Saturday, 31 October 2009

High-low-we'en

Hallowe'en was never a huge event in my childhood; partly due to other family occasions falling at the same time, partly because Guy Fawkes Night was celebrated more overtly, and partly because it just wasn't seen as anything particularly special.

But in my adulthood it has taken on more meaning, partly of my own choosing, partly thrust upon me by society. This Hallowe'en, having largely escaped it in recent years, I had the experience of "trick-or-treaters" coming to my door. Now, whilst I'm not so curmudgeonly as to not go along with the tradition, my feelings towards trick-or-treating is now much more clean-cut: it is essentially glorified begging. The children in question come to your door, ring or knock, utter a three word phrase as half-heartedly as they like and expect a reward for this. If the treat in question was issued for particular effort in the costumes, and this was something understood by the children going from door to door, then I wouldn't mind so much. But some of the children I had to hand out sweets to this evening hadn't even bothered to dress up (unless they had decided to dress as chavs or, in one case where the costume consisted of a scarf covering the child's lower face, a petty criminal). A few even decided that it was okay to trample over our front lawn to peer gormlessly through our front window at the carved pumpkins that resided therein. In principle I would have given them nothing at all because of this. In practice they received one sweet each instead of two. The reason? If you don't "treat", you run the risk of a "trick", which usually consists of some form of vandalism. So maybe I was wrong to compare trick-or-treating to begging. In some ways it's more like blackmail. Give me some sweets for doing nothing or I'll damage something belonging to you. Maybe I'm one of the less tolerant people when it comes to trick-or-treating, so I'd be interested in the views of others, but to me it seems like a deplorable practice that either needs to be dragged up to an acceptable level or got rid of completely.

Anyway, that was my Hallowe'en low. My Hallowe'en high was for the first time attempting some proper pumpkin carving, as mentioned previously. Not just hacking a lop-sided face into the side of a hollowed out fruit, but actually trying to make it look good. And I think I did pretty well. I certainly enjoyed it, and it's something I'll definitely look forward to doing again this time next year.

My pumpkin carving effort, with the help of a carving kit with patterns. I followed the pattern for a skull for the most part, but also improvised a bit. For a first attempt I'm pretty impressed with how it came out.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Review Round-Up 8

As I've watched three films today (one at the cinema, two on DVD) I felt that a return to my review round-up format would be a good way to get my thoughts down about them all without rambling on too much. So, yeah.

Fantastic Mr. Fox
Delightfully quirky in style and delivery, but not as satisfying as many of Wes Anderson's previous films. The star-studded voice cast are very strong, most probably the film's strongest point. George Clooney's delivery of the eponymous mammal's voice is particularly great, playing off some of Clooney's previous film characters, in particular Danny Ocean, to wonderful effect. Michael Gambon is also great hamming it up as Farmer Bean. The script is sound, although the stand-out Anderson-style moments feel too few and far between. The story, whilst enjoyable, feels somewhat slow in places and unfocused in others. Overall a worthwhile and enjoyable film, but we are still waiting for a truly masterful Dahl film adaptation.
7/10

Made Of Honour
Predictable and ridiculous rom-com. The premise is weak (womaniser Patrick Dempsey falls in love with his best friend Michelle Monaghan; she then gets engaged to a Scottish bloke and makes Dempsey her "maid of honour") and the jokes that come out of it are even weaker ("Oh, he's a man doing something a woman should be doing! Isn't that hilarious?" "They're mistaking him for a gay man because he's doing something a woman should be doing! Isn't that hilarious?" "Look! They're Scottish! Isn't that hilarious?"). The characters are one-dimensional, painfully stereotypical and just plain irritating. Very bad in almost every way.
3/10

Quantum Of Solace
This is almost a "re-review" as I've finally watched my DVD copy after seeing this at the cinema. Still comes across as more gritty and less humorous than you would expect from a Bond film, and never to my mind reaches the levels achieved in Casino Royale, but once you get past these factors, Quantum Of Solace is a very strong film in its own right. Daniel Craig and Judi Dench continue their incredible portrayals of Bond and M respectively, and the supporting cast are all strong even if there are no standout performances. The story is complex and requires concentration to get the most from it, but on a second viewing this is less of an issue, which allows you to take in more of the film's details such as the fabulous action sequences and the tight and clever script. A terrific continuation of the Bond franchise reboot, if at times feeling somewhat transitional between Casino Royale and the film that will follow this one. Gripping and well-made throughout.
8/10

Fashion passion

A few weeks ago I was riding in the back of a car with a board pen in my pocket. During the course of the journey, the pen lost its lid and leaked into my jeans, causing a reasonably large black mark on the pocket area. It also stained the jeans of the person sitting next to me in the car, leaving a similar mark on his jeans.

In conversation with him, last weekend, I discovered that he had thrown the jeans away, and today I was asked whether I intended to get a new pair. I'm genuinely confused by this concept - the stain does not detract from the usefulness of a relatively new pair of jeans in any way, and I really cannot see a reason to replace them simply because of a cosmetic imperfection.

So, how do you deal with your clothes? Would a stained pair of jeans be replaced, or not? How much damage does a piece of clothing need to take before you'll stop wearing it? I would certainly err on the side of keeping rather than replacing something, assuming that it still performs its role, but then I tend to place less weight on appearance than function. What do others think?

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Tumblin' dice

Hayley and I were invited to dinner last night at the house of a couple with whom we are friends. Dinner was lovely, and the occasion was a good chance to catch up for four people who all have time-consuming careers. After retiring to the living room for after-dinner drinks, a board game was proposed. Our hosts explained that they'd had the game introduced to them fairly recently by a relative and had enjoyed it so much they had been waiting for opportunities to introduce it to other people. A board game wasn't something that Hayley and I had been expecting to play, but we were intrigued and willing to give it a go. We were both very glad that we did.

The game in question is called The Settlers Of Catan and it is simply the most fun board game I've played for a long time. The best way to describe it is as something of a cross between Monopoly and the computer game Sid Meier's Civilisation as there are clear comparisons with both. That said, the game plays unlike anything I've ever played before. As the rules were explained before we started playing I was thinking "This sounds really quite complicated, and not the kind of game I want to be playing after a few glasses of wine", but I couldn't have been more wrong. Whilst the gameplay can become intricate and the dynamics of the game complex, playing the game each turn is actually relatively simple, and both Hayley and I managed to get the hang of what needs to be kept in mind and aimed towards in order to win early on in our second game, after having the first to find our feet. The game ultimately feels very well balanced; it's not too tricky to introduce someone to the game and get them to understand the basic concepts, but it's also a game which isn't afraid to come across as intelligent. I can imagine a game between a few seasoned veterans being fascinating to watch as a masterclass in trading, management of resources and making the most of a given set of circumstances.

I would recommend The Settlers Of Catan to pretty much everyone. Hopefully someone writing on this blog at least will look into it, because it'll give Hayley and I people to play against once we've got hold of our own set and had a bit more practice.

Men-tally unstable

We watched a programme tonight on channel 4 about Katie Piper. Katie was an aspiring model who broke up with her boyfriend a year and a half ago after he raped and assaulted her in a hotel room. In response, he organised someone to throw sulphuric acid into her face, blinding her in one eye, and destroying her career and life in a moment. Recently, after a long legal battle, the attacker and the boyfriend were both given life sentences. Obviously a horrific story, and the documentary does a good job of showing the long term psychological damage caused to Katie by the attack, with her unable to leave her parents house for months, and clearly shaken by every stranger she comes into contact with.

Today, footballer Marlon King was jailed for assaulting a woman in a bar when she rejected his advances. Although the magnitude of the assault is clearly less in this situation, there seem to be remarkable similarities in the actions of the men in both stories. A sense that they had a right to the affection of the women, and a descent into an almost unreal and uncomprehendable fury when their expectations were dashed. It seems to portray both men as living in some sort of fantasy world, in which they believe that they can and should have everything and everyone that they want, and that for the world to deny them something or someone is unfair and unreasonable. It also seems to show that the reaction of both men when denied what they wanted/expected was to punish the parties denying them it, as though they were so unable to come to terms with a universe in which they were wrong that they needed to physically demostrate their clear superiority.

I don't really have anything else to say about either case, except that I find the actions and mentality of the men involved totally baffling.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

MLIA

If you haven't heard of MLIA (My Life Is Average) then I can't blame you, I only recently heard of it and only just went to the actual site.

The concept is that anyone can post something average which happened during their day and have it voted on in the hope that it reaches the front page, which is all rather boring and average as internet concepts go.

