Sunday, 29 March 2009

Sweet Christ Have You Seen Newsnight Review?

The recession through literature:
Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (swivel-eyed hate literature for the more mentalist sections of the ruling class)
Vince Cable's Booky Wook (pointless and point-missing 'neutral' analysis of a crisis that makes us all partisans).

What the fuck? Is this really the best choice that Newsnight wants to present us with?

Here's a few alternatives:

The Great Crash, 1929 - JK Galbraith

The Shock Doctrine - Naomi Klein

The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx - Alex Callinicos

The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists - Robert Tressell

The Communist Manifesto - Marx and Engels

Armed Madhouse - Greg Palast

The Fountain at the Centre of the World - Robert Newman

A People's History of the World - Chris Harman

Guns, Germs and Steel - Jared Diamond

And if you must indulge in swivel-eyed cult leaders with a Messiah complex, try this one...
Matthew 19:16-28
Mark 6:24

Maybe someone reads this and would like to put a few recommendations of their own? What would you recommend to help get a grip on this blasted crisis?

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Will This Dread Egalitarianism Never Cease?

... was my response when I learnt that JockBottlerMcBroon was pursuing yet another madcap socialist scheme to make us all the same, like robots and stuff.

Now even our beloved Royals are being brought under his relentless jockboot/iron sporran.

Don't these ZaNuLiaBore nazis understand that the !1 thing we poor downtrodden brits have left is the specialness of our Royal Family? Personally there's not a day that goes by without me looking at Princes Charles or Edward without me thinking 'Ah, they're special.'

If we allow Papist scum to marry into this family, this sacred bastion of Protestantism, it's just one more Socialist (or as I call it, Socia-LIES-t) measure to make us all into their clockwork robot people. The message is, basically, ANYONE can become a royal, if they work hard at deb balls and public school.

I only hope that the GRATE BRITISH PUBLIC see through this transparent nonsense.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Field Trip

I'd usually post this under a different guise @ LJ but it's being a massive, massive wanker at the moment, so it's here. Yes, I write short fiction. Yes, it's probably not much cop. But it's my blog so I'll put what I like on it.

But seriously, any feedback much appreciated. Thanks.

As usual, the day was hot in the hills above the desert. The snake didn't really like the place, because, as he was currently manifest in reptilian form, he spent the first half of the day too lethargic to move, and then most of the afternoon so full of heat and energy it was like he'd been knocking back espressos by the bucket. But, professional that he was, he knew he could rise above it.

Slithering down some scree, pebbles and grit casting down the hill aside and ahead of him, the snake saw his 9.00 waiting on the tiny plateau below, leaning against a boulder and idly kicking rocks down the drop into the valley. For a man in his thirties, he had a gangly awkward look – more like an awkward teenager, still getting used to the shape of his body. Not having the right apparatus to do it outwardly, he sighed inwardly.

'Morning,' he said to the client.

'Morning,' was the response from the slouching figure.

'So, where did we get to yesterday?'


'Come on, we've been doing this nearly four weeks now.'

'Yeah, well it's all merging into one for me, frankly. What have we done so far? The problem of evil, the teleological argument, natural selection – which coming from a talking snake's a bit hard to take seriously I'm afraid, inconsistencies in scripture ... loads of that -'

'Well, this stuff's important, son. You want to be the Son of Man? You've got to know your brief.'

'Well, what with the midnight visits, the sleep deprivation, playing that Metallica album at top volume all day and those bloody mushrooms you made me eat, it's hard to be sure that I know anything any more.'

'Well, that's scepticism covered then! Come on, what about yesterday?'

'I remember, I think. It was quantum indeterminacy, wasn't it? How can my Father be all-knowing in an indeterminate universe?'

'Good. And what was your response? Do you remember that?'

'As I recall, I said that indeterminacy helped reinforce the doctrine of free will.'

'Excellent, now we're cooking with naphtha. So, now that we've covered the theory, it's time for a practical. Here's your workbook.'

'Where did you get that from?'

'Same place I got the Powerbook and the projector for the Keynote on natural evil last week. Have you got a pen?'

'I think I must have lost it last night. Those mushrooms are quite more-ish you know, once you get past the taste.'

The snake sighed, and produced a biro from the same place. It was one of those ones with 8 coloured inks in. 'Try not to lose this one, OK? I swear, at the rate you get through them, there's going to be a geological layer of Bic in this valley that's going to keep archaeologists arguing for decades.'


