November 30, 2008
Swann and Odette's Little Phrase
A terrific post by Blair Sanderson sleuthing the real-life identity of the fictional Vinteuil's Sonata from Marcel Proust's Swann's Way.
Since it's at All Music Guide, there are also streaming samples of some of the contenders, including Gabriel Fauré's Violin Sonata No. 1 in A major, Op. 13, César Franck’s Violin Sonata in A major, M. 8, Claude Debussy’s Violin Sonata, L. 140, and Sanderson's most likely candidate, Camille Saint-Saëns’ Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 75.
The Year's Best Music
Since 2003, I've made discs and MP3 playlists of my favorite music of the year to swap with friends. But this year, I just haven't been feeling it.
I really like In Ear Park and The Walkmen's new album, and I've listened to Dodos' "Fools" a couple dozen times (my tastes are skewing folky in my dotage). And it may be too early to say, but "Single Ladies" is percussive and weird and anthemic enough to be this year's "1 Thing."
But mostly I've been tuned out. So, I ask the Snarkmatrix: What have I missed? What do I need to hear?
November 29, 2008
The Explanatory Power of Images
The Big Picture's new post is about Mumbai. I have to say: I understand it better having looked at these. More and more I'm starting to think the future of journalism is more images, more images, more images. Not just images -- never just images -- but honestly, I've read a lot of articles about Mumbai over the last three days and words are just not capable of communicating some parts of this story -- of any story.
However, fair warning: I did not click the black boxes. You're on your own with those.
I think you should go see Slumdog Millionaire this weekend. Seriously.
That might seem off-kilter, because this is a movie about Mumbai that is fundamentally optimistic -- a comedy, in the classic sense -- and the real tale of Mumbai these past few days has been anything but.
But Slumdog Millionaire also has it share of darkness; it doesn't stint on the grim, weird things that are a part of this city's life.
More importantly, it is, all together, the most interesting, accessible, and revelatory portrait of modern India I've ever seen. And if you find yourself a bit at odds, feeling like you ought to do something -- ought to attend to these events mentally or morally in some way -- I think learning isn't a bad place to start.
P is for Pirate
If you read only one Somali pirate story, make it this one:
"Mummy, mummy, please can I phone the pirates for you?"
By this time, with rain battering my windscreen and cars jamming the road, I was at the end of my tether.
"OK", I said, tossing the phone into the back of the car. "They are under P for pirates."
"Hello. Please can I talk to the pirates," said my daughter in her obviously childish voice.
I could hear someone replying and a bizarre conversation ensued which eventually ended when my daughter collapsed in giggles.
This was a breakthrough. Dialogue had been established.
I just discovered this site, a collection of expositions of the fugues in Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. Some of Tim Smith's writings are pretty opaque to those of us who aren't trained in music, but many of his comments are accessible enough. ("If you think of the subject as a dancer, then the fugal process is one of finding a suitable partner. But what if the dancer has the ability to be its own partner? Well that is stretto. And stretto is what the C Major fugue is all about.")
And the visualizations help, although I wish they were done in Flash instead of Shockwave. But hey, it was made in 2002.
November 28, 2008
The Endless Shipwreck
Sarah Kerr reviews Roberto Bolaño's 2666 in the NYRB:
Instead of completion we have the physical sense of being in the presence of a confounding object, which we are not yet done investigating. For a while yet, our brain feels rewired for multiplicity. This is not just a cultural or geographical question, though if 2666 contains a lesson it is that people are always from some confluence of factors more bizarre than a country. And it goes deeper than the question of multiple voices. We have eavesdropped on characters and then felt ourselves in the funny, sad, and dangerous process of needing and making meaning. Since there is no logical endpoint, we close with an image from the novel that is out of time. A world of "endless shipwreck," but met with the most radiant effort. It's as good a way as any to describe Bolaño and his overwhelming book.... Read more ....
Three-Dimensional Reading... Read more ....
