|Webdiary - Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent|
The Daily Briefing 22/11/05
1 The young Iranians
An up close and personal account of life and politics in Iran, focusing on the young , dissident Iranians who have had their hopes dashed by the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but who have not given up hope. In fact, they believe that the outcome will make life more difficult for the hardliners, who will no longer be able to blame reformers for the country's failings. "Iran has an estimated three million to seven million Internet users, the most in the Middle East. Some sixty-five thousand Iranians post blogs, many of them evading government filters by jumping from server to server. In 2004, however, the hard-liners began cracking down on Internet dissent, using both filtering technology and old-fashioned harassment. By October, twenty-one Iranians were imprisoned in connection with blogs. Most were technical administrators of Web sites, but seven were political writers."
In The Washington Post, journalist, author and poet Roya Hakakian thinks Ahmadinejad's call for Israel to be wiped off the face of the earth will backfire on him, because of a healthy contrarian strand to Iranian thinking. "While President Ahmadinejad does not truly represent Iran and its attitude toward the Jews today, he does represent an old bigotry that the nation has yet to address. When it does, Iranians will finally be granting long overdue recognition to some of the country's most loyal citizens. And they may also save the Jewish community from extinction. If Iran can continue to be a sanctuary to Jews and other minorities, it will have maintained the very elements that have, throughout history, brought it both glory and distinction."
And this report in The Guardian paints a picture of a potentially dangerous loony hell-bent on having a nuclear button to put his finger near. "Iran is facing political paralysis as its newly elected president purges government institutions, bringing accusations that he is undertaking a coup d'état."
LAURA SECOR/THE NEW YORKER
2 The Latin American revolution
Frankly there is not a lot to this one, but TDB has linked to a few article on developments in Latin America of late, most from a centre-left position. So at least Josie Appleton's article (link below) for the libertarian contrarians at spiked will add some balance. "When it comes to writing about Latin America, there's a mismatch between grand words and a messy reality. Western leftists look to Latin America as a canvas on which all their dreams can be painted. While the left is in dire straits back home, activists increasingly go looking for their revolution abroad. They wax lyrical about street protests and fiery leaders, paying little attention to the problems that these movements are facing on the ground. Western commentators would do better to face up to the problems of politics at home, than to fix a romantic gaze on Latin America."
TDB has linked previously to information about the background of spiked magazine (which has an unfortunate habit of taking money for its projects from vested interests), and there was more in The Guardian on the week-end when Stuart Jeffries interviewed Claire Fox, one of its founders. "Two things emerged from these ashes - Spiked, a web magazine, and the institute, which Fox directs. Both teem with former members of the RCP, an iconoclastic Trotskyist splinter group that regularly engaged in non-metaphorical fisticuffs. Often with other Trotskyist splinter groups, but still. "If there was still an RCP I would be a member," she says. "There are revolutionary principles I adhere to. I'm interested in improving the world.""
3 How a court changes judges
Conservatives nominees face a challenge from within their own ranks in trying to make the US Supreme Court - religious fundamentalists want someone who will overturn the hated Roe v Wade pro-abortion decision; but intellectual conservatives look for someone who will respect court precedents. Samuel Alito looks like threading his way between those two to have his nomination confirmed. But will he turn out to be the die-hard conservative his supporters are hoping for? Lee Epstein, professor at Washington University and Jeffrey Segal, political science professor at Stony Brook University, say "probably" as they look at how courts influence judges. "Branding nominees as "conservative," "liberal" or something in between, with the expectation that those nominees will act reflexively in accordance with those labels, ignores the nature of judging. While O'Connor's preferences may have grown more liberal over time, it is equally likely that her vote in the Michigan law school case reflected her belief in the value of making changes incrementally. The lesson here is that Alito will be more likely to chip away at abortion rights and affirmative action practices than to vote to overrule them immediately."
