Saturday, April 28, 2018

Before the Kanye West revisionism

New York Times, Jesse Green's review of Summer, the Donna Summer musical --

It totally botches, for instance, her relationship with the gay community, which instantly embraced her on the radio and the dance floor for reasons the show doesn’t explore. Comments that Ms. Summer later made about God not creating “Adam and Steve” (let alone others she denied making about AIDS as a punishment for sin) left many gay men feeling betrayed — a betrayal they attributed to her resurgent Christianity. Rather than dramatizing this fascinating conflict head on, the musical brushes it aside as an ancient misunderstanding and uses Ms. Summer’s gay publicist as an alibi. (Singing “Friends Unknown,” she mourns his death to show she couldn’t have been homophobic.) It does not even mention her 1979 announcement that she was born again; she sings “I Believe in Jesus” instead.

Saddam and Bashar

In the weekend FT, Ben Judah mingles with Momentum to get a flavour of the movement from activists. In the studio with Aaron Bastani ---

Next topic: Syria. Is the Stop the War Coalition approach still working? What is "a left geopolitics"? Live-viewers are messaging in: "What we did in Mosul and Fallujah makes Douma look like a picnic." "100 per cent correct," says Bastani.

Note the logic: Iraq gives Bashar al-Assad a free pass for atrocities in Syria. And change that message to "What Bashar did in Aleppo and Homs makes Gaza look like a picnic." Same logic, different reaction.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Quote of the Day (3)

Via Orla Ryan (Financial Times) on the latest iteration of Ireland's decades-long abortion debate --

Whatever happens, perhaps Rhona Mahony [master of the national maternity hospital puts it most succinctly. "Terminations will continue," she says. "They have done since the beginning of time." 

Quote of the Day (2)

Alexandra Petri (Washington Post) on Donald Trump's bizarre Fox and Friends interview --

Stars spun into existence in the deep womb of the sky and burned out again, and planets rose and set, and at the end of the last age of men the great wolf Fenris rose from the deep and swallowed the Earth — and Donald Trump was still on the phone with “Fox and Friends” after calling in with a lot of opinions he wanted to share, against the best legal advice, and also probably the advice of his lawyers.

Quote of the Day (1)

Gail Collins (NYT) on Mitt Romney's struggling campaign for Senator from Utah --

First, he had to get the nomination in a state where he’s lived only a sliver of his life. Romney’s been trying to dig in, buying mansions in Utah (half his four houses are now there). This week he showed up for a Utah Jazz basketball game, eager to prove he was just one of the guys by wearing a Jazz jersey over his dress shirt.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

No chemical weapons used, so it's fine

Via Al Arabiya, a screen grab from a Russian video which appears to show Russian special forces, masked, guarding the Syrian military leadership at a recent appearance in Qalamoun. As the story explains, the video was not shown on Syrian TV, since it would highlight the dependence of the regime on external support, but appeared on Russian websites.

Robert Fisk is making no effort to debunk the reporting of on-the-ground Russian support to the regime, since no one is proposing that anything be done about it. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Move along folks

It's depressing to observe the media interest in certain events drop like a stone as follows:

  • The Toronto truck attack, once it was clear the suspect wasn't Muslim
  • The Nashville Waffle House shootings, once it was clear that the victims, and hero, were not white
  • The al-Assad/ Putin assault on Syrian cities, once it was clear there was no prospect of western countries doing anything about it.

Debate on shorter name ongoing

[Jordan Times] .... Jordanian National Campaign Against the Gas Agreement with the Zionist Entity  ... 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Image of the Day

Poster for the feature on Tunisian directors that will be held as part of the Directors' Fortnight running in parallel to the Cannes film festival next month.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Cheap eats

From the latest iteration of a USA nationwide E.coli outbreak apparently attributable to romaine lettuce, with the latest lead coming from Alaska --

State officials are responding to an outbreak of acute gastroenteritis caused by Escherichia coli (E.coli) O157:H7 bacteria in the Anvil Mountain Correctional Center in Nome. Eight confirmed cases have been identified to date. The recently discovered cases appear to be connected to a nationwide E. coli outbreak affecting at least 53 persons in 16 states and linked to romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona. .. No additional cases have been identified in Alaska outside of the Anvil Mountain Correctional Center. 

The outbreak was first reported as nationwide on April 10 and suspicion was on leafy greens from the start. And then a prison got a batch of greens. Interesting timing on the shipping.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Arab agency

First, on Robert Fisk's visit to Douma, ahead of OPCW. If the victims were suffering from "dust" inhalation, then that means that the building they were in was bombed by Russian or Syrian forces ... something that seems to happen a lot, despite Russia/ Syria denials that they target civilians.

