Off down to BBC Scotland for a short time this afternoon to do a quick spot on the Movie Cafe, alongside historian Mark Jardine, talking about the resurgence in the big, tough hero again as Solomon Kane hits cinemas and another Robert E Howard creation, Conan, is heading back to cinemas too; show is available for a few days on the Listen Again feature.
Britain’s nominee for possible Oscar glory in the short animation category this year is This Way Up, a lovely little Edward Gorey-esque dark comedy of a father and son undertakers attempting to bury a little old lady after an unlikely accident sees the hearse flattened with a boulder, taking them struggling across country with the coffin and then into the Afterlife in their quest to finish the job, all performed without words. For a change instead of just reading about it or seeing a clip we can actually watch the entire short animation on the BBC’s Film Network site (the Beeb part funded the film by Nexus’ Adam Foulkes and Alan Smith). While you’re there have a poke around the rest of that site because the Beeb have some other animation and other short film gems there (I’m not sure if it is geo-locked to only play for folks with UK ISPs or not though and you will need Windows Media Player or Real Player to watch it).
Rather than end my last post of 2008 before I go out with such a downer as the previous one (I wanted to write something more positive but it just ain’t there inside me right now), here’s one very little piece of nicer news – the BBC News site has used another of my photographs (that’s three now, I think) in their weekly In Pictures feature in the Scottish section, it’s the eighth one in on the slideshow, taken during the German market just before Christmas on the Mound. In fact its the very one I posted on here just a few days ago (I’d repost it here but Blogger, as is often the case, is refusing to upload images again like it does several times a week, grrr, but you can see it full size on my Flickr).
Update, got it to bloody load the pic at last, click to go to the bigger version on Flickr:
Seems to be something of an American media theme this last few days, no doubt prompted by the presidential circus, but as it means we get the national treasure that is Stephen Fry with a new show, “Stephen Fry in America“, as he crosses the United States in a London taxi cab (not his own one which he so famously drives around here in Blighty though). I had no idea he was almost born in the US when his father was offered a job at Princeton but he turned it down. Hard to think of Fry as American, he seems to quintessentially British – I mean Twinnings got him to advertise their tea, he cooks on an Aga and gives a wedding present to Prince Charles. All of which might have made him annoying except he seems such a lovely bloke, fiercely intelligent and very funny and self depreacting with it. America’s loss was our gain.
BBC Radio 4 has been running a fascinating series entitled “America, Empire of Liberty“, presented by historian David Reynolds, which I’ve been listening to over the last weeks. The actual history, leading up to, through and just after the War of Independence and the actual establishment of a country out of a disparate groups of revolutionaries and often competing and arguing states is interesting enough, but the series has also done what any good history should do – present the links between the Then and the Now. History is not a static, dry study but something dynamic, events from decades and centuries before constantly bleeding into the present the the future yet to be born, which makes it a shame so many people tend to ignore it (and that escalates to tragedy when we see what our so called leaders do in ignorance of historical precedent).
Take for example on of last week’s episodes – some parts of the series have touched on US history I was familiar with, but this part I didn’t know: the Aliens and Seditions Act, passed by Alexaner Hamilton’s Federalist Party in the 1790s as debate raged over the newly independent US’s stance on the growing global conflict between France and the British Empire. This largely forgotten act delivered unheard of powers to central government (and at a time when US central government was very weak, by design, most power designed by Jefferson et al to be held more locally at state and county levels, not like today where the executive has steadily accumulated powers to itself). Basically a 1790s War on Terror (WOT?) it allowed the president to deport aliens without right of appeal and to silence criticism in the interests of the country. The parallels between the 18th century and the draconian changes to civil liberties in the laws of the US, UK and other countries in the post 9-11 world are disturbingly familiar.
