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By the 1970s, a Soviet math establishment had taken shape. A totalitarian system within a totalitarian system, it provided its members not only with work and money but also with apartments, food, and transportation. It determined where they lived and when, where, and how they traveled for work or pleasure. To those in the fold, it was a controlling and strict but caring mother: Her children were undeniably privileged. Even for members of the math establishment, though, there were always too few good apartments, too many people wanting to travel to a conference. So it was a vicious, back-stabbing little world, shaped by intrigue, denunciations and unfair competition. –“Russia’s Conquering Zeros: The strength of post-Soviet math stems from decades of lonely productivity,” Masha Gessen, The Wall Street Journal
Photos from Pakistan;
the search for the tomb of Genghis Khan continues (via);
illustrated chart of what kids call LEGO parts (“a flat clippy piece”; “claws”; “golden snapper”; “clippy piece”);
why toddlers help (via);
stealth anti-whaling craft arrives from the future
“I thought, ‘Health reform? Yay!’ ” said Lynn McAfee, the director of medical advocacy for the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination, an advocacy group for heavy people. But Ms. McAfee said it was not long before her sentiment changed to the more sober, “Oh no, we’re being scapegoated again.” –“Heavier Americans Push Back on Health Debate,” Susan Saulny, The New York Times
To lose weight, quit your job (of course, then you won’t have health insurance);
the man who proved that exercise is good for your heart dies aged 99.5;
fruit juice is bad stuff;
chick lit now for big girls;
and cankles are a myth
People who gush over Proust say peculiar things about him. The Observer‘s Robert McCrum thinks he “redefined the terms of fiction”, whatever they may be. Proust would have been surprised to be told he had defined anything. In a momentary lapse into barbarism, Nabokov, himself a consummate stylist, described Proust’s prose as “translucid.” If Proust did not make such a snobbish to-do about diction, it might be easier to forgive him for his battering of the sentence to rubble and his apparent contempt for the paragraph. He relies on commas and semi-colons to do what should be done by full-stops, of which there are far too few, many of them in the wrong place. Sentences run to thousands of words and scores of subordinate clauses, until the reader has no recollection of the main clause or indeed whether there ever was one. –“Why Do People Gush Over Proust? I’d rather visit a demented relative,” Germaine Greer, The Guardian
Harold Bloom reviews a new
Harold Bloom Samuel Johnson biography;
there’s a new book on Harvard’s Nazis (there weren’t as many as you might expect),
and a set of
books made from the trees they are about (via);
the gentrification novel is changing with the times (via);
and the September 11th novel is now subject to survey (via);
Murdoch wants to stop Google;
Condé Nast wants to publish in China;
Glenn Beck is shilling thrillers;
Ben Yagoda says that fiction is dead;
and Seattle is getting less literate–what should a fiction-writer do? “Fuck that, quite frankly. Really. Fuck that with vigour and from a strange direction.”
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”