Monday, June 27, 2016

Divided Kingdom: Brexit and its consequences

They say immigrants steal the hubcaps
Of the respected gentlemen
They say it would be wine an' roses
If England were for Englishmen again

--- “Something About England,” The Clash

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING, what just happened in Britain looks like a lot like an image from a scene in the Wachowskis’ “V for Vendetta” – when all hell is breaking loose at the end of the movie to the sound of the “1812 Overture,” and the terminal threat to the established order is brilliantly distilled in a single shot:

As the city skyline glows with fire ... Big Ben explodes at the stroke of midnight.

The vote on Friday to take Britain out of the European Union after 40-plus years of common continental identity may be that “shot heard ‘round the world,” the one that we Americans like to think presaged the American revolution. But the Brexit referendum and its outcome weren’t just apocryphal events, they happened. This shot literally was heard around the world — and a far smaller and thoroughly more interconnected world than the one of the 18th century.

And the national, regional and global repercussions of this could be monumental. Brexit was a reaction to a loss of British autonomy on matters of trade and finance in an increasingly interconnected Europe. But at the end of the day, it was also — and most viscerally — a deep bow to a cultural and racial isolationism that's hardly isolated itself.

The vote breakdown (52 percent Leave, 48 percent Remain) can be interpreted as Britain’s at-least temporary surrender to a nativist streak, a mood against immigration, a fear given expression in previous and more graphic examples of life in other countries.

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LIKE GERMANY, where neo-Nazis have made and continue to make life hell for immigrants. Or Austria, where a neo-Nazi who threatened to kill refugees was recently arrested. Or the Netherlands, the former home of Anne Frank, where attacks on Islamic mosques have become too commonplace. Or Italy, where patience with immigrants is wearing thin. Or the United States, where the very foundation of our immigrant history has been overlooked in a new rush to xenophobia. Or Britain itself.

David Milliband, the former British foreign secretary, and now the president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, told Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he wasn’t really surprised.

“I think that for Americans, it's worth understanding that this referendum was really an up or down vote on the European institutions, which are at best unloved and undervalued, and in some ways derided,” Milliband said Sunday.

“I mean, there's been 20 years of very poisonous attacks on the European Union. The current issue was immigration from other European countries into the U.K. And so in an up or down vote on an institution that is unloved, in a way it's not surprising that you get a downvote. The trouble is you have to live with the consequences. And I always say to people, ‘Populism is popular until it gets elected. And then it has to make decisions.’ And that's when the trouble starts.”

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Milliband was no less straightforward when assessing the question of how Britain was taken to the brink, and then pushed beyond it. “I think that the failure of the European Union to construct an adequate response to the Middle Eastern refugee crisis, alongside the continuing travails of the Euro, meant that there was a really difficult backdrop. ... the European institutions were seen to be struggling to master the challenges that were being presented to them. And that presented a very difficult backdrop.”

Milliband continued: “As I said earlier, the major immigration issue was about Poles, and Bulgarians, and Romanians, other European countries coming to the U.K., contributing, I have to say. The unemployment rate among Poles in Britain is lower than the unemployment rate among Brits, which itself is very low at five percent on the American level.

“But the backdrop of the refugee crisis certainly colored this situation. Obviously for the U.S., you're in a very different situation because the blessings of geography mean that you can pick and choose which Syrian refugees you want, unlike in Europe where over probably three quarters of a million people have arrived across the Aegean Sea in smuggled rafts and boats.”

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THERE MAY BE some perverse upside to Brexit — though in real terms, “upside” means looking for a way to make a shit sandwich taste like foie gras. The narrow victory of the Leave campaign hardly suggests a mandate; winning by 4 points is close enough to indicate the broad sentiment of those on the losing side (just not broad enough to win). That ain’t nothing.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A spy in the hothouse of fashion:
Bill Cunningham (1929-2016)

IT MAY BE the height of irony that a man who never went to the movies or owned a television set could be a profound, outsize presence on the worlds of style, fashion and popular culture. Such was the photographic professional, the ascetic creative, the joyful iconoclast the world knew as BILL CUNNINGHAM.

Cunningham, who died on Saturday at the age of 87, was a legend at The New York Times, where for 40 years he chronicled the evolution of fashion and style in the petri dish of the streets of the city that never sleeps. And much of the “streetwise” personae that fashion has taken on over the years is a direct result of Cunningham’s genial-guerrilla approach to photojournalism. It was his invention.

He had the lifestyle of a monk, the instincts of a sniper and the eye of an artist. And he was a colleague and a friend of mine. ...

Read the rest at Medium

Image credit: Cunningham: Carlo Allergie/Reuters

Thursday, June 23, 2016

‘Any Given Wednesday’: Bill Simmons and guests get salty for sports nuts

Bill Simmons has never been a shrinking violet when it comes to expressing his opinion on sports, pop culture and anything else crossing his radar.

On two websites (the now-departed ESPN-powered Grantland and his latest online venture, The Ringer) and his cancelled ESPN program, Simmons weighed in on various hot-button topics animating the national water-cooler conversation, eventually running afoul of ESPN’s managers.

