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Israel’s Eurovision Song Contest won

Sunday, 19 May, 2019

The Netherlands’ Duncan Laurence won last night’s Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv with his song Arcade, which topped the leader-board with 492 points in the public vote. Italy finished second with 465 points and Russia third with 369 points. Madonna also sang but most viewers regarded her performance as flat, musically and artistically. Iceland’s heavy metal act Hatari displayed Palestinian flags. Inevitably, this act of pubertal thickness was hailed and highlighted in the “popular” press.

Bob Dylan’s song Neighborhood Bully appeared on the album Infidels, which was released in October 1983. In the song, Dylan deployed sarcasm to defend Israel’s right to exist and the lyrics included references, some direct, some oblique, to history, near and far. The Six-Day War and Operation Opera, Israel’s bombing of the Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad in 1981 are in there, as is the enslavement of the Israelites by the Romans. The shadows of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union loom as well.

Neighborhood Bully

Well, the neighborhood bully, he’s just one man
His enemies say he’s on their land
They got him outnumbered about a million to one
He got no place to escape to, no place to run
He’s the neighborhood bully

The neighborhood bully just lives to survive
He’s criticized and condemned for being alive
He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin
He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in
He’s the neighborhood bully

The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land
He’s wandered the earth an exiled man
Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn
He’s always on trial for just being born
He’s the neighborhood bully

Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized
Old women condemned him, said he should apologize.
Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad
The bombs were meant for him. He was supposed to feel bad
He’s the neighborhood bully

Well, the chances are against it and the odds are slim
That he’ll live by the rules that the world makes for him
’Cause there’s a noose at his neck and a gun at his back
And a license to kill him is given out to every maniac
He’s the neighborhood bully

He got no allies to really speak of
What he gets he must pay for, he don’t get it out of love
He buys obsolete weapons and he won’t be denied
But no one sends flesh and blood to fight by his side
He’s the neighborhood bully

Well, he’s surrounded by pacifists who all want peace
They pray for it nightly that the bloodshed must cease
Now, they wouldn’t hurt a fly. To hurt one they would weep
They lay and they wait for this bully to fall asleep
He’s the neighborhood bully

Every empire that’s enslaved him is gone
Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon
He’s made a garden of paradise in the desert sand
In bed with nobody, under no one’s command
He’s the neighborhood bully

Now his holiest books have been trampled upon
No contract he signed was worth what it was written on
He took the crumbs of the world and he turned it into wealth
Took sickness and disease and he turned it into health
He’s the neighborhood bully

What’s anybody indebted to him for?
Nothin’, they say. He just likes to cause war
Pride and prejudice and superstition indeed
They wait for this bully like a dog waits to feed
He’s the neighborhood bully

What has he done to wear so many scars?
Does he change the course of rivers? Does he pollute the moon and stars?
Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill
Running out the clock, time standing still
Neighborhood bully


Herman Wouk: Who wanted to unite Europe?

Saturday, 18 May, 2019

The author and screenwriter Herman Wouk has died at the age of 103. He was born in the Bronx on 27 May 1915 and passed away yesterday in Palm Springs. Wouk won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1951 with The Caine Mutiny and he topped the bestseller lists twenty years later with The Winds of War, which was made into a popular TV series in 1983. The novel begins six months before Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 and ends shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Here, the character Natalie Jastrow speaks:

“I’m sorry. I’m impressed with Hitler’s ability to use socialist prattle when necessary, and then discard it. He uses doctrines as he uses money, to get things done. They’re expendable. He uses racism because that’s the pure distillate of German romantic egotism, just as Lenin used utopian Marxism because it appealed to Russia’s messianic streak. Hitler means to hammer out a united Europe… He understands them, and he may just succeed. A unified Europe must come. The medieval jigsaw of nations is obsolete. The balance of power is dangerous foolishness in the industrial age. It must all be thrown out. Somebody has to be ruthless enough to do it, since the peoples with their ancient hatreds will never do it themselves. It’s only Napoleon’s original vision, but he was a century ahead of his time.”

The Caine Mutiny was made into a hit film in 1954 and Humphrey Bogart gave one of his finest performances as the paranoid Captain Queeg. The author knew whereof he spoke. He enlisted in the US naval reserve in 1942 and served in the Pacific aboard destroyer-minesweepers.

Herman Wouk Apart from epic historical novels of family and war, Herman Wouk’s literary output was devoted to an understanding of Judaism, especially the American Jewish experience. His religion was central to his work.

