Friday, July 31, 2009

It's Friday. Let's Boogie!

Half Man Half Biscuit- Restless Legs

(Be thankful I didn't bow to John's request and put this up instead.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mein Camp*

A tad unfair of me, perhaps, given that I haven't seen the film myself yet, but I loved Anthony Lane's demolition of Brüno in the July 20th issue of the New Yorker magazine:

How efficient, though, is embarrassment as a comic device? It’s a quick hit, and it corrals the audience on the side of smugness; but its victories are Pyrrhic, and it tends to fizzle out unless held in by a plot—as it was in “Fawlty Towers,” which, from its base on the English seaside, fathomed the most embarrassable race on earth. Baron Cohen, in exporting his japes, comes up against a people much less devoted to the wince. I realized, watching “Borat” again, that what it exposed was not a vacuity in American manners but, more often than not, a tolerance unimaginable elsewhere. Borat’s Southern hostess didn’t shriek when he appeared with a bag of feces; she sympathized, and gently showed him what to do, and the same thing happens in “Brüno,” when a martial-arts instructor, confronted by a foreigner with two dildos, doesn’t flinch. He teaches Brüno some defensive moves, then adds, “This is totally different from anything I’ve ever done.” Ditto the Hollywood psychic—another risky target, eh?—who watches Brüno mime an act of air-fellatio and says, after completion, “Well, good luck with your life.” In both cases, I feel that the patsy, though gulled, comes off better than the gag man; the joke is on Baron Cohen, for foisting indecency on the decent. The joker is trumped by the square.

“Brüno” ends appallingly, with a musical montage of Sting, Bono, Elton John, and other well-meaners assisting mein Host in a sing-along. Here’s the deal, apparently: if celebrities aren’t famous enough for your liking (Ron Paul, Paula Abdul), or seem insufficiently schooled in irony, you make vicious sport of them, but if they’re A-listers, insanely keen to be in on the joke, they can join your congregation. Would Baron Cohen dare to adopt a fresh disguise and trap Sting in some outlandish folly, or is he now too close a friend? To scour the world for little people you can taunt, and then pal up with the hip and rich: that is not an advisable path for any comic to pursue, let alone one as sharp and mercurial as Baron Cohen. All his genius, at present, is going into publicity, and, in the buildup to this film’s release, he has not put a foot wrong—or, in the case of Eminem, a buttock. But the work itself turns out to be flat and foolish, bereft of Borat’s good cheer: wholly unsuitable for children, yet propelled by a nagging puerility that will appeal only to those in the vortex of puberty, or to adults who have failed to progress beyond it. Call it, at best, a gaudy celebration of free speech, though be advised: before my screening, I had to sign a form requiring me “not to blog, Twitter or Facebook thoughts about the film before 6th July 2009.” A guy pulls down his pants and bares his soul, and we are forbidden to have thoughts? What is this, the Anschluss?

* I couldn't improve on the article's title, either.

Stinking Aloud

Laurie Taylor channels casual "racist" Manuel Estimulo in his latest newsletter for his Radio 4 programme:

‘La même encore’, Gerald said to the waiter, waiving his hands across our beer glasses. The waiter, I was glad to observe, decided not to understand Gerald’s French and instead came over to our table for a confirmation of the order. ‘La même encore’, said Gerald again, indicating our empty glasses with an over-elaborate sweep of the hand. ‘Deux pressions.’ This at last seemed enough for the waiter who nodded and disappeared back into the dark interior of the harbour café.

‘It’s funny, you know’, said Gerald. ‘But down here in this part of Provence the waiters see so few English people that they’re really surprised when one of them addresses them in French. They almost choose not to understand. That’s the French for you. Fiercely independent.’

It occurred to me then, as it had already done several times during this fortnight’s holiday in Bandol with Gerald and his wife and their two booming children, that it was not so much surprise which had occasioned the waiter’s incomprehension, as Gerald’s accent. Even though the words he spoke were French he had used exactly the same intonation for ‘La même encore’ as he would have done for ‘Same again, Landlord’, back in his local village pub. (The one in Kent with the personal tankards hanging up behind the bar).

And this was only the tip of my concern. For although I’d been initially grateful when Gerald and his wife had offered me a room in their Provencal villa following my divorce, I’d realised after only a few hours in France that the price I’d have to pay for my accommodation was complete acquiescence with my host’s obsessively expressed opinion that everything in France was superior to its equivalent in England.

