March 31, 2008

Spacey Cadet

From BBC News | Entertainment: Spacey complains over BBC shows

Hey, fuck you, Spacey! Where do you arrogant Americans get off, coming to our country, taking over our theatres, and then telling us that our TV shows are too concerned with being "sexy"?!

This coming from someone who's latest film synopsis reads like this:
Seduced by the money, the Vegas lifestyle, and his smart and sexy teammate, Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth), Ben begins to push the limits.
No, I think Spacey is just bitter that the BBC isn't paying more attention to his sexy play, currently at the Old Vic, which is about, natch, sex and Hollywood. It's written by David Mamet, though, so obviously it's intellectual sexy — which makes it okay.

In other news, the BBC Online folks seem to be rolling out yet another new stylesheet, which, in predictable BBC Online fashion, basically means they have made the pages a little bit wider. (Compare 1999, 2003, 2008.) But it does look cleaner, I must say. Who would have thought that adding an extra couple of hundred pixels of width would give you more space for leading and kerning?

March 28, 2008

March 27, 2008

Meme Meme Meme

Not terribly timely, but why not?

Am I the only person who didn't know that skit won an Emmy for outstanding original music and lyrics? So why can't the Oscars be more open to comedy?

March 25, 2008

About as Politically Incorrect as I've Been In a While

From Newsvine: NY Gov. Paterson Says He Used Cocaine
New York's new governor … said Monday that he used cocaine in his 20s and smoked marijuana when he was younger.…

"Marijuana [I tried] probably when I was about 20," he said on the NY1 cable news station. "I don't think I touched marijuana since the '70s."
He continued: "But it's hard to be sure, because, you know, I CAN'T FUCKING SEE! You insensitive media pricks!"
In Monday's interview, Paterson pointed out that he had acknowledged to a television journalist in 2006 that he had used illegal drugs.

The NY1 interviewer, Dominic Carter, noted that few people paid attention to Paterson's revelation then because he was running for lieutenant governor.
Yeah, take that, Paterson! Our ignorance is really your fault for not setting your goals high enough! It's like the way we all knew Cheney was evil incarnate before 2000, but we didn't really pay attention because he was only running for vice president.

It's kind of hard to believe that American journalists used to be capable of taking out a presidency.

March 24, 2008

The Dante Schlub

Now that I'm officially trying to be a writer, I have occasionally been producing column-length pieces and firing them off in the hope of getting a few small publication credits under my belt. Here's one that just got rejected, of which I was slightly too fond to just consign to oblivion on my hard drive.
For most in the English-speaking world, Robert Benigni will be remembered (if at all) for his acceptance speech at the 1998 Oscars, during which he famously — if fruitlessly — asked to kiss all of assembled Hollywood. (He singled out Sofia Loren in particular, onstage with him to present the award. She could not be persuaded.) Since then, the Academy — and, indeed, the rest of us — seem to have decided that America's duty to Benigni has been done, and the actor-cum-director-cum-writer has slipped, in this country, into the comfortable obscurity of internet message boards and grainy YouTube videos.

In Italy, however, he has remained a national fascination, attracting the sort of media attention normally reserved for vacant starlets with smouldering good looks and youthful binge-drinking habits. Balding and fifty-five years old, Benigni has neither; his most dangerous addiction is apparently Dante's Divine Comedy, a love which he has successfully parlayed into a lucrative series of public readings and lectures. These have won the adulation of much of the public but, predictably, the literati have been less than impressed. One particularly sour critic remarked that Benigni’s readings transformed the Divine Comedy into little more than "a human comedy" and — even worse! — "a sort of Madame Bovary." (The comparison may offend Flaubert fans, but the idea of the Italian language's greatest masterpiece being condemned as "too French" has a nicely Dantesque irony about it.)

Recently, one of Benigni's performances was broadcast on RAI Uno, Italy's flagship, state-run television channel. With a giddy lick of his lips, the actor launched into a fiery, gravitas-soaked reading of Canto V of the Inferno; his consonants were sharp, his voice stentorian, and even a listener with no knowledge of Italian would have grasped the hell and brimstone of which he spoke. As he uttered the last line — "And I fell, as a dead body falls" — he seemed to be blinking away tears; the studio audience rewarded him with an exuberant standing ovation.

This sort of public recital of Dante is probably how the poet would have preferred it; his distaste for unauthorised reproductions of his work was as egregiously severe as that of today's most stubborn music executives (some scholars have even suggested that his strict terza rima meter was intended as a sort of "watermark" against pre-Gutenberg copyists who felt like fiddling with his verse). Far better, thought the poet, to have his work distributed via recitals, so that his original text would always remain unsullied.

Dante's bias towards festive readings notwithstanding, Benigni's latest histrionics failed to impress Franco Zeffirelli, another of those Italian film types who occasionally emerges to wow the Anglo world and then disappears back to Europe. In a recent interview, Zeffirelli called Benigni "a fairground marvel," which gets, perhaps, at what the elites find most irritating about the actor: his mass appeal. A common celebrity interpreting the Pilgrim? Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate.

The anti-populist sentiment is unfounded, of course, since Dante was nothing if not an everyman. His decision to present the Comedy in "vulgar" Italian (as opposed to the elegant Latin of other contemporary works) brought literacy to whole new classes of Florentines — early copies were used more often as language-learning texts than as library starters — and helped dismantle the monopoly held on literature by the monasteries and universities of the time. In a way, Benigni is attempting to do the same thing by taking Dante to the airwaves, but Zeffirelli seems unlikely to be convinced. "How could a Marxist like him understand the depths of Dante, anyway?" the director grumbled. "He's a dud on all accounts, and I don't like him."

March 21, 2008

Conversations With Greatness CLXXIII

Off to New York for the weekend, again. *yawn*

March 18, 2008

Obama Attacks White Using Five Foot Pole

From Newsvine: Obama Tells Vets No Lower Drinking Age

SCRANTON — Democrat Barack Obama on Monday promised Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans help with their grievances — save one. "I know it drives you nuts. But I'm not going to lower the drinking age," the presidential candidate said.

Army veteran Ernest Johnson, 23, of Connecticut, said one of the things that peeved him before he turned 21 was that he couldn't come home and drink a beer — even though he was old enough to serve in the armed services and die for his country.

Obama told Johnson he sympathized, but that setting the legal drinking age at 21 had helped reduce drunken driving incidents and should remain.
You know what? Fine. Don't lower the drinking age. But if you're going to argue for it on the basis that under-21s are not responsible enough to know not to drink and drive, then raise the freaking minimum age for enlistment! I don't want those same douchebags with automatic weaponry in their grasp.

Mr Obama made the remarks at a round-table discussion, filmed in the back room of a sports bar on St. Patrick's Day, and sponsored by MTV. Who says the media is lowering the tone of political debate?

Anyway, the event went down like this: Obama listened to a group of ethnically diverse, twenty-something veterans complain about their shabby treatment at the hands of the army; he called that treatment "inexcusable"; he promised that if he were president he would take better care of veterans, and make sure they were treated with the respect they deserved; and then he handed out some special St. Patrick's Day campaign paraphernalia that read "O'Bama".

Vote Soundbite For President in '08!

March 17, 2008

Scot Free

From BBC NEWS | Scotland: Worst Scots film accents decided
Scottish filmgoers have voted Christopher Lambert, in the film Highlander, as the owner of the least convincing Scottish on-screen accent.…

Mel Gibson came in second place with 27%, for his portrayal of William Wallace in the film Braveheart.

Several people in the online survey voted for Sean Connery, but these were discounted as the actor is Scottish.
Aye, but tha' disnae mean the chufty wanker can talk wi' a gud accent.

For the record, it's supposed to sound like this:

March 14, 2008

Conversations With Greatness CLXXII

With apologies to Gil, Mallory, and, well, everyone.

March 13, 2008

Reasons Why Britain Is Better Than America, #1452

From BBC NEWS | England: Man loses grape case against M&S
An accountant who claimed he injured himself by slipping on a grape in a Marks and Spencer car park has lost his High Court bid for damages.

Alexander Martin-Sklan, 55, from Golders Green, north London, was claiming £300,000 over the incident in his local store car park in June 2004.…

Representing himself, he said he suffered a ruptured quadricep tendon and "adverse psychological effects and depression" arising from the injury.
I also find it depressing.

Thankfully, the British judge presiding over the case was in no mood for such frivolous malarkey, and found against the claimant, saying:
"In my judgement it is one of those accidents that could happen to any one of us."
…The assumption being, I suppose, that if we give £300,000 to one daft bugger who is unable to walk from the supermarket to his car without suffering a fruit-related accident, we will soon have to be giving £300,000 to every daft bugger in the country.

