The anxiety of eating

David E. Cooper reviews The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A natural history of four meals by Michael Pollan, in the Times Literary Supplement:

Many of us have given a passing and grateful thought to those distant ancestors who, to their cost but our benefit, first sampled death-cap toadstools, deadly nightshade and other lethal impostors. And all of us give more than a passing thought to those of our contemporaries unfortunate enough to have eaten poultry or beef infected with E.coli 0157:H7, salmonella, or BSE. Their fates oblige the rest of us to weigh considerations of health against the convenience, price and pleasures of the foods we must decide among. Nor, of course, are issues of health confined to the risks of infection. On the World Health Organization’s definition, obesity – with its well-documented contributions to illness – is now the condition of over 60 per cent of Americans, with the British rapidly catching up. Disease, obesity, tooth decay and countless other food related threats to our health, however, are only one aspect of the wider problem announced in the title of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma – just one of the matters at stake when we ask ourselves, “Fats or carbs? Three square meals or continuous grazing? Raw or cooked? Organic or industrial? Veg or vegan? Meat or mock meat?”. The dilemmas of what, when and how we should eat, urges Pollan, constitute a “big existential problem”, for the way we eat represents nothing less than “our most profound engagement with the natural world”.

More here.

Let joy be unconfined

From The Times:Joy_1

“Are you getting enough of what makes you happy?” asked the band Hot Chocolate — and the desperate chorus, “What’s the matter with me?” is echoed millionfold by wistful souls who view happiness through somebody else’s window. Each day, it seems, a new study shows we are unhappier than ever, and that more and more people reach for the Prozac, wondering what went wrong with their lives. Now one of Britain’s elite schools is embarking on a pioneering educational experiment. Wellington College is to make space in the crowded timetable for lessons in positive psychology and the “science of wellbeing”. It intends to teach its clever and privileged youngsters — all destined, one can assume, for top jobs — how to become happy and fulfilled through the judicious application of positive psychology.

More here.

Clarion call to save amphibians

Frogs Campaigners are forming an Amphibian Survival Alliance, to raise $400m and carry through a rescue strategy. More than a third of all amphibian species are said to be in peril. In a policy statement issued in the journal Science, researchers blame a number of factors including habitat loss, climate change and disease. “We have a huge crisis but I’m confident we can produce some real results,” said Simon Stuart, from Conservation International (CI).

“The questions is: how many species will we lose? Are we going to lose hundreds before we can stabilise the situation or are we going to lose just tens,” he told the BBC News website. “Time is absolutely crucial, and to beat time we need human recourses and expertise, and finance.”

More here.

Displeasures of Empire

Excellent essay by our own J. M. Tyree in Agni:

Any Yankee who has spent more than a few hours in London knows that the sense of encroaching Americanism, so often attacked as the “blanding down” of the indigenous culture, is a bit of an illusion or superficial surface appearance. There’s no danger of anyone turning American anytime soon, and indeed one of the primary delusions of our current foreign policy—that everyone has a “little American,” in Slavoj Zizek’s apt phrase, waiting inside them, dying to experience the joys of unfettered capitalism and free market health care—comes to grief the moment you leave the country, even for Canada or Costa Rica. It is always embarrassing and baffling to see only the very strangest aspects of your culture promoted in other countries. I have in my mind the McDonald’s in Cambridge, which actually has a mock Greek temple made of plaster inside it, looking a bit like the sadly diminutive Stonehenge in the film This is Spinal Tap. Of course, it’s not news that the evidence of rampant Amerification is everywhere increasing—from the overnight mushrooming of the Starbucks chain to the more curious success of the U.S. bookstore Borders, and even the little-brother copycat Guantánamo Bay of the Belmarsh secret detention system.

