"The New Yorker Minute" is a reader-service email newsletter that triages articles in The New Yorker (the magazine) to let you know whether or not they're worth reading. (Or, alternatively, how excited you should be to read them or not read them). Each issue is sorted into "Read This," "Window-Shop These," and "Skip Without Guilt." Even the poetry, fiction, and cartoons get short notes from editors dedicated to those sections. Fun, surprisingly useful, nearly essential.
TV1 is the place to be. Amazon recently signed Woody Allen up to do a show. And today, The New Yorker debuts the first episode of their new show on Amazon: The New Yorker Presents, complete with a Alfred Hitchcock-esque silhouette on the title card to match the riff on the name of Hitch's 50s TV program.
America's most award-winning magazine comes to life in this new docu-series. Produced by Oscar & Emmy winner Alex Gibney, the pilot features a doc from Oscar winner Jonathan Demme based on Rachel Aviv's article "A Very Valuable Reputation," writer Ariel Levy interviewing artist Marina Abramovic, a sketch from Simon Rich and Alan Cumming, poetry read by Andrew Garfield, and cartoons by Emily Flake.
The first episode is free to watch for all. I watched the first five minutes and it's promising and pretty much what you would expect.
Is this what we're going to call these things, television? How many people actually watch these Amazon shows on a television? Increasingly fewer and fewer, I'd guess. ↩
The New Yorker has got a new web site and with it, they are offering everything they've published since 2007 online for free all summer. From the editor's note:
Beginning this week, absolutely everything new that we publish -- the work in the print magazine and the work published online only -- will be unlocked. All of it, for everyone. Call it a summer-long free-for-all. Non-subscribers will get a chance to explore The New Yorker fully and freely, just as subscribers always have. Then, in the fall, we move to a second phase, implementing an easier-to-use, logical, metered paywall. Subscribers will continue to have access to everything; non-subscribers will be able to read a limited number of pieces -- and then it's up to them to subscribe. You've likely seen this system elsewhere -- at the Times, for instance -- and we will do all we can to make it work seamlessly.
Previously, only select articles from each issue were available for free online...everything else was for subscribers only. (Umlaats and extensive commas will be forever freely available on all the New Yorker's publishing platforms.) Longform has a solid list of their 25 favorite now-unlocked pieces.
Angell saw Babe Ruth in his prime, but he never writes sentimentally about baseball, a sport that has inspired many sports-writers to produce reams of awful, faux-poetic prose. His habit of telling it straight is what makes his nine books hold up and keeps him relevant today. "I don't go for nostalgia," he says. "I try not to. It's so easy to sentimentalize the good old days, but I don't ever do that. I'm aware that things have changed, but I try not to go there. It's very easy, and you get sort of a mental diabetes. All that goo. I am a foe of goo, maybe too much so."
Angell's extended essay "This Old Man" offers an extended dose of that lucidity.
Here in my tenth decade, I can testify that the downside of great age is the room it provides for rotten news. Living long means enough already. When Harry [Angell's fox terrier] died, Carol and I couldn't stop weeping; we sat in the bathroom with his retrieved body on a mat between us, the light-brown patches on his back and the near-black of his ears still darkened by the rain, and passed a Kleenex box back and forth between us. Not all the tears were for him. Two months earlier, a beautiful daughter of mine, my oldest child, had ended her life, and the oceanic force and mystery of that event had not left full space for tears. Now we could cry without reserve, weep together for Harry and Callie and ourselves. Harry cut us loose.
Anyone who's been writing for a long time has tools they like and come to depend on; one of Angell's is a discontinued Mead three-subject notebook:
The best notebook in the world. David Remnick and I talk about how you can't get anything to replace the Mead notebook, which is unavailable now. They take ink perfectly. There is a great flow. All the other notebooks are coated with something so your pen slides along.
"In recent years, when he goes on reporting trips," Angell's interviewer notes, "he has resorted to making use of old Mead notebooks that still have blank pages."
"Most of the people my age is dead. You could look it up" was the way Casey Stengel put it. He was seventy-five at the time, and contemporary social scientists might prefer Casey's line delivered at eighty-five now, for accuracy, but the point remains. We geezers carry about a bulging directory of dead husbands or wives, children, parents, lovers, brothers and sisters, dentists and shrinks, office sidekicks, summer neighbors, classmates, and bosses, all once entirely familiar to us and seen as part of the safe landscape of the day. It's no wonder we're a bit bent.
Angell is part of the New Yorker's Great Span: his mother Katharine White worked at the magazine almost from the beginning in 1925, so did his stepfather E.B. White, and Angell himself wrote and edited for every single editor-in-chief the New Yorker has ever had, from founder Harold Ross to current chief David Remnick.
