Michael Bond is dead

by Harry on June 29, 2017

During my second visit to Cincinnati, in 1993, we went to the mysterious Beechmont shopping mall [1], and I noticed, to my great surprise, a remaindered VHS of Paddington Goes to the Movies (with one episode of The Herbs tacked on). I thought to myself “oh, that’ll be handy when we have kids” and, indeed, when we did, 4 years later, the first kid loved it (as do the others, and as do the many young kids who still come to our house). According to the graunaid obit Michael Hordern said that Paddington was one of his three most challenging roles (the others being Lear, and God)—and the truth is that what Bond, Hordern, and Ivor Wood produced in those programmes is magical. But the books are magical too. Paddington causes as much trouble as William Brown or Dennis the Menace [2] or Wooster, but lacks the mischief or malice of the first two and the doltishness of the third: he always reminded me of a mixture of Jennings and Darbyshire about whom I read alongside him. As an adult, with a child who is Paddington-like in many ways, its Mr. Brown I most empathize with. People who don’t like the politicization of children’s literature may have found the recent movie, a flagrant piece of left wing multiculturalist, pro-immmigration, propaganda, a bit much—but it actually stuck close to the books and the TV version: rooting its politics in a long and optimistic English tradition not just through using Bond’s characters (it’s not an accident that Paddington is only the second most English person in the books; the first being Mr Gruber, a Hungarian emigre), but even through the choices of music it used.

I have one Peruvian friend. After I’d gotten to know her well enough to notice how she dresses I realized that I always see her in a duffel coat. Once I knew her well enough to be confident she wouldn’t think I was engaging in some sort of obnoxious national stereotyping I asked her if all Peruvians wear duffel coats (I did not ask if she was from darkest Peru), and was delighted that she got the joke.

Bond’s legacy is almost entirely wonderful—not just Paddington, but The Herbs, Olga da Polga, and Pamplemousse. (For those of you who like crime, the Pamplemousse books are light, funny, but excellent: start with Monsieur Pamplemousse ). One complaint—he is indirectly responsible for the success of the odious Jeremy Clarkson, whose school fees (Repton) were paid for by the income his mother derived from creating and commercializing the stuffed Paddington Bear. Remember that, next time you buy one.

Here he is, singing in the rain:

[1] Much lamented….
[2] The British Dennis the Menace, not the American one, an entirely different kettle of fish who, nevertheless, and by some bizarre coincidence, also first hit the news-stands in March 1951.

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Overton Thoughts

by John Holbo on June 28, 2017

Sorry to be off the grid for a few weeks, loyal readers. Family stuff. Not fun family stuff, mind you, the hard stuff. But we’re ok. Good healthcare is important, kids. Make sure your country offers it!

Belle told you what music she’s listening to. I’m listening to nothing but Randy Newman (by choice) and Pokemon-themed stuff (because my 6-year old nephew really likes it while I’m driving him to school and camp and swimming. He seems so happy.)

So, naturally, I’m thinking thoughts about the state of the Republic. [click to continue…]

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What Music Am I Listening To This Week?

by Belle Waring on June 28, 2017

Once again, answers to the real questions. Not, why are Republicans actual mustache-twirling villains, or have we reached peak McArdle, but the music stuff. I meant to post this yesterday, but reasons. OK, cool.

Lorde’s new album is amazing. If it has one drawback it’s that as an adult she is writing about love and sexual relationships, which are the most basic song topics, really. As a young teenager she was writing about weird stuff like seeing your home city from the air for the first time or taking the train with your friends.

I love this song so much. Golden was a short-lived but good band who gave a great live show, and has this one genius song. I was inspired to listen to it by one of our commenters reminding me to listen to Ali Farka Touré. Which you should too! But the Golden song is particularly dear to my heart because they “get chicken at Negril,” an excellent Jamaican restaurant in Silver Spring, MD near my mom’s house. Also, it combines the sweetness of West African guitar riffs with the satisfying resolution of a more normal pop song, rather than a meandering continuity.

I love Bon Iver too much. So sue me. You should read the lyrics because you will for offing sure not understand them from listening to the song, I tell you what.


Hey, can’t go wrong with this one.

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I screen, you screen…

by Maria on June 27, 2017

I can’t be the only person who gets horrible eye-strain and frequent migraines from looking at computer screens for many hours a day. But my job, in the physical sense, is basically reading screens and typing stuff into computers. Like so many of us.

