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Showing posts from August 16, 2015

coincidence and crime 2

To return to my last coincidence post: Nabokov played around with the coincidence device himself, in his novel, Despair. There, the hero, a prosperous businessman named Hermann, mistakenly supposes that he looks like a certain much poorer man. Hermann befriends this man on behalf of a plot to make make money and get out of a relationship with his cheating wife. The plot involves getting the double to dress as Hermann and then killing him. After this, the life insurance money will come rolling in, and Hermann can collect it. Hermann, then, is very much writing the “plot” for his characters, and banking on a coincidence. But what he doesn’t reckon on is his own blindspot with regard to what he looks like. There’s a character in a Turgenev story who says, somewhere, that he can keep a sharp mental image of strangers, but more familiar faces, including his own, never fix themselves in his imaginagtion. Hermann seems to be in a similar case – in fact, nobody else thinks his double looks

Comres' fishy poll: you just ask for the results, and we will deliver them!

One of the key tools of contemporary politics is the gamed poll - the poll that shows results satisfactory to those who commissioned it. These polls wear their disnonesty in their footnotes. With that said, one should look at Comres's internet poll that shows Jeremy Corbyn as a crater for the next election, as compared to the ever electable, ever conservative David Millibrand. It looks bad for Corbyn until you read how the results were filtered. Because of course, you don't want to just accept the voices of your complete set of respondents - you want to filter them just right. Here is the revealing footnote: "ComRes interviewed 2,035 GB adults online between 12th and 13th August 2015. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults. Data were also weighted by past vote recall. Voting intention figures

the writing life - now with pee stains!

I wonder how Adam picks phrases out of the air. We were walking in a park in Montpellier last month when Adam turned to us and, apparently a propos of nothing, said, why that’s the whole point! Today, we were walkng to school when Adam told me, that’s a done deal, Daddy. A done deal? Has Adam been hanging around with an MBA? It is things like this, the innumerable things like this, that make me wonder why it is that children are supposed to be the enemy of the creative type. In this week’s London Review of Books there’s a piece by Jessica Olin about the book, S elfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids  edited by  Meghan Daum . It is a curious review: Olin has chosen, mostly, to collage various of the essays. One of her comments, though, struck me as pretty awful, all the more so because it expresses one of the cliches of our time. “ Parenting requires a public face; engag

Coincidence and crime 5

Nabokov translated Lermontov’s A Hero of our Time in collaboration with his son. It was the father, however, who wrote the preface. In it, he remarked on the mechanisms that Lermontov uses to move the story of Pechorin forward, in a matter of speaking. “A special feature of the structure of our book is the monstrous but perfectly organic pat that eavesdroppiing plays in it. Now Eavesdropping is only one form of a more general device which can be classified under the heading of Coincidence, to which belongs, for instance, the Coincidental Meeting – another variety. It is pretty clear that when a novelist desires to combine the traditional tale of romantic adventure (amorous intrigue, jealousy, revenge, etc.) with a narrative in the first person, and has no desire to invent new techniques, he is somewhat limited in his choice of devices.” Although Nabokov was famously anti-bolshie and refused even to meet Andrei Bely because Bely was “squishy”, the notion of the device is expo

the NYT's shoddy Upshot column: bullshit and statistics

Another Sunday, another Monday, another idiotic Upshot article in the NYT. Upshot has become the home for the NYT’s consi derable rightwing cheering section, with Cohn, Barro, and Cowen providing the juice.  Barro, the scion of one of the plutocracy’s big defenders at the University of Chicago,  Robert Barro, has settled into the role of “reasonable conservative” that the NYT editors just love love love – it’s the David Brooks gig. Although, to be fair, Barro sometimes is worth reading – which I don’t think one can ever say about David Brooks. This Sunday, though, Nate Cohn was up at the bat to tell us two things: Bernie Sanders is a mere pimple on the vast system so ably managed by our elites – his surge is just exaggerated because, as Cohn puts it in the incomparable jazz style preferred by the Times: “Mr. Sanders has become the favorite of one of the Democratic Party’s most important factions : the overwhelmingly white, progressive left. These voters are plentiful in the well-e