Thursday, September 3, 2009

Selected Thoughts on the New Yorker August 31

Selected thoughts on the 31 August 2009 issue of The New Yorker:

The Mail (Marshall W. Carter)
Carter highlights an inportant point about To Kill a Mocking Bird: Atticus is often speaking to his children and is describing the world to them in terms they are able to grasp.

The Mail (Peter Kuryla)
Kuryla suggests an awkward truth: "American liberalism has often meant a certain squeamishness about the use of radical forms of direct action to achieve goals, however noble they might be." How much truth is in this statement, and how unfortunate is such a conclusion?

The Iran Show (Laura Secor)
What do forced confessions really accomplish? Secor's description of show trials in Iran is a nice compliment the This American Life segment that featured Omid Memarian.

Status-quo Anxiety (by James Surowiecki)
Intellectually, I'm familiar with the finding that humans tend to be risk averse and overestimate potential loses while underestimating potential gains. Knowing this doesn't change how I act though.

The Rubber Room (by Steven Brill)
Another article that compliments a This American Life segment. The utter weirdness of the place makes for a great radio narrative. Brill offers a bit more of a context as to the why and how of the situation. The article is worth reading for anyone interested in the difficulties of dealing with entrenched interests and the complexities of any large bureaucracy. The teacher's union does not come out of Brill's depiction covered in glory.

The Perfect Match (by Burkhard Bilger)
Bob and Mike Bryan are identical twins who are a leading team in men's tennis doubles. Bilger's article is an enjoyable description of the merits of doubles tennis and the evolution of the sport. David Foster Wallace's writings on tennis, however, stick with me in a more engrossing manner.

Useless Beauty (by Nick Paumgarten)
Paumgarten describes the past, present, and potential future of Governors Island off the edge of Manhattan. The place seems utterly fascinating. I'm curious to see what happens to the island in the future.

Green Like Me (by Elizabeth Kolbert)
Kolbert links together the recent spate of books-about-a-blogger changing the world (or something) one day at a time. The focus is on 'eco-bloggers' who diary their daily attempts to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. The concept is tied in with Thoreau's time at Walden, and the limitations of both are laid totally bare in this take down:

The basic setup of No Impact Man is, by this point, familiar. During the past few years, one book after another has organized itself around some nouveau-Thoreauvian conceit. This might consist of spending a month eating only food grown in an urban back yard, as in “Farm City” (2009), or a year eating food produced on a gentleman’s farm, as in “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” (2007). It might involve driving across the country on used cooking oil, as in “Greasy Rider” (2008), or giving up fossil fuels for goats, as in “Farewell, My Subaru” (2008).

All of these stunts can be seen as responses to the same difficulty. Owing to a combination of factors—population growth, greenhouse-gas emissions, logging, overfishing, and, as Beavan points out, sheer self-indulgence—humanity is in the process of bringing about an ecological catastrophe of unparalleled scope and significance. Yet most people are in no mood to read about how screwed up they are. It’s a bummer. If you’re the National Academy of Sciences or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the Pope or Al Gore, you can try to fight this with yet another multivolume report or encyclical. If not, you’d better get a gimmick.
This is an excellent article which I highly recommend.

God in the Quad (by James Wood)
Wood steps into the discussion about theology and the 'new atheism.' Sigh. I know. But this article was better than I expected. It is probably worth reading.

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