Denial and Disaster

Hue, firefight

Denial and Disaster

Mark Bowden, Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2017, reviewed by WILLIAM HARTLEY

For those of a certain age it is sobering to realise that the men and women who fought in this 26 day battle are now in their sixties and seventies. The Tet offensive of February 1968 and the ensuing battle to retake the city of Hue may once have been seen as another wearisome episode in a war which was to drag on for seven more years. Yet as author Mark Bowden shows, it was far more important than that.  

Tet was the Vietnamese equivalent of the Chinese New Year. In the weeks leading up to the holiday the North Vietnamese had been infiltrating thousands of troops into the south. At Hue these troops aided by local civilians invaded the city, seized key installations and began the revolution. The North Vietnamese leaders had assured their troops that there would be a popular uprising against the American supported regime of President Thieu. Continue reading

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ENDNOTES: September 3rd 2017

View from the Downs, photo by Stuart Millson

ENDNOTES: September 3rd 2017

Music and Landscape – the works of John Ireland, by Stuart Millson

In this season of harvest and late-summer sunshine, what could be a more apt musical accompaniment than the music of John Ireland (1879-1962). Born in Cheshire, Ireland belonged to a group of English composers (whose unofficial figurehead was probably Sir Arnold Bax) which possessed a feeling for remote country places, for stone-circles and ancient earthworks, whether in rural Dorset, the Channel Islands or the South Downs.

Although not as well known as Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Britten (Britten, for a time, was a student of Ireland’s), this unassuming composer was a skilled craftsman, able to produce reflective melody – tinged with an element of sadness – building an often powerful musical atmosphere, revealing a visionary personality attracted to occult forces and supernatural states. He did not write a symphony, and his longest works, though full of concentrated ideas, tended to be short. Continue reading

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Bistro Vadouvan, Putney Wharf

Bistro Vadouvan, Putney Wharf

Em Marshall-Luck enjoys “French and Spice”

Located on the south side of the River Thames, a stone’s throw from the serenely gliding swans, and the busier bustle of Putney Bridge, is Bistro Vadouvan. Ignore the trendy pubs and Carluccios, in the knowledge of a finer meal to be had in this restaurant, whose strapline “French and Spice” describes the cuisine aptly – elegant cuisine with the addition of oriental spices and ingredients (many of them Middle-Eastern).

Bistro Vadouvan is tucked away in a courtyard area with square cobbles and pretty trees and flowers: there is a long frontage with pale-peach-coloured sun awnings which also serve to provide shade (or, depending on the vagaries of the Great British Summer, shelter) for the outside seating at café-style tables and wicker chairs, while huge ale barrels serve as informal standing tables.  Continue reading

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Alt History

Painting, by Zdzisław Beksiński

Alt History

Mark Wegierski considers the science fiction subgenre of “counterfactual history” or uchronia

It is important to note that alternative history pertains to events that are in the past at the time when the narrative is being written. So, for example, the 1920’s projections of Hugo Gernsback about the 1980s cannot be properly termed as alternative history – even though his vision of the world of the 1980’s is much different from what has actually occurred.

One common type of alternative history is the “Hitler Victorious” scenario. A prominent work of this genre is Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962), now a U.S. television series. Clearly, most commentators today condemn Hitler and Nazism. However, there is less agreement about the irredeemable evil of the Old South, although several treatments of “Dixie Victorious” have envisaged the upshot as negative. Continue reading

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Canada, Matrix of Modernity, part 2


Untitled Photomontage, by Zdzisław Beksiński

Canada, Matrix of Modernity, part 2

Mark Wegierski continues his analysis

An essay based on an English-language presentation read at the First Sir Thomas More Colloquium: ‘Diplomacy, Literature, Politics’, at the Akademia Polonijna (Polonia University) in Czestochowa, Poland, held on March 11-12, 2010

The concept of “soft totalitarianism”, as distinct from the “hard totalitarianism”, typified by regimes such as those of Hitler and Stalin, emerged from various dystopian novels and political writings of the Twentieth Century.

In his dystopian novel Brave New World (1932), and a subsequent preface, Brave New World Re-visited (written after World War II), Aldous Huxley posited a future society that would be mostly non-coercive, but at the same time, totalitarian. While George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), portrayed a highly coercive society, in his “Appendix” Orwell noted that the control of vocabulary and language was the key to the maintenance of the system – “Newspeak is Ingsoc, and Ingsoc is Newspeak”. If semantic control could somehow be maintained through non-coercive means, an apparatus of coercion might become unnecessary. In The Managerial Revolution, likewise, James Burnham identified a caste of managers controlling society. Continue reading

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Parsifal, Reloaded

The Attainment: Vision of the Holy Grail, by Edward Burne-Jones

Parsifal, Reloaded

Parsifal, Bayreuth Festival, Germany, 21st August 2017, director Uwe Eric Laufenberg, conducted by Hartmut Haenchen, reviewed by Tony Cooper

Parsifal, Wagner’s farewell to the world, was completed in January 1882 and was first seen in that year. This production by German director, Uwe Eric Laufenberg (Intendant des Hessischen Staatstheaters, Wiesbaden) marks its tenth outing at Bayreuth since its première.

