Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 31, 2014

A Most Wanted Man


I saw A Most Wanted Man a little while back. I liked it, in no small degree because of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance. I would go so far as to say that I liked this film adaptation of the book better than the book itself (which, in fairness, I have engaged only in an abridged audiobook format). I thought that the movie made a smart choice in focusing on the character of Günther Bachmann (played by Hoffman) and paying less attention (compared to the book) to the character of Tommy Brue (played by Willem Dafoe). I have no real complaints about Dafoe’s performance, but the Brue character is just not a great POV character, IMHO. Also (spoilers, sort of), the ending, I thought, felt less anti-climactic in the movie than in the book.

And, it is a credit to the director and his team that they could make a signature party in a bank office suspenseful (indeed, climactic).

I do not claim to be an expert on the fiction of John le Carré. That said, the book A Most Wanted Man did not seem to me to have the same gravitas as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I suspect that, in part, this is a side effect of the end of the Cold War. In those earlier novels, part of the setting and climate of the stories was the background consciousness that the particular plots of the characters were pieces in a much larger conflict between two world superpowers and their spheres of influence — the Eastern Bloc vs. the Western Bloc. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union, that background vanishes. It strikes me that the end of the Cold War must have been very hard on writers like John le Carré and Tom Clancy.

Over at Howl at Pluto, LFC was less impressed by the movie than I was. Also worth a read is this Slate review by Dana Stevens (“As he did so many times before, Philip Seymour Hoffman elevates the movie around him”). See also this review by Chris Ryan. Anderson has a short review in this post.

Image Credit: Port of Hamburg. Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 25, 2014

Random Art Blogging

Camille Pissarro, Le verger (The Orchard), 1872

Camille Pissarro, The Orchard, 1872.

Currently at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 23, 2014

How the Brits Speak

For those of us here in the US, Doctor Who returns tonight (with a new actor in the role of the Doctor).

In (tangential) honor of the occasion, here’s a video of Siobhan Thompson sampling 17 different British and Irish accents:

Also, at io9, here’s a list of the ten most ridiculously complicated Doctor Who villain schemes. (Spoilers, of course.)

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 22, 2014


Thus saith Thoreau:

I suppose I should have blogged about all the military gear that the cops brought to bear in Missouri this week. But, honestly, after reading Radley Balk[o] for years, it took me some time to realize that for most Americans it qualifies as actual news when stormtroopers with armored vehicles, rifles, and military uniforms take to the streets and go after American civilians.


Thoreau also points to this post by Jennifer Abel, which is worth reading.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 21, 2014

Blogging World War I: August 21, 1914: Marching Past History

BELGIUM — German forces entered Brussels the previous day. By August 21, 1914, elements of General Karl von Bülow’s Second Army had passed Wavre and were approaching Waterloo. General Karl von Einem, commander of VII Corps of Second Army, noted the occasion in his diary:

99 years ago all those people who today are our enemies defeated Napoleon and his Frenchmen there. We are now on historic ground and today will advance along the same roads that took Blücher and his victorious formations to Waterloo or Belle Alliance.[1]


On the same date, a few miles to the south, the French forces began a general offensive through the Ardennes. Tuchman writes about this particular choice of battlefield on the part of the French high command:

The terrain of the Ardennes is not suitable for the offensive. It is wooded, hilly, and irregular, with the slope running generally uphill from the French side and with declivities between the hills cut by many streams. Caesar, who took ten days to march across it, described the secret, dark forest as a “place full of terrors,” with muddy paths and a perpetual mist rising from the peat bogs. Much of it had since been cleared and cultivated; roads, villages, and two or three large towns had replaced Caesar’s terrors, but large sections were still covered with thick leafy woods where roads were few and ambush easy. French staff officers had examined the terrain on several tours before 1914 and knew its difficulties. In spite of their warnings the Ardennes was chosen as the place of breakthrough because here, at the center, German strength was expected to be least. The French had persuaded themselves of the feasibility of the ground on the theory that its very difficulty made it, as Joffre said, “rather favorable to the side which, like ourselves, had inferiority of heavy artillery but superiority of field guns.”[2]

[1] Diary entry quoted in translation from Holger H. Herwig, The Marne, 1914 (2009), 123.
[2] Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August (1962), 235-38.

Image Sources: (1) US Military Academy Department of History; (2) CIA World Factbook via Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 21, 2014

Blogging World War I: August 20, 1914: Pope Pius Dies

One hundred years ago this week, Pope Pius X died in Rome. He was 79 at the time and had been pope for 11 years.

Pope St. Pius X

Pius had already suffered a heart attack the previous year, and his health never really recovered. Supposedly, what finally broke his health for good was the stress of watching the nations of Europe fling themselves into the Great War in August 1914.

He was canonized forty years later.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 15, 2014

Random Art Blogging

Fallen Monarchs 1886 by William Bliss Baker

William Bliss Baker, Fallen Monarchs, 1886.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 14, 2014

A Significant Correction

I suppose I shouldn’t read too much into this. From NPR:

On Monday we told you about the first day of school in New Orleans, where most of the schools are now charter schools. In our story we said that even though test scores are up, 80 percent of schools still received a D or F grades from the state of Louisiana. Well, that percentage is incorrect. Only about 20 percent of the charter schools in New Orleans have D’s or F’s. More than half of the schools have grades of A, B or C. The rest were not graded. We’re sorry about the error.

