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Arts on PBS

March 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Terry Teachout, the Wall Street Journal’s drama critic, also writes a bi-weekly arts column in the Saturday paper. In yesterday’s column, he discussed the years-long decline in arts programming at PBS. To illustrate the decline, he reviews the 2009 programming on Great Performances, PBS’s “flagship performing-arts telecast.”

  • The San Francisco Ballet’s “Nutcracker.”
  • A pair of Christmas concerts by Andrea Bocelli and Sting.
  • The Vienna Philharmonic’s annual New Year’s Day concert.
  • Two Broadway musicals, “In the Heights” and “Passing Strange.”
  • Three Metropolitan Opera performances, two of operas by Puccini and one of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.”
  • A feature-film version of Puccini’s “La Bohème.”
  • A concert by Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
  • A documentary about Herbert von Karajan.

  • Teachout observes that this “lineup of shows is both inadequate and unserious, especially when compared to the high-octane arts programming that PBS was airing a quarter-century ago.”

    I agree with his criticism, to which I would add that when Great Performances isn’t on, we have to watch endless replays of rock groups from the 1960s in a compendium of highlights fromThe Ed Sullivan Show, or Celtic Woman, with that fiddler bizarrely dancing all over the place amongst the singers. At least we no longer see Roy Orbison over and over in black and white. (Please understand, I love seeing the Rolling Stones singing Satisfaction; the fiddler is stunningly beautiful; and who doesn’t love Roy Orbison? But must I see them several nights a week?)

    Teachout has a wise suggestion for improvement.

    What should PBS be doing instead? For openers, it should air fine-arts programs that encompass the full range of the performing arts. That means not just “The Nutcracker” but ballet and modern-dance masterpieces of all kinds. It means not just ultrafamiliar operas but solo recitals and chamber music. It means not just Broadway musicals but performances of classic and contemporary plays. And these performances should take place not just in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco but in cities throughout America.

    If I were put in charge of arts programming on PBS and had unlimited funds at my disposal, I’d start by ordering up a monthly series called “Art Across America,” whose raison d’être would be to introduce TV viewers to the full range of fine-arts performances in their own land. None of the episodes would originate in New York, and all would feature works by American artists. Instead of showing a Broadway musical, I’d fly out to Seattle and tape an Intiman Theatre performance of Kate Whoriskey’s staging of “Ruined,” Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer-winning 2007 play about life in a Congo brothel. Instead of showing Andrea Bocelli, I’d telecast David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony performing Samuel Barber’s “Prayers of Kierkegaard.” Instead of showing yet another “Nutcracker,” I’d put Carolina Ballet on the air dancing Robert Weiss’s “Messiah.”

    Would I watch all these shows if I had the opportunity? I don’t know. I already noted last April, the day Ruined was awarded a Pulitzer (Teachout appears to err in calling it a 2007 play), that we had a chance to see it in Chicago the previous November, but instead chose to hear Lang Lang in concert. Perhaps that’s forgivable.

    As for Celtic Woman, they’re coming to Seattle in May. Three nights at the Paramount. We better get our tickets.

    Categories: Arts, Television

    Olympics Coverage

    February 25, 2010 Leave a comment

    I don’t seem to have written about sports in a long time. Not for lack of paying attention. I’ll make up for it tonight. Rather than watching NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, I’ll blog.

    One thing I haven’t wanted to blog about is the Olympics, since I can hardly think of anything to say that hasn’t been said elsewhere. Plus, I feel silly sitting here in Seattle when they’re taking place just a little bit to the north. If I’m going to pay attention, I should be there rather than reading and blogging about it. Then again, I was away for a few days last week, and now Gail’s away. It wouldn’t have worked out.

    What would I say if I did write about the Olympics? I’d start, of course, by complaining about the coverage. Let me touch on the few essential points that come to mind.

    1. Yes, NBC’s coverage is inane. But it’s always inane. Why would this time be different? One reason might be that with each passing Olympics, availability of information increases, so their penchant for tape delaying and dramatizing gets sillier and sillier. The real problem for us, though, is that our usual antidote to NBC is gone. When we got sick of it, we would just switch to CBC. We’d get to see the major events live. We’d get a little less drama, though they did follow the NBCs script (or, really, Roone Arledge’s ABC script from long ago, to give credit where it’s due) of up close and personal background stories. Alas, the CBC did not win the contract for Canadian television coverage for this Olympics. Cable network TSN did, and they’re not available as part of our cable package. We are reduced to watching on NBC or not watching at all.

    2. Given that we’re stuck with tape delay, what I find most annoying is how little of the major events NBC shows. Even if I know the results ahead of time, I might still like to see an event unfold in some semblance of real time. Package it as you wish, give us little bios and mini-dramas, but at least let us see the action. Especially for alpine skiing! Especially for the downhill!! How hard can that be? How about a little respect — for us and for the sport itself? What could be simpler than showing us every run of the first 30 or so downhillers, men and women? I know, it would take too much time. So show it later on another NBC-owned channel, after the NBC package treatment, and let me record it.

    3. Second in my list of annoyances is the tape delay of the tape delay. We west-coasters are disrespected twice over. The east coast sees NBC’s package starting at 8:00 PM, but we have to wait until 8:00 PM arrives in our time zone, which just happens to be the time zone that the Olympics are happening in. Some events take place in prime time in the east, so eastern and central viewers get to see them live. Imagine that. Not us though. We wait 3 hours, ensuring that we will see no action on NBC live. The figure skating is an example. It happens to be an example I’m not overly interested in, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about it. The east coast is treated to skating as it happens. We wait three hours. Which is one reason I’m blogging now rather than watching the final six women in their silly costumes do their long programs. (I am, as it turns out, following the NYT live blog of the event. We seem to be down to Canadian Joannie Rochette and the genuine drama of how she’ll do in the wake of her mother’s death a few days ago.)

    4. A variant of my last complaint: it’s bad enough that NBC is so east-coast-centric. But why must so many sports and media writers be as well? Whenever they write about NBC’s coverage and mention tape delay, they rarely point out the plight of the west coasters. Do they not realize that we see nothing live? Do they not care?

    On the positive side, I love the NYT historical graphic in which one can follow the Winter Olympics from 1924 onwards, seeing how each country did in its medal count. Hit the play button. Or, better yet, use your mouse to click on the time bar, then use the left and right arrow keys to move through the years at your own pace. I fell in love with this feature two summers ago during the Beijing Olympics. (Hey, where did eighteen months go? Surely it was just the other day that I was studying Summer Olympics history.)

    And speaking of history, at the top is my favorite Winter Olympics memory. Franz Klammer, the greatest skier of his time, skiing in his home country in the premier event of the Olympics, with enormous pressure, and winning. I went out to dinner that night on the way home from school. There was a department colloquium dinner that night, at the Chinese restaurant in Central Square, Cambridge that we often used for group math dinners. A modest place, but just a 15-minute walk from MIT, and especially convenient for me since my apartment was another 5 minutes down the road. After dinner, I headed home, turned on the TV, and watched the downhill coverage. Perhaps it’s an illusion, but I picture myself watching all the runs, just the way I wish I could now. Tape-delayed of course, but great nonetheless.

    Categories: Sports, Television

    Thanksgiving Again

    November 27, 2009 Leave a comment

    Lefse

    [From http://tinyurl.com/ybhlppo%5D

    An oddity I’ve discovered as this blog works its way through a second year is that when certain cyclical events come up again, whatever I have to say isn’t as interesting as what I said the first time around. This year’s Thanksgiving, for example, was routine compared to last year’s. A year ago, as I explained in a post, Gail was working part-time as a chef in a residential treatment center for addicted women who had young children or were pregnant, and her part-time duties included Thursdays. Thanksgiving is on a Thursday. That meant she was working on Thanksgiving. I joined her for several hours as she finished cooking and served the food to the residents. See last year’s post for more. After a long day of work, she wasn’t about to cook at home, so we had Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant with Jessica and Joel plus Gail’s sister and her husband.

    After last year’s less-than-memorable dinner, we were eager to return to tradition this year and eat a home-cooked meal. Which we did. Joel, of course, is in Grenoble, which meant that there would be one hole in our tradition. He had spent his first 22 Thanksgivings with us. He would not be spending his 23rd with us. (Joel, in turn, along with the other US students in his program, had his own Thanksgiving dinner, with each student preparing a dish. We haven’t heard how it worked out. Today they went off by bus to Strasbourg, where they will spend two nights. Then on Sunday they will stop in Colmar on the way south for a short visit. I’ve already urged him to see the Isenheim Altarpiece while in Colmar, if he has time, but time will be short and there will be other things to do. And I’m hoping he gets to see his cousin — my sister’s daughter — while in Strasbourg, which has been her home for over five years.)

