Saturday, January 31, 2004

It's raining.
It's raining here, at least. And it's been raining all day. I got up and was faced with a wet grey blanket outside the window. I went downstairs - the same. At lunchtime the puddles still exploded quietly with circles. And right now there's a patter on the window which sadly isn't that of snow. It's still raining. So I've been distracting myself with online stuff for a while. The fruits of my wandering:

Orchestras, throw away your paper. Digital scores are better than paper ones. Hmm. I'm not sure I agree - a score is like a book, and books are always more satisfying if they're paper. There's a war on in Sudan, but not over which book is everyone's favourite there: Three Men in a Boat. There was a rather interesting article in the New York Times about different Jesus films which have emerged from Hollywood - in advance of Mel Gibson's February offering - but I won't link to it because the NYT will take it offline soon and you'll have to pay to read it all. As usual.

Decontrol, a wonderful online art gallery, found, along with much else in this posting, via MemePool's 'Art' category.

There's one artist whose work everyone likes - some a bit, most quite a lot, and a few who border on idolatry - Andy Goldsworthy. Whether he's plastering wet stones with petals and leaves, weaving feathers / making natural paintings on a meniscus / curling ice around a treetrunk / building wavy walls / stone arches with no mortar / stone eggs - again, sans concretion / pulling a filigree twig curtain across an empty space or leaving large snowballs in London during summer, his simple and beautiful work, both as a thing-in-itself and a way of relating to nature, is similar in its impact to some of Michael Longley's poetry.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Disturbing Search Requests
No, I'm not talking about the brilliant site of that name, but about two search referrals to this site within the last day. Some people search for the weirdest things: "pictures of nubile young women with disgusting older men" and "flayed human face pic medical". Ugh. Ugh. - Oh yeah, and "Maggie Gyllenhaal slap".

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Long-dead gay people
Sounds positively sickening, doesn't it. But a new book, Strangers: Homosexual love in the 19th Century, written by Graham Robb of Oxford Uni, runs the gamut of social, medical, and legal responses to homosexuality before turning to the ways gay people lived and wrote themselves into society. There's apparently one very interesting part which deals with whether Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson were gay, which I've linked to a lengthy NYT treatment thereof. Just in case it expires, here are a few snippets from the article copyright Laura Miller:

...there is something decidedly unconventional about the sexuality of Holmes and several other popular fictional detectives... Holmes was partly based on Edgar Allan Poe's Auguste Dupin, hero of the first detective story, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"... The brilliant amateur sleuth, a man of aristocratic family, lives in reduced circumstances as a result of ''untoward events.'' He is ''enamored of the night'' and frequents the dicier parts of town. The unnamed (but more solvent) narrator immediately perceives that ''seeking in Paris the objects I then sought . . . the society of such a man would be to me a treasure beyond price.'' They set up housekeeping together. By day, they remain indoors with curtains drawn, burning candles and incense -- exactly the sort of behavior that, Robb notes, scandalized a London courtroom when Wilde admitted to it decades later. ...Great critics have struggled to define the eccentric charm of Doyle's tales. It has so little to do with adult sexuality because it has so little to do with adulthood. The Holmes stories take place in an idyll of perpetual boyhood, at the stage Freudians call ''latent,'' when love scenes are something to retch at and the ambivalence of grown-up life is held at bay. For all its solemnity, ''The Lord of the Rings'' partakes of the same dream. That's why sex is of small consequence in either work and the word ''adventure'' is essential to both.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

...there's this quietly passionate blog I've been following for a while, and what's the first ever thing I link to in its pages? This: Short of breath? Just stretch your sphincter. *sigh*
Hollywood and Art
A scene from Russian ArkMy friend Giles's comment on Russian Ark (see yesterday's posts) was illuminating not because he thought it was a crap film, but because it wasn't a crap film in itself, but had been judged to be, all the same.

I'll try to keep this brief.

Cinemas around the world are permanently flooded with what I'll call Hollywood Product. The result of an entertainment-based studio system which exists to make money by trying to fuse producers', actors' and directors' powerhouse careers with art, Hollywood Product is the perfect partner for popcorn.

Similarities between popcorn and Hollywood Product: it is right in front of you, attractively packaged, you can eat it without having to think about the taste because the taste is always the same with each bite. It is a simple thing-in-itself, and you can't get anything out of it other than what it offers as a thing-in-itself in the first place. -- What? You're thinking I'm unfair? Think again. I'm talking about art. Name 10 Hollywood Products you'd put in your top ten list, and I guarantee that, aside from occasional plot twists (which are only formula), you could appreciate the entire 'message', the entire 'sense', of every single film by watching it - with attention - only once.

