September 10, 2009
Kleinfeld's Got the Past Futures Beat
I'm sure you saw this, because the NYT's been promoting it: Remembering a Future That Many Feared by N. R. Kleinfeld. The idea is to look back to September 12, 2001, and recall the widely-shared fears and assumptions of the moment:
New York would become a fortress city, choked by apprehension and resignation, forever patrolled by soldiers and submarines. Another attack was coming. And soon.
If a crippled downtown Manhattan were to have any chance of regeneration, ground zero had to be rebuilt quickly, a bricks and mortar nose-thumbing to terror.
First: What did we think would happen? Then: What actually happened? The reporter's job is straightforward. Interview the past. Report the present.
This setup is so good it made me gasp—really—as I started in on the first few grafs and realized what Kleinfeld was up to. Talk about context. We can't improve our decision-making, our foresight, if we never go back to look at the decisions we made—the futures we feared—and compare them to reality.
This kind of story—maybe it's more "history light" than journalism, I don't know—ought to be standard practice. Let's look at the wailing and teeth-gnashing of just nine months ago, re: the economy. First: What did we think would happen? Then: What actually happened?
Our memories are so short. Our imaginations are so... adaptable. We don't notice them changing. This story totally represents a kind of Long Now thinking, if you ask me—in the sense that it says our vision of the future is something we can inspect, analyze, criticize, report. I mean, that headline says it all, and some copy editor should get a prize for it: "Remembering a Future." Exactly.
Anyway, this is all to say, big ups to N.R. Kleinfeld and the NYT. This was a great idea.
August 19, 2009
No New Tricks
I love the actor/magician Ricky Jay, not least for his terrific supporting turn in the first season of Deadwood (understated on a show where nobody was understated). I resisted reading an old New Yorker profile of Jay when John Gruber at Daring Fireball linked to it earlier in the week, even after linking to an interview Jay gave Errol Morris about deception and talking up Jay's history of magicians and irregular stage entertainers Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women (JG: "simply one of the best books I’ve read in years"). But then Jason Kottke linked to it too, and I was done.
Part of the charm is that Jay isn't just a magician, but also a storyteller, a physical specimen (throwing playing cards through watermelons, that sort of thing), and a scholar, historian, and collector of magical books, stories, and ephemera. David Mamet tells a good anecdote:
"I’ll tell him I’m having a Fourth of July party and I want to do some sort of disappearance in the middle of the woods. He says, ‘That’s the most bizarre request I’ve ever heard. You want to do a disappearing effect in the woods? There’s nothing like that in the literature. I mean, there’s this one 1760 pamphlet—'Jokes, Tricks, Ghosts and Diversions by Woodland, Stream and Campfire.' But, other than that, I can’t think of a thing.’ He’s unbelievably generous. Ricky’s one of the world’s great people. He’s my hero. I’ve never seen anybody better at what he does.”
The profile, by Mark Singer, is not uniform - it lulls in places, and then snaps back to attention, kind of like a good magic trick. But there are perfect things in it, like this:
“I’m always saying there’s no correlation between gambling and magic,” Jay said as he shuffle-cut the cards. “But this is a routine of actual gamblers’ techniques within the context of a theatrical magic presentation.”
He noticed me watching him shuffling, and asked softly, with deadpan sincerity, “Does that look fair?”
When I said it looked fair, he dealt two hands of five-card draw and told me to lay down my cards. Two pair. Then he laid down his. A straight.
“Was that fair?” he said. “I don’t think so. Let’s discuss the reason why that wasn’t fair. Even though I shuffled openly and honestly, I didn’t let you cut the cards. So let’s do it again, and this time I’ll let you cut the cards.”
It goes on like this for a while, with Jay apparently giving up more and more control over the deck with each iteration, until finally Jay says:
"Now, this time you shuffle the cards and you deal the cards. And you pick the number of players. And you designate any hand for me and any hand for you.”
After shuffling, I dealt four hands, arranged as the points of a square. I chose a hand for myself and selected one for him. My cards added up to nothing—king-high nothing.
“Is that fair?” Jay said, picking up his cards, waiting a beat, and returning them to the table, one by one—the coup de grâce. “I. Don’t. Think. So.” One, two, three, four aces.
Later, Singer asks Jay about a rumor that he had once played cards for a living.
“Would anybody play cards with you today?” I asked. “Sure,” he said. “Silly people.”
I'll also reproduce, because I can't help it, the catalog of reviews Singer gives of Jay's Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women:
Reviewing “Learned Pigs” in the Times, John Gross wrote, “One effect of Mr. Jay’s scholarship is to make it clear that even among freaks and prodigies there is very little new under the sun. Show him a stone-eater or a human volcano or an enterologist and he will show you the same thing being done before, often hundreds of years earlier.” In the Philadelphia Inquirer Carlin Romano wrote, “ ‘Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women’ is a book so magnificently entertaining that if a promoter booked it into theatres and simply distributed a copy to each patron to read, he’d have the hit of the season.” A blurb on the jacket from Penn and Teller says, “It’s the coolest book . . . and probably the most brilliantly weird book ever.” Jay wrote much of “Learned Pigs” while occupying a carrel in the rare-book stacks of the Clark Library, at U.C.L.A. At one point, Thomas Wright, a librarian at the Clark and a former professor of English literature, tried to persuade him to apply for a postdoctoral research fellowship. When Jay explained that he didn’t have a doctorate, Wright said, “Maybe a master’s degree would be sufficient.”
“Thomas, I don’t even have a B.A.”
Wright replied, “Well, you know, Ricky, a Ph.D. is just a sign of docility.”
August 6, 2009
The BLDGBLOG Book Is Not About Architecture
So I have to describe how The BLDGBLOG Book starts out. There are these full-page, full-color images, and then Geoff Manaugh's intro text begins. It's set in really big type, just airy and fresh and great.
This continues for a couple of pages, with the lush color images and the big airy text.
Then suddenly, one of the columns is just something else—a sidebar on "the architecture of spam," to be exact.
Next page. Another sidebar sneaks in. The main text is still going! It's trucking along—Geoff is describing the ethos of BLDGBLOG:
In other words, forget academic rigor. Never take the appropriate next step. Talk about Chinese urban design, the European space program, the landscape in the films of Alfred Hitchcock in the span of three sentences—because it's fun, and the juxtapositions might take you somewhere. Most importantly, follow your lines of interest.
A few pages later it's skipping back-and-forth—the ethos cuts out, there's a full-page interview with video game concept artist Daniel Dociu, then some two-page spread of I'm-not-even-sure-what in England, then it's back to the ethos.
And all together, I tell you, it feels like nothing so much as a cross-fade. I have never experienced anything quite like it in a book. It's a bit hard to describe, but trust me, it's really, really cool. Finally, back to the ethos:
Finally, I want to reiterate that BLDGBLOG is fundamentally about following, and not being ashamed by, your own enthusiasms, whether or not they are rigorous and appropriate for the academic mores of the day, or even interesting for your family and friends.
Reading this book, I'm realizing I never really understood what BLDGBLOG was about. I thought it was about weird architecture and the things that intersect with weird architecture. It's not; it's about enthusiasm and imagination, period. And so the book basically reads like a catalog of excitement and wondering-what-if.
So that's my main message, here: It's no surprise that I'd recommend The BLDGBLOG Book. But I want to make sure you give it a look even if you're not a fan of the blog, or of architecture in general, because really, it's about something else entirely—something entirely universal.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Recommended
Gods of the Underworld
I wrote about Joshua Glenn's new schema for generations a year ago - basically, Glenn's MO is to toss out distended categories like "Generation X" for tighter, single-decade groupings with names like "Hardboileds" or "The Net Generation."
That was at Brainiac, the blog for the Boston Globe. But at Hilobrow, Glenn's still working back, decade by decade, which is especially awesome for 1) people who are geeks for the nineteenth-century, like me, and 2) all of us, who have a much less intuitive sense of generational changes or continuities the longer we look beyond living memory.
For example, consider the generation born between 1854 and 1863. Glenn calls them "the Plutonians":
Pluto is the god of the underworld, and members of this generation — Freud, Emil Kraepelin, Sir James Frazer, Eugen Bleuler, Julius Wagner-Jauregg, Franz Boas, Émile Durkheim — were dedicated to spelunking the darkest corners of the unconscious, rationalizing the world’s religions and myths, laying bare the deepest structures of society and culture. And then there’s Plutonian Joseph Conrad’s voyage to the Heart of Darkness… and, of course, Rimbaud’s Une Saison en Enfer.
If Rimbaud's Season In Hell isn't enough brooding modernist romance for you, may I remind you that Nikola Tesla is holding in his hands balls of flame?
Tesla, the greatest of all Plutonians, had decided that the earth itself was a great conductor, “literally alive with electrical vibrations” — and that he could use it to transmit electrical power without wires. Tesla claimed that soon, humankind would tap the sun’s energy with an antenna, control the weather with electrical energy, and establish a global system of wireless communications. “When wireless is fully applied the earth will be converted into a huge brain,” he told backer J.P. Morgan, “capable of response in every one of its parts.”
Glenn says that Tesla, Ishi, Le Petomane, and The Elephant Man would make for a great League of Extraordinary Gentleman-style team-up; however, according to Wikipedia, there's already a graphic novel, The Five Fists of Science, where
Nikola Tesla, Mark Twain and Bertha von Suttner combine forces to try to bring about world peace through superior firepower. The comic's introduction shows Twain explaining that the story does not concern itself very much with historical accuracy, and this assertion is borne out by the story: Twain and Tesla use scientific know-how, general trickery and media manipulation techniques to try to scare world leaders into following their noble path. In the company of several allies, the two are soon confronted by dark forces led by the dastardly Thomas Edison, John Pierpont Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and Guglielmo Marconi. The inventors and financiers are collaborating on a bizarre new skyscraper, the Innsmouth Tower, on whose building site many construction workers have already died in mysterious accidents.
Here, I'll just give the last word to one of my favorite quotes from Futurama:
FRY: Hey, you have no right to criticize the twentieth century! We gave the world the light bulb, the steam boat and the cotton gin. LEELA: Those things are all from the nineteenth century. FRY: Yeah, well, they probably just copied us.
July 17, 2009
This is the last day that Hilzoy will be blogging at Obsidian Wings and Washington Monthly. I don't think everyone yet realizes what we as her readers are losing. As I wrote to Matt after we heard the news, "she wasn't the most famous political blogger; she was just the best."
A philosopher by training, she was compelled to blog in 2002 by what she saw as the craziness of the country then - not just the bad policies of the government, but brutal invective against anyone who doubted or wanted to debate them. Now, it's calmer. As she wrote in her farewell post:
There are lots of people I disagree with, and lots of things I really care about, and even some people who seem to me to have misplaced their sanity, but the country as a whole does not seem to me to be crazy any more. Also, it has been nearly five years since I started. And so it seems to me that it's time for me to turn back into a pumpkin and twelve white mice.
