The Daily Blague

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Daily Office:


31 March 2010


Matins: Sorting out the ancient but crippling rift on the Left, between the people who listen to Paul Krugman and the people who listen to Noam Chomsky, Michael Bérubé gets it dead right in his final paragraph. (Dissent; via 3 Quarks Daily)

There is, of course, another way of reading the opposition between Krugman’s rhetorical strategy and Chomsky’s (and I touch upon it in my book): it might be, among other things, a distinction between people who think it makes sense to appeal to Americans by invoking American ideals (while acknowledging past violations thereof) and people who think that the ideals themselves are a sham and that appealing to them amounts to whitewashing the past violations thereof.

Here's how we deal with it: when we're talking to ourselves in the mirror, we follow Chomsky. When we talk to other people with the hope of encouraging them to do something good, we follow Krugman. And we don't think for a minute that we're being inconsistent.

Lauds: At a blog that's new to us, Nail Your Novel, Roz Morris outlines the plot twists that make The Hurt Locker such a fresh film to watch. Here's the first of four:

1 Star appearances

Two characters are played by major stars – Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes.

What the audience expects They will stay alive for a substantial chunk of the film, perhaps all the way to the end

What happens They each get killed within about five minutes of appearing.

Story effect We realise no one is safe. Anyone may die at a moment’s notice.

Prime: While we were off doing other things, Felix Salmon questioned Henry Blodget's decision to fire a top writer at TBI. Mr Blodget questioned Mr Salmon's blog post, &c &c. The matter is of interest to us not only because it involves being paid for what we're doing, but because what we hope that what we're doing is what Felix Salmon says that we ought to be doing. Feel free to take issue!

Blodget should remind himself on a daily basis that publishers make money by selling readers, not adspace, and that if he’s going to make money, he’s going to have to do so by getting high-value readers that companies want to reach. At the moment, both Blodget and his advertisers are stuck in an increasingly out-of-date paradigm wherein pageviews serve as a proxy for readers, but today, unless you’re Demand Media or the like, that paradigm is doomed.

The job of the editorial side at TBI, then, should not be to maximize pageviews. Instead, it should be to create the best-quality content for the readers that Blodget wants: to build a large and loyal readership base which feels that it has a strong relationship with the site. Once the editorial side has built that readership, then it’s the job of the business side to monetize it. Yes, banner ads are one way of doing that — but they’re only one way of doing that, and they shouldn’t be allowed to determine the editorial mix to the detriment of editorial quality more generally.

Tierce: Where hair comes from — aside from your head, that is. "The Temple of Do," at Mother Jones. (via The Morning News)

Name-dropped in the ancient Hindu epic Mahabharata, Tirumala is holy ground for 50,000 pilgrims who arrive daily from across South Asia to seek favors from their god. In addition to monetary donations, about one in four offer their hair, which will then be offered to the gods of the marketplace, reaping a reported $10 million to $15 million each year. Including donations, the temple boasts that it takes in more money than the Vatican—a dubious claim. In any case, temple leaders announced a plan last October to plate the walls of the sanctum sanctorum with gold. (Profits from the hair, according to the temple website, are used to support temple programs and feed the needy.)

Indian hair is sold to two distinct markets. The bulk of it, some 500 tons per year from short-haired men like me, is purchased by chemical companies that use it to make fertilizer or L-cysteine, an amino acid that gives hair its strength and is used in baked goods and other products. The more lucrative hair of female pilgrims—temple employees call it "black gold"—is tied in individual bundles and brought to the tonsuring center's top floor, where women in cheap flower-print saris labor over small heaps of the stuff, sorting it by length. An armed guard frisks all who exit. There's no way anyone is going to get past him with a single precious strand.

Sext: How Rob Weir, who teaches college somewhere (?!), deals with the Wikipedia problem on students' research papers. (Has anybody out there got a copy of Gerald Nosich's Learning to Think Things Through: A Guide to Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum?) (Inside Higher Ed; via Arts Journal)

The concept was dead simple, but the results were better than I could have dreamed. Contrary to what enemies of Wikipedia claim, my students did find value in the entries. It was praised for its clarity, organization, relevance and accuracy. (Not a single student detected a factual error in an entry.) Quite a few students found useful cited sources. That was as far as it went, however. Students immediately came to the same conclusion that professors have been harping upon from time immemorial: Most encyclopedia entries sacrifice depth for breadth. Not a single student felt that Wikipedia passed the sufficiency test and most noted that the material contained in the entries was nonspecific, anecdotal, and incomplete; hence Wikipedia also failed the precision test. Aside from the 2 (of 21) students who were so put off that they vowed that they’d never consult Wikipedia, the rest commented that it was a place to get very basic information, but that it could not be relied upon for serious in-depth research.

Nones: As the Murphy scandal washes over Europe, a "widespread apathy toward all things religious has turned into aggression," according to Der Spiegel's Alexander Smoltczyk. Even Italians are beginning to mobilize.

The Vatican is now deeply concerned that the scandal could continue to spread around the world. Why shouldn't the abuses that occurred in Irish parishes have happened elsewhere, as well?

The next wave of revelations could begin just outside the gates of the Vatican. Even in Italy, where the majority of youth work is in the hands of the church, the code of silence is beginning to crumble. Victims' groups have been formed in Sicily, Emilia-Romagna and the country's northern regions. The groups plan to hold their first conference in Verona in September, under the motto: "I too suffered abuse at the hands of priests." For years, the Curia in Verona covered up the abuse of deaf-mute children at a school in Chievo on the city's outskirts.

And what happens if there were also abuse cases in the Diocese of Rome? The pope is the nominal Bishop of Rome. Internet sites are already calling upon Catholics to refuse to pay their voluntary church contribution.

Vespers: British writer Robert McCrum is working on Globish. If you can read this, you do not have a head start on "the worldwide dialect of the third millennium." (Guardian; via Arts Journal)

In a posting in Japan in the 1990s, Nerriere made an important observation. He noticed that, in meetings, non-native English speakers were communicating far more successfully with their Korean and Japanese clients than British or US executives, for whom English was the mother tongue. Standard English was all very well for Anglophone societies, but out there in the wider world, a non-native "decaffeinated English", declared Nerriere, was becoming the new global phenomenon. In a moment of inspiration, he christened it "Globish".

Nerriere's idea caught on quickly within the international community. I wasn't the only one following its trajectory. The Times journalist Ben Macintyre described how, waiting for a flight from Delhi, he had overheard a conversation between a Spanish UN peacekeeper and an Indian soldier. "The Indian spoke no Spanish; the Spaniard spoke no Punjabi. Yet they understood one another easily. The language they spoke was a highly simplified form of English, without grammar or structure, but perfectly comprehensible, to them and to me. Only now," he concluded, "do I realise that they were speaking 'Globish', the newest and most widely spoken language in the world."

Compline: At dinner last night, there was discussion of David Elkind's Op-Ed piece about the end of "the culture of childhood," and we brought up something much nicer to think about on the subject than bullies. From Nigeness:  

It is strange that so much of nature is apparently open to us now - with books, photographs and TV films of a quality I in my boyhood could only dream of, available to all - and yet children, enjoying less freedom to roam outdoors than ever before, and circumscribed by 'conservation' laws, have less and less direct, close-up experience of nature, of how creatures feel and smell and behave as well as look, of their variations and distinctions and minute beauties of form. I was a collector myself in a very small way - and even in my boyhood it was beginning to seem eccentric (especially butterfly collecting). Though I now regret every butterfly I killed and set (they weren't many), I am glad of the time I spent examining specimens in the old round glass-topped metal specimen cans into which I carefully transferred them from the net.

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