Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Apologists and Fellow Travellers

In today's Grauniad David Aaronovitch has a splendid piece on John Laughland the man who
...queried the idea that human rights are a problem in Belarus, or that the Serbs behaved so very savagely in Kosovo. He has defended Slobodan Milosevic, criticised the International Tribunal in the Hague and generally argued that the problem in countries normally associated with human rights abuses is, in fact, the intervention of western agencies.
There is also a discussion over at Harry's Place. Aaronovitch also makes possibly the first mainstream mention of a rather strange outfit antiwar.com.
This information comes from a US website called Antiwar.com where, for a while, Stone had a regular Thursday column. But Antiwar.com was not a leftwing site opposing the Iraq war. It was a rightwing site set up to oppose the Kosovo intervention in 1999. Its "editorial director" was a man called Justin Raimondo who was active in the small US Libertarian party before joining the Republican party. In the 1992, 1996 and 2000 elections he supported the campaigns of Pat Buchanan, the far-right isolationist candidate.

Raimondo is also an "adjunct scholar" with the Ludwig von Mises Institute. This is a libertarian think-tank in Auburn, Alabama, founded by one Lew Rockwell, who describes himself as "an opponent of the central state, its wars and its socialism".
For further details see this post. The list of fellow travellers of the Stop-The-War-Coalition is bizarre, running from the John Birch Society (as made infamous by the Bob Dylan song "Talkin John Birch Blues") to the Ludwig Von Mises Institute to old conservatives like Pat Buchanan (who see the role of government strictly limited to the defence of the rights of private property).

When you start campaigning alongside such organisations shouldn't you at least stop and think "What have we got in common?" and "Do I want to share a bed with these people?" I wouldn't even share a bowl of porridge but that's just me.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Top Films

This weekend C4 ran a top 100 chart (yep another one). But this one is good. Not the usual "as voted for by ..." drivel but a real objective chart based not on the ever inflating box-office receipts but a real solid statistic - bums on seats (not to be confused with take a hobo to the cinema day). Here's the results.
10 The Seventh Veil 1945 - Estimated Admissions 17.9m
9 The Wicked Lady 1946 - Estimated Admissions 18.4m
8 Titanic 1998 - Estimated Admissions 18.91m
7 The Jungle Book 1968 - Estimated Admissions 19.8m
6 The Best Years Of Our Lives 1947 - Estimated Admissions 20.4m
5 Spring In Park Lane 1948 - Estimated Admissions 20.5m
4 Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope 1978 - Estimated Admissions 20.76m
3 Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs 1938 - Estimated Admissions 28m
2 The Sound Of Music 1965 - Estimated Admissions 30m
1 Gone with The Wind 1940 - Estimated Admissions 35m
There is a story that Margaret Mitchell wanted her favourite screen star for the part of Rhett Butler. What a different film that would have been. Try and imagine Groucho Marx as Rhett Butler. Go on. Just try.

Friday, November 26, 2004

The Grauniad and Zimbabwe

Late blogging this but what the heck. The Grauniad gets its comment in first
In some quarters, the failure of this newspaper to get itself banned from the England cricket tour of Zimbabwe might be seen as a badge of dishonour. If Robert Mugabe's goons are prepared to let you in, you must be doing something wrong. But the very fact that the Zimbabwe government has made such a capricious and whimsical choice between those media outlets whose presence it will tolerate and those it considers to be agents of the enemy is merely the latest confirmation that no sense or benefit could ever have come from this particular adventure.

So, has Mugabe made a "capricious and whimsical choice between ... media outlets" or is there some plan behind it all? Is Mugabe a Quick Crossword fan? A fan of Steve Bell? A devotee of Seamus Milne?

The Roots

Wednesday night I went with Rullsenberg to one of the best concerts ever. (I have a rule that if you come out of a gig and don't feel that it's the best gig ever then you've wasted your time. Okay tomorrow your judgement may change. But that's tomorrow.)

The Roots must be the best live hip hop band around. As ?uestLove says
?uestlove's hope is that other rappers will appreciate those moments and be inspired to expand their musical scope.

"People still don't know the infinite possibilities of a band," he said. "What's very unfortunate is the Roots are [one of] the only [groups] of black musicians on a major label. That could be seen as an honor, but it baffles me. I don't want to be a novelty. Twenty years ago, groups made records: the Commodores, War, Con Funk Shun, the J.B.'s, Brass Construction. Now if any band were to start, it'd be like, 'Man, they just biting the Roots.' And that's a problem."

There are "a million" other live hip-hop bands out there, ?uestlove said — you just have to know how to find them.

"It's one mouse click away — the Internet," he said. "If Ghostface knew what I knew, he'd be in L.A. looking for Breakestra. They are the only band that has caused me to lose sleep. They play those old funk records, and this is the kind of thing Ghostface has been wanting to do his whole life, but he don't know. And I know because I am on the Internet. Cats gotta stay informed. It's like reading the newspaper."

Good live hip hop is amazing. Give it a go.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Chess and Celebrity

Apparently Chess is now cool. Or so it said in the Grauniad. Sometimes playing chess can be fun (okay I'm weird). Does it really need celebrity endorsement? I'm a celebrity and I'll be mated in 5, get me out of this? Prime time tv with that one.

I prefer Raymond Chandler's "Chess is as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you can find outside an advertising agency". (I think it's from The Long Goodbye but I'm open to other suggestions).

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Creationist Fun

There is a creationist theme park in Florida, U.S.A.
Dinosaur Adventure Land, a creationist theme park and museum ... that beckons children to "find out the truth about dinosaurs" with games that roll science and religion into one big funfest with the message that Genesis, not science, tells the real story of the creation.
Dinosaur Adventure Land, tucked behind a highway lined with car dealerships in this metropolitan area of 425,000, sits next to Mr. Hovind's home and the offices of Creation Science Evangelism, which he said he founded in 1989. Mr. Hovind is well known in Pensacola, and even in a region where religious billboards almost outnumber commercial ones he is controversial. Escambia County sued him in 2000 after he refused to get a $50 permit before building his theme park, saying the government had no authority over a church.

Just last week Internal Revenue Service agents used a search warrant to remove financial documents from Mr. Hovind's home and offices, saying he was not paying taxes and had neither a business license nor tax-exempt status for his enterprises.

Mr. Hovind did not want to discuss the I.R.S. investigation, saying only, "I don't have any tax obligations."

The man who calls himself Dr. Dino is also controversial among creationists, some of whom say he discredits their movement with some of his pseudo-scientific claims. Mr. Hovind got into a dispute in 2002 with Answers in Genesis, when he took issue with an article it published called "Arguments We Think Creationists Should Not Use." One such argument was that footprints found in Texas proved that man and dinosaurs coexisted; Mr. Hovind said he considered the argument, now abandoned by many creationists, valid. Mr. Hovind said he gave 700 lectures a year and that 38,000 people had visited his park, at $7 a head. According to a map that invites visitors to pinpoint their hometown, most come from the Florida Panhandle and from Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Even Creationists have "splitters".

Hat Tip to Counago and Spaves

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

It Came from Outer Space - in 3D

Life, and death, intervened last week to prevent any scrawling on this site. Amidst a manic week of house clearing (countless visits to a recycling centre, charity shops and a tip, all topped off with a big cathartic bonfire) I managed to see It Came from Outer Space at Warwick [University] Arts Centre in Coventry.
This was not any old showing of the film. No. This had a live soundtrack performed by the most important band of the last thirty years, Pere Ubu. It's a band driven by a man with a vision. A man who looks, and sometimes sounds like late period Orson Welles. Listen. See. Be amazed. This review of an earlier night sums things up but this night did not have the early lights up. This night was good.
We’re here to experience the band improvising a soundtrack to the 1953 B-movie It Came From Outer Space. There’s nothing new about musicians providing live accompaniment to films, but this is something different. For one thing, tonight’s movie is being shown in its original 3D format, with the splendid result that the sold-out crowd, all wearing those fantastic 3D spex, suddenly look like authentic drive-in hipsters. “Red lens over the right eye,” Thomas warns. “If you put the green lens over the right eye … your brain will explode.”

For another thing, rather than simply making new music, Thomas is performing a virtual act of reconstruction. The movie – about a spaceship which crashes in Arizona, piloted by benign aliens who replicate locals to repair their craft – was originally written by Ray Bradbury, but the film’s producers did their best to remove the brains and strangeness of his treatment. For instance, Bradbury wanted his aliens to remain unseen, but the studio insisted on big rubber monsters. Through the combination of music and an occasional voiceover to replace lost dialogue, Thomas, who considers the movie a “critique of post-war racial isolationism”, is attempting to tease out whatever remains of the original vision.

It works wonderfully well. There are moments when what the band is doing could be generously described as “aimless noodling”, but in the main the soundtrack focuses your attention in a way that allows you to enjoy the 1950s-kitsch shlock surface and also see beneath it. Director Jack Arnold composed 3D intelligently and the effects stand up – you’re almost ducking as the hero scientist swings his telescope in your direction – but tonight’s performance is more like X-ray vision.

Ubu’s prowling noise highlights the film’s authentic desert feel ...

Built around repeatedly explored figures and from melodic bass throb, guitar scrape, intuitive drumming, on-the-spot dialogue samples and Theremin quivers ... one that builds across the night into a monumental thing, a dark, drilling, interstellar-overdrive groove as intensely urgent as Ubu’s Heart Of Darkness of 30 years ago.
This was the perfect mix of music and film. This is the last ever showing of this 3D film. We want more. More 3D films. More Ubu.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

BushBushBush and the expected responses

Over at Siaw they cover the U.S. election
The Coverage
At 8 pm GMT (3 pm in Washington, DC) Dick Cheney and George Bush came out onto the stage (under vast “W” signs that looked to British eyes like adverts for Waterstone’s bookshops), and the whole thing was over at last, leaving us close to being all newsed out again ...

Was that sign saying "Read More Books, Go On, You Know You Want To" or am I reading too much into it. Has anyone else noticed that in the three weeks before the election the red tops in the UK had headlines like "Kerry's Night of Lust". Scandal hits the UK before the National Enquirer but then I realised it was nothing to do with John Kerry but somebody else of that name.

The Grauniad has an overly pessimistic piece but of a one with the "Liberal/Left?mediocratic" worldview
The mistake we all made was in getting our hopes up. Until lunchtime on Tuesday, in accordance with the rules of superstition, lay supporters of John Kerry kept their outlook pessimistic. In bones, waters, winds and related vapours across the land, the election was divined by pro-Democrats to be in the bag for Bush. This is what is known as preparing a soft landing; it is measured in units of unhatched chicks.
Do what? Life goes on. Domestically life would have been different under Kerry but internationally did anyone expect a Kerry presidency to be that different from a Bush presidency?

The SWP proclaim that "70 percent of US voters did not back [Bush]". S'funny I thought Bush got a majority of the votes cast. Put simply, if you do not vote you are not a voter. The only votes that count are those that are cast.

Again, the Grauniad quotes "Harold Pinter Playwright and anti-war campaigner
"It's a black day for the world." Really. Thanks for sharing, Harold.

The Mirror proclaims on its front page "How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?" That's almost racist in its damning sneering "we are so much better than them". As SIAW put it
there will be those who interpret the result as confirmation of their belief (whether explicitly or, more often, covertly held) that most people in general, and, of course, Americans in particular, are stupid, ignorant and passive, the malleable subjects of a corporate–media–political complex that rules the world and is defied only by such brave dissidents as Michael Moore, Harold Pinter, John Pilger ... – you know the rest: if the people fail to live up to the ideals proclaimed on their behalf, and largely out of their earshot, by those who claim to know better than they do, so much the worse for the people, right? On the contrary, so much the worse for the reactionary pseudo-left, who know so very little about what most of their fellow human beings are thinking and feeling, have no respect for the ability of non-“experts” to process the information and images we are all bombarded with, and can’t even face up to the effects of their own deep-seated prejudices.
Life goes on. "It's not the end of the world as we know it".
It's four more years of the mediacracy knowing exactly what to say. Four more years of fortune-cookie oppositionist politics. Four more years of "Gosh. Amercians must be so dumb." Four more years of "How can those people have done it" (it being voted for Bush and not some other heinous thing). Think of it like this in four years time it's not going to be Bush. Hang on, unless Jed stands. Damn. Then we have a hereditary presidency. Politics is more than who is in the big offices of state. It's all about people and how they act and relate to each other. Has this election changed that? Yup. Not one jot.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Latest on the U.S. election

Fox News reports
Republicans and Democrats went ahead with plans to dispatch thousands of lawyers to potential election trouble spots even as judges made 11th-hour changes to voting rules in Ohio, a state that could determine the presidency.

Republicans won an overnight victory when a federal appeals court ruled they can challenge voters' qualifications at the polls in Ohio. A lawyer for a black couple who sought to stop the practice said shortly after midnight he had already asked the Supreme Court (search) to block the circuit court ruling.

With the latest ruling coming just hours before the polls open, the effect of the last-minute appeal to the Supreme Court was not immediately clear.

Partisan lawyers will join thousands of outside lawyers and neutral poll watchers on Tuesday, concentrating on Ohio, Florida and a handful of other states where the race between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry (search) is extremely close.
. . .
Democrats and civil rights organizations say Republicans are targeting minority voters in an attempt to reduce the number of ballots cast for Kerry and other Democrats.

"All of this activity is racial profiling," said NAACP Chairman Julian Bond. "None of it is aimed at white voters. It is all based on the racist presumption that racial minorities are cheaters."

The dispute is the latest in a series of legal face-offs over rules for casting and counting votes this year. The maneuvering began weeks ago and was most intense in Ohio and Florida, each with rich caches of Electoral College votes.
So The U.S. election looks like being a lawyer fest. Is anyone really surprised? Disappointed, yes. But surprised? Would more rigorous vote registration procedures pre-empt voting day challenges? Or does it just make better "news" to have challenges on the day?

