Saturday, July 23, 2011

This is what should count for blasphemy.

This Murdoch/News of the World/police/politician thing that rocked the UK this last week has died down a little,  I hope it is a calm between some more profound and powerful storms that should happen.

I watched the questioning of James Murdoch and Rupert Murdoch this week and partly it was with a big thrill:  man, this game is fun.  This game is fun and important.  Hearings like that are a sacred space where we let the rule of law in, and we do it through witnesses.  And we do it through answers to questions.

And Rupert and James were masterful at not really answering any of the questions.  I am a citizen and a taxpayer and I would like to know exactly what happened and who was protecting who.  We didn't get those answers. I found the MPs far too deferential to the Murdochs.

That was a piece of theatre and perhaps for some, it was a shaming and a calling into account, but I saw a scene that communicated with blinding clarity:  the government defers to business, and is unwilling to do the hard work of cleaning house, so even the questioners did not have an absolute incentive to get to the truth. A striking detail is that there was not a single question about Sean Hoare. Sean Hoare was the News of the World journalist who died - he had a history of substance abuse, but hey, a lot of people have a history of substance abuse and don't die.  Fucking Keith Richards is still alive.  It could be that the thing that killed Sean Hoare was the fact that he was willing to testify to a fact that now is considered false:  that Coulson knew what was going on (and thus perhaps Cameron new) regarding phone hacking, settling hacking lawsuits, paying off the police, paying legal bills of scapegoats who took the falls.  Hoare would have explained that Coulson knew all this.  And now he is dead.  And the investigation goes forward on the strength of Coulson's unchallenged statement that he knew nothing. 

And I keep thinking of David Kelly, who would have testified that Blair substantively understood there were no weapons of mass destruction, but was found in the woods, dead, before he could do so.

Come on.   

Britain is so proud of itself for its rule of law, but the first rule in the rule of law is this: you should keep your witnesses alive and well.  Once witnesses get killed off, the rule of law has failed.  And it is the sanctity of the rule of law that every MP should protect by getting to the bottom of it.

There is a lawlessness in the actions of the government, the police and Murdoch that is exactly equally terrifying to me.  They hide behind the protections of their corporation and sovereign affiliation, but what we have here, as citizens of this country, what we have here is a big stinking mess.  Police harass protesters.  They killed Ian Tomlinson.   They shoot innocents.  They have internal investigations about those things that always find everything was fine.  Come on, you guys, how is this any better than living in China?   Corporations buy police action or inaction.  Politicians are silenced.  No questions about a dead witness.  No questions about a dead witness.  No questions about a dead witness.  This is wrong.  Shame on every MP.

If this is the first time you have read this blog, please be aware, I am crazy, although I prefer to think that I actually am just different than other people, neurodiverse, if you will, in a way that is not necessarily pathological.  I would like to think that but I am pretty sure there is some pathology involved in what I am.  And you should also be aware, dear reader, that I had two dreams, dreams I feel to be portentous.  Dreams that should be heralded.  In the second dream, at least how I see it, it is time for people to shrink these governments and corporations, shrink these banks and monopolists, shrink them back down to their original purpose, and bring them within the rule of law.  We have judges in the UK who are handmaidens to the aims of the powerful - hence the superinjunctions - and we have judges in the US who are blind about corporations.

The US Supreme Court keeps giving corporations powers more like sovereigns than like individuals, and creating special beneficial treatment for them in civil and criminal proceedings and the effect has been to grow a successful country  - to a point.  The effect now is a great hollowing out of the middle class, distribution of wealth to corporations and governments, to bankers, to the detriment of all the people who are not elite.  This can be addressed by simply a fair application of existing law, and a rethink of the regulatory frameworks in which sovereigns and corporations operate.   

The United States invades a foreign sovereign illegally and executes a man without trial or charges.  Bin Laden.  And you know what?  That night I am sitting next to a British judge, an important one, and he says that justice was done.  I said that if justice was done when the US killed Bin Laden then justice was done when the planes went into the towers.  Truly, all we can ask of each other is to live by the rule of law.  The United States has long operated outside of international law, and Britain joined them.  The US should have turned over Bin Laden to the international criminal court.  The actions of the people - and they were people as well as terrorists -- who flew the planes were in their minds a kind of justice - both that and bin Laden's execution were blind vengeance outside of the rule of law.  And people who live in the US are a little blind, sorry, but its' true, a little blind to how the US has broken a lot of laws and hurt a lot of people.  Neitszche said it.  We are unknown to ourselves.  We truly are. (Aside: Admitting that ought to be the Christian thing to do, if you ask me, which you didn't, since I am not a Christian anymore) 

 I think the Murdoch hearings should be an excellent way to kick off my new Rule of Law initiative.  Which exists only in this blog because I am busy.  I ask all the MPs to at least ask about Sean Hoare.  On a going forward basis, please, MPs, be citizens of Britain before you are party members, and find it in your heart to ask the hardest questions. 

 I am angry because it was my generation that let the corporations and sovereigns get out of hand and we did it because we all have such unthinking faith in capitalism. (And we were busy competing against other humans to obtain better/more goods)   I am still convinced that capitalism is the best way to distribute goods, but it must be balanced by the more pressing need to address the rate of consumption of the world's resources, and everyone with a brain thinks that and wants that for their children, but we see ourselves as oddly powerless to use the force of law to bring this about.  We are set against each other competing for goods in this set-up, and it keeps us too busy to get involved and change anything. We have children to raise.  But yet what are we raising them into?  Can't we do better than this?   

I was with a friend who is a magnificent stained glass artist yesterday and I asked him about making me a saint window of Sienna Miller.  Because to me she is a saint.  When she sued the News of the World over the phone hacking scandal, those guys threw all kinds of money at her to settle the case.  It worked for everyone else.  But Sienna didn't take the money, she pressed her case, she made the government take evidence under penalty of perjury, and she made the judge rule on it.  God bless Sienna Miller.  Because if she had not done that, we would not even be here, with at least a glimpse under the rock of bloated corruption our government, police and media have become.  She used the rule of law to bring us closer to the truth.

David Kelly and Sean Hoare.  We need to know what those names have in common.   

Monday, July 18, 2011

the lesson of the moth by Don Marquis

the lesson of the moth

By Don Marquis, in "archy and mehitabel," 1927

i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires
why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense
plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves
and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity
but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

HP7 Review: The Battle of Hogwarts spoilers, spoilers and more spoilers.

  I have been daydreaming about the Battle of Hogwarts for years. I am usually not one for battle scenes in movies, too overwhelming, too hard to tell what is happening, and the characters are in a fear and adrenalin white-out.

But I have known Harry Potter for some time, this story defined my decade, and the Battle of Hogwarts is the pinnacle of the series.  I first heard of Harry from a nine-year-old girl.  She had read the Philosopher's Stone and needed to write a book report on it.  So I asked her the plot and, well, it is so richly plotted that her telling was a bit incoherent.  But she was so excited.  I mean, she was thrilled about what she had read in a book.  And thus I came to the real magic of Harry Potter.

Not long after I met my husband, just after Goblet of Fire came out. I read Prisoner of Azkaban aloud to him as we drove someplace north to attend a wedding and meet his best friend.  I had only met Rhys about two months before that and I already had his name tattooed on my back.  It was a heady time.  I would do a little Grindylow impression that would crack him up while driving.

I read Order of the Phoenix married and pregnant and commuting to Kensington from East London working for this start-up.  It was a hot summer.  I am glad that book is long.  Rowling's prose is charming and her plots are absorbing and when that book was over, the tube seemed hotter and the commute seemed longer.  Half Blood Prince came out when I had a one-year-old, and we would go play in Princess Diana's park and then when he fell asleep, I would sit in Hyde Park in glorious long grass alone with my sleeping son and feast on the thrill of what happens next.

Deathly Hallows came out four years ago, days before we moved to Cambridge.  Even on the first reading, even before I shared all these stories with my son and they became such an important part of our relationship, even then, I was so thrilled by Snape.  That marvelously brave, endlessly fascinating man, who himself was not sure whether he was good or evil, maybe ever.  I saw the movie last night and of the many parts of the movie that exceeded my imagination, Rickman was just, well, every second of Snape on screen to me is this guy breaking my heart and kicking my ass in the same second.  This blend of arrogance and self-hatred, this talent and insight and tolerance of suffering.  All those looks Snape had been giving Harry in all the previous films had such a resurrection in Deathly Hallows, a transformation from cartoon hate to a kind of ingenious tortured love.

Thank you, J.K. Rowling and Alan Rickman for Snape.

So Owain and I were so excited about seeing this movie; we got our tickets way in advance and read all the reviews and watched all the trailors.  I parent in the Venn Diagram overlap between my interests and my son's interests.  When my son got really interested in Harry Potter, it was fantastic.  There we were together in the shaded area, and I read and reread and read aloud to Owain and we talked endlessly about Harry and Tom Riddle, about why Hermione didn't marry Harry, of what the horcruxes were, of what exactly was the issue with the Slytherins, and lately about Neville Longbottom and how he really could have been Harry Potter.

I note with some sadness that the film, while giving Neville some moments, wasted time by doing a few Neville= Ralph from the Simpsons gags.  No.  By this movie, Neville is a man who leads a ragged resistance.  And he can dance.  And Neville's legacy from Voldemort  is even more terrible than Harry's:  the death of a narrative consciousness for Neville's own parents, tortured into insanity and in a mental hospital.  Neville's slaying of Nagini was heroic, but still, he was back looking a little dorky at the end.  Not right. 

The movie moved along so brilliantly in the beginning, the Gringotts raid, Aberforth and Ariana, so swiftly.  Helena Bonham Carter playing Hermione pretending to be Bellatrix LeStrange after drinking polyjuice potion nails Watson hilariously.  Then, really, way before we were ready, it was time for the battle.

The battle starts with McGonagall bringing the castle to life to defend itself, stone knights appear and the music is exciting and I was so excited!  But the battle . . .  It deviates from the book in the order of the battle and in the ultimate victory Harry has over Voldemort.  Unfortunately, I found some of those deviations really detracted from what I loved best about the books. 

In the book, when Harry finally defeats Voldemort it is in the great hall of the school, everything is happening at once, Fred is dead, Mrs. Weasley kills Bellatrix and out of nowhere, Harry, who they thought was dead, jumps out just as the sun is rising.

  And the way Harry kills Voldemort in the books is really important to his character too, so I was sad that it was left out.  In the book, Harry uses his favorite spell, his trusty friend, his little zen master tool:  he uses Expelliarmus, the spell that merely fetches the instrument of the aggressor and nothing more.  And that moment is witnessed.  Hermione, Ron, Neville, Luna, the Weasleys, they witness that moment and their own faces tell what it means to them and all they lost to be there and bear witness. 

But in the movie, Harry and Voldemort go off for a longer struggle alone.  I guess I have some sympathy, cinematically, for making their struggle real, but you know what, not enough to excuse it.  We have known their struggle for a long time.  I have known it for a decade.  Who would win in a fight - the White Witch or Sauron or Lex Luther or Voldemort?  Harry or Superman or Frodo?  My son and I converse about the heroes, the villains and their struggles all the time and this was the fight we wanted to witness.We earned the right for that fight to be big and cinematic and for that on-screen audience to cheer for these characters and to hear them be cheered, for the sun to shine and eyes to reflect hope.  We earned the right for Harry to have a big moment.  If not Harry, then who?  But no.  We didn't get it.  Harry kills Voldemort in, like Parking Lot C of Hogwarts and then the next you see him is walking through the great hall and he hasn't even  mentioned it to anyone.  It's so English! What the hell?  I mean, it's actually unclear if anyone knows if Voldemort is dead. 

 So we get no thrills when Harry kills Voldemort and we get no satisfaction AGAIN when Harry does NOT GO back to Dumbledore's office to talk to him about the Deathly Hallows.  In the book, Harry goes back to the headmaster's office as soon as he kills Voldemort and all the past Headmasters of Hogwarts living in the portraits rise to their feet and cheer him.  Having married into a family headed by an august academic, I know how hard it is to get those old dudes out of their chairs, and I never could get past that part of Deathly Hallows without crying.  Really, it was the least he deserved, and while maybe Harry didn't need to hear the cheers, I wanted to hear them on his behalf.  And I wanted to hear them BAD.  No cheers.  Yet the collective consciousness needed them.  Unfairoes!  (That is a spell my son made up.  It doesn't do anything except express an opinion) 

Instead of getting counsel from  portrait-Dumbledore in which Harry explains his decision to lay down the instrument of ultimate power, the Elder Wand of the Deathly Hallows, Harry instead  has this John Lennon moment with Ron and Hermione and tosses the wand without a word and the movie sort of ends with them holding hands.  Before the very last scene, the flashforward which should have aged them all 19 years but actually aged them about ten minutes.  I mean, really.  What the hell is wrong with these guys?  They can make a blind Ukrainian dragon captive in a cave for decades fly across London and make it completely plausible and they can't age Daniel Radcliffe 19 years? What is that about? With that budget, they could have called up the Benjamin Button guys.

I will leave you with one of the many moments that did not disappoint.  the moment that Harry, after reading Snape's memories (which, in a gorgeous touch, were held in Snape's tears instead of the grey wisps of cloud) realizes that he is the unintended Horcrux, that Voldemort lives in him, so he has to die.   That face.  Those eyes.  That stunned silence. Oh, he was there and it was filmed perfectly.  Daniel Radcliffe's greatest moment.  I was a little breathless.  

But I missed the cheering.  I wanted it for Harry Potter and for my son.  And for me.

Fight Club

So the last two days Owain and I hosted Fight Club in our backyard.  Twenty kids, one combat for stage instructor and hours of enthusiastic and mostly successfully fake punching, slapping, hair pulling, eye gouging, uppercuts and strangulation.  The enthusiasm with which a seven-year-old will pretend to scream in pain and expire is almost disturbing.  It was about the most fun I have had in Cambridge.  I like that transgressive, dark stuff.  In my defense,  Fight Club requires body awareness, cooperation, choreography, intention and commitment.  It is an introduction to theater and it was totally fun.  In the last 45 minutes, we put together a short play based on the scene in The Hobbit where the dwarves attack the Goblin King.  In our version, an elf prince killed the Goblin King and the elves were assisting the hobbits to free a hobbit hostage/future roast hobbit dinner held by the Goblin King.  The elves took out the trolls guarding the goblin lair and the hobbits attacked the goblins.  (There were two girls out of twenty and when faced with their options, whether to be a goblin, hobbit, elf or troll, they wanted to know who was the prettiest.  That was a little depressing.)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Open Letter to UK Journalists and Conservatives

Dear Six Regulars:  

I know how you LOVE it when I get all angry pants about regulatory issues.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.  No LOL for me, lads, ever.

Anyway, the Conservatives who control the UK despite the pretend alliance with the LibDems have set aside £40 million for a local business stimulus in the form of local tv stations.  This idea is intriguing and has a lot to offer.  It is really a step in the right direction for Conservatives.  It's an olive branch.  But politics is so stupidly partisan here that everyone who is not a conservative is condemning it, killing it before it even comes alive.  The shit I am reading in the Guardian makes me want to puke.   They have gotten old and lazy and the quality of analysis is so poor.  Therefore, I present for the pleasure of anyone who delights in scorchingly accurate analysis and bettering the plight of the planet: 


First, take note,  the standard of excellence in reporting and analyzing the news in the UK is no longer   "at least we are not News of the World".  Left wing press are printing editorial after editorial to sink government initiatives that could turn out to benefit everyone in the UK just because those initiatives orginated with the Conservatives:  that is bad form and bad for your country and the lives of your children and for that, you suck.  In case you haven't, noticed, things are not so great here, and everyone needs to pitch in and support the intelligent actions of this government.  I read the Tory culture website about local television and it is a cogent, intelligent plan.  That has been utterly ignored in the press.  Despite the fact that if the plan succeeded, it could really help the United Kingdom.  Not only help the United Kingdom economically and socially, but help its soul, help its spirit.  You know, I think it's just fabulous that it was Blair who promised to consider our souls, but it is the Conservatives who are really thinking about it.   You journalists stink of Blair in all his vague evil with your partisan coverage.  Set it aside and help Britain.  And also, Private Eye and Economist:  GO SIT ON THE NAUGHTY STEP WITH THE GUARDIAN. Seriously.  You have to be more broad-minded than you are.   Because I am sitting here feeling sorry for David Cameron.  THAT IS NOT RIGHT.  Grow up and do the right thing and don't make me tell you again, or it will be ALLCAPS. 

The Conservatives have put forth an embryonic plan to create and sustain local content, through some kind of assistance in broadcast and otherwise of local tv stations.  The regulatory contours of this one are, as far as I can see, pretty open-ended. I don't think anyone has that much of an idea of how good this idea is.  Here is why I think it is a phenomenally good idea that should be supported.  The government is creating a market for locally-created content.  It could be a competitive market. 

This feeds the very soul of this nation powefully: its Eisteddfod, its X Factor its So You Think You Can Ice Skate, its sports day, its talent shows.   This island is artists and story-tellers, sharing the soul of Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Reepicheep  in Narnia, in Middle Earth, in the Gruffalo's cave.  The inhabitants of this island have an almost creepy childhood fetish that produces such marvelous childhoods and such good art.  This is Shakespeare's country.  This is the country of stories.  A cut above New York and Sydney (though it pains me to say).  It is in the soil and blood here.  

 So anyway, this government project would give local content producers the opportunity to create content, content that could then be broadcast locally or licensed on.   Fantastic.  You have the will to produce art and you have a potential economic upside for all parties. 

So assuming the Conservatives are fairly intolerant of risk, this is a great first model:  create a separate non-profit production company with the seed money, quasi-independent but not like the completely unworkable crappy Network Rail situation (Or YOU'LL be on the naughty step), and have this company solicit content.  Don't worry about creating distribution networks, just use local ITV stations.

,- This requires you to understand how the model would shift from the somewhat primitive proposal you have now.  I propose it be more about creating quality content rather than filling local airspace, and that NewCorp simply contract and support specific programmes.  I think this actually strengthens the case for local advertising investment over the current model.  I think you create a huge incentive for local tourism industry to invest heavily in advertising knowing that should the programme go to national or even international distribution, the original advertisements would remain.  It's like buying a lottery ticket of fame. This would create added value for the hospitality industry through intelligent regulation. 

 - I propose that the government endow this corporation with immunity from prosecution for breach of copyright claims.  That is right.  All these people creating local content:  they must be able to use any song they want, any film clip, to be free to sing the songs they love and create the content they want heavy though it is on pastiche and references.  We live in a post-modern world, and our art should reflect that without the disproportionately inflated opportunity costs thrust upon us by bossypants record companies.  This would be an awesome opportunity for the Conservatives to CLEAN HOUSE AT OFCOM - give Ofcom the job of securing all rights for  NewCorp. 

Then sit back and let the proposals come in, and allocate resources accordingly.   

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review of MacBeth, on Trumpington Road 6:30 - 7:10 p.m.

 I just came back from my son's school's first play, an evening showing of MacBeth.  Owain was too young to be in it, but we were both eager to attend. 

The witches foremost should be commended in this production, they were mesmerizing in the ways they moved around each other and the voices that they used.  I was impressed at that imagination, and at the voices.  The girls spoke in very different voices than their own, it was apparent to me that they had considered these witches and really brought them to life.  I would describe the voices they chose as hazy and harpy, with some munchkin from the Wizard of Oz and a lot of Karen Walker from the tv show Will & Grace.  Fantastic. 

But my favorite parts of the play are still Lady MacBeth's Out, Out, Damn Spot and the Tomorrow speech.  Lady Macbeth was absolutely ethereal, and moved like a ghost.  MacBeth was played with a grim good humour that I would more often associate with Hamlet than MacBeth, capable of flashes of anger but perhaps a shade more toward bemused that was necessary.  MacBeth is a greedy jackass capable of evil.  Having said that, it is a hard part to find inside yourself for any actor with decades of professional experience and I liked the MacBeth he came up with.   The tomorrow speech was the best part :

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. 

 The whole play, to me, is the fact that MacBeth continually disappoints himself as a human being so much that these words mean something.  That's why they keep performing Shakespeare, I think, year after year here.  Because Shakespeare lets us sit and contemplate, or remember the times in our lives that would make the Tomorrow speech true.  Sometimes life feels like that tale told by an idiot. 

The length of time for the play was great.  I felt that it was a pretty good combination of narrative and scenes. I did find the narrative probably unnecessarily moralizing and too heavy an annotation on words that need no adornment except the active engagement of the speaker.  I thought making the scenes shorter but with greater preparation time, so that, for instance, the Tomorrow speech lines above are the only lines in that scene, you might get good concentrated fifteen second performances.    A sketch show with deaths, murders, despair and a crazy soap lady! 

I found the scenery oddly effective.  Having not been involved in producing despite offering, I was prepared to hate it but I did not.  The music was evocative. The battle scene at the end really came alive.  It made me see that these kids could move really effectively and use the space imaginatively, the battle was a wonderful picture and everyone really terrific.  And a special shout out to every backstage scream, which I thought were so full of life!  I loved them.

The edges weren't very sharp, but were fairly well organized and the actors stayed in the round watching the performance.  I thought that was effective.  And the slight blur of when they began and the post-bow mayhem are actually very much considered wonderful studies in themselves, about the audience and their engagement, and the relationship that the audience has with the actors.  And the audience, the parents, were so full of love and support.  I am not that generous a person so I thought they were being a little soft, except that the set and the battle scene and the witches and the blonde servant of Lady MacBeth who cared so tenderly about her, they all actually did deserve their wild applause.