Thursday, January 28, 2010

Overexposed - A BBC Radio Documentary by Miles Warde

Though I missed it when it was broadcast Monday on BBC Radio 4, I've since caught my friend Miles Warde's documentary on i-player (link below) where it will be available through the end of the week.

It's a riveting half hour that examines the motivation, and the fates, of a group of photojournalists starting out together twenty years ago at the London College of Printing.  Above is a photo by one of this group, another friend, James Hill, Pulitzer Prize winner for his work in Afghanistan for The New York Times.

As Chris Campling writes about the documentary:

Brave - probably foolhardy - and desperately ambitious, these young men and women came out of college and into warfare, travelling to Yugoslavia, Angola, Rwanda and Iraq in search of the pictures that would make their names. They went with little more than accreditation from various newspapers and agencies, utterly exposed to the dangers they would encounter, a far cry from the embedded journalists of today. Two of them were to die within a couple of years of graduation. Some of the others went into less dangerous lines of work. All have memories to make your hair curl.

OVEREXPOSED, on BBC i-player here.  (Please note this program may not be available outside the UK.  If not, please request it from your local public radio station.)

More photography by James Hill may be found here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Iran, an Anniversary, the Green Movement, and Memory

February will mark the 31th Anniversary of Iran's revolution against the Shah, an event that, once the anti-Shah coalition was reduced to a single faction, became known as "The Islamic Revolution."

Will the Islamic Republic of Iran reach its thirty-first anniversary and last until March?  Alone among my friends I'm not entirely sure.   Or rather, I should say plainly:

I do not think the current government in Iran will survive through this spring.

The Obama administration has been attempting to engage the cleric-backed government of Ahmadinejad diplomatically, yet because of its behavior on the international stage Iran's current government should not be granted the standing as a partner for such negotiations.

Meanwhile, their government has been undergoing a crisis of legitimacy within Iran itself. A vast majority of theologians have all along been in agreement that clerical rule has no place in Shia Islam. Virtually the lone dissenters are those wielding power in Iran now.  Of course, I'd counsel readers not to take my word for it, and instead refer you to authorities in Najaf.

The question within Iran of the legitimacy of their government, however, now turns not so much on theological arguments as on its pervasive and grotesque abuse of human rights.   Of course, I'd counsel readers not to take my word for it, but instead to listen to what Iranian people themselves have been saying, and are saying in the streets, on twitter and sundry other media channels, even now.  In the meantime, detailed and authoritative reports about these abuses have been assembled and produced by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, and they are available HERE.

About February, and the coming anniversary of the Iranian revolution, this, on the persistence of memory, from Roya Hakanian:

For 30 years, Milan Kundera’s elegant formulation had been upended in Iran. Those in power insisted on remembering the past; ordinary men and women insisted on forgetting it. To remember was “revolutionary.” Not to remember was not simply counter-revolutionary, it was even blasphemous.... The tension was so palpable that even foreign reporters—clueless to language and cultural subtexts—sensed it. Report after report appeared in the English-language press about the youth’s disregard for the old totems, and their penchant for all things western, as they understood western to be—like going blonde, wearing Nikes, being sexually promiscuous, and saving money for plastic surgery. This generation that clandestinely swung its hips to the cool tunes of American pop would not be caught chanting a passé like Allahu akbar....
In the aftermath of the June presidential elections, the national dementia lifted. What was buried in the collective consciousness took hold of young and old. Everyone suddenly remembered. They climbed to the rooftops and chanted Allahu akbar just as they had in the weeks before the fall of the Shah. They took to the streets by the millions, and the image of their throngs uncannily resembled its precursor. They remembered how to build barricades, mix a Molotov cocktail, kiss the cheek of a riot policeman to pacify him, or set a tire on fire to neutralize tear gas. The regime finally got its wish. The nation proved to have been an assiduous student of history all along—and of all the detailed instructions it now regrets having passed on.

Now, in a farcical twist, the promotion of forgetting has become a governmental priority.

As Hakakian explains: "Last week, the broadcast and distribution of several images from 1978 was declared banned."   [As may be seen here:]

"The Green Movement, however, has already vowed to fight the ban by remembering."

Read Hakakian's entire article HERE.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The River-Merchant's Wife, by Li Po

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.
At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-en, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me. I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you

- translation by Ezra Pound

with my thanks for the suggestion to Lawrence Osborne

Monday, January 25, 2010

Outsourcing, and the Decline of Journalism

A few years ago friends at newspapers and magazines attempted to warn me off blogging with the contention that I'd be contributing to the decline of the paid-journalism model. In fact, all of us grossly underestimated the pressure that would soon be put on traditional methods of journalism production.

We all know the results.

Next cool-media newspapers like The Guardian began to cannibalize television news with their on-line documentary film series, and new media players such as PJTV and Reason TV further eroded that market.

Now we wait in hope now for the immanent arrival of The Jesus Tablet.

In the meantime, another ominous portent, or indeed competitor, has interceded:

The world's first film shot entirely by chimpanzees is to be broadcast by the BBC as part of a natural history documentary. The apes created the movie using a specially designed chimp-proof camera given to them by primatologists. The film-making exercise is part of a scientific study into how chimpanzees perceive the world and each other. It will be screened within the Natural World programme "Chimpcam" shown on BBC Two at 2000GMT on Wednesday 23 January.

The Horror.

Read all about it HERE.

Frank O'Hara reads "Having a Coke With You"

Friday, January 22, 2010

What We'd Like to Hear President Obama Say

"We won't agree on every issue... But we do agree that we love America equally, that we're concerned about the future of this country, and that we will do our very best to address big problems... The American people expect us to rise above partisan differences, and my administration will do its part...."

Hat tip Ann Althouse.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Dancing: Jean-Luc Godard's "Bande a Part"

Akira Kurosawa's STRAY DOG

After watching some early Polanski films last week I've been thinking about pulp fictions and genre films.

Many of the finest filmmakers did their finest work in what some, incorrectly, call the lesser genres. Billy Wilder's film noir "Double Indemnity," an adaptation of the James M. Caine novel, compares well to his original "Sunset Boulevard," and in some ways paved the way for that later work. Elsewhere on this blog I've offered Wilder's account of working on that adaptation with Raymond Chandler, from a conversation I had with the director shortly before he died. (It was a contentious relationship and in the end Wilder was legally enjoined by the studio from brandishing his riding crop during working hours. A limit was also placed on the number of calls he was allowed to accept from young ladies.)

This week I've been re-watching Akira Kurosawa's film noir "Stray Dog" (1949). That film had its genesis as an unpublished police procedural novel that the great Japanese filmmaker himself wrote over a feverish two month period.

"Stray Dog" tells the story of the frantic search by a rookie cop (Toshiro Mifune) for his stolen Colt pistol, which to his shame had been lifted from him on a bus. A manhunt, lead by the rookie's mentor, begins after the stolen gun is used in a murder. The action throughout takes place during a heatwave in a bombed-out post-war Tokyo. One thing that gives the film such psychological depth is that both cop and killer are from the same background and are the same age... though it's never mentioned both must have been recently de-mobilized from the defeated Imperial Army. There's a sense of "there but for the grace of God go I."

The mini documentary in the Criterion Collection edition recounts a stir over the opening shot of a dog panting feverishly. The film premiered during the American occupation of Japan, and a busybody American woman associated with the ASPCA accused Kurosawa of having injected the dog with rabies to get that wild-eyed effect. This was in the wake of post-war revelations about "scientific" experiments performed by the Japanese imperial army. Apparently this woman was persistent, obsessed even, and brought suit. It was the one blot on an otherwise happy production.

Of course, to get the shot Kurosawa simply had his team take the dog on a run for a few minutes on a hot day.

