Saturday, October 08, 2011

Some High Notes in the Penny Press!

I've fallen frightfully behind - not in my Penny Press reading (as so many slackers might) but in my Penny Press reporting: issue after issue cascades by, and I read and absorb them all, but then I get caught up in making lists or fighting pointless gender battles (not to mention fighting my own phlegm and mucus, which may be more than you wanted to hear), and the analysis doesn't happen. And the unforgiving thing about the Penny Press is its relentless timeliness - it just doesn't feel right to be chronicling my reactions to something that's three weeks old.

Nevertheless, I myself am a literary journalist, so I can't let some great bits go by unpraised! Just a quick few, to bring us at least partially up to speed:

From the 26 September issue of The New Yorker (an otherwise entirely pointless "Style" issue), the great Peter Schjeldahl (by a wide margin our best working writer about art, and in my opinion the finest such that America has ever produced) writing about the decidedly un-great Willem de Kooning:
The show [at MOMA, of course] demolishes a canard that the artist's work declined after the nineteen-fifties. Only his fame did. Out of fashion, and almost to the last, de Kooning made extraordinary art.

From the 3 October New Yorker (an issue which also features a long article trying - and failing, of course - to account for the deeply confounding appeal of IKEA), David Denby writing about "Moneyball" and making a point I'd never considered before:
He [Brad Pitt in most of his roles] simply couldn't convey thinking, which is not a sign of stupidity, just a failure of technique.

From Mark Danner's quietly shattering essay on the current torture-enabling American "state of exception" in the 13 October New York Review of Books, talking here specifically about how the torturers contracted by the CIA used Cold War scenarios crafted to help captured US pilots deal with being tortured by the Soviets:

We see here perhaps the prime example of the improvisation inherent in the state of exception. First, the critical security bureaucracies in the US government - the CIA and the military - derived their "enhanced interrogation procedures" from a cold war-era pilot training program that had been intentionally designed to reproduce illegal techniques. They then placed before government attorneys the through-the-looking-glass task of proving that those interrogation techniques are perfectly permissible under the tenets of international and domestic law that they were expressly designed to violate.

From the 30 September letters page of the TLS (the same issue that features a duly terrifying long literary profile of Alice Munro, about which said, the less the better), this tart response from one Gregory Currie of the University of Nottingham:
Constantine Sandis argues that we do better to rely on Henry James for insights into the mind than on brother William and the other academic psychologists, for "many competing psychological theories have come and gone" since their time. I believe he has hit on a powerful form of argument. Here's another application of it: Newton thought space infinite, but Einstein disagreed. Far better we rely on the cosmology of Genesis.

Anthony Lane's great, insightful line from his review of "The Ides of March" in the otherwise-useless 10 October "Money" issue of The New Yorker:
This film is full of great actors, but not enough people.

And finally, from Daniel Soar's anxiety-inducing great piece on Google from the 6 October London Review of Books:
Google knows or has sought to know, and may increasingly seek to know, your credit card numbers, your purchasing history, your date of birth, your medical history, your reading habits, your taste in music, your interest or otherwise (thanks to your searching habits) in the First Intifada or the career of Audrey Hepburn or flights to Mexico or interest-free loans, or whatever you idly speculate about at 3:45 on a Wednesday afternoon. Here's something: if you have an Android phone, Google can guess your home address, since that's where you phone tends to be at night. I don't mean that in theory some rogue Google employee could hack into your phone to find out where you sleep; I mean that Google, as a system, explicitly deduces where you live and openly logs it as 'home address' in its location service, to put beside the 'work address' where you spend the majority of your daytime hours.

Lots more besides, but those little quotes will have to serve - they'll sketch an attempt to bring us up to speed, so that next week's Penny Press can be represented in what the kids these days call "real time."



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