Recent New Yorker Articles

Just want to note down a few articles from recent issues of the New Yorker.

September 27, 2010 Issue

As new parents, we hold ourselves to impossibly high standards. We settle for second or third best when we buy a house or a car, and, when it comes to choosing a spouse, ninth best will often do. And yet, for some reason, we throw this time-tested principle out the window when we have a baby. We try to be “perfect” parents and raise the “perfect” baby, even if that means taking care of the baby “all the time.”
In reality, trying to raise a perfect baby is futile, because, behavior-wise, babies are pretty craptastic. Howling, vomiting, projectile-shitting—kind of hard to shoot for perfection when you’re doing appalling things like these around the clock.

Part of the power of “Gatz” may lie in the way in which it requires the audience’s submission to the exclusive experience of reading, without the distractions of family, television, laptop, or iPhone. Being shut up in a darkened theatre with “Gatz” is a strangel potent way to reproduce the increasingly elusive sensation of being enraptured by a book.

This reminded me a short conversation i had with Gui lately. She was saying that when Noah grew up, his world will not have physical books anymore. He will be reading from kindle or ipad or whatever the most trendy e-reader will be called.

“Will people still read ‘books’ if they’ve never read a physical book?” Gui was wondering out loud. I could see where her concerns come from, people would only consume reading materials in shorter form, like on-line newspaper articles, tweets, sms, facebook status. They would have neither patient nor time to read long “thick” book. But i somehow feel more optimistic. Because a world without the pleasure of reading a long novel is a sad sad world. People wouldn’t give up such pleasant experience, some people at least.

October 4, 2010 Issue

In other words, Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice.

October 11, 2010 Issue (The Money Issue)

(I LOVE this issue! It is full of gems.)

he was the first Chinese student since the Cultural Revolution to return with an American doctorate in economics. His Ph.D. was from the University of Chicago. … Lin is also, it’s safe to assume, the first chief economist of the World Bank to take office as a wanted man. He faces an outstanding arrest warrant, issued by the Ministry of Defense in his native Taiwan, for “defecting to the enemy,” for abandoning his post in the Army at the age of twenty-six and swimming to the mainland and a new life under the Communist Party.

A million dollars each! I kept estimating, and dividing by four, and mentally spending the money. My husband and I had recently bought a house in East Hampton, and the renovation had cost much more than we’d ever dreamed.  There was nothing left for landscaping. I went outside and walked around the house. I mentally planted several trees.  I ripped out the scraggly lawn and imagined the huge trucks of sod I would now be able to pay for.  I considered a trip to the nursery to look at hydrangeas. My heart was racing. I pulled my husband away from his work, and we had a conversation about what kind of trees we wanted. A dogwood, definitely. A great big dogwood. It would cost a small fortune, and now we were about to have one.

I went upstairs and looked at the script I’d been writing. I would never have to work on it again. I was just doing it for the money and, face it, it was never going to get made, and, besides, it was really hard.

I never did enter the fifth stage of inherited wealth: Wealth.

I finished the screenplay and it got made. I am quick to draw lessons from my own experience, and the lesson i drew from this one was that I was extremely lucky not to have ever inherited real money, because I might not have finished writing “When Harry Met Sally…,” which changed my life.

(this article truly opened my eyes)
First the argument Nightingale had against the Red Cross.

The godfather of modern humanitarianism was a Swiss businessman named Henri Dunant,…, he founded the Red Cross, on three bedrock principles: impartiality, neutrality, and independence. In fund-raising letters, he described his scheme as both Christian and a good deal for countries going to war. “By reducing the number of cripples,” he wrote, “a saving would be effected in the expense of a Government which has to provide pensions for disabled soldiers.”

…Florence Nightingale…she rejected the idea of the Red Cross from the outset. “I think its views most absurd just such as would originate in a little state like Geneva, which can never see war,” she said.  Nightingale has served as a nurse in British military hospitals during the Crimean War, where nightmarish conditions – septic, sordid, and brutal – more often than not amounted to a death sentence for wounded soldiers of the Crown. So she was outraged by Dunant’s pitch. How could anyone who sought to reduce human suffering want to make war less costly? By easing the burden on war ministries, Nightingale argued, volunteer efforts could simply make waging war more attractive, and more probable.

It might appear that Dunnat won the argument… Polman has come back from fifteen years of reporting in the places where aid workers ply their trade to tell us that Nightingale was right.

Some examples to prove Nightingale’s case…

The conventional wisdom was that Sierra Leone’s civil war had been pure insanity: tens of thousands dead, many more mainmed or wounded, and half the population displaced — all for nothing.

[a rebel leader in Makeni] claimed, the R.U.F. had escalated the horror of the war (and provoked the government, too, to escalate it) by deploying special “cut-hands gangs” to lp off civilian limbs. “It was only when you saw ever more amputees that you started paying attention to our fate,” he said. “Without the amputee factor, you people wouldn’t have come.” The U.N.’s mission in Sierra Leone was per capita the most expensive humanitarian relief operation in the world at the time.  The old rebel believed that, instead of being vilified for the mutilation, he and his comrades should be thanked for rescuing their country.

More opinions(all negative) on humanitarian aid from various professionals or ex-aid-workers…

…as the Harvard law professor David Kennedy writes in “The Dark Sides of Virtue” (2004), “Humanitarianism tempts us to hubris, to an idolatry about our intentions and routines, to the conviction that we know more than we do about what justice can be.”

[Michael] Maren and de Waal expose more thoroughly the ignoble economies that aid feeds off and creates: the competition for contracts, even for projects that everyone knows are ill-considered, the ways in which aid upends local markets for goods and services, fortifying war-markers and creating entirely new crises for their victims. Worst of all, de Waal argues, emergency aid weakens recipient governments, eroding their accountability and undermining their legitimacy.

[Michael] Maren, who came to regard humanitarianism as every bit as damaging to its subjects as colonialism, and vastly more dishonest, takes a dimmer view: that we do not really care about those to whom we send aid, that our focus is our own virture. He quotes these lines of the Somali poet Ali Dhux:

A man tries hard to help you find your lost camels.
He works more tirelessly than even you,
But in truth he does not want you to find them, ever.

“My Life as an Heiress”

Really enjoyed this article from the latest New Yorker: “My Life as an Heiress”. It also helped a great deal that i didn’t pay attention who was the author, so when i got to the last sentence, imagine my surprise! It made the article so much more enjoyable.

(Note, the link above only points to the abstract. But the latest iPad version of New Yorker boasts of having all the articles, so maybe if you have an iPad…)

“Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, and Beyond” @de Young

After seeing the amazing “Birth of Impressionism” exhibit at de Young in July, we’ve been impatiently waiting for the second half: “Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, and Beyond”.

It is finally here!

Gui and I went to see it yesterday (a Thursday). And we were disappointed.

It is good and worth seeing, but not great. Certainly not as great as “Birth of Impressionism”. Maybe because of the famous names in the title, it was a lot more crowded than the previous exhibit. As a result the overall enjoyment of the show was further diminished. 🙁

“Birth of Impressionism” was great because it was so consistently good from beginning to the end, great paintings in every section. Quality of “Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, and Beyond” was very uneven, it had a few good Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne; basically each artist had its own room, less than 10 from each artist; quantity-wise is far from enough, quality-wise it is not impressive either. And the proportion of paintings in the “Beyond” part was too large–about half of the show, and paintings in the “Beyond” section were uninteresting.

My favorite painting from this exhibit is “The Portrait of Gaustav Geoffrey” by Cézanne.

The Portrait of Gaustav Geffrey by Cezane

The Portrait of Gaustav Geffrey by Cézanne

WebMuseum has a detailed commentary about this painting, parts of it explained why i liked it so much.

It is not a revealing study of the face, but an image of the man of books, the writer among his things. Cézanne often reduces the singularity of human beings; he is most happy with people like his card players, who do not impose themselves, who are perfectly passive or reserved, or immersed in their tasks. The portrait becomes a gigantic still life. The world of objects absorbs the man and lessens the intensity of his person; but it also enlarges him through the rich and multiple surroundings. His repressed activity is transferred to the complicated articulation of his books, the instruments of his profession. Indeed the arrangement of the books behind him, projecting and receding, tilted differently from shelf to shelf and ending in the open volumes below, seems more human than the man, reminding us of a long twisted body in classic counterpoise, like Michelangelo’s Slave in the Louvre, a work that Cézanne admired and drew.

I’ve read and re-read Irving Stone’s Lust for Life, which used to be one of my favorite biographies. I’ve cried so hard during each read. Despite Stone’s fictionalizing of Van Gogh’s life, the book gave one a vivid image of the artist and its inspiration, as well as all the backstories of each of his painting. I remember the famous yellow room was painted in anticipation of Gauguin’s visit, and it was used to decorate the room.

While visiting Italy last fall, I finished reading Moon and Six Pence on my iphone. Even though i was never crazy about Gauguin’s paintings, the book painted a good portrait of the artist, and gave a complete overview of his life.

I fell in love with impressionism after my first European trip in 1997. I feverishly read on the period history, and browsed through every artist in this category at WebMuseum. At that time, one of my favorites was Cézanne. I search high and lo for his paintings on line, downloaded them and made them into my screen saver. I used to sit in front of my computer and watch the slide show over and over, mesmerized.  I never thought i would love a still life till i saw those done by Cézanne. Naturally i felt cheated when there were only two still life by Cézanne at de Young this time. What a let down!

Even with its shortcomings, this exhibit still delighted me. It was like seeing old dear friends again after long absence. Makes one feel all warm and fuzzy inside…

The Orchid Saga Continues

“What goes around comes around…”

Friend Bonnie got a moth orchid for her office desk. After the bloom was gone, a keiki developed on the flower stem! it was fascinating. I’ve never seen a live keiki before. Then the keiki started to grow roots. New leaves and new roots were growing left and right, but no more flower.

Right before my maternity leave, our department was due for another move. On packing day, Bonnie said she wanted to throw away her orchid since it didn’t look like it would bloom anytime soon. She was tired of carrying it around. I jumped, “I will take it! With all that healthy leaves and roots, all it needs is a little sunlight, then it would bloom.” I told her that she could have it back once the flower shows up.

The new flower stem grow out of the keiki this time. I think it was around the time when Noah was born. I’ve forgotten what the bloom was like. So we waited. And here it is. Exactly like my first orchid, which i’ve managed to kill while we were on Cole street. Some kind of reincarnation, maybe?

The New Comer

The New Comer