Later On

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Archive for February 3rd, 2018

Bill Gates: “Eddie Izzard is a comic genius”

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Bill Gates writes on his blog:

I’ve recently discovered that I have a lot in common with a funny, dyslexic, transgender actor, comedian, escape artist, unicyclist, ultra-marathoner, and pilot from Great Britain. Except all of the above.

Eddie Izzard is one of my favorite performers. Melinda and I had the pleasure of seeing one of his comedy shows live in London, and then we got to talk with him backstage after the show. So I was excited to pick up his autobiography, Believe Me. It was there that I learned for the first time that Izzard and I share a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses.

As a child, Eddie was nerdy, awkward, and incompetent at flirting with girls. He had terrible handwriting. He was good at math. He was highly motivated to learn everything he could about subjects that interested him. He left college at age 19 to pursue his professional dreams. He had a loving mom who died of cancer way too young.

I can relate to every one of these things.

You might find you share similarities with Eddie as well. In fact, that’s the overarching point of this book. We’re all cut from the same cloth. In his words, “We are all totally different, but we are all exactly the same.”

If you’ve never seen Eddie perform his stand-up routine, you’re missing out. Like Monty Python, he often draws from real historical figures, such as Shakespeare or Charlemagne, and comes up with hilarious riffs, many of them improvised. And like other super talented comedians like Robin Williams and Tom Hanks, he’s also great in serious dramatic roles. (He recently appeared in the movie Victoria and Abdul, with Dame Judi Dench.) He even talks semi-seriously about running for Parliament.

Despite all those gifts, I’m not sure I’d recommend this book for those who’ve never seen Eddie perform. There are some comedians, such as David Sedaris and George Carlin, whose books would make perfect sense even if you haven’t seen their act. That’s not the case here. You have to witness his brand of surreal, intellectual, self-deprecating humor. Otherwise, it will be like you’re walking into the middle of a conversation.

But if you have seen Eddie’s stuff and you like it—here’s a typical bit, a riff on Pavlov’s dogs—I promise you’ll love this book. You’ll see that his written voice is very similar to his stage voice. You’ll also see that the book provides not just laugh-out-loud moments but also a lot of touching insights into how little Edward Izzard, a kid with only a hint of performing talent, became an international star.

The book begins with . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2018 at 2:39 pm

Posted in Books, Comedy, Daily life

The cult of Mary Beard

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Mary Beard is a good writer and, based on the following article in the Guardian, and interesting person to boot. Charlotte Higgins writes:

The first time I saw Mary Beard, I was 17. It was 1989, and she was speaking at a joint open day for the Oxford and Cambridge classics faculties. She was utterly unlike the other speakers, who, as I recall them, were Oxbridge dons straight from central casting: tweedy, forbidding, male. Instead of standing at a lectern like everyone else, she perched rakishly on the edge of a desk. She was dressed in a vaguely hippyish, embroidered black dress, and a cascade of black hair tumbled around her shoulders. Greg Woolf, now director of the Institute of Classical Studies at the University of London, recalls another one of those open days, in the early 1990s. “I spoke, and then another big hairy bloke like me spoke. And then Mary came on and said: ‘Well, you’ve heard what the boys have got to say.’ And you could see that she’d already won everyone’s hearts.”

Everyone who has met Beard seems to have a story about encountering her for the first time – usually involving her rigorous intellect, her total lack of formality, and her sense of mischief. One of her former students, Emily Kneebone, remembers supervisions – one-to-one or two-to-one teaching sessions – at Newnham, the women-only Cambridge college to which Beard has been attached for most of her adult life, first as a student, then as a don. She would teach from a chaise longue: “At first she’d be in a normal position, but as the hour progressed she would gradually slide further and further down so you could only see her feet.” One junior colleague still remembers Beard introducing herself, at a conference almost 25 years ago, with the overture, “Give us a fag, darlin’.”

