Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Chuck a couple of these in tonight’s chicken curry and you’ll know all about it!

 

Hot chilli peppers have the best names. They sound dangerous and vaguely threatening. A warning for those stupid enough to actually try and eat one, if you will. “It’s not like we didn’t warn you,” they seem to say.

The previous record-holder for hottest chilli in the world, the ominous-sounding Carolina Reaper, has had to officially move aside to make way for the aptly monikered Dragon’s Breath chilli – a chilli so hot no one has actually eaten it yet, for fear it could kill you. How? By literally burning your airways, as if you were breathing fire.

Rather charmingly, the creator of this spicy beast didn’t even set out to break records. Mike Smith, a fruit grower and competitive show-gardener from Denbighshire in Wales, was aiming for an aesthetically pleasing chilli tree to enter into the UK’s famous Chelsea Flower Show, where it is now in the running for Plant of the Year.

“It was a complete accident but I’m chuffed to bits – it’s a lovely looking tree,” Mr Smith told the Telegraph.

The chilli was, however, grown in collaboration with scientists from Nottingham Trent University, who are interested in the medicinal use of chilis as an anaesthetic. It was they who verified that the Dragon’s Breath scored the highest rating ever recorded on the Scoville heat scale, 2.48 million, beating the wimpy rival Reaper, which measures just 2.2 million.

The Scoville scale measures the intensity of heat in units. The 2.48 million Scoville heat units (SHU) means that one drop of oil from this chili can be detected in 2.48 million drops of water, making it basically weapons-grade hot. For comparison, pepper spray used by the US Army is 2 million SHU.

Photo published for St Asaph man develops weapons-grade chili so hot it could KILL

Nasty looking little bugger.

The scientists believe that if you tried to actually eat this chilli, your airways would likely close up from the burn and you’d go into anaphylactic shock and die. Nice. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t maybe a force for good, not evil.

The capsaicin oil from it is so potent it numbs the skin, giving it excellent potential as an anesthetic, especially for those allergic to painkillers, or even for use in developing countries where access to and funding for anesthetics is limited.

Chili peppers actually have a long history of medical value, from calming the gut’s immune system to helping you live longer. Just don’t eat this one.

“I’ve tried it on the tip of my tongue and it just burned and burned,” Smith said. “I spat it out in about 10 seconds. The heat intensity just grows.”

Farmer Mike is currently waiting for the Guinness World Records to verify his world champion, but in the meantime, if anyone offers it to you in the pub for a bet, we’d err on the side of caution and just say no.

Dora as Picasso saw her.

Dora Maar – Picasso’s muse.

One of Pablo Picasso’s best-known portraits has been sold at auction in New York for US$45m (£35m).

Femme Assise, Robe Bleu (Seated Woman in Blue Dress) features one of his many lovers, Dora Maar.

During World War Two, the Nazis seized the painting but were intercepted on their way from Paris to Moravia by French Resistance fighters.

In 2015, Picasso’s Women of Algiers sold for $179m at Christie’s – a record for any picture sold at auction.

Seated Woman went to a US collector and six years ago it was sold for $26m. So it is close to doubling in value in six years. 15% or so per annum. Not bad!

Dora Maar and Picasso had an intense relationship for nine years. He painted Seated Woman in 1939, when he was 58 and she was 31.

It is one of the great Picasso portraits of his middle years, inspired – as so often, according to BBC Arts correspondent, Vincent Dowd – by love and by powerful sexual desire.

Or, alternatively, he was taking the piss. What do you think, Dear Reader?

 

One of the good things about the Oscars season (or the Baftas season, if you’re British) is that you get so much information about which movies are good and which aren’t that you have to be some sort of a klutz not to be able to find something to go and see at the local flea pit.

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But one movie doing rather well in the glitz- and glamour-loaded awards stakes has divided audiences. Not the professional audiences – critics have almost universally loved it, and it’s tipped to pick up plenty of gongs yet awhile. No, it’s the ordinary punters who seem to range from utterly under-whelmed to utterly over-whelmed and every possible reaction in-between when they go and see La La Land, driven there by the studio’s relentless publicity machine and, you know, the “buzz”.

So we thought we’d better eyeball it in order to tell you, Dear Reader – should you be the only other person on the planet apart from us who hasn’t seen it yet – whether or not you should shell out your hard-earned and see it.

Well, in short, go and see it. And go and see it soon while it’s still on at the multiplex, so you can enjoy it in all its primary-coloured glory and big speaker luscious sound.

As everyone must know by now, it’s a studied – even mannered – revival of the old-style Hollywood musical, where realism is set aside and people burst into song (or dance) in the middle of dramatic moments as if that’s the most natural thing in the world. And done as well as this, it feels as natural as any glorious Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movie flickering away on late night TV, and that’s really the goal of the movie maker here, as well as the highest praise one can offer him. Because young director Damien Chazelle pulls off this tricky task with great aplomb, and we should be grateful to him (and the Producers who backed him) for even attempting such a ridiculously old-fashioned task. And for the vast majority of the movie he makes it look easy, which it unquestionably wasn’t.

There are moments of delightful hyper-realism, too, where things that just can’t happen in a world dragged down by miserable killjoys like the laws of physics nevertheless can and do happen, and when these unlikely events occur we realise that we are being invited in to a sort of cinematic guilty pleasure – a place where the world is frequently very funny, or charming or sad or even heart-wrenching, but where somehow you just know things will turn out OK, and it’s OK for an hour or two to forget about how nasty the world has become, or, indeed, whether or not it ever actually stopped being nasty to begin with.

It isn’t, by any means, a great movie. In years to come it will not be seen as setting (or more like reversing) a trend. We won’t see a rash of new musicals as a result of it, simply because they’re so damned hard to do well. But it is a very, very good movie, and for some very specific reasons.

La La Land received critical acclaim upon its release and is regarded as one of the best films of 2016. Critics praised Chazelle’s screenplay and direction, Gosling and Stone’s performances, Justin Hurwitz’s musical score, and the film’s musical numbers. At the up-coming 89th Academy Awards, the film is nominated for a record-tying fourteen Oscars (along with 1997’s Titanic and 1950’s All About Eve), including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Ryan Gosling), Best Actress (Emma Stone) and two Best Original Songs, “Audition” and “City of Stars”. The film also won in every category it was nominated for at the 74th Golden Globe Awards with a record-breaking seven wins.

But that list of facts doesn’t tell the story of the movie. Indeed, it may over-state the movie’s worth, because it implies it is somehow the Greatest Story Ever Told, but it isn’t that. What it is a thoroughly decent feel-good tale of young love that rubs every academy member and film buff up the right way, and could hardly be more tuned to have them gushing their praises (and votes) in response. The luvvies will, in simple terms, love every minute of it, because it’s all about a time when movies that simply made you feel good – not just to watch them, but to make them – were the norm rather than the exception. And no, no-one would turn the clock back holus bolus to the sanitised days before gritty realism, gruelling depictions of violence or emotional distress, and grunting, inavriably perfect sex between twenty-five foot high naked bodies and all the rest of it. But oh my, it is nice to get a rest from all of that, just every now and again.

The real story of this movie, though, is that parts of it are perfect. And here, Dear Reader, we are going to cut the crap and get to the point.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are beautiful. And we don’t mean easy-on-the-eye. We mean smack-you-in-the-eye heart-stoppingly “Dear God, how does anyone ever end up as cute as that” beautiful. Which is all very well, except that it’s not just their physiognomy or physique that makes them so. What makes these two actors so sigh-inducingly gorgeous is that their very niceness shines out of them throughout this ambitious film.

Indeed, it could be argued that Stone doesn’t fit the cookie-cutter layout of a typical starlet. If you wanted to (unfairly) rip her looks to shreds then her eyes sometimes somehow seem a bit big for her head, she’s got pale skin and freckles not an LA tan, and a noticeable over-bite, which the actress blames on sucking her thumb till she was 11. In so far as anyone’s hair colour these days is set in any one part of the spectrum, she’s a redhead in a town of blondes. (Although actually, and not many people know this, she is naturally blonde.) And whilst she has an adorably husky voice, she has a lisp, for heaven’s sake. She explains her famously throaty tones as follows: “They were actually deeper when I was younger. I have nodules and calluses on my vocal chords from suffering from colic as a baby. I had to do speech therapy when I was a kid to learn how to speak in a higher register,” she says. “But I still have a little lisp. I didn’t fix it all.”

audition

So how does Stone pull off secreting herself in our hearts so thoroughly in this movie? Simple: you’re looking not at her features, whether or not you think she’s gorgeous, (we do), but at who she is inside.

