Thursday, November 30, 2006

And the author could have been there.

The LA Weekly reports from another AtD party.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Here's a fine Colbert bit, YouTubed.

Meme spreading.

Scott Eric Kaufman is trying to measure the spread of a meme. He theorizes that high-traffic blogs are crucial to the phenomenom, which sounds right to me, since I picked this one up at Crooked Timber. So, if you blog, please please please please follow that post to see what he's up to and then blog accordingly. If you need another reason, read this and then do it to thank him.

Monday, November 27, 2006

'Tis the season to be bothered.

From the New York Times comes the news that my favorite Christmas movie has been discovered and commercialized:

The movie is “A Christmas Story,” in which the humorist Jean Shepherd offers a rueful look back at his boyhood, circa 1940. The film presents the comic misadventures of Ralphie Parker, whose most fervent wish — nay, obsession — is to receive an “official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle” as a Christmas gift from his parents.

“A Christmas Story” was no huge success when it came out in 1983. Some were put off by its wry, even sardonic tone, so at odds with traditional holiday fare.

But in the last decade, the film has become as much a part of Christmas as “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and jokes about fruitcake. A big reason is the annual marathon showing by the TBS cable network, which starts each Christmas Eve; in 24 hours, the movie is shown a dozen times in a row.

In 2003, Macy’s, which figures centrally in “Miracle on 34th Street,” saluted “A Christmas Story” in a holiday window of its flagship store in Herald Square. This year in particular, advertisers and agencies are demonstrating how much the movie inspires them.

A commercial for Cingular Wireless by the Atlanta office of BBDO Worldwide, part of the Omnicom Group, recreates the central narrative of the film in 30 seconds, replacing the BB gun that Ralphie desires with a cellphone.

Adults in the movie discourage Ralphie from insisting on the air rifle by declaring, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” In the commercial, the refrain becomes, “You’ll run the bill up.” A happy ending ensues when Ralphie’s parents buy him a prepaid Cingular cellphone, the GoPhone.

Fa ra ra ra ra, ra ra ra ra.

And via Eszter's Blog, here is a list of ten retail scams -- except that it's a list of two retail scams (and who among us hasn't heard of the "bait and switch") and an invitation to spend $8.00 to find out more. Since I'm all about the holiday cheer, I'll say that it's nice to see American ingenuity both keeping pace with the 419 crowd and not filling my inbox with spam.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Stately, plump and all that.

Ulysses for dummies.

Hello, X-mas season.

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, the Christmas season is upon us, and what better way to get yourself into the proper spirit than reading Belle Waring's primer on Christmas in Singapore?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Ezra gets Klostermanic.

Though I've never read any Chuck Klosterman, Ezra Klein has an interesting post here about what Chuck Klosterman does well -- in his writing, and in pitching himself to publishers.

When economists attack!

Tim Harford:
One of my daughter's favorite bedtime stories is A Birthday for Frances. I like it, too, for the charming illustrations, hilarious dialogue, and instruction in cutting-edge behavioral economics.

The Gift.

Lewis Hyde's book, The Gift, has just been published in the UK for the first time, and the FT's Jackie Wullschlager has this review. The gist:
Hyde's argument is that money markets and gift markets operate in every society, and that the balance in our own is out of joint. A classic example is the weak oral tradition of fairy tales in the US - a nation where the twin strangleholds of marketplace and academy insist on (copyrighted) authorship and pure texts, rather than anonymous stories gifted across generations, as in the European tradition. In his first section, Hyde draws on a wealth of fairy tales and stories - Native American, Bengali, Biblical, the Grimms - to tease out the social and psychological role of gifts. Thus "The Shoemaker and the Elves" is a parable of an artist for whom talent plus "years of reciprocal labour" equal "the release of an accomplished gift". In the second part, these ideas are transplanted to describe the lives of two poets, Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound, in terms of their creative economies and exchanges with society.
This edition has a new essay with
Hyde's reaction . . . to the end of the cold war. The Soviet Union, he says, was the counterforce to capitalism's harsher realities, goading the west "into provisioning those parts of social life not well served by market forces", especially public patronage of art - CIA support for abstract expressionism, for instance - and science. From 1989 on, much of this funding collapsed. "We always thought, naively, that here we are working in abstract, absolutely useless research and once the cold war ended, we wouldn't have to fight for resources," says Leon Lederman, physics Nobel laureate. "Instead, we found we were the cold war. We'd been getting all this money for quark research because... [it] was a component of the cold war. As soon as it was over, they didn't need science."

Fiction trivia.

Take the Guardian's quiz on the Great American Novel. I got 8 of 11 right.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Pynchon's debt to Eliot.

