Saturday Night/Sunday Warning #16: 2,000 Giles From Home
The usually paid-subscriber only email of recommendations, reflections and other fascinating refuse...
Hello and welcome to this week’s edition of Saturday Night, Sunday Warning, a weekly email for paid subscribers. I’ve made it free to everyone this week to encourage a few more people to hit the button below and make the leap to paid.
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The newsletter in numbers this week
At the time of writing, the newsletter has hit 291 paid subscribers (up 9 on last week) and 2,770 (up 107 on last week) subscribers overall. Thank you again to the paid subscribers and to everyone who shares the free daily newsletters.
This week’s best performing editions were:
Other things I’ve done this week:
My second piece for Byline Times came out this week. It’s about pollsters and political operatives effectively twist language and journalists turn those phrases into common (and unquestioned) parlance:
‘Levelling up’ is a great new example. Once a gamer’s term for improving a character’s powers, it has gone from being an empty piece of Conservative Party rhetoric – its hollowness was reiterated in a recent ‘major’ speech by Boris Johnson that boiled down to many slogans and no policies – to a phrase used frequently and without caveat by journalists across the
By allowing themselves to get bogged down in debates about ‘whether the Prime Minister can deliver on his promise to level up’, journalists implicitly accept that there is any such thing as ‘levelling up’. They are imbuing a piece of doggerel from a man who sprinkles phrases through his speeches like a fighter plane spreading tin foil to confuse radar with meaning that it simply does not have.
Read the whole piece here: How Pollsters Can Make Words Mean Anything
Illustration: Timo Meyer
I included my long article for Weapons of Reason about the future of autonomous weapons in last week’s edition of this newsletter but I included the wrong link. So here it comes again… second time lucky:
When he was a boy, Mikhail Kalashnikov wanted to be a famous poet. Young Mikhail did grow up to be famous, but not for his words. The weapon that bears his name — the AK47 (A for automatic, K for Kalashnikov, 47 for the year it went into production) — is the world’s most used firearm. In his book AK47: The Story of the People’s Gun, Michael Hodges estimated there was one Kalashnikov for every 35 people on planet earth — over 200 million in circulation. That number has only risen in the 13 years since. War has a way of warping dreams.
The AK-47 is a symbol of a different era, an enduring icon of an ageing form of warfare. But we live in a new era — one in which autonomous weapons can increasingly carry out bloody missions with little or no human intervention. The story of the AK-47 — of a weapon created to serve the aims of a state (the Soviet Union) becoming the tool of revolutionaries, terrorists, and other non-state actors the world over because of its affordability, resilience, durability, and replicability — signposts where we’re headed…
Read the rest here: Slaughterbots!
As usual, I’ve put out five episodes of The Paper Thing. You can watch them all on YouTube if you want to overdose on cursed newspaper content or just catch the latest one below:
Here are some tweets I enjoyed that you might too:
…and some articles that you might also enjoy:
1. ‘Studies in Power’: An Interview with Robert Caro
Caro has written and, in fact, is still writing1 a vast multi-volume biography of Lyndon B. Johnson. This interview with him from 2018 for The New York Review of Books is an interesting discussion of how a biographer works and digging ever deeper into the archives:
More than many biographers, you do extensive field research. What do you find in the field you might not find in a library or on the internet?
… I go to get a sense of place. I think the sense of place is just as important in non-fiction as it is in fiction. I’m convinced that whenever you go into the field, whether you know it or not, you’re absorbing a lot…
Sometimes, you find insights in some surprising places. While working on my first book [about Robert Moses], The Power Broker, at a certain moment, we’d run through a $5,000 advance and needed money to finish the book. To buy some more time for me to write it, Ina sold our house on Long Island and we moved to an apartment in Riverdale.
From our window there, we could see the very spot where the Hudson River and the Harlem River came together. It’s at the Henry Hudson Bridge, built by Robert Moses. I later learned that Moses had actually changed the course of the river by doing this! Whenever I looked out of my window, I thought, “My God, this is a guy who changed the very landscape of New York, the physical contours.”
The scope of what he did: it was staring me in the face.
Read on here.
2. I’ve been watching a lot of Atlanta this week so I went back to this remarkable — more because of its subject than its writer, it has to be said2 — profile of Donald Glover for The New Yorker — Donald Glover Can’t Save You:
As Legend bustled over to show me the giraffe, Glover said that he thinks of reality as a program and his talent as hacking the code: “I learn fast—I figured out the algorithm.” Grasping the machine’s logic had risks. “When people become depressed and kill themselves, it’s because all they see is the algorithm, the loop,” he said. But it was also exhilarating. When he was ten, he said, “I realized, if I want to be good at P.E., I have to be good at basketball. So I went home and shot baskets in our driveway for six hours, until my mother called me in. The next day, I was good enough that you wouldn’t notice I was bad. And I realized my superpower.”
During a lunch break on set one day, in the gym of a Baptist church, I had watched Glover play 21 against five crew members. He made three long jumpers, then began charging the lane to launch Steph Curry-style runners—stylish, ineffective forays facilitated by the crew’s reluctance to play tough D. “It sounds like I’m sucking my own dick—‘Oh, he thinks he’s great at everything,’ ” he said now, leaning forward. “But what if you had that power?”
Read the rest here.
3. ‘I was so scared for my kids’. The Wembley Euro 2020 final debacle – witness accounts from The Athletic. This is a powerful piece of journalism achieved by running eye witness accounts of the events at Wembley on the day of the Euro 2020 final without any editorialising to connect them together:
“I did speak to one guy in the queue for the toilets who told me as he entered the turnstiles, a man put his arms around him from behind and said in his ear, ‘Shut the fuck up or I’ll stab you’ before barging through the turnstile
It’s not an easy read but you should read the rest here.
4. On Janet Malcolm from N Plus One. An article about the recently departed Janet Malcolm, who had already attained legendary status before her death, and the techniques she used to describe and quietly fillet people in her work, this piece by Richard Beck needs to be read as a whole so I’m not picking out a quote and just giving you this link instead.
Things that I watched this week that you might like too:
The excellent but sadly departed David Carr talks to Wes Anderson and Ralph Fiennes around the time of The Grand Budapest Hotel. If you have an allergy to pretension and luvviness, you may want to skip this one.
The Undertaker’s greatest ring entrances (as recommended by undead political advisor Dominic Cummings on his own Substack)
And finally, Alan Partridge’s Bond narration added to the actual opening of The Spy Who Loved Me as a palette cleanser.
And finally, finally
Here’s some music you might enjoy (a mix of hip-hop and other stuff I made to distract myself from the world):
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As ever, thanks for reading, sharing and supporting this newsletter. I really appreciate it.
Caro has been working on the project since 1977, four years after Johnson’s death.
It includes a number of absolutely howlingly awful metaphors and analogies.