Monday, January 23, 2012

ese oscuro objeto del deseo

Javier Moreno's Spanish translation of 'That Obscure Object of Desire' has just gone up on Hermano Cerdo. What a wonderful story! I wish I'd written it!  It has splendid illustrations by Luis Blackaller.

Monday, January 16, 2012

How to Print an Internet Magazine
An Evening with Triple Canopy and Project Projects
McNally Jackson Books, 52 Prince Street, New York, NY
Thursday, January 19, 7–8:30 p.m.
Free and open to the public

How to print an Internet magazine is the problem addressed by Invalid Format. Triple Canopy editors Alexander Provan and Peter J. Russo will read selections from Invalid Format and discuss its genesis and form with the book’s designer, Prem Krishnamurthy, and Adam Michaels of the firm Project Projects. Krishnamurthy and Michaels will, in turn, discuss how Project Projects makes productive use of the tension between new and old print technologies and design conventions in its work, which ranges from exhibitions to pamphlets, websites to catalogues.
There has been no lock on the front door of the house for the past few months.   I went to Kaiser's for milk and came back to find a new lock on the door.  Assumed my old key would not work; buzzed Frau Finke, who let me in and explained that the old key did in fact work.  Since I had routed her out anyway this seemed a good time to ask whether I could leave a spare set of keys with her, in case I got locked out.  Frau Finke (goodhumouredly): Ja, das ist Ihre Spezialität.  This seemed a bit hard - I haven't been back to the Schlüßeldienst in years, seems like - but the main thing is, a spare set is now safely with the concierge.

This may be a useful precaution.  Now that I am immersing myself in Python, Unix and R I find myself losing track of practical details; I forget that there is something on the stove and come to only to find caramelised broccoli in a charred pan, this sort of thing.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Rooster

Lightning Rods is in the running for the Rooster, a prize offered by the Morning News for its Tournament of Books.  The books go through a series of play-offs - at each stage, each judge reads two and decides which goes on to the next stage.  There is also a zombie round:

In the Zombie Round, the two books most favored by TMN readers, but unfairly tossed aside in an early round by the capriciousness of a power-mad ToB judge, will rise from the dead to do battle against the only two undefeated novels of the tournament. The winners of those matchups become the Tournament of Books finalists. Each will be read by the full complement of 16 Tournament judges, plus an additional jurist, and the resulting tally will yield us the 2012 Tournament of Books champion, and its author will be awarded/threatened with the presentation of a live, angry chanticleer.
 So anyone who'd like to have a say can go over to the MN and cast a vote (though you may well, of course, see some other book you'd rather see on the short short short list).  Link for Zombie Poll here. (Poll closes January 18.)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Two other aspects of sensed betrayal should be mentioned. First, those who suggest the
possibility of another's entering a mental hospital are not likely to provide a realistic picture
of how in fact it may strike him when he arrives. Often he is told that he will get required
medical treatment and a rest, and may well be out in a few months or so. In some cases they may thus be concealing what they know, but I think, in general, they will be telling what they see as the truth. For here there is quite relevant difference between patients and mediating professionals; mediators, more so than the public at large, may conceive of mental hospitals as short-term medical establishments where required rest and attention can be voluntarily obtained, and not as placed of coerced exile. When the prepatient finally arrives he is likely to learn quite quickly, quite differently. He then finds that the information given him about life in the hospital has had the effect of his having put up less resistance to entering than he now sees he would have put up had he known the facts. whatever the intentions of those who participated in his transition from person to patient, he may sense they have in effect 'conned' him into his present predicament.

I am suggesting that the prepatient starts out with at least a portion of the rights, liberties,
and satisfactions of the civilian and ends up on a psychiatric ward stripped of almost everything. The question here is now this stripping is managed. This is the second aspect of betrayal I want to consider.
Erving Goffman, Asylums (130)

Monday, January 9, 2012

David Hume was born three hundred years ago, in 1711. The world has changed radically since his time, and yet many of his ideas and admonitions remain deeply relevant, though rather neglected, in the contemporary world. These Humean insights include the central role of information and knowledge for adequate ethical scrutiny, and the importance of reasoning without disowning the pertinence of powerful sentiments. They also include such practical concerns as our responsibilities to those who are located far away from us elsewhere on the globe, or in the future.

