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Rotating Circles Optical Illusion

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 27, 2020

This is one of the best optical illusions I’ve ever seen: aside from rotating, these circles don’t move.

The left/right/up/down arrows were freaky enough but the in & out arrows really blew a gasket in my brain. For proof that the circles don’t move, blink your eyes quickly as you watch or check out this gif. (via @jagarikin)

I Spent 11 Years Working on This Line Rider Track. (Wow.)

1000s of cover videos of Billie Eilish's Bad Guy, auto-synched by AI. "Machine learning keeps all these covers on the same beat and lets you jump from video to video seamlessly."

55 Ways White People Say 'White People' Without Actually Saying 'White People', including "real Americans", "soccer moms", "law-abiding citizens", "taxpayers", and "families".

How to Socialize in the Cold Without Being Miserable. "It's like a chess match — you need to be thinking two or three moves ahead."

Their Patients Have COVID-19 and Still Think It's a Hoax. Said one nurse: "We never have had people who thought we were lying to them. It feels like the public doesn't trust us anymore."

"I Think He's Selfish": How Friendships Have Been Tested During The Pandemic.

Legendary football star Diego Maradona has died at the age of 60.

Social Unrest Is the Inevitable Legacy of the Covid Pandemic. "Throughout history, plagues have caused upheaval and revolts. This pandemic will be no different."

Quick Links Archive

The Pandemic Is a Marathon Without a Finish Line. How Can We Win?

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 25, 2020

With the positive news about the Covid-19 vaccine trials, I assume many of you have started to think about the potential end of the pandemic — what we’ll do, where we’ll go, who we’ll see, and reckon with what’s changed and what’s been lost. I know I have. Alex Hutchinson has written an intriguing piece on what sports science might be able to tell us about the psychology of a situation like the pandemic, where the finish line is poorly defined, ever-changing, or even non-existent.

As it happens, there’s a whole subfield of sports science, at the intersection of physiology and psychology, that explores this terrain. It’s called teleoanticipation, a term coined in 1996 by German physiologist Hans-Volkhart Ulmer to describe how our knowledge of an eventual endpoint (or telos) influences the entirety of an experience. Using endurance sports as their medium, researchers in this subfield have probed what happens when you hide the finish line, surreptitiously move it or take it away entirely. For those of us tempted by promising vaccine updates to start fantasizing about an end to the pandemic, these researchers have some advice: don’t.

Instead, the key seems to be remaining in the moment instead of focusing on the goal.

It turns out that, if you ask yourself “Can I keep going?” rather than “Can I make it to the finish?” you’re far more likely to answer in the affirmative.

This squares with mindfulness practices from Buddhism and Stoicism but also reminds me of a motivational trick I first heard a few years ago: that you can do anything for 10 seconds — and then you just begin a new 10 seconds. Turns out that was popularized by Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Good advice can come from anywhere.

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Imagining a Covid-19 Pandemic Memorial

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 25, 2020

Covid Memorial

Even though we’re still in the midst of it, The Atlantic commissioned three designers/artists to design hypothetical Covid-19 memorials. Ian Bogost writes:

So this might seem like a strange time to imagine memorializing the pandemic in a formal way. A premature time. Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial was conceived in 1981, six years after the United States had withdrawn from the conflict. Michael Arad and Peter Walker’s 9/11 memorial broke ground at the site of the World Trade Center in 2006, almost five years after the attacks.

But there are downsides to waiting. A traumatic event is an author of its own memorial; as a famous anecdote attests, when a Nazi soldier asked Pablo Picasso if he had made Guernica, the famous painting the artist created during the month following the Luftwaffe’s bombing of its Basque namesake in 1937, Picasso replied, “No, you did.” The feelings, facts, and ideas available during a calamity dissipate as it ebbs. The temptation arises to contain tragedy in a tidy box, closing the book on its history.

