Saturday, August 09, 2003

Here comes the deadline...

Today's the last day for those candidates who want to be Governor of California to file their nomination papers. They won't be announcing the names of candiates for a few days yet, but the California Secretary of State's department has got a web page showing how many candidates have submitted nomination papers so far. At the end of yesterday, 443 people had obtained nomination papers but only 17 had returned them, though I suspect there'll be a big surge towards the end of the day as people frantically rush to submit their papers. Of course, there'll be lots of news crews there to record various people submitting their papers, so what odds are there on a candidate claiming that s/he couldn't submit in time because the way in was blocked by cameras? Or, for a long shot, what's the chance of the news crews all getting bored, teaming together and nominating one of them for Governor there and then?

Calpundit had a little sweepstake the other day on how many candidates there'd be in the end. I went for 89, so we know it's going to be any number except that.

But, while you're reading the reports, think of the staff working on this election, who are going to have to check all the ballot papers and signatures to be sure that they're valid. Still, it's only 65 signatures per candidate, unless someone's gone for the cheap route and got 10,000 signatures which cancels out the need to pay a deposit. (The full rules are here (pdf file), should you be interested, or are just having trouble sleeping right now)

Does that include a free t-shirt?

I've been reading about this BloggerCon taking place in the US this October, and the various incredulous posts from people wondering just what they're charging $500 for here, here, here and here.

Considering Voxpolitics managed to organise Blog Rule within the Houses of Parliament, with journalists, politicians and bloggers all present and charged people the grand total of, erm, nothing to attend, I suggest all British bloggers act exceedingly smugly towards Americans for a while, having shown just how much better we are at this sort of thing.

Da da da da de da de da da de da de da de da...

Match Of The Day will be back on BBC One every Saturday night next year after the BBC regained the rights to show Premiership highlights. Now Wolves definitely have to stay up in the Premiership so I can see us appear on 'proper' MOTD, not just during the FA Cup. Then I might just accept we're in the top division - I still find myself looking at the various Nationwide League previews that are in the paper right now, forgetting we're out of that horrible footballing wasteland now.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Both sides of the story

Those of you bemused by this Peter Cuthbertson post may find some enlightenment here.

Update: Corrected a potentially embarrassing typo. My bad, not intentional.

Coppola's Likely Lads

With the film Freddy vs Jason about to be released, Kim Newman has an interesting article about crossovers in films and literature. It's a good-enough survey of some of the more prominent ones (especially within horror movies, Newman's speciality) but it misses out, probably for reasons of modesty, some of the literary crossovers Newman, and his sometime collaborator Eugene Byrne, have written.

The most famous (or at least, the best selling) is Newman's solo Anno Dracula novels and short stories, which deals with an alternate reality where Stoker's Dracula was a non-fictional account of the attempt to destroy the Count that ultimately fails. I've not read much of them but the short story Coppola's Dracula (think Apocalypse Now filmed in Transylvania) is a good example of them, illustrating how Newman likes to mix elements from the real world in with fantastic.

Of more interest in terms of crossovers is the Back In The USSA series of stories. Here, Newman and Byrne create a world where the United States becomes a Communist nation during the First World War, while the Tsar retains power in Russia and it becomes the major economic power. Some have called this series 'alternate history', but without getting into a huge debate over what alternate history actually is (go to soc.history.what-if if you want that discussion) I prefer a term used to describe them in Interzone - 'pop cultural fantasies'. The key to the series is not just the reversal of the positions of the US and Russia during the twentieth century, but the way Newman and Byrne mix fictional characters in with real ones. For instance, one of the factors that instigates the collapse of the US into Communism is the corrupt Presidency of Charles Foster Kane.

The fantasy aspect of the stories means that Newman and Byrne are pretty much free to introduce any characters they want from our fictional and real histories which means the stories are as much a satire on our histories and fictions as they are an exploration of this alternate world. In 'Tom Joad', Melvin Purvis (of the Federal Bureau of Ideology) is seeking the titular character, who is believed to be rebelling against the harsh rule of Party Chairman Al Capone., 'Abdication Street' features Isaac Asimov as a mystic on Russian television while Peter Sellers has married Princess Margaret and become the Earl of Balham and 'On The Road' features Robert Maxwell leading a travelling capitalist roadshow across the post-Communist US, and includes both Lady Penelope, the Blues Brothers and a rather animated (some may say vicious) preacher called John Beverley.

