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Social media cliché cont’d: Grammable travel

Saturday, 3 February, 2018 0 Comments

“While the era of mass world tourism and global world travel opened up in the 60s and 70s with the development of Jumbo Jets and low cost airlines, there is a new trend that consists of taking pictures everywhere you go to share it on social networks. During my trip, I felt that many people didn’t really enjoy the moment and were hooked to their smartphones. As if the ultimate goal of travel was to brag about it online and run after the likes and followers.”

So writes Oliver Kmia, who specializes in aerial video and photography. After watching the video on social media cliché made by Hiérophante, which was featured here yesterday, Oliver Kmia decided to do something similar, but focussing on mass tourism:

“I came up with this idea last year while traveling in Roma. I wanted to take a look at the popular Trevi Fountain but I never managed to get close to it. The place was assaulted by hundreds of tourists, some of them formed a huge line to get a spot in front of the Fountain. Needless to say that I was very pissed by this sight and left for the not less crowded Pantheon.”

A selfie cliché is a selfie cliché is a selfie cliché

Friday, 2 February, 2018 0 Comments

“I took advantage of our tendency to be unoriginal on social media to make this animation,” says Hiérophante, who adds: “Some people point out to me that some similar videos already exists so it seems that making a video about clichés is a cliché too.” The most popular clichés include, #selfie, #peacesign, #latte, #tattoo and #sixpack, and these homogenized variations on a theme here are as trite as their creators.

PS Remember last week’s media narrative about iPhone X being less popular than expected? Here’s Apple CEO Tim Cook on the firm’s latest results:

“We’re thrilled to report the biggest quarter in Apple’s history, with broad-based growth that included the highest revenue ever from a new iPhone lineup. iPhone X surpassed our expectations and has been our top-selling iPhone every week since it shipped in November.”

So. Farewell Then. The Awl

Thursday, 1 February, 2018 0 Comments

The recent demise of the high-brow digital magazine, The Awl, and its sister publication (especially for the sisterhood) The Hairpin, brings to mind the work of the Private Eye spoof teenage poet E. J. Thribb (17), notorious for his “So. Farewell Then…” poems. For those unfamiliar with his work, an example: This particular verse was composed on the occasion of the death of Magnus Magnusson, an Icelandic journalist celebrated for his hosting of the BBC’s Mastermind programme.

So. Farewell
Then Magnus

Famed inquisitor of

Your catchphrase was
“I’ve started so I’ll

And now
you have.

And how would E. J. Thribb (17) have reacted to the news that the fickle masses have rejected the thoughts of those “smart-as-a-whip” scribblers, with their fine Creative Writing qualifications, for cat videos and selfies? With mercy and tenderness, of course.

So. Farewell
Then The Awl
It’s all over.
It’s over, Awl.

Elizabeth Bowen: Goldilocks and Comics et al.

Wednesday, 31 January, 2018 0 Comments

Hollywood’s comic-book output shows no signs of slowing and this year will be especially packed with capes and tights and politically-correct superheroes. Coming soon: Black Panther, New Mutants, Ant-Man and The Wasp, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Aquaman and many, many more.

In August 1962, long before Hollywood turned into a conveyor belt for such dross, Elizabeth Bowen, the great Anglo-Irish writer, graced the pages of the New York Times Book Review with a piece titled Comeback of Goldilocks et al. “Much to be learnt from story-telling to children,” she had written in her Notes on Writing a Novel in 1950, and she expanded on the theme in her NYTBR article. “The fairy tale,” she observed, “in its extreme simplicity, is a supreme test of the narrator’s art. This is a tale of a kind to be told, not read.”

As regards the difference between fairy tales and comics, Bowen took a very definite stance and her thoughts from almost six decades ago are astonishingly timely, particularly in light of what’s being churned out for the big screen today. Snippet:

“The horror, to me, of comics (out-and-out ‘horror comics’ or otherwise) is their drabness, their visual ugliness, the lack — or, at any rate, the extreme rarity — of anything like or approaching wit in them and (for all their preposterous element) their prosaicness.”

And Goldilocks? This is typical Bowen: “And what was Goldilocks up to, making free with all that she found in The Three Bears’ cottage, while its proprietors (socially unknown to her) were out?” That “socially unknown to her” there is priceless.

By the way Elizabeth Bowen did try her hand at the fairy tale genre with a book titled The Good Tiger, which was published in 1965. A contemporary review noted that it was: “… the straight-faced record of a tiger on the loose among adults and children who accept his presence with absent-minded aplomb. The text is good exercise for beginning readers without having the sound of heavily managed, controlled vocabulary.”

The Good Tiger

Jordan Peterson vs. Cathy Newman

Tuesday, 30 January, 2018 0 Comments

Will future historians of the culture wars see it as the tipping point? You know, the moment when the balance shifted, when the tide ebbed? The combatants were University of Toronto professor of psychology Jordan Peterson and Cathy Newman, Channel 4 News presenter. What made the encounter so significant is that whenever Peterson said something, Newman restated what he purportedly had said to make it seem as if his positions were absurd and offensive. And the more Peterson explained his stances, rationally and calmly, the more Newman ratcheted up her rage and ignored what he was saying. Watch the whole thing.

