July 19, 2017
[politics] Dominic Cummings: the ‘career psychopath’ who thinks David Davis is ‘as thick as mince’
… Pass Notes on Dominic Cummings
… ‘Appearance: A hard-boiled egg with the haunted eyes of a man who has seen Michael Gove without his mask.’
July 18, 2017
[comics] Inside the surprisingly dark world of Rube Goldberg machines
… A look at why Rube Goldberg Machines
remain relevant… … ‘Almost a century old, Rube Goldberg machines retain their appeal: “There’s something in our brains that likes to see cause and effect played out, to see it in a way that we can understand,” Joseph Herscher, the Brooklyn-based artist, told me. Herscher has judged at the past three college national competitions but was absent this year. “Most of the technology we live with is designed to be invisible,” he said. “A computer is the ultimate example: it’s so advanced, so sophisticated, and yet it’s not interesting to watch it run whatsoever.” When we watch the movements of a Rube Goldberg machine, “it’s our world that we’re seeing, and it makes us appreciate our world. You don’t see that nowadays.” Meanwhile, most of Goldberg’s comics seem dated: the jokes don’t make sense or are lame, and cultural references fall flat. But some feel as relevant ever, and maybe that’s because the technical absurdities that the cartoonist parodied are still very real…’
June 2, 2017
[books] Drif Field, Raymond Carver, and the infamous Guide
… a look at Drif’s Guide to All the Second-hand and Antiquarian Bookshops in Britain … ‘It all has the tone of a man about to bow out, and leave the blinkered inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah to their well-deserved ruin. And his prophesy has largely come to pass. The ranks of second-hand booksellers have thinned drastically. There are still some left in Sussex, but like antiques in general it’s a dying trade in which a very few discreet high-class niche dealers (without the overheads of a shop) might still do well, but most bookshop-owners won’t. The times are against them.’
May 25, 2017
[life] Andy Warhol on being shot by Valerie Solanas in 1968: “Before I was shot, I always thought that I was more half-there than all-there – I always suspected that I was watching TV instead of living life. People sometimes say that the way things happen in the movies is unreal, but actually it’s the way things happen to you in life that’s unreal. The movies make emotions look so strong and real, whereas when things really do happen to you, it’s like watching television – you don’t feel anything. Right when I was being shot and ever since, I knew that I was watching television. The channels switch, but it’s all television.”
May 16, 2017
[press] Is the editor of the Daily Mail the most dangerous man in Britain?
… The Guardian on on Paul Dacre
and Brexit… ‘His own success at the Mail has bought him schooling for his two sons at Eton, membership of the Garrick, a chauffeur, a house in the country, flat in town and a shooting estate in Scotland (generously subsidised by the EU). He rarely rubs up against the people he believes he represents. “It always amused me that his shoe leather never wore out,” one reporter told Addison, “because every day he was on a carpet in the office; he strode out the door and was in a car which deposited him either at home or a restaurant. He would be horrified at what modern Britain had become – but he was never part of it.” Despite this insulation, Dacre has always presented himself as having a unique “feel for the emotions of ordinary people”. He still apparently locates this feeling in the 1950s London suburb of Arnos Grove in which he grew up, and which persists as the model of the Mail’s middle England.’
May 9, 2017
[crime] What Bullets Do to Bodies
… powerful profile of a trauma surgeon in North Philadelphia and what happens to the gunshot victims she treats …
It’s possible for a surgeon to get distracted by the wrong wound. The most dangerous wounds don’t always look the worst. People can get shot in the head and they’re leaking bits of brain from a hole in the skull and that’s not the fatal wound; the fatal wound is from another bullet that ripped through the chest. One patient a few years ago was shot in the face with a shotgun at close range over some money owed. He pulled his coat up over his mangled face and walked to the ER of one of Temple’s sister hospitals, approaching a nurse. She looked at him. He lowered the coat. The nurse thought to herself what you might expect a person to think in such a situation: “Daaaaaamn.” He was stabilized, then transferred to Temple. He lived.