Publication design is a field addicted to ceaseless reinvention. Sometimes a magazine's redesign is generated by a change in editorial direction. More often, the motivation is commercial: the publisher needs to get the attention of fickle ad agency media buyers, and a new format -- usually characterized as ever more "scannable" and "reader-friendly" -- is just the thing. In contrast, one senses that each of the changes in The New Yorker was arrived at almost grudgingly. Designers are used to lecturing timid clients that change requires bravery. But after a certain point -- 80 years? -- not changing begins to seem like the bravest thing of all.
The New Yorker's design changes over the years have been so slight that, as Bierut notes, the latest issue looks remarkably like the first issue from 1925.
I cold emailed cartoon editor Bob Mankoff, and-to my surprise-he called me right away. So I flew to New York for the New Yorker festival, met all the cartoonists I'd been reading about, and pitched him my idea. An epic film about the past, present and future of cartooning at the New Yorker! The definitive documentary about his beloved craft, his beloved cartoonists, his beloved hair! How could he say no? He said no.
But that was 6 years ago, when I was too young and too nice. Now I'm going gray and getting crabby, and I've recruited the talented New York filmmaker Davina Pardo to produce the film with me. Bob has given us amazing access to the cartoon department and we are deep into production on the film.
The New Yorker introduces their Strongbox, a way to anonymously send files to editors at the magazine.
Strongbox is a simple thing in its conception: in one sense, it's just an extension of the mailing address we printed in small type on the inside cover of the first issue of the magazine, in 1925, later joined by a phone number (in 1928-it was BRyant 6300) and e-mail address (in 1998). Readers and sources have long sent documents to the magazine and its reporters, from letters of complaint to classified papers. (Joshua Rothman has written about that history and the magazine's record of investigative journalism.) But, over the years, it's also become easier to trace the senders, even when they don't want to be found. Strongbox addresses that; as it's set up, even we won't be able to figure out where files sent to us come from. If anyone asks us, we won't be able to tell them.
So that was the old New Yorker. The biggest difference between David Remnick's New Yorker today and the Shawn New Yorker is timeliness. During the Shawn years, book reviews ran months, even years out of sync with publication dates. Writers wrote about major issues without any concern for news pegs or what was going on in the outside world. That was the way people thought, and it was really the way the whole editorial staff was tuned.
All this changed when Tina Brown arrived. Whereas before, editorial schedules were predictable for weeks or a month in advance, under Tina we began getting 8,000-, 10,000-, 12,000-word pieces in on a Thursday that were to close the following Wednesday. But something else changed in a way that is more important. Prior to Tina, the magazine really had been writer-driven, and I think this is why they gave the writers so much liberty. They wanted the writers to develop their own, often eccentric, interests.
Under Tina, writing concepts began to originate in editors' meetings, and assignments were given out to writers who were essentially told what to write. And a lot of what the editors wanted was designed to be timely and of the moment and tended to change from day to day. So the result was that we were working on pieces that were really much more controversial and much less well-formulated than anything we had dealt with previously, and often we would put teams of checkers to work on these pieces and checking and editing could go on all night.
On December 14th, I helped chaperone my daughter's second-grade-class field trip to a local production of "The Nutcracker," where I spent most of my time not watching the ballet but marvelling at the calm efforts of the teacher to keep the yelling, excited class quieted down. Teaching was not, I concluded at one point, a profession in which I could survive for even one day. Our buses came back to the school at midafternoon, and I and the other volunteer parents left our children for another hour of wind-down time (for us, not them) before returning for the regular 3-P.M. pickup. I came home, however, not to any wind-down but to the unfolding coverage of the Newtown shooting. Shaken to the core, I returned to the school, where a grim quiet bound myself and the other parents together, the literally unspeakable news sealing our smiles while, at a lower strata, our happy, screaming children ran out of the building into our arms still frothed up by sparkling visions of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Not a surprise really, but the New Yorker's endorsement of Obama for President is a clear headed assessment of his first term and an effect critique against the "increasingly reactionary and rigid" Republican Party which Romney, to his discredit, has aligned himself with.
Perhaps inevitably, the President has disappointed some of his most ardent supporters. Part of their disappointment is a reflection of the fantastical expectations that attached to him. Some, quite reasonably, are disappointed in his policy failures (on Guantánamo, climate change, and gun control); others question the morality of the persistent use of predator drones. And, of course, 2012 offers nothing like the ecstasy of taking part in a historical advance: the reëlection of the first African-American President does not inspire the same level of communal pride. But the reëlection of a President who has been progressive, competent, rational, decent, and, at times, visionary is a serious matter. The President has achieved a run of ambitious legislative, social, and foreign-policy successes that relieved a large measure of the human suffering and national shame inflicted by the Bush Administration. Obama has renewed the honor of the office he holds.
