Since its publication in 1818, many people have refused to believe that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley -- as opposed to, say, her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley -- wrote "Frankenstein," the classic horror novel. (Some also call it the ur-science fiction novel.) A handful still deny it.
But now Oxford's Bodleian Library has produced a scholarly edition of the book, edited by an English professor at the University of Delaware, Charles Robinson, that shows exactly where and how Percy added to Mary's manuscript after she asked him to give it a once-over. His contributions amount to about 5,000 out of 72,000 words. Nor are they all improvements, according to some scholars.
Anne K. Mellor, a professor of English at UCLA, tells reporter Jennifer Howard: "Percy never met a monosyllable that he didn't want to make a polysyllable. Percy thought he was heightening her prose style, making it sound more erudite." That's why, Mellor concludes, the monster walks around "sounding as if he's Horace."
Indeed, if you come to the book expecting something resembling the later movies, it's the monster's loquacity that is the most striking thing about him. (He won't beat you to death, he'll argue you to death.) Most of that dialogue was Mary Shelley's doing, but Percy evidently provided the most orotund flourishes.
Foreign Policy taps thinkers from both side of the aisle, from Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel to anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, to find out who they'd like to see in the next President's cabinet. Refreshingly, the magazine skips over the question of who would be in the Oval Office, listening to the cabinet's advice.
If a peasant speaks out against the authorities in China, you may never hear from him again. The bureaucracy takes a less brutal, but still insidious, tack when it comes to intellectuals. Ha Jin, an English professor at Boston University, writes in the American Scholar about his own encounters with the system, explaining why his books still aren't available in China three years after they were due to be published -- and why intellectual life in that country remains sterile despite the loosening of some strictures.
Bookninja has announced the winner of that contest in which it asked readers to rebrand serious books, via new covers, for better sales. It's Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," a post-apocalyptic nightmare of a story (skies that pour ash, cannibals roaming the land, a man and his son struggling to stay alive), recast as a sunny tale of father-son bonding.
The winner, Ingrid Paulson, is something of a ringer: She's a professional book designer.
The environmental writer Bill McKibben is glad that Thomas Friedman has, with his new book, "Hot, Flat, and Crowded," thrown his lot in with those who think that global warming and an energy revolution ought to be two of the United States' highest priorities. But he's got a couple of complaints.
First, what took so long? Friedman's last two chart-topping tomes about globalization barely mentioned climate change -- and had Friedman weighed in back then it might have been braver and made more of a difference.
Second, Friedman is locked into reverence for technology, sometimes at the expense of common sense. He conjures up a house so "smart" that its room lights are triggered by motion sensors; a central monitoring device is in constant contact with the local public utility, automatically reducing consumption at peak times; the house generates its own energy from wind and the sun; and "when the sun is shining brightly and the wind is howling" the house's energy-brain will turn on your dryer, finishing up your laundry.
McKibben asks: "Does it ever occur to him, in the grip of a fantasia like this, that if the sun is shining brightly, or the breeze is blowing steadily, you could dry your clothes on a $14 piece of rope strung off your back deck, or for that matter on a foldable rack in the apartment hallway?" Friedman's smart house is more benign version of the much-hyped hydrogen car, in other words: They're both sexy and a long way off, while there are other, simpler solutions already at hand.
A number of factors that could affect the election next week aren't captured by those maps that break the country down into red, blue, "leaning," and tossup states: whether, for example, polling stations are equipped to handle the anticipated heavy crowds (early voters in Florida have had to wait in line for as long as four hours); how many prospective voters' credentials are challenged; how those challenges are handled; and whether voting machines somehow go wacko, creating a 2008 variant on those infamous "butterfly ballots" of 2000.
The voting process, after all, has once again become an issue this year: Republicans have charged that Democrats and their allies have stooped to voter-registration fraud in order to bolster their chances, while Democrats counter that what's really going on is that the Republicans want to deter young, first-time, and minority voters from voting.
Enter MyFairElection, an online resource that will track voting conditions across the country on November 4. It's a project overseen by Archon Fung, a professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School, in collaboration with ABC News. Fung and ABC are asking voters from every state to register at myfairelection.com. After they've -- that is, you've -- cast your ballot next Tuesday (or sooner), you can then log on again and report how your experience was: one to five stars, plus a few comments about specifics. If you've registered in advance, you can also submit your ratings via email (perhaps live from the scene, from your Blackberry or Palm).
MyFairElection will take all that information and create what it's calling a "weather map" of polling conditions throughout the country; ABC will monitor any storm fronts during its election-day coverage. Participants in MyFairElection can also agree to be contacted by phone -- that part's optional -- for a follow-up investigation of any problems that arise.
Authors and publicists labor mightily to move their product. A few years ago, the p.r. crew assigned to Curtis Sittenfeld's "Prep," a coming-of-age novel set at a private high school, sent potential reviewers a quintessentially preppy pink-and-white belt along with other prepster regalia, as well as reproductions of the high-school yearbook photos of the publicists. More recently, leftist heroine Naomi Klein ("The Shock Doctrine") was lucky enough to have the director Alfonso Cuaron ("Children of Men") sign on to create a promotional film for her cautionary nonfiction book.
But could Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Princeton University Press be taking book promotion to a whole new level? Harvard economist Greg Mankiw reports that the following email landed in his in-box from PU Press, suggesting that he and other economists might be freshly interested in a five-year-old book by Bernanke: "Essays on the Great Depression":
As the subprime mortgage and credit disasters continue to wreak havoc on world economies and pocketbooks, many are looking to Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke for guidance and leadership in this tumultuous time. Fortunately, our Fed chief is one of the pre-eminent scholars of the Great Depression. Because of the market turmoil, Bernanke's treatment of the Great Depression has been finding a new audience of readers as media, policymakers, businessmen, professionals, and others -- both in the US and abroad -- seek to understand our present economic situation.
Surely it is not only "fortunate" but sheer coincidence that Bernanke, who holds some of the most powerful levers affecting the American economy, is an expert on financial calamity and stands to gain from sales of an obscure academic-press book about the Depression. Of course this is coincidental -- right?
*title borrowed/stolen from Mankiw
NeoCon East sounds like a conference worth attending: It gets underway tomorrow, at the Baltimore Convention Center, and is billed as "The Premier Design Exposition and Conference for Commercial Interiors on the East Coast." Aside from the usual array of shiny furnishings on display for potential buyers, you can hear talks by prominent speakers in the interior-design field: Iris Amdur, a principal of GreenShape LLC, will be talking about of "sustainability" in design, a hot topic in these environmentally sensitive times. Stephen Apking, of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, will be interviewed on stage by the editor-in-chief of Metropolis mag, Susan Szenasy, on how he helped to create a new headquarters for the U.S. Census Bureau, in Suitland, Maryland -- again, meeting super-stringent energy-conservation standards.
