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Friday, December 31, 2010

Can You Live Forever? Maybe Not--But You Can Have Fun Trying

Carl Zimmer, Scientific American

Let's say you transfer your mind into a computer—not all at once but gradually, having electrodes inserted into your brain and then wirelessly outsourcing your faculties. Someone reroutes your vision through cameras. Someone stores your memories on a net of microprocessors. Step by step your metamorphosis continues until at last the transfer is complete. As engineers get to work boosting the performance of your electronic mind so you can now think as a god, a nurse heaves your fleshy brain into a bag of medical waste. As you—for now let's just call it "you"—start a new chapter of existence exclusively within a machine, an existence that will last as long as there are server farms and hard-disk space and the solar power to run them, are "you" still actually you?

Old Slang’s Time

Henry Hitchings, Financial Times

This is the sort of book that, even when examined for a specific purpose, invites sustained perusal. Its existence urges the fundamental question: what is slang?

Two Cheers For Anonymity

Jonathan Gold, LA Weekly

Anonymity is one of the first things people tend to wonder about restaurant critics, along with the question of who pays for the meals (the newspaper), how many times they return to restaurants before a review (at least three), and how they remain thin in the face of so many rich meals (I don't tend to be asked that one very often). And it's fun to unmask critics, in the same sense that it's fun to discover the first name of one's sixth-grade teacher. There is a thrill, and a cheap sense of power.

Primero Hay Que Aprender Español. Ranhou Zai Xue Zhongwen.

Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times

So, by all means, have your kids dive into the glamorous world of Mandarin. But don’t forget the language that will likely be far more important in their lives: el idioma más importante es Español!

Weak-Kneed Willpower Faces Temptation’s Lure

Patricia Cohen, New York Times

In the end Mr. Akst makes the case for taking responsibility despite the forces that may conspire against free will. At the very least, he points out, we have what the neurophysiologist Benjamin Libet labeled “free won’t,” the ability to exercise veto power, particularly in response to incentives.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Original Birth Of Freedom

André Glucksmann, City Journal

So to write the history of the idea of freedom is to navigate between two shores, one tragic and critical, the other epic and euphoric. Each epoch cultivates its own relation to freedom. Each, moreover, imagines its own Greece, for it was ancient Athens that first enacted—in the public square, the agora—our relation to freedom, or rather our conflicting relations with freedom. Epic ages (the early Renaissance and the Enlightenment, for example) picture a Greece of original harmony. Times of chaos (such as sixteenth-century Europe, the twentieth century, and probably the dawn of the twenty-first) see Greece as the mother of all crises. This tragic vision—of freedom and of Athens—is surely the wiser of the two.

The Holocaust's Uneasy Relationship With Literature

Menachem Kaiser, The Atlantic

Literature and the Holocaust have a complicated relationship. This isn't to say, of course, that the pairing isn't a fruitful one—the Holocaust has influenced, if not defined, nearly every Jewish writer since, from Saul Bellow to Jonathan Safran Foer, and many non-Jews besides, like W.G. Sebald and Jorge Semprun. Still, literature qua art—innately concerned with representation and appropriation—seemingly stands opposed to the immutability of the Holocaust and our oversized obligations to its memory. Good literature makes artistic demands, flexes and contorts narratives, resists limpid morality, compromises reality's details. Regarding the Holocaust, this seems unconscionable, even blasphemous. The horrors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald need no artistic amplification.

Making Books Do Things E-books Can't — And Vice Versa

David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times

As digital publishing grows, there's reason to push each medium to be more than just a receptacle for words. Publishers strive to create an experience.

Sweet Revolution

Adam Gopnik, New Yorker

The power of the pastry chef.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Escape Route

Avi Steinberg, Boston Globe

The issue of reading is only one dimension of the question, and not necessarily the salient one. The crucial point of a prison library may not be its book catalog: The point is that it is a library.

How To Name A Dinosaur

David Orr, Scientific American

The name a dinosaur is given is subjected to the same scrutiny as the description of its skeletal remains. It's a minefield, and there are many ways the unwary can go astray.


Carl Phillips, Slate

Sofia Coppola

Nathan Heller, Slate

You either love her or hate her. Here's why.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

In Pursuit Of A Mind Map, Slice By Slice

Ashlee Vance, New York Times

Dr. Lichtman and his team of researchers at Harvard have built some unusual contraptions that carve off slivers of mouse brains as part of a quest to understand how the mind works. Their goal is to run slice after minuscule slice under a powerful electron microscope, develop detailed pictures of the brain’s complex wiring and then stitch the images back together. In short, they want to build a full map of the mind.