This paragraph is terrifying:
In pursuit of swing voters, Romney and Ryan have sought to tamp down, and keep vague, the extremism of their economic and social commitments. But their signals to the Republican base and to the Tea Party are easily read: whatever was accomplished under Obama will be reversed or stifled. Bill Clinton has rightly pointed out that most Presidents set about fulfilling their campaign promises. Romney, despite his pose of chiselled equanimity, has pledged to ravage the safety net, oppose progress on marriage equality, ignore all warnings of ecological disaster, dismantle health-care reform, and appoint right-wing judges to the courts. Four of the nine Supreme Court Justices are in their seventies; a Romney Administration may well have a chance to replace two of the more liberal incumbents, and Romney's adviser in judicial affairs is the embittered far-right judge and legal scholar Robert Bork. The rightward drift of a court led by Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito -- a drift marked by appalling decisions like Citizens United -- would only intensify during a Romney Presidency. The consolidation of a hard-right majority would be a mortal threat to the ability of women to make their own decisions about contraception and pregnancy, the ability of institutions to alleviate the baneful legacies of past oppression and present prejudice, and the ability of American democracy to insulate itself from the corrupt domination of unlimited, anonymous money. Romney has pronounced himself "severely conservative." There is every reason to believe him.
Blown Covers is a new book that details the illustrations that never made it to the front cover of the New Yorker. At Imprint, Michael Silverberg interviews Françoise Mouly, the book's author and the New Yorker's art editor since 1993, and shares some of best rejected covers. I like this one by Christoph Niemann showing the attempted return of the Statue of Liberty to France:
"Think of me as your priest," she told one of them. Mouly, who cofounded the avant-garde comics anthology RAW with her husband, Art Spiegelman, asks the artists she works with -- Barry Blitt, Christoph Niemann, Ana Juan, R. Crumb -- not to hold back anything in their cover sketches. If that means the occasional pedophilia gag or Holocaust joke finds its way to her desk, she's fine with that. Tasteless humor and failed setups are an essential part of the process. "Sometimes something is too provocative or too sexist or too racist," Mouly says, "but it will inspire a line of thinking that will help develop an image that is publishable."
The New Yorker took their awesome Goings On magazine section and crammed it into an iPhone (and Android) app. More details here.
In addition to collecting the magazine's listings for theatre, art, night life, classical music, dance, movies, restaurants, and more, the app has exclusive new features. More than a dozen of the magazine's artists and writers have contributed entries to the My New York section, which showcases their personal cultural enthusiasms: Alex Ross introduces readers to Max Neuhaus's Electronic Sound Installation in midtown; Susan Orlean revisits the Temple of Dendur, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Roz Chast drops by the Tiny Doll House, a unique Upper West Side shop. Critics also lead readers on audio tours created specifically for the app: Peter Schjeldahl tours the Frick Collection; Paul Goldberger walks the High Line; Calvin Trillin shares his favorite downtown food; and Patricia Marx goes in search of vintage clothing.
We can now offer subscriptions on the iPad, and we can give our U.S. and Canadian print subscribers access to iPad issues at no additional cost. Before long, we hope to be able to give the same access to international subscribers beyond Canada and to existing digital-only subscribers.
Still missing (and probably unlikely to ever happen): print subscriber access to the full text of every article on the web site (not the Digital Edition, which offers a suboptimal reading experience IMO).
The launch highlights the mounting pressure on Apple Inc. to give publishers a way to sell their magazines more than one digital issue at a time. Executives from the New Yorker and its publisher, Conde Nast, say the true value of apps like the New Yorker's can't be realized until readers are allowed to purchase subscriptions.
"It is important to the New Yorker that we have offerings that allow long-term relationships with the consumers," said Conde Nast President Bob Sauerberg. "Obviously, we don't have that in place for the moment with Apple. We are very keen to do that."
The NYer app is modeled after the Wired app. The app is free but each new issue is $4.99. Current magazine subscribers appear to have no option but to buy a completely separate issue if they wish to read the magazine on the iPad. As a subscriber, what exactly am I paying for if I already have the content in magazine form? Is the $4.99 simply a convenience fee?
