Wednesday, November 22, 2017

“A Delicate Truth”


It is not axiomatic, that the ideal Vorleser of a work  should be its author.  (One would not wish to sit through a performance of Heart of Darkness, or A Brief History of Time, under those terms.)   But  David Cornwall turns out to be a perfect interpreter of John Le Carré, in a recent audiobook recording.

Three of the secondary characters have a distinct local accent:  Glaswegian, Welsh, and Irish.  His rendition of these  fixes in pleasure and memory, what are in any event well-sculpted personalities.
Two of the central characters -- professional diplomats -- have professionally and personally  rather flat affect.  The author is sufficiently confident about his own work, to let that happen, without worrying that we’ll be bored.

The story-arc hangs together nicely, moreso than in most of the thrillers we have waded through.
The novel (published 2013) is quite in tune with the times, in selecting, as theme, the beating-up on contractors in the defense/intel field.

Footnote:  The title of the book is as smarmy as that of  An Inconvenient Truth.   But it is a sight better title than Our Kind of Traitor , which we critiqued here.   One wishes to believe that neither stemmed from the author, but were foisted upon the novels by some underling of the publisher, who normally has the last word in such marketing-related decisions.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Défense de fumer


They’re at it again -- the bas-bleus/bluestockings of the Gallic nanny state.

La ministre de la santé pourrait interdire le tabac dans les films

Doit-on interdire la cigarette au cinéma au nom de la lutte contre le tabagisme ? Le sujet n’est pas nouveau mais revient dans l’actualité cette semaine. Alors que les sénateurs ont adopté jeudi une mesure consacrée à l’augmentation du prix du tabac d’ici 2020, la sénatrice PS de la Sarthe Nadine Grelet-Certenais en a profité pour interpeller la ministre de la Santé Agnès Buzyn sur la responsabilité du cinéma sur le tabagisme en France.

http://www.lefigaro.fr/flash-actu/2017/11/18/97001-20171118FILWWW00082-faut-il-interdire-la-cigarette-au-cinema.php



Readers respond:

Dans les films de Gabin, il n'y aura que le générique..
---
et le narguilé ????
---
Après le tabac ce sera l'alcool, le sexe, la religion, la guerre , la politique. Elle ferait mieux de s'occuper de son ministère comme si il y avait pas plus urgent à traiter !
---
Il faudrait alors aussi interdire l'alcool dans les films, puis les armes à feu, interdire la violence, la guerre, mec racisme... Pas qu'au cinéma d'ailleurs, mais également dans les livres !!!

In the face (or butt) of all of which, we repost our earlier  doigt d’honneur.

~


“Do you mind my smoking?” he asked.
“Oh, not at all, sir.”
-- Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbevilles (1892)

Stout lass!


The latest from France,  from the bobos-fachos, in their chasse au fumeurs:

Marisol Touraine, ministre de la Santé, annoncera mardi 17 juin une série de nouvelles mesures qui devrait placer la France en pointe dans la lutte contre le tabagisme.
Parmi les plus spectaculaires, la mise en place du paquet de cigarettes neutre, sans marque apparente, ainsi que la possibilité d'actions de groupe, permettant aux fumeurs malades de faire condamner les fabricants à des dommages et intérêts.
Le vapotage, quant à lui, serait banni des lieux publics. [-- Le Figaro]

“Lèche mon cul, Marisol.”
Tu parles, Charles

"D'accord !"






[Update 19 July 2014]   The hypocritical vindictiveness against tobacco  leads to other legal skulduggery as well.  Thus


No-one born after 1950 has any excuse for being ignorant of health hazards from cigarettes.  The guy started in chain-smoking at age thirteen and never let up.  His choice.   Appropriate damages in this case:  Zero.   But a … Florida jury  (a phrase proverbial for imbecility) decides that a Saganian figure -- biyyuns and biyyuns of dollars -- should be paid.

Tha's messed-up, man ...

Second that, brother.

~

[Original post from January 2014]

Back of the Bus

Suppose that, in some country that vaunted itself on its record of human rights, in North America or Western Europe, there was a cardiac hospital whose waiting-list for heart-surgery numbered both black and white patients.   Now suppose that the hospital had -- not surreptitiously and shame-facedly, but quite openly and unabashedly, even as something to pride themselves on -- a hard-and-fast rule:  So soon as a white becomes a candidate for surgery, he automatically zooms ahead of all the blacks on the waiting list;  and so on forever.   Assuming that, as in most places, the demand for the surgical service always slightly outpaces the supply, the upshot is that no black could ever receive heart surgery.

