Fiddler in the Subway

Michael Mechanic has an interesting interview up today on Mother Jones with Gene Weingarten: “Secrets of a Two-Time Pulitzer Winner.” Weingarten has a book coming out entitled Fiddler in the Subway, a collection of essays he wrote for The Washington Post and the WaPo magazine. After you read Mechanic’s piece, come back here to read the four Weingarten pieces, all of them excellent:

The aforementioned fiddler/violinist is Joshua Bell, whose concert at Suntory Hall in Tokyo is worth watching/hearing in full (part 1 of 5 is linked). For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.

Are you still hard up for reading material? I’m doing my best here. Last week was great because the NYT treated us to five days of Errol Morris’ fascinating series “The Anosognosic’s Dilemma.” I’ve linked to part one, where we’re introduced to the Dunning-Kruger effect:

“…If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent… When you’re incompetent, the skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.”

The analogy is to anosognosia, or the disorder where a paralytic can’t/won’t recognize that they’re paralyzed. As if I weren’t already depressed about man’s mental faculties (pace Descartes), we also get this gem from Newsweek‘s Sharon Begley:

One of the strongest, most-repeated findings in the psychology of belief is that once people have been told X, especially if X is shocking, if they are later told, “No, we were wrong about X,” most people still believe X.

God help us; it’s a wonder we can tie our shoes in the morning. By the way, if you’re interested in more of Errol Morris-esque inquiries into “unknown unknowns” (Rumsfeld), I’d highly recommend the book The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb — it is, unlike the faux-revelations of Malcolm Gladwell, a true paradigm-shifting (I use that word deliberately) work. Plus, Taleb will spare you years of agony having to learn the same things via the poker table… trust me, reading is quite preferable to bad beats in Texas hold ’em.

Anti-Statism, Relativism, Prosperity Gospel, etc.

So I took a trip to Myanmar this week. I’ll blog about it later. In the meantime I have a bunch of tabs of stuff I’ve been meaning to share and I’ll have to just dump them w/o much comment because they’re slowing down Firefox.

  • The Atlantic: “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?” by Hanna Rosin. Short answer is No, it didn’t… but the name-it-n-claim-it prosperity gospel probably contributed a little at least.
  • “Who’s Afraid of Relativism?” by Carl Raschke – summary & review of the first two chapters from Merold Westphal’s book Whose Community? Which Interpretation? Raschke is expectedly excellent:

The term “relativism” nowadays is routinely and indiscriminately used as a handy synonym for “postmodernism” by Christian and cultural mossbacks in the same way that “deconstruction” is taken as the first thesaurus entry for nihilistic devastation of the entire legacy of Western culture.  Pondering the “relativity” of the symbolic order – Einstein’s special and general theories notwithstanding – is generally regarded in these same circles as akin to taking a puff of Ouachita Gold and then inhaling.  That is, it is the first tragic slip on the slipper of the slippery slope to reprobation and incurable insanity.

  • The A.V. Club is trying to sum up the past decade. One of their lists is “The Best TV Series of the ’00s” wherein Arrested Development is somehow not #1 and NBC’s The Office bribed someone to earn an entry. I remain unimpressed by Judd Apatow’s TV work (I did like most of Funny People though, fwiw).
  • They’ve also got a big 50-entry list of “The Best Music of the Decade” which I will say is not the worst list I’ve ever read. Arcade Fire got robbed, of course, losing out to Outkast and (FFS!) Kanye; “this is an outrage” “how dare they” et cetera. No My Morning Jacket at all. Zilch. Actually, with all due respect to Win Butler & Jeff Tweedy, I may have to give my vote to “Best Album of the Decade” to Mr. Lamontagne for “Trouble.”

Best of ‘Best of Wikipedia’

These are all Wikipedia entries culled from the fascinating blog Best of Wikipedia. I’m blatantly ripping this idea off of Andrew Sullivan, but I thought it was interesting enough to re-do and compile my own list of most intriguing Wikipedia pages.

Semantic Satiation
Semantic satiation (also semantic saturation) is a cognitive neuroscience phenomenon in which repetition causes a word or phrase to temporarily lose meaning for the listener, who can only process the speech as repeated meaningless sounds.

Reductio ad Hitlerum
Reductio ad Hitlerum or reductio ad Nazium (dog Latin for “reduction or argument to Adolf Hitler or the Nazis”) is an ad hominem or ad misericordiam argument, and is a formal fallacy in logic. The name is a pun on reductio ad absurdum. The phrase reductio ad Hitlerum was coined by an academic ethicist, Leo Strauss, in 1953. Engaging in this fallacy is sometimes known as “playing the Nazi card”, by analogy to playing the race card. [similar to Godwin’s Law]

Gruen Transfer
In shopping mall design, the Gruen transfer refers to the moment when a consumer enters a shopping mall, and, surrounded by an intentionally confusing layout, loses track their original intentions. Spatial awareness of their surroundings play a key role, as does the surrounding sound and music. The effect of the transfer is marked by a slower walking pace and glazed eyes.


