If you wanted to be unstoppably hectored by someone in tie and blazer about how the Edward Heath government had committed treason by taking us into the Common Market in 1972 and then find out the the name of the acrobat who performed a quadruple back-somersault on to a chair at the New York Hippodrome in 1915, and the artiste who caught him, Norris McWhirter was your man.
And you can add to that the fact that Norris, along with his twin brother Ross, created the Guinness Book of Records, which had sold more than 75m copies in 37 languages by the time his involvement ended in 1996.
We will never see his like again, not because the world doesn’t teem with libertarian ideologues, nor with grown men who know too much about the minutiae of stuff; but because combining these two disciplines successfully in public seems beyond our wit in 2017.
[politics] No more ‘my dog ate it’ excuses. Where are the Brexit impact reports? … a political sketch of David Davies from John Crace. ‘David Davis knew he had a choice to make. Either to be in contempt of parliament for deliberately failing to provide full disclosure on his department’s Brexit impact assessments. Or to own up to incompetence and laziness. No contest. Incompetence and laziness won hands down. For one thing, they had the virtue of truth. For another, he was just too lazy and incompetent to do anything else.’
’24th August, Thursday – My Taxi to Heathrow arrives driven by comics’s answer to Robert de Niro, Jamie Delano, who combines scripting ‘Nightraven’ and ‘Captain Britain’ with taxi work. Phyllis and the children Amber and Leah make a brave attempt at concealing the turbulent emotions aroused in them by my departure, but I can tell they are secretly heartbroken. My flight is a seven hour sneak preview of purgatory. I read Alexei Sayle’s ‘Train to Hell’ from cover to cover. I’m sitting in the central aisle and I can’t see out of the window. What’s the point of flying if you can’t see how many thousands of feet you’ve got to fall shrieking to your death?’
[truecrime] The Bloody History of the True Crime Genre … Examining the origins of True Crime … ‘Reputable authors became increasingly interested in crime as a site of social, aesthetic, and scientific inquiry. Reform-minded writers like Charles Dickens (“A Visit to Newgate,” 1836) and William Thackeray (“Going to See a Man Hanged,” 1840) decried the institutional punishments of the era. Perhaps the most notorious essay was the satirically titled “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” first published in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1827 by the self-confessed opium-eater Thomas De Quincey. The essay was so well received it inspired a “Second Paper” in 1839 and a collected edition including a “Postscript” in 1854. Adopting the absurd persona of a member of the “Society of Connoisseurs in Murder,” De Quincey articulates his aesthetics of murder. He does not condone violence or make moral claims, but instead compares the effect of murder to Kant’s theory of the sublime…’
[books] H.P. Lovecraft Gives Five Tips for Writing a Horror Story, or Any Piece of “Weird Fiction” … ‘The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain–a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.’
[maps] 12 Incredibly Useful Things You Didn’t Know Google Maps Could Do … including Time Travel! ‘Fire up the flux capacitor, Doc, ’cause we’re about to do some serious time traveling. Google Maps has a little-known feature that lets you look at the Street View for any area as it existed at various points in the past. This one only works from the desktop site, so open up Maps on your computer and pick a place. See that little yellow guy in the lower-right corner—known to his friends as Pegman? Drag him up with your mouse and drop him wherever you want to go. Then look for the clock icon in the gray box at the top-left of the screen. Tap that, and you’ll be able to drag a slider back through time to see 360-degree views from previous years.’
In 1980, two smart, goofy nerds in Dallas decided to start their own religion. Their names were Doug and Steve, but in the grand tradition of charlatans everywhere, they invented new names for themselves as apostles of the deity of their made-up belief system: Reverend Ivan Stang (born Douglass St. Clair Smith) and Dr. Philo Drummond (Steve Wilcox), ready to educate the masses through the Church of the SubGenius about the great J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and to spread his gospel of “Slack.”
