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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Books by the foot

I loved this Talk of the Town piece on how the Strand is providing Books-by-the-Foot services to Steven Spielberg for Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. They really pay attention to detail for placing the right books on the set of Indy's library from the year 1957:
Downstairs on the shopping floor, Bibbi Taylor, a Strand manager, perused the Africa aisle for Indiana Jones material. Taylor has a discerning eye for historical-looking history books. She quickly eliminated a rust-colored Paul Theroux and a baby-blue Alexandra Fuller (both were too recent), and zeroed in on a beat-up orange hardback. “This looks good,” she said, pulling out “The White Nile,” Alan Moorehead’s classic history of Egyptian exploration. “It has that older worn look, which makes sense, because Indy’s on the road all the time.” When Taylor saw the copyright date, 1960, she recanted. “That’s pushing it,” she said.

I spent many Sunday afternoons tagging behind my parents in furniture stores, looking at the display bookshelves which had obviously been filled by such a service. The odd subset of these miscellaneous volumes is the Reader's Digest Condensed Books, which were often laid open on the elegant walnut desks with the pages fanned open and folded into intricate book origami as though this was a cool way to display the abridgements. The Reader's Digest version of Ken Follett's The Eye of the Needle had definitely not had its racy scenes condensed from it; indeed, the book was splayed open and folded suggestively to just one such scene.

One day, I convinced my parents that I desperately needed one of the books on the furniture store's shelves--no, I couldn't get it at the library; no, I couldn't get it at a bookstore; no, really, it was rare; yes, it was just a paperback, but surely they knew how hard mass-market paperbacks are to find if they were thirty years old; yes, I realized that I was pleading more emotionally than I ever had at a bookstore. We had been there for hours. The salesperson was so weirded out by my request that she gave it to me for free. It was an anthology of early twentieth-century American short stories, but there are pieces in it that I've never seen in other places--not that I'm out scouring other furniture stores for obscure paperback anthologies.

My mom told me the (possibly apocryphal?) story of someone who said he had spent his whole adult life looking for a particular volume, only to find it in the display case at a furniture store. He tried grab his prize from the shelf, only to discover that the store had impaled it on a metal rod to keep the books-by-the-foot in a easily transportable unit.

The Indiana Jones library must be one of the best jobs that the Strand has ever gotten! I love the scenes of Indy reading in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where he has to find the site of the lost library at Alexandria. Those are some of my favorite reading movie scenes, if only for the suggestion that call numbers can reveal a secret code that will lead to sarcophagi and fireballs. From the New Yorker article:
Taylor weaved around some undergraduates and shifted two bookcases to the left. “Indy’s a philosopher of sorts, so I’d want some ancient-Greek stuff,” she said. She leaned down to a lower shelf and pulled out a green book with a faded spine. “Oh, yes! A ’39 ‘Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture,’ ” she said. “This could be something that he’s read many times.”

“Paideia” in hand, Taylor recalled other recent projects. For a drug dealer in “American Gangster,” she gathered leather-looking books. For the gym-trainer character that Frances McDormand plays in an upcoming Coen brothers film, she collected self-help titles and romance novels (“a lot of Fabio”). Indiana Jones, though, was clearly her favorite client. “Dr. Jones, he’s my hero,” Taylor said. “I get to get inside his mind, touch the books that Harrison Ford will touch.”

Indy's father's notebook of maps and clippings is one of my favorite screen representations of the literary miscellany (that, and Count Almasy's from The English Patient). I aspired to have a notebook exactly like his when I was growing up; I imagine much of the Moleskine fortune comes from people with similar dreams of compiling Highly Significant Miscellanies. I'm always interested to see how directors deal with scenes of reading and writing in films--a search for the elixir of life is one way to make reading seem like a vital act--and the compilation of a miscellaneous notebook seems like an easy task to render visually because you can include maps, bits of paper, snapshots, and other ephemera. Then you can construct parts in the script for the miscellaneous nature of the notebook to cause a problem or tell a story about how an item made it into the book. These scenes probably lend themselves to more interesting visuals than the predictable shots of halting keys on a typewriter or furrowed brows.