Everything is on open display here, a smorgasbord of feelings from a young actress now effortlessly hitting her stride. She is by turns ditzy, thoughtful, passionate, romantic, sensual, funny, sad, broken-hearted, tearful, angry and resentful. And her emotional range as displayed here is not only enormous, it is utterly convincing. Indeed, at many points in the film – the show stopping song “Audition”, for example, and when Gosling seeks to persuade her that she has the talent to succeed, and riven with fear and self-doubt Stone petulantly disagrees – that we feel like we are actually watching Stone as Mia as Stone as Mia and where, we wonder, does the dividing line actually lie?

Emma Stone left nothing to chance in this career-defining performance, and we’ll be mildly astonished if she doesn’t walk away with the Best Actress statuette, despite some magnificent opposition (in particular from Natalie Portman in Jackie.)

Perennial heart-throb Gosling is equally good. For one thing, he makes room to let Stone shine, which was a generous act by a hot-as-the-sun star lead who also seems like a genuinely nice guy, as evidenced by his sincere thanks to his partner Eva Mendes for looking after the home front as he waded through the intense preparation for the role, which included actually learning to play the piano and to tap dance.

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By not over-powering the whirling tornado of a performance from Stone, Gosling deserves praise for delivering the film balance and poise with his light touch. If he had been chewing the scenery there would simply have been too much to watch – the love affair would have become a caricature, the career strivings a mere artifice. As it is, we suspend disbelief and believe in the two lovers completely. His jazz-pianist cum latent club-owning businessman character is thoughtful, full of repressed humour and passion, and under-stated to the nth degree. In his smouldering eyes, whimsical smile, and rampantly out of control lick of hair, he is also completely credible, and we get the strong impression that a night in a jazz bar sharing a beer with this soulful dreamer and then listening to him musingly tinkle the ivories would be a rather wonderful way to waste an hour or three. Again, the over-riding impression is not of his frame and facial features – ideal though they may be – it is of the person inside.

With so much else going on in this film, for these two young actors to both deliver performances so nuanced and deep is remarkable.

And there is so much more going on. Some of the dance sequences are truly charming, and the choreography superb, and well judged. Neither Stone or Gosling are asked to do the impossible, and what they do in return for this consideration is smart, sassy and flawless. Similarly with the singing – neither would consider themselves singers first and foremost, but they hold a tune well, and much more importantly, deliver it as if it’s the most natural thing in the world to be singing to one another while waltzing. As the LA Times noted of their dancing:

“La La Land” shows that you actually don’t have to have professional dancers with brilliant technique for a dance pairing to work. Put attractive people together, have them lock eyes, move feet in unison and you can get a believable love duet. What is dancing but full-body, kinetic expression exploding outward for everyone to see? And it may be just about the best way to expose the raw and visceral emotions of new-love, fireworks feelings. A choreographer must be attuned to the message conveyed by every step, every swing of the leg or wave of an arm. For “La La Land,” Mandy Moore deserves much of the credit in translating the story’s love narrative so well into dance language.

Amen to that. As for the singing, the film is worth seeing for Stone’s performance of ‘Audition’ alone. You’ll see what we mean. Remember to breathe, people.

Not all the set-pieces work, to our eyes. Some have raved about the film’s opening sequence – a mass dance-in that occurs spontaneously in a traffic queue on a LA freeway. We thought it felt a little forced. And a little too “Fame” for our liking, too. But that is quibbling: in a brave movie, one can’t get everything right, and anyway, as we say, lots of people liked it.

One of the best things about this film is the way Director Chazelle has eschewed lots of jiggly-fiddly editing and allowed the actors and the scenes to do their job. Just like back in the good old days, the actors fill the screen with both their dancing and their singing. It’s unvarnished movie making, in a way, though that would be to fail to praise the effortlessly good cinematography and especially the exceptionally precise use of colour and lighting to convey mood. It hardly needs to be said that the score, and the lyrics, are simply fantastic, and never better than when the film focuses on its core act of theatre, the jazz itself.

So: it is not a perfect film. But it tries very hard to be so, and there is a great deal to admire. It has already taken ten times at the Box Office what it cost to make, which is decent recompense for the courage shown in making it in the first place.

And most importantly, you’ll walk out of it with a smile playing on your lips, and realise you haven’t thought about Donald bloody Trump for more than two whole hours.

For that reason alone, it is surely worthy of high praise, and well worthy of your time.

286f2d946e60b55f7a0c7e69bcb3ae14North and Central America was populated by the Native Americans about 13,500 years ago. In that time, they have been a source of much interest and were “first” with a few things you might not know about.

Abstract art

Abstract art was used by nearly all tribes and civilisations.

Native American art was believed to be ‘primitive’ until the 1990s, when it served as inspiration for the modern abstract art movement.

The apartment block

The Anasazi and other tribes which once thrived in the present day South-West of the USA, developed complex multi-story apartment complexes, some of which are still in use today. Indeed, the Native Pueblo communities in present-day New Mexico continue to reside in some of these ancient multi-story apartment complexes which were constructed by their ancestors many centuries ago, even before the first apartments were built in the United States during the 18th century.

peublo-bonitoPueblo Bonito, one of the seminal archaeological sites in America, is a marvellous example of this ancient Native American complex construction technology, originally built during the Anasazi and Hohokom time periods of about roughly a thousand years ago.

The bunk bed

Was invented to squeeze more members of the family into Iroquois longhouses, where they lived communally.

They gave us words you use regularly

A number of Native American words have become a part of the English language. Just a few of these include: barbecue, cannibal, chocolate, hammock, hurricane, potato, skunk, squash and more.

Our personal favourite is the word ‘avocado’ which is from the Nahuatl tribe and actually translates to ‘testicle’.

Technology

Native Americans were actually quite advanced by “hunter-gatherer” standards.

Not unreasonably, their technology was sourced from the world around them.

toothbrush

They would use porcupine hairs to make hairbrushes, and sticks were cut into the right shape and frayed at the edges to make toothbrushes. Their dental decay was much less than their historic equivalents in Europe.

Native Americans in present-day Pennsylvania lit petroleum, which seeped from underground to fire ceremonial fires. In addition, they also used petroleum to cover their bodies against insect bites and as a form or jelly to prevent their skins drying out.

Drugs and Anaesthetics

The Native Americans possessed a huge knowledge of plants and how to to cure ailments with them. They had been using willow tree bark for thousands of years to reduce fever and pain (as were the ancient peoples of Assyria, Sumer, Egypt and Greece).

When chemists analysed willows in the last century, they discovered salicylic acid, the basis of the modern drug aspirin.

Historians have also discovered that they were the first developers of anaesthetics. While European patients were dying of pain during a surgery, Native healers utilised plants in their procedures to help them.

Indigenous people also realised the antibiotic property of peyote and used the extract to treat fevers and enhance the energy in their bodies, and as an anesthetic.

Oral contraception

There are recorded instances of Native Americans who took medicines which prevented pregnancies. Such instances date back to the 18th century, which are centuries earlier from the time modern oral contraceptives were developed by western scientists. The Shoshone tribe used the crushed powder of stone seed as a form of oral contraceptive, while the Potawatomi nation used herb dogbane, which when taken orally would prevent pregnancies.

A Third Sex

Pre-dating current LGBT+ debates by hundreds of years, some Native American tribes recognised a third gender that was separate from male and female. A “two-spirit” was one whose body manifested both masculine and feminine spirits simultaneously. They were often male – and they sometimes married other males – but weren’t seen as homosexual among their tribe.

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A rich sporting life

Native Americans enjoyed sports and games. All the tribes played some kind of stickball or hand game which was popular and entire villages participated as games weren’t seen as strictly for children. Many of them are akin to games that Europeans would recognise like hockey and lacrosse.

North American Indians also invented the spinning top, used as a toy and made out of wood.

Farming

Among the many items developed by the Native Americans were tomatoes, pumpkins, corn, the domesticated turkey, manioc, peanuts, vanilla, the muscovy duck and cranberries. They were also responsible for a number of breeds of domesticated dogs, including the xochiocoyotl (coyote), xoloitzcuintli (known as xolo or Mexican hairless), chihuahua, the Carolina dog, and the Alaskan malamute.