It's relatively interesting and has some good, if not slightly above average things posted on it, or maybe my averageness is just that bit more average than the rest of the world.

Anyway the feel of the site is pretty nice and the stuff by the site owner(s) is pretty witty and friendly. Having posted my rather crappy and self referential post I was presented with this message.

"Good Job!

You have successfully submitted your lackluster story. Did you think you were going to get a prize or something? How about a cookie?

Well, whether you like it or not, you now have one, and it will prevent you from submitting again for the next five minutes. Go back to your average life- don't just stare aimlessly at the screen until that time period is up. "

I think this is pretty cool, it took me a couple of seconds to clock what was being referred to in the last paragraph, but when I realised it made me marvel ever so slightly, so thought I'd best post it somewhere on the grounds that MLIA

9 things that happen when you have a jaw full of novacaine

I had to go in for some fillings today (I've basically given up on having good teeth - I brush and floss and mouthwash, and it doesn't seem to make a difference), and so had the unenviable combination of large needles, small drills and bits of scaffolding all jostling for position in my mouth. Having been zapped with three shots of numbing-juice (after two I could still feel the agonising pain of having my tooth grinded away with metal implements), I can now reveal the following truths:

  • you develop a pronounced lisp.
  • you become incredibly paranoid about accidentally biting bits of your own mouth - to the point where you stay permanently open-mouthed.
  • you lose the ability to suck back saliva into your throat, meaning that it collects in the bottom of your mouth, unless you happen to be standing around open mouthed, in which case it drools out.
  • you gain an incredible insight into how society reacts to people who drool and lisp.
  • you become unable to spit to clear the saliva.
  • attempting to spit causes saliva to spray upwards, rather than outwards. Specifically, upwards into your nose.
  • touching your own chin and lip is like touching a piece of meat, unless you have stubble, in which case it is quite indescribable.
  • everything in the bottom half of your face becomes frustratingly numb, followed by annoyingly tingly, followed by so-painful-that-you-wish-it-was-either-of-the-other-two-again.
  • sneezing becomes a surreal experience.

Information Super-Heffalump

The internet, when it first became popular, was dubbed the "information superhighway", and this is a moniker which is still used from time to time today. It's one that I occasionally question, as for every website of a newspaper or corporation, there are websites such as Facebook (which has nothing to do with "information" in the intended sense really) and YouTube (which, whilst being a great outlet for certain forms of information and entertainment, is also crammed full of crap). And then, occasionally, I find out about something that I simply wouldn't have been able to if the internet didn't exist.

A short while ago I was researching something on Wikipedia (I actually forget what that something was, but never mind, it just goes to show how gripping what I ended up finding out about was), when I came across, in the "See also" section, a link to a page about an elephant called Topsy. Topsy lived in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries and was put down after killing three people (at least one of whom seems to have been incredibly cruel to Topsy and so, in my opinion, had it coming to him). It is the method and circumstances surrounding Topsy's execution that are so fascinating. Topsy was executed by electrocution in a similar way that a person would be executed in an electric chair. But the most fascinating part of all is that Thomas Edison decided to film the execution, calling the resulting film Electrocuting An Elephant.

At this point, I was incredibly curious about the whole story, and wondered if Edison's film had made it onto YouTube. A quick search later showed me that it was not only available, produced several results of varying degrees of quality, with the best two here and here (N.B. - The film is now available to view directly on the Wikipedia page, but at the time it wasn't and it's a pretty small video, so the YouTube results are still very much worthwhile).

My morbid curiosity led me back to Wikipedia and to the stories of other executed elephants, in particular Mary, also put down for killing a person (and again, a person who treated her cruelly), who was hanged from an industrial crane. I think it's the fact that even though both Mary and Topsy's deaths happened only just over one hundred years ago, but feel so alien to anything that we would be likely to see in today's society, that make their stories so engrossing. It's almost impossible to imagine what seeing either of these events would have been like, and even watching Edison's video requires at least some suspension of disbelief for me.

In returning to these pages to write this entry, I've also come across yet another elephant-related practice that I'd never come across before either, which is almost the opposite of the previous subject: exectution by elephant, where someone is sentenced to execution through literally being crushed and gored by an elephant.

So, quite a morbid post in many ways, but why have I chosen to share all of this? Well, as I said, all of these pieces of information would have almost certainly remained unknown to me if not for the internet. I don't necessarily need to know about elephant execution, but I'm glad that it's something that I was able to find out about. In particular, I'm pleased that I've got to see a film shot by Thomas Edison, as that's pretty cool in itself. I'm fairly certain too that, without YouTube, I would never have got to see that film clip either. So sometimes, despite all the shite you have to wade through to get to it, the internet is still a superhighway of information.

Anyway, to round things off nicely with a YouTube-and-elephants flavour, and to end on something slightly less grim than elephants being killed, here's an incredibly trippy Disney clip:

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Ten things I've learned today

I've been busy travelling for and celebrating my dad's 50th birthday all day today and have therefore had pretty much no time to come up with anything really worthwhile to blog about. That said, here's some cop-out bulletpoints about "what I've learned today":

  • People who can be bothered to pay for an iPod but can't be bothered to fork out twenty quid more for a decent pair of earphones, instead opting to use the crappy white earbuds that come with their shiny trendy MP3 player, really really irritate me.
  • Booking a seat on a train does not necessarily guarantee that seat being reserved for you on said train (especially if the train seats have been "downloaded wrong"...)
  • The longer you are away from London is directly proportional to the amount you notice other people not looking where they are going whilst walking quite fast towards you.
  • The state of being exactly half the age of one of your parents is kind of odd but also kind of cool.
  • Taking a risk on the selection of a birthday present is stomach-churning during the unwrapping, but incredibly rewarding when the present turns out to have been a very good choice.
  • It's always great to open your parents' fridge and see lots of food that is generally more expensive than what you buy, not paid for by you and almost certainly entirely available to you.
  • Seeing your old room completely "de-you-ed" is always slightly strange (but when your old room is as small as mine is, it's always satisfying to know you now have much more space to call your own).
  • Playing with your parents' dog makes you realise how much you want a dog even though there is no practical way that you could possibly own and look after one at this stage in your life.
  • Having one of your favourite restaurants close down in one year is like losing an old friend; having two close down is simply devastating, and makes you want to plan trips to those that are still open as soon as possible.
  • Feeling like your family and your girfriend really do like each other, rather than just exchanging niceties, is a lovely feeling indeed.
Not a brilliant entry, but there you go. I promise to put in one-and-a-half times my normal effort tomorrow to make up for it.

Questionable Time

I managed to watch some of the infamous recent episode of Question Time today at lunch, and I'll hopefully watch the rest tomorrow. While reserving my judgement of Nick Griffin until I've seen the whole thing, I think I can safely make the following points about the programme itself:

  • It seems skewed absurdly towards soundbites - each person gets to say what they want, with the moderator not keeping them to the question at all.
  • The format is confused, with much of the input from the audience being dismissed with "we'll get to that in a minute" or "I want to focus on this point for now".
  • Points come and go with no in depth analysis because there is no time for it, and therefore there is no requirement to back up arguments with justification or evidence. When Nick Griffin said "My grandfather was in the RAF, I am not a Nazi", no one stopped him and asked whether there was actually any kind of logical connection between those two statements, and whether in fact his actions and deeds might have more influence on our view of him as a fascist than the actions and deeds of someone who happened to be related to him.
  • With six panellists and several questions, each panellist only gets a minute on average per topic (and often not even that). They barely have time to get to the crux of their argument (assuming they have one) before someone else butts in, or they are cut off by the moderator.
  • Because the questions are unseen, panellists can come off as very knowledgeable through having the right information to hand by chance, and can seem very unconvincing if they don't. Hence the appearance of the panellists in response to the questions can have little to do with the validity of the positions they hold, and much to do with how well they've judged the possible questions.
That'll do for now - it frustrates me when watching it that so many possible arguments go unsaid, and so many loose ends are left without analysis. I accept that there must be some sacrifices made for the sake of entertainment, but I think too many have been made for this format to have much use for formulating opinion.