I didn’t have too much difficulty allowing that the French trains were better – ‘do you realise that if this train were running in England you could get from Euston to Manchester in less than an hour?’ I was also happy to go along with his views on French motorways (‘imagine how many road works there’d be on a stretch like this back in England’), his celebration of minor French towns (‘imagine finding a place as small as this in England with its own town hall), and the manners of French shopkeepers (‘imagine how much better life would be in England if every shop assistant said ‘Bonjour’ and ‘Merci’).

But I mentally drew the line at praising every identical piece of grilled fish that was delivered to my table in portside restaurants. (Was Gerald deliberately failing to notice the revolting splodge of overcooked vegetables which lay alongside the repetitive fillet of dorade?’ And I could only sit in silence while he broke off a lump of baguette at supper and wondered once again why the British chose not to bake this over-floury, largely indigestible and frequently stale, variety of bread.

I also had to bite my tongue, as I was given the news that once again there was something special about drinking French wine in France, that only the French could make proper goat’s cheese, and that only in French markets was it possible to buy tomatoes with that special French taste.

For two weeks I was also forced to ignore the foul manners of French drivers, the dog excrement on every pavement, the abysmal quality of French music and popular entertainment, and a degree of bureaucracy which had me queuing for a whole half hour at the local post office in order to retrieve a fax that had been sent from home.

As I finally waved goodbye to Gerald and what he liked to call his ‘famille’, I allowed myself to wonder why he and so many others found it so necessary to embrace and partially invent a culture other than their own in order to make a mere holiday enjoyable.

‘A bientôt’, Gerald shouted from the villa door as I heaved my case into the backseat of the taxi. ‘Goodbye’, I shouted back. And the very word seemed like an act of liberation.

Mixing and matching culture. What to celebrate. And what to deplore. All that when I meet the author of a new book on cultural hybridity. That’s at four o’clock today or after the midnight news on Sunday or on our readily downloadable podcast.

Also today. Tariq Ali on the convergences between politics and literature.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lest We Forget

From the August edition of Harper's (subscription only) referring to the Commission into Child Abuse report published in May.

From statements by men and women who attended Catholic Church-run state schools for the poor in Ireland, in a May report by a government-appointed commission. The 2,600-page report documents claims of abuse from more than a thousand former students at more than 200 institutions between the 1930s and the 1990s. After a lawsuit by the Christian Brothers, the order that ran many of the boys' schools, the names of clergy accused of abuse were omitted.

One time in class, because I couldn't read a couple of lines in Irish, the brother beat me. He put you in the back of the class, and he'd tell you to run to him, then he'd put his fist out and you'd run into it. As soon as you hit the deck, he would pull you up by the ears for what we used to call the rabbit punch-you know, with the side of his hand on the neck. He'd chop you, you'd go down on the deck.

I was working in the piggery. I used to be starving, the pigs used to get the brothers' leftovers, and one day there was lovely potatoes, and I took some and I took a turnip. The brother caught me and let down my trousers and lashed me. He always wore a leather, around eighteen inches long and all stitched with wax. I remember a boy who would not cry. He got fifty slaps on one hand and then fifty on the other and then another fifty. This brother got so mad that he would not cry, he kicked the legs from under him and kicked him to the ground and kicked him until he went unconscious. He was just lying there with his eyes staring up to the sky.

One day, I was on the farm and we were messing around, squirting milk at each other. The brother came over and dug his nails into the back of my ears, and then he hit me on the jaw with his clenched fists. Of course, I went down. I was in the infirmary for six or seven weeks after that. They smashed my jaw, my gum was all gone, the inside of my face was all ripped. The treatment I got was hot, salty water.

I was hit for having red, curly hair. You had to have straight hair like Our Lady. This sister was a monster. She'd drag you into the office and take her long cane and just beat you and beat you. She had a bamboo cane four feet long. She'd be frothing at the mouth. She'd say, "You curled your hair last night," and when I'd say, "Yes, I curled it," she'd stop. She had castor oil, she would press it into my head, to make my hair straight. My face would be swollen from the beatings, the oil would be running down my face.

Every night I was beaten for wetting the bed. If you pulled away, he would get hold of you and hit harder. If you fell to the floor, he would pull you up by the chin, twist your ear, pull you by the hair. After the beatings, he would play guitar and sing.

I was an animal lover. There were wild cats and kittens going around starving, and I used to sneak them into the dormitory. I had a kitten. This nun called me one night. She said, "You see that kitten you have there?" She got me out of my bed by the hair and brought me down, they had one of those stoves that you put the coal in the top. She said, "Take that top off." I had to go up on my knees. I had to put the cat in there and put the lid on it-and the screams. Then she said, "Go back to bed." The next morning, she got me out of bed and she made me rake that fire out. I think I was about twelve at the time.

