By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, May 14, 2013 - 0 Comments
Director J.J. Abrams goes where no fan has gone before
The voice on the phone from London, a few days after the world premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness, speaks in a stream of staccato phrases, a brisk torrent of ideas that have no time for commas. When you talk to director J.J. Abrams, you can almost hear the universe expanding. Officially, he’s promoting the sequel to his triumphant 2009 reboot of Star Trek. Now George Lucas and Disney have placed Abrams at the helm of Star Wars: Episode VII, so this prince of geeks—who had his first encounter with Hollywood at 16, when he was hired to edit Steven Spielberg’s teenage Super 8 archive—is poised to inherit Spielberg’s mantle as Hollywood’s master of the extraterrestrial universe.
According to the laws of fanboy physics, it should not be possible that one man could command both Star Wars and Star Trek—two heritage franchises from rival sci-fi galaxies as distinct as church and state. You’d almost expect it to cause a rupture in the space-time continuum. “There’s no meta strategy to this, no Machiavellian plan,” says the 46-year-old Abrams. “It was simply two opportunities to get involved in two disparate film series that are bigger than all of us. I don’t feel any kind of Coke vs. Pepsi thing about it. It seems there’s enough bandwidth for both of these very different stories to coexist. I feel incredibly lucky to be involved in either of them.”
Spoken like a Starfleet ambassador. The moral and aesthetic hemispheres of Star Trek and Star Wars are, of course, polar opposites. Spun from the DNA of the late Gene Roddenberry’s cult TV series, Star Trek is a secular, open-ended franchise fuelled by the comic friction of an interspecies ensemble, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Star Wars is a closed universe, a generational saga on a Wagnerian scale, rooted in myth and mystical forces.
By Manisha Krishnan - Friday, May 3, 2013 at 5:59 PM - 0 Comments
Jenna Talackova loves the spotlight.
The transgendered Vancouver beauty who made Donald Trump eat his words when she demanded the right to compete in the Miss Universe pageant will be starring in her own reality TV show this fall.
E! and Bell Media’s Brave New Girl (the show’s working title) will follow Talackova, 24, as she moves to Toronto to launch her modeling career. The eight-part, “unscripted” drama is set to begin filming this summer. ”It will be fun letting the world watch as I take the next steps in pursuing my dreams,” said Talackova in a media release.
Last year, the beauty queen made international headlines when she was banned from the Miss Universe competition because she was not a “naturally born” female.
After hiring celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred and gaining media attention, Trump, who owns the Miss Universe organization, reversed the decision.
By macleans.ca - Friday, May 3, 2013 at 2:40 PM - 0 Comments
(This week’s quiz includes a bonus round for Parliament-watchers)
Welcome back to the Maclean’s Quiz, a weekly diversion designed to test your trivia skills. This edition, we’ve included a bonus round aimed at the most passionate of Parliament-watchers. Good luck, and remember: no Internet assistance allowed.
Click on “Take Our Quiz” to begin:
Questions about the questions? You can reach Balazo here:
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, May 3, 2013 at 11:40 AM - 0 Comments
Last night I mixed with a host of iconic celebrities at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel. Most of them were not present in the flesh but on the walls, as portraits in Macleans: Face to Face, an exhibit of 50 photographs from the magazine’s archives that’s part of the Scotiabank CONTACT photography festival. Extraordinary images: Pierre Trudeau, Sarah Polley, Stephen Harper, Justin Bieber, Johnny Rotten, Henry Kissinger, June Callwood . . . and David Cronenberg, who attended last night’s opening reception for the show with his wife Carolyn. It provided a rare chance to have a casual chat with Canada’s most engaging filmmaker outside the usual strictures of the publicity mill.
