“Ready to Die”
January 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)