30 setembro 2008

The Marilyn Files

We knew she wanted to be Grushenka in a Brothers Karamazov play, and we know she had a brilliant mind (only the ones who still buy into good looks/poor brains doubt that, but alas, they're many and widespread), but if she did read ALL of Ulysses... WOW, I didn't, most professors in college admitted they didn't, and this beautiful and tortured soul did.

(thanx to Mawalien for the pic)

October edition of Vanity Fair, totally collectible ;)

26 setembro 2008

James Bond avalanche: For Your Eyes Only :)

To celebrate the centenary of Ian Fleming’s birth, Times Online have created an exclusive 100 year interactive Fleming and Bond timeline. Packed with articles and photography from the Times Archive and the original reviews of Bond novels and films, it shows how closely Bond's fictional life paralleled Fleming's

Times Online has teamed up with Imperial War Museum London to offer you an interactive sneak preview of its brand new For Your Eyes Only exhibition which features an array of fascinating material, much on public display for the first time.

James Bond's gadgets, guns, gizmos and cars
At the dawn of a new consumer age, Ian Fleming gave Bond his own love of techno-trickery and marvellous machines.

Isto entre resmas de coisas boas ;)

Translating Les Misérables

Why the new English translation of Victor Hugo's masterpiece is 100,000 words longer than its best-known predecessor

In the preface to her bold new translation of Les Misérables, Julie Rose states that Victor Hugo wrote his novel “standing in the room he’d nicknamed ‘the lookout’ at the top of Hauteville House, on the isle of Guernsey”. In fact, much of the novel had already been completed when Hugo fled from Paris, disguised as a worker, after Louis-Napoléon’s coup d’état of December 2, 1851. A bulky manuscript titled “Les Misères”, begun in 1845, had survived the invasion of Hugo’s house by insurgents in 1848, and then the flight of the banished author to Brussels, London, Jersey and, finally, Guernsey. It was in the sun-baked, wind-blasted “look-out” that “Les Misères” ballooned into the ten-volume epic that Hugo called “the social and historical drama of the nineteenth century”. Les Misérables was published from April 3 to June 30, 1862, by which time nine translations were nearing completion and twenty-one unauthorized editions were in print.

Hugo had demanded an unusually rapid rate of publication because, as he told his Belgian publisher, Albert Lacroix, the book must be judged as a whole: “This book is a mountain: it is impossible to measure it or even to see it properly except at a distance”.

It is a pity that this new translation does not include a history of the novel’s composition. The fact that the writing of Les Misérables straddled almost two decades accounts for its sheer size, the extraordinary range of idioms and the kaleidoscopic vision of the sporadically omniscient narrator. At times, the story of the reformed convict Jean Valjean seems to sag with the weight of Hugo’s confusing experience. Certain passages can appear cluttered and obscure on a first reading. “Geniuses are disconcerting”, said Hugo. “Their comings and goings in the ideal world give one vertigo . . . . They have a telescope in one eye and a microscope in the other.”

Faced with this “mountain”, many of Hugo’s English translators have been tempted to smooth away some of the rubble-strewn digressions and weird outcrops of metaphor for the comfort of their readers. Some early translators excised what they saw as obscenities; others tried to tailor Hugo’s political views to their audience. The “Confederate” edition of 1863, intended as an improvement of C. E. Wilbour’s “Yankee” edition, struck out all references to slavery. (According to one of Hugo’s early American bibliographers, few perfect copies of this edition remain because they were “read to pieces by the soldiers”.) “I am, to my knowledge”, says Rose in her preface, “one of the few translators to have rendered all of Hugo’s magnificent novel without censorship.” (She might have mentioned the unabridged Signet Classics translation published in 1987 by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee, based on the Wilbour translation of 1862.) Norman Denny, whose translation of Les Misérables was published by Penguin Classics in 1980, and which is probably the translation that most English readers know, did so much smoothing that, even including the two sections on convents and slang that he turned into appendices, his version is still 100,000 words shorter than Rose’s.

“It is now generally recognized”, wrote Denny, “that the translator’s first concern must be with his author’s intention, not with the words he uses or with the way he uses them”. Most of his elisions are surreptitious – confusing images, eccentric aphorisms, strings of apparently superfluous adjectives. He does, however, confess to pruning Hugo’s dizzyingly detailed chapter, “L'Année 1817”, in which the “physiognomy” of the period is constructed out of a hundred or so seemingly miscellaneous facts: imperial Ns were scratched off the face of the Louvre; a steamboat sailed up the Seine and left Parisians unimpressed; little boys were made to wear enormous leather caps with earflaps; Chateaubriand cleaned his teeth at the window of 27 rue Saint-Dominique every morning while dictating La Monarchie selon la Charte; and so on. According to Denny, nearly all the apparently unrelated facts that make up the chapter are “of no great importance”. Evidently, their interrelatedness escaped him, and he chose to ignore Hugo’s concluding remark, which provides a clue to his megalomaniac ambition as a novelist: “History neglects almost all these little details, and cannot do otherwise: it would be engulfed by the infinite” (“l’infini l'envahirait”). Preferring a more conventional and consoling notion, Denny translates the last phrase as “the larger scenes absorbs them”, which is not at all the same thing.