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Anonymous Anonymous on Wed Oct 03, 05:26:00 PM:
Alice, we had not been in the furniture store 'for hours.' Time is different in a furniture store, quite a bit slower.

And we didn't spend all that many Sunday afternoons in furniture stores. Remember that we didn't actually have a dining room table, for example, until you and Jack were pretty much grown up. Last year, in fact. For Thanksgiving we used to borrow a large folding utility table from the office.

Note to researchers of Alice's past: we ate together almost every night, just at the kitchen table.

Remember also that people would walk into our house, look around uneasily, and say something like "what a nice open space."

These furniture deficiencies in part reflect my anxieties--of patriarchy and also of taste. My mother used to say the words "Ethan Allen" with a longing sigh, and never worked herself up to buying anything at that temple of middle-class taste, even after she certainly had the money to do so.

But our furniture deficiencies also speak to a certain lack of ongoing commitment to shop. If we had really spent so many Sundays and so many hours in furniture stores, my anxieties would have become dulled and we would have had a fuller house. I think.

But yes, I remember the book well. The hardest part about that acquisition was figuring out how to make it happen. The book, of course, had no SKU, no barcode, no category, no identity in furniture or accessory terms.

A request to buy something that is not buyable, after all, violates the social contract. Especially for Sunday shoppers.

Anonymous Anonymous on Thu Oct 04, 12:19:00 PM:
I once read an essay, which I thought was by Nicholson Baker, on the topic of books as decoration. He writes about traditional British pubs who always have a wall of old books, which have usually been cut off at the spine by a table saw to make them shallow and to save space. I thnnk he also made an effort to read some of the books used as decoration in a country inn he visited. I googled for it just now and could not find it. I think it appeared in Granta?

Also, there is a part of Amos Oz's "Tales of Love and Darkness" where as a child he arranges his own library by book height and invites the scorn of his scholarly dad.
Blogger Alice on Sun Oct 07, 03:23:00 PM:
I don't know the Nicholson Baker essay, but my friend Paige has reminded me of the tawdriet side of books-as-decoration:

Our high school reunion afterparty was held at a bar in downtown ABQ called The Library. "It sounds literary!" I said to Paige as we drove down there. Little did we know...

It was indeed book-themed, with bookcases and books-by-the-foot lining the walls, but the barmaids were dressed as slutty Catholic schoolgirls and the whole place was pretty sleazy. As I walked in, I realized why my former classmates were so slyly eager to invite me--they wanted to know just how big of a feminist freak-out I'd have. I made them buy me drinks to quell my indignation.

Paige says the Library is the hottest spot in downtown ABQ to this day.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Forests of no meaning

I spent this summer obsessed with David Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. Weinberger writes, "As we invent new principles of organization that make sense in a world of knowledge freed from physical constraints, information doesn't just want to be free, it wants to be miscellaneous." The book is a nice survey of the history of organizational systems from Linnaeus, to the Encyclopedia Britannica to the Dewey decimal system (here is a great set of entries from Britannica Blog about Web 2.0 organization of knowledge; I especially recommend Clay Shirky's "Old Revolutions Good New Revolutions Bad" from that discussion). Weinberger's last chapter begins with a set of questions about knowledge production in the digital miscellany:
As Umberto Eco says, there are many possible cuts of beef, but it's hard to imagine one that has the snout attached to the tail. Even so, if there are many ways to slice up the world, what happens if we don't slice it up the same way as others? Is knowledge being fragmented? Are we being fragmented along with it?

The miscellaneous is unowned. Anyone can add to it. Anyone can slice it up and reorganize it the way she likes. What happens to the very notion of a topic when there are so many ways to carve up nature?

Freed of paper, our knowledge can now be presented, communicated, and preserved in ways rich with links and exceptions. Does knowledge stay simple and orderly?

In the miscellanized world, knowledge is at most one click away from everything else that is not knowledge. Often they share the same page. Does knowledge retain its privileged position?

Finally, ... if everything is miscellaneous, why doesn't it stay that way?

My favorite thing about the book was how generous Weinberger was in directing ideas outward--that quality is especially apparent on his blog for the book--so I started to see examples of these questions in my research in eighteenth-century print culture. In his chapters about how people have tried organizing knowledge in charts, multi-volume encyclopedias and other books, and shelves, Weinberger notes that the new digital miscellany will change the way we think about how to organize knowledge in ways that don't take up physical space. He has to use the term "freed of paper" to make the differentiation clear. But I think eighteenth-century consumers of print culture had as much interest in miscellaneous knowledge as they did in organizing systems, so I want to share a few of the "everything is miscellaneous" reactions from another century. Weinberger's questions about fragmentation of knowledge, accuracy, and new constructions of meaning are very much present in eighteenth-century worries about how to make sense of newly printed and reprinted information.

Scraps of paper--scraps of anything with writing on them--have been fluttering around for a long time. Take, for example, Alexander Pope's translation of Chaucer's House of Fame, which he called the Temple of Fame. I really love these lines--even (especially) in the Old English original, despite my notable ineptitude with other things Chaucerian--and I chose the Pope translation because he's simultaneously fascinated and repelled at how scraps of language (especially gossip) circulate and accumulate at the beginning of the eighteenth century. He can make fun of over-production of print apparatus in the Dunciad--"How random thoughts now meaning chance to find/ Now leave all memory of sense behind"--but he obviously delights in translating and embellishing these lines:
The flying rumours gather'd as they roll'd,
Scarce any tale was sooner heard than told;
And all who told it added something new,
And all who heard it, made enlargements too,
In ev'ry ear it spread, on ev'ry tongue it grew.
Thus flying east and west, and north and south,
News travel'd with increase from mouth to mouth.
So from a spark, that kindled first by chance,
With gath'ring force the quick'ning flames advance;
Till to the clouds their curling heads aspire,
And tow'rs and temples sink in floods of fire.
When thus ripe lies are to perfection sprung,
Full grown, and fit to grace a mortal tongue,
Thro' thousand vents, impatient, forth they flow,
And rush in millions on the world below.
Fame sits aloft, and points them out their course,
Their date determines, and prescribes their force:
Some to remain, and some to perish soon;
Or wane and wax alternate like the moon.
Around, a thousand winged wonders fly,
Borne by the trumpet's blast, and scatter'd thro' the sky.
There, at one passage, oft you might survey
A lie and truth contending for the way;
And long 'twas doubtful, both so closely pent,
Which first should issue thro' the narrow vent:
At last agreed, together out they fly,
Inseparable now, the truth and lie;
The strict companions are for ever join'd,
And this or that unmix'd, no mortal e'er shall find.

I see all of Weinberger's questions in these lines: is there any logic to how fame "prescribes [the] force" of a piece of information? how does one differentiate truths from lies (especially, say, in the circulation of gossip... or, in recent debates about Wikipedia)?

The poem reminds me of Gawker's self-conscious obituary for George W.S. Trow, who wrote "Within the Context of No Context" about the decline of print and meaning with the advent of television and modern media culture. Trow wrote, "The work of television is to establish false contexts and to chronicle the unraveling of existing contexts; finally to establish the context of no-context and chronicle it." That sentence, Gawker noted, was its operating procedure--but people have been saying something similar about other forms of decontextualizing and recontextualizing technology for hundreds of years. Stephen Metcalf also wrote a wonderful piece about Trow in Slate. Here's Trow on the economy of gossip, which seems intimately linked to what Pope delights (and trafficks, notes Sophie Gee in her new novel The Scandal of the Season) in:
Gossip is small, shameless history. It sets out to tell the trivial about the great or about those connected to the great. It thrives on awkwardness--because it assumes dignity somewhere. 'Somewhere else, you're getting another story,' gossip says with a knowing look, 'but this is what you wanted to know.'"

Basically, I lived in the context of no context when I edited the Columbia Daily Spectator. My desk was a mess of agendas, half-finished plans, and old print-outs from days, weeks, months before. We had a quote board--a real-life Temple of Fame--where "all who told it added something new" by committing to paper whatever sleep-deprived wit was uttered during the long nights of production. At the end of the year, my friend Graham and I had a perverse competition to see who could sneak the most bizarre item into the Inside Box (writing teasers for the inside box was always the lowest priority: the box would get re-sized as articles changed size or number, sometimes editors would leave without remembering to write something for their section, and various other small indignities made the box something of a sore spot at four o'clock in the morning). "Oh, no one reads the inside box anyway," I harrumphed one night. Graham grinned wickedly and committed that exasperation to paper with the tag: words Alice will soon come to regret.

