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Elmore Leonard: ‘Never say more than is necessary.’


JUST HEARD THAT Elmore Leonard died [20 August 2013]. He was one of my favorite writers and his dialogue influenced me when I went to work on Hill Street Blues. The terseness, the irony, the way he caught a character in one sentence or gesture — not to mention the humor.

I discovered him when I was a journalist in England doing a story on the making of Rollerball (the first good Rollerball). I had to interview Jimmy Caan, but he was busy so I had some time to kill. I went to the book store and found this novel which I think was Unknown Man Number 89. (Though now that I think back on it the English title may have been Ryan’s Rules) There were many crime novels to choose from but the name Elmore Leonard was so interesting I picked the book up and read the first page. Continue reading “Elmore Leonard: ‘Never say more than is necessary.’” »

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In politics, the ‘primary role’ of violence.

By BENJAMIN GINSBERG [Chronicle of Higher Education] — Some writers see violence as an instrument of politics. Thomas Hobbes regarded violence as a rational means to achieve such political goals as territory, safety, and glory. Carl von Clausewitz famously referred to war as the continuation of politics by other means. A second group of writers view violence as a result of political failure and miscalculation. The title of an influential paper on the origins of the American Civil War by the historian James Randall, “The Blundering Generation,” expresses that idea. A third group, most recently exemplified by the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, regards violence as a pathological behavior that is diminishing in frequency with the onward march of civilization. Some proponents of that perspective have even declared that violence is essentially a public-health problem. Whatever their differences, each of these perspectives assigns violence a subordinate role in political life. Continue reading “In politics, the ‘primary role’ of violence.” »

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Atheists to Richard Dawkins: go to hell.

By MARTIN ROBBINS [New Statesman] – In the olden days, at the turn of the century, it was hard to come by vaguely-racist bigotry in our day-to-day lives. Back then you had to go and visit your grandparents a few times a year, and sit there quietly while they talked about the coloured folk in the corner shop and how you couldn’t walk to Sainsbury’s to buy your Daily Mail without being robbed by a gang of Asians. Then somebody built Twitter, and then Richard Dawkins joined.  Continue reading “Atheists to Richard Dawkins: go to hell.” »

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Lawrence Joseph and ‘the shock effect of the crowd’.

By NORMAN FINKELSTEIN [Jacket2] – In his magisterial essay “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” Walter Benjamin argues that the menacing spectacle of the urban crowd, described by mid-nineteenth-century writers as diverse as Poe and Engels, “became decisive for Baudelaire. If he succumbed to the force by which he was drawn to them and, as a flaneur, was made one of them, he was nevertheless unable to rid himself of a sense of their essentially inhuman makeup. He becomes their accomplice even as he dissociates himself from them. He becomes deeply involved with them, only to relegate them to oblivion with a single glance of contempt.” Benjamin goes on to analyze the shock effect of the crowd for Baudelaire, and how, for the individual, “nervous impulses flow through him in rapid succession, like the energy from a battery. Baudelaire speaks of a man who plunges into a crowd as into a reservoir of electric energy. Circumscribing the experience of the shock, he calls this man “a kaleidoscope equipped with consciousness.” Continue reading “Lawrence Joseph and ‘the shock effect of the crowd’.” »

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Dickens: great father, unworthy sons.

By TIM PARKS [London Review of Books] – In the following years all the children at some point wrote about their father [Charles Dickens] or did public readings from his works. Some isolated themselves in distant parts; the others went looking for them, or rejected them. Henry, all of whose seven children’s names, boys and girls, included a Charles immediately before the Dickens, became involved in setting up the Boz Club and the Dickens Fellowship, whose purpose was ‘to knit together in a common bond of friendship lovers of the great master of humour and pathos’. The Inimitable had become a focus of community and belonging. Mamie wrote a memoir and edited her father’s letters (another book from ‘the dear dead hand’). Alfred, who spent much of his life rearing sheep in the Australian outback, eventually gave a series of successful lectures and readings in England and the US. ‘I never forget my father for a moment,’ he said. Henry omits to mention these readings in his family memoirs. Mamie said she held her father ‘in my heart of hearts as a man apart from all other men, as one apart from all other beings’. Charley’s elder son disgraced himself by marrying a barmaid and was disowned and excluded by the entire family. Continue reading “Dickens: great father, unworthy sons.” »

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The risks of European postmulticulturalism.

By MARCIN KRÒL [Dziennik Gazeta Prawna] — We have witnessed two phenomena, which prove that multiculturalism – as long as it’s moderate – is better than what we are seeing now. The first is that multiculturalism has been replaced by a largely uncritical acceptance of all cultural phenomena, no matter where they come from or their political, social, spiritual, or religious context. In other words, Scandinavian novels, Iranian movies, Indian music, and Oriental medicine are all equally good. “Equally good” means also that we have no rating scale tied to our (European) culture, but everything that is good is good, even if we do not know why. Continue reading “The risks of European postmulticulturalism.” »

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Surprises from the Annals of Downplayed Incidents: Detroit.

By ROCHELLE RILEY [Detroit Free Press, 23 June 2010] – Otis Mathis should have resigned [his position as president of the Detroit public school board] when it was discovered that he was functionally illiterate. Murray should resign for actually saying out loud that fondling yourself in a business meeting could be anything but objectionable.

But more important, Detroiters have got to stop mistaking these types of sad men for leaders, stop giving our children the idea that these men represent what they should be.

If we want Detroit to be better, then its leadership must be better. That can’t happen if the conversation is about what you can get away with and not what we allow children to see and hear.

