[movies] Six degrees of Kevin Bacon: scientists expose the seedy underbelly … some of the science behind the Six Degrees of separation theory … ‘Reynolds categorized the few people who surpass the Bacon four degree threshold in his data set as “old, foreign and obscure”. People like William Rufus Shafter, an army officer from the American civil war, who appeared as himself in two short silent films from 1898, and is one of 27 people who are a rule-breaking eight degrees from Bacon.’
[space] Was Neil Armstrong a real hero? … ‘The weekend’s retelling of the 1969 moon landing reminded us just how risky it was and how Armstrong’s quick wits and calmness saved the day. The Eagle landing craft contained no more computer power than a modern washing machine, and was heading slightly off course for the rocks when Armstrong took over the controls manually. He landed with 20 seconds’ worth of fuel, and got the Eagle back up again to rendezvous with Apollo 11. There was no backup plan, no way of rescuing the crew. Sitting in the co-pilot’s seat with his spear (well, you never know, do you?), even Achilles might have been grudgingly impressed, though Armstrong’s lack of melodrama would have annoyed him. And therein perhaps lies the clincher for Armstrong’s heroic status. No boasting, no bullying, just a soft-spoken man who insisted he was only doing his job.’
[movies] The legacy of British director and minor Hollywood legend Tony Scott … Alex Pappademas sums up Tony Scott … ‘2005’s spastic, pummeling Domino is probably the best example of how the New Jitteriness freed up Scott to make his movies that much more Tony Scott–like, and it’s thrilling, at least until it wears out your last neurotransmitter. 2004’s Man on Fire is even better, a biblical revenge flick in which Scott uses every image-destabilizing technique in his utility belt to put you right in damaged mercenary Denzel’s increasingly unhinged head space. The colors are gorgeous, too — it’s easily the most ravishingly beautiful movie ever made in which the hero kills another character by sticking an explosive device up that character’s ass.’
[politics] So, bumbling Boris Johnson is lovable and funny? Well, have I got news for you … What is Boris Johnson really like? … ‘[Max] Hastings, who has known him for nearly 30 years, still has affection for his former protege but has also sounded warnings about his unsuitability to become PM, not least because of his “startling flashes of instability”. To those who have worked closely with Johnson, his outbursts of temper are notorious; even his sister, Rachel, describes his approach to those who dare to criticise him as “Sicilian”. Female members of the London Assembly have lodged a formal complaint about his offensive conduct.’
[politics] Taxi for Mr Buckles: MPs savage G4S boss over Olympics chaos … Simon Hoggart describes the appearance of Nick Buckles before a group MP’s yesterday … ‘Disaster followed disaster. It turns out that too few G4S staff turned up at a cycling event in Surrey . When would Mr Buckles know how few people would show? At 9 o’clock, he said. That’s 9pm after the understaffed event. Mr Horseman-Sewell chipped in. There was a difference between people not showing up having been accepted, he said, and a shortfall. We were in the realm of the higher metaphysics…’
[religion] Hearing the Voice of God … An anthropologist vists with and studies American evangelicals and attempts to understand their experience …
Stanford was the setting for a psychological experiment described in When God Talks Back. To better understand if and how spiritual practice impacts the mind, Luhrmann randomly divided volunteers who were Christian into groups: one listened on iPods for 30 minutes a day to lectures on the gospels. Another group participated in a more interactive, imagination-rich way, similar to the prayer style of Vineyard members. Their recordings invited them to see, hear and touch God in the mind’s eye, to carry on a dialogue with Jesus, to imagine a psalm in every detail.
“I found that after a month of prayer practice, people reported more vivid mental imagery than those who listened to the lectures,” she says. “They used mental imagery more readily and had somewhat better perceptual attention, and they reported more unusual sensory experience. In short, they attended to their inner experience more seriously, and that altered how real that experience became for them.”
[comics] The secret hero of Spider-Man … The New York Post profiles Steve Ditko … ‘When The Post knocked on his door, Ditko — who turns out to be a owlish man with wisps of white hair and ink-stained hands, wearing large black glasses and an unbuttoned white shirt with a white tee beneath — pleasantly but firmly declines to answer any questions. Though he did say he reads The Post.’
[blogs] Jim Davidson’s Official Blog … ‘I have put on some replies to my blog on the Jubilee. It would seem that I am once again a racist. I am not. Why do people get so upset? was it because I didn’t like Grace Jones or because I described her as a black woman dressed as bat girl. Well I’am sorry if that caused offence. I really am, but come on, get a life.’
