As well as the simplicity of the gameplay, part of Wordle’s appeal must be the simplicity of the design: the muted colours, the gentleness of the minimal animation, the relative emptiness of the page, like Google when it launched 25 years ago. And since you only get to play once a day, and a game takes only a minute or two (though there’s no time limit, no stressful countdown), it’s the antithesis of the time-sapping infinite scroll of social media, even if it owes its massive popularity to people spreading the word (though not literally) by sharing their scores on those sites. That both the Telegraph and the head of MI6 have complained about it only adds to its lustre.
In 1982, when James Joyce, had he lived, would have turned a hundred, William Empson wrote a piece for the London Review of Books on ’the ultimate novel‘, which begins with some backhanded praise for Hugh Kenner – ‘it is wonderful how Professor Kenner can keep on about Ulysses, always interesting and relevant and hardly repeating himself at all’ – and then almost immediately takes issue with a ‘new idea’ of Kenner’s that ‘urgently needs refuting’. According to Kenner, Stephen Dedalus ‘is practically blind all through the book’; Empson demonstrates not only how that can’t be true, but also how Kenner came to fall into error. ‘The explanation is simple,’ Empson writes. But ‘this is not quite the end of it …’
The bespoke recording apparatus that Milman Parry took to Yugoslavia in the summer of 1935 – manufactured by Sound Specialties Inc of Waterbury, Connecticut, it had two turntables and a toggle for switching instantaneously between them – got me wondering about the history of such devices. Parry used his equipment for recording rather than playback, but it’s the same principle that later allowed generations of DJs to keep a dancefloor grooving indefinitely.
Ed Harriman, who has died at the age of 77, wrote half a dozen pieces for the London Review between 2004 and 2007, reporting on the waste and corruption that followed the US-led invasion of Iraq. An award-winning documentary film-maker as well as a print journalist, who had worked for Granada TV’s World in Action during the 1980s and Channel 4’s Dispatches since 1991, he went to the Middle East in 2003 to make Secrets of the Iraq War for ITV. His previous films included investigations of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, of the mismanagement of nuclear waste by both the US and Russia, the handover of Hong Kong, and new houses in Britain built on contaminated land.
Eric Foner’s piece on the history of the electoral college has been getting an unusual amount of attention online this week, with a huge spike in pageviews on Wednesday and Thursday. It was shared on Pocket (the app formerly known as ‘Read it Later’), but also in more surprising places, such as a politics forum on a fansite for the Texas A&M college football team. It may have been doing the rounds in less public quarters, too, on Facebook and WhatsApp, since we’ve received dozens of angry – and eerily similar – letters to the editor from people who don’t appear to be regular readers of the paper.
Practically speaking, very little will change at the eleventh hour, as Big Ben doesn’t strike; Boris Johnson hails the ‘dawn of a new era’ (same old clichés, though); the chancellor of the exchequer hands to the prime minister a ceremonial fifty pence piece (the Brexit dividend paid in full) over a glass of sparkling English wine; the last Brexit secretary walks away with a £17,000 golden handshake; and Steve Baker, magnanimous in victory, raises a quiet glass of champagne, ‘discreetly’, out of respect to the disappointed, disenfranchised and defeated, many of whom are not only sorrowful but fearful about what comes next.
No sooner was Jacob Rees-Mogg installed as Leader of the House of Commons than he sent out a ‘style guide’ to staff, essentially a list of words and phrases they were now ‘banned’ from using, along with demands that they address ‘all non-titled males as Esq.’ and use imperial measurements. No sooner was the document circulated than it was ‘leaked’ exclusively to ITV news. Within moments, it was all over Twitter, and Twitter was all over it.
The LRB blog was launched in March 2009. Nearly ten years later, it was creaking at the seams and in need of an update – which, as you can see, we’ve now done. It doesn’t only look different – better, we think – but there have been various behind-the-scenes changes too (i.e. a complete overhaul) so it should all work more smoothly.
A week is a very long time in Italian politics, but also no time at all. When the last issue of the LRB went to press on 25 May, it looked as though a new government was about to be formed in Rome. The Movimento 5 Stelle and the Lega had drawn up, signed and approved a coalition agreement – a curious and probably unworkable mix of their variously anti-establishment and racist policies – and nominated Giuseppe Conte to be prime minister. The president of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, had reluctantly agreed to ask Conte to form a government. But then it all fell apart when Mattarella and the leader of the Lega, Matteo Salvini, couldn't agree on who would be finance minister: Salvini refused to propose anyone except the eurosceptic Paolo Savona; Mattarella refused to give him the job; Conte threw in the towel; ricominciamo da capo.
The Italian general election has resulted in a hung parliament. There is already talk of a Third Republic, as the 'mainstream' parties have been swept aside by a populist wave, though it's worth remembering that the Partito Democratico was only formed in 2007, out of the remnants of the remnants of the parties that dominated Italian politics during the First Republic (from 1946 until 1994); that the current incarnation of Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia dates from as recently as 2013; and that the Second Republic (1994-2018) was dominated by Berlusconi and his meretricious brand of soi-disant anti-establishment but ultimately self-serving politics. It's hard to mourn the passing of that era; or would be, if it were possible to believe that it had really passed.