Prufrock

The Surreal NFL Scouting Combine, Graham Greene in Havana, and Mastering Nature

Edith Kramer, At Spring Street Station on the C, via Wikimedia Commons

“One need never leave the confines of New York,” Frank O’Hara writes in “Meditations in an Emergency,” “to get all the greenery one wishes—I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life.” Greenery may be a euphemism for sex here, but O’Hara is also making a serious point about the sometimes false distinction between the “natural” and man-made world. For O’Hara, everything in the world is “natural,” including buses and subways. Steel and rubber didn’t drop from the sky.

I thought of these lines while I was reading Niranjana Krishnan’s piece in Aeon this morning on the difference between synthetic and natural chemicals. People often think that synthetic chemicals are more dangerous than “natural” ones, but that’s not the case: “Many people believe that chemicals, particularly the man-made ones, are highly dangerous. After all, more than 80,000 chemicals have been synthesised for commercial use in the United States, and many have been released into the environment without proper safety testing. Should we be afraid of the synthetic chemicals that permeate our world?  While it is not possible to compare the toxicity of all natural and synthetic chemicals, it is worth noting that the five most toxic chemicals on Earth are all naturally found. When it comes to pesticides, some of the newer man-made versions are remarkably safe to humans; and at high doses, these pesticides are as toxic as table salt and aspirin. Rats continually exposed to low doses of these pesticides (ie, doses found in the environment) don’t develop cancer or problems in growth and reproduction. In fact, toxins produced by plants cause cancer at the same rate as synthetic chemicals, and we ingest a lot more of the plant toxins . . . All substances (natural and artificial) are harmful if the exposure is high enough.” Read the rest.

Since we’re on the topic, read Charles T. Rubin’s review of Mastery of Nature: Promises and Prospects, too: The . . . ‘project’ of ‘mastery of nature’ is not a project in the same way that my perennial effort to clean out my basement is a project. I attempt to clean my basement as one among many efforts which may serve disparate or shared ends. But the project of mastery of nature was self-consciously articulated by its intellectual proponents as a comprehensive horizon, a world view, a Weltanschauung. In Martin Heidegger’s terms, as Mark Blitz points out in his contribution to this volume, it is ‘an understanding of being’ or ‘a dispensation of being.’”

In other news: “A Berlin court on Friday ruled that the city’s renowned all-boys State and Cathedral Choir had not been sexist when it rejected a 9-year-old girl’s application. ‘The acoustic pattern of a choir is part of its artistic freedom,’ the presiding judge said. The court also found sufficient evidence of a ‘boys’ choir sound.’” Good.

The Spectator to launch an American print edition: “The Spectator, which has published weekly out of London since 1828, will launch a US edition this fall. Spectator USA has had a successful digital-only presence in America since the spring of 2018. It will publish its first monthly US print edition on October 1, only 191 years after the launch of the London edition. ‘Better late than never,’ says Andrew Neil, Chairman of The Spectator worldwide.”

Graham Greene in Havana: “Greene discovered Havana in 1954, enthralled by its cocktail of capitalist vice, casinos, burlesque cabarets, drug peddling and prostitution. He made multiple visits, including a key one in November 1957, when he began writing Our Man in Havana. This trip had a possible secondary focus, keeping his eyes and ears open to Fidel Castro’s year-old insurrection against Fulgencia Batista’s military regime on behalf of his wartime employer, MI6.”

Mark Oppenheimer praises Pittsburgh’s Amazing Books & Records and its owner Eric Ackland: “He seems to have read or listened to everything in his shop, from Isaac Asimov to Michael Connelly to that small-press biography of a dead Hasidic master. He’ll gladly neglect the endless task of computerizing his shelf-busting inventory to talk with you about his beloved 19th-century authors like George Eliot and Dostoyevsky, or his fine selection of Jewish theology. On his way to becoming an Orthodox Jew in his 30s, Ackland briefly took an interest in Christian apologetics, and one day last winter we talked G.K. Chesterton as the store’s hi-fi piped early Pat Benatar. ‘A bookstore clerk or owner is inevitably something of a therapist,’ Ackland, 47, said more recently. ‘I’ve worked dozens of retail and restaurant jobs, and this is the one that seems to invite the greatest degree of intimacy, probably because people think that the shop-person doesn’t have anything to do but read and talk.’”

Essay of the Day:

In Harper’s, Rich Cohen writes about that crazy American thing, the annual NFL Scouting Combine:

“The combine is an annual showcase, beginning in late February, where around three hundred top college football players, each carefully screened and invited, participate in a battery of tests, weigh-­ins, exams, interviews, contests—of speed, strength, athleticism, agility—before an audience of N.F.L. scouts, coaches, general managers, and owners. It’s where N.F.L. teams gather the information they’ll use in the upcoming N.F.L. Draft, which will take place over three days in Nashville, Tennessee, at the end of April. At the combine, players run, catch, and weave through cones—‘the gauntlet’—on the artificial turf of Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts—70,000 seats beneath a retractable roof. They then head to the convention center, where, with its 83 meeting rooms and 566,000 feet of exhibition space, they meet would-­be employers and coaches, then stand before members of the press—hundreds of reporters who cover them the way reporters on the ag beat cover hogs at the Des Moines Pork Convention.

“Only a handful of writers showed up for the first combines in the 1980s. There were ten times as many when I arrived in Indianapolis last winter, reporters from every N.F.L. city as well as from TV and radio, a sea of cameras and recorders. Several national roundtable shows (on ESPN, Fox Sports, N.F.L. Network) broadcast live from the convention center, using the trading floor as a backdrop. If you’re a football fan—and, let’s face it, in a nation where more than 100 million people watch the Super Bowl, who isn’t?—your future is mapped in this room: future stars and future busts, future two-­minute drives and future fourth-­quarter collapses, future ­D.U.I.s and future cases of spousal abuse, future concussed being taken away on future stretchers, future Hall of Famers and future mediocrities. Most of us live in the past. That’s human nature. They say you can’t live life backward, but you can and do. The N.F.L. Combine is one of the few places I’ve been—the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is another—that’s all about what’s coming, not what’s been. Being here means you believe, Trump or no Trump, in the continued existence of America and American football, because American football is the sport of American exceptionalism and American greatness.

“I’d been at the combine for not quite five hours and already seen a dozen things I’d categorize as surreal. I’d seen an agent tell a player to go back to the room and put on the shoes with the heels. I’d heard a young man, a huge man nearly six and a half feet tall, addressed, by a tiny reporter, as ‘Big Baby.’ I’d listened to an expert dismiss a twenty-two-year-old known as Lil’Jordan Humphrey, a receiver from Texas, as slow because it took him 4.75 seconds to run 40 yards. ‘Top teams are looking for something in the four-point-five range,’ the expert explained.

“I was eager to see future stars of the game tested and judged, and to see how the teams operate at their great merchandise convention. I believed that seeing this strange event, which, with its spectacle of young men made to perform for old men, resembles a Detroit Auto Show—you check out the engine, run your hand along the body, then slide behind the wheel to get an even better sense—would let me understand my country in a new way. Tom Wolfe published an essay in this magazine thirty years ago. In it, he criticized the novelists of his day, whom, lost in the minutiae of their cosseted lives, he believed were missing the weird realities of modern America. He called on them to leave their sinecures, to leave their heads, and go to the stadiums and convention centers where they could see what the hell America was really about. That essay was called ‘Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast.’ I suppose that’s what I was doing at the combine. I was stalking the billion-footed beast.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Santa Maddalena

Poem: Mark Jarman, “Memory Song”

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America’s Greatest Thinker, Paper Theaters, and Leonardo’s Abandoned Sketch

Martin Englebrecht, Diorama of an Italianate Villa and Garden, via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s kick this morning off with a couple of items from the alternate universe desk: In Commentary, Abraham Socher writes about how a liberal arts college like Oberlin has become a place that takes intellectually curious students and teaches “them to rush to judgment, ignore evidence, disdain the legal system, and demonize neighbors who are different.” Also, The Guardian reports that a white professor is being investigated for quoting James Baldwin: “The Pulitzer-nominated poet Laurie Sheck, a professor at the New School in New York City, is being investigated by the university for using the N-word during a discussion about James Baldwin’s use of the racial slur. The investigation has been condemned by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (Fire), which is calling on the New School to drop the ‘misguided’ case because it ‘warns faculty and students that good-faith engagement with difficult political, social, and academic questions will result in investigation and possible discipline’.”

Sally Bedell Smith reviews A. N. Wilson’s biography of Prince Albert: “Pity the poor biographer who is a contemporary of A. N. Wilson’s. At age 68, Wilson has written 28 works of nonfiction and 24 novels. He’s unafraid to take on major figures, among them Jesus Christ. Pity the poor biographer even more when her husband comes into her office every year or so with a Cheshire Cat smile and says, ‘Guess who’s published another one!’ My heart sinks, because I know he’s referring to Wilson, whom the tormenting husband calls ‘the Joyce Carol Oates of nonfiction.’ Not content with writing the life of Queen Victoria, Wilson has now produced a biography of her husband, Prince Albert, timed to his 200th birthday. And the poor biographer must admit: It’s superb.”

Robert Indiana lived his last years in squalor: “World-famous millionaire artist Robert Indiana was nearly blind and living in filth and squalor in his final years, as his caretaker siphoned more than $1 million of his fortune while neglecting the artist and his once-opulent Vinalhaven home, according to an explosive new court document filed Wednesday.”

Abandoned sketch found under Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks: “A deep dive into Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin of the Rocks (ca. 1491/2-9 and 1506-8) has revealed unexpected images of now-hidden drawings lying underneath its surface. 15 years ago, it was revealed that the Virgin Mary’s pose had been changed during Leonardo’s process of completing the work. However, this month, London’s National Gallery announced the findings of its even closer look into the famous artwork, depicting a haloed Virgin Mary with an infant Saint John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.”

Let’s bring back paper theatres, shall we? “For ‘one penny plain, two cents colored,’ you got a tiny cardboard stage about the size of a paperback book, complete with a proscenium arch, curtains, and sometimes even a paper audience. The characters were laid out on sheets of paper, frozen in dramatic poses: villains brandish revolvers capped with clouds of gunpowder, jolly sailors hook arms and dance, clowns emerge from barrels. The heroes appear over and over again, taking on as many attitudes as the plot requires. Then there are the sets, storybook illustrations of extravagant palaces and howling wildernesses, to be slotted in and out of the back of the theater, behind the cavorting characters. The scripts that came with them were as miniaturized as the stage, heavily abridged and censored for children’s ears and attention spans . . . As another partisan of the miniature stage, G. K. Chesterton, wrote: ‘by reducing the scale of events it can introduce much larger events…Because it is small it could easily represent the Day of Judgement. Exactly in so far as it is limited, so far it could play easily with falling cities or with falling stars.’”

Francesca Steele reviews Téa Obreht’s Inland: “Téa Obreht’s second novel is an expansive and ambitious subversion of Western tropes, set in fin de siècle America. We have the outlaw, the detached hero, the fainting woman. Yet our outlaw is a camel-rider, our desperado a mother defending her homestead. Everything save the relentlessly harsh Arizona desert — a ‘godforsaken place’ of ‘baking summer hillsides’ — is unreliable: memory, relationships, even the finality of death.”

Essay of the Day:

In Aeon, Daniel Everett revisits the life and work of Charles Sanders Peirce:

“The roll of scientists born in the 19th century is as impressive as any century in history. Names such as Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, George Washington Carver, Alfred North Whitehead, Louis Agassiz, Benjamin Peirce, Leo Szilard, Edwin Hubble, Katharine Blodgett, Thomas Edison, Gerty Cori, Maria Mitchell, Annie Jump Cannon and Norbert Wiener created a legacy of knowledge and scientific method that fuels our modern lives. Which of these, though, was ‘the best’?

“Remarkably, in the brilliant light of these names, there was in fact a scientist who surpassed all others in sheer intellectual virtuosity. Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), pronounced ‘purse’, was a solitary eccentric working in the town of Milford, Pennsylvania, isolated from any intellectual centre. Although many of his contemporaries shared the view that Peirce was a genius of historic proportions, he is little-known today. His current obscurity belies the prediction of the German mathematician Ernst Schröder, who said that Peirce’s ‘fame [will] shine like that of Leibniz or Aristotle into all the thousands of years to come’.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Marin County

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Amish on Vacation, the Unreal Art Market, and the World’s Smallest Nation

Sealand. Photo by Ryan Lackey, vai Wikimedia Commons.

It’s not surprising that the Amish take vacation. Everyone does (or should). But I was surprised to learn this morning that many of them travel to a small neighborhood in Sarasota, Florida for a little R&R and have been doing so for nearly a century: ‘‘We don’t associate the Amish with leisure,’ says photographer Dina Litovsky . . . Litovsky has made several trips to Pinecraft, where she observes the vacationers ‘in community together’—not just worshipping, but taking meals in the area’s growing number of restaurants; enjoying concerts and benefit events in the park; saltwater fishing; and playing shuffleboard, chess, marbles, even a nighttime-game of volleyball. ‘It’s like a metropolis,’ she says. ‘It’s their New York City.’’

