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Thursday

8April 2010

k0402

Matins: Nate Silver peruses two recent polls on the tea-party constituency, calling the results "more interesting than surprising." (fivethirtyeight; via 3 Quarks Daily)

Although we can infer that support for the tea party is not very high among non-conservative independents or among Democrats and liberals, the movement does get some support (especially among liberal independents as opposed to liberal Democrats). Why? Because the tea-party has many different faces. It still shows its libertarian roots at times, but is also fairly populist in character. At other times still -- such as when Sarah Palin was speaking to the Tea Party Convention -- it can more resemble traditional post-Nixonian conservativism (including on social issues) while in yet other incarnations, it has some good-government goals that might be described as bipartisan or even sort of old-school (i.e. 1890s) progressive. Most of the liberals who say they support the tea-party movement probably aren't out there carrying signs and attending rallies on a regular basis (neither for that matter are most of the conservatives) -- but they may still feel some sympathy for it.

Lauds: We almost wonder if Anne Midgette was thinking of our favorite diva, Sondra Radvanovsky, in mind when she penned the parenthesis toward the end of this paragraph. (Washington Post)

I also wish that opera, today, could win back some of the visceral appeal that Redzepova demonstrates. Not everyone is going to like the way she sounds, but I think nearly anyone who hears her can tell what sheís trying to do and whether or not sheís doing it well, regardless of whether or not it happens to be to the listenerís individual taste. Opera, by contrast, seems so artificial to so many people that non-aficionados often respond by simply being impressed by the volume. Iíve written before about attending rehearsals with young singers and seeing people giving signs of being tremendously impressed about singing that was uncertain, out of tune, without rhythmic integrity. These same people would never tolerate such singing in another musical genre, but when it comes to opera, they presume that they donít understand it enough to have the right to make a judgment, and simply overlook anything that sounds bad, as if it must be part of the convention. I think if more singers today dug in and let loose with Redzepovaís brand of direct honesty (and there are certainly some who do already) it would be a lot easier to overcome the widespread sense of ďothernessĒ in opera, reach out more directly to new listeners, and restore the visceral thrill that, at its best, the genre is about.

Prime: Larry Summers will leave the White House (National Economic Council director) when Larry Summers leaves the White House. Discussion of the matter now is interesting only because it throws the question of his fitness to serve in the first place into high relief. Joshua Green, at The Atlantic

But Summers didn't get the Fed job either. Apparently that didn't sit well. Administration insiders told Simendinger that Summers demanded a series of perks as compensation, including cabinet status, golf dates with the president, and a personal car and driver. In the "No Drama" Obama administration, such behavior stands out. And it isn't the first time Summers has been the target of leaks. Last June, only a few months into the administration, Jackie Calmes of the New York Times ran a Summers-focused piece on "tensions" in the economic team. A little later, Al Hunt wrote a column suggesting Obama was frustrated with Summers's poor coordination of the economic team. I heard the same thing from several sources, one of whom groused about the time spent "cleaning up Larry's messes."

Summers always seemed a bad fit for NEC director because the job entails dispassionately presenting the president with the counsel of his competing economic advisers. Summers doesn't do "dispassionate" and he didn't want to limit himself to fielding others' advice--he had plenty of his own to offer. In other words, he was supposed to be the referee, but he also wanted to play power forward. This rankled other members of the economic team, including Austan Goolsbee, Christina Romer, and Peter Orszag, enough that they're widely presumed to be the sources of many of the leaks. Summers's tendency toward bureaucratic infighting was another problem. As Jonathan Alter lays out in his forthcoming book, "The Promise," Summers maneuvered to sideline people like Paul Volcker, Joe Stiglitz, and even Orszag, behavior more characteristic of the Clinton administration than the Obama administration. Alter also reveals that Obama's nickname for Summers is "Dr. Kevorkian," which does not imply paternal fondness.

Tierce: At The Bus Ride, six views of the iPad, only one of them (Cory Doctorow's) negative. Michael Arrington, at Tech Crunch, is waxes particularly effusive. (The Bus Ride via MetaFilter)

But play I did. Iíve surfed the net on the iPad. Iíve played games on the iPad. And Iíve done email on the iPad. Yes, those iPads were chained to desks and in a bolted on steel case. And even so, the experience was stunning. Itís a nearly flawless device.

And the iPad beats even my most optimistic expectations. This is a new category of device. But it also will replace laptops for many people. It does basic computer stuff, like email and web surfing, very well. Applications load quickly and are very responsive Ė think iPhone 3GS with a 50% speed boost.

