27 March 2020
God be with you till we meet again
I don’t wish you any hard luck Old Man but do wish you were here for a while at least. It’s more comfortable when one has a friend about. The men here are all good fellows, but I get so damned sick of Pneumonia that when I eat I want to find some fellow who will not ‘Talk Shop’ but there aint none nohow. We eat it, live it, sleep it, and dream it, to say nothing of breathing it 16 hours a day. I would be very grateful indeed it you would drop me a line or two once in a while, and I will promise you that if you ever get into a fix like this, I will do the same for you.
23 March 2020
If you are in charge of a web site that provides even slightly important information, or important services, it’s time to get static. I’m thinking here of sites for places like health departments (and pretty much all government services), hospitals and clinics, utility services, food delivery and ordering, and I’m sure there are more that haven’t occurred to me. As much as you possibly can, get it down to static HTML and CSS and maybe a tiny bit of enhancing JS, and pare away every byte you can.
— Get Static, Eric Meyer on his blog
22 March 2020
The Crisis Could Last 18 Months. Be Prepared
From a public-health standard, the pandemic will not end for another 18 months. The only complete resolution-a vaccine-could be at least that far away. The development of a successful vaccine is both difficult and not sufficient. It must also be manufactured, distributed, and administered to a nation’s citizens. Until that happens, as recent reports from the U.S. government and from scientists at London’s Imperial College point out, we will be vulnerable to subsequent waves of the new coronavirus even if the current wave happens to ebb.
— The Crisis Could Last 18 Months. Be Prepared, Juliette Kayyem in The Atlantic
26 February 2020
The Markup Launches
You also deserve to hear these facts from an independent source. We want to investigate the ecosystem of data exploitation, and we don’t think we can do that while shackled to it. And so we make a privacy promise to you, our readers: We will not track you. Unlike many companies, we put your privacy first. We collect the minimum amount of data possible when you visit our site, and we will never monetize this data. We won’t display advertisements on our site, because they too often contain tracking technology. This makes our work more complicated and more expensive-but your privacy is worth it.
25 February 2020
Sailors On Wikipedia
For example, some sailors download the whole of Wikipedia for Kiwix while at port so they can browse it while at sea.
I just thought it was cool to think of modern sailors at sea for weeks at a time turning to Wikipedia to pass the time. Also nice that we have the technology to support it.
24 February 2020
Pounding the tarmac through the seasons, a band of runners are brazenly challenged with intimate questions as they pace their routes. Liberated from responsibilities, their guards drop dramatically, releasing funny and brutally frank confessions, and weaving a powerful narrative behind the anonymous masses.
24 February 2020
Kanye, Out West
There Kanye West is at the McDonald’s, the Best Western and the Boot Barn. He hangs out at the Cody Steakhouse on the main drag, where he met one of his intern videographers, a student at Cody High School. His ranch is close to town, and to get where he needs to go, Kanye drives around town in a fleet of blacked-out Ford Raptors, the exact number of which is a topic of local speculation. Gina Mummery, the saleswoman at the Fremont Motor Company dealership, would only say that she sold him between two and six.
— Kanye, Out West, Jonah Engel Bromwich in The New York Times
12 February 2020
Places and Non-Places
All of the land used in cities can be divided into two categories: Places and Non-Places. Places are for people. Places are destinations. Whether it is a place to sleep, a place to shop, a place of employment, or simply a place to relax - it has a purpose and adds a destination to the city. Building interiors are the most common form of Places found in cities. Examples of outdoor Places include;
— Places and Non-Places, Andrew Price in Strong Towns
10 February 2020
Greta Gerwig and the Politics of Women's Genres
With the properly cinematic resources of space, time, and mise-en-scène, Gerwig approaches these contradictions as Alcott could not. Intercut with the meeting with Dashwood is a generically romantic resolution to the story - Jo’s dull professor-ex-machina, Friedrich Bhaer (Louis Garrel), is retrieved from the train station on the brink of departure by a whole troop of Marches and March hangers-on in a rom-com race to unite the hetero-couple. However, the images of this resolution do not actually depict a proposal or a wedding. Rather, after the professor is brought together with Jo for the kiss that signifies traditional closure, the scene continues. A sweeping overhead long take, in motion like much of the film, depicts Bhaer as one among many teachers, family members, and students who fill the halls and grounds of the (integrated and co-ed) school Jo sets up at Plumfield, the home she inherits from Aunt March. (Meryl Streep introduces all kinds of intertextual noise in this role, one note of which derives from her turn as Emmeline Pankhurst in 2015’s Suffragette.)