The price of survival is often lasting disability. Some patients, often young guys, wind up carrying around colostomy bags for the rest of their lives because they can’t poop normally anymore. They poop through a “stoma,” a hole in the abdomen. “They’re so angry,” Goldberg said. “They should be angry.” Some are paralyzed by bullets that sever the spinal column. Some lose limbs entirely…
April 24, 2017
[trump] Fairytale Prisoner by Choice: The Photographic Eye of Melania Trump
… What Melania Trump’s stream of Twitter photos tells us about her life … ‘Melania posted her last photo to Twitter on Thursday, June 11, 2015, five days before her husband announced his candidacy for president. It is an old photograph, of a then six-year-old Barron, taken on the beach. He is looking down at the ground ahead and waving goodbye to a professionally built sandcastle in the background. That day Melania knew, of course, that the campaign was coming. In retrospect her choice of a Throwback Thursday post reads as prophecy: a goodbye to her golden towers, to the home destined to crumble. To this day she’s still up there, in the golden Tower, holding onto it for as long as she can.’
April 3, 2017
[politics] Stephen King on Donald Trump: ‘How do such men rise? First as a joke’
… King analyses Trump with fictional characters …
These stories were written years ago, but Stillson and Rennie bear enough of a resemblance to the current resident of the White House for me to flatter myself I have a country-fair understanding of how such men rise: first as a joke, then as a viable alternative to the status quo, and finally as elected officials who are headstrong, self-centered and inexperienced. Such men do not succeed to high office often, but when they do, the times are always troubled, the candidates in question charismatic, their proposed solutions to complex problems simple, straightforward and impractical. The baggage that should weigh these hucksters down becomes magically light, lifting them over the competition like Carl Fredricksen in the Pixar film Up. Trump’s negatives didn’t drag him down; on the contrary, they helped get him elected.
March 31, 2017
[web] This Is Almost Certainly James Comey’s Twitter Account
… Impressive web-Stalking – finding the the Director of the FBI’s Twitter and Instagram accounts … ‘Of course, none of this is definitive proof @projectexile7 is FBI Director James Comey, but it would take a nearly impossible confluence of coincidences for it to be anyone else. Take what you will from the fact that the director of the FBI appears to have liked a tweet from the New York Times about Mike Flynn and Jared Kushner meeting a Russian envoy in December.’
March 29, 2017
[comics] How Dilbert’s Scott Adams Got Hypnotized by Trump
… a glimpse into Scott Adams’ world and odd ideas … ‘Getting a comic strip, even one as occasionally edgy as Dilbert, into family newspapers requires observing a certain set of norms. Adams’s viral analyses of Trump introduced many people, including me, to his more unusual fixations. Between political ponderings, he blogged about fitness and seduction, posting photos of his abs and writing a series of essays on how to deploy hypnosis and persuasion for better orgasms. “My language skills activate your sex drive, and you know it,” he wrote at one point. So-called men’s rights activists became vocal fans. I was just baffled. As Trump and Clinton entered the home stretch of the campaign, I wondered if Dilbert’s success had made Scott Adams eccentric—or if this had always been the mind behind the strip.’
March 21, 2017
[crime] Steve Bannon’s Sad, Desperate Crusade
… a nicely written analysis of Steve Bannon … ‘Even pieces of ostensible criticism reach, almost unfailingly, a passage of barely hidden astonishment, writers gazing at his references to the ancient Roman working class or Thomas Cromwell like they just peeked inside the Matrix. He is, in a way, a journalist’s dream prompt: His mysterious biography invites investigation; his mongrel-like appearance a paradise for vivid similes; his appetite for literature just like theirs. So what should be an attack on an irredeemable charlatan instead becomes something closer to fascination. Writing about Bannon tends to be studiously impartial, analytical, even as his worldview is dismissed as an absurdity. This is wrong. Bannon can be a disheveled maniac and only that—there doesn’t need to be a revelation or nuance or anything beyond a bloodshot sack of demented ambition, no matter how high he ascends. He is not a Svengali, he’s a shipwrecked banker who washed ashore and wound up the president’s ventriloquist. Hate is still just hate, no matter how intricately ornamented it is with Ronald Reagan idolatry.’
March 16, 2017
[books] The Complicated Friendship of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert Barlow, One of His Biggest Fans
… ‘Barlow didn’t invent Cthulhu. He lived in Lovecraft’s great dream, but he never became a great dreamer himself. Until he got to Mexico, he was a serial abandoner of projects, who set out to do everything but left most of it unfinished. He was also too interested in reality: where Lovecraft had sublimated his fears and desires, Barlow had sex and saw the world. Rather than imagining dreadful Others, he took note of what other people were actually like.’
