didion v kael


Here’s an anecdote from James Wolcott’s crackerjack new memoir of ink-stained ’70s New York, Lucking Out: Wolcott, then in his twenties and cutting his teeth at the Village Voice, tagged along with Pauline Kael for a drink at the townhouse of a top Newsweek editor. Kael was three decades older than Wolcott and miles above him then in the editorial food chain, but he wasn’t about to ask the most famous movie critic in America why she kept inviting him to screenings. (Whatta town.) The only prominent item on the enormous glass coffee table at the editor’s house was Joan Didion’s then-latest novel, A Book of Common Prayer (1977). Kael asked the host what he thought of it. “The editor reached for the novel, held it up as if it had healing properties, and pronounced: ‘It’s full of resonance.'” Wolcott adds: “I didn’t dare exchange glances with Pauline, for whom Didion was full of something, but it sure wasn’t resonance.”

more from Evan Hughes at The Awl here.

the politics of the poor


To some ears it will sound paradoxical or even dangerous for intellectuals to champion populism. Can there really be such a thing as an intellectual populism, an internationalist populism, and a populism of civil liberties? The record of some historical populisms would cast doubt on these possibilities. But the same possibilities are the moment’s necessities, and already they are being embodied by the Occupy movement. A people, in the populist sense, never includes everybody, and any decent American populism will have to guard the rights of the persons falling outside of its shifting self-definition; one task of the 99 percent, if it ever attains power, will be to ensure the protection of the 100 percent. The responsibilities of power remain, however, a long way off. The battle of the moment pits domination by corporate persons against an emergent democratic people. A movement is finding out who it is. That it couldn’t say at the start means only that it is learning, listening, thinking, growing. “This country has not fulfilled the reasonable expectations of mankind,” Emerson wrote in 1838, when the US was still a very young country. Maybe we’re not yet 100 percent too old.

more from Benjamin Kunkel and Charles Petersen at n+1 here.

Tuesday Poem

Crossing the Loch

Remember how we rowed toward the cottage
on the sickle-shaped bay,
that one night after the pub
loosed us through its swinging doors
and we pushed across the shingle
till water lipped the sides
as though the loch mouthed ‘boat’?

I forget who rowed. Our jokes hushed.
The oars’ splash, creak, and the spill
of the loch reached long into the night.
Out in the race I was scared:
the cold shawl of breeze,
and hunched hills; what the water held
of deadheads, ticking nuclear hulls.

Who rowed, and who kept their peace?
Who hauled salt-air and stars
deep into their lungs, were not reassured;
and who first noticed the loch’s
phosphorescence, so, like a twittering nest
washed from the rushes, an astonished
small boat of saints, we watched water shine
on our fingers and oars,
the magic dart of our bow wave?

It was surely foolhardy, such a broad loch, a tide,
but we live — and even have children
to women and men we had yet to meet
that night we set out, calling our own
the sky and salt-water, wounded hills
dark-starred by blaeberries, the glimmering anklets
we wore in the shallows
as we shipped oars and jumped,
to draw the boat safe, high at the cottage shore.

by Kathleen Jamie
From: Jizzen
Publisher: Picador, London, 1999

Eureka!: Inventors describe the moment they realised they’d created a hit

From The Independent:

Steve McCurry, photographer

The Afghan Girl

Afghanit was a fleeting moment, one I knew I had to capture. I was on an assignment for National Geographic photographing displaced Afghans in a refugee camp in Pakistan, just outside Peshawar. I stumbled upon a tent which was being used as a girls' school. It was chaos, then there, across the room I saw that girl – those eyes – I knew at once I'd found the one. Sometimes as a photographer, on some sort of intuitive level you can feel the power of what is in front of you. This girl was very pretty, but it was more than that. It was clear from her face that she'd experienced more than you or I could imagine. There was no ambiguity that this was something quite extraordinary, and I didn't have much time.

I was shooting with a tripod on Kodachrome 64, a transparency slide film, which is slow. I was worried if I approached the girl straight away she might say no, so I photographed a few of her friends first, trying to create a situation where she didn't want to be excluded. Nobody spoke English, so we used sign language to communicate. In this part of the world, classes are conducted on the floor; no tables or desks. You don't really direct people in that kind of situation, you just take what is offered. The girl was sitting on the ground. There was an amazing light coming into the tent behind her; I positioned my camera so that it fell on her face. I tried to stay calm and focused because I knew this was a special moment and that for a minute she'd be amused by the strange man with his strange equipment, and then she'd bore and wander off. There was so much motion in the classroom, kids screaming, dust; it wasn't this sort of still, profound moment when she revealed herself. I only had a chance to take a few exposures before she walked away. I could see the image in my mind, but I didn't know how it would have translated to film. I sent the film back to the States but I had more work to do here so I didn't see the results until a few weeks later. The magazine's photo editor and I edited the film down to two slides. I liked this picture, but he thought it was too haunting; he preferred one with her hand covering part of her face. We agreed to present both to the editor, who leapt to his feet and said: “This is our next cover!”. Sometimes you just know.

Afghan Girl first appeared on the cover of 'National Geographic' in June 1985 and was later the subject of a TV documentary, 'Search for the Afghan Girl'

More here.

A Tumor Is No Clearer in Hindsight

Denise Grady in The New York Times:

JobsWas Steve Jobs a smart guy who made a stupid decision when it came to his health?

