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Churchill: The central act was the dead body in a box

Friday, 30 January, 2015 0 Comments
Churchill: The central act was the dead body in a box

“This was the last time that such a thing could happen. This was the last time that London would be the capital of the world. This was an act of mourning for the imperial past. This marked the final act in Britain’s greatness. This was a great gesture of self-pity and after this the coldness of reality and the status of Scandinavia.”

The state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill took place 50 years ago today and Patrick O’Donovan covered the ceremony for the Observer. Rarely has journalistic prose matched an historic occasion so well. This is magnificent:

“But really this was a celebration. And however painful, most funerals are just that. When a man is buried, those who are still alive crave some gesture of respect that cannot help the cadaver. And this gesture is made over and over again by Christians and Communists and humanists and the unconcerned. It is a proud half-conscious assertion that man is not an animal that dies alone in a hole. It is almost a gesture of contempt to the face of death. And once or twice in a generation, a dead monarch or hero is chosen to epitomise a whole nation’s assertion of continuity and dignity. And because the central, the overwhelming fact was the dead body in a box of oak at a certain time and in a special way was, for all public purposes, Britain and more than Britain, this assertion was unbelievably eloquent over this corpse.

It was a triumph. It was a celebration of a great thing that we did in the past. It was an act of gratitude to a man whom we can no longer help or please. The many heads of state there were appropriate but not important. We were not sad. We knew for whom these bells tolled. We knew the man whose body we removed in such unimaginable splendour. And because he was us at our best, we gave him a requiem that rejected death and was almost a rejoicing.”

Winston Churchill by Robert Elliot

Adobe hoisted with his own petard

Thursday, 29 January, 2015 0 Comments

Background: “Matt Asay is vice president of mobile for the Digital Marketing business at Adobe, responsible for charting the Adobe’s mobile strategy and extending its lead as the mobile marketing leader.” So goes the company profile, which adds that “Asay writes regular columns for ReadWrite, TechRepublic and InfoWorld.” And it was for ReadWrite that Asay opined thus two years ago: “Apple is reportedly developing a smart watch made from curved glass. Does it really have a choice? With iPhone sales stalling, the Cupertino innovator is in desperate need of another hit product…”

John Gruber gleefully seized upon this in light of Tuesday’s Apple announcement of record-breaking results and sales of 34,000 iPhones an hour in the first fiscal quarter of 2015. In simple terms, Apple is making $8.3 million an hour in profit 24/7, which is, as Gruber put it, “Absolutely. Insane.”

Along with exposing the folly of Asay, Gruber had another go at Adobe by drawing attention to a piece from 2011 by Christopher Dawson in ZDNet about the lack of Flash Player support in iOS: “So when will Apple finally jump on the train?” asked Dawson. “If Flash isn’t a universal standard, it’s about as close as you can get for web multimedia… I give Apple a year until they cave. Android tablets will just be too cool and too useful for both entertainment and enterprise applications if they don’t.”

Exercising great restraint, Gruber linked to the sound of the final nail being hammered into the Flash coffin: “YouTube announcing today that they’re now defaulting to HTML5 video.”

“For tis the sport to have the enginer Hoist with his owne petar”. Shakespeare gave that line to Hamlet 400 years ago. It holds true today, especially in the Apple/Adobe drama.

Hamlet

A Drone’s Eye View Of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

Wednesday, 28 January, 2015 0 Comments

Meandering from Cork to Donegal, the Wild Atlantic Way is Ireland’s longest coastal touring route. This beautiful drone footage of the trail is by the talented UAV/drone pilot and photographer Raymond Fogarty.

By the way, Raymond Fogarty made headlines last year when it emerged that drone photographers in Ireland needed licensing by the Irish Aviation Authority. And the regulation of these “unmanned aerial vehicles” is very much in the news this week after it emerged that an employee of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency had (drunkenly?) flown a drone onto the grounds of the White House. This has led President Obama to call for regulating unmanned aircraft: “There are incredibly useful functions that these drones can play in terms of farmers who are managing crops and conservationists who want to take stock of wildlife,” he said. “But we don’t really have any kind of regulatory structure at all for it.”

Meanwhile, take a look at Dronestagram, a website where drone photographers share and discuss their work. Love this shot of the sun setting over the town of Annecy in south-eastern France.

This just in: UAE plans new drones law following Dubai airspace alert

Primo Levi remembers the horror of Auschwitz

Tuesday, 27 January, 2015 0 Comments

Primo Levi described his return to Italy from the Auschwitz concentration camp in La tregua (The Truce). The Truce In this Paris Review interview, Levi reminisces about one of the book’s characters: “You remember Mordo Nahum? I had mixed feelings toward him. I admired him as a man fit for every situation. But of course he was very cruel to me. He despised me because I was not able to manage. I had no shoes. He told me, Remember, when there is war, the first thing is shoes, and second is eating. Because if you have shoes, then you can run and steal. But you must have shoes. Yes, I told him, well you are right, but there is not war any more. And he told me, Guerra es siempre. There is always war.”

