Two Weeks

Invade France!

currently playing: The Chemical Brothers - Let Forever Be

Furthering Cultural Exchange

For the benefit of any Americans who may be reading, I give you: The Eurovision Song Contest. The idea, supposedly, is to celebrate the music of Europe by inviting countries to select a band and a song to perform at a massive gala festival, whereupon the countries vote for the one they feel was the best (each country gives points in ascending scale from 1-12). The winner then gets to host the festival next year. Simple, yes?

Well, not exactly. I don't know how it's viewed on the Continent, but in Britain, the Contest is seen as a great opportunity to laugh at the awful music that the rest of Europe makes. We always vote for an abysmal song, and sit back with a smug look on our faces. Meanwhile, all the poor countries of Europe live in fear of actually winning the contest, as the cost of staging the event is rather expensive (many people believe that Ireland once deliberately threw the contest a few years back because they had won three times in a row, and the state broadcaster simply couldn't afford a fourth win). Every year, the UK commentary is provided by a radio DJ called Terry Wogan, who supplies a withering and sarcastic voice to the proceedings, mocking everything from dress sense to the performances. The night has become a popular kitsch event, where we laugh at the silly Europeans.

And then there's the voting. It's supposed to be based solely on the musical merit of the performances, but as you can imagine, this never occurs. Countries which neighbour each other always tend to give the other the top marks, all the Eastern European countries remember to include Russia, and Greece never gives any points to Turkey. It's as entertaining as the music section.

This year will be remembered as a classic Eurovision Night; long-standing enmities were cast aside as the countries in Europe finally united. Unfortunately, the one thing they can agree on is that they aren't particularly happy with the UK. For the first time in the history of the Contest, Britain received no votes, nul points. That'll teach us to side with the Americans.

The eventual winner was Turkey, thus shocking the world by illustrating that combining "teenage" and "lesbians" isn't a guaranteed way of obtaining success after all. The Russian Mafia is said to be returning to the drawing board for next year's contest. Meanwhile, we'll moan a bit for the next few days about how we got no votes, it's all rubbish anyway, and isn't it all political, forgetting of course, that's entirely why we watch the thing in the first place…

currently playing: The Smiths - Panic

Living In The Future

The jacket is designed for women only. Its small size and narrow armholes are intended to prevent men from using it as an offensive weapon. Whiton conceded that women could use it offensively, and that it would be hard for police to arrest anyone wearing one.

It's not a jetpack, but it's a start. Extra hardcore points for the idea of field testing the jacket in Boston. Oh, and for making the sparks visible in the jacket itself, thus giving it a proper 21st century look.

The comic industry in Japan is facing serious problems; apparently manga is not quite as popular with children as it used to be. This is interesting, as the American industry is looking to Japan to rescue it from a serious depression at the moment. While the Japanese market is still vastly bigger than anything in the West, news like this suggests that they don't have all the answers.

Back to the Texan Democrats, I'm afraid. Remember last week, when I mentioned that the Department of Homeland Security was used to locate these "legislative terrorists"? Well, other people noticed, and it appears that Tom Ridge (head of the DHS) is investigating "potentially criminal" use of his agency in respect to the Democrat exodus. Could we possibly be seeing another Senate Majority Leader fall before the year is out?

currently playing: DJ Shadow - Blood On The Motorway

Spoliers Ahead!

If you haven’t seen The Matrix: Reloaded yet, you’ll probably want to skip today’s entry.

Today, I finally discovered the problem I have with The Matrix; it's more interesting to discuss the ideas and concepts it talks about than actually spending two-and-a-half hours sitting in a cinema and watching the film. I love talking about the symbolism, the works it derives from, but I have no desire to see Reloaded ever again.

The freeway scenes are amazing; the end of that section has one of the greatest special effects shots that I've ever seen. But everything else seemed fairly limp: an overlong dance scene at the start which, despite the best efforts of the Wachowski brothers, ends up looking like the Ewok party scene from Return of The Jedi, several scenes where the film grinds to a complete halt while new characters deliver all-important expositional dialogue (with! comedy! evil! French! accents!), and some suspect CGI effects.

And then there's the fight scenes. All of which last about five minutes too long. The vaunted million-Smiths vs. Neo just goes on and on; after about three minutes you begin to get bored, because although it looks fairly impressive, nothing is actually happening — they're just swirling about. Instead of ending it there, the fight continues with Smith reinforcements. The CGI work starts to become obvious at this point (the repeated use of certain effect shots doesn't help either), spoiling the scene further. And then, after what seems like ten minutes, the fight…just ends. After such a long scene, I expect there to be consequences more than "ooh, look what the fuzzy elf guy can do now!"