Then there’s the generalised version of the ‘spending too much time reading crap on Twitter’ problem, which is a total time-sink and makes me aggravated and unhappy.

These are two distinct but also connected issues. Stuff I’ve considered/tried includes:

Turning off the router at night and only turning it on again in the morning a couple of hours into actual work. Other household members can find this annoying. (Understatement)

Looking for a word-processing only machine – but they’re all extremely old and have tiny screens.

Reviving an old laptop and making it a non-connected machine. Helps with the Twitter problem, but not with the migraines.

Writing by hand and inputting later. Good for shorter stuff, extremely tedious in longer doses.

Keeping the lightness setting on my laptop squintingly low. Helps with the headaches, not the Twitter.

Using an unconnected machine for long-form. I always crack.

Freedom or other such programmes. I always crack.

Feeling that as kindles and such can be read without eye-strain, there must be some sort of work-devices that also can? But being unable to find one.

And so forth.

I mean, the overall problem is that we have little monkey (ok, ape) brains and love novelty and distraction and tiny yet sustained doses of social feedback, and also live in a wider techno-capitalist superstructure that wants to get and keep us addicted, etc. etc. And also that an inability to think long-ish and against the grain kinds of thoughts is, well, convenient to the maintenance of that type of economic set-up. I get that!

But I will take 100% responsibility for being so distractable if I can find a way to work without getting a fucking migraine at least every ten days that wipes out my ability to produce work for at least two days, each time. And is also no bloody fun.

So, this is clearly a bleg, but I figure many CT people struggle with this sort of thing, and any experiences/suggestions you have may find a grateful reception from many others.

Also, my back is completely banjaxed from it, but there’s yoga for that.

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Getting creative in a computer science course

by Eszter Hargittai on June 24, 2017

Lane Tech College Prep CS Chicago Flag

There are lots of stats out there about how seriously computer science (CS) education is lacking in the United States (and I suspect many other places). Issues range from high schools not offering computer science classes at all to CS classes not counting toward graduation requirements. There are exceptions, however, and I wanted to highlight a very impressive project from a CS class at Chicago’s Lane Tech College Prep High School taught by Jeff Solin. Jeff had his students create a 3D representation of the Chicago flag. Check out his description and many pictures of the finished project. There is so much creativity in that project! So neat and so impressive.

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Doodle some music

by Eszter Hargittai on June 22, 2017

Today’s Google Doodle in honor of Oskar Fischinger’s 117th birthday is very impressive and fun. Click on the image on the linked page and then click on the image again. Click on the little squares to create your music. You can change all sorts of aspects of your creation by clicking on Modify on the bottom and making various selections on the left, and also by changing the instrument on top. (Note that as far as I can tell, changing the instrument reverts to a clean slate so take care with the timing.) Enjoy!

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On China Miéville’s October

by Corey Robin on June 21, 2017

I just finished October, China Miéville’s turbo-charged account of the Russian Revolution. Think Ten Days That Shook the World, but in months: from February through October 1917. With each chapter narrating the events of each month. Just some quick thoughts here on what has been one of the most exhilarating reading experiences of my recent past.

1.


I don’t think I’ve ever read such an Arendtian account of revolution as this. I have no idea if Miéville has read Arendt or if he counts her as an influence. But if you want a purely political account of revolution, this is it.

There are workers, there are peasants, there are soldiers, there are parties, there are tsars, there are courtiers. Each of them bears his or her class position, his or her economic and other concerns, but it is the political field itself, how it hurls its protagonists into combat, combat with its own rules and norms, its own criteria for success and failure, that is front and center here. This may be the most textured, most concrete, account of what political contest and political combat, literal and metaphoric, feels like. Or what an event-driven account (Arendt was big on events, as is Miéville; it’s nice to see a writer like Miéville prise narrative and events from the hands of Simon Schama) might look like.

While people on the left, particularly the Marxist left, have a big distrust of Arendt, she did get at something about the revolutionary experience itself, which the best Marxist historians have always understood, but which isn’t always well conveyed in Marxist histories of revolution. This book shows you what those accounts are missing.

2.


