Wednesday, May 31, 2006

At least Fahrenheit 9/11 was obviously fiction...

Michael Gove in The Times:

Whenever a Brit takes on the world in some international contest or other, our duty appears clear. Cheer on the hero who’s flying the flag. But what happens when the hero concerned is using the flag as a dartboard? Can we really feel a surge of patriotic pride when Ken Loach wins the Palme d’Or at Cannes for The Wind that Shakes the Barley, a film which dramatises “the exploitation and the oppression of the British State”?

Of course, Loach isn’t the first film-maker to depict the Brits as callous, cottage-burning, woman-torturing imperialists defeated by a freedom-loving citizenry. In Roland Emmerich and Mel Gibson’s The Patriot, the British are also black-hearted and villainous oppressors. And in Neil Jordan’s IRA epic, Michael Collins, the agents of the Crown are wickedly murderous.

But while Gibson was an Australian, of proudly Irish descent, and Jordan was a son of County Sligo, Loach is as English as they come, a pensioner from Nuneaton. Therein lies his appeal for the Cannes jury. After awarding the Palme d’Or to Michael Moore in 2004 for Fahrenheit 9/11, Ken Loach was the obvious winner this time round.

The judges in Cannes have shown that they enjoy rewarding directors who rubbish their own countries, and that enjoyment is all the greater when the countries being rubbished are America or Britain. What makes the enjoyment positively exquisite is when a contemporary political lesson, preferably about the folly of the Iraq war, can be read into the award. Giving Michael Moore the Palme in 2004 for his anti-Bush polemic was almost too obvious. But I’m glad to say the French feting of Moore did have the predictable, and desired political effect. President Bush was re-elected that year with the highest number of votes ever.


Should the parallel have eluded anyone, Loach himself collected his award with a clenched fist and a barely-coded request, “maybe if you tell the truth about the past, you might tell the truth about the present”.

It’s an invitation which is hard to resist. The truth is that films like Loach’s that glamorise the IRA give a retrospective justification to a movement which used murderous violence to achieve its ends, even though the democratic path was always open to it. They help legitimise the actions of gangsters who have been torturing innocents for decades, and lend enchantment to an organisation which aspires to govern part of the UK although it remains enmeshed in criminality.

And if it’s the truth about the present that Loach wants, let him consider just who the insurgents in Iraq are. Whom would he want us to empathise with most, and see as modern equivalents of idealistic young Irishmen? Those terrorists who were officers in Saddam Hussein’s Baath party for whom torture was a route to promotion? Or the Islamists who wish to impose a totalitarian version of their religion in Iraq and irrigate the ground on which they wish to advance with the blood from the hostages they behead? The hard truth is that a genuinely innovative, ground-breaking and artistically challenging film would be one which bothered to tell the truth about the British Army — the bravery of men under fire in Ulster, the courage of those who restored order to Sierra Leone, the coolness and aplomb of those who helped bring peace to the Balkans, the ongoing sacrifice of those bringing peace to Afghanistan and Iraq.

When Ken Loach was a boy, we produced film after film in which British servicemen were contemporary heroes, but now it is inconceivable that such a film would ever be made. Perhaps the most important question we can still ask the cultural establishment is a simple, “Why?”

The real reason is that, after years of practice in Hollywood, British actors can only play villains.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

How do you make a cheese roll?

For those who didn’t realise that Monty Python was a documentary...

Dozens hurt in cheese roll race

A teenager who knocked himself out while chasing a Double Gloucester cheese down a hill was among 25 people hurt in a Cheese Rolling competition.

Chris Anderson, 18, won one of the five races which make up the annual contest, in which dozens of people race down a 1:2 gradient hill after a large cheese.

St John Ambulance workers at the race, on Coopers Hill in Brockworth, said two people were taken to hospital. One spectator was given treatment after being hit by a runaway cheese.

The competition, which is thought to date back hundreds of years, consists of a series of downhill races with the winner of each receiving a seven to eight pound circle of cheese. Runners up get £10 and there is a £5 prize for third place.

People from as far afield as America, Australia, Norway and Sweden travel to the village every year to take part.

Mr Anderson said: "I just ran, fell and hit my head. I feel sore but it was definitely worth it."

Other races were won by Jason Crowther, 24, from Pembrokeshire, west Wales, who took the title for the second year in a row [..].

Mr Crowther said: "I have no real tactic. I just ran and hoped for the best. I'm going to take my cheese to the pub and have a party."

They’ve done this event every year for centuries – no idea exactly why (something to do with securing the public right of way on Cooper's Hill), or indeed how it’s survived the interference of the Health and Safety wallahs.

