The book that foresaw the assault on the Rohingyas

(K. Brent Tomer),

Personae non gratae in Myanmar

Myanmar’s Enemy Within: Buddhist Violence and the Making of a Muslim “Other”. By Francis Wade. Zed Books; 280 pages, $24.95 and £14.99.

THE gradual implosion of an autocracy can open up a dangerous void. In Myanmar, on a fragile path of democratisation after nearly half a century of military rule, the power of the forces that filled that void—nationalism and religion—is only now becoming clear.

“Myanmar’s Enemy Within”, by Francis Wade, explores the outbreak of violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2012, and how it went nationwide in the years that followed. Mr Wade, a journalist who has reported on the country for nearly a decade, looks at nationalism, the pitfalls of the democratic experiment in Myanmar and how the military’s manipulation of ethnic and religious identities laid the foundation for conflict between the two communities….Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The book that foresaw the assault on the Rohingyas


The rise of the podcast adaptation

(K. Brent Tomer),


AARON MAHNKE started “Lore”, a horror podcast, in 2015 as a marketing experiment. His self-published supernatural thrillers were not flying off the e-shelves, so he established a makeshift studio in his home office and recounted haunting historical tales of the dead and the dying in 30-minute episodes. It was a low-budget, spartan production—music beds were added to mask the echo of his voice—but it gripped listeners, catapulting to the top of the iTunes podcast charts. It currently attracts 5m listeners a month; its format remains unchanged after 70 episodes.

That format is now being picked up in another medium as “Lore”, the television series, premieres on Amazon Prime Video on October 13th. The show’s creators—including Gale Anne Hurd, who also produced the delightfully gory zombie-apocalypse series “The Walking Dead”— deliver a faithful adaptation. Mr Mahnke still narrates, with animation, actors and archival footage supplying additional drama. We see a boy in New England forced to drink the ashes of…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The rise of the podcast adaptation

Explaining the Finnish love of tango

(K. Brent Tomer),

THE land of a thousand lakes plays host to all manner of quirky pastimes. Competitive berry pickers flocked to Suomussalmi in 2016 for the World Championships. Annual wife-carrying contests take place in Sonkajarvi. Mosquito swatting (as many killed as possible in five minutes) is a popular competition in Pelkosenniemi. A less peculiar—but still surprising—phenomenon is the Finnish affection for tango, a dance associated with passion and fire rather than with Nordic cold and calm. How did the tango come to Finland? 

If one believes Aki Kaurismaki, the country’s best-known film director, the tango was born in Finland around 1850. In “Midsummer Night’s Tango” (2013), a light-hearted documentary, he argues that the dance originated in the utmost east (a thickly forested region which nowadays belongs to Russia), where shepherds sang to ward off both their own loneliness and the wolves that would prey on their cattle. Locals started dancing in the dance halls by the lakes; by 1880 it had reached the west coast, where…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Explaining the Finnish love of tango

Amadou & Mariam are as experimental—and as political—as ever

(K. Brent Tomer),

THEY were once called the “blind couple of Mali”, having first met at the country’s Institute for the Young Blind. Now their first names—“Amadou & Mariam”—are all that is needed. The musical duo have come a long way, both geographically and musically, since 1980 when they first started blending Mariam’s velvet vocals with the bluesy bass of Amadou’s guitar in their home city of Bamako. Since then they have produced several albums, one of which was nominated for a Grammy in 2012, and performed live in front of world leaders at the Nobel peace prize ceremony in 2009.

The country which they love and grew up in has also experienced change, but of a less positive nature. In 2012, rebel Tuareg forces seized northern Mali, imposing a religious ban on music that lasted a year. Some of Mali’s most popular festivals, vital to attracting international audiences and industry attention, were suspended amid security concerns and remain in limbo. Across the country, insurgent-led violence is a daily…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Amadou & Mariam are as experimental—and as political—as ever

“Last Flag Flying” and the muddled politics of war

(K. Brent Tomer),

IN 1973, Hal Ashby released “The Last Detail”, a film whose anti-authoritarian politics made it an icon of the counterculture. It is the story of two Navy lifers (Jack Nicholson and Otis Young) tasked with accompanying a young petty thief (Randy Quaid) to military prison. Along the way they show him a good time and gripe about the abuse of power in his heavy sentence: although he only stole $40, his he had stolen from a jar promoting a charity favoured by the head officer. “Last Flag Flying”, a new film by Richard Linklater, is a sequel of sorts, aiming for the same blend of rollicking hijinks, low-key tragedy and poignant political critique. The times, however, have changed. There is no real counterculture now, only a series of competing views, leaving “Last Flag Flying” with nothing to subvert.

