28 dezembro 2005

Naaaah, really?

Stalin's half-man, half-ape super-warriors

THE Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the creation of Planet of the Apes-style warriors by crossing humans with apes, according to recently uncovered secret documents.

Moscow archives show that in the mid-1920s Russia's top animal breeding scientist, Ilya Ivanov, was ordered to turn his skills from horse and animal work to the quest for a super-warrior.

According to Moscow newspapers, Stalin told the scientist: "I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat."

In 1926 the Politburo in Moscow passed the request to the Academy of Science with the order to build a "living war machine". The order came at a time when the Soviet Union was embarked on a crusade to turn the world upside down, with social engineering seen as a partner to industrialisation: new cities, architecture, and a new egalitarian society were being created.

The Soviet authorities were struggling to rebuild the Red Army after bruising wars.

And there was intense pressure to find a new labour force, particularly one that would not complain, with Russia about to embark on its first Five-Year Plan for fast-track industrialisation.

Mr Ivanov was highly regarded. He had established his reputation under the Tsar when in 1901 he established the world's first centre for the artificial insemination of racehorses.

Mr Ivanov's ideas were music to the ears of Soviet planners and in 1926 he was dispatched to West Africa with $200,000 to conduct his first experiment in impregnating chimpanzees.

Meanwhile, a centre for the experiments was set up in Georgia - Stalin's birthplace - for the apes to be raised.

Mr Ivanov's experiments, unsurprisingly from what we now know, were a total failure. He returned to the Soviet Union, only to see experiments in Georgia to use monkey sperm in human volunteers similarly fail.

A final attempt to persuade a Cuban heiress to lend some of her monkeys for further experiments reached American ears, with the New York Times reporting on the story, and she dropped the idea amid the uproar.

Mr Ivanov was now in disgrace. His were not the only experiments going wrong: the plan to collectivise farms ended in the 1932 famine in which at least four million died.

For his expensive failure, he was sentenced to five years' jail, which was later commuted to five years' exile in the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan in 1931. A year later he died, reportedly after falling sick while standing on a freezing railway platform.

21 dezembro 2005

Film Quiz from The Guardian


The Universe Goes Digital... in a new browser



The ManyOne free browser:




jeeeeeeeezzzzzz

Utilidad de la novela

Bien: por lo visto mis consideraciones de hará ya sus buenos quince años no han caído en saco roto. Mejor tarde que nunca. Veamos: cuando por aquel entonces expuse la opinión de que la novela, como género, estaba entrando en una fase de declive, se me tildó de aguafiestas y catastrofista. ¡Si hoy se lee más que nunca! Y es que, claro, si por una parte nada resulta tan difícil de entender como lo que no se quiere entender, por otra, el fenómeno al que me estaba refiriendo es realmente complejo. Una especie de movimiento de vaivén entre sujeto (novelista, lector) y sociedad, una sociedad que va dando la espalda de forma creciente a la creación literaria, encarada, como suele estar, a diversas pantallas, televisor, móvil, ordenador. ¿Cómo no han de resentirse las ganas no ya de leer sino incluso de escribir? Y si se tiene algo que contar, lo lógico será hacerlo en un lenguaje próximo al de las pantallas, no al de los libros. Un proceso largo, que no ha hecho más que empezar y que no significa, ni mucho menos, el fin de la lectura -bien que seguimos leyendo a los clásicos-, pero sí, probablemente, el de la novela como género vivo.

Más fortuna que yo tuvo Eduardo Mendoza, en lo que a la aceptación de sus opiniones se refiere, cuando unos años más tarde anunció el fin de la novela de sofá. ¡Menudo sobresalto! ¡Qué pena de sofá, con lo confortable que suele ser! Seguro que más de un diseñador se puso a diseñar algún artilugio sucedáneo más de diseño a la vez que el Mercado empezaba a buscar sustituto a este tipo de novela. Pues el lado bueno de la noticia era que la novela que no fuera de sofá no corría peligro alguno.

Sin embargo, el estado de prepánico, similar al de cuando empiezan a circular rumores en la Bolsa, no ha llegado al mundo del libro hasta fechas más recientes, no más allá de dos o tres francforts. Lo que ha permitido reajustes, cambio de manos de empresas, renovación de estrategias, obsequiar al consumidor con un DVD, clásicos a precios de saldo, elevar a la consideración de literatura lo que antes se tenía por subliteratura, etcétera, medidas paliativas y promocionales que en ocasiones se han saldado con notable éxito. Vamos, que se lee más que nunca. Y yo diría que se escribe más que nunca, ya que, de creer tanto a las encuestas como a los profesores, se cometen más faltas de ortografía, de sintaxis y de carácter semántico que nunca.

El caso es que, en la medida en que se van encontrando soluciones, ya podemos hablar de crisis sin miedo a que admitirlo sea peor. Sobre todo ahora que conocemos las grandes posibilidades de todo tipo que encierra una obra maestra por poco que se sepa explotarla debidamente. Sí: hablo de obras maestras, no de esos best sellers que atrapan al lector desde las primeras líneas y que, por otra parte se rentabilizan por sí solos. ¿Quién se acuerda de los novelistas atrapadores coetáneos de un Proust, de un Joyce? ¿Qué ha sido de sus novelas? Y es que las obras maestras, las que en vez de atrapar impulsan al lector, estimulan sus energías y hasta cierto punto transforman su relación con el mundo, con la vida, consigo mismo, tienen sin duda una mayor permanencia. Y la permanencia, la duración, es un factor esencial a la hora de planificar la explotación de lo que, para entendernos, denominaremos la progenie de la obra literaria. Esto es: convertir la obra en cuestión en un verdadero acontecimiento social que, más que a la lectura propiamente dicha, se aplique a desarrollar las improntas de toda índole que su contenido literario proyecte sobre el ámbito real que le es propio. De ahí que al conjunto de esas proyecciones hayamos convenido en denominarlo la progenie.

En la celebración del IV Centenario del Quijote tenemos el mejor ejemplo. La consolidación de la figura de Cervantes, junto con la de Shakespeare, como máxima expresión de la creación literaria de Occidente, se ha visto acompañada de una verdadera explosión de ofertas complementarias de todo género. Por una parte, las de homenajes propiamente dichos con los que se ha creado tal clima participativo que hasta quienes nunca han leído la obra se han visto animados a exaltar y propagar sus valores. Pero, por otra, se ha impulsado el turismo, los viajes, la hostelería, así como la promoción de un gran número de productos gastronómicos, de quesos, embutidos, vinos y postres contundentes, inspirados, creo yo, no tanto en la imagen de don Quijote cuanto en la de Sancho Panza. En otras palabras: el dinero que se ha movido en torno a la efeméride supera con mucho el generado por las diferentes reediciones de la inmortal novela. Y con ello se han iniciado en España un tipo de operaciones que en otros países más despiertos llevan ya tiempo desarrollándose con éxito. Piénsese en lo que representa para Dublín la celebración, cada 16 de junio, del Día de Molly Bloom, el entrañable personaje del Ulises que ha terminado por convertirse en símbolo popular de la novela. Su largo monólogo, con el que se cierra la obra de Joyce, no es de fácil lectura, como tampoco lo es la de los capítulos precedentes, pero a la gente le basta con saber que Molly es una de esas mujeres maduras que dan gozo, amiga de comer, beber y amar, una de esas personas cuya mera presencia provoca simpatía y ganas de vivir.