Video: Archie, the Parsons Terrier

In writing earlier about Soupy Sales, I commented that "these days with a laptop and a two hundred dollar Flip video camera, most everyone has better tools than he and his cohorts had."  Not that their videos are funnier.

I offer proof on both points in this video I've just shot and edited about the training of Archie, an aspirant to the role of Sherriff of Hampstead Heath.  He is a terror to squirrels and other small dogs.

There'll soon be other and better videos here and on my Youtube site, HERE.

Soupy Sales: Fang's Talent Agency

Since his death late last year I've been watching clips from the Soupy Sales Show.  The picture quality is not great, and the sets are homemade, but you could make a pretty funny video with a single stationary camera and a fellow in front of it who had a lot of personality.  In a way his are the forebears for Saturday Night Live's videos.

I like "Fang's Talent Agency," a still from which below, but there loads of others.

These days with a laptop and a two hundred dollar Flip video camera, most everyone has better tools than he and his cohorts had.

Watch Soupy and Fang HERE.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Politics, the Way They're Supposed to Be Played

Last year, at Standpoint on-line, I did a series of posts entitled "Does Anyone Know How to Drive This Thing?"

It's refreshing now to see, in contrast, when someone gets it right.  This from Senator-elect Scott Brown's election victory speech:
This special election came about because we lost someone very dear to Massachusetts, and to America. Senator Ted Kennedy was a tireless and big-hearted public servant, and for most of my lifetime was a force like no other in this state.  His name will always command the affection and respect by the people of Massachusetts, and the same goes for his wife Vicki.  There's no replacing a man like that, but tonight I honor his memory, and I pledge my very best to be a worthy successor.

Here's hoping.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Jim Treacher, The Metrosexualization of...

Heh, via TickTockBlog:
Highly-paid Beltway blogger Jim Treacher reveals that he has become a Mac user. Oh dear, this will never do for the former self-fashioned hayseed-blogger from rural Indiana. Treacher was seduced recently by Tucker Carlson to join the ranks of DC chatteratti via Carlson's Daily Caller website. In his new column Treacher has been documenting his change in latitude, attitude, and operating system: "So I’m a Mac guy now."

The whole thing is here, and fairly funny.

The latest post of the "transformed" Treacher is now here, and he's funny too, though I have a bone to pick with him, about which more soon...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Another Reason Not to Look Forward to the Trial of KSM

In Manhattan federal court, jury selection has begun for the attempted murder trial of Aafia Siddiqui, the MIT and Brandeis-trained scientist. The mother of three, and the only woman accused of working with al Qaeda's leadership, she has been dubbed the "terror mom."

Yesterday Siddiqui requested "genetic testing" to weed out jurors "of Zionist or Israeli background" from the pool of New York City jurors.

No response yet from Judge Richard Berman.

Her trial brings to light a bizarre 2008 incident in an Afghanistan police station. Siddiqi had been arrested outside an Afghan government compound, allegedly carrying two pounds of cyanide, information on chemical weapons, as well as descriptions of American landmarks. While in custody, Siddiqui allegedly grabbed an American soldier's rifle and fired at soldiers and FBI agents nearby.

Siddiqi is married to the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the one-time head of al Qaeda military committee who planned the 9/11 attacks. Her husband's cousin is Ramsi Youssef.

In the courtroom, Siddiqi said, "I'm boycotting this trial," adding, in the patois of a young New Yorker, "I'm out of this," before placing her head on the table. The trial of course is not boycotting Aafia Siddiqi, and the circus will continue when the proceedings begin on Tuesday.

This does cast a certain light on Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to move the trial of KSM to Manhattan, my beloved hometown.

Thank you NOT, Mr. Holder.

Full article from the Times (UK) on-line HERE.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lee Smith on the Clash of Arab Civilizations

Tony Badran has interviewed Lee Smith, author of the just-published tome The Strong Horse, for Now Lebanon. Smith's book, excerpts of which I've read, is an essential and contrarian reading of power politics in the Middle East today.