Monday, 26 October 2009

They did the mash

This blog post comes in two parts. Firstly, my reflections on Telf's state of the blogathon address. Essentially, I pretty much feel the same as him. At times I have something that I've decided upon to write about here, but that generally takes me a couple of evenings to properly put together. At other times, I've found myself racking my brains for a topic both interesting enough and that will provide enough material for me to write about. Like Telf, I've used news stories as starting points on several occasions, but usually dismiss them after realising my entry will simply be a rehash of what is already there and add nothing worthwhile or original. My personal goal for the blogathon was to pass one month's worth of daily blogging, and as I'm close to achieving that I hope that I will succeed in that goal. Past that I will just see where things take me. The purpose of this blogathon was to regenerate interest and inspiration in those who read and contribute, and surveying what's been achieved since the start of October so far, I would say that that's been done. When daily blogging becomes a chore rather than a challenge, that is when I'll throw in the towel. But I'll stop knowing that my efforts have been worthwhile and with a fresh view to blogging a lot more regularly, even if not every single day.

Part 2 of this blog is slightly more of a cop out, but does relate to something that I've been interested in for a while. I've mentioned here my passion for the mash-up quasi-genre of music, and have demonstrated some of my favourites in the past. There are those DJs who take the idea of mash-ups one further, and mash not just music but people. Cassetteboy is probably the most prolific and proficient in this field. He has released several albums of material that bastardises everything from Jeremy Clarkson to the Harry Potter audiobooks. Most of it is hilarious, but also demonstrates a keen ability to manipulate sound, particularly speech.

Recently, Cassetteboy's efforts have moved into the realms of visual mash-up as well as audio. Here's two of the best, firstly one with a contemporary political flavour:



And secondly, some focusing on middle class reality TV:



I think the second one is a particular comic joy, and very well put together. Enjoy.

Omphaloskepsis

Having been instructed in no uncertain terms that my situation as a man precluded me from doing a post on moon cups (and what a post it would have been), I shall have to resort to a meta-blog:

Twenty six days is an impressive stretch of blogging, and despite a couple of close calls, myself and Bambi are both still in with a chance of getting to the big first-month checkpoint. I've certainly by now hit the inevitable lack-of-creativity barrier many times, and it is getting harder and harder to find inspiration in the evenings. While I have a number of subjects I'd love to write about at length, they are not subjects that fit easily into a 30-minute gap in the evening. Hence I have to work on them for a couple of nights in a row, but with a new post needed every day, and work/evening activities being hectic, I constantly find myself at 11pm with no quick ideas, and with exhaustion setting in like a heavy coat.

I've tried to think of a gimmick - picking a random wikipedia entry and blogging about it every day, or blogging about the most-read news item on the BBC, but all too often, I feel like I would just be churning out some meaningless garbage about how car-bombs are bad and sunshine is awesome. So, if anyone reading this has any particular requests, or any particular preferences (based on my history of posts), speak now, or prepare for a whole raft of car bombs vs. sunshine type posts.

Ditch the tech

Having recently moved house, I'm in the process of slowly unpacking and re-ordering my life and simultaneously trying to get rid of some of my accumulated clutter. It's a depressing task, made even more onerous by the fact that I know there's a room full of stuff waiting for similar attention at my parents' house in London.

They, quite understandably, want me to vacate my old bedroom of my belongings to the point where it can be used as a spare room. There's quite a lot of stuff there. Most of it, I don't need, but it has sentimental value. As a compulsive hoarder, I build up collections of such material with worrying speed. I officially left home two years ago and already I have A4 plastic files of concert tickets and postcards to do with ex-boyfriends and bags of birthday cards from people I've known less than 12months that I'm already sentimentally attached to. Today, I became emotional over throwing out a set of flashcards I made to revise my Chemistry and Physics AS and A2s. That was at least seven years ago. I say "became emotional", I didn't cry, but I had to agonise for a good seven minutes or so over whether I was going to keep them. I knew from the start of the wrangle that I probably wasn't, but it was still a wrench to throw them in the bin bag.

But the main problem I'm having is what to do with my old tech. I have leads that I don't know the function of. I have bits of encased wire with what look like small crystals attached to the ends. I have a USB cable that is a duplicate of the one Telf gave me when he lent me his external hard drive. But I've never owned such an external hard drive. I did have a CD writer, but its cables were black, not white. I have what appears to be an extension lead - it has a USB port at one end, the other is a USB plug. I have a mini disc player. I have an adaptor for a make of Samsung phone everyone in my family stopped using about five years ago. I even have floppy discs. Though I suspect the plug-in USB drive I had to read them is somewhere in London not Shropshire. I even found my old 35mm camera that my grandparents gave me. My grandmother died almost two weeks ago. I don't even know if you can still by the batteries it requires, let alone the film, but given the nearness of her death, I'm not ready to get rid of it.

And I don't know what to do with the rest of this stuff. I don't want to just throw it out. It seems like it could, should, be recycled. But where? The best I've been able to come up with is the dump, but that doesn't seem much better. It's just throwing things away in carefully sorted piles.

The main thing I'm concerned about is the minidisc player. I think I got it as an 18th birthday present. I don't think I really knew what they were, they were just the latest thing at the time. If I'd known much about it, I don't think I'd have asked for one. From the little I've gleaned since owning one, they were more professional pieces of kit for people working in radio than anything with much mainstream crossover. I don't recall artists ever really releasing albums on them. The only thing I've ever used mine for was to listen to compilation discs I'd made or had made for me by friends or boyfriends. My stereo plays minidiscs, but it also plays CDs and tapes. I still have the compilation discs. I don't want to lose the songs on them. At least one is a demo by an ex-boyfriend's friend's band and couldn't be found anywhere else now that I know of, at least not easily. I don't like the song that much, but to get rid of it goes against my hoarding principles. What's even more puzzling is what to do with the blank minidiscs I have. They are in sealed packaging. I will never use them. I burn people CDs if I want to make them compilations. But throwing out something brand new feels like sacrilege. And I can't really give them to a charity shop? Can I?

Let me know t'interwebs. I want to ditch some of this tech. What should I do?

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Goodverts

Those of you who frequent this blog on a regular basis will know that there are many TV adverts which, for want of a more eloquent phrase, irritate the tits off me. Advertisers now, more than any other time, seem to be very good at making adverts that are very bad. That is, specifically, very bad in the way they are produced, acted, scripted and conceived, and not necessarily bad at advertising their product or service; in fact, many of the adverts I have pulled apart on this blog probably do that job very well, as they've been so annoying that they've stuck in my brain long enough for me to remember what they were advertising. But they've pissed me off, and that's the main thing.

But there are adverts out there, believe it or not, which I do enjoy. They stand out as prime examples of adverts that are well made, acutely observed, or just fun to watch. And seeing as I've devoted so much time here on the adverts I hate, I thought it was time to redress the balance talking about some that I like.

My current favourite series of adverts on TV are the Barclays Bank adverts. I've enjoyed all the ads Barclays have made in this series, but these two in particular:



(Click here for the second one)

Now, why these adverts in particular, when there are so many that grate on me enough to write about them on the internet? Well, there are a few reasons. Firstly, Stephen Merchant. The voiceovers he supplies on these adverts are just great. Merchant is both witty and talented and his part in the ads gives them a fresh feel, fits in well with the rest of the adverts' content, whilst at the same time feeling genuinely "Merchanty", i.e. he hasn't sold out his own values and personality in order to make a quick buck on a bank advert.

Merchant's voiceover work also leads nicely into my second point, which is the way the adverts have been conceived. Barclays have put together some incredibly successful postmodern bank adverts. They've recognised the cliched ways that banking has been advertised over the years, rolling out extended metaphors for safety, security, easy access to savings and all the other things customers want from banks. They've then taken these ideas and created overblown, extravagant versions of them. So we get a woman chasing piggy banks around her garden as if they've all escaped from her house, an unseen armchair inhabitant firing rubber-sucker arrows at walking safes and a man attempting to cultivate giant pound coins in his garden. But Barclays have put just the right amount of tongue in their cheek with each one to make them neither pompous nor pathetic, but acutely observed. Merchant then slips his own cutting asides and humorous observations on what's happening into his "scripted" voiceover to tie the whole thing together.

Some simple adverts on the surface, but when investigated further they offer a lot more than at first glance and reveal some shrewd writing and directing that is seen in TV advertising all too rarely today. I'd be much happier watching commercial channels if there were more adverts of the Barclays, standard and less of the brain-numbingly dire Kingsmill Confessions level of advertising. Shudder.

Wedding bells and bulletpoints

Firstly, many thanks to Martin for posting on my behalf yesterday - I was aware that timing might be tight, but in the end I had no opportunity to post at all, and so I am delighted that he was able to step in.