The questions regarding the authenticity of Salvator Mundi, which were ignored by major commercial and museum interests, reveal just how messy and unreal the art market has become, Federico Varese writes in The Times Literary Supplment.

Is one solution to stop selling art entirely? That was Suzi Gablik’s radical proposal in her 1984 book Has Modernism Failed? The problem with modernism, Gablik writes “is the pervasive spiritual crisis of Western civilisation: the absence of a system of beliefs that justifies any allegiance to any entity beyond the self. Insistence upon absolute freedom for each individual leads to a negative attitude towards society, which is seen as limiting to one’s projects, and ultimately constricting … There is no doubt that even freedom can become desolating, that after a while, even the artist may not know what to do with it … At the very least, it is a phenomenon with a very short history that has not been essential in the past to human survival, or to a rich human culture—and with the backfire of scrutiny, we may yet come to see that it may prove inimical to both . . . For some time now it has been evident that the critical intransigence of the avant-garde is evaporating in front of our eyes. Provocations that once seemed radical have long since lost their power to shock. Even the most difficult art has become comfortably familiar, and the unpredictable predictable.” To push back against this individualism, she suggests returning to the idea that a “work of art is a gift, not a commodity.”

But Gary Furnell is not so sure that this will address the problem: “Art may be a gift in its initial stages as the artist is gifted with a vision—an intellective flash, an intuition, an inspiration—for an artwork which he may later sell, but this does not mean that either the buyer or the artist thought of the transaction exclusively in mercenary terms. Payment reflects, in part at least, that the ‘labourer is worthy of his hire’ and the exchange of money recognises that to have the time to complete his art an artist is entitled to a livelihood. A distortion occurred, as Hughes observed, when artists whose inadequate training denied them excellence in the traditional skills of drawing, sculpting and painting had their over-rated work promoted and sold at inflated prices by ‘celebrity’ gallery owners to undiscerning buyers.”

Treatments for Ebola discovered: “Two treatments have been found to reliably help patients resist the deadly virus—just nine months after a clinical trial began.”

Tara Cheesman reviews Anthony Horowitz latest book: “The Sentence Is Death is the second installment of his latest series, Hawthorne Investigates (which is not actually the series name but, as a maybe fictional version of Steven Spielberg notes in the first book, it should be). The premise, introduced in The Word Is Murder, is both familiar and tantalizingly original. Anthony Horowitz — the book’s actual author and fictional narrator — is approached by a one-time police consultant on his BBC series Injustice (which aired five episodes in 2011) with an unusual proposition.”

There have always been literary scammers. Alexander Jessup was one of the worst.

Essay of the Day:

In The Atlantic, Ian Urbina writes about his visit to the world’s smallest nation—Sealand:

“The improbable creation story of the world’s tiniest maritime nation was a thumb in the eye of international law.

“Constituted as a principality, Sealand had its own passport, coat of arms, and flag—red and black, with a white diagonal stripe. Its currency was the Sealand dollar, bearing Joan’s image. In more recent years, it has launched a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a YouTube channel.

“Though no country formally recognizes Sealand, its sovereignty has been hard to deny. Half a dozen times, the British government and assorted other groups, backed by mercenaries, have tried and failed to take over the platform by force. In virtually every instance, the Bates family scared them off by firing rifles in their direction, tossing gasoline bombs, dropping cinder blocks onto their boats, or pushing their ladders into the sea. Britain once controlled a vast empire over which the sun never set, but it’s been unable to control a rogue micronation barely bigger than the main ballroom in Buckingham Palace.

“The reason goes back to the first principles of sovereignty: A country’s ability to enforce its laws extends only as far as its borders. In May 1968, Roy’s son, Michael, fired a .22-caliber pistol at workers servicing a buoy nearby. Michael claimed that they were mere warning shots to remind these workers of Sealand’s territorial sovereignty. No one was hurt in the incident, but the consequences for Britain’s legal system—and Sealand’s geopolitical status—were far-reaching.

“The British government soon brought firearms charges against Michael, for illegal possession and discharge. But the court subsequently ruled that his actions happened outside British territory and jurisdiction, making them unpunishable under British law. Emboldened by the ruling, Roy later told a British official that he could order a murder on Sealand if he so chose, because ‘I am the person responsible for the law in Sealand.’”

Read the rest.

Photo: Conch island

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The First Newspapers, in Praise of Barry Manilow, and Documenting China’s Harrowing One-Child Policy

Via Wikimedia Commons

The first newspapers were more like Reddit than today’s New York Times, Rachael Scarborough King writes. The “earliest forms for public discussion of politics and literature in print presented themselves as epistolary conversations. Rather than negating the personalising effects of handwritten correspondence, they relied on them to make new forms of print seem familiar and understandable. The ‘print public sphere’ made its debut as a series of letters.”

Brandon Yu reviews a new film documenting China’s harrowing one-child policy: “Early on in Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang’s new documentary, One Child Nation, an 84-year-old midwife is asked how many babies she has delivered throughout her career. She brushes the question aside and instead spills out a startling admission. ‘I really don’t know how many I delivered. What I do know is that I’ve done a total of between 50,000 to 60,000 sterilizations and abortions,’ she says. The scene that follows is astonishing, not only for plainly illustrating the horror and scale of the film’s subject—the far-reaching consequences of China’s one-child policy—but also for the exceptional nature of the confession. ‘I counted this out of guilt, because I aborted and killed babies,’ the midwife, Huaru Yuan, continues. ‘Many I induced alive and killed. My hands trembled doing it.’ Since retiring, Yuan has dedicated her life to treating families struggling with infertility, as a kind of spiritual penance. But retribution will one day come for her, she says, her voice bereft of self-pity.”

Roger Scruton has cancer.

Barry Manilow’s Broadway show is “an epic of a man and his sequins, backed by a gigantic band, his voice amplified to levels suggesting an air raid. All of showbiz is an act, and even Springsteen confessed, in his Broadway engagement, ‘I made it all up.’ Manilow is as loyal to his act as Springsteen is to his. If authenticity is what we crave in a stage persona, Manilow is the real thing, only he’s genuine Velveeta. Weapons-grade schmaltz. His veins flow with pure glitter.” And it’s wonderful.

In praise of Natalia Ginzburg’s lexicon and limited scope: “In a contemporary review of Natalia Ginzburg’s 1947 novella, The Dry Heart, a 24-year-old Italo Calvino endeavored to articulate the simultaneous intimacy and reticence of the writer’s narrative voice. ‘Hers is not the first-person of lyrical diary keeping,’ he wrote, ‘but rather an externalization in which she participates body and soul.’ Straightforward, direct, often avoiding the complexity of the subordinate clause, Ginzburg’s unmistakable style emerged from the need to express herself in succinct, crisp sentences in order to get a word in around the dinner table, as she suggests in her autofictional Family Lexicon (reissued in a new, 2017 translation by NYRB Classics). The ‘Lexicon’ of the title — ‘lessons’ in the original Italian — has also been translated as ‘sayings,’ or as another earlier translation put it, Things We Used to Say. Language may be social, necessarily shared. But for Ginzburg it is also personal and intimate. Throughout her career she was interested in the peculiar phrases and particular vocabulary employed among small communities, within families — in how words might prove as durable as blood in constructing a world together.”

