Bromantic interest

(K. Brent Tomer),

LAST week Johnson featured depressing evidence that old-fashioned gender-attitudes are still very much with us, in looking at “sexism” and “misogyny”. But there is good news, too. A host of new words from the past decade shows that straight men in the English-speaking world are enjoying a bit more flexibility in how to be a man.

Ten years ago saw the rise of people like David Beckham, straight men (even in traditionally male domains like sport) who like flashy accessories and a bit of gel in their hair. The press coined “metrosexual” to describe them. The word hasn’t aged well: the New York Times shows a sudden spike in the word’s usage in its pages in 2004, followed by a marked dropoff.

But that is perhaps because more specific words came into being to describe individual bits of the metrosexual’s life: manscaping (careful grooming of body hair); man-purse (later murse), a small bag for a mobile…Continue reading

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The return of Lisbeth Salander

(K. Brent Tomer),

LAST seen vanquishing her half-brother by punching nails through his feet, Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, is making a comeback—but now with a new author. Since the posthumous publication of the first book “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” in 2005, sales of Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy have exceeded 80m copies. Now David Lagercrantz, a Swedish writer best known for ghost writing a celebrity autobiography, “I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic”, has stepped into the original creator’s shoes to bring the tattooed, vengeful hacker Lisbeth back to life.

Resurrecting well-loved characters created by earlier writers inevitably brings out naysayers. Mr Lagercrantz’s new “Millennium”, like the post-Fleming Bond and post-Christie Poirot stories that preceded it, has prompted ethical questions about late artists’ rights. Mr Larsson’s long-time partner, Eva Gabrielsson, has accused his estate and publisher of “grave robbery”, and putting the boot in, called Mr Lagercrantz “an idiotic choice”.

Mr Lagercrantz admitted to feeling the strain: “I’ve been terrified,” he told reporters in Stockholm. “I used to say that I was…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The return of Lisbeth Salander

Age against the machine

(K. Brent Tomer),


LAST September U2 released its 13th album, “Songs of Innocence”. Critics lauded the collection’s lush ballads and rhythmically angular reminiscences of boyhood in 1970s Dublin. But, because it was released as part of a surprise iTunes giveaway, the backlash from users who found the album appearing unbidden on their devices overwhelmed reactions to the record itself.

The Apple stunt should not have come as a complete surprise. U2 has sought again and again to use technology as no other band has. A year after the iTunes imbroglio, with another recording on the horizon (“Songs of Experience”), U2 has taken to the road. The “Innocence + Experience” tour, which arrives in Europe next week after ten sold-out stops in North America, challenges the music industry’s stagnant arena concert model by pitting tradition against technology—a face-off between stage and screen. Many of today’s top touring artists, including Taylor Swift, One Direction, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Beyoncé, use huge catwalk stages and expansive video displays. But none of them has shared their spotlight with gadgetry in quite the way U2 does…Continue reading

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Freedom force

(K. Brent Tomer),

Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance. By Robert Gildea.Belknap; 608 pages; $35. Faber & Faber; £20.

GUY MOQUET was just 17 years old when he was executed by firing squad in Nazi-occupied France. In a poignant letter to his family before his death in 1941, the young Communist résistant wrote: “My life has been short, I have no regrets, if only that of leaving you all. I am going to die…Mummy, what I ask you, what I want you to promise me, is to be brave and to overcome your sorrow.” Môquet swiftly entered French history as a Resistance martyr, and remains a potent symbol. In 2007, on the day of his inauguration as president, Nicolas Sarkozy vowed that Môquet’s farewell letter would be read out each year in every French high school.

That a Gaullist president should devote his first day in office to the memory of a Communist is a measure of how far the narrative of the Resistance continues to shape France’s sense of itself. Môquet, said Mr Sarkozy, embodied more than a patriotic belief in France: he showed that “the greatness…Continue reading

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Bones of contention

(K. Brent Tomer),

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them. By Nancy Marie Brown. St. Martin’s Press; 288 pages; $26.99.

IN 2010 an amateur Icelandic historian gatecrashed an international symposium on the Lewis chessmen, the greatest cache of medieval game pieces ever found. Gudmundur Thorarinsson, a chess-player (and an engineer by profession), hoped to convince the assembled scholars that the 92 walrus ivory pieces unearthed on the Isle of Lewis, off the west coast of Scotland, in 1831 were the work of a woman carver commissioned by a medieval Icelandic bishop. He was dismissed as a “nuthead”. Though no one really knows where the chessmen were made, the consensus of curators of the Lewis hoard held by the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland is that they probably originated in Norway late in the 12th century.

