Sunday, February 27, 2011

Autocrats in the Former Soviet Union or When Will the Yoked Get Rid of the Yokels

How much abuse can the people of the countries of the former Soviet Union take before they say enough?!  Clifford Levy comments in today's New York Times. And the biggest abuser of them all, Putin: when will Russians put down their vodka glasses and sober up?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gloom and Doom in Alaska

Caribou IslandCaribou Island by David Vann

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A remarkable book. Exquisitely written. So painful. So sad.

Russia's Corrupt Judicial System

There is only one person of prominence who is supporting the very brave whistle blower, Natalia Vasilyeva, in her claim that the judge in the Khodorkovsky case read out a rigged verdict, and that is Mikhail Gorbachev. She has received lots of support from ordinary citizens.  Listen to an interview with her on the BBC here.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Freedom is a loooong way off in China

This blog post on the New York Review of Books website about China's renewed effort to reign in any democracy enthusiasts in China is more than just concerning....

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Parrot and Olivier in AmericaParrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey
Peter Carey's most recent book was received with mixed reviews, inspite of being short-listed for this year's Booker. The most common criticism was of the Olivier portion of the narration. I mostly agree with that assessment: Olivier is an irritating individual! However, Carey does a great job of the nuances of class stratification through this character and I think it was a necessary part of the goals of this book.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Compass RoseCompass Rose by John Casey

This story was a very satisfying follow on to John Casey's first book 'Spartina'. Casey clearly loves the land and the people in this New England neck of the woods. The characters are both stereotypes and individuals. The pacing of the book is fast but the language and the wonderful descriptions of place and person slow you down so that you really savour the grace and beauty and mystery of what it means to be present in life.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Friday, February 11, 2011

New York Treats

A visit to New York resulted in visits to wonders of the arts and eating worlds. The Morgan Library and Museum is a near orgasmic experience for a bibliophile and appreciator of exquisite taste.  John Pierpont Morgan created a monument (one of many) to himself  in the form of a library and study.  The building is lovely; the book collection is fabulous; the art pieces are exquisite examples of their eras and genres.  Three visiting exhibits included The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives, Mannerism and Modernism, and The Changing Face of William Shakespeare.
This painting is amazing...any fan of Shakespeare would be overwhelmed and awe struck to see the liveliness, beauty, and humanity of this man.

A visit to The Frick Collection is another monument-to-self, Henry Clay Frick, who amassed a fortune and built the Frick Mansion, which now houses a magnificent art collection.

The International Center of Photography has the first viewing of The Mexican Suitcase, long lost, of films taken by Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and Chim of the Spanish Civil War.  These rolls of film provide real insight into a very civilian war.  Having just finished reading Timothy Snyder's 'Bloodlands' recounting Stalin's manipulation of  propaganda and emotions and interfering in the Spanish Civil War to further his own aims, this exhibit is painful in pointing out, in hindsight, the poignancy and naivete of many of those who sacrificed their lives to combat fascism.

The Metropolitan Museum also had excellent exhibits: we managed to see a Roman mosaic from Israel; Cezanne's Card Players; Treasures from the Forbidden City, Beijing.

And restaurants!  Veritas; John Dory; Artisanal Fromagerie and Bistro; The Red Cat.
And be sure to visit The Highline, for a walk in the new park.

The State of the Young & the Elderly in China

The toll of China's rapid industrialisation is being born by the vulnerable: the land, the children, and the elderly.  An article in the Financial Times of London on 4 February 2011 details the lives of a few of the 58 million, yes, 58 million, children who are being cared for in dormitories, a.k.a orphanages in rural areas, while their parents work in factories in cities far away.  These children are seen by their parents maybe once a year.  Their parents place them in these schools/dormitories to keep them from becoming street urchins.  The grandparents often care for these children until they are adolescent; however, the grandparents are generally illiterate, so the parents feel the children are better off in dormitories.

At the other end of the age spectrum, adult children are being "encouraged" to spend more time with their elders, who are being neglected for the same reason the young children mentioned above: adult children are needing to work in factories far away inorder to try and better their lives.  See the article on this in the New York Times.

Illegal mining for "rare earth minerals" is causing incredible degradation and poisoning of the land, especially farm land, in China.  Farmer's are finding their wells poisoned; people getting ill; the land too sick to use.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Zapiro says it all

Zapiro is a South African cartoonist; this cartoon appeared in the Mail & Guardian 28 Jan 2011