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Archive for September, 2010

Although I don’t normally put anything finance-related on this blog, I am making an exception for this Vanity Fair piece by Michael Lewis, Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds, as he manages to explain about the debt crisis to  non-business page readers. Someone on the radio recently said that Lewis is so good he makes you want to give up journalism and I have to agree.

” The national railroad has annual revenues of 100 million euros against an annual wage bill of 400 million, plus 300 million euros in other expenses. Twenty years ago a successful businessman turned minister of finance named Stefanos Manos pointed out that it would be cheaper to put all Greece’s rail passengers into taxicabs: it’s still true.”

– this Washington Post article caught my eye for its comments on the US-Anglo divide and why austerity appeals to Brits:

“Austerity is what made Britain great. Austerity is what won the war. It cannot be an accident that several British television channels are running programs this year with titles such as “Spirit of 1940,” all dedicated to the 70th anniversary of that “remarkable year” of rationing, air raid sirens and hardship.

Sometimes the depth of the Anglo-American cultural divide reveals itself in unexpected ways, and this is one of those moments: No cooking show featuring corned beef hash and powdered eggs would stand a chance in the United States.

Nostalgic Brits, longing to re-create their country’s finest hour, remember postwar scrimping and saving. Nostalgic Americans in search of their own country’s finest hour remember postwar abundance, the long consumer boom — and, yes, a time when even instant gratification wasn’t fast enough.”

– another article on cultural divides highlights the US Marines sending all-female units into Afghanistan with the explicit mission of communicating with women;

– just for fun : 11 longest words in the English language;

– just for beauty: Life slideshow of food photography.

Off home to England and to visit my brand new nephew in Madrid so no blogging for 2 weeks.

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This was the latest choice from my book club and although I find David Sedaris funny I had two major issues with When You Are Engulfed in Flames – the format and the subject matter.

The book is a collection of essays and I find short stories less satisfying than novels -just as I get into them, they end, which frustrates me.

As the title suggests there is a big section on Sedaris trying to give up smoking. I don’t smoke  – and don’t like the smell or taste of cigarettes – so the humour wasn’t enough to overcome my distaste of the habit and my lack of sympathy with Sedaris’ eulogies on the subject.

However if you like short stories and are more tolerant than I am about smoking, there were many other parts of the book that me laugh out loud – and in public.  My favourite was Sedaris’ search for a “discreet, masculine and practical” male accessory which led him to try out an external catheter:

“What ultimately did me in was the self-adhesive condom. Putting it on was mo problem, but its removal qualified as what, in certain cultures, is known as a bris. Wear it once, and you’ll need a solid month to fully recover. It will likely be a month in which you’ll weigh the relative freedom of peeing in your pants against the unsightly discomfort of a scab-covered penis, ultimately realising that, in terms of a convenient accessory, you’re better of with a new watchband.”

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Thought it was worth watching Bad Romance again after Lady Gaga won eight MTV Video Music Awards – including video of the year – although my preference is for Telephone:

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My favourite piece this week was by Anya Cordell, recipient of the 2010 Spirit of Anne Frank Award, who imagines what Anne Frank would say to the growing anti-Muslim sentiments in the US:

“When I hear the presumptions about all Muslims these days, I, a Jewish woman, silently substitute “all Jews” and then I know how terrifying and incendiary this language is, because we’ve already seen how these scenes play out, in all too horrific reality.”

– a  lovely story,  Toba Tek Singh, from the archives of  Dispatches from Words Without Borders on Pakistan and India exchanging lunatics during partition;
– you might not care if you don’t live in Manhattan but The New Yorker recreates a 1956 attempt to walk from the Empire State Building to the Rockefeller Center without setting foot on Fifth or Sixth Avenues;
– The Millions has a heartening piece on the continued popularity of big novels:

“The more we’re told we’re becoming readers of blogs, of texts, of tweets, of files the more committing to a big book feels like an act of resistance. To pick up a novel in excess of 600 pages is to tell oneself, “I am going to spend twenty-four to forty-eight hours of my life with a book, rather than the newspaper, the internet, or the smartphone. I am going to feel it in my muscles. ”

On a personal level I have just become a complete Kindle convert and have found it much easier to read long books as the e-reader is so light to carry around.  I love that you can highlight your favourite parts and make  notes electronically, as I could never bring myself to write in books, and that you can pre-order books and they are wirelessly delivered on publication date – its magic ;

– a new study finds that money can buy you happiness, up to a point, up to $75,000 actually;

– Zen habits also offers up a brief guide to life which can be summed up as “Smile, breath, and go slowly.”

So take their very good advice, smile, breathe and savour your weekend.

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This has become my favourite film this year .

I will admit it is not half as original as Inception.

Get Low is based on the true story of Felix Bush, a Tennessee hermit who held a funeral party while he was still alive after spending 40 years in a cabin in the woods because of a secret in his past. You can probably guess how the story is going to end but the pleasure lies in how the film gets you there.

It has as much heart as Toy Story 3 but was more moving because of the performances, especially Robert Duvall, in the lead. The film begins with a string of scenes where Duvall doesn’t speak but at its climax he gives a speech in which the gruff, acerbic Felix Bush made me cry my eyes out.

My money is on Duvall to win the Oscar. He still manages to put in the work despite reaching 80 next year. I don’t know what Hollywood puts in its water but Clint Eastwood is also still going strong at 80 – as was made clear when I saw a load of his work during the a festival in his honour at the Lincoln Center – and is still experimenting as both an actor and a director.

Get Low is from a first-time feature director, Aaron Schneider, which really surprised me as it is so well-crafted. As well as wonderful performances from all the cast, the film is beautifully shot – I can still remember how the light falls in some scenes – and the music perfectly matches its subject.

This movie won’t be for everyone – it’s not fast moving, it doesn’t rely on special effects, it’s not in 3D , it’s not based on a comic book, it doesn’t star a teenage heart-throb. Instead it relies on telling a story well, adult characters and believable dialogue – which seem simple but are all too rare in today’s Hollywood. If more films were like this I would go to the cinema far more often.

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Last weekend I visited Governors Island for the first time for a Jazz Age Lawn Party hosted by Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra. As you can see some people totally got into the spirit of things:

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There were two important anniversaries during the past week:

Dr Martin Luther King Jr‘s “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28 1963. Although 47 years have passed, it seems just as important today to try to live up to his ideals:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”

– the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Getty Images photographer Mario Tama’s new book Coming Back: New Orleans Resurgent captures the city’s unique spirit.

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