These teeming worlds of subtly coordinated detail are, as Adam Thirlwell points out in his introduction to Rose’s translation, in some ways the whole point of the novel. Who can say what matters and what doesn’t? Is there an underlying pattern, or can all the trivia of human existence be safely edited out of history and sent to the oubliettes like the misérables of society? Tutting and lopping his way through Hugo’s novel like the tidy-minded restorer of a Gothic cathedral, Denny is exactly the sort of scholar against whom Hugo had been writing since the days of Hernani. “Manuals, out of concern with the contagious diseases that lurk in genius, advise temperance, moderation, ‘common sense’ and the art of not saying too much. They recommend writers who have been expurgated, pruned, trimmed and regulated.”

Despite his reputation for unconscious self-parody, Hugo knew how ridiculous his whale-like processing of the “infinite minutiae” would appear. Like any good storyteller, he was prepared to be laughed at, and played along with his audience. (“To appear mad is the secret of the sage”, he wrote in William Shakespeare.) Not only does the novel begin with the biography of a bishop “that has no connection whatsoever with the substance of our tale”, it continues to digress almost to the very end. “Here, a short digression is necessary”, says Hugo in the antepenultimate, 358th chapter. This mischievous inexhaustibility is one of the charms of the narrator. “History of Corinth from its Foundation” is the title of the first chapter of the twelfth book of Part Four. (“Corinthe” turns out to be the name of a tavern.) His expansiveness, and the repeated probing of simple details until, wearing thin, they collapse into vast, sewer-like domains of unsuspected moral truth, are evident in the smallest quirks of Hugo’s syntax, and this is where Rose’s translation gives a sharper taste of Hugo’s chatty, disputatious and cranky style than Denny’s. Here are their respective versions of the opening of the section on sewers, “L’Intestin de Léviathan”. Rose’s version follows the syntax of the original much more closely:

Paris pours twenty-four [sic] million francs a year into the water. That is no metaphor. She does so by day and by night, thoughtlessly and to no purpose. She does so through her entrails, that is to say, her sewers. (Denny)

Paris throws twenty-five million a year into the sea. And that is not a metaphor. How, and in what way? Day and night. With what aim? With no aim. With what thought? With no thought. What for? For nothing. By means of what organ? By means of its bowels. What do you mean, its bowels? Its sewers. (Rose)

Rose, who found translating Hugo “a very physical challenge”, involving long walks with her dog and the hiring of an occupational therapist, has tried to avoid the gentility and prissiness of some of her predecessors and to give an impression of Hugo’s demotic vigour. Instead of being “a thirty-year-old, ill-preserved rake” (Denny) or “a high liver, thirty years old, and in poor shape” (Fahnestock and MacAfee), Rose’s Tholomyès is “a wasted high roller of thirty” (“un viveur de trente ans, mal conservé”). Denny’s Cravatte, the bandit, is “an intrepid rogue”; Rose’s is “a brazen bastard” (“un hardi misérable”). Sometimes, the attempt misfires, as when Rose has Napoleon call Wellington “that little British git”, which is doubly improbable (cf “ce petit Anglais”), or when she calls the “gargote” run by Cosette’s horrible foster parents “a greasy spoon”. (The greasiness of a wooden spoon was hardly the defining characteristic of a sordid tavern in the early nineteenth century.) No doubt a good translator of Hugo has to take risks. Les Misérables is riddled with puns, which implicate language itself in the search for underlying patterns. Rose misses quite a few of these, or leaves them unexplained, but she is surely right to translate the chapter title “Buvard, bavard” (the blotting-pad on which Jean Valjean reads Cosette’s message to Marius) as “A Blabber of a Blotter”, where Denny prefers the bland “The Treacherous Blotter”.

If anyone ever tries to compose a super-translation of Les Misérables from all existing English versions, Rose’s would provide some excellent phrases. Too often, however, her translation adds its own strangeness to Hugo’s eccentricity. “A fromage frais”, served to the convict Valjean, is just about defensible for “un fromage frais”, but it strikes an odd note as part of a rugged repast. There are many literalisms, gallicisms and unfortunate formulations such as “The bowels of Paris are bottomless” (for “L’intestin de Paris est un précipice”). The attempt to render the antiquated patois of Marius’s grandfather makes him sound like a badly programmed robot: “She is exquisite, this little cutie. She is a masterpiece, this Cosette here! She is very much the ingénue and very much the grande dame at once . . . . Now those are what I call eyelashes for you! My children, get it into your thick noggins that this is for real”. This edition includes more than a hundred pages of useful and accurate notes by James Madden, which the translator must not have seen. Madden knows, for instance, that the Duke of Clarence was drowned in a butt of malmsey rather than in “a tun of marsala” (“une tonne de malvoisie”), and that the “sacre” of Charles X was his coronation rather than his “consecration”.

