¶ At Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok endorses the ethical sentiments of economist Ed Glaeser, who writes in a somewhat self-congratulatory way about the “respect” shown by liberal economists to individuals when they allow them to make their own decisions about such controversial actions as selling their organs. “Economists like John Stuart Mill thought that all people were able to make rational choices, that trade not coercion was the best route to wealth, and that everyone should be counted equally, regardless of race.” This is either blinkered or naive — blinkered, we suspect. How can anyone be so naive as to think that an uneducated woman, wholly dependent upon the men in her family for her material needs, would not be vulnarable to all manner of low-level extortions, culminating in an effectively arranged marriage? That’s why we go for blinkered. When Mill speaks of “all people,” he means “all heads of households,” the only people whose decisions naturally matter to economists. The trick for us is to allow the heads of households to follow their self-interest, while protecting members of their families from their petty tyrannies — in a way that does not give rise to two or more legal classes. ¶ “Questions About Heaven.” We have the answer: heaven is an incredibly infantile concept. God forbid! (The Awl)
¶ Righteously scoffing at the prospect of a new opera about, of all things & people, Anna Nicole Smith (who was who, exactly? No — don’t remind us), Adrian Hamilton explains the power of grand opera in a few succinct sentences that anybody can grasp. (Independent; via Arts Journal)
Opera’s unique justification as an art form is that it uses the greatest of all musical instruments, the voice, to express the most fundamental drive of all society, the human emotion. At its grandest, as in Verdi, it can set the voice of the individual against the great swirl of events as expressed in the music. At its most intimate it can, as with Mozart, portray the frailty and humour of man by setting music not just to support the voice but to comment on and even contradict it. Music can make you feel what you want to feel – pride, pity or patriotism – but opera can also make you sense what you don’t want to – the dangerous yearning for a new beginning in Wagner’s Parsifal, sympathy for a witch in Handel’s Alcina, admiration for a philanderer in Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
¶ We’re not sure why Eric Freeman entitled his Awl entry about The King’s Speech “The Dark Side of Oscar Bait,” because the whole point of the piece is how well the film presents the stammerer’s agonies. Mr Freeman knows what he’s talking about: he share’s George VI’s affliction.
¶ Yves Smith dismantles Joe Nocera’s comparison of the recent housing bubble to the “tulip mania” that erupted in the Netherlands in 1636. First, she reports recent research that alters the picture first presented by Charles McKay a century and a half ago. Second, she challenges the claim that the housing bubble was the root of the recent financial crash; in Yves’s view, the housing bubble was no more than the ignition that detonated a larger, worldwide mass of imprudent gambles — risks by and large taken on by “sophisticated” professional investors, not the “men in the street” alleged to have paid too much for tulips and houses. A must-read for clear thinkers. (Naked Capitalism) ¶ Have we been saying this for years or what?: Health care costs must be dealt with before health care payments can be addressed. Thanks to Atul Gawande and Donald Marron, we’re getting closer to a mainstream understanding of that point.
¶ We confess that our weakness for virtual explorations of the Mandelbrot Set severely challenges our ability to evaluate a new claim that partition numbers are predictable — that they follow patterns that mirror the Mandelbrot Set’s structures. That, and the fact that we’d never even heard of partition numbers before, and couldn’t tell you one useful thing about imaginary numbers (which is what the Mandelbrot Set is made up of, no?) means that we have no business noting this development. (Wired Science) ¶ In Boston, an outfit called Gym-Pact will arrange for you to be penalized if you don’t show up for your appointed workouts. “Honey! I saved hundreds of dollars, and I lost forty pounds!” Somehow this reminds us of Sid Caesar: “Why don’t we not go to Paris and save a thousand dollars?” (GOOD) ¶ Without the help of Gym-Pact, Carrie Fisher lost 4.8 pounds! That should get her to San Miguel de Allende at least! ¶ Carol Tavris reviews Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, a book that includes a delicious “romp through the fields of neurosexism.” Our favorite example of a difference without importance: the toy choices of four year olds, a/k/a “the gender police.” (TLS; via 3 Quarks Daily) ¶ Yet another reason for anticipating with pleasure the day when private automobiles no longer make sense: songbirds are singing at night because they can’t be heard during daylight. We do, however, hope to hear a real, live nightingale before we die. (Nigeness)
¶ James Ward takes a jaundiced view of a British ad campaign that seems to rest on a weird internal Schadenfreude. You may feel guilty about giving tourists bad directions, but you won’t feel bad about eating our low-fat chips! James is right: it’s wrong-hearted and -headed to infuse a pleasure with the consciousness of not doing some wicked thing that we’ve done in the past. Quite aside from the monstrosity of giving deliberately misleading directions. (Except, of course, for that great episode in 2 Days in Paris. (I Like Boring Things) ¶ Hallie Bateman writes about being mistaken, in high school, for “shy.” Whereas in fact she was determined never to speak unless it was “absolutely necessary.” Distinctly un-American! (The Bygone Bureau) ¶ “Fun to read” — Frédéric Filloux is writing about the Guardian and the Times, vis-à-vis Le Monde. We’ve been wanting to send a similar message to the good folks at The Nation, which has become an extraordinarily penitential experience.
¶ Are we ready to talk about Egypt? The inestimable William Pfaff is: “Uprisings, From Tunis to Cairo.” (NYRB) ¶ “Gordon Reynolds’s” account of Cairo’s Friday. It’s a happening place — too much so for our reflective comments. We could make all the obvious criticisms of yet another failed oligarchy, but the only thing that matters is what happens next, and it hasn’t. (The Awl) ¶ The forgotten Christianity of the East, brought to life by Philip Jenkins. (Armarium Magnum)
¶ While we agree as a matter of course that Orhan Pamuk is right to deplore the resistance of Anglophone literary life to translations from other languages, we also agree with Claire Armitstead, who disputes Pamuk’s claim that English and American critics “provincialize” him by observing (correctly, in our view) that the Turkish writer’s novels are “rooted in their particular social context” — which is what makes them the imaginative magic carpets that they are (at least for Anglophones!) (Guardian; via Arts Journal) ¶ Speaking of the Jaipur Literature Festival (where Mr Pamuk made his complaint), Karan Mahajan has a very intriguing piece about William Dalrymple at Bookforum, “The Don of Delhi.” And here we thought that Mr Dalrymple was a study-wuddy. Unh-unh. He’s a baronet’s grandson and the descendent of a Scots adventurer who got to be known as “the biggest liar in India.” Mr Dalrymple, who runs the Jaipur festival, is as colorful as his Mughal and Company subjects. ¶ A cheerful look at the JFL at Globe and Mail.
¶ Meanwhile, when it comes to selling books, and not just sellebrating them, Sir Basil Blackwell said it all in 1935. Bookselling is indeed a timeless business. (The Age of Uncertainty).
¶ At The Baseline Scenario, Simon Johnson worries about what we call the Blinder Prospect, after Princeton economist Alan Blinder, who blithely forecasted it several years ago in Foreign Affairs. In “Davos: Two Worlds, Ready Or Not,” Johnson points out the “cognitive dissonance” (we’d call it hypocrisy) that allows flourishing CEOs to disavow responsibility for public health while claiming benefits from the public weal. If unchecked, this leads to a world populated by rentiers and their employees. ¶ The Humble Student of the Markets illustrates the point with some clear and distinct infographics. ¶ What doesn’t help in this murky environment is cultural anti-elitism, a confusing smoke-screen behind which the power elite pull the strings. At Brainiac, Josh Rothman makes a valiant attempt to deal with the chewing-gum qualities of the term “elite”; clarity would be too much ask for. ¶ Ancient History: AO Scott addressed the problem of cultural elitism in the middle of January. (via The Rest Is Noise) ¶ Jason Kottke reminds us of a great mission statement that expresses everything that’s good about entrepreneurship — and, by implication, how far the titans of Davos are from embodying it.
Have a Look
¶ TJB has a look at Hollywood’s own Rose Bertin, Edith Head. (Stirred, Straight Up, With a Twist)
¶ Der Rosenkavalier turns 100. (MetaFilter)
¶ A clip from Enthiran: have you heard of this Indian film? Well, you have now. (MetaFilter)
¶ The Gentleman’s Directory. (A Continuous Lean)
¶ The Hydraulic Escalator. (For Firefighters) (BLDGBLOG)
¶ Duncan Gray. (Find the Beethoven!) (3 Quarks Daily)
¶ Marilyn analyzes Sigmund (inter alia). Can this letter be for real? It’s certainly very readable, and we didn’t spot not one single typo! (Letters of Note)
¶ John Williams writes that Jaimy Gordon’s Lord of Misrule “charms and befuddles.” (The Second Pass)
¶ Ongoing corona research. Sun. Beer. Penis. (Discoblog)
¶ We hate to admit it, but Choire Sicha’s Learn-to-Love-Flying program is the only one that will ever work. (The Awl)
¶ Elegant Variation. Maîtrisez-le. (Daily Writing Tips)