Monday, November 24, 2008

The things that matter

Earlier this month, there was an election that mattered quite a bit to quite a few people. A lot of people sort of thought it was really important. But some things really matter. This video puts the whole thing into some much-needed perspective:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Binary marble adding machine

Wow. Lots more here.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Election nuggets

Now is not the time for sarcasm, right? So let's pass gracefully over the revelations that Sarah Palin thought Africa was a country and get to this. Colin Powell was swept up in the maelstrom of Cheney/Bush bollix, giving a presentation of WMD evidence that turned out to be, how shall we say, creative. But personal redemption was at hand. His beautiful and moving endorsement of Barack Obama on Meet The Press was something to behold:

I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards–Purple Heart, Bronze Star–showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way.

Fine words indeed. And how's this for closure for one of the most visible faces of the first Bush term:

The terrible aftermath of Barack Obama's victory

Look, I want to promise this will be the last US election video I post before returning to the fascinating world of, uh, parasites, but this is too good not to post. In the words of the The Wire, I feel ya.

Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,

'Twould not be you, Niagara - nor you, ye limitless prairies - nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,

Nor you, Yosemite - nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyserloops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,

Nor Oregon's white cones - nor Huron's belt of mighty lakes - nor Mississippi's stream:

This seething hemisphere's humanity, as now, I'd name - the still small voice vibrating -America's choosing day,

(The heart of it not in the chosen - the act itself the main, the quadrennial choosing,)

The stretch of North and South arous'd - sea-board and inland - Texas to Maine - the Prairie States - Vermont, Virginia, California,

The final ballot-shower from East to West - the paradox and conflict,

The countless snow-flakes falling - (a swordless conflict,

Yet more than all Rome's wars of old, or modern Napoleon's): the peaceful choice of all,

Or good or ill humanity - welcoming the darker odds, the dross:

- Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify - while the heart pants, life glows:

These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,

Swell'd Washington's, Jefferson's, Lincoln's sails.

- Walt Whitman

It just goes to show, a black man in America still can't catch a break

WASHINGTON—African-American man Barack Obama, 47, was given the least-desirable job in the entire country Tuesday when he was elected president of the United States of America. In his new high-stress, low-reward position, Obama will be charged with such tasks as completely overhauling the nation's broken-down economy, repairing the crumbling infrastructure, and generally having to please more than 300 million Americans and cater to their every whim on a daily basis. As part of his duties, the black man will have to spend four to eight years cleaning up the messes other people left behind. The job comes with such intense scrutiny and so certain a guarantee of failure that only one other person even bothered applying for it. Said scholar and activist Mark L. Denton, "It just goes to show you that, in this country, a black man still can't catch a break."

From the Onion

Monday, November 03, 2008

Proof that John McCain has reached the "acceptance" stage

(Headline appropriated from James Fallows)

Brooker on *choke* 'Brandgate'

Charlie Brooker gives the Mail both barrels:

Friday's paper included a rundown of other "obscenities" broadcast by the Beeb, which the paper fearlessly "uncovered" by recording some TV shows and writing down some of the jokes. To protect readers' sensibilities, all the rude words were sprinkled with asterisks, although since the Mail's definition of "rude" extends to biological terms such as "penis", it was a bit like gazing at an ASCII representation of a snowstorm on a ZX Spectrum circa 1983. Perhaps next week it will produce a free sheet of asterisk stickers for readers to plaster over their own genitals, lest they catch sight of them in a mirror and indignantly vomit themselves into a coma.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Wait: Marlo's voting to have his wealth redistributed?

The BBC. It's not all bad.

As Brand/Ross rumbles into another day (good job it's a quiet month for news otherwise this would be nowhere), let's check in with another reason our licence fee is money well spent: Paxman. Here he is, interrogating the head of an Islamic school in Acton that teaching antisemitic garbage to its pupils. Never mind the false search for balance; in this clip, he sniffs blood and doesn't let go.

In other news, there's an election on! Don't forget to vote now:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

So, why did you leave Australia again?

Hmmm, let me see.

Oh yes, I've remembered:

More here if you're that way inclined.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Artist Lisa Black tinkers with animals.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Introducing Epidexipteryx hui

More information at Discover.

Show me how you do that trick

Lovely encomium to the once-mighty Cure over at Hear Canal. Question: did the Cure go bland, or did my ears just grow up? Could I ever fall for something as darkly florid as Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me or as divinely overwrought as Disintegration again, or would I simply cringe? There's been nothing remotely in the vicinity of the Cure the last decade that's been anything other than awful. No goth, no emo. Nothing. Right?

One of the things I liked about the Cure back in the day was that, for all the laborious back-combing and shakily-applied slap, their spectrum was massively broader than that of your Missions and Fields of the Neff (then), and the hordes of the Emotic (now). No moody blacks or crushed velvet reds. No leather dusted with flour to make them look like desert warriors (I'm looking at you, Neff). The Cure's colours spanned the whole rainbow, even if they were often the garish colours of a bruise. So, if the Cure weren't goth, what were they about? They were about love. Oh sure, they were were also about dogs and cats and piggies and cockatoos and caterpillars and snake-pits and spiders, a conjured menagerie populating Smith's songs from the very beginning, a very English strain of dark imaginings that goes back to Dadd, Tenniel and Lear. But underneath it all, Robert Smith was singing, mostly, about love: fervid and self-obsessed or sickly and hungry or desperate and lost or just sweetly romantic, songs like "Show Me Heaven", "Lovesong" and "Pictures of You" put a whole generation of stunted adolescents on the road to something like real emotion. That's got to be worth something.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

McCain fires back. Oh wait

So John Murtha (D) has been going round calling the inhabitants of West PA 'red-necks' and 'racists'. When 'mad dog' McCain got hold of that, he shook it till it bled.

Oh no he di'nt.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Camille @ The Roundhouse

Sunday, and to Camille in North London. Her backing, uh, 'band' was extraordinary, what with the beat boxing, chest slapping, floor stomping, slinky dancing (mostly from the beat-boxing fellow, it should be said. Camille did a great deal of thrashing about of a decidedly unslinksome nature) and general air of Gallic cool. Camille herself sung herself into the ground, but you sensed there wasn't a great spark between the audience and her. Maybe it's just a London crowd waiting to be impressed, who can say?

We left midway through the first encore, which meant we missed a very special guest who was dragged from the audience. To think: we went all the way to London, and missed Mr Jamie Cullum. Tragic.

Friday, October 17, 2008

You can see the Russian Tea Rooms from here...