As millions of poorly educated readers of Les Misérables could attest, Hugo’s French is not particularly difficult, which makes the obvious errors of interpretation all the more surprising. At the very beginning of the novel, when Hugo says that the tale of the Bishop of Digne “ne touche en aucune manière au fond même de ce que nous avons à raconter”, Rose misreads both “fond” and “même” and translates thus: “has no bearing whatsoever on the tale we have to tell – not even on the background”. A “boudoir meublé d’X en satin bleu ciel” cannot be “done out by X in sky blue satin” (the boudoir was furnished with cross-legged stools). Marius was not “fierce” with pretty girls but “shy” (“farouche”). “These rays of dawn are sometimes soft to ruins” is a misreading of the common expression “être doux à”. “Misère” and “misérable” are sometimes translated “misery” and “miserable” when the context clearly indicates poverty.

Les Misérables has survived worse translations. Its latest translator is at least an enthusiast, and, as Hugo says, “paper is very patient”. Materially, this edition is preferable to the cramped Signet Classics edition. The pages open nicely, and two of Hugo’s paintings adorn the endpapers. It weighs two kilograms, which gives a vivid impression of what Robert Louis Stevenson felt when reading Hugo’s masterpiece: “the deadly weight of civilization to those who are below”.

21 setembro 2008


Think of an intimate, fan-club-only album launch party, and you might picture a cramped club with sweat raining off the low ceiling on to the lucky few. Not so with Metallica, 27-year-old Danish-Californian rock monoliths. Their fan club easily fills the O2 Arena. When the band arrive on stage, 20,000 people begin roaring and barely let up for two hours.

By this gargantuan band's touring standards, this gig is actually a radically scaled-back affair. Billed as a party in honour of the release of their No 1 album Death Magnetic, this show has no stage set, save a spine of amps; few theatrics, no video screens, or any of the pyrotechnics that traditionally light up Metallica shows. When I saw them at Earls Court in 1996, by contrast, stunt men on fire ran amok and the stage pretended to collapse. Tonight, singing guitarist James Hetfield struts about on the amps; lead guitarist Kirk Hammett does too. That's about it. When, midway through a closing 'Seek and Destroy', the band unleash their only bit of stagecraft - dozens of giant black Metallica beach balls - the delight is universal.

Metallica have done many fan-club shows before, but this one feels like a particularly chummy love-in at a pivotal time for the band. It is the culmination of a charm offensive aimed at changing the widespread (and rather accurate) view of Metallica as internet-hating rich men lashing out at a changing world.

In 2000, the band sued Napster, contributing to the site's downfall and alienating a generation of file-sharing fans. A string of relatively under-par albums (Load, ReLoad, S&M) added to the band's woes. A move towards transparency nearly backfired when the documentary Some Kind of Monster showed the warring metallers undergoing group therapy while making their least-loved album, St Anger.

Metallica are desperate not to be seen as control freaks, misers and bullies any more, and so Death Magnetic has come trumpeted by a fly-on-the-wall promotional website; and every track is available to download as part of Guitar Hero III, the video game which takes air guitar to new virtual heights. Their mission to rekindle favour stops just short of personal band lap dances and free ice cream.

They do give away a hell of a lot of guitar picks, mind. To make the front row as generous as possible, the band play in the round tonight, with eight microphones strategically positioned to allow Hetfield to commune with his acolytes at every point of the compass. Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo are also free-ranging, while drummer Lars Ulrich's kit revolves from north to south throughout the set, providing us with the rarely seen view of a drummer's backside. Ulrich wanders around almost as much as he sits, spitting water on grateful fans.

The 17-song set borrows a reasonable five songs from their new album, alongside a generous dose of older, thrashier songs. Lightweight fans such as myself definitely miss their greatest hit, 'Enter Sandman', but otherwise, the pummelling stays just on the right side of heavy, and the ballads don't take up too much valuable riffing time.

There aren't usually many innovations at a Metallica gig, but it is refreshing to hear an audible bass on 'The End of the Line'. 'Cyanide', meanwhile, sounds as good live as it did at the Death Magnetic album playback. As well as beating Scots hopefuls Glasvegas to the No 1 spot, Death Magnetic has been well-received critically, suggesting Metallica's hard work (and back-to-basics approach) has reaped dividends. Later in the set, 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' and 'Master of Puppets' are blasts from the past whose aggression remains evergreen.

For all this, fans part with just £5, the proceeds of which go to the Youth Music charity. The band's charm offensive even stretches to Hetfield, so often a brooding presence. He may be a strapping figure covered in tattoos, but when he opens his mouth, the statuesque former alcoholic is surprisingly Californian and easy-going. 'Put your phones away, man,' he cajoles amiably. 'Putting a two-minute video of Metallica on YouTube isn't going to make you famous. Just enjoy the show.'

When, at the end, the band hang around for a quarter of an hour, distributing drumsticks and guitar picks, the warmth in the arena is convincing. It is common form for bands to thank their fans volubly, but there is a new humility in this band's attitude that suggests that while these metal overlords broadcast at immense volumes, they can listen, too.

20 setembro 2008

Just Add... Earth

Add it to your iGoogle, your browser search feature, or make it your homepage!

Black and White

he civics teacher had an inspired idea: bring American jurisprudence to life by showing the class an award-winning 1957 film. Twelve Angry Men had all the requisites of instructive high drama: suspense, as one juror tries to change the minds of 11 others hell-bent on sending the accused to death row; crackling dialogue, written by Reginald Rose, a luminary of television’s Golden Age; a scintillating cast, led by Henry Fonda and directed by Sidney Lumet. The title flashed on-screen—immediately followed by a chorus of groans. One 15-year-old wailed for all his disappointed colleagues: “You didn’t tell us it was going to be in black-and-white!”

The place was New Rochelle High School in Westchester, New York, but the same scene could have played across the United States. The owner of my local video-rental place puts it succinctly: “Most of our customers are under 30. The way they see it, life is in color, so why not movies? Which is why we stopped offering black-and-whites, except for the classics. You know, Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Schindler’s List, maybe a couple of Woody Allens.”

If that’s the current standard, libraries will soon begin removing volumes of poetry from their shelves. After all, life is in prose, so why not books? Alas, what the customers don’t realize is that B&W cinema remains vital, and often beautiful, because it’s not a reflection of everyday existence.

Still, youthful viewers’ resistance is forgivable: they’re merely recapitulating biology. Our retinas have two main components, rods and cones. Rods (about 3 million per orb) can perceive only black, white, and shades of gray, but that’s enough to keep us from tripping over the furniture in a darkened room. As soon as the lights snap on, 120 million cones take over. Their job: to register red, yellow, blue, and every hue in between—and we forget how important the rods were just moments before.


17 setembro 2008

Richard Wright R.I.P.


Pink Floyd keyboard player and founder member Richard Wright has died, aged 65, from cancer.

Wright appeared on the group's first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, in 1967 alongside lead guitarist Syd Barrett, Roger Waters and Nick Mason.

Dave Gilmour joined the band at the start of 1968 while Barrett left the group shortly afterwards.

Gilmour said: "No-one can replace Richard Wright - he was my musical partner and my friend."

Writing on his website, he added: "In the welter of arguments about who or what was Pink Floyd, Rick's enormous input was frequently forgotten."

Wright's spokesman said in a statement: "The family of Richard Wright, founder member of Pink Floyd, announce with great sadness that Richard died today after a short struggle with cancer.

"The family have asked that their privacy is respected at this difficult time."

He did not say what form of cancer the self-taught keyboard player and pianist had.

Live 8

Wright, a founder member of The Pink Floyd Sound - and other previous incarnations including Sigma 6 - met Waters and Mason at architecture school.

Pink Floyd achieved legendary status with albums including 1973's The Dark Side Of The Moon, which stayed in the US album chart for more than a decade.

Wright, known as Rick earlier in his career, wrote The Great Gig In The Sky and Us And Them from the album.

Waters left the band in 1981, performing his last concert at London's Earls Court.

Wright, together with Gilmour and Mason, continued to record and tour as Pink Floyd during the remainder of the 1980s and into the 1990s, releasing their last studio album - The Division Bell - in 1994.

In 2005, the full band reunited - for the first time in 24 years - for the Live 8 concert in London's Hyde Park.

Wright also contributed vocals and keyboards to Gilmour's 2006 solo album On An Island, while performing with his touring band in shows in Europe and the US.

14 setembro 2008

America's most influential TV personality

Jon Stewart

For Barry McKernan and Saavik Ford, academics who live with their baby son in New York, sitting down to the television news is a nightly ritual, as it has been for generations of families. But there the tradition ends. Instead of watching heavyweight presenters dispense news from on high, the couple switch to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, known for delivering stories with lacerating humour and an inbuilt bullshit detector. They know Stewart will part politicians from their reputations with laser-like precision, while simultaneously rubbing the media's nose in its own deference. And, more importantly, they trust him.

'The Daily Show is probably more reliable for news than anything on TV except PBS [Public Broadcasting Service],' said McKernan, 36, who teaches astronomy at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. 'It stands apart from everything else because it unspins the news. It frankly points out how ridiculous the 24-hour news networks are - mostly gassing away by unqualified 'experts' filling the hours.'

McKernan and Ford - young, liberal, politically engaged - are typical of a section of America that has grown sceptical of what they see as mainstream television's bland, knee-jerk journalism. For them only one man is asking the right questions, and that is a 45-year-old comedian called Jon Stewart. Like a court jester, he segues into truths that solemn courtiers cannot or dare not, announcing to the startled throng that the emperor has no clothes. Ford, 30, reflected: 'The mainstream news media appear to me to be too lazy to do their jobs as well as a comedian.'

The Daily Show is satire with substance, a spoof news programme in which Stewart mercilessly punctures the headlines and skewers the powerful with cleverly edited film clips, sharp one-liners and bemused expressions. It features interviews - guests have included Victoria Beckham, Bill Clinton, Tom Cruise and Pervez Musharraf - and parodic news items from a team of roving reporters. Ridiculous stories delivered with a straight face, in the style of the fake newspaper The Onion, are combined with the bracing iconoclasticism of Michael Moore minus earnestness or ego. British viewers - who can catch it on the More4 channel four times a week or via the Comedy Central website - might be reminded of the Nineties news spoof The Day Today with Chris Morris and Steve Coogan, Angus Deayton's irreverent hosting of Have I Got News for You and Armando Iannucci's taste for the politically preposterous. Add the rottweiler instincts of John Humphrys or Jeremy Paxman, and throw in some downright silliness, and you have something approaching The Daily Show.

Broadcast on cable channel Comedy Central, it has prospered in the Bush years with steadily growing viewing figures - still below 2 million but, like the New York Times (circulation 1.1 million), punching above its weight with opinion formers. Its bite-sized chunks of laugh-out-loud smartness are also perfectly geared for internet virals and the so-called 'YouTube generation'. A blogger called Matt Tobey may have only got slightly carried away last week when he wrote: 'I wasn't alive to see Michelangelo paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I wasn't born yet when the Beatles toured. And I probably won't ever get out to see that Japanese dude eat all them hotdogs. But goddamn, seeing Jon Stewart at his absolute best running circles around cable news douchebags is almost as good.'

This year's presidential election has marked Stewart's coming of age as a cultural and political force in America. Whereas his debut as Oscars host in 2006 saw some jokes fall flat, he returned this year in triumph with timely political gags. Appearing on The Daily Show - described by Newsweek magazine as 'the coolest pit stop on television' - is now a gamble that no would-be president can afford to duck if they want to parade their 'human side' and ability to laugh at themselves. John McCain, the Republican candidate, has been on more than a dozen times over the years. Barack Obama, his Democratic rival, used The Daily Show for his last TV appearance before the primary election in Pennsylvania. Hillary Clinton - 'the first viable presidential candidate with a working uterus' - appeared on the eve of the crucial primaries in Texas and Ohio. At the Democratic national convention, Daily Show reporters found it hard to work as they were mobbed by so many fans.

It is a delicious paradox that people's search for truth has led them to fake news. Under the headline 'Is Jon Stewart the Most Trusted Man in America?', the New York Times opined recently: 'The Daily Show resonates not only because it is wickedly funny but also because its keen sense of the absurd is perfectly attuned to an era in which cognitive dissonance has become a national epidemic. Indeed, Stewart's frequent exclamation "Are you insane?!" seems a fitting refrain for a post-M*A*S*H, post-Catch-22 reality, where the surreal and outrageous have become commonplace - an era kicked off by the 2000 election standoff in Florida, rocked by 9/11 and haunted by the fallout of a costly war waged on the premise of weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.'

Showing politicians condemn themselves out of their own mouths is a classic Stewart manoeuvre. In one sequence, The Daily Show spliced excerpts from McCain's acceptance speech at the Republican convention with one by Bush before he became president. The word-for-word similarities were uncanny, promising change in Washington, a pro-life culture and the rest. It was a masterpiece of editing that required no narrative to tear down false idols, arguably more effective than anything the Democrats have thrown at McCain in recent weeks. It makes Obama's argument that McCain represents a third term of Bush more eloquently than the candidate himself has so far managed.

Stewart's admirers in the political and media classes are legion. David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker magazine, told The Observer: 'He is our most astute - and, obviously, most hilarious - press watchdog and overall political bullshit monitor. His most effective move is to cull through the tapes of all the countless banalities, hypocritical contradictions and attempted snow-jobs executed in boundless profusion on our airwaves and on political podiums. He just puts them on the air and you watch with slack-jawed amazement.'

Remnick added: 'Stewart is all the things the best stand-up comics are - quick, verbally deft - but he is also possessed of a political and moral sense. There are days when I think he is the only one keeping a sane head.'

The Daily Show also satirises American media with its cliches, hang-ups and petty obsessions. For those who accuse Rupert Murdoch's Fox News of being a partisan Republican mouthpiece, there seemed to be no antidote until The Daily Show came along. It also strikes a chord with those who feel the 24-hour news channels hype every gaffe into a hurricane and despair of US newspapers as their circulations fall and they lay off staff.

The lack of aggression in challenging the official intelligence used to justify the Iraq war, and the timidity around revelations of John Edwards's extramarital affair are just two examples of a perceived cancer eating into American journalism.

