Screening Room: ‘All Governments Lie’

Yallgovernmentslie1ou would imagine from the title of the new documentary All Governments Lie, that it’s an investigation of, well, government corruption. But that’s only a sideline in this barn-burner about corporate media’s apparent inability to hold those lying politicians to account.

All Governments Lie is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

If you take everything in Fred Peabody’s screed All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone at face value, then you might as well cancel your New York Times subscription. Don’t read the Washington Post either. PBS’ “Frontline” and CBS’ “60 Minutes”? Garbage, the lot of them! That’s the takeaway from this narrowcast documentary, which takes a valid critique of the deadening effect corporate-government synergy can have on mainstream media’s ability to truly afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted and undercuts it with poor logic and simplistic argument…

Reader’s Corner: Read Books, Live Longer

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There are many advantages to being a reader. Most importantly, it gives you something awesome to do on a rainy day, or pretty much any day, and doesn’t require electricity or feeding. Also, if you’re a child, being a reader doesn’t just build intelligence, it builds self-confidence.

Now, apparently, reading is positively associated with longer life. That’s the result of a study in Social Science & Medicine. According to the Times:

Compared with those who did not read books, those who read for up to three and a half hours a week were 17 percent less likely to die over 12 years of follow-up, and those who read more than that were 23 percent less likely to die. Book readers lived an average of almost two years longer than those who did not read at all.

As to what kind of books led to this kind of outcome, the study’s authors didn’t say.

Quote of the Day: Trump Say Newspaper Bad

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Writers, take note: A certain presidential candidate opined today on an apparent lack of standards over at the paper of record.

According to Politico:

They don’t write good. They have people over there, like Maggie Haberman and others, they don’t — they don’t write good,” he said. “They don’t know how to write good.

We are sure that the tiny-fingered tycoon meant to say, “They don’t write well.”

Babel Tower: Of Phanariots, Googlebots, and Infidelity

Constantine Maurocordato, one of the Ottoman Empire's dragomen, whose work as translators of the "infidels" language gave birth to the word "infidelity."
Constantine Maurocordato, one of the Ottoman Empire’s dragomen, whose work as translators of the “infidels” language gave birth to the word “infidelity.”

Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s superb article “Is Translation a Language or Math Problem?” has many things to recommend it, most particularly this aside on the roots of the word “infidelity”:

Translation promises unity but entails betrayal. In his wonderful survey of the history and practice of translation, “Is That a Fish in Your Ear?” the translator David Bellos explains that the very idea of “infidelity” has roots in the Ottoman Empire. The sultans and the members of their court refused to learn the languages of the infidels, so the task of expediting communication with Europe devolved upon a hereditary caste of translators, the Phanariots. They were Greeks with Venetian citizenship residing in Istanbul. European diplomats never liked working with them, because their loyalty was not to the intent of the foreign original but to the sultan’s preference. (Ottoman Turkish apparently had no idiom about not killing the messenger, so their work was a matter of life or death.) We retain this lingering association of translation with treachery.

Later in the piece, Lewis-Kraus limns what happens when engineers obsessed with using brute-force computation for online translation tools run up against the vagaries of literary nuance:

One computational linguist said, with a knowing leer, that there is a reason we have more than 20 translations in English of “Don Quixote.” It must be because nobody ever gets it right. If the translators can’t even make up their own minds about what it means to be “faithful” or “accurate,” what’s the point of worrying too much about it? Let’s just get rid of the whole antiquated fidelity concept. All the Sancho Panzas, all the human translators and all the computational linguists are in the same leaky boat, but the machinists are bailing out the water while the humans embroider monograms on the sails.

Nothing wrong with Google Translate, of course. But let’s hope that translating literature is left in the hands of people who, well, like literature and acknowledge the importance of linguistic subtlety. You wouldn’t hire a Ph.D in comparative lit to beta-test your server network, now would you?

Reader’s Corner: Keeping Up

bookswantedAny serious reader is never satisfied with how much they’re reading. They’re more likely to be anxious and perturbed by the ever-growing stack(s) of books that threaten to blot out the season’s weak winter sun.

Still, few readers have a to-read list to rival that of Times critic Dwight Garner, who says he gets about 25 books a day in the mail and that it takes him on average 8 hours to read one. Do the math.

Here’s a few of the better lines from a recent interview with Garner:

One doesn’t review one’s friends. Having said that, “friend” is an elastic term.

A lot of books are like first dates. You know in 25 seconds if it’s going to work out.

[On whether he reads every page of every book he reviews] I do. Out of moral obligation. Also out of fear. You don’t want to miss something crucial. You want to be definitive in your pronouncements. You want to be able to write things like, “Not once in 350 pages does Mr. Borges huff paint.” You don’t want to worry about a huffing scene on Page 211 that you skipped over.

Readers’ Corner: 100 Notable Books

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Just in time for readers everywhere to get ideas for gift-giving and to also realize exactly how few new books they have gotten to in the past year, The New York Times just released its annual 100 Notable Books list. It’s a daunting list, to be sure, and not always entirely justified—Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is somewhat inexcusably not on the list, while Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs takes up a not entirely necessary slot—but here’s a few of their selections that look best suited for catching up on in the long cold month of January:

  • All That Is by James Salter. (Knopf, $26.95.) Salter’s first novel in more than 30 years, which follows the loves and losses of a World War II veteran, is an ambitious departure from his previous work and, at a stroke, demolishes any talk of twilight.

  • Duplex – By Kathryn Davis. (Graywolf, $24.) A schoolteacher takes an unusual lover in this astonishing, double-hinged novel set in a fantastical suburbia.

  • Empress Dowagar Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China – by Jung Chang. (Knopf, $30.) Chang portrays Cixi as a proto-feminist and reformer in this authoritative account.

  • The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking – by Brendan I. Koer­ner. (Crown, $26.) Refusing to make ’60s avatars of the unlikely couple behind a 1972 skyjacking, Koerner finds a deeper truth about the nature of extremism.

I’ll be contributing as usual to the Best Of Books features at PopMatters, which should run towards the end of the year.

Department of Services: ‘Going Postal’

postofficeworkers1So amidst much hue and cry, Americans are now going to forego the pleasure of receiving bills, bills, charitable solicitations, and hand-painted thank-you notes from far-flung nieces and nephews on Saturday. This is due in part to just the higher costs of delivering mail six days a week as opposed to five and the exponential increase in electronic communication, but also because of some sublimely foolish decisions made by Congress. According to the New York Times:

…post office officials say the cuts, rate increases and staff reductions are not enough to make up for the two reasons it is losing money. One is a requirement that it pay nearly $5.5 billion a year for health benefits to future retirees, a mandate imposed on no other government agency.

Their decision to sponsor a certain well-known bicyclist might have not been the most prudent use of government funds, either.

Although most people are fine with ending Saturday delivery of letters, they are also opposed to closing local post offices. There’s a good reason for that, as it’s one of the most dependable points of government contact in many neighborhoods. The lines might be long, and the service not always the greatest, but you know it’s there.

goingpostal-pratchettIn the face of some of the usual suspects calling for out and out privatization of the mail service, it’s worth looking back at one of Terry Pratchett’s novels from his great Discworld series, Going Postal. It starts off as a comedy about a man being reprieved from a hanging and then moves into a broadly satirical and optimistic social comedy about the importance of the public sphere and the dangers of turning everything over to the marketplace.

Also, it has one of Pratchett’s better openings:

They say that the prospect of being hanged in the morning concentrates a man’s mind wonderfully; unfortunately, what the mind inevitably concentrates on is that, in the morning, it will be in a body that is going to be hanged.