monday | 1 april 2013

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WAR AND PEACE

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THE STALEMATE IN SYRIA

Matthieu Aikins | Latitude | The New York Times

. . . When I got to Aleppo two-and-a-half weeks ago, I expected to find raging battles of the kind that dominated press coverage last autumn. Instead, the war is progressing in slow motion, in small battles over one patch of the city at a time.

As a result of the relative calm, civilians have returned to the city in droves. A photographer friend who had last visited in November was astonished to see neighborhoods he remembered as ghost areas now bustling with activity during the day — streets packed with cars, carts piled with fresh vegetables and supplies like LED lights, batteries and dry goods. There is even fresh fish from the Euphrates, trucked in from Deir Ezzor, more than 300 kilometers away.

LINDSEY ADDARIO’S PHOTOS OF THE HUMANITARIAN CRISIS IN SYRIA


James Estrin | Lens | The New York Times

Lynsey Addario entered Syria this year on assignment for The New York Times to show a broader, more human aspect of the conflict there. Her work took her to Aleppo Province, home to Syria’s largest city and site of some of the fiercest fighting. In a phone conversation with James Estrin from London, Ms. Addario, 39, discussed her recent work. Their conversation has been edited.

Q.Was this the first time that you’ve been in Syria in the last two years?

A. This was the first time in. I’ve been holding off, because I didn’t feel ready to go full-on back into combat, and into Aleppo. I wanted to be able to cover the civilian and humanitarian situation, but in a way I felt like I could actually contribute to the story.

lens-addario

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ECONOMICS

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ECONOMICS WILL CATCH UP WITH THE EURO

Wolfgang Münchau | The Financial Times

The consequence is that for Spain, too, it will eventually become economically rational to leave the eurozone. The best moment would be the time when the country achieves a fiscal balance before the payment of interest on debt.

The same is also true of Greece, where economic growth keeps undershooting the underlying assumptions in the official debt sustainability analysis. In the absence of a willingness by the creditor countries to agree another debt rollover programme, the same routine beckons – more bail-ins, including of Greek bank depositors.

And Italy? Its public sector debt, approaching 130 per cent of gross domestic product, is sustainable if the country manages to return to economic growth rates of 2 per cent. With growth just a little over zero for the past 15 years, it is unclear what a government can do to bring this change about. It would require big downward wage adjustments in the private sector, and efficiency gains in the public sector.

BITCOIN JUST BROKE $100

Joe Wiesenthal | Business Insider

The digital currency Bitcoin just hit $100. The coins have been on a gigantic tear, as you can see only recently they were around $40. Interest and buzz is absolutely exploding, as people see a combination of a surging market, an alternative to traditional currency, and a fun speculation.

bitcoin
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RUSSIA

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REPRESSION IN RUSSIA, IN BLACK AND WHITE

Masha Gessen | Latitude | The New York Times

Throughout the last week and a half, authorities all over Russia have been conducting raids on nonprofit groups.

There have been at least a hundred raids, and hundreds more are expected. The raids usually involved the prosecutor’s office and the tax police, but some organizations have also been visited by the fire marshal, health inspectors and even the Emergencies Ministry. The authorities have demanded financial documentation but also sifted through the trash and taken apart air-conditioners.

NGO staffers have been posting on their blogs pictures of stacks of binders and papers — the thousands upon thousands of pages of documents assembled to satisfy the authorities’ demands. The work of the nonprofit sector has been effectively paralyzed and, if the raids continue, will be for months.

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LAW | DOCUMENTARY

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CLEARED FOR STRIPPING

Prospero | The Economist

DAVE KELLETT and Fred Schroeder set out to shoot a documentary about the art of cartooning. In the process, however, the film, called “Stripped”, turned into a story about the disruptive and often positive effect of the internet on comic strips. Mr Kellett, meanwhile, turned into something of an expert on America’s fair-use doctrine.

