HIS rough features resembled the hard Wyoming land from where he came. Sandpaper skin, deep gorges across his forehead and wrinkles alongside the temples like cracked, dry earth. A craggy, stubborn nose. But gentle eyes, narrow as if formed by squinting into the sun over years.
John Perry Barlow, who died on February 7th, was a Grateful Dead lyricist, cyber pundit, cattle rancher and idealist. He embodied a vanishing America. His lyrics, like his lifestyle, were a world of cowboys, nature and passions. He was a literary heir to Walt Whitman, depicting a rugged American individualism, romanticism and freedom as wide as the Lower 48, with his boots pulled up and his hat worn low. “I have seen where the wolf has slept by the silver stream/ I can tell by the mark he left you were in his dream/ Ah, child of countless trees/ Ah, child of boundless seas/ What you are, what you’re meant to be” he wrote in the song “Cassidy” in 1972 with his childhood friend Bob Weir, a guitarist in the psychedelic band Grateful Dead. His words…Continue reading
THE English Premier League (EPL), football’s wealthiest division, has long seemed like an ever-quickening fountain of riches. Between 2010 and 2017 the EPL’s annual income doubled to roughly £4.4bn ($6.2bn) according to Deloitte, a consultancy. The fastest growth in that period came from domestic broadcasting revenues for live matches, which almost trebled, from £594m a year to £1.71bn. This year’s auction for the right to show games on British television between 2019 and 2022 was expected to deliver yet another rise, thanks to an increase in games on sale from 168 to 200 and rumoured interest from online giants like Amazon and Facebook. Instead, the EPL revealed on February 13th that it had accepted underwhelming bids from its usual customers and held back some of its broadcasting packages, which reportedly failed to hit the reserve price—the first time that this has happened in the competition’s 26-year history.
AS A photographer, Nan Goldin has been drawn to those living on the fringes of society. Best known for her documenting of queer communities devastated by AIDS in the 1980s, she has turned her attention to another demonised group: addicts. “People are afraid to come out about it. That’s one of the main reasons there aren’t more faces of addiction. There is a stigma attached.” Ms Goldin is “trying to break through that veil of shame” by talking about her own battle with addiction to the prescription opioid OxyContin, and campaigning against the Sackler family. Best known as cultural and academic philanthropists, Mortimer, Arthur and Raymond Sackler also derived much of their wealth from Purdue Pharma, which developed the drug. Ms Goldin hopes to publicise the hidden pain of those addicted to opioids, and the many lives lost. “I’ve always thought the personal is political,” she says.
Ms Goldin’s addiction lasted from November 2014 until she went into rehab in February 2017. “It started with extreme pain in my hand. I had…Continue reading
Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn. By Chris Hughes. St. Martin’s Press; 224 pages; $19.99. To be published in Britain by Bloomsbury in April; £12.99.
THERE are strokes of outrageous luck and then there is the life of Chris Hughes. Having found his way to Harvard from a small town in North Carolina, he chose Mark Zuckerberg for a roommate in his second year at university. Mr Zuckerberg quickly enlisted Mr Hughes and a few others to help in his social-networking side-project. Their ownership stakes in what became Facebook were soon worth incomprehensible sums of money.
Such extraordinary good fortune is liable to change a person’s outlook. Mr Hughes’s convinced him that the world economy is fundamentally unfair. His new book outlines a solution: a guaranteed minimum income, funded by increased taxation of the very rich. Though he makes an admirable case, the book is most interesting for the insight it provides into the mind of the author.
Support for guaranteed incomes is something of a fad in Silicon Valley, where many techies see them as bulwarks against unemployment caused by future technological advances. By contrast, Mr Hughes embraces a relatively modest approach designed to address inequality now.
It is rooted in his own life story. “Fair Shot” is as much a memoir as a manifesto—an…Continue reading
Frankenstein in Baghdad. By Ahmed Saadawi. Translated by Jonathan Wright. Penguin Books; 281 pages; $16. Oneworld; £12.99.
“I’M THE first true Iraqi citizen.” Such is the bold claim of the monster in Ahmed Saadawi’s “Frankenstein in Baghdad”. His misanthropic creator—an alcoholic, bitter junk-dealer—assembled him out of an ethnically diverse assortment of body parts, scavenged carefully from the remains of suicide-bombing victims. The Whatsitsname, as the creature is known, represents the “impossible mix that was never achieved in the past”.
At first glance, a 19th-century gothic novel set between the Alps and the Arctic might seem an unlikely vehicle to explore the social intricacies of war-ravaged, American-occupied Baghdad. But the conceit proves surprisingly apt. Like his precursor, the Whatsitsname is an existentially bereft soul thirsting to make sense of…Continue reading
Educated. By Tara Westover. Random House; 385 pages; $28. Hutchinson; £14.99.
IN A lecture during her first semester at Brigham Young University, a Mormon college in Utah, Tara Westover encountered an unfamiliar term. “I don’t know this word,” she told her professor. “What does it mean?” He snapped at her angrily—but Ms Westover was not making a tasteless joke. She had never been taught about the Holocaust. Nor had she learned about the civil-rights movement, or physics or any geography beyond the mountains and valleys that surrounded her family home in rural Idaho. That semester was the first time she had ever set foot in a proper classroom. She was 17.
Ms Westover was the youngest of seven children raised by Mormon survivalists in a town of 234 people. Like her siblings, she was kept out of school, which her father regarded as “a ploy by the government to lead children away from…Continue reading
IN A spoof advertisement on a humorous website, a woman asks her Echo, Amazon’s voice-controlled speaker system and assistant, to play “the country music station”. The device, mishearing her southern American accent, instead offers advice on “extreme constipation”. Soon she has acquired a southern model, which understands her accent better. But before long, the machine has gone rogue, chiding her like a southern mother-in-law for putting canned biscuits on the shopping list. (A proper southern lady makes the doughy southern delicacy herself.) On the bright side, it corrects her children’s manners.
The outcome may be far-fetched. But the problem is not. More and more smartphones and computers (including countertop ones such as the Echo) can be operated by voice commands. These systems are getting ever better at knowing what users tell them to do—but not all users equally. They struggle with accents that differ from standard British or American. Jessi Grieser, a linguist at the…Continue reading
In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein. By Fiona Sampson. Profile Books; 304 pages; £18.99. To be published in America by Pegasus Books in June; $28.95.
Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. By Kathryn Harkup. Bloomsbury Sigma; 304 pages; $27 and £16.99.
Frankenstein: How a Monster Became an Icon: The Science and Enduring Allure of Mary Shelley’s Creation. Edited by Sidney Perkowitz and Eddy von Mueller. Pegasus Books; 239 pages; $28.95 and £21.
Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years. By Christopher Frayling. Reel Art Press; 208 pages; $39.95 and £29.95.
IT WAS, quite literally, a dark and stormy night. The volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in faraway Indonesia had plunged Europe beneath unceasing cloud; 1816 was known as “the year without a summer”. Rain was falling on the shore…Continue reading
IN THE first episode of “This Close”, Kate and Michael set out on a trip to Seattle. One airport official, on learning that they are both deaf, tries to communicate by screaming “CAN I SEE YOUR BOARDING PASSES?” Another offers them a wheelchair; a TSA agent uses wildly unintelligible pantomime to ask Michael if there’s anything in his pockets. With every ignorant or misinformed move, the show lets the viewers in on the absurdity of the interaction by way of an exasperated look shared between the leads, a witty response (signed to each other or vocalised by Kate), or simply an eye roll. In following two best friends’ lives, “This Close” explores the experiences of deaf people navigating a world structured for the hearing.
The six-episode series is the first television show written, created by and starring people who are deaf. Like all 20-something year-olds, Kate and Michael (Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman) are stumbling their way through life. Michael is newly single and grappling with writer’s block as he works on a…Continue reading
FANS of winter sports are used to paying close attention to forecasts. Few would fancy taking to the slopes in howling gusts of 50mph (80kph) or temperatures that have fallen to -26˚C (-14˚F) with wind chill. Such conditions have caused the postponement of several events at the winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which opened on February 9th. Increasingly warm winters are threatening the futures of many ski resorts around the world, but in Pyeongchang the artificial snow cannons are firing for the opposite reason. The air is so cold and dry that snowfall is scarce, with just seven days of it in February last year.
Yet weather readings are not the only forecasts that Olympic teams are monitoring in South Korea. The strongest countries have arrived with ambitious medal targets and will be keeping track of their chances of matching those tallies throughout the games. Until recently working out…Continue reading