Y como el Dublín de Joyce, los paisajes próximos a Birmingham que inspiraron a Tolkien o el itinerario parisino de El Código da Vinci. Claro que, en una ciudad como París, novelas de carácter tan efímero pronto darán paso a otras de mayor solvencia: obras indiscutibles que garanticen la inversión realizada. ¿Quién se acordará, de aquí a unos años, de todos esos códigos? Tanto más cuanto que, como es sabido, en el caso de París la única dificultad es la de escoger. Así que no ha de pasar demasiado tiempo para que al visitante se le ofrezca indistintamente el París de Balzac o el de La educación sentimental o el de los salones de Proust, con extensión al paisaje de Normandía. Y quien dice París, dice el Misisipi de Faulkner o la Viena de Musil. Piénsese, por otra parte, que lo que hemos convenido en denominar progenie de una determinada novela no tiene por qué limitarse al turismo, a los viajes o a la gastronomía, sino que su validez se extiende -ya se ha extendido- al ámbito de la moda, la decoración, el diseño, la cosmética, el urbanismo y a tantos otros, lo que supone a su vez un ingente trabajo para asesores legales y expertos en patentes. Lo que hace unos años sucedió con pintores y artistas plásticos -su implantación social y económica, la difusión de su obra merced a la reproducción fotográfica- empieza a repetirse -a su modo, naturalmente- con relación a los novelistas. Y con la misma ventaja añadida de que, así como el conocimiento de la copia hace innecesario el contacto con el original, con semejantes operaciones de promoción de una novela se hace innecesaria su lectura, tanto más cuanto que somos conscientes de que hoy se lee más que nunca. Bastará, por tanto, con esgrimir un ejemplar a modo de contraseña y tener una idea de su contenido, así como estar seguros de que cuantos nos rodean se encuentran en la misma situación que nosotros.

Luis Goytisolo, El Pais

How do you picture the Life of Pi?

THE WRITING AND TELLING of stories is an inherently social act. You don't whisper a story to a glass of water, you whisper it, eventually, into someone's ear. Stories should be shared.

When Life of Pi, my story of a 16-year-old boy named Pi stranded at sea with a Bengal tiger, won the 2002 Man Booker Prize, I was stunned.

Now that The Times in Britain, The Age in Melbourne and my publishers, Canongate and Text, are launching a competition to illustrate a new edition of Life of Pi, I'm excited: it's another way of sharing the story.

Once you put the story out there, it's up to the reader what happens next. How it is interpreted is no longer your affair. I loved the cover picture by Andy Bridge for the first edition as soon as I saw it D, and I told all my foreign publishers that they should take a look at it.Illustrations can only enhance the reader's experience.

There is a wonderful tradition of complementing literature with dramatic images and I believe that images will complement the imagination of the reader of Life of Pi. They will give the book an added quality, not only the aesthetic of the story but also something visual.

For people reading the future edition there will not only be a platform of words for their imagination to jump from, but illustrations, too.

That's what is so exciting about the competition, to see what the people who enter will bring to it and how they will see the book.

The Age

20 dezembro 2005

Calvin & Hobbes



Calvin and Hobbes was a much-loved comic strip where Calvin (the kid) imagined that his toy tiger (Hobbes) was his best friend, and talked to him (although it is open to different interpretations). Then they would go on adventures, and discuss life, and that. It finished about ten years ago, with a happy ending. Both the characters remarked on how the world was full of possibilities, and sledged off into the snow. This is a doctored strip that was distributed around the Internet as though it was the genuine last episode (although this was not its author's intention).

In it, Calvin appears to have been prescribed Attention Deficit Disorder drugs (a contentious point in America, where many unruly or hyperactive children seem to be prescribed them as a matter of course. The commonly-perceived effect of ADD drugs is that they leech a child of any character or enthusiasm about the world). Then, at the end, as Calvin has stopped imagining, Hobbes in effect dies, and becomes just a stuffed toy again. Many people have read a broader meaning into it beyond that of it being purely a comment on ADD drugs: that the loss of our imaginations and belief in the endless possibilities of the world is an inevitable part of crossing from childhood into adulthood.

It is the saddest comic strip ever.
The top 10 weirdest USB drives ever




I want my MTV — and my TiVo, Palm Pilot, iPod, podcast and, of course, blog. So does America still have any interest in the big, lumbering, predictable media of Hollywood and Manhattan?

A moment of silence, please, for the imminent death of the old Mainstream Mass Culture.

Born sometime between the invention of baseball and the 1904 World's Fair, it began experiencing violent headaches and seizures shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, then lapsed into a coma during the launch of MySpace.com.

There will be no survivors, except on select reruns of "Lost." In lieu of flowers, friends may send checks to the "Bring Back Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw Emergency Fund."

There — that wasn't so painful, was it? After all, it's been common knowledge, or at least conventional wisdom, that traditional mainstream mass culture has been clinging to life for decades, like one of Anne Rice's mottled vampires. But 2005 is when a chronic condition may have turned terminal.

This was the year in which Hollywood, despite surging DVD and overseas sales, spent the summer brooding over its blockbuster shortage, and panic swept the newspaper biz as circulation at some large dailies went into free fall. Consumers, on the other hand, couldn't have been more blissed out as they sampled an explosion of information outlets and entertainment options: cutting-edge music they could download off websites into their iPods and take with them to the beach or the mall; customized newcasts delivered straight to their Palm Pilots; TiVo-edited, commercial-free programs plucked from a zillion cable channels.

The old mass culture suddenly looked pokey and quaint. By contrast, the emerging 21st century mass technoculture of podcasting, video blogging, the Google Zeitgeist list and "social networking software" that links people on the basis of shared interest in, say, Puerto Rican reggaeton bands seems democratic, consumer-driven, user-friendly, enlightened, opinionated, streamlined and sexy. Or so nearly everyone believes at the moment.

[Read on CalendarLive.com]

16 dezembro 2005

14 dezembro 2005

By golly, tis true

Contests really take the prize

Gore Vidal once observed that there are more prizes than writers in the United States.

Ours does seem to be an age of unrivaled excellence. Never before have there been so many "award-winning" authors, actors, journalists, doctors, plumbers, car mechanics, librarians and quilters -- the Mary Diamond Butts Award, for example, honors fiber artists under 40 residing in the Canadian province of Ontario.

The standard reference work "Awards, Honors & Prizes" (Gale) runs more than 2,000 pages. And as James F. English observes in his provocative new book, "The Economy of Prestige" (Harvard University Press), it is adding "new prizes at the rate of about one every six hours."

If this "prize frenzy," as English calls it, seems straight out of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," that's because it is. Remember the Cacus race where "everybody has won, and all must have prizes."