This strikes me as well put:

[Thomas Pynchon] emerges from a literary tradition that reaches farther back than the 1960s counterculture, farther back than James Joyce and the early modernists. I don’t mean just that he apes Gilbert & Sullivan, 19th-century kings of comic opera. His multi-generational, many-charactered novels, with subplots that dance and weave around each other, with social connections that are seen both up-close and from heights, have their roots in the triple-decker novels of the Russians and Victorians.

. . . [T]he brainy novels about systems . . . (David Foster Wallace, Don DeLillo, William T. Vollmann, Jeffrey Eugenides, Neal Stephenson, Jonathan Franzen) . . . [have their] roots, ironically, in a woman’s work:

That great Frenchman first carried out the conception that living bodies, fundamentally considered, are not associations of organs which can be understood by studying them first apart, and then as it were federally; but must be regarded as consisting of certain primary webs or tissues, out of which the various organs—brains, heart, lungs, and so on—are compacted, as the various accommodations of a house are built up in various proportions of wood, iron, stone, brick, zinc, and the rest, each material having its peculiar composition and proportions. No man, one sees, can understand and estimate the entire structure or its parts—what are its frailties and what its repairs, without knowing the nature of the materials.

That’s from George Eliot’s Middlemarch, perhaps the greatest of all English-language novels from one of the greatest of all fiction writers. Its understanding of the world as a system of webs—of interlocking designs that confound us when viewed too closely but equally confuse us when we look only as the webs and not the individual threads as well—is a shadow that looms large over postmodernism. Her voice—which interrupts itself and changes direction, which is carefully observant but rarely judgmental, which is exuberantly learned but also comfortable with the colloquial—resonates. The above passage, with its metaphors of anatomy and architecture for human civilization and the individual, informs Pynchon’s use of the sciences to explain humanity.

Unlike Eliot, the strands of Pynchon’s webs often hang loose, swinging tantalizingly in the breeze. Eliot either had the comfort of thinking that everything wraps up neatly in the end, or the expectation from her audience that she’d tie it all together. Pynchon allows for neither option. That’s part of what makes him so unsettling. But it’s also why I pay such careful attention. I’m never sure if I’m being introduced to a major character or simply a digression—usually, it’s a little of both—so I end up sharpening our focus, rereading passages, refusing to skim over sections that are initially daunting.

Even then, not everything coheres. Pynchon writes novels, not encyclopedias. As such, he assumes that you as reader enter into his world, and that he can create a world that feels full enough to sustain life and to explore at length. . . .

OK, Middlemarch just moved up in the notional queue. Responding on the Pynchon list, Tore Rye Andersen points out that Moby Dick preceded Middlemarch by twenty years.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

See the header.

Here is a flickr gallery of photos of signs with unnecessary quotation marks.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Keep.

It took me months to get the post up, but I've got some thoughts about Jennifer Egan's The Keep over at the book blog.

Tuesday links.

Some links for a Tuesday:

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Traffic management.

Via Tyler Cowen, this article from Der Spiegel (in English) describes a movement in Europe to eliminate traffic controls:
European traffic planners are dreaming of streets free of rules and directives. They want drivers and pedestrians to interact in a free and humane way, as brethren -- by means of friendly gestures, nods of the head and eye contact, without the harassment of prohibitions, restrictions and warning signs.

A project implemented by the European Union is currently seeing seven cities and regions clear-cutting their forest of traffic signs. Ejby, in Denmark, is participating in the experiment, as are Ipswich in England and the Belgian town of Ostende.

The utopia has already become a reality in Makkinga, in the Dutch province of Western Frisia. A sign by the entrance to the small town (population 1,000) reads "Verkeersbordvrij" -- "free of traffic signs." Cars bumble unhurriedly over precision-trimmed granite cobblestones. Stop signs and direction signs are nowhere to be seen. There are neither parking meters nor stopping restrictions. There aren't even any lines painted on the streets.

"The many rules strip us of the most important thing: the ability to be considerate. We're losing our capacity for socially responsible behavior," says Dutch traffic guru Hans Monderman, one of the project's co-founders. "The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people's sense of personal responsibility dwindles."

The reference to cobblestones in the third paragraph is not the only one in the article, which makes me think that planners are relying on the built environment -- e.g., cobblestones and rotaries -- to slow traffic down, something that the city of Berkeley has been experimenting with in recent years, though Berkeley is in no danger of eliminating regulation. Interesting stuff if it works.

Surely there is an explanation for this.

A Honda Insight with a Bush/Cheney '04 sticker:

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Where all the workers were above average.

