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The Bourne Formula

Wednesday, 24 August, 2016 0 Comments

The story at the heart of the latest Jason Bourne adventure is sandwiched between two major action scenes. First up is a mesmerizing segment in Athens, where the hunters and the hunted weave their ways between police and protesters. The ultra-violence is balletic and superbly choreographed by director Paul Greengrass. The other big action scene is a car chase in Last Vegas that instantly veers into destruction porn. Compared to the opening, this is jaded stuff. There’s a similar déjà vu feeling about a pursuer-pursued scene set in London. Wasn’t that done in Bourne 2? Or was it Bourne 3?

Yes, there are some nods to surveillance and Facebook and Snowden, but substance and subtlety have to make way for fisticuffs and formula. Matt Damon is more muscled and taciturn than ever, Tommy Lee Jones looks poorly, Alicia Vikander is less robotic than in Ex Machina and Vincent Cassel is the “asset”. Overall, then, an excellent way of whiling away 2 hours and 28 minutes. Unsurprisingly, Jason Bourne is huge at the box office.


Small acts of kindness and love

Tuesday, 23 August, 2016 0 Comments

“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” — J.R.R. Tolkien

Scones of love


A cheery Spectator and a glum Prospect

Monday, 22 August, 2016 0 Comments

At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Great Britain won 15 medals, including a solitary gold. Team GB finished 36th in the medal table that year. This year, Great Britain finished second in the table, ahead of China, with 67 medals, 27 of which were gold. The greatest credit for this achievement is due to the athletes, but Sir John Major, whose Conservative government set up the National Lottery in 1994, is central to their success. The Lottery started funding athletes in 1997, the so they could train full-time and, by 2004, Team GB’s medal tally had doubled to 30, doubling again at London in 2012.

Andrew Marr credits John Major in his Spectator diary entry written in sunny Dubrovnik amid crowds of contented Croats and tourists. “Team GB is a near-perfect post-Brexit idea” says Marr, inspired by it all and hoping for happy days:

“Imagine a Britain which had seriously invested for the long term, focusing only on industries and technologies where we were likely to be world-class; and where ‘company’ was used in the old sense of being a tight, committed team of friends and allies working together for a goal many years in the future. It would be a Britain shorn of short-term political lurches in funding and direction, whose corporate leaders had a lively sense of how much they owed to their teams and didn’t treat themselves as Medici princelings.”

Prospect But all that is gold does not glisten. Well, not for the “remoaners”, anyway. With a most unfortunate sense of timing, Prospect depicts Team GB stuck on a self-imposed, starting line in its race for a place in the world. Jay Elwes, Deputy Editor of Prospect, argues: “…there is a strong case that Britain’s new settlement with the EU should be put to a further vote. As the economic threat posed by Brexit grows ever more apparent, so the need for parliamentary intervention will increase. Britain needs a new plan — in the end, a decision by the Commons not to proceed with Brexit might turn out to be the best plan of all.”

After a summer of gold for spectators, disgruntled remoaners are hoping for the prospect of a winter of discontent and an un-Brexit.


The day Jim Hogan ran the marathon in Tokyo

Sunday, 21 August, 2016 0 Comments

The men’s marathon event at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was run on 21 October 1964. A total of 68 athletes started, 58 finished and the gold medal was won in a time of 2 hours and 12 minutes by Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia. One of the starters who did not finish was Jim Hogan from Croom, County Limerick, in Ireland. With the silver medal seemingly within his grasp, dehydration forced Hogan to abandon the race with just five kilometres remaining. His agony can be witnessed at the 5:30 mark in this clip.

After the Tokyo Games, Jim Hogan became disillusioned with the Irish athletics hierarchy, which he called “the blazer-wearing brigade”, and he decided to compete for Great Britain instead. He recorded the biggest victory of his career when he won the marathon for Great Britain at the 1966 European Championships. Later in life, he returned to Limerick and trained horses with success for local point-to-point races. Jim Hogan died on 10 January 2015 and is buried in Knocklong Graveyard.


Running man

Saturday, 20 August, 2016 0 Comments

Rio today: The men’s 1,500 metres Olympics final. It’s one of the classics of the track and field repertory and the greats over this distance include Hicham El Guerrouj, Bernard Lagat, Silas Kiplagat, Fermín Cacho, Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe and Steve Cram.

“At any rate, that’s how I started running. Thirty three — that’s how old I was then. Still young enough, though no longer a young man. The age that Jesus Christ died. The age that Scott Fitzgerald started to go downhill. That age may be a kind of crossroads in life. That was the age when I began my life as a runner, and it was my belated, but real, starting point as a novelist.” — Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Running man shoes


The triumph of Usain Bolt foreseen

Friday, 19 August, 2016 0 Comments

American artist Jacob Lawrence was one of a number of illustrators invited to design posters for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. He created this image to celebrate the involvement of black athletes in the Olympics, as track and field is an area in which they have excelled. This had a particular historical significance for Lawrence because Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, where Hitler had planned to demonstrate the superiority of German “Aryan” athletes.

Munich Olympics poster


The last time

Thursday, 18 August, 2016 0 Comments

You don’t think this will be the last time. It’s just the latest goodbye in a long list of leave-takings. Yes, there are indications, but you choose to ignore those. People survive and the will to live burns brightly.

There’s a car waiting outside, so you mumble and fumble farewell with a mixture of awkward gestures and formulas. Then, it’s out the door and away for a day of travel using a half dozen transport and communication technologies that ingenious humanity has created to link families and nations. The constant checking of timetables, the endless rechecking of documents, the eating, the boarding, the boredom fill the day and dull the ominous feeling that this might have been the last time. Twelve hours later, the trip has ended and there’s enough energy left over for a tired phone call to reassure everyone that all is as it was, here and there. Exhausted sleep follows and the routine is rejoined the next day. There’s little time for the thoughts of the previous day.

But it was the last time.

The last time


Donald’s Rainy Day

Thursday, 18 August, 2016 0 Comments

“Like a lot of anxious people, I’ve been obsessively watching all the forecasts, predictions, and computer models, hoping for a break in this feverish political season,” Barry Blitt says. Blitt’s cover for the new issue of The New Yorker is the fifth featuring Donald Trump since he announced his candidacy. Given that this blog is inspired by the the idiom of putting (something) aside for a rainy day, it deserves inclusion here.

New Yorker

“Here comes that rainy day feeling again
And soon my tears they will be falling like rain
It always seems to be a Monday
Left all the memories of Sunday
Always standin’ here before the clouds appear
And took away my sunshine
Here comes that rainy day feeling again.”

Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway


Speech II: Tom Wolfe vs. Noam Chomsky

Wednesday, 17 August, 2016 1 Comment

Tom Wolfe’s new book, The Kingdom of Speech, looks at the work of four major figures in the history of evolution and language: Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, Noam Chomsky and Daniel Everett. A 15-page excerpt appeared in the August issue of Harper’s Magazine titled “The Origins of Speech: In the beginning was Chomsky” and it focused on rise of Chomsky and Everett’s challenge to Chomskyism within the world of linguistics. The story begins in 1957, when Chomsky was 28. He wrote a book “with the opaque title” Syntactic Structures that turned the world of linguistics “upside down,” writes Wolfe. Snippet:

Language was not something you learned. You were born with a built-in “language organ.” It is functioning the moment you come into the world, just the way your heart and your kidneys are already pumping and filtering and excreting away.

To Chomsky, it didn’t matter what a child’s first language was. Whatever it was, every child’s language organ could use the “deep structure, ” “universal grammar, ” and “language acquisition device” he was born with to express what he had to say, no matter whether it came out of his mouth in English or Urdu or Nagamese. That was why — as Chomsky said repeatedly — children started speaking so early in life… and so correctly in terms of grammar. They were born with the language organ in place and the power ON. By the age of two, usually, they could speak in whole sentences and generate completely original ones. The “organ”… the “deep structure”… the “universal grammar’… the “device” — as Chomsky explained it, the system was physical, empirical, organic, biological. The power of the language organ sent the universal grammar coursing through the deep structure’s lingual ducts to provide nutrition for the LAD, which everybody in the field now knew referred to the “language acquisition device” Chomsky had discovered.

Harpers Along with Chomsky’s linguistics, Tom Wolfe devotes a great deal of space to Chomsky’s politics, which have grown increasingly bizarre over the years, to the point where he ascribes almost all evils in the world to the USA. Despite, or possibly because of, such derangement, he remains a darling of the left-liberal media and nothing he says, no matter how absurd, is taken seriously by his credulous disciples.

Then, OOOF!

