The Original Woody Allen

Woody Allen is generally known for his awkward romantic or psychological and whimsical comedies with various modern actors essentially playing Woody. However he started out as a surreal comedian, a man with ridiculous jokes. Let’s call him a fast talking, Jewish Peter Cook. The guy was genuinely funny before he went romantic-funny, whiny funny and cerebral funny, neither of which tickles the bone like surreal, ridiculous funny.

In honour of this, I’ve watched 3 of his original comedies, the ones which made his name before he ‘matured’. These comedies, Bananas, Everything You Want to Know About Sex and Sleeper are little short of hilarious, totally ridiculous send-ups of American foreign policy, sex and James Bond.

Bananas showed great foresight as the US organises the murder of a South American leader and replaces him with a lackey, something that occurred two years later in Chile. EYWKASex has at least three scenes of ridiculosity involving a jester, a good-looking Armenian sheep and a giant boob. Sleeper is a James Bond spoof and very apt.

Look Them Up!

Busan HLF4

The High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness Four (catchy eh?) begins today in Busan, Seoul. The likes of Tony Blair and Hillary Clinton will grace the stage in front of 2,000 delegates with soju hangovers. This barbecue feast will involve earnest nodding from some and much frustration from others. Its remit is to come up with plans to improve the aid system which has been remarkably successful in its failure to help Africa.

South Korea is of course an example of a state, like post-war Europe that came from desperate poverty to its present first-world position. Its not to say everything is fine in Korea. I’ve lived there and the wealth isn’t spread so generously and the education and health systems are starting to buckle. But it has come a long way from post-war 1953.

I’ve written papers on South Korea, Taiwan in comparison with the South East Asian states and then African states. The reason for Asia’s spectacular development aren’t unique but they are difficult to replicate. A clear difference with African states is the promotion of education and health, the fact that wealth from resources were kept in the country, a development regime based on the Japanese model (labour intensive –> high-end tech), planned investments and control over capital, a use of strategic aid, rampant theft of technology, a cohesive tight labour laws and a fairly benevolent dictator.

Writers like Park tend to overlook the let’s say ‘cheeky side’ of SK’s growth but in the end, its a far better model than the African development model. The reasons are strong governance and a West that cared for strategic reasons.

This Busan talking shop won’t help much. Trying to find common ground amongst actors national actors with only national interest at heart is impossible. The Millennium Development Goals The days of major investment from the West are gone as aid is less and less tied to the purchase of Western goods. China will continue to link aid to infrastructure projects and often rightly so. At least something is happening.

The Western call for a focus on health masks the fact there are issues of poverty and unemployment to be dealt with. Africa is going to be exposed to the new neo-lib, human rights based agenda, lambasted and criticised for its poor governance and low capacity. And the poor will get poorer in relative and absolute terms.

Brian Cox on a Friday Afternoon

I’ve always said if there was a need for an astronaut to go on a life-long mission to the next galaxy to seek life, I’d go even if there was no possibility of return. The images from Hubble has always been my background pics and I remember in Slovenia an outdoor gallery of images from space. Ahh the colours!

Even after my present travels, I wish I could have done it 50-100 years ago.  Sure it would be tougher but I don’t consider myself a tourist when I travel. Its about the culture and diversity.

Anyway happy weekend and enjoy the video. Ted.com is a very cool website.

Inequality and Larry Summers

Some nerve from Larry Summers as he talks for more action on inequality and believing we simply need to do better somehow..

Anyway so taking his figures, the super-rich have got amazingly rich (up 275% between 1979 and 2007), while the middle class have got richer but not much (up 40%). Thank God Summers has included figures after 2007 (I’m sure there is a reason why the cut-off is there) because the manufactured middle class have nose-dived since then. By manufactured I mean people have borrowed their way into the middle class rather than a genuine explosion of wealth. This is capitalism after all!

So when the middle class don’t notice their relative poverty despite holding the electoral power, nothing is going to be resolved. As the poor who are getting poorer are condemned into poverty and yet still vilified for their own wastefulness despite being in a system that clearly isn’t working for them, who is going to solve this? The rich? Not likely. The middle class? Not right now it seems. The poor? Nope, they will be condemned for looting and shot. So until the middle class wake up and demand more, forget it. As Zizek argues here (see last post especially), this hardly bodes well for the Occupy protests. The middle class don’t want real change which is understandable, they just want a better deal. They aren’t in it for revolution. In which case, resistance of this sort is pointless. Or as Zizek puts it this kind of resistance is surrender.

