everything’s fine by socrates adams – book launch

last night

the Post-Dr and I fulfilled an invitation to a book launch, which led us to a room populated by the great and bespectacled of the Manchester literature scene. it was at a bookshop.

as usual, everyone was wearing pumps. did you know that the heeled shoe was actually invented by George Bush Snr, as a weapon, during the first Iraq war? most were also afraid of a potential tax on surplus trouser material. a woman carried around and wore her baby like a badge of extra special hipness, and encouraged it to ‘express’ during the readings.

four young male writers read some things they’d written. two out of the four things were to do with trains, but i think that was incidental.

the first was a charming, shy and softly-spoken man who offered a charming, shy and softly-spoken poem about being humble and alone and not alone. it was a lot better than i’ve made it sound. i laughed.

the second reader was a slighter male with a shirt that an American would call ‘plaid’. i think it was blue, but i could be misremembering – i did not write it down. his ‘thing’ as he called it, was ‘new’, which meant printed on a sheet of paper rather than in a book. it was about an interview at a job centre. i liked him and it.

at that point the not-so-funny MC who continually made reference to his being fat, declared it ‘half time’ and invited us for the twentieth time to drink up all the beer – ‘cos there’s plenty of beer and after this we’ll all go to the pub anyway ‘cos beer is great and we’re not at all the sort of people who wouldn’t always drink it or have it at a book launch.

the second half started with my least favourite of the readings. it was another new one on paper and seemed to be an extract from an as yet unfinished story about someone with newly-fitted prothetic legs – possibly (although this was subtext) because of a war – who was arriving at a place in Cheshire.

i can’t remember what the place in Cheshire was called, but the name was mentioned too many times. although the author-cum-reader had a pleasant northwest accent, he did that thing where he made his voice all thin and lingered over the sounds at the end of sentences to make sure that every tee and ess came with the requisite emotional punch. i hate that thing, and the story took itself too seriously for my liking. it was full of fashionably off-beat similes, like the conversation of a public school boy on soft drugs.

the final reader was the author of the book that was being launched, rather than another of his friends, and read from that, his latest, book. he had a beard and a voice reminiscent of Jack Whitehall’s voice. his name is Socrates, which, presumably to avoid confusion with the other two, is pronounced with a long ‘ahhh’.

his novel apparently unfolds the tale of a tube salesman who is forced by his boss to take a tube home and treat it like a baby. instead of reading the opening section of the book, which he implied would have been his instinct, he followed the advice of others and read from elsewhere in the book. as such, i do not know why the boss forced the man to mother the tube, although it’s possible, perhaps likely, that i wouldn’t have anyway.

what i heard was fine; not quite pretentious enough to be like Kafka, not down-to-earth enough to be like Dan Rhodes. it was not, from what i heard, as good as either, despite what everyone was saying and how much they were laughing.

we would have gone to the pub for all the beer with the lit-folk, but we hadn’t had any tea, so we went home.

#tiredgamer: 2011 in video gaming

i have been

meaning to write this post for a while, but I’m afraid life (and more specifically in this instance, death) has been getting in the way.

still, hopefully you’re more on board with ‘better late than never’ than our postman.

i’m not going to be too serious or detailed about it all – if that’s what you want, i’m sure a man in tight chinos and daps has written something long and imperious for The Guardian (Dear The Guardian, please please make me your man in chinos and daps).

anyway, here’s some #tiredgamer thoughts:

2011 was in several ways a very good year for gaming, with several brilliant and interesting games squeezing their way past the ever-swelling torrent of schlock (which, incidentally, is an old nickname of mine).

as with many areas of entertainment/the arts (and, inexplicably, politics), the recession has brought to gaming a trend towards conservatism. as such, the year’s release list is dominated by established franchises. sequels, and in particular threequels, were everywhere:

Killzone 3, Lego Star Wars III, Fable III, Dirt 3, F.E.A.R. 3, Resistance 3, Just Dance 3, Battlefield 3, Gears of War 3, Uncharted 3, Saints Row: The Third and Modern Warfare are just some (well, most) of 2011’s third-installments.

then there were the 2s, the 4s, the 5s, the HD redos, the spin-offs, the non-canonical affiliates and so on. in fact, of full releases for the major consoles (and that right there is a key), only a very modest proportion were representative of new ideas.

hope, however, continues to spring up at the margins, and stuff like XBLA and iOS gaming continue to offer a platform to niche/indie games and small-scale developers. as such, in terms of the future of gaming, two of the year’s most significant releases in my opinion were Final Fantasy III for iOS and Real Racing 2 for Mac.

following last year’s release of iOS versions of FFs I and II, this year saw FF III hit the App Store to near universal approval from fans. now personally, i hate RPG games and have a special hatred for the FF franchise, but the reason i think the release was so important is that it basically turned out to be almost exactly the same as FFIII on the Nintendo DS, but for somewhere between half and a third of the price, depending on when you bought it.

as for RR, we’ve been talking about the iOS gaming revolution for a long time at GamePeople (did you ever check out my probably too ahead-of-its-time, cunningly pseudonymous TouchGamer column, with its stock image of an old man staring at an iPhone?) and finally it seems to be realising its potential as a fully-fledged gaming platform. trust me, Nintendo and Sony are scared.

Real Racing 2 for Mac, arriving as it did towards the end of the year, signalled another coup for Apple. when the original Real Racing hit the iOS App Store in Autumn 2009 it was obvious (as i noted at the time) that it was a big deal. since then an HD version and a sequel have taken that potential and ran around wanging it about their heads like so much jumper.

the beauty of the Mac version (from Apple’s point of view) is the way that it beautifully builds on the success of Firemint/EA’s iOS app whilst also integrating it with the so far relatively un-developed gaming potential of Intel-era Macs and the slick logistics of the Mac App Store.

the ‘hook’ is that once Safari is pointed at a specific server, an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad functions as your controller. i won’t rehearse my forthcoming GamePeople review, but suffice to say that it works really well and all the idiots on the App Store moaning about autorotate and so on are idiots.

as for the more generic issue of the list of my eleven favourite games of 2011, it looks like as follows:

11. Forza 4 (360)
10. Dark Souls (PS3)
9. LA Noire (360)
8. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (360)
7. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PS3)
6. Stacking (XBLA)
5. Batman: Arkham City (PS3)
4. Portal 2 (360)
=2. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)
=2. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (360)
1. Uncharted 3 (PS3)

———-

honourable mentions:
o Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (iOS)
o NBA 2K12 (PS3)
o Iron Brigade (XBLA)
o Jetpack Joyride iOS
o Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (XBLA)
o Star Wars Lego III: The Clone Wars (360)

———-

utterly dishonourable mentions:
o Duke Nukem Forever (PS3)
o Deathsmiles (360)
o Grey Matter (360)

and finally …

if i had to pick one game that i’m looking forward to most at the moment, it would have to be:

o Spelunky (XBLA) – the wait for the HDified version of Derek Yu’s great indie platformer has me stretched on tenterhooks.

that’s all for now, and here’s to a vintage year for sticks and pads of joy in 2012.

… keeeeeep gamin’

#tirednewsflash: new news

*TiredNeeeews
dumdumdumdumdumd
TiredNeeeews
dumdumdumdumdumd

TiredNeeews TiredNeeews TiredNeeews,
dum dum dum

*sung to the tune of the Channel 4 News tune

and, your headlines are:

1) US public support for Bradley Manning falls after confusion with Bernard Manning cleared up.

b) Glitter Twitter-comeback faked.
T-shirts hailing him as the ‘Thierry Henry of Paedos’ withdrawn.

iv) Gingrich loses eye: local witches suspected.

) Stealing From Idiots, Alain de Botton’s new book about achieving bliss whilst being ‘very much the opposite of ignorant’, fails to find smug-enough audience.

&) “In truth, no news is actually bad news” admits head of ITN News

£) Princess Michael of Kent to be ‘hit hardest’ by welfare reforms.

that is all.
bonsoir.

#RIP: Etta James

Jamesetta Hawkins aka Etta James:
25th January 1938 – 20th January 2012

with sadness we note the death of one of the greatest ever blues, soul, R&B and jazz singers.

anima eius et animae omnium fidelium
defunctorum per dei misericordiam
requiescant in pace

despite, and no doubt partially because of, suffering the effects of physical abuse, professional mismanagement and a long-term heroin addiction, Etta James will be remembered as simply one of the greats.

she had a magical voice, which she turned to several genres, from gospel and doo-wop to rock and roll, was a charismatic performer and a talented, often uncredited, lyricist.

Sunday Kind of Love by Etta James

#faithseeking: theology in a nutshell

#cinefile: 2011 in reflection

although it is fairly

clichéd, i still feel that there is value in using the start of a new year to reflect on the experience of the year that has passed.

i’ll understand if you have an aversion to reading yet another person’s rundown of the year; but for those gracious enough to humour me, here are my reflections on 2011 in film.

