Archive for June, 2006


Comprenez-vous les mots de Jean-Marie Le Pen ?

Lilian Thuram. L’équipe de France est l’équipe qui a le plus de joueurs qui chantent l’hymne. Cela ne veut pas dire que l’on se sente français. C’est réducteur. On se sent français même sans chanter la Marseillaise. Il dit qu’il y a trop de joueurs noirs. Je ne sais pas quoi répondre parce que, personnellement, je ne suis pas noir (rires). Monsieur Le Pen ne doit pas être au courant qu’il y a des Français noirs, des Français blonds ou bruns. Ce qui me surprend, c’est qu’il s’est présenté à l’élection présidentielle plusieurs fois et qu’il ne connaît pas l’histoire de France. C’est comme si un Américain regardait l’équipe de basket des États-Unis et se disait : « Ouah, il n’y a que des Noirs… » Les gens qui fêtent l’équipe de France, les Français, ne se posent pas la question de savoir si on est Noirs. À M. Le Pen, je lui dis de venir fêter avec nous notre prochaine victoire. Il va peut-être changer d’avis. Mais il y a trop de choses à gagner derrière.

Translation here.

Pleased Mr Post Man

A disillusioned lefty writes on the oft-tackled topic of how to blog.

I figured I too would do one of those ‘on blogging’ posts that become irresistible in prolonged periods of blockage. Seasoned readers of this sort of thing may wish to stop reading at the end of this sentence.

Rather than suggest how one should blog, I figured I’d just sketch out, for my own curiosity as much as anything else, why and how I blog.

Why do I blog? A lot of it has to do with college, the 4 years of which can be summed up thus: drink-drink-read-drink-read-drink-read-drink-read-drink-read-drink. During this time, the only other constants were smoking fags, Fifteen-to-One, Countdown, and quiz machines. In writing, I produced next to nothing, even though I was on a course where you were supposed to write at least 2 essays every week. I managed to get away with knocking out an average of 3 and a half essays a year. As far as I could tell, on the occasions when they actually knew who I was, the lecturers’ impeccably liberal attitude was, well, I’m sure he has his reasons. My director of studies, just before my final exams, said that it was very unusual for a student to go through an entire year without attending a single tutorial. At last I felt like I’d achieved something.

When I say that I knocked out an average of 3 and a half essays a year, that is not the full story. I would sit down and attempt things all the time, but a couple of things conspired against me. The first was that I had the attention span of a springer spaniel, and the second, fatally, was that every sentence I wrote came across like an estate agent’s critical commentary on Middlemarch. It was gruesome.

Rather than practise, I persistently made the rather unwise calculation, no doubt influenced by the previous night’s Carlsberg Export, that if I simply read enough, then one day I’d be able to sit down and scores of cogent paragraphs would magically gush forth from my pen. It’s a shame I didn’t share this calculation with anyone else, as a person with the slightest experience of the matter would have let me know that this would be like expecting that the mere act of watching golf on TV for 3 years would enable one to pick up a golf club and thump a ball 250 metres in the direction of one’s choosing.

Somehow, I managed to drag together enough received ideas and chunks of other people’s insight to pass my exams, but it felt as though everything I had written had constituted an act of fraud. None of the ideas I expressed were the product of my own thinking on the matters at hand, but were simply a mass of impersonations and imitations, shoe-horned into a rhetorical form that felt as alien to me as wearing lederhosen.

I don’t intend to imply here that I actually had any interesting thoughts on the matters at hand: in truth, I hadn’t spent a great deal of time thinking about any of them at all. Most of the time when I might have developed my thinking on these matters had been spent reading other things of scant relevance to the subjects I was supposed to be studying.

In the end, I had a mess of thoughts from reading and observing a whole pile of stuff, and I had developed a love for language, but this only made me more acutely aware of the fact that most of what I wrote was jejune tripe. I had neither the chops nor the confidence to develop my thoughts in any meaningful way, or express them in my own words.

If any reader has managed to make it this far down, he or she may be wondering how on earth any of the above accounts for the existence of a fairly conventional blog of sporadic half-thoughts and occasional commentary on news snippets. The best explanation I can find is this: I had spent a good few years engaging in a rather contorted way of thinking, and I had lost any sensation that you could simply write something for the fun of it.

It was only a couple of years ago, when I started commenting on other people’s sites, that I started to realise that it didn’t all have to be thesis-antithesis-synthesis, or beginning-muddle-end. This weblog provides me with the possibility for the spontaneous pleasure that comes from using and thinking about words, even if it produces barely anything of particular refinement or insight.

That’s not to say that it’s all fun, or easy. You know the scenes in Sex and The City where Carrie Bradshaw calmly and contentedly taps away at her PC, occasionally tilting her head from side to side, and fully formed sentences issue forth as though thinking and writing were one and the same? I used to believe that that was the way other people wrote. For all I know, there may be people like that, but my own experience is a lot more choppy and vexed. After the spacebar, backspace is my most used key. I am constantly deleting words, paragraphs and sentences, not out of some perfectionist impulse, but simply because a lot of what I write doesn’t make a whole pile of sense. Most of the time, I write this stuff from a fairly crowded office, where people can see my screen if they wish, so I have the browser screen minimised in front of an Excel spreadsheet, and I toggle back and forth between the two when I see people approaching in the corner of my eye. I am therefore severely afflicted by sententia interrupta.

