Thursday, October 30, 2003
This is not news. Nor is it even surprising that "only" 8 people born in the USA have won the Nobel Prize in the past 102 years.

First, it's an international award, given to people who write in any language. Literally anyone who has written books or plays is eligible. So when you consider that there are more than 150 countries where a winner might be born, the US shouldn't win more than a few times, if it's purely random. That there have been 8 winners is actually significantly higher than randomness would predict.

Second, what's with this 'born in the USA' distinction? It's the same sour old chestnut used to draw a distinction between 'real' Americans and 'immigrants', but in a country where everyone is a few generations from being an immigrant, it's specious. This is the same kind of 'Other'ing that the media does to athletes like Martina Navratilova and Monica Seles-- both Americans, but often lumped into the 'not born in America' camp. It's a useless qualifier, to be frank, a waste of consonants and vowels.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003
This is what an iPod is for: reading (listening to) books for pleasure, since actually holding a leisure book in your hands overwhelms you with a tsunami of guilt at what academic books you're not reading.

I've just finished Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex, which I had stupidly avoided for a long time, thinking that it was an exploitative and sensationalist book about a hermaphrodite. I couldn't really have been more wrong.

It's a gorgeous book about immigration and family, about Greece and America, about love and shame, all sewn together with some of the best dialogue I've read in a very long time. Eugenides does two things better than almost any of his coevals: snappy, trenchant banter; and endings.

I'll give nothing away here, but will say just that any book that possesses such a vast geographic and narrative scope must be nearly impossible to draw together and end satisfactorily. That Eugenides does it with real skill proves that he really does deserve that Pulitzer Prize.

Thursday, October 16, 2003
I'm in Toronto and have found, to my great surprise, that I adore it. I remember liking it the last time I was here, but now that I've had a chance to spend a day here (and the rest of the week, since I'm presenting at the Association of Internet Researchers conference), I'm wondering if I ought to apply for a job here.


Monday, October 06, 2003
Although I don't think appealing to Falklands War veterans for commentary makes for more compelling journalism, I tend to agree that the whole Russian Roulette stunt on Channel 4 was pretty appalling.

I just wonder what the counterfactual analysis would produce, imagining that Brown had actually shot himself. Would this be hailed as a 'tragedy'? No doubt it would be all over the news programmes (more than it is now), and no doubt it would scare all potential copycats away from ever trying such a thing. Yes, it's the copycats that trouble me.

The really frightening thing for me is the proof that this event does provide. One of my favourite articles about case study research discusses how they can sometimes simply show that something is possible, without making claims to any wider generalisations. The Russian Roulette trick is a perfect example of this-- showing teens around the world that it is possible to survive discharging all the chambers of a gun while aiming many of them at your own head. No claims to how likely this is, or how often survival occurs in the 'real life' context of a living room, garage, or school, but we've just had proof positive that a person can survive such an activity.

Even though we might imagine that we already knew that someone could survive this, I'd venture that seeing it play out makes it more real to many people, makes it resonate with their own sense of the possible, perhaps even makes it seem like something they'd want to try.

Thursday, October 02, 2003
While talking on the phone with a friend in Vermont a few days ago, I recognised that I have a very particular habit when telling stories.

I love to tell stories, so it appears quite a bit.

What I tend to do is tell the beginning of the story (including the organising elements of the story to come), then I retreat a little and give background information, then I jump ahead again and tell the middle, and then (usually) the end.

I almost never tell a perfectly linear story-- there's always a bit of backtracking. I have also noticed that many of my friends don't have this strange discursive habit. I don't think I'm doing something negative, since I'm just making the story as listener-friendly as possible, but it does strike me that this is something I do often.

The strange other piece to this is that nobody, save me, has ever commented on it.

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