Exploring Our Relationship With The Lonely Moon

Cornelia Dean, New York Times

The book, and its wide variety of illustrations from classical texts, science fiction and other sources, describes not just the history of the celestial body but the ways it inspired the human imagination to take flight, fueled, as Proust put it, by “the ancient unalterable splendor of a Moon cruelly and mysteriously serene.”

Monday, December 27, 2010

Fetal Monitors

Annie Murphy Paul, Slate

A history of ideas about the fetus overlooks the actual unborn baby.

On Forgiveness

Charles L. Griswold, New York Times

We are in a season traditionally devoted to good will among people and to the renewal of hope in the face of hard times. As we seek to realize these lofty ideals, one of our greatest challenges is overcoming bitterness and divisiveness. We all struggle with the wrongs others have done to us as well as those we have done to others, and we recoil at the vast extent of injury humankind seems determined to inflict on itself. How to keep hope alive? Without a constructive answer to toxic anger, addictive cycles of revenge, and immobilizing guilt, we seem doomed to despair about chances for renewal. One answer to this despair lies in forgiveness.

Book Review: 'Letters,' Saul Bellow, Edited By Benjamin Taylor

Richard Rayner, Los Angeles Times

Chatty yet polished, and always vibrant, Bellow's letters serve as the autobiography he never wrote.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Blessed Budget Christmas

Josh Max, Salon

If I don't let the sadness and the defeat get to me, I feel a strange detachment from all this consumer frenzy.

Who Killed The Disneyland Dream?

Frank Rich, New York Times

America can’t move forward until we once again believe that everyone can enter Frontierland if they try hard enough, and that no one will be denied a dream because a private party has rented out Tomorrowland.

Fancy Dress

Kate Horsley, Guardian

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Jonathan Bate, Financial Times

We’ve all heard of Shakespeare’s sonnets. But how many of us have actually read them closely and really understood them? The poet Don Paterson begins by ’fessing up: “About a year ago, I decided that I’d stop pretending to myself and to my students that I knew these poems better than I did.” He accordingly decided to re-read them, slowly, carefully, one at a time, noting down his reactions. Are the sonnets what we imagine them to be? Do they represent the experience of love in a way that is recognisable to us? “Is their reputation deserved, or have they simply hitched a ride on the plays?”

The Tannenbaum Chronicles

Gail Collins, New York Times

The American search for the perfect Christmas tree goes back to the 19th century and Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of “Godey’s Lady’s Book,” the first mass-market women’s magazine.

One Sentence Says It All

Ed Park, New York Times

“No book worth its salt is meant to put you to sleep,” says the garrulous shoemaker who narrates the Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal’s “Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age” (1964), “it’s meant to make you jump out of bed in your underwear and run and beat the author’s brains out.” Thirty-three pages into what appears to be an unbroken highway of text, the reader might well wonder if that’s a mission statement or an invitation. “Dancing Lessons” unfurls as a single, sometimes maddening sentence that ends after 117 pages without a period, giving the impression that the opinionated, randy old cobbler will go on jawing ad infinitum. But the gambit works. His exuberant ramblings gain a propulsion that would be lost if the comma splices were curbed, the phrases divided into sentences. And there’s something about that slab of wordage that carries the eye forward, promising an intensity simply unattainable by your regularly punctuated novel.

Panel By Panel, A Graphic Record Of Our Time

Dwight Garner, New York Times

Mr. Trudeau entices young readers by giving them a pass on their understanding of recent American history. “This anthology isn’t about the defining events of the last four decades,” he writes. “It is instead about how it felt to live through those years — a loosely organized chronicle of modern times, as crowd-sourced by what was once called ‘the Doonesbury gang.’ ”

Friday, December 24, 2010

Good Neighbors

Téa Obreht, New York Times

Book Review: 'The English Is Coming!' By Leslie Dunton-Downer

Leslie Savan, Los Angeles Times

How to find the words to describe this book about the way English is transforming the world and, in the process, being revolutionized? Well, let's flip through until time to say 'Thankbye.'

