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The art and aristry of Muhammad Ali

Saturday, 4 June, 2016 0 Comments

“I’m the greatest, I’m a bad man, and I’m pretty!” — Muhammad Ali

The April 1968 Esquire cover of Muhammad Ali posing as the martyr Saint Sebastian was one of the most iconic images of the Sixties, combining the provocative issues of race, religion and war. This is one of the greatest magazine covers ever because it illustrates the boxer’s persecution for his beliefs in a way that is visually elegant and economical.

Ali Esquire

Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. on 17 January 1942. He died yesterday, 3 June 2016. He was The Greatest Of All Time.


The Japanese are different

Friday, 3 June, 2016 0 Comments

First, the news the world has been awaiting: Seven-year-old Yamato Tanooka, who went missing in bear-inhabited forests in northern Japan after his parents abandoned him, has been found alive. Yamato’s parents said they made him get out of their car on a mountain road last Saturday because he had thrown stones at people and cars. After being reunited with his son, father Takayuki Tanooka told reporters: “The first thing I said to him was that I was really sorry. He nodded and said OK, like he understood.”

This clip by the Oh! Matsuri team about the Onbashira Matsuri (Sacred Pillars Festival) in the Nagano Prefecture offers a glimpse of what makes Japan different. Groups of men chop down 16 huge fir trees from the local forests and engage in all kinds of raucous ceremonies as they haul them to the Suwa Grand Shrine. The ancient spectacle is held across the region every seven years to replace the shrine’s sacred pillars.


Mary Meeker’s annual deck

Thursday, 2 June, 2016 0 Comments

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner Mary Meeker presented her annual state-of-the-internet report yesterday at the Code Conference. The slides highlight the latest trends in mobile, commerce, transportation, advertising and data. Five takeaways:

  • Internet growth overall is slowing down
  • Non-tech giants are acquiring tech companies to fuel growth
  • Typing text into a search bar is soooooooo last year
  • The USA could become the home of the auto industry again
  • Messaging apps will rival the mobile home screen


Dearest creature in creation, English pronunciation

Wednesday, 1 June, 2016 0 Comments

Gerard Nolst Trenité was born in Utrecht in 1870 and died in Haarlem in 1946. A writer, traveller and teacher, he was also, and this is our favourite, “a Dutch observer of English.” Trenité is best known for his poem The Chaos, which exposes the eccentricities of English spelling and pronunciation, and which appeared in his 1929 textbook “Drop Your Foreign Accent: Engelsche Uitspraakoefeningen.”

The Chaos

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation (think of Psyche!)
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870 — 1946)


Gates and Gatz

Tuesday, 31 May, 2016 1 Comment

Don’t want to let the month of May end without mentioning the Top 10 Books chosen by Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, billionaire, philanthropist and avid reader. Aaron Hicklin, proprietor of the bookshop and website One Grand Books, has been asking people to name the 10 books they’d take with them if they were stuck on a desert island and Gates responded with a mix that ranges from sci-fi to business to biology. Included is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: “The novel that I reread the most. Melinda and I love one line so much that we had it painted on a wall in our house: ‘His dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.'”

Think about that sentence for a moment:

“His dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.”

How many good people and how many awful people have shared the same dream of success only to see it slip from their reach? Some accepted defeat with grace; others were driven mad by failure. Jimmy Gatz failed vulnerably, unflinchingly, memorably.


Chinese parking robot meets commenting bot

Monday, 30 May, 2016 0 Comments

With typical modesty, The People’s Daily trumpets that “China’s most fantastic parking robot amazes the world.” And, indeed, this automated guided vehicle (AGV) robot, which uses laser navigation, delivers very impressive results.

The technology was developed by Guangzhou-based Yee Fung Automation Technology Co, which has a state-sponsored English-language web presence that’s adorned with the Golden Gate Bridge and cryptic English: “in order to visit customer for regularly and supply to maintain for customer by freely, We set up net of service for all of city in china with staff of parmanent.” Pointing that out, however, is sure to anger “seethru”, a Party bot, who added this comment to The People’s Daily article:

“We are starting to read more and more innovations and inventions coming out of China which should kill the myth perpetuated by ignorant and racist Westerners that Chinese people are incapable of original thought and creativity.”

Many informed and cosmopolitan Westerners are convinced that Chinese people are capable of original thought and creativity, but they will keep pointing to awkward facts about the political scientists and law experts fleeing to America as Beijing’s grip on freedoms in China intensifies under President Xi Jinping.


Writer’s block today

Sunday, 29 May, 2016 0 Comments

“The last thing we discover in composing a work is what to put down first.”
Blaise Pascal

“Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:
‘Fool!’ said my muse to me, ‘look in thy heart, and write.'”
Sir Philip Sidney

“Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.”
Charles Bukowski


Old houses go on keeping their vigil

Saturday, 28 May, 2016 0 Comments

The American poet Robert Cording writes about faith, grief and grace. Explaining his approach in an interview with Holy Cross Magazine, he said, “It’s self-reflective about your relationship to mortality, to the world, to those fundamental questions: Who are we? Where are we going? Why are we here? That’s what started me writing — those kinds of questions.”