The ultimate crossover aspect comes in the story 'Teddy Bears' Picnic' which is effectively Apocalypse Now starring the Likely Lads and a host of other characters from British TV and literature. Here though, they're real people, experiencing Britain's fateful involvement alongside its ally, Russia, against the USSA-backed Viet Cong. In a way, it's perhaps the best illustration of the world Newman and Byrne have created - what's light comedy in our world, is the darkest of humour in the alternate, but then it does allow for lines like: 'Hullo clouds, hullo sky, hullo pile of severed human heads,' said Major Basil Fotherington-Thomas.

Update: James Graham declares his membership of the Liberal Democrat Newmanista faction as well. The policies will no doubt revolve around replacing the traditional Lib Dem beard with an elaborate Newmanesque moustache.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

More Bond-age

A couple of comments on James Bond from the post below that I wanted to comment on in a bit more detail:

First, Gert asks 'who would you cast Tony as?' (I presume she's referring to Tony Blair, Fettes College's second most famous alumnus) It's actually a tricky one to answer. He's not really convincingly evil, malevolent or cunning enough to be the big villain and couldn't really be a henchman. Bond himself is out of course, if only because I can't see Tony being able to do all the drinking and womanising the job involves, and and I doubt that his desire for publicity would be regarded as a useful asset for any other career in MI6. So, the role would have to be some sort of flunky Bond meets on the way and dismisses quickly, or the rather obvious panicking politician occasionally seen in Bond movies (Julian Fellowes' Defence Secretary in Tomorrow Never Dies springs to mind) who always thinks Bond and MI6 have failed and is about to send the troops in until Bond achieves his mission at the end.

Jez comments, referring to George Lazenby: 'Am I the only person in the world to think the Australian guy (whose name momentarily escapes me) who played Bond in 'On Her Majesty\'s Secret Service' was really good?' It's one of those questions that can keep film fans debating for hours, but my feeling is that he was pretty hard done by and unlucky. In his one outing as Bond, in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, he did show signs of being able to carry off the role, particularly in the romance with Diana Rigg's Tracy. However, the main plot of the film was terrible with his main job seemingly being to wear a kilt, call himself Hilary and infiltrate a girl's finishing school in Switzerland that Blofeld is using for nefarious purposes. It's a plot one would associate with Carry On Spying or a scene from Casino Royale than a real Bond one. It would have been interesting if he'd been given the chance to be Bond in Diamonds are Forever or Live and Let Die and then you could make a better judgement on his abilities. I'd still rank him above Roger Moore, if only for the fact that he could act with more than just one eyebrow.

OHMSS suffers from something that's affected a couple of the more recent Bond movies as well (notably Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough) - the 'is that it?' factor. It comes at the moment when you discover the villain's evil plan and you end up thinking 'is that it?' or, in more detail, 'you went to all that trouble just for that?' TND is probably the best (or worst, depending on the point of view) example of this - Carver goes to incredible lengths (stealing GNS devices, building a stealth boat, goading Britain and China to the brink of war) and then reveals that he's done it all to sell more newspapers and get more people watching his TV channels. Now, we all know media barons are men who'd do almost anything to make an extra dollar or two, but aren't Bond villains meant to be trying to take over the world, or at least a major part of it? And in TWINE, Elektra is again willing to go to extraordinary lengths, including blowing up a nuclear submarine in Istanbul... to get an oil pipeline built. Given the amount of money needed for the plan, wouldn't it have just been cheaper to bribe a few people? They're the sort of plans you suspect a real villain like Blofeld would have been able to achieve in a couple of hours rather than an entire film.

There's not anything necessarily wrong with Bond foiling plots that aren't to take over the world, but when they're done well, the film isn't so much about the intricacies of the villain's plan but the personal interplay between Bond and the villain. Both of the Dalton films are like this, but the classic of the type is probably Goldfinger - which, of course, is the best Bond film.

Secret Histories

The true story of Mad Musings of Me. I assume the old lancashirewideweb consisted of Bert and Harry - though there would probabl have been a Manchester Guardian website for them to link to and argue about.

The bad old English

This article on how Hollywood bad guys are usually played by British actors doesn't really cover any new ground, and it misses out my two favourite (and quite creative) uses of British actors as bad guys - David Suchet in Executive Decision and Art Malik in True Lies, proving that even Arab terrorists can be British in Hollywood's eyes.

However, it got me thinking about how one of cinema's most enduring heroes - James Bond - is actually British which seems to buck the trend, until you realise that the bad guys are usually played by English actors (though with the possible exception of Anthony Hopkins and Robert Carlyle) and only one Bond actor - Roger Moore - has actually been English and was perhaps the worst Bond of them all, in my opinion. In fact, while Bond is generally seen as a quintessential English gentleman, he shares a lot of Ian Fleming's Scottish roots, such as having attended Fettes College (as did Tony Blair, I believe). Perhaps it adds to the theory of 'English bad guys' when you consider that the three best Bonds - in my opinion, anyway - were Scottish (Connery), Welsh (Dalton) and Irish (Brosnan).

Is this the free market in action, or just fun?

Another great link found via Hot Buttered Death - the Top 40 UK Albums reviewed in terms of how much it's worth paying for them (and where and when they're available at that price). Anyone who agreest that the Stereophonics should be paying us to listen to their latest album is worth reading, I think.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Three for the price of one

Amongst all the reports from Edinburgh, The Guardian previews three French films that sound rather interesting. The three films - Un Couple Epatant, Cavale, and Apres la Vie (An Amazing Couple, On The Run and After Life) - were all filmed simultaneously and reference each other yet are all individual films in different genres.

From the desciptions, it sounds like they constitute an interesting perspective on storytelling, particularly with reference to how looking at an event from different perspectives can bring all sorts of different connotations. Of course, this could just be a gimmick that won't hold the attention of an audience if the films are bad, but I'd be interested in seeing them. Of course, it seems they're only being screened in Edinburgh, so I'll no doubt have to wait for the DVDs (the interactivity of which could add other interesting spins to the interconnection, of course) but maybe the Vodkabird might be fitting them in on her Fringe itinerary.


Which Communist philosopher was thrown off Beachy Head?

The Virtual Stoa has the answer.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

And I'm a Leo as well...

Yet again, Oliver Kamm refers to me as 'Liberal Democrat blogger Nick Barlow'. Still, it's probably better than being the 'stupidest blogger alive' (which sounds so much better when you think of it being said by Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons).

Now, I can see why Oliver would want to put the 'blogger' in front of there to distinguish me from any other Nick Barlows he or his readership might know but, while I have no objections to being identified as a Liberal Democrat there doesn't really seem to be any need to identify me as such in his recent post. Besides, I prefer to think of myself as a blogger who happens to be a Liberal Democrat (amongst many other things) rather than a Liberal Democrat blogger, with its connotations of being a kind of mouthpiece for the party. It might only seem a subtle difference, but I think it's an important one.

But, should Oliver or anyone else feel that just identifying me as 'blogger Nick Barlow' is just not specific enough, some alternatives they might want to consider when describing me are: 'tall', 'humanist', 'brown-haired', 'Wolves-supporting', 'blue-eyed', 'English', 'overweight', 'Peugeot-driving' and many others I'm sure you can find out from looking at this blog or the rest of my website.

OK, so they might not be strictly relevant to the point under discussion, but why get hung up on little details like that?

Surveys and statistics

Two quick things:

1) If you haven't taken Chris Lightfoot's political survey yet, please do (it'll only take five minutes)

2) If you have, or you've just come back here after following instruction number 1, Chris has an explanation of what some of the preliminary results mean. There's some interesting stuff coming out of the survey so far, it seems.

And Jesus didn't spake, so we just made it up

Reading about the gay bishop in American story (and the British one beforehand) one thought struck me. Now, I'm an atheist, so the wacky rules imposed by someone's invisible friend never really make that much sense to me, but can someone explain that whenever the subject of homosexuality comes up, the sections of the bible invoked to condemn it aren't the same ones that involve Jesus. I would have thought if this issue is so important then supposed Christians would actually want to rely on the word of Christ himself, rather than someone else.

Monday, August 04, 2003

And now for a smile...

A couple of years ago, I wrote a sitcom script - Welcome Home - with a friend of mine. We sent it to various production companies and got a nice selection of rejection letters by return. So, we've decided it's languished in the darkness of my hard drive for far too long and it might as well see the light, so it's now available for your reading pleasure in my writing section. Hopefully, there's a few things in there that'll raise a smile or two, maybe even a laugh here or there, even if it's just a 'they really thought they could sell this?' kind of laugh.

Le Maillot Rouge, Blanc et Bleu

The news that the establishment of a British road cycling team is being considered is a welcome development for the sport. In the late 80s, the old ANC-Halfords team competed in the Tour and that gave a welcome boost to a lot of British cyclists. Even though the team folded pretty swiftly, it managed to get a few British riders into the spotlight and meant we did have a number of cyclists in the Tour for a few years, most notably Sean Yates.

Like many British sporting ideas, it does seem to be based on an idea the Australians had a few years ago of course, but if it does come off then it'll mean the next David Millar will get much more support on his way up through the ranks and, if Millar doesn't do it first, perhaps a British winner of the Tour sometime in the future.

Have you seen this house?

Just a quick note for my readers in the US. If you notice that any of your neighbours have suddenly found themselves an extra little house in their back yards, you might want to check to see if it's stolen property.

Lies, damn lies and posts on Conservative Commentary

Oh look, Cuthbertson's lying again.

To explain: On Friday, Ryan wrote this post discussing the Baader-Meinhof gang. It was an interesting post, in which Ryan how some people's frustration with the democratic process can lead them to go outside it and use violence to achieve their aims. In the comments section, I said that it was a great post and gave my opinion that the end doesn't justify the means but sometimes some people believe it does.

And, it would probably have been left at that had not Oliver Kamm seen the post and decided to write a condemnation of it in which he called Ryan 'the stupidest blogger alive'. It's pretty much your typical Kamm rant - some interesting facts about the Neo-Nazi links of Baader-Meinhof/the Red Army Fraction combined with a personal attack on someone on the left who Oliver disagrees with. Maybe Ryan was vague on a couple of points, and perhaps Oliver doesn't really understand irony, but I think Oliver's missed the point of Ryan's post which was to say that while terrorism is wrong, sometimes you can understand (note the key word is 'understand', not 'condone', though I know certain people seem to think the two words are synonymous) why some people sometimes resort to it.

And then, Peter Cuthbertson decides to join the fray and refer to 'Beatnik Salad and Nick Barlow's favourable comments on a neo-Nazi terror group' peoving, as always, that while some people might like to debate and discuss issues, Peter prefers the good old fashioned argument by smear tactic.

In a post the other week, I said that UK political blogging was a lot nicer than its American or Australian counterparts because we didn't just sit back and throw insults at each other. For the most part, I still think that's true, but there are still people out there who'd be quite happy to drag us down into the mud-slinging with them. When Lambert was guest blogging on Eschaton the other week, he found himself having to include a 'troll prohylactic' statement at the end of several posts because there are people out there who like to go round hunting for quotes and comments that can be twisted out of context. It's a shame that some people seem to enjoy doing that.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Save Adam's marriage!

See, what makes our marriage so special to me and my wife is that our government recognizes it as a sacred union that gay people can't have. I mean, sure, we love each other and everything, but the real glue that holds us together is that we've joined an exclusive club that gay people aren't allowed to join.
Just read the whole thing (via No More Mister Nice Blog)

...and your enemies closer

Matthew Turner has joined the Conservative Party. No, it's not the result of him having some sort of ideological epiphany, more the chance to offer a counterpoint to Stephen Pollard and Oliver Kamm (and his amazing straw men), but there are some good reasons for it:
The advantages are clear. I can now criticize their policies with the zeal of a man-let-down, a true-believer who has seen the error of his ways. I get to shake my head in sorrow each time they advocate a right-wing policy. I GET TO VOTE ON IDS'S REPLACMENT. Fun times ahead.
Plus, it's quite possible he might even be able to turn a profit from his membership by a careful use of the various offers they give members.

