String & Sealing Wax

Feb 08

Five ideas

Last month, the parliamentary science and technology committee released a report on “Women in scientific careers”, in particular the under-representation of women in academic careers in the sciences.

We were discussing this on Twitter. Olly asks:

@lchilds Good question. What *should* be done?

— Oliver Johnson (@BristolStats1) February 7, 2014
to which Laura responds:

@BristolStats1 I have no idea. Does anyone?

— Laura Childs (@lchilds) February 7, 2014

So here’s an attempt at a very incomplete answer.

It certainly seems that many of the “obvious” solutions are either too small to be all that effective (Give postgrads the option to attend diversity training! Add “Good quality women candidates are particularly encouraged to apply” to the bottom of job adverts!) or too huge to be practical (Reduce social stigma around girls being interested traditionally male activities! Change cultural values pertaining to gender balance of child-rearing duties!).

But I think that if any academic institution can’t even think of any feasible ways to attack this problem, then they’re just not bothered.

As a demonstration, here’s five ideas I though of on the walk home yesterday. I’m not saying I can defend all these as deep, well-considered, pragmatic, easily workable, thoroughly evidence-based plans — but if I can come up with these in 25 minutes, I can only imagine how many brilliant ideas an expert committee could come up with in a year or so.

The emphasis here is on ideas that your university/funding body/whatever could introduce right now, if they just decided to.

1) American orchestras have had huge success in reducing gender discrimination using "blind" auditions. To the greatest extent possible, universities should anonymise applications in the pre-interview stage to recruitment committees, journals should anonymise papers to associate editors and peer reviewers, funding bodies should anonymise research proposals to review boards.

2) In American football, the “Rooney rule” forces teams to interview at least one ethnic minority candidate whenever a head coaching position becomes vacant. When the Rooney rule began in 2003, 6% of coaches were African American; three years later it had gone up to 22%. Universities should be required to interview at least one female candidate for any advertised post.

3) The “panel pledge” asks male speakers at (mostly non-academic) science and tech conferences to sign that: “I will not speak on or moderate all-male panels at technology and science conferences.” Academics: don’t organise and refuse to speak at conferences where all the (plenary) speakers are men. Campuses: refuse to host conferences where all the speakers are men. Universities, funding bodies and professional societies: refuse to financially support conferences where all the speakers are men.

Two things that would help early-career academics (and particularly women) with partners / children / care duties:

4) As the parliamentary committee suggests (para. 47), universities and funding bodies should “increase the number of more stable and permanent post-doc positions”, even if this means reducing the total number of positions.

5) As the parliamentary committee also suggests (para. 48), “research funders should remove from fellowship conditions any requirements for researchers to move institute or country and instead provide funding for shorter visits to other institutes for collaboration purposes”.

Maybe relatively easy fixes like these won’t work, and the only solution is gradually, slowly influencing wider culture. But at the moment it doesn’t even look like we’re trying.

(And don’t replace the “i” in “science” with lipstick.)