About his book:

The title comes from Osama Bin Laden’s observation that people by nature prefer the strong horse to the weak one. I wanted to try to explain is how politics works in a region like the Middle East, where, with very few exceptions, there are no peaceful transitions of authority, and power is not shared but rather is typically passed from one family member to another, or taken in a military coup.

On power alignment in the region:

On one hand you have the Islamic Republic of Iran, which wants to rewrite the regional order to its own advantage, and on the other you have Washington and the American-backed regional order, including Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states, along with Egypt, Jordan, and of course Israel, that wants to maintain its position. Tehran, at least until the June presidential elections, has been very confident in its status as a rising power, while the US is now led by a president who has expressed his discomfort with power.

On the implications for pro-democracy advocates in the region:

For pro-democracy forces in the Arab states, and perhaps Iran as well, an American loss of will amounts to an unqualified disaster. An active Iranian nuclear program would be powerful evidence that resistance works. Those publicly advocating in the region on behalf of democratic principles like rule of law are a minority as it is; but a victory for the culture of resistance would enshrine violence and vengeance as the manner in which to redress all grievances, real and imagined.

Smith's notion of a developing comity ahead between the Arab Sunni powers and Israel goes against received opinion and is, I think, quite correct.

Read the whole interview at Now Lebanon HERE.

And buy Smith's book HERE.

Oral Literature Meets Cool Media

I was just searching IMDB, the movie industry data base, good for contacts, credits, etc... and came across this:


Direct Contact: (Phone) Homer has been dead for more than two thousand years.
Agent: (N/A)
Profession: Writer
Known for: Troy / O Brother, Where Art Thou? / The Odyssey
Born: c. 850 BC, Turkey
Died: c. 800 BC

Industry News:
WGA Nominees Announced (From Studio Briefing - Film News. 8 February 2001)


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Meant for Each Other, a story by Barry Yourgrau

You make a date through the Internet. You meet the girl for the first time at a sake bar. She gulps down a whole bottle of sake by herself. “Okay,” you think. “I guess we know what sort of problem she has. But man, is she cute.”

After two more bottles, the girl falls asleep on her bar stool. “That’s our sweetheart,” grins the bartender, shaking his head at the girl’s snores.

“You mean you know her?” you inquire, uneasily.

“Sure, she’s here every night, with a different guy,” says the bartender. “Whoopee, whoopee.” He winks.

“Really,” you reply. You eye the unconscious girl slumped headfirst on the bar counter. And you decide no matter how cute she is, this first date will also be the last,thank you very much.

And this is how you two meet, you and the love of your life. Four months later you get married and move into a lovely apartment together, where you start to raise a large and happy family.

How you get from point A to point B is a long, complicated, heart-warming, and in many ways wonderfully unbelievable story. But alas it requires someone with far greater narrative powers than mine to properly relate.

Posted with permission of the author.

Absinthe Drinkers

Yesterday, was simply a failure of imagination.

Must imagine better tomorrow. Tomorrow, fail again, but fail better.

Here is how, long ago, some sought to up their imagination... through the green demon, Absinthe.

Above, Viktor Oliva's painting "The Absinthe Drinker," which hangs in the Cafe Slavia, Prague.

Another absinthe drinker, Hemingway, had a favorite cocktail, Death in the Afternoon - a measure of absinthe in a champagne glass, fill to the top with Bollinger...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Al Gore Gulfstream 5 Watch in Effect

This is the scene outside my window in London right now. All indications are for a visit soon by the Nobel Laureate and former Vice President. Up to eighteen inches are expected in the Southeast, the most snow in thirty years.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hell Froze Over... and No One Even Noticed

Actor Tim Robbins, the recently-separated partner of Susan Sarandon, donated money to Republican Michelle Bachmann?