[politics] Oh Happy Days: A Personal Recollection Of Working For Jeremy Hunt … ‘I distinctly recall one presentation after a period of company expansion. All of us, old stagers and new recruits, were gathered together in front of a Powerpoint screen. On it were projected smiling photographs of various members of staff, the heads of sales, IT and so on. The company had recently outsourced much of the data entry work to a centre in India. Jeremy Hunt, smiling away in that peculiarly insincere, head-bobbing way that you’ve all seen on the news, was leading. We gasped in horror as our “new colleagues in India” were introduced: there glowed a slide that featured row after row of the same cartoon clip art Generic Brown Person, sat behind a computer.’
[life] Alfred Hitchcock On Happiness … ‘A clear horizon — nothing to worry about on your plate, only things that are creative and not destructive… I can’t bear quarreling, I can’t bear feelings between people — I think hatred is wasted energy, and it’s all non-productive. I’m very sensitive — a sharp word, said by a person, say, who has a temper, if they’re close for me, haunts me for days. I know we’re only human, we do go in for these various emotions, call them negative emotions, but when all these are removed and you can look forward and the road is clear ahead, and now you’re going to create something — I think that’s as happy as I’ll ever want to be.’
Despite his success, he says he retains a pessimistic outlook. “Whenever something good happens to me, it’s usually followed by something terrible,” he told the Writers Guild of America recently, when accepting its Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for “outstanding contributions to the profession of the television writer”. “This [award] has got disaster and doom written all over it. I mean, it’s a great honour but it’s not worth getting hit by a bus.”
[comics] Ware’s World: Inside The Home Of Cartoonist Chris Ware … pictures of the delightful home of one of the world’s most talented cartoonists! ‘As an unabashed admirer of Mr. Ware’s work, I’ve read many an interview with him, and I’ve seen photos of his historic home previous, but I wasn’t prepared by how amazing it would be. Ware’s collection lives throughout the warm and tastefully decorated home. Atop mantlepieces sit his handmade mechanical wonders like his Acme Book Dispenser, his Quimbies The Mouse and Sparky The Singing Cat sculptures. Behind glass doors live Gasoline Alley and Peanuts merchandise, Krazy Kat dolls, Buck Rogers rockets, and many other items of amazement from bygone eras.’
[comics] Crumb On Others Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 … Robert Crumb On “Famous And Infamous” people. Crumb Meets Jim Morrison: ‘I forget what the exact circumstances were, but he brought Jim Morrison over to my house one day. I think I was still living with Dana at the time, but I don’t remember if she was there. S. Clay Wilson was there. But Morrison, he seemed really over the hill by then. It wasn’t too long before he died. He just seemed like a kind of puffy-looking, overweight guy who was burned-out from too many drugs. He just sat in the corner kind of mumbling. [laughs] He was wearing this greasy, suede jacket with that fringe hanging off the sleeves. He had greasy, long hair. He did not look like the adonis that you saw in the photos a couple years before. But you know, that kind of worship that he received, when you’re young, it’s really hard to survive intact. He probably took too many drugs, but I don’t know. I don’t know what his problem was. He didn’t seem brilliant or anything to me. He didn’t have any insight or anything interesting to say. He just seemed like the typical hippie you would see on Haight Street at that time, mumbling about the drugs and shit…’
[books] H. P. Lovecraft: The man who haunted horror fans … BBC News On H. P. Lovecraft … ‘The Call of Cthulhu is the most famous tale of his invented mythos, which is itself a stage in Lovecraft’s attempts to create a perfect form for his preoccupations and for the weird tale. The mythos was also meant to counteract the over-explanation and lack of imaginative suggestiveness he found in conventional occult fiction. The following year Lovecraft wrote The Colour out of Space, which he later regarded as his best work. It tells the story of a strange meteorite that blights a farming community. “It was just a colour out of space”, but it is Lovecraft’s purest symbol, the strongest expression of his sense that the universe, and anything living out there in the dark of space or time, is indifferent to man.’
[war] Never Surrender: The Lonely War Of Hiroo Onoda … the story of the last WW2 Japanese soldier to surrender… in 1974! ‘Onoda was officially relived from military duties and told to hand over his rifle, ammunition and hand grenades. He was both stunned and horrified.
‘We really lost the war!’ were his first words. ‘How could they [the Japanese army] have been so sloppy?” [via YMFY]
James’s fondness for cheese is believed to be a matter of which no one in this earthly sphere is unaware. For a time, it was assumed that there were some remote peoples still untouched by his rennet-based droning, but in that recent aerial footage of the uncontacted Amazon society, the tribe was seen to have arranged a collection of bones and earthenware shards into the words: “PLEASE STOP ALEX JAMES GOING ON ABOUT BLOODY CHEESE.”
