Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door...

From Tyler Cowen's excellent Marginal Revolution blog, a musical actuary's table:

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Everyone ends up in the kitchen at parties anyway...

A company now seeking Kickstarter funding has a brilliant idea: adding a USB charger to standard wall plug faceplates- but with no rewiring required. 

A different sort of platonic relationship

Here's the intro to a well-worth-reading article on why the liberal arts have much to offer to those trained to think it doesn't:
Once, when I told a guy on a plane that I taught philosophy at a community college, he responded, “So you teach Plato to plumbers?” Yes, indeed. But I also teach Plato to nurses’ aides, soldiers, ex-cons, preschool music teachers, janitors, Sudanese refugees, prospective wind-turbine technicians, and any number of other students who feel like they need a diploma as an entry ticket to our economic carnival. As a result of my work, I’m in a unique position to reflect on the current discussion about the value of the humanities, one that seems to me to have lost its way. 
As usual, there’s plenty to be worried about: the steady evaporation of full-time teaching positions, the overuse and abuse of adjunct professors, the slashing of public funding, the shrinkage of course offerings and majors in humanities disciplines, the increase of student debt, the peddling of technologies as magic bullets, the ubiquitous description of students as consumers. Moreover, I fear in my bones that the supremacy of a certain kind of economic-bureaucratic logic—one of “outcomes,” “assessment,” and “the bottom-line”—is eroding the values that undergird not just our society’s commitment to the humanities, but to democracy itself. 
The problem facing the humanities, in my view, isn’t just about the humanities. It’s about the liberal arts generally, including math, science, and economics. These form half of the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects, but if the goal of an education is simply economic advancement and technological power, those disciplines, just like the humanities, will be—and to some degree already are—subordinated to future employment and technological progress. Why shouldn’t educational institutions predominately offer classes like Business Calculus and Algebra for Nurses? Why should anyone but hobbyists and the occasional specialist take courses in astronomy, human evolution, or economic history? So, what good, if any, is the study of the liberal arts, particularly subjects like philosophy?  Why, in short, should plumbers study Plato?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The world from a tower window

From Danny Heitman's essay in Humanities, "Our Contemporary, Montaigne: He Pioneered the Personal Essay and Made Candor Literary"-

...If Montaigne’s essays seem revolutionary, it’s perhaps because they were born of revolutionary times. With the emergence of the printing press, Montaigne had more books at his fingertips than many earlier readers might have seen in a lifetime, a reality that greatly empowered him to indulge his curiosity. Montaigne’s intimate, first-person narrative of a mind sorting itself out seemed to reflect a growing acknowledgment among Renaissance thinkers that personal intuition, and not just institutional orthodoxy, could be a path to knowledge. That idea, shimmering throughout Montaigne’s essays, obviously resonated with Emerson, a Transcendentalist who suggested that individuals could have a direct relationship with the cosmos. In this way, Montaigne, the friend of French kings, expressed the early stirrings of a democratic spirit that would, two centuries later, drive the American and French revolutions.

While Montaigne was scribbling away at his desk, exploration of the New World was dramatically enlarging the globe’s known boundaries. “It is no wonder that Montaigne and his contemporaries—like Shakespeare and Cervantes, or Copernicus and Galileo in science were so brilliantly glib—they had brand new material to write about!” author Hilary Masters notes. “To fly to the dead orb of the moon and return is an amazing feat but only that. On the other hand, to return with stories of an alter world populated with people just like us, who are going about their odd religions, raising zinnias and putting the Julian calendar into stone steps—now, that’s the stuff of supermarket tabloids! Some inspiration! It is like the past catching up with the present to make an entirely different here and now.”

Montaigne was fascinated by what lands across the Atlantic could teach him. In “On the Cannibals,” he considers the cannibals of Brazil and suggests that these man-eaters might be more ethically pure than residents of the Old World, a radical notion within European society. “I am sometimes seized with irritation,” he wrote, “at their not having been discovered earlier, in times when there were men who could have appreciated them better than we do...”

"[T]he emphasis should not be on housing books but on housing readers using books. It is therefore desirable to seek an environment that would encourage and insure the pleasure of reading and study."

A masterwork in a career filled by them, Louis Kahn's Phillips Exeter Library turns 50 this year.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The power company is not amused.


