Archive for the ‘new yorker’ tag
There are many great parts of Adam Gopnik’s essay about Lord of the Rings, Eragon, and Twilight, but this is the one that struck me the most:
The tedious normalcy of the “Twilight” books is what gives them their shiver; this is not so much the life that a teen-age girl would wish to have but the one that she already has, rearranged with heightened symbols. Your life could be like this; seen properly, from inside, it is like this.
(via The Browser)
Adam Gopnik does a laudatory job cataloging and categorizing the works of those who aim to explain our current relationship to technology. Offering blows against both the unbridled pessimism of Nick Carr (a “better-never” in Gopnik’s words), and the unbridled optimism of Clay Shirky (a “never-better”), he gives the critical distance all great literary reviews should. The third group Gopnik names, the “ever-wasers”, are the most interesting and least discussed. Consider this point:
Everything that is said about the Internet’s destruction of “interiority” was said for decades about television, and just as loudly.
(via Austin Kleon)
Some scientific researchers are worried that the strength of experimental effects seem to decline over time. And I know science’s fallibility is something of an old saw around here, but until I see more smart people taking it seriously I doubt that will change. Jonah Lehrer’s conclusion pretty well captures what I want more people to realize:
We like to pretend that our experiments define the truth for us. But that’s often not the case. Just because an idea is true doesn’t mean it can be proved. And just because an idea can be proved doesn’t mean it’s true. When the experiments are done, we still have to choose what to believe.
I’m not sure why, but Naomi Klein — author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine — has always made me bristle. I think that Colby Cosh may have captured it:
Klein is basically a bored, restless adolescent who lacks the attention span to formulate a coherent political philosophy and has succeeded mostly by conveying to a young generation of wannabe radicals … that lack of rigour isn’t anything to be ashamed of in the groovy 21st century.
A more careful and thorough refutation of her “philosophy” can be found in this months-old critique from the London Review. The New Yorker story, which inspired Cosh to his analysis, is less critical but a worthy read.
(Cosh link via David Frum)
It’s been too long since I read anything this long (and it’s pretty short for The New Yorker). In any case, I rather enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s article about the difference between prodigies like Picasso and late bloomers like Cézanne.
The Cézannes of the world bloom late not as a result of some defect in character, or distraction, or lack of ambition, but because the kind of creativity that proceeds through trial and error necessarily takes a long time to come to fruition.
I just read two profiles. Neither was interesting enough to merit it’s own post, but the combination seemed to just pass the bar. The two:
- Dr. Doom. Depending on who you ask Nouriel Roubini is either a lucky pessimist or prescient thinker. There is, however, no doubt that he predicted America’s current economic turmoil in 2006.
- Hit Man. Jerry Corsi, author of the bestselling “Obama’s a Muslim drug addict” book, gets a brief but interesting profile in the New Yorker.
I thought this little collection of lists from yesterday’s New York Times was enjoyable enough to share. It, as Matt observed about “Fourteen Passive Aggressive Appetizers,” straddles the line between clever banter and the tired redeployment of a tired idea to reach your word count. A sample:
STUFF GRANDPARENTS LIKE
Any Brach’s candy
Craftmatic adjustable beds
Quilted toaster covers
I enjoyed Elizabeth Kolbert’s summary of the life of the inventor of the geodesic dome. An introductory tidbit:
One day, he was walking by Lake Michigan, thinking about, in his words, “Buckminster Fuller—life or death,” when he found himself suspended several feet above the ground, surrounded by sparkling light. Time seemed to stand still, and a voice spoke to him. “You do not have the right to eliminate yourself,” it said. “You do not belong to you. You belong to Universe.” (In Fuller’s idiosyncratic English, “universe”—capitalized—is never preceded by the definite article.) It was at this point, according to Fuller, that he decided to embark on his “lifelong experiment.” The experiment’s aim was nothing less than determining “what, if anything,” an individual could do “on behalf of all humanity.” For this study, Fuller would serve both as the researcher and as the object of inquiry. (He referred to himself as Guinea Pig B, the “B” apparently being for Bucky.)