——————

2011 in film was, very much like Libya, a land of contrast. on one hand it saw the unceremonious dismantling of the UK Film Council, whereas on the other lots of critics thought it made sense to juxtapose that with the success of The King’s Peach, which made Harvey Weinstein pots of cash.

of course as anyone who stops to think about it will learn, we won’t realise the implications of the end of the Film Council era for some time, but it made a neat story to pretend otherwise.

i saw some wonderful films this year, at least two of which have already floated to near the top of my all-time favourites, and a couple more that would fare well in a list of my favourite films of this century. alas, as ever, looking at the list of the top ten grossing films of the year leaves my heart cold and full of dread.

here are the films that we in the UK patronised the most:

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt II ..................... ($117m)
2. The King's Speech ......................................................... ($75m)
3. The Inbetweeners Movie ............................................... ($71m)
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides .................. ($54m)
5. The Hangover Part II ..................................................... ($53m)
6. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt I ........................... ($46m)
7. Transformers: Dark Of The Moon .................................. ($45m)
8. Bridesmaids .................................................................. ($37m)
9. Tangled ........................................................................ ($33m)
10. Rise of the Planet of the Apes ..................................... ($32m)

i don’t know about you, but i have to run my eye down to number eight before i find a film i even half enjoyed. these are not the sort of films that i want to be made, and yet that is precisely what the number$ indicate will happen.

i had the spirit-crushing experience of being at a New Year’s Eve party with a well-educated ‘chap’ in his late twenties who told me that The Inbetweeners Movie was his favourite film of the year, and that was at about 8 o’clock. #face as the kids say #palm.

beneath, i have listed, in reverse order, the ten films released last year that moved, challenged, amused, touched and/or entertained me most, with a short description of how or why. please feel free to take me to task in the comments section.

11. Source Code: not as captivating as Moon, but a solid and engaging, if more mainstream, follow-up from Duncan Jones. i like Jake Gyllenhaal.

10. Hanna: beautifully shot, intensely paced, impressively acted (esp. Eric Bana) and raising some interesting issues. ultimately a little overblown in places. warning: some girls will kill you dead.

9. The Adjustment Bureau: suffered from comparisons to Inception and its links with Mad Men, but still stands for me as a crisp, smart pulp-sci-fi-thriller. nice wardrobe. nice Anthony Mackie.

8. Rango: smart, funny and enjoyable across the age spectrum without being overly stratified and relying on the tired slapstick-for-the-kids-innuendo-for-the-adults formula. a cartoon film for film lovers. my family film of the year.

7. Super 8: an excellent movie slightly spoiled by something of a blown-out ending. when it’s good it’s sweet, full of the hopefulness of youth, superbly acted and soaked in the love of the film camera and what it makes possible. a movie made by the Spielberg that Dawson from Dawson’s Creek loved.

6. Friends With Benefits: a smart, well made, genuinely touching and fairly believable Hollywood rom-com is a very rare thing. this felt loose and self-deprecating enough to be amusing and uplifting when it wanted, but also packed a subtle emotional depth. it won’t change the world, but i left surprised and charmed.

5. The Skin I Live In: something of an homage to Eyes Without A Face, this is an intense and emotionally thick drama about repression, pride, revenge and damaged people. Almodovar if not at his very best then certainly close to it, in what stands as a successful and long-overdue reunification with Banderas.

4. Blue Valentine: simple in the best ways. aesthetically beautiful, technically near-flawless, emotionally devastating and fleshed out by brilliant performances from two wonderful actors. warning: some films cut deep.

3. Snowtown: based on the infamous ‘bodies in the barrels’ murders, committed in South Australia in the 90s, this is a hefty, hard-htting, gritty crime-pic (in the true sense of the word, like grit in your eye – and i don’t know if they grade grit, but if they do, coarse). dark and brutal, it shines harsh light on some uncomfortable truths about the shadow-side of community and the nature of the human condition. warning: intensely Australian throughout.

2. The Artist: while it’s not yet on general release in the UK, Michel Hazanavicius’ silent masterpiece was officially released last year, and besides, i saw a preview screening and this is my list, not yours. just a wonderful movie – uplifting cinema at its best. technically daring, crisply and intelligently shot and edited, superbly acted and joyful through and through. a real old-school treat with a dark, powerful truth at its heart.

1. Drive: masterfully shot and edited and thus shockingly contrasting in its tone, it’s both languidly ponderous and deliciously terse in just the right mix. the edgy, über-cool tone of the first 3/4s gives way to a brutal final section. the destructive internal logic of violence and vanity is laid absolutely bare and apparent passivity is re-cast as moral agency. the combination of an achingly good use of light and lens, a wonderfully taut script, pitch-perfect performances from golden Gosling and the utterly lovely Mulligan (with great support from Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks and Ron Perlman among others) and genuinely profound insight make this a neon-noir treat. the film Quentin Tarantino has been trying to make his whole career.

honourable mentions:
– Melancholia
– Biutiful
– Another Earth
– Senna
– Bridesmaids

*edit films i thought of too late
– Norwegian Wood (which i saw in 2010, but, as i was reminded today, actually came out in 2011 and is superb.)

some films that might have impacted this list if i’d got round to seeing them yet:
– Tree of Life
– Cave of Forgotten Dreams
– Neds

thanks for reading in 2011, please stay for a chat below and be assured that you are warmly invited to engage with all entries in the #cinefile that 2012 offers up.

#telosvision: rose-tinted window

while i

must admit that, unlike several people in my twitter stream (twitream), i have been quite enjoying Charlie Brooker’s well-observed if somewhat hyperbolic satire on current trends in entertainment, Black Mirror, in my opinion there was something else this week that provided an equal insight into the worrying nature of TV culture.

a few days ago, it emerged that some footage of a polar bear nursing her cubs that featured in an episode of the BBC’s latest flagship nature documentary, Frozen Planet, had been filmed in a Dutch wildlife park, and not in the Arctic, as viewers had ‘been lead to believe’.

despite the fact that the origin of the footage was documented in a ‘making of’ video posted on the series website, the response to the mass publicization of the ‘revelation’ in the press (and not just the trash rags) suggests that the incident has scandalised a significant section of the audience.

 
it doesn’t seem to matter that thanks to the editing work, the audience got to see an aspect of the lives of polar bears that would have been otherwise impossible to film without, as David Attenborough has pointed out, the mother killing either her cubs or the cameraman. the point of contention is that the audience was ‘left’ to assume that the footage was ‘genuine’.

the nature of outcry was perhaps best summarised by Conservative MP and chair of the Commons media select committee, John Whittingdale, who claimed that it would have been better for the series if (like all politicians always and everywhere) it had been ‘entirely open’ about the matter.

now the reason i think this story is so significant is not that it further evidences the tabloid obsession with stirring up anti-BBC (read ‘TV license’) foment, or that it demonstrates how worked-up some people will get about relatively trivial issues, or even that it suggests some worrying implications regarding how those in the government charged with over-seeing the media see the role of documentary film making – although those are all interesting and worrying aspects.

the reason i think this story significant is because it demonstrates very clearly how uneducated many people are about what television is and how it is made, and therefore how uncritical they are in their viewing of it.

in the earliest days, films consisted of one continuous shot captured by a single camera in a locked position running until its film ran out. There were no plots or actors; the simple ‘movements’ of everyday life (people or animals walking and running or buses and cars on the roads) were enough to captivate an audience.

as such, the first films made and shown were ‘documentaries’. part of the attraction of these reels of footage (which is obvious when you think about it) was the way in which life looked so different through the selective lens of the camera. film footage made the drab and ordinary, exciting.

 
despite its popularity, the scope for this new-found medium was very limited. that was until people began cutting film and splicing different sections together. not only did this increase the amount of time for which a film could run, it also allowed the possibility for story telling.

this profoundly important evolutionary stride is generally attributed to Edwin S. Porter, a former electrician who took a job at Thomas Adison’s film laboratory at the end of the nineteenth century. in Porter’s seminal 1903 film Life Of An American Fireman we see the realisation of some of the multitudinous possibilities that cut and splice editing allows:

a fireman on a ladder appears at the window of a smoke filled room. he lifts a woman through the window which is centre-screen, filmed straight-on. then, a cut, and we now see the fireman from the back, woman shouldered, descending the ladder.

this simple scene, and several others like it, shocked audiences – what kind of witchery was this?

soon a vocabulary of film-making emerged – a cut meant one of two things: 1. a change of perspective, or 2. a shift in time. cuts that showed a change of perspective would show the same event occurring from from a different angle. cuts that represented a shift in time showed the same subject(s) doing something else, which implied that time had passed.

as the use of this emerging vocabulary developed, the distinctions between the two blurred – a shot from a different perspective no longer showed the same thing happening again, but instead picked up the action from the new angle at the point in time that the cut occurred.

this innovation was key to the art. by no longer repeating the action when the camera moved, it became easier to create the illusion in the audience’s mind that there was only one camera; a single, but omni-present eye.

this feature of film-making remains essential to the medium. when swept-up in the world of a film, a modern audience no longer thinks of a cut as representing, in effect, a different perspective.

 
it’s an irony that early films used one camera but seemed like they were ‘seeing’ from many different perspectives, whereas modern films use several cameras to create the illusion of one, continuous perspective. but, of course, it’s not an illusion that we fully believe, is it?

to ‘play’ with cameras and cuts is fine in the context of drama, however, what the outcry about Frozen Planet suggests is that when it comes to documentary, much of the modern day audience are less sophisticated viewers than their nineteenth century equivalents.

although Edison’s audience marvelled at the novelty of the spectacle he created with his static, open camera, they were also entertained because they saw it as both familiar, and magical; unreal. Porter’s audience recognised this all the more once he learned to cut, rearrange and paste his film.

today, it seems, we have become so used to the tools of the film-maker’s trade that we are no longer aware of them. cuts are not magic tricks and cunning lies, but just ‘the way things are’. at the cinema, we still love to be taken in by the camera when it plays with and confounds our expectations – perhaps this cut means time went backwards, not forwards; maybe the person we’ve cut to from behind is not the same as the one we just saw from the front, etc.