The displeasure of empire involves the creeping physical sensation that no matter how far you travel you cannot escape yourself. This is, doubtless, true of everyone, but to be an American in this particular place and time makes it even worse. You keep running into little bits of yourself scattered over the entire world. Innocents Abroad? Not anymore. Essentially, the world had a raging teenage crush on America for awhile, but now they’ve gone off and dumped us. Our secret lycanthropy has been exposed by Iraq. We seem normal most of the month, but then the full moon arrives and we just go crazy and the carnage begins.

More here.

Van Gogh Seems to Have Gotten Turbulence Right

In news@Nature:

Vincent van Gogh is known for his chaotic paintings and similarly tumultuous state of mind. Now a mathematical analysis of his works reveals that the stormy patterns in many of his paintings are uncannily like real turbulence, as seen in swirling water or the air from a jet engine.

Physicist Jose Luis Aragon of the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Queretaro and his co-workers have found that the Dutch artist’s works have a pattern of light and dark that closely follows the deep mathematical structure of turbulent flow.

The swirling skies of The Starry Night, painted in 1889, Road with Cypress and Star (1890) and Wheat Field with Crows (1890) — one of the van Gogh’s last pictures before he shot himself at the age of 37 — all contain the characteristic statistical imprint of turbulence, say the researchers.

Their paper, for the technically minded, can be found here.

Remembering the London Bombings

On the one year anniversary of the bombings in London, a look at the aftermath and where things stand from several people, in openDemocracy. Huda Jawad, London resident:

When my sister and mother accompanied me to St Mary’s Hospital in west London to hand over our bouquet of flowers and offer our sympathies to the victims of the 7 July 2005 bombings, and then moved on to light candles at Edgware Road tube station, a flurry of cameras clicked and flashed. At the time, I assumed that complete strangers armed with cameras were interested in our small acts of solidarity and defiance only because of the “unusual sight” of hijab–wearing Muslim women standing against violence. Would they be as interested, I recall thinking, if we weren’t headscarfed and olive–skinned?

In the days that followed, the routinely friendly attitudes towards me of my colleagues and fellow passengers on London transport helped my paranoia and sense of siege slowly to dissipate. This experience made me even more determined to stand up to the claims and acts of the people who perpetrated these attacks in the name of my beautiful and spiritual faith. Refusing to be a victim was an active choice that I made then and continue to make every day since.

Now, a year on, a different predicament has emerged.

The Source of Europe’s Mild Climate

Richard Seager in American Scientist:

Fullimage_20066110320_866If you grow up in England, as I did, a few items of unquestioned wisdom are passed down to you from the preceding generation. Along with stories of a plucky island race with a glorious past and the benefits of drinking unbelievable quantities of milky tea, you will be told that England is blessed with its pleasant climate courtesy of the Gulf Stream, that huge current of warm water that flows northeast across the Atlantic from its source in the Gulf of Mexico. That the Gulf Stream is responsible for Europe’s mild winters is widely known and accepted, but, as I will show, it is nothing more than the earth-science equivalent of an urban legend.

This is not to say that there is no climatological mystery to be explained. The countries of northern Europe do indeed have curiously mild climates, a phenomenon I didn’t really appreciate until I moved from Liverpool to New York. I arrived in the Big Apple just before a late-summer heat wave, at a time when the temperature soared to around 35 degrees Celsius. I had never endured such blistering temperatures. And just a few months later I was awestruck by the sensation of my nostrils freezing when I went outside. Nothing like that happens in England, where the average January is 15 to 20 degrees warmer than what prevails at the same latitude in eastern North America. So what keeps my former home so balmy in the winter? And why do so many people credit the Gulf Stream?

Like many other myths, this one rests on a strand of truth.

More here.

The Extreme Sport of Origami

“A physicist’s computer program speeds the creation of stupefyingly complex paper sculptures.”