The original story from Monday, 8/11, on the first day of school in New Orleans, is here. (The story also notes the correction.)

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 14, 2014

Random Art Blogging

Francisco de Zurbarán - Still-life with Lemons, Oranges and Rose - WGA26062

Francisco de Zurbarán, Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and Rose, 1633.

Currently at the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 13, 2014

Some More Tennessee Election and Politics Links

1. As noted in a previous post, last Thursday primary voters in Tennessee’s 7th State Senate District voted against Stacey Campfield. At Slate, David Weigel has a brief post bidding farewell to “a Click-Friendly, Anti-Gay, Holocaust-Trolling Republican State Legislator.”

2. Tennessee is a very red state, and it makes sense that, come primary season, most voters choose to vote in the Republican primary. (The state has open primaries; you just have to pick one or the other when you enter the polling station.) Also, I suppose it probably makes a certain amount of strategic sense for the state Democratic party to focus on the handful of races where they are truly competitive and not waste resources on long-shot campaigns — which, at the moment, includes the governor’s race.

But the upshot of the establishment Democrats effectively conceding the race for governor is that they wind up with candidates like Charles Brown.

Mother Jones:

They did it again. On Thursday, Tennessee Democrats picked a statewide candidate with zero political experience. His campaign platform is based on sending incumbent Gov. Bill Haslam (R) to the electric chair. Charlie Brown, a retired engineer from Oakdale whose name is misspelled on his own Facebook page, may owe his victory in the gubernatorial primary to appearing as the first name on the ballot.

And from a profile in Slate:

Brown didn’t campaign in a typical way. He didn’t go to banquets or barbecues. He didn’t send mailers, or pay for TV ads. He said he didn’t raise any money at all, though he did solicit donations. And he hadn’t even talked to the people who lived nearest to him. Instead, he told me that he sent a letter to the editor of nearly every paper in the state, a short missive full of misspellings that ended with the plea: “Please join The NRA.” Few publications actually ran the letter, which began with him saying that he “would like to strap [Gov. Haslam’s] butt to the [electric] chair and give him about half the jolt.” He also said that if he won “we will have hog hunting again.”

Brown’s main source of votes, he told me, was a club he belonged to. The Original Mountain Cur Breeders Association may not seem like the world’s best resource for a politician hungry for votes, but Brown was quick to correct me. “We’ve got 18,000 members,” he said. One of them, who he says he met at a squirrel hunt in Indiana, had even put an ad in a paper in support of Brown’s candidacy.

Since few papers printed the letter, few voters got a chance to read about Brown’s stance on the issues. He gave me three definitive policy statements. The first: He wants to put Bibles back in public schools. “I’m not a preacher, don’t get me wrong. But the Bible says to beckon little children to come to me,” he said. The second: Raise the state-wide speed limit to 80 miles per hour. “If I can,” he hedged. “My state representative told me I could.” And the third: Use his salary to help out his fellow hunters. “I’m wanting to buy some big deers and bring ’em in here and do away with our small buck deers. Buy some big buck deers and turn ’em loose.”

From a distance, Brown would seem like an easy man to parody. He’s not. During our hourlong conversation, he brought up a number of issues that made him sound more like a concerned citizen than a Southern stereotype. Brown said he had been in a union all his life, and was dismayed at the way his home state treated organized labor, including groups representing teachers and prison guards. He thought that the clear-cutting undertaken by the state’s wildlife resources agency was putting that same wildlife in danger. And he brought up a number of potential scandals that he saw as disqualifying for Bill Haslam, including what he saw as a suspiciously lucrative land deal for a friend of the governor’s. …

OK, so “Charlie” Brown is not as bad as Mark Clayton. But I have to believe that Tennessee Democrats could do better, if they wanted to do so.

3. Today on NPR’s Fresh Air, journalist Jonathan Weisman was talking about the dysfunction of the current Congress. At one point, interviewer Dave Davies asked for examples of members of Congress who are willing to “take a political risk” and work with members of the opposite party, and I was surprised when Weisman named Tennessee Senator Bob Corker as an example:

DAVIES: I’m sure there are a lot of people who, in private conversations, feel very frustrated with the way things are. But I always draw a distinction between someone who’ll say something in private and someone who will take a political risk by opposing their party leadership and reaching across the aisle. Are people doing that? Feel free to name some names. Give us somebody we should be encouraged to know is in Congress.

WEISMAN: Look at Senator Bob Corker. He’s a Republican of Tennessee. Tennessee obviously has a tradition, actually, of having lawmakers who are dealmakers. But it also has a strong conservative Tea Party wing as well. Bob Corker, just weeks ago, went to the Senate floor with a Democrat, a liberal Democrat, Chris Murphy of the Connecticut, and proposed raising the gas tax to fund the Highway Trust Fund and said, look. We cannot deal with the crumbling infrastructure of our country on the amount of money that is being generated by the current gas tax because our cars are more efficient, the demands of an aging infrastructure are raising – are rising. We need to do something. It took a lot for Bob Corker to propose raising the gas tax. And, ironically, a whole lot of Democrats ran screaming from the room just as Republicans did.

Weisman also discusses Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and Maine Senator Angus King as examples of people in Congress who are willing to “reach across the aisle” on some matters at least.

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