The words “White House tapes” has for nearly half a century conjured very specific flashbacks: Richard Nixon, Rose Mary Woods and the 18-and-a-half-minute gap, Haldeman, Dean, and the rest; the term “smoking gun”; and (a favorite) Nixon’s eloquent “Goddammit, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get them. The way I want that handled is … just to break in. Break in and take it out! You understand? … You are to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them out … Just go in and take it!”
Memories, memories. To those associations we must now add another kind of tape—the Scotch kind—and the image of White House underlings sitting around laboriously re-assembling the countless documents Donald Trump habitually shredded during his presidency.
“Trump has been cavalier about the law requiring that records be preserved,” says The Guardian. “He has a habit of ripping up documents before tossing them out, forcing White House workers to spend hours taping them back together.” Richard Immerman of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations told the newspaper that in the Trump White House “not only has record-keeping not been a priority, but we have multiple examples of it seeking to conceal or destroy that record.” Hard to believe. Honestly, does Trump strike you as someone with anything to hide?
As poets, Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine may belong in the pantheon, but not, President Emmanuel Macron has decided, in the Panthéon. A months-long campaign to re-unite the pair, whose turbulent two-year relationship ended in light gunfire, drew enthusiastic support but equally enthusiastic opposition. As reported in The Sunday Times, Roselyne Bachelot, the culture minister, lauded the poets as “symbols of diversity” who had endured the “implacable homophobia of their era.” Thousands signed a petition in favor, but the opposition included Rimbaud’s great-grand-niece, who told the newspaper that she didn’t want her ancestor defined by the brief affair, as well as the former prime minister Dominique de Villepin, who warned that honoring the writers with internment in the heroes’ mausoleum would impose on them “an identitarian memory.” So they’ll stay put.
And where is that, exactly? Rimbaud is buried in the Cimetière de Charleville-Mézières, in Ardennes; Verlaine, in Paris’s Batignolles Cemetery—a two-and-a-half-hour drive apart, or, for those seriously into pilgrimages, a walk of 46 hours.
Along with the old keyboards and laptops he discarded in a purge of his office in 2013, James Howells accidentally tossed a hard drive that, he believes, contains Bitcoin now worth more than $270 million. Since then, he’s been pressing, without luck, for permission to execute a high-stakes dumpster dive in hope of getting it back: Howell has offered the South Wales city a percentage of whatever the find—should there be a find—yields, if they’d only let him sift through the local landfill.
“I offered to donate 25% or £52.5 million ($71.7 million) to the city of Newport in order to distribute to all local residents who live in Newport should I find and recover the bitcoins,” he told CNN. “This would work out to approx £175 ($239) per person for the entire city (316k population). Unfortunately they refused the offer and won’t even have a face to face discussion with me on the matter.” According to a city-council spokeswoman speaking to The Sunday Times, “The cost of digging up the landfill, storing and treating the waste could run into millions of pounds, without any guarantee of either finding it or it still being in working order.” Alas, the proposed treasure hunt does seem to put more emphasis on the crypto than on the currency.
There’s no reason this should have occurred to Howells (see above), but he might be making more progress in his bitcoin-recovery project if he had the negotiating skills of the thieving macaques at Bali’s Uluwatu Temple. Researchers from the University of Lethbridge, in Canada, found that the monkeys prefer to target valuable items, such as phones and wallets, in order to give them better leverage during the subsequent haggling for food with their indignant human victims. “After spending more than 273 days filming interactions between the animals and temple visitors, researchers found that the macaques would demand better rewards—such as more food—for higher-valued items,” reports The Guardian. “Bargaining between a monkey robber, tourist and a temple staff member quite often lasted several minutes. The longest wait before an item was returned was 25 minutes, including 17 minutes of negotiation. For lower-valued items, the monkeys were more likely to conclude successful bartering sessions by accepting a lesser reward.”
The Saidaiji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri, or “Naked Man Festival,” normally draws 10,000 loincloth-and-white-sock-clad participants (that’s it: just the loincloths and the socks) to this Japanese city each February. And why not? It is, after all, “a centuries-old winter spectacle full of wild action, bare skin, and music,” according to one Japanese travel site, plus you get to run through ice-cold water (purification) for a while, and then scramble after good-luck talismans thrown by priests. However: the pandemic. This year the Saidaiji Kannon-in Temple, which organizes the event, has decided to invite only 141 past winners to participate, and broadcast the proceedings online.
Certain members of the U.K.’s criminal element won the lottery recently when some of their records—DNA, fingerprints, arrest histories, and so forth—were inadvertently deleted from the national police database. “Some of” means more than 400,000 records, according to one report. This adds a thrilling degree of difficulty to criminal investigations involving matches and cross-checks. The police blame a coding error, which caused an over-enthusiastic “weeding system” to delete the files starting in November and until earlier this month.
To conclude, a second item from D.C. (because the capital is so seldom in the news these days). One of the biggest backers of the attempt to reverse the results of the U.S. election, according to The Guardian, is the Club for Growth, a group of billionaires whose largest funders currently are Richard Uihlein, a businessman and Schlitz heir, and Jeffrey Yass, co-founder of Susquehanna International Group, a trading and technology company. The group reportedly contributed around $20 million to the campaigns of 42 right-wing Republican senators and members of the House, including Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and Lauren Boebert. The Club for Growth’s previous influence-wielding efforts involved garden-variety self-interest—pro-business issues, conservative values, etc.—so supporting conspiracy-drenched, anti-democratic initiatives designed to overturn the will of the people suggests the organization is breaking exciting new ground.
George Kalogerakis is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL