Thursday, December 30, 2004

Asia tsunami disaster

Donate now.

If you're in the UK:

DEC - 0870 60 60 900
DEC - Disasters Emergency Committee

If you're in the US:

Red Cross - 1-800-435-7669
Red Cross - American Red Cross. Be sure to select "International Response Fund".
Oxfam - Oxfam America

Donate via - nearly $12 million raised so far.

To find out about friends and relatives in the region:
ICRC: The International Committee of the Red Cross

Up-to-minute news, plus information on donating from other countries:

Tsunami Help: Tsunami Help
BBC: BBC Asia Earthquake Section

Photos from the Tsunami aftermath: Flickr photos

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Still ill and in shock at the devastation in Asia, but listening to a lot of music. Here are some of my favourite albums that came out this year:

"Musicology" by Prince.
Prince back to his funky, rare groove, sexy best.

"You are the Quarry" by Morrissey.
Lush melodies and vitriolic lyrics from Manchester's most famous miserablist.

"Medulla" by Bjork.
Acapellas, dissonant harmonics, Inuit throat-singers and the awesome Robert Wyatt. Haunting and sublime.

"Antics" by Interpol.
Detached, icy rock. The Psychedelic Furs for the noughties.

"Egypt" by Youssou N'Dour.
Restrained yet lyrical homage to Senegal's Sufi traditions. Mesmerising collection of devotional songs.

"The New Danger" by Mos Def.
Hard-edged mix of rock and blues, hip hop and funk, soul and R&B.

"Bubblegum" by Mark Lanegan Band.
This man sings for the Devil. Dark, dusky and dense rock.

"Franz Ferdinand" by Franz Ferdinand.
Art house cool but with tongues firmly fixed in cheeks.

"Scissor Sisters" by Scissor Sisters.
High camp, vaudevillean, old school disco funk.

"Hot Fuss" by The Killers.
The electronic 80s return. Not as sardonic as the Ferdinands, but a rollicking ride nonetheless.

"Love Angel Music Baby" by Gwen Stefani.
Bubblegum electric funk. Frothy, sultry and fun. In short, perfect pop.

"The Tipping Point" by The Roots.
Back to basics hip hop. Wonderful.

"Love is Hell" by Ryan Adams.

Romantic and world-weary, with a gorgeous version of Wonderwall. The only Adams album I cherish.

Others I loved included: "Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; "Van Lear Rose" by Loretta Lynn; "Dear Heather" by Leonard Cohen; "To the 5 Boroughs" by the Beastie Boys; "Sonic Nurse" by Sonic Youth; "Fly or Die" by N.E.R.D.; "Funeral" by the Arcade Fire.

Have a happy new year.

Related link:
+ Giant list of lists for 2004, including Best Albums of 2004 from the likes of the New York Times, the NME and The Onion A/V Club, to Best Art, Best Video Games, Best Theatre and Top 100 Science Stories.

+ Susan Sontag dies at 71

Other links today:
+ The loneliest whale
+ How to be creative
+ Seasons one and two of Northern Exposure is out on Region 1 DVD. I really must get a multi-region player.
+ Colouring books for adults
+ House of Flying Daggers. The crisis of the Hollywood hero is forcing cinema audiences to look east for their superhumans.
+ When you strip away all the pious fiction, what is left of the real Jesus?
+ Paradise is paper, vellum and dust. Libraries will survive the digital revolution because they are places of sensuality and power.
+ The BitTorrent effect. Movie studios hate it. File-swappers love it. Bram Cohen's blazing-fast P2P software has turned the Internet into a universal TiVo. For free video-on-demand, just click here.
+ Quake may have made earth wobble. The deadly Asian earthquake may have permanently accelerated the Earth's rotation - shortening days by a fraction of a second - and caused the planet to wobble on its axis, US scientists said on Tuesday.

Friday, December 24, 2004

I want, I want

Is it too late to add these egg poachers to my Christmas wishlist?

I have spent too many hours bringing water to the boil, whisking it furiously into a whirlpool, then dropping the egg in its swirling centre and waiting, in vain, for the egg to poach itself into a pretty little ball. Well, no more.

One of my favourite meals is a slice of thick, crusty white toast, heavily buttered with unsalted Normandy, and an organic egg on top, poached so lightly that the yolk explodes like nectar against the tongue. A twist of rock salt and black pepper. A chilled glass of Bucks Fizz.

Hm, sounds like a perfect Boxing Day brunch.

Other links today:
+ "I want to see the real Japan." Inspired by his 12-year-old son's passion for Japanese pop culture Peter Carey booked a family trip to Tokyo. Could the generation gap be bridged?
+ On being a photographer
+ Tokyo Times. My new favourite blog from Tokyo.
+ The Vice guide to everything
+ John Maeda's Simplicity blog
+ Control of creativity? Fashion's secret. Film and music industries might heed the wisdom.
+ 10 tips on writing the living web. An oldie but still a goodie.

+ Is it true that the word "cowboy" did not originate in the American West?

"The first use of the term cow-boy (it was originally hyphenated) was in England. In the 18th century it simply described a young boy who tended to the cows. The rough and tough adult cow-boy, however, does originate on American soil. But not where you might think.

"Even at the time of the American Revolution, what is now the upscale New York City suburb of Westchester County was hardly part of the wide open spaces. It always had more crabgrass than sagebrush. And the only place it was ever west of was New England. But back then it was the home of many loyalists, or Tories, who sided with the British against the revolting colonists. Among the toughest were the guerilla fighters who signaled their attacks by ringing cowbells, from which they got the name cowboys. Yahoo."

More trivia at Creative Idleness.

+ Radio interviewer: "Now that you have reached 75 have you any advice for our audience about how to prepare for your old age?"

John Cage, irritated: "Why is everyone asking me about old age these days? You know, I do know how to prepare for old age. Never have a job, because if you have a job someday someone will take it away from you and then you will be unprepared for your old age. For me, it has always been the same ever since the age of 12. I wake up in the morning and I try to figure out how am I going to put bread on the table today? It is the same at 75, I wake up every morning and I think how am I going to put bread on the table today? I am exceeding well prepared for my old age."

Via Icograda.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Hallucinating lemons

Whenever one of her 13 children got a cold, my grandmother paid a few rupees to a local man to climb up the mango or papaya tree in their Assamese garden, and retrieve the small terracotta jar the family had affixed to the bottom of the beehive. It would be filled to the brim with honey that had slowly oozed out from the bottom of the conical hive. She would then sieve it of wax and other hive debris, uproot some ginger, pick a few lemons, and make a hot honey, lemon and ginger juice to drink.

Many cultures around the world have a similar cold remedy. This recollection was my father's as he attempted to persuade me not to buy a honey and lemon cough syrup from my local pharmacist but to brew my own on the hob.

For I've been slain by fever and flu for the past week. Confined to my bed with barely enough energy to sup the natural linctus and sip at spoonfuls of that marvellous "Jewish penicillin" chicken noodle soup, I've also been having hallucinatory dreams of letters of the alphabet chasing each other in chariots around a racetrack, and calendar time stretching and skewing out of sequence across the sky.

Haven't had any energy to read, but thank God there have been some wonderful films on TV to drift in and out of: North by Northwest, LA Confidential, The Talented Mr Ripley, The Thomas Crown Affair and, tonight, Thunderheart, set in my beloved western South Dakota and concerning issues close to my heart.

I'm feeling much better than I did even two days ago, but it's not been the greatest start to my vacation.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Live the questions

This is exquisite:
"Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."

Rainer Maria Rilke
"Letters to a Young Poet".

