Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 17th, 2020

Jack Reacher, Prospero, and Lee Child

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I’m a big Lee Child fan, right up there close to Barry Eisler (who I think is a bit better). I liked this article in Crime Reads by Heather Martin (author of a biography of Lee Child/Jim Grant):

The boy who would one day become Lee Child was eleven years old when the light dawned. He was on the number 16 bus, heading home from King Edward’s School to Handsworth Wood in Birmingham and reading Ian Fleming’s Dr No. He may have been smoking—he’d found his first pack of ten Rothman’s King Size on the very same route just a few months earlier. He loved it from the first drag.

Earlier that day, he’d been reading ‘Theseus and the Minotaur’ at school. His Latin master rated the eleven-year-old Jim Grant highly: ‘Has gone from good to very good,’ read his report in Autumn 1965; then in Summer 1966: ‘Clever boy: with clever classmates would shoot ahead.’ 

Even on his own he was doing OK, and it struck him like an epiphany: ‘Theseus and the Minotaur’ and Dr No ‘were exactly the same story in every beat and every plot point’. The same stories were being told over and over again, and the better they were the more often they were told, and the more often people wanted to hear them and the more popular they became. Increase of appetite grows by what it feeds on. ‘It was the study of Latin poetry that taught me all I needed to know about genre writing,’ he would tell an assembly of academics at the Graduate Center on New York’s Fifth Avenue more than fifty years later. Together with, he might have added, a healthy dollop of James Bond.

In 2010 the author of the bestselling Jack Reacher series wrote an essay on Theseus for Thrillers: 100 Must Reads (ed. David Morrell and Hank Wagner), laying bare the prototype:

I first read this tale, in Latin, as a schoolboy. There was something about the story elements that nagged at me. I tried to reduce the specifics to generalities and arrived at a basic shape: Two superpowers in an uneasy standoff; a young man of rank acting alone and shouldering personal responsibility for a crucial outcome; a strategic alliance with a young woman from the other side; a major role for a gadget; an underground facility; an all-powerful opponent with a grotesque sidekick; a fight to the death; an escape; the cynical abandonment of the temporary female ally; the return home to a welcome that was partly grateful and partly scandalised.

My own Eureka moment came when I re-read The TempestUnbearably pretentious—I could hear Child’s judgement ringing in my ears. But I couldn’t really agree. This wasn’t a Bloomian question of canon or hierarchy; only a time traveller from the 2400s can say whether or not we are still reading Reacher in four centuries’ time. But we routinely tout the universality of Shakespeare. We marvel at how his language has shaped and permeates ours, and how it continues to do so. If this means anything, then it must be that his writing always already inhabits the writing of others, as do the Greek myths—and not just some select others, an intellectual elite approved by the arbiters of taste, but embracing all humankind equally. Shakespeare spoke to the rude mechanicals and the groundlings as much as the court, just as Child addresses the professionals at the centre of the literary universe as much as the one-book-a-year consumers that in his preferred analogy he typically locates on the outer rings of Saturn.

Naturally, having delved into the dark backward and abysm of time to write Lee Child’s biography and full knowing his undying love for the ‘sheer incandescent beauty of Shakespeare’s verse’, there was an element of confirmation bias in my perception of a bond between these disparate writers. Both are men of Warwickshire, and both were educated by the King Edward’s Foundation of grammar schools. Coventry, the city of Jim Grant’s birth, features prominently in Henry IV, Part 1, and just as the teenage Shakespeare would regularly walk there from Stratford-upon-Avon to watch the mystery plays, so too would Jim—a fan since the age of nine, when his father took him to see Henry IV, Part 2—catch the bus to Stratford to seek out the latest production by the Royal Shakespeare Company. As a teenager he interned there, and in 1970, on the cusp of Sixth Form, was backstage when Ian Richardson and Ben Kingsley played Prospero and Ariel, and Peter Brook first staged his seismic Dream. In 1973 he did sound and lighting for the Brook-inspired school production of The Tempest and at Sheffield University, where he spent four years in the Drama Studio while ostensibly studying Law, took as one of his early aliases ‘Richard Strange’, drawn directly from the song in which Ariel leads the distraught Ferdinand to believe that his father, Alonso, lies full fathom five beneath the ocean waves, transformed into something ‘rich and strange’ with bones of coral made and pearls that were his eyes. The programme notes for Ibsen’s A Doll’s House record that design was by Jim Grant and publicity by Richard Strange; Grant received a rave review for his stagecraft in the Sheffield Evening Telegraph.

But as always, too, there were echoes of  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 December 2020 at 5:42 pm

Posted in Books, Education

Protecting the new Mac

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I’m gradually getting the new MacBook Air set up, and I found this useful page about protective software: antivirus, anti-malware, firewall. The ranked list of the software packages is worth looking at if you have a Mac. I went with their top pick, Intego Mac Internet Security X9 (full review at the link). Easy install, and all the programs (VirusBarrier, NetBarrier, NetUpdater) are now active.

And of course I did an immediate full scan of my computer — over 1.2 million files (!), no problems.

Written by Leisureguy

17 December 2020 at 3:36 pm

John O. Brennan on Life in the CIA

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Tyler Cowen interviews John Brennan:

Growing up in a working-class city in New Jersey, John Brennan’s father was an Irish immigrant who always impressed upon his children how grateful they should be to be American citizens. That deeply-instilled patriotism and the sense of right and wrong emphasized by his Catholic upbringing would lead John first to become an intelligence officer and then eventually Director of the CIA. His new memoir, which Tyler found substantive on every page, recounts that career journey.

