Saturday, 8 November 2008

Indonesia executes Bali bombers by shooting

BBC News reports that "since they were sentenced, the bombers made several appeals for leniency. However, they also said they were keen to be "martyrs" for their dream of creating a South East Asian caliphate." By any standards of the faith that they professed, they ought to have made up their minds before their minds were made up (or rather, used up) for them. Isn't it often claimed that the suicide-murderer generally believes that s/he part-atones for the carnage they inflict by the righteous exchange of their own demise? Not that the wretched rat-bag life of a suicide-murderer amounts to the worth of one hair on the head of any of their victims - 202 individuals, in the case of the Kuta bombings for which these 3 have been duly despatched, under Indonesian law, to that same sorry hole in the ground to which, alas, we will all one day return.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Not today though, Alex.

Andy McSmith in an Independent blog notes that Gordon Brown "has good reason to cheer this morning. But there is a proviso. This is Scotland, where the main opposition is the SNP, whose leader, Alex Salmond, was until recently promising to take his country into an "arc of prosperity" with Iceland, fuelled largely by the apparent success of Scotland's two banks. The result is as much a setback for the SNP as an advance for the government."

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

5 wholly predictable things that got me a bit misty today

I went to bed last night around 1am, after Pennsylvania was called and Christopher Hitchens' just-vacated chair at the BBC roundtable looked to be filled by a slash of hair that I feared was Maureen Dowd. It wasn't just the deja vu aspect: I'd had a fair bit of wine to drink at a party earlier in the evening (not an election party neither). But as of this morning, I was ready to enjoy a little bit of the drama and mood music in immediate retrospect; and the slight vino-induced fug, added to my creeping sentimental middle years, made me prone to one or two watery-eyed moments, such as:
1. The cover of the Daily Mirror, much the best out of all the papers' choices, in getting not just Obama and his wife walking across the victory-night platform, but also their daughters Sasha and Malia, 10 and 7, who are now going to go live in the White House. There's never been any getting away from arguments about the n├ęgritude of any black man (or woman) seeking high office in America: the arguments have usually started, understandably, among African-Americans themselves. That Obama is not the descendent of slaves was, inevitably, soon remarked upon; and some who did not support him wondered nonetheless why he didn't make more of the white half of his parentage. But Obama's daughters are unquestionably two lovely little black-skinned girls.
2. The BBC evening rehash/highlights show replaying that money snippet of the 'I Have A Dream' speech: "... that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
3. Jesse Jackson's face, stricken, after the declaration from the networks came in. I don't think people remember too well the number of primaries he won in 1984 and 1988. Those were big deals. He wasn't up to it, finally, and he's said and done a load of stupid things since; Jeremy Paxman had a crack at him on Monday's night's Newsnight for the infamous off-mic 'cut his nuts off' remark. But Jackson replied sensibly, about the way Obama had at times 'talked down' to blacks, urging responsibility upon them as if everyone else in America was a paragon of austere propriety. Paxman didn't listen to the answer, just asked the question again, obviously interested only in the stuff about 'nuts', which, in fairness, is partly Jackson's own fault. But one suspects he sees his own faults a bit more clearly now, and surely did last night.
4. McCain tamping down the crowd when they booed Obama’s name during his concession speech. He's had to do a lot of that lately, and did it well. No wonder Obama described his phone call as 'extraordinarily gracious.'
5. McCain again, referring to 'the man who was my former opponent and will be my president.' That's McCain's gift, no question. The last six weeks were a long leavetaking for him, but he was at least prepped and ready to strike his plangent valedictory notes.

Where do politicians come from, daddy?

In other news today - Hazel Blears is going to tell the Hansard Society that all the wrong sort of people go into politics these days. I wonder if Hazel reckons she herself is on the side of the angels? Lower middle-class background, I suppose; Poly Law graduate, solicitor, local council lawyer, then local councillor, eventually the MP for Salford, from whence she comes.
It's an old saw for Blears to lament politics as "a career move rather than call to public service", and a political class "drawn from narrowing social base and range of experience." However she's obviously damning the PLP when she slags the idea of "a 'transmission belt' from university activist, MP's researcher, think-tank staffer, special adviser, to Member of Parliament and ultimately to the front bench." Apparently her clarion call is for future MPS to arise "from a range of backgrounds - business, the armed forces, scientists, teachers, the NHS, shopworkers..."
What's not to agree with? Sure, did the best and brightest and most honourable people you know go into politics? Or decide to do something more worthy, or that remunerated more handsomely? (If indeed they found work.)
BTW Blears also has a go at bloggers who ‘spreading corrosive cynicism’ in political discourse. Not me, Haze. But of course she’s actually referring to the newly prominent types whose updates run across the masthead of PoliticsHome. And - forgive my cynicism - I don’t think she has a clue what she’s talking about, but is cheerfully reading off the autocue prepared by some younger and doubtless blog-mad researcher.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Obama vs McCain: stick a fork in it - it's done?

When Frank Luntz called it for Obama in yesterday's News of the World, I mentally closed the book too. "I cannot foresee a scenario that John McCain is elected the President of the United States," Luntz told another source, using what Brits would call the Heseltine manner of hedged betting.
Pollsters with bigger ambitions such as Luntz (who made his name in the UK by predicting - and probably half-assisting - David Cameron's election from underdog as Tory leader) have reputations to defend. That said, John Zogby is still around and he was disastrously wrong in 2004, so it just goes to show how badly we seem to need polling, if only for conversational purposes rather than persuasive evidence of anyone's true feelings.
John Dickerson sounds a bit nervous too in the hugely pro-Obama Slate: "If he loses... it would mark the biggest collective error in the history of the media and political establishment." Apparently Springsteen opened for Obama in Cleveland last week. The Boss will be nervous too: the cheque he wrote for John Kerry through his vigorous efforts last time turned out to be a drop in the ocean.
The Slate blogger Mickey Kaus is a funny fish: he favoured Clinton for the Democrat pick, and has been trying to dampen the Obama-enthusiasms of flakier souls ever since. I was struck last week when Kaus chided the various Republicans who've endorsed Obama, for the sin of misstating McCain's actual positions ("Nor has McCain "spent the past four months running away" from his longstanding immigration position. He's spent the past two months reasserting it.") Kaus also thinks these turncoats have fallen prey to "some unstated, perhaps unconscious, pro-Obama imperative" encouraging them to depict the GOP candidate as a deteriorating disgrace.
BTW Kaus himself opposes "McCain's campaigns for illegal immigrant legalization--sorry, "comprehensive reform"" - that's not the problem - it's just all those flakes in the media from whom he defends his scrupulous distance.
Kaus also has one more try at raising the ill omen of the "Bradley effect", to wit, that the polls never favoured black businessman Ward Connerly's anti-affirmative-action drive Proposition 209 until the actual results were in - and then by some distance. "Barack Obama", says Kaus, "was one of those campaigning (in radio spots) for the respectable PC side that lost."
I don't know, and I haven't got a vote anyway. I'll finish with Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal, who employs the ringing euphonious prose voice she once loaned to President Reagan in order to say that "something new is happening in America. It is the imminent arrival of a new liberal moment." But, like Mickey Kaus, she's worried, about the prospect of "a Democratic House with a bigger, more fervent Democratic majority; a Democratic Senate with the same, and possibly with a filibuster-breaking 60 seats". And she wants us to know about a chat she had with two former U.S. senators who had tangled with McCain before yet found him a marvellous man nonetheless: "He wants to help the country." The other added, with almost an air of wonder, "He wants to make America stronger, he really does." And then they spoke, these two men who'd been bruised by him, of John McCain's honest patriotism."
One last throw then, Peggy?

That's Better, then!

Yesterday's posting on Duane Hopkin's Better Things has brought some good news to my inbox, namely that the film (distributed by the estimable Soda Pictures) is now to get its much-deserved London outing, with a 2-week residence at the ICA from Friday January 23, and a split-screen booking from the same date at the Renoir in Bloomsbury. It's possible that the Screen International editorial and the strong quote therein from the film's lead producer Samm Haillay added some effective polemical energy to the case. At any rate, a fine result for Hopkins and his comrades. Mark that date and keep a look-out for screening times in your neighbourhood, all you cinephiles.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Better Things by Duane Hopkins: where's it on, then?

I'm a keen fan of the young British writer-director Duane Hopkins, whose excellent debut feature Better Things was selected for the Critics' Week at this year's Cannes Festival. Hopkins is a true picture-maker, equally skilled in his use of sound and editing, with immaculate taste in filmic influences (Bresson, Alan Clarke, Bruno Dumont), and a clear commitment to taking the artistic hard road of trying to capture and illuminate our everyday lives (as evinced by his gift and facility for casting his pictures with non-professional performers: a familiar hallmark of a first-rate filmmaker.)
So I'm vexed - if not nearly so much as Hopkins' producers - by the difficulty that Better Things seems to be having in getting itself before audiences in this country. Specifically: the last I heard rumoured, the film was not even slated to play on general release in a London cinema, only getting a tour of the regional theatres. Well, lucky old regions, then - and there's no more sworn enemy of the tired old Metropolitan Bias than your correspondent. But a lot happens in London arts-wise, and a lot of movie fans live there, so I can't see why a British film that played with honour in Cannes, and was the deserved recipient of production funding from the public purse, can't then enjoy the benefit of a week's engagement in some enlightened picture-house somewhere in the capital.
This article in Screen International laments the market conditions and perceptions that have made the question of exhibition such a depressing quandary for Better Things. Samm Haillay, lead producer of the picture, gives good quote therein: 'It's not that my film deserves an audience, but its audience deserves to see it." The Screen writer doesn't propose any practical alternative to the presenting problem of how Better Things can 'aggregate' a 'customer base', simply citing some of the underlying causes that beset the film industry - the great crushing race toward the mainstream, the fruitless chasing of commercial bandwagons already gone by.
I know a few exhibitors, discerning souls film-wise for sure, and I can see their side of things - it doesn't feel like anybody gets to elude the bottom-line in the cultural industries these days. Nonetheless: cultural production in this country is the recipient of generous public funding, and, as far as I'm aware, part of that funding is intended so that the work produced is then served up before an audience. I don't see why that process has been failing Better Things. And since the British press are so keen to report on the presence (or absence) of British films in the Official Selection at Cannes (and they are), I assume they're unhappy too about the subsequent struggles of Better Things - so I trust we'll be reading plenty more on this matter.