Nov 22, 2005

Two reasons to love the internet.

Having been savagely castigated for semantic navel gazing over at the kitchen, a charge I will rebut when this ridiculously heavy week is looking a little thinner, I'll keep this one short and simple.

First go here, (thanks to bookdrunk):

Fifteen per cent of folks will rightly consider a vagina open to all comers if a woman has put it about a bit. Where is the tipping point between "allowed to say no" and "vagina = public property"? Is it five partners? Ten?


Then off to here, (courtesy of you know who):

This is obviously a lose-lose situation. You’re going to get burned and you’re going to get the shit beaten out of you . . . but there must be a good way to handle a simultaneous fire and lead-pipe attack in prison.


Indeed there must...

Nov 19, 2005

Guess Who?

A brief game of Guess Who?
[Tony Blair and his colleagues] take decisions based on market research or focus groups or the papers produced by political advisers or civil servants, none of whom will have ever experienced what it is they are taking decisions about.
Him maybe, or him? Maybe even them?

I'll go on, shall I?
After my speech the president detached himself from the group of appalling old waxworks who accompanied him and took his place at the lectern. He then gave a kind of 'propaganda' speech which was loudly cheered by the bussed-in party faithful at the suitable moment in the text.
Any ideas?

Ok. Time's up.

A Gold Star (or maybe an MBE) for anyone who guessed him. (via. here)

Anyone want to join me in the campaign for royal-blog.com?

We'll make something useful out of this archaic chattel of a family yet.

Not exactly BT

Welcome to the Global Village.


*a phone rings*

"Hello, you're through to orange, how may I help you?"
"Oh I was wondering if I could attach a... hang on..."
"Yes?"
"Gary?"
"Mum?"
"What you doing son?"
"I'm working mum."
"For orange?"
"Yes mum."
"Oh... So will you be back for tea?"
"No."
"Why not son?"
"Mum, I'm on my gap year."
"But..."
"I'm in India mum."
"But... you're on the telephone."
"I know mum"
"India?"
"Yes mum."

*Pause*

"Can I top you up?"

As Bob Hoskins once annoyingly said, it's good to talk.

Nov 16, 2005

cinema needs you


I live quite literally round the corner from one of the most beautiful cinema's in the country, The Cameo Cinema in Edinburgh.

Now some emotionally and historically retarded property developer wants to tear to pieces this magnificent and nigh on one hundred year old main auditorium and turn it into another fucking awful bar, stripping this beautiful room of its history and its purpose and reducing it to warehouse for cheap booze and cheaper conversation.

This cinema is one of the last bastions of the glorious heart of film. Stepping inside fills you with the magnificent spirit of awe and excitement that flooded every aspect of the art. In this room you are closer than you can be anywhere else to Chaplin and Bogart and Hepburn and every wide eyed cinema lover who has gripped the arm rests with anticipation from 1914 right up to this present day. This room is cinema. And they want to destroy it. This cannot happen.

If you're from Edinburgh go to the save the cameo website and do everything you can from there.

If you're from elsewhere take bookdrunk's advice and do the following:

The other route - particularly if you live outside the city centre of Edinburgh - is to contact Historic Scotland and to urge them to consider protected status for the premises, which would prevent major alterations - such as an enormous bar where there used to be a cinema screen. Email hs.listingandconsents@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

We cannot allow this shameless cultural vandalism to take place in a building of such importance to the history to the history both of Edinburgh and of the greatest art form of the twentieth century. This cinema is a breathtaking monument to century of film that can still miraculously be enjoyed in the way it was orginally intended. For now at least...

terrorists.

Terrorists do not exist.

There can be no such thing.

Since Malatesta terror has been a strategy used in the intimidation of governments and people.

It is our aspiration and our aim that everyone should become socially conscious and effective; but to achieve this end, it is necessary to provide all with the means of life and for development, and it is therefore necessary to destroy with violence, since one cannot do otherwise, the violence which denies these means to the workers.

Terror is used as means to an end. Device by which to show both your power and the weakness of governments. A device to raise awareness of your plight and to flock people to your banner. A means by which to show corruption and repression. A catalyst for widespread social disruption or a means to specific tactical end.

In the last two hundred years, across the world for an almost infinite number of political aims, terror has been used as an insurrectional strategy.

It is a path, a tool, a device, a method. It is not an end in itself.

There is no shared set of terrorist beliefs. There is no shared terrorist mentality. The anonymity of the practioner of terror is one of his/her strongest weapons.

To use the moniker 'Terrorist' is, I believe, to fall into a syntactical trap. A linguistic land mine set by hegemonic authority.

'Terrorist' is a term scarred with two centuries of association with 'evil'. From Robespierre, through the archetypal bomb-wielding wild-eyed anarchist and on into the era of international terrorism and the blinkered beardy fundamentalist, 'terrorist' conjures up a warehouse full of dangerous associations with anarchy, madness and brutality that can be wielded by authority like the medieval branding iron.

Terrorist is too big a word now. It subsumes meaning, swallows it whole and leaves only images and threats behind. Thus in using the word we become suckered into exactly the kind of non-thinking that authorities desire. In the popular imagination, terrorists become characters in themselves and their terror becomes its own end. We become blinkered to the root causes of such violence.

In branding as terrorist no further explanation is required as to their actions. They are terrorists therefore they carry out terrorism.

Terrorism always has an end. When a group is not readily given the label terrorists there intentions are readily known; Malcom X or the ANC or Striking miners who dropped fridges off flyovers all used terrorism to achieve ends far more well known than the acts they committed.

To call Hamas or Al Quieda or Sendero Luminoso freedom or resistance fighters is not to support them. This is blinkered ignorance. Freedom is not objective fact. It is a subjective state of being. And these people are fighting for what they see as freedom. That does not mean that one has to support them in this, especially when their conception of freedom runs contradictory to universal human rights and personal well-being. But at least it means there is some level of discourse surrounding the causes of such action.

If we assume they are terrorists, therefore they shall cause terror regardless, the position is self-deafeating and inevitably the only possible course of action is direct and violent opposition (we must have 90 days of detention and we must invade every threatening country because there is no alternative when dealing with terrorists - practioners of terror in the same way a dress-maker always makes dresses). Terrorists are terrorists because they are terrorists, and governments are never questionned, either for the causes or the consequences of the presence of such groups, and we quickly find ourselves goosestepping towards an unpleasant future.

We must defy such simplistic use of language.

When you say terrorist you are not calling a spade a spade, you are simply avoiding the issue of why the man is digging the whole in the first place.

Nov 14, 2005

A little tirade

Children in Need soon.

Goody.

There are few sites more repulsive than a well fed (or indeed, in the case of most acresses and models, horrifically underfed) celebrity sweeping serenely through a wasteland of poverty, famine, disease and war, staring earnestly to camera and imploring us to give our money to help these people.

In itself I do not object to such acts of charity.

Charity itself I object to as a liberal salve, a few measely crumbs thrown from the carriage to the horses; always just enough to keep them heaving onwards. But it is a necessary evil. Pragmatism must win out.

I object to the people. The vile, pampered, patronising celebrities and the shameless, blindly hypocritical bile that they spew out to camera on cue whenever someone points a malnourished Romanian in their direction.

Even more disgusting is when they air drop a black celebrity into Africa, or an Asian celebrity into Pakistan, and they squeal emotionally as if there is some deeper racial connection based on the irrelevant and arbitrary similarity in their pigmentation.

If a generation of freed slaves who returned to Africa, to their 'spiritual home', found the continent a vast alienating unknown, what the flaming fuck does Lenny Henry think he knows about that the place? His blackness doesn't give him any better idea about what its like to walk 10 miles to get water than the ignorant white fucker they would have sent in his place.

Its performance. Superficiality.

He looks like them and that's enough. Because these people are never there long enough to know what they're talking about. So it's theatre. And that is repulsive.

Do these people think their personal wealth exists entirely in isolation to the poverty they see around them? Do they not realise that the twenty million dollars they claimed for their last film was not plucked, note by note, from the studio exec's ass? That (all the complexities of finance considered) almost every you penny you make is a penny taken from somewhere else?

How do you sit amongst huts made of straw and justify even one mansion, let alone three? How do you justify the decadence of that life? To live so far beyond what is necessary, to live so far beyond what is even luxury while explaining that people are starving. A gutteral rage starts bubbling in me just thinking about it.

When it comes down to it, there's no way you can justify such hypocrisy in a manner that shows genuine care for the people you are pleading for.

Acting/singing/being at parties is not hard. Ive done it and yes the hours can be long but it's easy as fuck. Bill Murray can be filmed doing nothing but staring at camera and be considered a master. Admittedly he at least has enough sense to consider this embarassing.