The Reformed Jihadis
When two publications simultaneously carry what is essentially the same — rather long — story, it’s got to be worth noting.
- In The New Yorker, Lawrence Wright has an exhaustive — 14 internet pages — profile of “Dr. Fadl”, who recently published a book admonishing Al Qaeda for it’s tactics.
- The New Republic’s (slightly) briefer article sees a trend of people like Dr. Fadl, who dissent from Al Qaeda’s tactics even if they share some of their aims.
The essential point of both, as stated in TNR:
Although Benotman’s public rebuke of Al Qaeda went unnoticed in the United States, it received wide attention in the Arabic press. In repudiating Al Qaeda, Benotman was adding his voice to a rising tide of anger in the Islamic world toward Al Qaeda and its affiliates, whose victims since September 11 have mostly been fellow Muslims. Significantly, he was also joining a larger group of religious scholars, former fighters, and militants who had once had great influence over Al Qaeda’s leaders, and who — alarmed by the targeting of civilians in the West, the senseless killings in Muslim countries, and Al Qaeda’s barbaric tactics in Iraq — have turned against the organization, many just in the past year.
Joan Acocella offers a thoroughly New Yorker-y exploration of hangovers in this week’s issue (and finishes with a thoroughly annoying conclusion). My favorite bit was this:
Some words for hangover, like ours, refer prosaically to the cause: the Egyptians say they are “still drunk,” the Japanese “two days drunk,” the Chinese “drunk overnight.” The Swedes get “smacked from behind.” But it is in languages that describe the effects rather than the cause that we begin to see real poetic power. Salvadorans wake up “made of rubber,” the French with a “wooden mouth” or a “hair ache.” The Germans and the Dutch say they have a “tomcat,” presumably wailing. The Poles, reportedly, experience a “howling of kittens.” My favorites are the Danes, who get “carpenters in the forehead.”
Sue Halpern wrote a long but rather good exploration of the use of virtual reality as a way to treat American soldiers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This paragraph caught my eye (and made my think about the paralyzing cult of manliness):
When Travis Boyd was first asked to consider enrolling in the Virtual Iraq clinical trial, he was hesitant. He had already decided not to talk to his division therapist, because “I didn’t want to have it on my military record that I was crazy,” he said. And he was a marine. “Infantry is supposed to be the toughest of the tough. Even though there was no punishment for going to therapy, it was looked down upon and seen as weak. But V.R. sounded pretty cool. They hook you up to a machine and you play around like a video game.” Telling his buddies that he was going off to do V.R. was a lot easier than telling them he was seeing a shrink.
In this week’s New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell argues that we greatly over-value the genius of inventors. This passage really struck me, because I’ve long thought similarly:
For Ogburn and Thomas, the sheer number of multiples could mean only one thing: scientific discoveries must, in some sense, be inevitable. They must be in the air, products of the intellectual climate of a specific time and place. It should not surprise us, then, that calculus was invented by two people at the same moment in history. Pascal and Descartes had already laid the foundations. The Englishman John Wallis had pushed the state of knowledge still further. Newton’s teacher was Isaac Barrow, who had studied in Italy, and knew the critical work of Torricelli and Cavalieri. Leibniz knew Pascal’s and Descartes’s work from his time in Paris. He was close to a German named Henry Oldenburg, who, now living in London, had taken it upon himself to catalogue the latest findings of the English mathematicians. Leibniz and Newton may never have actually sat down together and shared their work in detail. But they occupied a common intellectual milieu. “All the basic work was done—someone just needed to take the next step and put it together,” Jason Bardi writes in “The Calculus Wars,” a history of the idea’s development. “If Newton and Leibniz had not discovered it, someone else would have.” Calculus was in the air.
In what seems a fitting follow-on to the previous story, I finally read a few-week-old story by Jared Diamond in The New Yorker.