File under: Beauty, Books, Writing & Such, Recommended
Lévi-Strauss Turns 100*
* This is where it's important to point out that legendary French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss is still alive.
The Blogger I Miss Most...
... is easily Ben Vershbow, formerly of if:book.
The only post-IFB news I can find of him is a Book Expo Canada from June. I hope he is doing something appropriately awesome.
Boy, This "Gastrosnark" Category Sure Is Useful ...
Found on Ask MetaFilter: "When asked for dessert recommendations, my friend’s 8-year-old son suggested 'chocolate chip cookies with chunks of chocolate chip cookie dough in them.' How on earth can I pull off this fantastic treat?"
November 27, 2008
100 Notable Books
The NYT's annual booklist is out, in case you missed it.
(BTW, Rex's annual list of lists is also in process.)
Cranberry Sauce Recipe
If you want to make your entire house smell amazing for two hours, make this. Exactly as the recipe says. It's brilliant.
Note: The jalapenos seem like a lot at first. Just go with it. I was also tempted to put in a little more water, but I'm happy I didn't. The recipe is perfect. Trust the recipe.
Also: My other contribution to Thanksgiving dinner is creamy potatoes au gratin. I diced the onions like a few of the other reviewers did, sprinkled over a dusting of garlic salt-and-pepper seasoning, and topped the whole with bread crumbs and a handful of shredded cheese before putting it into the oven.
November 26, 2008
You Get Two Guesses
Does this abstract come from The Onion or The New York Times?
Modern pentathlon has been cut from five events to four in a bid to boost its popularity and stay in the Olympics, combining shooting and running into a single event.
The Two-Disc Special Edition and Blu-Ray Edition of The Dark Knight ships with a digital AVI copy of the movie; if you buy it on Amazon, you can stream it right away as an Unbox video-on-demand.
Explain to me again why Amazon couldn't make the same model work for books?
Violence to Books
Sin against the Holy Spirit: I'm debating buying a fast sheet-fed scanner and cutting up my library so I can have it with me all the time as PDFs.
Insane? Genius? Should I just get a Kindle instead?
Flat, Fast Turkey
We did Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, because we went shopping on Monday and couldn't wait. (It also worked out better with our work schedules.) We opted to try Mark Bittman's 45-minute roast turkey, with the following results:... Read more ....
Building Yourself Into Somebody
Rachel Leow with a letter to a young historian:
Only Collect; that is to say, collect everything, indiscriminately... Don't presume too much to know what's important and what isn't. Photocopy journal articles, photograph archives; create bibliographies, buy books; make notes on every article or book you read, even if it's just one line saying "Never read this again"...... Read more ....
November 25, 2008
I've got two fun US transit infrastructure data visualizations for you.
Encyclopedia Joyceana, 1904
Amardeep Singh on teaching James Joyce's Ulysses:
The encyclopedic quality of Joyce’s novel does pose somewhat of a problem for people who write about Ulysses. There is simply too much there, too many examples, too many variations on the major themes. The best essays on Ulysses tend to take a narrow theme as a focus, and use the development of that theme as a way of finding an angle or a reading of the novel. A classic structure is to take a theme that interests you, and show how it develops in three stages (possibly, amongst the novel's three major characters). For instance, if you were interested in cooking and food, you could take a look at the food that is cooked at Martello Tower in Episode 1 (where Stephen does not eat), one or more of the episodes involving Bloom eating through the middle part of the novel, and finally Molly’s own references to food and eating at the end. The goal, of course, is to find an argument that shows some sort of movement or growing awareness relating to food, as described through these three glimpses into Joyce’s characters' minds.
Even if Ulysses weren't itself an encyclopedia, you could put all of these papers together and make one! Food in Ulysses. Porno in Ulysses. Jesuits in Ulysses. Tramcars in Ulysses. Soap in Ulysses.
You could do the same thing with Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Proust, or The Bible, but it is sometimes hard not to think that Joyce's book is the Borgesian book that contains all other books.
Go Throwbot Go
In the future, soldiers don't throw grenades. They throw robots.
