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Dunkirk: A cinematic and auditory masterpiece

Friday, 28 July, 2017 0 Comments

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is a cinematic masterpiece. The legendary World War II story — where 330,000 Allied troops, surrounded by Germans, were evacuated from the northern coast of France — is terrifying, poignant and visually stunning. Central to the on-screen atmospherics is the score by Hans Zimmer, which uses an auditory technique caused by “Shepard tones”.

Named after cognitive scientist Roger Shepard, the sound consists of octave after octave layered on top of each other. As the bass fades in, the treble fades out and the tone sequence loops back again and again and again. Because the listener can always hear at least two tones rising in pitch at the same time, one thinks that the sound is constantly ascending. It’s eerie and unnerving and ideally suited to Nolan’s drama.

In an interview with Business Insider, Nolan said that the soundtrack was created to evoke a feeling of ever-increasing intensity that would unite the film’s three storylines. And it does. Brilliantly. Dunkirk is a cinematic masterpiece and its soundtrack is an auditory masterpiece.


Going to Dunkirk

Thursday, 27 July, 2017 0 Comments

Going to the new Christopher Nolan film, that is.

The British retreat to the coastal French town of Dunkirk in late May 1940 was a key moment of the Second World War. Several hundred thousand British and Allied troops were encircled by the Germans. Had Hitler attacked, he would have captured a quarter of a million men, stripping Britain of its army and putting enormous pressure on London to enter into peace talks with Berlin. But the Germans didn’t attack. Their nine Panzer divisions stopped outside Dunkirk. And the British were able to start their evacuation from the beaches with the result that most of the their troops got home. Some 300,000 men were rescued — two thirds British, the rest French.

As the exhausted troops were disembarking along the south-eastern coast of England, the five members of Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet met on 27 May to discuss entering into peace negotiations with Germany. Churchill was passionately against any such move, but the foreign minister, Lord Halifax, was for talks as he felt England’s negotiating position was stronger with France still in the war. He also believed that Britain’s goal should not be to fight Germany, but rather to preserve as much independence as possible in a peaceful coexistence.

During the following day’s Cabinet meeting, however, the tide turned in favour of Churchill when he declared absolutely that there would be no surrender, and that as long as he was in office, he would never negotiate with the Nazis. “If this long island story of ours is to end at last,” he declared, “let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood on the ground.”

He was thinking of the 68,111 killed, wounded or captured British troops at Dunkirk.


Gin of the week: Dingle

Wednesday, 26 July, 2017 0 Comments

Remember the real estate mantra? Location, location, location. And when it comes to location, the town of Dingle has it tripled. Perched on the edge of the Atlantic in Ireland’s southwest, picturesque Dingle looks out across the water to the Blasket Islands and further beyond, America. Geography is destiny and the locals know how to make full use of their good luck. By the way, although Dingle is one of Ireland’s largest Gaeltacht towns, its people voted to retain the name Dingle rather than the officially sanctioned — and signposted — Gaelige of “An Daingean”. Branding is destiny, too.

Would all those Dingle tourists like to take away a bottle of gin infused with wild Kerry flowers and hints of rugged Kingdom heather? Liam La Hart and Oliver Hughes, founders of the hugely successful Porterhouse Brewery chain, thought so and thus was Dingle Gin initiated and distilled. The juniper element is pure London Dry and the Irish botanicals include rowan berries, fuchsia and hawthorn. Present, too, are angelica and coriander. In every sense, this is a glocal gin.

Jette Virdi, who describes herself as “a food stylist, workshop host and a mentor for big hearted creatives”, drinks her Dingle Gin with thyme and tonic. Sláinte!

Note: Dingle is the third in a gin series that began with Blackwater No. 5 and continued with Friedrichs.


The excuses we told ourselves

Tuesday, 25 July, 2017 0 Comments

That’s the title of the third chapter of that The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam by Douglas Murray. Snippet:

“Throughout the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, European governments pursued policies of mass immigration without public approval. Yet such vast societal change cannot be forced up a society against its will without a series of arguments being brought along to help ease the case. The arguments that Europeans have been given during this period range across the moral and the technocratic. They also shift according to need and the political winds. The Strange Death of Europe So, for instance, it has often been claimed that immigration on this scale is an economic benefit for our countries; that in an ‘ageing society’ increased immigration is necessary; that in any case immigration makes our countries more cultured and interesting; and that even if none of these were the case, globalisation makes mass immigration unstoppable.