Each of the three ideas is intriguing in its own way. I liked how Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello (who made those border wall teeter-totters last year) explained their thought process (which Rael elaborated on here).

Quarantine has limited our ability to use smell and touch for communion, so she and Rael became interested in finding a way to replicate the experience. That’s where pennies come in: Copper is an antiviral — a quality with obvious symbolism in the moment — and one that evolves over time, developing a patina as it interacts with water and air. So the pair latched on to it as a material.

Rael San Fratello’s first idea was a pragmatic one: a traditional memorial made of copper molded into a bulbous, organic wall. The copper material would invite the touch lost to quarantine. Outdoors, it could develop a green or purple patina. “If touched constantly,” San Fratello said, “the patina might never occur, and the memorial will remain shiny.”

See also the design for a pandemic memorial already in the planning stages in Uruguay.

Our Friend

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 25, 2020

That’s the trailer for Our Friend, a movie based on the true story told in this Esquire article by Matthew Teague: The Friend: Love Is Not a Big Enough Word.

His wife was just thirty-four. They had two little girls. The cancer was everywhere, and the parts of dying that nobody talks about were about to start. His best friend came to help out for a couple weeks. And he never left.

I remember very clearly that essay and the day I read it — I think about it all the time. I don’t know if the movie is going to be any good (I hope so), but if you’ve never read this essay, carve out some time to do so today.

A Framework for the Equitable Allocation of a COVID-19 Vaccine

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2020

Now that the preliminary results of various Covid-19 vaccine trials are coming out (and looking promising), attention is turning to the eventual distribution of the vaccines. The logistics of getting the doses out to hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices is one concern but so is the question of who should get vaccinated first. Supplies of the vaccines will be limited at first, so we’ll need to decide as a society what distribution method is most fair and is of the most benefit to the greatest number of people.

To this end, and in response to a request by the CDC and NIH, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine formed a committee to produce a report called Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine. The 252-page report is available to the public for free to read online or download.

In addition several recommendations — including that the vaccine be distributed to everyone free of charge — a central feature of the report is a four-phase system of vaccine distribution, summarized in this graphic:

Four-phase framework for the equitable allocation of a COVID-19 vaccine

I’d like to stress that this graphic does not show all groups of people included in each phase — please consult the text of the report for that before you go sharing that graphic on social media without context. For example, here’s the full description for “high-risk health workers” in Phase 1a:

This group includes frontline health care workers (who are in hospitals, nursing homes, or providing home care) who either (1) work in situations where the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission is higher, or (2) are at an elevated risk of transmitting the infection to patients at higher risk of mortality and severe morbidity. These individuals — who are themselves unable to avoid exposure to the virus — play a critical role in ensuring that the health system can care for COVID-19 patients.

These groups include not only clinicians (e.g., nurses, physicians, respiratory technicians, dentists and hygienists) but also other workers in health care settings who meet the Phase 1a risk criteria (e.g., nursing assistants, environmental services staff, assisted living facility staff, long-term care facility staff, group home staff, and home caregivers). The health care settings employing these workers who are at increased risk of exposure to the virus may also include ambulatory and urgent care clinics; dialysis centers; blood, organ, and tissue donation facilities; and other non-hospital health care facilities. Finally, there are community and family settings where care for infected patients occurs. Not all the workers in these settings are paid for their labor, but, while they are caring for infected people, they all need to be protected from the virus.

Situations associated with higher risk of transmission include caring for COVID-19 patients, cleaning areas where COVID-19 patients are admitted, treated, and housed, and performing procedures with higher risk of aerosolization such as endotracheal intubation, bronchoscopy, suctioning, turning the patient to the prone position, disconnecting the patient from the ventilator, invasive dental procedures and exams, invasive specimen collection, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. In addition, there are other frontline health care workers who, if they have uncontrolled exposure to the patients or the public in the course of their work, should be in this initial phase. This group includes those individuals distributing or administering the vaccine — especially in areas of higher community transmission — such as pharmacists, plasma and blood donation workers, public health nurses, and other public health and emergency preparedness workers. The committee also includes morticians, funeral home workers, and other death care professionals involved in handling bodies as part of this high-risk group.