My conversations with Daniel made me understand what we have given up by leaving justice to the state. In order to induce us to do so, state societies and their associated religions and moral codes teach us that seeking revenge is bad. But, while acting on vengeful feelings clearly needs to be discouraged, acknowledging them should be not merely permitted but encouraged. To a close relative or friend of someone who has been killed or seriously wronged, and to the victims of harm themselves, those feelings are natural and powerful. Many state governments do attempt to grant the relatives of crime victims some personal satisfaction, by allowing them to be present at the trial of the accused, and, in some cases, to address the judge or jury, or even to watch the execution of their loved one’s murderer.
As you’d expected from 13 (internet) pages, William Finnegan’s report on human trafficking has a lot to say. He focuses on Moldova, which offers some anecdotes that succinctly illustrate the nature of the problem:
According to the United Nations, human trafficking is now the third most lucrative criminal enterprise in the world, after weapons and narcotics. Annual profits are reckoned to be in the tens of billions of dollars. On this scale, trafficking requires extensive transnational networks. But many of the trade’s foot soldiers, particularly at the recruiting end, are amateurs, opportunists, even former victims. A Mafia boss in Kiev may be living on a cut of the proceeds from your exploitation, but your personal hell will very likely start, if you’re Moldovan, with a betrayal by a friend or a relative angling for a commission. You might even be sold into prostitution by the person sleeping next to you.
And one of the many reasons prosecution is so hard:
At another trafficking trial, the judge told the monitors, “These young ladies are prostitutes, they go abroad and prostitute themselves, then they are not happy with the money they get, so upon their return, they complain they were trafficked. But I know their kind, I’ve seen their pictures, they’re all smiling while dancing, and then they say that they were trafficked.”
Or so reports the (*cough* always reliable *cough*) LA Times, citing an undisclosed CIA source:
CIA officials will tell Congress on Thursday that North Korea had been helping Syria build a plutonium-based nuclear reactor, a U.S. official said, a disclosure that could touch off new resistance to the administration’s plan to ease sanctions on Pyongyang.
The CIA officials will tell lawmakers that they believe the reactor would have been capable of producing plutonium for nuclear weapons but was destroyed before it could do so, the U.S. official said, apparently referring to a suspicious installation in Syria that was bombed last year by Israeli warplanes.
I should also note that The New Yorker’s Seymor Hersh did his best to debunk this story a few months ago.
(via Kevin Drum)
Andy Borowitz has some (morbid) fun with the soon-to-launch “Ask a Jihadist” column authored by Al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Dear Ayman al-Zawahiri:
I am a journalist for the U.S. publication Tiger Beat. When I heard you would be taking Web questions, I was like OMG, I totes have to write to him!!! Here are three questions we’re asking celebrities this month:
1. If you could be any character on “Gossip Girl,” who would you be?
2. Who would be a better friend, Lauren on “The Hills” or Ashley Tisdale in “High School Musical”?
3. Who is hotter, Zac Efron or Joe Jonas? (LOL)
—Stacy in Manhattan
Ayman al-Zawahiri writes:
May you and everyone at your magazine burn in Hell.
From the large stack of reading I should have done earlier, I found this fascinating review by Ian Buruma of the growing body of work seeking to define and cope with America’s decreasing importance. He’s rather even-handed, but broadly skeptical of the whole thesis:
However fast the economies of new powers are growing, then, forecasts of their world domination leave out a great deal. China has a demographic problem—too many boys—compounding its potentially catastrophic ecological problems. Russia’s wealth is dependent on the price of oil. India, with its messy democratic system, might well have staying power, but no one sees it as a threat to the United States. And, besides, the “Harmonious Society” of Asia could still be violently disrupted by conflicts over Taiwan, North Korea, Tibet, Kashmir, and various islands, some of them sitting on oil reserves claimed by Vietnam, India, China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. China is frightened that Japan might become a nuclear power, and makes every effort to keep it down, or at least out of the United Nations Security Council. Russia and China watch each other tensely across the Siberian border. North Korea periodically lobs missiles in the direction of Japan. And the South Koreans and the Southeast Asians are stuck between a democratic Japan they don’t trust and an autocratic China they must warily accommodate.