The campaign's getting a little strained, to say the least, what with all the terrorists and abortions and angry plumbers. So it's good to see the protagonists have not had a complete sense of humour malfunction:

Funny. But even better:

Dude, he's got game!

This is more mean-spirited. Which doesn't stop it being funny as hell: Palin as President.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Choose Life

Following a recent pub discussion about parasite populations (I don't get out much), I thought I'd post this thoughtful article on parasites.

Was especially taken with this:

[...]a healthy ecosystem is usually rife with parasites, and when the parasites begin to disappear, this may foreshadow serious problems. For example, Lafferty has found that the fish in pristine Pacific coral atolls carry many more kinds of parasites than fish living in nearby overharvested atolls. Marcogliese has found that when acid rain damages Canadian rivers, the parasites fall out of the river food webs even while their fish hosts seem in good shape. Pollution can kill delicate parasites outright, while overfishing may wipe out parasites by removing some of their hosts.

No more on parasites, I promise. Unless I find some seriously cool new vids.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Thursday, October 02, 2008

36 Hours

You know those scenes in films like Wall Street, where the big investor or piratical banker gets him come-uppance in a tumultuous final reel, where we see blinking boards and frantic traders indicating tanking stocks, where, even though the film-makers rarely deign to explain what's happening, we get a frisson as the barely-comprehensible but nevertheless exciting disaster unfolds?

Well, this is like that.

Pulling Pulling

In a world where My Family and Two Pints of Lager continue to be made, Pulling, the fantastically dark show about three women and their adventures in men and booze, has been yanked from the schedules.

Rising food costs, ongoing slo-mo credit catastrophe, and now this? Maybe Kenneth Williams was onto something.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Deeply, deeply hilarious. Right?

There's funny, there's funny, and then there's this:

Watch CBS Videos Online

... once I've picked myself up off the floor, I'm off to build a bunker and stock up on food and water.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dedicated to all human beings

Because the Nude remix competition was so much fun, those clever boys at Camp Radiohead are doing the same with Reckoner, a song that at least has the virtue of being in 4/4.

They've posted versions with James Holden and Diplo; both are merely OK — a sure spur to someone out there to do better.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Obama & the Conquest of Denver

Michael Chabon on the Democratic Convention:

When Obama concluded his speech, we looked at each other, and then at him, and all stood up, wild with applause. (God knows what kind of madness was going on down there among the California delegation.) We had come to the end of volume two of the great adventure. Now it was time to go save the world. Game on.

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace is dead. I can’t say I ever read any of his fiction, which is certainly my loss; I’ve been conditioned against it by, one, a highly critical essay on Wallace’s mimetic style by, I think, James Woods (Wallace being the ne plus ultra of writers you’d expect Woods to hate: hyper-modern, super-dense, with no feeling for beautiful prose for its own sake) and, two, the sheer door-stopping weight of the things: Infinite Jest looks like it would do serious damage to one’s phalanges should it ever be dropped on them.

But the non-fiction, the reportage and literary critiques, are spell-binding; hyper acute and super-smart, Wallace’s (supposed) weaknesses become his strengths: giving each idea as long as it needs, and exploring all its branches; the dazzling research; the illumination of the metaphors; the obscure terminology (which all turn out, on interrogation of the dictionary, to be precisely the right words); and, of course, the subject matter: the wonder of Roger Federer; the plight of the lobster; John McCain; David Lynch; and so on.

But I wanted to quote from his essay on Borges. It’s from a review of Edwin Williamson’s Borges: A Life. It’s a small masterpiece of concision:

The truth, briefly stated, is that Borges is arguably the great bridge between modernism and post-modernism in world literature. He is modernist in that his fiction shows a first-rate human mind stripped of all foundations in religious or ideological certainty -- a mind turned thus wholly in on itself. His stories are inbent and hermetic, with the oblique terror of a game whose rules are unknown and its stakes everything.

And the mind of those stories is nearly always a mind that lives in and through books. This is because Borges the writer is, fundamentally, a reader. The dense, obscure allusiveness of his fiction is not a tic, or even really a style; and it is no accident that his best stories are often fake essays, or reviews of fictitious books, or have texts at their plots' centers, or have as protagonists Homer or Dante or Averroes. Whether for seminal artistic reasons or neurotic personal ones or both, Borges collapses reader and writer into a new kind of aesthetic agent, one who makes stories out of stories, one for whom reading is essentially -- consciously -- a creative act. This is not, however, because Borges is a metafictionist or a cleverly disguised critic. It is because he knows that there's finally no difference -- that murderer and victim, detective and fugitive, performer and audience are the same. Obviously, this has postmodern implications (hence the pontine claim above), but Borges's is really a mystical insight, and a profound one. It's also frightening, since the line between monism and solipsism is thin and porous, more to do with spirit than with mind per se. And, as an artistic program, this kind of collapse/transcendence of individual identity is also paradoxical, requiring a grotesque self-obsession combined with an almost total effacement of self and personality. Tics and obsessions aside, what makes a Borges story Borgesian is the odd, ineluctable sense you get that no one and everyone did it.

A brilliant summation of Borges' appeal; and a passing definition of modernism that's as good as anything I've ever read. I've included some further online examples:

"Host" The Atlantic Monthly, April, 2005
"Consider The Lobster" Gourmet, August, 2004
"The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys, And The Shrub: Seven Days In The Life Of The Late, Great John McCain" Rolling Stone, April 13, 2000*
"David Lynch Keeps His Head" Premiere, September, 1996

"Laughing With Kafka" Harper's, July, 1998
"Tense Present: Democracy, Usage And The War Over Usage" Harper's, April, 2001
"John Updike, Champion Literary Phallocrat, Drops One; Is This Finally The End For Magnificent Narcissists?" New York Observer, October 13, 1997
"Tennis, Trigonometry, Tornadoes: A Midwestern Boyhood" Harper's, December, 1991

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Creamy not foamy

How to make the perfect flat white:

Conjoined, talons engaged

In our mounting excitement for the new TV on the Radio album, thrillingly titled Dear Science, we thought now might be an opportune moment to post the video to what we think is their best song to date, "Province", which of course features the inestimable Sir David Bowie on trademark warbly backing vox:

I'll write more on the album when I finally get a copy...

