Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Seguramente a cualquiera que lo esté pasando mal, y son muchos, decirle que hay que enfrentarse a la crisis como una oportunidad le resultará insultante. ¿Oportunidad de qué? De transformarse, de cambiar hábitos malsanos, de desempolvar viejos valores, de revisar el orden de las preferencias: eso explican los expertos en fabricar optimismo, los tertulianos que no saben qué decir y los autores de libros de autoayuda. Pero al margen de cualquier injustificado entusiasmo, lo cierto es que cuando las cosas andan mal la gente utiliza la imaginación y se busca la vida. Es lo que está ocurriendo en Madrid, y seguramente en otros lugares, con los libros de texto. Se improvisa un puesto en una calle y se ofrecen ejemplares que ya han sido utilizados a precios mucho más asequibles. Gana el que vende, gana el que compra. Como ha subido el IVA y en algunas comunidades se han eliminado las becas para material escolar, los recursos de las familias no siempre llegan para adquirir el material nuevo. El de segunda mano puede servir.
Junto a iniciativas de este tipo, más o menos espontáneas, se han ido poniendo en marcha otras de diverso alcance. Algunas asambleas del 15-M han organizado, sin ir más lejos, intercambios de material escolar para los que empiezan el nuevo curso. De ese movimiento proceden también propuestas tan innovadoras como el llamado banco del tiempo: un sistema para intercambiar servicios entre los vecinos sin gastarse un euro. Tú me das clases de italiano, yo te arreglo el ordenador.
En ayuntamientos más pequeños, y ante la incapacidad actual de los mismos por ofrecer esos servicios que pusieron en marcha en los tiempos de efímero esplendor, hay vecinos que se han unido en cooperativas para gestionar un polideportivo o jubilados que han conseguido construir una residencia de ancianos a su medida. La Red también sirve y, por ejemplo, hay sitios donde se puede conseguir por un módico precio una casa que dejan sus dueños durante los días que se van de visita al pueblo.
¿Qué pensarías si desafino?, preguntaba con razón Ringo Starr en una canción de los Beatles. Y se contestaba que saldría del paso con una pequeña ayuda de sus amigos. Pues eso. Y más en plena crisis.
Monday, September 17, 2012
Don't miss this great lecture on TED. What aspects of religion should atheists (respectfully) adopt? Alain de Botton suggests a "religion for atheists" -- call it Atheism 2.0 -- that incorporates religious forms and traditions to satisfy our human need for connection, ritual and transcendence.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
I have just learned this week that this coming Sunday 16th, El País is releasing the first part for €2.95, and the two other parts on consecutive Sundays, obviously along with the original version and with subtitles in Spanish. This is one of the masterpieces of cinema in the twentieth century. Coppola delivers a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions. Watching it in English makes it one of the most unforgettable film experiences of all time. Don't miss it. Enjoy it!
PS: Post a comment and let me know what you thought.
Monday, September 10, 2012
(Or What Makes European Cinema Different From Hollywood Films)
El otro día, un lector amistoso y con curiosidad por el funcionamiento de las tripas ocultas del cine, me preguntó si sabía por qué las películas de Hollywood parecen fotografiadas en celuloide mucho más limpio y brillante que el de las europeas. No encuentro otro medio de decirle lo que presumo que invitarle a que cuente, cuando una película termina, los nombres que abarcan los títulos de crédito, la extensión de la nómina del equipo de filmación. Descubrirá que en un filme californiano esta nómina es mucho mayor que en cualquier otro, proceda de donde proceda. En un rodaje de Hollywood, si hace falta iluminar medio kilómetro de una calle, para que toda ella aparezca con rebuscamiento de tiralíneas en la pantalla y sea cada esquina perceptible de forma tan pulida como un imagen de revista de glamour impresa en papel cuché, pues se hace, por irreal o relamida que sea una imagen que busca ante todo la explicitud, lo que en cine es una ambición casi siempre encubridora de mediocridad, pues además de desterrar el misterio, la bruma, los fondos granulados y eludir el juego con el tenebrismo, encarece mucho la imagen. En Hollywood ya no se hacen películas baratas, por barata que sea su enjundia. Se hacen, como chorizos, pequeñeces a lo grande y a lo caro, y así se entra en una espiral de ricos amaneramientos visuales paradójicamente empobrecedores, pues esa lujosa fotografía tan espectacular y refitolera es casi siempre artísticamente inútil e insignificante. Entra con facilidad en las oquedades del estómago televisivo, se vende bien, como todo lo hortera, y de eso se trata: envoltura de solomillo para una hamburguesa de plástico sin sustancia; aspecto lujurioso para una sosería que haga parecer apetitoso a lo intragable. Es una de las reglas de oro del cine considerado como mentira. Y, en este sentido, Hollywood es un enorme Patio de Monipodio donde la moneda de cambio es la imagen cosmética, la arruga y la roña endomingadas, la verdad sepultada bajo una capa de imágenes huecas.