This morning there appeared a radio essay by the Dutch-Moroccan academic and journalist Fouad Laroui, Je fume, donc je suis, reporting just such a case, in the north of ultra-bien-pensant Holland;  only, with one difference:   The group continually sent to the back of the bus  are not blacks, but smokers.
Here's looking at *you*, kid...


And such is the climate of political correctness there reigning, that the principal challenge to this invidious rule  has come, not from the quarter of general societal welfare and logic (shall such exclusions be applied, on the same grounds of ills abetted by personal behavior, to other risk groups, such as the obese or homosexual?),  but rather, from the ranks of Identity Politics themselves!  For the Turks resident in the Netherlands have -- not opposed the rule per se, but merely demanded that they themselves be excepted, as a group, on the grounds that, in their culture, smoking is not an individual choice, but an ethnic identity badge: Among Turks, a man wears a moustache, and smokes;  un-point-c’est-tout.

Laroui regularly reports on issues affecting Muslims in his current country of residence, les Pays-Bas;  and generally to defend them.   But in this case, he twits the Turkish case for absurdity, pointing out that it is a slippery slope down which other groups can be expected to snowboard, as some already had:  Muslim Somalis in Holland demanded group exemption from Dutch anti-narcotic laws, on the grounds that qât is part of their culture.   (Such an exemption was successful in the United States, in the case of Amerindians and peyote.)   He does not, however, take explicit exception to that hospital regulation itself;  perhaps deeming such comment superfluous in the case of so evidently overweening a rule, but perhaps not.

[Update 13 Feb 2015]  ISIL dislikes smoking.  Smokers dislike ISIL
http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-islamic-state-smoking-ban-20150212-story.html#navtype=outfit

Islamic State fighters prepared to burn confiscated cigarettes last year in Raqqa
[Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/world/middleeast/isis-wives-and-enforcers-in-syria-recount-collaboration-anguish-and-escape.html?_r=0 ]

.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

3 x 3 monostich



a     *   west    *   wind

blew  *  fine  *  rain

into   *  their *  faces


-- John le Carré, A Delicate Truth (2013)

(  A monostich      in  matrix  form  )



With this formalism, we can produce the dual monostich, reading by column-vectors  rather than rows.
Linearized, the result reads:
   “a blew into  west fine their  wind rain faces”
Admittedly, somewhat disappointing;  but even Homer nods.



Assignment:   Now form the conjugate transpose of this matrix, and read the result aloud  to anyone who’ll listen.

Note:  Historically-minded readers will be reminded of the découpé techniques of the Dadaists and their Stateside imitators.  But our method is vastly more scientific.


For the mathematics of all this, consult
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/duality_of_monostichs
(article under construction).

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Is the President driving us towards nuclear war ? (expanded)


No no, not the present POTUS.   There is commentary by the bushel about that, you don’t need more from me.

Rather, this is simply another noticing of historical precedents and parallels, for the benefit of those who were born yesterday.

~

There is no high-ranking military officer serving the current administration, remotely as scary General Curtis E. LeMay, a proponent of pre-emptive all-out nuclear war, and commander of the SAC (which was in a position to carry out his dream at a nod from their commander).  JFK didn’t like him, but didn’t fire him;  rather, he promoted him to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.   (Partly along the lines of the old maxim, “Better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”  But that's a risky strategy. )   It would be anachronistic to call LeMay “a character out of Dr Strangelove”;  rather, that movie classic partly based its characters on him.

As McGeorge Bundy phrased it in July of 1961:

The only plan the United States had for the use of strategic weapons  was a massive, total, comprehensive  obliterating attack upon the Soviet Union -- an attack on the Warsaw Pact countries and Red China, [with] no provision for separating them out. … An attack on everything Red.”

Quite different from using a bunker buster on Pyongyang’s missile sites.