Mr Thorarinsson’s theory, however, caught the eye of Nancy Marie Brown, an American who has written extensively on the Viking age. Alerted by the disparaging of medieval Iceland as a “scrappy place full of farmers”, she…Continue reading

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Blighting the horizon

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers. By Gillian Tett. Simon & Schuster; 304 pages; $28.00. Little, Brown; £20.

WHY do organisations fail? Sometimes it is because their market or purpose disappears completely, as in the case of, say, video-rental shops. But often it is because as they grow, they lose the same innovative streak that made them a success. Like individuals, groups can become stuck in their ways, with fatal results.

In her new book Gillian Tett, a columnist with the Financial Times, blames silos for such failures to adapt. Through eight fables, Ms Tett argues that internal divisions and classifications, say, between doctors and surgeons, hold back creative thinking and encourage turf wars. Breaking them down can lead to innovation and, subsequently, success.   

Take Sony. Having invented the path-breaking Walkman, a portable cassette player, in the late 1970s, Sony was one of the world’s foremost technology companies. Yet it fell behind during the transition to digital music,…Continue reading

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(K. Brent Tomer),

The New Threat from Islamic Militancy. By Jason Burke. The New Press; 304 pages; $24.95. Bodley Head; £16.99.

ISLAMIC STATE (IS) poses a terrorist threat that is greater than any before or since the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, at least according to the British home secretary, Theresa May, speaking last November as she sought to justify extensive new counter-terrorist powers for the government. Barack Obama, also seeking greater powers to attack the group, made a similar assertion three months later: that IS threatens the American homeland itself. With the fall of Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria in May, IS has shown that it is still on the march. How much ought the West to fear the self-styled “caliphate”?

Perhaps not as greatly as politicians make out, according to Jason Burke. In his latest book, “The New Threat from Islamic Militancy”, he usefully divides the dangers into three main sources, and readers may gain a degree of reassurance from each; so long, that is, as they are not living in the Middle East or parts of Africa.

Into the first category of threat…Continue reading

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Educating Aida 

(K. Brent Tomer),

Good clean family fun

A BABY giggles as its headphones supply a critique on Japanese society to accompany a video of school girls whirling with phallic “moya-moya” sticks fashioned from imaginary heart tissue. The video installation is part of an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo that includes Makoto Aida, who has specialised for years in being offensive. Bizarrely, the show is intended for youngsters on their summer holidays, and is all the more provocative for that.

Mr Aida is often labelled sadist, racist and misogynist. An exhibition at the private Mori Art Museum in 2012-13 included a video of himself masturbating in front of the kanji characters for “beautiful young girl”. Another notorious work showed countless naked and bloodied schoolgirls being mashed up in a fruit blender. 

The artist usually demurs when asked what his works mean, but here he says his aim is to show a highly unusual family speaking in a blunt way, to encourage others. His wife, also an artist, and his son built some of the exhibits. Japanese mothers are mocked in a study of a…Continue reading

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Ties that bind

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Story of the Lost Child. By Elena Ferrante. Translation by Ann Goldstein. Europa; 464 pages; $18 and £11.99.

NOVELS become literary blockbusters for many reasons. Some are created by mountains of marketing cash, some by media saturation. “Fifty Shades of Grey” and Harper Lee’s long-lost work, “Go Set a Watchman”, both fit this mould. Others are fuelled by something quite different, and their success is impossible to predict. In recent years “The Neapolitan Novels”, four volumes by an anonymous Italian author calling herself Elena Ferrante, have become a fictional juggernaut that not even the author’s English-language publishers, Europa Editions, saw coming.

Starting with “My Brilliant Friend”, which came out in Italy in 2011, the books focus on the lifelong attachment of two women from a tough Neapolitan neighbourhood. In America, where Ms Ferrante had a modest following, not much happened until 2013, when the translation was written up by James Wood, chief critic of the New Yorker. (Ann Goldstein, the translator, is an editor at the magazine.) By the…Continue reading

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Cricket’s Olympic dilemma

(K. Brent Tomer),

NEXT year in Rio de Janeiro, 28 sports will feature in the Olympic Games. Alongside traditional Olympic sports such as athletics, rugby sevens will make its debut, while golf will appear for the first time since 1904. Yet while the number of sports in the Games has grown, cricket, reckoned by some to be the world’s second most popular sport, will not be among them. Indeed, it has featured only once: in the 1900 Games, when Devon and Somerset Wanderers, representing England, beat the French Athletic Club Union in a match only officially recognised as part of the Olympics 12 years later.

Many would like the sport to return to the fold. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is trying to attract more viewers in the Indian subcontinent; a cricket tournament would help enormously. The IOC officially recognised the International Cricket Council (ICC), the sport’s governing body, in 2010. This leaves the onus on cricket to decide whether to apply for inclusion in the Games….Continue reading

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