Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Selected thoughts on The New Yorker October 19 2009

Selected thoughts on the 19 October 2009 edition of The New Yorker:

The Mail
(Susan Butler)
In regards to the previous story about Amelia Earhart, Butler offers a reminder not to impose our modern prejudices onto the past. Butler argues against over-interpretation of Earhart's sexuality.

Talk of The Town: You've Got Mail (by Lizzie Widdicombe)

Widdicombe jumps off from the Letterman blackmail story to raise an interesting point: why is it illegal to threaten to do something that is, itself, legal.

Talk of The Town: Scratch and Sniff (by Ian Frazier)
Frazier writes an interesting report on the New Jersey Department of Correction's use of dogs trained to smell and detect cell phones. Interesting that there is, apparently, such a specific smell.

The Secret Keeper (by William Finnegan)
This article is an interesting example of a great New Yorker archetype: a detailed, intriguing, largely complimentary profile of an individual which, at the end, drops some less than complimentary information about the subject that leaves you wondering who the real person is. The subject this time is Jules Kroll, the former head of a detective agency focused on corporate intelligence. The offers a peak into a world that I generally don't give a lot of thought to. Kroll comes across very positively. Then, about 2/3 of the way through the piece, Finnegan relates the involvement of Kroll's firm with R. Allen Stanford (recall this from TPM).

Offensive Play (by Malcolm Gladwell)
Say what you will about Gladwell (and lots of people have much to say), but his articles don't fail to be engaging and interesting. This time, Gladwell discusses the risks of football to the long-term health of its players, particularly in terms of brain damage caused by repeated head trauma. Gladwell's narrative alternates back and forth with a discussion of dog-fighting. The reason for this inclusion is clear, but not really necessary. There is a lot to recommend in this piece. I was also heartened to read about the protein Tau in the New Yorker, and to learn what former Brown's coach Butch Davis is up to now.

The main thrust of the claim is that brain damage is not an unfortunate, and potentially avoidable, risk for football players. Rather, it is an intrinsic, expected, and routine result of the game. Is this true? It seems that a case could be made, and the importance of the adjacency of individual players choosing to play must be considered. This is piece if freely available online. The dog-fighting comparison may be a little too easy, but I recommend reading it.

The Gossip Mill (by Rebecca Mead)
This piece is a very good depiction of Alloy Entertainment and how novels for teens are manufactured. Manufactured is the right word--ideas and plots are fleshed out in conference rooms. The writing is farmed out (sometimes without credit to the 'real' author). Commercial concerns are paramount. The method doesn't produce groundbreaking literature. But, they know how to give readers what they want. Worth thinking about for anyone with thoughts about producing art or other cultural products.

The Defiant Ones (by Daniel Zalewski)
A New Yorker article about the nature of contemporary parenting, and the mores reflected in popular children's picture books. It is hard to imagine a more rarefied target audience. I found this article undefinably interesting.

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