— Ambidextrous Authorship: Greta Gerwig and the Politics of Women’s Genres, Patricia White in Los Angeles Review of Books
10 February 2020
There Is No Swing Voter
Bitecofer’s view of the electorate is driven, in part, by a new way to think about why Americans vote the way they do. She counts as an intellectual mentor Alan Abramowitz, a professor of political science at Emory University who popularized the concept of ‘negative partisanship,’ the idea that voters are more motivated to defeat the other side than by any particular policy goals.
— An Unsettling New Theory: There Is No Swing Voter, Rachel Bitecofer in POLITICO
10 February 2020
Dawn or Dusk?
All that I know of Jules Breton’s The Weeders is that it was painted somewhere in northern France in 1868. He has kindly provided a thin sliver of a moon, which is (for the northern hemisphere) a waxing crescent moon, a few days after a new moon. That moon is higher in the sky than the sun, which is only just peeping above the horizon. A waxing crescent moon rises and sets after the sun, so for the moon to be higher above the horizon, this should be late sunset rather than dawn.
— Dawn or Dusk?, hoakley in The Eclectic Light Company
10 February 2020
James Joyceâs grandson and the death of the stubborn literary executor
But, in an odd way, Stephen Joyce is probably one of the last of his kind weâll see. D.T. Max, the journalist who profiled him, also happens to be David Foster Wallaceâs biographer, and in the notes to his biography he writes that “David may have been the last great letter writer in American literature (with the advent of email his correspondence grows terser, less ambitious).” This is a claim that will probably be plausibly made about other writers in that generation or just before. But anyone whose career really began after the iPhone is likely to have archives that will present wholly different problems.
— James Joyceâs grandson and the death of the stubborn literary executor, B.D. McClay in The Outline
10 February 2020
What Joe Biden Can't Bring Himself To Say
A stutter does not get worse as a person ages, but trying to keep it at bay can take immense physical and mental energy. Biden talks all day to audiences both small and large. In addition to periodically stuttering or blocking on certain sounds, he appears to intentionally not stutter by switching to an alternative word-a technique called ‘circumlocution’-which can yield mangled syntax. I’ve been following practically everything he’s said for months now, and sometimes what is quickly characterized as a memory lapse is indeed a stutter. As Eric Jackson, the speech pathologist, pointed out to me, during a town hall in August Biden briefly blocked on Obama, before quickly subbing in my boss. The headlines after the event? ‘Biden Forgets Obama’s Name.’ Other times when Biden fudges a detail or loses his train of thought, it seems unrelated to stuttering, like he’s just making a mistake. The kind of mistake other candidates make too, though less frequently than he does.
— What Joe Biden Can’t Bring Himself To Say, John Hendrickson in The Atlantic
10 February 2020
Computer Files Are Going Extinct
Perhaps this is the archivist in me, but this process of creating files and flinging them into an unsorted pot and then searching or hoping that the newest one is the one we want gives me the collywobbles. It seems like a rejection of our past work, to just sling all the files into a heap, immediately devaluing them as soon as something newer comes along.
— Computer Files Are Going Extinct, Simon Pitt in OneZero
7 February 2020
Emma Willard's Maps of Time
Willard’s devotion to visual mnemonics shaped much of her work. In the 1840s, she published another elaborate visual device, named the ‘Temple of Time’. Here, she attempted to integrate chronology with geography: the stream of time she had charted in the previous decade now occupied the floor of the temple, whose architecture she used to magnify perspective through a visual convention.
— Emma Willard&’s Maps of Time, Susan Schulten in The Public Domain Review
4 February 2020
The Only Safe Election Is a Low-Tech Election
Basically, we should be begging for the most analog election technology possible.
— The Only Safe Election Is a Low-Tech Election, Kevin Roose in The New York Times
4 February 2020
The mystery of the lost Roman herb
In fact, Roman cuisine wasn’t at all like Italian food. It was all about contrasting sweet with salty and sour foods (they liked to eat fishgut sauce, garum, with melon). Instead Rowan compares it to modern Chinese food. ‘If it was edible, they were eating it nothing was off the table,’ she says.
— The mystery of the lost Roman herb, Zaria Gorvett in BBC Future
4 February 2020
Stuck in Central China on Coronavirus Lockdown
There is the online reality, the reality portrayed by state media, and the reality I’m living. On the seventh day after the lockdown, a university classmate called my friend Ningning, and told her about another: hospitals do not have enough beds for the infected in Wuhan. They go home, they die, they never enter the official count as they were not diagnosed.
— Stuck in Central China on Coronavirus Lockdown, Lavender Au in The New York Review of Books
3 February 2020
Google Maps Hacks
99 second hand smartphones are transported in a handcart to generate virtual traffic jam in Google Maps.Through this activity, it is possible to turn a green street red which has an impact in the physical world by navigating cars on another route to avoid being stuck in traffic.
— Google Maps Hacks, Simon Weckert
28 January 2020
How to Make Writing a Lot Easier
I keep a notebook next to me at all times, like Linus van Pelt clinging to his blanket. When I get an idea, I put it down. I’ve had to stop on the side of the road to do this. I’ve put off eating to get notes down and write things, and I never put off eating for ANYTHING. Sometimes I get annoyed when I can’t get the thought down quick enough, when I’m not writing at the speed of my brain. When I’m somewhere without access to a pen and paper, like in the shower, that impatience grows even more pronounced. I gotta make sure to catalog the notes I wanna make in my brain so that I can get them down the second that shower is over. I mentally repeat the thoughts to myself, like I’m reciting some kind of really dull mantra. Then, once the thoughts are down, they’re safe. I don’t need a lot of words to note what I need. Just a couple of scribbles act as a keyword search and brings me directly to the original thought.
— How to Make Writing a Lot Easier, Drew Magary in Forge
28 January 2020
Digital Tools I Wish Existed
Part of the problem here is metadata is hard. Someone has to sit there and fill out the author, title, subtitle, summary, page count - and they’re probably not going to do it for free. Amazon is a good at it but is hostile to publishers. Goodreads has much potential but seems to have stagnated. Linking to the book’s Wikipedia entry would be my preference but very few books have an entry.
— Digital Tools I Wish Existed by Jonathan Borichevskiy
27 January 2020
How Iran Covered Up the Downing of an Airliner
The officer tried to reach the command center for authorization to shoot but couldn’t get through. So he fired an antiaircraft missile. Then another.
The plane, which turned out to be a Ukrainian jetliner with 176 people on board, crashed and exploded in a ball of fire.
— How Iran Covered Up the Downing of an Airliner, Farnaz Fassihi in The New York Times
27 January 2020
Harry and Meghan's Big Funding Source Is Private. Sort of
Prince Charles inherits the possessions of anyone who dies in Cornwall without a will or next of kin, a power that in some years has yielded hundreds of thousands of pounds. He funnels the money into charities after deducting his costs.
— Harry and Meghan’s Big Funding Source Is Private. Sort of, Benjamin Mueller in The New York Times
27 January 2020
Rise of the Blur
Because detective shows and soap operas use this blurry-foreground move so regularly, its sudden ubiquity in the news represents a significant shift in register, or even genre, for journalism. Photojournalism has for decades restricted itself to a stark framing of visual facts, never wishing to compromise its evidentiary role in the narration for a more theatrical one. The best news photos deftly capture the drama with a shutter click, but that is also the abiding rule: it either happens in that click, or it doesn’t make it to print. Framing and depth-of-field are the only things the photographer can deploy in that moment, so that’s why they’re being used together and pushed to extraordinary limits in the rise of the blur.