You begin as an unknown, arbitrarily get a couple of memorable roles/songs and you've got it made. Gravitas is guaranteed by longevity. Even if you're embarassingly awful you will eventually come back into fashion.

There is no balance. Talent and toil do not equal success. Success is the product of an abritrary series of fortunate events that you happened to be at the sharp end of. And as plaudits and money compete to rain on you harder, you invariably will be forced to question this.

And as far as I can see you have three options. You can believe your own hype. You can ignore any pangs of conscience and drown yourself in hedonism. Or you can relieve that guilty imbalance by 'giving something back'.

The last is by far the safest option. Shuffle a about 2% of your obscene wealth into a charity, take a couple of days out a month (or a year) to be shot touching sick kids or wandering through a deserted village and suddenly you feel a lot better about yourself. You are using your fortunate position to help the needy.

Except you're not. You're running 10 paces forward and skipping back an inch. You might as well wait till the camera's finished rolling and take a couple of the smaller one's out yourself. You, individually a still an obscene, grotesque bulging locus of wealth that at the end of the line ends up draining out of this barren wasteland you're standing in.

The real benefitiary of such charity are the celebrities themselves. Sleeping a little easier in their very large beds.

Nov 11, 2005

10 Reasons why Shakespeare in Love is not as good as Die Hard.

1. No one in die hard makes pseudo-intellectual references to generic pop-culture shakespeare knowledge in order to make americans feel smarter.

2. No one blows up a building in shakespeare in love.

3. At no point does Joseph Fiennes say 'yippee ki ay mother fucker' while throwing juliet down a lift shaft.

4. There is no Christmas in Renaissance England. this is objective FACT.

5. Bruce Willis is not married to the most talentless nob jockey ever to grace music ever.

5. Bruce Willis didn't name his kids after fruit.

6. Shakespeare in Love trivialises the complex gendered social and political issues that make up Shakespeare's theatre and reduces it to a spontaneous outpouring of love that even the romantic poets would be ashamed of, and in doing so subjects us to another 30 years of talking about Romeo and Juliet in the same way people talk about Dawson's Creek. "umm... yeah. i think Romeo is really sad...cos like he's in love and she's like dead."

7. Jospeh Fiennes doesn't kill Colin firth by throwing him down a flight of stairs and then stealing his shoes.

8. Alan Rickman is amazing.

9.. When Bruce Willis had to crawl across broken glass and then talk to the fat policeman on the phone it made me cry.

10. There are no Evil Germans in Shakespeare in Love.

Oct 26, 2005

Something is happening but you don't know what it is

The online universe is tingling with indignation (or maybe, as DK has pointed out, its just all the rain in this small corner of Scotland).

First off, the aforementioned resident of the devil's kitchen tears a new arsehole for this poor bastard over his status as designated mourner for the ID card scheme.

Now being the bleeding-heart liberal I shamelessly am I'm rarely in total agreement with my good friend in the kitchen, but on these he (and in fact the rest of those knowledgeable folk on the web) are entirely on the button. A lot has been said on the subject and I have little constructive to add, simple go read whats already been said.

In a narrative similar to the motives for the Iraq invasion, the benefits claimed for the cards have changed as each has been systematically rebuffed. This does not inspire confidence. What is the point of the cards if they will not stop terrorism or identity fraud? And what is the real reason for the government's enthusiasm for them?

Meanwhile in another dusty little room in Edinburgh, bookdrunk is ripping great big stupid-holes in the government's new white paper on education:

Given the desirable situation is for every school to be a good school, we're left wondering exactly what criteria will be used to exercise 'choice'; it's inferred that this might mean 'specialist' schools or religious schools, but for a document stating a new principal for education it's still left tremendously unclear. There's a curious blend of comprehensive values ("excellence for all") - and free marketeering ("individual choice for all") that has yet to be resolved in any coherent fashion.

And finally, a 'shout-out' (in the lingo of our esteemed tory leader-in-waiting) to another new Edinburgh blogger, the fluffy economist who's latest blog is fighting the corner for a long-dead Greek in the face of a whole tidal wave of confusing Germans. And my position on the subject?

Well, far be it from to take the intellectual high ground, but to (mis)quote from Peter Shaffer's Amadeus 'philosophers are not horses to be run against one another'. The idea that everyone of any import has to be dug up, tossed in a ring and forced to fight it off against one another is simple absurd. Whether they're great Britains or great Philosophers or great chartered accountants, to list them in any form is going to rely on current cultural whim and fancy (as Marx would surely tell us) and any spurious factual basis is nothing but a reality effect.

And as for relying on a general(ly uninformed) public guided by some token b-list celebrity backer.... do not get me started.

Next time Anne Robinson comes anywhere near Nietzsche, I'm gonna beat her to death with a copy of 'Thus Spake Zarathustra'.

Two children stamping on each others face for eternity

“It has taken over 24 years to get to this point, that is a long delay and I would hate to add to that delay.”

And with that two decades spent crawling over broken glass towards redemption are dismissed. Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams will die pretty soon.

I find repulsive the blood thirsty eye-for-an-eye mentality that inspires support for the death penalty; in my mind it represents the kind of self-destructive backward thinking that sees law and government spiralling downwards to the level of those who carry out the crimes in the first place. It denies the possibility of progress, the possibility of humanity. It reduces us to a state of barbaric stasis, two children stamping on each other’s faces for eternity.

If Superior Court Judge William R. Pounders had been able to give American justice the German efficiency he clearly feels its missing, Stanley Williams would have been a beefy footnote in the moronic history of gang violence; the founder of one of the most destructive gangs of all times, executed for a series of brutal murders that took place during two robberies in the 1970s.

And yet in the last 24 years, he managed to achieve the thing that Death Penalty advocates fear the most – reform.

'It didn't happen overnight. There was no epiphany. It took seven years of solitary confinement, of soul-searching, to realise what I had become and that I didn't want to be that person any more.'

Since then Williams life reads like the script to Ron Howard film.

Williams has written nine anti-gang books for teenagers under the umbrella title ' Tookie Speaks Out Against Gang Violence ', launched the Internet Project for Street Peace and mentors schoolchildren by telephone. He has received more than 50,000 emails from young people, parents, teachers and law enforcement officers from around the world testifying that his writings have changed and saved lives.

He once negotiated a peace treaty between rival gangs and has been nominated five times for a Nobel Peace Prize and four times for a Nobel Prize for Literature.

Regardless of what he did in the past (for which he is at present locked up) this is a man who is doing more to loosen the sweaty grip of gang culture on the American (and indeed global) poor. And yet the supreme court, positively salivating with glee, are willing to have him killed.

What possible fucking benefit could this hold to anybody?

Whether or not he did the things he is condemned for (this is questionable), justice should be about more than revenge. This man is not going re-offend. How many fucking Nobel prizes of peace do you have to be nominated for before they know you mean it? If he hasn’t been punished enough, lock him away for the rest of his life. Keep him there. Or is he enjoying it too much at the moment? Does he need to suffer? This is revenge. Mindless, repugnant, emotive revenge. That is all this can possibly be.

Oct 24, 2005

Anyone that owns a football club can't be a bad man, right...? right?

This via europhobia on Romano Prodi's beating-one's-head-against-a-brick-dictator attempts to defeat Italy's charmingly megalomaniacal president Silvio Berlusconi.

"A few months before the elections, a governing majority which knows it no longer enjoys the country's confidence, which has lost all the electoral tests of recent years, which is divided and fragmented on the inside and incapable of leadership on the outside, is about to strike the definitive blow at our constitution."

Why is it that everyone views Berlusconi's attempts to battle his way out of both responsibility for his own corruption and plain old fashioned democracy with the same wry look-what-he's-gone-done smile we normally reserve for the tear-away infant who leaves a teeth shaped hole in his grandparents anniversary cake?

Is it because he writes love songs?

Italy ain't that far away folks.

Tim Lott plays harmonica while The Independant dances naked on the grave of post-colonialism

Carnage in the independant on Sunday as they valiantly attempt to wrestle with some Big Ideas but are alas, hopelessly and brutally defeated.

First Tim Lott who manages to wow us with the revelation that Britian is a little bit complicated, sometimes repressive and at other times not. Well stick me in a floral dress and call me Susan, who would have guessed? Surely anyone who's been following Lost knows that when you crash 60 people on an island, liberty and oppression, tolerance and prejudice flow back and forth with every new generic plot incident. Now, times that by a million (the people and the generic incidents) and he thinks this is commentary?

What's more annoying however is his repeated 'these aren't facts but I'm saying them anyway' attitude to journalism.

Figures about European homophobia are hard to come by, but it's hard to believe that homosexuality is less acceptable here than in, say, the macho cultures of Italy, Spain or much of Eastern Europe.

