Library Love, Ctd

Apr 19 2014 @ 2:25pm


Today marks the final day of National Library Week. In an essay adapted from The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson, Charles Simic celebrates the democratic draw of the institution:

Like many other Americans of my generation, I owe much of my knowledge to thousands of books I withdrew from public libraries over a lifetime. I remember the sense of awe I felt as a teenager when I realized I could roam among the shelves, take down any book I wanted, examine it at my leisure at one of the library tables, and if it struck my fancy, bring it home. …

Wherever I found a library, I immediately felt at home. Empty or full, it pleased me just as much. A boy and a girl doing their homework and flirting; an old woman in obvious need of a pair of glasses squinting at a dog-eared issue of the New Yorker; a prematurely gray-haired man writing furiously on a yellow pad surrounded by pages of notes and several open books with some kind of graphs in them; and, the oddest among the lot, a balding elderly man in an elegant blue pinstripe suit with a carefully tied red bow tie, holding up and perusing a slim, antique-looking volume with black covers that could have been poetry, a religious tract, or something having to do with the occult. It’s the certainty that such mysteries lie in wait beyond its doors that still draws me to every library I come across.

Previous Dish on libraries here, here, and here.

(Photo by Robert Dawson from The Public Library)

Who Needs World Literature?

Apr 19 2014 @ 1:46pm

Michael Cronin presents the central argument of Emily Apter’s provocative Against World Literature: On The Politics of Untranslatability:

In the anglophone world, where less than 3 percent of all published titles are translations, the idea of world literature would appear to be an urgent and necessary corrective to the political and linguistic hubris of the speakers of a dominant global language. Apter, however, is not so sure. This is not because she does not believe translation to be valuable or important. In fact, it is precisely because she does believe it to be so crucial that she wants it to be taken seriously. Her concerns lie with a notion of world literature that erases difference or sifts out the foreign or the unsettling in the name of easy consumption. In this way world literature mimics a free-market fantasy of the endless, frictionless circulation of goods and information. In this McDonaldization of the written word, there is no room for difficulty or opacity.

Gloria Fisk finds herself unconvinced:

What does a critic oppose, exactly, when she takes a stand “against world literature”? Emily Apter takes that polemic as the title of her latest book, but she uses it to advance a thesis that requires no argument at all: Something always gets lost in translation.

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Face Of The Day

Apr 19 2014 @ 1:13pm


Lorenzo Triburgo explores the conflict between the real and fabricated in portraiture through his photographs of transgender people:

“I wanted to make a genuine, proud portrait while at the same time calling attention to the fallacy of portraiture,” [Triburgo] said in an interview. The Portland photographer sought to use the medium of photography and the theme of portraiture to explore both American masculinity and transgender identity. When he started the endeavor in 2008, Triburgo was going through his own transition so the project allowed him to navigate personal issues through professional interests.

See more of Triburgo’s work here and here.

A Short Story For Saturday

Apr 19 2014 @ 12:25pm

The opening passage of Zadie Smith’s “Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets,” from the latest issue of The Paris Review:

“Well, that’s that,” Miss Dee Pendency said, and Miss Adele, looking back over her shoulder, saw that it was. The strip of hooks had separated entirely from the rest of the corset. Dee held up the two halves, her big red slash mouth pulling in opposite directions.

“Least you can say it died in battle. Doing its duty.”

“Bitch, I’m on in ten minutes.”

When an irresistible force like your ass . . .

“Don’t sing.”

“Meets an old immovable corset like this . . . You can bet as sure as you liiiiiive!

“It’s your fault. You pulled too hard.”

“Something’s gotta give, something’s gotta give, SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE.”

“You pulled too hard.”

“Pulling’s not your problem.” Dee lifted her bony, white Midwestern leg up onto the counter, in preparation to put on a thigh-high. With a heel she indicated Miss Adele’s mountainous box of chicken and rice: “Real talk, baby.”

Keep reading here. Smith’s most recent novel is NW. Previous SSFSs here.

