Beginning on 8 November and offering the Marc’Aurelio Award for best entry, The Rome Film Festival presents some intriguing titles: Marc Turtletaub’s star-filled directorial debut Gods Behaving Badly — a tale of Greek gods living in present-day New York; Her by Spike Jonze, Seventh Code from Japan’s Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Blue Sky Bones from China’s Jian Cui, Jean-Marc Vallee’s Dallas Buyers Club and Out of the Furnace by Scott Cooper.
The Latin saying, Mille viae ducunt homines per saecula Romam (“A thousand roads lead men forever to Rome”) became the proverb: “All roads lead to Rome.” In this clip, Tom Mckie reveals the eternal beauty of the city once known universally as caput mundi.Tweet
In 1980, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz, then living in exile in California. Although he served as a post-war cultural attaché of the newly formed People’s Republic of Poland in Paris and Washington DC, Milosz became increasingly disillusioned with Stalinist dogma and in 1953 he wrote The Captive Mind, which exposed the pernicious effects of Marxist orthodoxy on his generation of idealists. “Written before the Berlin Wall went up, The Captive Mind was a key factor in eventually bringing it down,” noted the critic Clive James in Cultural Amnesia.
When the Polish intelligentsia was being “wiped out half by one set of madmen and half by another”, Milosz found strength in the Bible because it “provided a standard of authenticity against a much more dangerous language, the language of legalized murder,” writes James, a confirmed atheist. Of his own position regarding the Good Book, he declares: “But without the scriptures we poor wretches would be lost indeed, because without them, conscience itself would become just another disturbance of the personality to be cured by counselling. We are surrounded by voices telling us that everything will come right if we learn to love ourselves. Imagine the torment of Jesus in his passion, if, on top of the sponge of vinegar and the spear, they had offered him counselling as well.”Tweet
The winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival was The Conversation, a cautionary technological tale written, produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Cindy Williams, Robert Duvall and Harrison Ford. Since then, The Conversation has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
What made the film especially significant was that it employed the same surveillance equipment that members of the Nixon Administration used when spying on political opponents. Because the film was released just before Richard Nixon resigned as President, many interpreted it to be a commentary on the Watergate scandal and on the dangers of technology in the hands of those determined to use it for personal or political advantage.
So what are the chances of Hollywood producing a Conversation for our times? You know, one that would highlight any theoretical abuse of surveillance power by the Obama administration. Don’t hold your breath. “Obama fundraiser at George Clooney’s home nets $15 million” reported CNN in May last year. Attendees included, “DreamWorks studio executive Jeffrey Katzenberg; designer Diane Von Furstenberg; Barbra Streisand and her actor husband James Brolin. “Folks are still hurting out there and those frustrations with Washington and the nonsense they see on the news is making them more cynical than they were in 2008,” Obama said. How true. But Hollywood “folks” ain’t hurting too bad so it’s unlikely they’ll be making movies about “the nonsense they see on the news” anytime soon. Anyway, they’d prefer not to offend their candidate.
Note: A few short years ago in Germany, a rabid hatred of George W. Bush was regarded as a sign of sanity but the mania ended in 2008 and was followed by a wave of Obama idolatry, equally terrifying in its obsessiveness. This fever has cooled, too, and Germany’s yellow press is now comparing Obama to Nixon using words that evoke Watergate.
“The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less sure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the […]
A quick look at the New York Times Bestsellers earlier in the week — Hardcover Non-Fiction — showed Jesus topping and tailing the list. In first place was Killing Jesus, an account of the life, times and crucifixion of our Saviour by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, and in tenth position, Zealot, a biography of the revolutionary Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan. And there was even more faith in fourth position with I Am Malala, which is about a Pakistani girl who was shot by the Islamist Taliban, while in fifth place was My Story, in which Elizabeth Smart tells of being kidnapped from her Utah home in 2002 at age 14 by a couple noted for their “religious idiosyncrasy”.
All this brings us to Amos Lee, whose fine new album, Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song has come into our possession via iTunes. Although the name may not be familiar to all, Lee has built a sterling reputation by touring with Adele, Willie Nelson, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. Along with composing his own songs, he’s a superb interpreter and his version of Fred Neil’s A Little Bit of Rain is splendid. This is from the Mission Bell album.Tweet
Speaking recently on France Info radio, former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said, “The magnitude of the eavesdropping is what shocked us.” He added: “Let’s be honest, we eavesdrop too. Everyone is listening to everyone else.” The difference, he noted, is that “we don’t have the same means as the United States — which makes us jealous.”