Even more idealistically, Emily Pilloton, of Project H. Design, will be giving a speech in which she implores design students "to stop talking big and start doing good with their design skills."
But about that name: NeoCon East. I'd expect to walk in and find a panel of hawks explaining how Bush's missteps betrayed their grand plans for remaking Mesopotamia. (Anyway, doesn't the American Enterprise Institute hold the trademark on Neocon East?) Time for a rebranding of the conference, design community?
Okay, my fewer-videos pledge lasted, what, three days? But Jonathan Chait of the New Republic deploys his incisive analytical skills -- and two hand puppets -- to make sense of recent developments on the Republican side of the '08 race:
As the New Republic itself says: "If You Only Watch One Video In Which The McCain-Palin War Is Acted Out With Hand Puppets, Make It This One." Now that's Web 2.0.
Via Dan Drezner, who, in fairness, finds this not remotely funny.
In other TNR news, the back-page oracle of the New Republic, Leon Wieseltier, has announced, at long last, that he will pull the lever for Obama. This follows two years of essays in which Wieseltier has dilated on the candidate's over-suavity ("Since I am myself not unsuave, I know how much it accomplishes with how little"), Obama's misguided invocation of post-partisanship, the philosophical feebleness of identity politics (we shouldn't care about his biography), and Obama's supposed naivete on the subject international affairs ("the foreign policy inclinations presented by the candidate are vague and platitudinous and sanguine about the reasonableness of the world."). It's been a long journey, but the Obama campaign is surely pleased that the acclaimed literary editor has finally expressed a preference (however reluctant!) for their man. It was a close one. Now they can turn their attention to those other battlegrounds: Virginia, Ohio, Nevada, Florida
There's no denying that "Mad Men," the AMC show that won an Emmy for best series last month, is stylishly shot -- or that it's been a critics' darling. Mark Greif, however, co-editor of the literary journal N + 1, isn't buying the hype, or the series' writers' superiority toward the "backward" social attitudes of its protagonists, so ostentatiously on display each week. "Mad Men," he writes, in the latest London Review of Books,
is an unpleasant little entry in the genre of Now We Know Better. We watch and know better about male chauvinism, homophobia, anti-semitism, workplace harassment, housewives' depression, nutrition and smoking. We wait for the show's advertising men or their secretaries and wives to make another gaffe for us to snigger over. 'Have we ever hired any Jews?' -- 'Not on my watch.' 'Try not to be overwhelmed by all this technology; it looks complicated, but the men who designed it made it simple enough for a woman to use.' It's only a short further wait until a pregnant mother inhales a tumbler of whisky and lights up a Chesterfield; or a heart attack victim complains that he can't understand what happened: 'All these years I thought it would be the ulcer. Did everything they told me. Drank the cream, ate the butter. And I get hit by a coronary.' We're meant to save a little snort, too, for the ad agency's closeted gay art director as he dismisses psychological research: 'We're supposed to believe that people are living one way, and secretly thinking the exact opposite? Ridiculous!' -- a line delivered with a limp-wristed wave.
Greif concludes this riff with: "Mad Men is currently said to be the best and 'smartest' show on American TV. We're doomed."
Is it possible that sales of highbrow books are hampered by cover designs that don't immediately grab bookstore browsers? The magazine and Web site Bookninja has asked its readers to devise covers for some very serious books that would generate more action at the cash register -- and then vote which refashioning is the best.
It's hard to choose. Might the most creative re-imagining be Pynchon's "Vineland" presented in a way that might reel in wine connoisseurs? Before the oenophiles catch on to the bait-and-switch, they might well be devoted Pynchonites. Or a version of Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse" in which plot is played up -- to say the least --over that daunting stream-of consciousness stuff people may have heard about? Someone punched up "On the Road" with a classic space-opera cover, complete with imploding battlecraft. (I feel like I've been seeing that cover in supermarkets for decades.)
Would you pick up a copy of "Rogue Tory: The Life and Legend of John G. Diefenbaker"? You might if it you thought his maverick-tude had something to do with floating above the moon in a '50s'-style space suit.
Your votes -- I don't think the polls have closed yet; the site keeps getting good new entries -- can be sent to editors [at] bookninja.com. Do peruse all the entries; I'd hate to skew the results of this fine contest with my own preferences.
More contest entries after the jumpFULL ENTRY
It's the Weld endorsement that's making news, but there's been another notable defection by a Massachusetts conservative: Charles Fried, a former Solicitor General under Ronald Reagan and one of Harvard Law School's most respected conservatives, says he's already voted for Obama via absentee ballot.
Fried is a conservative of a rather libertarian bent, who, despite his work for Reagan in support of that administration's anti-abortion policies, now defends Roe v. Wade.
I profiled him when his most recent book was published.
PS. It cannot be a good sign for McCain that in this Boston.com gallery, "Crossing Party Lines," the only person pictured who's crossing lines for McCain is Joe Lieberman. Everyone else is moving in the other direction. Charles Krauthammer somehow makes it into the gallery even though he's a diehard conservative backing -- McCain. In his column today for the Washington Post, Krauthammer condemns conservatives who are abandoning the ship.
Yesterday, Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat from Kentucky, lit into the once-sainted Alan Greenspan -- as many other lawmakers did --for his staunch opposition to regulating the behavior of the mortgage and credit industries.
Yarmuth went so far as to call Greenspan the financial world's "Bill Buckner."
The lawmaker's slur was seriously out of date. Hadn't he heard of this?
The odd terminology Harvard uses for some of its degrees and certificates has tripped up a Democratic candidate for Congress -- or, more accurately, it has tripped up the Seattle Times, which ran a "gotcha" piece yesterday on Darcy Burner, who is running for a Congressional seat in Washington's Eighth District.
Here's the lede, as we hacks say, which ends with a tomahawk chop:
In recent weeks, Democratic congressional candidate Darcy Burner has touted her Harvard degree in economics when talking about the nation's financial crisis and her opposition to the bailout package passed by Congress.
At two debates this month, she brought up her academic background in her opening statement.
"I loved economics so much that I got a degree in it from Harvard," she said at an Oct. 10 debate at KCTS-TV. "Now everywhere I go in this district, the only thing people want to talk to me about is the economy."
But while she took courses in economics, Burner doesn't have a degree in the subject from Harvard.
Wham! Pretty damning stuff: yet another resume-inflater! They're everywhere, you know. But wait, what's this, in the next paragraph?FULL ENTRY
We're going through an "oceans" phase in my house, prompted by my four-year-old son's interest in sharks and the superb BBC documentaries "Planet Earth" and "The Blue Planet." So what better time to visit the new Sant Ocean Hall at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, which opened late last month? It's an $80 million project representing the state of the art in museum design.
The hall is a remarkable re-do of a space that, until a few years ago, housed outdated displays of Indian artifacts and explanations of non-Western cultures -- very un-PC. (The museum has plans for an updated anthropological exhibition hall) The first thing you notice is the obligatory model of a giant whale suspended from the ceiling, no doubt an homage to New York's American Museum of Natural History and its famous blue whale. (DC's is a right whale, which, I learned, means it was long considered the "right" whale to hunt.)FULL ENTRY
A conundrum: How to encourage people interested in the concept of idling to rouse themselves to come to an event honoring idling?
Joshua Glenn, my predecessor as Brainiac's author, has certainly not been slacking since his departure from the blogosphere a few months ago -- although he has been assiduously idling. The distinction between the two lies at the heart of his new book, co-written with the philosopher Mark Kingwell: "The Idler's Glossary." Tomorrow night (Thursday, October 23), the Harvard Advocate is hosting a release party for the book, from 5 to 8 p.m. Its offices are at 21 South Street, in Harvard Square. Bestir yourselves, fellow lubbers, shirkers and scrimshankers! (9-to-5'ers will not be turned away from the door, either, even content ones.)
This book, it must be said, is no joke. Kingwell's introduction begins with a Kierkegaard quote, and carves up concepts with true philosophical rigor. "A slacker is not a true idler," Kingwell writes, "because he is engaged in the project of avoiding work, and as long as that remains the case, work's dominion remains unchallenged "
The "genius of idling," he continues, "is not its avoidance of work but rather its construction of a value system entirely independent of work."
The glossary, a sequel of sorts to Bertrand Russell's small book of 1932 titled "In Praise of Idleness," explains exactly what it means to cabbage, and parses the distinctions among cadgers, clock-watchers, and couch potatoes -- just to touch on the C's.
For graphics-arts fans, I should add that the book is "designed and decorated" by Seth (who goes by just the one name, for those not in the know. Like me). It's quite elegant.
Slate's Daniel Gross may be making a bid to unseat the Times's Thomas Friedman as journalism's go-to coiner of clever-cute geopolitical theories. Try this one on for size: The more Starbucks franchises a country has, Gross wrote this week, "the more likely the country is to have suffered catastrophic financial losses."
Not only did Starbucks "follow new housing developments into the suburbs and exurbs," making those places appear all the more valuable -- thereby contributing to the bubble -- they were also often the very spots where dubious mortgage deals were signed. Starbucks, too, "carpet bombed" financial capitals, Gross suggested, and displayed a tendency to locate its stores on the ground floors of buildings with investment banks; the caffeine "enabled deal jockeys to stay up all hours," during which time they came up with ever-more-creative ways to disguise risk.
The hard numbers: New York, center of the credit bust, has nearly 200 Starbucks franchises; London, "the wellspring of many toxic [financial] innovations," sports 256; South Korea, now facing its own bank bailout, has 253. "Crazy Dubai" has 48 (serving a population of a mere 1.7 million).
Meanwhile, the relatively unscathed Central America, the strained-but-not-broken South America, and Italy (no big problems) are all -- coincidentally? -- places where Starbucks has yet to gain much of a purchase.
There's more than a touch of Daniel Bell ("The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism") in Gross's theory, because Gross interprets flocking to Starbucks as a sign that a given society is primed to abandon traditional mores in favor of the flashy and new. These time-honored mores might include the frequenting of mom and pop greasy-spoon cafes, leisurely afternoons at independent coffee joints -- or (let's just throw this one out there) mortgage rules demanding 20-percent down payments.
Forget Chris Buckley versus the National Review for a minute. I found this intra-right clash at a Virginia campaign event for McCain both fresh and inspiring: Muslim supporters of McCain and a young self-described Christian conservative, whose accent suggests "real Virginia," confront and denounce a fringe character promulgating anti-Islamic theories ("Muhammad himself taught to deceive the infidel!") and bogus stories about Obama's past.
A McCain campaign official, himself Muslim, steps up to side with the people condemning this guy -- and at one crucial point, a guy in a flannel shirt and hardhat (Joe the Contractor?) steps forward to say, "You can be of any religion and for McCain."
Maybe these people ought to be advising McCain and Palin, given that the current attack strategy -- which turns Muslims and big-city residents into collateral damage -- seems to be hurting the candidates in the polls. The video shows some serious diversity in the McCain ranks.
That'll be my last video for a while, as I know they're hard to take in at work, unless you -- hint -- pick up a set of headphones.
Via Matthew Yglesias
In the United States we have vans and buses to offer books to people without access to them. A not-significant swathe of rural Colombia, near the Northern town of La Gloria, depends on one man, two donkeys, and the man's collection of some 4,800 books. (Not all of which go on the road at once, of course.)
Luis Soriano, a primary-school teacher, has been undertaking his quixotic effort to bring reading material -- and literacy -- to the rural poor for a decade, according to the New York Times's Simon Romero. Bandits plague the area, and Soriano has not been immune to their threats: Two years ago, robbers ambushed him and tied him to a tree. Realizing he had no money, they contented themselves with a copy of "Brida," a novel by the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho -- a perennial favorite author in these parts. The hard men were quite taken by the "story of an Irish girl and her search for knowledge," as Romero summarizes the book. Chalk it up as yet another victory for Soriano, however indirect.
Via the Harvard University Press Blog, which gushes, "All hail Biblioburro"
Now here's a primary history source that comes alive. In 1903, someone at Thomas Edison's film company evidently placed a camera on the front of a Boston trolley. As Sam Baltrusis of Loaded Gun explains, the "old-school trolley takes a trip past Jordan Marsh then heads down Boylston Street into Copley Square." It's amazing footage posted to You Tube by the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership, a.k.a. STEP. "I felt like I was in a time machine," gushes the first commenter.
STEP's current goals including making sure that the stops of the new Green Line are maximally designed to reduce car traffic in the suburb, and to increase the area's walkability. Nor is the group keen on plans to put a 24-hour storage yard for train cars within Somerville's boundaries.
Via Universal Hub
On three nights this month, in London's Trafalgar Square, one of the city's great public spaces, two artists brought together one of the oldest mediums of human communication, smoke signals, with one of the newest, text messaging. For the event dubbed Memory Cloud, visitors were invited to send text messages that were then projected onto billows of smoke (well, fog) hovering amid the grand buildings and monuments. The idea was to "animate the built environment through conversation."
Romance seemed to be in the air: there were lots of "I love karen"-style sentiments. Among the hundreds of others archived at the project's Web site: "Come home soon dad. Luv Anaya," "Eat more vegetables," "Act for darfur now," "Kiss me nelson" (now would that be Lord Nelson, whose monument stands in the square, or just ordinary-Nelson, the nervous boyfriend?), "where's david blaine?," and "this makes me feel sexy."
