A man in his 30s talking to a woman in her 30s at a Manhattan Starbuck’s:
“Ernest Hemingway was a very good writer…apparently.”
Humor, culture, observation and other good stuff from Brooklyn, New York–the real America!
You are currently browsing the archive for the Books category.
A man in his 30s talking to a woman in her 30s at a Manhattan Starbuck’s:
“Ernest Hemingway was a very good writer…apparently.”
I love George Saunders and his deeply funny, deeply moving short stories, and he’s a wonderful journalist as well (like here and here). His fiction has a high-risk style, a seemingly unrestrained combo of Raymond Carver and Groucho Marx, and while I always fear he’ll go over the top completely, like, say, Kurt Vonnegut did with Slapstick, Saunders keeps maturing, deepening. His most recent collection, Tenth of December, is wonderful overall, and “The Semplica-Girls Diaries” is one of the best things he’s ever written, satire that is so sad and humane. Saunders was just interviewed about his computer desktop, of all things, by Ben Johncock for the Guardian. An excerpt:
“Twitter is a deliberate abstention. Somehow I hate the idea of there always being, in the back of my mind, this little voice saying: ‘Oh, I should tweet about this.’ Which knowing me, I know there would be. I’m sure some people can do it in a fun and healthy way, but I don’t think I could. Plus, it’s kind of funny – I’ve spent my whole life learning to write very slowly, for maximum expressiveness, and for money. So the idea of writing really quickly, for free, offends me. Also, one of the simplify-life things I’m doing is to try to just write fiction, period. There was a time there a few years back where, and screenplays, and travel journalism so on – just trying to keep the juices flowing and kick open some new doors. These, in turn, led to a period of sort of higher public exposure – TV appearances here in the US and some quasi-pundit-like moments. To be honest, this made me feel kind of queasy. I’m not that good on my feet and I found that I really craved the feeling of deep focus and integrity that comes with writing fiction day after day, in a sort of monastic way. So that’s what I’m trying to do now, as much as I can manage. And Twitter doesn’t figure into that.”
From Liz Gannes’ All Things D article about Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen’s new book about our technological future:
“Written with Google Ideas director Jared Cohen, The New Digital Age was released today. It’s dense, though readable, and floats between visions of a hologram-and-robot-enhanced future for the developed world, and scarily specific predictions of how dictators will get hold of technology and use it for evil.
‘The Internet is the largest experiment involving anarchy in history,’ Schmidt and Cohen write, as they forecast all sorts of ‘painful liminal periods’ while things like privacy, citizenship and reporting get figured out as the next five billion people come online, joining the two billion that already are.
Schmidt and Cohen are not going to spark a social movement or even an op-ed war, a la that other recent tech exec book, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. But they did manage to write a surprisingly non-corporate book that talks about Twitter at least 10 times as much as it does about Google’s driverless cars.”
It’s difficult sometimes to think about futuristic living, all sleek and clean and perfect. Yesterday morning I sat down on a subway car next to a guy who smelled like a toilet had backed up onto a corpse in the bathroom of a diarrhea factory. Then he started snoring.
But some among us can see a future, or something resembling it, that is more orderly. From a Foreign Policy piece about the predictions in Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen’s just-published book, The New Digital Age:
Your apartment is an electronic orchestra, and you are the conductor. With simple flicks of the wrist and spoken instructions, you can control temperature, humidity, ambient music and lighting. You are able to skim through the day’s news on translucent screens while a freshly cleaned suit is retrieved from your automated closet because your calendar indicates an important meeting today. You head to the kitchen for breakfast and the translucent news display follows, as a projected hologram hovering just in front of you, using motion detection, as you walk down the hallway…. Your central computer system suggests a list of chores your housekeeping robots should tackle today, all of which you approve. It further suggests that, since your coffee supply is projected to run out next Wednesday, you consider purchasing a certain larger-size container that it noticed currently on sale online. Alternatively, it offers a few recent reviews of other coffee blends your friends enjoy.”
