The year of the great Gordon Parks

(K. Brent Tomer),

Gordon Parks, Airline Terminal, Atlanta, Georgia, 1956

HALF a century ago in America, nonviolent protests and acts of civil disobedience, organised by leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, helped put the spotlight on the bigotry and injustice that black Americans faced. The civil-rights movement prompted lawmakers to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin”, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A fifty-something African-American photographer Gordon Parks, who also directed the Blaxploitation film “Shaft” in 1971 and cofounded “Essence” magazine in 1970, was an integral part of the movement, from taking intimate portraits of the characters involved, to photographing the myriad rallies that took place in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Yet Parks, who straddled protest and photography, remains outside the pantheon of great black leaders in civil rights, and is less known his than mostly white contemporaries in photography. 

“Fifty Years After: Gordon Parks, Carrie Mae Weems, Mickalene Thomas and LaToya Ruby…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The year of the great Gordon Parks

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New Champions League rules are a political truce with Europe’s rich clubs

(K. Brent Tomer),

FOOTBALL purists have long argued that the UEFA Champions League, Europe’s top international club competition, does not live up to its name. Until 1992, only the reigning champions from the continent’s domestic leagues had the right to be crowned Europe’s best. Today, barely half of entrants can make that claim: 15 of the 32 teams in this year’s group stage failed to win their domestic leagues in 2015-16. This trend will only be exacerbated by the changes announced on August 26th by UEFA, the sport’s European governing body, which will make qualification easier in the future for also-ran clubs in rich leagues. Starting in 2018-19, half of the 32 group-stage places will be reserved for the top four teams in the four best-performing leagues in European competitions (Spain, Germany, England and Italy). Four more automatic places will go to France and Portugal, and two to Russia and Ukraine. And as for the champions from the likes of the Netherlands, Switzerland and Turkey? They will just have to slog it out in the play-offs.

Modifications to the entry criteria are not the only changes afoot. UEFA will also begin to award clubs bonus points…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC New Champions League rules are a political truce with Europe’s rich clubs

The unlikely rise of the British outdoor cinema

(K. Brent Tomer),

OPEN-AIR cinemas in Melbourne are a hallowed tradition. In December, when temperatures can soar, the deck chairs, bean bags and picnic blankets come out; around 60,000 people annually descend on the screenings at the Royal Botanic Gardens alone. Cult films, Hollywood blockbusters and old classics are enjoyed in agreeable temperatures, even after sunset. 

Australia is one thing, Britain is another. July temperatures hover around 15°C and bursts of rain are not uncommon. Paying £10 and more to sit on hard ground and watch a feature you probably have seen before is less appealing in these conditions. And yet open-air cinema companies are cropping up across Britain, and enjoying plenty of success. Luna Cinema, the country’s leading such organisation, sees 20% growth season-on-season; they claim that open-air cinema is now a “staple of the British summertime”. This year’s programme has included screenings at an array of dazzling locations: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” at the Tower of London, “Pretty Woman” at Hampton Court Palace and “Harry Potter” at Alnwick Castle (the castle’s grounds feature heavily…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The unlikely rise of the British outdoor cinema

Rue the rules

(K. Brent Tomer),

BRITISH children will soon go back to school. As they settle into their English lessons, they will be made to learn grammar, spelling and punctuation as if these were as fixed as the stars in the sky.

Most pupils will be unaware that parents, teachers, policymakers, researchers and critics have been wrangling over what kind of grammar should be taught; when it should be taught; how students should be graded and, in particular, how they should be tested. After an overhaul several years ago, the “Key Stage 2” tests given to 11-year-olds have been particularly controversial. Critics say that the terminology is too advanced for 11-year-olds. They also say that the teachers are unprepared themselves, since grammar teaching went out of fashion for decades in the English-speaking world. And the terminology they are expected to know has changed since the days when those who were lucky enough to study grammar did so in the mid- and late 20th century.

No one disputes that children need to be able to write. But do 11-year-olds need the skill of identifying—by name—a “relative clause” (eg, the house that I live in),…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Rue the rules

War games

(K. Brent Tomer),

ABOUT a decade ago, a series of earnest and mostly dull Hollywood films weighed the cost of America’s wars in the Middle East. Paul Haggis’s “In the Valley of Elah” came out in 2007 and “Stop-Loss”, directed by Kimberly Peirce, in 2008. These downbeat dramas were followed by a generation of action movies which fetishised the danger of being a soldier in Afghanistan and Iraq. Chief among them was Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” (2008), Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor” (2013) and “American Sniper” directed by Clint Eastwood a year later. More recently, Hollywood’s embrace of war in the Middle East has shifted again.

Its latest dispatches from the front line, or just behind it, are raucous comedies. Their protagonists are American civilians who learn that there is adventure to be had and money to be made by flying to a war zone. In these films—which are mostly, loosely speaking, based on true stories—Baghdad and Kabul are lawless gold-rush towns where failures can reinvent themselves as hard-partying successes, and where the bullets whizzing past their ears are all part of the rowdy fun.