November 24, 2008
Processing has been hugely important to me -- it's basically what transitioned me from a non-programmer to hacky programmer. (It's progress.) Processing's is the first forum I've contributed to since the Prodigy video game boards in 1992. (And these contributions are, er, a little more thoughtful.)
And seeing what others have done with Processing has bent my ambitions around (going for sort of a gravity well vs. photons analogy here) and set me on a track towards things like generative media. In fact, I think it's fair to say that Processing changed my life. Whoah -- I don't think I'd even had that thought before just now. Heavy! True!
So thanks Casey, thanks Ben, and thanks to everybody who's contributed code, time, expertise and explanation. It's a brilliant, broad-spirited project, and I'm delighted to see it flourish.
The Gift, The Commons, The Republic
Thanks to a timely permalinking intervention, I caught a NYTmag story from the 16th that I would have missed, about Lewis Hyde and crafting a new notion of copyright. Half-profile, half-summary, it wanders a lot over its five pages, but has great paragraphs like this one:
Thinker-politicians like Jefferson, Adams and Madison were just as familiar as we are with the metaphor that likens created work to physical property, especially to a landed estate. But they thought of that landed estate in a new way — as the basis of a republic. An American’s land was his own — he owed allegiance to no sovereign — but his ownership imposed on him an almost sacred moral requirement to contribute to the public good. According to Hyde, this ethic of “civic republicanism” was the ideological engine that drove the founders’ conception of intellectual property, and to his mind, it undercuts the ethic of “commercial republicanism” that dominates our current conception of it. Our right to property is not absolute; our possessions are held in trust, as it were. Seen through the prism of early civic Republicanism, Hyde asks, what might the creative self look like? Do we imagine that self as “solitary and self-made”? Or as “collective, common and interdependent”?... Read more ....
I Hate Cooking, But...
Jason's write-up of the Alinea cookbook (which is sponsoring his RSS feed -- wow, talk about sentences that only make sense in the year 2008) made me start thinking about, um, cookbooks.
I own two: One entry-level affair called "The Essentials of Cooking" and another slim volume called "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen."
But I'm starting to think maybe I've been taking the wrong approach. Turns out I am never going to cook a workmanlike stew for myself. I'm not going to fire up some sorta chicken stir fry. It's just too boring, and the take-out options in San Francisco are just too good.
But what about more interesting fare? What about the fun stuff?
What's your best way-out-there recipe? Something that's not just fun to eat but fun to make?
November 23, 2008
When Big Systems Change
I love stories of big systems changing. Especially systems so deep that we don't necessarily think of them as things you can change. Case in point: The Japanese court system is adding juries for the first time.
(America's legal tradition has had juries since 1166. This does not feel like a thing that changes.)
So Japan's new Saiban-in system has juries with six citizens and three judges, all sitting together. And check this out:
Perhaps the starkest departure from the U.S. method is that the panels will be encouraged to participate in "intermediate" deliberations. Panel member Reiko Kaihatsu '08 LL.M., a judge in the Saitama District Court, said that the nine jurors should "discuss and evaluate the evidence" throughout the trial -- while, say, on recess or at lunch. She explained that legislative planners learned in a series of mock trials that such discussions facilitate two of the court system's chief goals, speed and transparency. In other words, the single most infamous cause for mistrials in the United States -- jurors discussing a case and forming an opinion prior to deliberations -- will be a central component of the Saiban-in way.
You know what I'd read? A concise book called Our Systems. It would cover the basics of how societies on earth are organized -- how they choose leaders, collect and spend money, manage markets, make and enforce laws -- and would endeavor to present each system in good faith, whether it's the U.S., Egypt, Russia, Sweden, or China. That is, it would be descriptive, not prescriptive -- and to the degree possible, it would skip the root ideologies (I feel like we've heard all about those) and get to the nuts and bolts: How many people on a jury? How do you pick a judge? Who's allowed to own land? Who picks the president? And so on.
And let me emphasize: concise. There's probably some Comparative Government book out there that does what I want -- in 700 pages. But I want 70. Or seven!
November 22, 2008
Speaking of Kevin Kelly, I had basically taken for granted that one of us had already posted his call for more visions of the near future, given our recent spate of near-futurism. It appears no one had. Well, that's fixed.
I'll definitely back up Robin; check out NYTMag's Screens issue. (Is there no way to permalink whole issues? Blerg.)
My favorite story, though, is Ross Simonini's "The Sitcom Digresses," which traces the genealogy of the digression/flashback in TV comedies from The Simpsons to 30 Rock and ultimately to the postmodern novel. So:
Tristram Shandy -> Gravity's Rainbow -> The Simpsons -> Family Guy -> Scrubs -> Arrested Development -> 30 Rock
This reminded me that while we generally have a pretty good sense of developments in technique and changes in style in movies and literature, TV history is driven almost entirely by content. The sense of form is much looser -- I know that Malcolm in the Middle or Bernie Mac are single-camera shows, and look different from Seinfeld or I Love Lucy -- but what was the first single-camera sitcom? Who first added a phony laugh track? When did that get discredited?
Who are the great television directors? If we really are becoming people of the screen, we ought to know.
November 21, 2008
Ummm. The NYT Mag this weekend has gone completely meta-media. It is glorious.
Update: But you know this part is my favorite, of course.
The Long Campaign
Field organizer for the Democratic primary in Las Vegas, NV and Flagstaff, AZ
What's the best way to pick up an Obama campaigner?
Volunteer. Campaigners never have time to date anyone they don't see in the office. Bonus if you shower and dress in clean clothes. No one in the office has time to do that.
What has working on a campaign taught you about relationships?
For one thing, you can't date someone who doesn't understand campaigning. But in the real world, it taught me that there are a lot of men in their mid-to-late twenties who are very driven and motivated to succeed. Eighteen months ago, I thought they were all jerks.
The guy I've been seeing for a few weeks hasn't replied to my last email, but has updated his Facebook status since then. Should I be worried?
Yes. Working on campaigns taught me that when you really want something, the best way to get it is to continually call until you get it, whether it's an endorsement or a date.
Sadly, the rest of the article is kind of a disappointment -- nothing you wouldn't find from a random sampling of twentysomethings.
November 20, 2008
Current.com's 404 page is awesome.
(First column, third row!)
Silver Meets McLuhan
[A]lmost uniquely to radio, most of the audience is not even paying attention to you, because most people listen to radio when they're in the process of doing something else. (If they weren't doing something else, they'd be watching TV). They are driving, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes -- and you have to work really hard to sustain their attention. Hence what Wallace refers to as the importance of "stimulating" the listener, an art that Ziegler has mastered. Invariably, the times when Ziegler became really, really angry with me during the interview was when I was not permitting him to be stimulating, but instead asking him specific, banal questions that required specific, banal answers. Those questions would have made for terrible radio! And Ziegler had no idea how to answer them.... Read more ....
November 19, 2008
2019 Looks and Sounds Like This
(P.S. 2019 doesn't actually look like that. I just wanted to keep the meme going.)
Listening for Tension
[Gross] avoids the common pitfall of highbrow public broadcasting-style interviewers: giving in to the temptation to show off how much she knows and how smart she is in the set-up to the questions.
What she does instead, and what she shows brilliantly in this interview [with William Ayers], is: she listens, and she thinks. In my experience, 99% of the difference between a good interviewer (or a good panel moderator) and a bad one lies in what that person is doing while the interviewee talks. If the interviewer is mainly using that time to move down to the next item on the question list, the result will be terrible. But if the interviewer is listening, then he or she is in position to pick up leads ("Now, that's an intriguing idea, tell us more about..."), to look for interesting tensions ("You used to say X, but now it sounds like..."), to sum up and give shape to what the subject has said ("It sounds as if you're suggesting..."). And, having paid the interviewee the respect of actually listening to the comments, the interviewer is also positioned to ask truly tough questions without having to bluster or insult.
If you have this standard in mind -- is the interviewer really listening? and thinking? -- you will be shocked to see how rarely broadcast and on-stage figures do very much of either. But listen to this session by Gross to see how the thing should be done.
Gross's Fresh Air interview with Ayers is here.
November 18, 2008
SNARKMARKET ALERT: Snarkstruct 2019
The challenge is to generate an avalanche of different visions of the future in a mere 19 hours. To do that, you would need a crew of creative, engaged people... ideally from many different backgrounds... ideally used to asking and answering interesting questions... ideally kinda nerdy... ideally reading this right now.
IF ONLY WE HAD SUCH A CREW.
I'll kick it off in the comments, but then it's your turn. Remember, it can just be a sentence or two. Let's see if we can hit
I'm gonna focus on "the future of society" -- how do you share your feelings in 2019? -- and I invite you to do the same, but feel free to choose any of the five options listed in the link above.
Update: Whoah! Awesome responses so far. We still have 'til noon PST, so chime in!
Our Academic Rival
MIT is starting a Center for Future Storytelling. But it doesn't start 'til 2010, which means we have time here at Snarkmarket to completely dominate this nascent field.
Pls suggest immediate research projects in the comments.
Funding is available.
November 17, 2008
The New Radio
My friend Bethany Klein, communications professor at the University of Leeds, has a terrific interview in the new issue of Miller-McCune about her research on the relationship between pop music and advertising:
[Y]ou get people flippantly saying, "Sure, what's the big deal? This is what people do now." But when you further investigate, you find that everybody has some kind of internal checklist: "What kind of product is it? What's my relationship to the product? What type of commercial is it going to be? Who's directing the commercial?" If it truly was just submission to hyper-commercialism and an embrace of advertising, would it really matter? The other interesting tension I noticed in the interviews was that all these musicians were, of course, huge music fans. Many of them saw their own work as not very precious, that it couldn't possibly be a big deal if they licensed a song, but then if you talked to them about instances in which their favorite musicians had licensed to advertising, they couldn't help but feel that sadness of a fan about it. There was a difficulty in reconciling these two positions, thinking nobody could possibly care that much about your own work but knowing how much you care about other people's. In my book, I devote a chapter to The Shins. They licensed "New Slang" to McDonald's, relatively briefly, maybe just during the Olympics a few years ago. And that case was an amazing example of "Oh, people do still care." You could see in all the interviews that James Mercer, their singer, did about this -- and it got brought up in every interview -- he was really struggling with the idea: "What's the big deal? This is just a commercial -- it happens all the time." And, on the other hand, he could recognize how painful it would be if, say, The Smiths got used in a commercial and how terrible that would make him feel as a fan.... Read more ....
You Don't Get to Choose Your Nickname
Fancy new Chinese buildings with humble nicknames:
Many of the famous new buildings that have gone up in Beijing recently have been given their own tags by the people. The National Center for the Performing Arts is known as the "Duck Egg." The National Stadium is known as the "Bird's Nest." They're both humble yet fitting names for these grand edifices.
So... what's this one called?
Your Brain On Video Games
I've always wondered whether the kind of video games you like (or whether you like video games at all) tells you about what kind of person you are. Early arcade games were built around reflexes, patterns, and a relatively limited set of moves, attracting the kind of guys featured in King of Kong. My older brother is pretty good at sports, but unbelievably good at any kind of sports game, even ones he hasn't played before -- even sports he hasn't played before. Some people's brains just seem to be wired for certain kinds of games. Me, I'm good at a lot of video games, but I really like Minesweeper, Final Fantasy II, and Wii Tennis.
Clive Thompson writes a little bit about the relationship between the brain and video games in his review of Mirror's Edge, a new first-person video game that (Thompson says) uniquely leverages human neurology -- specifically our sense of proprioception, "your body's sense of its own physicality":... Read more ....
Running Off, Barking At Cats
Roger Ebert -- yes, that Roger Ebert -- is writing one of the best blogs around. Not just about movies either. I think blog-writing has made Ebert's movie reviews better -- more fun, more adventurous. His review of Charlie Kaufmann's Synecdoche, NY is a delight, and his own summary is the best: "Fair warning: I begin with a parable, continue with vast generalizations, finally get around to an argument with Entertainment Weekly, and move on to Greek gods, 'I Love Lucy' and a house on fire."
Robert Reich has a great (short!) new post: If they're too big to fail, they're too big, period.
(Cross-reference with Wired's old (but still classic) interview with Peter Drucker. Different argument, but complementary.)
(Via Ted R.)
November 16, 2008
This Post Typed By A Robot
The installation 'bios [bible]' consists of an industrial robot, which writes down the bible on rolls of paper. The machine draws the calligraphic lines with high precision. Like a monk in the scriptorium it creates step by step the text.... Read more ....
Starting with the old testament and the books of Moses ‘bios [bible]’ produces within seven month continuously the whole book. All 66 books of the bible are written on rolls and then retained and presented in the library of the installation.
‘bios [bible]’ is focussing on the questions of faith and technical progress. The installation correlates two cultural systems which are fundamental for societies today – religion and scientific rationalism. In this contexts scripture has all times an elementary function, as holy scripture or as formal writing of knowledge.
In computer technology 'basic input output system' (bios) designates the module which basicaly coordinates the interchange between hard- and software. Therefore it contains the indispensable code, the essential program writing, on which every further program can be established.
November 13, 2008
Here is a Picture of a Tiny Animal
Apropos of nothing: What a wonderful little expression.
Slow Snarkmarket! I'll pick up the pace next week, promise.
November 10, 2008
Adventures in Dorm Food
GOOD deploys a first-hundred-days mega-chart onto their aptly-named awesome.goodmagazine.com subdomain.
On Bill Clinton's third day in office, he lifted the global gag rule. On George Bush's third day in office, he reinstated it. Watch for Barack Obama to blow it away again.
Meta: I love GOOD's infographic work. Why isn't it more popular? The fact that it never really seems to break out calls into question some of my core beliefs about what people find cool and useful. Troubling. Any ideas?
No Sleep 'Til Barack-lyn
Super-smart CNET reporter Caroline McCarthy just posted a piece with some nice details about Current's election stuff and even a quote or two from meee. "No rest for the Web's election-weary" indeed.
Kinda related: Al's talk at Web 2.0 was the best I've ever seen him give. Worth the time if you've got it.
November 9, 2008
These simulated favelas created by Spanish artist Dionisio Gonzalez are magnificent. The simulations echo the ad hoc architecture of the shantytowns of Sao Paulo. As well as the pure imaginative chaos they evoke, I like that they come across as thoughtful without seeming either to exploit or glorify the real favelas.
Control Browser Refreshing
After the ABC News site auto-reloaded the page three times while I was trying to watch an 18-minute segment from This Week, I went hunting for a way to make Firefox prevent this. Fortunately, it's wonderfully easy. Go to about:config, bypass the warning message, and look for "accessibility:blockautorefresh." By default, this is set to false. Set it to true, and Firefox will prompt you for approval whenever a site tries to refresh itself.
If you're wondering why so many sites auto-refresh these days, it's basically a cheap and easy way to inflate our pageview counts. What we tell you, of course, is that we want to make sure that if you keep the site open in a tab while you click away, we want to make sure you see the freshest content when you click back. I strongly suspect if that were really our primary motive, we'd find a way to update our pages with AJAX, thereby preventing a severely annoying disruption of the site experience.
November 6, 2008
Watching CNN Like Everybody Else
The Obama campaign's official photos from election night -- surreal in their normalcy.
Well, until they get up on stage.
The Politics of Grace
Rachel with a bit of comparative democracy. She calls what we've seen "the politics of grace" -- what a wonderful phrase.
I would say it's also the politics of revelation. We know things today that we didn't on Tuesday morning. You look around and think: Aha. This is the country I'm living in. I hadn't realized.
November 5, 2008
Current.com on Election Day
WOW. Sorry for the gratuitous Current link, but honestly, I can't even believe we're on this list. Pretty cool.
My President is Black / My Lambo's Blue
This is ridiculous, and awesome:
I Was Born By the River
Oh, and why the heck not taste it again for the first time:
November 4, 2008
I didn't think today would feel like this.
My polling place was a dream. Eva's Hawaiian Cafe on Clement St. was pressed into service for democracy this morning. Everyone should vote in a cafe. Most of us skipped the booths and sat at tables in ones and twos.
I got there at 7:12 a.m. As the election volunteer was looking me up on her list, I was seized with an irrational fear: What if I'm not there? I know, I know, they would have let me vote anyway. But I couldn't shake it: I moved pretty recently. What if I messed up the paperwork?
Seriously, in the eight seconds it took her to flip to the letter 'S', I had a complete mini freak-out. I kept saying to myself:
I need to be able to vote for this man.
I need to be able to vote for this man.
I need to be able to vote for this man.
I smiled at my own weirdness as I filled out my ballot.
Then, five minutes later, in the car on the way to work, I started to cry. I have no idea why. How many people did exactly the same thing this morning? Millions? It must be millions -- a fellowship of wet-eyed citizens waiting at stoplights.
This man. His grandmother! This man. All of us.
I didn't think today would feel like this. Partially it's that I've seen the polls; I know what's happening; I know what's about to happen. It's exciting. But it's something else too, something I can't yet explain.
There is such a quiet force to the way we vote. It's glacial.
And today, we are on the move.
What was your morning like?
November 3, 2008
A Concise History of the Future
On the occasion of Snarkmarket's fifth year
On November 3, 2003, Robin posted Snarkmarket's first post. Two-thousand, two-hundred and seven posts later (excluding the 103 unpublished drafts), here we are.
We intend to mark the occasion by finally migrating this blog from a dusty old Movable Type installation to a sleek new Wordpress install, so pardon our dust over the next couple of weeks as we make that transition. And since it's always wise to do a CMS transition and redesign at the same time (ha), we'd welcome your feedback on our imminent new look as well.
But most importantly, we want to extend a warm welcome and happiest of birthday wishes to a third Snarkmaster, for whom this is less a promotion than merely an official acknowledgment of his contributions: Mr. Timothy Carmody.
Lightly-edited sentimental ruminations posted over Google Chat (concerning Snarkmarket, blogging, time, destiny and all that) can be found in the extended entry.
Thank you again for reading, and most of all, for sharing your thoughts. To the next five years, and beyond.... Read more ....
The Politics of Food
We all know I'm a giant fan of Michael Pollan, and his recent NYT Magazine piece is no exception, containing a bevy of ideas for how the next President can transform U.S. food policy. But it seems to me his locavore-cheerleading and attacks on factory-farm monoculture are in direct conflict with the claims Paul Collier makes in this month's Foreign Affairs.
Two parts of Collier's thesis - that we should promote factory farms in developing countries and work to overcome Third-World opposition to GM foods - seem to run counter to Pollan's ideas. (They agree on a third argument - that US farm subsidies are wack.) Re-reading Pollan's article after reading Collier's, I'm struck by how quickly Pollan glosses over the effects of his policy recommendations in the developing world. (A characteristic line: "To grow sufficient amounts of food using sunlight will require more people growing food — millions more. This suggests that sustainable agriculture will be easier to implement in the developing world, where large rural populations remain, than in the West, where they don’t.")
Where the two seem to be especially in conflict is in Collier's total disdain for what he calls "peasant agriculture," or what Pollan might call "sustainable farming."
As a society, we devalued farming as an occupation and encouraged the best students to leave the farm for “better” jobs in the city. We emptied America’s rural counties in order to supply workers to urban factories. To put it bluntly, we now need to reverse course. We need more highly skilled small farmers in more places all across America — not as a matter of nostalgia for the agrarian past but as a matter of national security. For nations that lose the ability to substantially feed themselves will find themselves as gravely compromised in their international dealings as nations that depend on foreign sources of oil presently do. But while there are alternatives to oil, there are no alternatives to food.
