I love this guy's attitude: the Aviators, the insouciantly unbuttoned jacket, the subtle power-play of belt and sockless shoes. Rugged yet refined.
(With apologies to The Sartorialist)
An American attorney examines the lyrics of Jay-Z's 99 Problems and finds that the rapper's grasp of the Fourth Amendment leaves much to be desired:
License and registration and step out of the car
"Are you carryin' a weapon on you I know a lot of you are"
I ain't steppin out of shit all my papers legit
This is a major misunderstanding of constitutional rights to the extent that it could result in an arrest (and more importantly an inventory search of the vehicle or search incident to arrest). In Maryland v. Wilson (1997) the Supreme Court held that where an officer makes a legal traffic stop he may legally order occupants to step out of the car. Failure to comply with this lawful order would be a criminal offense in most states. The legality of the officer's order is not in any way dependent on the legality of Jay-Z's "papers".
Read the full analysis here.
One thing I've noticed about the Labour leadership debate is that the people who talk most about the need to "draw the poison" from the Blair-Brown years are the people who are most obsessed with Blair and Brown and their generation. That's to say, the leftish intelligentsia of the Guardian and New Statesman. They just can't see past Blair et al, or their hatred of them. Here's how Polly Toynbee's piece today opens:
They just can't stop themselves, yesteryear headline addicts, locked in the old quarrels, oozing sectarian malice to their last gasp.
What's she so angry about? Some comments that Blair and Mandelson have made on the leadership race (second or third-hand reports of comments in the case of Blair, and rather mild ones from Mandelson). Isn't the party meant to be having a discussion about its future? But these contributions are enough to provoke a venomous, richly-imaged attack on both, especially Mandelson, who apparently has done nothing but damage to the Labour Party save for some fiddling with the logo during the Kinnock years:
Mandelson's book has been an occasion to reflect on the damage he has done to Labour over the years – far outweighing his early red rose rebranding that started the party on the road to electability. A sulphurous fascinator, the flick of his tail flavoured New Labour from the outset with a venality that seduced Blair, too.
Oh and here's what Mandelson actually said:
Ed Miliband would lead Labour into an “electoral cul-de-sac” by trying to wind back the clock to an era before Tony Blair, Lord Mandelson warned yesterday...Labour did not need a “preacher” as a leader, (said Mandelson) adding the party “is not a Church”.
I promise I haven't left out anything more sulphurous. Now I ask you, reading those comments and reading Toynbee, who would we say is oozing more sectarian malice? If Toynbee and co. had things in proportion they would treat Blair and Mandelson's comments as contributions to the debate, ignore or disagree with them, and move on. But they can't do that. Apparently, they don't even wish to have a debate. Toynbee closes her nasty little column with a call for these New Labour types to shut up:
David Miliband needs his break-free moment, when he gains the independence to tell Mandelson and Blair to shut up. He might reprise Clement Attlee's laconic put-down, "a period of silence on their part would be welcome". Or echo his younger brother who, asked if Mandelson would form part of his cabinet, replied sharply: "All of us believe in dignity in retirement".
Let me put it this way: what on earth gives Polly Toynbee the idea that she has more right to comment on the Labour leadership election than a former Labour leader and a former Labour minister?
The great non-fiction writer John McPhee describes his daily routine:
OK, it’s nine in the morning. All I’ve got to do is write. But I go hours before I’m able to write a word. I make tea. I mean, I used to make tea all day long. And exercise, I do that every other day. I sharpened pencils in the old days when pencils were sharpened. I just ran pencils down. Ten, eleven, twelve, one, two, three, four—this is every day. This is damn near every day. It’s four-thirty and I’m beginning to panic. It’s like a coiling spring. I’m really unhappy. I mean, you’re going to lose the day if you keep this up long enough. Five: I start to write. Seven: I go home. That happens over and over and over again. So why don’t I work at a bank and then come in at five and start writing? Because I need those seven hours of gonging around. I’m just not that disciplined. I don’t write in the morning—I just try to write.