The Grim Threat To British Universities

Simon Head, New York Review Of Books

The British universities, Oxford and Cambridge included, are under siege from a system of state control that is undermining the one thing upon which their worldwide reputation depends: the caliber of their scholarship. The theories and practices that are driving this assault are mostly American in origin, conceived in American business schools and management consulting firms. They are frequently embedded in intensive management systems that make use of information technology (IT) marketed by corporations such as IBM, Oracle, and SAP. They are then sold to clients such as the UK government and its bureaucracies, including the universities. This alliance between the public and private sector has become a threat to academic freedom in the UK, and a warning to the American academy about how its own freedoms can be threatened.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Merry Dickens Christmas

Daniel Arizona, More Intelligent Life

Everyone loves Charles Dickens during the holidays, yet no one seems to read him.

Blackawton Bees

P. S. Blackawton, S. Airzee, A. Allen, S. Baker, A. Berrow, C. Blair, M. Churchill, J. Coles, R. F.-J. Cumming, L. Fraquelli, C. Hackford, A. Hinton Mellor, M. Hutchcroft, B. Ireland, D. Jewsbury, A. Littlejohns, G. M. Littlejohns, M. Lotto, J. McKeown, A. O'Toole, H. Richards, L. Robbins-Davey, S. Roblyn, H. Rodwell-Lynn, D. Schenck, J. Springer, A. Wishy, T. Rodwell-Lynn, D. Strudwick And R. B. Lotto, Biology Letters

We discovered that bumble-bees can use a combination of colour and spatial relationships in deciding which colour of flower to forage from. We also discovered that science is cool and fun because you get to do stuff that no one has ever done before.

The Really Big Screen

Witold Rybczynski, Slate

Video as an architectural element.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Eating Out On Christmas Day? Crackers!

Tony Naylor, Guardian

Put simply, if you eat out on Christmas Day, you're paying way over the odds, not for better quality ingredients, a spectacular one-off menu, or increased per dish workmanship from a uniquely attentive kitchen, but simply to cover the double and triple time staff justifiably expect on Christmas Day. Worse than that, in many cases, the experience may be less pleasant and relaxed than it normally would be.

A Scientist, His Work And A Climate Reckoning

Justin Gillis, New York Times

As the political debate over global warming drags on, the Mauna Loa Observatory shows carbon dioxide levels rising relentlessly, and accelerating.

Smalltown Lift

Brian Blanchfield, The Paris Review

Delphine’s Illness

Laurent Graff, Translation By Helen Dickinson, Words Without Borders

Dublin Night

Alfred Corn, Slate

The Meaning Of The Modern Hipster

Christopher Byrd, Salon

A new book from the people at n+1 dissects the widely ridiculed culture of skinny jeans and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Writing At Night

Matt Shoard, Guardian

The shortest day – or longest night – of the year it seems an apt moment to consider the enduring appeal to authors of the hours of darkness.

Bite Me

Jesse Bering, Slate

An evolutionary case for cannibalism.

The Courage Of Jill Costello

Chris Ballard, Sports Illustrated

After a promising junior season as a coxswain at Cal, she learned she was in the late stages of cancer. The next year was her best.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Christopher Beam, Slate

What's most shocking about Google's announcement isn't that it's scrapping Caps Lock—it's that the button has lasted this long.

There Goes The Sun

Richard Cohen, New York Times

What is the winter solstice, and why bother to celebrate it, as so many people around the world will tomorrow? The word “solstice” derives from the Latin sol (meaning sun) and statum (stand still), and reflects what we see on the first days of summer and winter when, at dawn for two or three days, the sun seems to linger for several minutes in its passage across the sky, before beginning to double back.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Physicist Solves The City

Jonah Lehrer, New York Times

The urban jungle looked chaotic — all those taxi horns and traffic jams — but perhaps it might be found to obey a short list of universal rules. “We spend all this time thinking about cities in terms of their local details, their restaurants and museums and weather,” West says. “I had this hunch that there was something more, that every city was also shaped by a set of hidden laws.”

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Dog Days: Is The District Witnessing The Early Stages Of A Hot Dog Boom?

Scott Reitz, Washington City Paper

Still, a handful of D.C. restaurants are giving hot dogs another shot, setting up sausage-heavy menus. Pizza and burger joints have boomed as the economy has stagnated by taking advantage of quality ingredients, clever marketing, and the occasional celebrity chef. The restaurants provided customers value and a side of nostalgia, while creating a void for upscale hot dogs—one that looks like it’s about to be filled.

