Van Cliburn, Octopus, Emeralds, Squirrels, Alaska, Nicholas Mosley


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Flesh-And-Blood Jukebox

Richard Taruskin | Times Literary Supplement | 1st March 2017

At the height of the Cold War in 1958 Louisiana-born Harvey Lavan “Van” Cliburn became the world’s most famous classical musician by winning the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, “a few months after Sputnik and a few months before the Cuban revolution”. The Russians rightly judged him a great pianist, potentially the equal of Richter, whose votes won the prize for him. But that was his zenith; afterwards, bloated and depressed, he “regressed into a conservatory jock” (4,600 words)

Eight Expectations

Charles Foster | Literary Review | 6th March 2017

The wonder of Nature that is the octopus: “It can squeeze through a hole the size of its eyeball. Its oesophagus tunnels through its brain, and the brain is sometimes skewered by a spiky mouthful of food. It smells and tastes with its arms, sees with its skin, plays with toys and craves novelty. It can turn off lights by squirting water at them, negotiate mazes, undo jam jars from the inside, carry round two halves of a coconut shell and assemble a house from them wherever it stops” (830 words)

The Curse Of The Bahia Emerald

Elizabeth Weil | Wired | 2nd March 2017

“In a vault controlled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, there sits a 752-pound emerald the size of a mini-fridge. Estimates of its worth range from a hundred bucks to $925 million. Four lawsuits have been filed over the Bahia emerald. Fourteen individuals or entities, plus the nation of Brazil, have claimed the rock. A house burned down. Three people filed for bankruptcy. Many of those involved say that the emerald is hellspawn, but they can’t let it go” (6,500 words)

Ice-Age Squirrels Of The Gulag

Sarah Zhang | Atlantic | 2nd March 2017

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn begins The Gulag Archipelago by remarking how prisoners in Siberia would find prehistoric animals preserved in ice — and eat them. Luckily for science, prisoners who found three mummified ice-age squirrels at Kolyma in 1946 gave them to the camp’s geologist. The animals’ DNA is now enabling scientists to reconstruct the evolution of the arctic ground squirrel. “The year 1946 was a hungry one in Kolyma. We should be thankful to those unnamed prisoners” (1,700 words)

Coming Into The Country

John McPhee | Work In Progress | 3rd March 2017

Extract from John McPhee’s classic travel-book about Alaska. “The sun, which two hours ago was behind the apex of a spruce across the Kitlik, is now far to the right of that and somewhat closer to the ground. All daywhile the sun describes a horseshoe around the margins of the sky, the light is of the rich kind that in more southern places comes at evening, heightening walls and shadowing eaves, bringing out of things the beauty of relief. It is ten-thirty, and about time for bed” (3,300 words)

Obituary: Nicholas Mosley

Ion Trewin | Guardian | 1st March 2017

Novelist; son and biographer of British fascist leader Oswald Mosley. Adulterous Oswald married Diana Mitford in secret at Joseph Goebbels’s house in 1936; Nicholas learned of the event two years later by way of a newspaper headline which said: “Hitler Was Sir Oswald’s Best Man”. He “chose to tell friends at Eton that it was a press invention”. At school he was nicknamed “Baby Blackshirt”. As a wartime captain in the British Army he grew used to being asked: “Not any relation of that bastard?” (1,800 words)

Video of the day: Moving The President

What to expect:

Logistics of a motorcade. The 40+ vehicles include a decoy limousine with identical plates to the president’s (12’02”)

Thought for the day

As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence
Lao Tzu

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