The Film Worlds of Wes Anderson
by Michael Chabon
The world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is, also, irretrievably broken. We call this period of research “childhood.”
There follows a program of renewed inquiry, often involuntary, into the nature and effects of mortality, entropy, heartbreak, violence, failure, cowardice, duplicity, cruelty, and grief; the researcher learns their histories, and their bitter lessons, by heart. Along the way, he or she discovers that the world has been broken for as long as anyone can remember, and struggles to reconcile this fact with the ache of cosmic nostalgia that arises, from time to time, in the researcher’s heart: an intimation of vanished glory, of lost wholeness, a memory of the world unbroken. We call the moment at which this ache first arises “adolescence.” The feeling haunts people all their lives.
Everyone, sooner or later, gets a thorough schooling in brokenness. The question becomes: What to do with the pieces? Some people hunker down atop the local pile of ruins and make do, Bedouin tending their goats in the shade of shattered giants. Others set about breaking what remains of the world into bits ever smaller and more jagged, kicking through the rubble like kids running through piles of leaves. And some people, passing among the scattered pieces of that great overturned jigsaw puzzle, start to pick up a piece here, a piece there, with a vague yet irresistible notion that perhaps something might be done about putting the thing back together again.
Two difficulties with this latter scheme at once present themselves. First of all, we have only ever glimpsed, as if through half-closed lids, the picture on the lid of the jigsaw puzzle box. Second, no matter how diligent we have been about picking up pieces along the way, we will never have anywhere near enough of them to finish the job. The most we can hope to accomplish with our handful of salvaged bits—the bittersweet harvest of observation and experience—is to build a little world of our own. A scale model of that mysterious original, unbroken, half-remembered. Of course the worlds we build out of our store of fragments can be only approximations, partial and inaccurate. As representations of the vanished whole that haunts us, they must be accounted failures. And yet in that very failure, in their gaps and inaccuracies, they may yet be faithful maps, accurate scale models, of this beautiful and broken world. We call these scale models “works of art.”
Read the rest here.
National Geographic recently launched a Tumblr called Found, full of amazing, unpublished photos, to celebrate their 125th anniversary.
Post-conflict situations need squads of bricklayers, plumbers, welders, and so forth, who set about training young men. Unfortunately, it is too mundane for the development agencies to organize it. We need Bricklayers Without Borders.
— Paul Collier, Wars, Guns, and Votes
Tonight I went to the New Yorker’s monthly event, The Big Story. The special guest was Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the UN, now infamous for the Benghazi comments which doomed her bid for Secratary of State. The event hosted about 100 guests and was moderated by the New Yorker’s editor David Remnick, with Philip Gourevitch chiming in.
I was interested to see what Rice would be like in a setting like this, given all of the recent Benghazi and Secretary of State hubbub that seems likely to define her career. The first (trivial) thing I noticed is how similar her speaking style was to Obama’s. She had the same rythmic cadence and stream of “uhs”. The second thing was how composed, intelligent, and likable she was. At the end of the night, I was convinced she would’ve served America well as its top diplomat.
While Rice always stayed on point, reciting the administration’s talking points on issues from Iran to Israel and Syria to Libya, her (and Obama’s) foreign policy philosophy of ad hoc pragmatism was front and center. This administration has shown time and again that is has no “north star” beyond the tried-and-true talking points of democracy and freedom. It handles each situation as it comes, evaluating the unique circumstance, recognizing the gray areas, and responding strategically to the situation at hand. Ryan Lizza, in his piece on Obama’s foreign policy, summed up this approach:
“One reaction among liberals to the Bush years and to Iraq was to retreat from “idealism” toward “realism,” in which the United States would act cautiously and, above all, according to national interests rather than moral imperatives.”
This pragmatism, or “realism”, was seen across Rice’s responses. When asked about Rwanda today, she said it was “complicated.” While the country has had great economic development, it is not fully democratic. While we support their peacekeeping efforts in Darfur, they are unlawfully meddling in Congo’s civil war.
Similary, she repeatedly stressed how different the Syria situation is from Libya, and that this is cause for the varied responses. The most poignant example was when Remnick asked her directly what her model for diplomacy was. Rice replied with, and I quote, “there’s a myriad of things one can learn from any number of senior leaders,” and that she doesn’t look to one single model.
While there are many (read: Republicans) who view this pragmatism as a “blowing in the wind,” as a whole, I have confidence in this administration’s approach. A case-by-case, not-everything-is-black-and-white method to messy situations can leave others — including our allies — guessing what we’ll do. But it also allows us the time to assess situations and gain a thorough understanding before lumping countries into pre-defined categories of “good” and “evil.” And though I’ll continue to disagree with certain decisions (and wonder about blunders like Benghazi), I have confidence that our administration is taking a thoughtful approach… which more times than not leads to a better outcome.
One Acre Fund’s Dashboard
I started reading The Last Hunger Season by Roger Thurow last week, and the book is fairly engaging so far. If you’ve read it, or the description on Amazon, you know it chronicles the stories of families involved with One Acre Fund in Africa.
Last night, I had a flashback to grad school when a professor was showing us a program dashboard from an up-and-coming NGO called — you guessed it — One Acre Fund. I was curious whether they were still using it. Sure enough, it was still there in all its ugly, but effective, glory.
While they don’t win any awards for visual design, they are doing something that’s fairly remarkable for any nonprofit organization: clearly displaying their goals and whether or not they’re hitting them.
So kudos to One Acre Fund.
This past weekend, Laura and I took a last-minute trip to San Juan, PR. I’d been hearing about how cool the city was and she was on her winter break, so we booked a flight and an Airbnb room.
There were so many great parts to the city (and a ton that we didn’t make it to), but here were our favorites:
— The forts in Old San Juan. They are very touristy, but amazing and worth it.
— The Contemporary Art Museum in Santurce.
— Coffee at Hacienda San Pedro after the museum.
— Brunch at Patio del Nispero inside an old convent-turned-hotel.
— Dinner and jazz at Abracadabra in Santurce.
— Visiting Casa del Libro and buying this original print from a 1965 exhibition.
— Escambron Beach (a public beach)
— Waffles (of course) at Waffle-era in OSJ.
Chart showing the ratio of church affiliation to the total population over 10 years of age, based on the 1870 census by Francis Amasa Walker from Codex 99
Sanjay Pradhan, Vice President of the World Bank Institute, talks about the power of open data to change international development. More specifically, he talks about how open data projects — like public and accessible budgets — are increasing government accountability and improving development outcomes.
He first discusses, though, what he’s been observing over the past decade, which is the south-to-south transfer of knowledge. This underlying paradigm change is making it possible for open data projects to spread more quickly in the developing world since it is no longer just coming down as “good governance best practices” from western countries.