“The double standard in debt relief that favored large merchants, present at the creation of bankruptcy law in 1706, persists today in many different forms. It gets surprisingly little attention in the debt debates. Despite the tacit assumption that ‘surely one has to pay one’s debts,’ the evasion of repayment is both widespread and selective. Corporate executives routinely walk away from their debts via Chapter 11 of the national bankruptcy law when that seems expedient. Morality scarcely enters the conversation—this is strictly business.
Even more galling is the fact that the executives who drove the company into the ground often keep control by means of a doctrine known as debtor-in- possession. A judge simply permits the company to write off old debts, while creditors collect so many cents on the dollar out of available assets. Every major airline has now been through bankruptcy, and US Airways has gone in and out of Chapter 11 twice. In this process, all creditors are not created equal. Since banks typically have liens on the aircraft, bankers get paid ahead of others. Major losers are employees and retirees, since Chapter 11 allows a corporation to break a labor contact or reduce pension debts. Shareholders also lose, but by the time bankruptcy is declared, the company’s share value has usually dwindled to almost nothing. Much of the private equity industry uses the strategy of acquiring a company, taking it into bankruptcy, thus shedding its debts, and then cashing in on its subsequent profitability. Despite the misleading term private ‘equity,’ tax-deductible private debt is the essence of this industry, which relies heavily on borrowed money to finance its takeovers.
Homeowners, however, are explicitly prohibited from using the bankruptcy code to reduce their outstanding mortgage debt. White House legislation proposed in 2009 would have allowed a judge to reduce the principal on a home mortgage, as part of the effort to contain the economic crisis. Congress rejected the measure after extensive lobbying by the financial industry. Consumers may use bankruptcy to shed other debts, but a revision of the law signed by President Bush in 2005 subjects most bankrupt consumers to partial repayment requirements, while bankrupt corporations get a general discharge from their debts. Thanks to the influence of the same financial lobby, the rules of student debt provide that the obligations of a college loan follow a borrower to the grave.”
“Frantz Schmidt was a master executioner. He had a notarized certificate to prove it. He apprenticed under a master; he paid his journeyman’s dues. He mostly worked in the imperial city of Nuremberg during his forty-five years of service, 1573-1618. He executed 394 people: men, women, and some boys and girls. Schmidt, always poised, delivered a good death, whether he beat you to kingdom come with a wagon wheel or applied the pitch and touched the flame, slipped the noose or cut off your head.
A ‘good death’ was meant to shock and awe the locals, to keep them ruly in the absence of any effective central authority during some seriously unruly times. Executions were carefully orchestrated, ritualized brutality that sated the drive for retribution, with clear rules and conduct. The fathers of Nuremberg, a city then at the zenith of its power and wealth, hired Frantz Schmidt: reliable, honest, pious, reflective, loyal, sober Frantz, a rare bird in the world of executioners.”
You say we have ‘a new relationship with time.’ What is it, and why is that a bad thing?
What we’ve done has made time even more dense. On Facebook, your past comes into your present when someone from your second grade class suddenly pops up to send you a message, and your future is being manipulated by what Facebook knows to put in front of you next. Present shock interrupts our normal social flow.
It didn’t have to be this way. When digital culture first came along, it was supposed to create more time, by allowing us to shift time around. Somehow instead we’ve strapped devices to ourselves that ping us all the time.
Hasn’t time been collapsing for centuries? We moved from the rhythm of seasons to living by the clock in the Industrial Age. We’ve paced in front of the microwave for decades.
Yes, but it has hit a point where we have lost any sense of analog time, the way a second hand sweeps around a clock. We’ve chosen the false ‘now’ of our devices. It has led to a collapse of linear narratives and a culture where you have political movements demanding that everything change, now. The horrible truth is we are linear beings; we can’t multitask, and we shouldn’t keep interrupting important connections to each other with the latest message coming in.
It’s a funny thing: the counterculture used to talk about ‘Be here now,’ and the need to chase after self-awareness by seeking the eternal present. What is the difference between that world of the “now” and this one?
People are seduced by signals from the world, but that is manipulation, not reality. Computers have learned more about us than we’ve learned about them.”
From Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.’s new Wall Street Journal interview with the ever-fascinating Ray Kurzweil:
“Mr. Kurzweil’s frank efforts to outwit death have earned him an exaggerated reputation for solemnity, even caused some to portray him as a humorless obsessive. This is wrong. Like the best comedians, especially the best Jewish comedians, he doesn’t tell you when to laugh. Of the pushback he receives from certain theologians who insist death is necessary and ennobling, he snarks, ‘Oh, death, that tragic thing? That’s really a good thing.’
‘People say, ‘Oh, only the rich are going to have these technologies you speak of.’ And I say, ‘Yeah, like cellphones.’
To listen to Mr. Kurzweil or read his several books (the latest: How to Create a Mind) is to be flummoxed by a series of forecasts that hardly seem realizable in the next 40 years. But this is merely a flaw in my brain, he assures me. Humans are wired to expect ‘linear’ change from their world. They have a hard time grasping the ‘accelerating, exponential’ change that is the nature of information technology.
‘A kid in Africa with a smartphone is walking around with a trillion dollars of computation circa 1970,’ he says. Project that rate forward, and everything will change dramatically in the next few decades.
‘I’m right on the cusp,’ he adds. ‘I think some of us will make it through’—he means baby boomers, who can hope to experience practical immortality if they hang on for another 15 years.”
You have to have a lot of faith in humanity to be an anarchist. Have you met people? They’re awful.
The collapse of Wall Street, the sway of corporations that see us as consumers rather than citizens, grave concerns about our environment and the decentralization of communication have opened a door for anarchic movements in the form of Occupy Wall Street and beyond. If only I had more faith in people, the awful, awful people.
One of the major themes of your book is that the current political structure is not at all democratic. I think among the people who would read your book, that’s kind of a given. But you go further in pointing out the anti-democratic nature of the Founding Fathers.
Most people think these guys had something to do with democracy, but nobody ever reads what they actually said. What they said is very explicit: They would say things like ‘We need to do something about all this democracy.’
So as an alternative, you promote the model of consensus that Occupy used to organize, through its General Assembly.
Yeah. What we wanted to do was A) change the discourse and then B) create a culture of democracy in America, which really hasn’t had one. I mean direct democracy, hands on, let’s figure out how you make this system together. It’s ironic because if you go to someplace like Madagascar, everybody knows how to do that. They sit in a circle and they do a consensus process. There is a way that you can do these things, that millions and millions of people over human history have developed and it comes out pretty much the same wherever they are because there are certain logical constraints and people being what they are.
Consensus isn’t just about agreement. It’s about changing things around: You get a proposal, you work something out, people foresee problems, you do creative synthesis. At the end of it you come up with with something that everyone thinks is okay. Most people like it, and nobody hates it.
This is pretty much the opposite of what goes on in mainstream politics.
Yeah, exactly. It’s like, ‘People can be reasonable, I didn’t think it was possible!’ And that’s something I’ve noticed, that authoritarian regimes, what they do is that they always come up with some way to teach people about political decision making that says people aren’t basically reasonable, so don’t try this at home. I always point out the difference between the Athenian Agora and the Roman Circus. When most Athenians gathered together in a big mass it was to do direct democracy. But here’s Rome, this authoritarian regime. When did most Romans get together in the same place? If they’re voting on anything it’s like thumbs-up or thumbs-down to kill some gladiator. And these things are all organized by the elite, right? So all the people who are really running things throw these games where they basically organize people into a giant lynch mobs. And then they say, ‘Look, see how people behave! You don’t want to have Democracy!’”
From Edward Luce’s new Financial Times profile of Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, a passage about the marketization of morality:
“I ask him about his latest book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, in which he argues that the US and other countries are turning from market economies into market societies, as Lionel Jospin, the former French prime minister, once put it. Sandel argues that we live in a time of deepening ‘market faith’ in which fewer and fewer exceptions are permitted to the prevailing culture of transaction. The book has infuriated some economists, whom he sees as practitioners of a ‘spurious science.’
