Wednesday, June 30, 2004
I had the pleasure of seeing this film last week - Scorsese's documentary (of sorts) of The Band's last ever concert. I didn't think it was a particularly good film, unlike most people - the came work seemed unprofessional, and the interview clips are dull and druggy (though that's probably intentional) - but it was very enjoyable nevertheless, if only for the concert sections. It must have been an amazing show to attend, with increasingly great rock stars entering stage left every new number - including (in no particular order) Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Dr. John and Bob Dylan. I could have done without Eric Clapton and Neil Diamond, but each to their own tastes and all that...
The interweaving of interview and songs reminded me of Down From The Mountain, and there are other parallels too. Both films feature (I think) some of the best American music of their times, with some amazing duets and group numbers from people I've been used to seeing on their own. The fact that Emmylou Harris is in both films is no small testament to her own greatness, often overlooked (by me, anyway, because as more of an alt.country fan I've only ever thought of her as a backing vocalist until quite recently).
The film drags a little, as most music films do, but the experience is still great - in some ways just like being in the front row of a gig - you always end up forgetting all the people behind you, even though you can hear them, and end up feeling like the music is being shared with you alone. I guess I've always been a selfish gig-goer, though, so that might not be everyone's experience. Good film, nevertheless, and worth seeing if you like that sort of thing. Particularly good discoveries for me were 'Up On Cripple Creek' and 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down', neither of which I'd heard before. I went out to buy The Band's greatest hits the next day, and I recommend doing that to anyone else who doesn't know them already.
Adam has posted a list of his academic achievements and intentions for the summer, which makes me feel very unworthy. Every holiday I seriously intend to learn a little German and Russian - in order to have more communicative holidays - but it never happens. I also intend to read all the academic books I buy throughout the year, but with similar lack of success. So he deserves a pat on the back for actually getting down to it.
Two of the books I intend to read over the summer (fun rather than academic) are Mandeville's Fable of the Bees and Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars, so if anyone else (who hasn't read them already, or who is willing to read them anew) wishes to do the same, and talk about them via e-mail or in an Oxford pub, I'm open for discussion - a (virtual) book club might make me fulfil my intentions.
Ah, Henman's out of Wimbledon and England are out of the European football - it's a good time to be English! Now, if only we could do a good job of doing badly at the Olympics too; then we'd have a full set of failures...
Normally I don't remember my dreams at all, but last night's was particularly excellent. Margaret Thatcher was coming to visit my college. I went into college round a back exit, where I found her chauffeur and some children's books the President of the college had given her as a thank you present for coming. Not only did I successfully manage to steal one of these books; I then laid in wait and got her to sign it and was quite inordinately pleased with myself to have nicked something and put one over on the old bag.
It's a strange world in my head. The next part of the dream was running from there to hall, where Led Zeppelin happened to be playing a gig.
Tuesday, June 29, 2004
Just found an online archive of movie monologues. Most of the ones picked are from rather recent films, and not the best, but the idea's quite good, particularly when sourcing quotable quotes.
Monday, June 28, 2004
I haven't posted much recently, because the new tranquilisers and sleeping pills I'm on are making me feel very sluggish, and I'm not doing much apart from work, which wouldn't interest most people. I'll be back with more soon, though. (I have been to see several films - among which, Confidences Trop Intimes, which I don't recommend at all. If anyone was thinking of seeing it and wants to know why, feel free to ask via e-mail).
One thing - it's my birthday tomorrow. I couldn't find many bits of trivia for 'on this day in history', so the fact of my birthday will have to do. I'll be turning 20.
Saturday, June 26, 2004
Everyone should write to Norm with suggestions for his latest poll - great rock and rollers of all time - as it's got off to a slow start.
And, as a quick suggestion - use all your votes on Morrissey!
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
I've seen the film everyone's slagging off. And, like the Tophet with Troy, I'm going to go against the current and say I was quite impressed. Not with the real action of the film, which was clichéd in exactly the way I expected, but with some of the 'subtle' points it made and side-jabs at the US administration.
Firstly, I've never thought that realism in films was particularly important (these three and films count together as three of my favourites) so I'm not interested in criticising the environmental details as many have done. I think it was simply good that it did bring the climate message to the fore, particularly in explicitly criticising US policy, by attacking their stance on Kyoto, and having the vice president - who personifies real-life US government attitudes - explicitly admit he was wrong about it at the end of the film.