Report on abuse in Dublin Archdiocese . . . pending.

Dead Men Write No Novels

A nice piece in New York magazine by Sam Anderson reviews Elizabeth Hawes's new biography of Albert Camus, Camus: A Romance.

I once saw Jacques Derrida, for instance—the reigning high priest of French theory, a man so intimidatingly abstract I imagined he pooped exegeses—shuffle out of a lecture hall and load his papers not (as I’d expected) into a rickshaw pulled by grad students or onto the shoulders of cynical chain-smoking French angels but into the trunk of a bright-red Daewoo sedan—a car as terminally lame as any my family had ever owned, and which he then proceeded to drive slowly across a parking lot indistinguishable from the anti-intellectual parking lots of my youth.

Bats for Lashes

In the June 22 issue of Maclean's, Scott Feschuk reports on the latest in cosmetic pharmaceuticals, Latisse, from Allergen Inc., advertised by Brooke Shields and promising longer, fuller, darker eyelashes.

Oh yes, and possible side-effects:

To be fair, Brooke’s commercial does warn of two potential side effects: itchy eyes and eye redness. Only when you go to the Latisse website do you learn of the drug’s other charming powers, such as its ability to “cause eyelid skin darkening” and the “potential for increased brown iris pigmentation, which is likely to be permanent.”

Hmm. Well maybe some people would like browner eyes. Anything else?

After detailing various laboratory tests done on mice—and really, what could be a more dignified end for a lab mouse than giving up its life so that humanity can combat the scourge of not-quite-thick-enough eyelashes?—the Latisse information sheet notes: “Because animal reproductive studies are not always predictive of human response, Latisse should be administered during pregnancy only if the potential benefit justifies the potential risk to the fetus.”

Gee. That's a toughie. The ethics of cosmetic enhancement can be really tricky sometimes.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Disenfranchised of the World Turning to Communism/Violence

Hilarious. And what a great advert (but not for his book).

That quotation in full:

"Take up arms. Do everything possible to make their use unnecessary. Against the army, the only victory is political.

There is no such thing as a peaceful insurrection. Weapons are necessary: it’s a question of doing everything possible to make using them unnecessary. An insurrection is more about taking up arms and maintaining an “armed presence” than it is about armed struggle. We need to distinguish clearly between being armed and the use of arms. Weapons are a constant in revolutionary situations, but their use is infrequent and rarely decisive at key turning points: August 10th 1792, March 18th 1871, October 1917. When power is in the gutter, it’s enough to walk over it."

Amazon synopsis:

The Coming Insurrection is an eloquent call to arms arising from the recent waves of social contestation in France and Europe. Written by the anonymous Invisible Committee in the vein of Guy Debord—and with comparable elegance—it has been proclaimed a manual for terrorism by the French government (who recently arrested its alleged authors). One of its members more adequately described the group as "the name given to a collective voice bent on denouncing contemporary cynicism and reality." The Coming Insurrection is a strategic prescription for an emergent war-machine to "spread anarchy and live communism."

Written in the wake of the riots that erupted throughout the Paris suburbs in the fall of 2005 and presaging more recent riots and general strikes in France and Greece, The Coming Insurrection articulates a rejection of the official Left and its reformist agenda, aligning itself instead with the younger, wilder forms of resistance that have emerged in Europe around recent struggles against immigration control and the "war on terror."

Hot-wired to the movement of '77 in Italy, its preferred historical reference point, The Coming Insurrection formulates an ethics that takes as its starting point theft, sabotage, the refusal to work, and the elaboration of collective, self-organized forms-of-life. It is a philosophical statement that addresses the growing number of those—in France, in the United States, and elsewhere—who refuse the idea that theory, politics, and life are separate realms.

Get it here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Altar'd States

Ever got boozied-up in a church? I hadn't until last night's Mark Kozelek show at St.Philip's with St.Stephen Church in Salford. The whole set-up was a surreal experience, not least because there was a stall in Toddlers Corner at the back of the church manned by some older members of the congregation selling cans of lager and (I kid you not) bottles of Bishop's Finger. I have to say the pews were suprisingly comfortable and the acoustics were wonderfully warm and perfectly suited to Mr. Kozelek's voice and guitar.