From an interview with the Paris Review.
Here's the linguist Guy Deutscher:
Recently, it has been demonstrated in a series of ingenious experiments that we even perceive colors through the lens of our mother tongue. There are radical variations in the way languages carve up the spectrum of visible light; for example, green and blue are distinct colors in English but are considered shades of the same color in many languages. And it turns out that the colors that our language routinely obliges us to treat as distinct can refine our purely visual sensitivity to certain color differences in reality, so that our brains are trained to exaggerate the distance between shades of color if these have different names in our language. As strange as it may sound, our experience of a Chagall painting actually depends to some extent on whether our language has a word for blue.
There are many other amazing paragraphs in this piece...do read the whole thing.
Photo: Nathaniel Brooks/NYT
An excellent NYT piece on Governor Paterson's "complicated relationship with the truth" contains this priceless extract:
When investigators asked Mr. Paterson whether he considered the statement accurate or inaccurate, he replied, “I would say it was neither.”
He did not clarify what something is, if it is neither accurate nor inaccurate.
I imagine it's liked being governed by Jacques Derrida.
(h/t Ben Smith)
The Guardian's David Marsh discusses the phrase "all mouth and no trousers". Or should that be, as the Guardian's style guide suggests, "all mouth and trousers"?
Apparently the latter is probably the original form of the saying:
The most exhaustive discussion of the subject I have found, however, is in Michael Quinion's book Port Out, Starboard Home, quoted at the excellent languagehat website: "all mouth and trousers: This strange expression comes from the north of England and is used, mainly by women in my experience, as a sharp-tongued and effective putdown of a certain kind of pushy, over-confident male. It's a wonderful example of metonymy ('a container for the thing contained') ... What is interesting about the saying from a folk etymological point of view is that its opaqueness has led its modern users to reinterpret it as 'all mouth and no trousers'."A commenter adds: "I think the metonymy is ironic the way I always heard it – all mouth and trousers implying the 'empty' container – all front and bravado, but no brains or balls.
So now you know.
Ps I like "in my experience".
From a study entitled "The Optimum Level of Well-Being, Can People Be Too Happy?":
Our analyses of large survey data and longitudinal data show that people who experience the highest levels of happiness are the most successful in terms of close relationships and volunteer work, but that those who experience slightly lower levels of happiness are the most successful in terms of income, education, and political participation. Once people are moderately happy, the most effective level of happiness appears to depend on the specific outcomes used to define success, as well as the resources that are available.
Those people right at the top of the happiness tree have, to mix our metaphors, moved out on to the sun lounge, that peaceful escape from reality.
I am a pronounced sceptic about happiness, or at least about the way it's talked of as an ultimate goal and a yardstick that everything, including public policy, must be measured against.
First off, it feels like a small and kind of solipsistic goal. "Who wants to be happy?" asked the young Bob Dylan. "Anyone can be happy." As the study above suggests, truly happy people don't achieve much of anything, because they're too happy sitting around being...happy.
Second, the idea that a person or society should take aim at happiness is inherently self-defeating. The best thing ever written about this subject is John Stuart Mill:
Happiness should be approached sideways, like a crab.
As individuals and as societies, the best way to be happy is to find a sense of purpose or mission that isn't defined by happiness. Happiness is, and should be thought of as, a happy accident. "Ask yourself whether you are happy," said Mill, "and you cease to be so."
Adam Gopnik, writing about Winston Churchill in this week's New Yorker:
One of the reasons that well-intentioned people didn’t take seriously what he soon was saying about Hitler was that he had recently been saying the same kind of thing about Gandhi.
If you're considering how to develop your career, this model may help (then again, it may not).
It's known as the "four-roomed apartment of change" and was originally developed by the Swedish psychologist Claes Janssen, who based his work on Sartrean existentialism. It's used by management consultants to consider how organisations should manage change. This particular image is from a paper about career development, by Patricia Hind of Ashridge Business School.