The report declines to list specific industries which would be covered in Phase 2’s “critical workers in high-risk settings” but generally says:

The industries in which these critical workers are employed are essential to keeping society and the economy functioning. Since the beginning of the pandemic, millions of people have been going to work and risking exposure to the virus to ensure that markets have food; drug stores have pharmaceutical products; public safety and order are maintained; mail and packages are delivered; and buses, trains, and planes are operating.

Note also the text at the bottom of the graphic: they recommend that within each phase, priority be given to geographic areas where folks are more socially vulnerable in situations like these (e.g. as represented in the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index).

In developing this phased approach, the committee focused on those who are at the most risk of exposure, severe illness or death, and passing along the virus to others as well as critical workers:

Risk of acquiring infection: Individuals have higher priority to the extent that they have a greater probability of being in settings where SARS-CoV-2 is circulating and of being exposed to a sufficient dose of the virus.

Risk of severe morbidity and mortality: Individuals have higher priority to the extent that they have a greater probability of severe disease or death if they acquire infection.

Risk of negative societal impact: Individuals have higher priority to the extent that societal function and other individuals’ lives and livelihood depend on them directly and would be imperiled if they fell ill.

Risk of transmitting infection to others: Individuals have higher priority to the extent that there is a higher probability of their transmitting the infection to others.

You should read (or at least skim) the full report for more information about the plan and the rationale behind it.

On a personal parting note, as someone who is squarely in the 5-15% of Americans covered in Phase 4 — more specifically: as a 40-something straight white man who non-essentially works from home, isn’t low-income, doesn’t socialize widely even under normal circumstances, and should probably be the very last person on this whole Earth scheduled to be vaccinated under an equitable framework — I am content to wait my turn should the US adopt this framework or something like it.1 Distributing vaccines to those who need them most is absolutely the right thing to do, both ethically and from the standpoint of getting society “back to normal” as quickly as possible and with as little additional death and suffering as possible.

  1. Being that equity often isn’t America’s thing, especially during the pandemic, I could see this going either way. And even if this framework is adopted, those who can afford it will undoubtably be able to procure themselves a dose right alongside those medical workers in Phase 1a.

Raising Baby Grey, a Gender-Neutral Child

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2020

In this short film from Alex Mallis, we meet a Bronx couple who are raising their child Grey in a gender-neutral way until they make a decision for themselves. No single gender wardrobes or toy collections and they/them pronouns.

Really the goal here is, it’s not about me trying to force anything on Grey, it’s actually the exact opposite. And we don’t know their gender yet, and when they tell us, they’ll tell us. And it might change over time and that’s okay too.

Crispin Long wrote an accompanying piece for the New Yorker on the film.

Watching Grey’s parents navigate this terrain inspires questions about how Grey might one day respond to being brought up this way. Of course, it’s impossible to parent without error, and society does its share of damage, to many of us, without the help of parents. Asking a child to inhabit such a complex and politicized position is demanding, but so is asking a child to perform femininity or masculinity. I get the sense that many trans people would unambivalently prefer to have been raised without the gender they were assigned at birth and its attendant expectations. For me, it’s less clear. If my parents had made every effort to free me from the strictures of the gender binary, I might have rebelled against their liberal piety or appreciated their efforts — or maybe both.

250 Days of Daily Pandemic Drawings

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2020

Author and illustrator Edward Carey has been making a drawing a day since the beginning of the pandemic. He recently completed his 250th drawing, with “no end in sight, alas”. He’s posting each day’s drawing to Instagram; here are a few of my recent favorites:

Edward Carey

And the whole lot laid out on the floor:

Edward Carey

That’s so many days. (via austin kleon)

Tracking Pre-Pandemic “Lasts” and Post-Lockdown “Firsts”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2020

Giorgia Lupi's hand-drawn 2020 timeline

For the print version of the NY Times from this past Sunday, information designer Giorgia Lupi created a hand-drawn visualization that “tracks the last time [she] did something before the pandemic hit, and the first time she did something new with social distancing”.