March 7, 2017
[books] Three days with The Dice Man: ‘I never wrote for money or fame’
… Tanya Gold interviews Luke Rhinehart (aka George Cockcroft) author of The Dice Man … ‘He says he has no idea why he began writing. He read outsiders, and men who railed against belonging: Tolstoy, Kafka, Hemingway. His first attempt at fiction was about a young boy who is locked up in a psychiatric institution because he thinks he is Jesus Christ. He abandoned it after 80 pages, but one chapter featured a psychiatrist called Dr Luke Rhinehart. “He was a minor character,” Cockcroft says, “but there he was.”’
January 10, 2017
[people] Was 2016 especially dangerous for celebrities? An empirical analysis.
… ‘2016’s P200s were: Fidel Castro, Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Johan Cruyff, Bhumibol Adulyadej, Leonard Cohen, Antonin Scalia, Elie Wiesel, Nancy Reagan, John Glenn, Carrie Fisher, Chyna, Harper Lee, Kimbo Slice, Ernst Nolte, Rob Ford, Pierre Boulez, Alan Rickman, Shimon Peres, Christina Grimmie, Terry Wogan, Abbas Kiarostami, and Merle Haggard.’
January 4, 2017
[moon] The Dark Side of the Moon
… go read this powerful profile of Buzz Aldrin …
You smile at him, your face opening the way every single face in the entire world opens when it encounters him. Because he is: Buzz Aldrin. And we are: mankind.
He takes note of your smile, and just as quickly looks past you. It’s the same way with everybody. It’s your pregnant anticipation: I can’t wait to hear the amazing synthesis of moon wisdom you are about to bestow upon me.
He has no idea what to do with that. None. He’s turning 85 this month. He went to the moon when he was 39. Mankind has been coming at him with your same smile ever since. What do you expect him to do with that?
December 12, 2016
[people] Lessons from My Father
… Powerful piece of writing from Joe McGinniss, Jr. on the downfall of his father
… ‘The subject of his book “Fatal Vision,” the convicted murderer Jeffrey MacDonald, upset that the book portrayed him as guilty of the crime, sued my father for fraud. The contract for the book granted my father the freedom to tell the story as he saw fit, but the jury deadlocked anyway, and a mistrial was declared; the case was settled out of court a few years later. A few years after that, a famous piece in The New Yorker, “The Journalist and the Murderer,” by Janet Malcolm, took the case as emblematic of the moral compromises made by writers. Few in the publishing world came to my father’s defense. His reputation was in tatters, and he wondered aloud whether he’d ever write another book. If he’d ever crawl out of the dark black pit of depression. If he’d see fifty-five, sixty? His freezer was filled with bottles of gin and vodka. He’d pour drinks and stir them with an index finger, suck it dry. Have a bottle of wine at dinner, a second. Then he’d call. If I answered, it was to listen, and I knew before he completed his first sentence.’
November 22, 2016
[crime] Framed – She was the PTA mom everyone knew. Who would want to harm her?
… an engrossing long-read about a suburban middle-class Mum and Dad’s attempt to destroy another parent at the school their child attended …
“I want you to use that big brain of yours, mouth closed, listen,” Brannon told him. “At some point during this conversation you’re going to have to make a big-boy decision, and that’s gonna be on you.”
In the age of computers and technology and cell phones, Brannon said, “Big Brother’s always watching. We’re absolutely not the smartest guys in the shed, OK? But we can follow the dots from one to the next to the next.”
They knew, he said, that Easter’s phone had been pinging in the middle of the night near Peters’ apartment. And if there was DNA on the drugs in Peters’ car, they would find it.
Brannon said, “I would hope and pray for your sake that there’s a big light going off, big bells going off. Knowing what I just told you, is there anything that you would like to add to your statement to me, whether retracting or adding anything to your statement?”
“I would like to get a lawyer.”
“That’s the big-boy answer.”
October 28, 2016
[books] In ‘Hitler,’ an Ascent From ‘Dunderhead’ to Demagogue
… Nicely done book review on the rise of
Adolf Hitler … ‘Hitler was known, among colleagues, for a “bottomless mendacity” that would later be magnified by a slick propaganda machine that used the latest technology (radio, gramophone records, film) to spread his message. A former finance minister wrote that Hitler “was so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between lies and truth” and editors of one edition of “Mein Kampf” described it as a “swamp of lies, distortions, innuendoes, half-truths and real facts.”’
