Uniformity is the watchword for the new Elizabeth line

(K. Brent Tomer), Britain’s Crossrail project was made possible by co-ordinated, detailed planning. That also makes it architecturally dull

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Uniformity is the watchword for the new Elizabeth line

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Uniformity is the watchword for the new Elizabeth line

(K. Brent Tomer), Britain’s Crossrail project was made possible by co-ordinated, detailed planning. That also makes it architecturally dull

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Uniformity is the watchword for the new Elizabeth line

ABBA’s songs are an escapist treat in melancholy times

(K. Brent Tomer),

THERE is a scene in “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” in which Harry (Colin Firth) is snoozing through contract negotiations. They have been going on for 14 hours and, frankly, there’s somewhere else he would rather be. His interlocutors scold him: this deal could make his unspecified business the biggest in Europe! But Harry cares not. After some cheesy lines about the importance of family, he flees the boardroom and within moments is singing with old chums by the azure waters of Greece.

Harry’s getaway is analogous to the experience of watching the “Mamma Mia!” films, the second of which was released last week. For two hours the viewer gets to trade in their own dreary life for melodrama, Hollywood celebrities and ABBA songs. It is pure feel-good entertainment, as soothing as a Swedish massage. The films challenge the mind only to the point of wondering what tune the actors might launch into next. Escapism is the name of the game.

The same is true for listening to ABBA’s music, which, while often dealing with sad…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC ABBA’s songs are an escapist treat in melancholy times

Danny Fields and Seymour Stein, champions of punk, look back

(K. Brent Tomer),

NEITHER Seymour Stein nor Danny Fields can remember when they first met. “It seems like forever,” says Mr Stein, now 76, sitting with his daughter Mandy in the London headquarters of Warner Bros Records. “Was he friends with Mommy first or you first?” asks Mandy. “No, I knew him before your mother,” Mr Stein insists.

“No,” Mr Fields, 78, says down the phone from New York. “I was friends with his wife, Linda.” In Mr Fields’s version, it was 1973 and he was the editor of 16 magazine—“a teenybopper fan mag”—and he was desperate to get Elton John in its pages. Mr Fields knew the Steins were friends with the musician, so he printed an agency photo of Linda Stein and Mr John, captioning Ms Stein as a “glamorous New York socialite”. “That got me on her party list and we became good friends,” Mr Fields says. “I used her to get to Elton.”

Messrs Stein and Fields are two Jewish, gay New Yorkers (Mr Stein’s marriage did not last) who between them nurtured much of the most exciting American…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Danny Fields and Seymour Stein, champions of punk, look back

A murder that scandalised Harvard and the world

(K. Brent Tomer),

Parkman in one piece

Blood & Ivy: The 1849 Murder That Scandalised Harvard. By Paul Collins. W.W. Norton & Company; 320 pages; $26.95 and £21.99.

VISITING Boston in 1868, Charles Dickens was asked what he wanted to see most. The room where it happened, Dickens said—by which he meant the scene of a grisly murder that had scandalised the city nearly two decades earlier. The crime had all the ghoulish ingredients of a potboiler: the sudden disappearance of a wealthy landowner and Harvard graduate, George Parkman (pictured); another Harvard man—John Webster, a professor of chemistry and mineralogy—as prime suspect; a dismembered body presumed to be the victim’s; a sullen janitor who supplied the anatomy laboratory with cadavers; and a trial reported in screaming headlines.

In “Blood & Ivy”, Paul Collins ushers readers into that fabled room—and the incestuously tight world of Brahmin…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC A murder that scandalised Harvard and the world

Hunting for fossils in the quirks of language

(K. Brent Tomer),

WHEN stone tools were recently found in China, they were interpreted as proof that the exodus of humans from Africa took place hundreds of thousands of years earlier than was previously thought. The discovery of some hunks of chipped rock illuminated events almost 2m years ago—an intellectual coup for the palaeoanthropologists and geologists who were involved.

Not all fossils are made of stone. For example, at The Economist’s headquarters in London there is a sign reading “By the lifts”; under it are pinned assorted memos and news reports. There are no lifts nearby. Only those of us familiar with the newspaper’s history understand the allusion: such clippings were displayed near the lifts in our previous HQ. Similarly, departments of the paper continue to call themselves “12th floor” and “13th floor”, even though they now share the same (sixth) floor in the new building.

