In Honor Of The New ‘Beaches,’ Watch The Old ‘Beaches’


Nia Long and Idina Menzel star in Lifetime’s update of Beaches, airing Saturday night.

Lifetime


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Lifetime

Nia Long and Idina Menzel star in Lifetime’s update of Beaches, airing Saturday night.

Lifetime

To revisit the box office numbers for 1988 is to remember when movies that made a lot of money looked entirely different than they do now. Rain Man grossed more money domestically than anything else that year. It was followed in the top 10 by Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Coming To America, Big, Twins, Crocodile Dundee II, Die Hard, The Naked Gun, Cocktail, and Beetlejuice. Only one sequel in the bunch. That’s two adult dramas (if you count Cocktail, which … maybe?), seven comedies, and Die Hard.

In 2016? Rogue One, Finding Dory, Captain America: Civil War, The Secret Life Of Pets, The Jungle Book, Deadpool, Zootopia, Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, and Sing. Five action franchise entries and five kids’ movies, and that’s it.

It was back in that more comedy-drama-friendly environment that the 15th biggest movie of the year was Beaches, starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey as best friends who meet as girls under the Atlantic City boardwalk and remain friends right up until — spoiler alert — one of them dies. (If you think about it, that’s how any friendship ends if it lasts long enough. Again, spoiler alert.) Beaches is often remembered as the epitome of the weepie, the hankie movie, the sniffler, whatever you want to call it. In fact, it’s more interesting than that and contains more angular and painful moments than that, but what people remember is the crying and dying.

It makes sense, in a way, that Lifetime would remake it almost 30 (gulp) years later with Idina Menzel and Nia Long as CC and Hillary. They’re both solid actresses who have been wonderful in lots of roles over the years, and the film is directed by Allison Anders, who’s directed a lot of TV but also the films Gas Food Lodging and Grace Of My Heart, both of which are strong stories about interesting women. But unfortunately, the remake, which airs on Saturday night, winds up representing the flatter, crying-and-dying film people remember, rather than the film that really was.

One of the problems is just timing: the Lifetime film has 90 minutes to do the work of a theatrical film that ran two hours and three minutes. Entire plot elements are dropped, and the opening sequence in which the girls become friends is much shorter, making it much harder to believe that they formed a bond that carried them through years of pen-pal-ship, all the way to adulthood. And while it’s hard to be critical of child performers, there’s nothing in that opening sequence anywhere near as arresting as it was when the young Mayim Bialik, doing the seemingly impossible by plausibly being a young version of Bette Midler, sang “Glory of Love” with a feather boa. Here, young CC is simply an ’80s-attired young busker who doesn’t have a permit, rather than a precocious, already-bawdy kid in feathers who’s first seen puffing on a cigarette. From the very beginning, she doesn’t have the original CC’s huge personality, and Hillary’s instant fascination with her makes much less sense.

More generally, the biggest problem is that the two women are too similar in this version. In the original, Hershey is so chilly and patrician and Midler is so Bette Midler that the contrast is obvious and stark. But Menzel and Long are playing very similar women here — they’re both smart, direct, conventionally beautiful, elegant adults. There’s none of the sense Hershey so convincingly conveyed that Hillary is often embarrassed, particularly in the presence of the man who becomes her husband, by CC’s joyful vulgarity. And similarly, Menzel has none of Midler’s visible insecurity about how she’s viewed by a friend who’s become a proudly droll sophisticate. The fights in the original Beaches are scary and ugly; they’re raw and hurtful, and you understand how they could lead to long estrangements. Here, the stakes just never feel quite high enough. This version seems to build their conflict around professional success, which is less compelling than in the original, where their conflict was largely about cultural positioning — about who was classy and who was not, and why.

Without that conflict, all you have is a couple of pretty ordinary fights between women who seem at all times naturally well-suited to each other. And unfortunately, the lack of nuance in the portrayals of young CC and Hillary in the prologue carries through to the role of Hillary’s daughter (Sanai Victoria), who is written without the resistance to CC that you get from Grace Johnston in the 1988 film, so that she’s nothing but cute and perfect and sweet all the time. In the original version, CC’s unlikely relationship with Hillary basically echoes in her relationship with Hillary’s daughter — Midler’s CC doesn’t seem, and doesn’t feel, like a natural mother. But Menzel’s CC seems almost as much of a natural as Long’s Hillary is.

To answer one obvious question: Yes, Menzel sings “Wind Beneath My Wings.” She also sings “Glory Of Love.” But the quirkier musical numbers from the original, including not just Midler’s odd “Oh Industry” but the wonderful bauble “I’ve Still Got My Health,” her very sad rendition of “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today,” and the memorable “Otto Titsling,” find no substitutes. So while you get Idina Menzel singing The Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand By You,” her musical theater talents are set aside in a way Midler’s were not.

