The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘meteorology’

Like, Everything’s Connected, Man, and Other News

September 29, 2015 | by

An illustration from the Rhode Island Historical Society depicting 1815’s Great September Gale.

  • Carmen Balcells, who died earlier this month, was “a literary superagent with a license to kill, like James Bond.” (NB: she never murdered anyone. Some also referred to her, equally outlandishly, as “Big Mama.”) She changed Spanish-language publishing, launching the careers of Gabriel García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, José Donoso, and Julio Cortázar, among others. “The moment … has been known ever since as the ‘Latin American Literary Boom’ … For writers coming of age during and after the Boom, invoking Balcells became de rigueur, the ultimate literary credential, because it linked them to a special kind of origin story.”
  • A couple centuries ago, in 1815, a real ballbuster of a storm swept through New England. Recollections of the Great September Gale, as it became known, suggest that meteorology then was in some ways a more holistic, if not more sophisticated, discipline than it is today: “Gales and tempests were related, many people thought, to phenomena like lightning, volcanism, and earthquakes … In the 1810s, the idea of an ‘electric fluid’ surrounding and suffusing the world—disturbances in which manifested themselves as earthquakes, waterspouts, hurricanes, and thunderstorms—was quite mainstream … For many New Englanders in 1815, it was intuitively obvious that everything in the sky, and most everything on the ground, was connected somehow to everything else.”
  • Seventy-five years after his apparent suicide, what are we to make of Walter Benjamin—or his strange end? Supposedly he took his own life in 1940, on the Spanish border, where his visa had been refused; he feared that if he returned to France he’d be handed over to the Nazis. But “there are all sorts of unanswered questions surrounding Benjamin’s death. His traveling companions remembered him carrying a heavy briefcase containing a manuscript he described as ‘more important than I am’. No such manuscript was found after his death … There has been persistent speculation that he was actually murdered, perhaps by a Soviet agent who had infiltrated his escaping party.”
  • In which William Vollmann reads a novelization of Trotsky’s assassination (The Great Prince Died) and begins to mull on grave questions of power: “Do the ends justify the means? This is one of the great questions of any time. We should consider it deeply and provisionally answer it for ourselves … ‘Then it amounts to this,’ says a Mexican official to the dying Rostov’s wife. ‘Those who use all means will win, those who reject some means will lose. There is no remedy …’ Can it be so? Trotsky believed it. Sometimes, so do I. (That is why I prefer to lose.)”
  • Today in recovered Babylonian epics: At last! A new version of the fifth tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh has been unearthed, perhaps illegally, from an undisclosed location in what was once Mesopotamia. It contains a whopping twenty new lines of cuneiform, rich with such narrative revelations as “Gilgamesh and Enkidu saw ‘monkeys’ as part of the exotic and noisy fauna of the Cedar Forest” and “Humbaba emerges not as a barbarian ogre but as a foreign ruler entertained with exotic music at court in the manner of Babylonian kings.”

Opium for the Masses, and Other News

June 10, 2015 | by


Image via the Library of the New York Academy of Medicine.

  • Vincent Musetto, a New York Post editor who wrote “the most anatomically evocative headline in the history of American journalism”—HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR—has died at seventy-four. “But however lauded it became, it was not Mr. Musetto’s favorite among the many headlines he wrote for the paper. That honor, he often said, went to one composed the next year: GRANNY EXECUTED IN HER PINK PAJAMAS.”
  • Let’s pause to remember the golden era of American pharmaceuticals—the turn of the twentieth century, when patent medicine was ubiquitous and any old ailment could help you score some heroin. “If it doesn’t actually cure your cold, the high dose of cocaine might trick you into thinking otherwise.”
  • Yesterday marked the 350th anniversary of the Great Plague of London, which claimed some seventy thousand lives. The diary of Samuel Pepys provides a rich account of the events: “From the moment he saw the red crosses on that boiling June day, through September when the death rate peaked at 7,000 a week, and until January 1666 when it began to wane, Pepys chronicled the plague’s progress through narrow alleys and grand mansions. He tells of the pest-houses and pest-coaches, and how the Lord Mayor forbade citizens from going out after dark so that the sick could ‘go abroad for ayre’ and funeral corteges pass through without infecting the healthy.”
  • In happier anniversaries: Clueless, everyone’s favorite “adaptation” of Emma, turns twenty this summer; a new oral history tells us how “as if!” and “way harsh” entered the lexicon.
  • Who doesn’t love a good pair of sparring meteorologists? In the nineteenth century, one William Redfield had developed a momentous theory of whirling winds, and he was the toast of weathermen everywhere until some hotshot named James Espy tried to derail him. “Not only was Espy’s prose bold, it also had a pompous edge. Academic discourse was governed by the same strict code of gentlemanly civility that dominated intellectual society, from politics to religion. At times Espy seemed waspish and condescending.”

Perfect Paul

March 5, 2015 | by

Our ongoing quest to personify the weather.

Arthur Rackham, 1912.

As I write this, the ominously named Winter Storm Thor is bringing his hammer down on the tristate area. Thor is pelting. Thor is dumping. Thor is lashing, coating, and causing havoc. He has an image problem, as all storms do, these days. Led by the heedless call of the Weather Channel, the media has depicted Thor—like Juno, Neptune, and others before him—as a creature of blind wrath, fueled by an amoral, motiveless lust for destruction. If you believe in the banality of evil, then Winter Storm Thor belongs with Eichmann and Iago in your rogues’ gallery.

The Weather Channel has named winter storms since 2012, as part of a dumb and widely impugned media strategy that sensationalizes the weather in a shameless bid for more clicks. “The previous model was: How does weather affect you?” Neil Katz, who runs, told The New Republic last year. “Now we’re really asking: How does weather affect everything in the world?” By becoming the very embodiment of vengeance, is one answer. Read More »

The Weather Men

March 25, 2014 | by

The life, times, and meteorological theories of Josep Pla.


Josep Pla at his house in Llofriu, 1975.

“I’ve attended the procession of my country with a match in hand. Not an altar candle, not a torch, not a candlestick, but a match.”

Josep Pla (1897–1981) is a controversial figure in Catalan letters, and a well-kept secret of twentieth century European literature. If Barça is more than just a football club, then Pla—a political and cultural journalist, travel writer, biographer, memoirist, essayist, novelist, and foodie, whose collected works clock in at more than thirty-thousand pages and thirty-eight volumes—was more than just a writer.

Now that his deceptively simple, earthy prose and mordant sense of humor are available to American readers, the best way to read Pla is to curl up with a crisp glass of cava and a few spears of white asparagus. It’s impossible to read Josep Pla and not fall in love with his Mediterranean landscape. His native Empordà, with its mushroom-laced winds and its hint of burnt cork, mesmerizes.

Pla’s most important work, The Gray Notebook, is out now in a graceful translation by Peter Bush; the Daily published an excerpt yesterday. In the spirit of a bildungsroman and the form of a diary, the narrative chronicles 1918 and 1919, two crucial years in young Pla’s life. It captures the raucous energy of a precocious country boy who falls on his feet in the city, full of the spit and vinegar of youth. These were ebullient years in turn-of-the-century Barcelona; the city saw the first roiling curls of the belligerence that would lead to the Spanish Civil War, giving The Gray Notebook a tang of dramatic irony. But Pla’s masterpiece wasn’t actually published until 1966, after he had rewritten and reworked the material from his earlier diaries—a process similar to that of Proust, who returned to material written during Swann’s Way to fashion Time Regained. Read More »