October 21, 2016
[trump] ‘I think he’s a very dangerous man for the next three or four weeks’
… An “emergency meeting” of Trumpologists discuss Trump’s final weeks in the US Election … ‘The parallels between the period of time leading up to his downfall in 1990 and the campaign now are striking. And what he did last night in standing up in this moment of crisis and being a victim — he thought of himself as a victim in the downfall of 1990 and playing the victim card and being as angry at others as he was in the ’90s in the way in which he dealt with the bankers. It was very strikingly similar to that period of time. But when you’ve dealt with the bankers in 1990, you could figure out a way where both of you came out with something and lost something. But in this case, there’s going to be a winner and a loser. And so there’s some similarities, but ultimately, he’s going to be a loser. He managed to survive in almost an unbelievable way when his empire collapsed, but managed to survive with the aid of the bankers. But this time, it’s going to be a straight-out loss on the biggest stage he’s ever been on, and how he handles that — I don’t think we’ve got any precedent for that.’
October 6, 2016
[savile] Louis Theroux: Looking back on Jimmy Savile
… Louis Theroux reflects on his relationship with Jimmy Savile … ‘With all the victims, there was the slightly uncomfortable moment of soliciting their opinions on my original documentary. It was oddly bracing to feel the force of their unvarnished feedback. “I remember thinking ‘Poor Louis’,” said one. She said she felt I’d been “hoodwinked” by him. Another remarked on how “silly” I seemed, being pushed around by a puffed-up celebrity. It is fair comment. At the time, I’d done my best to be tough with him. I knew he was weird and, with all his mannerisms, rather irritating – I had no interest in making a soft piece about Jimmy the Charity Fundraiser. The dark rumours – of sexual deviance, of being unemotional, of having a morbid interest in corpses – were one of the reasons I’d taken him on as a subject. I wanted to get the goods on Savile. The trouble was, I had no clear sense of what those goods were.’
September 30, 2016
[tweets] Following On Twitter: @WernerTwertzog
… ‘In the future, everyone will be dead for an infinite number of minutes.’
September 27, 2016
[ww2] High Hitler: How Nazi Drug Abuse Steered the Course of History
… an interesting examination of Adolf Hitler’s drug addictions …
For Hitler, though, a crisis was coming. When the factories where Pervitin and Eukodal were made were bombed by the allies, supplies of his favourite drugs began to run out, and by February 1945 he was suffering withdrawal. Bowed and drooling and stabbing at his skin with a pair of golden tweezers, he cut a pitiful sight. “Everyone describes the bad health of Hitler in those final days [in the Führerbunker in Berlin],” says Ohler. “But there’s no clear explanation for it. It has been suggested that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. To me, though, it’s pretty clear that it was partly withdrawal.” He grins. “Yeah, it must have been pretty awful. He’s losing a world war, and he’s coming off drugs.”
September 19, 2016
[people] An Extremely Awkward Encounter with Larry David
… Larry David discusses the Seinfeld Curse amongst other things …
LD: Here’s what I’ll have: split-pea soup and white-bean hummus. Is that okay?
PUBLICIST: Whatever you want.
LD: And I don’t need the cheesy croutons. And if there’s cream in the soup, don’t get it.
PUBLICIST: I’ll check.
LD: Yeah. No cream or butter in the soup or the hummus.
SR: Is that a lactose thing or a general-health thing?
LD: General health.
SR: So you tolerate lactose.
LD: I tolerate lactose like I tolerate people.
September 2, 2016
[life] Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter To Be Sick, Gypsy Wanted Her Mom Murdered
… disturbing true-life story of Munchausen by proxy and murder … ‘Because Dee Dee is dead, it’s impossible to diagnose her. She didn’t leave behind a diary or some other documentation of her intentions. She did keep a binder of medical information in which she seemed to be sorting through the different information she’d given to various doctors. And she did fit certain parameters that doctors often cite as red flags for Munchausen syndrome: For example, she had some medical training. The number of doctors she took Gypsy to see over the years, and her propensity for changing locations so there was no clear medical trail, is also common. So are the concerns over sleep apnea, which is one way Munchausen often seems to begin in the various documented cases.’
August 19, 2016
[history] Interview with Joseph Goebbels’ 105-year-old secretary
… ‘But really, I didn’t do anything other than type in Goebbels’ office.’
June 20, 2016
[internet] Lonelygirl15: how one mysterious vlogger changed the internet
… fascinating back story behind one of Youtube’s earliest web series
which turned out to be professionally done … ‘As far as Beckett was concerned, it was a race against time before someone else pipped them to the post. He said: “Somebody was going to create a scripted show on YouTube that uses the vlogger format and if they were marketing savvy they would make it feel real so there would be talk about it. “If we didn’t do it, then somebody else would.” The business side was headed up by their friend Greg Goodfried, a lawyer who later became one of the show’s producers. His wife Amanda, then working at the Creative Artists’ Agency (CAA), was tasked with maintaining Bree’s Myspace page. They had a plan, they had the webcam, they had the scripts. All they needed now, was the right girl for the part.’