The dream again nobody understands

It’s a blue day in the country, the birds are singing in the dreams; it’s thunderously good to be alive. It helps that I’m sipping a Pimms at the B-man’s country house. It's a lovely pad, airy and bright, a perfect venue for the summer barbecue that’s in full swing. Much wine does flow. B flits from guest to guest, the proverbial life and soul. I retire to the other end of the immaculate lawn, exhausted as always by the prospect of socialising. Someone’s had the same idea: standing at the back of the garden is a tall melancholy fellow. He’s holding a glass of white wine and looking out at the countryside beyond with an expression of dreamy lugubriousness. He's wearing an insouciantly rumpled suit and a check shirt. I know this man: it’s Elbow’s lead singer Guy Garvey, a lovely man by any measure, indeed one of the Greatest Living Englishmen. My next sentence leaps from my mouth unbidden.

"Hey Guy. Love the new album!"

He looks at me. His eyes narrow. I’ve said the wrong thing.

"How have you heard it?"

Oh dear: It's not out yet. In fact, it’s not out for some time. So, the way I have heard it is this: I have downloaded it. Illegally. He knows this. I die inside, quite exploded by my own petard. This garden party has turned awfully chilly.


Ok, so I should confess immediately that the above was a dream I had a few years back. Vivid as you like, but happily a dream nonetheless. Talk about the anxiety of the long-distance downloader.

One of the best songs from Elbow’s second album A Cast of Thousands is “Not A Job”, the chorus of which turns on a dream that remains, in this case tantalizingly unexplained:

The dream again nobody understands
Walking through the long grass on your hands
It's not a job to do today
Sleep it off

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

There'll be twisted karaoke at the Aniseed Lounge

Hooray! I said to all the haters and naysayers that Elbow would win the Nationwide Mercury Prize for the astonishing The Seldom Seen Kid — and they only bloomin' well did! I was genuinely nervous that the judges were going to stuff it all up again and give the statuette to Plant and Krauss or Adele or even Walker-lite peddlers The Last Shadow Puppets. Couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of fellows. They all looked genuinely thrilled, bless 'em.

More on the subject of Bury's finest presently, but meantime, here's the splendid new video for "The Bones of You":

Monday, September 08, 2008

Lost in Showbiz

If you count yourself amongst the numberless hordes for whom such esoterica as the contents of my blog roll hold an almost limitless fascination, you'll have noticed that there are a couple of additions to my list of noteworthies. Marina Hyde I discovered while eating baked potatoes at the offices of Orange. Forgive the specificity, but I won't readily forget, in a heroic attempt to stifle a laugh, snorting bits of tuna and cheese out of my own nostrils. Her column Lost in Showbiz is a thing of wonder, and not just because of its apocalyptic humour — the more trivial and soul-crushing her subject matter, the more elevated the prose becomes. Actually, and without permission, let me quote Clive James:

Marina Hyde is an Oxford graduate who now writes the kind of journalism that would have given her tutor a heart attack. She started her London career as a secretary on the Sun's show-business desk, and even after her transfer to the Guardian, where she currently writes three columns a week, she retained her detailed interest in the trivia of the celebrity culture. Her writings on politics show her seriousness and her writings on sport show her adventurous range, but her column "Lost in Showbiz", in my opinion, shows her at her most original. Very few writers who know that much about the fundamentally worthless are capable of being funny about it. She digs down fearlessly through the strata of the negligible and finds the underlying ephemerality. What makes this fantastic voyage worthwhile is her gift for conveying a moral view through the precision of her rhythmic prose, which depends on a complete control of syntax. ("Suffering almost unimaginably for his art comes Sir Ben Kingsley...") She has the knack, highly schooled in her case, of bringing everything in and making it fit the form: bric-a-brac castles. Admiring students should not imagine that they can do the same just by lightening up. It takes a feeling for the serious to treat what doesn't matter as if it mattered. The first seven links on the right lead to a string of pieces written in late 2005, when "Lost in Showbiz" found its unique and enviable tone. Further links to more recent pieces have since been added in response to sobbing cries of “More Marina!” from desperate fans.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler writes to his publisher:

Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it'll stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of bar-room vernacular, that is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive... I think your proof-reader is kindly attempting to steady me on my feet, but much as I appreciate the solicitude, I am really able to steer a fairly clear course, provided I get both sidewalks and the street in between.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Department of Seeing the Light

Mea Culpa's don't get more maxima than this.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Dark Knight

The Enormous Yes department of Cliché #4: Tim Burton's Batman films were serious—and largely successful—attempts to marry comic-book panache with celluloid wow.

Trouble is, they were the wrong comic books. Looking back, Burton's operatic vision of Gotham now seems kinds of dated. For all the talk that Joel Schumacher made the franchise too garishly camp, the seeds of cheese-plant were detectable from the very beginning: Nicholson's Joker, an exercise in scenery-chewing that never lets us forget we're dealing with Jack (and, to be fair, that was part of the attraction: look at Jack go!); a pantheon of villains of steadily decreasing menace and commensurately increasing absurdity: the Penguin, Catwoman, the Riddler, Poison Ivy, Two-face, Mr Freeze . Happily, I can't even remember what happened in these early films. It says something when the thing I remember most fondly from the first film is Prince's globally-derided soundtrack (not being a Prince fan at the time, I thought it was rather good). All those Keatons, Kilmers and Clooney's. Yes, the gaudy ocean of camp that inundated the final films was all along being fed by tributaries chuckling through the very first film.

Batman Begins was in an altogether different league. Drawing on a rich graphic novel heritage, the film took Batman in a darker, more morally ambiguous direction. But the first film definitely has its faults. A thousand-year-old ninja cult is a tad hokey; a somewhat anticlimactic tussle on a CGI monorail drains some of the tension; and the release of thousands of hard-core criminals promises much mayhem but delivers only some fog-bound fight scenes. Still, the intensity of Christian Bale, the decency of Gary Oldman, the cool expectation of a sequel, all these made Batman Begins that currently rare thing: a decent superhero movie.

So what about The Dark Knight? Some of the snootier critics have taken the odd line that the film is too serious, too dark; they're disturbed by its transparent bid for moral seriousness. It's as if they want their thought-provokers to be Iranian epics called things like A Scent of Cardamon, while their superhero films should be simple fun like Ironman (which, sure, was pretty great) or silly guff like Spiderman. No, this upstart attempt to comment on symbols and terrorism and myth-making, while effortlessly delivering on the superhero prerequisites: it's too much for them. Anyway, the take-home message is that it’s a great film.

