Sunday Poem

Fast Food
Richard Thompson

Big mac, small mac, burger and friesImage_renaissance_big_mac

Shove ’em in boxes all the same size

Easy on the mustard, heavy on the sauce

Double for the fat boy, eats like a horse.

Fry them patties and send ’em right through

Microwave oven going to fry me too

Can’t lose my job by getting in a rage

Got to get my hands on that minimum wage.

Shove it in their faces, give ’em what they want

Got to make it fast, it’s a Fast Food Restaurant.

Shake’s full of plastic, meat’s full of worms

Everything’s zapped so you won’t get germs

Water down the ketchup, easier to pour on

Pictures on the register in case you’re a moron.

Keep your uniform clean, don’t talk back

Blood down your shirt going to get you the sack

Sugar, grease, fats and starches

Fine to dine at the golden arches.

Shove it in their faces, give ’em what they want

Got to make it fast, it’s a Fast Food Restaurant.

Baby thrown up, booth number 9

Wash it down, hose it down, happens all the time

Cigarettes in the coffee, contact lens in the tea

I’d rather feed pigs than humanity.

Shove it in their faces, give ’em what they want

Got to make it fast, it’s a Fast Food Restaurant.


Math Is Harder for Girls

From The City Journal:

Math The New York Times is determined to show that women are discriminated against in the sciences; too bad the facts say otherwise. A new study has “found that girls perform as well as boys on standardized math tests,” claims a July 25 article by Tamar Lewin—thus, the underrepresentation of women on science faculties must result from bias. Actually, the study, summarized in the July 25 issue of Science, shows something quite different: while boys’ and girls’ average scores are similar, boys outnumber girls among students in both the highest and the lowest score ranges. Either the Times is deliberately concealing the results of the study or its reporter cannot understand the most basic science reporting.

Science’s analysis of math test scores only confirms the hypothesis that cost Summers his Harvard post: that boys are found more often than girls at the outer reaches of the bell curve of abstract reasoning ability. If you’re hoping to land a job in Harvard’s math department, you’d better not show up with average math scores; in fact, you’d better present scores at the absolute top of the range. And as studies have shown for decades, there are many more boys than girls in that empyrean realm. Unless science and math faculties start practicing the most grotesque and counterproductive gender discrimination, a skew in the sex of their professors will be inevitable, given the distribution of top-level cognitive skills. Likewise, boys will be and are overrepresented among math dunces—though the feminists never complain about the male math failure rate.

Lewin claims that the “researchers looked at the average of the test scores of all students, the performance of the most gifted children and the ability to solve complex math problems. They found, in every category, that girls did as well as boys.” This statement is simply wrong. Among white 11th-graders, there were twice as many boys as girls above the 99th percentile—that is, at the very top of the curve. (Asians, however, showed a very slight skew toward females above the 99th percentile, while there were too few Hispanics and blacks scoring above even the 95th percentile to compute their gender ratios.)

More here.

How an Emotion Became a Virtue

From In Character:

Pity Compassion today is widely regarded as a good, and those who display it as good people. Indeed, many see compassion or some related virtue (e.g., empathy) as the core of goodness, as the virtue of virtues. It’s not only a private but also a public virtue, much cherished in our politicians. Even in international affairs, of all places, the apex of virtuous action is widely taken to be “humanitarian intervention” or the use of force to relieve suffering. Compassion has not always enjoyed so lofty and uncontroversial a status; will it someday once again relinquish it?

That compassion is natural to human beings there is no question. But does it pertain to our higher or to our lower natures? As even or precisely those who take compassion for a virtue acknowledge, it is an emotion. Can an emotion be a virtue? Yes, if the keynote of virtue is naturalness in the sense of spontaneity or authenticity. No, if what defines virtue is the perfection of our nature through the triumph of reason over passion. For this reason the long history of thought about compassion (stretching back at least 2,500 years now) has revolved around just this issue.

More here.

SSRC Podcast: Breaking Out of the Iron Cage

You can download it here.

