And so the Rio Olympics comes to an close. The English tabloids are lobbying for the more photogenic gold-medalists to be knighted. Members of the Great Britain team are returning to London on a specially chartered plane with a golden nose. The green diving pool has been returned to blue. An IOC member has been arrested for corruption. The Brazilians can sleep peacefully now the US frat-boy swimmers crime wave is over. The favelas have been forcibly cleared. My favourite irony was the Russian minister for sport complaining that the crowd’s booing of Russian drugged up competitors was “not sporting.” Continue reading
Smokers in France are fuming. There is a real prospect that Gauloises and Gitanes, those quintessentially French cigarettes, will soon be banned on the grounds that they are simply too cool. They have been a key part of the French identity since 1910, the very essence of France. How could the great years of the post-war Left Bank cultural explosion have occurred without them? Continue reading
A runaway train is hurtling towards five people tied to a railway track ahead. You are in a signal box and can pull a lever to switch the train to a siding upon which one man is standing unawares. Do you pull the lever and save the five but choose to kill the one? Or do you do nothing and allow the five to be killed? This famous question was posed in 1967 by the philosopher Philippa Foot.
Who knew car manufacturers were in the vanguard of ethical theory? Continue reading
Have you ever wanted to count every sentence in War and Peace and plot them on a horizontal axis of a graph, and then count every word in those sentences and plot them on the vertical axis of the graph? What is wrong with you? Some very kind nuclear physicists in Cracow, Poland, have spared us this necessary task. And not just War and Peace, because they have completed it for Ulysses, The Ambassadors, Moby Dick and a further 109 literary classics, written in English, Italian, French, German, Polish and Russian.
News from the education frontier.
Ipswich High School for Girls has cancelled a performance of Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s new play Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern. The play had its world premier very recently and is on tour. It was due to be staged there on October 13th but the school has cited concerns about the play’s language, in particular the swearing. The school justified the decision by assessing the play as (using that conformist, deadening, unarguable word) ‘inappropriate’. Continue reading
Today is the anniversary of the death by hanging of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, at Spandau prison, 17th August 1986. Incarcerated after the Nuremberg trial with six others, he had been there since 1947. By 1966 those others had died or been released and he remained alone for another twenty two years in a prison capable of holding six hundred people. Aged 93 Hess took the extension cord of his lamp wrapped it around his neck and hanged himself, dying by asphyxiation. A note found in his pocket gave thanks to his family. He was buried in a secret location and Spandau prison was destroyed to avoid it becoming a Nazi shrine. It later became an Aldi supermarket instead. Continue reading
An Iranian newspaper in Tehran, Hamshahri, is currently running a Holocaust cartoon competition. Entries had to be in by the beginning of this month. The organisers have thrown down the challenge, they declare, as a test of the West’s commitment to freedom of speech. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo incident, the paper identifies a hypocritical attitude in the liberal West: it is regarded as all right to insult religion but impermissible to joke about the Holocaust. One entry, by a cartoonist from Brazil to an earlier competition, has a double image of a stand up comedian: in the first he is making jokes about Islam to an audience in raucous laughter and in the second making jokes about the Holocaust whilst being booted out of the window. If nothing is to be regarded as funny about Auschwitz, the paper says, then the West should accept that there is nothing remotely funny about Islam. Continue reading
Stoicism is the ethics of fortitude. No human life can escape vicissitude and so, given its inevitability, why not develop an attitude that enables trouble to be borne with equanimity? When fate drags us into misfortune a stoic attitude enables the cultivation of a sentiment of tranquility. The over-wrought, muddle-headed reactions of most people to tribulation often just increases the suffering.
This blog was created by me twelve months ago. Re-reading the posts now, they cover some diverse oddities: boxing, nail polish and Dada, the First World War, excrement, post-war Paris bebop, burnt manuscripts and the severed head of a regicide, a urinal, Hitler’s bath and Leica cameras. What possessed me in my mid 40s to start writing for the first time? Why am I despatching these absurd contemplations out into the world? Continue reading
In 1940 Charlie Chaplin released his film The Great Dictator, a satire about Hitler (a man with whom he shared a particular style of moustache). Chaplin’s tramp in the film is a Jewish barber who has lost his memory in the First World War and after years in hospital is released into a militarised Germany under a dictatorship he does not recognise. He looks identical to the country’s dictator, Adenoid Hynkel (also played by Chaplin), and the plot tumbles into a burlesque of mistaken identities. Hynkel is sent to a concentration camp and the barber, now removed from the ghetto and resident at the autocrat’s palace, makes a rabid and hysterical speech in favour of peace whilst lambasting the evils of racism. Chaplin watched Hitler speaking in Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will many times in order to mimic the rhetoric. Continue reading