Somehow, against all odds, the Church of the SubGenius became a real thing, if not exactly a real religion. It spread well beyond Dallas, capturing the imaginations of a number of important counterculture figures of the era. Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh, actor Paul Reubens (known for his role as Pee-wee Herman), Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, cartoonist R. Crumb, gonzo bluesman Mojo Nixon, and more all claimed a SubGenius affiliation. All of them sought Slack, an unspecified philosophical state that the church maintained as its answer to enlightenment.
To be clear, all of this was something between a con job and an inside joke. But the people involved took perpetuating that joke seriously…
My favorite scene in the movie isn’t a fight. It’s the part where Viggo, the movie’s lead Russian gangster, has to tell his son just how badly he’d fucked up. Viggo’s boy, Iosef, has broken into the home of a “fucking nobody.” He’s killed the man’s dog, stolen his car, and left him unconscious. Viggo, played by the late Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist, doesn’t mind any of this. He just minds that Iosef did all this to the wrong guy.
Carefully and patiently, Viggo tells Iosef that he and his associates used to call John Wick, that nobody, baba yaga—the bogeyman. And then he continues, “John wasn’t exactly the bogeyman.” Dramatic pause. “He was the one you send to kill the fucking bogeyman.” A moment later, as that sinks in: “I once saw him kill three men in a bar with a pencil. A fucking. Pencil.”
[movies] Coppola’s ‘Conversation’ – prophetic snapshot of ’70s S.F. … a look back at the movie The Conversation. ‘For all the other actors’ abundant talent, the movie lived or died on Hackman’s performance. Hackman, a sharp dresser and an extrovert, did not easily sink into the role of Harry. “It was a hard part for Gene to play because it demanded such containment,” Murch recalled. “The character is such a tightly wound person, and that is not at all who Gene is. He was operating outside his comfort zone. But now he says it is one of his favorite performances.” Coppola was immediately impressed by [Harrison] Ford, whose role as a henchman for Duvall was initially quite small. “It was clear Harrison was super bright and able to make much more of the character than was there. He knew how to use clothing and props. He was always thinking,” Coppola says in his DVD commentary.’
[comics] Why I won’t be buying Doomsday Clock … Why Lew Stringer Won’t Buy Doomsday Clock.‘Thing is, Watchmen was created as a complete story and achieved that superbly. It’s an intelligent, well structured graphic novel (or fat comic if you prefer) set on an alternate Earth where a godlike being named Dr.Manhattan changed the course of history. (Perhaps you’ve seen the film.The comic is far superior.) In three decades it has never needed a sequel. It certainly was never intended to tie in with the DC Universe and have guest appearances from Superman, Batman, and other members of the Justice League. Yet that’s exactly what DC are doing. It’s like some movie company suddenly deciding that Citizen Kane would be improved with a sequel featuring Ant and Dec.’
‘The “Mastercard” line is a reference to the very first issue of the ongoing series THE PUNISHER, back in the day, by Mike Baron and Klaus Janson (I think). The line always stuck in my head: “Mastercard, I’m bored. The friendly natives will entertain me.” I didn’t know what it meant then, I don’t know what it means now, but it’s wedged in my head. I can’t remember the names of the parents of my kids’ classmates and I cannot do math to save my life but I remember that one line from one Mike Baron comic from 1987.’
[politics] Nixon, Trump, and How a Presidency Ends … An interesting analysis of why Richard Nixon’s Presidency collapsed and comparisons with Trump. ‘Nixon was genuinely tough, a self-made man who’d climbed out of what may have been the most Dickensian childhood of any American president. He’d served as a Navy officer in the Pacific theater during World War II. He entered the White House at a younger age than Trump — 56, not 70 — hardened by decades of political combat as a savage knife-fighter during the McCarthy witch hunts and the explosive American divisions of the 1960s. Nixon actually knew American history, read books, and, unencumbered by ADD, played the long game in life (his courtship of his wife, Pat) as well as in politics. He was a lawyer who repeatedly (and presciently) advised his staff that the cover-up, not the crime, posed the greater legal threat, a lesson he had learned during his star-making turn on the House Un-American Activities Committee; his prey, the State Department official Alger Hiss, was convicted of perjury, not for being a Soviet spy. Nixon was also a far more strategic liar than Trump, crafting sanctimonious and legalistic falsehoods to paper over wrongdoing rather than spewing self-incriminating lies indiscriminately about everything.’
