How Lithuania dealt with its Soviet statues

(K. Brent Tomer),

JOSEF STALIN stands in military dress, his hand tucked inside the breast of his coat. Vladimir Lenin sits—relaxed, cross-legged—with a book. Elsewhere, he extends his arm, mimicking the pose he adopted when he arrived in Russia in 1917 to seize power. Grutas Park, a sculpture garden in south-west Lithuania, is the home of 86 such relics of the Soviet era. Established by Viliumas Malinauskas, a mushroom magnate, the park has been their woodland home since 2001.

In 1990, when Lithuania declared its independence from the Soviet Union, citizens pulled down statues of leaders and prominent communist figures. In the heated political moment there was little thought for what to do with them subsequently (as seems to be the case in many of the American cities that have removed their Confederate monuments). After a debate in Lithuania’s parliament, the statues were removed and placed into…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC How Lithuania dealt with its Soviet statues


The White House has become a cultural wasteland

(K. Brent Tomer),

IT IS hard to imagine a presidential duty as easy, uncontroversial and plainly enjoyable as hosting the nation’s greatest artists, writers, actors and musicians at the White House. Such events offer a reprieve from politics and partisanship. They bestow glamour on an administration. They are a routine part of the job—a means of recognising and supporting the indispensable role of the arts in a great civilisation. 

Yet for Donald Trump even this duty is proving difficult. Artists have snubbed him since the inauguration, when musicians like Elton John, Céline Dion and Garth Brooks refused invitations to perform. “Anything that gives aid and comfort to the adversary is a poor idea,” tweeted Joyce Carol Oates, a novelist, in support. By contrast, Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 drew together the very best in American culture—Aretha Franklin, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, John Williams, Elizabeth Alexander and (for the Obamas’ first dance that night) Beyoncé. 

The country’s cultural elite have…Continue reading

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Pop music is rejecting the piano. Why?

(K. Brent Tomer),

A SEARCH for the sound of acoustic piano in Billboard’s current Hot 100 yields few results. It is nowhere to be found in “I’m The One”, a collaboration between DJ Khaled and Justin Bieber (pictured), or among the digitised marimbas of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You”. “Strip That Down”, an R&B track from Liam Payne (formerly of One Direction), also relies on computer-generated sounds. The piano has not been totally consigned to history: it is at the heart of “Praying”, a soulful ballad by Kesha, and Harry Styles’s “Sign of the Times”. But usually, ebony-and-ivory interludes make only fleeting appearances in pop songs, as in Coldplay and the Chainsmokers’ “Something Just Like This”. Has the tinkling of keys gone out of fashion?

From the earliest Italian fortepianos of the 1600s to the German Lieder of the 1800s, the acoustic piano was an integral part of songwriting, seen as a perfect complement to a singing voice. In the late 19th century, the instrument was a status symbol; New York was home…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Pop music is rejecting the piano. Why?

By trading away its second star, LeBron James’s team has become even better

(K. Brent Tomer),

“IF IT ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the old adage goes. And the Cleveland Cavaliers of North America’s National Basketball Association (NBA) are very, very far from broken: they have reached the finals for three consecutive years, and in 2016 won the first championship for a major professional sports team in the city in over half a century. Nonetheless, on August 22nd Koby Altman, who was named the club’s general manager less than a month earlier, took the bold step of breaking up the Cavaliers’ core, by trading Kyrie Irving (pictured, left), their star point guard, to the Boston Celtics. In exchange, Mr Altman received a package of three players headlined by Isaiah Thomas (right),…Continue reading

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Britain’s generous post-war immigration policy

(K. Brent Tomer),

Lovers and Strangers: An Immigrant History of Post-War Britain. By Clair Wills. Allen Lane; 442 pages; £25.

IN 1956 an airstrip was built on Montserrat. For the first time it was easy to fly to and from the Caribbean island; within five years 30% of its inhabitants had emigrated to Britain. Similar exoduses took place across the world: by 1961 nearly a sixth of those born in the Republic of Ireland lived in Britain. Like a quarter of the population on Earth, the Montserratians and Irish lived in a British colony or former colony. Under the British Nationality Act of 1948, imperial subjects and Commonwealth citizens were entitled to the same rights as anyone born in Britain.

This proved to be short-lived. The Commonwealth “open door”, the subject of Clair Wills’s poignant book, “Lovers and Strangers”, lasted only until 1968. Ms Wills, a Princeton professor, has produced a series of thematic “miniatures” depicting “the…Continue reading

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The many pitfalls of journalese

(K. Brent Tomer),

EVERY trade is also a tribe, and journalists are no exception. One way that tribes, from teens to programmers, signal membership of the group is through language. Hacks do the same. They write “hed” for headline, “lede” or “intro” for the first sentence in a story, “graf” for “paragraph”, “nut graf” for the core paragraph that gives the story’s main idea. The last line is always the “kicker”. 

But journalists should not be obscure. After all, the whole point of the job is to make things clear to readers. Yet readers are often baffled by the first words they see in a newspaper: headlines. In Britain, a broad range of national newspapers compete on nearly every news-stand. So the tabloids, in particular, put a premium on getting as many short, emotion-grabbing words in the biggest font possible on front page—often at the expense of making sense. A recent headline in the Sun, Britain’s bestselling…Continue reading

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Peter Hoeg’s new novel is a high-concept thriller

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Susan Effect. By Peter Hoeg. Translated by Martin Aitken. Harvill Secker; 352 pages; £16.99.

IN A summer of nuclear threats and bluffs, a futurist thriller about looming global catastrophe will appeal to readers who like their holidays to contain a prickle of dread. Peter Hoeg, a Danish author who is still best known for his 1992 bestseller, “Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow”, takes a circuitous route towards a Hollywood-style showdown in which social breakdown, environmental disaster and atomic weapons in rogue hands mean that “the scenarios of apocalypse are unfolding now”. What is more, the venue for this panic-attack is serene Copenhagen; the date, Christmas 2018. The world’s time, Mr Hoeg insists in his entertaining if cartoonish confection, is fast running out.

Mr Hoeg reverts to the Smilla model with another spookily gifted heroine, this time Susan Svendsen, a quantum physicist. Beyond her maverick…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Peter Hoeg’s new novel is a high-concept thriller

How technology and capitalism shaped America after the civil war

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896. By Richard White. Oxford University Press; 928 pages; $35. To be published in Britain by OUP in October.

“THE Oxford History of the United States” is one of the great achievements of modern historical scholarship. The series, which began appearing in 1982 and has since won three Pulitzer prizes, includes some exceptional individual volumes, such as James McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom”, about the civil war, and David Kennedy’s “Freedom From Fear”, which covered the Depression and the second world war. It maintains a consistently high standard of excellence throughout and is notably better, on average, than the “Oxford History of England”. David Kennedy, the current series editor, deserves the highest praise.

Fans of the series have been waiting for the latest volume with particular eagerness. The era from…Continue reading

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The politics of cyberspace

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Virtual Weapon and International Order.  By Lucas Kello. Yale University Press; 319 pages; £25. To be published in America by Yale in September; $35.

THE woes of international-relations theorists do not usually elicit public sympathy. But “The Virtual Weapon and International Order”, Lucas Kello’s lucid and insightful book on the politics of cyberspace, does a good job of persuading the reader of the near-vacuum that prevails in academic work on the threats to people’s computers and networks.

New technologies, he argues, have upended conventional understanding of the way states deal with defence and deterrence. The threat is pervasive; a cyber-attack can hit anything from a missile-control system to a media website, with potentially profound consequences. Geography is irrelevant. Old thinking about defending a perimeter makes no sense when the adversary is probably already lurking in your networks. The…Continue reading

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A survey of power and politics in South-East Asia

(K. Brent Tomer),

Blood and Silk: Power and Conflict in Modern Southeast Asia. By Michael Vatikiotis. Weidenfeld & Nicolson; 336 pages; £20.

SOUTH-EAST ASIA is adorned by jungles, islands and gleaming skyscrapers. Home to more than 640m people, the variety of the region’s 11 countries defies most analytical attempts at clustering them together. Sweeping takes often fail to encapsulate the complexity of ancient cultures, languages and people that are to be found from the tip of Timor-Leste to the top of Myanmar. This is precisely what makes “Blood and Silk”, Michael Vatikiotis’s frenetic overview of politics in South-East Asia, so ambitious.

In his analysis of the power structures which define the region, Mr Vatikiotis, a private diplomat, analyses the role of monarchies and elite groups in perpetuating political uncertainty. Corruption, violence and religious extremism follow in cycles of misery: “When the water is high the fish eat the ants;…Continue reading

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