A scene from Minority ReportAnd that's what we're fed. Film after film after film, Hollywood Product is a one-bite wonder. Required intellectual participation: around 0-1%. If you thought over and over and over again about what is actually contained in Gladiator or LA Confidential or The Insider or Minority Report, you'd be none the wiser. Because there's no more wisdom to get after the first screening. We go back and see Hollywood Product a second time not to understand it better, but to be entertained.

With easy entertainment taking up around 90-100% of our local cinemas, Hollywood Product has us over a barrel. We're meant to get used to it to a massive extent - and we do. I can think of no other so-called artform which has become the locus of such a worldwide dearth of truly artistic endeavour. It's so pervasive that we've stopped being critical about film in the same way we are about music.

Giles loves Tori Amos and hates Europoppy, dancey stuff. Europop: directly comparable to the one-bite Hollywood Product. Tori Amos: repeated listenings, attention to the lyrics - and some additional research - are essential to get the 'central message' contained within each song. And, after you've done that 'legwork', there is a second step. Your additional emotional/artistic engagement will also be repaid by the song, because the content is just impressionistic enough to allow you to form a relationship between it and your own feelings and experiences. Ergo, there's art. I've picked Tori, but there are many others.

We are critical of crap shallow music, and we praise artistic effort in music. Giles does, for example. Let's call Giles Everyman for a moment. Everyman, like all of us, including myself, praises some artistically crap and shallow films. Everyman, however, duped by the pervasiveness of Hollywood Product in film, has actually been manipulateed by it as far as to say that one particular art film is the worst he's seen in his life. Everyman doesn't just say "There wasn't much action, no plot, I didn't like the lack of music I'm used to hearing or understanding". If anyone, not just Everyman, said that, they'd actually be engaging with why they felt alienated - and therefore providing themselves with a first step towards understanding.

Let me repeat that: after seeing Hollywood Product all his life, Everyman says that Russian Ark (but we could pretty much choose any art film here) is the worst film he's ever seen.

Effort and music? Acceptable and enjoyable. Effort and film? Unacceptable, apparently, and unenjoyable. But that's wrong, and inconsistent with how we all approach music and reading. Hollywood Product has spread a dearth of film art and a deification of film apathy into the minds of millions of people worldwide. What a dud we're being sold. How easily we swallow it. And how effortlessly it deadens our ability to think. And to enjoy what we could enjoy if we thought.

It's almost terrifying.

- - - - - -

Addition: The above post contains all of this. Nothing is changed. But I'll repeat myself in a different way here, since this post in its original form caused some argument in the comments list. READ THE POST CAREFULLY. Do not imply that I think what I do *not* state in the first place.

I am not saying that Giles or anyone else who doesn't like art film is unintelligent. Nor did I even suggest this. Like I say, read the post.

The reason I rail against the spread of Hollywood film in this post is that people are intelligent, and that if nobody ever used that intelligence to further their own experience, they'd only end up liking one band, or one book, or one film, for the rest of their life. There would be no adaption to new experience. There would be no inner growth. Nothing would change.

Hollywood film is so 'everywhere' that all other types of film are marginalised, so people like Giles et al don't get the opportunity to see them. Therefore, when they do for the first time, they're predictably confused or bored because Hollywood's aforementioned influence unjustly makes art film completely alien to them. However, in choosing not to apply their undoubted intelligence to it, they are doing themselves out of a heck of a lot of potential enjoyment.

That frustrates me on their behalf. And it also pisses me off - I've always been willing, for example, to listen to other types of music in an unjudgmental way. And even when I haven't liked it personally, I haven't generalised.
It's not like me... not have an opinion on the Oscar nominees. Because I've usually seen at least some of the movies in question before the list is released. But here goes anyway. The Triplets of Belleville is up for Best Animated Feature. If it doesn't win it'll be no surprise, but a predictable injustice. One of the Best Picture nominations is The Return of the King. That movie is also nominated for Best Art Direction, Best Director, Musical Score, and Adapted Screenplay. Oh how they all loved it. Now, I liked it very much, too. But the books are nearly always better than the films, particularly in this case, and I really don't think that the screenplay for RotK could stand up against City of God, also a screenplay nomination.

