Sunday, September 25, 2016

Corporate Literature: `We're All Waiting' Our Debt to Dr Johnson

Novelists do not write as birds sing, by the push of nature. It is part of the job that there should be much routine and some daily stuff on the level of carpentry.
— William Golding

Our leading writers are inhumanly cool inside Cold River

I see that Geoff Dyer has a new book out. I’m sure it’s brilliantly written, devilishly witty, and as shallow as a mirror. He sums up, for me, the literature of today. The most critically lauded writers of our day are writers of stylish non-fiction. Or of fiction that looks like non-fiction, that presents itself as the author’s rambling musings. You see, the author is too charmingly laid-back to structure his work around anything. He’s too busy being a flaneur, or in Dyer’s updating of the concept, a slacker Our leading writers are inhumanly cool 

“The majority of law students still meet the ABA’s upper-level writing requirement using a piece of scholarly legal writing. Despite this, most students receive little-to-no formal scholarly research and writing instruction ...Drake, Alyson, You Can’t Write Without Research: The Role of Research Instruction in the Upper-Level Writing Requirement (2016). Available for download at SSRN:

Corporate Welfare: Taxpayers Subsidized Wells Fargo Executive Pay Amid Bank's Fraud

Police said the criminals, who targeted Lloyds and RBS business banking customers, made between £1 million and £2 million a week at its peak and operated like a nine-to-five business Fraudsters made £113m by cold-calling bank customers and stealing their money to fund their luxury lifestyle

There are hundreds of thousands of ways to fail at being a successful media dragon blogger, but very few ways to be successful...

 Our Debt to Dr Johnson | History Today

For this we can be endlessly grateful because his more than 400 essays in the Rambler, Idler and Adventurer – psychological, literary, political, social, ethical, and religious – encourage us to take a good hard look at ourselves, to think who we are, how we are responding to the world around us, how we have arrived where we are and where we are heading.
On creepiness. Clowns, tax collectors, taxidermists, and funeral directors: We think they're odd — but why? Perhaps they pose a threat. Or perhaps they simply transgress the - natural order 

KultureFest: And the Oscars (for federal employees) go to ...
The FBI’s chief bomb expert, a Secret Service cyber-investigator, and the developer of a life-saving medical computer are among the honorees of annual awards for government service known as the

Sammies. A team that helped reduce medical errors in hospitals, a leader in energy efficiency policies and standards, lawyers who secured a record-breaking settlement after a massive oil spill -- these are some of the civil servants who will be honored Tuesday for their outstanding work. The eight Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, otherwise known as the "Sammies," are the Oscars of government service, and the program run by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service celebrates its 15th anniversary this year The Oscars, But for Federal Employees

Against happiness The Economist. True fact: Zappos has a chief happiness officer.
Other than the military, federal employees aren’t often celebrated.

Political candidates dismiss them as overpaid, paper-pushing bureaucrats. They make headlines mostly when something goes wrong—a major health insurance website failing to function, or senior managers spending too lavishly on the public dime. When Congress needs to slash the budget in a pinch, federal employee salary and benefits are frequently the first things it tries to cut. Candidates

Attorney-General calls for more data sharing


`We're All Waiting'

“People only laugh at what's funny or what they don't understand. Take your choice.”
The writer at age twenty-six is already a shrewd judge of human folly, though his observation is not definitive. People laugh at terrible things no one judges conventionally funny, including pain, humiliation and death. Thus, we laugh at Falstaff, Uncle Toby, Buster Keaton and Beckett (“Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that . . .”). The writer, Anton Chekhov, was already a mordantly funny writer on the way to becoming a profound one. But here, in March 1886, he is writing to his older brother Nikolai, a painter and drunk who as a child showed great artistic promise. Go here to view Nikolai’s portrait of Anton, who addresses his letter to “Dear Zabelin.” The editors of Letters of Anton Chekhov (trans. Michael Henry Heim and Simon Karlinsky, 1973) identify Zabelin as “the name of the Zvenigorod town drunk.” In his nuanced letter, Chekhov is alternately harsh, jovial, encouraging and archly funny.  He tells Nikolay “you are no riddle to me” and
“. . . and it is also true that you can be wildly ridiculous. You're nothing but an ordinary mortal, and we mortals are enigmatic only when we're stupid, and we're ridiculous forty-eight weeks of the year. Isn't that so?”
In the Chekhov family soap opera we can already discern the outline of “A Boring Story” (1889). Chekhov lists eight qualities of “well-bred” people, including: “They respect the individual and are therefore always indulgent, gentle, polite and compliant. They do not throw a tantrum over a hammer or a lost eraser.” What Chekhov describes is the opposite of the alcoholic personality, with its touchiness, self-pity, resentment and all-around self-obsession. The drunk, dedicated to getting his way, forever sabotages his strivings and blames it all on others. Anton’s mingled scolding and pleading at the conclusion of his letter will be familiar to anyone who has lived with an alcoholic:
“Trips back and forth to Yakimanka Street [where the Chekhov family lived] won’t help. You’ve got to drop your old way of life and make a clean break. Come home. Smash your vodka bottle, lie down on the couch and pick up a book. You might even give Turgenev a try. You’ve never read him.
“You must swallow your pride. You’re no longer a child. You’ll be thirty soon. It’s high time!
“I'm waiting . . . We’re all waiting . . .”

