Last week I ran a simple experiment on Twitter, inviting people to find a pattern in a three-number sequence. The numbers were 6–12–18. In order to solve it, people had to do two steps. First, propose their own sequence of three numbers that would conform to the pattern they thought I was thinking of. They could propose as many three number sequences as possible, and for each one I would tell them if it fit the pattern I had in mind or if it didn’t. …

A still from Roberto Rossellini’s 1945 “Rome: Open City”

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the preface Italo Calvino wrote in 1964 to his first novel, The Path to the Spider’s Nest, first published in 1947. The book is quite unlike most of what Calvino is known for; it’s far more realist, with a straight-forward narrative, and reads closer to For Whom the Bell Tolls than it does Invisible Cities. In his preface, there’s almost a sense of distancing, even close to disowning, this early work, as though having to make apologies for its uncharacteristic style. But in the process of contextualizing this very un-Calvino-esque Calvino book, he…

Boss MT-2 Metal Zone Distortion Pedal

It’s always strange when one’s professional life and one’s hobbies collide. I’ve been collecting guitar effects pedals for several years, not nearly as long as I’ve been researching conspiracy theories, but I hardly expected to see the Boss MT-2 Metal Zone pedal show up in a conspiracy theory. In January, however, a schematic of the much-reviled distortion pedal was being circulated as proof that the Covid-19 vaccine contained a secret 5G microchip to allow the tracking of innocent citizens.

The schematic was subsequently revealed to have originated as a hoax, but that didn’t stop its spread through Reddit conspiracy theory…

The Sphinx at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massaschusetts
The Sphinx at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massaschusetts
The Sphinx at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts

“There is something noble in the love of the dead.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have been thinking for the past few days now about Molly Osberg’s recent piece in Jezebel, “There Is No After.” In it, Osberg describes the incalculable toll of the past year, both in terms of human lives lost and in emotional and psychic trauma for those of us who remain: “Now, staring down the oft-invoked ‘return to normalcy,’ I don’t know how to metabolize such a towering sense of collective grief, and one that’s infused practically everything I’ve ever known.”

Osberg describes the surfeit of…

Public Displays of Grief and the Politics of Mourning

Graffiti, Brooklyn, NY.

Charlie Stross has a great thread on Prince Philip’s death and what it means to perform compulsory mourning for a stranger, which I recommend everyone checking out. In particular, I really appreciate the way he notes the divide between public discussions of sex versus public discussions of grief; in the Victorian era, death was omnipresent, while sex was hidden, and now, it seems, the poles have reversed, with talk of sex everywhere even as death has become increasingly hidden from view in the modern world.

But I want to separate out two halves of the question of mourning that are…

Covid-19 Memorial, Brooklyn, NY.

So this is how the world is beginning again: not with a bang, but with a series of whimpers.

Like everyone, I’ve been trying to imagine what will constitute whatever the “new normal” will be, and trying to figure out when it’s going to get here. What I realized I’ve been wanting, and what will never come, is some Morgan Freeman-esque President of the United States to come on to a national televised address, one that we will all watch at once: not just those of us at home, but blue collar workers interrupting their daily grind, bar patrons who’ve…

When the drama of human life is secondary to the plot

A still from Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color (2013)

Early in the pandemic I watched two films, one that I’d seen dozens of times before, and one new to me. David Cronenberg’s 1986 classic The Fly offers a fairly standard narrative arc: A scientist named Seth Brundle plays God and is punished. His secret invention, a teleportation machine which analyzes your molecules in one telepod and reconstructs them in another, is world-changing. But Brundle gets ahead of himself, deciding drunkenly one night to teleport himself long before he’s worked out the kinks and the safety protocols for his machine. A fly buzzes into the telepod with him, and the…

The writer’s much-mocked style reveals a hatred for the exhausted language of euphemism

These days, everyone hates Ernest Hemingway, which is fine. There are many reasons to hate Hemingway. Most of them are good reasons and only a few of them are bad: The toxic masculinity, the cartoonishly macho hobbies, his inability to fathom the interior life of women. Above all, there is the union of this stunted emotional life with a pared down, minimalist prose style, one that had become ubiquitous for a time in creative writing workshops and literary journals.

Matthew Adams, writing in The Washington Post, summed this up what has become, I think, the general attitude toward Hemingway’s style…

Every graphic tells a story, and we desperately need stories in order to divine meaning out of chaos

Bill of Mortality
Bill of Mortality

This week marks a year that the Covid Tracker Project, based out of The Atlantic, has been gathering data on the pandemic. With that anniversary, the editors recently announced they’re ending the data collection part of their work. For the past year, I’ve become accustomed to starting and ending most days with graphs like these: Line graphs laying out the number of Covid cases, the number of hospitalizations, the number of deaths; heat maps showing the severity of outbreaks, organized by county and by zip code. And now, the ever-expanding number of vaccines delivered.

Each of these charts tells…

For decades, the website’s harsh light of truth rooted out urban legends and conspiracy theories. Does it still work?

Over the past 25 years, the internet has gone from a place of possibility and promise to a dreary slog. Nowhere is this more evident than in the evolution of, a website that once brought a great deal of joy to the internet explorer. Since its founding in 1995 by husband and wife David and Barbara Mikkelson, Snopes’ mission of “debunking” has changed in ways both subtle and inexorable, from targeting urban legends like Bigfoot to unpacking QAnon conspiracy theories. The distinction may seem slight — both are false stories whose appeal lies in their capacity to spread and…

Colin Dickey

Failed histories, histories of failure. Author of four books: The Unidentified, Ghostland, Afterlives of the Saints, and Cranioklepty.

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