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Author Archive: Eamonn Fitzgerald

Ex-pat Irishman keeping an eye on the world from the Bavarian side of the Alps.

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The Last Supper: Nabokov and Leonardo

Friday, 3 May, 2019

The world is marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, artist and inventor. In the town of Vinci in Tuscany, the Museo Leonardiano is exhibiting the artist’s first known drawing, dated 5 August 1473. From 24 May to 13 October, an exhibition will open at The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace, featuring 200 Leonardo drawings. The Louvre expects huge demand for its da Vinci exhibition in October, urging visitors to book a time slot ahead of their visit and, staying in France, a tapestry based on Leonardo’s Last Supper will be displayed at the Château du Clos Lucé in the Loire Valley, where he spent the final years of his life, between 1516 and 1519. It’s the first time the tapestry has been outside the Vatican museum since the 16th century.

The great writer Vladimir Nabokov was fascinated by The Last Supper and oblique references to the mural can be found throughout his books. In fact, the young Nabokov composed a poem in 1918 entitled, The Last Supper.

The Last Supper

The reflective hour of an austere supper
Prophecies of betrayal and parting
A nocturnal pearl illuminates
the oleander petals.

Apostle leans towards apostle
Christ has silvery hands
Candles pray brightly, and along the table
nocturnal moths crawl.

Vladimir Nabokov (1899 – 1977)

The Last Supper


Hemingway: Getting the words right

Thursday, 2 May, 2019

The backdrop for A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway is the Italian campaign of World War I. Published in 1929, it is a first-person account of an American, Frederic Henry, serving as a lieutenant in the ambulance corps of the Italian Army. The book became Hemingway’s first best-seller and made him financially independent. The unnamed priest in the novel was based on Don Giuseppe Bianchi, the chaplain of the 69th and 70th regiments of the Brigata Ancona, which fought on the Dolomite Front.

Here, the wounded Frederic Henry is visited in the field hospital by the priest, who comes from Abruzzo, “a place where the roads were frozen and hard as iron, where it was clear and cold and dry and the snow was dry and powdery…” The priest’s soporific talk turns to hunting:

“The peasants all called you ‘Don’ and when you met them they took off their hats. His father hunted every day and stopped to eat at the houses of the peasants. They were always honoured. For a foreigner to hunt he must present a certificate that he had never been arrested. There were bears on the Gran Sasso D’Italia but that was a long way. Aquila was a fine town. It was cool in the summer at night and spring in Abruzzo was the most beautiful in Italy. But what was lovely was the fall to go hunting through the chestnut woods. The birds were all good because they fed on grapes and you never took a lunch because the peasants were always honoured if you would eat with them at their houses. After a while I went to sleep.”

INTERVIEWER: How much rewriting do you do?

HEMINGWAY: It depends. I rewrote the ending to Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.

INTERVIEWER: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?

HEMINGWAY: Getting the words right.

A Farewell to Arms


The stupid cult of Russia & the Latin American Idiot

Wednesday, 1 May, 2019

May Day: The comrades are unfurling their red flags and dreaming of revolution. There will be rallies today for expropriation in Berlin and against capitalism in London.

Which reminds us that it was none other than the great George Orwell who said that “Socialism… smells of machine-worship and the stupid cult of Russia.” And it was the same Orwell who brilliantly described the typical Russian commissar as “half gangster, half gramophone”. Which sounds just like Corbyn. But Orwell wasn’t done. “The fact is that Socialism, in the form in which it is now presented, appeals chiefly to unsatisfactory or inhuman types.” Which sounds just like Maduro.

These withering observations have to be placed in context. Orwell was a lifelong democratic socialist and the context in which he made his remarks was the delivery of The Road to Wigan Pier manuscript in 1937. The book had been commissioned by Victor Gollanzc, who ran the Left Book Club, and its 40,000 members regularly received a work that reflected their beliefs. Gollanzc hoped that a work about poverty in the British Midlands would fit the bill. The first half of Orwell’s book depicted the awful conditions in which the coal miners worked and described the sordid nature of their housing. A clear case for socialism, felt Gollanzc. But it was the second half of the book that upset the apple cart.

Orwell stated plainly that the British working class would never take socialism seriously. The notion of a classless society was a delusion, he wrote. Adding insult to injury, he noted that ordinary people could not identify with the Marxist ideologues because they were objectionable cranks, teetotallers and health-food fanatics. He was particularly scathing of those who peppered their sentences with “notwithstandings” and “heretofores” and got excited when discussing dialectical materialism. Gollanzc was shocked and wanted to publish the first part of the book only, but Orwell was a man of principle, not a gramophone, and he stuck to his guns.

