31 maio 2004

Angels in America at long last - though it's a production of 2003, mind you national TV (RTP)backbiters - premiers tonight.
Not merely AIDS and Americans, but rather the stuff the States are all about:

Roy Cohn (Al Pacino): AIDS. Homosexual. Gay. Lesbian. You think these are names that tell you who a person sleeps with, but they don't tell you that.
Henry (James Cromwell): No?
Roy Cohn (Al Pacino): No. Like all labels they tell you one thing, and one thing only: Where does an individual so identified fit into the food chain, the pecking order? Not ideology or sexual taste, but something much simpler: clout. Not who I fuck or who fucks me, but who will come to the phone when I call, who owes me favors. This is what a label refers to. Now to someone who does not understand this, a homosexual is what I am because I have sex with men, but really this is wrong. A homosexual is somebody who, in 15 years of trying cannot get a pissant anit-discrimination bill through the city council. A homosexual is somebody who knows nobody and who nobody knows. Who has zero clout. Does this sound like me Henry?
O júri do Festival de Cannes defende o "Mérito Cinematográfico" de Fahrenheit 9/11

Quando entregou a Palma de Ouro de Cannes a Michael Moore, sábado à noite no Palais des Festivals, o presidente do júri, Quentin Tarantino, disse-lhe ao ouvido que o prémio a "Fahrenheit 9/11" "não era motivado por razões políticas". Ontem, numa inédita conferência de imprensa do júri (é a primeira vez que os jurados falam à imprensa depois das suas escolhas), confirmou a mensagem e reafirmou: "Nada do que se passa fora das bobines e dos rolos de filme influenciou a decisão. Quem fez os filmes, por que razão os fez... etc. Só nos interessou o mérito cinematográfico".

E qual é o mérito cinematográfico de "Fahrenheit 9/11", documentário sob a forma de panfleto para (Moore assumiu-o) impedir George Bush de continuar na Casa Branca, recorrendo a imagens televisivas, não todas inéditas? "Por exemplo, o humor satírico", respondeu Tarantino. "E a forma como balança de tom. Um filme pode ser 'fun'? 'Fahrenheit 9/11' é 'fun'. Um filme pode ser dramático? 'Fahrenheit 9/11' é dramático. Por isso é a nossa Palma de Ouro".

Inicialmente, pareciam - Quentin e Emmanuelle Béart, Tilda Swinton, Tsui Hark, Edwidge Danticat, Kathleen Turner, Jerry Schatzberg, Peter von Bagh, Benoît Poelvoorde, o júri da 57ª edição do festival - determinados em negar aquilo que, na manhã de domingo, no rescaldo do festival que terminara na véspera na Croisette, a maior parte da imprensa internacional escancarava como óbvio nos títulos: "Palmarés político". Mas a actriz escocesa Tilda Swinton, que se revelou como a conceptual do grupo, veio ajudar os seus colegas e a política pôde aparecer de novo, de forma mais... elaborada.

"O filme de Michael Moore vem caucionar o cinema. Porque o que ele mostrou neste filme não pode, por exemplo, ser dito neste momento nas televisões dos EUA. Como é que ele o mostrou? Através do cinema. Isto é uma coisa nova em Cannes. Geralmente as Palmas de Ouro vêm premiar obras-primas, ou filmes que 20 anos depois são reconhecidos como obras-primas. Neste caso há um corte, porque do que se trata é do aqui e agora, algo que está a acontecer neste momento e que põe em relação um triângulo formado pelo realizador, pela audiência e pelo meio que se utiliza".

Mais sossegado, Tarantino pôde então dizer que "há grandes filmes de um lado e temas políticos de outro, e quando as duas categorias se juntam, 'et voilà'", a Palma de Ouro.

Democracia, disseram todos, foi o sistema que vigorou no júri. O presidente punha as conversas a rolar. Falaram horas e horas, todos defenderam apaixonadamente os seus preferidos. O presidente também soube ouvir. "Quentin tem uma grande boca, mas também tem duas enormes orelhas", disse Swinton. Quentin confirmou que ouviu coisas tão interessantes dos seus colegas - pareceram-lhe mesmo críticos de cinema mais interessantes do que aqueles que lê na imprensa -, que tomou notas de tudo. Se calhar, avisou, essas frases hão-de ir parar aos diálogos dos seus próximos filmes.

Uma curiosidade que ficará para a (pequena) história do festival: quase se concretizou a ideia, de Tilda Swinton, de dar um prémio de melhor actor de comédia a... George Bush.

Público Cinecartaz

29 maio 2004

What have we done, by Susan Sontag


For a long time- at least six decades - photographs have laid down the tracks of how important conflicts are judged and remembered. The memory museum is now mostly a visual one. Photographs have an insuperable power to determine what we recall of events, and it now seems likely that the defining association of people everywhere with the rotten war that the United States launched preemptively in Iraq last year will be photographs of the torture of Iraqi prisoners in the most infamous of Saddam Hussein's prisons, Abu Ghraib.

The Bush administration and its defenders have chiefly sought to limit a public relations disaster - the dissemination of the photographs - rather than deal with the complex crimes of leadership and of policy revealed by the pictures. There was, first of all, the displacement of the reality onto the photographs themselves. The administration's initial response was to say that the president was shocked and disgusted by the photographs - as if the fault or horror lay in the images, not in what they depict. There was also the avoidance of the word torture. The prisoners had possibly been the objects of "abuse," eventually of "humiliation" - that was the most to be admitted. "My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said at a press conference. "And therefore I'm not going to address the torture word." Words alter, words add, words subtract. It was the strenuous avoidance of the word "genocide" while the more than 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda were being slaughtered, over a few weeks' time, by their Hutu neighbors ten years ago that indicated the American government had no intention of doing anything.
[Read on]
The covers they didn't want you to see

From phallic fingers and bare bums to terrorist targets and rape, Peter Blecha on the record sleeves that went that little bit too far. Taboo Tunes, by Peter Blecha.

28 maio 2004

Desenrascanço
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

(The neutrality and factual accuracy of this article are disputed.)

Desenrascanço (loosely translatable as "disentanglement")
is a Portuguese word used, in common language, to express an ability to solve a problem without having the knowledge or the adequate tools to do so, by use of imaginative resources or by applying knowledge to new situations. Achieved when resulting in a hypothetical good-enough solution. When that good solution doesn't occur we got a failure (enrascanço - entanglement). It is taught, more or less, informally in some Portuguese institutions, such as universities, navy or army. Portuguese people, strongly believe it to be one of the their most valued virtues and a living part of their culture. Desenrascanço, in fact, is the opposite of planning, but managing for the problem not becoming completely out of control and without solution.

However, some critics disagree with the association of the concept of desenrascanço with the mainstream Portuguese culture. They argue that desenrascanço is just a minor feature of some portuguese [sic] subcultures confined to some non-representative groups and to the end of the 20th century. Critics point out that in the last 30 years the education and culture of the portuguese [sic] people improved considerably and that the importance of desenrascanço is declining. Sometimes, the concept is related by some to the discoveries period or to student activities in the 15th century. But sceptics doubt there is any substantial prove [sic] of that relation. Critics also argue that there are other sub-cultures in other countries with equivalent concepts and that desenrascanço is not an exclusive of the Portuguese culture.

Universities
Desenrascanço has a role in the academic juvenile sub-culture in most educational institutions. In Lisbon it is a losing ground tradition, while Coimbra and Oporto maintain their traditions now followed, in some degree, by the new universities (created less than 30 years ago) in the rest of the country. Sometime earlier, some of these traditions, were also exported to some universities in France, Spain, Brazil, UK (and USA, by influence of the UK).

The older students at universities and politechnical institutes known as doutores (Eng. doctors) teach Desenrascanço to freshmen (Port. Caloiros) in a ritual, well known as Praxe (or Praxis) in Portugal. It is alleged that this skill is taught (informally) in the Portuguese universities since the 14th or 15th century. The freshmen are ordered to do the most impossible things. They must comply or they will be punished. To solve the problems (desenrascar-se) they must be really inventive and/or have a very convincing reason when they cannot do it. Normally, if they cannot or if they are not smart enough, punishment is done. The punishment is supposedly done under the Praxis rules (Port. Código de Praxe) and aleggedly [sic] no harm can be done to the student. But they can get dirty, do a lot of exercise, and do embarrassing things in public or nothing for an hour. Freshmen do this ritual because they want to be part of academic groups to have fun, continuous parties and lots of helping friends. In the rituals, the doutores must be dressed in black (in 19th century traditional clothes) and freshmen dressed in white (normally a shirt and blue jeans).

Normal academic activities are also seen as a way to teach desenrascanço. For example, when the teacher does not disclose any suggestions to solve a problem, and the student must search for his own. But some of the best teachers disagree with this association since they believe that desenrascanço culture is precisely the oposite [sic] of a good universitary [sic] education.

Siemens, a known German company, has its offices in Portugal due to this Portuguese characteristic, employing hundreds of Portuguese engineers. They say "when a german [sic] gives up when encountering a difficulty, a Portuguese will work until it is solved." They also argue that is also "due to the quality of Portuguese state-runned [sic] universities and institutes".

Desenrascanço in the Discoveries Era
In the 16th and 17th centuries, it was very common for other exploring nations to bring a Portuguese national along during the voyages, for two reasons, 1) the Portuguese were skilled by previous knowledge and 2) for handling emergencies well (what is also known among the Portuguese as desenrascanço). Of course, serious historians would disagree with the association between a 20th century idea and 17th century events.

