Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The People's Card Catalog

Ben Vershbow's post title at if:book is so good that I'm breaking my usual blog etiquette rules and stealing it. The idea is fantastic, too.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Contract Binding Us To Our Garbage

Jon Mooallem writes a short history of bottle deposits, including current efforts to expand deposit programs to include bottled water and other noncarbonated beverages.

The article is strangely factual, lyrical, sympathetic, and ironically distant -- like long-form journalism practiced by Flaubert.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Talent Is There

I'm telling you -- New York Times TV can work. Pogue and Bittman -- who's had his own, very good, PBS cooking show -- would bring it home.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Ode to Man

In honor of the newly reconstructed Sophocles poem, Scott Horton has a fine translation of (and commentary on) Sophocles's "Ode to Man," from Antigone:

Many things are formidable, and yet nothing is quite so formidable as man.
Over the gray sea and the storming south wind,
Through the foam and welling of the waves, he makes his perilous way;
The Earth also, highest of the deities, who never shows fatigue, nor exhaustion, nor decay,
Ever he furrows and ploughs, year on year, with his ploughshare, muzzles and horses.

The light-seeking birds of the air he stalks and traps, the wild beasts of the forest, and the salty brood of the sea, he catches with his richly woven net–
He, the cunning one,
And by his arts he achieves mastery of the savage game, of the creatures who wind their way upon the heights, tamed through his wondrous art,
And the defiant steed he bends to his will under the bit.

Speech and wind-driven thoughts and emotions form the foundation upon which he builds the city,
All of this he has taught himself; and to take shelter before the inhospitable torrents of the heavens, and the freeze of the winter sky.
He is prepared for everything; against nothing does he want for protection. Even against once perplexing ailments he has developed an escape.
Only against death has he at last no refuge.

Supplied with cleverness of every imaginable type,
He ventures once towards evil, and then towards good.
If he honors the laws of the land and the right attested by the Gods,
Then may his city prosper. But homeless shall he be if he boorishly debases himself.

–Sophocles, “Antigone,” Chorus (lines 340-380) (S.H. transl. after Hans Jonas)

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Woman Who Mistook A Wall For Her Husband

Der Spiegel has an unusual article about Objectophilia -- people who fall in love with things. One is quick to distance his sexual quirk from run-of-the-mill fetishism:

"We're by no means just straightforward fetishists," Joachim A. insists, and he immediately explains the difference: "For some people, their car becomes a fetish which they use to put themselves in the limelight. For the objectum-sexual, on the other hand, the car itself -- and nothing else -- is the desired sexual partner, and all sexual fantasies and emotions are focused on it."

One expert points out the obvious (with a delicious jadedness thrown in):

Sexologist Sigusch doesn't want to classify such odd behavior as pathological. "The objectophiles aren't hurting anyone. They're not abusing or traumatizing other people," he judges. And then he asks mildly: "Who else can you say that about?"

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

All This Space Going To Waste

It's a sign of how accustomed I've become to ludicrous city rents that when I read articles about young people scrambling and scamming for housing like this one in the New York Times, my first reaction isn't "there are other places to live besides New York," or even "I wish I had a trust fund," but: "Share a 1500-sq-ft loft in Williamsburg with five other people for $2600/month? What a deal!"

The Photographer As Detective

My favorite musician David Byrne retells an amazing story about my favorite contemporary artist, Vik Muniz:

A young man was dead and he and his motorcycle lay at the side of the road at the end of a short skid mark. Vik, like a character on CSI, came to some immediate conclusions that he proposed to the cop. The cop thought it may have been an accident, but Vik said, “No, look, the bits of his brain are exploding out, if he’d had an accident they would be caved in” …and then Vik announced, “He was shot, and the killer was a friend of his.” The cop was shocked at his apparent jump to such a conclusion, but Vik’s statements were all reasoned out. He noticed that the dead kid had accelerated on his motorcycle rapidly from a standstill; therefore, he had stopped to talk to this person who had then killed him. He’d been shot in the back while trying to speed off, and then the assassin had delivered the coup de gra├že, sloppily, as some young assassins can’t bear to look when they comply with that part of their assignment.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Our Greatest Living Jurist

There's a fantastic anti-endorsement editorial in today's Inquirer, all about Philadelphia's greatest living judge, Willis W. Berry, Jr. This is how it begins:

Please, please don't vote for Judge Willis W. Berry Jr. of Philadelphia for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Do not vote for Berry under any circumstances. Not even if you should lose your balance in the voting booth, and the only way to break your fall would be to lean against the button next to Berry's name. Don't touch it.

This is on the heels of Inquirer articles about Berry using his public staff for personal business, that this personal business includes owning and managing dilapidated properties, and that these properties are totally shot to hell. Many were purchased for a pittance from the Redevelopment Authority, with promises that he would repair them. Instead, he's held on to most of them, letting them deteriorate, holding out for more money to flip them.

Some highlights:

In his earlier years acquiring the properties, Berry , then in private practice , bought the run-down buildings under various assumed names. He says he did so because he did not have malpractice insurance at the time and did not want the assets in his name in case he got sued. The deeds were moved into his name shortly after he joined the bench.

"I figured I should be on the up and up," Berry said.

and (from another article):

Berry said he was seeking higher office because trying cases in criminal court was not especially challenging.

"It's a nothing job," he said. "Anybody can do it if you can keep an open mind and be fair. Don't really require any special training."

And: the number on the "For Rent" sign in the window is Berry's court office. Tenants would come there to drop off their rent checks.

What's astonishing above all else is the lack of guile of it all. He tells a reporter that he bought houses in fake names. He leads this reporter on a tour of his properties. I know, through a friend of a friend, Berry's legal advisor that the paper called who said that this was clearly a violation and needed to be remedied. He's a lawyer; Berry just picked his name out of a phone book.

There's no mystery here, no conspiracy -- no long con.

Clearly, this man is some kind of genius. If anyone knows anything about how this man became a judge, please share it here: I feel I must study his ways.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Hero Makes His Diagnosis

Atul Gawande strikes me as something like a protagonist out of a 19th-century play or novel: the intelligent, humane physician/scientist, as articulate as he is perceptive, slowly fighting to unearth the hidden dangers, to expose injustice, and to educate and cure what ails the body politic. (I'm thinking particularly of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People.) Gawande might become to the early 21st century what Oliver Sacks was the late 20th: the doctor who, by virtue of his research, intellect, and humanity makes us rethink everything.

We've gotten a double dose of Gawande in the past few weeks: the strong right jabs of his short New York Times Op-Eds on the dangers of avoiding doubt and the slow cancerous degeneration of our health care system, and the left hooks of his New Yorker articles on the science of aging, the history of childbirth, or (from 2004) medical openness and the treatment of cystic fibrosis.

I bet his new book will be really good.