it used to be, however, that a filmmaker achieved these results through a kind of agreement with the audience. this unspoken contract is often called ‘the suspension of disbelief’. this pact works because we, the audience, want to be entertained, and the filmmaker wants to entertain. what is more, both parties understand that this is impossible if the audience keeps what it knows about filmmaking and how editing works and so on at the forefront of its mind while it watches.

the Frozen Planet incident, however, suggests some worrying trends:

entertainment is so ubiquitous a goal in television that sections of the audience have got so used to suspending it, that they no longer start from a position of disbelief.

 we are losing sight of the fact that, as early cinema audiences so clearly recognised, even before you add cut-and-paste editing into the mix, reality is thoroughly different when viewed through a lens – or rather what we see through a lens is a different kind of reality (as Marshall McLuhan noted, “the medium is the message”).

audiences are increasingly essentialising TV along genre lines and in accordance with Modernist principles. i.e. if Sky+ says it is News or History, or Documentary then it will be ‘true’ and without ideological or other forms of bias, in a way that Drama or Entertainment might not be.

in 1985 Neil Postman wrote, in Amusing Ourselves To Death, that trends in the consumption and production of TV suggested that “culture-death is clear possibility”. while most of the time i try to hope that while sharp and timely, his perceptive critique has proved only partially true, every now and then i get the sense that it’s all worse than i care to believe.

yes, Charlie, a TV can be like a black mirror, reflecting back to us the full grotesqueness of our own appetites, but in order to recognise it as such, we’d have to turn it off. much of the time, however, it stays on and functions like a rose-tinted window on a world we increasingly believe is real.

#tireddesign: carol christmas cards

dear you

MERRY CHRISTMAS

love
RQT

 
PS: i have designed some Christmas cards themed after christmas carols. here ➞ is one example, but there are four designs.

they are available to download in an all-laid-out-and-ready-to-print .pdf format

here: http://thetireyard.x10.bz/xmascards/
and here: http://cl.ly/2B3p0y1s400v2Y3G0S2A

if you like and use them, in lieu of payment please do something kind for a stranger.

thanks.
xxx

#cinefile: moneyballs

my intentions have been noble, but the reality is that i’m getting behind with the film reviews that i’d like to be offering you.

therefore, here are some very brief thoughts on some films i’ve seen recently that offer little else than you would find in any film column or blog anywhere, followed by some more developed ones about one film that few others seem to have had.

o Snowtown is not that similar to Animal Kingdom, but almost as brilliant.
o the intriguing if odd mix of common dystopian themes in In Time comes out a little too po-faced to be properly engaging. however, i still have mad love for JT and Cillian Murphy.
o Ides of March is both less like Julius Caesar and more dull than i’d expected.
o while Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is painfully cliché ridden and predictable, at least this time no-one wears a prosthetic face that makes them look like Philip French. or do they?!

and so, to the matter at hand: Moneyball *SPOLIERS ahoy*

i’ve always liked Brad Pitt (often despite his films) and nowadays he’s the new Robert Redford. his performance here is strong (if a little face-touchy) as are those turned in by Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman, although, in truth, none of the roles is exactly demanding with the latter’s barely requiring that he break, as it were, a metaphorical ‘trot’.

so, the acting is solid and engaging and, what is more, things are shot very nicely too – a fact that will not surprise those that noticed the name Wally Pfister in small letters on the poster.

some advice for those who don’t take notice of cinematographers: a) you should b) Wally Pfister is the guy that made pretty much all of Chris Nolan’s films look nice c) yes, it is an amusing name.

so far then my assessment is in agreement with most critics, a facet that i will complete by emphasising that Moneyball is not, repeat not, a baseball film. should i want to remain in the same groove as all the critics i’ve read/listened to, however, i’d say that what it is really a film about is statistics.

the trouble is, it’s not. it’s really a film about why, despite everything, late-capitalism is good.

the subtitle of the largely biographical book on which the film is based is The Art of Winning An Unfair Game. as the film explains right from the off, the ‘unfair’ bit refers to the fact that the Oakland As (the baseball team managed by Brad Pitt’s failed-baseball-prodigy character, Billy Beane) are a small franchise in comparison to the big-boys of Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and so on.

“There are the rich teams”, Beane explains to his apparently overly-optismistic staff, “there are the poor teams, then there is fifty feet of crap, and then there is us. It’s an unfair game.”

what, it turns out, this essentially means is that as GM of the As Beane has around $50m a year to pay his players, where as the Yankees have more like $125m. this discrepancy is the source of the apparent ‘unfairness’ of Major League Baseball.

now it’s not that i’m unsympathetic to the idea that its unfair that some people have more money than others – on the contrary – but it’s just that that’s not the kind of thing i’d expect to be widely recognised within either the Baseball or Hollywood fraternities.

i mean Baseball is the great American pastime and Hollywood the great American mirror, but Capitalism is the great American way of life. surely when it comes to one company being more wealthy than another, fairness doesn’t come into it?

perhaps, then, this was going to be a shockingly counter-cultural, anti-Capitalist tale?

well. the ‘solution’ to this injustice that the real Beane got from his boss, but the fictional Beane gets from a plucky, young, Yale-educated stat-hound called Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill), who in-turn borrow it from a renegade sports author called Bill James, lies not in feeble flesh and blood, but simple, noble numbers.

if we ignore the conventional wisdom of scouts and sports analysts, Brand insists, we can put together a championship winning baseball team for relatively little money (NB: it is VITAL to remind yourself during the film that ‘no money’ still means millions of dollars).

the key to this ‘thrift’ is to cut through the layers of standard, misguided romance/hubris/superstition by ignoring the vagaries of the game, the players, etc. and simply utilising the purity of statistical data.

the chronic weaknesses of the normal approach are illustrated by virtue of parallel reflections on drafting and trading – the main two ways MLB teams get their players.

‘drafting’ refers to ‘the draft’, which, for those unfamiliar, is a system used in many American sports whereby the top, young amateur players are offered contracts by the pro franchises, who receive picks in a certain order. in Major League Baseball, the order is the reverse of the standings from the previous year, with the team with the worst record having the first pick, and so on. when each team has picked one player, that ’round’ ends and the process begins again until the talent pool is exhausted. this year, for example, this process lasted for fifty rounds and decided the fates of 1530 amateur players.

Beane, flashbacks show us, once ‘had it all’ and as such was hailed, even out of high-school, as baseball’s next big thing and drafted in the first round by the New York Mets. regrettably, it turned out that he couldn’t handle the pressure of the ‘big-leagues’ and his career floundered.

as such, Billy is himself a walking, talking, brooding example of the fact that the scouts and ‘experts’ don’t always get it right: cue “you don’t know for sure, man, I mean not for sure, for sure, you know, man” etc.

in a key scene, Beane – who turned down a Stanford scholarship to accept a large cheque from the Mets – asks Brand how he would have rated him as a rookie. Brand coyly admits that he would have recommended him for the ninth round, not the first, which would have made Stanford the more attractive option.

then we watch Beane and his team of coaches and scouts rank the currently available talent. it’s a charming but clunky round-table scene in which wizened old American men say “I like Cortez – pure swing”. “Robinson has great feet and a strong arm”, and such.

at the rhetorical and didactic peak of the scene, one man speaks out against a proposed player because he has an ugly girlfriend, which, it is suggested, is a sure sign of a lack of confidence. “I just don’t like the girlfriend. When the girl is a six-at-best like this, it’s never a good sign”. an anecdotal nail in the coffin of the romance of the game ‘as is’.

sweeping aside all this prejudice, pseudo-art and quackery, Beane takes Brand’s advice and picks his team using only statistics. they seek out cheap players who have a high .OBP (‘on base percentage’). Brand produces some complicated looking equations that boil down to one number – the average frequency with which each batter is required to get ‘on base’ in order for the team to exceed the average number of wins necessary to be the champions in an average season.

using this number, Brand and Beane set about identifying players who achieve the required score, but are underrated because of other issues – ugly girlfriends, being too old, too fat, too ill-disciplined, etc – which make them cheap.

Brand describes their dream-team as “an island of misfit toys” – cue the soaring, jangly music and we see that romance has not been banished, but its perception is simply being reversed. in order to prevent us from seeing this as a tale about the replacement of human interests with the cold, harsh, impersonal efficiency of mathematics, the protagonists are portrayed as heroic for recognising the true talent (beauty) of those the system has overlooked or rejected. this, however, is a convenient fiction.

once the venture is set in motion, and the team built, pathos is added as the patchwork, collection of Raggy Dolls and rejects lose. and lose. and lose. cue commentator’s voice over the top of choppy losing-montage “They had an idea and they tried it, but it has failed. You cannot pick a baseball team on the basis of numbers.”

from our insider perspective, however, we know what the commentators don’t. the failures are the result of the team manager’s lack of belief in the system. Art Howe, played by Hoffman, refuses to bow to the numbers, and rearranges the roster of available players in line with his own, traditional perspective.

failing to convince him to do his bidding, Beane simply trades Howe’s preferred players to other teams, forcing him to fall in line.

as the film/season progresses and the new philosophy proves takes hold, there is a dramatic change in the team’s fortunes and they go from bottom of their division to its top, breaking a 100-year record by completing twenty consecutive victories.

so the definitely-not-a-sports-film does have a quintessentially sports-film-esque cliché. and with that, the romance returns, right? well not for me.

