Assorted links


1. Now I know the reason George Clooney got married.

"Hong Kong people?" Hong Kong people?! Wow. Just wow. Insular bigots.


Um... what?

Is "Chinaman" the preferred nomenclature?

#3 - I find it endlessly amusing that guys like Thiel profess to worship innovation while repeating what is probably the second-oldest and most repeated nostrum in human civilization, "Back in the good ol' days..."

Yes, everything is always getting better and never worse. Just consider how quickly constitutional government, indoor plumbing, mathematics and mechanical computers spread from the Hellenic poleis throughout the world.

5. Killer whales *are* dolphins:

A few people made that observation in the comments to the article. As they point out it's probably less of an impact to say something like big dolphins speak little dolphin or orca learn other dolphin dialects.

What's with my name being mentioned in #1?

Fifty ways to not mention Ben.

Anyways, just wanted to let my fans know that my favorite book is 1984 by George Orwell.
It's a wonderful instruction manual that I consult regularly when contemplating the type of society me and my white liberal friends wish to construct.

Thanks boss. Just waiting for the word.

I'm still confused - why did Tyler mention Ben Affleck in item #1?

Thanks for the clarification in advance.

Ben Affleck recently got into a televised argument with Bill Maher.

#1: Heh, I was hoping Tyler might comment on this Bill Maher brouhaha in his own special way.

#3: I liked Postrel's piece a lot. Like Stephenson I have an aesthetic fascination with the "old" economy of heavy industry, but I think the major unsatisfied needs in the developed world are not material (having enough food and manufactured goods) or transportational, or communication-related, but are medical and psychological/behavioral. We do not suffer from a lack of super-skyscrapers or mega-construction projects. If we needed more prime Manhattan real estate it would be much easier to just relax zoning than to actively push for a mile-high skyscraper.

BTW I would also include coming up with clean energy sources in our list of needs, but I don't mean to make this be about global warming.

I suppose it must be like living in the late Egyptian empire. People would be grousing about how we don't build pyramids anymore, therefore we've entered a period of stagnation.

@MT--but the Late Period of Egypt (664-323 BC) *was* a period of decline for the Egyptians, so the naysayers were right, if you use that analogy.

Postrel *demolished* Thiel and Stephenson. She's usually on target.

4: Hardly a new phenomenon. "When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit" is perhaps the best-known in the genre of historical books for children.

#1. Good to see the Wodehouse flame is alive and well.

Also, props to Hillary. The Brothers Karamazov- badass. Still won't vote for her, but props.

I'll bet the pasty-faced power-mad Mrs. Bill Clinton can't name one character from BK.

Totally. That dumb broad is too stupid to read a book, on that we can all agree.

Which is funny, because for some reason I always associate Fyodor Pavlovich with him.

I wonder how many of those entries were signalling ("Look at these obscure/high culture books I know about!") and how many were books the people had actually read? Lena Dunham convinces me she's read at least a significant portion of Lolita whereas Caroline Kennedy just throws out some titles.

Misread your statement as _MR._ Clinton, the ex-President, who I was referencing.

Have you read her book? She was raped by the Republicans.

Yeah, because Thomas read it and has been afraid to uncross his legs ever since.

Even an illiterate Frankish warlord such as yourself would be able to guess "Mr. Karamazov."

I read the book and this would be what I can remember without prompting. I am terrible with names, especially those from outside my culture but really just generally.

Alexei is the main (youngest) Karamazov if I recall correctly. Although really just throw some Russian names against a wall, one will be sure to hit. Dmitri Ivanovich, Ivan Dmitriovich, basically that's all I've got but you get the gist.

Alyosha was the youngest: holy and unworldly.
Ivan was the middle child: philosophically tortured.
Dmitri was the oldest: kind of a rambling ne'er do well.
The old man was a buffoon.
Great, great book.

None of the characters seemed realistic to me. Maybe I just don't know people well enough?

I adored Crime & Punishment, loved The Idiot, and really enjoyed The Possessed. I liked the Gambler. I'm essentially ambivalent about Notes from Underground. The Brothers K, however, was a boring slog. I guess we can't be friends.

See those names all sound familiar now. No way I would get them unprompted, though maybe I would have guessed there was an Ivan and perhaps a Dmitri.

Didn't Hemingway say something like, everything you need to know about life, you can find in the Brothers Karamazov?

How do you say "reset of a reset" in Russian?

1. Olivia Munn has the most interesting choice. Replay won the WFA in '88, but I thought I was the only person who remembered it. I wonder how many of these people are lying, especially Clooney.

I liked Robin Williams pick of the Foundation Series and particularly The Mule as the greatest character. And interestingly enough Cher picking Robert Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land".

Yes, that sounded like one of the few that wasn't BS.