May 19, 2016
[books] H. P. Lovecraft in 1919
… What was H. P. Lovecraft up to in 1919? … ‘Much of what we know of Lovecraft for this year comes from his amateur publications and his few surviving letters—only a handful have survived from this period—but it was a quietly formative year in his life. The discovery of Lord Dunsany gave shape to his experiments in fiction, and he began to find his own voice and preferred style, while the hospitalization of his mother gave him an unexpected freedom, living alone for the first time.’
May 4, 2016
[politics] Maybe Donald Trump has really lost his mind: What if the GOP frontrunner isn’t crazy, but simply not well?
… ‘The first time I wondered at something being not quite right with Trump’s brain was during the first debate in August 2015 when Trump said “We need brain in this country to turn it around.” Even my 10-year-old son noted that Trump had suggested we need intelligence in government in a really stupid way. But it was more than stupid; it was ungrammatical. It wasn’t simply a basic use of language; it lacked the grammar structure that even a third grader has readily available. And for all of the ease with which we Trump bash, it’s worth remembering that he did, in fact, graduate from Wharton as an undergraduate in economics. He might have been full of bluster back then, but I’m guessing he still could speak in a complete sentence.’
April 13, 2016
[politics] Has Jeremy Corbyn’s spin doctor Seumas Milne gone rogue?
… an interesing profile (but written by Alex Wickham so YMMV) … ‘A recurring theme is Milne’s disconcertingly endearing comic character. Dressing in a communist-chic black rollneck jumper and white chinos, Milne offers great value as a self-deprecating self-parody. “He’s like Swallows And Amazons meets Spetsnaz,” says one journalist who has worked with him.’
April 8, 2016
[movies] ‘Superman,’ The Inside Story: Director Richard Donner Remembers Meeting Stallone to Play the Lead, Working With Brando, and a Near-Fatal Knife Attack
… Richard Donner describes how Superman: The Movie got made …
I was brought up on Superman as a kid. There was a whole point in my life where I read Superman. So when I was finished with it, I was like, “Man, if they make this movie, they are destroying the legend of Superman.” I wanted to do it just to defend him.I called [writer] Tom Mankiewicz, who had been a friend for years. He said, “I don’t want to get involved. I don’t want to do a comic book.” I said, “Tom, it’s more than a comic book. Please come over.”I got a little stoned, smoked some weed, put on the Superman costume. I was in pretty good shape then. It was like elastic. And Tom pulled up, and I ran across the lawn and Tom turned and looked at me and ran back to his car.Tom says, “You’re crazy. Get the f— away from me!”
February 26, 2016
[comics] It’s Stan Lee’s Universe
… must-read attempt to sum up Stan Lee’s legacy in comics …
“Stan’s gotten far too much credit,” says veteran comics writer Gerry Conway, who’s known Lee since 1970. “People have said Stan was out for No. 1, and to a very large degree, that’s true. He’s a good guy. He’s just not a great guy.”
“Unfortunately, from day one, Jack was doing part of Stan’s job, and Stan was not doing part of Jack’s job,” says comics historian Mark Evanier, who worked as Kirby’s assistant and has worked on and off with Lee since the 1970s. “When you talk to Stan Lee, when he turns the Stan Lee act off, he’s a very decent human being who is chronically obsessed with himself. He’s very insecure. Those of us who have trouble being angry for some of the things that happened, it’s because we saw the real human being there at times.”
“It’s one of those things where you sit down and you say, ‘You gotta be forgiving of your parents,’” says artist Colleen Doran, who drew Lee’s new memoir. “I don’t know of anyone who knows Stan and doesn’t love him, even if they hate things he’s done.”
February 22, 2016
[magazines] The many, many trials of Judy Finnigan
… The strange world of British women’s weekly magazines… ‘The inventiveness of the editors of Bella, Best, Woman and Woman’s Own is hugely impressive, and I am in awe of their ability to create compelling, gripping coverlines each week from perhaps three interesting words in a dull interview or an out-of-context Loose Women soundbite. These headlines are always accompanied by a grainy, blown up paparazzi pic or screen grab of the story’s subject looking either demented, drunk, dying or, if they get very lucky, all three at once.’
