Capital in the Twenty-First Century
“What are the grand dynamics that drive the accumulation and distribution of capital? Questions about the long-term evolution of inequality, the concentration of wealth, and the prospects for economic growth lie at the heart of political economy. But satisfactory answers have been hard to find for lack of adequate data and clear guiding theories. In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty analyzes a unique collection of data from twenty countries, ranging as far back as the eighteenth century, to uncover key economic and social patterns. His findings will transform debate and set the agenda for the next generation of thought about wealth and inequality.
“Piketty shows that modern economic growth and the diffusion of knowledge have allowed us to avoid inequalities on the apocalyptic scale predicted by Karl Marx. But we have not modified the deep structures of capital and inequality as much as we thought in the optimistic decades following World War II. The main driver of inequality--the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth--today threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values. But economic trends are not acts of God. Political action has curbed dangerous inequalities in the past, Piketty says, and may do so again.
“A work of extraordinary ambition, originality, and rigor, Capital in the Twenty-First Century reorients our understanding of economic history and confronts us with sobering lessons for today.”
State of the News Media 2014
The Pew Research Journalism Project released its report of the state of the nation’s news. Part of the in-depth analysis looks at the changing revenue picture of the journalism industry, with this interesting paragraph: “As an industry, news in the U.S. generates roughly $63 billion to $65 billion in annual revenue, according to Pew Research analysis of official filings, projections by financial firms and self-reported data.1 While admittedly an estimate, the figure provides a sense of scale: The global video game industry takes in about $93 billion a year. Starbucks reported $15 billion in 2013 revenues and Google alone generated $58 billion that year.”
What a $45 Million Viola Sounds Like
This spring, Sotheby’s will put one of the finest Strads in existence up for auction: a viola believed to have been built between 1700 and 1720. It is expected to go for nearly $45 million, according to the New York Times. The instrument is one of only 10 in existence. So what does it sound like? Filmed by The New York Times, the clip below features violinist David Aaron Carpenter playing Suite No. 3 in C by Johann Sebastian Bach.
The Greatest Novel You Never Heard Of
I recently came across a mention of a novel that sounded very interesting. It’s called Stoner. Written by John Williams and first published in 1965, the novel received some kind words from critics, sold roughly 2,000 copies and then was quickly forgotten. But something rather unique has happened; it was published again by the New York Review Books in 2006 and has recently become a “must-read” book in Europe. Booker-award winning Julian Barnes writes in the UK’s Guardian about how a novel he never heard of had become his novel of the year. “In the decade up to 2012, it sold 4,863 copies, and by the end of last year was trundling along in print-on-demand. This year, up to the end of November, it has sold 164,000 copies, with the vast majority – 144,000 of them – coming since June,” writes Barnes. “It was the novel’s sudden success in France in 2011 that alerted other publishers to its possibilities; since then it has sold 200,000 copies in Holland and 80,000 in Italy. It has been a bestseller in Israel, and is just beginning to take off in Germany.”
Late last year, the New Yorker even published a piece about the book titled The Greatest Novel You Never Heard Of. The story is rather straightforward; it’s about a young man who grows up in rural Missouri, William Stoner. He goes to the University of Missour and there is life begins to change Instead of finishing coursework in agriculture and returning to the family farm, he discovers literature and he changes his major and the course of his life. Here’s the publisher’s description:
“William Stoner is born at the end of the nineteenth century into a dirt-poor Missouri farming family. Sent to the state university to study agronomy, he instead falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar’s life, so different from the hardscrabble existence he has known. And yet as the years pass, Stoner encounters a succession of disappointments: marriage into a “proper” family estranges him from his parents; his career is stymied; his wife and daughter turn coldly away from him; a transforming experience of new love ends under threat of scandal. Driven ever deeper within himself, Stoner rediscovers the stoic silence of his forebears and confronts an essential solitude.
“John Williams’s luminous and deeply moving novel is a work of quiet perfection. William Stoner emerges from it not only as an archetypal American, but as an unlikely existential hero, standing, like a figure in a painting by Edward Hopper, in stark relief against an unforgiving world.”
Listen to the report from NPR about the book and its recent “re-discovery.”
