Saturday, November 14, 2009

Selected Thoughts on The New Yorker October 26, November 2, and November 9

I got distracted by life (turns out to be a good way to waste a week). Here is a 3-in-1 update of very selected thoughts.

Selected thoughts on the 26 October 2009 edition of The New Yorker:

The Predator War (by Jane Mayer)
The use of remote-controlled aircraft to kill people has become common place, as Mayer's piece makes clear. How is this different from targeted assassinations? And what does it mean for the connection between us and the real costs of war? It's no Skynet, but this piece raises some very important questions.

The Inferno (by Christine Kenneally)
Typically, in Australia people are told to stay and ride-out a forest fire, while in the US people are urged to flee. Is that changing? Kenneally reports on a tragic fire in Australia and how the results of tthe different approaches may effect future government advice.

Man of Extremes (by Dana Goodyear)
One can't help but to compare Goodyear's profile of director James Cameron with David Foster Wallace's profile of David Lynch. The two pieces are very different in focus and style, but both are very rewarding reads. In addition to discussion of the Cameron's soon-to-be-released film, Avatar (perhaps the most expensive movie every made), this piece revisits Cameron's past work and explores his motivation. This is very interesting article.

Selected thoughts on the 2 November 2009 edition of The New Yorker:

Why Banks Stay Big (by James Surowiecki)
Yet another cogent discussions of financial system. Surowiecki makes an interesting point: it is a huge pain to switch banks, meaning that most people end up being "locked in" to some specific choice.

I Don't Get It
This is the cartoon issue of the New Yorker. Per usual, some obscure cartoon references are explained. It's fun to try to differentiate the fake and the real explanations.

Selected thoughts on the 9 November 2009 edition of The New Yorker:

Talk This Way (Alec Wilkinson)
This piece is a fascinating profile of Hollywood dialect coach Tim Monich. He is an academic descendant of Henry Sweet--the model for Henry Higgins. The written examples illustrate the sounds of the different dialects surprisingly well. It is clear why Monich is the master of this area.

Captives (by Lawrence Wright)
Wright reports on what happened during the most recent Israeli incursions in Gaza. More importantly, he provides a larger context of the recent history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I was shocked by the contrast between the present situation in the Palestinian territories with the state of affairs in the early 1990s. It is hard to be somewhat depressed by this piece. A lot is written and claimed about this conflict, and there are claims and counterclaims and points of moral equivalency that I cannot even begin to judge. I will not try to summarize this article. I recommend reading it and thinking hard about the world we live in.

Possessed (by Thomas Mallon)
Mallon uses the recent publication of two biographies about Ayn Rand to discuss her as an author and philosopher. One might think that Rand would be going out of style because of the economic meltdown--after all, Alan Greenspan was a disciple of Rand. However, it seems that the opposite has occurred, with her philosophy getting a rebirth. This, of course, has happened before--usually whenever the Democratic Party gains even a little bit of political power. Most people realize the problems with Rand's philosophy by the end of their teenage years (I think I was done with it shortly after 1998), but it is useful to keep in mind what this is all about. Mallon offers a depiction of the modern Objectivism movement (such as it is), coupled with a scathing critique of Rand-as-author.

Flesh of Your Flesh (by Elizabeth Kolbert)
Kolbert takes on the topic of vegetarianism in this review of Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. This strikes me an honest and clear treatment of the issue. After describing various arguments for and against eating animals (and they way they are treated), Kolbert offers this summary:
Foer’s position is that all such arguments are, finally, bogus. We eat meat because we like to, and we devise justifications afterward. “Almost always, when I told someone I was writing a book about ‘eating animals,’ they assumed, even without knowing anything about my views, that it was a case for vegetarianism,” he says. “It’s a telling assumption, one that implies not only that a thorough inquiry into animal agriculture would lead one away from eating meat, but that most people already know that to be the case.” What we know about eating animals is that we don’t want to know. Although he never explicitly equates “concentrated animal feeding operations” with the Final Solution, the German model of at once seeing and not seeing clearly informs Foer’s thinking. The book is framed by tales of his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor whose culinary repertoire consists of a single dish: roast chicken with carrots.

Rap Sheet (by Jill Lepore)
Why is the rate of homicide higher in the US than in Europe? There isn't a clear answer to this, but Lepore's article offers an interesting window into the history or murder in America.

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