A superb new biography of the seer of Walden Pond reconsiders his reputation as tax-refuser, recluse, environmentalist and writer
In March 1845, Henry David Thoreau borrowed an axe and set off for Walden Pond, near his home in Concord, Massachusetts. He was going to build a hut, and he knew exactly where: on a spot near the water, backed by a pine grove and fronted by smaller pines and a chestnut tree. Before stopping for his first lunch break, Thoreau had cut and trimmed enough of these pines to make the houses main timbers.
Then he paid $4.28 to buy a shanty from a railroad worker who was moving on the line had just been built past Walden Pond. Thoreau dismantled it and dried its planks in the sun to become the huts roof and sides. He laid a chimney foundation using cobblestones from the pond. When he finished the house that autumn, it had weatherproof shingles on the outside, neat plastering inside and a few carefully counted possessions: three chairs, a desk, one cup, two forks. He planted rows of potatoes, corn and peas and miles of white beans making the earth say beans instead of grass, as he put it. The project had begun: Thoreau would live there, dedicating himself to the principle of simplicity. He would observe nature and write.
The idea had come from his friend and neighbour, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said a writer must have a hideaway. Walden was an obvious choice: Thoreau knew it well, and had spent lazy days in his youth drifting in boats on the pond, playing his flute. Now, he had a more serious purpose. He lived for two years in the hut, then spent a further seven working up his notes for publication. When he produced Walden, he made the earth say a lot more than beans. This cranky, observant, mystical, polemical, exhilarating masterpiece became a classic of 19th-century Americana, studied by schoolchildren and stuffed into pockets for journeys on the road with generations of young idealists. Through this and his essay Civil Disobedience, which urged non-violent political resistance and the principled withholding of taxes, Thoreau called on Americans to tune in, drop out and seize control.
Walden had a rousing effect on me when I first read it. It still does, but I now find it disquieting, too. Besides nature lovers, Thoreau speaks to a spirit of refusal that runs through the modern US (and elsewhere). This spirit rejects political institutions, large-scale civic structures and tax-paying, in favour of holing up in a woodland fastness following only ones raw sense of personal rightness. It unnerves me to read the famous line in Civil Disobedience, That government is best which governs not at all. It sounded good once; now it evokes the kind of thinking that considers public healthcare an evil.
Others have raised milder doubts. After Walden came out, Thoreaus friends and critics alike voiced surprise at the books portrayal of a proud recluse, when they knew that Thoreau had gone on doing regular handyman work around Concord during those years, as well as popping home once a week for dinner prepared by the family cook. Friends visited him all the time, despite his lack of a full set of forks. He was a frequent visitor to other households so much so that Emersons young son Edward was surprised to learn that Thoreau had been officially resident at the pond during a time when he thought the writer was living with them.
From The Fifth Element to Lucy, Bessons gender-splicing sci-fi films have never played by Hollywoods rules. Now hes taking the biggest gamble of his career by sending Cara Delevingne into space in Valerian
No one needs a hit right now more than Luc Besson. His production company, EuropaCorp, recently posted record losses of $135m. He was ordered last year to pay nearly half a million dollars after being found guilty of plagiarising John Carpenters Escape from New York in his 2012 screenplay Lockout. And his new futuristic adventure, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, is the most expensive independent movie ever made, with a budget of around $200m. The film needs to crack at least $400m worldwide (like his Scarlett Johansson action fantasy Lucy) to push the company back into the black. Right now, that looks as far fetched as any of the films 28th-century intergalactic escapades. Valerian had a dismal $17m opening weekend in the US last month. In Germany, it landed in third place behind Despicable Me 3, which had already been on release for three weeks.
The picturesque highway from San Francisco to LA was battered by floods last winter, but an emergency walking route for residents is now a tempting trail for hikers too
The coastal drive along Highway 1 between San Francisco and Los Angeles is one of the worlds great, classic trips. Anyone planning on doing it anytime soon, however, is missing a vital piece of information: you cant. Around 35 miles of the highways best-loved stretch, Big Sur, have been closed since February, after winter rains caused the Pfeiffer Canyon bridge to the north to collaspe and swept large parts of the road into the ocean to the south.
With the only road in or out cut off, residents have been stranded in the middle, and the only tourists getting in were the mega-rich who could afford a helicopter. But Big Sur has finally found a way to reopen to everyone if you dont mind a bit of adventure.
To help those marooned, an emergency hiking trail was dug into surrounding woodland so residents could at least buy groceries; unauthorised hikers were subject to fines. But since 1 July, its also been a way for tourists to get in. The trails purpose has expanded to include helping the economy, which is losing thousands of dollars every day.