Let's rephrase that shall we: "Figures are hard to come by so the best thing we can do is fall back on our preconceptions of the European mentality." And what would Tim Lott have to say about the tolerance of a European article that assumed our attitudes to vegetarian must be hoplessly philistine because we all like roast beef and fish and chips?

If at first you fail to find statistics, make shit up, seems to be the motto here.

There is an every replenishing sump of resentment and violence that is always with us.

You don't have to go to statistics for this [oh, that's good - TJ]. Anyone who looks in their own heart [what? ok hang on a second] honestly enough knows it to be true.

What the flaming fuck?

There is an every replenishing sump of resentment and violence that is always with us.

You don't have to go to statistics for this. Anyone who looks in their own heart honestly enough knows it to be true.

This is truly incredible. The argument being, I can't find statistics for my poorly made generalisatiosn, so if you want to argue with them, you're not being honest to yourself.

Fuck off Tim Lott. Don't tell me what's true or false based on some spurious claim of knowledge of the inner-workings of all 60 million inhabitants of this 'complex' country. If you can't argue a point don't write a double paged commentary in a major Sunday newspaper. I know a whole bunch of people who could do a vastly better job.

And what kind of defeatest ethno-centric offal is this that he's passing off as an argument anyway? There is no reason we should be a replenishing sump of violence, unless we are conditioned to resent others in order that we are satisfied with the position alloted to us.

And what's the conclusion from his two pages of waffle and tripe? That we are always going to be violent and prejudice so its just a case of having tolerance... but (gasp) how tolerant should we be?

The question is now how far should tolerance go - that is to say, should we tolerate the intolerance of others?

*slap*

No, no, no Tim.

*slap*

That is not the question now. That was the question over 50 years ago when cultural relativism first reared its head. That is not to say it is not a valid question; on the contrary it remains of crucial importance, especially considering our schizophrenic relationship with regimes such as those in North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia. But it is certainly not enough to posit it at as the revelatory new conclusion of your thinking. That is fucking lazy. We have made it this far. Now this should be our starting point.

Even more worryingly however, he then goes on to give one small paragraph to answering a question that has been thrown about by the great minds of the second half the twentieth century. In his typical rabid bull in children's ward fashion, Tim manages to give this question a one word answer.

"No."

No to tolerance. So that's our solution is it.

How about, rather than crudely dismissing 'outdated' forms of tollerance in an entirely unhelpful (and indeed destructive as suggests carte blanche for those people who are all too willing to see any practise or ideology they don't understandas barbaric) manner, we begin by breaking down some of the crude generalisations and stereotypes that are the root cause of such friction and conditioned antipathy. Maybe by attempting to allow other cultures as much complexity and pragmatism as we are all too willing to lavish on our own, we can begin to generate a discourse that can go some way to finding some common ground and basic principals regarding tollerance and hopefully even mutual understanding.

But then maybe Tim Lott's right, the Independant simply isn't the place for such things; as we are shown elsewhere, in this article on the 'Woman who swapped London fashion for a Kenyan warrior'. The article is a fairly bland piece on some rich white girl who married a poor black man and is now using such a heartwarming story of cultural understanding to open a themed hotel. However it starts with this:

Outside a hut made of cow dung, a bull was slaughtered. Entrails spilled at the feet of a white woman in a burgundy suede dress, but she did not flinch as the Samburu tribesmen of Kenya eagerly scooped up and drank the dead animal's blood.

And suddenly we're proppelled back into the dark colonial fetishisms of Victor Hugo. The white woman, given the best British education, remains tough in the face of the animalistic silent black tribesmen. And it is the silence that is of interest here. We hear from the white woman, and her white family, and her white friends. And yet all we here of the non-westerner is this;

The family spend most of their time in the designer's elegant house in Karen, an upmarket suburb of Nairobi, surrounded by giraffes and warthogs. A few cultural differences remain - Mr Lemarti does not drink and often feels his English is not good enough to hold his own at dinner parties - but overall the two seem to have built a life together.

So the 'cultural differences' are that he still cannot be part of the cultural environment of her 'elegant' house and its dinner parties. He remains silent, mysterious - the other.

What kind of schlock colonial journalism is this? Full of enlightened white people and dark mysterious strangers, open-minded colonial kindness and strange tribal rituals.

As long as The Independant and others run this kind of narrow-minded bollocks as journalism then we, as cultures and societies, will continue to stare at each other blankly through a fog of incomprehension and useless tossers like Tim Lott can preach about the innate human capability for prejudice in commentaries with dick-all use but further reinforcing the social divides they claim to question.

Oct 22, 2005

Thieves of Time

About four years ago one of the most magnificent robberies in the history of the world took place.

What makes this all the more impressive was that it occured while the perpetrators were suffering through one of the greatest of great tragedies.

In 2001, despite the ravages of the attacks on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon, the United States of America managed to steal from us one whole day. They stole the 11th of September from under our noses, and we will never get it back.

I feel, however that this accusation requires some clarification.

History is an illusion (a very good one). With its footnotes and its tables of facts and figures and its Authoritative Gentleman stalking across fields that once were battlefields, it creates a highly compellings 'reality effect'. An hallucination of objectivity and fact. Behind the costumes and the stagecraft history is an almost infinite, chaotic vacuum.

Reality television works through a carefully disguised process of construction. The editors on Big Brother take over 24 hours of footage from a variety of different cameras, and distill it down into a half hour narrative. This is a narrative constructed through moments, gestures, quotations of silences; built from nothing, the editors make a compelling (or not as the case may be) story, and people imagine it as reality. This is also the case for History.

Whether you want to believe the polo-necked frenchman who tells you (through cynical blasts of a vile European cigarette) that there is nothing outside language and therefore all history is fiction, it is hard to argue that there aren't an almost unlimited number of permutations for any given historical moment; that as I type this there aren't an almost infinite number of things happening elsewhere. And whereas you could quite concievably argue that all these things objectively happen, any significance placed on them is entirely of our own making.

Hence history as we see it is a narrative, an entirely constructed story. Moments are knitted together arbitrarily like so many episodes of Big Brother, but with a far more significant purpose. This is narrative of power. Dates are made and the space around them is filled with silence - leaving only one story.

And so we return finally to the US of A, everyone's favourite wounded bull elephant of a nation.

They suffered a terrorist attack back in 2001 (I'm sure you all heard about it). But whereas in the past such things were given a fairly descriptive moniker - either geographical (Lockerbie, Pearl Harbour, Oklahoma City) or otherwise (The Kennedy Assassination, The Embassy Bombings, The Washington Sniper) this one was named 9/11 after the day it occured. Not 9/11/2001 but merely 9/11. And thus a date was made. But not just a date in a single year - a date for all time.

A date was made and a day was stolen.

It was stolen from everyone with a birthday, everyone who died of a heart attack in the back garden, every marriage, every election victory and every military strike.

Most specifically it was stolen from Chile, and 28 years of history were made worthless.

General Pinochet came to power in a military coup d'├ętat on September 11, 1973, in which rebels bombed the Presidential Palace with British-made Hawker Hunter fighter jets.

The Americans stole a day from us. A day that forever more will be associated not with arrogant and paranoid American intervention but with 'unprovoked' aggression on American soil. It is a day that forever will recall several thousand reasons why Americans should fight for their safety against all opposition (political or military). It is a day that will be held up like so many bloodied american bodies in desert storm uniform - look how we suffer, look why we are justified in doing what we do.

So depending on who you are, or what you think, this is a day that was stolen from us and used against us. And this was no accident of language.

And as with everything else, we now scramble to do the same.

I am tired of 9/11, I am tired of 7/7. I am sick and tired of too simple stories, told by liars to idiots. Both the present and the past are far more complicated than such strategies will allow us to imagine.

Oct 21, 2005

*Bang* *Bang* We come in peace

In one of Tim Burton's less syrupy gothic interludes, he made a film called Mars Attacks. It was a good film.

Said cinematic satire involved a collection of skeletal martian midgets who ran buck-wild across the the US massacring all and sundry without a single inkling of remorse, all the while politely informing the generic screaming extras that they come in peace.

*Bang* *Bang* We come in peace.

And I mention all this, only it was the image that darted through my head on reading about this.

Embassies will tell local governments that reported abuses by US troops in Afghanistan do not reflect American values. The documentary, on the Australian SBS network, showed US troops setting fire to the corpses of two Taliban fighters after a gun battle in southern Afghanistan. One soldier uses the smoking corpses to taunt local villagers, describing the Taliban as "cowardly dogs" and "lady boys".
Which comes after this,

Indeed, the freedoms that we champion are as important to our success in Iraq and Afghanistan as the guns and missiles with which our troops are armed.
And maybe even this,

He insisted that detainees were well treated. They are given culturally appropriate food and drink and are allowed to practice their religion, he said. They are given clothing, shelter and health care and are allowed to send and receive mail.

