Thursday, 31 May 2007

Beer Foamy!

According to Slate magazine there's a war over wine vs. beer and, in America, wine is winning. Hey guys, can't we all just get along? Most hmm-worthy, though, is this paragraph:
Part of beer's populist appeal—and its edge in the beer vs. wine war—has always been its absence of cant about its main point: to provide a little (or a lot of) happy intoxication. You can appreciate wine, but you drink beer, the saying goes.

Huh? I guess America has no real equivalent of CAMRA. England is fully capable of producing beers that fit either catagory —to be drunk or to be appreciated— and quite a few —Timothy Taylors Landlord, Black Sheep, almost anything you buy in a bottle at the local offy— that meet both criteria. If Americans really believe that wine has more taste and character than a beer, and, well, they do drink Bud, they should get themselves to a beer festival as quickly as possible and sample the full range of bitters and milds and ales on offer. It'd do them good.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Great Moments in Academic Research

From the Guardian comes news that Tesco is help helping it's older workers to understand the young 'uns by giving them a language guide. The kicker to this story, though, is this:
Researchers at Leeds University have discovered, after ploughing through 700 hours of recorded conversations across Britain, that words for simple objects vary greatly across the UK.

Or, you know, they could have driven across the country stopping at random bakeries and asked for a Bread cake, Cob, Bun, Roll, Muffin, Bap or Batch and took note of what they got in return. Then again, I suppose people have known this for a while. The Leeds research probably has a distinct "youth" twist or something.

Entering Los Angeles

Apparently, director Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas, an episode of The Sopranos, not to be confused with Get Carter director Mike Hodges whose career is equally spotty), was detained at LAX recently for telling security that he was there to "shoot a pilot"...

Reminds me of the time when I was in America with my brother and the family we were staying with asked me what I'd like to eat and I replied that I could "murder an Indian". There was a strained silence until my brother told me that you couldn't do that in the US anymore.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Drink Labels

The above pic is a mock up made by the BBC to show the sort of label that will have to appear on bottles or cans of alcohol by the end of 2008. I can think of a number of things I dislike about this, but the thing that struck me the most was the warning on the label:
Avoid alcohol if pregnant or trying to conceive.

I don't know, but it strikes me that if you are trying to get pregnant then alcohol could help quite a bit...

Scathing Private Ryan

The End Of Cinema likes Spielberg's top heavy movie even less than I do. He doesn't much like the top bit for a start:
Spielberg's decision to show the battle from Hanks's point of view is especially limited, in that it reduces the heroism of many to that of one: the star and protagonist. In SPR, Spielberg repeatedly reduces the general and the epic to the specific and generic. Thus the massive Omaha Beach landing is reduced to a half dozen guys in a small space fighting one gun and a handful of Germans.

He doesn't much like the films conclusions:
Thus the audience member, after being shown their own cowardice, is asserted to be a murderer as well. It's one of the most insulting things I've ever seen on film, and I can't believe how many people are willing to let Spielberg get away with it. How can this film be taken as a glorification of The Greatest Generation when it shows them repeatedly engaging in the same brutal habits as the pure evil Nazis of Schindler's List?

And he reckons he's seen 53 War Movies that are better, that Pearl Harbour, Top Gun and Braveheart are among them speaks volumes.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

An Essay on Criticism

Some neither can for Wits nor Criticks pass,
As heavy Mules are neither Horse or Ass.
Those half-learn'd Witlings, num'rous in our Isle,
As half-form'd Insects on the Banks of Nile:
Unfinish'd Things, one knows now what to call,
Their Generation's so equivocal:
To tell 'em, wou'd a hundred Tongues require,
Or one vain Wit's, that might a hundred tire.

An Essay on Criticism, Alexander Pope
Slacktivist links to a couple of articles, one, by Richard Schickel in the Los Angeles Times, very much against the idea of bloggers as critics and the other, by Kevin Drum in Washington Monthly, a rebuttal of the first article.

Fun reads if you like a little sneering thrown in with your opinions, and who doesn't?

