Europe’s Carbon Dioxide Shortage, Tom Wolfe’s Cartoons, and in Defense of Men


In the summer of 1518, a woman in Strasbourg stepped outside her house and danced a jig for several days. “Within a week, dozens more had been seized by the same irresistible urge.” Thus began the “dancing plague of Strasbourg.”

Tom Wolfe’s cartoons: “Tom Wolfe, who died on May 14, had a lesser-known but not-so-secret passion: He loved to draw caricatures and cartoons with the same incisive, sarcastic wit that came through in his written social commentary.”

Why is Europe running low on carbon dioxide? Answer: Ammonia fertilizer. “Factories can’t turn a profit on making pure carbon dioxide alone. Instead, the gas is made as a by-product of other chemicals, often ammonia fertilizer. That’s because the first step in manufacturing ammonia involves taking a hydrocarbon molecule like natural gas and splitting the ‘hydro’ from the ‘carbon’: The hydrogen gets turned into ammonia (NH3) for fertilizer. The carbon gets turned into carbon dioxide (CO2), which is captured, purified, and liquified for all sorts of uses.”

Did you know that spiders can fly hundreds of miles using electricity? “Every day, around 40,000 thunderstorms crackle around the world, collectively turning Earth’s atmosphere into a giant electrical circuit. The upper reaches of the atmosphere have a positive charge, and the planet’s surface has a negative one. Even on sunny days with cloudless skies, the air carries a voltage of around 100 volts for every meter above the ground. In foggy or stormy conditions, that gradient might increase to tens of thousands of volts per meter. Ballooning spiders operate within this planetary electric field. When their silk leaves their bodies, it typically picks up a negative charge. This repels the similar negative charges on the surfaces on which the spiders sit, creating enough force to lift them into the air.”

Why are kids suddenly buying 3.5-inch floppy disks? To listen to music, of course—11 minutes and 38 seconds of it.

What’s up with memoirs these days? In the Essay of the Day (below), Brendan O’Neill lambasts the “moralizing” memoir, in which the writer imagines that his or her “personal experiences are so important, so unique, that they must be extrapolated from and fashioned into a lesson, even a manual, for everyone else to follow.” At First Things, John Wilson laments the ballooning memoir, in which the “self-absorbed flow is unrelenting.” “Blessedly,” he continues, “there are exceptions. One such is the chapbook Ink: A Memoir, by Kathleen Pfeiffer. If you read it, it will stick in your mind for a good while, precisely because it is not bloated, self-indulgent, loaded with attitudinizing.”

Essay of the Day:

In Spiked, Brendan O’Neill reviews Robert Webb’s How Not to be a Boy and argues that the moralizing memoir is the worst kind of memoir (and that there is more than one kind of man):

“I’ve been thinking recently about the arrogance of extrapolation. Of imagining that your own personal experiences are so important, so unique, that they must be extrapolated from and fashioned into a lesson, even a manual, for everyone else to follow. The memoir-as-manual — it’s the new publishing craze. We’ve had Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman, which, as suggested by its Victorian-style manual-for-women title, takes as its starting the point the idea that Ms Moran’s eccentric girlhood under self-impoverished bohemian parents in Wolverhampton (commentators make the mistake of calling this a working-class upbringing) contains profound insights for the entirety of womankind. We’ve had Afua Hirsch’s Brit-ish, in which Ms Hirsch’s eye-wateringly privileged upbringing in Wimbledon, and the fact she once got funny looks when she went into a shop, is extrapolated from and turned into a missive on Britain’s allegedly dysfunctional relationship with race.

“And we have Robert Webb’s How Not to be a Boy. The title itself drips with this arrogance of extrapolation. Webb, a comic writer, best known as one of the stars of Peep Show alongside David Mitchell, thinks his childhood experiences have endowed him with a special insight into the predicament of men, the toxic nature of masculinity, and the necessity for 50 per cent of the population to change their ways if they want to survive. He really says this. His aim with this memoir is no less than to ‘extend that awareness [he means the gender-awareness that he has already achieved] to the half of the population who might still be under the impression that gender conditioning didn’t happen to them because they have a Y chromosome’. It’s almost religious. The Confessions of Robert Webb. I mean, I think my life has been pretty interesting, and I have certainly learned a lot from it, but turning it into a moral guide for everyone else? The very thought makes me wince. I’m no Augustine. And neither is Webb.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Denmark

Poem: David Yezzi, “Three Poems”

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