There’s a famous public dialogue, I can’t remember when or where, between Arendt and a bunch of her readers, in which Mary McCarthy says something like: Okay, I get it, you think politics shouldn’t be about economics or the social question. But aside from war and diplomacy, what would politics in your world be about? It’s one of the big questions that has always haunted Arendt scholars. What should politics in the Arendtian vision be about? What would it look like? (E. M. Forster has a line about Virginia Woolf: “For it [Woolf’s writing] was not about something. It was something.” That’s not a bad approximation of, on some interpretations, Arendt’s view of politics.) Read Miéville. You’ll find out.

3.


I love Miéville’s portrait of Kerensky. His Kerensky seems like a brilliant knock-off of Tony Blair. Vain, vainglorious, fatuous, infatuated, though lacking Blair’s ability to translate his conviction in himself into world-historical action.

4.


The first chapter, the pre-history of the Revolution, is written in the present tense. From Peter the Great to Nicholas II, it reads like one of those newsreels they used to run in theaters before the main show. Then, as the countdown from February to November is launched, and the subsequent chapters begin, the book shifts to the past tense.

It’s a brilliant and counterintuitive use of syntax: as if the preceding centuries were a powder keg waiting to explode, always pregnant with possibility, forever situated in the grammar of the now, only to shift into the past tense once the revolution begins, as if the revolution is the inexorable working out of history, the thing that had to happen.

While Miéville never loses a sense of contingency—making a mockery of all those historians who go on about contingency (or in the case of Niall Ferguson, counterfactuality) as a way of countering the alleged determinism of Marxism—he manages nonetheless to capture a sense of inexorability, of fate, of possibilities that weren’t ever really possible, except in the imagination of Kerensky and his minions.

5.


One element in the book that resonates with our current moment is the inability or refusal of both liberals and the left to lead, where leadership means destroying the old regime. Power is there, waiting to be exercised, on behalf of a new order: the soldiers demand it, the workers demand it, the peasants demand it, but all the parties of the left, including the Bolsheviks, just hesitate and vacillate, refusing to take responsibility for society itself. It feels like we’re in a similar moment, and it could last much longer than the interregnum between February and October 1917. Not because of the power of the old regime—quite the opposite, in fact—but, as in moments throughout 1917, because of the weakness and incoherence, the willed refusal, of the parties that might bury it.

6.


As Jodi Dean has said, the real hero in October is the revolution itself. Trotsky’s there, but mostly in the wings. There’s the familiar tussle between Zinoviev/Kamenev and Lenin, and between Lenin and everyone else. And while Miéville honors and recognizes Lenin’s tactical genius, his antenna for the mood and the moment, Miéville mostly portrays a Lenin who is struggling to keep up and who often gets it wrong. It’s the revolutionary process that has the last word; it is the protagonist.

7.


That said, Miéville’s chapter on April—that’s the chapter where Lenin arrives in Petrograd, having developed his revolutionary theses in exile, far from the crucible of the revolution itself—is sublime. It has this wondrous feeling of condensation, as if the revolutionary precipitant is taking shape right then and there. It’s the perfect counterpoint to the chapter on June, where all that’s solid, and much else, melts into air.

8.


Buy the book. You can read it in a few days. You won’t be sorry.

Update (11:30 pm)

I should add, another Arendtian note: the keyword of the Russian Revolution, in Miéville’s telling, is freedom. It’s the word that keeps recurring throughout the tale. That’s what the revolution is after: freedom.

Also, just listened to this great interview that Chapo Trap House did with Miéville, and he’s got some things to say that are worth listening to.

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Crowdfunding for Bristol Refugee Rights

by Chris Bertram on June 18, 2017

Crooked Timber community! I write to tell you about a charitable organisation that I’m involved with (I’m Chair of the Board of Trustees) and its current fundraising initiative. The charity is Bristol Refugee Rights, and we provide welfare, advice and education services, as well as a place to hang out and a hot meal for refugees and asylum seekers in the Bristol area. One of our services is our Early Years Project, which provides a creche for the children of refugees, which is particularly useful to enable their parents to attend classes to learn English or access our other services. It also provides a nurturing environment for small children who have had a really rough start in life and whose families are often subsisting at near destitution levels, as the British government only assists them to the tune of £5.32 a week (and some have less or nothing) on top of their housing in, again, very poor conditions. We need money to keep the service running and do things like pay the wages of the staff who run the creche. If you can, please give generously.

Here’s the link to the crowdfunding campaign, which is now going into its last 2 days.