I haven't scoured their online archives nor do I own the Complete DVD, but my all-time favorite New Yorker article is easily Ian "Sandy" Frazier's "Invaders." It begins the way many of my conversations do:
Recently, I've been buttonholing everybody I know and telling them about Hulagu. What happened was, a couple of years ago Osama bin Laden said (in one of his intermittent recorded messages to the world) that during the previous Gulf War Colin Powell and Dick Cheney had destroyed Baghdad worse than Hulagu of the Mongols. Bin Laden provided no further identification of Hulagu, probably assuming that none was needed. Of course, almost no one in America had any idea what he was talking about, so news stories helpfully added that Hulagu, a grandson of Genghis Khan, was a Mongol general who sacked Baghdad in the year 1258. Beyond that footnote, the press as a whole shrugged at bin Laden's out-of-left-field comparison and moved on.
Frazier has a gift for condensed multidimensional connections. For instance, the Mongols' army was so devastating and mobile because, coming from the steppes, they were magnificent on horseback and had used draft animals to carry around all their equipment:
Fuelled by grass, the Mongol empire could be described as solar-powered; it was an empire of the land. Later empires, such as the British, moved by ship and were wind-powered, empires of the sea. The American empire, if it is an empire, runs on oil and is an empire of the air. On the world's largest landmass, Iraq is a main crossroads; most aspirants to empire eventually pass through there.
But in the territories they ruled, they weren't barbarians at the gates: they had a terrific (and fast) postal service, they gave Marco Polo safe passage across Asia, tolerated the religions they encountered (if not always their adherents), and eventually largely converted to a pacifist Buddhism that pretty much spelled the end of the conquering empire.
Their legacy, however, both historical and biological, was secured:
Amassing large harems was an important occupation of the khans. Genghis Khan was said to have had five hundred wives and concubines. When the Mongols overran a place, their captains took some of the women and passed along the more beautiful ones to their superiors, who passed the more beautiful to their superiors, and so on all the way to the khan, who could choose among the pulchritude of a continent. Genghis Khan had scores of children, as did other khans and nobles descended from him for centuries in the Genghis Khanite line.
Recently, a geneticist at Oxford University, Dr. Chris Tyler-Smith, and geneticists from China and central Asia took blood samples from populations living in regions near the former Mongol empire, and they studied the Y chromosomes. These are useful in establishing lineage because Y chromosomes continue from father to son. Dr. Tyler-Smith and his colleagues found that an anomalously large number of the Y chromosomes carried a genetic signature indicating descent from a single common ancestor about a thousand years ago. The scientists theorized that the ancestor was Genghis Khan (or, more exactly, an eleventh-century ancestor of Genghis Khan). About eight per cent of all males in the region studied, or sixteen million men, possess this chromosome signature. That's a half per cent of the world's entire male population. It is possible, therefore, that more than thirty-two million people in the world today are descended from Genghis Khan.
You may have heard recently that Kanye West's Twitter account is really something special. If you heard that, it's true. If not, you're hearing it now. Paul and Storm and Josh A. Cagan have made Kanye's Tweets even better, though, by matching them with New Yorker Cartoons. Scroll through their Twitter feeds and you'll find gold.
It's always good, before changing something, to stop and wonder if this is a mistake or if the writer did this for a reason. When you've read a piece five or more times, it is tempting to believe that it must be perfect, but you have to stay alert for anything you might have missed. Eternal vigilance!
A pair of related articles from the New Yorker last week. The first is a Talk of the Town piece on a water-pistol ambush game played by the students at a New York City private school.
Willis Cohen was finally killed through no fault of his own. He woke up one day and, as usual, hopped a neighbor's fence and exited through another house. He caught a livery cab on Amity Street and headed north to the Heights. He knew he was in trouble when his driver refused to raise the windows. A member of the Gaisford team shot him in the chest through the cab's passenger-side window as he pulled up to the school.
The second is a piece by John Seabrook is about David Kennedy and his approach to reducing gang-related murder through a combination of community support and "one strike and everyone's out" policy.
At the initial call-in, Victor Garcia was the first to speak. He told the young men that he loved them, that they had value to their community, and that he knew they were better than their violent actions implied. Afterward, Chief Steicher addressed them, thanking them for coming, and making it clear that "this is nothing personal." He then delivered the message: "We know who you are, we know who your friends are, and we know what you're doing. If your boys don't stop shooting people right now, we're coming after everyone in your group."
Without too much trouble, you could imagine either of these excerpts appearing in either article. A curious editorial decision to run them in the same issue.