— Rise of the Blur, Dushko Petrovich in n+1
21 January 2020
This Is Not the Senate the Framers Imagined
Indirect election was also crucial to some of the Founders’ faith in the Senate’s ability to act in the public interest-and their decision to vest the Senate with particular powers, including the ‘sole Power’ to conduct impeachment trials. Consider Hamilton’s claim, in ‘Federalist No. 65,’ that only the Senate ‘would be likely to feel confidence enough in its own situation, to preserve, unawed and uninfluenced, the necessary impartiality between an individual accused, and the representatives of the people, his accusers.’ Specifically, he is asserting that unlike their House counterparts (the ‘accusers’ entrusted to render the equivalent of a presidential indictment), individual senators could be expected to issue fair judgments because their selection by fellow political professionals, for relatively long, six-year terms, insulated them from the vicissitudes and foibles of popular opinion.
— This Is Not the Senate the Framers Imagined, Jane Chong in The Atlantic
17 January 2020
What I Learned in Avalanche School
Functional zero is zero, but - to the imagination, at least - it is also not zero, just like the fear of being buried alive is both 100 percent irrational and also not. Within those narrow gaps (between irrational and rational, functional zero and zero), creative ingenuity - not just neuroses - can thrive. The pursuit of joy, even if that joy begins as fear and takes the form of preparation against an irrational outcome, is a death wish, maybe. Or it’s a life wish. Or there’s no difference. Texture, at a minimum, better distinguishes days spent this way, and that texture becomes the record of the idiosyncrasies of an individual’s mind.
— What I Learned in Avalanche School, Heidi Julavits in The New York Times
15 January 2020
Exploring the World of Paradise Lost
The experience of reading poetry aloud when you don’t fully understand it is a curious and complicated one. It’s like suddenly discovering that you can play the organ. Rolling swells and peals of sound, powerful rhythms and rich harmonies are at your command; and as you utter them you begin to realise that the sound you’re releasing from the words as you speak is part of the reason they’re there. The sound is part of the meaning and that part only comes alive when you speak it. So at this stage it doesn’t matter that you don’t fully understand everything: you’re already far closer to the poem than someone who sits there in silence looking up meanings and references and making assiduous notes.
â The Sound and the Story: Exploring the World of Paradise Lost, Philip Pullman in The Public Domain Review
15 January 2020
Why Scientists Fall for Precariously Balanced Rocks
In a way, the mere existence of Balanced Rock also seems like a prank, either geological or cosmic. The enormous boulder looks like it had been photoshopped onto the landscape, or photographed mid-roll, or carefully placed by aliens. But it’s no hoax and there’s no sorcery to it. Rather it is a prime example of a whole category of geologic formations called ‘precariously balanced rocks’ -PBRs, for short. They’re exactly what you might expect. ‘It’s a rock balanced on top of another rock,’ says Mark Stirling, who studies PBRs at the University of Otago in New Zealand.
â Why Scientists Fall for Precariously Balanced Rocks in Atlas Obscura
13 January 2020
I just finished Flights by Olga Tokarczuk. I really enjoyed it without really knowing what to make of it. Itâs structured in a stream-of-consciousness way, with distinct sections (which arenât quite chapters) that sometimes relate to whatâs come before with a dream logic. Here are some of my favourite sections, or at least a couple that got me thinking.
There are countries where people speak English. But not like us â we have our own languages hidden in our carry-on luggage, in our cosmetics bags, only ever using English when we travel, and then only in foreign countries, to foreign people. Itâs hard to imagine, but English is their real language! Oftentimes their only language. They donât have anything to fall back on or to turn to in moments of doubt.