Mersiha Bruncevic writes about the life and work of the “wandering star” of Yiddish literature, Debora Vogel: “Debora Vogel was born in January 1900 in a Galician town called Bursztyn. Her life ended in August of 1942 on the pavement of Bernsztejn Street, murdered by Nazis during the liquidation of the Lviv ghetto along with her baby boy, Asher, her husband, Szulim Barenblüth, and her mother, Leonia Ehrenpreis. Before this unimaginable tragedy, Vogel, known as the ‘wandering star’ of Yiddish and Polish literature, wrote groundbreaking poetry, astute art criticism and lauded academic research on philosophy and aesthetics. She also urged and encouraged the now canonic Polish Jewish author Bruno Schulz not to give up on writing at a time when Schulz felt hopeless, and thought that he would never be published. He proposed to her, but she turned him down.”

Essay of the Day:

In The Caravan, Abhrajyoti Chakraborty discusses the neglected work of Dom Moraes:

“In 1951, Dom published his first book, a selection of his reports on cricket matches for Indian newspapers. He was 13 years old. The British poet Stephen Spender was impressed by his poems and published them in Encounter, then a top international literary magazine. Later, he wrote him a recommendation letter for Jesus College, Oxford. A Beginning, Dom’s first book of poems, was released during his first year at the university. The following year, he won the Hawthornden Prize.

“While still an undergraduate, Dom became part of a bohemian coterie in post-war London. He met TS Eliot, studied under WH Auden, went out drinking with the painters Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon. After graduation, Dom returned to the Indian subcontinent for four months. He travelled the hippie trail from Kathmandu to Calcutta with Ved, a friend from Oxford—later Ved Mehta of the New Yorker. His father made arrangements for him to interview the Dalai Lama and Nehru. The book that came out of this brief homecoming was simultaneously a memoir and a travelogue. Gone Away: the title itself laid bare his intent to leave.

“But this narrative of the father’s son rapidly rising in the world was punctuated by a bottomless fear: a fear that Dom inherited from his mother, Beryl D’Monte. Beryl, a pathologist at Bombay’s Cama Hospital, suffered from severe manic episodes through Dom’s early years. She had already been institutionalised once by the time he started going to school. He grew up watching her seizures and fits of domestic violence. Beryl was the reason why Frank had to travel everywhere with his son. The endless screaming, the spells of ominous silence, the broken dishes, the days when nurses had to be called in to restrain her at home: from a very young age Dom was overwhelmed by the feeling that his childhood had ended . . . Beginning with Odysseus at least, literature is replete with stories of reluctant repatriation. Besides, by the time Dom came to write Gone Away, his mother was living alone in her brother’s hotel in Bombay, and Frank had moved to Delhi with Silverstone. The prospect of a return was impossible for Dom because he had seen the fate that awaited writers in a newly independent India, those wanting to fill a small shelf with their books. He had seen his father being pressured, both at the Times of India and the Indian Express, to accommodate the owners’ other business interests. In Bombay, Mulk Raj Anand had told him that most poets ended up writing for Bollywood, since unlike publishers, production houses paid—‘In fact they pay enough to make them stop writing poetry.’ In Delhi, while interviewing Nehru, Dom noted the sadness with which the prime minister had glanced out of the window and wished he had more time to read and write. Not far away from Nehru’s office, near Kashmere Gate, lived a man who ostensibly had all the time in the world to read and write: Nirad C Chaudhuri, prose stylist extraordinaire, author of A Passage to England and The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, infamous at the time for his love of the lapsed British Empire. Dom and Ved found him living on the top floor of a congested wooden house at the end of a dirty street. When they walked in, Chaudhuri was naked, and fast asleep on the floor of the veranda, so that at first they mistook him for the house help. The old man offered them coffee and lectured them on life and literature for over two hours. His advice to the young Moraes was unequivocal: ‘If you stay here, you will perish. They will not understand you here.’”

Read the rest.

Photo: Moon and Saturn

Poem: Aaron Poochigian, “Arctolatry”

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The Problem with Gender Quotas, What Germans Are Reading, and George Washington Mural Update

Bookstore in Munich, via Wikimedia Commons

I didn’t wake up this morning wondering what Germans were reading these days, but as soon as I read this headline at The American Interest, I had to know. Here’s a snippet: “The land of Goethe is fond of fiction, of course, which makes up 31.9 percent of total book sales. Within this genre, they prefer suspense novels and thrillers. Children’s and young adult literature come in second, followed by self-help books, a genre the Börsenverein suggests is in an uptick. General nonfiction rounds out these numbers, but it is also the category, importantly, that generates the most conversation.” Next up are columns on Brazil, France, and the United Kingdom. What a wonderful idea.

The San Francisco School Board may not paint over the George Washington mural at the George Washington High School after all. Instead, they might cover it with other materials. This is better than painting over it, but it’s certainly no grand strike against pigeon-hearted pandering.

More than 18,000 artefacts have been seized in an international trafficking crackdown: “Police authorities from 29 countries joined forces to launch an operation that seized more than 18,000 illegally trafficked cultural goods including archaeological items, furniture, coins, paintings, musical instruments, and sculptures. The joint forces arrested 59 individuals in the operation.”

In case you missed it, J. D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy, has become a Catholic.

Nick Burns reviews a newly translated selection of speeches from Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War: “The six speeches—from Pericles’s successful attempt in 432 BC to convince the Athenians to go to war, to Nicias’s vain bid to scuttle the Sicilian expedition—accompanied as they are with Hanink’s succinct and reserved introductions, together make up a convincing précis of Thucydides’s mammoth history.”

“We’re now a good 40 years into the computer revolution,” Joseph Bottum writes in his latest column at The Washington Free Beacon. What should we make of it? “[M]aybe the best way to understand what’s happened would be to construct a scatter plot of the results. We need to graph everything onto a Cartesian plane, in other words, with a vertical axis for the personal effects computers have had and a horizontal axis for the social effects.” Read Jody’s brief survey in which he has some rather strong words against social media. And if you’re interested, here’s a panel I participated in earlier this year with Richard Starr, Lauren Weiner, and Jon Hunter (hosted by Jody) on how the computer has changed publishing.