Typically Wolfe, the capital letters are introduced to make a big point and the biggest one concerns a 13,000-word article that appeared the August–October 2005 issue of Current Anthropology entitled “Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã” by Daniel Everett. Pirahã is a language spoken by several hundred members of a hunter-gatherer tribe in the vast Amazon basin and it does not contain any recursion, which is central to Chomsky’s theories, and “it was the Pirahã’s own distinctive culture, their unique ways of living, that shaped the language — not any ‘language organ,’ not any ‘universal grammar’ or ‘deep structure’ or ‘language acquisition device’ that Chomsky said all languages had in common,” declares Wolfe.

Piraha

The Pirahã sentence ‘There is a paca there’ uses just two words: káixihíxao-xaagá, meaning, paca exist there

Tom Wolfe is very enjoyable on the academic skulduggery used by the Chomskyians to denigrate Everett’s work and destroy his career, and one is left with the impression that the professorial class is filled with characters similar to the consigliere and caporegime of the Mafia. Filled with loathing for Chomskyism, Wolfe concludes thus:

“In three decades nobody had turned up any hard evidence to support Chomsky’s conviction that every person is born with an innate, gene-driven power of speech with the motor running. But so what? Chomsky had made the most ambitious attempt since Aristotle’s in 350 B.C. to explain what exactly language is. And no one else in human history had come even close. It was dazzling in its own flailing way — this age old, unending, utter, ultimate, universal display of ignorance concerning man’s most important single gift.”

OOOF!


Speech I: Oliver Kamm vs. Tom Wolfe

Tuesday, 16 August, 2016 0 Comments

The Kingdom of Speech is published by Jonathan Cape but might as well have been issued by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose tracts at least have the merit of being funnier.” So writes Oliver Kamm in a devastating put-down of the latest book by Tom Wolfe. Along with being the author of Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage, Kamm is a leader writer and columnist for The Times and it was in that newspaper on Saturday that he took Wolfe to the reviewing woodshed.

The Kingdom of Speech Tom Wolfe argues that speech, not evolution, sets humans apart from animals and is responsible for all of our great achievements. He targets Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky in The Kingdom of Speech when arguing that there is no evolutionary explanation for language, particularly abstract language. Kamm differs, however: “Wolfe’s theory that words are a memory aid — a mnemonic system — likewise falls apart on a moment’s reflection. Words like cat and dog and run and jump might help us to remember things in the world, but what about words like not and very and whether and however?”

Readers who purchase The Kingdom of Speech in the hope of acquiring an invigorating clarification of the big ideas at the heart of the debate about morphology, syntax, phonetics and semantics will be misled, claims Kamm, who shows no mercy in his critique:

“It’s a celebration of ignorance: a vain, sneering and calumnious piece of fluff in which Wolfe misunderstands his subject and misrepresents leading thinkers, notably Darwin and the linguist Noam Chomsky. It’s not even stylishly written. What I learnt from it is that a crotchety celebrity of vaulting hubris and small mind doesn’t feel constrained by canons of evidence and accuracy.”

Tomorrow, here, Wolfe attacks Chomsky.


The Pattern Day

Monday, 15 August, 2016 0 Comments

In 1810, the Irish antiquary Thomas Crofton-Croker recorded that up to 15,000 people had attended the “pattern” of St. Declan in Ardmore in Waterford. The event is held annually on the 24th of July and central to the occasion is a visit to St. Declan’s Well. In her thesis submitted in 1988 to the Free University of Amsterdam for a master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology, Siobhán Lincoln noted that, “Various cures have been attributed to it, and the Saint is reputed to have quenched his thirst there en route to Cashel.”

Ireland has thousands of “holy” or “blessed” wells. These ancient water sources were attributed mystical powers in pagan times and the related customs were incorporated by Christianity when it arrived on the island 1,600 years ago. Christianity then assigned a “patron saint” to each well and thus began the custom of the “pattern day” (from the pronunciation of pátrún or patron). The “pattern day”, in other words, is the feast day of a parish’s patron saint and entails a pilgrimage to the well and the saying of specific prayers in a certain sequence. The wells are too small for bathing in and, anyway, the water is cold so bottles are filled with the “miraculous” liquid, which is often applied to wounds or sprinkled on children, travellers and animals for their well-being.

Ethnologists describe patterns as “community generated festivals” or as “the dramatisation and sacralisation of rural Ireland’s own social structure”. This tradition of religious practice and the carnivalesque will be continued in Ballylanders today, the Feast of the Assumption. Our thoughts are with all those doing the “rounds of the Well.”

The rounds of the Well