If you remember the year 2011 when The Big Book of the Year was The Art of Fielding and you don’t want to die after reading that clause, take a moment to read over the allegations of one Charles Green against the one Chad Harbach in the matter of wrongfully appropriating elements of the former’s manuscript, Bucky’s 9th, and interpolating them into the latter’s long-languishing first novel (which then sold for $665,000 and debuted to All The Acclaim):
Whether or not you liked the book is basically irrelevant to this conversation, because the thing about The Art of Fielding is that all these years later, it continues to be A Case Study in Book Publishing. You may recall that Keith Gessen wrote a whole THESIS on the matter in Vanity Fair, as well as a 20,000-word e-book titled How A Book is Born, from his perspective as Chad’s Harvard College roommate, n+1 cofounder, and close friend. (The book should have been titled How A Unicorn is Born, but whatever.) The book was and is a darling of the publishing and literary world, and even garnered a few profiles of Chris Parris-Lamb, the hot young literary agent who negotiated the nearly unheard-of deal for a first novel.
Because every day is an excruciating accumulation of moments that last lifetimes now it is even more impossible to recall recent events than it used to be back when time flowed at a normal pace and the greatest difficulty we had was with the massive amount of product by which we were constantly under barrage. So you’ve probably forgotten all about Cut Copy’s January Tape, which was such a delight back when all we wished was that the election end, because we were dumb enough to think it might make things stop being bad. Unlike everything else from back then, Cut Copy’s January Tape is still excellent, and if you haven’t listened to it in a while it is worth returning to. In any event, Cut Copy has a new one coming out soon, and here’s another track from it. Enjoy.
★★ A few nearly unnoticeable drops of drizzle became a soaking mist in the course of the brief wait in the schoolyard for the teachers to arrive. Then came plain gray and damp. The very top of the Freedom Tower’s spike was lost in the sky. Even after the ground had dried out, it was uncertain whether the clouds might start leaking again. The air in the office progressed from too hot to much too cold. Faint colors emerged in the sky on its way to darkening.
One joke in particular highlights the strength and weakness of this mockumentary. To check one witness’s reliability, Peter and Sam must establish whether or not this witness got a handjob at summer camp. As they review the details surrounding the alleged handjob, the documentary cuts to a CGI reenactment of one nondescript figure giving another a handjob, including a nondescript cylinder standing in for the teenager’s penis. The visual gag is very funny each time they return to it, but it also is considerably advanced work for a documentary allegedly produced by teenagers. It hearkens back a bit to The Office’s ninth-season presentation of Threat Level Midnight. While funny and satisfying, it was hard to shake the question: When did Michael Scott get so good at cinematography?
This isn’t spoiling anything really except one of the better dick jokes on television since the “Mean Jerk Time” calculation on “Silicon Valley.” Hurry up and finish your work so you can go home and watch it, because it is a fun little satire of all the true crime shows we love to argue about, and what better plans do you have? Then tell me tomorrow who did the dicks!!
I don’t know if you knew, but the Hebrews didn’t spend forty years in the Sinai after the Exodus because they’d incurred the wrath of God. And they didn’t leave that desert because the offending generation had died off. The chosen people were forced into the Promised Land because the algae-based-protein-bar machine that dispensed the “manna from heaven” they’d been eating finally broke down.
“Of course, [the machine] needed energy, for cultivating the algae, and this was produced, we postulate, by a small nuclear reactor,” says Rodney Dale, a wild-eyed madman.
This is the History Channel, circa 2009. “But,” asks the narrator, “If the Israelites’ survival depended upon the manna machine, where did they get it? Some believe they had stolen it from the Egyptians prior to their exodus. Other suspect extraterrestrials gave it to them as a humanitarian gesture to prevent their starvation in the desert.” The show is “Ancient Aliens,” and it’s everything that’s wrong in America.
What I mean is that when it debuted in 2009, “Ancient Aliens” put to work certain attitudes and argumentative techniques that have, in the age of Trump, come to dominate our discourse. “Ancient Aliens” is a more popular show than you might think, but I doubt it’s got much influence on the zeitgeist, and I know that it didn’t invent what it’s doing. Richard Hofstadter taught us a half-century ago that things like anti-intellectualism and the ‘paranoid style’ have been with us since at least 1776. “Ancient Aliens” was just the canary in the mine this time around.
As a technology, the motor vehicle is bad at preserving human life. According to the World Health Organization, the hurtling metal machines that provide our basic transportational freedom kill about a million people every year. Another downside to these things is that, even if the market for automobiles that don’t light a tremendous volume of petroleum-based liquids on fire is rapidly expanding (especially in China), the version that still features the internal combustion engine treats our earth very badly. Nevertheless, because of our structural dependence on these contrivances, any blanket “cars are bad” position comes off as shortsighted. In much of America, you “need a car.” People who live in rural or suburban areas can’t hop on their Schwinns to go pick up their CSA basket on the way back from their conveniently located WeWork space.
But there is one part of driving that even a coal-rolling asshole would have trouble defending: commuting in traffic. The process of getting to work in general is bad enough, as evidenced by well-known study of Texas women who ranked the morning commute as the least satisfying activity in their day—even below actual work. As Tom Vanderbilt, the author of Traffic—an exhaustive romp through the bizarre, mostly dehumanized world of driving—points out, we’ve also been shown to prefer short commutes to none at all, so our general feelings about the very act of commuting are bit complicated; still, in terms of public health, the physical and psychological effects of long, congested trips to work are quite bad. This, from another oft-cited study of commuting, by researchers at the University of Zurich, sums up the effects of slumping over in a wheeled stress pod, for over an hour, five days per week:
The strain of commuting is associated with raised blood pressure, musculoskeletal disorders, lowered frustration tolerance and increased anxiety and hostility, being in a bad mood when arriving at work in the morning and coming home in the evening, increased lateness, absenteeism and turnover at work, as well as adverse effects on cognitive performance.
Finally, after more than 45 minutes of my eavesdropping on their conversation by myself, Mr. Cobb picked up the check and announced to Mr. Dowd, “All right, boss, I got to roll back to my little hole. I’ve got like a seven and a half foot ceiling … Wilt Chamberlain couldn’t stand up in it.”
This is really good, and most days there’s not a lot else you can say that about. Most days there’s not anything else you can say that about. Or anything at all, let alone else. Take what you can get is what I’m saying, and also be aware that you’re not likely to get a lot. Anyway, enjoy.
★★ The dull gray in the sky extended down to make a dull gray nothingness where New Jersey would be. A few ripples of blue, with unclear edges, emerged. On stepping outside into the soggy air, there was a brief moment of chill in the dimness, and then the clouds thinned and parted, so that hot sun could fall on the expected offerings of the street fair. By the afternoon walk to the playground, the light had grown clearer and the heat had become radiant and directed. Everything was going on at once: a tiny child in a bathing suit ran a scooter into someone’s soccer ball and pushed it along for a ways; a baseball sailed out of the handball court and landed on the basketball half-court; a boy in a numbered t-shirt and baseball pants and socks hit a tennis ball with the bat and was thrown out at first base. The five-year-old was wild-eyed and sweaty.