Thatís what surprised me the most. The iPad isnít just for couch computing when you want to look something up on Wikipedia or send a quick email. Itís a perfectly usable business device. And the form factor just happens to work far better for cramped places like airplanes than a normal laptop. I doubt Iíll ever open a laptop on a plane again after tomorrow.

One question, though: will the iPad offer dyslexics the same advantages as an iPhone?

Sext: Choire Sicha reviews the new issue of Architectural Digest ó really the only way that such a publication can be borne. Gerard Butler's on the cover. (The Awl)

Anyway, then we go inside his monochrome beige screw-pad, which, SERIOUSLY, YOU GUYS, you would just start giggling? It's the now version of the swinging London shag pad, sort of. I mean, listen, I rather admire Gerard Butler. He is a big lout who likes to laugh and doesn't seem to care about things too much, or at least, didn't until recently maybe? And this house does seem like he was like "I WANNA HAVE FUN AND BE A DUDE HERE, JUST HANGING, MAYBE WITH SOME BROS."

It is apparently 3300 square feet and on two floors? Also Butler has a "penchant for old crumbling walls.

Nones: In a reversal of previous policy, Thailand's Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva has declared a state of emergency in Bangkok. (BBC News) At the LRB, Jonathan Kurlantzick explains that Duncan McCargo's new book about Thai problems, Tearing Apart the Land: Islam and Legitimacy in Southern Thailand is very aptly titled. It would appear that few Thais sense a genuine urge to hold their country together.

Yet the traditionalists did not respond by trying to strengthen the institutions Thaksin had subverted Ė the media, for example, or the courts Ė or by rebuilding the Democrat Party. Instead, they chose to tear Thai democracy apart in order to bring Thaksin down. In 2006, Bangkokís upper classes launched noisy street protests under the banner of the Peopleís Alliance for Democracy. Just like the old German Democratic Republic, the PAD called itself democratic precisely because it wasnít. Its protests didnít attract many followers from outside Bangkok; one of its proposals was that a number of elected members of parliament should be replaced by appointees, presumably because the rural poor could not be trusted at the ballot box. Dressed in yellow, the colour of Thailandís monarchy, PAD demonstrators occupied parliament and, later, Bangkokís main airport. During the siege of parliament, someone set off a car bomb, and in the subsequent clashes two people were killed and at least 400 injured. The security forces often stood by as the PAD ran roughshod; some police officers even exuberantly put their arms round PAD protesters holed up in the airport.

Vespers: Ruth Franklin pokes through the politeness with which we pretend to respect critical responses that are contrary to our own. When critics differ she feels, one is likely be correct, and the other mistaken. We don't agree, but the argument is an interesting one. (The New Republic; via The Morning News)

So why, faced with a dispute like Isherwood and Macaulayís, do we continue to insist that critical judgment is arbitrary, to pretend disingenuously that there is no such thing as right and wrong, good taste and bad? To acknowledge the subjectivity of our judgments is not to imply that they are all equally valid. I know that when I see a review by a critic whose opinion differs sharply from mine, my first instinct isnít to throw up my hands and remind myself that taste is relative. Itís to wonder if I was wrongóif I overlooked something great or something terrible, if a misreading or misunderstanding set my mind off on a tangent the writer never intended, if I was too generous in disregarding flaws because I found the writerís worldview so sympathetic or was dazzled by the skill of his or her writing. (Will a future generation judge me as a philistine for failing to appreciate Littell, or as a maverick for championing writers like Bock and David Mitchell?) And similarly, when Iíve discovered something in another criticís writing that strikes me as a blatant misreading or misunderstanding, it casts a pall over the rest of that personís work for me. I will have to be persuaded to trust him or her again.

Compline: At The Gloss, Elizabeth Spiers ruminates on what genetic testing tells her about her place in her adoptive family. (via kottke.org)

The results are interesting but they also underscore all the things I still donít know. When people ask me how I ended up in New York, I canít fully explain what made me leave Alabama despite the fact that no one in my family had. I probably played sports in high school because my parents encouraged it, but no one made me read books (my family doesnít read much at all) and no one made me apply to college (my parents never went). No one made me pour myself into the hundred-and-one wildly disparate extracurricular activitiesópiano lessons, art classes, student government, cheerleading (rather unbelievably)óthat now seem to have foreshadowed my professional interest in a wide variety of things that have nothing to do with each other. (On the upside, I am ďwell-rounded.Ē On the downside, I am ďnot focused.Ē) I donít know where this comes from. No one in my family is like this. It doesnít tell me why Iím terrible at managing details, why Iím a hyper-rationalist (sometimes infuriatingly so, at least to other people), or why Iím ambivalent about things being out of place and not in order and tend to be disorganized as a result, which is also infuriating to other people. The DNA test tells me nothing about this.

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