*Bang* *Bang* We come in peace.

Oct 20, 2005

TinyJudas is not feeling well, the consequence of a little too much drinking prior to and post the knowledge that I will be playing Romeo in a forthcoming production of Shakespeare's little humdinger of a play.

So the first monthly (who am I kidding its likely to be tri-weekly) award for making me laugh when i'm hung over in the morning goes to bookdrunk, giving that awful antipodean's lackeys a good thwacking for another piece of useless non-journalism, this time on whether gender affects su doku.

If a man had won, I doubt whether we would have had an article asking if men are naturally better. A man winning would have been unremarkable. But a woman?Fetch me a scientist and priest. There's devilry afoot...


I feel a little better now.

Oct 16, 2005

Track me back.

Seems folk in these here parts are gettin' all stirred up by track-backs and back-links and what have you.

Always one to leap gracefully on a passing bandwagon, I have duly added them.

Now let the good times roll...

All we need is crap

As we wandered tonight past the office of a local ghost-tour company who gleefully inform you how they drag massed groups of dazed tourists and over-excited hen parties through the private burial place minor historical footnotess (into their mausaleums no less) for the sole purpose of providing anti-climatical moments of fear, my friend asked me a very good question:

Quite how ethically sound is archeology (of the excavating tombs/graveyards and other assorted burial grounds variety)?

As is not surprising given the nature of a question so firmly buried in history, this got me thinking about my childhood, and in particular my parents propensity for marching my younger brother and myself far and wide across this sceptered isle in search of every rock, ruin and remnant that might have once resembled a castle. Essentially, if it had a National Trust logo my parents (ever the pound-stretching NT members) were pulling up in the driveway no sooner than you could say 'doesn't this look an awful lot like the very similar pile of castle that we saw last summer in Devon?'

Through this somewhat forced education I came to appreciate that there are two places in every castle that draw people like moths to a security lamp. The first is the dungeons, a fact that is unsurprising to anyone who has walked along The Royal Mile in Edinburgh and seen the gratuitous number of Ghost Tour companies cashing in on the public's unquentiable thirst for all things bloodied and miserable. The second however, is the privy, and this to me is far more interesting.

I believe the medieval toilet holds such a fascination as it is the single silvery thread spiralling back through history that connects us with Elizabeth I, or William the Conquerer or even Joe Portcullis-operator in an unremarkable castle in Northumberland. We crap. They crap. And despite all else that may have transformed our lives in the intervening years it is fair to say we do it very similarly. When we stare into a small room containing a stone bench with a whole cut in it and the damp and lingering smell of urine, we get a comforting sense that this is something we know.

History becomes real. People are no longer shadows in armour, no more human than a couple of stitches in the Bayeux tapestry, they are people who need to relieve themselves. People who stand outside a toilet shuffling awkwardly and pulling creatively clenched faces as the person before them does their best to cope with a gruesome dose of the shits.

It is this humanity that is missing when Tony Robinson rips through some anonymous anglo-saxon carcass. It is an object, that was no more alive than an attractively decorated piece of pottery. No amount of average 3D animation of a man in a couple of pieces of fur is going humanise that. He is so alien to us as to be unreal. And so his dignity, his faith and his death are drowned in the sea of history. What matter what he believed about his passing when he is (and indeed was) no more alive than a Middle-English shovel or a two-dimensional Egyptian wall drawing?

We need to reconnect with these people as people. We need to seem them living. We need to see them crapping. Then maybe we would be a little slower to assume a tour through their graves is no more sacred than a gaudy carnival house of horror.

Oct 14, 2005

Pro-Life Christianity and the language of hypocrisy

Pro-Life Christian.

Not since Billy-Ray Cyrus have three words and a hyphen caused such tidal waves of anger and disgust. This loose assortment of what Bill Hicks once eloquently called ‘annoying, evil, idiot-fucks’ swan around damaging people’s lives, wasting people’s time and generally disparaging anyone who doesn’t hold the exact opinion they do.

And yet, and yet…

The simplest of simple pieces of logic will tell you that an absence of any discernable evidence for God is no proof of his non-existence, just as the existence of any infinite number of green emeralds will not provide proof that all emeralds must be green. All it needs is for Jesus to show up with a blue emerald clutched in his wounded hand to blow both theories out of the water.

If (and I know this is about as likely as David Blunkett turning down a quick hand job from anyone called something like Candie) The Big Man himself were to descend (all aglow and looking like a varnished John Peel) and tell you in no uncertain terms that it really was him and yes, it was all real (34AD and all that) and that you, yes you, needed to scream it from the rooftops and devote your life to saving as many souls you could, no matter the ridicule, no matter the anger. This was what must be done. Well, one’s response might be slightly different.

There is no argument against faith. Believing will always be justification enough for your actions. Unless someone can convince you out of believing, their going to have a hard time convincing you what you’re doing is wrong. I find it hard to argue with their reasons for fighting.

That’s not to say I agree, I just find it hard to argue. And I enjoy a good argument.

However, there is still ample space to find fault in their methods.

I personally find it pretty repulsive that people can have such contempt for people’s ability and right to independent thought. A quick skim through the lapsarian opus of that most verbose of Christians John Milton will present you with a clear message that the importance of people comes from their ability to choose faith in God and to follow his teachings. Having no option but to goosestep down the footpath laid by the almighty may have been a damn sight easier, but where’s the challenge in that? We’re hardly deserving of our own personal cloud if we haven’t had to think for ourselves.

Thus the bullying and violence that are the stock in trade of your common-a-garden militant Christian are to me decidedly unchristian not just because ‘blessed are the meek…etc.’ (let’s face it the Old Testament Almighty was nothing if not smitey) but because the logic inherent in their use is to forcibly remove the element of choice. If you firebomb an abortion clinic you remove the possibility of people to make a choice as to whether they use that service or not. This I believe to be wrong. Set out your stall, as convincingly as you can (and if you are the messenger on Earth of an omnipotent creator you should be able to stitch together a decent argument), and allow people the opportunity to choose that option. Give people space for a run up and allow them to make a Leap of Faith.

In other words you cannot lead people down the path to salvation by barricading up the edges.

And this is just one example of a disfigured, dislocated and generally confused ideology that has been warped so many times to fit the specific hypocritical arguments they wish to pass off as real thinking it so barely still deserves the name Christianity.

Take another more specific example, from Tony Wyatt, the man battling to save the life of his two-year old premature child. A man who in the past has had to have security accompany him in a hospital because of his violence towards the staff (that’s right all you lovers of hypocrisy, a pro-lifer trying to damage those people who’s job it is to save lives… but that’s the only trip I’ll take down that path, taking pot shots at the moniker pro-life is like shooting dead fish at the bottom of an empty barrel).

[Tony Wyatt said] he believed in miracles. "If the man upstairs says this person should live, then this person should live," he said

Now, this is a child that not only ‘will never see or hear, walk, sit or eat properly, and will require round-the clock care until she dies’ but who also ‘has never left hospital and has stopped breathing five times. She is fed by tube because she cannot suck from a bottle, and needs a constant supply of oxygen’. Tony wants them to cut open her throat and permanently insert a pipe that will breathe for her. Does any of this sound like the work of a God who wants someone to live?

Or does it sound like medicine keeping alive a tiny ball of nothing but pain.

The same medical science that is so often castigated as flying in the face of all that is natural and healthy is here (for exactly the same reasons) held up as the work of The Divine One. How does that work?

Hypocrisy and brainless rhetoric abound. And I haven’t even touched on the abuse of the bible for these and other (anti-homosexuality being the first that springs to mind) dubious and blinkered causes.

One has to ask the question, when ‘God’s word’ is mutilated to such a violent degree, who is serving whom?

HP sores

An entirely suitable (and therefore justified) pause from me of late that was clearly (clearly) in celebration of the 75th birthday of playwright Harold Pinter.

Although it seems that not everyone is on the same page about this particular 'event'

In Dublin they're going buck wild over the old man, screaming his name from the rooftops and holding whole festivals of theatre in his honour.

At the same time those venerable Europeans who head up the Nobel prize for literature have just gifted Pinter with the $1.3 million award, describing him as 'the foremost representative of British drama in the second half of the 20th century'.

In fact the man's name echoes throughout the continent.

And in Britain itself, his home nation, his own land, the site of his most memorable productions?

<Silence>

Why are we not carrying him aloft like so many gaudy sporting events, dangling him alongside the Olympic rings as decoration on the great Christmas Tree that is this fine nation?