Like all journalists, I have prizes on my mind. December is when we prepare contest entries for our own work and compile the infamous "Top 10" lists -- of the best records, DVDs, films, books, gag gifts -- that fill our pages during the holiday seasons. And when we aren't seeking or bestowing honors, we write columns decrying this awards mania. It is a busy time.

I write not to bury awards and top 10 lists but to praise them. I do not dismiss English's claim that the proliferation of prizes and top 10 lists casts a Darwinian pall over the culture, dividing artists into two groups: winners and losers. He has a point when he describes awards as "one of the glaring symptoms of a consumer society run rampant, a society that can conceive of artistic achievement only in terms of stardom and success, and that is fast replacing a rich and varied cultural world with a shallow and homogenous McCulture based on the model of network TV."

However, the expansion of tributes is not simply a sign of softmindedness; it is also a necessary cry for help in a world of plenty.

In a note to me, the writer Annie Proulx said, "Lists, unless grocery shopping lists, are truly a reductio ad absurdum." Shopping lists are handy. Like all lists, they reflect a stab at organization and choice, providing a well-honed battle plan as we attack the giant warehouses called supermarkets.

Awards and top 10 lists serve the same function, helping us focus on what deserves our attention from an ever-expanding menu of choices.

The need for such guidance has never been greater. Technology has powered a fundamental shift during the last decade, dramatically decentralizing culture and empowering the consumer. Thanks to the iPod and online services such as the iTunes music store, the album has given way to the personal playlist, enabling us to buy only the music we want, and much more of it. TiVo means we no longer have to pick a particular television show at a given hour, but can watch what we want, when we want. The Internet has increased exponentially our sources of information so that we are no longer limited by the number of magazine and newspaper subscriptions we can afford.

When everything is available, anything is possible. Technology is allowing us to replace mass culture with personal preferences. Each of us is an impresario and ringmaster, designing lavish entertainments for an audience of one. Man, do I have good taste!

With choice comes responsibility. Which songs? Which programs? Which publications? It can make your head ache. In "The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less" (2004) Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, argues that our cornucopia culture is damaging our mental health.

Perhaps. But that ship has sailed -- the future will only bring more choice. In this context, prizes and top 10 lists are cheap forms of mass therapy, reducing the stress of selection. Consider them cultural Prozac.

Paradoxically, they also reflect how the traditional lines of authority are both collapsing and expanding. By making each of us a master of our own cultural universe, technology has diminished the power of the editors and record company and TV executives who once shaped a small menu of available choices. This autonomy has empowered certain cultural advisors -- from music, book and TV critics to Oprah Winfrey -- who act as cultural machetes clearing paths through the thickets of our abundant culture.

The future will bring more awards and top 10 lists. On the whole, this is for the good. They reflect a vibrant culture full of choice and liberated consumers seeking guidance, and they define their own tastes in a world of puzzling possibilities.

Triangle

Heaven:



Ghibli / Miyazaki on Ursula K. Le Guin's EARTHSEA

I've died and gone to heaven...

13 dezembro 2005

101

The weight of the world's tallest skyscraper -- specially built to withstand Taiwan's frequent earthquakes -- could be causing a rise in the number of tremors beneath it, a professor from the island wrote in a scientific journal.

Lin Cheng-horng, an earthquake specialist at the National Taiwan Normal University in the capital, Taipei, says the 1,679-foot Taipei 101 building -- named for the number of floors -- might rest on an earthquake fault line.

In the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters, Lin wrote that the pressure of the building's 700,000 tons on the ground may be leading to increased seismic activity.

The tremors "could be a direct result of the loading of the mega-structure," said an abstract of Lin's article, published on the American Geophysical Union's website.

However, Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau said Friday that the one year since the building's completion was too short a time in which to evaluate its effect on tremors.

Taipei 101, which looks like a giant steel-and-glass bamboo shoot, is equipped with a 733-ton ball suspended near the top that moves to counter the force of earthquakes or strong winds.

Earthquakes are frequent in Taiwan. Most cause no casualties or damage, but in September 1999 a magnitude 7.6 quake in central Taiwan killed more than 2,300 people.

Wired

Why didn't you tell me about this?



yes, you :-)

The Best

so far, but most likely very hard to beat:





jeez, wonders like these brighten one's day, or at least mine. I'm lucky...

12 dezembro 2005

The Personal World Map

How far could you go in 10 hours and with € 1000?
Or any other conditions?
IN 2001 John Edginton produced & directed the Syd Barrett documentary 'Crazy Diamond for the BBC's Omnibus series, the film is now available as the DVD 'The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story.

Interview at Roger Waters Online

Peter Whitehead's documentary Pink Floyd London 1966-67 offers a wealth of footage of the band in its earliest days, including performance footage of original lead singer Syd Barrett. In addition to interviews with a variety of celebrities about the band and the era, the footage also includes images of John Lennon and Yoko Oko taking in the scene.

09 dezembro 2005

For you:

Mas o que é isto?

Tigres, leões e outras espécies protegidas, como linces e lobos brancos, estavam a ser abatidos a tiro em Badajoz, muito perto da fronteira com Portugal.

Eram safaris ilegais para milionários, organizados por uma rede que está a ser desmantelada pela Guardia Civil. Numa operação que ainda não terminou. Feras africanas a 100 quilómetros da fronteira.

Nesta herdade da província de Badajoz, a Guardia Civil encontrou um leão e dois tigres, um deles morto a tiro. Compravam os animais em jardins zoológicos para mais tarde organizar caçadas ilegais, um negócio milionário. Por enquanto, há sete detidos.

Na aldeia vizinha, há tempo que os 700 habitantes ouviam rumores sobre actividades suspeitas, abates de lobos brancos e linces, duas das espécies mais protegidas da Península Ibérica. As cabeças eram oferecidas como troféus e os corpos queimados para não deixar rasto.

A vedação, electrificada e muito alta, chamou a atenção do Serviço de Protecção da Natureza. Dizem que por um lobo branco pagava-se 30 mil euros, cerca de seis mil contos.

O tráfico de fauna protegida está a aumentar em Espanha, só no ano passado foram recuperados mais de 1.800 animais ameaçados, a maior parte répteis.

Via SIC Online, onde há um filme para ver, mas não me atrevo,
e , sempre extraordinário!

05 dezembro 2005

Wishlist

Ahhhhhhhhhh,



desta é que não estavam à espera :-)
E com domínio .pt na bela página Web!

Bimby!

Wiring up the 'Victorian internet'

















(Gutta percha provided the key to good cable insulation)

The world's first global communications system for exchanging text messages was not the internet nor the mobile phone.

It was the great engineering project undertaken 150 years ago to put wires across the globe.

In an editorial on 20 April, 1857, the New York Herald commented: "The laying of the telegraph around the world is the great work of the age."

For the first time in history, the telegraph made rapid communication possible between Europe and America, and between Britain and her distant colonies such as Australia.

"It's worth trying to imagine how fantastic it would have been when that cable was finally completed and instead of taking 45 days for a message to get through from Britain to Australia, it took less than 24 hours," says Mary Godwin, director of the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum in Cornwall.