Language is full of relics like this, many of them with fascinating stories…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Hunting for fossils in the quirks of language

The scandal over Flint’s water is a tale of poverty and race

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy. By Anna Clark. Metropolitan Books; 320 pages; $30. 

What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance and Hope in an American City. By Mona Hanna-Attisha. One World; 384 pages; $28.

“YOU really do not want to miss this,” says J.D. Winegarden, a third-generation Flintonian, as he conducts a tour of the nicest bits of his city. From the sylvan grave of Jacob Smith, a fur-trader who founded the town in 1819, he whizzes past Factory One, the birthplace of General Motors, to the Flint Institute of Arts, with its surprisingly snazzy glass collection, and the adjacent planetarium. Beyond blocks of boarded-up houses, many of them still beautiful, Mr Winegarden shows off University Avenue, which connects two of Flint’s five colleges. The tour ends in a posh neighbourhood near downtown, where in the 1920s GM executives built mansions…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The scandal over Flint’s water is a tale of poverty and race

Muriel Spark is a bard of nastiness and lies

(K. Brent Tomer),

The crème de la crème

LIKE Jean Brodie, her greatest creation, Muriel Spark puzzled people as much as beguiling them. She was a Scottish writer who spent most of her life in self-imposed exile in Africa, New York and Italy. She lived in Tuscany with Penelope Jardine, her lifetime companion and literary executor, yet batted off any suggestion that they were lovers. Her novels are mostly short; some were written in the space of six to eight weeks. This brevity annoyed many reviewers (mostly the men). An anonymous critic, writing in 1970 of “The Driver’s Seat”, a taut psychological thriller, moaned that it “will take you 60 minutes to read and cost you sixpence a minute”. But others were entranced.

Spark was born in 1918; to mark her centenary, Polygon, a Scottish imprint, is reissuing all 22 of her novels. Reading them is a corrective to the sentimental view of her that adaptations of her work sometimes encourage. As far-right ideas spread, and misinformation…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Muriel Spark is a bard of nastiness and lies

The brilliant career of Nur Jahan, empress of India

(K. Brent Tomer),

Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan. By Ruby Lal. W.W. Norton & Company; 336 pages; $27.95 and £19.99. 

THAT India’s Mughal emperors could be devoted to their queens is no surprise. The Taj Mahal, their most famous monument, was a homage to the memory of Mumtaz Mahal, the emperor Shah Jahan’s most-mourned wife. Less well-known is that Mumtaz’s aunt (and Shah Jahan’s stepmother), Nur Jahan, was, for 16 years from 1611, in effect India’s co-ruler.

In fact, according to Ruby Lal’s biography, she became “prime minister as well as empress”. Uniquely for a Mughal woman, her name featured on coins. Not until Indira Gandhi became prime minister in 1966 would India again be ruled by a woman. (Queen Victoria was rather hands-off.)

Not that Nur Jahan has been forgotten. Hers is a household name in South Asia, and her story has been told in at least eight films, several plays and many historical…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The brilliant career of Nur Jahan, empress of India

Netflix makes a statement in India with “Sacred Games”

(K. Brent Tomer),

SOMEWHERE in Mumbai, a fluffy white Pomeranian is flung from a skyscraper. As it twists and falls towards the pavement, the opening credits roll; it lands with a splat at the feet of uniformed, shrieking schoolgirls. With that, Netflix has landed in the commercial heart of the country and at the centre of the world’s biggest film factory. 

“Sacred Games”, Netflix’s first Indian “original” series (the term refers to content produced or distributed by Netflix exclusively), was released on July 6th. The streaming giant intends to broaden the possibilities of filmed content in India; by releasing productions online it dodges the country’s notorious film-standards board. “Sacred Games”—which yokes together literary prestige with A-list Bollywood actors, charismatic antiheroes and scads of graphic sex and bloodshed—announces the arrival of “Golden Age” television to the Indian market.

From that first scene to the end of its…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Netflix makes a statement in India with “Sacred Games”