He seemed to be in a good mood. A few days earlier he had just completed his first novel and had sent the manuscript off to his publishers, Penguin Canada and Scrivener in the United States. Working with star New York literary agent Andrew Wylie—whose clients include Elmore Leonard, Martin Amis, Philip Roth and Salman Rushdie—Cronenberg says he secured an advance to write the book four years ago, based an outline and a sample of writing. But then the business of making movies got in the way, and two films later (A Dangerous Method, Cosmopolis) he resumed the manuscript. He said it was strange reading what he’d written years earlier and trying to re-inhabit the voice—”it was as if it had been written by someone else.” Continue…
By Bookmarked - Friday, May 3, 2013 at 10:41 AM - 0 Comments
Our latest book reviews:
- The Secret Lives of Sports Fan: The Science of Sports Obsession, by Eric Simons, review by Jonathon Gatehouse
- Math on Trial: How Numbers Get Used and Abused in the Courtroom, by Leila Schneps and Coralie Colmez, review by Peter Shawn Taylor
- A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us about Ourselves, by Robert A. Burton, review by Brian Bethune
- And Hell Followed with Her: Crossing the Dark Side of the American Border, by David Neiwert, review by Martin Patriquin
- Country Girl: A Memoir, by Edna O’Brien, review by Patricia Dawn Robertson
- Salt Sugar Fat, by Michael Moss, review by Jonathan Chevreau
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, May 3, 2013 at 9:43 AM - 0 Comments
The Chinese are unhappy with the Chinese version of Iron Man 3. But not for the usual reasons. Unlike Skyfall and Cloud Atlas, this Hollywood blockbuster hasn’t been cut by Chinese censors. On the contrary, it runs longer than the version released in the rest of the world, embellished with four minutes of extra scenes. One features a couple of Chinese movie stars demonstrating the superiority of Sino surgery on Tony Stark, and another sells a clunky product placement for a local milk drink with the line, “What does Iron Man rely on to revitalize his energy?” The scenes, shot in Bejing by a Chinese studio, annoyed China’s critics. (Yes, even in the land of muzzled, state-owned media, there are film critics.) But China was also miffed that China’s stars were cut from the movie the rest of the world will see—Wang Xueqi, who plays Dr. Wu, has 10 seconds of screen time in the international version.
Having seen the (non-Chinese) Iron Man 3, in 3D, I’m now wishing the studio had created yet another version of the movie. One with no action, just acting.
An action movie with no action? Yes, I’m being facetious . . . but only up to a point. My enjoyment of the film did seem to run in inverse proportion to the volume and intensity of the CGI action scenes. With each sequel, there’s seems to be a need to escalate the special effects and high-tech wizardry. Now, when Tony Stark puts on the full metal jacket, its modular pieces comes flying at him from a great distance like drone projectiles.
But the strongest asset of this franchise is still the switchblade repartee of its star, Robert Downey Jr., so immaculately cast as a playboy smartypants armoured in hubris. And in Iron Man 3 Downey Jr. is given lots to work with. It’s a better, smarter movie than the previous sequel, which played like a gladiatorial monster truck rally. Yet it’s not as strong as the first movie in the series, which was terrific. Iron Man 3 is still marred by that disconnect between the subversive wit of Stark’s dialogue and the clichéd tedium of the action. Continue…
By Bookmarked and Martin Patriquin - Friday, May 3, 2013 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
There is a grim satire to the Minuteman movement, that cabal of self-appointed patrollers of America’s borders. They are a breed of what Hunter S. Thompson used to call “flag-suckers”: self-righteous, blindly patriotic and often heavily armed, Minutemen are convinced that most of what ails America sneaks, huddled and hungry, across its 3,000-km border with Mexico. In the overheated economy of the mid-2000s, these “illegals,” the least offensive Minuteman epithet, often did the work Americans themselves eschewed, but no matter. Dressed in their army-surplus best, their guns loaded and polished, the Minutemen sought out this apparent scourge. Even at this, as Neiwert convincingly argues, the Minutemen were rather hopeless, more likely to shoot one another than catch any border-crossers. And like many blindly self-righteous groups, they attracted strays—dangerous strays in their case: neo-Nazis, military cast-offs and other often criminal reprobates.
Chief among them was Shawna Forde. A petty criminal with a litany of criminal charges and failed marriages to her credit, in 2006, Forde latched onto Minuteman right-wing, nativist ideology like a drowning swimmer, becoming one of its luminaries. She arrived on the scene as the movement was splintering, becoming more radical, and Forde took full advantage, traipsing about the desert in high heels and a loaded gun for the hordes of media, and talking openly about robbing drug dealers to finance her own Minuteman chapter. Tragically, she followed up on her words: she and accomplices, posing as immigration officers, stormed the house of an Arizona drug smuggler, killing him and his nine-year-old daughter. And Hell Followed With Her draws a direct line between the dangerous, dehumanizing Minuteman rhetoric, the broadcasting of it by cheerleading media, and the senseless murder of a father and his daughter. The case, as well as the economic slump, drew much of the air out of the Minuteman movement. May it never come back.
Visit the Maclean’s Bookmarked blog for news and reviews on all things literary
By Peter Shawn Taylor - Friday, May 3, 2013 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Was it a successful purse-snatching or an abomination of math? In 1964 Los Angeles, an elderly lady had her handbag grabbed by a young, blond woman who then ran down an alley and got into a yellow car driven by a black man. No one saw the thief’s face, or got a clear look at her driver.
Diligent police work soon identified a likely couple: young, blond Janet Collins and her husband, Malcolm, who was black and owned a yellow Lincoln. Lacking any physical evidence to tie the pair to the robbery, however, the prosecution was initially stymied.
In a now-infamous stroke of inspiration, prosecutor Ray Sinetar decided to enlist math as his crime-fighting partner. He assigned probabilities to each identifying characteristic. Yellow car: one in 10, white woman with blond hair: one in three, black man with a beard: one in 10, interracial couple: one in 1,000, etc. By the time he was done, Sinetar claimed he had proven there was a mere one-in-12-million chance Janet and Malcolm were not the perps. The jury was impressed enough with this computational approach to law that they found the pair guilty of second-degree robbery.
By Bookmarked and Brian Bethune - Friday, May 3, 2013 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Over the past two decades, neuroscience has become the new social explain-all, replacing previous behavioural Rosetta Stones that failed, from original sin to psychoanalysis as a hard science. (Burton, a physician, novelist and former chief of neurology at a San Francisco hospital, reminds readers of the days when schizophrenia was attributed to overbearing mothers.) Today, fuelled by advances in imaging techniques that light up brain areas associated with various human passions, from religion to sex, neuroscience is expected to tell us the real story about everything from stock market crashes to criminal behaviour to the workings of consciousness itself.
Except it won’t, Burton argues soberly, because it really can’t. Using our minds to study our minds is like using a second-hand, scratched and smudged microscope to examine bacteria. Amazing contraptions as our brains are, they are “hard-wired to experience unjustified feelings about ourselves, our thoughts and our actions”; our curiosity and desire to understand are so overwhelming, we are brilliant in detecting patterns in the data our senses provide, even when there is no pattern to perceive. When humans train their inquiring minds on the outer universe, we have ways of correcting for our biases that don’t work when we look inward, Burton says. Understanding the brain’s mechanics is a spectacular and useful achievement for medical science—this part controls speech, that part lights up when the object of desire comes into view—but tells us nothing of what is consciously experienced.
For readers comfortable with a neurological mind map that resembles a series of your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine Rorschach inkblots, the Skeptic’s Guide is a delight. Burton’s tour through the latest brain research demolishes certainty like a daisy-cutter bomb. By the time he points to a study indicating that brain images themselves are a potent factor in convincing people of neuroscience’s new claims—our brains are impressed by the elegant shapes and ethereal colours—he has us. We have seen the pattern, even if Burton keeps begging us to distrust it.
Visit the Maclean’s Bookmarked blog for news and reviews on all things literary
By macleans.ca - Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 10:20 PM - 0 Comments
Check out the winners of the 2013 cartoon competition
The Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom has announced the winners of its 13th International Editorial Cartoon Competition.
This year’s theme was “hard times and free speech.”
Taking first place–and $1,500–is Leslie Ricciardi of Uruguay. Canadian Dale Cummings came in second and Peter Chmela of Slovakia came in third.
View the three winners below, plus the 10 runner-up cartoons.
By Patricia Dawn Robertson - Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
Irish writer O’Brien’s first novel, The Country Girls, was written in three short weeks. It poured out of her from the safe distance of her London digs. The sexually explicit story of two Irish girls coming of age was set in the 1950s and published in 1960. Public reaction back home in County Clare was swift and merciless. The Irish censor banned the book, O’Brien’s parents were ashamed and the parish priest burned it. The die was cast: Ireland had given birth to its first heretical female scribe. (Irish poet Thomas McCarthy has since dubbed O’Brien the “Solzhenitsyn of Irish life.”)
In this lively and lyrical memoir, which took three painful years to write, O’Brien outlines her life story with the mordant detachment of a trained observer and the eloquence of a novelist. O’Brien, who once told an interviewer that “unhappy houses are a very good incubation for stories,” proves her maxim as she tracks her bumpy journey from country girl to Chelsea matron.
The most compelling material in the first half is her elopement with writer Ernest Gébler. As marriages go, it was a Shackleton expedition. Gébler, less than thrilled with The Country Girls’ success, proclaimed his wife’s talent “resided in her knickers.” That didn’t stop him from cashing her publisher’s cheques.
