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But China– or Mao’s China, which was the only one on view to Westerners in 1974 – was entirely opaque to him, a string of stereotypes, or bricks, as he called them, borrowing a term from cybernetics. The one thing he loved was what he had already seen in Japan: calligraphy, “their only work of art,” he said of the Chinese, “absolute counter-vulgarity.” “The rest: Soviet realism.” He dutifully toured the factories and schools and museums with his friends; he listened to the same sermons again and again; he had migraines; enjoyed the food; made an effort every now and again to get a bit of semiotic mileage out of the repeating signs. One result of this was an essay he published in Le Monde: “Alors, la Chine?” Alors, nothing much, was the answer. Barthes had seen Antonioni’s 1972 film about China– he told the director that it was the reason he took the trip– and kept returning to the sense that he had nothing to add to that portrait. On one of his last days there he drew up a kind of balance sheet. He couldn’t write favourably of the place or coherently criticise it. “Impossible,” he said of both options. He didn’t want merely to describe his experiences: that would be “phenomenology,” meaning, I take it, just phenomenology. All that was left was “Antonioni,” an approach that had been excoriated in China and in the West as a betrayal of the Revolution. –“Presence of Mind,” Michael Wood, London Review of Books
Palin doesn’t believe that “thinking, loving beings originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea”;
an interview with Cormac McCarthy;
a good typo: “Even though Egypt is geographically close to East Africa, where one of the four strains of leprosy comes from, DNA from a 4th century mommy shows traces of the European strain.”
An eclectic essayist is necessarily a dilettante, which is not in itself a bad thing. But Gladwell frequently holds forth about statistics and psychology, and his lack of technical grounding in these subjects can be jarring. He provides misleading definitions of “homology,” “saggital plane” and “power law” and quotes an expert speaking about an “igon value” (that’s eigenvalue, a basic concept in linear algebra). In the spirit of Gladwell, who likes to give portentous names to his aperçus, I will call this the Igon Value Problem: when a writer’s education on a topic consists in interviewing an expert, he is apt to offer generalizations that are banal, obtuse or flat wrong. –“Malcolm Gladwell, Eclectic Detective,” Steven Pinker, The New York Times
The Michelin Guide opens Bibendum’s kimono (turns out restaurant reviewing is boring);
fat is an angry substance;
important: don’t mix pepper-spray and cocaine;
boffins find origin of arsenic in Bangladesh water-supply
For Hans, it is hardly a surprise that much of Shakespeare does resonate so in Punjab. “For the English, Shakespeare is something sacred,” he tells me, “They are incapable of a natural response. Our response, on the other hand, is not born of ritual admiration. The plots make sense to us, you want to read King John, think of the story of Aurangzeb. Take the Two Noble Kinsmen, and the plot is no different from any Hindustani film. Two cousins fight over the same woman. One claims he has the right to her hand because he loves her more, the other says she is his because he saw her first. They both die fighting.” Hans doesn’t have to say it, but even as we speak, somewhere in a Punjab village, a similar story may well be playing itself out. There are other correspondences that may be mapped too. “We share an attitude with the England of Shakespeare’s times—it extends to matters such as wine, women, wealth and even sex. The psychology of death is similar.” There are differences as well. For one, Hans is quick to point out, Punjabis lack the idea of courtesy that is so central to English culture. –“Though This Be Madness, There Is Method In’t: After sixteen years of work, Surjit Hans’ mission of translating all of Shakespeare into Punjabi is nigh an end,” Hartosh Singh Bal, Open (via)
Shakespeare and porn (Much Ado About Humping and A Midsummer Night’s Cream);
& more Shakespeare;
& the perfect combination of motorcycle tricks and guitar-playing
The new docudrama The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX) isn’t really about Orenthal James Simpson. It’s about the trials that ran alongside his — those informal, unboundaried, court-of-public-opinion trials in which evidence was heard for and against the murder victims, the defense and the prosecution, the judge, the jury, and the Los Angeles Police Department, to say nothing of white and black America. History has freed us from suspense about Simpson’s verdict, so that the man himself (played here by Cuba Gooding Jr.) is less the tragic hero he seemed in the mid-Nineties than a curiously minor character. He comes to the center of our attention only once, in Episode 2, at the end of the lengthy Ford Bronco chase scene — which in real life was followed by a surreal cavalcade of police cars and media helicopters, as well as an estimated 95 million live viewers — when Simpson repeatedly, and with apparent sincerity, apologizes for taking up so much of so many people’s time. It is an uncannily ordinary moment of social decorum, a sort of could-you-please-pass-the-salt gesture on a sinking Titanic, in which Simpson briefly becomes more than just an archetype.
Amount an auditor estimated last year that Oregon could save each year by feeding prisoners less food:
Kentucky is the saddest state.
An Italian economist was questioned on suspicion of terrorism after a fellow passenger on an American Airlines flight witnessed him writing differential equations on a pad of paper.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”