I teased at this the other day but wanted to bring out a bit. Here is Mr. Brooke. I gather some read him as a bit of idiot. I read him as a bit of an absent-minded professor. His niece has just returned from Rome and he is greeting her and her new husband Causabon:
"I need not ask how you are, my dear," said Mr. Brooke, after kissing her forehead. "Rome has agreed with you, I see--happiness, frescos, the antique--that sort of thing. Well, it's very pleasant to have you back again, and you understand all about art now, eh? But Casaubon is a little pale, I tell him--a little pale, you know. Studying hard in his holidays is carrying it rather too far. I overdid it at one time"--Mr. Brooke still held Dorothea's hand, but had turned his face to Mr. Casaubon--"about topography, ruins, temples--I thought I had a clue, but I saw it would carry me too far, and nothing might come of it. You may go any length in that sort of thing, and nothing may come of it, you know."
Brooke has a very particular way of speaking, which I find amusing. He almost reminds me of an insecticon. He repeats himself and tends to wave off entire epochs with three word summaries and the broad label "that sort of thing."
Ah? ... Well! He is a good match in some respects. But now, Chettam is a good match. And our land lies together. I shall never interfere against your wishes, my dear. People should have their own way in marriage, and that sort of thing--up to a certain point, you know. I have always said that, up to a certain point. I wish you to marry well; and I have good reason to believe that Chettam wishes to marry you. I mention it, you know."
Very true. You couldn't put the thing better--couldn't put it better, beforehand, you know. But there are oddities in things," continued Mr. Brooke, whose conscience was really roused to do the best he could for his niece on this occasion. "Life isn't cast in a mould--not cut out by rule and line, and that sort of thing. I never married myself, and it will be the better for you and yours. The fact is, I never loved any one well enough to put myself into a noose for them. It is a noose, you know. Temper, now. There is temper. And a husband likes to be master.
"Lydgate has lots of ideas, quite new, about ventilation and diet, that sort of thing,"
His cadence are the most unusual in the book, and stand out, as the rest of the voices aren't as well delineated. But I find myself meditating on how his voice sounds to me in my head.
The thing about Middlemarch is not that it is long, but that it is detailed. I don't mean detailed as an assembly of facts and descriptions. I mean detailed like an old Harlem brownstone, or the Cathedral up here in Morningside Heights. Mr. Brooke's voice is a place of retreat, a cavern for my mind to whirl around in or explore It is as if Eliot created a plot and then tricked it out, if I may be so profane. There are epigraphs, allusions to scientists who I do not know, weird unpredictable shifts in voice, notes on the history of medicine, Zen-like aphorisms, all of it attached to a narrative.
I find that I don't much care about the narrative ("the what happens next?") as I enjoy losing myself in the detailing, in the craftsmanship. This is what I mean when I claim that the novel has "physicality." The best thing about Middlemarch is that it has exploded my sense of what a novel can be. I felt the same way about Faulkner, but I think I also kind of dismissed because he wrote so small. (I'm speaking as a matter of subjective taste, as opposed to fact.) He often just seemed a little crazy.
Anyway, There's a moment in Issac Hayes's "Walk On By" where he repeats the chorus, and suddenly, in the background, you hear horns cracking lightly. (It's at about 2:23) I love that moment. It's the most unexpected, most delicate thing. And it comes amidst a meaty and unexpected reworking of another song. Hayes's version is slow, plodding almost, and the his heavy grieving voice is set against background vocals from what almost sounds like European church choir. The song is thick. It's physical. There are so many places to get lost.
Of course this is likely my native aesthetic coming to the fore because this kind of thickness is always what hip-hop, at its best, excelled at. You hear it in the great Public Enemy albums, in the great Wu-Tang albums, in Rakim's lyrics. I guess it's only natural that I would see this here. George Eliot is just bringing the Bomb Squad.
An interview with the Associated Press shows President Trump slowly coming to terms with the size of the government he now runs, and the challenges he must tackle.
Every president faces a steep learning curve when he enters the presidency. There is, as John F. Kennedy, wrote, no school for commanders in chief. Yet even by that standard, recent interviews show a Donald Trump who is genuinely surprised by the size of his duties, the interests he must balance, and the methods required to get that done.
