What I’m Reading: Policy and Mediocrity, Wine, Metro Readers

Mostly what I’m reading is Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook (1962), which is 600+-pages and fascinating. I’m at about page 430 and will finish by the time we discuss it in bookgroup next week.

Otherwise, online:

>> We’ve Got A Ticket To Read in The Observer, about the French Metro-riding public’s reading tastes. Robert McCrum is scanning riders in search of evidence of “existentialists in the Sartrean sense;” doesn’t find too much of that, but reports what Parisians are reading and how it differs from Londoners. Appeals to the voyeur in me.

>>Exclusive Interview with ‘The Wire’ creator David Simon, 2 Nov. 2007. I’ve never seen “The Wire” (it’s on HBO) or heard of David Simon but the interview is nonetheless worth reading because it’s about the tragedy of modern American cities and lack of political will to improve the lives of citizens. Simon, while with the Baltimore Sun, wrote “the Edgar Award winning account of the Baltimore City Homicide Division, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets (which later spawned the NBC series).” Now he writes for HBO’s “The Wire,” a sprawling, epic tale about the decay of the American city.” Among themes the show explores are drugs and law enforcement, education, the media, politics, and reform.

Simon is direct in his critique of much of what passes for excellence these days:

Talking about journalism: “You see these sort of ‘we gotcha’ stories, bite sized morsels of outrage, half-assed scandals. No one is tackling big problems. That kind of ambition is gone. … At some point, Wall Street found the industry. And instead of being sheltered in a series family owned companies, the newspaper chain entities, which are beholden to stock holders and share prices, began buying them up. At that moment when Wall Street raised its hand, that was pretty much the end.”

He’s asked: “The failure of law enforcement, the death of the working class, the impotence of reform, the inequity of the education system — how much can you really blame on newspapers?

Simon’s response: “I’m not blaming the newspaper for the origins of the problem, the origins of the problem are a complete lack of social policy. Our social framework is ‘Can I get it promoted now, can I make a buck off it?’ The entire country right now is like a pyramid scheme with no other ethic or social framework behind it. So obviously there are a lot of forces at work. I’m just saying the media, which is supposed to be the assertive watchdog of the political and social culture, the last hope of reform — they’re not here anymore.”

Asked “As far as how bad it got – that pyramid scheme — do you think it was ineptitude, self preservation or was this a calculated maneuver by those that set our policy to stay atop the pyramid?”, Simon answers, “I don’t think that it’s that anyone had a plan to do this. People were simply thinking short when they should have been thinking long.”

>> Calculating the Carbon Footprint of Wine by Pablo Päster and Tyler Colman, who is DrVino.com. … The ‘good news’ is that for those of us on the East coast, it’s no worse ecologically to drink French (Italian, Spanish) wine than to drink California wine. The bad news is pretty much everything else. For one thing, growing grapes is very resource-intensive: “Compared to many other crops, grapes yield relatively little output per hectare. Grapes considered in this study yielded between 400 and 800 kilograms (kg) per hectare, whereas corn can yield between 30 and 80 metric tons per hectare.  Grapes require between 50 and 100 kg of agrichemicals (biocides and fertilizers) per ton while corn requires around 40 kg per ton. Grapes can also require a large amount of water relative to their output; between 1.2 and 2.5 megaliters per hectare, or 550,000 liters per ton.” Still, “The greatest climate impact from the wine supply chain comes from transportation,” quite an obstacle for those of us who don’t live in wine-growing areas. The full 20-page PDF is here.


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