The point isn’t that a remake has to walk in the footsteps of the original — in fact, it can’t and shouldn’t. But when you remove the parts of a film that make it interesting, you have to put in other elements to make the new one interesting in a different way. You have to put something back for everything that you remove.

One lesson here is that memorable “weepies,” like memorable anythings, are harder than they look. Over time, things flatten in our cultural memory, until attempts to recreate them based on what endured in that memory are likely to fall short for reasons that feel nebulous. Saturday night’s new Beaches, unfortunately, doesn’t amount to much. But go back to the original — it’s more interesting than you remember.

‘Human Acts’ Tries To Reconcile Bloody Human Impulses


Mercy is a human impulse, but so is murder. In Human Acts, Han Kang’s novel of the 1980 Gwangju Uprising and its aftermath, people spill blood, and people brave death to donate it. With a sensitivity so sharp that it’s painful, Human Acts sets out to reconcile these paradoxical and coexisting humanities.

“I’m not an animal anymore,” says Yeong-hye, the protagonist of The Vegetarian, Han Kang’s Man Booker Prize-winning 2015 novel. Yeong-hye wants to become a plant, so she drinks only water and eats only sunlight. She starves to “shuck off the human,” become a tree rooted deep in the earth, standing high in the woods. She is mad, and she is ecstatic. Perhaps hers is the only sane response to the dreadful range of the word human: to renounce it.

In 1980, in Gwangju, South Korea, government forces massacre pro-democracy demonstrators. The bodies are stowed in the hall of the complaints department of the Provincial Office. When the bodies — the complaints — grow too many, they are moved to the school gymnasium, and there, a boy named Dong-ho looks for the corpse of his best friend. His is the first section, followed by six more stories of the victims of Gwangju — including a spirit tethered to a stack of rotting corpses, the mother of a dead boy, an editor trapped under censorship, a torture victim remembering her captivity, and, finally, a writer.

That startling final section slips into nonfiction. We learn that the author lived in Dong-ho’s house before him; her family escaped to Seoul by luck. When her father brings a secret book of photographs of the massacre home, she finds a photo of a mutilated girl. “Soundlessly, and without fuss, some tender thing deep inside me broke,” she writes. The seven chapters of Human Acts describe the breaking of that unnamed tender thing for seven people. The essential goodness of other people, the stability of government, the sense that we are safe inside our skin, not mere eggs waiting to be cracked by careless hands — we readers lose that seven times, too.

Related NPR Stories

“To be degraded, damaged, slaughtered — is this the essential fate of humankind, one that history has confirmed as inevitable?” asks one character. To be either meat or monster? The longing to escape, to be something other than human that shines so clearly in The Vegetarian, is here, too, if submerged: “Trees, you were told, survive on a single breath per day. When the sun rises, they drink in a long, luxurious draft of its rays, and when it sets, they exhale a long stream of carbon dioxide. Those trees over there, who hold those long breaths within themselves with such unwavering patience, are bending under the onslaught of rain.” (“Who,” not “which.”)

Each word of Human Acts seems hypersensitive, like Kang has given her sentences extra nerve endings, like the whole world is alive and feels pain, not just human flesh — even a slab of meat on a grill thrills with horror. She finds violence at the heart of things.

Human Acts has style problems. Long sections are written in the second person, a strategy designed to collapse the distance between character and reader but which actually enhances it. I don’t need to be Dong-ho to feel with Dong-ho. As if the story, our shared humanity, our empathy, won’t suffice, but a loud finger jabbed to our chests — yes, you! — will do it. It is the promise of this novel — and even of fiction generally — that we can feel with and for others without needing to be them.

And then, Deborah Smith’s translation feels undeniably like a translation: It is stilted, with odd register switches. Strangely enough, this foreignness and distance worked well in The Vegetarian. We spend the whole book chasing the cryptic shade of Yeong-hye, so another layer of fog on the glass only makes the novel more poignant. Occasionally translations exoticize rather than bring us in: Parts of Human Acts feel distant, and beautiful, and strange, when they should feel like looking in the mirror.

Nonetheless, Human Acts is stunning. Book reviews evaluate how well a book does what it sets out to do, and so we sometimes write nice things about books that perfectly fulfill trivial aims. Otherwise, we’d always be complaining that romance novels or political thrillers fail to justify the ways of God to men. But Han Kang has an ambition as large as Milton’s struggle with God: She wants to reconcile the ways of humanity to itself.

She doesn’t do that, of course. Not because of the occasional missteps in style and translation, but because of the scope of her ambition. We can’t get out of ourselves, discard our awful humanity, take up the answer The Vegetarian gives to the question asked by Human Acts. Kang fails, but hers is an impossible task, and hers a magnificent failure.

In Honor Of The New ‘Beaches,’ Watch The Old ‘Beaches’


Nia Long and Idina Menzel star in Lifetime’s update of Beaches, airing Saturday night.

Lifetime


hide caption

toggle caption

Lifetime

Nia Long and Idina Menzel star in Lifetime’s update of Beaches, airing Saturday night.

Lifetime

To revisit the box office numbers for 1988 is to remember when movies that made a lot of money looked entirely different than they do now. Rain Man grossed more money domestically than anything else that year. It was followed in the top 10 by Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Coming To America, Big, Twins, Crocodile Dundee II, Die Hard, The Naked Gun, Cocktail, and Beetlejuice. Only one sequel in the bunch. That’s two adult dramas (if you count Cocktail, which … maybe?), seven comedies, and Die Hard.

In 2016? Rogue One, Finding Dory, Captain America: Civil War, The Secret Life Of Pets, The Jungle Book, Deadpool, Zootopia, Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, and Sing. Five action franchise entries and five kids’ movies, and that’s it.

It was back in that more comedy-drama-friendly environment that the 15th biggest movie of the year was Beaches, starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey as best friends who meet as girls under the Atlantic City boardwalk and remain friends right up until — spoiler alert — one of them dies. (If you think about it, that’s how any friendship ends if it lasts long enough. Again, spoiler alert.) Beaches is often remembered as the epitome of the weepie, the hankie movie, the sniffler, whatever you want to call it. In fact, it’s more interesting than that and contains more angular and painful moments than that, but what people remember is the crying and dying.

It makes sense, in a way, that Lifetime would remake it almost 30 (gulp) years later with Idina Menzel and Nia Long as CC and Hillary. They’re both solid actresses who have been wonderful in lots of roles over the years, and the film is directed by Allison Anders, who’s directed a lot of TV but also the films Gas Food Lodging and Grace Of My Heart, both of which are strong stories about interesting women. But unfortunately, the remake, which airs on Saturday night, winds up representing the flatter, crying-and-dying film people remember, rather than the film that really was.

One of the problems is just timing: the Lifetime film has 90 minutes to do the work of a theatrical film that ran two hours and three minutes. Entire plot elements are dropped, and the opening sequence in which the girls become friends is much shorter, making it much harder to believe that they formed a bond that carried them through years of pen-pal-ship, all the way to adulthood. And while it’s hard to be critical of child performers, there’s nothing in that opening sequence anywhere near as arresting as it was when the young Mayim Bialik, doing the seemingly impossible by plausibly being a young version of Bette Midler, sang “Glory of Love” with a feather boa. Here, young CC is simply an ’80s-attired young busker who doesn’t have a permit, rather than a precocious, already-bawdy kid in feathers who’s first seen puffing on a cigarette. From the very beginning, she doesn’t have the original CC’s huge personality, and Hillary’s instant fascination with her makes much less sense.

More generally, the biggest problem is that the two women are too similar in this version. In the original, Hershey is so chilly and patrician and Midler is so Bette Midler that the contrast is obvious and stark. But Menzel and Long are playing very similar women here — they’re both smart, direct, conventionally beautiful, elegant adults. There’s none of the sense Hershey so convincingly conveyed that Hillary is often embarrassed, particularly in the presence of the man who becomes her husband, by CC’s joyful vulgarity. And similarly, Menzel has none of Midler’s visible insecurity about how she’s viewed by a friend who’s become a proudly droll sophisticate. The fights in the original Beaches are scary and ugly; they’re raw and hurtful, and you understand how they could lead to long estrangements. Here, the stakes just never feel quite high enough. This version seems to build their conflict around professional success, which is less compelling than in the original, where their conflict was largely about cultural positioning — about who was classy and who was not, and why.

Without that conflict, all you have is a couple of pretty ordinary fights between women who seem at all times naturally well-suited to each other. And unfortunately, the lack of nuance in the portrayals of young CC and Hillary in the prologue carries through to the role of Hillary’s daughter (Sanai Victoria), who is written without the resistance to CC that you get from Grace Johnston in the 1988 film, so that she’s nothing but cute and perfect and sweet all the time. In the original version, CC’s unlikely relationship with Hillary basically echoes in her relationship with Hillary’s daughter — Midler’s CC doesn’t seem, and doesn’t feel, like a natural mother. But Menzel’s CC seems almost as much of a natural as Long’s Hillary is.

To answer one obvious question: Yes, Menzel sings “Wind Beneath My Wings.” She also sings “Glory Of Love.” But the quirkier musical numbers from the original, including not just Midler’s odd “Oh Industry” but the wonderful bauble “I’ve Still Got My Health,” her very sad rendition of “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today,” and the memorable “Otto Titsling,” find no substitutes. So while you get Idina Menzel singing The Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand By You,” her musical theater talents are set aside in a way Midler’s were not.

The point isn’t that a remake has to walk in the footsteps of the original — in fact, it can’t and shouldn’t. But when you remove the parts of a film that make it interesting, you have to put in other elements to make the new one interesting in a different way. You have to put something back for everything that you remove.

One lesson here is that memorable “weepies,” like memorable anythings, are harder than they look. Over time, things flatten in our cultural memory, until attempts to recreate them based on what endured in that memory are likely to fall short for reasons that feel nebulous. Saturday night’s new Beaches, unfortunately, doesn’t amount to much. But go back to the original — it’s more interesting than you remember.

‘Human Acts’ Tries To Reconcile Bloody Human Impulses


Mercy is a human impulse, but so is murder. In Human Acts, Han Kang’s novel of the 1980 Gwangju Uprising and its aftermath, people spill blood, and people brave death to donate it. With a sensitivity so sharp that it’s painful, Human Acts sets out to reconcile these paradoxical and coexisting humanities.

“I’m not an animal anymore,” says Yeong-hye, the protagonist of The Vegetarian, Han Kang’s Man Booker Prize-winning 2015 novel. Yeong-hye wants to become a plant, so she drinks only water and eats only sunlight. She starves to “shuck off the human,” become a tree rooted deep in the earth, standing high in the woods. She is mad, and she is ecstatic. Perhaps hers is the only sane response to the dreadful range of the word human: to renounce it.

In 1980, in Gwangju, South Korea, government forces massacre pro-democracy demonstrators. The bodies are stowed in the hall of the complaints department of the Provincial Office. When the bodies — the complaints — grow too many, they are moved to the school gymnasium, and there, a boy named Dong-ho looks for the corpse of his best friend. His is the first section, followed by six more stories of the victims of Gwangju — including a spirit tethered to a stack of rotting corpses, the mother of a dead boy, an editor trapped under censorship, a torture victim remembering her captivity, and, finally, a writer.

That startling final section slips into nonfiction. We learn that the author lived in Dong-ho’s house before him; her family escaped to Seoul by luck. When her father brings a secret book of photographs of the massacre home, she finds a photo of a mutilated girl. “Soundlessly, and without fuss, some tender thing deep inside me broke,” she writes. The seven chapters of Human Acts describe the breaking of that unnamed tender thing for seven people. The essential goodness of other people, the stability of government, the sense that we are safe inside our skin, not mere eggs waiting to be cracked by careless hands — we readers lose that seven times, too.

Related NPR Stories

“To be degraded, damaged, slaughtered — is this the essential fate of humankind, one that history has confirmed as inevitable?” asks one character. To be either meat or monster? The longing to escape, to be something other than human that shines so clearly in The Vegetarian, is here, too, if submerged: “Trees, you were told, survive on a single breath per day. When the sun rises, they drink in a long, luxurious draft of its rays, and when it sets, they exhale a long stream of carbon dioxide. Those trees over there, who hold those long breaths within themselves with such unwavering patience, are bending under the onslaught of rain.” (“Who,” not “which.”)

Each word of Human Acts seems hypersensitive, like Kang has given her sentences extra nerve endings, like the whole world is alive and feels pain, not just human flesh — even a slab of meat on a grill thrills with horror. She finds violence at the heart of things.

Human Acts has style problems. Long sections are written in the second person, a strategy designed to collapse the distance between character and reader but which actually enhances it. I don’t need to be Dong-ho to feel with Dong-ho. As if the story, our shared humanity, our empathy, won’t suffice, but a loud finger jabbed to our chests — yes, you! — will do it. It is the promise of this novel — and even of fiction generally — that we can feel with and for others without needing to be them.

And then, Deborah Smith’s translation feels undeniably like a translation: It is stilted, with odd register switches. Strangely enough, this foreignness and distance worked well in The Vegetarian. We spend the whole book chasing the cryptic shade of Yeong-hye, so another layer of fog on the glass only makes the novel more poignant. Occasionally translations exoticize rather than bring us in: Parts of Human Acts feel distant, and beautiful, and strange, when they should feel like looking in the mirror.

Nonetheless, Human Acts is stunning. Book reviews evaluate how well a book does what it sets out to do, and so we sometimes write nice things about books that perfectly fulfill trivial aims. Otherwise, we’d always be complaining that romance novels or political thrillers fail to justify the ways of God to men. But Han Kang has an ambition as large as Milton’s struggle with God: She wants to reconcile the ways of humanity to itself.

She doesn’t do that, of course. Not because of the occasional missteps in style and translation, but because of the scope of her ambition. We can’t get out of ourselves, discard our awful humanity, take up the answer The Vegetarian gives to the question asked by Human Acts. Kang fails, but hers is an impossible task, and hers a magnificent failure.

Not My Job: Author Daniel Handler Gets Quizzed On Baggage Handlers


Daniel Handler speaks at the LA Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California campus in April 2013.
Daniel Handler speaks at the LA Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California campus in April 2013.

Back in 1999, a writer named Daniel Handler decided that kids books were too cheerful. So he adopted the pen name Lemony Snicket, and authored “A Series of Unfortunate Events” — now also a series on Netflix.

We’ve invited Handler to play a game called “What the hell happened to my Louis Vuitton valise, you monster?” Three questions about baggage handlers.

A Failed Revolution And A Failed Marriage In ‘Dark At The Crossing’


Elliot Ackerman’s new novel Dark at the Crossing is about a man who escaped one conflict zone with his life, and now wants to break into a new one.

Haris Abadi — an Iraqi who worked for U.S. special forces during the Iraq War and later became a U.S. citizen — wants to put his new life on the line to free Syria from the cruel grip of Bashar al-Assad.

But Haris is turned back at the Turkish-Syrian border, then robbed, then taken in by Syrian refugees who make him look into his own commitment. Is it to Syria — or, ultimately, his own definition of himself?

Ackerman, a former Marine who now lives in Istanbul himself, tells NPR’s Scott Simon that Haris is a man of two identities. “He is an Iraqi, born in Iraq, but a naturalized American citizen, and he’s someone who stands in conflict with himself.”

Interview Highlights

On Haris’s conflicts

He feels a draw back to that part of the world, specifically what’s going on in Syria, you know, a cause that he feels at least at face value is just, meaning fighting for democratic reforms in that country — as opposed to the experience he had in his own country, fighting alongside the Americans in a war that he felt to be unjust — so, you know, he’s a conflicted person.

On marriage and revolution

The person Haris meets, Amir, who is a Syrian refugee and a former activist in the revolution, is stranded in this border town, which is a place called Gaziantep — which is today a real crossroads for anyone engaged in the Syrian civil war. And Amir is there with his wife Daphne, and as you quickly learn, they lost a daughter in the revolution … as a mother, Daphne is sort of unable to reckon with the loss of her daughter, and is drawn back into Syria, whereas her husband won’t go. And that’s sort of, when Haris meets them, that’s the rift in their marriage.

And so there are a lot of parallels I could see in the emotional journey someone would take in a revolution. If you think about it, in so many ways in our own lives, on a more intimate level, a marriage is … a tiny revolution in and of itself. We give ourselves entirely to another person, we upend our world for whatever that nascent love is we feel. But when a marriage falls apart, there is a real reckoning with how you make a life again in the wreckage. And so I could see that type of parallel emotional journey.

On Syria now

The thing that captivated me most, and still does — you know, Faulkner has this great quote, it’s from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, saying “the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.” And often as a novelist that’s what I’m looking for, because that’s what I want to write about.

And sitting out at restaurants with friends of mine who are from Damascus or from Aleppo and talking to them, if they had been in the revolution the thing that you could see is, we would start a meal, particularly [in] 2013, 2014 with them very earnestly … saying “Elliot, you don’t understand, you know, President Obama needs to start supporting the Free Syrian Army with the troops and with weapons, and we can still win this.” … And by the end of the dinner, you know, … they would be looking down in their dessert, saying, “I regret the whole thing. I wish we’d never gone on the streets. I’ve destroyed my own home by doing this and now I’m sitting across the border relatively safe while my family is suffering.” And you could see, on the one hand … they’re very proud — and should be — for going out in their time and standing in the streets and demanding democratic reforms against an authoritarian rule. I mean how can you fault anyone for doing that? But the reciprocal has been that their homes have been destroyed. They can never go back to their country.

A friend of mine who’s a Syrian poet once made the point to me, he said, “you know, Eliot, it’s wonderful now. I’m a poet, and I’ve left my country for the first time in my life. I can write whatever I want to write.” He said the problem is, you can’t be a Syrian poet without Syria.

PHOTOS: A Drone’s View Of The World


At Goats and Soda we’re always watching the developing world.

A group of international photographers is doing the same thing — but from a drone’s perspective.

We mined the website dronestagram (think Instagram for drone pics) for the most riveting drone photos of the developing world from the past year. Here are a few of the eye-catching images we came across and the stories behind them.

An Island Home

Drone hobbyist Zorik Olangi shot this image of his home island, Malaita, part of the Solomon Islands.

Courtesy of Zorik Olangi


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Courtesy of Zorik Olangi

Drone hobbyist Zorik Olangi shot this image of his home island, Malaita, part of the Solomon Islands.

Courtesy of Zorik Olangi

Zorik Olangi grew up on Malaita, which is part of the Solomon Islands in Oceania. He’s now a post-graduate trainee in obstetrics and gynecology in nearby Papua New Guinea but returns home often — along with his drones, which he flies as a hobby to take aerial photos.

“Coming from a rural remote area, I always wondered what my island looks like from the air,” Olangi says.

He says the village pictured here, Lilisiana, is known for its expert sea navigators and fishermen — and its shell jewelry. In fact, Olangi tells us, shells from this region were used for thousands of years as currency.

The homes pictured, according to Olangi, are built from mangrove trees found in nearby forests and have roofs stitched from palm leaves. He says they could be built so close to the lagoon’s edge because the waves break far from the shore.

Over the years, Olangi has seen more homes built out of modern materials and families placing a greater emphasis on education.

His big fear for his island is climate change. “My only worry is that the sea levels are rising and these villagers will surely be affected.”

Romanian Sheep, Seen From The Sky

Professional photographer and videographer Szabolcs Ignácz captured this shot while on assignment for the World Wildlife Fund in his home country, Romania. He passed this herd of sheep along the road in the village of Marpod, in Romania’s Sibiu County, and launched his drone to take this photo (and some mesmerizing video, which can be seen at his website, DroneMob).

A flock of sheep in the Romanian village of Marpod, shot by professional photographer and videographer Szabolcs Ignácz.

Courtesy of Szabolcs Ignácz


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Courtesy of Szabolcs Ignácz

Ignácz says Marpod is in the heart of Transylvania, where traditional Saxon houses nestle in the mountains. “I might compare it to the Shire from Lord of the Rings,” he says.

Many of the 800 or so residents are farmers, Ignácz says, noting that some have found success moving into organic farming and tourism.

‘Lion’s Rock’ Towers Above A Sri Lankan Jungle

Jerome Courtail, a French travel and aerial photographer based in London, traveled to Sri Lanka with the intention of photographing the ancient palace and fortress complex of Sigiriya. Known as “Lion’s Rock,” the UNESCO World Heritage site towers above the surrounding jungle. To launch his drone from the ideal place, Courtail tells us, he hiked through dense jungle, surrounded by hostile monkeys.

To capture this image of the ancient Sigiriya palace and fortress complex in Sri Lanka, drone photographer Jerome Courtail had to position himself deep in the jungle.

Courtesy of Jerome Courtail


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Courtesy of Jerome Courtail

To capture this image of the ancient Sigiriya palace and fortress complex in Sri Lanka, drone photographer Jerome Courtail had to position himself deep in the jungle.

Courtesy of Jerome Courtail

Cambodian Children Couldn’t Believe What They Saw

This image was captured by Christopher Honglin of Mauritius while on a trip to Cambodia with his girlfriend — and his DJI Phantom 3 drone.

While on vacation in Cambodia, drone photographer Christopher Honglin captured this image of Siem Reap to show to local children.

Courtesy of Christopher Honglin


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Courtesy of Christopher Honglin

When the couple visited Tonlé Sap River region Honglin says, “Kids were in awe at the sight of the drone. We wanted to share how their village looked from the top. They couldn’t believe their eyes.”

For more drone images from around the globe, visit dronestagram.

A Failed Revolution And A Failed Marriage In ‘Dark At The Crossing’


Elliot Ackerman’s new novel Dark at the Crossing is about a man who escaped one conflict zone with his life, and now wants to break into a new one.

Haris Abadi — an Iraqi who worked for U.S. special forces during the Iraq War and later became a U.S. citizen — wants to put his new life on the line to free Syria from the cruel grip of Bashar al-Assad.

But Haris is turned back at the Turkish-Syrian border, then robbed, then taken in by Syrian refugees who make him look into his own commitment. Is it to Syria — or, ultimately, his own definition of himself?

Ackerman, a former Marine who now lives in Istanbul himself, tells NPR’s Scott Simon that Haris is a man of two identities. “He is an Iraqi, born in Iraq, but a naturalized American citizen, and he’s someone who stands in conflict with himself.”

Interview Highlights

On Haris’s conflicts

He feels a draw back to that part of the world, specifically what’s going on in Syria, you know, a cause that he feels at least at face value is just, meaning fighting for democratic reforms in that country — as opposed to the experience he had in his own country, fighting alongside the Americans in a war that he felt to be unjust — so, you know, he’s a conflicted person.

On marriage and revolution

The person Haris meets, Amir, who is a Syrian refugee and a former activist in the revolution, is stranded in this border town, which is a place called Gaziantep — which is today a real crossroads for anyone engaged in the Syrian civil war. And Amir is there with his wife Daphne, and as you quickly learn, they lost a daughter in the revolution … as a mother, Daphne is sort of unable to reckon with the loss of her daughter, and is drawn back into Syria, whereas her husband won’t go. And that’s sort of, when Haris meets them, that’s the rift in their marriage.

And so there are a lot of parallels I could see in the emotional journey someone would take in a revolution. If you think about it, in so many ways in our own lives, on a more intimate level, a marriage is … a tiny revolution in and of itself. We give ourselves entirely to another person, we upend our world for whatever that nascent love is we feel. But when a marriage falls apart, there is a real reckoning with how you make a life again in the wreckage. And so I could see that type of parallel emotional journey.

On Syria now

The thing that captivated me most, and still does — you know, Faulkner has this great quote, it’s from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, saying “the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.” And often as a novelist that’s what I’m looking for, because that’s what I want to write about.

And sitting out at restaurants with friends of mine who are from Damascus or from Aleppo and talking to them, if they had been in the revolution the thing that you could see is, we would start a meal, particularly [in] 2013, 2014 with them very earnestly … saying “Elliot, you don’t understand, you know, President Obama needs to start supporting the Free Syrian Army with the troops and with weapons, and we can still win this.” … And by the end of the dinner, you know, … they would be looking down in their dessert, saying, “I regret the whole thing. I wish we’d never gone on the streets. I’ve destroyed my own home by doing this and now I’m sitting across the border relatively safe while my family is suffering.” And you could see, on the one hand … they’re very proud — and should be — for going out in their time and standing in the streets and demanding democratic reforms against an authoritarian rule. I mean how can you fault anyone for doing that? But the reciprocal has been that their homes have been destroyed. They can never go back to their country.

A friend of mine who’s a Syrian poet once made the point to me, he said, “you know, Eliot, it’s wonderful now. I’m a poet, and I’ve left my country for the first time in my life. I can write whatever I want to write.” He said the problem is, you can’t be a Syrian poet without Syria.

PHOTOS: A Drone’s View Of The World


At Goats and Soda we’re always watching the developing world.

A group of international photographers is doing the same thing — but from a drone’s perspective.

We mined the website dronestagram (think Instagram for drone pics) for the most riveting drone photos of the developing world from the past year. Here are a few of the eye-catching images we came across and the stories behind them.

An Island Home

Drone hobbyist Zorik Olangi shot this image of his home island, Malaita, part of the Solomon Islands.

Courtesy of Zorik Olangi


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Courtesy of Zorik Olangi

Drone hobbyist Zorik Olangi shot this image of his home island, Malaita, part of the Solomon Islands.

Courtesy of Zorik Olangi

Zorik Olangi grew up on Malaita, which is part of the Solomon Islands in Oceania. He’s now a post-graduate trainee in obstetrics and gynecology in nearby Papua New Guinea but returns home often — along with his drones, which he flies as a hobby to take aerial photos.

“Coming from a rural remote area, I always wondered what my island looks like from the air,” Olangi says.

He says the village pictured here, Lilisiana, is known for its expert sea navigators and fishermen — and its shell jewelry. In fact, Olangi tells us, shells from this region were used for thousands of years as currency.

The homes pictured, according to Olangi, are built from mangrove trees found in nearby forests and have roofs stitched from palm leaves. He says they could be built so close to the lagoon’s edge because the waves break far from the shore.

Over the years, Olangi has seen more homes built out of modern materials and families placing a greater emphasis on education.

His big fear for his island is climate change. “My only worry is that the sea levels are rising and these villagers will surely be affected.”

Romanian Sheep, Seen From The Sky

Professional photographer and videographer Szabolcs Ignácz captured this shot while on assignment for the World Wildlife Fund in his home country, Romania. He passed this herd of sheep along the road in the village of Marpod, in Romania’s Sibiu County, and launched his drone to take this photo (and some mesmerizing video, which can be seen at his website, DroneMob).

A flock of sheep in the Romanian village of Marpod, shot by professional photographer and videographer Szabolcs Ignácz.

Courtesy of Szabolcs Ignácz


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Courtesy of Szabolcs Ignácz

Ignácz says Marpod is in the heart of Transylvania, where traditional Saxon houses nestle in the mountains. “I might compare it to the Shire from Lord of the Rings,” he says.

Many of the 800 or so residents are farmers, Ignácz says, noting that some have found success moving into organic farming and tourism.

‘Lion’s Rock’ Towers Above A Sri Lankan Jungle

Jerome Courtail, a French travel and aerial photographer based in London, traveled to Sri Lanka with the intention of photographing the ancient palace and fortress complex of Sigiriya. Known as “Lion’s Rock,” the UNESCO World Heritage site towers above the surrounding jungle. To launch his drone from the ideal place, Courtail tells us, he hiked through dense jungle, surrounded by hostile monkeys.

To capture this image of the ancient Sigiriya palace and fortress complex in Sri Lanka, drone photographer Jerome Courtail had to position himself deep in the jungle.

Courtesy of Jerome Courtail


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Courtesy of Jerome Courtail

To capture this image of the ancient Sigiriya palace and fortress complex in Sri Lanka, drone photographer Jerome Courtail had to position himself deep in the jungle.

Courtesy of Jerome Courtail

Cambodian Children Couldn’t Believe What They Saw

This image was captured by Christopher Honglin of Mauritius while on a trip to Cambodia with his girlfriend — and his DJI Phantom 3 drone.

While on vacation in Cambodia, drone photographer Christopher Honglin captured this image of Siem Reap to show to local children.

Courtesy of Christopher Honglin


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Courtesy of Christopher Honglin

When the couple visited Tonlé Sap River region Honglin says, “Kids were in awe at the sight of the drone. We wanted to share how their village looked from the top. They couldn’t believe their eyes.”

For more drone images from around the globe, visit dronestagram.

Trump’s Inauguration Sets Up Uncertain Future For Conservative Movement




ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The politics of Donald Trump are not easily categorized. Unlike conservative congressional Republicans, he shows little interest in reforming Social Security and Medicare. His inaugural address today sounded populist themes, but his Cabinet and inner circle are dominated by movement conservatives, billionaires and generals. So what does his ascendancy mean for the conservative movement and for the Republican Party? We’re going to put those questions to Sam Tanenhaus – journalist, historian and author of the book “The Death Of Conservatism.” Welcome to the program once again.

SAM TANENHAUS: Great to be with you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Sam, what did you hear in Donald Trump’s inaugural address today that struck you?

TANENHAUS: This is I think the resurgence of Pat Buchanan-ism (ph). Pat Buchanan has emerged as the prophet and forerunner of a real economic nationalism on the right, and Donald Trump is now its tribune. This is not movement ideology which is all about limited government, the power of free markets and also internationally – globalism. And Donald Trump very clearly said America first. That is a traditional right wing, but also very isolationist. That takes us back to the era of the 1920s, when there were immigration restrictions, and also to the isolationism before World War II. Donald Trump descends in a very powerful way from longstanding tenets of American conservatism, they’re just not the movement conservatism we associate with Reagan.

SIEGEL: Well, there are movement conservatives in the House of Representatives for sure, and many in the Senate as well. And Republicans have majorities in both houses. In the contest between movement conservatism and what you hear from Donald Trump, what does history tell us? Who wins?

TANENHAUS: It comes down to polls. I’ve just been writing about another interesting conflict within the party between Dwight Eisenhower and Joseph McCarthy. And McCarthy was the tribune of the hard movement right, and Eisenhower was a more centrist figure. McCarthy was winning that battle until his poll numbers plunged. Donald Trump enters office with historically low approval ratings, that’s where the battle could get fought. If the country turns against him, his Republican adversaries could feel emboldened.

SIEGEL: So you think, in effect, he’s the underdog in this battle with, say, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan?

TANENHAUS: In many ways he is. In his great book the “Master Of The Senate” about Lyndon Johnson’s years as Senate majority leader, Robert Caro reminded us what the Constitution says – Congress shall make the laws. Paul Ryan and his allies, who include Mike Pence, are congressional conservative Republicans, they have a very clear conservative agenda. The question will be who has to bend more to accommodate the other – Mr. Trump accommodate their ideology, or will they have to accommodate his? And if he can rally audiences behind him, we could see a very interesting intra-party war of a kind we haven’t seen in a really long time.

SIEGEL: Last year when Donald Trump was doing very well, getting – winning the Republican nomination often with populist arguments, you wrote that he might be the man to save the Republican Party. Does the Republican Party see itself in need of saving?

TANENHAUS: That’s a great question – they don’t. The Republican – conservative Republican answer has always been when we lose it’s because we’re not ideological enough. If they lose midterm elections, that’s why. If Obama defeats McCain and then Mitt Romney, it’s because those two Republican candidates were not ideological enough.

Donald Trump actually broke that stranglehold of ideology not only by obliterating 16 other candidates, but defeating in particular their most articulate and attractive movement conservatives. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, maestros of Republican ideological talking points, Donald Trump took them apart in their own backyards. What that means is his brand of Republican politics, which isn’t ideologically conservative, might actually have a bigger broader constituency, and the party now seems to be aware of that, maybe even frightened of it.

SIEGEL: Does the rise of Donald Trump confirm the end or the beginning of the end for the conservative movement?

TANENHAUS: It signals the transformation of the American conservative movement into a subset of nationalism on the American right. Those strands have always been there. Donald Trump is drawing on those strands, and he might be able to reshape the Republican Party in that way. Paul Ryan is already now talking about a responsible nationalism, that’s his effort to sound more like Mr. Trump.

SIEGEL: Sam Tanenhaus, thanks for talking with us once again.

TANENHAUS: Always a pleasure.

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