The Republic of Letters

Archives for August 2013

Elmore Leonard’s Rules For Good Writing

800px-Elmore_LeonardIf you haven’t heard already, Elmore Leonard died today at his home in Bloomfield Township, Mich. He was 87. Proving again that fame is a vain pursuit, I’m constantly surprised by the number of people who’re either completely ignorant of him or his work. Probably because of the movie, the work which elicits the most “Oh, yeas.”, though, is his 2005 novel “Get Shorty.” Yea, Leonard wrote that. Anyway, in 2001 he wrote a short piece for the Times explaining his rules for writing. It’s a gem. Read it. Keep it. Use it.

  1.  Never open a book with weather.
  2.  Avoid prologues.
  3.  Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4.  Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … he admonished gravely.
  5.  Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6.  Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7.  Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8.  Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9.  Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10.  Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

(HT: Gilbert Cruz/Vulture and image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Getting to Know Manolo Blahnik

manolo-blahnikJohn Heilpern lunches with the shoe designer at the Monkey Bar and pens a flattering portrait of the man. Of his obsession with shoes, Heilpern writes:

He has for many years lived in London and in historic Bath, in southwestern England, where his two adjoining Georgian houses are also home to some 25,000 to 30,000 pairs of prototype Manolos. He’s lost count of them. “I don’t live in a house. I live in a shoe museum! ‘Shoe mausoleum’ would be better! I lost about 300 in a flood in London. But it’s O.K. I saved some of them.” It’s almost as if his shoes were human to him, like members of an extended, sexy family.

What I like most about Blahnik, though, is his perspective on wealth and work.

And although he is surely wealthy, money has never been the point with this well-liked man. “I love to work. I don’t have any life! But, you know, John, people of my generation, we didn’t think much about money. I believe that everything is done for the pleasure of doing it. I have that kind of mind, I think. Maybe I’m crazy.”

(Image courtesy of Divaboostylesnyc)

Remember This When Reading Andrew Sullivan

MoDo On What The Clintons Are All About

How quickly the world forgets. Is there any doubt that the Clintons, of course, would belong to Slytherin?

(HT: Allen Estrin/Dennis Prager Blog)

What Happens When The Good Merely Look On And Do Nothing


John Stuart Mill/Wikimedia Commons

Via Keith Burgess-Jackson, comes a reminder of a commonplace but important truth from John Stuart Mill. Remember it when faced with a choice.

Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.

(John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address Delivered to the University of St. Andrews, Feb. 1st 1867 [London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1867], 36)

American Economic Association’s Symposium on The Top One Percent

Abstract from Facundo Alvaredo et al’s paper “The Top 1 Percent in International and Historical Perspective” :

The top 1 percent income share has more than doubled in the United States over the last 30 years, drawing much public attention in recent years. While other English-speaking countries have also experienced sharp increases in the top 1 percent income share, many high-income countries such as Japan, France, or Germany have seen much less increase in top income shares. Hence, the explanation cannot rely solely on forces common to advanced countries, such as the impact of new technologies and globalization on the supply and demand for skills. Moreover, the explanations have to accommodate the falls in top income shares earlier in the twentieth century experienced in virtually all high-income countries. We highlight four main factors. The first is the impact of tax policy, which has varied over time and differs across countries. Top tax rates have moved in the opposite direction from top income shares. The effects of top rate cuts can operate in conjunction with other mechanisms. The second factor is a richer view of the labor market, where we contrast the standard supply-side model with one where pay is determined by bargaining and the reactions to top rate cuts may lead simply to a redistribution of surplus. Indeed, top rate cuts may lead managerial energies to be diverted to increasing their remuneration at the expense of enterprise growth and employment. The third factor is capital income. Overall, private wealth (relative to income) has followed a U-shaped path over time, particularly in Europe, where inherited wealth is, in Europe if not in the United States, making a return. The fourth, little investigated, element is the correlation between earned income and capital income, which has substantially increased in recent decades in the United States.

And here is Greg Mankiw’s abstract from his much discussed (and unjustly maligned) paper:

Imagine a society with perfect economic equality. Then, one day, this egalitarian utopia is disturbed by an entrepreneur with an idea for a new product. Think of the entrepreneur as Steve Jobs as he develops the iPod, J. K. Rowling as she writes her Harry Potter books, or Steven Spielberg as he directs his blockbuster movies. The new product makes the entrepreneur much richer than everyone else. How should the entrepreneurial disturbance in this formerly egalitarian outcome alter public policy? Should public policy remain the same, because the situation was initially acceptable and the entrepreneur improved it for everyone? Or should government policymakers deplore the resulting inequality and use their powers to tax and transfer to spread the gains more equally? In my view, this thought experiment captures, in an extreme and stylized way, what has happened to US society over the past several decades. Since the 1970s, average incomes have grown, but the growth has not been uniform across the income distribution. The incomes at the top, especially in the top 1 percent, have grown much faster than average. These high earners have made significant economic contributions, but they have also reaped large gains. The question for public policy is what, if anything, to do about it.

From Lou Gehrig to Alex Rodriguez: A Study in Decline


(Lou Gehrig/Wikimedia Commons)

Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review and columnist for Politico, writes:

The difference between the two Yankees is the difference between going away with grace when no one wants you to leave, and sticking around, gracelessly, when most everyone would prefer that you go. It’s the difference between fighting for your life but not mentioning it, and saying you’re fighting for your life when you are not. It’s the difference between calling yourself the luckiest man on Earth when you have been dealt an ugly hand by fate, and pitying yourself when your predicament is the product of your own bad choices.

From Gehrig to Rodriguez is a long way down.

Exactly. Read the whole column. Here, by the way, is a wonderful video of Gehrig’s farewell speech. Gehrig’s first line is often quoted, and rightfully so, but his last words are equally as powerful if not more so.

I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this, but with a markedly honed sardonic edge and improved style as a polemicist,  Lowry’s columns are now a must read.

“I want to like Walmart. I really do. I just can’t.”


(Wal-Mart Exterior/Wikimedia Commons)

That’s what my friend Michael Liccione says, and, unfortunately, I must agree with him. “Unfortunately” because I want to like Wal-Mart since it brings genuine savings to the consumer (see reason 2 of Professor Bainbridge’s critique of Wal-Mart), and especially because it educes the irrational ire of so many on the Left. But both for the reasons Michael adumbrates–namely, “Dangeous parking lots, inconsistent stocking, women wearing pajamas and thongs, and butts so wide you can’t get around them in the aisles.”– and Stephen Bainbridge expounds, I sadly can’t. If you like Wal-Mart, feel free to comment explaining why. I’m entirely open to being disabused on the subject.

Avoiding Cynicism and Constructing a Civilization of Love


(Pope Benedict XVI)

Asking for divine assistance in constructing a civilization of love might seem like quaint and trite piety. But that’s only because we fail to realize the difficulty and enormity of the task. When I observe how human beings treat each other, even just in our daily lives, including my own, my reaction isn’t one of admiration or love, but of cynicism. Perhaps there are others, but the only intellectually and spiritually satisfying antidote to cynicism I know of is God and prayer.

May the Holy Spirit make you creative in charity, persevering in your commitments, and brave in your initiatives, so that you will be able to offer your contribution to the building up of the “civilization of love”. The horizon of love is truly boundless: it is the whole world!–Pope Benedict XVI