Nikolai was dead three years later of tuberculosis aggravated by alcoholism, at age thirty-one. The same disease would kill his little brother at age forty-four.

  `We're All Waiting' 


  Ursula K. Le Guin: How I Started Writing


 Safe spaces are not the only threat to free speech | Timothy Garton Ash | Opinion | The Guardian.

Here, anyone who believes that free speech is vital to a university must draw the line. For what these student activists are claiming when they insist that, for example, Germaine Greer may not speak on a particular campus (because of her view that a woman is not “a man without a cock”), is that one group of students has the right to prevent another group of students hearing a speaker whom the second group actually wants to hear. Such no-platforming is, in effect, student-on-student censorship. It is an abuse of language to suggest that anyone can seriously be “unsafe” because someone whose views they find offensive or upsetting is speaking in a room on the other side of campus.

  … The Devil and Whittaker Chambers | Francis P. Sempa | First Things.

Instead of destroying man by seducing him to do evil, the Devil’s strategy was to destroy man by seducing him through good. The best way to accomplish that was to send Hell underground, persuade man that Satan does not exist, and in the name of Science and Progress remove God from the center of creation and the universe. Without God, there was no absolute standard of conduct. What followed was the terror of the French Revolution; industrial oppression of men, women, and children; the horrors of communism; world wars and the use of science for greater destructiveness, culminating in atomic weapons. “I have brought man to the point of intellectual pride,” boasted the Devil, “where self-extermination lies within his power.”

A Tale of Two Czechs: Karel Čapek and Max Mannheimer - fighters against forgetting

 “The hurricane does not roar in pentameters.” At the heart of The Tempest is a linguistic imperialism that still exists today ...

The Green Party co-chairs Katrin Göring-Eckardt and Anton Hofreiter acknowledged Mannheimer as "an important fighter against forgetting (the atrocities)." His message to young Germans was: “You aren’t responsible for what happened. But you are responsible that it won’t happen again.”

Mr. Mannheimer was born on Feb. 6, 1920 in the town of Novy Jicin in what is now the Czech Republic. As a Jew, he was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943 and later sent to Auschwitz and Dachau. He was freed by Americans a week before the end of the war in 1945. Only he and his brother Edgar survived from his family.
When the war was over, Mr. Mannheimer wanted to leave Germany for good. But then he met a young German woman who had fought in the resistance against the Nazis and founded a family in Munich. He began to paint in the 1950s to help him live with the painful memories of what he endured during the war. In his book “Late Diary,” he recounted his memories.
From 1985, he fought publicly against anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism. He gave numerous talks in schools to young Germans and was active in concentration camp memorial foundations. He also advised the German government on how to conceive its remembrance work of the Holocaust. Max Mannheimer holocaust survivor dies at 96

In 1925 Čapek became the chairman of the Czechoslovakian PENclub (Poets’, Essayists’ and Novelists’ club). In 1936 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. 

Not afraid to speak his mind and an ardent critic of dictatorship and totalitarianism, the looming threat of Nazism in neighboring Germany filled Čapek with worry and he used every available avenue to expose this threat to humankind at large and to his beloved Czechoslovakia in particular. Following the invasion of Austria in March 1938, he tried to persuade the Western world to recognize the threat of Hitler’s expansionism, but to no avail. When France and England signed the Münich Agreement with Germany (September 30, 1938) to hand over the Czech border regions to Germany in exchange for not invading the rest of Czechoslovakia, Čapek realised that war was inevitable. That same day he wrote the Czech writers’ manifest “To the Consciousness of the World”. Being such a critic of the new order resulted in Hitler personally ordering his Gestapo to arrest him the moment the Nazi troops had occupied Prague. Being “public enemy #2” in Czechoslovakia, Čapek was offered the possibility of leaving his country to live in England in exile but he would have none of it, even though he suspected that his arrest would be imminent after a German invasion. 
In December 1938 he suffered a serious bout of flu resulting in double pneumonia and inflammation of his kidneys. Karel Čapek died on December 25, 1938, at his home in Prague.
In March 1939, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, Čapek’s works were blacklisted and his brother Josef was arrested and sent to a German concentration camp. Josef died in April 1945 in Bergen-Belsen. In September 
1939 Germany invaded Poland, signaling the beginning of World War II.
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
                Caliban, (Act 3, Scene 2, 135-143)