LEE EPSTEIN & JEFFREY SEGAL/THE WASHINGTON POST
4 The nuclear option, oil and hybrids
This one has been coming for a while - TDB linked to the early phases of the debate, when the call for Britain to turn to nuclear energy in response to global warming was first made. (The Times, by the way, has backed the move, which may help explain how it came to get the drop on this story.) "Less than two years after a government paper called nuclear power an unattractive option, the Prime Minister has become convinced that building nuclear power stations is the only way to secure energy needs and meet obligations to reduce carbon emissions."
For those who've not had their fill of the "peak oil" debate (lots in links in Archives), David Jenkins (former chief technology adviser to the BP group) and Jeremy Leggett (CEO of Solarcentury) debate the world's energy future on the pages of Prospect magazine.
And Wired reports that engineers are developing adapter kits for hybrid vehicles that will increase their efficiency to 100 miles per gallon by powering them solely on electricity during short trips.
5 How the reds didn't steal Christmas
How many sleeps until the first media beat-up about how the politically correct are stealing Christmas. The West Australian comes close this morning as it reports that WA State schools are not obliged to teach children about the religious significance of Christmas but Education Minister Ljiljanna Ravlich says she would encourage all schools to teach Christmas traditions. (Is there no end to the amount of brainwashing to which children must be subjected?)
Salon reports that the issue is a weapon in the culture wars, used by the right to rally its troops and demonise liberal humanists. And how about this - it has nothing to do with "politically correctness gone mad" (to coin a phrase). The article linked to below says in 1959 the John Birch Society issued an urgent alert: Christmas was under attack. "In a JBS pamphlet titled "There Goes Christmas?!" a writer named Hubert Kregeloh warned, "One of the techniques now being applied by the Reds to weaken the pillar of religion in our country is the drive to take Christ out of Christmas -- to denude the event of its religious meaning." The central front in this perfidious assault was American department stores, where the "Godless UN" was scheming to replace religious decorations with internationalist celebrations of universal brotherhood."
6 Buying a computer, $100 or more
Straight forward this one - ground rules for buying a new home computer from someone who seems to know what he is talking about. "Apple is making a strong pitch these days. The price to switch can be little more than $500, the cost of the Mac mini. That and other Macs ship with an outstanding set of multimedia programs -- iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie and iDVD -- and continue to be free of viruses, spyware, browser hijackings and many other Windows diseases."
Two reports of $100 (US) computers. David Pogue in the NYTimes on the educational gadget called the Fly Pentop Computer. "The Fly is so fat because it contains an AAA battery, a computer chip, a speaker and, mounted half an inch from the ballpoint tip, a tiny camera. For all of its educational, interactive tricks, the Fly pen requires special paper whose surface is imprinted with nearly invisible micro-dots. As you write, the pen always knows where it is on the page, thanks to those dot patterns and the camera that watches them go by."
And Wired reports on the hand-cranked $100 laptops that the magazine's founder Nicholas Negroponte wants every child in the world to have. "With its cheery green coloring and Tonka-tough shell, the laptop certainly looks cool. It boasts a 7-inch screen that swivels like a tablet PC, and an electricity-generating crank that provides 40 minutes of power from a minute of grinding. Built-in Wi-Fi with mesh networking support, combined with a microphone, speaker and headset jack, even means the box can serve as a node in an ersatz VOIP phone system."
ROB PEGORARO/THE WASHINGTON POST
7 The fairies, the developer and scrabble
"Come away, O human child!/ To the waters and the wild/ With a faery, hand in hand, For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand." Some weeping on the part of developer Marcus Salter, head of Genesis Properties, who "estimates that the small colony of fairies believed to live beneath a rock in St Fillans, Perthshire, has cost him £15,000. His first notice of the residential sensibilities of the netherworld came as his diggers moved on to a site on the outskirts of the village, which crowns the easterly shore of Loch Earn."
The world has a new scrabble champion, "Adam Logan, a 30-year-old mathematician from Canada, scored 465 points to beat Pakorn Nemitrmansuk, a 30-year-old architect from Thailand, with 426 points in the final game of a playoff. "In the end, the zobo and the ogive could not quite triumph over the qanat and the euripi on Sunday, and thus the contender was birsled - Scottish dialect for scorched or toasted."
