23 Feb 2010

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

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Ten rules (sometimes fewer) for writing fiction from Elmore Leonard, Dianna Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, P.D. James, AL Kennedy, Hilary Mantel, Michael Moorcock, Michael Morpurgo, Andrew Motion, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Will Self, Helen Simpson, Zadie Smith, Colm Tóibín, Rose Tremain, Sarah Waters, Jeanette Winterson.

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Col. George Washington, Foxhunter (Ralph Boyer, aquatint, Fathers of American Sport, Derrydale Press, 1931)

One day belated notice of the birthday of our neighbor and compatriot in the hunting fields of Clarke County, George Washington.

When he was 14 or 15 years old, George Washington copied out by hand 110 “Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.”

Washington’s maxims came from a translation of a treatise Bienseance de la Conversation entre les Hommes produced by the pensonnaires of the Jesuit Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand at La Flèche in 1595. René Descartes studied at the same college just a few years later, 1607 to 1615.

The case of George Washington, I would suggest, can be taken to demonstrate that residence at Harvard, Yale, or even La Flèche is not an absolute requirement for leadership success or good manners.

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WSJ comments on the Obama plan to ram the health care bill through, damn the rules of the Senate and the wishes of the public.

The larger political message of this new proposal is that Mr. Obama and Democrats have no intention of compromising on an incremental reform, or of listening to Republican, or any other, ideas on health care. They want what they want, and they’re going to play by Chicago Rules and try to dragoon it into law on a narrow partisan vote via Congressional rules that have never been used for such a major change in national policy. If you want to know why Democratic Washington is “ungovernable,” this is it.

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David Brooks discovered that something has gone wrong with the meritocratic revolution, and wonders if this might have something to do with the new elite not being quite so meritorious as had been supposed.

[H]ere’s the funny thing. As we’ve made our institutions more meritocratic, their public standing has plummeted. We’ve increased the diversity and talent level of people at the top of society, yet trust in elites has never been lower.

It’s not even clear that society is better led. Fifty years ago, the financial world was dominated by well-connected blue bloods who drank at lunch and played golf in the afternoons. Now financial firms recruit from the cream of the Ivy League. In 2007, 47 percent of Harvard grads went into finance or consulting. Yet would we say that banks are performing more ably than they were a half-century ago?

Government used to be staffed by party hacks. Today, it is staffed by people from public policy schools. But does government work better than it did before?

Journalism used to be the preserve of working-class stiffs who filed stories and hit the bars. Now it is the preserve of cultured analysts who file stories and hit the water bottles. Is the media overall more reputable now than it was then?

The promise of the meritocracy has not been fulfilled. The talent level is higher, but the reputation is lower.

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