Monday, 27 June 2011

Camera and Chimera

But which is scarier?

Friday, 24 June 2011

RIP Peter Falk

A really gifted actor and one of my favourite TV icons. I especially loved his episodes of the 70s. My favourite Columbos:
Any Old Port in a Storm
Etude in Black
Now You see Him
Fade in to Murder
Short Fuse
How to Dial a Murder
Double Exposure
Swan Song
By Dawn's Early Light

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

All Bottoms with you Americans

To quote the wisdom of Basil Fawlty when he has to deal with an American tourist. Said American tourist was true to American tourist stereotypes of the time: tall, strong, brash and very, very rich. Not one to take any crap from an 'aging brilliantined stick insect', brown suited pompous Imperialist nostalgist fogey in a post-Imperialist country. We’re the empire now was the pretty implicit subtext.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Americans being portrayed this way in British TV. I suppose that there’s the rather disturbing feeling that we are a post-imperialist country that has shackled ourselves to a failing empire.

But that’s not to deny that I think there’s a lot of good things about the USA. One thing I especially like is the generic fiction, especially horror and sci-fi which I think does create a kind of group culture of a sort that generally isn’t very strong in modern culture in general (I haven’t watched twilight and don’t intend to, just so’s everyone knows).

However, I did have to admit to being somewhat stunned at seeing where American science Fiction is apparently going. In fact Dan Simmons’ latest sounds like a madder version of Red Dawn.

Things I especially loved:

-The protagonist is called ‘Nick Bottom’. The fact that he obviously didn’t expect grown men to snigger at that name says all you need to know about the growing culture gap between
Britain and Middle America
'too many’ young black men adopt the name 'nigger'. Yes, I'm sure it really hurts Dan to type the 'n' word.
-'For all of
Israel's vaunted vigilance, the attack, when it came, was a complete surprise. More than six million Jews and hundreds of thousands of Arab citizens of Israel died in three hours of concentrated nuclear and thermonuclear fire'
A cynic might say he's trying to appeal to the self-pity and paranoia of the Zionist lobby, but of course, they'd be wrong. Hobviously.

-‘The new American economy with its National Identification Card and its billions of near-worthless newbucks replacing real money struggled into existence… Most people -- ex-homicide detective Nick Bottom included -- have found a way to survive in the new not-quite-real-economy. More than a few chose not to. Internet sites showing how to rig explosive suicide vests for best results -- including dipping the hundreds of shrapnel nails and tacks and marbles in rat poison -- received more than a million hits.’

I’d guess at least 75 million. But would anyone actually use them? Or would they just blubber about it like all those Randians at Mat Rodina who said they were going to move to Russia to take advantage of the flat tax, when they probably never even touched a Russian lexicon never mind looked at visa requirements.

-‘There are about 23,000,000 new colonists in the great swath ranging from the border with the Republic of Texas on the east, including all of what had once been New Mexico and Arizona, small swaths of Nevada, and irregular parts of southern California up to Los Angeles, ending at the Pacific Ocean. This is Nuevo Mexico -- pronounced in the proper Spanish-Mexican way -- and while the civil war continues to wage in the south with Hugonista rebels, trained in Argentina, reportedly occupying everything from the former southern border to Veracruz, Nuevo Mexico itself is reported to be calm and self-sufficient. Except for stories of starvation. And for stories of entire cities (such as Las Vegas, formerly of New Mexico) having to be abandoned because of water shortages. And except for Hugonista raids from the south and for Nuevo Mexico's constant border war with the Republic of Texas.’

Can I guess that Simmons gained his knowledge of Hispanic culture from a Cheech and Chong boxset?

- ‘Europe, in our not-so-far-away Flashback future, is -- more than anything else -- old. Evidently it had neither the heart, stomach, energy, or armies for struggle. The E.U., save for the convenience of the euro in parts of the continent, has ceased to exist. Most of the nations of Western Europe -- as nations qua nations -- have similarly ceased to exist. What the hell -- most of them had long since been embarrassed by anything so crass as patriotism or "nationalism". Those ideas belonged to a bloody and dusty past.’

Oy! You stole that from Red dawn. But before any of my Tory compatriots snigger about ‘cheese eating surrender monkeys’

-‘So the Global Caliphate is vital across Western Europe and the U.K.

