Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What I’m reading #118

If you were wondering which magazine beat Vanity FairGQ and New York Magazine in its category in the US National Magazine Awards, it was. . . Modern Farmer, which has published just four issues. Full story here. It looks to be a great magazine and a smart user of the best virtues of hard copy and the internet. My favourite headline is “Jamaican Goat Farmers Threaten Vigilante Justice If Thefts Continue”, just ahead of “Moose Milking in Russia”. And here is a flowchart to help you build the perfect fence.  Seriously, if I was a magazine publisher in NZ I would have a very close look at what Modern Farmer is doing.

Not lost in translation: David Bellos at Asymptote on the brilliance of Barbara Wright’s rendition of one of my favourite books, Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style. Quote unquote:
The work consists of 99 variations, ranging in length from a paragraph to three pages, on the same trivial, futile story of a man who treads on toes in a Paris bus and then some time later gets upbraided for having his overcoat button in the wrong place. The variations play with a range of different literary devices, from rhetorical techniques such as homoteleuton, apocope, and synchysis, to poetical forms (sonnet, haiku, alexandrines), games with language register (pompous, vulgar, bureaucratic), and with languages themselves (Italianisms, sound-translation into English), and to changes in effect (reactionary, apologetic, hesitant). […] It was when she was faced with Queneau’s exercise in hybridized prose—when the object of the exercise was to show French so to speak in bed with Latin, Italian, and English (exercises 70, 81, 83, and 84)—that Barbara followed her own natural and stupendously witty bent. For Queneau’s Anglicism exercise (70), she showed how English can play the same game in a mirror:Un dai vers middai, je tèque le busseis replaced byOne zhour about meedee I pree the ohtobyusse

Staying with the French, Ségolène Royal, the Socialist government’s minister of ecology, sustainable development  and energy, has a more royal than socialist attitude towards her staff. We have all read about her banning other women from displaying cleavage – her party is not big on competition – and requiring staff to stand in her presence. She denies the former but not the latter. Henry Samuel reports that:
When she eats in her private salon, her aides are under strict orders not to use the adjacent corridor as it creates “noise disturbance”. The rule means that access to the canteen is blocked off for ministerial advisors once Miss Royal has entered the salon.

Piketty, Piketty, Piketty. Everyone’s talking about Thomas Piketty and his Capital in the Twenty-First Century. I ploughed through all of Vol 1 of Karl Marx’s Capital for Stage II political philosophy and can’t recommend it, really, for the general reader. I hear a lot from my arts-graduate friends about Piketty’s update but much as I love them, love their work, don’t go changing – they haven’t a clue. I am interested only in what economists have to say. And, boy, do they diverge, as economists do. Matt Nolan gives
a comprehensive roundup at TVHE. Here is Paul Krugman. And here is Tyler Cowen:
In perhaps the most revealing line of the book, the 42-year-old Piketty writes that since the age of 25, he has not left Paris, “except for a few brief trips.” Maybe it is that lack of exposure to conditions and politics elsewhere that allows Piketty to write the following words with a straight face: “Before we can learn to efficiently organize public financing equivalent to two-thirds to three-quarters of national income” – which would be the practical effect of his tax plan – “it would be good to improve the organization and operation of the existing public sector.” It would indeed. But Piketty makes such a massive reform project sound like a mere engineering problem, comparable to setting up a public register of vaccinated children or expanding the dog catcher’s office.

And here is the Economist with its own verdict. Quote unquote:
Critics like Mr Cowen and Greg Mankiw, an economist at Harvard University, argue that his recommendations are motivated by ideology more than economics.
Capital does give unduly short shrift to conservative concerns. Mr Piketty glosses over the question of whether attempts to redistribute wealth will weaken growth. He also assumes, rather blithely, that growing inequality leads to instability. Yet that is not always the case: many democracies have managed such challenges without upheaval. Given the masses of data Mr Piketty has assembled, he might profitably have analysed in what circumstances inequality generates conflict. Then again, the success of his book, and the ever-expanding commentary it has provoked, will doubtless inspire others to do so soon. 

And from the Economist’s editorial:
Mr Piketty asserts rather than explains why tempering wealth concentration should be the priority (as opposed to, say, boosting growth). He barely acknowledges any trade-offs or costs to his redistributionist agenda. Most economists, common sense and a lot of French businesspeople would argue that higher taxes on income and wealth put off entrepreneurs and risk taking; he blithely dismisses that. And his to-do list is oddly blinkered in its focus on taxing the rich. He ignores ways to broaden the ownership of capital, from “baby bonds” to government top-ups of private saving accounts. Some capital taxes could sit nicely in a sensible 21st-century policy toolkit (inheritance taxes, in particular), but they are not the only, or even the main, way to ensure broad-based prosperity.Mr Piketty’s focus on soaking the rich smacks of socialist ideology, not scholarship. That may explain why “Capital” is a bestseller. But it is a poor blueprint for action.

For those of us who are mildly interested but will never read the thing, the Spectator provides a handy bluffer’s guide. Quote unquote:
7. ‘One slight problem is that Piketty uses “wealth” and “capital” as interchangeable terms — when of course they are not.’ This shows that, while you applaud Piketty’s argument, you can see its flaws. You’ve obviously read other equally important books.

The nexus of money and music, from genial rock geezer Rick Wakeman:
In 1970 I was up in London looking for session work and Marc Bolan who was a great mate, gave me a session for Get It On. All I had to do was a glissando on the piano. I said to him afterwards, “You could have done that,” and he replied, “Well, you want your rent money don’t you?” Tough times, but when I joined Yes, I went from £18 a week to £50 a week.

The nexus of music and physics: the latest scientific research shows that Miley Cyrus could not, in fact, “come in like a wrecking ball”. Who would have thought? Quote unquote:
David McDonagh, a student at the Centre of Interdisciplinary Science, found that Cyrus would be unable to gather sufficient momentum to have “impacted” on either “love, or the walls of someone’s house”, as the song suggests.McDonagh concludes that Cyrus would need to be travelling at around 316mph to demolish a wall – meaning she would need to be propelled by an outside force.“Based on these findings, it is clear that a human being cannot possess the characteristics of a wrecking ball without sustaining significant injury, and other objects should be sought as an analogy,” he concluded.

So here is Emmylou Harris with “Wrecking Ball”. That’s Daryl Johnson on bass, Brady Blade on drums and Buddy Miller on guitar:

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