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Archive for the ‘NY-LON’ Category

Composed upon Westminster Bridge

Earth has not any thing to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

William Wordsworth
Composed 2nd September, 1802

It has been heartbreaking looking at the scenes of rioting in London while I am thousands of miles away in New York, but it has been equally heartening to see the response from Londoners:

– I loved this photo of Philippa Morgan-Walker, 25 and her husband, Jonny Walker, 31, making tea for the police who were protecting their street (London News Pictures) ;

– and this one of people gathering their brooms to clean the streets ( lawcol888) ;

– or people writing messages on a boarded-up shop window (alokhja) ;

– while this article Britain’s Riot Rating Raised to AAA demonstrates that nothing can destroy the very special English sense of humour.

There has been plenty of attempted analysis on the cause of the riots, best summed up by Mary Riddell in the Daily Telegraph:

The failure of the markets goes hand in hand with human blight. Meanwhile, the view is gaining ground that social democracy, with its safety nets, its costly education and health care for all, is unsustainable in the bleak times ahead. The reality is that it is the only solution. After the Great Crash, Britain recalibrated, for a time. Income differentials fell, the welfare state was born and skills and growth increased.

One of the most tragic aspects of London’s meltdowns is that we need this ruined generation if Britain is ever to feel prosperous and safe again. If there are no jobs for today’s malcontents and no means to exploit their skills, then the UK is in graver trouble than it thinks.

The London Review of Books points to a paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research: ‘Austerity and Anarchy: Budget Cuts and Social Unrest in Europe 1919-2009’:

The results show a clear positive correlation between fiscal retrenchment and instability. We test if the relationship simply reflects economic downturns, and conclude that this is not the key factor.

Patrick Dunleavy at the LSE writes :

What ministers need to realize is that modern government, in Britain more than almost any other western state, runs on fine margins. Everything that government does, everything, relies on the active consent of the governed. Decades of ‘new public management’ (NPM) policies implemented by Conservative and Labour governments have left us with an administrative machine that is fine-tuned to run at minimal cost, so long as things go on as expected. But as soon as that ceases to be true, an NPM state is incredibly fragile – it can grind up very swiftly in the light of new events for which there is no reserve of slack resources, no defence in depth.

We have been warned.

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As a Brit in New York it has been amusing to watch the firestorm kicked off by Matthew Engel’s piece in the BBC Magazine on Why do some Americanisms irritate people?.

A fellow Brit in The New Yorker perfectly sums up the difference between the two cultures:

What most of these (American) commentators fail to recognize, in any case, is that English people enjoy complaining about things, and that the content of any particular English person’s complaint is rarely anything more than a pretext for the act of complaining. From Mr. Woodhouse to Basil Fawlty, complaining about things—the weather, the food, the trains—is what the English have always done best, and with the greatest eloquence and esprit.

– a new book,  The Believing Brain, by Michael Shermer looks interesting as he finds out what modern cognitive research has to say about belief:

As a back-of-the-envelope calculation within an order-of-magnitude accuracy, we can safely say that over the past ten thousand years of history humans have created about ten thousand different religions and about one thousand gods,” Mr. Shermer writes. He lists more than a dozen gods, from Amon Ra to Zeus, and wonders how one of them can be true and the rest false. “As skeptics like to say, everyone is an atheist about these gods; some of us just go one god further. (Reason.com)

– to celebrate President Obama’s 50th birthday this week, Amazon revealed the top 10 most highlighted passages by Kindle readers from Dreams from my Father and The Audacity of Hope

My favourites from the highlights of each book :

What is a family? Is it just a genetic chain, parents and offspring, people like me? Or is it a social construct, an economic unit, optimal for child rearing and divisions of labor? Or is it something else entirely: a store of shared memories, say? An ambit of love? A reach across the void?

No, what’s troubling is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics—the ease with which we are distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our seeming inability to build a working consensus to tackle any big problem. (Reading Matters)

The last seems particularly apt given the events of this week.

