Friday, March 20, 2009

Miscellaneous Notes on Art, Society, Politics

Interesting: the presidents of the United States of America and of Israel have made appeals to Iran for a different kind of discourse and relationship, reports the New York Times, March 20, 2009. (However, there may be more comment now about Obama's incidental remarks regarding his bowling ability and its likeness to the Special Olympics. There is something questionable about taking every comment to task, even those said briefly, lightly, in humor by someone known to be sensitive.)

The European Union is troubled by the possibility of France’s protectionist policies regarding its car industry, according to the BBC.

Amnesty International has reported, March 18th 2009, that hundreds of people in the African country of Gambia have been accused of witchcraft, detained and forced to drink a strange mixture which has led to sickness. Apparently, the president of Gambia believes in witchcraft, and encouraged a witch hunt following the death of one of his relatives. Such a fact makes a publication such as African Studies Quarterly, or a film director such as the late Ousmane Sembene, or active musicians like Femi Kuti and Angelique Kidjoe, very important as symbolic representatives of African modernity and reason, and important as resources for alternative leadership.

Good news from Africa: “Somalia, long dogged by conflict, is ‘back from the brink’ following a peace pact, the top United Nations envoy to the Horn of Africa nation told the Security Council today, calling for a three-pronged approach targeting governance, security and development to ensure stability,” states a March 20th article from the United Nations News Centre, accessible online. The peace pact established is the "UN-facilitated Djibouti Agreement" between the Transitional Federal Government and the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia. The article calls for international aid for Somali, which has a rich coastline and promising business aspects.

“Society doesn't need newspapers. What we need is journalism,” states Clay Shirky, in a thoughtful piece (“Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable”) on the web pages of Edge: The Third Culture (March 17).

Bobby Jindal has vowed to reject some of the federal funding provided by President Obama's recovery package; and a few other governors have declared the same intention. Would they react differently with a better grasp of history? “The hardened antipathy of today's Southern politicians to public investment is especially ironic given the South's history. I'm reading Roger Biles' interesting book The South and the New Deal, and he makes a compelling case that public works programs were critical to pulling the South out of the Great Depression and allowing it to catch up with the rest of the country economically,” says Chris Kromm of the Institute of Southern Studies (“Kromm Report,” Facing South, online March 18).

Harper's magazine featured a good article on John Cheever's significant work and sad life, recently. Lee Siegel's piece on critic George Steiner in the New York Times was honest and intriguing too.

A recent article discussed the need for sharper criticism of video games and used film critic Pauline Kael as a model of criticism, citing qualities it considered strengths and weaknesses. It's a stimulating read and a nice tribute to Kael's ongoing relevance.

The new Julia Roberts-Clive Owen film, Duplicity, written and directed by Tony Gilroy, received a very warm, even excited review, from the New York Times’s A.O. Scott today; and other reviews (such as in the Los Angeles Times and Variety) seem as welcoming. There have been good reviews for I Love You, Man starring Paul Rudd, as well.

The saddest news recently has been the death of Vanessa Redgrave’s daughter, Liam Neeson’s wife, the actress Natasha Richardson, in a ski accident. The accidental death of a bright and talented person carries a special weight: it is easy to see the lost gifts and promise, easy for the loss to read as an inescapable sign of unpredictable destinies.