whichever way you square it – and Moneyball tires all kinds of ways – there is no getting away from the fact that at its core, the story is about the potential benefits to a company that result from treating its employees like numbers instead of like people. in the course of the film, players are traded and cut without the slightest concern for their interests. by the end i was thinking that at least the chauvinistic scout had noticed that the player had a girlfriend; at least he’d thought of him as human.

essentially what the Beane of the film does is ruthlessly remove all processes or working norms that treat his employees as anything other than numbers on a page. he invests everything the company has and takes every risk possible to establish himself as an impassive calculator with the power to add, subtract and dividing his staff at will.

he makes himself blind to any other aspect of the game and is guided only by the desire for the best statistical edge the money he has can offer. this sort of behaviour ringing any bells? what is more, it’s made fairly clear that he does all of this primarily as a result of the mental trauma caused by his own failure as a player (hmmmm, Dr Freud).

of course, in the film (and apparently in real life) the gamble pays off. despite the fact that the statistics concerned describe a slight, average advantage over a long period (i.e. long enough for natural variance to oven out) and the system treats all negative effects from other factors: form, health, happiness, etc. as ‘externalities’, the team performs massively beyond expectation over a very short period of time. oh, and the system gets the credit.

in truth, the change is so rapid and profound, that i would have thought any statisticians would want to look for another explanation other than the small, average edge the team had when it came to ‘getting on base’. however: first, when the team is losing everyone hates the system, then when the team is winning, everyone loves it. as a poker player the first lesson i learned was not to be results orientated – if you play well, your edge is profitable over time. the rest is just luck.

anywho, despite a dramatically successful season, the team loses in the first round of the post-season playoffs, failing to realise Beane’s dreams of a championship win. but, Beane and Brand (who then completely disappears into the background), have successfully proven their point. their approach, some captions tell us before the credits, has gone on to revolutionise baseball.

at the story’s conclusion Beane rejects a $12.5m offer from the Red Sox that, if accepted, would have made him the best paid sports GM in history. he does it partly because of his family, partly because of his desire to stay with the As and win a championship there, but mainly because he once made a decision based on money, and will never make the same error again.

perhaps, therefore, this undoes my theory that Moneyball is an apology for finance capitalism? well perhaps. however, if we learned anything from Wall Street in the 80s (the movie), Nick Leeson in the 90s and Wall Street in the 00s (the place), it should be that derivatives traders, hedge-fund managers and other late-capitalist apparatus, are not primarily motivated by money.

as Leeson and many others that followed in his footsteps more recently have admitted, what they were doing became nothing to do with money – instead it became a numbers game; a game that it became worth risking everything to win. now, i’m not saying traders would do it for the love – they are handsomely paid – but then it’s not their own money that they gamble with.

Beane might turn down the 12.5m, but he remains the GM of an MLB team, a job that commands a six figure salary. for me, the most telling line in the film is delivered by Arliss Howard who plays Red Sox owner John Henry. prior to Beane turning down Henry’s offer, they are chatting and Beane raises the fact that he had hear that Henry had hired Bill James, the guy who wrote the book from which Brand had originally derived the idea. Henry responds that he has no idea why it took someone so long to hire James. “Well”, Beane retorts, “baseball hates him.” Here is Henry replies:

“Yeah, well baseball can hate him. One of the great things about money is that it buys a lot of things; one of which is the luxury to disregard what baseball likes and doesn’t like, what baseball thinks and doesn’t think.”

ladies and gentlemen, i give you Moneyball or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Finance Capitalism.

#RIP: Ken Russell

Henry Kenneth Alfred Russell:
3rd July 1927 – 27th November 2011

with sadness we note the death of one of the greatest directors, photographers, music lovers and patrons of the arts to grace our times.

anima eius et animae omnium fidelium
defunctorum per dei misericordiam
requiescant in pace

Russell is best known for his adaptations of D.H. Lawrence’s Women In Love (1969), which stands as one of the all-time great British films, his dramatic, theological masterpiece The Devils (1971), and the film version of The Who’s rock-opera Tommy (1975).

despite being a keen fan of these great films, it is for another entry in his portfolio that i will best remember Russell. while it wasn’t until my late teens that i saw the films listed above, it was as a child of eleven that i sat transfixed by a late-night, BBC 2 broadcast of his techno-coloured, psycho-sexual odyssey, Altered States (1980).

in this hallucino-sci-fi classic, William Hurt plays a University research chemist (based on John C. Lilly) who takes first LSD, then a tincture made from Mexican Caapi vines, suspends himself in a flotation tank and attempts to record and reflect on the results.

apart from opening my eyes to the possibilities of the human mind, the human body and Drew Barrymore (who debuts), that night marked a key point in the development of my passion for films. as well as the strange wonders worked by Russell and Hurt in Altered States, a not-insignificant part of my love for it comes from John Corigliano’s superb (and superbly used) soundtrack.

Russell’s influence on the evolution of the modern film soundtrack is widely under-appreciated, yet profound. not only were the two films he released in 1975, Tommy and Lisztomania, two of the first motion pictures to feature Dolby-encoded soundtracks (something for which he fought hard), but also his passion for and superb use of music is evidenced throughout his back-catalogue.

those who only know Russell from his recent, eccentric appearances on reality TV are unlikely to be reading this blog, but if that’s true of you, i urge you to rent his films and therein encounter a true genius of the cinema.

i will leave you to seek out Altered States and Coriglino’s score, and instead conclude this eulogy with one of Russell’s favourite pieces – used expertly in a great performance scene his 1970 Tchaikovsky biopic, The Music Lovers.

Rafael Orozco with The London Symphony Orchestra
conducted by André Previn – Allegro Non Troppo E Molto Maestoso
from Piano Concerto #1 In B Flat Minor by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

#idealog: we remember

An open letter by Siegfried Sassoon

published in The Times, 31st July 1917

———————————-

I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.

I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects witch actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now, I make this protest against the deception which is being practised on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realise.


———————————-

The Grave by Don McLean
image: detail from Otto Dix’s War Triptych (1929-32)

.

#cinefile: two months in movies

¡hola amigo!

please read on if you’re interested in a brief summary of my thoughts concerning the new films that i’ve seen and heard in the last two months or so. spoilers will be minimal yet possible. said films are:

o Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
o Friends With Benefits
o Melancholia
o Contagion
o Drive

i ended up being quite late to Tinker, Tailor… eventually catching it nearly a fortnight after release. by that time, my expectations were perhaps too high. i am a huge fan of Tomas Alfredson’s previous film, Let The Right One In, and although i have never read the source novel, i knew and admired the story from the 1979 TV adaptation. furthermore, the cast was difficult to look beyond: the words Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Toby Jones and Mark Strong on the same poster send a powerful message.

perhaps almost inevitably, however, i came away slightly disappointed. there was plenty of good stuff – Oldman, Hurt and Strong were stand-out excellent against a backdrop of really solid performances. the intelligent use of colour and unusual camera angles that added so much to Let The Right One In found its way in to TTSS, but i very much got the sense that Alfredson felt he was working with a revered text, and as a result chose to be (perhaps too) restrained.

my main gripe, aside from Kathy Burke’s seeming inability to do more than one voice, was with the pacing. while i enjoyed the slow, smoke-drenched scenes of John Hurt’s ‘Control’ musing at his desk early on, and later Oldman nudging around chess pieces in the same office, i felt that things were generally just a little too ponderous for the first three quarters, making the unfolding of events in the last quarter too rapid.

there are plenty of nice moments – not least Toby Jones’ ongoing impression of Brain from Pinky and the Brain – but for me something just wasn’t quite ‘clicked in’. to use a fabric-based analogy to express my initial feelings, if Let The Right One In is a clean square of thick, matt mid-grey, Highland-woven worsted wool (beautiful, but simple and utterly unfussy) and something like The Adjustment Bureau is a crisp strip of navy and white striped satin silk (thin, but bright and sleek), then TTSS is a long rectangle of high quality, well cut, dark brown Gabardine (smart, functional, but a bit dull).

it’s always difficult to judge the effect of prior expectations on how you read a film, but, reflecting a few weeks on, i’m not yet convinced that my first impression was a significant distortion.

…………………

the day after i saw TTSS, i watched Friends With Benefits, which despite playing out in the context of an equal but opposite set of expectations confounded them to the same degree.

although FWB is in some ways a standard, mainstream RomCom which is unable not to give in to several clichés, i also found it to be witty, warm and genuine in a way that so few such films are.

although clearly floated as an inverse, contemporised When Harry Met Sally, FWB manages to tip its hat in that direction without falling prey to “I’ll have what he’s having” wink & gun ploys. in fact it generally avoids all the usual pitfalls. the characters are well drawn and at ease with each other, the sex comedy is well observed and believable and the heart-felt moments are not choked by schmaltz.

in his acting career so far, Justin Timberlake has made a habit of being the best thing in mostly terrible movies – Alpha Dog and The Love Guru being my key witnesses here, but i would be willing to put The Social Network on the stand if you forced me. here, in the best film i’ve seen him in yet, his performance is genuinely strong – likeable and well-rounded yet understated; graceful even.

as one of three JT releases in the second half of this year – along with Bad Teacher and (the intriguing looking if Logan’s Run-esque) In Time – i’d say things look very good for his acting career right now.

likewise, Mila Kunis (who was the best, least hysterical, thing in Black Swan by some distance) chips in an equally strong and enjoyable performance in the context of that rarest of RomCom offerings, a charming, strong-minded, non-neurotic lead female character who is more understated than underwired.

furthermore, Woody Harrelson and Richard Jenkins round off a cast that is far more talented than it would need to be to sit comfortably alongside its peers. while, admittedly, this film isn’t going to change the world, it’s definitely a recent high-water mark on the harbour wall of a genre that often seems to satisfy itself with grounded ships.

basically, it’s like Friends, but with benefits: 1. it won’t be on TV every hour of every day for 15 years. 2. it’s pretty good.

