How artists depicted George Washington and the idea of the presidency

(K. Brent Tomer),

GEORGE WASHINGTON stares down from the rotunda of the Capitol Building, his sword pointed menacingly to earth. Painted in 1865, at the end of the civil war, by Constantino Brumidi, “The Apotheosis of Washington” (pictured) depicts the first president as a god in modern dress, flanked by 13 goddesses representing the colonies that would become the first states of the union. He is the nation’s heavenly protector: a rainbow arcs at his feet and encircles the goddess Athena, who thrusts her shield of stars and stripes at the president and vice president of the Confederacy. The depiction touched on a novel question for the young nation: How should the president, and the presidency, be represented?

Washington was an unprecedented figure, a man remembered both for holding power and surrendering it. He eschewed portraits, and never commissioned an official one. After his death in 1799, all this posed a challenge. “There was no prescribed way of seeing, and implicitly thinking, about America’s chief executive,” says Susan Schoelwer, the senior…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC How artists depicted George Washington and the idea of the presidency


Why America and Mexico are destined to grow even closer

(K. Brent Tomer),

Vanishing Frontiers: The Forces Driving Mexico and the United States Together. By Andrew Selee. PublicAffairs; 336 pages; $28 and £20.

Homelands: Four Friends, Two Countries and the Fate of the Great Mexican-American Migration. By Alfredo Corchado. Bloomsbury Publishing; 304 pages; $27 and £18.99.

ON THE Mexican-American border in Tijuana stands a building that resembles the hull of a ship. In 2004 authorities discovered a tunnel that gangsters had dug inside it, to smuggle drugs beneath the border wall. Officials jammed the tunnel with concrete; the building was taken over by a cross-border arts council, which aims to promote cultural integration between Mexico and America. These days La Casa del Túnel hosts exhibitions and workshops for aspiring artists. Among the paintings that adorn the walls is a diptych of Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump.

Up on the roof, with its view across the border and into southern…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Why America and Mexico are destined to grow even closer

American political rhetoric is sliding towards the sewer

(K. Brent Tomer),

MOST adults know all the words that will appear in this column. But they may still be shocked to hear them used in public, even distinguished, places. Robert De Niro won a standing ovation at the recent Tony Awards for shouting “Fuck Trump!” Samantha Bee, in a tirade on her comedy news show against Donald Trump’s immigration policy, called Ivanka Trump, his daughter, a “feckless cunt”. Their main target responded as usual, punching back at “no talent Samantha Bee” and “Robert De Niro, a very Low IQ individual” on Twitter.

Of course the great pioneer of vulgar political language sits in the Oval Office. During his campaign in 2016, Mr Trump promised to “bomb the shit” out of Islamic State, said voters should tell firms that move overseas to “go fuck themselves”, and smirkingly repeated an audience member’s dismissal of an opponent as “a pussy”. Mr Trump said that a female journalist who had asked him tough questions had “blood coming out of her wherever”. In office,…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC American political rhetoric is sliding towards the sewer

Lauren Groff’s short stories pulse with hidden malevolence

(K. Brent Tomer),

What lies beneath

Florida. By Lauren Groff. Riverhead Books; 288 pages; $27. William Heinemann; £14.99.

FLORIDA is a gift to writers. Beneath its artificial shine lies dark, primeval swampland; a gulf divides the seen from the unseen. Visitors to the Sunshine State can quickly find themselves in the realm of the gothic, at once fascinated and repelled.

Born and raised in Cooperstown, New York, Lauren Groff is one such transplant, and a connoisseur of the tension between appearance and depth. Her dazzling third novel, “Fates and Furies”, a portrait of a marriage built on secrets, was nominated for the National Book Award. Her new collection plunges into similarly murky terrain. Many of the 11 stories in “Florida” describe experiences of upheaval, violent disruptions to life’s placid surface.

There is more than a little of David Lynch in Ms Groff’s Floridian landscape: exotic and bright, yet pulsing with…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Lauren Groff’s short stories pulse with hidden malevolence

Habsburg culture is back in vogue

(K. Brent Tomer),

IN HIS novel “The Radetzky March”, published in 1932, Joseph Roth traces the changing fortunes of the Trotta family amid the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. “People lived on memories,” Roth writes of the era before the first world war, “just as now they live by the capacity to forget quickly and completely.” To the Trottas, life seems to be accelerating; nationalism, militarism and class antagonism are rife. Rumour runs amok. Little wonder that Vienna’s Burgtheater recently staged a version of the story. “We thought it fit the times we live in,” says Johan Simons, the play’s Dutch director.

