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 allĂ©es, 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:

+ SorryEverybody.com is now joined by We'reNotSorry.com.
+ "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

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

America, welcome to your President

I know Ohio still hasn't called (as at 4:30am EST) but it doesn't look good. What a depressing day.

Bush's one finger salute to America (video, 1mb, Quicktime).

UPDATE: Kerry has officially conceded defeat. BBC.

UPDATE 2: And Senator Daschle has also lost his seat, making him the first Senate leader in more than half a century to be voted out of office. This means the Republicans have strengthened their power over both Houses. This news particularly hurts, because I lived in South Dakota and was a Daschle supporter. BBC.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Woodsman

Yesterday we saw the haunting and sombre The Woodsman in Leicester Square as part of the London Film Festival.

Kevin Bacon plays 45 year old paedophile Walter, recently released from a 12 year stretch in prison and attempting to adjust to normal life on the outside. He finds work in a lumber yard, takes a small apartment ironically overlooking a grade school, and tries to be as inconspicuous as possible.

His struggle to overcome his attraction to young girls and construct a semblance of normality in his life is made increasingly difficult by the relentless pressure of police inspector Lucas (Mos Def) and the suspicious interferences of co-worker Mary-Kaye (Eve); as well as by his creeping realisation that the man waiting outside the school gates each day is a child molester, and by his own continuing desires.

Small glimmers of hope shine through his lonely life in the form of 3 key characters, each seeking, in their own ways, to accept the disclosure of Walter's dark secret: his brother-in-law Carlos (Benjamin Bratt) remains a loyal friend despite preventing Walter from seeing his 12 year old daughter and despite Walter's sister refusing to see her brother; feisty yet broken Vickie (real-life Mrs. Bacon Kyra Sedgwick) enters into an intense relationship with Walter that deepens into a love that endures the awful revelations; and Walter's burgeoning and initially disturbing friendship with an 11 year old girl finally allows him to see a life beyond his sexual desires.

Paedophilia is the movie industry's last great taboo and yet this low-budget independent by first-time director Nicole Kassell tackles it without hysterics or moralising. It's a sober, measured, muted psychological drama that is so cautious that sometimes I felt the subject matter could have been explored more challengingly.

It opens in the US and UK from this December. I, for one, will watch it again.


+ "Uncomfortable viewing for some, The Woodsman is an honest, earnest study of one of society's least acceptable forms of behaviour that succeeds chiefly due to its expert cast." A positive review from Channel 4.

+ "The mood of the film is so relentlessly bleak that it's hard to take. Even the small victories in Walter's life are muted and underplayed, giving us little hope for his future. You say, 'Well, what kind of happiness and forgiveness should a child molester have?' And I say, probably none." A negative review from Eric D. Snider.

Monday, November 01, 2004

The smiling stingray

Now, I'm not one for the warm fuzzies, but this I could not resist. Via Flickr.