The movie takes a little while to reach its pitch, but when it gets there, about a third of the way in, it's horribly relentless, for which most of the thanks must go to Heath Ledger's mesmerizing Joker, a self-confessed agent of chaos who gets his kicks from enacting large-scale prisoners dilemmas and watching as Batman tries to bring order. Ledger is superb. It would have been so easy, pace Nicholson, to have gone straight for the ham, cackling maniacally through every scene. But, more often than not, Ledger is disconcertingly still as all ranges around him. This, finally, is a Joker taken straight from the pages of The Killing Joke or The Dark Knight Returns. His first appearance in front of the massed criminal element of Gotham haunted me for days...

Now I just have to see on the Imax screen and I’m done.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Where are the eReaders?

Recalling a disconcerting conversation in Amsterdam with Mr B and the divine Ms S about the future of books, I came across an interesting article by Nick Hornby about the future of books. B had taken the long view: given enough time and enough advances in the technology, books would inevitably go the way of the dodo, moving inexorably from mass to niche to gone in the blink of an epoch. S, on the other hand, thought this specious guff of the first order: books are among the most successful and durable of machines yet devised by humans, and their shelf-life (a telling metaphor) will extend way beyond the heat death of Apple or Amazon. I was somewhere in between: I love books — but, y’know… never say never.

Anyway, here’s an interesting perspective from Nick Hornby. He’s talking about the reasons he doesn’t see eReaders taking off anytime soon. I was taken with this point:

How much reading has been done historically, simply because there is no television available on a bus or a train or a sun-lounger? But that’s no longer true. You could watch a whole series of the Sopranos by the pool on your iPod touch screen, if you want. Reading is going to take a hit from this.
This is depressingly true. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to get through my ever-expanding to-read lists: new novels and old classics, magazines and journals, collections of letters, diaries, even slim volumes of poetry; they all heap up unread simply because I find myself watching/listening to vod/podcasts or even just music (would you believe?). Final proof: since my headphones broke last week, I’ve caned one novel (Howard Jacobson’s Kalooki Nights) and am midway through a second (David Peace’s The Damned Utd).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Four chickens back from the shore

There's selling out, which, as we all know, is the height of evil. No-one wants to see Keith Richards hawking Louis Vuitton.

But there should be a term for the opposite of selling out, for repurposing your songs for the greater good. Selling over, perhaps? Selling beyond? Enough. Just check out this little slice of joy if you somehow haven't seen it already:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Look what she did!

She may have been sweating blood and renting the air with her imprecations against the befuddled masses of middle-management but, according to Roy Greenslade, it was all worth it:

Look at the new Daily Mirror website that began rolling out today. It's not only a genuine departure from its former site but amounts to a totally new approach to all the newspaper sites I've ever seen.

I could say that the paper's online designers have thought outside the box. In fact, it appears that they've thought inside several boxes, because interchangeable boxes form the key element to the top half of the homepage.

Clearly, this allows for maximum flexibility because the blocks can be arranged in any format to fit the news agenda. In a sense, it's rather like the modular layout of a newsprint paper, which allows for the easy expansion of a single column into double or treble columns without disturbing the template.

So, on the page I downloaded a couple of minutes ago, there were three small "single column boxes" above a larger treble-column box with the main story of the day (Jeremy Kyle's car crash escape). Below that was a smaller single column box next to a double column box. The formula repeated further down too.

Presumably, if a really major international story breaks, all the blocks can be joined together to devote the whole top of the page to it.

Underneath the boxes are six lists of stories, broken up by different interests. On the right-hand side at the top is the news video, linked on this occasion to the main story by showing the Kyle crash scene. More videos are listed below.

I was warned by someone who had seen a screengrab in advance that it was "horrific". I have to say it doesn't strike me like that at all. My initial reaction, and I haven't changed my mind, was that the Mirror was deliberately trying a bold new approach. (I see my colleague, Jemima Kiss, takes a similar view). She notes that the design work was carried out by the Spanish consultancy, Cases i Associates, which was also responsible for the Mirror's newsprint revamp.

I think they've done a much better job online than with the paper. Once you get used to how it is organised, the mass of colour is less daunting than it appears at first sight. It also works like a dream. I tried the search option, and it worked better than before. The columnists were easier to locate but the promise of bloggers was less satisfactory.

Of course, things will get better. But I think, overall, it promises more than The Sun's altogether less radical revamp.

Well done, by Christ!

On a different and altogether more hilarious tip, here's Giles Coren's letter to the Times' subs. He's pretty angry:


I am mightily pissed off. I have addressed this to Owen, Amanda and Ben because I don't know who i am supposed to be pissed off with (i'm assuming owen, but i filed to amanda and ben so it's only fair), and also to Tony, who wasn't here - if he had been I'm guessing it wouldn't have happened.

I don't really like people tinkering with my copy for the sake of tinkering. I do not enjoy the suggestion that you have a better ear or eye for how I want my words to read than I do. Owen, we discussed your turning three of my long sentences into six short ones in a single piece, and how that wasn't going to happen anymore, so I'm really hoping it wasn't you that fucked up my review on saturday.

And on and on it goes. I've worked wearing both helmets, as it were, so I can see both points of view. But he does protest a tad too much. His gag, such as it was, is so subtle as to be non-existent and also largely lame. I'm not at all sure that the butchery of which he complains didn't ever-so-slightly improve things. Actually, if it was up to me, I'd have changed it to 'a-noshing'.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Only a year to go...

Until Zak Snyder's Watchmen sees the light of day. Will this be the first Alan Moore adaptation they don't balls up royally? Whither a celluloid Lost Girls? And — please God — they will be taking out the Smashing Pumpkins track, right?

Not long now...

The media's getting a little bit excited about Season 5 of The Wire any minute now (not on a proper channel though. On FX, which also shows The Colbert Report. It just makes me to bite my own chin off with fury that execs from the main channels must have looked at both shows and passed on them. Startlingly, these people are still in employment. The world is a cold and worrying place. Anyway...)

Now comes a tricky dance: since we're going to watch this on DVD when it comes out in a couple of months, we have to make sure we don't learn what happens. I'm sure this won't be as tricky as it was for those Sopranos fans who had to wait to catch the last episode (my god: that last episode) but it still means I have to be very careful reading any interviews, profiles, think-pieces etc.

That said, here's an interview with the marvelous Dominic West, McNulty of the Baltimore parish, and also the treacherous senator in 300 ("this is going to hurt"). He went to Eton! He was an acrobat! Most astonishingly of all: he's British! Next you'll be telling me that Stringer Bell's from Sarf London. What's that? Oh.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Parasite corner

Here at the Yes, parasites are very cool. For instance, check out this cricket, forced, for reasons beyond its ken, to the water, whereby this happens:

House Of Cards

After much chatting, the House of Cards video is finally here:

Worthing waiting for?