One of the things that's sad for me, though, is that while Hilzoy was particularly fierce, patient, and logical in her approach to Big Issues In Politics, she was also attentive to things that typically draw much less attention. For example, her post on the unseriousness of Sarah Palin's resignation pivots from smart but general things (government is serious business, a lame-duck governor can actually usually do more to affect policy than one who needs to secure re-election) to a very specific policy issue, with data to back it up:
As of 2007 (the most recent data I could find), Alaska was the fourth worst of 45 states reporting when it came to keeping kids from being abused in their foster homes -- the homes they're given to keep them safe from abuse and neglect. Alaska's child protective services were the fifth worst in the nation at keeping kids from undergoing repeat abuse, the third worst in response time, and the sixth worst in terms of the time from an initial report of child abuse to receipt of services...
Foster care is one of those issues that liberals and conservatives ought to agree on. Kids are not responsible for being abused or neglected. They can't just take care of themselves. And someone like Sarah Palin, who is forever talking about fighting for our children, might be expected to work at this. If she was looking for a way to spend her time other than taking junkets at taxpayer expense, it might have occurred to her to fix Alaska's foster care system so that it really took care of Alaska's kids.
If I had to put a label on Hilzoy's best virtue as a blogger, it was this insistence on moral seriousness. Some of this was rooted in a basic respect for due diligence in policy decisions - see her blistering comments on the origins of the enhanced interrogation program. After all, she was a professional philosopher, who took reasoning and evidence seriously. One of my favorite posts of hers in this vein was her takedown of EO Wilson's Atlantic Monthly article on biology and morality. She just knew her stuff cold.
But I think it was also rooted in her deep empathy for people who were abused, powerless, without recourse technical arguments as a means to solve their problems. She was also unafraid to interject her own experiences into the discussion. See her rebuttal to David Brooks's complaint when a politician had grabbed his leg, which Brooks read as a signal that the code of dignity governing interactions had slipped away.
News flash: This has been happening to people forever, at least if you count women as people. Back when George Washington was writing out his "Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation", which Brooks cites as an example of the Dignity Code, Thomas Jefferson was hitting on Sally Hemings. A professor whose class I was enrolled in once grabbed my breasts at a party. Every woman I know has stories like this. Maybe being groped in a public setting is a novel experience for straight guys; not being a straight guy, I wouldn't know. But if it is, that isn't because no one ever groped anyone in a public setting before.
What can I say: nobody knows if hilzoy's retirement will be like Jay-Z's. I doubt it will be like Brett Favre's, because she's too deliberate to mess around with a decision like this. I do hope that we'll be seeing her writing on politics and morality in some popular forum - because she is the real thing. And we need that.
July 11, 2009
Britta Gustafson, "Learning to see wooden poles":
When I’m not in a rush to get somewhere, I look up at the tops of telephone poles. I don’t know anything about electricity, but I find myself reading glossaries of linemen’s slang and technical definitions, learning how to refer to the grey buckets that transform electricity for home use (cans, bugs, distribution transformers) and how to identify several other pole features, especially different varieties of shiny ceramic insulators.
It's a really nice photo-essay, with little detours about the pleasures of walking, childhood memories of the Mister Rogers crayon factory documentary, and generally finding joy in "functional and authentic technical equipment, the more elaborate and less appreciated the better."
My grandfather was (and my uncle is) a lineman for Detroit Edison, so like Britta, I find power lines really fascinating. The general tendency of this century has been to make our infrastructure and industrial more invisible and remote, even as it becomes more individualized and less communal. (Think about riding a train versus driving a car.) Utility lines, when you notice them, spell out the lie in all that. Of course, they're most conspicuous when they stop working. (Actually, they're really conspicuous when they're knocked over in a shower of sparks and flame, but that's a special case.)
One of my favorite parts in Terry Zwigoff's documentary Crumb is when R. Crumb explains how he takes photographs of ordinary buildings and street corners - apartments, gas stations, strip malls - so he can use them as reference for adding details like telephone and electrical poles, junction boxes, gutter grates. Otherwise, he says, you forget about these things; it's as if they were never there.
File under: Beauty, Cities, Design, Object Culture, Recommended, Technosnark
July 9, 2009
Language and the New Liberal Arts
So I'm sitting here, working on making a plain-vanilla hypertext version of New Liberal Arts so folks can read it on their phones, Kindles, whatever, and cleaning up all the extra cruft to make it work -- you can just cut-and-paste from the PDF, it'll be easy, Robin says, forgetting that it's set in opposing faces that sometimes get out of order, that the all-cap fonts turn into gibberish, and that there's a freaking secret message in the thing --
And, maybe just naturally, or maybe as a function of what I'm doing, I am totally blown away - again - by Diana Kimball's "Coding and Decoding" and Rachel Leow's "Translation."
Seriously. Just check them out. They're so elegant and complimentary - Rachel's is about a kind of patient mastery and deep connection to other human beings past and present, Diana's about ambient awareness of linguistic symbols that we discover but whose deciphering is always going to be incomplete. Originally, I was going to write a separate NLA entry for "Languages" - when I first read these two, months ago, I realized that I had nothing I wanted to add.
File under: Language, New Liberal Arts, Recommended
July 6, 2009
The Geography of New Media
If you hang around in the NYC media bubble long enough, you develop the social depression of a collapsing industry. The west coast is full of a giddy frisson about the inevitable demise of big media, while the midwest is skeptical of everything that gets force-fed to them from the coasts. NYC, which has essentially zero awareness of any of this, continues to constantly be shocked! when a TMZ or Pitchfork or The Onion comes along from the hinterlands with a massively successful enterprise.
The reasons for this amounts to a lack of vision. Even smart people, vampirically bound to the past, seem completely blind to developing new formats. The standard for online innovation right now is "launch another blog," which no one seems to recognize is about as depressing as launching another newspaper.
Sign One that Mediaite will be smarter than HuffPo: this Jeffrey Feldman column that turns Nico Pitney vs. Dana Milbank into Marshall McLuhan vs. Thomas Jefferson. Me likey, Jeffrey. Me likey a lot.
June 22, 2009
My new favorite blog is Gary Dexter's How books got their titles. Dexter gives the biographies (nomographies?) of famous books according to the following criteria:
1) the title should not be explicable simply by reading the text of the book itself; 2) each title should be the title of a book or play that has been published as such (rather than e.g. a poem or story that appears as part of a collection); 3) no quotations as titles.
Here's the story of Freud's The Ego and the Id, part of the title and concept of which was adapted from George Groddeck's The Book of the It:
In the early years of psychoanalysis, practitioners were very anxious to establish their respectability as legitimate medical men. This was still an age of sexual puritanism, in which the sexual organs and sexual functions were not generally mentioned in polite conversation, and in which sexual categories as we now know them, or think we know them -- homosexuality, bisexuality, transvestism, transsexualism -- were still at an early and controversial stage of development. In this atmosphere, George Groddeck delivered a notorious speech to the congress of psychoanalysts at The Hague in 1920, opening his address with the words: "I am a wild analyst." This was somewhat crass. Analysts were regarded by the public as "wild" already: it was exactly the image the profession wished to avoid. In his speech Groddeck went on to develop the idea that unconscious forces were the rulers of the human organism: even bodily diseases were caused by unconscious conflicts and neuroses. Groddeck moreover insisted on bringing his mistress to conferences and was the author of a risqué novel, The Seeker of Souls.
Nevertheless Freud liked Groddeck personally. He wrote to Max Eitingon that Groddeck was "a bit of a fantasist, but an original fellow who has the rare gift of good humour. I should not like to do without him." And Freud and Groddeck were in regular correspondence about their projects in 1923. Groddeck wrote to Freud, explaining his concept of the It, an idea partially derived from Nietzsche:
I am of the opinion that man is animated by the unknown. There is an It in him, something marvellous that regulates everything that he does and that happens to him. The sentence "I live" is only partially correct; it expresses a little partial phenomenon of the fundamental truth: "Man is lived by the It."
And Joyce's Ulysses:
Joyce was from an early age deeply in love with the Odyssey. "The character of Ulysses has fascinated me ever since boyhood," he wrote to Carlo Linati in 1920. As a schoolboy he read Charles Lamb's Adventures of Ulysses, an adventure-yarn version of the story which presents, in Lamb's words, "a brave man struggling with adversity; by a wise use of events, and with an inimitable presence of mind under difficulties, forcing out a way for himself." Joyce said later that the story so gripped him that when at Belvedere College (he would have been between the ages of 11 and 15) he was tasked to write an essay on "My Favourite Hero", he chose Ulysses. (The essay title "My Favourite Hero" actually appears in Ulysses, on page 638 of the World's Classics edition .) He later described Ulysses to Frank Budgeon as the only "complete all-round character presented by any writer...a complete man...a good man."
Unsurprisingly therefore, this "complete man" surfaced as early as Joyce's first major prose work -- Dubliners of 1914. Joyce had originally planned that it include a short story called "Ulysses", the plot of which was based on an incident which took place in June 1904. Joyce was involved in a scuffle on St Stephen's Green, Dublin, after accosting another man's lady-companion, and was rescued and patched up by one Albert H. Hunter. Hunter, according to Joyce's biographer, Richard Ellmann, was "rumoured to be Jewish and to have an unfaithful wife" (in both of these respects a prototype for Leopold Bloom). In 1906 Joyce wrote to his brother Stanislaus: "I have a new story for Dubliners in my head. It deals with Mr Hunter." In a letter written shortly afterwards he mentioned its title: "I thought of beginning my story Ulysses but I have too many cares at present." Three months later he had abandoned the idea, writing: "Ulysses never got any forrader than its title." The incident with Hunter was only written up later, in Ulysses itself, in a passage at the end of episode fifteen in which Bloom rescues Dedalus "in orthodox Samaritan fashion" from a fight. The idea of Ulysses as symbolic hero -- and as a title -- was therefore present as early as 1906.
Not all of the stories are so ponderous. Here's Marshall Mcluhan's The Medium is the Massage:
Massage? Shouldn't that be "message"? Well, yes, it should. When the book came back from the typesetter there was a misprint in the title. According to his son Eric, McLuhan took one look at it and exclaimed, "Leave it alone! It's great, and right on target!".
It was a typical McLuhan strategy. The phrase "the medium is the message"; – coined by McLuhan in the early 60s and denoting the way new media such as film and television had by their very nature begun to manipulate the way ideas were conceived and received - was already a cliché by the time the book came out in 1967, and McLuhan must have welcomed the chance to ring the changes on it. As Eric writes on the Marshall McLuhan website: "Now there are possible four readings for the last word of the title, all of them accurate: 'Message' and 'Mess Age,' 'Massage' and 'Mass Age.'"
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Recommended
June 7, 2009
Sounds and Pictures
Things I'm digging right now:
- This old Tungg song: Bullets. It wasn't until the third listen that I decided it was being sung by happy, dancing zombies. Or hobbits. Or zombie hobbits? (Be sure to get past the odd little sonic intro.)
- I think I mentioned him before, but man, I just cannot get enough of Hudson Mohawke. Two of my favorite tracks are on this page in different forms, but I really think it's worth getting the whole album. Here's some more context.
- I love Jillian Tamaki's sketchbook. These animals are appealing without being overcute. (Total Babar vibe, you know?) There are glimpses into her process. And overall I'm just blown away by the variety of tone and style. Like, wha? Whaaa?
- Tornadoes in Brooklyn has been on a roll lately. Love these images of the magical (?!) former Soviet Union. These ones creep me out. And look at the texture of the sky here. Is that real? I'm kinda suspicious. Look at these signal flags! Wrapped up like Batman's utility belt... for a boat.
- Let's get a Snarkmarket treehouse.
June 2, 2009
Fredo Rides Again
Who cares, because I love it. It's the same layered sound as Sad Song, along with an even more free-form approach to video. 4:3? 16:9? Boring! Inspect one of the circles, or the hexagon, to see what I mean.
Cross-reference this with the combinatorial Cold War Kids and you are on your way to something important.
Update: Wow, there's more (older stuff?) I hadn't seen. Moon After Berceuse is a time-merge media music video. Imagine playing in an ensemble with alternate versions of yourself. Or time-traveling backward and forward, 30 seconds at a time, to fill in different parts of a song. My head just exploded.
May 26, 2009
Sonority in Translation
Marvelous profile of Svetlana Gaier, translator of Dostoyevsky into German:
Svetlana Ivanov was 18 years old when the Germans marched into Kiev (she acquired the name Geier later from her husband, a violinist). Although these events were the prelude to great suffering for countless subjects of the Soviet Union, it was a time of great promise for the young woman. Like others willing to work for the Germans for a one-year period, she was eligible to receive a scholarship to go to Germany. Having received private lessons in French and German from childhood, she was able to work as an interpreter for a Dortmund construction firm that was erecting a bridge across the Dnieper River.
Svetlana and her mother – who came from a family of tsarist officers - were victims of Stalinism. Svetlana Geier still recalls watching as a small child while her grandmother cut up family photos into tiny pieces with manicuring scissors: under the Communist regime, their possession could have been dangerous. Her father, a plant breeding expert, was interned during the purges of 1938. He remained in prison for 18 months, was interrogated and abused, but nonetheless eventually released. The following year, he died from the after-effects of imprisonment. Still ostracized even after his release, he spent his final months in a dacha outside of town, cared for by his daughter.
In the eyes of the young interpreter’s countrymen, her work for the Germans had discredited her: "As far as they were concerned, I was a collaborator." After Stalingrad, she could easily imagine what awaited her under Soviet rule. She took advantage of an offer to enter the German Reich with her mother, somewhat starry-eyed, and still hoping to receive a scholarship. That she, a "worker from the east" (her automatic classification in Nazi Germany) actually received it - one of two Humboldt scholarships reserved for "talented foreigners" - borders on the miraculous. Playing benevolent roles in her lengthy and stirring account of these events are a generous entrepreneur, an alert secretary, and a pair of good-natured assistants at the Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories...
Now, a year before the end of World War II, Svetlana Ivanov began her literary studies. She recalls the very first lecture she heard, Walter Rehm's "The Essence of the Tragic," which she attended in the company of her fellow students, all of them men with war injuries. She still has her notes.
I'm reminded, more than a little ironically, of the line the rabbi speaks at the beginning of Tony Kushner's Angels in America: "You can never make that crossing that she made, for such Great Voyages in this world do not any more exist. But every day of your lives the miles that voyage between that place and this one you cross. Every day. You understand me? In you that journey is."
I really like this description of her translation method:
Svetlana Geier’s method, if one can call it that, is an acoustic one. She immerses herself in the text until she has absorbed it completely, is able to hear its unique tenor, or as she says, "its melody." Then she induces it to resound in German, and this again takes place acoustically, for Geier dictates her translations. They ring out aloud before ever becoming fixed on paper. Her Dostoevsky translations have received extraordinarily praise for this "sonorous" character in particular. Finally, it is said, the divergent voices of Dostoevsky’s protagonists have become distinguishable.
Geier's last translation, of a book by Dostoevsky that I haven't read, Podrostok - Geier's title, Ein grüner Junge, brings the German closer to Constance Garnett's A Raw Youth -- also sounds fascinating. But, I've already excerpted this short article to death, so you should click on it if you, you know, actually want to know something about her/FD's book.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Language, Recommended, Worldsnark
May 25, 2009
The Soul of American Medicine
If I ever meet Atul Gawande, I'm giving him a high-five, a hug, and then I'm going to try to talk to him for about fifteen minutes about why I think he's special. From "The Cost Conundrum," in the new New Yorker:
No one teaches you how to think about money in medical school or residency. Yet, from the moment you start practicing, you must think about it. You must consider what is covered for a patient and what is not. You must pay attention to insurance rejections and government-reimbursement rules. You must think about having enough money for the secretary and the nurse and the rent and the malpractice insurance...
When you look across the spectrum from Grand Junction [Colorado] to McAllen [Texas]—and the almost threefold difference in the costs of care—you come to realize that we are witnessing a battle for the soul of American medicine. Somewhere in the United States at this moment, a patient with chest pain, or a tumor, or a cough is seeing a doctor. And the damning question we have to ask is whether the doctor is set up to meet the needs of the patient, first and foremost, or to maximize revenue.
There is no insurance system that will make the two aims match perfectly. But having a system that does so much to misalign them has proved disastrous. As economists have often pointed out, we pay doctors for quantity, not quality. As they point out less often, we also pay them as individuals, rather than as members of a team working together for their patients. Both practices have made for serious problems...
Activists and policymakers spend an inordinate amount of time arguing about whether the solution to high medical costs is to have government or private insurance companies write the checks. Here’s how this whole debate goes. Advocates of a public option say government financing would save the most money by having leaner administrative costs and forcing doctors and hospitals to take lower payments than they get from private insurance. Opponents say doctors would skimp, quit, or game the system, and make us wait in line for our care; they maintain that private insurers are better at policing doctors. No, the skeptics say: all insurance companies do is reject applicants who need health care and stall on paying their bills. Then we have the economists who say that the people who should pay the doctors are the ones who use them. Have consumers pay with their own dollars, make sure that they have some “skin in the game,” and then they’ll get the care they deserve. These arguments miss the main issue. When it comes to making care better and cheaper, changing who pays the doctor will make no more difference than changing who pays the electrician. The lesson of the high-quality, low-cost communities is that someone has to be accountable for the totality of care. Otherwise, you get a system that has no brakes.
File under: Cities, Recommended, Science, Snarkpolicy
May 23, 2009
Adventures in Paleoblogging
Clusterflock's skeleton crew has some nice nineteenth-century stuff this weekend:
- First Barbary War (May 1801-1805)
- First edition of Byron's Don Juan
- Tabloid write-up of Richard Wagner's affair with Franz Liszt's daughter Cosima
- Blogging about Van Gogh
- Dancing "the German"
- William Carlos Williams's Birth Announcement
- 1883 Dinner Menus from the New American Hotel
- Gayetti's Medicated Paper for the Water-Closet
- My favorite -- pictures of the first postage stamp used for the penny post in the UK
- Victorian Pornography And many more!
May 22, 2009
Papa's Got A Brand New Bag
File under: "Why didn't you just Twitter this, again?" I've been shopping for a laptop bag as we speak, so I am 100% primed for this, but I still love Lifehacker's "What's In Our Bags" series. Gina Trapani just posted her bag + contents, shouting-out a bagufacturer I'd never heard of, and an awesome idea I'd never thought of -- headphone splitters so two people can watch a movie on a plane or train!
Me, I keep insane junk in my bag -- whatever the Bookstore was selling the day my old whatever the Bookstore was selling up and quit on me -- for way too long -- receipts and airplane stubs, books and student papers (oops), pens in zippered components that don't even work (the pens, not the zippers). The only constant companion is laptop plus plug. Even then, sometimes I discover (as I did on a trip to central NY for a job talk) that there's a scone from Au Bon Pain where my plug should be.
But I wish, nay long for, a genuine system! And the Lifehacker folks actually seem to have one!
It's also positive proof that the dematerialization thesis (you know, the idea that objects themselves don't matter, everything is up in the cloud, etc.) is bunk at worst, needs to be qualified at best. We just pretend that matter doesn't matter, until you can't get your Prezi on the screen 'cause you forgot your DVI-VGA thingy, if you ever even took it out of the box in the first place.
Here are people living the life digitale to the fullest, and what do they do? Schlep their stuff around in a bag, just like us jerks. And when they have a good idea, do they whip out their magic pen-with-a-microphone for instant digitalization? Only if they're jotting it down on a 99-cent spiral notebook. All this is very reassuring to me.
File under: Design, Object Culture, Recommended, Self-Disclosure
May 18, 2009
Now That's What I Call "Inventio"
[Obama's] eloquence is different from what I think of as rhetorical prettiness -- words and phrases that catch your notice as you hear them, and that often can be quoted, remembered, and referred to long afterwards. "Ask not..." from John F. Kennedy. "Blood, toil, tears, and sweat" from Winston Churchill. "Only thing we have to fear is fear itself" from FDR. "I have a dream," from Martin Luther King. Or, to show that memorable language does not necessarily mean elevated thought, "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!" from the early George C. Wallace.
At rare moments in history, language that goes beyond prettiness to beauty is matched with original, serious, difficult thought to produce the political oratory equivalent of Shakespeare. By acclamation Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address is the paramount American achievement of this sort: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right..."
The reason to distinguish eloquence of thought from prettiness of expression is that the former tells you something important about the speaker, while the latter may or may not do so. Hired assistants can add a fancy phrase, much as gag writers can supply a joke. Not even his greatest admirers considered George W. Bush naturally expressive, but in his most impressive moment, soon after the 9/11 attacks, he delivered a speech full of artful writerly phrases, eg: "Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done." Good for him, and good for his staff.
Rhetorical polish, that is, can be a staff-enhanced virtue. The eloquence that comes from original thought is much harder to hire, or to fake. This is the sort of eloquence we've seen from Obama often enough to begin to expect.
(Sorry for the long quote, but I wanted to include all of Fallows's examples.)
Inventio is the system or method used for the discovery of arguments in Western rhetoric and comes from the Latin word, meaning "invention" or "discovery". Inventio is the central, indispensable canon of rhetoric, and traditionally means a systematic search for arguments (Glenn and Goldthwaite 151).
Inventio comes from the Latin invenire, meaning "to find" or "to come upon". The same Latin root later gave us the English word inventor. Invenire is derived from the Greek heuriskein, also meaning "to find out" or "discover" (cf. eureka, "I have found it").
May 13, 2009
It Is Not Logical
Andrew Hungerford -- aka the smartest, funniest dramatist * astrophysicist = lighting director you should know -- has written the best post on the physical holes in the new Star Trek movie that I think can be written.
Basically, almost nothing in the movie makes sense, either according to the laws established in our physical universe or the facts established in the earlier TV shows and movies.
Wherever possible, Andy provides a valiant and charitable interpretation of what he sees, based (I think) on the theory that "what actually happened" is consistent with the laws of physics, but that these events are poorly explained, characters misspeak, or the editing of the film is misleading. (I love that we sometimes treat Star Trek, Star Wars, etc., like the "historical documents" in Galaxy Quest -- accounts of things that REALLY happened, but that are redramatized or recorded and edited for our benefit, as opposed to existing ONLY within a thinly fictional frame.)
If you haven't seen the movie yet, you probably shouldn't read the post. It will just bother you when you're watching it, like Andy was bothered. If you have, and you feel like being justifiably bothered (but at the same time profoundly enlightened), check it out right now. I mean, now.
April 29, 2009
Every Little Thing About Things
So, I've been following this Columbia U course blog called "thing theory" for a while now, enjoying the smart discussions of philosophy of things as they've trickled out. (Things are a personal passion of mine, and my dissertation is on the material culture of modernist art/lit/cinema.)