Our lives have been transformed during the Covid-19 pandemic as the activities we used to do every day have been put on hold and new, socially distanced routines have taken their place. Pentagram partner Giorgia Lupi documents these changes in her own life in a data visualization commissioned by The New York Times for the cover of its “At Home” section, which runs as part of the newspaper’s Sunday edition. The hand-drawn visualization is a personal timeline that tracks the “last” time Giorgia did something before the pandemic hit, and the “first” time she did something new as she started to emerge from lockdown.

Not hand-drawn, but I remember pretty clearly what my lasts were:

I don’t remember my firsts as well, although one that sticks out is eating french fries (take-out) in July. On a normal day, french fries are delicious but when you haven’t had them in months, they are otherworldly.

Rebecca Solnit: We Don’t Need to Meet Nazis Halfway

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2020

Writing for Lithub, Rebecca Solnit on On Not Meeting Nazis Halfway.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito just complained that “you can’t say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Now it’s considered bigotry.” This is a standard complaint of the right: the real victim is the racist who has been called a racist, not the victim of his racism, the real oppression is to be impeded in your freedom to oppress. And of course Alito is disingenuous; you can say that stuff against marriage equality (and he did). Then other people can call you a bigot, because they get to have opinions too, but in his scheme such dissent is intolerable, which is fun coming from a member of the party whose devotees wore “fuck your feelings” shirts at its rallies and popularized the term “snowflake.”

Nevertheless, we get this hopelessly naive version of centrism, of the idea that if we’re nicer to the other side there will be no other side, just one big happy family. This inanity is also applied to the questions of belief and fact and principle, with some muddled cocktail of moral relativism and therapists’ “everyone’s feelings are valid” applied to everything. But the truth is not some compromise halfway between the truth and the lie, the fact and the delusion, the scientists and the propagandists. And the ethical is not halfway between white supremacists and human rights activists, rapists and feminists, synagogue massacrists and Jews, xenophobes and immigrants, delusional transphobes and trans people. Who the hell wants unity with Nazis until and unless they stop being Nazis?

Reading this, I was reminded of the paradox of tolerance:

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

And also, I can’t remember where I heard this recently, but it’s perhaps worth noting that in game theory (I know, I know), when you’re dealing with an iterated prisoner’s dilemma situation (where two competitors are engaged in repeated confrontation), one of the the best strategies is called generous tit-for-tat. Playing a generous tit-for-tat strategy means cooperating on the first move and then mirroring whatever the other player did on their previous move — but, crucially, occasionally cooperating after an attack as a opening to potential future collaboration. So, if the other party cooperates, so do you. And if the other party attacks, attack back…but not every time. Attempting to collaborate in the face of repeated attack leaves the door open to reestablish a virtuous cooperation cycle. The real world of national politics is not quite so simple, but it seems like a shift in strategy for progressives might be in order. (via christopher jobson)

The Benefits of Collecting - “One Thing Leads to Another”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2020

This video is a lovely little rumination by Iancu Barbarasa “about collecting, cycling caps, art and design, personal connections and why it’s worth doing something for a long time, even if the benefits are not clear at first.”

Many think some people are special but usually those people just put a lot more time in it than others. This applies to sports, arts, almost everything. It’s worth doing something for a long time, even if the benefits are not always clear. Good surprising things come out of it. You also learn about yourself in the process.

His inspiration in doing the film was to “inform, delight, and inspire”:

I mentioned above Milton Glaser’s “inform and delight” definition of art. It’s brilliant, but I always felt something was still missing from it. So I’d say that art — and any creative’s work — should aim to “inform, delight and inspire”. Hopefully my film will inspire people to start something of their own, or share what they’re already doing with other people. That would bring joy to everyone, and there’s never too much of it.

