A Love Story Between Business Managers, Written by a Business Manager

From The New Yorker:

For years, Sara had gazed at him across the cafeteria with the faint idea of asking him out, but it had just never seemed scalable. Until today.

“Jared,” Sara began, with a quiver in her voice, “I just wanted to reach out and see if you had the capacity to connect with me over drinks tonight.”

Jared did not facilitate a response immediately, and, as she waited, Sara began to wonder whether she’d dropped the ball on this entirely. Should she have added value first, with small talk? Probably, but it was too late now.

“Unfortunately, I can’t,” Jared finally said.

Sara felt her heart break apart, like an animated pie chart in one of her slide decks. I should never have actioned this, she thought.

“But,” Jared pivoted, “I have bandwidth to do Thursday.”

Her heart circled back to a better space. He hadn’t rejected her; they had just hit a roadblock.

“Let me check my calendar,” she said, having learned that appearing to be cool in situations like these can be key.

“Actually, you know what?” Jared said. “Back to your initial proposal of connecting today. What were you thinking in terms of timelines?”

“6:30 p.m.?” she said.

“With some restructuring, I think I will be able to give you some face time then,” he said.

“That’s a good outcome,” Sara said, with a grin. “I’ll see you E.O.D.”

That afternoon, her workflow was significantly compromised. Going forward, there was simply no prospect as exciting as touching base with Jared. She spent the rest of the day overwhelmed by a raft of feelings that she could not unpack, which was strange, because unpacking issues was usually one of her core strengths.

. . . .

“I guess one of us should go up and order drinks,” Sara said, to break the cycle.

“Oh,” Jared said, fumbling for his wallet. “Let me spearhead that.”

After the first couple of margaritas, they began to find some shareable content. And, by the third, they found themselves on a deep dive, deeper than either of them had ever dived before during an initial one-on-one. Midway through the fifth drink, they were holding hands.

“You’re such a thought leader,” Jared whispered in Sara’s ear. The synergy was electric.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

J.D. Salinger’s Family to Publish Trove of Secret Works

From HuffPost:

The family of writer J.D. Salinger plans to publish a wealth of secret works he created over the last half century of his life, his son told The Guardian in an interview published Monday.

“This was somebody who was writing for 50 years without publishing, so that’s a lot of material,” Matt Salinger told the newspaper. He said he and Salinger’s widow, Colleen O’Neill, are “going as fast as we freaking can” to get it ready for publication. But he warned that it could take years — hopefully less than a decade — to publish everything the reclusive author left behind after his death in 2010. But Matt Salinger vowed: “All of what he wrote will at some point be shared.”

He said his dad “wanted me to pull it together, and because of the scope of the job, he knew it would take a long time.”

The author of the painful coming-of-age novel “Catcher in the Rye” and creator of the ultimate angry-young-man protagonist Holden Caulfield “teemed with ideas and thoughts,” said his son. “He’d be driving the car and pull over to write something and laugh,” and he had a notebook next to every chair in his isolated New Hampshire home, Matt said.

Link to the rest at HuffPost

Plumbing

Today was not just another Monday at Casa PG.

A quantity of water refused to disappear down a drain despite PG’s most strenuous efforts to persuade it to do so. Had PG been billing by the hour for the time he spent trying to make the water go away, he could have probably afforded to hire a plumber.

Fortunately, one of the nicest men in the world lives a couple of blocks away from PG. Among his many other virtues, this friend knows how to fix anything around the house. PG called him up and he promptly showed up with a bag of tools.

In about 15 minutes, the friend was able to make the water begin its long trek back to the ocean while having a nice chat with PG about avoiding future problems of a similar nature.

PG proposes a toast to all kind people who know how to solve the problems we do not ourselves know how to solve. He can fix many things, but would rather deal with electricity than waste water.

PG also apologizes for posting a bit less today.

Dear Children

Dear Children,

I want to share something with you — and that is how much I loved books when I was your age. Of course, back then there was no Internet, no television — we learned everything from printed books. We didn’t have much money when I was a child and I couldn’t afford new books, so most of what I read came from our library. But I also used to spend hours in a very small second hand book shop. The owner was an old man who never had time to arrange his books properly. They were piled everywhere and I would sit there, surrounded by all that information about everything imaginable. I would save up any money I got for my birthday or doing odd jobs so that I could buy one of those books. Of course, you can look up everything on the Internet now. But there is something very special about a book — the feel of it in your hands and the way it looks on the table by your bed, or nestled in with others in the bookcase.

I loved to read in bed, and after I had to put the lights out I would read under the bedclothes with a torch, always hoping my mother would not come in and find out! I used to read curled up in front of the fire on a cold winter evening. And in the summer I would take my special books up my favorite tree in the garden. My Beech Tree. Up there I read stories of faraway places and I imagined I was there. I especially loved reading about Doctor Doolittle and how he learned to talk to animals. And I read about Tarzan of the Apes. And the more I read, the more I wanted to read.

I was ten years old when I decided I would go to Africa when I grew up to live with animals and write books about them. And that is what I did, eventually. I lived with chimpanzees in Africa and I am still writing books about them and other animals. In fact, I love writing books as much as reading them — I hope you will enjoy reading some of the ones that I have written for you.

Jane Goodall

From A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader


Aretha’s Grace

Not exactly to do with books, but PG will exercise a bit of editorial privilege because he enjoyed reading the OP.

From The New York Review of Books:

The queen’s power dwells in her silence. That’s not what one expects to learn from a film about an almighty singer whose voice created a score for several dramatic decades of American life, and who will be ever defined by the way that voice made people feel. But it’s one of many striking revelations about Aretha Franklin in a new film that stars her, a film that is extraordinary in part because of the sense in which it’s not new at all.

Amazing Grace, Franklin’s double album released in 1972, saw the soul-pop superstar return to her “gospel roots”—on her own terms and with the aim less of returning to church than of tying its songs to her search for roots of a different kind; on the cover of the album she wears an Afrocentric gown. Made up of old spirituals and newer tunes lent Old Testament weight, the album went on to sell two million copies. The film of the same name documents its making. It captures Franklin—along with a crack band, a soaring choir, and a church full of exultant congregants in South LA—pouring her sweat and self into gospel classics such as “Precious Lord” and “The Old Landmark” and “Mary, Don’t You Weep” over two nights at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts.

. . . .

The footage it uses was shot by a young Sydney Pollack. But the finished film was no more completed by him than Aretha Franklin “didn’t want you to see it,” as you may have read after its triumphant unveiling in New York late last year. The singer did file a lawsuit, during the Telluride Film Festival of 2015, to delay its release.

. . . .

It was a few hours before the film’s would-be premiere for a few hundred of us there, including a coterie of the movie’s lesser-known performers and makers who’d made the trip to Telluride, that word arrived from over the mountains: Franklin sought an injunction in federal court in Denver to forestall a film that—notwithstanding her old contract assenting to its making—she said represented a breach of “her rights to use and control her name and likeness.” When potential distributors offered the amount of money she wanted, she in fact agreed to the film’s release. But a series of deals fell apart for reasons including the fact, unknown by many of the lawyers and agents trying to get her on the phone, that she had pancreatic cancer. And then, last August, the Queen of Soul died, aged seventy-six.

Elliott flew to Detroit for her funeral. Over years of trying to win the star’s blessing to release the movie, he had befriended her family, and he and Sabrina Owens, a niece of Franklin’s who is now handling her estate, arranged for a screening of Amazing Grace for Franklin’s heirs and kin. They readily agreed that her memory and legacy could only benefit from this superlative portrait of the singer at her absolute peak, performing the songs that made her.

. . . .

[P]art of the film’s power is the setting: a humble church, housed in an old neighborhood cinema, that’s filled with neighbors and friends and family of the performers. Their response to this music—their music—is authentic indeed. Authentic, too, is the tenderness glimpsed between Aretha and her father, the august preacher C.L. Franklin, when he joins the proceedings to wipe sweat from her brow under Pollack’s hot lights, and the emotion that grips the Reverend James Cleveland, the gospel maestro who taught Aretha piano and serves as the session leader. In the midst of his former pupil’s sublime rendition of “Amazing Grace,” Cleveland leans over his chair in sobs.

. . . .

“If you want to know the truth, Aretha never left the church!” C.L. Franklin’s memorable exclamation on the album, we learn from the film, was uttered on the second night of recording. We watch him enter the church with his bouffant-coiffed and stole-wearing companion, the gospel legend Clara Ward, and it’s her song, “How I Got Over,” that they watch C. L.’s daughter perform. Rising from his seat in the front row, the Reverend Franklin is a debonair figure in a royal blue suit, his hair slicked straight, his cadence mesmeric as he extols her gift (“not only because Aretha is my daughter; Aretha’s a stone singer”) and emphasizes that she’d never left Jesus. True, too, was his insistence that he bore no hostility to black music of the non-God-fearing kind. “Some church people didn’t approve [of] the blues,” Franklin later told the scholar Jeff Todd Titon. “But they didn’t understand that it was part of their cultural heritage.”