To tour Stuttgart's Weissenhof Estate, the site of the 1927 Deutscher Werkbund exhibition of prefab homes designed by modernist icons, is to walk through architecture's future past. But within the housing estate, at Bruckmannweg 10, an ongoing research experiment will potentially shape architecture's green future. The Active House B10, a prefab, glass-fronted box of a home built in a single day, features an energy management and production system that works on many more dimensions than its simple rectangular frame suggests. The super light, fully recyclable 970-square-foot building with a self-learning, self-regulating energy system generates 200% of its energy needs with a grid of photovoltaics on the roof. It's literally a "power plant," according to architect Werner Sobek, which will power a pair of electric cars and as well as a museum housed inside a Le Corbusier-designed building nearby. Sobek explained how the massive advances of B10 may shape the built environment for years to come... 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Of the making of lists, there is no end...

Can one make a list of the 100- or 1000- best books ever that means anything to anyone but the maker. David Handin says yes. 

Sandra Gilbert isn't so sure, and adds a hundred of her own.

Suddenly, I feel inadequate. Having owned an ready probably 15,000 books, I've only read 49 of his choices; 23 of hers. So little time....

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Them as can, does, it seems.

We noticed it a couple of baseball seasons ago...players sporting beards.

Now it has become an international craze. Somerset House in London even has an exhibit going about them.

Australian Radio sent a reporter to comb through the details.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

“Good luck with writing the article. Send me a copy. And if there’s anything I don’t like in it, I’ll forward it to my lawyers”.

"After middle age," Gore Vidal once said, "litigation takes the place of sex." According to a new memoir of the Auld Scandal Himself, Vidal took his own prescription literally. He behaved in the most beastly manner most of his life, but he was so charming, and wrote so well ("The three saddest words in the English language are Joyce Carol Oates") he got away with it. After, all, for most people with any experience of him, he was performing on television, or live. It was his friends and long-suffering partner who got the worst of him.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

"I gotta tell ya somethin', ladies and gentlemen, those Muppets are something, aren't they. Jim Henson went around at Woodstock and collected all the abandoned socks..."

From a Frank Rich appraisal of the amazingly fast disappearance of Bob Hope's place in popular culture:
Hope once asked one of his writers, Bob Mills, for jokes about Pentagon generals even though he had no scheduled appearances before military audiences. When Mills asked why, Hope explained that he needed the scripted lines to make conversation with three generals he was meeting for a round of golf.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"...the memory of man runneth not to the contrary..."

The last funeral for a monarch of the United Kingdom took place 63 years ago. There have only been five such events in the last 180 years. What will happen when Queen Elizabeth II,, now 18 months or so from becoming the longest- serving ruler of herland, finally dies?

Here's a fascinating look at the procedures- and staggering costs, in ceremony and productivity losses- when a large nation shuts down for two weeks.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sunday, March 1, 2015

"The clocks that chime in my mind are the clocks of Columbus."

A Thurber cartoon of a house that is also an unfriendly man.

In the current issue of Humanities, Danny Heitman reminds us why James Thurber is a name we must not forget:

“Among other escapades,” writes Thurber biographer Neil A. Grauer, “[his mother] once attended a faith healer’s revival in a wheelchair, pretending to be (paralyzed), then jumped up to howl hosannas and proclaim herself cured.”

Another formative influence was William Fisher, Thurber’s pugnacious and eccentric grandfather, who later became a farcical star of Thurber’s zany childhood narrative, My Life and Hard Times. Published in 1933, and drawn from material first published in the New Yorker, the book is sidesplittingly funny, but its humor involves comic monologs that achieve their effect over slowly building plots rather than punchy one-liners. The chapters anticipate Garrison Keillor—who’s a big Thurber fan—and David Sedaris in the way that they spin odd domestic happenings into convulsive comedy. In the opening story, “The Night the Bed Fell,” a small mishap with an army cot throws the entire Thurber household into four-alarm disarray, as misunderstandings pile upon each other like skidding Keystone Kops. But no single sentence does the episode justice; the effect of Thurber’s comedy is cumulative, so that one must read his stories whole to fully grasp their absurdity.

Since Thurber’s literary genius can’t be written in shorthand—as with, say, Mark Twain, whose bon mots seem to fill half of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations—his popularity has depended on cult loyalty, the willingness of fans to press his books into the hands of friends and then quietly insist, “Read this.”