Higgins was set up to be Magnum’s stooge—the short, supercilious prig who Magnum repeatedly outsmarted, and in whose reflection our hero could shine still brighter. But as played by John Hillerman with a genuine sense of dignity and steely righteousness, Higgins was no joke; you loved him because he truly believed in a classical world of order and rules-following, and he wasn’t about to cede all of that tradition to a handsome young firecracker in a Hawaiian shirt. And every so often, Higgins would a deliver a barb that succeeded in cutting Magnum down to size. The smirk from Hillerman that would invariably follow was a thing of beauty and triumph—and a gentle exhortation to those of us suffering through grade school that the golden boys weren’t always going to be the ones who glowed.
Until he died last Thursday at the age of 84 in Houston, I confess that I had no idea that Hillerman—who was born in Denison, majored in journalism at UT Austin, and then retired back to Texas in 1999—wasn’t actually British. That’s one definition of a great performance, when an actor so wholly inhabits a part that viewers assume he must just be playing a variation of himself. (In real life, Hillerman reportedly spoke with a faint Texas drawl—akin to his character Howard Johnson in Blazing Saddles.)
[netflix] How Netflix works: the (hugely simplified) complex stuff that happens every time you hit Play … ‘Netflix works on thousands of devices, and each of them play a different format of video and sound files. Another set of AWS servers take this original film file, and convert it into hundreds of files, each meant to play the entire show or film on a particular type of device and a particular screen size or video quality. One file will work exclusively on the iPad, one on a full HD Android phone, one on a Sony TV that can play 4K video and Dolby sound, one on a Windows computer, and so on. Even more of these files can be made with varying video qualities so that they are easier to load on a poor network connection. This is a process known as transcoding. A special piece of code is also added to these files to lock them with what is called digital rights management or DRM — a technological measure which prevents piracy of films.’
A few days before the election Silverman and fellow BuzzFeed contributor Lawrence Alexander traced 100 pro–Donald Trump sites to a town of 45,000 in Macedonia. Some teens there realized they could make money off the election, and just like that, became a node in the information network that helped Trump beat Clinton.
Whatever weird thing you imagine might happen, something weirder probably did happen. Reporters tried to keep up, but it was too strange. As Max Read put it in New York Magazine, Facebook is “like a four-dimensional object, we catch slices of it when it passes through the three-dimensional world we recognize.” No one can quite wrap their heads around what this thing has become, or all the things this thing has become.
“Not even President-Pope-Viceroy Zuckerberg himself seemed prepared for the role Facebook has played in global politics this past year,” Read wrote.
[truecrime] Outside the Manson Pinkberry … a long, thoughful dive into the world of Manson Family bloggers … ‘I found the Manson Bloggers so intent on each other that my arrival barely registered. They were talking shop with the eagerness of model-train enthusiasts. I grabbed a beer and tried to follow the rapid-fire discussion about unsolved Northern California murders and Roman Polanski’s sexual preferences. It was tricky—like all subcultures, when the Manson Bloggers feel safe, they speak in a kind of in-group argot, full of nicknames, acronyms, and arcane references. There were hardly any mentions of husbands, wives, children, jobs, any of the infrastructure of daily life. Instead, they gossiped about minor Manson Family characters as if they were mutual friends.’
[mac] The Twiggy Mac Lives! The Quest To Resurrect The World’s Oldest Macintosh … ‘How did this Mac survive? Was this the only one? The owner of the mysterious machine, posting as “mactwiggy” and known publicly only as Jay, said at the time that he bought the system after seeing it advertised online. “The elderly gentleman I purchased it off of is a retired engraver,” Jay wrote on Applefritter’s forums. “The company he worked for was hired to make some award medallions for a ceremony at Apple. It would have been some point in 1983 I personally think, but he really couldn’t recall. They sent over this Mac to use as a model for him to work off of. When the job was done, they tried to make arrangements to send it back. Apparently after several attempts, Apple just told them to keep it.” The seller knew he had a highly collectible computer, but was willing to sell the piece at a less-than-maximum price to avoid dealing with potential buyers. “He was really just happy it was going to someone who knew what it was and would appreciate it,” Jay wrote. It was major find — truly a Mac collector’s dream.’