First, a little about the job of New Yorker staff writer. "Staff writer" is a bit of a misnomer, as you're not an employee, but rather a contractor. So there's no health insurance, no 401K, and most of all, no guarantee of a job beyond one year. My gig was a straight dollars-for-words arrangement: 30,000 words a year for $90,000. And the contract was year-to-year. Every September, I was up for review. Turns out, all New Yorker writers work this way, even the bigfeet. It's Just the way the New Yorker chooses to behave. It shows no loyalty to its writers, yet expects full fealty in return. It gets away with it, because writing for the New Yorker is the ne plus ultra of journalism gigs. Like everybody, I loved it.
Some early advice from his editor on how to structure a story:
"Think about trying a process story," he said, using a term I'd never heard. "It's a New Yorker standard," he went on. "You simply deconstruct a process for the reader. John McPhee was the master. It makes for a simple structure."
More editorial advice:
Great piece of New Yorker advice: "This is the New Yorker, so you can use any narrative structure you like," he said. "Just know that when I get it, I'm going to take it apart and make it all chronological." Telling a story in strict chronological order turned out to be a fabulous discipline. It made the story easy to write, and may be why New Yorker stories are so easy to read. Of course, the magazine does run everything through the deflavorizer, following Samuel Johnson's immortal advice: "Read what you have written, and when you come across a passage you think is particularly fine, strike it out."
On the magazine's legendary fact-checkers:
The editing is as superb as you'd imagine. And it's lovely to have all the time and resources you need. I particularly liked the fact-checkers, who go way beyond getting names spelled right and actually do a lot of reporting. More than once, the fact-checkers uncovered information I hadn't had, found crucial sources I hadn't interviewed. It's like having a team of back-up reporters.
Non-fiction frequently calls for a strong individual voice, and occasionally the use of the first person, so double bylines often aren't practical. Dan most often does the legwork of reporting the story -- the travel and the phone calls -- with Margaret acting as bureau chief: "Ask this." "Don't forget that." "Go back to him tomorrow." Dan then writes the first draft.
On second thought, perhaps it's not that unconventional at all. Since Meg and I started going out nine years ago, we've collaborated on several projects without shared credit; I provided much advice related to Blogger, Kinja, and Megnut and she's always operating behind the scenes here at kottke.org.
With a new President in office, our country is in a period of immense challenges, from unprecedented economic tumult to a worldwide environmental crisis. With more at stake than at any time in recent memory, we are compelled to put forward new solutions and new thinking. In this spirit, The New Yorker Summit: The Next 100 Days will gather economic heavyweights and national-policy voices to look at the formative days of the new Administration, and to explore what lies ahead in the next hundred days.
When foreigners come to our culture, we tell stories as entertainment. Daniel's stories were not serious narrative, and Daniel had no idea he was being interviewed for publication. He has never killed anyone or raped a woman. He certainly has never stolen a pig.
I get the impression that Diamond has spent a lot of time in Papua New Guinea and, as a result, might not be taken in so easily by locals telling tall tales. Indeed, a fact-checking research team was told by one of the men in question that "the stories he told Diamond were in fact true".
In Rockefeller Center Ho!, published in the Talk of the Town section of the Feb 11, 1956 issue of the New Yorker, John Updike described the discovery of a path from the Empire State Building to Rockefeller Center that didn't make use of 5th or 6th Avenues. Instead he cut through building lobbies, parking lots, and underground passages on his way through the thicket of Midtown's tall buildings.
A stingy parking attendant refused to let us pass through his gate to Fortieth Street. Faced with no other option, we offered to pay the half-hour fee to park a car; his bemused manager finally let us through without charge.
Many who work in Midtown use shortcuts like these on especially cold days (like today) to minimize the time spent outside while walking from the train or bus. I only worked up there for a couple of years, but I still learned a cut-through trick or two.
The Mind-Blowingly Wonderful: It's every single page of every single issue of the New Yorker, from 1925 to the present, available online whenever you need it. No 9 DVDs needed. No plug-ins either, just a plain old web browser. And it's free with your subscription. Sweet fancy licorice!
The Good: Individual issues are bookmarkable. Forward and back arrows work to flip pages. If you're not a subscriber, you can sign up for four-issue trial or subscribe to just the digital version (~$40/year). At full zoom, the text is clear and easy to read. When an article doesn't appear for free on the New Yorker site, you're directed to the article in the Digital Reader. The DR is in beta and they're soliciting feedback.
The Bad and Not-So-Bad: The Digital Reader works on the iPhone...more or less. It's definitely not optimized for the phone and crashes often but works in a pinch. Some of the issues are missing...1962 and 1963 are largely AWOL. Issue archive always defaults to 2008, even while you're browsing an issue from 1937. Keyword search doesn't seem to work on older issues, i.e. most of the archive. There are a bunch of cool features that they could build on top of this thing: archive-wide search, compile/share lists of articles with other subscribers (i.e. make your own NYer mag from articles from back issues), keyword cross-referencing, etc.
