Category Archives: editing our betters

December 28, 2013, 5:44 pm

Unruly Academics, Uppity Workers

Unruly Academics

The New York Times has discovered influence peddling in academia, and it’s front page news:

But interviews with dozens of academics and traders, and a review of hundreds of emails and other documents involving two highly visible professors in the commodities field — Mr. Pirrong and Professor Scott H. Irwin at the University of Illinois — show how major players on Wall Street and elsewhere have been aggressive in underwriting and promoting academic work.

Twitter blew up, of course. The odd thing, though, is that the case against Irwin, at least, is about as substantial as a tissue in a rainstorm. There are vague mutterings about Irwin testifying before Congress on, shockingly, his area of expertise, allied with mutterings about donations to the University of Illinois. It’s not until nearly the last paragraph of a 3000 word article that we discover that:

While…

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September 17, 2012, 1:10 pm

Presentism rules in screening world history.

Andrew Marr is telling the history of the world in eight hour-long episodes of television. He puts this work in line with a series of “big histories,” including Kenneth Clark’s Civilization and E. H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World, among others. In this post for the BBC, he tries to explain who and what he left out and why, and shows that presentism is alive and well.

We’re no longer living in the Europe-first culture where Kenneth Clark so confidently stood. This had to properly reflect a world in which China, South America and India are the rising powers.

Also, I was determined that although the vast majority of history-making figures – the names we know, the rulers, the scientists – are men, this would also pay tribute to women’s contribution to history.

So, no Eurocentrism, no phallocentrism. Avoiding the DWM theory. Creditable, and bringing television history right…

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August 1, 2012, 1:07 pm

Gore Vidal: pretty good historian, and a great character in US history.

I read Henry Adams before I read Gore Vidal, but I liked Vidal better. Both were funny, but only Vidal was having fun. Which is not something everyone understands, that you can have great fun at the apocalypse. It was perhaps his least American trait.

A critic complained about the versions of Henry Adams and Henry James that Vidal made up. Vidal responded, but they made me up. He shared with Adams an apparent sense that American politics ought to have belonged to him, and as it didn’t, American history would. As motives to write history go, it isn’t the worst. He knew that the affairs of the republic were run by a small group of people who wanted to protect its property. He judged each faction of the group more or less by its tendency to agree with him.

In consequence, he had mixed feelings about FDR, who employed his father and disagreed with his grandfather; he held enduringly…

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June 9, 2012, 6:54 pm

Some notes on Prometheus and Jesus and Lawrence of Arabia.

MILDLY SPOILERY.

Prometheus wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the Star Wars prequels, but my saying that tells you about how good it was. And it tells you what kind of movie it is, too - it is after all a prequel, that exists to explain a lot of the weird stuff in Alien. The thing is, as Patton Oswalt shrewdly notes, just because we like ice cream doesn’t mean we’d like to eat a bag of rock salt. We don’t actually want to see Darth Vader as a little kid; we don’t, really, need to know where the Alien came from and what the space jockeys were unless it’s wrapped in a story bigger than “oh, that’s what that thing was.”

There are, though, some parts of Prometheus that are truly excellent. Michael Fassbender is the main one. His performance as the android David is excellent. Fassbender should have been in a decent adaptation of an Asimovian robot story; he knows how to wrestle …

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May 22, 2012, 7:09 pm

This American Epistemological Crisis.

I cannot understand the alleged crisis now reportedly plaguing This American Life – a program I have loved and listened to since its beginning. Indeed, even before I liked it, I liked Ira Glass’s reporting on NPR and even his stint hosting Talk of the Nation. I am, I think it’s fair to say, a TAL nerd. And the reason is the same reason people become nerds for anything – they believe they’ve found a group of people who share the same sensibility. But this sudden po-faced shock that David Sedaris’s stories might not be strictly factual reportage makes no sense in this sensibility, and leads me to wonder if I have been listening to a different program than TAL has been producing.

I always thought TAL aired stories chosen for their goodness as stories, and they might be true or not. Each episode of TAL is divided into “Acts” – which is something you do with a theatrical production, not…

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May 2, 2012, 1:50 pm

What’s a presidency for?

Bill Clinton knows. Reviewing Caro’s new LBJ volume, Clinton writes of Johnson:

He knew what the presidency was for: to get to people — to members of Congress, often with tricks up his sleeve; to the American people, by wearing his heart on his sleeve.

This is especially peculiar, given that earlier in the piece Clinton recounts how Johnson’s advisors told him not to expend political capital on the “hopeless cause” of civil rights legislation, and Johnson responded, “Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?”

To Johnson, the presidency was for going after big bills. To Big Bill, the presidency was for manipulating people. Or so the NYT piece would have us believe.

March 28, 2012, 7:59 pm

Bring back the Muppet Show.