Pat Metheny: Kin
Ever since I first saw Pat Metheny in concert more than 20 years ago, I don’t think I’ve missed a chance to see him when he’s played in a nearby town. To date, Pat Metheny’s show for his multi-award-winning CD Secret Story is the best performance I’ve ever seen. He has a new CD out: Kin. And he is in town on Sunday night, playing at the Fitzgerald, and I can’t wait. Some say it’s his best work in years. I’m going to wait to play his new work until after I see him live. Here is a taste of that tour for Secret Story, That work is so hard to explain. Many fans call it a soundtrack for your life. Others claim it tells the story, without words, of a relationship that is good and then is torn apart. The music itself is so unique; it includes collaborations with the Pinpeat Orchestra of the Royal Ballet (of Cambodia), the London Symphony Orchestra, the Choir of the Cambodian Royal Palace, the amazing Toots Thielemans on harmonica, and of course, Lyle Mays and the other early members of Metheny’s group. It’s such a complex album that many I suppose assumed he wouldn’t tour, keeping it a studio creation only. But, Metheny took it on the road with great success. This video features a personal favorite: The Truth Will Always Be. And for a slower tempo song from that same show, watch Always and Forever. Amazing.
Stop Defending the Humanities
Simon During makes an interesting argument about defending the humanities in his essay in Public Books. Our debate about STEM versus the humanities may have it all wrong. In attempting to argue for the humanities value to society, we are instead missing the point entirely. One point that me makes later in his essay is that the “humanities” is a category that is too broad to represent any one discipline, let alone a particular point of view.
“I would suggest that it leads us to picture the humanities as something like a form of life, or better, because vaguer still, as something like a world, an institutionalized world. A world that contains smaller worlds. A simultaneously beleaguered and privileged world whose members typically belong to other, somewhat ontologically similar worlds, too.
“The main reason to think in such terms is to avoid betraying what is central to the humanities: that they cannot be properly defined in terms of their parts, in terms, for instance, of their instrumentalities or avoidance of instrumentality; or of the dispositions they nurture; or of the interests they nourish and serve; or of the knowledge and techniques they produce; or of the professional/bureaucratic protocols they enact; or of the ethics perhaps still installed within them. They cannot be limited to their constitutive rules or methods or personae or models or “values.” Those who join them can find their own paths through them and the rule-bound institutions they are based in, outside of essences and definitions, making their own connections and alliances, as in a world. And they don’t share a single project, if indeed they have projects at all.”
United States GDP
Ian Sefferman shared this interesting map on Twitter--50 percent of the country’s GDP comes from the blue areas and 50 percent from the orange.
Why Every Tech Company Needs an English Major
Matt Asay is exactly right. Let’s here it for the English major. Every tech company needs one. “Why? Because as important as the technology is that powers our lives, businesses also depend on humanities-oriented communicators to articulate why the technology matters.”
English majors can tell the story, and that’s no easy task. Engineering is available virtually everywhere now, Asay argues; the problem is not developing new technology. “For every company that can develop an incredible hardware or software product, there are more companies who fail in the attempt to get someone interested in buying that product.”
So the next time you look to find a storyteller, don’t look for someone well versed in the technology of the day, instructs Asay. “I care far less about familiarity with Eloqua or other marketing automation programs and far more about the ability to construct an interesting thesis and synthesize it in a few hundred words. With so much textual communication, and so much riding on the ability to distinguish one’s product through that communication, the ideal marketing candidate may look more like a technology journalist or blogger and not at all like an engineer.”
Rabbi David Hartman on Hope
Krista Tippett’s show On Being is one of my favorite podcasts that I look forward to listening to every week. Her show is wonderful, but this recent rebroadcast from Rabbi David Hartman is especially good. Honest, open, thoughtful. The show’s description: “David Hartman died a year ago this week. The Orthodox rabbi was a charismatic and challenging figure in Israeli society, called a “public philosopher for the Jewish people” and a “champion of adaptive Judaism.” We remember his window into the unfolding of his tradition in the modern world — Judaism as a lens on the human condition.”
Obsessing over punctuation
"Good writing involves obsessing over punctuation marks” writes Kathryn Schulz in a post at Vulture. “It’s 1 a.m., you’ve got a 5,000-word piece due the next day, and for the last twenty minutes you’ve been deliberating about the use of a semicolon versus a period in a single sentence.” Been there. Why obsess over these “humble elements” of prose? Because when they are used effectively, they can have a large impact on the reader.
In her post, Schulz highlights five of the best examples of “remarkable punctuation” in literature. My favorite is the use of a colon in the opening line of A Christmas Carol. “This sentence is insane, or anyway destined to foment insanity in the grammatically prissy. It has death, a dangling participle, and a wonderfully garrulous narrator with some kind of unmentionable Victorian-era disease: wandering colon. It is great.”