Orwell is gone, but all is not lost. The Peruvian thinker Alvaro Vargas Llosa patrols a similar beat and a decade ago, in “The Return of the Idiot,” he wrote: “European journalists like Ignacio Ramonet and some foreign correspondents for outlets such as Le Nouvel Observateur in France, Die Zeit in Germany, and the Washington Post in the United States, are once again propagating absurdities that shape the opinions of millions of readers and sanctify the Latin American Idiot.” Llosa was on target, especially when noting the curious penchant of Western intellectuals to admire thuggish leaders who sprout anti-American slogans and pay lip service to The People. Interestingly, their admiration for these thugs — Castro, Ortega, Chávez, Morales, Correa, Maduro — somehow never leads the same intellectuals to depart the decadent West for the glories of the Workers’ Paradises.

In the 1993 Fall issue of Dissent, Günter Grass, the German winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999, wrote: “Cubans were less likely to notice the absence of liberal rights…[because they gained]… self respect after the revolution.”

Alvaro Vargas Llosa’s reply was perfect: “Reality check: How would you feel, Günter, about trading your bourgeois liberal rights, including the right to publish, for a bit of Cuban dignity?”

Looking at the misery of those parts of South America then in the hands of the “carnivorous” left, Alvaro Vargas Llosa concluded: “Until the Latin American Idiot is confined to the archives — something that will be difficult to achieve while so many condescending spirits in the developed world continue to lend him support — that will not change.”

But it will. As Sam Cooke sang: “It’s been a long time, a long time coming / But I know a change gonna come.”


The Reiwa Era

Tuesday, 30 April, 2019

That’s what begins tomorrow in Japan when Prince Naruhito becomes the country’s 126th emperor. He will ascend the Chrysanthemum throne and lead the country into the new Reiwa era. This will mark the end of the current Heisei era, which began with today’s abdicating Emperor Akihito in 1989.

The talented young Japanese photographer Tatsuto Shibata was born in Ibaraki, a prefecture bordering the Pacific Ocean northeast of Tokyo. Shibata’s compositions oscillate between the classical and the quirky, like this Buddha.

Japan


Times Does Not Apologize for Anti-Semitic Cartoon

Monday, 29 April, 2019

Actually, the headline on the piece reads, Times Apologizes for Publishing Anti-Semitic Cartoon, but it doesn’t, really. The repulsive image was the work of Portuguese cartoonist António Moreira Antunes, who has form when it comes to anti-Semitism, and the New York Times ends its fake apology thus: “The profession of cartoonist is a profession of risk,” Mr. Antunes said in an interview with the Portuguese Observer in 2015, after the fatal attack in Paris on the staff of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
“There is always fear, but there is no other option but to defend freedom of expression.”

The linking there of the Islamist attack on Charlie Hebdo with the vile cartoon by Antunes and the right to freedom of expression is completely tendentious and reveals the hollowness of the non-apology apology.

It is left to Times columnist Bret Stephens to say what needs to be said: A Despicable Cartoon in The Times. Key graph:

“Here was an image that, in another age, might have been published in the pages of Der Stürmer. The Jew in the form of a dog. The small but wily Jew leading the dumb and trusting American. The hated Trump being Judaized with a skullcap. The nominal servant acting as the true master. The cartoon checked so many anti-Semitic boxes that the only thing missing was a dollar sign.”

New York Times

The media’s constant demonization of Netanyahu and Trump is not going to end well.


Paintings painted

Sunday, 28 April, 2019

The Spanish artist Julio Anaya Cabanding paints paintings. Using graffitied walls as his canvas, he recreates famous paintings with astonishing detail, including their ornate frames. His logic? By taking a photo of an Old Master in a museum such as the Prado in Madrid, he “liberates” the image from “the sacrum of the institution” and he then puts it in a place where it has never been seen or will be seen in a very different way.

Painted Vermeer


Epitaph for an enemy

Saturday, 27 April, 2019

The Anglo-Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis (or Day Lewis) was born on this day in 1904. Along with being the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis, celebrity chef Tamasin Day-Lewis and critic Sean Day-Lewis, he was the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 until his death in 1972. “The poet’s inverted snobbery in dropping the hyphen in his name on his publications (beginning in 1927) has been a source of trouble for librarians and bibliographers ever since,” is how his biographer at the Poetry Foundation puts it.

