Commentary — November 4, 2011, 3:40 pm

November Issue Web Roundup

Dear Readers,

If, like us, you eschew the Gregorian calendar in favor of the Harperian, you know that November has been upon us for weeks now. The November issue is on newsstands and with subscribers, for whom it is also available online. (Non-subscribers, please hasten here.) As such, we bring you our monthly roundup of web links related to the stories in the magazine:

Thomas Frank‘s Easy Chair column focuses this issue on the economic disparity between Washington, D.C., and West Virginia. He begins by discussing Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index polls, which measure Americans’ economic outlook. If you’re a fan of downward-trending charts, prepare to have your day brightened by Gallup’s Economic Confidence tracker. And if you’re a fan of Alan Berube, Brookings Institution Senior Fellow and Research Director, Metropolitan Policy Program, his work in The State of Metropolitan America, in which he details D.C.’s trouncing, in the category of educational attainment, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, is a must-read.

Frank writes of one of D.C.’s primary inspirations, “When I first heard about Richard Florida and his theories of planned coolness, my bullshit detector swung way into the red zone. But the guardians of Beltway propriety regard the man as something of a prophet.” In order that you might calibrate your own bullshit detectors, Frank points to this excerpt from The Rise of the Creative Class, as well as a 2006 column by Florida in the Washington Post. Florida’s Washington, Frank concludes, is a city of “adamantine political smugness.” (West Virginia, by contrast, is a state of curious entrepreneurial instinct.)

Man-about-world Pico Iyer has a memoir, “From Eden to Eton,” in the issue. The piece is a lovely non-fiction example of the grand tradition of boarding-house literature, popular in recent years thanks to a certain Wizard-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. NPR’s Weekend Edition ran a story on the genre in 2003, which can be streamed here or downloaded here.

One of Iyer’s touchstones in his story is John Livingston Lowes’s The Road to Xanadu: A Study in the Ways of the Imagination, a book that played an obscure part in the prehistory of the Internet. From the introduction to a hypertext version of “Kubla Khan”:

Ted Nelson read John Livingston Lowes as an undergraduate… when Coleridge was considered proof that drug taking could improve your poetry, and when Lowes was seen as a valiant explorer of the unconscious, in particular, the unconscious mind of a great poet, assimilating imagery from many sources, recalling a phrase or two, and from these rough links, creating something new.

 

So when Nelson envisioned a system much like the World Wide Web, almost twenty years before Tim Berners-Lee actually created the document type definition for the HyperText Markup Language (HTML), Nelson called his world of links, his network of associations, Xanadu. Nelson was recalling the land of Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, as interpreted by Lowes.

Nelson’s Project Xanadu, the Beta to the World Wide Web’s VHS, was founded in 1960 and still exists online at xanadu.com. Wired Magazine ran a modest 19,000-word sketch on Xanadu’s failure back in 1995.

Iyer concludes his piece by alluding to William Butler Yeats’s “When You Are Old,” which stands as a simpler pleasure:

WHEN you are old and gray and full of sleep
  And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
  And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
 
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
  And loved your beauty with love false or true;
  But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.
 
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
  Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
  And paced upon the mountains overhead,
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Hamilton Morris‘s “I Walked With a Zombie” recounts his quest to find a Haitian zombie. We’ve posted an excerpt from the piece, as well as one from Wade Davis’s 1983 study of Haitian zombie pharmacology, which Morris discusses in his story. Some of the scenes Morris reported from Haiti were captured for a documentary he shot for Vice TV. Here is the trailer:

 

In “Conjectural Damage,” Daniel Swift traces the history of bombing. For harpers.org, Swift wrote a piece deconstructing the language of drone warfare.

Andrew Cockburn‘s “Search and Destroy” compares the success of the U.S. Army’s high-tech efforts to disarm IEDs with its low-tech efforts, and studies the effect of the counter-IED campaign on broader counterinsurgency efforts. He has since written an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times on how the latter relationship speaks to possible problems with the U.S.’s targeted-assassination program.

This month saw the introduction of Larry McMurtry as the author of the New Books column, which focuses in November on titles about Coco Chanel and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and on one by essayist John Jeremiah Sullivan. The New Yorker‘s Book Bench blog recently posted an account of a visit with McMurtry at his home in Archer City, Texas.

And leave us not forget: the November Findings section is available online here.

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I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

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