Thankyou Tony Blair, you really raised Blighty in the esteem of the Americans

-Canada, used to dividing itself into smaller parts to appease ethnic groups, languages, and claims to prior ownership, now divides itself gracefully into parts of the Umma and scores of local Canadian enclaves, many run by First Peoples, others by gangsters and terrorists, some by both groups combined. Ottawa's seat of government has control over Parliament Hill -- on a good day -- but little more. The most common baby name in Canada in the time of Flashback is Mohammed.

Yeah, Muslim Terrorists and First People pagans would obviously join forces, cause they’re all darkies who hate white folks. Sob, poor us.

-‘Medical services in America continued to be provided, of course. When your diagnosed cancer calls for chemotherapy, you get in line. (Unless you're very rich.) The first state-insurance-funded chemotherapy sessions will arrive, on average in post-Die-Ought-If America, in eighteen months or so. No one talks about Death Panels any longer. There are no panels. Everyone is truly treated equal in post-Die-Ought-If America. (Except, of course, for those who can pay in Old Bucks or gold.)’

If we don’t let the feeble die, we’ll kinda like die. Or something.

I find it amusing that such a demented, reactionary fantasy should come from a secular, self-described political centrist and science fiction author. Not that there haven’t been equally right wing ideas before, except that they are usually a lot more optimistic. And this doesn’t even sound like adrenalin pounding dystopia so much as a protracted spitting the dummy out at the lot of the middle class white man in modern America.

The curious thing is, I’m not entirely unsympathetic to some of the themes attacking monotheistic fanaticism and extreme multiculturalism. Yet theses are not apparently themes so much as skewed political points. I think it’s to Canada’s supreme credit that they have treated the native Americans with respect and helped them to preserve their culture. By contrast I think American Democracy and free speech has been greatly damaged by the ridiculously named ‘Anti-defamation league’. Yet who comes out best in Simmons’ middle American tract?

Still, be interesting to see how it is received.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Give the Police a Chance


I heard while back there was going to be a 'slut walk' in Edinburgh. when walking through the streets one warm day I wondered if it had been arranged for that day because the average girl was wearing, uh, not very much actually. Fine by me.

Anyway, turns out it wasn't a 'slut walk': it was just an average day. But the point is that 'slut walking', as well as not being a term that makes any grammatical sense also has to be the most lame and puerile 'demonstration' ever. Even the pro-cuts demonstration at least had a genuinely minority position.

However, Te Graun really outdoes itself:
'The – mainly very young – women went wild with delight. They hate rape and all who protect the rapist, from police to the media.'

'Hate rape'? Eh? The police and the media protect rapists? In recent times the rozzers have hardly covered themselves with glory. They brutally killed Jean Charles de Menezes then told fibs about it. They brutally killed Ian Tomlinson and then told fibs about it. but if Ms James has knowledge of a vast police conspiracy to protect rapists. then it must be the scoop of the decade. Similarly, I'm no great fan of the public-schoolboy heavy neo-liberal skewed media: but is Ms James also onto a great scoop about the entire media protecting rapists?

I don't have any idea about this last one, but my guess re the police is that she is alluding to the conspiracy theory that a vast number of more rational than thou mainstream leftists adhere to: that the quota of alleged to convicted rapes is so low that the only possible explanation is that the entire legal system is rigged to stop men being convicted of rape.

This could well be true. The only problem is that I haven't seen one shred of evidence to support this position. And whilst Johann Hari and Laurie Penny both take this conspiracy theory for granted, they have failed to state what should be done. Furthermore, the heavy handed praise they offer themselves as rationalist free thinkers is utterly undeserved if they can't be open minded about the possibility that many women make unconvincing cases in rape trials. This isn't something I'm arguing; rape cases are very complex. But those who call themselves rationalists rarely actually have a purely scientific mindset, but just take for granted that their findings will support their moral biases.

I take it that the Penny/ Hari left think that if the British Legal System cannot convict a higher number of alleged rapists that a quota system should take over. If they are the faces of the young English left, then role on Scottish independence.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Values and the Price of Union

(I haven't had much time for blogging recently. I hope here to tie in some ideas I wanted to write about. Sorry if this is a bit haphazard)

I: On Scottish Nationalism

Recently I've lost trust in a view I never was aware of having: that politics in the West is basically a smooth process, in which society evolves towards a certain system. Maybe it is the SNP victory that has made me change my views on this.

