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Give me the money or I’ll shoot

Friday, 3 July, 2015 0 Comments

Intra-European affairs are fraught these days, given the dissent about Brexit, migrants and Putin. The Greco-German relationship is going through an especially rough patch thanks to lending/borrowing and the cover of today’s Handelsblatt, the daily financial paper published in Düsseldorf, sums up the fear and loathing. “Greek politics is short-term. The long term is for Germans,” notes David Patrikarakos in Politico. Problem is, Germans and Greeks are united by the euro. Still.

Handelsblatt

Hemingway preserved

Thursday, 2 July, 2015 0 Comments

One of the happier news items of recent weeks was the report that the Boston-based Finca Vigia Foundation plans to ship nearly $900,000 worth of construction materials to Havana to build a state-of-the-art facility for preserving Ernest Hemingway’s books, letters and photos, which are stored in the home where he lived and worked intermittently in the 1940s and ’50s. These valuable items are disintegrating because of neglect and it is essential that they be saved for posterity.

On this day in 1961, Ernest Hemingway “quite deliberately” unlocked the door to the basement of his home in Ketchum, Idaho, went upstairs and, with the “double-barreled shotgun that he had used so often it might have been a friend”, shot himself. He left the world a legacy of writing that remains unmatched in its grace, clarity and humanity:

“Zelda was very beautiful and was tanned a lovely gold colour and her hair was a beautiful dark gold and she was very friendly. Her hawk’s eyes were clear and calm. I knew everything was all right and was going to turn out well in the end when she leaned forward and said to me, telling me her great secret, ‘Ernest, don’t you think Al Jolson is greater than Jesus?’

Nobody thought anything of it at the time. It was only Zelda’s secret that she shared with me, as a hawk might share something with a man. But hawks do not share. Scott did not write anything any more that was good until after he knew that she was insane.”

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

The art of currency: Stefanos, Banksy, Warhol

Wednesday, 1 July, 2015 0 Comments

“On the front of both series of euro banknotes, windows and doorways are shown,” states the European Central Bank. “They symbolise the European spirit of openness and cooperation. The bridges on the back symbolise communication between the people of Europe and between Europe and the rest of the world.”

That’s the view from Frankfurt. The Greek artist Stefanos says that the currency does not reflect the reality of our era and he’s hacking it to make his point.

In the spirit of the British street artist Banksy, who uses public spaces and property to showcase his messages, Stefanos is using money to make a statement about the dire situation in Greece. His altered euro banknotes depict mass hysteria, despair, violence and social collapse. To create his works, Stefanos draws human figures on the notes using a black ink ball-pen, scans the results, posts the images on his website and returns the notes into circulation. Their subversive message is then spread around the modern agoras by consumers.

As we move towards a cashless world, banknotes are on their way to becoming valuable collectables. Before they’re banished, however, there’s the pressing matter of a Grexit, which could make the euros of Stefanos worth even more than their defaced value. Andy Warhol would have approved.

Artistic note

Margaret Thatcher predicted Yanis Varoufakis

Tuesday, 30 June, 2015 0 Comments

It is fashionable for liberal/leftist elites, including feminists, to hate Margaret Thatcher. She was all that they are not and because she refused to play the glass-ceiling game, they despised her. The most obvious recent example of their rage is The Assassination Of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel, which was published to much acclaim last year. Gleefully, the BBC adapted it for radio.

What they cannot deny, however, is that Margaret Thatcher understood the nightmare potential of the euro and she saved Great Britain from getting entangled in its snares by voicing her concerns. This led to the “five tests” devised, allegedly in the back of a taxi, by Gordon Brown and Ed Balls in 1997 that kept the UK out of the euro for good. In The Path To Power (1995), Mrs Thatcher revealed that she had been under constant pressure since 1990 to accept the proposed EMU (Economic and Monetary Union). She wanted no part of it; she foresaw the inflation and competitiveness dangers, she knew her history and she understood human nature. Referring to EMU, she said:

“Under this, Germany and France would end up paying all the regional subventions which the poorer countries would insist upon if they were going to lose their ability to compete on the basis of a currency that reflected their economic performance. I also thought that the Germans’ anxiety about the weakening of their anti-inflation policies, entailed by moves towards a single currency and away from the Deutschmark, could be exploited in negotiations.”

