Daily Office:
Tuesday, 20 July 2010


¶ Sheril Kirshembaum, who writes the Intersection blog with Chris Mooney, was included on a list of “sexy scientists” at Common Sense Atheism, and, boys being boys, this created a “stir,” with some of the boys wanting to know if they were behaving badly. Ms Kirshenbaum’s response was swift and sensible.

Returning to the hullabaloo over last week’s “sexy scientists” list, I honestly don’t think any real harm has been done to me personally. And it’s worth pointing out that in 2005 when Chris was named one of Wired Magazine’s “Sexiest Geeks,” no one complained. So while this may not be the way I’d most like to be featured, far worse items pop up across the Internet about me on a regular basis. To survive in the blogosphere, you grow a thick skin and keep in mind that there’s more to life than what happens online.

That said, I would like to see Luke, and others, think more carefully about the ripple effects of such posts. He can moderate his own site, but also doesn’t have to deal with the related extended commentary now percolating about the web because of his actions. For example, I’m currently receiving comments such as “I’d hit that,” which are promptly deleted, but do make me uncomfortable regardless. And since I can only filter content here, who knows what else is being added to message boards and websites elsewhere. In other words, it’s important to remember that words travel well beyond one’s own blog and can quickly get out of hand. That’s the nature of new media communication–you can’t control or keep up with what’s out there. So it’s important to acknowledge that there are often unintended consequences down the line for those unknowingly involved.

When she says that “no one complained” about Chris Mooney’s unsolicited honor, I think that Ms Kirshenbaum really means that no wild and crazy comment thread spooled out from the “Sexiest Geeks” post (if it was a post, but no matter). The sad truth is that sexual arousal puts many men in an offensive frame of mine — just as (and here we refer to the Op-Ed gender imbalance report that got Ms Kirshenbaum started) intellectual debate makes them defensive. It’s a pity that women can’t demand more attractive men.

¶ At least there’s a forum for complaints: My Fault, I’m Female. (via MetaFilter)


¶ We try to be nice, at this hour especially; and we’re well known for our disapproval of negative reviews. But we can’t resist Lauren Wissot”s efficient dismissal of Neil LaBute’s twenty years of dramaturgy. (The House Next Door)

Not that LaBute, with his gift for snappy dialogue, doesn’t have anything to say—it’s just that all his ideas can pretty much be summed up in his tour de force In The Company of Men, and since then, he’s merely been repeating himself in variations on the theme of how men and women do wrong by each other. Because the playwright has been stuck on a loop for the past decade without challenging himself, how can he possibly challenge his audience? Interestingly, this goes a long way to explaining why he’s a darling of theater critics to this day. In essence, LaBute serves up classic comfort food for the academically inclined. We’ve come to expect LaBute characters to have the self-control of a five-year-old, thus every mean-spirited thing they say and do becomes wearily predictable. As familiar but no deeper than an episode of Friends. His stage work is only a blank canvas onto which an audience can project its own insights, making them feel self-assured, smug knowing that they’re better people than his immature characters.


¶ When CNBC runs a “documentary” about the costs of couterfeit luxury goods, Felix Salmon’s eyebrows disappear beneath his hairline.

The show never does those sums; instead, it goes to a big warehouse with “just over $200 million of seized cargo,” adding that “there are 12 more like it around the country.” Hm, that would make $2.4 billion of seized counterfeit goods, if true — but when were they seized, given that ten years ago, customs was only seizing $47 million a year in such material?

And that’s not the only quantitative dissonance. “This year alone, counterfeited medicines will be a $75 billion industry,” says a representative of Big Pharma; there’s no indication that that number comes form a mysterious report which no one can ever seem to produce, which was published in 2005, and which projected the number basically out of thin air. Meanwhile, CNBC’s own slideshow puts the volume of seized counterfeit drugs at just $11 million last year.

But what caught our eye was a link at the end that goes to a piece that Felix wrote before we started following him: the “costs” may be negative.

It seems that fake luxury goods are pretty much the best form of advertising out there: people who buy them and live with them have a very high probability of being converted to the brand and then going out and buying the real thing. What’s more, every time they go out with their fake item, they’re publicly displaying the desirability of the brand.

This explains why smart companies like Dolce & Gabbana refuse to get involved in prosecuting counterfeiters.


¶ Don’t ask us how they figured this out with only twelve microphones, but Scientists Have Discovered that bats lower their voices when swooping in for the kill because “lower echolocation frequencies provide a a wider field of view.” (Wired Science)

“A lot of insects can hear ultrasound. If it’s really close to them, they do evasive maneuvers. Fold their wings up, go into power dives,” said biologist Lasse Jakobsen of the University of Southern Denmark. “We thought this could be a way for bats to counteract this.”

In the Daubenton’s Bat species tested by Jakobsen in a July 19 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study, call frequency drops by a full octave as bats approach insects. That’s typical of the roughly 500 bat species who use echolocation to snatch insects on the wing, but scientists haven’t known why.

“People thought they couldn’t maintain the high frequencies, or that it had something to with bandwidth,” Jakobsen said.

Something about this stunt deeply appeals to us. We’re filing it away in case it comes in handy.


¶ The Bygone Bureau anticipates the fourth season of Mad Men. Kevin Nguyen interviews Mad Men Unbuttoned curator Natasha Vargas-Cooper, who claims to watch the episodes as sparingly as possible.