I'd like to imagine that its out of respect for the personal space of this most private of men, but I think it probably has more to do with the dire British attitude to anyone that shows an interest in politics. The sarcastically arched eyebrows and knowing smirks that slither from the cracks in peoples faces at the merest hint of political earnestness.

We could manage Pinter in the old days, when he talked of psychological realism and the hidden tug of war buried in everyday language, but when he began to mention politics, even (gasp) write overtly political plays, he was shuffled off to one side like a grandfather who'd just wet himself in public.

We like our theatre old and our national treasures mindless.

Jimmy Saville and Seb Coe can fuck right off.

Give me Harold any day of the week.

Oct 8, 2005

no news is good news

There is nothing to send the heart soaring than pleasure-boating through the becalmed waters of an unashamedly Slow News Day. Join me, fellow explorers, for a brief sail through the guardian today.

First off we have the sarcastic scribblings of some poor bastard who was shipped off to brixton in the journalistic equivalent of an x-files episode to try and spot any crack addled squirrels. Alas, the answer was invariably no... but the truth is out there.

Then a few pages later we can read about a years-old coronation street-esque grudge between two women that finally resulted in fisticuffs, only one of these women happened to hold office in their local district. hence the guardian treats us to the wonderful headline...

Women, 87, punches mayor

Magnificent stuff thus far I think you'll agree.

But hold on to the hand rails my fellow shipmates for at this point the waters get a little choppier and things take a turn for the absolutely fucking bizare as we have a triumvirate of crazy-mad news stories... Wickerman islanders abusing children and worshipping satan... former AC Milan footballer seeks presidency of African country... Al-Qaida ask Iraqis to kill people less brutally... as i believe Voltaire said, the world is a funny old place.

Though I do have to say that despite my outrageous flippancy all of the above are very interesting articles and in particular for me (as scandalous and tragic as the first was) as a rather sheepish Chelsea supporter, George Weah's attempts to become president of Liberia are truly fascinating.

Two former presidents of Liberia have been murdered and a third lives in exile. Mr Weah is conscious of the danger he faces. "When it comes to African politics, everyone that runs for the highest office faces danger," he said. "Life is a risk, and I'm taking a risk for my people. Anybody would be afraid. I have a beautiful life, and I'm putting it on the line for my people."

However, we finish our voyage in the same shallow waters we began, thanks to news from the finance section that Zen Buddhist Leonard Cohen is staying calm amid serious financial problems.

And there we have it, you know that when the papers are reporting that a Zen Budhist stays calm, they can't have a lot to talk about.

Oct 6, 2005

on hitler, nazis and the denial of history.

Godwin's law - As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazism or Hitler approaches 1.

We've all been there. Whether in reality in a bar or a classroom or a coffee house, or more likely on this electronic soup of political nut jobs and awful debaters we call the World Wide Web. An argument is preceeding along nicely, you're not exactly Gore Vidal but you're certainly not George Bush either and you can hold your own. Until that is, the twerp on the other end likens you (or your ideas/policies) to Hitler or Nazism.

And its all over.

None of this is new. What i am interested in is why.

In my opinion there is more to blame here than the last stand of a desperate rhetorician (or a complete goon who's debating tactics run a little too close to american foreign policy - i.e. if we can't win properly just blow everything to hell). It has to do with the cultural manipulation of Nazism.

Nazism has become Objectively Evil. This is no longer a period faschist government in Germany in the early part of the 20th century caused by financial weakness, the political turmoil of post-war Europe and the harsh treatment of Germany at Versailles. No, this is when Devil Ruled Central Europe.

At this juncture in my argument I'm going to take a moment for the likes of Owen Barder and say I am in no way condoning the horror of Nazi Government, Hitler's policies or the indescribably awful extermination of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and other such 'undesirable' groups.Got that? No really... got it? Good.


As an example I defy anyone to open a school text book, or even a library book, on Hitler or Nazism, and find a picture of Hitler as a baby that has not been touched-up to include a little 'Hitler-moustache' covering the infants top lip. Now this, you may argue may just be the harmless japes of bored schoolchildren. But I believe it goes deeper. People cannot except Hitler as a person. In that moustache is burried an adult life drowned in racism, bigotry and horror. That moustache is horns and a tail. To imagine a Hitler without that, a Hitler who had not committed these acts. A Hitler, if you like, who is one of us, at the very least very disquietting and at the worst nie on impossible.

However, when this period is classified as objectively evil, as satanic beyond argument, it has two effects; one mildly annoying, the other incredibly dangerous. The first is that it gives useless morons in debating forums and newspapers an instant gettout clause because the moment you liken someone's policies or ideas to nazism they become intrinsically evil beyond argument and any defence of said policies is therefore a defence of the indefensable. This is annoying.

Secondly, however, it has the effect of isolating this period in history. Whereas other horrors come and go, rising and falling like so many waves against the beach of humanity, Nazism protrudes like a rock, immovable, somehow different.

But Nazism is not different. It is merely worse. It is bigotry, racism, faschism, brutality on a grander scale. In a more efficient mould. But it is still the same cruelties, prejudices and horrors underneath. Aime Cesaire has argued that Hitler is the logical culmination of Western brutality. That Hitler took the years of prejudice, horror and ethnic cleansing that made up the larger part of the colonial experience and turned them on the colonisers. Hitler is the west getting a taste of its own medicine. And although this is dramatically flawed (was it purely jews, gypsies and homosexuals raping the horn of africa and cleansing the carribean of its people? no. of course it wasn't.) the point stands that to set Nazism apart (for its barbarism, for its prejudice) is to deny the course of Western history.

And then of course, we come on to The Holocaust itself. Europe's most horrifying skeleton. And yet why The Holocaust? Where is the talk of the Caribbean Holocaust? We label it the discovery. By calling the extermination in Germany the Holocaust we assume it status as a one off, something that can only happen once. And in that respect i think we give ourselves too much credit.

Here is the crux. By Fetishizing Hitler and Nazism. By setting it to one side, as evil like no other, we devoid ourselves of responsibility for it. It was just a period in which Hell reigned on earth and there's not a lot anyone could have done about that, apart from be thankful that its over. By imagining that it is something that happened once, we soothe ourselves to the potential for cruelty we carry. We deny the possibility of it happening again.

When Stanley Millgram conducted post-WW II experiments to prove the German psyche was more susceptible to authority, he was shocked at the lengths of barbarism to which the ordinary American would sink, when asked to by a man in a lab coat. If we constantly deny the presence of the brutality of Nazism within western history, if we constantly set it apart, we leave ourselves open to the possibility of the return of such systematic horror.

The world does not go away when you close your eyes.

Oct 3, 2005

even more useless than we could possibly imagine.

A gloriously heartwarming cover story at the Scottish Daily Record today.

Turns out scotland (nay Britain's) most untalented hack of an 'artist', jack Vettriano is in fact not even worth that title, being as he is nothing more than a preening self-engrandising colour-inner.

The Illustrator's Figure Reference Manual, more commonly used by graphic designers, was published in the same year [as Vettriano began painting].

The handbook is filled with photos posed by models which can then be traced or copied.

It cost £16.99 back in 1987 and was republished twice, but is now out of print and can only be bought second-hand.

The figures it features bear a striking resemblance to those in Vettriano paintings, sometimes appearing only to have been slightly adapted, for example with the clothes changed.


I loathe Jack Vettriano. I loathe that artists (from a variety of backgrounds) who are trying (and I will admit on a great number of occasions failing) to challenge themselves, to find new modes of thinking and new aesthetic means of expression, are dismissed by the media and the public as pretentious or pompous while this showy tosser fills in the spaces in some paint-by-numbers graphic design textbook and while drowning in money and attention has the audacity to claim that his lack of critical respect is down to 'jealousy'.

It's not the fame Jack, or the money. It's the shitness. Pure and simple. And in maskarading as 'art' your brand of bubble-gum starbucks wank is nothing but damaging. People fill their walls with your execrable outpourings because they are comfortably, bourgeois reassurances that art is nothing but pretty pictures. That it is candyfloss. That it is Coldplay.

The same cunts dismiss a true genius like Howard Barker for the same reasons.
I'll let him finish this post for me.

And she listened to everything Understanding some things
But not others
Laughing rarely, and always without knowing why
Sometimes suffering disgust
Sometimes thoroughly amazed
And in the light again said

If that's art I think it is hard work
It was beyond me
So much of it beyond my actual life

But something troubled her
Something gnawed her peace
And she came a second time, armoured with friends

Sit still, she said...