Which brings us to the question of why Robert Fisk is only trying to debunk one particular type of regime attack (for example, does he have any views on what has happened to the Syrian healthcare system in rebel areas due to government attacks on infrastructure and personnel?). Anyway, the answer is that Fisk is only attempting to debunk one type of attack, because it's the only one that burnishes supposed anti-establishment credentials. If there's no prospect of a western response, then there's no need to debunk, because it's just a plain vanilla al-Assad atrocity.

Fisk's style of reporting does a lot of damage, especially for people whose own anti-establishment mentality locks them into believing him and contrarians like him, and even more especially people who are themselves in the establishment but want the credential of not being so. Here's Michael McDowell explaining the Syrian crisis to his Sunday Business Post readers --

Indeed, it was Qatar and the Saudis, acting back then as joint sponsors of an Islamist Sunni revolution, that started the Syrian civil war. 

This is a standard narrative for soi-disant contrarians, but it ignores the fact that actual Syrians began their own Arab Spring protests, which the regime turned into a civil war by brutally repressing them. Then the Qataris and Saudis got involved (and by the way, here's a post we keep having to go back to as a reminder that the Saudis had no intrinsic quarrel with Bashar until he started killing protesters). But for Fisk and McDowell, it's far easier to view the Arab world through the lens of endless western machinations than to allow a role for choices made by Arabs themselves.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Quote of the Day

There's a class of people giving a lot of their time on social media to claims about "false flags" and "crisis actor" interpretations of chemical weapons attacks in Syria -- people who would scoff at exactly that mode of analysis, and that terminology, when applied to crackpot theories about school shootings in the USA, but somehow don't make the connection to what they are doing in giving Bashar al-Assad the benefit of the doubt. So instead of getting sucked into their descent into troll bait, here's Henry Mance with a perfectly-timed column in the FT --

Anti-conspiracists must release our own irresistible theories. Let’s tell Jim, a local tennis coach, to tell others that Roger Federer is not the world’s best tennis player: someone is sedating his opponents in a scheme to increase national happiness. We should ask Samantha, a local actor, to point out that every new play in London’s West End is written by a so-called “James Graham” who must be a piece of advanced software. The conspiracies go on. Why do Underground trains always arrive marginally later than the arrivals screens promise? How did seagulls survive the 5G apocalypse?

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Audience becoming more selective

Among the things highlighted by today's joint US-UK-FR military strikes on Syria: the extremely degraded quality of Russian diplomacy. In 2013, Russia had its cynical motivations, but it also had the ability to translate those motivations into a deal within the framework of international law. But in the week since the latest (of many) chemical weapons attacks, there was nothing coming out of the Moscow Ministry of Foreign Affairs except trolling and disinformation -- as if the same staff assigned to muddy the Skripal affair were simply reassigned to keep the al-Assad / Maduro fanboys on Twitter happy, but no substantive work got done.

Note: Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov has been in that job since 2004, and was Russia Ambassador to the UN for the 10 years prior to that. It's not just presidents who can be in the same job too long. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Liberal Classism

David Brooks on the ridiculous new Jonah Goldberg book --

His conservatism is missing the bonding sentiments of Edmund Burke, and the idea that the little platoon of the family is nestled in the emotional platoon of the neighborhood and the emotional platoon of the nation.

That little platoon phrase is often pulled out of context from where it appeared in Reflections on the Revolution in France --

Turbulent, discontented men of quality, in proportion as they are puffed up with personal pride and arrogance, generally despise their own order. One of the first symptoms they discover of a selfish and mischievous ambition, is a profligate disregard of a dignity which they partake with others. To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind. The interest of that portion of social arrangement is a trust in the hands of all those who compose it; and as none but bad men would justify it in abuse, none but traitors would barter it away for their own personal advantage.

Burke didn't mean just family. The little platoon was your place on society, and it was better if you didn't get notions about being above it. Conservatives have struggled with this for a while.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Sublime to Ridiculous

Princeton Alumni Weekly on the course of visiting lecturer in theatre, Fintan O'Toole --

Students reflect on a play or movie each week and submit blog posts before class. Some potential class-discussion topics: Can the state prohibit people from burying the dead (as in Antigone); how are dead bodies portrayed differently in Hamlet vs. MacBeth; and how does the presence of a body throughout Weekend at Bernie’s bring a certain heaviness to an otherwise comedic film? Students will also act out scenes in some of the plays, with the opportunity to portray a corpse themselves.