In another conversation with Paul Price, Craig Calhoun continues his analysis of supposedly irrational factors at play in electoral politics. This time they focus on charisma: to what extent is Barack Obama’s unique mix of political passion and a cool demeanor the source of his political appeal? Referring to Max Weber’s model of charismatic leadership, Calhoun notes that Obama has the gift of making us see him as someone who stands outside the traditional structures of government-and therefore someone who can help Americans break the “iron cage” of bureaucracy, politics-as-usual and dominant social roles.

Once Again, Is International Justice the Enemy of Peace?

Authors_photo Aryeh Neier in Project Syndicate:

It is only a little more than fifteen years ago that the first of the contemporary international courts was created to prosecute those who commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. That court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, may soon mete out justice to a new defendant, following the arrest in Belgrade of Radovan Karadzic, wartime leader of Bosnia’s Serbs.

Yet there is already a persistent theme in criticism of such tribunals: in their effort to do justice, they are obstructing achievement of a more important goal, peace. Such complaints have been expressed most vociferously when sitting heads of state are accused of crimes. The charges filed by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court against Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur are the latest example. Indeed, the denunciations of the justice process this time are more intense and more vehement than in the past.

The complaints were also loud in 1995, when the ICTY’s prosecutor indicted Karadzic and his military chief, General Ratko Mladic, and even louder when they were indicted again later in the same year for the massacre at Srebrenica. The timing of that second indictment especially aroused critics, because it came just before the start of the Dayton peace conference. Because they faced arrest, Karadzic and Mladic did not go to Dayton.

But, as matters turned out, their absence did not hinder the parties from reaching an agreement. Indeed, it may have helped as the leaders of Bosnia, Croatia, and Yugoslavia negotiated an end to the war in Bosnia.

Filling the Gap in Stellar History

200873121 Phil Berardelli in ScienceNOW:

Cosmologists probably know more about the first few minutes after the big bang–thought to have occurred about 13.7 billion years ago–than they do about the following billion years of the universe’s existence, sometimes known as the cosmic dark ages. Within that interim, the first stars formed and began to light up the universe.

The problem with studying those very early stars is that they no longer exist. According to theory, all or nearly all of them began as supergiants hundreds of times more massive than the sun. Then they expended their nuclear fuel and exploded within a few million years. This early demise was good for the evolution of the universe, because the supergiants dispersed the heavy elements necessary to form smaller stars as well as planets and, eventually, people. But unfortunately for scientists, the primordial beasts also expunged all detectable evidence of themselves.

A team led by physicist Naoki Yoshida of Nagoya University in Japan set out to fill this cosmic evolutionary gap in the only way currently possible: They carried out a computer simulation that duplicates the process of star formation in the very young universe.

Tzvetan Todorov on Being European

In Reset DOC:

You have often written wonderful words about European values. Does a European identity exist and what are the main European values?

Well, I actually think that one should not try to enumerate European values, because the European identity is an open one, it is changing, and because it can always include new ingredients as well. Nevertheless, the European identity is not something arbitrary. By this I mean that in Europe a specific status for differences has been created. This is really what characterizes Europe, compared to other major civilizations and groups such as China, the United States or even Russia, where there is always an attempt to unify even what is a very heterogeneous society within the same values and the same centralized organization. The specificity of Europe, and of the European Union in particular, is that it maintains the diversity of its members while providing them with a certain status, which means that first of all, there is of course an obligation of tolerance (we no longer wage wars against each other), but beyond that we elaborate our opinions by becoming capable of comparing and criticizing the opinions of our neighbours.

james thurber


You don’t hear much about James Thurber (1894-1961) anymore, and it’s not just because the glory days of the New Yorker as a humor magazine are many decades in the past. His work is perennially in print, and his “Writings and Drawings” have merited a Library of America edition. But Thurber aficionados do not present a united front because usually people are devoted to a single aspect of Thurber’s comic genius: his dogs, noble animals carrying on with dignity in a world gone mad; the stories in his hilarious gem of a Midwestern memoir, “My Life and Hard Times”; his cartoon characters, brilliantly described by Neil Gaiman as “lumpy men and women who looked like they were made of cloth, all puzzled and henpecked and aggrieved.” We Thurberites would need a convention to honor all our different passions.

more from the LA Times here.