And in the light again said

That is art, it is hard work

And one friend said, too hard for me
And other said if you will
I will come again

Because I found it hard I felt honoured


(Barker, prelude to The Bite of The Night)

Oct 1, 2005

nice show, shame about the journalism

An heads up in the Guardian today for anyone who hasn't come across The Best Show on American TV (best show that is, not prefixed by the letters CS and I). The article manages to stay afloat despite the best efforts of the fucking useless hack journalist to sink the entire thing by blasting giant stupid-holes in his writing.

Surely, surely, there has to be a more enlightened, interesting way of describing an alien show/figure/concept than to throw it haphazardly between two generic pop-culture equivalents. For the love of all that is holy, someone lend that man a simile.

In one terrifically awful paragraph Gary Younge manages to describe The Daily Show as 'somewhere between Have i got news for you and the Fast Show' (bollocks is it... but i digress.) and its wisecracking ring-a-ding-ding frontman Jon Stewart as not only 'less blunt than michael moore but more politically engaged than late night hosts david letterman and jay leno' but also as combining 'the irreverence of Chris Evans with the wit of Armando Ianucci'. And yet despite this tidal wave of useless name dropping our man (clearly with one too many copies of the Radio Times lost in his unconscious) is not yet done; just for good measure, we are informed that The Onion 'a spoof magazine that blends the best of Viz and private eye'. The best of Viz and Private Eye eh? So that would be the Spoof parts would it?

Not only is all of this completely irrelvent to our understanding of these assorted american institutions but they're hopelessly patronising to boot. Are we all so culturally imprisoned? Treat us with the a bit of respect. The kind of respect that has won the Daily Show such high acclaim.

And for those who haven't yet, watch it.

Sep 30, 2005

on the labour party gang raping justice like so many leicester city footballers...

following yesterdays sinister advances on Lady Liberty, it seems that Tony is wasting no time getting his stringy little cock out and raping the shit out of this ever-more troubled mistress. while the britain slowly shakes itself awake after labour's coma-inducingly sanitised rally, the folk in charge are already drawing up a whole bunch of powers to fit Blair's lock-up first, ask-questions-later "justice" policy.

First there's this.

Instant Asbos: much greater use of injunction-style "interim asbos" granted to the police without evidence or witnesses having to be heard or the defendant informed. Bans and restrictions remain in place until a full court hearing.

now i don't want to sound like i'm criticising our esteemed police force (hell anyone that can find enough space to fit 7 bullets in the back of a Brazilian's head is deserving of some credit), but unless every bobby is dixon of dock green i think this is probably open to a little abuse.

Extending £80 and £40 fixed penalty fines handed out by police officers for rowdy behaviour to 10 to 15 year olds [...] those who do not pay or go to court will face fines of £120 and £80.

So essentially when some unlucky 14 year old with a vodka and red bull under his belt mouths off to a PC with more ASBOs than comebacks, he's likely to get himself slapped with an sodding huge fine (and fair enough some will say). but here's the real kicker, the police are free to fine anyone they see fit if said person should suggest perhaps that they were unfairly treated there is the threat that their fine can almost double if they should have the audacity to legally defend themselves. dirty harry policing at its very worst... well do you, punk, do you feel lucky?

Extending existing powers implemented in January 2004 to close down crack dens by giving police wider powers to evict drug dealers first and insist they can only challenge the police action in the courts later.

Again, defending people from evil drug pushers... yadda yadda yadda... isn't catherine zeta jones good in that movie traffic etc. but really? this shoot first ask questions later policy is just not cricket. it amounts to a culture in which police incompetence, bullying, racism and brutality (all of which we know they are entirely capable of in spades) is given free reign to cause far more damage than ever before, safe in the knowledge that ruined lives, damaged reputations, and dead brazilians can be swept under a their big police carpet.

and the traditional ID-card/CCTV defence that if you haven't done anything bad then you don't have anything to worry about is simply fucking absurd (for example, try telling that to david mery). it essentially relies on the constructed fantasy that there are Good People (who need defending) and Bad People (who do bad things to the Good People) and that because these Bad People are, well, Bad they don't deserve really deserve any rights. but when tony blair talks about 'deciding who comes first', in the real world there is no Burglar Bill figure who we're pipping at the post. we are racing ourselves. which means that while we may come first, we also invariably have to lose. it is our rights that are being taken away.

Blair's rhetoric is fucking bollocks. justice is not dickensian (its much older than that). and if all the above is Tony's vision of contemporary justice, then he's been getting a hard on from one too many judge dredd comics.

and while he and George W continue to doodle war plans on the back of the decleration of independance, we will all suffer.

Sep 27, 2005

and its not as if he even makes the trains run on time

buried deep within Tony Blair's labour party key note speech is a rather interesting (and frankly worrying) assertion that in its little old understated way, radically redefines the basis of liberty and citizenship in britain.

The whole of our system starts from the proposition that its duty is to protect the innocent from being wrongly convicted. Don't misunderstand me. That must be the duty of any criminal justice system. But surely our primary duty should be to allow law-abiding people to live in safety.

oh so, preventing innocent people from being arrested is still high on Tony's list of Important Things He Should Probably Do, but now its no longer primary. so if there appears to be a threat to our safety (say, a brazilian man in coat that's so last season) then its well and dandy that the foundation of civil liberties be discarded. and how exactly is it that we decide when we are and aren't living in safety?

It means a complete change of thinking.

too right it does tony. a thinking that allows the government carte blanche to rape the shit out of the criminal justice system by blowing some hot air about any clear and present danger that they might wish to construct.

it doesn't mean abandoning human rights; it means deciding who comes first.

possibly the most worrying of all. tony doesnt think we need to abandon human rights (so, no orange boiler suits and dirtied korans on the Isle of Man then), just fuck with them a little when they feel the need. and what control is there over when they feel the need?

none. none whatsover. if tony and his storm troopers think we're a threat, any of us, then innocent until proven guilty all such nonsense melts like an icecream on a sunbed. and that damp unpleasant puddle left over is the shameful remains of the british government's respect for its people.

oh and tony, in Government 'that noise around you' is, frustrating as it may seem, fairly importan. if you took the time to listen you'd realise that what you dismiss as noise is the sound off millions of angry people, angry at you, and the policies you are instituting in our name. and to imagine you 'just have to persevere with the things that really matter' shows the kind of blinkered arrogance that will truly be your legacy when you finally sweep out of the oval offi... i mean, 10 downing street.


short and too the point

if i have to hear one more crap production of a shakespeare play described as using a contemporary/updated setting to highlight the timeless quality of the play someone's going to get stabbed.

Sep 25, 2005

burn down the studios, hang the blessed programmer.

television these days, is pretty fucking dire.

where are the glory days of david attenborough stumbling through bug infested jungles? of john thaw drinking his way solidly through an episode of Morse? of channel 4 throwing hip young things (and janet street porter) at air space and money and watching as Curt Cobain tells the word that Courtney Love is the best fuck he's ever had?

alas, sadly no more.

now it seems all the channels are competing in their attempts to dredge the very depths of cliched, superficial and fucking fucking awful programing. anything of any value is consigned to the digital outback while Vernon Kay (that puss-filled lesion on the diseased face of broadcasting) prances gaily through the gaudy neon streets of terestrial television.

BBC 2 offered the perfect example this evening as they devoted their prime time, sunday night 8 till 9 slot to two shows so shamelessly pitched at zoo-reading neolithic 'man' as to be insulting.

first up we had the 'Best of Top Gear'.,a show which at its best still recalls memories of the three boys in school who'd blindly bully and out-do each other in some vainglorious dick-measuring contest to the chorus of smug chuckles from their assorted audience of friends (alas, i was i admit one of those friends). but tonight (it being a special night) they conducted the particularly pointless macho endevour of racing a ferrari across Europe to switzerland against two people flying and taking public transport to the same destination. now, beyond the simple truth that this celebrates the worst kind of boy-racer dangerous driving (and in doing celebrates these consequences), what exactly are these pricks trying to prove? that we should shun public transport because we can get somewhere sooner by just driving our cars a little faster, using a little more fuel? are these gentleman genuinely suggesting that the best thing for the future is if we clogged the roads with a few more unnecessary cars, driving a little more unnecessarily fast? no. of course they aren't. its just a pointless testosterone fuelled stunt that further supports the constructed notion that this is how 'men have fun'.

and that seems to have been the theme of this hour of programing as Top Gear was followed by a new show called mechannibals. yes. that's right. mechannibals.