"Have you ever seen an animal shrug?"

In The New Yorker:

Hunter S. Thompson once said of Wolfe that “the people who seem to fascinate him as a writer are so weird they make him nervous.” Wolfe doesn’t so much reject this idea as seem baffled by it. He didn’t enjoy being around the Hells Angels, he admits, but Ken Kesey and his Pranksters, on the other hand, were nothing but interesting. While reporting “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” he says, he saw a man in the throes of a drug-fuelled religious experience sit in the middle of a street in San Francisco in the lotus position and yell, “I’m in the pudding, and I’ve met the manager!” Wolfe throws his arms to the sides and tosses his head back as he recounts the scene, revealing a finely turned pair of cuffs and Tiffany-blue suspenders beneath his suit.

-Wolfe, now 84, has sold his archives to The New York Public Library ($2m!), which has an exhibit drawn from them on display.

Becoming the Man in the White Suit

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Zombie News

"Whether preparing us for economic recovery after the zombie apocalypse, analyzing vampire investment strategies, or illuminating the market forces that affect vampire-human romances, Economics of the Undead: Zombies, Vampires, and the Dismal Science gives both seasoned economists and layman readers something to sink their teeth into. Undead characters have terrified popular audiences for centuries, but when analyzed closely, their behaviors and stories—however farfetched—mirror our own in surprising ways. The essays collected in this book are as humorous as they are thoughtful, as culturally relevant as they are economically sound, and provide an accessible link between a popular culture phenomenon and the key concepts necessary to building one’s understanding of economic systems big and small. It is the first book to apply and combine economics and our society’s fascination with the undead, and is an invaluable resource for those looking to learn economic fundamentals in a fun and innovative way."

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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Remember to turn left first

Surely the most mind-numbingly dull aspect of this year's mind-numbingly dull World Cup coverage has been the idiot notion somebody got to yard in all the players and all the teams, stand them in front of a camera- and make them cross their arms.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day

The custom of buying Dad a necktie (or another manly present, such as tobacco, cologne, or, later, power tools and gadgets), aided by yearly ad blitzes, became the midcentury’s middle-class standard, with mothers taking their kids to the department store to pick out a tie, a razor, or a bottle of Old Spice. They were rather gloomy offerings, and symbols of the white-collar dad’s professional life: his routine, his absence, and his almost generic unknowability.

Today in Research

Do imaginary companions die? An exploratory study.


Adults in this exploratory study usually recalled that their childhood imaginary companions faded away or were dismissed as other options for social interaction became more appealing. However, eight participants reported that their IC had died. Analysis of these deaths offers a glimpse of the child's talent for transitional thought processes that navigate between the emerging constraints of logic and the continuing appeal of fantasy. It is suggested that young children are testing the limits and possibilities of what it means to be "real" at the same time they are trying to puzzle out "alive" and "dead."

I had several before the age of, say, five. They were mocked to death by my parents.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Great songs by him, dreadful movies about him

Writer's Almanac:

This one's the real one.

It's the birthday of the man who wrote the songs "I Get a Kick Out of You," "You're the Top," and "Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love": Cole Porter, born in Peru, Indiana (1891). Most of his great songs were written within a 10-year period: between his first popular Broadway musical, Paris (1928)—his first musicals had been complete flops—and a terrible riding accident in 1937. Porter was at a party at the New York home of the Countess Edith di Zoppola when his horse rolled and crushed his legs. He claimed that he didn't realize how badly he was hurt and that while someone ran for help he finished up the lyrics to "You Never Know." But he was in fact seriously injured—the doctors insisted that his right leg be amputated, maybe his left as well. Porter refused. He preferred to be in intense pain than be missing a leg.
He lived with the pain for more than 20 years, and he continued to write songs, but never at the same rate of success as he had before his accident. In 1958, after 34 operations on his leg, he finally agreed to have the leg amputated. Porter never recovered from the trauma of the operation. He told friends, "I am only half a man now," and never wrote another song. He died in 1964 at the age of 73.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Technology and miracles

Through the typesetting of this book, I am on my way to complete victory over the fears that have tormented me most of my life!
     -Twyla Menzies, on the copyright page of Tammy Fay Bakker and Cliff Dudley's Run to the Roar: The Way to Overcome Fear (New Leaf Press, 3rd printing, 1980).