Sofia Coppola: Lost At The Chateau Marmont

Karina Longworth, LA Weekly

From party girl to Oscar winner, a journey to the stripped-down Somewhere.

Friday, December 17, 2010

In A Nutshell

Noreen Malone, Slate

A brief history of nutcrackers.

How Dickens And Doré Forecast Our Winter Of Discontent

Jonathan Jones, Guardian

When the scale and nature of the coalition government's spending cuts became known this autumn, critics reached for images from Victorian Britain, comparing the social consequences to some scene engraved by Gustave Doré. This was unfair – on the Victorians.

Is Science Fiction Dying?

Paul Di Fillippo, Salon

The genre set the groundwork for our current century, but is it on the decline?

Funny Guys, Serious Business

Heather Havrilesky, New York Times

In his new book, “The War for Late Night,” Bill Carter, a television reporter for The New York Times, demonstrates that the flanking maneuvers made by crucial warriors on the late-night battlefield were far more complicated and far less malevolent than onlookers assumed. Through exhaustive research and interviews with the major players in this battle Mr. Carter demonstrates that, while the usual oversize Hollywood egos were forming secret alliances and stockpiling armaments, it was NBC that fired the shots that sank the Lusitania.

Reading Strauss In Beijing

Mark Lilla, The New Republic

Strauss and Schmitt are at the center of intellectual debate, but they are being read by everyone, whatever their partisan leanings; as a liberal journalist in Shanghai told me as we took a stroll one day, “no one will take you seriously if you have nothing to say about these two men and their ideas.” And the interest has little to do with nationalism in the nineteenth-century sense of the term. It is a response to crisis—a widely shared belief that the millennia-long continuity of Chinese history has been broken and that everything, politically and intellectually, is now up for grabs.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fat Cookbooks

Jane Black, New York Magazine

How they got so hefty.

The World's Best Living Travel Writer

Patrick Smith, Salon

Read John Gimlette and you'll want to go wherever he's talking about -- even frozen, rocky Newfoundland.

A Sherlock Holmes Tale That’s Hardly Elementary

Janet Maslin, New York Times

“Perhaps the greatest of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries is this: that when we talk of him we invariably fall into the fancy of his existence,” T .S. Eliot wrote in a 1929 review of “The Complete Sherlock Holmes Short Stories.”

For an extreme example of what Eliot meant, consider “The Sherlockian,” a new novel predicated entirely on Holmes worship, Holmes mimicry, Holmes artifacts and assorted other forms of Holmesiana. Its smart young author, Graham Moore, has done much more than fall into the fancy of Holmes’s existence. He has fallen down a Holmes well.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Nearer, My God, To Thee

Robert Pinsky, Slate

When poets get intimate with a higher power.

Why We Love Bad Writing

Laura Miller, Salon

Now, I'm not only aware of all of those novelists, I've read much of their work, too; some of it I love, and some of it I don't. Yet this didn't stop me from reading Stieg Larsson with a considerable amount of pleasure.

The Perils Of Pop-up Art

Rupert Christiansen, Telegraph

It’s a phenomenon of an era of austerity – pop-up projects are usually self-financing and rarely enjoy the cushion of public subsidy – but it’s also a terrific medium through which young and/or indigent people can show initiative and imagination, garner valuable experience and display their wares without being trampled on by officialdom.

However, there’s a danger in that the pop-up movement could foster a slapdash, anything-goes attitude to art, creating an inverse snobbery that prizes rough edges over smooth finish. I am getting a bit antsy about the spread of pop-up into the performing arts and a fashion for flinging musical shows on in cellars, garages and pub backrooms without proper rehearsal or lighting, and accompaniment provided by a clapped-out pub piano.

‘It Is Not Convenient To Speak Of Such Things’: Notes From Rangoon

Howard W. French, New York Review Of Books

I arrived in Rangoon at the beginning of the monsoon this summer after 36 hours of travel from New York, with a stop in Tokyo and a second change of planes in Bangkok. There I boarded an old Air Myanmar jet, and it was immediately clear that I was traveling to a country that lived in semi-isolation as the plane filled with migrant workers, many of whom were awkwardly toting large, makeshift bundles of carry-on goods—clothing, medicine, electronics, and other items that were either unavailable or unaffordable back home.

