Archive for June, 2013
27 Jun 2013

Good Luck With That

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Ross Douthat predicts that Americans’ future liberty of conscience will be dependent on liberal magnanimity, and wonders (characteristically) if surrendering now might produce better terms.

Unless something dramatic changes in the drift of public opinion, the future of religious liberty on these issues is going to depend in part on the magnanimity of gay marriage supporters — the extent to which they are content with political, legal and cultural victories that leave the traditional view of marriage as a minority perspective with some modest purchase in civil society, versus the extent to which they decide to use every possible lever to make traditionalism as radioactive in the America of 2025 as white supremacism or anti-Semitism are today. And I can imagine a scenario in which a more drawn-out and federalist march to “marriage equality in 50 states,” with a large number of (mostly southern) states hewing to the older definition for much longer than the five years that gay marriage advocates currently anticipate, ends up encouraging a more scorched-earth approach to this battle, with less tolerance for the shrinking population of holdouts, and a more punitive, “they’re getting what they deserve” attitude toward traditionalist religious bodies in particular. If religious conservatives are, in effect, negotiating the terms of their surrender, it’s at least possible that those negotiations would go better if they were conducted right now, in the wake of a Roe v. Wade-style Supreme Court ruling, rather than in a future where the bloc of Americans opposed to gay marriage has shrunk from the current 44 percent to 30 percent or 25 percent, and the incentives for liberals to be magnanimous in victory have shrunk apace as well.

I’m still editing my own opinion, taking out all the epithets and toning down the pejoratives.

27 Jun 2013

Lost and Found

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

27 Jun 2013

Sobieski Lancers

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King John (Sobieski) Lancers of the 20th Uhlan Regiment demonstrate old-fashioned weapons and equestrian skills.

26 Jun 2013

The Power of Font Faces


Chris Gayomali, in The Week, discusses the remarkable power of the properly-chosen typeface to lend authority to a text.

Type design is something we tend not to think about when we’re reading. But font can have real-world implications that affect our lives in tangible ways.

Take this somewhat famous quasi-experiment by university student Phil Renaud back in 2006 (preserved for posterity in Pastebin form). Over the course of six semesters, Renaud wrote 52 essays for his classes, earning himself a commendable A- overall.

Here’s the thing: Toward the end of his last semester, Renaud’s average essay score began climbing. “I haven’t drastically changed the amount of effort I’m putting into my writing,” he wrote. “I’m probably even spending less time with them now than I did earlier in my studies.”

What he did change, however, was his essay font — three times, in fact. Renaud went back and looked at his essay scores and the different typefaces he’d used when he submitted his work. His papers were handed to his professors in three different fonts: Times New Roman, Trebuchet MS, and Georgia.

Here’s what he tallied:

26 Jun 2013

“It’s Not About the Nail”

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25 Jun 2013

Outlaw Lady with Lorikeet, Rifle, & Skull Scooter

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Via Vanderleun and the Dish.

25 Jun 2013

Indiana Leopard


Clark County is a US county in Indiana, located directly across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky. The town of Charlestown, in that county, is 591 feet high, and was the first Masonic capital of Indiana. Just outside town, near a home on State Road 3, was found the bullet-riddled carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking in such a fly-over location.

Two Indiana residents got the surprise of their lives Thursday night when the “bobcat” they shot turned out to be something quite different.

Indiana wildlife officials say it was a leopard.

On Friday morning, WDRB News was contacted by Donna Duke, a Kentuckiana resident who claimed to have photographs of a leopard that was shot at a home on State Road 3, just outside of Charlestown in Clark County, Ind.

Duke spoke with WDRB News by phone. She says her friend — who wishes to remain anonymous and did not want to speak with the media — lives in that area, which had seen a number of attacks against dogs and cats recently. Duke’s friend has a number of cats, and was worried about their safety.
“She’s got cats that are basically her family,” Duke said. Duke says her friend contacted a local wildlife official, who initially thought the attacks might have been committed by a bobcat. He told her to keep a sharp eye out for bobcats at night.

Duke says her friend told her that she and her boyfriend took turns watching the area from the roof every night.

“She was trying to protect her babies,” Duke said.

Sometime late Thursday night or early Friday morning, Duke says her friend was outside near her pool, when she saw a dark shadow pacing back and forth nearby. That’s when, Duke says, her friend’s boyfriend grabbed a gun and shot it.

Duke says her friend heard a “horrible squeal” and they ran to see what it was.

“But it was not a bobcat,” Duke said.

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.