Just in time for Christmas:
+ Heard the Cocteau Twin's Frosty the Snowman and wanna hear more? How about Beck's Chanukah Funk, Axl Rose's White Christmas, or I Farted on Santa's Lap by the Little Stinkers. An alternative Christmas album.
+ Flickr sucks!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Infinite bustle

Mark Slouka praises idleness in the November issue of Harper's:
"Idleness is not just a psychological necessity, req­uisite to the construction of a complete human being; it constitutes as well a kind of political space, a space as necessary to the workings of an actual democracy as, say, a free press. How does it do this? By allowing us time to figure out who we are, and what we believe; by allowing us time to consider what is unjust, and what we might do about it. By giving the inner life (in whose precincts we are most ourselves) its due. Which is precisely what makes idle­ness dangerous. All manner of things can grow out of that fallow soil. Not for nothing did our mothers grow suspicious when we had 'too much time on our hands'. They knew we might be up to something. And not for nothing did we whisper to each other, when we were up to something, 'Quick, look busy'."

For most people I know, the holiday season signals the relentless onslaught of social commitments - parties, dinners, more parties. But for me, life slows gloriously down. Christmas is a time for family, but mine in this country is tiny. Christmas in India is a very different affair, but here in England there is none of the usual freneticism. Peace and idleness marks my holiday this year. A time to take stock before the New Year. I may use it to catch up on a year's reading.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Prickly père

Finally saw the delightful French ensemble piece tonight about social advancement and the quest for love that everyone around me has been raving about. Look At Me (Comme Une Image) is a character-driven comedy-drama that focusses on the tensions raging within an extended circle of friends and family in the Parisian art world.

Lolita is a sensitive young student singer battling with weight, self-esteem issues and the over-wrought ego of her writer father. The arrogant and pugnacious father, Etienne, is in turn struggling with the needs of a wife young enough to be his daughter, writer's block, and against a literary world that is beginning to overlook him in favour of younger writers. One such writer, who Etienne takes under his wing, tussles with critics who have, until now, ignored him. And his wife, Sylvia, gives Lolita extra singing lessons so that she and her husband can curry favour with Etienne and his infamy.

Are you still with me? Look At Me somehow balances all these egos to produce a witty and moving film, which also has an exquisite soundtrack featuring the choral music of Monteverdi and Mozart. The BBC has aptly described it as "French as Camembert and Sacha Distel, only considerably less cheesy".

Afterwards, we hot-footed it to Malaysia Kopi Tiam in Chinatown, where we downed iced red bean drink, and stuffed ourselves with mixed vegetable curry, curry laksa mee, yam cakes and herb jelly.

Other links today:
+ I am curious (BLACK)! Superman's girlfriend Lois Lane turns black for the day in this hilarious and very cheesy edition of the Lois Lane comic.

+ HP is sending digital cameras to a remote Papua New Guinea tribe, whether they want them or not. Absurd and insulting.

+ The rebel sell. If we all hate consumerism, how come we can’t stop shopping?

+ Homer Simpson uses tabbed browsing! Strictly for nerds like me.

+ "Web designers have dropped the proverbial sketch book and traded it in for Microsoft Word and CSS." Airbag declares personal web design dead as standards and the blog format create generic designs.

+ "Significant amounts of dioxin poison could remain in Yushchenko's system for the rest of his life, in effect continually poisoning him and leaving him permanently disfigured." What is dioxin, anyway? Where does it come from? And are its effects reversible?

+ "Scrooge has been called ungenerous. I say that's a bum rap. What could be more generous than keeping your lamps unlit and your plate unfilled, leaving more fuel for others to burn and more food for others to eat?" What I like about Scrooge. In praise of misers.

+ Dom Perignon was originally employed by his wine-making abbey to get the bubbles out of champagne. Thank God he failed.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Wetless water

The New York Times Magazine has compiled a list of great ideas from 2004 (registration required). Here are a few of my favourites:

Concrete you can see through:
"Losonczi, a 28-year-old from Csongrad, Hungary, is the inventor of LiTraCon (shorthand for 'light-transmitting concrete'), which is made by adding glass or plastic fibers to the usual blend of gravel, sand, cement and water. A LiTraCon wall, though sturdy, is as translucent as an oilskin lampshade. Shadows seep through from one side to the other, even if the slab is of prison-grade thickness."

Eyeball jewellery:
"Here's how it works. An ophthalmologist anesthetizes your eye, then makes a microscopic incision in the conjunctiva, the eye's transparent outer membrane. The doctor drops a tiny piece of jewelry (called JewelEye) into the incision, and the procedure is over."

Listening for cancer:
"When a cell turns cancerous, its internal machinery alters: it might divide more rapidly, and its walls could take a new shape. Those changes, Gimzewski surmises, would produce distinctive rates of
vibration and thus distinctive noises. He has already measured the acoustics of some cells going through death cycles. When he measured an inert yeast cell, its lack of movement produced a dead-sounding hiss. And when he immersed a bunch of yeast in alcohol, the cells emitted a creepy 'screaming' sound as they suddenly perished."

Underwear for animated people:
"When Pixar animators were creating this year's hit movie 'The Incredibles', they noticed a certain limpness in the movements of a key character, the diminutive fashion diva Edna Mode. Her skirt appeared to sag and crumple as she walked. The animators could have taken the trouble to iron out the glitches frame by frame. But they devised a more clever solution: the studio fitted Edna with a virtual petticoat. While her underwear is never actually seen onscreen, it nonetheless helps keep her clothing in place. Welcome to the world of invisible animation."

More great ideas from the New York Times (Registration required)

Other links today:
+ Online shopping is growing 26 times faster than on the High Street, and nearly 50% of the population make their purchases through the net. Quel surpris!

+ The libraries of five of the world's most important academic institutions (including Stanford, Harvard and Oxford) are to be digitised by Google and made available for search and reading online. This is very exciting news.

+ The world's tallest road bridge is higher than the Eiffel Tower, at more than 300 metres.

+ The question "did IBM cheat?" in the chess match between computer Deep Blue and chess master Garry Kasparov is the focus of new documentary Game Over: Kasparov And The Machine. But the more interesting questions for Wired that the documentary leaves unanswered are: "Can a machine improve upon the human brain's most complex activities? Is Deep Blue a sign of real advance toward artificial intelligence? Does Deep Blue's success shed any light on what makes a human a human?"

Monday, December 13, 2004

Office Xmas party

I'm a bit reluctant to write this post because most people's experiences of an office Christmas party are a mixture of excruciating boredom and drunken embarrasment.

But ours was a relatively civilised affair that began in a local pub and ended up at a pizzeria. Conversation veered from political straplines and living on an American Indian reservation (me) or travelling through Morocco or New Zealand, to which two public figures we are most attracted to (Anthony Kiedis and Johnny Depp for me; Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sven Goran Eriksson and Barbara Windsor - not for me!) and which Rizla papers are the best for rolling your own.

Despite the alcohol, no one got off with their boss, danced on a table or divulged their desire for blowing up the office building. But it was fun nonetheless.

Sorry to disappoint.

Other links today:
+ Famous athiest now believes in God
+ Osama who? Reg. req.
+ The cost of the US war in Iraq
+ Gwen Stefani on songwriting: "Tony called me and I was like, 'Dude, I suck.' And he was like, 'Dude, come over.' So I went to his house and a bunch of our friends there were playing these tracks that Tony was doing that were, like, stupid. I was like, 'You did not do these.' And he's like, 'Yep, you wanna hear your tracks?' And I was like, 'Nuh-uh, you did not.' So he pulls out this one and I'm like, 'Oh my God, that's my song.'" Huh? Via Popbitch.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

East meets West

Ate at Bodean's BBQ Smoke House in Soho today. Fantastic food: creamy, chunky clam chowder, BBQ ribs with coleslaw and beans, key lime pie that was not too sweet, and a few Bloody Mary's. Bright tartan carpet, leather booths, brisk (and cute) waiters. With Chattanooga Choo Choo streaming through the bathroom, in all it was a really comforting afternoon.