How lost they must feel in the world, where all instructions, all the lyrics of all the stupidest possible songs, all the menus, all the excruciating pamphlets and brochures â even the buttons in the lift! â are in their private language. They may be understood by anyone at any moment, whenever they open their mouths. They must have to write things down in special codes. Wherever they are, people have unlimited access to them â they are accessible to everyone and everything! I heard there are plans in the works to get them some little language of their own, one of those dead ones no else is using anyway, just so that for once they can have something just for themselves.
â âThe Tongue Is The Strongest Muscleâ, p183
Iâve felt various things about my only fluent language being the lingua franca of much of the world, but this is the first thing Iâve read that captures what a shallow, wasteful thing it is.
At other times the hall becomes unexpectedly empty, and then the porter flirts with the receptionist, but only absent-mindedly, half-heartedly, remaining at full hotel readiness.
â âReception At Large Fancy Hotelsâ p318
This got me thinking: I havenât seen many strangers flirting with one another out in the world like is described here. If I did I feel like it should be a signal of the world of people thriving, like spring. Some people feel this way watching birds courting one another.
While waiting for the funeral, Fryderykâs close friends came every evening to his sisterâs or to George Sandâs to remember him. They would dine together and exchange the latest society gossip. Those days were strangely peaceful, as though not belonging to the ordinary calendar.
â âChopinâs Heartâ p324
Iâve just come out of the Christmas season. Thereâs a point in December when the regular rhythm of days fitted neatly to weeks falls apart. Itâs replaced by the constant winding up toward Christmas Day and then secondarily, New Yearâs Eve. In the intervening days things get listless and confused. You forget how to live according to your routine. The days âas though not belonging to any ordinary calendarâ are stuck haphazardly in a stack on the wall next to the year.
In a city in South Asia the vegetarian restaurants are generally indicated with red swastikas, ancient signs of the sun and life force. This makes vegetariansâ lives much easier in a foreign city â all you have to do up and follow that symbol. There they serve vegetable curry (the vegetables vary greatly), pakoras, samosas and kormas, pilafs, little cutlets, as well as my favourite rice sticks wrapped in dried algae sheets.
After a few days Iâm conditioned like one of Pavlovâs dogs â I drool at the sight of a swastika.
â âSwastikasâ p331
This one just make me laugh, and it had the air of an aunt telling an off-colour joke.
13 January 2020
A New Nuclear Era Is Coming
Add to that the fading memory of the Cold War and fiercer competition among the great powers, and itâs no surprise that the guardrails on the worldâs most destructive weapons are disappearing.
â A New Nuclear Era Is Coming, Uri Friedman in The Atlantic
11 January 2020
Il Formaggio e i Virmi
The Cheese and the Worms (Italian: Il formaggio e i vermi) is a scholarly work by the Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg. The book is a notable example of cultural history, the history of mentalities and microhistory. It is “probably the most popular and widely read work of microhistory”.
The study examines the unique religious beliefs and cosmology of Menocchio (1532â1599), also known as Domenico Scandella, who was an Italian miller from the village of Montereale, twenty-five kilometers north of Pordenone. He was from the peasant class and not a learned aristocrat or man of letters, Ginzburg places him in the tradition of popular culture and pre-Christian naturalistic peasant religions. His outspoken beliefs earned him the title of a heresiarch (heretic) during the Roman Inquisition.
â The Cheese and the Worms Wikipedia
11 January 2020
In head injury, a coup injury occurs under the site of impact with an object, and a contrecoup injury occurs on the side opposite the area that was hit.
â Coup contrecoup injury Wikipedia
11 January 2020
Reading Difficult Books
I’ve always just ploughed (or slogged) through particularly long and challenging books in one go, the same as I would for anything. I’d love to have a better “active reading” strategy though, and one that I actually stick to. “Steelmanning” an argument sounds like a great tool for that.
âSteelmanâ the argument, reworking it so that you find it as convincing and clear as you can possibly make it.