My absence was caused by my presence at the wedding of one of my very best friends, a wedding at which I was given the honour of being allowed to ush. This involved wearing the snazziest suit I have ever worn, wearing a buttonhole and a cravat for the first time ever (both together and seperately), stacking a huge number of chairs and driving a car covered in duct-tape-grafitti and decorative cloth (and hence a car with no rear or side visibility).

It was a hugely enjoyable experience, as I'm sure you can imagine, and also a hugely tiring one. My dull, analytical and pseudo-intellectual thoughts on weddings in the abstract will have to wait (I can hear your sighs of relief already), as instead I offer some random wedding-related thoughts:

  • The reception is the perfect place for a pub-quiz-style quiz - lots of people arranged already into teams (tables), with lots of waiting around while food is served/retrieved.
  • Modern technology can provide really amazing moments, such as the newlyweds taking their first dance in front of a projector screen showing photos from the ceremony, or speeches punctuated with videos and photos for emphasis.
  • There is no greater thrill than to arrive at your table to find that alongside the bottles of wine for your fellow diners, there is an 8-pack of diet coke on your seat, just for you.
  • The fun of vandalising the wedding car can be reduced for you when it is your own car (or worse, when it is not your car, but you have been entrusted with it), and for others when the owner of the car is standing there saying "don't do that" whenever anyone tries to do anything fun...
  • If you are the father of the bride, do scan your speech for anything that could possibly be interpreted as innuendo, and however into your daughter-as-car metaphor you are, don't tell the assorted friends and family that she "has been round the block a few times" and "can be a bit of a screamer if you can get her up to full throttle".

Hope everyone else had as good a weekend as me. :)

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Significant others, definite articles

Tonight, I'm guest blogging for the Telf, as he's otherwise engaged.

I want to weigh in on the debate that's been taking place here over 'the' versus 'a', in particular when referring to the/a person you love. The story so far places Bambi on the more romantic, sympathetic and, some would say, pragmatic side of the debate facing off the Telf on the more logical, analytical and, perhaps, clinical side. My feelings (as usual, for a fence-sitting, wooly liberal) fall somewhere between the two.

I would have no qualms, were I in a relationship, with referring to my boyfriend as 'the man i love'. This seems only right and fair, assuming monogamy. To refer to this person as one of a collection belittles the commitment and love between us. However, as a jaded single, I would not be caught saying 'when I meet the man I love', despite my occasional hopeless romantic episodes. Somehow, that seems too certain, too Ally Macbeal. It also seems to presuppose some ideal - 'the one' - which seems absurd. So far, each new partner has taught me a few new traits and personality aspects I find attractive and shown me one or too off-putting ones as well. If there is an ideal for me, I certainly don't know what it is.

Essentially, I doubt I will only ever fall in love once, ever again, so it seems at the very least inaccurate. Also, at least currently, I have no partner to offend or undermine with such a statement.

So, as midnight approaches, and the Telf's blogathon score hangs in the balance, I leave you with two things. The assertion that either article is acceptable, everything depending on context and that the whole thing would irrelevant if English weren't so bloody picky anyway.

Blogathon score: vicarious.

The Nick of time

As something of a follow-up to my entry made during and directly after this week's edition of Question Time which featured BNP leader and MEP Nick Griffin, I'd like to bring under the spotlight this article written for The Times by one of Griffin's fellow panellists on Thursday night, Bonnie Greer.

One of my observations on Thursday was that I found Bonnie Greer to be a highly intelligent and interesting person, and her article confirms this viewpoint further. Greer's article gives one of the most balanced and sensible views on how Griffin's appearance on the show should be taken. She essentially reminds us that, whilst being presented in the context of a forum for debate, Question Time is ultimately a TV programme, and as such any analysis or comment upon it should regard it primarily as that, even though four of the five panellists were politicians. This, to me, seems the most logical way of dealing with the show and its ramifications. It was not held in parliament, but in a TV studio. It's a TV show about politics first and foremost and a political debate a distant second. Past guests, who are often very much "flavours of the month", confirm this.

Greer then goes on to state how she thinks the show should be seen as the start of a new wave of recognition for exactly what type of person Nick Griffin is. Again, I am inclined to agree with this viewpoint. Many seem to have viewed this week's Question Time as the culmination of the BNP's climb to being recognised as a legitimate political party (I would say that them winning two seats in the European parliament was probably a slightly bigger step than an appearance on BBC One, but never mind). Instead, it should be seen as the beginning of a new chapter, and not a particularly positive chapter for Griffin and his party. Whilst some may see Question Time as legitimising the BNP by giving them a platform, I personally see it as the BBC recognising that the legitimacy ship has already sailed (I refer again to their seats in Europe) and starting the process of toppling the BNP from the level to which they have somehow managed to climb. As Greer so eloquently states:

"By exposing the two-bit rhetoric of [Nick Griffin's] position, Question Time has shown that the emperor has no clothes. Now the long debate can begin. This long debate was never meant to be held on Question Time."

I couldn't agree more. Instead of seeing Griffin's appearance as a defeat for decency and accepting that, people should be using it to bolster the huge amount of weight the BNP have against them. Griffin on Question Time was not the end, but the start of a renewed campaign against them. I hope Bonnie Greer remains at the front of that campaign.

Friday, 23 October 2009

The internet remembers all

I nearly missed the deadline today - lots of stuff going on, most importantly a very important wedding for which I will be providing an ushering service. So if you hear alarming ushing noises from the direction of Barnes tomorrow, do not be concerned, it will simply be me discharging my duties.

In the meantime, I can provide only a reminder of possibly the internet's most important rule: If you put something on the internet, be prepared for people to read it. Even if you think it is private, personal, hidden or deleted, it is there, and if it is embarrassing, expect it to turn up at the worst possible moment.

Possibly even more important than that is the rule that if you try to stop something from spreading on the internet, it will only spread faster, fueled solely by the fact that the spread is undesirable to someone else. Yes, in oh so many ways, the internet is like an attention seeking child.

So, your friends are currently taking screenshots of your facebook page to send to Lamebook, and those embarrassing Twitter updates you thought you deleted are still there via Tweleted. Another victory for freedom of information over personal privacy. Hurrah for modern life!

On an unrelated not, I love SMBC, and this is one of the funniest comics they've had to date.

Video nasty

I've spoken on here about my appreciation for music videos when they are done well. Music videos can be inspired as well as awful, and at their best they are works of art. Music videos also give bands and directors a chance to create something really, well... odd. And I like odd. Here's a few of the ones that stand out to me as particularly weird.

Monkey Drummer - Chris Cunningham & Aphex Twin


Wonderfully odd, refreshingly simple and original, and certainly creepy in many ways. The combination of the organic and the mechanical is something that, when done well, can still produce genuine chills for me (and, I believe, many others) despite the technological age we live in. It's also fun to draw comparisons to the Cadbury's drumming gorilla - he stood out on TV, but compared to the robo-bonobo above our Phil Collins-loving primate seems positively ordinary.

Donkey Rhubarb - Aphex Twin


Another one from Richard D. James, a.k.a Aphex Twin. James' music videos are always something special in a disturbing and oddball way, but at the same time feeling like highly crafted and original works. James has a tendency to use his own face, complete with twisted and unnerving grin, throughout his videos. This one is no different, turning our lovely teddy bears into something plucked from a nightmarish version of CBeebies.

Black Hole Sun - Soundgarden


Being fifteen years old now, some of the effects in this video do come across as a little dated. But I don't think the overall effect is diminished at all. Wonderfully kooky with some genuinely disturbing images, Soundgarden's video presents both a critique and a tribute to the American life and American values. Despite all the surreal barbecues, the giant dogs bathing with women and images of the Apocalypse, it's the grinning plastic-style faces of pretty much everyone in the video (not including the band) that freak me out the most.

Closer - Nine Inch Nails

Everything about this one is just strange and unnerving. Like a compilation of shots from some LSD-fuelled version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, excerpts from long lost science videos and a snuff film, the whole thing oozes gothic atmosphere. If I had to choose one thing that freaks me out the most, it has to be the mechanised heart strapped to the chair right at the start. I believe there's a version without the "scene missing" screens with more sections that couldn't be shown on television, but at the moment I can't find it. I can't imagine how much weirder it could get though.

Don't Let The Man Get You Down - Fatboy Slim (video here)

This one's less overtly odd, but every time I see it I just find the whole thing very uncomfortable and think it's put together in a masterful way. The end is just chilling, so make sure you watch until the very end.

And just to finish...

