26 January, 2011

Origin Story

"The reason lies in your education, Max," he said diffidently. "The difficulties facing us now were beginning to show themselves over a generation ago. The government of the time decided to bring up a small number of children according to a new system of education. The idea was to develop people capable of comprehending in detail the massiveness of modern civilization, by means of forced learning in every subject. The experiment failed. All your schoolfellows lost their sanity. You survived, but did not turn into the product we had hoped for. To prevent any later derangement of your mind, a large part of the information which had been pressured into it was removed by hypnotic means. The result is yourself as you are, a super-dilettante, with an intense curiosity and a gift for management. We gave you the post you now hold and forgot about you. Now you are ideal for our purpose."

from Michael Moorcock's short story, Flux

23 November, 2010

The Old Believer

"The Koran admittedly occupies an important position among the great religious books of the world. Though the youngest of the epoch-making works belonging to this class of literature, it yields to hardly any in the wonderful effect it has produced on large masses of men. It has created an all but new phase of human thought and a fresh type of character. It first transformed a number of heterogeneous desert tribes of the Arabian peninsula into a nation of heroes, and then proceeded to create the vast politico-religious organisations of the Muhammedan world which are one of the great forces with which Europe and the East have to reckon to-day."

G. Margoliouth, 1909, opening the preface to the
Wordsworth edition of the Koran, as translated by
the Reverend J.M. Rodwell
(wikipedia says he was a pal of Darwin's!).
My copy dating from roughly ~1929.

03 October, 2010

This is the way the world ends

Richard Curtis' “mini-movie” No Pressure is a bloody disgrace. It takes a seriously wrongheaded approach to play so directly into climate change scepticism's paranoia. This was the joke:

In case you missed it, the joke is that moody people, uniformed children, dress-coded adults and relaxed celebrities alike, are the natural enemies of the passive-aggressive do-gooder, and will simply be put to death. Not because they disagree with the climate change science, or they don't think it's going to happen or affect them. Not for human reasons. Because they're moody and the 10:10 campaign doesn't understand why they're not complying. The same joke is repeated four times in four minutes, and as far as I can tell, no supplemental jokes are present to re-enforce the notion that it's meant to be funny. Humour is subjective, sure, but 10:10's defence of this “mini-movie” runs:

“Many people found the resulting film extremely funny, but unfortunately some didn't and we sincerely apologise...”

Really? Some people found that “extremely funny?” That is some super-subtle irony they're into. I'm going to go ahead and assume that these people were the same people that were involved in planning, writing and filming the ad. That it was a huge in-joke. Sort of like Richard Curtis' career should have been from the off. On twitter it was quickly pointed out to me that Curtis thinks that weather is affected by kissing. His input to the AGW debate should clearly have been a blast. Instead we get one joke, repeated four times, in four minutes. And it involves killing kids. Defending this thing on the basis of comedy is really not an option.

The conspiracy theorist in me loves the idea that this advert was never meant to air in cinemas. It was meant to offend, be pulled, kick up a media storm and put the 10:10 campaign in the news. In short, looking like a misjudgement is a great way to 'go viral.' The internet can be really bad at differentiating between circumventing censorship, and succumbing to a Trojan Streisand effect.

Still, we have a climate in which scowling people fare little better than gingers in the MIA-verse. Even David Ginola and Scully have to wipe the disdain off their faces. You would actually struggle to get much further from what we needed in the climate change discussion: a drastically illiberal angle that emphasises individual efforts when we desperately need a more structured action that gets at our largest corporate and governmental offenders, and that challenges the heaviest sources of carbon emission that fall outside any individual citizen's personal responsibility.

