Daniel Davies has something important to say, important enough for a long, forceful, and very informed post with 14 footnotes. What is it?
I tend to regard myself as Crooked Timber's online myrmidon of a number of rather unpopular views; among other things, as regular readers will have seen, I believe that the incitement to religious hatred legislation was a good idea (perhaps badly executed), that John Searle has it more or less correct on the subject of artificial intelligence, that Jacques Derrida deserves his high reputation and that George Orwell was not even in the top three essayists of the twentieth century. I'm a fan of Welsh nationalism. Oh yes, the Kosovo intervention was a crock too. At some subconscious level I am aware that my ideas about education are both idiotic and unspeakable. But I think that all of these causes are regarded as at least borderline sane by at least one fellow CT contributor. There is only one major issue on which I stand completely alone, reviled by all. And it's this; Budweiser (by which I mean the real Budweiser, the beer which has been sold under that brand by Anheuser-Busch since 1876) is really quite a good beer.
He started early on in forming this view, when his parents in Oklahoma, where alcohol content was capped at 3.2 percent, let him drink Bud with lunch when he was 10.
Some keys to his defense: same recipe since 1876; contents are all natural, not chemical; it is not "processed" but filtered to remove sediment, which is what makes it a lager; yes, it has rice in it, but "so what? So do Asahi and Kirin of Japan, Bintang of Indonesia and Efes of Turkey, and nobody has such a hate on about them"; "We have no real way of knowing what beer tasted like in Ye Olden Days Of Bavaria Etc, but it was probably horrible."
Also, Anheuser Busch is not, Davies says, some global bully. Enough with this Budvar business:
Budweiser did not rip off the poor little Czech government. Budweiser did not steal the Czechs brand name. Budweiser is not a copy of Budvar. Budvar is not the original Budweiser. Budweiser does not use malicious lawsuits to keep the honest Czechs down. And a number of related issues. Ahem.
It doesn't take the Crooked Timber commenters to crack wise: "It doesn't taste very nice though, does it?" But I'm with Davies on this one, I say, risking censure. Nothing like it at a baseball game, preferably from a wax paper cup.
If you want to read how increasing economic inequality is, all things considered, good for America, you can turn to Gary Becker, an economist at the University of Chicago and high-profile blogger. If you want to know why it makes no sense to pay Harvard's janitors a "living wage," Greg Mankiw, a star economist at Harvard who also maintains a popular blog, might be your man.
Evidently chafing at the uniform, right-tilting tone of many econo-blogs, Dani Rodrik, an economist based at Harvard's Kennedy School, started his own last month. He's wasted no time in stirring the pot.
Early on, he suggested that many economists overstated the degree to which dropping trade barriers lowered costs for consumers (the standard argument for why free trade is worth it, despite the cost in lost jobs in many industries). Mankiw took the bait, and the subsequent entries on bothsides touched on complex aspects of economic theory as well as whether, and to what degree, economists can simplify their arguments when speaking to non-specialists.
More recently, Rodrik blasted a pro-free-trade economics paper cited by Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Fed. That paper claimed that reducing eliminating all existing restrictions on trade would raise the income of the average American household by $4,000 to $12,000 (a 3.4 to 10.1 percent bump up in GDP). Rodrik, however, called the paper "egregious" and offered a different set of calculations. These suggested that eliminating all trade barrers would raise American income by a mere 0.1 percent by 2015.
Lots of these entries got technical pretty fast, but not the following one. A reader, "DM," wrote in with what he thought was an argument-ending parable:
Let us say an new barber moves into my neighborhood. He offers the same quality service as my old barber, but is cheaper. So I use the new barber. A factory in China can make the the same socks, but for less than a factory in North Carolina. So I decide to buy my socks from China. Why is it that Dani wants [to] interfere with my sock purchases, but not where I get my haircut?
DM thinks we should not apply a different set of standards to exchanges involving international trade than we do to those that are purely domestic. I agree! What I think he overlooks is that in fact we do encumber domestic exchanges with a lot of restrictions, and in some cases even outright prohibitions. Domestic laws prevent you from selling yourself into bondage, to hire out your children for factory work, to flout minimum wage requirements, to exceed maximum hours of work, to employ workers in conditions that violate mandated health and safety requirements, and so on. DM's new barber would not remain in business long were he not to comply with standards set by the local health board--regardless of whether DM would want to use him or not. These are instances of what the political philosopher Michael Walzer has called "blocked exchanges." In each of these instances, one could have made an argument that it is improper for the state to come in between two consenting adults. Maybe DM thinks these domestic restrictions should be removed as well. But no matter. The point is that restrictions do exist in domestic exchanges as well. Individuals are never completely free to sign certain contracts.