A few years ago I would probably have scoffed at the idea of voting SNP. I suppose many of my compatriots who voted SNP earlier this year would have been similarly sceptical.

But now that the SNP is a real force, I can't help thinking that maybe it offers a direction out of Britain's current political impasse. And for another thing, raising the question as to whether Scotland is really British has made me ask if I'm really British: perhaps in some rather strange ways.

The traditional narrative of Scots nationalism goes roughly along the lines of Braveheart, with the intellectual crudity expanded over centuries: we were happy savages happily living at peace with the stags and midges until yellow toothed Saxons came along and stole our land, slaughtered us for being Covenanters, slaughtered us for being Jacobites and then starved us to death and stole our land again in the Highland Clearances.

As a historian I have always scoffed at this tale. Yes, Edward I was a dastard of monster proportions. Yes, I feel pride in Bruce and Wallace. But it was largely thanks to the Balliols and the machinations of the Scottish nobility that Edward had anything to do with Scotland. Whilst Bruce (one of the world's greatest politicians of all time) managed to hold the country together for several centuries, the Covenanter and Jacobite wars were largely civil wars. Similarly the Highland Clearances were generally the work of Celtic landowners. And as for Culloden, that cornerstone of Scottish victimhood, the maggots had hardly finished eating the dead before Jacobite Clans were sending their scions to Jamaica, North America and India to prop up the British Empire.

However, modern British history is something else.


The Other Diaspora

In some ways it is thinking about Northern Ireland that makes me support Scottish Independence. If it came to it, would I die for Northern Ireland? No. Would I die for Scotland? Yes. Is this the question that defines nationhood?

I just don't know the answer to that question. I have very little time for either the Irish Republic or Northern Irish Protestantism. And I think this is a huge mis-step. What is sectarianism? Whilst I am generally a libertarian as regards free speech I would like to ban Orange Order marches, and maybe also Celtic and Rangers football clubs. But five year prison terms? That is ridiculous.

At the top of this section I've attached photos of two proud Scots of Irish Catholic ancestry. The first is the comedian Billy Connolly who said 'I used to be a Catholic but I paid a fine and they let me go'. Whilst the other is Peter Mullan who made the film 'The Magdalene Sisters' which depicted the horrific abuse that took place in the Irish Republic (which I would point out to those who fanatically want to disestablish the CofE is officially secular). Is this sectarian? Whilst I would regard myself overall as a friend of the Catholic Church (and even more of the Catholic faithful) the fact is that in Ireland the clergy have been embroiled in some pretty serious scandals. I am myself of partial Irish ancestry and the fact is a large number of diasporan Irish people actually are grateful to live in a country where there is a lot of religious freedom and I feel a degree of pride in how patriotic many Scots of Irish ancestry are. This freedom is something to preserve and it will not be preserved by statist laws.

III: England: Centre or Chasm?

I can't name any young conservatives in England. I'm guessing that Richard Littlejohn and Melanie Phillips will die before anyone more sensible comes along to articulate their positions. And when they do retire or die their successors will probably be equally misanthropic and crazy.

But the rising stars of the English Left really terrify and depress me no end. There is Johann Hari who is still a fan of Christopher Hitchens, used to be a Harry's Place contributor, and wrote that Vladimir Putin killed one third of all Chechens in the 1990s (when Putin wasn't even President, but hey, facts are silly things). He's now a fan of Noam Chomsky and says that the 'Ardship of Cambry supports Sharia law (which he doesn't), which I don't think is so much an intellectual odyssey as a quest for a narcissistic image with wider appeal. See also his genuinely stupid and bigoted articles about Catholicism, which Brendan O'Neill brilliantly skewered.

Then there's Laurie Penny who says 'The notion of taking special exception to one religion over and above any other dodgy cult cobbled together by deranged desert patriarchs should be abhorrent to any secularist who believes in freedom of thought.'

In other words, moral philosophy is too complex a concept for the modern atheists: Jim Jones, Socrates, the Ayatollah, Fydor Dostoyevsky: not a cigarette paper between them. Maybe she should go to Tehran or Islamabad to outline her position on 'deranged desert patriarchs'. Other wise words:

'I now can't help grinning every time I see prim ladies in office suits reading the Millennium books on public transport...

