Sunday, September 25, 2011

'I will not allow violence against this house'

One of my all-time favourite movies is Straw Dogs, Sam Peckinpah's gripping 1971 film that pits a sensitive academic played by Dustin Hoffman against a group of Cornish country boys bent on a bit of -- in the term used in another film released the same year, A Clockwork Orange -- ultraviolence.

The film is often described as 'controversial' and is frequently condemned, above all for a (in my view, unjustly) much criticised rape scene; however, I find it to be a compelling (and to some extent timeless) exploration of the position of the 'civilised' man in 'uncivilised' contexts.

The fact that the original has been remade is, in my view, both interesting and appalling. Since I find the original to be almost perfect, I'm sceptical about the re-make. However, Melissa Lafsky at The Awl offers a relatively positive review of the new version that highlights the strengths of the old.

E.g., commenting on Dustin Hoffman's peformance in the original, Lafsky notes:

There's something baseline archetypal in the plight of a small man. His struggle is the struggle, the inescapable fight to triumph over one's immutable circumstances. He can do whatever is in his power—obtain expensive degrees, make bank, build up intellectual capital—to raise his social valuation. But he's never going to be the guy you veer away from on the sidewalk.
Man, how have I wished at times to be 'the guy you veer away from on the sidewalk'.

Unfortunately, it's just not in my character (or physique).

I guess I'll have to be content with 'intellectual capital'.

Lafsky's review is worth reading. And (at least the original) is worth watching.

All for now: I need to get back to cleaning my guns.

(Title reference)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fire for effect

So it seems the Pope has just arrived in Berlin.

As this video shows, German artillery was unsuccessful in halting the advance of His Holiness from the beachhead he'd immediately established upon exiting Vatican One.

Benedict then moved decisively forward, and it appears that the German political leadership was quickly driven into submission without the slightest struggle.

Welcome to the occupation. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

All good things...

...come to an end.

Which is good: otherwise you turn into the Rolling Stones.

It astonished me to think just now that the (one and only) concert at which I saw R.E.M. live was just about 25 years ago.

Just a few years after this.

Thanks, guys, for all the great music.


Dale explains something important to the kids of today about music fandom in the dark ages:

I write this within physical reach of seventeen REM CDs, almost all of them worth cherishing, the others merely well above average. Modern-day readers will understand CDs as sort of a primitive version of blu ray disks made especially for music -- no video signal at all -- and meant to carry upwards of 80 minutes of music. People paid money for them in stores, frequently without having heard a note of the music encoded on them beforehand, then trudged back to their hand-built log cabins to build a fire against the forbidding night's cold and for cooking cornbread or biscuits or thinnest gruel, depending on the quality of the recent harvest. The cows would need to be milked at dawn, the potatoes dug thereafter. Then school would start.

This is certainly helpful, but it occurs to me that I only bought my first R.E.M. CD in 1994 (Monster).

How am I supposed to explain cassette tapes?

Anyway, Dale's reference to school starting and to buying albums without ever having heard the music on them also reminded me of how it was that I first found out about this band.

In what must have been 1985 (before the band was really getting radioplay on anything other than 'college rock' stations), a girl sitting in one of my high school classes (I have an inkling it was 'social studies' or history) had worn a Fables of the Reconstruction T-shirt.

Finding the graphic design interesting and the title words evocative -- and, though I can't now recall but remembering how the mind of a fifteen-year-old boy works, perhaps finding the girl pretty -- I biked up that afternoon to a now-defunct 'record store' near my house (which was adjacent to something then known as a 'video arcade') and bought the tape.

I can still recall hearing that opening riff of 'Feeling Gravitys Pull' on my Sears all-in-one stereo unit. (It included, believe it or not, an 8-track player along with the turntable and tape deck. Having siblings of a certain age, it got some use, I assure you. This was an age before bit-torrent: you took your music where you could find it.)

There it was in all its analog glory, as I squatted next to the fire and sipped gruel.

Good times.