Officially, I had come to Burma—ruled by one of the world’s most opaque and repressive regimes—to teach a one-month documentary photography course to local photojournalists. But it was the only country in Southeast Asia I had never managed to visit and I was very eager to explore the place for myself.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Are Stieg Larsson And Dan Brown A Match For Literary Fiction?

Edward Docx, Guardian

I realise we are sailing into choppy waters here. With Larsson now dead and so decent a chap, how dare I go up on deck and start explaining – amid the storms of publicity and howl of Hollywood and the relentless sluicing of the sales – that his work is not very good even by the standards of his genre? Well because, in my view, we need urgently to remind ourselves of – for want of better terminology – the difference between literary and genre fiction; because, to misquote the literary essayist Isaac D'Israeli, "it seems to me a wretched national compulsion to be gratified by mediocrity when the excellent lies before us".

Arrested Development

Kerry Howley, Bookforum

Almost everything written about Paul Goodman refers to him as a "man of letters," a designation interesting only in that it indicates a terrific triumph of self-branding. Goodman very much enjoyed calling himself a man of letters, or sometimes an "old-fashioned man of letters," so stated with an air of declinist resignation, and could be counted on to complain if described as anything less. He produced essays with titles like "The Present Plight of a Man of Letters," the gist of which was that the plight was rather taxing, and that they don't make 'em like Paul Goodman anymore.

Make Something Happen!

Julian Bell, London Review Of Books

Here then is a protagonist who summons up, through his own vivid cantankerous presence, an early form of modern art culture. That’s to say, a scene that revolves around goods to hawk, strong personalities (Rosa’s letters constantly brandish his own ‘eccentric genius’) and public fora, rather than around site-specific works (frescoes, for example) linked to rooted systems of iconography and patronage. Of course these two styles of operation could coexist. The Rome inhabited by Rosa was also home to Pietro da Cortona, a master-decorator of palaces much as Veronese had been back in the 16th century. Yet there’s a sequential order. In Veronese’s Venice, exhibitions weren’t yet a feature of the scene: if we think about Rosa, we enter a new cultural zone, one that subsequently would be occupied by David, Delacroix and Courbet. His San Giovanni Decollato was a forerunner of the salons of those equally proud, shouty showmen.

Would It Be Ok If I Kept My Sweater On?

Naomi Fry, Paper Monument

As my friend pointed out when we exited the gallery, a porno where, say, a woman prefers to keep her sweater on and touch her clitoris under the bedcovers would not be much of a porno. This might be true. But just as long as we’re exploring the myriad possibilities for female sexual expression, why not present this option as one among many? Under or over the covers, clothed or unclothed, penetrating or not penetrating – a girl can dream, can’t she?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Staying Power

Pankaj Mishra, New Yorker

This persistence of Mao in official discourse and popular imagination may seem an instance of ideological pathology—the same kind that makes some Russian nationalists get misty-eyed about Stalin. Indeed, the Communist state’s vast propaganda apparatus first exalted Mao to divine status. But then a non-ideological view of Mao has rarely been available in the West, even as he has gone from being a largely benign revolutionary and Third Worldist icon to, more recently, sadistic monster. This is largely due to China’s ever shifting place in the Western imagination. Three new books attest to the difficulty of definitively fixing Mao’s image, a project that amounts to writing a history of China’s present.

How Real Does It Feel?

A.O. Scott, New York Times

Movies that look or feel like documentaries are much more numerous, and far more perplexing, especially since video truthiness has become the default setting of so much media. When we say “like a documentary,” do we really mean “like one of those sitcoms pretending to be a documentary,” in which characters glance at and sometimes speak directly into the camera? “Like reality television?” “Like the evening news?” Or do we mean something less specific? Do we mean something that tries to make us forget we’re watching a movie, by giving us what seems like direct, raw, unmediated access to characters and their stories? Or do we mean the opposite: a film that reminds us with every awkward cut and jolting camera movement that what we are watching is not the literal truth?

Or both at once?

Tokyo Hooters Girls

Paige Ferrari, Slate

The burgers, beer, and boobs chain opens in Japan.

Out Of Our Brains

Andy Clark, New York Times

As our technologies become better adapted to fit the niche provided by the biological brain, they become more like cognitive prosthetics.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

When Will English Come To A Full Stop?

Robert McCrum, Guardian

Language is partly the product of new technology. The absolute novelty of digital media must ultimately have a linguistic consequence, though no one in their right mind would predict the outcome. In these circumstances, it might be safer to bet on the future of the tortoise.