The View From Your Window Contest

Apr 19 2014 @ 12:00pm


You have until noon on Tuesday to guess it. City and/or state first, then country. Please put the location in the subject heading, along with any description within the email. If no one guesses the exact location, proximity counts.  Be sure to email entries to Winner gets a free The View From Your Window book or two free gift subscriptions to the Dish. Have at it.

Resegregation In The North

Apr 19 2014 @ 11:26am

Jelani Cobb points out the failure of desegregation isn’t just afflicting the South:

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The Tease Of Spring

Apr 19 2014 @ 10:55am

Linda Holmes is excited for the season:

I have feelings about spring. Every spring, I look forward to that first day that I can drive with the window down, even though I’ve been driving with the window down since I was a little girl. (I recommend accompanying this trip with the New Pornographers’ record Mass Romantic.) Every spring, there’s that one day. That one day, when you turn the corner. You hit the farmer’s market in a shirt you’ve washed and dried a hundred times until it’s fuzzy and pilling. …

It’s true: We shouldn’t grouse about the way winter hangs around. (Even though, in many places, this winter was worse than most.) We should be used to it. It starts to get better, and then it rains, it gets cold again, and we feel suspended and impatient, snapped back and forth between cold and warm. But all that angst is just part of the dance. … We are still this grumpy because we are so ready. We are leaning forward, sniffing the air, looking for blooms, grabbing a jacket for one more stupid day of stupid jacket weather, in part because we know there’s an end. It will be spring. It will get warm. There will be sun. Lust so rarely comes with a guarantee.

The Fix Is In

Apr 19 2014 @ 10:06am

Former boxing manager Charles Farrell admits to fixing fights:

Fight fixing is such an accepted part of the boxing business that there’s a standard way to do it. You call up or visit the gym of any trainer who represents “opponents,” and have the following exchange:

“I’ve got a middleweight who could use a little work.” [Read: His fight shouldn’t be more than a brisk sparring session.]

“I got a good kid. But he ain’t been in the gym much lately.” [He’s out of shape.]

“That’s OK. I’m not looking for my guy to go too long.” [It’s got to be a knockout win.]

“My kid can give him maybe three good rounds.”

And that’s it. Your fighter’s next bout will go into the record books as a third-round knockout victory.

He thinks it’s the humane thing to do:

Read On

Gracy Olmstead puts her finger on what bothers her about Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher whose refusal to pay fees for grazing his cattle on federal land ended up in an armed standoff with government agents last weekend:

Bundy isn’t upholding state sovereignty—he’s upholding his own personal conception of state sovereignty. … The problem with Bundy’s stance is that he has no higher end in this fight than his own interests. Though it’s true that the federal government’s takeover of Nevada land is decidedly frustrating to many, there are other methods of protest—less flashy and attention grabbing, perhaps, but methods which appeal to both parties and grasp the importance of compromise and persuasion. But Bundy is not interested in such methods. Rather than using the avenues and pathways presented to him, Bundy has staunchly declared his own law and allegiances.

Unfortunately, reality doesn’t work this way. If only it did—we could rebel for paying stupid taxes, refuse to ever attend jury duty, sell whatever we want on the streets without a license. Maybe our world would be better for it—or maybe it would become chaotic and anarchical, characterized by a tyrannical majority that insists on whatever it wills for its own good.

Danny Vinik takes NRO’s Kevin Williamson to task for comparing Bundy to George Washington and Mahatma Gandhi:

Read On

X Marks The Future

Apr 19 2014 @ 8:49am

In a lengthy behind-the-scenes profile of Google X – the company’s secret innovation lab responsible for driverless cars and Google Glass - Jon Gertner offers insight into a program that blurs the lines between science fiction and reality. He describes what it’s like to pitch an idea to “Rapid Eval,” X’s vetting team:

At one point, [Rapid Eval head Rich] DeVaul asks if I have any ideas of my own for Rapid Eval consideration. I had been warned in advance that he might ask this, and I came prepared with a suggestion: a “smart bullet” that could protect potential shooting victims and reduce gun violence, both accidental and intentional. You have self-driving cars that avoid harm, I say. Why not self-driving ballistics?

