more cautious lot, less interested in some macho image that must be projected against an imaginary screen and perhaps they are less admiring of Hemingway and his giant fish than their elders. Feminism, endless wars, a society in turmoil, civil rights, may have saved the current crop of writers from the long nights of their predecessors. But I’m sure the new crop of writers have their own way to tumble down, to make their lives hard, and the sight probably isn’t pretty either.
But what is certain is that talent does not protect and that the drive to be an artist may set your hair on fire causing first degree burns. This is what happened with these writers before the height of the sixties and the sexual revolution would bring the rest of America into the party. This happened when I was very young and didn’t understand that a sleeping child’s breath on your neck is worth far more than any novel and that wild drink is not an answer to any inner yearning and that Art is fine but only one of the Mistresses of happiness and sometimes She is cruel in her demands.
¶ In an excellent essay at The Millions, Gabriel Brownstein surveys the field of “Jewish fiction,” only to give David Henry Hwang the last word: “ He talked of friends, fine playwrights with unspectacular careers, who had never been categorized, and said, look, that’s why they never took off. You need to get categorized in order to succeed.” Surely this is not the old-fashioned business of categorizing and pigeonholing. Rather, it’s a kind of tagging.
¶ JR Lennon puts his finger (unintentionally, perhaps) on what makes us uncomfortable about writing programs — the (to us) meretricious patina of academic rigor. Teachers can do no more than grade a moment of excitement that may or may not turn out to be durable — no one can say.
If you ever wonder why creative writing classes often seem to be graded rather generously, this is the reason. Everything is a gray area. Nothing can be judged out of context. There are no things you can’t do, and there are no things that always work. There are only…things. An infinite number. And they can be arranged in an infinite number of ways. It’s enough to make me think my job might actually be…difficult.
We’re all for writing programs. And we can see why calling them a kind of school is probably the easiest way to fund them, and to bring togetther But we have completely outgrown any faith in the product of writing programs. (Ward Six; via HTMLGiant) ¶ At Slate, Farhad Manjoo denounces the “snoots” who complain wheneverNPR devotes an iota of attention to the likes of Michael Jackson or Justin Bieber (plantinum- and chrome-plated junk, both of them). We agree that complaining is unattractive: we don’t listen to NPR anymore. For one thing, we don’t have the time! We just learned that we’ve read 155K Google Reader feeds in the past two years — lots and lots of which featured “Justin Bieber” in the headline. At least we didn’t have to listen! (via The Morning News)
Have a Look
¶ Helvetica and the New York City Subway System @ Brain Pickings. ¶ “The Drinking Man’s New Orleans” @ A Continuous Lean. ¶ Marc Giai-Miniet’s miniatures @ The Best Part. ¶ Next time, leave your camera at home: “Most Tourists Take Pictures from the Same Spot” @ The Online Photographer. ¶ Grace Bonney is having a stripes crisis. Help her out @ Design Sponge. ¶ Slam-dunking robot seal, gifted with stereo vision and, of course, great mechanicals. (Discoblog)
¶ Donald Trump’s loutishness continues unabated. (Joe.My.God) ¶ The editors of The Bygone Bureau revisit Pokemon, which all but two were deeply involved with. Darryl Campbell just missed the fad, by going off to high school, and Jonathan Gourlay was already a dirty old man.