Sunday, June 1, 2014


The Tolkiens are proving almost as adept as the Hemingways when it comes to unearthing more unpublished works by Dad. Now it's a 1926 translation of Beowulf.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Remembering the departed

Writer's Almanac:

Today is Memorial Day. The first official observance of what we now know as "Memorial Day" was held on May 30, 1868, by proclamation of John A. Logan, Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic and a Civil War veteran. The day was set aside to honor those who died "in defense of the country during the late rebellion." Known as "Decoration Day," the observance drew on a long Southern tradition of honoring the dead by decorating the gravesite with flowers. In late spring or early summer, extended families would gather in mountain cemeteries for "dinner on the ground," spreading tablecloths on the grass and using their best plates for the potluck meal. They arranged colorful flowers on the graves, sang hymns, held service and baptisms, and prayed. This practice is still common in the South, from the Ozarks to North Carolina.
On this day in 1868, 5,000 people helped decorate the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery; memorial events were held in 183 cemeteries in 27 states.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Best to be somewhere else, methinks

More than 50,000 tarantulas have taken part in an event that has become known as the "Crufts of the spider world". 
Organised by the British Tarantula Society, this year's competition was held at Coventry's Ricoh Arena. 
It featured a number of categories, including Best New World Species and Best in Show, and attracted about 2,000 visitors. 
Organiser Ray Hale said the event brought "all the main arachnologists from around the world under one roof" .He described the event as a "great success" and that the society planned to return to the Ricoh Arena next year.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

It'll have a short- and the espresso that way too

Good news for Twititeraddicts- writers on a cup:

Two-Minute Personality Test
By Jonathan Safran Foer
What’s the kindest thing you almost did? Is your fear of insomnia stronger than your fear of what awoke you? Are bonsai cruel? Do you love what you love, or just the feeling? Your earliest memories: do you look though your young eyes, or look at your young self? Which feels worse: to know that there are people who do more with less talent, or that there are people with more talent? Do you walk on moving walkways? Should it make any difference that you knew it was wrong as you were doing it? Would you trade actual intelligence for the perception of being smarter? Why does it bother you when someone at the next table is having a conversation on a cell phone? How many years of your life would you trade for the greatest month of your life? What would you tell your father, if it were possible? Which is changing faster, your body, or your mind? Is it cruel to tell an old person his prognosis? Are you in any way angry at your phone? When you pass a storefront, do you look at what’s inside, look at your reflection, or neither? Is there anything you would die for if no one could ever know you died for it? If you could be assured that money wouldn’t make you any small bit happier, would you still want more money? What has been irrevocably spoiled for you? If your deepest secret became public, would you be forgiven? Is your best friend your kindest friend? Is it any way cruel to give a dog a name? Is there anything you feel a need to confess? You know it’s a “murder of crows” and a “wake of buzzards” but it’s a what of ravens, again? What is it about death that you’re afraid of? How does it make you feel to know that it’s an “unkindness of ravens”?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Hack this!

"Life-hacking wouldn’t be popular if it didn’t tap into something deeply corroded about the way work has, without much resistance, managed to invade every corner of our lives. The idea started out as a somewhat earnest response to the problem of fragmented attention and overwork—an attempt to reclaim some leisure time and autonomy from the demands of boundaryless labor. But it has since become just another hectoring paradigm of self-improvement. The proliferation of apps and gurus promising to help manage even the most basic tasks of simple existence—the “quantified self” movement does life hacking one better, turning the simple act of breathing or sleeping into something to be measured and refined—suggests that merely getting through the day has become, for many white-collar professionals, a set of problems to solve and systems to optimize. Being alive is easier, it turns out, if you treat it like a job."

Sunday, May 4, 2014

It's why I never shopped at Barney's

Marginal Revolution:

It’s no secret that salespeople at upscale shops can be a little snobbish, if not outright rude, the researchers note. Consumer complaints recently have pressured some luxury retailers to train their staffs to be more approachable; Louis Vuitton even went as far as decorating the entrance of its Beverly Hills store with a smiling cartoon apple in 2007. But if luxury retailers want to continue to rake in the dough, they actually should do the exact opposite, the study found. The ruder the salesperson the better.