But the fact that the lawsuit was dismissed is not, in fact, the reason why I love Britain more than America. It gets better:
Mr Martin-Sklan has to pay around £15,000 towards Marks and Spencer's costs and given 28 days to pay an interim sum of £7,500.
HA! That'll teach you to file ridiculous claims in the hope of getting rich quick! Not only will you be less likely to win in Britain; when you lose, you really lose!

So perhaps Britain is not going to the dogs quite as much as I implied yesterday. Phew.

March 12, 2008

Celebrate Good Times? Come On!

From BBC NEWS | Politics

In a speech given Tuesday night, UK Business Secretary John Hutton struck a much-needed blow for one of Britain's fastest-growing minorities, saying:
"Rather than questioning whether high salaries are morally justified, we should celebrate the fact that people can be enormously successful in this country.…

Our overarching goal that no-one should get left behind must not become translated into a stultifying sense that no-one should be allowed to get ahead."
Hutton's words were meant to defend the 6% or so of Britons who are classified as Millionaires, and who, despite being more numerous than Britain's Black, Indian and Pakistani populations combined, are frequently subject to derogatory epithets and vicious public attacks — even in the mainstream press.

Millionaires are often taunted as being "fat cats", a term that is both insulting and inaccurate, as many hold expensive and exclusive gym memberships; a long-running and popular television show in Britain is the rhetorically demeaning Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?; and public opinion polls frequently show that almost 80% of Britons believe Millionaires can't be trusted to tell the truth. Even the British government actively discriminates against Millionaires, forcing them to pay almost twice as much in income tax as many of their non-Millionaire countrymen. In London, the situation is particularly grave: Millionaires must conduct much of their business inside a square-mile ghetto referred to euphemistically as "The City".

Perhaps the most prevalent (and vitriolic) anti-Millionaire dialogue focuses on whether the individuals should be "allowed" to be Millionaires, or whether the government should step in with a social-engineering-style scheme to make them more like "normal" people. Salarists like this claim that it is immoral to allow Millionaires to continue to exist, and it is against these bigots that Hutton's remarks were aimed. He outlined new government proposals to recognise that the presence of Millionaires in society is "natural", rather than "a perverted side-effect of primitive capitalism".

"We want more Millionaires in Britain," continued Hutton, finishing his thought with a rousing — if ungrammatical — flourish: "Not less."

The remarks are especially noteworthy coming from Hutton, a high-ranking member of Britain's Labour Party, which, historically, has been tremendously anti-Millionaire in its policies. It has consistently raised taxes on Millionaires and their businesses, as well as on goods and services that are disproportionately used by Millionaires: wine, international travel, Hummers, and so forth. (These funds are then typically "redistributed" to other groups like the sick and the illiterate, who, obviously, are incapable of appreciating them as fully as the Millionaires who earned the money in the first place.)

With any luck, then, Hutton's speech marks a turning point for British public policy, bringing the Labour government more in line with the far more capable Tory Party (who have long advocated Millionaire rights). Perhaps it is even the beginning of a new era, one in which Millionaires can live and work untrammelled by — and unconcerned with — the greedy prejudices of the rest of the country. Hutton's new plan for individuals to become "authors of their own lives" is a tangible and pragmatic solution to the problems that today face Millionaires and non-Millionaires alike. Bravo, sir.

March 07, 2008

Conversations With Greatness CLXXI

Off to New York for the weekend! W00t!

March 06, 2008

Once A Pun A Dream

Last night, a joke came to me in a dream:

Q. What do you call it when a king is murdered in Jamaica?
A. Reggae-cide.

This one, too, though I don't think it's as good:

Q. What do you call it when someone is murdered in bed?
A. Mattress-cide

I don't remember what I was dreaming about that murder-related puns kept coming up.

March 04, 2008

White Menace

I just read a paper put out by policy think tank The Urban Institute about why iPods want you beaten up. Or something.

Apparently, according to the authors, iPods are responsible for a "surge" in violent crime, particularly robberies, over the past few years — the robbery rate went from a barely noteworthy 137 per 100,000 people in 2004 to a scandalously high 149 per 100,000 in 2006.