The story of how they put a "A Wire Around The World" and Porthcurno's central role is told in a BBC Radio 4 documentary.

Simple code

The idea of electrical communication seems to have begun as long ago as 1746, when about 200 monks at monastery in Paris arranged themselves in a line over a mile long, each holding ends of 25ft iron wires.

The abbot, also a scientist, discharged a Leiden jar (a primitive electrical battery) into the wire, giving all the monks a simultaneous electrical shock.

"This all sounds very silly, but is in fact extremely important because, firstly, they all said 'ow' which showed that you were sending a signal right along the line; and, secondly, they all said 'ow' at the same time, and that meant that you were sending the signal very quickly," explains Tom Standage, author of the Victorian Internet and technology editor at the Economist.

Given a more humane detection system, this could be a way of signalling over long distances.

With wars in Europe and colonies beyond, such a signalling system was urgently needed.

All sorts of electrical possibilities were proposed, some of them quite ridiculous. Two Englishmen, William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone came up with a system in which dials were made to point at different letters, but that involved five wires and would have been expensive to construct.

Much simpler was that of an American, Samuel Morse, whose system only required a single wire to send a code of dots and dashes.

At first, it was imagined that only a few highly skilled encoders would be able to use it but it soon became clear that many people could become proficient in Morse code.

A system of lines strung on telegraph poles began to spread in Europe and America.

Strange seaweed

The next problem was to cross the sea. Britain, as an island with an empire, led the way.

Any such cable had to be insulated and the first breakthrough came with the discovery that a rubber-like latex from a tree on the Malay peninsula could do the trick.

It was called gutta percha. The first attempt at a cross channel cable came in 1850. With thin wire and thick installation, it floated and had to be weighed down with lead pipe.

It never worked well as the effect of water on its electrical properties was not understood, and it is reputed that a French fishermen hooked out a section and took it home as a strange new form of seaweed.

The first transatlantic cable fared little better. Neither Cyrus W Field, the entrepreneur behind the project, nor his chief engineer, Edward Whitehouse, knew much about electricity.

The cable was too big for a single boat so two had to start in the middle of the Atlantic, join their cables and sail in opposite directions.

Amazingly, they succeeded in 1858, and this enabled Queen Victoria to send a telegraph message to President Buchanan.

However, the 98-word message took more than 19 hours to send and a misguided attempt to increase the speed by increasing the voltage resulted in failure of the line a week later.

Communications hub

In spite of claims that the whole thing had been a hoax, funding was found to try again and Brunel's mighty ship the Great Eastern was adapted to carry enough cable to span the Atlantic.

On the first attempt, the cable snapped after 1,300 miles but the second succeeded and the ship went on to retrieve the first, broken cable and complete that, too.

Such was the demand that the new transatlantic telegraph did £1,000 pounds of business in the first day.

Many of the early cables came ashore on the soft sandy beach of Porthcurno in Cornwall, near Lands End.

The Falmouth, Gibraltar and Malta Cable Company moved there when they realised that anchors in Falmouth might catch on cables.

That company eventually became Cable and Wireless. At its height, Porthcurno was the busiest telegraph station in the world, with 14 submarine lines coming ashore.

One of them took the telegraph on from the Mediterranean through the Red Sea to Aden, across the Arabian Sea and the Indian subcontinent and via Singapore and the jungles of Java towards Australia.

A young Englishman, Charles Todd, and his wife Alice, came to set up South Australia's first astronomical observatory in 1855, but soon realised that what the country most needed was a rapid communications link.

Poor returns

By 1870, a submarine cable was heading towards Australia. It seemed likely that it would come ashore at the northern port of Darwin from where it might connect around the coast to Queensland and New South Wales.

South Australia realised it would miss out, and Charles Todd was determined that this should not happen and put in a courageous bid to run an overland telegraph line right across the heart of the Australian continent, a distance of 2,700 miles, through territory which had hardly even been explored.

It was an undertaking more ambitious than spanning an ocean. Flocks of sheep had to be driven with the 400 workers to provide food.

They needed horses and bullock carts and, for the parched interior, camels. In the north, tropical rains left the teams flooded.

In the centre, it seemed that they would die of thirst. One critical section in the red heart of Australia involved finding a route through the McDonnell mountain range and then finding water on the other side.

The water was not only essential for the construction team. There had to be telegraph repeater stations every few hundred miles to boost the signal and the staff obviously had to have a supply of water.

Just as one mapping team was about to give up and resort to drinking brackish water, some aboriginals took pity on them.

"My great grandfather's brother saw these people drinking water down near the Heathertree Gap and felt sorry for them, because that's salty water down there, and he brought them up here to drink the good water," Betty Pierce, a descendent of those aboriginals, told the BBC.

There, they built their telegraph station, and named it after Charles Todd's wife. Today, Alice Springs has become a major town, though the Aboriginals lost their tribal lands. "Our 'mob' lost everything," says Betty Pierce.

Small world

Altogether, 40,000 telegraph poles were used in the Australian overland wire. Some were cut from trees. Where there were no trees, or where termites ate the wood, steel poles were imported.

On Thursday, August 22, 1872, the overland line was completed and the first messages could be sent across the continent; and within a few months, Australia was at last in direct contact with England via the submarine cable, too. The line remained in service to bring news of the Japanese attack on Darwin in 1942.

It could cost several pounds to send a message and it might take several hours for it to reach its destination on the other side of the globe, but the world would never be same again.

Governments could be in touch with their colonies. Traders could send cargoes based on demand and the latest prices. Newspapers could publish news that had just happened and was not many months old.

And individuals could, for the first time, exchange almost instant messages with their friends and family on different continents.

The information age began not in the late 20th Century but the mid-19th.

Twist endings

You scored 10 out of a possible 10
You've seen more twists than an Olympic gymnastics judge. But what you've just done wasn't a quiz at all. It was a cat. An alien cat. A half-robot alien cat. In a woman's body. Called Keyser Soze. And you can kill it by throwing water at it. And ... it's your own father.

Yep, The Guardian again

Dr Strangelove, c'est moi


Born in 1928, Stanley Kubrick was raised in the Bronx, the son of a respectable and successful GP, Dr Jacques Kubrick, and his wife, Gertrude. There was no manifest reason for young Stanley to regard himself an outsider; it was scarcely unusual to be a Jew in his neighbourhood, but he once told me - kidding, of course - "I'm not Jewish; I just had two Jewish parents." A loner from early on, irregular in attendance, and performance, at school, he didn't mix with the local gang and was, said one of them, "always a mystery". Unlike the no less mysterious (and secretive) artist Balthus, Stanley did not "escape" a defining identity by fabricating a non-Jewish lineage; he set out instead to transcend banal circumstance by making a name for himself as the highest possible form of invisible man: first photographer, then film director.

His only regular interplay with others, before he became a cinematic maestro, was as drummer in a high school jazz band. He also played a very good game of chess - the beauty of which lies in the elegant annihilation of a rival who is, in a way, your mirror image. By the time he was 17, he was already leading a double life, as high school student and as a professional photographer, selling pictures stamped: Stan Kubrick - Photo.

It was as if a pane of glass had always divided him from the common world. Once it was a lens, Kubrick could define himself by what he did rather than what he was: he became less man than bipod camera, somewhat like Andy Warhol, who wished he was a machine.

This new volume, Stanley Kubrick, Drama and Shadows: Photographs 1945-1950, reveals a command of camera angles which it is tempting to call "instinctive", but is more likely to have been planned as consciously as chess moves. The photographs show an appetite for the dark side: the derelict (bums and commuting no-hopers), the deprived (often black), the doomed (gamblers and wannabe showgirls) and the primitive. The only non-American dossier is of life in the Portuguese fishing village of Nazare. The camera suggests confident familiarity with local life, which the monoglot down-there-on-assignment Kubrick can never have had.

Unlike Walker Evans - whose agitprop series of depression photographs, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, came with an eloquent commentary by the journalist and critic James Agee - Kubrick's interest in the underside of life calls for no political scheme. Without an Agee, the viewer must supply his or her own commentary. Kubrick takes no responsibility for whether you shrug or act.

His aesthetic stance seems often to be "passive-aggressive". Prowling 1940s New York, the Bronx kid was a secret sniper: Steppenwolf as shutter-bug, skinning his victims without their feeling a thing. The street photographer is a hit man who shoots people silently and without leaving a wound, a soft, invisible assassin who draws no blood. The telescopic sight used by actual snipers points up the ambiguity of the term "shooting".

The street photographer employs systematic slyness in his armed voyeurism. He catches his victims off guard and often prints what would least flatter them if they knew about it. Anyone who has watched a movie star selecting the "right" shot from a sheet of contact prints knows that the frames that he or she crosses out, to embargo their publicity use, are likely to be the ones that are, in the photographer's view, the truest.

A studio photographer will often take shot after shot until the subject is too exhausted to keep up a veil of charm. Only then does his or her real face appear. This may account, in part, for Stanley's notorious method of asking actors to do a movie scene over and over again. Asked what was wrong with the previous take, he would say: "Nothing. It was fine. Would you do it again?"

Kubrick never got into fights, except in the sense of going regularly to boxing matches. The sequences of images of Walter Cartier and Rocky Graziano (who had three epic, notoriously savage middleweight championship bouts with Tony Zale) dwell with an almost erotic fascination on the gladiatorial nakedness of the fighters.

There is continuity here with the mature Kubrick's cinematic oeuvre, which harps on varieties of violence and death. His first short film was a boxing documentary; his first feature, Killer Kiss, had a boxer anti-hero. As the man behind the trigger/camera, Kubrick mastered his fear of death by being its shadowy accomplice. "Dr Strangelove, c'est moi" is the secret motto in his cracker.

Never an ambulance-chaser or a crime-scene specialist like the great Weegee (New York City's hotshot of the Yellow Press), young Kubrick was not content to catch life on the fly. Like a spy with his vocational duplicity, he sometimes concealed his cumbrous camera in a paper bag with a hole in it, in order to snap people - for instance, in a series taken in the subway - without even looking at them. Cop and robber, his camera arrests the fugitive moment and captures it by literally split-second timing.

If Kubrick often honoured the ethos of the on-the-spot observer, he also cheated; one of the earliest prints is of a newsvendor, in his kiosk, framed by April 1945 newspapers announcing the death of FDR. The very image of America's bereavement, the guy appears ineffably sad. It looks as "natural" as a picture-desk editor would require, but in fact the vendor was coached to adopt his sorry expression. What looks to have been caught on the fly is a set-up.

Kubrick might defend his fabricated image by maintaining that, as Michel Pic puts it: "Truth is stranger than fiction, but fiction is truer." Maybe; but suppose that the kiosk-owner had been observed over a longer period, as the punters are in the Aqueduct racetrack sequence. Might Kubrick not have found mordant, and truer, irony in the man's changes of expression, perhaps ending with a smile, as the day went on?

Today's cameras rarely fail to lie. The images, moving and still, to be seen in newspapers and on TV are increasingly procured by the photographer. The mere knowledge of his presence brings out the gunmen, the stone-throwers and the fascistic police. The rigging of reality has a market young Kubrick could never have dreamed of, but might have relished. All the world's a photo opportunity.

Stanley not only rigged set-ups; he also cropped his pics to make them more dramatic. His pleasure was the systematic defeat of commonplace expectations, whether it was in the ironic ending of The Killing or in the refusal to reprieve the audience, or the cowardly officer in charge of the firing squad, from witnessing the shooting of the three "crucified" soldiers in Paths of Glory. (He was, however, willing to change it to improve the picture's chances at the box office.) The disjunctive form of Full Metal Jacket challenged narrative unity and required audiences to perceive the link between the two halves of the film.

Provocation was his regular game: Dr Strangelove outraged the Pentagon (though it was unofficially recognised to be a near-documentary) and A Clockwork Orange gloated over the humiliation of the droogs' victims. When he dwells at length on suffering and humiliation (as also in Full Metal Jacket), it begins to smack of complicity. The old "joke" is of one photographer showing another a picture of the horrible deformities of a beggar in India who held out his fingerless hand for alms. "What did you give him?" "F2 at two hundredths of a second."

This handsomely produced cull is from the thousands of pictures young Kubrick shot, mostly when working for Look magazine. They are introduced, with the usual fanfares, by Rainer Crone, who sets the pretentious tone by using "seminal" twice in the first two pages. The omens are not improved by a top dressing of critical cant from one Hubertus von Amelunxen, who sounds like a character invented specifically for Kubrick by Terry Southern, and offers such insights as: "Kubrick's photographs construct the gaze in decay ... [his] photo essays excel by presenting continuously in the gaze into the space or by spatializing the gaze as it were, in contributing to them photographic vectors of imaginary or real viewpoint."

Yes, that's what it says. Does it help? A parade of pundits - including, of course, Susan Sontag and Siegfried Kracauer - is there to alert us to photography's "hermeneutic ambiguity". Their verbiage sustains a superfluous metaphysical apparatus. Qualities and intentions ("ethical", even) are attached to an essentially opportunistic medium "democratic" enough to encourage everyone who can afford a camera to think himself "creative". Like Molière's Monsieur Jourdain, who discovers that he has spoken prose all his life without knowing it, the snapper can be flattered to learn that he is more hermeneutic than he ever guessed.

This is not to deny that Gary Winogrand or Diane Arbus or Lee Friedlander (in his recent superb retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York) qualifies as an artist, but how much do theories of "redemption of the past" or analogies with Brechtian Gestus enhance our appreciation of photography? Be that as it may, Crone's academic vocabulary doesn't prevent him making illuminating points - for instance, that a still image can also tell a moving story. Take Kubrick's still of a young woman, back to camera, holding a lipstick with which she has written "I HATE LOVE" on a white fence. If captured on the wing, would it be more of a "true" photograph than if, as turns out to be the case, it was wilfully posed by young Stanley? In fact, it is the reduction of cinema to a single frame: an unmoving movie, which primes and frustrates the viewer's wish to know more, and so leads us to read the girl's despair into a moving narrative.