February 17, 2016
[celebrity] 19 Completely Underwhelming Real-Life Celebrity Encounters
… ‘I queued behind Matt Smith from Dr Who in a Tesco Express. He was buying hummus and a kit kat chunky.’
February 1, 2016
[conspiracy] What Kind of Person Calls a Mass Shooting a Hoax?
… an appalling story about how parents of children murdered in a mass shootings get harassed by mass-shooting conspiracy truthers … ‘The conspiracy movement’s personal attacks show no sign of abating. Early this November, a 32-year-old man was arrested for accosting the sisters of Vicki Soto, a slain teacher, at a Newtown charity event; he wanted to ask them whether a family photo of theirs had been photoshopped. For the hoaxers, no private moment has been sacred. At one point, they vigorously picked over the details of Noah’s funeral. Prior to the ceremony, the family opened Noah’s casket for a private viewing, which was reported in the news. It’s not an unusual custom for Jewish families, but hoaxers alleged it was against the laws of the religion, which somehow helped substantiate their claim that Noah wasn’t real.’
January 18, 2016
[magic] Seems Legit: We Talked to a Witch Who Casts Viruses Out of Computers With Magic
… ‘There’s all different kinds of energies, including entities that may or may not be noticeable to human beings. You might want to call them ghosts or angels or spirits or demons. Think of demons as entities—they eat, they absorb energy, and they want to be fed. Computers are a vast store of electromagnetic energy, as well as messages. Sometimes when a demon is in a computer system, it’s just like a roach in a kitchen. It just eats and stays out of the way. But some demons are working for someone’s who’s trying to hurt you, and those are the really hard ones.’
December 28, 2015
[people] Donald Trump Really Doesn’t Want Me to Tell You This, but…
Mark Bowden remembers a weekend with Donald Trump …
He was like one of those characters in an 18th-century comedy meant to embody a particular flavor of human folly. Trump struck me as adolescent, hilariously ostentatious, arbitrary, unkind, profane, dishonest, loudly opinionated, and consistently wrong. He remains the most vain man I have ever met. And he was trying to make a good impression. Who could have predicted that those very traits, now on prominent daily display, would turn him into the leading G.O.P. candidate for president of the United States?
His latest outrageous edict on banning all Muslims from entering the country comes as no surprise to me based on the man I met nearly 20 years ago. He has no coherent political philosophy, so comparisons with Fascist leaders miss the mark. He just reacts. Trump lives in a fantasy of perfection, with himself as its animating force.
December 26, 2015
[comics] Raymond Briggs: ‘Don’t call me the king of Christmas. I don’t like children, I try to avoid them’
… cartoonist Raymond Briggs on Christmas… Indeed, Briggs argues, far from being an advocate for Christmas, he hates the event. “I don’t like the Christmas thing at all. It’s so full of anxiety – have I got enough stuff? Where am I going to go? What should I get for presents? I just give cheques these days because I can’t buy things for teenagers. It’s a bit impersonal but what can you do?” Briggs has watched the new Fungus on a friend’s laptop – “I’m too old and too tired to trek up to first nights [screening], much as I would have liked to go” – and says it “seemed perfectly OK; they always do these things very well”. This is high praise considering he still finds the adaptation of The Snowman “corny” despite conceding that “film-making is a very different form from books and you have to make something commercially viable so putting Father Christmas in as [producer] John Coates suggested was right, even though I hated it at the time.” There’s a rather gloomy pause before he adds Eeyorishly: “Of course, he’s dead now, like everybody else.”
December 16, 2015
[politics] Is Donald Trump Actually a Narcissist? Therapists Weigh In!
… ‘For mental-health professionals, Donald Trump is at once easily diagnosed but slightly confounding. “Remarkably narcissistic,” said developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education. “Textbook narcissistic personality disorder,” echoed clinical psychologist Ben Michaelis. “He’s so classic that I’m archiving video clips of him to use in workshops because there’s no better example of his characteristics,” said clinical psychologist George Simon, who conducts lectures and seminars on manipulative behavior. “Otherwise, I would have had to hire actors and write vignettes. He’s like a dream come true.”’
December 15, 2015
[whatif] The Ethics of Killing Baby Hitler
… the reasons why a time-traveller shouldn’t kill Baby Hitler …
These questions should inspire two feelings. The first is humility. We can never know what a universe without Hitler would have looked like. But the implicit argument that his removal would improve history must also consider that his removal could make it worse. Indeed, recent experience should make us doubt our abilities to bend the course of human events towards our will. The Bush administration naively claimed that toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003 would produce a vibrant liberal democracy in the largely illiberal Middle East. Instead it brought about regional instability, ethnic cleansing, civil war, and ISIS.
