Sunday, November 22, 2009

Joe Sacco

Rachel Cooke interviews Joe Sacco in Guardian Review.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

more is more

The second edition of The Elements of Statistical Learning (Trevor Hastie, Robert Tibshirani, Jerome Friedman) is available as a PDF download here.

R in Action

On One R Tip A Day, an early review of Ron Kabacoff's R in Action.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


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Interview of Cormac McCarthy in the WSJ.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Zwei Herzen schlagen also in der Brust des passionierten Krimi-Sehers.

Susanne Beyer in Der Spiegel

Friday, November 13, 2009

by other means

n 1969, Britain lost a 25-year business war it had been fighting with America for control of the UK film market. In 1969, the British government capitulated to Washington in a secret deal, and removed the protections that, until then, had sustained British Cinema. When these protections were removed (primarily certain tax breaks and the Eady Levy) the British film studios were doomed. Associated British Pictures and the Rank Organisation quit film operations in 1970, and British Lion scaled back, hanging on by its fingernails, until giving up the ghost in 1976.

Since 1970, Britain – a nation of over 60 million – has released an average of 6 British films per year. Denmark, a nation of only 5.5 million, has averaged 29 films per year over the same period. How is it possible that tiny Denmark can generate almost five times our movie output?
Simple: in Denmark, 12% of the market is protected for Danish films by the government.

The French government protects the French film industry in the same way. In France, 12% of the market is reserved exclusively for French films. Since 1970, this policy, combined with certain production subsidies, has enabled France to have a thriving indigenous industry turning out an average of 102 movies per year.

France’s population, at 63.4 million, is comparable to Britain’s, so it’s reasonable to assume that, if our government protected 12% of the UK film market for UK films (easily done with the stroke of the pen) we, too, could be putting out a hundred films a year.

Jonathan Gems on Clausewitz and the London Film Festival, at Pure Movies.

I got you babe

As part of the application to my screenwriting course at Harvard I ask the students to ask me a question. Most of the questions I’ve received are just fine – good indicators of what the student hopes to learn and sometimes what they misunderstand about what screenwriters do. Yesterday I got this question and it simply blew me away:

“Would you write a feature length screenplay if you knew it would not be produced?”

Oh my. That gets to the heart of so many things.

My immediate response is, without a doubt, no. Of course not. Why would I do that?

And then I hear my impassioned lecturer voice telling the students to pursue screenwriting not because they expect to “win the lottery” – make a million dollar script sale – but because they really love to write screenplays. After all, if you spend most of your time writing screenplays, that is your life. Why would you want your life to consist of something you didn’t want to be doing?

In point of fact, most of the screenplays that screenwriters write are never produced. More than most. So how is knowing that your work is very unlikely to be produced different from knowing that it will never be produced?

Answer number one: Hope. Faith. Belief.

Who knew that screenwriting was such a religious experience?

Danny Rubin (author of Groundhog Day), When A Screenplay Falls in a Forest, at Pure Movies.


An important question, surprisingly often overlooked, is how you want to actually spend your time, day by day and hour by hour. In academia, you will immediately be plunged into hands-on science, and your drivers will be to start out on your career by getting results, publishing, networking, and building your reputation with a view to impressing your tenure committee. A career in industry may put more of an early emphasis on your organizational aptitude, people skills, powers of persuasion, ability to strategize and execute to plan, etc.; in terms of growing your reputation, your audience will be the rather narrower community of your immediate management. A somewhat more cynical view would be that in business you will spend seemingly endless hours in meetings and writing plans and reports, while in academia you will spend all that time and more in grantsmanship—in this regard, you must pick your poison.

Finally there is the elephant-in-the-room question: Do you want to make money, or to help people? This is, of course, a false dichotomy, but many people consciously or unconsciously frame the decision in just this way, and you had best deal with it. Try thinking of it not so much in terms of the profit motives of the respective institutions, but in terms of the people with whom you would spend your career. You should have encountered a good sampling of scientists from industry during meetings, internships, collaborations, interviews, etc. (or in any case you should certainly try to do so before making judgments). If you are left in any doubt as to their ethics or sincere desire to relieve human suffering as efficiently as possible, or if you feel these are somehow trumped by the corporate milieu, then by all means choose academia—but only after applying analogous tests to the academics you already know well.
Courtesy MR, David B Searls on Ten Simple Rules for Choosing between Industry and Academia.