The first giant that must be slain is the middle- and upper-class love affair with peasant agriculture. With the near-total urbanization of these classes in both the United States and Europe, rural simplicity has acquired a strange allure. ... But [...] given the chance, peasants seek local wage jobs, and their offspring head to the cities. This is because at low-income levels, rural bliss is precarious, isolated, and tedious. The peasant life forces millions of ordinary people into the role of entrepreneur, a role for which most are ill suited. In successful economies, entrepreneurship is a minority pursuit; most people opt for wage employment so that others can have the worry and grind of running a business. And reluctant peasants are right: their mode of production is ill suited to modern agricultural production, in which scale is helpful. In modern agriculture, technology is fast-evolving, investment is lumpy, the private provision of transportation infrastructure is necessary to counter the lack of its public provision, consumer food fashions are fast-changing and best met by integrated marketing chains, and regulatory standards are rising toward the holy grail of the traceability of produce back to its source. Far from being the answer to global poverty, organic self-sufficiency is a luxury lifestyle. It is appropriate for burnt-out investment bankers, not for hungry families.
I'm tempted to call it a wash and seek some sort of half-hearted journalistic middle ground, but I sense there's some nuanced truth somewhere in here that should be sussed out, and I'm not sure who to believe. I've gotta say Robin was right, a "great reconciliation" is in order.
Anyone got a link to the equivalent of a Pollan/Collier online cage match I could read?
November 2, 2008
'I Had Grown Too Comfortable in My Solitude'
Obama doesn't play the game the way it is usually played. He also seems to have an unusual personality for a politician: early on in Dreams From My Father, he writes: "I had grown too comfortable in my solitude, the safest place I knew." Immediately afterwards, he tells the story of an elderly man who lives in his building, who he sees sometimes, helps with the groceries, but who has never said a word to him. He thinks of the man as a kindred spirit. Later, the man is found dead; his apartment is "neat, almost empty", with money squirreled away throughout. It's clear, from the way he tells the story, that this seems to him to be one of his possible fates, and though his description of the man is kind throughout, it's also clear that Obama thinks: his fate is to be avoided.
Ask yourself when you last heard of a politician who had to warn himself away from solitude, or who saw dying alone, without friends or family, as among his possible fates. Imagine how unlikely it is that, say, Bill Clinton ever thought: I have grown too comfortable in my solitude. Politicians normally crave attention. Obama seems to me not to. That's probably one reason why he can afford to underplay his hand sometimes, and to hold back. And it's certainly part of what makes him so interesting.
(Yeah, I realize it's been blockquote-o-rama lately. Cut me some slack. I'll write more when Obama's president.)
The Ecstasy of Influence
Artists who believe in the mystique of originality are often reluctant to reveal their inspirations. But the magpielike Mr. Desplechin revels in what the writer Jonathan Lethem has called the ecstasy of influence. "I didn't invent anything," he said. "Being a director is not such a grand thing. My job is just to show the audience what I love."
Mr. Desplechin's movie looks terrific.
The Possibility of Success
What would happen if the cynicism that afflicted us--crippled us, really--since Watergate suddenly dissipated? I'm not saying that we should ever stop being critical or skeptical, but what if our first impulse weren't the debilitating assumption of bad intentions on the part of our public figures? What if we left open the possibility of nobility, the possibility of success?
November 1, 2008
IMs About This Recording
A: there was a mad men review of the episode with the rothko in it
A: that made me proud to be alive
R: that's praise.
A: and not exaggeration
A: i got really excited about living in these times
A: in a world where people can have and share ideas like this etc etc
A: golden glowing moment
A: (i'd probably just finished a cup of coffee)
Don't sit around wondering about the golden age, the renaissance, the where-it's-at -- you're in it!