Global study finds Miltons verse epic rendered in languages from Tamil to Tongan, and argues interest is linked to social turmoil and political revolutions
Three hundred and fifty years after it was first published, John Miltons epic revolutionary poem about the fall of man, Paradise Lost, continues to find relevance around the world, with research revealing that new translations in the last 30 years outnumber the previous three centuries output combined.
More than 50 academics around the world collaborated to research a new book, Milton in Translation, discovering that the works of the 17th-century author have been translated more than 300 times and into 57 different languages. These range from Faroese and Manx to Tamil and Tongan, from Persian and Hebrew to Frisian and Welsh.
The scholars, led by Purdue Universitys Professor Angelica Duran, Birmingham City Universitys Dr Islam Issa, and Grand Canyon Universitys Dr Jonathan Olson, found that translations of Paradise Lost often mirror[ed] periods of rebellious ideology or nationalism. In Soviet Estonia, the translation was an act of national resistance against the USSR, they said, while in the Middle East, translations took place during the Arab spring uprisings. Yugoslavian political prisoner Milovan Djilas translated Paradise Lost into Serbo-Croatian in the 1960s while he was imprisoned, writing the epic out on toilet paper with a pencil, and smuggling it out of prison.
We were surprised by the number of languages [Milton] is translated into, said Issa. We expected lots of translations of Paradise Lost, but we didnt expect so many different languages, and so many which arent spoken by millions of people, such as Manx. You assume Spanish or French, but you dont assume Welsh and Manx.
Paradise Lost is, according to Issa, a very universal story Adam and Eve, the fall its timeless. And with Milton specifically, there is the revolutionary nature of his writing. He was a republican who played a part in the execution of Charles I, he was anti-Catholic, and theres his characterisation of Satan, trying to revolt against God the father. As a result, at times of political and religious struggle, such as countries trying to move away from Soviet rule, or the Middle East during the Arab spring, people are translating these revolutionary ideas.
First published in 1667, the blank verse Paradise Lost tells of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit / Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste / Brought Death into the World, and all our woe, / With loss of Eden. Miltons Satan is cast out from heaven with his rebel angels, Hurld headlong flaming from th Ethereal Skie / With hideous ruine and combustion down / To bottomless perdition, there to dwell / In Adamantine Chains and penal Fire. He goes on to tempt Adam and Eve, and to bring about their expulsion from Eden.
Milton in Translation, which is published on Thursday by Oxford University Press, is, say the scholars, the first ever detailed research into how Milton has been translated and read across the globe. Issa said: This book shows the real reach of literature, even if its from 350 years ago. It also confirms that Miltons works, particularly Paradise Lost, have themes that are both universal and adaptable to different contexts.
He added: For me, the most fascinating thing was seeing how all around the world, religion and politics have been so closely linked with what people choose to translate and how they go about it. There were many common trends. So readers going through independence took real interest in Miltons revolutionary ideas. Or, interestingly, translators in Egypt, Estonia and Spain from completely different times self-censored the exact same sexual scenes.
Issa said: I think he should be more widely read. Paradise Lost is possibly the most important poem in the language. It affects so much of what comes after it. He is the first poet to not use rhyme, to not be confined by anything, and you can see the influence of that today. I think we are missing out if we are not realising his position.
The list demonstrates that around the world people are taking real interest in Milton … And here in the UK we are not doing that so much, even when his writing speaks to us today.
French president will offer the US president and his wife dinner at the Eiffel Tower among other delights
The US president, Donald Trump, will arrive in Paris on Thursday, to be greeted with a show of military pomp by the French leader Emmanuel Macron, who has chosen to move from his aggressive first handshake and style himself as Trumps new straight-talking best friend on the international stage.
Trump, under pressure over his sons meeting with a Russian lawyer during the US election campaign, will begin a 24-hour visit to the French capital, where Macron will woo him by escorting him to Napoleons tomb, taking him to dinner at the Eiffel Tower then watching the Bastille Day military parade on the Champs Elyses.
The centrist presidents invitation to Trump might at first seem surprising, after he publicly asserted his superiority by crunching Trumps knuckles at their first meeting in May and later rebuked him for pulling the US out of the Paris climate accord.
But the invitation is part of a determined strategy by Macron, who observing the US presidents increasing isolation on the western stage has sensed an opportunity.
Christophe Castaner, a government minister and spokesman, described it as a kind of persuasive bridge-building with Trump. Sometimes Trump makes decisions we dont like, such as on climate. But we can deal with it in two ways: we can say We are not going to talk to you, or we can offer you our hand to bring you back into the circle, he said.
The invitation for a US leader to attend this years Bastille day military parade had been in the pipeline long before either Trump or Macron were elected, because 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the entry of the United States into the first world war. Inviting foreign leaders to Bastille Day celebrations is common in France Nicolas Sarkozy even made Syrias Bashar al-Assad a guest of honour in 2008. But it was not certain Trump would accept when Macron personally re-issued the invitation in a phone call last month.
The Elyse has added what one official called a personal post-card tourism touch: instead of dining at the Elyse Palace, Macron and his wife, Brigitte, will invite the Trumps to eat a meal cooked by the chef Alain Ducasse in a restaurant at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
It is a deliberate attempt to show the French capital was still welcoming after Trump told a rally that Paris is no longer Paris following a string of terrorist attacks.
The Trump organisation has no financial interests in France and it is unclear how well the US president knows the country. He said last year that the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks would have been very different if French citizens were allowed to carry guns.
On Thursday afternoon Macron and Trump will hold more than an hour of talks at the Elyse Palace focused mainly on counter-terrorism, Syria, Iraq and French anti-jihadi military operations in north Africa. Where we have differences, we talk about them very clearly such as on climate but there are issues like counter-terrorism where we are on the same line and need close cooperation and common action, an Elyse official said.
French diplomats said Macron had been concerned about Trump feeling backed into a corner. The French leader has seen a potential opportunity to sway US thinking and elevate the role of France a nuclear power and permanent member of the UN security council in global affairs, in particular on Syria and the Middle East.
France is the second-biggest contributor to the US-led coalition in Syria and French officials had expressed concerns about what vision the US had in Syria beyond taking the military fight to Islamic State.
The two leaders are starkly different. Trump, 71, is an anti-globalist elected on a pledge to put America first. Macron, 39, believes in a kind of cosmopolitan globalism and is an ardent pro-European. Yet they share some traits both were outsiders who challenged their countrys political status quo. Trump loves a winner and although he deemed Macrons far-right rival, Marine Le Pen, the strongest candidate in Mays French presidential election, he has praised Macrons solid election score.
The military pomp of the Trump visit reflects Macrons new style of showmanship diplomacy seen when he invited Russias Vladimir Putin to the palace of Versailles. It is aimed at highlighting French prestige and grandeur and as much for his domestic audience as foreign leaders.
Macrons defiant, alpha-male handshake with Trump when they first met in Brussels in May played well at home in France. He had to show the French domestic audience he knew how to say no to America, said Philippe Roger, author of the American Enemy, a history of French anti-Americanism, adding that for Macron to be seen to be too pro-US would be the kiss of death in French politics. But he said Macron was now showing it was time to talk to Trump.
I think Macron understands very well that with Mr Trump you have to be present see him and talk to him face to face Ambassadors dont exist for Trump The only thing is to be in the same room and to talk.
Laurence Nardon, head of the US programme the French institute of international relations (IFRI) said: Macrons team tried to establish respect in the first phase and now Macron is trying to become the best buddy in the second phase. It strikes me really as quite clever. Its probably a very smart approach to deal with a bully.
The long read: After a crisis, private contractors move in and suck up funding for work done badly, if at all then those billions get cut from government budgets. Like Grenfell Tower, Hurricane Katrina revealed a disdain for the poor
There have been times in my reporting from disaster zones when I have had the unsettling feeling that I was seeing not just a crisis in the here and now, but getting a glimpse of the future a preview of where the road we are all on is headed, unless we somehow grab the wheel and swerve. When I listen to Donald Trump speak, with his obvious relish in creating an atmosphere of chaos and destabilisation, I often think: Ive seen this before, in those strange moments when portals seemed to open up into our collective future.
One of those moments arrived in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, as I watched hordes of private military contractors descend on the flooded city to find ways to profit from the disaster, even as thousands of the citys residents, abandoned by their government, were treated like dangerous criminals just for trying to survive.
I started to notice the same tactics in disaster zones around the world. I used the term shock doctrine to describe the brutal tactic of using the publics disorientation following a collective shock wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes or natural disasters to push through radical pro-corporate measures, often called shock therapy. Though Trump breaks the mould in some ways, his shock tactics do follow a script, and one that is familiar from other countries that have had rapid changes imposed under the cover of crisis.
This strategy has been a silent partner to the imposition of neoliberalism for more than 40 years. Shock tactics follow a clear pattern: wait for a crisis (or even, in some instances, as in Chile or Russia, help foment one), declare a moment of what is sometimes called extraordinary politics, suspend some or all democratic norms and then ram the corporate wishlist through as quickly as possible. The research showed that virtually any tumultuous situation, if framed with sufficient hysteria by political leaders, could serve this softening-up function. It could be an event as radical as a military coup, but the economic shock of a market or budget crisis would also do the trick. Amid hyperinflation or a banking collapse, for instance, the countrys governing elites were frequently able to sell a panicked population on the necessity for attacks on social protections, or enormous bailouts to prop up the financial private sector because the alternative, they claimed, was outright economic apocalypse.
The Republicans under Donald Trump are already seizing the atmosphere of constant crisis that surrounds this presidency to push through as many unpopular, pro-corporate policies. And we know they would move much further and faster given an even bigger external shock. We know this because senior members of Trumps team have been at the heart of some of the most egregious examples of the shock doctrine in recent memory.
Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, has built his career in large part around taking advantage of the profitability of war and instability. ExxonMobil profited more than any oil major from the increase in the price of oil that was the result of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It also directly exploited the Iraq war to defy US state department advice and make an exploration deal in Iraqi Kurdistan, a move that, because it sidelined Iraqs central government, could well have sparked a full-blown civil war, and certainly did contribute to internal conflict.
Scotland’s economy is in a “precarious position” with a recession “in the balance”, experts have warned.
A report from the Fraser of Allander Institute said Scotland seemed to be “stuck in a cycle of weak growth”.
The Strathclyde University think-tank said that while growth is forecast to pick up in coming years, it is “likely to continue to lag behind the UK”.
Ministers insist that the fundamentals of the Scottish economy remain strong, highlighting Brexit as a key challenge.
Figures are due out at the start of July which will confirm whether or not the Scottish economy has formally gone into recession – defined as two consecutive quarters of falling output.
The Fraser of Allander Institute report said that “on balance it is likely to be a close run thing”.
It forecast growth at 1.2% for 2017 as a whole, 1.4% for 2018 and 1.6% for 2019.
The analysis includes some positive news – an apparent pick-up in business activity, unemployment at a record low and sectors like food and drink and tourism benefiting from the low value of the pound.
However, it also voices “increasing concern” about the slowdown apparently spreading across a wider set of industrial sectors.
It said political factors like Brexit “cast a shadow over the outlook”, but said that this and the downturn in the oil and gas sector could not be solely to blame. The report said that “Scotland’s economy seems to be stuck in a cycle of weak growth, declining confidence and poor investment and net export figures”.
Fraser of Allander director Graeme Roy said the scale of the gap between the Scottish economy and that of the UK as a whole was growing.
He said: “On balance, our forecast is that growth will return in 2017, with tentative signs of a more positive outlook for Scotland’s oil and gas sector and improving order books across Scottish businesses.
“In the current climate sentiment can change quickly. Should the upcoming Brexit negotiations go badly, or the UK economy slows down more quickly than anticipated, then Scotland’s economic prospects could take a sharp turn for the worse.
“That being said, a number of sectors should post relatively healthy returns this year. In particular, Scotland’s food and drink and tourism sectors should benefit from the low value of Sterling.
Economy Secretary Keith Brown said there was good news in the report, highlighting projected growth in the financial and business services, tourism and food and drink sectors.
He said: “This comes after good news for Scottish jobs. Scotland’s unemployment rate is at record low levels of 4% – equalling the previous all-time low – and is also at its lowest rate since the recession, and much lower than Fraser of Allander’s post-Brexit forecast of 7% for this year.
“And while challenges remain, the report also confirms emerging signs of confidence returning to the oil and gas sector, building on recent reports from Bank of Scotland and Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce.
“While these signs are encouraging, we must be clear that the biggest threat to Scotland’s economy continues to be Brexit – as this report makes clear.
“To avert the ‘Brexit negotiations going badly’, as the report states, the UK government must work with us and the other devolved administrations with the aim of keeping the UK and Scotland in the single market and customs union.”
Opposition leaders said the report showed the Scottish government must do more to support the economy.
Scottish Conservative economy spokesman Dean Lockhart said: ‘”As this report states, whether or not Scotland officially enters recession hangs in the balance. And that’s while the rest of the UK powers ahead, so the SNP can’t possibly blame Brexit.
“This is on the Scottish government’s shoulders, and it has to explain what it is going to do to kick-start the economy it is in charge of.
“Make no mistake, Scotland has great potential. But that potential has been utterly neglected by an SNP government which has its priorities focused elsewhere.”
Labour’s economy spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said Scotland was “teetering on the brink of recession because Nicola Sturgeon has been more interested in running a campaign for a second independence referendum than running a government”.
She added: “Every time difficult figures for our economy are announced SNP ministers claim the fundamentals of our economy are strong. ministers must take their heads out of the sand and stop being complacent.
“With the new powers of the Scottish Parliament and the budget for public services more dependent on Scottish tax revenues than previously, we need a government with a laser focus on growing the economy and creating jobs.”
(CNN)Jared Kushner’s visit to Israel this week reflects an unexpected development in current Middle East politics.
Cannes, France (CNN)Walking around La Colombe d’Or, a casual eye places it among the many inns dotting the French Riviera. This Provencal auberge wears its rustic charm like a badge of honor, or perhaps armor, warding off the dull trappings of the 21st century.