Jennifer Kahn in Discover Magazine:

WalkingsticksmallIn the dojo of the origami purist, there are only two rules: The folder may use just one sheet of square paper, and the paper cannot be cut or torn in any way. Following these rules to make a figure like a peace crane, with four basic features—a head, a tail, and two wings—is relatively easy, and origamists traditionally proceeded by trial and error, unfolding and refolding a piece of paper until it started to resemble, say, a swan. For hundreds of years, origami’s most complex patterns topped out at 20 steps.

These days patterns requiring more than 100 steps are common. Some of that competitive acceleration is due to Lang, who transformed the art by writing a computer program that can generate the blueprint for ultracomplex origami sculptures. Even with digital assistance, figuring out the sequence of folds that will create a beetle and all its ornaments is a mathematical problem of staggering complexity. Still, the reigning champion of intricate origami is a 23-year-old Japanese savant named Satoshi Kamiya. Unaided by software, he recently produced what is considered the pinnacle of the field, an eight-inch-tall Eastern dragon with eyes, teeth, a curly tongue, sinuous whiskers, a barbed tail, and a thousand overlapping scales. The folding alone took 40 hours, spread out over several months.

More here.


Jed Perl in The New Republic:

Susan_sontag_1Susan Sontag’s prose was rarely as incisive, as searching, and as compelling as in On Photography, published in 1977. And with “On Photography: A Tribute to Susan Sontag,” the Metropolitan Museum of Art has given us a beautifully concise, strikingly elegant triple salute: to an enormously important book; to the writer who died in December, 2004; and to the period, a generation ago, when photography was only beginning to receive its fair share of attention and acclaim. This show in New York’s greatest museum of art would probably never have been organized if Sontag, seen in all her dark-haired glory in a 1975 photograph by Peter Hujar, did not have a nearly inexhaustible fascination for New Yorkers. But what Mia Fineman, the curator of the exhibition, has chosen to emphasize is not Sontag the celebrity but Sontag the author.

More here.

How Not To Poll Climate Experts on Global Warming Movie

Trevor Butterworth in

“The nation’s top climate scientists are giving “An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore‘s documentary on global warming, five stars for accuracy,” announces the Associated Press. But what does that really mean?

Well, for starters, it’s the polling equivalent of grade inflation as five stars doesn’t mean 100 percent accuracy.

“The former vice president’s movie — replete with the prospect of a flooded New York City, an inundated Florida, more and nastier hurricanes, worsening droughts, retreating glaciers and disappearing ice sheets — mostly got the science right, said all 19 climate scientists who had seen the movie or read the book and answered questions from The Associated Press.”

But that’s small potatoes when forced, by implication, to accept that there are only 19 “top climate scientists” in the entire United States.

The AP, apparently, “contacted more than 100 top climate researchers by e-mail and phone for their opinion. Among those contacted were vocal skeptics of climate change theory. Most scientists had not seen the movie, which is in limited release, or read the book.”

So why doesn’t the headline say – “nation’s top climate scientists have not seen Gore warming movie” – which is the salient lede in this bit of amateur polling?

More here.

The military’s problem with Bush’s Iran policy

Seymour M. Hersh in The New Yorker:

On May 31st, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced what appeared to be a major change in U.S. foreign policy. The Bush Administration, she said, would be willing to join Russia, China, and its European allies in direct talks with Iran about its nuclear program. There was a condition, however: the negotiations would not begin until, as the President put it in a June 19th speech at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, “the Iranian regime fully and verifiably suspends its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.” Iran, which has insisted on its right to enrich uranium, was being asked to concede the main point of the negotiations before they started. The question was whether the Administration expected the Iranians to agree, or was laying the diplomatic groundwork for future military action. In his speech, Bush also talked about “freedom for the Iranian people,” and he added, “Iran’s leaders have a clear choice.” There was an unspoken threat: the U.S. Strategic Command, supported by the Air Force, has been drawing up plans, at the President’s direction, for a major bombing campaign in Iran.

