31 July 2010

Daily Digest, 2010.07.30

Friday: Manning linked to leaked Afghan war documents; U.S. ranks with Kyrgyzstan in broadband speeds; part 3 of "What Makes Humans Unique?"; more on Schiele's "Portrait of Wally"; more on the "Ansel Adams" negatives; reviews of Lohengrin at Bayreuth and the premiere of Rihm's Dionysos in Salzburg; the 100 best long-form magazine articles ever; books that oughta be in the canon.



News

The Wall Street Journal reports that investigators have found evidence in computers used by Pfc. Bradley Manning linking him to the huge trove of Afghan war documents published earlier this week on Wikileaks.  Quotes:
Pfc. Manning already was charged by the military in July with illegally taking secret State Department files and disseminating a classified video, which defense officials said was the one released by WikiLeaks showing a U.S. military helicopter firing on a group of people in Baghdad. Two Reuters journalists and seven others were killed in the 2007 incident.

[...]
The 22-year-old private worked in intelligence operations in Baghdad. He was supposed to be examining intelligence relevant to Iraq, but defense officials said Pfc. Manning used his "Top Secret/SCI" clearance to tap into documents around the world.
A search of the computers yielded evidence he had downloaded the Afghanistan war logs, the defense official said. It isn't clear precisely what that evidence is. Investigators combing through Pfc. Manning's computers also found other classified material that has not been made public, the same official said.
The WSJ article ends with an odd factoid:  Manning is from the small (pop. 1,281) town of Crescent, Oklahoma. As the WSJ reports:
Crescent, Okla., is perhaps best known as part of the setting for the 1983 film "Silkwood" about a whistleblower who was killed in a suspicious car accident after exposing wrongdoing at a nearby plutonium plant. Ms. Moore said her class watched the film, but didn't know if Pfc. Manning was ever inspired
On Thursday, BoingBoing linked to a story reporting that Manning had just been "transferred from the Theater Field Confinement Facility in Kuwait to the Marine Corps Base Quantico Brig in Quantico, Virginia."



Digitalia

Mike Masnick at Techdirt links to new statistics from Ookla's Net Index showing that the U.S. now ranks 27th worldwide in broadband download and upload speeds, just behind Kyrgyzstan.  The Net Index table for household download speeds is here, and the one for upload speeds is here.

The current top 5 countries for download speeds are: South Korea (with an average of 31.23 Mpbs, compared to the 7.61 which Net Index gives for my connection), Latvia, the Netherlands, the Republic of Moldova, and Lithuania.  (At Number 6: the Aland Islands .... )

The current top 5 for upload speeds are: South Korea (at an average of 18.64 Mps, compared to the 2.08 that Net Index reports for my connection), Lithuania, Latvia, Andorra, and that Internet powerhouse, the Aland Islands.

(I am reliably informed, by the way, that Lithuania suffers from a dearth of large-format photocopiers, so they might want to consider redirecting some of their infrastructure money...)

OK, so the Åland Islands (now including the proper accent) are (to quote the Wikipedia article) "an autonomous, demilitarized, monolingually Swedish-speaking region of Finland."  I did not know this.

Let it never be said that this blog is not educational...



The Human

Michael at a replicated typo has posted the latest installment of "What Makes Humans Unique? (III): Self-Domestication, Social Cognition, and Physical Cognition," again with an extremely useful bibliography of key research articles on the topic.




Restitution

Tom L. Freudenheim has an interesting meditation at The Wall Street Journal on the wider implications of the recent settled case over Egon Schiele's "Portrait of Wally," which I reported last week. Some quotes:
It's interesting to contemplate how works of art, which museums generally want us to appreciate for their aesthetic values, can turn into trophies: emblems of issues or events that have nothing to do with their status as art.

[...]
"Portrait of Wally" [...] seems destined to retain its special status in perpetuity. At the request of the heirs, the terms of settlement with the estate of Lea Bondi Jaray include this brief display at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, which serves to reinforce its narrower identity in the public mind as a Nazi-era artifact. Showing it in an art museum might have helped return the painting to where it belongs conceptually in relation to the context of 20th-century modernism.
But what permanently locks Schiele's painting into this alternate, extra-artistic perceptual universe is the clause in the legal settlement stipulating that "Portrait of Wally" will be shown with "signage next to the Painting at the Leopold Museum, and at all future displays of the Painting of any kind that the Leopold Museum authorizes or allows anywhere in the world, that sets forth the true provenance of the Painting, including Lea Bondi Jaray's prior ownership of the Painting and its theft from her by a Nazi agent before she fled to London in 1939."