¿Por qué Woody Allen termina su Celebrity pidiendo socorro en un espolique que nada tiene aparentemente que ver con la película? Digo aparentemente, porque en la trastienda del filme sí tiene sentido, y mucho, la llamada de auxilio. Celebrity encontró serias dificultades para terminarse. Los tentáculos de Hollywood comienzan a imponer su juego a las pequeñas producciones, con objeto de ahogarlas, cuando creen ver en ellas un rival peligroso en su dominio colonial de los mercados audiovisuales exteriores, y exigen a la producción casera que se atenga a los pactos gremiales y alarguen hasta el delirio los títulos de crédito, con el consiguiente encarecimiento del rodaje. No quieren películas pequeñas, a no ser que se disfracen de grandes. Si se observa cualquier película de Allen, salta de la pantalla que su imagen desmiente el sistema estándar hollywoodense. Parece una película europea, en la que la cámara se desentiende de la primacía del envoltorio y de las superficies inútiles, tramposas y encarecedoras. En el recién acabado festival de Berlín vimos media docena de películas con gran inteligencia fotográfica. Una es la norteamericana, fuera de norma, A Thin Red Line (Una delgada línea roja); el resto fueron la bellísima luminosidad de Ça commence aujourd'hui (Hoy comienza todo), del francés Tavernier; la penetrante oscuridad de la alemana Nachtgestalten (Encuentros nocturnos); la fastuosa indagación en la risa negra de Mifune, filme danés hecho a la manera de Lars von Trier, cuya premeditada tosquedad en Los idiotas es, en realidad, un prodigio de finura fotográfica; la mínima película vietnamita Tres estaciones, que más que fotografiada parece bordada; y la precisión casi documental de la española Solas, cuya pegada tiene una inmediatez que entusiasmó al público berlinés, tal vez el que mejor y con más sutileza sabe ver cine de toda Europa.
Todas ellas son películas pobres, incluso muy pobres. Por ejemplo, Solas ha costado algo más de 100 millones de pesetas/600.000 euros, aproximadamente lo que cuestan dos días de rodaje en celuloide de papel cuché de cualquier hollymemez de Bruce Willis y compañía. Pero esta pequeñez española dio un baño de verdad fotográfica a algunas opulentas intrusas del escaparate berlinés, que el público de esta ciudad ignoró, cuando no abucheó. Porque lo que está haciendo esa reluciente fotografía encarecedora es desterrar del cine la vieja mirada amiga, veraz, borrosa unas veces, imprecisa otras, pero humana siempre, por una mirada infalible de robot de laboratorio, nacida muerta.
El País, 1 de marzo de 1999
Saturday, September 01, 2012
News From Our Neighboring Planet
The New York Times. Published: August 8, 2012
Mars never gets old. Every time we get a new look at the planet we see it in higher resolution. The earliest images shot from a dedicated spacecraft, taken by Mariner 4 in July 1965, look more like images from an abdominal ultrasound than photographs of a planet.
Now, nearly half a century later, we can watch ourselves watching Mars. After the rover Curiosity landed successfully early Monday morning, it was photographed on the Martian surface by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter passing overhead. Curiosity was already looking out toward the horizon, its instruments coming online one by one.
This new landing — a triumph of scientific technology — tells us as much about the human imagination as it does about the fourth planet from the sun. Compared with what science fiction writers have made of Mars, the Curiosity mission looks rudimentary, almost primitive. But the spark of actuality is far more captivating than anything we can imagine. We have been seeing detailed images of Mars for years. And yet when Curiosity began transmitting from Gale Crater, it presented us with the cognitive shock of seeing Mars in something close to real time.
Curiosity’s operations are complex, but its mission is simple: to examine the chemistry of Mars in hopes of learning whether it might have supported microbial life. The landing was a one-time drama. What we get now is the continuing drama of interplanetary observation. If all goes well, there will be a flood of data arriving from Curiosity’s sensors and cameras. And for many people, each new increment of knowledge will be a new inducement to walk outside on a clear, dark night and look for that tiny red dot of reflected light overhead.
