Friday 11 February, 2022

Dreaming of Provence

We’re determined (well,hoping) to make it back there this summer.

Quote of the Day

”A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing.”

  • Samuel Johnson

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Chet Atkins | Black Mountain Rag


Long Read of the Day

What Will It Take to Resuscitate American Democracy?

This essay by Stephen Marche is really a Long Read for a whole weekend!

Any American who can read knows that democracy is in crisis. The US government increasingly struggles to fulfil its most basic tasks, like guaranteeing the debt, passing budgets or confirming the diplomatic corps. Meanwhile armed groups of insurrectionists, like the one that stormed the US Capitol just over a year ago, spread incoherence. Think tanks on the right and universities on the left still debate policies like the tax rate or parental leave but they’re playacting by this point, whether they know it or not. They distract themselves with antiquities while the temple collapses around their shoulders. The questions have become much more basic than abstruse policy. Will democracy survive? How to keep America’s institutions alive?

Future historians will see a great irony in the intellectual history of our moment. Supposedly, we live in an era of wokeness. The misnomer could hardly be more total. The United States is sleepwalking to its end.

Marche is a novelist, essayist, commentator and the author of half a dozen books, including The Unmade Bed: The Messy Truth About Men and Women in the Twenty-First Century (2016) and The Hunger of the Wolf (2015). He’s currently working on a book about the possibility of a second civil war in the US which will be published by Simon and Schuster so — not surprisingly — the tone of the piece is a bit apocalyptic. Maybe that comes from being a novelist. At times the piece reminded me of the directness of Kim Stanley Robinson’s approach to the climate crisis. Here’s the outline of his argument:

  1. For conservative intellectuals, “the slip into dreams came over a decade ago, in 2008. The reason behind their collapse was simple. They were wrong about everything”.
  2. The failures of left-wing thinkers “are more severe than the failures on the right. The also started in 2008 and “much of the left doesn’t know it’s failed”.

Hope you find it as striking as I did.

What the Canadian Truckers Want

If you’re puzzled by the truckers’ protest, then this is illuminating. I haven’t been paying much attention to it, and have therefore been ingesting the mainstream media’s reporting of it. This is a piece by a reporter who took the trouble to talk to some of the protesters.

Virginia Woolf: cook?

My observation in Tuesday’s edition that

the obvious explanation for Woolf’s ignorance [about beouf en daube], of course, is that she never appears to have done any cooking herself. At any rate her diaries are full of exasperated entries about the difficulties she has with her cook(s)

attracted the attention of Sheila Hayman (Whom God Preserve), from whom Nothing is Hidden. She pointed me to Rachel Cooke’s 2014 Guardian review of The Bloomsbury Cookbook  by Jans Ondaatje Rolls, a compendium of recipes and food-related paintings, prose and gossip starring Woolf and all the rest of the Bloomsbury crowd.

This contains fragments of maddening information, such as that Woolf “once mistakenly baked her wedding ring into a suet pudding”, and that “Woolf was a keen baker; she was also devoted to bottling and pickling”.

But the bit that really caught my eye was this:

We are what we eat. When Clive Bell’s waistcoat button flew across the room during a society piano recital in 1923, it was a sign he’d been enjoying the work of his wife Vanessa’s cook, Grace Huggens, just a little too much. But his real appetite, you gather, was for life; the humiliation, as Virginia Woolf put it, “brushed him only slightly”, and his spirits remained “superb” even as his waistband groaned.

Intrigued by this, I dug out my copy of VW’s Diaries for the relevant year (in the Penguin edition edited by Julian Bell) but could find no reference to this intriguing event (though Clive figures extensively in the year’s entries), and the index contains no mention of Grace Huggens). Which of course makes me wonder where this story comes from. But it also, dammit, caused me to spend (waste?) a couple of hours re-reading the diary, which I’ve always found addictive. Sigh.

My commonplace booklet

  • Geomagnetic Storm Destroys 40 New SpaceX Satellites in Orbit

Over the past three years, SpaceX has deployed thousands of satellites into low-Earth orbit as part of its business to beam high-speed internet service from space. But the company’s latest deployment of 49 new satellites after a Feb. 3 launch did not go as planned.

As a consequence of a geomagnetic storm triggered by a recent outburst of the sun, up to 40 of 49 newly launched Starlink satellites have been knocked out of commission. They are in the process of re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, where they will be incinerated.

Hmmm… Divine intervention? SpaceX is Elon Musk’s company. Perhaps the Almighty is pissed off by his fatuous claims about the imminence of Full Self Driving.

Thanks to Alina Utrata for the Link.

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