Then back home to watch Goodbye, Lenin! on DVD.

When Christiane wakes up from a coma, her two grown children try desperately to prevent her from discovering that her beloved East Berlin is no more. The Wall has come down, the statue of Lenin is being hawled away by helicopter, Coca Cola is advertising on a wall outside her apartment and her favourite pickles are now being imported from Holland.

But Christiane is not to know this because in order to speed her recovery by not causing her undue stress, her children and their friends fake TV news reports of the continuing triumph of Communism, replace the labels of Dutch pickle jars with Russian ones, and blindfold her during a surprise trip through the city to their country cabin. Her daughter somehow manages to hide the fact that she gave up her economics degree for a job at Burger King, and her son manages to convince her that all these modern cars on the road and strangers moving in to neighbouring apartments are the result of people fleeing West Germany for the non-consumerist values of the DDR!

I quite liked this German update of the Rip Van Winkle story for its quirkiness and absurdities. At times it was also quite touching.

But the mother is merely a pawn for her children's antics and you have to wonder how an intelligent, politicised woman would be so easily duped for so long. The movie would have been far stronger and more powerful had the script fashioned a Christiane more savvy to her children's games.

Related links:
+ How the GDR became cool

Other links today:

+ One of the things that struck me about William Gibson's novel "Pattern Recognition" was the stealth marketing tactics of one of the characters, Magda, employed by companies to name-drop their products casually into conversations at clubs, on the steet, and in stores. So I was interested to read a recent New York Times article on hidden persuaders.

+ "This was not architecture for humans, but architecture for machines, everything ordered to assist the movement of molten steel, and winnow out the slag, all intake and outtake, converting one form of matter to another." The pleasures and pathos of industrial ruins. I never thought I'd be so interested in reading about steel, but I've read this post three five times already.

+ Peace-bombing. "The Thai government has dropped an estimated one hundred million paper origami birds over the country's Muslim south in an unusual peace bid after a surge of violence in the area."

+ The Yes Men — "anti-corporate activist-pranksters" - strike again, but this seems particularly cruel to the Bhopal victims who were also duped into believing a big payout was pending.

+ You can now rent DVDs from Amazon UK

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Evening in Morocco

Spent a wonderful evening at home with friends where, as usual, we put the world to rights. I cooked a Moroccan spread:

Some photos from the night.

Other links today:
+ The Charlie and the Chocolate Factory trailer is now out, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, who alone is enough to make me see this movie (I rarely enjoy remakes but I'll make the hormonal exception here).
+ Hidden London. A gem of a site.
+ Computers can be compared with the "little black dress - reliable and functional, there when you need it, and readily accessorized to be as individual as you are." Intel's new study on women and technology.
+ Is the low-carb boom over? I lost 28 lbs last year on this diet, without resorting to low-carb products. Just keep it natural and it's easy.
+ Photo site a hit with bloggers. Gushing article on Flickr by Wired.
+ Some Firefox 1.0 tweaks
+ Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters

Thursday, December 09, 2004

552 books

I recently came across an interesting editorial in New Media Age. With freedom of choice comes the curse of indecisiveness:
"A little while ago a friend mentioned to me that he had calculated how many books it was likely that he was going to be able to read during the rest of his life. He had calculated, given his current reading patterns, that he had the capacity to read another 800 books. However, having established this finite figure it had now become more of a burden than a guide. How could he justify picking up a trashy novel at an airport when there were thousands of great works still to be read. For every Harry Potter, a Tolstoy falls by the wayside."

Based on my poor current reading patterns, my age and likely death-date, I have another 552 books to read in my lifetime.


Here are four books I want to include in that 552 total, from The Economist's books of 2004:

The Lambs of London. By Peter Ackroyd.
"A novel of intrigue set around a small bookshop in Holborn Passage in 19th-century London and the discovery of a document in Shakespeare’s own writing. The Lambs are a young brother and a sister taken into the confidence of a 17-year-old antiquarian. As clever and vivid as any work of Mr Ackroyd, a man deeply at home in the London of the past."

Cloud Atlas. By David Mitchell.
"In this feat of brilliant pyrotechnics, six interlocking stories mix the voices, among others, of a journalist in Governor Ronald Reagan’s California and a voyager crossing the Pacific in the mid-19th century."

Snow. By Orhan Pamuk.
"A novel about the tensions between Turkey’s urban, secularist elite and their long-derided Islamist opponents. By the leading interpreter of Turkish society to the western world, it deals with such familiar Pamuk themes as faith, identity and betrayal."

In Tasmania. By Nicholas Shakespeare.
"For many people, Tasmania is an island of the imagination, distant and alluring. Nicholas Shakespeare weaves a cast of unlikely characters into 200 years of Tasmanian history."

And from the New York Times' books of 2004, I'm looking forward to:

Four Souls. By Louise Erdrich.
"A vengeful, partly comical plot that ranges about in time and space, rising in pitch to conclude in gorgeous incantations and poetry."

Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age. By Kevin Boyle.
"An account of the murder trial and eventual acquittal in 1925 Detroit of a black doctor who fired on a mob that had come to drive him from the house he bought in a white neighborhood."

I still haven't completed my own personal list of books to read this year. Bearing in mind how few books I have left to read in my lifetime, I could never conduct this no-reading experiment. Up until this year I used to get through around 5 (non-work related) books a month. So another of my new year's resolutions for 2005 is to read more and at least double my lifetime total.

Are you with me on this?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Little Punjab

Spent the day with my father, shopping in Southall. Southall is unofficially known as Little Punjab because of the high numbers of East African and Indian Sikhs living there since the 1950s and 60s. They have their own pub, which accepts rupees and serves tandoori chicken, and a branch of the Bank of Baroda, alongside the usual sari shops, Indian grocery stores and Indian cafes.

View photos

Other links today:

+ Long-lost Cambodian soldiers emerge from the jungle 25 years later. They thought the war was still going on.
+ Why does evangelical Christian capitalism seem so strange to the rest of the world?
+ Bringing the past to life. The pros and pitfalls of the BBC's attempt to digitise its archives.
+ The tangled Internet. Is it time for a new one?
+ The true measure of success. Forget GDP. A better metric for prosperity is Gross National Happiness.
+ On this day, 1980: John Lennon shot dead.
+ In pictures: Remembering John Lennon

Monday, December 06, 2004

Bumping into Oscar and friends

Out and about with my parents, we bumped into Oscar Wilde and his friends. A little awestruck, we later retreated to Asmara restaurant for some Eritrean sustenance.

Sunday, December 05, 2004


My parents are currently visiting me but, in between spending time with them, I've also managed to do some web housekeeping this weekend.

It seems the world and his blog has already discovered the greatness that is, but after hearing about it for several months, I've finally registered and collated all my bookmarks on it.

For those who don't know, is a bookmarks management system that allows you to access your bookmarks from several computers as they are all held on a centralised server. You can categorise your bookmarks in any way you want. For example, mine include tags such as "culture", "music", "food" and "london".

Because all users are encouraged to tag their links, I can then search for all links relating to "japan" in the database and refine the search further to include only blogs written in Japan about art. And because these are sites people have taken the trouble to bookmark as their favourites, I'm less likely to come up with some of the random results I get with Google. I can also find out the most popular sites in a category, eg "wine" or "linux", and discover "politics" sites I had never heard of before.