He has been at loggerheads with the profession for many years. In 1997, he enraged economists when he attacked the Kyoto protocol on global warming as having removed ‘moral stigma’ from bad activity by turning the right to pollute into a tradeable permit. Economists said he misunderstood why markets work. Sandel retorts that they know the price of everything and the value of nothing. To judge by his sellout lecture tours, he has clearly tapped into a larger disquiet about the commodification of life.
Which countries are the least receptive to his concerns about market fundamentalism? ‘China and the US – no question,’ he replies instantly. ‘In other parts of east Asia, in Europe and in the UK and in India and Brazil, it goes without arguing that there are moral limits to markets and the question is where to locate them. In the US and China, there are strong voices who will challenge the whole idea of there being any limits.’”
“What’s you answer, smartypants?” asks TV’s best talk-show host.
The opening of Alex Williams’ short Techcrunch piece which asserts that data won’t kill narrative but rather alter it:
“I keep seeing this topic push up about how data is affecting creativity. Some say we are losing our sense of narration and storytelling. It’s not this at all. We are just experiencing a shift that other civilizations have faced when the traditional means for storytelling transform to give a sense of the changing times facing society.
That does not mean a rejection of the narrative form. The ancient Greeks developed a rich oral tradition for telling stories. Out of that they created a common language, which formed the foundation for fables, legends and myths.
Now we see that data, shaped by software, creates a space to tell stories in new ways. Narrative methods to express our imagination will change as techniques emerge that allow us to use programming languages to carry on what we know for the next generations.”
Tags: Alex Williams
In the Financial Times, Douglas Coupland, about to turn 50, thinks back on Generation X, his sensation of a novel published just 22 years ago, but perhaps the longest 22 years ever:
“1991 was more than 20 years ago, before not just the internet but also email. I remember worrying about my phone bill each month. And I remember the Kuwait war, and I remember no more USSR, and I remember the snow on the ground during that particularly mild winter in Montreal where I was living at the time of Gen X’s publication. I also remember waiting for the first copy of the book to arrive. Ask any writer: the true moment of birth is when the FedEx envelope is ripped open and a book is fully midwifed into the world.
Here are a few Generation X facts: it was originally going to be called 52 Daffodils after a story contained within the book. I wonder what life would be like now if I’d done that. My Canadian publisher also declined to publish the book, which forever gave American publishers right of first refusal on new books, which began the myth within the Canadian writing world that I was trying to be American not Canadian. But it took years for me to figure out that that was what was actually happening – there was no internet to crystallize trends on a dime – trends took place across the span of years, not days. Trends had backlashes and then counter-backlashes that also went on for years. These days a meme is good for a few days or a few weeks, max.”
Tags: Douglas Coupland
Why don’t I like Jorge Luis Borges’ writing more than I do? He would seem aesthetically to be right up my alley, but I just don’t connect to it. Here’s an appearance by the Argentine legend with William F. Buckley on Firing Line in 1977.
Tags: Jorge Luis Borges
If I had to say one thing about the time we’re living in, I would say this: Jesus H. Christ, our phones are great! Our phones are better than ever! I’m not sure if we’ve improved otherwise, but, wow, we’ve such progress in the area of phones!
Seriously, we seem to be making progress in a variety of ways (see the current reversal in the attitude toward gay marriage in America), but there’s still a lot of suffering and unfairness in the world. Are we moving forward or laterally–or even backwards?
John Gray, political philosopher and author of The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths, believes our contention that we are moving human rights forward is self-satisfied bullshit. From an interview Gray did with Johannes Niederhauser at Vice:
Isn’t the belief that everything will get better and that the world is now moving toward a blessed end state kind of schizophrenic, in the sense that we’ve actually been living in a deep crisis since the 1970s?
The rapid movement in technological advancements creates a phantom of progress. Phones are getting better, smaller, and cheaper all the time. In terms of technology, there’s a continuous transformation of our actual everyday life. That gives people the sense that there is change in civilization. But, in many ways, things are getting worse. In the UK, incomes have fallen and living standards are getting worse.
And advances in technology don’t mean that things are necessarily getting better in the grand scheme of things.
Oh, absolutely. Technological progress is double-edged. The internet, for example, has more or less destroyed privacy. Anything you do leaves an electronic trace.
Some people even want their mind to be transferred into the Internet to be digitally immortal.
That’s kind of moving in a way, but also utterly absurd. Even if it were possible to upload your whole mind on to a computer, it wouldn’t be you.
There seems to be a wide misunderstanding of what it means to be yourself.
Yes. You haven’t chosen to be the self that you are. You’re irreplaceable. You’re a singularity. We are who we are because of the lives that we have. And that involves having a body, being born, and dying.
Yes, especially. A lot of contemporary phenomena, like faith in progress, is really an attempt to evade the reality of death. In actuality, each of our lives is singular and final; there is no second chance. This is not a rehearsal. It’s the real thing.”
Via a Choire Sicha post at the excellent Awl blog, I just learned of Brendan Koerner’s The Skies Belong To Us, an exploration of the “golden age” of plane hijackings in the late ’60s / early ’70s. The forthcoming book looks at a turbulent time in America, when you could fly a 747 through the credibility gap. Into this void of political and moral authority arrived one skyjacking after another, pretty much on a weekly basis. Koerner focuses on the case of Roger Holder and Cathy Kerkow, a Vietnam vet and a party girl, who wrested control of a Western Airlines flight as part of an inchoate political protest, beginning the first leg of their insane journey.
The trailer for the book from the official website.
At Rob Walker’s Yahoo! blog, he interviews technology critic Douglas Rushkoff about his new book, Present Shock, an updating of sorts of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock. An excerpt about adaptation strategies in our brave new world:
The book addresses what you’re calling ‘present shock,’ referencing Alvin Toffler’s idea of ‘future shock,’ and (if I can oversimplify) suggesting that we’re now living in Toffler’s future, and we’re not coping all that well. How might we respond to ‘society without narrative context’?
Present Shock is the panicky reaction to this always-on, real-time society in which we have found ourselves. But there are definitely ways to adapt and thrive in a ‘presentist’ world. So, take the collapse of narrative. We live in a world where it’s really hard to tell a story. People don’t have patience, they have interactive devices that encourage them to break up or leave a story in progress, and they don’t really think about things as having beginnings, middles and ends. We are in the now, and not looking forward to long-term goals anymore. This is as true for kids playing endless adventure games like World of Warcraft as it is for derivatives traders hoping to make money not off long-term investments but on the trades themselves.
So on the one hand, we get the scary stuff: movements with long-term goals are increasingly unpopular. Political parties are hated. The notion of a career path or a commitment to (and from) an employer seems ludicrous. On the other hand, we begin to see some people attempting to live in a more ‘steady state.’ We don’t have to fight and win wars so much as deal with our problems in a more ongoing way. Global warming is not something we fight against and ‘win,’ but a chronic problem we can only face with sustainable solutions. We don’t need to yearn for endings—unless of course we really want to bring about the apocalypse. Instead, we must grow beyond the simple stories on which we were raised, and learn to live in a never-ending kind of story, in which we are the living players.
This is what Occupy was groping toward, in its own way. They don’t have demands or goals so much as approaches. They are attempting to model a way of living. When asked how the movement is supposed to ‘end,’ they say, “Why should it end?’”
The ending of Mike Nichols’ film version of The Graduate was an ambiguous, not happy, one. A young idealistic couple on the run–but where to? And would they soon run out? For Charles Webb, the author of the novel the film was based on, and his wife, Eve, life has also been quixotic and difficult, as you might imagine it would be for devoted nudists who continually give away all their money. The author and his mate (who eventually shaved her head and changed her name to “Fred”), were profiled in a 1988 People article. The opening:
“It was an image that captured the rebellious spirit of a generation: Dustin Hoffman pounding frantically on the church window, shattering the sounds of silence with his primal scream, “Elaine!” But the 1967 blockbuster The Graduate did not quite end at the exhilarating moment when Benjamin Braddock broke up the wedding of Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, carrying her off to reckless freedom and true love. In the final frames, as Ben and Elaine stole away on a bus, their tentative smiles seemed to ask, ‘What next?’
Imagine this scenario: Benjamin and Elaine get divorced but never live apart. Remaining true to their unconventional principles, they squander whatever money comes their way. Arriving at middle age, they don’t settle for sipping cynicism on the sofa. Instead, we find the idealistic pair huddled in the back of a battered VW bus—their only home—down to their last few hundred bucks.
That just about sums up the fate of author Charles Webb, who wrote The Graduate, and his own Elaine, who now calls herself Fred. Maybe Ben—and Charles—should have gotten into plastics. ‘It’s hard to say how we got to this point,’ says Webb, 49, as he sits in a Bethel, Conn., diner. His features marked by a perpetual frown, he can barely conceal his anxiety over their situation yet seems equally incapable of discussing it. Fred, 48, although concerned about winter’s approach, remains hopeful. ‘What we need now is a place to settle,’ she says. ‘Then Charles can get back to work.’
Webb, after all, was once a literary rising star who published The Graduate, his first book, at age 24 in 1963. During the next 15 years, Webb says, he made almost $150,000 from that and five other books, including the $20,000 he received for film rights to The Graduate. ‘All of that seemed like a lot to us 10, 20 years ago,’ says Webb. ‘But money was never important to us.’ Fred agrees. ‘In fact,’ she says, ‘we have given away just about everything we owned.’ That includes two houses, a Rauschenberg drawing and a Warhol print—all donated to nonprofit organizations. For the past 10 years, Charles and Fred have subsisted on diminishing royalties from paperback sales of The Graduate, which now amount to about $2,500 a year.
Since the couple pulled up stakes in Southern California and arrived in Massachusetts last July with their mutt, Mrs. R. (named, of course, for the story’s Mrs. Robinson), and a few thousand dollars in savings, the fates have not been kind to the Webbs. First, they had hoped to settle in Williamstown, home of Charles’s alma mater, Williams College, where he planned to begin writing a sequel to The Graduate. Unable to find a place they could afford, they were taken in by a woman in Bethel, Conn., who read of their plight in a newspaper—but threw them out after learning of their fondness for nudity.”
Tags: Charles Webb
Bret Easton Ellis, popular and reviled for having penned Less Than Zero, a dreadful novel not for its scenes of unimpeded immorality but for its sheer incompetence, visited William F. Buckley in 1985, while he was still a junior at Bennington. Here’s the first five minutes of the show, which features Buckley’s customary long introduction of his guest and a couple of questions of fellow young writer Fernanda Eberstadt, though sadly no Ellis commentary.
One I’ve finished the book I’m currently reading, I’m going to get my hands on Susan Jacoby’s The Great Agnostic, a volume about the 19th-century orator and non-believer Robert Ingersoll, which I’ve posted about before. From “That Old-Time Irreligion,” Jennifer Michael Hecht’s piece in the New York Times Book Review, an explanation of why the historical figure is largely forgotten today:
“The first reason for his obscurity is the same reason many actors who were well known before the age of film have been forgotten: Ingersoll’s greatest fame came from his public speeches, and while the texts of these have been published, it was his performance of them that made him so beloved. In 19th-century America, speeches were a major form of entertainment. As a result, people were real connoisseurs of the craft, and a wide range of listeners thought Ingersoll was an extraordinary orator. In an age when flowery language and effusive emotion were commonly used to keep audiences rapt, Ingersoll was comparatively calm and plain-spoken, yet he was said to be riveting, drawing both tears and peals of laughter.
The second reason he isn’t remembered has to do with what was in those speeches, many of which denounced religion. He called himself agnostic, but whenever he was asked, he replied that for him there was no difference between agnosticism and atheism. He wrote and spoke about a number of topics — Shakespeare was a favorite — but his agnosticism was what most set him apart, attracting devoted followers and fervent detractors. There have been atheists and religious doubters throughout history, but the ones who remain famous after their deaths tend to have been equally famous for something else as well; otherwise, people most notable for their bravery in the face of religious conservatism have to be celebrated by a population equally brave, and that is often too much to ask.”