To begin with, in 2009 the duo used their own dollars and time to assemble dozens of interviews with traditional newspaper comic-strip artists, like Cathy Guisewite, the eponymous creator of Cathy, as well as the new generation of web-cartoonists, such as Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, the men behind Penny Arcade. Two years in they used a round of crowdfunding to raise the money needed to complete the movie. But in order to show the future, the filmmakers wanted to rifle through the past, in the form of copyrighted clips. The cost of using the snippets they had in mind, at about $34,000 (including campaign fees), outstripped cash from that first wave of backers.

So they turned again to Kickstarter, this time spelling out the precise cost of all the footage they wanted to include and setting their goal accordingly. The project, which still has some time until its deadline, has already reached nearly double the target, which lets the filmmakers purchase the rights to even more clips.

. . . Mr Kellett lists a number of factors that help decide whether the use of prior art is “fair”. They include things like clearing rights globally to allow the film to be distributed in countries with a different copyright regime, or the potential for lawsuits that could take years and piles of money to resolve. Moreover, he points out, should he and Mr Schroeder have risked asserting fair-use rights over some material, movie distributors might well decline to carry it; no insurer would provide the typical and necessary “errors and omission” coverage that theatres require.

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FILM | TELEVISION

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BRITISH HEROES: THE DOCTOR AND THE SPY

Prospero | The Economist

THE first episode of “Doctor Who”, a British science-fiction series, was broadcast the day after President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963 with your four-year-old correspondent watching nervously from the sofa. The show returns to British television screens on March 30th for its 50th anniversary season. The remarkable longevity of the Doctor parallels that of another British hero, James Bond, who celebrated 50 years in cinemas last year.

Both series have survived multiple changes in lead actor; indeed, in “Doctor Who”, such changes are an integral part of the plot (the Doctor is a Time Lord whose body regenerates when under great stress). Both have survived wobbly periods in the 1980s when they seemed to lose their hold on public enthusiasm (the later Roger Moore Bond films were painful, as was Timothy Dalton’s first outing; “Doctor Who” disappeared, apparently for good, in 1989 after years of cardboard scenery and dodgy acting). But both have had modern revivals which recall the golden age of the 1960s and 1970s

AIN’T IT COOL’S HARRY KNOWLES: THE KING OF NERDS PLOTS A COMEBACK

Hal Espen & Borys Kit | The Hollywood Reporter | Slideshow

“Ain’t It Cool News has always been a business that was run like a really great hobby,” says writer Drew McWeeny, one of Knowles’ oldest friends and a former contributor (under the byline Moriarty) to the site. “As a result, I don’t believe it is the business it could have or even should have been. People came to him and offered venture capital. There were some fairly major overtures made. But Harry would not get in a position where someone else could say yes or no. It remains exactly what it was in 1996-97, which is Harry’s personal site with Harry’s friends and a few close collaborators. It’s still a scrappy little bedroom operation. I suspect as long as Harry is part of Ain’t It Cool News, that is what it will be.”

It’s true. Knowles’ unchanging brand of fandom and movie love are the primary forces behind the longevity — and parlous circumstances — of Ain’t It Cool News. The days of his peak fame and notoriety during the late 1990s are long gone, but his site’s design, with its dinky logo animations and orangey palette (an homage to Velma of Scooby-Doo), remains an artless throwback to that era. “In a weird, nerdy, geeky, immature way, I’ve always wanted to retain the sense that it wasn’t quite professional,” says Knowles, who named his site after one of John Travolta’s lines in John Woo’s 1996 thriller Broken Arrow. Weird, nerdy, immature: an accurate summary of the qualities that created AICN, made it a sensational hit and periodically have steered it toward irrelevance and disaster.

Harry_Knowles_a_h

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ROYALTY

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A KING WITH NO COUNTRY

Ariel Sabar | Washingtonian | [print]

He ruled Rwanda for just nine months before fleeing a revolt and has spent the last half century in exile, powerless to stop the violence that ripped through his country. Now 76 and living on public assistance in Virginia, Kigeli V Ndahindurwa longs to return to the throne—but only if his people want him back.