Some groups from Portugal believe that they still have this characteristic, that, theoricaly [sic] speaking, make [sic] them the best people to handle emergencies, and the worst for situations where planning is needed. There is no impartial verification of those claims..

[To my knowledge, for this Wikipedia, the Portuguese contributors are solely Brazilian Portuguese speakers - and writers. In fact, Wikipedia, for all it's technobabble, makes no distinction between both LANGUAGE VERSIONS]

[Be that as it may, obrigada ao Miguel :-)]
Making a Movie Sexy
An Interview to Hanif Kureishi

The Mother, the latest movie you've written, tells the story of a 60-something woman who has an affair with a 30-something man, who happens to be sleeping with her daughter. Were you trying to be shocking or, perhaps, romantic?

Some of both, probably. A while ago, I was at a restaurant with my mother, and she fancied the waiter's hands. She said to me, I worry that I will never be touched again, except by the undertaker. I kept thinking about that, how, as you get older, age and time become more and more interesting. The idea for The Mother involves sex of a scandalous nature, and I realized that would be a good starting point. But it was the undressing of her dignity that moved me.

Most of your work has used sex as a point of departure. In the film Intimacy, which was based on two of your short stories, a couple meet weekly for anonymous sex; in your novel, The Body, a man trades his aging vessel for that of an Adonis; and so on.

I'm very excited by people liking each other, really falling for each other. Sex is a metaphor for me: it's a good way of meeting other people. Sex can speed up any relationship. In my work, the characters have reached the point when they hopefully meet the wrong person. It changes your life when you meet someone completely wrong.

It's rare to find sex in the movies actually sexy. Do you find it compelling?

When I was a young man, there was no sex in movies. You had to see Last Tango in Paris to see sex, and it was thrilling and confusing and psychological. Now, of course, there's too much sex. What I'm interested in is minds. With sex, you are vulnerable and crazed and disrupted. That is interesting, and you can't get that in porno films. And it's always wonderful to see people kissing. A kiss remains intimate in the movies.

In My Beautiful Laundrette, you crossed all sorts of boundaries: it was an interracial, interclass gay love story.

When I wrote that, I felt very desperate, and some of that lingers in me. It was not my intention to be noble, but I did want, early on, to write about race and class. Growing up, I was lonely and isolated. I thought writing would stop me from going mad.

Did you expect My Beautiful Laundrette to be a hit?

A love story between a gay Pakistani and a skinhead? In those days, you didn't see men kissing on screen. Now you can't get away from it. But, actually, I did have a sense about the movie's potential. On the way to Edinburgh for the first public screening of Laundrette, I turned to Daniel Day-Lewis, who played the skinhead, and said, Our lives are about to change. And they did: we became popular. And that mended a lot of wounds.

Have you ever considered moving to Los Angeles?

I went to meetings at the studios in L.A., and I realized that London is my city. It was self-interest that kept me here. I'm smart enough to see where my material is. Can you imagine Ingmar Bergman in Hollywood? It would have been a disaster.

But Hollywood would love you -- you have a great sense of plot.

I like having the idea. The initial idea is like falling in love - the beginning of any relationship is thrilling. Unfortunately, that's the best part. When you enter into an actual relationship, the mood changes. That's why I'll keep an idea for a long time before I begin writing. The Mother started as an idea. It took two years to turn that idea into a story. [Pause.] I wrote a short story yesterday.

What was it about?

A woman and a baby are running across a field, and they are eaten by dogs. They don't survive. [Laughs.] My therapist said, You must be feeling very hungry.

Were you pleased with the story?

It doesn't matter if I like it. You just put them out there. It's like dreaming a dream, and then the audience gets to dream, too.

The New York Times



Madonna actua em Portugal a 12 de Setembro
A empresa de promoção de espectáculos Tournée confirmou, na terça-feira, o concerto da cantora norte-americana Madonna em Portugal, no dia 12 de Setembro. Esta será a primeira vez Madonna actuará em Portugal.
De acordo com a edição desta quarta-feira do DN, o concerto lisboeta, que terá lugar no Pavilhão Atlântico, assinalará o final da Re-Invention Tour, que passará apenas por um número restrito de cidades dos EUA, Canadá, Reino Unido, França, Holanda e Portugal.
A digressão teve início na passada segunda-feira, em Los Angeles. Acompanhada em palco por 12 bailarinos, cinco músicos e duas cantoras, Madonna tem preparado, segundo o DN, para esta tournée, um alinhamento ao género de best of, com pelo menos uma música de cada um dos álbuns da cantora – com natural destaque para «American Life» -, com a surpresa a residir numa interpretação muito própria da música «Imagine», de John Lennon.
O espectáculo obriga ainda Madonna a cinco mudanças de roupa.
[I particularly like this last piece of news :-)]







El libro que nunca debió escribirse




Euphoria led to the Holocaust
Did the Holocaust began as the Nazis swept across Russia rather than as a response to their defeat at Moscow in The Origins of the Final Solution?

Welcome to Planet Pixar
How the pixel-packing upstart became an animation superpower and left Disney in the dust.
The On-line Orgasmic Simulation.


You've always wondered how the other sex experiences an orgasm... Do you want to see the difference? Then try this Orgasmic Simulation.

27 maio 2004

For the record, I didn't go see any movie directed by this guy, I didn't read any book he's supposed to have penned, but I am not American so I don't really need another already-filthy-rich American to tell me Bush is the culprit (for everything).
I know about the "standing ovation that, observers estimated, lasted somewhere between 12 and 15 minutes, a Cannes record, and possibly unmatched since Stalin's audiences used to continue clapping for mortal fear of being the first person to stop." - I'm an informed person meselfa, but really, "there is nothing the French love more than an American criticising America."

NOW,
Inside a well-manned salon, Moore was sporting a baseball cap with the legend 'Made in Canada', a blue hooded tracksuit top, khaki shorts and sandals. Crouched over a circular conference table, he looked like a lumpen tourist at a Vegas blackjack game, uncertain, ill at ease.
'You cool with them being here?' he asked me conspiratorially, though quite brazenly, in front of the Australian and Japanese journalists.
When I told him that it wasn't what was advertised on the brochure, he said: 'Yeah, I don't know what to do here. They've got me so jammed. No offence to you, the Japanese,' he gestured to the Japanese woman, 'but you both deserve your own time,' now gesturing to the Australian woman and myself. Either he doesn't sell too well in Japan or there was a hint of racism in that distinction, but Moore was too caught up in his own drama to notice. 'This is bullshit, you know. Don't they understand the difference between the Observer and a Portuguese magazine, no offence to the Portuguese, but don't they know? I'm just asking, man.'
From being the architect of this farrago, Moore turned himself into the victim, betrayed by the nameless, omnipotent 'they'. He continued in the same vein, currying my favour with his appreciation of the Observer until, to her great credit, the Japanese woman asked if we could begin the interview. At which point Moore burst out laughing, to his credit at himself.


ON THE OTHER HAND, the f***** knows there are people called the Portuguese!!! Xtordinário!!! From Portugal, I'd presume...

Read more on The Guardian/Observer

26 maio 2004

Will wonders never cease...
The Golden Trailer Awards:
The Academy Awards for the short-attention-spanned?
(Already on the 5th annual show, mind you)

Trailers in 17 categories ranging from "Best Action" to "Best Romance" to "Trashiest" to "Most Original" will compete for prizes in an irreverent ceremony that recognizes a familiar, yet obscure, corner of Hollywood: movie previews. Trailers for "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and the Sean Penn vehicle "21 Grams" will be among those competing for the coveted Best of Show.

We live in a golden age of trailers where sophisticated artists and editors conjure exciting, beautiful previews for even the worst movies. Recall, for instance, the majestic trailer for the drab, interminable "Pearl Harbor."
It wasn't always that way. "The first credited movie trailer was from 1912, 'The Adventures of Kathlyn,' " says Ms. Brady. The crude trailer teased audiences with text title-cards. It was successful enough that four years later, Paramount began producing trailers for most of its major releases.

In the 1920s, a group of ad men formed a company called the National Screen Service to make movie trailers for the studios. For half a century, the major studios used the NSS to produce nearly every trailer made. It was a classic monopoly. "This accounts in large part for why it took the trailer industry so long to evolve," Ms. Brady explains.

As the old studio system came crashing down in the '70s, the NSS also faltered. Almost overnight the previews were being produced by independent, boutique trailer houses, all competing with one another to advance the art--and for business.

Today that business is small, but not trivial--the average cost for a trailer is $300,000. A big-budget trailer can run as much as $600,000. "Theatrical trailers alone are probably a $90 million-a-year industry," Ms. Brady says.

The dozen or so houses that make movie trailers are diverse, ranging from a shop such as Craig Murray's CM Productions (which produces big-budget trailers for movies like "Lilo & Stitch"), with over 100 people on staff, to Dan Gross's Grossmyth Co., which consists of himself, his wife and a handful of free-lancers, and caters to smaller, more adult movies (such as "Love Liza").

There is an art to cutting trailers. Typically the studio sends the editor a rough cut of the movie several months before the release date. "I watch the movie and break it down by scene," says Mr. Gross, who started his Hollywood career as a carpenter for legendary B-movie director Roger Corman, toiling on sets with future luminaries like James Cameron. "Then I write all the interesting dialogue down and come up with a script--which is either going to be narration or graphics."
The question of narration is a tricky one, thanks to Don LaFontaine, who is lovingly referred to in trailer circles as the "Voice of God." You've heard him. A veteran of 40 years and more than 4,000 trailers, his rumbling basso has enticed millions with dramatic intonations like "In a world where . . ."

