When a tornado meets a volcano, or… 

Laura Bennett: Tell me about the first time you saw a Kindle.

Andrew Wylie: I was in Rome, in the back of a taxi, and I couldn’t see it. So I thought, fuck this. This was in 1924 or something when the Kindle was launched. I bought it right away and discarded it immediately. And I haven’t picked it up again. Mea maxima culpa.

Me too, Ira, me too

Ira Glass on the one book he’d wish someone else would write:

Could someone please write a book explaining why the Democratic Party and its allies are so much less effective at crafting a message and having a vision than their Republican counterparts? What a bunch of incompetents the Dems seem like. Most people don’t even understand the health care policy they passed, much less like it. Ditto the financial reform. Or the stimulus. Some of the basic tasks of politics — like choosing and crafting a message — they just seem uninterested in.

I remember reading in The Times that as soon as Obama won, the Republicans were scheming about how they’d turn it around for the next election, and came up with the plan that won them the House, and wondered, did the House Dems even hold a similar meeting? Kurt Eichenwald! Mark Bowden! John Heilemann and Mark Halperin! I’ll pre-order today.

My first trip to Politics & Prose

On most days, I live by my (Google) calendar. If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist to me. And if it on my calendar, however incorrect, I will take it as fact. Today was one of those days.

I hurried to Politics & Prose — which I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get to, btw — for what I thought would be a talk by Chris Cillizza on his latest book, which is naturally about politics. I arrived about 9 minutes late because of the swarm of Zoo goers who confusingly exit and board the L2. Because of my hurried arrival, I thought the gentleman giving the talk vaguely looked like Chris sans glasses maybe? I actually don’t remember now. The part I walked in on was about epicurean something or another and I thought, well, food and politics is interesting.

I checked the calendar on my phone — yep, it is tonight. Now skeptical of my own shoddy data entry, I go to the P&P website and pull up their calendar. (Sidenote: they really should do something about their web calendar not being fitted to a mobile device — might I suggest responsive design?) The talk is scheduled for next Saturday. Of course. I can’t tell you why it took me so long to realize that this was not, in fact, the talk I came to see.

The talk I did stumble upon was Jefferson Morley’s on his newest book, Snow-storm in August, which was actually very interesting, as the fates would have it. The book is a history of the race riots that erupted in DC in 1835 following an attempted murder of a socialite by her slave. I’m not going to attempt to summarize the book beyond that, but I will mention that Jefferson made a really interesting point during the Q&A — that the Civil War is being taught incorrectly and that it should be taught with a longer historical arc. The Civil War wasn’t just a moment in time, but a 30 year history of slavery that culminated with the Civil War. Anyway, the talk was lovely and I’m glad I stumbled upon it.

After I finished paying for my books and magazines (they sell Monocole!), I walked by Chris Cillizza’s book — the one I was here to listen to him speak about — so I picked it up and went back to pay for it. On my walk home, I looked at the receipt for no reason aside than in passing to throw it away and realized that the clerk gave me the 20% discount for members. I am not sure whether he was amused that this girl who just spent a bunch of money wanted to spend even more, or whether he just assumed I was a member.

Either way, calendar mistakes are all right.

On autobiographies

An autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats. —George Orwell

That said, you can also view my untrustworthy autobiography at millietran.com — a domain named after yourself is basically a 21st century autobiography, right? My series of defeats will be recorded here though.

PS. James Fallows is following me on Twitter. Amazing! Why?
PPS. Hi, Jen :^)

Monday Blues & Accompanying Readings

To celebrate being back at my apartment before 3 p.m. (it feels deliciously indulgent to be able to relax on a Monday afternoon), here are some excerpts from around my world wide web for you to be equally indulgent for the rest of the week, or in one sitting:

Washington Post: ‘The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy,’ reviewed by Michael Dirda [link]
Life is tolerable when doing mundane tasks, it is unbearable when left to think / Admiration for genius can withstand martial misery: Tolstoy had just let his sheltered, 18-year-old bride read his own youthful diaries, in which he described his gambling, drunkenness and debaucheries. … Whenever Sofia shows a little spirit or playfulness, Tolstoy finds her “stupid and irritating.” She starts to copy his manuscripts for him — she would go on to transcribe the manuscript of “War and Peace” over and over, parts of it seven times — and there she does find a kind of peace: “As I copy I experience a whole new world of emotions, thoughts and impressions. Nothing touches me so deeply as his ideas, his genius.”

Intelligent Life: An Urban Laboratory [link]
BMW and the Guggenheim Foundation have come together for something called the BMW Guggenheim Lab, a six-year initiative to “engage a new generation of leaders in architecture, art, science, design, technology, and education, who will address the challenges of the cities of tomorrow by examining the realities of the cities of today.” The Lab is ultimately an attractive mobile unit for sharing ideas and solutions about urban environments, which will start in North America in late summer 2011 before moving on to cities in Europe and Asia. The plan is to promote a multidisciplinary forum for exploring new approaches that balance our desire for “urban comfort” with our need to be more environmentally responsible.