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The BBC has some fabulous photos of the first major UK exhibition by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa :

BBC News – In pictures: Jaume Plensa at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

They reminded me of a trip to Chicago and his wonderful installation in the city  – Crown Fountain :

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What I really fear is time. That’s the devil: whipping us on when we’d rather loll, so the present sprints by, impossible to grasp, and all is suddenly past, a past that won’t hold still, that slides into these inauthentic tales.

The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman

Christian Marclay’s 24-hour video The Clock was acclaimed as one of the cultural highlights of 2010 when it was shown in London, so I was very excited when it came to New York.

In fact, I was so excited that I broke two of my rules – I woke up early at the weekend and I was prepared to queue. In fact, I  waited for nearly three hours to get into the gallery on a February morning that was so cold that it started to snow. But I have to say The Clock was so fantastic that I would do it all over again.

Marclay has trawled through thousands of films and TV programmes to find scenes that reflect the passage of time and spliced them together so they unfold in real time over 24 hours – 1.15 in the afternoon in the video matched the actual time in New York.

It’s hard to explain the hypnotic effect of the video as you watch the time pieces on the screen. You are aware that something dramatic will happen on each hour, or half-an-hour, or quarter-of-an-hour, but at the same time, as in real life, you are aware that time is unstoppable and the bigger picture will continue to flow on regardless of the ripples created by these individual events.

The BBC News had a piece on the video which gives some idea of the experience. I only watched The Clock for a few hours one Saturday afternoon but would have loved to seen the whole 24 hours.

The New York Times had the same feeling:

Time is a kind of music, music is a kind of time, and Marclay — who’s worked with music for much of his career, as a turntablist, conceptual artist and filmmaker — seems to understand this implicitly. A 24-hour video composed of nothing but people all over the world, in many languages and from the beginning of moving images to now, tied to time, resenting it, making friends with it, sweating it or ignoring it or dying from it, becomes the mother of all jams.

The screen action in each viewing, for me, ran along the same rhythms: the clock’s rhythm and Marclay’s sequencing rhythm. And, in some sense, the heartbeat. It becomes a movie about mortality; it becomes a movie about staying alive.

The Economist met with Marclay towards the end of the two years it took him to edit his masterpiece – which puts my three-hour wait into perspective. Just as his video puts time, and life, into perspective.

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National Geographic has a great new map of United States based on the distribution of common surnames which gives an idea of the country’s immigration waves.

I was particularly interested to learn that :

Many of these names came from Great Britain, reflecting the long head start the British had over many other settlers. The low diversity of names in parts of the British Isles also had an impact. Williams, for example, was a common name among Welsh immigrants—and is still among the top names in many American states.

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Anish Kapoor is one of my favourite artists so I was very happy to catch his first outdoor exhibition in London on my visit home. I have also been lucky enough to see one of the same pieces, Sky Mirror 2006, at the Rockefeller Center in New York and Cloud Gate , on a visit to Chicago in 2009.

As the New Statesman says:

“From his early pigment sculptures that constructed deep voids, Kapoor has asked questions about the nature of existence and belief. He investigates what we hardly know, turning the world upside down and inside out to extract meaning. It gives us a glimpse at the mysteries both of the human imagination and the universe we inhabit.”

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Remembrance Sunday ceremony at The Cenotaph

One of the things I miss about the UK is its sense of history, which you don’t get in a much younger USA. The gap between the two becomes particularly glaring around Remembrance Day.

In the weeks leading up to November 11 everyone in the UK wears plastic red poppies in their lapels which are sold by The Royal British Legion to raise money for war veterans, both young and old. In London I used to buy them on regular basis as I could never walk past a former soldier selling poppies without making a donation. In New York I have had to do it online.

It was always incredibly moving to watch the wreath laying at the Cenotaph by the Queen and members of the Commonwealth and to visit the The Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey which is full of crosses and crescents, each with a personal message from a member of the public, to commemorate those who have died in conflict since 1914. The BBC has a wonderful gallery of photos of Armistice Day around the world.

War poetry was discussed on the last Broadcasting House podcast by UK poet Simon Armitage and Iraq war veteran and US poet Brian Turner – what happened after Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen and who are their contemporary equivalents.

On this day it seems appropriate to re-read Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est. I can still remember the impact this had on me when we first read the poem in school and it led to both my discovery of other war poets and my love of poetry:

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, –
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

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