Poetry and Scotch

Cities and Memory 5.

In Maurilia, the traveler is invited to visit the city and, at the same time, to examine some old post cards that show it as it used to be: the same identical square with a hen in the place of the bus station, a bandstand in the place of the overpass, two young ladies with white parasols in the place of the munitions factory.  If the traveler does not wish to disappoint the inhabitants, he must praise the postcard city and prefer it to the present one, though he must be careful to contain his regret at the changes within definite limits: admitting that the magnificence and prosperity of the metropolis Maurilia, when compared to the old, provincial Maurilia, cannot compensate for a certain lost grace, which, however, can be appreciated only now in the old post cards, whereas before, when that provincial Maurilia was before one’s eyes, one saw absolutely nothing graceful and would see it even less today, if Maurilia had remained unchanged; and in any case the metropolis has the added attraction that, through what it has become, one can look back with nostalgia at what it was.

Beware of saying to them that sometimes different cities follow one another on the same site and under the same name, born and dying without knowing one another, without communication among themselves. At times even the names of the inhabitants remain the same, and their voices’ accent, and also the features of the faces; but the gods who live beneath names and above places have gone off without a word and outsiders have settled in their place. It is pointless to ask whether the new ones are better or worse than the old, since there is no connection between them, just as the old post cards do not depict Maurilia as it was, but a different city which, by chance, was called Maurilia, like this one.

Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino

Jonathan Safran Foer on Religion

I am actually interested in the kind of religion that makes life harder rather than easier, as strange as that might sound. That is, I am not interested in a comforting religion, but I do like the idea of a religion that forces me to take stock of myself, to ask the very hard questions. To ask: Who am I really? How do I measure against the person that I wanted to be?



The incentives for kindness in an environment where survival is a function of resources and nobody knows each other are…  perhaps they aren’t non-existent, but we can call them “ephemeral” and retain accuracy.  Society is a story we have chosen to believe, because the alternative - while readily observable and undeniably true - is monstrous.  And if you would like to see the most ancient human narrative played out in a kind of disemvoweled hyper-efficiency, I urge you to install and play Rust.

You can play DayZ and acquire some of this foundational knowledge, also.  Videos which contain this information are readily available.  But, again: Rust scours away the basics.  It makes you look right at it.  Perhaps nine times out of ten, not killing someone is synonymous with killing yourself.  With a rock.  To the head.



New Bell’s South Africa TV Ad — The Reader (by Bells Whisky)

I… I just ACTUALLY CRIED. Just a few tears and they didn’t fall but I ACTUALLY CRIED.

Transfer Blogs

"Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger isn’t going to let the Gunners’ title hopes go down without a fight, with a fee reported to have been agreed for Schalke’s Julian Draxler. The Bundesliga club, however, aren’t keen on letting their star player go, and are increasingly confident of keeping the 20-year-old this month."

This bit sums up the quality reporting that happens in the January transfer window by making contradictory claims in the same breath.

Mackelmore and Grammys

It goes without belaboring that the voting committee convened by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences likely isn’t too fluent or fond of rap. You know who loved “Thrift Shop”? Middle-class children, a.k.a. the kids of the Recording Academy. Meanwhile, his homophobe-hating track “Same Love,” which was up for Song of the Year, checked the tolerance box of coastal media sensibilities that, to some extent, rewarded pandering with accolades. Macklemore’s coup is part of a long tradition of Grammy snubs in favor of safe picks: Young MC beats De La Soul, Lupe Fiasco’s debut loses to a Ludacris album that no one remembers, Nas loses all 13 Grammy nominations of his 19-year career.

Emphasis mine. [source]

When you talk about trying to understand the meaning of society in a country where 20 percent of the people have been killed, where decimation is a literal term, facts and figures begin to fail you and the individual experiences become much more revealing. A 20 percent casualty rate is why art exists and why personal, individual voices become so important. I can’t really grok the sheer amount of death in The Bloodlands. But when Anna Akhmatova says mournfully of the many millions gone, “I would like to call you all by name,” I feel something in particular.


Some lights went out during the Coventry-Arsenal FA Cup game so everyone turned on their cell phone lights. 

Some lights went out during the Coventry-Arsenal FA Cup game so everyone turned on their cell phone lights. 


"In the U.S., a gram of pure cocaine is worth roughly four grams of gold. Cocaine is harder to ship but much easier to produce than gold; making it from coca leaves is about as complicated as making corn syrup from corn. The amount of coca needed to supply the global market is relatively small: a plantation of two hundred thousand hectares, roughly half the size of Long Island, would be enough. For thirty years, the U.S. has chased this plantation around the Western Hemisphere."


XKCD on polar vortexes. 

XKCD on polar vortexes. 

Grantland on Stiller/Mitty

Forrest Gumps are a thing of the past. And trying to be the next Forrest Gump, a crowd-pleaser with aesthetic ambitions, like Mitty clearly aspired to, can be a dangerous economic proposition. You can get way too much money to blow up the universe, or barely enough to make an artistic statement.

In short, just like America itself, there’s no room for average anymore, just spectacular success, rubbernecking failures, and anonymous obsolescence. You either eat at McDonald’s or the corner farm-to-table quinoa boutique. We no longer just want to see a movie this weekend; we want to see the movie this weekend, if we go to the movies at all.


"Second, we may be more concerned with government surveillance than with marketers or data brokers collecting personal information, but this ignores the fact that the government regularly purchases data from these companies. ChoicePoint, now owned by Elsevier, was an enormous data aggregator that combined personal data extracted from public and private databases, including Social Security numbers, credit reports, and criminal records. It maintained 17 billion records on businesses and individuals, which it sold to approximately 100,000 clients, including thirty-five government agencies and seven thousand federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.9

For instance, the State Department purchased records on millions of Latin American citizens, which were then checked against immigration databases. Choicepoint was also investigated for selling 145,000 personal records to an identity theft ring. More recently, Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, mistakenly sold personal records to a Vietnamese hacker. Scammers refer to these records, which include Social Security numbers and mothers’ maiden names, as “fullz,” because they contain enough personal information for crooked operators to apply for credit cards or take out loans.”


"There is a whole class of salaried professionals that, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely. Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their job really is.

This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist?”