Aug 28

A very long sentence with many commas

All her life Bendición Alvarado would remember those surprises of power and the other more ancient and bitter ones of poverty, but she never brought them back with so much grief as after the death farce when he was wallowing in the fen of prosperity while she went on lamenting to anyone who wanted to listen to her that it was no good being the president’s mama with nothing else in the world but this sad sewing machine, she lamented, looking at him there with his gold-braided hearse, my poor son didn’t have a hole in the ground to fall dead into after all those years of serving his country, lord, it’s not fair, and she did not go on complaining out of habit or disillusionment but because he no longer made her a participant in his shake-ups nor did he hurry over as before to share the best secrets of power with her, and he had changed so much since the times of the marines that to Bendición Alvarado he seemed to be older than she, to have left her behind in time, she heard him stumble over words, his concept of reality became entangled, sometimes he drooled, and she was struck with the compassion that was not a mother’s but a daughter’s when she saw him arrive at the suburban mansion loaded down with packages and desperate to open them all at the same time, he cut the twine with his teeth, broke his fingernails on the hoops before she could get the scissors from her sewing basket, dug everything out from the underbrush of debris with flailing hands as he drowned in his high-flying anxiety, look at all this wonderful stuff, mother, he said, a live mermaid in a fishbowl, a lifesize wind-up angel who flew about the room striking the hour with its bell, a gigantic shell in which the listener didn’t hear the sound of the waves and the sea wind but the strains of the national anthem, what fancy stuff, mother, now you can see how nice it is not to be poor, he said, but she couldn’t feed his enthusiasm and began chewing on the brushes used to paint orioles so her son would not notice that her heart was crumbling with pity thinking back on a past that no one knew as well as she, remembering how hard it had been for him to stay in the chair he was sitting in, but not these days, lord, not these easy times when power was a tangible and unique matter, a little glass ball in the palm of the hand, as he said, but when he was a fugitive shad swimming around without god or law in a neighborhood palace pursued by the voracious swarm of the surviving leaders of the federalist war who had helped overthrow the general-poet Lautaro Muñoz, an enlightened despot whom God keep in His holy glory with his Suetonius missals in Lathi and his forty-two pedigreed horses, and in exchange for their armed help they had taken over the ranches and livestock of the outlawed former owners and had divided the country up into autonomous provinces with the unanswerable argument that this is federalism general, this is what we have shed the blood of our veins for, and they were absolute monarchs in their territories, with their own laws, their personal patriotic holidays, their paper money which they signed themselves, their dress uniforms with sabers encrusted with precious stones and hussar jackets with gold frogs and three-cornered hats with peacock-tail plumes copied from ancient prints of viceroys of the country before them, and they were wild and sentimental, lord, they would come into the presidential palace through the main door, with no one’s permission since the nation belongs to all general, that’s why we’ve sacrified our lives for it, they camped out in the ballroom with their respective harems and the farm animals which they demanded as tribute for peace as they went along everywhere so that they would always have something to eat, they brought along personal escorts of barbarian mercenaries who instead of boots used rags to clothe their feet and who could barely express themselves in Christian tongue but were wise in tricks of dice and ferocious and skilled in the manipulation of weapons of war, so that the house of power was like a gypsy encampment, lord, it had the thick smell of a river at floodtide, the officers of the general staff had taken the furniture of the republic to their ranches, they played dominoes gambling away the privileges of government indifferent to the entreaties of his mother Bendición Alvarado who did not have a moment’s rest trying to sweep up so much fairground garbage, trying to put just one little bit of order into that shipwreck, for she was the only one who had made any attempt to resist the irredeemable debasement of the liberal crusade, only she had tried to drive them out with her broom when she saw the house perverted by those evil-living reprobates who fought over the large chairs of the high command with playing-card altercations, she watched them do sodomite business behind the piano, she watched them shit in the alabaster amphoras even though she told them not to, lord, they weren’t portable toilets they were amphoras recovered from the seas of Pantelleria, but they insisted that they were rich men’s pisspots, lord, it was humanly impossible to stop General Adriano Guzman from attending the diplomatic party celebrating the tenth year of my rise to power, although no one could have imagined what awaited us when he appeared in the ballroom wearing an austere linen uniform chosen especially for the occasion, he came without weapons, just as he had promised me on his word as a soldier, with his escort of escaped French prisoners in civilian clothes and loaded down with goodies from Cayenne which General Adriano Guzman distributed one by one to the wives of ambassadors and ministers after asking permission from their husbands with a bow, for that was what his mercenaries had told him was considered proper in Versailles and so he went through it with the rare genius of a gentleman, and then he sat in a corner of the ballroom with his attention on the dance and nodding his head in approval, very good, he said, these stuck-ups from Europeland dance good, he said, to each his own, he said, so forgotten in his easy chair that only I noticed that one of his aides was filling his glass with champagne after each sip, and as the hours passed he was becoming more tense and flushed than he normally was, he opened a button on his sweat-soaked tunic every time the pressure of a repressed belch came all the way up to eye level, he was moaning with drowsiness, mother, and all of a sudden he got up with difficulty during a pause in the dancing and finally unbuttoned his tunic completely and then his fly and he stood there wide open and staling away on the perfumed décolletages of the ladies of the ambassadors and ministers with his musty old hose of a buzzard’s tool, with his sour war-drunkard’s urine he soaked the muslin laps, the gold brocade bosoms, the ostrich-feather fans, singing impassively in the midst of the panic I’m the gallant swain who waters the roses of your bower, oh lovely rose in bloom, he sang on, with no one daring to control him, not even he, because I knew I had more power than any one of them but much less than two of them plotting together, still unaware that he saw the others just as they were while the others were never able to glimpse the hidden thoughts of the granite old man whose serenity was matched only by his smooth-sailing prudence and his immense disposition for waiting, we saw only his lugubrious eyes, his thin lips, the chaste maiden’s hand which did not even tremble on the hilt of his saber that noon of horror when they came to him with the news general sir that General Narciso Lopez high on green pot and anisette had hauled a cadet of the presidential guard into a toilet and warmed him up as he saw fit with the resources of a wild woman and then obliged him put it all into me, God damn it, that’s an order, everything, my love, even your golden little balls, weeping with pain, weeping with rage, until he found himself vomiting with humiliation on all fours with his head stuck in the fetid vapors of the toilet bowl, and then he lifted the Adonic cadet up into the air and impaled him with a plainsman’s lance onto the springtime tapestry of the audience room like a butterfly and no one dared take him down for three days, poor man, because all he did was keep an eye on his former comrades in arms so that they would not hatch plots but without getting enmeshed in their lives, convinced that they themselves would exterminate each other among themselves before they came to him with the news general sir that members of General Jesucristo Sanchez’s escort had been forced to beat him to death with chairs when he had an attack of rabies that he got from a cat bite, poor man, he scarcely looked up from his domino game when they whispered in his ear the news general sir that General Lotario Sereno had been drowned when his horse had suddenly died under him as he was fording a river, poor man, he barely blinked when they came to him with the news general sir that General Narciso Lopez had shoved a dynamite stick up his ass and blown his guts out over the shame of his unconquerable pederasty, and he said poor man as if he had had nothing to do with those infamous deaths and he issued the same decree of posthumous honors for all, proclaiming them martyrs who had fallen in acts of service and he had them entombed in the national pantheon with magnificent pomp and all on the same level because a nation without heroes is a house without doors, he said, and when there were only six combat generals left in all the land he invited them to celebrate his birthday with a carousal of comrades in the presidential palace, all of them together, lord, even General Jacinto Algarabía who was the darkest and shrewdest, who prided himself on having a son by his own mother and only drank wood alcohol with gunpowder in it, with no one else in the banquet hall like the good old days general, all without weapons like blood brothers but with the men of their escorts crowded into the next room, all loaded down with magnificent gifts for the only one of us who has been able to understand us all, they said, meaning that he was the only one who had learned how to manage them, the only one who had succeeded in getting out of the bowels of his remote lair on the highland plains the legendary General Saturno Santos, a full-blooded Indian, unsure, who always went around like the whore mother that gave me birth with his foot on the ground general sir because we roughnecks can’t breathe unless we feel the earth, he had arrived wrapped in a cape with bright-colored prints of strange animals on it, he came alone, as he always went about, without an escort, preceded by a gloomy aura, with no arms except a cane machete which he refused to take off his belt because it wasn’t a weapon of war but one for work, and as a gift he brought me an eagle trained to fight in men’s wars, and he brought his harp, mother, that sacred instrument whose notes could conjure up storms and hasten the cycles of harvest time and which General Saturno Santos plucked with a skill from his heart that awoke in all of us the nostalgia for the nights of horror of the war, mother, it aroused in us the dog-mange smell of war, it spun around in our souls the war song of the golden boat that will lead us on, they sang it in a chorus with all their heart, mother, I sent myself back from the bridge bathed in tears, they sang, while they ate a turkey stuffed with plums and half a suckling pig and each one drank from his personal bottle, each one his own alcohol, all except him and General Saturno Santos who had never tasted a drop of liquor in all their lives, nor smoked, nor eaten more than what was indispensable for life, in my honor they sang in a chorus the serenade King David sang, with tears they wailed out all the birthday songs that had been sung before Consul Hanemann came to us with the novelty general sir of that phonograph with a horn speaker and its cylinder of happy birthday in English, they sang half-asleep, half-dead from drink, not worrying any more about the taciturn old man who at the stroke of twelve took down the lamp and went to inspect the house before retiring in accordance with his barracis-bred custom and he saw for the last time as he returned on bis way through the banquet hall-the six generals piled together on the floor, he saw them in embrace, inert and placid, under the protection of the five escort groups who kept watch among themselves, because even in sleep and in embrace they were afraid of each other almost as much as each one of them was afraid of him and as he was afraid of two of them in cahoots, and he put the lamp back on the mantel and closed the three locks, the three bolts, the three bars of his bedroom, and lay down on the floor face down, his right arm serving as a pillow at the instant that the foundations of the building shook with the compact explosion of all the escorts’ weapons going off at the same time, one single time, by God, with no intermediate sound, no moan, and again, by God, and that was that, the mess was over, all that was left was a lingering smell of gunpowder in the silence of the world, only he remained safe forever from the anxieties of power as in the first mallow-soft rays of the new day he saw the orderlies on duty sloshing through the swamp of blood in the banquet hall, he saw his mother Bendición Alvarado seized by a dizzy spell of horror as she discovered that the walls oozed blood no matter how hard she scrubbed them with lye and ash, lord, that the rugs kept on giving off blood no matter how much she wrung them out, and all the more blood poured in torrents through corridors and offices the more they worked desperately to wash it out in order to hide the extent of the massacre of the last heirs of our war who according to the official statement had been assassinated by their own maddened escorts and their bodies wrapped in the national flag filled the pantheon of patriots with a funeral worthy of a bishop, for not one single man of the escort had escaped alive from the bloody roundup, not one general, except General Saturno Santos who was armored by his strings of scapulars and who knew Indian secrets of how to change his form at will, curse him, he could turn into an armadillo or a pond general, he could become thunder, and he knew it was true because his most astute trackers had lost the trail ever since last Christmas, the best-trained jaguar hounds looked for him in the opposite direction, he had seen him in the flesh in the king of spades in his sibyls’ cards, and he was alive, sleeping by day and traveling by night off the beaten track on land and water, but he kept leaving a trail of prayers that confused his pursuers’ judgment and tired out the will of his enemies, but he never gave up the search for one instant day and night for years and years until many years later when he saw through the window of the presidential train a crowd of men and women with their children and animals and cooking utensils as he had seen so many times behind the troops in wartime, he saw them parading in the rain carrying their sick in hammocks strung to poles behind a very pale man in a burlap tunic who says he’s a divine messenger general sir, and he slapped his forehead and said to himself there he is, God damn it, and there was General Saturno Santos begging off the charity of the pilgrims with the charms of his unstrung harp, he was miserable and gloomy, with a beat-up felt hat and a poncho in tatters, but even in that pitiful state he was not as easy to kill as he thought for he had decapitated three of his best men with his machete, he had stood up to the fiercest of them with such valor and ability that he ordered the train to stop opposite the cemetery on the plain where the messenger was preaching, and everybody drew apart in a stampede when the men of the presidential guard jumped out of the coach painted with the colors of the flag with their weapons at the ready, no one remained in sight except General Saturno Santos beside his mythical harp with his hand tight on the hilt of his machete, and he seemed fascinated by the sight of the mortal enemy who appeared on the platform of the coach in his denim suit with no insignia, without weapons, older and more remote as if it had been a hundred years since we saw each other general, he looked tired and lonely to me, his skin yellow from liver trouble and his eyes tending toward teariness, but he had the pale glow of a person who was not only master of his power but also the power won from his dead, so I made ready to die without resisting because it seemed useless to him to go against an old man who had come from so far off with no more motives or merits than his barbarous appetite for command, but he showed him the manta-ray palm of his hand and said God bless you, stud, the country deserves you, because it has always known that against an invincible man there is no weapon but friendship, and General Saturno Santos kissed the ground he had trod and asked him the favor of letting me serve you in any way you command general sir while I have the ability in these hands to make my machete sing, and he accepted, agreed, he made him his back-up man but only on the condition that you never get behind me, he made him his accomplice in dominoes and between the two of them they gave a four-handed skinning to many despots in misfortune, he would have him get barefoot into the presidential coach and take him to diplomatic receptions with that jaguar breath that aroused dogs and made ambassadors’ wives dizzy, he had him sleep across the doorsill of his bedroom so as to relieve himself of the fear of sleeping when life became so harsh that he trembled at the idea of finding himself alone among the people of his dreams, he kept him close to his confidence at a distance of ten hands for many years until uric acid squeezed off his skill of making his machete sing and he asked the favor that you kill me yourself general sir so as not to leave someone else the pleasure of killing me when he has no right to, but he ordered him off to die on a good retirement pension and with a medal of gratitude on the byways of the plains where he had been born and he could not repress his tears when General Saturno Santos put aside his shame to tell him choking and weeping so you see general the time comes for the roughest of us studs to turn into fairies, what a damned thing.

