Weekend Things, W22–17
Just the two of us, seated at a small oval table
I’m back in Melbourne, clinging to Holiday Feelings and enjoying extreme jetlag (hello, 2:45am, where you been all my life). I walked back into the office on Thursday morning after three weeks away and felt like it was Day 1 all over again — so many new faces since I left, and so much to catch up on. I’m very glad for the long weekend ahead.
Thursday night was a Big Night for politics nerds, with James Comey testifying in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the UK voting in their General Election.
Many people noticed how precisely and elegantly expressed Comey’s opening letter to the Committee was. As my friend Susannah put it:
The detail in Comey’s statement is so beautiful, so diagetic, so calculated. The details that make it feel truthfully solid also give it the quality of fiction. ‘When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying…’
The UK Election went hilariously off the rails for the Tories, who had called the snap election expecting to be returned with an increased majority. There was a moment during the count when it seemed possible they wouldn’t even be able to form government, but in fact they’ve teamed up with the vile Ulster Unionists. I don’t know enough about it to be able to tell whether this is going to be a stable coalition, but I suppose for now at least, life continues horribly as usual.
The election was conducted just a few days after another nasty terrorist attack, this time on London Bridge and in the Borough Market where exactly a week earlier Sophie, Snaz and I had walked and eaten dinner. I find it hard to untangle my feelings about these events, which are magnified intensely and needlessly by the mainstream media. Unless you live in Kabul, there is very little reason to fear becoming a victim of ISIS — I ate about nine buttery pastries in Reykjavik which are much more likely to contribute to my early death than Islamist terrorists are — but last week I frequently caught myself imagining what I would do at this moment if a truck veered onto the footpath, or a man appeared in an explosive vest. I know that a lot of sensible people are severely limiting their news and social media intake to avoid provoking this kind of paranoid visualization, but I don’t think I’m ready to do that yet. I suppose it’s asking too much that the media modulates its response to these events?
You know how you could really increase your chances of dying? Climbing El Capitan without ropes. This is an unbelievable feat of strength and concentration — I wish this were plastered all over newspaper front pages.
Losing Gloria tells the story of what happens to the children of an undocumented Mexican immigrant when she is jailed and then deported from the United States. There is a lot about this story that is sad and shocking, but I was also amazed by the resilience and resourcefulness of the kids, and the respect the journalist paid the whole family by investigating so deeply.
In the same general area of Family Sadness, Helen Garner writes for the Monthly about Akon Guode, a South Sudanese refugee who murdered three of her young children in 2015 by driving her car into a lake. I find Garner’s fascination with this type of event creepy (I remember at the time commenting to Sophie that it would be a matter of minutes before Garner got a book out of it), but the circumstances of the crime, and Garner’s telling of it, are nonetheless compelling.
Kate Cole-Adams has been writing Anaesthesia: The Gift of Oblivion and the Mystery of Consciousness for about as long as I’ve known her — it’s very exciting to see it in the wild. She is a beautiful writer with an obsessive interest in the subject, and I can’t wait to read it (right after I finish The Ministry of Utmost Happiness).
[R]eason is an evolved trait, like bipedalism or three-color vision. It emerged on the savannas of Africa, and has to be understood in that context.
Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds is a fascinating look at the evolutionary basis for weaknesses in human reasoning; basically this is why there’s no point getting into fights on Facebook.