That's not to say that the film was a total disaster; two twists towards the end made things more interesting, whilst at the same time throwing light on certain plot points from the first film, and I liked Persephone's throwaway line of "it's only a game" (which could be an Invisibles reference, but I'm most likely projecting). I also love the way the entire film is drenched in symbolism, from the pomegranate desert in front of Merovingian and Persephone, to the shattered dreams of Morpheus at the end of the film.

Let's hope that in the next film, the Wachowski brothers rein in some of the excess. Yes, I know that sounds silly considering it's a Hollywood blockbuster, but by excess I mean extending the action scenes to the point where they become irritating.

Feel free to post long, point-by-point annihilations of my review in the comment section. As I said, I enjoy talking about it…

currently playing: R.E.M. - Drive

Lowering Expectations

Everybody says that the new Matrix film is awful, so I’m probably going to enjoy it tomorrow. I’m just contrary like that…

currently playing: The Cure - Inbetween Days

My Money is Worthless

It’s possible that I wasn’t in the right mood, but the new Spiritualized album is really dull. In the oh-has-an-hour-passed-doesn’t-this-track-sound- the-same-as-fifteen-minutes-ago-type way.

I've updated the site a little today; shamed by Matt's fancy new comment system, I finally got around to changing the comment template so that it doesn't look like I spent five minutes changing the original one supplied with MovableType. The design seems to break on long hyperlinks, but I'm not sure if there's anything I can do to fix that.

Back to the cynical news links, I suppose. Nice move, Admiral. Calling it Terrorist Information Awareness is a fantastic idea. Those Senators don't want to be seen voting against defeating terror, do they?

Meanwhile, thousands of people are dying in the Congo, while 750 UN troops look on, powerless to do anything. Oh, and Indonesia has parachuted troops into the Aceh province, bringing the area under martial law. Expect war to break out in the next few days.

Let's finish with something that doesn't involve crushing despair, shall we? Hundreds of Albert Einstein's papers have been placed on-line as part of a joint project between CalTech and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Yay for digital archiving!

currently playing: All Girl Summer Fun Band - Samantha Secret Agent

A Random Assortment of Links

We’ll start with this (no, I have no idea what it’s about, but then I chose the French option by mistake).

Ari Fleischer resigns.

Microsoft gets the conspiracy brigade working overtime.

A Guardian journalist's account of his last days in Zimbabwe.

Remember all those stories set in the future where corporations have their own private armies?

Basra has good ice-cream.

Okay, time for bed. I must really get around to changing the time zone on this site…

currently playing: A Camp - I can buy you

Vital Sunday Update

Today, I have been mostly blowing up my MP3 player.

Quote of the Day (from Panorama, talking to Richard Perle): "Don't you worry that you're scaring the hell out of the rest of the world?"

currently playing: The Flaming Lips - Waitin’ for a Superman

You've Been Gone Too Long

Walking into HMV and not recognising any of the bands that they’re promoting is not a good sign. But! But! Mark and Lard should be back on Monday, so the re-education process shall begin shortly.

Double-decker buses! Closed shop fronts! Brief periods of sunshine followed by drizzling rain! Workmen tearing up the main street yet again, meaning that the only access to half the shops is via wooden ramps! But, hey, at least it's not Cambridge…

currently playing: David Gray - This Years Love

They're Back!

51 Texas Democrats today returned triumphantly to Austin, having managed to prevent the passage of a redistricting bill by hiding out in Oklahoma until there was no time left in the current legislative session for it to be passed.

It's an interesting story; when I first heard about the exodus, it seemed as if the Democrats were just throwing a tantrum by running away, but it's not quite that simple. Every ten years, the Legislature redraws the district maps for Texas, changing the boundaries for senate, house, and educational areas. The last redrafting was supposed to take place in 2001, but the Legislature failed to come to an agreement, and after a series of lawsuits, the task was given to a panel comprised of three Federal judges. This new map would likely have given Democrats 17 out of the 32 Congressional seats available in Texas.

At this point, Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Majority Leader of the House of Representatives came up with a new set of districting plans which would have seen Republicans ending up with 19 of the 32 seats, and the flight of the Democrats at the weekend was a last-ditch attempt to stop this new map from replacing the one approved by the three-judge panel, as the GOP currently has a sizable majority in the Texas House of Representatives. The only way to stop the bill from passing was to invoke the quorum rule.

Not only did the Texas Republicans call the fleeing Democrats "legislative terrorists", they used the Office of Homeland Security to track them to the Holiday Inn in Oklahoma. An excellent idea, and not at all a waste of time for an agency that's supposed to be hunting down terrorists.

Okay, I've finished boring you now. I'm just cursed with finding these things interesting.

currently playing: Black Box Recorder - The School Song