Old Houses

Year after year after year
I have come to love slowly

how old houses hold themselves —

before November’s drizzled rain
or the refreshing light of June —

as if they have all come to agree
that, in time, the days are no longer
a matter of suffering or rejoicing.

I have come to love
how they take on the color of rain or sun
as they go on keeping their vigil

without need of a sign, awaiting nothing

more than the birds that sing from the eaves,
the seizing cold that sounds the rafters.

Robert Cording

Where once we visited


“Women should protect their beautiful faces”

Friday, 27 May, 2016 0 Comments

Named after James Brown’s funky saxophone player, Maceo Parker, Maceo Frost grew up in Stockholm with a street-dancing father and skateboarding mother. “He found film-making at 11 and grew up never having to wonder what to do in life. Today he travels the world directing films and loves making people share their deepest secrets with the camera.” Maceo Frost’s portrait of Namibia Flores Rodriguez is superb.

By the way, supporters of socialist ideals should note that not all Cuban boxers are cherished equally — Namibia Flores Rodriguez is the island’s only female boxer.


Neither forgiving nor forgetting

Thursday, 26 May, 2016 0 Comments

Today is the feast of Corpus Christi and the Gospel according to St. Matthew (26:26-29) will be quoted during the ceremonies: “Drink of it all of You; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” One of the principles of the Christian tradition is forgiveness, which often implies forgetting, but Laura Kennedy pours cold water on the notion that it’s wise to forgive and forget. Nor is it possible, she writes, because the notion is modeled after God’s divine forgiveness:

“But I’m not God, and neither are you. We are not much like him — or it, or her — at all, and it’s not clear that forgiving because it’s what God would do is a good idea. A policy of blanket forgiveness regardless of how any person might behave toward you may be pious, but it’s also naive and can invite unworthy individuals to take advantage…

…Punishing ourselves with the idea that we ‘should’ be able to forgive is nonsense. When we are truly and unjustly morally injured by others, we owe a debt of magnanimity only to ourselves — to stop considering the wrongdoer, and do what is necessary to heal the injury ourselves.”

“Forgiveness is the final form of love,” said Reinhold Niebuhr, but Laura Kennedy’s “It is not always wise to forgive and forget” challenges the American ethicist’s famous statement. Her’s is a contrarian view and a valuable one.

The Faithful

Note: During Corpus Christi, Catholics take part in a procession after mass, praying and singing as the Blessed Sacrament is held aloft in a monstrance by a member of the clergy. The feast was suppressed in Protestant churches at the Reformation and in one of his postils (homilies) Martin Luther wrote: “I am to no festival more hostile than this one. Because it is the most shameful festival. At no festival are God and his Christ more blasphemed, than on this day, and particularly by the procession.”


Trump: the candidate of Control-Alt-Delete

Wednesday, 25 May, 2016 0 Comments

On Sunday, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal presidential election poll put Donald Trump at 43 percent and Hillary Clinton at 46 percent, but an ABC News/Washington Post poll published the same day saw Trump at 46 percent and Clinton at 44 percent. To understand what’s going on, a reading of “The Meaning of Mr. Trump” by Walter Russell Mead is very highly recommended. Snippet:

“What makes Trump so appealing to so many voters is that the establishment does seem unusually clueless these days. The great American post-Cold War project of seeking peace and security through the construction of a New World Order based on liberal internationalism and American power doesn’t seem to be working very well, and it’s not hard to conclude that neither the neoconservatives nor the Obama-ites really know what they are doing. When it comes to the economy, it’s been clear since the financial crisis of 2008 that something is badly awry and that the economists, so dogmatic and opinionated and so bitterly divided into quarreling schools, aren’t sure how the system works anymore, and have no real ideas about how to make the world system work to the benefit of ordinary voters in the United States. With the PC crowd and the Obama administration hammering away at transgender bathroom rights as if this was the great moral cause of our time, and with campus Pure Thought advocates collapsing into self parody even as an epidemic of drug abuse and family breakdown relentlessly corrodes the foundations of American social cohesion, it’s hard to believe that the establishment has a solid grip on the moral principles and priorities a society like ours needs.”

This summary of Trump is classic: “He is the candidate of Control-Alt-Delete.” Mead accepts that the Trump movement is not the answer to the myriad problems facing the US, but he’s on they money when he sees the rage that’s powering it as a vibrant expression of democracy: “The tailors are frauds and the emperor is not in fact wearing any clothes: it is a good sign and not a bad sign that so many Americans are willing to say so out loud.” This is going to be a pivotal election, and not just for the US.

Real Clear Politics