DeVaul doesn’t say it’s the stupidest thing he’s ever heard, which is a relief. What ensues is a conversation that feels like a rapid ascent up [an] imaginary ladder. We quickly debate the pros and cons of making guns intelligent (that technology ­already exists to a certain degree) versus making bullets intelligent (likely much more difficult). We move from a specific discussion of “self-­pulverizing” bullets with tiny, embedded hypodermic needles that deliver stun-drugs (DeVaul’s idea) to potentially using sensors and the force of gravity to bring a bullet to the ground before it can strike the wrong target ([Xer Mitch] Heinrich’s). Then comes the notion of separating the bullet’s striker from the explosive charge with a remote disabling electronic switch ([Xer Dan] Piponi). The tenor soon changes, though.

Read On

The View From Your Window

Apr 19 2014 @ 8:15am


Murfreesboro, Tennessee, 2 pm

Hyperactive Prescribing? Ctd

Apr 19 2014 @ 7:29am

A reader wraps up the popular thread:

It’s remarkable how to me how much of the ADHD discussion has focused on people who seem to have been, even before diagnosis and medication, abnormally high achievers: elite college graduates, law school graduates, medical students.

But only about a third of this country attains the level of a bachelor’s degree. I think a large part of people’s knee-jerk skepticism about ADHD stems from the fact that, at least anecdotally, this condition seems to disproportionately afflict people at or near the top of the income/education distribution. I don’t doubt the sincerity of your readers who describe what a life-changing experience it was to start taking amphetamines, and I’m sure their diagnoses have allowed them to thrive in the rarefied ranks of fast-paced, high-pressure fields like law and medicine. But it’s the preponderance of ADHD cases among exactly those kinds of people that causes the suspicious looks from the pharmacists and the eye rolls from people like me.

Is it not worth considering the possibility that the pressures and expectations of modern-day elite occupations are, for lack of a better word, insane? That the person who can simultaneously excel and be happy under the typical demands of, say, a medical resident or first-year law associate is a very rare psychological outlier? My sense is that the strong feelings some people have about the (over)diagnosis of ADHD has to do with the fear that we’re trying to medicate our way out of an existential crisis: most people were simply not designed to thrive under the conditions that society holds up as the very height of achievement.

Saying Goodbye To Gabo

Apr 18 2014 @ 8:30pm

The Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, known as “Gabo” to fans, died yesterday at age eighty-seven. Nick Caistor reflects on the Nobel laureate’s legacy:

[I]t is as a writer of fiction, enjoyed by everyone from untutored readers to academics in universities around the world, that García Márquez will be remembered. By the mid-1960s, he had published three novels that enjoyed reasonable critical acclaim in Latin America, but neither huge commercial nor international success. His fourth novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, first published not in Colombia but in Argentina, was to change all that. It tells the story of succeeding generations of the archetypal Buendía family and the amazing events that befall the isolated town of Macondo, in which fantasy and fact constantly intertwine to produce their own brand of magical logic. The novel has not only proved immediately accessible to readers everywhere, but has influenced writers of many nationalities, from Isabel Allende to Salman Rushdie. Although the novel was not the first example of magical realism produced in Latin America, it helped launch what became known as the boom in Latin American literature, which helped many young and talented writers find a new international audience for their often startlingly original work.

Josh Jones remarks on the “magical realism” label inextricably linked with García Márquez’s work:

While the term has perhaps been overused to the point of banality in critical and popular appraisals of0060919655.1.zoom Latin-American writers (some prefer Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier’s lo real maravilloso, “the marvelous real”), in Marquez’s case, it’s hard to think of a better way to describe the dense interweaving of fact and fiction in his life’s work as a writer of both fantastic stories and unflinching journalistic accounts, both of which grappled with the gross horrors of colonial plunder and exploitation and the subsequent rule of bloodthirsty dictators, incompetent patriarchs, venal oligarchs, and corporate gangsters in much of the Southern Hemisphere.