    Joel aside, the rest of our Thanksgiving partners of a year ago came over to the house, as did our friends and frequent Thanksgiving partners the Williams and new guest Nancy. Gail made turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, and green beans with mushrooms. All wonderful. And a cranberry relish. The Williams brought additional dressing, more cranberry relish, and probably other items I’ve forgotten. Tamara and Jim brought a cold vegetable platter, pickles, and again probably something else I’ve forgotten. For dessert, everyone contributed a pie, resulting in a choice of pumpkin, pecan, sweet potato, and blackberry pies. Oh, and Gail made cinnamon ice cream, a perfect complement. For those who aren’t big pie eaters, it was perfect on its own. No need to serve as complement. (That’s a compliment.) There was, of course, more food than we could possibly eat, and it was a heck of a lot better than last year’s meal.

    We don’t seem to have a Friday tradition. We don’t shop. I did look at the Apple website to see what they had going on in their annual one-day sale, but I didn’t buy anything. (A year ago on this day, we bought our three iPhones. I’m ready to upgrade, but I’ll wait until I don’t have to pay the $200 upgrade fee that would be due now because not enough time has passed in our contract with AT&T.) The one special event of the day was the broadcast of my favorite TV show, Monk. It is as good as ever in this, its seventh and final season. Tonight, the first episode of the two-parter that will bring the series to an end aired. Sometimes, the show’s depiction of Monk’s compulsive behavior is intentionally over the top, played for humor, but other times, it is so perfectly rendered that I can almost think I’m watching myself in a mirror.

    Tomorrow we’ll make the drive 60 miles south to Lacey, to Gail’s cousin Mark’s home, to participate in the annual extended family celebration of their Norwegian background. I wrote about this, too, a year ago, in passing, in a post about making conversation. It’s a mystery to me why we hold this event two days after Thanksgiving. We’ve already eaten enough and seen enough family, but then we do it again. The day centers on the making of heavy boiled potato balls, some with ham and some without — kumla — and the preparation of flour pancakes — lefse — that late in the celebration Mark gets around to adding margarine and sugar to and rolling and slicing for our dessert. Mark is the oldest of the grandchildren of Gail’s paternal grandparents, a position that makes him, effectively, the patriarch of the family and the keeper of its traditions. I wonder how serious a celebration of Norwegian culture this is. If my old friend Sverre from Trondheim were in town during one of these events and we dragged him to it, I suspect he would be mystified. The best parallel I can imagine is if the extended family on my side mostly still lived in greater New York and got together every year to wear aprons that say “Oy!” (rather than “Uff Da!”), fry potato pancakes, and eat rugelach. Not that that would be a bad thing. Maybe my grandmother could make a surprise appearance from the grave to prepare her chopped liver. I’ll be there. Just say the word.

    Categories: Family, Food, Holidays, Television

    Home

    November 19, 2009 1 comment

    Risotto Milanese al salto

    I’m home. We’ve been home for three days, after 23 days of travel. It’s hard to get back into the blogging routine. It’s hard, in fact, to get into any routine as I try simply to catch up on various fronts.

    I’m getting there. We were gone for three weeks of NYT crosswords and the start of a fourth week. I did the Monday crossword that appeared online on the very first day of our trip, but none after that. They’re done now, the Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday ones at least. I did the remaining eleven yesterday and early this morning. I also passed on watching the NYT’s weekly Vows video, the online video piece that complements their featured text couple in the Sunday Weddings & Celebrations section. But this afternoon I watched the videos I had missed. And I’ve caught up on hundreds of blog posts.

    What’s left? Alas, a huge pile of magazines. The arrival today of this week’s New Yorker meant I’m making negative progress. There are four New Yorkers, two New York Reviews of Books, an Atlantic, a Harper’s, a Golf World, my Harvard and MIT magazines, and four Chronicles of Higher Ed. I don’t even know where to start. Maybe reading the latest ones and then working backwards. In that spirit, I did look briefly at the new New Yorker this evening. It’s the Food Issue. The only food-related article I’ve read is a wonderful short piece by Jhumpa Lahiri that, alas, is not available in full online except to subscribers. It’s just a page long. If you see a copy in a store, you might just read the piece standing up. In it, she writes about her father’s specialty, pulao rice. (See too Nancy Franklin on Glenn Beck and Jeffrey Toobin’s opening commentary on the larger significance of Stupak’s anti-abortion amendment to the House’s health-care bill.)

    And then there’s the TV backlog. NCIS. Monk. The one new show I’ve been watching this season, FlashForward. Maybe I should just pass on all this. Except Monk, in its final season. And NCIS, which I’ve already caught up on.