I don't really know much about Cher, but it is hardly surprising that such '60s icon would pick a book like "Stranger in a Strange Land". I liked it well enough reading it the 2000's, I expect when Cher was young she thought she really grokked that shit.

One might expect that she would Cher water.

I find it interesting because a) it's clearly not a pseudo-intellectual bullshit response (War & Peace) and b) it's outside of the type of book I would expect a lot of media icons to admit to reading and c) I'm a Robert Heinlein fan.

Why the hate? War & Peace is a good book.

I'd expect a 60s icon to read some new age crap or something.

Isn't that what I said? I meant it when I said I don't know much about Cher, so my comment basically boiled down to my own prejudices about '60s new-ageism. And Stranger is about as new-age as it gets. The latter half is like Illuminatus!, except with discernible semantic connections between neighbouring sentences.

I noticed a copy of T. Lobsang Rampa's "The Third Eye" sitting on a coffee table at Cher's place when I delivered a pizza there a couple of days ago. She had to put down Castaneda's "The Teachings of Don Juan" while she fished around in her purse for the cash to pay me. I got a $3 tip for an extra large margherita pizza with a two liter bottle of Diet Coke.

Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsburg, and Martin Luther King were 60s icons. Cher was kind of a joke even at her peak in the Sonny and Cher days, doing silly cover songs when Jimi and Janis were revolutionizing music. So I'm impressed that she came up with an intelligent answer. (But so, from time to time, do my hairdresser and my favorite Starbucks barista - the ability to read is not, thank goodness, limited to a select few any more.)

#4: uh...yes? This isn't exactly new. They're often called "history textbooks". The issue isn't whether they should exist, but who gets to do the "simplifying" in the ones the kids have to read.

#1. Had no idea who most of those people were. Caroline Kennedy, if indeed she's ever read a book, should have made up a story about Murakami. Literary name-dropping really doesn't work out very well in most of American society, look at the number who mentioned "Catcher in the Rye". Glad to find that "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" wasn't mentioned.

Yeah, I think of myself as pretty culturally aware, but I didn't know who half these people were. Olivia Munn is among the _more_ famous and intellectually credible people on the list. Isn't one of these guys famous for playing Green Goblin #2?

Which is worse, that many of these people are considered cultural icons or that most of these choices seem to be dishonest.

Dishonest choices, oh my. Most of those people don't know those interviews exist. Unless a celebrity is actually moving their jaw in front of a camera (after being asked about a non-controversial issue with no contractual obligations attached), it's a pretty safe bet they were not involved in the preparation of their opinions. The same holds true for business as well. When you read in a newspaper that the CEO of Awesome Corp. finds the new project very exciting, the source is usually a press release that originally read, "I personally find the new project very exciting," said [insert name, job position], Awesome Corp.

I like how Hillary managed to put her choices in alphabetical order. Wow, really must be something to think in such terms.

What an insightful comment. Thank you, Thomas.

You may be right but in my experience when confronted with this type of question most people choose some safe tome from the western canon that if they have read they certainly wouldn't remember. The person who seemed most honest to me was Joanna Newsom, but she's only a cultural icon in some narrow hipster world.

It is insightful, her comment is either edited, scripted, or completely fake. You're welcome.

4. For the 12 and under set, probably, but my 13-year old self would have found such books insulting.

I am surprised to see that no one even mentioned Moby Dick. I only read it recently and cannot get it out of my head. Am I alone?

“Hark ye yet again—the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event—in the living act, the undoubted deed—there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike though the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there’s naught beyond. But ‘tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me. For could the sun do that, then could I do the other; since there is ever a sort of fair play herein, jealousy presiding over all creations. But not my master, man, is even that fair play. Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines...."

Nope. It's hard to pick just one but Moby Dick may be the best novel ever written by an American. It contains multitudes. Depends what kind of mood you're in.

I like it for all the Star Trek references.

Ahab's curse has to be up there.. "To the last I grapple with thee, from hell''s heart I stab at thee, for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee". Then of course, there's the variations on Moby Dick -

My favorite is actually the last 5 paragraphs, but it contains spoilers so I did not want to copy the whole thing. But I think it is okay to paste this one paragraph, which must be one of the most incredible passages I've ever read (even without context):

"But as the last whelmings intermixingly poured themselves over the sunken head of the Indian at the mainmast, leaving a few inches of the erect spar yet visible, together with long streaming yards of the flag, which calmly undulated, with ironical coincidings, over the destroying billows they almost touched; - at that instant, a red arm and a hammer hovered backwardly uplifted in the open air, in the act of nailing the flag faster and yet faster to the subsiding spar. A sky-hawk that tauntingly had followed the main-truck downwards from its natural home among the stars, pecking at the flag, and incommoding Tashtego there; this bird now chanced to intercept its broad fluttering wing between the hammer and the wood; and simultaneously feeling that etherial thrill, the submerged savage beneath, in his death-gasp, kept his hammer frozen there; and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag of Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it."

