Early Morning Open Thread

There are a lot of great political cartoonists working in America today, but if I had to pick just one to follow, it would be Danziger.

Meanwhile, the POTUS visited an independent bookstore during his Iowa trip:

President Obama spent plenty of time in Iowa as a candidate. On Thursday, he had a little homecoming of sorts, making a surprise visit to the Prairie Lights bookstore, a business he had referred to during a campaign-style rally just an hour earlier. An account by the pool reporter, Carol Lee of Politico, who was traveling with Mr. Obama, offers the details.
“Well, this used to be my favorite place,” Obama told the owner as she showed him around.
He remarked how as president he can’t really mosey around bookstores anymore, and said the office comes with the good and bad.
Along his way, he picked up “No Apology” by Mitt Romney and “Courage and Consequence” by Karl Rove.
“What do you think, guys?” he asked the pool, holding up a hardback copy of each in his hands before setting them back down…
A few minutes later POTUS stepped up to the cash register with two books in his hands: “Journey to the River Sea” by Eva Ibbotson and “The Secret of Zoom” by Lynne Jonell for his daughters.
Obama pulled out five $20 bills to pay for the two books. Your pooler couldn’t hear the exact price but the two books didn’t cost that much.
Obama also bought a book for Gibbs, who was holding a large Star Wars pop-up book for his six-year-old son, Ethan…

Click on the link, because the photo of Obama is really good. Maybe I’m just a mean cynic, but if his handlers had ever found it necessary for Dubya to be seen in a bookstore, I suspect they’d have pre-swept the place to clean out any examples of doubleplus-ungood wrongthink from the opposition.

Either a crackpot or the American Tolstoy

Catcher In the Rye didn’t make a huge impression on me when I read it in high-school, but I loved the Franny part of Franny and Zooey. James Wolcott has an excellent, short piece on why that’s his favorite part of Salinger’s work.

The New York Times also has a terrific obit of Salinger, emphasizing in particular the varied reactions people had to him (I like the phrase “either a crackpot or the American Tolstoy”, from the obit). I think one of the best illustrations of this varied reaction is dueling reviews the Times published of Catcher In the Rye in 1951. Here’s a bit of the negative one (the entire thing is written in mock Caulfieldese):

That’s the way it sounds to me, Hel said, and away she went with this crazy book. “The Catcher in the Rye.” What did I tell ya, she said next day. This Salinger, he’s a short story guy. And he knows how to write about kids. This book though, it’s too long. Gets kind of monotonous. And he should’ve cut out a lot about these jerks and all at that crumby school. They depress me. They really do. Salinger, he’s best with real children. I mean young ones like old Phoebe, his kid sister. She’s a personality. Holden and little old Phoeb, Hel said, they kill me. This last part about her and Holden and this Mr. Antolini, the only guy Holden ever thought he could trust, who ever took any interest in him, and who turned out queer–that’s terrific. I swear it is.

And the positive one:

Holden’s story is told in Holden’s own strange, wonderful language by J. D. Salinger in an unusually brilliant novel, “The Catcher in the Rye.”

Surgery As A Metaphor for the Complexity of Modern Life

Has anybody here had the chance to read Atul Gawande’s latest book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right ?

I am a big fan of Dr. Gawande’s writing — his New Yorker articles always tell me things I didn’t know, and his first two books (Better and Complications) deserve every accolade they’ve collected. But with his new “manifesto”, Gawande seems to be moving beyond medicine in a global society (a wide enough topic on its own) towards a larger framework. Possibly too large. The Malcolm Gladwell review quoted on Amazon certainly reminded me of a lot of the political discussion over the past few weeks, and not just about HCR either:

Gawande begins by making a distinction between errors of ignorance (mistakes we make because we don’t know enough), and errors of ineptitude (mistakes we made because we don’t make proper use of what we know). Failure in the modern world, he writes, is really about the second of these errors, and he walks us through a series of examples from medicine showing how the routine tasks of surgeons have now become so incredibly complicated that mistakes of one kind or another are virtually inevitable: it’s just too easy for an otherwise competent doctor to miss a step, or forget to ask a key question or, in the stress and pressure of the moment, to fail to plan properly for every eventuality. Gawande then visits with pilots and the people who build skyscrapers and comes back with a solution. Experts need checklists–literally–written guides that walk them through the key steps in any complex procedure…

In any case, I’m going to order a copy for myself, but I’m curious to hear your opinions / reviews.

Open Thread: Terry Pratchett’s New Book

Pratchett released Unseen Academicals six weeks ago. If you’re a Pratchett fan, have you read it yet? And if so, what do you think of it?

I liked it, more than I had feared, especially since all I know about Foot-The-Ball I learned from TBoggs and translations of the Japanese manga Whistle. It’s not one of the top five Discworld novels, but it’s still miles ahead of, say, the first two books in the series. The plot construction wasn’t as sinewy and water-tight as we have come to expect. A better acquaintance with British football (Comrade Scrutinizer, for instance, connects the UA to Manchester’s AU, Arsenal United) would certainly improve one’s enjoyment of the usual Prachettian in-jokes and satires. Lord Vetinari talked too much, but then he was supposed to have imbibed at least a dozen strong ales before doing so.

I think Mr. Nutt, Glenda Sugarbean, and especially Pepe are all worthy additions to the Discworld Canon. Your thoughts?