The Wit & Wisdom Of GK Chesterton By Bevis Hillier – Review

Peter Conrad, Guardian

You can't help but admire the critic's wordplay, if not his politics.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Class Conflict, American Style

Fred Siegel, Wall Street Journal

The idea that there is a British-style ruling establishment in America is touched by more than a little hyperbole. But in the past three decades the political and class structure of the U.S. has indeed been rearranged.

Tragedy In Black And White

Elizabeth Royte, New York Times

In the austral summer of 2005-6, the veteran magazine journalist Fen Montaigne traveled to Palmer Station in Antarctica to work with the highly regarded polar ecologist Bill Fraser. For nearly five months, Montaigne gamely weighed and banded Adélie penguins and their predators, attached radio tags to feathers, dodged shooting streams of gack (giant-petrel vomit), sifted through guano in search of silverfish otoliths and reveled in the sensory delights of “the most alien and beautiful place on the planet.”

But this is no straightforward work of natural history with Fraser as heroic guide. It’s a morality tale, in which Fraser plays an unsociable Cassandra who’s entrusted his tidings to a sympathetic messenger. Luckily for readers, Montaigne has wrapped his portrait of a place on the brink of oblivion inside a penguin love fest.

The Kitchen God Dreams Of Love

Lesley Downer, New York Times

The English writer Sam Meekings’s accomplished first novel, “Under Fishbone Clouds,” is based on the lives of his Chinese wife’s grandparents. An unlikely love story set against the events of the last half-century in China, it’s a tale of terrible suffering that also manages to be a poetic evocation of the country and its people.

Working On The Ending

Gail Godwin, New York Times

When you’re a young writer, you subtract the birth dates of authors from their publication dates and feel panic or hope. When you’re an old writer, you observe the death dates of your favorite writers and you reflect on their works and their lives.

Comfort And Joy By India Knight – Review

Laura Barnett, Guardian

If you're allergic to tinsel, come out in hives at the idea of spending each 25 December in the company of your nearest and not-so-dearest, and think Ebenezer Scrooge had a point, then you should probably look away now. Comfort and Joy, the third novel by India Knight, is in love with Christmas, and all its glorious Technicolor traditions of overeating, over-imbibing and over-exposure to an endless stream of friends, relatives and hangers-on.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ban The Benjamins!

Timothy Noah, Slate

Hundred-dollar bills are for criminals and sociopaths. Why do we still print them?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why Do We Think The Butler Did It?

Nate Pedersen, Guardian

This plot formula has the unusual distinction of being a cliché of mystery writing without ever having been widely used.

You Can't Pick The Lyrics Out Of Pop

Stephen Graham, Guardian

Mocking a song by looking at its lyrics without the music is like judging a painting on a section you've cut out.

The Information Palace

James Gleick, New York Review Of Books

The word “information” has grown urgent and problematic—a signpost seen everywhere, freighted with new meaning and import. We hardly need the lexicographers of the Oxford English Dictionary to tell us that, but after all, this is what they live for. It is a word, they tell us, “exhibiting significant linguistic productivity,” a word that “both reflects and embodies major cultural and technological change,” therefore a word crying out for their attention. In their latest quarterly revision, December 2010, just posted, the entry for “information” is utterly overhauled. (The OED, in case you hadn’t noticed, has evolved into an enterprise of cyberspace, rather than a mere book.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Junk Food Is A Source Of Comfort On Capitol Hill

Jennifer Steinhauer, New York Times

Over at the White House, a farmers’ market has sprouted, a garden has been cultivated and holiday guests are being offered poached fruit. But the area surrounding the Capitol is awash in milkshakes, grilled cheese sandwiches and mildly baroque pizza.

The Man Tree

Stanley Moss, Slate

Laughing Matters: Discuss

Dwight Garner, New York Times

Reading “Humorists” is not itself quite a perfect and supreme experience, but it’s a pleasure to sit around the gently crackling fire that is Mr. Johnson’s mind.