Sure enough, Germany will not accept greater inflation, poorer countries are insisting on bailouts and Yanis Varoufakis knows a thing or two about exploiting his counterparts in negotiations. Those dealing with the mess now might benefit from studying this snippet from a lecture Margaret Thatcher gave at Hillsdale College in 1994:

“Sir Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, wrote tellingly of the collapse of Athens, which was the birthplace of democracy. He judged that, in the end, more than they wanted freedom, the Athenians wanted security. Yet they lost everything — security, comfort, and freedom. This was because they wanted not to give to society, but for society to give to them. The freedom they were seeking was freedom from responsibility. It is no wonder, then, that they ceased to be free.”

Margaret Thatcher

Paja escribir!

Monday, 29 June, 2015 0 Comments

Figures from the fourth quarter of last year showed that 78 percent of South African mobile internet users were active on WhatsApp. Malaysia was second on the global list and, in third place, was Argentina. What’s driving this? Well, WhatsApp is simple to use, it’s free, it’s fast and there are no ads, no games or no gimmicks. And there’s another thing in South America: voice messages. WhatsApp introduced voice messages in 2013 and users in Argentina have fallen in love with the feature.

Writing in Motherboard, Kari Paul notes that the voice message fits with Argentina’s talkative culture. “The volleying of voice messages often starts off with the same phrase: ‘Paja escribir,’ or ‘Too lazy to write.’ Then the exchange begins.” The result? “Everyone in Buenos Aires Is Communicating by Voice Memo Now.”

Czeslaw Milosz predicted CRISPR

Sunday, 28 June, 2015 0 Comments

CRISPR is much in the news these days. It’s a revolutionary technique that makes editing the genes of living beings relatively easy. The implications — both frightening and promising — are such that the scientists who discovered CRISPR have recommended a field-wide moratorium on using the method to edit human embryos. They encourage continued work in editing mature human cells, but draw the line at changing DNA prior to birth. They’re a bit late in bolting the lab door, however, because Chinese scientists have already genetically modified human embryos using CRISPR.

Like artificial intelligence, genome editing is outstripping our ability to understand its ethical implications. But while we wait for Pope Francis or President Obama or Chancellor Merkel to take a position on this issue, let’s read Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish poet who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980. Normalization, as translated by Clare Cavanagh, prepares us for the “onset of universal genetic correctness,” which is even more terrifying than political correctness.

Normalization

This happened long ago, before the onset
of universal genetic correctness.

Boys and girls would stand naked before mirrors
studying the defects of their structure.

Nose too long, ears like burdocks,
sunken chin just like a mongoloid.

Breasts too small, too large, lopsided shoulders,
penis too short, hips too broad or else too narrow.

And just an inch or two taller!

Such was the house they inhabited for life.

Hiding, feigning, concealing defects.

But somehow they still had to find a partner.

Following incomprehensible tastes—airy creatures
paired with potbellies, skin and bones enamored of salt pork.

They had a saying then: “Even monsters
have their mates.” So perhaps they learned to tolerate their partners’
flaws, trusting that theirs would be forgiven in turn.

Now every genetic error meets with such
disgust that crowds might spit on them and stone them.

As happened in the city of K., where the town council
voted to exile a girl

So thickset and squat
that no stylish dress could ever suit her,

But let’s not yearn for the days of prenormalization.
Just think of the torments, the anxieties, the sweat,
the wiles needed to entice, in spite of all.

Czeslaw Milosz (1911 – 2004)

Hasta Cuando? Venezuela

Saturday, 27 June, 2015 0 Comments

Reuters: “One hundred and twenty policemen have been murdered so far this year in Venezuela, one of the world’s most violent countries, a local watchdog said on Friday.” Appalled by the crime and corruption now gripping her homeland, the Venezuelan pianist and composer Gabriela Montero is using her music to challenge the propaganda of the Chávez/Maduro regimes and question the ideology that has bankrupted the country.