New Yorker: What does procrastination tell us about ourselves? [link]
I definitely stepped away a few times while reading this. On procrastination and why we do it — it is not just ignorance of the consequences of prolonging tasks at hand, but an ongoing battle between our two selves: Procrastination, in this reading, is the result of a bargaining process gone wrong.

The Guardian: Being Wrong – Adventures in the Margin of Error [link]
Why the experience of being wrong helps to make us better people, with richer lives: To be wrong, after all, is to depart from the facts into creativity, to become artists in our own lives. Error may feel like despair, but it is more akin to hope: “We get things wrong because we have an enduring confidence in our own minds; and we face up to that wrongness in the faith that, having learned something, we will get it right next time.” That may be no consolation to the patient who loses a healthy limb or the pilot whose mistake chucks a 747 into the Atlantic, but for those of us whose errors are less disastrous it’s a cheering perspective.

National Post: Westerners vs. the World – We are the WEIRD ones [link]
Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic (WEIRD) people are, in fact, weird: After analyzing reams of data from earlier studies, the UBC team found that WEIRD people reacted differently from others in experiment after experiment involving measures of fairness, anti-social punishment and co-operation, as well as visual illusions and questions of individualism and conformity. … Moreover, WEIRD people do not simply react to the world differently, according to the paper, they perceive it differently to begin with. … “This is a serious problem because psychology varies across cultures and chemistry doesn’t,” says Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at the University of Virginia.

The National Interest: Punditry at the Drive-Thru [link]
Punditry is the intellectual food equivalent of a meal at Burger King or Taco bell: At first bite, tasty, appealing and seemingly complete; in the end, bloating, cloying and empty of genuine intellectual fortification. More specifically, David Rieff on Peter Beinart’s propensity to conflate issues and provide narrow arguments about US hubris. While Beinart writes as a historian, and makes no claims to being a psychologist, the almost-total focus in his book on ideas and their effects on personalities, and the lack of suitable attention paid to the question of whether economic motives and pressures were the principle drivers in the hubristic policy decisions he chronicles, make it hard to take Beinart’s conclusions seriously. … Beinart has no obligation to accept the darker view of U.S. motives; he does, however, have an obligation to treat it seriously in a book (a column is something else), just as someone whose prejudice is to see America’s motives as fundamentally imperial must entertain seriously the question of the role of American idealism.

Here are the rest that I am too lazy, at the moment, to summarize/quote —

  • Boston Globe: How to shrink a city, Not every great metropolis is going to make a comeback. Planners consider some radical ways to embrace decline. [link]
  • American: Urban Plight – Vanishing Upward Mobility, Boosters still maintain that big cities remain unique centers for social uplift, but evidence suggests this is increasingly no longer the case [link]
  • Chronicle: Revalorizing the Trades, For the 10th-anniversary issue of The Chronicle Review, we asked scholars and illustrators to answer this question: What will be the defining idea of the coming decade, and why? [link]
  • Guernica: The Frugal Superpower, From his new book, Michael Mandelbaum lays out the challenge of the U.S.’s activist foreign policy, including an expensive war on terror, in an age of economic retraction and pending entitlements [link]
  • American Spectator: Can’t Live With Them… “IRVING KRISTOL ONCE DEFINED an intellectual as someone who “knows a little bit about everything.” And, as he was quick to add, he did not mean that disparagingly.” [link]
  • Spiked: How to ask awkward questions and annoy people, In his endless, often exasperating pursuit of Truth, Socrates made many enemies. Yet his ideas and his questioning outlook remain invaluable to understanding the present [link]
  • www.aupaydayloans.com

    Finding the designer

    I mentioned Penguin’s Great Ideas (3) & Great Love series in an earlier entry, but thought of them again because they’re so typographically beautiful and well-designed. Anyway, I woke up this morning but stayed in bed, read through some blogs & RSS feeds on my iPhone until I had this urge to look up workspaces. Somewhere in between searching for YSL’s desk, which I had the opportunity to see IRL at the Petit Palais (!!), and reading an old NYTimes article about ampersands (Well, kind of: “The cases [of B & H and H & H] are unrelated; their announcement on the same day a coincidence. But they provided bagel lovers and techies — worse yet, techies who love bagels — with a shared reason for concern.”), I happily stumbled upon the designer of the Penguin series and his portfolio: David Pearson. I do love that horizontal scroll.

    While on the subject of publishing, one of my favorite publishers, Phaidon, just launched its new site.
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