“Any Given Wednesday,” Simmons’ eagerly-anticipated weekly show, premiered Wednesday on HBO, a television platform known for edgy programming. Simmons needs no cable-TV liberation from the constraints of language to get his point across, but “Any Given Wednesday” reveals the sportswriter-turned-mogul hosting a show that, to go by the premiere, is a marked departure from most TV talk shows.

In the bespoke-suit world of high-profile sports television, “Any Given Wednesday” stakes out different territory, with a style that’s refreshingly Converse All-Stars, a shot and a beer.

Read the rest at TheWrap

Image credit: Ben Affleck and Bill Simmons: HBO/Jordan Althus

Monday, June 13, 2016

'BrainDead': ‘Good Wife’ creators
skewer the D.C. horrorshow

You might think you’re losing your mind in this crazy-crowded political season. To go by the events in “BrainDead,” CBS’ new comic thriller series, you’ve got plenty of company.

The show, from Robert and Michelle King, creators of CBS’ “The Good Wife,” skewers Washington with a charmingly twisted commentary on this election year in particular, and politics in general, balancing humor and dread. ...

“BrainDead” is promisingly original, a deft combination of the tropes of a horror movie, the pace of a forensic drama and the barbs of a political satire that’s thoroughly of the moment.”

Read the rest at TheWrap

Image credit: Mary Elizabeth Winstead: CBS.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

ALI: All that he was endures

SUCH IS the measure of this man: We’ve had more than 30 years, five presidential administrations in which to prepare for a time without Muhammad Ali, and when that time arrived on the night of June 3, like a blow to the solar plexus, it staggered us into the incomprehensible. Ali? Absent from the world he helped shape and challenge and embrace? The very idea.

When Ali — the most electrifying, dazzlingly original, spiritually courageous, pugilistically lethal sports figure of the age— finally passed from the scene, there were the usual reflex reactions common to a nonstop era of ubiquitous information. Twitter exploded, demand for the You Tube videos of his championship bouts similarly went off the charts, and the talking heads of cable and broadcast television parsed his life into the manicured convenience of soundbites and commentary.

But the volume of praisesong that’s accompanied his passing couldn’t fill the vacuum that followed. We’re all still fighting to understand, more than a week after his departure, what he meant and what our lives mean now.

The Greatest is gone from our lives. WTF do we do now?

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In our right-now this minute digital age, there’s an unspoken diktat demanding that the subject or topic of a news story, just about any news story, has a prescribed public shelf life, a predetermined period of duration in the public square until (by some unspoken acclimation) it’s time to move on. It’s the tyranny of the short attention span.

It’s as if the roles of Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, the Three Fates of Greek mythology, are in our culture all performed by the same being — the hydra-headed creature that’s both the public and the media, the audience and the performer, at the same time.

The adulation that’s attended Ali’s passing has complicated enforcement of that unspoken tyranny, and for good reason. Muhammad Ali broke the fourth wall — not the one common to actors relating to their audience, but the one that, until Ali arrived, existed between prizefighters and their fans. Until Ali, and with only the notable exception of Joe Louis, boxers were often if not always willingly cast as bit players in their own drama, mumbling, shambling knuckleheads with little sense of themselves and their place in the wider world.

Ali shattered that illusion for good. With utterances and pronouncements that reflected an unstoppable self-confidence and an insatiable curiosity about the world around him, Ali was engagement personified. And when the world insisted that Ali buy into its nightmare dreams — that Ali sign up for a war he didn’t believe in, that Ali hold on to his government name, that Ali observe the obsequious rituals of interview — well ... he pushed back on that too.

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UNTIL, of course, he couldn’t fully engage with anyone. Until he couldn’t push back against the velocity of his history in the ring. The Parkinson’s disease that ravaged his body but left his mind intact was his constant companion since 1984. Never mind Frazier or Foreman or Holmes or Spinks: that disease was his toughest opponent.

We knew it as he receded from the public square he dominated in his prime, ushered into silence against his will. We knew it, without question, when he lit the torch at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta ... when he broke our hearts by accident.

How he did what he did was formidable; we watched while he trembled as a prisoner of the disease, shaking uncontrollably but soldiering on, gutting it out in a display of personal courage that made grown men weep. After everything, after all he’d been through for 30 years ... this may have been his finest moment.

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And now, a time without him. Or maybe not. When his time came and he passed beyond these things, we witnessed one more show of courage. At his bedside, his daughter Hana wrote this on Instagram: “All of his organs failed but his HEART wouldn’t stop beating. For 30 minutes...his heart kept beating. No one had ever seen anything like it.”

His exit was a bookend with his arrival. “No one had ever seen anything like it,” but then no one had ever seen anything like him. Even on his way out, he had something to teach us, everything to teach us, without uttering a word.

Such is the measure of this man. His life reverberates. His message continues to resonate. His heart still beats, in each of us.

All that he was, is still.

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