Flickr is another social application. At its most basic, it is an online photo management system that enables people to upload and display their photos. However, if you make the photos public, any registered user can comment on any photo, making Flickr more like a mass photo blog. Like, you can tag all your photos and through searching on tags, eg "santa fe", "black and white" or "cricket", you can find similar photos to yours and people who like to take photos of similar subjects. Online friendships can be fostered that may or may not spill over into real life.

Here's my page and here's my favourites page listing the sites I visit regularly.

I've only just started uploading my photos to Flickr but haven't passed August 2004! But as soon as I have a bit more time, I'll start uploading with a vengeance. Keep an eye on the column to your right ("My Flickr") for my most recent Flickr stream. In the meantime, there's always my Photoroll on this site, which is more up-to-date.

Related links:

+ Why I love Flickr
+ Beginners guide to
+ Interview with creator
+ extension

Other links today:

+ Ack, these are pretty ugly blogs from Microsoft Spaces.
+ The immortality debate: 'Don't fall for the cult of immortality' versus 'We will be able to live to 1,000'.
+ How to eat sushi
+ Saving Jesus. In the aftermath of the US election, the Christian Left searches for its voice.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Fiddle dee dee

Two friends of mine have just returned to London for two weeks, from Dubai. An English and Pakistani couple with two babies, they had reluctantly moved to Dubai in September to rejuvenate her father's ailing cosmetics business there. By the end of their first week, photos of them had already made it into an issue of Time Out Dubai, cigarettes in one hand and drinks in the other, dancing away at a night club - not, by their own admission, the best first impression to make with prospective business clients or the other parents at their sons' new nursery! Regulars on London's psy-trance club circuit, they're back in town briefly for what looks likely to be their regular London club fix. Dubai has a club scene, but it's not hard enough for them, and in spite of Dubai's cosmopolitan vibe, they still feel the pressure of the city's stark social divisions between the Gucci-clad rich and labouring poor. Their return to London gives them a much-needed break from Dubai's strict social dichotomies. Which is lucky for me, because it means I see them more often, as I did last night.

This evening, I was planning to see the brand-spanking-new digitised classic Gone With The Wind at the NFT, but my God it's so cold here in London, so I opted to watch an old copy on DVD, curled up in the warmth of my sofa at home. I first watched this movie in hospital in 2001, when its lush scenes, vibrant colours, tight editing, artfully-composed camera shots and superbly-plotted (though not very politically-correct) script pulled me through some very dark hours. And it thrilled me again tonight - more so, having just discovered it was produced in a benzedrine haze. I even had a proper intermission for some hot chocolate and cookies (alas, no bennies). Lovely.

I have a stack of old classics on DVD I am planning to re-watch as the weather gets chillier, including three of my all-time favourite movies: Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush, Giant with James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor, and The Misfits with last-ever performances by Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. Plus some newer all-time favourites: The Right Stuff (with, swoon, Sam Shepard), Annie Hall, and Blade Runner. Just what cold winter nights are made for.

Other links today:
+ So why do you blog?
+ Is Truman Capote really remembered for just one book ("In Cold Blood")?
+ Ivory towers should be built on merit. "It is patronising to working-class students to suggest that Oxbridge should 'positively discriminate' in their favour."
+ Should a urinal have topped a 'most influential modern art' poll? They're taking the piss!
+ An amazing compendium of food blogs, an amazing amount of food. My kind of people.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


As a small child in Bangladesh, she was passionate about ancient Kathak dancing, but had to practice in secret because her strict Muslim father did not approve. So when she moved to London, she was determined her son would not be so deprived.

The son's natural inclination was to throw himself around to Michael Jackson songs, but Ma persevered and encouraged him to study classical Indian dance with the great dancer and teacher Sri Pratap Pawar. As a small boy visiting his mother's homeland, he would hang upside down from trees in the hope that his thoughts would tumble out of his head and into the ground, whence answers would grow.

Later, under pressure from the English Bengali community to go to university, the son did a degree in contemporary dance and discovered modern choreographers DV8, Pina Bausch and Jiri Kylian. Now 30, Akram Kahn is also inspired by the films of Ang Lee, Wong Kar-Wai and Quentin Tarantino.

In Akram Khan's second and current dance production, both classical Indian and contemporary western dance and music share the stage. "Ma" was born out of Khan's readings of Arundhati Roy's essays on the displacement of Indian farmers by big dam-building programmes. The essays made him reflect on the complex relationships farmers have with a "mother earth" that is both nurturing and unforgiving.

The production tonight at the Queen Elizabeth Hall was a truly holistic experience, merging theatre, music and dance into a maelstrom: flailing limbs, Kathak chanting, thumping tabla, wailing cello, Sufi song, combat rolls, searing green and white light, soothing amber light, caressing wordscapes, rolling heads, suspended bodies, bare feet skittering across the stage, and flashes of pure silence.

And yet the confusion was perfectly contained within the ek-do-tin-one-two-three geometrical precision of the Kathak dance and chant, which Khan described after the performance in a question-and-answer session as "clarity within chaos".

An intensely visceral night.

Related links:

+ "Everything in Indian music works mathematically and is very logical. Once that's understood, the music can be appreciated in a different way, and you can start playing around with the rules. There's a lot of improvisation, and the complex patterns we work from are more simple than they look." Akram Khan speaking to Culture Kiosque.

+ "Ma is the Hindu word for earth and it's into this work that Khan as choreographer unloads his most pressing questions. While his programme notes tell us the work is about issues of land, kinship and belonging, Khan is also investigating what happens when Indian and western styles of storytelling and performance share the stage." The Guardian review of Ma.

Other links today:

+ "Five trucks converge on the house across the street from my sister. The neighbors were deep frying a turkey in the backyard and something went wrong, the grease caught fire and flames shot up to the second floor with a roar like a jet engine. Boiling hot grease went flying everywhere. The turkey, I was told, exploded. A propane tank that held the fuel to heat the grease was a danger. A fireman asked the owner if he had a garden hose (but there was a hydrant on the corner!). He aimed it at the grease, which more or less went nuts, splattering everywhere, but the flames were out." David Bryne's Thanksgiving.

+ 100 things to do before you die, compiled by scientists, is a little book that's out just in time for Christmas:

  • Measure the speed of light with chocolate
  • Take samples of our own DNA
  • Order liquid nitrogen to make the world's smoothest ice-cream at home
  • Swim in a bioluminescent lake
  • Have a new species named after you
  • Assist at the birth of an animal
  • Write your name in atoms

+ TV in Hindi via the red button

+ In Korea, email is for the elderly only

+ 'Blog' is top word of the year

+ Under all that ice, maybe oil. Soon the effects of global warming on the ice caps will be the least of our problems. (Reg. req.)

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Monday, November 29, 2004

The Designibles

"The Incredibles dwell in a kind of extraordinary dystopia, at once a celebration and an exaggeration of Eames-era modernism. Flanking either side of their suburban abode are split-level houses whose bland facades are punctuated by rows of tailored boxwoods: they’re robotic stand-ins, a kind of horticultural mutation of Stepford-wife stupor. Inside the house, chairs and tables sport blonde, Danish wood finishes, a mid-century palette further amplified by hints of color: chartreuse upholstery and avocado appliances form the perfect backdrop for a duo of wizened heroes who’ve been retired from active duty.

"Yet as the pace quickens and the action builds, the design does too. Slick designer vehicles (think Philippe Starck on steroids) transport us to new architectural destinations: here are sites dotted by grand concrete allées, framed by volcanic window treatments and walls of perfectly gridded weaponry. Even Syndrome, the villain’s sensurround computer screen is well-designed, boasting well-kerned Bank Gothic letterforms within an icy blue-grey interface. It’s design run amok, at once exquisite and terrifying: Fritz Lang‘s Metropolis meets Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel in Japan."