Nevertheless, it’s a description that sometimes seems to obscure García Marquez’s great purpose, marginalizing his literary vision as trendy exotica or a “postcolonial hangover.” Once asked in a Paris Review interview the year before his Nobel win about the difference between the novel and journalism, García Márquez replied, “Nothing. I don’t think there is any difference. The sources are the same, the material is the same, the resources and the language are the same.”

In that 1981 Paris Review interview, the author continued:

In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work. That’s the only difference, and it lies in the commitment of the writer. A novelist can do anything he wants so long as he makes people believe in it.

Michiko Kakutani also considers (NYT) how nonfiction shaped the novelist’s voice:

Read On

A Poem For Good Friday

Apr 18 2014 @ 8:02pm


Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

A new biography of the English poet George Herbert (1593-1633) by John Drury, Music at Midnight, has occasioned a lovely essay by Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian this week. To introduce the poems we’ve chosen for this Easter weekend, we’ll quote the opening of Lezard’s piece:

The devil, whatever people may say, doesn’t have all the best tunes. Of all the lyric poetry our language has produced, George Herbert’s is among the most musical, poignant, direct and, at the same time, subtle and intelligent. It makes allowances for the weakness of the heart—often, indeed, that is its primary subject—and nine-tenths of the poetry that survives is about God.

Herbert’s poetry was passionately admired by T.S.Eliot, W.H.Auden, and Elizabeth Bishop, who wrote, “The three qualities I admire in the poetry I like best are: Accuracy, Spontaneity, Mystery. My three ‘favorite’ poets—not the best poets, whom we all admire, but favorite in the sense of one’s ‘best friends,’ etc. are Herbert, Hopkins, and Baudelaire.

For more on Herbert, you might peruse the contemporary poet Alfred Corn’s illuminating essay on Herbert’s life as a country priest and poet. It can be found on the Poetry Society of America website here.

“Redemption” by George Herbert:

Having been tenant long to a rich Lord,
Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,
And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancel th’ old.
In heaven at his manour I him sought:
They told me there, that he was lately gone
About some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possession.
I straight return’d, and knowing his great birth,
Sought him accordingly in great resorts;
In cities, theatres, gardens, parks, and courts:
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
Of theeves and murderers: there I him espied,
Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, & died.

(Antonio Ciseri’s, Ecce homo, a depiction of Pontius Pilate presenting a scourged Christ to the people, via Wikimedia Commons)

Face Of The Day

Apr 18 2014 @ 7:35pm

Good Friday Ecumenical Service And Procession

Sister Daphne and Sister Suzette participate the ecumenical Good Friday procession  in Berlin Germany on April 18, 2014. Under the theme of “Reformation and Politics”, the Protestant church invites this year’s politicians to join the traditional march through Berlin. By Christian Marquardt/Getty Images.

Marking Jackie Robinson Day earlier this week, Matt Welch attributes the declining percentage of black baseball players in recent years to the expansion of opportunities for black men elsewhere:

Baseball, ahead of other professions, and ahead of other sports, allowed people with black skin to compete. Combined with the deep bench of talent that had been nurtured in the Negro Leagues, this opening led to black participation rates that quickly zoomed north of U.S. Census figures (which these days put the African-American population at 12.6 percent). But as other professional sports opened up and—importantly—became popular, black Americans started picking up the shoulder pads and lacing up the high-tops. Happiest of all, black kids in school nowadays know they are not doomed to max out as porters or bellhops. That doesn’t mean racism is behind us in the workplace, but it does mean that fields of competition in all walks of life have opened up in ways that even optimists would have found difficult to believe in 1964.

Meanwhile, actual “diversity” in baseball has never been higher. More than 26 percent of big-league baseball players were born outside of the United States, across 16 different countries.

