It’s 1918 and The Valley of the Squinting Windows, a novel by Brinsley MacNamara and set in a fictional village in Ireland, is published. It tells of status anxiety, secrets, privacy and the power of gossip. The reaction is swift. The author’s schoolmaster father is boycotted and has to emigrate; there’s a high-profile court case brought by those who thought they had been described in the work and the novel itself is burned in public.
It’s 2014, and Nick Denton, the founder and owner of a string of gossip websites called Gawker Media, sits down to talk to Playboy. At a time when parents are spending sleepless nights worrying about what their kids are posting on Snapchat, when the NSA is said to be hoovering up all our data, when German newspapers are using Nazi-era caricatures to depict Facebook, when surveillance appears to be omnipresent, this is the right moment to talk about paranoia. Snippet:
DENTON: You could argue that privacy has never really existed. Usually people’s friends or others in the village had a pretty good idea what was going on. You could look at this as the resurrection of or a return to the essential nature of human existence: We were surrounded by obvious scandal throughout most of human existence, when everybody knew everything. Then there was a brief period when people moved to the cities and social connections were frayed, and there was a brief period of sufficient anonymity to allow for transgressive behavior no one ever found out about. That brief era is now coming to an end.
PLAYBOY: That doesn’t jibe with your other theory about how we’ll judge one another more kindly when we have no privacy. Human history is not a history of tolerance for deviation from the norm.
DENTON: You don’t think there was a kind of peasant realism? You hear these stories about a small town, seemingly conservative, and actually there’s a surprising amount of tolerance. “So-and-so’s a good guy. Who cares if he’s a pig fucker? His wife brought a really lovely pie over when Mama was sick.”
Denton is right, of course, in saying that small-town life is an open book, but he’s wrong in thinking that it’s available for all to read in the public library. Seen from the vantage point of the West Village, gossip is good, especially when it makes one rich and famous; seen from point of view of the normal villager, privacy is still worth protecting because life must be lived forwards, as Kierkegaard put it, and a lot of ugly stuff from the present and the past can get in the way of the future. Ours is now a global valley of squinting windows, but that does not mean that Nick Denton has the right to decide what should be public and what should not be private.
Note: Pope Francis has given his new cardinals a code of conduct that differs radically from the Denton principle: “no intrigue, gossip, power pacts, favoritism.” APTweet
On Being Blue by William H. Gass was first published in 1976, the year when the Apple Computer Company was formed, the Ramones released their first album and Agatha Christie died. Now, it’s being republished by NYRB Classics, with an introduction by Michael Gorras, and here’s a snippet from his appreciation of the amazing flexibility of the English language in the hands of Gass:
“Say it. Go ahead, stand before the mirror, look at your mouth, and say it. Blue. See how you pucker up, your lips opening with the consonants into a kiss, and then that final exhalation of vowels? Blue. The word looks like what it is, a syllable blown out into the air, and with the sound and the sight of saying it as one. You blew blue, though let’s pause a while before getting on to that, and try it out in the other languages you might claim to know. Bleu. But it’s just not the same, your lips don’t purse as much, the eu cuts the syllable short where the ue prolongs it, sustaining it like a piano’s pedal. Blau — that doesn’t work either, and the ow makes the mouth open too far. It’s not quite a howl, it’s a touch too soft for that, and yet it’s a blowsy sound, and untidy. As for azzurro or azul, well, those suggest something else entirely.”
“The ship’s surgeon was a spotty unshaven little man whose clothes, arrayed with smudges, drippings, and cigarette burns, were held about him by an extensive network of knotted string.” The Recognitions by William Gaddis.
While Michael Gorras pays tribute to the musical language of William Gass in his introduction to On Being Blue, Gass did something similar for William Gaddis in his introduction to The Recognitions: “I particularly like the double ts with which our pleasure begins, but perhaps you will prefer the ingenious use of the vowel i in the sentence with which it ends… or the play with d and c in the same section,” he wrote. Michael Robbins looks at “How perfectly strung-together words can delight the ear” in the Printers Row Journal.Tweet
According to the Azerbaijan Press Agency, the toll from the weekend revolution was high: “All in all, more than 10 monuments to the leader of the 1917 revolution have been pulled down or destroyed in several cities of Ukraine.” It’s obvious from the report that “radicals” are at work here: “Statues to Lenin have been repeatedly coming under attack by radicals since December 8, when a statue of Lenin was toppled and destroyed with sledge hammers in Kiev.” How have the beleaguered comrades responded to this provocation? “Communists have dismantled a statue of Lenin taking it to a museum in Dneprodzherzhinsk, a city in the major industrial Dnepropetrovsk region in the south-eastern part of Ukraine.”
Looking at the TV images of those toppling statues over the weekend, one is reminded of what Lenin once said: “Political institutions are a superstructure resting on an economic foundation.”
It may be considered boorish to describe a museum as “a dustbin of history”, but the term is uncannily apt when it comes to Dnepropetrovsk. And there’s more to be done when it comes to filling the museums because this “struggle” is global.Tweet
Facundo Bacardí Massó was born in Sitges in Catalonia in 1814, and emigrated to Cuba in 1830, where he began distilling rum. Three innovations led to fame and fortune: He filtered his rum through charcoal, which removed impurities; he isolated a strain of yeast that continues to gives Bacardi its taste profile, and he aged […]
Matan Rochlitz and Ivo Gormley of Banyak Films hire “all the kit needed to make documentaries, music videos and shorts” at their studios in Hackney in London. The results have attracted international praise. Here, they bombard runners with intimate questions and extract “funny and brutally frank confessions.”
“Someday girl I don’t know when
We’re gonna get to that place
Where we really wanna go
And we’ll walk in the sun
But till then tramps like us
Baby, we were born to run.”
Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run
“For those who care about democracy, can we, by pulling out of Sochi — or at least by boycotting the closing ceremony on Sunday — ensure that the XXII Winter Olympics will not go down in history as the Games that were the shame and defeat of Europe?” Bernard-Henri Lévy
That’s the plea of Bernard-Henri Lévy, often referred to simply as BHL, the French intellectual and author. Il faut quitter Sotchi! is how he put in Le Monde. In the translated version, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal, he pointed the finger at the Russian President: “At these Games, where the flame symbolizing the Olympic ideal has been purloined by a thug, when the winning athletes playfully bite their medals, this time will not the gold, silver and bronze have the metallic taste of blood?” And then he hammers the nail home:
“Do you not see the absurdity — not to say the obscenity — of pretending to believe, up to the last minute of the last day of this ruined Olympiad, that there might be two Putins: Putin the Terrible, who earlier this week issued $2 billion to prop up the regime of his valet Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president who then unleashed his forces on the Maidan protesters; and the other Putin, strutting across the stage and through the stands, greeting you with the munificence due those who used to be called the gods of the stadium?”
Talking of Yanukovych, why is the Kremlin propping him up? Simple. If he were to fall, the risk of contagion would reach Russia and its power base would be vulnerable. In Putin’s eyes, the Ukraine is Russia’s barricade against the West. From the perspective of the West, however, and Poland, in particular, a pro-Western Ukraine is a vital cordon sanitaire against an increasingly belligerent Russia. Paweł Świeboda, the president of demosEUROPA, a Warsaw-based think tank, used the conciseness of Twitter to put it all in perspective:
Hardest moment in post-89 Polish foreign policy. After years of working for EU persp for Ukraine, Polish PM now leads calls for sanctions.
— Pawe? ?wieboda (@pswieboda) February 19, 2014
When the Sochi Winter Games end, the Great Game for the future of Eastern Europe will fill the gap in the TV schedules. The West would be well advised not to bring a baguette to this knife fight.Tweet
“Today we’re announcing that the SlickLogin team is joining Google, a company that shares our core beliefs that logging in should be easy instead of frustrating, and authentication should be effective without getting in the way.” That’s what Or, Ori and Eran posted on their site on Monday. The Israeli start-up has created technology that allows websites to verify a user’s identity by using sound waves. How does it work? By playing a uniquely generated, almost-silent sound through computer speakers that is picked up by an app on the user’s smartphone. The app then analyses the sound and sends a signal back to confirm the user’s identity. The technology can be used either as an additional security layer or, and this is potentially huge, a replacement for a password.
The Google acquisition coincides with a grassroots initiative called the Petition Against Passwords, which was started by people who want to get rid of passwords altogether:
“The mission of the Petition Against Passwords is to collect every frustrated yell at forgotten passwords and make sure the organizations responsible hear them. This movement is working on behalf of every person who has ever had their identity stolen, their password leaked, or been confused just trying to remember passwords and PINs for multiple sites.”
And so say all of us. We’re joined in our detestation of passwords and PINs by Dori, Nori, Ori, Kili, Gloin, Oin Fili, Dwalin, Bombur, Bofur, Bifur, Balin and Thorin Oakenshield.Tweet
The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, visited Team Canada House at the Olympic Park in Sochi at the weekend and was “treated like a rock star”, writes Sharon Terlep in the Wall Street Journal. Her report is graced with a photo of Putin being embraced in a bear hug by the president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, Marcel Aubut.
That’s the craven Canadian bit. For Canadian courage, here’s Cathal Kelly, sports columnist with the Toronto Star newspaper. Snippet:
When Putin showed up at Canada House on Friday, it was a frenzy. He stood up on a small stage, modeling his own wax statue. The Canadians on hand treated him like Jesus returned.
For one terrible moment, it seemed as if COC boss Marcel Aubut might embrace the tyrant.
“I want to tell you how much we appreciate what Russia is offering…. great Games. Probably the best ever,” Aubut gushes.
It is one thing to be polite. It is another to pawing the guy who has his foreign enemies radioactively poisoned.
Those on hand, their voices peaking like groupies, rushed forward for selfies. Putin’s expression does not change. He is not after love. He wants tribute. Canada is happy to provide.
Kelly’s report is titled “Canada’s swooning over Putin the tyrant all too common sight at these Games” and what makes it particularly readable is the way in which the writer places the global and the local in context. Seeing Putin in action has helped Kelly better understand the controversial, aberrant Toronto Mayor Rob Ford but, says Kelly: “Where Ford is feckless, Putin is purposeful. Where Ford is bumptious, Putin is regal. And where Ford is kind of a knob, Putin is full-on evil… Even though the average Canadian here has no idea what Putin is really about, they instinctively sense it — the combination of power and malice.”
Marcel Aubut is the craven Canadian who embraced evil. Cathal Kelly is the courageous Canadian who named it.Tweet
“And what a character is Iago! undaunted John Eglinton exclaimed. When all is said Dumas fils (or is it Dumas pere?) is right. After God Shakespeare has created most.” Ulysses, by James Joyce, Episode 9, Scylla and Charybdis.
On 26 April 1564, John Bretchgirdle, the parish vicar of Statford, a small town in Warwickshire, noted the baptism of “Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakespeare.” This year, Rainy Day (and the world) will celebrate the 450th birthday of that extraordinarily creative person. We’re kicking off with Shakespeare Exchange, a New York based theatre company, which is publishing video clips of each of his 154 sonnets, performed by 154 different actors. For beginners, here’s Sonnet 101.Tweet
The transcendence of love over the limits imposed by season and time is a constant motif in the poetry of Robert Burns. His other great theme is Scotland. The country in which he lived was in flux and the great debates of the day revolved around identity. Should Scotland adopt English manners, or should it […]