25 Jun 2013

Worse Than Ants

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Gator crashes picnic in Homestead, Florida (photos: Rodney Cammauf)

25 Jun 2013

Bad Horse

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Hat tip to Vanderleun, who captions it: “Mistaeks wur maid.”

24 Jun 2013

Nuclear Review

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When I came downstairs this morning, I found waiting in my overnight emails an Amazon offering of “Books by Dave Eggers.” I could not think why Amazon thought I wanted any titles by this particular author, but I did peruse the advertisement, and was intrigued by the title A Hologram for the King.

What could that be about, I asked myself, and clicked on the link to Amazon’s web-site.

Happily, my efforts to figure out what the book was all about led me to an utterly devastating review by one zashibis which refreshed my memory completely as to why I do not read books by Dave Eggers.

The Worst Book of 2012

About once a year I end up reading a book so resoundingly terrible, so utterly hackneyed and half-assed, so mysteriously lauded by a featherbrained coterie of newspaper review-writing hacks (here’s looking at you Michiko Katukani!) but so wonderfully devoid of any artistry or insight, that I end up finishing it out of something like the morbid fascination that makes a person rubber-neck at an especially horrific car accident. Congratulations, Mr. Eggers: in 2012 that book was yours. …

Discounting the fake setting entirely, let’s concentrate instead on Eggers’s four unforgivable failures that should be blindingly apparent to any reasonably sophisticated reader who has never even set foot in the Middle East:

1)Style. For its reliance on simple declarative sentences and its striking lack of figurative language of any sort, some are calling this novel “Hemingway-esque.” This is a terrible calumny on Papa Hemingway. The old master, it’s true, used a pared-down style to tell his stories, but the sum was always larger than the parts–a slowly pieced mosaic that (more often than not) created a striking picture of his life and times. Eggers language, in contrast, is just dumbed-down and drab, utterly lifeless on the page. A single page of Updike or Roth–nay, a single paragraph–has more artistry than you will find in this entire book. At first I thought Eggers might be trying to be “meta” by writing prose that is as sterile and color-starved as the Saudi landscape, but Eggers is too much the boy scout for that. Ever since A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius his mantra has been “Irony is bad!” so it seems highly improbable that he should intentionally be writing in a prose style that is deathly boring to mirror the dullness of life in Saudi Arabia. It is, as other reviewers have noted, a “fast read,” but only because it is the sort of prose that requires no thought whatsoever.

2)Plot. Think about it for half a second. This book asks us to believe that a washed-up, superannuated bicycle company executive *with absolutely no expertise in IT* is being sent to a remote corner of the world as the point-man for a multi-million-dollar IT presentation. Eggers doesn’t even pretend that this makes any sense at all. A modern novelist who gave half a sh*t–let’s say a David Foster Wallace–would have researched holographic presentations and the Middle Eastern IT market and presented us with at least a semi-believable character who had some compelling reason to be in Saudi. Eggers can’t be bothered. Literally, the only work-related thing Clay does during the entire novel is to make one apologetic complaint about the lack of Wi-Fi and food in the tent where the other members of his team are slated, nonsensically, to give their presentation. That’s it. For this valuable service he is supposed to earn a six-figure commission. (Sign me up!)

Along the way Clay meets a young Arab driver named Yousef who instantaneously becomes his BFF (or, even more implausibly, Clay starts thinking of him “like a son” by about their third meeting) and who continues to call him even after Clay does something (I’ll avoid the clear spoiler) that most people would have a great deal of difficulty forgiving of someone they’d known intimately all their lives. Likewise, Clay has two women (one Danish, one mixed-blood Arab) throw themselves at him after acquaintanceships measured in minutes, as though he were Ryan Gosling, and hadn’t previously been described by Eggers as an awkward, balding, dumpy, schlub with an ugly growth on his back . With the desperate European sexpot it’s merely ridiculous; with the Arab woman we’ve firmly entered Harlequin Romance territory, where millennium-old cultural taboos are brushed away as easily and as thoughtlessly as cobwebs…and where a long-haired woman snorkeling topless is somehow supposed to be less conspicuous (and less identifiable as a woman) than she would be in an ordinary swimsuit. (How does that work, exactly?)