On Sunday, the Associated Press released a transcript of an interview with the president last week. It deserves to be read in full: It captures his constant evasiveness on facts, preferring hyperbole, for example, and his detachment from reality—when asked about a “contract with the American voter” on what he’d achieve in 100 days, Trump dismisses it, saying, “Somebody put out the concept of a hundred-day plan.”
Will you pay more for those shoes before 7 p.m.? Would the price tag be different if you lived in the suburbs? Standard prices and simple discounts are giving way to far more exotic strategies, designed to extract every last dollar from the consumer.
As Christmas approached in 2015, the price of pumpkin-pie spice went wild. It didn’t soar, as an economics textbook might suggest. Nor did it crash. It just started vibrating between two quantum states. Amazon’s price for a one-ounce jar was either $4.49 or $8.99, depending on when you looked. Nearly a year later, as Thanksgiving 2016 approached, the price again began whipsawing between two different points, this time $3.36 and $4.69.
We live in the age of the variable airfare, the surge-priced ride, the pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, and other novel price developments. But what was this? Some weird computer glitch? More like a deliberate glitch, it seems. “It’s most likely a strategy to get more data and test the right price,” Guru Hariharan explained, after I had sketched the pattern on a whiteboard.
The early results out of a Boston nonprofit are positive.
You saw the pictures in science class—a profile view of the human brain, sectioned by function. The piece at the very front, right behind where a forehead would be if the brain were actually in someone’s head, is the pre-frontal cortex. It handles problem-solving, goal-setting, and task execution. And it works with the limbic system, which is connected and sits closer to the center of the brain. The limbic system processes emotions and triggers emotional responses, in part because of its storage of long-term memory.
When a person lives in poverty, a growing body of research suggests the limbic system is constantly sending fear and stress messages to the prefrontal cortex, which overloads its ability to solve problems, set goals, and complete tasks in the most efficient ways.
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
A machine mapped the most frequently used emotional trajectories in fiction, and compared them with the ones readers like best.
“My prettiest contribution to my culture,” the writer Kurt Vonnegut mused in his 1981 autobiography Palm Sunday, “was a master’s thesis in anthropology which was rejected by the University of Chicago a long time ago.”
By then, he said, the thesis had long since vanished. (“It was rejected because it was so simple and looked like too much fun,” Vonnegut explained.) But he continued to carry the idea with him for many years after that, and spoke publicly about it more than once. It was, essentially, this: “There is no reason why the simple shapes of stories can’t be fed into computers. They are beautiful shapes.”
That explanation comes from a lecture he gave, and which you can still watch on YouTube, that involves Vonnegut mapping the narrative arc of popular storylines along a simple graph. The X-axis represents the chronology of the story, from beginning to end, while the Y-axis represents the experience of the protagonist, on a spectrum of ill fortune to good fortune. “This is an exercise in relativity, really,” Vonnegut explains. “The shape of the curve is what matters.”
By antagonizing the U.S.’s neighbor to the south, Donald Trump has made the classic bully’s error: He has underestimated his victim.
When Donald Trump first made sport of thumping Mexico—when he accused America’s neighbor of exporting rapists and “bad hombres,” when he deemed the country such a threat that it should be contained by a wall and so clueless that it could be suckered into paying for its own encasement—its president responded with strange equilibrium. Enrique Peña Nieto treated the humiliation like a meteorological disturbance. Relations with the United States would soon return to normal, if only he grinned his way through the painful episode.
In August, Peña Nieto invited Trump to Mexico City, based on the then-contrarian notion that Trump might actually become president. Instead of branding Trump a toxic threat to Mexico’s well-being, he lavished the Republican nominee with legitimacy. Peña Nieto paid a severe, perhaps mortal, reputational cost for his magnanimity. Before the meeting, former President Vicente Fox had warned Peña Nieto that if he went soft on Trump, history would remember him as a “traitor.” In the months following the meeting, his approval rating plummeted, falling as low as 12 percent in one poll—which put his popularity on par with Trump’s own popularity among Mexicans. The political lesson was clear enough: No Mexican leader could abide Trump’s imprecations and hope to thrive. Since then, the Mexican political elite has begun to ponder retaliatory measures that would reassert the country’s dignity, and perhaps even cause the Trump administration to reverse its hostile course. With a presidential election in just over a year—and Peña Nieto prevented by term limits from running again—vehement responses to Trump are considered an electoral necessity. Memos outlining policies that could wound the United States have begun flying around Mexico City. These show that Trump has committed the bully’s error of underestimating the target of his gibes. As it turns out, Mexico could hurt the United States very badly.
The organization has a flair for attracting media attention, but lacks a mass membership or scholarly expertise—and its connection to its famed namesake isn’t what it claims.
Sean Spicer was in trouble. In a press conference addressing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people, the White House press secretary had fallen into one of his signature slow-moving train-wrecks of an analogy: “You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” he said, later clarifying that he understood Hitler did use them in “the Holocaust centers” but didn’t use them “on his own people.” The claims were wrong in just about every way: Adolf Hitler used gas chambers to murder millions of Jews in concentration camps across Europe, including German citizens.
“BREAKING NEWS: SEAN SPICER DENIES HITLER GASSED JEWS DURING THE HOLOCAUST,” the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect wrote in all-caps on Facebook. “MR. PRESIDENT, FIRE SEAN SPICER NOW.” Weeks earlier, the center had slammed Donald Trump for being slow to condemn a recent wave of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers—“a Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration,” it said—and the White House’s failure to mention Jews in its statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Dozens of news outlets picked up the statements, and the group’s executive director, Steven Goldstein, was all over television. After all, this was the American organization that speaks for Anne Frank, the teenaged author of the world-famous diary about her life in hiding in Amsterdam before she was murdered in a Nazi concentration camp.
Plant proteins called lectins are an emerging source of confusion and fear.
Two weeks ago, a publicist sent me an early copy of a book that claimed it would change everything I thought I knew about food.
That happens a lot. This one caught my eye because it warned of the “hidden dangers lurking in my salad bowl,” and I was eating a salad.
The book, The Plant Paradox, has an image of an artfully smashed tomato on the cover, and it tells readers that eating tomatoes is “inciting a kind of chemical warfare in our bodies, causing inflammatory reactions that can lead to weight gain and serious health conditions.”
Tomatoes and ill-timed references to chemical warfare are, apparently, only a small part of the problem. The Plant Paradox urgently warns against eating wheat, beans, and peanuts, among other plants.
The president has been frustrated on many fronts in his first hundred days, but on his watch, unauthorized border crossings have fallen sharply.
Obamacare remains the law of the land. So does NAFTA. Tax reform exists only as pixels in a tweet. Infrastructure ain’t happening. Five months after the Republicans won united control of Congress and the presidency, it seems uncertain whether one-party Washington can avoid a government shutdown over a budget dispute.
Yet as Day 100 of his presidency nears, President Donald Trump can take credit for one huge accomplishment, an accomplishment more central to his election campaign than any of the unfulfilled pledges above. Illegal immigration into the United States has slowed dramatically. The Department of Homeland Security reports that illegal crossings across the southern border plunged 40 percent in the first month of the Trump presidency, the steepest decline in illegal migration since the recession of 2009. Illegal immigration by family groups with children has dropped by over 90 percent.
With Benoît Hamon’s defeat, his Socialist Party may be obsolete.
In the first round of a French presidential election, there will, naturally, always be more losers than winners. But until Sunday, the Socialist Party had lost in the initial round only once before: In 2002, when incumbent Prime Minister Lionel Jospin unexpectedly finished a close third, behind a surprise surge from the National Front’s leader (FN), Jean-Marie Le Pen.
This year, independent-centrist Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Marie’s daughter, Marine, now leader of the FN herself, will move on to the final round on May 7. The Socialist candidate, Benoît Hamon, finished an unprecedented fifth. His loss feels very different from Jospin’s of 15 years ago, and not only because his paltry share of the vote was so much lower—just over 6 percent compared to Jospin’s 16.