The Dog Man of Sarajevo
You see a lot of stray dogs in Sarajevo, at least where I was, at least I did. Near my hotel, a couple of blocks from the old bazaar, which is called Baščaršija, a word I can’t pronounce but can copy-and-paste with the right accent marks, dogs roamed the twisty streets. Once I came back late and saw several of them tearing into a garbage bag filled with scraps from a butcher shop, the mongrel equivalent of winning the lotto. [link]
The entrance to the glass palace of poetry is tucked back in a serene courtyard, concealed from the slushy Chicago street, overseen by small, evenly spaced trees. Most monthlies dedicated to a noncommercial art form are not housed amid such tasteful grandeur—the abstract mural in the lobby, the two-story book wall, the acoustically ideal performance space—butPoetry magazine is special. Special because it has been around for a century and has published the likes of W. H. Auden, Sylvia Plath, and T. S. Eliot. And special because in 2002, Ruth Lilly, the lone heir to a pharmaceutical fortune, donated a reported $185 million to the magazine’s foundation, dramatically upgrading what had been a modest operation. They have to buzz you in. [link]
Power of Suggestion
A framed print of “The Garden of Earthly Delights” hangs above the moss-green, L-shaped sectional in John Bargh’s office on the third floor of Yale University’s Kirtland Hall. Hieronymus Bosch’s famous triptych imagines a natural environment that is like ours (water, flowers) yet not (enormous spiked and translucent orbs). What precisely the 15th-century Dutch master had in mind is still a mystery, though theories abound. On the left is presumably paradise, in the middle is the world, and on the right is hell, complete with knife-faced monster and human-devouring bird devil.[link]
This is Not a Profile of Nassim Taleb
I had lunch with Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It didn’t go well.
We met at a French cafe in Manhattan, on the Upper West Side, not far from Columbia University. It was a meeting more than a year in the making. I first e-mailed him when his book of aphorisms,The Bed of Procrustes,was published to see if he might submit to an interview. This, I realized, was a long shot. Taleb, best known as the author of The Black Swan, a book about how we underestimate the improbable, isn’t much for interviews and regards most journalists as fools and phonies, right alongside professional academics and bureaucrats. I didn’t expect to hear back. [link]
How Do You Explain Gene Weingarten?
The son asks the father why he’s not wearing a seat belt. The father says it’s because long ago the father’s sister drowned. She backed her car into a swimming pool and, because she was strapped in, was unable to free herself. Her lungs filled with water and she died. The seat belt, the very device meant to protect her, sealed her doom.
The son believes the story. Why wouldn’t he? What kind of horrible person would make up a story like that? [link]
A Christian missionary sets out to convert a remote Amazonian tribe. He lives with them for years in primitive conditions, learns their extremely difficult language, risks his life battling malaria, giant anacondas, and sometimes the tribe itself. In a plot twist, instead of converting them he loses his faith, morphing from an evangelist trying to translate the Bible into an academic determined to understand the people he’s come to respect and love.
Along the way, the former missionary discovers that the language these people speak doesn’t follow one of the fundamental tenets of linguistics, a finding that would seem to turn the field on its head, undermine basic assumptions about how children learn to communicate, and dethrone the discipline’s long-reigning king, who also happens to be among the most well-known and influential intellectuals of the 20th century. [link]
No giant earthquake rippled across the surface of the earth, nor were any believers caught up in the clouds. Harold Camping, the octogenarian whose nightly Bible call-in show fomented doomsday mania, suffered a stroke soon afterward and mostly disappeared from sight. The press coverage, which had been intense in the weeks leading up to May 21, 2011, dwindled to nothing. The story, as far as most people were concerned, was over. But I wanted to know what happens next. If you’re absolutely sure the world is going to end on a specific day, and it doesn’t, what do you do? How do you explain it to yourself? What happens to your faith in God? Can you just scrape the bumper stickers off your car, throw away the t-shirts, and move on? [link]