From Design Observer.

I saw The Incredibles tonight and yes it is very, very, very, veeeerrrrrrrrry good. But then, you already knew that didn't you.

Related links:
+ Superhero spoof and suburban satire. Review by Roger Ebert.
+ No more heroes. "Mr Incredible quits! As reality increasingly resembles cartoons, the worn-out superhero is leaving the world-saving to Bush and Arnie. But there was always something fishy about those capes."

Other links today:
+ Burning to write a novel but don't have the talent/motivation/stamina to write it? Share your idea with the Library of Unwritten Books instead. Just don't grumble when someone else takes your thoughts straight to the top of the bestseller lists.
+ Does anybody care if their MP3 player sounds good?
+ George W. Bush Christmas decorations. "This 4 ½ inch likeness makes a unique gift for friends and family who respect and support our nation’s leader."
+ Type "weapons of mass destruction" into Google and hit the "I'm feeling lucky" button.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Burlesque brothels and Chinese massages

Rose's is the tiny, family-run hairdressers tucked behind Tokyo Diner in Chinatown where I had my hair cut today. The main reason I keep my hair long is so I don't need to cut it so frequently and, despite spending £40 on face cream, I spend less than £2 on shampoo. So Rose's offer to wash, restyle and blow-dry my hair for just £13 made my resolve to grow my hair to my knees crumble. After the hairdresser threw in a head and shoulder massage and didn't speak to me once throughout the entire cut (preferring to gossip about the Chinese soap operas she and her colleagues were watching on the video above my head), I was completely sold. So now I have layers (actually, Farrah Fawcett flicks because my hair is naturally wavy, but a friend assures me they'll calm down in a few weeks), a fringe, and my hair is several inches shorter.

Afterwards, I met up with friends, sheepishly clutching their Gap and Liberty shopping bags, at the World Fair in Holborn to buy some ethically-traded Christmas stocking fillers. Raging headaches and thirsts then led us to the nearest bar, which happened to be Belgo. Belgo is a bit too All Bar One-ish for me, but their drinks menu wasn't bad, and they had comfy sofas to melt into.

Finally, we tumbled down Drury Lane for dinner. Sarastro is like dining in a burlesque brothel: all high camp decor, operatic soundcapes, karma sutra on the toilet walls and godawful food. But the rudeness of the waiters, the hen party histrionics of the diners and the Moulin Rouge reject props all around kept us entertained for several hours.

View Sarastro photos

Other links today:
+ Geri Halliwell quote of the day 2: One of the reasons she returned to the UK from the US was the food - "I just love a burger and chips". Via HolyMoly.

+ Family of Frank Sinatra admits he was employed by the Mob for 20 years. Well, duh!

+ "18- to 34-year-olds are far more apt to log on to the internet (46 percent) than watch TV (35 percent), read a book (7 percent), turn on a radio (3 percent), read a newspaper (also 3 percent) or flip through a magazine (less than 1 percent)." Wired.

+ "Today, few food shoppers are nonplused by grocery aisles piled with sashimi from Japan, Irish steel-cut oats, and Mexican chorizo sausages." Has the melting pot melted?

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Take My Eyes

Watched an incredibly downbeat movie tonight about that laugh-a-minute subject, spousal violence.

Pilar (Laia Marull) flees her home after years of mental and physical abuse at the hands of her husband, Antonio (Luis Toscar). As she attempts to rebuild her life without him, she has to battle with her continuing love for him.

Antonio, meanwhile, struggles to understand the sources of his uncontrollable rage - no easy task within the competitive macho society he's immersed in, and needless to say he's not very successful.

Take My Eyes swept the board at this year's Goya Awards in Spain, and it's easy to see why. Both lead performances are richly nuanced and heartfelt, without descending into black and white moralising. Overall, it has a very Ken Loach feel about it and if Loach is your thing, then this film is well worth a view. If you can ignore the cheesy music.

To cheer ourselves up we wandered next door to Galileo's for peach and strawberry bellinis. Feel much better now.

Other links today:
+ Friday 26 November is Buy Nothing Day. Glad I got my shopping done today then.
+ "A koala can never be a flamingo." Quote of the day from Geri Halliwell. Via Popbitch.
+ Did you know that "Becks and Posh" is modern cockney for "nosh"? Er, no, nor did I, but suddenly I'm very hungry.
+ Walnut, cranberry and oatmeal cookies. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


I've just been bombarded by Beethoven's "heroic symphony", composed in 1803, dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte, and precursor of the tempestuous Romantic tradition in music.

I've adored Karajan's versions on disc for a few years, but this is my first live hearing of it. And I mean "bombarded" in the most spine-tingling, goose-fleshy way because, as played tonight by the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall, the Eroica is by turns grandiose and expansive. It is epic in scope and dramatic in emotional impact and it is easy to see how Beethoven was a great early influence on Richard Wagner.

The Orchestra tonight were playing for their lives, swaying this way and that and lending the music a passionate physicality I miss from hearing the music on disc. And Kurt Masur was the conducting equivalent of Charlie Chaplin.

"Music should strike fire from the heart of man," Beethoven said. And from the limbs and the loins, I would add.

Other links today:
+ The $28K sandwich that grew no mold: How the Virgin Mary's grilled cheese stayed mold-free for 10 years.
+ Why are humans so obsessed with fiction?
+ Nancy Drew - icon of girl power or a well-scrubbed goody-two-shoes? Either way, she turns 75 next year.
+ China's supersize mall has 230 escalators and covers 6 million square feet, making it the biggest in the world. "This mall will change your life" goes the advertising and yet, on a recent Friday afternoon, only 20 shoppers were counted in one hour.
+ 7-Up cake or hot dog fried rice, anyone?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

New year's resolve

Food for me is comfort and nostalgia. Since childhood, it has been the pivot around which family life has spun. Family meals were always rich and varied - vegetable samosas fried on the stove, spinach and chickpea curry, spicy lamb stew, several kinds of lentil dahl, homemade tomato chutney - and my parents fought over who would cook that day.

Food is also a social pastime. Most of my friends are foodies, forever cooking and eating in or out. We're always gathering in the kitchen. And because we come from far-flung corners, there is always a new Chillean casserole to concoct or a Canadian bread to bake.

And of course, food is fraught with tension whenever I even catch a glimpse of the bathroom scales.

I eat out of habit, curiosity and greed. I can't remember the last time my stomach growled through hunger and not digestion.

Maybe I should try Jean-Paul Sartre's recipe for tuna casserole.

Today I resolved, yet again, to eat only when hungry. And when a colleague brought in chocolate digestive biscuits and placed them on the table in the middle of our office, my resolve held strong. Until 11am.

And now the holiday season is upon us...

I know what my New Year's Resolve will be.

Other links today:

+ NYC's 311 operator service with a difference. Why can't we have this in London, Ken?
+ Fantastic rock version of Britney's Toxic by Local H (MP3)
+ Also enjoying this quirky bit of fluff by Neomarxisme (MP3)
+ The top 5 of XFM's Rock School competition has just been announced - the final vote is Friday. Go Outl4w!

Monday, November 22, 2004

East meets jest

I managed to see the Victoria and Albert Museum's Encounters show today. The show attempts to delve into Asian and European trade relations between 1500 and 1800 through a variety of museum objects, from hand-painted Chinese wallpaper, through Indian chintz, to Japanese sake bottles.

It was really interesting to see the hybrid objects that combined eastern techniques with western tastes. Such as the 17th century Japanese black and gold lacquer altars to the Virgin Mary and Child, with Indian mother-of-pearl inlay. Or the Crucifix made from jade and set with gold and rubies in a typical Mughal Indian decorative style.