Attribution

Mike Boehm at the Culture Monster blog at the Los Angeles Times has an interesting update on the case of the glass negatives that are being claimed to be unpublished photographs by Ansel Adams: "If purported Ansel Adams photos earn big money, their discoverer may not get to keep it."  (Boehm's post contains links to earlier reports on the story.)  From Boehm's post:
Rick Norsigian, a wall-painter for the Fresno school district, bought the old-fashioned glass-plate negatives 10  years ago at a garage sale and has begun selling prints made from them on his website as authentic Adams images, priced at $7,500 for hand-developed prints, $1,500 for digital copies and $45 for posters.
But according to a brief lesson in copyright law that Culture Monster got Wednesday from L.A. attorney Lawrence Iser, a go-to figure in the music business, if Norsigian makes a mint -- and an appraisal he released Tuesday put the potential value at more than $200 million -- he could face the risk of having to turn over all or part of the loot to Ansel Adams' heirs
All they'd have to do is agree with Norsigian that the negatives were shot by Adams -- something they've so far disputed, saying the proof he proffered for the first time on Tuesday falls far short.
I was particularly struck by the following passage in Boehm's post:
According to Iser, simply owning a reproducible artifact, such as a photographic negative, a recording artist's master tape or the original manuscript of a novel, doesn't give that object's owner any rights to make copies and sell them. The copyright -- and the earnings that flow from it -- belongs to the artist and his or her estate.
It's going to come as a huge surprise to The Recording Industry that ownership of a master recording doesn't give them the right to make copies and sell them.  And it will undoubtedly come as welcome news to the heirs of all of those musicians (including nearly all the greats of jazz and blues) who were deprived of just compensation for their work....

In other news:  Hell to freeze over tomorrow...



Opera

Manuel Brug at Die Welt reviews the new production of Lohengrin by Hans Neuenfels at Bayreuth (auf Deutsch).  This is the "rat-infested" production to which we recently referred (via Alex Ross).  The headline of the review describes the event as "brilliant" ("fulminant"):  "Neuenfels' tierischer 'Lohengrin' begeistert Bayreuth: Mit der ersten Neuinszenierung ihrer Intendanz gelingt Katharina Wagner und Eva Wagner-Pasquier ein fulminanter Start."

The review will be an excellent vocabulary-builder for those of my readers who aren't native German speakers.  I added over 30 new words (I won't tell you which ones) to my German flashcard file.  Michael Lorenz will be pleased to note that the review uses the correct "old" spelling "Quentchen."

The rats, by the way, are the chorus of the Bayreuth Festpiele.  I won't try to summarize the review; suffice it to say that Brug was bowled over.  The review includes three photo galleries (but only one photo that includes one of the rats) and a "timeline" of the Bayreuth Festspiele, "Die Festspiele in Daten," which is quite enlightening.

I was also struck by the following paragraph, which is like a capsule history of German "Regietheater" as it has been applied to (some would say "inflicted upon") opera in the past few decades:
Der vorletzte Bayreuther „Lohengrin“ von Filmregisseur Werner Herzog genügte sich in verzopft-vernebelten Theaterromantik mit naiven Caspar-David-Friedrich-Tableaux. Die letzte Hügel-Interpretation von Keith Warner bebilderte mehr, als dass sie erklärte. Von den jüngeren Deutungen des säbelrasselnden Stücks blieb Peter Konwitschny in Hamburg in Erinnerung. Er verlegte den „Lohengrin“ in ein wilhelminisches Klassenzimmer. Anselm Weber ließ ihn in Frankfurt im Kino spielen, und Stefan Herheim verkleinerte ihn an der Berliner Staatsoper als historistisches Marionettenkabarett.
[Sorry I haven't got the time to translate this for you. Unfortunately, Google Translate had some difficulty with this passage:
"The penultimate Bayreuth Lohengrin "by film director Werner Herzog was enough in verzopft-atomized Theater naive romance with Caspar David Friedrich-tableaux. The last hill-interpretation of Keith Warner illustrated more than they said. Of the more recent interpretations of the saber-rattling piece was Peter Konwitschny in Hamburg in memory. He transferred the "Lohengrin" in an American classroom Wilhelmine. Anselm Weber in Frankfurt had him play in the movies, and Stefan Herheim reduced him to the Berlin State Opera as historicist puppet cabaret."
This is rather more difficult to understand than the original German...even if you don't know German.]

