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Bob Dylan will be present but not there

Saturday, 10 December, 2016 0 Comments

They’ll be handing out the Nobel Prize in Literature tonight in Stockholm but the Laureate, Bob Dylan, won’t be there. Instead, he’s sending a speech and Patti Smith will perform A hard rain’s A gonna fall, which was first recorded on 6 December 1962 for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, his second album. Here, it’s sung beautifully by Jason Mraz and the lack of images in this video clip suits the symbolism of the Swedish occasion perfectly as Dylan today is increasingly absent but constantly present.

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall


The best #FakeNews film was made in 1951

Friday, 9 December, 2016 0 Comments

And it starred Kirk Douglas as Chuck Tatum, a cynical, amoral journalist who will stop at nothing to get the story needed to boost his ego and income. The New Yorker reviewer called Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole a badly written combination of “unjelled satire” and “half-baked melodrama,” adding that Tatum was “the most preposterous version of a reporter I’ve ever seen.” The influential New York Times critic Bosley Crowther claimed that the “responsible elements” at any real newspaper would stop a louse like Tatum in his tracks. “Such huffy comments show that Wilder definitely touched a nerve,” say Mikita Brottman and David Sterritt in their overview of the film.

All this is by way of saying that Kirk Douglas is 100 years old today. Happy Birthday!


The day of immaculate things

Thursday, 8 December, 2016 1 Comment

For my mother and her mother’s mother, 8 December was the day Christmas really began. And it began with Mass to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception with its intricate web of religious relationships that were as real to my mother as if the people involved regularly walked the road in front of our house. She’d patiently instruct a later generation, ignorant of most things spiritual, that today does not refer to the conception of Jesus. Rather, it marks the conception of his mother, Mary. “Wouldn’t the date tell you something?” she’d ask, and point out that the Feast of the Annunciation on 25 March marks the conception of Jesus, nine months before Christmas Day. And she’d add, for good measure, “Mary’s birthday is the 8th of September. Put that in your book.”

After Mass, the first great round of Christmas shopping took place and most of the essentials, and some treats, would be purchased. Home again, the bags of “messages” would be unpacked, the apron donned and “tidying” would begin in earnest.

The 8th of December was traditionally the last day of the year for outdoor painting, which meant whitewashing. Weather permitting, families cleaned and then whitewashed the walls around their farmyards to “tress them up” and symbolically purify them for the coming of the saviour. Only when that was done, could the indoor decoration, with berried holly and glittering tinsel, begin.

Everything had to be immaculate, and everything was done on this day, devotedly, devoutly, to ensure that this was so.

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Dylan city map

Wednesday, 7 December, 2016 0 Comments

“Crimson flames tied through my ears
Rollin’ high and mighty traps
Pounced with fire on flaming roads
Using ideas as my maps
‘We’ll meet on edges, soon,’ said I
Proud ‘neath heated brow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.”

My Back Pages from Another Side Of Bob Dylan (1964).


Short stories by Truman Capote

Tuesday, 6 December, 2016 0 Comments

“Henry James is the maestro of the semicolon. Hemingway is a first-rate paragrapher. From the point of view of ear, Virginia Woolf never wrote a bad sentence.” In 1957, Patti Hill sat down with Truman Capote and the Paris Review interview was presented as “Truman Capote, The Art of Fiction No. 17.” What shines through is Capote’s appreciation of the short story format: “When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant.”

Along with the short story, Capote was obsessed with the weight of the semicolon:

“I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. No, I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand. Essentially I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon.”


Renzi, Machiavelli and the public platform

Monday, 5 December, 2016 0 Comments

Niccolò Machiavelli: “The demands of a free populace, too, are very seldom harmful to liberty, for they are due either to the populace being oppressed or to the suspicious that it is going to be oppressed and, should these impressions be false, a remedy is provided in the public platform on which some man of standing can get up, appeal to the crowd, and show that it is mistaken. And though, as Tully remarks, the populace may be ignorant, it is capable of grasping the truth and readily yields when a man, worthy of confidence, lays the truth before it.” Discourses on Livy (1517), Book 1, Ch. 4 (as translated by LJ Walker and B Crick)

Whither now, Italy, after Matteo Renzi, a man of standing, appealed to the crowd, only to see his proposed reforms rejected by the public platform? The most pressing matter is the country’s banks, which have bad debts of €286 billion on their books. The third largest institution, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, needs a €5 billion recapitalisation, urgently. Although the situation is alarming, the can is kicked further down the road. The reason is that if the debts were written off, junior bondholders would take a massive hit, and many of these are ordinary Italians who bought useless bank debt.

Thanks to Renzi’s referendum, borrowing costs are increasing, making it very expensive to get capital for Italy’s zombie banks, and now there’s a government without a mandate. The fear is that the instability of Italy may spread from Rome to Brussels and beyond. Quoting Cicero, Machiavelli noted that the populace may be ignorant, but it is capable of grasping the truth.