I thought Moby Dick was missing too. Read it over a year ago, haven't shaken it. The Town-Ho's Story!

Also contains the principle of TC's lists: "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method." (Chapter 82)

I also liked the "My Dick" cover songs.

@#3 -V. Postrel's critique of Thiel et al. was confusing but it did make one fundamental error that Great Stagnationists are keen to point out (including R. Gordon): it compares the path growth rates to the present and extrapolates to the future. As Gordon points out, the period of the Great Depression and after WWII were the most productive periods, in terms of TFP (total factor productivity) the USA has ever seen. It is unlikely such TFP growth will be seen again short term is Gordon's argument, and Thiel's argument is also based on over-regulation (which Postrel does not discuss at all, CNTRL+F and 'regulation' gives zero hits). If the US reverts back to the mean, it means slower technological growth. That is what Cowen and others are arguing, not that we'll never see progress again, but short term there will be mean reversion of TFP. Postrel doesn't address this at all, instead all sorts of comparisons to past pessimism is made. Just a silly op-ed by Postrel.

Silly and vague. She critiques Peter Thiel and Neal Stephenson, by admitting they are right,

"Their concerns about technological malaise are reasonable."

And then saying that big projects won't work because:

"“more interesting Apollo-like projects -- won’t work. If it did, the baby boomers who grew up with Apollo wouldn’t be so down on progress"

I fail to follow the logic behind it. She assumes that a) the baby boomers are the relevant metric and b) all baby boomers are homogenous. Neither of those are sufficiently True as to be compelling.

"People are justifiably wary of grandiose plans that impose major costs on those who won’t directly reap their benefits."

This is a valid point if Thiel and Stephenson were trying to say, build a high speed train across CA and getting the tax payers to fund it. But Thiel seem to be paying for his ideas out of his own pocket and Stephenson is just generating ideas, not pedaling specific plans to the government.

Perhaps you missed this paragraph:

Their concerns about technological malaise are reasonable. As I’ve written here before, “political barriers have in fact made it harder to innovate with atoms than with bits.” It’s depressing to see just about any positive development -- a dramatic decline in the need for blood transfusions, for instance -- greeted with gloom. (“The trend is wreaking havoc in the blood bank business, forcing a wave of mergers and job cutbacks.”)

#3- Can someone summarize exactly what Virginia Postrel is trying to say here? I couldn't figure out her point, especially the example she gave of the surgery drama.

We should be excited by the world around us, and not worry about space exploration?

Thought 1: By golly, no one mentioned the Icelandic Sagas... Thor is displeased.

Thought 2: many celebs are blithering idiots, but we knew that.

Favorite book seems like it would vary a lot depending on mood, recent events, and current perspectives on the world. And honesty.

Right now, I think I woukd answer Homage to Catalonia.

From the "50 celebrities" list I learned that Salinger is a lot more popular with photogenic people than I would have thought & that approximately 1 in 5 "celebrities" think it is a good idea to say their favorite writer is Wodehouse or a Russian - that is good news - and that former TV scriptwriter GRR Martin's favorite book is the Lord of the Rings and his favorite character is Boromir (interesting data point for those who argue over his alleged defection to nihilism) ; I noticed three or four celebrities who were obviously and kindly trying to pump up the sales of mid-list friends or mid-list objects of distant admiration. The website in question did not have the class to explicitly state that Shakespeare is excluded (yes I know the witticism about how Shakespeare is nobody's favorite author but that is just flat untrue) and that the Bible is excluded (of the 50 people I know best at least 20, if not more, could honestly state the Bible is their favorite book, and at least one of them would honestly claim Shakespeare as a favorite, if the Bible were excluded - and I doubt a truly random group of educated "celebrities" would be much different). Finally, as I have followed the weird subject of people's statements about their favorite books for a long time, here are some facts I have noticed about some of the writers the celebrities mentioned - Faulkner's favorite book was apparently Don Quixote, Nabokov's favorite, unknown (he claimed to have a set of 25 he returned to again and again), but he could probably recite the next line of Eugene Onegin if you recited to him any line of that long poem, and he once humbly and touchingly said that when he read Blok in his youth he did not like other books for awhile because they all seemed just too unBlokian; Tolkien - the Bible, Old and New Testaments, no competition at that level; Melville's favorite book, ditto, more emphasis on Old, possibly... Tolstoy's favorite book - probably didn't have one, thought of himself, with deep and sadly typical neuroatypical self-satisfaction, as a great "writer" not a "mere" reader; Jane Austen's favorite book (again not including the Bible) Sir Charles Grandison, by the ubergenius author of Clarissa Harlowe; I once read about Mark Twain's favorite book but I didn't care enough to remember. I have read a lot about Proust (whose grandmother's favorite book was the letters of Madame de Sevigne) and he just liked people too much to have a favorite book for very long. Wodehouse, I would guess, would have gone for Bartlett's.

