Frightening to see how many earthquakes have been clustered around the 7.1 & 6.4 earthquakes in the Ridgecrest/Coso Junction area. And the 7.1 was eight times as strong as the earlier quake. California get ready - this is probably just the beginning of a very active next few years.
Watching HBO’s miniseries “Chernobyl,” I cannot help but react with something like astonishment at the ham-handed review in the New York Times of May 3 by Mike Hale, a reviewer I’m unfamiliar with. Mr. Hale seems to have had expectations quite at odds with the film he viewed, for reasons I’m not entirely clear on. First of all, he chastises the film for being a “disaster film.” The review just covers the first five episodes, which centers, oddly enough, on the partial nuclear meltdown at the power plant in April of 1986. Well, it was a disaster, and this is a film, so perhaps viewing it as a “disaster film” is unavoidable. He carps about factual inaccuracies: well, this is fiction, not a documentary, so some facts are going to suffer from “reductionism,” as he puts it, or streamlining, but fiction-based films usually have to hew some sort of narrative line that can elide complexities. He also laments the fact that documentary film makers did not make the film; if it’s a documentary exposé of the disaster he wants, there’s Svetlana Alexievich’s book “Chernobylskaya molitva, Chernobyl Prayer,” which covered this aspect of the incident some 22 years ago.
The reviewer also complains about the Soviet Minister of Energy’s lack of knowledge about nuclear fission (Boris Shcherbina, as played by Stellan Skarsgard). I have two words, one name, as a response: Rick Perry. The idea that a government official may not be entirely informed about the department they run is being played out daily right now by our own government by our president, the Secretary of Education, Mr. Perry, and too many other officials in the Trump “administration.” Apparatchiks are not simply figures from a bygone era; they exist in all governments. And his criticism of the omnipresence of “stoic-peasant and menacing-strongman Soviet stereotypes” really rings false. Having spent five years in an ex-Soviet Republic in Central Asia, I can assure him these are not stereotypes; unfortunately, they are still living and very real archetypes for bureaucrats, military and other functionaries. I witnessed this on a daily basis up until my return to the US less than two years ago, stodgy unqualified men with a penchant for vodka and sausages running departments that they knew nothing about: they just knew how to act stern and threatening, while the more qualified underlings cowered in fear and kowtowed to these domineering blobs.
The movie is filled with realistic detail, from the Krushchevs (the old-style Soviet apartment blocks with their characteristic sun rooms), which I saw so many of on the North Bank in Astana, to the typical Russian wall-paper, lace curtains, Ladas, omnipresent cigarettes and vodka, dilapidated infrastructure and more. My closing thought is on the radiation which will cause cancer and other illnesses for generations to come in Kyiv Oblast and surrounding areas. When my family lived in Astana (recently rebranded Nur-Sultan), we lived a few hundred miles downstream from Semipalatinsk, the Soviet nuclear testing site in eastern Kazakhstan, where generations of Kazakhs have suffered from unusually high rates of cancer, birth defects, and other effects of radiation poisoning. Our first year there, my wife had big chunks of her hair fall out. In hindsight, I realized that I also lost hair, only realizing it through looking at photos of myself trekking in Nepal and seeing far more scalp on the back of my head than I had ever seen before. And most tellingly, my wife and I had to decide whether to proceed with her pregnancy, when we found out that our daughter to-be, Anoushka, was missing two of her four heart chambers. In ultrasounds, where there should have been motion and light, there were simply two black voids. After consulting doctors at Kings College London, we mad the difficult decision to cease her life, as the outlook for her life had no future.
A very strange and short-sighted review. Perhaps he was expecting a musical comedy.
I've been listening to this CD a lot since I bought three months ago; an outstanding, scintillating live performance recorded by Deutsche Gramaphon, and the concert highlights Yuja's strengths. For a number of years she was regarded as technically brilliant, but still finding her way artistically. This concert suits her strengths, from what I've heard from her: late Romanticism, in this case Rachmaninoff; modern classical with Prokofiev; Scriabin, who is his own genre; and avant-garde classical, with Ligeti. Her playing is forceful, with great rubato at times, light touch and quite dominating at other times, in that not only does Yuja let the music drive her playing, but she also brings out counter melodies and rhythms, nuances, but rarely lets her interpretation of individual passages mar the compositions as a whole. The Rachmaninoff Prelude 23/5 is fantastic: driving, imperial, with a lovely almost sotto voce and lyrical legato passage. The Prelude 32/10 is lovely, and she plays the Scriabin Sonata 10 almost as well as a recording I have of Horowitz. The Ligeti Etudes - well, it's just great to hear a classical pianist cover this composer, one of my favorite avant-garde classical composers, and the Prokofiev Sonata No. 8 suits her well: technically complex, very modern in that it eschews Romanticism for a harder edge.
Some of her fans have said she is the next Argerich, but she is not there yet. My yardmark for making this judgement is comparing her performance of Chopin's Preludes Op. 28, with the recording of Argerich's on DG. And honestly, there is no comparison. This series of 24 preludes is considered by many pianists to be one of the benchmarks for a pianist's technique and interpretation. 24 compositions in the 24 different keys, ranging in time from 32 seconds(#1 in C major) to 4 minutes and 51 seconds for the magesterial and mystical Raindrop Prelude (#15), this is really the pinnacle of solo classical piano, in that each individual prelude is a whole unto itself, and all 24 form a whole. Just comparing the two pianists in two of my favorites, the aforementioned Raindrop, and the 44 second #7 reveals that Yuja still has some work to do. Sure, she has no problem playing anything, but the #7 is tricky in that it builds to a contrasting chord that produces a sublime denouement. With Yuja, the individual phrasing is beautiful, but she breaks the brief prelude into little phrases that dent the flow to the almost cathartic chord, and the sublime ending. With Argerich, you get this mellifluous flow that hinges upon this unforeseen chord, and then this almost ethereal ending. Argerich has both technique and interpretation; as the great cellist and conductor Mistislav Rostoprovich said of her, there are no limits. She can do anything: her soft touch, and capability of astounding force and speed, make her one of the greatest pianists. Ever.
So while I love this recording, when I need to feel the full soul of classical piano, I just listen to Argerich playing Chopin..... It's no surprise that when DG released their complete Chopin, recording of all his piano compositions (did he write for any other instruments?), with all the great pianists in their catalogue, the pianist's recording they chose for the Preludes Op. 28 was, of course, Martha Argerich.
The very public rancor generated by Representative Ilhan Omar has brought to light a vital distinction - is to be anti-Zionist to be anti-Semetic? Manchester Guardian columnist Peter Beinart, pitching his two-cents worth into the melee, makes the following observations in today;s (3/7/19) edition:
"The first is that opposing Zionism is antisemitic because it denies to Jews what every other people enjoys: a state of its own. “The idea that all other peoples can seek and defend their right to self-determination but Jews cannot,” declared US Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer in 2017, “is antisemitism.”As David Harris, head of the American Jewish Committee, put it last year: “To deny the Jewish people, of all the peoples on earth, the right to self-determination surely is discriminatory.”
All the peoples on earth? The Kurds don’t have their own state. Neither do the Basques, Catalans, Scots, Kashmiris, Tibetans, Abkhazians, Ossetians, Lombards, Igbo, Oromo, Uyghurs, Tamils and Québécois, nor dozens of other peoples who have created nationalist movements to seek self-determination but failed to achieve it.
Yet barely anyone suggests that opposing a Kurdish or Catalan state makes you an anti-Kurdish or anti-Catalan bigot. It is widely recognised that states based on ethnic nationalism – states created to represent and protect one particular ethnic group – are not the only legitimate way to ensure public order and individual freedom. Sometimes it is better to foster civic nationalism, a nationalism built around borders rather than heritage: to make Spanish identity more inclusive of Catalans or Iraqi identity more inclusive of Kurds, rather than carving those multiethnic states up.
You’d think Jewish leaders would understand this. You’d think they would understand it because many of the same Jewish leaders who call national self-determination a universal right are quite comfortable denying it to Palestinians."
This is a vital point: Zionism is a political agenda: to be a Jewish Semite (there are other kinds of Semites) and believe in "semitism" is a religious/cultural/social identity. Are there Jews who do not believe in Zionism? Many. They believe in a Jewish state, and the right of it to exist, but not in a lot of the political baggage than can be associated with Zionism, which can include a very anti-Palestinian stance, and often anti-Islamic attitude.
And that's where Ilhan Omar gets caught up: in her staunchly pro-Palestinian stance, she has gotten caught up in the semantics around anti-Zionism and antisemitism. She needs to be clearer that she is opposed to the state of Israel's political agenda, not to it's right to exist. But we in the US have to take into consideration that for perhaps the first time in our country's history we are dealing with on openly Muslim congressperson, and her points of view might diverge from the norm, in presenting an openly pro-Muslim voice. Are there PAC who openly push for Zionist policy in the US? I don't know, but it is hardly a secret that Israel has been the favorite child of US foreign policy for decades, and anyone who dares to criticize this publicly will be taken to task.
