Banner image: Henrik Håkansson

A detail from Henrik Håkansson‘s Broken Forest (2006). Håkansson is a Swedish artist (he’s based in both Berlin and London) who has a rather interesting relationship with nature: he’s mounted a concert for an English songbird, has caused stick insects to cross a tightrope, has allowed frogs to relax to ambient techno music, and has sought to express the psychic state of plants. Håkansson’s 35mm film, Monarch – The Eternal (a title referring to butterflies, not kings), can be seen at Toronto’s Power Plant gallery from June 12 to August 30, 2009, as part of its Universal Code exhibition.

"Broken Forest", by Henrik Håkansson (2006)
"Broken Forest", by Henrik Håkansson (2006)

Support Our Loops

What are these people talking about?
What are these people talking about?

 

Sophie Pollitt-Cohen writes:

Ads for the new movie “In The Loop,” which I am trying to see, preferably on a date of some kind, have got me thinking about that phrase.  My brain helped me realize that usually when people use it, it is to express anxiety about not being in the loop or potentially not being in the loop.  It’s always “keep me in the loop,” or “I am so out of the loop.” You never hear anyone expressing contentment with his state in relation to the loop.  No one ever says “You know what?  I am loving being in the loop right now.  It’s a great place for me, and I plan on staying here.  I know I am in the loop, and I am confident I will stay in the loop.”  This is mysterious.

 

So here’s what we know: today, “the loop” means a place where you know what’s going on, and apparently most people have no clue, since they are always talking about how they’re not there.  But where does this phrase come from?  What is the loop, really?

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Don’t Mention the War

Basil Fawlty trying not to mention the war
Basil Fawlty trying not to mention the war

During the 1990s Perry Anderson and the New Left Review, the journal he has intermittently helped edit for nearly five decades, strongly opposed the Nato intervention into the former Yugoslavia. It was a controversial position which caused much heartbreak within the magazine: several long-time editors left the journal (or, depending on which account you read, were kicked off the masthead).

 

In the latest issue of the New Left Review, Anderson has a wide-ranging, characteristically Olympian survey of contemporary Germany, showing that the wounds from the 1990s still smart.

 

Writing about the foreign policy of the Red-Green coalition of the 1990s, Anderson notes: “Within a year of coming to power, [the Social Democrat–Green government] had committed Germany to the Balkan War, dispatching the Luftwaffe to fly once again over Yugoslavia.”

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Hidden In Plain Sight

A Day At the Beach With Obama
A Day At the Beach With Obama

Sophie Pollitt-Cohen writes:

Today, we know what important people look like.

 

In the Times the other day, there were two (2) articles about government people on the beach.   In the first, “On Facebook, Future Spy Chief is Revealed (Pale Legs, Too),” Sarah Lyall wrote that Sir John Sawyers, who is about to be head of MI6 (where James Bond works) went on vacation, and his wife posted the photos on facebook.  Naturally, the British thought anyone caring was lame.  Foreign Secretary David Miliband is quoted as “snippily” saying, “It is not a state secret that he wears Speedo swimming trunks.”  Damn right.  English people keep it real and tell it like it is.  Also, they wear teeny tiny bathing suits, which is funny.

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McNamara and the Managerial Revolution

Robert Strange McNamara (1916-2009)
Robert Strange McNamara (1916-2009)

Robert McNamara died earlier today. In 2004, I used the movie The Fog of War to look at the larger meaning of McNamara’s life. Here’s my article:

McNamara as War Manager

Although he was only two years old at the time, Robert McNamara claims he can still remember the spontaneous celebrations that broke out in 1918 when the end of the First World War was announced. The cheering was premature. President Woodrow Wilson had promised a “war to end all wars” but in fact his country would never get far from the shadows of armed conflict. For many crucial years in the subsequent decades, McNamara would be intensely involved in his country’s war-making decisions. As Errol Morris makes clear in his new documentary The Fog of War, McNamara has participated in a large sweep of modern U.S. history.

More than any other person, McNamara embodies the triumph of modern management techniques in modern society, including in military affairs. In McNamara’s career we see both the promise and perils of “managerialism” – the belief that trained technical experts are the folks who are best equipped to govern over large organizations, be it a corporation, a university, a charitable agency, or an army.

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Life, the state, and a pack of Kents

Anamaria Marinca in Cristian Mungiu's "4 Weeks, 3 Months, and 2 Days" (2007)
Anamaria Marinca in Cristian Mungiu's "4 Weeks, 3 Months, and 2 Days" (2007)

At the beginning of Cristian Mungiu’s Palme d’Or-winning film 4 Weeks, 3 Months, and 2 Days, the camera lingers on a goldfish in a square bowl. The fish seems to be trying to escape, not by jumping out, but by pushing directly against the glass, its tail thrusting spiritedly but without result.

It is an effective if too obvious metaphor for Romanian society under the latter days of communist strongman Nicolae Ceauşescu; the action here takes place in 1987, two years before the dictator’s fall. As the camera pulls back, we see that the bowl rests on a fold-out table in the dorm room of two female students at a regional technical college. The women are preparing for a trip of some kind. Gabita is packing a bag nervously, while Otilia ventures up and down the halls of the dorm, attempting to buy a pack of Kent cigarettes from a student-run black market dispensary two doors down, and purchasing soap for her friend to add to her baggage.

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Advanced In Another Direction

Harvey Kurtzman's cover for Two-Fisted Tales #26 (March/April 1952)
Harvey Kurtzman's cover for Two-Fisted Tales #26 (March/April 1952)
In her remarkably incoherent speech announcing that she’s stepping down as governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin misattributed a quote to Douglas MacArthur. As the New York Times reports
But at another point she invoked a military quotation, misattributing it to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, in what seemed to be an effort to wave aside any suggestion that she was abandoning the fight. “He said, ‘We’re not retreating; we are advancing in another direction,’ ” she said. (The remark was actually said by Maj. Gen. Oliver Prince Smith.)
Leaving aside the misattribution, it has to be said that the quote itself seems like a bit of overheated bravado to hide the fact that there actually was a retreat. As long ago as 1952, Harvey Kurtzman slyly called attention to the fake chest-thumping of the statement by showing a very bedraggled soldier retreating while claiming that the Marines “advanced in another direction.”

Flat Out Like a Lizard Thinking

Ben Franklin, phrase-maker.
Ben Franklin, phrase-maker.
Sophie Pollitt-Cohen writes:

FUN WITH SLANG: READ THE WHOLE THING TO FIND OUT HOW YOU CAN WIN A PRIZE!

 

I just got back from a trip to Greece, where I befriended a lot of Australians.  The best thing about Australians, besides their good looks and superior drinking abilities, is their slang.  I learned a lot of great phrases, such as I’m flat out like a lizard drinking (busy), drink some cement and harden the F up (stop being a baby), brekkie (breakfast), sunnies (sunglasses), mozzies (mosquitoes), jumper (sweater), and Fosters (beer). I am trying to integrate them into my everyday language now that I am back in The States.

 

So much of what we say today can be traced back to an actual person. Shakespeare was probably the best at inventing phrases that people would continue to use for years to come.  He was also a wiz at Connect Four.  According to the internet, B-Shakes invented the phrases a laughing stock, a sorry sight, fair play (Irish people love saying this), eaten out of house and home (sexually active people love saying this), neither here nor there, and vanish into thin air, among many others.  He also invented the phrase in a pickle, after a terrible mishap at Zabar’s.

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