One night, he reached up to the piece of paper on the quote board, crossed out that tag, and replaced it with: words Alice has come to regret. Graham had changed all the teasers to fragments of Megadeth lyrics semi-relevant (OK, not relevant at all) to the articles in the next day's paper. I began to cry when I saw it--not because I was mad, but because I was so touched by the weirdness of the gesture. So, yeah, just as the quote board was a delightful context of no context, it could also be the justification for committing that ethic of fragmentation and reappropriation into print.

I love Trow's term, context of no context, and I see it all over the eighteenth century. In his 1785 poem The Task,William Cowper described reading miscellaneous newspaper notices from his sofa: "I long to set the imprison'd wranglers free, / And give them voice and utt'rance once again." Thirty years later, William Hone chopped up Cowper's poem and mashed together the lines about newspapers to make a new poem about the joys of reading:
What is it, but a map of busy life,
Its fluctuations, and its vast concerns?
House in ashes, and the fall of stocks,
Births, deaths, marriages-------
---------The grand debate,
The popular harangue, the tart reply,
The logic, and the wisdom, and the wit,
And the loud laugh---------
Cat'racts of declamation thunder here:
There forests of no meaning spread the page,
In which all comprehension wanders lost;
While merry descants on a nation's woes.
The rest appears a wilderness of strange
But gay confusion.

Those long dashes indicate where Hone has cut and pasted from various parts of The Task; he skips Cowper's more ambivalent lines about what happens when one only reads of these "scenes of Babel" and is not spurred to act on the news about the East India Bill or the slave trade because he reads (in Cowper's words) "at a safe distance, where the dying sound / Falls a soft murmur on th'uninjured ear." In the 1810s and '20s, Hone put together a series of almanac-like volumes with miscellaneous entries for each day of the year, something like a paper version of a blog; Marcus Wood's Radical Satire and Print Culture is particularly interesting to read for the comparison between the original Task and Hone's mash-up version. So you can see how much he loved miscellany: he didn't just make them on the book scale, he could treat a poem as if it were a miscellany to be reconstituted.

The Task is my favorite poem of all time just for that line about fragmentation: "forests of no meaning spread the page." Weinberger asks how the idea of meaning changes in the digital miscellany, but it appears that Cowper and others are asking something similar about how newspaper readers derive meaning from an item if they can just as easily close the pages and move on. This summer, The New York Times ran an amazing article which compared fragments of Tony Blair's final Parliament speech to a poem by George Crabbe called "The Newspaper." I was stunned to see an obscure eighteenth-century poem in the Times, but I loved the piece for its funny gesture of decontextualizing and recontextualizing a poem about how newspapers do just that. In the preface to the 1785 edition of the poem, Crabbe says he's the first to detail the decline of reading due to the pernicious influence of newspapers--here's Paul Collins on the perpetual recurrence of that trope--but I think this poem must be a response to Cowper. Here are some choice passages about the dangers of miscellaneous reading:
So the Sybilline leaves were blown about,
Disjointed scraps of fate involv'd in doubt
So idle dreams, the journals of the night,
Are right by turns, and mingle wrong with right.--
Next in what rare production shall we trace
Such various subjects in so small a space?
As the first ship upon the waters bore
Incongruous kinds that never met before;
Or as some curious virtuoso joins,
In one small room, moths, minerals, and coins,
Birds, beast, and fishes; nor refuses place
To serpents, toads, and all the reptile race.

And next th' amusement which the motley page
Affords to either sex and every age:
Lo! where it comes before the chearful fire,
Damp from the press in smoky curls aspire
(As from the earth the sun exhales the dew)
Ere we can read the wonders that ensue:
Then eager every eye surveys the part,
That brings its favourite subject to the heart;
Grave politicians look for facts alone,
And slighting theirs, make comments of their own;
The sprightly nymph, who never broke her rest
For tottering crowns, or mighty lands oppres'd,
Finds broils and battles, but neglects them all
For songs and suits, a birth-day, or a ball...

While Cowper was merely ambivalent about the experience of being able to simply scan the next item in the paper after having read of far-away tumult, Crabbe seizes on it as a reason for rejecting newspaper miscellanies. These objections also look similar to those about people picking and choosing what they want to read in RSS feeds.

OK, this post has exhausted what's expected of the genre, but I've got a few other miscellaneous notes on Weinberger's book.

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Blogger Jenny Davidson on Wed Sep 26, 08:11:00 AM:
Great post! We'll talk more...
Anonymous Anonymous on Thu Sep 27, 09:15:00 AM:
I'm reading Everything is Miscellaneous for my cataloging course this semester. I think you'd like the class, Alice.
Blogger Scriblerus on Thu Sep 27, 10:07:00 AM:
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blogger Scriblerus on Thu Sep 27, 10:35:00 AM:
Tremendous post, and right up my alley. As you know I'm working on generic organization/mediation of other genres, so this was very helpful. I will read Everything is Miscellaneous directly.

Speaking of cataloging and organizing, I was wondering if you were familiar with this:

I'm usually a bit late to every game, so you likely already know it...
Anonymous Anonymous on Mon Oct 01, 09:55:00 AM:
Hey Alice, This is a great post! The first bits you've quoted from Weinberger's account of Eco and his own questions about information and miscellany are very similar to Fielding's taxonomic descriptions of social hierarchies in *Joseph Andrews.* He uses butchered animals to think about how wealth, taste, food are distributed in a, well, miscellaneous society. I thought you might want to take a look.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Living just enough for the city

Here are two wonderful articles from last Sunday's New York Times City section, which has become my favorite section.

The first is a soul-searching account by a man analyzing his reaction to seeing a man with a gun running towards him and his wife. It reminds me of a similar experience: once, in the former Soviet nation of Georgia, I was sitting with my wife (then my girlfriend), when a man entered the restaurant, approached a group of mean looking men, and drew a gun. They lept to their feet, grabbed him, and rushed him out of the restaurant, with God knows what result.

When they were gone, I found myself leaning awkwardly across the table with my chest in front of hers, and I felt a wave of macho pride, little deserved.

From the article:

Only years later have I reflected on why I did what I did that day. I’d lived in the city 20 years by then, leading a quiet, orderly, white-collar life, a deep groove worn in the route between my home and office. My comfort zone measured all of about four square inches; acts of daring were hardly my hallmark. I never stood too close to the subway tracks and usually stayed on the curb at red lights. So much did I watch my step, so safe did I play it, that if I went to a drive-in movie, I probably buckled my seat belt.

I was more or less a beta male in a city packed with alphas. As such, I’ve lived a life marked largely by anxiety and doubt and deliberation, by compromise and indecision and second-guessing, whether with family, friends or colleagues, my tongue curbed, my eyes averted and my punches pulled — in short, a life absolutely tattooed with certain characteristics of cowardice.


I made my decision that day, a decision as unambiguous as any I ever made, the right decision. Maybe I’d just seen too many action movies. In any case, I did what needed to be done, and maybe doing it once will turn out to be enough to redeem me.

Nothing really happened that day — no shots were fired, no one was wounded — but in one respect something very much happened. For years I’d often asked myself that classic big question: Exactly how much do I love my wife, the mother of our children, the woman I always say has meant everything to me? Can such love be measured?

Would I, in fact, take a bullet for her?

Now I know.

The second is the heartbreaking story of a young West Village denizen. Once a fixture outside a local coffeehouse, where she had a reputation for chatting up anybody and everybody, she long struggled with depression and took her life at age 20. In her memory, her parents convinced the coffee house to let them install a bench with a plaque on the street outside; the inscription reads “In Memory of Chelica, Who Loved Coffee and Cigarettes.”

“Pretty much if a person gave her an opportunity to talk to them, she would,” said Miyoko Brunner, a friend since grade school. “She never made you feel self-conscious or like you should be saying something. She just kind of edged you along.”

