Monthly Archives: April 2008


via BoingBoing:

I’ve never seen an analysis of ballet classes as rite de passage for females of certain age range and class (or the not-unrelated horse-craziness either), but something of the sort cries out to be written. I’m forever grateful that my own daughter was completely uninterested in either ballet or horses when she was in those perilous ages.

Glorious sentence

It’s the most delicious pleasure to linger over bits of prose like this, where every word and clause is artfully placed to inform the reader:

Since those moments on the terrace, Harold had daily become more of the solicitous and indirectly beseeching lover; and Esther, from the very fact that she was weighed on by thoughts that were painfully bewildering to her –by thoughts which, in their newness to her young mind, seemed to shake her belief that life could be anything else than a compromise with things repugnant to the moral taste– had become more passive to his attentions at the very time that she had begun to feel more profoundly that in accepting Harold Transome she left the high mountain air, the passionate serenity of perfect love for ever behind her, and must adjust her wishes to a life of middling delights, overhung with the langourous haziness of motiveless ease, where poetry was only literature, and the fine ideas had to be taken down from the shelves of the library when her husband’s back was turned.
(George Eliot, Felix Holt: The Radical pg 426)

Franzen’s latest

I’ve been a student of things Chinese for many years, via heaps of basically-Orientalist books and articles following decades of modernization efforts and historical context. That used to be a leisurely pursuit, with plenty to read and meditate upon, and things seemed not to be happening all that rapidly until the last five years or so. But now the global importance of the juggernaut of China’s development is a whole new ball game, with daily updates across the spectrum of concerns, and pretty much every product that one buys these days is (or anyhow has components that are) Made in China. America’s addiction to consumables is the basic fuel of that juggernaut, and few pieces that I’ve read are more eloquent expositors of that point than Jonathan Franzen’s “The Way of the Puffin” in the New Yorker of 21 April. The full text of the piece isn’t available online, but there’s a detailed abstract and a very worthwhile audio interview (13 minutes, downloadable).

Franzen’s writing is a pleasure for its illustrative digressions. Here’s the second paragraph, a pretty unique mise en scène for an article about China, and even more so for an article about bird watching in China:

My difficulty with golf is that, although I play it once or twice a year to be sociable, I dislike almost everything about it. The point of the game seems to be the methodical euthanizing of workday-sized chunks of time by well-off white men. Golf eats land, drinks water, displaces wildlife, fosters sprawl. I dislike the self-congratulations of its etiquette, the self-important hush of its television analysts… (pg. 90)

Franzen drops other charming bits of description:

Xu’s teeth were beautiful. He had the fashionably angular eyeglasses and ingratiating eagerness of an untenured literature professor… (pg. 92)

(of Shanghai) …on the ground, the brutally new skyscrapers and the pedestrian-hostile streets and the artificial dusk of the smoke-filled winter sky: it was all thrilling. It was as if the gods of world history had asked, “Does somebody want to get into some unprecedentedly deep shit?” and this place has raised its hand and said, “Yeah!” (pg. 92)

…southeast Asia: a region well on its way to being clear-cut and strip-mined into one vast muddy pit, since China itself is hopelessly short on natural resources to supply the factories that supply us. The Chinese people may bear the brunt of Chinese pollution, but the trauma to biodiversity is being reëxported around the world. (pg. 105)


Kevin Kelly links to this nice bit of video, from the film Mystic Ball:

The Mystic Ball site notes that the Burmese Chinlone is

…related to similar games in Southeast Asia known as takraw in Thailand, sepak raga in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, sipa in the Philippines, kator in Laos and da cau in Vietnam. A competitive variation of the game played over a net, called sepak takraw was developed in Malaysia in the 1940’s.

There are quite a few videos of (highly competitive) Sepak Takraw on YouTube. One to start with:

links for 2008-04-20

Protection rackets

During my years of wandering the Groves of Academe I read many thousands of pages of books and papers, and (I can see now) shuttled from one enthusiasm to the next, driven and drawn, blown and tumbled through a vast array of subjects and quite a few academic disciplines. The file cabinets in the barn hold a lot of the remains of the odyssey, and promise/demand many hours of rainy-day sorting –but perhaps (some would say) might as well go straight to recycling. Anyway, my pantheon of much-admired writers includes Charles Tilly. Today’s Crooked Timber tells me that Tilly has won the Social Science Research Council’s Hirschman Prize, and there’s a link to a pdf of his (1982) essay Warmaking and Statemaking as Organized Crime. I grabbed it and started reading… and was projected back to the Maxell Moment mindspace

that I have so often enjoyed as a reader of fine academic prose. Listen:

Apologists for particular governments and for government in general commonly argue, precisely, that they offer protection from local and external violence. They claim that the prices they charge barely cover the costs of protection. They call people who complain about the price of protection ‘anarchists’, ‘subversives’, or both at once. But consider the definition of a racketeer as someone who creates a threat, then charges for its reduction. Governments’ provision of protection, by this standard, often qualifies as racketeering. To the extent that the threats against which a given government protects its citizens are imaginary, or are consequences of its own activities, the government has organized a protection racket.

Hmmmm. 1982. I’m just saying…