Today, as the world commemorates the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we should strive to understand the revulsion that Primo Levi felt towards those who took part in the Nazi extermination campaign and also towards those who could have but did not speak out against it. In memory of the murdered millions, here’s an excerpt from The Truce:

“There is no rationality in the Nazi hatred: it is hate that is not in us, it is outside of man. We cannot understand it, but we must understand from where it springs, and we must be on our guard. If understanding is impossible, knowing is imperative, because what happened could happen again. Consciences can be seduced and obscured again — even our consciences. For this reason, it is everyone duty to reflect on what happened. Everybody must know, or remember, that when Hitler and Mussolini spoke in public, they were believed, applauded, admired, adored like gods. They were ‘charismatic leaders'; they possessed a secret power of seduction that did not proceed from the soundness of things they said but from the suggestive way in which they said them, from their eloquence, from their histrionic art, perhaps instinctive, perhaps patiently learned and practised. The ideas they proclaimed were not always the same and were, in general, aberrant or silly or cruel. And yet they were acclaimed with hosannas and followed to the death by millions of the faithful.”

Greek EU joke

Monday, 26 January, 2015 0 Comments

Back at the beginning of this century, a small town in Spain was twinned with a similar one in Greece and the mayor of the Greek town was invited to visit his Spanish counterpart. When he did, and when he saw the lavish home of the Spanish mayor, he wondered aloud how his host could afford such a place.

“See that bridge over there?” the Spanish mayor asked. “Well, the EU gave us a grant to construct a two-lane bridge, but by building a single lane one with traffic lights at each end, I was then able to buy this place,” he said, winking at his Greek peer.

The following year, the Spaniard visited the Greek town. He was astonished at the mayor’s mansion: marble floors, a Kallista Archeo copper bathtub, gold taps, Aresline Xten chairs, plasma screens, Sartori silk rugs, a Northland refrigerator, diamond doorknobs… it was simply incredible.

When he asked him how he’d made the money to build and furnish such an amazing house, the Greek mayor said: “See that bridge over there?”

The Spaniard replied: “No.”

La Pepa  Bridge

Written in Alexandria by an Achaean

Sunday, 25 January, 2015 0 Comments

Greeks go to the polls today at a time of rising tension between Athens and its main creditors. A win for the left-wing opposition party Syriza over the ruling conservatives of New Democracy is predicted. Would a Syriza-led government start a game of poker with Germany that could lead to chaos and a Greek exit from the euro? While we wait for the results, let’s turn to the poetry of Constantine P. Cavafy. He knew his Greek history.

Those who fought for the Achaean League

Valiant are you who fought and fell gloriously;
fearless of those who were everywhere victorious.
Blameless, even if Diaeos and Critolaos were at fault.
When the Greeks want to boast,
“Our nation turns out such men” they will say
of you. And thus marvellous will be your praise.

Written in Alexandria by an Achaean;
in the seventh year of Ptolemy Lathyrus.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1863 — 1933)

Note: The Achaean League (280 — 146 BC) was a confederation of Greek city states on the northern and central Peloponnese. It was dissolved when the corrupt generals Diaeos and Critolaos were defeated in 146 BC by the Romans. Cavafy attributes this imaginary epigram to an Achaean living in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy VIII Lathyrus, a turbulent age, somewhat like our own. Actually, Cavafy wrote the poem in 1922, after Greece had been defeated in the Greco-Turkish War. History has no end.

The Achaean league

The deep, dark music of Marissa Nadler

Saturday, 24 January, 2015 0 Comments

“Running through the song is the refrain ‘Nothing like the way it feels to drive,’ which made me think of the French artist Bernard Faucon, whose recent work is shot entirely from the front seat of a car as he travels all over the world.” So writes Naomi Yang, director of the video clip for Marissa Nadler’s Drive.

Marissa Nadler was busy last year. She issued an album titled July in February and followed up with an EP of unreleased songs. Like Edgar Allan Poe, who played a key role in the American Romantic Movement, Nadler has Boston in her bones and there’s Poesque mystery and dark romance in Drive. The deep woods of New England and the lonely highways of Bernard Faucon linger in this music.

Behold the HoloLens

Friday, 23 January, 2015 0 Comments

“Holograms are the next evolution in computing. Microsoft HoloLens, together with Windows 10, introduces a powerful new holographic platform. The era of holographic computing is here.” Finally, Microsoft is promising something different. Regardless of how HoloLens turns out, there’s one thing it won’t be — Google Glass. HoloLens will be worn in private, for work and for play and, given the projected size, it should be a more powerful, more useful device than the one envisaged by Sergey Brin. Unlike his predecessor, Steve Ballmer, it looks like Satya Nadella has got the vision thing.