Step forward Stewart, filling the void not with new facts - he does not claim to be an investigative reporter - but forensic editing and satirical snap. Iraq was quickly branded 'Mess O'Potamia'. While mainstream TV news endlessly repeated the Pentagon's description of 'the coalition of the willing' backing US forces, Stewart was quick to dub them the 'coalition of the piddling' and point out that allies such as Morocco were sending not troops but 2,000 monkeys to set off landmines. Other media were forced to play catch-up when the show highlighted the links between Halliburton, of which Vice-President Dick Cheney was chief executive, and government wartime contracts worth millions.

Gavin Esler, the BBC's Newsnight presenter and former chief North America correspondent, describes Stewart as 'hugely influential' in the US. 'I think his success tells you a great deal about the dire state of some American network television journalism. It is often parochial, sentimental and focused on a diet of crime stories, supposedly "human interest" stories and medical "breakthroughs". It is no coincidence that the biggest cheer Sarah Palin received in her Republican convention speech was when she attacked the mainstream media.

'Stewart is highly intelligent, perceptive and persistent as an interviewer but also funny. He allows his guests to be human and is not sycophantic. The best interviews I have seen this year with Obama, Hillary Clinton and McCain have all been by Stewart. It's hardly surprising they appear on his shows - they get to demonstrate their own sense of humour, which is very appealing to voters.'

Many on the right believe the show is too liberal, in a country where that can be something of a dirty word. Stewart has admitted he is looking forward to the end of the Bush administration 'as a comedian, as a person, as a citizen, as a mammal'. But The Daily Show goes beyond party politics. When political debate in the most powerful country on Earth boils down to the semantics of 'putting lipstick on a pig', its stiffest challenge is to keep fake news more absurd than the real thing. Keep succeeding, and Jon Stewart might even swing the election.

11 setembro 2008

Gemas, Pedras Preciosas, coisas lindas...

Depois das iniciativas Ciência Viva, gosto mesmo disto!

Magazine digital
(há que poupar papel)

em português
(há que honrar a língua),

de subscrição gratuita
(há que poupar
tout court, sei lá :)
do Prof. Rui Galopim de Carvalho:

10 setembro 2008

The Unbearable Saki

At the age of 15, Noël Coward was staying in an English country house and found a copy of Beasts and Super-Beasts on a table: “I took it up to my bedroom, opened it casually and was unable to go to sleep until I had finished it.” I had a similar experience at about the same age, and I agree with Coward that H. H. Munro—or “Saki,” the author of the book in question—is among those few writers, inspirational when read at an early age, who definitely retain their magic when revisited decades later. I have the impression that Saki is not very much appreciated in the United States. Good. That means I can put into my debt many of you who are reading these words. Go and get an edition of this Edwardian master of the short story. Begin with, say, “Sredni Vashtar” or “The Lumber-Room” or “The Open Window.” Then see whether you can put the book down.

The spellbinding quality of the stories is almost too easy to analyze and looks mawkish when set down in plain words, because Saki’s great gift was being able to write about children and animals. But consider: How many authors have ever been able to pull off these most difficult of tricks? Kipling, for sure, but then, Kipling would not have been able to render the languid young princes of the drawing room, such as the exquisite Clovis Sangrail, with whom Saki peopled so many a scene. The character of these lethal Narcissi is well netted in a phrase coined by Sandie Byrne, who refers to them as “feral ephebes.”

If you want to incubate an author who will show lifelong sympathy for children and animals, it seems best to sequester him at an early age and then subject him to a long regime of domestic torture. This was the formula that worked so well for Kipling, as evidenced in his frightening autobiographical story, “Baa Baa, Black Sheep,” and it is almost uncanny to see how closely Saki’s early life followed the same course. Abandoned to the care of cold and neurotic aunts in England while his father performed colonial duties in India, he and his siblings had to learn how to do without affection, and how to resist and outpoint adult callousness and stupidity. But without those terrible women—and the villains in Saki’s gem-like tales are almost always female—we might not have had the most-fearsome aunts in fiction, outdoing even Wodehouse’s Aunt Agatha or Wilde’s Lady Bracknell.

Wodehouse happily admitted to being influenced by Saki, and it would be interesting to know to what extent Saki was himself influenced by Wilde. There is a good deal of evidence to suggest that he was, because some of his epigrams (“Beauty is only sin deep”) betray an obvious indebtedness, and one (“To lose an hotel and a cake of soap in one afternoon suggests willful carelessness”) is an almost direct appropriation from The Importance of Being Earnest. But in that epoch, Wilde’s name lay under a ban, and Saki would have been well advised to not challenge the unstated rules that underlay that prohibition. (I find the speculation about his own homosexuality pointless because there is nothing about which to speculate: he was self-evidently homosexual and, just as obviously, deeply repressed.)

As is by no means uncommon in such cases, Saki was of the extreme right, and even an admirer must concede that some of his witticisms were rather labored and contrived as a consequence. Several of his less amusing stories are devoted to ridicule of the women’s suffrage movement, which was cresting during his heyday, while a persistent subtext of his work is a satirical teasing of his contemporary and bête noire, the ponderously socialistic Bernard Shaw (“Sherard Blaw, the dramatist who had discovered himself, and who had given so ungrudgingly of his discovery to the world”). And, like another of his great contemporaries, Arthur Balfour, future author of a famous Declaration, Saki harbored a suspicion of Jews. One of his feral ephebes, Reginald, tells a duchess while chatting at the theater that what she terms “the great Anglo-Saxon empire” is, in fact, “rapidly becoming a suburb of Jerusalem.”

