Clash of the titans

(K. Brent Tomer),

Kennedy and Nehru step out

JFK’s Forgotten Crisis: Tibet, the CIA and the Sino-Indian War. By Bruce Riedel. Brookings Institution Press; 256 pages; $29.

IN THE autumn of 1962 Chinese troops invaded Indian-held territory, attacking across the 1,800-mile (2,880km) border that stretches along the Himalayas between the two giants of Asia. Mao Zedong instructed his army to expel Indian soldiers from territory that China claimed in Kashmir. In Washington the Chinese offensive was seen as a serious communist move in the cold war. 

It was an inconvenient moment for the White House. President John Kennedy was absorbed in an even bigger crisis with communism closer to home: the flow of Soviet missiles to Cuba which threatened a nuclear conflict. Luckily for Kennedy, he had his own man in New Delhi. His friend from Harvard, John Kenneth Galbraith, was the American ambassador. So in a relatively easy act of delegation, Galbraith was put in charge of the “other” crisis.

Galbraith proved up to the task, in part, as Bruce Riedel writes in “JFK’s Forgotten Crisis”, because he had…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Clash of the titans


Correction: Whatever should I do?

(K. Brent Tomer),

In a piece on historical agony aunts in our Christmas issue (“Whatever should I do?“), we described a British bigamist as having been transported to Australia before Captain Cook “discovered” the place. The two-timer may well have been shipped to another colony, such as America. Thanks to an alert reader for spotting this.

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Correction: Whatever should I do?

Bearing down

(K. Brent Tomer),

Dealing with the wildlife

WHEN one online reviewer misinterpreted a key sequence in “The Revenant”, Alejandro Iñárritu’s harrowing wilderness-survival drama acquired a nickname: “The Bear Rape Movie”. It is important to clarify, then, that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, a shaggy-bearded 19th-century frontiersman called Hugh Glass, is not raped by a bear, although ursine sexual assault is just about the only ordeal he is spared.

At the start of the film, Mr Iñárritu’s first since his Oscar-winning Broadway farce, “Birdman”, Glass is a member of a fur-trading party that is ambushed by Arikara natives. The ensuing forest battle has the nerve-shredding immediacy of the D-Day set piece in “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), Steven Spielberg’s second-world-war drama. Shortly afterwards, Glass is bitten, clawed, trodden on and flung around (but not raped) by a hulking grizzly, and then left for dead by a treacherous colleague (Tom Hardy). But he forces himself to trek for hundreds of miles to his associates’ fort, via frozen landscapes as hostile and beautifully strange as the surface of an alien…Continue reading

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Voyages of discovery

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Other Classical Musics: Fifteen Great Traditions. Edited by Michael Church. Boydell Press; 426 pages; £25.

ANY self-respecting arts-lover living in America or Europe is familiar with a smattering of writers, painters and sculptors from outside the West. But few cultural buffs could name a single composer from, say, China or Turkey, let alone give any detail about them. A collection of essays, entitled “The Other Classical Musics”, shows how much they are missing.

Intelligently edited by Michael Church, a British critic, the book looks at the canons of different parts of the world (India and China are deemed worthy of two chapters each, though Latin America is ignored). Written by different scholars, each chapter has a common structure, with a concise outline of the instruments, the style and the social relations behind the music. Lots of beautiful pictures and extracts of musical notation break up the text.

The chapters on Indian classical music will be of particular interest to many readers, who may already have a vague understanding of it through the works of Ravi Shankar, a sitar-player (pictured)….Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Voyages of discovery

A most terrible year

(K. Brent Tomer),

BOOKS that focus on what happened in a particular year have become a publishing phenomenon. So Keith Jeffery, a British academic historian whose last work was a fascinating, if slightly plodding, official history of Britain’s secret intelligence service, MI6, must have thought it a clever idea to go for 1916, the midpoint of the first world war. Mr Jeffery’s purpose is to show that not only was it a year of tremendous events, but one in which the effects of the war spread across most of the world, often with consequences that can still be felt a century later.

By 1916, the war that some had believed would be over by Christmas 1914 had become an attritional slog on both the largely static Western Front and on the rather more fluctuating front in the East. To break the deadlock, the general staffs of all the main belligerents continued to work on new tactics, such as the creeping artillery barrage, and to seek new technologies, including the tank, which first saw action in September 1916. Contrary to a widely held view, the second half of the war was a period of unprecedented military innovation.