Rodrik says that most economists assume that only "barbarians" are opposed to the most complete free-trade regime possible. "Reassuringly for those who believe in a symmetric universe," he wrote this week, "there are barbarians on both sides of this issue."
Yesterday, May 10, has been through the years quite a day in the annals of assassination. As Answers.com tells us, John Wilkes Booth (b. 1838), James Earl Ray (b. 1929) and Mark David Chapman (b. 1952) were all born on May 10.
If you need reminding, Booth ended up killing Abraham Lincoln in Ford's Theatre; Ray shot Martin Luther King, Jr. dead when he stepped out onto a hotel balcony in Memphis; and Chapman ended the life of John Lennon outside of his apartment building on 72nd St. and Central Park West in Manhattan.
Could astrology be at work? Could Ray have been inspired by Booth, his birthday-sharing predecessor? Or Chapman inspired by either Booth or Ray or both? We'll never know about Ray, who died in 1998. But perhaps we'll hear something from Chapman, who has been denied parole at New York state's Attica prison several times since 2000.
Abbas Reza picks up the item and adds a question: "does anyone know why assassins are almost always known by their full names, meaning their middle name is also always included? Why not just Lee Oswald, for example? I favor the explanation that it saves all the Mark Chapmans, John Booths, and James Rays of the world from being mistaken for a cold-blooded killer.
In today's Globe there is a terrific Page One story, by tireless Globe arts reporter Geoff Edgers, about a fistfight during the Boston Pops' opening night gala on Wednesday. (Evan mentioned the incident earlier today.) I enjoyed this part in particular:
Improper Bostonian columnist Jonathan Soroff ... said he hoped the BSO didn't somehow blame the incident on the recent Pops effort to bring more rock musicians into Symphony Hall. "It could have happened at an all-Brahms program," he said. "People are just not always civilized."
But those of us who follow Edgers's excellent blog, Exhibitionist, which I'm proud to say I helped name, had already heard about it. And seen the video. And read Chris Muther's style advice for the guy whose shirt was ripped open. On Thursday. Way to go, Geoff!
Somebody claiming to be Matthew Ellinger, the 27-year-old graphic designer from Brighton who was one of the brawl participants, posted to a Boston.com message board yesterday. Is Matt54321 the real deal? I'll only believe it if Geoff Edgers, who cracked the Mike Daisey story wide open, tells me so.
PS: This seems like a good time to remember another hubbub at Symphony Hall. Teaser: "It looked as if the woman had gone crazy ... almost causing a panic among those in the audience ... and even for a moment upsetting [the musicians] so that their startled eyes wandered from their music stands." The woman? Isabella Stewart Gardner.
What happens when basic principles of etiquette in a given setting break down? Brainiac contributor emeritus John Swansburg once wrote on this blog about a YouTube video -- one that could be a fake job but appears awfully real -- in which a teacher in a lecture hall takes none too kindly to a front row student who actually answers his cell phone.
John was picking up on some thoughts I had about the racket that now transpires in concert halls. As you may already have heard, last night's Boston Pops opening gala took it to a new level when the performance was interrupted by fight that broke out in the balcony. After one listener repeatedly asked another to stop talking, the man being shushed allegedly cold-cocked the other and grabbed his hair. The puncher was pulled from out of the scrum, his shirt wide open. WHDH has the video at the top of this report.
In this case the roles were reversed. The violator of decorum was the one who went haywire.
* The other day I mentioned that one of my favorite blogs is the one manned by Tom and Brian Nealon of Roslindale's Pazzo Books. Full disclosure: I discovered the store a couple of years ago, and the proprietors have since become friends. (I buy all of my books through Pazzo; they're great at hunting down the right edition at the right price. Pazzo also sells books via eBay.) I see today that Pazzo needs your vote in WBZTV's "best bookstore" contest. Act now!
* Million-dollar idea, from [ex-Allstonian] Scot Hacker's Foobar blog:
Imagine a FireFox plugin or browser extension that, when clicked, would run the text of any page through a voice synthesizer ... but pipe the output silently to MP3 in the background, then load the generated file into my podcast aggregator. All day long I could "tag for voice" various web pages that I wished I had the time to read. When I sync'd my iPod before leaving for work, I'd have all that missed content on it, ready for the road.
