Sunday, March 16, 2014

Tove Jansson, Magician

Tove Jansson’s 1968 autobiography, Sculptor’s Daughter, has just been republished in a handsome edition by Sort Of Books here in London, and I gather it has made a reappearance elsewhere as well. Like Jansson’s other books for adults, it’s actually a collection of short stories—in some cases, very short. Here, they are linked, as is the case in The Summer Book or Art in Nature, for example, by a specific theme—in this case, Jansson’s childhood memories. There’s nothing particularly chronological about the events in the book—each story has a real event at its core, but there’s no order to the stories themselves. And in many of the stories, the point is not the event, but what Jansson’s childhood imagination has made of it.

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Saturday, February 08, 2014

A complete and utter failure of political will

Britain is in the grip of some of the worst winter weather in years. In fact, maybe 100 years—that’s what meteorologists are calling the winter rains and storms we’ve been experiencing. Here in London it hasn’t been particularly bad—a warmer winter than usual, not a drop of snow in sight, but plenty of wind and rain, and occasionally a tree goes down. Down southwest way, however, it’s another story. Somerset is experiencing horrific flooding—as are Devon and Cornwall. Entire towns are now being evacuated following a series of storms that show no signs of ending.
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Monday, February 03, 2014

Why the Football Gods smiled on Seattle

As a Patriots fan, I initially had no real reason to root for either Seattle or Denver in yesterday’s Super Bowl. Seattle has never won one, so I was slightly inclined to root for them, but I have friends (and fellow bloggers) who live in Denver and root for the Broncos, so what the heck, why not root for the Broncos? I expected a close and exciting game, and if that’s what it was going to be, I’m fine with that. In fact, since the game doesn’t usually start until nearly midnight here in London, the prospect of staying up to three or four in the morning isn’t all that tempting, unless the Pats are involved, and, of course, they’re not this year. So I was going to watch a bit of the first quarter, and then hit the sack.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Hurray for the Gene Clark No Other Tour

If I had been anywhere near the northeast past of the US last week, snow or no snow, I would have been heading for New York, or Baltimore, or Washington, or Philadelphia, on one of the nights that the Gene Clark No Other Tour hit town. So, what is this? It’s a tour put together by members of Beach House, Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear and The Walkmen—and even Iain Matthews, from the early days of Fairport Convention. I even know one or two of these groups. And it’s in honor of an album by the late Gene Clark, songwriter extraordinaire, called No Other, issued in 1974. I’m glad I’m not the only one who loves this album. Here’s the description of the tour in Pitchfork; here’s the generous write-up in The New York Times; here’s a review of the Washington show. Sounds like a great show. Too bad they’re not coming to London.
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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Careful with that refrigerator, Eugene

News that hackers have used a “smart refrigerator” to send a bunch of virus emails and generally cause mischief shouldn’t come as a surprise. People have been talking about “smart” appliances for years now—“smart” houses, too. Everything is going to be “smart,” apparently. Personally, I can’t wait until we get “smart” cars—you know, the ones that don’t need drivers. (As opposed to Smart cars.) I remember this as a 1950s advertising campaign that never quite got off the ground—like jetpacks. Which reminds me, where the hell is my jetpack? Anyway, I bet the amount of interesting damage you can do with “smart” cars will be a lot more fun than what you can do with “smart” refrigerators.
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Friday, January 10, 2014

The Goldfinch

Amazon loves Mrs. W, because she’s a sucker for those Kindle Deals of the Day, where you can pick up good stuff for 99p. And among her recent purchases has been Donna Tartt’s new book, The Goldfinch. I’ve haven’t read either of Tartt’s previous novels, although people have been gushing about The Secret History for years, but I thought I might read this one. And the reason for that is that The Goldfinch in question is a painting, in fact one of my favorite paintings. It’s that one right there. It’s a perfect painting—you couldn’t possibly improve on it.
It’s by Carel Fabritius, a Dutch painter who, like Masaccio, Girtin and Schiele, who all all died in their 20s or early 30s, left us tragically early. In Fabritius’s case, it was an explosion in a nearby building in the city of Delft in 1654 that did the trick. It leveled houses for blocks around, one quarter of the city, in fact. Fabritius left only a handful of paintings, most of which are in The Hague or in Amsterdam. The Goldfinch itself is a small paining, 13” by 9”, and I first saw it in The Hague years ago. It has stuck in my memory ever since. Here’s a sympathetic discussion of the painting and its place in Fabritius’s ouvre by Mary Tompkins Lewis. (It’s currently on loan at The Frick Museum in New York, and is now playing to record crowds, in part because of Tartt’s book.)
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So, how's Chris Christie's day going?

I suppose that, as a former elected public official of the great State of New Jersey, I should have something enlightening to say about the Chris Christie/George Washington Bridge scandal. And, yes, it has hit the point of being a scandal. The facts are now unassailable—several of Christie’s aides and political appointees essentially conspired to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge and bring massive inconvenience (and worse) to the city of Fort Lee, New Jersey, as political payback against the mayor of the city. The mayor is a Democrat who refused to endorse Christie’s re-election bid. There may be more to come, of course—sometimes these things go nowhere, but sometimes they take on a life of their own and keep rolling along. Political scandals are hard to predict, and even harder to control.

Booman, essential blogger, grew up in New Jersey, and has some useful insights, as usual. Booman has not been unsympathetic to Christie in the past—especially over Christie’s reaction to Hurricane Sandy. But now he thinks he should resign. Well, of course he should, but of course he won’t. Republicans only resign these days after they’re indicted, not before, and I suspect we won’t be seeing those in the near future—well, for Christie’s aides, maybe, but not for Christie himself. Christie claims that he is “outraged” by the recent emails. Of course he is—he’s outraged that they weren’t scrubbed a long time ago. Imagine having to put up with such incompetence.

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Whatever happened to the Chilcot Inquiry

The Chilcot Inquiry into the lessons to be drawn from Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War (or invasion, to be more accurate), gripped the nation for a while there. It actually appeared as if there was a good faith effort to determine how Britain ended up going to war with a country that had not attacked it, based on, well, what, exactly? Daily testimony to a group of apparent wise men (and one woman) drew strong attention, even television ratings, especially when that old poseur Tony Blair gave his excruciating and self-justifying testimony. So for a while there it looked as if there might actually be some answers to some issues that had long remained obscure—especially the behavior of Blair and some of his ministers prior to the invasion, particularly whether the military had been advised in sufficient time to actually prepare for one (apparently not.) This was a hot topic.

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