…………………

perhaps more so than anyone else in contemporary cinema, Lars von Trier sharply divides opinion. although i am a fan of his films, i am in no doubt that he is a man who delights in appalling his friends let alone his enemies. perhaps he is a misogynist, perhaps a Catholic, perhaps a Nazi-sympathiser, or perhaps just a self-created, curdled mix of those two French phrases so beloved of film critics and writers, agent provocateur and enfant terrible.

his films, which are what interest and exercise me, are usually combinations of brutality and beauty, although this pattern is perhaps less obviously true of Melancholia than any other (excluding perhaps The Boss of It All).

here, von Trier tackles depression – a subject close to his head and mine. the film revolves around possibly the least subtle metaphor ever, an eponymous planet, on a collision-course with the earth, but in true von Trier style, the norms of suspense sci-fi are frustrated from the outset, when we see the impact occur and know that what we have witnessed will not turn out to be a false memory or an avoidable, possible outcome, but a simple flash-forward.

the film is not about whether the world will be destroyed, but about how various characters respond to the reality of its impending destruction. Jack Bauer, as you can imagine, is not up for dying, but this time he loses.

depression – which the film implicitly interprets as a palpable sense of the pointlessness and fragility of existence – is therefore not affliction, but liberation from a shared delusion, which, whether or not von Trier knows it, is actually a version of rather well-worn trope (if we substitute ‘depression’ for ‘madness’).

the performances and the visual style are strong and i found the film poignant, even if the message is predictably bleak. now that her stint as Mrs. Spiderman has passed, Kirsten Dunst is finally making good on the sophisticated potential of her performances in Interview with the Vampire and The Virgin Suicides. like Emily Watson (Breaking The Waves), but unlike Nicole Kidman (Dogville), Bryce Dallas Howard (Manderlay) or Charlotte Gainsbourg (Antichrist), Dunst has a natural air of fragility which, in the hands of someone like von Trier, evoked (probably deliberately) a paternalistic dread in me. as it is, she receives far less rough treatment than Watson.

as a fellow MDD sufferer, i disagree with von Trier on the nature of depression, but i admired this film and would recommend it – however, if you haven’t and can, see Antichrist first.

…………………

Contagion, as you will probably have already figured, is part limp, closet-racist disaster movie, part menacing public information film. yes, germs are coming to get us all, and a bit like the collapse of the global economy (ah, i get it), they will highlight and make fools of impotent politics and hamstrung bureaucracy in the process.

if you’re imagining a whirlwind of microscopes, hazmat suits and large-screen maps in command centres gradually going red as the spread of a virus is modelled over time, then prepare to be utterly unsurprised. if you also assumed that, with the so called Arab Spring muddying the waters of American popular discourse on the Middle East, the threat would likely originate from carelessnesses in China (the new economic superpower), then you, madamsir, are flying high. what’s more, if you’d also wager that Jude Law would probably be able to do a passable Australian accent, then, damn, you fell at the final hurdle.

why Steven Soderburgh (who i still think of as a solid director) got involved in this mess, i have no idea. although, if he’s trying to steer his career in a more Tony Scott direction, then perhaps that covers it.

if it’s true that some films, however pedestrian the concept or ropey the screenplay, are lifted to a higher plane simply by virtue of the quality of cast, then this film would seem a decent candidate for that phenomenon. however, despite the valiant efforts of Damon, Winslet, Cotillard, Fishburne, Paltrow and Bryan ‘in-everything-right-now’ Cranston (Jude Law failed to meet the requirement in the previous sentence), Contagion remains barely passable.

setting Jude Law’s abomination of a performance to one side, the biggest problem for Contagion is not that it’s clichéd, or that it’s heavy-handed (big, lead-lined hazmat gloves heavy-handed), but that it’s boring. what’s more, there are repeated attempts to raise ethical issues concerning entitlement to information/treatment/immunisation, but the characters concerned are so thin and the emotional bonds between them so weak that i couldn’t have cared less who lived or died.

although as a Soderbergh fan this film disappointed me, its many failings are largely unimportant. there are two things however, that struck me as genuinely problematic: 1. the way in which it will, regardless of Soderbergh’s intention, play into (as much as confront) the widespread culture of fear-mongering that plagues the US (and increasingly UK) media. and 2. the fact that at one point Lawrence Fishburne’s character, when challenged, during a TV news item, about the effectiveness of a widely available but unrecommended, natural medicine (Forsythia), reluctantly admits the potential benefits of homeopathy.

this might sound insignificant, but the role of Forsythia – whose effectiveness is downplayed by the government in order to encourage a larger up-take of a vaccine that in the opinion of the hero, sceptical journalist, played by Jude Law, is the result of a lucrative deal with a big pharmaceutical company – is rhetorically significant.

there is no really clear-cut message in the film, but a general theme about political incompetence is reinforced by the way the potential remedy is used. in a sense, Forsythia is the closest thing the film has to a hero. and that is why it’s so annoying that Lawrence Fishburne, the script writer, editor and Soderbergh himself clearly don’t know the difference between natural medicine (which is very likely a powerful and important skill that Western cultures have lost) and homeopathy (which is a load of old bollocks).

…………………

talking of people with a lot of films out at the moment – which we were. in relation to Justin Timberlake. earlier – smoulderingly uncertain, Canadian boy-man and recently crowned king of the feminists, Ryan Gosling has been busy, with three films out this year (equalling last) and more projects slated for next.

given that i ‘missed’ (and have no plans to catch up with) Crazy, Stupid, Love, and i’ve missed both the preview screening of The Ides of March last week and each screening since it opened, Drive is currently the only of this year’s ‘Gosling triple’ to hit my eyes.

Drive is a sleek, slow, stylish and brilliant pulp drama about a man whose mad drivin’ skillz, experience using them for getaways and simple desire to (quietly and respectfully) please pretty women are destined to carry him into a messy world of crime and violence. the “icecool guy who’s involved with the criminal underworld but somehow floats above its vagaries because of an autistic-like obsession with efficiency” conceit (as i like to call it) is pretty old hat, but it’s revived in the first three quarters of Drive to great effect *loudly clenches leather-glove-clad fist*.

in part, it reminded me of early Tarantino (True Romance, Reservoir Dogs), Mexico-trilogy-era Rodrigues, Stone’s Natural Born Killers and Lynch’s Wild At Heart – but in truth it’s less messy or darkly humorous than those films and is both more ponderous and more shiny. perhaps things like Rian Johnson’s Brick, or early Michael Mann (Thief?) offer up better comparisons?

certainly those hoping for fast-paced action sequences are in for a disappointment. despite flirting with certain classic male fantasies like the ‘regular’ looking car with hidden, super-charged abilities, Drive ends up quite far from an overtly machismo-fuelled joy-ride. while it has been superbly edited with expert restraint, the pace is generally slow – and while there are some chase sequences, the camera is relatively uninterested when it comes to all-out-thrill-seeking.

feminista favourite Gosling does a masterful job of silently staring out of windows while a neo-romantic synth score plays and caring about children. however, i was particularly struck by Carey Mulligan’s performance.

while it’s perfectly cromulent to read Mulligan’s character as a standard, passive female character, trapped in wake of the destructive actions of the men around her and stripped of all agency (she literally does next to nothing in the whole film), perhaps against the grain of the film (or perhaps not) i read her differently.

i’m not exactly what it was – small details in the character and performance; a look here, an expression there, the absence of a line – but something convinced me that Mulligan’s ‘Irene’ was (as her name suggests) meant not to be passive but actively peaceful (peace-like) in a counter-testimonial way.

in this sense, for me, Irene subverted not only the standard, background hum of violence surrounding her ex-con husband and various other nefarious types, but also the clinical, faux-impassivity of The Driver, which eventually gives way to his true ‘nature’ in the face of his desire to save her. *hint: the fable of the scorpion and the frog is not-so-subtley referenced throughout.

read one way, Driver is an aesthetically beautiful but morally dubious pulp fluff. taken another, it is something far more interesting, stimulating and impressive. either way, with the two leads joined by Bryan ‘Breaking Malcolm in the Bad Middle’ Cranston, Ron ‘Ever-Ugly’ Pearlman and Christina ‘Joany’ Hendricks, it’s definitely one to watch and ponder on.

given the way it struck me, it will be tricky for Driver not to top my list of favourite films of the year, and to be honest, the ‘decade’s best’ list is in its sights too.

…………………

fin. ished.

#vidiotic: the amazing michael winslow

friends.
i’ve been neglecting you and i’m sorry.

i’ve been busy and a little ill, you’ve been doing your thing – let’s just call it even.

however, this means that we have so much to discuss:

o Ricky Gervais and ‘mong-gate’
o the use of the grotesque images of Gaddafi’s cadaver (say that fast 5 times)
o recent films (thoughts on Tinker, Tailor…, Friends With Benefits & Melancholia on the way)

but before all that, here’s a couple of videos of the guy who used to do noises in the Police Academy films. Sir, we salute you.
 