There’s a video of this year’s race here, and some historic footage here.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Auntie does it again

Here are three introductory paragraphs to reports of the current Bush/Blair summit:

From the Independent:

Bush and Blair admit that Iraq presents 'immense challenge'

Tony Blair and George Bush last night hailed the arrival of a new Government in Baghdad as "a new beginning" but warned that an "immense challenge" remained. Only when Iraq was fully able to defend itself would US and British troops be fully withdrawn, both leaders made clear.

From the Guardian:

Bush urges Blair to stay on as PM

Tony Blair might be viewed increasingly at home as a leader with a fast-approaching sell-by date but he is seen differently in Washington, with George Bush urging him last night to stay in power "as long as I'm president".

The comments came during a joint press conference at the White House during which the two leaders alternated between grave statements on Iraq and some light-hearted mutual ribbing.

And from the BBC:

Bush and Blair admit Iraq errors

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W Bush have made a stark public acknowledgement that they made mistakes in Iraq.

Mr Bush said the biggest US error was the prison abuse scandal in Abu Ghraib, which it was now paying for.

From the very start of the Iraq invasion, Blair’s number one domestic enemy has been the BBC News.

Even here, its reporting is more negative than either of the left-wing, anti-war newspapers.

This is despite the Beeb's neutrality brief, or possibly because of it – a bit like the teacher who is over-tough on his own son or daughter in the class, in a conscious effort to avoid accusations of nepotism.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Quinglish Watch: Rain Stopped Play

Communiqué received from Gloucestershire CCC this morning:

Gloucestershire County Cricket Club and The King's School regret to announce that this year, due to the appalling weather, the Worcestershire fixture due to be played at the Gloucester Festival, starting on Friday 2nd June, has had to be moved to Bristol.

Peter Lacey, Headmaster of The King's School commented; “We are extremely disappointed that it is not possible to hold the Gloucester Festival this year at Archdeacon Meadow this year owing to extreme weather conditions. Given the amount of rain that is forecast and the current waterlogged state of ground, there is no alternative.”

Monday, May 22, 2006

Talk about miscarriage of justice

From Ananova:

School trip arrested

A teacher who took his class on a school trip to a historic cathedral was arrested for giving unlicenced tours.

The group, from Budapest in Hungary, were in St Michael's Cathedral, in the Slovakian capital Bratislava, when they were all arrested.

Slovakian police said the teacher had broken the law by not having a licence to give guided tours and that the pupils had broken the law by listening.

I think we can assume that the pupils were unlikely to have been guilty of that charge.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Just popping out to have my preconceptions challenged, dear

One of the joys of patronising the Arnolfini, Bristol’s contemporary arts centre, is that I get some glorious emails advertising new exhibitions.

This one, heralding Kirstine Roepstorff’s A Handful of Once, ticks almost every box:

At first glance Kirstine Roepstorff’s intricate and ornamental collages belie their more serious subject. Her baroque photo-montage combines geometric shapes, glitter, jewellery and gems with lush tropical landscapes and floral motifs. National Geographic images of birds, fish and mammals are juxtaposed with dancers and sports people, politicians and protesters. Much of the imagery is drawn from newspapers and magazines - the stuff of ‘current affairs’.

By removing the material from its original context and reordering it within this other space, she performs a surprisingly powerful, political action addressing issues as diverse as the ‘War on Terror’, the global distribution of wealth and contemporary gender politics. Asking, “Who decides who decides?” her work questions the authority, identity and power of the individuals and organisations responsible for the particular reality we experience and the ways in which meaning is constructed.

Absurd title? Check!

Juxtapositioning? Check! (‘Juxtaposition’ is the art word for arbitrarily putting any two different things next to each other)

‘War on Terror’ in scare quotes? Check!

Reality is ‘particular’? Check!

Preconceptions about gender roles challenged? Check! (though I’m not sure who the hell still has any unchallenged preconceptions about gender left. Maybe the Bulgarians. The Bulgarians are notorious for not spending enough time visiting art galleries for a good preconception-questioning, poor sods).

Sadly, casual sacreligious insults appear to be missing, but A Handful of Once does sound like it has the important “a child could do that” factor in abundance, given that Kirstine uses that correctly-underrated art form, the glitter, glue and magazine cut-out collage.

I'll probably go and look at it tonight.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Not even a cheeky half?

From the BBC:

Is the lunchtime pint facing extinction? Only a minority of companies now allow staff to drink during the working day.

It's a sunny Friday lunchtime, the kind of weather that brings on a thirst for a long, cold drink.

After a week spent hunched over a computer monitor, it's easy to feel like the dust-encrusted, thirst-crazed soldier who's driven across the desert in the classic film Ice Cold in Alex.

You can almost see the condensation running down the curves of a pint, the sun glinting on a wine glass...