10 June, 2010

We're The Lucky Ones

You have to make your predictions about the World Cup before the World Cup, clearly. As I worked my way through the draw I began laughing increasingly hysterically, as I realised how hypothetical it had all become. Here are my uneducated musings and hunches, for want of a better place to put them:

How much of a boost will African teams receive from this home World Cup? The climate will not be a particularly 'African' one, apparently. Three African teams have been seriously hurt by injuries to Chelsea players: Mikel, Essien and Drogba (who is still with the Ivory Coast squad but was meant to be seriously injured only recently - not good). Their absence would gut better sides. On quality alone, I think each of the African teams will struggle to progress from their groups - I hope I'm wrong, because without some home success this World Cup will suck. I think Cameroon may progress (Japan seem decent but fragile, Denmark solid but blunt, Holland with a question mark over the main man, Robben). South Africa are in a really tough group, while Ivory Coast need to beat either Brazil or Portugal. Algeria and Ghana are middling in middling groups, I feel.

I think Nigeria may make it past the group stage. They have some unpredictable quality up front and a good chance of beating South Korea and Greece. I'd also give them a chance of upsetting someone in the knockout round, France or South Korea, and England in the quarterfinals. But I'd be very worried about their midfield without Mikel.

European-based players are looking extremely banged up, including some players that are really depended upon to carry their team's attack: Messi in particular bothers me. Is Maradona really a good enough coach to win without him at his best? I rather doubt this. Then there's Robben, Nani and Drogba. I worry that European football's punishing and thoughtless scheduling may really give us the appalling World Cup we all deserve this summer.

The USA are meant to be really in the hat in this World Cup. But they might stuggle up front. Jozy Altidore is still somewhat green and a lot will rest on Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey (who I like a lot) and Michael Bradley. They'll give England a good game but might get shocked by a sneakily good Slovenia side and possibly Algeria.

England, in my brief runthrough, were in the same half of the knockout draw as Brazil. No chance, surely! But they should be aiming to win Group C, although it contains decent teams. I'm very worried about a possible second round game against Serbia. But England are still one of the talented teams in world football and in Wayne Rooney they have a global superstar at his peak. This isn't a great side, far from it. But good enough to support in hope of a miracle, certainly.

Spain have a really soft group, and they're currently playing the best football on the planet, but their second round game will be a tough one against Brazil or Portugal (or Ivory Coast. Maybe). France, Germany and Italy are in a similar place to England; good sides who may spark and win the whole thing or may whiff out embarassingly.

The three teams I find legitimately terrifying: Spain, Brazil, Argentina (in that order).
Three teams that could cause a shock: Nigeria, Slovenia, Serbia.

My Final prediction: Brazil 1 - 3 Spain

24 April, 2010

Bad Aftertaste

Should really be in bed but I forgot how much this subject drags you in. I thought I'd see what I could find on our local fascist PPC. Starts reasonably enough, of course, with standard 'reasonable' man-on-the-street stuff. Some eccentric spelling and grammar, a bit of uneven capitalisation. Lots of Union Jacks, military symbols and paraphenalia. My worldview is reassured by the fact that he is a Chelsea fan (!). His favourite historical figure? Winston, of course.

Sure enough though, under the surface lurks this illuminating passage:
"...Muslim women parading in Black Post Boxes(Burkha's) & Men in Dresses, Which can be seen on the Wilton Road in Salisbury now @ 2pm daily. The No Go area's which even the Police do not venture into in Oldham, & the Continuing Gang Raping of Young Indigenous Girls by Asian gangs. Your TV & Sun Newspaper will not tell you the truth because they are state controlled..."
In any case, what really drove me to post once more on this rubbish subject was what I found on his blogger profile. If this whole exercise wasn't about a particularly nasty kind of worldview reassurance on my part, I don't know what is. Still, I'm not sure he quite absorbed the message one of his favourite films was trying to get across:

Yuck, "patriotic" music. Ultimately, when I try to explain to my Irish housemate why I'm terrified of listening to any music that mentions British history, folk traditions of any of the home nations, is fronted with Celtic crosses or references Norse origins, why I run a mile from a band if anyone so much as breathes "Oi!", or why every time I find a cool metal or hardcore band I spend ten minutes online ensuring they're kosher and not c***s, it's because of these guys.

Nothing easy about being right

You might be surprised to hear that I consider the BNP a fairly trivial part of the larger general election hype, but here goes again with another brief-ish note.