In public, in private and in her academic writing she is sceptical, wary of consensus, the kind of person who will turn any question back on itself and examine it from an unexpected angle. She is not afraid to take apart her own work: at that same conference in the early 1990s, she presented a paper that repudiated one of the scholarly articles that had helped make her name a decade earlier, an influential study of Rome’s Vestal Virgins. It was an extremely unusual thing for a scholar to do. “She doesn’t let herself off – she’s not one of those scholars who is building an unassailable monument of work to leave behind her,” Woolf said. “She is quite happy to go back to her earlier self and say, ‘Nah.’”

The learned but approachable figure you see on TV translating Latin inscriptions, carving up a pizza to explain the division of the Roman empire, or arguing about public services on Question Time, is precisely the Beard you encounter in private, except that in real life, she swears magnificently and often. (“She’s always spoken fluent Anglo-Saxon,” said Woolf.) In a Greek restaurant in London one January afternoon, her long grey hair uncharacteristically glossy and fresh from the stylist, Beard talked about everything from Islamic State to academic freedom. At one point, she sketched out an argument for a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. Her case rested on the very nature of democracy, for which the presence of a ballot box was a necessary but not sufficient condition. Democracy cannot properly operate without knowledge, she said – which the entire electorate of summer 2016 lacked. (“Aristophanes knew that!”) The referendum then, should not be treated as the final word, she said, but as a straw vote. “Sure, say we want to leave, but you can only in the end say we are going to leave when we know what it means. Otherwise,” she said, “it’s just wanking in the dark.” Thinking I had misheard, I asked her to repeat. “Wanking in the dark,” repeated Beard, at volume. Later in the conversation, she told me she was planning to get a pink streak in her hair. “I’m fucking well going to have one: it just feels like such fun.”

Beard is a celebrity, a national treasure, and easily the world’s most famous classicist. Her latest book, Women and Power, about the long history of the silencing of female voices, was a Christmas bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic. In the eight years since her debut TV documentary, Pompeii, she has conquered the small screen. She is one of a trio of presenters who will, in March, front Civilisations – a new, big-budget version of Kenneth Clark’s 1969 series Civilisation, the most revered cultural TV series in the BBC’s history.

A mark of her leap into the celebrity stratosphere is the avalanche of daily requests she receives. These have included, aside from several politely declined offers of a makeover from the Daily Mail, invitations (also politely declined) to appear on the diving show Splash!, on the celebrity version of The Great British Bake Off and on Celebrity Mastermind. Of the last she said: “God, just imagine it. Either you’d look like a complete nerd or everyone would be saying, ‘She doesn’t know a thing.’”

Out and about, she is regularly flagged down by fans, often, but not always, young women. (One admirer, Megan Beech, published a poem called When I Grow Up I Want to Be Mary Beard – a phrase that now adorns T-shirts worn by her fans. Characteristically, Beard befriended Beech after they connected on social media, and Beech is now studying for a PhD at Newnham.) Caterina Turroni, a television producer who has worked with Beard since the Pompeii documentary, recalled filming with her in Tiberius’s villa on Capri in 2013, when a party of English schoolgirls spotted the cameras. “You could hear them saying, ‘What if it’s her?’ ‘Do you think it’s really her?’ and then they saw her and they went insane – it was like they’d seen a boyband.”

As recently as a decade ago, it would have seemed unlikely, even outlandish, that a middle-aged classics don, her appearance a million miles away from the groomed perfection expected of women in the public sphere, would end up so famous and, by and large, so loved. That unlikeliness was summed up by notorious reviews of her early programmes in the Sunday Times by the late TV critic AA Gill, who mocked what he called her “corpses’ teeth” and, in 2012, declared that she ought to be “kept away from cameras altogether”. But it was Gill who was out of tune with the times. Beard hit back in the Daily Mail, pointing out that “There have always been men like Gill who are frightened of smart women who speak their minds”, and that “The point is not what I look like, but what I do.” She struck a chord. “I thought that most of the readers’ comments would be negative,” she told me in December, “but many more of them were positive. The Mail’s demographic, after all, is women my age – and who look like me, not like Joanna Lumley.”

