Friday, January 31, 2014

What I’m reading #111

The Economist decided to put a figure-skating Vladimir Putin on the cover of its new issue: “What better way to depict the Russian president’s predilection for self-promotional stunts, of which the winter Olympics in Sochi is merely the most prominent example?”

There was just one little problem: the New Yorker had much the same idea. Quote unquote:
So we considered switching our cover to show Mr Putin engaging in a different winter sport, such as skiing or ice hockey. But without the camp flamboyance of ice-skating, it just wasn't as funny. Moreover, Mr Putin has recently been photographed skiing and playing ice hockey in Sochi, which reduces the scope for satire. Indeed, the Russian diva-in-chief's outlandish antics (driving racing carsdemonstrating judo movesswimming bare-chested in Siberian riverspiloting fire-fighting planestranquilising tigersdiscovering Greek vases underwater) are making it increasingly difficult to create an image of Mr Putin that is obviously satirical. Perhaps that is his aim.
In the London Review of Books, Adam Mars-Jones reviews Claudia Roth Pierpont’s Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books, a literary biography of Philip Roth. Quote unquote:
Portnoy’s Complaint is a book that is somehow protected by its own indefensibility. It’s so obviously going all-out to cause offence that offence seems ruled out as a reaction. (It’s rather satisfying that the most un-PC book imaginable, though written before political correctness was a trend, should have PC as its initials.) 
At the Dim-Post, Danyl McLauchlan reviews Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, and finds it wanting. Quote unquote:
Can a book with several extended sequences so dull they’re essentially unreadable really be a masterpiece, even if some of the other passages are sublime? Or do people who praise it so highly do so partly as an act of signaling to display that they’ve read a very long, very difficult work of literature?
At White Sun of the Desert, my favourite oil-industry-and-hedonism blog, Tim Newman reports that he is learning French. He has to, because he lives in France now. Surprisingly, knowing Russian has helped. Quote unquote:
It’s funny how many French words spill over into not only English (which is well known), and Russian (slightly less well known) but also Welsh.  The French word for church is “eglise”, and in Welsh it’s “eglwys” (pronounced “eg-loise” for my readers who didn’t learn Welsh at school).  I assume the French-speaking Normans introduced the concept of a church to the Welsh, who hitherto were worshipping local rugby players and shagging sheep. 
For anyone tempted to take the Daily Mail seriously as a news source, Jon Danzig offers a thorough fisking of its reporting on the impending flood of Romanian immigrants. It seems the Mail not only made up the numbers, it also made up its interviewees. Quote unquote:
Claim 12: Another, at coach firm Balkan Horn, said: ‘It is very busy, many people want to travel to England, especially with the change in EU rules. But everything is booked up, it’s hard to get there.’
Balkan Horn deny any knowledge of ever talking with the Daily Mail, and say they would never have given such a quote as it wouldn’t have been true; there were seats available on their buses to London, and no increased demand because of the change in EU rules.  In fact, demand for bus journeys to England had gone down.
The recent death of singer/songwriter Pete Seeger has had reverential coverage. Here are two alternative views, one from Stephen Mihm praising his entrepreneurial skills that made him millions, and one from Mick Hartley that questions the whole folkie programme and refers us to a Rian Malan piece alleging plagiarism. Quote unquote:
The Weavers’ appeal was inexplicable to folk purists, who noted that most of their songs had been around forever, in obscure versions by blacks and rednecks who never had hits anywhere.What they failed to grasp was that Seeger and his comrades had managed to filter the stench of poverty and pig shit out of the proletarian music and make it wholesome and fun for Eisenhower-era squares.
Frederic Filloux on French print-media companies, in a 19 January report that possibly has implications for non-French print-media companies, says that “Two weeks ago, with a transaction that reset the value of printed assets to almost nothing, the French market for newsmagazines collapsed for good.” Read on for the financial horror show.  Quote unquote:
The case of Le Nouvel Observateur is the perfect example. This iconic magazine of the French social democrats perfectly fits the picture of a nursing home where residents don’t do much while waiting for the unavoidable end.
Happy new year to all my Chinese readers. My horse-mad daughters are delighted by this year’s animal. But Brian Pigeon has issues:
Back in 2007 I raised the issue that every other animal has its own Chinese year, so why not a pigeon? I brought it up again in 2011 when it was the rabbit’s turn, and still no year. I mean we’re talking rat, ox, pig, rooster, the list goes on. 2014 is, I’ve just discovered, the year of the horse. A fucking horse? Since when has a horse been able to fly using hedges for navigation? Or carried messages for hundreds of miles whilst being shot at by enemy fire? And when was the last time a horse wrote a decent song or some poignant poetry? Thought so.
Fair point. Still, it is the year of the horse, so here is a song about horses. No, not Patti Smith, not America, but Eddie Vedder. The backing band is pretty sloppy but they manage:



Chris Bourke said...

Those pieces you link to for balance in the reaction to Pete Seeger's death are not worthy of your endorsement. The Bloomberg piece is one long sneer, full a modern, ironic style of red-baiting. "He was a communist who made so much money [a mere $4.6m for a long living legend] ... yet he tried to give it all away." Hartley's piece is a rant from someone who hasn't grown up since his childhood of being bored by Seeger's tendency for earnest lectures. And reading the Malan piece on 'Wimoweh' - which is full of sneering language towards anyone he doesn't approve of - Seeger comes across pretty well in that, and can only be accused of naivety about copyright and traditional songs, back in the 1950s, long before The Lion King. Hartley says Seeger caused "enormous damage to his country". How, exactly? He doesn't explain. For a more balanced response to Seeger, try the NY Times obit, or the New Yorker's recent long profile which they have brought out from behind their paywall.

Stephen Stratford said...

Seeger is rightly hailed as a leading voice of dissent when dissent was difficult in the US. He was a brave man. But I can't see anything wrong in linking to some dissent about him.

The Mick Hartley piece is really a footnote to a longer post on Paul Simon's "Graceland" album - along the lines of Gordon Campbell's argument at the time in the Listener - and the charges of plagiarism against him from Los Lobos and others.

If I had really meant to be unkind I would have quoted Tom Lehrer on Seeger, or at least one of his greatest hits. I'm sure you know the one.

Dave Hillier said...

How good to hear the Stones with a good singer.