"So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information." --George Orwell
"Anbody can make history. Only a great man can write it."--Oscar Wilde
Friday, January 30, 2004
Can we learn more about the bird flu by digging up a 1918 flu victim?
Thursday, January 29, 2004
Slate discusses how the chicken sandwich came to Kyrgyzstan.
The Washington Post has published an appreciation of Eddie Clontz:
For those of you too lazy to read the article, Clontz was the editor of The Weekly World News. In this appreciation, Gene Weingarten tells a great story:
May he rest in peace!
A bunch of famous writers came to this year's Davos economics forum:
Does anyone really care what happens at Davos? Why did the writers bother going, anyway, given that they weren't paid? Why is The New York Times even reporting on this? Aren't there more important things going on in the world.
I did, however, enjoy this paragraph:
Theroux also said that "Writers don't get out a lot. This is a total novelty, spending whole days talking with other people" and pointed out that Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain was set at Davos. I didn't know that.
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
Eddie Clontz, who deserved to be one of the most legendary journalists of the twentieth century, has died at 56.
Common-Place, an online magazine on early American history, describes the case of the Springfield somnambulist (as well as mesmerism and "the end of the Enlightenment in America") and looks at the provincial cartography of James Wilson (who was probably the brother of an ancestor of mine.) Fun stuff!
Posting will be lighter than usual for the next week or so. I need to finish a partial draft of my dissertation proposal, and I have another project that will divert some of my energy from this blog.
The Melbourne Age discusses long books and pithy sayings.
Two political analysts from Boston, Dan Kennedy and Jon Keller, are debating the Kerry candidacy at The New Republic Online. Kennedy's a very good writer, and I enjoyed this comment he made about Kerry's inconsistent tone:
A lot of people respect John Kerry (including me), but most people have trouble warming up to him or really liking him. (Again, this includes me.) Part of me thinks that this is connected to something admirable--there's something, well, grown-up about a candidate who refuses to play along with the idea that the president should be the candidate we'd all be chummiest with. Then again, Kerry sometimes tries to be likeable and fails--and there's a fine line between a grown-up attitude that you don't need to be the most warm-and-fuzzy candidate in the field and an arrogant attitude that you're above the normal tasks associated with running for president.
Kerry's biggest weakness, I think, is a failure to articulate an overall vision for the future. He strikes me as an excellent example of a candidate whose successes are due to his resume--he doesn't win points for charisma or for vision, but his views are in line with most primary voters and his resume makes him seem like he'd be a capable (and imaginable) president. This is why analyses of Kerry's win that focus on his "electability" seem simplistic and unconvincing. There's a reason that people think he's more electable than the other candidates: he's more experienced than Edwards, more reliable (and sensible) than Clark, and more presidential than Dean. (The last point, I'll admit, isn't very specific. Dean looks more like a political activist or a union organizer than like an executive office-holder; Dean was a successful governor and is a skillful politician, but it's hard to emphasize those strengths--which are crucial to a would-be president--without changing his image and risking the loss of his base support.) People can imagine Kerry as president more easily than they can imagine any of his rivals in the White House, given his experience, his competence, and his record, but it will be harder for him to make the case to swing voters in November than to undecided Democrats in the primaries.
I'm glad that Kerry won, and disappointed that Edwards didn't do better. My hope is that, in the days ahead, Kerry will succeed in articulating a more compelling overall justification for his candidacy--and that Edwards, instead of merely telling voters that his campaign is optimistic and positive, will focus on the more substantive parts of his message. I worry that it's too late for a campaign that will force both these candidates to improve their message, but there's always hope, I guess!
Today's New York Times also discusses the wonderful world of poor spelling on ebay. It's a charming article:
As someone who likes to think that his spelling is good (but who's undoubtedly provided plenty of evidence to the contrary on this blog), I love to see that good spelling can be profitable and that people too lazy to check their spelling can lose out!
The Russian government is trying to convince thousands of people to leave Siberia, including the descendants of people forced to move there in the 1930s. Plenty of Siberians, however, aren't very enthusiastic about the government's plans.
The Guardian searches for the story behind a photo found in Holocaust archives and museums all over the world.
Did bombers from Britain's Royal Air Force ignore Auschwitz and other concentration camps? That's what Bild, Germany's best-selling tabloid, is alleging now that British reconaissance photos are being made available for the first time. (via HNN)
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Does anyone else find it odd that Slate is describing the profession of the author of its current diary as a "writer and orientalist"? I thought that term had kind of gone out of fashion...
Update: Now Smith is listed as an "apprentice orientalist." That's even more charming!
In In These Times, David Moberg looks at Nelson Lichtenstein's new book on U.S. labor history.