I feel as though I am eating the alphabet


Ammon Shea, a sometime furniture mover, gondolier and word collector, has written an oddly inspiring book about reading the whole of the Oxford English Dictionary in one go. Shea’s book resurrects many lost, misshapen, beautifully unlucky words — words that spiraled out, like fast-decaying muons, after their tiny moment in the cloud chamber of English usage. There’s hypergelast (a person who won’t stop laughing), lant (to add urine to ale to give it more kick), obmutescence (willful speechlessness) and ploiter (to work to little purpose) — all good words to have on the tip of your tongue when, for example, you’re stopped for speeding.

Shea’s book offers more than exotic word lists, though. It also has a plot. “I feel as though I am eating the alphabet,” he writes halfway through, and you want him to make it to the end. This is the “Super Size Me” of lexicography.

more from the NY Times here.

Saturday Poem

“When the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again.  After this, nothing happened.” –Alaxchiiaahush (Plenty Coups or Plenty Achievements), Chief of the Crow tribe, 1880

Painting_buffaloHerd of Buffalo Crossing the Missouri River on Ice
William Matthews

If dragonflies can mate atop the surface tension
of water, surely these tons of bison can mince
across the river, their fur peeling in strips like old

wallpaper, their huge eyes adjusting to how far
they can see when there’s no big or little bluestem,
no Indian grass nor prairie cord grass to plod through.

Maybe because it’s bright in the blown snow
and swirling grit, their vast heads are lowered
to the gray ice: nothing to eat, little to smell.

They have their own currents. You could watch a herd
of running pronghorn swerve like a river rounding
a meander and see better what I mean. But

bison are a deeper, deliberate water, and there will
never be enough water for any West but the one
into which we watch these bison carefully disappear.


Hemingway as His Own Fable

Alfred Kazin in The Atlantic Monthly:

A Moveable Feast by Earnest Hemingway.

[Ed. note: This review was originally published in the Atlantic Monthly, June 1964.]

Earnst So much impulse to autobiography probably springs from some deeply uneasy sense of one’s self as detached from early kindred and natural ties. But to a writer like Hemingway the effect of such detachment is not to make oneself powerless, but, on the contrary, to be seized by the possibilities of a new subject — by the self as an aesthetic and dramatic unit whose moving, walking, eating, drinking, loving, fearing, and tasting become marvelously vivid material. People today are notoriously not more independent and self-directing than they used to be, but more personal, more concerned with the self, more solicitous of and interested in the self than people used to be. Romanticism, psychology, and middle-class solicitude for oneself have made up the background of our interest in Hemingway. And it is the intense, almost clinical accuracy with which Hemingway has been able to convey the self’s sensations, as if each were called up for some separate erogenous zone, that is behind the physical excitement with which one reads Hemingway even at his worst. Hemingway is the great modern poet of the self as all-sufficient subject. What the self thinks, wants, eats, drinks, loves, and hates, Hemingway had put into relief as sharp and beautiful as the head of a lady poised against far-off mountains and valleys in a painting of the Italian Renaissance. But to be this much concerned with the exact feel of pebbles in your boots and the shock with which your shoulder can receive the recoil of a gun, with the coldness of a martini glass in your hand and the brightness of the stars overhead as you make love, is to identify the strength of writing with the presentation of the self. So much emphasis on the self as artistic subject is to turn other people into irrelevancies and distractions.

More here.

Famous Writers and Their Work Spaces Come Together in a Mural

From The New York Times:

Wharton_2 She is neither a time traveler nor a superhero able to simultaneously inhabit several disparate corners of American literary history at once. Rather, Ms. Climent was showing off the large trompe-l’oeil mural she had painted for New York University’s Languages and Literature building at 19 University Place. The mural, “At Home With Their Books,” measures 10 feet high by 30 feet wide and depicts, in six chronologically ordered panels, the writing spaces of six authors who spent some, if not all, of their careers in New York. Ms. Climent said the university selected three of the authors and asked her to choose three, but stipulated that none could be living.