That same empire, and its survival, was at the center of the contradictions in Saki’s personality. Byrne’s insightful and sprightly book makes plain that his affectless poseurs and dandies may have reflected one half of the man, just as his repeated portrayals of lithe and lissome and amoral young men must have expressed his banked-down yearnings. But this other hemisphere of his character also admired wildness and risk and cruelty and warfare, and associated the concepts of empire and nation with manly virtue.

This point can be reinforced by some thoughts on his choice of nom de plume. I had not known, until I read Byrne’s book, that there was any doubt about the provenance of this. She mentions almost casually that one of his obituarists claimed it was a shortened form of “Nagasaki,” which seems unintelligible in more ways than one. Enormously more probable, given Munro’s often expressed admiration for FitzGerald’s version of Omar Khayyám, is that he saw himself in the cupbearer of the Rubáiyát:

And fear not lest Existence closing your
Account, and mine, should know the like no more;
The Eternal Sáki from that Bowl has pour’d
Millions of Bubbles like us, and will pour.

When You and I behind the Veil are past,
Oh, but the long, long while the World shall last,
Which of our Coming and Departure heeds
As the Sea’s self should heed a pebble-cast.

In a story called “The East Wing,” a lazy young male creature named Lucien Wattleskeat expresses something of the same thought—not exempting the bubble metaphor—but with more focus on the paradoxical importance of his own ephemerality:

I don’t think I can risk my life to save someone I’ve never met or even heard about. You see, my life is not only wonderful and beautiful to myself, but if my life goes, nothing else really matters—to me … Eva might be snatched from the flames and live to be the grandmother of brilliant and charming men and women, but as far as I should be concerned she and they would no more exist than a vanished puff of cigarette smoke or a dissolved soda-water bubble.

I think this clears up any dispute about the source of the pseudonym (which often appeared on book jackets alongside his true name), and I pause to note that Lucien Wattle­skeat is a poor register of Saki’s generally brilliant and somewhat Wildean ability to devise memorable names. Like Wilde (and like Anthony Powell later on), he made good use of the atlas of Britain and Ireland to come up with surnames and titles that were at once believable and eccentric. Many of these were from his beloved West Country (Yeovil, Honiton, Cullompton), but he ranged far and wide in choosing names like Courtenay Youghal for a smoothly accomplished politician and, in a moment of sheer brilliance, Tobermory for one of his most outstanding characters, the house cat who learns to speak English (and also to eavesdrop). Of his selecting Clovis as the model par excellence of his breed of bored and elegant young men, I have heard it suggested that it was because he was so appallingly Frank.

Creatures that essentially can never be tamed—felines and wolves pre­eminently—were Saki’s emotional favorites. In his best-known novella, The Unbearable Bassington, which contains in the figure of Comus Bassington one of the two most obviously homoerotic of his protagonists (the other being the boy-werewolf Gabriel-Ernest in the story of the same name), the hero is a man named Tom Keriway, whose daredevil nature is summed up in the echoing phrase “a man that wolves have sniffed at.” But Keriway has become sickly and nearly destitute, and morosely recalls an observation about a crippled wild crane that became domesticated in a German park: “It was lame, that was why it was tame.”

When he was in his early 40s, Saki began to throw off some of the languor and ennui with which he had invested so many of his scenes and characters, and became extremely exercised about the empire that he had quite often lampooned. Perhaps as a result of his experiences in Russia and the Balkans as a correspondent for a High Tory newspaper, he emitted grave warnings about an imminent German invasion and even wrote an alarmist novel—When William Came—about how British life might feel under the Prussian heel of Kaiser Wilhelm. Its pages treat almost exclusively the outrage and dispossession that might be experienced by the humiliated gentry. (I can think of only one Saki tale that takes the side of egalitarianism or that views society from the perspective of the gutter rather than the balcony or the verandah, and that is the lovely and vindictive Morlvera, in which a couple of proletarian children witness a delicious piece of malice and spite being inflicted on a grown-up by a hideous youngster of the upper crust.)

But in 1914, Saki surprised all his elite admirers. His reasons for insisting on signing up for the trenches, when he was easily old enough to evade that fate, were almost comically reactionary. Enraged by the antimilitarist left that thought socialism preferable to world war, he argued in effect that even world war was preferable to socialism. Yet he declined any offer of an officer’s commission, insisted on serving in the ranks, appeared to forget all his previous affectations about hollandaise dressing and the loving preparations of wine and cheese, and was so reduced by front-line conditions of wounds and illness that he grew a moustache to conceal the loss of most of his top teeth. He carried on writing, though chiefly about the interesting survival of wildlife in the no-man’s-land of the Western Front, and he repeatedly sought positions on the front line. In November 1916, near the village of Beaumont-Hamel on the river Somme, he found what it is quite thinkable that he had been looking for all along. On the verge of a crater, during an interval of combat, he was heard to shout “Put that bloody cigarette out!” before succumbing to the bullet of a German sniper who had been trained to look for such tell-tale signals. In that “vanished puff of cigarette smoke” or, if you prefer, his image of a dissolved bubble of effervescence, there died someone who had finally come to decide that other people were worth fighting for after all.

