I wrote last year about the Bad Sex Awards, given for bad writing about … well, sex obviously. Last year Manil Suri carried it with this fine exemplar:

“Surely supernovas explode that instant, somewhere, in some galaxy. The hut vanishes, and with it the sea and the sands – only Karun’s body, locked with mine, remains. We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.”

This year Ben Okri, author of “The Famished Road” took it. The BBC’s write-up only  contained a short extract, which I didn’t find too bad at all:

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Jack White:

I got three women
Red, blonde, and brunette
It took a digital photograph to pick which one I like

I got one in California and one back in Detroit
I brought my woman to Nashville, cast a bottle with her daddy all night


I love girls, girls, girls, girls
Girls all over the globe

I got this Spanish chica, she don’t like me to roam
So she call me cabron plus marricon…

I got this French chick that love to french kiss
She thinks she’s Bo Derek, wear her hair in a twist…

I got this model chick that don’t cook or clean
But she dress her ass off and her walk is mean

Bonus: Ludacris

I’ve got hoes, in different area codes (area, area codes..codes)/
hoes, hoes, in different area codes (area, area codes..codes)


For some reason this got stuck in the drafts folder a while back.

David Lewis, Dennis Rogers, and Michael Woolcock ask that we not look only to academic journals, but to the arts too when discussing development. A broader range of sources will have many advantages, they write:


In the first instance, we found that development knowledge – or more specifically, what counts as serious or legitimate knowledge about development – is too often narrowly represented within academic and policy discussions. Development is one of the key ideas of our time, and should not be the exclusive purview of technocrats and academics.

Second, it can take us beyond narrow (largely western and northern) forms of development professionalism and expertise, and actively incorporate other voices and other forms of knowledge into discussions about development ideas, evidence, policy and practice.

Finally, popular representations have important implications for how we teach people about development, and remind us of the wider options that are available to illustrate and to inspire.

I had a professor in college who assigned a novel in every political science class he took. In our seminar on corruption, we read No Longer at Ease by Chinua Achebe (I wrote about it elsewhere). I ended up citing it in a paper later; more so than  any academic source it tried to explain on a human level how people in postcolonial African societies can relate with the state in a way that can lead to what we term corrupt. Similarly, I would think his No Longer at Ease could be used in a class on the experience of colonialism. Many more examples come to mind, and not just in the development context. Novels can teach us so much — including just basic empathy — that it’s a shame they aren’t used as teaching materials more often.


Via New York Magazine

Via New York Magazine

This might well be bad news for those of us who love beautiful book covers. I keep saying that we’re living in a golden age of book cover design. The Penguin Classic Series alone should satisfy anyone that books — even paperbacks — should be taken seriously as aesthetic objects in their own right, not just for their intellectual value.

But that graph (courtesy of New York magazine)spells trouble. A Twilight-style redesign increases sales by that much? I’m all for more sales of Austen, but I really hope this won’t lead to a homogenization of book cover designs as publishers all fall in line behind the latest blockbuster design. I imagine it’s already tricky enough to not fall into the pattern of repeating the same tropes over and over, as the movie industry does — this sales pattern is a bad incentive.

As for the language of the art world — “International Art English” — I think obfuscation was part of its purpose, to protect what in fact was probably a fairly simple philosophical point, to keep some sort of mystery around it.

There was a fear that if it was made understandable, it wouldn’t seem important.

Grayson Perry, in conversation with Brian Eno, in the current edition (1-7 Nov) of the New Statesman.  I haven’t been able to find an online version of this article, which is a shame. Great conversation that ranges from the nature of art to the universality of beauty, the artistic process, and kinky sex. I’ll post the whole thing once they put it online.



Glassy Sunset, 2013. By Fong Qi Wei, image from Slate.com

Slate had a post up about Singaporean artist Fong Qi Wei, who spends several hours at the same spot taking pictures at various times, then slices them together. The resulting images, under the series “Time is a Dimension” are very impressive.
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From the excellent blog wronging rights:

If any kids out there are wavering about whether to pursue a human rights career and have written “no one will ever write a rock ballad about me and play it live to thousands of screaming fans” on their lists of “potential downsides,” they can go ahead and cross it off.

Pretty fun, except for that whole bit about crying while being a man.


McCann thanked him for saying that. He was no psychologist, he said, but he believed it was necessary to acknowledge how powerful despair can be. The question was how to get to a place beyond that. “You have to beat the cynics at their own game,” he said, echoing, consciously or not, George Mitchell on that day in Belfast. There was nothing the least bit preachy in his tone. “I’m not interested in blind optimism, but I’m very interested in optimism that is hard-won, that takes on darkness and then says, ‘This is not enough.’ But it takes time, more time than we can sometimes imagine, to get there. And sometimes we don’t.” He couldn’t fathom what they were going through, he said, but he knew that the struggle against cynicism would be the challenge for them, as it is for anyone, for the rest of their lives.

Colum McCann’s Radical Empathy by Joel Lovell, on the author’s visit to Sandy Hook survivors

Jack White. Image thanks to Esquire.

In the first post on this subject I linked to a bunch of stuff on ?uestlove, the Roots’ frontman.

Because it’s Jack White’s birthday today, I thought it might be time to dig up some stuff I liked on him, too.

The first stop would have to be this brilliant profile in the New York Times Magazine. It covers a lot of ground, from his biography to The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weathers, and now his solo stuff. Then, check out the Esquire piece by Miranda Collinge.

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His love of music bordered on the obsessive. As a two-year-old, he would watch records spin just to memorize the labels. Later, he would count off the seconds to the end of a shower, or the steps to the end of the hall, or try to cross a bridge before the end of a song, walking at a certain number of beats per minute—he could feel the rhythm in everything. He had an unending appetite for pop culture, a prodigious memory for dates, and a compulsion for cross-referencing them. He can tell you, for instance, that Philadelphia police bombed the MOVE headquarters on May 13, 1985; that Tony Orlando guest-starred on “Cosby” that month, and that “Soul Train” was a rerun that week. “I got home the second the bomb dropped,” he says. “That was the day my ninth-grade girlfriend dumped me.”

(from “The Rhythm in Everything,” a profile of ?uestlove. Sadly Paywalled)

I spent a good part of the day watching Nardwuar the Human Serviette interview various musicians, mostly rappers. He’s an extremely eccentric interviewer who has assembled a bit of a cult following due to his pieces. Essentially, he confronts interviewees with obscure bits of musical history that often have significant meaning to their story. He’s clearly a huge music geek, and who better to interview than ?uest, who is a walking encyclopaedia himself. If you don’t just want to watch a 45-minute video, scroll down to watch his interview with N.E.R.D. Pharrell liked it so much that he pestered Jay-Z to let himself be interviewed by Nardwuar.

Anyways, here’s the ?uestlove one:


Here’s the Pharrell interview.


Quick word on Nardwuar. His style can be very off-putting, which is a shame in a way. I watch those interviews and wish he could sit down with them — with a different personality, he could get them to really open up more than any other interviewer. But then, with a different personality, he probably wouldn’t know these things about them/dig up these priceless artifacts.

Another geek who comes to mind is Jack White, who clearly reveres the history and tradition of his craft. Was gonna post some links, but I’ll save that for another post.