The driving force behind Memory Cloud was a two- brother team of artist-architects, Theodore and Stephen Spyropoulos, who together run the experimental design practice Minimaforms. Theodore is also a visiting research
professor fellow at M.I.T.'s Center for Advanced Visual Studies.
I had heard that Colin Powell had criticized some of the rhetoric coming from McCain supporters (or, rather, McCain's failure to speak out against such attacks-by-proxy):
[I]t is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?
But until I read this item at The New Republic blog The Plank, by Isaac Chotiner, I hadn't realized that those remarks served as prelude to a longer statement about the role of Muslims in America -- and particularly in the military, the institution closest to Powell's heart:
I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards -- Purple Heart, Bronze Star -- showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life.
Chotiner identifies the magazine Powell alludes to as the New Yorker, and the photo in question as this one:
Referring to former Secretary of State Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama for President, the former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich said the following yesterday:
What that just did in one sound bite is it eliminated the experience argument. How are you going to say the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, former national security adviser, former secretary of state was taken in?
Not to subtract from either the importance of Powell's endorsement, or the general perspicaciousness of Mr. Gingrich, who made his comments on ABC's "This Week," but this strikes me as a poor choice of words. Can anyone else think of a time when General Powell was, as Gingrich put it, "taken in" on a matter of national importance -- when he was asked to sift through contradictory evidence, weigh competing arguments, and make a judgment that others were widely expected to be influenced by?
The departure of Christopher Buckley from the National Review continues to roil that famous conservative publication. Kathleen Parker, a conservative critic of Sarah Palin, cheers on Buckley at National Review Online. (After Parker criticized Palin's qualifications for the VP job, one NR reader wrote in to tell Parker that her mother should have aborted her -- one reason, Buckley says, he chose to make his presidential preference known elsewhere than in the pages of his father's magazine.) Kathryn Jean Lopez, the editor of NRO, says publishing Parker's praise of Buckley's argument yesterday made her "heartsick."*
*She doesn't explicitly cite Parker's column as the cause of said heartsickness, but it doesn't take great deductive powers to figure out that's the one she means.
Remember those multi-part series the New Yorker used to run in the pre-Brown, pre-Remnick days -- like that one on the dangers of living near electric powerlines? (Oops -- the reportage there was thoroughly debunked.)* Anyway, the Globe's Alex Beam has a sprightlier version of one of those epic journalistic undertakings underway on Vanity Fair's Web site, this one on the role that the sport of squash has played in the history of that grand American magazine.
The short version is that the sport ain't what it used to be in those hallowed halls -- a disappointment to Beam, a self-diagnosed squash obsessive.
(It's actually a series-within-a-series about all things squash-concerned. I'm waiting for -- did I miss it? -- the post on squash's role as affirmative action for the prep-school set. Squash is one of the last arenas in which private-school students don't have to compete for college slots against the unwashed masses. Occasionally, though, a ringer from India or Pakistan will sweep in to shake up the WASP-y scene.)
*I would have used that old E.J. Kahn joke, but Beam beat me to it, complete with apologies to Kahn's son, a friend of his.
Quite a few people at M.I.T. might choke on some of the fulsome descriptions of Frank Gehry in this mash note of a blog post about the eminent architect, written by the editor of the new magazine HQ: Good Design. (It's a a spin-off of Architectural Record.)
The post focuses on the much-praised headquarters of IAC, Barry Diller's Internet-focused company, in New York. It's a model, according to Diller as well as the engineers and contractors who worked on the Gehry-designed project, of how to mate bleeding-edge design with uncompromising standards of quality construction and cost containment.
M.I.T., of course, sued Gehry's firm in 2007 over alleged design flaws in the university's Stata Center that led to (not alleged but actual) leaks, mold, cracks, and myriad other problems.
Yes, I'm one of those who went to bed during the seventh inning. (As of this morning, the Globe survey accompanying this article suggests that nearly two-thirds of you who are Sox fans did the same.)
UPDATE: The faithful are beginning to narrow the gap in the online poll. Two hypotheses for why that is so: One, the people who stayed with the game understandably arrived at work (and their computers) later than we who bailed. Second, we've got a non-racial variant of the "Bradley effect" on our hands: People who failed to stick with the Sox don't want to click on that button and admit it!
Mickey Kaus, of Slate, argues that vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin's use of the "pals around with terrorist" charge amounts to a "figure of speech": Her audiences understand that she's referring to Barack Obama's decade-old professional brushes with one-time radical Bill Ayers. And that relationship, Kaus adds, is fair game. Nor does he think Obama has adequately answered the questions conservatives have raised about the two mens' association.
In response, Robert Wright -- in the same brief Bloggingheads.tv clip -- calls the charge one of the most despicable in the history of American campaigning, given that we are presently at war with terrorists: She's basically accusing the Democratic candidate of treason.
Whose side are you on, Brainiac readers? Al-Qaeda's or America's -- I mean, Kaus's or Wright's?
If Benito Mussolini were a bird, if Nicolae Ceausescu had been a squirrel, what might their houses have looked like? That curious thought experiment, coupled with some slightly obscure commentary on "the displacement of animal (and human) communities in the face of urban development," was the driving force behind a recent project by the British artists Bruce Gilchrest and Jo Joelson.
Members of an artistic group called London Fieldworks, Gilchrest and Joelson built several dwellings for animals in the Kentish countryside inspired by houses and government buildings commissioned by infamous dictators. The next step will be to make a film tracking which creatures take over the homes, with an emphasis on whether they are native or non-native species.
One elaborate tree-hugging structure was loosely inspired by Mussolini's Palazzo della Civilta Italiana, completed in 1943. It looks like a birdhouse, but if squirrels get there first, well
The Creative Review blog features other examples.
It's the Kennedy School's Stephen Walt versus Joshua Muravchik, in the National Interest, on the question of which foreign-policy vision best serves America's interests -- and the world's.
Via Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns & Money (who thinks Walt "demolishes" his opponent)
For the state dinner Monday night in honor of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi (and Columbus Day), the wine served with the first course was a Ponzi -- specifically a Ponzi Chardonnay "Reserve," 2005. (The Ponzi vineyards are in the Willamette Valley, Oregon.)
P. O'Neill of the blog Best of Both Worlds, describes the menu offering as an "apt commentary on the financial crisis": Mortgage companies, banks, and their executives have been making scads of money via a system that guaranteed big returns to the people lending money on the front lines while passing on disastrous, disguised risk to people further down the line. A collapse of the system was inevitable in the long term, but others would be left holding the bag. That's pretty close to the definition of a Ponzi scheme. One wonders who at the dinner got the joke.