For me there is a problem with every man and his blog reviewing any and every last damn thing they want —and it's one that touches slightly on elitism so I do find myself partly agreeing with Schickel— the problem is that the taste of the masses is safe and fairly predictable.

There are some great movies out there at the moment, right this second, and I don't really care what some kid from whereever thinks about Spiderman 3. What I like is positive recommendations from someone whose taste is roughly similar but, importantly, not the same as mine — like everyone else I'm also partial to the occasional excoriation of a really bad movie but let's not dwell on that. Given the size of the blogging public you are bound to find one or two bloggers that fit this criteria and that write well enough that you would read reviews of things you might not otherwise be interested in.

I regularly visit 3 movie opinion sites: Bright Lights Film Journal, which has recently had a good run of longer thoughtful pieces on Orson Welles, James Bond and Louise Brooks; Not Coming To A Theater Near You whose Screening Log is always interesting reading; and, of course, Vince Keenan who I've bigged up before.

What these sites have in common is that they've raved over a number of films that I've raved over, I've disagreed with their opinions from time to time, they have an enthusiasm for their subject that can be very compelling, they are very readable and, most importantly, I've bought or borrowed DVDs that I might not have heard of because of what they've said. I've used these site to expand my appreciation of movies out side of what I might have managed on my own. Which explains why my DVD collection starts somewhere around L'Atalante, passes through a couple of Bogart collections, a Kurosawa collecion, Nine Queens and Oldboy and ends up at Zatoichi, but also includes Galaxy Quest, Mission Impossible and the Big Lebowski.

Maybe others feel the same about Richard Schickel, I don't know, he just had to impress his editor so he's not had to deal with my fickle "unsubscribe" button. I've had other movie sites in my feeds and favourites, and I dropped them when they stopped meaning anything to me, I've looked at too many sites that think worshipping Bruce Campbell somehow makes them B-movies experts or that unironically loving trashy movies elevates those movies to art. I spent some time at Ain't It Cool News, too, but I showered thoroughly afterwards.

So, while I agree that much reviewing on the Internet is worthless, small shiny nugget in all those opinions is worth all the digging to get it. Part of reviewing should be promote the obscure gems and the difficult-but-rewarding as well as the just genuinely great and I like to think that I've found a handful of sites that have made it easy to get to the good stuff.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Meatless Meals Mercilessly Misrepresented

A rebuttal of the anti-veganism article linked to below.
The prosecutor knew the truth, which is that no responsible vegan parent in the world would feed an infant, who was born three months premature, a diet of apple juice and soy milk. (Note–have you ever looked at a carton of soy milk? Somewhere on every carton of soy milk I have run across is a statement something like the following: "Not to be used as an infant food." One cannot easily misunderstand that, unless of course, one is illiterate, stupid, or a murderer.)

The prosecutor got it, but Nina Planck did not, and she used this tragic case of parental ignorance, neglect and cruelty, to step up on her soapbox and paint all vegan parents as irresponsible kooks.

Who says I can't be fair and balanced, eh?

Living Colour

The Guardian is hosting a handful of pictures from an exhibition called The Dawn of Colour: Centenary of the Autochrome at the National Media Museum (which has a couple more photos). There's something lovely and yet quite eerie about them, as if they shouldn't really have any colour at all and the pictures are almost straining to be black & white.

In a similar vein here are some hundred year old colour photos of Russian Churches and a whole collection of different facets of Russia from the same time. Fascinating stuff.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Food Fad Found Far From Fulfilling

Apparently, veganism will kill you:
Indigenous cuisines offer clues about what humans, naturally omnivorous, need to survive, reproduce and grow: traditional vegetarian diets, as in India, invariably include dairy and eggs for complete protein, essential fats and vitamins. There are no vegan societies for a simple reason: a vegan diet is not adequate in the long run.

Via Accidental Hedonist.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Atheists: Lazy Good For Nothings

This article, What Makes an Atheist Get out of Bed in the Morning?, has the following sub-heading:
In their rush to throw out God, atheist writers appear to have given little thought to what should replace the deity.