How Caliban, The Tempest, and a poet’s exile became the perfect storm for a first book.
I’ve spent a good part of the last 14 years thinking about Caliban. The first time I read The Tempest, his anguish and corrugated selfhood spoke to me so acutely, I felt him to be real. His fevered dreaming as a slave in a stolen kingdom has also been my dreaming, his twangling instruments my own strange music. Like him, I’ve always been an outsider. Home for me has always been a place of unbelonging. This is the strange yet all-too-familiar exile of living in the Caribbean, of being a part of the African diaspora: belonging in two places and no place at all. Home was not my island, which never belonged to us Jamaicans, though it’s all we’ve known, and home was not my family’s house, which we’ve always rented, all of us acutely aware of the fact that we were living in borrowed space, that we could never truly be ourselves there. Home was not the body. Never the body—grown too tall and gangly too quickly, grown toward womanhood too late. Like a city built for myself, home was a place I carved out in my head, where the words were always the right words, where I could speak in English or patois, could formulate a song or a self. Home for me has always been poetry "Gabble Like a Thing Most Brutish"

Modern Čapek's Robots: Pasternak and Letters of Gratitude

“‘I never know why self-sacrifice is noble,’ said Miss Burke. ‘Why is it better to sacrifice oneself than someone else?’
“‘It is no better,’ said Hester, ‘and it is not really held to be.’”
~ Ivy Compton-Burnett, Mother and Son

“What a silly thing secrets are! They make us solve them somehow.”

Ivy Compton-Burnett, More Women than Men (courtesy of Levi Stahl)

The descriptive subtitle is The romantic journals of Jean Lucey Pratt.  She was a British woman who started keeping a journal in 1925 at the age of fifteen, and continued until her death in 1986.  Usually books like this bore me after fifty pages (or less), but this one I am finding consistently entertaining.  Here is one bit from her cruise ship voyage at age 23:
Diarist  good review of the book, with a photo of the diarist as well.  Here is another review
Tears. The appropriate response to working in toxic teams ...(Via Rysy in High Tatras)

Where Creativity Comes From Scientific American

Forensic techniques sending people to prison may not be scientifically valid Verge. Resilc: “But works on TV.”

Wal-Mart pays quarterly bonuses to more store employees Reuters. EM: “Contrast with I make $13/hour at Walmart. I don’t always get a bonus, but the CEO does” CNN 

Lickspittle consigliere: how the super-rich abuse their wealth managers as loyalty tests Boing Boing

EU citizens depend on internal conflict interests to assert their rights failed evolution 

For this play Karel Čapek invented the word “robot,” robota - slavery deriving it from the Czech word for forced labour:
“It’s not unusual for theater, like many of the arts, to address a pressing social or political issue. Exhibitions from our founding in 1929 to the present are available online. These pages are updated continuall NY Museum of Modern Art posts huge digital collection online

“People only laugh at what's funny or what they don't understand. Take your choice.”

Trade Agreements and the Globalization of Fascism Defend Democracy

UMTRI: About 87 percent of 19-year-olds in 1983 had their licenses, but more than 30 years later, that percentage had dropped to 69 percent. Other teen driving groups have also declined: 18-year-olds fell from 80 percent in 1983 to 60 percent in 2014, 17-year-olds decreased from 69 percent to 45 percent, and 16-year-olds plummeted from 46 percent to 24 percent.
Cars used to represent freedom. Today WiFi does. The decline of young drivers is likely another reason the roads are getting safer
Addendum: Steven Kopits argues (youtube) that this has more to do with lack of employment of young people than with a change in culture.

Editing is like alchemy, its careful practice a form of creation. Line by line, word by word — “hansom” or “brougham”?...  River or Rieka 

StrkeaposeLawyers watch other lawyers. Literally.

They are looking to find out how those other lawyers create presence in the courtroom, negotiating table, developing new business, and motivating associates to do brilliant work. When I was blogging a major class action lawsuit, several brandname lawyers contacted me for information about when X or Y lawyer would be presenting. You bet, they wanted to observe the performance art.