But that's what's weird about the Oscars, every year. The categories are precisely defined. Surely Best Art Direction should mean something intellectually meaty and deep? Noooo. Truth News says "The Oscars are voted on by the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And who is in the Academy? Well might you ask. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is made up of Hollywood actors, directors, and screenwriters. Thus, the Oscars are essentially awards given by Hollywood insiders to themselves, based on whatever goofy logic they might collectively apply to the task."

The Rules usually state that, for the Art Direction award, "Recognition in the form of the Academy Statuette shall be given for the set decoration of the production receiving an award...". Oh right. So it's set decoration. Not art, then.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Voynich Manuscript Decoded
Imagine a handwritten book, hundreds of years old. It looks to have been written in English. You look more closely, and you find that the letters are unreadable.

So, you call on your librarian, academic, typo and art history friends, and they say "Aha, that's the Voynich Manuscript. Nobody's been able to decode that yet. Completely uncrackable code. Haha, what."

If you want more on the manuscript, try here and here. There's a mailing list (which should turn pretty interesting right now!) here.

However, the Voynich Manuscript has now been translated. (It's wonderfully typical of the Guardian arts people to include a story like this.) And the result?

Deliberate nonsense, intended to fool the world. A code which was unbreakable precisely because it wasn't a code at all.

But hang on. If it wasn't a code at all, how were they able to.... I mean....? *sigh*
New addition
ελευθερια - blog of a guy called Constantino who studies at a previously-kind-of-linked-to cool place - added to the blogroll. I really like the design. God, I'm nearly creaming myself over Movable Type again. (Stop it, Pete, *stop* it.)
Lots and lots
of stuff to show you. First, Mary Cheney is a lesbian, and for various reasons Michelangelo Signorile is very very riled about that. Gail Armstrong writes, as wonderfully as ever, but this tme about the perils of randy dogs.

The New York Times Book Review controversy is blogged by The Elegant Variation, with interesting questions: weak novels, or heinous control of book reviewers?

You might have heard that Microsoft was all set to sue the backside off Mike Rowe about his website MikeRoweSoft. His defiance attracted huge publicity and a loyal following of supporters. He's now settled out of court for some Microsoft Certification training and an XBox. I make no comment.

Finally, if you're interested just how deep money can go, check out The Buying of the President 2004 to see who's bankrolling whose campaign. It's an interesting resource on the candidates, too.
Gooood morning campers
We'll start with the sex and move on from there, OK? Right. Sex is good and you ought to have as much of it as you can as soon as possible. - Ooops, seems I said the wrong thing, because the bible tells us to run away from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Oh well.

There's got to be something interesting to do... ah yes. If you like pretty designs, go read this review of a retrospective of graphic designer Chip Kidd's work. Then buy the book. My friend Jonny bought it for me for Christmas and it's brilliant. His designs for Donna Tartt are refined and unsettling all at once. Continuing on the design front for a moment, consider the torn-up beauty of this abandoned French papermill.

My friend Giles and I saw Russian Ark last year and while he said "That's the fucking worst fucking film I've ever seen in my fucking life," I was held captive by its homage to creativity and beauty - and all things Imperial Russia. So if you reckon that having a look at colour photos from the Tsar's court photographer might be fun - go look.

Any more than that, and I can't help you right now. I've got a pot of coffee to get through. Move along, please...

Monday, January 26, 2004

Movable Type: good. Tripod: bad.
No, I haven't migrated to Movable Type yet. Yet. But when, yesterday and earlier today, Tripod had an atrociously long and undocumented FTP outage, I thought of moving to a different host. And on my trawl around the web looking for one, I found a site which provides free blog hosting and installation of Movable Type!

You have to join a queue, satisfy their criteria, and I think you also have to submit your blog or blog idea at around 0600 GMT to catch the opportunity, but my god, it'd be worth it. I'm tempted. So if this blog moves before the end of this year, you'll know why...

Sunday, January 25, 2004

This, brought to me by Anita in Scotland, is very interesting but highly disturbing. Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England. The names used for gay people in those days look funny to modern eyes - there are words like "he-strumpets" and "bumography" - but the majority of these people who were tried for sodomy were hanged. Think about that. These people were killed by the state for consensual sex. Wasn't that truly terrible?

Isn't it terrible that it still happens today...?