Hans Christian Andersen, it seems, was an interesting guy:
Are historians entering a digital dark age in which important electronic documents will be destroyed before they can be examined by scholars? Will other documents be inaccessible to scholars because of their format? Will historians have trouble plowing through millions of uninteresting emails to find one kernel of signficant information? The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.
Update Will Baude at Crescat Sententia has been blogging on a related subject today. He links to this Reuters article (which says that Bill Clinton's presidential library will have nearly 4 million emails sent to Clinton) and this old New York Times article, which describes an email George W. Bush sent to 42 "dear friends" several days before his inauguration:
I'll refrain from commenting on what Bush's style of writing emails says about his personality...
Another issue, touched on only briefly in the Chronicle article, is the possibility that officials will fabricate documents. I'm not sure how realistic a fear this is. I've heard a claim that one or more officials in the Kissinger State Department used to type up multiple versions of policy recommendations (taking different positions in each document), and then destroyed the less promising one later on in order to look like they'd been on the right side of history; I've never been able to corroborate this claim, but such activity would presumably be easier with the computerization of record-keeping. Then again, there's no reason why someone couldn't do this earlier in history (and I don't know of any real evidence that anyone has to a significant degree), and computerized records could--in some ways--make this harder. Who knows?
In any case, I'm fascinated by the issues facing historians resulting from the spread of electronic documents in government.
In The Guardian, Neal Ascherson reviews Tzvetan Todorov's new book on the horrors of the twentieth century.
Monday, January 26, 2004
The Christian Science Monitor reports on Chinese education reform.
How well do the presidential candidates speak Spanish? The Washington Post reports.
The San Francisco Chronicle describes the feud between Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Olga Andreyev Carlisle, a woman who once helped him publish his novels in the West. (via AL Daily)
In The New Yorker, Josh Marshall discusses the theory of empire (and of American empire.)
Sunday, January 25, 2004
Exciting acquisition of the evening: I've just been watching "The Battle of Russia," from Frank Capra's Why We Fight series of propaganda films. (Or "propoganda" [sic] films, as the packaging proudly declares; I bought the DVD for $5.99 at Walgreen's, since it looked even more exciting than The Omega Code 2, one of the other fine films for sale there.) It's kind of neat to see all the old newsreel footage, and it's oddly entertaining to see the film's portrayal of Russian history. ("Germany's spirit of aggression," it seems, "has been passed down from generation to generation." You'd think from the film that all of Russian history has involved fighting off German invasions, from Aleksandr Nevskii's war with the Teutonic Knights to Hitler's 1941 invasion.) I haven't finished watching yet, but so far I'm pretty disappointed not to have seen any footage of Stalin speaking. Oh, well.
My computer won't let me visit the website of the Errol Morris documentary The Fog of War, but film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum argues that the site is "in some ways... more useful than the film-- maybe because there's less to meditate on and more to think about." Rosenbaum isn't a huge fan of the movie--he refers to both Morris's and Robert McNamara's "capacity to say as little as possible while giving the impression of saying a great deal" and suggests that all we have to gain from The Fog of War is "the satisfaction that we're somehow taking care of business when we're actually fast asleep":
Despite Rosenbaum's doubts, I still plan to see The Fog of War sometime.
Was the success of the Blitzkrieg in World War II just a myth? A new book by a military historian says so, but he hasn't convinced The Washington Times's reviewer.
"Like medicine or pornography, Uzbekistan is a subject in which a person is either deeply versed or utterly ignorant." This line comes from a new novel about Uzbekistan, which sounds kind of interesting but which I have no burning desire to read. The Boston Globe's reviewer listed the sentence above as one of many that could have used an editor:
Snarky reviews are always fun, though the reviewer of this book generally seemed to like it. Personally, I wish the review had commented more on the content of the book.
Via Tapped: an enterprising Connecticut company is now selling a Howard Dean action figure ("Mean Dean," with a voice chip of the post-caucus scream.)
If you're unfamiliar with the work of children's fantasy writer Philip Pullman, this New York Times article is a good introduction.
Casanova was cool. So are books that involve him.
Other books that sound like fun include a "biography" of the year 1968 by Mark Kurlansky (the author of neat books on salt and the Basques) and Yasmina Khadra's crime novel set in 1990s Algeria.
Is juggling good for the brain? A recent study says so, and today's New York Times adds a little more context:
I wonder how immersion in quizbowl affects the brain...
The Boston Globe ideas section describes the rise of Western-style gated communities in India. The paper also features an interview with the author of a history of smiles, discussing a series of high-profile smiles in the news. (The art historian being interviewed apparently didn't see this photo before commenting on John Kerry's smile.)