Sofia Coppola on being a pioneer for women directors

(K. Brent Tomer),

WITH “The Beguiled”, Sofia Coppola became the second woman in 70 years to win the best director prize at the Cannes film festival. A momentous occasion? Maybe so, but Ms Coppola herself is unfazed to the point of being offhand. “I didn’t know the history of that award in Cannes,” she says, smiling, “and I was really surprised that so few women had won it. I was proud, and so many women were so happy that I felt they really shared in the excitement of that award.”

Whether she shared that excitement herself is not so obvious. She has a habit of making history, but in person she is soft-spoken and composed. She seems vaguely bemused by any attempts to frame her career as anything more than a series of lucky opportunities and intuitive choices. She was only the third woman—after Lina Wertmüller in 1977 and Jane Campion in 1994—to receive an Oscar nomination for best director (“Lost…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Sofia Coppola on being a pioneer for women directors

The man who built an American icon

(K. Brent Tomer),

Chief Engineer: Washington Roebling, the Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge. By Erica Wagner. Bloomsbury; 365 pages; $28 and £25.

A BRIDGE, Erica Wagner says in a lovely turn of phrase, “is a place that is no place at all, that is in itself between”. People build bridges, physically and metaphorically, to connect places and people. “Chief Engineer” is Ms Wagner’s solidly constructed biography of Washington Roebling, the man who joined Brooklyn to Manhattan by the grace of a steel and concrete arc held aloft by a filigree of wire. It is a book about connection, but also about disconnection—the lifelong divide between Roebling and his father, John Roebling, also a celebrated engineer, and the son’s struggle to detach himself from the elder man’s influence.

Ms Wagner, the former literary editor of the Times and an occasional reviewer for this newspaper, has previously written about that…Continue reading

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Predicting the future of money

(K. Brent Tomer),

Before Babylon, Beyond Bitcoin: From Money that We Understand to Money that Understands Us. By David Birch. London Publishing Partnership; 264 pages; £22.50.

PEOPLE use money every day and yet struggle to understand it. The economic experiment known as monetarism—limiting the supply of money in order to control inflation—was abandoned when it became clear it was impossible to establish a precise definition of the money supply. The idea of negative interest rates, introduced by some modern central banks, puzzles those who think that savers should be rewarded for thrift.

“Before Babylon, Beyond Bitcoin” by David Birch, a consultant, offers a broad historical overview on the nature of this essential economic instrument. His underlying thesis is that money has evolved over the ages to suit the needs of society and the economy. Often these changes have occurred because previous forms of money were too inflexible. In…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Predicting the future of money

Stories that hold a mirror up to society

(K. Brent Tomer),

A State of Freedom. By Neel Mukherjee. Chatto & Windus; 275 pages; £16.99. To be published in America by Norton in January.

MIGRATION is generally understood in terms of geography: relocating from one region to another. But what impels those who move, at least when it is voluntary, is often a desire to migrate between social classes. It is this particular aspect of migration that is at the heart of Neel Mukherjee’s “A State of Freedom”, his follow-up to “The Lives of Others”, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize for fiction in 2014.

Mr Mukherjee uses an unconventional structure—five loosely connected stories of varying length, forming a novel—to address his themes of movement and class. In one, a London-settled Indian returns to his parent’s home in Mumbai. His story revolves around food: his love for it, a recipe book he is writing, his parents’ insistence on overfeeding him. The tension arises from his attempts to…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Stories that hold a mirror up to society

How science got women wrong

(K. Brent Tomer),

More than a microscopic mind

Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong. By Angela Saini. Beacon Press; 280 pages; $25.95. Fourth Estate; £12.99.

FOR much of history women were treated as men’s intellectual inferiors. Victorians believed that women’s reproductive health would be damaged if they strained their brains at university. A century ago few countries allowed women to vote. In 2005 Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard University, got into trouble for suggesting that one reason for the scarcity of women among scientists at elite universities may be due to “issues of intrinsic aptitude”. Some scientists rushed to his defence, citing research that suggested that this was true.

“Inferior” by Angela Saini, a British journalist and broadcaster (who has written in the past for The Economist), is an illuminating account of how science has stoked the views that innate preferences and…Continue reading

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The busy lives of 18th-century royalty

(K. Brent Tomer),

Royal, rational, refined

CAROLINE OF ANSBACH, Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz—who? Charlotte (played by Helen Mirren) may ring a bell as the queen in Nicholas Hytner’s 1994 film, “The Madness of King George”. But the others?