Please give. And please share the campaign on your Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

And here’s a video about the campaign:

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Sunday photoblogging: Pézenas, Bike and steps

by Chris Bertram on June 18, 2017

Pézenas, steps and bike

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Why do people keep saying that a bad agreement is worse than no agreement? They—not just May and her friends, but reasonably serious journalists—say it as if it means something. Isn’t it just the truism that an agreement that is worse than no agreement is worse than no agreement? Why is that observation relevant to anything? Everyone knows it is true, including the EU negotiating team. So the EU negotiating team is not going to try for a worse-than-no-agreement agreement, because they know that if that is the best on offer the UK can just walk away into WTO rules. So the observation that a bad agreement is worse than no agreement has no bearing on anything that anyone should do.

I’m missing something, right? [1] What is it?

[1] Really. I’ve been puzzling about this a while. I suppose an email to Henry should clear things up, but its more fun to open it up on CT, even at the cost of exposing myself as obtuse, which I obviously am being.

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From King’s Cross to Grenfell Tower

by Chris Bertram on June 16, 2017

This is a guest post by Chris Brooke

I spend my life shuttling back and forth on the train between Oxford and Cambridge. That means that twice a week I walk past the plaque at King’s Cross that memorializes the thirty-one dead of the fire of 18 November 1987. And when I walk past that plaque, I’m reminded of a distinctive moment in my younger life—not just King’s Cross, but also the fifty-six dead of the Bradford stadium fire disaster (11 May 1985), the one hundred and ninety-three who died on the Herald of Free Enterprise (6 March 1987), the thirty-five who were killed at Clapham Junction (12 December 1988), the ninety-six who were crushed at Hillsborough (15 April 1989), or the fifty-one who drowned on the Marchioness (20 August 1989). Perhaps it was coincidence that these catastrophes happened cheek by jowl, in a way that they just haven’t since. Or perhaps much of it was something to do with the ascendant political ideology of the time, that starved vital infrastructure of much-needed investment, and that celebrated the quick search for profit. One of the good things about living in England over the last quarter century is that this run of disasters came to an end, and things became quite a bit safer. But of course the predictable consequence of the politicians’ collective choice to embrace the economics of austerity over the last seven years—and even more so when it is conjoined with the Tory fondness for the execrable landlord class, a widespread dislike of safety regulations, the cuts in legal aid, and the politics of the majority on Kensington & Chelsea Council, especially when it comes to housing—is that we would regress in some measure to this second-half-of-the-1980s world, and everything that is coming out now about the Grenfell Tower saga suggests that we have so regressed.

Back in those 1980s days, there was a running joke that Margaret Thatcher would always pop up at the bedside of the victims, doing a somewhat ghoulish Lady of the Lamp act, and Private Eye printed a Thatch Card, on the pattern of the then-popular NHS Donor Cards, that said that in the event of being involved in a major disaster, the holder of the card in no circumstances wanted to be visited by Mrs Thatcher in hospital. Compared to the behaviour of her successor, however, Mrs Thatcher comes across as a paragon of democratic responsibility. Mrs May didn’t have to do much yesterday, but she did have to visit Grenfell Tower, talk to the residents—the survivors—and tell them that from henceforwards things were going to be OK. And she didn’t even do that. In a sense, we shouldn’t be surprised. Her authority was destroyed by the vote of 8 June, and she’s been in shell-shock since, starting to count down the days until she leaves office, insofar as it is practically inconceivable that she will lead the Conservative Party into the next general election and no-one is afraid of her anymore. But a zombie government is still the government, the Spiderman principle applies, and Theresa May is a coward and a disgrace.

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How Do Low-Lying States Deal With Climate Change?

by Belle Waring on June 16, 2017

The NYT today has an article about how the Dutch, with their long experience of holding back the sea, plan to advise other nations about utilizing children’s pudgy fingers to avert devastating floods. At least, I assume that’s what it’s about; I didn’t RTWT yet. More interesting and pertinent to me was this article from some weeks ago about how Singapore is constructing new land, both to increase the city state’s area on general principles and to deal with rising sea levels. Singapore is in a difficult position as a low-lying polis with no higher ground or inetrior countryside to relocate to. In addition, it is forested with high-rise apartment blocks that can hardly be moved. Bukit Timah hill, which I can see from my window, is only about 400 ft above sea level and is the highest point on the island. Singapore imports tons of sand from neighboring countries and uses it to create new islands offshore or infill and extend the current island.

