5 Things – This is Halloween edition

The Jack O’ Lantern is carved. The lentil soup and roast sweet potatoes are cooking. Time to post a few things I’ve been saving for Halloween.

Ada Calhoun, The Sisters Who Spoke to Spirits

The spirits are the least disturbing thing in this essay about the Fox sisters, whose table-rapping ways kicked off the phenomenal popularity of Spiritualism in the nineteenth century. So much weirdness here.

Documentary, Ghosts on the Underground (2006)

This documentary about spooky experiences on the London Underground terrified me when I first saw it several years ago. I hunted it down last year for a Halloween watch with my partner and was pleased to find it just as creepy as I remembered.

Roger Clarke, A Natural History of Ghosts, 500 Years of Hunting for Proof

Roger Clarke’s book is an enjoyable ramble around the last five hundred years of belief in ghosts. Most of the hauntings get debunked, but what they reveal about social history and the psychology of the people involved is fascinating.

M.R. James, ‘Oh, whistle, and I’ll come to you, my lad’ and ‘A Warning to the Curious

I love the ghost stories of M.R. James and re-read them all every few years, but I think these two are my favourites. They have given me a life-long dislike of sleeping in twin-bedded hotel rooms and walking along misty beaches on my own, but I feel they are worth it.

Vitamin String Quartet, This is Halloween

Just a great cover of a great song.

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5 Things (forensic science, survivorship bias, neanderthals, gay genes, internet hoaxes)

1.Forensic Science

I blame Val McDermid. I read her excellent book Forensics – The Anatomy of Crime earlier this year. Since then I’ve developed a bit of a fascination with the gruesome subject. I really enjoyed Gabriel Weston’s thoughtful BBC documentary series, Catching History’s Criminals – The Forensics Story.  All very reassuring, but forensic science has its sinister side too. This essay about Forensic DNA Phenotyping shows how racist ideology can underlie (and be reproduced by) what appears to be a scientific breakthrough in fighting crime: Sci-Fi Crime Drama with a Strong Black Lead.

2. Survivorship Bias

This entertaining TED Talk  by David McRaney makes me wish that someone had introduced me to survivorship bias back when I was around twenty one years old.  ‘Survivorship bias’ refers to our human tendency to favour examples of survivorship – in the broadest sense – and to ignore the usually far greater evidence of failure. This is a problem because survivors are pretty rare and seeking advice from them results in a seriously skewed perception of reality. People who want to open restaurants will pay attention to the successful restaurants in town, but fail to research the more numerous restaurants that shut down. Whatever the survivors might claim, its difficult to identify the real source of their success. Perhaps they were just lucky. McRaney argues that the failures can often provide us with more useful information. There’s a longer essay available on his website if you’re interested.

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5 Things

I liked Suzanne Heintz’s artistic response to the question Why aren’t you married yet? Fourteen years worth of pictures of herself posing with a mannequin family certainly draws attention to the mythology of white, middle-class family “happiness”. Even though Suzanne is posing with mannequins, these images and the meanings they are supposed to convey (and impose) are instantly recognisable. Perhaps she’s also suggesting that people don’t care who the members of her family are, or what her relationship with them might be, as long as “family” is performed in the correct way. There is even the suggestion that this mythology reduces people to the status of mannequins. Roland Barthes would be proud.

Ludovic Florent’s series of photographs Poussiere d’etoiles (stardust) inspired me after a difficult day. These images that capture dancers interacting with a cloud of flour are a gorgeous tribute to the art of dance and the power of the human body.

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5 Things (sand, fossils, junk food, vintage lesbians, dresses)

This image is one of my favourites, so I was delighted to discover this article from FACTS.FM which has more astonishing photographs revealing the Hidden Beauty of Sand. I’m especially taken with the grains of sand that are actually tiny fossils.

Continuing with the fossil theme, I adored David Attenborough’s 1989 documentary Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives.  Attenborough’s passion for the subject is so infectious and I think the documentary is improved by being produced before the advent of CGI. Without the option to create CGI images of the animals (which is almost certainly what would happen if this was made now), the documentary has to focus on the actual fossils.  So if you want to see fossils in abundance, this is the one to watch. I think it’s stunning and can’t wait to show it to my nephew when he’s old enough.

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5 Things (neanderthals, nutrition, sauerkraut, sleep, academic journalism)

Okay, I’ve only managed to do one of these 5 Things posts so far, but I am determined to get back to it. It’s a nice way to keep a record of things that have interested me.

Let’s start with SauerkrautSomehow, my mother managed to persuade me to take home an enormous jar of Sauerkraut.  This was because she wouldn’t “be able to finish it all herself”, although she was able to finish the chocolate biscuits and the ice cream. Now, I’ve always liked Sauerkraut, but I was just a little intimidated by the size of this particular jar. I turned to twitter for help and soon had recipe suggestions for Shchi (@PrimeJunta) and Bigos (@plumpieinthesun). We made the Bigos and it was fantastic. I had no idea that Sauerkraut could result in something so delicious. I want to make the Shchi as well, but the jar is now almost empty and I’ll have to get another one.

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