The philosophical ideas of the libretto fuse Christianity and Buddhism but the trappings of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s 13th-century poem – focusing on the Arthurian hero Parzival and his long quest for the Holy Grail – are essentially Christian based. Continue reading

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Contention City

3.10 to Yuma

Contention City

Bill Hartley, in a mythic landscape

In Tombstone, none of the locals knew precisely where Contention City was. They’d all heard of it but even the otherwise helpful ladies at the information office were at a loss. In the sweltering heat of an Arizonan summer we set off to find the place. The general rule in Arizona would seem to be if it still has rooftops then it goes on the map, which is how we ended up at Fairbank marked as a settlement but in fact deserted. Fairbank, it turned out, was an old mining camp which had been preserved; the schoolhouse and some other buildings were there, dating from the late nineteenth century. We found a man cutting the grass who wasn’t much better informed than the people in Tombstone. He pointed us northwards but that was all the directions we received, plus advice to carry more water. Continue reading

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Wisdom of the Ancient Greeks

Herm of Plato

Wisdom of the Ancient Greeks

André Laks, Glen W. Most, Early Greek Philosophy, vols. I-IX, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard Press (2016)

The subject of philosophy is often labeled ‘The Great Conversation’, an on-going dialogue linking contemporary wisdom-seekers with the sages of the remote past. A number of books have been written on this topic. A few single-volume offerings of the last 75 years are of note: for example, B. Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (1945), G. Clark, Thales to Dewey (1957), A. Kenny, A New History of Western Philosophy (2010). Approaches to antiquity vary. Not all philosophers will agree today on what their objectives should be. But whatever research is done, it implies a study of the progress, and transmission, of knowledge.

Essentially this exchange of ideas entails a search for meaning(s). In ancient times this consisted of resolving issues related to any number of matters: i.e. arrangements in the heavens above, order in the earthly spheres below and debates on the internal nature of mankind and on his [or her] relations to external things. To the degree that philosophy’s earliest development is traceable, the distinction between theology and philosophy was small: either of them might have been a sub-division of the other. Continue reading

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Bayreuth, Meistersinger

Bayreuth, Meistersinger

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Bayreuth Festival, Germany, August 19th 2017, director Barrie Kosky, conducted by Philippe Jordan, reviewed by Tony Cooper

Barrie Kosky – artistic director of Komische Oper Berlin – was born in Melbourne in the late 1960s, the grandson of Jewish emigrants from Europe. He describes himself as a ‘gay Jewish kangaroo’. This innovative, flamboyant and wonderfully-quirky character will go down in history as the first Jewish director to hold court in Bayreuth Festival’s illustrious 141-year-old history. And also as the first person outside of the Wagner family to direct Die Meistersinger at Bayreuth.

Appointing Kosky is a big gesture by Katharina Wagner, the artistic director of the Bayreuth Festival, and the daughter of Wolfgang Wagner and the great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner. For it acknowleges Wagner’s anti-Semitism and her family’s association with Adolf Hitler. In the revamped exhibition, housed in the newly-restored Villa Wahnfried, where Wagner lived with his wife Cosima and their children from 1874 to 1882, the Third Reich, likewise, finds its place. Continue reading

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The Reluctant Saint

Maximilian Schell

The Reluctant Saint

 Film directed by Edward Dmytrk, reviewed by Thomas O Meehan 

A few days ago watching Turner Classic Movies I caught the film The Reluctant Saint (1962). It was strikingly like the religious films of my youth in its poor production values. I was struck though by the competent acting. Could this be the only well-made Catholic religious film in existence?

As TCM is notorious for shamelessly showing the same “Classic” movies over and over seeing something new there is always an occasion. Intrigued, I continued watching. Several actors were clearly professional and familiar from European film. Then Recardo Montalban appeared! What was afoot here?

The next recognizable actor seemed even more out of place; it was a young Maximilian Schell. He portrayed a simpleminded Franciscan novitiate, Saint Joseph of Cupertino.

Now I am no actor but it seems to me that an intelligent and accomplished man like Schell might have his work cut out convincingly playing a fool, especially a holy one. It was at this point that the late Jerry Lewis’s contribution came to mind. Schell was clearly using Lewis’s portraits of idiots as a kind of template on which to hang his performance. Schell’s simpleton monk is a fully formed human, unlike the grotesque characters of Lewis. Never the less, tiny mannerisms seemed familiar enough for me to see Lewis’s raw mud transformed into Schell’s three dimensional sculpture of a saint.

The Reluctant Saint was directed by Edward Dmytryk in 1962. A box office failure, it is well worth viewing today as a semiprecious tessera in the mosaic of film history. The Reluctant Saint was directed by a former Communist, yet it tells at face value the story of Saint Joseph actually levitating. You don’t see that every day. Another treat is Akim Tamiroff portraying a deeply sympathetic and humane Catholic Bishop. Montalban even gets to depict a somewhat admirable Inquisitor. And of course there is Schell’s portrait of a holy fool who is as puzzled as the viewer is at the miraculous.

THOMAS O MEEHAN is a freelance writer and a former government Senior Research Analyst and Inspector. He lives in Bucks County PA and he blogs at


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