Chelica, who for years fought depression, especially sought to befriend people with troubles of their own, among them a man whose attire has varied from women’s wear to a kaffiya and Roman sandals and who often carries a boom box while engaging in violent monologues that sometimes disintegrate into curses at pedestrians.

When asked recently about Chelica, he launched into an obscenity-laden rant about the Iraq war, began to walk away, and then turned briefly. “She was one in a million,” he said.


“At first some people didn’t like it because they thought you shouldn’t [mention the cigarettes],” [her mother, Gammy] Miller said. “But you know, that is what she really loved. It was too late to do anything about that, right?”

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Barnard writing program

There was a nice piece about Barnard's writing program in the NY Times last week (thanks, Ben, for reminding me about it). I took two semesters of Mary Gordon's writing class when I was a senior and used some of the work I did in that class as part of my Centennial Scholars Project later that year. I workshopped some of what I had written in class, but I also worked with Paula Loscocco, who taught seventeenth-century English literature at Barnard at the time. Some days, I'd go over to her apartment and talk for hours about all the books I was reading. It was immediately clear that I was a better reader than I was a writer. When it came time for me to give a public reading for the Centennial Scholars Program, I had a predictable problem: I could only see what was lacking in what I had written, and I didn't want to present it to people.

That night turned out to be one of my favorite nights of college because I had to come to terms with that fear in front of a medium-sized group of people. I explained my worries to the audience--most of whom had seen me struggle with perfectionism in other circumstances--read some of my work, and then spent a lot of time talking about what I liked to read. So my experience with the Barnard writing program didn't end with a book or even an empowering sense of what my writerly voice was, but I got a great sense of what my talking-about-writing voice was. And for that I will be eternally grateful to Mary Gordon, Paula Loscocco, and the Barnard Centennial Scholars Program.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

A-Rod ain't worth it

For the past year, Dan Rosenheck has quietly been writing the best column in baseball. On irregular Sundays in the NY Times, Rosenheck, who also writes for the Economist, breaks down baseball hype in the Moneyball tradition, with help from Baseball Prospectus editor Nate Silver, who created the baseball metrics PECOTA and Secret Sauce. Rosenheck has argued that Manny Ramirez is such a bad fielder that the Red Sox would be better off with a random replacement (Rosenheck suggests Moneyball prospect Nick Swisher), that purposely walking Barry Bonds is a bad strategy and that he is a bargain when a free agent (by the way, no one seems to notice that Bonds's OPS is second only to A-Rod's this season), and that the AL is to the NL as the NL is to the Nippon Professional League:
At a team level, an average A.L. squad would probably improve its record by about 10 games if it could face N.L. competition, meaning that last year's Yankees probably would have been a 107-win juggernaut if they had played the Mets' schedule.
According to Forbes magazine, N.L. teams earn just as much revenue on average as A.L. ones do, despite their smaller payrolls, which makes them more profitable: the average N.L. franchise posted [a net] operating income of $19.9 million in 2006, compared with $12.7 million for the A.L.

There are long-term financial benefits to winning a World Series, but so much luck is involved in the playoffs that N.L. owners may not have a clear economic incentive to buy the best team possible. The optimal strategy may be simply paying for a club that is good enough to make the playoffs in the weak N.L., and hoping it gets hot at the right time to snare a title -- just like last year's 83-win St. Louis Cardinals, who would probably have been the fourth-worst team in the A.L. last year.

In today's piece, Rosenheck discusses Alex Rodriguez's likely free agency asking price of $30 million per season. It's a no-brainer, writes Rosenheck: A-Rod ain't worth it.

...Rodriguez would probably drop off to an eight-win value in 2009, then have to move back to third, where he would be worth about five wins in 2010 and 2011 and four in 2012. He may be a good fit for a team like the White Sox, who field the banjo hitter Juan Uribe at shortstop, have a core of above-average players in place and play in a hotly contested division.

But is Rodriguez worth $30 million a year? Not close. Silver wrote that teams on the playoff bubble — those expecting to win 83 to 94 games — collect an additional $2.6 million in revenue for every extra game they win, on average. If the industry continues to grow at a healthy rate, those figures should increase by 8 percent a year.