'Just, be careful, OK. Right. Ready?'

'I s'pose.'

'OK. Now, before we get started, there's a few pieces of housekeeping. First off, health and safety. There should be perceptual filters on the population to stop anyone taking any notice of you, but that doesn't mean you can start jumping up and down in front of them, calling them names or making rude gestures. If you cause enough of a fuss, they will see you, alright?'



'Alright,' the client muttered.

'OK, second thing is you're not to go around changing anything. Your Father will be most annoyed if you do, and has given me a very graphic description of what will happen when you get home if you disobey Him on this one.'

'Like what?'

'He said you'd ask, and told me to tell you “Come and see.” OK?'

'OK,' was the grumpy response.

'Good. It shouldn't be a problem, since we'll be in a state of temporal grace. But no parlour tricks and no healing, OK?'

'OK!' he said, clearly exasperated, 'I'm not a bloody child you know.'

'To me, everyone is, mate. And to Him.

'Last thing, make sure you've got something to drink. Fasting is fine, but you know how matter transference takes it out of humans, so you'll need something to cushion your system a bit. There aren't any emergency exits, and we're not expecting a fire drill, so if the alarms go off make sure you evacuate quickly but calmly. There's going to be a buffet back here at sunset, and there's an itinerary in the front of your workbook. Clear?' a nod. 'Good.'

The first stop was contemporary. They went to Jerusalem and the snake found himself slithering on the edge of the roof of the temple. The client bent down and picked him up, putting him round his neck for safety.

'Hey, I'm a viper, not a bloody boa, thank you very much'

'Oh hey, thanks for picking me up there Jesus, I could've fallen off then, might not have been very nice having to re-incorporate myself at short notice, so cheers for that.'

'OK, sorry, you're right. Thank you for saving my, well for want of a better word let's call it 'life'. It was very kind of you.'

'Don't mention it,' said the client, a trifle smugly for the snake's taste.

'Anyway, take a look out over this city. Here it is, holy of holies. Capital of the Chosen people. You'll be coming here yourself soon, and you know it's not going to end well.'

'What's your point?'

'Well, look down there. Three blocks from the temple. What's that?'

'That's the prostitute's district.'

'Right next to the temple! Doesn't that just make you so angry?'

'Not really. From a socio-economic point of view you would expect to find people desperate enough to sell their bodies for sex in close proximity to a group of men who have to surreptitiously purchase it. Besides, prostitutes are part of my target demographic, as you would say.'

'OK, but what about there, the alleyway near the Palace? Some farmboy's just about to get knifed, two dozen steps from the Governor's guards, all for the sake of some gold coins and a couple of apples. You can't trust people to behave even in plain sight of the Law! Why do you want to help them?'

'Compassion should be the essence of being human. That and unquestioning allegiance to me and my Father. When everyone believes this there will be no contradictions; the system will be just. At the moment, people are torn – there is the Law of God, and the Law of Pilate. Then there's the Law of the Syrians, the Laws of all those damn Greeks, and all their gods into the bargain. Everything needs to be made simple. I can help do that.'

The snake cast a sidelong glance at his client and erstwhile saviour. Sometimes, he thought, I wonder just who the bad guy is here. He goes from telling people to worry about the logs in their eyes before the dust in their neighbour's, and accusing those bourgeois stuffed shirts at the temple of hypocrisy to things like this. Times like this, all he needs is an undersea volcano and a white cat. 'Jahwol mein Fuhrer, anything you say,' he said aloud, sarcastically. But the client had that strange, intensely peaceful look he got on his face at times like this, and paid no attention.

They stayed a while longer, the snake pointing out various instances of rampant vice and trampled virtue, but nothing shifted the client an inch, as expected. The client filled in the relevant questions in the workbook, and completed the extension task about the universality of sin. At length, the snake did a wriggle, which was the closest he could get to a shrug, and said, 'Well, time to be off then.' Casting a glance at the drop below that had so nearly started the day off very badly for him, he added 'of course, if it'd been you, Daddy'd have stopped you mid-fall or something. Probably had Gabriel catch you or something similar. I don't suppose you have to worry about re-incorporation.'

'Not yet,' corrected the client, shooting a withering glance at his companion.

