Ten days ago, Associated Press film writer Jessica Herndon spoke to Philip Seymour Hoffman in Park City, Utah, and here’s the opening sentence of her report: “Philip Seymour Hoffman’s new movie is a psychological thriller about terrorism, but he says it also has something to do with hitting a midlife crisis — and that’s what really drew him to the role.” The midlife crisis turned out to be more destructive than most of its kind and the actor was found dead on Sunday morning in his New York apartment, after a suspected drug overdose. He was 46.
The reason that Jessica Herndon interviewed Philip Seymour Hoffman in Park City was that his most recent film, A Most Wanted Man, had premiered at the Sundance Film Festival there. Hoffman plays a rogue German counter-terrorism expert, heading up an anti-terrorism team in Hamburg, the former home of the 9/11 hijackers. The film is based on John Le Carre’s 2008 thriller, which is marred by the author’s didacticism. The US has now replaced the USSR as the le Carré adversary of choice and his portrayal of Americans is too close to caricature to be considered seriously. It is a tragedy that this would turn out to be Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final serious film.Tweet
There are those who believe that poeta nascitur, non fit (a poet is born, not made), and those who don’t. The same applies to walkers. Well, that’s what Henry David Thoreau thought. A month after his death from tuberculosis, in May 1862, The Atlantic magazine published one of his most famous essays, “Walking,” which contains the observation, Ambulator nascitur, non fit. To someone who did some serious walking in January, the aphorism rings true. And the following passage is filled with goodness:
“My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many years I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days together, I have not yet exhausted them. An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see. A single farmhouse which I had not seen before is sometimes as good as the dominions of the King of Dahomey. There is in fact a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles’ radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the threescore years and ten of human life. It will never become quite familiar to you.”
In essence, Walking celebrates the rewards of immersing oneself in nature and mourns the inevitable advance of land ownership upon the wilderness.Tweet
It has been said that people in Limerick have intentionally injured themselves just so they could visit Donkey Ford’s fish & chip shop after having been discharged from the nearby St. John’s Hospital. Located on John’s Street in one of the city’s many rugged quarters, Ford’s offers greasy comfort at very affordable prices. For example, […]
This is going to be a big year for Carrie Rodriguez, the Austin-based singer-songwriter and fiddle player, who’s just completed a live collaboration with guitarists Bill Frisell and Buddy Miller at New York’s Lincoln Center, where they rejuvenated the seminal country-and-western songs that were recorded at those historic sessions in 1927 in Bristol, Tennessee, by Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family.Tweet
The late Pete Seeger was a Marxist and, in his own words, a “communist with a small c”, all his life. Some, however, would differ with the singer’s use of the lower-case there. David Boaz, writing in The Guardian in 2006, went so far as to call him “Stalin’s songbird” and bolstered his case by quoting the ex-communist scholar Ronald Radosh: “Seeger was anti-war during the period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact; pro-war after the Soviet Union was the ally of the United States; and anti-war during the years of the Cold War and Vietnam.”
Adam Garfinkle does not ignore Seeger’s politics in “So Long, It’s Been a Bit Strange to Know You“, but he makes a case for putting the singer’s misguided beliefs in context:
“When you come right down to it, what Seeger did, probably without knowing it, was to devise a kind of new-age folk religion out of musical protest rituals. What he did made people feel good, made them feel like a part of something larger than themselves at a time when traditional means of religious communal expression weren’t working so well. The merging of environmental consciousness into the older leftist portfolio was almost too good to be true for this purpose: Lenin plus Gaia equaled countercultural nirvana. It was fine for most never to get beyond the lyrical slogans to the second paragraph of any thought about a political topic — that just wasn’t the point. Communal singing is a very powerful form of human celebration that creates and sustains spiritual connectedness; if you don’t realize that, it means you’ve never been involved in it. For all I know it probably has health benefits as well.”
Lenin plus Gaia is apt.Tweet
IBM’s Deep Blue computer beat Gary Kasparov at chess in 1997 and its Watson computer defeated Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on the US quiz show Jeopardy! in 2011. Thanks to the evolving ability of its machines to interpret large datasets, IBM continues to develop within the industry it has helped to define. Using big-data analytics techniques, the company’s Thomas J Watson Research Center has created extraordinary food recipes mined from resources such as Fenaroli’s Handbook of Flavor Ingredients, which are then tweaked by an algorithm designed to add novelty to the mix. As a result, we get concoctions like Swiss-Thai Asparagus quiche and Turkish bruschetta. Next up? Cantonese broccoli kebab and Irish brown trout bouillabaisse perhaps.
