Saturday, February 02, 2008


Challinor's challenge

Evidently it's etiquettesque to respond to this kind of post so I'll comply. Philip would like me to be nice for a change, so here are seven things I'm in favour of (the 'don't end a sentence with a preposition' rule was apparently imposed by Gallic linguofascists in the 18th century, so fuck that for a game of legionnaires):

1. The Labour Party

I can't let a single thought about them flit across my consciousness without falling to my knees, loosening my belt and masturbating volcanically. The Labour Party have turned what was a nation in terminal decline for a thousand years into an economic, social and sexual powerhouse. The smiles on the faces of the health staff are broader, the operation scars on the vic... the patients are less infected, and the hard-ons paraded around the halls of Whitehall are more rampant than in the 950-odd years since King Harold never recovered from that mother of all symbolic cumshots in his eye. Finally, we have a leader who will stand up against the tyranny of binocular vision. Go get 'em (from one side), Gordon! (etc, etc)

2. The Conservative Party

The sight of David Cameron on the television drives me into the streets, weeping with excitement at the new dawn he promises! O David, you are truly worthy of your namesake, opposed as you are to your political Goliath. Just sling a few of those stunningly original projectiles of yours at his forehead - those 'er... you naughty Muslim bombers' or 'umm... I think you should try to cut down on your carbon climates, chaps' or 'thank Christ, one of you has paid his son for doing nothing - now that's something I can actually understand!' - and the populace will line up behind you and usher you in come 2010. Then we can all bend over again for another five years, till Labour start nudging you and you feel the need to take down Syria. (etc, etc)

3. Sarcasm
(The sarcasm ends here)

4. Amateur dramatics

Do yourself a favour and hie you to your local am-dram group. Every town has one - every town, every village, every hamlet, every borough, even, for you townies - so you can stick that excuse. The great thing about these groups is not the excitement they allow you to experience when you stand on stage playing Willie Loman or Hamlet or the third German or whoever; it's the spirit of community they foster. My group is wonderful: we meet two or three times a week, and whether we're the lead actor or the lowliest prop supplier for that production (and we take turns), we're all equal when we're out on the street touting for revenue or in the pub knocking back the pints after a great, great show.

5. Victorian novels

I know it's not very fashionable to read these books nowadays - James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence and that crowd and their drooling followers have pretty much fucked this genre over - but if you're stuck for a good read on a beach, on a long train journey or in the bay window of your Wiltshire manse on a drenched winter afternoon, you could do worse than an 'old Vic'. I've just read Bleak House for the second time, and it kicks arse, all 1,012 pages of it. Nicholas Nickelby is just as good (and features the best - and perviest - character name in all of fiction: Wackford Squeers). David Copperfield is good but overrated; Great Expectations and Hard Times are brilliant. But then so is anyone who debates Dickens, no matter what your preferences. Wilkie Collins is stunning, and Thomas Hardy astonishes... but George Eliot soars over all of them, Middlemarch triumphing as the greatest work of fiction in the history of Western literature. Mmmmm - mm! Do your mind a favour and give them a try.

6. Stevie Ray Vaughan

He was the greatest guitarist who ever lived, a shy, humble man who squeezed more elegant, complicated and downright stinking riffs out of his Fender Strat that any other human has ever managed. He would have died if he hadn't kicked his alcohol and cocaine habits in 1986; then he went on to get himself killed in a helicopter crash in 1990. Listen to what I think is his magnum opus, The Things That I Used To Do, and try to suppress the gooseflesh that creeps down your spine during the guitar solo in the middle. I dare you. Rest in peace, Stevie.

7. Michael Moore

I've always hated this bastard. His political rants are crap. Fair enough, he nailed Bush's zombie-like reaction to the news of the 9-11 attacks; but he's been skewered comprehensively as a third-rate polemicist by the counterblast film, Manufacturing Dissent. Nonetheless, I watched his latest, Sicko, last night. The problem with this bloody film is that Moore hasn't grasped anything, in years of filmmaking, about the principles of scientific analysis. To establish an idea scientifically, you have to do a power calculation. This means, to simplify things, that there's a minimum number of examples you have to offer before your hypothesis approaches credibility. Moore puts forward horrendous examples of people who have been screwed over by the American health-insurance-based system; but he uses these four or five instances to make gross generalisations about healthcare in America. The US healthcare system might be utterly awful, for all I know; it's just that Moore fails to come anywhere near proving this. More egregiously, he reveals himself to be a dualist of the sort he's always criticising. According to him in this film, everything the US ever does is wrong, and everything anyone else does - Britain, France, Canada and Cuba - is sublimely altruistic, unassailable and, well, perfect. Never mind that Britain has the lowest cancer survival rates in the Western world, far lower than those of, say, Holland, or the dreaded America (I'm happy to provide figures if anyone doubts this). Or that the rate of getting shot in the back on trying to escape the host country is just that bit higher in Cuba than in any of the other countries featured in Moore's film.

And yet... At the end of the film, right at the end, when Moore is waddling up to the Capitol in Washington on some dimwitted crusade to force the federal government to do his laundry or some such crap.... he has as the soundtrack Cat Stevens's Don't Be Shy. Now, I'm not a hippy. I was born in 1970, and as far as I was concerned when I reached adulthood in 1988 and then again in 1991, the hippies could kiss my ring, and I'm not using ecclesiastical imagery here. But I've always loved that Cat Stevens song, since about 1979, I think, when I was nine. It's always resonated in me as a sort of anthem to people like me, people who are misfits in some way - shy, awkward, afraid to ask out girls or approach potential friends, people who have minds foaming with ideas and music and joy who nonetheless never know quite how to communicate these ideas to other human beings. People who identify intensely with the Counting Crows song Mr Jones, as I do. Profoundly interesting people like, I suspect, almost all the bloggers I link to on the left there.

And listening to that utterly beautiful Cat Stevens song, written as it was in 1971, I understood that Michael Moore isn't really the irredeemable, sneering bastard I've always thought he was, even though I disagree profoundly with his politics and most of his conclusions. In fact, his perceptiveness in choosing that song makes me wonder if he hasn't started to have doubts about his own position (i.e. that the US is automatically bad in everything it does and the rest of the world is by default wonderful). My own take is: the human race is chaotic, haphazard, at times brilliant, self-destructive, good most of the time, self-serving and nasty slightly less of the time on the whole, wherever it's found, in Europe or Asia or Africa or America or wherever else. We're all in the same fucking boat, people, so let's not blow each other up in trains or bomb each other from the skies. And let's not mix our metaphors, please, for Christ's sake.

I forgot to tag people! So let's hear seven things you're in favour of, Sarah, Dr Maroon, Pat, Sam, FMC, Boudica and (ah ha ha haaaa, yeah, right) Noreen.

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