Review by Christopher Hitchens for The Atlantic

Author's website: Sandie Byrne

07 setembro 2008

Touriga nacional... and cork!

Touriga nacional is vigorous and robust, but it produces notoriously low yields and small grapes. This has made it unpopular with growers, and nearly led to its extinction in the mid-20th century. Since then, however, much effort has been spent on clonal selection of the variety so that newer cuttings are slightly more productive and sugar levels even higher.

Port is made from a blend of grapes - more than 80 varieties are planted in almost 100,000 acres in Portugal - but touriga nacional stands as the most famous and revered.


As well as making port, touriga nacional is now also grown to produce extremely concentrated, dark, tannic table wines both in the Douro Valley and elsewhere in Portugal, notably Dão. In the same way that cabernet sauvignon is softened by blending with another grape, touriga can be partnered with local versions of tempranillo.

Another grape classified as one of the best port varieties is touriga franca (which, despite the name, has no proven connection with France). Favoured for its consistent yields, it is the most widely planted grape in the Douro Valley and grown in considerably bigger quantities than touriga nacional (four times the plantings), though it does produce less concentrated wines. These two tourigas work well together - a bit like cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.


Touriga nacional is also grown in Australia and is increasingly being planted elsewhere, notably in Spain.

Victoria Moore recommends

One to drink now

TNAC 2005 Dão, Portugal
£10.50, Armit (armit.co.uk)

Touriga nacional may be known for the port it makes in the Douro, but some of its best dry reds, like this one, actually come from Dão, further south. Dark, grainy, savoury, almost aridly dry and with a granite-like demeanour, this epitomises the creature-of-the-night qualities that make touriga so thrilling.

One to lust after

Quinta do Noval LBV 2001, Portugal
£12.19, Tesco; £12.99 Oddbins

From one of my favourite port lodges, this is a very superior bottle for the money. Dense but savoury, it smells of freshly ground coffee, plums and prunes. It's also unfiltered, which gives it a little more texture.
Victoria Moore

Drink with

Port and stilton is an all-time classic combination. Good wine and cheese matches aren't as difficult as you might imagine, largely because you are combining two finished products. First consider texture - light and delicate, soft and creamy, hard and dry, heavy and intense. Balancing the weights of your wine and cheese as evenly as possible is step one. Also consider flavour - generally, the more flavour you have in your cheese, the more flavour you'll need in your wine.

Acidity is important, too. It's no great coincidence that high-acid cheeses, such as fresh goat's cheese, work beautifully with high-acid wines such as young sauvignon blanc. And finally, consider mould - it can often make dry wines seem fruitless and bitter. To this end, port and stilton are a perfect pair.
Matt Skinner


Say it right Too-ree-ga nash-ee-o-narl

Makes dense, rich, inky wines

Good companions Tempranillo and touriga franca

Hotspots Douro Valley and Dão

Legends Fonseca, Quinta do Noval, Warre's, Taylor's, Dow's

Need to know The origins of port, and the British presence in the Douro Valley, go back to the late 1600s. When wine imports from France were banned, the British looked to Portugal for alternatives. The firm red wines of the Douro were bolstered up with brandy to protect them during the long sea journey north

If you like touriga nacional, try tempranillo

"Port is not for the very young, the vain and the active. It is the comfort of age and the companion of the scholar and the philosopher"
Evelyn Waugh

Cork v screwcap

Closures (stoppers to you and me) keep wine in and harmful oxygen out, and corks have long been the closure of choice. They have come a long way since the 1600s, when French monk Dom Pérignon gave up on wooden stoppers wrapped in olive oil-soaked hemp, but the problem of corked wine (where the cork is contaminated, commonly with trichloroanisole, giving the wine a musty taste) has put buyers off. Modern technology has offered answers in the form of synthetic closures and screwcaps. Initially snubbed, these are growing in popularity: top wines are found with them, and 90% of NZ wines are now corkless. As well as limiting spoilage, screwcaps allow you to leave the corkscrew at home. Cork is fighting back, though - and it has eco-warriors, not to mention José Mourinho (face of the Portuguese Cork Association), on its side. Some studies have shown screwcap production to emit more carbon dioxide. Cork, meanwhile, is biodegradable, and cork forests are considered a vital lifeline for wildlife and protection against desertification. Plus some say wine ages better under cork. The choice, for now, is yours, but the WWF for one urges you not to "screw" the environment.

The Guardian & Observer guide to wine