Well, it being the end of the semester, the blog is now positively blowing up. People are taking stances, saying what and who they like and don't like, and generally trying to put it all together for future thinking about, um, things.
So if you like sentences like these:
I understand that if one focuses on these aspects, the zebra ceases to exist, but the zebra is not a hard concrete thing, it is the manifestation of a particular network, a network that repeats itself (with slight variations of course) to create millions of similar networks we call zebras. I get it.
Then, my friend, you've got to jump in and check out this discussion. Tell them that Snarkmarket sent you.
File under: Learnin', Object Culture, Recommended
April 24, 2009
La Jolie Rousse
Guillaume Apollinaire, "La Jolie Rousse [The Pretty Redhead]":
Here I am before you all a sensible man
Who knows life and what a living man can know of death
Having experienced love's sorrows and joys
Having sometimes known how to impose my ideas
Adept at several languages
Having traveled quite a bit
Having seen war in the Artillery and the Infantry
Wounded in the head trepanned under chloroform
Having lost my best friends in the frightful conflict
I know of old and new as much as one man can know of the two
And without worrying today about that war
Between us and for us my friends
I am here to judge the long debate between tradition and invention
Between Order and Adventure
You whose mouth is made in the image of God's
Mouth that is order itself
Be indulgent when you compare us
To those who were the perfection of order
We who look for adventure everywhere
We're not your enemies
We want to give you vast and strange domains
Where mystery in flower spreads out for those who would pluck it
There you may find new fires colors you have never seen before
A thousand imponderable phantasms
Still awaiting reality
We want to explore kindness enormous country where all is still
There is also time which can be banished or recalled
Pity us who fight always at the boundaries
Of infinity and the future
Pity our errors pity our sins
Henri Rousseau, "La Muse inspirant le poète," 1909. (A portrait of Apollinaire and Marie Laurencin). Image via Wikipedia
Now it's summer the violent season
And my youth is dead like the springtime
Oh Sun it's the time of ardent Reason
And I am waiting
So I may follow always the noble and gentle shape
That she assumes so I will love her only
She draws near and lures me as a magnet does iron
She has the charming appearance
Of a darling redhead
Her hair is golden you'd say
A lovely flash of lightning that lingers on
Or the flame that glows
In fading tea roses
But laugh at me
Men from everywhere especially men from here
For there are so many things I dare not tell you
So many things you would never let me say
Have pity on me
-- From Calligrammes, 1918
... Read more ....
File under: Beauty, Books, Writing & Such, Recommended
April 15, 2009
Conservation Of Outrage
When trying to explain one’s past actions, hindsight is always 20/400. With that caveat, I will say that the emotional pleasure of using the #amazonfail hashtag was intoxicating. There is no civil rights struggle in the US that matters more to me than the extension of equal rights without regard for sexual orientation. Here was a chance to strike a public blow for that cause, and I didn’t even have to write a check or get up from my chair to do it! I went so far as to publicly suggest a link between the Amazon de-listing and the anti-gay backlash following the legalization of gay marriage in Iowa and Vermont. My friend Nelson Minar called bullshit on my completely worthless speculation, which was the beginning of my realizing how much I’d been seduced by righteousness, and how stupid it had made me.
April 5, 2009
As Still As A River Could Be
Whenever I get stuck trying to explain either 1) my favorite current musical artist, 2) my musical tastes in general, or 3) my general aesthetic stance on the universe, I always fall back on Bill Callahan.
Callahan made one terrific record after another through the nineties and early part of this decade, recording as Smog - and later as (Smog). Red Apple Falls and Knock Knock are particularly atmospheric high points. They also show Callahan's musical range -- he can crank out feisty garage rock, precise minimalist folk, full-throated country gospel, and carefully arranged pop.
Somewhere in the nineties, too, Callahan shifted his singing voice downward; now he's somewhere in that strange middle road between Lou Reed and the late Johnny Cash. And in 2006, he hooked up with queen of folk Joanna Newsom (previous paramours include Cat Power's Chan Marshall) and shed the Smog moniker to release his first album under his own name. Woke On A Whaleheart is gentle but exuberant, roots-burnt rock and roll. Of course, then Callahan's heart got broken again - but he kept the name, and the relative immediacy
His new album, Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle, is more restrained than the uneven Whaleheart, but even more beautiful. In particular, "Rococo Zephyr" and "Faith/Void" just blow me away. They officially drop at mid-month -- check them out.... Read more ....
March 30, 2009
A New Birth of Freedom
When Brooklyn and New York’s population was booming at the end of the 19th century, the best way to get to and from Brooklyn was via ferries. As solutions were considered, I’m sure there were those who simply thought, “More boats!” These ardent defenders of the status quo were not engineers — they were the business. Their goal was not to build something great, but to make a profit.
It was an engineer named John Roebling who proposed a suspension bridge. We take bridges for granted now, but back in the 1800s, bridges were in beta. They fell. One out of every four bridges… fell. He convinced them by designing a bridge half again as big as any before it that was six times stronger than he estimated it need to be. Roebling designed the complete specification for the bridge in a mere three months and then died of tetanus from an injury he received surveying the bridge site...
We are defined by what we build. It’s not just the engineering ambition that designed these structures, nor the 20 people who died building the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s that we believe we can and decide to act. I’m happy to report our new President agrees when he says,
“In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”
Someone, sometime soon is going to start describing the climb out of this impressive hole we’ve dug for ourselves, and they’re going to call it “America 2.0”. Clever, yes. We need a new version of ourselves and that’s going to involve bright, unexpected ideas from those we least expect them from, and they’re going to strike you as impossible. All you need to do to understand these terrifyingly ambitious ideas is to look back at what we’ve already done to understand what we can do.
I don't know what version of America we're on. But this is a heartening idea. And the fact that we've built and rebuilt ourselves not just once, but many times over, is heartening too.
File under: Cities, Design, Recommended, Snarkpolitik
March 23, 2009
There's Solitary and Then There's Solitary
The other day, a group of my friends, including two other PhDs, discussed the high rate of depression among graduate students. "It's the stress," one said; "the money!" laughed another. But I made a case that it was actually the isolation, the loneliness, that had the biggest effect. After all, you take a group of young adults who are perversely wired for the continual approval that good students get from being in the classroom with each other, and then lock them away for a year or two to write a dissertation with only intermittent contact from an advisor. That's a recipe for disaster.
So I read Atul Gawande's account of the human brain's response to solitary confinement with an odd shock of recognition:
Among our most benign experiments are those with people who voluntarily isolate themselves for extended periods. Long-distance solo sailors, for instance, commit themselves to months at sea. They face all manner of physical terrors: thrashing storms, fifty-foot waves, leaks, illness. Yet, for many, the single most overwhelming difficulty they report is the 'soul-destroying loneliness,' as one sailor called it. Astronauts have to be screened for their ability to tolerate long stretches in tightly confined isolation, and they come to depend on radio and video communications for social contact...
[After years of solitary, Hezbollah hostage Terry Anderson] was despondent and depressed. Then, with time, he began to feel something more. He felt himself disintegrating. It was as if his brain were grinding down. A month into his confinement, he recalled in his memoir, "The mind is a blank. Jesus, I always thought I was smart. Where are all the things I learned, the books I read, the poems I memorized? There's nothing there, just a formless, gray-black misery. My mind's gone dead. God, help me."
He was stiff from lying in bed day and night, yet tired all the time. He dozed off and on constantly, sleeping twelve hours a day. He craved activity of almost any kind. He would watch the daylight wax and wane on the ceiling, or roaches creep slowly up the wall. He had a Bible and tried to read, but he often found that he lacked the concentration to do so. He observed himself becoming neurotically possessive about his little space, at times putting his life in jeopardy by flying into a rage if a guard happened to step on his bed. He brooded incessantly, thinking back on all the mistakes he'd made in life, his regrets, his offenses against God and family.
But here's the weird part -- all of this isolation actually serves to select for a particular personality type. This is especially perverse when solitary confinement is used in prisons -- prisoners who realign their social expectations for solitary confinement effectively become asocial at best, antisocial generally, and deeply psychotic at worst.
Everyone's identity is socially created: it's through your relationships that you understand yourself as a mother or a father, a teacher or an accountant, a hero or a villain. But, after years of isolation, many prisoners change in another way that Haney observed. They begin to see themselves primarily as combatants in the world, people whose identity is rooted in thwarting prison control.
As a matter of self-preservation, this may not be a bad thing. According to the Navy P.O.W. researchers, the instinct to fight back against the enemy constituted the most important coping mechanism for the prisoners they studied. Resistance was often their sole means of maintaining a sense of purpose, and so their sanity. Yet resistance is precisely what we wish to destroy in our supermax prisoners. As Haney observed in a review of research findings, prisoners in solitary confinement must be able to withstand the experience in order to be allowed to return to the highly social world of mainline prison or free society. Perversely, then, the prisoners who can't handle profound isolation are the ones who are forced to remain in it. "And those who have adapted," Haney writes, "are prime candidates for release to a social world to which they may be incapable of ever fully readjusting."
I think we just figured out why so many professors are so deeply, deeply weird.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Braiiins, Learnin', Recommended, Science, Snarkpolicy
March 18, 2009
Democracy As An Information Technology
Sparta had a great army, lots of places had great olive oil, and plenty of city-states had plebiscite democracy. So why was life in Athens so great?
[Josiah] Ober's hypothesis is that Athens's participatory institutions essentially turned the city into a knowledge-generating and knowledge-aggregating machine, and also supported the effective deployment of useful knowledge over time. Athenian institutions and culture functioned so that the right useful knowledge made it to the right people at the right time, resulting in the production of consistently better-than-average decisions. Athenian institutions and culture also functioned to provide an effective balance between innovation, on the one hand, and, on the other, learning or routinization, which brings efficiency. To overcome the problem of dispersed and latent knowledge, the Athenians used "networking and teaming." To overcome alignment problems, they built up stores of common knowledge through extensive publicity mechanisms and an emphasis on "interpresence"--frequent and large public gatherings--and "intervisibility" in public spaces, the capacity of all members of an audience to see each other as well as the speaker; and these stores of common knowledge worked particularly well to sustain systems of reward and sanction able to motivate ordinary citizens. To minimize transaction costs in areas such as trade, they standardized rules and exchanged practices and widely disseminated knowledge about them. The Athenians invested more resources than did their competitors in ensuring that their laws did not contradict each other, and in archiving and widely publishing final versions.
One particular example that the reviewer Danielle Allen (aka The Smartest Classicist I Know) examines is a ship-building competition authorized by the citizens of Athens: not only did public competitions like these encourage innovation in building, but since they were publicly judged, they helped disseminate expert knowledge throughout the populace, as the people learned what made one ship better than another.
Allen also looks long at what lessons American democracy can learn from Athens; one big (if obvious) conclusion is that the polis is a lot more nimble than an empire or even a republic, but from the interconnected micropolitical structures of the polis, one might actually be able to sustain a the macropolitics of a democratic republic:
As Ober notes, the immediate usefulness of the Athenian model pertains not directly to nation-states that are vastly larger than the city-state of Athens, with its population of approximately 250,000, but to the wide variety of smaller scale organizations that make up the sub-units of any given nation-state. To unleash the full value of participatory democracy at the level of the nation-state, a citizenry would do best to focus on tapping participatory democracy at the local level and throughout the variety of organizational types that make up modern society. Then there would be the further question of how well each of these sub-units is connected to the rest. If participatory democratic practices on a smaller scale and in various contexts do indeed increase the knowledge resources of the citizenry of a nation-state as a whole, then the structures of representative government, too, should function better.
