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Bad news for the Borgens

Friday, 19 June, 2015 0 Comments

Ah, those were glory days for the left. Helle Thorning-Schmidt became Prime Minister of Denmark on 3 October 2011 and almost simultaneously Borgen, a Danish TV series about the charismatic Birgitte Nyborg, who becomes the first female Prime Minister of Denmark, is the darling of the chattering class, which likes politically correct political fantasy. The icing on the (wedding) cake was provided by the fact that Ms Thorning-Schmidt’s husband is the reddish Stephen Kinnock. Familiar name? That’s right. Stephen is the son of Neil, who has entered the history books the only Leader of the Labour Party never to hold ministerial office.

And now? Well, let’s go over to Aisha Gani of the Guardian, which aspires to being the journal of a global Denmark. One can detect an air of grief here:

“From handing out red roses, to driving about in tractors. From tiresome Borgen references, to wooing fishermen on islands. From clashing on TV debates, to red and blue blocs. Yet in the end, after what has been a tightly fought contest in the Scandinavian nation, the centre-right has been voted in to govern the Folketing.”

The left lost recently in Britain and the polls in France and Sweden suggest that more change is in the offing. Borgen has ended.

Borgen

My, my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender

Thursday, 18 June, 2015 0 Comments

On this date in 1815, the Battle of Waterloo was fought in present-day Belgium between a French army under the command of Napoleon and the combined forces of the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshal Gebhard von Blücher. When the smoke had cleared, the fate of the French Empire had been decided and Europe was saved from tyranny for another century.

Fast forward to 1974 and the Eurovision Song Contest, which was held in Brighton. The French entry was La Vie A Vingt-cinq Ans by Dani, but she never got the chance to perform because Georges Pompidou, the President of France, died in the week of the contest and La Grande Nation withdrew. Sweden was represented by the band ABBA and the audience sensed that something special was about to happen when the presenter said: “This is Sven-Olaf Walldoff, who’s really entered into the spirit of it all dressed as Napoleon.” Like the battle of 1815, the rest is history.

All men are fallible, not excepting the Pope — Fowler

Wednesday, 17 June, 2015 0 Comments

Tomorrow, at noon, the Vatican will issue Laudato Si, a major statement by Pope Francis on climate change. On Monday, the Italian magazine L’Espresso broke the publication embargo and leaked the 192-page encyclical in a “heinous act,” according to a Vatican official quoted by Bloomberg News. “We are not God,” Laudato Si proclaims. “The earth precedes us and was given to us,” notes Think Progress in its translation of the leaked document.

Hailed by many as the “Pope of the poor,” Francis is now linking environmental and economic issues in his encyclical in ways that are certain to ignite heated debate. Right on cue, the New York Times is using the leak as part of its campaign against Republican candidates for the presidency: “A Florida archbishop will highlight the pope’s climate change message in the hope that it will resonate in particular with Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush,” is the sub-head on “Pope’s Views on Climate Change Add Pressure to U.S. Candidates”. Jeb Bush, a convert to Catholicism, responded immediately, saying: “I hope I’m not like, going to get castigated for saying this in front of my priest back home but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.”

The “green” Francis has a new supporter in the form of the notorious British atheist George Monbiot and we can expect other unbelievers to follow his lead. Some of them may even cite the atheist H. W. Fowler, author of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (published 1926): “excepting as a preposition has one normal use. When a possible exception is to be mentioned as not made, the form used is, instead of not except, either not excepting before the noun or not excepted after it: All men are fallible except the Pope; all men are fallible, not excepting the Pope, or the Pope not excepted.”

Pope Francis will be infallible tomorrow for the climate change movement, but its adherents might not like some of his other pronouncements.

Did James Joyce imagine Snapchat?

Tuesday, 16 June, 2015 0 Comments

Happy Bloomsday! The name is derived from Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Ulysses by James Joyce. The novel’s characters wander around Dublin on 16 June 1904 and as one of them, Stephen Dedalus, remarks: “Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves.”

Ulysses is said to be the most written about book ever after the Bible and, like the Good Book, it contains truth and prophecy. In this exchange from Episode 1, Telemachus, Joyce imagines the invention of a mobile messaging app that allows users to capture images that self destruct after a few seconds.

“— Is the brother with you, Malachi?
— Down in Westmeath. With the Bannons.
— Still there? I got a card from Bannon. Says he found a sweet young thing down there. Photo girl he calls her.
— Snapshot, eh? Brief exposure.”

Snapshot, eh? Brief exposure, eh? Isn’t that Snapchat?

The fog of war

Monday, 15 June, 2015 0 Comments

“Hope!” is the motto of the the Ukraine pavilion at la Biennale di Venezia. And hope is needed when one reads about what’s happening on the front lines of this brutal war being waged by Russia on its neighbour. In the midst of the destruction and despair, photographer Yevgenia Belorusets portrays the miners of Krasnoarmeysk, who live and work within the war zone. They haven’t been paid since October but they carry on, hoping that the nightmare will end.

Ukraine miner

“I suppose I live in a country that has stepped on its own toes. But now it is going through a war. The neighbouring state punishes it for its essence, for its uncertainty, which is so valuable to me. Hope? Ukraine has always had more of it than you would expect. It is rationality lurking around every corner and maybe that will save us once again.” Yevgenia Belorusets

Drinking and singing with Yeats

Sunday, 14 June, 2015 1 Comment

“Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry” said W.H. Auden to W. B. Yeats, who was born 150 years ago yesterday. He was one of the great figures of 20th century letters and no greater tribute can be paid to the man than to say that his verse is filled with eternal verity.

A Drinking Song

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

W. B. Yeats (13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939)

She bid me take life easy

Saturday, 13 June, 2015 0 Comments

The repertoire of the Canadian musician Loreena McKennitt is Celtic to its core. For the 150th birthday of the poet W.B. Yeats, her rendition of Down by the Salley Gardens, with its meditations on love, life and the passing of time is most appropriate.

Down by the salley gardens
my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens
with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy,
as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish,
with her would not agree.

In a field by the river
my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder
she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy,
as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish,
and now am full of tears.

William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939)

The blog post that put Twitter into play

Friday, 12 June, 2015 0 Comments

Last Wednesday, venture capitalist Chris Sacca wrote a lengthy post (circa 8,500 words) titled What Twitter Can Be. Yesterday, Twitter’s chief executive Dick Costolo said he’s quitting and co-founder Jack Dorsey will step in as interim CEO. So what did Sacca say? Well, he urged Twitter to be bolder: “It needs to place more bets with potentially oversized payoffs. It needs to question aspects of Twitter it has taken for granted. It needs to operate with smaller teams that require less permission to make change happen. Twitter can afford to build the wrong things. However, Twitter cannot afford to build the right things too slowly.”

The options facing Dorsey now are limited. He can tweak the strategy Costolo outlined last November, or he can be bold, as Sacca advises, and dumb Twitter down while filling the feeds with ads. Or he can sell the company. Either way, the choices are stark and the Twitter that we’ve come to know and love is about to change dramatically, and for the worse. Sacca and his fellow investors want a payday and they know where the money is to be found. One does not have to share his vision or like his motives, but his honesty deserves admiration:

“For example, Twitter NBA could build off of the company’s fantastic relationship with the league and include a focused and live-driven stream full of the very best Tweets and the instant-replay video content under the company’s existing Amplify deal. NBA fans would be thrilled to use that app while the game is on and the ease of advertising in that app would generate plenty of money to share back with the content partners. The same approach would work for the biggest global soccer and cricket leagues as well as the WNBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL. Twitter should consider integrating a fantasy partner like Draft Kings as well to make it a must-open app. While there are a number of fantastic mobile experiences for hardcore fans, no one has built the perfect live-action companion app for casual sports viewers. Twitter has the best shot at it.”

“All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born,” tweeted W. B. Yeats, who was born 150 years ago.

From robot to cobot to sobot

Thursday, 11 June, 2015 0 Comments

robot: an electro-mechanical machine that is guided by a computer program or electronic circuitry

cobot: a collaborative robot intended to physically interact with humans in a shared workspace

sobot: a robot with a little humanity

Cynthia Breazeal, the director of the personal robots group at MIT, raised more than $3 million on the crowd-funding site Indiegogo, and then $25 million in venture capital funding, to bring Jibo, “the world’s first social robot,” to market. What is a social robot? According to John Markoff of The New York Times, “it’s a robot with a little humanity.” So, your sobot will order food when you don’t feel like cooking, tell your child bedtime stories and know if you prefer Bunnahabhain to Glenkinchie.

“A strange thing happens when you interview a robot. You feel an urge to be profound: to ask profound questions. I suppose it’s an inter-species thing. Although if it is I wonder why I never try and be profound around my dog.
‘What does electricity taste like?’ I ask.
‘Like a planet around a star,’ Bina48 replies.
Which is either extraordinary or meaningless — I’m not sure which.”

Jon Ronson, Lost At Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries

The French lose the currency battle of Waterloo

Wednesday, 10 June, 2015 0 Comments

The great question of 19th century Europe was as follows: Would the continent become a union of states ruled by French laws and language, or would it be an association of states existing in a sphere of security guaranteed by the naval and economic power of Britain? The Battle of Waterloo provided the answer and the 19th century became the British Century. Not surprisingly, the French have not forgotten.

In March, France stopped Belgium from issuing a €2 coin to commemorate the battle. “The circulation of these coins carrying a negative symbol for a section of the European population seems detrimental at a time when eurozone governments are trying to build unity and co-operation under the single currency,” the French government stated in a letter that attempted to disguise chauvinism as concern for market stability. The Belgians retreated then, but they’re back and their Royal Mint has outflanked Paris with a €2.50 brass coin that commemorates the bicentenary of Waterloo. The canny Belgians have made 100,000 and plan to flog them for €6 each. Even better is their trove of 10,000 commemorative €10 silver coins, which can be had for €42 each. To entice French collectors, it has a silhouette of Napoleon on one side, and for British and German investors the other side features a key Waterloo moment: Lieutenant Colonel John Freemantle of the Coldstream Guards telling the Duke of Wellington that the Prussians had arrived on the battlefield.

Waterloo pound Talking of Prussians and Brits, the Royal Mint is issuing a commemorative £5 coin featuring the famous post-battle handshake between Wellington and Field Marshall Blücher, the Prussian commander.

Notes the Mint: “Your purchase is supplied with an absorbing booklet that explores the battle, its great leaders, its legacy on the world — and its impact on Britain’s coinage.” This remains the pound, not the euro, as the French, “trying to build unity and co-operation under the single currency,” have noted, to their chagrin.

I believe in capitals and the occasional comma

Tuesday, 9 June, 2015 0 Comments

“James Joyce is a good model for punctuation. He keeps it to an absolute minimum. There’s no reason to blot the page up with weird little marks.” So said Cormac McCarthy in a rare 2008 interview with Oprah Winfrey.

McCarthy’s combination of declarative sentence and minimalist punctuation can be seen at work in this graphic excerpt from Blood Meridian:

Toward the morning they saw fires on the horizon. Glanton sent the Delawares. Already the dawnstar burned pale in the east. When they returned they squatted with Glanton and the judge and the Brown brothers and spoke and gestured and then all remounted and all rode on.

Five wagons smoldered on the desert floor and the riders dismounted and moved among the bodies of the dead argonauts in silence, those right pilgrims nameless among the stones with their terrible wounds, the viscera spilled from their sides and the naked torsos bristling with arrowshafts. Some by their beards were men but yet wore strange menstrual wounds between their legs and no man’s parts for these had been cut away and hung dark and strange from out their grinning mouths. In their wigs of dried blood they lay gazing up with ape’s eyes at brother sun now rising in the east.

The wagons were no more than embers armatured with the blackened shapes of hoop-iron and tires, the redhot axles quaking deep within the coals. The riders squatted at the fires and boiled water and drank coffee and roasted meat and lay down to sleep among the dead.