What is going to be in Amazon’s Lord of the Ring series? Anything from the Second Age with a free hand to explore unanswered questions, though it must “remain ‘Tolkienian’.”

The animals of Bloomsbury and Sigrid Nunez’s Mitz: “It begins with an improbable rescue, based on true events. It is late July 1934, and Leonard Woolf has recently come into possession of his friend Victor Rothschild’s sickly marmoset. (Victor had procured the creature, whom he named Mitz, from a junk shop.) A pet-sitting appointment blooms into a longer arrangement. Good Leonard—‘He was a man who healed sick animals and grew dahlias and wrote books taking on the biggest bullies of the world,’ the fictionalized Virginia explains—nurses Mitz back to health. Spirited, loyal, and uncorrupted by shame or civility, the tiny primate becomes an unlikely fixture of the cultural life of Bloomsbury.”

Essay of the Day:

In The Conversation, Samantha Warren writes about the problem with gender quotas at the recent Glastonbury Festival and the music industry in general:

“The problems begin when we look more closely at what happens when quotas are used to address gender inequality. The argument is that without legislation requiring organisations to appoint a set number of individuals from the minority group, change will not happen fast enough. The 2011 Davies Report, commissioned by the UK Government, calculated it would take 70 years for men and women to achieve equality on company boards if the status quo wasn’t challenged.

“Yet these quotas can result in women’s recruitment to less influential positions. In countries where gender quotas for company boards are already mandatory, it is not uncommon to find women in non-executive positions where their power is limited – impression management rather than real change. We can see this happening at Glastonbury, too.

“Another criticism of diversity quotas is an assumption that choosing people because of their gender – whether to perform at a festival, or lead a company – means ability and talent matter less than getting enough of the underrepresented group to meet the target. This ‘tick box’ view has damaging effects for everyone.

“Men feel aggrieved that they may have lost out unfairly, while women feel they have only been chosen because of their sex, and not their talent.

“But filling quotas does not have to be at the expense of ensuring a top quality bill, providing there are sufficient numbers of men and women in the talent pools you’re drawing from. You set the barrier high, then choose equal numbers of men and women who can jump it.

“We can apply this approach to ethnicity, sexuality, age – and any number of individual characteristics, too. There is also an argument that, if we are serious about addressing inequality, then the dominant group will (and should) necessarily lose its entrenched advantage.

“But this is where it gets interesting. Because in music, as with many other creative and tech industries, the talent pools are far from equally sized. A recent report from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative studied 700 popular music songs released in the US between 2012 and 2016. Women made up 21.7% of artists, 12.3% of songwriters and only a tiny 2.1% of producers, suggesting that as creative roles become more techie, already low female participation rates fall sharply.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Donskoy Park

Poem: Dana Gioia, Excerpt from The Underworld

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Stop Trying to Make TV Smart, Mow Your Own Lawn, and Good Neighborhoods

Via Wikimedia Commons

Nicolas Cage talks to The New York Times: “I put this line in Mandy: ‘The psychotic drowns where the mystic swims.’ You either have the proclivity to open up your imagination or you don’t. If you have that propensity and are on camera about to do a scene, what would make you believe in what you’re about to do? Say you’re playing a demon biker with an ancient spirit. What power objects could you find that might trick your imagination? Would you find an antique from an ancient pyramid? Maybe a little sarcophagus that’s a greenish color and looks like King Tut? Would you sew that into your jacket and know that it’s right next to you when the director says ‘action’? Could you open yourself to that power? . . . I did that.”

Stop trying to make TV smart: “Your favourite show probably doesn’t have a deeper meaning. That’s okay.”

Bill Berkson’s Frank O’Hara Notebook provides “a dual portrait—of O’Hara and of Berkson—while also evoking the cultural and artistic life of New York City in the early 1960s.”

The Guardian breaks even with over 50% of its revenue generated by digital products.

Opinion: Mow your own lawn, man. “Whether or not one is supposed to, I’ve always admired Jay Gatsby, the eponymous hero of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. Yet I never fully understand the character until I come to the scene in which he arranges to have his neighbor’s yard mown, lest the visiting Daisy Buchanan lay eyes upon an unkempt blade of grass. The gesture is meant to reveal Gatsby’s insecurity and materialism, as well as the working-class striving that prevents his ever truly joining the aristocracy. But I sympathize with the man. The lawn next door is a disgrace and ruins the prospect of Gatsby’s flawless green. My only criticism is that he ought to have put on an old T-shirt and done the job himself.”

Essay of the Day:

Most people want to live in a good neighborhood, but what do they mean by “good”? Salim Farth tries to answer the question in National Affairs:

“A neighborhood is not a strictly defined good, but it is a good nonetheless. People work to produce good neighborhoods, and some pay handsomely to live in the best ones. Residents who skip out on election day sometimes become activists if their neighborhood’s character is at stake.

“But despite the evident value that people place on neighborhoods, the barriers to an intelligible economic analysis are obvious: Neighborhood strength is not quantifiable, and different people mean different things when they use the term. Nor would we expect a market for neighborhoods to have the efficiency properties of a free, competitive market, with many buyers, many sellers, and few externalities. It is not that a ‘free market’ in neighborhoods cannot exist; it’s that we have few clues as to what such a market would look like.

“Scholarship on the economics of neighborhoods is sparse. But sketching the contours of what an economics of neighborhoods would look like can help us figure out what makes a strong neighborhood and how individuals, organizations, and policymakers can work together to allow neighborhoods to thrive.”

Read the rest.

Photos: Ducky Derby

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V. S. Naipaul’s Barbarians, Diversity in Poetry, and Proust’s Unpublished Stories

Rocher St. Michel D’Aiguilhe, via Wikimedia Commons

What did the Victorians eat when they went out in London? Lentils, Indian and Malay curries, and “red-hot chops, with their brown, frizzling caudal appendages sobbing hot tears of passionate fat”: “In London in 1885, there was a cheap Italian restaurant (its name and location haven’t survived) where a person could dine on a breaded veal cutlet served with curry sauce instead of the usual wedge of lemon. Breaded veal cutlets – often on the menu as côtelette Milanese – were a standard item at Victorian Italian restaurants, but the curry sauce was a novelty. A writer in the Caterer was enthusiastic: ‘Its crisp breadcrumbs will become slightly moistened by the sauce, but the eggs will hold good against curry and gravy.’ (This cutlet actually predates the original Japanese katsu curry, pork tonkatsu, first served in 1899 at a Tokyo restaurant called Rengatei.) Before the First World War put an abrupt stop to it, the possibilities for eating out in London were far more extensive and varied than one might imagine.”