Moral of the story: Fiction helps humans evolveby DAVID EAGLEMAN
International Herald Tribune, 08-10-2012
We love a good story. Narrative is stitched intrinsically into the fabric of human psychology. But why? Is it all just fun and games, or does storytelling serve a biological function? These questions animate The Storytelling Animal, a jaunty, insightful new book by Jonathan Gottschall, draws from disparate corners of history and science to celebrate our compulsion to storify everything around us.There are several surprises about stories. The first is that we spend a great deal of time in fictional words, wheteher in daydreams, novels, confabulations or life narratives. When all is tallied, the decades we spend in the realm of fantasyoutstrip the time we spend in the real world. As Mr. Gottschall puts it, "Neverland is our evolutionary niche, our special habitat."
A second surprise: The dominat themes of stories aren't what we might assumethem to be. Consider the plotlines found in children's playtime, daydreams and novels.The narratives can't be explained away as escapism to a more blissful reality. If that were the purpose, they would contain more pleasure. Instead, they are horrorscapes. They bubble with conflict and struggle. The plots are missing all the real´life boring bits, and what remains is an unrealistically dense collection of trouble. Trouble, Mr. Gottschall argues, is the universal grammar of stories...
What do these observations reveal about the function of story? First, they give credence to the supposition that a story's job is to simulate potential situations. Neuroscience has long recognized that emulation of the future is one of the main businessses intelligent brains invest in. By learning the rules of the world and simulating outcomes in the service of decision-making, brains can play out events without the risk and expense of attempting them physically. Clever animals don't want to engage in the expensive and potentially fatal game of physically testing every action to discover its consequences. That's what story is good for.
But storytelling may run even deeper than that. Remember, in Star Wars, when Luke Skywalker precisely aims his proton torpedoes into the vent shaft of the Death Star? Of course you do. It's memorable because it's the climax of a grand story about good triumphing over evil. More important, Luke's scene provides a good analogy: It's not easy to infect the brain with an idea; it can be accomplished only by hitting the small exposed hole in the system. For the brain, that hole is story-shaped. As anyone who teaches realizes, most information bounces off with little impression and no recollection. Good professors and statesmen know the indispensable potency of story.
This is not a new observation, but nowadays we have a better understanding of why it's true. Changing the brain requires the correct neurotransmitters, and those are especially in attendance when a person is curious, is predicting what will happen next and is emotionally engaged. Hence, successful religious texts are not written as nonfiction arguments or bulleted lists of claims. They are stories. Stories about burning bushes, whales, sons, lovers, betrayals and rivalries.
Story not only sticks, it mesmerizes...
Gore Vidal, US writer and contrarian, dies aged 86
One of the towering figures of American cultural and political life for more than six decades has died of complications from pneumonia. Gore Vidal's quick wit and acid tongue made him a sought-after commentator.
The novelist, essayist, wit and contrarian Gore Vidal, one of the towering figures of American cultural and political life for more than six decades, has died of complications from pneumonia, aged 86.
Vidal died at his home in the Hollywood Hills in Los Angels at about 6.45pm on Tuesday, his nephew Burr Steers said. Vidal had been living alone in the home and had been sick for "quite a while", Steers said.
Winner of the National Book Award in 1993, Vidal's literary output was prodigious, with more than 20 novels, including the transsexual satire Myra Breckinridge, the black comedy Duluth, and a series of historical fiction charting the history of the United States. But his greatest work was, perhaps, his life itself – an American epic which sprawled beyond literature to encompass Hollywood, Broadway, Washington and the Bay of Naples, with incidental roles for almost every major American cultural and political figure of the 20th century. Vidal, who once said he had "met everyone, but knew no one", gave JFK the idea for the Peace Corps, was called in to rescue the script for Ben-Hur, ran unsuccessfully for both Congress and the Senate, and got into a fist-fight with Norman Mailer.
Born in 1925 at the hospital of the US military academy where his father was a flying instructor, Vidal entered a family of privilege and power. His grandfather, Thomas Gore, was the democratic senator for Oklahoma; his father was director of air commerce under Franklin Roosevelt and a founder of TWA; his mother was a Broadway actor. His parents divorced in 1935, when Vidal was nine, and he enlisted in the US army when he was 17, serving for four months in the winter of 1945 on a supply ship off Alaska. He began writing his first novel while on night watch in port, taking its title – Williwaw – from the sudden winds of the Bering Sea which create devastating tidal waves and can swamp a ship. The novel was completed as Vidal waited for discharge in the Gulf of Mexico and published in the summer of 1946.
