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Monday, June 12, 2017

Why Aren’t You Laughing?, by David Sedaris, New Yorker

From the outside, our house on the North Carolina coast—the Sea Section—is nothing much to look at. It might have been designed by a ten-year-old with a ruler, that’s how basic it is: walls, roof, windows, deck. It’s easy to imagine the architect putting down his crayon and shouting into the next room, “I’m done. Can I watch TV now?”

Whenever I denigrate the place, Hugh reminds me that it’s the view that counts: the ocean we look out at. I see his point, but it’s not like you have to limit yourself to one or the other. “What about our place in Sussex!” I say. From the outside, our cottage in England resembles something you’d find in a storybook—a home for potbellied trolls, benevolent ones that smoke pipes. Built of stone in the late sixteenth century, it has a pitched roof and little windows with panes the size of playing cards. We lie in bed and consider sheep grazing in the shadow of a verdant down. I especially love being there in the winter, so it bothered me when I had to spend most of January and February working in the United States. Hugh came along, and toward the end we found ourselves on Maui, where I had a reading. I’d have been happy just to fly in and fly out, but Hugh likes to swim in the ocean, so we stayed for a week in a place he found online.

In ‘Camino Island,’ John Grisham Takes A Vacation From Writing John Grisham Novels, by Ken Tucker, New York Times

The veteran suspense novelist is off on a happy lark with “Camino Island,” a resort-town tale that reads as if Grisham is taking a vacation from writing John Grisham novels. Instead of hurtling readers down the dark corridors of the courthouses that dot his 20-plus legal thrillers, here he gently ushers us onto an island off the coast of Florida, a sleepy place whose town’s social life is enlivened by a busy independent bookstore run by a garrulous peacock who has a different-colored seersucker suit for every day of the week.

What Algorithms Want, by Richard Marshall, 3:AM Magazine

Was Corbyn’s election success further evidence of how elections in the future will be run and how democratic power will be decided? The official Labour campaign was supplemented by private algorithmic arbitrage on social media, anonymous forums, and Youtube, a 24 hour personalized and cranked up response network that excited and incited new elements of the electorate and helped counter the toxic bias of the print media, ‘official’ news channels and the stodgy unconvincing ‘balance’ of the BBC. Whatever we think of the actual result there is little doubt that power is being decided using the same sort of algorithmic arbitrage that runs the production and consumption of, among other things, entertainment, art, news, knowledge, taxis, restaurants, stocks and shares, fashion and relationships. Shared spaces and shared concerns are being privatised. The success of Trump in the USA was a Cow Clicker political success: no matter how dumb, nasty, inept and poorly designed, Trump understood where the new magic sources of power lie. It’s no accident that he tweets, cutting out the ‘normal channels’ of shared concern to ‘speak’ directly to the private space of (anti) social media. His genius has been to seduce and reach beyond both comprehension and knowledge, to haness some vast algorithmic political unknowability and ignorance.

This is the new cultural landscape that Ed Finn’s timely and fascinating book investigates.