Sunday, October 31, 2004

USA: Politics (14/10/04)

It’s election time (for those of you who have been on Mars) and America seems never to have been so divided since the North and South got it on over America’s involuntary immigrants.
On the left side (in the purple corner) - that’s America’s left, the world’s centre - they’re all for working with the outside world to fight the almost-impossible-to-fight (in conventional terms) threat of terrorism.
On the right side (in the black, viscous corner) there are lots of people running around shouting their heads off about imminent attacks and national security. Important issues, but best dealt with without the arm-waving and with a modicum of logic. Many of these people seem to believe they are living on borrowed time. Many seem to think that any amount of thought on the nature of and dealing with terrorism is tantamount to treason.

America is still scared. The terrorists are therefore still winning. If America wipes out all active terrorists, all people considering it as a career or even have the potential to become one because of current or future circumstances… they will still be scared, and these dead terrorists will still be winning.
It’s a shame that the most powerful country in the world is scared by a group of people that even with associated groups probably only numbers in the low thousands. But then the country is still a little bit scared of Cuba.

On one TV show, a woman who looks like an actress plugs her book on “how to talk to a liberal.” Her book must say, ‘hysterically and making as little sense as possible’ as that was how she talked to the show’s other guest, a calm, soft-spoken liberal.

The trouble with liberals as allowed on American TV is they are liberals. They are all soft-spoken wimps and have to contend with people who believe the best way to get an idea across is by shouting. In the UK, these shouters would be pitted against firebrand socialists, who can return fire usually with as little thought, but I think all such lefties in the US are still blackballed. The other option would be to pit two intelligent thinking men against each other and you’d think the candidacy debates would be like that, but it didn’t seem to be.

According to the blonde girl with the book, bombs will go off the day after John Kerry is elected because he is a liberal. She could be right, but as these things take a little bit of planning, why would they choose that day and on that condition to set a bomb off? It would make more sense during the election as this would probably make it go George Bush’s way as he does very well out of the climate of fear he has help nurture. Plus, I’m convinced al Qaeda and allies are rooting for Bush as he has done so much to heighten the fear of them and to recruit new members to the cause by his antics in Iraq. A Middle-East that is already embittered against the US for its meddling in the region (overt and covert) doesn’t need more examples of its… well its hypocrisy. More later. For now, back to the comedy.
PS Since I wrote this, but before I had a chance to publish it, some of my assertions have been backed up by a released video from one Osama Bin Laden - the man generally regarded as the world’s Terrorist in Chief. Why can’t nice people ever agree with me?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Film Review: Napoleon Dynamite

This is an odd film. A series of episodes and slices of quirky life, in which a plot is discovered quite late, but is really not so consequential to the piece. It was nice to see a film where all of the main characters were such utter odd-ball weirdos. It was amusing and interesting, but it didn’t grab me nearly as much as I would have liked it to. There are some good moments and some nice lines: “I caught you a delicious bass,” is delivered as a kind of nerdy chat-up line. I’m going to try it next time I get a chance. It’s a pity I went to Coronado beach before I saw the film, otherwise I could have used such a line and landed me some one just like Marilyn Monroe. Or at least like Joe E Brown. Conclusion: this is a film you may or may nor like. It depends on your taste. I have heard of people loving it. I thought it was diverting and sufficiently different to recommend it, although it was a little unsatisfying.

11/10/04, San Diego: Coronado

Over on the island floating in the middle of San Diego bay, is a region called Coronado. It’s a basically a beach resort most famous for the Hotel Del Coronado, a sprawling wooden building on the beach front. It’s a grand old hotel decorated in a grand old style. Layers of dark oak on thick, plush carpets.
It is a place famous for temporarily housing some of the country’s litarary grates (is how I believe they spell it): Mark Twain, Henry James, etc. Many Presidents have stayed there. But the hotel is most famous as the one in the film Some Like It Hot. That makes it instantly recognisable.
I hung around on the beach for a while and tripped up three girls, apologising in the strangest English accent I could muster. The first two hit me, but the third took my telephone number and told me to expect a call. It was her lawyer.

After the fun of the beach, an excursion was made into San Diego downtown. San Diego is one of those sprawling cities. The centre, or downtown, features a few tall buildings and the old town. The rest of the city is relatively low suburbs.

There’s not so much to see downtown. An old town in the US isn’t really old, just not new. We spent some time in a hardware store that contained the biggest collection of doorbells and hinges I have ever seen. Every style you could ever think of was there. Doorbells that looked like doorknockers are big. Especially doorbells that looked like doorknockers that looked like animals: butterflies, frogs and beetles are common.

After this educational experience we took ourselves to another American centre of lerning, the Cinematoscope. Here we watched a talkie (in kolor) entitled Napoleon Dynamite.

Film Review: The Bourne Supremacy

This is a sequel. That doesn’t mean it is a bad film. Being a sequel doesn’t always mean that. It just means that sometimes what often happens, you are made to feel cheated about something from the first. Usually this is the romantic interest. Usual story: In film 1, as well as defeating bad guys and saving world / school / Christmas (delete as applicable), said hero falls in love with someone. The end, after said planet / institution / season have been saved, the hero pops off sunsetwards with said love interest. Now comes the sequel. Hero needs a reason to act despite being felicitously happy with said woman / man / porpoise. Thus the usual answer is to kill her / him / it off. Thus giving the man reason to act and, frequently, the chance to fall in love all over again.

I haven’t seen any of the original versions of this film, but was given a summary by a friend which in the end wasn’t necessary, as the film gave its own quick-cut summary. The basic story is man with memory loss tries to find out and then come to terms with what he did. He used to kill people for a dirty branch of the CIA. He was very good at it, and is still the master of any situation. He won’t call anyone unless he can see them. It would make him an irritating friend, but a great guy to have in a crisis. And being trained by the CIA and authored by Robert Ludlum, his life is just one big crisis followed by another.

The film is shot in wobble-cam which helps make everything more exciting because it’s like you’re there being wobbled around or running with him. The car chases are spectacular and really show that cars are so much tougher in films than in real life. I was particularly impressed at the resilience of Russian taxis. Forget Volvos, these are the new ‘tanks on wheels’, able to stand anything you can throw at them.

The Bourne Supremacy is an exiting piece of film not stupid but not so believable. Likely to spawn several sequels: Bourne Again, Bourne: Free and of course the prequel: Bourne Yesterday. You chuckle derisively, but can you prove it will not happen?

10/10/04, San Diego: Animal Park and Comedy Store

San Diego has a zoo. It also has an animal park, and I believe a safari park. All of them are well respected, and our selected excursion was to the Animal Park. The park has the luxury of space and many animals wander around in something like their natural habitat. They are fed, bred and enjoy the California year-round sunshine.

The area is big enough that the train service that runs around the perimeter takes an hour to complete a circuit. Admittedly the train travels at the same speed as a hippo strolls, but it’s still a nice-sized area filled with wild things. If you want to spend a bit more money, you can drive through the enclosure in a truck. This gives you great photos, especially as all of the giraffes crowd round the truck as it also brings food. Giraffes are also vain.

The highlights of the trip were a very impressive bird show, which showed the smartness of parrots and the stupidity of emus; a room where lorikeets land on you to eat nectar, occasionally ejecting it in much the same form with little or no ceremony or regard to clothing - I remained unscathed and at one point had one on each shoulder; and not least the chance to hold a big python.

Later on, back in San Diego itself, the animals on show were of the human variety. The death-defying antics of the stand-up comedian. Except that it was one of those nights where death was not defied, and in fact for the first half of the show, which featured myself, the species looked like becoming extinct. I was expecting at any moment for someone from the animal park to drive in on a big jeep, scoop me up in a net and take me back to the endangered species enclosure where I would become part of a breeding programme.

Things picked up in the second half and those of us who went early just looked like Neanderthals - the species that didn’t make it.

My main problem was that each comic had exactly 3 minutes. Three minutes is no time at all. And going on second I had had no chance to see how it’s dealt with. The people who came on later, didn’t fumble around saying their name or saying anything about themselves, but rather leapt straight in with the material. Once again, I am very wise after the fact. But then my secret sixth sense always was hindsight.

But not many people saw this event, and I merely tell people that I performed at the original Comedy Store. Wow, they go, how did it went? Well, I say, the first three minutes weren’t so good.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

9/10/04, San Diego

When in LA, do as the LA-LAs do. Because she wanted to do it, my hostess convinced me I wanted to do a Sitcom Audition Workshop. It was very informative on how to approach getting cast in a Sitcom. A lot of time was spent on the most likely role we’d be offered - that of the one-liner. Typical one-liner dialogue lines are: “Can I get you guys drinks?”, “Please step out of the car,” and “Duck, Magnum, duck!”
The most surprising thing was the sheer number of TV shows that get taken up each year by the US networks to make pilots for. Most do not make it to be a series. Many are never even seen. But reading the tag lines, you can see that even the lamest idea can get you a pilot. But obviously tag-lines tell you nothing. Things like “3 friends who all share a boat,” “The X-Files but set in the Inland Revenue Service,” and “schoolgirl by day, detective by night” (this is now a series, and yes her schoolwork does suffer through lack of sleep).

8/10/04, San Diego

What I had forgotten about US TV is how the shows are so broken up by ads that you don’t feel like you are watching a show with interruptions, but that you are watching 30 minutes of rubbish interrupted by a through-line you’re interested in.