You know what’s missing in this piece by Bob Hicok welcoming the declining interest in his poetry simply because he is a “straight white guy”? Any discussion of poetry. He takes the mere fact that there are supposedly more books by black, female, gay, and transgender poets as a sign that today’s work is better than that of the past. What matters is inclusion not quality, and the greater the diversity (associated exclusively and clumsily with skin color and sex), the better. But riddle me this, cher Bob: One of the great thrills of reading is encountering something new. So why is it that so little today is truly interesting? Could it be that it has always been so?

Nine stories that were cut from Proust’s first collection, Plaisirs et les Jours, will be published for the first time: “The pieces were discovered by Bernard de Fallois, founder of the publishing house, who died in late 2018. They will be collected together under the title The Mysterious Correspondent and Other Unpublished Novellas. The 180-page book, which will be published on October 9, will include facsimiles of Proust’s original pages.”

Pacific Standard to shut down.

David Berman has died. He was 52.

Matt Hanson revisits Elia Kazan’s 1957 film A Face in the Crowd, which is “a prescient warning about the power of demagogues, which remains all too relevant more than 60 years later”: “The plot is simple. Larry ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes is a boozy roustabout who washes up in an Arkansas drunk tank only to be discovered by an idealistic radio journalist named Marcia Jefferies. Rhodes instantly becomes a huge radio hit for his guitar-twanging, whiskey-swilling, just-plain-folksy ways and as his star steadily rises, aided by mass communication, he becomes something of a folk hero to the thousands who tune in everyday to hear his homespun country aphorisms and hillbilly songs. The trouble, as we know from the start and Rhodes’ audience doesn’t figure out until it’s too late, is that behind the bushy hair and toothy grin lies a red-blooded all-American megalomaniac. None other than Andy Griffith plays Rhodes, in his film debut.”

Essay of the Day:

“There was a time,” Elizabeth Powers writes, “when V. S. Naipaul, reporting on the growth pains of the postcolonial world, was a favorite of the literary establishment.” Why did he fall out of favor?

“It is worthwhile to note that the change in Naipaul’s reception occurred in the same years that Western liberals abandoned their infatuation with another truth teller, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, during his post-Soviet exile. While Naipaul has not given any indication that he took an interest in Solzhenitsyn’s writings, his accounts of the effects of colonialism on native peoples—in The Middle Passage and The Loss of El Dorado and, later, in A Way in the World (1994) and Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples (1998)—resemble the kinds of case studies that Solzhenitsyn assembled in The Gulag Archipelago (first English publication, 1974). And just as Solzhenitsyn failed to display the gratitude of an exile and instead called attention to the spiritual vacuity of the West, Naipaul was denounced in attacks that neglected to deal with the substance of his writing. An egregious instance, again, is that of Edward Said, who called the writings by Naipaul ‘travel journalism [that is] unencumbered with much knowledge or information . . . unrestrained by genuine learning or self-education.’ Whatever his interpretation of facts on the ground, Naipaul was steeped in the historical sources, and Said’s wrong-headed response, like that to Solzhenitsyn, reflects the ideological distortions of the present age.

“Naipaul’s biographer, Patrick French, has written that Naipaul’s ‘response to the growth in his reputation as a villain was to stoke it.’ One cannot help thinking that criticism also amused Naipaul and that his acerbic and offhand responses reflect his Trini­dadian background, in particular the figure of the jokester that is prominent in the early fiction. A term that truly enraged his critics was ‘barbarian,’ which Naipaul used frequently in connec­tion with Third World countries and peoples and which was assumed to encapsulate his loathing and condescension. His critics simply could not get past its present connotations, which, besides the contrast to ‘civilized,’ suggest depravity and evil.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Rocher St. Michel D’Aiguilhe

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In Defense of Gentrification, Vegans Becoming Butchers, and Sparta Reconsidered

Giuseppe Diotti, The Selection of the Infant Spartans (1840), via Wikimedia Commons

I have been ambivalent about Trump’s proposed tariffs . . . until now. It seems that the price of Gruyère may go up by 100% if tariffs against the EU are put into place. Let’s hope that doesn’t include Gruyère from Switzerland—that is, the real Gruyère that everyone loves, not the holey French stuff. Switzerland isn’t part of the EU and buys plenty of Boeing jets. It should in no way be punished.

In other food news, these vegetarians became butchers after they started eating meat from grass-fed animals and saw their health improve: “‘As soon as I started eating meat, my health improved,’ she said. ‘My mental acuity stepped up, I lost weight, my acne cleared up, my hair got better. I felt like a fog lifted.’ All of the meat was from healthy, grass-fed animals reared on the farms where she worked. Other former vegetarians reported that they, too, felt better after introducing grass-fed meat into their diets: Ms. Kavanaugh said eating meat again helped with her depression. Mr. Applestone said he felt far more energetic . . . Grass-fed and -finished meat has been shown to be more healthful to humans than that from animals fed on soy and corn, containing higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid, beta carotene and other nutrients. Cows that are fed predominantly grass and forage also have better health themselves, requiring less use of antibiotics. ‘There’s one health for animals and humans,’ Ms. Fernald said. ‘You can’t be healthy unless the animals you eat are healthy.’”

The example of Rome: “At various points in American history, various reasons have been advanced to explain why the United States is bound to join the Roman Empire in oblivion.” The problem is, Tom Holland writes, America is not Rome: “History serves as only the blindest and most stumbling guide to the future. America is not Rome. Donald Trump is not Commodus. There is nothing written into the DNA of a superpower that says that it must inevitably decline and fall. This is not an argument for complacency; it is an argument against despair. Americans have been worrying about the future of their republic for centuries now. There is every prospect that they will be worrying about it for centuries more.”

Also from the ancient civilization desk, there’s this defense of Sparta from Nick Burns: “These latter-day laconophiles (lovers of Sparta, that is) tend to exalt the cruellest, grittiest, and most violent aspects of Spartan life. They make virtues of the brutal training regimen forced upon young Spartans, of the city’s merciless repression of its surrounding population, of its anti-intellectual and hyper-martial mores. It’s also true that we can find in Sparta’s history starker versions of the darker tendencies of our own society: militarism, intolerance of outsiders, indifference toward the value of human life. At the same time, today’s laconophiles overlook characteristics of Spartan society that many of them would object to, including relative economic equality, cultural egalitarianism, and military restraint.”

Quoting Plutarch, Burns argues (or seems to argue) that “in Sparta, those who were free—that is, the citizens—were freer than people anywhere else in the world” and cites Benjamin Constant’s distinction between individual and communal freedom: “Ancient liberty . . . was unabashedly majoritarian. It was not individual but communal. To be free in an ancient sense was to participate in the life of the city on equal terms with others, and have a say in public debates on domestic and foreign affairs, the results of which would bind everyone. This Spartan kind of freedom was active, not passive. It made no promises about religious freedom. It had no concept of a private sphere of rights—but it was freedom nonetheless.”