The Autumn of the Patriarch, Gabriel García Márquez

Jun 25

Before Sunrise:

Before Sunset:

Jan 19

Two Openings

There was a great article in the New Yorker a few weeks ago about the pickpocket Apollo Robbins, which is well worth reading. (There’s also a video to go along with it.) The opening of the piece goes like this:

A few years ago, at a Las Vegas convention for magicians, Penn Jillette, of the act Penn and Teller, was introduced to a soft-spoken young man named Apollo Robbins, who has a reputation as a pickpocket of almost supernatural ability. Jillette, who ranks pickpockets, he says, “a few notches below hypnotists on the show-biz totem pole,” was holding court at a table of colleagues, and he asked Robbins for a demonstration, ready to be unimpressed. Robbins demurred, claiming that he felt uncomfortable working in front of other magicians. He pointed out that, since Jillette was wearing only shorts and a sports shirt, he wouldn’t have much to work with.

“Come on,” Jillette said. “Steal something from me.”

Again, Robbins begged off, but he offered to do a trick instead. He instructed Jillette to place a ring that he was wearing on a piece of paper and trace its outline with a pen. By now, a small crowd had gathered. Jillette removed his ring, put it down on the paper, unclipped a pen from his shirt, and leaned forward, preparing to draw. After a moment, he froze and looked up. His face was pale.

“Fuck. You,” he said, and slumped into a chair.

Robbins held up a thin, cylindrical object: the cartridge from Jillette’s pen.

Reminds me a lot of another great New Yorker article from many years back, this one on the magician/actor/etc Ricky Jay. It’s got a similarly great opening:

The playwright David Mamet and the theatre director Gregory Mosher affirm that some years ago, late one night in the bar of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago, this happened:

Ricky Jay, who is perhaps the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive, was performing magic with a deck of cards. Also present was a friend of Mamet and Mosher’s named Christ Nogulich, the director of food and beverage at the hotel. After twenty minutes of disbelief-suspending manipulations, Jay spread the deck face up on the bar counter and asked Nogulich to concentrate on a specific card but not to reveal it. Jay then assembled the deck face down, shuffled, cut it into two piles, and asked Nogulich to point to one of the piles and name his card.

“Three of clubs,” Nogulich said, and he was then instructed to turn over the top card.

He turned over the three of clubs.

Mosher, in what could be interpreted as a passive-aggressive act, quietly announced, “Ricky, you know, I also concentrated on a card.”

After an interval of silence, Jay said, “That’s interesting, Gregory, but I only do this for one person at a time.”

Mosher persisted: “Well, Ricky, I really was thinking of a card.”

Jay paused, frowned, stared at Mosher, and said, “This is a distinct change of procedure.” A longer pause. “All right—what was the card?”

“Two of spades.”

Jay nodded, and gestured toward the other pile, and Mosher turned over its top card.

The deuce of spades.

A small riot ensued.

Oct 18

The American Man, Age Ten

I had been asked by Esquire to write a piece about the child actor Macaulay Culkin, who was ten years old at the time. I don’t rule out doing celebrity profiles, but I wasn’t in the mood to do one right then and I wasn’t very interested in Macaulay Culkin. Then my editor told me that he was planning to use the headline The American Man, Age Ten. On a whim, I told my editor that I would do the piece if I could find a typical American ten-year-old man to profile instead—someone who I thought was more deserving of that headline. It was an improbable idea since they had already photographed Macaulay for the cover of the magazine, but my editor decided to take me up on it.

Susan Orlean, from the introduction to The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup

The opening of that piece is perhaps my favourite paragraph in journalism:

If Colin Duffy and I were to get married, we would have matching superhero notebooks. We would wear shorts, big sneakers, and long, baggy T-shirts depicting famous athletes every single day, even in the winter. We would sleep in our clothes. We would both be good at Nintendo Street Fighter II, but Colin would be better than me. We would have some homework, but it would not be too hard and we would always have just finished it. We would eat pizza and candy for all of our meals. We wouldn’t have sex, but we would have crushes on each other and, magically, babies would appear in our home. We would win the lottery and then buy land in Wyoming, where we would have one of every kind of cute animal. All the while, Colin would be working in law enforcement—probably the FBI. Our favorite movie star, Morgan Freeman, would visit us occasionally. We would listen to the same Eurythmics song (“Here Comes the Rain Again”) over and over again and watch two hours of television every Friday night. We would both be good at football, have best friends, and know how to drive; we would cure AIDS and the garbage problem and everything that hurts animals. We would hang out a lot with Colin’s dad. For fun, we would load a slingshot with dog food and shoot it at my butt. We would have a very good life.

The American Man, Age Ten by Susan Orlean

In the middle of the set, Radiohead played a song called “Airbag,” which showed why this band is taken as seriously as any since the Beatles. It was a rugged ritual, full of cabalistic exchanges, with each player taking a decisive role. Jonny started off with a melody that snaked along in uneven time—one-two-three-one-two-three-one-two—and swayed between A major and F major. O’Brien added leaner, brighter curlicues on guitar. Selway came in with a precise but heavily syncopated beat. Then Yorke began to sing, in a well-schooled, plaintive voice, an oblique account of a near-fatal collision: “In the next world war / In a jackknifed juggernaut / I am born again.” At the mention of war, Colin let loose a jumpy bass line, giving a funky spin to the hymns in the treble. The music cut through a jumble of verses and choruses, then held fast to a single chord, as Yorke fell into synch with O’Brien’s chiming lines. Just before the end, Colin grinned, leaped in the air a couple of times, and seized hold of his brother’s tune, the one that had set the song in motion. The doubling of the theme had a kind of thunderous logic, as if an equation had been solved. The interplay was as engaging to the mind as anything that has been done in classical music recently, but you could jump up and down to it.

The Dreamers: Radiohead’s unquiet revolution by Alex Ross (The New Yorker, August 2001)

Feb 15

An Attempt to Compile a Complete List of Every Time Gail Collins Has Mentioned That Mitt Romney Once Drove to Canada with the Family Dog Strapped to the Roof of the Car

Mitt Romney is a current and former candidate for the Republican Party Presidential nomination and the former Governor of Massachusetts.

Gail Collins is a journalist who writes a twice-weekly op-ed column for the New York Times.

Gail Collins is obsessed by the fact that Mitt Romney once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car, and has mentioned this fact almost over 50 times in print.

In case you don’t know the story, Collins lays out the details in her first mention of the Romney/dog story, back in August 2007:

Every time I see [Mitt Romney], all I can think about is Seamus the dog. Seamus, in case you missed the story, was the Romneys’ Irish setter back in the early 1980s. Mitt used to drive the family from Boston to Ontario every summer for a vacation, with the dog strapped to the roof in a crate. As The Boston Globe reported this summer, Romney had the entire trip planned so rigidly that every gas station stop was predetermined before departure. During the fatal trip of ‘83, Seamus apparently needed one more than the schedule allowed. When evidence of the setter’s incontinence came running down the back windshield, Romney abandoned his itinerary and drove to the closest gas station, where he got a hose and sprayed both dog and station wagon clean. (Haunted by Seamus, 4/8/07)

As she later explained,

I’ve made a kind of game of trying to mention Seamus every time I write about Mitt Romney. This is because the Republican primary campaign has been an extremely long and depressing slog, and we need all the diversion we can get. (Dogging Mitt Romney, 7/3/12)

What follows is a list of every time that Collins has mentioned the Romney/dog story. It’s a lot.