Newman: Is gender equality a myth?

Peterson: I don’t know what you mean by the question. Men and women aren’t the same. And they won’t be the same. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be treated fairly.

Newman: Is gender equality desirable?

Peterson: If it means equality of outcome then it is almost certainly undesirable. That’s already been demonstrated in Scandinavia. Men and women won’t sort themselves into the same categories if you leave them to do it of their own accord. It’s 20 to 1 female nurses to male, something like that. And approximately the same male engineers to female engineers. That’s a consequence of the free choice of men and women in the societies that have gone farther than any other societies to make gender equality the purpose of the law. Those are ineradicable differences––you can eradicate them with tremendous social pressure, and tyranny, but if you leave men and women to make their own choices you will not get equal outcomes.

Newman: So you’re saying that anyone who believes in equality, whether you call them feminists or whatever you want to call them, should basically give up because it ain’t going to happen.

Peterson: Only if they’re aiming at equality of outcome.

Newman: So you’re saying give people equality of opportunity, that’s fine.

Peterson: It’s not only fine, it’s eminently desirable for everyone, for individuals as well as societies.

Newman: But still women aren’t going to make it. That’s what you’re really saying.

Except, of course, that’s not what he’s “really saying.” In the end, Jordan Peterson dispatches Cathy Newman with the help of lobsters. It’s come to that.

Depressed? Put on this headset, please

Monday, 29 January, 2018 0 Comments

David Foster Wallace: “The cruel thing with depression is that it’s such a self-centered illness. Dostoevsky shows that pretty good in his Notes from Underground. The depression is painful, you’re sapped/consumed by yourself; the worse the depression, the more you just think about yourself and the stranger and repellent you appear to others.”

Could a brain stimulation headset offer humane treatment for the disease that led David Foster Wallace to kill himself? Might it, at least, be an alternative to the dreaded opioid medication? Flow Neuroscience from Sweden claims its headset can stimulate and change the brain’s neuronal activity using tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation), and a related app that advises the user on eating, sleeping and exercising routines will provide holistic backup.

With 21 million people in Europe suffering from major depressive disorder, the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme is on board and Flow Neuroscience recently announced a funding round of $1.1 million from Khosla Ventures, SOSV and Daniel Andersson.

If the depression epidemic can be addressed with a solution that’s safe, effective, medication-free and designed for use at home, great benefits might flow to sufferers, who would experience a huge quality-of-life improvement as a result. And great benefits might flow, too, to those VCs who have placed their bets on Flow Neuroscience.


Sylvia Plath: “It seemed silly to wash one day when I would only have to wash again the next. It made me tired just to think of it.”

When A. A. Gill ate mutton in Scotland

Sunday, 28 January, 2018 0 Comments

It was October 2015 and it led to this memorable sentence: “Scotland remains the worst country in Europe to eat in if you’re paying — and one of the finest if you’re a guest.”

Background: A. A. Gill was an English journalist who died of cancer in London in December 2016, at the age of 62. Adrian Anthony Gill was also an alcoholic who stopped drinking at 29 and he followed the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) “12-step plan” to recovery. In tribute to the fellowship, he began using the name ‘A. A.’ Gill professionally. His finest writing is collected in The Best of A. A. Gill and it covers his observations on food, television, life and travel. In Scotland, he met Peggy McKenzie, “a retired gamekeeper’s wife who was one of the most naturally in-tune, modestly perfect cooks.” Both discovered a mutual passion for… mutton.

“I, like you, had forgotten mutton. With a great marketing and agri con, it was replaced by lamb. If you look at 19th-century cookbooks, you’ll see very few recipes for lamb and hundreds for mutton. Wool is what made England its first fortune. Fluffy gold, sold to the merchants of Ghent. Sheep weren’t slaughtered until they were four or five years old. The most valued were gelded rams. But today, wool has no value, and farmers want an immediate return on their animals, so the sooner they can slit their throats, the better. And the more they add value to young, tender meat, the better. Except it isn’t better. Lamb is a bland, short, monoglot mouthful compared with mutton’s eloquent, rich euphemistic flavour. We’ve been cheated by agri-expediency to eat an inferior, flannelly, infantilised alternative. In fact, we’re led to believe that younger is better for all meat, when the opposite is the truth. Flavour, richness, intensity and complexity come with age. Mutton is the true, base taste of our national cuisine, and it’s gone.”

This is excellent journalistic writing. Staccato sentences that hit the reader between the eyes: “Wool is what made England its first fortune. Fluffy gold, sold to the merchants of Ghent.” Factual and musical is his description of worthy wool as “Fluffy gold”.