The board is trying to downplay the incident, claiming that it shouldn’t affect whether the board — or the mayor — will be in charge of schools. Continue reading “Surprises from the Annals of Downplayed Incidents: Detroit.” »

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The complicated life of the rejected scholar.

By STEPHEN MOSS [Guardian] – Doubts about the authenticity of the Dickens-Dostoevsky meeting spread, retractions were made, the Dickensian had egg on its face. But only recently did the full story of the deception emerge when Eric Naiman, a professor in the department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote an immensely detailed six-page article in the TLS (“three days’ work”, says Harvey dismissively when I praise Naiman for his industry) establishing Harvey’s academic avatars – not just Stephanie Harvey, but Graham Headley, Trevor McGovern, John Schellenberger, Leo Bellingham (author of Oxford: The Novel), Michael Lindsay and Ludovico Parra. Naiman traced the way in which, over the past 30 years, this group had been commenting on one another’s work in scholarly journals and little magazines, sometimes praising one ano ther but occasionally finding fault too. “How comforting,” Naiman commented drily, “to construct a community of scholars who can analyse, supplement and occasionally even ruthlessly criticise each other’s work.”

AD Harvey doesn’t deny he is the creator of that community… Continue reading “The complicated life of the rejected scholar.” »

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Reefer madness.

By SAMUEL T. WILKINSON [Wall Street Journal] – Those not familiar with epidemiological causation may wonder how cannabis could “cause” schizophrenia if so many people who smoke marijuana or hashish don’t develop the disease. As an example, medical researchers have known for several decades that smoking causes lung cancer, yet over 80% of smokers do not develop lung cancer. Continue reading “Reefer madness.” »

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The inside of the open mind.


A MIDDLE-AGED Reserve Ensign once had the unwonted honor of sitting at the same table with an editor of the New Republic and remarked of that sprightly organ, “The trouble is you represent an irresponsible openmindedness.” It was a shock to find the observation accepted as an unqualified compliment. The irresponsible, which meant a good deal to the Ensign meant almost nothing to the editor. At the word openmindedness he beamed like a child. The seafarer had had the bad luck not to be understood and the good luck of blundering upon the sweetest of words to a modern editor’s ears. In idolizing openmindedness of whatever sort the editors merely echo the times. All young people regard openmindedness as axiomatically desirable, like health or physical cleanliness. The mind cannot be too much open or too constantly. Every wind of the Time Spirit must blow in lustily. The door of the mind must never be closed lest some worthy idea be excluded. In the words of the apostle to the Gentiles we are to “prove all things,” at least for the half minute or so between their entering and quitting our hospitably open minds. Continue reading “The inside of the open mind.” »

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Quick. Define ‘quadratic equation’.

By KENNETH MINOGUE, who died Friday – An ideological movement is a collection of people many of whom could hardly bake a cake, fix a car, sustain a friendship or a marriage, or even do a quadratic equation, yet they believe they know how to rule the world. Continue reading “Quick. Define ‘quadratic equation’.” »

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The era of the nomadic, global curator god.

By PAUL O’NEILL and MICK WILSON [Institute of Contemporary Arts] – Curating – a cultural practice once associated primarily with the care and selection of works for display, usually in the context of a gallery or museum – emerged in the late 1960s as a creative, semi-autonomous and individually-authored form of mediation (and production). By the time Harald Szeemann curated Documenta 5: Questioning Reality, Pictorial Worlds Today (1972), the position of the individual curator had already opened up to wider international debate. This debate was accompanied by a shift of emphasis in the criticism of art: away from the primary critique of the artwork as an autonomous object of study; towards a mode of curatorial criticism in which the curator becomes a central subject of critique. The critical response to Documenta 5, for example, focused on Szeemann’s alleged over-emphasis of his own curatorial concept rather than on consideration of the artworks in the exhibition. Continue reading “The era of the nomadic, global curator god.” »

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How Hollywood loved Hitler.

By DAVID MIKICS [Tablet] – Adolf Hitler loved American movies. Every night at about 9:00, after the Führer had tired out his listeners with his hours-long monologues, he would lead his dinner guests to his private screening room. The lights would go down, and Hitler would fall silent, probably for the first time that day. He laughed heartily at his favorites Laurel and Hardy and Mickey Mouse, and he adored Greta Garbo: Camille brought tears to the Führer’s eyes. Tarzan, on the other hand, he thought was silly. Continue reading “How Hollywood loved Hitler.” »

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‘Culture is now the counterculture.’

By LEON WIESELTIER [From a commencement address, via The New Republic] – Our glittering age of technologism is also a glittering age of scientism. Scientism is not the same thing as science. Science is a blessing, but scientism is a curse. Science, I mean what practicing scientists actually do, is acutely and admirably aware of its limits, and humbly admits to the provisional character of its conclusions; but scientism is dogmatic, and peddles certainties. It is always at the ready with the solution to every problem, because it believes that the solution to every problem is a scientific one, and so it gives scientific answers to non-scientific questions. But even the question of the place of science in human existence is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical, which is to say, a humanistic, [one]. Continue reading “‘Culture is now the counterculture.’” »

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In Harvard’s cloud: anti-intellectual moments and unspeakable ideas.

By JENNIFER LEVITZ and DOUGLAS BELKIN [Wall Street Journal] – The humanities division at Harvard University, for centuries a standard-bearer of American letters, is attracting fewer undergraduates amid concerns about the degree’s value in a rapidly changing job market.

A university report being released Thursday suggests the division aggressively market itself to freshmen and sophomores, create a broader interdisciplinary framework to retain students and build an internship network to establish the value of the degree in the workforce.  Continue reading “In Harvard’s cloud: anti-intellectual moments and unspeakable ideas.” »

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