Kubrick's stills career ended when he broke into feature movies (largely funded, as Paul Mazursky records, by his insolent extraction of funds from his Californian uncle), but there is aesthetic continuity between his organisation of both still and moving images. It's made very clear in the long scene, in his masterpiece Barry Lyndon, where the two highwaymen lounge outside an inn while they quiz and are quizzed by the mounted Barry (Ryan O'Neal). The steady attention paid to them promises that they will be instrumental in his coming off his high horse.

Chris Marker's La Jetée is the only film I know to be composed entirely of stills (apart from one clip where a woman is waking from sleep), but the technique draws so much attention to itself that it seems more like a dare than an experiment. On the other hand, Andrzej Munk's The Passenger makes intriguing, unplanned use of stills. Because of the death of the director, stills and moving images of the story - about a concentration camp guard and a surviving victim on a post-war Baltic cruise - had to be cut together. The stills (of pre-planned but unshot scenes) were incorporated only to fill the lacunae caused by Munk's death. The effect is to enhance the ambiguity of the scenario, since we can never know how these frozen frames were to be amplified, or even in what exact order they were conceived. As a result, the audience has to stir its imagination in order to read meaning into cryptic images.

When I mentioned The Passenger to him, Stanley had never heard of it, but his movies, read in conjunction with this valuable volume, carry an implicit recognition of affinities between his early work in stills and the unhurried progression of his mature genius. What innovatory ambiguities and unnerving asymmetry might he have created, had he developed the - as Kracauer would say - Hegelian dialectic between the two usually distinct modes of photography, in both of which he was a master?

03 dezembro 2005

The 10 Best Books of 2005

KAFKA ON THE SHORE
By Haruki Murakami.
Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95.
This graceful and dreamily cerebral novel, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, tells two stories - that of a boy fleeing an Oedipal prophecy, and that of a witless old man who can talk to cats - and is the work of a powerfully confident writer.
Review
First Chapter
Featured Author

ON BEAUTY
By Zadie Smith.
Penguin Press, $25.95.
In her vibrant new book, a cultural-politics novel set in a place like Harvard, the author of ''White Teeth'' brings everything to the table: a crisp intellect, a lovely wit and enormous sympathy for the men, women and children who populate her story.
Review

PREP
By Curtis Sittenfeld.
Random House, $21.95. Paper, $13.95.
This calm and memorably incisive first novel, about a scholarship girl who heads east to attend an elite prep school, casts an unshakable spell and has plenty to say about class, sex and character.
Review
First Chapter

SATURDAY
By Ian McEwan.
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $26.
As bracing and as carefully constructed as anything McEwan has written, this astringent novel traces a day in the life of an English neurosurgeon who comes face to face with senseless violence.
Review
First Chapter
Featured Author

VERONICA
By Mary Gaitskill.
Pantheon Books, $23.
This mesmerizingly dark novel from the author of ''Bad Behavior'' and ''Two Girls, Fat and Thin'' is narrated by a former Paris model who is now sick and poor; her ruminations on beauty and cruelty have clarity and an uncanny bite.
Review

THE ASSASSINS' GATE
America in Iraq

By George Packer.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.
A comprehensive look at the largest foreign policy gamble in a generation, by a New Yorker reporter who traces the full arc of the war, from the pre-invasion debate through the action on the ground.
Review
First Chapter

DE KOONING
An American Master

By Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan.
Alfred A. Knopf, $35.
A sweeping biography, impressively researched and absorbingly written, of the charismatic immigrant who stood at the vortex of mid-20th-century American art.
Review

THE LOST PAINTING
By Jonathan Harr.
Random House, $24.95.
This gripping narrative, populated by a beguiling cast of scholars, historians, art restorers and aging nobles, records the search for Caravaggio's ''Taking of Christ,'' painted in 1602 and rediscovered in 1990.
Review
First Chapter

POSTWAR
A History of Europe Since 1945
By Tony Judt.
The Penguin Press, $39.95.
Judt's massive, learned, brilliantly detailed account of Europe's recovery from the wreckage of World War II presents a whole continent in panorama even as it sets off detonations of insight on almost every page.
Review

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING
By Joan Didion.
Alfred A. Knopf, $23.95.
A prose master's harrowing yet exhilarating memoir of a year riven by sudden death (her husband's) and mortal illness (their only child's).
Review
A Profile of Joan Didion
Featured Author

[From the NY Times]

Bjorn Lomborg

The relative unimportance of trying to stop global warming

From the Taipei Times, no less, and best viewed in Mozilla :-)

Syriana

Writer-director Stephen Gaghan’s new film, Syriana, is a look at the politics of oil – and much more. In a interview in San Francisco, Gaghan spoke about politics, art, the dealer-user paradigm for drugs and petroleum, and how if he’d written a movie about his experiences researching Syriana, he would have wound up with something that looked and felt like Dr. Strangelove. Gaghan was more than willing to digress – about if ‘running the gantlet’ or ‘running the gauntlet’ is correct, Congressmen who live on boats paid for by defense contractors and how Turkish coffee can ruin your film crew and perhaps how he shouldn't have had that last Caramel Macchiato – and his thoughts on oil and chaos, politics and art were bursting out of him at a fever pitch, as crude and refined and combustible as the resource that fuels his film. This is the first part of a two-part interview; if you're sensitive about profanity, you may not want to click further.

(Gaghan is asked about a remark he's made about the genesis of the film -- specifically, Executive Producer Steven Soderbergh's quote in the Syriana press notes that "Steve Gaghan once said to me that he thought oil was the world's crack addiction, and I knew he would find a novel way of exploring that idea. ")

‘Oil is crack?’ Who said that? Oh. I was mis-quoted. Well, what I was talking about really was the dealer-user paradigm; and what I mean by that is not some fancy phrase, because I’d had experience around drug dealers during my voluminous 19-year research for Traffic...

... and I’d noticed some times when you could be in somebody’s house, and it could be a totally genteel type of drug dealer, or it could be a more gangster-y drug dealer, but whatever – there was often something similar about them, which is they have children, and the children are staring at violent television, cartoons or some shit, and they’re eating sugar-coated breakfast cereal and they look malnourished, there’s a handgun on the table – there’s always a handgun on the table, like on a coffee table or a table, and it’s so unsettling, and the TV’s going and you’re looking at the handgun and the children are over there and you want to say, 'I’ve got this great parenting book by Mary Hartsell and I just want to give it to you, because I think you could use some advice on parenting. …' But you don’t say that – because that would be breaking an unwritten code. And the unwritten code is the guy has something you need, and you really need it, and you’re not going to fucking bum him out.

In America, in the West, we have this producer-consumer nation paradigm, and it works like this: 50 years of sort of a bi-lateral, multi-lateral maintenance of the status quo in the Middle East, which involved turning a bad eye to some really bad parenting. Whether it was a repressive regime, extermination of the Kurds, Saudi Arabia with women shrouded, walking 10 feet behind the men, etcetera, etcetera. But we weren’t going to say anything. Why? Because the producer nation, the dealer, has the shit we need – they got the good shit, and we don’t want to knock over the apple cart. To mix the metaphor. So that’s what I was thinking about, and I think it’s really apt. ...

