Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

How the Alliance of American Football Failed, Malaysian’s Missing Flight, and the Pursuit of Happiness Rightly Understood

Also: Overrated Ivo van Hove, and more.
How the Alliance of American Football Failed, Malaysian’s Missing Flight, and the Pursuit of Happiness Rightly Understood

Good morning, everyone. Good to be back in the saddle after a short morning off yesterday. Like me, you may have already planned your summer vacation, but Russell Shorto’s short trip up the Hudson River Valley makes me want to add a New York outing to the schedule.

Ivo van Hove has become the darling of New York theatre, and he shouldn’t be, Terry Teachout argues: “It makes sense . . . that frustrated critics searching in vain for a new star on whom to heap their compliments might well be shifting their attention to directors of broadly similar inclination. If so, then Ivo van Hove’s ornately mannered, self-consciously spectacular stagings of such surefire midcentury chestnuts as The Crucible and A Streetcar Named Desire would seem to be ideally suited to the purpose. Indeed, van Hove’s revivals go the critics’ darlings of days gone by one better, for in addition to being exercises in self-caricature writ immensely large, they are also left-of-center political statements of the most blatant kind. This was true even in his off-Broadway days. The first show of his that I saw was a 2010 revival of The Little Foxes in whose finale the character of Alexandra was shown on a video screen, escaping from the rapaciously evil capitalism of her money-hungry mother by boarding a plane to somewhere else—anywhere else—while John Lennon’s ‘Woman Is the Nigger of the World’ played stridently in the background. Such is van Hove’s now-accustomed modus operandi: He supplies the big-ticket scenic effects for which playgoers hunger, heavily frosted with the standard-issue political content that relieves them of the need to feel guilty for relishing such extravagance in the Age of Trump.”

An account of the IRA in Northern Ireland: “If you’re an Irish-American Catholic, as some 13 million of us are, chances are fair that your father or your grandfather or your Uncle Pat was in a bar or social club in the Bronx, Chicago’s South Side, or Dorchester, Massachusetts, on at least one occasion in the 1970s or 1980s when the hat came around with a somewhat coercive suggestion: ‘Make a donation for the lads, won’t you?’ The ‘lads’ meaning, of course, the Irish Republican Army, which from 1969 to 1998 fought a bitter war against Protestant loyalist paramilitaries and the British Army—all for the quixotic goal of reuniting the six counties of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland, which didn’t want them. In Say Nothing, Patrick Radden Keefe provides an intimate—and terrifying—account of what the ‘lads’ were up to with their ArmaLite rifles and revolutionary pamphleteering. He constructs an entire moral atmosphere, centered around 1970s-era Belfast, and asks us to consider basic questions about the combatants’ warfare. Who has the right to call oneself a soldier? What may a soldier do that is not permitted to a civilian? In the lawless Belfast of that period, paramilitaries sorted out those questions for themselves. What Radden Keefe discovers is a young, charismatic, and morally arrogant IRA, whose members later struggled with the memories of their violent deeds.”

The “pursuit of happiness” rightly understood: “Far from being a ‘glittering generality’ or a euphemism for property, the ‘pursuit of happiness’ had a distinct and widely understood meaning in the eighteenth century. It ‘refers to man’s ability to know the law of nature as it pertains to man,’ Conklin concludes, ‘and man’s unalienable right to then choose to pursue a life of virtue or, in other words, a life lived in harmony with those natural law principles.’”

Black Mirror is broken: “Part of the grim satisfaction of early Black Mirror was the prickling recognition that you already knew this future, including the knowledge that a television series may be the only way to understand the present.” No longer: “The plot devices — black men on the down low, the kidnap stand-off and ‘death by cop’, the digital takeover of inner life and domestic life — are staples of contemporary media, and the staging replicates a historic weakness of British television. Two of the three episodes are set in the United States, yet the speech rhythms of the scripts are audibly British. The British-set death-by-cop episode applies that American scenario to the English countryside, but puts the kidnapper in implausible contact with a Jack Dorsey-style social media tycoon on the West Coast. In the future, the ultimate goal of British scriptwriters will be, as it is and has been for decades, making it big in America. Black Mirror no longer reflects our anxieties forward. It now looks sideways and even backwards in a world in which Black Mirror is a permanent fixture, as The Twilight Zone was for an earlier generation.”

When it opened in April 2018, a museum dedicated to the work of Étienne Terrus announced that over half of its contents were fake. “The mayor, Yves Barniol, had known for months; 82 works out of a total of 140, worth approximately €160,000 (£140,000), had already been seized by the gendarmerie in nearby Perpignan. Barniol was soon fielding calls from the New York Times, the BBC, Al Jazeera and the Japan Times. Despite the embarrassment, he felt it was better to come clean. ‘It’s hard. It’s a shock,’ he tells me later. ‘But 60,000 people have seen these fakes over the last 15 years – that’s unforgivable.’ The Terrus affair represents a new kind of art crime, driven by what one French radio station has called ‘low-cost fakes’. As it has become harder for forgers to penetrate the top tiers of a global art market saturated with counterfeits – a figure of as many as 50% is often cited – they are thought to have turned to lesser works.”

How the Alliance of American Football failed: “Dundon’s team calculated the league’s total revenue in a year of existence at around $12 million, against estimated annual operating costs exceeding $100 million.”

Essay of the Day:

What happened to Malaysia Airlines flight 370 that disappeared over the Indian Ocean five years ago? William Langewiesche reports:

“The mystery surrounding MH370 has been a focus of continued investigation and a source of sometimes feverish public speculation. The loss devastated families on four continents. The idea that a sophisticated machine, with its modern instruments and redundant communications, could simply vanish seems beyond the realm of possibility. It is hard to permanently delete an email, and living off the grid is nearly unachievable even when the attempt is deliberate. A Boeing 777 is meant to be electronically accessible at all times. The disappearance of the airplane has provoked a host of theories. Many are preposterous. All are given life by the fact that, in this age, commercial airplanes don’t just vanish.

“This one did, and more than five years later its precise whereabouts remain unknown. Even so, a great deal about the disappearance of MH370 has come into clearer view, and reconstructing much of what happened that night is possible. The cockpit voice recorder and the flight-data recorder may never be recovered, but what we still need to know is unlikely to come from the black boxes. Instead, it will have to come from Malaysia.”

Read the rest.

Photo: La Clusaz

Poem: Rachel Hadas, “Cento on the Beach”   

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