I have never been convinced by the idea that a person blogs for oneself. OK, you might not be writing to meet someone else’s demands, but I’ve never met anyone who thinks his opinions are so exquisite that he prefers to keep them to himself. Or maybe I have, but he simply never told me. I write for whoever is inclined to read it. I like it when people have something to say about it, even if they say that it’s a load of boring crap, as one reader did recently.

Mildly Un-Kong-Vincing

The other night I watched King Kong on DVD, and here are some notes on the experience. Although I am very much a sucker for the sad spectacle of silverback gorillas in captivity, my expectations were pretty low, perhaps due in part to the appropriation of ‘Kong’ as a verb in marketing campaigns for Burger King products (the faintly obscene Kong My Whopper).

The effect of the film was quite similar to that of eating a Whopper: curiously gratifying during the event, but leaves you with a slight queasiness and emptiness afterwards, then you begin to ponder what exactly you have just been fed. The gratifying bits are meaty indeed – in an awesome series of scenes, Kong whups the shit out of ten different types of non-humanoid dinosaur, does an Ozzy Osbourne on a giant bat, destroys a theatre, and, of course, climbs the Empire State Building and swats off a few troublesome airplanes before succumbing to his fate. None of this would be of any interest, however, if he didn’t have his sensitive side. He brings his female friend ice-skating and loves nothing more than to sit down and enjoy the sunset.

There are few auteurs left in cinema, and I doubt Peter Jackson is one of them, despite his undeniable talents. The film had a ‘talking points for everyone’ feel about it. There was Kong as real, manly man (a counterpoint to his pseudo-rival, the foppish scriptwriter Adrien Brody); gay man (he likes platonic female company, vaudeville and ice-skating); Kong as ‘famed beast’ metaphor for any number of things: American security; the effects of imperial subjugation; the exploitative nature of the entertainment industry; the inhumanity of man versus the humanity of animals; and so on and so forth.

Although Kong finally breaks from his man-forg’d manacles, there were a couple of loose ends that didn’t get tied up in the final cut. One example is the young chap from Billy Elliot. Were he to appear as a dancing white native in the Kong stage show at the end, perhaps reprising that bit from Billy Elliot where he does some angry ballet to A Town Called Malice, there may have been some point to his character, but he disappears completely after Kong is captured and brought to New York. This is a shame, sort of. The young white savage of unrevealed origins was developing a keen sense of literary criticism (“Heart of Darkness isn’t an adventure story, is it?”), but this plotline was somewhat effaced by his desire to lift a machine gun at any opportunity. I suspect there may be an awkward scene on the cutting room floor where his avuncular guardian sits down with him and asks him to recap on what reading Conrad has taught him about gunning down giant woodlice.

It feels strange to criticize a film about a fifty-ton gorilla for lack of realism (indeed the gorilla’s animation is totally convincing), but I was particularly disturbed by the sunset/sunrise scenes. How on earth could a half-starved and traumatized woman sit down and enjoy the sunset alongside a (presumably) sexually frustrated giant ape? Are we supposed to imagine that such was the refinement of both that they could foreswear basic animal needs to enjoy the finer things in life? Later, as the final insult, in the sunrise scene atop the Empire State building, Kong the ascetic aesthete becomes Kong the dumb ape once more, as he magnanimously registers his approval to the structures of the civilization that has enslaved him, drugged him and shot at him and is now about to destroy him. Even though it uses depression-era New York as its starting point, this film is happy to deliver the plainly bogus message that the best things in life are free.

That’s how it is on this bitch of a fridge

I was in the National Gallery yesterday, and had a look in its bookshop. They had Samuel Beckett fridge magnets on sale.

What Happened To U?

For someone of my vintage, UTV is Ulster Television, ‘Ulster’ meaning Ulster minus Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan. So when I read a report on its site saying that the Republic of Ireland has one of the lowest government spends on healthcare of any developed country, I get confused when it comments that:

The total spend here is just 7.1% of GDP, while the OECD average stands at 8.9%

The key word in the above is ‘here’, as the person who wrote the report is clearly in the Republic, not in Northern Ireland, and she/he refers to it as ‘Ireland’, which is the sort of thing that gets frowned upon by unionist sticklers for detail.

Ulster Television. I spent many hours of my childhood watching that spinning silver television with your logo on it, which looked for all the world like the remains of a shish kebab wrapped in tin-foil, waiting for television programmes like Orm and Cheep and Button Moon to start. Back in those days, I knew where I was, and that was in Ulster.

Now, well you’re just all over the shop. And the health system I pay for is shit.

Welcome to Northern Ireland. Be sure to leave at the earliest opportunity.

The time-honoured tradition of burning people out of their homes continues in Northern Ireland. So too does beating people with baseball bats. Racial incidents went up 15.1% during 2005/06, according to PSNI figures.

Kid Stuff

I fear I am developing an obsession with alliteration. The Independent on Sunday runs an alliterative headline today: Prozac for paedophiles.

There is even an alternative alliterative treatment: ‘chemical castration’.

Well, it could have been worse. ‘Ketamine for Kiddie Fiddlers’. ‘Neurontin for Nonces’. That sort of thing.

You can read a transcript of Brass Eye’s paedophilia special here.

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June 2006
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