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Tuesday, 30 September, 2014 0 Comments

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris. It’s the follow-up to The Unnamed, which was the second novel by Ferris. On first glance, both books are similar in that they do their best to exhaust the reader. Equally, both are about suffering and despair and one can safely bet that Ferris will not win the 2014 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, for which To Rise Again at a Decent Hour has been shortlisted. If you like dentistry, though, there are some amusing bits:

His canine, in an advanced state of decay, was stained the color of weak tea but was still rooted to active nerves. No dentist in his right mind would pull a tooth without at least applying a local anesthetic. I told him that, and he finally agreed to the local. He resumed his meditative position, I juiced him with the needle, and then I went at his canine with a vigorous swaying grip. Two seconds into it he began to moan. I thought the moaning part and parcel of his effecting emptiness to the extreme, but it grew louder, filling the room, spilling out into the waiting area. I looked at Abby, my dental assistant, sitting across the patient from me, pink paper mask obscuring her features. She said nothing. I took the forceps out of my patient’s mouth and asked if everything was okay.
“Yes. Why?”
“You’re making noise.”
“Was I? I didn’t realize. I’m not actually here physically,” he said.
“You sound here physically.”
“I’ll try to be quieter,” he said. “Please continue.”
The moaning started up again almost immediately, rising to a modest howl. It was inchoate and bloody, like that of a newborn’s with stunted organs. I stopped. His red eyes were filmed with tears.
“You’re doing it again,” I said.
“Doing what?”
“Moaning,” I said. “Howling. Are you sure the local’s working?”
“I’m thinking three or four weeks ahead of this pain,” he said. “I’m four to six weeks removed.”
“It shouldn’t be painful at all,” I said, “with the local.”
“And it’s not, not at all,” he said. “I’ll be completely silent.”
I resumed. He stopped me almost that very second.
“Can I have the full gas, please?”
I put him under and removed the tooth and replaced it with a temporary crown.

To Rise Again

#StandWithHK

Monday, 29 September, 2014 0 Comments

The BBC is doing an excellent job with its LIVE Hong Kong protests: “11:16: Michael Schuman, says Hong Kong’s economic success is ‘inexorably intertwined’ with the civil liberties its citizens enjoy. ‘If Beijing knocks one of those pillars away ­if it suppresses people’s freedoms, or tampers with its judiciary, ­Hong Kong would become just another Chinese city, unable to fend off the challenge from Shanghai.'”

A estimated 50,000 residents of Hong Kong have taken to the streets to demand the democracy that so many of us enjoy and take for granted. Let’s stand with them in their brave fight against corruption, cronyism and totalitarianism. And it is a brave fight, considering the precedent:

The Pope of Balance

Monday, 29 September, 2014 0 Comments

John L. Allen, the associate editor of the very impressive Crux, ponders the much-pondered political leanings of Pope Francis: “Perhaps the best hypothesis is that what Francis is really after isn’t a turn to the left, but a new balance. He’s said he wants the church to be in dialogue with everyone, and one way to accomplish that is to ensure a mix of points of view in leadership positions.”

At the conclusion of “Maybe Francis isn’t after a lurch to the left, but a new balance“, Allen labels Francis the “Pope of Balance”. That might be a bit too much fence-sitting for some, but Allen is a seasoned observer of the Vatican and his judgement is sound.

The end of the sardines

Sunday, 28 September, 2014 1 Comment

Sardines

Elliot Goldenthal and the sound of LA

Saturday, 27 September, 2014 0 Comments

He won an Oscar in 2002 for Best Original Score for Frida, and on Wednesday he conducted the City of Prague Philharmonic in his Alien 3 Suite at the city’s Film Music Festival. For this clip, Gavin Heffernan used another soundtrack by Elliot Goldenthal. It’s from the 1995 thriller, Heat. Very LA.

Fore!

Friday, 26 September, 2014 0 Comments

The 40th Ryder Cup golf tournament starts today at the Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire in Scotland. What gives it a special edge is that the US will want to make amends for its defeat two years ago, when the home side led 10-6 going into the singles before Europe’s historic final-day fightback. It is expected that President Obama, an avid golfer, will take time out from his very full schedule to catch some of the games on TV. “Does President Obama play too much golf?” is what Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank asked earlier this year. Intro:

On June 14, Sunni rebels threatened Baghdad after seizing much of Iraq — and President Obama fearlessly played a round at the Sunnylands Golf Course in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

The next day, the militants posted pictures of their mass execution of Shiite members of Iraq’s security forces — and Obama boldly teed off again, at Oracle founder Larry Ellison’s Rancho Mirage estate.