Along with exploring the potential of technouvelle cuisine, IBM is researching the market for “cognitive services” — computers that think, or appear to. The returns could be huge if it can develop artificially intelligent systems capable of answering questions posed in natural language, such as carrying out intelligent phone calls with customers. That’s why Big Blue is pouring $1 billion into Watson. According to Antonio Regalado writing in the MIT Technology Review, “the number of IBM employees working on Watson technologies, including engineers, salespeople, and consultants, will increase fourfold or fivefold to 2,000. The Watson Group will also be elevated inside IBM and report directly to the chairman and CEO, Virginia Rometty.”
But as Regalado points out, crunching cancer is going to be far more challenging for Watson than playing Jeopardy! or thinking up Creole Shrimp Dumpling.Tweet
This poem/prayer by Rudyard Kipling is dedicated to the Rainy Day mother who is recuperating currently.
Mother o’ Mine
If I were hanged on the highest hill,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
If I were damned of body and soul,
I know whose prayers would make me whole,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
Rudyard Kipling (1865 — 1936)
“I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me,” said Abraham Lincoln. “They have clung to me all my life.” It’s the same here.Tweet
“This is a conflict which is not only bigger than al-Qa’eda and similar groups, but far bigger than any of us. It is one which will re-align not only the Middle East, but the religion of Islam.” So writes Douglas Murray in the current issue of The Spectator in a piece titled “Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Middle East’s 30 year war.” Murray contends that the slaughter in Syria is, in reality, a proxy war between Saudi and Iran, between the Shia and Sunni factions of Islam. “There are those who think that the region as a whole may be starting to go through something similar to what Europe went through in the early 17th century during the Thirty Years’ War, when Protestant and Catholic states battled it out,” he says, warning that the current savagery will be exceeded in barbarity when the “gloves come off.”
The former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is sounding a similar alarm. “Religious difference, not ideology, will fuel this century’s epic battles” he claimed in yesterday’s Observer. Citing a “ghastly roll call of terror attacks” in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Russia, Burma, Thailand and the Philippines, he declares that these “are perpetrated by people motivated by an abuse of religion. It is a perversion of faith. But there is no doubt that those who commit the violence often do so by reference to their faith and the sectarian nature of the conflict is a sectarianism based on religion.”
If there is to be peace, we need to study faith and globalisation and agree on the place of religion in modern society. With this in mind, in collaboration with Harvard Divinity School, Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation, will launch a website later this year that will provide “up-to-date analysis of what is happening in the field of religion and conflict; in-depth analysis of religion and its impact on countries where this is a major challenge; and basic facts about the religious make-up and trends in every country worldwide.” It’s not a solution, but it is a sign and it’s a necessary sign because the latest Pew report on global religious Hostilities doesn’t make for pretty reading. “The sharpest increase was in the Middle East and North Africa, which still is feeling the effects of the 2010-11 political uprisings known as the Arab Spring.”
Meanwhile, a glance at the devastating history of the original Thirty Years’ War should encourage everyone to work to prevent a modern-day re-enactment.Tweet
Some one million horses, mules and donkeys were sent to the Western Front to assist the British Army in World War I and served in squadrons such as the Northumberland Hussars and the Warwickshire Horse Artillery, where they pulled heavy guns, transported supplies, carried the wounded and dying to hospital and took part in cavalry […]
Combine the incomparable fiddle playing of Martin Hayes and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh with the sean-nós singing of Iarla Ó Lionaird and back it up with the guitar of Dennis Cahill and the keyboards of Thomas Bartlett and the you’ve got The Gloaming. They’ve just recorded their first studio album, but their natural setting is the live performance.
Thugamar Féin An Samhradh Linn is a traditional Irish song that was sung on May Day (Lá Bealtaine). In his notes on the song, the 19th century music collector Edward Bunting wrote that it “is probably extremely ancient”.
Bábóg na Bealtaine, maighdean an tSamhraidh,
Suas gach cnoc is síos gach gleann,
Cailíní maiseacha bán-gheala gléasta,
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn.
Samhradh, samhradh, bainne na ngamhna,
Mayday doll, maiden of Summer
Up every hill and down every glen,
Beautiful girls, radiant and shining,
We have brought the Summer in.
Summer, Summer, milk of the calves,