So as the Guardian columnist asks, why is it morally offensive to be considered anti-Israel, when being anti-Tibet, anti-Kurdistan, anti-East Turkestan (the proposed Uighur homeland) are not?
Just watched "Free Solo," the documentary following Alex Honnold's successful free solo (along without rope or any gear) of Freerider on the Southwest Face of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley - rated at 5.12D. Alone - without a rope. 3,000 feet of climbing in under four hours, a route he rehearsed roped for several years, on and off, especially around 1/2 a dozen key stretches involving dicey moves a thousand or two feet above the deck. Almost too gripping to watch, the film also takes you into his life, the lives of some around him, and you get to know Alex, fellow climber Tommy Caldwell (who did the first free roped ascent of the Dawn Wall on El Cap), Alex's partner Sanni McCandless, Jimmy Chin, the lead lensman of the climb, and others such as climbing legends Peter Croft and Mark Synnott. But the mind boggling thing is that Honnold does, after one initial effort he bails on, a climb that takes roped teams several days, a climb that once Honnold is more than 100 feet up the 3000 foot, thirty pitch climb, if he falls, that's it. Amazing feat, and a gripping film. Plus its amazing to see the mental approach he has, especially as he has to compensate for a bit of a media circus filming the climb.
I used to climb, and 5.12 is the hardest moves I ever climbed - with a rope. And following, not leading, and certainly not 2,000 feet above the ground. To call this amazing is selling it short - quite simply put, the most astonishing athletic feat of our times: perhaps of any time. I did free solo some peaks in the Sierras, some of which were easy roped routes, but this is just a totally different level of human achievements. He's soloed El Cap and Half Dome: what's next?
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Only read the first few chapters and stopped. Meh. This must be what good lit is considered to be in the Age of Instagram. A trite novel about self-possessed characters, centered upon the idea that minimalist snark is style. Not one of your memorable Irish satirists.
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I'm not referring to the government shutdown; rather, the Russia-Gate corruption and collusion case. Right around the same time when the fact that Trump had five face-to-face-meetings with Putin that not only were there no others present aside from translators, the translators were instructed to destroy their notes, we get this juicy little tidbit:
An Belorussian escort claims she has 16 hours of tape about Putin and Trump. So from the high court to jail cells in Thailand, more potential info is coming out about collusion and potential high crimes, the latter of which is seeming more and more like reality, not just possibility.
But what's of note is the persistent presence of escorts and porn stars in the story, from this unfortunate young Belorussian woman who was just trying to make a living, to Stormy Daniels, to the infamous pee-pee tape, to others probably yet to come forward (and then to women who have been harassed, assaulted and blackmailed by Trump). Sleaze coats Trump like a Gore-Tex parka, preventing the clean rain of honesty, morality and ethics from seeping into his lizard-like brain. One of the saddest things is that he has lived his life not just of lies, but through subjugating, harassing and demeaning woman all the time.
Just look how miserable Melania looks all of the time. She also probably wonders how much longer can this go on every single day.
It's not very often that I have had to stop reading a book to cry, or because it is too painful too read more. But Svetlana Alexeyevitch's Secondhand Time is such a work, particularly the passages where her interviewees, almost always women, speak about being raised in orphanages, and the infamous gulag system, particularly the one in Karaganda, not far from where I spent five years living in Astana - Kazakhstan, for those who do not know.
People from our school would go and visit the site, now a museum and site of remembrance, but I never did, or could. I once visited S-17, the infamous prison and torture center in Phnom Phenh, Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge tortured in killed "political" prisoners. Being a political enemy of the state, in Cambodia, just as in the USSR or present-day China, could simply be the fact of your ethnicity, or that you wore glasses, or the size of your nose. The thing I remember the most about S-17 was not that there were still blood stains on the walls - and scratch marks from the prisoners' fingernails - or that the same wire-frame beds that the prisoners were shackled to for torture were still there. No, those were mere physical testaments: what struck me was the palpable sense of evil, perhaps the only time in my life I have felt that.
I didn't want to go to Karaganda to feel that: I didn't need to be reminded of that, because I will never forget. The testimonies in Alexeyevitch's work have the same power: the smell of the earth in spring, a pebble, a blade of grass can signify either rebirth, or serve as proof of existence, of survival, of communion with something that it not dead, proof that there is life, proof that not all is suffering.