â A Note On Reading Difficult Books by Brad DeLong
8 January 2020
I was a child, but adults should know better than to believe that other cultures speak in spells. The concept of âuntranslatable wordsâ preserves the idea that the world can never be fully mapped out and expunged of mystery. Thatâs a comforting thought. It keeps alive the possibility of escapeâof something surviving far beyond our everyday experiences.
â Why We Love Untranslatable Words, David Shariatmadari in Lit Hub
7 January 2020
One incident stands out in particular. We were about an hour into the lesson and had just graduated from the backroads of the student’s hometown to a two-lane street with steady traffic. The car in front of us had slowed down, signaled, pulled over toward the shoulder, and made a smooth right turn into a shopping complex. Bob was impressed. “See how nicely he positioned that car?” He explained to the girl that that was exactly how it was done. And then a while later, long after the moment had passed, he said quietly, more to himself than to either of us, “I really liked the way he did that.” It had the ring of nostalgia to it.
â Learning About Work Ethic From My High School Driving Instructor, James Somers in The Atlantic
4 January 2020
VII. The right amount of technology is the minimum needed to solve the problem
- What is the minimum amount of technology needed to solve the problem?
- Slim the feature set down so that the product does what it needs to do and no more.
â Calm Technology, Amber Case in Designing Calm Technology
1 January 2020
Adam Driver On Marriage Story
While Bobby, the never-married protagonist of âCompany,â would seem at first blush to have little in common with the divorcing Charlie in âMarriage Story,â Driver found both men had a stubborn unwillingness to really confront themselves. When âMarriage Storyâ begins, Charlieâs wife, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) has moved on and is moving out, but it takes Charlie ages to realize that things will never go back to normal, and that he is now shouldering a significant loss.
âHe canât name the thing, he canât express it,â Driver said. âOnly through an abstract way can he process it and grieve.â â Adam Driver Has Put Everything He’s Got On Screen, Kyle Buchanan in New York Times
31 December 2019
PearShaped Magazine Archive
When I was at university, me and some friends founded a music magazine and ran it for a few years before handing it off to the next generation of students when we graduated. It ran on for a few years after we left and then closed.
I noticed recently that the hosting was about to expire, so I exporting the magazine’s content and turned it into a basic static site so it wasn’t lost forever. It’s the PearShaped Magazine Archive.
30 December 2019
The List of 2010 Lists
Here are some of my highlights:
30 December 2019
My Top Books of 2019
These are the books I most enjoyed reading in 2019, compiled from my Goodreads Reading Challenge.
- A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimar McBride
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
- A Perfect Spy by John Le CarrĂ©
- Enigma Variations by AndrĂ© Aciman
- The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
- The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
- Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things by George Lakoff
- Ecclesiastical History of the English Peoples by Bede
- The Shepherdâs Life by James Rebanks
- Queer City by Peter Ackroyd
29 December 2019
What We Don't Know About Sylvia Plath
Hughes cast himself, for the rest of his life, as the gatekeeper of Plathâs work: a snarling, sexy Cerberus. Permission to quote from Plathâs texts was next to impossible to secure, with the estate refusing the right if they disagreed with anything the author wrote; some Plath biographies from the time rely almost entirely on paraphrasing. Hughes made it clear in multiple letters to scholars and friends, some of which were published in newspapers at the time, that his was the definitive stance on Sylviaâs life and work. Moreover, sexy Cerberus had an affair with at least one Plath scholar, the British journalist Emma Tennant.
â What We Don’t Know About Sylvia Plath, Emily Van Duyne in Lit Hub
29 December 2019
The Great Regression
This is less nostalgia than simply hearkening back to a tonier iteration of Saturday dinner at the country club. And that sort of reaching backward worries me, because the past few years have made clear the perilous line between the glow of nostalgia and the myopia of Making America Great Again. But more saliently, the restaurant industry has endured a reckoning in the past two years, forced to confront the Mario Batalis and Ken Friedmans of the worldârevealed as serial harassers and ejected, somewhat forcibly, from their restaurant empires. It has finally started wrestling with its deep issues of inequality: a look at any recent lineup of top restaurants and chefs will show a sudden influx of women and chefs of color into the culinary conversation. In other words, if you feel the desire to play with nostalgia, youâd better be careful about how you use it.
