"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."—Oscar Wilde, "The Critic as Artist"
An old friend once told me a story about her son Edison and this other kid he grew up with, Brendan. It seems that when they were really little, like six or so, the boys were on a soccer team, they were playing soccer and Edison fell and was hurt. And everybody clustered round and was all ooh, ahh, to make sure he was okay. Straightaway, Brendan totally faked an injury of his own, thumped to earth and started wailing, so that [...]
If I could award a prize for the best chapter title ever given in a work of fiction, I would bestow it at once on British author Ernest Bramah for the title of Chapter III of Kai Lung's Golden Hours (1922): "The Degraded Persistence of the Effete Ming-Shu." Bramah is better known for his blind detective, Max Carrados, but to my mind the comic tales of Kai Lung (most of them free on Project Gutenberg) are his best. They are sublime, particularly if you enjoy a rococo, antiquated, kooky imitation-Chinese English style:
"It has been said," he began at length, withdrawing his eyes reluctantly from an unusually large [...]
February marked the twenty-first anniversary of the publication of a book of poems by the gifted actor Ally Sheedy. It was called Yesterday I Saw the Sun, and she was famously excoriated for it. Sheedy was then 28 years old and coming off a very bad patch, including a stint at Hazelden; she had picked up an addiction to Halcion during an ill-fated fling with Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, and her friend Demi Moore is said to have scooped up the remains of Sheedy and posted them to rehab by way of an intervention. Terrible business, but the braying press went after her anyway. "Ally Sheedy from bad to [...]
In early 2003, when evidence emerged that plans for war against Iraq were not merely afoot, but were looking more and more like a fait accompli, the French advised the luridly stupid and prevaricating administration of Bush II against an invasion. This sound suggestion was roundly condemned by nearly every Republican who could get in front of a microphone, culminating in possibly the dumbest episode of the run-up to the war: the announcement of Representatives Robert W. Ney and Walter B. Jones, Jr. that thenceforth the various House restaurants would be serving "freedom fries," rather than French fries. "This action today is a small but symbolic effort to show [...]
Romance fiction is widely reckoned to be a very low form of literature. Maybe the lowest, if we're not counting the writing at Groupon, or on Splenda packets. Romance fiction: probably the worst! An addictive, absurd, unintellectual literature, literature for nonreaders, literature for stupid people—literature for women! Books Just For Her!
Low or not, romance is by far the most popular and lucrative genre in American publishing, with over $1.35 billion in revenues estimated in 2010. That is a little less than twice the size of the mystery genre, almost exactly twice that of science fiction/fantasy, and nearly three times the size of the market for classic/literary fiction, according to [...]
The Times and a host of other publications heralded last week's new study extolling the lifelong money-earning benefits of having a good primary/middle-school teacher. Oh, yay! Let's do what these economists from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggest, right?
Actually, ugh, no. What economists Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah Rockoff of Columbia want to do, apparently, is to identify and fire "weaker" teachers, for the sake of a barely perceptible increase in students' "lifetime income." Nobody has actually tried this yet; the report doesn't describe an experiment. It's just the conclusion they draw from their analysis of massive amounts [...]
On July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb test took place in the Tularosa Basin of the Jornada del Muerto desert near Socorro, New Mexico. Just three weeks later, Hiroshima and Nagasaki would be bombed: the only time nuclear weapons have ever been used in war. The test was code-named Trinity, and it forced a radical shift in the way that human beings came to regard their place on earth; from that day onward, for almost seventy years, we've lived in the uneasy knowledge that a very few people might gain the power to destroy all civilization—all life, even. The events of this day produced the chief wellspring of [...]
Data from StatCounter.
Did you know that most of Firefox's budget comes from Google? That is because Google pays the Mozilla Corporation, the for-profit arm of the Mozilla Foundation, a share of ad revenue gained by displaying Google as the default Firefox search engine. By most, really, one means "almost all": in 2010, 84% of Mozilla's royalty revenue came from Google, and royalties counted for $121 million of the Foundation's $123 million in income. Pretty good sugar.
The agreement expired in November. (It first expired in 2006, was renewed through 2008 and then again through 2011.) The rapid growth of Google's Chrome browser threatened the survival [...]
The late Steve Jobs is known to have been very keen on "taste." Microsoft has absolutely no taste, he said, going on to explain that by this he meant that "they don't think of original ideas, and they don't bring much culture into their product." Great products, he said, were a "triumph of taste." The exquisite taste of Jobs himself has long been a matter of doctrine in the tech world. Kevin Kelly's remarks after his death expressed the general sentiment: "Steve Jobs was a CEO of beauty. In his interviews and especially in private, Jobs often spoke about Art. Taste. Soul. Life. And he sincerely meant [...]
In "My Disappointment Critic," the essay excerpted in the Los Angeles Review of Books from Jonathan Lethem's new collection, the author defends his book The Fortress of Solitude (eight whole years later!) against what he considers to be an unfair review written by the august literary critic James Wood.
"Why, I hear you moan in your sheets, [...] violate every contract of dignity and decency, why embarrass us and yourself, sulking over an eight-year-old mixed review?" Lethem asks in the very first paragraph. The fairness of this question is evident in the general response to the essay so far, e.g. this comment: "Nothing more tedious than authors [...]
In 2000, Stuart Manley, the owner of Barter Books of Alnwick, Northumberland, found a folded poster at the bottom of a box of random books he'd bought at auction. (Barter Books is a very famous and beautiful bookstore housed in an old train station. Many features of the original station have been left intact, and there are model trains running around the shop on a high track above the bookshelves.) Mary Manley, Stuart's wife and partner in the shop, took a liking to the poster. It was framed and displayed behind the till. Right away people started trying to buy it off them: Not For Sale, they were told. [...]
Such a lather people are in, because Rick Perry was cheered at the Republican debate last week for executing 234 death row prisoners in Texas. Actually, Perry didn't even have a chance to repond to the question, posed by Brian Williams, before the audience started applauding. The transcript goes like this:
Williams: Governor Perry, a question about Texas. Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. Have you…
(APPLAUSE) [also one person whistling]
Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?
Well, of course not, Brian. What a question. Rick [...]
"Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul."—Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Alexandre Dumas père was a terrible and a wonderful man. He fought in wars, hunted, traveled the globe, owned a theatre, dabbled in politics and revolutions here and there, and was bankrupted a few times after spending fortune after fortune on women and high living. And he wrote, and wrote, and wrote, in jail or out of it. With the aid of a number of assistants he was able to turn out over 600 books before the end. He was magnificently ugly, and, apparently, irresistible. Which [...]
Yowza! In a stunning triumph for open access and the free dissemination of works in the public domain, JSTOR announced this morning that all its out-of-copyright journal articles have been made freely available worldwide.
We encourage broad use of the Early Journal Content, including the ability to reuse it for non-commercial purposes. We ask that you acknowledge JSTOR as the source of the content and provide a link back to our site. Please also be considerate of other users and do not use robots or other devices to systematically download these works as this may be disruptive to our systems.
"I can confidently say that, while visiting Mr. Domscheit-Berg in Wiesbaden, I was able to meet and observe his cat."
No, this isn't dialogue from a newly discovered Firbank novel. Rather, it's a salvo in the escalating battle between Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and his erstwhile colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg, whose new site OpenLeaks is on the verge of launching. In fact, the imminent arrival of OpenLeaks may well explain why the Assange camp suddenly seems to be turning on the heat—the last week has seen an escalation in attacks against Domscheit-Berg on hacker blogs, Twitter and elsewhere, and a corresponding uptick in pro-Assange messaging, including appeals for the exoneration [...]
"The great artist is he who goes a step beyond the demand, and, by supplying works of a higher beauty and a higher interest than have yet been perceived, succeeds, after a brief struggle with its strangeness, in adding this fresh extension of sense to the heritage of the race."—George Bernard Shaw, The Sanity of Art
I saw Pauline Kael speak once, "in conversation" with Jean-Luc Godard, many years ago at Berkeley. The place was mobbed and the event was a mess, with the so-called conversation quickly devolving into a shouting match (about Technicolor film stock, as I recall). But it was so great watching Kael yell at Godard, [...]
April of 1992 seems like paradise now, in certain ways. The economy was bouncing back nicely, thank you, even if it wasn't yet fully obvious. We users of Prodigy, Compuserve and AOL were all yapping incessantly on our BBSes, and we were about to try out that newfangled "e-mail" thing. "Are you on e-mail?" people would soon be saying. Bill Clinton had only just clinched the Democratic nomination. (That Arkansas governor! Did you know he was a Rhodes Scholar, too?)
But the year before, in March, a man named Rodney King had been tasered twice and then beaten half to death by a pack of Los Angeles police officers. The [...]
Since the July 19th indictment of Aaron Swartz for surreptitiously whooshing nearly five million JSTOR documents onto a laptop concealed in an MIT network closet, there's been a lot of codswallop written about JSTOR, about Aaron Swartz and about the public's right to access documents in the public domain. A 24-year-old computer prodigy and political activist, Swartz has been caricatured as either a hero or a villain; likewise JSTOR. The U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, Carmen M. Ortiz, who brought the charges against Swartz: she might be a bit of a villain, okay. Information wants to be free, it's been said. But whether this means free of charge or merely [...]