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#web25

Wednesday, 12 March, 2014 0 Comments

“By design, the Web is universal, royalty-free, open and decentralised. Thousands of people worked together to build the early Web in an amazing, non-national spirit of collaboration; tens of thousands more invented the applications and services that make it so useful to us today, and there is still room for each one of us to create new things on and through the Web. This is for everyone.” Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Elmore Leonard’s extraordinary ordinary language

Tuesday, 11 March, 2014 0 Comments

In the early 1950s, Elmore Leonard worked as an advertising copywriter for Chevrolet. When he was asked to come up with a catchy line for the company’s half-ton trucks he went into the field to interview the men who drove them. One guy said, “You can’t wear the motherfucker out. You just get sick of looking at it and buy another one.” The Chevy executives laughed nervously when Leonard presented it to them, but said no thanks. That wasn’t what they wanted on billboards or in magazines. But it was exactly the kind of language that appeared in Leonard’s books a decade later when he turned to crime fiction writing, where it expressed the ordinary without being ordinary.

For example, there’s a scene in the 1995 film Get Shorty where Chili Palmer’s coat disappears from a restaurant cloakroom. When he takes the restaurant owner aside, he doesn’t say, “Hey, where my coat, it cost $400,” Instead, he says: “You see a black leather jacket, has lapels like a suit coat? You don’t, you owe me $379.” In the film of the book, John Travolta riffs memorably on Leonard’s language.

Language note: According to Jim Dawson’s The Compleat Motherfucker: A History of the Mother of All Dirty Words, “Possibly the earliest literary use of the term motherfucker was in the Ionic poetry of Hipponax, who accused a sculptor who had insulted him of being a metrokoites.” Dawson traces the first written American instance to a Texas Court of Appeals judgement in 1890.

Kasparov checkmates Putin

Monday, 10 March, 2014 0 Comments

Garry Kasparov, the former World Chess Champion and considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time, is not just a passionate opponent of Vladimir Putin, he’s a multimedia opponent of Vladimir Putin. Along with using Twitter to rebuke the Russian leader on an hourly basis, he’s on TV, the radio and in the traditional press. “Cut Off the Russian Oligarchs and They’ll Dump Putin” is what he wrote on Friday in the Wall Street Journal. “Use banks, not tanks,” is his advice. Snippet:

Thanks to their unfettered access to Western markets, Mr. Putin and his gang have exploited Western engagement with Russia in a way that the Soviet Union’s leaders never dreamed of. But this also means that they are vulnerable in a way the Soviets were not. If the West punishes Russia with sanctions and a trade war, that might be effective eventually, but it would also be cruel to the 140 million Russians who live under Mr. Putin’s rule. And it would be unnecessary. Instead, sanction the 140 oligarchs who would dump Mr. Putin in the trash tomorrow if he cannot protect their assets abroad. Target their visas, their mansions and IPOs in London, their yachts and Swiss bank accounts. Use banks, not tanks.

Returning from the flea market

Sunday, 9 March, 2014 0 Comments
Returning from the flea market

It is said that back in the 1880s, a visitor to St.-Ouen, just outside Porte de Clignancourt in Paris, observed traders selling scrap metal, old furniture and rags, and exclaimed, “My word, but it’s a market of fleas!” And it is from the French marché aux puces that the English term “flea market” is derived. […]

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The Morning Becomes Spiritual with Spain

Saturday, 8 March, 2014 0 Comments

Back in 1993 in Los Angeles, Josh Haden formed a band and called it Spain. Their debut album, The Blue Moods of Spain, was released in 1995, and from it, their song Spiritual was covered by Johnny Cash on his Unchained album. Talking of things spiritual, Out Among the Stars, a posthumous studio album from Johnny Cash, will be released on March 25.

The Morning Becomes Eclectic Session, a set of seven Spain classics, was recorded live at KCRW radio station in Santa Monica, California, and from it, here is Spiritual.

Meanwhile, in Vietnam, they’re telling the Big Lie

Friday, 7 March, 2014 0 Comments

Truong Duy Nhat worked as a journalist at a state-run newspaper in Hanoi before quitting three years ago to concentrate on his blog, “Another Point of View.” He wanted, he said, “to write about things that I want to write.” Truong Duy Nhat Earlier this week, he was sentenced to two years in prison. His crime? The government charged him with “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe the interests of the state.”

The infringement of those “democratic freedoms” centred on a post he wrote last May calling for the resignation of Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung for failing to fight corruption. Dung has been linked to a series of major scandals, including the collapse of Vinashin, the national shipbuilding company and former star of Vietnam’s state-owned enterprises, which sank under $4 billion in debt.

The latest Vietnamese crackdown on free speech has targeted bloggers, activists, lawyers, Buddhist monks and Christian clergy and it’s part of a cynical move that would make Putin proud. For example, on the very same day that Truong Duy Nhat was being sentenced, the country’s Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh was in Geneva championing “Vietnam’s commitment to ensuring and promoting human rights” at the 25th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. This is a classic example of the Big Lie, which George Orwell termed “blackwhite” in his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four: “Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts.”

Kissinger: “The test is not absolute satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction”

Thursday, 6 March, 2014 0 Comments

“Public discussion on Ukraine is all about confrontation. But do we know where we are going? In my life, I have seen four wars begun with great enthusiasm and public support, all of which we did not know how to end and from three of which we withdrew unilaterally. The test of policy is how it ends, not how it begins.” So begins a Washington Post meditation by Henry Kissinger, US Secretary of State from 1973 to 1977.

Titled “How the Ukraine crisis ends,” the article spares no one: “The European Union must recognize that its bureaucratic dilatoriness and subordination of the strategic element to domestic politics in negotiating Ukraine’s relationship to Europe contributed to turning a negotiation into a crisis. Foreign policy is the art of establishing priorities,” says Kissinger.

He’s got this advice for President Obama: “For its part, the United States needs to avoid treating Russia as an aberrant to be patiently taught rules of conduct established by Washington.” And when it comes to President Putin, he calls him “a serious strategist”, but warns that “whatever his grievances, a policy of military impositions would produce another Cold War.”

Kissinger’s preferred outcome is “not absolute satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction.” Sadly, one feels that this will not satisfy any of the key players in this drama.

Fifty Shades of Grey during Lent

Wednesday, 5 March, 2014 0 Comments

It’s Ash Wednesday today. Time to begin the annual Lenten fast. This year, as usual, it means avoiding alcohol and what we used to call “sweets”, which covers everything from confectionary to chocolate to crème caramel. But Lent isn’t just 40 days and nights of penance. It’s a time of meditation, which is enhanced by listening to music such as Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), an extraordinary choral work by an extraordinary English composer who managed to survive the religious upheavals under Henry VIII, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I.

For the listeners to his masterpiece, Tallis implores Domine Deus/ Creator caeli et terrae / respice humilitatem nostrum (Lord God/ Creator of Heaven and Earth / be mindful of our lowliness”), but it is highly unlikely that his idea of lowliness involved the kind of sado-masochism Christina and Anastasia practice in Fifty Shades of Grey, the best-selling soft-porn novel by EL James. Yet, there it is:

“The singing starts again … building and building, and he rains down blows on me … and I groan and writhe … Lost in him, lost in the astral, seraphic voices … I am completely at the mercy of his expert touch …
“‘What was that music?’ I mumble almost inarticulately.
“‘It’s called Spem in Alium, a 40-part motet by Thomas Tallis.’
“‘It was … overwhelming.’”

Along with Sex On Fire by the Kings of Leon and Toxic by Britney Spears, Spem in alium by The Tallis Scholars appears on the soundtrack of Fifty Shades of Grey. Odd bedfellows to be sure, but EL James knows that the rapture of music is good for the soul. Spem in alium nunquam habui (“I have never put my hope in any other”) is how this great devotional work begins before its tapestry of sound turns into a plea to the One “who absolves all the sins/ of suffering man” omnia peccata hominum/ in tribulatione dimittis.

Putin’s Rasputin

Tuesday, 4 March, 2014 0 Comments

At the end of January last year, Charles Clover, then Moscow bureau chief of the Financial Times, asked “How much influence does Father Tikhon Shevkunov have over the Russian president?” The question was posed in a lengthy portrait titled “Putin and the monk“. Snippet:

Father Tikhon Shevkunov “Father Tikhon wields influence in the church far above his modest rank of Archimandrite, or abbot, due primarily to his contacts in the Kremlin. The story that travels with him, which he will neither confirm nor deny, is that he is the confessor to Vladimir Putin. The only details he gives is that Putin, sometime before he became president at the end of 1999 (most likely while he was head of Russia’s FSB security service from 1998 to 1999) appeared at the doors of the monastery one day. Since then, the two men have maintained a very public association, with Tikhon accompanying Putin on foreign and domestic trips, dealing with ecclesiastical problems. But according to persistent rumour, Tikhon ushered the former KGB colonel into the Orthodox faith and became his dukhovnik, or godfather.”

Father Tikhon’s other claim to fame, as Charles Clover points out, is a film entitled Gibel Imperii (The Fall of the Empire), which he produced, and in which he argued that the Byzantine Empire fell, not as the result of assaults by the Ottoman Turks, but because its rulers and elites unwisely copied Western social, economic and political models. Worse, the West, especially Venice, supported separatist movements and central government in Byzantium was weakened. Worse again, young scholars went to the West to study and came back with outlandish notions such as individualism, free enterprise and common markets. Thus, was corrupted the soul of the East to the point where its merchants were ruined and the Empire fell.

Gibel Imperii was ridiculed by historians as a crude attempt to fabricate history and create false parallels with Putin’s imperial Russia. The faithful didn’t care, however. Father Tikhon is now the ex-colonel’s dukhovnik and there can be no doubt about what he’s been whispering in his master’s ear.

RT is not TV. It is Russia today.

Monday, 3 March, 2014 0 Comments

Early in his presidency, the ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin took control of Russian television, forcing out the media magnates Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky, taking over their channels and creating a climate of fear and sycophancy in which his actions are always praised and never criticized. He is now attempting to do the same in a global fashion with a propaganda platform called RT, the abbreviation of Russia Today.

“Our team of young news professionals has made RT the first news channel to break the 1 billion YouTube views benchmark,” declares the Russia Today YouTube arm. Adding, “RT news covers the major issues of our time for viewers wishing to question more.” But “more” what? Well, RT specializes in presenting “truther” interpretations of the 9/11 terror attacks and it even ran a lengthy exploration called “911 reasons why 9/11 was (probably) an inside job”. Today, it is broadcasting bare-faced lies such as “675,000 Ukrainians pour into Russia as ‘humanitarian crisis’ looms” and “Tea, sandwiches, music, photos with self-defense forces mark peaceful Sunday in Simferopol.”

Having achieved absolute power within Russia, Putin has negated all hopes of making it a civil society, and he seems determined to reduce his neighbours to the same grim level. With the help of RT, he also wants to convince the world that every country is just as awful as Russia today.

He was greatly interested in armies and fleets

Sunday, 2 March, 2014 0 Comments
He was greatly interested in armies and fleets

The word “tyrant” came to the late Middle English from the Old French tyrannie, which had its origins in the late Latin tyrannia, derived from the Latin tyrannus, via the Greek turannos, meaning “monarch, ruler of a polis”. According to Senator John McCain, Vladimir Putin is “a tyrant at home, a friend of tyrants abroad.” […]

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