â The Great Regression, Jon BonnĂ© in Taste Cooking
18 December 2019
Finland's Media Literacy
Examples of good news stories about information warfare are rare. Here’s a story about Finland’s quick and comprehensive response to Russian information warfare and interference in western elections.
The Finns introduced programs for schools, businesses, government workers and more to address the problem.
The initiative is just one layer of a multi-pronged, cross-sector approach the country is taking to prepare citizens of all ages for the complex digital landscape of today â and tomorrow. The Nordic country, which shares an 832-mile border with Russia, is acutely aware of whatâs at stake if it doesnât.
18 December 2019
There were a couple of articles this week about people behind screens undertaking pain-staking work to protect vulnerable children.
Firstly, there’s this article from The Verge about poorly treated contractors reviewing imagery depicting violence and child abuse for large platforms like Google and Facebook.
Secondly, there’s this investigation by Bellingcat that takes a collection of anonymised images from Europol and finds the precise location and date range in which they were taken through increasingly complex methods.
Tinfoil Butterfly is a seductively scary, chilling exploration of evilâhow it sneaks in under your skin, flaring up when you least expect it, how it throttles you and won’t let go.
17 October 2019
This excerpt from 24⁄6 by Tiffany Shlain makes the case for setting aside a day to go tech free: ditching phones and laptops and screens for the day. It’s come along just at the right time for me, as I’m generally shrinking away from tech outside of my work life more and more.
I like the way the article describes what you might need a tech-free day: a basic watch, a pen, and a little notebook containing some emergency phone numbers. Slightly idealistically it argues that the day then becomes about the basics: seeing friends, hanging out and chatting, playing games, cooking meals.
I’m going to try it this weekend, my phone left at home in a drawer. I’ll see how it goes.
1 October 2019
I read the Penguin Classics translation of Wasps by Aristophanes the other day. It’s a satirical play about how an older generation of Athenians who fought in the Peloponnesian War were taken in by a pandering demagogue called Cleon. To grasp what’s happening and get the jokes, you have to know a little bit about the context of Athenian politics at the time and how the jury system worked. But all of that is explained in a very quick note at the beginning of the edition.
The point of this note though is that it’s funny, really funny! It’s broad humour, some of it aimed as sly political aside, some of it just laughing at a slapstick servant in the mould of Blackadder’s Baldrick, at the foolishness of the old jurors. There’s a real revival of the classics being democratised in things like Mythos by Stephen Fry and reimagined in things like Circe by Madeline Miller. There was a lot of buzz around Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey, for its readability and relevance. I think there’s a place for a lot of these modern translations of Greek comedies to enter more popular circulation too. I would have loved this in school.
5 August 2019
Eugenics & Statistics
There were lots of interesting and terrible things in Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini but here’s something that stood out. Eugenics was a widely respected field of study around the time of the turn of the 20th century, well before the rash of state-sponsored genocide programs we now associate with Nazis etc. University College London established a Eugenics Record Office, that aimed to study races of man and conct the best ways to hone the (presumably white) superior race to perfection. Of the many people who were both active in the field then, and still respected now: Karl Pearson, inventor of the field of statistics but also the first Professor of National Eugenics at the UCL unit.
5 August 2019
The AcadĂ©mie FranĂ§aise
I was vaguely aware that the French language is basically policed by the AcadĂ©mie FranĂ§aise, but I’d never seen this statistic that really shows how small the base French vocabulary is. Aptly enough I saw it in this article about the French propensity to say… no.
there are 500,000 words in the English language, but only 70,000 in French
â The Culture Map by Erin Meyer via BBC
31 July 2019
Jacob Rees-Mogg Profile
James Meek (author of Private Island: Why Britain Now Belongs To Someone Else) did a great profile of new Leader of the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mog. It sums up the argument incredibly well that the stuffy all-English persona he affects in Parliament is at odds with his source of income in a transnational investment firm. Meek goes deep on the problematic network of offshore financial instruments used to shroud Mogg’s investment firm in secrecy, which makes sense given his work on Private Island.
