Author: Bobbie Johnson

Revolutionary music

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It’s become a kind of folksy, cheesey number over the years, but did you know that the Cat Stevens (AKA Yusuf) song “Father and Son” is actually about the Russian Revolution? I was a little bit amazed to hear in a recent episode of Song Exploder how the song had started its life as part of a musical about the overthrow of the Tsar in 1917. It’s intended to be a conversation between a young […]

Strange inspirations

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Reading about the long-running British quiz show Mastermind, I discovered its austere and stressful setup was inspired by… the Nazis? The show began in 1972 and was the brainchild of the TV producer Bill Wright, a former RAF gunner, who drew on his wartime experiences of being interrogated by the Gestapo. 

Desolate, playing the piano, and wailing

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Just the sheer joy of Big Boi explaining how much he loves Kate Bush. “I just always thought of her as like Phantom of the Opera, somewhere living in a big castle with this big piano that was ten times the size of a regular piano, just playing the piano all day with sheer curtains blowing in the window—she’s almost like Rapunzel but on the top of a hill somewhere, just in a castle, desolate, […]

Five things I thought about when reading that gigantic New Yorker piece on Covid-19

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Beyond “this thing is long.” Even though things have been shit, we got really, really lucky.The story doesn’t just detail the many things that went wrong as the virus emerged and various countries struggled to deal with it—including China’s reticence to admit anything was wrong, the WHO’s complete miss, the CDC’s testing debacle, failed leadership from the White House and so on. What came through to me was how there have also been a set […]

I’ll never complain about somebody filing long again

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“At roughly 31,000 words, the article is as long as a novella, roughly five times the length of a typical major magazine article.” “Mr. Wright, a staff writer at The New Yorker for nearly three decades, initially turned in 76,000 words. “I have an appetite to go into depth,” he said in an interview. (He added, with a laugh: “I get paid by the word.”)” —From the New York Times’ short note about the Lawrence […]

Books I read in 2020

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A lot of things were hard this year. We had it better than many, better than most. No serious illnesses here, mainly just sadness and loneliness and tedium stitched together with moments of dread and panic. But those are all things that you can cope with. In my head, they were circumstances you could adapt to, even if you didn’t like them. People are capable of a lot. But the change that probably surprised me […]

Hunger

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Work

A few months ago, in a session to generate ideas for our upcoming Food issue of Technology Review, I asked a question that was troubling me: Why do people still starve? Starvation, hunger and food insecurity seem to me the most troubling symptom of our inability to actually make societal progress. For 100 years or more we have seen widespread revolutions in almost every part of the food system, and we’re generations into trying to […]

Jokers de luxe

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I learned about them this week: They’re called the the joker de luxe in France, the expensive players brought into a football match as a late substitute to try and change the game. There doesn’t quite seem to be an English language equivalent: they’re a super-sub but they’re costly; your aging star who gets paid a packet but can’t hack the whole game. We probably have them in workplaces outside football too. Great phrase.

Handmade and hygge

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Things my friends have made

Loved this John Willshire talk about a way of conceptualizing and mapping projects that he uses. The content is interesting to me (planning projects is really something I could get 1000% better) but I enjoyed it most for its presentation. It struck me as a great example of what making an effort can feel like in this era of Zoom presentations and conferences. So many events really haven’t changed their approach—just ported it online—and those […]

Period pieces

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We’re all spending too much time at home watching TV at precisely the moment that the billions spent on original content in the streaming wars kicks in, and so every week there’s a new must-watch binge show that’s being hailed all around and dissected from all angles (The Crown), or a not-very-secret secret that appears out of nowhere (Ted Lasso). I’m not sure how many of them we’ll remember in a few weeks, let alone […]