By Jonathan Chevreau - Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
Walk into any grocery or convenience store and you’ll be confronted by the unholy trinity of the processed-food industry: salt, sugar and fat. These are the not-so-secret ingredients most human beings can barely resist. They’re also the basis of enormous profits for Kraft, Kellogg, Nestlé and PepsiCo. Once tasted, readers may also be unable to resist Moss’s book, subtitled How the Food Giants Hooked Us.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at The New York Times interviewed most of the captains of this industry, discovering that many “go out of their way” to avoid eating their own products. Clearly, they know something the rest of us do not. Until now. Moss’s book is a consumer manifesto to guide the unwary away from the shoals of the processed-foods industry. The moment you leave the fresh-produce section of the grocery store, says Moss, you enter this unhealthy netherworld of slick packaging and advertising.
Behind such legendary advertising slogans as Lay’s Potato Chips’ “Betcha can’t eat just one” lies a concerted effort by food scientists to craft the perfect “bliss point,” one that renders the average person incapable of resisting. Sugar and fat exert the same addictive pull as heroin does for drug addicts, while salt transforms bland to savoury. Some products, like s’mores, combine all three with devastating caloric consequences. To fight back, Moss says, consumers need to scrutinize the labels and fine print on packaging. Far easier to resist at the point of sale than when these concoctions find their way into the larder and refrigerator.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 4:38 PM - 0 Comments
As expected, the April 30 Hot Docs world premiere of Unclaimed—a Canadian documentary about a man emerging from the Vietnamese jungle claiming to be a U.S. soldier given up for dead in 1968—has ignited a firestorm of media controversy. In a Maclean’s story last week, I explored the film in detail, and conducted the first media interview given by Alabama’s Gail Metcalf, the niece of MIA John Hartley Robertson, and his family’s official spokesperson. After a cathartic reunion with the self-proclaimed MIA in Edmonton, which stretched over five days, Metcalf and her family—including Robertson’s sole surviving sibling, Jean Robertson Holley—were utterly convinced the man is their “Johnny.” Meanwhile, the movie’s Alberta director, Michael Jorgensen, has had dealings with the the U.S. military that point to a possible cover-up. He said he met with one official who lied to him that Robertson’s brother (now deceased) and his sister, Jean, had cooperated with the military and provided DNA—which the family denied.
Immediately after news reports of the film’s sensational discovery went zinging around the globe, came an equally sensational backlash—a rash of headlines declaring that the man claiming to be Robertson was in fact a “slick fraudster” whose “hoax” had already been uncovered by the U.S. military. The news originated from a U.S. military memo that was fed to the U.K.’s Daily Mail website. According to a 2009 memo from the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) that surfacedMailOnline, the man, Dang Tan Ngoc, came to the attention of U.S. personnel in Vietnam in 2006, claiming to be Sgt. John Hartley Robertson, reported killed in action during a special forces mission over Laos in 1968. The memo states that, under questioning, the man admitted that he was not Robertson, but that he tried to pose as him again in 2008, and was fingerprinted at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh—and that the FBI reported his prints did not match those in JHR’s records.
By Bookmarked and Jonathon Gatehouse - Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 11:50 AM - 0 Comments
For millions in this country, spring is the season of false promise. The stirrings of hope followed by a few weeks of joy, then, almost inevitably, heartbreak and mourning. In the 20 seasons since a Canadian NHL club captured the Stanley Cup, hockey fans have become accustomed to the disappointment. But it hasn’t stopped them from caring—sometimes beyond all reason—about the accomplishments and failures of their home teams.
That irrational attachment to a bunch of millionaires playing a game for the profit of of billionaires is most often explained away as a national obsession, or maybe something akin to a religion. But as Simons points out, what motivates passionate sports fans is a lot more complex than what happens on the field or at the rink. “The first great power a team has is to grant us the answer to the who-am-I question, to give us that pride in ourselves, even when other parts of our lives aren’t okay. But the even better power they have is to confirm our identity and turn our pride into self-esteem.”
In his quest to unravel just why that is, Simons—a committed fan of the California Golden Bears and the San Jose Sharks—delves deep into the science of fandom. What he finds is a nexus of almost everything that makes humans tick, from hormonal reactions to questions of identity, and even romantic love.
