(h/t half of Twitter)
It’s not right to call House of Stone a funny book; the humor here is too minor, in both senses — a secondary theme in a melancholy key. Yet Shadid is a very funny writer. A cousin’s elaborate exposition on curing olives feels like “a mix of nuclear engineering and Sufi mysticism.” His own efforts at bullying the construction crew into action are so ineffectual that a friend has to show him how it’s done. “You brother of a whore!” the friend shouts, “I fuck your sister!” He then pauses, considers, and recommends stopping there: “I wouldn’t want to bring mothers in at this stage.
I recently sat down and read 15 of these boutique mini-books. Most are blah; a few are so subliterate they made my temples ache. But several — like John Hooper’s reportage on the Costa Concordia disaster, Jane Hirshfield on haiku and Jonathan Mahler on Joe Paterno — are so good they awaken you to the promise of what feels almost like a new genre: long enough for genuine complexity, short enough to avoid adding journalistic starches and fillers.
Others ride blithely off the rails. Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law School professor, has written “One Way Forward: The Outsider’s Guide to Fixing the Republic” ($1.99). It’s about how money has ruined politics, and about how Tea Partiers and Occupy Wall Streeters should collaborate to fix this problem. Mr. Lessig is right, but he’s insufferable. His book is earnest, patronizing and so dull that I flipped my Kindle over, searching for a snooze button.
In today’s LA Times, a rousing op-ed in favor of televising Supreme Court arguments:
The United States is the only country in which Supreme Court justices have lifetime appointments. That is all the more reason that their actions should be transparent and that they should not be allowed to shelter themselves from public scrutiny. … We have a right to be included — especially when the court is hearing a case concerning the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, which might dramatically alter American life for decades.
Obviously, there should be television cameras in the Supreme Court, and it should happen by Monday. It is time for the Supreme Court to enter the 21st (or at least the 20th) century.
Lately, I’ve found myself not reading The New York Times regularly. We get the Weekender and I like flipping through the Sunday paper. But I was out with my son at a coffee shop the other day and there was a stack of The Times and the Daily News and he was like, “Do you have to pay for these?” So, I bought one and I had to explain to him how they worked: why it folds, where the story continues. It was really exotic to him. He’s a smart, 8-year-old kid who reads on his Nook but this was really unfamiliar to him.
Republican Swamp People — The Romneys move to the Everglades in an effort to woo the swing state of Florida. Excitement ensues when Mitt tries to drive to a rally with an alligator strapped to the roof of the car.
In 2008, a 30-year-old baseball stat nerd looked at the reams of public research product churned out by the nation’s 1,500-plus daily newspapers, and concluded that, though “there is nearly as much data as there is for first basemen,” the “understanding has lagged behind.” So Nate Silver launched 538.com (named after the number of votes in the Electoral College), and through sheer intellectual rigor and superior numeracy went on to outperform all comers in the political prediction business that year. As Silver later explained in The New York Post, too often “polls are cherry-picked based on their brand name or shock value rather than their track record of accuracy,” and “demographic variables are misrepresented or misunderstood.”
Silver, who was later hired by The New York Times (a blogger-to-riches story that would have made headlines a decade ago but is no big deal nowadays), is a living refutation of the Labor Theory of Value. All those thousands of big-media reporters and commentators and pollsters, paid full time to analyze and interpret political information, got their clocks cleaned by a sports geek blowing off steam after hours.
The New York Times reported a 73 percent gain in circulation fueled in large part by digital gains. In fact, the Times’ daily digital subscribers exceed its daily print subscribers.