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Homosexual homophobes
"As the two homosexual homophobes drifted into post-orgasmic slumber, they inhabited a dream world where all things were possible...". Trucker Fags in Denial. Not suitable for work, and you can only read the comic in reverse order. I would describe it but I don't want to spoil the surprise...

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Your own handwriting as a font
For free. This is so cool.
"Don't make jokes," Student Warns
From the UK newspaper Independent:

A British student apologised yesterday for joking that she was taking three bombs on board a flight in the United States.

Speaking after she was released on bail from a Miami jail, Samantha Marson, 21, said she "wasn't thinking" when she made the comments.

Police said she told a member of the airport security staff during a baggage check: "Hey be careful, I have three bombs in here." Asked to repeat herself, she allegedly made the same statement two more times.

Ms Marson, who was arrested before boarding a London-bound British Airways flight at Miami airport on Saturday, said the claims were a "mistake" and warned other people not to make jokes.

I thought for a moment that I was reading The Onion. You can just see the treatment they'd give it: Students and other young people are to be warned against irony before boarding domestic or international flights, after lighthearted comments were heard. The departures hall was cleared as police carried out a search. A student later apologised. Cassie Gibbon, 23, said: "I was asked if my baggage could have been tampered with, and told them that it certainly could have been, at any time. I'm sorry it was so lame." A security official commented that "Air travel is a serious business. I'm serious".

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Ephemera... or not?
Whatever you judge it to be, I just put this list of stuff about me on another page, so if you want, feel free.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Weird and wonderful
Tiny American liberal arts colleges. Say what you like about Europe; it has nothing like these.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Letters, and what they make
Tanka and Mondo - more Tanka - Haiku - The Narrow Road to the Deep North (marvellous) - outlines of letters - Lettrisme - Concrete and Visual poetry - one of my favourite books reviewed - the man who wrote it - in the 18th century, money and words went together - Poetry Dead? Not a chance! - Dear G.W. Bush, your poetry's not poetry - TrueFire - Sylvia Plath written into life - Old head-in-the-oven in her own words - and again, she shines - Sylvia's voice.
Jake Gyllenhaal's sister, Maggie Gyllenhaal, interviewed in today's Observer Review.
Ang Lee and Annie Proulx...
...helped by a couple of hot young men, are going to help to slap a taboo out of Hollywood! Brokeback Mountain, a relatively little-known novella by Proulx, is being brought to the screen by Lee (and just for that reason, I can't wait to see it). But the catch for Hollywood is that it's about 2 cowboys who do the usual working-cowboy thing together, meet girlfriends, marry, bring up kids - yadda yadda.

And they fuck. Together.

Aside from the fact that this is the first time that Hollywood has even come close to accepting a portrayal as no-shit as this, what has really got me hot for this movie is that Jake Gyllenhaal (yay!!!) and Heath Ledger (who?) are in talks about playing the 2 lead roles. Neither of them are gay, of course, and aside from Jake's beauty, this is why it's such exciting news. I knew Jake was a no-bullshit actor and all. But this just *underlines* how no-bullshit he is.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Sexy Priests!
So I saw this link, and I thought 'what the hell'? And then clicked and started laughing. Not having seen Graham Norton feature this calendar of handsome young members of the priesthood, I wasn't aware of it. Now that I am, I'm torn. I don't know whether I want to just laugh at it, buy it, or sit back and grin as I imagine various old ladies from Ireland to Italy saying "Ooooh, young man!" or "Ehi, che bello giovane uomo!" Sexy priests, heheheh. :o)
Randomly, because I feel like it.

Sitting beside a stream in the Lake District with Marc // Looking endlessly into a Christmas Tree decoration when I was a kid // Showing my first poem to a friend in school, and getting laughed at // The first ever wank // Making pots of real coffee for the grownups and not having any because it was too bitter // Waking up with no memory on my first day alone at uni // Pretending to be a magician when I was 5 // A rainstorm that was so heavy the rain bounced off the road to my waist // Crying when I realised the man in santa's grotto wasn't really santa // Waking up to find my pillow covered with my own blood // My dad pointing at a rolled-up carpet by the side of an overgrown path and saying "There's a body in there" // Foxcubs in a cave // Saying fuck for the first time // Feeling sick with excitement at my first music lesson

Friday, January 16, 2004

Robert Kilroy-Silk
has resigned as a TV / BBC presenter! Yay! :oD This is what he had to say.

I believe this is the right moment to leave the programme and concentrate my energies in other directions.

