Larissa MacFarquhar on the Falkland Islands

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I harbor a mild but ongoing fascination with the wild, out of the way places that British people have decided they should inhabit; the far-flung islands, the unnavigable boggy moors, the places where there’s one house every few miles and people choose lonely, hard existence for whatever reason. St Helena, Dartmoor, the Hebrides, Pitcairn and so on.

Larissa MacFarquhar—one of the New Yorker writers I most enjoy—crystallizes what draws people to one of these places, the Falkland Islands, and happened when modern life arrived.

The manager might be the only local authority—he conducted marriages and assigned punishments; it was said that not long before Tim Blake came to Hill Cove a man there was fired for whistling.

Because drinking could be a problem, especially in winter, when there wasn’t much to do, the farm store rationed sales of alcohol. When a man grew too old for farmwork, he had to retire, which meant that he had to leave his house on the farm and move to Stanley.

But there was little for retired men to do in Stanley except go to the pub, and they often died soon afterward.

Photograph by Maroesjka Lavigne for The New Yorker.

The piece plays against convention, really. It has an arc, but it doesn’t really resolve. The people in the story only talk through her rather than through quotation or dialogue, aside from the odd moment when they are given space to speak in block quotes.

In fact there isn’t really a central character in the story, aside from the islands themselves, just a string of isolated stories that represent different strands of what has happened in the islands.

But I think I particularly enjoyed how carefully it avoided becoming a story about isolation. Obviously the pandemic creates a new window to view separation and distance—one that is easy to reflect back to the reader. She manages, though, to avoid hammering home the comparisons and finds a place for the story in the Now without ever giving in to it entirely.

Quietly powerful.

Week 27, 2020

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A REMARKABLE WEEK! I finished a book, as in properly-finished-closely-reading-for-fun, for the first time in three months. And then I finished another one! Things are pretty wild up in here.

(Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson and A Man by Keiichiro Hirano, if you’re interested. Only books with “man” in the title, apparently.)

The odd thing is that I’ve been totally blocked writing BRB, even though I don’t need to read new books in order to write about the ones I’ve already finished. I can feel that barrier has been removed now, though. Still, to keep up with my target of reading a book each week, I’m going to have to step up my game.


My stories this week: Quiet, because I’ve largely been in an editing hole on stories coming out later in the year. Magazine editing is like buying ideas on layaway. Still, work on the MITTR Contact Tracing Tracker continues, with lots of updates this week.

Things my friends have made: One of the last projects I did before joining Technology Review was helping The Appeal redesign and relaunch their website. It’s been really gratifying to see them keep growing and really doing great work, particularly since the Black Lives Matter protests have brought more scrutiny to policing. This Ethan Brown joint about the rise and fall of Jacklean Davis, the first black woman homicide detective in New Orleans and one of the investigators who helped bring down a corrupt local officer known as “Robocop” is great.


Notebook: Jacob Silverman on Facebook and the media • Paul Williams’ archive is not lost! • Maris Kreizman on how her ambition has fallen to the wayside during ‘this endless limbo’ • The enduring revelations of Hamilton (and what next) from Soraya Nadia McDonald • 99% Invisible on Japan’s Yokai mascots.

Last up: In a couple of weeks I’ll be taking part in an event put together by The Writers’ Coop and Study Hall on negotiating as a freelance. July 22, 3pm Eastern, just $10… and members/patrons of either have a promo code for 50% off.


What can we learn from Liverpool?

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I’m a football fan, and watching Liverpool triumphant rise to Premier League champions over the last two years has often been utterly thrilling—even for somebody who is very committed to a different club.

I love sport partly because it’s so kinetic, partly because it’s so in-the-moment, and partly because it’s about teamwork. Even individual sports like tennis are group efforts, with coaches and trainers and families and support networks. And football, to me, is one of the ultimate team sports. The cohesion, vision and organization required to get the most out of a group of people with different abilities and motivations is fascinating.

Watching Liverpool has made me think a lot about how good teams work, and what makes the whole more than the sum of its parts. Jürgen Klopp has built something that seems to have done exactly what it was intended to, creating a world-dominating team from sometimes unlikely sources.

Andy Robertson famously tweeted eight years ago, while playing in the Scottish Third Division, that “life at this age is rubbish with no money #needajob.” Roberto Firmino came from Hoffenheim, Joe Gomez from Charlton Athletic, and five other first-teamers were poached from Southampton over the years.

Liverpool, of course, has a grand history and tradition of dominance in English football. But it has other traditions too: a team identity built on hard work, humility, togetherness; a shepherding of talent from generation to generation; loyalty.

This was famously honed in the club’s Boot Room, a grubby hidey hole where Bill Shankly would marshall his coaches for detailed tactical arguments and weekly mind-melding sessions over bottles of Guinness or cups of tea. The Boot Room’s direct influence lasted 40 years, with Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Ronnie Moran and Roy Evans all helping lead the club until the 1990s. And Shankly made his demands clear from the start.

In his first meeting with the backroom staff, he said “look all I’m asking for is hard work, loyalty, and honesty”, and he knew if he got that everything will be fine. He encouraged them to have opinions, but he said, “if anyone comes to me with a story about someone, it’s the person who comes with the story that’ll be getting the sack, not the person the story’s about.”