[comics] From Zadie Smith to Ethan Hawke: why we love graphic novels … Celebrities discuss their favourite comics. Sam Bain: ‘The four artists I’ve followed with the most devotion are Chester Brown, Jaime Hernandez, Daniel Clowes and Joe Matt. Peter Bagge’s Hate was a favourite of mine and Jesse [Armstrong]’s when we started writing sitcoms in the late 90s. The first 12 issues in particular are a perfect sitcom and so much fresher and more contemporary than what was on TV at the time. Joe Matt’s Peepshow was also an influence, unsurprisingly! I had the opportunity to take Joe out for lunch in Los Angeles recently to thank him for his incredible body of work and to encourage him to produce more comics.’
[life] The laws of stupidity according to economist Carlo M. Cipolla … The Five Laws of Human Stupidity seems very relevant to our times … ‘Law 3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses. Cipolla called this one the Golden Law of stupidity. A stupid person, according to the economist, is one who causes problems for others without any clear benefit to himself. The uncle unable to stop himself from posting fake news articles to Facebook? Stupid. The customer service representative who keeps you on the phone for an hour, hangs up on you twice, and somehow still manages to screw up your account? Stupid.’
[movies] 42 Facts Every “Ghost World” Fan Should Know … ’18. The studio wanted someone like Russell Crowe or Harrison Ford to play Seymour. 19. They also considered Nathan Lane for the role. 20. But Zwigoff always knew he wanted to cast Steve Buscemi in that role. “I had to call him and threaten to hang myself if he wouldn’t take the part,” he said.’
Kubrick and his team protected him from the scary stuff, Lloyd says. In one scene, where Wendy runs screaming through the hotel with Danny in her arms, Duvall carried a lifesize doll. “I specifically remember I was banned from the set for the entire time Scatman Crothers was being axed,” he says laughing. There is something nice and Tom Hanks-y about his measured tone and efforts not to say anything mean or controversial.
I read that he accidentally walked in on Jack Nicholson filming “Here’s Johnny!” (voted the scariest scene movie history a few years ago). Is that true? “Yes, but not the actual ‘Here’s Johnny’ bit. Jack was out in the hallway with the axe. He was having fun and goofing off. I think it was a plastic axe he had. Both my parents were there and we were laughing. That wasn’t scary.”
[books] Famous Authors Reply to Your Unsolicited Dick Pic … Mary Shelley: ‘I behold the wretch — the miserable monster whom I had help create. He takes up the entire screen; and this dick pic, if dick pic it might be called, is fixed on me. The veins throb, and it lurches forward disturbingly, while a single tear weeps from the tip. Your one hand is stretched out, seemingly to grip him, but I avert my eyes and delete the image. I take refuge in my Candy Crush challenges, where I remain during the rest of the night…’
[books] Philip Pullman’s swearwords are a useful lesson for children … Why swearing isn’t bad for children … ‘Children also learn, from a surprisingly early age, that swearing isn’t all negative. Research shows that swearing is linked with all kinds of emotional states, including joy, surprise and fear. By learning to swear, children learn to understand other people’s feelings in a more nuanced way. “Children learn that curse words intensify emotions in a manner that non-curse words cannot achieve,” says Professor Jay. But the biggest advantage, from my perspective as a parent, comes from studies dating back as far as the 1930s, which show that swearing quickly replaces biting, hitting, and screaming as children develop. To which I must say, thank fuck for that.’
[life] Man Gets Life In Order For 36 Minutes … ‘During this period, he did not once concern himself with his finances, his in-laws, or his dental coverage. And as his mind began to wander freely, he neither relived painful humiliations from his past, nor felt any anxiety about his personal shortcomings.’