And in anothe dispatch from the odds 'n sods file, The Independent tracks the history of drinking in the UK and finds they've been binge drinking for 2,500 years. "Stone Age beer jugs have suggested that we were intentionally fermenting alcohol as early as the Neolithic period, 12,000 years ago."
8 Follies, Freedom, Fable, Fortepianos and more.
TUESDAY BOOKS: a selection by donn wood.
The Unknown Soldier: The Story of the Missing of the Great War by Neil Hanson
Last Post by Max Arthur
In Literary Review, Nigel Jones reviews these books, which attempt to explore the meaning that the Great War still holds in the collective consciousness of the West. Oral historian Arthur interviewed nine of the surviving handful of WWI veterans, and Jones says of his book ... “Really only to be recommended to First World War buffs who have to read everything.” Hanson’s book he finds to be a much superior endeavor, which begins with “... the imaginative idea of combining the story of the Unknown Soldier – the symbolic body buried in Westminster Abbey to represent all the myriad legions of Britain's missing – with the individual stories of three of those missing: a British and a German soldier, and ... an American airman.”
Phone Rings by Stephen Dixon
Not familiar with this author’s name? As this is his 25th book, and he has won a number of awards, this might seem surprising, but as Ron Antonucci in the San Francisco Chronicle writes, “... probably because his approach to fiction is so singular, breaking rules and expanding the strictures on form and style, Dixon remains little known to the general reading public. Daunting if not difficult, Dixon does experiment with form and narrative technique; he's earned the avant-gardist label he wears so well. But, with all of that, Stephen Dixon is simply one heck of a storyteller.”
The Jungle Law: A Novel By Victoria Vinton
“Kipling provides the story's start; he's a newcomer who excites and confounds the region's locals.” Art Taylor in The Washington Post reviews this novel, set in rural Vermont, where Rudyard Kipling wrote ‘The Jungle Book’. “By navigating both rural living in all its hardscrabble grit and the world of the imagination in its most vibrant bloom, Vinton plumbs human yearnings for more than the everyday and probes the transformative impact that storytelling can have on a willing audience -- both the lures of literature and the perils of conflating art with life. More to the point, though, Vinton also tells a great story, reason enough to pay these Kiplings and their neighbors a call.”
To Repel Ghosts: The Remix by Kevin Young
This book by one of America’s most highly regarded young poets, is a telling in verse of the work and (short) life of the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who went from graffiti artist to hot-property painter to DOA junkie (and therefore even hotter dead young painter) in less than a decade. This review by Olivia Cronk in Bookslut is complete and comprehensive, and I couldn’t find an extract that would give you an idea of its flavour, so I can only link you to it here, and suggest that you read it in its entirety.
Company Of Pianos by Richard Burnett
Written by a pianist and pioneer of the early piano revival in the UK, this “... marvellously illustrated book is in fact an extensive guide to the sixty-one instruments of the Finchcocks Collection in Goudhurst, Kent.” And as Burnett not only assembled the collection, but also bought a country house in Kent to house them, who better to undertake such a task? And who better to write this review in the TLS than Angela Hewitt, a world-class pianist herself? “Burnett takes us on a splendid voyage through the evolutionary history of keyboard construction, describing each instrument of the Finchcocks Collection in vivid detail.” Included with the book is a CD of music played on 33 of the instruments from the collection.
Ladykiller by Charlotte Gill
“In Charlotte Gill's seven stories we meet people who are frozen in this kind of light, their lives etched in brilliant clarity, their relationships caught just as they are about to crumble and blur away into yesterday.” Cherie Thiessen, writing in January Magazine, reviews the first book from the Canadian author. “Gill may be tough with her language and her readers, taking them on journeys they may prefer not to take, but with her characters she is sensitive and non-judgmental. The world can use more of that and readers will find they can use more of Charlotte Gill.”
The Norton Anthology of Children's Literature: Edited by Zipes, Avery, Hunt, Paul, Vallone In The Boston Globe, William Flesch reviews this (massive, at over 2200 pages) collection of work from 170 writers and illustrators, ranging over 350 years. “All great children's literature reminds adults of the ephemerality of childhood. It does so because it is written by and for adults thinking hard about their own lost childhoods even as they interact with real children.”