Shows are broken up into 5 minute chunks, and the ads come so frequently they really start to irritate you. There are some adverts so irritating, and so frequent, that you want to go right out to the supermarket and smash up the shelf. Unfortunately, the manufacturers will soon realise they have an image problem and issue a new set of happier, bouncier and more frequent adverts.

America leads the way in advertising. Very few openings are unexplored. The backs of public benches are common places to see the face of some real estate agent grinning at you in a way that doesn’t make you want him to know where you live, let along have a copy of your keys. The latest thing seems to be advertising on the separators used to keep your stuff apart from the guy in front’s at the supermarket queue. Again, mostly taken up by real estate agents. There really is too many of them in California.
It’s hard to know where to advertise next. I don’t know if it’s been done yet, but I’m thinking of tattoos above the chests of prostitutes. Perfect place to advertise flowers, chocolates and other gifts for the errant husband.

John Peel

I was quite saddened to learn of the death yesterday of John Peel. DJ, humorous raconteur, and DJ. Probably one of only a handful of well-known radio DJs with anything like integrity. He was the champion of great, undiscovered music, playing bands most other DJs would not understand because it wasn't on the playlist. I rarely comment on celebrity death, but this one shook me a little, as he was 65 and thus still only a kid.

Tribute: 2pm (UK time) today everyone to play Teenage Kicks, by The Undertones.

Monday, October 25, 2004

7/10/04, Dave and Busters

What is Dave and Busters? For those of you who do not know, and I didn't, it is a restaraunt-come-amusement arcade. A huge video arcade with a bar and American restaraunt. The latter being something that has things on the menu in the style of the Easy Rock Café or Planet Tinseltown. Big portions and waiters just that bit too eager to please. I assume it's a chain, as everything is in the US.

But it's gimmick - you always need a gimmick - is the video games. Old classics and new ones networked together so you can Kayak race against your friends, or be blown out of the water by some kid young enough to have been your fault. Some games give prizes points, and these are redeemable against a selection of tacky gifts. I went for the shot glasses as being the least stupid in my prize range.

Ah. It's not every day I let the little kid in me out for a run. Oh, actually, it is.

6/10/04, more

The rusty desert goes on for miles. Four hours in a plane over mostly barely populated nothingness, makes you realise how big this country is. And how, in the words of Apu, dangerously underpopulated it is.
The problem is, new arrivales don't want to come and live in the desert, or the farmland, they nearly always go to the densely populated metropoli, which crowd around the edges.

Between rocky ranges, a blue river is courted by green rectangles of cultivation. But immediately after there is miles and miles of Martian bleakness.

Slowly, things begin to get more verdant. Colonies start to appear. Strange perpendicular lines appear in the flat varicose-veined desert floor. Roads. But for what was not clear.

6/10/04, Further

After the clouds had ceased to be all encompassing and became isolated drips that cast sinister, stain-like, shadows over huge swaythes of land, came a new pattern.
It was again a patchwork, but this time many of the squares contained circles. Circles that fitted exactly into the squares. In some of them, a radius gave it a clock-like appearance, but ultimately suggested some huge agricultural device that sacrificed the four corners for some level of automation. Sometimes, four squares were put together and contained a much larger circle. Sometimes, strips replaced the traditional squares. This was farming's cutting edge and took place in the middle of nowhere. I was roughly half way through my flight.

It wasn't long before agricultural progress was obscured by a herd of fluffy frogs.

A long time after that - half a Spiderman movie later - the clouds thinned enough to see red, red, rocky desert and pointy, crumpled mountains. These gave way to grey fern-leaf-like valleys within green, slimey mountainbs. It all looked like a rockpool on the beach.

When the sky had fully cleared, there was more red, rocky desert, with those fascinating fern-leave formations where water had once been, and other occasional ridges and fissures. Roads were few and relatively straight. Houses: none.
Deep gorges showed where once great rivers had flowed, and mountains crumpled upwards in that style indicative of plate movement. You know the way old mash potato goes when pushed by sliding another plate on top of a full one.
Mountains brought with them what appeared to be forestation. Part of which was smoking. It was is such a remote, high area, that I wondered if anyone actually knew about it. And what they could do if they did. I guess they could drop a couple of divers on it, that sometimes works

6/10/04, some time later

Very soon, nature’s own censor – clouds – turned the view pure white. There are two major sorts of clouds as seen from a plane. One is thin, white smoke and resembles some sorts of semi-thick pudding. The other is a sort of living clay that lies somewhere between a mash-potato mountain range and holographic snow. Sometimes clouds look like a choppy sea, sometimes Alaska, sometimes a masonry explosion, sometimes giant frogs licking ice creams.