    I hope to write a few posts about our trip in the next few days. Keep watching. In the spirit of the New Yorker’s food issue, perhaps I’ll have something to say about our dinner in Milan celebrating Gail’s birthday, at Trattoria Milanese. I began with the risotto al salto, which looked a lot like the version pictured above (from here).

    Categories: Food, Magazines, Television, Travel

    Football Overload, II

    October 5, 2009 Leave a comment
    Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twin

    Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twin

    Ten days ago I complained about the overwhelming amount of football coverage. This happens every year, and every year it drives me mad. Here we are enjoying baseball and suddenly, with the start of the college and professional football seasons, we are expected to put aside a sport worthy of our love in favor of one that seems to expect slavish devotion. It’s bad enough that the TV networks fight with each other to throw money at the NFL and the college conferences in order to fill every minute of weekend programming with football, as well as Thursday nights, Monday nights, and sometimes it seems every other night too. But why must newspapers be complicit in this cacophony as well?

    Which brings me to this past weekend. I gave football its due on Saturday. I watched portions of the UW-Notre Dame football game. Large portions near the end. That was more than enough. In return, I thought I earned the right to watch baseball yesterday. Okay, so maybe the race for the American League central division title isn’t the most exciting one in years, but going into the weekend, it was the only one we had. And when the Twins beat the Royals Saturday, despite facing the stupendous Zach Greinke, while the Tigers lost to the White Sox, they were suddenly tied with a day to go. If both won or both lost on Sunday, they would have a one-game playoff Tuesday to decide the division champ. If one won and the other lost, the winner would claim the prize. Whichever one it was would limp into the postseason with the worst record of any of the playoff teams, and with an exhausted pitching staff, likely to lose their opening series to the Yankees quickly. Nonetheless, a great story was in the making — a resilient Twins team riding a September surge to the playoffs, or a toughened Tiger team giving its gloomy city some cheer.

    The Twins game yesterday started about an hour after the Tiger game. I figured someone would be broadcasting one of them. Someone. Around 12:30, with both games in progress, I turned on the TV and started looking. Football. NASCAR. Pool. Yes, pool! But no baseball. No baseball!! Come on. I was reduced to following the games online. Had I bought the MLB cable package, I could see every game all season. Maybe I need to do that next year.

    In case you’re wondering, both teams won. Minnesota hosts their one-game playoff tomorrow.

    Why tomorrow, you ask? Why indeed? Wouldn’t it be better to get the title settled today so the winner can get ready for the playoffs? In fact, isn’t that how it’s usually done? Well, of course. But you’re forgetting something. Let’s work this out. What sport do we worship? Football. And what happens on Mondays? Oh, yes, Monday Night Football. Okay, so here’s the good part. Who’s playing tonight in the MNF game? Yes, of course. Minnesota. The Brett-Favre-led Minnesota Vikings. Against the formerly-Brett-Favre-led Green Bay Packers. The game we have been waiting for since it looked like Favre would sign with the Vikings a year and a half ago. Nothing in baseball can compete with that. Not even the World Series. The Twins don’t get to use their stadium today. They have to wait a day. So it goes.

    Categories: Baseball, Sports, Television

    Alternative Universe

    July 15, 2009 1 comment

    musial

    We missed last night’s All-Star game. An old friend was staying with us, we prepared dinner, ate outside, and lingered over the course of a beautiful evening. I turned on the game during the 2nd inning just to see what was happening and found President Obama in the broadcast booth. We then caught a couple of batters as the NL took the lead. Next we knew, the game was over and the AL won.

    In particular, we didn’t see President Obama throw out the first pitch. Joel sent email from Boston expressing his frustration at the late start of the game and at the bizarre camera angle used for the first pitch. The camera was focused tightly on Obama, so one couldn’t see the flight of the pitch or its recipient (Albert Pujols). I watched a replay today and could see what the fuss was about. I don’t know what FOX was thinking.

    But get this. A post by guest blogger Conor Clarke at Andrew Sullivan’s site alerted me to the fuss over whether or not Obama was booed, as well as whether the pitch was any good. Following links, I was led to this post, written by The Anchoress at one of the blogs affiliated with the magazine First Things.

    I don’t know much about First Things. At their site, they explain that it “is published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.” I looked at it online a few months ago, after reading a post at their site related to the controversy of Notre Dame’s awarding Obama an honorary degree. (I planned a post about the controversy, but never followed through with it.) Their orientation would seem to be conservative. Some of the articles I looked at were intelligent and well written. I meant to return. And I know nothing about the blogger who uses the penname The Anchoress. But as I read her piece on Obama’s pitch, I realized I had stumbled into a universe I hadn’t entered before.