As indicated, JFK was not as hawkish as LeMay, nor even as his hot-headed brother RFK.   But he too could be provocative.  Re a June 3, 1961 head-to-head meeting with Khrushchev, which Kennedy prefaced by saying “This is the nut-cutter”:

“Force would be met by force,” Khrushchev warned Kennedy …
“The President concluded the conversation,” noted the transcript, “by observing that it would be a cold winter.”
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p.  171

What -- switching the subject to something less controversial, like the weather, to avoid confrontation?  No;  then as now, there was a problem with self-censured news.

What Kennedy actually said was stronger:  “Then, Mr. Chairman, there will be war.  It will be a cold winter.”
-- id.

And, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, 18 Oct 1962:

Acheson was appalled when he met alone with the President, and heard him use the same phrase, “Pearl Harbor in reverse” -- as if the United States were planning a sneak attack without provocation.
“I don’t know where you got that,” Acheson said to John Kennedy. “It is unworthy of you to talk that way.”
-- id, p. 378

Similarly,

Stevenson was shaken by the President’s casual manner, as two years before  Kennedy had been shocked by Eisenhower’s casual talk of nuclear weapons.
-- id, p. 275



For an even more hair-raising example of Presidential brinksmanship, read about Reagan’s 1983 escapade, that really might have got us all killed:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Able_Archer_83

~

As always, our purpose is neither to trash JFK, nor to excuse the present fellow, but simply to provide a spot of perspective.

For the full roster of posts on this theme, click here.
For the post that launched the series:


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Hammett


 Four old stand-bys, which I read decades ago;  and now at last re-experience as audiobooks.  We won’t summarize the plots (which you can read in Wikipedia), but broadly characterize the work.
 



Red Harvest (1929)


Dashiell Hammett was long associated with Communist causes.  I first read his first novel, Red Harvest, while in Berkeley, surrounded by leftist radicals of every stripe and shade;  and rather looked forward  to a political roman à clef.  But there is no serious politics in the thing, not even a nod to it.  There’s a Wobbly guy, whom we meet briefly before he disappears without a trace;  but that is merely by way of local color, just like there’s a prize-fighter, a gambler, and a bootlegger.   The “Red” refers to blood, maybe;  nothing to do with Marxism
Indeed, it’s amazing that some critics saw this as a communist yarn, even after reading the book. Personville is ostensibly a mining town (Anaconda), but we never meet an actual miner.  There is no mass-action -- indeed, no actual masses, nor even so much as a single active workingman.    They’re all just lumpen.   It’s not Marx/Lenin, it’s Marat/Sade.


No more than Marxism does realism apply to Red Harvest, though that term is often bestowed upon Hammett.   Actually the word is not worth fighting over;  it has been soiled by an ilk of critic who restrict its use to what is sordid.   Leaving that aside, Red Harvest has little in common with such realistic novels as Buddenbrooks, Effi Briest, or Esther Waters, being closer in spirit to German expressionism.



We don’t normally look for escapist fiction to be ‘realistic’ in the everyday sense.  And in terms of epistemology, Red Harvest is less believable than a ghost story.  The Op’s omniscience about the hidding dealings, covert alliances, and clandestine betrayals  of the local underworld (which is to say, everyone in town) far outsparkles the scraps possessed by the perps themselves, let alone the police, who (in accord with all genres of private-eye  thrillers)  are clueless.   There is not even a formal nod to ratiocinative elucidation -- no Little Grey Cells or “You know my methods, Watson”.   Rather, the Op just blunders along, shooting and getting shot at, landing haymakers and getting slugged on the kisser, then periodically comes out with some elaborate out-of-nowhere explanation of events, usually along the lines of “When Willsson was bumped off on MacSwain’s orders, Reno fingered Whisper to Noonan, until Pete the Finn dropped a dime on Dinah, who was secretly working for the Old Man.”

The setting for the action, an unspecifiable place nicknamed “Poisonville”, isn’t really like the situated urban landscapes that would later characterize noir.   The lawless burg is like nothing so much as Brecht’s Mahogonny -- you might even suspect an influence, except that the Brecht/Weil opera had its Uraufführung a year after Red Harvest was published.  There are also affinities with the landscape of the „Naturtheater von Oklahoma“ in Amerika, by Kafka (who had never visited America), written in the 1910’s and fragmentarily published posthumously.   A story-arc of the later radio series “Johnny Dollar”  reproduces the general sense of pervasive rot in an entire small-city or large-town.    The detective of Red Harvest is also more like Johnny Dollar (insurance investigator) than the later classic P.I.s, since the Continental Op, like Agent Dollar, only acts private; he is actually given assignments by the Continental Detective Agency, an echo of Hammett’s earlier employer, the Pinkertons.  (Another reason it’d be touch to put a Wobbly slant on Red Harvest.)

