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July 5, 2012

Steve Jobs Showed that Art and Commerce Could Be "Happy Bedfellows"



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Gary Oldman. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.







(p. 2) Gary Oldman is an English actor . . . widely known for his roles as Sirius Black in the "Harry Potter" film series and Jim Gordon in the Batman movies.


. . .


READING Right now I'm reading the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. I love when people have a singleness of purpose and don't get dissuaded. I can connect with that. I can recognize it. I think a lot of artists have that. Art and commerce are not particularly happy bedfellows, but he was the exception.

I read quite a lot of biographies. I like nonfiction. The other book I'm carrying around with me at the moment is "River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West" by Rebecca Solnit. It deals with the 19th century and the arrival of speed with the coming of the industrial age. We were very much governed by nature before; we were at the mercy of our own speed and horses and the like. It's interesting to think of living at that pace.



For the full interview, see:

KATE MURPHY. "DOWNLOAD; Gary Oldman." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., February 5, 2012): 2.

(Note: ellipses added; bold in original.)

(Note: online version of the interview is dated February 4, 2012.)






May 26, 2007

"A Triumph of Engaged Amateurism"

 

Steven Johnson has a great passage on the contribution of the amateur in The Ghost Map story (see below).

This is a theme that resonates.  In The Long Tail, Chris Anderson makes the case for amateurs in astronomy.  (Is it he, who points out that the root of the word "amateur" is to love?)

Stigler had an important early paper in which he discusses the professionalization of the economics profession.  He praises the results, but what he presents provides some grist for the mill of criticism too.  For example, the exit of the amateurs, reduced the applicability of the work, and turned research more toward internal puzzle-solving, and model-building.

The web is a leveler in science, as suggested in an NBER paper.  Maybe the result will be a resurgence of amateurism, and maybe that won't be all bad.

 

(p. 202)  But Broad Street should be understood not just as the triumph of rogue science, but also, and just as important, as the triumph of a certain mode of engaged amateurism.  Snow himself was a kind of amateur.  He had no institutional role where cholera was concerned; his interest in the disease was closer to a hobby than a true vocation.  But Whitehead was an amateur par excellence.  He had no medical training, no background in public health.  His only credentials for solving the mystery behind London's most devastating outbreak of disease were his open and probing mind and his intimate knowledge of the community. 

 

Source:

Johnson, Steven. The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. New York: Riverhead Books, 2006.

 

(Note:  A probably relevant, much praised book, that I have never gotten around to reading, is Martin J.S. Rudwick's The Great Devonian Controversy:  The Shaping of Scientific Knowledge among Gentlemanly Specialists.)

 




April 16, 2006

J.K. Rowling on What Matters

Writing on her Web site after reading a magazine featuring photographs of a thin woman who was ''either seriously ill or suffering from an eating disorder,'' Ms. Rowling expressed concern that her daughters, Jessica, 12, and Mackenzie, 1, might become overly conscious about their weight, Agence France-Presse reported. ''I don't want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones,'' she said. ''I'd rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, funny -- a thousand things, before 'thin.' ''


LAWRENCE VAN GELDER. "Arts, Briefly; J. K. Rowling Speaks Out." The New York Times (Friday, April 7, 2006): B5.




November 28, 2005

Dobby's Absence Tarnishes Goblet of Fire

Source of image: Warner Brothers photo posted at: http://www.newsday.com/features/booksmags/sns-potter-movie-jpg,0,7776280.photogallery?coll=ny-homepage-bigpix2005


You can't make a long and complex novel into a movie, even a long movie, without cutting and simplifying. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a good movie, but not as good as the book. Much has been said of the movie's dark side. The book had a dark side too, but what is missing from the movie is a key element of the book's light side: Dobby, the rascally, loyal, house-elf with the mismatched socks. For those who have seen the movie, without having read the book, here is one of my favorite (albeit serious) Dobby passages:

"Dobby has traveled the country for two whole years, sir, trying to find work!" Dobby squeaked. "But Dobby hasn't found work, sir, because Dobby wants paying now!"

The house-elves all around the kitchen, who had been listening and watching with interest, all looked away at these words, as though Dobby had said something rude and embarrassing. Hermione, however, said, "Good for you, Dobby!"

"Thank you, miss!" said Dobby, grinning toothily at her. "But most wizards doesn't want a house-elf who wants paying, miss. 'That's not the point of a house-elf,' they says, and they slammed the door in Dobby's face! Dobby likes work, but he wants to wear clothes and he wants to be paid, Harry Potter. . . . Dobby likes being free!" (p. 378; ellipsis in original)

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4). New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2000.




July 31, 2005

Enterprise and Government in Harry Potter

A long time ago (30 or 35 years) I attended some sessions on film and ideology at a week summer conference sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. At one session they screened Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and then the faculty panelists, with help from the audience, proceeded to thoroughly trash Capra for left-wing, anti-capitalist, populist bias. I sat and frowned and fumed, but the session ended without me having the courage to defend Capra. What I wish I had said was that Capra may have been a left-leaning populist; his economics may have been all wrong; but if that's all you say, you miss the main point. The main point of Capra is loyalty, and persistence, and courage and good-humor. One can reject Capra's implied economics and still love his movies.

Well on the night of Friday, July 15, 2005, with my wife and daughter, I hung out at the local Border's book store with a huge crowd of other fans, waiting until the stroke of midnight to be allowed to purchase Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Similar scenes played out all over the country, and in other countries as well. Apparently the book, like its predecessor, is setting all kinds of sales records.

And analyses have begun to appear about Harry Potter's economics and politics. (The July 15, 2005 Wall Street Journal ran a piece suggesting that Dumbledore is Winston Churchill and Voldemort is Adolph Hitler.) They too miss the main point.

The main point is that the leading heroes of the Potter books display loyalty, and persistence, and courage, and good-humor. And the characters are constructed as real people who we come to care about. And the books are well-written. And plot matters too--you need to find out what's going to happen next.

Still, if you want to play the socio-political-economic interpretation game with the Potter books, I suggest the following facts might be relevant. Two of the minor heroes of the books, Fred and George Weasley, are successful entrepreneurs. The heads of the governmental Ministry of Magic are at best ineffectual, dishonest, pompous buffoons. And the seed money for Fred and George's successful enterprise is provided by that most famous of venture capitalists: Harry Potter.


[Details on WSJ article: Jonathan V. Last. "History According to Harry: Appeasement Fails with Warlocks Too." Wall Street Journal (Friday, July 15, 2005)]




July 19, 2005

Free to Choose

. . ., you are free to choose your way, quite free to turn your back on the prophecy!

Dumbledore speaking to Harry in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, p. 512.




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