The faux outrage of the Europeans here is hilarious. And so is their notion of security. After all, if the NSA can listen in to Angela Merkel’s phone, others can as well. France is pretty good at this kind of thing and Russia and China are nifty, too. In “Why the NSA spies on France and Germany“, Marc Ambinder nails it:
“Of course, Brazil, France, Germany, and Mexico do exactly the same thing. They want their leaders to gain a decision advantage in the give and take between countries. They want to know what U.S. policymakers will do before the Americans do it. And in the case of Brazil and France, they aggressively spy on the United States, on U.S. citizens and politicians, in order to collect that information. The difference lies in the scale of intelligence collection: The U.S. has the most effective, most distributed, most sophisticated intelligence community in the West. It is Goliath. And other countries, rightly in their mind, are envious.”
Espionage has been part of diplomacy and statecraft since the days of Sun Tzu. “It is essential to seek out enemy agents who have come to conduct espionage against you and to bribe them to serve you,” he observed. “Give them instructions and care for them. Thus doubled agents are recruited and used.”
The former Chinese consul in Sydney, Chen Yonglin, who defected to Australia in 2005, said that China had 1,000 operatives spying in Australia at the time. Quoting the thinking of Sun Tzu, he told Australian officials that espionage is not an “add-on” to Chinese thinking. Rather, it is part of China’s strategic doctrine. Since the days of Sun Tzu, the aim of Chinese rulers has been to gain maximum advantage with minimum conflict. Winning by strategy is preferable to winning by war. Part of that strategy today is Big Data. Just ask the Canadians. They’re doing it, too.Tweet
Amazon is about to deliver and soon we’ll be delving into Solo, the new James Bond thriller by William Boyd. As we prepare for this thrilling treat, let’s ponder the cover of the second Ian Fleming 007 story, Live and Let Die, which was published in April 1954 in Britain by Jonathan Cape. It has to be said that it does not represent a triumph of art. Given that the action-packed adventure catapulted Bond from the jazz joints of Harlem to the emerald waters of the Everglades in pursuit of the ruthless Mr Big, the flatness of the cover is even more perplexing. Perhaps it was the Fleming/Bond philosophy that baffled the designers.
“No, when the stresses are too great for the tired metal, when the ground mechanic who checks the de-icing equipment is crossed in love and skimps his job, way back in London, Idlewild, Gander, Montreal; when those or many things happen, then the little warm room with propellers in front falls straight down out of the sky into the sea or on to the land, heavier than air, fallible, vain. And the forty little heavier-than-air people, fallible within the plane’s fallibility, vain within its larger vanity, fall down with it and make little holes in the land or little splashes in the sea. Which is anyway their destiny, so why worry? You are linked to the ground mechanic’s careless fingers in Nassau just as you are linked to the weak head of the little man in the family saloon who mistakes the red light for the green and meets you head-on, for the first and last time, as you are motoring quietly home from some private sin. There’s nothing to do about it. You start to die the moment you are born. The whole of life is cutting through the pack with death. So take it easy. Light a cigarette and be grateful you are still alive as you suck the smoke deep into your lungs. Your stars have already let you come quite a long way since you left your mother’s womb and whimpered at the cold air of the world. Perhaps they’ll even let you go to Jamaica tonight. Can’t you hear those cheerful voices in the control tower that have said quietly all day long, ‘Come in BOAC. Come in Panam. Come in KLM’? Can’t you hear them calling you down too: ‘Come in Transcarib. Come in Transcarib’? Don’t lose faith in your stars. This happy landing at Palisadoes Airport comes to you courtesy of your stars. Better thank them.” Ian Fleming, Live and Let Die
“Poll Shows de Blasio Maintaining Huge Lead” wrote the New York Times yesterday. The New York City mayoral election takes place on 5 November and the Democratic nominee, Bill de Blasio, looks set to win handsomely. The thing about Bill de Blasio, though, is that he’s not quite what he appears to be. First of all, he’s actually Warren Wilhelm, Jr. He legally changed his name to Warren de Blasio-Wilhelm in 1983, and in 2002 he changed that to Bill de Blasio. In doing so, he traded in his paternal German heritage for his mother’s Italian origins.
In 1988, Warren de Blasio-Wilhelm travelled to Managua to help distribute food and medicine during the Nicaraguan Revolution. He was a fervent supporter of the Sandinista regime and when he returned to the US, the joined a group called the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York, which held fundraisers for the Sandinistas. Filled with revolutionary zeal, De Blasio got involved in the 1989 mayoral campaign of the notoriously incompetent David Dinkins and was rewarded for his efforts with a sinecure at City Hall. Since then, he’s devoted his career to climbing the greasy pole of Democratic politics. Incredibly, voters now trust him with creating jobs, reducing the gap between rich and poor and improving education.
Following September’s primary election, Ben McGrath of the New Yorker went along to the de Blasio victory party in Brooklyn and was impressed by what he saw: “His sixteen-year-old son, Dante, has an afro that would have humbled a young Julius Erving, and his wife, Chirlane McCray, is an ex-radical lesbian.” At the end of the evening, “the likely new First Family of New York City engaged in a signature dance that involved licking their palms, slapping them on the floor, and jumping backward with arms raised.”
