29 June, 2008

Jews: The Next Generation

The holocaust is a subject so horrific, and so incomprehensibly awful, that much as we do our best to remember, really we consign it to a locked room in the back our minds and bring it up only as the example of evil-doing. This is true for myself and, I am sure, others with no link at all to that terrible period in the history of the Jewish people.

So how do the repercussions of that time impact the lives of people who weren't there, but were affected? This is the subject of Vanessa Engle's excellent documentary, the second of three that BBC4 have entitled, simply, Jews.

Engle explores the feelings of the children of holocaust survivors, and finds that the wounds inflicted more than 60 years ago cut extremely deep. Those who fled and became parents in the UK reacted in different ways - commonly though, changing their identities, overprotecting their families, and trying (always failing) to forget.

One subject learnt only recently of her Jewish background (yet others did not realise while their parents were still alive). She claims that those terrible times, and her parents' efforts, shape her 'entire psychological hinterland.' Another explains that she shares her name with another child her mother had, who did not survive Auschwitz. She seems to embrace this mark of her family, but it surely cannot be a fully comfortable fact.

There is something more complex here than 'dealing with' the holocaust. Relationships between parents and children, usually complex anyway, are twisted and further complicated by incredibly sore emotional scars. In some cases the surviving parents themselves are present, but rarely are they able to engage with their children's questions or feelings.

There is a sense in which as these middle-aged offspring come to realise how great the shockwaves through their lives have been, they also realise that with time the answers and causes are continuously retreating. One lady gives up her life in the UK to learn just what happened to her mother's family in Vienna, just what tore at her mother for so many years. Coming at the end of the film, this segment is especially poignant.

Interesting to me is the effect that fleeing the Nazis had on the faith of the survivors and their offspring. Out of fear, few maintained their Jewish faith, or even their mother tongues, and it seems all integrated as fully as possible. This may have interesting implications for how we relate to beliefs and culture. Their children, however, approached what was frequently a newly-discovered heritage in a surprising variety of ways.

Part two of this excellent series is a huge change of pace. The gently comedic Samuel has been replaced with a horrifying, looming, past. Inconsistent it may be, but Jews continues to make involving and thought-provoking viewing.

My review of part one is here, and this episode is available on BBC's iPlayer for a few days yet...

28 June, 2008

Tasty Genetics

The Chocolate Genome Project? That's science I can get behind.

Tasty tasty science

It makes a lot of sense. Two thoughts: 1) 5 years? To both sequence and 'analyse' a genome? They'll be lucky to get terribly valuable information that quickly, I should expect. 2) It may be completely through self-interest, but important groundwork being laid by a corporation isn't to be sniffed at. Valuable information could surely result.

24 June, 2008

Kith and Kin

I got back from a gig to flop in front of the rather wonderful documentary The Prisoner, part of the BBC Four series, Jews. Samuel Leibowitz has just finished a spell in prison for drug smuggling. On his release he has returned to his childhood community of ultra-orthodox hasidic jews in north London.

(Unfortunately a small failing of the film is it didn't really explain to me what a hasidic Jew is. There's always the danger we might conclude that all Jews live in this way, but I'm relatively sure they do not.)

The extraordinarily devoted and restricted lives of the ~20,000 members of this community are completely at odds with the lifestyle of most modern britons, most especially those Samuel has been meeting in a prison environment. Even the term 'kosher', which we will have at least heard of, proves very difficult to really explain. Over the course of the hour, Vanessa Engle explores these rules and conflictions, and attempts to find the nature of Samuel's rebellion.

It's a fascinating insight into an extremely insular community. The temptation is clearly there for Engle to reach conclusions about this society, especially about the role of women and the effect on adolescents, but her restraint is crucial; after all we can easily decide for ourselves.

The main question we must ask is whether Samuel reacts like very many people would, or is he simply as strange an individual as he seems, somehow dysfunctional? Are the extremities of his rebellion therefore the result of the overbearing culture in which he was brought up?

As enjoyable as the current trend of "religious freak" documentaries are, it's refreshing to see this film, although clearly not quite embracing the hasidic jewish lifestyle, at least engaging with a totally alien culture and teasing out a fair

Episode 1 of 'Jews' is available to stream on the BBC iPlayer service for at least 6 more days HERE. 2 more episodes will be aired in the next week.

21 June, 2008

False Advertising

A google search for Marion (I was looking for 'The Matrix' Shawn, not a teensy Iowa town) brings up this page with its rather amusing tagline.