By Bookmarked and Katie Engelhart - Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
For decades, Cold War scholarship focused on a single question: whodunit? In the ’40s and ’50s, historians blamed the Soviets. In the ’60s, however, a wave of revisionism washed ashore. New scholars argued that the postwar East-West escalation was, in fact, a product of American bullishness—rooted either in America’s “foreign policy idealism” or its “military-industrial complex,” depending on the interpretation.
In his masterful new account of the early Cold War period, historian Robert Gellately takes us back to square one. Whodunit? Stalin. “Moscow made all the first moves,” writes Gellately, a proud Newfoundlander who teaches at Florida State University. The West’s main crime was complacency. Gellately takes aim at FDR, who believed for too long that he could soften Soviet ambition with kindness. In meetings of the “Big Three,” Roosevelt often sided with Stalin, at Churchill’s expense. Gellately recounts a famous episode at the 1943 Tehran conference. At dinner one evening, Stalin joked that the Allies should execute 50,000-100,000 German Army leaders outright. Roosevelt joked back that the number should be set at 49,000. Churchill rose from the table and stormed away
Still, Churchill does not get away unscathed. Both Britain and the U.S., increasing fearful of Germany, ignored Soviet acts of barbarity—like the 1941 Katyn massacre, which saw some 22,000 Poles slaughtered by Russians. Soon after news of the massacre broke, British officials instructed the BBC to praise the Kremlin for its wartime “co-operation.”
But Gellately’s account does not get lost in high-level diplomatic machinations. It is also noteworthy for its grim rendering of life in Stalin’s backyard. Gellately uses a mass of archival material, released from Soviet archives in 1992, to account for the estimated 25 million Soviet lives lost to the Communist experiment—and to the exporting of Stalin’s revolution. The book ends in 1953: when Stalin died, “in circumstances that are still subject to controversy.” For four cold decades, his war lived on.
Visit the Maclean’s Bookmarked blog for news and reviews on all things literary
By Bookmarked and Anne Kingston - Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 9:10 AM - 0 Comments
Lonely, single female teachers who yearn for emotional connection are fixtures in fiction—from Muriel Sparks’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to Zoë Heller’s Notes on a Scandal. To that list we can now add Nora Eldridge, the 42-year-old narrator and protagonist of Claire Messud’s compelling new cerebral melodrama.
Nora, who is 37 when the story begins, teaches third grade in Cambridge, Mass. She’s a self-described “good girl,” a reliable, invisible “woman upstairs” who lives alone and takes pride in never inconveniencing anyone. With middle-age encroaching, however, Nora is a cauldron of rage and self-loathing for always sublimating her needs and artistic aspirations to those of others—foremost, her sick mother whose death meant no one in the world “loved her the most.” Her greatest sense of betrayal, however, stems from her doomed relationship with the cosmopolitan Shahid family newly arrived from Paris: her student, Reza; his mother, the Italian-born installation artist Sirena; and his father, Skandar, a prominent academic now visiting Harvard.
Besotted by the bunch of them, the childless Nora ingratiates herself into the household—babysitting Reza, sharing a studio with Sirena and striking up a friendship with Skandar. Mistaking kindness for intimacy, she constructs a rich, line-crossing fantasy life in which they offer her escape: “I wanted a full and independent engagement with each of them, unrelated to the others,” she recounts. “I needed their family-ness.” It’s not a spoiler to say Nora’s needs aren’t met.
Messud is a sharp, nuanced storyteller, able to compel the reader even when the narrative bogs down. Comparisons to Ibsen’s A Doll House are also heavy-handed—from Nora’s name to her doll-house-size dioramas depicting rooms of famous women artists. Still, Messud’s Nora is an original—a caustic vessel for exploring obsession, dependence, loneliness and creative expression. And while the novel’s resolution is a long time coming, it packs a quiet, shocking, but satisfying wallop.
By Jessica Allen - Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 7:16 AM - 0 Comments
I didn’t watch Monday night’s episode of Top Chef Canada, now in its third season, so I have no idea which of the remaining 10 chefs won the honour of creating “our new national dish”.
To be honest, I haven’t watched reality food TV in about a year now. But there was a time when it wouldn’t be uncommon for me to plan an evening around an episode of Top Chef or Hell’s Kitchen. In fact, the 2011 season finale of Top Chef Canada, which was the highest rated episode in Food Network Canada’s history, is the last time time I remember making an effort to tune in.