The Salmon Dance - The Chemical Brothers


Because singing fish are always odd, as well as great fun.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Mr. Griffin Goes To London

I decided to do an entry about Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time about three minutes after the programme started. Interesting to see how well it leads on from Telf's entry directly before this one. As the show is still very much in full swing, I'll give some of my observations thusfar in bullet point form:

  • As I expected, the BBC has made sure it is well-armed to make sure those who are outraged at Nick Griffin's appearance on the show are somewhat appeased and not given further ammunition against the BBC. Griffin almost immediately began declaring himself as a person wronged on a number of fronts, in particular by the papers and by other political parties. I'm glad that the shows researchers have given David Dimbleby an arsenal of quotations by Griffin that he can't dispute.
  • To my mind, Nick Griffin seems like a fairly unintelligent man, but not too bad a politician. His evidence is continually coming from flimsy or vague sources (such as "many scientists" and "online" to name two that have come from Griffin in the last ten minutes). He is very able, however, when faced with a point or a question which he doesn't want to directly answer or tackle, to respond with an attack on another party to deflect the attention away from his own views.
  • I'm glad that some time has been dedicated to showing Nick Griffin, and the BNP as a whole, as a fairly loose example of a political party that is roundly disliked by the the vast majority of people in the studio, both panellists and audience. As expected, a few members of the audience are there in support of Griffin and his organisation, but this just serves to show that things are not being presented in a totally one-sided way.
  • I'm glad that a significant portion of the show has been given over to other topical issues, such as the Jan Moir article on Stephen Gately, and points which are directly questioning or criticising the other parties that are present.
  • Bonnie Greer seems like a wonderful and intelligent woman who I'd like to find out a lot more about.
  • Griffin is being asked about all the issues coming up throughout the show, and so is truly being treated as a panellist and not a punchbag. In my opinion, he's not holding up well, either seeming vague on the issues being presented or simply just riling many people further with needlessly agressive views.
  • Overall, after seeing the show, I'm glad Nick Griffin was allowed on. He was given an equal standing from the start and allowed to argue his way down from that level by himself throughout. True, he was criticised a great deal, but he also offered out a fair amount of criticism , and so to me it never seemed like an unfair situation. Basically, Griffin came across as the blinkered idiot he is, who just happens to know how to twist a conversation.
  • BBC One must be wetting themselves over their viewing figures this evening.
  • Political debate? For the most part. Putting Griffin in the stocks? Not as far as I can see. Publicity stunt? Definitely.
That might be a bit all over the place, so I may follow up with a more structured entry tomorrow. But hopefully that's got across my take on the event at the time/soon after it happened.

The time for questions is now...

I'm out of the house tonight, so won't be able to watch Nick Griffin on Question Time, but I will certainly be watching it as soon as possible after the event. David Aaronovitch has written a great piece about the situation, pointing out some things to keep an eye out for, and giving some suggestions as to what the panellists could focus on.

I particularly agree with his second point: the BNP leader being present is not the point of the programme, despite that being its most newsworthy aspect. He should be treated as any other guest, and be expected to give his views on all the issues raised, whether or not they involve his areas of particular rhetoric. I would almost love to see a programme in which immigration and race does not come up, and he's forced to mumble on about the environment or the economy without being able to crowbar in any sort of message of his own.

Point four is also important, and if he manages to walk the tightrope of decency, and avoids saying anything inflammatory, it is important to avoid throwing the first stone. If everyone attacks him from the off on everything he says, then any real moments of controversy will fail to stand out, and he will continue to play the victim card.

So, I look forward to seeing what kind of questions come up and how Griffin responds to the opportunity to express his views to such a wide audience and whether any of the points in Aaronovitch's article come up.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

The joy of SEW...

... SEW being Simple English Wikipedia. SEW describes itself as "using simple English words and grammar" and being for "children and adults who are learning English". It's a pretty good idea in general. But accessing it as someone who isn't a child or an adult who is learning English can be fun too, especially when accessing some of the pages on complex concepts and ideas. Some of my favourites...

SEW on quantum mechanics:
"QM explains how certain very small things (around the size of atoms) behave. The main things studied are called subatomic particles and electromagnetic waves. Quantum mechanics uses mathematics, much of it is very hard mathematics. QM is important to physics and chemistry."

("very hard mathematics" just makes me smile every time I read it)

SEW on philosophy:
"The ideas in philosophy are abstract, which means that they are 'things that cannot be touched.'"
(I just love the definition of an abstract idea - "Don't you be touchin' them ideas, boy, them's abstract ideas!")

SEW on 9/11:
"People in the group al-Qaeda took control of four airplanes and crashed three of the airplanes into buildings in the United States on purpose."
(This just sounds like a child's account of something that happened in the playground when they've been asked by a teacher what happened)

SEW on Shakespeare:
"He wrote plays about history and tragedy and he wrote comedies"
(Sounds like its been lifted from a GCSE Literature essay which received a low grade)

SEW on evolution:
"The earth has been around for a very long time. By doing research on the layers of rock we can find out about its past. That kind of research is called historical geology. We know that living things have changed over time, because we can see their remains in the rocks. These remains are called "fossils". So we know that the animals and plants of today are different from those of long ago. And the further we go back, the more different the fossils are. How has this come about? Evolution has taken place."
(Imagine Charles Darwin saying this to The Pope and it's even better)


As I said, I'm all for the idea of what Simple English Wikipedia is for, but it's still good fun to imagine its definitions being said slowly and patronisingly to a particularly thick person. Some of the entries do feel genuinely over-simple almost to the point of inaccuracy, but as ultimately we are dealing with a wiki then that's to be expected. If anyone finds any more gems on SEW please share them.

Miscellaneous supermarket stories

I dropped a bottle of milk in a supermarket once. Not a glass one (do they even sell those anywhere), but not a small one either. It was at uni, and I was doing the misjudgement-supermarket-dance; the one where you didn't pick up a basket at the entrance, but now have more stuff than you can comfortably hold in your arms. The risk of dropping something is worrying, but it seems more risky to try and go back to decant everything into a basket than it does to try and make it to the till. So I was doing that dance, with a four-pinter of milk held in the outermost fingers of my right hand. The milk was cold enough that my fingers were getting more and more numb, until, just as I arrived at the till, it slipped, crashing on the floor and spraying an inordinately large amount of milk over me, the floor and nearby shoppers. I apologised profusely, and a nice lady went and got me a replacement bottle, since I was clearly in too much shock to get it myself.

More recently, I dropped a pot of yoghurt on the floor at a supermarket. It was less obvious than the milk incident - I was picking a pot up, and the one below it toppled over. In that example, I did a little loop of the aisles, found an assistant and said "Excuse me, I think someone's dropped some yoghurt in the next aisle"... the perfect crime.

I didn't drop anything today, thank goodness, though I did stand in a queue behind an old lady who dithered for about five minutes over whether she wanted to buy a bottle of juice or not, before deciding that she didn't, and wandering over to place it in a magazine rack, of all places. And, having navigated my way past her, I was faced with the Worlds Strangest Cashier.

I don't want to be mean, but there is a cashier at my local Sainsburys who is really very strange. She speaks in a perfect monotone, with no hint of expression in her voice, and seems to have memorised the Customer Care manual. She'll start with "Hellotherehowareyoutoday?Didyouhaveaniceweekend?Haveyouseenourspecialofferonradishes?" The lack of spaces there is not meant to denote that she speaks quickly, but that though she srags out words, she leaves no gaps between them, or between sentences. It's a very strange and hypnotic method of talking, and I've never been brave enough to try and get her off her script, in case something awful happens. Originally I tried to avoid her when I was in the shop, as I found it a bit unsettling, but now that I'm more used to it, I positively favour her queue. Who could resist finishing a shopping trip to the sound of "ThankyouforshoppingatSainsburysHaveagooddayWehopetoseeyoubackheresoon"

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Badverts 3

Another round up of the adverts that have been pissing me off on a regular basis recently.

Kingsmill


Just really really irritating in almost every way. The adverts seem to be poor imitations of old Tex Avery cartoons (think Tom & Jerry) but don't manage to pull it off, mainly because they don't go far enough with the parody elements, but partly because they're just not very well made. That yodelling sandwich can just fuck off. I don't get it. Is it supposed to be funny? Cute? Ironic? Whatever. The woman in this one is probably friends with the women from the most recent Diet Coke advert too (covered in the last edition of Badverts), because she seems like just as much of a twat as they are. I'm sure If they ever were to meet, they'd get on like a group of women on fire. Because I would have set them on fire.

