Foundations’ Hubris and the Price we All Pay

An open secret among people who work closely with foundation support, as I used to. Philanthropy has taken on the trappings of venture capital, and not often for the better.

I’m particularly unsettled by the outsized influence Gates Foundation has had on school reform, which should–messy though it is–be a democratic political process, not a question of oligarchs saying “this is what school is for.”


A strong article from The Awl.

Meanwhile, without any significant public claims on foundation largess, the general run of charitable spending in the United States has taken on the protective coloration of American business culture. At every level, charitable grants have come more and more to resemble investment projects, with a specific, measurable return on equity in mind. Among the dozens of sources I’ve interviewed on the state of the foundation world, every one has singled out this trend as a major shift.

Speling: An insult to human intelligence?

Example of strange English orthographyGood read on the reliable topic of the horrors of English spelling, courtesy of a review by Tom Shippey on two new language books:

English spelling is notoriously inconsistent, and some have gone further, calling it “the world’s most awesome mess” or “an insult to human intelligence” (both these from linguists, one American, one Austrian). Maybe this is just because our alphabet only has twenty-six letters to represent more than forty phonemes, or distinctive speech-sounds, and some of those – notably q and x – are not pulling their weight, while j is not allowed to (see “John” but also “George”). If we gave s and z a consistent value (“seazon”) and extended this to k and c (“klok” and “sertain”), we could free c up for other duties, such as maybe representing ch, as once it did. But then there are all the vowels . . . .

How did this unsystematic system come about? And is it really that bad? Some say that there are only a few hundred deeply irregular words, but the trouble is that most of them are common. Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle even went so far as to claim that we have “close to an optimal system”, though that takes a deal of argument to convince.

Nice nod to my friend Tim Halle’s dad, Morris.

Full review at TLS review of “The History of English Spelling”

James McNeil Whistler on the origin of art

A visit to the Freer (a DC treasure in my book) occupied my afternoon. This quote was on one of the walls:

“In the beginning, man went forth each day – some to do battle – some to the chase – others again to dig and to delve in the field – all that they might gain, and live – or lose and die. Until there was found among them, one, differing from the rest – whose pursuits attracted him not – and so he stayed by the tents, with the women, and traced strange devices, with a burnt stick, upon a gourd.

This man, who took no joy in the ways of his brethren, who cared not for conquest, and fretted in the field – this designer of quaint patterns – this deviser of the beautiful, who perceived in nature about him, curious curvings, – as faces are seen in the fire – This dreamer apart – was the first artist.” James McNeil Whistler

Sounds like me at 12, hanging around the art room instead of playing kick ball. I guess the idea of a female artist didn’t really occur to Whistler. Hard to live without him, though, and revisiting the Peacock Room, is one of the major pleasures of being back in DC.

Nocturne In Blue and Silver

Nocturne in Blue and Silver, James McNeil Whistler

The Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery in Washington DC

The “Peacock Room” designed by James McNeil Whistler, and now on display at the Freer Gallery in Washington, DC.

The Word

A poem I found via, apparently no longer updated, but full of good poems.

The Word

 Down near the bottom
 of the crossed-out list
 of things you have to do today,

 between "green thread"
 and "broccoli" you find
 that you have penciled "sunlight."

 Resting on the page, the word
 is as beautiful, it touches you
 as if you had a friend

 and sunlight were a present
 he had sent you from some place distant
 as this morning -- to cheer you up,

 and to remind you that,
 among your duties, pleasure
 is a thing,

 that also needs accomplishing
 Do you remember?
 that time and light are kinds

 of love, and love
 is no less practical
 than a coffee grinder

 or a safe spare tire?
 Tomorrow you may be utterly
 without a clue

 but today you get a telegram,
 from the heart in exile
 proclaiming that the kingdom

 still exists,
 the king and queen alive,
 still speaking to their children,

 - to any one among them
 who can find the time,
 to sit out in the sun and listen.

— Tony Hoagland

The Gay Marriage Debate: The Black Church’s Response to Obama and NAACP support

Fascinating discussion from WGBH’s Basic Black with clergy, commentators, and the head of the Boston NAACP on the issue. I’m not religious, but impressed by how those who are, and grapple firsthand with this to find a new understanding.

Dead Phone Walking: The Demise of WebOS and the Pre

Tech Soap Opera: Good article by Chris Ziegler on the short life and unhappy death of the Palm Pre, which once bid fair to grab the mobile market. Exposes the inner workings of the industry–personalities x technology x market issues–well reported on all three dimensions. Jim and I both had Pres. We went from big crush–nifty UI things, great form factor–to feeling like it was a Members Only jacket and we were the last members. (A feeling I have often had.)


Arguably, Palm was in the midst of amassing perhaps the greatest talent pool in the Valley at that time. People who’d done truly great things in the industry–many of whom already knew each other and had professional chemistry–had been enticed to Sunnyvale en masse under the leadership of Ed Colligan and Jon Rubinstein, both of whom were considered highly charismatic and influential individuals who could get things done. And Palm management had indicated to leadership that their Windows Mobile business was healthy enough to carry the company for a while, giving engineers the breathing room they needed to make Nova great.

The company blew out remaining TouchPad inventory for as little as $99, a move that one employee we spoke to called a “joke.” At that point, it was nothing more than a dead tablet walking

Complete story at

From the Verge, found via Daring Fireball.

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