The Narnian by Alan Jacobs
And to follow the previous article, here is an article based around a review of a biography of C.S. Lewis, who wrote the Narnia books for children, including ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ (of which, especially if you have children, you will be hearing lots more in the weeks to come). Lewis was a complex figure, both in his personal life and in his writing. (You may remember the film ‘Shadowlands’, with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger). Adam Gopnik, writing in The New Yorker, takes Jacobs’ book as the starting point for a detailed and thoughtful analysis of the life and work of the English writer, who is regarded radically differently on either side of the Atlantic. Informative and very well worth reading.
Voltaire Almighty: A Life in Pursuit of Freedom by Roger Pearson
“Famous in his lifetime as a prolific dramatist and a poet, Voltaire is not much read nowadays, even in France, and then only for his short prose tales such as Candide. Instead, he embodies in his career and makes intelligible in his conversation and letters the great revolutions of the 18th century in religion, civil rights, finance, domesticity and sex. As Roger Pearson shows in this elegant, learned and handsome new biography, Voltaire managed both to be in the thick of things and to survey them from the sort of Olympian distance that generally only posterity enjoys.” In The Guardian, James Buchan reviews the latest biography of a man who wrote books, plays, numerous letters and petitions; was a voice of reason and an outspoken critic of religious intolerance and persecution. At his death, his body was denied burial in church ground, and after some years his remains were moved to the Pantheon in Paris. In 1814 a group of hard-line religious radicals stole Voltaire's remains and dumped them. (And no one knew for 50 years). His heart had previously been removed from his body, and is in the Paris Bibliotheque Nationale. His brain had also been removed, and after changing hands several times over 100 years, it disappeared after an auction. Sort of your ultimate literary carve-up.
The Naming of Names by Anna Pavord
This history of the classification of plants and the evolution of their names begins with Athenian philosopher Theophrastus (who was born in 372BC, and studied under Aristotle), but basically made hardly any progress for the next 1000 years. Toby Green, in The Independent, thinks the book is at its best describing the Renaissance and its after-effects ... “Pavord's account of the discoveries and rivalries of thinkers in England, Flanders, France, Germany and Italy excels at recreating the excitement of that age, and she bestows her love of the natural world on the descriptions of plants and flowers that garlanded illustrated books of the time. Her book is beautifully illustrated with over 100 colour plates from these rare publications.” It wasn’t until the 17th century that Theophrastus’ ideas started to be put into common practice. Hey, it only took 2000 years!
“Ultimately, as Pavord shows, the truth behind his noble idea overwhelmed the dogmatists.”
Flawed Angel by John Fuller
“Under John Fuller's elegance is a grim and gleeful depiction of the relations between flesh and spirit, or between matter and the life that informs it." AS Byatt, writing in The Guardian, finds this philosophical fable-cum-fairytale both admirable and enjoyable. “No other writer could make an ingenious primal soup in a civilised dish in quite this way. Flawed Angel is easy to read, but persists in the mind when it has been read, and asks to be thought about.”
The Brooklyn Follies By Paul Auster
Paul Auster, who may be better known to movies buffs as the screenwriter of ‘Smoke’ and its sequel ‘Blue In The Face’, ends his 12th novel on the morning of September 11th, 2001. Of course, this is no coincidence, or perhaps it’s just that coincidence is normality in a Paul Auster novel. “Other familiar Austerian conceits are in evidence: the narrator is a writer, characters disappear and then return many years later in unfamiliar guises, men languish in self-imposed isolation. But ‘The Brooklyn Follies’ is warmer than any of Auster’s previous novels, and is touched by an unmistakable air of nostalgia.” In the TLS, Henry Hitchings reviews the latest from postmodern existentialist writer Auster, and finds it “...a departure for Auster. Instead of tight plotting and theoretical figure work, there is domestic realism. The result is a novel far more passionately American than Auster’s previous ones. It is also more abundantly furnished: its milieu is a Brooklyn of croissants and strollers ...” Perhaps the postmodern bathwater has been thrown out, and the baby left behind. (link below)