Sensodyne Iso-active
Can't find this one online at the moment. Bugger. But you know the one. It's in a similar vein to every other Sensodyne advert of recent years: a person sitting on a leather sofa in a bare room talking about Sensodyne recorded on a handheld camera. So far, so painfully badly constructed to try to look "real". But the latest one goes that extra mile. Either that or they just can't be bothered to try and make these people sound like "ordinary" people any more. The woman rambles on about having sensitive teeth, sharp pains, Satan himself dancing on her gums, etc. But then she starts the most over-the-top praise you've ever heard. She says things like Sensodyne's "wrapped it all up in a bow" and asks "where does this product go wrong?" (you can almost hear the director saying "That's right love, just read it off the market research sheet"). If she's this enthusiastic about toothpaste, she must have had a pretty shit life so far. And we still have all the funky "amateur" camerawork so that we know that this woman really is just an "average member of the public" who just decided to come and sit on the Sensodyne sofa and start wetting herself about how amazing their new paste is. Yeah right.

More analysis of god-awful adverts soon (inevitably).

Examples of confuddlement.

When I was in primary school, maybe 9 or 10, I went to the birthday party of a friend of mine. My friend was Polish, and, as far as I can remember, I was the only person there who didn't speak Polish. The party was in a theatre (we were thespian types, even at that age) and involved some party games/drama exercises as entertainment. The games were explained and carried out entirely in Polish, and trying to take part and keep up with what was going on was a little like being a spy in a country where you don't speak the language - 50% trying to do what everyone else was doing and 50% being shouted at unintelligibly. In any case, that party was probably the most confused I have every been.

The second most confused I have ever been was this weekend, when I tried to start watching "Lost" again after almost a year off. The problem with Lost is that relatively little happens on the island itself (stuff happens, obviously, sometimes quite big, flashy, CGI stuff), and a lot of what goes on onscreen is flashbacks into the character's pasts. While I can remember a lot of the on-island action, the character's background is much less narrative and coherent (what with there being umpteen different characters, all with subltly interacting pasts), and much less easy to keep in mind. Watching an episode was like going to a school reunion, where each face brings up out-of-focus highlights that you really feel like you should remember, and each time someone else pops up, you wish you'd done more preparatory work. Luckily there were fewer awkward conversations than a school reunion would produce, and more ability to pause.

Things were so bad that I was watching an episode for several minutes before I realised that my feeling of I-don't-know-what's-going-on was caused by my accidental skipping of two episodes, rather than just the general storyline. Nevertheless, after a bit of time, I managed to pick up enough stands to get back into the flow of the story. I probably won't get as much out of it as I would have if I'd managed to watch it back-to-back with the other seasons, but seeing it again has definitely rekindled my enthusiasm for it, and I hope I can get through it in time to watch the final season once the saga is complete next year.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Necessarily sentimental

A response to Telf's response to my 25 things list.

"...was my correction hideously unromantic, as has been suggested to me?"

Yes it was. That isn't necessarily a problem, and doesn't necessarily mean I don't understand where you're coming from in the change you suggested. But it was definitely unromantic (maybe not hideously, as that's a very subjective adjective to use).

"Is it dreadful to... [allow] for the potential temporality of [a relationship], or is it acceptably practical, given the possibility of any particular relationship breaking down?"

Again, "dreadful" is a very personal choice of wording, but I would say that not referring to someone as "the person you are in love with", instead opting for the indefinite rather than the definite article ("a" rather than "the") simply because you want what you are saying to be accurate, is to potentially come across as jaded towards the person you are with and their feelings. Is it worth seriously offending someone you care about for the sake of technical accuracy?

In reference to "the possibility of any particular relationship breaking down": would you also argue that you should never say "see you tomorrow" to somebody because of the possibility of them dying in many different ways before you see them next?

"Perhaps it is bad form to specifically draw attention to the fact that nothing is certain, and everything must end"

I don't know about bad form, but I would say it's a fairly nihilistic approach to life. If you're applying it to relationships, why not everything else, and if everything is ultimately fragile and temporary, then why bother with anything?

"... is it a good idea to pretend that the current situation (however good it is) is necessarily the situation that will persist for as long as all involved live?"

I would say that this is attributing a greater scope to the human mind than is actually realistic. I have trouble thinking about what I'll be doing in a few months, let alone for the rest of my life. Therefore I would say that to live life in manageable pieces of time, rather than considering whether the current state of affairs will last until the end of your life, is a fairly reasonable choice. I would also say that to change the way you think of your life due to the fact that from one day to the next you can't predict what will happen, what will change, what will begin and what will end, is a fairly weighty burden to carry. I don't consider this to be pretending; I consider it to be pragmatism and, ultimately, a human way of thinking.

"the phrase... [seems]... to assign a uniqueness to the subject, implying (in my mind) that there will only be one such person, and that the author will not fall in love with anyone else."

Again, if we are approaching the subject of love entirely technically, then I can understand where you are coming from. But I would take issue with approaching love with any technicality. To me, stating that I have found "the person I fall in love with" is the same as saying "the person I want to continually be in love with", as there's nobody else that I want to be in love with and I don't see that changing. It's not about there only being one person or not, but about the fact that I don't want there to be another person.

This may be slightly disparate as a cohesive entry, but I felt that Telf's response to my original point warranted from me a lengthier response than just a comment. Essentially, whilst I can empathise with the point of view from which Telf was writing, I still stand by my original wording because of the way I feel, and I suppose because ultimately I am a romantic person, and a person in love.

Political debate

Apologies for the potentially long, boring, misguided and excessively political ramblings that follow. My attempts to get post-material from the day's news may produce results that are far less entertaining than readers would hope...

There's been quite a lot of press coverage about Nick Griffin of the BNP appearing on an upcoming episode of Question Time, most recently concerning the threats of a legal challenge, should they proceed.

Personally, I think that the idea of denying a platform to groups we (as a societal majority) disagree with is dubious at the best of times, and that denying a platform to that group once they actually represent people in a democratic capacity is verging on dangerous. Nick Griffin, as an MEP for Britain, represents us politically, however much many of us may disagree with his views, and to try to block him from appearing alongside other elected representatives on a political programme would smack of bias. That bias (i.e. anti-BNP sentiment) being held by a majority doesn't make it any less of a bias, and surely the BBC should not take that into account when deciding on a panel.

The argument against a generally-opposed group appearing alongside more established parties is ordinarily that it gives them an aura of respectability, and that to paint them as an acceptable choice is a bad idea when they are simply a minority with an extreme view - a meaningless choice on the ballot paper for those with similar prejudices. This argument becomes weaker as the BNP become an active representational political force, however, since opposition to them where such opposition is not shown to similarly unpopular parties (polls-wise, at least), begins to look like discrimination. Are we really comfortable as a society saying that the views of the BNP are so toxic that we dare not debate with them in public, in case it does more harm than good? If so, that shows serious misgivings either about our ability to argue against them or against the medium of debate.

I would seriously worry about any party or politician who showed concern about the first point there. Unwillingness to debate with someone who you disagree with because you are concerned about being unable to stand up to them is a sign of a poor debater or of a poor ideology. A politician with either of these characteristics would do well to re-examine his profession.

On the other hand, I have much more sympathy for concern about the second point. If we are worried about giving the BNP a platform because that platform can be exploited, then we need to think about changing the rules of the platform. Question time is certainly not a perfect medium for debate. Like any television debate, it is time-limited and vulnerable to soundbite domination by someone with a quick mind. Someone trying to make a point can be entirely drowned out by another guest who is louder and more forceful. With five people talking at once, valid points are not always returned to, and useful lines of reasoning can be lost.

As with anything presented for mainstream consumption, it cannot be rigorous debate, because that is not entertaining enough for broadcast. Although it would be interesting to see each argument the BNP put forward being torn apart by a team of analysts with the full backing of a database of statistics, and all the time they needed to construct a perfectly-worded rebuttal, it would not make BBC primetime, and would not be watched by enough people to make a difference in public opinion.

So what are we left with? We can ban the BNP from appearing on question time because we disagree with their view and we worry that within the boundaries of the programme we would not be able to stop them coming out looking reasonable and supportable, or we can challenge them in a more rigorous environment that will get no press and no interest.