But it is humour that makes the show, frequently at the expense of the Europeans. In one piece, Japanese artists have painted the Portuguese nanban-jan, or "southern barbarians", with huge noses. In another, a Japanese courtesan wrestles with a lusty, hairy European whilst lighting incense to disguise his ruddy smell. The Japanese also considered the Dutch appropriate decoration for their sake bottles. And there is India's Tippoo's Tiger, a large wooden statue of a British soldier being mauled by a tiger, complete with musical organ in the tiger's side to be played in crescendo to emulate the soldier's screams.

Many of the pieces depict, once again with derisive humour, the Europeans bearing gifts far less luxurious than Eastern products. Of course, the Europeans were latecomers to global trade. When the Portuguese first "discovered" (with the help of an Indian sailor) Asia in 1498, there was already a sophisticated and flourishing trading network centered on cosmopolitan sea ports spanning Arabia, Persia, India and China and dominated by luxury goods. It's these non-European networks that I want to learn more about.

The show lacks much political and historical depth, but its sumptuousness makes it worth a visit.

Related review:
+ The barbarian invasion. A new show at the V&A puts a positive spin on cultural exhanges between east and west. But in 500 years, have our colonial instincts really moved on?

Other links today:
+ The Wong Kar-Wai DVD boxset is out in the US!
+ Kar-Wai's 2046 website. Flash-tastic, but only seems to work in Internet Explorer.

+ "I go into comic shops, thumb through comic books and graphic novels, and leave wondering what the hell all the fuss is about. I guess you could say I don't get comics." Kottke asks his readers to tell him what he's missing. I also don't get comics so I'm following this thread closely.

+ "The trouble with Band Aid is that you can buy the single, believe you have done your bit, and walk away none the wiser as to the causes of and solutions to poverty in the developing world." Mark Thomas asks what is the point of Band Aid. (Reg. req.; current edition of New Statesman).

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Winter hibernation

As winter sets in, all my energies coil inwards and I'm loathe to leave the warm confines of my house. My two favourite places to hibernate when the weather turns cold are my bedroom and my kitchen. Here's what we cooked up in the spice kitchen this weekend:

Foodie links:

+ "Today I tried this recipe: Tuna Casserole. Ingredients: 1 large casserole dish. Place the casserole dish in a cold oven. Place a chair facing the oven and sit in it forever. Think about how hungry you are. When night falls, do not turn on the light. How can the eater recognize that the food denied him is a tuna casserole and not some other dish?" More Jean-Paul Sartre recipes in the Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook.

+ Let them eat cake. "They don't diet and they don't spend hours panting round the gym. So how can French women put away as much ice-cream, rich pastries and steak frites as they want and yet stay so slim?" It's all to with lingerie, Brie and cigarettes, apparently.

+ Breathe more, lose weight. It's all to do with carbon atoms, apparently.

Bloated links (hey, it's cold, who wants to go out!):

+ XFM's School of Rock. Get voting now for Britain's best school rock band. There's some formidable talent here that bodes extremely well for the future of British music. My favourite? Outl4w's cover of 999's 'Black Flowers For The Bride', fronted by 11 year old Rob.

+ Ronald Trahan Associates, PR firm working for Roche Pharmaceutical, issued the following statement for World AIDS Day: "With World AIDS Day fast approaching, I wanted to get in touch with some story ideas surrounding this event. This year's event is even more exciting given that we are celebrating 20 years of AIDS..." Huh? Via Holymoly.

+ How to steal Wi-Fi. And how to keep the neighbors from stealing yours. Step one: Lose the guilt.

+ Hack your way out of writer’s block. My favourites are:

  • Write from a persona - Lend your voice to a writing personality who isn’t you. Doesn’t have to be a pirate or anything - just try seeing your topic from someone else’s perspective, style, and interest.
  • Get away from the computer, write someplace new - If you’ve been staring at the screen and nothing is happening, walk away. Shut down the computer. Take one pen and one notebook, and go somewhere new.
  • Write the middle - Stop whining over a perfect lead, and write the next part or the part after that.

Whenever I'm stuck in a creative rut, I dig out my copy of Brian Eno's A Year With Swollen Appendices. It's a "year in the life of" diary and Eno's overactive mind and hyperactive creative life is an inspiration. Quite simply, he never stopped creating: from devising the perfect oyster sauce for his stir-fry and creating a computer simulation program, to designing art in Photoshop and writing a film score.

+ I think "being too busy" is the curse of many modern relationships.

+ How to get podcasts onto your iPod; how to get podcasts onto other players.

+ Slim CRT televisions are on their way. About time. The picture quality of CRTs beat LCDs and plasmas hands down.

+ "The lime says: I'm modern, I'm sophisticated, I'm so over lemons. It's a kind of green pod encapsulation of taking six months off work and trekking across Vietnam, without having to leave the kitchen. And it only costs 24p." Jacques Peretti's eulogy to the not-so-humble lime.

+ "The reach and power of telecommunications and computers have enabled everyone to spread evidence of their ignorance farther and faster than ever before. For proof, look at the recent emergence of blogs." Evidence indeed.

+ "Straight male seeks Bush supporter for fair, physical fight." Classified ad on Craigslist, NYC.

+ "Most pirates know in advance if the ship and its cargo is worth an attack, because they use state of the art equipment to monitor Inmarsat communications and even fax transmissions listing every single cargo item. Quite a substantial portion of Inmarsat reception units that are being sold in Germany or the United States are channelled to those regions where they are of invaluable service to modern age pirates." The modern high-tech pirates.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Time to get active

"President George W. Bush has finally been elected to office. I remind those who, in their initial disappointment, cried out that he isn't their president: he is your president, otherwise you wouldn't have a problem. Now is the time to work harder than ever to influence the votes of your Congress, that branch of government which is designed to be most responsive to the will of the people. And to those who are considering moving in light of the recent decision, I say: go for it. I suggest Ohio, Florida, or any other swing state. Get out among the people and talk to them. You might learn something, and in 2008 your vote may help tilt the election to the candidate of your choice."

Wise words for liberal Americans from Rebecca Blood.

Post-election roundup:

+ "The Bush twins, along with 2 massive secret service men, tried to have dinner in a New York restaurant but were told by the maitre 'd that they were full and would be for the next 4 years. Upon hearing the entire restaurant cheered and did a round of shots." From Gawker Stalker, 19 November.

The following links are a little old now, but I'm listing them here so I have a record:

+ is now joined by We'
+ "New Orleans went for Kerry; Louisiana went for Bush; St. Louis went for Kerry; Missouri went for Bush; urban vs. suburbs. The best thing the Democrats can do is move out to the 'burbs. You'll survive, believe me. I did." Buzzmachine.
+ United States of Canada
+ Americans flock to Canada's immigration web site.
+ After the American election. Read the responses to the Spiked debate.
+ George W. Bush's resume

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Home alone

Last night, after a terrible Japanese meal in Soho (not at Tokyo Diner, and totally my fault for choosing pork katsu curry - didn't realise it tasted like the curry sauce served in my local chippy - rather than pork katsu don), we retreated to the ICA bar (where are these board games you keep playing there, Hypatia?) and then to the cinema where we watched the disturbing docu-drama Nobody Knows.

Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, Nobody Knows is based on a real-life story that gripped Japan in 1988 when it transpired that a mother had absconded without warning and left her four young children to fend for themselves for 12 months. This movie follows the eldest child, 12 year old Akira, as he struggles to keep control of his siblings as they "gradually slip into a dreamlike existence of unlimited playtime, instant noodles, and confused distress".

