Picasso and Walt Disney: Room for Nature in a Modern World?

by Paul Johnson, from Creators, from Chaucer to Walt Disney, Phoenix, 2006

Many people find it hard to accept that a great writer, painter, or musician can be evil. But the historical evidence shows, again and again, that evil and creative genius can exist side by side in the same person. It is rare indeed for the evil side of the creator to be so all-pervasive as it was in Picasso, who seems to have been without redeeming qualities of any kind. In my judgment his monumental selfishness and malignity were inextricably linked to his achievement. His creativity involved a certain contempt for the past which demanded ruthlessness in discarding it. He was all-powerful as an originator and aesthetic entrepreneur precisely because he was so passionately devoted to what he was doing, to the exclusion of all other feelings whatever. He had no sense of duty except to himself, and this gave him his overwhelming self-promoting energy. Equally, his egotism enabled him to turn away from nature and into himself with a concentration which is awe-inspiring.

Charles Dickens, A Life

by Claire Tomalin, Viking, 2011

He went on to give the murder reading twenty-eight times between January 1869 and March 1870, and the effect was just as he had hoped, exciting and horrifying his audiences. It had its effect on him too, raising his pulse and prostrating him for a while at the end of a reading. Yet he was determined to keep giving it. He wanted the excitement and the public wanted to be horrified; and it was an argument with Dolby, who tried to persuade him to cut down on ‘Sikes and Nancy’ in favour of quitter readings, that lead him to shout angrily and then burst into tears. Philip Collins, who wrote so well about Dickens, tells us he himself tried reading ‘Sikes and Nancy’ to audiences and found it more than enjoyable: “anyone who has enough talent to perform this Reading at all competently, must find it exhilarating. The satisfaction must have been immensely stronger for Dickens than for me.’ Collins also quoted Edmund Wilson’s remark that ‘Dickens had a strain of the ham in him, and in the desperation of his later life, he gave in to the old ham and let him rip.’ He did not need the words written down even: the son of his old illustrator, Hablot Browne, described him throwing sway his book for ‘Sikes and Nancy’.

Ode aan plekname

deur Marié Blomerus, uit die bundel herinneringe Porseleinskerwe, Protea, 2019

Nog ʼn dorp naby Karibib is Usakos. Daar het mense vroeër jare in die nag van die smalspoortrein op die gewone trein na Windhoek of na Swakopmund oorgeklim. En daar was geen perron nie en baie min lig. Nogal ʼn ervaring van ʼn ander aard gewees. Hier vloei die Khanrivier wat soms in ʼn goeie reënjaar met geweld afkom. Lank gelede was daar nie ʼn brug oor die rivier nie en moes die wat êrens wou heen, maar wag tot die ergste water afgeloop het en dan deur die taai modder beur. Hierdie dorpie sal ek altyd onthou vir die prosopusbome en die oleanders. En as jy uit die dorp per motor na Swakopmund reis, is daar altyd ʼn sekere plek waar jy stilhou en kyk na die poublou van die Erongoberge en weer en weer kyk, want nêrens is daar nog iets so mooi nie. Nog ʼn rukkie later hou jy weer stil om asem op te hou by die aanskoue van “Spitzkuppe”, die Matterhorn van Namibië.

Actor Willem Dafoe works constantly, but is happiest when he’s making ‘contact’

by Stephanie Zacharek, Time, November 11, 2019

If you’re going to make something, make something that doesn’t point to anything, I’m attracted to people who are self-starters. [Director Abel] Ferrara is a big self-starter. He gets no help, he makes his stuff out of nothing, so you really feel contact with making something. There’s no buffer. You feel that every inch of the way, and that’s a nice feeling. When you’re really in the process, you don’t worry about anything. You don’t worry about money, about the reception – any of that stuff. I don’t, as an actor. I’m happy, I got my plate full, I’m chewing away, and I feel alive. Willem Dafoe

Solving suicide

by Mandy Oaklander, Time, November 4, 2019

Knowing how to fill that time is crucial. That’s where a safety plan – a guide that a patient and a provider write together, detailing what the person can do and who they can call when they’re in suicidal crisis – has been shown to be valuable. “We have typically worked on the development or implementation of more complex treatments for suicidal people,” says Barbara Stanley, co-developer of the safety planning intervention and professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “And here you find something that is incredibly simple, very easy to train, pretty easy to implement, yet it seems to get just as good results in preventing suicide.” Health systems are rapidly adopting safety plans because of their simplicity and efficacy. Safety planning is now standard at every VA (Veteran Affairs) medical center.

All Change

short review of 100 Books that Changed the World by Scott Christianson and Colin Salter, Batsford in TLS, March 30, 2018

Can a book change the world? There is little argument about The King James Bible and the Qu’ran, Plato’s Republic, The Wealth of Nations and The Origin of Species are also world changers. (The authors skip over Mein Kampf, surely as world-changing a book as any.) The more obviously literary type of book, however, require extra persuasion. Few will pick a fight over the Odyssey, Aesop’s Fables or Shakespeare’s First Folio. But how about The Canterbury Tales? The literary arts were never the same afterwards. “One of the work’s distinguishing features,” say Christianson and Salter, “was that, unlike other works at the time, it was crafted in vernacular Middle English … In the process Chaucer refined [the] language.” Is changing literature the same as changing the world?

The care women really need

by Angelina Jolie, Time, November 4, 2019

Women are the largest group of people affected by posttraumatic stress disorder according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Unipolar depression is twice as common in women as in men worldwide. More women than men are affected by anxiety, psychological distress, sexual violence and domestic violence. And more than half of the women killed worldwide died at the hands of a partner or family member, according to the latest statistics. Factors that account for women’s poor mental health, according to the WHO, include discrimination, overwork, poverty, malnutrition, low social status and unremitting responsibility for the care of others.

Yes, hyena robots are scary. But they’re also a cunning marketing ploy

by theguardian.com

Earlier this year, videos of a robot being kicked, hit with a chair, and shot at by its human owners spread online. Created by an LA-based production company, Corridor Digital, the videos were a parody of those released by Boston Dynamics, a company that has been making robots since 1992. You’ve almost certainly seen their videos. A robotic cheetah sprints across a parking lot. A robotic dog takes on a human in a tug of war. Sometimes the robots are cute, like the Sand Flea, which flicks itself effortlessly over 30 foot walls. Sometimes they’re scary: like the android who does parkour. But the general tone of the videos is ominous – like the one of this militaristic looking robot called BigDog being kicked and then recovering. Watching the machine regain composure is chilling. You almost expect it to turn around and retaliate, hinting at a future when this might, in fact, happen.

Solving suicide

by Mandy Oaklander, Time, Novemr 4, 2019

Suicide is one of the most urgent health problems facing America today. It is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming 47,000 lives per year – and likely more, given that many suicides are not reported. Recent federal numbers indicate that the nation’s suicide rates are the highest they have been since World War II; they’re rising in nearly every state and across age groups and ethnicities. Alarmingly, suicide rates for young people are now the highest this century; among people 10 to 24, the rate increased 56% from 2007 to 2017, according to federal data from October 2019. Suicides among active-duty members of the military have also increased over the past five years., the Department of Defense reported in September, and a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) report from the same month found that suicides by veterans are on the rise. Ten million Americans seriously considered suicide in 2018.

Paper Tiger

by Alide Dasnois & Chris Whitfield.Tafelberg, 2019

It was not long before what many characterised as a ‘purge’ of senior staff began at Independent Newspapers. Some saw it as a move to get rid of white staff under the guise of transformation, but many black staff members also felt they were being victimized and pushed out. Mostly it seemed that independent-minded members of staff were being targeted. Some people left of their own volition. Some left because the environment had become toxic. Some were forced out.

Please do me the favour of letting me in

by Claire Kohda Hazelton, TLS, March 30, 2018

The popularity of Wuthering Heights in Japan can be traced back to a single statement made to a group of Japanese students in the mid-1920’s. It was then that the English poet and critic Edmund Blunden boldly announced to the class he taught at Tokyo University that the three tragedies written in the English language were King Lear, Moby Dick and Wuthering Heights. Blunden’s students revered their teacher – who had, in return, little respect for them – and they unquestioningly received his assertion as a fact. The effects were to be far-reaching. In 1932, one of those students, Yamato Yasuo, published the first Japanese translation of Emily Brontë’s novel; thirty years later, another of them, Abe Tomoji, published his own translation, and reasserted Blunden’s statement in a critical biography of Herman Melville. And so the idea spread and became, eventually, widely accepted.

Why I have hope for the climate-change battles to come

by Al Gore, Time, September 23, 2019

Humanity is now spewing more than 110 million tons of global warming pollution every day into the exceedingly thin shell of atmosphere that surrounds our planet as if it were an open sewer. The extra heat energy being trapped on earth and exacerbated by man-made climate change is now equal to what would be released by 500,000 Hiroshima-class atomic bombs exploding on earth every single day, according to James Hansen, a leading climate scientist. And the knock-on consequences of all that extra heat energy is leading to increasingly dangerous threats to lives and livelihoods all around the world.

H is for Hawk

by Helen Macdonald, Vintage, 2014

There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realise that it is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realise, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are.