There's no easy answer, but I would argue that it is better to get the arguments against the BNP out in the open as quickly as possible and avoid the appearance of a society so afraid of an extreme ideology that it must ban it from the airwaves lest it infect more people. If we keep treating the BNP as a special case, they will continue to claim that they are underdogs, treated badly because no one understands them. Proving their arguments do not stand up is the only way to stop them looking like an acceptable choice that is unfairly picked on, and if we need to debate with them in non-ideal conditions to do this, then that is the risk we must take.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Reissue issue

I received an email today from The Prodigy's official website informing me that a Special Edition of their most recent album Invaders Must Die is to be released mid November. The new edition is to include an additional CD of remixes and new versions of many of the album's tracks as well as a DVD with several of the album's music videos. Being a big Prodigy fan, this would in most circumstances be something I would be very happy to hear and eagerly anticipate. But this time, not so much. The reason for my lacklustre reaction is that the original version of the album was only released at the end of February this year.

Now, as a Prodigy fan of many years, I will almost certainly be picking up the new version of the album soon after its release, selling on my current copy or possibly just keeping hold of it. Despite begrudging paying for a new copy less than nine months after its original release, I'll still fork over my hard-earned spondulix to own an album I already own, one disc of remixes that I don't, and one disc of music videos that I'll probably only ever watch a handful of times (but still want to own). And I feel that it's people like me that the album is being released for. The Prodigy and/or their record label (most probably the latter) know that there are fans out there who'll buy the new version despite already owning the album. In short, I think they're a bunch of money-grabbing bastards (again, the record label mostly, although the band a bit too).

I don't mind reissues and "special editions" per se. For example, the Beastie Boys have recently been rereleasing several of their albums remastered and with a bonus CD of B-sides, remixes and unreleased material. The most recent of these I purchased was Hello Nasty. Now, I did own a copy of this album before buying the remastered version, but the situation differs in that Hello Nasty was first released in 1998. Eleven years is slightly different to nine months, I'm sure you'll agree. So, as I said, it's not the reissue that I disagree with. If anything I'm a big fan of new versions of albums with lots of extra things included. But to release a new version significantly less than a year after the original release, to my mind, is motivated by profit more than anything else.

Unnecessarily unsentimental

Last week I commented on Bambi's post about the things he's learned in twenty-five years, to suggest that I agreed with one of his points, with a slight alteration. His point was this:

No matter how settled into the idea of being perpetually single you ever become, you will never be able to predict how much more wonderful meeting the person who you fall in love with will be.
and my suggested alteration was this:
No matter how settled into the idea of being perpetually single you ever become, you will never be able to predict how much more wonderful meeting a person who you fall in love with will be.
So far, so gloriously saccharine. But was my correction hideously unromantic, as has been suggested to me?

Is it dreadful to refer to the person with whom you are currently in love as just that, "the person with whom you are currently in love", allowing for the potential temporality of the situation, or is it acceptably practical, given the possibility of any particular relationship breaking down?

Perhaps it is bad form to specifically draw attention to the fact that nothing is certain, and everything must end, but is it a good idea to pretend that the current situation (however good it is) is necessarily the situation that will persist for as long as all involved live?

On reading the phrase that Bambi used, and which I have quoted above, I was niggled by the use of "the person who you fall in love with", which seemed (and still seems) to assign a uniqueness to the subject, implying (in my mind) that there will only be one such person, and that the author will not fall in love with anyone else.

Assuming that someone doesn't believe that the first, admittedly more romantic, statement is necessarily true, is it enough to use it while hoping that it is true, for the sake of poetics, or is that misleading if the person doesn't actually believe it?

Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Fox clever

Next weekend, the film adaptation of the Roald Dahl book Fantastic Mr. Fox opens in cinemas across the country. When I first heard about the film earlier this year I was intrigued and interested to see how it would turn out. When I heard that Wes Anderson was the director, my interest grew. But it's only now that the film is receiving a fair amount of attention, more than I personally expected seeing as Anderson is often considered to be an indie director, that I realise how excited I am to see the film. I've been a fan of Dahl's books since I was very young; Anderson too is a film maker whose work I have thoroughly enjoyed in the past. So, to see them brought together on the big screen is an exciting prospect, and could be a very special film.

But the more I thought about how exctiting the film potentially was, the more I started to worry. Anderson, whilst being one of my favourite directors, has moved to a film medium in which he has never worked before: animation. And not only animation, but stop-motion animation. Anderson has shunned the CGI revolution of cinema and opted for a more traditional, old-fashioned method of animated film. Anderson therefore faces potential criticism on a number of fronts. From mainstream cinema-goers for actively going away from a style of animation which is successful and popular; from animation traditionalists who will be scrutinising the film against past masterpieces of stop-motion; and from his fanbase, who will want his move into a whole new style of film-making to be just as wonderful as the films already in his canon.

And then there is comparison to previous adaptations of Dahl stories. Arguably, so far we have never seen a truly fantastic film adaptation of a Roald Dahl. We've seen some masterful attempts (Tim Burton's Charlie & The Chocolate Factory), some very enjoyable ones (the 1990 version of The Witches and 1971's Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory) and some that really didn't do a lot to capture the magic and mastery of the original (Danny DeVito's flimsy and twee adaptation of Matilda). None of these were awful - many were very good - but we have yet to see a film which reaches the heights of the original Dahl book.

Fantastic Mr. Fox, whilst being a book I have read, is not one of Dahl's books that I know the story of inside out. It is certainly at least ten years since I've read the book, probably closer to fifteen. But I'm purposefully choosing not to re-read the novel before I see the film in this instance. Anderson is a director who does things very much his way, and I would be very surprised if he chose to do everything exactly as Dahl writes it in the novel. By not reading the book again before seeing the film, I'm giving the film a fair chance to make the statement that it wants to make, rather than simply comparing it to the book.

To provide some sort of conclusion to this entry, which has ended up being several threads on the same theme, I'm still very excited to see the film but certainly will be walking into the cinema with more trepidation than I have for a while. I really hope Anderson does Dahl justice, but I also hope that he does himself justice too. Essentially, the film could be a riproaring success on all counts and one of the most original pieces of cinema of the year, or it could be an embarrassment for both the director, his source material, and fans of both. I have faith, and I hope, that the outcome will be closer to the first scenario.

Not a link post, honest...

I haven't really got anything particular to talk about today, so I thought I'd do a quick run down of some of the quick-fire feeds that I use to help the day go faster. These are generally image-blogs or twitter-style micro blogs (following in the footsteps of the epic failblog) which give you lots of examples of a tiny amount of content every day. Perfect for reading in between items of work, or in a few spare minutes at the end of a day:

FmyLife - I think I've linked to this one before, but it's really quite sublime. Tiny little anecdotes from people's lives where everything has gone wrong. [example]

Notalwaysright - Stories of stupid, misguided or just plain insane customers, from the point of view of shop employees. [example]

This is photobomb - Examples of unexpected elements (often other people) appearing in the back- or foreground of photos. [example]

Texts from last night - Examples of random text messages (or conversations) often related to some sort of debauched night out. The entries are usually boiled down to the essential elements, so as to leave any explaination purely to the viewer's imagination. [example]

Probably bad news - Examples of mistaken or humorously ambiguous news headlines and articles, from both print and TV. [example]

There, I fixed it - Botched repair or construction projects. [example]

Anyway, the advantage of this sort of content is that if a particular entry doesn't thrill you, not only have you wasted no time on it, but you've also probably got several more appearing any minute. As with all of these sorts of things online, best to avoid the comments, which are packed full of strange examples of humanity whose only contact with the outside world seems to be via comment threads, and thus tend not to make a whole lot of sense.

Friday, 16 October 2009

'Tache back

In times of crisis, when I really don't know what the hell I'm going to write about here with time a-ticking, I turn to an old friend for inspiration. An old friend who adorns the mouth area of my face. Yes, I'm talking about my beard.

To refer to facial hair as a friend may seem a little over-the-top, but, when I think about it, it's not entirely unwarranted. My beard is celebrating its fifth anniversary around now as I first began growing it soon after turning 20 (I think it was a combination of no longer being a teenager and the disruption, both mental and geographical, of beginning university). That means that, aside from one or two times within those five years, my beard has been there for almost a fifth of my time on this planet. That's a fair chunk of my life.

And in those rare times when I've elected to try life sans whiskers, I really haven't liked it. I find it strange to see my own face staring back at me in the mirror with my beard missing. I even feel quite different in myself, as if I've chosen an alternative appearance for some sinister purpose. My chin always feels too cold as well in times of beardlessness. Yes, my beard has definitely become a part of my identity. When removed, or even trimmed down to keep it under control in times of necessary tidiness, people I know have even on several occasions asked me where my "trademark" beard has gone. For a simple choice not to shave to become something that defines who I am, even become what people see me as, is a pretty hefty thing to carry with me. It's a pretty hefty idea to actually comprehend in some ways too.