To call Hammett’s technique “realist” (and that, in a commendatory sense) is off-base.   The setting is more like a pinball-table, or (in later ages) a video game.  There is no more plot than in a game of pinball.   Hammett has taken the lawless landscape of a Wild West town, and overlaid it lightly with the urban aesthetic that would be perfected by his disciple Raymond Chandler.

The main other character  is a wised-up gal, who knows the score because she has males in her thrall.  If it were a Western, she would be named Dolly; in the event,   she is named Dinah.   She catches on quick that the Op doesn’t precisely know what he is doing, but is improvising -- winging it.  Stir up the pot, see what floats to the top.   She shrugs and accepts this, as she must the quirks of all the many quirky men she has known.  She joins him in the racket:

If stirring things up is your system, I’ve got a swell spoon for you.
-- Dinah, in Red Harvest (1929), to the Continental Op

(We have looked at this approach in a recent sketch, Simulated Annealing and the Art of Detection.)

Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt "Poisonville"


The Dain Curse (1929)

The structure of this work is peculiar.  Narratively, it is a concatenation of three separate novelettes, each of which is brought to what, in other circumstances, would amount to a satisfactory mystery-story conclusion  within itself (the bar here being set  not especially high).  But they are tied together (would-be interwoven, though it doesn’t quite work) by the detective’s insistence  that the apparent individual solutions  are but mirages, that it all has to be interconnected at some deep level, the explanation of each isolated item  springing from the same deep taproot.   And in line with that, various characters we’d thought (and hoped) to have been done with, keep re-appearing out of nowhere.  Unfortunately, rather than leading to any genuine depth, this tout-se-tient (ou devrait se tenir) approach to his craft  involves the author in impossibly contorted explanations -- not even ingenious, just far-fetched.  And the abysmal upshot is that, instead of the classic scene in which the sleuth gathers the surviving house-guests around the fireplace and crisply lays out sequence and explanation of events, we get a long-winded tacked-on after-passage, in which brand-new plot-points are brought up for the first time in the course of the exegesis.    It is like an inverted shaggy-dog-story:  first we get the disappointing punch-line, and then the rambling anecdote-fleuve of the shaggy dog.

The book is also marred, especially towards the end, by the icky solicitude of the detective towards the girl (who has been nothing but trouble).   It’s not so much that it’s a December/June affair, as that the author himself is operating under obscure repressions -- which, however, briefly part in an allusion to algolagnia.   (An even more wince-making subplot weakens the Godfather novel, concerning a woman suffering from eurycolpia.  Mercifully, that part was omitted from the movie version.)




The Maltese Falcon (1930)

Sam Spade is voiced by Michael Madsen;  and as you might expect from his roles in “Reservoir Dogs” and “Kill Bill”,  he’s got a real rough edge to him, and a voice like coarse-grit sandpaper.  This differs from the Continental Op of the previous novel, who alternated awkwardly between a sort of rough draft of the tough-guy model, and a touchy-feely character mooning over the multiply-handicapped girl.

Whoever voices Gutman wisely decided that no-one can outGreenstreet Greenstreet, so he simply channels the latter, syllable for syllable and sebaceous chuckle as prescribed.  And again, it’s fun to listen to.  The pleasure of Greenstreet is mostly auditory anyway, not visual.

The novel, and the movie made from it, are satisfactory in every way.   At antipodes from the manie d’expliquer of the long-drawn-out, Hey-Jude conclusion to its predecessor from the year before, the dénouement is classic -- crisp and efficient, indeed scarcely even interested in explaining anything or getting at the truth, since “All the law wants is a fall-guy.”   And there --   stands --  Wilmer.

Bye-bye, Wilmer.


