Wednesday, 20 October 2010

How the World Looks From Manhattan

I am in New York City this week, once more on the trail of Sean Penn and Paolo Sorrentino’s film This Must Be The Place. NYC is, as ever, a marvel, and just the same, only different... a world city, defining of America and yet not wholly American. My New York Times this morning was gratifyingly slim and manageable over breakfast, and full of interest, to wit:
1. Government expenditure: A big deal, naturally, Republican candidates for the Senate unanimously pitching from a platform that deplores ‘runaway federal spending’, but very shy (or else full of drivel) on the ‘What I Would Cut’ issue (other than taxes, the extension of the Bush-era cuts clearly dear to many GOPers.) I am relieved, in one way, to be off the scene as George Osborne displays his axe in the Commons today. And while resistant to any ideological formulation of the beauty of small government (and seconding Hopi Sen’s abhorrence of lectures on welfare dependence from trust fund babes) – as a freelancer I approve of Robert Peston’s tough-mindedness today on the public sector’s needful adjustment to how the rest of us manage our anxieties.
2. Democracy in Action: the standard of candidacy and debate in the contests for the US Senate seems shockingly poor, at least as far as the media is reporting it. In particular a woman called Christine O’Donnell, running for the GOP in Delaware, is setting the bar strikingly low. The ‘race’ for New York Governor is also descending into farce, judging by a Monday night hustings in which the minor candidates were given so much room to be minor that the main Cuomo-Paladino contest, vaguely defined already, got no clearer. Lest we get smug in the UK, I suppose the real lesson, for the millionth time, is that we surely get the politicians we deserve.
3. Ghost towns: A ‘new town’ in a district of the city of Ordos, China, is reported to be near-deserted, a product of boom times but waiting still to be populated by consumer-citizens. Having seen the high-end ‘ghost estates’ of Dublin recently, a vertical version of the empty luxury high-rises by Newcastle Quayside, I certainly feel the power of this metaphor.
4. China All Over: ... but economically China’s every move, micro or macro, is being scrutinised intensely, of course. Its announced raising of interest rates has a thumping feel to it, as does its widening embargo on mineral exports to the West. Reporting has a cagey feel to it. I must read The Economist this/next week...
5. That Hi-Tech Lynching, Redux: The 1980s beckon us once more... Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife, a Tea Party stalwart, is chasing Anita Hill again for an apology. Anita Hill is being very cool, in every sense, as the Times reports. (‘I thought it was certainly inappropriate...’ – Virginia Thomas’s request, that is...)
6. Gays in the US military: With Don’t Ask Don’t Tell seemingly erased, the TV news as well as print has had much of Dan Choi, an articulate young Asian-American previously discharged from the Army who yesterday, attended by umpteen reporters, sought readmission at the Army recruiting office just up the road from me at Times Square. Looks like he might have made it...
7. The decline of movie one-liners: The NYT arts section has it that Hollywood screenplays no longer offer widely quotable and cherishable dialogue in such profusion. But their ‘classic’ examples from Dirty Harry and Forrest Gump don’t have me lamenting in O tempora manner. Nor ‘Release the Kraken!’, from the remake of Clash of the Titans, parts of which I watched on the flight over, none of which seemed to me to surpass the pleasures of Ray Harryhausen’s hand-animated original.
8. Ryuichi Sakamoto: apparently the great man played a piano recital on Monday night, would I had been there. Though Steve Smith’s elegant review speaks of Sakamoto’s ‘curtains of white hair’ and ‘a decorousness better suited to a fern-throttled piano bar.’ But the audience apparently sighed with pleasure, as would I hearing the opening notes of the theme from The Sheltering Sky...