Edith Wharton (1862-1937)

Born into a wealthy New York family, Wharton spent a decade living in an estate known as the Mount in Lenox, Mass., that was extensively restored and for several years was open to the public as a sort of museum. “I was lucky that I got to go there and photograph it before it went broke and closed down,” Ms. Climent said. Pointing at the mural, she added: “Wharton wrote ‘The House of Mirth’ in that bedroom. But the fountain pen hadn’t been invented yet, so I put it on the shelf in front — because it came later in her career. I re-created her habit of throwing papers on the floor.”

More here.

The Mind of Trolls

03trolls600 Mattathias Schwartz in the NYT Magazine:

One afternoon in the spring of 2006, for reasons unknown to those who knew him, Mitchell Henderson, a seventh grader from Rochester, Minn., took a .22-caliber rifle down from a shelf in his parents’ bedroom closet and shot himself in the head. The next morning, Mitchell’s school assembled in the gym to begin mourning. His classmates created a virtual memorial on MySpace and garlanded it with remembrances. One wrote that Mitchell was “an hero to take that shot, to leave us all behind. God do we wish we could take it back. . . . ” Someone e-mailed a clipping of Mitchell’s newspaper obituary to, a Web site that links to the MySpace pages of the dead. From MyDeathSpace, Mitchell’s page came to the attention of an Internet message board known as /b/ and the “trolls,” as they have come to be called, who dwell there.

/b/ is the designated “random” board of, a group of message boards that draws more than 200 million page views a month. A post consists of an image and a few lines of text. Almost everyone posts as “anonymous.” In effect, this makes /b/ a panopticon in reverse — nobody can see anybody, and everybody can claim to speak from the center. The anonymous denizens of 4chan’s other boards — devoted to travel, fitness and several genres of pornography — refer to the /b/-dwellers as “/b/tards.”

Measured in terms of depravity, insularity and traffic-driven turnover, the culture of /b/ has little precedent. /b/ reads like the inside of a high-school bathroom stall, or an obscene telephone party line, or a blog with no posts and all comments filled with slang that you are too old to understand.

What Zidane Tells Us About Federer

Ed_smith Ed Smith in The Liberal:

WHAT is the ultimate quality in a sportsman? Is it athleticism or       skill? Maybe it is courage, self-belief or the ability to seize the          moment? Perhaps there is something greater still that sets apart the very best: the ability to create the illusion of complicity. Great    players, at their peak, sometimes exert such a mastery over opponents that they appear complicit. They reduce usually aggressive competitors to seeming like mere accomplices; the great man is the puppet-master, the feisty opponent just a puppet. Simon Barnes, in his insightful new book The Meaning of Sport, calls this gift ‘Federer’, in honour of the elegant Swiss tennis genius.

For an intimate study of ‘Federer’ at work, watch the film Zidane – a 21st Century Portrait. I had approached the film with some trepidation as I didn’t expect to be much bothered about a real-time replay of the match between Real Madrid and Villarreal on 23rd April 2005.

How wrong I was. It is the best insight into the mind and movement of a great sportsman I have ever experienced in any medium. Seventeen synchronized cameras focused exclusively on Zidane throughout the match. The film, which follows the first kick to the last, takes us not only onto the pitch, but also into the imaginative world of a great player in the final chapter of his career.

New Novels of Migration

Kamran Nazeer in Prospect:

Eva Hoffman’s memoir of migration, Lost in Translation, first published in 1989, begins aboard a ship leaving Poland 30 years earlier. “We can’t be leaving all this behind,” writes Hoffman in her dismay, “but we are.” Looking ahead, she describes “an erasure, of the imagination, as if a camera eye has snapped shut.” Her family is moving to Canada, a place of which Hoffman knows nothing more than “vague outlines, a sense of vast spaces and little habitation.”