The special election issue of the New York Review of Books came out Monday, and, tonight, four contributors to the issue will be discussing the 2008 campaign at the Brattle Theater: Mark Danner*, Frances FitzGerald, Peter Galbraith, and Michael Tomasky. (Other heavy hitters who contributed their thoughts on the McCain-Obama race to the latest NYRB include Russell Baker, Ronald Dworkin, Garry Wills, Joan Didion, and Paul Krugman.)
No surprise that McCain supporters are thin on the ground in this group -- thin on the ground the way snow is today in Boston. But not everyone is in lockstep with the Democratic candidate: David Bromwich, for example, takes Obama on from the left on the subject of the current wars.
Tickets to the event, which starts at 7 p.m. and is co-sponsored by the Review, the Guardian (where Tomasky is the U.S. political editor), and the Harvard Bookstore, cost $10. Pizza is included, and the symposium will segue into a debate-watching party. More info here.
*Danner is filing dispatches for the Review from the campaign trail. The latest one is titled "Sweet Potato Pie," and its subject is Obama's rapport with his audience -- strong enough that he's willing to play around with some sexual double entendres when egged on by besotted women in his audiences. Whatever else they are, these womens' playful shouts sound a lot more fun than the "Terrorist!"/"Traitor!"/"Obama bin Laden!" cries we're hearing at other political rallies.
Christopher Buckley, as you may have heard by now, used his column in The Daily Beast to endorse Barack Obama last Friday. The son of the legendary late conservative William F. Buckley, Jr., Buckley said that the "campaign has changed John McCain," whom he once respected (and wrote at least one speech for):
It has made him inauthentic. A once-first-class temperament has become irascible and snarly; his positions change, and lack coherence; he makes unrealistic promises, such as balancing the federal budget "by the end of my first term." Who, really, believes that? Then there was the self-dramatizing and feckless suspension of his campaign over the financial crisis. His ninth-inning attack ads are mean-spirited and pointless. And finally, not to belabor it, there was the Palin nomination. What on earth can he have been thinking?
In contrast, he wrote, Obama possessed precisely that "first-rate temperament" (as Oliver Wendell Holmes said of FDR) and was, moreover, "that rara avis, the politician who writes his own books" -- good ones, Buckley added. What's more, he "seemed to understand that traditional left-politics aren't going to get us out of this pit we've dug for ourselves."
In today's installment of his column/blog, aptly titled (for conservatives, anyway) "What Fresh Hell Is This?", he continues the story: The day after his endorsement ran, he offered to resign his column in the National Review; Rich Lowry, the editor, accepted -- "rather briskly!" (The original title of the post, judging from reactions to it as well as the current web address, was "Sorry, Dad, I Was Fired." It's since been changed to something more neutral.)
A few residents of the Corner, NR's group blog, have fired back: Mark Steyn observed that Buckley had put off his endorsement till an Obama victory seemed likely, and that his priority was continued invitations to all the right parties on the NY-DC corridor; Victor Davis Hanson said Buckley simply failed to understand that Obama and the Democrats "hope to alter this country in ways we should all find revolting."
Today, Lowry clarifies that Buckley in fact resigned and was by no means fired; he also says he was just a temporary fill-in for the columnist Steyn, in any case.* But Lowry affirms his respect for Buckley.
The oddest response to Buckley on the Corner: One Andy McCarthy tries to undermine the idea that Obama, as Buckley uncontroversially stated, wrote "Dreams of My Father" himself: McCarthy argues that the true author is William Ayers, the onetime Weather Underground member who is now an educational professor! This meme is evidently alive in some fringe right-wing publications; McCarthy is trying to take it mainstream.
So far, only one Cornerite, Jonathan Adler, has spoken up against this bit of insanity, calling it "nutter-territory stuff."
William F. Buckley prided himself on "separating the Right from the kooks," his son notes in the Beast. Adler, at least, continues that tradition. But what about Lowry? What are his thoughts on McCarthy's using NR as a venue for this kind of "argument"?
UPDATE: Christopher Buckley tells Slate's Tim Noah that "it is simply not accurate" to say that he was a mere fill-in columnist. Buckley says he'd been told by Lowry before he took the gig that Steyn "was giving it up" -- the column, that is.
Jagdish Bhagwati, an economics professor at Columbia, on the awarding of the Nobel in economic science to Paul Krugman, of Princeton:
Lots of people are saying to me, "Why didn't you get it?" Given the fact that I didn't get it, this is the next best thing.
Some people took as egotistical Krugman's own comment to the Times, where he's a columnist, that he sort of expected to win the Nobel someday -- but that just sounds like a reasonable thought coupled with unusual candor. As Harvard's Edward Glaeser wrote, after the news of Krugman's selection broke: "I, for one, had bet on him in Harvard's Nobel Prize winner pool." No word on how many votes Bhagwati got.
Alex Ross, the music critic of the New Yorker and freshly minted genius -- courtesy of the MacArthur Foundation -- marks the release of the paperback version of his prizewinning book "The Rest is Noise" with a new online musical glossary, complete with audio examples.
If you're shaky on what a fugue, adagio, diminished chord, or "12-tone" system is -- or, more basically, what makes a minor chord different from a major chord -- this is the place to go (and to listen).
I can see this as the kind of site that would lead musically curious teenagers (or anyone, really) into deeper waters than they otherwise might discover until years later. Ross said he'd be spending some of his MacArthur prize money on improving the Web site, and that will be money well spent.
Meet the latest absurd device to separate audiophiles from their money. For a mere $900, this "Audio Desk Systeme," from a German company, will file your CD into a more precise circular form than mass-production factories can manage. As a Gizmodo writer explains: "Apparently, this prevents very slight wobbling as it spins, which can create a jitter in the digital stream that affects the sound, according to idiots." One imagines that there were a few hedge fund managers who planned to buy this -- who now have other things on their mind.
But if your portfolio is still flush enough to support a purchase of that device -- and your susceptibility to such sales pitches sufficiently high -- you may want to throw in a couple of these $1,800 audiophile power cables, too.
I mentioned in yesterday's print version of my column that the title of Mary Beard's book on Pompei has been punched up for American consumption: "Pompei: The Life of a Roman Town," which you'd be hard-pressed to say is not on the staid side, will become, over here, "The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompei Lost and Found."