[comics] Dave Sim On Oscar Wilde:‘Why be prolific when one could be charming? Why produce when there’s so much to consume? I have to credit all the research that I did on Oscar Wilde for convincing me that I don’t want to be like that. If I can end my life with a large body of completed works and a reputation as a cantankerous old hermit I’ll consider my time well spent.’
ART is for weeds and sissies whose mater hav said Take care of my dear little Cedric, he is delicate you kno and cannot stand a foopball to the head. Whenever anebode mention Art they all sa gosh mikelangelo leenardo wot magnificent simetry of line. Shurely the very pinnackle of western civilisation etc.etc. Pass me my oils Molesworth that I may paint my masterpeece. The headmaster sa gosh cor is that the medeechi venus hem-hem a grate work so true to life reminds me of young mrs filips enuff said.
Molesworth sa on the contry the most beatiful form in art is a Ronald Searle GURL from St Trinian’s in a tunick with black suspenders and armed with a hockey stick to beat the daylites out of another gurl or maybe just a teacher chortle chortle.
[comics] Ronald Searle was our greatest cartoonist – and he sent me his pens … Martin Rowson remembers Ronald Searle … ‘It is interesting to note how men of Searle’s generation – Spike Milligan being another notable example – translated the unimaginable trauma of the war into stuff like St Trinian’s or The Goon Show. And how distinctly unsettling it is to when you look at the drawings he produced in secret on the Burma Railway, and then see direct visual quotations of torture and beheadings in his later St Trinian’s cartoons. Even if most Britons will remember him as ‘the St Trinian’s cartoonist’, Searle was much more than that. Without him, it’s almost impossible to imagine cartoonists like Scarfe or Steadman or the subsequent generations inspired by them.’
[science] Stephen Hawking Seeks Geek To Maintain His Unique Wheelchair‘…the ideal candidate must be able to work under pressure, maintain “black box” systems with no instruction manual or technical support, be a whiz with computers and electronics, be able to speak to large audiences and show others how to use complex systems. Not a big ask, then. The salary is roughly £25k…’
[science] Richard Feynman on Curiosity … ‘The world is strange. The whole universe is very strange, but you see when you look at the details that the rules of the game are very simple – the mechanical rules by which you can figure out exactly what is going to happen when the situation is simple. It is like a chess game. If you are in a corner with only a few pieces involved, you can work out exactly what is going to happen, and you can always do that when there are only a few pieces. And yet in the real game there are so many pieces that you can’t figure out what is going to happen – so there is a kind of hierarchy of different complexities. It is hard to believe. It is incredible! In fact, most people don’t believe that the behavior of, say, me is the result of lots and lots of atoms all obeying very simple rules and evolving into such a creature that a billion years of life has produced.’
[comics] The High Cost of (Being) Death … interview with the woman who was the inspiration for Death In The Sandman … ‘Hadley explains how she went from begging for spare change and living in the infamous ‘80s Salt Lake City flophouse called Kill Pigs to gracing the pages of a world-famous comic. “Mike Dringenberg was a good friend of mine,” says Hadley. “He told me that he wanted to use me for a model for a character in a comic book, but I didn’t think anything about it.” It wasn’t until years later, the conversation long forgotten, that she leafed through an issue at a friend’s apartment in Houston, Texas and found Dringenberg’s original drawing of her looking up from the pages and a personal thanks from the author for the use of her image. “Hey, this is me!” she exclaimed, to the amazement of her friend.’
I came to the conclusion that the brain, in sectioned form, was still in the possession of the pathologist who removed it from the Einstein head, Dr. Thomas Harvey. I tracked him down in Wichita, Kansas. At first he didn’t want to tell me anything, but after a while he finally admitted that he had the brain. After a longer while, he sheepishly told me it was IN THE VERY OFFICE WE WERE SITTING IN. He walked to a box labeled “Costa Cider” and pulled out two big Mason jars. In those were the remains of the brain that changed the world.
[apple] How Robert X. Cringely summed up Steve Jobs in 1992…
The most dangerous man in Silicon Valley sits alone on many weekday mornings, drinking coffee at Il Fornaio, an Italian restaurant on Cowper Street in Palo Alto. He’s not the richest guy around or the smartest, but under a haircut that looks as if someone put a bowl on his head and trimmed around the edges, Steve Jobs holds an idea that keeps some grown men and women of the Valley awake at night. Unlike these insomaniacs, Jobs isn’t in this business for the money, and that’s what makes him dangerous.
