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Christopher Hitchens on the Castro Dynasty

Sunday, 27 November, 2016 1 Comment

“If we cannot yet say that Castro is dead and we cannot decently say ‘long live’ to the new-but-old Castro, we can certainly say that the Castro era is effectively finished and that a uniformed and secretive and highly commercial dictatorship is the final form that it will take.”

So wrote the late, great and greatly-missed Christopher Hitchens in August 2006. The focus of “The Eighteenth Brumaire of the Castro Dynasty” was Raúl Castro’s fatigued take over of the family enterprise: Cuba. “The even more grotesque fact that power has passed from one 79-year-old brother to a ‘younger’ one who is only 75 may have assisted in obscuring the obvious,” noted Hitchens, acidly, and added, “As was once said of Prussia, Cuba is not a country that has an army but an army that has a country.”

As the world waits for the final form of this commercial dictatorship to pass let’s recall what W. C. Fields said: “All roads lead to rum.”

Bacardi rum


Cuba libre!

Saturday, 26 November, 2016 0 Comments

The national cocktail of Cuba tastes best when raising a toast to freedom. But there’s more to it than just cola, rum and lime; it’s all in the way you make that Cuba libre.

Ingredients:

1 part Bacardi Oro rum
2 wedges of lime
2 parts Coca Cola
Ice cubes

How to mix: Fill a long glass with ice. Squeeze and drop the lime wedges into the glass, coating the ice well with the juices. Pour in the Bacardi, top up with chilled Coke and stir gently. Now, say, Cuba libre! And remember: Fidel Castro imprisoned and impoverished his nation. He was one of the most evil men of his time. Sic semper tyrannis.

Cuba libre


The silence of the Jesuits in Edu Japan

Friday, 25 November, 2016 0 Comments

“Two trees, made into the form of a cross, were set at the water’s edge. Ichizo and Mokichi were fastened to them. When it was night and the tide came in, their bodies would be immersed in the sea up to the chin. They would not die at once, but after two or even three days of utter physical and mental exhaustion they would cease to breathe.” Silence, Shusaku Endo

In his 1966 novel, Silence, Shusaku Endo explored the many intricate, terrible torments feudal Japan devised to kill Jesuits arriving to spread the word of God. The plight of those “hidden Christians” (隠れキリシタン Kakure Kirishitan) convinced Martin Scorsese to turn the book into his latest film, which will have its premiere next week in front of a very critical audience at the Vatican.

“It’s called the pit. You’ve probably heard about it. They bind you in such a way that you can move neither hands nor feet; and then they hang you upside down in a pit,” so writes Endo describing a popular torture venue above which Christians were hung upside down and bound. They were then cut slightly behind both ears, just enough so that blood trickled out, leading to a lengthy, painful death.

Andrew Garfield, who plays Father Sebastião Rodrigues in Silence, told Fandango he spent a year preparing for the role: “I got to spend a lot of time with Marty and with Jesuit priests; one in particular being Father James Martin, who’s become a real mentor to me and a spiritual director for me, basically. Teaching me about all things Jesuit in a visceral way, not just an intellectual way. In a ‘lived’ way. I just fell in love with the whole process of what it is to be a Jesuit priest.”


Thanksgiving

Thursday, 24 November, 2016 0 Comments

The poetry of Charles Reznikoff is marked by his love of the simple life and common things. Reznikoff was a New Yorker and “a collector of images and stories who walked the city from Bronx to Battery” in search of “the soul of the Jewish immigrant experience.” There is no mention of Thanksgiving in his Te Deum but he speaks of “the day’s work done” for the reward of a seat “at the common table.”

Te Deum

Not because of victories
I sing,
having none,
but for the common sunshine,
the breeze,
the largess of the spring.

Not for victory
but for the day’s work done
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais
but at the common table.

Charles Reznikoff (1894 – 1976)

Note: Te Deum takes its name from an early Christian hymn and its opening Latin words, Te Deum laudamus, are translated as “Thee, O God, we praise”.


Google: Neural Machine Translation

Wednesday, 23 November, 2016 1 Comment

Hello Google Essentially, Google’s “Neural Machine Translation” system converts whole sentences, rather than just word by word. It has been activated for eight language pairs to and from English and French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Turkish. “These represent the native languages of around one-third of the world’s population,” writes Barak Turovsky in a piece titled “Found in translation: More accurate, fluent sentences in Google Translate.”

Note: The system behind Neural Machine Translation is being made available for all businesses through the Google Cloud Translation API.


The past of William Trevor

Tuesday, 22 November, 2016 0 Comments

For William Trevor, who died yesterday, there was just one tense: the past. The present, he believed, was too instantaneous to describe, while the future was unknowable. It was the past, and only the past that could be assessed and reviewed and put in perspective.

“A person’s life isn’t orderly …it runs about all over the place, in and out through time. The present’s hardly there; the future doesn’t exist. Only love matters in the bits and pieces of a person’s life.” — William Trevor

William Trevor


The Tesla shock

Tuesday, 22 November, 2016 1 Comment

Global gasoline consumption is topping out predicts the International Energy Agency. The reason: more efficient cars and the advent of electric vehicles from new players such as Tesla Motors. Javier Blas and Laura Blewitt of Bloomberg put it like this: “Tesla Shock Means Global Gasoline Demand Has All But Peaked“. Snippet:

“Gasoline has been the world’s choice to power automobiles. From the 1950s onward, when Henry Ford’s dream that every middle-class American could own a car became reality, gas stations sprung up next to drive-through restaurants and strip malls and transformed the landscape of America and economies across the globe.

Now, however, car companies — most obviously Tesla, but also incumbents such as General Motors Co., BMW AG and Nissan Motor Co. — are putting their money, and reputations, behind electric vehicles.”

Note: David Stern, energy and environmental economist and professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University, tweets “This article isn’t an accurate representation of what the WEO says.” Here is the WEO (World Energy Outlook) 2016 presentation.


Lucy Kellaway swaps keyboard for blackboard

Monday, 21 November, 2016 0 Comments

“We will live until we are 100, and will work into our 70s. If Leonard Cohen could do world tours until he was 80, I can surely find the energy needed to be in a classroom all day, teaching kids my favourite subject.” So says Lucy Kellaway, who surprised the world of business journalism yesterday by announcing that after 31 years at the Financial Times she’s changing careers. She’s training to be a teacher.

Kellaway is famous for her acerbic writing about the loathsome side of corporate life, but she’s trading in the cushy punditry for a future facing teenagers in an inner London school teaching the basics of trigonometry. And she’s got it all figured out.

She has set up Now Teach and one of its goals is to persuade experienced managers at outfits like McKinsey and Goldman that teaching “is a cool and noble thing to do”. But isn’t teaching, like, complicated? It certainly is. Kellaway, however, is partnering with Ark, an educational charity that specializes in training teachers, which means all those ex-executives will be well prepared for their lessons

Again, the announcement yesterday caught everyone by surprise, but it’s not as if there weren’t portents. In April last year, Lucy Kellaway had lunch with Australia’s Financial Review, and at one stage she said: “I’ve been at the FT for 30 years. 30 YEARS! With the same employer. That is kind of ironic given the whole thing I do is write about new ways of work and loyalty and all of that.”

That was then. Life begins at 58 they say now.

Lucy Kellaway


First Aid Kit could fill in for Bob Dylan in Stockholm

Sunday, 20 November, 2016 0 Comments

On Wednesday, the Swedish Academy announced that Bob Dylan would skip next month’s Nobel Prize in Literature award ceremony because of “other” commitments. “He wishes that he could accept the award personally, but other commitments make it unfortunately impossible,” it said.

But all is not lost as Dylan is expected to play a gig to Stockholm in spring. Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, told Swedish public radio that she received confirmation from Dylan’s manager. “Then he will have an excellent opportunity to hold his lecture,” she said. Giving a public talk is the only requirement for the Nobel laureate and must be done within six months starting from December 10.

A radical solution would be to get First Aid Kit to fill in on the Big Day. The Swedish duo consists of sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg and here’s their interpretation of It Ain’t Me Babe, which originally appeared on Another Side of Bob Dylan, released in 1964.


Michael Wolff goes to Wolf Hall in Manhattan

Saturday, 19 November, 2016 3 Comments

“The real business of journalism, or at least a major sideline, is envy of those who get lucky,” writes the columnist Michael Wolff. “Nice to be the lucky one this time,” he adds. Wolff was responding to a barrage of Twitter criticism directed at his scoop interview for the Hollywood Reporter with Steve Bannon, chief strategist and Senior Counselor for the Presidency of Donald Trump. It’s a remarkable piece of reportage and one that will send shivers down the liberal spine. Snippet:

“It’s the Bannon theme, the myopia of the media, that it tells only the story that confirms its own view, that in the end it was incapable of seeing an alternative outcome and of making a true risk assessment of the political variables — reaffirming the Hillary Clinton camp’s own political myopia. This defines the parallel realities in which liberals, in their view of themselves, represent a morally superior character and Bannon — immortalized on Twitter as a white nationalist, racist, anti-Semite thug — the ultimate depravity of Trumpism.”

But now the tables have been turned. Bannon is in Trump Tower and world leaders are booking suites above his office in the hope of getting access to his boss, the US President-elect. It’s a revolution and heads are going to roll:

“Bannon represents, he not unreasonably believes, the fall of the establishment. The self-satisfied, in-bred and homogenous views of the establishment are both what he is against and what has provided the opening for the Trump revolution. ‘The media bubble is the ultimate symbol of what’s wrong with this country,’ he continues. ‘It’s just a circle of people talking to themselves who have no f—ing idea what’s going on. If The New York Times didn’t exist, CNN and MSNBC would be a test pattern. The Huffington Post and everything else is predicated on The New York Times. It’s a closed circle of information from which Hillary Clinton got all her information — and her confidence. That was our opening.'”

And now? And next? Time to read some of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which documents the rapid rise to power of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII. Steve Bannon has read it and understood it and intends to live it.

“I am,” he says, with relish, “Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors.” Some five hundred years from now, a lucky journalist might conduct an interview that concludes, “I am,” he says, with relish, “Steve Bannon in the court of the Trumps.”


Allingham: The fullness and emptiness of writing

Friday, 18 November, 2016 0 Comments

Many an eerie Hallowe’en night is still graced with a reading of The Fairies by William Allingham, which begins:

“Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men.”

William Allingham, who died on this day in 1889, was an Irish poet and chronicler best known for his Diary, in which he recorded his encounters with Tennyson, Carlyle and other 19th-century writers. For Allingham, the act of writing was double edged.

Writing

“A man who keeps a diary, pays
Due toll to many tedious days;
But life becomes eventful — then
His busy hand forgets the pen.
Most books, indeed, are records less
Of fullness than of emptiness.”

William Allingham (1824 – 1889)