What I failed to note was that it's the Harvard University Press that's responsible for the facelift -- a house that's "not usually known for sexing up," as the Guardian, which did notice that fact, put it. "An epic HBO adaptation must be on the cards," adds the Guardian writer. He notes some other interesting title shifts of the past few years, in the highbrow-press category:
Sarah Hall's prize-winning The Carhullan Army was turned into Daughters of the North by Farrar, Straus and Giroux; and a similar aversion to unfamiliar names -- which, if made general policy, could threaten any title derived from a place or person -- presumably informs the switch from Miss Herbert, the British title of Adam Thirlwell's study of translation and literary influence, to the US edition's Delighted States, which makes it sound like a book about American literature.
US titles get altered on crossing the Atlantic, too, with Simon Winchester's Joseph Needham biog changed from the soppy The Man Who Loved China in America to the strange, 50s movie title-echoing Bomb, Book and Compass in the UK.
I agree with the adjective "soppy" for the original Winchester title (Needham was a great British sinologist whose classic and elephantine "Science and Civilization in China" had reached 18 volumes by his death in 1995) -- but did a British editor really think "Bomb, Book, and Compass" spelled retail magic?
Via the Harvard University Press Publicity Blog -- a title that itself could use some sexing up. (The Chicago University Press equivalent has the chutzpah to call itself simply The Chicago Blog.)
There is, hope, after all, for literacy -- if you can believe this account of excited young readers at the National Book Festival, hosted recently by First Lady Laura Bush and held on the National Mall, in Washington. Plenty of authors of books for adults make appearances at the festival -- this year Paul Theroux, Salman Rushdie, and Rick Atkinson, for example -- but it's the writers of childrens' and young-adult books who seem to generate the most excitement, their tents crammed with adoring fans, the authors mobbed at signings:
You expect this sort of adoration for movie stars, so it is especially gratifying -- no, thrilling -- to see it directed at children's book authors. I introduced several kids' authors at the festival, and watched an awkward boy -- glasses, a little overweight, bag laden with books -- screw up his courage to ask each author to autograph the festival poster. Each time, he was clearly terrified, and each time he managed to pull it off. His mother was in the background just beaming with pride.
And then came R.L. Stine, author of more than 300 books, all of them creepy. Stine, who looks like he's lived for far too long in a haunted house, got the kids in the audience to write a ghost story with him. For instance, he asked them whether the fearless hero, a boy named Joel, should start paddling when he saw a boatful of zombies coming toward him or jump in the water? Should he use his guitar pick to get a monster out of his canoe or consult a book he has just discovered at the bottom of the canoe called, conveniently, "How to Get a Monster Out of Your Canoe"? The kids yelled check the book; Stine claimed the book told the boy to use the guitar pick [author's ellipsis]
Stine had asked me to tell the audience that he couldn't sign autographs after his talk because he had to catch a plane. I told them, twice, but Stine's young fans swarmed him anyway.
The editor of the Washington Post Book World, meanwhile, notes that politics made an appearance at the festival:
Back in the VIP tent, where authors could retreat for food and coffee, Francine Prose confessed that even with all the magic, she hadn't been able to hold her tongue. At the White House breakfast early that morning, under the dark ring of clouds that had threatened the city, she had put it to Laura Bush directly: "Mrs. Bush, I'm deeply impressed by all you do for American children. I only wish you cared as much for the children of Iraq."
Disclosure: I'm married to the author of the first item I quote here.
It's quite unusual for a nonprofit museum to get involved in partisan politics -- there's no way to avoid offending at least some prospective donors -- but the Adler Planetarium, in Chicago, which describes itself as the oldest in the Western hemisphere, felt the need to clear its name following Tuesday's presidential debate.
Senator McCain, you may recall, ridiculed Senator Obama for helping to secure $3 million in earmark money for an "overhead projector" for the planetarium.
The planetarium makes several points in a statement it released Wednesday [NB: it's a pdf, but only one page]:
1. The device Senator McCain referred to is the massive apparatus that projects stars onto the planetarium's screen. (The museum's present model is a 40-year-old "Zeiss Mark VI projector.") It bears little resemblance, in other words, to that device your eighth-grade teacher used to project equations onto a screen.
2. The planetarium has sought the help of numerous politicians in finding money to replace or upgrade its projector, because it believes scientific literacy is an issue of national importance and the present one is obsolete. But so far it has found no takers: There was no $3 million earmark, in other words.
3. The planetarium has, however, received lesser amounts of earmark money to support other projects, courtesy of Illinois politicians. But Senator Obama played no role in securing these, the museum says. "This is clearly evidenced," the statement concludes, "by recent transparency laws implemented by the Congress, which have resulted in the names of all requesting Members being listed next to every earmark in the reports that accompany appropriations bills."
Very interesting that a cultural institution would respond to a political attack -- not aimed at it per se -- in this fashion.
Jim Lehrer, of the PBS News Hour, was particularly relentless on this point when he moderated the first presidential debate, but Tom Brokaw picked up the baton in the second one: Both TV journalists wanted to know -- Lehrer did everything but get up and grab the candidates by the lapels -- what spending proposals they'd discard now that a financial meltdown is upon us. And Time's Mike Scherer has joined their chorus, notes Matt Yglesias.
There's something odd about their ardor, Yglesias points out, since the conventional wisdom among economists-- left or right -- is that cutting government spending is precisely the wrong thing to do during a recession. It is, after all, what Herbert Hoover did, and we all know how that worked out. (Contemporary conservatives, taking their cues from Milton Friedman, prefer to tackle recessions by lowering interest rates, taking a monetary-supply approach to the problem, but there's little room left for the Fed to cut rates, making that a not-so-viable option.)
Neither candidate, to his credit, Yglesias says, has acceded to the cries from some quarters for massive spending cuts. However, he concludes, "a lot of the press's leading lights seem to think we ought to follow Herbert Hoover off the cliff."
I noted last week that a Time was up for the "best concept cover" award, a subcategory in the 2008 "best cover" competition sponsored by the American Society of Magazine Editors. For a special issue on the environment, Time's designers manipulated a photograph of the iconic flag-raising, by Marines, during the Battle of Iwo Jima -- replacing the flag with a stout tree. The editor of Connecticut magazine noted that his designers had come up with pretty much the same idea years ago (though their version featured ordinary people raising a sapling).
The judges, however, passed Time over this week in the best-concept category in favor of "Eustace Tillarobama," the New Yorker's cover for February 11 & 18, 2008:
The cover that won the top prize -- best cover, period -- was the product of the minds at New York magazine, who went with a full-length photographic portrait of Eliot Spitzer, with annotation suggesting not what he was thinking he was thinking as he made use of the services of high-priced prostitutes, but with what:FULL ENTRY
Certain cliched images and phrases decorate press coverage during every economic crisis: those jagged, downward-trending charts tracking the Dow, for instance, ad nauseum repetition of the phrase "jittery investors" -- and endless photographs of harried men (they're almost always men) standing or otherwise deployed on trading floors in states of angst or despair.
