December linkdump

  • I finished White Teeth, and enjoyed it a lot, but didn’t think it had the finished snap of On Beauty. Here’s James Wood’s 2001 review of White Teeth, which I would describe as “impressed but not admiring.” This is the review where he coins the term “hysterical realism” — which is a good term, but not one I think is particuarly appropriate to Zadie Smith. He criticizes White Teeth, fairly, as the type of book in which the author’s hand (in the barely concealing glove of coincidence) gathers all the disparate characters together into a big, brassy finale, where the themes of the novel are reprised in grand chorus. But he should have mentioned John Irving, who I think of as the modern not-quite-literary progenitor of this move.
  • Submissions are now open for an academic volume on the Red Sox and Philosophy.
  • I wish Cosma Shalizi blogged more. I also wish he were at Wisconsin instead of Carnegie-Mellon so I could have sat in on his course on data mining; at least the notes are online.
  • This week, Nature runs an interesting commentary: “Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy.” I think the questions it asks are hard, and I don’t know what I think the answers are. I do think the state of calm focus in which we do our best mathematics is a physical state; and a pill that could get you to and keep you in that state would be tempting to many of us. On the other hand, I used to find yoga a good way to get my mind in that state, and I don’t do yoga any more. So maybe enhancement isn’t as much of a draw as we think. Also: shouldn’t it be “cognition-enhancing,” not “cognitive-enhancing?” (via MetaFilter)
  • The cover story of the September 6, 1948 issue of Life was “The Good Life in Madison, Wisconsin.” Thanks to Google you can now see all of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photos from that story, as well as the ones that didn’t make the issue. (via Letters from Here.) Where was this photo shot? The shape of the lakeshore looks like the view from Union Terrace, but the Terrace was already covered in flagstone by the 1930s.
  • And finally: my favorite Superman panel ever, and the source of my favorite expression of dismay: whatthsuperman
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6 thoughts on “December linkdump

  1. Em says:

    Love the photo! And love that you know when the terrace at the Union was covered in flagstone!

  2. The Nature commentary about cognition-enhancing drugs does raise some interesting issues. As you say, a pill that puts one into “math mode” would be pretty tempting, more so than yoga which takes considerable time and thus extracts an opportunity cost. Of course whether there is such a math pill is another matter. Erdős did spend the last 25 years of his life hopped up on amphetamines which he viewed as essential to his doing mathematics, but I think his response to them is fairly atypical; my understanding is that while amphetamines (which include the ADHD medication Adderall) increase concentration, they often dull creativity and make one’s thinking rigid. Indeed, Erdős suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, likely as a consequence of his drug use. So my guess would be that such stimulants would most likely be useful for the writing of papers than the discovery phase. Personally, I can’t even tolerate caffeine in forms stronger than chocolate so I’m perhaps not a good candidate for cognition-enhancing drugs anyway.

    Semi-random addendum: if you patronize Trader Joe’s, I highly recommend their Choctal sampler of single-origin chocolate ice creams; very yummy.

  3. Madison Guy says:

    The photo was taken from the flagstones that used to be just outside the Union Theater. Although the Terrace was covered by flagstones long ago, there used to be a grassy hillside running down from the theater to the Terrace. Steps weren’t put in till later (late sixties, if memory serves me right.) I kind of miss the grass. This 1940 pic shows a bit of the lay of the land:

    http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/whi/fullRecord.asp?id=14253&qstring=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Ewisconsinhistory%2Eorg%2Fwhi%2Fresults%2Easp%3Fpageno%3D2%26keyword1%3Dmemorial%2Bunion%26search%5Ftype%3Dbasic%26sort%5Fby%3Ddate

  4. Dear Jordan,

    I haven’t seen or thought about that Superman panel for years, or perhaps
    even decades. The line that I always remember, I think from the same era,
    is Superman telling a frightened munitions dealer (whom he is forcing to serve
    in some unspecified army, if I remember correctly) “Men are cheap, munitions
    are expensive”, or something to this effect. (Do you know this story?) I found it
    somewhat chilling at the young age that I first read it, and still do so.

    Cheers,

    Matt

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