It might seem so, from the broad outlines of what he did in 2003 when a CT scan and other tests found a cancerous tumor in his pancreas. Doctors urged him to have an operation to remove the tumor, but Mr. Jobs put it off and instead tried a vegan diet, juices, herbs, acupuncture and other alternative remedies. Nine months later, the tumor had grown. Only then did he agree to surgery, during which his doctors found that the cancer had spread to his liver, according to the new biography by Walter Isaacson. Cancer eventually killed him. The sequence of events has given rise to news articles and blogs based on 20/20 hindsight, speculating that if only Mr. Jobs had had the surgery right away, doctors could have caught the cancer early, before it spread, and saved him. But there is no way in this life to know what might have been — not in politics, baseball, romance or the stock market, and certainly not in sickness and health. Mr. Jobs’s wish to avoid or delay surgery was not unusual. And given the type of tumor he had and the way it was found, his decision to wait may not have been as ill considered as it seems at first blush. His wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, declined requests for an interview and for permission to speak to Mr. Jobs’s doctors. But she did allow one of them to comment briefly: Dr. Dean Ornish, a friend of Mr. Jobs who is also a well-known advocate for using diet and lifestyle changes to treat and prevent heart disease.

Dr. Ornish said that when the diagnosis was first made, he advised Mr. Jobs to have the surgery. But in an e-mail message, he added: “Steve was a very thoughtful person. In deciding whether or not to have major surgery, and when, he spent a few months consulting with a number of physicians and scientists worldwide as well as his team of superb physicians. It was his decision to do this.

More here.

Please welcome Megavirus, the world’s most ginormous virus

Carl Zimmer in his excellent blog, The Loom:

MegavirusThere are many weird viruses on this planet, but none weirder–in a fundamentally important way–than a group known as the giant viruses.

For years, they were hiding in plain sight. They were so big–about a hundred times bigger than typical viruses–that scientists mistook them for bacteria. But a close look revealed that they infected amoebae and built new copies of themselves, as all viruses do. And yet, as I point out in A Planet of Viruses, giant viruses certainly straddle the boundary between viruses and cellular life. Flu viruses may only have ten genes, but giant viruses may have 1,000 or more. When giant viruses invade a host cell, they don’t burst open like other viruses, so that their genes and proteins can disperse to do their different jobs. Instead, they assemble into a “virus factory” that sucks in building blocks and spits out large pieces of future giant viruses. Giant viruses even get infected with their own viruses. People often ask me if I think viruses are alive. If giant viruses aren’t alive, they sure are close.

Ever since giant viruses were first unveiled seven years ago, scientists have argued about the origins of these not-so-wee beasties. Many of their genes are different from those found in cellular life forms, or even other viruses. It’s possible that giant viruses amassed their enormous genetic armamentarium over billions of years, picking up genes from long-extinct host or swapping them with other viruses we have yet to find. Other scientists have suggested that giant viruses started out giant–or even bigger than they are today. Some have even argued that they represent a new domain of life, although others aren’t so sure.

More here.

A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs

Mona Simpson in the New York Times:

Simpson_01_bodyI grew up as an only child, with a single mother. Because we were poor and because I knew my father had emigrated from Syria, I imagined he looked like Omar Sharif. I hoped he would be rich and kind and would come into our lives (and our not yet furnished apartment) and help us. Later, after I’d met my father, I tried to believe he’d changed his number and left no forwarding address because he was an idealistic revolutionary, plotting a new world for the Arab people.

Even as a feminist, my whole life I’d been waiting for a man to love, who could love me. For decades, I’d thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother.

By then, I lived in New York, where I was trying to write my first novel. I had a job at a small magazine in an office the size of a closet, with three other aspiring writers. When one day a lawyer called me — me, the middle-class girl from California who hassled the boss to buy us health insurance — and said his client was rich and famous and was my long-lost brother, the young editors went wild. This was 1985 and we worked at a cutting-edge literary magazine, but I’d fallen into the plot of a Dickens novel and really, we all loved those best. The lawyer refused to tell me my brother’s name and my colleagues started a betting pool. The leading candidate: John Travolta. I secretly hoped for a literary descendant of Henry James — someone more talented than I, someone brilliant without even trying.

When I met Steve, he was a guy my age in jeans, Arab- or Jewish-looking and handsomer than Omar Sharif.

More here.

Occupy Wall Street: What Would Kurt Vonnegut Say?

Charles J. Shields in Writing Kurt Vonnegut:

ScreenHunter_01 Nov. 01 10.20Kurt, after all, made the national news for the first time in his life by speaking against nuclear weapons at a Meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers in 1969. He later added his name to a letter of protest from PEN, the writer’s organization, condemning the expulsion of Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn from the Soviet writer’s union. And in 1973, he participated in a six-hour vigil of prayer, music, and readings at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York intended to focus on the “responsibility of Americans to heal the wounds of war.” For the rest of his life, he continued to apply the sting of his aphoristic remarks to crimes and indecencies as he saw them. Now and then, you see a bumper sticker with his quote, “We could have saved the Earth, but we were too damned cheap.”

So would he have joined elder statesmen of protest and civil disobedience such as Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthie who went down to Zuccotti Park recently?

If he did, I suspect he would have felt some pangs of conscience. Because you see, Kurt was a fat cat himself. His life, his career, and his beliefs put him squarely in the moral paradox that most of us find ourselves in: we believe in the tenets of freedom, capitalism, and free enterprise… except when we don’t.

More here.