I can't imagine every band would suit this venue, but if you do get a chance to go to a gig here, it's well worth it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

It's Friday. Let's Boogie!

Neko Case - People Got A Lotta Of Nerve

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why You Should Be a Libertarian

by Kevin.

If You Don't Already . . .

You really should subscribe to Laurie Taylor's weekly Thinking Allowed podcast from Radio Four. This week:

Research has shown that health and social problems become more acute in an unequal society, where the gap between the richest and poorest is greatest. For most of us, respect is measured in money, and lack of it or low pay tells us that we are worth very little. But given the chance, would we as a society be prepared to rebalance? Laurie Taylor discusses these issues with Professor Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of "The Spirit Level: Why Equal Societies Almost Always So Better", and Sunder Katwala from The Fabian Society on a new paper on underlying motivation. Also teddy bears - how did a real hunting story became a political myth which left Theodore Roosevelt forever credited as the namesake of the teddy bear, symbolic of childhood innocence- Donna Varga, from Mount St Vincent University in Canada explains her research.

Download here.

Also well worth a listen to is the World Service's Forum, with Bridget Kendall. All your favourites are on here: Slavoj Žižek, Clive James, Arundhati Roy. Teeth-grindingly interesting.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

It's Friday. Let's Boogie!

The Teardrop Explodes - Reward

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Do They Owe Us a Tribute Band?

John Robb wonders whether it would be possible for a Crass-type band to exist today.

I don't know, John. Just tell me what we have to do to prevent it.

Paradise in Hell

A brief interview in the June 29 issue of Publishers Weekly with Rebecca Solnit, author of Hope in the Dark, on the publication of her new book, A Paradise in Hell.

Economic crises can resemble sudden physical disasters—notably in the questioning of the status quo: the Argentinean economic crash of 2001 functioned like a disaster in catalyzing positive change, including a rebirth of civil society. Iceland has had a similar rebirth since its October 2008 economic crash, and in this country, we are seeing interesting improvisation and radicalization around the depression, and I expect we'll see a lot more.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Caveman Cometh . . . and Goeth

Evolutionary Psychology is SO last year. Behavioral Ecology is where it's at now.


The discovery of genes as young as agriculture and city-states, rather than as old as cavemen, means "we have to rethink to foundational assumptions" of evo psych, says [evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey] Miller, starting with the claim that there are human universals and that they are the result of a Stone Age brain. Evolution indeed sculpted the human brain. But it worked in malleable plastic, not stone, bequeathing us flexible minds that can take stock of the world and adapt to it.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Reich To Werk

Last night I went to the opening event of this year's Manchester International Festival, a double bill of Bang On A Can performing a new Steve Reich composition and Kraftwerk giving the most entertaining display by four static Germans I've seen since Bayern's 82 European Cup Final defence.

A hot and sticky evening in a poorly ventilated velodrome was kicked off with Reich's 20-minute piece "2x5" which, as you'd expect from a classical composer trying to write rock music, sounded like a rock band trying to play classical. A logjam of a prog jam if ever there was one, which failed to impress me. Still, spirits were briefly lifted during the interval by the sight of the never underdressed Sebastian Horsley in a cream daysuit.

Kraftwerk's set was split into three sections. First they played the better known material such as "Man-Machine," "The Model" and "Autobahn" in front of their standard video backdrop and peaked (Col De Beswick?) with "Tour De France" as four members of Team GB pedalled in formation round the Velodrome track between the fans in the seats and the band on stage. The cyclists probably got the biggest cheers of the night and as exciting as it looked, it was a little predictable. I'd have been much more impressed if they'd sent four Herbies hurtling round the track during "Autobahn" but I'm guessing there might have been safety issues preventing this from being possible.

The midsection, which allowed Ralf and the boys a chance to catch their breath after their arduous button pushing, saw them replaced for "The Robots" by four robots who were literally more animated than the real thing (though not The Real Thing due to a deficiency in the leg department).

Kraftwerk returned in person for the last section in their matrix-green glow-in-the-dark suits to play "Computerworld," "Radioactivity" and "Vitamin" in front of a screen projecting 3-D graphics for which the audience had been given the appropriate (and event specific) glasses on entry to the auditorium. They finished the magnificent spectacle (ahem) with their traditional walk-off song, "Music Non Stop."

I can't see how the festival can top this unless they can convince Lou Reed to do his show on a pogo-stick whilst Laurie Anderson rides laserbeams to Leeds.

It's Friday. Let's Boogie At Home!

They Might Be Giants - Never Go To Work