(Have I missed any Collins/Romney/dog mentions? Contact me on Twitter: I’m @mpaldridge.)

Current Tally: 77 (69 op-ed columns, 8 blog “conversations” with David Brooks)
Last updated: 17/11/12 - Five new hits, and quite possibly the last ever update

77: NEW It appears that Mitt Romney was a terrible presidential candidate.
O.K., some people have known that ever since the story broke about strapping his dog on the car roof. (Anybody Notice a Pattern?, 16/11/12)
76: NEW If all else fails, strap John Boehner to the roof of a car. (Happy Days, Even With the Cliff, 7/11/12)
75: NEW Forget about the fact that Mitt Romney once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. (The Last Election List, 19/9/12)
74: NEW Maybe someday, the voters of 2012 will be telling their grandchildren where they were when Mitt Romney evoked Women in Binders.
By then, of course, they will have gotten a little fuzzy about the details. Maybe they’ll tell the kids that, in the end, the whole election came down to the time Mitt Romney put Big Bird in a binder on the car roof. (Women and the Men Who Yell, 17/10/12)
73: NEW Democrats miss Seamus.
Yes, those were the days. When the very mention of “Mitt Romney” would instantly lead to a discussion of the dangers of transporting an Irish setter to Canada on the roof of a station wagon.
“Has Seamus peaked too early?” a worried Democrat asked me in Texas a while back. At the time, I thought that anybody who is a Democrat in Texas had so many things to worry about, it was a miracle he could even remember the dog’s name. But now it’s clear that he was totally right. Seamus was so June. (Democrats at the Deep End, 10/10/12)
72: And it is totally not true that Mitt Romney strapped Paul Ryan to the top of a car and drove him to Canada. Stop spreading rumors! (Mitt’s Snake-Bit Season, 19/9/12)
71: 1. Shortly before the Republican convention opened, a new book quoted Mitt Romney as comparing the Tea Party to: […]
B) A dog on a car roof. […]
4. Besides the usual assortment of mayors, governors, beleaguered workers, successful immigrants and former Republicans, the Democratic convention also featured a speech by a:
A) Dog who claimed to be a descendant of Romney’s beleaguered Irish setter. […] (Convention Pop Quiz, 7/9/12)
70: One thing’s for sure: nobody in Tampa is all that interested in talking about Mitt Romney interacting with pets. (Renovating Mitt Romney, 29/8/12)
69: First of all, Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney are not the same person. […] Ryan is the one who likes to catch catfish by sticking his fist into their burrows and dragging them out by the throat. Romney is the one who drove to Canada with his dog strapped to the car roof. (Political Page Turners, 17/8/12)
68: Right now Mitt Romney is off on a four-day bus tour […] (Everything about the Romney campaign seems somehow connected to transit: buses, horses, car elevators, dogs strapped to the car roof.) (Become a Star Tracker, 10/8/12)
67: The Republicans currently have a symbolic legislative agenda and a presidential candidate who can be in two places at one time, but whom nobody likes. Other than that, it’s all good. Nobody’s brought up the dog on the car roof for days. (Mitt’s Political Vortex, 13/7/12)
66: We are not talking about business taxes, in the normal sense of the word. If we were, it would quickly become so incredibly confusing that you would be begging me to go back to the matter of the dog Romney once tied to the roof of his car. (Small Is So Beautiful, 11/7/12)
65: Let’s pause for a minute while you test your ability to be a Mitt Romney speechwriter: […]
“This isn’t an election about two people. This isn’t an election about being a Republican, Democrat or an independent. This is an election about … […]
C) keeping dogs off the car roof.” […] (The (Sort of) New Mitt, 22/6/12)
64: You may remember the cringe-inducing moment in 2007 when [Mitt Romney] started bragging about his prowess as an outdoorsman. […] Inquiring minds checked the hunting licenses in all the places that Mitt had at some point called home and determined that he’d never applied for one. “I’ve always been a rodent and rabbit hunter,” he amended. “Small varmints, if you will.” […] But until he dropped out of the race, varmint hunting was the dog on the roof of Romney’s 2008 campaign. (Running on Empty, 15/6/12)
63: David Brooks: Gail, people are always asking me who is going to win the election. […]
Gail Collins: Wow, almost nobody asks me who’s going to win. Mostly people just want to talk about the dog on the roof of Romney’s car. (The Presidential Cage Match, blog conversation with David Brooks, 30/5/12)
62: I kind of like the logjam. I am seeing Mitt, in lumberjack garb, in the middle of a river full of downed trees and the occasional committee chairman. Perhaps the Romney boys are along, singing family songs. Maybe the dog is strapped to a fallen sycamore. (Deciphering Mitt-Speak on Schools, 25/5/12)
61: Our subject for today is: Presidential nominating conventions — why are they still around? Other possible subjects were: […] The new sensation of dancing dogs on TV talent shows and how many of them do you think were ever made to ride on the roof of a car? (It’s Their Party, 16/5/12)
60: [Mitt Romney] is a guy who is not capable of taking responsibility for his past actions. I’m not just talking about the fact that he can’t bring himself to say it wasn’t a good idea to drive to Canada with the family dog on the roof of his car. (Playing Left, Right — or Center, blog conversation with David Brooks, 16/5/12)
59: Perhaps you may remember that Romney once drove to Canada with the family Irish setter stuck in a cage on the station wagon roof. When he was originally asked about it, he claimed the dog “loves fresh air.” This was more than four years ago. What would have happened if Romney had just said: “Boy, in retrospect that really does sound like a bad idea. But you have to remember that we had five boys under the age of 14. It was like living in a vortex; we did all kinds of stupid stuff.” Do you think the nation — particularly the part that has ever tried to drive long distances with a car full of children — would have been understanding? I personally would never have mentioned the incident at all. But since we haven’t gotten that sort of input, I kind of feel free to bring it up now and then. (The Anatomy of a Jokester, 11/5/12)
58: The only absolute rule is to discount things a presidential candidate did before age 18. If Mitt Romney names Marco Rubio as his vice presidential nominee, it is not fair to point out that Rubio was also once a Mormon because the conversion and deconversion happened between the ages of 8 and 13. Also eating dog meat when you are a child in Indonesia is not the same thing as driving to Canada with the family Irish setter strapped to the roof of the car when you are 36. (Obama’s Wonderful Town, 4/5/12)
57: Did you ever notice how many of the Republican candidates seemed to have animal issues? Rick Perry shot that coyote, and Jon Huntsman got bitten by a goat — really, that was the high point of the Huntsman campaign. Also, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, the veep front-runner, recently imitated a chicken on television. […] And the winner is the guy who drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car! (The End of Newt, 25/4/12)
56: Republican Swamp People — The Romneys move to the Everglades in an effort to woo the swing state of Florida. Excitement ensues when Mitt tries to drive to a rally with an alligator strapped to the roof of the car. (Godfathers, Caterpillars and Golf, 6/4/12)
55: Our topic today is picking the worst new trend of the political season. Not including putting the dog on the car roof. (Time to Elect the Wost Idea, 30/3/12)
54: Really, if you want to make [voters] irritated, better to go back to the dog on the car roof. Nobody likes thinking about that dog. (Who Doesn’t Love a List, 23/3/12)
53: If Romney couldn’t even take a clear stand on Rush Limbaugh’s Slutgate, why would he say anything that forthright unless it was a total error? This is why we can’t get the dog-on-the-car-roof story straightened out. (The Bad News is Good News, 9/3/12)
52: I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this, but Mitt Romney once drove to Canada with the family Irish setter on the roof of the car. Seamus, the dog-on-the-roof, has become a kind of political icon. […] The story took place in 1983, when the Romney family made a 12-hour pilgrimage from Boston to a vacation home in Canada. Romney, his wife, Ann, and their five sons were in the station wagon. Seamus was in a crate, or kennel, on the roof. At some point — possibly in response to the excitement about being passed by tractor-trailers while floating like a furry maraschino cherry on top of the car, Seamus developed diarrhea. And Romney, who had designated all the acceptable rest stops before beginning the trip, was forced to make an unscheduled trip to a gas station. Where he kept the family in the car while he hosed down the station wagon and the dog, then returned to the highway. […] Elect Mitt Romney and he will take the nation on the road to the future. Some of us will be stuck on the roof. […] I’ve made a kind of game of trying to mention Seamus every time I write about Mitt Romney. […] This is a real person. A person who once drove to Canada with the family dog tied to the roof of the car. (Dogging Mitt Romney, 7/3/12, whole column dedicated to the Romney dog story)
51: David Brooks: I feel for Mitt Romney. Think of it. There he was a few years ago sitting on the front porch of his fourth summer home innocently wondering why the trees of New England are so unpleasantly tall, and he turns to his buddies, who own Nascar teams, hotel chains, political parties and various small emirates, and he asks them if it would be a good idea if he ran for president. They point out that a presidential campaign would allow him to recite obscure verses of patriotic songs all across America, so he agrees to do it.
Gail Collins: All the while knowing that he would eventually have to explain why he once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car … (Super Pac! Super Bad! 3/3/12, blog conversation with David Brooks)
50: Romney has already ruled out the payroll tax cap. Also, he once drove to Canada with his dog tied to the roof of the car. End of story. (A Big Day’s Coming, 29/2/12)
49: Was Romney ever saved from possible death by a 21-pound cat? No, but he did once drive to Canada with the family dog tied to the roof of the car. (Republican Truth or Dare, 24/2/12)
48: Take your pick, Republicans. On one hand, the guy who once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. On the other, the guy who won his first Congressional race by criticizing his opponent for moving his family to Washington. And then later moved his own family to Washington […] (Four Dudes and a Table, 22/2/12)
47: But feel free to talk as much as you want about Mitt Romney and the dog. (The Politics of Absolutely Everything, 3/2/12)
46: Does anybody truly believe that Romney is planning to spend any presidential time dreaming up ways to fix the safety net for the benefit of the very poor? Be real. This is the guy who drove to Canada with the family dog strapped on the roof. (Mitt Speaks. Oh, No! 1/2/12)
45: Everybody has something. Rick Santorum lusted in his heart for earmarks. Mitt Romney drove to Canada with the family Irish setter strapped on the car roof. (Newt’s Real Legacy, 29/1/12)
44: On behalf of the people, I would like to say that, if elected, we promise to balance the budget, release Mitt Romney’s tax returns and pass a law against driving to Canada with an Irish setter tied to the roof of the car. (Opening Newt’s Marriage, 20/1/12)
43: And, while we’re at it, if you were that rich and had a very large family to take to Canada, wouldn’t you hire a plane? What kind of obsession is it that makes a multi-multi-multimillionaire show up for the GoldenTree Asset Management convention for a $68,000 fee? Or drive for 12 hours with the Irish setter strapped to the car roof? (Anchors Aweigh, My Boys, 18/1/12)
42: How many other major presidential candidates in recent history came from the business sector? How many drove to Canada with their family dog strapped to the roof of the car? (Who Still Wants to Be a Millionaire? 13/1/12)
41: And now Newt’s Web site has a video that basically asks whether America will elect a president who once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. Which is, of course, an excellent question. (The Primary Primer, 11/1/12)
40: Did I ever mention that Romney once drove to Canada with the family Irish setter strapped to the roof of the car? The dog’s name was Seamus. New Hampshire Republicans, if you can’t think of anybody to vote for on Tuesday, consider writing in the name Seamus when you go to the polls. (The March of the Non-Mitts, 4/1/12)
39: [The Gingrich] campaign’s highlight of the week may have been the announcement that it was creating a “Pets With Newt” Web site to highlight the candidate’s love of animals. “Pets With Newt” may be an attempt to remind Iowans that Mitt Romney once drove to Canada with the family Irish setter strapped to the roof of the car. This is clearly a weak point in the Mitt armor, which came up this week in a Wall Street Journal interview with the candidate. “Uh — love my dog. That’s all I got for you,” Romney responded. (Remember the Alamo, 24/12/11)
38: Romney 2012 makes it sound as if he came into office and found abortion rights sitting in a dusty cardboard box in the closet and was chagrined when he remembered he had promised not to throw anything out. It would be as if he explained that trip to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the station wagon by saying: “I had the experience of going to get into the car and there was already a dog on the roof. So I turned on the ignition and I was effectively driving.” (An Early Holiday Hangover, 16/12/11)
37: I would say this is an extremely safe position for Romney to take because the odds are very good that no one has ever called Mitt zany in his entire life. Unless it was when he drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the station wagon. (“Hey, Mister, you got an Irish setter on top of your car. What are you, zany or something?”) (Mitt’s Zest for Zings, 14/12/11)
36: And maybe we could get over [Mitt Romney's] driving to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car if he’d just admit it was because he was too cheap to hire a dog-sitter. Maybe. (The Mitt Romney Pardon, 30/11/11)
35: David Brooks: That gives us a chance to talk about Romney and his weaknesses, which are glaring.
Gail Collins: Dog on the roof of the car. Dog on the roof of the car. (The Not-Romneys, 30/11/11, blog conversation with David Brooks)
34: I guess now there’s no chance anybody will ask Romney about the day he drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. (Counting Really Small Blessings, 23/11/11)
33: There are a lot of mysteries in the Mitt saga. For instance, if you were a very wealthy father of five energetic young boys, would you choose to spend your vacation driving the whole family to Canada with the dog strapped to the roof of the car? Wouldn’t it be more fun to take a plane to Disneyland? (Republican Financial Plans, 18/11/11)
32: The antipathy toward Mitt Romney is the most fascinating part of a deeply fascinating political season. What is it about this guy? Is it just because he once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car? (Guess What It’s Time For!, 11/11/11)
31: Pity the Republican voters. They aren’t asking for much. They just want a candidate who’s really conservative but not totally crazy. Who has verbs in his sentences. Who didn’t drive to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. (Wait! Don’t Tell Me!, 9/11/11)
30: Oh, wow! Rick Perry hit Mitt Romney with the illegal immigrant landscapers! […] I found this very exciting because it brings us closer to the moment when one of Romney’s competitors will point out that he once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped on the roof of the car. (Mitt and Begonia-gate, 19/10/11)
29: As things stand, the Perry camp is apparently planning to keep their guy in the background during debates and hit Romney over the head with mean commercials. That shouldn’t be too hard. Maybe they’ll include the day Mitt drove to Canada with the family dog on the car roof. (The Gift of Glib, 12/10/11)
28: I cannot really figure out that many ways to mention that Romney once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. (Desparately Seeking Dalrymple, 5/10/11)
27: Do you think Mitt Romney has created the bad karma that was responsible for the total collapse of the Boston Red Sox? Do you think that if he’s elected president, no blue-state team will ever win the World Series again? Do you think his favorite sport is really baseball, or maybe luge racing? Is there a way to work the fact that he drove to Canada with the family dog strapped on the roof of the car into this story? (The Curse of the Mitt, 30/9/11)
26: I was wondering where I could fit in the dog on the roof. (Is This Man the G.O.P.’s Best Bet for 2012?, 28/9/11, blog conversation with David Brooks)
25: I don’t want to believe I live in a country that would seriously consider bestowing the nation’s highest office on a man who once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. (Perry’s Bad Night, 23/9/11)
24: I admire the way Barack Obama has raised a dog in the White House without ever putting it on the roof of the car for a vacation drive. (Politicians, Love ’Em or Hate ’Em, 21/9/11)
23: [Perry’s] puppy-rescue is a stirring picture, especially considering that Perry’s chief competitor is the man who drove to Canada with the family dog Seamus strapped to the roof of the car. (Debating With the Stars, 7/9/11)
22: Try to imagine the Republican convention being asked to choose between Mitt Romney, who once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of his car, and the guy who shot a puppy-eating coyote. With a Ruger .380 with laser sights! (The Coyote Candidate, 27/5/11)
21: What is it that everybody hates so much about [Mitt Romney]? That he pioneered the Obama health care reform plan in Massachusetts and now denies it? That he’s ardently anti-abortion after having run for governor vowing endlessly to protect abortion rights? That he drove to Canada with the family dog strapped on the roof of his car? (And the G.O.P. Candidates Are …, 10/5/11, blog conversation with David Brooks)
20: Match the Republican presidential hopefuls: […]
2) Mitt Romney […]
C) Latest book fails to mention that he once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. […] (The Spring Quiz, 6/5/11)
19: There is not a single mention in “No Apology” of the fact that Romney once drove to Canada with the family Irish setter strapped to the roof of the car. I regard this as a critical oversight, although perhaps it was Seamus that Romney was thinking of when he chose his title. (Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!, 15/4/11)
18: Perhaps I should point out that Romney was named after J. Willard Marriott, the hotel guy. And that he once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. (What’s in a Nickname?, 25/3/11)
17: Match Republican presidential hopefuls with their 2010 achievements. […]
5. Mitt Romney […]
C) Continued to fail to explain why he drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. […] (The End-of-the-Year Quiz, 31/12/10)
16: I hope somebody out there is thinking about a tasteful Mitt Romney Christmas ornament, perhaps showing Mitt’s family vacation to Canada, with Seamus the dog strapped in his cage on the roof. (The Gingrich Who Stole Christmas, 17/12/10)
15: I need to apologize to Mitt Romney. Here I was thinking of him as a failed politician with no discernible core values, who had once driven to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. (Mitt Romney, Liberal Icon, 31/3/10)
14: Romney’s real big news moment this week occurred when he had an altercation with an unidentified passenger on a flight back from the Winter Olympics. […] And my sorrow in discovering that the fight did not involve retribution for the day Romney drove his dog to Canada strapped to the roof of the family car was ameliorated by my joy at the vision of Mitt having an argument with a rapper about proper seat positioning for takeoff. (The Wages of Rages, 19/2/10)
13: Romney’s most dramatic recent moment came when he was attacked by a fellow passenger on a flight home from the Olympics in Vancouver. […] Maybe he was an animal lover, still seething over the fact that Romney once drove his family to Canada for a vacation with their Irish setter, Seamus, strapped to the roof of the car. (Time to Party Like It’s 1854, 18/2/10)
12: Identify the speaker: “You’re a punk! You’re a dog! You always were a dog your whole life, you punk dog.”
a) Mitt Romney to Seamus, the Irish setter he strapped on the roof of the car during a family trip to Canada. […] (The Year-End Quiz, 1/1/10)
11: Mitt Romney ran against Ted Kennedy for the Senate during one of Kennedy’s particularly unslender periods. The Romney camp ran film of Kennedy struggling to squeeze behind a table. […] Of course, Kennedy cleaned his clock. This is my second-favorite Mitt Romney story. I couldn’t figure out any way to bring up the one about him driving to Canada with the family dog strapped to the car roof. (The Eye of the Beholder, 9/10/09)
10: I have to admit there’s something about Mitt that I find really creepy, even when I’m not dwelling on that time he drove to Canada with the family dog strapped on the roof. (The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, 1/7/09, blog conversation with David Brooks)
9: Unlike Joe Lieberman, Palin is a member of the same party as the presidential candidate. And unlike Mitt Romney, she has never gone on vacation with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. (McCain’s Baked Alaska, 19/3/09)
8: Match the presidential candidates: […]
4) Mitt Romney […]
E) Drove to Canada with the family dog strapped on the roof of the car. […] (The Year-End Quiz, 3/1/09)
7: I miss Mitt Romney. Sure, he was sort of smarmy. But when Mitt was around, the banks had money and Iceland was solvent. And, of course, when we got bored, we could always talk about how he drove to Canada with his Irish setter strapped to the car roof. (Dear Old Golden Dog Days, 10/10/08)
6: Who are Barack Obama and John McCain going to choose for their running mates? I’m praying that McCain selects Mitt Romney so I can repeatedly revisit the time Mitt drove to Canada with the family dog on the station-wagon roof. (Vice is Nice, 21/6/08)
5: Do you miss the primaries yet? Personally, I was happiest when the field was crowded and, if all else failed, you could always whip up something about Dennis Kucinich or Mitt Romney’s dog. (Primary Days of Yore, 5/6/08, blog conversation with David Brooks)
4: I’m going to have to get through the rest of the year without ever again referring to the fact that Romney once drove to Canada with the family dog, Seamus, strapped to the roof of the car. (The Revenge of Seamus, 9/2/08)
3: Romney has no known vices, except packing the family dog on top of the car during long trips. (Presidential Shopping List, 22/11/07)
2: 1. When Mitt Romney’s son revealed that his dad once drove to Canada with Seamus, the Irish setter, stuck in a crate on the car roof, the Republican presidential candidate explained that he did it because Seamus:
A) Was asking for it.
B) Loves fresh air.
C) Has bad breath. […]
4. According to The Boston Globe, near the end of Mitt Romney’s race for governor in 2002, his campaign ran an ad that was so unpopular it almost cost him the election. The ad was:
A) An endorsement by Seamus. […]
15. Norman Hsu is: […]
C) Little-known blogger who broke the Seamus scandal online. (The Campaign-So-Far Quiz, 13/10/07)
1: Every time I see [Mitt Romney], all I can think about is Seamus the dog. Seamus, in case you missed the story, was the Romneys’ Irish setter back in the early 1980s. Mitt used to drive the family from Boston to Ontario every summer for a vacation, with the dog strapped to the roof in a crate. As The Boston Globe reported this summer, Romney had the entire trip planned so rigidly that every gas station stop was predetermined before departure. During the fatal trip of ‘83, Seamus apparently needed one more than the schedule allowed. When evidence of the setter’s incontinence came running down the back windshield, Romney abandoned his itinerary and drove to the closest gas station, where he got a hose and sprayed both dog and station wagon clean. […] Romney has already come under considerable fire from animal rights groups over the Seamus incident. “They’re not happy that my dog loves fresh air,” Romney snapped back. He said that just recently, in Pittsburgh, although Seamus had actually long since shuffled off this mortal coil. Is it possible that Romney is trying to dodge the Republican YouTube debate because he’s afraid someone will ask him about his method of transporting dogs across long distances? (Haunted by Seamus, 4/8/07, whole column dedicated to the Romney dog story)