The Thin Man (1934)

All the characters are voiced by William Dufris.   He does a creditable job at all of them, especially the detective (Nick Charles); but, oddly, his female characters sound, not like real females (hard to do for a man) but like contemporary twenty-something meta- or metro-sexual males  with that weird drawl that some of them fancy.
The detective here is as different as can be from the ones in the two earlier novels.  He is droll;  an inveterate tippler (like Hammett himself);  and by no means a loner, but married to a woman with whom he can exchange quips.  That is a perfect formula for Hollywood; the resulting movie was successful, and had many sequels, all of which used “The Thin Man” in their titles.   Unfortunately, the “thin man” of the original novel  was not the continuing detective-hero, but a murder victim we never actually lay eyes on.   He is, in fact, a classic example of l’Arlésienne -- oft referred-to, but always “off”;  the novel might have been titled “Six Characters in Search of a McGuffin”.   Since the mysterious unseen figure that all the characters orbit, like planets around a dark star, no longer actually exists at the time of the action,  the tale is almost a shaggy-dog story.   Indeed, the novel contains (pointlessly) a shaggy-dog-story within the shaggy-dog-story:  a tale of cannibalism in the Old West, supposed to illustrate the morbid psychosexual interests of the Thin Man’s adolescent son (and thus, presumably, mark him for the reader  as some kind of suspect), but which never amounts to anything, nor figures later in the book.



For notes on other mysteries & thriller, try this:
=>  The Thriller Literature


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Is the President driving us towards nuclear war ?


No no, not the present POTUS.   There is commentary by the bushel about that, you don’t need more from me.

Rather, this is simply another noticing of historical precedents and parallels, for the benefit of those who were born yesterday.

~

There is no high-ranking military officer serving the current administration, remotely as scary General Curtis E. LeMay, a proponent of pre-emptive all-out nuclear war, and commander of the SAC (which was in a position to carry out his dream at a nod from their commander).  JFK didn’t like him, but didn’t fire him;  rather, he promoted him to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.   (Partly along the lines of the old maxim, “Better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”  But that's a risky strategy. )   It would be anachronistic to call LeMay “a character out of Dr Strangelove”;  rather, that movie classic partly based its characters on him.

As McGeorge Bundy phrased it in July of 1961:

The only plan the United States had for the use of strategic weapons  was a massive, total, comprehensive  obliterating attack upon the Soviet Union -- an attack on the Warsaw Pact countries and Red China, [with] no provision for separating them out. … An attack on everything Red.”

Quite different from using a bunker buster on Pyongyang’s missile sites.

As indicated, JFK was not as hawkish as LeMay, nor even as his hot-headed brother RFK.   But he too could be provocative.  Re a June 3, 1961 head-to-head meeting with Khrushchev, which Kennedy prefaced by saying “This is the nut-cutter”:

“Force would be met by force,” Khrushchev warned Kennedy …
“The President concluded the conversation,” noted the transcript, “by observing that it would be a cold winter.”
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p.  171

What -- switching the subject to something less controversial, like the weather, to avoid confrontation?  No;  then as now, there was a problem with self-censured news.

What Kennedy actually said was stronger:  “Then, Mr. Chairman, there will be war.  It will be a cold winter.”
-- id.

And, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, 18 Oct 1962:

Acheson was appalled when he met alone with the President, and heard him use the same phrase, “Pearl Harbor in reverse” -- as if the United States were planning a sneak attack without provocation.
“I don’t know where you got that,” Acheson said to John Kennedy. “It is unworthy of you to talk that way.”
-- id, p. 378

Similarly,

Stevenson was shaken by the President’s casual manner, as two years before  Kennedy had been shocked by Eisenhower’s casual talk of nuclear weapons.
-- id, p. 275

~

As always, our purpose is neither to trash JFK, nor to excuse the present fellow, but simply to provide a spot of perspective.

For the full roster of posts on this theme, click here.
For the post that launched the series:


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Word of the Day: "branquignol"


French politicians have  of late  been coming up with choice epithets for their opponents.   It’s fun, plus it guarantees headlines.  The latest:  Today’s JDD reports that premier ministre Edouard Philippe has mocked Les Républicains (the current cover-name for the disgraced UMP) as branquignols.  That means they’re barmy.
As for the etymology, the word is likely a blend of branlant ‘unstable’ and croquignole ‘a mild insult’.

As for politicians employing tasty-crunchy insult words  on our own side of the Atlantic, savor this:
http://worldofdrjustice.blogspot.com/2017/09/of-dullards-and-dotards.html