You can check out Barbarasa’s cycling cap collection on Instagram. I have never been much of a collector, but my 22+ years of efforts on this site (collecting knowledge/links?) and my sharing of photos on Flickr/Instagram over the years definitely have resulted in some of the same benefits.

“I Lived Through A Stupid Coup. America Is Having One Now.”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2020

Indi Samarajiva on living through a stupid political coup in Sri Lanka and a warning to Americans.

Two years ago, I lived through a coup in Sri Lanka. It was stupid. The minority party threw chili powder at everyone in Parliament and took over by farce. Math, however, requires a majority and the courts kicked them out. They gave in. We’d been on the streets for weeks but yay, we won.

No.

I didn’t know it at the time, but we had already lost. No one knew — but oh my God, what we lost. The legitimate government came back but it was divided and weak. We were divided and weak. We were vulnerable.

Four months later, on Easter Sunday, some assholes attacked multiple churches and hotels, killing 269 of us. My wife and kids were at church, I had to frantically call them back. Our nation was shattered. Mobs began attacking innocent Muslims. It was out of control. The coup broke our government, and four months later, that broke us.

The coup was a farce at the time but how soon it turned to tragedy. They called it a constitutional crisis, but how soon it became a real one. Right now, the same thing is happening to you. I’m trying to warn you America. It seems stupid now, but the consequences are not.

See also Samarajiva’s “I Lived Through Collapse. America Is Already There.”

Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 Vaccine Up to 90% Effective

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2020

Preliminary results from the trials of the Covid-19 vaccine jointly developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca indicate that the vaccine’s overall efficacy is 70% but that a regimen that calls for a lower first dose is 90% effective.

The preliminary results on the AstraZeneca vaccine were based on a total of 131 Covid-19 cases in a study involving 11,363 participants. The findings were perplexing. Two full doses of the vaccine appeared to be only 62% effective at preventing disease, while a half dose, followed by a full dose, was about 90% effective. That latter analysis was conducted on a small subset of the study participants, only 2,741.

Hopefully more study will be done on that dosage question. From the AP:

“The report that an initial half-dose is better than a full dose seems counterintuitive for those of us thinking of vaccines as normal drugs: With drugs, we expect that higher doses have bigger effects, and more side-effects,” he said. “But the immune system does not work like that.”

The seemingly lower efficacy comes with some perhaps significant benefits: this vaccine is cheaper to produce and doesn’t require any special refrigeration.

The vaccine can be transported under “normal refrigerated conditions” of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius (36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit), AstraZeneca said. By comparison, Pfizer plans to distribute its vaccine using specially designed “thermal shippers” that use dry ice to maintain temperatures of minus-70 degrees Celsius (minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit).

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were pretty similar in many respects and this one seems quite different. These results were just released a few hours ago, so it will be interesting to follow the debate and expert commentary on this. Stay tuned…

Update: This is amazing: the seemingly more effective 1/2 dose + full dose regimen was a mistake.

Around the time when Astra was initiating its partnership with Oxford at the end of April, university researchers were administering doses to trial participants in Britain.

They soon noticed expected side effects such as fatigue, headaches or arm aches were milder than expected, he said.

“So we went back and checked … and we found out that they had underpredicted the dose of the vaccine by half,” said Pangalos.

A far smaller number of participants was given the initial half-dose, so more research will need to be done to determine if this mistake will be added to the long list of scientific discoveries made because of errors. There’s a good piece in Nature that talks about what we know and don’t know about the vaccine results so far along with some informed speculation.

But, if the differences are bona fide, researchers are eager to understand why. “I don’t think it’s an anomaly,” says Katie Ewer, an immunologist at Oxford’s Jenner Institute who is working on the vaccine. “I’m keen to get into the lab and start thinking about how we address that question.” She has two leading theories for why a lower first dose might have led to better protection against COVID. It’s possible that lower doses of vaccine do a better job at stimulating the subset of immune cells called T cells that support the production of antibodies, she says.

Another potential explanation is the immune system’s response against the chimpanzee virus. The vaccine triggers an immune response not only to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, but also to components of the viral vector. It’s possible that the full first dose blunted this reaction, says Ewer. She plans to look at antibody responses against the chimpanzee virus to help address this question.

Update: A short thread by Dr. Natalie Dean, which leads with “AstraZeneca/Oxford get a poor grade for transparency and rigor when it comes to the vaccine trial results they have reported”.

Tom Stoppard and the Last Crusade

posted by Tim Carmody   Nov 21, 2020

Tom Stoppard - Young.jpg

Hermione Lee has written an authorized biography of playwright, screenwriter, translator, and man of letters Tom Stoppard, called Tom Stoppard: A Life. It was released in the United Kingdom on October 1st and should appear in the United States on February 23, 2021.

Here’s an excerpt from the core of Kate Kellaway’s glowing review in The Guardian:

“He put on Englishness like a coat,” Lee writes - and one imagines a particularly dashing coat because Stoppard compensated for his reserve by being an unretiring dresser (a recent photograph shows him, in his 80s, still modishly draped). But the English coat was possibly over-buttoned. Stoppard had an exile’s gratitude to England. He found his boarding school in 18th-century Okeover Hall “paradise”. Yet Lee qualifies the received idea - an oversimplified, dismissive slur - of Stoppard as unswervingly conservative. For a start, he is too entertaining to be stuffy…

His championing of political causes is shown to have stemmed more from empathy with individuals than from abstract ideals. His support for Belarus Free Theatre makes particularly fascinating reading, as does the account of his friendship with Václav Havel, Czech playwright and president. Havel is presented as the person Stoppard might have been had he not become an Englishman.

Lee’s studies of the plays are masterly - especially of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966) and Arcadia (1993) - and her book will be a formidable resource for Stoppard enthusiasts. She makes a persuasive case for the importance of emotion, challenging - even in the early work - the old complaint that Stoppard is all head and no heart. Jumpers is “a sensational exercise in mental acrobatics” but also “a play of grief and love. It carries the sadness and the guilt of living in a malfunctioning marriage with a wife who is having a breakdown and it opened two days after his divorce.”

The British edition from Faber & Faber is 992 pages long and weighs 1.33 kilograms (about three pounds). It also retails for £30 in the UK, about 40 USD (used to be more, but the exchange rate has been low—point is, it’s an expensive book). Mercifully, Knopf’s US hardcover will be only 897 pages and cost $37.50, with weight unchanged.

It’s a big book by a biographer known for big books about major literary figures, sadly mostly dead. Stoppard is very much alive, and although quite private, agreed to sit for hours of interviews over a course of years. Lee was also able to interview Stoppard’s friends and colleagues, including actress Felicity Kendal (who starred in multiple Stoppard plays, including in roles written for her), director Trevor Nunn (in charge of three of Stoppard’s world premieres), and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

This last might seem like an odd choice, but Spielberg and Stoppard have multiple points of contact. Stoppard wrote the screenplay for Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, and served as an uncredited ghostwriter on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In fact, not only was Stoppard not credited, the lack of credit was actually given to a pseudonym, “Barry Watson.”

Everything suggests that Stoppard’s contributions to the film were substantial. In a brief oral history of The Last Crusade, now lost to linkrot but still preserved by the Wayback Machine, Spielberg says, “Tom is pretty much responsible for every line of dialogue.”

Last year, narrative analyst Mike Fitzgerald broke down in detail differences between a draft version of the screenplay by credited writer Jeffrey Boam and the published draft, including revisions by Spielberg and a heavy rewrite by Stoppard. (You can actually download both versions of the screenplay on Fitzgerald’s site.) Again, Stoppard contributed not just lines of dialogue, but new scenes, a new structure, and changes in characterization.

Vast enhancements were made to every element of the story - character, plot, pace, humor, action, tone, clarity, dialogue. The result is a markedly more coherent, charming, and enduring script that truly belongs in a museum. I suspect that, absent the final revisions, this film would have been regarded by audiences as inferior to its antecedent sequel THE TEMPLE OF DOOM in tone, wit, and entertainment value…

TIGHTENING: The revised draft is 15 pages shorter, though material was not arbitrarily removed just to cut pages. I found 19 instances of scenes or beats being cut, 6 superfluous characters removed, several jokes deleted, and dialogue often pared down. Each of these extractions had a clear purpose to it, whether streamlining the plot, quickening the pace, avoiding redundancies, or simply that the material in question was superfluous and distracting. Note that the revised draft has also ADDED a substantial amount of new scenes, beats, jokes, and dialogue, so in order to counterbalance the new material and cut 15 pages, an ample sum of script was removed…

DIALOGUE: One of Stoppard’s most obvious revisions is to vastly refine the dialogue, and only by reading both drafts side by side is it possible to study those differences. I would ballpark that 80% of the lines have been substantially changed.

HUMOR: This manifests largely in the dialogue, but also in sight gags, character actions, edit points, and streamlining moments to make the jokes land with more precision. The quality of humor is also refined, by removing coarse innuendo and making the jokes smarter and less predictable.

Stoppard was responsible for reshaping one of my favorite scenes in the film. At one point, Henry (Sean Connery’s character) was going to use Indy’s gun (down to just one bullet) to shoot at the seagulls, who would in turn fly into the engines of the plane pursuing them and make it crash. Stoppard had Henry chase them with his umbrella instead.

(The Charlemagne quote is totally made up. Unclear whether Henry Jones is supposed to believe that it’s real.)

Stoppard emphasized elements of faith and history in the story. For example, he rewrote the character of Kazim, changing him from a Nazi stooge to a protector of the grail, and invented the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword.

Stoppard also rewrote Henry’s dialogue during the cavern collapse to have him finally call his son by his chosen name, Indiana.

One last thing: if you watch The Last Crusade now, as opposed to thirty years ago, certain things stand out. They used a lot of projected backgrounds. Those don’t look great. More substantively, the Nazis, while generally faithful to their portrayal in Raiders of the Lost Ark, plus some updates, feel pretty… thin. They’re bad guys, evil and a little scary, but you’d be forgiven if you came away from the movie thinking the problem with the Nazis was that they liked to burn books and despoil antiquities, while good people love libraries and museums. That ain’t it.

Stoppard was born Tomás Straüssler, in 1937, in Zlín, Czechoslovakia. In 1939, his parents, nonpracticing Jews, fled the Nazi invasion to Singapore. His father was killed in 1942 when the Japanese Air Force bombed Singapore, and Stoppard has no memory of him; Tom, his mother Marta, and his brother succeeded in reaching India, where he lived until 1946. His new stepfather, Major Kenneth Stoppard, was an antisemite; his mother hid her and her children’s Jewishness to be accepted by him and his circle, now in England.

Three of Stoppard’s aunts, all four of his grandparents, and his great-grandmother all died in the Holocaust. And Stoppard did not know this about his extended family until 1993, four years after the release of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

It is tempting to ask, if Stoppard had been fully aware of and fully embraced his central European and Jewish roots, as he was when he wrote his new play Leopoldstadt, whether his approach to the Nazis, or the very Christian, very English themes of the Grail legend, or even the son striving to be reconciled to his father, might have been substantively different.

In many ways, the Grail legend was perfect for Stoppard: more English than the English, but still a little resistant, a little outside the nation’s own history. A crusade, a quest, a reclamation, a reconciliation.