Dec 16

My Top 5 Longreads, 2011

Getting Bin Laden Nicholas Schmidle, The New Yorker
“Nine years, seven months, and twenty days after September 11th, an American was a trigger pull from ending bin Laden’s life. The first round, a 5.56-mm. bullet, struck bin Laden in the chest. As he fell backward, the SEAL fired a second round into his head, just above his left eye. On his radio, he reported, ‘For God and country—Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo.’”

The Setup Peter Crooks, Diablo
“‘Between you and me,’ Butler said, ‘that wasn’t nearly as crazy as some of the stuff that goes on during cases.’ ‘So, that’s it,’ I said. ‘Case closed?’ ‘Case closed,’ said Butler. Except, it wasn’t.”

Crush Point John Seabrook, The New Yorker
“The transition from fraternal smooshing to suffocating pressure—a ‘crowd crush’—often occurs almost imperceptibly; one doesn’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late to escape. At a certain point, you feel pressure on all sides of your body, and realize that you can’t raise your arms. You are pulled off your feet, and welded into a block of people. The crowd force squeezes the air out of your lungs, and you struggle to take another breath.”

Anthrax Redux Noah Schachtman, Wired
“It’s been 10 years since the deadliest biological terror attack in US history launched a manhunt that ruined one scientist’s reputation and saw a second driven to suicide, yet nagging problems remain. Problems that add up to an unsettling reality: Despite the FBI’s assurances, it’s not at all certain that the government could have ever convicted Ivins of a crime.”

Dr. Don Peter Hessler, The New Yorker
“Don talked about all three subjects—neglecting his dying brother, offering credit to the townspeople, and helping Mr. Brick and receiving his gift—in different conversations that spanned more than a year. Don saw connections of a different sort: these people and incidents were more like the spokes of a wheel. They didn’t touch directly, but each was linked to something bigger.”

Also: My top longreads of 2010 and 2009. Longreads’ collection of best-of-2011 lists.

Feb 22

The New Rules

This note by Dave Eggers came with a little box of books I just bought.

