Archive for April, 2009
OMG I am spending so much money on Kindle-ized books. Amazon has already made its margin on me twice over, I am 100% sure. Guess I should recommend some, huh?
- A Free Life by Ha Jin. Sublime tone. I just cannot get over the fact that Ha Jin writes this well in his second language, which he learned relatively late in life. It’s a modern immigrant story, full of detail and surprise.
- The Bin Ladens by Steve Coll. I thought this book was going to be 50% Bin Laden family, 50% Osama Bin Laden — something like that. Nope. There’s plenty of OBL, but he’s really just a small piece of the tapestry. You gotta read about Salem Bin Laden, the patriarch of the clan for a big part of the 20th century. He is as strange a character as OBL himself — and couldn’t be more different.
- Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered by Peter S. Wells. Mentioned this already. Makes the Dark Ages seem rich and textured — not just, uh, dark.
- Stealth Democracy: Americans’ Beliefs About How Government Should Work by John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse. Actually, I think I’ll save this one for a different post. Very counter-intuitive findings.
- Daemon by Daniel Suarez. The Da Vinci Code meets Cryptonomicon meets Advanced Topics in Network Security. Lots of adjectives and adverbs here, but if you’re in it for the ideas, not the crystalline prose, it’s very worthwhile. Embedded in the Clancy-squared plot machinations are solid signals about the future of the internet.
Crucial update: It wasn’t on Kindle, but I read, and loved, Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I haven’t read a ton of his other books, but this slim little volume was a dream. Hard to tell to what degree the translation reflects the original, of course, but the language is wonderfully direct and down-to-earth. Add it to the growing of canon of work that says: It’s not about bright, blinding genius; it’s about hard work — where “it” is the creative, technical, or athletic endeavor of your choice.
Intriguing aside in this Slate article by Huan Hsu on office workers in China adopting English names:
In the United States, people tend to view names and identities as absolute things
VERY mature books (is 8000 BC old enough?) with an astonishingly sexy zoom feature — similar to Google Maps, but smoother and more natural, especially with a two-finger trackpad. It’s all yours, for free, at the World Digital Library.
Wow. Has Michael Pollan been using this phrase for a while already? It is genius. From the latest Long Now email newsletter:
Eat sunlight instead of oil, and eat as if your health depended on it. American agriculture and food marketing can be reorganized around those goals.
It’s like a chemistry lesson and a parable, all in five words. Poetic, scientific, and mythic all at once. Totally abstract and symbolic, but it also renders a vivid image: Mmm, warm sunlight! Eww, gross oil.
Pollan is doing a Long Now talk next week in SF. Very excited.
I realize these self-links are a little lame. But… I like what I said here: What’s the future of the book in the age of video?
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.
It took a long time for Yale to accept Kramer money. After a number of years of trying to get Yale to accept mine for gay professorships or to let me raise funds for a gay student center, (both offers declined), my extraordinary straight brother Arthur offered Yale $1 million to set up the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies and Yale accepted it. My good friend and a member of the Yale Corporation, Calvin Trillin, managed to convince President Levin that I was a pussycat. The year was 2001.
Five years later, in 2006, Yale closed down LKI, as it had come to be called. Yale removed its director, Jonathan David Katz. All references to LKI were expunged from Web sites and answering machines and directories and syllabuses. One day LKI was just no longer here.
When this happened I thought my heart would break.
I wanted gay history to be taught. I wanted gay history to be about who we are, and who we were, by name, and from the beginning of our history, which is the same as the beginning of everyone else’s history.
This is a great speech, even though it’s peppered with the occasional, um, surprising claims (“George Washington was gay, and that his relationships with Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette were homosexual… his feelings for Hamilton led to a government and a country that became Hamiltonian rather than Jeffersonian”) and a tirade against queer studies that feels misplaced and, at times, childish:
It seems as if everything is queer this and queer that… Just as a point of information, I would like to proclaim with great pride: I am not queer! And neither are you. When will we stop using this adolescent and demeaning word to identify ourselves? Like our history that is not taught, using this word will continue to guarantee that we are not taken seriously in the world.
Just like dressing “in drag,” “acting” transgendered, or not wanting to let other people define your identities for you guarantee that you won’t be taken seriously in the world. Oh, it matters so much to be taken seriously.
In particular, it seems foolish to blame scholars of literature and anthropology or communication for doing what they do with anything rather than history or politics departments who refuse to give gay history a foothold.
Folks care about the words they use, and are chilly towards “homosexual,” not because they refuse to grant that same-sex desire/partnering/sex have always been around, but because 1) lots of people’s sense of their gender/sexuality doesn’t fall under what we’d just call “gay” or “homosexual,” not least because 2) to pick of an example, if you were born an anatomical woman but think of yourself as a man attracted to women, you wouldn’t think of your attraction as “same-sex,” and 3) people finally get to define the words for themselves! “Homosexuality” is a medical word; “sodomy” is religious; “queer” is social. They all have different valences, but the last offers a flexibility that for many, many people, is highly desirable.
Now, I absolutely agree that Eve K Sedgwick doesn’t do what George Chauncey does, and that we need about a hundred more Chaunceys a hundred times more than we need a hundred more Sedgwicks. But gosh, Larry, don’t bash folks for not being serious because you don’t like the name. Bash the institution for taking your money and not supporting what you wanted to do.
Also, pick up Epistemology of the Closet sometime and give it a read. I think you’d find that this marvelous turn of phrase you use (wait for the end) echoed nicely there:
Franklin Pierce, who became one of America’s worst presidents, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, who became one of our greatest writers, as roommates at Bowdoin College had interactions that changed them both forever and, indeed, served as the wellspring for what Hawthorne came to write about. Pierce was gay. And Hawthorne? Herman Melville certainly wanted him to be.
A good anecdotal lead. Carolina Solis is a medical student who did research on parasitic infections caused by contaminated well water in rural Nicaragua.
Like many researchers, she plans to submit her findings for publication in a medical journal. What she discovered could benefit not just Nicaraguan communities but those anywhere that face similar problems. When she submits her paper, though, she says the doctors she worked with back in San Juan del Sur will probably never get a chance to read it.
“They were telling me their problems accessing these [journals]. It can be difficult for them to keep up with all the changes in medicine.”
Washington recently got involved. Squirreled away in the massive $410 billion spending package the president signed into law last month is an open access provision. It makes permanent a previous requirement that says the public should have access to taxpayer-funded research free of charge in an online archive called PubMed Central. Such funding comes largely from the National Institutes of Health, which doles out more than $29 billion in research grants per year. That money eventually turns into about 60,000 articles owned and published by various journals.
But Democrats are divided on the issue. In February, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., submitted a bill that would reverse open access. HR 801, the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, would prohibit government agencies from automatically making that research free. Conyers argues such a policy would buck long-standing federal copyright law. Additionally, Conyers argues, journals use their subscription fees to fund peer review in which experts are solicited to weigh in on articles before they’re published. Though peer reviewers aren’t usually identified or paid, it still takes money to manage the process, which Conyers calls “critical.”
And cultural/generational change:
The pay-to-play model doesn’t jive with a generation of soon-to-be docs who “grew up Google,” with information no farther than a search button away. It’s a generation that never got lost in library stacks looking for an encyclopedia, or had to pay a penny for newspaper content. So it doesn’t see why something as important as medical research should be locked behind the paywalls of private journals.
Copyright issues are nothing new to a generation that watched the recording industry deal its beloved original music sharing service, Napster, a painful death in 2001. Last October, it watched Google settle a class-action lawsuit brought on by book publishers upset over its Book Search engine, which makes entire texts searchable. And just last week, a Swedish court sentenced four founders of the the Pirate Bay Web site to a year in prison over making copyrighted files available for illegal file sharing. And now the long-familiar copyright war is spilling over into medicine.
There’s even WikiDoc
And, the article doesn’t mention this, but I’ll contend there’s a role for journalism to play. Here’s a modest proposal: allow medical researchers to republish key findings of the research in newspapers, magazines, something with a different revenue structure, and then make it accessible to everyone. Not perfect, but a programmatic effort would do some good.
Speaking of which — what are the new big ideas on the health/medicine beat? This is such a huge issue — it feels like it should have its own section in the paper every day.