And I think it’s truly interesting, as I went around to research the film, the most startling thing early on – and my access point was through a CIA officer (See No Evil author Robert Baer) who had been our Iraqi bureau chief early on in the mid-‘90s – speaks Arabic, speaks Farsi, speaks Russian, speaks French, 21 years in the Middle East – he’s a world expert on Iraq, and the people he was introducing me to, all around, a total rogue’s gallery – from government intelligence to middlemen in the oil business to arms dealers, terrorists, billionaires, members of royal families from the oil-producing nations.

… I met so many people who were just certain, they were certain; They had this great speech; they would tell you how the world works, and it was so convincing. So convincing. And then an hour later, you’d meet somebody else and he would tell you how the world works, and they were so convincing, too. And the problem was that their worldviews were a hundred and eighty degrees from each other, and this is really unsettling. And it happened again and again and again, and I thought “Holy shit – could it be that nobody is seeing the whole picture? Could it be that all these people who have this fucking talk – this often ideological talk – are masking some self-interest? That all these people who are posturing like Talleyrand -- they don’t have the whole picture? The Talleyrands are rare; a Talleyrand comes along once in a hundred years, and we’re in a Talleyrand free-zone, with a bunch of discount Talleyrands that are truly just looking to feather their own nest, and they’re gonna put in their time riding the ideological gravy train for just the minimum amount of time necessary before they can jump out and really score big. And they tell themselves, when they are making these morally compromised decisions, that it’s really about their family, that they have a wife and kids to support. It’s not just them: ‘God, if it was just me, I could buck the system, I could do what feel right in my gut, but I havemy family to think about.'

I’ll give you an example: (George H.W. Bush's National Security Advisor) Brent Scowcroft. His last point (in a recent New Yorker profile): 'I believe in the fallibility of human nature; I’m a realist. If human beings can mess up something, they will. You can hope for the best, but you gotta expect the worst.' I find that quite compelling. (World Bank President and ex-Deputy Secretary of Defnese under Donald Rumsfeld) Paul Wolfowitz; I met Paul Wolfowitz at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, which is pigs feeding at the trough like you have never seen; if you’ve never been to that event it is literally pigs feeding pigs … pigs at the trough? They don’t even need the trough; they’re dropping canapés into the piggy mouths; there’s piggy dancing. It’s disgusting ... anyway. Wolfowitz’s point – which they touch on in the New Yorker article, it’s the most cursory examination of what the Neo-Con philosophy was, but anyway – Wolfowitz’s point is: 'No, we’re in a civilizational conflict; America’s only as good as the ideas we’re exporting. What are we exporting? What do we stand for in the country? Are we the children of the enlightenment and John Stuart Mill? Do we believe in representational government, do we believe in women’s rights, do we believe in minority representation in government? If we do, then we can’t stay in business with these people; we can’t keep turning a blind eye to these repressive regimes, to people gassing their own citizens. We have to take a stand; we have to stand for something; otherwise, this other force that we’re up against is just going to swallow us whole while we’re sleeping.' That’s a compelling argument; they’re a hundred and eighty degrees apart from each other. And what’s interesting is that both of these men have had a really high hand in running the United States government in the last 15 years.

I find that it’s really interesting and exciting; I think it’s such a great entrance point for thinking about narrative in a modern film, a truly modern film that truly tries to reflect the world to us as it feels right now to us, not as the world feels to us it feels to us as if it has to be a movie. Because if it has to be a movie, it can’t be x, y and z. But if it has to feel like the world feels like now, what is the narrative form that’s gonna take? How do you dramatize hundreds of people all of whom seem certain … and none of whom see the whole picture? Those are the questions I was asking myself.

(I explain to Gaghan a glib exchange with a friend I had with a bit of truth to it: "I was talking to someone and they said “I don’t know if I want to see it, because it looks like a sequel to Traffic,” and I said -- glibly, but also seriously, “Don’t think of it as a sequel to Traffic; think of it as a prequel to Mad Max.” ... And the question is, at a certain point, the music’s going to stop, and everyone’s going to look around and say ‘Uhhhhh, where’s my chair?” I mean, you’ve done a certain amount of research; if there’s a civilian authority on these matters, it’s you. So, how long is the music going to keep going for oil?")

Well, they think we’re at peak production this year and next year, something like that, for global energy production, the most that we can ever can really get out; that we’ve hit the crest and oddly, I think everybody had this feeling – although not a one-to-one relationship – I think that what we were seeing, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it felt like the trailer of coming attractions, it felt like a preview. Like, holy cow – we are looking into Mad Max. Like, God, that is what it’s going to look like. It’s going to be racial; 'Us fat White people, we got all the shit we need; fuck you, poor people who happen to be Black or Mexican'; it really felt like you were looking at this Hobbsean future; it was just like he laid out. I don’t know; people have been making predictions; oddly, everybody I talked to in 2001, 2002, would have said for sure that Saudi Arabia was going to topple by now, that it was going to go down in flames to the Wahhabists. And weirdly, us going into Iraq, energy prices tripled; it tripled the price of a barrel of crude, which has poured so much money into the coffers of these regimes that they’ve been able to sustain themselves a little bit longer. They were going down; they were running out of money. And now, they’re like so loaded. Imagine if you could triple your Gross National Product overnight. They’re like ‘Go Bush! Go baby! Go Iraq, go Syria, go Iran! Keep it rollin! Let’s see if we can quintuple it, sextuple it!’

It’s astonishing how good war is for oil companies and oil traders. Anyone in the energy business (will tell you): Chaos is good for the energy business. And that’s the first thing they’ll tell you. They don’t feel good about it; but it’s true. I think we will hit a tipping point ... but I also think we’re so industrious, so creative … that there really will be a Manhattan Project-style ... I mean, we’re very close to having the writing on the wall for global warming, I believe; we’ve passed a tipping point and shit is going to start going haywire, and I think we’ll start talking in terms of carbon wedges and changing our lifestyles is going to happen very quickly. I don’t know if it’s going to be five years, 10 years 15 years … It’s definitely in our lifetime; our children are going to have very different lives. The carbon economy is going to shift; I don’t know if it’s a hydrogen economy, a sunlight economy; you’re not going to be flying around on jet planes the way you are now, probably; there are going to be changes. ... I don’t know; I’m not a futurist. But I did enough research into human nature, figuring out this one, that I’m absolutely certain that until it’s really dire, nothing’s going to change.

(The energy crisis of the '70s comes up; specifically, how we didn't seem to learn anything from that.)

It’s the same fuckers, man! It’s all the same Nixon guys; they got tossed out of office for a while with Carter. They came back with Reagan; they had a bad couple years under Poppy (George H. W. Bush), who wasn’t really hip to these guys, and then Clinton … and they’re all back! Just look at them! They’re all like a hundred and ten years old, they cut their teeth under the first Nixon administration ... they hang upside down like vampire bats when they’re out of power and they wait around. It’s the same guys: ‘Hey, don’t conserve energy! There’s no problem! Party on!’