Mutton and child

Joan As Police Woman: Warning Bell

Saturday, 27 January, 2018 0 Comments

Real life and surviving are the main themes of Joan As Police Woman, who was born Joan Wasser in Maine to an unmarried teenage mother and was given up for adoption at infancy. She was raised in Connecticut, and had her first violin lessons at age eight. Talent will out and she was an “early admittance student” at the College of Fine Arts, Boston University, where she studied under, among others, Yuri Mazurkevich. But she found that “the Beethoven symphonies have already been played a million times and I am not going to do it any better.” So she got into punk trying “to bridge the gap between the guitar and the bass and play the violin really loud.”

In May 1997, her boyfriend, the musician Jeff Buckley, drowned in Memphis, and her grief found an outlet in her first album, Real Life. Her second, To Survive, was released in 2008 and the title referred to the loss of her mother to cancer. Her seventh album, Damned Devotion, will be released on 9th February. From it, this is Warning Bell.

Sting warned us about Google

Friday, 26 January, 2018 0 Comments

If you’re using an Android phone, Google may be tracking every move you make:

“The Alphabet subsidiary’s location-hungry tentacles are quietly lurking behind some of the most innovative features of its Android mobile operating system. Once those tentacles latch on, phones using Android begin silently transmitting data back to the servers of Google, including everything from GPS coordinates to nearby wifi networks, barometric pressure, and even a guess at the phone-holder’s current activity. Although the product behind those transmissions is opt-in, for Android users it can be hard to avoid and even harder to understand.”

So writes David Yanofsky in Quartz. And, as Sting sang during the last century:

Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I’ll be watching you

Back now to David Yanofsky:

“As a result, Google holds more extensive data on Android users than some ever realize. That data can be used by the company to sell targeted advertising. It can also be used to track into stores those consumers who saw ads on their phone or computer urging them to visit. This also means governments and courts can request the detailed data on an individual’s whereabouts.”

Back now to Sting:

Every move you make
Every vow you break
Every smile you fake
Every claim you stake
I’ll be watching you

David Yanofsky again:

“While you’ve probably never heard of it, ‘Location History’ is a longtime Google product with origins in the now-defunct Google Latitude. (Launched in 2009, that app allowed users to constantly broadcast their location to friends.) Today, Location History is used to power features like traffic predictions and restaurant recommendations. While it is not enabled on an Android phone by default — or even suggested to be turned on when setting up a new phone — activating Location History is subtly baked into setup for apps like Google Maps, Photos, the Google Assistant, and the primary Google app. In testing multiple phones, Quartz found that none of those apps use the same language to describe what happens when Location History is enabled, and none explicitly indicate that activation will allow every Google app, not just the one seeking permission, to access Location History data.

Sting was way ahead of his time:

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you

Note: Every Breath You Take appeared on the 1983 Police album Synchronicity. Written by Sting, the single was the biggest US and UK hit of 1983, topping the UK singles chart for four weeks and the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for eight weeks. And it remains a winner. In October last year, the song was featured at the end of Season 2 of the Netflix thriller Stranger Things and it also appears on the Sony Music soundtrack of songs used in both Seasons 1 and 2.

Learning with English Prime

Thursday, 25 January, 2018 0 Comments

Sam H. Buchanan describes himself as a “UK based filmmaker. Interested in making good stuff.” His short, THE LION, shows what happens at a corporate recording session when an experienced voice-over artist is pushed over the edge. Neil McCaul, the much put-upon speaker, is superb. The scenario depicted here is not autobiographical, btw.

The loneliness of the connected

Wednesday, 24 January, 2018 0 Comments

Last week, British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Tracey Crouch as her “minister of loneliness.” A diversion from the Brexit grind? Perhaps, but experts who study the health effects of chronic loneliness have applauded the move because they say that isolation makes people sick and can cause fatal harm. Simply put: Loneliness kills. What’s called “social isolation” is right up there with heart disease and cancer in the hierarchy of modern malaises, but because it’s easier to fight smoking and drinking, which offer more visible targets, loneliness gets less attention and funding.

The British government’s Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness produced a report last year citing the statistic that nine million British adults (some 14 percent of the population) are “often or always lonely”, while 3.6 million people aged 65 and older say television is their main form of company. And the loneliness plague that’s now stalking “always on” teenagers is also affecting workers. In her new book, Fully Connected, Julia Hobsbawm looks at the world of what she calls “marzipan mangers,” who are “stuck below the leadership icing, stuck behind a wall of email, a mountain of paper, jammed somewhere in the middle as if between floors of a skyscraper.” Snippet:

“This group might begin to feel not just stuck but cheated. They have worked hard to get their first and maybe second degrees. The have certainly been questioned in detail in umpteen interviews before they even landed their job. So now, and sooner rather than later, they face a peculiar isolation. They know a lot about their company but not in relation to anyone or anywhere else. The bigger the company or the larger the network, the more technically connected we are, and the higher the risk of being personally more alone.”

Many of the “connected” are living lives of quiet desperation because we humans are social animals, not social media animals. We haven’t evolved enough to deal with chronic isolation. We’re not made to be alone with our devices.