Cecil Day-Lewis became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1935 and he practiced the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist faith until the early 1950s. He renounced it in 1960 and his detective story, The Sad Variety (1964), written using the pseudonym Nicholas Blake, is a derisive portrayal of doctrinaire communists and their role in the brutal suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. While the works of his poetic friends Auden and Spender have endured the test of time, his own verse has faded. The visceral sentiment at the heart of Epitaph for an Enemy continues to pulsate, however.

Epitaph for an Enemy

You ask, “What sort of man
Was this?”
— No worthier than
A pendulum which makes
Between its left and right
Involuntary arcs
Proving from morn to night
No contact anywhere
With human or sublime —
A punctual tick
A mere accessory of Time

His leaden act was done
He stopped, and Time went on.

Cecil Day-Lewis (1904 – 1972)

The enemy


Pink for a shovel

Friday, 26 April, 2019

Since the early 19th century, the colour pink has been used as a gender signifier.

Shovel


Matt Taibbi: The Hoax That Was Russiagate

Thursday, 25 April, 2019

“It’s shocking to see national media voices after the release of Robert Mueller’s report patting each other on the back, congratulating themselves for a three-year faceplant they must know will haunt the whole business for a long time.” So writes Matt Taibbi in The Press Will Learn Nothing From the Russiagate Fiasco. The piece, by the way, appears in Rolling Stone and that’s deserving of attention because the publication has been resolutely hostile to Donald Trump from the outset. Maybe we’re seeing a sobering up. Probably not, though, because Taibbi shows that the MSM is still inhaling the stuff that’s not in the Mueller Report. Snippet:

“You know what was fake news? Most of the Russiagate story. There was no Trump-Russia conspiracy, that thing we just spent three years chasing. The Mueller Report is crystal clear on this.

He didn’t just ‘fail to establish’ evidence of crime. His report is full of incredibly damning passages, like one about Russian officialdom’s efforts to reach the Trump campaign after the election: ‘They appeared not to have preexisting contacts and struggled to connect with senior officials around the President-Elect.'”

This isn’t Matt Taibbi’s first foray into the Russiagate Hoax, either. On 23 March he published “It’s official: Russiagate is this generation’s WMD.” It’s a brilliant rubbishing of the entire charade and a devastating critique of the MSM: Quote: “But what retraction is possible for the Washington Post headline, ‘How will Democrats cope if Putin starts playing dirty tricks for Bernie Sanders (again)?’ How to reverse Rachel Maddow’s spiel about Russia perhaps shutting down heat across America during a cold wave? There’s no correction for McCarthyism and fearmongering.”

Bear that in mind the next time you browse the headlines: “There’s no correction for McCarthyism and fearmongering.”


A familiar feeling

Wednesday, 24 April, 2019

Alessandra Olanow is an illustrator living in Brooklyn, New York City.

Proofreading


Butterfly iQ: ultrasound for all

Tuesday, 23 April, 2019

Medical imaging creates visuals of the inside of a human body for analysis and treatment. It includes radiography, ultrasound, endoscopy, magnetic resonance imaging and nuclear medicine techniques such as positron emission tomography. Sadly, 4.7 billion people around the world don’t have access to medical imaging, and even in the developed world, the cost of an MRI or a CT scan can be prohibitive.

Enter the Butterfly iQ, an invention that may yet revolutionize global medicine. As portable as a stethoscope and costing $2,000, it’s a hand-held ultrasound scanner that generates clinical-quality images on a smartphone. These are then uploaded to the cloud, where any medical expert can analyze them. “A fusion of semiconductors, artificial intelligence, and cloud technology has made it possible to create a ubiquitous imaging solution that is clinically significant and category defining,” say Butterfly Network, the US company that developed the device.

The Butterfly iQ scanner could play a critical role in rural Africa, Asia and Latin America, where the nearest X-ray machine might be days away and the only CT and MRI scanners may be in the major cities. Jonathan Rothberg, Butterfly’s founder, had the idea because one of his daughters had a disease that caused kidney cysts needing regular scans, and he has now donated iQs to medical charities working in more than a dozen poor countries. Example: Several have gone to Bridge to Health, a Canadian group that works closely with Kihefo, which is based in Uganda.