I wish, sometimes, that I could say this personal computer stuff is just a matter of hard-headed business, but that would in no way account for the phenomenon of Steve Jobs. Co-founder of Apple Computer and founder of NeXT Inc., Jobs has literally forced the personal computer industry to follow his direction for fifteen years, a direction based not on business or intellectual principles but on a combination of technical vision and ego gratification in which both business and technical acumen played only small parts.
Steve Jobs sees the personal computer as his tool for changing the world. I know that sounds a lot like Bill Gates, but it’s really very different. Gates sees the personal computer as a tool for transferring every stray dollar, deutsche mark, and kopek in the world into his pocket. Gates doesn’t give a damn how people interact with their computers as long as they pay up. Jobs gives a damn. He wants to tell the world how to compute, to set the style of computing.
Bill Gates has no style; Steve Jobs has nothing but style.
A friend once suggested that Gates switch to Armani suits from his regular plaid shirt and Levis Dockers look. “I can’t do that,” Bill replied. “Steve Jobs wears Armani suits.”
Think of Bill Gates as the emir of Kuwait and Steve Jobs as Saddam Hussein.
Like the emir, Gates wants to run his particular subculture with an iron hand, dispensing flawed justice as he sees fit and generally keeping the bucks flowing in, not out. Jobs wants to control the world. He doesn’t care about mantaining a strategic advantage; he wants to attack, to bring death to the infidels. We’re talking rivers of blood here. We’re talking martyrs. Jobs doesn’t care if there are a dozen companies or a hundred companies opposing him. He doesn’t care what the odds are against success. Like Saddam, he doesn’t even care how much his losses are. Nor does he even have to win, if, by losing the mother of all battles he can maintain his peculiar form of conviction, still stand before an adoring crowd of nerds, symbolically firing his 9mm automatic into the air, telling the victors that they are still full of shit.
You guessed it. By the usual standards of Silicon Valley CEOs, where job satisfaction is measured in dollars, and an opulent retirement by age 40 is the goal, Steve Jobs is crazy.
And with that he’s off again. Of Salman Rushdie, who once gave him a terrible review in the New York Times, he says: “That flaccid fuckhead. He was detestable. I called up the Ayatollah, nobody knows that.” Roald Dahl: “The cruelty in his books is off-putting. Scary guy. I know he’s very popular but what’s nice about this guy? He’s dead, that’s what’s nice about him.” Stephen King: “Bullshit.” Gwyneth Paltrow: “I can’t stand her.”
I’m thinking about the great American physicist, Richard Feynman, sitting in New Mexico, at the bed of his dying wife. He’d been called, and told that she had only hours to live; he’d hitchhiked from Los Alamos, where he was working on the top secret atomic bomb project. It was 1945.
He walks to her bedside, kisses her; she is breathing shallow breaths. We are still at war and six weeks later, America will explode its first atomic bomb. He stands there, sits there, watches her, kisses her, and very quietly, the Hodgkin’s disease that had attacked her young body takes her. She was in her 20s, he was 27. They’d been married only two years. The nurse records the time of death: 9:21 p.m. He is empty with loss. What few things she had, he packs up; he arranges for a cremation, walks back into her room and sees that the clock had strangely stopped ticking. The hands are frozen at 9:21, the very moment of her death.
I know how this story would feel to me. It would be as though the universe had somehow noticed what had happened, that some invisible hand slipped into my world and pointed, as if to say, “We know. This is part of the plan.”
So many of us, I think, would have this sense. Lawrence Krauss, in his new biography of Feynman, Quantum Man, says, “We seem to be hard-wired to find that what happens to each of us naturally appears to take on a special significance and meaning, even if it’s an accident.” But Feynman, he says, was unable to think that way. He couldn’t and he wouldn’t.
What he did was, he remembered that the clock had been fragile. He had been asked to fuss with it; he’d fixed it several times. In his memoirs (that is, in his version of this story), he says the nurse must have picked up the clock to determine the time of death, unsettled the workings inside, and the clock stopped. No miracle. Just an ordinary, accidental jostle. Here he is, describing a moment of enormous significance, and he won’t allow a Signifier.
At one point, he says, a senior editor at the Sun made a point of sending him a message via another Labour MP: “Tell that fat bastard Watson we know about his little planning matter.” This, he says, was a reference to his application to put a conservatory on his family home in the Midlands: a typical “non-newsy, low-level thing” that played its part in making him “start to think like a conspiracy theorist”.
