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 MyDeathSpace.com, 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 4chan.org, 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.



“If we don’t cherish the work of Flann O’Brien,” said Anthony Burgess, the late English novelist (he of A Clockwork Orange and Earthly Powers), “we are stupid fools who don’t deserve to have great men.” Burgess can rest in peace on that score, at least. Flann O’Brien’s work is becoming about as cherished as avant-garde literature can ever expect to be, and not just among the cognoscenti. Flann O’Brien is chic. University courses on his writings proliferate. Smart pubs in such disparate places as London, Boston, and Graz, Austria are named after him. Numerous Web sites offer slick packages of info on his life and works. And, the ultimate accolade: in the second season premiere of the television series Lost, a copy of O’Brien’s masterpiece, The Third Policeman, was briefly shown onscreen, resulting in a sudden uptick in sales—more than 15,000 copies in three weeks, equaling total sales of the previous six years—and enhanced name recognition for its author, who’d been dead four decades. Of course, he’d been dead a year by the time The Third Policeman was finally published in 1967, whereupon it was an instant critical success. An ironist to his bones, he would not have been surprised at that, but he might have been surprised at Everyman’s Library releasing, forty-one years later, all five of his novels—At Swim-Two Birds; The Third Policeman; The Poor Mouth; The Hard Life; and The Dalkey Archive—in one handsome volume. Such an honor implies literary respectability, which he scorned but yearned for, in the way of so many true originals.

more from Boston Review here.

hitchens improved, the final installment


It could be argued that those who seek to make themselves over into a finer state of health and physique and fitness should not put off the job until they are in their 59th summer. As against that comes the piercing realization that, if you have actually made it this far and want to continue featuring in the great soap opera of your own existence, you had better take some swift remedial steps. It was all summed up quite neatly by whoever first said that if he’d known he was going to live this long he’d have taken better care of himself.

Then there’s the question of whether you want to feel good (or better) or whether you want to look good (or at least a bit better). Having tried everything from body wraps to Brazilian bikini waxes, I rather suddenly became persuaded that all cosmetic questions had become eclipsed by the need to survive in the very first place. In short, I became obsessed with the imminence of my own demise.

more from Vanity Fair here.

Kerala stars in Santosh Sivan’s English debut

Mairi Mackay at CNN:

Screenhunter_02_aug_01_1219It is roads, of all things, that Indian director Santosh Sivan cites as the inspiration behind his exquisite English-language debut “Before the Rains.”

“As a kid I used to travel to all these fantastic hills which had all the spices and there used to be these beautiful curving roads going deep into the jungles,” he remembers.

In “Before the Rains” Sivan has managed to conjure up the Kerala of his childhood recollections — and there can be few films that evoke India’s natural beauty more breathtakingly.

“I got to know that these [roads] were made by the British people and it always interested me how British people must have interacted with my forefathers because we never had a chance to interact with them,” Sivan continues. Watch a clip of Santosh Sivan talking to CNN about “Before the Rains.”

It is in the dying days of the Empire among the colonialists of the 1930s — the ambitious men who hacked paths through the Keralan jungle to their fortunes in the spice plantations — that Sivan sets his tale of passion and nationalism.

More here.

Gavin Menzies: mad as a snake – or a visionary?

From The Telegraph:

China Six years ago, the retired submarine commander caused apoplexy among historians with his controversial theory that vast fleets of Chinese adventurers in multi-masted junks beat Christopher Columbus to the Americas and mapped the entire world centuries before the European explorers. It made him rich and infamous. Whole websites sprang up devoted to debunking his claims. Scholars called him a fantasist. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, professor of history at the University of London, dismissed his book, 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, as “the historical equivalent of stories about Elvis Presley in Tesco and close encounters with alien hamsters”. But while boiling oil was being poured on him from the ramparts of academe, Menzies’s book was surging up the bestseller list. It has sold a million copies worldwide, and run to 24 editions in 135 countries.

Menzies, 71, could have anointed his bruises, pulled up his stumps and gone to live in Venice on the proceeds of 1421, satisfied that his revisionist view of history had at least got a good airing. Instead, he has ploughed his profits into more research and produced an equally contentious sequel, 1434, claiming that the Chinese, once again sailing under the eunuch Admiral Zheng He, sparked the Italian Renaissance and that Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions were directly influenced by Chinese technical drawings.

More here.

Bracing the Satellite Infrastructure for a Solar Superstorm

From Scientific American:

Storm As night was falling across the Americas on Sunday, August 28, 1859, the phantom shapes of the auroras could already be seen overhead. From Maine to the tip of Florida, vivid curtains of light took the skies. Startled Cubans saw the auroras directly overhead; ships’ logs near the equator described crimson lights reaching halfway to the zenith. Many people thought their cities had caught fire. Scientific instruments around the world, patiently recording minute changes in Earth’s magnetism, suddenly shot off scale, and spurious electric currents surged into the world’s telegraph systems. In Baltimore telegraph operators labored from 8 p.m. until 10 a.m. the next day to transmit a mere 400-word press report.

Just before noon the following Thursday, September 1, English astronomer Richard C. Carrington was sketching a curious group of sunspots—curious on account of the dark areas’ enormous size. At 11:18 a.m. he witnessed an intense white light flash from two locations within the sunspot group. He called out in vain to anyone in the observatory to come see the brief five-minute spectacle, but solitary astronomers seldom have an audience to share their excitement. Seventeen hours later in the Americas a second wave of auroras turned night to day as far south as Panama. People could read the newspaper by their crimson and green light. Gold miners in the Rocky Mountains woke up and ate breakfast at 1 a.m., thinking the sun had risen on a cloudy day. Telegraph systems became unusable across Europe and North America.

The news media of the day looked for researchers able to explain the phenomena, but at the time scientists scarcely understood auroral displays at all. Were they meteoritic matter from space, reflected light from polar icebergs or a high-altitude version of lightning? It was the Great Aurora of 1859 itself that ushered in a new paradigm. The October 15 issue of Scientific American noted that ‘‘a connection between the northern lights and forces of electricity and magnetism is now fully established.” Work since then has established that auroral displays ultimately originate in violent events on the sun, which fire off huge clouds of plasma and momentarily disrupt our planet’s magnetic field.

More here.

Crimes and Misdemeanors

Slate’s interactive guide: Who in the Bush administration broke the law, and who could be prosecuted?

Emily Bazelon, Kara Hadge, Dahlia Lithwick, and Chris Wilson:


The recent release of Jane Mayer’s book The Dark Side revealed that a secret report by the International Committee of the Red Cross determined “categorically” that the CIA used torture, as defined by American and international law, in questioning al-Qaida suspect Abu Zubaydah. The question of criminal liability for Bush-administration officials has since been in the news. It’s also getting play because retired Gen. Antonio Taguba, lead Army investigator of the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib, wrote in a recent report, “There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes.” (Update: And today, the ACLU released three new memos from the Department of Justice and the CIA, which for the first time show DoJ explicitly authorizing “enhanced” interrogation tactics for use on specific detainees. One of the memos states, in this context, that “interrogation techniques, including the waterboard, do not violate the Torture Statute.”)

One response to the amassing evidence is Nuremberg-style war-crime prosecutions. The opposite pole is blanket immunity for all lawbreakers in advance. Somewhere in the middle lies a truth-and-reconciliation commission that would try to ferret out the truth.

To enter into the debate, you might ask which Bush administration officials did what and which could actually be prosecuted. Slate has answers.

More here.