So ubiquitous was Mr. LaFontaine in the '80s and '90s that today, many trailer makers try to avoid layered-on narration in order to make their product stand out. "There's less and less voiceover being used because people are tending not to respond to that hard sell," says Mr. Gross.

Mike Greenfield, whose company The Ant Farm cut the trailers for "The Lord of the Rings," came to the business after being a driver for Andrew Kuehn's Kaleidoscope Films, which helped break up the NSS monopoly in the 1970s. Mr. Greenfield is clear-eyed about the trailer-maker's responsibility: "What we do is not for the sake of the art, it's for the sake of commerce." Still, they take pride in crafting what are essentially big-budget shorts.

What makes a good trailer is a matter of taste, but among trailer experts some common themes emerge. Asked about their favorite trailers, most agree on a short list of "The Shining," "Rosemary's Baby," "Raging Bull" and "Alien." Each of those movies, of course, is a classic.

The trick is selling bad movies. "Ninety percent of all movies stink," one editor says with a laugh. "I get very annoyed with some of the expectations studios have for them. It's like, 'Did you see the same movie I saw?'" (Think, for instance, of "Mission: Impossible 2.")
"My job is to make a great and watchable trailer out of bad movies," says another editor. But this isn't a state secret. The Golden Trailers even have a separate category for such creations--the Golden Fleece Award. Last year's winner was the highly appealing trailer for the awful bikini-surfing extravaganza "Blue Crush." This year "Butterfly Effect," "Highwayman," "Leo," "Northfolk" and "Spun" have been nominated. But if any of them beats "Dumb & Dumberer," it will be considered a major upset.

To paper over the limitations of the product, editors often up the volume and intensity. "I'd like to see quieter trailers and more good movies," says indie director Miguel Arteta, who was a judge at last year's Golden Trailer Awards. "But I don't think trailers can be blamed for that."





The "Modern" Japanese Woman

Japanese culture, although often imagined in terms of harmony and tranquillity, is frequently marked by tension and anxiety. The Taisho era (1912-26) has been conceived as a progressive period in which the jazz age merged with democratic politics to produce what is often termed "Taisho liberalism." Yet Taisho ... was a time of dramatic transformation and transition as the values of the native past and those of the seemingly foreign future frequently confronted each other in stark contrast. These tensions ... came to fruition with the ultranationalist ideology supporting Japan's wars from 1931 to 1945.

With the growth of an urban, industrial, and increasingly international society, where values were instantly and endlessly discussed in the mass media, Japanese ruminated on the nature of national, social, and cultural identity. An essential question resided in all spheres: How could one be both Japanese and modern, if modernity is defined as Western? Were modernity and Japaneseness antithetical? Or could individuals and society synthesize some new middle ground? If so, how? Might modernity have parallels in Japanese tradition, or, more precisely, in those practices actively being constructed as "tradition"? Stated conversely, did the Japanese past contain the seeds -- the antecedents -- of modernity? ...

In many ways, women were at the very core of the social and cultural tension in interwar Japan. One historian has recently written of the era, "Women could not enter public space without arousing anxiety about their presence." There was no questioning the fact that men had to work in the new economy and wear the clothes appropriate for factory or office. Women's participation in the project of modernization, however, was a far thornier matter. In a favorite formulation ... , the nation's goal was the adaptation of Western technology to preserve Japanese spirit. For the average urban male, modernization was mandatory. But for females -- emblems of that native essence -- Westernization was inherently problematic. In the dispute over the fate of Japanese culture in the modern age, women's bodies and lives thus constituted "contested spaces."

This contest was often played out between two antithetical images of women. On one hand, the modern girl (modan gaaru or moga for short) -- sporting pumps, short dress, bobbed hair, and conspicuous in such modern spaces as cafés and urban streets -- represented, at the least, an enchantment with the material surface of Western modernity. She also held the promise or threat of cultural and sexual liberation, and the possibility of militant social action. On the other hand, the traditional woman -- championed in official ideology as "good wife, wise mother" ... , and belonging to the space of the home -- stood guard over conventional values sanctioned by Confucian and Victorian morality alike. These poles in the debate represent politico-cultural ideologies, aesthetic choices, and even marketing strategies.

Between these compelling opposites of radical modernity and reactionary tradition is a rich and passionate middle ground, where the styles and values of the moga and the good wife, wise mother mingle. This culturally composite woman was largely the product of a sophisticated capitalistic society, where ideology was not simply expressed through visual style, but could be wholly transformed into style as fashion, all the better to market it to followers who were also consumers. ... Not surprisingly, there were both formal efforts to deflect the potentially subversive qualities of the moga by making her more like traditional women, and spontaneous attempts to find formal commonalities. Likewise, even as the Japanese-style woman was being crafted as an antidote or counterbalance to the moga, there were also attempts to infuse her with the vitality of the modern girl.

The Chronicle of Higher Education




KISS OF THE YOGINI
"Tantric sex" in its South Asian context
David Gordon White

Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Preface
Note on Transliteration
Abbreviations of Titles of Sanskrit Works
1. Tantra in Its South Asian Contexts
2. The Origins of the Yogini: Bird, Animal and Tree Goddesses and Demonesses in South Asia
3. The Blood of the Yogini: Vital and Sexual Fluids in South Asian Thought and Practice
4. The Mouth of the Yogini: Sexual Transactions in Tantric Ritual
5. The Power of the Yogini: Tantric Actors in South Asia
6. The Consort of the Yogini: South Asian Siddha Cults and Traditions
7. The Flight of the Yogini: Fueling the Flight of Tantric Witches
8. The Sublimation of the Yogini: The Subordination of the Feminine in High Hindu Tantra
9. Tantra New Millennium
Notes
Bibliography
Index

By reconstructing the medieval South Asian Kaula and Tantric traditions that involved sexual practices, David White hopes to restore the dignity and autonomy of the people who invented them and continue to practise them. This monumental scholarly work does precisely that.
Major review by the TLS

25 maio 2004

The Tempest
By William Shakespeare
Ultra-Condensed by Samuel Stoddard and David J. Parker


Prospero

Ariel, help me strand my enemies on my magic island.

(Prospero and Ariel use their magic to trap his enemies and exact revenge.)

Prospero

That's enough. Enemies, I forgive you all, and one of you can marry my daughter. I'm going home.



THE END
A Thomas Pynchon website

Portugal está de moda. Terra abre su portal con el festival Rock in Rio.
i am high maintence and beautiful just like salmon roe nigiri sushi
You are Salmon Roe Nigiri Sushi!
You are the type of pretty sushi seen most in sushi
bars. You are colorful and tasty.
From The New Yorker

The Punch Line, by Jim Holt
A few years ago, browsing in a dusty used-book store in Maine, I came across a curious volume. It was a fat, tattered paperback bearing the title “Rationale of the Dirty Joke.” Its author, I saw from the sixties-style futuristic cover, was G. Legman. Taking it off the shelf and riffling though its badly oxidized pages, I found that it contained what looked like thousands of erotic and scatological jokes, arranged under such themes as “coital postures,” “the big inch,” and “zoöphily.” These jokes were accompanied by Freudian-style commentary, along with random animadversions on aspects of sixties life, like Zip Codes, hippies, women who swear, and Marshall McLuhan. The most striking aspect of the volume was the author’s esoteric scholarship, exemplified by this sentence from the introduction:

Particular attention should be drawn to three rare works presenting Modern Greek, Arabic, and other Levantine erotic tales and foolstories: La Fleur Lascive Orientale (‘Oxford’ [Bruxelles: Gay & Mlle. Doucé], 1882), anonymously translated from the originals by J.-A. Decourdemanche, an even rarer English retranslation also existing (‘Athens’ [Sheffield: Leonard Smithers], 1893); Contes Licencieux de Constantinople et de l’Asie Mineure, collected before 1893 by Prof. Jean Nicolaidès, and published after his sudden and mysterious death as the opening volume of a series imitating Kryptádia: “Contributions au Folklore Erotique” (Kleinbronn & Paris: G. Ficker [!], 1906-09, 4 vols.); and especially two modern French chapbooks, one entitled Histoires Arabes (Paris: A. Quignon, 1927), ascribed to an admittedly pseudonymous ‘Khati Cheghlou,’ and its sequel or supplement, Les Meilleures Histoires Coloniales (about 1935).

Noting the fanciful names (G. Ficker, Khati Cheghlou) and the cranky, erudite tone, I began to wonder whether this wasn’t a wild Nabokovian put-on. No doubt “G. Legman” itself was a pseudonym; both the initial (G-spot?) and the surname (as opposed to tit-man?) were suspicious. But a few months later, in the late winter of 1999, I saw on the obituary page of the Times that Gershon Legman, a “self-taught scholar of dirty jokes,” had died, at the age of eighty-one, in the South of France, where he lived in voluntary exile from his native United States.

A certain facetiousness might seem to attach to the phrase “scholar of dirty jokes.” Is this really an area in which scholarship is appropriate or profitable? Well, jokes do fall into the category of folklore, along with myths, proverbs, legends, nursery rhymes, riddles, and superstitions. And a good proportion of the jokes in oral circulation involve sex or scatology. If the history of folklore aspires to be a history of the human mind, as some of its practitioners insist, somebody has to do the irksome job of collecting and recording obscene, disgusting, and blasphemous jokes, and ushering them into print.