Nothing wrong in that. But the supposed lessons they might learn from watching might not help them establish their own unique presence.

That, hammers Harvard professor, Amy Cuddy, has to begin in their head. In her book"Presence," she provides research and case studies how Everyman and Everywoman can think their way into striking the right pose. And, once they get that down cold, many other professional goodies could come their way.

The platform for presence is the mindset that the lawyer is a kind of super professional. Cuddy documents how that in itself is the first step to the winning edge. For instance, the entrepreneurs who got the funding were not necessarily the ones with the best investment prospects. Rather, they were ones whose presence convinced others to bet on them.

Cuddy had to learn this the hard way. When she was a doctoral student her mentor introduced her to a few bigs in the field. In an elevator, one demanded that she sum up what her work was about. Her presentation, that influential bluntly told her, was the worst "elevator speech" he had ever heard. No question, Cuddy had plenty of reason to study the art of presence. 

When I was a ghostwriter/speechwriter for Lee Iacocca, who had turned around Chrysler in the 1980s, the anecdote bouncing around was that he hadn't been born with a silver-tongue. He made it his business to take a Dale Carnegie introductory course in public speaking. Then he would fly in for a speech a day early. He threw himself into practice practice practice. But to follow that MO, Iacocca had to have the mindset that he could and would become a great. He did. 

The obstacle for too many lawyers who could achieve presence is that they are convinced they already are all they could be. After all, they had gotten "this far." Ironically, to dominate in their niches, all they would probably need to do is turn on that switch in their head which allows them to believe they are capable of so much more. 
Months after Albert Camus (November 7, 1913–January 4, 1960) received the 1957 Nobel Prize in Literature — which prompted him to send a beautiful letter of gratitude to his childhood teacher — he wrote to the great Soviet poet and translator Boris Pasternak (February 10, 1890–May 30, 1960). Camus had grown enchanted with Pasternak’s work for the very reasons — intellectual elegance, critical thinking, an independent socialist-hued spirit — that had made the Soviet government keep a censorious eye on the Russian writer and progressively threaten his civil liberties.
No stranger to unlikely friendships, Camus was reaching across the Iron Curtain, across language and culture and politics and age, with a largehearted offering of appreciation and encouragement to a man he had never met but who he felt deeply was a kindred spirit. Pasternak, almost a quarter century Camus’s senior, responded with a wonderfully generous mirroring of admiration.

When Pasternak died of lung cancer two years later — less than five months after Camus perished in a tragic car accident with an unused train ticket in his coat pocket — his funeral was announced via guerrilla postings on the Moscow subway and throngs of unflinching admirers risked trouble with the KGB and the Soviet Militia to travel to the service held at Pasternak’s country cottage.
Complement this particular fragment of the wholly heart-expanding Norton Book of Friendship with Isaac Asimov’s fan mail to young Carl Sagan, Charles Dickens’s letter of admiration to George Eliot, and teenage James Joyce’s touching letter to Ibsen, his great hero, then drink in Camus’s sympathetic wisdom on strength of character, the art of awareness, what it means to be a rebel, and happiness, 
unhappiness, and our self-imposed prisons
The Writer’s Almanac for September 15, 2016 | Windows is Shutting Down | The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor.

Free Speech Fight is Over 
What if I told you there was an easy, scientifically-proven, five-minute method for improving your teaching? Just five-minutes, and your teaching ratings go up. No, I’m not talking about giving your students candy when you have them fill out the course evaluation forms. I’m talking about an actual improvement in learning outcomes, based on real science. How much would you pay to learn it? $1,000? $5,000?
Not that much?
That’s what I thought. And it’s why I’ve decided to share this one weird trick with you for free. I’m not even going to make you watch a long conspiratorial video, or listen to a tedious presentation about time-share vacation homes. Here it is:
Take five minutes in each lecture to conduct a recap of key previously-covered material in which
  1. the students have to provide the content by answering questions,
  2. the material is presented in a varied way each time, and
  3. the purpose of the recap is explained to the students.
So says Dan Lowe (University of Colorado, Boulder), in his “Remembrance of Philosophy Classes Past: Why Cognitive Science Suggests that a Brief Recap Is the Best Way to Start Each Class Day,” recently published in Teaching Philosophy (alternative link).
The recap strategy is based on recent research in cognitive science. He writes:
Folk wisdom emphasizes the idea that mastery of content or skills involves “focused, repetitive practice of one thing at a time until we’ve got it nailed.” This strategy is what cognitive scientists call massed practice. Folk wisdom recommends massed practice as the key to learning in nearly every area of study: think of teachers who suggest repeated re-reading of texts as a study technique, clusters of the same sort of problem in mathematics textbooks, and the practice-practice-practice approach of much training in sports.
However, cognitive science shows that massed practice is among the least effective techniques for long-term learning. What, instead of massed practice, does cognitive science recommend?… an authoritative synthesis of recent findings shows that practice is far more effective when it is (1) spaced out over time, (2) interleaved with other learning, and (3) retrieval-based rather than re-exposure-based.
Lowe explains these ideas in the article, with several interesting tidbits throughout (e.g., “practicing something once you’ve gotten a little rusty is far more effective in the long term than practicing while it is still fresh”). Worth checking out. Improve Your Philosophy Teaching With This One Weird Trick