Sad As Hell

Alice Gregory, N+1

In the past year, I graduated from college, got a desk job, and bought an iPhone: the three vertices of the Bermuda Triangle into which my ability to think in the ways that matter most to me has disappeared. My mental landscape is now so altered that its very appearance must be different than it was at this time last year. I imagine my brain as a newly wretched terrain, littered with gaping chasms (What’s my social security number, again?), expansive lacunae (For the thousandth time, the difference between “synecdoche” and “metonymy,” please?), and recently formed fissures (How the fuck do you spell “Gyllenhaal?”). This is your brain on technology.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dark Passages: 21st Century Sherlock Holmes

Sarah Weinman, Los Angeles Times

Writers — and readers — never tire of new invented stories of Conan Doyle's master detective. Graham Moore's 'The Sherlockian' is the latest, worthy addition to this tradition.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The End

Grady Hendrix, Slate

Why projectionists will soon be no more.

Downsizing: When A Heavenly Body Got The Boot

Janet Maslin, New York Times

The Caltech astronomy professor Mike Brown is not the first person to write about the rise of the planet Pluto (discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh) or its recent demotion (in 2006) to second-class citizenry in a newly reduced, eight-planet solar system. He may not even be the best, coming on the heels of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s breezy “Pluto Files,” the novel “Percival’s Planet” and at least one other nonfiction book on the cosmic Pluto flap.

But Dr. Brown has a unique distinction: He was, for a few hours in 2005, the only person on Planet Earth to know that the standard nine-planet solar system model was going to require rejiggering.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Book Lover’s San Francisco

Gregory Dicum, New York Times

Books, we are told, are a half-millennium-old technology on the cusp of being swept away forever. So a journey to San Francisco to immerse oneself in them might seem the cultural equivalent of going to visit the glaciers before they melt. But in San Francisco, the home of many of the very technologies that have drawn a bead on the book, visitors will find a living, historically rooted literary scene that, though it has surely heard the news of its own demise, isn’t buying it.

Why You Should Be Watching Jimmy Kimmel

Heather Havrilesky, Salon

Kimmel is the only host who will make you laugh out loud more than a few times per episode. He's got the sharpest monologue, the most interesting digressions and skits, and the best interviewing skills. Now that the dust has cleared, "The Tonight Show" doesn't look like a prize worth squabbling over, because, with or without the Cheesecake Factory backdrop, Jimmy Kimmel is the new Johnny Carson.

The Art Of Interruption

Steve Martin, New York Times

If the e-mailers could have lived with “I am unamused” for just a little longer, or had given us some understanding based on past performance, or even a little old-fashioned respect, something worthwhile, unusual or calamitous might have emerged. Who knows, maybe I would have ended up singing my novel.

Black Ballet: Pointe Break

Hannah Pool, Guardian

Cira Robinson started "pancaking" her ballet shoes when she was 18: "I use foundation. The colour is Caribbean coffee – it's basic cheap make-up, but it works. Pointe shoes come only in the traditional pink, unless they're red for a show. It would look strange if there was a pink shoe at the end of a brown leg, so it helps with the line. My pointe shoes are brown because my skin is brown."

Star Struck

Ken Croswell, Panoramic Composite Photograph By Wally Pacholka, National Geographic Magazine

It's hard to be modest when you live in the Milky Way.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

My Jerry Saltz Problem

James Panero, New Criterion

On art criticism in the age of the internet.

The Lies Of Science Writing

Lawrence Krauss, Wall Street Journal

Writing about science poses a fundamental problem right at the outset: You have to lie.

I don't mean lie in the sense of intentionally misleading people. I mean that because math is the language of science, scientists who want to translate their work into popular parlance have to use verbal or pictorial metaphors that are necessarily inexact.

The Junkie And The Atheist

Timothy Egan, New York Times

Both men, on paper at least, are hard to love, but impossible to dislike. In the United States, they got what so many from other shores have obtained — renewal.


David Morley, Guardian

The Cinderella Art

Jennifer Homans, Guardian

We revere great ballets: we know, we remember, that ballet can be, as the critic Arlene Croce once put it, "our civilisation". Yet inside today's brand new theatres a tradition is in crisis: unfocused and uncertain.

Winter Break

Hilary Mantel, Guardian

The Joy Of Lists

Arthur Krystal, New York Times

You've got to hand it to writers who have the hubris to stick a list in your face. There you are happily reading along in a poem or a novel and suddenly a Catalogue, an Inventory, a Phalanx of Facts appears on the page. Don’t writers ever consider the possibility that lists stop the action, that they get in the way of the story? Of course not, writers don’t care about our comfort level, they just like to show off how much they know and their ability to communicate it. If I were to draw up a list of all the poets and novelists who have resorted to lists, you’d be astonished. Luckily, others have done the job for me, and if you take the time to peruse their books you’ll see that many writers, despite my misgivings, can make a list practically shimmy off the page.

