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Showing posts from 2020

THE HINGE OF HISTORY

Yesterday, my cat located a mouse in my office (a small crowded room filled with books, and boxes of books and papers); before he could pounce, I locked him briefly in another room, and set about trying to rescue the petrified mouse, crouched in a corner. I picked it up, and was going to put it outdoors, but it wriggled free, and is now somewhere else. I am sad to think that now my cat may locate it before me, and do his catlike thing, and play with it to death, but I tried.This is not to try to show I am better than other people, or cats, since I am a meat-eater and wear leather, but I do shy away from directly encouraging or facilitating death in living creatures; even seeing mosquitoes killed makes me uncomfortable, though of course I kill them. This does not stop me from enjoying Bond films, though I am against most acts of violence in what is called reality - historical actuality. If I am conflicted, that is likely because, like many over-educated white middle class Westerners, I…
The new live action Mulan from Disney is now playing on TV, put there by Covid-19. It is a remake of a hugely-popular and more, well, comical, animated version from more than 20 years ago, that has great nostalgic pulling power for many now-older online film addicts; the plan is to charge a lot of money to download it, and share with one's younger friends and family, to pass the bug on.
Reviews have agreed: It's well-made, apparently inoffensive state of the art, and the lead actor is appealing. It features several legendary Chinese actors, and is never less than good to watch, with a rousing score. It is also directed by a woman from New Zealand best known for the excellent Whale Rider from 2002.
Unfortunately, the movie is also, almost by accident it might seem, a disturbing propaganda delivery system, which will be most dangerous in China, the main market for the film in cinemas. The villains (Mongols apparently) are trying to overthrow the Empire/Emperor so it is the inversi…

IN FOR A PENCE?

It is possible to disagree with, or even recoil from, VP Pence's right-wing conservative political and social and religious beliefs, and still recognise that his recent conference speech was a remarkably powerful rhetorical exercise in firing up the new Republican pro-Trump base (down to its nasty transition pun); AND as clear a delineation between choices in any American election they've had since Reconstruction. 'Freedom vs. Control' may be an extreme version, capitalism vs. socialism also a slight exaggeration, but this is the final battle (for now) of the so-called 'Culture Wars' that have been brewing in the US since Nixon in 1968.It's the ultimate American struggle, between the angels of our better selves with a progressive liberal agenda, versus traditional, evangelical, broadly Constitutional literalists, who think America has always been great, needs little correction, and is exceptional in the eyes of God - basically FDR versus Bush Jr. slash Chen…

THE KILLERS HAVE A NEW ALBUM

Imploding The Mirage, as critics and reviewers will quickly inform you, is a title that refers to the famous Las Vegas casino's demolition, which made way for something arguably even snazzier, or more empty. Born in Vegas, that most artificial and symbolic of American places (famous for gambling, glitz, misadventure, criminal origins, and mass murders), The Killers - named after a Hemingway-based film noir, but following in the footsteps of numerous rock acts that have signalled their outlaw claims with similar names (Jerry Lee Lewis was called The Killer) - are a very American rock band. That their lead singer, Brandon Flowers, is famously a Mormon and allegedly a straight arrow, albeit flamboyant on stage, only adds to the resonant enigma - they are part of the myth of the American Dream, while in classic post-modern mode, nod to the artifice, albeit a non-nihilistic one with a God.Their inoffensive, hummable songs, mainly about broken hearts, yearning, broken lives, and hoping …

A RELIGIOSE BLOOD-SPATTERED NOIR SHOT IN BROAD DAYLIGHT

David Ayer's LA-based gangster picture,The Tax Collector, just released, is a uniquely terrible film - and one that will be a cult classic in ten years.
Reviews rightly observe that the film is ultra-violent, and depicts Latino culture as one enmeshed in a criminal lifestyle, with Shia LaBeouf playing a particularly nihilistic enforcer; as such, it has been summarily dismissed as exploitative, and perhaps borderline racist. These are easy accusations, and miss the mark. It is a terrible film, but also, astonishingly bad, and therefore, most watchable, for any fan of B-movies and crime cinema. Firstly, let's address the all-Latinos-depicted-are-bad claim - not true. The main character, the Tax Collector for various gangs in LA, David, has many family members who are entirely good, decent people. The film is especially careful to establish a pecking-order, and many people in the community are preyed upon, ordinary citizens; moreover, even the murderous African American gang that w…

LOVE AND HATE ON EITHER HAND

[Note, in light of the subject of this essay's continuing refusal to apologise, recognise their errors, or show any humility or empathy, it is hard to maintain a sense of compassion for them; I thought they were merely ill - it seems they have deep hate; however, despite the recalcitrance and hole-digging, which seems deeply misguided at best, at worst, despicable, I will seek to maintain the position of trying to separate the sin and sinner. Though, for the time being, I can support those who now seek to publicly remonstrate and demonstrate against Twitter and this person's ongoing foul fusillades against the Jewish people. It's time for Wiley to take responsibility and acknowledge the pain he is causing. I pray he does.]
Wiley has made a series of totally offensive and wrong anti-Semitic comments on Twitter, and was immediately banned (for a week) by the social media company - that false friend that encourages discord and profits by it - and has lost his management team, …

Do No Harm

Don Share's recent resignation letter from Poetry magazine contained a fascinating claim that poetry was a promise - a promise to the reader to ultimately do no harm to them. Writing in the context of having published a very long, probably mediocre, and offensive poem filled with racist slurs, by a young, privileged, white American poet, in his famous magazine, this makes a noble sense. At a time when systemic racism is a vital issue to confront, editorial decisions have meaning - symbols matter, and time and space given over to less important themes or concerns can appear to be, or actually be, hurtful, and damaging.
Share was writing primarily as an editor, willing to take responsibility for his selections and choices, but he is also a poet, and a scholar, whose expertise relates to Seneca and, in the modern period, Basil Bunting. Bunting, a disciple of Ezra Pound, could hardly agree with Share's idea of harm, nor would the stoic Seneca, since the stoics believed harm only re…

CATO'S LOCKDOWN

I am reminded of Cato's Guilty Men, the 1940 British best-selling polemic that established the 'appeasement' approach as wrong, and charged (Cato was three anonymous journalists, not a judge) the many men named as dolts or worse who had squandered the past ten years, and let a great evil rise unchecked. Churchill, newly elected to a national unity government, would save the day, and rid the top of the failed dead wood; Churchill did save the day, and nation, but he keep most of the top untrimmed. He was, after all, a Conservative.
For then, think now. Ten years of NHS underfunding, and gross under-preparation for the pandemic, long-warned-of. For the 'Munich' agreement, and the deal, think of the 'herd immunity strategy' - or the late 'lockdown' - or indeed, the now unfortunate '20,000 deaths will be a good result claim' (oft-repeated). But who, then is Churchill?
In one sense, PM Boris is, because his return to power, as the newly-Christened …

NEW POEM

HOT ZONE CONFESSIONS‘Thomas and Lowell made themselves the metaphor of their poems’1.I am myself the quarantine.The garden spreads childrenIn summer clothes like soresOn a lip. The world quivers,All arrows locked and loadedTo overflow. I don’t quite explode.2.Writing has never been bomb squadTo the great squatting missiles belowOur skins; you don’t avoidVolcanic eruption with lava postcards.Words hurl microbial aerosolAcross the lawn to sicken, invade.3.I’m only paper, metaphor, inky myth.What’s made isn’t mine or shrapnel to own,Contains pandemics in its sly mists.Controlled explosions like punking steam?All dreams are engines to the minefieldMind we try to civilly distance from, or collide in.4.We’ve died in rhetorical verse too often to seeThe trees burst from it like shells out ofBurial mounds; all’s fecundity, even dross,Drivel, moss, or fungal rot. All personal worksSurround me, yet extend, like vines on branchesFurl in forests to the furthermost interior animals.5.Go out, stay …

Flattening Chaos

A week ago, on the 14th, I predicted here we would likely see around 20,000 reported UK deaths, and between 160-200 k cases reported, of infection. As it turns out, the hospital reported deaths as of yesterday are closer to 17 k, and the reported cases are around 125 k. Now, since reports suggest community-based and care home deaths (unreported at this stage for these hospital NHS figures) add another 41% per cent to these already solemn and tragic figures, we probably are looking at over 20,000 UK deaths so far related to Covid-19; and at least 160,000 cases - though some studies suggest the number is closer to 1.6 million infected in the population.
The government has had a mixed time of it - they have succeeded in acquiring more beds and ventilators than needed, and their ability to persuade the electorate to law-abide and stay in has been marvellous. Infection rates have seemingly begun to plateau, deaths are slowing - the lockdown has worked, the NHS has not buckled.
Unfortunately,…

NEW POEM

CICERO UNLOCKEDAfter  W.B.Y & D.T. with loveCicero knows a soul is there or isn’t thereAnd neither bandage unbreaks the fear;My cat’s coalfired sleeping in a fiery poolPut out in purrs sleep derails, his furThe kingdom of panthers all breeders conferRibbons on; in heaven the dead move too –In puzzled sleep, at their side some ownerScribbling also of the worried times: halfThe world is half apart from half the world’sOther part – the solid heart has come to knowThe dialogue of self, and loss, and selfless loss;As Plato told, and Aristotle tossed aside, in scorn.We’re divisions of an army made up of usAlone; the hill-town’s been cut off from its face,To save the sloping nose to keep the mills alight.Economies of scale collapselike climbing biblesTipping off a feeding beltway to appal the stars.It is dust bowling as dollars fly like miceOut of the cat hospitals to die church poorIn single pairs of lost mittens, disallowed to mournUntil morning’s dark and the mountains flat as ice.We …

SOME GOOD NEWS?

Apologies for being late with the weekly pandemic report from London. We have just had a sunny Easter bank holiday weekend, and that meant four days when people could either break the law and potentially infect and kill people, or stay mainly indoors; or 'exercise' a lot in gardens, parks and streets.
The police asked sunbathers and BBQers to 'move on'. The PM has second-homed it, but few mind, as he has survived. Meanwhile, the less impressive of his cabinet run the daily press briefings flanked by the scientists and medics who 8 weeks ago wanted herd immunity to rip through the country and kill off the weak, and who now solemnly demand we social distance to save the NHS. Hypocritical Oaf, as one headline said in a similar context.
The good news is that though deaths, factoring in those in the community and care homes, is about 900 to 1,000 a day in the UK from Covid-19, the curve is flattening, it appears.
This means my prediction from a week ago is somewhat off. I had …

SMALL MIRACLES

As every wag has noted, it was indeed a Good Friday for Boris Johnson; and this blog is mighty pleased he is out of ICU and on the mend. We are also pleased his father has recommended he take it easy. Yesterday, an almost empty St. Peter's in Rome featured a homily by a priest who suggested God had allowed all viruses to evolve, like all life forms, within their own free patterns, and that He therefore had not stopped Covid-19.  This is a fascinating argument, and one that I need to think through more closely.
He also called the Crucifixion the 'most evil act in human history' - which, if one agrees that Christ was God Incarnate, may well be the case. Like many others, I have long struggled to understand the Matrix-level complexities of an event that HAD TO HAPPEN and yet was not divinely-controlled.
I suppose it equates to epidemiological modelling. The scientists who predict a thousand deaths a day next week in the UK are not making those patients die - they just know it i…

LILACS BLOOMING

The news today could not be much grimmer, or more sad, without being fully tragic - a brilliant, charismatic, well-spoken and driven leader of a country facing a major crisis gone suddenly from public life - not Lincoln, or Kennedy, but Johnson. And not dead yet, to be British about it.
But my how this hurts. Since the bombshell news last night that the PM - Boris - had been admitted to the ICU - much of the world has been stunned. I felt as if my father had died; it was a gut-punch, and winded, I fought back tears. I feel shaken to the core.
Why? Because Johnson, along with the Queen, is the symbol of our nation, of Great Britain, now, in its hour of peril. He has been our robust, funny, energetic, boyish, mischievous, literate captain. He lives on, but it is a grim moment. If he can be felled, who cannot be? Who is safe? No one.
This virus unscrews the doors. Let's be frank. 50% of men over 50 who go into the ICU in the UK for Covid-19 and go onto ventilators, die, within 5-10 days…

PRAYING FOR BORIS

It is a matter of record that this blog has not always agreed with everything that PM Boris Johnson has written, said or done; that in no way lessens my concern, at the deepest level, for his current state of health. I wish no one, friend or stranger, ill; and as a Catholic, believe the best of everyone, even a total rogue; we can be forgiven to the last. Nor have I always agreed with everything I have written, said or done. We are all imperfect, angels with clay feet, sinners through and through. I will have no glee at this time. Those who think the PM's plight is ironic, or any other sort of literary trope, are missing the human story. Here is a man, brilliant, enterprising, witty, forceful, driven, and by nature, seeking the betterment of his country, engaged to be married, with a child on the way, who many people admire or love, a natural-born leader of rare charisma and intellect - fighting to regain full health, felled by a perfidious invisible foe. Many leaders would have t…

GREEN SHOOTS?

In some ways - this exceptionally sunny Palm Sunday in London - the news is almost good.  Good relative to the tragedies all around us. There were 621 deaths from Covid-19 in the UK in the last 24 hours; just under 50,000 reported cases, and just under 5,000 deaths. Last week, I predicted around 3,250 deaths for today, and around 65,000 reported cases, and said that if these or higher numbers were hit, we'd be in Italy style trouble. It is too early still to be sure, but this could suggest a slight levelling of the curve is taking effect, and that the peak may well come, as predicted by government scientists, in the next seven to ten days - that is around Easter. Sadly, the death rate is higher than even I anticipated, but it is still within a range that, as we can see now in Spain, can level off within a fortnight. The British prime minister is still ill, and his fiancée is recovering - we wish them a speedy recovery; the Queen is to address the nation tonight at 8 pm, for only t…

SICK MAN OF EUROPE?

Boris Johnson (himself fighting the virus in isolation, a war we hope he wins speedily) and his cabinet are not having a 'good war' more broadly against Covid-19 (annoyingly called Covid plain and simple by some newspapers). The daily briefings - usually around 5 pm each afternoon, and featuring two or three podium speakers, a government minister in the middle, and two scientists or medical experts flanking them - have become a figure of mockery in their farcical Sisyphean repetition. The problem is the collision between rhetoric and reality that, from the Trump presidential campaign onwards has been a hallmark of the post-2015 age - what's called fake news, or misinformation. It is easy to lie as a politician, but not when the world can check, and the stakes are literally about lives and deaths.
Bluntly, the UK government has been badly-advised by some advisors, who, in documents seen by the media, as recently as end of February were dismissing Covid-19 risks to the UK as …

Reading Laura Mulvey’s Late Style Essay on Vertigo in the Light of Covid-19

Reading Laura Mulvey’s Late Style Essay on Vertigo in the Light of Covid-19She says that film is deathin its each frame, movinglife into motion by lightso artifice plays on reality,arousing automatons,those herky-jerky objectswe desire to own, infusewith fake breath, becauseto dominate the unrealis what only gods, artists,do. In Vertigo Madelaineis memory, crossed twice,a favourite bridge, she’sordinary spouse refused,credit card declined, turnedas in Pygmalion into goddess;she falls doubly, is a doubleimage and the pain is fetishesare never again what they oncewere in the possessing hand;you play, let go, releasedthe toy breaks on the rocksbelow. Freud, Adorno, the onewho died at the Swiss borderand loved unpacking books,Benjamin, the master theoristof machinations and creation;the late style is, Deleuze or Saidboth knew, an outcroppingof what’s placed behind us,the time before the mastery;the backdrop replacing actualsmashing waves with fashion;how we make up and dressplain Mom to b…