'Quite so,' conceded the snake. 'Let's get going then. Busy day ahead.'

They appeared outside a wooden Jesuitical mission building on the 6th August 1945. Inside, a middle-aged German priest was making breakfast. Around them, the local citizenry were on their way to work on foot and by bike. A few cars and vans threaded their way through the traffic. The sun was shining, it was a beautiful day. The currents of people moved inexplicably aside for the dishevelled man with a snake round his neck, creating a circle about four feet across where no one walked, without appearing to notice that they were doing so.

'We're facing the wrong way,' said the snake suddenly. They turned round, looking down the street towards the mouth of the river delta, where the bridges joined the city to the docks and the railway lines threaded through and joined up most thickly. There was a very, very bright flash, as 64 kilograms of Uranium-235 were banged together very, very hard. The blue sky seemed to blink out with it.

A few moments later, the Mission was a dessicated pile of rubble. Small fires were starting amongst the beams as a tremendous heat and burning wind passed through it. The snake and his client found a wall of dust parting around them, leaving a lozenge-shaped hole in the storm. Bicycles were in the street, thrown up against walls and rubble and people. Vans were on their side amongst and on top of it all. And the dust and heat kept coming. Smoke was everywhere, and fires were beginning to take hold everywhere. As the roar from the explosion and the wave of dust began to die down, the snake said, 'two of the priests in that building are dead you know. Good Christian folk killed by that good Christian bomb. Not to mention all these poor Shinto and Buddhist souls out here. Not that I suppose you're so bothered about them, being outside the Law and all.'

The client bristled. 'I may want to bring everyone within the Law but that doesn't mean they deserve this! Of course it matters to me. I am the Son of Man, the subject of God's plan and the victim of its consequences! Do not think I only have compassion for those who follow me. This is a thing terrible to behold. Why are we here?'

'I think you know. It is one thing to be aware of the problem of evil, quite another to see it first-hand. Here is suffering on an unimaginable scale, so I have brought you here to witness it; you have no need now to imagine it at all.'

The client did indeed look shocked. His face had slackened, and he looked quite lost. Forbidden by his Father to interfere, he got a bottle of water out of his satchel and turned it into a double vodka, apparently without noticing. Around him, bodies groaned, and bled, and died, whilst the hot irradiated dust settled on them. Scratched and bleeding survivors appeared, wandering in shock, uncomprehending, through the wreckage. Some of them were so bewildered they transgressed the circle and bumped into the client, apologising politely before rebounding off in another direction. All the commotion was making it hard for the client to concentrate on filling in the worksheet. Occasionally he stopped to wipe the tears from his eyes.

'Come on, it's time to go,' said the snake at length, not unkindly. The client nodded, and then, before the snake had time to say anything, swiftly reached down into the rubble and touched a young woman who had died, crushed, under a heavy timber support. Suddenly, with a scream, her whole body convulsed. Her eyes ceased their fixed stare and started darting about, madly. The timber, it now appeared, had miraculously fallen in such a way that it had shielded her from the lethal shards of tiles and debris that had been thrown up with the blast, and somehow she had escaped unharmed. The client helped her up and watched her stumble off towards the northern part of the city. The snake rolled his eyes.

'Her children will be grateful,' was all the client said.

'There will be Hell to pay when you see your Dad, that's all I know. And for the sake of children, too! You know, in your day no one would think of such a thing for whelps. It's as bad as the prostitutes and tax collectors. Why on earth do you care so much for people who are so utterly worthless?'

'You know why. No one sends a doctor to the healthy.'

Patronising git, thought the snake, but it wasn't in the script to say it. 'Fine. Let's move on then, shall we?' The client nodded.

The trip took them to many places that day. Tsunamis and earthquakes, massacres and skirmishes, riots and revolutions. The last stop was a kitchen in a nondescript Barrett home on an estate near Watford. A woman stood at the table, making two packed lunches and putting them in the fridge. One was in tupperware, and one was in a purple plastic lunchbox with Barney the Dinosaur on the front. A crucifix hung on the wall. There were no pictures on the walls and nothing on the fridge apart from a memo pad for shopping lists. Through an arch, a living room waited in spotless sterility, its only decoration a well-dusted abstract print, all angles and straight lines. The woman had the radio on as she sat and did a crossword from a newspaper, and every few minutes her eyes would quickly flick to the clock on the wall, though the one partially obscured by the swollen, angry-purple bruise seemed to move a little more slowly than the other. At three minutes to four she got up and switched the radio off, and put the newspaper, crossword unfinished, into a box with the word 'recycling' printed neatly on its lid. Then she sat, waiting, her eyes on the front door at the end of the hallway. She barely seemed to be breathing.

The snake and the client exchanged glances, and the workbook was quietly folded up and put away in the satchel. They waited until two minutes past four, when a silhouette appeared in the frosted glass of the front door, and then took their leave.

They returned to the rock overlooking the valley at twilight. Neither said anything for a while. Then the snake said suddenly, 'Oh, I forgot about the buffet. Hang on a sec.'

'Don't trouble yourself,' came the reply, 'if I really wanted to eat I'd turn these stones into stotties. Somehow I just don't have an appetite today.'

The snake wriggled, uncomfortably. 'Well,' he said hesitantly, 'busy day, eh?'


'Lots to think about, I've no doubt.'


'Well, look, I'll leave you to it. If I could just have the workbook back – thanks – and here's a feedback sheet for you. If you've got any suggestions for improvements to the course, well, have a think, and I'll pick it up when I see you tomorrow.'


'Yeah.' A pause. 'Look, can I get you anything?'

'No, thanks. I think I'll just have a bottle of wine,' he gestured towards the Evian they'd picked up in Paris in '68, 'and a bit of a think. Feels like that kind of a day.'

'Right. Look, I just want you to know, I don't enjoy doing this. It's just part of the job. I'm much more at home with straightforward punishment of sinners, you know? By the time most people get to me, they've made some pretty deliberate choices. The game's already over, and I'm just doing the tidying up. Watching it all happen right in front of you, the way they behave sometimes, how they ignore the consequences of their own actions, or even enjoy it – well, it's not my idea of fun either. I just wanted you to know that.'

'Sure, sure.'

'I mean it.'

'Sorry. I know. Thanks. You know, after these forty days are up, I'm not going to have someone I can talk to – properly I mean – for quite some time. The lads'll be great in their way, and Mary M's a sweetheart, but they don't really know what it's like, this life.' He gave a short, bitter laugh. 'And in some ways they're not the most enlightened bunch. You know they're going to cut out all the lectures about abolishing slavery and emancipation of women? I did handouts and everything.'

He faced the snake sitting on the still-warm rock and waved expansively out over the valley behind him, 'You know, in thirteen hundred years my followers will be wracked – and some will be racked – over the question of whether I own these clothes or not! In two thousand, people will be killed over my views on a medical procedure that doesn't even exist at the moment! I will be used to justify the rules of despots and empires, slaughters, genocides and deceit! And for millennia to come the symbol of my words and deeds will be my execution, not a healing hand or a loaf of bread. Makes one wonder sometimes, whether it's all worth it.' The snake looked up, a little startled and a little hopeful. The client noticed and added quickly, 'don't get your hopes up. Don't forget that I am Him as well as His son. The plan is the best of a bad lot. There will also be charity and compassion and the symbol of the fish. If I had my time over again, I think I'd do without the concept of sin, but, see, the world was made a material thing so in the end they can only work with the material they've been given.

'Yes, yes, we let them make their own history, but it's hardly under conditions of their own choosing is it?' he added, rhetorically. The faraway look had started to take hold again and he looked out over the gathering gloom, not seeming to see it. In the valley far below, lamps sputtered into life and stabbed pinpricks out of the darkness, and he gave a start. He shook his head, slowly, and turned back to the snake.

'Well, look, anyway, I just want you to know that I appreciate it. I'll make sure Dad knows, OK?'

'Well, He already does, doesn't He?'

'Of course. But I'll tell Him anyway.'

Hum, thought the snake as he wended his way back up the mountain, the Son also rises, eh?

Behind him, the client sat kicking his legs on the rock, watching the darkness deepen, taking the occasional swig from the bottle and thinking whatever he was thinking.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Penguin: Well-Designed, Gorgeous Bastards

Above: My recent exposure. It will throw
a minor obsession into stark relief.

I know how weird this sounds, but I've always been mildly obsessed with Penguin Books. I had this minor obsession well before I went to the 70 Years of Penguin Design exhibition at the Shipley last week (do go, by the way, it's excellent), but equally my recent exposure to them has thrown it into something of a sharp relief.