More here.

paolo veronese


A powerful contradiction verging on psychic whiplash is built into the grandiose visual machines that are Paolo Veronese’s five Allegories, currently on glorious view in the Oval Room at the Frick Collection. Not only does this contradictory whiplash fuel Veronese’s paintings, allowing them to have one foot firmly planted in the art-historical firmament and the other in the shifting sands of the ephemeral, it produces one of the most jolting splits between subject matter and content in all of art.

The meta-subjects of Veronese’s Allegories, painted in Venice between 1565 and 1575 by an artist at the height of his powers and vying for top-dog status, include virtue, fortitude, rectitude, and wisdom. Veronese renders an empire of high standards and honor, a realm where you are an empowered poet-philosopher, looking on not in awe but with a sense of Platonic contemplation.

more from the Village Voice here.


From The Edge:

Krauss_1 I just returned from the Virgin Islands, from a delightful event — a conference in St. Thomas — that I organized with 21 physicists. I like small events, and I got to hand-pick the people. The topic of the meeting was “Confronting Gravity. ” I wanted to have a meeting where people would look forward to the key issues facing fundamental physics and cosmology. And if you think about it they all revolve in one way or another around gravity. Someone at the meeting said, well, you know, don’t we understand gravity? Things fall. But really, many of the key ideas that right now are at the forefront of particle physics cosmology, relate to our lack of understanding of how to accommodate gravity and quantum mechanics.

More here.

Mouse Rides Frog in India Monsoon

From The National Geographic:Mouse_3

It could be the most spirited interspecies escape since The Rescuers. But unlike the 1977 Disney movie, this situation is anything but fun. Photographed Friday in the northern Indian city of Lucknow, a mouse perches on a frog in waist-deep (for a frog, anyway) floodwaters—a small sign of the early arrival of annual summer monsoon rains.

More here.


So it’s the end of my world cup, and a nice way to end it is flying home with an unexpected upgrade to business class on British Airways. As I tuck into a rather nice sauvignon blanc, I share with you some parting thoughts.

Given the stunningly corrupt politics of FIFA, this will be the last World Cup in Europe for a very long time, so I am bloody glad I went to this one. The reason this one ended up in Germany is down to a no-nonsense septuagenarian Kiwi named Jack Dempsey voting with his brain rather than with FIFA’s instruction sheet.

This World Cup was meant to be in South Africa, but Jack thought that a basic pre-requisite of hosting a World Cup was that downtown ‘Fan-Zones’ should be free of weapons fire. I wish the South Africans all the best in hosting the next one. But just as England and Brazil did not deserve to go further than the quarters, no country or continent deserves to host the World Cup. You have to be able to do it right. Make no mistake, the Germans did it right and I had a blast. Given Cooley’s last posting about the Quarter final games I shall refrain from very late post game commentary and instead do something else.

Step back about two weeks and Cooley, and the English lads, and me are in this rather swish cocktail bar doing nothing much in particular. Sitting behind us were a bunch of Swedish fans. So we were quite surprised when a 24 of the German police’s finest (and biggest) arrived in the bar. Eight stayed outside, backs to the bar to block entrance. 16 came into the bar (and it’s a small place) and surrounded two tables of Swedish fans. It was just then that one of the Swedish fans, standing next to me at the bar, started talking into his mobile in a language that was decidedly un-Swedish. I had a look around and then noticed that none of these Swedish ‘fans’ looked like a typical Swedish fan. (By this I mean, somewhat blonde, portly, over 40, about six foot tall, and so dense that when I was going home one night I caught a snippet of conversation on OB Strasse that went like this;

Woman, about 25, wearing thigh high white stiletto boots, mini skirt, little else:
“No, you don’t understand, I’m talking to you because I am a prostitute.”

Two Swedes – simultaneously: “Really?”