These princesses were imported from Germany to provide heirs for the Hanoverian dynasty which succeeded to the British throne in 1714. Caroline was the wife of George II, Augusta of his son Frederick, and Charlotte (pictured) of the mad king, George III. Their chief selling point was their Protestantism and their fertility, both crucial to the nation’s harmony after the civil and religious conflicts and reproductive failures of the Stuarts before them.

“Enlightened Princesses”, a new exhibition at Kensington Palace in London, shows that their significance reached beyond Protestantism and progeny. Intellectually curious, they threw themselves into British life as collectors and patrons of…Continue reading

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Why the 20%, and not the 1% are the real problem

(K. Brent Tomer),

Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do about It. By Richard Reeves. Brookings Institution Press; 196 pages; $24.

WHICH of America’s social fault lines is most dangerous? Race remains as wide a rift as ever. Supporters of Bernie Sanders seethe at the richest 1%. Donald Trump won office exploiting the cultural chasm between an urban, cosmopolitan America and the rest. But if America’s woes are rooted in the inaccessibility of the American dream, the increasingly impenetrable barrier around those who manage to achieve it is the place to probe.

That is where Richard Reeves, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, aims his fire in “Dream Hoarders”: at America’s richest fifth, its upper middle class. Having grabbed their piece of prosperity, the upper middle class are fighting like hell to keep it. They—which is to say you, in all…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Why the 20%, and not the 1% are the real problem

An exhibition at the Design Museum in London shows colour in a new light

(K. Brent Tomer),

“IT IS FORM which comes first,” Le Corbusier wrote in 1920, “and everything else should be subordinated to it.” “Everything else” included colour—“the sensory jubilations of the paint tube” as the French architect put it—which was capricious, distracting and liable to fade or change over time. The belief in the inferiority of colour, which existed long before Le Corbusier, has persisted. Now, however, Hella Jongerius, an influential Dutch designer and an art director for the interior brand Vitra, is challenging this prejudice in an exhibition at the Design Museum in London. Her aim in “Breathing Colour”, spelled out in large, Helvetica-inflected letters at the entrance, is to “pit the power of colour against the power of form”.

The exhibit is in the basement of the museum’s new home in Kensington. This seems a curious decision for an exhibition that places so much emphasis on the power of light to influence perceptions….Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC An exhibition at the Design Museum in London shows colour in a new light

Autobiographical storytelling is bridging divides in Beirut

(K. Brent Tomer),

MARAM, an eloquent 14-year-old from Ain el-Hilweh, Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, stood behind the microphone and began her story. After a minute she faltered, flushing as she turned to a lady in the front row for her hand-written notes. The audience burst into a round of spontaneous applause, calling out words of encouragement. One of five storytellers to speak on the theme of “Borders, Frontiers and Road Blocks” at the June edition of the Hakaya Storytelling Night in Beirut, Maram shared her feelings on the stigmatisation she faces growing up as a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon. 

Hakawatis—storytellers—have historically been an integral part of Middle Eastern culture, orating popular myths and fables to audiences in cafés and public squares. In Beirut, where the tradition of public storytelling has faded in recent decades, a new phenomenon is drawing crowds: autobiographical storytelling events where participants share their experiences on a theme such as “love”, “transition” or…Continue reading

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“Okja”, a heart-warming homily on the horrors of the meat industry

(K. Brent Tomer),

IN LIFE, as in art, “Okja” has been causing consternation to big corporations. At the Cannes screening of the new film, the logo of its studio Netflix, was booed. French authorities insist on a three-year gap between a film’s theatrical release and its online streaming release. As a result, Netflix has refused to show its films in French theatres. The old guard—epitomised by the Cannes jury—have cast themselves as a creative David to Netflix’s charmless corporate Goliath. But, as Bong Joon Ho, the South Korean director of “Okja”, has pointed out, Netflix was the only studio willing to let him tell the story of “Okja” as he and his co-writer, Jon Ronson, conceived it, gore and all. The result shows that Netflix was right to do so.

Okja, a car-sized, pig-like creature with the face of an amiable hippo, was conceived by the Mirando corporation to bring down meat costs and…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC “Okja”, a heart-warming homily on the horrors of the meat industry