This reinterpretation of Roth’s novel is one instance of a widespread interest in the art and style of the old Habsburg empire. Last year, for example, Arthur Schnitzler’s play “La Ronde”, set in Vienna in the 1890s, was staged in London; Federico Tiezzi, an Italian director, is reinterpreting a series of Schnitzler’s works outside Florence. “Morir”, a Spanish…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Habsburg culture is back in vogue

A new book explores the myths and reality of Rodrigo Duterte’s life

(K. Brent Tomer),

Make his day

Duterte Harry: Fire and Fury in The Philippines. By Jonathan Miller.Scribe; 346 pages; £14.99. To be published in America as “Rodrigo Duterte” in September; $17.95.

AFTER Rodrigo Duterte won his first election in 1988—to become mayor of Davao, a city on the troubled southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines—the shadow of the Moon passed over his victory. The local word for an eclipse is also that for a fabulous, fanged sea-serpent: bakunawa. This dark omen epitomises the ghoulish detail in Jonathan Miller’s biography. It also captures the almost fantastical nature of Mr Duterte’s life. Since he became president in 2016, his monstrous tendencies have emerged in a brutal anti-drugs campaign, his treatment of critics and authoritarian rants. As Mr Miller, a TV journalist, poignantly shows, one of Asia’s oldest democracies and its 103m people are suffering—even if many seem to…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC A new book explores the myths and reality of Rodrigo Duterte’s life

What does it mean to be Métis?

(K. Brent Tomer),

JUNE 21ST is National Indigenous Peoples Day, an occasion for Canada to celebrate the cultures and achievements of its aboriginal inhabitants. Two of the three groups honoured––First Nation peoples and Inuit––have lived in Canada for thousands of years. But for around 450,000 Canadian Métis things are different: they emerged later, when European settlers married aboriginal women. This history continues to be important: it shapes contemporary Métis culture as well as arguments about what it means in modern Canada.

Though some scholars look earlier and further east, it is generally thought that the first Métis developed from about 1650, as British and French traders moved to the Great Lakes in search of expensive beaver pelts. These adventurers soon met indigenous peoples, and their children became the first Métis (the word means “mixed” in French). From the start, this society melded European and aboriginal elements. Métis women used local beadwork to decorate tight-fitting European clothing, for example. Their diet incorporated…Continue reading

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Why Turkish students are turning to speculative fiction

(K. Brent Tomer),

IN CAFES outside Istanbul University, students pore over a glossy leaflet. It is not one of the many political pamphlets being distributed ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24th; inside are not campaign promises, but stories of fantasy fiction set in supernatural or imaginary worlds. 

Since the attempted military coup in July 2016, the suppression of freedom of expression has swept through Turkey’s universities. Nearly 5,000 academics were dismissed; books, many written by prominent political journalists, were confiscated. At Istanbul University, common areas have been closed, political gatherings are forbidden and students are obliged to attend classes in shifts to reduce mingling. There was a temporary ban on students entering faculty buildings other than their own. In April a bill submitted to parliament proposed splitting up the university. One professor called it an attempt at control through a “divide and rule policy”.

In this difficult climate, speculative fiction has thrived as students turn to…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Why Turkish students are turning to speculative fiction

Can Russia’s national football team emerge from its recent slump?

(K. Brent Tomer),

ON JUNE 14th Russia kicked off its home World Cup with a thumping 5-0 win. Few of the 78,011 delighted fans at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium cared that the opponents, Saudi Arabia, had the lowest-ranked squad at the tournament, according to most forecasters. Nor did they worry about “expected goals”—a statistic that estimates how often a team would have scored and conceded on average, given the quality of its chances. Number-crunchers suggested that the most probable margin would have been about 2-0. Most commentators dwelt instead on a pair of outrageous curling strikes by Denis Cheryshev and Aleksandr Golovin. 

The win gave the hosts a 92% chance of reaching the knockout rounds, according to FiveThirtyEight, a statistics website. The last time Russian players progressed that far, they were wearing the colours of the Soviet Union. Yet their current opportunity is largely a reflection on <a…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Can Russia’s national football team emerge from its recent slump?

At a loss for words? Join the Bureau of Linguistical Reality

(K. Brent Tomer),

CASAPERDIDA, noun: A feeling of anxiety that your house will be lost as a result of a torrential storm or event related to climate change. You might say, for instance, “I am unable to sleep at night as I am overwhelmed by a nagging sense of casaperdida.” This was an example provided by the Florida resident who submitted the word to The Bureau of Linguistical Reality (BLR). The word was approved and thus “created”.

Founded in 2014 by Heidi Quante and Alicia Escott, the BLR is a participatory dictionary and conceptual art project. The artists, who are based in San Francisco, see it as addressing what they consider an absence of language—“a linguistical void”—that accurately reflects the modern world. In their mission statement, they write that: “Our species (Homo Sapiens) is experiencing a collective ‘loss of words’ as our lexicon fails to represent the emotions and experiences we are undergoing as our habitat (earth) rapidly changes due to climate change…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC At a loss for words? Join the Bureau of Linguistical Reality