Department of Well I Never

John Kennedy, C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley all died on the same day.



We're in the middle of a fully-fledged moral panic. Everyone has been, or is about to me, stabbed to death with knives. Or, failing that, is a knife-wielding hoodie about to stab you (cue the Beeb's hilarious shots of yoovs with butcher's knives).

Oddly, everything looked peaceful this morning. What's going on?

I awoke to an absurd discussion on the radio yesterday morning. Some chap from a northwestern accident and emergency ward was reacting to what he and many others believed were government plans to ferry young knife carriers around casualty departments as he and his colleagues attempted to patch up the victims of stabbings.

The doctor's rather obvious objection that neither the suturing medics nor the suffering patients would appreciate such a distraction, wasn't diminished by the fact that no one in government was actually suggesting any such thing.

No, ministers' ambitions were limited to having visits to the wards. Even so, the doctor summoned up an unexpected expertise to say that even such less dramatic mechanisms for confronting young people with the consequences of crime had been shown (in the US, of course) not to work.

I have no idea how he knew this, but when it comes to the prevailing moral panic, we are all experts now. Top experts, naturally, are the Government, about to unveil (or unleash?) their latest youth crime action plan. What is actually going on in the first place?

Only yards behind are the other political parties, each with their own very definite views on what ought and what ought not to be done about knife crime, and the newspapers, whose certainty concerning remedies is matched only by their total confusion as to what the problem actually is.

Is it gangs? Is it just young men and boys? Is it just knives, or guns too? Is it all attacks with bladed instruments? Is the incidence rising or falling? Is it younger victims and perpetrators that are the problem here?

If so, what are the figures, once we subtract older people, purely domestic violence and unusual (if horrific) killings, such as that of the two French students in South London? I want to remind readers of the total pointlessness of including, for instance, the murder of a husband by his wife's brother in a statistic that is then used to indicate the problem of casual street crime.

And if people think that they know what is going on, perhaps they could explain to me why knife crime was almost static in London between the second half of 2007 and the first half of 2008, had increased by nearly 20 per cent in Northumbria, but had halved in Derbyshire.

Had there been a sudden outbreak of divorceless marriage in Derby round about 1992? Or a fashionable run on shivs in Newcastle this January? And what differences in parenting, imprisonment, policing, schooling or social conditions help us to understand why knife crime levels in Scotland are 3.5 times higher than in England or Wales?

I am not saying that nothing is happening. I am saying that in most discussion of this subject - and particularly in those involving politicians and the media - there is darkness rather than light.

That this is a fully-fledged moral panic is evident when the father of the recently murdered Jimmy Mizen speaks about couples who have told him that they were thinking of not having children at all because they fear their children being murdered.

This - statistically, at any rate - is half as sensible as staying childless because of a fear of filial suicide. As far as we can tell, violent crime, which had climbed for three decades, has now fallen by something like 40 per cent since 1995, and the proportion of that involving knives has not changed much. True, one problem with these statistics is that they don't include the under-16s. They will soon, and that at least we can all agree about.

So, for this problem that - in so far as we can quantify it - isn't much worse than it was, and is carried out for reasons we don't fully understand, we now have a plethora of instant solutions. Much of this involves prison, not just for knife wielders, but for that very different category, knife carriers.

With Gordon Brown knife carriers get jail or “community payback”, with David Cameron they can “expect” a spell in the slammer. Meanwhile, for the Liberal Democrats, Chris Huhne derides the Government for being in past denial about knife crime, but may care to explain why, in their January 2007 document Together We Can Cut Crime the un-denying Lib Dems failed to mention the word “knife” or “knives” on a single occasion.

Are knives so epiphenomenal, that they have taken just 18 months to become a big social problem? “Prison is the only place for knife carriers,” opines The Daily Telegraph, adding - without an iota of supporting evidence - that “the ‘shock' of a spell in prison, even of short duration, will be far more potent deterrent than one of Miss Smith's hospital visits”.

That depends, doesn't it, on why you are carrying the knife in the first place, something that we still don't know. No, I'm sorry, of course we do. It's the Daily Mail's “breakdown of the family and education system”. Or, as David Cameron put it, too many young people “do not recognise a sense of right or wrong”.

And the evidence for this contention is what, precisely? Of all the things that I imagine I observe about young people today, a failure to discuss moral or ethical values is the least characteristic.

We have been here before. Guns last year, flick knives in 1958, razor gangs in 1938, skinhead aggro in 1970 (when steel-capped boots were the weapon), mods and rockers in 1964, young men and boys stabbed or shot or stomped by other young men outside pubs, clubs, dancehalls and stadiums.

In many cases it was just luck that separated the victim from the perpetrator. That point was poignantly made by Alice Miles in these pages recently.

I can't help wondering whether what may be behind any recent real rise in knife crimes, is precisely the recent unreal moral panic over knives. Everyone hears that everyone else is carrying, so they carry too; and if you buy a ticket for the fatal lottery sometimes you win.

It is striking, of course, that almost all those involved in casual knife fatalities are young males. In The Times yesterday there was a story about young girls self-harming, suggesting an unpleasant symmetry - the brothers stab others, the sisters stab themselves. But we start, don't we, with offended masculinity, fear and peer pressure, and work from there?

We might look at actually giving the recent £3 million anti-knife advertising campaign some time to work, at developing non-prison forms of deterrence, at televising court procedures in cases of violence, at simultaneously diminishing the amount of violence-as-entertainment on television and in cinemas, at outlawing violence against children, at reinstituting civility in the public sphere, starting with ourselves. Anything but the present pathetic apology for a national discussion

Monday, July 07, 2008

Wireless Festival 08: Underworld, Fatboy Slim

Bjork has a great deal to answer for. For the first time ever, the Icelandic art-pixie is in my bad books (you listening, Bjork? Yes, I do mean you). Mere days before the Wild in the Country festival, due to take place in leafy Knebworth, Bjork pulled out, citing a lack of co-operation from the organisers. In rapid succession, more DJs, plus Battles, I band I've long wanted to see, followed suit. And then, on the Thursday before the weekend, the plug was finally pulled. Cue mass panic among our number: we were all geared up with nowhere to go. A plan B was needed, quick smart.

So, when V remembered almost immediately that the Wireless Festival was on in Hyde Park, featuring Bootsy Collins, MSTRKRFT, Booka Shade, Underworld and Fatboy Slim, our weekend was saved. Moreover, apart from the tantalizing prospect of seeing Bjork, there was some measure of relief that we weren’t going to have to troop up to Knebworth and troop back again.