Hacker is definitely onto something, there.
* Ethan Zuckerman, co-founder of Global Voices Online, has a terrific post on his blog My Heart's in Accra, explaining what they're trying to do. Here's an excerpt that hits home for those of us associated with the Globe:
It's been surprisingly easy to find xenophiles who want to work on Global Voices. What's harder is finding people interested in reading what they have to say. This is the same problem that newspapers have in maintaining international coverage. If readers in the Boston area were demanding more coverage of Haiti or Russia, the Globe would likely still have foreign correspondents. If bloggers were as interested in Tunisian internet censorship as they are in cracking AACS, we'd support Global Voices on t-shirt sales alone.
In the Ask the Pilot column Jan pointed to, on airplane jargon, Patrick Smith cites a recent New Yorker cartoon in which the captain says to the first officer, "Whether I have five passengers or five hundred, I try to make the same inane announcements."
As a pilot who tries hard to keep his public address chatter brief and informative, my feelings are hurt. But I have to ask: Is it true? Do pilots, as a rule, make inane announcements? I don't always listen, frankly, but I assumed we did a pretty good job. I mean, what passenger doesn't want to hear that "we'll be shooting the localizer to one six left?" Or that the wind in St. Louis is blowing from the southeast at 8 knots? Or that the dew point is up to 16 Celsius? People need to know.
OK, so maybe the artist has a point.
Jerry Seinfeld would agree. In his stand-up act called "I'm Telling You for the Last Time," he has a great bit about the prattle coming from the cockpit. It goes somthing like this:
Pilot comes over the PA: "I'm gonna take it up to about 20,000 feet, take a right in Pittsburgh, left over Chicago...." The whole route, all his moves. We're in the back going... "Do whatever the hell you gotta do, I don't know. End up where it says on the ticket is really it..." Do I bother him with what I'm doing? Knocking on the door... "I'm having the peanuts now."
If you think airline language is worse than airline food, you've got a friend in the cockpit: Boston-bred pilot Patrick Smith, author of Salon.com's Ask the Pilot column, takes on the lingua franca of flight in the current installment. (Part 2, on air-terminal talk, will be online tomorrow.)
Some of Smith's entries are simply informational (and sometimes reassuring). Air pocket "has no precise meteorological meaning," he says; it's just a bump in the ride. And wind shearis "one of those buzzwords that scare the crap out of people, but in fact it's very common and rarely hazardous."
But others entries note pet peeves, which aren't all that different, it turns out, from yours and mine.
AT THIS TIME "At this time, we ask that you please put away all electronic devices and place all cellular phones in the off position." Meaning: now, or presently. This is air travel's signature euphemism, and one whose needlessness really sets my teeth on edge.
TAMPERING WITH, DISABLING OR DESTROYING "Federal law prohibits tampering with, disabling or destroying a lavatory smoke detector." While we're at it, this is another example of fatty verbiage that serves no purpose other than to bore passengers. Meaning: tampering with.
Smith goes too far, though, when he declares that the emphatic do -- "We do appreciate your choosing United" -- is a usage with "no grammatical justification." It may not be necessary in the friendly skies, but this has been normal English for a millennium and more.
The OED quotes (to pick examples with readable spelling) the16th-century Tyndale Bible ("Of whom Moses in the lawe and the prophetes dyd wryte") and Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" ("Not so, sir, I do care for something, but . . . I do not care for you").
And Smith ignores momentarily, the top complaint of flying language conservatives. "We'll be landing momentarily," they say, means "for a moment," not "in a moment." (They would also point out that presently means, or did mean till recently, "soon," not "now.")
Still, if you've ever recoiled at being "beveraged" at 30,000 feet, you'll be glad to hear that someone on the front lines shares your dismay, if not your every pet peeve.