Cinematical

Yep...

02 dezembro 2005

Caption This :-)






A contest by Cinematical
Joke 1: Why don’t the ocean date? Because it’s tired of beaches.

Joke 2: What do sharks eat for dessert? Octopi.

Joke 3: Why doesn’t Darth Vader drink milk? Because he’s galactose intolerant.

01 dezembro 2005

Marlowe

Tamburlaine: Now, Casane, where’s the Turkish Alcoran, And all the heaps of superstitious books Found in the temples of that Mahomet Whom I have thought a god? They shall be burnt . . .

. . . In vain, I see, men worship Mahomet.

My sword hath sent millions of Turks to hell, Slew all his priests, his kinsmen, and his friends, And yet I live untouch’d by Mahomet.

There is a God, full of revenging wrath, From whom the thunder and the lightning breaks, Whose scourge I am, and him will I obey.

So Casane; fling them in the fire.

(They burn the books.)

Now, Mahomet, if thou have any power, Come down thyself and work a miracle.

Thou art not worthy to be worshipped That suffers flames of fire to burn the writ Wherein the sum of thy religion rests . . .

. . . Well, soldiers, Mahomet remains in hell; He cannot hear the voice of Tamburlaine.

Seek out another godhead to adore:

The God that sits in heaven, if any god, For he is God alone, and none but he.

Act V, scene i Tamburlaine the Great
(THE OFFENDING LINES)

IT WAS the surprise hit of the autumn season, selling out for its entire run and inspiring rave reviews. But now the producers of Tamburlaine the Great have come under fire for censoring Christopher Marlowe’s 1580s masterpiece to avoid upsetting Muslims.

Audiences at the Barbican in London did not see the Koran being burnt, as Marlowe intended, because David Farr, who directed and adapted the classic play, feared that it would inflame passions in the light of the London bombings.

Simon Reade, artistic director of the Bristol Old Vic, said that if they had not altered the original it “would have unnecessarily raised the hackles of a significant proportion of one of the world’s great religions”.

The burning of the Koran was “smoothed over”, he said, so that it became just the destruction of “a load of books” relating to any culture or religion. That made it more powerful, they claimed.

Members of the audience also reported that key references to Muhammad had been dropped, particularly in the passage where Tamburlaine says that he is “not worthy to be worshipped”. In the original Marlowe writes that Muhammad “remains in hell”.

The censorship aroused condemnation yesterday from senior figures in the theatre and scholars, as well as religious leaders. Terry Hands, who directed Tamburlaine for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1992, said: “I don’t believe you should interfere with any classic for reasons of religious or political correctness.”

Charles Nicholl, the author of The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe, said it was wrong to tamper with Marlowe because he asked “uncomfortable and confrontational questions — particularly aimed at those that held dogmatic, religious views”. He added: “Why should Islam be protected from the questioning gaze of Marlowe? Marlowe stands for provocative questions. This is a bit of an insult to him.”

Marlowe rivalled Shakespeare as the most powerful dramatist of the Elizabethan period. He died aged 29 in a brawl over a tavern bill. Tamburlaine the Great was written not later than 1587. It tells the story of a shepherd-robber who defeats the king of Persia, the emperor of Turkey and, seeing himself as the “scourge of God”, burns the Koran.

Mr Farr reworked the text after the July 7 attacks. The production closed last week. Mr Farr said in a statement: “The choices I made in the adaptation were personal about the focus I wanted to put on the main character and had nothing to do with modern politics.”

But Mr Reade said that Mr Farr felt that burning the Koran “would have been unnecessarily inflammatory”. The play needed to be seen in a 21stcentury context, he believed.He said: “Marlowe was not challenging Muslims, he was attacking theism, saying, ‘I’m God, there isn’t a God’. If he had been in a Christian country, a Judaic country or a Hindu country, it would be their gods he’d be attacking.” He said more people would be insulted by broadening the attack.

Inayat Bunglawala, the media secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, disagreed, saying: “In the context of a fictional play, I don’t think it will have offended many people.”

Park Honan, Emeritus Professor at the School of English, University of Leeds, and author of Christopher Marlowe: Poet & Spy, said: “It is wrong to tamper with the play, wrong to shorten it and wrong to leave out the burning of the Koran because that is involved with the exposition of Tamburlaine’s character. He’s a false prophet. This is meant to horrify the audience.”

THE DEVIL CAN CITE SCRIPTURE FOR HIS PURPOSE

Behzti

Sikh protesters claimed that the play at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in December mocked their religion because it depicted sexual abuse and murder in a temple. The author, Gurpreet Bhatti, said that she had been threatened and police advised her to keep a low profile. After a weekend of demonstrations, the play was cancelled

Jerry Springer the Opera

It had a successful run in the West End but came under fire from Christian groups and mediawatch-UK when it was bought by the BBC and shown on BBC2 in January. They claimed that it contained 8,000 expletives and had mocking religious undertones. Estelle Morris, then the Arts Minister, ended up defending it in the House of Commons

Messiah

Steven Berkoff inspired widespread critical debate with his interpretations of Jesus’s life at the Theatre Royal in 2001. Berkoff, who wrote and directed the show based on his own reactions to the Gospels, depicted Jesus as a foul-mouthed social reformer rather than the traditional representation of him as a preacher

The Merchant of Venice

The latest adaptation a year ago, starring Al Pacino, re-opened the debate on whether Shakepeare’s Shylock was a deliberately racist caricature. Many claim that he reflects the anti-Semitism of the Bard’s age, an essential element of the plot. But producers still come under pressure to tone down the more disparaging traits

TimesOnline







Wiiiiiiiishlist...

"Aside from the fact that you can easily lose an afternoon looking at the streets that you have lived in and known, what is particularly interesting is the social milieu in which Booth undertook his project. The late 19th century was a time of growing concern about the very nature of urban society. As David Reeder says in his introduction to the map, "During the 1880s a new perception was being formed of London's social condition, growing out of a spate of writings on how the poor lived by journalists and city missionaries ... Middle-class anxieties were fuelled by descriptions of ... the poor as a brutalised and degenerate race of people, the victims but also the agents of the deteriorating forces in city life".

Then, as now, there was much talk about the poverty gap, and the newspapers were full of stories about violent youth and rising criminality. The social commentator Charles Masterman felt that Booth's maps showed a city "beyond the power of individual synthesis, a chaos resisting all attempts to reduce it to orderly law". Booth himself highlighted the middle-class flight from urban areas: "The red and yellow classes are leaving, and the streets which they occupied are becoming pink and pink-barred; whilst the streets which were formerly pink turn to purple and purple to light blue." Over 100 years later we read in the Guardian that "The middle classes are abandoning inner London and other cities for the countryside in a drift that threatens to cause a 'deepening racial and social' divide." Perhaps somebody ought to send John Prescott and Jacques Chirac a copy of Booth's map."

[from The Guardian, Cities of the World: A History in Maps]