Lessons from ancient Greek coinage

(K. Brent Tomer),

THE Greek word for money, chrema, carries a significance its English translation cannot fully convey. “It means ‘to need’ and ‘to use’ together,” explains Nicholas Stampolidis, director of the Museum of Cycladic Art (MoCA) during a recent visit to the museum’s latest exhibition, “Money: Tangible Symbols in Ancient Greece.” 

Today’s money can seem invisible. Payments are directly deposited into online bank accounts. People can spend weeks without exchanging paper notes or metal coins. Even basic transactions are relegated to plastic cards, wire transfers and perhaps bitcoin. In both senses of chrema, people need and use money more than ever; it’s hard to imagine trading a bushel of wheat or a jug of olive oil for a pair of trainers or mobile-phone service. Yet tangible proof of those transactions are hard to come by. Exploring the tangibility of currency is what makes “Money” such a fascinating exhibit.

The Athenian museum is exhibiting for the first time, in partnership…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Lessons from ancient Greek coinage


Those seeking escapism in “The Crown” will find it all too real

(K. Brent Tomer),

FOR all the talk of change in season two of “The Crown”—and there is lots of it—everything feels uncannily familiar. Though things begin in the mid-1950s, there are already grimace-inducing references to the European Economic Community: one character wonders whether Britain should be “in or out”. Just weeks after real-life Prince Harry announced his engagement to Meghan Markle on November 27th, a union that is seen as bringing some much-needed diversity into the royal family, on-screen Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) breaks new ground by bringing the first “commoner”, Antony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode), a photographer, into the fold. And the criticisms offered by Jackie Kennedy (Jodi Balfour) of the monarchy—a “tired institution without a place in the modern world”—have hardly been assuaged.

Some of the historical echoes are more thunderous. When John Kennedy (Michael Hall) orates on the slippage of America’s “intellectual and moral strength” and the nation being “divided like never before”, one…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Those seeking escapism in “The Crown” will find it all too real

Retelling the myth of Tonya Harding

(K. Brent Tomer),

THE story of Tonya Harding’s rise and fall is sporting legend. One of the top female figure skaters in America, her career and her reputation was destroyed when she was implicated in a plot to assault her rival, Nancy Kerrigan, shortly before the 1994 Winter Olympics. The attack—a police baton to the knee after a training session—was orchestrated by her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and his friend Shawn Eckhardt, but Ms Harding admitted to having full knowledge of the scheme. Some suggested that she may have even been the mastermind of it.

So few people who set out to see “I, Tonya” will begin with a sympathetic view of its subject. Even fewer will leave the film with that view unchanged, or at least muddled. The thrilling and unsettling biopic from Craig Gillespie seeks to reclaim the legacy of a woman whose story, it argues, was written in error. It depicts her not as an aggressor, but as a lifelong victim—of domestic violence; of mocking by her peers and by the skating community for her humble origins; and of the press,…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Retelling the myth of Tonya Harding

A Japanese trailblazer is set to transform baseball

(K. Brent Tomer),

THE PAST five years have been a golden age for tactical experimentation in Major League Baseball (MLB).  Defensive alignments and bullpen-usage patterns that would have been unthinkable a decade ago have now become commonplace. Yet even the clubs most inclined to think out of the box have never questioned one of the sport’s fundamental truths: pitchers pitch, hitters hit, and never the twain shall meet.

In 2018, however, this bedrock belief will be put to a long-overdue test. On December 8th Shohei Ohtani—an unprecedented two-way star, who has a strong claim to be both Japan’s best hitter and its best pitcher—announced that he would sign with the Los Angeles Angels. The team in turn promptly declared it planned to use the 23-year-old as a batter on the days he does not pitch. The last player deployed this way with any success was Babe Ruth, the greatest star in baseball history. He started out as a pitcher and briefly excelled in both roles, but gave up pitching for good when he joined the New York Yankees in 1920.

On one hand, the potential benefit of a two-way player is so vast that their extinction long ago might seem surprising. Modern starting pitchers throw just once every…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC A Japanese trailblazer is set to transform baseball

The beginning of the end of China’s “weird architecture”

(K. Brent Tomer),

ACCORDING to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics, China’s urban population density almost tripled between 2005 and 2014. This rush to the cities has been made possible in part by the quick construction of concrete, uniform, faceless high-rise apartments. Architects wishing to make their mark have turned to designing luxury developments or new cultural and commercial centres. These dynamic creations break up the monotonous urban landscape, lending an identity to places which were villages only years before. 

Extraordinary examples of architectural exuberance abound. The National Performing Arts Centre near Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Paul Andreu’s titanium ovoid (it is nicknamed the “Big Egg”), is arguably the most significant. Built on a historic—and sensitive—site near the symbolic heart of the modern Chinese state, it sanctioned the use of expressive modern architecture in the country. Stunning examples followed, notably the floral forms of Guangzhou Opera House, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, and the…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The beginning of the end of China’s “weird architecture”

Books by Economist writers in 2017

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Wealth of Humans: Work, Power and its Absence in the Twenty-First Century. By Ryan Avent. St Martin’s Press; 288 pages, $26.99. Allen Lane; £9.99
The world of work is changing fast—and not as you would expect, by our Free Exchange columnist.

Year of Wonder: Classical Music for Every Day. By Clemency Burton-Hill. Headline Home; 448 pages; £20
Like a regular dose of meditation or mindfulness, a daily encounter with classical music enriches one’s life in all kinds of ways. By a frequent freelance contributor.

How Long Will Israel Survive? The Threat from Within. By Gregg Carlstrom. Oxford University Press; 256 pages; $24.95. Hurst; £20
Our new Cairo correspondent counts the cost of acute social tensions in Israel and the occupation of the West Bank.

Game Query: The Mind-Stretching Economist Quiz. Edited by Philip Coggan. With…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Books by Economist writers in 2017

Books of the Year 2017

(K. Brent Tomer),

Politics and current affairs

The Retreat of Western Liberalism. By Edward Luce. Grove Atlantic; 234 pages; $24. Little Brown; £16.99
Few doubt that something big has happened in Western politics over the past two years, but nobody is sure what. Turmoil in Washington and London contrasts with centrist stability in Paris and (mostly) in Berlin. In this grim diagnosis Edward Luce, a Washington-based commentator, argues that the liberal order cannot be fixed without a clear view of what has gone wrong.

Refuge: Transforming a Broken Refugee System. By Alexander Betts and Paul Collier. Oxford University Press; 288 pages; $18.95. Allen Lane; £20
Lost in the row over Europe’s migration crisis in 2015 were the millions of refugees who stayed in the developing world, unwilling or unable to journey to richer countries. Growing up in a refugee camp often means little education and no work. Two experts at Oxford…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Books of the Year 2017

Russia’s overdue Olympic ban is no cure for anti-doping impotence

(K. Brent Tomer),

IT HAS taken seven investigative reports and seven years. But at long last the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided on December 5th to punish Russia for running a state-sponsored doping programme, by banning the country from taking a team to next February’s winter games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Russian athletes hoping to compete will have to do so carrying the Olympic flag and singing the Olympic anthem—if they can prove that they are clean. Though many countries have been excluded from past games for political reasons, and a couple have been suspended from individual sports for cheating, the exclusion of an entire national team for doping is without precedent. Thomas Bach, the president of the IOC, was bullish when announcing yesterday’s sanctions, which “should draw a line under this damaging episode and serve as a catalyst for a more effective anti-doping system”.

The punishments are well-deserved, but Mr Bach’s claims that they will end the scandal and mark a new chapter in sport’s war on drugs are…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Russia’s overdue Olympic ban is no cure for anti-doping impotence

Haruomi Hosono, Japan’s pop pioneer

(K. Brent Tomer),


OUTSIDE Japan, Haruomi Hosono is not a household name. Last month’s release of “Vu Ja De”, his 21st solo album, was not met with much fanfare. But for those who know the 70-year-old’s work, his influence can be seen in everything from pop, electronic music and hip-hop to film soundtracks and department store muzak. At this late stage of his career, he is returning to his early influences.

Japanese pop music may conjure up images of squeaky clean, auto-tuned groups embodying the kawaii ideal–cute, youthful and incongruously sexy. J-pop’s fusion of Western styles with Japanese tastes can trace its roots back to Mr Hosono’s band Happy End, which broke away from the Beatles clones popular in 1960s Japan by being the first rock band to sing in their native Japanese. As a teenager growing up in Tokyo, Mr Hosono felt isolated from traditional Japanese culture, listening instead to the American military radio stations serving US forces. Happy End bears little resemblance to the synthesised, bubble-gum pop coming…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Haruomi Hosono, Japan’s pop pioneer

“The Punisher” is a bloody, thoughtful addition to the Marvel canon

(K. Brent Tomer),

REVENGE is one of the oldest plot devices in history. Nemesis, an ancient Greek goddess, dealt in retributive justice; it is at the heart of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and “Titus Andronicus”, as well as westerns and films as diverse as “Gladiator” and “Death Wish”. And revenge is the primary motivation of Frank Castle—aka The Punisher—a Marvel character who has inspired three Hollywood movies and is the subject of a recent Netflix series.

One of the clever tropes of the Marvel film franchise has been the ability to interlink the plots; the recent reboot of “Spider-Man” benefited from a cameo appearance by Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, for example. The studio is trying the same thing with its television series: the heroes of “Daredevil”, “Jessica Jones”, “Luke Cage” and “Iron Fist” teamed up as “The Defenders” earlier this year. The Punisher already appeared as the best element of the second series of “Daredevil”, where his back story (his family was killed by gangsters) is first explained….Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC “The Punisher” is a bloody, thoughtful addition to the Marvel canon