 

#wildstyle: (fight the) power dressing

i can dig it:


 

#RIP: Bert Jansch

Bert Jansch: 
3rd November 1943 – 5th October 2011

with sadness we note the death of one of folk music’s purest souls and the bearer of some of its nimblest and most artful fingers.

anima eius et animae omnium
fidelium defunctorum per dei
misericordiam requiescant in pace

Jansch (who, unlike most of his family, pronounced his surname with a hard jay sound), was a Scott, guitarist of great accomplishment, writer of touching music and a faithful bearer of the torch of the old songs. His career spanned forty six years and yielded over two dozen albums.

He wrote and performed alone, with other key members of the British revival scene like Anne Briggs, Martin Carthy, Sandy Denny, Davy Graham and John Renbourn, and later (with Renbourn) in the band Pentangle.

A key member of the generation that took up the style and social ethos of Guthrie, Broonzy and Seeger and lead a revival of folk music in 60s Britain, he inspired countless performers that followed including Nick Drake, Paul Simon and Neil Young and is survived by a large catalogue of meaningful music.

October Song by Bert Jansch

#showertune: ‘soulful strut’ by young-holt unlimited

although it’s been a while since i’ve posted a #showertune, i’ve in no way ceased using carefully selected music to start my day well. what is more, as the evenings draw in (that is due to happen, right?) i’ll probably begin again to share my choicest cuts on a more regular basis.

today’s entry, however, was something of an emergency measure. after a hugely enjoyable but extensively gambrinous Saturday night (no, sit down Whigfield), at the unrivalled Thorverton Cricket Club‘s most recent annual end-of-season bash, and a wholly inadequate recovery day on Sunday, with a day of travelling ahead, this morning needed not only a #showertune, but a real corker.

cue Isaac Holt and Eldee Young to take their bow. this joint is a sparkling, mellifluous waterfall of happiness. so, both now and also next time you need a special lift, hit up the dark grey triangle below.

this is Soulful Strut by Young-Holt Unlimited and it’s painfully good listening.

.

#vidiotic: the head (and friends)

some things we love:

Adult Swim
Micheal Kupperman
Peter Serafinowicz
Kristen Schaal
Scott Jacobson
Rich Blomquist
Rubenesque Tony
 

#faithseeking: rowan williams talks to frank skinner

last week Archbishop Rowan sat down for a chat with the brummie, catholic comic Frank Skinner. as it turned out, there was a large audience there gathered and also a microphone and recording device.

here is the first half – in which Frank asks Rowan why most sermons are so crap, why the atheists seem to be so cool right now and what he is doing about it and the two discuss the role of doubt in faith, whether Jesus and the disciples told blue jokes and the ways forward for the church:

and here, the second half – in which Rowan asks Frank what brought him back to the church in his late 20s after ten years of distancing himself and they discuss the roles of intellect, wisdom, rational assent, embodied ritual and magic:

and here, the q&a session – in which people ask questions, they attempt to answer them and Frank declares that ITV is the agency of the devil (hear hear).

#recordbox: ‘self evident’ by ani difranco

.

Self Evident by Ani DiFranco

#faithseeking: text of terror: torture (epic church fail)

as part of our ongoing quest to explore the churches in our new locale, this morning The Post-Dr and i took mass at St Paul’s, Withington, which is but a small bus ride away.

St Paul’s seemed like a nice little church, with a specific emphasis on quality choral music, evidenced by a large and talented choir and a carefully selected musical setting.

the choir sang the Mass for the Armed Man (A mass for peace) by Karl Jenkins, which was commissioned by the Royal Armouries Museum in 2000, and dedication to the victims of the Kosovo crisis. the first recording of the setting was released on 10th September, 2001, and as such became closely associated with the 9/11 tragedy, and has been used to also commemorate that event ever since.

it was a very pleasant setting, as was the service all told; spoiled only by one of the elements that lies beyond the control of those that planned it.

on this day above almost all others, what you would not want in a Gospel reading is precisely what the lectionary so thoughtfully offered this morning.

the story, from Matthew 18, of a slave who had a debt of 10,000 Talents (or 60,000,000 Denarii) pardoned by his master, but then failed himself to have mercy on another who could not repay him a debt of 100 Denarii, seems to offer a sound moral by suggesting that a failure to show mercy to another when far greater mercy has already been shown you, is a properly shitty thing to do.

however, the Gospel finishes as follows:

“When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you? And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

so, on the day that we are mourning not only the loss of the lives of those who died on 9/11, but also those of those others, soldiers and civilians, who have been brutalised and/or killed in the course of the deeply flawed and tragically ironic ‘war on terror’ that followed, we are ‘comforted’ and ‘inspired’ by a text that assures us that our God is one of those types who believes in torturing people until they do what you want.

perhaps it is entirely fitting for us to remember today that the Bible is itself as much a record of human failure and corrupt ideology as any history of the last decade, but i for one was left deflated by the reading.

(un)thanks be to God.

#RIP: remembering two anniversaries

from time to time i force myself to seek out an online stream of the Fox News Channel (“The Most Powerful Name In News”).

without meaning to sound like a masochist or some sort of self-nominated martyr, i consider it a sort of unpleasant discipline.

for obvious reasons, i assumed that the last few days would prove an apposite opportunity to observe the FNC team in full rhetorical flow, and i have been both not disappointed and very much so.

as the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that took place in New York and Washington on the 11th of September, 2001 draws nigh, Fox News has thrown itself headlong into a dizzy maelstrom of archive footage spliced with emotive testimony of those involved, sandwiched between up to date comment and analysis on 9/11 during its feature slots.

there has of course been some room for breaking news stories, but even many of those covered have been artfully woven into the overarching rhetoric of ‘9/11 remembered’.

‘minority’ complaints about tribute fields of American flags, the NFL’s (now reversed) decision to ban players from commemorating 9/11 on their equipment (cleats, gloves, etc) and the rumoured threat of another terrorist attack in NYC have required little effort, but, more creatively (for example), the current economic crisis has become an aspect of the long-term legacy of 9/11, rather than profligate, brutal Capitalism, and the (reportedly violent) protests of Wisconsin union members are especially ‘unpatriotic’ given the calendrical context.

(nb. those interested in the wrapping up of the American financial crises with the effects of terrorism should note the growing profile of USAA).

however, setting aside the highly rhetorical, overarching and all-encompassing tone, the one thing that has saddened (although not altogether surprised) me the most is the continuing expression of ‘clash of cultures’ ideology.

the othering of those responsible for the attacks served an obvious sociological function in their immediate aftermath, but the ongoing emphasis in much of the Fox comment and analysis on how ‘they’ wanted, and still want, to destroy ‘our’ freedom, religion, democracy and way of life, goes way beyond that sort of emergency consolidation strategy.

ironically – considering the orgy of 9/11 anecdote that is currently consuming the space between the main slots on FNC – regardless of the nationality and political or faith persuasions of those caught up in what happened a decade ago, the spectre of broad-brush categorization (e.g. American (=Christian) vs. Muslim (nb. the use of the term ‘Muslim world’)) haunts ground zero as it is constructed by many in the America media.

as a Christian residing on the other side of the Atlantic, it would be easy for me to close my eyes to all this, to dismiss Fox News as a product of the neo-conservative fringe, and to console myself that HBO is a far more powerful cultural entity.

the reality, however, is that there are plenty on the American right who are deeply invested in the notion that Islam is a religion of violence, hatred and ignorance and that the ‘Muslim world’ is the chief enemy of America and the ‘Christian West’ (a strange geographical construct that includes Israel and excludes most of Europe), and Fox News is a popular, ‘legitimate’ funnel through which varyingly diluted elements of their perverse ideologies freely and widely flow.

rather than risk both causing unnecessary offence and alienating myself from the discourse by opposing certain 9/11 memorials on the grounds of the rhetoric that shapes them, i simply wish to direct attention to another impending and tragic anniversary which is worthy of equal remembrance.

29 years ago this coming Friday (16th Sept, 1982), somewhere between 1300-3500 Palestinians (the exact number is disputed) living in the Shatila refugee camp in the slum neighbourhood of Sabra in southern West Beirut, were massacred by the militia wing of the Christian, right-wing, Lebanese political party Kata’eb, aided by the Israeli Defence Force.

the Shatila camp first sprung up as a result of the inability of the large number of Palestinians that had fled into Lebanon during the 1948 Palestine war (both the ’47/’48 civil war and the ’48 Arab-Israeli conflict) to return home because of the land claimed by the newly created State of Israel.

then, during the 1970s – following their expulsion from Jordan – the camp became a significant power and operations base for the PLO. Shatila became a target during the Israeli military incursion into southern Lebanon in June 1982 which resulted from the attempted assassination of Israel’s UK Ambassador, Shlomo Argov, in London. although Argov was actually shot by members of the ANO, a rival Palestinian group that were planning a similar strike on a PLO official, Israel used the incident as justification for a military operation against their larger and more well-known enemy.

following two months of intense fighting, in August the US brokered a cease-fire between Israel and the PLO, under the terms of which the PLO agreed to leave Lebanon (under international supervision) and Israel agreed not to venture further into the country.

on the 23rd of August Bachir Gemayel, a senior Kata’eb member, was elected President of Lebanon. the ascension of a Christian party, and one of their key allies against the PLO, further strengthened Israel’s position.

by the 1st September the supervised exit of the PLO from Beirut was complete and, ten days later, the international force that had been in place to guarantee the safety of Palestinian refugees also withdrew from the region.

however, on the 14th of September President Gemayal was assassinated by a bomb that Kata’eb supporters immediately attributed to a PLO remnant in West Beirut. in response, the IDF broke its treaty and reentered West Beirut, completely surrounding Shatila. having taken control of all entrance, exit and nearby, elevated observation points, the IDF began to shell the camp.