By contrast, Isabel, the protagonist of Hoffman’s new novel, Illuminations, is heavily laden with the culture of other places. On arriving in Budapest, Isabel, a concert pianist and an Argentinian by birth, “walks along the grand avenues and the ordinary streets.” It is her first visit, “yet the city corresponds to something she recognises.” In many of the cities that she visits, Isabel has friends, access to cliques and exclusive knowledge. She is an excellent nomad, unlike the young Eva, who is baffled by the place where she arrives. On seeing her first suburban house, Eva observes: “This one-storey structure surrounded by a large garden… doesn’t belong in a city—but neither can it be imagined in the country.”

Between these two books lies almost 50 years of migration and technological change.

Garfield Minus Garfield

From the site:

Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness in a quiet American suburb.


[H/t: Michelle Galiounghi]

The Milton Friedman Institute

The University of Chicago’s plans to create the Milton Friedman Institute, with a $200 million endowment, has promoted protest from some faculty and commentary from supporters.  The protest letter to the university president and provost:

Many colleagues are distressed by the notoriety of the Chicago School of Economics, especially throughout much of the global south, where they have often to defend the University’s reputation in the face of its negative image. The effects of the neoliberal global order that has been put in place in recent decades, strongly buttressed by the Chicago School of Economics, have by no means been unequivocally positive. Many would argue that they have been negative for much of the world’s population, leading to the weakening of a number of struggling local economies in the service of globalized capital, and many would question the substitution of monetization for democratization under the banner of “market democracy.”

John Cochrane comments:

If you’re wondering “what’s their objection?”, “how does a MFI hurt them?” you now have the answer.  Translated, “when we go to fashionable lefty cocktail parties in Venezuela, it’s embarrassing to admit who signs our paychecks.” Interestingly, the hundred people who signed this didn’t have the guts even to say “we,” referring to some nebulous “they” as the subject of the sentence.  Let’s read this literally: “We don’t really mind at all if there’s a MFI on campus, but some of our other colleagues, who are too shy to sign this letter, find it all too embarrassing to admit where they work.” If this is the reason for organizing a big protest perhaps someone has too much time on their hands.

Daniel Davies weighs in:

Milton Friedman probably does deserve to have an institute named after him – he was one of the really big figures of 20th century economics, and even if he was much less of a principled libertarian thinker than his hagiographers like to pretend, it’s rather silly for the faculty of the University of Chicago to start acting like they’ve only just noticed that their university is famous for a particular school of economic thought that was founded by Milton Friedman. But I can’t help noticing that John Cochrane’s open letter[1] in response to the petition against founding a Milton Friedman Institute contains one of the canonical claims of Globollocks…

zadie on E.M.


In the taxonomy of English writing, E.M. Forster is not an exotic creature. We file him under Notable English Novelist, common or garden variety. Still, there is a sense in which Forster was something of a rare bird. He was free of many vices commonly found in novelists of his generation—what’s unusual about Forster is what he didn’t do. He didn’t lean rightward with the years, or allow nostalgia to morph into misanthropy; he never knelt for the Pope or the Queen, nor did he flirt (ideologically speaking) with Hitler, Stalin, or Mao; he never believed the novel was dead or the hills alive, continued to read contemporary fiction after the age of fifty, harbored no special hatred for the generation below or above him, did not come to feel that England had gone to hell in a hand-basket, that its language was doomed, that lunatics were running the asylum, or foreigners swamping the cities.

Still, like all notable English novelists, he was a tricky bugger. He made a faith of personal sincerity and a career of disingenuousness. He was an Edwardian among Modernists, and yet—in matters of pacifism, class, education, and race—a progressive among conservatives. Suburban and parochial, his vistas stretched far into the East. A passionate defender of “Love, the beloved republic,” he nevertheless persisted in keeping his own loves secret, long after the laws that had prohibited honesty were gone. Between the bold and the tame, the brave and the cowardly, the engaged and the complacent, Forster walked the middling line.

more from the NYRB here.