Good News About Carbon That Republicans Are Also Denying

Jonathan ChaitAll of these innovations have allowed the economy to decarbonize quickly without imposing noticeable costs on consumers. The coal industry is in a state of collapse. In just the last year alone, its share of US electrical generation fell from 36 percent to 28 percent. The four largest American coal-mining firms, which were worth a combined $34 billion five years ago, are now worth $150 million — a loss of more than 99 percent of their value.

In recent years, natural gas (which emits much less carbon than coal) has accounted for most of the decline. But the electricity sector is rapidly transitioning into zero-carbon sources. Solar and wind accounted for more than two-thirds of all new electric capacity last year. As these technologies rapidly grow cheaper and more efficient, their spread is accelerating. By the end of 2016, the US solar market will be ten times as large as it was in 2010.

—Jonathan Chait
Climate Change and Conservative Brain Death

Editor, Writer, and the the Division of Labor

EditorI got a message from my publisher (and nominally “editor”) today. After 28 chapters have been submitted and typeset, I am told, “Need to have 2-3 call outs in chapters that are all text.” It made me think that it would be a good idea to discuss what editors do and what writers do. But first I should explain to you what “call outs” are. In the publishing industry, a “call out” is nothing at all. There is no term. The phrase is idiosyncratic: the result of a tiny publisher cut off from the rest of the industry — and one that really doesn’t know anything other than what it does.

What I am being asking for now are what are called “pull quotes.” You have seen them a lot, because I use them a lot. A pull quote is “a brief, attention-catching quotation, typically in a distinctive typeface, taken from the main text of an article and used as a subheading or graphic feature.” They were first used in magazines and now are widely used on the internet. But they are rarely used in books. They make books look less serious. If a book wants to go with a magazine kind of layout, it will focus on pictures. So not only do pull quotes make books look silly, they make the publisher look cheap.

There is a symbiotic relationship between a writer and an editor. A great editor can make a mediocre writer good and a good writer great. And a good writer can make the work of an editor a pleasurable experience.

But this is all fine. There is just one problem that I have in all this: there are things that writers do and there are things that editors do. Asking a writer to provide the pull quotes is like asking the writer to provide the cover art and the ISBN. Look in any style guide: the editor, in the process of editing the work, selects passages that they consider effective. But I understand the problem with this particular editor: doing that would require actually reading the text!

Editor and Writer Together

There is a symbiotic relationship between a writer and an editor. A great editor can make a mediocre writer good and a good writer great. And a good writer can make the work of an editor a pleasurable experience. What I’ve found fascinating about editing is that it takes me as long to edit a good writer as it does a bad writer. But the process is different. And the results when working with a good writer are edifying, whereas working with a bad writer is exhausting. With a good writer, it’s like you are putting a great work of art in a fine frame and mounting it on the wall. With a bad writer, it is like you are putting out a fire.

There are times when there is some crossover between writer and editor. For one thing, writers often need particular illustrations for a piece and they will ask that they be placed in particular places. Writers will ask for other things, like not having a cover that totally sucks. But these are all requests and the editor has final say. But since most people have some notion of fairness, writers aren’t expected to do all the work and have no say in it. They provide the content and that’s about it. That’s the way things work in the publishing industry.

When I’ve worked with other small presses, this is the way it has worked. In fact, when I worked with this small press, this is how it worked. Of course, these small presses get away with murder. They don’t actually edit the works. They typeset. I was reading the original book (published with another publisher) and I found embarrassing errors. I compared them to my original manuscript: they were the same. No copy editing was done. It’s the same thing here.

Editors and writers should be best of friends. And in general, I’ve gotten along swimmingly with editors. But these pretenders are not editors. They don’t care about words and syntax and style. And some of them don’t even care enough to read the book so they can decide on their own pull quotes or “call outs.”

Morning Music: The Big Country

More Songs About Buildings and Food - The Big CountryStrangely, after yesterday’s morning music, I’ve had “The Book I Read” going through my mind. Catchy tune. Anyway, let’s just move on to the first truly great Talking Heads album, More Songs About Buildings and Food. It’s the one that had a reasonably big hit: their cover Al Green’s “Take Me to the River.” I like it, but I think it succeeds more because of Brian Eno’s production than anything else.

Yesterday, I avoided “Don’t Worry About the Government” — a song that is widely misinterpreted. Today, I want to highlight another song that is widely misinterpreted, “The Big Country.” On it’s surface, it is an attack on rural and suburban America with the chorus, “I wouldn’t live there if you paid me.” But if that were the point of the song, it would be trivial — and offensive. It is the view from seven miles up from an elitist who really knows nothing of the people he is — literally and figuratively — looking down on.

It’s only in the third verse that the song gets to the point. The singer lacks a community. His attitude about the way “those people” live their lives has caused him to be cut off. His life lacks meaning. The song is ultimately, an attack on that kind of adolescent rejection of everything that is “normal.” And the singer makes a breakthrough, “I’m tired of traveling; I want to be somewhere.”

It speaks to Byrne’s weakness as a writer that he doesn’t manage to rework the chorus of “The Big Country” to integrate his epiphany. But far worse would have been to simply repeat the chorus. So instead, they go into a coda where he sings, “Goo goo ga ga ga” — which I believe means nothing at all. Still, the song works and the music is beautiful.

Anniversary Post: My Fair Lady

My Fair LadyOn this day in 1956, My Fair Lady premiered on Broadway. I have two things to say about this. The first is that when I was 17 years old, I was part of a concert band that toured Europe. It was interesting. But the band was filled with people from the south. There were only two people who were at all from the west coast: a guy from Alaska and a gal from Arizona. Now the guy turned out to be my best friend on the trip. He was the only one who was willing to crawl out of windows and go roaming around the great cities of Europe drinking wine. Really: most of those kids were real duds.

But London was where we had first arrived and I didn’t know him that well. But in London, they had set up for us to go to see one of two plays on the West End: Annie or My Fair Lady. Well, I certainly did not want to see Annie — perhaps the most vacuously American play ever. And although My Fair Lady was at least British, I had seen the movie many times and I generally wasn’t interested.

I was a theater nerd. I loved the theater and I knew what was going on around the world in the theater scene. My thing was theater of the absurd, but I stayed up on everything — I read the weekly Variety at the library. And I had always thought that if I made it to London, I would have to see, No Sex Please, We’re British. I tried to stage a revolt. But the only person I could get on my side was the gal from Arizona. So we went to see My Fair Lady. I think there were only maybe 4 of us who did; the rest of them went to see Annie. And people wonder why I think so lowly of the south! (For the record, the performance of My Fair Lady was exceptional.)

Pygmalion and My Fair Lady

My second thought about My Fair Lady is a joke from Woody Allen. In his routine “The Vodka Ad,” he goes through a list of people the company was trying to get before him. He said, “They wanted to get Noël Coward originally for it, but he was not available. He had acquired the rights to My Fair Lady and he was removing the music and lyrics and making it back into Pygmalion.” Now, Pygmalion is a George Bernard Shaw play from 1913. And My Fair Lady really is just Pygmalion with songs. Some of the scenes are almost word for word.

Anyway, here is the Woody Allen routine, which is stand-up comedy at its best.