Sad Guys on Trading Floors is an insta-blog trying to capitalize -- or create a sort of art out of -- the latter trend. The brainchild of Jessica Hemerly, a research manager for media technology at the Institute for the Future, in Palo Alto, and Chris Riebschlager, a designer for a Kansas City, Missouri, advertising firm, it's your one-stop site for pictures of people on the front lines of the financial meltdown.
These are among the 34 images posted so far on Sad Guys today, October 8, alone. The site's motto: "Turning the economic crisis into one of those clever Internet memes."
Via BoingBoing, with thanks to Josh Glenn.
An interesting survey of opinions, courtesy of Intellectual Affairs, on whether American literature is, as a Swedish worthy recently pronounced, too "insular" to produce a Nobel-worthy writer.
I linked earlier this week to a piece in Slate that concluded that we shouldn't take the Nobel seriously till Philip Roth wins. I tend, rather, to side with one of the commenters weighing in on the Intellectual Affairs quasi-symposium.
It's pretty silly that Updike hasn't received the Nobel yet. His short stories alone would merit it. Add his best 6 or 8 novels, and it's a compelling case. Also, if you read his criticism, it is apparent that he reads widely, without regard to national boundaries. He may write frequently about New England white people (horrors!), but his influences strike me as anything but provincial.
Future readers may consider Updike our era's Mozart; Mozart was once written off as a too-prolific composer of "charming nothings," and some speak of Updike that way.* A pity.
That last point, especially, seems prescient.
The winner of this year's prize will be announced tomorrow.
*See: James Wood.
Stephen Greenblatt, a professor in Harvard's English department and a Shakespeare expert, visited The Colbert Report last week to discuss parallels between Shakespeare's plays and the presidential (and vice-presidential) candidates. "McCain sounds a lot like Macbeth," observed Colbert, who performed a bit of Shakespeare himself while an undergraduate at Northwestern, "a passionate man prized for his military heroism. Now, sure, Macbeth murdered his friend the king. But back then that just made Macbeth a McMaverick."
Obama, meanwhile, is "an egghead elitist who can't make up his mind. Clearly, Obama is Hamlet. It makes sense. He is haunted by his father, not to mention his father figure. Plus, let us not forget he drove a good woman insane."
Sarah Palin takes the hardest blow -- and it's Greenblatt, author of "Will in the World," an acclaimed biography, who delivers it.
Via The Chicago Blog.
Asked why time-pressed readers should bookmark The Daily Beast, her new buzz-chasing online publication, when they already read "Slate/Drudge/Huffington Post/TPM/Google News and every other magazine and newspaper," Tina Brown responds, in a Q & A on the site: "Sensibility, darling."
Interestingly, one aspect of the Beast's design, its logo, shares many features with that of the Daily News, Philadelphia's tabloid.
The parallel is pointed out by Will Bunch, of the News's Attytood blog, who asks, "Why is Tina Brown, um, 'borrowing' from the Daily News?" The News and Tina Brown: partners in sensibility? (We can only imagine the regal Brown's reaction if someone proposed the name "Attytood" for a Beast blog.)
Mohja Kahf, author of the novel "The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf," fights back against the charge that Islam, or the Islamic world in general, treats women badly. Among many, many other points she makes is this one:
Medieval Christianity excoriated Islam for being orgiastic, which seems to mean that Muslims didn't lay a guilt trip on hot sex (at least within what were deemed licit relationships). Now that hot sex is all the rage in the post-sexual revolution West, you'd think Muslims would get some credit for the pro-sex attitude of Islam -- but no. The older stereotype has been turned on its head, and in the new one, we're the prudes. Listen, we're the only monotheistic faith I know with an actual legal rule that the wife has a right to orgasm.
She concedes there are still some challenges: Misogyny persists in some places, and some minds, in a form that is "almost as bad as American misogyny."
(I would, however, like to hear more about why she refers to "this nonsensical Western custom of teenage dating" and prefers having professional men make overtures to the families of young women, virtually out of the blue.)
UPDATE: A reader writes in to argue that Kahf is wrong on the orgasm point: The Talmud, she recalls, contains a similar injunction "that a man is obligated to give his wife pleasure before he takes it himself." She can't provide a citation, though. Can any other Brainiac reader? Reply in the comments or send an email to email@example.com
Best line I've read yet about the charge leveled by Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel Prize in Literature, that American writers are too parochial to merit the prize:
When Engdahl declares, "You can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the center of the literary world," there is a poignant echo of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard insisting that she is still big, it's the pictures that got smaller.
Tina Brown's new project -- I almost typed "Tina Fey's," which hints at how one Tina has eclipsed the other in the cultural firmament in the last few years, especially the last few weeks -- launched today, if you hadn't noticed. It's called The Daily Beast.
The site's pointers to other articles and sources of information are sharply written, and the whole thing is crisply designed. But does the world need another site aggregating and riffing on cultural and political content found on the Web? (I probably shouldn't ask that.)
For the record, Brown, in a Q & A on the site, quibbles with the idea that the Beast is an aggregator. "The Daily Beast doesn't aggregate. It sifts, sorts, and curates." Gotcha. And, to be fair, there are some well-known writers who have been recruited to feed the Beast: Christopher Buckley, Tucker Carlson, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali will be blogging, for example.FULL ENTRY
If you only know a little bit about Pompei, the Roman city that was consumed by Vesuvius's eruption in the year 79 (and thereby preserved for later study), these might be among the things you remember: The eruption caught its citizens almost entirely by surprise, almost everyone was killed -- turned into grim friezes of ordinary Roman life -- and the site remained undisturbed until its rediscovery many centuries later (in the 1700s, as it happens).
In a bit of erudite book-promotion, Mary Beard, a Cambridge classicist whose "Pompei: The Life of a Roman Town" has just been published, debunks these and other myths about the city on her TLS-affiliated blog: In fact, she writes, most people escaped unharmed: "Just over 1,000 bodies have been discovered -- out of a population of perhaps 12,000." And the archaeological site is hardly pristine. "Almost straightway the locals came back to salvage their stuff, digging through the volcanic rubble, and if they were lucky, heaving out some of the most valuable stuff," Beard writes. Some of these people died when their tunnels collapsed, providing future fodder for archaeologists.
There had also been "rumblings and mini-earthquakes for days" preceding the eruption, which led some citizens to flee and others, foolishly, to call in the interior decorators to fix cracks in their walls.
Beard also casts a skeptical eye on one salacious bit of Pompei lore. The body of a wealthy woman (as indicated by her jewelry) was found in the gladiators' barracks. Was she visiting her chiseled downmarket lover, her very own Russell Crowe, as tour books sometimes suggest? Alas, no, Beard writes: She was almost certainly just seeking shelter as she fled town and things suddenly took a turn for the worse.