First came…Continue reading

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More than just getting from A to B

(K. Brent Tomer),

Early commuter

The Tunnel Through Time: A New Route for an Old London Journey. By Gillian Tindall. Chatto & Windus; 306 pages; £20.

CROSSRAIL, a new rail line running east-west through London and its suburbs, is described as the biggest construction project in Europe today. It is also one of Britain’s biggest-ever archaeological undertakings. Since construction started in 2009, archaeologists have made more than 10,000 discoveries. These include Roman horseshoes, a medieval reservoir under Oxford Street, ice skates made of bones, Venetian glass, chamber pots, pickled onions and human bones—lots and lots of bones.

The bones come from plague victims spanning centuries. They come from executed murderers, highwaymen and petty thieves unlucky enough to be caught and strung up. They come from Christian martyrs of all stripes, those who in the bloody early half of the second millennium belonged to the wrong faith in the wrong place at the wrong time. They come from sanctified churchyards piled deep as the centuries passed, for London has a lot of history and a lot of…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC More than just getting from A to B

Rich pickings

(K. Brent Tomer),

Spies in the Congo: America’s Atomic Mission in World War II. By Susan Williams. PublicAffairs; 369 pages; $28.99. Hurst; £25.

“A HOTBED of spies”, remarked Bob Laxalt when he arrived in Léopoldville, capital of the Belgian Congo, in 1944. Why, wondered the fresh-faced young code officer for the American Consul-General, was his government so interested in this “dark corner of darkest Africa”? After all: “There’s no war here.”

Laxalt was not alone in his ignorance. America’s interest in the Congo—and, specifically, in the resource-rich south-eastern province of Katanga—was one of the best-kept secrets of the second world war. Beneath its verdant soil lay a prize that the Americans believed held the key to victory. It was the race to control this prize that brought the spooks to Léopoldville. The Germans, they feared, might be after it, too.

The prize, Susan Williams explains in “Spies in the Congo”, was uranium. Congo was by far the richest source of it in the world. As the architects of America’s nuclear programme (the “Manhattan Project”) knew, uranium…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Rich pickings

False consciousness

(K. Brent Tomer),

Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion. By Gareth Stedman Jones.  Allen Lane; 750 pages; £35. To be published in America by Belknap in October.

COMMUNISM collapsed nearly 30 years ago, but the influence of Karl Marx lives on. Marxist approaches are found in some of the most interesting history and sociology being published today. Marx’s works, including “The Communist Manifesto”, written with Friedrich Engels in 1848, may have had more impact on the modern world than many suppose. Of the manifesto’s ten principal demands, perhaps four have been met in many rich countries, including “free education for all children in public schools” and a “progressive or graduated income tax”.

There is no better guide to Marx than Gareth Stedman Jones of Queen Mary University of London. In a new book he offers rich descriptions of Marx’s life, much of which was spent in abject poverty. German-born “Karl”, as the author refers to him, would work three or four days straight without sleep and was constantly ill (his uncompromising diet, based on “highly seasoned dishes, smoked fish, caviar and…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC False consciousness

Out of Africa

(K. Brent Tomer),

A story of old—and new

Who Will Catch Us As We Fall. By Iman Verjee. Oneworld; 442 pages; $15.99 and £12.99.

A FAR cry from the outsider-in-Africa literature made famous by Karen Blixen and Elspeth Huxley, “Who Will Catch Us As We Fall” is an unflinching novel about an Indian family in Nairobi. Set between 1995 and 2007, it is a portrait of Kenya’s capital, a place that may cling to its moniker—“the green city in the sun”—but thanks to its reputation for crime, is known more commonly as “Nairobbery”. Violence, prostitution, corruption, poverty, police brutality, political impunity and the often seemingly insurmountable divisions of tribe and race are laid bare in this book.

An assured insight into the culture of the Indian-Kenyans who arrived during the colonial era, this is the second novel by Iman Verjee (pictured), who grew up in Kenya. An idealistic father, Raj Kohli longs for his son Jai to take up the mantle left by Pio Gama Pinto, a politician who was assassinated just over a year after independence. Jai yearns to be accepted in his homeland…Continue reading

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Now that anyone can be a DJ, is the art form dead?

(K. Brent Tomer),

THE best nightclub DJs possess a shamanistic power. They have it within them to control the movements of thousands of people as if they were a single being; to hold the mood of a crowd in their hands; to force it to turn, arms aloft, and await instruction. That need is deep-rooted. In “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life”, a history of the subject, Bill Brewster imagines night falling on prehistoric savannahs, where early man “abandoned the taboos of waking life” and “joined the gods”. To a relentless beat struck by an army of drummers, he would lose himself in dance. The witchdoctor who led this carnal parade, writes Mr Brewster, was the modern DJ’s antecedent.

To gain such lofty status, DJs, particularly back in the days of vinyl records, had to sweat. Before digitisation, mixing records in a nightclub was a technical discipline as difficult to master as learning chord progressions on a guitar. Flitting between two records, with different beats-per-minutes and in different keys, meant the best managed to create unique music in real time, using nothing but two turntables and a mixing desk. Playing a set that lasted for hours,…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Now that anyone can be a DJ, is the art form dead?