It was a kind of freedom, no doubt, but characterizing Sparta as a great example of “communal” freedom (again, if that’s what Burns is saying here) is a bit of stretch. Sparta simply elevated one kind of community (the city) above all others (particularly the family), unlike Athens, which left the family largely untouched and tried to maintain a more complex relationship between the two.

But I agree with Burns’s kicker: “Something in human nature craves more than a sphere of rights, more than promises of nice things and free association. One need neither equate nor endorse the rise of democratic socialism on the left and of nationalism on the right to observe that each demonstrates, once again, that people crave more than individual liberty, full stop.” Give the whole thing a read and decide what you think for yourself.

Planning on going to the Louvre on your next trip to Paris? You will likely need a reservation.

Toni Morrison has died. She was 88.

Does gentrification hurt low-income residents in a neighborhood? A new study says no. Gentrification’s status “as a great urban evil, a ravager of lives and destroyer of communities, is based as much on faith as on fact. Most scholarly research on the topic compares snapshots of cities and neighborhoods at different times but loses track of what happens to the actual people who live there. Now, a pair of studies has used Census micro-data and Medicaid records to track specific residents of both gentrifying and non-gentrifying neighborhoods — where they live, where their children go to school, when they move, and where they go. The researchers come up with some startling findings. In a paper published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Quentin Brummet and Davin Reed say that urbanites move all the time, for countless reasons, and that gentrification has scant impact on that constant flow. Those who stay put as a neighborhood grows more affluent often see their quality of life rise and their children enjoy more opportunities. Those who leave rarely do worse.”

Essay of the Day:

In Standpoint, Patrick Heren writes about hitchhiking from Laredo to New York in 1980. He contracted polio when he was three and has walked with crutches ever since:

“My parents sensibly decided that I should approach life as if I were entirely able-bodied, sending me to school with able-bodied children and generally expecting me to be self-reliant. There was a certain doublethink involved, of course: I regarded myself as a tough guy who could take care of himself and join in the sorts of activities my friends enjoyed, despite the fact that my participation was necessarily restricted: when playing soldiers I could be a sniper, or man a machine-gun nest, while in football I would play in goal.

“Psychologically this was reasonably effective, and at university I was flattered when friends—especially girls—said they did not think of me as disabled. It also led to a certain lack of realism on my part, culminating in a frankly insane US road trip in the summer of 1980.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Lavender

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The Textbook of the Future, How We Use Our Time, and How Mosquitoes Changed Everything

Via Wikimedia Commons

John Maynard Keynes thought future generations would work less and less. By 2030, he predicted in 1930, most people would work only 15 hours a week. Today, many people feel they work more than previous generations. But a new study suggests that how we use our time hasn’t changed that much in 50 years: “One of the most fascinating myths the authors take on is the idea that people today are much busier than they were in the past. Certainly, life feels pretty overwhelming from where I’m sitting, with a full-time job, children and an arm’s-length list of chores that never get done. The media propagates the idea that we’re always multitasking, and that computers and phones have demolished the boundaries between work and home. Time-use data offers one way of examining objectively whether or not we’re really busier than our parents once were. The authors find little proof of increasing busyness among the population. Yes, as expected, people were spending far more time on digital devices in 2015 than they were in 2000. But the data provides little evidence that people now spend more time multitasking or that they’re switching more often from one activity to another, which might make our time seem fragmented and frantic.”

Kafka is often billed as the quintessential modernist. Was he?

Sean Johnson reviews a graphic history of our relationship to the moon: “Every time astronomers grew in their power to study or understand the moon, their discoveries would inevitably include some new mystery that continued to elude comprehension. Try as man might, our nearest celestial neighbor would remain a mystery to him as long as he remained held by his terrestrial confines. Though Moonbound is ostensibly a book about the NASA mission that landed the first men on the moon, Fetter-Vorm punctuates the story of Apollo 11 with accounts of the science that made the moon landing possible and the longings that made it inevitable.”

When Delmore Schwartz published “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” in Partisan Review in 1937 it struck an immediate chord. Why? “It is a sobering study of no-longer-immigrants who have not yet found their balance in the new land. The narrator’s cries in the dark theater cannot affect the course of events. The artist baring his suffering cannot expect anything from an audience that appreciates the entertainment but is indifferent to his pain. While the ominous force of the story derives most obviously from the young man’s condition and sense of himself, it is hard to imagine that someone of Delmore’s intelligence and sensibility was not affected as well by what he knew of the mounting dangers to the Jews of Europe. Rarely has a sense of foreboding had greater justification or found subtler expression. The story admired for its personal singular intensity is also an augury of desperate times.”

How mosquitoes changed everything: “They slaughtered our ancestors and derailed our history. And they’re not finished with us yet.”

Essay of the Day:

What will the textbook of the future look like and what does it mean for student learning? Brian Barrett reports:

“The major publishers are publicly traded companies, under pressure to demonstrate constant growth. Pearson’s digital-first strategy is a significant step toward a more sustainable business model. Under the new system, ebooks will cost an average of $40. Those who prefer actual paper can pay $60 for the privilege of a rental, with the option to purchase the book at the end of the term. The price of a new print textbook can easily reach into the hundreds of dollars; under digital-first, students have to actively want to pay that much after a course is already over, making it an unlikely option for most.

“The benefits to Pearson are self-evident. More than half of its revenue comes from digital already; this move accelerates that transition, while providing substantial savings in printing overhead. It also helps nudge faculty toward using Pearson’s digital platforms, which for $79 offer an array of ancillary features like homework plans and assessment tools along with access to the book.

“Students stand to gain, as well. In addition to costing less than their physical counterparts, digital textbooks take up less space, and they’ll get more frequent updates. ‘Up until now the product development cycle and the revision cycle were still driven by essentially the way the world has been the last 40 years,’ Fallon says. ‘From now on all updates will be digital first. If there’s a scientific breakthrough, a compelling business case study, developments in contemporary politics or world events, you don’t need to wait three years. You can, from one semester to another, update content.’”

* * *

“But more technology doesn’t always mean better results. Within K-12 learning environments, the digital divide means that students in low-income and rural households have less access to reliable internet and fewer connected devices on which to complete the online portions of their homework. And while Pearson’s initiative applies only to textbooks in higher ed, the shift to digital has implications at the collegiate level as well.

“‘We are finding that even though undergraduates prefer to read digitally, these preferences aren’t actually showing positive or even equalness in terms of effect on comprehension,’ says Lauren Singer Trakhman, who studies reading comprehension at the University of Maryland’s Disciplined and Learning Research Laboratory. ‘When it comes to things like pulling details, key facts, numbers, and figures, participants are doing a lot better after reading in print.’”

