What was that all about? Were fat people involved?

by Kieran Healy on January 30, 2006

I missed this over the weekend, but here’s Garrison Keillor tearing a strip off of Bernard-Henri Lévy and his book about America. (The San Francisco Chronicle “liked it a bit better”:http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/01/29/RVGHUGQ7341.DTL&type=books, but only a bit.) Based on Keillor’s review, it sounds like BHL has a case of the disease that Bruce McCall brilliantly parodied in his travelogue “In the New Canada, Living is a Way of Life.” That article (which I’ve “talked about before”:http://www.kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/2003/01/13/how-peculiar/) is written in the prose characteristic of the cultural tourist/feature writer touring around Russia, c.1982 for _Readers Digest_: serious, curious, with an outsider’s eye for paradox and an uncanny ability to miss the point altogether.

_Update_: I should add that I’m not taking Keillor’s review as gospel here. I’m a big fan of cross-national comparative work, but it’s hard to do it right. Keillor is pretty snide, and the substance of his criticism (that people over here are just ordinary, decent, straight-talking folks, working hard and doing the best they can, etc, etc) is itself a typically American trope. There’s a sub-Tocquevillean comparison to be made here, if we stretch things a bit. Lévy is a French writer and minor philosopher who behaves in the flamboyant manner of a major American media celebrity, while Keillor is a minor American media celebrity who would prefer to be taken seriously for his writing and down-home philosophy. So naturally they hate each other.

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Freedom and necessity

by Henry on January 30, 2006

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been catching up on my Terry Pratchett in the wee hours and came across a passage in _Going Postal_ (“Powells”:http://www.powells.com/partner/29956/s?kw=terry%20pratchett%20going%20postal , “Amazon”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect?link_code=ur2&tag=henryfarrell-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&path=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2Fgp%2Fproduct%2F0060502932%2Fsr%3D1-1%2Fqid%3D1138645666%2Fref%3Dsr_1_1%3F%255Fencoding%3DUTF8 ) which has some bearing on the perennial debate over whether or not “Pratchett”:http://www.nataliesolent.blogspot.com/2003_10_12_nataliesolent_archive.html#106651083158570151 “is”:http://www.samizdata.net/blog/archives/004798.html “a”:http://www.theadvocates.org/celebrities/terry-pratchett.html “libertarian”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_Futurist_Society. The villain of the book, an unscrupulous pirate of finance capital who has dubbed himself Reacher Gilt, is defending himself before the autarchical ruler of Ankh-Morpork, Lord Vetinari.

bq. “Don’t patronize me, my lord,” said Gilt. “We own the Trunk. It is our _property_. You understand that? Property is the foundation of freedom. Oh, customers complain about the service and the cost, but customers always complain about such things. We have no shortage of customers at whatever cost. Before the semaphore, news from Genua took months to get here, now it takes less than a day. It is affordable magic. We are answerable to our shareholders, my lord. Not, with respect, to you. It is not your business. It is our business and we will run it according to the market.”

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Wherein the author feels like Brad DeLong

by Kieran Healy on January 30, 2006

Any society that can make _both_ John Tyler Bonner’s “The Ideas of Biology”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0486424197/kieranhealysw-20/ and “The Evolution of Complexity”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0691084947/kieranhealysw-20/ available to me for two dollars each on sale has to have something going for it. On the other hand, Kevin Trudeau’s “Natural Cures ‘They’ don’t want you to now about”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0975599518/kieranhealysw-20/ still cost eighteen bucks, and rather more copies of it were available.