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the revolver

Post image for An unfortunate development

The world’s most famous war photojournalist, Robert Capa, swam ashore with American troops as Life magazine’s official photographer of D-Day.

From the midst of the battle itself, Capa took 106 shots of one of the most famous and important days in history. At the earliest opportunity, the four precious rolls of film were whisked back to London and sent to be developed.

To this day nobody knows what those pictures looked like, because a fifteen-year-old lab assistant set a dryer too high and melted the negatives. Only eleven blurred images were saved from the final roll.

There’s a unique flavor of heartbreak that only comes from your work being destroyed for no good reason. Now, I know it doesn’t carry the same historical magnitude, but last night I think I felt at least a hint of what Capa felt when I saved over today’s article.

While I rewrite it, enjoy an ad-hoc time-constrained installment of The Revolver.


One of the more interesting Twitter feeds out there: An Oxford history student is tweeting moment-to-moment updates on the unfolding of World War II, as if it’s happening right now. It’s so compelling because we tend to think of the war with full knowledge of how it turned out, yet the people living it had to watch it unfold day by day with no idea what was happening to the world.


An interview with me at WriterViews.com, a site about writers learning from writers. The interview is about 40 minutes and is mostly geared towards bloggers. During it I drank a beer stein full of coffee, and it shows.


A video of North Korean child guitar virtuosos that I find absolutely terrifying and perverse. Yet I can’t look away.


The great journalist Christopher Hitchens, who died Thursday, giving a powerful and timely lecture on freedom of speech, and the insane laws that threaten it. The second and third parts are easy to find in the sidebar. It’s about 20 minutes all together.


If you want something even easier than reading tweets or watching videos, take a look at my winter photos taken in Winnipeg’s exchange district.

 Photo by Robert Capa
Post image for My Seven

My friend Fabian Kruse recently invited me to participate in a viral blogging campaign, which is normally not my thing. I don’t like anything reminiscent of chain letters, especially the digital kind (neither does Fabian, for that matter) but this one looked fun to do and I think you’ll appreciate it. It’s churning up a lot of almost-lost great content around the web so I want to give it a spin and keep it going.

The idea is pretty simple: a blogger is invited to link 7 posts they’ve written that fit seven particular categories, as specified in the original post. Then they invite five other bloggers to do the same. The idea is to get some good content up to the surface all across the web, give readers an easy way to discover content that’s been hiding, and give bloggers an easy way to connect.

At the end of this post, I’ll nominate some other bloggers whom I’d like to see dig some of their best work out of the basement.

So enjoy.

My 7 Links

All of these choices are made from the writer’s perspective, because it’s the only one I have. You might disagree, and if you’ve been reading for a while I’d love to hear what you would have chosen instead.

1. Most beautiful post

A Day in The Future. It just came out like that and I have no misgivings at all.

2. Most popular post

Believe it or not, my now-famous “88 truths” post was really a just a throwaway I’d been playing with, which I posted one day because I didn’t have a decent post ready. It has been the one I’ve received the most feedback and praise for, and in those terms it is probably the most popular. When it comes down to raw numbers though, 40 Belief-Shaking Remarks From a Ruthless Nonconformist is clearly the most popular: 326 comments, 10,000+ facebook likes and almost one million views.  Read More

Post image for The Revolver: Well-Kept Secrets Edition

Life is always right in front of us but that doesn’t necessarily mean we know what we’re looking at. The best-kept secrets are in plain view.


I guess it’s possible that somehow you haven’t heard of PostSecret, and that you have not experienced the spike of empathy that comes with reading one of these homemade postcards. In 2005 Frank Warren created a self-perpetuating art project by asking people to decorate a postcard, on which they anonymously reveal a personal secret they have never revealed to anyone. Some of these are shocking, others hilarious, others might feel like you could have written them. I saw a few hundred of them in an exhibit at my local Art Gallery a few years ago, and suddenly strangers became a lot more interesting. Frank’s Twitter feed is also worth following.

Animal Minds

A fascinating National Geographic article on one ever-underestimated quality of animals: their intelligence. Again and again, scientists are surprised by the discovery of complex behaviors in animals that were once thought to be exclusive to humans. Animals can make tools, understand languages and even learn to lie.

Money As Debt

A light and entertaining animated feature about what money really is: debt created by banks on the spot. Amateur videographer Paul Grignon aims only to inform, and spares us the hysterics about international banker conspiracies that are so popular these days. It seems like something every citizen should understand, but I bet this will shock most of you.

Waking Life

Most people won’t like this bizarre film, so don’t try too hard, but a certain minority will never forget it. No plot to speak of, no character development, full of self-important philosophical talk, even banter about the meaning of dreams! Yikes! Not for everyone, perfect for some. It’s shot in a beautiful and maddening rotoscope format that I can’t stop staring at but will probably make some people throw up.


Photo of Chico the cat by David Cain
Post image for The Revolver – “Look Closer” Edition

At the beginning of American Beauty, just as Lester Burnham is beginning his spectacular breakdown, the movie’s tagline can be seen behind him, pinned to the wall of his cubicle. A little white sticker reads, “Look closer.”

It’s the peak of summer for most of you, and a long weekend for my Canadian friends. It goes fast, don’t forget to look around while it happens. The moment you think about what’s happening, it becomes “happened.”

Have a good weekend, and I’m not just saying that.