Wow, never knew this one existed. Mary McCarthy interviewed by Jack Paar on the Tonight Show in 1963. Fast forward to the nine-minute mark.
Russell Baker isn’t the only one who thinks humans are living in veritable forests nowadays. From Matt Ridley’s Five Books interview, a discussion about Bjørn Lomborg’s contrarian volume, The Skeptical Environmentalist:
There is more forest now than there was 50 years ago.
Yup. Not in the right places necessarily. Rain forest is retreating but go to the Eastern seaboard of America. It’s covered in forest. It used to be farmland. Some of it’s plantations but some of it’s just wild forest that’s regrowing. The total number of trees in the world is going up at the moment, not down. There’s less water pollution, less air pollution, the kinds of things that caused urban smog in LA in the 1960s are going down dramatically.
With the trees. That sounds so unlikely.
Exactly. A lot of what he says sounds unlikely because, as he says, people have heard the litany over and over again. He went back to reputable sources – UN, World Bank, other sources – and he found that the numbers simply don’t support the pessimism. There aren’t as many trees as there were…well, when?
Britain probably has more trees now than in 1510. Huge forest clearances had happened long before that. The forestry commission has planted a lot of trees. There’s certainly more forest today than at any point in the last couple of hundred of years. When it got to be this lightly forested, it was probably the Middle Ages. There were huge forest clearances to fuel the iron industry in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. And real problems because they started running out of charcoal. The iron industry had to leave the South of England because there were no trees left. They moved to Wales and Cumbria and deforested that too. Species extinction rates for mammals and birds peaked around 1900 and they’ve been dropping since.”
If anyone is wondering why that bastion of truthiness and GOP propaganda outlet Fox News misled its viewers so willfully during the Presidential election, it’s because the channel’s profits, not conservatism, is its chief concern. Of course. From a Vanity Fair excerpt of Zev Chafets’ new book about faux journalist Roger Ailes, a passage in which he discusses his bottom-line bromance with News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch. An excerpt:
“Ailes and Rupert Murdoch are very respectful of each other. Ailes credits Murdoch with realizing that there was a niche audience (‘half the country,’ as Charles Krauthammer, a Fox contributor, drily put it) for a cable news network with a conservative perspective. Murdoch, for his part, assured me that he doesn’t dictate editorial decisions. ‘I defer to Roger,’ he said. ‘I have ideas that Roger can accept or not. As long as things are going well … ‘
One moment of tension occurred in 2010, when Matthew Freud, the husband of Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth and a powerful British public-relations executive, told The New York Times that ‘I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes’s horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder, and every other global media business aspires to.’ A spokesman for Murdoch replied that his son-in-law had been speaking for himself, and that Murdoch was ‘proud of Roger Ailes and Fox News.’ Ailes mocked Freud in an interview in the Los Angeles Times, saying he couldn’t pick the British flack out of a lineup and suggesting that he (a descendant of Sigmund Freud’s) ‘needed to see a psychiatrist.’
Murdoch often drops by Ailes’s office to joke and gossip about politics. ‘Roger and I have a close personal friendship,’ he told me. Ailes agrees—up to a point.
‘Does Rupert like me? I think so, but it doesn’t matter. When I go up to the magic room in the sky every three months, if my numbers are right, I get to live. If not, I’m killed. Our relationship isn’t about love—it’s about arithmetic. Survival means hitting your numbers.’”
Before computing was portable, even pocket-sized, some feared it would create a physical distance among people. If anything, it has birthed an emotional alienation because of its virtual nature, the way it feeds, even encourages, narcissism. We’re more connected, but there are more disconnects. Via theody. net, Kurt Vonnegut, that coot, explaining in 1995 why he never made the switch to word processing:
“I work at home, and if I wanted to, I could have a computer right by my bed, and I’d never have to leave it. But I use a typewriter, and afterward I mark up the pages with a pencil. Then I call up this woman named Carol out in Woodstock and say, ‘Are you still doing typing?’ Sure she is, and her husband is trying to track bluebirds out there and not having much luck, and so we chitchat back and forth, and I say, ‘Okay, I’ll send you the pages.’ Then I go down the steps and my wife calls, ‘Where are you going?’ ‘Well,’ I say, ‘I’m going to buy an envelope.’ And she says, ‘You’re not a poor man. Why don’t you buy a thousand envelopes? They’ll deliver them, and you can put them in the closet.’ And I say, ‘Hush.’ So I go to this newsstand across the street where they sell magazines and lottery tickets and stationery. I have to get in line because there are people buying candy and all that sort of thing, and I talk to them. The woman behind the counter has a jewel between her eyes, and when it’s my turn, I ask her if there have been any big winners lately. I get my envelope and seal it up and go to the postal convenience center down the block at the corner of Forty-seventh Street and Second Avenue, where I’m secretly in love with the woman behind the counter. I keep absolutely poker-faced; I never let her know how I feel about her. One time I had my pocket picked in there and got to meet a cop and tell him about it. Anyway, I address the envelope to Carol in Woodstock. I stamp the envelope and mail it in a mailbox in front of the post office, and I go home. And I’ve had a hell of a good time. I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you any different.”
Tags: Kurt Vonnegut
Th opening of James Kirchick’s Newsweek piece about a new book which hangs in effigy Christopher Hitchens, who peed on a tombstone or two in his day:
“One of the journalistic impulses for which the late Christopher Hitchens will be remembered was a propensity for writing nasty obituaries of people he loathed immediately after their deaths. It was only a matter of days, sometimes hours, following the expiration of figures such as Mother Teresa, Princess Diana, Ronald Reagan, Jerry Falwell, or Alexander Haig (to name just a few of the targets of his wrath) that Hitchens would take to the print columns or the airwaves and denounce the recently departed as a ‘thieving, fanatical Albanian dwarf,’ ‘hyperactive debutante,’ ‘cruel and stupid lizard,’ ‘Chaucerian fraud,’ and ‘neurotic narcissist with an unquenchable craving for power,’ respectively. ‘For a lot of people, their first love is what they’ll always remember,’ Hitchens once told C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb. ‘For me it’s always been the first hate, and I think that hatred, though it provides often rather junky energy, is a terrific way of getting you out of bed in the morning and keeping you going.’
In light of this, the one thing that can be said in praise of Richard Seymour’s UnHitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens, is that its subject would appreciate the effort. Indeed, I bet that Hitchens would be highly pleased that someone had expended so much time and energy to denounce him posthumously in the style that he had himself mastered, even if it took the author more than a year since Hitchens’s death to produce it. Concocted in the style of a 17th-century polemical pamphlet (a literary template favored by Hitchens), UnHitched purports to be an ‘extended political essay’ that exposes its subject as, among other things, a ‘terrible liar,’ ‘ouvrierist’ (one of several words deployed by the overly earnest Seymour that will drive even more learned readers to the dictionary), a plagiarist, and, most unforgivable among Hitchens’s erstwhile friends and colleagues on the Anglo-American socialist left, ‘the George W. Bush administration’s amanuensis.’”
Whenever I hear right-wingers say that the forefathers founded America on Christianity, I know they’re talking about the forefathers they’ve molded in their heads to suit their own political purposes. From The Stammering Century, Glibert Seldes’ book about Americana in the extreme:
“When the time came to frame a constitution, God was considered an alien influence and, in the deliberation of the Assembly, his name was not invoked. ‘Inexorably,’ says Charles and Mary Beard in their story of The Rise of American Civilization, ‘the national government was secular from top to bottom. Religious qualifications …found no place whatever in the Federal Constitution. Its preamble did not invoke the blessings of Almighty God…and the First Amendment…declared that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…’ In dealing with Tripoli, President Washington allowed it to be squarely stated that ‘the government of the United States is not in any sense founded upon the Christian religion.’”