For more debunking of factoids you probably didn't know in the first place, see her entry "Ten things you need to know about Pompei."
Eric Baker, a principal of Eric Baker Design Associates, in Manhattan, has a minor obsession: Each morning, before work, he spends a half hour or so online seeking out images that are "beautiful, funny, absurd and yet inspiring." He started out by collecting the images and then mailing them to a single friend, in Los Angeles. Gradually, he added more people to his e-list, sending out the images under the title "Today." Today -- that is, today, Friday, Oct 3 -- he lets the readers of Design Observer in on what he found this a.m.
The images come with no explanation, although he writes: "At times, sometimes by accident or occasionally by design, a relationship in the images will emerge. Mostly, though, I love the vagaries of the images -- their beauty, absurdity and naivete." This is the tiniest sampling; you have to go to the site for the full effect.
Herzog & de Meuron, the Swiss architectural firm responsible for the much-praised "Bird's Nest" Olympic stadium in Beijing, has unveiled plans for a skyscraper in Paris that, the firm claims, will cast no shadow on the more traditional buildings surrounding it.
From one angle, the glass-sheathed building appears to be a massive pyramid, dominating the skyline; from another, it presents as a thin, tall shard. Unless Herzog & de Meuron have repealed the laws of physics, the idea must be that it is this thinness that creates the unobtrusiveness, minimizing shadow in two directions. (An alternative suggestion, put forward by Gizmodo, is that the structure will be "made of cloned cells from the Invisible Girl.")
The architects say their shape allows for "optimum solar and wind power generation," though they skimp on the details. The project is scheduled to be completed by 2014, in the Porte de Versailles area of the city. From the action in forums on sites where the design has been presented, Parisians are divided as to whether this will be a brilliant addition to the cityscape -- or whether they'd rather see it not casting its shadow in Dubai, where it might fit in better.
A strikingly different view from another angle is after the jump.FULL ENTRY
Thy tongue, Joe Biden! Learn to curb its call,
Lest universal verbiage bury all.
That heroic couplet comes courtesy of the author Jim Holt -- and, more indirectly, Jennifer Schuessler, former editor of Ideas, now at the Times. She asked some frequent Book Review contributors to versify about the two contenders in tonight's main event.
Consider Holt's effort an amuse bouche: On the blog Paper Cuts, you'll also find brief poems by Henry Alford and Christopher Buckley -- and Jennifer checks in, too, with the Globe's Alex Beam on the subject of Palin and palindromes.
According to the L.A. Times, VP candidate Sarah Palin has made the case in numerous conversations that dinosaurs and humans shared the earth.
Harvard University Press asked Ronald Numbers, author of "The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design," to explain the origins of that particular view -- dino-human co-existence -- within the larger ambit of creationism. His whole commentary is here, but here's one interesting tidbit from Numbers's guest post on the HUP blog:
The young-earth creationism (a.k.a. scientific creationism) she seems to favor grew out of religious group known as the Seventh-day Adventists, founded in the nineteenth century by a young prophetess named Ellen G. White. Inspired by her visions and interpretation of Genesis, one of her disciples, a Canadian named George McCready Price, cobbled together a distinctive creationist model of earth history that attributed the formation of virtually all fossil-bearing rocks to the year of Noah's flood. During the 1940s, Price and a small group of devotees in the Deluge Geology Society announced the discovery of gigantic fossil footprints of humans (supposedly those of the antediluvian giants mentioned in the Bible) alongside, and occasionally overlapping, those of dinosaurs, who, according to the best scientific authorities, had died out about 65 million years before the appearance of humans. For decades these footprints, found in the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas, served creationists as proof that evolutionists were wrong. However, careful research by creationists, first published in the 1970s, eventually convinced all but the most obstinate believers that the stories of giant human tracks were a myth; indeed, some had been carved by local craftsmen to sell as souvenirs.
Bonus Harvard University Press blog content: An example of taste overlap between HUP's book designers and "Springfield, Massachusetts' own favorite nu-metallers, Staind."
A Turing test is the standard for determining whether a computer is effectively mimicking human speech. You type questions on a screen, someone or something responds, and you have to decide whether the answers you're getting come from man or machine. If you guess man and it's a machine, the computer passes the test.
Jack Balkin, of Balkinization, asks: Can you tell if the answers you get here are coming from Sarah Palin or from software that paid close attention to Katie Couric's Palin interviews? (One of the joys of Web-based advertising: The McCain campaign is actually paying for ads on this site.)
And, from the right side of the aisle: Amanda Carpenter -- a conservative, video-oriented pundit-in-training -- makes a not-unreasonable case that Gwen Ifill ought not to have been chosen as the moderator for tonight's debate. The objection does not hinge on race, per se, as you may be fearing -- as I feared as the tape began to roll -- but rather on a book Ifill has written, whose publication coincides with election day. If Obama wins, goes the logic, Ifill stands to make more money than if McCain wins. (Race does, of course, hover in the background of the argument, but the conflict of interest charge can stand on its own.)
The British TV host and literary critic Clive James is undergoing a late efflorescence as a poet, one brought on, perhaps, by fresh appreciation of his talents. A previous generation of critics, he writes in an introduction to his new book, "Opal Sunset: Selected Poems, 1958-2008," "often found me guilty of sounding as if I were having too much fun." But when his "Collected Poems" appeared in 2003, "now here were this new bunch suggesting that I just might be -- with due allowance for the poisonously long half-life of television celebrity -- some kind of poet after all."
Laurels may have bred productivity. His new book is essentially two books, he notes: The first comprises works written during his first 45 years as a working poet; the second features the products of the last five years.
James's most famous poem, "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered," which begins "The book of my enemy has been remaindered / and I am pleased," remains perhaps the last word in literary schadenfreude." (It's a cousin of Gore Vidal's remark that every time a friend succeeds, a little piece of him dies.) Appropriately, it leads off this collection.
There are many moments of joy and amusement in the second half of the book -- indeed, in all of it -- but one poem, "Windows Is Shutting Down," leapt out at me for the way it reframes a sentence to which I'd, oddly, never given a second thought, though millions of people read it every day. It ties the famous Microsoft sign-off to the general deterioration of literary standards. (Or might it be commentary on the pointlessness and pedantry of such complaints?) It begins:
Windows is shutting down, and grammar are
On their last leg. So what am we to do?
A letter of complaint go just so far,*
Proving the only one in step are you.
Better, perhaps, to simply let it goes.
A sentence have to be screwed pretty bad
Before they gets to where you doesnt knows
The meaning what it must of meant to had.
And the final line:
Those are the break. Windows is shutting down.
*However, such a letter might get you a mention in Jan Freeman's column.
Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.