The Ugly: Sadly, the actual reading interface is the worst part of the DR. The reader's interaction with the app relies too much on the mouse...more shortcut keys are needed (zoom, shortcut to TOC, move to top of next column, next/prev issue, etc.). Flipping through the digital magazine is easy enough but reading cannot comfortably be done at the page-flipping size. But when you zoom in, you need to zoom back out before you can flip to the next page. Guess how long it takes until that gets completely annoying? (A: After precisely one page turn.) I'd also like the magazine to fill as much of my screen as it can but instead the size of the viewing window is constrained. Bascially, make the thing as big as the screen will allow and give the reader one button to push to keep reading.
Even more maddening: after a short time, you have to re-login. I don't know if this is triggered by a period of inactivity or what, but it gets on all my nerves. (A "remember me" option that works across browser sessions would be welcome too.)
All-in-all, not enough attention was paid to the overall experience...it feels a bit like drinking fine wine from a sippy cup. That the Digital Reader exists is a great start but its shortcomings put too many roadblocks between the reader and her enjoyment of these great magazines, making the experience less wonderful than it could be. People *love* this magazine and the New Yorker should do everything it can to make people love reading it online.
My Olympics-themed New Yorker cartoon idea: Two men walk down the hallway of an office. One of the men, just laid off, carries a box with his things in it and says to the other man, "Don't worry, I'll work my way back through the repechage."
The stodgy old New Yorker has a Twitter account and its friends are NPR, Harper's, Gothamist, Huffington Post, the NY Times, and the WSJ, among others. Magazines should have friends, no? (Sniff, the WSJ has no friends.)
In past few years, several prominent US magazines and newspapers have begun to offer their extensive archives online and on DVD. In some cases, this includes material dating back to the 1850s. Collectively it is an incredible record of recent human history, the ideas, people, and events that have shaped our country and world as recorded by writers, photographers, editors, illustrators, advertisers, and designers who lived through those times. Here are some of most notable of those archives:
The NY Times provides their entire archive online, most of it for free. Most of the stories from 1923 to 1986 are available for a small fee. The Times briefly launched an interface for browsing their archive called TimesMachine but withdrew it soon after launch.
The New Yorker's Eustace Tilley Contest just ended. Contestants were asked to design their own version of the New Yorker's monocled mascot; here are all the entries. The winner will be announced on Feb 4. (via waxy)
As part of this weekend's New Yorker Festival, a parkour demonstration was held at Javits Plaza. Before the demonstration, Alex Wilkinson talked with David Belle, the inventor of parkour and the subject of Wilkinson's NYer article about parkour from April. In the interview and the Q&A that followed the demonstration, Belle explained that parkour is not about competition or showing off or being reckless. It's a test of self, of control, of deliberate practice. The journey is the point, not the sometimes spectacular results.
The demonstration consisted of a group of about 20-30 parkour practitioners, beginners and experts alike from all over the country. It seemed as though they included anyone with parkour experience who showed up and wanted to participate, and instead of a highly polished display of high skill (which is what I think the audience might have been expecting), we were treated to a more authenic look at the sport. The first five minutes were taken up with calisthenics and stretching in preparation of the jumps and vaults to come. After warming up properly, they began running through the course, each participant picking his way through the course according to desire and ability.
Experimentation was the rule of the day, not performance. With each pass, you could see the group learning the particulars of the course, where the good holds were, finding smoother combinations, and, much of the time, trying and failing. And then trying again until they got it. There was a single woman participant, one of several beginners in the group. When she had some trouble with an obstacle, Belle and his "lieutenant" stopped to show her some moves, a moment that revealed more about parkour than Belle's jumpacross a ten-foot gap twenty feet off the ground. Belle himself didn't do too much during the performance -- a couple of high jumps -- and had to be coaxed during the Q&A to perform one last big move for the audience. He shrugged off the applause and attention as he back-flipped down to the concrete, knowing that the true parkour had taken place earlier.
From the letters to the editor in the Sept 24 issue of the New Yorker, a letter from John Yohalem, New York City:
I enjoyed reading Tim Page's essay on living with Asperger's syndrome: the insomnia, the social puzzlement, the obsession with various subjects to the exclusion of more common ones -- all are very familiar to me. ("Parallel Play," August 20th). Then came this description: "In the late nineteen-seventies, I saw a ragged, haunted man who spent urgent hours dodging the New York transit police to trace the dates and lineage of the Hapsburg nobility on the walls of the subway stations." I was the gentleman in question; although I didn't care about clothes, I don't think I was that ragged. I want to assure Mr. Page that I was never homeless or institutionalized (as he guessed), and I got only one ticket. Mr. Page and I had other things in common; like him, I was at the première of Steve Reich's "Music for 18 Musicians" at Town Hall. Unlike Mr. Page, I did not find this particular music's structure all-engrossing; I preferred to dance to it. At one performance of Reich's music at the U.S. Custom House, I danced alone around and around the central musicians. For someone as acutely self-conscious as I had been, this seemed a moment of glorious emergence, of living my own life in everyone else's world.