Lisbeth Salander is an immensely powerful character, a misandrist vigilante with a penchant for black fetish wear and ersatz technology, like the terrifying offspring of Batman and Valerie Solanos... Salander is smart, she's brave, she always wins, and she won't let anyone tell her what to do. No wonder so many women secretly want to be her.'

It would at least be nice if the writers paid to represent us could at least spell the names of the sociopaths they admire, but, uh, Valerie Solanas was a maladjusted, mentally ill woman who attempted to murder Andy Warhol (and in the long run probably helped his early death) for no other reason than that he found her terribly boring. And she's good?

I wouldn't even mind these demented ravings if it wasn't for the fact that Hari and Penny so obviously think they are the voices of reason and unwavering moral and intellectual superiority.

Their country certainly isn't my country and their values are certainly not my values.

IV Conclusions

Ideals and views often sneak up quietly before roaring aloud. Ed Miliband might not be an especially idealistic man and he might not have wanted to become Labour leader at this time. But dramatic as it may sound, I think he may be the only chance for saving Britain as a geopolitical entity from corroding by misanthropic left and right. Not by distancing himself from 'liberalism', but by reclaiming a word that has been tarnished by market fanatics and identity politics and in demonstrating how true liberalism should be sceptical of both state and markets. I don't know what to make of his chances given that the 'Left Wing' media has long been denigrating him and is now playing up the most recent (and uninteresting) gossip about him and his brother.

Conversely, despite his ego, I don't know if Salmond even especially wanted such a stunning victory in the recent elections. Scotland now has a leader in the European Christian Democrat mode, which is assertive in its identity without (overall) jettisoning the best features of modern liberalism. Imperfect he may be, but it seems to me that Britain as a nation is undergoing an identity crisis that is difficult to deny.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Quote of the Day

"The rest is soap opera of which I want no part and the public have no interest."

I never would have thought I'd say 'Well said David Miliband', but well said David Miliband.

I'll never tire of pointing out the irony that the 'left wing' Graun is very much on the economic right, yet when it comes to the supply/ demand side of things (which I admit capitalism does excel at) they are worse than any Soviet satellite. Really, does anyone write in to say 'Please sir, we think your newspaper prints too many intelligently written debates on political philosophy and too much in depth foreign affairs reporting. We just want more gossip about the Labour party please. Oh, and we still haven't lost interest in Blair/ Brown. More of that please. I start sweating and getting insomnia if a week goes past without reading at least 10,000 words on how Brown wanted to make Britain communist and Blair wanted to keep liberal democracy going and how they always had daggers at each others throats.'

I've made a resolution that I'm not going to visit The Guardian for another week. Not even to marvel at how stupid its getting.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Return of the Video Nasty

When I was in a charity shop a while back I was quite bemused to look at a DVD horror film about cannibals. The marketing team thought its chief selling point was that a board of people had decided that the world was better not watching 'Cannibal Atrocity' or whatever this work of genius was called.

So it seems that Human Centipede II is being banned, presumably for one of two reasons: 1) Someone might think it sounds like a sweet romantic comedy and go in and be horrified that a movie marketed as being one of the sickest films ever made is actually one of the sickest films ever made and not a film about puppies bounding through fields of dandelions 2) Modern parents know they don't have the spine to risk unpopularity in telling their kids they can't watch something so will secretly be grateful to the state for using censorship to stop it happening.

Frankly if the answer is '2' then as a society we may very well deserve censorship of films. But I'd still fight against it. No, I'm certainly not going to watch it. But I don't want anyone to tell me I can't.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Quote of the Day

'Grayling peddles a Just So version of English history, breathtaking in its crudity and complacency, in which freedom has been on the rise for centuries and has only recently run into trouble. Dawkins touts a simple-minded, off-the-peg version of Enlightenment in which people in the west have all been getting nicer and nicer, and would have ended up as civilised as an Oxford high table were it not for a nasty bunch of religious fundamentalists. Who would pay £18,000 a year to listen to this outdated Victorian rationalism when they could buy themselves a second-hand copy of John Stuart Mill?'

Terry Eagleton on top form
. I'm not sure about Eagleton's Marxism but at least he is an intellectual intellectual as opposed to a secular vicar like Grayling.