I may not be the only enthusiastic-turned-apathetic reality food TV viewer: The Emmy and James Beard-award winning American Top Chef on Bravo is the number one rated food show on cable. They just crowned their 10th winner (and only the second female to win) at the end of February. But their season premiere ratings peaked during 2008′s fifth season with 2.7 million viewers and has declined every year since. (Season 9′s premiere in 2011 had 1.6 million viewers.)
By Brian D. Johnson - Monday, April 29, 2013 at 1:34 PM - 0 Comments
Canadian doc ‘Unclaimed’, premiering this week at Hot Docs, finds a lost American soldier with almost no memory of his past
John Hartley Robertson was a ghost of history, an American soldier who vanished in a war that was not supposed to exist. And for 44 years, neither did he. Robertson was shot down over Laos on May 20, 1968, as part of a mission by a special forces unit waging a secret war beyond the borders of Vietnam. The U.S. military listed him as MIA, then in 1976, presumed dead. But a Canadian filmmaker and a Vietnam vet tracked down a man living in a remote Vietnamese village who claims to be Robertson, though he has virtually no memory of his former life, has lost his ability to speak English—and is now married to a Vietnamese woman who rescued him, gave him the identity of her husband, a slain South Vietnamese soldier, and bore him four children.
With Unclaimed, an astonishing documentary that premieres this week at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival, Emmy-winning Alberta director Michael Jorgensen follows a bizarre trail into a modern-day heart of darkness, guided by Michigan’s Tom Faunce, a traumatized Vietnam War vet obsessed with leaving no man behind, even decades after the war. It climaxes—spoiler alert—as the self-proclaimed MIA is flown to Edmonton for a rendezvous with the sole survivor of Robertson’s four siblings, Alabama’s Jean Robertson-Holley. (He was unable to enter the U.S.) She instantly confirms he’s her brother in a cathartic, tearful reunion.
By Nicholas Köhler - Monday, April 29, 2013 at 11:24 AM - 0 Comments
Meet the Maltese Falcon-like gemstone that sparked a five-year storm of desire, political intrigue and crime
The diamond weighs in at 68 carats and, when held to the light, reveals only cloudless perfection, an oval stone with a flawless heart. It glows candy yellow—“fancy intense yellow,” in diamond-trade parlance—but its simple elegance belies a dark past. Last October, when Christie’s New York put the diamond up for auction at its American headquarters in Rockefeller Plaza, five bidders “duked it out until a tenacious U.S.–based dealer finally won,” reported Rapaport Magazine, the diamond industry organ, noting its final sale price of $3,162,500—“$46,000 per carat.”
The diamond’s anonymous buyer very likely does not know of the stone’s criminal history—that U.S. federal court filings refer to it as the “Defendant Diamond”—nor of its association with the shadowy Canadian businessman who first transported it to Manhattan, where he sold it to a Fifth Avenue jeweller for $1 million.
Since its discovery in the arid diamond fields outside Hopetown, South Africa, in November 2008, the stone has criss-crossed the Atlantic Ocean three times—twice in the custody of U.S. immigration and customs enforcement agents—and become the subject of a civil forfeiture action brought against it by federal prosecutors in New York. That suit, United States of America v. One Polished Diamond Weighing Approximately Sixty-Eight Carats, filed in federal District Court for the Eastern District of New York in May 2010, effectively put the diamond under arrest and brought it into the court’s custody. The suit, just one of a fascinating class of so-called in rem actions that treat pieces of property as human beings, adds even more complexity to the story of the diamond, a precious Maltese Falcon object that was for five years caught in a maelstrom of desire, South African political intrigue and international crime.
By John Fraser - Monday, April 29, 2013 at 10:54 AM - 0 Comments
John Fraser on the drama behind Canadian architect Jack Diamond’s St. Petersburg masterpiece
Watching the Toronto architect Jack Diamond deal with the final details of his remarkable new opera house—the Mariinsky II, as it is dubbed—in the beautiful but historically complicated Russian city of St. Petersburg is to observe a lion in winter: subdued (somewhat), at bay (for the moment), but still dangerous when he doesn’t get his way. And still determined to sign off on a building that may mean more to him than any he has done before.
Famously particular (and touchy), Diamond is the master architect of many successful public and private buildings around the world and all across his own country, but especially of performing arts houses. There are seven at current count and they have all earned his architectural firm considerable fame for delivering elegant but unostentatious exterior premises that are marvels of ingenuity inside because they actually work acoustically, in performance, as well as leaving no patron soured with a bad seat.