So preoccupied are we with our inner imperatives that the outer world may overwhelm and confuse. What anguished pity I used to feel for pinatas at birthday parties, those papier-mache donkeys with their amiable smiles about to be shattered by little brutes with bats. On at least one occasion, I begged for a stay of execution and eventually had to be taken home, weeping, convinced that I had just witnessed the braining of a new and sympathetic acquaintance.
Of course Yohalem has a blog -- the 21st century equivalent to scribbling Hapsburg lineages on subway walls -- which has a more complete version of the above posted there.
If you're unfamiliar with the alternate side parking shuffle that happens once or twice a week in most areas of NYC, Jen Bekman has a good description of it. I'm convinced the New Yorker would go out of business if it weren't for the shuffle...a lot of 6,000 word articles get read waiting for the meter maid to come around.
Analysis of a recent New Yorker cover, the one with the guy and girl standing in front of an abstract expressionist painting. "Rather than a couple in love with each other, with art, and with technological possibility, I see a boy with a toy, and a girl with patience. He is much more engaged with the devise; she curves demurely away." The phrase "boy with a toy, and a girl with patience" describes many American relationships, I think. (thx, david)
Great interview with Hendrik Hertzberg, who writes about politics for the New Yorker. "The quality of our members of Congress is lower than similar bodies in Europe. I don't think the moral qualities are lower, but in terms of experience and expertise and knowledge of the world, they're much lower. And it's lower because the geographic basis for advancement is qualitatively different than any other field. Imagine if our music industry were geographically based, if hits were proportioned by district. Or literature or business..."
I might be shooting myself in the foot by posting this, but the table of contents for the newest issue of the New Yorker is usually available on Sunday on newyorker.com, the day before the issue hits the newsstands and arrives in subscriber mailboxes. All you need to do is hack the URL of the TOC from the previous Monday. Here's the URL for the April 23 TOC:
When I saw the title for this article -- 'Most E-Mailed' List Tearing New York Times' Newsroom Apart -- I said, hey this is going to be pretty interesting. But then I click through and it's The Onion. Which is funny and all, but I'd rather read a real article on the effect the most popular lists have on the decisions made by the editorial staff at the Times, the New Yorker, and other such publications.
David Remnick may be the current editor of the New Yorker, but it's much-maligned former editor Tina Brown's team that's running the place. Love the comments at the end...the Gawker audience is almost shocked at something that's actually researched, longer than three sentences, and doesn't contain any overt drug references. Choire, you keep this up, I might have to start reading the site again.
Short profile of Atul Gawande, surgeon and writer, one of the few New Yorker contributers I make a point of reading every single time I see his byline. "I now feel like writing is the most important thing I do. In some ways, it's harder than surgery. But I do think I've found a theme in trying to understand failure and what it means in the world we live in, and how we can improve at what we do."
The New Yorker redesign just went live. Not sure if I like it yet, but I don't not like it. Some quick notes after 15 minutes of kicking the tires, starting with the ugly and proceeding from there:
Only some of the old article URLs seem to work, which majorly sucks. This one from 2002 doesn't work and neither does this one from late 2005. This David Sedaris piece from 9/2006 does. kottke.org has links to the New Yorker going back to mid-2001...I'd be more than happy to supply them so some proper rewrite rules can be constructed. I'd say that more than 70% of the 200+ links from kottke.org to the New Yorker site are dead...to say nothing of all the links in Google, Yahoo, and 5 million other blogs. Not good.
The full text of at least one article (Stacy Schiff's article on Wikipedia) has been pulled from the site and has been replaced by an abstract of the article and the following notice:
The New Yorker's archives are not yet fully available online. The full text of all articles published before May, 2006, can be found in "The Complete New Yorker," which is available for purchase on DVD and hard drive.
Not sure if this is the only case or if the all longer articles from before a certain date have been pulled offline. This also is not good.
The first thing I looked for was the table of contents for the most recent issue because that's, by far, the page I most use on the site (it's the defacto "what's new" page). Took me about a minute to find the link...it's hidden in small text on the right-hand side of the site.