Tobacco

One of the less wonderful things the Native peoples bequeathed us was tobacco, which was used in the Americas for many centuries prior to the arrival of white Europeans. Consumed in high doses, tobacco can become highly hallucinogenic and was accordingly used by many in the Americas to inspire dreams and dream time. Tobacco was also often consumed as a medicine amongst some tribes, although this was strictly practiced by experienced shamans and medicine men. Eastern tribes in mainland USA also traded tobacco as a trade item in exchange for food, clothing, beads, and salt and would often smoke tobacco during sacred and ritualised ceremonies using pipes. Tobacco was considered to be a gift from the Almighty and it was believed that the exhaled tobacco smoke generated from smoking a pipe would carry one’s thoughts and prayers to the creator up above in the heavens.

Calendars

Were developed by Native Americans throughout North America, Mesoamerica, and South America. They are known to have been in used since 600 BC. American native calendars were so precise that by the 5th century BC they were only 19 minutes off.

Government

Think the Europeans dreamed up democracy and the American republic? Think again.

fig3Indian governments in eastern North America, particularly the League of the Iroquois, served as models of federated representative democracy to the Europeans and the American colonists.

The United States government is based on such a system, whereby power is distributed between a central authority (the federal government) and smaller political units (the states).

Historians have suggested the Iroquois system of government influenced the development of the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution. In 1988, the United States Congress passed a resolution to recognise the influence of the Iroquois League upon the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

A close relationship to nature

Like many “uncivilised” peoples – some would argue that should read “more civilised” – the Native Americans believed strongly in nature; they believed that all living things such as humans, plants, animals, and even the rivers and wind were all connected. They believed that these elements of nature were sacred as some of their religious beliefs involved the origins of the world and nature itself. There was no one religion that united all the peoples, but they all had common elements.

As we noted on our recent trip to Vanuatu, we risk losing so much if we let ancient civilisations wither and die.

AIDS

 

We warmly recommend you pop over to Time and have a look at their wall of the most historic photographs ever taken – to both remind yourself of the brilliant photos, but also to read the “back story” of any photo that interests you particularly.

http://100photos.time.com/

It is a very considerable effort by Time and they are to be commended for it.

Some celebrate or expose great moments in history. Some track societal trends. Some are simply the first time a photo was ever taken like that.

All remind us of the debt of gratitude we owe photographers for capturing what we need to know. A picture sometimes tells not just a thousand words, but many thousands of words; often much more immediately than tens of thousands of fractious, argumentative, disputatious words.

A picture frequently says much more, and without argument.

Sadly, in today’s “Photoshop” world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to trust the evidence of our own eyes. Nevertheless, a great photograph taken in context can still inform the world, like the little refugee boy drowned in the Mediterranean a little while back.

A fascinating read. Enjoy.

 

Tori Kelly

Tori Kelly

 

First of all let it be said that of the thousands of versions of Hallelujah performed since the genius Leonard Cohen wrote it, Tori Kelly nailed it at the Emmys as she provided the soundtrack for the In Memoriam section. She made the song her own, and her effort deserves to be added to the list of great performances of that seminal tune.

There were so many great names on the list of great talents that we have lost in the last 12 months. It’s always a sad moment. This year we reflected on Anton Yelchin, Steven Hill, Al Molinaro, the immortal Garry Shandling, taken from us so soon at just 66 and himself a three-time host of the Emmys, the ineffable talent of Alan Rickman who was also snatched from us ludicrously young before his three score years and ten were up, Wayne Rogers, David Bowie, Academy Award winner George Kennedy, Gene Wilder (we cried the day he died), and Prince. And the list rolled on.

But the name that caused us to gasp – as we hadn’t noticed his death in the news, and he was always a favourite of ours – was Wayne Rogers.

Rogers became instantly one of the most famous actors in the world for his role as Captain “Trapper” John MacIntrye in the ground-breaking series M*A*S*H, surely one of the mostrogers2 original TV comedy dramas ever written, and certainly one of the funniest. Millions still enjoy it today, in endless re-runs, and it is as fresh as ever.

What we didn’t know was that he was also a regular panel member on the Fox News Channel stock investment television program Cashin’ In having built a successful second career as an investor, investment strategist and advisor, and money manager.

Rogers was a prolific actor, appearing on television in both dramas and sitcoms such as Gunsmoke, The FBI, Gomer Pyle, The Fugitive, and he even had a small role in Cool Hand Luke. (The same movie where George Kennedy won his Oscar, coincidentally.)

He co-starred in various “Western” series, too.

When Rogers was approached for M*A*S*H, he actually planned to audition for the role of Hawkeye Pierce. But he found the character too cynical and asked to screen test as Trapper John, whose outlook was brighter.

L-R, Alda, Rogers and co-star Loretta Swift.

L-R, Alda, Rogers and co-star Loretta Swift.

Rogers was told that Trapper and Hawkeye would have equal importance as characters.

This changed after Alan Alda, whose acting career and résumé up to that point had outshone that of Rogers, was cast asscreen-shot-2016-09-20-at-3-39-49-pm Hawkeye and proved to be more popular with the audience. Rogers did, however, very much enjoy working with Alda – who continues to enjoy a stellar career – and with the rest of the cast as a whole (Alda and Rogers quickly became close friends), but eventually chafed that the writers were devoting the show’s best humorous and dramatic moments to Alda.

When the writers took the liberty of making Alda’s Hawkeye a thoracic surgeon in the episode “Dear Dad” (December 17, 1972) even though Trapper was the unit’s only thoracic surgeon in the movie and in the novel, Rogers felt Trapper was stripped of his credentials.

On the M*A*S*H* 30th Anniversary Reunion Television Special aired by Fox-TV in 2002, Rogers spoke on the differences between the Hawkeye and Trapper characters, saying “Alan and I used to discuss ways on how to distinguish the differences between the two characters as to where there would be a variance … my character was a little more impulsive.”

Rogers had considerably reduced his natural Alabama accent for the character of Trapper. He succeeded Elliott Gould, who had played the character in the Robert Altman movie M*A*S*H, and was himself succeeded by Pernell Roberts in the M*A*S*H spin-off Trapper John, M.D.. In the end, after just three hugely popular seasons, Rogers left M*A*S*H. Mike Farrell was quickly recruited for the newly created role of B.J. Hunnicutt, opposite Alda.

After leaving M*A*S*H, Rogers appeared as an FBI agent in the 1975 NBC-TV movie Attack on Terror: The FBI vs. the Ku Klux Klan, and as civil rights attorney Morris Dees in 1996’s Ghosts of Mississippi. He also starred in the short-lived 1976 period detective series City of Angels and the 1979–1982 CBS series House Calls, first with Lynn Redgrave (both were nominated for Golden Globes in 1981, as best actor and best actress in TV comedy, but did not win) and then later with actress Sharon Gless, who went on to co-star in the CBS-TV crime drama series Cagney & Lacey with actress Tyne Daly (coincidentally, one of the House Calls co-stars was Roger Bowen who played the original Colonel Henry Blake in the MASH movie). Rogers also appeared in the 1980s miniseries Chiefs.

Rogers then guest-starred five times in a recurring role on CBS’s Murder, She Wrote. He also worked an executive producer and producer in both television and film, and as a screenwriter, and a director. He also starred in several other successful tele-movies and cinema releases.

Rogers never lost his trademark good looks or his cheerful grin.

Rogers never lost his trademark good looks or his cheerful grin.

Rogers began to test the stock and real estate markets during his tenure as a M*A*S*H cast member and became a successful money manager and investor. In 1988 and again in 1990, he appeared before the United States House Committee on the Judiciary as an expert witness, testifying in favour of retaining the banking laws enacted under the Glass–Steagall Legislation act of 1933. He appeared regularly as a panel member on the Fox Business Network cable TV and in August 2006, Rogers was elected to the board of directors of Vishay Intertechnology, Inc., a Fortune 1000 manufacturer of semi-conductors and electronic components. He was also the head of Wayne Rogers & Co., a stock trading investment corporation. In 2012, Rogers signed on as the new spokesman for Senior Home Loans, a direct reverse mortgage lender headquartered on Long Island, New York.

Reflecting his huge volume of successful Tv and film work work, Rogers received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005.

After some years living in Florida, Rogers died on December 31, 2015 from complications from pneumonia in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 82.

Well done, that man. A good life, well lived.

The very name Mumbles sets one wondering what sort of a place is known by such a fascinating name. Now a suburb of Swansea in South Wales, Mumbles was where my relatives lived when I was a child, and the scene of a hundred happy holidays.
The headland is thought by some to have been named by French sailors, after the shape of the two anthropomorphic islands which comprise the headland, as the name could well be derived from either the Celtic, Latin and then French words for “breasts”.
Its famous lighthouse was built during the 1790s and was converted to solar powered operation in 1995. The nearby pier was opened in 1898 at the terminus of the Mumbles Railway, which in its time was one of the oldest passenger railways in the world. (The railway closed in 1960.) These days the name ‘Mumbles’ is given to a district covering the electoral wards of Oystermouth with its eponymous castle ruin, Newton, West Cross and Mayals.
mumbles panorama

Mumbles pier on the left, and the two islands with lighthouse on the right

Apart from being very pretty and a fun place to visit in its own right, Mumbles marks the beginning of the Gower Peninsula’s coastline, one of the most exquisite areas of natural beauty in Europe. A series of small coves and beaches, often relatively deserted even in high summer, offer much to recommend both the fossicker and the lazier occupant alike. The area is also well-known for a huge variety of “fresh off the boat” seafood, and has become something of a foodie’s stop off with excellent locally-created chocolate and ice cream as highlights.

 

Looking towards Mumbles from Swansea

Looking towards Mumbles from Swansea

Oystermouth Castle, which actually nestles right in the middle of the village, is well worth a visit, just off a busy shopping street. There are 600 castles in Wales, but there aren’t many which come with a better view than this one, looking out over Swansea Bay.

Over recent years the castle has undergone conservation work to ensure its structure is safe and sustainable for the foreseeable future. Now the public can explore parts of the castle that have been hidden away for centuries and learn about the castle’s exciting history.

Features include ancient graffiti art from the 14th century, plus people can come and explore the medieval maze of deep vaults and secret staircases and enjoy the magnificent views over the Bay from the 30 foot high glass bridge.

oystermouth

 

When I was a littlie, the family’s home was just around the corner from Mumbles, on a high ridge overlooking Langland Bay. Often forgotten in favour of more obviously picturesque and wilder bays both before and after it, Langland always called to me to ramble for hours with its mesmeric wide and sandy beach and Victorian foreshore, full of bathing huts and ice cream opportunities.

 

langland

There used to be a really excellent hotel overlooking the Bay, called, logically, Langland Bay Hotel, and the views from its massive picture windows as one enjoyed a dry sherry and then roast beef and Yorkshire Pud was simply breathtaking. 

I recall starched white tablecloths and napkins, and smiling Welsh waitresses squeezed into slim-fitting 1930s maids uniforms. (By the time I was old enough to enjoy a Sunday lunch sherry I was beginning to notice such things.) With a sad inevitability the hotel was turned into holiday flats which probably yielded much more money for its owners, but robbed the rest of us of a great cultural artefact.

In fact, the sea front of Langland and the adjacent Rotherslade, or ‘Little Langland’ as it is sometimes known, were once the location for three hotels: the Langland Bay, the Ael-y-Don, and the Osborne; and three further hotels – the Brynfield Hotel, the Langland Court, and the Wittemberg – were located in the immediate hinterland. 

All but one have closed over the past forty years, and have been replaced with apartments (Langland Bay, Osborne and Ael-y-don), converted to a nursing home (Brynfield), or closed down and sadly subjected to arson attacks (Langland Court and, previously, the Osborne). The Wittemberg was partially demolished and re-opened in its original Victorian core as the Little Langland Hotel.

 

Langland Bay - UK

 

By far the most dominant building on the Bay, built in the mid-nineteenth century and backing on to the Newton Cliffs, was originally known as Llan-y-Llan. Built in dramatic Scottish Baronial style by the Crawshay family, the Merthyr Tydfil Ironmasters, it was used as their summer residence. In the first part of the 20th century it later became part of the Langland Bay Hotel, and later again, when I was a child, it was the Club Union Convalescent Home for coal miners. I would sit on the tables outside chatting to the hoary old miners, nursing their pints and coughing up black bile from their lungs. For a nicely brought up middle-class kid their stories were eye openers, and induced in me a horror of the social effects of coal mining that has never left me. After a period of closure it has been renamed Langland Bay Manor and has also been converted into luxury apartments.

 

Siseley's painting, "On the cliffs, Langland Bay". I have walked that very path a thousand times, at the top of which was my Aunt and Uncle's home, Kylemore.

Sisley’s painting, “On the cliffs, Langland Bay”. I have walked that very path a thousand times, at the top of which was my Aunt and Uncle’s home, Kylemore.

I was by no means the first to become enchanted by the area. In 1897 the French Impressionist painter Alfred Sisley made two watercolours of Langland Bay, while on honeymoon, staying at the Osborne Hotel. Over twenty paintings resulted from his visit to Penarth and the Gower and two of them are now in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.

As well as the beach huts that still exist, Langland Bay was famous for its ‘community’ of green canvas beach tents. These were erected annually, usually between April and early September, on the stoney storm beach in front of the promenade. A much-loved local spectacle was the early September ‘spring tide watch’ when rough seas would occasionally cause the loss of one or two. Somewhat safer and more sheltered on the higher ground of the Langland Bay Golf Club, a magnificent course which abuts the Bay on the western side, where a further two rows of tents were permitted. All sadly succumbed to vandalism in the 1970s.

Langland Bay has always been a site of sports innovation. Every year in the early 1960s local teenagers becoming amongst the first in the country to take up American innovations such as skimboarding, and surfing,

You can checkout the essential idea in the video.

Whilst I never took up surfing, I enthusiastically embraced skimboarding on the vast flat beach over which the sea would roll in and provide a perfect environment with hundreds of metres of calm water just an inch or two deep. Those who are still aficionados of skimboarding and surfing  (unlike your near-retired correspondent, Dear Reader) will enjoy checking out the live webcams of the area which are here during local daylight hours.

Anyway, forgive us for wandering down memory lane to no great purpose. If you’re ever near South Wales, we warmly recommend you to visit this area.

 

lava bread

 

And if you do drop in, make sure you taste the local delicacy, called laver bread, which is essentially stewed seaweed. Not only is it an authentic memory of the folk diet of the area, it is also delicious, and incredibly good for you. Try it warmed through in the fat from the bacon which you just cooked yourself for breakfast.

If you can, chuck on some of the local cockles, too – but don’t forget a healthy slosh of dark malt vinegar on them, without which they are only half as good.

Laver cultivation as food is thought to be very ancient, though the first mention was in Camden’s Britannia in the early 17th century. It is plucked from the rocks and given a preliminary rinse in clear water. The collected laver is repeatedly washed to remove sand and boiled for hours until it becomes a stiff, green mush. In this state, the laver can be preserved for about a week. Typically during the 18th century, the mush was packed into a crock and sold as “potted laver”.

Laver and toast

 Cultivation of laver is typically associated with this part of Wales and further along the coast towards Pembrokeshire although similar farming methods are used at the west coast of Scotland.

Laver is excellent eaten cold as a salad with lamb or mutton. A simple preparation is to heat the laver and to add butter and the juice of a lemon or Seville orange.

Laverbread (Welsh: bara lafwr or bara lawr) is a traditional Welsh delicacy made from laver. To make laverbread, the seaweed is boiled for several hours, then minced or pureed. The gelatinous paste that results is then rolled in oatmeal and is generally coated with oatmeal if it is to be fried.

Laverbread can also be used to make a sauce to accompany crab or monkfish, etc., and to make laver soup (Welsh: cawl lafwr).

The most famous actor ever produced by the area. Richard Burton, was quoted as describing laverbread as “Welshman’s caviar”.

Yum!

Brilliant.

If we made this required viewing for all sexually active males everywhere in the world we would make the world a much safer and better place for women. As well as saving a lot of males a great deal of pain and potential punishment, too. As well as helping the sexes just, you know, get on.

 

 

Well done Upworthy. Superb.

Show this to every male you know, Dear Reader.

Sincerely

A Male

Whoever we are Wherever we go Yes means yes And no means no

Whoever we are
Wherever we go
Yes means yes
And no means no

PS Dear male population of Australia. Forget this simple video when dealing with my daughter and you will be sorry.

PPS Women who would like to reinforce this simple point when walking down the street are invited to purchase this t-shirt, available in a variety of formats.

Click the link:

http://www.cafepress.com/yolly.431439352

This fascinating series of photographs shows what happens when humankind abandons its structures. They have an eerie beauty, modelled, moulded and affected by weather, and the natural world around them.

It is an interesting idea, in an idle way, to wonder how long it would take for most or all of humanity’s structures to be overtaken by the natural planet should we all somehow suddenly disappear. We reckon within a couple of hundred years you almost wouldn’t know we’d been here at all. For those afflicted by human hubris, that’s a sobering thought.

Our favourite is the Hotel in Columbia. Yours?

 

Abandoned Blade Mill, France

Abandoned Blade Mill, France

 

 

Abandoned city of Keelung, Taiwan

Abandoned city of Keelung, Taiwan

 

Abandoned dome houses in Southwest Florida

Abandoned dome houses in Southwest Florida

 

Abandoned 1886 mil in Sorrento, Italy

Abandoned 1886 mil in Sorrento, Italy

 

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

 

Christ of the Abyss at San Fruttuoso, Italy

Christ of the Abyss at San Fruttuoso, Italy

 

Abandoned train depot, Częstochowa, Poland

Abandoned train depot, Częstochowa, Poland

 

El Hotel del Salto, Colombia

El Hotel del Salto, Colombia

 

Fishing hut on a lake in Germany

Fishing hut on a lake in Germany

 

Holland Island, Chesapeake Bay, USA

Holland Island, Chesapeake Bay, USA

 

Kolmanskop. Namib Desert, Namibia

Kolmanskop. Namib Desert, Namibia

 

Miiltary rocket factory, Russia

Military rocket factory, Russia

 

Maunsell Sea Forts, Redsands, Thames Estuary, England

Maunsell Sea Forts, Redsands, Thames Estuary, England

 

Sunken yacht, Antarctica

Sunken yacht, Antarctica

 

The remains of the SS Ayrfield in Homebush Bay, Sydney, Australia

The remains of the SS Ayrfield in Homebush Bay, Sydney, Australia

 

Car graveyard, Chatillon, Belgium

Car graveyard, Chatillon, Belgium

 

If you would like to follow our eclectic mixture of culture, politics, writing and life, please subscribe to our blog on the top left hand side of this page.

yollyDear Reader, if you have enjoyed Well This Is What I Think in the last four years (Yeah, we know, four years! Crazy? Right?) we would ask you to show your appreciation by backing our Kickstarter fund with however much you can reasonably afford.

And especially if you enjoy and support live theatre, and you believe in nurturing new talent.

We are very very excited to tell you that our new Kickstarter project – ECLECTICA – is now live.

But only for thirty days, and the clock is ticking.

Please click the link and find out what it’s all about, and how you can help!

There’s even a crazy whacky-doo video from your esteemed correspondent to enjoy. And when you go there, please click the Share This Project link to spread the word.

As well as your very kind monetary support, this is absolutely vital for our success.

 

eclectica

Be a part of making it happen: FIND OUT ABOUT ECLECTICA HERE!

Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. Ten thousand times over.

eclectica

Very excited to let all followers of the blog know that I have just started a new Kickstarter project to bring a whole new Variety show to the stage in Melbourne. Poetry! Music! Clowns! Improv! Circus! Theatre! Comedy! Dance! Stuff! Yes, all of that.

The show will focus on unearthing new talent, or giving a boost to established talent that need an outlet.

It’s a bit scary, but you know what? If you don’t do, you … er … don’t do.

This has been my dream for as long as I can recall, and I’ll be frank, a recent health scare (all is well, never fear) has made me realise time is passing.

I will post more news of the project in a few days when Kickstarter hopefully approve it. Watch this space!

PS! Performers in the Melbourne area, don’t delay, signal your interest to me by emailing me on steveyolland@yahoo.com now.

UPDATE! PROJECT NOW LIVE!

When will this end?

When will this end? When will the world truly care?

A Pakistani man and his father have been arrested in the country’s latest so-called “honour killing” after they set the son’s wife alight for leaving the house without asking his permission, police said Sunday.

Muhammad Siddique became enraged on learning that his wife, Shabana Bibi, 25, had visited her sister without first asking him if she could go out, her brother Muhammad Azam said.

Siddique and his father then beat Bibi before dousing her with petrol and setting her on fire in Central Pakistan’s Muzaffargarh district on Friday, Azam said.

Bibi had been married to Siddique for three years, during which time she had suffered repeated domestic abuse for the couple’s inability to have children, Azam said. Clearly that was the true “insult” received by the husband in this case.

Suffering burns to 80 percent of her body, Bibi died of her injuries in hospital on Saturday.

woman“We have arrested the husband and father-in-law of the deceased woman and charged them for murder and terrorism,” district police chief Rai Zameer-ul-Haq told AFP. The charge of “terrorism” is regularly applied in such cases so as to expedite the legal process.

Hundreds of women are murdered by their relatives in Pakistan each year through domestic violence or on the grounds of defending family “honour”.

The Aurat Foundation, a campaign group that works to improve the lives of women in Pakistan’s conservative and patriarchal society, says more than 3,000 women have been killed in such attacks since 2008.

honour-killing-jpgWellthisiswhatithink does not, as some do, accuse the Muslim religion of being responsible for these outrages – so-called honour killings occur in many countries, and many cultural groups, including amongst Christians. Sikhs and Hindus. But the world needs to apply implacable opposition to this appalling practice wherever it occurs, and especially in Pakistan which accounts for more than half of such killings, and also to the oppression of women worldwide generally.

As John Lennon deliberately and pointedly remarked, “Woman is the nigger of the world”. How true.  And as he most appropriately urges: ” Think about it.”

<iframe width=”640″ height=”390″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/VS78MX8Zmdk&#8221; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>

We were fascinated by this exploration of the presentation of the female face throughout western art history, and grateful for Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink spotting it.

What is remarkable is how consistent what artists consider to be beautiful really is, despite the huge differences in representative style. Do take two minutes to watch it, as it is mesmerising and genuinely interesting. The Yo Yo Ma cello soundtrack is nice, too.

 

What is considered “beautiful” in a female face seems unchanging when viewed by many for whom visual appreciation is all. The symmetry of the two sides of the face … the eyes locked onto those of the viewer, or if gazing elsewhere, their openness and appeal … and often, the combination of challenge and supplication in the stare. Absolutely enthralling to see it demonstrated in this way.

The subject of what makes a woman beautiful – or anyone, for that matter – is often discussed on blogs, because, we suspect, everyone would like to think they are beautiful or could aspire to be “not bad”, at least.

Here’s a good example: http://realdoctorstu.com/2011/03/16/the-science-of-attraction-what-makes-a-beautiful-face/  The writer notes the role of symmetry, but also the crucial role of “averageness”.

Men are apparently more inclined to consider a woman beautiful if she has an average face.

That’s to say not too obviously pretty, not too obviously disjointed or unbalanced, not too obviously out of the norm.

The example the writer uses is Keira Knightley, the Brit actress whose face has launched a bazillion magazine covers. Men eulogise about her. But women? Nah, not so much. Interestingly, the writer proposes, and we agree, that Knightley’s appeal is that she isn’t perfect. Her nose has a bump in it. Her forehead is probably a bit expansive. Her teeth need fixing. And without professionally applied make-up she looks, well, ordinary. Those famous knife-edge cheekbones aren’t so obvious without skilful etching with blusher and shade. So: she’s cute, but ordinary.

knightley

Other women find those women uninteresting.

Jolie plays a man in Salt.

Jolie plays a man in Salt.

I have always found it fascinating that in answer to the parlour-dinner party-game question to straight women “So, come on, if you absolutely had to turn, which woman would you find attractive enough to bed?” the answer – way above a median average – is Angelina Jolie.

Whilst she has her male admirers, to be sure, (including, of course, the man often considered the most beautiful in the world by many, her husband Brad Pitt) men are far more equivocal about her appeal, but she comes up in straight womans’ lists all the time.

We have often thought that it is because her face has the capacity to be considered “fine”, “strong”, and “handsome” rather than girl-next-door-pretty, and also because so many representations of her in movies have been of her being, well, not to put too fine a point on, rather like a male action hero.

stewartWhen the first Twilight movie came out to very mixed reviews, long before the Twihards took control of the process and turned it into such a successful movie franchise, we remember seeing a review of the movie which (amongst other criticisms) complained of Kristen Stewart being “blandly” beautiful.