I don't know, this atheist has thrown out God and replaced him with nothing. That's the definition of "atheist", isn't it?
Atheism is a purely negative ideology, which is its problem. If one does not believe in God, what should one believe in instead?

Belief in nothing is still a belief and is just as tangible and beneficial as a belief in something. This is getting very close to one of those "If it wasn't for the ten commandments what's to stop everyone going round killing each other?" arguments. One that takes things like rationality, the common good and humanity's basic decency out of peoples own hands and confers them on some "other". An "other" who just happens to have set down a bunch of rules that are a lot like those a simple bit of human common sense would have come up with with a few seconds thought. Not that those rules ever stopped anyone breaking them on the flimsiest of contexts, especially that adultery one.

The thing that's getting atheists out of bed in the morning is whatever motivates them, perhaps just the will to lead a full and rewarding life. Same as the theists. Daniel Lazare, the article's author, almost makes this point himself:
In short, humanity creates meaning for itself by liberating itself so that it can fulfill itself. This is also a solipsism, but one as big as all existence.

But spoils it by adding the following strange claim:
Odd, isn't it, that atheists can be right about God but wrong about religion and much else about the modern condition, while a believer can be wrong about God but at least on the right track concerning the current spiritual malaise?

It's not really odd in that it's possible, but I'm sure many atheists have much that is right to say about the modern condition and it's quite easy to believe that a believer is worried about those who share his beliefs.

David Thomson Really, Really Likes Cary Grant

George Clooney, though, not so much.
I'd bet on George Clooney managing, whatever happens. But he can't be Cary Grant. And he should be under no burden to try.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Usefully Dangerous

Dissent has a quick look at why Paul Krugman is so angry these days.
Whether lashing out at the administration’s shifting explanations as to why they were delivering truckloads of cash to the wealthy in the form of tax cuts or explaining the dishonesty in the administration’s plans to privatize Social Security or puncturing the cultlike worship of Alan Greenspan or railing against Bush’s deceptions about the war or describing how oil company lobbyists made energy policy for Dick Cheney’s task force, Krugman has committed himself to exposing "the lies of the powerful."

Tuesday, 15 May 2007


I recently found a decent free implementation of Texas Hold'em, this doesn't sound much, but just try Googling "free Texas Hold 'em" and find some interesting interpretations of "free".

Anyway, this is PokerTH and it's low on bells and whistles and seems to play a decent game of Poker (though it seems that playing fairly tight and going big with good hands is a safe way to win). It's flexible, to a point, as you can set the amount of starting cash , the number of players (up to six), the size of the blind and how many hands before the blinds get doubled.

It's fairly new, so the interface is evolving and it feels ever so slightly clunky, but it's worth a look if you want to hone your playing before the next home tournament.

Friday, 11 May 2007

News To Not Tell Anyone

Oral sex could be more dangerous than cigars.

The study appeared to suggest that throat-cancer risks from booze and cigs were insignificant compared to those from getting too frisky. Of course, that doesn't mean that drink and baccy are safer than the other things you might - in this context - put in your mouth.

Via The House Next Door

Finally, A List That's Hard To Disagree With

The BBC have had a poll for the worst pop lyric, Des'ree comes first for the crime for rhyming ghost with toast. It wasn't until today, however, that, I realised just how bad the words to U2's elevation are:
I've got no self control
Been living like a mole now
Going down, excavation
High and high in the sky
You make me feel like I can fly
So high

Presumably the greater part of Sting's back catalogue is bubbling just under number 10.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Is Wiki Wack?

A growing number say so. Even Wikipedia has noticed.

Back and Proud

So, I survived the hols. Quick overview: shopping, The Cheeses were great though no-one quite remembers the gig, v. good curry at Spice Library followed by some fine local ale, wedding went well, super room. Add at random lots of beer, Timothy Taylors Landlord in particular, and some good long chats with friends and you just about have it.

I'm snowed under with e-mail and catching up at the moment so something like normal posting will resume tomorrow.

I notice, however, that Wil Wheaton has posted his review of ST:TNG Haven, so those of you who have been following his slow but fascinating trawl through the NextGen back catalogue will, at least, have something to read.