The Bluestocking, vol 169

The Robert Macfarlane Extended Universe.

Happy Christmas!

A few links to tide you over . . .

The Journalist and the Pharma Bro (ELLE)

When Shkreli walked in for the one o’clock meeting, this time we
aring a black hoodie, his hair greasy, he immediately “started giving me a spiel,” she says. He wanted the talk off the record, and proceeded to show Smythe spreadsheet after spreadsheet with investors’ holdings in his funds. He argued that they were all ultimately paid back. “You could see his earnestness,” Smythe says. “It just didn’t match this idea of a fraudster.”

After that, “he kept toying with me for a while,” Smythe says. He would dangle an on-the-record interview and then grant one to one of her competitors. Smythe had to remain cordial; Shkreli kept making news—he bought the Wu-Tang album, he smirked when testifying before Congress about drug pricing—and coverage of him at Bloomberg fell to her. One evening when Smythe called him for comment, a tiny shift occurred. Shkreli was looking for a new lawyer and asked her for advice. She felt “flattered,” she says, and offered her opinion. “It really felt like he didn’t have anybody to talk to that he could bounce ideas off of,” Smythe says. “I was like, ‘All right. I guess I can do that.’ ” He sounded “ragged and fragile, and I got concerned he would commit suicide because all this stuff was all happening at once.” Still, her job came first: She pre-wrote an obituary for Shkreli in case he did, in fact, kill himself.

I am adding “do not fall in love with your source, particularly if he’s Martin Shkreli” to my list of advice for young journalists.

The State of Nature (The Fence)

I maintain, not without some fondness, a small but ever-growing file of ridiculous lines thrown out by nature writers. ‘How does the terminology of beekeeping diminish a symbiosis?’; ‘Every place is unique. Did Thoreau say that? I seem to think so, but I can’t remember where and perhaps I am mistaken’; ‘I don’t operate a mobile phone, or wear a watch. I cycle, like the boy I was’; ‘Furious falls the rain like a snappy tantrum, a fit thrown by the whims of time’; ‘all elsewhere is milk’; the entirety of Paul Kingsnorth’s ‘Arcadia’ essay (‘What if the truth is in the soil?’).

Great piece, with a killer first sentence: “Something is wrong in the Robert Macfarlane Extended Universe, also known as the genre of nature writing.”

Navalny Prank Calls His Own Assassins (Bellingcat)

[“Maxim”, ie Alexey Navalny pretending to be an FSB officer]: And on which piece of cloth was your focus on? Which garment had the highest risk factor?

[Konstantin Kudryavtsev, one of the hit squad]: The underpants.

M: The underpants.

K: A risk factor in what sense?

M: Where the concentration could be highest?

K: Well, the underpants.

M: Do you mean from the inner side or from the outer? I have an entire questionnaire about this, which I am about to discuss with Makshakov, but will require your knowledge as well.

K: Well, we were processing the inner side. This is what we were doing.

M: Well, imagine some underpants in front of you, which part did you process?

K: The inner, where the groin is.

As you’ll know if you saw Lucy Prebble’s play about the death of Litvinenko, A Very Expensive Poison, or followed the television interview given by the Salisbury poisoners, Russia’s assassins do seem to be very effective while also being comically inept. Here, one of men charged with cleaning up the hit on opposition leader Alexey Navalny decides to recount his thoughts on the whole thing to someone he’s never met or heard of before, because they called him from a (spoofed) FSB landline number. Even better, the person on the other end of the call is actually Navalny himself. And you thought getting Magic FM to dedicate playing “Baby Got Back” to a Mr Hugh Jaars was a good prank call.


Quick Links

  1. “The Panel also endorsed a recommendation that the [Lib Dems] should consider training for men in their 20s and 30s to educate them on the use of misogynistic language.” (Fair Play For Women)

  2. “This is where I want to point out that as perplexingly straight as Frasier was on-screen, it was maybe the gayest show of the 20th century off-screen.” (Decider)

  3. “Perhaps unexpectedly for someone so motivated to understand how humans work, Pang shows absolutely zero interest in psychology research. As a psychology researcher myself, I found this oddly refreshing. Frankly, we’ve had enough of books that take shaky results from psychology studies and spin them into a “this-one-thing-will-change-your-life” message. I’d rather consider an interesting parallel between anxiety and the refraction of light than an over-generalised result from a tiny sample of university students.” Stuart Ritchie on whether autism is a “superpower”. (Unherd)

  4. I knew there would be a great backstory to the vicar in the report from Burnley I included a few weeks ago. I was not wrong. (BBC)

In case you need some light reading over a mince pie, here are my three favourites from among the pieces I wrote this year:

You can also enjoy this documentary I made at the start of 2020 about why everyone on the right from Liz Truss downwards thinks it’s all Michael Foucault’s fault.


PS. Should you be missing my voice (seems unlikely) then I’m on the Radio 4 review of the year at 10pm on December 27, alongside Danny Finkelstein and Anand Menon.

Happy Christmas! Here’s to a 2021 which sucks less!