This reminds one of the life and times of a different president as described by the late Christopher Hitchens: “The President is also captured in a well-worn TV news clip, making a boilerplate response to a question on terrorism and then asking the reporters to watch his drive. Well, that’s what you get if you catch the President on a golf course. If Eisenhower had done this, as he often did, it would have been presented as calm statesmanship. If Clinton had done it, as he often did, it would have shown his charm.” Christopher Hitchens and His Critics: Terror, Iraq, and the Left.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Entering the fireworks

Thursday, 25 September, 2014 0 Comments

Fireworks

We need fitter finches

Wednesday, 24 September, 2014 0 Comments

How big is the tech bubble? Last week in the Wall Street Journal, venture capitalist Bill Gurley said startup investors are taking on a level of risk not seen since the dotcom bubble days. Marcus Wohlsen has followed up in Wired with Money Is Pouring Into Tech Like It’s 1999 — And That’s Not Good. Cash quote:

Gurley recalled a recent trip to the Galapagos Islands and the book he read, Beak of the Finch, a study of evolution in action among birds of the islands. During El Niño years, Gurley said, floods bring massive food surpluses, allowing the finch population to explode. The problem, he said, is the excess resources mean individual finches needn’t be as hardy to survive. When food levels return to normal, many of them die.

In the same way, Gurley said, too much cash in the startup economy means weaker companies can survive without having to generate cash for themselves. In a post praising Gurley’s remarks, high-profile venture capitalist Fred Wilson said he too worries about his own portfolio companies, some of which are burning millions each month. He says he’s pushed back on excess spending, in effect trying to encourage fitter finches.

Finch of the Day: Kinvey. The headline says it all: Kinvey nets $10.8M in new funding to boost sales to mobile-obsessed enterprises.

Shadow dancers of the sun

Tuesday, 23 September, 2014 0 Comments

Sun dancers

Pilots are not always perfect

Monday, 22 September, 2014 1 Comment

In 1979, a new approach to flying passenger planes was brainstormed in San Francisco. It was called Cockpit Resource Management (CRM), a term since expanded to stand for Crew Resource Management. The idea was to create a less hierarchical cockpit culture where co-pilots were expected to give their opinions and question their captains if they saw mistakes being made. That’s the background to The Human Factor by William Langewiesche in Vanity Fair. It’s a gripping, somewhat terrifying exploration of the Air France Flight 447 crash in 2009, which killed 228 people. Snippet:

The tenets of C.R.M., which emerged from the United States, fit naturally into the cultures of Anglo-Saxon countries. Acceptance has been more difficult in certain Asian countries, where C.R.M. goes against the traditions of hierarchy and respect for elders. A notorious case was the 1997 crash of a Korean Air Boeing 747 that hit a hillside on a black night, while on approach to Guam, after a venerated captain descended prematurely and neither the co-pilot nor the flight engineer emphatically raised concerns, though both men knew the captain was getting things wrong. In the impact 228 people died. Similar social dynamics have been implicated in other Asian accidents.

And Air France? As judged from the cockpit management on display in Flight 447 before it went down, NASA’s egalitarian discipline has devolved within the airline into a self-indulgent style of flying in which co-pilots address the captain using the informal ‘tu’ but some captains feel entitled to do whatever they like. The sense of entitlement does not occur in a void. It can be placed in the context of a proud country that has become increasingly insecure. A senior executive at Airbus mentioned to me that in Britain and the United States the elites do not become airline pilots, whereas in France, as in less developed countries, they still do. This makes them difficult to manage. Bernard Ziegler, the visionary French test pilot and engineer behind the Airbus design, once said to me, ‘First you have to understand the mentality.’

I said, ‘Do you really think they are so arrogant?’

He said, ‘Some, yes. And they have the flaw of being too well paid.’

‘So there must be no problem in the United States.’

But Ziegler was serious. He said, ‘Second, the union’s position is that pilots are always perfect. Working pilots are perfect, and dead pilots are, too.’

William Langewiesche is the author of the splendid American Ground and his reportage is consistently convincing.

The brief September life of T. E. Hulme

Sunday, 21 September, 2014 0 Comments

From The Short Sharp Life of T. E. Hulme by Robert Ferguson: “On 28 September 1917, four days after his thirty-fourth birthday, Hulme suffered a direct hit from a large shell which literally blew him to pieces. Apparently absorbed in some thought of his own he had failed to hear it coming and remained standing while those around threw themselves flat on the ground. What was left of him was buried in the Military Cemetery at Koksijde, West-Vlaanderen, in Belgium where — no doubt for want of space — he is described simply as ‘One of the War poets’.”

The month of September played a determining role in the brief life of T.E. Hulme. He was born on 16 September 1883 and he was killed on 28 September 1917.

Autumn

A touch of cold in the Autumn night —
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.

T. E. Hulme