Gladwell is offering this modest self-assessment while seated at the kitchen table of the apartment he rents in a stately West Village townhouse. He’s wearing jeans and one of those wickable running shirts, which fits snugly over his thin frame. His hazel eyes are red-rimmed. His trademark Afro, which he had cut about a month ago, is at frizz-level yellow. He looks, in short, like a caricature of Malcolm Gladwell. He is a well-known figure around his neighborhood, fond of tapping away on his laptop in coffee shops and cafés. His writer’s life is part anachronistic, part futuristic. His Lexus IS—a car, he concedes, he rarely drives—is parked down the street in the space he pays a small fortune to lease. A couple of miles north in Times Square are Gladwell’s editors at The New Yorker,who don’t see him in the office very often—owing to his self-professed “aversion to midtown”—but who grant him a license to write about whatever he chooses and accommodate him with couriers to pick up his fact-checking materials, lest he be forced to overcome that aversion. Not far from The New Yorker are the offices of Little, Brown—the publisher of Gladwell’s two best-selling books, The Tipping Point and Blink—which paid him a rumored $4 million for Outliers. (“The hardcover ofBlink sold three times what the hardcover of Tipping Point did,” says Geoff Shandler, Little, Brown’s editor-in-chief, “so his audience has grown and grown.”) Across the river in New Jersey is the Leigh Bureau, which fields Gladwell’s speaking requests and negotiates his stratospheric fees. (“He was by far the most expensive speaker we ever contracted,” says Charles Cohen, the president of a dental-supply company, whose trade group paid Gladwell $80,000 to address its annual meeting. “There wasn’t one person afterwards who said he wasn’t worth the money.”) And then, in New York and New Jersey and all over the United States, there are the booksellers, who are hoping that, amid fears of a global recession, Outliers will prompt their customers to do that thing that’s become a rarity these days—plunk down $28—and thus offer a slim reed of hope to the sagging publishing industry. (“I don’t care that it’s Little, Brown’s book,” says one rival publishing executive. “We all desperately need some good news.”)
Even though he cut his teeth in newspaper journalism withThe Washington Post, Malcolm Gladwell was surely born to write for TheNew Yorker, where his nonfiction essays on subjects ranging from Ron Popeil's infomercial empire to computers that analyze pop songs could serve as a model for the house style. His previous books—The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference and Blink: The Power Of Thinking Without Thinking—not only topped the bestseller lists, but also spawned concepts that wormed their way into media discussions of politics, business, sports, and history. His newest book, Outliers: The Story Of Success, examines people who achieve the highest levels of their chosen fields—the Bill Gateses, Wayne Gretzkys, and Nobel Prize winners of the world—and argues that their accomplishments reflect not so much their intrinsic genius as the conditions that happened to govern their lives. As part of our annual Books Issue, Gladwell recently talked with The A.V. Club about social engineering, Barack Obama, and the public appetite for complex explanations.
Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac is considered one of his masterpieces, but has been seen as being to hard on humanity. Perhaps, but humans are quite capable of despicable behavior. Here’s an apt quote from the novel: “I should go on forever if I had to describe the deals that are made for lovers, finery, children, housekeeping, or for vanity, rarely for the sake of virtue, you may be sure. So the honest man is the common enemy.” Old Goriot is one of those enemies he adores his two daughter above all else and they greedily squeeze every franc from his existence. Goriot shares a boarding house with Vautrin, a corrupter and professional criminal on the lam, and Rastinac an ambitious student whose ambitions mirror those of the protagonist from another Balzac novel, Lost Illusions, but Goriot’s fate is the main story here and it is a truly pitiful tragedy
Let's take back the "liberal" label. Salon's Michael Lind tells us why we need to take it back:
If the conservative era is over, can liberals come out of their defensive crouch and call themselves liberals again, instead of progressives?
In the last two decades, Democratic politicians, including Barack Obama, have abandoned the term "liberal" for "progressive." The theory was that Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush -- and Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Pat Buchanan -- had succeeded in equating "liberal" in the public mind with weakness on defense, softness on crime, and "redistribution" of Joe the Plumber's hard-earned money to the collective bogey evoked by a former Texas rock band's clever name: Teenage Immigrant Welfare Mothers on Dope.
I've always been uncomfortable with this rather soulless and manipulative exercise in rebranding, for a number of reasons.
Objection No. 1. Futility. It's not the name of the center-left that the right objects to, but the policies and values. Suppose the defeated Republican minority decided that it needed to rebrand itself by replacing "conservatism" with "traditionalism." Would anybody on the left or center be fooled, if traditionalism was defined by exactly the same synthesis of free-market radicalism, anti-Darwinism and support for a neoconservative foreign policy?
Objection No. 2. Progressivism as neoliberalism. Some have sought to distinguish progressivism from liberalism in content. This was the project of the disproportionately Southern "neoliberals" like Bill Clinton and Al Gore and Dave McCurdy and the Democratic Leadership Council and Progressive Policy Institute in the 1980s and 1990s. Instead of using the obvious term, "moderate" or "centrist," they sought to co-opt the term "progressive," even though they weren't very. In their analysis, liberalism was too identified in the public mind with organized labor and big-city machine bosses like the first Mayor Daley. They struggled and largely succeeded in creating a new Democratic Party based among upscale suburban whites and financed by the Industry Formerly Known as Wall Street rather than private-sector labor unions.
Objection No. 3. Progressivism as the radical left. What made all of this even more confusing was the fact that the term "progressive," which center-right Democrats like Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute sought to capture, had been identified with Marxists and other groups on the extreme left during the previous half-century. If you were a progressive in the '30s and '40s, like many supporters of Henry Wallace's Progressive Party, you were likely to find redeeming qualities in the Soviet Union's social experiment and to think that FDR was a pawn of the capitalists. If you were a progressive in the '60s and '70s, you were likely to think that Truman and Johnson were warmongering "corporate liberals" under the control of the "military-industrial complex" and that the Democrats and Republicans were indistinguishable. For the moderate and conservative Democrats of the DLC to call themselves the new progressives was the equivalent of moderate, secular Republicans calling themselves the new fundamentalists.
Objection No. 4. The early 20th century progressives. Now that "progressive" is widely used as a euphemism for "liberal," there is a natural tendency to link the progressives of the early 2000s with the Progressives of the early 1900s, like Woodrow Wilson and John Dewey. The problem is that while the modern center-left is the child of mid-century Roosevelt-Truman-Kennedy-Johnson liberalism, it is only the grandchild -- or perhaps grand-nephew or grand-niece, twice removed -- of the Progressives of the 1900s.
Objection No. 5. It's too German. The term "progressive" entered English from 19th century German politics. The first progressive party in the world was the Deutsche Fortschrittspartei, founded in Prussia in 1861 ("Fortschritt" means "progress"). The American Progressives like Woodrow Wilson who translated the term into English believed that Bismarck's Imperial Germany was superior in many ways to the United States and Britain. They sought to graft German-style bureaucracy onto what they considered to be an antiquated political system crippled by 18th century Enlightenment notions of local government and civil rights. In other words, they saw statist, technocratic German progressivism as an advance beyond Anglo-American liberalism.
Objection No. 6. "Progressive" implies progress. Like "conservative," "progressive" is a term associated with a particular view of history. The conservative wants to stand still or go back; the progressive wants to move forward. Progressivism implies a view of history as perpetual progress; conservatism, a view of history as decline from a better world in the past. Needless to say, nobody who actually thinks this way could function. In the real world, self-described progressives aren't mindlessly in favor of everything new, just as self-described conservatives aren't indiscriminately in favor of everything that's old.
But don't listen to me. Listen to John F. Kennedy, accepting the endorsement of his presidential candidacy by New York's Liberal Party on Sept. 14, 1960:
What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label "Liberal?" If by "Liberal" they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer's dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of "Liberal." But if by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."
I found Jonathan Demme’s documentary on Jimmy Carter, Jimmy
Carter Man From Plains, really fascinating on several levels. I think it was
very courageous of Carter to write a book on the situation in the Gaza Strip
called, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid. I think most Europeans and non-American
are somewhat sympathetic to the Palestinian plight, but in America showing any
sympathy immediately makes you anti-Semitic and that’s what Carter got and then
some during his book tour. So, in a sense it was successful in opening up a
dialogue. The man is in his 70s and still very vibrant doing good with his
Carter Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, and writing books to help bring peace
to various parts of the world. But more than that, he is a decent human being
making small talk with strangers in the street, shaking hands with people on an
airplane, chatting with the make up lady before a TV interview-he’s humble and
humane. At the end there was a montage of his past as president and I would
have liked to have seen more about that part of his life since I can barely
remember, but it seems that history hasn’t treated his presidency well. But he
does point out that he brought allof the American hostages home without going to war.
I was so impressed with Robert Bellah’s book of essays about
Japan and Japanese culture, Imagining Japan, that I tracked down his earliest book, Tokugawa
Religion (1958). Again he has some interesting things to say about the Japanese
and their culture. For example:
It is the particular system or
collectivity of which one is a member, which counts, whether it be family, han,
or Japan as a whole. Commitment to these tends to take precedence over
universalistic commitments, such as commitment to truth or justice.
Bellah makes the claim that the religion of the Tokugawa
period influenced Japan in the Meiji period to undergo modernization in a
manner that reflects the Protestant work ethic that was influential in the
modernization of the west as expounded by Max Weber. It seems as a sociologist
Bellah is something of a disciple of Weber, which is also evident in Habits of
the Heart. He sees the “shinsu” religion as the closest to Western
Protestantism and its ethic most similar to the Protestant ethic. Religion is
seen as means of maintaining and intensifying central values, supplying
motivation, and reinforcing asceticism and diligence and economy. He also
points out that if religion gets credit for modernity, it also deserves the
blame for imperialism that resulted in WWII.
He also states that Japan didn’t have to go through the
slow process of accumulation like the west in order to modernize.The capital required was too great, thus
government controlled modernization due to lack of capital in the private
sector. (He cites Kemalist Turkey as an example of this model) He also states
that modernization should first be seen in political terms and not only in
economic development. It is political because it was concerned with the
increase of power and wealth as a means. This is seen in the “zaibutsu”
economy, which was dependent on government for support.There was also a desire to restore the
emperor and increase national power.
Gladwell calls this phenomenon the "Matthew Effect" after this Biblical passage: "For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance. But from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." The effect occurs in many other sports around the world—and in schools. Beginning in kindergarten, the oldest children in each grade are more likely to be placed in accelerated-learning programs, again giving them an "accumulative advantage." International studies of fourth graders have shown that the oldest children score as up to 12 percentage points higher than the youngest.
So the smart get smarter, the strong get stronger, and so on. That's life. But we don't have to accept this state of affairs. Gladwell proposes that athletic and academic programs sort children according to time periods shorter than a year. While cumbersome, this system would be much fairer and more efficient at recognizing talent. Schools and sports programs could also delay sorting according to talent until children are older, when age-related effects have decreased.
The "Matthew Effect" identifies a nontrivial and—most important—solvable problem. So does the chapter on the cultural causes for airline accidents. But what Gladwell calls the "Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes" has little to do with the "Matthew Effect," beyond sharing some vague connection to "success." The case studies in the book seem to have been chosen for their intrinsic interest rather than any coherent, mutually reinforcing perspective.
Outliers is nonetheless destined to become a best-seller in spite of its flaws—and certainly in spite of anything that we or other reviewers say, Ed. Gladwell's track record ensures that the book will be widely publicized by the media, prominently displayed in bookstores, and eagerly embraced by readers. Nothing succeeds like success.
Takashii Miike's little freak out, Audition, gets the AV Club treatment:
My friend and current Esquire critic Mike D'Angelo once wrote that the ideal way to see Takashi Miike's Audition is to have a trusted friend that knows your tastes hand you an unlabeled copy in a paper bag, so you have no presuppositions about what it is and where it might be going. Sadly, just by including the film in Horror Month, I've already given some of the game away, and the majority of posters, box covers, and publicity photos do likewise. Still, I would strongly advise iron-stomached newcomers to Audition to take leave of this column now and salvage at least some of the surprises this nasty little film has to offer. And though you won't have a clean slate, you can at least appreciate what the experience might have been like if the DVD had arrived on your doorstep in a blank sleeve, like a gift from a mean-spirited prankster.
For the first 47 minutes, those familiar with Miike's work are actually in for a bigger shock than what happens in the final third. Though his output has slowed of late, Miike used to turn out films at a blistering six-a-year pace, and his unmistakable mix of extreme gore, surrealism, and black comedy put him at the vanguard of the emerging J-horror movement. The first Miike I ever saw was 2001's Ichi The Killer, and I remember vividly how it conditioned me to appreciate it: For the first few reels, I had to fight the urge to flee in revulsion, so disturbed was I by sights like a naked man suspended from the ceiling with hooks, while scalding hot oil was poured over his elongated body. But then, to my astonishment, I wound up laughing at the sheer outrageousness of it, and I became convinced that Miike had wanted to get me there all along. (As a symbol of his sick sense of humor, the press was issued a promotional barf bag.) Here was a true enfant terrible, and as subsequent films confirmed, someone who was eager to screw around with genres (e.g. the macabre musical The Happiness Of The Katakuris, or the spaghetti Western Sukiyaki Western Django) and keep topping himself.
At first glance Taxi to the Darkside and Charlie Wilson’s War might seem like polar opposites. One is the Academy Award winning documentary about torture abuses and the policy dictated by those in power that have occurred during the Iraq War. The other is soufflé-light take on the secret war between the CIA and Russia in Afghanistan starring Tom hanks and Julia Roberts among others. But if we trace back the effects of the war in Afghanistan we find that the “blowback” from that conflict created the terrorists that were responsible for 9/11 which was used as a reason to invade Iraq in the name of the war on terror. Of course none of this is discussed or even alluded to in the film, but the real Charlie Wilson feels regret that they didn’t follow through with any sort of post-war plan and allowed Afghanistan to become the haven for Al-Quaida.
Taxi to the Darkside is much more effective at asking the hard questions and assigning blame for the policies and tactics that detract from our credibility as democratic do-gooders in the world. All the while letting low level soldiers take the blame for the top-down torture policies of the Bush administration. Hopefully this is one area that Obama will not let happen again. I believe that the has said during his campaign that he will shut down Guatanamo bay Prison and try to depoliticize military intelligence so that we won't have another politically motivated war like the current one in Iraq. Getting back to Charlie Wilson’s’ War, I was surprised how substantive it was for a major Hollywood production and just wanted to point out that Philip Seymour Hoffman has once again stolen the show as a Greek-American CIA operative, and is the best thing about the film.