According to The Daily Beast, this is so:

"If Federal Election Commission records are to be believed, Robbins has not only donated regularly to Democratic candidates over the past 18 years, he also has written checks to conservative Republicans. In the 2006 election cycle, according to public records, the actor gave $5,000 to 10 Republican candidates for the House and Senate—including, most shocking of all, Minnesota’s resident wingnut, Rep. Michele Bachmann."

More Beastliness here.

Picked-up Pieces

Recently we've been obsessed by Bacon, Francis Bacon, the Jacobean-era lawyer who outlined the philosophical underpinnings of the scientific revolution, "knowledge is power," the importance of hardware (for testing purposes), trial and error. Bacon died in 1626 just over the road and across the square from where I now sit, in a house whose later incarnation has become the residence of filmmaker and Lord of Unreason Terry Gilliam.

Trial and error, especially error, has been on my mind since the start of the new year. Must do better.

Speaking of bacon, for Christmas I cooked pheasant stuffed and wrapped with the same, in a mustard cream sauce. Will be posting that recipe soon as well as ones for sea bass with capers and olives, "death pasta," and the venison we had for new year's eve.

Over the holidays I've been revisiting the short stories of James Salter, the rare writer who manages to be both exquisite and masculine. I'm now reading his volume Last Night. I meant to give this new-bought copy as a gift but couldn't let it go. Next I'll soon re-read his masterpiece A Sport and a Pastime. I would describe him as "a writers' writer" but I did this once before and he responded by asking if that was akin to "a whores' whore."

In other news of letters, we welcome the debut of Little Star magazine, edited by the estimable Ann Kjellberg.

We've been reminded that Philip Marlowe is the still the "chief of detectives," and Raymond Chandler the premiere writer of detectives novels.

We've also been pondering Apple's forthcoming itablet and wondering -- will it have a separate keyboard for scribes, for those who like to type rather than just read and watch?

Regarding current events, some items not yet on the front pages... Tigerhawk analyzes Iran and disinformation HERE. Elsewhere, a former Iranian spy chief HERE says their government is on the verge of collapse.

Victor Davis Hanson asks, regarding security matters, who is the enemy?

Edward Jay Epstein, the premiere debunker of conspiracy theories, re-investigates "Who Burned Down the Reichstag?" HERE.

Frank Schell, the Sage of Chicago, offers message advice to the president in the Chicago Tribune, here.

Archeologist Dorothy King points to Garance Dore as an alternative to the Sartorialist. (Here I am no expert.)

My favorite fashion blogger and friend LondonLibertyGirl offers a look back at her first year in Manhattan HERE.

We look forward to the launch of Big Journalism, edited by one Michael Walsh.

This year, as a little journalist, I've resolved to proofread before posting, or to do so better than last year. If I've missed something please forgive me. Trial and error. The scientific method.

Oliver Pilcher's film for D.S. Dundee

It's a slow start to the new year and not much is happening in the world, eh-hem, so we're continuing to post on the fashion and film front.

Just before Christmas we visited the pop-up shop of D.S. Dundee, a neo-sahib label, and met its proprietor Oliver Pilcher, a noted photographer, and the grandson of Scottish novelist Rosamunde P.

Pilcher has made a short film to tout D.S. Dundee, inspired by Patrick Gordon Duff Pennington's poem "The Crossing of the Waters." The film, a sort of two-minute "Atonement," was done for a tuppence, and it's a testament to what you can do for that with today's machines. My screen-shot from the opening is above (apologies for the quality, and don't let that discount the foregoing).

Look for Pilcher's forthcoming editorial work on the Outer Hebrides.

See the film HERE.

Shop D.S. Dundee HERE.

Maud Yeddou - Another Excellent Thing About French Cinema

She's got a great look, and wears it with attitude.

Found by New York Magazine's "Look Book," Yeddou was evidently visiting the city to perform in an experimental video by Anton Perich.

Her interview in NYM HERE.

Anton Perich's Youtube video channel HERE.

Another excellent thing about French cinema HERE.