It's a very Athenian conclusion, that democracy is a function of knowledge (and vice versa), but I think it's a welcome one.
File under: Cities, Journalism, Recommended, Snarkpolitik
March 13, 2009
This Is Not A Game
Jon Stewart's The Daily Show has never, in my memory, turned its entire half hour into an interview of a single guest -- and they get huge guests. But that's what they did yesterday for CNBC's Jim Cramer. And it's a doozy.
Last week, as part of its Santelli-inspired critique of CNBC, Stewart ran two series of clips of Cramer offering pretty terrible financial advice, first with a bunch of other CNBC pundits, and then (after Cramer loudly and publicly complained) of Cramer by himself. In this interview, Stewart shows unaired clips of Cramer (who used to run a hedge fund) from 2006:
- talking about how easy it is to manipulate the markets through the media;
- admitting that he used to do it, particularly to make money on a short sell;
- suggesting that other hedge fund managers do the same, as it's a fast and satisfying way to make money;
- offering specific advice on how to do this right then with a particular stock (Apple Computer).
As Stewart says, we want Jim Cramer the journalist to protect us from Jim Cramer the financial schemer. Instead of being a watchdog, CNBC became a cheerleader.
The entire interview is amazing. I've got the clips (including those from previous shows that lead to this) embedded after the jump, but let me also quote James Fallows and Sean Quinn on what went down.
Yes, it is cliched to praise Stewart as the "true" voice of news; and, yes, it is too pinata-like to join the smacking of CNBC.... But I found this -- the Stewart/Cramer slaughter -- incredible...
Just before leaving China -- ie, two days ago -- I saw with my wife the pirate-video version of Frost/Nixon, showing how difficult it is in real time to ask the kind of questions Stewart did. I know, Frost was dealing with a former president. Still, it couldn't have been easy to do what Stewart just did. Seeing this interview justified the three-day trip in itself.
On the day in October 2004 that Jon Stewart made up his mind to end CNN’s Crossfire, viewers didn’t have advance warning. By contrast, last night’s epic takedown of CNBC and
Fast MoneyMad Money host Jim Cramer that built over an eight-day period, including the advance hype of a Thursday morning front-page, above-the-fold story on America’s most widely-circulated newspaper, USA Today.
It did not disappoint. In addition to an extensive confrontation that included footage of Cramer admitting to the ease of manipulating markets, Stewart indicted CNBC’s “sins of commission” in fueling hype that led to the economic crisis.
Quinn also pulls the money quote from Stewart:
I understand you want to make finance entertaining, but it’s not a (bleeping) game. And when I watch that, I get, I can’t tell you how angry that makes me. Because what it says to me is: you all know. You all know what’s going on. You know, you can draw a straight line from those shenanigans to the stuff that was being pulled at Bear, and AIG, and all this derivative market stuff that is this weird Wall Street side bet.
Watch it, it's worth it.... Read more ....
File under: Media Galaxy, Recommended, Snarkonomics
March 2, 2009
Amateur Antiquaries of the Future
Where are the antiquaries of yesteryear? Do they now collect twentieth century pulp fiction? Classic sci-fi? Modernist design magazines? Is it too expensive to collect earlier works? Are collectors and antiquaries the same thing, anyway?Part of a longer, typically smart post about amateur scholars' access to materials -- particularly those electronic databases for which colleges and universities pay through the nose. Vive Digital Humanism!
February 26, 2009
Falling In Love With Lincoln
by Maira Kalman.
February 25, 2009
That Coffin Is A Lifeboat
One of my favorite people, um, ever is Charles Olson -- poet, amateur anthropologist, rector of Black Mountain College back when BMC was quite possibly the coolest place to be in the country. (Olson reportedly said, "I need a college to think with" -- something that I often feel myself whenever I take a stab at thinking about the New Liberal Arts.)
Olson's essay/manifesto "Projective Verse" helped build the bridge between modernist and postmodern literature -- in fact, Olson's sometimes given credit for helping formulate the whole idea of the postmodern.
One of Olson's most important contributions to American letters is his book Call Me Ishmael, a wonderful, idiosyncratic but authoritative critical take on Herman Melville and Moby Dick. Here, for example, are the first few sentences:
I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America, from Folsom cave to now. I spell it large because it comes large here. Large, and without mercy.
Olson himself was a giant -- 6'8" -- and knew a thing or two about spelling things large. (If you want to read more, I highly recommend picking up Olson's Collected Prose -- it's all really, really good.)
Now the University of Connecticut is digitizing Olson's notes on Melville -- which would be cool in its own right, but 100% cooler insofar as Olson's notes bring back a world that doesn't exist anymore:
Olson was one of the first scholars to consider the importance of Melville's reading and marginalia.
In the 1930s, Melville's surviving literary manuscripts, letters, personal papers and journals, and reading library were still, for the most part, in the possession of the family and a few institutional or private collectors. The most substantial collection of Melville materials unaccounted for at that point—and the materials that Olson pursued most vigorously—were the "lost five hundred," the approximate number of books Melville's widow had sold to a Brooklyn dealer in 1892. As a young scholar, Olson was indefatigable in his research; when he located a volume from Melville's library in a grand-daughter's home, in a private collector's hands, or on a public library's shelves, Olson carefully transcribed onto 5 x 7-inch note cards complete bibliographic information on the volume, as well as the content and location of Melville’s annotations and reading marks. Charles Olson’s note cards are, in a few important instances, the only account of Melville’s reading marks in books whose location is now unknown. Olson’s notes also provide scholars with Melville’s marginalia in volumes currently in private hands and not readily available to scholars.
In addition to the note cards on books from Melville's library, there are two other groups of cards at the University of Connecticut. On one group of cards Olson captured his notes of interviews and recorded his astonishingly thorough methods for tracking down relatives of those known or thought to have bought books from Melville’s library. Other note cards were used by Olson to record his reading and critical notes on Melville's published works. In all, nearly 1,100 note cards survive.
Unfortunately, when Olson moved away from Melville scholarship after the publication Call Me Ishmael (1947), he stored the results of his investigative work in a trunk in a friend's basement. Countless water leaks over the years damaged the note cards containing the transcriptions and research notes. Some cards were merely soiled; others were fused together in large blocks. After the University of Connecticut purchased the Olson papers in 1973, the note cards were stored separately while awaiting appropriate preservation measures.
That's right -- we can piece together Melville's library from soggy, seventy-five-year-old index cards.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Learnin', New Liberal Arts, Recommended, Science
February 19, 2009
We're Those Two Guys
So many gems in Roger Ebert's remembrance of his relationship with Gene Siskel. Here's one:
He got his second job, as the movie critic of the CBS Chicago news, because the newscast was bring reformatted to resemble a newspaper city room. Van Gordon Sauter, the executive producer, recruited Gene on the theory, "Don't hire someone because they look good on TV; hire them because they cover a beat and are the masters of it." Gene speculated that was the reason for the success of our show: We didn't look great on TV, but we sounded as if we might know what we were talking about.
The rest you should find for yourself.
February 13, 2009
Craig Saper is an amazing guy. When he couldn't get travel funds to deliver a paper on Bob Brown's "Readies" at a panel I chaired at the Modernist Studies Association conference a few years ago, he sent a DVD of himself, reading his paper from an airplane seat, wearing sunglasses. Midway through, the video began speeding up and slowing down, and the audio track was punctured by bleeps, like a badly edited R-rated movie on TV. It was all part of the performance, on reading technologies and obscenity. I wish I still had a copy of it.
-- Kenny Goldsmith, "Littany (for Albie)"
Well, Craig's curated (with Theo Lotz) an exhibition at the University of Central Florida called TypeBound, on books-as-sculpture. Warning: the web site is actually kind of crummy, animated image files and links that download PDFs instead of going to pages. But the exhibits! Amazing stuff: books made of shoes, books with type written on the edges of pages, books with pages going in every direction, and a slew of typewriter poetry. Well worth checking out.... Read more ....
File under: Beauty, Books, Writing & Such, Object Culture, Recommended
February 11, 2009
Comenius Would Have Approved
Dan Visel at if:book, in a post titled "Wikipedia Before Wikipedia," looks at the Trictionary, a grass-roots trilingual dictionary (English, Spanish, and Chinese) created between 1978 and 1981 by high school students on New York's Lower East Side.
Here's some text (from Tom MacArthur's 1986 book Worlds of Reference):
The compilation was done, as The New Yorker reports (10 May 1982) "by the spare-time energy of some 150 young people from the neighborhood," aged between 10 and 15, two afternoons a week over three years. New York is the multilingual city par excellence, in which, as the report points out, "some of its citizens live in a kind of linguistic isolation, islanded in their languages". The Trictionary was an effort to do something about that kind of isolation and separateness.
February 7, 2009
Personality and Urban Affection
So, this morning, during the Snarkmasters' sequifortnightly transcontinental gathering over email, coffee, cold pad thai, and cinnamon swirls, the conversation turned to Walt Whitman, and I was reminded of the really quite lovely American Experience documentary on Whitman that was broadcast around a year ago.
I love Ed Folsom's account of Whitman's experience of "urban affection":
Whitman feels the power of the city of strangers. He's looking at a city of strangers and how something we might now call urban affection begins to develop. How do you come to care for people that you have never seen before and that you may never see again?
Every day we encounter people, eyes make contact, we brush by people, physically come into contact with them, and may never see them again.
But Whitman's notebooks at this time are filled with images, just jottings, of these people, what they're doing, what they look like, what their names are. 'What is this person doing? What's the activity that defines this person?
"If I were doing that activity that person would be me. If I were wandering the other way, rather than this way, that person could be me. That could be me. That could be me. What is it that separates any of us?'
Folsom co-edits The Walt Whitman Archive, a fantastic resource with complete e-texts, photographic images of all of the alternate editions, biographies, scholarly essays, you name it.
The only real downside to the online presentation of the Whitman Documentary (and it's a real downer) is 1) there's no way to watch the whole documentary straight through and 2) the videos can only be displayed as teeny-tiny Quicktime/WMA pop-ups. Come on, PBS! Broadcast TV has finally figured out how to rock the computer screen in fullscreen HD -- so has YouTube, Comedy Central, and, um, everybody. The people demand that their public digital television be done up right.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Design, Media Galaxy, Recommended
February 6, 2009
The Inevitability of Electronic Reading
Many of you have probably read John Siracusa's insightful, entertaining, and long anecdotal history of e-books at Ars Technica. Still, with Amazon set to make a big Kindle-related announcement early next week, it seems like a good time to highlight this sample:
In 2003, Apple started selling music for the iPod through its iTunes music store. Apple sold audio books as well, through a partnership with Audible. Perhaps unknowingly, Apple had just positioned itself perfectly for e-book domination.