Born in 1970 in Caracas, Gabriela Montero now lives in Los Angeles. In Una improvisación sobre la violencia en Venezuela, she asks: How Long More?

John Steed exits

Friday, 26 June, 2015 1 Comment

“Daniel Patrick Macnee died a natural death at his home in Rancho Mirage, California, at age 93, with his family at his bedside, according to his son, Rupert.” So reads the statement on the actor’s website. Despite his many roles, Patrick Macnee was most famously John Steed in the 1960s’ British TV series, The Avengers. Paired with Diana Rigg (Mrs Peel), he was the elegant complement to her beautiful Holmes-like character and the couple were the embodiment of grace, charm and wit. Viewers wanted to dress like that, drive those cars and have machines that recorded phone messages.

As Macnee’s website puts it: “….The Avengers became known for its progressive approach to feminism, the female stars being more than a match for Steed… and a plethora of ‘diabolical master minds.’ The programme was also known for its creative team’s interest in stories about cutting-edge technology.”

For Patrick Macnee, who played many parts but will be remembered for one, here’s the introduction to the famous monologue from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Act II Scene VII:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts

Fear and loathing of the European elites

Thursday, 25 June, 2015 0 Comments

In 1904, the great German sociologist Max Weber toured the United States, doing research that would be critical for his later work, especially The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Reflecting on his conversations with American blue-collar workers, Weber pondered why they put up with corrupt political appointees rather than accepting the technocratic professionalism advocated by reformers, including Weber himself:

Whenever I sat in company with such workers and said to them: “How can you let yourselves be governed by these people who are put in office without your consent and who naturally make as much money out of their office as possible… how can you let yourselves be governed by this corrupt association that is notorious for robbing you of hundreds of millions?”, I would occasionally receive the characteristic reply which I hope I may repeat, word for word and without adornment: “That doesn’t matter, there’s enough money there to be stolen and still enough left over for others to earn something — for us too. We spit on these ‘professionals,’ these officials. We despise them. But if the offices are filled by a trained, qualified class, such as you have in your country, it will be the officials who spit on us.” That was the decisive point for these people. They feared the emergence of the type of officialdom which already exists in Europe, an exclusive status group of university-educated officials with professional training.”

Looking at the euro farce that is being acted out in Brussels these days, one would have to say that their judgement was sound.

Qui pendra la sonnette au chat?

Wednesday, 24 June, 2015 0 Comments

The expression to bell the cat means to hang a bell around a cat’s neck to provide a warning. Figuratively, it refers to a difficult or impossible to achieve task. According to the fable, The Mice in Council, often attributed to Aesop, a group of mice are so terrified by the house cat that one of them suggests a bell be placed around the enemy’s neck to warn of his arrival. Volunteers for the job are requested but no mouse steps forward.

Eustache Deschamps (1340–1406) was a medieval French poet and among his ballades is Les souris et les rats. The poem was written as a response to an aborted invasion of England in 1386 and contrasts French wavering in the face of English firmness. The chorus Qui pendra la sonnette au chat (who will bell the cat) became proverbial in France and the moral is the same as that of the the Aesop fable: a plan must be achievable or it is useless.

Nothing much has changed down the centuries. New players arrive and old powers disappear. Today, the USA is the cat and France is still the mouse, spied upon and cruelly taken advantage of by those with the bigger budgets, better technologies and lesser standards when it comes protecting privacy. This is utter tosh, of course, as France is no position to throw stones.

The fish story at 40

Tuesday, 23 June, 2015 0 Comments

The film didn’t have a website, a Twitter feed, a Facebook page or trailers on YouTube. What it did have was a budget of $7 million and Steven Spielberg as its director. Since its premiere in June 1975, Jaws has earned $470 million and, for better or worse, it established the summer blockbuster trend. This was Spielberg’s second feature film and it could have ended the 27-year-old’s career, but his clever use of fear (we’re vulnerable when we leave dry land) and terror (we’re more scared of what we can’t see than what we can) thrilled people into queuing around the block all summer long 40 years ago.

Spielberg was aided by Peter Benchley, who wrote the novel, John Williams, who scored the anxiety-inducing music, and, especially, Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfus, who played their roles to perfection.

Jaws