    The post contrasts Obama’s pitch with the pitch George W. Bush threw at Yankee Stadium in October 2001, prior to the third game of the World Series. Here’s a taste:

    I see I was not the only one watching last night’s All-Star Game who wondered if David Axelrod had negotiated the bizarre angle (there is no other word for it, if you’re a baseball-watching fan) used to showcase President Barack Obama’s ceremonial “first pitch.” I have never seen a president throw a pitch, before, where the angle left out the catcher at the plate.

    Yes, I had to wonder if the shot was planned that way, if the White House was so insecure about this teleprompter-addicted president, and in such a habit of safeguarding his every image, his every press-conference question, that they had to make sure a bad throw wouldn’t end up on You Tube (and if in doing so they aren’t exposing that insecurity to the world.) …

    Just weeks after a horrific and deadly attack on his nation, when all of us were still waiting for “the second shoe to drop” – for another attack – and fully aware that Yankee Stadium was at that moment the Mother of All Targets and that there uncertainty as to the president’s own safety, Bush strode out gave the thumbs up and threw unambiguously over the plate – a little high, but given some of the dubious calls we’re seeing this season, let’s call it a strike. Bush threw not to “the most popular man” in the stadium, but to a common catcher, Jorge Posada, who was behind the plate. Yes, it was a great moment. …

    The difference between these two first pitches is not in the pitch, but in the pitchman – in the personality of the president …

    Gosh. I’m supposed to admire Bush for throwing a strike? If any president had a staff working to manufacture and protect his image, it’s Bush, not Obama.

    Well, putting politics aside, maybe the real question should be why the president had to throw the pitch at all, stealing what should have been a special moment for Stan Musial. Ted Williams had his moment a decade ago at the All-Star game in Fenway. Why couldn’t Stan the Man have his? See Joe Posnanski’s post tonight for more on this.

    Categories: Politics, Sports, Television

    The Open

    July 15, 2009 Leave a comment

    The Open Championship starts tomorrow at Turnberry, in Scotland. Golf that is. Just maybe my favorite golf tournament. We were there five years ago, at Troon. I was there for just a day in 1990, at St. Andrews. (Gail couldn’t make it. She stayed in Edinburgh with Joel, who had just turned 3, and our friends.) We’ll be watching. It’s hard to go back and forth between the golf and the Tour de France. The rhythms of the two events are so different. And as I already mentioned, Sunday will be particularly hard, because the Open will approach its climax just as the Tour climbs to Verbier in the Alps, the biggest stage in over a week. Well, I’ll get through it.

    Meanwhile, I was disappointed to learn that the television coverage of the Open won’t be in high definition. The only video feed worldwide is the one provided by the BBC, and they don’t do it in HD. ABC and TNT can’t do anything about it. The BBC contract won’t expire for two more years. Maybe then we can get HD coverage of the golf. But maybe before then we’ll be back in person and won’t have to rely on TV. It’s at St. Andrews next year. We’ll put it on our calendars.

    Categories: Sports, Television, Travel

    Tour Withdrawal, Stage 1

    July 12, 2009 Leave a comment
    Contador on Arcalis

    Contador on Arcalis

    I wrote five posts last week about the Tour de France (here, here, here, here, and here). Since then, stages 6, 7, and 8 — comprising this year’s visit to the Pyrenees — have taken place, and I haven’t said a word. Well, what’s there to say? Just more of the same, and you can read about it better elsewhere. (See, for instance, Alexander Wolff’s excellent article in SI about drugs and the Tour.)

    The second and third days in the Pyrenees were the quietest days yet, both because the first day in the Pyrenees was so difficult and because the big climbs in days two and three came early, with long descents and flat stretches afterwards, so none of the leaders tried to break away. All the drama came in that first mountain day, Friday, a brutal day, 224 kilometers of riding, from Barcelona into Andorra, culminating with the massive climb of Arcalis. A breakaway group was never reeled in, but none of them was a threat to win the Tour, so the leading group was content to let them go. As a result, the young French rider Brice Feillu was able to win the stage, and the Italian veteran Rinaldo Nocentini came in fourth, 26 seconds behind Feillu, which was good enough for him to claim the overall lead and the yellow jersey.