Kavitha Davidson pushes back a bit:

Read On

John D. Sutter worries that the pangolin, or “scaly anteater,” could die out due to lack of publicity:

The pangolin possesses none of the cachet of better-known animals that are hot on the international black market. It lacks the tiger’s grace, the rhino’s brute strength. If the pangolin went to high school, it would be the drama geek – elusive, nocturnal, rarely appreciated and barely understood. When it’s frightened, it actually curls up into a roly-poly ball. The pangolin could go extinct before most people realize it exists. Or, more to the point: It could go extinct because of that.

Read On

Algeria Votes

Apr 18 2014 @ 6:04pm

In a primer written before yesterday’s election, Hicham Yezza outlined the state of play:

Of course, rather than a credible contest pitting six viable pretenders, the 2014 elections were always destined to be a popular referendum on the past record – and future legacy – of the one candidate many have already accepted as the inevitable winner, presidential incumbent Abdelaziz Bouteflika. In power since his election to a first term in 1999, and already the country’s longest serving leader, the 77-year-old has had a rather eventful 12 months. Having suffered a minor stroke a year ago – which consigned him to a 3-month hospital stay in Paris – he has spent much of the period since his return in June 2013 trying to shore up his position at the helm of the Algerian governing ship. Seeing him as fatally weakened, many thought the prospect of a fourth term no longer thinkable, and the outspoken nature of such scepticism presaged a palace mutiny. Instead, Bouteflika took everyone by surprise with a brutal and wide-ranging summer reshuffle at the heart of the state apparatus, chiefly an attempt to cut his key rivals within the DRS (secret services), the FLN and the army, down to size. Whatever Bouteflika’s plans for 2014 were, a side-door gentle exit was not one of them.

Nabila Ramdani provides some background on the ailing president, who local media have declared the winner before the vote count is even finished:

Bouteflika is by no means a Gaddafi, Ben Ali or Mubarak, but his decision to stand in what were described by his government as fair and free elections was unwise.

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How To Stamp Out Stampedes

Apr 18 2014 @ 5:29pm

With the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster falling this week, Chris Cocking looks at the lessons learned:

The way the police viewed football (and other) crowds in the 1980s influenced how they policed them. This is why they failed to spot the fatal crush developing until it was too late; it was exacerbated by the police believing that Liverpool fans were attempting to invade the pitch (hence the cordon they maintained near the half-way line while the disaster was at its height), when in fact they were merely trying to escape the fatal crush. This misplaced belief resulted in police pushing fans back into the pens while people still inside them were dying.

A common theme emerges runs through this catalogue of mistakes:

Read On

I’m done venting. Promise. For a sane and reality-based short history of the marriage equality movement, check out this Buzzfeed piece from a year ago by Chris Geidner, the best reporter on gay politics online. For a more objective take on Becker, here’s a very solid, informed critique by Adam Teicholz. He helps you see better why Becker’s disparagement of the key men and women who made marriage equality is so offensive. Money quote:

It will be tempting for those on the outside to dismiss Sullivan’s critique (and those, to come, of the slighted activists who will surely line up to take potshots) as the infighting and backbiting of sore losers. They are not. I have no skin in the fight between factions; to the extent I have personal connections, they are on both sides. I know Evan and others at Freedom to Marry, and Ken Mehlman, whom Becker features prominently, is a friend. I believe that marriage would not have come to New York State in 2011 if it weren’t for Melhman’s savvy, and obstinacy. But there is simply no plausible case to be made that he, Griffin, Black, Olson, and Boies—as hardworking and smart as they are—are the protagonists of the gay-rights revolution.

He’s particularly sharp on how Becker/Griffin disses one of the most gifted political strategists of the movement, Tim Gill. Hank Plante notes how Becker’s attack on everyone in the movement apart from Griffin is just an extension of Griffin’s own contempt for the two decades of staggering progress that made his unseemly credit-grabbing possible:

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