A Smattering of Readings

A few paragraphs that I found interesting, but didn’t merit a full post and were too long to quote on Twitter…

Firstly, a particularly insightful bit from the always provocative Slavoj Žižek:

“I’ve noticed how many of the people who consider themselves to be more radical than the liberal standard do not work in political theory proper but, as it were, hide themselves as literary critics or philosophers. It’s as if their radicalism is an excess which requires them to change genre… This excess of radicality concretely art­iculates itself in some kind of general moralistic outrage. You get a kind of abstract, moralistic politics in which you ­focus on groups which are obviously underprivileged – other races, gays and so on – and then you explode in all your moralistic rage. This has to do with what you might call our cultural, post-political capitalism, in which the most passionate struggles are cultural ones. A large majority of the left doesn’t question liberal democracy and capitalism as such. In the same way that when we were young we wanted socialism with a human face, what a large part of today’s left want is capitalism with a human face.”

Secondly, the excellent last paragraph from a short fiction piece by C.U.’s own Michael Shirzadian:

“No woman, no cry, he whispers to himself, mistaking Marley’s lyric for something prescriptive, something almost didactic, a warning that love isn’t worth it. He believes it’s a philosophy to live by. Believes it’s a universal maxim sent by a good god, a merciful god, a god of music and fertility; a trickster, some say.”

Thirdly, we have a funny-but-true quip from the dude behind Stuff Fundies Like:

“If you believe that saying grace over every meal (including the bag of popcorn you consume while watching The Sound of Music) is always meaningful but also think that having Communion once a week will trivialize its practice — you might be a fundamentalist.”

And lastly, an excerpt from A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically — the book I’m reading currently — wherein he humorously echoes my own experience with a massive beard:

“As I write this, I have a beard that makes me resemble Moses. Or Abe Lincoln. Or Ted Kaczynski. I’ve been called all three.
It’s not a well-manicured, socially acceptable beard. It’s an untamed mass that creeps up toward my eyeballs and drapes below my neckline.
I’ve never allowed my facial hair to grow before, and it’s been an odd and enlightening experience. I’ve been inducted into a secret fraternity of bearded guys — we nod at each other as we pass on the street, giving a knowing quarter smile. Strangers have come up to me and petted my beard, it’s a Labrador retriever puppy or a pregnant woman’s stomach.
I’ve suffered for my beard. It’s been caught in jacket zippers and been tugged on by my surprisingly strong two-year-old son. I’ve spent a lot of time answering questions at airport security.
I’ve been asked if I’m named smith and sell cough drops with my brother. ZZ Top is mentioned at least three times a week. Passersby have shouted, ‘Yo, Gandalf!’ Someone called me Steven Seagal, which I found curious, since he doesn’t have a beard.
I’ve battled itch and heat. I’ve spent a week’s salary on balms, powders, ointments, and conditioners. My beard has been a temporary home to cappuccino foam and lentil soup. And it’s upset people. Thus far, two little girls have burst into tears, and one boy has hidden behind his mother.”

Ocean of Noise

J. Motta’s got me hooked on Swaptree and I’ve made a few trades already. One of my favorite swaps has to be getting rid of a neurotic alcoholic’s memoir in exchange for a tome on deconstructive religion & the meaning of forgiveness. No disrespect intended to Mr. Burrough’s, but he’s no Derrida.

Question: if you had live, even work, for a season in a) Buenos Aires, Argentina; b) Alexandria, Egypt; or c) Kathmandu, Nepal — which would it be?

I think everyone’s heard this by now, but Liberty University has shut down their chapter of College Democrats. This kind of tragi-comic act needs no comment from me.

Oh, and here’s yet another conservative being waterboarded. Three jeers for Sean Hannity for still not having the balls to do this. 

For no related reason, here’s an interesting photo, though I don’t know where it’s from. Reminds me of Manila.

Torture Follow-up

Someone living out Luke 6:27?

I forgot to link to these yesterday in my post on torture & Christianity:

Make Your Predictions

Time to call it: I’m predicting 292 electoral votes for Mr. Barack. Leave your predictions in the comments. Whomever guesses closest is a communist gets some sort of prize. The prize may or may not be a personal dinner with Pres. Obama, or an Obama Candy Bar, or just bragging rights.

Also, this is amazing: Alan Greenspan has admitted that the free market sucks ass. Or something similar. I wrote in Cedars a couple weeks ago that this current economic mess should cause a crisis of faith for freewheeling free market fundamentalists. I’m glad Mr. Greenspan is a fan of my column.
“You know why the ‘invisible hand’ is invisible? Because it doesn’t exist.”

My new Cedars articles (due Oct. 30th) are uninspired, but sometimes that’s just how the cookie crumbles. One piece is a review of Illuminated World’s “The Book: New Testament”. The other is an article begging students not to vote based on complete lies: Obama is a Muslim, Obama has a fake birth certificate, Obama hates the national anthem, and so forth. I ended by suggesting they utilize sites like Political Compass to find out which candidate more closely shared their own views. All I’m looking for is one person to say “Hey I’m still voting for McCain, but thanks to you I’m no longer voting based on blatant lies about Obama.”