Our day begins with a rendezvous in the leafy surrounds of Primrose Hill. M's mum is the famous folk singer Bonnie Dobson, author of the folk standard "Morning Dew", and her house is accordingly festooned with the artistic bric-a-brac of a lifetime: photos, postcards, trinkets and paintings. It's a great way to start the day — and wonderful knowing that this will be our retreat when we finally decide that it’s all a bit too hectic.

So we cab it over to Hyde Park, where we loiter by a tent where an instructor is given dance lessons — V is excited by the sounds of distant Groove Armada track. I can only hear a muffled throb. Good lord, has my hearing become that appalling? We catch up with M’s motley crew and head, after a chastening episode or two in the toilets, to the huge tent at the back of the field to catch the closing strains of MSTRKRFT. Their set of dark tech seems confuses me until I realise that I’d been confusing them with M Craft the whole time. But a set of hand-cranked lo-fi folk tunes would have got no-one in the mood for Underworld. It’s a good job we get to the tent early — they’ve stopped letting people into the tent, such is the crush. Good for the space; not so good for those of us who might want to use the toilet.

It’s very dark and very warm by the time Underworld come on. They are superb, Karl flailing like a lunatic who’s plugged himself into the mains just for kicks. “Two Months Off” is lethal, "Born Slippy" takes everyone to the mental place, especially when they release the giant balloons (at least I think that happened), "King of Snake" keeps them there, and "Jumbo" is a blissful way to end, the crowd drifting out for the start of Fatboy Slim... but what’s this? They’re back for a frenzied encore of "Moaner”, an overload of hyper-staccato synths and Karl's maniac rant, plus a frenzied strobe. It all helps create a sensory overload (M had to leave the tent, such was the claustrophobia in the tent) that we agree that Fatboy's gonna have a hard time beating.

Initial omens are not good. We're at the periphery of the crowd, where the beats are a little quiet and the sound is getting sucked hither and thither by the wind. We creep closer, looking for paths of lesser resistance. You'll forgive me if I don't remember a great deal about his song selection from this point, as I spent the next hour and a half grinning like loon. We’d seen Fatboy play the famous Beach Boutique II down in Brighton (along with, what, a quarter of a million others?), and that had been — OK. Most of my memory of that is taken up with finding it hard to dance on the sloping pebbles and then spending a small lifetime leaving the beach to the never-ending voice on the PA: “please make your way off the beach” etc.

But this time, Fatboy was truly amazingly good, spending the whole set grinning like the extraordinarily lucky man he is, resplendent in Hawaiian shirt and continually exhorting the crowd to give it up, which we were more than happy to do. The music got continually harder and deeper and harder and more technoid and then came up the other side with a kind of ecstatic techno I’ve never really heard before more ecstatic. There were super-deep versions of "Sunshine of Your Love" and "(I can't get no) Satisfaction", a frenzied "Block Rockin' Beats", aa cleansing "Jump Around" and then, right at the end, a soaring remix of Arcade Fire's "No Cars Go". The whole thing was like the sun coming out — which was odd because it was getting progressively cloudier. I read later that he played "Crazy in Love" — but I'll have to take that on trust. He also finished with “Praise You”, before leaving us, in true superstar style, wanting more, bereft that he’d finished so early. It wasn’t even 10:30.

After that — we braved the cold and the buses and made our way to The End for some Layo and Bushwacka, then headed back to our Primrose Hill base for a debrief. Sleep was a long time coming.

So a big thanks to that capital fellow, Fatboy Slim. Oh yes, and a belated thank you to Bjork as well...

[Any info about a track-listing most welcome]

Monday, June 30, 2008

Jay-Z - Wonderwall

Oh me of little faith. Jay-Z at Glasters was, from the smattering of small screen footage we caught, the gig of the year (helps that we failed to turn up to the MBV gig). I really didn't know how many songs I'd absorbed iPod-wise; moreover, I couldn't have guessed how transfigured these songs would be live. My god, this guy can rap (yeah, yeah, I know. It's hardly news).

Better yet, he told Noel where to get off:

But just as I was writing this (faintly drunkenly and with dangerously low blood sugar), Marcello wrote this magnificent piece. It's too perfect too pick out a quote. But let me try:

I think, therefore, you'll gather that Saturday was a glorious strawberry and absinthe lollipop of a F*CK YOU...

Go read.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How to account for Alan Cumming?

Oh dear. I'm afraid I may have led you up the garden path. The answer to the posed question, as any fool knows, is that there is no way to account for Alan Cumming.

But, on a completely different topic, an Italian study has proposed a new genetic theory of homosexuality, which essentially states that the genes for homosexuality survive because their female carriers have, on average, more children. The study looked at the patterns of procreation among the female relatives of male homosexuals and compared them to patterns of procreation among the relatives of non-homosexuals: et voila! more children.

The genes in question are not 'genes for homosexuality': they are genes for androphilia — for loving men. Which, among women, might lead, all other things being equal, to more offspring.

Will Saletan has a succinct discussion at Slate.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bad Wolf

Turns out we really weren't paying attention...

A trouser-rubbing timewarp that needs no new balls

Not my headline: Marina Hyde's, for a brilliant piece about the ongoing objectification of female tennis players:

They [the Lawn Tennis Association] recently launched their Think Pink campaign, a new initiative "to raise awareness of women in tennis, and sport in general". A couple of weeks ago they got lots of promising nine- to 11-year-old girl players to dress up in pink clothes and demonstrate their skills. "We're looking to bring out the glamorous side of the game," explained Think Pink ambassador Claire Curren, "and really tap into what appeals to girls growing up these days."

Wait: that's the big idea? To wear baby pink and emphasise "the glamorous side" of tennis? Why, we'll be producing Grand Slam champions inside a decade. It's a little-known fact that as ambitious tweens, Venus and Serena Williams raised their game by repeatedly asking themselves, "What would Malibu Stacy do?"