Second, it implicitly criticised US immigration policy. At one point in the film, everybody is instructed to head South to avoid the catastrophe, in response to which the Mexicans close their borders, forcing many Americans to cross over illegally across the Rio Grande. All of which I found quite amusing.
Next, I quite like any film that can chuck in a quick discussion over whether it's ethical to burn Nietzsche books for warmth since he was a chauvinist bastard. Even if they do pronounce Nietzsche to rhyme with peachy. Another book point - librarians are useful people. The movies now tell you so.
Not only librarians, but homeless people are also useful. I really expected the homeless man to end up freezing suddenly or being hailed to death. But no. He made it through and even instructed others how to stay warm, something he was used to needing to do.
One thing I found particularly interesting in the film was its strong emphasis on self-sacrifice. Not just one lover for another, as most blockbusters have happen at some point, nor even just a parent for their child or vice versa. No. The self-sacrifice was something that was happening over and over again, throughout the film.
Connected to which, and finally, there was also an emphasis on global awareness - the president's (otherwise nauseating) speech at the end of the film focusses on how people from the Northern hemisphere have, all over the world, been given refuge in countries previously considered 'third world'. This point obviously ties in with the environmental focus, too. But further than this, the last point of the film is to show how it wasn't just one heroic group of people who sacrificed themselves and made it through against the odds. There were lots of them, all over the world, who'd made it through the ice age. The overall message there was that self-sacrifice is something we can all do, and that the human race is resilient. Which is as nauseating as any other message, but at least we are led to care about someone other than the main small group of hero figures.
Now, all these points aside, the film was sexist, melodramatic and highly, highly clichéd. But that was what I expected, which meant that finding something else in it too was pretty surprising, and pretty impressive. For a blockbuster.
UPDATE: There's a more intelligent review from Raj here.
No, not this (or this or this) - but rather a new community on livejournal (yes, I know they're the enemy), dedicated to cataloguing loving same-sex relationships between penguins. Not many members yet, but hurrah for the effort!
Friday, June 18, 2004
The London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival is on tour which, because Oxford is a small place, means I get to see just three or four of films from the main programme, all about men (a calculated decision that lesbians don't watch films in Oxford, perhaps?). Eating Out was one of these, a delightful if clichéd film, which rolls like an extended soap opera with increasingly bizarre (and often very funny) twists.
The film as a whole is thoroughly predictable - handsome straight boy fails to get girls, while his gay flatmate can only get girls, so he goes gay at a party, leading to several obvious uncomfortable situations. The whole film's made worth it, though, for a scene towards the end, where the flatmate invites his family to a dinner party, forcing him to 'come out' to them, while his ex-girlfriend sits at the other one end of the table, menacingly waving a rampant rabbit while the others all have a group hug.
Apart from the film itself, though, I found, as I do every year with this festival, that I enjoyed being in the company of other people who were obviously gay as much as anything else, even in simply watching a film together. I just felt comfortable and at home, a simple feeling which undermines any arguments that cinema-watching and theatre-going are isolating experiences, though I often treat them as such myself, being an avid solo cinema-goer. It often leads me to think that they should really show more sub-18-certificate films at these events, as I think I'm not the only one who found such experiences valuable long before I was able to come out to anyone else and when I was indeed quite young.
Norm's obviously reached the dregs this week.
Thursday, June 17, 2004
Spam gets more sophisticated. Now it obviously knows I'm involved with politics, as the latest bit of gibberish came with the subject heading command for me to 'Devolve!' before advertising viagra, so I can only assume it wants me to decentralise my powers to other parts of the body (and change sex, but that's minor, of course). I never knew political science could be so suggestive...
Wednesday, June 16, 2004
Almodovar is back with his new film Bad Education, which I had the pleasure of seeing last week. A very bright and vivid film, it often goes completely over the top with its plot twists and sexual ploys, so whether or not you will like it probably depends on just how many of these you can cope with. One person came out of the cinema just behind me and said slowly and without a hint of irony 'that was the best film I've ever seen'. Meanwhile, the friend with whom I saw it thought it took itself too seriously, though she did enjoy it. Apparently the large number of drag queens and priests is pretty much par for the course with Almodovar, but this was the first film of his I've seen, and I thought it very fun.