Then – in 1995 – Murdoch begins to change. He decides he likes Tony Blair and tells [Woodrow] Wyatt he may support him at the coming election. Wyatt can’t believe it. He had thought that Murdoch would always support the Conservatives.
And then Murdoch does something worse. He tells the editor of the News of the World to cut back on the column that he had allowed Wyatt to write every week.
Wyatt is in despair. There is a wonderful moment in the diaries when Wyatt sleeps all night on the floor of his study next to the phone waiting for Murdoch to ring.
[people] Five Reasons To Be Concerned Your Husband Is A Psychopath … from Jon Ronson … ‘In my book “The Psychopath Test,” I meet an enormously wealthy former Fortune 500-type CEO, Al Dunlap, to ask him which of the 20 Hare psychopathic traits he felt most applied to him. He instantly confessed to Grandiose Sense of Self Worth, which would have been a hard one for him to deny as he was at the time standing underneath a giant oil painting of himself.’
[nyc] The Terminal: The Roughest Bar In New York City … a brief and fascinating look with video … ‘I used to poke my head into the Terminal back in the late 70s. Its notoriety drew artists and punks and the curious. But, it wasn’t welcoming to slumming hipsters or bush league Bukowskis. It was an enclosed society with it’s own brutal code, not easily cracked by the voyeuristic aesthete.’
[people] The Quaid Conspiracy … the story of how actor Randy Quaid and his wife ended up as fugatives living out of their car … ‘It was hard to wrap my mind around the web of intrigue she was spinning, with her nonstop rapid-fire delivery, a tale out of Thomas Pynchon, or perhaps just Law & Order: Los Angeles, that somehow involved the death of Michael Jackson and the “framing” of Mel Gibson. “I’ve spent three years figuring this out,” Evi said, detailing how her investigation had taken her to courthouses, record bureaus, and morgues, how she’d been knocking on strangers’ doors, looking for information. Randy listened intently, driving. I thought about how on Good Morning America he’d said how “very alive” he felt because of all this.’
[books] The Bobby Fischer Defense … Garry Kasparov On Bobby Fischer … ‘[Fischer’s] paranoia was far beyond the more calculated, even principled, “madness” of his playing years, well described by Voltaire in his Philosophical Dictionary: “Have in your madness reason enough to guide your extravagancies; and, forget not to be excessively opinionated and obstinate.” That is, purposeful and successful madness can hardly be called mad. After Fischer left chess the dark forces inside him no longer had purpose.’
What a shame, I remark, that he never got to work with Stanley Kubrick, the king of the neverending takes. And with that, Reeves is off and running.
“I would’ve been his wet dream!” he enthuses. “After take 400, Kubrick would’ve been, [adopts grizzled Brooklyn accent] ‘All right, cut!’ and I’d be, like, ‘Stanley, can I do one more?’ ‘Whaaat?’ ‘Look, I know I’m just drinking this glass of water, but I think I can find another side to this. Let’s just do one more, OK?’ ‘Arrrgh, OK, Reeves.’ You know what? I would’ve broken Kubrick. ‘Please, sir, can I have some more?’ ‘Take 600. All you gotta do is walk across the road.’ ‘Come on, Stanley, one more!'”
Yet just as we feel all hope is lost and we sink back into the miasma, back to the shadow world of ghosts and gods, a miracle arises; everywhere before the direction of self interest is known, people yearn to see where its compass points and then they hunger for truth with passion and beauty and insight. He loves me. He loves me not. Here then is the truth to set them free. Free from the manipulations and constraints of the mendacious. Free to choose their path, free to remove the ring from their noses, free to look up into the infinite voids and choose wonder over whatever gets them though. And before this feeling to cast blessings on the profits and prophets of truth, on the liberators and martyrs of truth, on the Voltaires, Galileos, and Principias of truth, on the Gutenburgs, Marconis and Internets of truth, on those serial killers of delusion, those brutal, driven and obsessed miners of reality, smashing, smashing, smashing every rotten edifice until all is ruins and the seeds of the new.
[twitter] Twitter: The great pretenders … some interviews with Twitter’s most successful spoof account creators [@CherylKerl | @chilean_miner | @CatBinLady | @dianainheaven | @DrSamuelJohnson] … ‘I’ve yet to meet a female fake tweeter. I think the whole idea has that mix of Radio 4 panel game and practical joke that appeals to a certain type of nerdy Englishman. At the launch of my Dr Johnson book, it was like a cross between an AGM of trainspotters and the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.’