Yeah, Robbie boy. Damn right! Well done for making the right decision at last! As for your 'energies' - huh?

I will continue to lead the Kilroy Television Company Ltd and in addition to our existing commitments to the BBC, we will be bringing new ideas and programmes to the BBC and other broadcasters.

Are you going to call your new programme "Sand-niggers and Wifebeaters: Travels Through Afghanistan"?

I have been overwhelmed by the support from the general public, (hmm. easily overwhelmed, then) and I continue to believe that it is my right to express my views, however uncomfortable they may be.

Aha! So you recognise that you're an insensitive wanker then? :o)

However, I recognise the difficulties this has caused the BBC, and I believe my decision is the right way to resolve the situation.

Erm. Maybe I'm missing something here, but what about the difficulties caused to the thousands of Hindi and Arab people who you shat on from your unjustly great height, asshole?
New things, old things
Last night, I got home from a CV-delivery mission in town. Grr. And then made risotto for dinner, and dad gave me the usual praise for just how fantastic it tasted. :o) After dinner I got an SMS from Andy, and we arranged he'd come down to Belfast in the car and we'd go to the sauna. The gay sauna. The gay sauna I always said I'd never go to because 'that sort of thing disgusts me'. I generalise ignorantly just as much as the next person however, so read on.

So, I hung around, practised piano for a while, got called by Andy who needed directions, and then he came up the road in the rain.

It was the first time we'd met up in Belfast, and it was nice to be able to play host for a while. Dad was actually nice to him, which was unexpected and cool. I showed him brilliantly shit 70s and 80s photos of me and my family. Since I really couldn't decide whether or not we should go to the sauna, I thought fuck it, I'll have to go otherwise I'll be condemning something without having experienced it. As well as that, it'd been ages since I'd been in a proper sauna.

It's quite a big place. They have dance music playing and the lighting's quite subdued, and there was nobody there. Well, maybe about 5 other people but that was fine. We went in the jacuzzi which was *massive* and lovely, went into the sauna room itself which was very hot. We were swiftly joined by 3 of the other guys. We stopped talking and I avoided their feral bedroom eyes until they left again.

The steam room smells really strongly of Vick (that stuff your mum put on your chest when you were a kid and had a cold). Ugh. I made some remark about being reminded of being 5 or 6 - in a gay sauna. Surreal. But it was quite nice to breathe that astringent hotness in a way - until one of the earlier 'followers' turned up. We stopped talking again, moved on to different bits. There are showers, a room where you can watch porn DVDs (without the usual crappy music backing-track), cubicles (which you'd only find in a gay sauna, because they're not strictly *sauna* cubicles... ahem) and a cafe.

(My friend Jonny told me that one of his (straight) mates miraculously got through the door one night while pissed. He asked where 'the bar' was, and got laughed at by everyone there. :o)

The place is undoubtedly used as a sweaty gay shag-palace, but has its uses. Some of which I won't be making too much use of. But it's a good sauna, and I had a good night, and I'd go there just for the lovely sauna experience.

So my night started with expectations of dinner and a quiet night in, and ended with me having done what I've not done for about 3 years, and having gotten to play host! yay!, for a change. On the way back home, I had to direct Andy on a detour from the Ormeau Road because of a security alert (prelude to these). Of course then he had to drive all the way back up to Portstewart at 3.30am, but hey. It was worth it. :o)

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Ringtones in concerts...
...loud farting at operas - composer Gavin Bryars applauds the former. I would applaud the latter. If I ever went to the opera.
Shipman suicide: fallout
I've been reading the Guardian with interest this morning, as comment is made on the issue of whole-life sentences and suicide risk. Stephen Shaw, the prisons ombudsman, who has been given the task of investigating the issues surrounding Shipman's death, said that putting potentially suicidal prisoners on 24-hour surveillance is 'inhumane'.

The Prison Service itself thinks that there's no foundation to the suggestion that it's more difficult to keep prisoners safe who have no hope of release. Under UK Home Secretary David Blunkett's 'life means life' laws, enshrined in last year's Criminal Justice Act, multiple killers will never leave prison. Calls have been made to put all 'lifers' on 24-hour surveillance.

In addition, however, to Stephen Shaw's judgement that such measures would be inhumane, there aren't enough staff to do this in the first place. When Ian Huntley was transferred to prison, a 24-hour watch could not be made without using inexperinced staff. So there's no safety for the prisoner in that approach either. Other measures include the removal of window bars - places where a noose may be fastened - or different material for bed sheets so they can't be torn into strips.

