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An Anecdote

Once upon a time, journalists from all over the world were asked to write a story about the elephant. The Frenchman wrote L’éléphant et l’amour. The American wrote Thirty-seven Miracle Diets and the Modern Working Elephant. And the German wrote The Socio-Dynamic Nature and Fundamental Psychological Constitution of the Elephant: Volume I, The Burmese Ceremonial Elephant, Chapter 1, “From Karl the Great to the Present.”

from Understanding Cultural Differences by Edward Twitchell Hall and Mildreed Reed Hall



We’re getting eclectic today, very brief listing:

Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.

  • Rockstar Philosopher Slavoj Žižek talks about the london riots (many good bits, read it):

more than anything else, they were a manifestation of a consumerist desire violently enacted when unable to realise itself in the ‘proper’ way – by shopping. As such, they also contain a moment of genuine protest, in the form of an ironic response to consumerist ideology: ‘You call on us to consume while simultaneously depriving us of the means to do it properly – so here we are doing it the only way we can!’

This, then, is the legacy that decades of foreign investment have bestowed on Haiti: a brutal and intractable poverty, borne of a disastrous mix of well-intentioned aid and profit-driven development. Every decade or so, it seems, the world comes up with a bold new plan for saving Haiti — and each ultimately proves as ineffective and fleeting as the last.

  • and the GQ article by Michael Paterniti that inspired the movie Terminal. The story is so much more tragic and complicated than in the movie. Absolutely strange stuff. 




Some longer reads if you’re looking for something to do on your sunday afternoon/evening.

An essay on lesbian separatists in the 1970s, one on being the smartest girl in the room, one on what genius does in a country where it’s not met with opportunity, and finally, a magical tale about a musical prodigy.

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E.B. White on Writing

source: letters of Note

source: letters of Note

E.B. White, author of such beloved books as Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, as well as long-time New Yorker contributor, sits down with the Paris review for an interview on a range of topics, from how it was at the New Yorker  to the craft of writing. Some excerpts:

On Writing:

My wife, thank God, has never been protective of me, as, I am told, the wives of some writers are. In consequence, the members of my household never pay the slightest attention to my being a writing man—they make all the noise and fuss they want to. If I get sick of it, I have places I can go. A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.

A writer should concern himself with whatever absorbs his fancy, stirs his heart, and unlimbers his typewriter. I feel no obligation to deal with politics. I do feel a responsibility to society because of going into print: a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.

When I start to write, my mind is apt to race, like a clock from which the pendulum has been removed. I simply can’t keep up, with pen or typewriter, and this causes me to break apart. I think there are writers whose thoughts flow in a smooth and orderly fashion, and they can transcribe them on paper without undue emotion or without getting too far behind. I envy them. When you consider that there are a thousand ways to express even the simplest idea, it is no wonder writers are under a great strain. Writers care greatly how a thing is said—it makes all the difference. So they are constantly faced with too many choices and must make too many decisions.

On Children’s Literature:

Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. They accept, almost without question, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly, and clearly. I handed them, against the advice of experts, a mouse-boy, and they accepted it without a quiver. In Charlotte’s Web, I gave them a literate spider, and they took that.

Some writers for children deliberately avoid using words they think a child doesn’t know. This emasculates the prose and, I suspect, bores the reader. Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words, and they backhand them over the net. They love words that give them a hard time, provided they are in a context that absorbs their attention.

He seems a bit curt sometimes, but some of the things he says make much sense.

Manning Links

Bradley Manning’s verdict has been announced. He has not been found guilty of aiding the enemy (which is a victory for media), but has been found guilty on a number of charges that could land him in jail for up to 136 years. For some reason I haven’t seen any reactions to this, which is rather unfortunate. This could turn out to be a seminal case. After all, this is the first case that examines the legality of mass leaks that have only become possible in the internet age. We should all be paying attention.

In case you want to read more on Manning, here are some links:

1. Crash Course: The Verge has a guide on what you need to know here.

2. Manning: If you are looking for more information on the man himself, this profile by Denver Nicks has been described as the definitive one. This article by Jesse Hicks at The Verge also profiles him, and also goes into some of the broader issues.

3. Solitary Confinement: The US government has been subject to criticism for the way Manning was treated; with reportedly being forced to be naked in the cell while enduring solitary confinement for extended periods. This article looks at Manning’s confinement and explains why solitary confinement is so harmful.

On that note, the UN special rapporteur on torture yesterday concluded an investigation by finding that “the US military was at least culpable of cruel and inhumane treatment in keeping Manning locked up alone for 23 hours a day over an 11-month period in conditions that he also found might have constituted torture.”

If anyone has good reads on the broader implications of this trial, please send them my way.

What’s in a name?

Why we need to get better at naming things.

In my previous roundup, I linked to an Op-Ed about “The Charitable-Industrial Complex” by Warren Buffet’s son, Peter. It’s a pretty good piece, especially given who wrote it. The title is an allusion to the term “Military-Industrial Complex,” which was coined by President Dwight Eisenhower to refer to the relationships between the political establishment and the industries which profit from warfare. Homages in nomenclature like this one are a runaway trend in our discourse, and in my mind they’re a real danger: they facilitate a shallow approach to problems by glossing over differences and creating lazy mental shortcuts that might be easier, but lack subtlety and truth.

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