Churches Together in Salisbury hosts a debate in the city every general election. This Sunday at 2.30pm it's occuring at St Francis' church hall, and the local fascist candidate has been invited. The Lib Dems, Conservatives, UKIP and Greens will all be represented as well as independent candidate Arthur Pendragon.

Tom Gann, the labour candidate, will be boycotting the debate. I think this is absolutely the correct decision, as well as being principled and brave. I'm pleased that a major party candidate (and a fellow BWS alum!) has had the guts to do this, although I fear that it will be misconstrued - a tweet at TomGannLabour reads.
"A lot of publicity for the no platform position. Unfortunately, almost everyone thinks it's an act of cowardice or an affront to democracy"
Here, also, what he has to say in a statement on the Salisbury labour website:
"I will not be attending Sunday’s Churches Together debate because I believe it would be morally wrong for me to debate with the BNP’s candidate. This is a position I have long held and made clear to Churches Together before invitations were sent out.

The basis of democracy is that all citizens are equal and therefore equally entitled to participate in the democratic process. In a hustings debate this means that all potential voters are addressed equally by all parties regardless of race. This is the basis of a rational debate. So, although I disagree with John, Frances, Arthur, Nick and Nick about what policies are best for all the people of Salisbury and Britain as a whole, because they believe that their policies should be addressed to everyone as citizens, it is possible to have a rational debate with them. The BNP cannot do this because they do not view every British citizen as equal. There will be people in the room on Sunday who the BNP do not believe have a right to be there.”
Clearly, I hope the people of Salisbury will actually read his rationale. Unfortunately, in such a strongly Tory seat this will probably get spun. Mr Gann will also lead an anti-BNP protest outside the event explaining in person his view. He'll be alongside activists from Hope Not Hate, and also members of Churches Together - this was not a unanimous decision! Please, if you live in/near Salisbury and support Tom's views, attend!

It is right to deny the BNP legitimacy because they would happily exclude valid citizens from such debates and public life using racial dividing lines. It is unreasonable to enter into debate with those people. This has nothing to do with freedom of speech - which is a right to expression, not publicity.

I'm upset at even one vote going to the BNP in my hometown. How awful to think that the Very Rev June Osbourne will be inviting these monstrous mouthbreathers to comment on our schools and hospitals while a key participant stands outside. How naive to think there are no repercussions at the ballot box when you give publicity to fascists, however inept they may seem.

Quoting the event's organiser, Rev Scrace, it absolutely "would be a better meeting with him in it." But then, that's not Mr Gann's fault.

22 April, 2010

Now you're evil, now you're ordinary

Just for the sheer I-told-you-so value of it all, just for a further condemnation of BBC balance, just for the sheer awfulness of it, this is what it means to put the BNP on TV and radio. It means that during election season they start appearing in round-panel discussions, like the one this morning on BBC radio 5live. Admittedly, it was pretty clear this morning that the people of Luton abhor the BNP. But it also meant that Victoria Derbyshire, chairing the debate, had to make the following proclamation.

The reason that the BNP are here is because they are a legitimate political party. 6... [angry crowd] I'm sorry... This is a democracy... They are a legitimate political party. They are a legitimate political party and 6 percent of voters who turned out at the European elections voted for them. You may not like their policies, it is your right to say so.

Followed by the BNP's spokesperson for repatriation or concentration camps or whatever getting the last word on denying his party's racism, and having a jab on the Iraq war. All for the sake of balance.

03 April, 2010

Swingin 'Til The Girls Come Home

I watched my first director's commentary. I don't know why it took me so long when I've always been curious. Something about uncertainty and the idea of 'dead time.' Something about re-watching a film, but not watching it fully, watching it only for possible added insight.

There was really only ever one candidate for this honour, if I'm honest:

This coming just after my chronological Spike marathon, so I was completely ready to get into the mind of Spike Lee. She Hate Me was a film I just totally didn't get in 2004/5, I wasn't convinced I hadn't dreamt it. It was the first film of his I saw, too. Now maybe it does make sense. Slightly. There are so many threads to this film, if only because it's so unraveled. I think I enjoy this film, I'm definitely fascinated by it.

Anyway, an interesting bit. She Hate Me is a real glorious mess, and I don't really like that this seized my attention. But equally, it's the (perceived?) confused and controversial sexual politics portrayed in the film that most of its fierce criticism is rooted in. So. Here, Lee starts off talking about the technical consultant who helped him run a 'lesbian boot-camp' for the female cast:

"...Now, by law I cannot ask anybody their sexual preference so therefore I had to assume that all the women that were auditioning for the film were heterosexual, so therefore I needed someone to inform these actresses and so, Tristan running the boot camp really immersed these actresses into the world of lesbianism, and had field trips and stuff like that so I was not even part of that. And one of the most important things that Tristan told me, early on was she says 'Spike, there's no way that you're going to be able to make a film that's going to appease all the lesbians in the world' and so that was a very, for me, a liberating thing for her to say, because right away I understood that [that] meant that lesbians, like african-americans or any other group, are not one monolithic group, so I was not going to be able to make a film that all lesbians were going to like, and I'm glad she said that.

Before the film came out we had various screenings, advance screenings for lesbians in different areas and different centres around the USA, and it was really split down the line, 50-50. There were lesbians that loved the film, there were lesbians that hated it. But it was interesting that the lesbians of colour liked the film more than the caucasian lesbians. Tristan and I were trying to figure out why this was. I just think that, for a lot of the caucasian lesbians, they couldn't get around the element of penis. I guess that was a stumbling block... There's that school of people that think that any lesbian that's caught within 1000 feet of an erect penis is not a lesbian. And there's this other school that says "Look, y'know, you can't be as hard-line as that." So really it was divided along the penis. The penis was the dividing stick. Amongst the lesbians, that's where it was divided upon. On the almighty penis!"

03 January, 2010


As briefly as I can... a fair old time ago Sarah posted a nice quote (near the end) about films experienced in a different age, when films would move from town to town. The watchers would be aware that a film would be unlikely to return to their town and would watch it multiple times in a number of days, trying to commit them fully to memory. They would come away with their own 'versions' of the film. The presentation of film was different, so they thought about it totally differently.

I remember reading Steve Albini say once on an internet forum, while he was outspokenly criticising Burial in particular and electronic music in general, that he no longer had to listen to old punk records, that he had fully absorbed them, taken from them everything he could. It seemed this was emphatically distinct from not enjoying them. I think maybe he meant there would be nothing to gain, and even that enjoying the songs again, that doesn't count, the point is that they are already part of him and he can go forward with them, but without listening again. I searched for the quote but couldn't find it, I would really like to read that exchange again. Maybe this too is a way of sucking art dry to carry it with you. This is not what I meant to write about.

02 January, 2010

Girls In The Field

How's listening to Radio 4 going, dude? Well, pretty much the same as my relationship with any radio station actually – intrigue seeped in impotent fury. The same incomprehending rage that Danny Boyle diagnosed as the plague of the 21st Century.

This morning the Today programme was guest edited by one-time SDP rebel and now Lib Dem life peer Shirley Williams. One issue she chose to bring attention to was the relative lack of coverage of women's team sports, when compared both to men's sports in general and women's achievement in individual sports. To this end, an interview with Lynne Truss was aired.

This is a question that has always interested me, as a devoted sports fan. Once upon a time, I didn't understand why women don't play much sport and compete against men (I was told, and fully believed, men and women were equal). I wondered whether sport could provide a route for re-sculpting gender roles. I was outraged as anyone when FIFA's pig-in-chief Sepp Blatter suggested women's football should capitalise on its good-looking practitioners (“Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball.”)

Latterly, however, I just wonder whether sport is my blind spot, a vice as unforgivable as that of the life-long labour-voting professional with a fondness for first nights. The widely-gawped-at case of Caster Semenya over the summer went some way to cementing my feelings that I can never satisfactorily sync my fanatical love for sport with any leftward-leaning values I try to uphold. Anyway, I'm interested. I have produced some disorganised rambling. You can listen to the interview again here. If you prefer to read, and for long-term reference, I have hastily transcribed most of what was said. All emphasis and grammatical errors are mine: