Saturday, April 03, 2004

Superhero sightings (sort of)

On my way into work this evening, I was strolling down Chiswell Street when I noticed a couple of film trucks parked on the street. No real activity around them, but parked in front of them were a couple of cars - an American-style 'black and white' police car and a yellow cab.

On closer inspection, the police car was marked as belonging to the 'GPD' which, as a closer inspection revealed, was the City of Gotham Police Department. So, if parts of Gotham look rather unamerican in next year's Batman Begins, it could well be because they're actually in London.

Those who do not agree must be destroyed

There are quite a few people out there who believe that Adam Yoshida isn't real, that he's just a clever parody of an ultra-extremist blogger, designed solely to serve some political point. If I'd only encountered him since he'd been blogging, it'd be easy to believe. However, with a record on Usenet that stretches back to 2000 and beyond, if he is a parody, then someone's been putting a lot of work into it for a long time. But, each time he puts fingers to keyboard, he makes me doubt my certainty:
In fact, in all honesty, I can’t think of a single reason why universal suffrage is a good idea...

Amnesty International and other disreputable organizations...

No one likes people on welfare anyways, and their few defenders are shrill and generally despised...
All this from a post where Adam tells us why certain people in America shouldn't be allowed to vote (and may well prove his point, but not in the way he intended). Of course, Adam's denied the vote because of the true capriciousness of fate - he's Canadian.

Image and reality

Using the miracle of pictures, Vic shows us the difference between the theory and reality of ordering from Amazon.

The Wright stuff

Channel 4 are running an online poll to discover England football fans' all-time 'Dream Team'. I'm mentioning it in the hope that any other Wolves fans reading this will go and vote to ensure that Billy Wright gets his rightful place in the team. You can vote for 10 other players as well.

For the record, I voted for the following line-up in a 4-4-2: Banks; Cohen, Wright, Moore, Pearce; Beckham, Gerrard, Gascoigne, Waddle; Lineker, Hurst; and all managed by Brian Clough.

Dropping the Googlebomb

Jew

For the reasons why, see Jewschool (via Shot By Both Sides)

Naming

One of those pointless questions: The vast majority of Grands Prix are normally referred to with the possessive nationality of the country they belong to, so why are there some that aren't? I can see why Indianapolis gets called the United States Grand Prix - first, because using 'American' isn't strictly correct, especially as there's already a GP in Canada, and secondly because there used to be more than one GP in the USA, but why don't we refer to the Sammarinese, Monegasque (or Monacan) and now, the Bahraini Grand Prix?

OK, so the reason for the first two is probably because neither word is known that well, and differs from the country name more than usual (plus, the Sammarinese race doesn't actually take place in San Marino), but Bahraini seems quite clear about where it is, yet everything I've seen this weekend refers to the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Then again, many other of the major languages used in F1 translate Grand Prix from French, but I suppose 'welcome to the British Big Prize' doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

Reverse t'polarity...oh no, that's Yorkshire

I didn't see the interview this morning, but BBC News has a good summary of an interview Christopher Eccleston gave on Breakfast this morning about being the new Doctor. He sounds excited about the job, which is good, and the Doctor's going to have a Salford accent!

Friday, April 02, 2004

Weaving posts together

Chris Lightfoot has a good post on the pointlessness of ID cards, and Dave Weeden has a good sentence:
In Spain, they have ID cards; their bombers got through: we don’t; our bombers were caught. What am I missing here?

Making the grade

Michael Grade is to be the new BBC Chairman. His views on Doctor Who aside - and the Chairman has very little role in editorial decisions like that, unlike the Director-General - I think he's a very good choice, and it'll be interesting to see what happens now with the role of Director-General. I saw an article earlier this week (as always, can't remember exactly where) that suggested Grade was one of the candidates who favoured splitting the role of Director-General into two positions - a Chief Executive and an Editor-in-Chief.

It'll be interesting, though, and I think the appointment of Grade is going to be making BBC staff feel a lot happier today.

Update: Norman Lebrecht has a good piece in the Evening Standard on Grade (sadly it doesn't seem to be available online) discussing how he is the anti-Birt. It also suggests that, while Mark Thompson and Michael Jackson will be perceived as the favourites, Jenny Abramsky could well be the next Director-General as she'll be retiring in 2006, which makes for a good appointment until Charter renewal.

File under 'unintentionally hilarious'

Via the excellent new blog The Panda's Thumb, I found myself reading an article at World magazine that's had me giggling like a loon for the past few minutes, thanks to this line:
In those unsophisticated pre-Santorum years
I suspect you have to be a regular reader of Savage Love to find the humour there, but my fellow Dan Savage fans will no doubt be smiling now. For the rest of you, it's probably a case of if you have to ask, you'll never know.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Bits and pieces

Dave worried me this morning by reporting that everybody's favourite wannabe-American fascist Adam Yoshida had removed comments from his site, but a quick check seems to indicate that it's just down to Haloscan glitch. I was worried for a minute there - what else would I do to fill those desperate hours in the middle of the night shift? - but one of my favourite sources of fun looks set to remain for the time being. The comments usually remove the need to read the post itself as well as there's normally a 'shorter Yoshida' in there somewhere.

Dave also mentions a picture revealing how Janeane Garofalo (ah, be still my beating heart) is 'teeny' which reminds me of one of my few inadvertent-meetings-with-famous-people stories, when I encountered Sally Phillips and Peter Baynham in a lift at Television Centre a few years ago. 'Ah-ha' think I, 'this is my chance to come up with a marvellously witty comment that will see them cower at my comedy genius!' Visions of a development deal with Baby Cow and lunches with Chris Morris filled my head, but unfortunately the only other thought in there was 'You're tiny!' Peter Baynham's rather short, but seemed like a giant next to Phillips, who really is rather tiny. Another great opportunity passed by...

Talking of tiny actresses, I was watching EastEnders on Tuesday night - I find watching it once every few months and a flick through train-abandoned tabloids is more than enough to keep up with the myriad plots - I noticed that the actress who plays Sharon appears to be rather short as well. Completely irrelevant, but I just wanted to share.

And as this has turned into an odds-and-sods, semi-stream of consciousness post about various entertainments, I was watching ER last night and found myself wondering just how much of Maura Tierney (Abby)'s salary goes to the writers and producers, for it seems that in their eyes she can do no wrong and many episodes now seem to be All About Abby, She Who Can Do No Wrong. Even Carter, who, let's remember, was dumped by her after coming to visit her straight after getting back to Chicago after a god-knows-how-long journey from the heart of the Congo, seems to spend any scene with her reminding her just how wonderful she is. Scenes involving her are starting to head down the line of French and Saunders Witless Silence sketch.

Ha. Yoshida to French and Saunders in four paragraphs. If I keep this up, I can be the Bill Deedes for the pop culture generation.

Hitchens lurch, inverted

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Write it 100 times: 'I will not wave my order paper'

Watching Prime Minister's Questions, I was struck by how much Michael Martin resembles an exasperated schoolteacher trying to control an unruly classroom when he calls for order. It made me wonder if it could be easier to control Parliament if he was allowed to impose detention on MPs who don't show any discipline. Nothing too draconian, just making them sit through a debate they wouldn't have otherwise attended and then writing a report on it afterwards, that sort of thing. Improving democratic scrutiny and letting the public see more of their representatives at work in the chamber - who could argue with that?

Hand in hand, we'll conquer space

One of the great things about having a QFlicks subscription is that it gives me the chance to catch up with all those films I've intended to watch at some point but never got round to. Today, I finally got to see Paul Verhoeven's version of Starship Troopers. Actually, I watched it twice - one time for the regular version and then again with the commentary from Verhoeven and writer Ed Neumeier. The commentary is one of the best I've heard on a DVD - a lot of the time Verhoeven and Neumeier forget the film entirely and start discussing politics, the editorial policy of the Washington Post and Chomsky, among other subjects.

If you don't know the full background, a little enlightenment. Starship Troopers was originally a novel by Roberth Heinlein published in 1959 and to quote Nick Lowe's Interzone review (from issue 129, sadly not available online that I can see) it 'was the signal that first alerted the world to the disquieting possibility that the most influential figure in sf was completely off his trolley.' It would have been easy, as Lowe suggests, for Neumeier and Verhoeven to do what happens in most sf adaptations (and as Verhoeven had done before in turning Dick's We Can Remember It For You Wholesale into Total Recall) and throw out all but the bare man vs bugs themes of the novel and turn it into a generic sf movie.

Instead, they took the far riskier course of confronting the source material head on, keeping the whole structure of Heinlein's militaristic libertarian future and then running with it right through to the end, no matter how strange it gets. In what's perhaps their bravest move, they don't really tip the wink to the viewer that the central message of the film is 'war makes fascists of all of us' (though the Federal Network broadcasts are a bit of a hint) until about twenty minutes before the end when Neil Patrick Harris (aka Doogie Howser MD) arrives on board ship wearing what's basically a Gestapo uniform. It's Verhoeven's way of reminding you that propaganda's very good at making you cheer for the 'good guys', whoever they may be. It's worth remembering that, as a child, Verhoeven experienced the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands and, as he discusses in his commentary, being bombed by the Allies during the liberation.

It reminded me of something I read in a discussion a couple of years ago, about comparisons between Star Trek and Blake's Seven - they complement each other very well when you see Trek as a product of the Federation's propaganda section and Blake as samizdat from the resistance. To quote Lowe again: 'peel away the transhumanist slogans (of Star Trek) and you'll find the same slyly-sexualized Riefenstahlian fetish for uniforms, authority, and good old service discipline.'

Verhoeven makes a sly point with the casting as well, making use of actors who are Hollywood-'young', but clearly much older than the 18 year olds they're supposed to be, all looking recruiting poster-perfect as they're steadily groomed into accepting their place in the line for the meat grinder. But he also uses Clancy Brown and Michael Ironside, two actors who were born to appear in a film based on Heinlein. As Lowe says of the latter:
And not only is a crazed Heinlein mouthpiece the character Ironside was put on this earth to play, but he gets to do it under the director who understands better than anyone else why Ironside is a star in a firmament all to himself, and with dialogue by the one writer in Hollywood who understands why this stuff is so funny and scary to need sending for Ironside in the first place. Just to hear this man deliver the line "They sucked his brains out!" is worth sneaking in through the fire doors to see again.
Verhoeven understood that the only way to make this film was with an entirely straight face while putting tongue firmly in cheek. (Coincidentally, Con Air, the only other recent Hollywood movie to try this style that I can think of tips a wink to the audience - "Nobody moves or the bunny gets it." - at almost exactly the same point in the movie) As Michael Brooke wrote: 'Starship Troopers is one of the great anti-American political satires of recent years' (see The Voice Of The Turtle for more) and it really is worth watching if you haven't seen it before - and watching with the commentary if you have.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

If Bill Deedes didn't exist, Craig Brown would have to invent him

How else would we get marvellous scenes like this:
All I know about Mr Blair's new friend, Col Muammar Gaddafi, comes from what Imelda Marcos of the Philippines once told me over her dinner table. She had, she declared, found him very macho; but when alone with him she had told him, "You are a good man, a religious man," and that had kept him at bay.

He had begged her to embrace the Muslim faith, given her a marked copy of the Koran and sent on a dozen copies. She had reported all this to the American vice-president, who thought the CIA should debrief her. At the end of a four-hour session, the inevitable question was put: "Did you sleep with Col Gaddafi?" "What a question to ask a girl!" Imelda exclaimed to us gaily.
(via Backword Dave)

Those A-listers get all the breaks

Pah. Not only does Atrios get to be on the radio, he gets to spend time with the the lovely Janeane Garofalo while he does it. The world is not fair, but we already knew that, right?

Monday, March 29, 2004

Our reporter, Peter Porter

Something else I was reminded of after watching Protect and Survive - Peter Porter's poem Your Attention Please.

Dim Ysmygu

Tom Watson mentions the new Irish laws banning smoking in public places, and I wanted to mention here a suggestion I made in the comments there.

Generally, I think whether or not people want public places open to smoking or not is something that can be determined by market forces. If there's a big demand for smoke-free pubs, clubs etc then those that do exist - for an example of an entirely non-smoking pub there's the Phoenix in the City of London, but I'm sure there are others - will prove successful and eventually more pubs will follow their lead.

However, one idea I had - and please feel free to point out any flaws you spot - is a middle ground (you could call it a third way, I suppose) between an outright ban and the current situation. From what I can tell, and someone with more knowledge on the actual law in this area may be able to enlighten me here, the current situation is that a building that's open to the public is regarded as a place where smoking is permitted unless the owner/manager/landlord has chosen to make it non-smoking. How about switching the position so that the assumption is that a place is non-smoking unless the person in charge chooses to make permit smoking in that area?

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Slumber now, beloved subjects...

I've just been watching the absolutely fascinating Charley Says DVD - a collection of public information films from the 60s to the 80s. It's something that's quite enthralling on several levels - as nostalgia, cultural history, a study in propaganda and much more.

It's amazing how many of the adverts could have been quite simply replaced by a message like 'Oi! Stupid people! Don't do stupid things!' but then how impoverished would our culture be without Joe and Petunia, or Claude the Caravan to show us just what the results of imbecilic behaviour might be? And how would we have bonded in my University days without remembering Rolf Harris saying 'scared the life out of me mum and dad'?

What is interesting, though, is just how graphic some of the films got by the 70s, especially the Play Safe adverts to stop kids from getting electrocuted or run over by trains. They certainly had an effect though - I can remember treating nearby electricity substations with a healthy respect, though with that taste for grisly embellishment common to young boys, I can remember tales being spread amongst my friends of a local kid (though not from our school obviously - it was the under-13 equivalent of 'friend of a friend') who'd been fried by the power.

Of course, there's a lot of quite dull stuff on there too - the Tufty Club and Green Cross Code Man bored me senseless as a child and have the same effect now - but it's worth watching for two films in particular: Spirit Of Dark And Lonely Water and Protect And Survive.

Spirit... is one of those fascinating curios you wouldn't believe existed if you hadn't seen it. Voiced by Donald Pleasance (yes, Donald Pleasance) it's a rather spooky and unsettling film that feels as much like the trailer for a 70s horror movie as a public information film.

Protect and Survive is the infamous Government film on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack on the country. As far as I know, it was never actually broadcast, made just in case it would be needed (though I'm sure Jack will correct me if I'm wrong). However, it's rather terrifying in its calmness and quiet assurance that if you follow these instructions, everything will be alright and you won't be atomised into several million tiny pieces when the Soviets empty their silos. It's easy to see how it inspired Raymond Briggs to create When The Wind Blows in response.

Finally, I'd always vaguely remembered the rather brutal 'Think Once, Think Twice, Think Bike!' adverts, mainly because of the Not The Nine O'Clock News parody featuring Mel Smith, a cricket bat and various soft fruit. I'd not realised that it was presented by the actor Edward Judd, star of The Day The Earth Caught Fire, one of my favourite films. It's strange to see the man who I best remember reporting on the end of the world punching his own hand to inform us of the effect a car might have on a motorcycle.

And if you haven't already bought it, and are thinking of getting a copy, you might want to wait a couple of weeks as it's being rereleased with even more films added next month.

That silver lining

I was thinking about all the various bits of speculation around Charles Kennedy and realised that, regardless of everything else, one good thing that's come out of it is that it's got the media looking at other senior Liberal Democrats other than Charles and Simon Hughes (and Lembit Opik or Jenny Tonge when it's a slow news day). OK, Ming Campbell has quite a high profile in the media, but the last week or so has seen people like Mark Oaten, David Laws, Vince Cable and others get media attention as the media start wondering aloud who the next Lib Dem leader will be.

If anything, it might be worthwhile for the party to encourage a low level of leadership speculation for the next few months just so that every speech and public appearance by a senior party figure gets attention for them in the climate of leadership speculation. But maybe encouraging something like that would be far too cynical for the party's Press Office.

New toys

I've been having fun recently playing with the Television Tropes and Idioms wiki - it's a collection of themes, plots and characters from various TV shows. It's quite interesting, and as it's a Wiki, anyone can join in and add suggestions, pages etc which I've done for Doctor Who and Blake's Seven amongst others, using the identity of 'That British Guy'.