[O]ne of the ways that [major investment banks] successfully manage troops of "superstars" is by allowing all of them to think that they are in the top quartile of performance. When you are trying to build a "team" culture rather than a "star" culture, this fib may seem harmless, even helpful, at the margins. Indeed, given the intelligence of those being lied to, they must fundamentally know it is a fib but suspend disbelief because it is in both their and the institution's interest that they do so. At investment banks, even more than at other companies, money is viewed as a proxy for performance -- one's relative standing in the organization is tightly correlated with the relative size of one' s bonus in a given year. As a result, until bankers become relatively senior, the vast majority are compensated within very narrow ranges based on the year they graduated business school and joined the firm. This provides at least a colorable basis for the white lie that 100 percent of the firm is in the top 25 percent. Once management begins negotiating preferential financial arrangements on an ad hoc basis -- particularly among a group that is viewed as generally of lower quality -- the covenant of "team" culture is shattered.
Jonathan A. Knee, The Accidental Investment Banker 126-27 (Oxford University Press, 2006).

The types of animals.

[D]octor Franz Kuhn attributes to a certain Chinese encyclopaedia entitled 'Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge' . . . that the animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.
Jorge Luis Borges, "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins."

A whole 'nother world.

Here's a look at Jenna Fairplay's nightclub, The Edge, one of the most popular places in Second Life. Or it was 22 months ago -- now it's shuttered. Copyright strikes again.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A sign -- but what does it mean?

George W. Bush and Trent Lott were both cheerleaders.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Dog sex at noon taxes God.

Via David Morris on the celebrated Pynchon-L, this site has some nifty palindromes:
Dog sex at noon taxes God.
Eva, can I stab bats in a cave?
Flesh! Saw I Mimi wash self!
Is Don Adams mad? (A nod.) Si!
Kay, a red nude, peeped under a yak.
Mr. Owl ate my metal worm.
If you like that, here is some more.

So much sand so close to home.

Via Erik Loomis, the Asia Times writes about China's problem with desertification:
An ever rising tide of sand is threatening to accelerate the spread of barren wasteland to the heart of China. Some 3,900 square kilometers of land turns to sand each year. Nearly all of northern China, including the capital Beijing, is at risk.

Local government leaders blame the harvesting of desert plants as the main reason for the unstoppable march of the sands.

"In the past, peasants used to uproot the desert vegetation and burn it as firewood during the winter months," said Zhang Tao, deputy director of the Afforestation Department of Bazhou prefecture, through which the desert highway passes.

Such plants as rose willow that can resist the drought and contain the march of the shifting sands were all harvested. Another anti-desertification vegetation, Populus euphratica (Indian poplar), which grew in thick clusters along the Tarim River, was also cut down by farmers and burned for heating and cooking.

The cutting and harvesting have been particularly severe in southwestern areas such as Hotan and Kashgar, where there is no coal. China relies on coal for more than 70% of its energy needs.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

801 days to go.

Edward Copeland is counting down the days until the end of the Bush Administration.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Very blue.

Assuming that Joe Courtney's lead in CT-02 holds up, in the next Congress there will be 15 Democrats from New England in the House of Representatives, and exactly 1 Republican (Christopher Shays, CT-04).

Norwegian Wood.

I haven't read my copy of Blind Woman, Sleeping Willow, the new collection of Haruki Murakami stories, but John Holbo and Joseph Kugelmass have been reading Norwegian Wood, and they have all sorts of interesting things to say about it. Holbo thinks its a "damn fine novel," but he doesn't like the first lines. Kugelmass has some thoughts about the way characters talk to each other, and about Murakami's use of magic. Gauden Galea posts about it, too, and he also cataloged the music mentioned in the book. (I thought I'd blogged about the book, too, but Blogger's search function says "no." Maybe it's time to read it again.)

Consider him privatized.

Lindsey Beyerstein took this photo earlier this week:

Good news from Nepal.

This is excellent news:
Nepal's Maoist guerrillas yesterday agreed to lock up weapons, confine themselves to camps and join an interim government, paving the way for a comprehensive peace deal aimed at ending 10 years of violence that has cost more than 13,000 lives.

The rebels' agreement with the new government marks a breakthrough for Nepal as the country seeks to restore stability to a political system still in turmoil after the Maoist-backed uprising against the autocratic King Gyanendra.

It says the king will "not have any powers in the country's governance" but leaves scope for a ceremonial role as head of state. Baburam Bhattarai, a Maoist leader, described it as the "beginning of the end of monarchy". Girija Prasad Koirala, prime minister, said the peace was a "victory" for all Nepalis.

Prachanda, the Maoist chief, said the rebels were proud that 10 years of fighting had delivered "historic change".

* * * * *

The two sides hope to sign a comprehensive peace agreement by November 16, dissolve parliament and form an interim parliament by November 26. An interim government, which will include the Maoists, is to be formed by December 1.

"This is definitely a historical pact," said Ishwar Pokhrel, a Communist Party of Nepal (UML) leader. "The country now has taken a major step towards peace and democracy." The UML is the second largest partner in government.