Mechannibals
First in the brand new series championing the ingenuity of Britain's real life backyard inventors, this show follows two families competing to create the best machine to decimate a garden shed. [S]

essentially, this show consisted of men ripping apart various practical appliances in their own homes (washing machines, scooters etc.) to build a machine to destroy a shed. but the show seemed less interested in the ingenuity of the machines themselves than the tearful protestations of wives and children who had to watch as their menfolk, blind to their pleading and their quite obvious upset, ripped apart anything and everything with the final goal of destroying a wooden hut (with the reward of supplying their family with a uneeded improvements on the machinery that they have just destroyed). with glee the director shows us how men while away the hours constructing pointless machines while their long suffering families looked on. you could almost hear the 'wahey's and 'get in their my son!'s of the Top Gear studio audience.

and once again, the main point of all this is simply that this is what men do. this is what men do to have fun: they read FHM. they 'have a fuck about'. they do dangerous, pointless, selfish things at the expense of everybody else. and there's no shame in these this, in fact, if you want to be a man, you want to enjoy the smug acclaim of lads and ladettes alike, you must do these things too. you must.

an audience can only be as smart as you let it be.

please, people of the BBC, people of Granada, people of Channel 4, let us be smarter.

let us be better than we can be.

and never fear my friends, for there is hope.

Sep 16, 2005

in the words of Mr Michael Stipe, its the end of the world as we know it (but im not all that happy about it).

thanks to those wannabe orwellian's in charge of anti-terrorism legislation we have finally drop-kicked any pretense that history is more than a crudely constructed narrative to keep the powerful, well, powerful.

i think nosemonkey puts it pretty well.

It also - again, technically - for the first time creates the concept of "official history" as historic groups who used tactics which could be considered "terrorist" (the chartists etc.) would now only technically be considered such if they were on the Home Secretary's official list. A perfect cop-out for any history students presented with "Were the Suffragettes' tactics terrorist in nature?" type questions - just put "No - because Charles Clarke says so".


nothing like the shameless abuse of language by those in authority to really kick the day of with a smile.

Sep 15, 2005

utopia?

while not new to me, this piece of work might tickle your interest.

a utopia i created a while back.

input greatly appreciated.

their arts aren't in it

i happened to find myself watching an inconsequential little show on BBC 2 yesterday called Art School. quite impressively, in its ever-so-brief 30 minutes it managed to demonstrate a whole variety of things that are wrong with the public perception of art, or more specifically the Daily Mail-led grab-your-torch-and-pitchfork philistinism in the face of any conceptual art.

in everything but it's name, Art School is essentially the beeb pandering to ITV's shameless tactic of carpet bombing any formula or idea with generic celebrities (and you can be sure that if this show were on ITV it would be called Celebrity Paint-a-thon or something equally awful). a variety of bemused 'stars' (ulrika johnson, john humphries, keith alan and the one that's not dead from Two Fat Ladies) are given a crash course in a modern art school, with each scene bookended by talking heads giving their advice on art.

now one of the fundamental problems with this show should be already obvious. two friends of mine who are on one of the best art courses in the country are presently wading through the middle of an intensive 5 year long period of study. 5 years. to reduce the work and development that is covered such an extended period of study down to less than a week renders the entire process absurd. no one would think of getting a bunch of pointless nobodies in Celebrity History school into a room with a couple of important dates and asking them to demonstrate how these reinforce the power-centric narativisation of history. yet with art this kind of reduction is entirely acceptable. and it is acceptable for one reason; namely that bbc, and the daily mail et al, feel entirely justified in refusing to take any art Post Andy Warhol seriously.

the media constructs a parodic caricature of modern art rammed full of dirty beds, shameless attention seekers and men in polo necks nodding furiously in empty white rooms, while the lone voice of reason in this carnival of superficiality is, of course the media folk (all agog with their Emperor's New Clothes fantasy) screaming 'look... it doesn't mean anything. its all rubbish.'

hence in this show we see this same absurd parody constucted, as john humphries rummages in dustbins and takes poloroids of trees, and we are enjoined to smirk contentedly at the how ridiculous it all is. and just to add insult to injury, who might the talking-heads experts be, the defenders of their art in the face of these bemused celebrities? oh wait. its another bunch of celebrities who happen to pick up a brush once in a while. under the mind numming caption actress/artist, we are forced to suffer the likes of Jane Seymore and Vic Reeves waxing lyrical on what makes an artist. because in the mind of the beeb, art is that simple. it is someone who has painted once. and to give it any pretensions to a serious (and studied) endevour is just plain silly (after all, at the end of their 'degrees' their only going to be fobbing us of with more dirty beds and piles of poo).

it is exactly programes like this (and undending articles in the papers that can't decide between amusment and outrage at the thought that someone could make art out of a bed, or bricks, or elephant dung) that have as their consequence the shameful public response to the Saatchi warehouse fire. whereas a similar disaster destroying say, the origonal manuscripts for Salmon Rushdies Satanic Verses (or even the Harry Potter books) would be treated with sadness and respect, because art is so parodied and belittled the response in this case was the very worst kind of ignorant smugness.

oh what a shame, they burnt a soiled bed.

a triumphan return

the humblest of appologies for my absence so soon after arriving but assorted troubles, mainly of an electronic nature, have resulted in my desperate lack of posting.

but, in a move that will send corks popping in the Devil's Kitchen, i am returned with a couple of issues for your perusal.

Sep 9, 2005

hail to the chief

i am alas, a tad busy today with that potent combination of cricket and literary research, but those wandering aimlessly in search of enlightenment should head towards rhetorically speaking, where resident liberal-in-chief bookdrunk, has his heckles up in the most eloquent of manners.

first on the subject of the alarmist "baby with two mothers" headlines that have been flying around and the ludicrously apocalyptical reaction of everyone's favourite foaming-at-the-mouth reactionaries LIFE ( "When Christians show up, babies are saved.")

Sometimes it's good to try and understand something before you declare an attempt to end disease as 'abhorrent and contrary to public opinion'. It's hard for something to be contrary to public opinion when we've only just heard about it; I'm also not sure I can trust the condemnation of people who havn't apparently paid any attention to what this research actually does. Idiots.
and secondly, he gives a nice update on the hunger strike/desperate plea for civil rights at guantanamo bay/the land that justice forgot.

The military authorities have not commented on the allegations of further abusive behaviour, pausing only to argue that 'only 76 prisoners at the base were refusing food'. So only 76 people feel that they have to threaten to starve themselves to death for basic human rights. That's alright then.

so in essence this post can be summed up as "yeah... what he said."

and he has a full time job.

what a trooper.

Sep 8, 2005

zoo story

divided by the thick plastic zoo-glass of incomprehension, the beatnik alt-folk musician and the New York times reporter gaze wide-eyed at each other, both wondering which of them it is that is the exhibit...

TONY: Your song "Little Boys" is about wanting to marry little boys...
Devendra Banhart: Okay, let me explain myself. When we were recording the record, my friend said to me, "You know, man, they're going to play this record in Starbucks." And I said, "Well, I'm going to write a song that will guarantee that will never happen." Then that night we watched the movie Chicken Hawk: Men Who Love Boys, about NAMBLA, the North American Man/Boy Love Association. At the same time, swimming in my head was the idea of a song about a schizophrenic hermaphrodite with the male and female physical characteristics in one body, but also the male and female psychologies in one body. So the first half of the song is from the male perspective, and then it switches, and the second half is from the female perspective.
TONY: Aren't you worried about getting a reputation like Michael Jackson's?
Devendra Banhart: You mean his reputation as the King of Pop? That would be great!

props to music blog stereogum for pointing out that lovely little bit of interview zen.

bad 'bad science'

for a good long while one of my favourite columns in The Grauniad has been Ben Goldacre's Bad Science, a beautiful weekly snipe at the mindless nonsense that forms almost all science journalism. With everyone's favourite mistake ridden rag about to sumersault into the realm the modern newspaper this week my friend gets a whole double paged spread to wax lyrical about what's wrong with science reporting.

his central thesis seems fairly sound one in my mind. that what passes for science in newspapers is an infantile parody of science that sees white coated figures appearing from a basement laboratory intermittently to declare a new breakthrough/danger/piece of fluff nonsense about the formula for the perfect boiled egg.

So how do the media work around their inability to deliver scientific evidence? They use authority figures, the very antithesis of what science is about, as if they were priests, or politicians, or parent figures. "Scientists today said ... scientists revealed ... scientists warned." And if they want balance, you'll get two scientists disagreeing, although with no explanation of why. One scientist will "reveal" something, and then another will "challenge" it. A bit like Jedi knights.


So far so good.