Greg Miller, National Geographic, September 16, 2016:  “The world’s most beautiful places are rarely flat. From the soaring peaks of the Himalaya to the vast chasm of the Grand Canyon, many of the most stunning sites on Earth extend in all three dimensions

The most striking thing about contemporary poetry is that no one seems quite satisfied with it. Non-poets, who generally don’t read poetry, are only a little less enthusiastic than poets, who do. Indeed, hardly a year has gone by over the past quarter century without a poet or critic publishing an essay bemoaning the state of American poetry—from Dana Gioia’s “Can Poetry Matter?,” which appeared in this magazine in 1991, to Mark Edmundson’s 2013 lament, “Poetry Slam: Or, the Decline of American Verse.” And the sentiment dates back further. When Marianne Moore wrote a poem titled “Poetry,” she began with the words “I, too, dislike it.”
Why (Some) People Hate Poetry

 On the Poetry of Kathleen Hart: Everything that Rises Must Converge | Catholic World Report - Global Church news and views

Hart, as she writes of herself in these poems, is someone with a keen sense of how fragile the unity of ourselves is. But rather than writing a poetry that merely confesses the wounding of falling apart, she draws on that experience in order to perceive with special acuity something that is true not just about her but about all of us and about the world. If all things in nature are borrowings of disparate elements drawn together in often delicate unities, where the whole may be greater than the sum of its parts, but the parts remain visible nonetheless, then Hart, as someone with a sense of how things fall apart, is especially positioned to celebrate their uncanny coming together in the first place.

It’s rare that the tireless staff of thousands agrees to post a guest review. But there are exceptions. Review by Jerome Sala The Street Gangs of the Lower East Side offers a provocative eyewitness history ... read more

“Even at his ripe age — he is now 87 — Habermas’s passion remains undiminished. As a public intellectual, however, he may seem an unlikely hero. We live in an age when what some of us still fondly call ‘the public sphere’ has grown thick with personalities who prefer the TED Talk to the printed word and the tweet to the rigors of rational argument. For Habermas, it’s clear that without the constant exercise of public deliberation, democracy will collapse, and this means that citizens must be ready to submit their arguments to the acid bath of rational criticism.”
A Lion in Winter

`More Confidence in the Dead Than the Living'

“The litany of great books can, of course, come across as mere litany. Books that charm us in one season, books that shake us to the core in another, can turn blank and empty if we approach them in a dull spirit. Reading them for the sake of duty or out of pedantry is certain to miss the point. The best books are best because of their quirky individuality, not because they are part of a club of `great’ books.”
“Great books” is a category without meaning, akin to “classic rock.” It smacks of marketing and focus groups. True, many of the books commonly stamped with that label are the ones we read to understand the culture we have inherited, to maintain a living linkage with the past and to enjoy. Our ancestors fairly often knew what they were doing. Among the reasons we read Plutarch is that Shakespeare read him, which is one of the reasons we read Shakespeare.
One must be skeptical of newly published books.  They are unknown quantities from a backward and provincial age. They must work hard to prove themselves, and seldom do.
The late D.G. Myers, who regularly reviewed current fiction, shared some good, seemingly contradictory advice: “Read no book before it is ten years old (in order not to be influenced by the buzz).” Here’s my corollary: If a book creates “buzz,” run away as fast as you can.

The author of the passage quoted at the top, Rachel Peterson, writes in “On Reading Old Books”: “But sometimes the most exhilarating departure from normal is to travel to another world. Old books are the ticket.” Of course, Peterson is reformulating something found in an old book, namely Hazlitt’s identically titled essay “On Reading Old Books” (1819). Hazlitt states the matter definitively: “I have more confidence in the dead than the living.”

An e-commerce venture lets anyone purchase tableware, textiles, accessories and art prints like the ones found in the renowned members-only clubs

Target Zero a “Commitment to be Irresponsible”: Latest Insanity from Bank of Japan Michael Shedlock