In brief: the room of Contentment is you feel relaxed and free from threat. But if you get too cosy they may end up in the sun lounge, totally detached from reality (which sounds quite nice to me). If they do start to notice change happening around them they will probably slip into the room of Denial, at least for a period (if you spend too long there you'll drop into the Dungeon of Denial, where you'll meet Donald Rumsfeld). If you can get out of Denial you'll end up in Confusion, where you'll be forced to face up to your existential uncertainty. Here you will spin out the revolving door of reality and back a few times as you experiment with different identities. If you're unlucky, you fall into the Pit of Paralysis, which must be difficult to get out from. But with a bit of luck you enter Renewal, and find a new future. But beware: it has a sloping floor, so you may stagger back into Contentment if you're not careful.
Maybe this will help the Tories in their battle to transform the public sector. I can see it being Steve Hilton's cup of tea.
Could make for an interesting club night at the very least.
In the wake of the IFS's pronouncement on the budget yesterday, Jim Pickard at the FT's excellent Westminster blog makes a simple but rarely heard point: cuts to public spending are, by their very nature, worse for the poor than the rich. This is because the poor rely on public services to a greater extent, overall. He goes on:
One economist points out to me that there is a department which provides a service to everyone across all demographics and socio-economic backgrounds: it is health, ironically. That suggests there could be a case for lifting the ring-fence on health spending on “progressive” grounds, allowing smaller cuts elsewhere. Not that the public would necessarily buy that argument, however.
I wonder if the Tories' decision to ringfence health spending will turn out to be the equivalent of New Labour's pledge to stick to Tory spending plans for their first two years: a necessary political compromise that ends up skewing their whole term in office away from their fundamental goals.
Having said that, I'm not sure what their fundamental goals are, and I'm not sure they are sure, either. I don't put cutting the deficit in this category, vital as it is. I mean fundamental political goals; how do they want to change the country, long term? That sort of thing requires a political philosophy, and Cameron and Osborne, despite a bit of Hilton-inspired think-tanky talk, have never really had one. Yet even Conservatives need a guiding sense of what they're in power to do. Here's the Spectator's James Forsyth on the Coalition's "bad day" yesterday:
Lesson 1: It needs a stronger narrative about what it is doing. Mark Hoban was woeful on the Today programme this morning. He had no come back to Justin Webb’s lines. The coalition needs to say that it is giving everyone a chance to get on, making working pay and restoring fiscal sanity.
The economic crisis and the resultant balooning of the deficit provided an emergency that meant the Tories had a good excuse to postpone any hard thinking about such onerous questions as what a Conservative government is for - after all, there's no point thinking about how to refurbish a house when it's on fire. But now they're in government the thinness of their philosophy - or 'narrative' - is already showing up, and the problem is exacerbated by having to work with an unexpected political partner. It is extremely hard to find a raison d'etre on the hoof, as Mark Hoban will tell you.
Former miner Ken Capstick has written a piece in solidarity and sympathy with the Chilean miners who are trapped down the mine for the next few months. It includes a vivid description of what it was like to be a miner without proper standards of safety:
Miners worked often on their bellies, using a pick and shovel all day, doing crushingly hard work. They ended up with bronchitis and emphysema, industrial deafness, broken limbs, dust on the lungs and were called greedy by people who could never understand. And we have had our share of disasters that have killed hundreds of miners in the time it takes to say, "Look out". Sometimes they would be torn to bits after being dragged into brutal machinery, quite literally carried out in bags like chunks of mincemeat. It would be announced in passing on the news. I once helped to carry a friend out of the mine. He was dead. He had been buried by a large fall of ground. We worked feverishly to get him out. That was 40 years ago.