Italy


You should not believe that the night sky is BLU

Sunday, 4 December, 2016 0 Comments

In June last year, the South Florida Business Journal noted that Samuel Ohev-Zion, CEO of “rapidly growing mobile firm” BLU Products, had paid $11 million for a mansion in Golden Beach, just north of Miami Beach. Because it’s one of the few places in Miami-Dade County where people can buy mansions directly on the ocean, Golden Beach is appropriately named. The seller was Sergey A. Solonin, and he was described as CEO and president of Cyprus-based Qiwi Plc, an international online payments firm, and chairman of the Investment Banking Group Russian Investment Club.

BLU Clearly there’s a lot of money in the “rapidly growing mobile” business, especially if one makes budget Android phones as Samuel Ohev-Zion does.

But “budget” isn’t always inexpensive or a synonym for integrity. Fast forward to now and Blu says it’s replacing the Chinese software that stole user data with Google-approved software. The scandal, which was unveiled two weeks ago by security firm Kryptowire, involved a firmware-updating app that monitored user communications and sent back text messages to a keyword-searchable archive on a Chinese server. Shanghai Adups Technology Co., Ltd, the Chinese app maker, claims its data collection tool was not designed for US phones, and that the data has since been deleted. And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.

Reportedly, a seemingly contrite Sammy Ohev-Zion, now says BLU will “not install third-party applications where we don’t have the source code and don’t understand the behavior.” And if you believe that, you’ll believe everything.


Tweeds and tweets

Saturday, 3 December, 2016 0 Comments

Hackney-based filmmakers Jack Flynn and Nick David are Dog Leap and their fashionable clients include Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Sons Of London and the Harris Tweed Authority, which represents the weaving traditions of the Outer Hebrides islanders of Harris, Lewis, Uist and Barra. “The Big Cloth” is a short Dog Leap documentary about an industry that is transforming itself with new looms, young weavers, lighter tweed for the needs of a global market and tweets.


Donald Trump, Political Innovator

Friday, 2 December, 2016 0 Comments

“The next US president, Donald Trump, seems to be a textbook political innovator. During a period when his party was quite up for grabs with many contenders, he worked his crowds, taking a wide range of vague positions that varied over time, and often stepped over taboo lines. In the process, he surprised everyone by discovering a new coalition that others had not tried to represent, a group that likes him more for this representation than his personal features.”

Says who? Says Robin Hanson, associate professor of economics at George Mason University and a research associate at the Future of Humanity Institute at of Oxford University. So, does the election of Donald Trump herald the Apocalypse? Not quite, says Hanson, who argues that disruption does not mean End Times:

“Many have expressed great anxiety about Trump’s win, saying that he is is bad overall because he induces greater global and domestic uncertainly. In their mind, this includes a higher chances of wars, coups, riots, collapse of democracy, and so on. But overall these seem to be generic consequences of political innovation. Innovation in general is disruptive and costly in the short run, but can aide adaptation in the long run.”

Robin Hanson clearly believes that innovation is good for the body politic and he offers these words of comfort to the anti-Trump factions in their time of grief and denial:

“So you can dislike Trump for two very different reasons, First, you can dislike innovation on the other side of the political spectrum, as you see that coming at the expense of your side. Or, or you can dislike political innovation in general. But if innovation is the process of adapting to changing conditions, it must be mostly a question of when, not if. And less frequent innovations are probably bigger changes, which is probably more disruptive overall.”

All that’s from “Trump, Political Innovator,” which Robin Hanson posted on 17 November on his excellent blog, Overcoming Bias. It’s included in the Rainy Day blogroll.


Churchill on brevity

Thursday, 1 December, 2016 0 Comments

The great Winston Churchill was born on this day in 1874. He was the nemesis of Hitler, a champion of “the short expressive phrase” and an opponent of “the flat surface of officialese jargon.” This is the writing advice he sent to his officials on 9 August 1940, while engaged in the business of saving Western Civilization from its enemies.

Churchill writing advice


The human-robot workplace

Wednesday, 30 November, 2016 0 Comments

During the vital November + December sales season, Amazon expands its workforce by almost 40 percent. This means adding 120,000 temporary workers to its US warehouses alone. So how does it train them? Touch screens and robots, mainly. That’s what Laura Stevens of the Wall Street Journal says in “How Amazon Gets Its Holiday Hires Up to Speed in Two Days.”

“After taking an item off a robot-carried shelf at one of Amazon’s new warehouses, the worker scans it, and a light flashes to show which container to place it in to get it ready for shipping,” writes Stevens, and for those who claim that automation means the end of work, she adds this observation: “The newest warehouses, filled with robots, require a higher head count than older sites because the greater efficiency allows them to process even more orders, a task that still requires humans.”