Through five years of relentless and often very frustrating effort in Mother Russia, Diamond has learned that to get a major building project finished there—especially a controversial project still under intense scrutiny and criticism just days before its official unveiling on May 2—you need: a) a friend at the top; and b) strong friends on your team protecting your back. You can’t do it alone and the one without the other is not enough.
By Bookmarked and Anne Kingston - Monday, April 29, 2013 at 9:40 AM - 0 Comments
Paula Daly gets the action moving on the first page with a creepy man watching young girls on their way home from school. You just know nothing good will come of this. This taut page-turner of a novel, set in England’s fabled Lake District, home to twee villages, Beatrix Potter bunnies, and dreamy Wordsworth poetry, torques every parent’s nightmare.Everyone’s attention is suddenly diverted from their Kendal Mint Cakes when Lisa, harried working mother of three, messes up big time: her chaotic life screeches to a heart-thumping halt when a child—not hers, but her best friend’s—disappears on her watch. Oh, and there’s a serial rapist on the loose.
Lisa makes a bit of a hash trying to set things right, enduring public humiliations and private recriminations. None of us want to be in her Wellies, and while we can’t resist the itch on the brain that asks, “What sort of a bonehead loses someone else’s child?”— deep inside we know perfectly well that we could all be that sort of bonehead.
Daly has a gift for realistic, snappy dialogue, She shifts the action between a series of well-drawn female protagonists and moves the narrative from first-person to third-person to keep the reader slightly off balance. Gradually, the veneer of perfection and capability that underlines this tale gets destroyed by an infestation of lies.
This story is as much about cornering a criminal as it is about aiming a light on the human knack for acquiring martyr complexes, an affliction that sticks to all the characters in varying degrees. During the course of her bumbling attempts at finding missing Lucinda, Lisa uncovers something far more pernicious, something you don’t see coming. As one character admits, “We all want everyone to think our family’s perfect, that we got it right.” To what length would any of us go to to prove that?
Visit the Maclean’s Bookmarked blog for news and reviews on all things literary
By Manisha Krishnan - Monday, April 29, 2013 at 8:32 AM - 0 Comments
Ever so slightly enticed at the prospect of Ryan Lochte making a fool of himself in Washington, D.C., I tuned in for another episode of What Would Ryan Lochte Do? It will probably be the last time I do.
So little happened that I’m able to sum it up in about two sentences:
Lochte and his mom visited the nation’s capital so that Lochte could pick up an award for his Muscular Dystrophy charity work.
OK, that was one sentence.
Since I won’t be getting those 30 minutes back anyway, I thought I’d go ahead and relay Lochte’s dumbest quotes of the night.
On preparing his speech for the Muscular Dystrophy event:
“I’m just going to wing it. . . . I’ve talked in front of, like, a lot of big business people about stuff I didn’t even know.”
By Bookmarked and Brian Bethune - Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
In 1984, Navasky, then publisher of the leftist magazine The Nation, decided to publish a cartoon by David Levine, depicting Henry Kissinger in bed, under an American flag and on top of a naked woman who had a globe for a head. The message was obvious enough and, in Navasky’s mind, surely congenial to Nation writers and editors: the United States, as personified by its former secretary of state, was engaged in “screwing” the world. Two hours after Navasky okayed the drawing, he was presented with a petition signed by 25 staff members—out of a work force the puzzled publisher thought totalled only 23—denouncing the image’s sexism. That experience, reinforced by the deadly riots over the Danish Mohammad cartoons of 2005, set Navasky to searching for the reasons behind the galvanizing emotional impact of political images.
He investigates the three leading theories. Content is the obvious choice, except the same message expressed in words doesn’t seem to have a fraction of the impact. Content, in fact, looms largest when it’s misinterpreted: New Yorker cover illustrator Barry Blitt was mocking Obama caricatures, not Barack and Michelle Obama themselves, in 2008 when he portrayed the presidential candidate and his wife dressed in terrorist garb and doing a fist bump, but it was Obama supporters who poured vitriol on the magazine. Second, the image theory: simply to draw something is to make it come alive in a way it wasn’t before (the cartoonist as creator of what he is mocking). Finally, neuroaesthetics: some scientists believe our facial recognition hardwiring responds more powerfully to caricatures than to the real thing, because the former exaggerates the very features we use to distinguish one face from another. In other words, if you harbour strong feelings about Richard Nixon, you will respond more quickly and forcefully to a caricature of the former president than to a photo.
