Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer. Excellent book about the golden age of stage magic, in the late 19th and early 20th century. There was an explosion of new illusions as mirrors, mechanisms and new scientific inventions revolutionized magic; an intense rivalry as magicians competed to create new ideas, steal others' ideas, and try to keep their own secrets until they could some money out of it.
Was interesting to see the connection between magic and science; and the feuding between magicians and spiritualists, who used the same tricks and filled the same venues, but claimed to be genuinely supernatural. Some of the early tricks were just straightforward applications of science which fooled audiences by their novelty: a glass tube that powered a pneumatic device; the Strongest Cheese in the World containing a flywheel/gyroscope so it couldn't be overturned, an electromagnet making a box unliftable, airbrushes producing spirit paintings with no brushstrokes.
The rivalries, taking place over generations, give the book a decent narrative. The tricks are sometimes just complicated mechanisms, sometimes simpler than you'd imagine. One magician, who every show brought a child on stage to verify his levitation illusions, just swore so savagely at the child not to touch the wires that every time the kid was awed into silence.
Excellent book, well worth reading. Definitely unmissable if you liked "Carter Beats the Devil".
What I'm Reading 2
Grabbed a comic from the library: Dead of Winter. They seem to have had some cast changes since last time: Black Canary's out and a couple of new girls are in.
I think this was one of those where you have to be following the whole storyline to appreciate: had a host of new characters that I found hard to keep straight, and the plot tied up threads I've never heard of.
What I'm Watching
Saw Idiocracy on DVD. Fairly amusing light satire where idiots have inherited the future Earth. No particularly original barbs, but things are nicely visualized. Could have done with either more pointed satire or more jokes, but still pretty entertaining.
I think one problem is that Douglas Adams and Futurama have done the dumb corporate future pretty thoroughly already, so they have to resort to "Dumb and Dumber" style humour instead. However, that's not as easy as it looks: both the lead and his sidekick are bit too low-key for it to work. Really needed a more energetic clown to carry it off: a Jim Carrey or Chris Rock or Adam Sandler or Ben Stiller or someone. Terry Crews as President Camacho manages to keep things alive when he's on screen though.
Overall, pretty watchable though.
Dammit, hope the Greeks stop rioting in time for my holiday. Aaaargh.
Update [2008-12-9 4:44:45 by TheophileEscargot]:
Doesn't look like it, so I've cancelled the Greek bit of the holiday, just going to Turkey. I'm insured, so hopefully it won't cost too much.
It's a very 21st century style of censorship. It's not that the jackboot of government has stomped down on Wikipedia: that would be nice and easy to protest against. Instead we have a tangled web of whiny bureaucracy, where no-one takes responsibility.
The government? "Oh, we don't censor, deary me, no. We just strongly recommend that the ISPs don't let child porn through."
The Internet Watch Foundation? "Oh no, we don't censor, all we do is provide a list that ISP can voluntarily use, if they feel like it"
The ISPs? "Oh, we don't censor. You can always choose a different ISP if you want to look at naked kiddies, you dirty little pervert."
The media? "Oh we're dead dead dead against censorship. It's just that we might want to stir up a frenzy of paedo-panic against an ISP that doesn't filter, which might just happen to drive them out of business".
So, all the parties can sit smugly back, secure in the knowledge that they're firmly committed to free speech and any censorship is someone else's fault.
Econospeak's Sandwichman1 has a radical plan to cope with recession. Interesting idea: shame he has to present it with the usual twee irony that no-one will get.
Max Hastings on challenges for Cameron:
But what then? Even the most optimistic Tories do not anticipate a large majority. Cameron's government will be obliged to act with shocking ruthlessness, to address the weakness of the public finances. When Thatcher did this in 1981, her government's ratings slumped. She won the 1983 election only because of the Falklands war and the unelectability of a "loony-left" Labour party.Zimbabwe:
Neither of these circumstances is likely to be repeated in the next decade, if the Tories scrape into power. A centrist Labour party will remain a credible alternative government. No responsible course by a Cameron administration will be electorally popular. The Tories will soon start losing byelections, struggling to govern amid constant parliamentary difficulties. Where will be the joy for Cameron and his party in achieving power, if they find themselves thereafter almost impotent, clinging by their fingernails to the clifftop?
In 1979 I began to realise that whatever they made of Amin’s brutality, the Ugandan people experienced the Asian expulsion of 1972 -- and not the formal handover in 1962 -- as the dawn of true independence. The people of Zimbabwe are likely to remember 2000-3 as the end of the settler colonial era. Any assessment of contemporary Zimbabwe needs to begin with this sobering fact.Note 1: "Sandwichman" is an ironic name intentionally chosen to illustrate the kind of insecure, unskilled service sector job that people struggle to get by with in a modern economy. It unintentionally demonstrates the way modern leftists utterly fail to communicate with normal people by using cryptic and impenetrable ironic references.
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