Hyde, Charlie Brooker and Laura Barton have become my essential Guardian reads. Brooker's last piece was about, um, hats, so I won't link to that. But consider this piece from Barton, on being a fan of William Elliott Whitmore and searching for new music:

When you are awaiting new material by a musician you love, you become a man roaming with a terrible thirst (goodness only knows how Guns N' Roses fans are getting by). And you find you are quenched, just a little, by rough new songs posted on MySpaces and played at shows, by duet records and live albums and by snippety journal entries on homepages; they are the clink of the glass and the splash of the tap, the promise of what is to come, and we stand like hens drinking rainwater before it has landed, nipping at tiny liquid insects, taking anything we can get.
That'll do, while we wait for more weather-beaten banjo classics from the man himself

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The First Excuse

Christopher Hitchens on the the accusations of sexism coming from the Hilary camp:

In common with quite a lot of men, I have or have had a mother, wife, grandmother, mother-in-law, daughter—more or less everything female except a sister, which I wish I had had—and given all this feminine backup, I decline to be talked to in such a condescending fashion. There are many ways in which to be a bad person, and I don't think that I would ever deny that the Y chromosome especially encodes some of these. I certainly don't know any feminists who wouldn't agree with me that some regrettable traits are forever associated with the male sex. But in that event, it will not be easy for Sen. Clinton's supporters to argue that she can't be identified as womanly, or even as a woman, unless (or do I mean until?) the word woman becomes more coterminous with the word saint or angel or the term nurturing person than it is now. Her whole self-pitying campaign, I mean to say, has retarded and infantilized the political process and has used the increasingly empty term sexism to mask the defeat of one of the nastiest and most bigoted candidacies in modern history.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Agoria: At The Controls

I so so want to do a longer post on compilations and I so so will (I hear the cry go up: hooray!), but I really have to mention Agoria's stellar entry in At The Controls series, already essential listening thanks to James Holden (his compilation at my BPM threshold but utterly thrilling for that) and M.A.N.D.Y (just bonkers).

Agoria gives us two CDs of quite stunning music, Disc 1 the more straightforward, Disc 2 really out in orbit. The section that traverses Fairmont's "Flight of the Albatross", Planningtorock's marvellously histrionic "When Are You Gonna Start" and Grand National's "Drink to Moving On" is just jaw-dropping — each wonderful piece of music dovetailing into its neighbour as if part of a divinely-ordained plan. It's the Jack Torrance of track-listings: but of course Stefan Goldmann's "Lunatic Fringe" morphs into the peerless "Dark Soldier" by Roland Appel — it always has (Lunatic Fringe hit upon such an obvious idea: these days, if a piece of minimal tech doesn't feature a Bulgarian women's choir, I'm not interested).

And then onto a blissful end with the sublime staccato of Apparat's "Arcadia". So what if Ellen Alien did it already. Since it's The Best Song in the Known Universe as of Today, we're allowed a bit of double-up.

Go fetch.

Quote of the day

A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.

~ Robert Frost

Friday, June 06, 2008

Subtitles; or how to pad, swell and overexplain a perfectly good title

Gideon Haigh, everyone's favourite cricket writer (He's an Australian writer who supported England in the 95 Ashes. That's got to be worth a beer), has written a great little essay for The Monthly. His subject is the surfeit of subtitles currently disfiguring the non-fiction section of your local bookshop:

Once, of course, books had no need of such otiose elaboration. To stick with American politics, there once existed the cultural literacy that made possible titles like Nixon Agonistes, with its hint of Milton, and All the President’s Men, with its echo of Robert Penn Warren. Critics, for their part, vouchsafed standalone titles of such solemn grandeur as The Death of Tragedy, A Gathering of Fugitives, The Evening Colonnade and Under the Sign of Saturn. Historians bandied around bald provocations like The Decline of the West, The Revolt of the Masses, The Making of the English Working Class and Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.

Now it's easier to take a few rough swings, and hope that one connects. Actually, there is a parlour game in the making imagining what modern marketing might have made of various classics: say, Kant's The Critique of Pure Reason: Why Space and Time Are A Priori Intuitions, Why We Cannot Meaningfully Conceive of an Object that Exists Outside of Time and Has No Spatial Components, Why We Are Prohibited from Absolute Knowledge of the Thing-In-Itself... And 101 Ways to Save the World (nobody will read long enough to learn that the last part is bogus); or maybe Plato's Republic: The Seven Habits of Highly Successful City-States (always use 'seven': it's publishing magic). T.E. Lawrence was ahead of the curve with Seven Pillars of Wisdom, yet how much better than his original subtitle A Triumph would have been something like How I Rallied Arab Irregulars, Tied Down the Ottoman Empire, Masterminded the Capture of Aqaba and Damascus... And You Can Too.

World's Best Buildings

My latest piece for Orange is a look at the world's 20 best buildings, from the Sydney Opera House to the Sagrada Familia.

Architect Le Corbusier described a building as "a machine for living in” but the buildings on this list are so much more than that. They are great seats of power, majestic places of worship, modern masterworks built to house contemporary treasures and defensive fortresses built to withstand armies and the elements.
Here's Clive James on the Sydney Opera House (he's since changed his mind).

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Clinton retrospective

Superb retrospective on Hilary's campaign from the New York Times. It's a better package than I've seen on TV — and quite sad really.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Monday Night Live

A quick shout-out to the lovely folks over at BigPond Music (full disclosure: I used to work there).

After a so-so start, they've really pulled a blinder with the Monday Night Live series of live shows from The Basement in Sydney, featuring such luminaries as Powderfinger, Angus & Julia Stone, Scribe and Kasey Chambers.

Keep up the good work y'all.

The last, best hope on Earth

Politics is not normally my bailiwick, but I've been, along with just about every other sentient being in the universe, captivated by the US primary season, which came to an end last night, at least in the sense of pledged delegates (though, true to form, that particular metric doesn't seem to be swaying the Clinton camp).

Mr Obama sure gives a good speech. True fact: I've read transcripts of his speeches and felt a sudden prickling of the tear-ducts. Transcripts! Posted below is the second half of his victory speech in Iowa last night. A powerful, gracious speech with a rousing peroration. Can this level of oratorical flair win him the election? I guess we're going to find out...

Andrew Sullivan on Obama's speech:

If I needed reassurance that this man is the most formidable force in American politics today, his speech tonight confirmed it. It was shrewd - with an artful positioning on Iraq. It was graceful - with respect for McCain's service and Clinton's tenacity. It was brutal - in turning around McCain's Iraq visit meme to domestic economic woes. It was patriotic - in its evocation of Gettysburg and the Second World War. It was outer-directed: not for Obama the recourse to self-satisfied identity politics of the kind used by the Clintons because they often have nothing else. It was moving. I thought I even saw some suggestions of tears as he remembered his grandmother. It was also rhetorically more powerful than McCain - not by a small amount but by a mile. Put McCain's speech against Obama's - and this was a wipe-out. Not a victory. A wipe-out. Rhetorically, they are simply not in the same league. And if the contrast tonight between McCain and Obama holds for the rest of the campaign, McCain is facing a defeat of historic proportions.