August in January for Burns Night

Friday, 23 January, 2015 1 Comment

Tonight is Burns Night, the annual commemoration of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns. In honour of the occasion, we present Dick Gaughan’s Glaswegian rendering of the beautiful Song Composed In August. Its origins date back to 1775 when Burns, then 16, was still at school. The object of his affections was Margaret Thomson, whom Burns described as, “a charming Filette who lived next door to the school. She overset my Trigonometry, and set me off in a tangent from the sphere of my studies.”

Now westlin winds and slaughter’n guns
Bring Autumn’s pleasant weather;
The moorcock springs on whirring wings
Amang the blooming heather:
Now waving grain, wide o’er the plain,
Delights the weary farmer;
And the moon shines bright, when I rove at night,
To muse upon my charmer.

The partridge loves the fruitful fells,
The plover loves the mountains;
The woodcock haunts the lonely dells,
The soaring hern the fountains:
Thro’ lofty groves the cushat roves,
The path of man to shun it;
The hazel bush o’erhangs the thrush,
The spreading thorn the linnet.

Thus ev’ry kind their pleasure find,
The savage and the tender;
Some social join, and leagues combine,
Some solitary wander:
Avaunt, away! the cruel sway,
Tyrannic man’s dominion;
The sportsman’s joy, the murd’ring cry,
The flutt’rin, gory pinion!

But, Peggy dear, the ev’ning’s clear,
Swift flies the skimming swallow,
The sky is blue, the fields in view,
All fading-green and yellow:
Come let us stray our gladsome way,
And view the charms of Nature;
The rustling corn, the fruit at thorn,
And ev’ry happy creature.

We’ll gently walk, and sweetly talk,
Till the silent moon shine clearly;
I’ll grasp thy waist, and, fondly prest,
Swear how I love thee dearly:
Not vernal show’rs to budding flow’rs,
Not t’Autumn to the farmer,
So dear can be as thou to me,
My fair, my lovely charmer!

Robert Burns (25 January 1759 — 21 July 1796)

Selfish

Thursday, 22 January, 2015 0 Comments

Yes, the European Central Bank’s belated embrace of quantitative easing will dominate today’s headlines, but given the widespread disaffection with the continent’s out-of-touch leadership and the gnawing sense of being left behind in an increasingly globalized world, Europeans are switching off. Instead of the dismal Mario Draghi, people want the fascinating Kim Kardashian. And she’s everywhere today.

First: Mrs Kanye West took to Instagram on Tuesday to share some snow shots while wearing a “Furkini” that shows off her big booty, flat tummy and signature boobs. She captioned the pic: “Boots with the fur…

Second: Medium has a marvellously nerdy piece titled “How PAPER Magazine’s web engineers scaled their back-end for Kim Kardashian (SFW)“. Snippet: “The first thing Knauss did was get a big honking server to run on the Amazon cloud, with a large hard drive. He copied all the images and files from the smaller original web server to the new, big server. Then he installed a piece of software called Gluster, which allows many computers to share files with each other—it’s sort of like a version of Dropbox that you can completely control.”

Third: On 28 April, Selfish, by Kim Kardashian, will be published. Blurb: “Kim has mastered the art of taking flattering and highly personal photos of oneself. For the first time in print, this book presents some of Kim’s favorite selfies in one volume.”

Over to you, Mario.

Selfie

Bartosz Kosowski illustrates

Wednesday, 21 January, 2015 0 Comments

“I am an illustrator working in Lodz, Poland” is the very simple “About” statement of Bartosz Kosowski. Such modesty. The the Society of Illustrators in Los Angeles has just awarded him its Gold Medal for his “Lolita” poster, which was created for September’s Spoke Art Stanley Kubrick exhibition in San Francisco.

Talking of last September, on the 24th of that month, Bartosz Kosowski posted the following entry in his blog: “Yesterday I learned that my portrait of Putin was used without my knowledge and permission by a Russian nationalist website Sputnik & Pogrom. First, it is a blatant copyright infringement and there is no excuse for that. Second, I would never allow any nationalist media to use my illustration!” When he positioned their website graphic beside his mock-up of a TIME cover, Kosowski added, “Actually they did award him this title a few years back (sic!).”

Person of the Year

Note: The TIME Magazine Person of the Year 2007 was Vladimir Putin: “His final year as Russia’s President has been his most successful yet. At home, he secured his political future. Abroad, he expanded his outsize — if not always benign — influence on global affairs.” Bartosz Kosowski’s mock-up captures perfectly the man behind the mask, at home and abroad.