Although we think of the joke as a cultural constant, it is a form of humor that comes and goes with the rise and fall of civilizations. What distinguishes the joke from the mere humorous tale is that it climaxes in a punch line—a little verbal explosion set off by a sudden switch in meaning. A joke, unlike a tale, wants to be brief. As Freud observed, it says what it has to say not just in few words but in too few words. The classic joke proceeds with arrowlike swiftness, resolving its matter in the form of a two-liner (“Hear about the bulimic stag party? The cake came out of the girl”) or even a one-liner (“I was so ugly when I was born, the doctor slapped my mother”). Often, it is signalled by a formulaic setup, which might itself, in turn, become the subject of a meta-joke (“A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar. Bartender says, ‘What is this, a joke?’”).

Joking is sometimes said to have been invented by Palamedes, the hero of Greek legend who outwitted Odysseus on the eve of the Trojan War. But since this proverbially ingenious fellow is also credited with inventing numbers, the alphabet, lighthouses, dice, and the practice of eating meals at regular intervals, the claim should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt. In the Athens of Demosthenes, there was a comedians’ club called the Group of Sixty, which met in the temple of Heracles to trade wisecracks, and it is said that Philip of Macedon paid handsomely to have their jokes written down; but the volume, if it ever existed, has been lost. On the Roman side, Plautus refers to jestbooks in a couple of his plays, while Suetonius tells us that Melissus, a favorite professor of the Emperor Augustus, compiled no fewer than a hundred and fifty joke anthologies. Despite this, only a single jokebook survives from ancient times: the Philogelos, or “Laughter-Lover,” a collection in Greek that was probably put together in the fourth or fifth century A.D. It contains two hundred and sixty-four items, several of which appear twice, in slightly different form. This suggests that the volume is not one jokebook but two combined, a hunch borne out by the fact that it is attributed to two authors, Hierocles and Philagrius, although joint authorship was rare at the time. Virtually nothing is known about either man; there is some scholarly speculation that the Hierocles in question was a fifth-century Alexandrian philosopher of that name who was once publicly flogged in Constantinople for paganism, which, as one classicist has observed, “might have given him a taste for mordant wit.”

The jokes in the Philogelos are spare and pointed. (“‘How shall I cut your hair?’ a talkative barber asked a wag. ‘In silence!’”) They take on a gallery of stock characters: the drunk, the miser, the braggart, the sex-starved woman, and the man with bad breath, as well as a classic type known as the scholastikos, variously translated as “pedant,” “absent-minded professor,” or “egghead.” (“An egghead was on a sea voyage when a big storm blew up, causing his slaves to weep in terror. ‘Don’t cry,’ he consoled them, ‘I have freed you all in my will.’”) Some of the jokes are now more cryptic than funny, perhaps because of lost undertones. A couple of jokes about lettuce, for example, might have struck a Roman audience as hilarious, given their belief that lettuce leaves, variously, promoted or impeded sexual function. But others, like No. 263 (lifted from Plutarch), would not be out of place at a Friars Club meeting: “‘I had your wife for nothing,’ someone sneered at a wag. ‘More fool you. I’m her husband, I have to have the ugly bitch. You don’t.’” The most haunting joke in the Philogelos, however, is No. 114, about a resident of Abdera, a Greek town whose citizens were renowned for their foolishness: “Seeing a eunuch, an Abderite asked him how many children he had. The eunuch replied that he had none, since he lacked the means of reproduction. Retorted the Abderite . . .” The rest is missing from the surviving text, which goes to show the strange potency of unheard punch lines.

The Philogelos was misplaced during the Dark Ages, and with it, seemingly, the art of the joke. Sophisticated humor was kept alive in the Arab world, where the more leisurely folktale was cultivated. During the centuries of Arab conquest, folktales from the Levant, many of them satirical or erotic, made their way through Spain and Italy. An Arab tale about a wife who is pleasured by her lover while her duped husband watches uncomprehendingly from a tree, for instance, is one of several that later show up in Boccaccio’s “Decameron.” Once in Europe, the folktale began to cleave in two. On the one hand, with the invention of printing and the rise of literacy, it grew longer, filling out into the chivalric romance and, ultimately, the novel. On the other hand, as the pace of urban life quickened, it got shorter in its oral form, shedding details and growing more formulaic as it condensed into the humorous anecdote. It was in the early Renaissance that the art of the joke was reborn, and the midwife was a man called Poggio.

Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459) was one of the most colorful and versatile of the Italian humanists. A secretary to eight Popes over a half century, he fathered fourteen children with a mistress before taking, at the age of fifty-five, a beautiful eighteen-year-old bride, who bore him another six children. His career coincided with a turbulent era in Church history. During the Great Schism, there were two and sometimes three competing Popes, and councils had to be called to restore unity. Poggio was a passionate bibliophile, and he profited from the disorder, travelling throughout Europe in search of lost works of ancient literature. From the dungeons of remote medieval monasteries he rescued precious manuscripts that had been rotting into oblivion, and laboriously deciphered and copied them. It is thanks to him that we have Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura and Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria, as well as many of the orations of Cicero, the architectural writings of Vitruvius, and Apicius’ works on cooking. Not only was Poggio the greatest book-hunter of his era; he also wielded one of its wickedest pens, satirizing the vices of the clergy and lambasting rival scholars in his Ciceronian Latin. “In his invective he displayed such vehemence that the whole world was afraid of him,” a contemporary observed. A skilled calligrapher, Poggio invented the prototype of the roman font. As chancellor of the Republic of Florence after his retirement from the Curia, he became that city’s biographer. Yet, for all these accomplishments, Poggio ended up being best known for a book of jokes.

The Liber Facetiarum, usually called simply the Facetiae, was the first volume of its kind to be published in Europe. In this collection of two hundred and seventy-three items—jests, bons mots, puns, and humorous anecdotes—the expansive Arab-Italian novella can be seen turning into the swift facezia. Some of the material had been gathered by Poggio during his travels through Europe; several of the jests have been traced to tales told by Provençal bards in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. But much of it came out of a sort of joke club in the Vatican called the Bugiale—the “fib factory.” Here, papal scribes would gather at the end of a tedious day spent drafting bulls, dispensations, and encyclicals to shoot the breeze and tell scandalous stories. Poggio published his Facetiae in 1451, when he was seventy years old. Soon it was being read throughout Europe. Although many of the jokes were about sex and poked fun at the morals of churchmen, not a word of condemnation was heard from the Vatican. Presumably, since the Facetiae were written in Latin, they could be savored by the clerical class without corrupting the morals of the masses. Later commentators, however, were not so broad-minded. In 1802, the Reverend William Shepherd, the author of the only biography of Poggio in English, expressed his shock that “an apostolic secretary who enjoyed the friendship and esteem of the pontiff, should have published a number of stories which outrage the laws of decency, and put modesty to the blush.”

Copies of the Facetiae are not easy to come by today. The only thing I could find in the library of New York University was a photocopied facsimile of an 1878 Paris edition that was the first unexpurgated translation of Poggio’s book into French (even then, the really bawdy bits were left in Latin). Reading through it, I was struck by the familiarity of the themes. There are fat jokes, drunk jokes, erection jokes, and fart jokes. There is a joke about a guy tricked into drinking urine which would not have been out of place in “American Pie.” In Facetia XLVII, a husband asks his wife why, if women and men get equal pleasure out of sex, it is the men who pursue the women rather than vice versa. “It’s obvious,” the wife says. “We women are always ready to make love, and you men aren’t. What good would it do us to solicit you when you’re not in the mood?” As jokes go, this is less than sidesplitting, and yet the precise reversal of it appears in the television show “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” when Cheryl, lying in bed with her husband, Larry, asks him why she’s the one who always has to initiate sex. It’s because we men are always ready to go, he replies—just tap me on the shoulder when you want it!

By modern standards, Poggio’s Facetiae are invariably too long, and he has a regrettable tendency to preëmpt the punch line with an explanation, as in Facetia XXVI: “The abbot of Septimo, an extremely corpulent man, was travelling toward Florence one evening. On the road he asked a peasant, ‘Do you think I’ll be able to make it through the city gate?’ He was talking about whether he would be able to make it to the city before the gates were closed. The peasant, jesting on the abbot’s fatness, said, ‘Why, if a cart of hay can make it through, you can, too!’” Nor are the Facetiae often very funny, at least when abstracted from the presumably chucklesome atmosphere of the Bugiale and set down in cold print. Nonetheless, by collecting and publishing them, Poggio set the precedent for a slew of later jestbooks, most of which shamelessly plundered his.

William Caxton, England’s first printer of books, padded his own translation of Aesop, in 1484, with a sampling of Poggio’s jokes, thus creating the earliest jestbook in English. By Shakespeare’s time, jestbooks had become extremely popular. “I had my good wit out of the ‘Hundred Merry Tales,’” Beatrice declares in “Much Ado About Nothing,” referring to a popular collection of the day. Many of the items in these Tudor and Elizabethan jestbooks are artlessly scatological; for example, “What is the most cleanliest leaf among all other leaves? It is holly leaves, for nobody will wipe his arse with them.” Many more are scarcely jokes at all. Instead of racing toward a punch line, they simply describe some prank, typically played by a wife on her husband, or illustrate a moral. (Preachers frequently inserted jests into sermons to keep their congregations from falling asleep.) Another nudge was needed to finish what Poggio had started: the making of the humorous tale into the joke. It came at the beginning of the seventeenth century, when—possibly because of a confusion with another classical writer called Hierocles—twenty-eight of the Philogelos jokes were appended to an edition of his “Commentary on the Golden Words of Pythagoras.” The jokes were soon circulating in print throughout Europe.