3)Characterization. The evidence has become overwhelming. Eggers can’t do it. When he’s describing real people (as in his memoir or his various stabs at non-fiction) he does adequately. But made-up people? Nope. Just awful. The central character, Clay, is believable in no respect, a gasping fish-out-of-water who has none of the self-confidence or worldliness you’d expect of a lifelong sales executive. Instead, he comes across as a seventeen-year-old naïf away from home for the first time in his life. But at least Clay is a “developed” character with a back-story, however improbable. The same cannot be said of any of the other characters in the novel. Clay’s three American coworkers, for instance, aren’t even one-dimensional–they’re just three random names that Eggers tosses out occasionally. He can’t even be bothered to figure out what their respective roles in the presentation for the king are supposed to be or a plausible reason why they would passively sit around a tent doing absolutely nothing day after day after day. Almost all the Arabs in the novel all have walk-on parts–so forgettable that I just finished the novel but I’ve already forgotten their names. The exception is Yousef, who Eggers seems to have thrown in just so that he can’t be accused of being completely anti-Arab. But Yousef is even less believable than Clay–no Saudi who had a) fluent English or b) a rich father–let alone both–would ever, in a million years, be an ordinary chauffeur, one of the least respected jobs in Saudi Arabia, generally performed by Pakistanis earning a pittance. He really exists only as crude plot device to get Clay out of Jeddah for a few days so he can demonstrate his haplessness and insecurity in a different setting.

4)Theme. An anemic, warmed-over Death of a Salesman, missing only the final coup de grace. Enough said? So very many authors have done the late-middle-age middle-manager crisis of conscience so very much better than this: Updike, Roth, Bellow, Ford for starters . Even Ian McEwan’s Solar a few years ago–one of McEwan’s weaker novels–is a masterpiece compared to this. Likewise, Begley’s About Schmidt. So, if you’re going to go down this path yet again you’d better have something fresh to say. Eggers doesn’t. Likewise, several positive reviews make a big deal that novel is a “parable” about outsourcing. But, what, exactly does Eggers have to say about outsourcing that will be news to anybody at all? What fresh or original insight does he offer into America’s self-induced industrial decline? Nothing and none.

Too, in choosing to make the demise of Schwinn bicycles emblematic of America’s decline in manufacturing Eggers has had to simplify the company’s story to the point of absurdity. In reality, Schwinn’s failure was much more one of marketing and not anticipating the shift toward specialized bikes (i.e. racing bikes, mountain bikes, dirt bikes) than it was in moving assembly overseas. Sad-sack Clay has hopeless pipedreams of starting his own high-end custom bicycle company, and is depicted as a ridiculous figure; however, the reality is that several American companies, like Specialized Bicycle Components and Moots, do precisely that. Therefore, besides being boringly banal (“We’ve given our jobs to China!”) Eggers has succeeded in being entirely one-sided as well. The novel amounts to nothing more than a 300-page pity party.

This shallow piece of sophomoric flimflam bears exactly the same relation to literature as Fruity Pebbles bears to fruit. If AHFTK were merely a trashy novel, it wouldn’t be worth complaining about. Trashy novels have their place, and their devotees, if they’re at all self-aware, at least understand that they’re reading disposable, escapist fluff. But Eggers clearly imagines he wrote a serious novel–as do virtually all of the positive reviewers here on Amazon and elsewhere–when nothing could be further from the truth. AHFTK is kitsch: the most pernicious and unnecessary sort of artistic production on the planet. Zero stars.

Read the whole thing.

It is a real commentary on community of fashion pseudo-intellectual elite culture that this book was a National Book Award Finalist, was chosen as one of the New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the Year, and also selected as One of the Best Books of the Year by The Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle. The airheads and fraudsters stick together.

24 Jun 2013

Banging Cookware in Turkey

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Janissaries with cauldrons

Claire Berlinski explains the causes of the Turkish protests.

As I began to write this, at 4:00 am on May 31, protests against Turkish police—prompted by their crackdown on demonstrators opposing the demolition of Taksim Square’s Gezi Park—were spreading from the heart of Istanbul to the entire country. As of today, the headline on Drudge reads—not inaccurately—TURK BERSERK.

The story began when the government in Ankara decided that Gezi Park, in the center of Istanbul, should be demolished and replaced by a shopping mall. Now, Gezi Park is hardly the Jardins de Luxembourg. It’s a shabby rat trap that you wouldn’t walk through alone at night, and you’re more apt to find used condoms on its lawns than daisies and cowslips. But it is, all the same, one of the last remaining spaces with trees in the neighborhood. …

Of late, almost every sector of the electorate has felt unease about one part or another of Erdoğan’s agenda. Restrictive new alcohol legislation, rammed through parliament, as usual, with contempt for the minority opposition, has prompted outrage; the so-called peace process with the PKK, which no one understands, has caused great unease. Anxiety is growing as well, not only about press censorship, but also about the prosecution of those who insult government officials or “Islamic values” on social media. …

Erdoğan, it seems, severely underestimated the degree of his subjects’ displeasure, confident that God, a strong economy, and a weak opposition were all he needed to ensure his hegemony. He brusquely dismissed the tree protesters’ concerns: “We’ve made our decision, and we will do as we have decided.” An AKP parliamentarian then unwisely announced that some young people “are in need of gas.”