6/10/04, bit further from Chicago

As ever, the golden rules of air passenger travel apply. Especially number 14: Meals should be served just before entering regions of turbulence.

Looking down on all these farms and townlets really brings it home how many Americans don’t live in the metropolises we all assume they do because nearly all of the films are set there. The rural settings we never believe are real because they always have a comic feel. The realest-looking film I think I have ever seen was actually a TV series called, The Dukes of Hazard.

United are like KLM and BA in that they go for the more mature steward(esse)s. It’s the opposite end to those airlines such as Singapore who pour the youngest things into those uniforms. But I am no where near Singapore, so there is no reason to think of their stewardesses.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

6/10/04, between Chicago and San Diego

After the sprawling suburbs of the Chicago area - nice-looking neighbourhoods well planned around natural defects - lakes and the like - came miles and miles of patchwork. Each patch with its own house or set of house and buildings.
It reminded me of a flight I took between Shanghai and Xian (in China, in case you didn't know), except that the patches were smaller in China and the houses simpler - usually just one simple hut.
Rivers and railroads are the only things to stop the uniformity of the chequered world. But these are two of nature's most unstoppable forces. Or at least they were in the past.

This part of the world is flat. Flat and covered in plaid farmland. Occasionally there is a rash of houses to make a small town, but it is soon cured, and the healthy, flat farmland returns.

After about 10 minutes, the land ages. It gets wrinkles. Initially, it appears not to be aging, but the wrinkling effect of water, in the guise of a big, old river. But even after the river has gone, the wrinkles increase. They become lumps, bumps, ridges. The checks are lost (presumably in the post) and the wild abandon of hill country takes over.

The free-for-all lasts a short while, but soon, the checks seem to take back over, but then a battle ensues and for a long time a compromise exists. Checks appear where the hills have not claimed their turf. This was the most interesting area to look down on. An area where man has not won outright.

6/10/04, Chicago O'Hare Airport

Recently new laws in the US mean that all people who arrive in the country have to be photocopied. Just the face and two fingers, but this is enough. I believe it is so that if you die due to an accident, scientists acting on behalf of lawyers can clone you from the images and your clone can sue.
But really it's an immigration thing. America, like a lot of countries - especially those created through immigration, is paranoid that they are going to be taken over by stealth. And when it happens, they will have a complete set of finger-prints of the new masters. Those without state-held finger-prints will obviously be the new underclass.
There is also a homeland security risk. Currently the fingerprints are just stored and not used or followed up. But in the future, they will compare the finger-prints with those who have committed previous suicide attacks. These people will not be let in.
Obviously, this hi-tech photo shoot takes it's toll on waiting times, but it looks like something is being done, which is what matters.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

6/10/04, Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam

This is actually the first long holiday I've had in a year. The last was over a year ago: one month in Edinburgh, which was a kind of a working holiday. The lack of a journal written at the time shows just how little relaxing there was. In fact the whole month seemed to be spent handing out flyers to people who did not want them. Enough people came to see us for it not to feel like a waste of time and money, although it probably was looked at logically. But then most things do.
Even this holiday is not free from work. The girl I am staying with and I are working on a film. But this won't consume all my time. No, it's a holiday first and formost. A chance to visit the region of the US that produces films, wine and movie-star governers.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

6/10/04, Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam

Getting on a flight bound for the US gets more and more like getting on an El-Al flight. They don't yet seem to ask who you met in the last few days or demand proof that your laptop actually works, but it's close. Of course, it could have been I looked suspect to El-Al security bods.
As on previous trips to the country God selected as the chosen land for Mormons, I had to sign a form declaring that I would engage in no acts of moral turpitude for the duration of my stay. It'll be a wrench, but I'll give it a go.

On announcing that I was heading to California, most friends had some sort of advice for me. From the recomendatory, "Eat at Joe's Crab Shack," to the compulsory, "Enjoy yourself," even to the predatory, "Seduce American women with your British accent." The latter was from an American woman, who so-far has never been seduced by my accent.
The trouble is, my accent ain't what it was. The North Kentish (rich-man's Cockney) of my well-spent youth has long since faded (through travelling and a youthful belief it made me sound stupid) to something more like the anonymous, placeless exactness of RP. I believe there is even a Dutch tinge developing in it, as people often accuse me of being Dutch when I'm speaking English. I await the day they accuse me of that when I am speaking Dutch. The best I have been accused of is Belgian.
But this RP tongue, is exactly the sort of English, foreigners think we speak because it is the common accent amongst actors. It is the most prevalent accent of Britons in foreign films and British films before the 1960s.

Monday, October 18, 2004

A New Dawn

This here thing is for me to spout my views on this here life. The llama is its symbol because llamas look side-ways at life occasionally spitting on it. Or is that camels? Who knows.