It was all happening right before our eyes. First the device, already far past the minimum threshold for screen size and legibility, and rapidly gaining market penetration. Then the digital distribution channel, accessed via a desktop application used by every iPod owner. Then the deals with content owners—not just the independent labels or the scraps from the big table, but all the top record labels, and for their most popular content...
The e-book market was Apple's for the taking.
And then a funny thing happened: Apple never took it... The iPod sold in numbers that made the PDA phenomenon look quaint. And still Apple didn't move. No one moved. The entire e-book market was stalled.
These were the dark times for the e-book market, akin to the five years during which Internet Explorer 6 had over 90% market share and received no major updates. Here was this technology that had so much potential but was not making any substantial progress in the market because the players who were motivated to drive it forward had failed or been rendered powerless by larger forces.
January 30, 2009
Virginia Heffernan at NYT would totally be way up high in my bloggers' fantasy draft, with Scott Horton, John Gruber, Carmen van Kerckhove, Jim Fallows, Daniel Larison, Ron Silliman, Ben Vershbow (ret.), Eileen Joy... anyways, you see where this is going.
Anyways, her new magazine essay on digital reading with her three-year-old son is eminently blogworthy, not least for the universal reference:
I'd like for Ben to sit with One More Story and come away with the impression that he'd been read beautiful books all afternoon. But Ben tends to ask for One More Story when he wants privacy, the same state of mind in which he likes videos. Books, by contrast, are for when he feels snuggly.
Which brings up something significant about books for a 3-year-old: whatever else preschool reading is, it's intimate. Before you can read, you get to see books mostly when you're cuddled up with an adult or jostling with other kids in a circle.
Heffernan goes on to say: "I'm not sure he's developing an appreciation for books. But he is learning how to enrich his solitude, and that is one of the most intensely pleasurable aspects of literacy." Other intriguing thoughts include the relationship between interactive digi-books and video games, TV, and movies, the Freakonomics thesis that having books in your house is more important than reading them to your children, and a reluctant skepticism towards viewing digital reading as "reading-plus." I don't agree with everything VH throws out there, but it's all worthwhile.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Braiiins, Learnin', Object Culture, Recommended, Video Games
January 19, 2009
Care, Without the Routine Cruelty
Atul Gawande, lucid and humane as ever, talks health care reform and the virtues of pragmatism in The New Yorker.
Bonus points to Gawande for employing my favorite social-scientific concept: path-dependence.
December 12, 2008
Best of the Best
Really, really love the Washington Post's extended Best Books of the year -- better I think than the NYT's list or their own top tens.
Only serious omission -- no poetry. I'd feel worse about this if the other best books list didn't practically ignore poetry already.
Also, it's set up as a "holiday guide," which I think makes it easier somehow to get you interested.
December 11, 2008
You guys read Fubiz, right? It's my favorite blog discovery of the past few months. The fact that it's in French (which I do not read) makes it even better, somehow.
Recent posts I liked:
November 28, 2008
Three-Dimensional Reading... Read more ....
File under: Beauty, Books, Writing & Such, Recommended
November 17, 2008
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."
July 16, 2008
Robin previously called out Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight for excellent coverage of this campaign season. Now I've gotta lend a hand to the gang at Obsidian Wings, especially Hilary Bok, a.k.a. Hilzoy. It first came to my attention when one of the A-Listers plugged this post about Barack Obama's legislative record. I subscribed, and ever since I've been impressed by the quality of thought, research and analysis there.
Yesterday, for example, Obama and McCain both gave major foreign policy speeches. This generated very typical news coverage and hyper-typical punditry. But it also fortunately generated a typical post from Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings, in which you get the sense that not only did she reserve comment until reading/hearing the speeches in question, but that she understood the deeper mental framework at play behind each speech. She's solidly liberal, but seems to make few assumptions about her audience.
May 6, 2008
Make Dance Here
My sister Lily, an amazing dancer working on her MFA in dance, just started the world's first dance vlog. She's going to make a super-short dance video every week based on her readers' input. I think it's a terrific idea.
Don't think of, like, break-dancing in music videos when you watch these. Think instead of using the whole range of human motion -- including motion we don't usually think of as "dance" -- as a palette.
February 28, 2008
Track of the day: Santogold remixed by XXXChange. Just feels very Thursday-appropriate, you know?
Update: Hey, I have a question. What's the deal with these music blogs posting MP3s? Do they have special (unofficial) arrangements with labels? Or is it just sort of understood that it's okay to share MP3s as long as you practice restraint? I wouldn't mind dropping some tracks on Snarkmarket from time to time but it still makes my spidey senses tingle. Are my spidey senses stuck in 2004?
December 24, 2007
Merry Christmas, Nerds
Peter's right -- we're all nerds here. So here is a late-night Christmas Eve post brimming over with nerd-osity. (Like the White House, I try to sneak the embarrassing stuff out while everybody's on vacation.)
- The New York Times is developing and releasing Ruby libraries on the side. That is such a great sign. Bravo.
- Slicehost is the hosting company of my dreams: $20 a month for a virtual machine running Ubuntu Linux and that's it. You have full root access and can do absolutely anything you want with it.
- I went ahead and learned Ruby on Rails a while ago, and liked the idea, but couldn't shake this sense that it was just way too big and complex for everything I wanted to do. Enter Merb, which is like Rails lite: Same approach, same access to awesome Ruby resources (like the NYT's new gem), but much smaller and faster. It's like carrying around a wallet instead of one of those huge camping backpacks.
- Merb lets you plug in the ORM of your choice, and I found DataMapper a lot more intuitive and "right-seeming" than ActiveRecord (the Rails default).
Okay, I think I actually blew out my own nerd-fuse on that last one. See you in 2008!
September 15, 2007
You need to try this right now: Grow Island. It's a sort of oblique, cutesy, super-simple SimCity. Sort of. And actually, that comparison doesn't do it justice, because SimCity, unlike this game, never really had any soul.
This earlier iteration is fun, too (there's a whole site full of them), but less systems interacting and more absurdist choose-your-own-adventure. In one go-round I got a smiling cabbage; in another I ended up with an underground kingdom of tiny cyclopean goblins.
In any case, the Japanese designer who made them is a genius. Actually, the whole thing feels kinda like a Japanese Orisinal to me -- less arcade-y, more puzzle-y, but with the same underlying sweetness.
(Via the new and excellent Rock Paper Shotgun, which tags this game, correctly, "cute as a basket full of ducklings.")
September 14, 2007
September 8, 2007
Look Around You
We just wasted an hour watching episodes of Look Around You, e.g. Maths. Even when it's not funny... it's funny!
August 30, 2007
P.S. Also here on YouTube, but what is up with this new genre? I have seen a bunch of them -- sort of ragtag musical slideshows.
August 26, 2007
Beijing Traffic Lesson
Henry B. diagrams the Beijing left. You really need to see this. Excerpt:
[B] proceeds to swerve right, cutting off [C], a tiny red Peugeot with a gold plastic dragon hood ornament, spoiler and assorted knobs glued on. Since [B] is just accelerating, and [C] is now decelerating, this has created a low-density 'dead space' in the intersection. [D], a strange blue tricycle dumptruck carrying what appear to be 40 of the world's oldest propane tanks, sees this and makes a move.
But it's nothing without the visuals.
Via Tim Johnson.
August 8, 2007
The New Sincerity
This video is: hand-crafted, sweet, sad, weird, and beautiful.
This one is: also great, but it betrays its slick origins a bit.
August 6, 2007
The Bridge and the River
If Gavin had asked me to link to the newest Revelator Press chapbook -- "The Bridge and the River," a collection of Tim Carmody's poems -- I would have happily done so. As it happens he did not, which gives me the opportunity to link naturally and of my own bloggy volition, for three reasons:
- Allegiance to Tim Carmody, who besides being a terrific blogger and poet (as you'll see), is a prolific & erudite Snarkmarket commenter. This domain is without exaggeration about 25 percent more interesting simply because he stops in as often as he does.
- The poems are really good! In particular, I like "Island," which is short but weighty; "February 13, 2002," which -- well, if movies should start with a murder, then poems should start with a moment you truly recognize, and this one does; and "Horn," which is just sort of titanic.
- The chapbook's design is pitch-perfect. Brandon Kelley knows what's up.
(Note: I love the word "chapbook." I suspect you do as well.)
July 15, 2007
Wow -- this is the best round-up of free fonts I've ever seen. In part because they are actually useful-looking fonts (i.e. not, like, Klingon script).
June 19, 2007
The Assassin's Blog
June 4, 2007
This Much I Will Concede to New York City
I have long bristled at New Yorkers' insistence that New York pizza is the One True Pizza and all others are pale imitations (or, perhaps, gross inflations).
Well, I'm in New York, and completely by chance I dropped into Rigoletto on the Upper West Side for a couple of slices. Two bucks each (!), so I wasn't expecting much.
They were seriously the best two slices of pizza I've had in... er... forever.
And Rigoletto isn't even close to the best-rated NYC pizza place on Yelp. I think I might have to hit Joe's before I leave.
May 22, 2007
Driving at Night
See, if campaigns ran on that, not on this, I'd be much happier.
May 7, 2007
I've got a huge backlog of film-blogging to do, as I have seen some unspeakably cool stuff at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival. Here's a stop-gap -- a short from last night's "Frame by Frame" animation shorts collection:
Higher quality versions here. And of course, as you can probably imagine, seeing it in the theater was CRAZYNUTS.
April 25, 2007
Black Rim Glasses
Ethan Kaplan's blog is consistently good. Witness this post on user-generated content where he brings it around to Walter Benjamin in the end. He is a technology guy (perhaps... THE technology guy?) at Warner Brothers Records, so he straddles the line between new worlds and old in interesting ways. Worth subscribing.
April 24, 2007
Magazines of the World
signandsight translates articles by non-English language authors in Europe (especially Germany) into English. What I like even better, though, are the synthesis: Here's all the smartypants magazines in the U.S. and Europe this week, summarized. Totally cool.
Reminds me of Foreign Policy magazine's reviews of books in foreign languages. The world needs more sites and services like this.
April 20, 2007
There's a great paean to the computer game 'Civilization' over in The Weekly Standard. Be sure to flip to the second page; there's some fun material on Sid Meier, Civilization's creator. In particular I liked this bit:
Meier cites the strategy board game Risk as one of his major influences. "Conquer the world. All those cool pieces. You felt like you were king. It gave you a lot of power." What about the game Diplomacy? "You had to have friends to play Diplomacy so that kind of left me out."
There's also this:
"We don't get into glorifying the violence and the gory stuff," says Meier. "That's just not the games that we like to do. I've raised a son and I know all the messages, all the influences, all the things that come into a young person's life, and we're responsible for a part of that. I mean, as game designers, we want people to play our games, so I think we need to take some responsibility for the content and the messages that come through our games."
April 15, 2007
March 19, 2007
Though a bit old, this is one of the best things I've read on the internet in a while:
Yesterday I took a Tokyu line train from Okayama to Meguro. I was standing in the first carriage, right behind the driver. I noticed a series of odd cries, muffled by glass, and realized they were coming from the white-gloved driver himself. Alone in his cabin, he was accompanying his actions with sharp cries. It was astonishing, yet, weirdly, I was the only passenger paying any attention. My first thought was that the driver was mentally ill. [...] I watched -- and filmed -- the lunatic. He did seem exceptionally focussed. At each station he made an immaculate white-gloved gesture -- a series of florid manual curlicues more like the gestures of an orchestral conductor than a train driver. He pointed at the TV screens in his console showing the doors, then pulled the train away with both gloved hands on his accelerator lever, uttering as if by compulsion his ecstatic falling cry: 'Kkkkyyyyyoooooooo!' Crossing points or passing other trains, he made similar noises. They seemed less like words than explosions of passion for the regular events of the job. And yet it was a passion as formalized as the whoops and howls of kabuki actors.