The Muppets provided joy from start to finish. I knew we were in good hands from the first big musical number – part of which is above – “Life’s a Happy Song.” It gets a full, MGM-musical style choreographical treatment. It states the movie’s major theme (it will be reprised in the finale). And it also sets up the story’s major problems – Walter needs to reach Muppethood, Gary needs to reach manhood. It’s a nice piece of writing work. And the lines, “Life’s a fillet of fish … Yes, it is” still make me laugh.

Most of all, though, the movie suggested to me that the Muppets would serve us best by returning to variety television; the movie made me want to watch new episodes of The Muppet Show and made me confident it could succeed. Jack Black and Zach Gallifianakis would be great guests, as would Jason Segel and Amy Adams. The existence of Funny…

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March 18, 2012, 6:53 pm

Please don’t eat the Daiseys.

(Well it had to be something like that.)

I have three thoughts on This American Life‘s retraction of its episode, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.” If you do not involve yourself with public radio, Apple, or the Internet, briefly: (more…)

February 5, 2012, 9:20 pm

Ouch(es).

In the current New Yorker one can see, within four pages, three celebrated gender-benders get taken apart by two critics.

First John Lahr says Cynthia Nixon is, well, not really smart enough to star in Wit:

The good luck of the original production and of the 2001 film version was that they featured tart, alert, commanding actresses – Kathleen Chalfant and Emma Thompson – who could embody the psychological profile of the droll, arrogant, solitary, bluestocking professor. The bad luck of this revival … is that it does not. Cynthia Nixon, who is known to one and all as Miranda Hobbes in “Sex and the City,” plays Vivian without Chalfant’s and Thompson’s rebarbative wallop.

Let’s pause here to say (a) who wants to follow Emma Thompson in a role? and (b) what Lahr doesn’t say is that relative to the other three lead characters in “Sex and the City,” Miranda was the intellectual, which…

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January 2, 2012, 9:57 am

Finishing. And starting, too.

Over the past month, I’ve been finishing — as in, putting the final, no really, the final! — touches on my book. It’s been a huge pain because of the narrative structure I’ve adopted this go round. Lots of flashbacks means lots of moving parts. Change one thing, you have to change many things. Very annoying.

Anyway, because of my present circumstances (to recap: annoyed), I’ve been paying more attention even than usual to storytelling and editing. Which prompts two observations: first, J.K. Rowling should have edited her books. If another one of her characters “pants”, I’m going to assume Hermione or Gilderoy is trapped in a low-budget pr0n film (ick). And second, the opening twenty or so minutes of the Star Trek reboot is a model of narrative economy. Like the much-praised, and deservedly so, montage in Up (No, I’m not crying. But hang on a sec, okay? I have something…

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November 28, 2009, 8:10 am

In which I chomp on some bait.

Oh, Holbo.  I know you’re not baiting me, but it feels like you are.

John has a problem that everyone who has to teach history of early modern has to face.  The standard story explains 17th and 18th century philosophy as a debate between two epistemological factions.  The rationalists Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz meet the empiricists Locke, Berkeley, and Hume in the octagon!   Who will emerge victorious?  KANT!  Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

The virtues of the standard story are these.  Having a narrative that unites the whole period and builds towards contemporary thought helps give a survey course some thematic unity, which is important given the difficulty of the readings.  It’s also the standard story that almost every practicing philosopher has encountered, which makes it both very easy to teach and the conservative option.  Given that the students are almost certain…

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August 2, 2009, 5:17 pm

Epics of Cluelessnes

Sometime the Times slides its cluelessness past slowly and subtly, in a way that leads to doubletakes rather than immediate outrage. Sometimes, however, the Times comes in through the front door and tracks mud across the carpet on its way to beat you over the head while bringing in a faint smell of rotting fish. This week, it was the latter:

  1. On July 30, the newspaper ran an article on how the Germans ease layoffs by having laid-off workers carried on payrolls that are funded partly by the laying-off company and partly by the government. They can get retraining and job help while in this position, and the psychological effect is apparently different and more beneficial than for those who are unemployed. All-in-all, an interesting and seemingly worthy attempt to deal with unemployment in a way that focuses on the health of the workers and the companies, rather than just the latter….

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February 8, 2009, 8:16 am

Quibbles.

Having recently paid less attention to the situation in Afghanistan than to most other things, I didn’t realize that Karzai was no longer in our favor. (Sorry, “our”.) Also, I find the Times style of printing Vice President Biden’s FULL name irritating. Though I suppose I should count my blessings: at least they don’t spell out Robinette. And finally, the penultimate paragraph of this review reads:

The central plot mechanism of “Slumdog Millionaire”—Jamal (Dev Patel), a poor kid from Mumbai, overcomes his ragamuffin past and achieves fame, wealth, and selfhood by answering questions on a high-stakes game show—feels both cheesy and rigid. The movie is a Dickensian fable, but didn’t David Copperfield have to work his way up the ladder? As Jamal thinks over the questions put to him on the show, moments from his early life float through his mind, and some wrenching event…

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