Formation of an interim parliament, the government hopes, will see the Maoists put an end to the parallel justice systems and "people's governments" in much of western Nepal.

Not everyone is thrilled, but it's fantastic if it holds.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Guide dogs needed for the blind.

Michael Ledeen can't let Donald Rumsfeld slink out the door without a little more hagiography:
He's one of those people who does a lot of good things you never hear about, because he doesn't talk about them and he doesn't want his people to talk about them. One example: there's a Pentagon program to train dogs to assist blinded and crippled soldiers. It takes about two years to properly train the dogs, and the cost is forty thousand dollars each. One of the dogs was brought in to Rumsfeld's office for a visit, and when it was over, he took out his check book and covered the full cost of one of them.
The man was the Secretary of Defense for the last six years. If the military needs any money to train dogs to assist blinded and crippled soldiers, it is his fault.

"Nurse, Ann Coulter needs to be sedated again."

". . . this midterm proves that the Iraq war is at least more popular than Bill Clinton was."
If her head doesn't pop off, this election surely will be good for her sales.

A "hard target search."

I have never heard anyone other than my mother-in-law use this term, until just now, when Tommie Lee Jones said it in The Fugitive.

The newest new thing.

Garance Franke-Ruta, one of the sharpest of the many sharp bloggers at TAPPED, now has her own blog. I'm sure it'll be worth a bookmark.

What comes around comes around?

In the race to fill Katherine Harris' former seat in Florida, it appears that irregularities with electronic voting machines may have cost the Democratic candidate the seat. The Republican candidate is leading in the tally by 368 votes, but in Sarasota County there appear to have been huge problems, with the machines having failed to record votes from 13 percent of the voters. If those votes were cast in proportion to the recorded votes in Sarasota County, the Democrat would have won by ~600 votes. And -- of course -- the Florida Secretary of State's office does not want to investigate. Katherine Harris may be elsewhere, but her spirit continues to animate the office.

He is not your role model.

Dan Shaughnessy quotes Paul Shirley, a NBA player with the Phoenix Suns last year, writing in Esquire:
The Phoenix Suns have a charity auction every year. The year I played for the team, one of the prizes was the chance to accompany the team on a road trip. The winner, a middle-aged man, rode on our charter plane and took part in most of the activities along the way . . . This guy's dress and appearance screamed "successful-businessman type." He probably made hundreds of important decisions in his life, met thousands of people, and made a fair amount of money along the way. But it was obvious that all of this was pushed to the back of his mind when he got to meet Amare Stoudemire. Again, I understand the idolization of athletes. But I think idolatry should stop at a certain age. And that age is not 60. This fellow did not agree with me. When he was introduced to Stoudemire, his eyes lit up as if his wife had just given birth to their firstborn. He peppered Amare with questions. He got his picture taken with him. Generally, he acted like an 8-year-old . . . If I wanted to be an ass, I would ask if it really makes sense for a middle-aged man to be awed by a younger man who happens to be really good at putting a ball through a hole suspended 10 feet above the ground.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Of course that's what he wants.

A headline on the Billings Gazette's web site at this hour:
Burns refuses to concede, wants more ballots counted

The knives come out.

The National Journal's Chuck Todd, via NRO's Rich Lowry:
There's plenty of evidence to suggest that President Bush may have been the deciding factor that killed the GOP's momentum in some key Senate races over the last week. One Republican consultant is convinced that Bush's last-minute visit to Missouri on behalf of ousted GOP Sen. Jim Talent did the incumbent in. According to the network exit polls, Democrat Claire McCaskill crushed Talent among those late-breaking voters who decided in the final three days (a full 11 percent of the electorate). Bush also made a last-minute trip to Montana, where anecdotal evidence indicates the president's rally for Republican Conrad Burns stopped the incumbent's momentum in Billings.
Whether or not this is correct (and more support for the thesis is here), I love that a "Republican consultant" is laying the blame on President Bush.

The party of fiscal irresponsibility finds the silver lining.

Ramesh Ponnuru interviews former RNC head Ed Gillespie:

I was about to end the call when he added a comment about spending: "We need to stake a vigorous claim on fiscal discipline now and demonstrate to all voters, but particularly our voters, that we can rein in federal spending."

That will be easier—this is me talking now, not Gillespie—since Republicans will no longer be responsible for actually passing budgets and appropriations bills.
I detect no irony.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Cherry Jones.

The San Francisco Chronicle profiles actress Cherry Jones.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Covering ATD.

The Pynchon crew found this image of a Tibetan telegraph stamp.

Goes with sweet.

If you haven't finished off that Halloween candy yet, here are some recommended wine pairings.

Don't forget to vote.

Diane Patterson has Larry Gilbert's list of reasons to vote next week.

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