There’s something to be said for each theory, Navasky suggests, but explanations are clearly of less interest to him than the rich survey he offers: exquisite samples from two centuries of political caricatures, from Hogarth to Levine.
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By Bookmarked and Patricia Treble - Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 9:50 AM - 0 Comments
It took six years for Henry VIII to divorce wife No. 1, Catherine of Aragon. While England was being torn apart by the scandal, the king relied on Gregorio Casali, an Italian diplomat employed to look after England’s interests at the Vatican, to persuade Pope Clement VII to end the marriage. Aside from the odd mention—Shakespeare calls him “Gregory de Cassado”—Casali had vanished from history before Catherine Fletcher brought him back in an absorbing investigation of the diplomat’s ultimately failed attempt to fulfill his employer’s wishes.
As she explains, part of Henry’s problem was timing. Italy was in turmoil. When the king started down the road to divorce in May 1527, Rome and the Vatican were being sacked by unpaid troops of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. The pope was besieged. For Clement’s family, the Medicis, to get back into power in Florence, they needed the increasingly victorious army of Charles V, who just happened to be the nephew of Catherine of Aragon. The pope would do anything rather than rule on a divorce that was splitting Europe into factions and threatened the Church, already under attack from Martin Luther’s Reformation movement.
Still, Casali, not even 30 years old yet already a seasoned diplomat, soldier and well-connected Vatican power player, and his relatives—diplomacy was a family business—never gave up. They entertained lavishly, played patrons against each other and tried to follow Henry’s evolving tactical position. And pursue their own interests, which often conflicted with Henry’s, including getting a Venetian bishopric, fending off the relatives of Gregorio’s rich bride, and even an alliance with Suleiman the Magnificent, who was pushing his Turkish empire to the gates of Vienna. There are so many plot twists that it can be difficult keeping track of the cast of characters. Indeed, the only boring part of this book is the title.
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By macleans.ca - Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 9:20 AM - 0 Comments
We open our archives to examine a century of revealing faces
In this visually literate age we are bombarded by imagery. Since the advent of digital photography, the sheer number of photographers on the planet has grown exponentially. These days, everyone has a camera.
Yet the portrait occupies a unique place in photojournalism. It is artfully composed and rarely shot on the fly. In Yousuf Karsh’s day, when the Canadian portrait artist was working in his Ottawa studio, a portrait would require an appointment, an 8 x 10 camera and a black hood from whence the photographer would give muffled commands to the subject, who would be perched on a stool in front of lights set up just so. When portable cameras, lights and strobes were invented, the subjects began to relax and the portrait incorporated a sense of place. In the 1970s the natural portrait was in vogue, where the subject was not necessarily looking into the camera lens. The unposed pose was popular until the ’90s, when the paparazzi ruled. With digital cameras, ubiquitous by the 2000s, photographers in newsrooms are asked to show their frames on the spot. Yet it still comes down to the image. A well-shot portrait is so compelling you want to spend time with it.
From the thousands of images published in Maclean’s over more than a century comes Maclean’s Portraits, available on newsstands April 29. The special collector’s edition features the best work of Canada’s finest photographers, a selection of which are shown here. They can also be seen at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel as part of this year’s Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival, running May 1-31.
As Karsh once said, “Within every man and woman a secret is hidden, and as a photographer it is my task to reveal it if I can.” With the following photo essay and our special issue, we present some of the best revelations from the pages of Maclean’s.
By Jessica Allen - Friday, April 26, 2013 at 11:09 AM - 0 Comments
George Jones simultaneously transcended the country genre, while being the absolute embodiment of it
Definitive country male vocalist George Jones passed away on Apr. 26.
Like Sam Cooke and Frank Sinatra–other contenders for the title of all-time greatest popular singer–Jones simultaneously transcended the genre he sang in, while being the absolute embodiment of it.
The 81-year-old, who was hospitalized in Nashville for a fever and irregular blood pressure on Apr. 18, had many monikers, including “The Possum” (because of his close-set eyes and pointed nose) and “No Show Jones” (because, mid-career, the singer missed a few performances.)
But perhaps the most fitting epithet is “The King of Broken Hearts.”
“With a baritone voice that was as elastic as a steel-guitar string,” writes the New York Times, “he brought suspense to every syllable, merging bluesy slides with the tight, quivering ornaments of Appalachian singing.”