25 July 2008

Friday Miscellany

Go ahead, try to find the link between Chinese propaganda, the Theory of Everything, dark thoughts about Peter Hessler, and the subtle virtues of pannioli.

I still read the magazine. These long absences as a sign not of a slackening regard for you, dear reader, but of a daunting work schedule. I know, I know: how long does it take to blog?

Anyway, the others are in a sales meeting right now—on the invitation I was listed as "optional"—and so I've stolen a few moments, in the now wonderfully deserted digital media bullpen, to give you a few recent thoughts about New Yorker articles that come to mind.

—The one about CTGZ, the Chinese propagandist (above) with piles of books all over his dorm room ("Angry youth," by Evan Osnos; July 28th):

1) Why isn't Peter Hessler (one of my favorites, and a writer for whom I could work up [okay, already feel] a dark mixture of envy and admiration for) covering this story?

2) His video sucked; Osnos's description of it does it way too much poetic justice. It looks exactly like something you'd produce on Windows Movie Maker in a half hour's patriotic arousal—which isn't to say it fails as propaganda. I watched it with a Mainland Chinese colleague, who, as it ran its six minutes, more and more got a sheen of "See?" and indignation about her, even as I snorted at the amateurishness and paranoia, crescendoing drums and strings.

—The one about the surfer dude who may have cracked the Theory of Everything ("Surfing the universe," by Benjamin Wallace-Wells; July 21st):

1) Everybody loves the idea of the rogue intellectual who comes in from the hinterland and solves the unsolvable problem. I'd never given a full thought to the idea that, within an academic discipline, proponents of the ascendant theory—in the particle-physics case, string theory—hold sway and make things miserable for dissenters like Garrett Lisi, this article's central character. I have a friend in linguistics who says it's this way with Chomskians (Chomskiites?) and Universal Grammar at the moment. That debate harks back, of course, to John Colapinto's fantastic (top ten, easily) article about the Piraha, who live in the Amazon rain forest

2) The dude has a novel way of consoling himself: "When Lisi encounters a physicist of his own age whose skill he envies, he reminds himself that he is a better surfer. When he comes across a better surfer, he thinks, I’m much better at equations." And I suppose if he comes across an older, better physicist and surfer, he thinks, "I'm younger and hotter." Or if it's a younger, hotter better physicist and surfer, he thinks, "I am distinguished in my carriage."

We all play this handicapping game in our minds, though, no? What do you say to yourself? (Ashamed as I am to admit it, one of mine once had to do with proficiency at golf. Now it's all gerunds and how well I hold my liquor.)

—The one in which Paul Simms shows, once again, that he's far and away the funniest bastard doing Shouts & Murmurs ("Stump speech," July 28th), with occasional competition from Jack Handey:
"I’m talking about the young man—a boy, really; he couldn’t have been more than eleven or twelve years old—whom I met in an online game of Halo, who said to me, 'Headshot! Suck it! Pwned! Be less gay!,' after he had killed me by camping a respawn point, which really should be illegal.

"I’m thinking and talking about a man I met in New Carsmell, Vermont, before my campaign even began. He had inherited from his step-uncle, after much legal wrangling, the family diner. I remember as if it were yesterday asking this man for a ham-and-cheese sandwich. And he made me one. But, before he served it to me, he smooshed it down in this hot-presser thing that sort of looked like a copy machine. So, when it was done, the sandwich was like a flattened-out grilled cheese with ham, which the man claimed was an Italian delicacy. That thing was delicious. I can’t remember right now what it’s called, but more and more places are starting to serve them, so, if you ever get the chance to have one, definitely try it. I think it might have been called a 'pannioli' or something. Something Italian-sounding."
Okay, back to work. I hope you're well.


-K- said...

I usually enjoy Peter Schjeldahl but his "Feeling Blue" essay/review had me going "huh?" all the way through.

"Desperate to eschew narcissisms of money and fame, along with academically entrenched ideology, the artists operate at psychological depths at which social attitudes can't coalesce."

JJB said...

Schjedahl's essays usually worry me a little. He has some stunning sentences, but I often feel that the art he's describing I wasn't going to understand anyway, so I'm just enjoying him as a pure stylist. Which, occasionally, I don't.

That one you cite is frothy for sure. To be a Humanities 309 essay question, all it needs is a "Discuss" after it.

Anonymous said...

"John Colapinto's fantastic (top ten, easily) article about the Piraha"

Unfortunately, the article is mostly fantastic in the other sense of the word. That is, it tells a story that's just not true. Colapinto was had.

JJB said...

Well you can't just leave it there....