. . . .

Watching Jagger watch Franklin sing for James Cleveland and Clara Ward, one can’t help but ponder the difference between her musical backstory and that of the British lovers of black American music. They shaped the zeitgeist by adoring such luminaries from afar, rather than learning from them, as Aretha did, in her own living room. But one is struck, also, by gospel’s capacity to absorb and make its own the repertory of the culture at large (and not only because Aretha liked the songs of Carole King). The film captures the song that accompanies Alexander Hamilton as he leads the choir up and down the sanctuary’s aisle: George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord.”

Link to the rest at The New York Review of Books

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https://youtu.be/BA6lBW3R__M

Cold Temperatures

For those outside of the United States, the Midwest is experiencing extremely cold temperatures today.

UPDATE: A Canadian visitor to TPV suggested that a great many people who live outside of the United States have no idea where or what the Midwest is. It’s generally defined as a region of the north-central United States around the Great Lakes and the upper Mississippi Valley and considered to include Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska. The northernmost Midwestern states abut Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

From The Wall Street Journal:

The lowest temperatures in decades brought life to a near standstill for millions in the Midwest and beyond as a polar vortex blanketed the region, closing schools, businesses and even halting mail delivery.

The icy blast prompted governors to declare states of emergency in Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois as windchill temperatures fell to minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit across much of the Chicago area and near minus 70 across parts of the upper Midwest. Thousands of flights were canceled and Amtrak canceled all trains in and out of Chicago.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Having lived in Chicago and Minnesota during very cold weather, PG empathizes with visitors to TPV who are experiencing these temperatures. PG remembers that when the heating system in his abode was operating at full capacity and the interior temperature was slowly declining, it wasn’t a great feeling.

PG suggests it’s a good day to stay inside and read. Or write.

Missed It!

Nothing to do with books, but a nice respite from blog problems.

Yesterday was National Chocolate Cake Day.

PG just learned about that important event this morning, so he hereby declares today as National Chocolate Cake Makeup Day!

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Blog Problems

UPDATE:

When PG was checking the temporary TPV theme discussed below, he discovered strange behavior several posts down from the top. The behavior began immediately after a post that contained some Amazon Associates javascript that caused a buy ad to appear.

On a hunch, PG removed the script and peace returned to the temporary theme. When PG tested the old faithful TPV theme, the formatting problems had disappeared.

He’ll do more checking tomorrow, but hopes that was the only problem.

EARLIER POST

PG discovered some formatting problems with TPV later on Sunday night.

The top of the right column was picking up the title of a TPV post farther down the first page instead of the widgets that should have appeared in that location. The widgets were pushed way down to the bottom of the first page.

PG tried some fixes, but nothing seemed to work.

As a temporary expediency to keep the blog posts available, PG switched to a different WordPress theme that he had played with as a possible replacement for the long-without-updates theme was previously using.

There are a couple of things PG doesn’t like about the theme you see right now, but at least it’s showing the blog posts. The right column of TPV is not showing up, but that is filled with general information that doesn’t get updated very often.

PG apologizes for any inconvenience. He’ll be working on a permanent theme fix on Monday and will try not to disrupt the experience of his visitors too severely.

The Evolution of Harry Bosch

From Crime Reads:

On January 21, 1992, Little, Brown and Co. published the debut novel of a writer so obscure that even the newspaper where he worked, the Los Angeles Times, did not seem to notice. The upstart crow was Michael Connelly and his debut, The Black Echo, introduced the world to a hard-boiled LAPD homicide detective named Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch. The Black Echo managed to find an audience and win the Edgar Award for best debut mystery. Thanks to his tireless “always be writing” work ethic, the prolific Connelly went on to publish thirty-two novels, twenty-one in the Bosch series. His novels have been translated into more than forty foreign languages and sold more than 70 million copies. Despite that success, Connelly is showing no sign of slowing down. With 2018’s Dark Sacred Night, he pairs Bosch with a younger LAPD homicide detective Renee Ballard, and the new partnership has been receiving glowing reviews. In recent years Connelly has even transcended print; in 2015 he transformed his hero into the eponymous subject of a series on Amazon Prime.  A fifth season of “Bosch” is slated to air in early 2019 and the network is promising a sixth after that.

. . . .

I read the Bosch books in chronological order and the experience has been an enlightening one. I discovered that although Detective Bosch has had many partners over the years, his most important partner has been with him from the start. That partner is the city of Los Angeles, the city Bosch serves and protects. The pairing is intentional. “Bosch has allowed me to chronicle the evolution of a city over 20 years,” the author told the UK Independent in 2016. “There is a certain aura about Los Angeles; it’s not necessarily a beautiful thing, but it’s part of Harry Bosch.”

The author has now been holding his mirror to the City of Angels and its police department for more than 25 years, and he’s right, the images, especially for city leaders and department brass, are not always pretty. But thanks to Connelly’s keen eye for observation, and his reporter’s instinct for cultivating sources, especially within the LAPD, the Bosch books, even in their most audacious fictions, remain grounded in fact. For my money, no author, in any genre—fact or fiction—has written more convincingly, over a more sustained basis, about Los Angeles, about the LAPD or about homicide.

. . . .

The first three novels in the series, The Black Echo, The Black Ice and The Concrete Blonde, are the books where Connelly introduced Bosch and found his early footing as a novelist. By coincidence—although, according to Bosch, “there are no coincidences”—this trio of stories also straddle one of the most important social events in Los Angeles’s history, the divide that Bosch calls “BK and AK.” In The Concrete Blonde, published in 1995, Bosch describes the seismic changes the city experienced as “Before King” and “After King,” referring to the citywide chaos that gripped Los Angeles in April 1992, after the acquittal of four white cops for their roles in the videotaped beating of African-American motorist Rodney King. For Bosch, that line of demarcation is every bit as monumental as BC and AD.

The Concrete Blonde is the first Bosch novel to incorporate the Rodney King case and its fallout on the LAPD and the city. Civil Rights lawyer Honey “Money” Chandler has Harry on the ropes in a federal civil rights case arising from Harry’s shooting of a serial killer. To defend the shooting and save his career, Harry must also solve the riddle posed by a new “copycat” serial killer. It’s a great read, balancing a courtroom drama with a police procedural as Harry races to find the copycat killer before his court case goes to the jury. The Concrete Blonde received national attention when President Clinton was spotted with a copy under his arm while on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. The press could not resist the comic irony and the tabloid attention helped put Connelly on the bestseller list, where he has remained ever since.

. . . .

After the success of The Concrete Blonde, Connelly hit his stride as a crime writer.  Between 1996’s The Last Coyote and City of Bones in 2002, Connelly produced a string of near flawless Bosch novelsThese are the stories that define Bosch’s character and his mission for the remainder of the series. In the opening chapter of the The Last Coyote Bosch articulates his mission to a police shrink pressing him about his motivations.  Bosch tells the psychologist “in homicide there is one rule that I have when it comes to the cases I get.  Everybody counts or nobody counts.” When asked to explain his rule, Bosch answers: “Just what I said.  Everybody counts or nobody counts. That’s it. It means I bust my ass to make a case whether it’s a prostitute or the mayor’s wife.  That’s my rule.”

Seven years later, in City of Bones, Bosch elaborated on his code, using the iconic blue uniforms of his LAPD as a touchstone:  “I have faith and I have a mission. Call it blue religion, call it whatever you like. It’s the belief that those bones came out of the ground for a reason. That they came out of the ground for me to find, and for me to do something about. And that’s what holds me together and keeps me going.”

Link to the rest at Crime Reads

The Offbeat Genius of a Great American Spy

From The Wall Street Journal:

In 1976, the CIA’s Moscow station heard some excellent news. One of its most prized sources, a well-placed Soviet diplomat who’d turned on the regime, had been transferred back to Moscow.

The asset, code-named TRIGON, had already been supplied with the T-100, an experimental CIA camera concealed inside a pen, and was in a perfect position to copy scores of classified documents.

The only challenge was getting in touch with him.

Armed with a seemingly limitless budget, the KGB had put an estimated 50,000 spies on the streets of Moscow, wrapping the city in an impenetrable surveillance blanket. Any CIA officer who left the U.S. embassy would be followed by highly-trained teams of 20 or more.

So many CIA assets had been exposed and killed over the last decade that the station had all but stopped trying to arrange face-to-face meetings. Some spymasters in Washington viewed Moscow as a lost cause. The station chiefs had only one card left to play.

When he arrived in Moscow in 1976, Tony Mendez had spent 11 years at the CIA but had little experience in covert operations. He’d originally been recruited as an artist. Now he ran the agency’s disguise branch.