The second is relief. We live in cynical times, which masks the fact that we live in extraordinary times. Atrocities still occur, but human rights are now a normative value throughout most of the world, even if their enforcement is imperfect. Conflicts are still fought, but the great powers have avoided another world war for seven decades. Racism and anti-Semitism still exist, but pre-war forms of colonialism and pogroms have largely disappeared. This is not the future for which Nazi Germany fought and fell. Removing Hitler from history would gamble with one irrefutable truth: He lost.
December 4, 2015
[law] One lawyer’s crusade to defend extreme pornography
… fascinating profile of Myles Jackman
… ‘Jackman fervently believes he has to lead a crusade against what he sees as the unjust obscenity laws and that he absolutely must succeed – or else fail himself, his allies and the wider cause of civilisation as he sees it. He maintains that pornography is a class issue, a gender issue, a philosophical issue, a freedom issue, an everything issue. (One of his many dicta: “Pornography is the canary in the coal mine of free speech.”) And his campaign is against both state and statutes alike. By day, beneath the dark lawyerly suits that strain to contain him, he likes to wear Batman socks; by night, he wears Batman T-shirts. In the last six years or so, he has transformed himself from being just another lawyer into the Batman of obscenity.’
October 29, 2015
[movies] In Cold Blood: why isn’t the movie of Capote’s bestseller a masterpiece?
… looking back at the film version of In Cold Blood
… ‘All of In Cold Blood’s virtues are encapsulated in that opening: the black-and-white camerawork of cinematographer Conrad Hall; the music of Jones; and the performance of Robert Blake. Hall’s work draws on news-footage aesthetics, achieving a true-crime tabloid griminess that evokes photographers such as Walker Evans and Robert Frank. Jones sonically anchors his two killers (Smith and Richard “Dick” Hickock, played by Scott Wilson) with unnerving twinned acoustic basses and found sounds. And Robert Blake is Robert Blake, in the keynote performance of his career.’
October 13, 2015
[london] Did the tube strike improve London’s economy?
… ‘Do tube strikes cost the economy millions of pounds in lost productivity, or do they shake up people and change behaviour in a way that offsets the loss? That’s indirectly, a question that has been asked by a group of researchers who took advantage of the tube strike to test a difficult to test idea, known as the Porter-hypothesis Porter argued that – when information is imperfect – externally imposed forced experimentation can help people discover unexpected improvements in efficiency.’
October 12, 2015
[terrorism] Did Ken Dornstein Solve the Lockerbie Bombing?
… The engrossing story of one man’s attempt to resolve who murdered his brother on Pan Am Flight 103
over Lockerbie …
Dornstein ushered me up to the third floor, where two cramped rooms were devoted to Lockerbie. In one room, shelves were lined with books about espionage, aviation, terrorism, and the Middle East. Jumbo binders housed decades of research. In the other room, Dornstein had papered the walls with mug shots of Libyan suspects. Between the two rooms was a large map of Lockerbie, with hundreds of colored pushpins indicating where the bodies had fallen. He showed me a cluster where first-class passengers landed, and another where most economy passengers were found. Like the coroner in a police procedural, Dornstein derives such clinical satisfaction from his work that he can narrate the grisliest findings with cheerful detachment. Motioning at a scattering of pushpins some distance from the rest, he said, “They were the youngest, smallest children. If you look at the physics of it, they were carried by the wind.”
September 9, 2015
[crime] The selling of the Krays: how two mediocre criminals created their own legend
… Duncan Campbell on the Krays …
In May 1968, Ronnie and Reggie Kray were arrested. Their Old Bailey trial the following year was, at 39 days, the longest murder trial in English legal history at that time; the press and public galleries were both packed. The twins denied everything, but the Blind Beggar barmaid, thereafter known as “Mrs X”, gave damning evidence and the renegade members of The Firm did the rest. Ronnie gave a spectacular but crazed performance in the witness box, name-dropping the boxing champions they knew and portraying himself as an innocent East End philanthropist. They were jailed for life and a minimum of 30 years by Mr Justice Melford Stevenson, who told them that “society has earned a rest from your activities”.