It struck us as a rather odd and snippy comment at the time as she appeared to us then (and now) to be extremely pretty. But in light of the finding that we find average looking people “beautiful”, it makes perfect sense. Stewart is essentially a gawky kid grown up. Her eyes are a bit narrow – not giant and rounded like a sweet anime character – her lips are a bit odd – and her nose ends in a snub. Nevertheless, she has been on almost as many covers as Knightley.

In our experience, women loathe her.

Googling “stars without makeup” – for which there are umpteen thousands of web pagesScreen shot 2015-03-31 at 3.45.27 PM – shows how fascinated we are with the raw material that make-up artists are working with. But what is more interesting, we think, is that time after time what is revealed by the un-caked original form of the face is someone who could really be living, un-noticed and un-remarked, next door.

And how, very often, the un-made up star is actually – somehow, counter-culturally, even oddly – more alluring than the perfectly “crafted” version of her face. The German/American busineswoman, model and occasional actress Heidi Klum looks way more beautiful, in our opinion, in the picture on the left rather than on the right? No?

So we must come to the conclusion, we guess, that many girls and women who don’t think they are attractive might actually be hugely attractive to many men. Which is something to be celebrated, indeed shouted from the rooftops, we think.

The comment “Pffft – I just look like the girl next door” could actually be the key to landing the boy of your dreams.

As to what the boy of anyone’s dreams looks like, that’s another whole thing. Thank the good Lord that we don’t all have to look like Brad Pitt to find a girlfriend or even a mate, or the Wellthisiswhatithink line would have come to an ignominious and crashing halt.

And yes, we know that all beauty is really on the inside, before some spoilsport decides to tell us, but that’s not the point of the article. So shove off. 🙂

 

Wandering Facebook today brought us across this lovely snippet from our friend and reader Mimi in California.

“Today’s irony, brought to you by Hailey’s school:

“Let’s have a moment of silence for the deaf” at the end of the afternoon prayer.”

How thoughtful of them. Next week, poking our eyes out for the blind, no doubt.

marceauxAnyhow, it did remind us of the only joke we have ever consciously written. It ran thusly:

“So when Marcel Marceau died, did they hold a minute’s noise?”

Hardly enough to establish us as one of the world’s great humourists, but we are proud of it. Years later – and we never published the joke apart from gleefully sharing it with friends and acquaintances in the pub and over dinner – it was fed back to us from a comic in the UK. Amazing how the world works.

Marceau was a French actor and mime most famous for his stage persona as “Bip the Clown.” He referred to mime as the “art of silence,” and he performed professionally worldwide for over 60 years. As a youth, he lived in hiding and worked with the French Resistance during most of World War II, giving his first major performance to 3000 troops after the liberation of Paris in August 1944. Following the war, he studied dramatic art and mime in Paris.

In 1959 he established his own pantomime school in Paris, and subsequently set up the Marceau Foundation to promote the art in the U.S. Among his various awards and honours, he was made “Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur” (1998) and was awarded the National Order of Merit (1998) in France. He won the Emmy Award for his work on television, was elected member of the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin, and was declared a “National Treasure” in Japan. He was friends with pop artist Michael Jackson for nearly 20 years, and Jackson said he would use some of Marceau’s techniques in his own dance steps.

Marceau’s work was frequently whimsical and humorous, but also often exquisitely beautiful and sad. Given that existentialism is basically a French invention, it is hardly surprising that he addressed it in his work.

His famous performance of “A Life” in three minutes was happily captured on film and is on YouTube with a number of his other history-making performances, and although the quality is very poor – it almost obscures the fact that he starts and ends in a foetal position – it is well worth viewing. What is fascinating is how he can create tension through repetition, can create suspense through inaction, and can provide shock through the tiniest changes in facial expression or bodily position. In a word: exquisite.

american_sniperOver the last couple of weeks a number of people have been pushing us to go and see American Sniper and then to tell everyone what we think.

The film – which enjoyed the largest-grossing weekend for a movie ever when it launched in the USA – has divided opinion. Basically the left intelligentsia and many of those watching the film overseas have condemned it as at best simplistic and at worst American triumphalism, while some on the right have trumpeted it as a return to good ol’ USA values in movie making and a celebration of a folk hero.

We suspect the assumption is that, given our well-understood political preferences, we will immediately lapse into an anti-American rant full of left-wing certainty that the project is little more than an exercise in gung ho Tea Party patriotism and yet another example of director Clint Eastwood’s rightwards drift in his old age, epitomised by his dreadful Republican Convention discussion with an empty chair.

Actually, our reaction was much different.

As both its Oscar-nominated maker and Bradley Cooper have argued, the piece is above all a closely observed discussion of the effect of war on an individual who measures his life by some fairly simple yardsticks – love of country, love of family, and distaste for bullies. Some will be put off from seeing the film because of its subject matter. That would be a mistake.

Chris Kyle and his wife

Chris Kyle and his wife

Christopher Scott “Chris” Kyle was a United States Navy SEAL and the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history with 160 confirmed kills. Kyle served four tours in the Iraq War and was awarded several commendations for acts of heroism and meritorious service in combat.

Iraqi insurgents dubbed him the “Devil of Ramadi” and placed a series of ever increasing bounties on his head, purported to have eventually reached the low six figures.

Kyle was honourably discharged from the U.S. Navy in 2009 and wrote a bestselling autobiography, American Sniper, which was published in January 2012. On February 2, 2013, Kyle was shot and killed at a shooting range near Chalk Mountain, Texas, by a fellow veteran he was seeking to aid, along with friend Chad Littlefield. Their killer is awaiting trial.

We suspect that much of the criticism of the film is based on the shock that it is presented in very spare tones. It is brutal. Elemental. Nowhere to hide from the subject matter. For those who prefer their war neatly packaged on the nightly news and with the blood and guts removed, this movie will be confronting, indeed.

mother boy

There is no attempt to gloss over the utter nastiness of war for the ordinary soldier. Indeed, quite the opposite. War is not presented as a cheery exercise for America or Americans, or anyone. It is shown in all its bloody reality. When Kyle shoots a young boy carrying a grenade, and then his mother (or sister, it isn’t clear), the horrific nature of the moment is presented with stark realism. The fact that it is his first “kill”  is explored in a few simple sentences when he later returns to barracks. His regret at the incident is expressed exactly as a working soldier would express it – he hadn’t wanted his first engagement with the enemy to be like that. His colleague closes down discussion with the ultimate justification. Kyle had saved his colleagues’ lives. That was his job. Job done. Move on.

The film makes no attempt to consider why a young woman and a young boy would be running up a street holding a hand grenade to try and slaughter American soldiers. It neither justifies nor condemns their action. The reason is clear: that’s not what Eastwood is examining. On the other hand, it is also a simple and effective way to encapsulate that the war in Iraq was also about a war with the local population, not just hardened Jihadist fighters.

If this movie is about anything it is about the horror of war and the stoic determination to endure it in support of principles. One can question the principles – one can argue that America should never have been in Iraq, or even that Al-Zarquari and his hoodlum army were justified in fighting the invaders. That is to entirely miss the point. The movie is a character study, and it is engagingly effective in that study. Yes, naturally, it is viewing that study from the American perspective, but it makes no attempt to sanitise the reality of American actions, which were bloody. Because war is.

The movie also unflinchingly reveals the reality of the opposition the Americans faced – at times well organised, determined to the point of fanatical, but also frequently very cruel towards its own population. To reveal one of the film’s more gut wrenching scenes would be an unreasonable spoiler for those who have yet to see it, but it makes grim viewing. That it is likely to be entirely true is merely emphasised by the current barbarity of ISIS burning people alive, beheading, mass murder, raping and kidnapping, reducing populations to slavery and so forth.

Above all, despite lifting Chris Kyle up as a figure to be exemplified, (and the final scene sent everyone in this one Australian cinema out in to the streets in near silence), the film is an anti-war monologue. It would be hard to imagine a more immersive experience that could lead one to understand the reality of being in a fire fight in a dense urban area – in other words, what the fighters on both sides endured day after day for years.

One many occasions in the film one finds oneself gripping the arms of the cinema chair and wondering how any halfway sane person could ever return home and be able to pick up everyday life with any degree of equanimity. In that sense, Kyle’s own story is also an appeal for the United States to improve its treatment of its own vets – a disgraceful number of whom linger with untreated mental illness or languish in jails around the country.

Much has been made of the fact that it is somehow wrong to create a movie celebrating the life of a man who took 160 lives (at least 160 – that’s his “confirmed” total) in his role as a sniper. And to be sure, the publicity surrounding the movie trumpeting his role as the most lethal sniper in American history doesn’t sit at all easily with those who regret the loss of human life in conflicts.

But then again, what do people expect soldiers to do?

Apart from the very obvious fact that Kyle saved many more of his fellow soldier’s lives than he took – a point demonstrated clearly in the film – soldiers are employed to kill the enemy in combat. The operator of a drone or fighter-bomber will frequently “take out” many more people than Kyle did in four tours of duty.

american-sniper-is-not-an-army-recruitment-video

If we don’t want to deal squarely with what we ask men like Kyle to do, then we need to campaign against war, not individuals. Kyle is exemplified as a decent man who did what he felt his duty demanded of him, at great personal risk and cost to his family. He is shown warts and all – a tad simplistic, as capable of reducing the war to a slogan as anyone, an ordinary guy in extraordinary circumstances – which is a treatment that will be appreciated by all those who have served in a hot war zone. But throughout, his essential decency shines though, which is remarkable given that he is killing people for most of the film. His deep affection for his family is especially moving, and let it be said that Sienna Miller is excellent as his long-suffering and loyal wife.

American Sniper is anything but a recruitment video for the American armed forces, although sadly some will seek to ride its coat-tails and present it as such. In one particularly telling moment, while Stateside, Kyle is called a hero by a younger man. “That’s not a title anyone would want” he mutters in embarrassment, almost inaudibly.

And that, surely, is the real point of this remarkable film.

Other critical reaction

Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter wrote: “A taut, vivid and sad account of the brief life of the most accomplished marksman in American military annals, American Sniper feels very much like a companion piece — in subject, theme and quality — to The Hurt Locker.” Justin Chang of Variety gave the film a positive review, saying “Hard-wiring the viewer into Kyle’s battle-scarred psyche thanks to an excellent performance from a bulked-up Bradley Cooper, this harrowing and intimate character study offers fairly blunt insights into the physical and psychological toll exacted on the front lines, yet strikes even its familiar notes with a sobering clarity that finds the 84-year-old filmmaker in very fine form.” David Denby of The New Yorker gave the film a positive review, saying “Both a devastating war movie and a devastating antiwar movie, a subdued celebration of a warrior’s skill and a sorrowful lament over his alienation and misery.” Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a C+, saying “The film’s just a repetition of context-free combat missions and one-dimensional targets.” Elizabeth Weitzman of New York Daily News gave the film four out of five stars, saying “The best movies are ever-shifting, intelligent and open-hearted enough to expand alongside an audience. American Sniper, Clint Eastwood’s harrowing meditation on war, is built on this foundation of uncommon compassion.” Amy Nicholson of LA Weekly gave the film a C-, saying “Cautiously, Eastwood has chosen to omit Kyle’s self-mythologizing altogether, which is itself a distortion of his character. We’re not watching a biopic.” Kyle Smith of the New York Post gave the film four out of five stars, saying “After 40 years of Hollywood counter-propaganda telling us war is necessarily corrupting and malign, its ablest practitioners thugs, loons or victims,American Sniper nobly presents the case for the other side.”

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film three and a half stars out of four, saying “Bradley Cooper, as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, and director Eastwood salute Kyle’s patriotism best by not denying its toll. Their targets are clearly in sight, and their aim is true.” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of The A.V. Club gave the film a B, saying “American Sniper is imperfect and at times a little corny, but also ambivalent and complicated in ways that are uniquely Eastwoodian.” James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave the film three and a half stars out of four, saying “American Sniper lifts director Clint Eastwood out of the doldrums that have plagued his last few films.” Rafer Guzman of Newsday gave the film three out of four stars, saying “Cooper nails the role of an American killing machine in Clint Eastwood’s clear-eyed look at the Iraq War.” Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times gave the film a positive review, saying “Eastwood’s impeccably crafted action sequences so catch us up in the chaos of combat we are almost not aware that we’re watching a film at all.” Claudia Puig of USA Today gave the film three out of four stars, saying “It’s clearly Cooper’s show. Substantially bulked up and affecting a believable Texas drawl, Cooper embodies Kyle’s confidence, intensity and vulnerability.” Joshua Rothkopf of Time Out New York gave the film four out of five stars, saying “Just as only Nixon could go to China, only Clint Eastwood could make a movie about an Iraq War veteran and infuse it with doubts, mission anxiety and ruination.” Inkoo Kang of The Wrap gave the film a negative review, saying “Director Clint Eastwood‘s focus on Kyle is so tight that no other character, including wife Taya (Sienna Miller), comes through as a person, and the scope so narrow that the film engages only superficially with the many moral issues surrounding the Iraq War.”

Eastwood himself has commented that the movie is intended to be anti-war. 

Responding to critics that considered the film as excessively violent, as celebrating war, killing, and as jingoistic, Eastwood said that it is a stupid analysis and that the film has nothing to do with political parties. He stated: “I was a child growing up during World War II. That was supposed to be the one to end all wars. And four years later, I was standing at the draft board being drafted during the Korean conflict, and then after that there was Vietnam, and it goes on and on forever … I just wonder … does this ever stop? And no, it doesn’t. So each time we get in these conflicts, it deserves a lot of thought before we go wading in or wading out. Going in or coming out. It needs a better thought process, I think.” Eastwood called American Sniper “the biggest anti-war statement any film can make,” and said that “the fact of what [war] does to the family and the people who have to go back into civilian life like Chris Kyle did” and “what it (war) does to the people left behind.” 

 

There are no human beings in this world other than the taut and trim. Yeah. right.

There are no human beings in this world other than the taut and trim. Yeah. right.

 

The international phenomenon which is No Pants Day continues to grow exponentially in popularity.

Knobbly knees, pale-as-sunrise calves, cheeky buttocks and bizarre underwear. There was no shame for the thousands of commuters around the world who travelled sans trousers for the 14th No Pants Subway Ride and all its variants on Sunday.

What began as a small stunt by seven New York subway riders in 2002 has turned into a global event. The original pranksters, who formed the group Improv Everywhere, said pants were dropped and legs bared in 60 cities, including Sydney, Melbourne, London, Hong Kong and Johannesburg. On the Gold Coast, the privately-owned tram operator G:link shut it down just seconds before it was about to begin, but then that’s Queensland, where as all Aussies know the clocks are stopped at eight minutes to eight in the evening, or as we like to call it, 1952.

“It’s a celebration of silliness,” said Larry Piche, the organiser of Calgary’s No Pants Skytrain Ride. “There’s no real reason, just come out and play.”

And fair enough too. The world needs more silliness.

The premise is simple: don’t wear pants, ride the set route, and keep a straight face. But there are rules, such as being “tasteful and hygienic”, wearing “everyday” clothes from the waist up, and carrying a valid ticket.

“If questioned, you do not know any of the other pants-less riders. Tell folks that you ‘forgot to wear pants’,” organisers said on Facebook ahead of the Sydney event.

We have just one major concern.

Have all those discarding their skirts and trousers actually looked at a subway seat recently?

You know, the vomit-and-urine-soaked, chewing-gum-infested, coffee-and-coca-cola-stained subway seats we are all so used to?

As you can see from this charming video from TimeOut via YouTube, clean they ain’t.

If you can bear to watch it, the video shows clouds of dust billowing up from seats on London Underground lines as they are bashed with a rubber hammer. Testers looked at the Piccadilly, Victoria, Northern, Bakerloo, Jubilee, Central, District, Circle, Hammersmith and City, and Metropolitan lines.

Even brand new ‘S’ stock trains on the District line, rolled out over the last year, contained significant quantities of the brown dust, which is thought to be a charming concoction of dead human skin and dirt from people’s shoes. Presumably even more skin particles, now.

 

 

We really don’t think you have to have a hygiene phobia to want that extra comfort of another layer of clothing between one’s fundament and the seat. Do you?

 

Gotta love those.

Gotta love those. Classy.

 

Can anyone see anything wrong with this picture?

Can anyone see anything wrong with this picture?

Anyhow, honestly, we have other concerns.

To look at the press coverage, one would think that everyone who cheerfully dropped their daks were buffed and shaped into swoon-worthy well-muscled buttness and thighness that was crying out to be freed for world view.

Whereas we are reasonably sure that a goodly proportion of the delightfully silly people that took part are boasting hidden bits that should, at the very least, stay hidden in public.

We assure you, Dear Reader, we will not be going bare-legged (or bare anythinged)  on the train anytime soon.

Mind you. What other opportunities are there for bare-leggedness that might offer an opportunity for a good laugh without the concomitant possibilities for rampant yeast infections?

#nopantshopping. We’d like to see that.

 

Robin Williams

The world has woken up today to the loss of one of the finest comedic talents of his generation – perhaps, of any generation – and the outpouring of words will no doubt be liken unto an avalanche.

We do not propose to add to them to any great extent, if for no other reason that others will do a better job.

But not to mark Robin Williams’ passing would be to do the man a dis-service. This is a day for many in the world to pause, and to remember a great man who gave freely to all of us of his hugely generous heart. And also to contemplate sadly the persistence, the common-ness, the vile pressure of this scourge of an illness which has now stripped him from us and which ruins so many lives, and touches uncountable others.

For him to apparently take his own life – yet another high-profile victim of depression, which afflicts so many of those creative souls who truly see into the world with clear eyes – is the ultimate cruel irony. A life spent making untold millions laugh, snuffed out in a moment of existential hollowness and hopelessness. And a life capped by triumphantly fighting a battle against addiction – so often the fellow traveller with depression – that was lost when he was determinedly sober. This is a bitter, bitter day.

For a man who gave the world so much, he will, like many others, be tragically defined to some degree by the nature of his death. His wife has already pleaded that it not be so, but it is inevitable. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.

For the rest of us, whether battling depression or not, we are today surely reminded of the most powerful call to celebrate life – to seize life by the lapels and give it a great shake – that he ever delivered in his multi-faceted and endlessly inspiring career. He is delivering the lines of a writer, to be sure, but he was surely also speaking for himself. See it in his eyes.

Carpe Diem.

 

Amen.

 

(From the Arab Times, re reported elsewhere)

Killed For Marrying The Man She Loved

 LAHORE, Pakistan, May 27, : In another disgusting example of cruelty and misogyny, a perfectly innocent 25- year-old woman was stoned to death with bricks by her family outside one of Pakistan’s top courts on Tuesday in a so-called “honour” killing for marrying the man she loved, police said. She was three months pregnant.

Farzana Iqbal was waiting for the High Court in the eastern city of Lahore to open when a group of around dozen men began attacking her with bricks, said Umer Cheema, a senior police officer.

Farzana Parveen was was stoned to death by her family outside a court in Pakistan. (Mohammad Tahir/Reuters)

Farzana Parveen was was stoned to death by her family outside a court in Pakistan. (Mohammad Tahir/Reuters)

Her father, two brothers and former fiance were among the attackers, he said. Iqbal suffered severe head injuries and was pronounced dead in hospital, police said. All the suspects except her father escaped. He admitted killing his daughter, Cheema said, and explained it was a matter of honour.

Many Pakistani families think a woman marrying her own choice of man brings dishonour on the family. Iqbal had been engaged to her cousin but married another man, Cheema said. Her family registered a kidnapping case against him but Iqbal had come to court to argue that she had married of her own free will, he said.

Around 1,000 Pakistani women are killed every year by their families in honour killings, according to Pakistani rights group the Aurat Foundation.

The true figure is probably many times higher since the Aurat Foundation only compiles figures from newspaper reports. The government does not compile national statistics. Campaigners say few cases come to court, and those that do can take years to be heard. No one tracks how many cases are successfully prosecuted.

Female members of the victim's family wail in inconsolable grief at her murder.

Female members of the victim’s family wail in inconsolable grief at her brutal murder.

Even those that do result in a conviction may end with the killers walking free. Pakistani law allows a victim’s family to forgive their killer. But in honour killings, most of the time the women’s killers are her family, said Wasim Wagha of the Aurat Foundation. The law allows them to nominate someone to do the murder, then forgive him.

“This is a huge flaw in the law,” he said. “We are really struggling on this issue.”

The BBC reports that although the Pakistani government itself does not collect any data — and it is technically illegal to carry out such killings — several hundred women are said to be killed in honour killings every year in Pakistan. In the latest annual report released (PDF) by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 869 women were killed in the name of honor in 2013.

Earlier this year, the BBC traveled to a village in northwestern Pakistan to tell the story of a young woman who survived an honor killing and has been publicly speaking about it since. As the story notes, such killings are difficult to prove or to prosecute because of two reasons: first, the lack of witnesses to the crime, and second, lack of motivation for the police to pursue the suspects, regardless of the evidence.

But what happened in Lahore on Tuesday seems different. It wasn’t in a remote village in Pakistan, neither was it in the middle of the night. Parveen was killed in broad daylight, in the presence of several bystanders, in front of the top court in the second largest city in Pakistan.

Wellthisiswhatithink calls on the Governments of the world to not only outlaw this barbaric behaviour, but to take effective action to prevent it and other violence perpetrated against women. And we demand that the men in these cultures (because with some exceptions it is always men who take the lead) take a long hard unblinking look at themselves.

Let us be clear on a few things: this is not a uniquely Islamic problem. Other cultures in Africa, the Middle East and Asia experience this insane perversion of family behaviour too and it is not primarily related to religion. It is a cultural issue. Let us also be clear that uncountable millions of Muslims would find this incident as horrifying as those from different religions.

Second, there is no honour here. The men concerned are cowards, and cold-blooded murderers, and they should be locked up for life. End of discussion.

This was your CHILD! Your SISTER! A free individual. Not an animal. Not your possession. You should have done everything in your power to protect her, not harm her.

May you rot in the lowest depths of hell, as you surely will.

Arrested for dancing

Threatening the very structure of society. Not.

Police in Iran have arrested six young people and shown them on state television for posting a video online of them dancing to Pharrell Williams’ hit song Happy.

The song has sparked similar videos all over the world. But in Iran, some see the trend as promoting the spread of Western culture.

And women are banned from dancing in public or appearing outside without the hijab in the Islamic Republic. The young people claimed they had been encouraged to perform by a film producer who wanted to make a movie, and that he, not they, posted the short clip online.

Tehran police chief Hossein Sajedinia confirmed on state television late on Tuesday that the three men and three women were detained over the video.

State television also aired pictures of the video with the women’s faces blurred and then showed the six with their backs turned to camera.

On Twitter, Williams himself said: “It’s beyond sad these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness.”

Theran: time for a new approach.

Tehran: time for a new approach.

Wellthisiswhatithink says: Once again, the authorities in Tehran show themselves absolutely tone deaf to what will make them look idiotic in the wider world.

Our view? In essence, the young people of Iran will not tolerate these restrictions on their freedom much longer. And an increasingly urbane and west-facing leadership in Iran will bend rather than break and lose power in another popular rebellion.

Iran is unquestionably the most influential anti-Western state in the eternally fractious Middle East. And the current Western stance on Iran boils down to, in effect, widespread sanctions and continual sabre-rattling. But all stick and no carrot only ever serves to create obduracy and stubborn resistance.

We are no apologists for a government that has been brutally cruel and treated civil rights with contempt, let alone fomented terrorist acts elsewhere and made the Syrian conflict even worse than it was going to be anyway. But if we do not seek to befriend – at least to establish mutual respect and courteous dialogue – towards the new regime in Tehran then others – notably the Chinese and new assertive Russians – will. At this point in time, we should be doing everything we can to engage the current Iranian leadership and bring the pariah state in from the cold. Perhaps the Obama team are actively engaged behind the scenes, perhaps not, but we frankly do not see the type of will-power and dramatic seizing of the day that was evidenced by Gorbachev and Reagan, for example, or Nixon going to China. Obama in Tehran? We’d like to see that.

As Churchill once remarked, jaw-jaw is always better than war-war.

Neil Hilborn

Neil Hilborn’s brave and impassioned poem may do more for the recognition and acceptance of the suffering of people with OCD than a thousand documentaries or text books. Well done, that man.

Poet Neil Hilborn has become an internet sensation in the last 24 hours.

His massively impressive two-minute performance-style, life as art, baring of his soul poem about his love for his girlfriend, written through the window of his OCD, is simply astonishing.

 

 

As someone who has suffered from OCD in the past, a brutal multi-layered, multifaceted illness that makes its sufferer’s lives a misery, may I just say that I find the last two lines of the poem among the most moving I have ever heard in all my life.

Listen, weep, laugh, marvel at the courage – enjoy.