In four online surveys, Ward and Dahl had participants imagine interactions with different types of salespeople under a bunch of different conditions. Variables included the imagined store’s level of luxury, the extent of the salesperson’s haughtiness, how well the salesperson represented the store’s brand, and how closely participants themselves related with the brand. The results:

  • Rejection makes people want to buy luxury goods. A salesperson’s condescending attitude has little effect on consumers’ desire to buy more affordable brands like Gap and American Eagle, though.

  • Rejection is stronger when salespeople convincingly embody brands in the way they act and dress. Sloppy salespeople aren’t as intimidating. 

  • People who really want to own a particular brand are even more influenced by rejection. Instead of switching their loyalties, customers just become more attached.

  • Rejection works best in the short term. While great at pressuring people into buying something in the moment, dismissive staff may still alienate customers in the long run.

The results fall into a long line of research that demonstrates the extent to which rejection can jar our fragile self-conceptions.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Dirty Talk

Dana Gioia:


Money is a kind of poetry- Wallace Stevens

     Money, the long green,
cash, stash, rhino, jack
or just plain dough.

     Chock it up, fork it over, 
shell it out. Watch it
burn holes through pockets.

     To be made of it! To have it
to burn! Greenbacks, double eagles,
megabucks and Ginnie Maes.

     It greases the palm, feathers a nest,
holds heads above water,
makes both ends meet.

     Money breeds money.
Gathering interest, compounding daily.
Always in circulation.

     Money. You don't know where it's been,
but you can put it where your mouth is.
And it talks.

The Wall Street Journal:

Why You Shouldn’t Put Your 

Money Where Your 

Mouth Is

Talk about dirty money: Scientists are discovering a surprising number of microbes living on cash.
In the first comprehensive study of the DNA on dollar bills, researchers at New York University’s Dirty Money Project found that currency is a medium of exchange for hundreds of different kinds of bacteria as bank notes pass from hand to hand.
By analyzing genetic material on $1 bills, the NYU researchers identified 3,000 types of bacteria in all—many times more than in previous studies that examined samples under a microscope. Even so, they could identify only about 20% of the non-human DNA they found because so many microorganisms haven’t yet been cataloged in genetic data banks.
Easily the most abundant species they found is one that causes acne. Others were linked to gastric ulcers, pneumonia, food poisoning and staph infections, the scientists said. Some carried genes responsible for antibiotic resistance.
“It was quite amazing to us,” said Jane Carlton, director of genome sequencing at NYU’s Center for Genomics and Systems Biology where the university-funded work was performed. “We actually found that microbes grow on money.”
Their unpublished research offers a glimpse into the international problem of dirty money. From rupees to euros, paper money is one of the most frequently passed items in the world. Hygienists have long worried that it could become a source of contagion.
“A body-temperature wallet is a petri dish,” said Philippe Etienne, managing director of Innovia Security Pty Ltd., which makes special bank-note paper for 23 countries.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Wild, Wild West

Writer's Almanac remembers a classic:

It was on this day in 1927 that actress Mae West was sentenced to 10 days in prison for her starring role in the play Sex, which she also wrote and directed. It was her first Broadway show. Sex got terrible reviews but attracted huge audiences. It had been running for 41 weeks when the police showed up and arrested the cast and crew — although only West was sent to jail. She was charged with "producing an immoral show and maintaining a public nuisance." She said: "I wrote the story myself. It's about a girl who lost her reputation and never missed it."
In jail, West was forced to turn over her silk stockings, but allowed to keep her silk underwear. She got her own private cell, and she charmed the warden and his wife so much that they invited her to eat dinner with them in their home each night. She befriended the other inmates while she made beds and dusted. In her down time, she read business articles comparing various Hollywood studios. She was released two days early for good behavior.
The following year, she wrote and starred in the play Diamond Lil (1928) on Broadway, and it was a big success. She went to Hollywood, got a part in Night After Night (1932), and was allowed to rewrite her scenes. In her first scene, a hatcheck girl says to her "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!" and West says, "Goodness has nothing to do with it, dearie." It was a hit, and the next year she co-starred with Cary Grant in I'm No Angel(1933). By 1935, she was said to be the second highest paid person in the United States, after William Randolph Hearst.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Following a few simple rules