As it happens, contemporary theories of justice have largely followed the Hobbesian route rather than the Humean one. They have tended to limit their considerations of justice within the boundaries of a particular state. In an important essay in 2005 called “The Problem of Global Justice,” Thomas Nagel explained that “if Hobbes is right, the idea of global justice without a world government is a chimera.” The most influential modern theory of justice, namely John Rawls’s theory of “justice as fairness,” presented in his epoch-making book A Theory of Justice, concentrates on the identification of appropriate “principles of justice” that fix the “basic institutional structure” of a society, in the form of a cluster of ideal institutions for a sovereign state. This confines the principles of justice to the members of a particular sovereign state. It is worth noting that in a later work, The Law of Peoples, Rawls invokes a kind of “supplement” to this one-country pursuit of the demands of justice—but in dealing with people elsewhere, Rawls’s focus is not on justice, but on the basic demands of civilized and humane behavior across the borders.

Amartya Sen on Hume, the rest here.  (HT MR)

we are what we habitually do

Like the prophets of old, today's addicts may remind us that our desire for God is trivial and weak, and our horizons of hope and expectancy are  limited and mundane. We recoil at the presence of the addict, for we fear that the addict's life is an indictment of the insufficiency of our own lives. The addict has rejected the life of respectable and proximate contentment and demanded instead a life of complete purpose and ecstasy. We recognize that our own lives are not interesting and beautiful enough to offer a genuine alternative to the addict, and we fear that a gospel powerful enough to redeem the addict would also threaten our own lives of decent and decorous mediocrity. 

Kent Dunnington, Addiction and Virtue

This is a brilliant book, which in itself has justified my purchase of a Kindle in my last week with my mother.  (I saw the book on Amazon just after proposing a review to a magazine; the book looked relevant to the review, so a more prudent would-be reviewer would have waited for a free copy --but I could have it in seconds on my Kindle!)  The reason I subjected my credit card to further abuse was that Dunnington addresses a startling gap in discussions of addiction, one I was particularly struck by in Gene Heyman's (generally excellent) Addiction: A Disorder of Choice

Reading avidly along in Heyman, I had been baffled by the complete absence of discussion of Aristotle on voluntary and involuntary action, on the role of habit in the virtues and vices, all treated so extensively in the Nicomachean Ethics.  And here is Dunnington, bringing Aristotle and Aquinas to bear on the subject! (When I say the book is brilliant, I do not mean that I have finished it; I mean that I am just getting into the thick of a discussion of Aristotle and Aquinas. )

Dunnington, as will be obvious from the quotation, is writing from a Christian perspective; it's rare for authors of  "mainstream" works of scholarship to thank a supervisor for praying with the advisee. Radicalism is not necessarily the norm among Christian writers any more than it is among scholars, but part of the power of the book lies in the challenge it offers the non-addict: Du muß dein Leben ändern.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

accidental history

What do you think about hair dye?
Hm. When I got to Berlin I would go to this or that Frisür with the idea of having some highlights, and the hairdressers would try to persuade me to include brown highlights as looking more natural. Every time I would get dragged into a discussion of the Natural. I slightly felt that the Natural could be mine without recourse to a hairdresser, by the simple expedient of leaving the hair to its own devices. My German is not really up to discussions of the Natural and the Artificial, though, let alone the Natural as understood by early 21st century German hairdressers.
Emily Segal invited me to give an interview for Berlin Fashion Week way back in late 2009/early 2010. I was staying with my mother, but for a couple of days every so often I would go to my sister's apartment and collapse on the bed. (The theory was that I would pull together 100 pages for Bill, but there was no energy.)  In the midst of all this, anyway, I was trying to write answers to interview questions.  The feeling was of writing with a prosthetic head. I finally apologised for what struck me as a dead loss; was under the impression that ES agreed and had dropped the piece, but now I find it is online.  For better or worse, here.

(There are authors who never give interviews, and then there are authors, it seems, who never stop giving them.)
A few years ago, a colleague in another university published a huge book, based on a vast amount of archival research, meticulously documented, beautifully written and offering a new and formidably argued reinterpretation of a major historical event. I remarked to a friend in that university that this great work would certainly help their prospects in the RAE. ‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘We can’t enter him. He needs four items and that book is all he’s got.’ ...
I contrast this with my own experience in the old, supposedly unregenerate days. The college where I became a tutor in 1957 had only 19 academic fellows. Of these, two did no research at all and their teaching was languid in the extreme. That was the price the rest of us paid for our freedom and in my view it was a price worth paying. For the other fellows were exceptionally active, impelled, not by external bribes and threats, but by their own intellectual ambition and love of their subject. In due course three became fellows of the Royal Society and seven of the British Academy. They worked at their own pace and some of them would have fared badly in the RAE, for they conformed to no deadlines and released their work only when it was ready. I became a tutor at the age of 24, but I did not publish a book until I was 38. These days, I would have been compelled to drop my larger project and concentrate on an unambitious monograph, or else face ostracism and even expulsion.