Or take a sentence like this one, from Barthes’s first book. He is not talking about a writer or a text or a style or an image or a story, but about … a tense. This is the preterite, the past historic, which in French exists only in written texts. It is, Barthes says,

the ideal instrument for every construction of a world; it is the unreal tense of cosmogonies, myths, history and novels. It presupposes a world which is constructed, elaborated, self-sufficient, reduced to significant lines, and not one which has been sent sprawling before us, for us to take or leave (jeté, étalé, offert). Behind the preterite there always lurks a demiurge, a God or a reciter. The world is not unexplained since it is told like a story; each one of its accidents is merely a circumstance, and the preterite is precisely this operative sign whereby the narrator reduces the exploded reality to a slim and pure verb without density, without volume, without spread.

Michael Wood on Barthes in the LRB.

Monday, November 9, 2009


I firmly believe that a person such as myself who can't make music (aside from drumming, tuneless singing, etc.) can't understand it in the way that a practitioner can. In general, I think it's hard to understand a system that you can't perturb.

Andrew Gelman, in a comment on a comment on a post on Joshua Clover's 1989.


“Can you see any clippy bits?” my son asked his friend. The friend was flummoxed. “Do you mean handy bits?” he asked, pointing.

“Yes,” replied my boy. “Clippy bits.”

Of course! This language of Lego isn’t just something our family has invented; every Lego-building family must have its own vocabulary. And the words they use (mostly invented by the children, not the adults) are likely to be different every time. But how different? And what sort of words?

Languagebuilding in Legoland, Giles Turnbull's piece in the Morning News, courtesy Languagehat.

(I'll be spending the next three months with my mother, who has undergone surgery and must have more, in Leisure World, a retirement community in Silver Spring. Whether its closest affinities are to Legoland, The Stepford Wives or Westworld remains to be seen.)

Friday, November 6, 2009


Gordon Darroch interviews Wu Ming 1 in the Herald Scotland:

GD: So are you using historic warfare to raise a point about modern warfare and the way it’s been sanitised and turned into an export industry? Is that why the description of the violence is so explicit? I found some of the battle scenes had an epic, Virgillian quality in the way they described every slash and thrust.

WM1: Thank you for calling our writing “Virgilian”, I’m a big fan of the Aeneid. The difference with the ancient classic epics is that we try to stress the sense of loss and waste in every single death. There’s no glory in Manituana, even heroic deeds are impregnated with sorrow, they leave a bitter taste in the characters’ (and the readers’) mouths. We tried to describe the acts of dying and giving death with utter honesty. Violent death is always disgusting. Sometimes it may be necessary (for self-defence etc.), but that doesn’t make it less disgusting. Dread Jack’s death is disgusting, even if it’s told in a farcical way. And think of the way we describe torture in Manituana.


GD: What are the problems – or challenges, if you prefer – involved in writing a novel with four people? How do you resolve disputes? Is there a set structure and editing process? How do you ensure cohesion of style, narrative and character – or am I wrong to suppose these are important to you?

WM1: You aren’t wrong at all, they are extremely important to us. We have no fixed method, the way we work evolves with every book, because we evolve, our lives evolve. For example, when we wrote Q none of us had children, now three of us are fathers. That doesn’t only change your perspective, it also changes your days, the way you have to organise your time etc. Of course, the most important thing is that we’ve been friends for so many years, we’ve shared so many experiences that there’s almost telepathy between us. The methods we adopt for writing together wouldn’t work for anyone else, that’s the reason it is difficult to explain them. We usually resort to two examples: collective improvisation in jazz and 1970’s “Total Football”. We’re a cross between a jazz combo and one of those old Dutch football teams.

GD: Hang on – you’re from a country that’s won the World Cup four times and you’d rather play like the Dutch? To a Scot, that just sounds perverse!