Yesterday I wrote about a piece written for The Believer about "The Codex Seraphianius." (Somebody nabbed the only used copy on Amazon since yesterday, but it's available for anywhere from $105 to $5000 from used bookstores here.) The "Codex" is a bizarre illustrated book by a living writer, Luigi Serafini, that is written in an original cryptic script that I referred to as a language. Justin Taylor, the author of the piece, has written in to reply to my post:
If we consider the book as an illustrated text, then the writing must have meaning, though that's not the same as saying it can be translated or deciphered. The first thing to figure out would be whether the script is indeed a new language, or rather a code. There are a few people (you can find them online) who have attempted to decipher it, but other than some mild success with the numbering system (see here) nobody has made any real headway. Of course, there's also the doubly-problematic fact (at least for an English speaker-reader such as myself) that even if the text can be translated or deciphered, it will almost certainly not be from Serafinian to English, but rather to Italian or possibly French (it's a long shot, but the only recognizable writing in the Codex is a few French words -- fragments of Proust -- that appear in no more than two or three of the illustrations in the book's section on language).
If, on the other hand, we consider the book not in terms of text and illustration, but holistically, as a single work of art, then the "text" need not be considered separately from the "illustrations." What we have instead, then, is an entirely visual work whose artist (not necessarily an "author" here) was extremely diligent in mimicking the style and layout of encyclopedias, codices, and other illustrated texts, in order to produce in his viewers the experience of being (or the urge to be) readers. Quoting Shelley Jackson from my interview with her that appears in the article: "it's probably meant to hover on the verge of scrutability, to constantly hold forth the possibility of being read but stay resistant at the same time."
Either method of consideration or approach is a reasonable one, and each is quite productive in its own way -- which, by the way, is not to suggest that there are only two approaches to the book. The triumph of "The Codex Seraphinianus," I think, is that it is engaging, entertaining, and deeply pleasurable even if you eschew "approaches" altogether and just dive into the work. An artist as idiosyncratic and visionary as Serafini is certainly capable of producing hundreds of pages of gibberish that "begs" to (but ultimately cannot) be read, or the polar opposite: he could have written hundreds of pages of actual thoughts and ideas that are fully communicateable but won't be--not now, maybe not ever--because he's hidden them behind an impenetrable wall of language.
Michael Erard is the author of a pieceI discussed Tuesday, about what is lost when languages die. I wrote about the way Mandarin Chinese (obviously not in danger itself) divides the English jackknife word "cousin" into many different, more specific words. Erard writes in to address my discussion of the inefficiencies in English:
[T]alking about informational inefficiency is sort of (and only sort of) the flip side of talking about language complexity. I think one could claim that all languages have these inefficient parts of their grammar or lexicon but that this doesn't affect their overall complexity, capacity for grammatical complexity, or their usefulness for speakers to express a range of ideas from simple to abstract.
I'd make a call again for a book, or even a blog, about the inefficiencies in English. Yes, it's a global language with a huge vocabulary, a big appetite for loan words, and no central authority overseeing it. But the fact is, it can't do everything one could conceivably want to do with a language, yet it's this global behemoth. Sniglets were the kiddie version of this project. I mean really mundane inefficiencies, like marking gender for one's cousin. This would be the way to articulate the linguistic diversity of the world by looking at the negative spaces of English. Sure, it's English-centric, but if your audience speaks/reads English and you want people to become more aware of and articulate about language issues (as I am), this would be one way to do it.
I like this idea a lot. Jan? (Sniglets, by the way, are words that ought to be in the dictionary but aren't, according to their creators. Like "blivet" -- to flip your pillow to the cool side.)
* I've been enjoying David Plotz's series, for Slate, called "Blogging the Bible," in which he reads one book of the Bible at a time and reports on what he's discovered. Today, in his report on the Book of Daniel, Plotz reminds us that the story doesn't end the way we think it does -- i.e., with Daniel's rescue and King Darius's turn to God. Plotz writes:
As soon as Daniel is rescued, Darius orders the arrest of the "men who slandered Daniel." (This, of course, is an unfair characterization of them. They did not slander Daniel. Daniel broke the law about prayer. It was a stupid law, but Darius signed it. They were just enforcing it.) The men -- and their wives and children -- are sentenced to the lion's den. "They had hardly reached the bottom of the den when the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones." Good God!
Plotz's entire series is well worth your time.
* I don't often feel this way about Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, but there's a must-read essay in the current (Spring 2007) issue. In "The lesbianism of Philip Larkin," Stanford humanities professor Terry Castle analyzes the sexual eccentricity of Larkin, perhaps the greatest English poet of the second half of the 20th century. Far from being merely the timid, lonely bachelor who appears in his poems, we now know that Larkin was an avid consumer of lesbian pornography (meaning stories, not photos, I think) featuring English schoolgirls... and also the pseudonymous author of such stories. Castle's sympathetic study suggests that Larkin was actually uninterested in pursuing "normal" relationships -- and even lonelier than we knew.