But I don’t watch entire episodes that often because I do not want to ruin the magic of it for me. I’m like this with movies and TV shows I love. It’s a treat, it’s special. And I want things to remain special to me.

The reason why I started [the blog] was because even before the third season started, I had lost my dog and I was really upset. So I thought, “Fuck I really need something to keep my mind off it. Oh you know what, I’ll re-watch Mad Men.” I’d only seen season one and two once through and I really loved it. So I sat down and restarted watching and thought, “Oh this would make a cool blog” and so I started the blog.

Mad Men gives me comfort because it still feels very new… I’d much rather watch specific scenes to get specific details when I need them. But other than that, I like that it exists in the periphery a little bit. Like, I never watch the commentary. I never watch the commentary or the special features on any DVD because I grew up doing theater and I know how messy things are backstage. The second I hear that they were going to say this line instead of that line, that’s the only thing I think of whenever I see that scene again.

(Ms Vargas-Cooper never found her dog, but adopted a new one.)  Meanwhile, Darryl Campbell savors the mysteries of Don Draper.

At the same time, if you try to pin Don Draper down, he comes off as downright confusing. After all, the audience is just as hoodwinked by Dick Whitman’s past as his contemporaries are. We know just enough to feel sympathy for him — that Dick was an orphan, that his adoptive parents were cruel and abusive, that he drove his younger brother to suicide — but not enough to understand how his past affects his motivations or intentions. Except in the pitch for the Kodak Carousel, we never see the Draper family in happier moments, so it’s easier for us to excuse his philandering because we only ever associate Betty with fighting and general misery. And we see Don’s aggressive, bull-headed streak succeed in the conference room and bedroom so many times that we consider it an asset, even though it alienates his wife and children at home.

So when Don drowns his ennui, we the viewers slide into stupor along with Don. We know what he’s escaping from, but not why; in fact, we know so little about Don Draper’s inner life — except through the odd non-verbal metaphor, such as his Christ-like bath in the ocean towards the end of season two — that we can never quite see what makes him tick.


¶ Tariq Ali explains why no one outside of Kashmir gives a damn about what’s going on there. He’s especially interesting about Pakistan’s indifference. (LRB)

The Zardari government is silent on the issue of Kashmir and there has been little media reaction in Pakistan to the recent killings. For the ruling elite Kashmir is just a bargaining counter. ‘Give us Afghanistan and you can have Kashmir’ is the message currently emanating from the bunker in Islamabad. Zardari, it’s worth recalling, is the only Pakistani leader whose effigy has been burned in public in Indian Kashmir (soon after becoming president he had seriously downplayed Kashmiri aspirations). The Pakistani president and his ministers are more interested in business deals than in Kashmir. At the moment this suits Washington perfectly, since India is regarded as a major ally in the region and the US doesn’t want to have to justify its actions in Kashmir. Pakistan’s indifference also suggests that Indian allegations that recent events in Kashmir were triggered by Pakistan are baseless. Pakistan virtually dismantled the jihadi networks it had set up in Kashmir after the 1989 withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan not long after 9/11. Islamabad, high on the victory in Kabul, had stupidly assumed that they could repeat the trick in Kashmir. Those sent to infiltrate Indian Kashmir were brutal and mindless fanatics who harmed the Kashmiri case for self-determination, though some young people, tired of the patience exhibited by their elders, embraced the jihad, hoping it would bring them freedom. They were wrong.


¶ Patrick Kurp discovers Rosamond Purcell’s Owls Head. Now we want to do the same.

“I spend most of my life surrounded by man-made objects. I am familiar with the surface of things. To find them embedded in the natural world was a newfound pleasure—still—I had never seen so much stuff to which so much had happened. Fraying, tattered, cracked, flattened, swollen, dried, scrawny, collapsed, shredded, peeling, torn, warped, weathered, faded, bristling, moldy, clenched, tangled, punctured, battered, bashed-in, scooped-out, withered, engorged, trampled, toppled, crushed, bald, listing, leaning, twisting, hanging, buried, wedged, impaled, straggling, stretched, disjointed, disembowelled, skinned, docked, gnawed, entrenched.”

Purcell isn’t transcribing a thesaurus. Her prose is precise and pared-down, and she never shows off. She’s replicating with words the myriad ways in which Buckminster’s countless tons of castoff objects (the book bears the Lucretian subtitle On the Nature of Lost Things) flourish in decay.


¶ At The Survival of the Book, Christopher discovers the London Library, and asks: would you pay a membership fee to support your public library? If so, what provisions would be made for lowe-income readers? (We think that libraries ought to be free to anyone under the age of 25, but nodoby’s asking.)

For now, I understand the value of the free public library system but sometime in the not too distant future there will be a reason to start instituting a yearly membership fee to guarantee the survival of these institutions. The notion of government support-from local to national-is under siege and it is not out of the realm of possibility that one day libraries won’t be supported by the municipalities in which they are located. When that happens they will either shrivel up and die or find a new way to survive.

Have a Look

¶ Cool party; even cooler invitation. (Mad Men Unbuttoned)

¶ “I would like to examine, however, a very obscure item on her resume, the lost television series The Avengers.” Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel was the first television character that we hopelessly lusted after. “Obscure”? We didn’t know about the fire. (Hilobrow)