Archive for the 'Favorites' Category

Death of a Ladies’ Man

R.I.P. Leonard Cohen, a major contributor to the soundtrack of my youth. I trust it is not inappropriate at this moment to pay tribute with this brilliant, weird and spot-on parody by the Austin Lounge Lizards. Herewith Leonard Cohen’s Day Job, from the (thoroughly brilliant) album Employee of the Month:

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Song of Bernadette

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When I screw up, I try to confess and atone for my errors.

Just about exactly a year ago, I posted a list of the 25 most beautiful folk songs ever recorded. How on earth did I manage to overlook Judy Collins’s stunning cover of Leonard Cohen/Jennifer Warnes’s heart-wrenching “Song of Bernadette”?

I’m afraid this egregious oversight has deprived you all of a year of sublime listening pleasure. My apologies to Miss Collins and to all of my readers.

Though YouTube says this is from a 1991 Collins concert in California, she performed a nearly identical rendition at Wolf Trap in 2000. The Live at Wolf Trap CD is well worth its exorbitant price; every track is stunning.

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When the Saints Go Marching In

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(Click here to watch on YouTube.)

Sixteen years ago, Slate Magazine was launched, with Paul Krugman and me as the alternating economics columnists. At the time, Paul was fond of observing (with considerable dismay) that most of the time, highly educated and intelligent non-economists appear to be completely incapable of distinguishing between compelling arguments and utter nonsense in the field of economics. His essay on “Pop Internationalism” is a brilliant series of riffs on this theme — a guided tour of sheer balderdash that gets a respectable hearing even though no economist could possibly take it seriously. “Pop Internationalism” (the lead essay in the book of the same name) is high on my recommended reading list.

The lesson I took from this observation was that we (Krugman, I, and economic commentators in general) had a responsibility to explain not just what economists believe, but why we believe it — to help readers understand that there’s a rigorous underlying logic to the discipline, and that there are good reasons for insisting that people adhere to that logic. Nowadays, when he’s at his most obstreperous, I sometimes suspect Krugman of having drawn a very different lesson — that because nobody understands the real logic of economics, we can get away with saying any damned thing we want to. It’s a frustrating thing to watch, because when he’s good, he’s very very good. But when he is bad he is horrid. I won’t list examples here, but you can find quite a few by browsing my Paul Krugman archive.

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A Tale Told By an Idiot

In sixth grade, I did not read My Side of the Mountain, though it was assigned for class. In eighth grade, I did not read Little Women and in ninth grade I did not read Great Expectations and The Good Earth. As I passed through high school, I worked my way through much of the western canon, not reading The Scarlet Letter, Bartleby the Scrivener, The Return of the Native, and dozens more. In eleventh grade, we were assigned two books by Steinbeck, two by Hemingway, two by Sinclair Lewis and two by William Faulkner. I did not read the Steinbeck, Hemingway or Lewis but for some long-forgotten reason I violated years of established tradition by tackling the Faulkner — specifically As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury.

As I Lay Dying went down pretty easily, but I remember many nights struggling my way through The Sound and the Fury, Cliff notes at my side. It felt like scaling Everest, and the vistas at the top were worth the climb.

A couple of weeks ago, as part of my ongoing project to read great novels, I decided to revisit The Sound and the Fury, and I’m more than glad I did; I finally have an answer to give the next time I’m asked what one novel I’d bring to a desert island. But what I’m flabbergasted by is this: How did this book ever get assigned to high school students in the first place? I ask for at least two reasons:

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

ibookshelfA few years ago, I discovered that reading on my Kindle is about 1000 times better than reading a book. This year, I discovered that reading on my iPhone is about 100 times better than reading on my Kindle. As a result (and also as a result of a lot of time spent on airplanes), I’ve been on a mad fiction-reading spree the past few months. Some mini-reviews:

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Blogpost in October


If Dylan Thomas hadn’t drunk himself to death in 1953, he might be celebrating his ninety-sixth birthday today, perhaps with a successor to the grand and glorious poem he wrote to celebrate his thirtieth.

He left us with a small number of poems so heart-wrenching that I cannot read them, even for the two hundredth time, without all of the symptoms of an emotional crisis. Take In Country Sleep, where a father reassures his daughter that she has nothing to fear from fairy tale villains—but only from the Thief who comes in multiple guises to take her faith and ultimately to leave her “naked and forsaken to grieve he will not come”. In Country Sleep was a standard bedtime poem in our house, and my daughter soon learned to anticipate “the part where Daddy cries”.

Then there’s the prose. Nobody is better at nostalgia and grief for time’s relentlessness:

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A Musical Interlude

guitarWhat is the most beautiful folk song you’ve ever heard?

Herewith I offer a list of 25 of my top candidates, with links to brief audio clips. For this purpose, I am defining a “folk song” to be something that would likely be filed in the “folk” section of a Barnes and Noble music department.

Note that the criterion is “most beautiful”, not “favorite”, though of course there’s quite a large overlap between the two.

I am aware that my choices might be colored by the circumstances in which I first heard these songs as well as by their intrinsic merit. I also acknowledge, without a shred of embarrassment, that some might consider the overall tenor of this list to be shockingly lowbrow. Nevertheless, I believe every song on this list to be stunningly beautiful in its way.

Do tell me what I’ve overlooked.

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Books, Books, Books

booksTyler Cowen started a blogospheric whirlwind recently when he posted the list of books that had influenced him the most and called on other econ bloggers to do the same. In short order, we got entries from Peter Suderman, E.D. Kain, Arnold Kling, Michael Martin, Niklas Blanchard, EconJeff, Bryan Caplan, Matt Yglesias, Jenny Davidson, Will Wilkinson, Matt Continetti, Ross Douthat, Mike Konczal, Kieran Healy, Ivar Hagendoorn, Scott Sumner, and no doubt others. [Update: Some of these links were wrong; I think they’re all fixed now.]

I’m late to the party, but here’s my list:

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Who’s Who

In a triumph of collective action, commenters have now managed to identify all of the personal heroes in my portrait gallery, either in comments to the original post or to the followup. For those who would like to check their answers, here is the gallery again, with full captions. After all the pictures, I’ve attached some brief commentary explaining who’s who and why some of these people are here. I’ll write in more detail about some of them over the coming weeks.

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Unidentified Persons

attemptYesterday I posted a portrait gallery honoring 60 of my personal heroes; readers were quick to identify 47, with remarkably few mistakes, all of which were quickly corrected. As of this writing, thirteen remain. Among these thirteen are the greatest mathematician of the 17th century (assuming we classify Newton as a physicist) and the three greatest mathematicians of the 20th; one of these is quite probably the greatest mathematician of all time. (All in my educated-but-not-fully-educated opinion, of course.) Musical, literary and cinematic greatness are also well represented here.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will try to tell you a little bit more about some of these 60 people. Meanwhile, here are the thirteen mystery men/women. I’ve retained the numbering from yesterday’s post. Who can you identify?

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The World Wide Wall

wallselectionSince childhood, I have dreamed of someday having a house with a portrait gallery, where I would hang portraits of people I greatly admire. Every time I’ve either moved or redecorated, I’ve thought about dedicating a wall to this, but I never really had that much wallspace to spare.

A short time ago, it dawned on me that I actually have an infinite amount of wall space! My wall space is called the World Wide Web. And the World Wide Web is better than a physical wall, because the images are readily available (as opposed to hiding away in antique shops), and it’s easy to put things up and take things down, and you can share it with people you might not want to invite to your house.

So now I am prepared to unveil my World Wide Wall, or at least a first draft. I am well aware that many of these heroes are deeply flawed. I did not disqualify anyone for slaveholding, Louisiana purchases, Nazi sympathies or the imposition of protective tariffs. Not all of them are at the very top of their professions. The only criterion for inclusion was to make my heart go pit-a-pat.

My wall. Let me show you it. How many of these do you recognize? (No fair answering if you’re a personal friend who’s already seen an early draft of this.) And who would be on your wall?

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In the Spirit of the Day

If you’re at work on this post-Thanksgiving morning, it’s probably a slow day around the office (unless you’re in retail, in which case you’re probably not reading this). So to help you while away the hours, here are a few of my favorite logic puzzles from around the net:

Warning: These are majorly addictive. Enjoy, but resolve not to let them take over your life. You have a blog to get back to.

Too Marvelous for Words

The greatest financial mistake of my life occurred on the day my father offered to bet his entire net worth against mine that the great Johnny Mercer had written the song Don’t Fence Me In. Now “Don’t Fence Me In” is a marvelous song, and Johnny Mercer could have been justifiably proud to write it—if only Cole Porter had not written it first. I happened to know this about Cole Porter; I knew it as surely as I know the authors of Romeo and Juliet and The Wealth of Nations. But for some reason I’ve never understood, I refused the bet, thereby condemning myself to a life of poverty. Still I console myself with the knowledge that you don’t have to be rich to be touched by the grace of Johnny Mercer, who was born one hundred years ago today.

The guy was a phenomenon. He wrote the lyrics for over 1500 songs, and the music for at least a few hundred. And he was a singer-songwriter decades before the likes of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Joni Mitchell allegedly invented the genre. God, he was smooth. By and large, I’d rather hear Johnny Mercer sing his own songs than any of the myriad covers that have become American classics—and that’s saying something for a guy who was covered repeatedly by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.

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