The film begins with a successful film producer being visited by an old school friend (his first lover), with a script that details the sexual abuse performed on him by the Catholic school's headmaster. The friend tells him that the later part of the script, in which the boy, now a drag queen, goes back and exacts revenge through extortion, is fiction, but there's some sense that it bears a relation to reality, that doesn't become clear until much later.
The interplay of film within a film, and stories only half told, makes the film quite exciting (alternatively, it makes it hard to follow) and edgy in places. The cinematography is beautiful, desert Spain and silky bodies, all of which emphasises the sexuality of some of the central scenes. There are too many plot twists in a way, but I felt that this was more the director poking fun at himself than something deadly serious, and though the film is not a comedy, I felt throughout that it really was intended to be in some way lighthearted. This may be that I have a very twisted sense of fun, but other reviews do seem to bear me out.
Altogether, this is one for perverts, plot twist freaks and people with a hatred of old-school (i.e. child-abusing and corrupt) Catholicism. Recommendable.
Radio 4 informed me last night that several members of the House of Lords have been voicing continued annoyance with Brian Haw, the anti-war protestor who's been set up in Parliament Square for the past three years. Obviously they only believe in limited freedom of speech. Rousseau has words for them - 'long and empty harangues which waste such precious time are a great evil, but it is a much greater evil for a good Citizen not to dare to speak when he has useful things to say'.
He also has advice for Haw, though, whose position is, after all, getting a bit old once you've heard it for the 1000th time - 'in order to cut down on the rambling and gibberish somewhat, every haranguer might be required to state at the beginning of his speech the proposition he wants to advance, and, after he has spelled out his argument, to give a summary of his conclusions' (from his considerations on the government of Poland). So we should be getting a short précis from Haw any time now. Proportionate to the length of the rest of his protest, about six months would do...
Monday, June 14, 2004
The following has been e-mailled to many of the people involved with things queer in Oxford. I imagine it has been sent to others elsewhere too. I'm very happy to report that it's already caused a substantial negative reaction and that the LGBT community in Oxford is likely to be responding quite soon:
"I am currently doing some research for a new television show into people's sexuality, with the underlying question of whether its possible to shift a persons sexual orientation from straight to gay.
Research has taken place looking at the reverse occurring with varying results and we would like to investigate whether a persons sexual orientation or attitudes can be altered through environment and if so to what extent.
To assist with this we are looking for people to take part in the role of 'gay mentors' to help educate the contributors in new attitudes, opening their minds and assisting with various tasks and challenges.
I would be very grateful for your thoughts and ideas on the project and if you would be willing to be considered as a mentor, or know of anyone who you think would be suitable.
The person would need to be outgoing, charismatic, open-minded, fun loving and up for being on TV!"
Sunday, June 13, 2004
If I've got the right idea this should be a concluding third chapter.
The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins)
The Black Sheep (Honore De Balzac)
The Scarlet Letter (National Hawthorne)
The Way We Live Now (Anthony Trollope)
In Search Of Lost Time (Marcel Proust)
Here are chapters one and two.
"Do not become a greater coward than the children, but just as they say, 'I won't play any longer,' when the thing does not please them, so do you also, when things seems to you to have reached that stage, merely say, 'I won't play any longer,' and take your departure; but if you stay, stop lamenting."
The Discourses of Epictetus, Book I.24
In trying to find a website to back the celebratory cause of anti-patriotism, I found that the top result for 'anti-English website' was this bit about some Brookes fellow or other...
Anyway, I'm very pleased about the football result, not only because I am anti-English, insofar as I'm against what's become the standard for the true English person - the drunken football yob etc. - but also because it means I don't have to spend yet another summer putting up with all these people talking about and watching England progress through a few stages of a pointless tournament only to lose to Germany in the quarter/semi-finals.
So, all in all, I'm very happy tonight. I thought someone should be.
Saturday, June 12, 2004
I've not been writing much recently, and this may continue. One of the more minor of the things pre-occupying me has been the usual thing of trying to find new music for the summer. Two to listen to on this note are Laura Cantrell and Franz Ferdinand (though for summer music I've always found a combination of the sorts of music epitomised by Joni Mitchell and Django Reinhardt quite good).