Thanks to the popularity of the rediscovered Philogelos jokes, English humor got shorter and punchier—that is to say, jokier. The change shows up in “Joe Miller’s Jests,” the most enduringly popular of the new generation of jokebooks that began to flourish in the Georgian era. The book was named after a famous London comic actor, although he was not responsible for its publication and had died the year before. First published in 1739, it went through so many editions that a “Joe Miller” came to mean a stale joke.

The original edition contained everything from jokes about the fractured logic of Irishmen and bad breath (“A Lady being asked how she liked a Gentleman’s Singing, who had a very stinking Breath, the Words are good, said she, but the Air is intolerable”) to bawdy plays on the word “cock” and ribaldry at the expense of loose women (“A Gentleman said of a young Wench who constantly ply’d about the Temple, that if she had as much Law in her Head, as she had in her Tail, she would be one of the ablest Counsel in England”). The bluer material, however, did not survive the subsequent wave of prudery in Anglo-Saxon culture. In the early nineteenth century, around the time that Thomas Bowdler removed the indelicate bits from Shakespeare, jokebooks also got cleaned up. Little of Poggio could have made it into the expurgated columns of humor magazines like Punch. But the dirty joke lived on in oral culture until it was restored to print, in all its repulsive splendor, by Gershon Legman, in the nineteen-sixties.

Legman, I noticed in my decrepit copy of “Rationale of the Dirty Joke,” had dedicated the volume “To the Manes”—shade—“of Poggio Bracciolini, Lover of Books, Folk-Humor, and Women.” Did he feel some deep affinity with the mischievous Italian humanist? People who knew of Legman—he seems to have left behind a cult following—tell the most outlandish stories: that he created the sixties slogan “Make Love, Not War”; that he had an affair with Anaïs Nin and enlisted her help to write dollar-a-page pornography to order for a rich Oklahoma “collector”; that he was behind the invention of the vibrating dildo; that he introduced origami to the West; that he left the United States to escape government persecution, taking refuge in a hill town on the French Riviera, where he lived a hand-to-mouth existence in a dilapidated castle that had once belonged to the Knights Templar.

On investigation, most of this turned out to be at least partly true. (We have to take Legman’s own word on the dildo and the slogan.) Legman was born in 1917 into a Jewish family in the coal country of Pennsylvania. He started collecting jokes early, clipping them from magazines and filing them by theme. After high school, he went to New York, where he educated himself in several languages; his university, he said, was the New York Public Library. At the age of twenty-three, he published his first book, “Oragenitalism,” under the pseudonym Roger-Maxe de la Glannège (an anagram of his given name, George Alexander Legman). It bore the subtitle “An Encyclopaedic Outline of Oral Technique in Genital Excitation, Part I, Cunnilinctus.” (Legman later explained that he lacked the courage to do the research for fellatio.) At the time, writing a treatise on oral sex was deemed as dangerous as political sedition. When his publisher’s office was raided, Legman briefly fled the state. On his return to New York, he worked as an erotic-book hunter for the sexologist Alfred Kinsey and inhabited the disreputable fringes of the city’s literary world, where smut-peddlers were sometimes indistinguishable from avant-garde publishers of Joyce, Lawrence, and Henry Miller.

Legman, however, was more of a moralist than a pornographer. In the late nineteen-forties, he wrote “Love and Death,” a fierce polemic, which argued that violence was the true pornography. Why, he asked, should children be exposed to relentless depictions of violence but shielded from those of lovemaking? “At least sex is normal,” he wrote. “Is murder?” Legman published the book himself, shipping copies to customers by post from his three-room cottage in the Bronx. Although “Love and Death” was a tirade against censorship, not a piece of erotica, the United States Postal Service authorities accused its author-publisher of sending “indecent, vulgar and obscene materials” through the mail, and cut off his deliveries. Disgusted, Legman left the country, with his wife, for France. They bought a small piece of land on the Riviera with an olive grove and an old building (which was indeed on the site of a Knights Templar castle) that became a repository for his vast collection of rare volumes and his crates of index cards covered with limericks, jokes, and what he called “pissoir epigraphs.”

Legman was a handsome man, with thick dark hair, blue eyes, and a strong nose; because of chronic poverty, he was typically dressed in threadbare clothes with a length of rope for a belt. Friends describe him as tetchy and difficult, but exhilarating to be around. Academics were put off by this autodidact from the murky demimonde, whose rambling prose was full of marginal jeremiads. Legman, in turn, was disdainful of folklorists with Ph.D.s, whom he called “Phudniks” and “cacademics.” Yet, by freely making available to them materials that academic journals were afraid to publish, he helped establish erotic folklore as a respectable subject for scholarly study.

Reading through Legman’s vast compilation of dirty jokes is a punishing experience, like being trapped in the men’s room of a Greyhound bus station of the nineteen-fifties. And the jokes in “Rationale of the Dirty Joke” are what Legman deemed the “clean” dirty jokes, arranged by such relatively innocent themes as “the nervous bride,” “phallic brag,” and “water wit.” In 1975 he published a second fat volume, “No Laughing Matter,” which contained the “dirty” dirty jokes—nearly a thousand pages of jokes about anal sadism, venereal disease, and worse. Legman’s avowed purpose was not to amuse the reader or furnish him with material for the locker room; he saw his work as a serious psychoanalytic study, one that would disclose the “infinite aggressions” behind jokes, mainly of men against women.

Legman spent three and a half decades collecting the jokes in these volumes—transcribing some sixty thousand variants on index cards, arranging them by type and motif, and tracing them from country to country and culture to culture, back to the time of Poggio and beyond. They were culled not only from written sources but also from the field: parlor, beer joint, bedroom, and public lavatory. (Many of the jokes are tagged by year and place of discovery: “Idaho 1932,” “Penna. 1949.”) The result was, by his own account, a vast “decorative showcase” of anxiety, repression, and neurosis, a magnum opus written “almost as often in tears as in laughter.” What drove him to this singular labor? According to one friend, he saw himself “as the keeper of the deepest subcellar in the burning Alexandria Library of the age; the subcellar of our secret desires, which no one else was raising so much as a finger to preserve.”

But Legman must have suspected that he also had a subconscious stake in his massive dirty-joke project. As a lay analyst, he believed that “jokes are essentially an unveiling of the joke-teller’s own neuroses and compulsions, and his guilts about these.” An enthusiasm for a certain species of joke can be revealing in ways the enthusiast might not fully appreciate. Take the dead-baby jokes that were popular in the United States a few decades ago (“What’s red and swings? A baby on a meat hook,” and so on). If you were one of the teen-agers who used to tell such jokes, it might conceivably have had something to do with murderous impulses arising from sibling rivalry. Even parents could see the humor; after all, babies are such a lot of bother. Although “sick jokes” of this sort lay outside Gershon Legman’s purview, he did make slightly puzzled reference to them, mentioning a “Dr. Dundes” as an authority.

Alan Dundes is a folklorist at the University of California at Berkeley, reverentially known there as the “Joke Professor.” Dundes is the academy’s most assiduous collector of jokes, the heir to Poggio and Legman. In the past five decades, he has produced several analytical collections of humor, notably “Cracking Jokes” (1987). He has also written or co-authored many articles in folklore journals on specific joke themes, with titles like “Here I Sit: A Study of American Latrinalia” (toilet jokes); “Arse Longa, Vita Brevis” (aids jokes); “First Prize: Fifteen Years” (dissident jokes from Eastern Europe—the title is the punch line to the setup “Did you hear about the joke contest in Bucharest?”); and even a study of jokes about Gary Hart, “Six Inches from the Presidency”—which, he told me with some amusement when I reached him by phone in Berkeley, has just been translated into Russian.

Dundes was fascinated with jokes as a boy growing up in the suburbs of New York City. His father, an attorney, would return home from the city each evening with a few jokes he had picked up while playing bridge on the commuter train out of Grand Central, and tell them over dinner. As a graduate student at Yale, Dundes took a course in poetry with Cleanth Brooks and became interested in Yeats’s use of Celtic mythology. This led him to the study of folklore, then an academically marginal field. In 1962, he obtained his Ph.D. from Indiana University, where, as a course requirement, candidates had to submit a hundred items of folklore that they had collected and analyzed. Dundes turned in a lot of jokes.

“Before then, it had never occurred to me to analyze the jokes I collected,” he told me. “But Vladimir Propp’s ‘Morphology of the Folktale’ had just come out in English”—he was referring to the 1928 work that identified thirty-one narrative elements which constitute the underlying structure of Russian fairy tales—“and I thought, Hey, this is a great methodology for jokes. So I was early to hop on the structuralist bandwagon.” But Dundes was also a Freudian, and remains one, “even in these days of Freud-bashing.” Freud himself was an industrious collector of Jewish jokes and considered them deeply significant. Although his collection was most likely destroyed in one of his periodic manuscript-burning sessions, some two hundred jokes, tales, puns, and riddles appear in his 1905 book “Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious.” Dundes was greatly influenced by this seminal work, which likens jokes to dreams. (Both involve the condensation and displacement of meanings, the representation of things by their opposites, the triumph of fallacy over logic—all to outwit the inner censor.) “Some people believe jokes and nursery rhymes and fairy tales are just harmless little stories that don’t mean anything,” Dundes told me. “But they’re not meaningless. And they’re not necessarily harmless, either.”

I could not resist posing the tiresome but still mysterious question: Where do jokes come from? “There are two classic theories about the origin of jokes,” Dundes said. “One is that they come from stockbrokers, who have time on their hands between sales and a communications network to send jokes around. The other theory is that they are made up by prisoners, who have a lot of spare time and a captive audience.” He added, “Lately, these two theories have merged.”

