Cambridge gets a memorial for Syd Barrett

(K. Brent Tomer),

ASK anyone what the words “Pink Floyd” mean and you will get a swift answer: one of the biggest rock acts the world has known. Their 1973 LP “The Dark Side of the Moon” transformed them from 1960s cult experimentalists into a late-20th century recording and performing giant. The band made Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright (who died in 2008) vast fortunes. But Syd Barrett, the fifth Floyd, remains a shadow in the background to all but the band’s devoted fans and psychedelic-rock aficionados.

Yet it was Barrett co-founded the group, with Messrs Waters, Mason and Wright, in 1965. Mr Waters and Barrett had known each other at school in Cambridge, where Barrett was born in 1946. Charismatic and curly-haired, elfin in velvet and dress shirts, he became Floyd’s lead guitarist and frontman. With his crisp baritone, he was the beating heart of their early song-making. His quirky stories and imagery in singles such as “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play” feel as vivid today as they were when the songs were hits nearly 50 years ago.

However, after the release in 1967 of Floyd’s first LP, “The Piper at the…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Cambridge gets a memorial for Syd Barrett

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Werner Herzog marvels at the internet

(K. Brent Tomer),

IF someone were to burn onto CDs the data transmitted worldwide on any given day, and then stack them up, the pile would stretch to Mars and back. The character and meaning of this astonishing output—and its bearing on humankind—is the subject of Werner Herzog’s latest documentary, “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World”.

To contend with a phenomenon as astounding as the internet, the director starts at the beginning. As the camera roves around the “repulsive” corridors of a UCLA campus, Mr Herzog’s distinctive voice-over explains that here, sequestered in a humdrum side office, is “some sort of shrine”: the wardrobe-sized computer that sent the first digital message in 1969. The message was just two letters—“lo”—as the full and rather more banal instruction (“login”) did not get through because the receiving computer in Stanford crashed. From these humble origins, Mr Herzog explains, came one of the biggest revolutions in human history: the digital age.

Now aged 74, Mr Herzog has directed more than 70 feature films, documentaries and shorts, including…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Werner Herzog marvels at the internet

Lexicography unbound

(K. Brent Tomer),

THERE is something comforting in a dictionary: right angles, a pleasing heft, reassuringly rigid covers. A new one is tight, a bright sheaf of discoveries yet to be made; an old one is a musty but trusted cosy friend. A good dictionary is the classic school-leaving gift from ambitious parents to their children. A great dictionary might even be passed on through several generations.

But maybe the most reassuring thing about a dictionary is its finite nature. A small dictionary contains all the words you need to know, and a really big one seems to contain all the words in existence. Having one nearby seems to say that the language has boundaries, and reasonable ones at that.

It might surprise dictionary-owners to know that most lexicographers do not think of their subject in this way at all. The decision to impose a page-count on a dictionary is in fact a painful one. Definitions can almost never cover the full complexity of a word, even in huge dictionaries. And even more painful is leaving words out simply for reasons of space.

Many readers think that something is a “real word” if it’s “in the dictionary” (raising the question…Continue reading

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France v Germany

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Euro and the Battle of Ideas. By Markus Brunnermeier, Harold James and Jean-Pierre Landau. Princeton University Press; 440 pages; $35 and £24.95.

THE euro crisis that first blew up in late 2009 has revealed deep flaws in the single currency’s design. Yet in part because it began with the bail-out of Greece, many politicians, especially German ones, think the main culprits were not these design flaws but fiscal profligacy and excessive public debt. That meant the only cure was fiscal austerity. In fact, that has often needlessly prolonged the pain. Later bail-outs of countries like Ireland and Spain showed that excessive private debt, property bubbles and over-exuberant banks can cause even bigger problems for financial stability.

That is one early conclusion of “The Euro and the Battle of Ideas”, by three academics from Germany, Britain and France. They describe thoroughly the watershed moments of the crisis, how power shifted to national governments (especially in Berlin) and the roles played by the IMF and the European Central Bank (ECB). They blame euro-zone governments for failing to sort out troubled…Continue reading

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Evolutionary tales

(K. Brent Tomer),

Agrarian heroes

IN 1927 John Dos Passos, an American writer and artist, returned from a long stay in Mexico where he had been soaking up the vibrant cultural scene south of the border. Reporting on what he found in an article for the New Masses, he proclaimed: “Everywhere the symbol of the hammer and sickle. Some of it’s pretty hasty, some of it’s garlanded tropical bombast, but by God, it’s painting.”

“Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism 1910-1950”, a fascinating exhibition that has just opened at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and will travel to the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City next year, takes its name from that essay and largely confirms the writer’s judgment. The kind of painting that the novelist had in mind is epitomised by Diego Rivera’s “Sugar Cane” (1931, pictured), a scene of plantation life filled with tropical scenery and, yes, plenty of bombast. Much of the work in the show preaches and hectors, stokes nationalist fervour and promotes Marxist ideology. But most of it has such gusto, such sense of purpose and a conviction that images well made and…Continue reading

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Ahead of her time

(K. Brent Tomer),

Eleanor Roosevelt: The War Years and After, 1939-1962. By Blanche Wiesen Cook. Viking; 670 pages; $40.

Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady. By Susan Quinn. Penguin; 404 pages; $30.

IT IS tempting to think that in a different era, Eleanor Roosevelt could have become president of the United States. Widely loved, the longest-serving first lady was on the right side of history on virtually every subject, including civil rights, acceptance of European refugees and the need to end empires. She was fierce in support of her causes. Impatient as well as impassioned, she tirelessly lobbied her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), to embrace her projects too. Theirs was “one of history’s most powerful and enduring partnerships”, her biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook explains. “She understood his needs, forgave his transgressions, buried her jealousies, and embarked on her own independent career…FDR encouraged her independence and when he silenced her did so for reasons of state.”

The third and final volume of Ms Cook’s life of Eleanor Roosevelt is concerned…Continue reading

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A Swiftian hero

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Sellout. By Paul Beatty. Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 304 pages; $26. Oneworld; £12.99.

THE narrator of Paul Beatty’s fourth novel, “The Sellout”, is Bonbon, a black man who grows artisanal watermelons and marijuana in southern California. One of the finer strains of weed that he develops is called Anglophobia. The joke, however, is now on the author. Earlier this year “The Sellout” was shortlisted for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize, a British award that rewards humour in fiction. On October 25th, Mr Beatty became the first American to win the Man Booker prize for fiction.

Born in 1962, Mr Beatty won his initial literary award in 1990 while making his name as a performance poet, both at festivals and on television. After publishing two volumes of poetry, his debut novel, “The White Boy Shuffle”, was described by the New York Times as “a blast of satirical heat from the talented heart of black American life”. “Slumberland”, his third novel, was about a black American DJ in Berlin.

In 2006 Mr…Continue reading

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Fifty years of “Wide Sargasso Sea”

(K. Brent Tomer),

“THERE is always another side. Always,” notes Jean Rhys’s protagonist in “Wide Sargasso Sea” (1966). It seems like an obvious statement for a storyteller to make, but the idea of “writing back” was somewhat radical 50 years ago when authors in Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean decided to use fiction to challenge the Eurocentric perspectives and colonialist themes dormant in Victorian and modernist classics. “Wide Sargasso Sea”, which approaches Charlotte Brönte’s “Jane Eyre” from the perspective of Antoinette Cosway, has endured as a landmark in the English-language canon for this reason.

It follows Antoinette, an isolated child, as she grows up on a crumbling estate in British Jamaica. Her father is an English slave-owner who, after the passage of the 1833 Emancipation Act, becomes impoverished and dies in debt. When Antoinette’s mother remarries, she is sent to a boarding school for creole girls where she becomes envious of the lighter-skinned pupils and rebuffs the friendship of her “coloured” cousins for fear of association. At 17, her wealthy stepfather arranges a marriage to an English gentleman, and it is at…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Fifty years of “Wide Sargasso Sea”

“Anastasia”: a collision of history, dance and science

(K. Brent Tomer),

IT IS rare enough for ballet to take a true story as its subject matter, rarer still for that storyline to be overtaken by the march of science. But such is the case of “Anastasia”, a ballet inspired by the curious case of Anna Anderson, a distressed young woman admitted to a Berlin mental asylum in 1920 after jumping off a bridge. Apparently unable to recall her own name, the woman was registered by the hospital as “Fräulein Unbekannt” (“Miss Unknown”). When another inmate claimed to recognise her as a Romanov princess, a fevered search for the woman’s true identity was triggered and became a decades-long cause célèbre.

The Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov was the fourth and youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, murdered alongside her parents and siblings by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Or was she? The possibility that she had escaped that fate seized the imagination of the popular press, fiercely dividing public opinion. Some, including members of the wider Romanov family, were desperate to draw a line under the grisly events of the Revolution and saw Anderson as a calculating impostor. Others believed, or perhaps hoped, that…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC “Anastasia”: a collision of history, dance and science

A home-grown Indian sport is winning fans far beyond the subcontinent

(K. Brent Tomer),

AT 6PM on a sweltering weekday evening, a street junction in Ahmedabad in western India is abuzz. On a footpath outside a big stadium, a hawker peddles colourful jerseys and wrist bands as young men line up to have the country’s flag painted on their faces. Selfies abound. A long queue snakes around the stadium’s corner, waiting for its gates to be opened. Tilak Patel, an engineering student, has driven six hours with his friends to reach the venue. “It’s worth it,” he says on a day when India is set to take on England—not in a game of cricket, but in the 12-nation World Cup tournament of Kabaddi, an ancient Indian contact sport that has gripped the country. The hometown fans were duly rewarded for their dedication: after two invigorating weeks, India successfully defended its title in the final on October 22nd.

Kabaddi is a cross between freestyle wrestling and rugby that tests speed, agility and power. Two teams of seven players each take turns in dispatching an attacker, known as a “raider”, onto the defender’s turf. To earn points, he must tag an opponent while mumbling “Kabaddi kabaddi” in one long breath, and then hop back in his half. If the…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC A home-grown Indian sport is winning fans far beyond the subcontinent