Thus, if he played for a team like the White Sox, Rodriguez could be expected to generate $25 million of revenue in 2008, $24 million in 2009, $17 million in 2010 and 2011, and $16 million in 2012, for a total of a little less than $100 million over five years. He is hoping to sign for about 50 percent more, and perhaps with another year or two tacked on once he is well into his twilight years.
the real way to make money in baseball is by developing young players and reaping the rewards of their production before they hit free agency. As with many auctions, the real winners of the A-Rod sweepstakes will be the teams that stay on the sideline.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

The feminine mystique in chiffon

Last night's episode of Mad Men ["Shoot", season 1 episode 9 --Ed.] was stunning. I really can't recommend the show more highly. I've been hooked on it since the first episode, but I've thought that the last few episodes have been hit and miss. I'm obsessed with the women's dresses on the show, and last night's foray into fashion and modeling was a real treat. There's a costume design page on the show's site, but the designer talks mostly about the secretaries' clothes, not Betty's. I literally gasped at the pink and black dress that Betty wore to the modeling agency, and the blush-colored Grace Kelly dress she wears later on was amazing. Those dresses were the set-ups for such a heartbreaking arc from hopeful self-delusion to hopeless self-delusion in the penultimate scene. And the last scene is great.

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Blogger Ben on Sun Sep 16, 02:23:00 PM:
Can't believe HBO passed on it.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Molly Ivins: down-home prescience

Charles Kaiser writes in the Observer on a recent service to remember Molly Ivins:

Calvin Trillin recalled Paul Krugman’s [column] immediately after Ivins’ death. Mr. Krugman cited these examples of the Texan’s extraordinary prescience:

Nov. 19, 2002: ''The greatest risk for us in invading Iraq is probably not war itself, so much as: What happens after we win? There is a batty degree of triumphalism loose in this country right now.

Jan. 16, 2003: ''I assume we can defeat Hussein without great cost to our side (God forgive me if that is hubris). The problem is what happens after we win. The country is 20 percent Kurd, 20 percent Sunni and 60 percent Shiite. Can you say, 'Horrible three-way civil war?' ''

Oct. 7, 2003: ''Good thing we won the war, because the peace sure looks like a quagmire. I've got an even-money bet out that says more Americans will be killed in the peace than in the war, and more Iraqis will be killed by Americans in the peace than in the war. Not the first time I've had a bet out that I hoped I'd lose.''

"So,” Mr. Krugman concluded, “Molly Ivins -- who didn't mingle with the great and famous, didn't have sources high in the administration, and never claimed special expertise on national security or the Middle East -- got almost everything right. Meanwhile, how did those who did have all those credentials do? With very few exceptions, they got everything wrong.”

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Watch The Camden 28 tonight

Tonight on PBS, the show POV will be playing the new documentary The Camden 28, about an antiwar group arrested in 1971 for organizing to destroy draft records.

Alice and I saw this a few weeks ago at Cinema Village in New York and I was floored.

I expected an informative and mildly boring doc about a forgotten chapter in the history of the American left. Instead, the film was surprising and fascinating, and the whole theater was riveted. It had the unexpected electricity of Capturing the Friedmans, as opposed to the more bland The Weather Underground. There's even a twist that elicited gasps. At the end, the audience burst into applause and chattered about how they must get their friends to see it.

See the PBS page on the movie, and its Imdb and Rotten Tomatoes pages. In New York, Channel 13 is playing the film at 10pm tonight, and again on Saturday, Sept. 15th at 4:30pm.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

A new way to multiply

A new way to multiply, as seen in the Chicago Tribune:
Not sure if there's any reason this should replace the traditional method taught in the United States, which I think makes clearer the reasons why multiplication works. But it would be great to teach multiple ways and get students talking and thinking about which methods make better sense to them and why.

Also see this video of another, even more elegant method based on similar principles.

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Anonymous Anonymous on Wed Sep 05, 05:34:00 PM:
Check out the Freakonomics blog entry on the death of Quine.