So the Robocops once again used pepper spray and water cannon against the protesters. A photographer captured them spraying tear gas directly into the face of a vulnerable, middle-aged woman in a pretty red dress. The photo went viral and enraged the public: she was clearly no hooligan. As one conservative journalist noted, she looked “decent.”

Rather than dispersing for good, the protesters returned—and more gathered to support them. This wasn’t supposed to happen. The police panicked. At dawn, they attacked with pronounced violence, injuring not only students, but also journalists and opposition members of parliament who had come to show their support.

Read the whole thing


Jason Goodwin gives us a history lesson which explains the form taken by Turkish protests.

One lesson that can be drawn from Ottoman history is that if the people require tribunes, so do their rulers. For many centuries the janissaries, despite their growing licentiousness and arrogance, performed that function: soldiers, who dominated civic society, could now and then express the popular mood. Their method was to overturn their great regimental cauldrons, and beat on them with spoons: the terrible sound of the janissaries in mutiny drifted from the barracks to the palace, and the sultan took note. Then in 1826 Sultan Mahmud II destroyed them, to a man.

Today, housewives in Beyoglu bang their pots and pans together at their windows. But Erdogan doesn’t seem to be listening.

Once the janissaries were eradicated, Mahmud and his successors were less beholden to the people. They furiously modernised the Ottoman Empire, running roughshod over popular disquiet, and collapsed unlamented in a puff of smoke at the end of World War I.

The Janissaries had their own tree, and their own traditions – and they, like the empire they served, are gone. Erdogan – like Mahmud II – still wants his mall.


TENCERE TAVA HAVASI (Sound of Pots and Pans) / Kardeş Türküler

Iznik polychrome tile

23 Jun 2013

New Feature: Conspicuous Examples of the Imbecility, Decadence, and Depravity of Contemporary Culture

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Thomas Couture, Les Romains de la décadence [Romans in the Period of Decadence], 1847, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

This week’s competitors:

Tom Shone, in Intelligent Life magazine (!), reviews Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight” (2013), the last of a trilogy of films that began with “Before Sunrise” (1995).

If asked to provide a list of great American achievements over the past 20 years, I would say the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the iPhone and the speech with which Jesse first talks Céline off the train in “Before Sunrise”. It had to do with time travellers, as I recall, but it was the tone that did it—a small miracle of foxy charm and open-hearted entreaty, whisked along by a Huck Finn boulevardier spirit. It turned out to be enough to power an entire movie. …

Nobody knows anything, of course, but using the in-house time machine available only to critics on Intelligent Life magazine, I can safely report that in 50 years’ time, the Céline and Jesse films will be held up as classics of the heartfelt sequel form, up there with Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel films, Satyajit Ray’s Apu films and the “Toy Story” trilogy.


The Atlantic pays transgendered Thomas Page McBee to pontificate on the new meaning of masculinity.

Masculinity is not as a magical state defined by advertisers and secondary sex characteristics but, like femininity, a complex amalgamation of socialization, biology, style, and stereotype. Men aren’t in crisis, we’re in opportunity, but only if we can each look in the mirror and decide what kind of man we are. …

What kind of man do I want to be? The kind I am. I think vulnerability is the foundation of courage; I love aesthetics; I stand up for myself; I box and lift weights; I listen. I’m the type of man I’d want to hang out with, the kind of guy who thinks masculinity is diverse and that real men don’t exist.

Despite the dinosaur machismo I encountered in the beginning of my transition, I’ve reason to believe that the old guard is falling away, and the new man taking his place. Since I’ve come out as a wine-drinking feminist with feelings, I’ve met many guys who are embracing a wider definition of masculinity. Not just the stay-at-home dads, but the elderly man who told me he’s just now told his best friend of decades that he loves him, the ex-varsity jock who works with men to redefine what masculinity means, the straight, burly artist who documents friends shotgunning beer who is matter-of-fact about the homoeroticism of male bonding, and whose skater buddies pose for his delicate homages to just that.

Thomas Page McBee

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