The idea that sheer offensive <em…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC A most terrible year

Keeping hope alive

(K. Brent Tomer),

Remembering the revolution

The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine. By Serhii Plokhy. Basic Books; 395 pages; $29.99. Allen Lane; £25.

ROWS over inheritances are bitter—within families and between countries. At the heart of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is the contested legacy of a long-forgotten superpower: Kievan Rus. Both Vladimir Putin’s Russia and post-Soviet Ukraine lay claim to the mantle of Vladimir the Great, a prince who just over 1,000 years ago accepted Christian baptism for his unruly tribes of Slavs and Vikings. To patriotic Russians, that was the founding action of their statehood. For Ukrainians, the story is the other way round: their country, so often wiped off the map by its neighbours, is the true descendant.

That dispute underlies today’s smouldering war. Many Russians find it hard to accept that Ukraine is really a state; moreover, Ukrainians (especially if they speak Russian as a first language) are essentially Russians. The territory they inhabit is therefore part of Moscow’s patrimony.

Ukraine’s identity and its enemies over the past ten…Continue reading

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The Muslim roots of a Trumpian title

(K. Brent Tomer),

ROBERT DONALDSON created a stir by writing an ad for a Republican presidential candidate, Dr Ben Carson. It’s not the ad’s catchy jingle that has drawn comment so much as its creator’s identity: Mr Donaldson is a self-described one-of-a-kind Black Christian Republican rapper from Savannah, Georgia. Even more intriguing is his choice of performance name—Aspiring Mogul—and his reason for choosing it. “It’s about me inspiring other black men, other African Americans,” he has said, “to say, ‘Hey, you can start a business, you can become anything you want to become in America.’”

Of course, by “mogul”, Mr Donaldson means “businessman”, and not a medieval Islamic emperor. The word mogul is now so inescapably associated with entertainment grandees—whether Rupert Murdoch, a media mogul, Jay-Z, a hip-hop mogul—that many are unaware of its roots.

Mogul is a corruption of Mughal, the most powerful Islamic dynasty in history, which ruled over most of India from 1526 to 1857. The Mughal emperors were great patrons of the arts and architecture; the artistic apogee of their empire was the Taj Mahal. The modern usage…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The Muslim roots of a Trumpian title

How literature captures our imagination in the snow

(K. Brent Tomer),

“WINTER is coming.” The ominous refrain from “Game of Thrones”, the George R.R. Martin bestseller and hit HBO series, is simple, but thick with cultural association. Our imaginations are drawn strongly towards the dark and cold of winter, even while we may dread the reality. 

On the one hand, the prospect of colder days rouses our instinctive survival fears, but on the other, sanitised modern winters offer both a sensory and emotional allure—crackling fires, fuzzy jumpers, hot drinks and festive family celebrations are routinely fetishised. Tapping into this, brands cunningly vie with each other to produce the ne plus ultra of snowy saccharine holiday adverts (see cosmic the take from John Lewis, a British department store, below).

Fictional winters, whether intended to be cosy or unsettling, tend to be terribly dramatic. Snow, ice, storms and squalls are powerful literary devices; drizzle is not. Of these…Continue reading

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Why the English Premier League has been turned upside down

(K. Brent Tomer),

IF ON the opening day of the 2015-16 English Premier League (EPL) season, you had marched into your local bookmaker and bet on lowly Leicester City to sit at the top of the division on Christmas Day, you would have elicited a chuckle from other wizened punters in the shop. The 1,500-to-one odds on your ticket might not have seemed long enough. The Foxes spent more time in last place than any other side last season, escaping the relegation zone (the bottom three places, from which teams get demoted to a lower division) with barely a month left to play. Of the 20 teams in the league, only the three promoted from the Championship, English football’s second tier, were given a slimmer chance than Leicester’s 5,000-to-one hope of winning the competition.

If you had placed another wager on Chelsea, the reigning champions, to be in 15th place come Yuletide, the giggles would have swelled to guffaws. Last season’s Blues were the first team in EPL history to lead the league wire to wire: they held at least a share of first place every day from start to finish. They were often <a…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Why the English Premier League has been turned upside down