Isn't all this missing the point though? The victims' relatives feel cheated that he has taken his own life while the prisons service scrabbles around in consternation, trying to figure out what to do next. "He's found a way out for himself... to admit his guilt he would have had to take on the enormity of what he had done... He has controlled us all the way through and he has controlled the last step and I hate him for it," lament the relatives. And I don't argue with their feelings.

But the collective lust to find out "why" any murderer kills - what would that give them? One thing only, I think. More pain. I ask again: what is the point of a whole-life sentence? What is the point of depriving a murderer of the opportunity to kill themselves if they wish to? To 'face up to what they've done' or 'to punish them' or 'to make sure they won't do it again'? The first reason is woolly. A person who murders might not, psychologically speaking, ever be able to 'face up to it' in the way we want them to. The second reason is inhumane, and punishment for the sake of punishment alone is unlawful, unless it is done in tandem with the third: to 'rehabilitate' the (probably unhinged) prisoner in some way. But what's the point of 'rehab' for someone who's never leaving jail in the first place? Well? How *can* there be a point - unless the point is the punishment is the point is the punishment.....?

Patrick yesterday commented here, and said that the point is simply to ensure that the prisoner serves their sentence - that's why you have suicide watch, bars, lock on the doors, prisons... OK. Fair enough on the logic of why we have prisons. But if the worst prisoners' treatment and sentencing is so haphazard and thinly thought-out, cracks will appear and sooner or later people will notice them. Today we're starting to notice.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Talk-show host, ex-MP may be abandoned by BBC
Robert Kilroy-Silk, former MP and presenter of a daily morning talk-show Kilroy, may face the end of his broadcast career. Apparently the BBC, which has suspended his show after he published an anti-Arab article in the UK Sunday Express, is now considering how to get rid of him completely. One option is to conclude that he cannot be considered able to conduct his show - modelled on issues-based audience discussion like Jerry Springer and Trisha - because his impartiality has been compromised.

There's another reason, however, for dismissing him, and for all channels worldwide to change their studio policy on these shows. A few months or a year after my mother died - I forget which - my father and sister went to London to appear on a Kilroy episode about bereavement. Having watched a couple of shows beforehand, they'd seen his warm, caring studio presence, his ability to bond with the audience members and discuss embarrassing or troubling issues with members of the public in front of a TV camera. So they probably made their decision to appear on the basis that 1. It would be a dignified way of dealing with the issue, and 2. If they had important points to make, they could be made.

They were all in the studio. The producer had started the 'audience warm-up' about 30 minutes before the air time. 5 minutes before airtime, Kilroy walked in with a couple of colleagues, and with not a word to the audience, turned his back on them while a conversation took place. It was only at the last second that he walked to his spot and turned on the smile. From then on, the show went as normal. Moving into the audience, showing charm, humour, sensitivity, etc. etc. And as soon as the credits had rolled and the day's show was off-air he immediately walked straight out of the studio without even a goodbye. Switch on, whoosh, switch off.

What a businessman masquerading as a human. I believe, in his chosen line of work, he isn't alone.
Harold Shipman Dead - Suicide watch for all murder prisoners?
Harold Shipman, the UK doctor who murdered over 200 of his elderly or incapacitated patients over several decades, was found dead in his cell at Wakefield Prison this morning. He appeared to have hanged himself.

While the breaking news has raised questions over whether or not he should have been placed on 'suicide watch', a practice whereby prisoners judged to be at risk of harming themselves are checked every 15 minutes, the reasons behind the practice itself are, to me at least, unclear. Such prisoners will often spend the rest of their natural lives in jail, segregated from society permanently because they are judged to be such a risk to the public good.

Disregarding, for the sake of argument, the view that suicide should always be prevented, what is the logic behind keeping a prisoner alive for no other reason than that they will live out their sentence invisibly behind the high walls of a jail? Punishment as eventual rehabilitation? That doesn't make sense. They'll never be let out anyway. Punishment because we just feel like making their lives a misery in return, for no other reason? That isn't allowed.

Suicide watch: a practice with logic behind it or not?

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Sizzlin'. Yusssss.
Update. I lay on a hospital bed. I had my back, chest, abs, neck, knees and feet felt. I think the medical term is 'palpated' which sounds, let's face it, disgustingly clinical. Anyway. Today, not including getting changed, I took my shirt off nearly 30 times and pulled my shorts down a bit (but not all the way) just as many times. One girl lost her concentration and couldn't think of the right word to say for a few seconds. She eventually said "Erm... uh... SPLEEN!" but if she'd've been concentrating better she no doubt would've said "Erm... uh... COCK!" but that's by the by. :oD

Then there was the six-footer rugby-playing guy with strong hands who gave my insides a damn good going-over. He was all "grrr, rarr, I'm a consultant already", and spent more time looking at his supervisors than at me. And they actually told him to look at my face more!

And then there was the straight-acting gay one who was fine until I'd got my t-shirt off and then turned red and went all smiley and stuttery and said "...thankyou..." as he left. Aww. :o)

Then there was the so-called 'coffee' they gave us in the break. Yuck. Ugh. [shudder]

Friday, January 09, 2004

This is going to happen today. I swear.
Once upon a time, there was a little boy called Pete. He grew up into a slightly less little, and really rather (gorgeously) dashing, older boy, still called Pete. One day, Pete walked into a hospital and lay down on a bed and pretended to be sick so that medical students could practise their lack of skills on him.

Pete looked at the walls of the room. He sighed inwardly at the depressing atmosphere. "Oh, how can I enliven these dull hours?" thought Pete. He was a resourceful boy, so he decided to have a fantasy of what it might be like if the girl bending over him was really a boy.

A nice boy. A boy with nice eyes, like the gay-looking one standing over there. (Pete made eyes at him and he blushed. Later, he found out that he'd failed his exam because he was staring at Pete too much.) So anyway. Pete thought of a nice boy. With warm hands and nice forearms. "Hehe," Pete grinned to himself, "Here we go" and then the girl noticed the bulge in his shorts and fainted, and Pete burst out laughing, was paid extra money by the hospital for such fab entertainment - and everyone lived happily ever after.
Recommended randomness
A fruitful surf of mine, started by wonderful bloggers, things magazine.

Armed police raid a high school (photos) -- Exquisite Corpse -- p/p, a wonderful blog placing poems within photos -- big-titted schoolgirls (oh, come on, I had to for google!) -- maps galore at The Map Room -- good design is invisible, which is why you need the Design Observer -- discuss your design issues -- hot band of the year: heavy metal umlaut -- literary excellence through experimentation (hear hear) at GutCult -- the most beautiful animated gif in the world -- Aubrey Beardsley galleries (if you don't know why you like his work yet, go here) -- the sun frozen in eternal rise or set - at Tate Modern.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Psst - classical music is dead. Again.
Apparently. Norman Lebrecht, writing in La Scena Musicale, prophesies that 2004 will mark the end of the classical record industry.

I was just discussing something like this with Andy last night. While listening to Tori Amos's Little Earthquakes, it occurred to me that 'pop' (for want of a better word) artists of today have a very much greater fanbase than classical artists for 2 reasons: 1. Pop artists are alive and performing live month on month, year on year; and: 2. They write and perform their own work. Tori's music is great music, and she is alive. And it is because of these things, as well as her overt way of being in 'the emotional present' for so many people, that she is recognised so much, bought so much, and flocked to in live performance so much.

Classical music, so the theory goes anyway, is dying because it's irrelevant. It can't be understood or enjoyed by many people. It just doesn't have much appeal. What crap.

But OK. Devil's advocate. To put it in modern talk, classical artists aren't 'artists' at all. The artists are the men and women who wrote the songs or tracks, and they're dead. Sometimes hundreds and hundreds of years dead. OK, so that's one big nail in the coffin to start with.

It also implies that the thousands and thousands of classical CDs are nothing but 'covers' - versions of original music, recorded by some musicians who didn't actually write the original in the first place.

The lyrics are all shit, and mostly really highbrow - when they're there at all. There's rarely any beat. There are no electronics. The performers look boring as fuck. You can't buy the video. Boring people - releasing nothing but hundreds of covers - of thousands of boring songs - by dead people - whose names we don't know and who don't care about us, who never knew us. These are real issues, real opinions! Anyone who thinks this sort of music can actually survive is crazy!

I don't agree. Classical music is largely lyricless, sure. Storyline is abandoned - but in favour of chords, harmonies, *music* which everyone listens to anyway! You take a chord in a Tori song, or a Black Sabbath song, or a Royksopp song. Maybe it's quiet, and long, and maybe it's got words over it, and maybe it's followed by a whole load of other chords which make you feel wistful and sad and happy all at the same time. And hey presto - classical music contains this too. Maybe even exactly the same series of chords. Maybe producing the same mood! We love Tori - or whoever we love - because something in the music gets into our heartstrings. As long as it gets there, it doesn't matter who it's by, or what they're called, or how long they lived, or whether or not we can write to them and have their autograph.

Andy loves Tori, and Fiona Apple, and Marilyn Monroe. He doesn't draw a line between Tori and Marilyn because Tori's alive and Marilyn's not. He sings along to the living soul in music, not the dead body in the coffin. He sings along to the Tori who soars in her songs, and doesn't need to know that Tori is currently alive to love her work. So if there are just no lines to be drawn in the sands of time, there's no reason to dismiss Bach in favour of Nirvana!

No reason at all. Unless of course you never heard anything by Bach in your life.

Classical music is mismarketed so continuously and solidly that it's criminal. Sure, don't alienate your core market - people who naturally like classical better than they like pop. But don't alienate people who like pop! The reason that classical lovers think they don't like pop is that pop is niche-marketed. The reason pop lovers think they don't like classical is that classical is niche-marketed. But worse - classical insults pop lovers by advertising itself to pop-lovers as, well, pop-y. They know it's not. It's just patronising of the classical market to say "This track by [insert composer's name] is really quite like your Tori Amos, so you'll love it" and expect Toriphiles to agree.

Lebrecht: "High in corporate towers, overpaid executives blame a lack of compelling new repertoire, of charismatic artists and of public tolerance for long-winded classics - in short, they blame everthing except their own failure to invest in talent... Hurt and confused, these artists refuse to admit their own assault on the classical economy in the years when the money flowed. In the CD gold rush of the early 1990s, the Berlin Philharmonic charged ?65,000 for a symphonic disc. Their fee remains the same today, but hardly anyone bothers to make records with the world's best orchestras any more."

OK, OK, economy, marketing, blah. But what gives? Advertising and money and booklet design and press launches posters and all that irrelevant crap has a great power to convince people that being closed-minded about other music is OK. They keep getting fed more of what they effortlessly love. Tori = Tori = Tori = Tori. Feeder = Feeder = Feeder = Feeder. But Feeder doesn't equal Tori. Tori doesn't equal Massive Attack. Massive Attack doesn't equal Beethoven. You have to actively jump from one to the other.

Want to save some music that seems to be dying out? First, refuse to believe that crap, and play it to your friends. But listen to their music, too. Open minds grow. Closed ones die. Keep yours growing.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Snow. Except, again, not here
There've been snowstorms in Oregon. Bastards.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Banned Words
Lake Superior State U has released its list of banned words for 2004. I'll mention a few here. Bling bling: not exactly my first choice. I rather like it. But it has become a bit of a mawkish, embarrassing phrase, to be used with a sense of irony and a self-deprecatingly lifted eyebrow. LOL: I agree. I'll mention no names here, because I really rather like the online people I talk to. But the number of times I've had conversations which are entirely "LOL" from their direction... (sigh) Embedded journalist: sounds painful. If a journalist loses that much objectivity, they probably deserve to be embedded in something. Shots rang out: hmm. I don't see why it should be banned, but yeah, alright. Shots don't 'ring out'. Bells do. Shots don't. They crack or they hiss.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

It *is* 2004.
Even though I'll keep writing '2003' on things for weeks and weeks to come, it's 2004. Must remember that.

I'm un-hungover, which is good. I can't remember how much I drank last night but it was enough for me not to go to bed half-sober. When I woke up, Jonny was getting ready to go to work late, Mark was getting the car started, and Giles was wandering around looking... in need of coffee. So I made coffee. Mark came back from dropping Jonny off, and we had coffee, and I had soup. Jackass the Movie is brilliant, and I now know that if you get a sea-cucumber and shake it around a bit, it looks like it's cumming. :oD

Usually on New Year's Day I feel like a bit of a blank slate, in an empty way. Not really filled in yet. Waiting to be written on by whatever happens. But today I feel already written on. I have Things To Do. I have People To See. None of it is certain yet but there is so much to gain if I just reach out for it. I'm going to see Andy in a few days, rushed probably. I'm going to see Larry and Patrick and other people, and I need to see a man about a job.

I've got to reply to a guy who sent me a really nice email and £10 over paypal. I've got to move my computer into my bedroom. I've got to buy myself a coat.