Capstick imagines what his Chilean counterparts are going through:
A miner is a miner wherever he works. Sometimes I spent 18 hours at a stretch in a coalmine, but can only imagine what it must be like for those fellow miners trapped in the unimaginable darkness of the San José gold and copper mine. Leadership will be a vital element, someone experienced who they trust and respect, with the authority and mental strength to maintain his own morale as well as that of the others.
As I've said before, the only person coming out of the mosque saga with any credit is Michael Bloomberg. Last night, in a speech marking Ramadan, he reiterated his full-throated support for the idea that people ought to be able to build a mosque wherever they damn well like, and argued that talk of finding a "compromise" location is specious:
I understand the impulse to find another location for the mosque and community center. I understand the pain of those who are motivated by loss too terrible to contemplate. And there are people of every faith – including, perhaps, some in this room – who are hoping that a compromise will end the debate. But it won’t. The question will then become, how big should the ‘no-mosque zone’ around the World Trade Center be? There is already a mosque four blocks away. Should it too, be moved?
Bloomberg also reminded people not to take the media's portrayal of the man behind the mosque at face value - which is a lesson you think we might have learnt, after the Sherrod affair:
And while a few of his statements have received a lot of attention, I would like to read you something that he said that you may not have heard. At an interfaith memorial service for the martyred journalist Daniel Pearl, Imam Rauf said, ‘If to be a Jew means to say with all one's heart, mind, and soul: Shma` Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ehad; Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one. If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind and soul, and to love for my fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I have always been one.’
In that spirit, let me declare that we in New York are Jews and Christians and Muslims, and we always have been. And above all of that, we are Americans, each with an equal right to worship and pray where we choose. There is nowhere in the five boroughs that is off limits to any religion.
Full speech here.
Photograph by Almanac Piemonteis Times/Paris Review
It's forecast to rain all day today, so I thought it apt to start with something about umbrellas. And not just any old something but a lovely piece at the Paris Review on the history of an umbrella-making community in Northern Italy:
In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries the ombrellai of Piedmont were a relatively closed community of highly specialist craftsmen. They engaged child-apprentices from among the poorest families of the region. Upon signing up, the apprenticed ombrellaio received a pair of shoes, somewhere to sleep, two square meals a day, and, of course, an umbrella. He said goodbye to his family for at least a period of four or five years—effectively, for good—and as well as learning to make umbrellas, he hiked from town to town selling braces of them to wholesalers, agents, and traders for export, mostly through Genoa. As with so many other northern Italian industries (most famously the glass factories of Venice) the relevant production techniques, recipes, and other trade secrets were jealously guarded and protected with much paranoia, even ruthlessness. To that end the ombrellai used an in-house language known as Tarùsc, which seems to have existed in one form or another among the hill-dwelling people of Piedmont and the southern cantons of Switzerland since at least pre-Roman times. And while it came to be associated almost exclusively with the ombrellai, it was also used for related purposes by smugglers, thieves, spies—indeed a comparatively large proportion of the population whose occupations were covert.
The piece also contains a brief history of the umbrella in Britain - its progression from bizarre novelty (mid-eighteenth century) to Regency respectability - but only for ladies, and mainly for shade - to an Englishman's best friend in the twentieth century.
And I didn't know that Turin and Milan have more rainfall than London. That's oddly comforting, today.
Link to the whole post here. Do have a read.
After reading a novel entitled Lord of The Flies, submitted by a young provincial schoolmaster called William Golding, Faber & Faber's "professional reader" recorded this verdict:
Time: the Future. Absurd & uninteresting fantasy about the explosion of an atom bomb on the Colonies. A group of children who land in jungle-country near New Guinea. Rubbish & dull. Pointless.
Faber's sales director agreed. But F&F did publish it in the end, thanks to newbie Charles Monteith who championed the book despite the disdain of his colleagues. When T.S Eliot, then serving as a literary adviser to the company, finally got sent a copy he declared it a "splendid novel" that was "morally and theologically impeccable". It went on to sell a few copies too.