But the romantic ideal of individual creation seems inadequate when it comes to jokes. “The classic ones get told over and over again in updated dress,” Dundes noted. “A good example is one that I first heard about Richard Nixon. So Nixon’s taking a walk around the White House grounds one winter day when he comes across the words ‘I hate Tricky Dick’ written in urine in the snow. He tells the Secret Service to investigate. A week later, they come back to him and say, ‘Well, Mr. President, we’ve analyzed the urine, and it turns out to be Secretary Kissinger’s. But we’ve also analyzed the handwriting, and it’s the First Lady’s.’” Dundes heard the same joke during the Clinton years, with Kissinger and Pat Nixon replaced by Al Gore and Hillary, or even Chelsea. Indeed, versions of it go back to the Ozark mountain culture of the eighteen-nineties. “People on the Internet today have no idea that the jokes they’re trading are hundreds of years old,” he said.

Folklorists are fond of the idea that jokes don’t get invented; they evolve. As Legman put it, “Nobody ever tells jokes for the first time.” Consider the following joke, current in mid-twentieth-century America, about an impecunious couple who marry for love. Since there is nothing for breakfast in the morning, the husband instead has sex with his wife on the kitchen table before going off to work and also when he returns home for lunch. Coming back famished in the evening, the husband finds his wife sitting in the kitchen with her panties down and her feet up on the oven door. “Just warming up your supper, darling,” she says. This jest can be traced back to a late-eighteenth-century Scottish rhyme titled “The Supper Is Na Ready,” and from there almost two centuries earlier to a 1618 French collection of libertine poetry (“Mais le souper n’est pas encore cuit”), and ultimately to the Philogelos: “Said a young man to his randy wife, ‘Wife, what shall we do, eat or make love?’‘Whichever you like; there’s no bread.’” This may be the longest joke lineage ever established, reaching back some fifteen centuries. It is the labor of the great joke collectors—a few brilliant, polymathic, and sometimes eccentric men—that has made us aware of such continuities in the nether regions of civilization. Some have piggybacked on the work of earlier collectors; others have added analyses or rhetorical flourishes. But Poggio remains the most important of them, the man who reintroduced the lost classical art of the joke to Western culture.

After Poggio’s death, the people of Florence entombed him with much pomp in the Church of Santa Croce. Donatello was commissioned to make a statue of him, which was installed in the façade of the Duomo. A century later, in 1569, some alterations were undertaken in the cathedral, and Poggio’s statue was removed from its original position and placed in a grouping of the Twelve Apostles. There the first modern joke collector can be found, timelessly keeping company with martyrs and evangelists.
Overnight posting (it ain't overnight here in California, though)

What kind of Nigiri sushi are you?



It turns out that:

i am shy and sweet just like shrimp nigiri sushi
You are Shrimp Nigiri Sushi!
You are shy and sweet. You are a great delicacy.

24 maio 2004

Hollywood Ending, 2002

Ellie (Téa Leoni): Our marriage wasn't going anywhere.
Val (Woody Allen): Where do you want it to go? Where do marriages go? After a while they just lay there. That's the thing about marriages.

Val: What the hell am I doing in Canada? Lori, they got moose up here. Moose. Are moose carnivorous?

Val: For me, the nicest thing about masturbation is afterward, the cuddling time.

Val: We had sex.
Ellie: Yes, we had sex. But we never talked.
Val: Sex is better than talk. Ask anybody in this bar. Talk is what you suffer through so you can get to sex.





Charles C. Ebbets
Lunch on a Skyscraper, 1932

Chema Madoz











22 maio 2004



Apenas te he dejado,
vas en mí, cristalina
o temblorosa,
o inquieta, herida por mí mismo
o colmada de amor, como cuando tus ojos
se cierran sobre el don de la vida
que sin cesar te entrego.

Amor mío,
nos hemos encontrado
sedientos y nos hemos
bebido toda el agua y la sangre,
nos encontramos
con hambre
y nos mordimos
como el fuego muerde,
dejándonos heridas.

Pero espérame,
guárdame tu dulzura.
Yo te daré también
una rosa.


21 maio 2004

A Feira do Livro de Lisboa começa hoje :-). É bom, mas os descontos são ridículos, ou por outra, à medida da algibeira pobre dos portugueses, mesmo porque os livros também não são tão caros como "lá fora". Enfim...
The Guardian on Pedro Almodóvar's "La mala educación"

"Pedro Almodóvar has done it again. His new movie is a dizzying and rapturous noir melodrama, a little like Hitchcock's Vertigo with layers of confusion and contradiction. Perhaps it's not as powerful as his most recent film, Talk to Her, nor as extravagantly emotional as All About My Mother, but it is absorbing and playful and sensuous as only this director can be"
PARABÉNS :-D
Há UM ANO que este blogue existe!!!

20 maio 2004

Slip inside the eye of your mind
Don't you know you might find
A better place to play
You said that you'd never been
But all the things that you've seen
Will slowly fade away

So I start a revolution from my bed
'Cos you said the brains I had went to my head
Step outside, summertime's in bloom
Stand up beside the fireplace
Take that look from off your face
You ain't ever gonna burn my heart out

And so Sally can wait, she knows it's too late as we're walking on by
Her soul slides away, but don't look back in anger I heard you say

Take me to the place where you go
Where nobody knows if it's night or day
But please don't put your life in the hands
Of a Rock n Roll band
Who'll throw it all away

I'm gonna start a revolution from my bed
'Cos you said the brains I had went to my head
Step outside 'cos summertime's in bloom
Stand up beside the fireplace
Take that look from off your face
'Cos you ain't ever gonna burn my heart out

So Sally can wait, she knows it's too late as she's walking on by
My soul slides away, but don't look back in anger I heard you say

So Sally can wait, she knows it's too late as we're walking on by
Her soul slides away, but don't look back in anger I heard you say

So Sally can wait
She knows it's too late as she’s walking on by
My soul slides away
But don't look back in anger
Don't look back in anger
I heard you say

At least not today
My Goodness (or the drawbacks of religion? pliz...)

Childless couple told to try sex

A German couple who went to a fertility clinic after eight years of marriage have found out why they are still childless - they weren't having sex.

The University Clinic of Lubek said they had never heard of a case like it after examining the couple who went to see them last month for fertility tests.

Doctors subjected them to a series of examinations and found they were both apparently fertile, and should have had no trouble conceiving.

A clinic spokesman said: "When we asked them how often they had had sex, they looked blank, and said: "What do you mean?".

"We are not talking retarded people here, but a couple who were brought up in a religious environment who were simply unaware, after eight years of marriage, of the physical requirements necessary to procreate."

The 30-year-old wife and her 36-year-old husband are now being given sex therapy lessons while the university clinic undertakes a study to try to find out if there are more couples with a similar lack of sex education.

[From Ananova)



Hollywood Ending hoje na 2: às 22h00 :-)




How happy is the blameless Vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd.

"Eloisa to Abelard", Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

19 maio 2004

LA ADAPTACIÓN DE ALATRISTE, A PUNTO DE COMENZAR
La adaptación cinematográfica de las aventuras del Capitán Alatriste va viento en popa, según ha explicado el autor de las novelas, Arturo Pérez-Reverte. El escritor asegura que el rodaje comenzará en septiembre y es muy posible que finalmente sea Viggo Mortensen quien encarne al protagonista de la saga, ya que "está encantado con la película".

Según explicó Pérez-Reverte durante su visita a la Fundación Antonio Gala, el intérprete de Aragorn en la trilogía de El Señor de los Anillos ha sido "contactado y posiblemente haga el filme, pero hasta que no firme un contrato no puede decirse que estará con seguridad".

La versión cinematográfica del capitán Alatriste, dirigida por Agustín Díaz Yanes, será, en palabras de Pérez-Reverte, una "película carísima, que se rodará en España y se proyectará en EEUU y en todas partes en español y por eso hay que quitarse el sombrero, porque es una chulería que está muy bien".

El académico y periodista se negó a que la cinta se rodara en inglés y a que la "hicieran los gringos porque Alatriste es español,
en lo bueno y lo malo, y un norteamericano no lo entendería" si bien se trata de un "guión muy español, cruel y oscuro a la vez, con mucha acción".

Residente en países de Sudamérica entre los 2 y los 11 años, Viggo Mortensen habla español con fluidez. Desde que debutó en Único testigo en 1985, el actor ha trabajado en grandes éxitos como Marea Roja o la ya citada trilogía de El Señor de los Anillos, y ya ha realizado una película en español: La pistola de mi hermano, de Ray Loriga.
Photigami: Origami and Photoshop :-D





[thanx to Marc]
Nuestros Jefes


Quando em 2001 o Eurostat anunciou que dentro de 50 anos a população de Espanha estaria reduzida a metade, a primeira pergunta que ocorria a um português atento era: "Caramba, e quem vai dirigir as nossas empresas nessa altura?" Não era xenofobia -era objectividade. Porque o nosso universo empresarial era há dois anos (e continua hoje a ser) um palco privilegiado para os espanhóis se testarem para lugares de maior responsabilidade no país vizinho.
Para os portugueses que pensam gerir-se a si mesmos, o medo é cíclico: "Na próxima semana vem cá o espanhol..." Para os que reportam directamente a um director-geral castelhano, o pânico é permanente: "Fala baixo, que o espanhol ainda te ouve..." Os yuppies são, por isso, os primeiros agentes avançados do intercâmbio cultural entre os dois países ibéricos. E compreender a verdadeira essência das relações entre Portugal e Espanha jamais poderia fazer-se sem viajar até ao seio das empresas miltinacionais.
Reflexões de Um Espanhol em Portugal (edição Dom Quixote, com prefácio de José António Saraiva) é um livro estruturalmente simples, não especialmente bem escrito, mas vem preencher esse vácuo há muito existente no mercado livreiro nacional. "Simples e não especialmente bem escrito", aliás, é outra das suas virtudes: fala sobre gente comum, não literata, com a linguagem de gente comum.
Chegado a Portugal no Verão do ano 2000 para ocupar um cargo de director-geral da Procter & Gamble em Lisboa, Federico J. González decidiu repetir aquilo que já fizera aquando da sua passagem pela Suécia - sobre a qual escreveu Cómo Hacerse el Sueco en los Negocios con Éxito - anotando, reflectindo e traçando matrizes entre os pequenos episódios ocorridos no quotidiano entre portugueses e espanhóis a trabalhar em Portugal.
Não é um livro sobre "como fazer um milhão": é uma viagem à natureza humana e à diversidade cultural através da qual aquela consegue revelar-se, apesar de um milénio de vizinhança entre os dois países.

