I’ve got a satire in the Boston Globe’s great Ideas section tomorrow, in response to the news that publishers are looking at equipping ebooks with sounds for a more immersive experience (ahem). I imagine what sort of treatment our boy Biff Faulkner would come in for, in such a project, which would, inevitably, include Sean Penn…
… in New York magazine this week, here, on last week’s budget battle, on the alarming tendency to break down something as basic into a budget into moral terms, resulting, as you’d expect from a debate in which both parties believe their opponents are not just of a different mind, but are actually immoral, in an irritating, intellectually stunted Manichean gridlock. Whether partisans are maintaining this line because they believe it, or because it just makes for an easier argument, remains unseen. What is certain is that their cant is about as useless as it is boring. As Tom Waits sagely put it, come on down from the cross, folks, we could use the wood.
I have a new piece up on Hilobrow, the great website for arcana obsessives co-edited by Josh Glenn, a friend and former editor and all-around frighteningly smart individual. It’s about Stephen Potter, the British humorist who published four books on how to one-up others without seeming like that’s what you’re doing. Potter actually coined the terms “gamesmanship” and “one-upmanship.” It’s terrific stuff. After being turned on to the stuff by a friend, I read everything he wrote in a week last year, and dashed off an essay which was promptly rejected by everyone. I was emailing with Josh not too long ago, mentioned I had this weird thing lying around, and he bit.
Here’s a sample, on his passage on using children to one-up your social betters, or, when needed, one-upping children.
If an opponent has managed to get inside your home and all other gambits have failed, Potter suggests training your child to walk in, look at the man, appear taken aback say something worriedly like, “Mummy, I don’t like that man.” The thinking is that children’s snap judgment is unerring, and that they can spot moral failings like dogs can spot ghosts. If you find yourself on the receiving end of such a maneuver, Potter recommends that revenge can be gotten at Christmas by buying the child a gift just a little bit too young for them (“Christmas Giftsmanship”). This is the only thing known to consistently offend children. “If the child is continuously burying itself in the corner with Lord Jim, give it a book about a wild wolf dog which saves a baby from an eagle,” Potter advises.
A few new things out for your edification/derision/etc. One is a longer piece on Slate about the decline of pickpocketing in America. While pickpocketing flourishes abroad, it’s tanking here.
Beyond being an object of fascination for people all over, the topic is also responsible for one of the most memorable lines I’ve ever heard. When I lived in Ireland, I worked as a waiter. The restaurant I terrorized with ineptitude in this capacity had some outdoor seating that was continually preyed upon by Roma thieves. They were about as brazen as you could be without resorting to violence, often using their children as stalls in elaborately staged pickpocketing attempts. One fabled scheme involved a woman coming up to you ad pressing her baby to your chest; you’d grab it to keep it from falling, and while your arms were engaged, someone would sweep past and pick your pocket. I never saw this, but a friend I met over there warned me very gravely about it. “There’s only one thing you can do: Swat the baby,” he said gesturing a swat. “You’ve got to swat that baby.”
The other two are for Hemispheres magazine. One on Domino’s bonkers, and hugely effective, self-flagellating ad campaign of 2010, and another on the efforts to build a series of huge, moveable dams around Venice to protect it from flooding. Fascinating.
Attention all NYC country music fans: My band (which is to say, the band I’m in) The Steamboat Disasters has a show coming up at Spike Hill in Williamsburg on January 30th, and another on March 10 at Trash Bar, also in Williamsburg. Come by and introduce yourself. And stay tuned for new dates, which will be added in the next couple weeks as we ramp this operation up. For a taste, here’s a video from a recent gig at the legendary Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn. Ignore the woodenness of first tune, it was a soundcheck…
Hey folks, after a long break from freelancing, I’ve got a new story-ish, in the Boston Globe. It’s a Q&A with John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago. He set out to write a book about lying in geopolitics, thinking that it must happen all the time. What he discovered was that world leaders actually very rarely lie to one another. What they do, instead, is lie to their own people, freely, especially in democracies. His book is well worth a read. I don’t touch on it in the interview, but there’s a lot of smart stuff about why leaders lie, when, and what the possible consequences are.
I’ve got two parts (the intro essay and Cover to Cover”) of a package in New York magazine this week on the curious resurgence of independent bookstores in NYC. Just a few years ago, it looked like curtains for these places, but a new generation of entrepreneurs have jumped in and opened a number of new shops, every one of which I thought was fantastic. I actually visited every book store in NYC for this sucker, before the focus was shifted to strictly new stuff. I’m planning on writing an essay about the experience. I had a hell of a lot of fun, and gathered a lot of great, weird, and fascinating details. If I can’t get anyone to pay for it, it’ll likely wind up here, gratis.
Sorry, kids, life of the mercenary.
Let me also take this opportunity to promote the upcoming show by The Steamboat Disasters, my country band. Thursday, August 5, around 9pm, at Hank’s (glorious) Saloon, in Brooklyn. This shitty economy has made good, rowdy, somewhat boozy honky-tonk more relevant than it’s been in years. The Disasters are your source for the best of it.