What's going on? Why, it's superlegitimacy.
(Warning: It might also be naive orientalism.)
March 18, 2007
A PSA for Current
I'm catching up on weeks of RSS feeds. (Actually, I'm about to go to bed, and I've barely made a dent. Sigh.) Everybody's going nuts over these Ira Glass videos on storytelling. Robin probably won't point it out, so I will:
a) these have been around for a while. I want him to do another set of them now that he's conquered another medium. Hey, co-blogger, could ya work on that?
b) Current's actually got a ton more of these, not only with Ira Glass, but with Sarah Vowell, Dave Eggers, Elvis Mitchell, Robert Redford, Orville Schell, Xeni Jardin, Bonz Malone, Catherine Hardwicke and Jonathan Caouette. Go marinate in narrative goodness.
March 14, 2007
Foreign Policy: Still Awesome
Foreign Policy magazine just got nominated for two National Magazine Awards. One was for general excellence, which is right on. It's just consistently a great magazine.
And in case you missed it, they now have an eminently RSS-subscription-worthy blog.
March 9, 2007
Ze Frank's Greatest Hits
If I really did run the Museum of Media History, I would put this video in it. File under "early 21st century internet culture." Also, "early life of President Hosea Frank."
January 22, 2007
YouTube for Nerds
A new site called FORA is aggregating smarty-pants lectures and talks from the likes of C-SPAN, the Long Now Foundation, New America, various World Affairs Councils -- you get the idea.
Expect bad suits... bad hair... bad lighting...
AND AWESOME IDEAS.
This is so dope.
P.S. Except that it's kinda hard to link to videos and the pop-up player is lame-o. And they have no RSS feeds. Give them time.
January 15, 2007
December 11, 2006
You Can Actually Get College Credit for This
Check out the comments brewing under the last post. Makers of possibilities! Seekers of solitude! Author-functions! Good stuff.
December 6, 2006
Via Drawn again!
December 4, 2006
Go See This Concert
I'll keep this brief: Caught the Imogen Heap concert here in San Francisco on Sunday and it was one of the best I've ever seen. Opening act for her tour is SF's own master chief beatboxer Kid Beyond, who also joins Heap's band as her human drum machine. The whole thing was just a great, inventive show that I could imagine enjoying even if I'd never heard any of it before.
November 21, 2006
Fake is the New Real
Apropos of nothing: fake is the new real is a really striking webpage, yeah?
November 15, 2006
Go Slow, Picasso
Even if this Malcolm Gladwell speech (PDF) was only so-so I'd probably still perfunctorily link to it. So, consider it a bonus that it's GREAT!
In it he talks about the differences between prodigies and late bloomers in art; as his prototypes Gladwell uses Picasso and Cezanne. (If that's too boring for you, he also compares The Eagles to Fleetwood Mac and Apple to Dell. And pharmaceutical R&D makes a cameo, too!)
It's a transcript of a recording, not just a speech text, so it has a really nice rhythm and tone. (Actually, it appears that the transcription was underwritten by the economist who Gladwell cites heavily in the speech... pretty slick.)
Gladwell's bottom line (which is almost beside the point in a speech as fun and discursive as this): Our culture has gone a little too wild for prodigies. We ought to make room for late bloomers again.
(Points of Note came outta nowhere with this one!)
Update: Rachel applies the Picasso/Cezanne paradigm to academic life.
November 14, 2006
Missing the Concert
I heard one of this woman's songs week-before-last, immediately bought the album, listened to it during lunch at work the next day, and instantly went to a coworker's desk to announce I'd found her new favorite thing. And now I give her to you. Her name is Shara Worden, but she goes by My Brightest Diamond.
Tomorrow night, she'll be at 7th St. Entry, First Avenue's adorable little brother venue, but I cannot attend. This makes me sad. Support her when she comes to your town, that she may return to mine.
Track of the week!
It's Motown meets melancholy folk rock. (MP3 link!)
Again via the 'Move.
October 26, 2006
Ooh! Great new design over at Worldchanging. I know I've said it a million times, but: It's one of my favorite sites on the entire internet.
August 9, 2006
July 26, 2006
So Fresh and So Clean
The Current website just got a BIG update!
In particular it's a lot easier and more fun to click around between videos. Watch for the navigation panel over on the right.
June 6, 2006
Apartment Hunting for Nerds
April 23, 2006
Gas, Electricity, Cable... Music
Exactly two years ago here on Snarkmarket we were talking about music being provided as a service instead of as a bunch of discrete little possessions -- CDs, MP3 files, whatever. Well, friends, I have officially switched. Behold, my monthly music bill: $5.
A few months ago iTunes kinda freaked out on my laptop; it would just randomly start skipping. (Yeah, I know -- skipping! Very 1995.) Turns out it's a known issue with the Windows version. I tried some of the suggested remedies, went through a few upgrade cycles, but no luck. It doesn't always skip, but that's not the point: The illusion of "owning" all my iTunes music is shattered by the fact that it's useless when Apple's app is on the fritz.
So, that and a new computer together prompted me to try something new.
The new thing is Yahoo Music Unlimited. Here's the deal: $5 a month. You can download all the music you want. (And you actually do download it; this isn't just on-demand streaming.) The catch, of course, is that if you stop paying, all that sonic gold becomes so much digital lead on your hard drive. But... come on. Five bucks a month? I'll try anything for $5 a month.
Turns out I love it. Like switching to broadband internet, getting music this way actually changes your behavior. It changed mine, at least: iTunes had made me into a music miser. I'd find a new band and then just buy their top two or three most-downloaded tracks, operating on the assumption that hey, every album's got lots of duds. If iTunes gives me the ability to skip those I might as well. In general, I bought music very very conservatively: I wasn't really interested in just experimenting for a dollar a track.
Yahoo Music feels totally different. In fact I was moved to write this post after finding this great list on Metacritic and just going down the line, downloading album after album -- and realizing I'd never have tried any of them on iTunes.
Now, there are caveats, of course. The Yahoo Music application itself is not as slick as iTunes, and the service costs more like $10 a month if you want to put tracks on a portable player.
Also, I know I am not supposed to like DRM. And of course I'd love to have naked, innocent MP3s instead of these janky Windows Media cryptograms. But, if DRM is the price we must pay for a service like this -- an economic model like this -- might it be worth it? I mean seriously: This is really cool. For the price of a few coffees every month, I have all the music in the world. (That's another thing: I expected there to be a lot of holes in the Yahoo catalog. Instead I've found just about everything I want. The one awful, awful exception is Sufjan Stevens -- so I just ripped that from CD.)
And here's what seals the deal: If Yahoo's app ever flakes on me, or if the service changes and I don't like it, I'll just switch to a competitor, and I'll have lost nothing.
(Of course then I'll have to re-download all this music... an operation that is expensive in hours if not dollars. Therefore I submit to the LazyWeb my request for a Yahoo Music plugin that exports a full run-down of my music library in some sort of generic XML-ish format. Done and done.)
April 20, 2006
People throw skeptical glances my direction when I say I enjoyed living in Fresno. But it's true. I often describe Fresno as having been completely emptied of people sometime in 1943, and repopulated only in the last few years. That's not how it was at all, but the city is filled with traces of incredible, abandoned Americana -- gorgeous motel signs, classic theaters, dive bars, thrift stores. The city is phenomenally diverse, more culturally varied than even the rest of California, which itself makes the rest of the US look inbred.
When I interviewed for the job in Fresno, among the things that drew me to the city was coming across one of those old, beautiful motel signs. It was just sitting in a parking lot, leaning against a building in the middle of nowhere (it was downtown, but "middle of nowhere" still kind of applies). I figured the sign had to have a story, and I loved the thought of being a reporter there and getting to unearth that story.
Months later, I found out that the sign was leaning against the building that housed the H Street Collective, a space for some of Fresno's most brilliant artists to practice and display their work. H Street was a beautiful nightmare. Its walls were covered to the last inch in the most grotesque, eyepopping, otherwordly art. The bathroom of the collective was the artists' sandbox, stuffed with visual ideas and experiments, half-painted creatures, obscenities, paint on the floor, on the toilets, on the stall doors.
The H Street that was is no longer. But you can still find the work of some of the artists on many of the walls of Fresno. And one of my favorite H Street artists, Mehran Heard, has an awesome Web site.
File under: Gleeful Miscellany, Recommended, Society/Culture
April 11, 2006
Man, ever since that Feist remix, I can't stop wishing for more Postal Service. If you too are longing for clicky, computer-y goodness... here are some stand-ins:
April 8, 2006
High School Noir
Brick was a blast. It definitely deserves to inherit the college-boy quote-fountain crown from Fight Club, The Big Lebowski, and The Usual Suspects. According to David Denby, it was shot in 20 days and edited on a home computer. (A Mac, says an interview on the official site.) Go trailerize, then go see it.
April 2, 2006
A Cock and Bull Blogpost
Media recently consumed:
- Michael Winterbottom's sort-of-adaptation of Tristram Shandy. Loved it. Made me laugh out loud in a nearly-empty art-house theater at 10 p.m. -- no mean feat. Also refreshing: In an era of three-hour epics (seriously, what's up with that? Is it supposed to be a value thing? When did the movie theater become Sam's Club?), Tristram Shandy clocks in at a lean 90 minutes. Don't go in expecting it to change your life and you'll emerge amused. (Note the opposing view.)
- I bought Magnus Mills' Explorers of the New Century on the strength of this review alone. In fact, Laura Miller made it sound so good that I bought it the next day and read it this weekend. On the plus side, it's a trade-paperback original, and thus exemplifies a trend I am happy to support. On the minus side, it wasn't actually that good. Some nice prose, but I am pretty sure I will forget everything about the story in approximately six days.
- Been listening to José González ever since, yes, that Bravia ad. Good music for a rainy day, and the month of March in San Francisco was essentially one giant rainy day.
March 27, 2006
Michael Pollan and the Modern Hunt
March 19, 2006
The Dark Knight Returns, Again
I'm reading Batman: Year 100 (issues #1 and #2 are out; #3 and #4 still on their way) and liking it a lot. The plot is sparse, and so is the linework -- writer/artist Paul Pope has a style that's half Frank Miller, half manga, and honestly a little Bob Kane-y too.
Here's Wired's interview with Pope; that's what tipped me off to this series in the first place.
Bought my copies at SF's incomparable Isotope.
March 9, 2006
For a Year I Owned RobotLion.com
If you, like me, find delight in potential new domain names, then check out AjaxWhois.com. Sooo much faster than the fugly looker-uppers at GoDaddy, etc.