Anyway, back to the bar. So then I notice that most of these Swedish fans seems to completely unfazed by 16 very big heavily armed German cops. They sat there staring them out. And then I noticed that they all had one thing in common, serious tattoos and necks thinker than their heads. Yip – the real deal – world class hooligans. Since we were regarded as ‘zero threat’ by the cops, I discretely asked one of them what was going on. He replied that they had received Interpol info on these guys and were following them round, making it clear that they knew who and where they were, and that nothing as simple as changing shirts would throw them off the scent. Impressive policing indeed. Its nice to know that there really is no such thing as a gang of seriously organized Swedish hooligans (Apologies to Gothenburg FC Ultras – if they have any.)

All of which brings me to England’s world cup ‘campaign.’ As I mentioned in a previous post (or at least you could extrapolate this from what was there), I find it hard, as a Scot, to hate England. Not support – hate. I know I am supposed to, but really, I can’t. Its hard to watch the premier league every week and then hope the players you watch fail. So along with my English mates I watched them do what they usually do. That is, fail to meet anything like their nation’s collective expectations.

To recap: Ecuador 1-0. Piss poor second half, Owen flakes, sub-par performance but everyone (even Brazil) is allowed a bad opener. Trinidad and Tobago 2-0. As my friend Peter put it “I can’t believe it. Its 80 minutes and we are being held 0-0 by a 4 star holiday resort, hotel and pool complex.” The eventual 2-0 scoreline flattered them. Sweden 2-2. Owen down and out inside five minutes, some decent passing first half but shocking defending and distribution. Portugal, Quarter final, 1-3. I missed most of the first half of this ironically traveling to Coimbra in Portugal. I had to watch the second half in the train station bar surrounded by the locals. Rooney looses it (stop blaming Ronaldo, he did what any cheating-diving opposition player would do, and Rooney DID stamp on Carvahlo’s nuts. Last time I checked that was a sending-off offense) and England get stuffed on penalties, which brings me back to Germany.

They lost in the semi’s. I was gutted. I really wanted them to win it. Actually, what I really wanted was England to reach the final and for Germany to beat them on penalties, thus ensuring another ‘40 years of hurt’ (you see, there is still some Scot in me). If Germany had won it would have meant so much to a country that badly needs a confidence boost. In my opinion they played some of the most attractive (read – standing up in tackles, not falling over, and playing as a team) football of the tournament. In fact, a headline in one of the German papers put it well “Germany – the New England. England – The Old Germany.” Germany lost because, as my wife put it, they began to realize that they could win it, and so they began to play conservatively, like the Old Germany – and Italy had read that script before.

What I think these episodes show (not that this is any revelation) is just how much of football comes down to belief. Brazil believed their Nike generated hype and forgot that they actually had to play football and not just show up if they wanted to win. Germany under Klinsmann believed that they were better than everyone said, and they showed that. Once they got to where they expected, the semi-finals, their belief took one step back (as seen in the lack of shots on goal from the Germans in contrast to the exuberance that characterized their game against Sweden) and they paid for it. For England, their may have been three lions on their shirt, but there was never three lions in their hearts, and that was their undoing. My English friend Alex Hamilton put this very well so I quote him here.

“Amid all the recriminations here [in England] I have read one thing which impressed me most, from the West Ham manager Alan Pardew. He just said one thing – the team seemed to play with fear. Where fear comes from I don’t know, but we are talking about impressionable young men (who isn’t at that age?), and I suspect in the world they inhabit, fear is not something they are used to. It is also something oft denied by the swagger whipped up by both the media and the male football establishment. So when it shows itself, it’s all the more powerful, disabling even. We all fell victim to it – of all the people I watched England games with, the overriding emotion swirling about was fear. Everyone remarks upon the fact watching England is not enjoyable any more, that the fear of losing outweighs the joy of the game…It strikes me that the job of men “managing” at the higher echelons of sport, be it the coach, the manager, the head of the association, whomever, is to deal with the issue of fear. Klinsmann gets ridiculed for his Californian connections and his psychologists, but I see a limited team who carry an enormous weight on their shoulders very lightly…I also look at the England player to emerge with most credit, and see someone outside of England not burdened by the pedestal others quite clearly were. And, tellingly, the one who seemed the fittest.”

I can only concur.

So its nearly all over. The final is on Sunday. I leave you now with some rather prescient quotes from my earlier posts and some observations on diving from my mate Jonathan.

Blyth on Italy: “If they win, they will do so by boring their way to the semis.” At least they were far from boring in the semis.

Blyth on Brazil: “Brazil are of course the greatest team in the world? Bollocks and my arse.”
“I would however just like to note however that when Ronaldinho did a perfectly ordinary back-heeled a pass along the line to a teammate in the second half, the way the stadium reacted you would think he had just done an overhead kick from 30 yards into the goal. They are going to have to do a lot better than this if they want to get past the quarters.” Enough said.

Blyth on Germany: “This game sent notice that the Germans are going all the way.” OK, an stretch, but a boy can hope.

On Diving at the World Cup © J. Hopkin (2006)

“How about Thierry Henry’s outrageous dive – bangs his chest into Puyol’s arm as it moves backwards in a normal running action, and then falls poleaxed clutching his face. Narrowly beaten only by that time Rivaldo fell over in agony because the ball hit his knee as he stood by the corner flag. Best dive this week, however, goes to Gianluca Pessotto, 15 meters out of his office window and straight into Roberto Bettega’s car. Looks like he’ll make it though. Bettega’s mechanic was not available for comment.”

Allez Les Blues!!!!


Rosling on Gapminder

Via Misha Lepetich:

Gapminder is a non-profit venture for development and provision of free software that visualise human development. This is done in collaboration with universities, UN organisations, public agencies and non-governmental organisations…It was founded by Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund and Hans Rosling on 25 February 2005, in Stockholm.

You can view visualization of some trends here, click income for instance, or health. Misha also sends this informative presentation by Hans Rosling at a TED conference.


The Return of Dr. Katz, Sort Of

In Slate, Sam Anderson writes about one of my favorite comedy series, Dr. Katz.

The show emerged at the height of the Seinfeld era, when every standup comic was given a TV series along with a glass of water (a strategy that turned out some spectacular disasters). But Katz reversed this formula: Instead of building an entire series around one comedian, it stuffed as many comedians as possible into a single series. The show was an unabashed comedy parasite. This turned out to be a unique solution to TV writing’s chronic shortage of funny material, and it makes the DVD a kind of “Best of” anthology of mid-’90s standup. Roughly half of each episode consists of Dr. Katz’s so-called psychotherapy sessions, in which animated guest comedians, posing as patients, deliver their standup acts from the couch, complete with supplementary squiggly illustrations, while the doctor interjects serious hms and uh-huhs. The cartoon couch was admirably democratic: It cupped the wiggling animated buttocks of midrange working comics (Dom Irrera, Joy Behar) and big stars (David Duchovny, Julia Louis-Dreyfus) alike, and it made almost all of them seem funny. It was my first exposure to many big (or soon-to-be big) comedians: Jim Gaffigan, David Cross, Dave Chappelle, Mitch Hedberg (whose disjointed one-liners seemed to have been designed for the show).

Lethal Injection as a Death Penalty Fad

Speaking of the death penalty, our Justin Smith in Counterpunch:

The French historian Robert Muchembled has chronicled the changing attitudes towards execution in Europe from the 15th to the 18th centuries. In certain times and places, we may discern a desire for exacting vengeance on the condemned in the cruelest and most painful way possible. At other moments, the criminal is accompanied to his death by throngs of weeping nuns, who sprinkle him with holy water, and whisper to him reassuringly of God’s love and of the promise of redemption, and who ensure that death arrives both swiftly and gently. Yet the more compassion is showered on the condemned, the more his death takes on the character of a human sacrifice: the pagan Greeks wept too as they led bulls to the altar, though they refrained from offering fellow humans for the appeasement of their gods. One may be touched by the nuns’ compassion, yet wouldn’t true compassion require simply canceling the whole affair? You can sprinkle a man’s path to the injection table with rose petals, but he will hate it just as much as a gauntlet of jeers. The problem with execution is the death that results from it, not the etiquette of those who carry it out.

It can only be concluded that the logic governing the periodic changes since the 18th century, from one method of execution to another, is rooted not in science, nor in moral progress, but in fashion. What dictates hanging this season, and lethal injection the next, is the same illusion of real change that makes the style-conscious now disdainful of bellbottoms, now covetous of them. We do not like to think of our moral standards as comparable to sartorial whims.

Race and the Death Penalty

The relationship between race of the victim and race of the alleged perpetrator in capital cases has been noted before, but this new study confirms it using laboratory psychological methods. From Cornell Online:

The study, “Looking Deathworthy: Perceived Stereotypicality of Black Defendants Predicts Capital-Sentencing Outcomes,” is the first to examine whether death sentences are influenced by juries’ perceptions of defendants’ features as stereotypically black. The results are published in the May issue of Psychological Science.

The researchers include Cornell law Professor Sheri Lynn Johnson, associate director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project, who provided the legal expertise; lead researcher Jennifer Eberhardt, associate professor of psychology at Stanford University; and co-authors Paul Davies, professor of social psychology at the University of California-Los Angeles, and Valerie Purdie-Vaughns, assistant professor of psychology at Yale University.

The researchers obtained photographs of 44 black, male defendants convicted of murdering whites between 1979 and 1999 in Pennsylvania, a state that has the death penalty. Stanford undergraduates of various ethnicities were shown the photographs and asked to report whether the men’s appearance seemed stereotypically black on a scale of 1 to 11. They were told they could base their judgments on any number of features, including hair texture, skin tone and shape of lips and noses. They were not told the purpose of the study or that the men had been convicted of capital crimes.

The study’s authors then correlated the responses with the actual sentences received by the defendants in the photographs to determine whether perceptions of stereotypical racial features influenced death-penalty decisions.

The results showed that, controlling for other relevant variables, 58 percent of the convicts rated as having stereotypically black features had been sentenced to death. In contrast, only 24 percent of those convicts rated as having less-stereotypically black features had received death sentences.

gay talese interview

RB: In A Writer’s Life, you are sitting at a restaurant and you see a man eating a fish—then the paragraph continues on for another page or so—it reminded me of when we were in high school biology and you are shown a drop of water under a microscope—

GT: Yeah, it’s the imagination of the nonfiction writer. It is nonfiction we are dealing with, as you know—it’s what can be—the way of seeing is very private but can be very creative, and you can take any assignment, any subject, and write about it if you can see it in a vividly descriptive or instructive way. And as you mentioned, I am a restaurant-goer. I go to restaurants a lot. I work alone all day. At night I like to have something to do where I am around people and a restaurant is the best excuse of being around people. I don’t care about the food that much. I care about the atmosphere. Restaurants are a wonderful escape for me. And are for a lot of people. People go to restaurants for so many different reasons. To court a girl, to make some deal. Maybe to talk to some lawyer about how to get an alimony settlement better than they got last week. What I have done since I was 50 years younger than I am now—which is to say 24; now I am 74—I think what I do is write nonfiction as if it were fiction. On the other hand, it is clearly, verifiably factual—but it is a story. It is storytelling. It isn’t telling you a story of somebody you already know. It is, more often than not, somebody you do not know. Or if it is somebody that you do know that I am writing about, it will be something that you don’t know about that person. It is a way of seeing, a way of going about the process of research. It might be interviewing, or it might be hanging around. For example, many colleges in their writing programs teach some of my work. What they often do is teach something like “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” something I wrote when I was 25 years younger or more. That isn’t about Frank Sinatra at all. I didn’t even talk to Frank Sinatra—

more from The Morning News here.