Archive for August 2002
I’m just home from work, watching a documentary on the topic of Tsunamis. I knew about their origin in earthquakes, but the program also presents new causes: underwater subsidence and landslides can also cause severe tsunamis. Southern California, in particular, is at high risk, and there is evidence that it happened in the past. In Santa Barbara, for example, there is historical damage at a point 300ft (100m) above sea level. Oh, dear.
Some scientists have found evidence that specific seafloor areas off the West Coast could be collapsed by a major earthquake on land. In addition to the serious damage on land, a tsunami could literally wipe out the whole SoCal coastline, including all low-lying parts of Los Angeles such as the city centre and the San Fernando Valley. Cue hilarious interviews with average LA lizard; none of them actually knew what a tsunami was. When enlightened, then asked what they’d do, the responses varied from “run” to “surf’s up – grab a board”.
The late Bill Hicks produced an album called “Arizona Bay” in 1993, the year before he died. The title is from how Hicks imagined the West Coast would look once “LA goes ker-splash”. He didn’t always feel that way about “Hell-A”, since he willingly moved there to further his career, but after a few years of talking to TV producers and playing the fashion-victim comedy clubs, he was ready to get the hell out. The only reason he hadn’t done so was because he spent so much time away on tour anyway: the album includes the story of how the LA riots started, while he was on a plane from LA to London.
“Y’all have fun while I’m gone!” “We will, Bill, we will!” I land at Heathrow airport, walk past a newsstand; ‘LA Burns To Ground’. What, did I leave a cigarette burning?
Weather forecaster: “Well, Suzie, it’s 420 degrees here in South Central Los Angeles, a good time to leave the city, there’s gusts of lead coming up Sunset…”
Demolition Man is on, again. It’s set in “San Angeles” in 2032, where Big Brother has completely eradicated crime, and anything not good for you is illegal. The cops are totally unprepared for the escape of a criminal from the 20th century, and need to call on a disgraced cop from the same era, played by Sylvester Stallone in his inimitable fashion. He is assisted by Sandra Bullock’s character, a cop with a misguided nostalgia for the “exciting” days before she was born. (She has a Lethal Weapon poster on her office wall, for crying out loud.)
Meanwhile, below the surface streets is a complete gypsy underworld of socially-excluded “scraps”, presided over by Denis Leary, just waiting to burst out. Yes, that Denis Leary, who seems to have been an influence on the script. He gets the opportunity to spout off about all the unhealthy activities he likes that are banned in this Naive New World. It’s as if the La-La-Land of Leary (and Bill Hicks, more notably) is projected into a future politically-correct nightmare scenario. (I speculate that Hicks would have liked that role, except that he was too ill to work at the time this was filmed.)
Actually, there’s a lot of self-deprecating and black humour, even in the character names, such as John Spartan, Lenina Huxley, Dr. Cocteau, Simon Phoenix, and Alfredo Garcia, who manages to keep his head when all about him are losing theirs. Then there’s the ineptitude of the police, who need to consult an AI for little-used tasks, such as arresting a suspect. The local museum even has a “Hall Of Violence” with a statue of Rambo, and the radio stations carry nothing but commercials. (There’s even an oldies station playing vintage … commercials.)
Still, maybe there’s hope for LA, in a cultural sense, if not the geographic. How many times has LA been trashed on screen, literally and metaphorically, in films by Hollywood producers and directors? Independence Day, Escape from LA, and so on. New York gets it worse, though, think of Escape from New York, Deep Impact, Godzilla, and Independence Day again. Actually, Independence Day pretty much did for every major city in the world, so there’s no reason for me to mention it any more. London doesn’t get it enough, since history has been pretty hard on it, but Reign of Fire may change all that, 60 years after the Blitz. My favourite city destruction, though, has to be the aliens’ playful annihilation of Las Vegas in Mars Attacks! Some town don’t deserve their existence.
I think I need to go to LA, just to see what everyone’s getting so wound up about, while it’s still above sea level. I need to learn to drive first, though, so that I can “read it in the original”.