The New Rules

I don’t know why it came down to me to tell you about this, but anyway, here goes: if you don’t buy at least ten books a year, you’ll be struck by lightning, or maybe a bus. Its the new rule. Yeah. You’ll probably be sent a more official notice in the mail soon, but for now, you’re hearing it from me. Ten books a year, or the bus or lightning, each of them very painful and likely deadly. Is the rule a bit harsh? Well, maybe. Some people might think so, but then again, those people won’t be with us very long, because anyone who complains about the rule will be disembowelled by bears. Again, not my idea—I’m just the messenger here!—but that’s the way it is. I don’t know why you’re worried, though. Just buy the ten books a year, and don’t whine about it, and you won’t be struck by anything or have your insides ripped out by a grizzly. Doesn’t seem so complicated, really. Also, make sure you buy the right kinds of books, or else someone in a cardigan will push you off a building. Again, nothing to worry about: just buy the best kinds of books, not the bad ones, or else you’ll be looking over your shoulder pretty much forever. And you can’t read that way, anyway, so it all works out.

—DE

Dec 09

Sports Night — The Hungry and the Hunted

Isaac: What the hell happened out there?

Jeremy: It was nothing.

Dana: It was not nothing.

Jeremy: I got sick, I threw up.

Dana: They took you to a hospital. You passed out.

Jeremy: I told them they didn’t have to take me to—

Dana: Bob Shoemaker said you were sweating and hyperventilating.

Jeremy: It was hot outside.

Dana: Not in the Adirondacks in October.

Jeremy: Look—

Isaac: Tell us about your hunting trip.

Jeremy stands silent for a long moment. Dana and Isaac wait.

Dana: The first day you were going after New England Blue Mallard.

Jeremy: Yeah. Bob and Eddie were using the IR-50 Recon by Bushcomber. It’s got a sixteen inch microgrooved barrel with 30-30 mags, side-scope mount, wire-cutter sheath, quick-release bolt, mag catches and a three pound trigger. So I figured we must be goin’ after a pretty dangerous duck.

Isaac: You can wise-ass all you want, you’re gonna tell me what happened.

Jeremy: We shot a deer.

Dana and Isaac wait for more…

Jeremy (cont’d): In the woods near Lake Mattatuck on the second day. There was a special vest they had me wear so that they could distinguish me from things they wanted to shoot and I was pretty grateful for that. Almost the whole day had gone by and they hadn’t gotten anything. Eddie was getting frustrated and Bob Shoemaker was getting embarrassed. My camera guy needed to re-load so I told everybody to take a ten minute break. There was a stream nearby and I walked over with this care-package that Natalie made me. I sat down and when I looked up I saw three of them; small, bigger, biggest. Recognizable to any species on the face of the planet as a child, a mother and a father. The trick in shooting deer is you gotta get ‘em out in the open. And it’s tough with deer, ‘cause these are clever, cagey animals with an intuitive sense of danger. You know what you have to do to get a deer out in the open? You hold out a twinkie. (Beat) That animal clopped up to me like we were at a party. She seemed to be pretty interested in the Twinkie, so I gave it to her. Looking back, she’d have been better off if I’d given her the damn vest. Bob kind of screamed at me in whisper to move away. The camera had been re-loaded and it looked like the day wasn’t gonna be a washout after all. So I backed away, a couple of steps at a time, and closed my eyes when I heard the shot. Look, I know these are animals and they don’t play bridge and go to the prom, but you can’t tell me that the little one didn’t know who his mother was. That’s gotta mean something. Later, at the hospital, Bob Shoemaker was telling me about the nobility and tradition of hunting and how it related to the native American Indians. And I nodded and said that was interesting while thinking about what a load of crap it was. Hunting was part of Indian culture. It was food and it was clothes and it was shelter. They sang and danced and offered prayers to the Gods for a successful hunt so that they could survive just one more unimaginably brutal winter. Things they had to kill held the highest place of respect for them, and to kill for fun was a sin. And they knew the Gods wouldn’t be so generous the next time. What we did wasn’t food and it wasn’t shelter and it sure wasn’t sports. It was just mean.

Nov 29

My Top Longreads, 2010

The Art of the Steal Joshuah Bearman, Wired
“Blanchard slowly approached the display and removed the already loosened screws, carefully using a butter knife to hold in place the two long rods that would trigger the alarm system. The real trick was ensuring that the spring-loaded mechanism the star was sitting on didn’t register that the weight above it had changed. He reached into his pocket and deftly replaced Elisabeth’s bejeweled hairpin with the gift-store fake.”

Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds Michael Lewis, Vanity Fair
“As it turned out, what the Greeks wanted to do, once the lights went out and they were alone in the dark with a pile of borrowed money, was turn their government into a piñata stuffed with fantastic sums and give as many citizens as possible a whack at it.”

Roger Ebert: The Essential Man Chris Jones, Esquire
“He opens a new page in his text-to-speech program, a blank white sheet. But Ebert doesn’t press the button that fires up the speakers. He presses a different button, a button that makes the words bigger. He presses the button again and again and again, the words growing bigger and bigger and bigger until they become too big to fit the screen, now they’re just letters, but he keeps hitting the button, bigger and bigger still. Roger Ebert is shaking, his entire body is shaking, and he’s still hitting the button, bang, bang, bang, and he’s shouting now.”

The Mark of a Masterpiece David Grann, The New Yorker
“Reporters work, in many ways, like authenticators. We encounter people, form intuitions about them, and then attempt to verify these impressions. I began to review Biro’s story. As I probed further, I discovered an underpainting that I had never imagined.”

The Truth About the Tea Party Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone
“Vast forests have already been sacrificed to the public debate about the Tea Party: what it is, what it means, where it’s going. But after lengthy study of the phenomenon, I’ve concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark fact: They’re full of shit. All of them.”

The Suicide Cathcer Michael Paterniti, GQ
“Just then a man lurched past us, a flash of green. He stopped, put both hands on the railing, and threw a leg up. The green man’s body rose, and now he was hooking his ankle on the top bar, then levering himself from vertical to horizontal until he lay on top of the railing. Now the green man began to push his way over the railing, at which point I knew that I was not dreaming and that he was going to kill himself.”

Come Party With Gaga Caitlin Moran, The Times
“The story that I thought I would find when I met Gaga – dark, otherworldly, borderline autistic diva-genius failing under the pressure of fame – just dissolves, like newsprint in the rain. All that’s left is a mardy pop sex threat – the woman who put out three, Abba-level classic singles in one year, in her early twenties, while wearing a lobster on her head. As I’m sure Mark Lawson says at times like this, Booyakasha.”

The Hunted Jeffrey Goldberg, The New Yorker
“Then comes an arresting sequence, one seldom seen on national television: the killing of a human. The scout, his face blotted out electronically, fires a single shot at him. Then, from offscreen, come three more shots. The camera stays focussed on the wounded man, lying on the ground. His body jerks at the first and third shots. Then it is still.”

Travels With a Diva [PDF] Gay Talese, The New Yorker
“On an August night this past summer, the opera singer Marina Poplavskaya lay motionless for nearly three hours on the floor of her mother’s apartment in Moscow, having collapsed shortly after 4 AM. from inhaling noxious smoke from the forest fires that were burning out of control in the countryside; she was feverish and had no clothes on, after a sleepless night in hundred-degree heat with no air-conditioning.”

The Pink Panthers David Samuels, The New Yorker
“On the day of the heist, Denic, posing as a customer, entered the Graff store wearing a suit and carrying an umbrella. An Elvis-style pompadour wig sat awkwardly on his head, but it did not alarm the clerks, who thought that he was a rock star in disguise or a wealthy man suffering from a disease. Denic then pulled out a chrome-plated .357 Magnum, yelling, “Everyone on the floor!”“

The End Ben Ehrenreich, Los Angeles
“No matter how many sacrifices you make to Lady Death, no matter how rich the offerings you lay before her altar, she will know where to find you. When she comes, she will hold you tight, and she will never let you go. Don’t be frightened. She takes us all.”

See also: my top longreads of 2009

Jul 14

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes — David Grann

I’ve just finished reading the book The Devil and Sherlock Holmes by David Grann. It’s a collection of his magazine journalism, mostly from The New Yorker, and I liked it very much. It turns out that most of the articles are available online, so I’ve collected them below.

A lot of the pieces here fall roughly into the category of “true crime”, and indeed this is where the book’s at its strongest. My favourite pieces were Trial by Fire—which reinforced my opposition to the death penalty—and The Brand—which challenged it.

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes is available from amazon.co.uk and amazon.com.

THE DEVIL AND SHERLOCK HOLMES
TALES OF MURDER, MADNESS, AND OBSESSION
by DAVID GRANN

Part One
"Any truth is better than infinite doubt."

Mysterious Circumstances
The strange death of a Sherlock Holmes fanatic

Trial by Fire
Did Texas execute an innocent man?

The Chameleon
The many lives of Frédéric Bourdin

True Crime
A postmodern murder mystery

Which Way Did He Run?
The fireman who forgot 9/11

Part Two
"A strange enigma is man!"

The Squid Hunter
Chasing the sea’s most elusive creature

City of Water
Can an antiquated maze of tunnels continue to sustain New York?

The Old Man and the Gun
The secrets of a legendary stickup man

Stealing Time
Why Rickey Henderson won’t go home

Part Three
"All that was monstrous and inconceivably wicked in the universe."

The Brand
The rise of the most dangerous prison gang in America

Crimetown U.S.A.
The city that fell in love the Mob

Giving “The Devil” His Due
The death-squad real estate agent

Apr 29

Mar 08

Best Journalism of 2008(?!)

I always think there’s less of a chance I’ll lose this kind of thing if there’s a copy on the internet somewhere. And it’s only 15 months too old to be interesting… Conor Friedersdorf’s list is here.

THE ELECTION

Making It Ryan Lizza The New Yorker
“HENDON: Senator, could you correctly pronounce your name for me? I’m having a little trouble with it. OBAMA: Obama. HENDON: Is that Irish? OBAMA: It will be when I run countywide.”

The Front-Runner’s Fall Joshua Green The Atlantic
“Two things struck me right away. The first was that, outward appearances notwithstanding, the [Clinton] campaign prepared a clear strategy and did considerable planning. […] The second was the thought: Wow, it was even worse than I’d imagined!

Aaron Sorkin Conjures a Meeting of Obama and Bartlet
Maureen Dowd and Aaron Sorkin The New York Times

“OBAMA: I didn’t expect you to answer the door yourself. BARTLET: I didn’t expect you to be getting beat by John McCain and a Lancôme rep who thinks ‘The Flintstones’ was based on a true story, so let’s call it even.”

The Making (and Remaking) of McCain
Robert Draper The New York Times

“‘Gentlemen, let me put a few things on the table for observation and discussion,’ Steve Schmidt said to his fellow strategists while sitting in a conference room in the Phoenix Ritz-Carlton. ‘Would anyone here disagree with the premise that we are not winning this campaign?’”

Battle Plans Ryan Lizza The New Yorker
“[Obama] said, ‘I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.’”

NOT THE ELECTION

The Things He Carried Jeffrey Goldberg The Atlantic
“If I were a terrorist, and I’m not, but if I were a terrorist […] I would not do what I did in the bathroom of the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport, which was to place myself in front of a sink in open view of the male American flying public and ostentatiously rip up a sheaf of counterfeit boarding passes.”

Trouble in Paradise William Prochnau and Laura Parker Vanity Fair
“For most of its history, Pitcairn lived with a secret sex culture that defined island life. Adultery was not just routine but pervasive, as was the sexual fondling of infants and socially approved sex games among young children. Incest and prostitution were not unknown.”

Dispatches from the R Kelly Trial (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)
Josh Levin Slate

“Kelly’s child pornography trial wasn’t very complicated. On one side, you’ve got a 27-minute sex tape […] On the other side, you’ve got the Shaggy defense (It wasn’t me!), the Little Man defense (It’s my head on some other dude’s body!), the Sparkle defense (I was framed by a bunch of money-grubbing lowlifes!), and the “ghost sex” defense (I’m actually not sure what the point of this one was, but there were headless people having sex and it was weird and creepy).”

Up and Then Down Nick Paumgarten The New Yorker
“The longest smoke break of Nicholas White’s life began at around eleven o’clock on a Friday night in October, 1999.”

At Home With the Doggs… Emma Forrest The Guardian
“Until recently, Snoop, who rose to fame in the 1990s as a protege of NWA’s Dr Dre, was most famous for smoking pot, for popularising the slang suffix “izzle” and for run-ins with the law.”

The End Michael Lewis Condé Nast Portfolio
“To this day, the willingness of a Wall Street investment bank to pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars to dispense investment advice to grownups remains a mystery to me.”

Mystery on Fifth Avenue Penelope Green The New York Times
“In any case, the finale involved, in part, removing decorative door knockers from two hallway panels, which fit together to make a crank, which in turn opened hidden panels in a credenza in the dining room, which displayed multiple keys and keyholes […]”

Feb 25

Long-Form Journalism, 2009

The Untold Story of the World’s Biggest Diamond Heist
Joshua Davis, Wired

“‘I may be a thief and a liar,’ he says in beguiling Italian-accented French. ‘But I am going to tell you a true story.’”

Over Detroit Skies Roey Rosenblith, Huffington Post
“I was on my third in-flight movie when the screaming started, shattering my tired half-awake travel state. I had gone from watching Up to Inglorious Basterds and had decided to try rounding things off with Land of the Lost. That was when my fellow passenger Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab decided to ignite his explosives 19 rows ahead of me.”

How David Beats Goliath Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker
“David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time.”

Fatal Distraction Gene Weingarten, Washington Post
“‘Death by hyperthermia’ is the official designation. When it happens to young children, the facts are often the same: An otherwise loving and attentive parent one day gets busy, or distracted, or upset, or confused by a change in his or her daily routine, and just… forgets a child is in the car.”

The Deepest Dive Alec Wilkinson, The New Yorker
“Meanwhile, the lungs compress, halving themselves after ten metres, ther reducing by degrees until, by a hundred metres, they are something like the size of a fist; free diving is the only sport in which the lungs shrink and the heart slows.”

Trial By Fire David Grann, The New Yorker
“There is a chance, however, that Texas could become the first state to acknowledge officially that, since the advent of the modern judicial system, it had carried out the ‘execution of a legally and factually innocent person.’”

The Murder of Leo Tolstoy Elif Batuman, Harper’s
“After his religious rebirth in 1881, Tolstoy changed his practice of ending each diary entry with a plan for the next day, replacing it with the phrase ‘if I am alive.’ It occurred to me that ever since 1881 Tolstoy had always known he would be murdered.”

How I Convinced a Death-Row Murderer Not to Die
Michael Finkel, Esquire
“He asked if I’d be willing to help him formulate a plan to donate his body parts. I said, once I wrapped my mind around the idea, that it was something I could do, but first I needed to clear my conscience. If I was going to help him die, I had to hear the full story of the night his family was killed.”

The Devil at 37,000 Feet William Langewiesche, Vanity Fair
“What were the odds? There were so many chances for the accident not to occur—so many ways to break the chain that led to it—that a crash investigator later told me it seemed the Devil himself was at play. “

Don’t! Jonah Lehrer, The New Yorker
“Some cover their eyes with their hands or turn around so that they can’t see the tray. Others start kicking the desk, or tug on their pigtails, or stroke the marshmallow as if it were a tiny stuffed animal.”

Eight Days James B. Stewart, The New Yorker
“The most important week in American financial history since the Great Depression began at 8 A.M. on a Friday in the middle of September last year.”

The Deadly Choices at Memorial
Sheri Fink, ProPublica and The New York Times
“The smell of death was overpowering the moment a relief worker cracked open one of the hospital chapel’s wooden doors. Inside, more than a dozen bodies lay motionless on low cots and on the ground, shrouded in white sheets.”

Writer Evan Ratliff Tried to Vanish: Here’s What Happened
Evan Ratliff, Wired
“The premise is simple: I will try to vanish for a month and start over under a new identity. Wired readers, or whoever else happens upon the chase, will try to find me.”