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19 January 2010


Matins: David Brooks's Op-Ed piece on Haiti ignites a blowtorch of fury from Matt Taibbi. (True Slant; via 3 Quarks Daily)

Again, unlike Brooks, I actually lived in the Third World for ten years and I admit it — I’m not exactly in the habit of sending checks to Abkhazian refugees, mainly because I’m not interested in buying some local Russian gangster a new Suzuki Samurai to tool around Sochi in. And I’ve actually seen what happens to the money people think they’re giving to Russian orphanages goes, so no dice there, either.

But you know what? Next time there’s an earthquake in Russia or Georgia, I’m probably going to wait at least until they’re finished pulling the bodies of dead children out of the rubble before I start writing articles blasting a foreign people for being corrupt, lazy drunks with an unsatisfactorily pervasive achievement culture whose child-rearing responsibilities might have to be yanked from them by with-it Whitey for their own good.

An earthquake is nobody’s fault. There’s nothing to do after a deadly earthquake but express remorse and feel sorry. It’s certainly not the time to scoff at all the victim country’s bastard children and put it out there on the Times editorial page that if these goddamned peasants don’t get their act together after a disaster this big, it might just be necessary to start swinging the big stick of Paternalism at them.

Point taken. Even if everything that Mr Brooks says is correct, there's an indecency about saying it now — a too-obvious intent to make Times readers feel okay about the futility of things.

Don't miss Chris Lehmann's somewhat more temperate but even more penetrating critique of the handling of Haitian "looting."

Lauds: Vampire Weekend, a band that, like Talking Heads thirty years ago, emerged from an institution of higher learning wearing very neat clothing, gets an intriguing review in the Times. Jon Pareles writes,

But by now, with two elegant, ingenious and relentlessly catchy albums — “Vampire Weekend” from 2008 and the new “Contra,” both on the XL label — Vampire Weekend has earned a little smugness. Its songs go well beyond simply lifting African guitar licks and Caribbean beats. Vampire Weekend recombines them with melodies that hop around wildly but still register as pop (unless you try to sing along), and the music’s breezy momentum belies the virtuosity that puts it in motion.

Meanwhile, having made itself known with songs about dorm-room dalliances and Cape Cod socializing, Vampire Weekend now offers newer lyrics that look beyond safe enclaves. They mention guns, bombs and ominous uniforms; “In the shadow of your first attack/I was questioning and looking back,” Mr. Koenig sang in “Taxi Cab.” “You said baby we don’t speak of that/Like a real aristocrat.” Rather than pretending that the privileged life has no conscience or consequences, they see the coercion that sustains it.

All last week, we groaned every time we saw a feed headline about "Vampire Weekend." We thought it must be an event of some kind — but in truth we didn't think about it very much. Anything with "vampire" in it just keeps us moving along. Eventually, though, even we could tell that Vampire Weekend is an indie band, and if it weren't for their name we might actually listen. Actually, we're going to listen anyway.

Prime: Used equipment! Bob Cringely wonders why anybody does business with IBM, which increasingly operates like a bad auto dealership.

But wait, there’s more! The offshoring, the spin off of network work to AT&T, the “global centers,” the new internal processes are not much compared to the latest IBM ploy I’ve heard about — the use of used equipment. To save money on its outsourcing contracts, I have been told that IBM is refurbishing old equipment and substituting it for new. The customer pays a service/lease rate for new, but in the IBM data center what’s actually in the rack is used hardware. Since IBM holds the title and lease and customers never visit the data centers anyway, the customers don’t know.

Only I guess now they do know.

Tierce: Jonah Lehrer explains why "Charity Is Social."

I think this research also helps explain why social media like Facebook, Twitter, etc. always seem to become extra relevant during crises and disasters. While the platforms were designed to convey social banalities, they can also serve as vessels of empathy, as people forward along the latest reports and most resonant stories. It doesn't matter if the subject is Iranian protests or Haitian refugees - social media makes the tragedy feel closer, more human. And that is what makes the tragedy feel real.

We think that there's an explanation of the power of organized crime lurking in the vicinity of this study, but since we don't know what we're talking about, we'll keep it to ourselves. (The Frontal Cortex)

Sext: Just what we need: the SarcMarc. (via The Morning News)

Anyone concerned that the irony of their email or text message might not be appreciated by its recipient can use the symbol to close their sentence, thereby avoiding awkward misunderstandings.

The symbol – a dot inside a single spiral line – can be installed onto any PC running Windows 7, XP or Vista, as well as Macs and Blackberry mobile devices.

Nones: Honor among thieves: Somali pirates squabble over dividing $5.5 million ransom. (NYT)

But disputes over the delivery of the ransom and how to divide it touched off fighting among pirates, according to the European Union Naval Force and spokesmen for the pirates. Skiffs carrying rival bands of marauders traded fire on Sunday, even prompting one of the pirate groups to radio naval ships for help.

“Of course, the European Union Naval Force would never intervene in a pirate fight,” said Cmdr. John Harbour, a spokesman for the naval force, which watched the gun battle from a safe distance. At least one pirate was reported killed in the exchange, but Commander Harbour said he could not confirm any deaths.

John Belushi, may he rest in peace, never told us how you get to be a "spokesman for pirates."

Vespers: Peter Coates makes a case for James Branch Cabell (rhymes with "rabble"), at The Second Pass. A Southern Edith Wharton, maybe?

Few authors in modern times have fallen so far, so fast, and for reasons so little understood. Most authors fall from grace for simple reasons, often because in retrospect their work just doesn’t seem very good. Much of Cabell’s best work, however, remains fresh, certainly fresher than that of many authors whose fame eclipsed his. The most common explanation is that he wrecked his own career in a misguided attempt to turn his first, and best known, body of work—the Manuel novels—into a composite whole: a single 18-volume novel stretching from the Middle Ages to then-contemporary Virginia. But many literary reputations have survived worse, and there isn’t even a general consensus that the project (known as The Storisende Edition) was a failure. What’s more remarkable about Cabell than his eclipse is the fact that he never returned to fashion. This might be partly traced to the long-term admirers among whom his reputation did survive. They were overwhelmingly from far outside the world of belles lettres, authors and fans of science fiction and fantasy. Cabell was erudite—a writer’s writer who happened to enjoy immense popularity. His work was viewed as belles lettres in its own time, not as fantasy fiction, a genre he would have detested and the shelf on which he is now found, if found at all. But what’s a bookseller to do? There is no clear category for him.

Which raises the question: if there were to be a Slow Reading movement, how would we re-define belles lettres?

Compline: Tyler Cowen on Barack Obama: "The Haiti President." (Marginal Revolution)

Maybe you thought health care was a hard problem.  Maybe you thought that cap and trade would make health care look easy.  This may be the hardest problem yet and it wasn't on anybody's planning ledger.  Obama won't have many allies in this fight either.  A lot of Democratic interest groups might, silently, wish he would forget about the whole thing.

Mass starvation wouldn't look good on the evening news either.  What does it mean to preside over the collapse of a country of more than nine million people?  It's Obama who's about to find out, not the increasingly irrelevant Rene Preval.  Everyone in Haiti is looking to President Obama.

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