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ART

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UNTITLED

The Wooster Collective | Flickr

brasserie

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GUNS | POLICY

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DAVID’S BOOKCLUB: PRIVATE GUNS, PUBLIC HEALTH

David Frum | Daily Beast

The ease of firing the new weapons however brings unintended and undesired consequences: accidents, suicides, and escalation of ordinary quarrels into deadly duels. These consequences form the subject-matter of David Hemenway’s careful and comprehensive study, Private Guns, Public Health.

Guns are tools. They can be used for self-defense. Even if never used, they can provide feelings of security – feelings that people value very highly. They can also be used for self-harm and to harm others. And the feelings of security provided by guns may be delusive. How to assess the balance between good and bad? Can that balance be improved?

Hemenway delves deep into the public-health literature to find answers to those questions. He accumulates piles of data to establish that the harms hugely outweigh the benefits

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BIOGRAPHY | HISTORY

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UNION MAN

Doroth Wickenden | The New Yorker | [print]

sewardSeward told the jurors that he was appalled, as they were, by the massacre of “a whole family, just, gentle, and pure,” but he argued that Freeman, who was clearly unstable after having been brutalized himself, was “still your brother, and mine, and bears equally with us the proudest inheritance of our race—the image of our Maker.” The jury was unmoved, and the judge sentenced Freeman to hang. Yet newspapers across the country printed Seward’s courtroom arguments, and they were applauded by a progressive constituency throughout the North. The case helped re-launch his career in politics, a line of work that he described in his memoir as “the important and engrossing business of the country.” He went on to become, as Walter Stahr shows in his masterly new biography, “Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man” (Simon & Schuster), one of the most influential and polarizing American politicians of the nineteenth century.
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EDUCATION | TECHNOLOGY

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FREE ONLINE COURSES MEAN COLLEGE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME

Randy Riedland | The Smithsonian

A lot of professors who taught in the first wave of MOOCs were effusive about the experience, especially about having the opportunity to reach more than 100,000 people all over the world with just one class. But plenty of others wondered what really had been let out of the bottle, and whether once people got used to the idea of free college courses, how would they feel about the old model, you know, the one involving payment of tens of thousands of dollars.

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WAR AND PEACE | PHOTOJOURNALISM

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FROM COMBAT, COMPASSION

James Dao | The Lens | The New York Times

It is there, in each of the photographs. The beauty. And the sorrow. The beautiful far-away stare of a young Israeli woman sitting on her bed. The sorrow of the tan skin suit that protects her badly burned torso. The beautiful joy of a soldier fencing with his sons using plastic light sabers, “Star Wars”-style. The sorrow of the prosthetic leg that extends from his rolled-up blue jeans.

The photographer Ashley Gilbertson was thinking about just those things — the beauty and the sorrow — when he came upon a picture by Henri Huet at an installation titled “War/Photography” that opened March 23 at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles.

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PERFORMANCE | SCULPTURE

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MADIR EUGSTER’S INCREDIBLE PERFORMANCE FEATHER BALANCING PERFORMANCE

Jeff Hamada | Booooooom!

This is one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen, I was holding my breath the entire time! W-O-W.

Artist Mädir Eugster creates an enormous sculpture all balancing on a single feather. I was convinced this had to be fake until I read that Eugster performs with the Rigolo Swiss Nouveau Cirque and found an incredible 15-min performance on Youtube.


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MUSIC

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PHOSPHORESCENT: MUCHACHO

Austin L. Ray | AV Club

Muchacho is also Houck’s most accomplished release to date—his most heartrending and life-affirming, equal parts lost-love devastation and hip-swaying, horn-led exultation.

Well, maybe not equal parts. “Song For Zula” is a mournful beast of burden, Houck’s lyrics stealing the show from the string section and bass-as-heartbeat supporting actors. “I will not open myself up this way again,” he sings at one point, before laying it all out at song’s end: “So some say love is a burning thing / that it makes a fiery ring / Oh, but I know love as a caging thing / just a killer come to call from some awful dream.”

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