Mr. Mendez met with every field officer in Moscow. He logged their exact clothing and shoe sizes, collected hair samples and color-matched their skin tones. A few months later, he returned from his laboratory with some unusual cargo: enough masks, wigs, dental facades, prosthetics, makeup palettes and made-to-measure costumes to put on a magic show. If the CIA wanted to operate freely in Moscow, its agents had to disappear.

Mr. Mendez and his team trained operatives to apply disguises in layers and showed them how to radically alter their appearance on the street, changing from a man in a suit to an old woman in a shawl in less than 45 seconds. To help them bail out of moving cars undetected, CIA technologists invented the “Jack in the Box,” a briefcase containing a spring-loaded inflatable dummy that popped up in the empty seat.

As far-fetched as it sounds, this experiment in deception and illusion became the central pillar of a unique operational mindset known as “the Moscow Rules.” By learning to outfox the KGB, the Moscow station not only connected with TRIGON, it scored some the biggest espionage coups in American history.

. . . .

The operation Mr. Mendez is best known for was the hair-raising exfiltration of six U.S. diplomats from Iran in 1980. After concocting a madcap cover story about a fake Hollywood movie, he posed as an Irish filmmaker and smuggled the diplomats out of Tehran disguised as a Canadian film crew.

This audacious feat of leadership earned Mr. Mendez the Intelligence Star for valor, but like all CIA operations, its details were immediately locked in a vault. When Mr. Mendez retired in 1990, he never imagined the story, or his identity, might be disclosed.

In 1997, however, the CIA’s then-director, George Tenet, decided to declassify the operation. He even told Mr. Mendez to talk to the press. The story would inspire the 2012 movie “Argo,” in which Ben Affleck played Tony. It won three Academy Awards including best picture.

. . . .

Mr. Mendez was a reluctant celebrity. He felt more comfortable blending into the background. But he also realized that his unsolicited fame could be used for good. Together with his wife, Jonna, herself a former CIA chief of disguise, he won the CIA’s approval to write books.

And that’s how I got to know them.

In 2002, I arrived at a Manhattan restaurant fully expecting to be dazzled. My wife, Christy Fletcher, a literary agent, had invited me to meet two of her newest clients—Tony and Jonna Mendez.

Tony wasn’t just a spy, he’d been named one of the 50 most-influential “Trailblazers” in CIA history. I pictured him arriving in a Savile Row suit with a shoulder holster, arm in arm with Jonna in diamonds, black Chanel and a dagger strapped to her thigh.

I realized I had a lot to learn about spies.

As their books make clear, the best cover for a real spy is to be neither remarkable nor unremarkable. Tony came to dinner wearing jeans and a sweater. He was handsome, but not in a way that turns heads. No matter the topic, he spoke in the same low, colorless rumble. The Mendezes were warm, curious and unfailingly modest. When it came to the CIA, they mostly talked about lifelong friends they’d made in the field.

Tony and Jonna didn’t think they should receive all the credit. Becoming authors was a way for them to acknowledge the artisans, tradesmen, magicians, makeup artists and Hollywood prop-masters who had made invaluable contributions by sharing their trade secrets.

They also wanted Americans to know that CIA officers weren’t deranged assassins, but good, hardworking people trying to keep the country safe without expecting to be thanked.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Art, Addiction, and Making Movies

From Crime Reads:

Every long-running crime series, I suspect, has a central feeling that keeps readers coming back for more. For James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series, now over thirty years and twenty-two novels strong, it’s hard if not impossible to put to words what that feeling is except to say there’s a soulfulness to Robicheaux’s world, a strand of deep emotion that seems to act as the connective tissue between characters from all walks of life, the Louisiana terrain, and whatever new murder investigation is haunting Dave’s nights this go around. In Burke’s latest, New Iberia Blues, that investigation involves bodies set in religious poses washing up on the Louisiana shore, and on a crowd of brash and occasionally brilliant Hollywood types scouting the area for a new production taking advantage of the state’s booming film industry. Although really, that’s just the start of it. This being a Robicheaux novel, there’s also the cast of usual allies, eccentrics, and rogues, all swirling around the old detective Dave, who carefully guards his sobriety, his integrity, and those few loved ones he still has close by. The result is among Burke’s finest, most poignant novels. I took the opportunity of its release to ask Burke a few questions about his distrust of Hollywood, his deep respect for movies as an art form, and which of the many characters passing through Dave’s world have a special hold on Burke’s own imagination.

Dwyer Murphy: The film industry, and in particular the industry’s growing presence in Louisiana, plays a central role in the new book. Is that a dynamic you’ve been looking to explore or just a piece of serendipity that worked for this particular story?

James Lee Burke: I’m fascinated with film and the film industry and always have been. If there is a secular American cathedral, it’s Hollywood. We elect actors to public office, including the presidency, and simultaneously denigrate Hollywood. Before I get on the bus I’m determined to get my novel House of the Rising Sun on the screen.

. . . .

Movie-making and religion seem to take on a kind of equivalence here, at least for certain characters, like Desmond Cormier, the local kid made good as a  Hollywood director. Do you see any connections between the two practices? 

Yes, movie-making as well as all other forms of art represent the one area of the human experience in which we truly share the work of God, namely, the act of creation. It’s like dipping your hand into infinity. Every artist knows this, and he also knows that the gift comes from outside himself and the gift is there to make the world a better place.

. . . .

In New Iberia Blues, Dave gets a new partner, Bailey Ribbons, a former middle school teacher who’s relatively new to the detective ranks. With a long-running series and a sometimes prickly protagonist like Dave, do you worry about introducing a new partner? Any concerns over upsetting Dave’s world, or is that the point?

The young detective with whom Dave is working is based on the character Clementine Carter in John Ford’s famous film about the passing of the American frontier. For Dave the young detective, Bailey Ribbons, is a symbol of a past world that seems to be disappearing.

Link to the rest at Crime Reads

Autoplaying Video

Yesterday, PG embedded a video in one of his posts that included an autoplay feature he couldn’t figure out how to turn off. Individual visitors to TPV could mute the video, but everybody heard at least some of the video’s soundtrack.

PG apologized in advance for the autoplay. Some visitors to TPV were not happy with the video.

PG has moved the video to a place among the older posts on TPV, so the post doesn’t appear on the first page of the blog. For PG, that silenced the video when he pulls up thepassivevoice.com.

Here’s a link to the post for any who wish to see what’s been going on.

PG is unlikely to include any autoplay videos in future posts.

Spycraft

From The New Yorker:

Most people know John Frankenheimer’s movie “The Manchurian Candidate,” which stars Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and Angela Lansbury in the story of an American soldier who is captured in Korea and programmed by Chinese Communists to kill on command. And most people probably think of the movie as a classic of Cold War culture, like “On the Beach” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”—a popular work articulating the anxieties of an era. In fact, “The Manchurian Candidate” was a flop. It was released in the fall of 1962, failed to recover its costs, and was pulled from distribution two years later, after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It turned up a few times on television, but it was not shown in a movie theatre again until 1987, which—nearly the end of the Cold War—is the year its popularity dates from. The true artifact of Cold War culture is the novel, by Richard Condon, that the movie was based on.

Condon’s book came out in 1959 and was a best-seller. It was praised in the Times (“a wild, vigorous, curiously readable melange”) and The New Yorker (“a wild and exhilarating satire”); Time named it one of the Ten Best Bad Novels—which, from a publisher’s point of view, is far from the worst thing that might be said about a book. The novel’s success made Condon rich; he spent most of the rest of his life abroad, producing many more works in the genre that Time had identified, including “Winter Kills,” in 1974, and, in 1982, “Prizzi’s Honor.” His adaptation of that novel for the John Huston movie received an Academy Award nomination in 1986. He died in 1996.

. . . .

Before he was a novelist, Condon was a movie publicist. He began, in 1936, at Walt Disney Productions, where he promoted “Fantasia” and “Dumbo,” among other animated masterpieces, and moved on to a succession of studios, finishing up at United Artists, which he left in 1957. He didn’t know what he wanted to do next; he just wanted out. “The only thing I knew how to do was spell,” he later explained, so he did the logical thing and became a writer. Condon claimed that his work in Hollywood had given him three ulcers. He also claimed that he had seen, during his years there, ten thousand movies, an experience that he believed gave him (his words) “an unconscious grounding in storytelling.”

. . . .

The film historian David Thomson describes it as “a book written so that an idiot could film it.” No doubt Condon wrote “The Manchurian Candidate” with a movie deal in mind. It was his second novel; his first, called “The Oldest Confession,” was also made into a movie—“The Happy Thieves,” starring Rex Harrison (a flop that stayed a flop). But the claim that Condon’s “Manchurian Candidate” is not much more than a draft for the screenplay (which was written by George Axelrod, the author of “The Seven Year Itch”) is peculiar. Michael Crichton writes books that any idiot can film; he practically supplies camera angles. But Condon’s is not an easy book to film, in part because its tone is not readily imitated cinematically, and in part because much of it is, or was in 1962, virtually unfilmable. Strange as the movie is—a thriller teetering on the edge of camp—the book is stranger.