This approach might seem less than modern, but it was honest, it got results, and it brought through successive generations of managers and coaches. The Boot Room may now be different, replaced by Klopp’s well-bonded backroom team assembled, like the team itself, from unusual parts. But there’s something enjoyable, comforting, exciting about a group getting together, planning to take on the world—and then succeeding.

Week 26, 2020

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Things my friends have made / weeknotes

MONDAY WAS OUR 103RD DAY IN LOCKDOWN, but the century itself passed unremarked. There are fireworks at strange hours of the day and night, which paint a hallucinatory sheen on the days. There’s a man who screeches around the neighborhood at high speed in stolen cars, the photos. But whether these noises are evidence of life outside or not, I really I don’t know: I’ve become even more reclusive than usual—something I didn’t think was possible, but has been surprisingly easy to achieve.

It’s mainly because I’m spending my cross-contamination budget very carefully: while there’s been a rollback of the unlocking here, the city has allowed summer camps—very small, very limited summer camps—to open, which means that for the first time in three months we have some kind of childcare. I’ve been very cautious about interacting with other people in general, but the almost total lack of community spread in other childcare settings has been helpful in making decisions here; as long as we’re careful and really limited in our exposure, we’re going to try it out.


My stories this week: Trump’s data-hungry, invasive app laid bare by Jacob Gursky and Sam Woolley (with some insight into what Biden’s app does as well) • Elizabeth MacBride takes a thorough look at why venture capital isn’t building the things we need • Older generations want to claim Tik Tok teens and K-pop stans for the “Resistance” but Abby Ohlheiser says the reality is both more exciting and more complicated • Brian Barth looks at Canada’s tech industry in Toronto would like to be seen as the nice person’s Silicon Valley, if that’s not too much trouble.

Things my friends made: Rose Eveleth’s Advice from the Future asks “Should I follow my partner to Mars?” • Katie Macbride asks 911 dispatchers how they feel about the police.


Notebook: Some lessons in 18F’s “Building trust in a public health crisis”Are we living through narrative collapse and entering the age of the database? • Intrigued by a Chris Jones tweet that (a) is 100% correct and (b) terrifying that he’s only recently come to this conclusion • Reminded of this piece by the often imperious Tressie MacMillan Cottom on the broken logic of thinking poor people are stupid for spending money.


“This is the world I let be created. They blame me for it.”

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Media / Things my friends have made

Is there a better writer out there than Carvell Wallace right now? I’m not sure. His essay on parenting his teenage kids through the pandemic and the protests absolutely hit me in the gut.

For the fourth (and final) issue of Anxy, I managed to convince him to go and interview Terry Crews. He turned around something great for us. One day I’m hoping I’ll get to work with him again.

Starting from scratch

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In March, a couple of weeks before we were due to ship the May/June issue of Technology Review, something became extremely clear: we needed to throw it away.

We’d already cleared a portion of the magazine for coronavirus coverage, but as the pandemic kicked in, everything seemed irrelevant. Nobody would want to read what we’d prepared for them, at least not now, not when all they could think of was covid-19. Everybody got behind the idea quickly, and without complaint. They all knew it was the right thing to do.

So, in a couple of weeks—rather than the usual couple of months—we built a new magazine.

New stories assigned, reported, written, edited, art directed and published. It was a huge team effort all round and actually turned out to be both deeper and more optimistic than I had first imagined. I also edited a ton of stories, so I just want to give a shout out to all of them. There are others in the magazine too. You should look!

I ended up exhausted and proud. As I said to everybody: “Fantastic work. very proud of everybody and of the lineup we arrived at. Now, let’s never do that again.”

How we get to normal
A blueprint for living in a world with covid-19
Gideon Lichfield

How to manage a pandemic
Why some countries have fared far better in the battle against covid-19 than others—and what we can learn from them.
James Crabtree

Helping hands
How scientists, researchers, and engineers are organizing volunteer efforts to fight the pandemic.
Karen Hao

Repurposing drugs might help fight this pandemic
And they could even help with the next one.
Wudan Yan

The trace race
Even with a national government asleep at the wheel, one Indian state showed the world the right way to tackle coronavirus.
Sonia Faleiro

Vaxx the vote
America might survive coronavirus. But will the election?
Patrick Howell O’Neill

They were waiting for the Big One. Then coronavirus arrived.
Can being ready for one kind of disaster prepare you for another?
Britta Lokting

Together alone
What the sea taught me about a life of isolation.
Rose George

The stress test
There’s a boom in mental health apps and teletherapy. But are they good enough?
Tanya Basu

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“The protests demanding that states “reopen” after all are protests demanding that working people head back into jobs that risk their health. The now-infamous “I Want a Haircut!” sign brandished by a Wisconsin woman underlined the point: These people aren’t simply protesting curtailments of their own movement. They are protesting a lack of people to serve them. They are demanding other people get back to work. And when we look at that sign and flinch at it, we are recognizing that we have no right to make that demand. That everyone should have the right to say no. Call it, perhaps, a right not to work.”

Sarah Jaffe in ‘The Post-Pandemic Future of Work’, The New Republic