The scandal which surrounded the publication of his third novel, The City and the Pillar, created a squall powerful enough to blow Vidal's promising literary career definitively off course. Despite the world-weary tone of a brutal review in the New York Times, which suggested that it added nothing new to the "groaning shelf" of homosexual literature, a story with an unashamedly gay protagonist unleashed a storm of protest in a country where sodomy was still illegal. Inspired by Vidal's great love, a school friend called Jimmy Trimble who died at the battle of Iwo Jima in 1945, it became an instant bestseller, catapulting the author to national celebrity, and almost finishing him as a writer. According to Vidal, the New York Times waged a campaign throughout the 1950s to obliterate him as a novelist by refusing to review his work. "If you didn't get a daily review in the New York Times you didn't exist as a novelist," he said. "It meant that everybody else, Time, Newsweek and all the other papers, would follow suit. You were out."
Vidal spent the 1950s working as a screenwriter for television and the movies, writing over 30 original scripts and notching up two Broadway hits: Visit to a Small Planet and The Best Man. Much of it was written at speed, rapidly constructing a scenario around a director a set and a star, but by the end of the decade he had built a powerful enough reputation that he was called in to work on the script for Ben-Hur.
In 1960 he made the first of his attempts to follow his grandfather into politics, narrowly failing to take a staunchly Republican district for the Democratic party with the campaign slogan "You'll get more with Gore". His mother's earlier marriage to Hugh Auchincloss made him a cousin of Jackie Kennedy, giving Vidal a front-row seat at the court of Camelot, before banishment in 1963 after a row with Bobby Kennedy. After heading for Rome with his long-term partner, Howard Auster, he returned to fiction with a bestselling novel, Julian, based on the life of a late Roman emperor; a political novel, Washington DC, based on his own family; and Myra Breckinridge, a subversive satire that examined contradictions of gender and sexuality with enough comic brio to become a worldwide bestseller. His novels continued to oscillate between satire and historical fiction, with comedies such as his sequel to Myra Breckinridge, Myron, and the reality TV satire, Duluth, interspersed with a series of novels that gradually pieced together a sweeping political history of the US.
His quick wit and acid tongue made him a sought-after commentator; he himself once quipped: "I never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television." A stint on ABC opposite William Buckley, covering the 1968 Republican and Democratic conventions, degenerated into abuse, with Vidal calling Buckley a "crypto-Nazi", Buckley suggesting that the "queer … [should] go back to his pornography", further attacks in the magazine Esquire, and suits for libel on both sides. The same refusal to back down characterised his dispute with Norman Mailer, whose attitudes towards women had brought rebukes from Gloria Steinem and Kate Millett. Vidal entered the fray with an article suggesting there was "a logical progression" from Henry Miller to Mailer to Charles Manson. Mailer responded at a Manhattan dinner party in 1977 by throwing a glass of whiskey in Vidal's face, head-butting him and then throwing a punch. Vidal is said to have replied: "Lost for words again, Norman?"
A second tilt at office came in 1982, when Vidal came second in the race to become the Democratic party candidate for the senate in California. Later in life he came to the conclusion that he "probably didn't want" a political career, but remained proud of his political near misses, suggesting that he "might have had a life in politics if it wasn't for the faggot thing".
Vidal always rejected attempts to categorise people by sexual orientation, arguing that: "There are no homosexual people, only homosexual acts." While he claimed to have slept with thousands of men and perhaps women – when asked whether his first sexual encounter had been homosexual or heterosexual he replied he had been "too polite to ask" – Vidal always maintained that his 53-year-long relationship with Howard Auster was sexless.
His collection of essays, United States, won the National Book Award in 1993, the same year that Vidal's friend Bill Clinton became president. He was unable to attend the ceremony, sending apologies from Italy and suggesting that as the panels had presumably already "picked the wrong novelist and the wrong poet", he was "not so vain as to think you've got it right this time, either!" – a rare outburst of humility from the writer who declared: "In America, the race goes to the loud, the solemn, the hustler. If you think you're a great writer, you must say that you are."
He regarded the election of George Bush to the White House almost as a personal affront, repeatedly asserting that Bush had "stolen" the election from his distant cousin Al Gore, claiming that the "Bush junta" used the 9/11 attacks as a pretext for pre-existing plans to invade Afghanistan, and accusing the regime of "high crimes against the constitution of the United States".
Increasing frailty forced him to sell the clifftop villa in Ravello where he had lived for 30 years in 2004, and Vidal returned to Hollywood, where he continued working on an eighth volume of his Narratives of Empire sequence and a play involving General MacArthur and President Truman. Asked by Robert Chalmers in 2008 if he had any regrets, he claimed to have nothing that he deeply regretted in life, but rejected the suggestion that this made him lucky.
"Maybe," he suggested, "I just played the game harder."