    The real action was in the group behind, which did make up time on the final climb, and which seemed destined to finish together. But then the big move came, the dramatic attack by Alberto Contador with about 2k left. He created a gap, and since 3 of the other top riders were his Astana teammates Armstrong, Leipheimer, and Kloeden, they allowed him to go rather than helping the leaders of the other teams to close the gap. Or at least that’s one version of the story. Eleven riders finished 21 seconds behind Contador, including fellow race favorites Armstrong, Leipheimer, the Schleck brothers, the recent Giro winner Denis Menchov, and last year’s Tour winner Carlos Sastre, along with this year’s breakout star, the young German rider Tony Martin. Kloeden was a little farther back. This was enough to move Contador into second place overall, 6 seconds behind Nocentini and 2 seconds ahead of Armstrong.

    The big question is, did Armstrong really stay back to support Contador and their Astana team? Or, is Contador so strong, simply better than everyone else in attacking the mountains, that neither Armstrong nor any other rider could have closed the gap on him? Now that we’re through the Pyrenees, the answer will have to wait the Alps in a week. Watch for Stage 15 next Sunday, which finishes with the climb to Verbier. That may be the first big shakeout of the general classification.

    My own guess? Lance is riding well. He may well be in top form, able to handle the stages that await in the Alps and then Mont Ventoux. But I suspect we’ll find that Contador is better still, and we may find that out at Verbier.

    As for the title of this post, there’s no racing tomorrow. The first rest day. What am I supposed to do? I’ve awakened to the Tour for nine days now. The riders know they can’t rest too much. They need to get out there and ride or they will regret it on Tuesday. If I wish to avoid withdrawal symptoms, I need to get out there and watch something. Too bad I don’t have old Tour DVDs to watch. Maybe I should rent one. The 2000 Tour would be a good place to start. I could watch the famous climb of Mont Ventoux, the duel between Armstrong and Marco Pantani, in preparation for this year’s climb of Ventoux.

    Of course, in two weeks I’ll have to deal with a much more serious case of Tour Withdrawal. I better be prepared.

    Categories: Sports, Television

    Luck, Hard Work, Success

    May 3, 2009 Leave a comment

    varney

    I don’t watch the Fox Business Network, but thanks to a tip from Ezra Klein on his blog, I found myself watching the six-and-a-half-minute clip from last Thursday in which Fox’s Stuart Varney interviews Cornell economist Robert Frank. (Among Frank’s books is a basic economics text written jointly with Ben Bernanke.) I started the clip out of curiosity, not anticipating watching it all. Soon I was transfixed. When you have a few minutes, do yourself a favor and watch. (Click here.) It’s extraordinary.

    Who knew one would have to respond to a host who announces that he is insulted to be told that luck is a part of success? Varney turns that general statement into an attack on himself and insists that he succeeded because of his own hard work, talent, and risk taking. He further insists that success will come to anyone who does this. Along the way, he segues into a discussion of high marginal tax rates, asks Frank how much of his money should be taken away (seeming to suggest in passing a total lack of understanding of the notion of a marginal tax rate), and suggests that Frank return to his socialist New York Times and socialist Cornell. I have no idea whether Varney is serious or simply aiming to provoke and entertain. But entertain he certainly does. And Frank gets to observe in passing that Varney is proof that luck is required, since Varney clearly lacks anything else that could have produced such success.

    Categories: Culture, Economics, Television

    Books, Movies, TV

    January 19, 2009 Leave a comment
    Slumdog Millionaire

    Slumdog Millionaire

    I’ve posted many times recently about the Naipaul biography I finished two Saturdays ago, and then a couple of days ago about the book on Vietnam and McGeorge Bundy. I’m in the midst of three other non-fiction books: the history of the Byzantine Empire that I’ve also written about, the recent bestseller on traffic that I started just after Christmas, and a short book about the history of Daylight Saving Time that Joel read when he was home and left for me. But I decided it’s time for some fiction. Which leads me to an aside.

    One of the larger figures in the Naipaul biography was his longtime editor Diana Athill, now 91. By chance, just last week her second memoir, Somewhere Towards the End, was reviewed in the NYT. Having edited Updike, Mailer and many others as well as Naipaul, Athill knows a thing or two about fiction. Yet, when I read the review, I was stopped by this passage:

    I was surprised that this longtime fiction editor has declared that she has “gone off novels.”

    Why? She no longer feels the need to parse the intricacies of human relationships and love affairs, “but I do still want to be fed facts, to be given material which extends the region in which my mind can wander.”

    I’m not there yet. I think I’m not anyway, but then again, I haven’t read a novel in months. What I have read, this morning, is
    Read more…

    Categories: Books, Film, Television