To bring the whole clash-of-technologies theme full circle, an obsessive R.E.M. tour archive reminds me of exactly where and when that concert I saw took place and what songs they played:

4 November 1987 - Circle Pavillion, University of Illinois, Chicago, IL
support: The dB's
set: Finest Worksong / These Days / Harborcoat / Disturbance At The Heron House / Fall On Me / Exhuming McCarthy / Orange Crush / Feeling Gravitys Pull / King Of Birds / White Tornado / Cuyahoga / Tired Of Singing Trouble / I Believe / Maps And Legends / Superman / Auctioneer (Another Engine) / Oddfellows Local 151 / It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) / Begin The Begin
encore 1: Strange / Wolves, Lower / Driver 8 / Just A Touch
encore 2: The One I Love / Pop Song 89 / See No Evil
encore 3: Harpers / Crazy / After Hours

I forgot the dB's opened. But now remembering, they were excellent too.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Yesterday, my hometown major league baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, won their 4,000th victory at Wrigley Field.

Perhaps not the biggest story in the world.

But a chance to play another Mountain Goats song that has not, as of yet, been played here.

'Cubs in Five', the Mountain Goats

"they're gonna find intelligent life up there on the moon
and the Canterbury Tales will shoot up to the top of the best seller list
and stay there for 27 weeks

and the Chicago Cubs will beat every team in the league and the Tampa Bay Bucs will make it all the way to January and I will love you again I will love you, like I used to"

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Faith and the 'drunken-faced knave'

The London Review of Books (25 Aug 2011) has an interesting review (sadly behind the subscriber wall) of what sounds like a fascinating book about early-modern English Christian beliefs.

Part of its fascination comes from its interest in explaining what we might call everyday belief, so how ordinary English people approached the Christian faith. Because it is based upon ecclesiastical court files it sounds like it has -- like all books based on court records -- a tendency to focus on situations in which, in one way or another, things go awry.

Hence, along with whatever else it tells us, the book apparently adds to our knowledge of early modern insults.

From the review:

Ecclesiastical courts enforced church attendance, Sabbath observance, the payment of tithes and sexual morality. In their records we overhear the voices of hundreds of ordinary men and women. A Somerset churchgoer in 1632 complains that ‘there was nothing done at prayer time in the said church of West Lidford but tooting upon the organs, and that it delighteth him as much to hear his horse fart as to hear the said organs go.’ In an argument with the parson of Dogmerfield in Hampshire over a tithe in 1581, Rowland Bowrer declares: ‘Thou art a covetous man … Go take Mother Canning by the cunt again!’ Haigh spends several pages on the insults suffered by clergymen, such as ‘stinking knave priest’, ‘scurvy, stinking, shitten boy’, ‘totter legged and pilled priest’, ‘Scottish jack’, ‘jack sauce and Welsh rogue’, ‘a runagately rogue and a prick-eared rogue’, ‘polled, scurvy, forward, wrangling priest’, ‘wrangler and prattler’, ‘black-coat knave’, ‘drunken-faced knave’ and ‘copper-nose priest’. 

I, for one, plan to incorporate '‘totter legged and pilled' into my arsenal of insults.

I mean: nobody (except perhaps certain early-modern scholars) is going to be expecting that.

Friday, September 02, 2011

'I hope we all die'

Given the quality of the live recording and the fact that this was the first Mountain Goats song that I ever heard (on a train trip from Bayreuth to Trier, as I recall it, circa 2003) I find it's acceptable to post another video from this concert.

So there.

Learning: or, 'hacking your way through the jungle of unintelligibility'

I'm not an expert on British education policy, though having been an employee of an institution of higher education on that blessed isle for going on six years now, I have had had more than a little experience with its coal face (at least with regard to research).

Stefan Collini has a lengthy article critical of recent British educational reforms. I can't comment on all the details, but this passage hit the right note:
The paradox of real learning is that you don’t get what you ‘want’ – and you certainly can’t buy it. The really vital aspects of the experience of studying something (a condition very different from ‘the student experience’) are bafflement and effort. Hacking your way through the jungle of unintelligibility to a few small clearings of partial intelligibility is a demanding and not always enjoyable process. It isn’t much like wallowing in fluffy towels. And it helps if you trust your guides rather than assuming they will skimp on the job unless they’re kept up to the mark by constant monitoring of their performance indicators.
Translating this into 'policy', I know, is not easy.

But I would largely agree with Collini that perhaps too much is being tinkered with in a system that, in its previous state, hasn't been doing all that badly.