I’m the oldest person I know who does not have any driving licenses. I definitely object to cars, since they take up too many resources for what they do, but I’m looking at a motorbike license. I have the forms etc., but the first thing is to get some lessons.
I’m not even sure what kind of bike I want, except that it’s got to be something boring, that won’t tempt thieves to steal it, or me to ride it recklessly. An old man’s bike, the kind used by people who know the kind of bike that works, who have been riding for years and are still in one piece to tell the tale. If the speed limit is 110km/h (70mph), why would I need something that will do 110mph (175km/h) or more?
“Male bonding”: what the hell is that? (See yesterday‘s entry on The Devil’s Own if you’re wondering why this bugs me.) This seems to be a particular invention of Hollywood; if, for example, British crime films of the 60′s (The Ladykillers, The Italian Job, Get Carter etc.) had been made in Hollywood, I shudder to think how the characters would have been asked to behave. One of my all-time favourite films, Heat, is slightly compromised by this, in its subtext depicting how both police and criminals exist outside polite society and have more to say to each other than to “normal” people. The main protagonists, played by Al Pacino and Robert de Niro, even hold hands at the end.
Why are we told that people always “bond” in difficult situations? My experiences tell me that the opposite is true. If I found myself in a life-or-death situation, I would be all too aware that it’s “every man for himself”, and even if there were other men on my side, I would hardly want to get up close and personal with anyone. That doesn’t mean we couldn’t be civil, or even joke about it. It’s well known that being in mortal danger gives one the urge to confess, to share, to get it all out, but that doesn’t require any particular person to actually be there. You might as well be talking to the wind.
I tried looking up “male bonding” up in my Britannica 2001 encyclopaedia, and it pointed me at ancient Sparta, where warriors took “male bonding” to its ultimate extreme. Current Western culture mandates acceptance of homosexuality in all its forms, from the camp imagery to the messy reality. Expressing an opinion to the contrary leads to immediate accusations of homophobia, as if one’s disapproval was covering a hypocritical male fear of rape.
Well, I disapprove of homosexuality as a practice. When it comes to individual people, though, I don’t need to know or care as long as they don’t project their desires onto me. Yes, I have a problem with the, um, physical aspect, but I also have a strong philosophical objection. Gay culture very often involves worship of the male form, which is just too narcissistic for my taste. No, I’d rather look at someone very different to me – as different as possible.
I’m sure what I’ve said here (and elsewhere in this Blog) could be analysed to reveal “character flaws”, but I don’t care. Do that in private if you must, but don’t bother telling me. I find psychoanalysis, amateur or professional, to be arrogant and insulting. Nobody on this planet can claim to know anything important about me, unless I am prepared to tell them that of my own volition.
Oh, dear, oh dear. I’ve just watched The Devil’s Own, Hollywood’s most recent take on the “troubles” in Northern Ireland. The plot outline is simple enough: a notorious IRA terrorist (Frankie Maguire, played by Brad Pitt) narrowly escapes capture in Belfast, slipping out under the guns of half the SAS. He makes it to New York and meets up with a corrupt judge who sympathises and provides money, raised from IRA supporters in the USA, to buy Stinger missiles to take home.
The judge also gets him lodgings with a NYPD sergeant (Tom O’Meara, played by Harrison Ford). So far so good, but Maguire’s mission spills out when Maguire’s arms dealer tries to steal the money, involving O’Meara and his family. It doesn’t take long for O’Meara to figure things out and attempt to take Maguire in, but he escapes, killing O’Meara’s partner.
At the opening gun battle a senior SAS officer apparently shoots another terrorist in cold blood, and he later pops up in New York, making it clear that he intends to kill Maguire. The straight-laced O’Meara won’t stand for this, so he sets off to capture Maguire and thus save his life. (Huh?). Cue a gun battle on board the boat carrying the missiles back to Belfast, some more male bonding, and a pat ending.
