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From “Final edition: Twilight of the American newspaper,” in the November 2009 Harper’s Magazine.
A scholar I know, a woman who is ninety-six years old, grew up in a tin shack on the American prairie, near the Canadian border. She learned to read from the pages of the Chicago Tribune in a one-room schoolhouse. Her teacher, who had no more than an eighth-grade education, had once been to Chicago—had been to the opera! Women in Chicago went to the opera with bare shoulders and long gloves, the teacher imparted to her pupils. Because the teacher had once been to Chicago, she subscribed to the Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune, which came on the train by Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest.
Several generations of children learned to read from that text. The schoolroom had a wind-up phonograph, its bell shaped like a morning glory, and one record, from which a distant female voice sang “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life.”
Is it better to have or to want? My friend says her teacher knew one great thing: There was something out there. She told her class she did not expect to see even a fraction of what the world had to offer. But she hoped they might.
I became a reader of the San Francisco Chronicle when I was in high school and lived ninety miles inland, in Sacramento. On my way home from school, twenty-five cents bought me a connection with a gray maritime city at odds with the postwar California suburbs. Herb Caen, whose column I read immediately—second section, corner left—invited me into the provincial cosmopolitanism that characterized the city’s outward regard: “Isn’t it nice that people who prefer Los Angeles to San Francisco live there?”
[The Millions]: What are the greatest misconceptions about Tolstoy?
[Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky]: The greatest misconception might come from believing what Tolstoy said about his artistic work after his “conversion to true Christianity,” as he called it; that is, from believing what he preached in the series of tracts and polemical works he wrote after 1880. He was never able to practice what he preached. He remained a deeply divided and contradictory man all his life. And that nourished his artistic work. We took a phrase from W. B. Yeats as the epigraph for our introduction to Anna Karenina: “We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.” That is even more true of Tolstoy in his later works, because his inner quarrel was more intense. “The Kreutzer Sonata” was meant to teach a lesson about the evils of modern marriage, but it does something quite different and humanly much more complex. Another misconception is that Tolstoy only wrote those two huge, unreadable novels.
Journalist who pays attention to the President is popular among colleagues;
the recession makes us fatter;
fat consumption graph;
and our yearly hunger for data has reached 3.6 zettabytes (but most of that’s in pixels);
poem inspired by Christian Bök
Despite my misgivings, by the time I finished my graduate studies I had achieved a modest level of visibility, a tenure-track job at a respected university, and even a book contract. Yet those signs of progress were repeatedly balanced by moments of shame that sent me reeling back to the world I was trying to forget. Checking into a prominent scholarly conference one spring, anxious to give my first paper as a newly minted Ph.D., I passed my credit card nervously to the hotel clerk. That morning I had nickel-and-dimed my finances until I’d freed up exactly the right amount of credit on my nearly maxed-out Visa. Apparently, I had miscalculated. The clerk patiently tried my card several times and helped me phone the company, while I shielded my crimson face from the well-known scholars milling about the lobby. Such moments shatter professional credibility in the world of academe, where hardship is a category of analysis and occasionally a metaphor (as in, “I slaved over that article!”) but almost never a reality. The poverty-stricken graduate student is a cliché, and often a flimsy veil for a not-so-distant past of privilege; but the debt-ridden professor is a humiliating aberration. I have studiously concealed my shame under an elaborate cover of cheerful togetherness and quiet pride. No one ever saw me rolling coins from my change jar during a particularly bad month, and I prayed that no one saw when, as I rushed to the bank, those heavy coin rolls plunged through the Ziploc bag and pirouetted all over the parking lot. It took almost 15 minutes to gather them up, while impatient cars swerved around me. –“At What Cost? A successful academic faces lifelong debt,” Melanie R. Benson, The Chronicle of Higher Education
Tom Zeller, Jr. visits with the climate skeptics (as much is made of the fact that the Times didn’t republish leaked climate-change emails; related: going green makes you mean);
someone (Chris Pepper) finally explains Google Voice;
Leah Finnegan talks about the good parts of newspapers
Through all this, a clear picture of Clinton’s passions and priorities emerges. The things he loves are politics, hard data and his family, in roughly that order. The thing he hates is the media, above all newspapers, on which he blames almost all his troubles. His love of politics is not a love of the sort of low-level politicking in which Stephanopoulos and his fellow staffers indulge. Rather, he has an unquenchable fondness for politicians themselves, with all their foibles and all their weaknesses – it is, in other words, a kind of self-love. One of the recurring themes of the book, on which Branch frequently remarks, is Clinton’s indulgent affection for many of his Republican opponents, notwithstanding the fact they spent most of his tenure in the White House trying to destroy him by fair means or foul, mainly foul. ‘Good ol’ Jesse,’ is all Clinton will say of the poisonous, racist Jesse Helms, who has just called him ‘unfit’ to lead the armed forces and warned him to stay away from North Carolina for his own safety. The newspaper obsession with Whitewater drives him mad, but not the Republican desire to capitalise on it, which he entirely understands. –“I Could Fix That,” David Runciman (review of The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History in the White House by Taylor Branch), London Review of Books
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.”