Time, a magazine whose editors, after all, have daily experience with overcooked prose, was not wrong in seeing something splendid in the badness of Condon’s book. “The Manchurian Candidate” may be pulp, but it is very tony pulp. It is a man in a tartan tuxedo, chicken à la king with shaved truffles, a signed LeRoy Neiman. It’s Mickey Spillane with an M.F.A., and a kind of summa of the styles of paperback fiction circa 1959. The writing is sometimes hardboiled:

The slightest touchy thing he said to her could knock the old cat over sideways with an off-key moan. But what could he do? He had elected himself Head Chump when he stepped down from Valhalla and telephoned this sweaty little advantage-taker.

Sometimes it adopts a police-blotter, “degree-zero” mode:

“Thank you, Major. Dismiss,” the general said. Marco left the office at four twenty-one in the afternoon. General Jorgenson shot himself to death at four fifty-five.

Occasionally, and usually in an inconvenient place, it drops a mot recherché:

Raymond’s mother came out of her chair, spitting langrel. [“Langrel”: irregular pieces of iron loaded into shell casings for the purpose of ripping the enemy’s sails in naval battles; obsolete.]

. . . .

He clutched the telephone like an osculatorium and did not allow himself to think about what lay beyond that instant. [“Osculatorium”: medieval Latin, for a tablet that is kissed during the Mass. There appears to be no connotation involving clutching.]

It signals feeling by waxing poetic:

Such an instant ago he had paddled their wide canoe across that lake of purple wine toward a pin of light high in the sky which would widen and widen and widen while she slept until it had blanched the blackness.

It signals wisdom by waxing incomprehensible:

There is an immutable phrase at large in the languages of the world that places fabulous ransom on every word in it: The love of a good woman. It means what it says and no matter what the perspective or stains of the person who speaks it, the phrase defies devaluing. The bitter and the kind can chase each other around it, this mulberry bush of truth and consequence, and the kind may convert the bitter and the bitter may emasculate the kind but neither can change its meaning because the love of a good woman does not give way to arbitrage.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

PG is certain most of the visitors to TPV know what mot recherché means, but he didn’t.

“Searched Word”

As opposed to mot de recherche, which means “Search Word” or recherche de mot, which means “Word Search.”

[All English/French/English translations courtesy of Google Translate.]

 

Most Americans Try to Make Time to Read Every Day

From The New York Post:

Bookworms rack up over 700 hours of reading a year – the equivalent of 30 full days, according to new research.

A new study of 2,000 Americans found that as many as 86 percent feel they make a conscious effort to read in some way every day.

In fact, when tallying up reading times across books, ebooks, newspaper articles and reading websites, the average respondent clocks two hours of reading per day.

. . . .

The study, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Rakuten Kobo, found adults aged 25-34 read the most per day – scoring an average of two hours and 52 minutes of wordy consumption.

Yet interestingly, this same generation is the most likely to feel they don’t have enough time to read proper books (63 percent versus 47 percent average).

A lack of time might explain why 26 percent of those studied feel they haven’t managed to read a full book in the past year.

Rakuten Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn said: “One of the great advantages of digital reading is that your entire library is in the palm of your hand, either via an app or eReader. That means you can fit reading, dare we say quality reading, into unexpected parts of your day. People say they have no time to read, but in fact, there are lots of opportunities: While waiting for the kids to hit the football field, waiting for a friend at a restaurant, on the daily commute. These bits of time add up.”

. . . .

“People say they have no time to read, but in fact, many are reading – but it is texts, social media and so on,” said Rakuten Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn. “The great change to reading culture is the extent to which reading books is now encroached by ad-driven social and other online experiences, with billions being spent to pull people in. Our job is to create the best possible experience with ereaders, apps and as a bookseller, to fight for time for books and reading.”

The survey complemented Rakuten Kobo’s internal figures analysis which, based on downloads and engagement with their e-readers, showed that Americans spend the most hours reading in September – but they actually complete the most books in May.

And Americans are most likely to sit down with a good book on a Sunday.

Link to the rest at The New York Post

Copyrights Can Be Just About a Century Long

But now that copyrights can be just about a century long, the inability to know what is protected and what is not protected becomes a huge and obvious burden on the creative process. If the only way a library can offer an Internet exhibit about the New Deal is to hire a lawyer to clear the rights to every image and sound, then the copyright system is burdening creativity in a way that has never been seen before because there are no formalities.

~ Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture

Can’t Remember What You Read? Blame the Font, Not Forgetfulness

From Wired:

Remember all those classics you devoured in comp-lit class? Neither do we. Research shows that we retain an embarrassingly small sliver of what we read. In an effort to help college students boost that percentage, a team made up of a designer, a psychologist, and a behavioral economist at Australia’s RMIT University recently introduced a new typeface, Sans Forgetica, that uses clever tricks to lodge information in your brain. The font-makers drew on the psychological theory of “desirable difficulty”—that is, we learn better when we actively overcome an obstruction. (It’s why flash cards create stronger neural connections in the brain and are a better method for recalling facts than passively studying notes.) Sans Forgetica is purposefully hard to decipher, forcing the reader to focus. One study found that students recalled 57 percent of what they read in Sans Forgetica, compared with 50 percent of the material in Arial, a significant difference. No word yet on the retention rate of Comic Sans.

. . . .

When presented with incomplete visual information, like the random gaps in Sans Forgetica’s characters, our brain fills in the missing bits. “They pique your attention and slow down the reading process,” says Stephen Banham, one of the font’s developers.

. . . .

Your brain isn’t used to seeing sentences tilt to the left—it’s a typographic faux pas. It takes you a split second longer to recognize words in Sans Forgetica’s 8-degree back-slant, triggering deeper cognitive processing.

Link to the rest at Wired

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No, Marie Kondo Doesn’t Want You To Throw Away All Your Books

From Book Riot:

 A lot of people seem to be convinced that a Japanese tidying expert wants them to get rid of all their books. Thanks to her new Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, organizational guru Kondo and her “spark joy” philosophy are back in the news. I can promise you, though, that she is not saying to throw out all your books and never read again. In fact, I think Marie Kondo’s book tidying advice is just what many book lovers need to hear.

If you’ve read Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you’re already familiar with the basic premise of her system. She sorts belongings into categories, piles all items in a category together, and picks up each one, waiting for it to spark joy. If it does spark joy, it stays. If not, it goes.

It’s a very simple way to declutter. There are other basic tenets of the KonMari system, like using small boxes in drawers to keep like things together, and her much-celebrated folding technique (which is pretty great!), but the whole thing revolves around the idea that the things in your home should spark joy in you. In the Netflix show, this system helps participants get rid of things like never-worn clothes, boxes and boxes of baseball cards, children’s toys, extra mugs, and yes, books.

. . . .

Kondo asks us to think about the purpose of each object in our home and the feeling it inspires in us. Apparently, some people are unaware that books are also objects. They’re objects that we love and cherish, objects that are also gateways to dozens of new worlds and experiences, but that doesn’t mean they don’t collect in piles or take up a lot of space in a small home.

. . . .

I’m a book lover. I work in publishing, I’m a former bookseller, and I write for Book Riot. Before I Kondo’d my books a few years ago, I also had DOZENS of books I had never read and probably would never read. Books given to me by exes. Books leftover from grad school. Books I’d read once and hadn’t particularly liked. Books I’d read once and had liked, but didn’t feel the need to read again. I didn’t feel joy when I looked at or touched those books. Sometimes I felt sad or wistful, but most often I just felt stressed and overwhelmed at how many there were. That was a far cry from how I felt when I held a Jane Austen novel or I Capture the Castle. I also lived in a small apartment, and books were everywhere, piled on most surfaces.

. . . .

Kondo suggests getting rid of unread books because if you haven’t read it by now, you probably won’t. I don’t agree with that advice, but here’s the thing about someone’s suggestions: you can take or leave them. Kondo is not actually in your house forcing you to set a pile of beloved books on fire.

. . . .

Kondo herself doesn’t seem to be a big book lover, and that’s fine. In the Netflix show, she allows people to decide what sparks joy based on their own hobbies and interests.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG doesn’t know about you, but he feels much better knowing Marie’s true message about throwing away books.

PG feels joy when he looks at his desk (microsample shown below). It’s familiar and he can (usually) put his hand on what he needs quite quickly.

As far as sparking joy is concerned, PG has a large part of his electric device collection connected directly or not-so-directly to his computer (no computer manufacturer includes nearly enough USB ports in their product design), so sparking is, unfortunately, not associated with joy in PG’s mind.