Eames claims to have the whole history of this world mapped out in detail, but intentionally reveals it bit by bit...: "'I always want to hint at something that's just out of reach,' [Demetrios] told me. 'It's like writing a novel so you can publish a haiku.'"
The same description might or might not apply to "The Codex Seraphinianus," a deeply mysterious book by a living but rather uncommunicative author, Luigi Serafini. (It's currently going for $465 on Amazon from a used bookseller, and $475 on eBay for an advance copy from 1983.) The "Codex" is the subject of a fine piece in the new issue of The Believer that explores whether it is possible, or could be possible, to make some sense of the book. It is lavishly illustrated with Bosch-like drawings of a bizarre nature and is written in a language that is apparently of the author's own devising.
The inner flap of my Abbeville edition describes "a flowing and as yet undeciphered script," which cagily implies something it doesn't exactly say. The "Codex" is unique not only in that we know both where and whom it came from but in that its author is still very much alive. It is a puzzle that could be solved at any moment, with a word from the only man who we know knows for sure not just what, but if it means.
Raymond Chandler once wrote in a letter that when his famously convoluted novel "The Big Sleep" was being filmed for the first time (1946), the director and screenwriter were flummoxed by who killed one of the characters (Owen Taylor) or whether he committed suicide: "They sent me a wire... asking me, and dammit I didn't know either." I hope that's not the case with Luigi Serafini.
In recent weeks I've posted about both grindhouse and Kurt Vonnegut. So imagine my delighted surprise to come across the following (Photoshopped/not real) grindhouse-style movie poster for "Slaughterhouse Five."
The tagline is brilliant: "Savage Nazi thrills! Terrifying time traveling chills! Gruesome themes of free will!"
The poster (by Blair Erickson) is part of the latest Photoshopping gag over at Something Awful. Check out the grindhouse poster for Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth," among other gems.
A reader writes in in support of the footnote, whose battle with the endnote has been discussed and debated by me and Chris inthreeposts below:
The footnotes were seriously (and for humorous effect) the best part of my dissertation.... I always think of footnotes -- good footnotes, not mere sourcings -- as the place where scholars fight off loneliness. We need commentary, not just narrative.
Martin Amis once wrote, sounding a similar note, that "books are partly about life, and partly about other books." The back-and-forth of scholarship, debate, and art can indeed be a salve for loneliness -- and it's partly what the Internet is all about, even though we're sitting alone at a computer when we use it.
I've received a few emails like the ones Jan describes in her latest excellent column. ("I'm a student in the United Emirates and I enjoyed your article about X. Please email me all the articles you read while researching it.")
My favorite story along those lines came about a decade ago, when I profiled Edward Ayers, a noted historian of the South at the University of Virginia. At the time, he ran a project, "The Valley of the Shadow," that placed massive amounts of information about the Civil War (especially as it played out in two towns on opposite ends of the Shenandoah Valley) online: maps, newspapers, genealogies, diaries. Just tons of stuff. It was (and is) a path-breaking attempt by humanists to tap into the potential of the Web.
One day, the project's staff members received an email from a few high school students. They thought they were making a simple request. We're working on a project for our American history course, the students said. Please fax us all the material you have on the Civil War.
Linguists have, in general, done a poor job of articulating why people should care that half of the approximately 6,900 languages spoken on the planet will be extinct in a century.... As for me, afraid of having to dip into the sentimentality and the fetishizing of Last Things, I've kind of been repulsed by the topic and have never written about it.
Erard notes, among other juicy tidbits, that "in Squamish, a Pacific Northwest language with 15 speakers, you use a different number depending on if you're counting humans or animals."
"Of course these languages are endangered!" someone will inevitably crow. "English or the other major languages are informationally more efficient!" This isn't true. For example, what information is encoded in the English "my nephew"? For sure, it's a male person. But (as Harrison writes) "is he related to me by blood or marriage? Unclear. Is he older or younger than me? Unclear. Is he the son of my sister or my brother? Unclear. Is he the son of an older sibling of mine or a younger sibling? Unclear. Is he a boy or a man? Unclear."
Erard doesn't discuss this, but in Mandarin Chinese (which I studied for a number of years in high school and college), there are an incredible assortment of kinship words. The English catch-all word "cousin" is hacked into pieces. If you're great-uncle is younger than your great-grandfather, that's one thing. Older is another. And if he's in fact the brother of your great-grandmother, another word. Blood and marriage get divided up, too.