[Grande Reportagem, 15 de Maio de 2004]

Kurt Vonnegut's Web Page



Cold Turkey



Many years ago, I was so innocent I still considered it possible that we could become the humane and reasonable America so many members of my generation used to dream of. We dreamed of such an America during the Great Depression, when there were no jobs. And then we fought and often died for that dream during the Second World War, when there was no peace.

But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America’s becoming humane and reasonable. Because power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas.

-------------------------

When you get to my age, if you get to my age, which is 81, and if you have reproduced, you will find yourself asking your own children, who are themselves middle-aged, what life is all about. I have seven kids, four of them adopted.

Many of you reading this are probably the same age as my grandchildren. They, like you, are being royally shafted and lied to by our Baby Boomer corporations and government.

I put my big question about life to my biological son Mark. Mark is a pediatrician, and author of a memoir, The Eden Express. It is about his crackup, straightjacket and padded cell stuff, from which he recovered sufficiently to graduate from Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Vonnegut said this to his doddering old dad: “Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” So I pass that on to you. Write it down, and put it in your computer, so you can forget it.

I have to say that’s a pretty good sound bite, almost as good as, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” A lot of people think Jesus said that, because it is so much the sort of thing Jesus liked to say. But it was actually said by Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, 500 years before there was that greatest and most humane of human beings, named Jesus Christ.

The Chinese also gave us, via Marco Polo, pasta and the formula for gunpowder. The Chinese were so dumb they only used gunpowder for fireworks. And everybody was so dumb back then that nobody in either hemisphere even knew that there was another one.

But back to people, like Confucius and Jesus and my son the doctor, Mark, who’ve said how we could behave more humanely, and maybe make the world a less painful place. One of my favorites is Eugene Debs, from Terre Haute in my native state of Indiana. Get a load of this:

Eugene Debs, who died back in 1926, when I was only 4, ran 5 times as the Socialist Party candidate for president, winning 900,000 votes, 6 percent of the popular vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a ballot. He had this to say while campaigning:

As long as there is a lower class, I am in it.
As long as there is a criminal element, I’m of it.
As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Doesn’t anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools or health insurance for all?

How about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. …

And so on.

Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney stuff.

For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.

“Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!

-------------------------

There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.

But, when you stop to think about it, only a nut case would want to be a human being, if he or she had a choice. Such treacherous, untrustworthy, lying and greedy animals we are!

I was born a human being in 1922 A.D. What does “A.D.” signify? That commemorates an inmate of this lunatic asylum we call Earth who was nailed to a wooden cross by a bunch of other inmates. With him still conscious, they hammered spikes through his wrists and insteps, and into the wood. Then they set the cross upright, so he dangled up there where even the shortest person in the crowd could see him writhing this way and that.

Can you imagine people doing such a thing to a person?

No problem. That’s entertainment. Ask the devout Roman Catholic Mel Gibson, who, as an act of piety, has just made a fortune with a movie about how Jesus was tortured. Never mind what Jesus said.

During the reign of King Henry the Eighth, founder of the Church of England, he had a counterfeiter boiled alive in public. Show biz again.

Mel Gibson’s next movie should be The Counterfeiter. Box office records will again be broken.

One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.

-------------------------

And what did the great British historian Edward Gibbon, 1737-1794 A.D., have to say about the human record so far? He said, “History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.”

The same can be said about this morning’s edition of the New York Times.

The French-Algerian writer Albert Camus, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, wrote, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”

So there’s another barrel of laughs from literature. Camus died in an automobile accident. His dates? 1913-1960 A.D.

Listen. All great literature is about what a bummer it is to be a human being: Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, The Red Badge of Courage, the Iliad and the Odyssey, Crime and Punishment, the Bible and The Charge of the Light Brigade.

But I have to say this in defense of humankind: No matter in what era in history, including the Garden of Eden, everybody just got there. And, except for the Garden of Eden, there were already all these crazy games going on, which could make you act crazy, even if you weren’t crazy to begin with. Some of the games that were already going on when you got here were love and hate, liberalism and conservatism, automobiles and credit cards, golf and girls’ basketball.

Even crazier than golf, though, is modern American politics, where, thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative.

Actually, this same sort of thing happened to the people of England generations ago, and Sir William Gilbert, of the radical team of Gilbert and Sullivan, wrote these words for a song about it back then:

I often think it’s comical
How nature always does contrive
That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative.

Which one are you in this country? It’s practically a law of life that you have to be one or the other? If you aren’t one or the other, you might as well be a doughnut.

If some of you still haven’t decided, I’ll make it easy for you.

If you want to take my guns away from me, and you’re all for murdering fetuses, and love it when homosexuals marry each other, and want to give them kitchen appliances at their showers, and you’re for the poor, you’re a liberal.

If you are against those perversions and for the rich, you’re a conservative.

What could be simpler?

-------------------------

My government’s got a war on drugs. But get this: The two most widely abused and addictive and destructive of all substances are both perfectly legal.

One, of course, is ethyl alcohol. And President George W. Bush, no less, and by his own admission, was smashed or tiddley-poo or four sheets to the wind a good deal of the time from when he was 16 until he was 41. When he was 41, he says, Jesus appeared to him and made him knock off the sauce, stop gargling nose paint.

Other drunks have seen pink elephants.

And do you know why I think he is so pissed off at Arabs? They invented algebra. Arabs also invented the numbers we use, including a symbol for nothing, which nobody else had ever had before. You think Arabs are dumb? Try doing long division with Roman numerals.

We’re spreading democracy, are we? Same way European explorers brought Christianity to the Indians, what we now call “Native Americans.”

How ungrateful they were! How ungrateful are the people of Baghdad today.

So let’s give another big tax cut to the super-rich. That’ll teach bin Laden a lesson he won’t soon forget. Hail to the Chief.

That chief and his cohorts have as little to do with Democracy as the Europeans had to do with Christianity. We the people have absolutely no say in whatever they choose to do next. In case you haven’t noticed, they’ve already cleaned out the treasury, passing it out to pals in the war and national security rackets, leaving your generation and the next one with a perfectly enormous debt that you’ll be asked to repay.

Nobody let out a peep when they did that to you, because they have disconnected every burglar alarm in the Constitution: The House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the FBI, the free press (which, having been embedded, has forsaken the First Amendment) and We the People.

About my own history of foreign substance abuse. I’ve been a coward about heroin and cocaine and LSD and so on, afraid they might put me over the edge. I did smoke a joint of marijuana one time with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, just to be sociable. It didn’t seem to do anything to me, one way or the other, so I never did it again. And by the grace of God, or whatever, I am not an alcoholic, largely a matter of genes. I take a couple of drinks now and then, and will do it again tonight. But two is my limit. No problem.

I am of course notoriously hooked on cigarettes. I keep hoping the things will kill me. A fire at one end and a fool at the other.

But I’ll tell you one thing: I once had a high that not even crack cocaine could match. That was when I got my first driver’s license! Look out, world, here comes Kurt Vonnegut.

And my car back then, a Studebaker, as I recall, was powered, as are almost all means of transportation and other machinery today, and electric power plants and furnaces, by the most abused and addictive and destructive drugs of all: fossil fuels.

When you got here, even when I got here, the industrialized world was already hopelessly hooked on fossil fuels, and very soon now there won’t be any more of those. Cold turkey.

Can I tell you the truth? I mean this isn’t like TV news, is it?

Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey.

And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we’re hooked on.

18 maio 2004


Americans have started to notice prices at the pump with an unfamiliar '2' on the sign. Meanwhile, crude oil prices are hitting 13-year records close to $40 per barrel. As the International Energy Agency reports, there is "no relief in sight". All this should come as no surprise to readers of David Goodstein's Out of Gas - the only question is, have we left it too late to survive the inevitable shocks that are coming?

In this slim and subtly illustrated volume Dr. Goodstein, physics professor and vice provost at Caltech, explains in clear and simple terms why the fossil fuel age is coming to an end. A "massive, focused commitment" is needed to develop alternatives, and every year of delay in that commitment adds immeasurably to future human suffering.

In years, or at best a decade, we will reach the global "Hubbert's peak" for conventional oil, when production starts to decline even with rising demand. Such a peak was reached for US production in 1970. "Foreign oil" has sustained us until now, but Goodstein shows why it cannot for much longer.

A number of books on this subject have come out in recent years, some very pessimistic about the future (for example Heinberg's "The Party's Over", which warns of a greatly decreased world population). Goodstein offers some hope in alternatives, substantially based on the analysis of climate scientist and space solar power advocate Martin Hoffert.