And the "begeistert" in the headline?  As Brug describes the reception:
Mit diesem hinreißenden „Lohengrin“, der ersten Premiere der neuen Intendantinnen Katharina Wagner und Eva Wagner-Pasquier (die das Inszenierungsteam beim langen, temperamentgeladenen Buhregen wie Beifallsgewoge schirmten), kann es auftrumpfen.
Well, I guess that's one way of showing your Begeisterung...

("Buhregen" can be translated as "shower of 'boos'.")



Meanwhile, Eleonore Büning at the Frankfurter Allgemeine reviews (ebenfalls auf Deutsch) the world premiere of Wolfang Rihm's opera Dionysos in Salzburg.  The text of the opera entirely of extracts from Nietzsche. (My student V will probably like this.) 

Büning is quite begeistert:
Lüstern, luftig, voller Süße und konstruktiver Ironie ist diese Musik. Unmöglich, von all ihren Wundern zu berichten, die füllhornartig ausgekippt werden. Viele Instrumentationszaubereien stecken darin; einiges in der Feinheit der Stimmenführung, die mit flüssiger Opulenz gekoppelt ist, erinnert wieder einmal stark an die Meisterschaft des späten Richard Strauss. Aber vor allem steckt jede Menge Rihm in diesem neuen Rihmschen Werk. Die Zitate reichen von dem chromatischen Bach-Choral der Mänaden bis hin zum Meistersingervorspiel, vom Lied vom „Wanderer“, das Herr N. im Salon vorträgt – so lange, bis er den Kollegen „Gast“ buchstäblich unter den Tisch gesungen hat –, bis zu dem verdrehten Orchesterwalzer, den die Mädels dazu nutzen, stellvertretend einen Pappkameraden in Stücke zu reißen.
Color me skeptical. (My previous encounters with Rihm's music have left me considerably less begeistert than Büning.)



Two general comments on reading these reviews:

—In researching my review of the current production of Don Giovanni at Glyndebourne (this review will appear soon, I promise!), I read all the reviews I could find of that production, mostly from the British press. The average space given to these reviews was 300 to 400 words. 

Büning's review of Rihm's opera is nearly 1200 words and Brug's of Lohengrin is around 2000.  Regardless of what one thinks of these particular works and productions, it's heartening to see that opera is still taken seriously enough in some places to merit reviewing in depth.

—Perhaps I shouldn't give away my secrets as a translator, but this is a good opportunity to plug the superb online German-English dictionary BEOLINGUS, hosted by TU Chemitz.  It has completely replaced my venerable (and excellent) fat HarperCollins, which had been my primary translation dictionary since 1992 (it's the one I used throughout my dissertation).



Reading

Kevin Kelly at Cool Tools has an "in progress" list (still open for suggestions) of the 100 best long-form magazine articles ever, including links to sources for the articles themselves, so that you can read them.  From William Hazlitt, "On Common-Place Critics" (1816) to Atul Gawande, "Letting Go: What Should Medicine Do When it Can't Save Your Life," in the 2 August 2010 issue of The New Yorker.

The current top 6:
David Foster Wallace, "Federer As Religious Experience." The New York Times, Play Magazine, August 20, 2006.
David Foster Wallace, "Consider the Lobster." Gourmet Magazine, Aug 2004.
Neal Stephenson, "Mother Earth, Mother Board: Wiring the Planet." Wired, December 1996. On laying trans-oceanic fiber optic cable
Gay Talese, "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold." Esquire, April 1966
Ron Rosenbaum, "Secrets of the Little Blue Box." Esquire, October 1971. The first and best account of telephone hackers, more amazing than you might believe
Jon Krakauer, "Death of an Innocent: How Christopher McCandless Lost His Way in the Wilds." Outside Magazine, January 1993. Article that became Into the Wild.
Reading the articles on this list looks like an excellent way to spend August.



Laurie Fendrich at The Chronicle of Higher Education, in "Off the Beaten Canon," suggests 5 books that seem never to show up on lists of "Great Books," but are worthy of being there.
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