It's a real pain. But it makes a lot of sense. And it also surely suggests something about the importance in Chinese culture of family and lineage. As against American individualism: "Oh, that's my cousin... I'm not actually sure how we're related." I'm quoting myself there.
Maybe we should find out if anyone has 40 different words for "obvious" with fine gradations, so we won't run into problems like the whopper Drake Bennett pointed up in Sunday's Ideas section.
There's a hot essay of a kind here, originally written by David Willey, he told me, and edited by his wife, Raven. (He is referred to in the third person.) David Willey, a professor of science at the University of Pittsburgh, participated in the world's longest firewalk in 1998 (Raven did, too) and also collected the data for the world's hottest firewalk in 1997. ("Michael McDermott placed both feet in the middle of the hottest part when the interior of that portion was at 1,813 deg F, as measured by a Fluke Model 51, k-type thermocouple.")
Willey says the hocus pocus surrounding firewalking is... hocus pocus. He believes that the "mind over matter" image of firewalking is derived in part from lucrative self-help businesses that have incorporated it into their programs in recent years.
It's just physics, see. He cites a paper (not online) in the Skeptical Inquirer, which also interviewed him here, and adds his own comment:
Consider that both hardwood and charcoal are good thermal insulators. Wood was used on the handles of such things as saucepans and soldering irons to insulate them, before the advent of heat resistant plastics. Wood is just as good an insulator even when on fire, and charcoal is almost four times better as an insulator than is dry hardwood. Further, the ash that is left after the charcoal has burnt is just as poor a conductor as was the hardwood or charcoal, and is itself producing no further heat.
Then there's the issue of how long those feet stay on the bed of coals:
Conduction happens when energetic molecules, the hot coals, that are vibrating collide with more sedate molecules, the soles of the feet, thereby transferring energy to them, but the thermal conductivity of coarse charcoal is very small and that of skin or flesh is only about four times more. By comparison the thermal conductivity of most metals is several thousand times larger...."
Design Observer: Hotshot graphic designers and cultural archaeologists Michael Bierut, William Drenttel, and Jessica Helfand, joined by other guests, blog about design and culture.
Pazzo Blog: Tom and Brian Nealon, proprietors of Pazzo, Roslindale Square's terrific used/rare bookshop, blog about: books, Roslindale, and everything else.
Foobar: Tech journalist and independent web host Scot Hacker blogs about: Mothership, blogging, culture, the environment, family, web hosting, Mac stuff, media stuff, music, politics, technology, and more.
Steamboats are Ruining Everything: Historian and public intellectual Caleb Crain blogs about his interests, which are terrifically varied. The 19th century figures prominently, though. But he's always writing about the present.
Chris's post in defense of the footnote reminded me that a friend who was a teacher once pointed out that an entire chapter in Jon Krakauer's book about Mormonism, Under the Banner of Heaven, was accompanied by, I believe, a single endnote -- implying the Krakauer had simply summarized another book, with some of his own comments thrown in. "I don't let my tenth graders get away with that."
The footnotes that bother me are those of an inordinate length. When they take up a third or more of the page, it's just ugly. Some publishers get around this by allowing the footnote to spill on to a second or even third page. But then, on a page with multiple notes, the reader must keep flipping back and forth and losing the thread of the body of the text. Not flipping all the way to the end, granted, but the quick-reference advantage of the footnote is greatly mitigated.
Chris mentions David Foster Wallace's copious footnotes, which are maddening or brilliant or both, depending on whom you ask. For an article [sub. only] of his on a right-wing talk show and its host, The Atlantic Monthly devised a nifty solution. The footnotes ran in colored boxes in the margins of the page, corresponding to words highlighted in those colors in the text. (Can we still call them footnotes?) The online version is not as elegant -- it involves pop-up windows -- but it's still neato.
Here is a classic Gertrude Himmelfarb screed, from 1991 -- an early cry in the dark -- against the triumph of endnotes over footnotes, and the confusions such typographic layouts lead to. (Worse, she says, are those books by historians, aimed at a popular audience, that eschew notes altogether.)
Irony watch: When this piece was reprinted in a collection of Himmelfarb essays (this one, I think), the footnotes were replaced by ... end notes.