“Religious people tend to encounter, among those who are not, a cemented certainty that belief in God is a crutch for the weak and fearful. It would be just as silly to assert that disbelief in God is a crutch for the immoral and the ill-read.” — Herman Wouk, This is My God: A Guidebook to Judaism


Smell the sea, and feel the sky

Friday, 17 May, 2019

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

John Masefield, Sea Fever

Yohan Terraza

Image: The French photographer Yohan Terraza was born in 1980 in Bordeaux. His style of landscape photography is influenced by romantic painters such as J. M. W. Turner.


Facial recognition in the multiverse

Thursday, 16 May, 2019

Urban environments, with their never-ending interactions of individuals and groups, fascinate the Tokyo-based filmmaker Hiroshi Kondo. And he captures this restlessness perfectly in his fast-moving short films. His latest work, “multiverse”, focuses on scooter commuters in Taiwan as they travel in swarms, but Kondo never loses sight of the faces of the individuals in the mass.

“A crowd moving in one direction. People who flow in a moment.
A scene where the difference with other people disappears and looks uniform.
There are many different kinds of life there.
You can feel invisible energy when you see a large mass of individuals.”

Hiroshi Kondo


These EU elections again

Wednesday, 15 May, 2019

Apart from the excitement generated so far by the astonishing polling performance of the Brexit Party in the UK, this year’s European Union Parliament elections are inducing even more torpor than ever. European political debate, such as it is, is still dominated by Brexit, while President Macron’s EU reform proposals, which should have lit a fire, have been completely quenched. Credit for that must go to Chancellor Merkel, who ignored them, and her designated successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, has done nothing to suggest that she’s going to deviate from Mutti’s cold-shoulder line. Reformist ideas coming from France simply don’t survive the crossing of the Rhine anymore.

This leaves us with an election in which mostly Lilliputian candidates repeat mostly hackneyed phrases. Because the stakes are so low, turnout will be low, too. And because nothing much will change after 26 May the lack of voter excitement is totally justified. Despite Brexit, the immigration crisis and the fragility of the euro, the EU seems unable to energize itself or the citizens of its member states. This is all the more astonishing, given that Europe’s North Atlantic partner and protector is drifting away, China’s rapacious Belt and Road initiative is making inroads in Italy after making important acquisitions in Greece and Russia is becoming ever more dangerous as it expands its malign influence into the eastern regions of the EU. There’s lots going on but the European Union seems destined to a future of global irrelevance. It’s not surprising, then, that the so-called populists get all the attention.


The richness of the rain

Tuesday, 14 May, 2019

“I’m a London based photographer specialising in street photography and social documentary photography,” says Joshua K. Jackson. “I’m best known for using a bold palette to help illustrate the vibrancy of life in Central London, whilst also exploring themes of diversity and disparity. My work often enters into abstraction and presents the viewer with an unfamiliar view of a familiar city.”

Jackson’s photos of rain are tactile. One can feel the clouds breaking apart and falling.

Rain


Teenagers: Facebook is only 13, Twitter just 11

Monday, 13 May, 2019

The Istanbul-born writer and academic Zeynep Tufecki has made a name for herself with her analysis of Big Tech and her understanding of its impacts. Last year she wrote in the New York Times that, “YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century.” Now, she’s taken to the pages of Wired to declare, “IT’S THE (DEMOCRACY-POISONING) GOLDEN AGE OF FREE SPEECH.” In her conclusion, she compares the current state of the major social media platforms with the early days of the automobile industry:

“We don’t have to be resigned to the status quo. Facebook is only 13 years old, Twitter 11, and even Google is but 19. At this moment in the evolution of the auto industry, there were still no seat belts, airbags, emission controls, or mandatory crumple zones. The rules and incentive structures underlying how attention and surveillance work on the internet need to change. But in fairness to Facebook and Google and Twitter, while there’s a lot they could do better, the public outcry demanding that they fix all these problems is fundamentally mistaken. There are few solutions to the problems of digital discourse that don’t involve huge trade-offs — and those are not choices for Mark Zuckerberg alone to make. These are deeply political decisions. In the 20th century, the US passed laws that outlawed lead in paint and gasoline, that defined how much privacy a landlord needs to give his tenants, and that determined how much a phone company can surveil its customers. We can decide how we want to handle digital surveillance, attention-channeling, harassment, data collection, and algorithmic decision­making.”

Zeynep Tufecki is a faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, and in 2017 Yale University Press published her Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. The book is available to download as a PDF (1.70MB) for free from Twitterandteargas.org.


Venice threatened by rising tide

Sunday, 12 May, 2019

The rising tide of tourism, that is. The current inflow is 25 million tourists a year and this number is projected to reach 38 million by 2025. Still Venice is remarkably resilient. The city has lasted a millennium and what makes it all the more extraordinary is that a lagoon is a temporary natural phenomenon, but the reason Venice’s lagoon hasn’t silted is centuries of careful management, technical innovation and commercial regulation.