February 26, 2006
So, three shows on Adult Swim that I've been TiVo-ing:
|Samurai Champloo. This show is directed by the guy who made Cowboy Bebop. Both hinge on a central creative juxtaposition. With Bebop, it was space cowboys and jazz; this time, it's 17th century samurai and hip-hop. Obsessed with the intro sequence.|
|Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. This show is as verbose as its title. And, in truth, it's usually kinda boring. But somehow, I can't stop watching. It's the setting that sucks me in: a blandly realistic future Japan where refugees are the issue of the day and everybody's got a cyberbrain.|
|Full Metal Alchemist. Talk about settings: This one takes place in a kind of alternate-history Europe where alchemy, not science, rules the day. The byzantine plot hinges on the alchemical law of equivalent exchange: to get what you want, you've got to sacrifice something of equal value. That idea kicks off the plot and keeps the story running.|
February 13, 2006
Starring: The Sum of a Society's Dreams and Nightmares (Plus Some Puppets)
Man, I just saw the weirdest movie tonight. Luckily, I can describe it to you perfectly using Movie Math™:
The Neverending Story + Dark Crystal + Spirited Away The Great Yokai War
From the SF Indie Fest description:
Only Tadashi the Kirin Rider and his sword can save the world from this menace, with some help from his Yokai friends!
What it doesn't quite tell you is that this movie is like a super-concentrated dose of pure Japanese-ness. Seriously, if this were, say, a British movie, it would be about King Arthur and Robin Hood on a quest to save Queen Elizabeth from fairies. And Oliver Cromwell. And America.
Unfortunately, the plot and characters of The Great Yokai War are a little below the standard set by its classic DNA. But even so, it's worth seeing if it comes to your neck of woods, or to DVD -- if only to appreciate the way the director (apparently all his other movies are total gross-out horror flicks!) combines actors, puppets, and computer graphics in a way that is, if not seamless, then at least shameless. It's a gung-ho effort.
And seriously: SO JAPANESE.
January 24, 2006
The comments don't quite live up to the headline, but some are quite good (for example).
Motown Ghost Town
Friend of the Snark (and, oh yeah, Michigan Radio reporter) Dustin Dwyer goes exploring in the old, abandoned Motown Records building in Detroit and finds a vinyl record that's been sitting there for decades in the dark.
Anyway, this is what journalism is like in Michigan: plants closing, buildings being torn down. Contrast that, say, with Florida, where the big problems of the day are building enough schools to keep up with growing populations, or widening roads, or using smart planning to prevent everything from becoming one big suburb.
Everything there is growth, everything here is decline.
And yet, I'd much rather be covering these stories than those ones.
January 10, 2006
Just Look at All Those Monsters
This old intro sequence from the Japanese show Ultraman is amazing.
If I was a "video DJ" or something, I would so use it in my next "set."
So the Current VC2 Survival Guide now has a storytelling section, featuring interviews with peeps like Robert Redford, Dave Eggers, Bonz Malone (!), Xeni Jardin (!!), and, my favorite, the This American Life godfather himself, Ira Glass.
Everybody has something interesting to say here, but for my money, Glass's articulation of this stuff is second to none. You really feel like you walk away with something you can use.
January 8, 2006
So Convenient, So Delicious
Well, not entirely convenient. Photo by G. Clyne.
This post is long-belated but entirely necessary: Just after Thanksgiving I tried omelette in a bag. And Matt is right: the best.
P.S. Friends in the know inform me ziplocked eggs are a Boy Scout staple. Which is, I guess, unsurprising. The whole process feels pretty camp-like.
November 27, 2005
Hipster Norah Jones
Am I late to this party? This album has been lying around since April, and I'm only now discovering it? It's awesome! A+++ super-fast seller! will use again!!1!
November 19, 2005
Of Flying Pasta Monsters and Loneliness
A dream-ish prose poem of reasonable length, by Haruki Murakami, on spaghetti.
September 25, 2005
September 21, 2005
Awesome Tools of the Day
This is an old link, but seeing as I need to decorate my workspace, I've been casting many a curious eye at the Rasterbator, which lets you make giant, nicely pixellated mosaics of any image you've got.
September 15, 2005
Yahoo's Instant Search
Not to be a total nerd or anything, but Yahoo's Instant Search is hot.
Type "san francisco weather" or "al pacino" or whatever. I think it's notable for its creativity -- I certainly wasn't sitting around clamoring for this feature, but now that I have it, I'm like, ohhh yeah -- that's pretty handy.
September 14, 2005
Your Parents Help You Hook It Up
The first Zelda commercial (MPEG file). I want to say it's hilariously bad, but I just watched it three times in a row, so I guess on some level it's really, really excellent.
September 13, 2005
English Grad Students Do Webcomics Too
September 10, 2005
Sack o' Eggs
September 5, 2005
Best Word Reference Ever
If only this online dictionary/thesaurus (based on the Project Guttenberg e-text of Webster's Unabridged) were available as a Google Desktop plugin.
August 30, 2005
The New Jam
"Breakfast Club" by DJ Z-Trip. Pass it on.
August 23, 2005
Six Feet Over
So, as I mentioned, "Six Feet Under" ended, in a melancholy blaze of glory (spoiler alert). They added a wonderful coda to the show's Web site (soooooo many spoilers) for anyone who saw the final episode. The song that had us all in tears, by the way, was "Breathe Me" by Sia.
August 21, 2005
Calvin and Hobbes Revisited
I can't remember where I found this now, but it is excellent.
Excellent I say.
August 12, 2005
(PS: Crash Bonsai!)
August 8, 2005
A Low-Key Little Animated Short for You
Sound required. Best not be sipping coffee.
August 7, 2005
Behold, the new darling of the blogosphere: ART LAD!
The real reason I'm linking is his first post. You seriously need to click and check it out -- it's like the sum of humanity's subconscious fears as rendered in tempera by a six-year-old.
July 7, 2005
The New Sonic Obsession
Ratatat. Check it out.
Here's the sound-bite:
... their unique sound born of a combined love of Jay-Z, The Rolling Stones, Timbaland, and Beethoven.
No lyrics, which I often can't hang with it, but in this case it's
fine great blowing my mind.
I love this effusive praise for one of Ratatat's songs, from an Amazon.com reviewer:
"germany to germany" could bring the world peace if it was played at negotiations.
These guys are Bill & Ted!
May 30, 2005
Revenge of the Frou
Garden State was a solid movie, but its chief virtue was probably that it introduced the world to Frou Frou.
Now the voice of the Frou, Imogen Heap, is back with two new songs in advance of a new album.
You can actually skip the first one; it's got a cool robo-choral sound in parts, but is mostly forgettable otherwise. "Goodnight and Go," on the other hand, is awesome: It sounds exactly like all the old songs. Which is, frankly, exactly what's needed at this point.
May 4, 2005
Album of the Year!! Or... So I Hear
Tim says Andrew Bird's new album rules. And that's good enough for me.
P.S. Somebody get this guy a job at the New Yorker.
April 21, 2005
April 14, 2005
Rocket and the Great Chicken Chase
I've got to strongly recommend the movie City of God, although I have nothing particularly insightful to say about it. (Ebert.) But there's this: I kept a stiff upper lip all throughout the film. Afterwards, as I'm wont to do, I visited its IMDB trivia page. Then came the tears. That's never happened to me before. (Watch the movie before you read the trivia.)
April 12, 2005
By Your Command
I have rediscovered TV, and its name is Battlestar Galactica.
Never saw the original series, so the setup was all new to me: The human race gets wiped out by the Cylons, an army of killer robots. That we created. Rats.
But! A rag-tag caravan of transports escapes the holocaust, led by humanity's one surviving warship: the eponymous Battlestar Galactica.
The Galactica is helmed, in turn, by Commander William Adama -- played by Edward James Olmos.
Elevator pitch: "It's Stand and Deliver in outer space!"... Read more ....
April 2, 2005
Tickets to Iron Maiden
Pastel Vespa covers Wheatus' "Teenage Dirtbag," over at Copy, Right?
March 1, 2005
That's where I spotted the image above; it's by NYC-based illustrator Elliott Golden, whose portfolio is absolutely jam-packed with fresh-looking art. It's kinda retro but kinda not, and the colors all have this amazing washed-out fuzz to them.
Another artist after the break.... Read more ....
February 22, 2005
Map of Your Stars
LivePlasma is a super-shiny recommendation engine. I tend to distrust these things, but then I entered "Rufus Wainwright," and a cloud of fellow musical artists I've come to adore popped in and orbited his name. And the interface is Google-good (although not Google-fast).
January 29, 2005
Reading this blog makes me happy. It's just so thoughtful and, well, un-digital.
January 17, 2005
When I was in college, I used to love these two recordings by a University of Pennsylvania a cappella group -- one was a cover of "Baby" by Nil Lara, the other a cover of Stevie Wonder's version of the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out." The singer, John R. Stephens, had this throaty, incredible tenor and a break in his vocal range so gorgeous it sounded almost as though it had been painted into the digital recording after the fact. You can hear a hint of the break by listening to the clip of "Baby" here. Stephens was also a marvelous arranger.
Anyway, a few days ago, I purchased an album on iTunes by a singer named John Legend. I had loved one of its songs from the radio, and after listening to the clips, it appeared the whole thing was excellent. I couldn't get over the thought that I'd heard that voice before, so I Googled my hunch that Mr. Legend was a renamed John R. Stephens, and I was, of course, correct.
This is just a roundabout way of recommending the album, while I'm in the business of making music recommendations. The man is incredible, even if I don't much care for his stage name.
January 15, 2005
Ruben Fleischer has a new video out, and I think it may be my favorite of his many super-excellent music videos. It's called "Galang" (look for the link at the bottom of the page), it's by gorgeous Sri Lankan hip-hopper M.I.A., featuring her set against the backdrop of her animated artwork. Waaaaaaay too good not to share.
January 11, 2005
Board Game Bonanza
Hey! The Morning News did a round-up of the best board games of 2004 back in December and I totally missed it.
The game called "Hansa" sounds super-fun:
"Participants play the role of merchants, buying and selling wares as they sail the Baltic Sea. The catch is that all the players are on the same boat and take turns determining where the ship sails. Hansa is a highly tactical game, and every turn is a tiny logic problem to be solved."
Buying and selling wares as they sail the Baltic Sea, people! Every turn is a tiny logic problem to be solved!!
Clicking around some of the article's links, I found this card game: Knock Knock. It looks fun, too. But mostly I just love the rock-and-roll ghost in the middle of the page, reproduced here to add visual interest to this otherwise marginal post.
November 21, 2004
I'd Hug Dat
This is the kind of sharp focus and fun utility that all blogs (except, of course, this one) should aspire to:
TreeHugger is the definitive modern-yet-green lifestyle filter. It will help you improve your course, yet still maintain your aesthetic.
So basically it's a blog of stuff that is both a) environmentally responsible, and b) cool. And if you think that is a product category limited to recycled coasters and hemp necklaces, then you must click the above link immediately.
(P.S. Hemp necklaces are not cool. Dork.)
I love TreeHugger's unabashedly commercial sensibility: "Consumers also rely on the directory to help facilitate their buying processes." And they have helpful categories for gifts under $100, gifts under $50, etc.
February 23, 2004
For anyone who wants a really pretty free font, or for anyone who doubts they exist, try Gentium. It was made as part of the Master of Arts for Typeface Design at the University of Reading, and is free. It prints as pretty as it reads on screen, and the entire point of it is to have full language support. (Via Ask MetaFilter.)