A literary tour-de-force! Who says a humanities major is wasted? This post is awesome.

"Economics" major, to be completely but trivially accurate, from back in the Joan Robinson and Paul Samuelson days. Good times, good times.

I'm hoping this is reasonably authentic. Amazing how he trashes Conrad. Interesting how much he loves Wells. I recently picked up a collection of Wells short stories - I was surprised at how interesting many of them were, and also surprised that I hadn't seen them recommended before.

Kevin - list is authentic but misses a lot of later (and some earlier) comments. Here are a dozen or so corrections - Balzac and James - Nabokov missed out on what James Wood said he had little appreciation for, namely subtleties of human life. James describes a cigar being smoked twenty yards away in the night; Nabokov believes the description is off, but he is wrong - James knew exactly what level of notice is given to cigar light twenty yards away. As to Balzac, same problem, plus Balzac's apparent journalism offended the art for art's sake Nabokov, so he missed the philosophical depths of Balzac's novels. As to Cheever, N said he was good, but it is not reported that he bothered to read more. As to Chekhov, N said that he was the writer he would most want to have a book of at his bedside, or on a trip - that detail is left out of your source. As to Faulkner, the quote is not really serious, it was based on his banter with E. Wilson, whom he tried not to hate for his Communist sympathies and correlary (spelling?) hate for N's entire world. N loved Pushkin from the first moment he heard his verses (and a Russian meets Pushkin through the spoken voice, at a very young age) him, so your source is wrong. N correctly noted that Turgenev was an up and down writer - but never bothered to specifically identify the genius passages (of which there are hundreds or thousands) from the ordinary and uninspired and inaccurate-with-respect-to-natural-history passages. Both N and his wife loved Borges at first but were disappointed that the "cathedral entrance" was grand but that the entire edifice was disappointing (one can disagree - neither N or Mrs, N, really understood metaphysics) . N had a life-long fascination with Doyle, in contrast to your source, and his third best writer schtick with regard to Bely should be understood in the context of his basic humility - he knew he had not read enough in enough languages to have an accurate opinion on such matters. He was just trying to be interesting Finally, it is worth noting that N admirably criticized the Jew-hatred of many famous writers (Eliot Conrad Chesterton Dostoevesky, just to stick with a few of the most famous), and it is a good bet that if a highly praised writer is known as anti-Semitic N pointed out the resulting artistic failure. He also knew that he was one of several thousand top Russian aristocrats born in the modern world, and that the odds of someone with that level of rodisloviye - i.e., hereditary nobility - also being one of the several dozen best writers ever - was effectively zero - and he consequently joked around a lot about other writers, in a way that might seem arrogant if you do not realize his utter humility when faced with the Pushkins and Chekhovs and Shakespeares of the world. Interestingly, N had no opinion on many of his more or less contemporary equals - Wodehouse, Tolkien, Undset, Machado de Assis, Bernanos (although he mocked Mauriac, for some reason) Jimenez, and C.S. Lewis. By the way, three or four of his favorite English-speaking writers are still alive - maybe you can send them a fan letter, it would probably cheer them up (R. Wilbur, E. White, R. Purdy).

Thanks for the reply. Since posting above, I've been reading 'Strong Opinions' and have downloaded a few of the novels Nabokov cites. This thread reminds me that I have too many friends who consider Anthony Bourdain or George Martin their favorite writers. I'm also somewhat pleased that Nabokov didn't say anything about people like Tolkien. It would have destroyed my opinion of him if he'd written anything complementary.

Ben Affleck < Sam Harris, that's why the mention.

Most people prefer a reasonable level of conformity in their lives, behaviors, choices, and beliefs. That's why ideas, fashions, music, architecture, and a million other behaviors and patterns move in and out of favor in a synchronized way. Social creatures see the behaviors of their peers and to some extent try to mimic many of those behaviors. It blunts the creative process but also shortcuts the learning process. Why learn the hard way that a certain behavior should be utilized or avoided if you can simply mimic without having to fully learn it yourself?

Obviously he's right that creativity and peculiarity are great ways to get new ideas and that conformity seldom breeds dramatic new projects or improvements. But the flipside is that maybe spending millions on Super Bowl commercials with a sock puppet is not a good way to grow your company. Going your own way has lots of roads to failure and relatively fewer ways to success. It's good for everybody if some number of other people take big risks and eschew conformity in art, business, or life; but the non-conformists themselves risk failure in their pursuits to the extent that they are not following well-trod paths and may accidentally go astray.

Sorry, this was in response to Thiel, who I assumed has already noticed and addressed these downsides somewhere. But the linked article doesn't mention it.

I am surprised no one has mentioned my favorite book yet, The Holy Qur'an.

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