Category Archives: Culture

UN Rejects Limits On Bluefin Fishing

I’ve had a tiny amount of bluefin tuna in my life, and it was absolutely exquisite.  At the time, I was conflicted about it, because they are so overfished, but if anything, the experience made me even more concerned about its preservation.

What’s remarkable is that Japan lead the opposition to the ban, even though by overfishing bluefin, they’re engaged in a sort of minor cultural suicide.  No one will lose out more than the Japanese if bluefin are no longer available.

In One Line

If there’s postmodern, then there oughta be premodern, and it’s worth betting ain’t neither one will be modern.

The Highbrow Life

I’m obviously flattered that Go is the game of the highbrow, according to a 1949 issue of Life magazine, but having played both, I wouldn’t say it’s a more highbrow game than bridge.  I like it better, but I wouldn’t say it’s a better game than bridge.

Even more confusing, Go’s footprint in the US was extremely small in 1949. Not even many highbrow individuals would have played it, even if they’d heard of it.

17th Century Productivity Blogging

You know that Munday is Sundayes brother
Tuesday is such another
Wednesday you must go to Church and pray
Thursday is half-holiday
On Friday it is too late to begin to spin
The Saturday is half-holiday agen.

That’s by Merlin Mann some moralist, writing in 1639, which I found in “Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism,” the E.P. Thompson paper that Julian recommended. Thompson soon offers as an aside:

The work pattern was one of alternate bouts of intense labour and of idleness, wherever men were in control of their own working lives. (The pattern persists among some self-employed — artists, writers, small farmers, and perhaps also with students — today, and provokes the question whether it is not a “natural” human work-rhythm.)

I am so glad to hear that.

The Weekend

This 1991 Atlantic Monthly article “Waiting For The Weekend” by Witold Rybczynski is interesting throughout, even if it doesn’t fully substantiate its most ambitious claims.  It’s worth reading if just for the depiction of work culture before and after the Industrial Revolution, which is quite fascinating.  I’d known that drunkenness on the job was common before the Industrial Revolution and remained a problem throughout it, but I’d never heard of Saint Monday, for instance.

I found the article via the Atlantic’s new ideas blog, which is being written by Conor Friedersdorf–more about which later.

Update: In a comment to this post, my friend Julian suggests a very nice piece of academic history on changing conceptions of time and work for those who want to read more.

Strangely Endearing

“I would write ads for deodorants or labels for catsup bottles, if I had to” (Updike, quoted in the NYT)

Stopping Crowds

Bitch Ph.D. makes the necessary point about the man who was trampled to death in the Black Friday rush at a Wal-Mart.  Once you recognize her point–that the issue is the psychology of crowds, all the carping about consumerism looks out of place.  Would the man’s death have been any less awful if the crowd had been lined up for a concert, or whatever else you’d line up for? Would you have had the foresight to see that the crowd could cause a man’s death? I doubt it.  And if you had, your absence by itself would not have changed the underlying dynamic.

Once you’ve recognized the tremendous ways in which you can be influenced by situational factors–this case is just a much more literal instance of external pressure–there’s an ethical obligation to resist them.  But it’s not simple to recognize the way in which crowds work, and acting based on that knowledge is not easy, even for individuals who are otherwise virtuous.

If Wal-Mart had taken more care, no one’s character would be any different, but a man’s life would have been saved.  That’s the bottom line, and it resiss simple moralization.

Quote of the Day

When Schopenhauer’s Art of Controversy was advertised as How to Argue Logically, sales jumped from a few thousand to thirty thousand per year; when Whistler’s Ten O’Clock was renamed What Art Should Mean to You, sales quadrupled. Haldeman-Julius had learned this technique from his days as a newspaper headline writer, and he made no apologies about his retitling strategy. “The Henry Ford of Literature” (H/t Kevin)

Quote of the Day

This great life had its secrets: how many times had Milosz told us in his poems that he was an “evil person”? His friends never believed it, though I think he wanted us maybe not to accept it as true it but at least to consider it more seriously. Friends are usually too well-meaning, too polite, too well-bred. They always tell you “you’ll be fine,” “you exaggerate”; they want to cheer you up—that’s their business.  (Source)

Reviewing By Revealed Preference

David Lynch’s Twin Peaks takes a sharp turn for the worse once the killer is caught. It takes that turn fast–perhaps instantaneously.  Can’t tell you if it improves again because we stopped watching episodes months ago.  It is absolutely brilliant up until that point.

Not That I Follow This Sort of Thing

But a correction seems to be in order. Zadie Smith didn’t actually issue a mea culpa in response to James Wood’s essay “Human All Too Inhuman,” though she surely had read that essay many times, but rather to Wood’s “Tell me how does it feel?” That particular article was written shortly after September 11th, and shares in the characteristic fatuousness of essays reacting to that event. I find that fact rather ironic, given Wood’s apparent bugaboos (is September 11th that important to literature, or isn’t it, Mr. Wood?)–not that I’ve read anything of his beyond the two articles linked above. Nor have I read any of the books he criticizes, except the ur-document, Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow.

More on why references to September 11th bother me more than usual tonight will follow.


I just bought Tha Carter III from Amazon.  I feel an obligation to temper my filesharing with the habitual infusion of cash into the recording industry, but on this occasion, I was struck by the convenience of using amazon†.  Tha Carter III is sixteen songs, and Lil Wayne is such a prolific artist that tracking down a good copy of the CD on Soulseek would have been a pain in the ass.  This way, I get the album with one search and one click, and I don’t have to worry about the ID3 tags being wrong, so iTunes and my iPod will properly recognize the music.  I suspect that as people move up their lifetime income curve, these sorts of considerations become more and more important, and you’ll see them buying a larger proportion of their music.  That’s part of the reason that I’m relatively unconcerned about the impact of file-sharing on the music business.

† I suppose for full consistency, I should be supporting a smaller act, but see the following point about convenince.  Also, Amazon sells the album for $3 less than iTunes, which can’t be good for iTunes in the long run.

Midnight’s Children

On the occasion of Midnight’s Children winning the “Best of the Booker” prize, the BBC had the cute idea of soliciting 67 word précises of the 672 page work.  The stated goal is to help those who haven’t read the book appear more erudite.  I read the book three years ago, and I doubt I could assemble a coherent précis of any length whatsoever.  I adored it, but it washed over me without leaving traces in my memory.  I think if I met someone who had any clear recollection of the book, I’d suspect that he had merely read the Cliff’s Notes.

Perhaps this is just another manifestation of the fact that I am a terrible reader.


This story, about a FTM transsexual who gave birth, is really fascinating.  It says something important about gender that a person who identifies as a man would want to give birth.  This is the first time I’ve heard of a transman giving birth–I wonder if it will remain equally rare in the future, or if a general softening of gender norms will make a regular, albeit uncommon, occurence.