two days later, Israeli Defence Minister Ariel Sharon met with members of the Kata’eb militia and agreed that while the IDF kept Shatila on lock-down, the militia could enter the camp and seek out those they considered responsible for Gemeyal’s assassination.

for the next three days (16th, 17th, 18th), while the IDF guarded its perimeter and illuminated the camp at night with overhead flares, the Kata’eb militia massacred up to 3500 Palestinian men, women and children.

bodies discovered later showed signs of mass ‘firing squad’ executions, rape and severe mutilation – including young men who had been castrated, others scalped and yet others had crosses carved into their chests, pregnant women whose torsos had been ripped open, and infants who had been sliced open and left in piles.

it later emerged that Gemeyal had been killed not by the PLO but by a disgruntled, left-wing Lebanese national.

you may not come across much coverage of the anniversary of the Sabra-Shatila massacre over the next few days – i certainly doubt that any major news agencies will given it even a fiftieth of the coverage devoted to the 9/11 attacks (with the potential exception of Al Jazeera). however, i will be remembering both with equal lament and heaviness of heart.

in fact, just as i imagine mental images of the 9/11 pilots praising Allah as they flew into the towers of the World Trade Centre or the Pentagon haunt many Muslims, i cannot help but feel especially affected by the notion that a fellow Christian could carve the symbol of our shared faith into the writhing chest of another human being.

i do not for a minute believe that any RQT readers will have been swayed by the notion that there was anything definitively Islamic about what played out ten years ago in New York and Washington, but we should also never become blasé, or kid ourselves that we are ever immune from the effects of media rhetoric.

both, therefore, because i think it is equally important in its own right, and because it serves as a fitting rejoinder to any latent Islamophobia that might be encountered in the media over the next few days, this week i will be remembering the 16th of September, 1982 as well as the 11th of September, 2001.

ps: if you’ve not yet seen it, i heartily recommend Ari Folmam’s animated, autobiographical documentary Waltz With Bashir (from which the animated images above are taken). it explores Folman’s attempts to recall the precise nature of, and then come to terms with, his role in the massacre while on National Service with the IDF as a teenager.

#ranthill: i cudda been somebody

biblical studies (nb. not Bible Studies), the discipline in which i partly and somewhat discomfortably located myself over the course of my PhD (examining the potential for reading Leviticus in the light of contemporary ecological ethics), appears to be experiencing an interesting moment.

despite the fact that my work has left me stranded on its shores, as someone primarily trained in theology and interested in ethics and hermeneutics, who was then somehow convinced to spend four years studying Leviticus, i consider myself a relative outsider to the discipline – a location that i have found both helpful and disconcerting.

i have felt this otherness most keenly at the (traditional) conferences that i have summonsed the courage to attend, and the nub of the issue seems to be that i find myself perilously astride a gulf within the discipline that has long since opened up, but seems currently to be rapidly and tempestuously expanding.

before continuing, i should first of all do something by way of defining ‘the discipline’.

Biblical Studies obviously takes in scholarship on both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament (as well as a few other sources). while, due to the subject of my thesis, i have interacted mainly with the former, i also have plenty of friends situated in the latter, and my work was in the context of a wider project largely populated by NT peeps.

despite the fact that the HB and NT communities are actually rather different, the issues that lie at the heart of this post (and my experiences more generally) are, i feel, sufficiently common to speak to the broader context.

what is more, i can speak only to the British scene (or, at most, the general scene interpreted in a British context), having only secondhand knowledge of how things work in other places.

with these caveats in place, please allow me to attempt a description of the divide which i perceive, and uncomfortably straddle.

on the one hand is the old guard, headed up by the ‘gatekeepers’ (believe it or not, a genuinely self-appointed term). the cohort to which this nomenclature applies is, unsurprisingly,  not a diverse one. we are talking about often bearded, always white, overwhelmingly middle-class, mostly middle-aged, men. definitely men.

this school has tended to rally round the banner of traditional Historical Criticism, often, although not entirely, interpreted through and within the tradition of classic Protestant, Spinozian rationalism.

many in this camp hold a confessional faith position in tandem with their scholarly enterprise and are often accused by their detractors of masking their inherent ideologies (booooo) behind the vocabulary of critical rationalism and empiricism.

on the other side, there is another (often, but by no means exclusively, younger) element who tend to hold Historical Criticism in less (or at least less all-encompassing) esteem, and utilise a whole raft of other, contemporary critical tools: Rhetorical/Ideological Criticism, Postcolonial Criticism, Literary Criticism, Feminist Criticism, Queer Criticism, and so on.

many of those in this camp do not hold a confessional faith position, and are suspicious of those that do (primarily, it seems to me, because of the historical and continuing ascendancy of those in the former group).

given that the issue of faith position is not a big deal to me (i almost always hang out with the most heathen of non-believers, given the choice), the second group is the one with which i would most readily align myself. however, the faith issue seems to be a much bigger deal for many of them than it is for me.

as a Christian – and worse, a Christian with a theological background – i regularly find myself lumped together with the old-schoolers in the minds of those that i would consider my more natural peers. what i find more frustrating/disturbing than this, however, is some of the argumentation i hear from the anti-establishment camp.

the crux seems to be the thorny issue of ideology.

the new breed is most keenly opposed to the idea of hidden ideology operating under the guise of historical objectivity. i couldn’t agree more. however, many seem to be coming from the perspective that ‘ideology’ is a dirty word per se and that claims to objectivity are falsified by confessional ideologies in particular.

some even seem to want to preserve the notion of pure, rational objectivity – a location they argue is attainable as long as ‘faith’ isn’t present to corrupt.

with this, i cannot abide.

in classical Marxist terms, i understand everything as a manifestation of some ideology or other. i interpret ideology as being, in itself, a value-neutral (sic) term, and, following Gramsci, hold that what we must most urgently guard against is not ideology, but hegemony.

i see no position whatsoever as able to claim objectivity or neutrality, and what is more, am troubled that those making the counter-claims seem unaware of just how ideological the notion of objectivity is in and of itself. furthermore, i genuinely cannot think of another academic discipline in which such an argument could today occur. well, perhaps Classics.

i mentioned at the outset that the discipline seems to be at an interesting moment – an observation which i base largely on the fallout from the international Society for Biblical Literature conference which happened in London in July, and the British New Testament Conference which took place last week in Nottingham.

(i should say that while i was at iSBL, i was not at BNTC and am merely going on the various reports i have read & heard).

for reasons of (relative) brevity i’ll not go into all the details, but both these conferences ended up playing host to several academic spats which i feel are indicative of various and growing tensions within the field – emanating from pressures both without and within.

such tensions were expressed when NT Wright – an upstanding bastion of historical objectivity – launched his new translation of the New Testament (the Wright NT) at iSBL, and when Saul Olyan, Mark Smith, Bob Becking, Nathan MacDonald and Philip Davies locked horns (at times somewhat unpleasantly) over the legitimacy of the term Monotheism in an Ancient Israelite context (but really the role of religion and its categories in HB studies).

one particularly instructive example, however, has emerged c/o BNTS president Prof. Larry W. Hurtado, one of Biblical Studies’ self-defined ‘gatekeepers’. in a post-BNTC blog entry, entitled The Tools of The Trade, Prof. Hurtado points worriedly to reports that he’s heard from colleagues about their recent experiences examining PhDs.

apparently, it seems students are being examined for PhDs in NT studies who do not have a profound grasp of NT Greek, or French, or German, or who do not know how to properly use the apparatus of the Nestle-Aland text to spot variants.

Prof. Hurtado offers the rather incendiary explanation that these lapses are no doubt due to funding pressures, and are essentially demonstrative of the capitulation of the discipline in the face of academic politics.

of course, while the argument that these examples might indicate something problematic within the discipline is valid, what is crucial to note is the way that Prof. Hurtado assumes and insists that such skills are always essential, regardless of the content of the project concerned, and that any and all scholars would certainly agree.

the implicit message seems to represent an attempt to clip the wings of those who are expanding the discipline in various new directions. it would be very interesting to know exactly what the approaches of the theses concerned were, but it seems fair to assume that those who wrote them were not attempting traditional, straight-up historical critical work.

this issue pertains to me too, given that while i can work with both Hebrew and Greek texts (with a lexicon and some time), i would almost certainly have failed ‘The Hurtado Test’ if handed something to translate on the spot in my viva. likewise, i cannot read German particularly well.

the point here is that my thesis did not really require these skills given that i was explicitly writing from a particular location, and using a particular set of hermeneutical apparatus – the work of Brecht and Gadamer was as important to my thesis as was that of Koehler, Baumgartner and Stamm.

what Prof. Hurtado does in his post is affirm the essential tools of Historical Criticism as the essential tools of New Testament studies all told. “it’s all very well to do all this postcolonial, queer or eco-critical bullshit if you want”, he seems to be saying, “but you need to earn your stripes as an historical critic (like me) first.” (a point he has made explicit in a recent rejoinder here).

there are all sorts of questions to be put to this position, and many of them were articulated brilliantly by the online agent provocateur and anonymous, satirical queer critic/blogger ‘BW16’ – here, herehere and here.