While it started off looking at the issues, at the end it lost sight and had little more to say than “killing is bad”. While there were a few scenes in a church, there was no mention of the Catholic / Protestant conflict that lies at the heart of the matter. As I’ve said here before, Ireland is a highly Catholic country, despite what the Irish Constitution says.
The irony is that there is far more sectarianism in Belfast than Dublin, despite all the Celtic T-shirts. There are Protestants here, but they live anywhere they like, not in Protestant areas. Being British, I’m apparently supposed to feel that Northern Ireland should be a part of Britain, but I don’t. It shouldn’t matter at all, if the threats to a people’s culture and religion did not exist. The idea of a secular state is only the beginning; for an example of what I mean, look at the history of Turkey since 1924 or so.
In my links list on this page, you’ll find a link to the official website of the band Dream Theater, who I’m quite a fan of. Their music is a bit difficult to explain to a fan of everyday pop or rock music, but I’m far from alone in liking them. Besides the USA, they sell out every European tour they undertake. It might help to explain a little of how they got to where they are now.
They started off on Long Island in the mid-80′s as a bunch of shredders, i.e. guys who play fast and furious just because they can. As time went by, and they absorbed other influences, their music became more diverse and complex, and they have moderated the shredding side a bit. (But not too much, thankfully!)
Now they’re all over the place stylistically. Short songs, long songs, multi-part conceptual compositions, ballads and death metal, it’s all in there. As I described before (re Smashing Pumpkins), I appreciate the need for dynamics in music, and Dream Theater know what I mean.
I’ve already seen them once this year, in London in January. When they announced two nights in London in October, I immediately booked both nights, because they have a history of turning double-headers into special occasions. There are a few on this current tour, their second visit to Europe this year, and they have stated in advance that they play different sets on the two nights. On the second night they will be doing something unique to them: they take another band’s classic album, learn it, and play it in its entirety. Not many bands would want to do this, and fewer could, but I understand it’s an amazing thing to hear.
So, I have tickets for the London gigs, great. The thing is, they later added a Dublin gig, two days ahead of the London gigs. I have a ticket on the way for that, too. So, I will be seeing the same band three times in four days. Let’s see if I still like them after that..!
Just a mad day at work… I’m becoming the EMEA-wide contact for a major software issue, which is affecting customers, but thankfully not seriously. It could be considered cosmetic, except for the scale of the problem. Basically, a piece of our storage management software is logging thousands of false errors in the Windows 2000 event logs, effectively flattening them, wiping out all other errors, depending on their log size settings. On an affected system here I bumped the log allocation up to 100MB of disk space, and one “event” is logging about 80MB worth of messages in the space of one minute. This is happening every four hours, almost exactly. What brought this on? Installation of Microsoft Windows 2000 Service Pack 3, which became available about 2 weeks ago. Here we go again…
I’m currently thinking “I want a drink”, but do I? What I want is to relax, and I seem to be associating that with drinking. Which makes sense, because I’m not into long or heavy drinking sessions. But I’m not going to have a drink, I’ll find another way to relax.
Three items are all over the news this morning:
- Police in England said last night that they’re nearly certain that two bodies found by joggers are those of two 10-year-old girls missing for two weeks. At this time a motive is unknown.
- Eastern Europe is starting to recover from the worst flooding in centuries, with some parts still seriously inundated.
- Pope John Paul II winding up what will probably be his last visit to his native Poland. 3 million people turned out to see him do Sunday Mass.
The connection? Millions of people turn out to pay obeisance to a notional deity, who can’t take care of “details” such as floods, or keeping children away from murderers. I don’t have kids, and sometimes laugh at the constant cries of “protect the children!” emanating from the USA in particular. Kids aren’t corrupted by every little tasteless thing they see, are often smarter than we give them credit for, and they need to be ready for the real world. But this is not evolution in action, because those responsible for this crime will not pay the full price. The world is a senseless place because it is full of senseless people. Good morning.
As I’ve said before, and will probably say again, I see the major influence on Irish culture as being “Not Like England” (NLE). Actually, I previously said “Britain”, but Scottish culture, especially that of the west coast, shares many influences, including the Gaelic language. It’s English culture that is the most vilified, but it’s not as bad as it sounds, currently, because of the large number of Brits who live and work here. Whenever I take the DART to Dublin on weekends, we pass by a cricket field, one of a few dedicated pitches in Ireland, with a match there every summer weekend.
Sporting life here is dominated by the Gaelic Games, Hurling and Gaelic Football, which are only seriously played here and on the east coast of the USA. Hurling has a long history, derived from the same ancient roots as hockey, but Gaelic Football is, if you like, a less formal variant of soccer. The Games are overseen by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), who are, to put it politely, highly nationalistic and insular. They financed the almost total rebuilding of the huge Croke Park stadium, which is heavily used at the moment, but rarely at other times of the year.
Association Football (soccer) and Rugby Union are played in Ireland too, of course, but the official national stadium, Lansdowne Road, is frankly run down and badly under-funded. The USA played Ireland in a friendly game before the World Cup this year, and the stadium was packed, but the pitch was a watery mess which could not be drained properly. There were complaints about the facilities, especially from American visitors used to more modern arenas and ballparks.
So, could major Soccer and Rugby games be played in Croke Park, with its larger capacity and modern facilities? It would mean additional revenue for the GAA, with little chance of a clash with the GAA schedules. This idea has been put to the vote at least twice in my time here, and you can probably guess the result. The members voted to keep “foreign sports” out of their pure Gaelic arena. NLE.
Despite all that, we still see the word Royal attached to institutions, most notably the Royal Victoria Eye & Ear Hospital, where I had some tests last year. (That’s another story, which reminds me that I’m due for an eye check-up, must make an appointment.) Another is the Royal Dublin Society, Dublin’s main showground, exhibition and equestrian sports centre, in Ballsbridge. The latter is always called the RDS, which is probably why the R-word doesn’t arouse more comment. That and the fact that Ballsbridge, with neighbouring Donnybrook, is an upmarket area which includes most of the foreign embassies and consulates, and a high proportion of Brits. The abovementioned cricket ground is close by, too.
Genteel enough today, but in the past..? If you look up the dictionary definition of donnybrook it looks very different indeed.
I subscribe to the Heavens Above service on my PDA, and it said I would see an Iridium Flare tonight, just a few minutes ago. I don’t have a compass, so I wasn’t sure of the bearing, but I could hardly miss it. See here for more on Iridium Flares, what they are and why they happen.
Today I bought Getting Away With It by James, the DVD of their final concert with singer Tim Booth in the lineup. I had some concerns when I heard that former members Andy Diagram and Larry Gott were joining the already 7-strong band on stage, and I’d also been worried that this concert would be overly sentimental, since Tim was leaving.
I saw James at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre in December 1999, and Tim Booth was all over the place, at one point climbing up the speaker stacks onto the balcony, not missing a note on the way. This new DVD has them playing in Manchester’s largest arena, which the band somehow shrank down to theatre size through sheer energy. Never mind Elvis, this is music.
In short, I needn’t have worried at all. They sounded wonderful, emotional, pretentious, soulful, accomplished, mad-as-a-hatter, and fun. I rate this DVD an essential purchase, and you don’t need to be from Manchester to get into it.
For Tim Booth to leave James is a blow on the order of Fish leaving Marillion – extremely serious, but one they can bounce back from with hard work, perseverance, and not a little luck. I’m sure we all wish them well.
I just made the mistake of typing Alien Elvis into Google. I think I hurt my shoulder after falling off my chair and rolling across the carpet. It was 25 years ago today that Elvis burst his aorta while straining to clear his clogged colon of greasy fried chicken crap. May we never see his like again.
Oh, of course, tomorrow will be the 25th anniversary of the aforementioned death of Elvis Presley, which is the reason given for all the exposure he’s getting recently. I expect there will be ceremonies at Graceland tomorrow, complete with ten thousand people singing Love Me Tender out of tune. Spooky coincidence: Madonna turned 19 on the same day that Elvis died.