Sometimes I might have gone a little too far, not such an uncommon trait in a person on amphetamines. I’d put on my cowboy clothes – real ones, antiques – and go out to the desert or an abandoned ranch somewhere, trying to feel how they felt back then, how they were… Sometimes my amphetamine communions with the cowboy ghosts were productive and ideas came to me that became songs on the spot or later. Sometimes the chemistry wasn’t right, as they say (though not in the sense I mean it) and not much happened in the way of creative progress. I still have a sheet from a yellow legal pad on which is written my entire output from a whole day in the desert: “Under the manzanita tree / Sits a pencil, a piece of paper, and me.” You can’t imagine how much thought went into those words.

Johnny Cash, “Cash: The Autobiography”.

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“Hipsters are the new chavs.” It’s all about denigrating the young, says the Evening Standard’s Richard Godwin.

Talking of the young… “People in their 30s are starting to notice that you can’t spend all those Facebook likes on a decent house.” Seditious talk in the Telegraph.

“The horrific images used to come once or twice a month. Now it is every day.” Editing the news images of conflict in the Middle East.

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You would expect Clay Shirky,  prophet of new technology and professor of media studies at NYU,  to be relaxed about the idea of students using laptops and other gadgetry in the classroom. He used to be. But he’s had a change of heart:

Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of the elephant and the rider is useful here. In Haidt’s telling, the mind is like an elephant (the emotions) with a rider (the intellect) on top. The rider can see and plan ahead, but the elephant is far more powerful. Sometimes the rider and the elephant work together (the ideal in classroom settings), but if they conflict, the elephant usually wins.

After reading Haidt, I’ve stopped thinking of students as people who simply make choices about whether to pay attention, and started thinking of them as people trying to pay attention but having to compete with various influences, the largest of which is their own propensity towards involuntary and emotional reaction. (This is even harder for young people, the elephant so strong, the rider still a novice.)

Regarding teaching as a shared struggle changes the nature of the classroom. It’s not me demanding that they focus — its me and them working together to help defend their precious focus against outside distractions. I have a classroom full of riders and elephants, but I’m trying to teach the riders. And while I do, who is whispering to the elephants? Facebook, Wechat, Twitter, Instagram, Weibo, Snapchat, Tumblr, Pinterest, the list goes on, abetted by the designers of the Mac, iOS, Windows, and Android. In the classroom, it’s me against a brilliant and well-funded army (including, sharper than a serpent’s tooth, many of my former students.)

[Via David Carr]

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Frank & Dino

willoughby Frank-Sinatra_Dean-Martin-Smoke

On the set of the Judy Garland Show, 1962. From the West End exhibition of Bob Willoughby’s photos. (His classic shot of Big Jay McNeely, rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, is also in the mix.)

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Inside the bubble

“Those people who get parachuted in, they’ve never had a life!” Good, angry piece by the Guardian’s Carole Cadwalladr on how party politics is in danger of becoming a game for a select few. And journalism, as we all know, is going the same way:

I know it’s the media that has helped create this nightmarish scenario… But then as Michael White, the Guardian’s assistant editor and the commentator with one of the longest memories in politics, points out, professionalisation doesn’t just affect politics. “They go from London to Oxford to London and do a couple of years as a political researcher and they have no real experience of anything else. And it is a real problem. But it’s as bad in the media. Papers like the Guardian are as bad. And we’re also nowhere near as ethnically diverse as the city in which we’re based.”

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The city that never was

germania speer exhibition

An exhibition in Berlin exploring Albert Speer’s grandiose plans for Germania, the rebuilt capital of the Third Reich. [Via SlowBerlin]

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Being Stephen Fry

Everything he touched, etc, etc… Lynn Barber reviews [£] his latest volume of memoirs:

Thanks to the success of his musical, Me and My Girl (1984), he was rich from his mid-twenties and able to buy a large house in Norfolk and all the classic cars and gadgets he could want. Strolling down the street in  London in 1992 he ran into an American acquaintance who asked if he could think of anyone who could house-sit his suite at the Savoy for a few weeks. Well yes, said Fry, he could. The only trouble with living at the Savoy, he found, was that one got a teensy bit bored with finding the suite looking exactly the same every day, so he instructed the staff to hide the ashtray in different places.

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Beautiful game

kilimanjaro cricket BETTER

“They played 10 overs each of a Twenty20 game before clouds stopped play.” Setting a cricket altitude record on Mount Kilimanjaro. Photo by @petermartell via @afpphoto.  

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Thinking the worst

The scandal that changed journalism: a fascinating Matt Bai article on how Gary Hart’s demise (which now seems ancient history) marked a watershed in political reporting. From that point onwards everything in a candidate’s life became fair game. We’ve been suffering the consequences ever since:

If Nixon’s resignation created the character culture in American politics, then Hart’s undoing marked the moment when political reporters ceased to care about almost anything else. By the 1990s, the cardinal objective of all political journalism had shifted from a focus on agendas to a focus on narrow notions of character, from illuminating worldviews to exposing falsehoods. If post-Hart political journalism had a motto, it would be: “We know you’re a fraud somehow. Our job is to prove it.”

As an industry, we aspired chiefly to show politicians for the impossibly flawed human beings they are: a single-minded pursuit that reduced complex careers to isolated transgressions. As the former senator Bob Kerrey, who has acknowledged participating in an atrocity as a soldier in Vietnam, told me once, “We’re not the worst thing we’ve ever done in our lives, and there’s a tendency to think that we are.” That quote, I thought, should have been posted on the wall of every newsroom in the country, just to remind us that it was true.

Predictably, politicians responded to all this with a determination to give us nothing that might aid in the hunt to expose them, even if it meant obscuring the convictions and contradictions that made them actual human beings. Each side retreated to its respective camp, where they strategized about how to outwit and outflank the other, occasionally to their own benefit but rarely to the voters’. Maybe this made our media a sharper guardian of the public interest against liars and hypocrites. But it also made it hard for any thoughtful politician to offer arguments that might be considered nuanced or controversial.

Posted in Journalism, Media, US politics | Tagged , , , , ,

Mussolini’s suburb


The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, Rome, also known as “The Square Colosseum”. I took this photo on holiday this summer while exploring the district, south of the city centre, known as EUR (Esposizione Universale Roma). Strange, very strange. I don’t imagine I’ll ever come closer to walking around the kind of monumental cityscape that Albert Speer planned to create in Berlin. It was a public holiday too, so the main buildings were deserted. Just about the only sign of life was at a street market outside the Palasport metro station. The McDonald’s next door was doing good business too.

(Interesting post here on how the EUR formed the backdrop to Antonioni’s “L’eclisse”.)

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