But what is this obsession? I hear you cry. Well, fret not, for I will enlighten you.

For anyone who doesn't know, Penguin made their name with a brilliant combination of a wide, literary range (the Shipley exhibit makes a good deal out of Penguin's early decision to commission a new translation of the Odyssey) and beautiful design. They were also, and this is not coincidental to their success, cheap. On the inside cover of all the 70 Years Pocket Penguins in my possession is this proud quote:
'The Penguin Books are splendid value for sixpence, so splendid that if other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them'
I'm fairly sure that I used to have a vintage Penguin paperback that included this particular Orwellism (for it is he) on the front cover, although I can't seem to locate it now for the life of me.

I have in my collection a great number of Penguin books, and a few Pelicans (their factual line) here and there, and I am deeply attached to the design aesthetic, particularly of the older lines, back when it used to be orange for novels, green for crime and blue for non-fiction. I am, let it be said, a sucker for good design, and always have been.
Above: some of my Penguin collection. I am
deeply attached to the design aesthetic.

In fact, looking at my shelves, I would go so far as to say that I have more Penguins in my collection than any other single publisher. Most of them are second-hand though, because Orwell's quote doesn't really work these days.

Maybe it was always thus. My copy of Watership Down retailed at 80p in 1972 (probably about what I paid for it at a school jumble sale in the mid-90s), and according to this, that would equate to roughly £7.80 today. Still, it's an awful lot of money, to me anyway.

And I should add the caveat that Penguin continue to produce good cheap editions of the classics (though Wordsworth's are a whole penny cheaper and printed on better paper) - and of vital importance, the classics are still in the A Format.**

But to return to the design. Initially there was the classic look: black print on a two-tone, simple background. Elegant font, simplicity of design, but there's more than that. For example: here's an early Penguin cover.
Here is a 1930s Government propaganda poster...
Here's a link to some lovely London Underground typefacing.

The point I'm trying to make is that the design isn't simply elegant geometrically, but it's also authoritative. A Penguin edition exudes that notion of being 'official' but in a managerial rather than a dictatorial sense. It calmly states its right to be present by its links with the kind of lettering one would see every day in government and corporate contexts.

I'm not competent to judge the reasons why this particular font was chosen, why it should appear to us as possessing a commanding quality. If I were to make an uneducated guess it would be that it has a simplicity in style stemming from both the way in which the letters are drawn and the reliance on upper case to reduce the actual number of shapes being used. Not to treat you as being any dumber than I'm currently treating myself, but here's what I mean:


The form of the letter is stripped down. There are no extra lines or curves, sans serif and no curlicues. In a way, it is the 'essential' letter.

On top of that, the colours are simple without being harsh. Presence is achieved by the simple two-tone differentiation and large blocks of colour. What I really like though is the variety across the years and across various lines. Take a look at this copy of Philip K Dick's The Man in the High Castle; compare it with this cover of Tony Harrison's Selected Poems, or this lovely piece of Orwell.

There is a small 'however' here though. Here are Penguin books: beautiful cover art, and the logo is usually an indicator of quality. But, to paraphrase The Streets, my gosh don't they know it. I mean, look at this. It's beautiful, but for gods' sake it's just a notebook! The only difference between it and this is the lush cover. And I don't know about you, but if I have a notepad that posh, I'm afraid to write in it, on the grounds that the paper is rougly worth it's actual weight in gold.

Now, here're are some Dover Thrift books. Look at those prices. Look at that cover art. There's the annoyance: great prices, great literature, but not great artworks. There are exceptions - I love my copy of The Golem to pieces (which after all these years is very nearly an accurate description), but they are the exception. Which is a shame.
Above: My copy of
The Golem is not in
as good nick as this.

*I seem to remember back in the early 90s that the Tories rescinded some kind of price controls on books and the cost started to shoot up, roughly in line with the rise of giant chains like Waterstone's. However, a few minutes interrogating my intertube has left me with no sources so I can't back that up unfortunately. If anyone reading this reads this and has any info I'd be grateful. Until then, just assume it's a result of the febrile imaginings of my brainmeats please.

**If I have one genuine gripe with Penguin it is the move away from A format books. Again this is a qualified gripe, since they still publish a lot of work in A format, but it's frequently a bugger to find. Most shops seem to prefer the larger (usually pricier) B formats. But there's a big, big fucking problem with B format: it doesn't fit in your pocket. A format fits in your pocket. So all Penguin books should be A format. There you go, straightforward. Put it in A so I can put it in my coat. Thank you.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Pop Culture and News Roundup

A few things going on at the moment, so here's the list.

First off, Stewart Lee's finally back on our tellies! Hurrah for that!

Second, watching the definitely not shit Red Riding on catch-up is a weird experience when the connection's slow, since the audio track carries on but the video frequently lapses into a series of elegaic stills. It's almost liking watching a Poliakoff drama, except something's happening.

Third, today's XKCD is even more sublime than usual.

Fourth, fascist scumbags the BNP have been in Sunderland today with their Liemobile, and the dregs have spilt over into Gateshead. However, I must announce just how much 'I Heart Gateshead': on the way to Tesco's this afternoon, I encountered three pissed up racists hanging around the Interchange and the words 'vote BNP' scrawled in marker pen on every level crossing and poster between Windmill Hill and the remains of the Get Carter car park. However, by the time I got out of Tesco's again, about 20 minutes later, racists appeared to have been swallowed up by the Earth (or hopefully nicked for threatening people, as they were doing when I saw them), and every single piece of graffiti had disappeared. Today, I really really heart Gateshead and Gatesheadians.

Fifth, Corne and Horden. I saw a few minutes of their new sketch show on the iPlayer the other day. Now, I know that they have been called things like 'not very good,' 'not funny,' and 'rubbish'. Critics have been less kind. But I think they've been incredibly brave. They deserve credit for this daring move, and people have been incredibly sniffy about it. What they're doing is subverting the whole medium of the sketch show by their clever inversion of the format. Most performers, for example, would try and start a new series with their A-Grade material. Not many people would start a new sketch show with what at first glance looks like a slap in the face to the viewer: a sketch about how the fat one (James Hornedon) is quite fat, followed by Jim Corbridge playing a fey war reporter. IN SHORTS! IN A WAR ZONE! It's impressive that they would put this stuff out in their first few minutes.
The only thing I can think is that it's a satire on the medium, playing with our expectations of a sketch show (i.e. that the first show at least should hang together or at minimum be sporadically funny). I assume that it will build over the rest of the series until the last 5 minutes of the final show actually raises a smile. It's clearly a great art joke in the tradition of Duchamp's urinal. Well done you two, this is a piece of history for sketch show comedy.

Saturday, 14 March 2009


This was originally written ages ago but I didn't have time to finish it off then, so here it is now...


Although a lot of what I wanted to say is along the same lines as Mark Kermode, I did have a few thoughts on it of my very own that I've decided to note down here.

First off: I really liked the graphic novel, so I suppose this may have coloured my impressions slightly, but only to the extent that I am aware of the quality of the source material, not in a they-changed-the-ending-how-dare-they way. If it had done something interesting with the story or changed the plot significantly I wouldn't have minded - the important thing is: as a film, is it any good?

Second and final caveat: I went to the film aware that it had been directed by Zak Snyder, he of 300 and the Dawn of the Dead remake. So I already expected it to be stylish but vacuous. Again, in a specatacle, blockbuster type movie that's not necessarily a bad thing, I'm not a prig about pure spectacle (see my unabashed love of the Transporter films for example).

There were all sorts of problems with it. It was boring and overlong. It had that feeling of weightlessness you get with action films - CGI and choreography combine to make suspension of disbelief harder to achieve. It had a lot of people talking in rooms, to the extent that I started to wonder if it wouldn't have made a better Radio Four drama serial, one that could have been played in Woman's Hour for a week.

In the end though my major problem is not that Zak Snyder makes glossy action films. It's that he makes glossy action films when he's been given material that deserves better. Dawn of the Dead, a brilliant satire and comment on consumerism, was remade as a standard zombie-fest. Fine, but without any of the ideas that made Dawn interesting in the first place. The Battle of Thermopylae - a broad historical drama that could've been given the full Rome treatment but instead was about copper-coloured skies and shouting. Watchmen, a brilliant satire on the narrative conventions of comic-book stories and a comment on the psychological and sociological implications of the phenomenon of the superhero, became hours of leaden dialogue, slick action and a rubbish softcore sex scene (although, it was the one occasion in the film where both I and my companion got a genuine laugh, so there is that to be said for it).