.

The French Burglar Who Pulled Off His Generation’s Biggest Art Heist

Nothing to do with books, but PG thinks he’s not the only one who enjoys stories and movies about art thieves.

From The New Yorker:

Long before the burglar Vjeran Tomic became the talk of Paris, he honed his skills in a graveyard. Père Lachaise, the city’s largest cemetery, is a Gothic maze of tombstones, in the Twentieth Arrondissement, that covers more than a hundred acres. Frédéric Chopin, Marcel Proust, and Oscar Wilde are among those buried there. Tomic recalled that in the nineteen-eighties, when he was an adolescent, the cemetery attracted hippie tourists, who flocked to the grave of Jim Morrison, and also drug dealers and gang members. Tomic was drawn by the tombstones. In one of twenty letters, written in careful cursive French, that he sent me during the past year and a half, he told me, “Observing them gave me the desire to touch them—to climb up to their peaks.” Tomic and his friends turned the cemetery into a parkour playground, leaping from the roof of one mausoleum to the next, daring one another to take ever-bolder risks.

. . . .

He was born in Paris in 1968, but the following year his mother became seriously ill, and his father, a car mechanic, sent Vjeran to live with his grandmother, in the Ottoman town of Mostar, in Bosnia. By the age of six, he told me, he had developed what he calls “a devious tendency,” adding, “I was showing some unhealthy intelligence.” He tormented his cousins by putting thorns in their shoes. They often played along the banks of the Neretva River, and Tomic became adept at scaling Mostar’s stone bridges; on reaching the top, he would leap into the water below.

At the age of ten, Tomic pulled off his first heist. He broke into a library in Mostar, climbing through a window that was nearly ten feet above street level. He stole two books, each of which appeared to be several hundred years old. (The older brother of a friend learned of the theft and returned Tomic’s plunder.) Tomic said of his early criminal adventures, “It was intuitive. Nobody ever taught me anything.”

. . . .

Despite the turmoil at home, Tomic said, he did well in school, and was a fine athlete. As a teen-ager, he developed a keen interest in drawing, and in his spare time he walked, alone, through the streets of Paris. One day, when he was sixteen, he was strolling through the Jardin des Tuileries when he noticed people lining up outside what appeared to be a greenhouse. It was the Musée de l’Orangerie, a structure that was built, in 1852, to shelter orange trees, and which now houses Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. Tomic went inside. The museum is best known for its Monet murals of water lilies, but Tomic was enraptured by Renoir’s glowing renderings of happy childhoods: kids playing with figurines, practicing the piano, snuggling with mothers. As Tomic saw it, Renoir had used his paintbrush to create a “parallel universe”—an enchanted version of the grim Parisian life he had known. “Renoir has a way of seeing life from a magical realm,” Tomic wrote to me. “It’s as if he even came from this place.” It thrilled him to be “within a hand’s reach” of such spellbinding images.

On returning home, Tomic recalled, he told his mother about his transporting experience at the museum, and said that he wanted to paint—“that it was my passion, that other jobs weren’t worth anything, that they were wastes of time.” Fearing his father’s opinion, he entrusted her to “transmit the message” to him. His father soon approached him and declared that painting was a hobby, not a real job. He pressed Tomic to work at his garage, but Tomic resisted, and eventually “thought about fleeing.”

. . . .

In time, Tomic began robbing apartments in more affluent neighborhoods. His climbing skills continued to improve, and by the age of sixteen he could scale the façade of a multistory building with relative ease. In his letters to me, Tomic described his burglaries in oddly mystical terms, suggesting that his actions were compelled by invisible forces. (He used the French word tractent, which means “towed.”) He described canvassing neighborhoods before choosing his target: “I have to be in harmony with certain places, where I feel good. And then, at that moment, I see—like images from a movie—the places where I have walked in the past week, and some places attract me, and something is waiting for me in the end.”

. . . .

Tomic generally worked alone, scaling walls, leaping between rooftops, and picking locks. Once inside an apartment, he looked first for jewelry, because it was valuable and easy to sell. A burglary that took less than two hours often yielded enough cash to support him for six months on the French Riviera. In his letters, he recounted robbing various Parisian luminaries, including the French-Caribbean singer Henri Salvador and the Egyptian royal family. (He boasted to me that he stole “gold buttons” and some of “Lawrence of Arabia’s medals” from the Egyptians.)

Tomic often returned to an apartment many times without taking anything, in order to find the most expensive-looking items. He adopted this strategy when robbing the apartment of the designer Philippe Starck, in 2004. Starck recently told me, “I never knew anything about my burglar, but I’ve always had respect for his style—an admiration for his temerity—and a sort of intimate affection for him after I discovered that he’d been practically living with us in the apartment for a few days, spending his time sawing into my poor, small safety box without even disturbing us. It was very much a Gentleman Burglar situation, Arsène Lupin style.” (Lupin, the quintessential debonair thief, was invented by the French novelist Maurice Leblanc, in 1905.) Starck went on, “The only shadow was that the only thing he stole was my daughter’s jewelry—her only heritage from her deceased mother.”

. . . .

Many of the luxurious apartments that Tomic broke into had valuable paintings, but he tried to resist taking them, knowing that they would be difficult to unload. “To sell them was dangerous, and I didn’t have reliable sources abroad in order to flog them to collectors or receivers,” he told me. Occasionally, though, the allure of the art proved overwhelming, and Tomic took what he found—including, he says, works by Degas and Signac. “A decent amount passed through my home,” he wrote. He hid some pieces in a cellar, “and some stayed with me for a long time, on the wall, and it’s in these cases that I fell in love.”

This might sound like braggadocio, but Tomic did make off with some masterpieces. In the fall of 2000, in an episode that subsequently made the papers in France, he used a crossbow with ropes and carabiners to sneak into an apartment while its occupants were asleep and stole two Renoirs, a Derain, an Utrillo, a Braque, and various other works—a haul worth more than a million euros.

In May, 2010, Tomic was walking near the Seine when he came upon a large Art Deco building. Looking through a window, he noticed a Cubist painting hanging on the wall. Tomic later learned that the building was the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, known as the mam. But it was the style of thewindow, rather than the Cubist painting, that caught Tomic’s interest. He glanced up: there were cameras on the roof. Tomic walked up to one of the building’s other windows, which was blocked from the security cameras by a parapet. Studying the window’s metal frame, he became convinced that it was the same type that, years earlier, he had disassembled, screw by screw, in a heist. He took out a pocket knife, chipped away at the paint on the frame, and examined the screws that were embedded in the metal. He could easily break in, he decided. It astounded him that nobody had considered this vulnerability. “This made me realize that luck and my past experience were at a rendezvous,” he wrote. “I even asked myself if I was not in another dimension at that time.”

. . . .

On May 14, 2010, in the early hours of the morning, Tomic walked up to a window that faced an esplanade where skateboarders congregated during the day. At around 3 a.m., he saw a guard briefly patrol the galleries, then walk off. Tomic was carrying a piece of dark cloth, and he hung it like a curtain on the outside of the window, to give himself cover. Then he got to work on the window. It took him six nights to finish the job. First, he dabbed the window frame with paint-stripping acid, exposing the head of each screw. Then, after applying another solution, to eliminate rust, he removed the screws and filled the holes with brown modelling clay that matched the color of the window frame. It was a painstaking process, and Tomic didn’t rush.

A few hours before dawn on May 20th, Tomic returned to the site, in a hooded sweatshirt, with two suction cups, and silently pulled out the window. There was a lock holding a grate in place; using bolt cutters, he broke the lock. He entered the museum briefly, avoiding the few working motion detectors. Then he left and retreated to the banks of the Seine, where he waited for fifteen minutes, to insure that he hadn’t set off a silent alarm.

When Tomic went back inside, he spotted the Léger painting, took it off the wall, and maneuvered it out of its frame. He now had an object Corvez prized, but, standing in the museum in the dim light and the silence, he began staring at Matisse’s “Pastoral.” A Fauvist canvas from 1905, it depicts three pale nudes resting while a fourth figure, rendered in bronze tones, plays a flute. “I saw a deep, vivid landscape,” he recalled. “And the little devil playing his flute out of nowhere, as if by magic, as if he were the guardian of this environment.” He took it off the wall.

Then he noticed Modigliani’s “Woman with a Fan,” a portrait of the artist’s muse and obsession, Lunia Czechowska. Tomic fixated on the image, which depicted Czechowska in a yellow dress, her eyes a cloudy white. “The woman in the picture was worthy of a living being, ready to dance a tango,” he wrote to me. “It could have almost been reality.” He stole the Modigliani, too.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

There is an anti-privilege mood. It is hard to see private schools escaping unscathed

From The Guardian:

David Kynaston is a historian who has written books on postwar Britain, the City of London and cricket. His latest book, co-written with his old school friend Francis Green, is called Engines of Privilege: Britain’s Private School Problem, and focuses on the unfair advantage offered by the independent education sector.

You are known for your forensic histories of modern Britain. What inspired this book?
It’s an issue I’ve become deeply interested in since my sons went to a state grammar school in 2007. They both played football for their school and standing on the touchline when they played against local private and state schools I saw the full spectrum of the unequal allocation of resources, the huge difference in the quality of facilities at state and private schools. The unfairness hit me terribly hard. A few years later in 2014 I gave the Orwell lecture, focusing on the private school question, and then at the end of that year my son George and I wrote a piece on the history and cultural significance of private schools in the New Statesman, which provoked five further articles the following week. That was the moment that made me think this was an issue that had some traction.

You argue that private schools add significantly to a child’s socioeconomic opportunities. What do you think would have happened to you, had you not attended Wellington college?
If one has had a very privileged education and then one achieves anything in adult life, there’s always that nagging thought – how much is down to the fact that one had good fortune and others didn’t? The academic advantages conferred by the private school are not dramatic but significant, and cumulatively over the course of a childhood they amount to quite a lot.

. . . .

What tangible advantages did going to private school give you?
In my case, boarding school provided an escape from my parents’ divorce. I was nine when it happened and school was friendly and cosy and it was nice to have another world to go to. Later, I had three very good history teachers and they really got me flying intellectually. In some ways I had better history teaching at school than I did when I was at Oxford. But perhaps the most important thing it gave me was confidence. Private-school students are taught that they are going to do well in life. That makes a huge psychological difference growing up.

There has been a discussion about reforming private schools for decades. Why has it not got anywhere?
I think the liberal left find it a difficult issue because parents want to do the best for their children and if they can afford it they’ll often educate their children privately, and that’s entirely understandable. But attitudes become very entrenched when people have made a significant financial investment. And if one’s been privately educated oneself there’s the question of having advantages that others have not had, and then throwing away the ladder one’s climbed up oneself.

. . . .

Should we bring back grammar schools?
It is an important question and I am a bit conflicted. When grammar schools were phased out at the end of the 1960s, something was lost. At that point, they were offering real academic competition to the private schools. But you also had the problem of selection, division within families and three quarters of the population being written off. I think overall there was a good case for abolition but it was a debatable case. I am not nearly as unsympathetic towards grammars as I am towards private schools.

What should be done now?
There’s obviously the question of outright abolition, but in our view to aim at that is impractical because it would be such a difficult thing to achieve. My starting point is where we are at the moment, with these highly resourced schools for, on the whole, children of wealthy parents, entrenching already existing advantages. So anything, in a sense, is better than where we are now. We’ve put our emphasis on changing the social composition of the schools. We call for a fair access scheme in which, initially, 33% of pupils at private schools would be state-subsidised.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG says the Constitutional prohibition against titles of nobility is one of the lesser-known of the many wise decisions the founders of the United States made as they were crafting the fundamental legal principles that govern the United States.

OTOH, PG attended US public schools.

By any reasonable academic standards, PG’s high school would not have been highly-ranked. Out of 22 members (No, that’s not a typo) in his high school graduating class, only three completed college.

In college, many of PG’s classmates were graduates from private schools or top-ranked public high schools. He has to admit he never felt any injustice because they were more educationally privileged than he was nor did he feel any lasting harm arising from his own pre-college educational experiences.

PG sees no net benefit from any sort of limitation on or prohibition of private schools. If any individual is well-educated, regardless of the source of such education, PG thinks the larger society benefits.

PG knows a small number of families who have home-schooled their children with excellent results. No public funds were expended to pay for that education. Recently one of those families sent a daughter aged 16 and a son aged 14 to a local university and the children have adapted very successfully with excellent academic results. In another family, the oldest son has become a practicing physician as are several of his first cousins who were also home-schooled.

PG suggests that improving substandard schools while leaving those that are performing well alone is the most rational approach. Interfering with schools that are producing properly-educated graduates while being supported by private tuition payments and donations is the height of foolishness, especially where alternatives to such private education have not demonstrated they are able to deliver similar results.

 

 

Why I Disagree With the Konmari Tidying-Up Method for Books

From BookRiot:

New year, new resolutions, new approach to life! Now might seem like the perfect time for some life-changing magic, and perhaps the time to begin with some tidying up. Maybe even using the Konmari method that everyone seems to be talking about lately.

Marie Kondo’s ‘Konmari’ approach to tidying up has taken the world by storm, with the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up published in English in 2014 (it was originally published in Japanese in 2011). A sequel, Spark Joy, was published in 2016, a graphic novel version, The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up, released in 2017, and a new series on Netflix, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, began airing in 2019. The main premise of her approach is to discard everything that does not spark joy and you will eventually surround yourself with only things that you love.

I love the idea, and when I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and the graphic novel version of the book, I was inspired to think about what my life and home would look like if I adopted the Konmari method. But there were some elements to her method that I disagreed with, particularly the ones related to books — actually, in retrospect, only the ones related to books. I think I could adopt her approach in every other part of my life. Probably.

. . . .

What is it about books that I disagree with? Kondo suggests that the books that you keep to be read eventually will actually never be read, and that the moment you first encounter a book is the moment to read it. If you don’t read it then, you are not going to, so it can be discarded.

She also argues that you are going to reread very few of the books, and you don’t need to keep the physical object after you’ve read it once; the experience of reading the book will stay with you even if you don’t remember everything in the book. You have experienced reading it, the book is a part of you, the physical object has fulfilled its purpose and therefore can be discarded.

The criterion for whether or not to keep a book using the Konmari method is whether or not you experience a thrill of pleasure when you touch it — whether the book sparks joy.

. . . .

But for me, there are two parts of this that do not work. Her premise that if you don’t read a book when you first encounter it then it has lost its moment and you will never read it is wrong for me. And you know what book most clearly exemplifies this? The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Yes, the very book about this approach. I find that quite amusing, actually. I bought the book in mid-2016. I had just moved to America, and my husband and I were trying to fit everything I had brought with me into his already-established apartment, and I thought the book might help. I read a chapter, then closed the book and didn’t finish it. You might think that the book lost its moment.

. . . .

The second part of her approach to books that doesn’t work for me is her argument that you will not reread. Because I do reread. Maybe not often, and maybe not every single book I own will be reread (and those are ones that I *would* be willing to part with), but I reread enough of my books that this criterion doesn’t work.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Let us start with the premise that PG is not the tidying up type, at least in the manner envisioned by Ms. Kondo.

As he analyzed his tidying or anti-tidying behaviors, he realized that at Casa PG, he unconsciously divides the interior space into common areas and private areas AKA lairs.

The common areas represent spaces where visitors are likely to exist and PG is more prone to tidying behavior around locations like the front door, the living room, spaces a visitor might be able to peer into from the living room, etc.

At the other end of the spectrum, the best example of a lair is PG’s office.

In order to enter PG’s office, a visitor would have to go through the living room, move to a different level of Casa PG and beat PG to the door of his office before he closed it. There is even a lair lock on the door.

On a micro level, PG’s office is approximately rectangular in shape. The door to his office is at one corner of the rectangle and PG’s desk, computer equipment, etc., is at the opposite corner of the rectangle, as far from the door as the size of the office permits. PG spends the most lair time in the deepest part of the office.

As PG performed a tidiness assessment, he realized there are varying zones of tidiness represented in his office. In that respect, PG’s lair represents a creation akin to the layers of an ocean.

.

.

The entry to PG’s office is equivalent to Epipelagic or Sunlight Zone.

As one continues horizontally into the office, one passes through the Bathypelagic (Twilight) Zone and Abyssopelagic Zone (The Abyss). Finally, when the office diver reaches PG’s desk, he/she is fully-immersed in the Hadalpelagic Zone (The Trenches).

As he considered the potential impact of a tidying-up event on his office, PG realized that it would create an ecological disaster of immense proportions.

Should PG conduct a scientific audit of the microbiologic residents of his office, he is certain the results would demonstrate that the life forms which flourish in the Sunlight Zone differ substantially from those in The Trenches. Tidying up this exquisitely balanced little world would undoubtedly trigger a microbial mass extinction.

PG has no desire to be held up as an example of the worst sort of the speciesism which is already too prevalent in our society.

As a responsible steward of his office environment, PG hereby pledges to allow life in all its kaleidoscopic beauty to continue to live undisturbed and evolve in peace.

The face

The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart.

~ St. Jerome

Affect Recognition

Not exactly about authors and books, but perhaps a writing prompt.

From The Intercept:

Facial recognition has quickly shifted from techno-novelty to fact of life for many, with millions around the world at least willing to put up with their faces scanned by software at the airport, their iPhones, or Facebook’s server farms. But researchers at New York University’s AI Now Institute have issued a strong warning against not only ubiquitous facial recognition, but its more sinister cousin: so-called affect recognition, technology that claims it can find hidden meaning in the shape of your nose, the contours of your mouth, and the way you smile. If that sounds like something dredged up from the 19th century, that’s because it sort of is.

AI Now’s 2018 report is a 56-page record of how “artificial intelligence” — an umbrella term that includes a myriad of both scientific attempts to simulate human judgment and marketing nonsense — continues to spread without oversight, regulation, or meaningful ethical scrutiny. The report covers a wide expanse of uses and abuses, including instances of racial discrimination, police surveillance, and how trade secrecy laws can hide biased code from an AI-surveilled public. But AI Now, which was established last year to grapple with the social implications of artificial intelligence, expresses in the document particular dread over affect recognition, “a subclass of facial recognition that claims to detect things such as personality, inner feelings, mental health, and ‘worker engagement’ based on images or video of faces.” The thought of your boss watching you through a camera that uses machine learning to constantly assess your mental state is bad enough, while the prospect of police using “affect recognition” to deduce your future criminality based on “micro-expressions” is exponentially worse.

Link to the rest at The Intercept

From Business Insider:

Mark Newman founded HireVue in 2004 as a video interview platform. It saved recruiters time by allowing candidates to record answers to interview questions and upload them to a database where recruiters could easily compare how applicants presented themselves.

Four years ago, HireVue began the next phase of its life with the integration of AI.

HireVue uses a combination of proprietary voice recognition software and licensed facial recognition software in tandem with a ranking algorithm to determine which candidates most resemble the ideal candidate. The ideal candidate is a composite of traits triggered by body language, tone, and key words gathered from analyses of the existing best members of a particular role.

After the algorithm lets the recruiter know which candidates are at the top of the heap, the recruiter can then choose to spend more time going through the answers of these particular applicants and determine who should move onto the next round, usually for an in-person interview.

. . . .

As soon as I saw my face reflected back at me on the screen, I felt uncomfortable.

. . . .

I had 30 seconds to prep my answer, and then a couple minutes to give my response. Most importantly, I was given unlimited tries, as all HireVue users are.

With the unlimited answer feature, you can review your recorded response before moving onto the next question, giving you the chance to decide if you’d like to give it another shot.

I made liberal use of this feature, and the estimated 25-minute application soon stretched into 45 minutes. Larsen told me they experimented with unlimited and limited tries for questions, and said they found that the majority of users preferred unlimited.

. . . .

I came in second place, according to my “Insights Score,” which was 65%. This meant that according to the software, I had 65% of the qualities of the perfect customer service rep.

. . . .

The idea is that the AI helps highlight the top performers so that recruiters can dive in and spend time with the most promising candidates.

Larsen said that he understands that people first hearing about HireVue may find it to be scary or invasive, like something out of “Minority Report,” but he said that it’s a tool to make jobs — for humans — more efficient. “The idea is not to replace recruiters,” he said.

. . . .

The strength of HireVue, however, is also its potential weakness — the AI learns from the employee pool hiring managers choose to feed it. It can then be customized to remove certain biases, such as vocal tics, but that is also dependent on human judgment. Ultimately, the AI is automating how hiring managers already recruit, and if they want to correct for past mistakes, they need to be cognizant of them in the first place.

Larsen said that he and his team will be working on lessening the need for human intervention, refining their AI assessment toward an ideal that may or may not ever exist. In that case, after a candidate submits his or her application, “the algorithm is always right. It would be a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No.'”

Link to the rest at Business Insider

Baby, There’s a Chilling Effect Outside – Part 2

Yesterday, PG posted an item from The Wall Street Journal titled, Baby, There’s a Chilling Effect Outside, that generated a lot of comments and discussion.

Here are the lyrics from the song:

I really can’t stay (but baby, it’s cold outside)
I’ve got to go away (but baby, it’s cold outside)
This evening has been (been hoping that you’d drop in)
So very nice (i’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice)
My mother will start to worry (beautiful what’s your hurry?)
My father will be pacing the floor (listen to the fireplace roar)
So really I’d better scurry (beautiful please don’t hurry)
But maybe just a half a drink more (put some records on while I pour)
The neighbors might think (baby, it’s bad out there)
Say what’s in this drink? (no cabs to be had out there)
I wish I knew how (your eyes are like starlight now)
To break this spell (i’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell)
I ought to say, no, no, no sir (mind if I move in closer?)
At least I’m gonna say that I tried (what’s the sense in hurtin’ my pride?)
I really can’t stay (oh baby don’t hold out)
But baby, it’s cold outside
I simply must go (but baby, it’s cold outside)
The answer is no (but baby, it’s cold outside)
Your welcome has been(how lucky that you dropped in)
So nice and warm (look out the window at this dawn)
My sister will be suspicious (gosh your lips look delicious)
My brother will be there at the door (waves upon the tropical shore)
My maiden aunts mind is vicious (gosh your lips are delicious)
But maybe just a cigarette more (never such a blizzard before)
I’ve gotta get home(but baby, you’d freeze out there)
Say lend me a coat(it’s up to your knees out there)
You’ve really been grand (i thrill when you touch my hand)
But don’t you see? (how can you do this thing to me?)
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow (think of my lifelong sorrow)
At least there will be plenty implied (if you got pnuemonia and died)
I really can’t stay (get over that old out)
Baby, it’s cold
Baby, it’s cold outside
Songwriter: Frank Loesser
Baby, It’s Cold Outside lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.
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The song won the 1949 Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Here is the song as it appeared in the 1949 movie, Neptune’s Daughter:

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Baby, There’s a Chilling Effect Outside

From The Wall Street Journal:

 My greatest hope for 2019 is cultural. It is that the left will rise and do what only it can do—strike a blow against political correctness in the arts and entertainment. All artists are meant to be free and daring. Their job, whether in drama, comedy or music, is to approach the truth—to apprehend it, get their hands on it and hold it up for a moment for everyone to see. That’s a big job, a great one, and you can do it only if you’re brave. Pope John Paul II, in his 1999 Letter to Artists, noted something I have witnessed: The artist faces a constant sense of defeat. You’re working, you’re trying, but it’s never as good as you wanted, as you dreamed. Even your most successful work only comes close. Artists are looking for “the hidden meaning of things.” Their “intuitions” spring from their souls. There is an “unbridgeable gap” between what they produce and “the dazzling perfection” of what they glimpsed in the creative moment. They forge on anyway.

. . . .

At happy gatherings the past two weeks, talk turned to the controversy over Frank Loesser’s 1944 holiday classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” You know the argument. The song should be pulled from playlists and effectively banned because its lyrics, on close inspection, are somewhat rapey. It’s a song about sexual assault; there’s a clear power imbalance. This argument comes from young writers and activists of the #MeToo movement. Actually, the man in the song hopes to seduce, not rape; the song is flirty and humorous, a spoof of the endless drama between men and women.

From every conversation I witnessed liberal opinion is very much against banning the song, as is conservative opinion.

But companies hate controversy. Radio stations don’t want petitions at Christmastime, no one wants trouble. We’ll be hearing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” less as the years go by. It only takes a few highly focused idiots to kill a song.

. . . .

Political correctness is the enemy of art. Self-censorship is a killer of art. Censorship applied from outside, through organized pressure, is an assassination of art.

We have seen the political correctness of the social-justice warriors sweep the universities, hounding out those who would speak from an incorrect perspective, decreeing new rules of language and living. They do not understand that when you tell people, especially Americans, what they can and cannot say, can and cannot think, they don’t stop saying and thinking. They go underground, sometimes to the depths. And it is dark down there.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The Revolutionary Genius of Plants

From The Wall Street Journal:

We humans take it for granted that plants are our inferiors. But they make earth habitable for us animals, by harnessing the energy of the sun to produce food and by releasing oxygen. That’s not the only trick they have up their leaves. In this thought-provoking, handsomely illustrated book, Italian neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso considers the fundamental differences between plants and animals and challenges our assumptions about which is the “higher” form of life. It seems we have much to learn from our green companions—about everything from designing buildings to organizing society.

The evolutionary split between animals and plants came nearly half a billion years ago, as life migrated from the oceans to the land. While animals roamed around their new environment, plants rooted themselves in one place. From these diverse strategies stems what Dr. Mancuso considers the most important distinction between the two kingdoms—not whether they move or produce their own food but how individual organisms are internally organized.

Whether they are predator or prey, animals’ survival depends on efficient movement and quick decision-making. And so we have adopted a top-down structure, with a central brain and organs such as heart and lungs to perform other vital functions. Because we can run away from predators, animals can afford to put our cerebral, circulatory, respiratory and other essential eggs in just one or two baskets.

