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Proponents of the wand often argue that errors stem from the human operator, who they say must be rested, with a steady pulse and body temperature, before using the device. Then the operator must walk in place a few moments to “charge” the device, since it has no battery or other power source, and walk with the wand at right angles to the body. If there are explosives or drugs to the operator’s left, the wand is supposed to swivel to the operator’s left and point at them. If, as often happens, no explosives or weapons are found, the police may blame a false positive on other things found in the car, like perfume, air fresheners or gold fillings in the driver’s teeth. On Tuesday, a guard and a driver for The New York Times, both licensed to carry firearms, drove through nine police checkpoints that were using the device. None of the checkpoint guards detected the two AK-47 rifles and ammunition inside the vehicle. –“Iraq Swears by Bomb Detector U.S. Sees as Useless,” Rod Nordland, The New York Times
Seventy-two times, Dick Cheney can’t remember, he can’t recall
(he’s got no memory of anything at all);
missed connections illustrated (“We shared a bear suit at an apartment party”);
“You know what else is a perfectly natural bodily function? Explosive diarrhea after eating bad clams.”
Rand expresses, with a certain pithy crudeness, an instinct that courses through us all sometimes: I’m the only one who matters! I’m not going to care about any of you any more! She then absolutizes it in an amphetamine Benzedrine-charged reductio ad absurdum by insisting it is the only feeling worth entertaining, ever. This urge exists everywhere, but why is it supercharged on the American right, where Rand is regarded as something more than a bad, bizarre joke? In a country where almost everyone believes—wrongly, on the whole—that they are self-made, perhaps it is easier to have contempt for people who didn’t make much of themselves. And Rand taps into something deeper still. The founding myth of America is that the nation was built out of nothing, using only reason and willpower. Rand applies this myth to the individual American: You made yourself. You need nobody and nothing except your reason to rise and dominate. You can be America, in one body, in one mind. –“How Ayn Rand Became an American Icon: The perverse allure of a damaged woman,” Johann Hari, Slate
This doesn’t lead to “writing by committee.” My experience is that four minds are four times more inventive in a team than if each works alone. But this requires a conductor to keep the voices to tempo and tune, and the key to this is the showrunner—the head producer who has creative control of the series. Showrunners like David Chase (Sopranos), Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues) or John Wells (ER) helped carve out a space for collaboration. Time and money is also invested. In the US, beyond your individual scripts, you are paid a salary to come into a “writer’s room” and help the work of others. The Wire is a good example of the result. Conceived by David Simon, a former journalist, and homicide detective Ed Burns, the collaborative ethic allowed them to bring in voices from film writing and crime fiction—such as Richard Price and George Pelecanos—without losing coherence. This ethos has made US television the preferred destination for a generation of great writers. After winning an Oscar with American Beauty, Alan Ball eschewed the big screen and created Six Feet Under for HBO. In the DVD commentary to the pilot, he describes handing in the edgy first draft to the head of the channel. Having been through the Hollywood studio mill, Ball expected the worst, but the only note he had back read: “Can you make it more fucked up?” Although we are blessed with a tradition of great television dramatists, there’s no way that Alan Bleasdale, Dennis Potter or Jimmy McGovern could have written a dozen episodes of a show alone. We have recently imported the idea of showrunners for the resurrection of Dr Who and Survivors, but their power is limited, and the principle of collaboration doesn’t penetrate the lower echelons. Script editors and producers take a dim view of you talking to another writer without tight supervision. There is no financial incentive either. Why make someone else’s episode great when it might make yours look less good? Given that the running order can be changed at the last moment by management fiat, those collectively crafted character developments and story arcs will be binned anyway. Just write your own episode and cash that cheque. –“Why Britain can’t do The Wire,” Peter Jukes, Prospect
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”