There was to be little rest from the twins, who continued to promote their image as England’s No 1 gangsters so diligently. And that remains the great enigma about the Krays: the fame they craved ensured that they would be a target for the police, and yet they staged their crimes where they would be guaranteed an audience; the men they believed were totally loyal were the ones who ensured their downfall. Once jailed, they devoted their considerable energies to their image as gangland stars, always open to visitors from outside.
September 8, 2015
[head] I Hung Out With Jeremy Bentham’s Severed Head And This Is What I Learned
… Hayley Campbell meets a dead philopsopher’s head … ‘Bentham’s head has been dead for 183 years and he smells like vinegar and feet and bad jerky and damp dust. “Oh, they all smell like that. Y’know, like mummies,” said Kingham, as if the smell of Egyptian mummies is wildly more relatable to me than the smell of a dead philosopher’s head.’
July 31, 2015
[stories] Neil Gaiman on How Stories Last
… edited transcripts of a Neil Gaiman talk on stories. The full version can be found here
… ‘We will do an awful lot for stories — we will endure an awful lot for stories. And stories, in their turn — like some kind of symbiote — help us endure and make sense of our lives. A lot of stories do appear to begin as intrinsic to religions and belief systems — a lot of the ones we have have gods or goddesses in them; they teach us how the world exists; they teach us the rules of living in the world. But they also have to come in an attractive enough package that we take pleasure from them and we want to help them propagate.’
July 17, 2015
[space] Well-Aimed and Powerful
… more thoughts on the meaning of the Apollo space programme …
Buzz Aldrin once told me that he envies writers their ability to put things into words. Yet one of his first utterances after stepping out of the lunar module, in an attempt to describe the landscape to Mission Control, was the phrase “magnificent desolation.” This is surprisingly poetic for an astronaut, and it has stayed with me ever since I noticed it in a NASA transcript years ago. Every minute of the astronauts’ time on the moon was planned, and they wore printed copies of their schedules on their wrists to keep them on track. But I have to imagine that, once in a while, Neil and Buzz looked up at the far-off mountains at the edge of the Sea of Tranquility and thought to themselves, I am on the moon. This is all happening, right now, on the surface of the moon. Buzz Aldrin said many years later, “Every step on the moon was a virginal experience. Exploring this place that had never before been seen by human eyes, upon which no foot had stepped, or hand touched—was awe-inspiring.”
Neil, Buzz, and Mike traveled farther than anyone ever had and were gone only eight days. The images they brought back are among the most beautiful ever produced—all the more so, perhaps, because none of it was particularly intended to be beautiful. The jettisoned interstage adapter of the Saturn V tumbling, on fire, in a slow-motion ballet toward the gorgeous blue of faraway Earth. Buzz Aldrin smirking in a shaft of pure sunlight streaking through the command module window. Neil Armstrong overbundled in his space suit like a child dressed for cold, standing on the ladder and cautiously dangling one boot above the dusty surface of the Sea of Tranquility. The three astronauts confined to an Airstream trailer for quarantine after their return, smiling out at the president through a picture window. The perfect blue earth, thumb-sized, hanging in a deep black sky.
July 1, 2015
[wisdom] Alain de Bottom
… Alain, Rik and Ade – Together at Last!…
June 27, 2015
[obit] Patrick Macnee, Avengers star and symbol of ‘Swinging Sixties’ dies
… RIP Patrick Macnee. His obituary is well worth reading…
He was born Daniel Patrick Macnee in London in 1922 and raised at first in Berkshire, where his father Daniel, known as Shrimp, was renowned in racing circles, but also in pubs and bookies – “a genius with a horse but not so good with human beings”, in his son’s words. Macnee would go on to base much of the Steed persona on his father, who at dinner parties disconcerted fellow guests whom he suspected of being a pacifist by pulling an unloaded gun on them, and was deported from India – where he later settled – for urinating from a balcony on to the heads of high-ranking Raj officials.
His mother, Dorothea, who had aristocratic connections, was 22 years younger than her husband and left him when Patrick was eight for her lesbian lover, Evelyn Spottswood, an heir to the Dewar’s whisky family. Men were banned from the house and Patrick’s mother and her partner did their best to expunge any whiff of masculinity by trying to coax him into wearing dresses. The horrified young boy mollified them by wearing only kilts until the age of 11. Uncle Evelyn, as he was instructed to call her, helped pay his fees for Eton. He expended most of his energy setting himself up as a pornography salesman and bookmaker, using tips from his father. “I had pounds 200 in the kitty when they caught me.” He was expelled.