Things to do in Uttar Pradesh when you're dead

Number 1: Stage a protest to show you're actually alive. You'd think that by now, seeing as there are estimates that 35,000 people have wrongly been reported dead, the government might have tightened up the reporting procedures a bit. Or loosened the procedures for declaring it had made a mistake, anyway. Or at the very least realised that when someone turns up to a protest, then they're most probably not dead.

Hot hot hot

I was just glancing through this story about the world sauna-sitting championships when I noticed that the winner had survived for 16 minutes 15 seconds. As I can easily do 10 minutes or so when I'm in the sauna at my gym I was beginning to think that maybe I should get in training (though how you train to sit in a sauna, I don't know) for next year's championship. Then I noticed that these saunas were at 110C and that 'Every 30 seconds water was thrown on the stove to create more steam and boost the temperature' so maybe the training can wait. There's a difference between going in a sauna or steam room and being poached, and I intend to stay on the uncooked side of it.

The movable mainstream

Harry has a post with some reflections on comedy prompted by the death of Bob Hope. I made some comments there, but I wanted to expand on them a bit.

There's always a generation gap in comedy - the comics who were the icons for one generation are rarely icons for the next - which is mainly down to one of comedy's roles in our society as a counter to the 'establishment'. This isn't necesarily challenging the political establishment but the comedic one - the set of rules and assumptions as to what the 'best' comedy of a time is. However, with the passage of time, those that were challenging the establishment in one generation soon become the establishment themselves. Then, of course, a whole new generation arises to challenge that establishment who soon get co-opted, and the cycle goes on and on...

There are lots of examples from over the years of outsider comics becoming the mainstream - it's a path that's been trodden by the Goons, David Frost and Monty Python amongst others - but perhaps the most painful to watch for my generation has been Ben Elton's movement from the man who seemed to be the spokesman for alternative comedy (and writer of the classic Blackadder II) becoming an unctuous hobnobber of the rich and famous, Royal Variety Performance hosting, Lloyd Webber collaborating git (and author of the execrably bad Thin Blue Line).

I think a lot of the problem comes from the fact that very few comedians can make a living from performing alone. For the majority of comedians in this country, it's a lot of work for little reward, with the real money only coming in once you get on TV and get known so you can do big solo tours. It's rare for a comedian to be able to do a big tour (i.e. venues that aren't comedy clubs) without having been on TV beforehand - Eddie Izzard, back when he was known as 'a TV that doesn't do TV' is the only one I can think of who's done it - and anyway, who wants to spend all that time working on a stand up act when you can make a nice living appearing on (and maybe even hosting) comedy panel game shows?

In a way, of course, comedians age with their audience - when you're younger you can get to see acts in dodgy clubs then as you get older, settle down and don't go out as much you don't have to as they're on TV every week or they're performing at a nice theatre, starting and finishing at a reasonable time rather than the weird hours of comedy clubs. Then, the new generation come along and get bored of seeing the same old, same old on TV all the time and end up in the same strange, smoky, dodgy comedy clubs. Of course, it all makes sense for the comedian as well - a nice income, the chance to do stand up only when you feel like it, and always the possibility that you might get your own sitcom, or even the call from Hollywood! Of course, you left your artistic integrity behind long ago, but who cares?

Of course, there are some who don't follow this path, but they either end up washed up and forgotten, or dead young. But there's always the example of Peter Cook to look up to, a man who kept pissing off people until he died and even maintained his artistic integrity for most of it (just put your fingers in your ears, close your eyes and scream 'I can't hear you!' should anyone mention his appearance in Supergirl) - though owning 2/3 of Private Eye probably helped to pay a lot of the bills. Cook was a pretty unique person in terms of his comedy style, though even to the end of his career he was working with some of the new stars from younger comedy generations. Which is just an excuse for me to tell you all that you should listen to Why Bother?, his collaboration with Chris Morris.

Vaguely related, here's a Guardian article on how there are more female comics working in Edinburgh this year.