Such justifications have a tendency to become intertwined and mutually replaceable, so that if one fails the others are always there to fall back on. They often start with economic arguments, but they can just as well start with moral arguments. If mass immigration doesn’t make you a richer person, then it will make you a better person. And if it doesn’t make your country a better country, then it will at least make it a richer country. Over time each of these arguments has produced sub-industries of people devoted to proving their truth. In each case the rationale comes after the events, so as to give the final impression of justification being sought for events that would have happened anyway.”

Tonight, chapter four. Murray’s writing is passionate and his arguments are intense so it is best to read the book in a series of sittings. This is an important work and it has arrived at a critical time. Europe’s leaders should not ignore the message.


The Strange Death of Europe

Monday, 24 July, 2017 1 Comment

The Strange Death of Europe Background: More than 90,000 migrants have arrived in Italy from Libya so far this year and the country is now riven by deep political and civil divisions because of the strains the influx is putting on the country’s infrastructure. Meanwhile, it is thought that at least 300,000 Africans from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Chad and Sudan are en route to Libya in hopes of getting across the Mediterranean to Europe.

Long-term demographic trends mean millions of Africans could be driven to Europe by hunger, poverty and repression. How many millions? No one knows for sure but Niger, a huge, mostly desert country to the north of Nigeria, offers some indicators. According to Reuters, “With an average of 7.6 children born to each woman, its population is projected to more than triple to 72 million by 2050, from about 20 million now, according to the latest U.N. figures. By then, Africa will have more than doubled its population to 2.4 billion, the United Nations says.”

As the poet wrote, the centre cannot hold.

How very timely, then, that The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam has arrived on the bookshelves. According to the blurb, this is Douglas Murray’s “highly personal account of a continent and culture caught in the act of suicide. Declining birth rates, mass immigration, and cultivated self-distrust and self-hatred have come together to make Europeans unable to argue for themselves and incapable of resisting their own comprehensive alteration as a society and an eventual end.”

The Strange Death of Europe is our reading here this week.


The dailiness of life

Sunday, 23 July, 2017 0 Comments

“The motives of honesty, courage and inconsolable life of life are here submitted to the conditions of poetry and fulfilled in them.” So wrote Delmore Schwartz when reviewing a collection of verse by Randall Jarrell. In 1965, Jarrell walked onto US highway 15-501 near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and stood in front of an oncoming truck. He was 51.

Within living memory, buckets of well water were drawn daily for every aspect of domestic washing and cleansing. At the same time, well water from ancient, sacred places was used to ward off the illness and evil which threatened to disrupt what Randall Jarrell so beautifully expressed as “the dailiness of life.”

Well Water

What a girl called “the dailiness of life”
(Adding an errand to your errand. Saying,
“Since you’re up…” Making you a means to
A means to a means to) is well water
Pumped from an old well at the bottom of the world.
The pump you pump the water from is rusty
And hard to move and absurd, a squirrel-wheel
A sick squirrel turns slowly, through the sunny
Inexorable hours. And yet sometimes
The wheel turns of its own weight, the rusty
Pump pumps over your sweating face the clear
Water, cold, so cold! you cup your hands
And gulp from them the dailiness of life.

Randall Jarrell (1914 – 1965)

Water


Better the butcher than the meat

Saturday, 22 July, 2017 0 Comments

“Either you get eaten by a wolf today or else the shepherd saves you from the wolf so he can sell you to the butcher tomorrow.” — Ogden Nash

meat


Post from Mastersley Ferry-the Green

Friday, 21 July, 2017 0 Comments

Monday’s post here, The AI Apocalypse: Warning No. 702, was about artificial intelligence (AI) and Elon Musk’s alarming statement: “It is the biggest risk that we face as a civilization.” As we pointed out, fans of AI say such concerns are hasty.

Dan Hon is a fan of AI and he’s just trained a neural network to generate British placenames. How? Well, he gave his AI a list of real placenames and it then brainstormed new names based on the patterns it found in the training list. As Hon says, “the results were predictable.” Sample:

Mastersley Ferry-the Green
Borton Bittefell
Hisillise St Marsh
Westington-courding
Holtenham Stye’s Wood Icklets
West Waplest Latford
Fackle Village
Undwinton Woathiston
Thorton Stowin
Sketton Brittree
Ham’s Courd
Matton Oston


The race for la lanterne rouge

Thursday, 20 July, 2017 0 Comments

La lanterne rouge is the French term for the competitor in last place in the Tour de France. Currently, the “honour” is held by Luke Rowe from Team Sky, which is quite astonishing as his teammate Chris Froome leads the field. Clearly, the media-savvy Sky wants to hoover up all the publicity, from start to finish, from top to tail.

The race for the lanterne rouge among the tour teams has come down to three: Team Dimension Data, Team Katusha Alpecin and Team FDJ. Of the three, Team Dimension Data is the most fascinating as its sponsor is working on transforming the Tour into a Big Data project. Actually, the proper name of the team is “Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka, Africa’s first UCI World Tour Team racing to mobilise change in Africa, one bicycle at a time.” Qhubeka is a charity that gives bicycles to young people in Africa and, as we know, mobility is vital for the development of every society.

Today: Stage 18 from Briançon to Col d’Izoard. The ascent of this legendary Alp will be crucial to determining the winner of this year’s Tour.


Gin: Friedrichs

Wednesday, 19 July, 2017 0 Comments

Shouldn’t that be “Friedrich’s”? Asks the punctuation pedant. Actually, no. You see, Friedrichs Dry Gin is German and the German language doesn’t do the possessive form as English does by suffixing a morpheme, represented orthographically as ‘s.

Geographically, Friedrichs comes from Steinhagen, which is located on the southern slope of the legendary Teutoburg Forest, and the town is famous for its Steinhäger, a Schnapps flavoured with juniper berries and traditionally sold in long brown earthenware bottles. Given the current popularity of gin, it’s not surprising that the distillers of Steinhagen put 2 + 2 together and came up with Friedrichs Dry Gin, and the bottle design they picked is meant to reflect the tradition of the old earthenware ones. Obviously, optics are just as important as orthography on a crowded spirits shelf.

And the gin itself? On the nose, juniper takes a background positon, surprisingly, given the Steinhagen juniper history. The more prominent botanicals include orange blossoms, coriander, angelica, rosemary and a hint of the laraha citrus fruit, which is grown on the island of Curaçao. In other words, Friedrichs is floral and herbal. On the palate, the taste is herbaceous and earthy and green. Taken straight on ice, the orange aroma fades and the juniper comes to the fore. This is a intricate gin and a welcome addition to the family.

Friedrichs Dry Gin


Jane Austen endures and entertains

Tuesday, 18 July, 2017 0 Comments

“How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” — Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Two-hundred years ago today, 18 July 1817, Jane Austen departed this world, taken by a mysterious illness. She was just 41 years old.

Two-hundred years later, she has never been more alive, more popular, more relevant.

The novelist who gave us Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy — the mismatched lovers of Pride and Prejudice — is as endurable as Shakespeare. The eternal entertainment she created in a handful of Regency novels is based on life’s fundamentals: society, money, friendship, love, marriage, pride, prejudice, vanity and all the other shortcomings of human nature. Our world, with its excesses of sex and suicide bombers, appears deranged by comparison and the difference is that in Austen’s world decorum dominates while restraint rules. People observe a code of behaviour, especially regarding feelings and in what they are allowed to say. We don’t face such restrictions. We can say whatever we want. And we do. “Angry people are not always wise,” Austen noted, wisely, in Pride and Prejudice.

“Jane Austen was born before those bonds which (we are told) protected women from truth, were burst by the Brontës or elaborately untied by George Eliot. Yet the fact remains that Jane Austen knew more about men than either of them. Jane Austen may have been protected from truth: but it was precious little of truth that was protected from her.” — G.K. Chesterton