Since then, Beard has become a standard-bearer for middle-aged women, and beloved by the young – indeed, by anyone who wants to be seen in terms of their ideas, not their looks; anyone who think it’s cool to be smart; and by those who relentlessly ask questions and never reject a contrary opinion out of hand. Beard’s intellectual style, which suffuses all her scholarship – a commitment to rigorous scepticism that refuses to be cynical – has made her a model for those who worry that the shouting and bullying of the digital world make reasoned political debate impossible.

Beard radiates authority and expertise, but she does not hesitate to get mixed up in messy public arguments, which often puts her on the frontline of the culture wars. Last year, when a far-right conspiracy theorist attacked a BBC cartoon that showed a man of sub-Saharan appearance as a Roman in Britain – political correctness gone mad! – Beard calmly stepped in to explain there was in fact “plenty of firm evidence for ethnic diversity in Roman Britain”. Her expert intervention was met with a what she later described as a “torrent of aggressive insults, on everything from my historical competence and elitist ivory tower viewpoint to my age, shape and gender”.

For most people, this would be a cautionary tale; for Beard, it was evidence that such battles cannot be shirked. Embedded in her refusal to be silenced, in her endless online engagement, is a kind of optimism: the idealistic, perhaps totally unrealistic, notion that if only we listened to each other, if only we argued more cogently, more tolerantly and with better grace, then we could make public discourse something better than it is.

Beard exemplifies something rare, said Jonty Claypole, the BBC’s director of arts and one of the executive producers of the new Civilisations. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2018 at 2:36 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Education

How to Not Die in America

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It’s not so easy as you might think. Molly Osberg writes in Splinter:

On the second Tuesday in June, I start to feel fluish. If this is 2016 and I’m still a freelance writer, I’m losing money immediately on the assignments I can’t complete because my vision is blurry and my thoughts are erratic. If this is 2013, I am soon taken off the roster at the cafe where I work.

I am out of my mind with anxiety as I hobble to the clinic, sweating, and pay $60 for cough syrup, $300 for the 10-minute visit (if I even have that in the bank; it’s about a week’s worth of my earnings slinging coffee). Once I realize I can’t keep down the cough syrup and start spitting up bile, maybe I’m so feverish and broke I stay in bed without realizing the bacteria I’ve inhaled is more lethal than the flu. So perhaps I just up and die right there.

But let’s say I somehow make it to the hospital. A friend drives me, because a 15-minute ambulance ride can cost nearly $2,000, which I don’t have. I’m struggling financially and I’ve fallen behind on my ACA payments. My friend realizes in the car I’m not making any sense, and that’s because my organs have already begun to shut down. My temperature is well over 100. When the doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong, they submit me to a credit check before advanced treatment.

My credit is awful. I have a massive, unpaid bill from a few years back when someone made international calls on my stolen phone. Maybe, because of this, I’m transferred to a public hospital, where there aren’t 20-odd specialists to arrange an “unusual” surgery. Doctors are required to stabilize a patient, but they aren’t required to, say, stabilize a patient just long enough to keep them breathing and take them to another hospital with a full infectious disease wing to do something risky. So maybe that’s when I die, before they even figure out what’s wrong, because I’m not the type of patient whose financial health can support an elaborate, life-saving procedure.

But even if the hospital could be convinced to ignore my distinct lack of liquidity, in one of these alternate timelines I don’t have a parent with the time and language skills and resources to come down to New York and negotiate with doctors who need a legal surrogate to parse a series of difficult options. It’s not like I can do it myself, in a medically induced coma. And already, two days after being admitted, I am racking up bills for anesthesia, the input of six specialists, radiology, and antibiotics that come to nearly $30,000. And without the treatment, which costs an additional $12,705 for just for a few hours of the surgeon’s time, I am dead.