Where should one place stress on "You can go home again," exactly?

Is this a hack-job in a literal or rhetorical sense? That can't surely be deliberate.

P.S. Even if you've never heard of Shawn Marion, the story about his Chinese-language tattoo is worth a repost.

19 June, 2008

Farewell and Goodnight

For some time I'll fondly recall an explosive Rajon Rondo performance (precisely when it mattered!), remember being oh-so-proud of Jesus Shuttleworth (a ring at last!), and wonder whether these brief fireworks were worth the mortgaged future the Celtics landed themselves with (obviously!).

And for almost as long, I'll miss this ad.


05 June, 2008

When We Were Younger & Better

Having just finished and mostly enjoyed Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, which I'd agree is a masterpiece but certainly a rather dense one, I embarked this morning upon The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins.

This is Dawkins c. 1986, a book as old as I am, and it's difficult to forget that he has yet to become a cause célèbre or go on the offensive. It predates The God Delusion by twenty years. That it was a different world is made evident by this sentence, on the first page of the preface:

"The computer on which I write these words has an information storage capacity of about 64 kilobytes"

I'm still only a couple of chapters in, but my first impression is that this version of Dawkins is much more constructive. I'm coming to think that he is foremost an evolutionist, and would not be at all interested in his present christian-baiting had they not 'started it.'

Here he is positive and wastes no time in celebrating the natural world. He goes so far as almost to praise William Paley, theologian and originator of the "watchmaker analogy," concluding that Paley has reached the wrong conclusion but understandably so, and in praising the diversity and apparent design of nature they are almost united!

It would be interesting to see how he felt about Paley now.

His extraordinary ability to introduce and explain scientific principles with the written word is astounding to me, and something nearly any science writer could learn a lot from. Even though I am well acquainted with the subject, I'm very much looking forward to my reading time in the coming week.

03 June, 2008

End of the Line

Torrent fiends: get paranoid.

I find this a little off the mark:
"Concerns are myriad at this point, ranging from how authorities can prove their cases using the easily manipulated user data seized during the initial OiNK raid, to why the police are involved at all in what some have suggested is merely a matter that calls for civil action, to, of course, whether the arrests will continue-- and, if so, who will be next."
I can see why you'd be concerned, but c'mon, you use these sites and these systems for sharing music you have no real right to (I'll repeat that - music may be as free as the air and the birds in the trees, but musicians put the effort in and deserve to make a little back) and you always know if it catches up with you you have no real excuse.

Funnier is the concept of DNA samples and fingerprints being taken, I grant you. Although it's pretty egalitarian that some cardigan-clad pop nerd goes in the database alongside the serial rapist.

All I'll say, as someone who downloads a lot of music but equally buys a lot of CDs and goes to a lot of gigs, is it's impossible to get to grips with certain areas of music without delving into torrents and music blogs. Once you get into real experimental/avant territory you'll struggle to find new stuff you like on MTV2.
I know a lot of people who download albums online and some are good for music, others not so good. But that's describing people in general. On the whole it's an essential part of the progression of music as we know it.

Just don't complain when you get nicked.

01 June, 2008

Things I Learnt From Zizek In May

I watched The Pervert's Guide To Cinema yesterday, in which Slavoj Zizek applies psychoanalytical ideas to films as diverse as Alien: Resurrection, Vertigo, Persona, The Wizard of Oz and The Matrix. It's about 2 hours of concepts I really don't understand. Here is what I learnt:

*You can tell if someone is a father figure as they will "wear the phallus" as their insignia.

*Flowers should be forbidden for children as they are basically vaginas.

*The use of voice to suggest altered identity is particularly effective as it is "not an organic part of the body."

*If a scene or narrative device is effective, it's probably because you want to hump someone, and also probably you shouldn't.

*One's virtual, fantasised self may be more "real" than that which inhabits the physical world, as it is not impeded by outside influences. Hence our fantasies may be a better guide to who we really are.

It was a lot of fun to watch, albeit hard work at times. I'd seriously recommend it as a novel (to me) angle of film criticism. The entire thing is on Youtube, and not hard to find, but I'll be buying the DVD I'm pretty sure.

Staying Alive

Hicham was due to be deported today, but there's been good news. The original removal directions have been cancelled. It's good news, but he's not out of the woods yet!

Please, if you're interested, keep an eye on freehichamyezza.wordpress.com/. There are facebook groups, one for the nottingham network, one global, from which information is being disseminated!