It's worth remembering that footnotes aren't just about sources; they are an art form unto themselves, and have been for centuries before David Foster Wallace arrived on the scene with his patented amplifications and re-thinks. Keep burying them in the back of books and there's no incentive to make them interesting.
At God and the Machine ("Culling My Readers to a Manageable Elite Since 2002"), Aaron Haspel posts an interesting diatribe on endnotes. In short, he doesn't like them.
[Brian] Doherty's notes [for "Radicals for Capitalism"] receive the standard treatment, which is to say the worst possible. The notes are renumbered by chapter, but each page of notes is headed, usefully, "Notes"; the chapter titles occur only on the beginning page of the notes for that chapter. To look up an endnote, then, you have to remember the number, remember the chapter number, flip to the notes section, locate the beginning page of the correct chapter, and then flip forward to the right note number, only to be disappointed most of the time with a mere source cite.
Haspel has some suggestions -- actually, rules -- for proper endnote use. First, whenever possible, replace them with footnotes. I find footnotes distracting and un-pleasing to the eye, but if the topic is of intense interest to me, I'm with him. I want to see where the author's getting this good stuff, right away. Another rule:
Each endnote page should be headed by the page numbers of the notes it contains, to facilitate easy flipping. For example, "Notes, pp. 537-558"; not "Notes: Chapter Seven," or "Notes: A Stupid Chapter Title That I've Forgotten and Now You're Gonna Make Me Look It Up."
That strikes me as a good idea. Much of the rest I'm not so sure about. But leaving as much "scholarly detritus" out of the body of the text as possible seems right on. I agree with him, too, that there's a whopper of an exception on this last point: Jacques Barzun's "From Dawn to Decadence," which only wants to fill you in on 500 years of Western cultural life: "[The book] contains no specific source cites, only an occasional parenthesis, when discussing a topic, that 'the book to read is...' or 'the book to browse in is...' If you are a nonagenarian and the world's preeminent living intellectual, you can write like that."
Josh's excellent review of "The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of Typewriting," about the influence of typewriters on lives lived in the age when they were common, occasioned some thoughts. I often wonder about what effect the broad switch from typewriters to computers might have had on the way we write.
Consider first the advent of e-mail. It allows writers to roam widely and submit their articles -- even entire book manuscripts -- instantly. This is obviously of great use to journalists when it comes to breaking news. Not to mention lawyers, doctors, professors, and everybody else reading Brainiac. I know the fax machine came first, but man, let's get rid of those already. (Until searching and extracting text from a PDF becomes better than a hit-or-miss proposition, though, I guess we're stuck.) E-mail saves typesetters -- I mean Quark and PageMaker magicians -- the task of retyping the whole darn text when it arrives.
Also, the infinite editability of a word-processed document is a great feature. Cutting and pasting is a lot easier without scissors and glue. But perhaps it's too easy. Maybe we should all write first and ask questions later. And pay some price for indulging our every whim. Joyce Carol Oates and Larry McMurtry both still use typewriters, and it's working out okay for them.
I have learned since last Thursday that "The Deep," the book in which the Grimpotheusis photo appears, has its own, very cool website. There are many more great photos on the website; and there are hundreds more photos in the book!
The Brainiac item on "Battlefield Earth" was also visited many, many times, because it was posted to the Boston.com homepage. Thanks, guys! Right-of-center bloggers seemed to dig what I had to say. For example, see posts from: Blogs for Mitt and the libertarian blog Free Will.
Finally, as long as I'm patting myself on the back, I would like to direct your attention to my review of "The Iron Whim," in which Darren Wershler-Henry insists that, until quite recently, the act of typewriting exercised a sinister influence over our lives. (I like a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy, but in this case I couldn't go along with the gag.) The review appeared yesterday in the NYT Sunday Book Review (login required) and the International Herald Tribune.
Readers will probably remember the 2005 sex scandal at Milton Academy (my alma mater). Seven male students were expelled, suspended, or placed on leave in connection with several alleged incidents involving the same female student, who was placed on leave. Five of the male students reached a deal with prosecutors over charges of statutory rape. Some more of the Globe coverage is here , here, here, and here .
The school and the students both took a lot of stick and snarkiness in the blogosphere and in the press. The scandal has now given rise to a forthcoming book, to be published in September by William Morrow, with the bizarre and rather ugly title "Restless Virgins." Subtitle: "Love, Sex and Survival at a New England Prep School." The co-authors, Abigail Jones and Marissa Miley, are Milton Academy alumnae in their mid to late twenties. I'm working on more details about the book and the reactions of those connected with the academy.
Almost all translators mistranslated nappy-headed or hos or both. Below are samples from 16 languages to prove my assertion that foreign readers were severely misled by the wrong translations and that Don Imus was depicted as having been far nastier than he actually was.
Outside North America, English-language news media did no better than Germans and Romanians, Aman reports:
My four U.K. dictionaries (Chambers, Collins, Concise Oxford, Longman) define nappy only as "(baby's) napkin," American English "diaper," without any reference to hair, except for Collins which also lists "having a nap; downy; fuzzy" among its seven definitions of that adjective. For whatever reason, those translators were not puzzled by their strange translation "diaper-headed" or by the bizarre image of black women having diaper-shaped heads or wearing diapers on them. Perhaps those translators thought that nappy-headed was a synonym of "rag-headed" or "towel-headed," common pejoratives applied to Arabs because of their customary headdress.
Readers might take issue with Aman's judgments about the offensiveness of ho -- perhaps because he's immersed in abusive language, he considers it closer to "broad" than "slut" -- but his examples are fascinating.
My colleague and longtime friend James Parker said goodbye to the Ideas section yesterday:
This edition of Cultural Studies -- the 33d -- is my last. Like the uncouth swain in Milton's "Lycidas," I rise at last and twitch my mantle blue: tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new. I have been most grateful during the 16-month life span of this column for your e-mailed thoughts and comments. When I wrote about something I didn't understand (audio technology, for example) you were quick to acquaint me with the limits of my knowledge. And when I gave a bit of airtime to someone not often featured in the Sunday papers, someone like John Fahey or Arthur Lee, you were equally quick with your expressions of delight and support. Certain of my columns got no response at all: They went out and vanished, soundlessly -- or rather there was the small, mental sound of the ether resealing itself behind them forever. If I could take back one thing, it would be the column about Michael Richards -- Kramer from "Seinfeld," as you may remember, who had a racist meltdown onstage at an LA comedy club. What possessed me to contribute to the already complete humiliation of a man who has made me laugh out loud at least twice a week for the past ten years? That aside, it's been a pleasure. Thank you all very much for reading.
James is heading over to the (Boston) Phoenix as a staff features writer. This may seem like a reverse trajectory -- many Phoenix staffers, including Ideas deputy Gareth Cook, have ended up at the Globe -- but James has already been writing regularly for the Phoenix, and I'm sure they're ecstatic to get him. Brainiac wishes him all the best, and we'll be keeping an eye out for his byline.
PS: My posts about the HD DVD processing key shenanigans were reverse-published -- with large, full-color photos -- in Ideas on Sunday. Alas, these reverse-published items have not been making their way to the website. I hope this will change! UPDATE: This will not change any time soon.
I've written about "alternate reality event" designer/puppetmaster Jane McGonigal for Ideas, and also for Brainiac. (NB: McGonigal, currently a fellow at Institute for the Future, calls herself a "games researcher who specializes in networked experiences for real-world spaces.") Now that she's tackling a potential real-world crisis, I'm even more fascinated with her work.
On April 30, McGonigal's latest project, the month-long alternate reality event World Without Oil, kicked off; its website describes WWO as "a serious game for the public good." Players -- there are nearly 1,200 as of this writing -- help simulate a global oil crisis by blogging, creating videos, uploading photos or audio, and/or participating in real-world, fun-serious "missions," which can include creating a geocache, posting flyers, hosting a fuel-free cooking night, or throwing a "Ped Party." The idea is to imagine that the oil crisis is really happening, then react accordingly and record your actions. (Here's a blog by a Bostonian WWO-er.) Players are ranked according to their contributions to the game's realistic portrayal of the oil shock; player-created communities, collaborative stories, and collective efforts get extra credit.
What's the point? The WWO website explains:
As people everywhere grapple with the problem of growing global demand for petroleum, no one has a clear picture of oil availability in the future, nor is there a clear picture of what will happen when demand inevitably outstrips supply. That will depend in large part upon how well people prepare, cooperate, and collectively create solutions. By playing it out in a serious way, the game aims to apply collective intelligence and imagination to the problem in advance, and to create a record that has value for educators, policymakers, and the common people to help anticipate the future and prevent its worst outcomes. "Play it, before you live it."
The game is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and ITVS. You can still join; the game runs though the first week of June.