I suppose that, given the chance, I would go to see one of WWII's many death camps, but it is not something that fills me with anticipation. When I was done with S-17, my guide, a motorcycle driver who waited outside, offered to take me to see the Killing Fields, where the bodies were deposited. I declined, partially out of fear of diluting what I had just seen, and becoming numbed and inured to the idea of death camps as a tourist attraction. After some conversation, I asked him where he was from? He told me, "I'm an orphan. I do knot know who my father, my mother, were. I have no family. I do not know where I am from."
I was shocked to read of the passing of the great Italian film director Bernardo Bertolucci yesterday morning. He had seemed to faded into obscurity after a career which had gained him the reputation of one of the great film directors of the 20th century. Only after reading about his failed surgery for a herniated disc, which left him wheelchair - bound, and other health issues, did his seemingly (to me) unexplained disappearance from the world of cinema make sense.
To my thinking, he was one of the great directors of the post-WWII cinema scene, a director who created stories of compelling emotional power, cinematographic precision, color and power, and a director who plunged the depths of the human psyche. I've watched "Last Tango in Paris" more than any other film, viewing it countless times, fascinated by its brooding majesty, perverse allure, and the great acting by Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider. Certainly the film is somewhat tainted by the accounts of an act of sexual abuse performed by Brando on Schneider, with the apparent collusion of Bertolucci. But that, and only that, is the sole taint on Bertolucci's career. Certainly it caused Schneider much mental pain over the years, and has only burnished her performance in the film, out-distancing in my eyes, that of Brando's, for her own open vulnerability and courage in this very raw film, a real turning point in the history of film. Still, the film is a masterpiece, with Vittorio Storraro's magnificent cinematography, Gato Barbrieri's soaring soundtrack, and Bertolucci's merciless portrayal of an affair bound to go nowhere.
And this was just one of his great films that influenced cinema history, at a time when film auteurs were taken seriously and influenced world film in a way that is no longer possible. He made films that mattered: "The Conformist", "1900", "The Spiders Stratagem", "After the Revolution", "The Sheltering Sky", "The Last Emperor", and his follow-up, such as it was, to "Last Tango", "The Dreamers." I think after "Last Tango," "1900" is the film I have watched the most, in part or all, owning the full five hour version. The sweeping scale of this over five-hour Marxist epic on political, cultural and psychological history of Italy from 1900 to post-WWII is a magnificent epic, rich, multi-layered, tormented and spectacular, with an amazing cast: Burt Lancaster, Dominique Sanda, Robert DeNiro, Sterling Hayden, Gerard Depardieu, Donald Sutherland, Stefania Sandrelli, and other Italian actors not as familiar to US viewers, but stars in their own right such as Laura Betti, Romolo Valli, Alida Valli and others. A critique of history, an emotional saga, and the story of class struggle unresolved through the tumultuous events of the first half of the twentieth century.
And that's just two films. "The Conformist" is perhaps Bertolucci's greatest film, his second film lensed by Storraro, adapted from the novel by Alberto Moravia, about a gay man, suppressed into conformity, who sells his soul to the Italian Fascist party, only to have it all unravel with the fall of Mussolini. This is perhaps his most structured yet powerful film, another dark and merciless film like "Last Tango," where there are no heroes, just victims and survivors. And Dominique Sanda, who was offered the role of Jeanne in "Last Tango" but turned it down due to prior commitments, is enigmatic, alluring, as the dopplenganger of the protagonist, Jean-Louis Trintignant's desires, the film a fascinating nightmare of Freudian dimensions and a damning condemnation of Italy's fascist madness - a warning to all of us living through Trumpian America.
And the revisiting of Spring 1968, Paris, sexual liberation, Marxism, the Cinematheque Francais, rock and roll in "The Dreamers," with Eva Green as an updated Maria Schneider. And "The Last Emperor", a Hollywood blockbuster which melded big 80s bio-pics with serious content and political commentary on the Communist Chinese dystopia - no wonder it was the first, and last, Western film granted access to the Forbidden City, the home of the Chinese Emperors, in Beijing. And his script writing for "Once Upon A Time In The West," Sergio Leone's 1969 masterpiece, rated by most film critics as the greatest Western ever.
A monumental talent, a man who remade cinema has passed. Requiescat in pace, signor Bertolucci. Your life has been one that has touched many, as an artist in cinema who has few equals.
For the Big Orange Turd, visiting California today: only a disaster could compel him to visit the nation's most populous state. And since Facebook wouldn't let me post this, here's my special greeting to him, courtesy of Jennifer Lawrence....