Let’s imagine, though, that I get lucky and my mother makes it to New York in time. She demands they do anything within their power to save me and puts up for the surgery, using her own credit. She convinces the paper-pushers she’s good for the bills. I am, after all, her only child. I’m in the ICU for 10 days; the baseline cost can be up to $10,000 a night, which doesn’t include the ventilators, the sensors, the multiple IV drips jacked directly into my neck.

By the time I’m out of the hospital, we have been billed $642,650.76. If this is a few years earlier, the well-regarded medical center where I have just spent nearly a month is flat-out refusing requests for financial aid, sending bills for emergency surgery to a collection agency that puts liens on the homes of patients’ families and forces them to foreclose. I’m probably not aware this is happening until I’m back in my apartment, on a three-times-daily schedule of antibiotic IV treatments, which have to be administered by a home nurse. She’s expensive.

In this version of the story, I have survived, but been without a paycheck for the better part of the summer. Around the time I run out of oxycodone and start waking up in tears, completely paralyzed by pain, the medical bills have begun to pile up on my stoop. I am woozy, spending long, featureless days in bed, trying to remember what kind of person I had been before I went under, and I need help to raise my scooped-out torso from bed. I can’t lift anything or cook for myself or walk more than a block. Maybe I fester for awhile in a rehab center, in the absence of there being anyone readily available to make sure I don’t waste away.

Never mind recovering physically or financially in any of these scenarios: I can’t imagine surviving emotionally, fielding calls from collections agents, facing eviction, waiting for the pain meds to hit so I can keep at a futile job search with an IV still dangling from my side. I am 29 years old, with no pre-existing conditions before this moment, and I am unemployed and exhausted and in pain all the time.


Of course, this is not what happened to me. I am not one of the 28 million Americans who are completely uninsured, or one of the 45,000 people who die every year for lack of coverage. I am not one of the 3/4 of U.S. citizens who don’t have access to paid sick leave, and I don’t live in one of the 45 states without short-term disability plans. I’m not one of the 30 percent of insured consumerswho are slapped with hefty surprise bills after a hospital visit. Which is why I did not become one of the millions of people who default on their medical debt every year, regularly making healthcare bills the leading cause of bankruptcy in this country.

Instead, on that second Tuesday in June 2017, I found myself in what I worry could be a fleeting moment in my life, one in which the institutions around me find it advantageous to protect rather than screw me. I find it baffling that, since my illness, well-meaning people have repeatedly referred to me as a “survivor,” as if the fact that I got to go on with my life had to do with some inherent moral strength, rather than the material forces put in motion long before I got sick.

That whole week last June, I worked from home, assuring my editor I’d be back in the office shortly. “I haven’t been this sick since I was, like, 8 years old dude!” I told her over Slack, the same day I would be put into quarantine. We have generous time-off policies in our newsroom, thanks in large part to our union. I was told to rest and get better. I didn’t.

A major feature of a person’s twenties is that while you’re ostensibly old enough to take care of yourself, you haven’t really lived through enough to be cautious. As someone with a pack-a-day habit, I got a little sick every year, and my response was to sleep (or work, or drink) through it until the issue somehow resolved. Before 2017 I don’t think I’d been to a doctor in about five years—though as was later reiterated to me by one chagrined specialist after another, my abysmal life choices up to that point didn’t end up making much of a difference.

Either from feverishness or denial, the conviction that I was simply a little sick remained well past any logical point. I have health insurance now, but I’ve spent portions of my life without it, and with my organs sputtering and a spiking fever I wasn’t exactly thinking clearly. I thought of the friend stuck with thousands of dollars in bills, picked up by an ambulance after a bike accident. Call it a reflexive reaction to living in a country where one-third of the population delays medical care out of concern for the cost.