So there we have it, my beard is actually slowly taking over who I am. I have ways of keeping it subservient however. A couple of days ago I chose to remove my moustache (transforming it from a Van Dyke to a true goatee for all you beard-watchers out there); in the past I have changed its width on my chin, its length, choosing whether to have the goatee and moustache joined up or not, and once or twice even just having the 'tache flying solo (although the cold chin issue came up again). So in that way, it will never truly take over. It makes sure I still feel in control, whilst also giving me the opportunity to select from some minor variations on my face. But maybe one day I'll want such a change as I did five years ago and remove it entirely, exposing my chin to the world once again. But I hope not.

Twitter-lanche

I've recently began using my twitter account again. Not because of any desperate urge to micro-blog again - since I'm already doing altogether more macro-blogging than my brain can handle - but, shamefully, because my workplace has set up an account. Not wanting to be outpaced by a non-sentient entity, then, I've gone back to the beast, though probably only for a limited time.

When Twitter does make it into the news at the moment, it's usually because of its use as a real-time conduit for news, comment and reaction (as though there aren't innumerable other routes for such things), and usually in the context of the media's surprise at the scale of the response. Often these things are self-inflated "issues", where the web gets itself all het up about a particular event or issue, and the feedback loop of up-to-the-minute social networking means that lots of people talk about it at once, which makes it look like a big deal to more mainstream media.

In any case, it was interesting to see such a storm build up today over Jan Moir's article for the Daily Mail about the recent death of Stephen Gately. The article is at best pointless, offering as it does nothing to back up its own badly-framed conjecture. Even by rumour-mongoring standards, the piece seems weak, since any points made are vague and rambling, without any concrete central argument. Essentially she seems to be saying "So, that Gately was pretty young to have died. Suspicious that, innit. Gay too, I hear. That must have had something to do with it."

The article went up about 10am or so, and the first twitter posts I saw appeared shortly afterwards. As the news spreads, with people quoting each other and linking again and again to the article, the bigger guns pick it up. These celebrity twitterers are doing nothing more than repeating the same reactions and link as those before them, but with hundreds of thousands of followers, the message suddenly explodes, and with more and more people reading the article, reaction turns into action from all sides. Spoofs and responses are posted, and the newspaper itself is forced to try to respond (in this case by editing at least the headline of the offending article - a futile reaction online).

After this, more direct action comes to the forefront, with suggestions of official complaints followed by some going further, prompting calls for restraint.

Finally, an official reaction from the author of the article. Though she tries to address some of the issues raised about her initial piece, she ignores others. Though in her original article, she says that only the other two men in the flat will know what went on, she has no hesitation to make suggestions in her follow up piece about what she believes happened. Ultimately, she can't hide the fact that she was writing for a national newspaper and simply spouting vague and meaningless supposition for which there was no evidential support. And the people who read her article were rightly annoyed about it.

For her to suggest that there was "clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign" against her shows both a fairly egotistical view of her own importance, and also a fundamental misunderstanding of how news travels on the internet. There was no conscious organisation or orchestration because there did not have to be - the internet community self-organised without any leadership, as it does whenever there is enough movement in one direction. To see conspiricies and personal attacks in this sort of response is like suggesting that an avalanche is an organised attack by some sort of rogue group of snowflakes.

Final thoughts.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Singing into your airbrush

As a starting point to this entry, I draw your attention to no. 10 on this list I posted a few entries ago. The reason I draw your attention to this is because this entry focuses on that most wonderful, wholesome and all-round high quality reality TV series The X Factor.

Now, I'm not a fan of The X Factor, but that doesn't mean that when Hayley's watching it I don't sit there and take the piss out of/get drawn into it. It feels like The X Factor has been on for several months already, but it's apparently only about six or seven weeks. Plenty of time for me to start analysing its incredibly manufactured style and pick it apart like the English teacher I am. So, for the first few weeks we are treated to talentless morons who are completely oblivious to how rubbish they are, a smattering of people who do know how rubbish they are and are playing it up to a nauseating level in order to get on telly, and a handful of people who are okay singers but nothing special. So far so excruciating. Some of these are put through to sing/make me want to punch them again, and their number is reduced again seemingly arbitrarily by Simon Cowell and his three puppets. Then this number is cut in half again through pretty much exactly the same meaningless process as before, and then again although this time in ridiculously over-the-top locations aroung the world.

All this time, the makers of the show do as much as they can to make the contestants seem "real". It's not enough that they are human beings who can breath and eat and blink and sweat, no, the audience has to be shown how "real" these people really are. They're much more "real" than anyone sitting at home because they've all experienced a multitude of hardships that, whilst many other people have experienced these too, they've not experienced them to the degree that our contestants have. Either that or the contestants have had to deal with more than one hardship at the same time. Or, if they haven't got enough hardships from their pre-X Factor lives to make them seem "real" enough, then they're given a new one during the course of the show, even if that's something as trivial as a sore throat that means they can't do the one thing that makes their miserable existence worthwhile to them, i.e. singing. Yes, these are "real" people; they must be "real" because, after all, this is reality television we're dealing with.

So in the last episode, after several years of whittling down the contestants, the series entered the phase of proceedings where our contestants start actually doing pop-star-type things such as extravagant performances with lots of vigorous dancers, intricate choreography, colourful pyrotechnics and, well, basically anything that can distract us from the fact that these people aren't really that good at singing. Par for the course when we're talking ITV Saturday and Sunday evening light entertainment. But what struck me is that, having spent every moment of the series up to this point ramming the "realness" of these people down our throats, the show now presents them as fabricated, artificial pop wannabes without a shred of reality to them. They have the contestants standing in front of some kind of wind turbine, or possibly part of an aeroplane hangar, make up clinging to their every pore, some with a pointless new hairdo, and airbrushed beyond recognition.

Having told us about all the hardships these people have had to deal with, and before they've even become pop stars to pour into the already over-saturated and homogenised charts, the contestants are reduced down to manufactured shells for whom the general public turn their money over to ITV via their phones because Dermot O'Leary tells them to.

Anyway, as I continue to experience this year's series of The X Factor, I anticipate at least one more rant being generated from the ordeal, so watch this space.

Interview technique

We've been interviewing recently for a manager. And by "we" I mean my team at work. And by "interviewing", I mean interviewing badly. The trouble is that the initial interview, the final interview and the actual decision are all taken by my boss, and while the rest of the team get a chance to voice an opinion, it all rather happens in the middle of the process.

What happens, then, is that we all end up in a room with someone who might one day be managing us, and forty-five minutes or so later, we are expected to come up with an opinion about whether or not we'd be happy with them. The main problem with this is that with eight people trying to ask questions, there's not very much time for everyone to get a word in. Naturally, we can't all ask everything we want (the interview would take hours), but it makes it all a bit of a show. We have to try and divine whether or not someone might make a good manager based on a brief group conversation and possibly the chance to ask a question.

The other main problem is that for whatever reason (possibly because this person would be senior to us), we don't get to see their CV before the interview, which means that not only are huge swathes of time lost as they go through their background and experience for our benefit, but also that we don't get to jump straight to anything that might be of particular interest in their CV. Fair enough we're not doing the direct interview, just forming an opinion, but sending us in blind means that the time for meaningful questions is reduced further. And we're not only lacking the applicant's CV, but also the actual description of the job they're applying for. This means that we can't ask questions about aspects of the role (e.g. under what circumstances would you consider hiring new people) because we have no idea what the limits of the role are (e.g. do they actually have hiring power).

The result of all of this is that we are only able to give the vaguest of gut feelings, and means that because the most obvious answer we can all give is "I saw nothing to say that they'd do a bad job", the natural reaction is to try and find something more to say by picking up on some small aspect of the interview and making a judgement based on it. After one interview, the testing team said that they weren't sure about a candidates qualifications in terms of testing because they hadn't seemed to answer questions on testing well, when the candidate was only asked one question about testing, and the question itself (as I recall) was badly phrased and overly specific.

In any case, I have no idea how much weight is given to our opinions, and so it may be that any subtlety is ignored, and as long as we don't hate the person, it is considered a thumbs up from us. Given that we are not privy to any of the surrounding discussion and decision making, it is difficult to tell how much our interviewing skills are being put to use.

That was a bit random, and probably overly technical, sorry, but this whole posting-every-day thing is really sapping my inventive energy. I literally sat in front of the screen for 10 minutes trying to think of something (anything) interesting to write about at my current low-energy level.