An End to Endings?

A great article about how social media is rapidly transforming the way in which our life stories are told to each other. Traditional media used to organize life into coherent stories, but now human lives no longer appear to us in meaningful narratives, but in SMS-sized fragments that are too small and separate to represent a whole human life. Instead of absorbing a few close personailties in great depth over many years, we absorb thousands daily in the most superficial bits possible.

At the end of every magazine article, before the “■,” is the quote from the general in Afghanistan that ties everything together. The evening news segment concludes by showing the secretary of State getting back onto her helicopter. There’s the kiss, the kicker, the snappy comeback, the defused bomb. [Traditional media] transmits them all. It promises that things are orderly. It insists that life makes sense, that there is an underlying logic.


Letters From Johns

A surprisingly articulate collection of anonymous letters from men describing their encounters with prostitutes. Value judgments aside, these are fascinating accounts that give us a bit of insight into an ancient aspect of human culture. The Johns come in every sort, from bored widowers to 40-year old virgins to sheltered Christians, and their reasons for paying for sex are not as simple as you might have thought.


Why I am No Longer a Christian

Not the atheistic rant I thought it would be, not at all. With genuine respect, an amateur filmmaker describes his gradual, inevitable transition from devoted Christian to “agnostic atheist.” It’s a simple film that manages to be thorough without getting dry. Most of you probably aren’t fencesitters when it comes to religion, but no matter what camp you’re in, if you’re interested in where Christianity came from you’ll learn quite about about the other side, and your own.



Ralph Waldo Emerson’s flagship essay on why almost everyone in society is a thoughtless, timid fool. Except you, clever reader. If there was ever a difficult read worth slowing down and tiptoeing through, this is it.


Photo by senscience

Post image for The Revolver

The internet allows us to share a brain, sort of. You have an idea, or an understanding, and now it can be anyone’s, with no need to get a  publisher to agree that it’s worth sharing. If that idea changes the way someone lives, that change can change the way someone else lives, and that’s all culture is. Twenty years ago this medium wasn’t a part of our lives, and now we’re influencing each other at an astonishing rate. This is evolution.

Quite often I’ll find something out there that’s worth talking about and that I know many of you would appreciate. But I don’t really want to dedicate a post to discussing someone else’s content. I just want to point it out and send you on your way, and if you want to come back to talk about it in the comments, I’ll be here and so will a lot of other readers.

Ideas, if they’re valued and worked into our lives, can make the rounds and leave the world changed. So I want to take some of them and give them a good spin, and see what comes back. I want to know what you think about these ideas, and I want you to pass them around.

The Revolver will be a regular installment, two to four Saturdays a month. In it I’ll share just a few very worthwhile links that hint at where humanity and its members might be headed.


The Khan Academy

A charismatic investment banker from New Orleans is reinventing education using short, concise videos. Sal Khan understands where traditional education is failing and has taken it upon himself to find a better way.

He articulates the absurdity of the current system:

…I give you a lecture [on cycling] ahead of time, and I give you a bicycle for two weeks, and then I come back after two weeks, and I say “Well, you’re having trouble taking left turns and you can’t quite stop. You’re an 80% bicyclist.” So I put a ‘C’ stamp on your forehead, and then I say, ‘Here’s a unicycle.'”

The link above is to his TED talk explaining the Khan Academy, which has become a vast repository of videos and exercises that can be learned one by one at any pace. A student who doesn’t get something the first time around can review it easily before moving on to a concept that builds on it.

The most impressive aspect of these videos is that they’re fun. They’re simple and presented in plain, human language. Don’t understand the cause of the housing crisis? The French Revolution? How compound interest works? Take twenty minutes and get a much better idea.


The Primacy of Consciousness

I discovered this while writing last Monday’s conscious universe post, and boy does Peter Russell ever say it better than I do. If there was anything about that post that made you think about life a bit differently, this will turn you inside-out. I’ve talked about the idea that science and religion are not necessarily at odds, unless you misunderstand at least one of them. Russell presents a thorough, sensible case for this reconciliation, yet he stays funny and likable.



I don’t think there’s a simpler way of articulating the philosophy of unconditional acceptance. The Stoics had it down over two thousand years ago, but even they never put it so elegantly.


How to be socially graceful

A long time ago a reader linked to this in a comment. It’s just a casual post on Reddit that was popular for a day or two, but I think it’s hugely useful for anyone who sees themselves as socially awkward to some degree, which seems to be most people.

The author didn’t say so, but its usefulness extends way beyond socialization. The key to grace, as he says it, is to — beforehand — agree that you will not let your body or mouth react to anything that happens until you’ve taken a second to consciously assess it, knowing that that will give you the best possible chance to respond intelligently. This is the holy grail of living with grace, as far as I’m concerned, and its social application is just one small part of the picture.


Robert Newman’s The History of Oil

A pretty funny stand-up routine with a pretty dire message. Whether or not you’re a believer in what some call “peak oil”, there is a crucial takeaway point here: wars have always been started and fought for economic reasons, seldom for freedom or justice or any of the cosmeticked reasons given to drum up support for them. World War One began with an invasion of Iraq and had little to do with its official scapegoat, the assassination of indie rock band Franz Ferdinand.


I want to hear what you think about these ideas. Please let us know below. And don’t forget to share the ones you like.

Photo by David Cain

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