New Yorkers seem to have forgotten the citywide murder and mayhem, crime and grime that marked the mayoral misrule of Ed Koch and David Dinkins. Otherwise, they wouldn’t consider giving the city’s top job to such a shameless apparatchik of Democratic machine politics. Nicaragua, despite Bill de Blasio’s revolutionary support, is now is the second poorest nation in the Americas, after Haiti.Tweet
On 21 August this year, Norman Geras posted a blog entry titled “Jack Geras 1912—2013,” and wrote: “My father died this afternoon. Out of respect for his memory I will be observing a brief silence here over the coming days.” He completed the entry by reposting a tribute he had written in 2012 on the occasion of his father’s hundredth birthday. Last Friday, 18 October, Jenny Geras (Norman’s daughter) posted an entry titled “Norman Geras: 1943—2013,” and wrote: “I am very sad to announce that Norm died in Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge in the early hours of this morning. Writing this blog, and communicating with all his readers, has brought him an enormous amount of pleasure in the last ten years. I know that since writing here about his illness earlier in the year he received a lot of support from many of you, and that has meant a great deal to him, and to us, his family. The blog and all its archives will remain online.”
The news stunned an international community of people who had come to admire his integrity and activity over the years. “Norman Geras — professor emeritus of government at Manchester University, philosopher, cricket fan, country music lover, Marxist, liberal socialist, democrat, political blogger behind the influential Normblog — has died of cancer aged 70,” began the obituary in the Guardian. To her credit, Eva Garrard added this:
“From his perspective, the response to the events of 11 September 2001 was appalling. He found the readiness of many to blame the US for bringing the terrorist attack down on its own head to be intellectually feeble and morally contemptible. He argued that this section of the left was betraying its own values by offering warm understanding to terrorists and cold neglect to their victims. He detested the drawing of an unsupported and insupportable moral equivalence between western democracies and real or proposed theocratic tyrannies in which liberty of thought and speech, and the protection of human rights, would play no part. Norm wanted to engage in this debate and not just with academics. So he went online, to provide himself with a space in which he could express these and other views, and Normblog was born.”
Rainy Day did not share Norm’s Marxist views, but we did agree wholeheartedly with his courageous defence of the West, his staunch support for Israel and his energetic condemnation of the cowardice of the liberal media in the face of Islamist barbarism. “Much of the so-called antiwar movement seems only to protest against wars waged by the US, Britain and Israel; wars waged by dictatorial regimes, whether externally, or internally against sections of their own population, don’t spur it to the same oppositional passion or mobilization,” wrote Norm, calling out the hypocrites with the inimitable clarity that we’ll sorely miss in the troubling times to come.
Over the years, Norm wrote hundreds of profiles of people he found to be of interest. We were greatly honoured when, on 18 March 2005, normblog profile 78 was devoted to Eamonn Fitzgerald. Norm’s generosity was a measure of the man. His loss is our loss.Tweet
Starting in November 1976, Monday through Friday, Andy Warhol phoned his secretary Pat Hackett each morning and told her about the happenings of the previous day and night. After transcribing the monologue onto paper, Hackett would then type up the pages. Apart from wishing to document his life and times, Warhol had an ulterior motive for keeping a diary: satisfying the tax man. The Internal Revenue Service audited him annually and he liked to present his minute side of the story to the accountants.
In all, Warhol dictated more than 20,000 pages. Published in 1989, the 807-page Andy Warhol Diaries begin on 24 November 1976 and ends 11 years later on 17 February 1987, just a few days before the artist’s death. Here’s today’s entry:
21 October 1980: “I ran into a boy whose job is to go shopping for John [Lennon] and Yoko [Ono], to buy them clothes and things. I asked him if they’d ever made him bring anything back and he said just once. I asked him if they ever wore any of the clothes they bought since they don’t go out, and he said, ‘They’re going to make a comeback. They’ve been wearing them to the studio.’ Oh, and the best thing he said was that when he started to work for them he had to sign a paper that said, ‘I will not write a book about John Leonnon and/or Yoko Ono.’ Isn’t that great? He said he loves his job. I should find somebody to help me shop — show me where all the good new things are.” Andy Warhol
Six weeks later, on the night of 8 December 1980, Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon four times in the back at the entrance to his New York apartment in the Dakota Building. Lennon was declared dead on arrival at nearby Roosevelt Hospital.Tweet
The trees are in their autumn beauty, The woodland paths are dry, Under the October twilight the water Mirrors a still sky; Upon the brimming water among the stones Are nine-and-fifty swans. But now they drift on the still water, Mysterious, beautiful; Among what rushes will they build, By what lake’s edge or pool Delight […]