The same solutions can be applied to tourism. Take accommodation. Since 2015, Airbnb rentals in Venice have tripled from 2,441 to 8,320, according to Airdna. Eighty percent of those are entire home rentals, many of which are owned by agencies or international investors. With the launch of Fairbnb, a not-for-profit home-sharing site that only accepts resident hosts and stipulates one home per host, an alternative is available.

Nicolò Scibilia says, “Venice is not just a stage set. It is also a city with a resident population, which has productive activities, transportation and services. But how does the ‘Venice system’ work? How do the tides in the lagoon behave? How are the canals formed? And the embankments? What’s under the buildings?” The canals, sewers, buildings and bridges have been designed to cope with an environment that’s constantly challenged by salt water, but Venice survives. It can survive tourism, too.


Until only the mountain remains

Saturday, 11 May, 2019

The birds have vanished into the sky
And now the last cloud drains away
We sit together, the mountain and me,
Until only the mountain remains.

Li Bai (701 – 762)

Mountains


White V

Friday, 10 May, 2019

Here we are at the end of our in-depth look at White, the latest work by Bret Easton Ellis. No reviews of the book were read before we began posting on Monday and none has been read since. Given that the author is less than admiring of what he terms “legacy media”, one expects that the mainstream reviews have not been flattering. But Ellis has taken a lot of criticism in his time and, no doubt, more of it won’t deter him from creating his art or expressing his opinions.

The final chapter is titled “these days” and it serves as the crescendo for what’s been building since the very first page with its dig at helicopter parents and their snowflake offspring. In “these days”, Ellis shines a bright light on the derangement that began in the USA and Europe on 9 November 2016 when the candidate of the liberal elites was not elected president. He learns that a friend of his has been shunned because he’d talked positively about President Trump on social media and this prompts the question: “Was this really all it took?” The chapter is filled with quotable paragraphs. Here’s one:

“Like me, my friend accepted all ideologies and opinions, even those diametrically opposed to his own, and we noted how many of our friends were living in a bubble, still reeling over the ‘unfairness’ of the election and the perceived evil of the Trump administration, and couldn’t bear to consider a different view — that is, to stand in someone else’s shoes. This was why it seemed to many of us in that summer that the Left was morphing into something it had never been in my lifetime: a morally superior, intolerant and authoritarian party that was out of touch and lacked any coherent ideology beyond its blanket refusal to credit an election in which someone they didn’t approve of had, at least legally, technically, won the White House. The Left had become a rage machine burning itself up: a melting blue bubble dissolving in on itself.”

We’ll return to White another day because Bret Easton Ellis’ views on “the toxic dead-end of identity politics” deserve a post or more. White is a timely book and a welcome antidote to the madness that has gripped the elites and their sycophantic transcriptionists in the media.

White


White IV

Thursday, 9 May, 2019

The way Bret Easton Ellis sees it, what “Generation Wuss” really wants is to be admired. White Only positive feedback, please. No negativity, please. But what’s going to happen to conversation and culture if this becomes the norm? Generation Wuss, by the way, comprises the hyper-sensitive Millennials who have grown up with the internet. As soon as they’re criticized, “they seem to collapse into a shame spiral and the person criticizing them is automatically labelled a hater, a contrarian, a troll.” Because their parents have tried to shield them from the dark side of life, they’ve created a generation “that appears to be super confident and positive about things but when the least bit of darkness enters into their realm they become paralyzed and unable to process it.” In White, Ellis claims that all this has led to an epidemic of self-victimization. Snippet:

“If you’re a Caucasian adult who can’t read Shakespeare or Melville or Toni Morrison because it might trigger something harmful and such texts could damage your hope to define yourself through your victimization, then you need to see a doctor, get into immersion therapy or take some meds. If you feel you’re experiencing ‘micro-aggressions’ when someone asks you where you are from or ‘Can you help me with my math?’ or offers a ‘God bless you’ after a sneeze, or a drunken guy tries to grope you at a Christmas party, or some douche purposefully brushes against you at a valet stand in order to cop a feel, or someone merely insulted you, or the candidate you voted for wasn’t elected, or someone correctly identifies you by your gender, and you consider this a missive societal dis, and it’s triggering you and you need a safe space, then you need to seek professional help. If you’re afflicted by these traumas that occurred years ago, and that is still a part of you years later, then you probably are still sick and in need of treatment. But victimizing oneself is like a drug — it feels so delicious, you get so much attention from people, it does in fact define you, making you feel alive and even important while showing off your supposed wounds, no matter how minor, so people can lick them. Don’t they taste so good?”

Tomorrow, here, our final post about White. It’s all about the hangover psychosis of the liberal identity-obsessed elites. Guess what triggered them? Hint: 8 November 2016.