As you can imagine, it is a deeply disturbing movie, made all the more incredible when you discover that the children are all un-professional actors who did not act to a conventional script - Kore-eda simply explained their lines to them each day and let them improvise.

Mesmerising and moving performances all round, but particularly from 14 year old Yuya Yagira (Akira), who won Best Actor at Cannes this year for this role.

Other links today:
+ My style of home decoration
+ Bill Gates is another victim of spam. He gets 4 million emails a day. Poor guy.
+ Inspiring advice on how to learn a language. On Kuro5hin.
+ Ooooops

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Band Aid 20

Band Aid 20's charity single has just been released in the UK and, as the BBC says, "criticising this feels like beating up Father Christmas". Most of the criticism levelled at the song so far has focussed on the blandness of the singing.

Campaigning organisation the World Development Movement, however, have come out with a searing indictment on Band Aid 20's lyrical content, describing it as "patronising, false and out of date":

"The song perpetuates the myth that Africa's problems can somehow be blamed on lack of rainfall and failed harvests. It conjures up an image of a continent inhabited entirely by starving children with flies on their faces sitting in the sunbaked bed of a dried up stream. African poverty is not an unfortunate accident of geography and climate. It is largely the result of damaging policies such as free trade forced on Africa by rich countries."

"The problem in Ethiopia today is not that nothing will grow, the problem is that the coffee that they are growing is worthless because of the mismanagement of the global economy by countries like ours."

"Africans are not passive victims of circumstance, dependent on our handouts. In fact Africa gives us as much money in debt repayments as it receives in aid. Across the continent angry Africans are demanding trade justice, debt cancellation and the regulation of multinational companies.

"The public are perfectly capable of understanding the abusive nature of the relationship between the rich and poor world. Once they understand the role of rich countries in keeping Africa poor their anger forces governments to listen and act."

Powerful words. There's more here. And if you feel like rewriting the Band Aid lyrics, go here.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Oxford gluttony

Spent the weekend in Oxford, ostensibly attending a work conference, which was actually very stimulating and productive. But the real impetus to return to Oxford was to catch up with friends still there. All keen cooks, we cooked up a storm in a wonderfully large, warm and homely kitchen. I've uploaded some of the recipes to this site:

Lots of food, lots of wine and lots of silliness.

Oxford trivia:

  • Hitler was intending to use Oxford as his capital if he conquered England. It is one of the reasons it was not bombed.

  • Oxford was the country's capital city during the Civil War (1642-1651) and King Charles 1's reign.

  • Cambridge University was founded by Oxford scholars. They were fleeing the first of many 'Town versus Gown' riots that erupted in Oxford in 1209 following the murder of a local townswoman by students.

  • Dating back to the 1000s (there's no clear founding date but the earliest teaching there dates to 1096), Oxford University is the oldest English speaking university in the world.

  • New College, founded in 1379, holds the record for having constructed the largest cesspit in Oxford's history. The location now houses the student common room.

  • The University's Bodleian Library currently houses more than six and a half million documents on 169 Km (105 miles) of shelves. Its collection is growing at a rate of 300,000 documents every year.

  • Oxford University has educated 25 British Prime Ministers including William E. Gladstone, Clement Attlee, Harold Macmillan, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and USA President Bill Clinton also studied at Oxford. Famous Oxonians.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The Times is read by...

One of my colleagues refused to be interviewed by The Daily Express today because she abhores them politically. Her conviction reminded me of this wonderful (adapted) excerpt from Sir Humphrey's speech in UK comedy Yes Minister:

The Times is read by people who run the country.

The Mirror is read by people who think they run the country.

The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country.

The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country.

The Financial Times is read by people who own the country.

The Daily Express is read by people who think the country should be run the way it used to be.

The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think the country is run the way it used to be.

The Morning Star is read by those who think the country should be run by someone else.

And The Sun is read by people who don't care who the hell runs the country as long as she has big tits.

Other links today:
+ "John Peel died in 1998. With Home Truths, he crossed the fine line between Scouse-ish wit and cloying sentimentality." Irreverent article from Spiked.
+ "By 2070, the Artic will be so warm it will no longer have any ice in the summer. By 2100, The Arctic will lose 50% to 60% of its ice distribution." Arctic warming at twice the global rate.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

A Home At The End Of The World

Saw a moving, intimate movie about an unusual love triangle set across three decades - the 60s, 70s and 80s: Bobby (Colin Farrell) is a sweet and innocent young man in love with both his gay best friend Jonathan (Dallas Roberts) and Jonathan's older kooky flatmate Clare (Robin Wright Penn). The three form an "alternative" family unit and move out to the country to raise Bobby and Clare's baby. There, they predictably discover alternative families have their own dysfunctions.

This is the first Farrell movie I've seen though I'm fully aware he usually plays action hero roles. But I would never have guessed from this film. Despite his character being innocent to the point of irritation, his performance is subtle, nuanced and tender - his face and body expresses every painful and glorious emotion, from sexual desire through excruciating shyness to exuberant glee.

My quibble with the film is that it is too short. It spends so much time charting the childhood friendship of Bobby and Jonathan, that there is little exploration of the intensification of their adult relationship both with one another and with Clare. All sets of relationships remain elusive. The result is a movie full of story but thin on detail.

Michael Cunningham, who wrote the wonderful The Hours, adapted this screenplay from his own novel of the same name, which I'm now going to rush out and buy.

+ BBC: "Soulful performances from Farrell, Sissy Spacek and newcomer Dallas Roberts make this a rich and emotionally rewarding experience. You'll find a mature, heartfelt and intimate piece that, if nothing else, shows what an impressive performer Farrell can be when he stops hell-raising long enough to focus on the job at hand."
+ New York Times (reg. req.): "Mr. Cunningham has turned a delicate novel into a bland and clumsy film. It is so thoroughly decent in its intentions and so tactful in its methods that people are likely to persuade themselves that it's better than it is, which is not very good."

Other links today:
+ "Yasser Arafat is being flown back to Palestine wearing a Newcastle shirt, Spurs shorts & Rangers socks. He wanted to be buried in the Gazza Strip." Popbitch's response to Arafat's death today.
+ How can blogs possibly influence world politics when most bloggers don't leave their bedrooms? Answer: a very few, key political, middle-class, white and male bloggers exert formidable agenda-setting power on mainstream media. However, the revolution will not be blogged. Excellent article from Foreign Policy Journal.
+ Histories and influences of Asian cinema. "Check out the latest US movie production slate and it is hard to escape the conclusion that Hollywood is turning Japanese. And Korean. With a dash of Thai and Hong Kong thrown in."

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Purple haze

There have been numerous election maps produced in the last few days, but I find this one particularly consoling as it shows how close it really was. The purple represents a 50/50 spilt:

The creator Jeff Culver told Boing Boing:

"I was thinking today about how the 'red v. blue' states graphic is really misleading considering the slim margins that the candidates won some of those states by, so I sat down and created the map. I think it definitely portrays our fellow states far differently than the extreme way we've been seeing to date."

The bottom line is that rural counties voted Bush and cities voted Kerry. Rural areas have a much lower population density, but occupy a larger geographic range. Looking at a standard election map, the Republican red looks like a Bush landslide, but the actual population counts were almost dead even: half the country for Bush, the other half for Kerry.

Other maps:
+ Robert J. Vanderbei's county-by-country Purple America map
+ USA Today's county-by-county map
+ USA Today's state-by-state standard map

Other links today:
+ The National Priorities Project has published a visual state by state tool contrasting each US state's share of the cost of the war in Iraq with the cost of other programs such as education or homeland security. See how the war has affected your community. Sample figures: California ($19.5B), Texas ($11.5B), Ohio ($5.7B).