John joined Tyler to discuss what working in intelligence taught him about people’s motivations, how his Catholic upbringing prepared him for working in intelligence, the similarities between working at the CIA and entering the priesthood, his ability to synthetize information from disparate sources, his assessment on the possibility of alien life, the efficacy of personality tests and polygraphs, why CIA agents are so punctual, how the CIA plans to remain a competitive recruiter for top talent, the challenges that spouses and family members of intelligence workers face, the impact of modern technology on spycraft, why he doesn’t support the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, his favorite parts of Cairo, the pros and cons of the recent Middle Eastern peace deal brokered by Jared Kushner, the reasons he thinks we should leverage American culture more abroad, JFK conspiracy theories, why there seemed to be much less foreign interference in the 2020 election than experts predicted, what John le Carré got right about being a spy, why most spies aren’t like James Bond, what he would change about FISA courts, and more.

TYLER COWEN: Today, I am here with John O. Brennan, who is former director of the CIA. John has a new book out, called Undaunted: My Fight against America’s Enemies, at Home and Abroad. Many public-sector memoirs are rather blah. This I found interesting, entertaining, and substantive on every page. John, welcome.

JOHN O. BRENNAN: Thank you, Tyler. It’s good to be with you.

COWEN: What truths about human nature or human behavior do you think intelligence officials appreciate but few others do?

BRENNAN: I guess those who are involved in the conduct of espionage really understand that individuals will have vulnerabilities as well as areas of particular interest that they want to either pursue or protect. Case officers — in the CIA parlance, the ones that go out and actually recruit spies to conduct espionage against their countries — I think really seek out those areas that could be, in fact, exploited — vulnerabilities or otherwise.

Or people have, again, certain lifelong ambitions, goals. For a lot of people who live overseas, it’s getting to the United States and bringing their families to the United States. When you’re in CIA and you have a lot of interactions with people overseas, I think you appreciate some of those similarities, as well as those unique qualities that people bring to the fore.

COWEN: Now, your background is from the blue-collar county, Hudson County, in northern New Jersey. How do you feel that influences your views on human behavior or temperament?

BRENNAN: There are a number of things about my upbringing in Hudson County. The son of an immigrant — my father emigrated from Ireland in 1948 when he was 28 years old. Always impressed upon my siblings and myself just how special it was to be an American citizen and never to take for granted the fact that we were by dint of our birth because my father used to complain, it’s usually the people who were born here that took it for granted, not those who struggle for the good part of their lives to get here.

Growing up in a blue-collar, working-class neighborhood really allowed me to appreciate some of the challenges, difficulties that average Americans face on a daily basis, how a lot of people are just struggling to make sure that their families are fed, that their children are educated, that they can enjoy what life has to offer here in the United States. I didn’t grow up in a privileged environment by any means.

Sometimes my father was out of work, and he had to pick up part-time jobs just to make sure that there was money for my mother and father to be able to buy groceries for us to eat. I felt as though it really gave me a good perspective on what life, quite frankly, for most Americans is like.

COWEN: How many CIA agents might have once entered the priesthood?

BRENNAN: CIA agents, first of all, refers to those foreign citizens who are recruited by CIA case officers to spy against their countries. It’s referred to as CIA officers or CIA case officers.

COWEN: The broader notion.

BRENNAN: CIA employees. There are similarities between those who decide to go into the priesthood and those who decide to go into the work of the intelligence community. As I said in my book, I was planning to become a priest and the first American pope, but then decided to go on a different path. I met a number of people throughout my CIA career who had similar types of, at least early, ambitions and goals.

COWEN: How do you think having been raised Catholic affects your worldview on intelligence gathering and human nature and how people will behave? . . .

Continue reading. You can listen to the interview at the link. You can also watch a video of the conversation here.

Written by Leisureguy

17 December 2020 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Hard-reset results, cont’d

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My blood glucose this morning was 5.6 mmol/L, lowest possible “pre-diabetic” reading. This week (Sunday to today): 5.1, 5.4, 5.7, 5.5, 5.6. Of those 5 readings, 3 are in the “normal” range. My goal for next week: all 7 readings in the normal range.

And the reset continues to be surprisingly easy because i know the ropes from having done it before and worked out my routine. As the saying is, “It’s like riding a bike,” enjoying both a sense of familiarity and of novelty, something like returning to one’s home town after a decade’s absence.

I blog about this because, given how common diabetes has become, I feel certain that it afflicts some of my readers.

Written by Leisureguy

17 December 2020 at 12:02 pm

Propaganda is good — and so is the RazoRock MJ90A

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Not all propaganda is good, of course, but Dr. Jon’s Handcrafted Propaganda is excellent, even here in the original version (or “volume”). I will soon know what Propaganda is like in its Vol. 3 incarnation, which I ordered because (a) I like its fragrance (vanilla, sandalwood, mandarin, patchouli, and musk) so much, and (b) I like the Vol. 3 base so much.

My pre-Vulfix Simpson Emperor 3 Super has a wonderful knot and an extremely comfortable handle, and it did a fine job on the lather, which the RazoRock MJ90A comfortably removed, along with the stubble. The MJ90A is the Edwin Jagger head made right.

A splash of Hâttric ended the shave with an alluring fragrance — a great way to start the day.

Written by Leisureguy

17 December 2020 at 9:42 am

Posted in Shaving

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