Snyder doesn't seem to understand the language of cinema or his source material. He can put a film together, but that isn't enough. When the Watchmen go into action, there they are knocking out the martial arts stylings of a Matrix junkie, for no reason that I can understand. But then, to show they've got all depth and shit, yeah, he gives them huge swathes of uncomfortable dialogue that with good reason the actors speak sounding like Angus Deayton in his HIGNFY days (i.e. autocued up to the eyeballs). Having them talk about determinacy does NOT give characters depth, it just makes them sound like pretentious sixth-formers trying to impress the common room, and does nothing to help you understand them or their kick-ass fighting powers.

I could go on, but it would get into more subjective territory, such as the decision to glorify the violence that the Watchmen indulge in, something that the source material doesn't do and which undermines the key points Moore is making. In the end, it was Snyder's choice to make his film morally bankrupt and it seems unfair to criticise him for not putting Moore's book straight up there on screen. It is another reason not to bother to see it though, because if you want to see a film that makes ultraviolence look way cool, but without also boring the shit out of you, you can always watch Transporter.

I also won't dwell on the sexual politics of it (tied into the Sin City aesthetics amongst much else). They are hugely retrograde from the source material, but you do expect that with this genre, and especially with this director, who just doesn't seem to understand the meaning of his own work very well.

Please don't misunderstand me, these are all reasons to dislike the movie, but for me its biggest failure was that it failed on its own terms well before it offended my personal sensibilities.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Solidarity With The Occupation

No, not that one. Well, yes, obviously that one too.

But I meant this one, which is also an occupation, although not quite in the same way, and it is related to the other occupation, so I can see how you may have got confused.

Let me start over.

A coalition of about 25 Left students at Newcastle University have been occupying the Fine Arts lecture theatre since last night, demanding that the university support the Palestinians, divest its investments in the arms trade, boycott Israeli academics and goods, and raise awareness of the Palestinian cause, amongst other things. Send them a message of support, or simply visit the blog. There have been reports of violence being used on them by University security staff so you might want to complain about that too.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

CiF Poster So Thick It's Worth a Quick Point 'n' Laugh

First comment below Billy Bragg's Graun piece today, right below this:

Without powerful unions to protect them, the wages of ordinary workers were held in check while the cost of housing began to spiral upwards. As it became increasingly difficult for first-time buyers to get on the property ladder, a newly deregulated banking sector began offering ever more "attractive" loans. And we all know where that led.

Would any of this have been different if Thatcher had lost that titanic struggle in 1984?

We have prize-winning thicko 'harryboy' with this:

If the Miner's strike was the cause of this economic crisis, doesn't it mean Arthur Scargill is the real culprit ?

Yeah, harryboy, and you know who I blame for Pinochet? That bastard Allende.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Support Prisme Workers of Dundee

Prisme workers of Dundee have occupied their factory after they were made redundant with 1 day's notice. Send messages of support to 07882804212 or email


Craig Murray Needs YOU

Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, whistleblower on torture and all-round hero, MAY have the chance to present evidence to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on human rights on the 10th March, IF they decide his evidence is worth hearing.

Convince them it is. Craig says:

The government is lobbying hard for my exclusion. I need everybody to send an email to to urge that I should be allowed to give evidence. Just a one-liner would be fine. If you are able to add some comment on the import of my evidence, or indicate that you have heard me speak or read my work, that may help. Please copy your email to

Please also pass on this plea to anyone you can and urge them to act. Help from other bloggers in posting this appeal would be much appreciated.


John Polkinghorne Will Live Forever

From this week's Graun science podcast:

I believe death is a real thing, but I don't think it's the ultimate end, because I believe that only God is ultimate. I think I shall have a destiny beyond death, it's obviously hard to imagine in detail ... I think it's a remarkable destiny that lies ahead of us. ... I also think it's intrinsic to human beings that we do have a body, and that's why I very much accept the Christian hope of resurrection. It isn't a sort of spiritual survival ... God will, I believe, in an unimaginable but true resurrection re-embody me in a new

This can mean only one thing:

All this has happened before, and will happen again.

John Polkinghorne, yesterday.

*Whilst these are Polkinghorne's actual words, I may have edited them for comic effect (although they are in the original order. I've just cut some qualifying statements about harps and angels out).