The argument is essentially that, in those two years, iPods "went mainstream" and ballooned in numbers; and more people carrying iPods means more targets for robbery. Ipso facto, iPods cause robberies.

The authors do note that this is merely a correlation and they have no causal evidence — including, for example, any data on what was actually stolen from those twelve extra people per 100,000 — but they present a raft of anecdotal evidence and theoretical precedents that they say support their hypothesis. Some of their points are more convincing than others, but they're all sort of irrelevant considering the fundamental problems with the premise of the paper.

First of all, it's practically a truism to say that introducing iPods to the market will lead to an increase in robberies. I mean, if you introduce 90 million extra pieces of consumer electronics into an arena where consumer electronics are frequently stolen, of course the robbery rate is going to rise. But it's not like iPods are the only consumer electronics to have flooded the marketplace in the last two years — sixteen times as many cell phones as iPods were sold in 2005, and I don't see anyone going after Motorola. And what about digital cameras?

(The authors point out that cell phones have subscription services that can be cut off if the phone itself is stolen, but let's not pretend that they don't get ripped off all the time, anyway.)

Second of all, I question the reliability of the robbery figures. Let us not forget that these statistics are based on reported crimes, which means any increase could simply be down to more people actually going to the police. And, that being the case, I could actually be convinced that iPods have contributed to the "increase" in robberies, inasmuch as people are less likely to report stolen a $30 discman from Radio Shack than they are a $300 MP3 player that also holds photos, calendars and personal information (especially given all the alarmism surrounding identity theft these days). But that doesn't mean that, like for like, more people are actually being robbed.

Finally, is it really worth getting our knickers in a twist over a twelve-point increase in the robbery rate? Do you know how the FBI calculates that rate? It takes data from 17,000 different law enforcement agencies across the country, smushes them all together, divides these various localised crime rates according to the size of the populations they refer to, smushes them together some more, and then multiplies up to get a rate out of 100,000 for the entire country. When you're doing that many mathematical transformations to a set of numbers, it would be surprising if the robbery rates didn't differ by a couple of points in some direction every year.

In conclusion, stop being silly.

March 01, 2008

The White Stuff

I recently discovered a blog over on Wordpress called Stuff White People Like. It's a collection of pretty sharply observed cultural satire on topics such as Multilingual Children ("[All white people] dream about [their] children drifting in between French and English sentences as they bustle about the kitchen while they read the New York Times and listen to Jazz."); Threatening to Move to Canada ("Though they will never actually move to Canada, the act of declaring that they are willing to undertake the journey is very symbolic in white culture"); and Difficult Breakups ("Once breakup proceedings have been initiated, a white person is immediately thrust into the center of attention in their circle of friends. During this time, they are permitted to talk at great lengths about themselves, listen to The Smiths, and get free dinners from friends who think 'they shouldn’t be alone right now'.").

At first I got a good giggle out of it, mostly because (and I fully admit this) I recognise a lot of what they talk about in myself — I even look creepily like the guy in the "Difficult Breakups" picture.

But the more I read, the more it began to dawn on me that what is being coded here as "white" is really more like "liberal arts graduate". And that's kind of offensive. Multilingual children? Study abroad programs? Michael Gondry? These are not things that just any old "white person" is going to discuss during their lunch break.

Of course, to a large extent, liberal arts graduates are pretty much a subset of the white population — but why conceal the connection? That does a disservice to nonwhites who have/want a liberal arts education, and to whites who don't (and there are a lot of them, believe me).

Instead of (quite rightly) problematising the huge race- and class-based inequalities in snooty academia, what the authors are really doing here is blindly enforcing the sort of elitist snobbery they're trying to make fun of, and claiming all sorts of desirable, mainstream values as exclusive to the white and the university educated. What happens when black people want to recycle? Does that mean they are "trying to be white"? What about white people who don't want (or can't afford) to buy a Prius? They must just be dipshits, right?

I'm all for satirising intellectualism — just last week I called myself "insufferable" on this very blog for eating sushi and watching the Oscars (both "Things Like White People Like" according to the site) — but let's call a spade a spade. This is not "white" culture, and labelling it as such is both racist and classist.

The authors, by the way, went to McGill and U of T (as near as I can work out), which I'm guessing means they are white liberal arts graduates themselves. Which makes perfect sense, of course, as that's pretty much the only demographic in which you can find someone who will write about academic elitism as if it were a racial division, and still think they are being really clever.