Solar-based renewables and fusion are the only long-run energy solutions. According to Goodstein, natural gas and nuclear fission can help tide us over. All of these have problems, with the most scalable (solar power from space) still the least mature. Goodstein's longest chapter discusses thermodynamics and the physical laws that explain usable energy and its relation to entropy. As a physicist, I was pleased and surprised to learn something from Goodstein's clear explanation here.

Goodstein also discusses global climate problems with continued use of fossil energy, particularly an increasing dependence on coal. He concludes: "Civilization as we know it will come to an end sometime in this century unless we find a way to live without fossil fuels."

There were a few minor things to complain about. Transitions between the chapters are too abrupt, perhaps caused by the wide range of discussion in such a short book. A few technical things seemed wrong - for example, it is quite feasible to run transportation systems off grid electricity (electric trains, subways, etc. do this) - would it be so hard to do it for personal transport too?

But Goodstein's book is the clearest explanation yet of our need to get beyond fossil fuels. Is it enough to get the public, and our leaders, actually paying attention?

You can purchase the Out of Gas: All You Need to Know about the End of the Age of Oil from bn.com
God: An itinerary

"Theography": a map of the idea of God. He's quite clear that this is not a natural or very ancient belief. Almost all human societies have something we call religion, and there's a lot of evidence that humans are naturally superstitious, seeing agency and purpose in inanimate objects.

"Perpetrators of Genocide: An Explanatory Model of Extraordinary Human Evil", by James Waller:
The twentieth century, the "Age of Genocide", moved from the near-complete annihilation of the Hereros by the Germans in South-West Africa in 1904; to the brutal assault of the Armenian population by the Turks between 1915 and 1923; to the implementation of a Soviet man-made famine in the Ukraine in 1932-1933 that left several million peasants starving to death; to the Soviet deportation of entire nations; to the extermination of two-thirds of Europe’s Jews during the Holocaust of 1939-1945; to the massacre of approximately half a million people in Indonesia during 1965-1966; to mass killings and genocide in Bangladesh (1971), Burundi (1972), Cambodia (1975-1979), East Timor (1975-1979) and Rwanda (1994); and, finally, to the perpetual human crisis that continues to rage in the former Yugoslavia.

Insightful study featuring an Explanatory Model of Extraordinary Human Evil and namedropping works ranging from Theodor Adorno's The Authoritarian Personality to Reinhold Niebuhr's Moral Man and Immoral Society, from Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust to Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.

A review to counteract and dismiss James Waller's assertions, amongst other assertions including Susan Neiman and the Lisbon earthquake (cf. Nepenthe's post titled Evil), can be found in the Books & Culture section of Christianity Today.
In fact, since the Holocaust features so prominently in every study of evil - though we know it's been so very advertised, as opposed to the seventy years of terror and famine under Stalin's rule - here is a Bookstore on the Holocaust.


[To think that a friend found this by searching for the word 'extraordinary'... Thanx :-)]



13 maio 2004

A Colorful California Roadtrip

(Carmel Valley, Afton, Redwood National Park)




(Pasadena, Baker, San Francisco)





[obrigada ao Tito]
Following the "Brad Pitt in faldita" mood that swarms the country
Which Homeric hero are you?

I'm Hector...
Wish I was living in Lisbon to attend all these events.
A truly nice repertoire in a nice place



























Already seen it but I'd not mind seeing it again at all...
CATS (estreia dia 6 de Outubro)



Norah Jones
08 de Junho – 22H00 (abertura de portas às 21H00)



Still remember his trio with Paco de Lucía and Al di Meola...
John McLaughlin "Remember Shakti"
09 de Julho – 21H30 (abertura de portas às 20H00)



El maestro

Paco de Lucia
10 de Setembro – 21H30 (abertura de portas às 20H00)



Nice poster...
Joaquín Cortês
12 e 13 de Maio – 21H30 (abertura de portas às 20H30)

12 maio 2004



El Mar Cantábrico


, sítio histórico, excelente sítio na Web :-)



Martin Allen es un especialista en la Segunda Guerra Mundial que sorprendió a propios y extraños hace bien poco con su estudio Eduardo VIII, el rey traidor, donde desvelaba las simpatías pro-nazis del duque de Windsor antes y después de la abdicación a que se vio forzado en 1936 para poder casarse con la divorciada norteamericana Wallis Simpson.

El estudio que presentamos aborda otra cuestión enigmática de aquel conflicto bélico. ¿Por qué voló Rudolf Hess a Escocia solo y desarmado, saltando en paracaídas y siendo capturado por los británicos, para no regresar jamás a la libertad y morir en 1987 en la cárcel de Spandau, a los 94 años de edad, suicidado según la versión oficial?

El autor ha realizado una exhaustiva investigación sobre archivos secretos británicos y alemanes... y en menor medida españoles, pues pese a que puntos esenciales de la trama que describe tuvieron lugar en Madrid, los documentos necesarios no se desclasificarán hasta 2017. Afectan a las andanzas en nuestro país del embajador Samuel Hoare, implicado en la trama descrita.

Allen detalla las decenas de tentativas de paz que buscó Hitler con Inglaterra para poder cerrar ese frente y atacar Rusia, su verdadero objetivo. El Führer había cometido un grave error al fiarse de Von Ribbentrop, quien le había asegurado que el ataque a Polonia no conduciría a la guerra con los británicos. Lo cierto es que la humillación que la Blitzkrieg de septiembre de 1939 supuso para el complaciente Neville Chamberlain no le dejó otra salida que la declaración de guerra.

Hitler quiso remediar esa equivocación buscando la paz con los ingleses aprovechando las terribles dificultades a que éstos estaban sometidos por los bombardeos y por no poder defender el imprescindible petróleo de Oriente Medio de un hipotético ataque alemán. Las aproximaciones se produjeron a todos los niveles, aprovechando la existencia de una corriente inglesa que podría respaldar el fin de las hostilidades.

Todo cambió con la llegada de Churchill al poder. Éste tenía la firme resolución de no rendirse, pero sabía que Inglaterra no podía resistir sola. Sólo un ataque alemán a Rusia con el frente inglés abierto permitiría a los británicos mantenerse vivos a la espera de tiempos mejores: esto es, de la incorporación de Estados Unidos a la batalla.

Según Allen, y éste es el núcleo de su historia, Churchill encomendó a una sección especial de los servicios secretos británicos que preparasen un ardid para hacer creer a Hitler que destacados miembros de la clase política inglesa estaban dispuestos a destituir a Churchill, enemigo de la paz, para formar un Gobierno dispuesto a firmarla, y que encabezarían lord Halifax o el citado Hoare. Con esa estrategia se trataba de ganar tiempo hasta que el ataque alemán a Rusia resultase perentorio, y Hitler lo emprendiese con la tranquilidad de una pronta paz en el frente occidental.

El gancho para esa estratagema fue Rudolf Hess, un hombre cosmopolita y bien visto en algunos ambientes londinenses antes de la guerra, cuyo gran amigo, Albrecht Haushofer, había diseñado los puntos básicos de la geoestrategia nazi y también contaba con buenos contactos en la isla.

La narración de los detalles de esta operación es lo verdaderamente apasionante de este libro, y no vamos a desvelarlos ni habría lugar para ello, pues no son sencillos. El caso es que Hitler y Hess cayeron en la trampa, y tuvieron lugar largos y complicados procesos de aproximación, que tenían una culminación: el viaje de un representante alemán a Escocia el 10 de mayo de 1941.

El problema es que ese representante no iba a ser Hess. Al lugarteniente de Hitler le cegó, según Allen, el deseo de gloria de ser él quien firmase la paz, y sustituyó a quien los ingleses esperaban, Ernst Bohle. Hitler lo sabía, concluye Allen, y de común acuerdo decidieron que si algo iba mal, el Führer debía quedar libre de toda sospecha de participar en una operación que no le dejaría muy bien ante su partido. Por eso el Gobierno alemán alegó locura de Hess y procedió a decenas de detenciones de quienes habrían actuado con una hipotética deslealtad.

Del mismo modo, Churchill hubo de desbaratar la operación en cuanto supo quién era el misterioso hombre del paracaídas... ¡porque Hess tenía poderes efectivos para firmar la paz, y no podía dársele largas sin descubrir el engaño! Además, el primer ministro inglés no podía permitir que se supiese que había violado un principio esencial de cualquier negociación de paz con cualquier enemigo, como es la buena fe. Pero tampoco consentir que el pueblo británico pensase –aunque no fuese cierto– que estaba buscando la paz con Hitler. Con lo cual la idea de la "locura" le convenía tanto como al Führer.

Pocos días después del fiasco de Hess, las divisiones alemanas cruzaban la frontera rusa. Hitler cometía su segundo gran error, el que a la postre le costaría la debacle final. Y sellaba su segunda gran derrota estratégica ante Winston Churchill.

La tesis de Allen resulta creíble en todos sus planteamientos por su exhaustiva documentación y acopio de testimonios, porque la supuesta locura de Hess no tiene fundamento de ninguna clase, y sobre todo porque éste murió con casi cien años en una cárcel para él solo donde los soviéticos ejecutaron su venganza, sin que los aliados demostrasen mayor interés por acabar con una situación anacrónica... que a todos convenía.

Obra nada maniquea, apasionante por lo que aporta a la historia de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, y porque transparenta lo importante que resulta toda contribución personal, por anónima que parezca, cuando hay que abordar las decisiones trascendentales de una nación.