The area where the Marina Bay Sands hotel and casino is located is on infill. It’s the one that looks like a cruise ship plonked on top of three curving towers. Next to it are these fabulous tree-like structures filled with plants and a stylized lotus building, and the huge ferris wheel, currently the biggest in the world, is nearby. With this and the durian-shaped Esplanade theatre Singapore has methodically achieved its goal of having a recognizable skyline. It is just like the government to plan the whole thing out like in this way after, one assumes, envious comparisons to the spontaneous towers of Hong Kong, and build it up in a slow plodding way—but then have it actually work!

From what I have seen in staying here so long, after the sand is put in, the ground is usually firmed up by being planted with trees for a while, though apparently they also build concrete honeycombs to support it from beneath. Both Indonesia and Malaysia have become irritated by the expansion and have begun to withhold exports of sand, so that Singapore has to look further afield. Myanmar has no compunction about selling something that’s worthless to them. Singapore has created something I didn’t know about, namely a strategic sand reserve in Bedok. This is also the most Singapore thing ever. Looking ahead! 10-year plans for new public housing and new MRT lines to service them! It is a curious place. I recommend you do read the whole article though it is long. The stories of a man who has viewed all the changes from the water are very interesting for a different perspective than the one I see. It is a fascinating look at what a truly endangered nation will do when it takes the Anthropocene seriously.

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What Songs Are You Listening To

by Belle Waring on June 14, 2017

This is an important update on something I know you have all been wondering about with unabated bated breath, and since I am worried some of you may be turning blue from hypoxia (this has happened to me and it was no fun, so I sympathize) I have generously decided to answer the question no one was interested brave enough to ask: what music are you listening to this week, important opinion-having blogger Belle Waring? Well, I’m so glad you asked! Because now I can bludgeon you all about the head and say the new Mountain Goats album is the greatest. It’s a) a concept album b) about goths c) in the style of Steely Dan. I mean, what’s not to love. Nothing. Nothing is what’s not to love.

It’s the next song on the album, “Paid in Cocaine” which is actually the Steely Dan-iest, both in theme and execution, and it is also genius. CLICK THROUGH.

Mother Mother has a new album out and I’m not crazy about it although the song “Drugs” is OK. This, however, is good song.

The Damned. Can one ever tire of them? Well, I sometimes don’t listen to them for a while but then I recover my senses.

Kendrick Lamar’s new album DAMN is amazing like everyone has been telling you; I’ve been listening to PRIDE but I cant link, so enjoy HUMBLE. (So explicit of lyrics, if you’re at work or a three-year old is standing there.) The lyric that cracks me up is “This that Grey Poupon that Evian that TED talk”. That’s cold but accurate about the empty status symbol nature of TED talks.

Umm, like a million other things, how about Bon Iver’s “666”. It’s good that he posts lyric videos since otherwise there would be literally no way of knowing what they were. This isn’t just me leaning into my crappy all-in-one record player as a kid trying to figure out what the hell The Clash were saying, this is straight incomprehensible with made-up words in there to confuse you.

Let’s wrap things up with The Rolling Stones’ “Worried About You”. This song is genius because at the start Mick says “I guess you know by now that you ain’t the only one” but near the end of the song belts out “when did I ever do you wrong?” with apparent wounded sincerity. Like, dude, three minutes ago, is when. The part of the solo starting at 3:18 kills me. I have listened to this song on repeat so many times. I remember waiting at the blazing heat at the bottom of my apartment block for Zoe’s pre-school bus, and riding in the past the big movie theater in Little India where they sell muruku instead of popcorn, and walking in the still-sweltering early morning to my local park in Bukit Batok, just hitting play again and again and again.

So, tell me in comments what you are listening to. I am genuinely curious! Edumacate me! I’m making this a series now unless even if you all hate it.

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Trump is just trolling me, isn’t he

by Henry on June 12, 2017

Following on this

The New York Times.

WASHINGTON — President Trump declared on Monday that he had led a “record-setting” pace of activity and been one of the most productive presidents in American history. …“I will say that never has there been a president, with few exceptions — in the case of F.D.R. he had a major Depression to handle — who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than what we’ve done,” Mr. Trump told a cabinet meeting as reporters looked on. “We’ve been about as active as you can possibly be and at a just about record-setting pace.”

Donald Trump – putting the Notably Rare in the State of Exception since January 2017. God help us all.

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Sunday photoblogging: Wiltshire field

by Chris Bertram on June 11, 2017

Wiltshire field near Avebury

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