However, it seems young benny (or old ben... though i've always imagined him to be statuesque thirty-something in a pair of designer glasses) should stick to his single column of well worded sarcasm. the longer he gos on the more that he seeks to place the blame for this cartoon science at the hands of some absurd 'humanities graduate' conspiracy. in fact, for someone who has spent the last few years (and indeed most of this article) picking apart the oversimplification of science, Goldacre tumbles into the most blatant display of crap reductionism. starting by claiming that scientists (or people who know a bit about science)
only people who are actually going to read science articles anyway, goldacre then constructs a grotesque caricature of the humanities graduate, languidly relaxing with a cigarillo and a glass of port, waxing lyrical on the absence of truth while leafing through a book of keatsian odes.

the humanities haven't really moved forward at all, except to invent cultural relativism, which exists largely as a pooh-pooh reaction against science. And humanities graduates in the media, who suspect themselves to be intellectuals, desperately need to reinforce the idea that science is nonsense: because they've denied themselves access to the most significant developments in the history of western thought for 200 years, and secretly, deep down, they're angry with themselves over that.

I don't need to explain quite how absurd this nonsense is. i don't need to point out that the notion of a cultural battlefield, sciences on one side the humanities on the other, with a no-man's land of silence between the two, is, well, bollocks. and i don't think i need to explain this to my young friend at the guardian either. he is clearly aware of quite how clever it is to counter the parodisation of science in the media with a merry little parody of the humanities himself. didn't anyone ever tell our friend that two wrongs don't make a right?

it's a shame really because goldacre is clearly an intellegent and eloquent enough character that he could take a good stab at reducing the constructed gulf between 'science' and 'the arts' and in doing so greatly improve the coverage of science in the media.

but i guess then he'd be out of the job.

at least i now know that, while not maybe being the grecian figure of my imagination, young benjamin is apparently 'an all right-looking bloke'. well, good for him.

Sep 5, 2005

burn the festival

A note on the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the world's largest festival of dance, theatre and comedy. This year (like every year) it it spread its bloated gut a little further across Scotland's ancient capital. Myself and my friends descended into back into the belly of the beast this year and have only just come back out for air.

Two of these friends of mine told me of a show they went to see a show called Paul Merton's Impro Chums. Not a remarkable show, or a remarkably bad one. It was improvised comedy, so in the words of the 'chums' themselves the show takes audience suggestions to create 'cascades of fantastic tumbling laughter'. So what you get for your money is several people, including the celebrated television comedian of the title, acting funny on a bare stage in a converted room of the edinburgh student union. And here we get to my problem, the price my friends paid of this (the concession price) was £13 each. This, in my mind, is vastly too expensive.

And this is by no means extraordinary. This is now the norm. As an example, here is the list of Scotsman newspapers acclaimed 'Fringe First' winners and the full ticket price.

East Coast Chicken Supper (traverse) - £15.00

Switch Triptych (Assembly) - £14.00

Children of the Sea (botanic gardens) - £12.00

The Devil's Larder (Traverse) - £12.00

Give Up! Start Over! (C venues) - £7.50

Total: £60.50

Now when you factor in the price of a pint at one of the venue bars (Hoegaarden at Traverse theatre bar is £4.30) or the Spiegeltent (same beer £4.70), plus food, accomodation and such like, sixty pounds is a lot to pay for only five short shows of greatly varying quality.

Some people would argueout that people pay that for a single show in London's West End, but in that case you know what you are getting. you are getting a spectacle, not theatre, and in that respect you are guaranteed quality spectacle, if it is spectacle you desire. (Mamma Mia will deliver plus two hours in a beautiful theatre listening abba hits sung well by a large cast) . if thats your thing then thats your thing. but it ain't theatre. at the fringe the one thing you are assured of is that you're not going to get spectacle. so you'll have to hope that theatre is good. and that is where your troubles begin.

The fringe is a vast, ugly (and indeed noisy) haystack in which finding enjoyable needles is very difficult.

whereas in normal circumstances reviews at least can give you some indication, the size of the festival generates a gravitational pull that attracts an almost infinite number of reviewers, (threeweeks, fest, guardian, scotsman, herald, metro, scotsgay, edinburghguide, edinburgh evening news, observer and the independant to name just a few) most of whom spend the rest of the year nowhere near theatre. thus almost any show can and will get an adequate review. And as for the 'acclaimed' fringe firsts, the folk at festbitch more than adequately demonstrated the self-indulgence and snobbery that they represent, in essence nothing more than a scotsman newspaper review with delusions of grandeur. reviews pile up at the fringe like the abandoned flyers and newspapers in the darker corners of edinburgh's ancient streets. to use them as a guide is hopeless.

my own opinion is that the fringe is vastly, vastly too big. a bloated behemoth that is slowly eating itself. People come to town, get swallowed by the royal mile, chewed for ten minutes and spat out the other end covered in show flyers and feeling slightly violated, still none the wiser as to where to go to spend the little money they have left after inflated accomodation prices and inflated drinks prices. still lost as to how to find one good show with which to fill the brief time they have.

And so people have stopped coming for the theatre. they come for the event. the carnivalesque absurdity of a city crammed with actors and students and shameless buskers plying their hackneyed acts. people (even those performing in the ever increasing number of awful generic shows that drown the city in mediocrity) come for the noise and miss the beautiful little shows that the fringe should really be about. like enola. the fringe should be about shows like that. it should be a chance for hoplessly talented young people who wouldn't have one in a regular theatre. people who really care about theatre should be able give everything they have to people that want to see it.

People often mention that Tom Stoppard's Rosengrantz and Guildenstern are Dead premiered at the fringe. it was i believe a production done by students. it is the romance of this idea that still inspires the spirit of the fringe (as manipulated and abused as it is). the idea that you can come and see the beginings of something so great. a ragged ultrasound of the future of theatre (or even hollywood). but you can barely see this any more. enola is one of the few diamonds in an increasingly messy rough. it and others like it arent at the big showy venues. you'll find them in the small places, the places that can still take chances on shows by young groups, the venues that those young groups of talented folk can still afford to be in. that's where they'll be, at the bottom of the fringe pile, hidden under the weight of so much hype and so many paul mertons.

portrait of an american hero.

a note to possible future readers. be assured that there will be more to me than the boring ho-hum of snarky america-bashing. my relationship with the big place across the ocean is far more complicated than that (and probably best analogised in my complex love-hate tussle with that most american of entities the disney corporation - but another story for another post i think). but for the time being i wanted to draw your attention to the obituary (i know... way to kick a man when he's truly down) of Chief Justice William Rehnquist in the guardian today.

now being relatively virginal in regards to the grimier ins and outs of Washington, this gentleman was unbeknownst to me before now. it didn't take long for me to dislike him...

Taking his seat the next year, the split emerged within weeks, when he became one of two dissentients to the historic 1973 Roe v Wade judgment, which legalised abortion throughout America.

yep... that oughta do it. and it continues. it seems that back in the fifties our young friend wrote a paper on the racial segregation that went a little something like this:

"the court faced the fact that the white people in the south don't like coloured people; the constitution restrains them from effecting this dislike through state action, but it most assuredly did not appoint the court as a sociological watchdog ..."

(any bets on billy here being friends with trent lott...?) when it looked like this narrow minded you-stick-to-your-half-and-we'll-stick-to-ours approach to american life might prove damaging to his career, rather than attempt to justify himself, like all good politicians rehnquist tried to fob blame of on someone else. and it worked. soon, our reactionary little troll was the most powerful judge in all the land.

and yet, my new pal william isn't done impressing me yet.

Kleindienst recruited Rehnquist into the [Nixon] administration's office of legal counsel, where he gained a fearsome reputation as the department's most ardent advocate of wire-tapping, government surveillance and preventive detention. [...] At the justice department he had backed the army's intimidating surveillance of [anti-Vietnam War] protesters and had publicly decried the legal action that civil liberty groups had launched against the practice.

and,

In successive cases, he voted in favour not only of states' rights, capital punishment and school prayers, but against abortion and affirmative action.

The thing that worries me however is that in a more liberal pre-Reagan America Rehnquist's reactionary antics were so out of synch with his fellow justices that he became known as the Lone Ranger - a mocking title that cast him as an out of date relic in of bygone era.

but the times how they are-a-changing. soon he was no longer the one dissenting voice of unreason, but became the court's guiding light. and then its voice of reason. so powerful was Rehnquist that by 2000 he could give away the highest office in the land to an unworthy texan with a line in fucking things up.

More controversially, he was later one of the five republican-appointed justices who decided in December 2000 that George Bush had won an electoral college majority in the presidential election, though he was well behind the Democrats' candidate, Al Gore, in the popular vote.

by this point The Lone Ranger was no longer all that lonely. and the epithet itself, in an new dawn of false wild-west inspired patriotism (seen most shamelessly in the faux-cowboy antics of the Republican poster boy himself, George W) was a badge (a sheriff's badge no doubt) to be warn with pride.

so there you have it William Rehnquist. The Lone Ranger. A crusading christian hero for his time, his place alongside Reagan and Bush jnr in the holier-than-thou trinity of conservative politics, no doubt secure.