One more thing: with McCain's and Clinton's speeches, you could not forget the politics of it. With Obama, you forgot about that at times. You actually lifted your eyes a little and believed a little and hoped a little.

Yes, he can. And anyone who under-estimates that will regret it.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The pandas are safe

That's not a code phrase, in case you're wondering. I really do mean the pandas are safe. Last November, we were in Chengdu in Szechuan Province where the largest Panda sanctuary in the world is located and where I took this picture (lady, if you don't get out of my way, there's gonna be trouble...) There were quite a number of adults, loads of children and a couple of infants being hand-reared (the latter was, need I add, super-cute). We had a wonderful day there, despite the pretty weak museum — and the fact that my gastric system finally rebelled against the super-spicy food.

So, when we heard about the earthquake, we were naturally pretty worried for the pandas (we were worried for the people too, sure. But, come on: pandas). So it was a relief to read that they're doing well:

The earthquake killed four staff members and left a fifth seriously ill in hospital, officials said yesterday. Other workers risked their lives to fetch the tiniest cubs from the breeding centre and carry them to safety.

"When we saw the rock slides we were really worried," said Lu Yong, who has helped to care for the animals from birth and travelled to Beijing with them. "In a disaster the first thing we think of is the pandas and how to get them to safety. They were very scared and disturbed when the earthquake happened. They needed support from their keepers before they would eat again."

This picture was taking in the People's Park in Chengdu, the capital. It was an immensely beautiful place, incredibly civilised. Desperately sad to think of it in ruins.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Paul Morley on genres

Check out these unmissable docos on Radio 4, as Paul Morley interrogates the major players in some of the margins, hinterlands and outerzones of modern music. Last week, freak-folk. This week, post-punk, with contributions from Simon Reynolds, Robert Wyatt, Tim Friese-Green and Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai. But why wouldn't Tim talk about Talk Talk?

Update: Radio 4? I meant Radio 2, obviously.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Damn: they found us

There was us thinking we were perfectly safe in our Hanwell redoubt. Little did we know...

More photos here.

Says she's gonna teach me how to swim

I do like this video. Spring magic? Drugged-up pagan psychedelia? It's Duran Duran for the freak-folk generation:

Ensepulchred within their crozzled hearts

News from what has the potential to be an awesome adaptation of one of the best books of the last decade, Cormac McCarthy's The Road. It stars Viggo Mortensen, who's yer basic go-to guy if grizzled intensity is called for . And there's a part for Michael Kenneth Williams, who you might know as the mighty Omar from The Wire. Heavens be praised! Not quite so happy about the idea that there's a "fleshed-out" part for Charlize Theron, who plays the wife. It's being made by the director of The Proposition, which was good but flawed (the voice-overs! The scenery-chewing English villain).

The Road is an absolute classic, a one-sitting read, and there's definitely a cinematic shape to the book — even if it is shockingly bleak. A film version would lose the quasi-biblical rhythm of the prose. On the other hand, the dialogue does a fair amount of the heavy lifting — think the conversation with the blind old man late in the book:

"What if I said that he's a god?" Ely replies: "I hope that's not true what you said because to be on the road with the last god would be a terrible thing so I hope it's not true." Ely suggests that it will be better when everybody has died. "Better for who?" asks the father. For everybody, says Ely, closing the scene with a rather lovely peroration, of the kind that gives this book its clear, deep sound: "When we're all gone at last then there'll be nobody here but death and his days will be numbered too. He'll be out in the road there with nothing to do and nobody to do it to. He'll say: where did everybody go? And that's how it will be. What's wrong with that?"

I'm rather less confident that Zak Snyder's going to pull off Watchmen, despite the attention to detail as evinced in his production blog. From a narrative point of view, it's just too nested, too self-recursive, and the ending is not exactly Hollywood gold. That said, 300 was vastly better than I'd been led to believe by critics who unaccountably found a movie of cartoonish slaughter and dubious ethnic stereotypes somehow offensive. Whatevs, Granpa:

Moore described the book as “unfilmable,” not least because of its narrative structure, with flashbacks, supplementary “research” and a comic-within-a-comic that serves to counterpoint events. In an interview with Amazon, Moore recounted his reaction to Terry Gilliam’s abortive 1989 attempt to turn “the War and Peace of graphic novels” into a film: “I had to tell [Gilliam] that I didn’t think it was filmable. I didn’t design it to show off the similarities between cinema and comics, which there are, but in my opinion are fairly unremarkable. It was designed to show off the things that comics could do that literature and cinema couldn’t.” In The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made, David Hughes quotes Gibbons making much the same point: “With a comic book the reader can back-track; you can reach page twenty and say, ‘Hey, that’s what that was all about on page three,’ and then nip back and have a look. We wanted to take advantage of that difference… We wanted to make a comic book that read as a straightforward story, but gradually you became aware that it had a symmetrical structure.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I need to talk about we need to talk about Kevin

I finally got round to reading Lionel Shriver's We Need To Talk About Kevin.

First thoughts (excluding preambles such as, who calls their daughter Lionel?) are I'm annoyed I didn't read the damn thing sooner. As is so often the case, I buy vastly more books than I can read (Am I alone in this evil practice? Happily, no), and I bought this particular book over a year ago in Sydney, simply because it won the Orange Prize, which is good enough reason for me.

Anyway, after starting the book twice and being unable to get past the first two pages (more my fault than the book's), I finally persuaded Shana to read it. She loved it and wanted to talk about it. So I read it and my God if it isn't a brilliantly compulsive read.

17-year-old Kevin has slaughtered his fellow students and is now in prison. His mother, Eva, writes letters to her husband Franklin in an attempt to understand what made him do it. Was he driven to it by her inability to love him? Or was he simply born evil?

As we watch Kevin grow up and behave shockingly, we become the only other people in the universe who can see, along with Eva, the truth: that Kevin is a textbook sociopath... or is that just the self-justification of an unreliable narrator?

Shriver makes you turn the pages with that sort of righteous fury common to those novels or films where the protagonist is wrongly accused and can't prove their innocence; except in this case it's his guilt which she can't establish.

From forbidding beginning to appalled end, this is a wonderfully awful novel.

Shriver speaks to John Mullan about the book (but, as they say at the beginning, read the thing first)

More Bonny goodness

In honour of this man and his furious truth, I thought I'd post the following clip. I don't think I could wilfully underplay just how much that Friday's particular parade of reprobates, ne'erdowells and mediocrities stank up the Jools Holland that this clip's taken from.

But it all turned out alright in the end: