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Jeremy Wang-Iverson

Margaret and Game Theory

By | Open Book Publishers | No Comments

There’s a pivotal scene in the film Margaret, written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, that bears a resemblance to the prisoner’s dilemma, when Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) talks to the police after witnessing a terrible bus accident that kills a pedestrian. The bus driver, Maretti (Mark Ruffalo), is interviewed separately, but as they make their statements to the police, he and Lisa are across the room from one another, making eye-contact, which heightens the tension. This isn’t a prisoner’s dilemma in the formal sense used by economists in game theory, the field revolutionized by John Nash in the early 1950’s: when two criminals are offered incentives by the authorities to confess to a crime (well-described by David Levine in his new book Is Behavioral Economics Doomed?) – but Lisa and Maretti are complicit in this accident, and in the scene I mention above, surely they are thinking very hard about what the other will say, particularly with regard to whether the light was red when the bus crossed the intersection and hit the pedestrian. (It was red, but they both claim otherwise. Later, Lisa tries to change her statement, and the film is driven by her awful guilt about the accident.) The discussions of game theory in Levine’s new book – and also Ariel Rubinstein’s Economic Fables – are excellent introductions to a complicated subject which studies how people interact when faced with conflicting interests. Many economists have worked to find practical applications of game theory, but Rubinstein, who has devoted his career to the field, is skeptical of these efforts:

[Game theory] enriches the discussion of economics and other fields of social sciences by focusing on strategic considerations, some of which we might not have been aware of. It is entertaining. And that is something; but it is not what people generally describe as useful. Incidentally, sometimes I wonder why we need to address the question of the usefulness of game theory at all. Does academic research have to be judged according to the immediate and practical benefit it brings?

Gilbert Rogin

By | Bloomsbury Publishing | No Comments

The New Yorker has been so good for so long that it’s not uncommon for the magazine’s forgotten writers to be discovered again. (At Bloomsbury, I publicized Backward Ran Sentences by Wolcott Gibbs, organizing this event at the New School with three Gibbs fans: Mark Singer, Kurt Andersen, and the anthology’s editor Thomas Vinciguerra.) In the new Lowbrow Reader anthology that has just been published by Drag City, founder and editor Jay Ruttenberg included pieces celebrating and written by Gilbert Rogin, now in his early 80’s, the novelist and longtime managing editor of Sports Illustrated. Rogin published over thirty (fiction) stories in The New Yorker, along with three books: a short story collection The Fencing Master (1965) and two novels, What Happens Next? (1971) and Preparations for the Ascent (1980). John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, and Mordecai Richler were all fans of Rogin’s work, and in the Lowbrow Reader essay “Hidden Citizen: Rediscovering the Brilliant, Funny Novels of Gilbert Rogin,” Jay Jennings writes:

Read today, Rogin’s books seem fresh, the author possessed of a turn-of-the- 21st century comic sensibility more than a fundamentally Jewish one similar to his peers from the 1960’s and 1970s….the criticisms above – that Rogin is merely recording movements or that nothing changes in his books – are identical to descriptions of Seinfeld.

Rogin’s two novels were reissued by Verse Chorus Press as a single edition in 2010, featuring Jennings’s excellent piece as the introduction.

Flawless Masterpiece

By | Film | No Comments

Earlier this month at the Morgan Library, Martin Amis and Ian Buruma discussed some of their favorite films during a special event hosted by Antonio Monda, artistic director of the Le Conversazioni literary festival. Short clips of the films were shown, then the writers spoke about each, breaking into Siskel and Ebert-esque bickering on a few occassions. Amis picked The Godfather, Blade Runner, The Wild Bunch, and Raging Bull (Amis: “It just stares you in the face that it’s a flawless masterpiece.”), while Buruma chose Blue Angel, Once Upon a Time in America, Ikiru, and Sunday Bloody Sunday, which was directed by Buruma’s uncle, John Schlesinger. Buruma considered that 1971 film his uncle’s best, for its sensitive depiction of a gay romance. Amis recalled seeing Blade Runner with his father Kingsley, an early champion of science fiction, who believed Ridley Scott, in adapting Philip K. Dick’s novella Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? for the screen in 1982, was the first director to realistically create a futuristic, SF universe on film. As Kingsley Amis aged, however, he became easier to please at the cineplex, as Martin remembered in one of the many funny bits from his memoir Experience (2000):

I will promiscuously mention in this note that my father once told Christopher Hitchens and me to fuck off after we took him to Leicester Square to see Beverly Hills Cop. No: he liked it and we didn’t. And I think we must have curled our lips at him. Most uncharacteristically he walked away on his own and had to be coaxed into the next pub or cab.

Kodak Moment

By | Visual Art | No Comments

Kodak filed for bankruptcy last month, just as Nicole Gastonguay was sewing the eyeballs onto her most recent creation. The company’s downfall was inevitable since Kodak did not aggressively pursue the digital technology that, ironically, one of its engineers invented in 1975. In our era of social media, companies must evolve even more swiftly. The story of Facebook rising from the ashes of Friendster and MySpace is well-known, but to sustain its dominance, the social media giant has also incorporated elements of other services, like AOL’s IM, Evite, Foursquare, Gmail, Twitter, and YouTube, among others. Five years ago, when Nicole first started crotcheting, Flickr was a great online destination for photo sharing, and her most popular piece, TV Dinner (2007), has nearly 30,000 views. When she posted this last week, the response on Facebook came much quicker. (Remember every “like” is shared with friends.) Next up for Nicole? No one knows what the future holds for her needles and yarn…but there are plans for a Tumblr, of course. (Photo by Oliver Dalzell.)

Books on Inequality

By | Bloomsbury Publishing | No Comments

Sadly, Tony Judt did not live to see Occupy Wall Street, a movement he cried for in Ill Fares the Land, the first of three books he wrote as he was dying from ALS. (Along with The Memory Chalet and Thinking the Twentieth Century.) Judt would have been energized by the massive protests against the rampant economic inequality in our country and the irresponsibility of the financial industry which lead us into ruin. These were two of Judt’s chief concerns, and they will be explored at greater length this spring in three books which will more closely examine the causes of the recession and also speak to the protests that rose up in response to it: Inequality and Instablity by James K. Galbraith, The Great Divergence by Timothy Noah, and Twilight of the Elites by Chris Hayes. In 2010, when I was employed by Bloomsbury Press, I publicized the US launch of an important book on inequality called The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, who also run the Equality Trust. Wilkinson and Pickett’s extensive research is often the basis for any discussion on the corrosive effects of inequality, as they analyzed data from the World Bank, United Nations, and others to establish the correlation between inequality and a host of social ills. (Explained better by the manic marionnettes in the video above.) Nicholas Kristof wrote a column for the New York Times about The Spirit Level, and the book was featured on PBS’s NewsHour, Bill Moyers’s Journal, WBUR’s On Point, and Wilkinson recently gave a TED talk that’s been viewed nearly 1 million times. I created this Facebook page for The Spirit Level and updated it with all news and commentary related to inequality which kept Wilkinson and Pickett’s online audience informed not just about their work throughout the recession and Occupy Wall Street movement, but also the larger issues they championed.

Le voyage dans la lune

By | Film | No Comments

Both Hugo and The Artist, which together won 10 Academy Awards on Sunday, honor cinema’s earliest days, when motion picture pioneers applied their exuberant imaginations to learning how to use an emerging technology. By the time of The Artist, as silent films gave way to talkies in the 1920’s, there were established cinematic conventions and storytelling techniques, but just 20 years earlier, when Georges Méliès cranked out over 500 films after seeing what the Lumiere brothers cooked up in Paris in 1895 – it was the first time anyone had done anything. Screening this month at Lincoln Center is The Extraordinary Voyage, a documentary about restoring Melies’s A Trip to the Moon (1902), a zany 20 minute film about a few folks, wearing hats and colorful long jackets, who are shot to the moon in a cannon, take a nap, swat an alien with their umbrellas, then safely return to a parade welcoming them back to Earth. One of the best parts of Hugo, based on Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is the mystery of Méliès being unravelled by the two curious children, and the film archivists Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange have that same spirit in The Extraordinary Voyage, as they labored intensively, over ten years, to restore A Trip to the Moon. We’re lucky they did.

Mahler Grooves

By | Music | No Comments

A friend and former colleague in Princeton revived the iconic Mahler Grooves line of bumper stickers, also extending you the option of emblazoning the image onto mugs, T-shirts, and even an apron. Leonard Bernstein affixed the sticker to his score for Mahler’s 6th Symphony, the New Yorker music critic Alex Ross keeps his atop a Bob Dylan poster in his office, and, pictured above, my friend’s Dad slapped one on his Boston Whaler fishing boat. The Austrian composer is indeed grooving in early 2012, the centennial of his death: Gustavo Dudamel is in the midst of the Mahler Project, conducting all nine symphonies over five weeks in Los Angeles and Caracas. If you can’t make it to Caracas, tonight’s performance of the 8th Symphony, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, will be streamed live in movie theaters around the US at 5 pm ET.

The Good Senator

By | Rutgers University Press | No Comments

Five years ago today in Chicago, President Obama announced his candidacy for President.  I watched the announcement on television from Senator Edward W. Brooke’s hotel room at the Watergate, where he was preparing for a reading that afternoon at Politics and Prose to promote his autobiography Bridging the Divide, which had just been published by Rutgers University Press, my employer at the time. Brooke was the first African American popularly elected to the Senate in 1966 and served for two terms, until 1979; he was a Republican before the parties became so polarized, a political climate that is inconceivable now. Brooke’s signal accomplishments were for fair housing and women’s rights – and he challenged President Nixon on important issues, organizing Republican support to defeat two Supreme Court appointees in 1970 before Nixon appointed Harry Blackmun, who later wrote Roe v. Wade. When Barry Goldwater was the Republican nominee for President in 1964, Brooke staunchly opposed him as well, and that modern brand of conservatism which sounds all too familiar:

To me, theirs was a pseudoconservatism, sharply at odds with our party’s honored past. Their racial views would have appalled Abraham Lincoln. Their contempt for our environment would have disgusted Theodore Roosevelt. Their blind hatred of every federal program was a slap at every veteran who had used the GI Bill to go to college or buy a house. -Bridging the Divide

When we worked together, Brooke was a spry 87 and we made our way up the Northeast Corridor during a cold and snowy week for events in Philadelphia, New Brunswick, New York, and Boston. He’s 92 now and lives in Miami with his wonderful wife Anne! He’s only a few years younger than Senator Harry F. Byrd, 97, the oldest living former Senator, who served as a Democrat from West Virginia from 1965-1983. (Photo by David Wang-Iverson.)

The Newt I Knew

By | Bloomsbury Publishing | No Comments

After I learned that Newt Gingrich spent his younger days as a professor at the University of West Georgia, where the historian John Ferling taught for 33 years, I wondered if he knew Mr. Speaker personally. Indeed, John joined the university in 1971, and for his first year, shared an office with Gingrich, who had already begun to consider politics, unbeknownst to his colleagues. (Gingrich first ran for Congress in 1974, but lost that contest and the next, before winning a seat in 1978.) I suggested to John that he write an op-ed called “The Newt I Knew,” but John demurred, as he faces a looming deadline for his next book, on Hamilton and Jefferson, due to be published by Bloomsbury Press in 2013. (“If he winds up getting the nomination, I wouldn’t be surprised to get a call from a journalist or two.”) Last year, I designed John’s website, which showcases all his work and has connected him with many readers who might not have found him otherwise.

Two weeks remaining for Isabel Brito Farré’s show at B. Beamesderfer Gallery

By | Visual Art | No Comments

The visual artist Isabel Brito Farré is showing over thirty pieces at the B. Beamesderfer Gallery in Highland Park, NJ. The exhibit, entitled “Migratory Work,” opened on December 11 and will close on February 11. Brito Farré hand sews her drawings with thread and also uses graphite and screen printing on paper: it’s a beautiful show about belonging and place that represents years of work, since she moved to the United States from London in 2005. Gallery owner Evan Brownstein (left) with Brito Farré in the photo above. Working with the artist, I wrote and sent out a press release for the show and also transported the art to the gallery from her apartment in Brooklyn!