The royal family’s role in British diplomacy

On this week’s episode of “Conversations with Nicholas Kralev,” Britain’s ambassador to the United States, Sir Peter Westmacott, talks about the mission of British diplomacy, London’s heavy reliance on career diplomats, rather than political appointees, and the diplomatic role of the royal family.

EU diplo corps gets messy before launch

If anyone had any doubts that putting together the European Union’s new diplomatic service would be an utterly messy task, that is now an undisputed fact. A high-profile ambassadorial list released this week provoked publicly aired quarrels rather uncharacteristic of diplomats, and it raised questions about the future effectiveness of the EU corps.

The long-anticipated list, unveiled by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Brussels, was apparently based not on merit, but on what Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski called “esoteric considerations.” What are those? A quick look at the list shows that the most important ambassadorships are going to diplomats from the oldest EU members in the West — China was given to the Germans, Japan to the Austrians and South Africa to the Dutch.

U.S. flights likely to Tokyo Haneda

Here is some good news for those of you seeking an alternative to Tokyo’s vast and faraway Narita International Airport: The Japanese government will likely soon allow nonstop flights between the United States and the city’s much smaller and nearby Haneda Airport.

There is, of course, some not-so-good news. Unless U.S. negotiators manage to pull a rabbit out of a hat, those flights will arrive and depart only between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. — which means that takeoffs and landings at U.S. airports may have to occur in the middle of the night, too. Access to Haneda is one of the issues being discussed between the United States and Japan as part of ongoing negotiations of an Open Skies Agreement…

NATO hotels greet America’s military

Access to a wide network of special military hotels around the country is a well-known benefit for members of the U.S. armed forces and their families, but apparently few of them know that they can stay at hundreds of similar hotels throughout Europe at bargain prices.

It’s natural that most service members spend their vacation in the United States — it’s easier, cheaper, and soldiers just back from an overseas tour are not that keen on heading abroad again. There are many decent domestic military hotels offering very attractive rates, often half of what you can find on the regular market. Then there are a few properties that seem to be known by just about everyone. Among them is the Hale Koa Hotel on Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach…

Seeing John Malkovich

John Malkovich fails all attempts to describe him, even though he is not necessarily an enigma. The moment you utter a word supposed to illustrate a certain part of his character, you realise that another one, with quite a different meaning, would suit him much better. The most common adjective people use to express their opinions of him — both complimentary and dismissive — is “weird”, but, with a little imagination, most of what he says and does makes sense.

In fact, imagination and creativity are key to understanding an actor who has starred in nearly 40 films over only 18 years, including “Empire of the Sun”, “The Glass Menagerie”, “Of Mice and Men” and “Being John Malkovich”, and just directed his first, “The Dancer Upstairs”, yet still claims to have “no knowledge of what a real movie is”…

Must be talking to an Anjel

Anjelica Huston has already come to terms with the fact that her first half-century will soon be behind her, but the prospect of joining the ranks of Hollywood’s much-pitied unemployed middle-aged actresses has yet to make her list of immediate concerns. With three films scheduled for release this year, another one having just started production and a script she’s writing to direct, Huston is now busier than she was in her early thirties.

She claims that one can “always find jobs” in show business, or “create jobs if one can’t find them”, although she says that her turning to writing and directing “certainly wasn’t as a result of not getting any work”.

“Most young actors aren’t being offered parts, either, so what’s the point of harping on a negative when you can create something?” she demands. “Go to a class, learn to dance, do something with your life but don’t sit complaining about what you haven’t got. I don’t have $100m — it’s too bad. But I can go and figure something that will get me my next $10m”…

Natural-born misfit

Milos Forman has never rebelled against his films being labelled “quintessentially American” — he is just not a revolutionary type, he says — but the Czech-born director passionately dismisses such categorisation every time he is asked about it.

“For me, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ is a Czech film, because when you are young in a communist country, all you dream about is breaking free,” he says of his 1975 film set in a psychiatric hospital, which earned him his first Oscar and established him as one of the world’s most prominent film-makers.

“Hair” (1979), another Forman movie now considered a classic, “was about young people rising up against the status quo — something we all dreamt about under communism but didn’t dare to do,” says the 70-year-old director…

Wherever I lay my hat

Robert Altman spent three decades after his first hit film, the 1970 war satire “M*A*S*H”, telling the US what was wrong with it. Whether it was the unlikely mixture of country music and politics in “Nashville”, the scathing view of Hollywood in “The Player” or the suburban epic “Short Cuts”, American audiences reluctantly recognised the merits of Altman’s films but rarely gave him wholehearted approval at the box office.

Europeans loved the maverick director’s take on just about all things American, partly because his shrewd observations reflected their own perceptions of the superpower’s arrogance and greed. In fact, Altman’s name today stands next to Bergman’s, Fellini’s and Truffaut’s much more naturally than beside Coppola’s, Scorsese’s or Spielberg’s…

Albright’s final bow

Madeleine Albright is almost shouting. She can’t hear me any more, she says. The noise on her aircraft has, indeed, become more deafening; but she also seems to be deliberately avoiding my question, and with good reason. This very moment is probably her happiest as secretary of state because of “the most important thing that has happened” during her nearly four-year tenure.

She has just received news about the Belgrade revolution and the ousting of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, and here I am, asking how she feels about having to leave office in three months. We’ve just spent a 30-hour day, having saved six hours by flying east-west from Egypt to Washington, and she says that’s exactly what she intends to continue doing for the rest of her term — “working every minute and extending the days”…