End Times

Daisy Fried, New York Times

In their latest volumes, two of America’s best-known and longest-lived critics look to poems for clarity about the end of life — what Walt Whitman called “the merge.” In “Last Looks, Last Books,” Helen Vendler closely reads work from the final collections of five major 20th-century poets, all aware that death was coming soon. In “Till I End My Song,” Harold Bloom gathers 100 “last poems,” from Edmund Spenser’s “Prothalamion” (the source of the book’s title) to “The Veiled Suite,” by the Kashmiri-American Agha Shahid Ali, who died in 2001.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Salad Daze: Farewell, Young & Hungry

Tim Carman, Washington City Paper

Don’t worry. I’m not going to turn my farewell column into some sentimental, revisionist claptrap about how journalism needs more editors who treat their reporters like Bo Pelini treats his star quarterback. No, I’m just reflecting back on how much things have changed in five years, starting with the very job I’m leaving. Back in February 2006, when I officially became the paper’s next Young & Hungry, I wrote exactly one column a week. I went through at least three drafts on each column. I answered further questions from the copy desk. I didn’t blog at all. We didn’t even have a blog at City Paper. And today? Well, let’s just say I miss the old work load.

The Sky Mall Stimulus

Timothy Noah, Slate

This Christmas, why not make your gifts especially expensive and thoughtless?

Monsters, Inc.

Stefany Anne Golberg, The Smart Set

On the seriousness of Archimboldo's silly creatures.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Speaking In Tongues

Mary H.k. Choi, New York Times

Manhattan, after eight years here, still reminds me of Hong Kong. There are parts of Chinatown that are the spit and image of streets in Wan Chai and I am held in thrall by the Chrysler building as much as I was by I.M. Pei’s Bank of China Tower. But in the consolation facsimile I had first sought for superficial reasons — the dense, disparate population, spellbinding skyline, internationally recognized address — I hadn’t considered the implication of the city’s pace or the composition of its inhabitants. I fit in. It’s not just that the ingrained muscle memory for social navigation and a hearty tolerance for alcohol acquired in Hong Kong turned out to be felicitous traits in New York. It’s that here sometimes I get to sound like myself.

Consider Ginger

Oliver Thring, Guardian

No one knows where ginger evolved, and it no longer seems to exist in the wild. In Sanskrit, singabera means horns or antlers, and the plant may well have spread from south Asia, but we can be no more precise than that. It lends itself supremely to cultivation: at the right latitudes, you can plant a stick of ordinary ginger in your back garden, and the tan or green rhizomes will knobble and seep into the earth. This is a plant we were destined to enjoy.

An Odyssey Through The Brain, Illuminated By A Rainbow

Abigail Zuger, New York Times

“Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain From Antiquity to the 21st Century,” newly published by Abrams, includes short essays by prominent neuroscientists and long captions by Mr. Schoonover — but its words take second place to the gorgeous imagery, from the first delicate depictions of neurons sketched in prim Victorian black and white to the giant Technicolor splashes the same structures make across 21st-century LED screens.

Unveiling Hidden China

Christian Caryl, New York Review Of Books

Napoleon famously described China as a sleeping giant that would shake the world when it finally awoke. Well, now the giant is up and about, and the rest of us can’t help but notice. 2010, indeed, could well end up being remembered as the year when China started throwing its weight around.

Why this should be happening now, in precisely this way, is not immediately obvious. For years Chinese leaders seized every opportunity to assert that their country’s growing power posed no threat to the international status quo. Talk of the “peaceful rise” was all the rage. Chinese diplomats deftly disarmed the concerns of their neighbors in the region, reassuring anyone who would listen that Beijing would never stoop to the sorry unilateralism of those imperialists in Washington. Journalists spoke of China’s “charm offensive.”

Top Of The Crops: Cabbages In Art

Alexandra Harris, Guardian

Why are artists – from George Orwell to Stanley Spencer – obsessed with cabbage?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Salt Water

Peter Campion, Slate

In Search Of The Washington Novel

Christopher Hitchens, City Journal

We still await the novelist who can address the matter of the last, best hope of earth and treat it without frivolity, without cynicism, and without embarrassment.

By Heng-Cheong Leong