Protecting Your Vote (For U.S. citizens)

See here. Also see Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
Verified Voting Foundation (VVF) also offers guides to assist voters in casting votes successfully when they face new voting technologies at the polls. VVF's Voters' Guide to Electronic Voting provides voters with easy-to-read information about the voting machines used in their local polling places and pointers about how to prevent voting technology problems and vote successfully. There's also an urgent warning to voters using touch screen/DRE voting machines.

"We've pulled together in one convenient place a bunch of information that was theoretically available to voters, but really hard to come by," said VVF Executive Director Will Doherty.

"We're doing what we can to let the public know about the problems with and alternatives to paperless e-voting," commented VVF Nationwide Coordinator Pamela Smith.

Once again, for reporting any election irregularity, you can use the toll-free hotline now at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1 866-687-8683). Use http://www.voteprotect.org/index.php?display=EIRMapNation to find and follow the reports.
It's good to know your vote is being protected.

Vote early

and definitely do not vote often, else the lawyers will get you and the result will be invalidated and the world's superpower will have no leader for umpteen months and loads of bad things will happen and some good things may happen but why take that chance.

But Harry has a good story on early voting.

Also see this from Norm.

Monday, November 01, 2004

T'was election night and all was quiet

In the UK Channel 4 are way behind in scheduling The West Wing but last friday's was right on track (if two years later than in the U.S.).
At 10 am, people on the staff are already assuming they have won.
". . . we won. We don't have to pander," Sam tells them.
"Please don't say that. . . ." Toby says from the other end of the room. "I'm not kidding. . . . We haven't won anything yet."
"The speech is done," C.J says.
"Two speeches are done," Toby tells her.
"What's the second?"
"I've got a speech if he wins. I've got a speech if he doesn't."
"You wrote a concession?" Sam asks him.
"Of course I wrote a concession. You want to tempt the wrath of whatever from high atop the thing?"
"Then go outside, turn around three times, and spit. What the hell is the matter with you?"
"It's like 25 degrees outside. . . ." Sam sits down not taking any of this seriously. Then Josh joined the meeting and he tells him that Toby "wrote a concession speech."
"Of course, he wrote a concession speech. Why wouldn't he? What possible reason would he have for not to writing a concession speech?"
"The wrath from high atop the thing."
"He up and said we were gonna ---"
"No, you have to go outside turn around three times and curse."
"Spit and curse."
"Do everything. Go!"
"Go!" Getting it from both sides now, Sam gets up and flees to the freezing outdoors.
When he gets back, C.J. tells him, "You can't be too careful."
"I think you can," Sam mumbles.
Taken from episode #407 Election Night, with thanks from westwing.bewarne.com

Lighten up time

A joke from the Stoa via Hak Mao.

No early peeping to the punchline. It's an honour thing.

The answers are still blowin' in the wind

Today's grauniad has a condensed version of Bob Dylan's Chronicles.
I wanted to cut a record. But not a 45. I went down to play a song for Woody Guthrie. "You brought that song to life," he said.

I'd been in a motorcycle accident. I just wanted out of the rat race. Journalists, promoters, fans: they were all calling me the tortured conscience of America. I never planned to be an icon. I was just a singer writing songs that made some kind of sense to me. Outside the wind was blowing.

People told me what my lyrics meant. It was news to me. One album was supposedly intensely autobiographical. Let them think so. I knew it was based on a bunch of Chekhov short stories. I just wanted to escape with my wife and raise my kids like any other American.

Mike Marqusee gave an excellent review in the Guardian
The Dylan of these chapters is a true believer in the religion of folk, which "exceeded all human understanding, and if it called out to you, you could disappear and be sucked into it." He claims that the old songs taught him there was nothing new on this earth. History was cyclical: societies emerge, flourish, decline (but "I had no idea which of these stages America was in"). Here he seems to be reading back into his youth some of the attitudes he struck later on. The young man who wrote "Hattie Carroll", "With God on Our Side", "Masters of War" and "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" was a poet of urgency, and he would have found the fatalism of the later Dylan far too pat. "I had a primitive way of looking at things and I liked country fair politics," he insists. "My favourite politician was [rightwing] Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, who reminded me of Tom Mix." Maybe, but this "primitive" also dissected the political psychology of the fallout-shelter craze in "Let Me Die in My Footsteps", lambasted anti-communist hysteria in "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues", and explored the link between race and class in "Only a Pawn in Their Game".
I like the comment about Barry Goldwater. All part of the "don't follow leaders, follow parking meters" approach to life. Chronicles should be read alongside Mike Marqusee's splendid Chimes of Freedom: The Politics of Bob Dylan's Art whilst listening to the man's music.