In 2007, a few years before Jacob Rees-Mogg became, as the Labour MP Jack Dromey put it, âthe honourable member for Downton Abbeyâ, his alter ego Jacob Rees-Mogg set up Somerset Capital Management with two friends.
Meek goes beyond that oft-bandied about analysis, though. He argues that these “two Jacobs” are two sides of the same coin. They’re two aspects of a type that has appeared everywhere in the Faragist era of British politics: the vocal patriot (nationalist) that benefits from the free movement of hoarded capital across the world.
On the face of it, this kind of full-throated neoliberalism is the perfect expression of that original Thatcherite flaw: you can speak as patriotically as you like, but if your patriotism involves throttling your countryâs hospitals with spending cuts and standing idly by while better educated, lower paid, worse-treated workforces overseas trash your farmers and lay domestic industry to waste, people are bound to ask: âRemind me how this is patriotic again?â
31 July 2019
Madame Tussaud's Tall Tale
I started reading Little by Edward Carey without knowing what it was about. Soon it emerged that it’s a fictionalisation of the life of Madame Tussaud based on her memoirs. It is typical of a revolutionary French narrative in that it involves a exploited child orphan, the beautiful disarray of Paris at the time, and finally: no shortage of chance encounters with significant historical figures that begin to stretch the reader’s credulity.
I haven’t finished the book yet but the young orphan has already had personal interactions with:
- Jean-Jaques Rousseau
- Louis XVI
- Ălisabeth of France
I’m sure that Madame Tussaud had a fascinating life that brushed up against the roiling world events of the time, but we have to suppose much of her memoir was embellished quite incredibly. Perhaps the artisan who taught her wax-working was at the Bastille, but perhaps she did not sit on the roofs of Versailles with the disguised King of France.
I’ll probably just enjoy the ride for now, and get to the bottom of it afterwards.
24 July 2019
The Sinking of the USS Fitzgerald
For some reason I feel really compelled by accounts of the crash involving the USS Fitzgerald that killed sseven crew members. It’s a really interesting case of how the build up of lots of little decisions, shortcuts, putting crew under pressure, can lead to something dreadful.
I first heard about it in detail from this amazing This American Life segment by Stephanie Foo. More recently though, ProPublica published this incredibly detailed and moving account of the incident. I love things that dig into awful events so meticulously. Another example is The Death of A President by William Manchester, Secret Service agent posted on the occasion of the assassination of JFK.
24 July 2019
William Carlos Williams on love and cruelty
I’ve been reading The Art of Cruelty by Maggie Nelson and there’s tons of great extracts and references. One that caught me in particular was this excerpt from The Ivy Crown by William Carlos Williams, which (I think) disputes the rosy typical notions about love but reaffirms it as a wilder, more brutal thing:
The business of love is
by our wills,
we transform to live together.
It’s a nice disputation of the oft-quoted 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
Love is patient, love is kind… blah blah
22 July 2019
Bob Fosse, Joseph, and Rihanna
I was watching Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1999) the other day. It’s the height of camp, and I was trying to work out what the elements were and what they reminded me of. Then it came to the introductory Potiphar number and it clicked.
The Rich Man’s Frug is a dance number that appears in Sweet Charity (1969), a musical comedy directed by the choreographer Bob Fosse. It typifies Bob Fosse’s style: absurdist elements, people-as-stage, and intense camp. It had to have inspired that Potiphar number, right?
There’s one more place it popped up recently: in Rihanna, DJ Khaled, and Bryson Tiller’s great performance of Wild Thoughts at the Grammys in 2018. Same bizarre movements, elegant and camp dress, same dept of staging and silhouetting.