Monday, November 08, 2004

God only knows

I had a suitably religious day yesterday, when a friend took me to his local church in South London. I was a little wary of going because I thought it would either be a happy-clappy-born-again church, or just plain boring. However, any church with a pine dining table complete with tablecloth for an altar, a cabinet full of Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic religious artifacts, and a hand-painted coffee-coloured Jesus on the wall had to be all right.

My positive feelings were confirmed when, in the middle of the Eucharist, the priest asked everyone to recite the Lord's Prayer in their own language and I heard a babble of Chinese, Tamil, Spanish, French, English and more fill the hall. It was simply beautiful. I later learned that 20 different nationalities are represented there. One of the priests (there are four, including one woman) even cooked us all lunch.

The religious theme continued tonight when I saw Saved! - a typical teen satire with an evangelical twist. Mary (Jena Malone) is the God-fearing Christian school girl whose mission to infiltrate the popular clique, the Christian Jewels (headed up by born again bitch Mandy Moore) backfires spectacularly when she becomes pregnant by her gay boyfriend. Having failed so miserably in her role as the Good Girl, she falls in with the school misfits, headed by novelty Jew Cassandra (played by Susan Sarandon's daughter) and world-weary, sarcastic, wheelchair-bound Roland (impressively played by Macauly Culkin). Through them she learns the "true" message of Christianity: love thy neighbour, even if that neighbour is gay, a Jew or an unwed teenage mother.

The movie has been quite rightly panned by the critics. What begins as a razor-sharped satire of the reactionary Christian right, ends - on prom night, no less - with a moralising, sentimental and ultimately saccharine message of universal love. But it made me reflect again on my own experiences and I can understand the attraction of hardcore Christianity.

For two years at the end of my teens, I was seduced by evangelical Christianity. As a teenager, trying to find my place in the world and yearning to fit in, I embraced the rigidity of a religion that needed nothing from me but my total acceptance. Belonging to an evangelical church gave me the sense of belonging and community I had never felt before. And after years of thinking too much, it was a relief not to have to anymore: my thinking was done for me and I simply had to agree.

Eventually, of course, it all got too stifling. But for a time, it was absolute heaven.

+ Roger Ebert. Positive.
+ Slant. Negative.

Other links today:
+ Google censorship. "I went to Google Images to search for it. 'Abu Ghraib' brought up only photos of the outside of the prison. Not a single photo from the scandal. Next I searched for 'Lynndie England', not a single picture. Next I decided to look for 'Charles Graner' her boyfriend who was also prominently features in the pictures, nothing." I tried it. Even with Safe Search Off, it's true: nada! Update: Google's response.

+ The decline of brands. "Sure, there are more brands than ever. But they're taking a beating - or, even worse, being ignored. Who's to blame? A new breed of hyperinformed superconsumers. (That's right - you!)."

+ Rhyme without reason. "The farmer's wife cuts the tails of three blind mice. Jack tumbles down a hill and suffers a skull fracture. What is the real scheme in these rhymes?"

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Gadget wishlist

Today I went to the What Hi-Fi?/Best of Stuff show in Hammersmith (I was one of the few women, it seemed, who didn't attend with their partner or dress in nothing but thin strips of strategically-placed cloth) and came away with a new gadget wishlist. None of what I loved is the best in its category (far from it), but each was the best that I want right now:

Cyrus CD8 CD player: a remarkably smooth, full-bodied sound from such a little, brushed silver box.

Elonex Extentia PC: Pentium 4, 3 GHz, XP Media Center, 512 Mb memory, 200 Gb hard drive, 17" widescreen, 5.1 surround sound, TV tuner, FM radio, DVD-rewriter. And no tower - it's all in the monitor.

Archos Gmini 400 audio and video player: 20 Gb, plays MP3s and WMAs, full-colour screen that also displays photos and plays video files, brushed silver metal casing; surprisingly thin and light (unlike the new Creative PVP).

JVC InteriArt LCD TV: 32" widescreen, 170 degree viewing angle, PAL progressive. I still prefer CRT TVs because, to my eye at least, the screens have the best clarity. Despite believing LCD technology to be better than plasma technology - in the sub-32" category at least - the picture detail on most LCDs are still a little too fuzzy around the edges for my liking. Not this baby though. Pin-sharp viewing at any angle and not too big for the living room.

But my favourite of the entire day was the Sony NW-HD1 audio player: 30 hour battery life, 20 Gb, smaller and thinner than an iPod (which I alone seem to think looks tacky and plastic - ducks for cover), brushed metal case and that lovely Walkman logo. However, at present the Sony HD1 stubbornly only plays ATRAC files (it converts MP3s). I refuse to convert my entire MP3 collection to Sony proprietary format, so I'm holding out for the next generation Sony HD Walkmans (coming out in a few months), which promise to play MP3s without forcing a conversion to ATRAC. There's also a Sony Vaio audio and video player with full-colour screen, but I found the touchpad intuitive to the point of irritation. (Incidentally, the new teeny-tiny Zen Micro is a thing of beauty, comes in 10 colours from silver to lime, and is a dream to handle, but only comes with 5 Gb capacity.)

Christmas is coming. Hint, hint, hurrah!

Related links:
+ Gizmodo. Gadgets weblog.
+ Player. MP3 players blog. Superb.
+ DAP Review. Digital audio player news, reviews and forums. Indispensible.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Happy Guy Fawkes Night!

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot;
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,
'Twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow.

By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring.
Holloa boys holloa boys, God save the King!

A penny loaf to feed the Pope,
A farthing o' cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to rinse it down,
A faggot of sticks to burn him!

Burn him in a tub of tar,
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we'll say old Pope is dead!
Hip, hip, hoorah!
Hip, hip, hoorah!

Of course, those last verses are seldom sung these days. And considering the Catholic Guy Fawkes may well have been framed by the Protestant, anti-Catholic King, and hadn't, in fact, been planning to blow up Parliament - then it's a good thing these verses are not sung.

Right, as a bad Catholic, I'm off to watch the fireworks and Guy Fawkes burn in the park! Have a good night, everyone.

Related link:
+ Wikipedia's entry for Guy Fawkes

Other links today:
+ Caravaggio comes to London. I'm so giddy with excitement. February 2005 - hurry up!
+ Does the Flores 'Hobbit' really mean 'the end of religion'?

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Pick me up

Well, in light of recent events, we needed a pick-us-up, so we hot-footed it to the Indian restaurant Mela on Shaftesbury Avenue, on the condition that politics was off the menu.

Had a yummy sweet potato chaat and stuffed puris with tamarind chutney, followed by pleasant-enough lamb korma, lamb rogan josh, and seafood stew.

I remember the food being better than this: tonight the main dishes were more salt and gravy than anything else, but the desserts redeemed the entire meal. The servings have gotten smaller, but they were delicious and not too sugary: pistachio kulfi, carrot halwa and a creamy kheer.

Afterwards, we tumbled down into Frevds. I've never been to the London branch of this bar and I was a little dubious because I remember the Frevds in Oxford as having tacky salsa nights and bad jazz. But this one in Covent Garden was smoky, poky and dark - just how I like my bars.

I'm now happily Becked-out and ready for my bed.

Politics-free zone:

+ I'm more a fan of his character than his music, so I loved learning today about Elton John's line in hotel pseudonyms: Lillian Lollipop (used in Japan where it comes out "Rirrian Rorripop" - sorry, it's not very PC, but this did give me the chuckles), Lord Choc Ice, Lord Elpus, Binky Poodleclip and Fanny Beaversnatchclit. Via Popbitch.

+ P2P comes to cellphones