Gina Robins cooked kitten to death in microwave

Two points stand out from this story on the BBC. Firstly that microwaving a cat to death is to cause it unnecessary suffering. I say it might do more than that. Secondly, the guilty woman’s denial is really something to behold. According to her, not only did other cats force the kitten into the microwave but they also shut the door and then presumably turned it on. Who said cats are dumb eh?

A woman who microwaved a 10-week-old kitten to death has been found guilty of causing it unnecessary suffering.

The kitten’s owner Sarah Knutton told Torquay Magistrates’ Court she heard a sound then a “horrendous screech”.

Gina Robins, 31, of Salisbury Avenue, Torquay, had denied the charge, claiming the kitten had been shut in the microwave oven by other cats.

Levenson Investigation: Garry Flitcroft

I never knew Garry Flitcroft but I knew people around him. The Press is getting a general grilling right now as the investigation takes evidence from well-known people who’ve had their private lives exposed by the media. Garry Flitcroft, the ex-Man-City and Blackburn player was on the stand today talking about how his affair with a stripper was exposed in the Sunday press ending his marriage. While he accepted his failures, his argument was as a Blackburn player at the time, it was not in the public interest for his life to be exposed as such. He wasn’t high profile, wasn’t a marketing magnet.

I knew his ex-wife’s brother from my days in Sheffield. I worked with him as a temp while studying. I remember the time, I remember the pub and the conversation when he talked about this affair. I remember his quiet, subdued manner and the awkwardness he exhibited. I distinctly remember going to the bar with two drinks and changing the subject. But I still remember the sounds of his deep exhales after telling me. It still quietens me.

The Sunday exposure of his failures ended a marriage with two children. As a player he received constant taunts from the crowds and his father stopped going to the games after never previously missing them. He later committed suicide. When Flitcroft was asked if he believed there was a connection, he said he thought so.

Flitcroft was never a ‘name’ footballer. He would fit nicely on the Obscure Footballers Facebook page. Yet after the story was sold and the press camped outside his door, his kids weren’t able to go to school and his family’s misery was compounded and intensified.

And yet I don’t remember turning to Flitcroft as a beacon anyway. And despite knowing someone close to the story, I didn’t remember it until it came up again. I guess as a media event it just didn’t matter in the long run. I’m pretty sure it didn’t matter to anyone in the short term either. But its all a little late for that.

Rugby Balls

The media didn’t like Johnson. Johnson never liked the media and according to this piece, sections of the press didn’t like the way Ashton was fired. If I remember rightly though, the media never liked Ashton yet they prefer for him to be stabbed in the front where they can drool rather than the back which is the RFU-coward standard mode of operation.

But this isnt politics. The media dont win games like they do elections. The coaches and the players do as long as they beat the opposition which seems to be left out of this equation. Bottom line is are our players and coaches better than France in NZ, Ireland away and Wales away? The answer is clearly not in Ireland’s case and almost in France and Wales’ case.

So we’re not world beaters which the French almost were. Big deal, get used to it. Have you seen the squad recently? Rugby like a lot of modern sports is won by the small decisions, the faints and subtleties, the luck and the minor physical advantages. We weren’t quite good enough on the field often and occasionally at all.

On the field, there are 15 players to play against, equally keen to win this 80 minute war. There is only so much you can control after you factor in the weather and the referee. Johnson was let down by his players which is beyond his control to a degree but importantly he was let down by the shambolic facade of a ruling body, the RFU, a club that hasn’t moved on from the boys-only network.

Ryan Gosling

In many ways I can’t believe I’m writing this blog but I’ve been impressed by Ryan Gosling of late, mostly after watching Half Nelson and Drive. Both these independent films require him to act a little but mainly to pout and for that, it works.

I got introduced to the guy when Tam made me (trust me I wasnt looking forward to this) watch The Notebook, the quintessential chick flick with a story of eternal love made, presumed lost through mis-communication and then rediscovered. While the story is schmaltzy, predictable drivel, I have to admit its endearing it in a way. It touched a nerve.

After that ‘experience,’ a film made in 2004, I assumed his career took the predictable early death and expected to see him on TV anytime soon. But for unexplained reasons, Gosling has been all over the place of late. I mentioned Drive in a previous post, mostly for the music but his role in Half Nelson, an excellent small independent film from 2006 highlights a strength also noted in Drive; his dead-pan face!

Gosling is best when he doesn’t say very much, when he lets the mood, music and scene take over.  I’m not saying he’s a bad actor, I don’t think he is but in both films, playing the Man With No Name character suits him. His passive face actually adds to the ambiguity and tension. It helps that recently I’ve watched the Dollar Trilogy and Yojimbo, the original man (samurai) with no name.

When he actually starts active acting in The Ides of March, he somewhat fails or becomes only passable. You begin to notice he might just be a pretty boy and deserving of a place on the new OC or where ever. Ryan should stick to what he’s good at; passively killing people or looking unhappy for a variety of reasons. He does it so much better than Seagal. Or looking like he’s knackered or stoned and unable to function to the level of emotion. The ability to keep your head while all others lose theirs….now that’s a skill.

Let’s have some real Help for Heroes

Bit of a rant this: Here is my problem with the Help the Heroes idea. Why the fuck don’t they get all the help anyway? These boys knew, unlike a lot of more idealistic American troops that they were involved in a large politico-economic game for control. They knew whose bidding they were doing, putting their limbs and faculties on the line for a political cause so why isn’t their medical care and attention a ‘given’ from this war.

A Eurofighter costs 90 million euros to build (125m if you include development and production costs. Build one less. Put the money into medical, social, psychological and economic care for the injured. 90 million euros will go far. That’s over 50,000 euros for each injured solider (figures from the MOD). That figure relate to all military personnel from all services injured. 256 of the 1,792 injured personnel were categorized as very severe. It is these guys we need to focus on with that 90m. That equates to over 300,000 euros each.

That’s not enough for a lifetime I understand but isn’t it better for the nation to spend that money on helping our soldier rather than another Eurofighter which surprise, surprise we barely use. We have 62 already out of an order of 160. As General Dannatt stated in 2010, we haven’t used more than 20 aircraft on any active operation since World War 2. Yet we have over 100 aircraft to defend British airspace from…. ummm?

I understand why people run marathon and raise money for Help the Heroes and it is a worthy cause. It gives us a sense of commonality, a feeling of doing your bit etc and is admirable. I happily give money to them. But on greater reflection, I have to wonder why these men and women injured in the line of duty in either a war we all questioned (Iraq) or in an endless attempt to quell the unquellable (using war anyway) are then left to charity to serve. I am sure they appreciate it. But I know they shouldn’t have to rely on it. It says more about the real sense of responsibility our politicians feel for our military. Its a tool to callously abuse rather than cleverly use to enhance our standing.

(Don’t even start me on the electronic signature Rumsfeld used for the fallen letters in the US)

The Gravity of Sport

The BBC ran a blog and radio show about death in sport recently. The article was entitled ‘The Ultimate Sacrifice’ with the byline asking if it was acceptable for athletes to risk their lives in the name of sport. I couldn’t take this seriously from the go. I love a lot of sports and like to win but the premise is nonsensical.

I was hoping the entire article would just be the word yes but alas it was stretched out as a preamble to the radio show. In these modern, legal era, athletes go into their sport knowing the dangers. Now if you ask me if horses should be used in dangerous sports or other animals like that, then we have a real discussion. Humans aren’t forced into this unless you are talking about North Korean gymnasts or something bizarre.

I also found the term ‘ultimate sacrifice’ hardly appropriate when we are talking about paid sportsmen or women or those doing it for their own personal satisfaction or glory. Besides you could argue death is not the end for sports stars written up and eulogised in the annals of sport.

Sport can have a unifying power. The situation of Bosnia  is a possible example but too often national sports coalesce a Us vs Them mentality or are simply used by the state and media to mask underlying social, political or economic problems. One of FIFA’s better initiatives is to try and enforce the separation of football from political control. It naturally fails which highlights the abuse of sport. Football is too useful to leave to chance.

However returning to the article, an ultimate sacrifice is an altruistic act such as sacrificing your life for others. If I smother a grenade in my trench and die so others can live, that is a sacrifice. Sports are games taken seriously but ultimately they are still games. And we need to enforce that.