There are several RSS options, but there's no RSS autodiscovery going on. That's an easy fix. The main feed validates but with a few warnings. The bigger problem is that the feed only shows the last 10 items, which isn't even enough to cover an entire new issue's worth of stories and online-only extras.
Some odd spacing issues and other tiny bugs here and there. The default font size and line spacing make the articles a little hard to read...just a bit more line spacing would be great. And maybe default to the medium size font instead of the small. A little rough around the edges is all.
All articles include the stardard suite of article tools: change the font size, print, email to a friend, and links to Digg, del.icio.us, & Reddit. Each article is also accompanied by a list of keywords which function more or less like tags.
Overall, the look of the site is nice and clean with ample white space where you need it. The site seems well thought out, all in all. A definite improvement over the old site.
The letters to the editor section of the New Yorker this week contains a correction to Stacy Schiff's piece in the magazine about Wikipedia from July 2006. The piece included an interview with Essjay who was described in the article as a tenured professor with a Ph.D. Turns out that Essjay wasn't exactly who he said he was:
At the time of publication, neither we nor Wikipedia knew Essjay's real name. Essjay's entire Wikipedia life was conducted with only a user name; anonymity is common for Wikipedia administrators and contributors, and he says that he feared personal retribution from those he had ruled against online. Essjay now says that his real name is Ryan Jordan, that he is twenty-four and holds no advanced degrees, and that he has never taught.
How the New Yorker picks its cartoons. "The funniest cartoon is not necessarily the best cartoon. Funnier means that you laugh harder, and everybody's gonna laugh harder at more aggressive cartoons, more obscene cartoons. It's a Freudian thing. It gives more relief. But is it a better joke? To me, better means having more truth in it, having both the humor and the pain and therefore having more meaning and more poetry."
Fuck, this pisses me off: the New Yorker is splitting up their longer pieces into multiple pages (for example: Ben McGrath's article on YouTube). I know, everyone else does it and it's some sort of "best practice" that we readers let them get away with so they can boost pageviews and advertising revenue at the expense of user experience, but The New Yorker was the last bastion of good behavior on this issue and I loved them for it. This is a perfect example of an architecture of control in design and uninnovation. I want the New Yorker's web site to get better, not worse. Blech and BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!
Last month I covered the hubbub surrounding the still-potential proof of the Poincare conjecture. The best take on the situation was a New Yorker article by Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber, detailing the barest glimpse of the behind-the-scenes workings of the mathematics community, particularly those involving Grigory Perelman, a recluse Russian mathematician who unveiled his potential Poincare proof in 2002 and Shing-Tung Yau, a Chinese mathematician who, the article suggested, was out for more than his fair share of the credit in this matter.
After declining the Fields Medal, the Nobel Prize of mathematics, Perelman has quit mathematics and lives quietly in his native Russia. Yau, however, is upset at his portrayal (both literally and literary) in the New Yorker article and has written a letter to the New Yorker asking them to make a prominent correction and apologize for an illustration of Yau that accompanied the article. From the letter:
I write in the hope of enlisting your immediate assistance, as well as the assistance of The New Yorker, in undoing, to the extent possible, the literally world-wide damage done to Dr. Yau's reputation as a result of the publication of your article. I also write to outline for you, on a preliminary basis, but in some detail, several of the more egregious and actionable errors which you made in the article, and the demonstrably shoddy "journalism" which resulted in their publication.
The letter, addressed to the two authors as well as the fact-checker on the article and CC'd to David Remnick and the New Yorker's general counsel, runs 12 pages, so you may want to have a look at the press release instead. A webcast discussing all the details of the letter is being held at noon on September 20...information on how to tune in will be available at Dr. Yau's web site. (thx, david)
Update: I linked to this without reading it first, something I *never* do, but now that I've read it, there's really some great stuff in there about the writing process, magazines (specifically The New Yorker), and editing. And great quotes like "I'd rather work for Drunken Boat than for Time magazine, to be honest with you". Ouch for Time magazine.
Michael Bierut on the "slow design" of the New Yorker. "In contrast, one senses that each of the changes in The New Yorker was arrived at almost grudgingly. Designers are used to lecturing timid clients that change requires bravery. But after a certain point -- 80 years? -- not changing begins to seem like the bravest thing of all."
The right of Conde Nast to sell The Complete New Yorker (which is completely awesome from a content standpoint, BTW) without paying authors for republish rights is a gray area legally. National Geographic has stopped selling a similar collection because of the unsure legal terrain.
The writer of this blog hates the New Yorker, especially the David Denby part of it. From reading the site a bit, it seems to me that they actually like the NYer, but wish it were better, a feeling which I've had for several things in my life.