For stationary plants, on the other hand, individual organs would only be “points of weakness,” Dr. Mancuso writes, chinks in their defenses that would leave them vulnerable to predators. So plants hedge their bets by spreading single functions, including such vital ones as respiration and photosynthesis, throughout the whole organism—breathing and creating food with their entire body. Plants may be brainless, but thanks to this simple, decentralized structure they enjoy a “distributed intelligence” that serves them well in meeting the challenges of their environment.

Plants are exceptionally sensitive to their surroundings, constantly monitoring a host of factors, including light, gravity, moisture, oxygen, sound, the presence of other plants and the approach of predators. Recent research conducted in Dr. Mancuso’s laboratory at the University of Florence has shown that at least one plant is capable of learning and remembering: When Mimosa pudica, a tropical native also known as the sensitive plant, is exposed to gentle shaking, it responds at first by closing its leaves. But after seven or eight trials, the plant concludes the vibrations aren’t a real threat and keeps the leaves open—a lesson it can remember for more than 40 days.
. . . .
 Due in part to their distinctive organization, plants have thrived, colonizing every continent and accounting for at least 80% of the world’s biomass. Though plants are ancient they are, Dr. Mancuso writes, “the epitome of modernity: a cooperative, shared structure without any command centers,” which is the ideal melding of durability and innovation. “When you want to design something robust, energetically sustainable, and adaptable to an environment of continuous change,” Dr. Mancuso suggests, “there is nothing better on earth to use as inspiration” than plants.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal 

 

Publishers Weekly Takes Over The Millions

From Publishers Weekly:

PWxyz, parent company of Publishers Weekly, has acquired the online magazine the Millions, plus its website TheMillions.com, for an undisclosed price.

The Millions was founded in 2003 by Max Magee and offers coverage of books, arts, and culture aimed at a consumer audience. Magee had been its editor until 2016, when Lydia Kiesling took over the role. Moving forward, Adam Boretz, a longtime editor at PW, who also served at the Millions as Magee’s associate editor, will become editor of the Millions, and will be promoted to senior editor at PW. Kiesling will continue to be involved in various capacities.

Although Magee will no longer be involved with the magazine, the Millions writing and editorial staffs will remain largely unchanged. PW will look to beef up the magazine’s advertising efforts under the direction of PW publisher Cevin Bryerman.

“The Millions has grown over time into a vibrant and necessary project, and in recent years I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how the project might live beyond my stewardship,” said Magee. “In Publishers Weekly, the Millions will gain a partner that is devoted to the site’s mission and we hope will make the site a lasting institution. We at the Millions uniformly believe this is a great outcome for the site and for its writers and readers.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG cannot claim to be a frequent visitor to The Millions, but he had no idea that the site sold advertising.  He thought the business plan was Support The Millions by Becoming a Member.

For those who are not familiar with the site, it is a combination of book reviews (Are they the advertising the site sells?) and interviews with people with whom PG is unfamiliar (More paid advertising?).

Laura Adamczyk‘s stories are not for the faint of heart.

Since 2014, when Jeff Jackson and I roamed the AWP Writers Conference together, I’ve read everything he’s written—that I know of, anyway.

In early 2016, during a monthslong relocation to Barcelona, I fell under the spell of three contemporary masters of Spanish-language fiction: Javier Cercas, of Barcelona, Javier Marías, of Madrid, and Álvaro Enrigue, of Mexico and New York. Even now, back in the U.S., I feel with these writers the special connection you get when your reading life and your life-life come close enough to touch.

I met Feroz Rather one verdant summer in Kashmir, almost a decade ago. 

I interview Ottessa Moshfegh at Caffe Vita, in Silverlake, earlier this month.

What 2018 Looked Like Fifty Years Ago

From The New Yorker:

Prophecy is a mug’s game. But then, lately, most of us are mugs. 2018 was a banner year for the art of prediction, which is not to say the science, because there really is no science of prediction. Predictive algorithms start out as historians: they study historical data to detect patterns. Then they become prophets: they devise mathematical formulas that explain the pattern, test the formulas against historical data withheld for the purpose, and use the formulas to make predictions about the future. That’s why Amazon, Google, Facebook, and everyone else are collecting your data to feed to their algorithms: they want to turn your past into your future.

This task, like most things, used to be done by hand. In 1968, the Foreign Policy Association, formed in 1918 to promote the League of Nations, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary by publishing a book of predictions about what the world would look like, technology-wise, fifty years on. “Toward the Year 2018” was edited by Emmanuel G. Mesthene, who had served in the White House as an adviser on science and technology and who ran Harvard’s Program on Technology and Society. It makes for distressing reading at the end of 2018, a year that, a golden anniversary ago, looked positively thrilling.

. . . .

Two things are true about “Toward the Year 2018.” First, most of the machines that people expected would be invented have, in fact, been invented. Second, most of those machines have had consequences wildly different from those anticipated in 1968. It’s bad manners to look at past predictions to see if they’ve come true. Still, if history is any guide, today’s futurists have very little credibility. An algorithm would say the same.

Carlos R. DeCarlo, the director of automation research at I.B.M., covered computers in the book, predicting that, in 2018, “machines will do more of man’s work, but will force man to think more logically.” DeCarlo was consistently half right. He correctly anticipated miniature computers (“very small, portable storage units”), but wrongly predicted the coming of a universal language (“very likely a modified and expanded form of English”). One thing he got terribly wrong: he expressed tragically unfounded confidence that “the political and social institutions of the United States will remain flexible enough to ingest the fruits of science and technology without basic damage to its value systems.”

Reporting on the future of communication, J. R. Pierce, from Bell Labs, explained that “the Bell System is committed to the provision of a Picturephone service commercially in the early 1970s,” and that, by 2018, face-to-face communication across long distances would be available everywhere: “The transmission of pictures and texts and the distant manipulation of computers and other machines will be added to the transmission of the human voice on a scale that will eventually approach the universality of telephony.” True! “What all this will do to the world I cannot guess,” Pierce admitted, with becoming modesty. “It seems bound to affect us all.”

. . . .

But the most prescient contributor to “Toward the Year 2018” was the M.I.T. political scientist Ithiel de Sola Pool, whose research interests included social networks and computer simulation. “By 2018 it will be cheaper to store information in a computer bank than on paper,” Pool wrote. “Tax returns, social security records, census forms, military records, perhaps a criminal record, hospital rec-ords, security clearance files, school transcripts . . . bank statements,credit ratings, job records,” and more would, by 2018, be stored on computers that could communicate with one another over a vast international network. You could find out anything about anyone, without ever leaving your desk. “By 2018 the researcher sitting at his console will be able to compile a cross-tabulation of consumer purchases (from store records) by people of low IQ (from school records) who have an unemployed member of the family (from social security records). That is, he will have the technological capability to do this. Will he have the legal right?” Pool declined to answer that question. “This is not the place to speculate how society will achieve a balance between its desire for knowledge and its desire for privacy,” he insisted.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Classic Literature as Fortune Cookie Fortunes

From The Paris Review:

1. Lord of the Flies

An exotic trip is just around the corner.

. . . .

4. The Lottery

Expect an invitation to an exciting event.

5. A Christmas Carol

You will become better acquainted with a coworker.

. . . .

9. Metamorphosis

A dream you have will finally come true.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Love, hate and hypocrisy: the best books about animals and humans

From The Guardian:

A pack of wolves follows a sled, picking off the sled dogs and then the occupants one by one, to the last man. So begins Jack London’s White Fang, published in 1906. The wolf pack is led by a wolfdog, Kiche. The ensuing story is told from the viewpoint of Kiche’s wolf pup, White Fang, through whose gaze we view the violence of the parallel worlds of animals and humans. White Fang is the narrative mirror of London’s earlier The Call of the Wild, in which a pet dog, kidnapped and used as a sled dog, runs away to join the wolves. Wildness is the true nature of animals, though the challenges of survival in the wilderness can also turn man into a beast, London seems to say. White Fang ends up enjoying domesticity with his new master, many miles away from the Yukon. Humans have triumphed over nature, but nature is still out there.

. . . .

In Of Wolves and Men, Barry Lopez details the hate reserved for animals whom we cannot bend to our will. For centuries in the US, extermination was enacted against wolves. Lopez details the way they were treated as outlaws and criminals, subjected to public torture and execution. Crowds gathered to watch a particular wolf die as agonisingly as possible: drawn and quartered, and left to swing on the gibbet.

. . . .

“The way we think about other species sometimes defies logic,” writes Hal Herzog in Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, which does a remarkable job of describing and explaining our emotionally complicated responses to animals. The truth is that, when we treat them with cruelty and indifference, this is often the way they treat each other. Animals, though, are not hypocrites, and Herzog must be applauded for calling out humans, among them “dog lovers” whose quest for the perfect breed has caused unquantifiable amounts of canine suffering.

Link to the rest at The Guardian