Sir Keith Thomas in the LRB, the rest here.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How Keynes would explain Iowa

John Maynard Keynes famously likened playing the stock market to judging a beauty contest where, rather than choosing the most beautiful girl, you had to choose the girl that everyone else would choose as most beautiful. "We devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be," wrote Keynes. This is, with some minor modifications, true for judging the results in Iowa, too. 
Consider a question that doesn't get asked enough: Why does it matter who wins Iowa?
In theory, the answer should be: "because whoever wins Iowa gets Iowa's delegates." But it isn't. The Iowa caucuses award about one percent of the nation's delegates. That's not nothing, but it's not much.
The real answer is both widely known and difficult to discuss. Winning Iowa matters because the outcome in Iowa governs the subsequent actions of the political media and party elites. And it matters for them because, as Jonathan Bernstein puts it, "What Iowa does is it produces information" -- information that allows them to plan their next moves, and information that thus changes the outcome of subsequent primaries.
The media doesn't like to discuss this too forthrightly because it makes our role as a political actor -- rather than a simple observer -- uncomfortably explicit. As Duke political scientist Brendan Nyhan writes at CJR, there is "a refraction effect" in which "journalists help make Iowa influential and then report on its 'effects' without acknowledging their role in the process or the often arbitrary nature of the distinctions that are made among the candidates."
Party elites don't like to discuss it because their role in the presidential nomination process can seem undemocratic. But the process is undemocratic. A democratic process would be one in which the whole nation votes today; not one in which .04 percent of the nation caucuses today. 

Ezra Klein, Wonkbook, the rest here.

tomato tomato?

For most of the twentieth century, Arabs, Arab nationalists, and their Western devotees tended to substitute Arab for Middle Eastern history, as if the narratives, storylines, and paradigms of other groups mattered little or were the byproduct of alien sources far removed from the authentic, well-ordered, harmonious universe of the "Arab world."[3] As such, they held most Middle Easterners to be Arab even if only remotely associated with the Arabs and even if alien to the experiences, language, or cultural proclivities of Arabs. In the words of Sati al-Husri (1880-1967), a Syrian writer and the spiritual father of linguistic Arab nationalism:
Every person who speaks Arabic is an Arab. Every individual associated with an Arabic-speaker or with an Arabic-speaking people is an Arab. If he does not recognize [his Arabness] … we must look for the reasons that have made him take this stand … But under no circumstances should we say: "As long as he does not wish to be an Arab, and as long as he is disdainful of his Arabness, then he is not an Arab." He is an Arab regardless of his own wishes, whether ignorant, indifferent, recalcitrant, or disloyal; he is an Arab, but an Arab without consciousness or feelings, and perhaps even without conscience.[4]
This ominous admonition to embrace a domineering Arabism is one constructed on an assumed linguistic unity of the Arab peoples; a unity that a priori presumes the Arabic language itself to be a unified, coherent verbal medium, used by all members of Husri's proposed nation. Yet Arabic is not a single, uniform language. It is, on the one hand, a codified, written standard that is never spoken natively and that is accessible only to those who have had rigorous training in it. On the other hand, Arabic is also a multitude of speech forms, contemptuously referred to as "dialects," differing from each other and from the standard language itself to the same extent that French is different from other Romance languages and from Latin. 

Franck Salameh, "Does Anyone Speak Arabic?" (Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2011) ht LanguageHat

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Relay Foods

An e-mail arrived in the mail at some recent point announcing that Relay Foods has attracted a big injection of venture capital, owing in part to the enthusiasm of its customer base.  Relay Foods, since you ask, is a grocery delivery service based in Charlottesville, VA, with a recentish expansion to Richmond; the core of the service involves taking orders for groceries (mainly) from local businesses (including local farmers), packing them in appropriately insulated boxes, and delivering to local pick-up points. (It's also possible to arrange home delivery, free I think with minimum order of $50.)

I watch with interest, since RetailRelay,com, to use the firm's original  name, figured in a book I was working on in 2008-9, immediately prior to signing on with Bill Clegg.  The ms was up to a respectable 61,253 words, but it was not clear that this was the best book to finish and publish next. 

With the wisdom of hindsight, life would have been incomparable simpler if I had forged ahead and finished the book, whether or not it was best for #2, during July-September 2009, before talking to an agent and having LR sent out by default because it happened to be finished.  (The problem was that there were difficulties with film rights which I somehow imagined an agent might help to resolve.) 

(I DO rather wish I had gone down to C'ville to give a reading of LR, as one reader suggested; I could have talked to local participants in Relay Foods! It would have been helpful for research!)

In any case, as a tribute to Relay Foods I excerpt the section relating to this excellent service below the fold.  (Needless to say, Relay Foods bears no responsibility whatsoever for the reflections of the character.  For what it's worth, it is the view of pp that anyone in the Charlottesville or Richmond area who is not already making use of the service is missing out on a good thing.)