WM1: Italy stole the 2006 World Cup. Australia deserved to win the second-round match. Grosso dived to win the penalty, Totti scored it, Italy reached the quarter-finals. I was so ashamed, I wrote to all my Australian friends and acquaintances to apologise.


Owen Hatherley reviews Joshua Clover's 1989: Bob Dylan Didn't Have This to Sing About in the New Statesman.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

6 cents a word

For example, here’s one fun fact: The engine of Fitzgerald’s income (at least until he went to Hollywood) was not his novels but his short stories. He considered them his “day job,” a thing to be endured because writing them would allow him the financial wherewithal to write the novels he preferred to do. And how much did he make for these short stories? Well, in 1920, he sold eleven of them to various magazines for $3,975. This averages to about $360 per story, and (assuming an average length of about 6,000 words) roughly six cents a word.

To flag my own genre here, “Six cents a word,” should sound vaguely familiar to science fiction and fantasy writers, as that’s the current going rate at the “Big Three” science fiction magazines here in the US: Analog (which pays six to eight cents a word), Asimov’s (six cents a word “for beginners”) and Fantasy & Science Fiction (six to nine cents a word). So, sf/f writers, in one sense you can truly say you’re getting paid just as well as F. Scott Fitzgerald did; but in another, more relevant, “adjusted for inflation” sense, you’re making five cents to every one of Fitzy’s dollars. Which basically sucks. This is just one reason why making a living writing short fiction is not something you should be counting on these days.

Scalzi on Fitzgerald.

secret centre

This Space on The Turn of the Screw and Blanchot.

under the net

In the belly of the beast. C'est à dire, striving for a semblance of professionalism within a profession where a culture of secrecy trumps a mere way with words. Hence, naturally, catching up on Dinosaur Comics. As one does.

lrb 30th

The London Review of Books is celebrating its 30th anniversary by making the entire issue available online. John Sutherland has a piece in the FT on the history of the paper; like the NYRB, it was founded when a printers' strike left the public clamouring for book reviews.

Sutherland says that, just as the NYRB is not much read in the UK, the LRB is not much read in the US. Does this mean you, Paperpools majority? Sitemeter tells me that 51% of you are in the US; 57% of you are Mac users; 53% of you use Firefox; it doesn't know whether you are checking out the LRB every other week to see if John Lanchester has a new piece. (He does, as it happens, on Lehman Brothers. Where have you been?)

Possibly in an attempt to outflank the NYRB, the LRB offers a US subscription of $42 a year, which looks good compared to the NYRB's $109 a year, and a source of grievance compared to its rate for UK subscribers (£63.72). If you're in the UK or EU you can game the system, obviously, by taking out a subscription and having it sent to a US address. That's what I did, anyway - took out a "gift" subscription to be sent to my mother, registered online with the customer ID, and had immediate access to Leofranc Holford-Strevens' review of The Oxford Handbook of Case

English-speakers who have not had the good fortune to be exposed early to Greek or Latin, or even to their own language as it existed before the Norman Conquest, tend to find the notion of grammatical case baffling despite the survival in English of a genitive case (renamed possessive) and the distinction between subject and object pronouns in the first and third persons. Evidently, the alleged Irish saying that when it comes to politics the English are born three whiskeys down applies no less to grammar.

(I'd been frustrated in the past by pieces available to subscribers only, but it was LH-S's piece that settled it - my mother must have a "gift" subscription instanter.)

There's another way to game the system which, as far as I can see, has not yet caught on. Say you're in the UK and want a subscription to the LRB. You have a friend in the US who also wants a subscription to the LRB. The friend in the US takes out a sub for $42 a year, getting the hard copy; you send your friend $21 by Paypal (£12.70 - yes, that's right, a saving of a handsome £51 on the UK subscription) and register online under the name of your helpful friend.

What's love got to do with it? Or, why does it have to be a friend? On the one hand, there must be any number of UK readers who would happily pay a paltry £12.70 for full online access; on the other hand, surely, plenty of American readers who'd think twice about a sub of $42 a year, but would happily take one out for a laughable $21. A certain lack of enterprise, can't help but think, among the book-review-reading classes.