But hold on. Re-wind the tape, because that lunchtime pint - a cultural tradition in its own right - is disappearing. A survey from law firm, Browne Jacobson, says that 57% of businesses now ban drinking during the working day.

There have always been drinking restrictions on safety-sensitive jobs, such as anyone driving or operating machinery, but now the booze ban is being extended much more widely.

In many parts of the country, particularly outside London, an even higher proportion of companies don't allow staff to drink. In the West Midlands, the survey says that 75% of businesses don't allow drinking during the working day.

I used to work with a chap who would regularly spend his lunchtime at the Royal Oak downing three pints of true, gut-rotting scrumpy - the kind of rustic yellow gunge you expect to find twigs floating in.

Didn't seem to affect him in the least, other than that his jokes got even more ribald in the afternoon.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Corgi au gratin

From Ananova:

Prince admits to liking dogs - fried
A Danish prince has upset animal rights campaigners by admitting he loves dogs - delicately sliced and lightly fried.

Prince Henrik of Denmark told Ud & Se magazine: “Dog meat tastes like rabbit. Like dried baby goat. Or perhaps - I know! - like veal. Like the veal of a baby suckling calf, only drier.”

The 72-year-old Prince, the husband of Queen Margrethe, is the honorary president of the Danish Dachshund Club, reports the Times.

He developed an appetite for dog-bone stew and other canine delicacies at an early age. He grew up in Vietnam, where roast dog remains a speciality.

“I’ve got no qualms about eating dog meat,” he said. “These dogs are bred to be eaten, just like chickens.”

The Prince is rarely seen without his dachshunds. He has said that he would like to be reborn as a dachshund in the Danish Court. And he has advised parents “to bring up children like dogs”.

So uninterested in republicanism are the Britons that they even wearily tolerate the inordinate quantity of rubbish spouted by Prince Charles.

But if any of the Royals started munching on Rover, we’d be wheeling out the guillotine faster than you can say ‘Oliver Cromwell’.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Postcard poverty versus the McFuture

Momentarily breaking up the echo-chamber tedium of the Orrinanism-fest that is the modern Brothers Judd blog, the redoubtable Peter B makes an sharp insight.

He quotes an article by Spengler in the Asia Times:

Many beautiful things will disappear because poor people no longer will suffer to make them. One simply cannot find decent Mexican food in the United States, in part because traditional Mexican cuisine requires vast amounts of labor. Machine-made corn tortillas never will hold the savor of the hand-made article, but Mexicans migrate to the US precisely to escape a life of making tortillas by hand.

Will more money make them happier? I do not think so, any more than the loss of traditional Chinese culture in the globalized urban jungle of the coastal cities will make Chinese peasants happier…What it will do, however, is enable them to contemplate their unhappiness with a sense of empowerment. People with money, education and opportunity may be as miserable as any illiterate dirt farmer, but they have the means - how did Thomas Jefferson put it? - for the pursuit of happiness. Whether they choose good or ill is not up to this writer. But it is a vicious form of condescension to condemn people to perpetual poverty in the name of preserving traditional culture.

Peter writes:

This illustrates one of the great fault lines of modern conservatism, especially in North America. Supporting both the progress that liberates from poverty and the traditions that ground in non-material priorities, conservatives wrestle with the inconsistencies and ambiguities of celebrating constant change and innovation while at the same time fearing the dark side of timeless, immutable human nature. This is why conservatives are right to be wary of ideology and why both optimism and pessimism are prominent in conservative thought.

Not so on the modern left, which has surrendered to full-blown, ideologically pure reaction. Whether defending international law as if it were inscribed on tablets from Sinai, opposing globalization and trade in the name of cultural preservation, doubting other cultures wish or are “ready” for democracy, fear-mongering about the environment, supporting traditional poverty and oppression in Africa or waxing furiously and nostalgically about the disappearance of pathological sewers like the ghettos of New Orleans, the left has declared total war on the modern and now seems to be animated by a feudal ideal of a static, hierarchically-ordered, centrally-directed bastion of protection against chance and change that would condemn much of the world to poverty without escape. Indeed, as disorganized and directionless as today’s left may seem, they do seem united in their determination to stand athwart history yelling: “Stop!”

The Guardianista’s obsession with ‘authenticity’ for his annual holiday destinations is just another example (environmentalism and socialism are the others) of his anti-humanism. He is not a cultural relativist because he openly asserts that anything ethnic (ie. backward, outmoded but looks pretty in National Geographic) is superior to modern western culture.

Globalisation has of course lifted many more people out of abject poverty than all the charities put together. Unfortunately, we non-Guardianistas have to face the fact that an inexorable march towards the drabness of a global mono-culture may ultimately be the price humans pay for refusing to allow state-enforced poverty.