After a weekend of still feeling off-kilter, I went to a clinic for cough syrup, which I quickly found I couldn’t keep down. Two days later, sweaty and half out of my mind, I stumbled back to the same clinic. I’d tried to brush my teeth and ended up spewing bile. The doctor didn’t even examine me: “The only way you’re leaving here is in an ambulance,” she told me. She wanted to call the hospital: I protested, still of the opinion that a hospital visit would be too pricey. I called a friend, who called a car, and we drove to the closest ER.

The sheer number of doctors involved in emergency medical care—especially when the cause of illness is unknown—can be staggering. Often, once a person is sick enough not to know what’s going on, an army of costly specialists are called in. Doctors with the highest out-of-network markups are the ones patients are unlikely to choose themselves: pathologists, anesthesiologists, emergency medical doctors.

I encountered them all when I was admitted to a Brooklyn hospital, though I only remember a fraction of the people who tried to puzzle out what was sending my body into septic shock. According to my medical records I saw six specialists in 40 hours. There was the anesthesiologist who assuaged my terror when I was put under for a bronchoscopy (I was afraid I’d wake up with a camera down my larynx), the infectious disease doctors who asked me about my sex life, how often I got high, my last period, whether I’d been anywhere near livestock.

For awhile the theory was that I had toxic shock; they poked around for a tampon, didn’t find one. There was a mass near my lung, but it wasn’t cancer, despite what one doctor seemed to think. I was put into quarantine and texted a friend, desperately cheerful: “They’re treating me like a patient in world war Z right now.” The joke was short-lived when I started playing scenes from those films in my head. I added: “I’m jusyrinf nor to panic everyone like I’m dying lol.”

I was having an awful lot of trouble breathing. My liver and kidneys had begun to shut down, and I was informed something was off with a valve in my heart. My hands and feet turned bright red. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2018 at 1:17 pm

Not an urgent concern for me, but interesting: ‘Class-passing’: how do you learn the rules of being rich?

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Arwa Mahdawi writes in the Guardian:

On an October night in 2003, a flat tire changed Muhammad Faridi’s life forever.

Faridi was 20. An immigrant who’d moved from a small village in Pakistan to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn when he was 12, he split his time studying at City University of New York during the day, and driving his dad’s cab at night to make money.

One of his professors had organized a human rights conference in New Jersey and, knowing about Faridi’s side job, asked him to drive the woman delivering the keynote lecture to the conference and back. And that’s what Faridi was doing until he got a flat and had to pull over in the dark on the side of Route 80. As it turned out, Faridi’s passenger was Mary Robinson: the first female president of Ireland and the United Nations high commissioner for human rights from 1997 to 2002.

It took Faridi a while to change the tire – everything seemed to be going wrong that night – and as he was struggling with the car jack, the two got talking.

It was coming up to the second anniversary of 9/11 and Faridi told Robinson that, as a Muslim, he was no longer sure what his place was in America. A lot of his Pakistani friends had been rounded up in immigration raids and had been deported. “You’ve got to become a lawyer,” Robinson told Faridi firmly. That would be the best way to help his community. Her words stuck with him.

Fast forward 14 years, and Faridi is a partner at a prestigious New York law firm. As a kid, Faridi’s loftiest goal was maybe one day being a limo driver, doing just a little better than his father. He never thought he’d be where he is today: conducting billion-dollar lawsuits and leading pro bono cases, representing Muslim community centers and death row inmates.

’m talking to Faridi in his plush office on the 30th floor of a fancy Manhattan skyscraper. Our conversation is part of a number of interviews I’m conducting with people who have dramatically changed their social class. I want to find out what it’s like to be a class “migrant”. What you learn when you journey from one socioeconomic group to another, and whether it takes an emotional toll.

Stories like Faridi’s are becoming increasingly rare. Economic mobility has fallen steeply in America over the last few decades; one study estimates it has almost halved since 1940. Increasingly, your class is your destiny. Nevertheless, the country remains enamored of these rags-to-riches tales which perpetuate the myth that, in the US, anything is possible if you pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

It’s not just hard work that propels you up the social ladder. Success, as Faridi stresses repeatedly, is often large parts luck. But there’s also another, less tangible ingredient involved: “class-passing”.

In the UK, class consciousness is woven into the national identity. In America, however, people often like to pretend that a class system doesn’t really exist. But, of course, it does.

Going from a taxi driver’s son to a partner at a law firm isn’t just about academic qualifications. It’s also a matter of figuring out the right social cues. You have to understand the subtle signifiers that indicate to people that you’re one of them – whether that be the way you hold your fork, where you go on holiday or what brand of shoes you wear.

As a young lawyer, Faridi spent large amounts of time trying to figure out how to crack the unspoken conventions of his new world. How to dress, for example. “I remember wearing a lot of cufflinks, because that was the thing to do,” he says.

Fancy lunches with clients also became a minefield. “I was very nervous about how to pick up the cutlery so I watched a bunch of YouTube videos on proper ways to handle silverwear,” he says. Faridi grew up in a Muslim household, where you get taught to eat with your right hand. According to YouTube, Faridi chuckles, “the proper way of putting food in your mouth is by using your left hand. And I remember having a lot of discomfort with that because it was something I’d never done before.”

In law school, Faridi clerked for a judge. One night, he helped the judge load some heavy documents into a taxi; the driver was his father. Faridi froze, not sure what to do. “I was embarrassed to go over and shake [my father’s] hand, so I waited until the judge had already gotten in the cab. I didn’t want the judge to see me, and I didn’t want my father to think that I was embarrassed to see him.”

It wasn’t until he made partner in 2016 that Faridi lost his sense of embarrassment. After the big announcement, he remembers, he took the elevator down to the bottom of the building, where his dad was waiting in his taxi. “And he came out of the cab and we hugged each other for a good couple of minutes.”

But there’s still a gulf between his new life and his old. His best friends from high school work as cab drivers and busboys or in Pathmark, a major supermarket chain, and he doesn’t get invited to poker nights at their houses. “None of them came to my wedding,” Faridi says sadly.

While he’s proud of everything he’s achieved, there is part of him that mourns the person he used to be.

***

Donnel Baird spent part of his childhood in Brooklyn. In the years since, the borough has rapidly gentrified, and so has Baird. We’re chatting in a WeWork co-working office in the pricey Dumbo neighbourhood, where Baird is the CEO and founder of BlocPower, a clean-energy startup that has raised over $1m in funding from some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names – including Andreessen Horowitz, which has invested in the likes of Twitter and Airbnb.

BlocPower had $4m in revenue in 2017 and has a contract to perform sustainability retrofits of 500 buildings in Brooklyn. It likely won’t be long before the company outgrows its current office space.

There weren’t any trendy office spaces in Baird’s Bed-Stuy neighbourhood when he was a kid. Co-living, on the other hand, was common. He lived with his parents and sister in a in a one-bedroom apartment; two aunts and five of his cousins lived in a studio upstairs. They shared a bathroom in the hall with another family.

Bed-Stuy in the 1980s was rough. Baird saw a teenager shoot another kid in the head when he was just six. It was all a far cry from the Baird family’s life in Guyana. Baird’s dad had had an important job and a big house, but in America they had to start from scratch. It took a toll on the marriage and, when Baird was eight, his parents split up and his mom moved with him down to Atlanta. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2018 at 1:13 pm

Late start by great shave: QED Special 218, iKon 102, and Anthony Gold Red Cedar aftershave

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Mr Pomp did an excellent job on QED’s old Special 218, a glycerin-based soap that shows what glycerin-based soaps are capable of, which includes a superb lather and a terrific cedar and pine fragrance.

The 102 is still my workhorse of choice, though now I use it with somewhat less pressure after being trained on the Fine.

A splash of Anthony Gold’s superb Red Cedar aftershave, and the weekend is underway, though with a delayed start. (Retirement party last night for a friend.)

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2018 at 11:34 am

Posted in Shaving

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