Friday, November 27, 2009

Selected Thoughts on The New Yorker November 16

Selected thoughts on the 16 November 2009 edition of The New Yorker:

November 9th (by George Packer)
The anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War sort of snuck up on me. Hard to believe it's been 29 years. Packer's piece reminds us just how amazing the turn of events was--especially in contrast with other would-be revolutions since then that haven't work out nearly as peacefully or successfully.

Slow Fade (by Arthur Krystal)
Krystal recounts the years famed author F. Scott Fitzgerald spent trying to make a living as a Hollywood screenwriter. Piece is notable for its depiction of the factory-like nature of the screenwriting process. Fitzgerald never really fit in well as a cog in that machine.

Nightmare Scenario (by Margaret Talbot)
This is a fascinating article that focuses on nightmares--particularly on emerging psychotherapeutic techniques for treating (managing?) them. The article largely focuses on Barry Krakow (who apparently has a blog)of the Maimonides Sleep Arts & Sciences, a clinic in New Mexico. Talbot interviews several other researchers, with a focus on a technique known as imagery-rehearsal therapy. It is pretty much what it sounds like, a sort of cognitive-behavioral take on dreams. There are all kinds of interesting things in this article, unfortunately I'm not sure how much weight to put into them since I'm newly wary of the Igon Value effect. That's a topic I'll have to come to terms with at some point. For example, there is an interesting claim that self-reported dreaming in color vs black and white has a strong correlation with television technology, and that dreams are now experienced as short, YouTube ready snippets rather than the sprawling narratives of Freud's era.

The Pharaoh (by Ian Parker)
This is an absolutely fascinating article. Parker presents a profile of the well-known Egyptian archeologist Zahi Hawass. Hawass is the head of the Egyptian Council of Antiquities and an omni-present expert on television documentaries. The article discusses the interesting role of ancient artifacts in modern Egypt as well as the politics of the small community of Ancient Egyptian scholars. Hawass's own academic findings and work habits are also explained. It was very enjoyable to learn more about Hawass, as well as the inside information on the connection between infotainment and scholarship when it comes to ancient Egypt. This piece is a must read if you are at all interested in ancient Egypt.

Hosed (by Elizabeth Kolbert)
Kolbert's review Superfreakonomics is an apt coup de grĂ¢ce to the whole issue of "experts" (square quotes intended) and contrariness. Kolbert attacks the problem head on:
But what’s most troubling about “SuperFreakonomics” isn’t the authors’ many blunders; it’s the whole spirit of the enterprise. Though climate change is a grave problem, Levitt and Dubner treat it mainly as an opportunity to show how clever they are. Leaving aside the question of whether geoengineering, as it is known in scientific circles, is even possible—have you ever tried sending an eighteen-mile-long hose into the stratosphere?—their analysis is terrifyingly cavalier.
Lift and Separate (by Ariel Levy)
I've been thinking about Feminism lately. This is partly spurred by Jessica Valenti's wedding and partly by Sarah Palin. So, I was happy to come across the review of the Feminism movement by Levy. In this piece, motivated by a new book about American Women from 1960 to the present by Gail Collins, Levy argues for a collective bout of amnesia coupled with false memories when it comes to the history and accomplishments of feminism.

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