  But even as she continued to make a home in the house where she had spent most of her childhood, Welty was deeply connected to the wider world. She eagerly followed the news, maintained close friendships with other writers, was on a first-name basis with several national journalists, including Jim Lehrer and Roger Mudd, and was often recruited to lecture.
Welty gave inspired public readings of her stories—performances that reminded listeners how much her art was grounded in the grand oral tradition of the South.
“Colleges keep inviting me because I’m so well behaved,” Welty once remarked in explaining her popularity at the podium. “I’m always on time, and I don’t get drunk or hole up in a hotel with my lover.”

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Celebrating an original

It's the birthday of cartoonist, novelist, and playwright Jules Feiffer,  born in the Bronx (1929). He said of his childhood: "The only thing I wanted to be was grown up. Because I was a terrible flop as a child. You cannot be a successful boy in America if you cannot throw or catch a ball." He decided early on that he wanted to be a comic-strip artist, and when he was a teenager, he showed his work to the cartoonist Will Eisner, and Eisner gave him a job. Feiffer said, "[It was] ten dollars a week part-time — erasing pages, filling in blanks, and dreaming great dreams."
But he was drafted in 1951, and he did not take well to the Army. He said, "I was treated with open contempt by one form of authority or the other in the Army on a 24-hour basis." The experience inspired him to write a bitterly cynical cartoon strip about a four-year-old boy who is drafted by mistake. He tried to sell the strip to a variety of major newspapers, but nobody would buy it. So he finally turned to a new weekly newspaper in his neighborhood called the Village Voice. Over the next decade, the Village Voicebecame nationally prominent, and Feiffer's cartoons became nationally syndicated.
His strip in the Village Voice was one of the first cartoon strips to deal with adult themes such as sex, politics, and psychiatry. For most of his career, he has drawn and written all of his work in Central Park, which he considers his office. His cartoons are collected in books such as Feiffer's Marriage Manual (1967) and Feiffer on Nixon: The Cartoon Presidency (1974).

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Department of What To Do Next

A reader kindly offered a comment expressing a wish to get back in touch. Waldo, being in the throes of elderism, didn't recognize the first name, and there was no profile or other link to puruse to find out who the kind reader is. Care to try again?

Well, of course they did.

Thought Leading

by JOHN HOLBO on DECEMBER 18, 2013
That’s not a good first sentence.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Want to be a genius? Start by being odd

Christopher Hart

Rise and Shine

Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work
By Mason Currey (Picador 278pp £12.99)

Matisse, 1944: the early bird gets the worm
Erik Satie may have worn chestnut-coloured velvet suits, eaten thirty-egg omelettes and founded the Church of Jesus Christ the Conductor, but this was just bohemian decoration. He also walked 12 miles into and out of Paris every day, composing all the way. In his introduction to this wonderfully entertaining little book, Mason Currey quotes V S Pritchett: 'Sooner or later, the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.'

It should come as no surprise, perhaps, that most high-achieving creative people who have given something permanent to the world are not really in the slightest bit bohemian. They discover for themselves Flaubert's famous advice that one should live like a bourgeois and put one's bohemianism into one's work.

Food is often of little importance, mere brain fuel. Patricia Highsmith lived on vodka, cereal and bacon and eggs. For lunch Ingmar Bergman ate a revolting sort of baby food made up of yoghurt and strawberry jam which he mixed in with cornflakes. In the evening he enjoyed watching Dallas...

Monday, November 25, 2013

The peace part, he didn't do so well with

Today's the birthday of that canny wee billionaire, Andrew Carnegie, to get to whose hall you have to "practice, practice, practice."

Most know about his libraries, but- thanks to Writers' Almanac- there's a bit more:
Over the course of his life, Andrew Carnegie endowed 2,811 libraries and many charitable foundations as well as the internationally famous Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He also bought 7,689 organs for churches. The purpose of the latter gift was, in Carnegie's words, "To lessen the pain of the sermons."
Carnegie's generosity led to the construction of 16 libraries in North Carolina, and 18 in South Carolina between 1901 and 1917.

Monday, November 18, 2013

And Russell lived to, what- 97?