The Post-Dr and i have enjoyed reading BW16’s blog, and regardless of who (s)he is, as far as i’m concerned they are an excellent thing for biblical studies.

if nothing else, i love reading scholars like Ben Witherington III (aka BW3, a particular target of BW16’s impish provocations) attempting (in exchanges in the comments section of their blogs) to ‘explain’, apparently without any awareness of irony, why BW16’s own approach of “Objective Queer Anal-ysis” is not truly objective.

in case you were wondering about his stance on this issue, BW3 endorsed and reprinted Hurtado’s assertions in a post on his blog entitiled “The Pretenders and the Contenders“. well, i cudda been a contender. (aside: i had not been a reader of BW3’s blog before BW16 directed me there, but i was immediately amused by the way the banner image seems to suggest that Starbucks belongs among ‘All Things Biblical and Christian’).

in one sense, of course, these arguments about legitimacy are nothing new, and continue to make their perpetrators sound like ageing monarchs, lashing out as a response to an (unacknowledged) awareness that their power-base has been irreparably eroded.

on the other hand, however, they are deeply troubling and the rhetoric seems to be escalating.

currently, the reality appears to be that unless you are made in the image of the gods, you will not be considered ‘legitimate’ and will not move up within the discipline (or at least you will get only as far as they allow).

the gatekeepers, it seems, are afraid of all kinds of things – variant approaches, new critical tools, use of the media, women – but then i guess we should really be grateful to and for them, after all: wide is the gate and broad the way(s) that lead(s) to destruction, but strait (straight) is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and few find that.

still, what do i know, i’m a bum.

#namechange: the dr becomes the post-dr

just a quick note

to keep you all up to speed with some nomenclatural alterations that have occurred.

when i finished my PhD last year, several of you commented that it was thereafter less logical for me to refer to The Dr as such. however, i was happy in continuing to use the moniker, and would still be were it not for the occurrence of an official shift with which i feel i must now fall into line. with.

given that The Dr has now officially taken up her position as a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the University of Manchester, i feel it is right that from now i on she is referred to here not as The Dr, but as The Post-Dr.

thank you and please continue with your lives.

ps. just to nip some possible confusions in as it were the bud – The Post-Dr has not taken to tampering with the mail (that would make her ‘the post drer’), nor is she no longer a Dr (it’s medical doctors who give up being Drs when they get good, not us proper ones).

#newhorizons: moved > manchester

the last time

i wrote to you all i was still resident in The Penthouse – east Devon’s largest conurbation’s finest fourth-floor dwelling. now, however, through the combined power of trains, a removal lorry and a new job for The Dr, i am currently speaking to you from our new home, here in Manchester.

we’ve been here now for ten days and i’ve held off telling you about it both in order to unpack and re-home the contents of the bajillion boxes of things that arrived just after we did and also to get a fair sense of the place.

the most obvious difference is the scape. in Devon, we were used to endless red-brick buildings, late-night living, crowded streets, a certain amount of ‘edge’ and high levels of cultural and ethnic diversity. here, however, things are so quiet, culturally homogenous and green.

 
our new house is a two-bedroom mid-terrace beauty with bare floorboards and burglar alarm. we’re not 100% sure what we’ll call it yet, but due to the stripped floors and furniture, The Woodhouse is an early contender.

it’s funny to think that some people look down their noses at terraced or ‘row’ houses – and yet the walls here are so thick that sometimes it’s easy to forget that the people to our right have a young child and the people to our left like to spend their evenings watching EastEnders and loudly putting away dishes.

as for the town centre, it’s charming, vibrant and offering of most of the outlets we like: even if many of the actual stores are a little small compared to what we’re used to. sadly, however, i am yet to locate branches of Devon Camera Centre or This Is It. The Dr says i’ll get used to life without the luxuries, but i’m sceptical.

one difference that certainly sticks in the throat, however, concerns the public transport. the buses here, for example, are so regular and inexpensive (or even free!) that i for one find it hard to think of them as actual buses.

 

then there’s the lack of decent local news. Instead of Victoria Graham and Justin Leigh reporting hard-hitting ‘something’s washed up on a beach’ or ‘local girl is promising showjumper’ type stories, up here we’ve got the bloke who used to do The Krypton Factor rambling on about gun crime.

it’s not all sobering trivia though: it was especially pleasing the other night to see an hilarious item about a couple from Stockport who had given away their dog, changed their minds and then taken the new owner to court to try to get it back – a course of action that had proved expensively unfruitful. the piece de resistance of the segment was when, at the end of an interview with the vexed, sadsack-faced pentagenarians, the camera pulled back to reveal that they were both about four foot six.

all in all we’re settling in nicely: registering for health provision, wading our way through the architecturally impressive stack of address-change correspondence and trying to remember where to look on the main BBC weather map. given that it’s August banks holidays weekend this weekend, we’re off ‘down south’ for Greenbelt, but come next week it will be back to the acclimatisation grindstone.

anyway, thanks to all those of you who wished us well, in person, text or card, and if you’re a Greenbelt type, then see you there. as for now, this is RQT, in Manchester, signing out, wishing you a merry Thursday and reminding you that only losers do glue(sers).

ranthill: defining the political

so, riots.

and looting and burning. but, as every media outlet seems to be (either explicitly or implicitly) asking, are these events (in the red corner) POLITICAL, or are they simply (in the blue corner) CRIMINALITY?

aside from all the other crucial issues raised by the riots, the nature of this juxtaposition is well worthy of some reflection. it roughly maps, of course, onto the divide between left and right wing political philosophies and their distinct conceptions of the nature of history.

[before moving on, let’s pause for a small recap – so we’re all on the same page]

in line with the classic Liberal tradition, those on the right tend to emphasise the role of the individual and see history as largely directed by the exercise of reason or the will, and therefore tend to emphasise the importance of moral responsibility and social roles.

in line with the Radical tradition, those on the left tend to emphasise the role of the masses and understand history as a force directed by the movement of the people, and, as such, tend to emphasise the role of social conditions.

in terms of goals, the left tends towards the idea that equality equates to stability and flourishing, whereas the right tends to see these as best served by hierarchy and the rule of law. the left strives for equality of access (to social ‘goods’); the right, for equality of opportunity (to move up).

these descriptions are, of course, merely sketches of stereotypes, but they roughly define the boundaries of the philosophies that are in play.

and so we have seen in the responses to the riots in London, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, West Bromwich, Nottingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Salford, Leeds and Bristol (i hope i haven’t left anyone out). those on the right have consistently downplayed the role of politics and sought to characterise the riots as a collection of illegal acts committed by individuals who will be brought to justice, oh yes. Theresa May, and her constant recourse to the language of ‘sheer criminality’ (a phrase she must have used ten times in two minutes on The Today Programme yesterday), is a good example.

the left-leaners, on the other hand, have generally wanted to emphasise the social conditions and context from which the riots have erupted, and Darcus Howe’s revealing contribution to the BBC News channel yesterday, or their interview of Ken Livingstone on Monday would serve as a perfect examples here.

it’s also not hard to see that, aside from the philosophy that undergirds their politics, those currently in office have a vested interest in downplaying political causes, whereas those in opposition have the opposite investment. given that a centre-right coalition holds the reins and a centre-left party stands in opposition, this dynamic is currently set at ‘maximum skew’.

the question, however, of the role of politics per se, is more complex than this. it seems fairly clear that the motivations of the majority of rioters are not explicitly political – these are not ‘protests gone violent’ – but does that mean that they are utterly apolitical phenomena in the way Boris Johnson or Michael Gove would have us believe?

in one sense, if you stop to think about it, how can they be? politics is not just about voting, the party system and banner-waving, it’s about everything that affects and impacts society. in one sense, everything is political, or should i say nothing is apolitical. however, speaking in more specific terms, any mass movement of people, any expression of dissatisfaction, any insurrection, any wanton group lawlessness of this sort must have a political aspect.

what seems to have gone ignored in much of the right-wing rhetoric is the fact that riots are an established phenomenon. Boris Johnson spoke yesterday as if what has happened in London over the last few nights was utterly unprecedented. yes, the role of social networking adds a small novel element, but a riot is a riot.

the reality is that these are marginalised people who languish under the effects of massive inequality – of both access and opportunity – and who have seen the escalation of violent crime, the spread of deprivation and the removal of social resources within their communities, and as a result the widespread asphyxiation of cohesion, pride and hope.

when young people who’ve grown up with these kind of realities sense an opportunity to vent their anger, their fear, their hopelessness, they do not write to their local MP on thick, recycled paper. they do not organise a march and paint brightly coloured banners. these people smash, and grab, and burn. they do everything they can to show their contempt for the world in which they live and at the same time reveal (somewhat pathetically) their desire for/faith in material goods as harbingers of ‘the good life’.

such events are called riots – they’re not new, that’s why we have a word for them. yes, they are made up of a mass of criminal acts, but does that make them meaningless?

remember St Paul’s, Brixton, Toxteth, Moss Side, Salford and Chapeltown in 1980, ’81, ’85, ’87, ’90? remember Los Angeles in 1992? do we think of these as meaningless, apolitical, criminal events, or as eruptions of socio-political discontent from members of disadvantaged, marginalised and otherwise dying communities?

for the last few nights, (mainly) young people have smashed, looted and burned their own neighbourhoods and those nearby, and what is more (and perhaps most disturbing to middle-class onlookers) they’ve expressed pleasure in doing so. “you can’t control us” a boy cheerily shouted towards a BBC camera in Croydon on Monday night – i wonder if he really believed that himself, and if so, if he’s ever felt that way before. i also wonder how long the feeling lasted.

we might not want to condone the acts of violence, theft and arson that comprise these disturbances, but we dismiss them as meaningless at our peril. the riots might not be explicitly political in the way a protest march is, but they are a manifestation of a political reality which, if we are to deal with the root and not only the thorn, demands a political as well as judicial response.