April 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.” ( ¶ 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 @ (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; 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)