Corey Robin reveals an Unpalatable Truth:
I’ve spent the last month working on a paper on Burke, Babeuf, and Adam Smith. (Guess which of these two had a similar theory of value? Hint: It’s not Smith.) It’s been a miserable experience. 
Whenever I have trouble writing, I remember this passage from Philip Roth:I turn sentences around. That’s my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning. And if I knock off from this routine for as long as a day, I’m frantic with boredom and a sense of waste. 
And I feel better. 
But then I read this from Bertrand Russell: 
I…found that my first draft was almost always better than my second.  This discovery has saved me an immense amount of time. 

Doris Lessing, R.I. P.

One of the century's crankiest- and wide-ranging- writers has died at 94:

Doris Lessing’s greatest strength lay in her apparently inexhaustible facility for chronicling what one critic called the “inner experiences of unhappy women”. Martha Quest (1952) was an exceptionally fine description of the wilfulness and vanity of an adolescent; Summer Before The Dark (1973), sadly less well, examined the middle years of a family woman, subject to her children’s tyranny and in mourning for her lost good looks; and The Diary of a Good Neighbour (1983) looked at old age with a rather distressing emphasis on defecation. 
She continued to produce novels until her 90th year, and wrote two volumes of autobiography, Under My Skin (1994), which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize the following year, and Walking in the Shade (1997). She was made a Companion of Honour in 2000 and a Companion of Literature the following year. 
Informed by a reporter in 2007 that she had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, she replied: “Oh, Christ”. She devoted her acceptance speech to a denunciation of the Internet, in what amounted to an elegy to the lost art of reading. 
Doris Lessing’s achievements and versatility as a novelist won her many loyal readers whose devotion was tested but unshaken by her eccentricity, perversity and fickleness. Sometimes she wrote in styles that did not suit her, about ideas that did no credit to her intelligence, she even on occasion wrote badly. Yet she remained a writer whose exuberant spill of ideas overcame these lapses and whose energy and perception kept her admirers enthralled until the last page.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The architecture of perfection

The Guardian has an only slightly snarky review of Apple's space-agey new corporate headquarters, which is, if nothing else, a monument to persnicketiness:

The latest images reveal quite how much of an Apple product the $5bn complex will be. While the climbing walls and mini-golf courses ofGoogle's offices might embody the company's anything-goes karma, their buildings are not literally made of primary-coloured blobs or cartoonish toolbar icons. The Apple mothership, on the other hand, looks like it could be built out of the stuff of computers itself. It's as if Jonathan Ive, in a moment of madness, had unscrewed all the polished parts of his iPhones, iMacs and Macbook Pros and refashioned them in a great big circle.
At the gaping triple-height entrance, through which the 13,000 employees will file, soaring columns will rise through the triumphal portal in the same brushed-aluminium finish as a Macbook. Others who arrive by bus will enter up a grand imperial staircase, whose whiter-than-white handrails are chamfered with the same radius as the curved corners of an iPad. The floors appear on the facade as sharply tapering fins, hovering around the building like the rings of Saturn, made of white back-painted glass – just like the back of the white iPhone.
“There was a very surreal moment during the development of those glass fins,” recalls a former Foster employee. “There was a $30m mock-up made of a whole section of the facade, with five versions of the fin in different shades of white. The Apple guys were looking at them for ages, saying one's a bit too blue, the other's a bit more cream – but they all looked identical to the naked eye.”

Just like your Macbook … Triple-height brushed metal columns rise through the entrance.
Just like your Macbook … triple-height brushed metal columns rise through the entrance. Photograph: City of Cupertino

With month-long agonies over the whiteness of white, the development of Apple Campus 2 has come under a level of scrutiny unknown to even the most finicky of Foster projects. Before he died, Jobs was adamant that the building's materials be closer to the kind you would find on an Apple product than a standard building, insisting on gaps between panels no greater than 1/32 inch (0.8mm), compared to the standard 1/8 inch (3mm). It promises to be a strangely seamless spatial experience, interiors conceived like the airtight cabins of aeroplanes or cars, with few joints in sight.
“We were printing out drawings at bigger-than-lifesize scale,” recalls one architect. “There was a debate over whether a particular gap should be 3mm or 5mm, a level of detail most clients would never even consider – or be able to see.”
But, with its x-ray vision for detail, Apple is clearly like no other client on earth.