The Fall of America, Inc

What I’m reading:

  • The Fall of America, Inc“Along with some of Wall Street’s most storied firms, a certain vision of capitalism has collapsed. How we restore faith in our brand.” Written by, of all people, the infamous Francis Fukuyama.
  • The End of Arrogance: America Loses Its Dominant Economic Role
  • Make-Believe Maverick by Tim Dickinson – “A closer look at the life and career of John McCain reveals a disturbing record of recklessness and dishonesty.”
  • By the way, amidst all the talk of Bill Ayers make sure you watch the great Weather Underground documentary from six years ago. Speaking of bad associations, the Obama/Biden camp has created Keating Economics featuring a good 13-minute mini-documentary on McCain’s involvement with the Keating Five.

    And lastly:

    Also, Emo Obama comes courtesy of Ryan Futrell.

    Electoral Compass USA

    -> Electoral Compass USA: analyzes your position on “the issues” compared to the presidential candidates.

    Issue : Candidate I’m closet to
    Gun control: Obama
    Environment: Edwards
    Iraq: Paul
    Economy: Richardson
    Income: tie Obama/Clinton
    National Security: Richardson
    Family: Giuliani
    Immigration: Richardson
    Healthcare: Clinton
    Law and order: tie Obama/Paul
    Education: Edwards
    Terrorism: Obama

    All issues:
    1. Barack Obama
    2. John Edwards
    3. tie Bill Richardson / Hillary Clinton

    Farthest from:
    1. Fred Thompson
    2. Mike Huckabee
    3. Mitt Romney

    Speaking of Obama, he recently co-led a bipartisan effort to make government spending more transparent by founding USA Spending.Gov. The massive website allows anyone easy access to all federal spending records with unprecedented openness & detail.It allows me to discover, for example, that in my Ohio district (#13) the single largest contract in 2007 was from the Department of Veterans Affairs for $56.2M awarded — after open competition and 4 competing bids — to Microtechnologies LLC to perform “automatic data processing and telecom services.” I also learned that the Department of the Interior paid Envirocom Construction $455k to replace an aqueduct and that General Services Administration paid Jeter Systems a nice $243k for furniture.

    Nationally, the Lockheed Martin Corporation scored biggest in 2007, snagging $24.5 billion, or 7.6% of the federal budget. Those bastards at KBR Inc. weaseled their way into a mere $3.9B.

    It was also interesting to compare states — noting, for example, that Virginia has 2.6% of the US population but gets 9.8% of all federal money; not surprisingly, Maryland (home to Lockheed Martin) & D.C. (home to Matt Shiraki) also fare well. New York is the biggest loser, home to 6.4% of Americans but only getting 2.6% of the payout pie; Illinois and Michigan follow behind NY.

    Quirk & idiosyncracy

    Referring to Wes Anderson’s new movie The Darjeeling Limited, the NYT refers to this NY Mag piece as a defense of Anderson, and this Atlantic Monthly essay as the prosecution. They’re both worth reading, particularly the latter since its review of Darjeeling Limited is part of a large piece on “quirk,” a notion that really fascinates me (though I disagree with Hirschorn’s take on it). I’m reminded of three things:

  • A review I plan to write of John Vanderslice’s Emerald City by way of responding to the Pitchfork review in which Vanderslice is, like Anderson, essentially faulted for having a certain aesthetic, certain idiosyncrasies or private obsessions. Later I intend to give a full defense of Emerald City since I consider it one of the top 5 albums of 2007.
  • A famous(ish) essay by Rorty entitled Trotsky and the Wild Orchids, an autobiographical piece I alluded to in my last post. Rorty also wrestles with the question of our idiosyncrasies and personal eccentricities.
  • I have an essay, which I may or may not post later, that I wrote on Britney Spears and postmodernism. The concept of cultural identity (in which “quirk” definitely relates) is very intriguing to me and I told Heath yesterday that I see a way to weave together various threads in philosophy, art, music, and film into a coherent whole. This is obviously a large project, but feasible, and one in which Britney Spears actually serves as a fantastic introduction.Also at Atlantic Monthly:
  • About Facebook. Their entire current issue looks great, but little of it is fully available online.Speaking of bogus theories that I’ve fabricated: I also have a theory about swearing and the real issue involved in objections to swearing – ask me in person if you’re interested.
  • Link dump

    Double post for your asses because I’m generous and because now I’m all worked up about Babel again. And now I’m pissed at Blogger for including ñ’s everywhere.

  • High-res photos of squished bugs, on a window screen I think.
  • Where the Coffee Shop Meets the Cubicle – man I’d love for one of these around here. I’d definitely choose to work there over my house.
  • Urban Curators frame urban decay as art.
  • 25 Net Startups to Watch
  • Thom Yorke portrait done in Photoshop – cool time-lapse video
  • Earth’s Crust Missing in Mid-Atlantic – don’t actually know why I’m so interested in this. The idea just seems crazy to me I guess.