Set in 2003, the film opens with Doc (Steve Carell), a taciturn Vietnam veteran who arrives at a bar owned by his salty old platoon mate Sal (Bryan Cranston), a gregarious drunk. The two have not seen each other in decades, and…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC “Last Flag Flying” and the muddled politics of war

“Blade Runner 2049” is a flawed replicant

(K. Brent Tomer),

Note: this review contains plot details

SEQUELS to science-fiction thrillers tend to be bigger, louder, more expensive and more expansive than their predecessors—and that’s if they come out after two or three years. Imagine how much bigger and louder a sequel might be if it was made after 35, and you’ll have some idea of how “Blade Runner 2049” compares to Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic.

In contrast with most sci-fi hits, the original “Blade Runner” was a low-key, low-budget indie yarn. But the follow-up, directed by Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”), is proud of its vast scale, from the chair-vibrating volume and intensity of the throbbing electronic score to the endless sweep of its misty dystopian cityscapes. There is a repeated insistence that the fate of the galaxy is at stake, and plenty of long, moody close-ups, many of them of eyes filling with tears. 

How grandiose is “Blade Runner 2049”? Well, it features one woman named “Luv” and another named “Joi” (no sign…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC “Blade Runner 2049” is a flawed replicant

Parkour’s street stuntmen resent the sport’s new organisers

(K. Brent Tomer),

A SHIRTLESS man floats through the air, some six or seven stories from the ground. Behind him is the roof of a grubby block of flats. At least five metres (16ft) in front of him and a couple down is another building. Tucked like a diver, he leaps above the abyss, rolls into his landing and sprints away. The man is David Belle (pictured), one of the founders of parkour: a form of street acrobatics whose practitioners vault and flip through the concrete jungle in pursuit of ever more daring stunts. This particular jump features in one of the sport’s earliest and most popular clips on YouTube, and has been watched 12m times since it was posted in 2007. In the ensuing decade, parkour has gone from a niche pursuit to one with a dedicated following. Participation data are scarce, but nearly 100,000 British adults practice…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Parkour’s street stuntmen resent the sport’s new organisers

How “Oslo” turned diplomatic negotiation into compelling theatre

(K. Brent Tomer),

WITH all its conflict, backstabbing and deception, politics has a natural drama to it. The ancient Greeks knew this, as did Shakespeare. Prominent figures rise and fall like tragic heroes; sometimes the nefarious candidate prevails. In recent years there have been several acclaimed political plays, including “Hamilton”, “Handbagged” and “This House”. They can take the viewer beyond the history books and the manifestos to understand the characters involved, with all their hidden motivations and desires. 

Political negotiation, however, does not necessarily sound like an ingredient for gripping theatre. Often involving anodyne press statements, vacuous declarations of progress and orchestrated handshakes, official talks feel deeply undramatic (think of the Israel-Palestine negotiations from 2013-14, convened by John Kerry, or the stalemate of the current Brexit talks). “Oslo” (2016), a Tony-award-winning play by J.T. Rogers, undermines that assumption. A three-hour staging of the secret channels that led to the…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC How “Oslo” turned diplomatic negotiation into compelling theatre

Kazuo Ishiguro, a Nobel laureate for these muddled times

(K. Brent Tomer),

WHEN Kazuo Ishiguro started to write fiction, he wasn’t steeped in literature. He said that he had not read very much at all. His distinctive style grew out of a desire to write the cleanest sentence possible, line by line; he has spoken of a wish simply for readers to understand his work. The Nobel committee, awarding him the prize for literature on October 5th, rightly praised him as an author “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”. 

It is the layers of understanding available to his audience which marks him out as the most remarkable writer of his generation. From his very first novel, “A Pale View of Hills”, published in 1982, he explored the conflict between experience and recollection. His narrators cannot simply be called “unreliable”, for it is not that they set out to delude or trick the reader: rather, they tell us the stories they themselves want to hear.  

This is perhaps most evident in his most…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Kazuo Ishiguro, a Nobel laureate for these muddled times

Meet the invisible hand behind Hong Kong’s rise

(K. Brent Tomer),

Not pictured: the invisible hand

Architect of Prosperity: Sir John Cowperthwaite and the Making of Hong Kong. By Neil Monnery. London Publishing Partnership; 337 pages; £24.50.

DURING the 1960s, governments were responding to political unrest and economic challenges with nationalisation, centralised planning and public spending (financed by heavy taxes and debt). There was intense pressure for Sir John Cowperthwaite, the financial secretary of Hong Kong, to join the crowd.

Civil servants in Whitehall had been urging their counterparts in Hong Kong to introduce high taxes for some time. Locals demanded spending to address a lack of housing for crowds of poor immigrants fleeing the horrors of post-revolutionary China, and a territory-wide shortage of drinkable water. Meanwhile, the territory’s export-driven economy was threatened by rising global tariffs, prompting demands for public incentives to reorient production…Continue reading

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