Read the rest.

Photo: Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden  

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Saving Email, Rodin’s Right Foot, and the Value History

Grave of Auguste Rodin, Meudon, France, via Wikimedia Commons

A few weeks ago, I reported that a French law requiring Notre-Dame to be rebuilt to look as it did before the fire was passed. That law has created a new agency, The Art Newspaper reports, that will oversee the construction: “The law has created a new agency with vast and wide-ranging powers to be in charge of coordinating and managing the entire operation. It will also receive all the funds raised by national and international subscriptions; manage all work to the immediate surroundings of the cathedral; establish training programmes for the restorers; implement information programmes to educate the public about the conservation process, and establish a scientific council to advise on the key choices that will have to be made. Half of the new agency’s board will be representatives of the French government, but the City of Paris and the Church will also be represented. The main decision-making figure will be its chairman, appointed by decree, who is most likely to be General Jean-Louis Georgelin, a battle-hardened veteran, former head of the joint chiefs of staff of the French armies, and, until 2016, in the powerful position of chancellor of the order of the Légion d’Honneur, the top French order of merit. General Georgelin will report directly to the president and supervise the entire operation.”

Jay Parini reviews Ian Sansom’s “difficult-to-classify” biography of W. H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939”: “When he turns periodically to the poem at hand, he’s remarkably good at describing the verse in technical (but not too technical) terms, and he gives us a broad sense of the kind of man behind the poem, dipping into biography again and again, but never systematically. There is nothing systematic about his book, which consists of bits and pieces, quotes from other authors, reflections on Sansom’s own life in relation to Auden’s, as well as fiercely intelligent readings of individual lines and stanzas. For me, the book’s best moments are when Sansom is most critical of Auden: ‘Auden had a tendency throughout his career to reflect upon and attempt to solve and explain problems using the simplifying logic of the child.’ That is bold but accurate, though it also points to a strength in Auden that has always struck me: his ability to speak in abstract terms in a way that seems memorable in part because it has a childlike simplicity, one that can seem naive but nevertheless strikes at truth.”

Charles Fain Lehman reviews Katherine Eban’s Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom: “It is rare that adjectives like ‘fast-paced’ or ‘thrilling’ describe a nonfiction book about the regulation of generic drugs. But these are appropriate descriptors for Bottle of Lies, the latest from investigative journalist Katherine Eban. Released in May, Bottle of Lies is a globally sourced, immaculately reported look at the effects of offshoring America’s generic drug supply. In it, Eban documents the rise and fall of one India-based pharmaceutical firm, Ranbaxy Laboratories; the whistleblower who brought them down, former Ranbaxy employee Dinesh Thakur; and the Food and Drug Administration investigators who fought both Indian and American bureaucracy to hold Ranbaxy accountable for fraud on a global scale.”

Work ruined email. Can Yahoo—yes, Yahoo—save it? Ian Bogost reports: “Most popular email software, including Gmail and Outlook, is built for enterprise use first, which infects home email with the Sisyphean despair of the office. That’s finally changing, thanks in part to Yahoo and AOL, two old-school internet icons sold off for parts after newer tech darlings overtook them. Harnessing a legacy as consumer companies, they hope to wrest email from work’s oppressive grip by redesigning it for use at home.”

“80% of books published 1924-63 never had their copyrights renewed and are now in the public domain.” More.

Mary Anne Carter confirmed as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts: “Prior to her appointment, Carter had little experience in the arts. She was a chief policy adviser to Florida Senator Rick Scott when he was serving as governor and is the founder and president of MAC Research, Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in political and public affairs.”

Arshile Gorky in Venice: “He’s better than Pollack, and the Ca’ Pesaro exhibit of his mystical work makes for a nice break from the Biennale on the other side of town.”

The Thinker’s right foot: “In one of his two major statements on The Thinker, when he recalled moving from his original concept of Dante in earflaps to something more universal, Rodin wrote: ‘I conceived another thinker, a naked man; seated upon a rock, his feet drawn under him, his fist against his teeth, he dreams.’ The sequence here—the rock, the feet, the fist, the teeth, the dream—implies that thinking, as Rodin conceived of it, emerges from the feet and moves upward and inward. I looked carefully at The Thinker’s right foot, how the big toe slides under the adjacent, sheltering toe to get a better grip.”

Essay of the Day:

In The Hudson Review, Kevin Honold writes a long, meandering, but lovely essay on the value of history and accounts of the Huron Nation:

“History is not an American pastime. This is partly due, I think, to the fact that history has long been presented to schoolchildren as a thing from which they are meant to draw ‘lessons,’ as though history were a series of unfortunate incidents involving hot skillets and monkey cages, which, in some ways, I suppose it is. The past is something that maladjusted people ‘dwell on,’ after all. ‘The belief that history has a present use when properly read,’ wrote Jacques Barzun in From Dawn to Decadence, ‘is a mark of the modern temper; whole periods and peoples have done quite well without it,’ and that seems true enough. Remembrance is morbid, unprofitable. It’s impractical, impolite in certain company. And plainly, we survive whether we record our deeds and disasters for posterity, or we don’t.”

* * *

“Scattered up and down the Ohio, Scioto, and Miami river valleys, the sites of historical significance were long ago effaced by tractor and leveler. Here and there, a roadside marker bears the name of a trading post or a treaty site or a vanished Shawnee town. Beyond the sign may be an onion field or a deserted lot or a busy street corner, and the passerby who bothers to read the sign might try to reimagine the scene. It’s difficult to do. Modern society has re-created the land in its image, and the land seems to have turned inward, like a prisoner that’s been tormented and beaten but still refuses to talk.

“Heraclitus made the curious observation that Nature loves to hide. History, too, loves to hide. The closer you look at the land, the more it conceals, and so the past becomes an unlikely, semi-mythical, at times unintelligible place. Only shadows and erasures and faint prints remain of the life that this land’s first inhabitants knew.

“When I was a kid, I was aware of the presence of ghosts. I had an inborn talent for paying attention, which compensated in a small way for my ignorance. Then, sorrow and love were indistinguishable, and together these constituted a kind of key to a passing knowledge. I mean to say that, innocent of judgment, I was permitted to listen and to look. Things lay unconcealed to me then that are now hidden in plain view. I’m older, lazy, judgmental; the key is lost.

“When I was a kid, history books had this in common with the moon at two in the morning: both had a way of making me feel as though I were the only soul in the world who was watching.”

Read the rest.

Photos: Great Line at the Mondial Air Ballons

Poem: David Mason, “The Birthday Boy”

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