Laura Cantrell is great country music (Americana? I wish we could find a single good label to describe musicians who aren't averse to banjos) - very breezy on the light songs, very pure in tone. Songs like 'Two Seconds' are really beautiful, while she's got a good number of lighter cuts to appeal to other tastes too ('Little Bit Of You', 'Whiskey Makes You Sweeter'). I think her appeal probably spans beyond the usual country listener, so it might be worth a go for anyone who is averse to banjos...
Franz Ferdinand hit me when supporting Morrissey with a 'Popular New Indie Band Actually Quite Good Shock'. This stuff's punky pop at best - tight, rhythmic, sing-along. I haven't bought the album yet, as I'm waiting to nick it from a friend (and deprive the industry of money - no!), but this lot look like they'll be worth keeping for a little while.
A friend recently pointed me in the direction of "Dial-The-Truth Ministries", and its wonderful "666 Watch". Particularly delightful to learn is that we might be typing out the mark of the beast every time we type in the address of a website.
Apparently the main reason this group was set up was to combat Christian rock music as being something 'of the devil'. This is one of the reasons it's fun to be within Christianity - you get to see so many of the bizarre internal feuds which just aren't mainstream enough to reach the secular media.
Thursday, June 10, 2004
Thanks to a bar room conversation this evening, I've been wondering whether, in introducing someone to music one likes oneself, it is better to try to tailor it to the tastes of the person in question, or whether it's better to simply go all out with the passionate 'this is what I like. Screw anyone who doesn't!' sort of approach. I've done both in the past, and found both frustratingly ineffective. The latter approach in particular can be quite painful, because investing so much into a single mix tape and meeting distaste or indifference can be a real blow.
Now I like a broad enough range of music that I'm likely to own at least one CD/tape/record suitable to any given person's taste, and usually much more than that. But in trying to introduce people to music I tend to go too far into the latter type of approach, desperately trying to get people to see why certain bits of music mean a lot to me, when what makes them mean a lot is often circumstance-ridden.
But in general I'm not sure which of these approaches is better, since the more cynical first approach only works if you know someone quite well, and the musical introductions stage of my friendships usually occurs pretty early on and then trails off into mutual indifference ('I like The Clash; you like the Spice Girls. Hmmm...') or standard acceptance ('We both like Janis Joplin, but she's dead, so there's not much more to say really'). There's probably some 'third way' I'm missing, but it's problematic, since I'm not likely to stop making mix tapes for friends any time soon, unless - perish the thought - I move up to a newer form of technology, and I'd like it if I could get my friends to listen to more of my music than they do...
Wednesday, June 09, 2004
Plenty of people have already picked up on this story, but nevertheless it's striking enough to mention again. Striking because Reid, asking that in banning cigarettes we "be careful that we don't patronise people", has managed to do just that. It's not just that it's going to be as bad for a working class single mum to smoke around her kids as for anyone else; nor that it's shockingly patronising to say smoking is one of the few pleasures the working class have left. It's that smoking, in being addictive, hits the poor much harder than anyone else.
Smoking can't be counted as an entirely voluntary activity for the majority of smokers, and a pack of cigarettes is the same price for the poor as for the rich. To say that the poor must be allowed to smoke is to promote the heaviest kind of regressive and selective taxation imaginable. Surely, even if it's true that the average working class person gains less from life than a richer person - which must stem from our culture of coolness and comparison, because the rich certainly don't need all the pleasures they get - they'll gain even less by taking up a habit which often escalates in times of stress (perhaps including times when the unpaid bills pile up) and which is often very expensive to give up.
Generally, it just beggars belief that a Labour health secretary could stand up and say that we should let the poor in particular have access to an expensive addictive substance which kills half the people who use it. But then, this is John Reid, the Prince Philip of the party...
Thursday, June 03, 2004
Take the quiz: "Which American City Are You?"
Liberal and proud, you'll live your lifestyle however you choose in the face of all that would supress you.
Here's some background information to this post:
- The NBS has for a long time had a policy of not allowing men who've had anal or oral intercourse with another man to give blood. Ever.
- Every other possible risk-giving activity - piercing, tattooing etc - has a window period (usually 12 months) except prostitution.
- There is a window period of 12 months for someone who has had sex with a man who has had sex with another man (suggesting this question is aimed at females).
- The rationale online for its provisions is that ‘Although the chances of infected blood getting past our screening tests are very small, our tests do not always show if you are infected. This is why we must take care in choosing donors and why you must not give blood if you are infected.’
Obviously this doesn't explain the severity of the gay men exclusion, and the website doesn't try to do so. I got on the research path today to see why.
On the phone, I asked the first person to confirm what the current policy was on men who've had oral or anal intercourse with other men giving blood. He did so, but as soon as I asked why, he couldn't give even the most explanation; instead, he asked me to hang on, as he'd put me through to the referral service. Strike one against them - you should surely be able to give a reason, even a basic one, to a normal enquiry.
The second person was a woman. This time I asked her what was the rationale behind it. She said it was to do with the bodily fluids exchanged which might cause HIV/AIDS at the start of the epidemic. As soon as I pointed out that bodily fluids are exchanged in a lot of non-gay situations, she said she'd put me through to a doctor. Strike two.
I got the full lowdown with the doctor. People who have had gay anal sex are at a higher risk as a group than others. In resopnse to my question - what about if you're using condoms? - he said that condoms weren't always effective, and that there are a number of factors involved apart from the exchange of fluids, one of which is the blood that comes from the lining of the body during anal intercourse, which he followed with the exact words 'the anus isn't designed for that'. I pointed out that a lot of heterosexual couples engage in anal intercourse. He said that he was aware of this and that they were looking at changing their policy for said straight couples. Since they could have been doing this a long time ago, that can't be all that's involved.
He told me that it was a combination of factors that was involved in making 'people in the process of being involved with' gay sex at higher risk as a group, not as individuals. Gay anal sex still being way above in the HIV/AIDS stats, above drug use and African sex (I didn't have latest stats with me to check this, so I didn't question it, though I pointed out as often as possible that the stats were rising very sharply, and at a much quicker rate among the (young) straight population. He said that if testing were infallible there would be no problem, but that it isn't. I asked why there should be some fixed time limit, perhaps five years, that was ultra-safe, since as far as I'm aware - and he didn't directly contradict me - all research shows that the risk of HIV infection goes within a year. To this he answered that the virus replicates in a person and at a point it converts and the body starts making anti-bodies. They couldn't be sure which point, and before that point it is completely undetectable even by the most sensitive - PCR(?) - processes. He reverted to a lot of technological language here, I think designed to put me off. He basically succeeded, because I couldn't take issue with the specific analysis of processes involved.
At one point he, unbelievably, became almost joky. After talking about the need to comply with regulations as a member of the EU - not quite sure how this is relevant in this regard - he said, in response to my question about not having the same provision for straight people who haven't even used protection, that it was unusual that all these factors [which could cause HIV/AIDS in a condomed gay sex situation, I guess] would come together, but that they had to be like Brunel with his bridges. He worked out the maximum load they would bear, then built them at twice that to be safe. Like him, the NBS needs to aim beyond what's likely. He then tripped up on his metaphors and said that they needed to look at the worst case scenario, then stammered a little before saying, and beyond that.
Final words from him - 'We're trying to be openminded, but we have to make worst case scenario judgements, which will be unfair to certain individuals'. Strike out.
Much of the language he used - outlined above, and I won't point to specific phrasings - suggests a deep-seated prejudice within the blood service policy, something confirmed by the fact that the online question regarding gay sex used to say in scare-quotes "(even 'safe sex')", but has been changed with a lot of pressure to "(even sex with a condom)".
This also suggests why no one could answer my questions at a lower level. It's simply incoherent, and the provisions are not replicated for any other group with similar factors. The general defence he used, because it's one that's hard to answer I guess, is that it's the combination of factors involved in the gay sex case which make the exclusion so severe. But then, there should be a much longer form involved for donating blood, which asks whether you've had a tattoo, and a piercing, and slept with someone who's been infected with hepatitis sometime in the distant past. Such a combination of factors must surely exclude them for life...
One last point - interestingly, there doesn't seem to be an exclusion, even a window period one, for people who've slept with a prostitute, though prostitutes, like gay men, are barred for life. I could be cynical and say that this suggested even more traditional patriarchal prejudices at work - a man has to be allowed to go to a prostitute after all (if only to stop him going to another man!) - but that's a whole other phonecall...
Tuesday, June 01, 2004
Find out what The Governator, Halle Berry, Shrek and Bill Murray will have in common in a few thousand years time. See celebrities immortalised in stone.
From The Sophists
Technique 3 (Advanced)
Sit in front of a computer. Have a thesaurus nearby. Smoke up. Proceed to pronounce on anything that happens to come to mind. Use a tone that is urgent and highfalutin. Avoid the use of punctuation and use periods as infrequently as possible. French and German phrases should appear with regularity. When in doubt, make hasty references to Foucault, Heidegger, or Derrida. Take great pains not to explain what you mean. Abandon all reason.
[Via Political Theory Daily] I've always found that one of the most problematic things for me in studying political theory is getting caught up in ongoing debates that most people would think of as completely irrelevant to their everyday political experiences. Not just most people - most intellectually aware, politically active people. What does funding a taste for champagne and caviar have to do with equality movements in the real world? And why should we want to talk about shit in public?
The problem is that such things really are interesting in many ways, and have more impact on the way we view ourselves in society than some people realise. But it's often hard to argue for it as an area of study, hard to say what these things will affect. The writer of this article, Hawkins Gay, seems aware of this to some extent, while at the same time glorying in the use of phrases like 'when shit happens' and 'publics don't shit'.
Gay uses his discussion to show how the private waste we keep to ourselves compromises public campaigns for ecologically aware citizenship (in Bondi, where keeping the seas clean doesn't extend to changing our own toilet-going habits), as well as how shit can become a campaign issue for the demarcation of the private self (in Mumbai, where privation means there usually isn't much room for liberal privacy discussions). Beyond this, it's certainly interesting to note, as he does, how we feel more exposed when our litter overturns in the street than when the sewers overflow, simply because the one we keep to ourselves while the other we've projected into the public realm, and publics really don't shit.
But, even if this discussion does have relevance to our lives and intellectual interest in terms of how we view some of the most personal aspects of ourselves, it's unlikely shit studies will start up any time soon, and most of us would probably want to push it quickly under the carpet if it did. Which perhaps proves Gay's point, and shows why political theorists aren't the most employable of people in the real world.
On another election-related note, there are more worrying things happening in Birmingham. Last year Labour lost control of the council for the first time in 19 years. This year another party may well take over, since the anti-Labour protest vote will, if anything, be much stronger. This is potentially disastrous, as the BNP are putting up 24 candidates (the first time there has been so many I think) and are making a sustained campaigning effort across the region. The UKIP have 14 candidates too.
On the other side the RESPECT coalition (which amusingly still needs to add (George Galloway) after its name on the ballot paper) and the People's Justice Party are working to get the disaffected Labour voters. They may both do quite well, but I think they'll lose seats for Labour rather than gaining any more for themselves (the PJP already has a couple).
Hopefully we'll avoid having any BNP or UKIP councillors, but given the voting split it's not certain, and it looks like we might well end up with a Tory council, since their voters seem to be sticking to the party line much more closely than anyone else at the moment. All of this is rather depressing, and makes the Oxford bitching session look very petty indeed.
SIAW, pronounced dead 17.5.04, has risen again - though it may just be having a few death throes. It seems that it will be experimenting with occasional images for a while, though, so though we have to do without the more extensive posting, there's still good reason to visit if they keep this up. New posts so far include short commentary on Hong Kong, as well as the sinister vampire's wing that is party politics. Very apt as the elections come up, and we notice that most of the campaign leaflets seem to be ever more consumed with cross-party bitching rather than meaningful promises.
From the Lib Dems in Oxford:
Let Down By The Tories
Oxfordshire residents have been badly let down by their Conservative Euro-MPs. A crucial vote to protect the interests of local small business was lost in the European Parliament when two of our Conservative Euro-MPs failed to turn up. (They did turn up later in the day enabling them to collect their allowance!)
Over a third of the leaflet is similar stuff, and the other parties are all the same in this regard. Very disheartening.