Likewise debates over a newly minted land of so-called liberty happily ignoring the rights of women (even when President Adams wife implored him to remember that a land of democratic liberty which ignored one entire gender was pure hypocricy. She was, of course, ignored by the male leaders, many of whom, truth be told, for all their fine rhetoric, were not overly mad on giving all men the vote, let alone women, unless they were the right kind of men (well bred, well off, basically the New World’s aristocracy), thus again repeating old mistakes even back then. And then there was the odious issue of slavery, not to mention the way the native American Indians would be treated…
Meanwhile on the TV the BBC has just started a new series by Simon Schama, “The American Future: a History“. The first episode also linked the Then and Now, exploring the seemingly insatiable consumerism of the US and its almost unshakable belief that it can endlessly exploit natural resources throughout its history, noting how this belief is slowly (and perhaps a little too late) being shaken as drought in the West means constantly shriking water for more and more people, to say nothing of the over-dependence on oil driven not only by car culture but an over-sized (and extremely inefficent) car culture.
Schama brings us right up to date with both Obama and McCain’s campaign comments on climate change and resource management and comparing to a century or so before with one man telling the good and great of Westward Expansion that there simply was not enough water in the land for all the cities and the farms they planned (he was booed of stage, but he was right) and in more recent history replaying what Jimmy Carter told America during his presidency (but more Americans preferred to listen to a B movie actor at that election than a man who had been a farmer and actually knew what he was talking about in terms of managing the land).
The photograph I posted here last weekend of the new moon hanging over a twilight street of Victorian tenements has been put up by the BBC on their website in their weekly ‘your pictures’ section of the Scottish news part of the BBC site (it’s the fourth one in). I was quite surprised this shot came out at all, actually, it was my usual gonzo photography, spur of the moment, see a scene, try and snap it – no kit, just my small compact digital that lives in my bag, a tiny 3-inch mini tripod meant for table top use that I sometimes have in the bag and a handy gatepost to sit it on – and a lot of luck. I’m pretty chuffed that it worked and even more chuffed that the Beeb picked it for this week’s crop of images from round Scotland, especially given how good some of the pictures in that feature are each week (click to see the larger image on my Flickr).
Since I started posting digital photos I’ve had some borrowed for articles, for teaching guides and other uses (and that’s not counting ones I’ve taken at comics conventions for the work blog) – doesn’t pay anything but it does give a damned big feel-good factor. And being an old web-hand I still have that old-fashioned belief that the web is meant to allow us to share a bit ( a lot of us who started online in the early 90s still feel that, I think), so I kind of like the fact that a number of different folks have asked to use some of my pics on occasion.
Next Monday (the tenth) sees the start of a season of programmes on BBC4 about comics, with the centrepiece being three one-hour programmes on British comics, from the launch of the Dandy and Beano in the late 1930s through to the present day, with a nice array of contributors from Leo Baxendale (creator of Minnie the Minx and the Bash Street Kids among others) to Bryan Talbot and Alan Moore, with the three programmes comprising The Fun Factory (which looks at the kid’s comics), Boy and Girls (which looks at – well, comics for boys and girls like the Eagle, Bunty etc) and Anarchy in the UK where comics get nastier and grittier (and often ruder!) with 2000AD, Deadline, V For Vendetta and Viz.
(a panel of Leo Baxendale’s Bash Street Kids, (c) DC Thomson)
I first heard about this last year when they were looking for suggestions for comics, characters and creators to try and include and in a stoke of luck I was offered preview discs of the series by the Beeb (and obviously I wasn’t going to say no!). I’ve been looking forward to this for a fair while and was delighted to see that it was indeed excellent – and before you think oh, I’m not really a comics fan, you might want to take a look because it has been made to be accessible and enjoyable to anyone, not just comics geeks like me and there is also a nice wave of nostalgic pleasure to be had from it; after all just about everyone over the age of 30 in the UK would have read comics at some point growing up. I’ve posted a review (or preview, I suppose) up on the Forbidden Planet blog, along with a Q&A with Alastair Laurence, the series producer and director about the making of the series (Alastair also worked on the brilliant Animation Nation a couple of years back).
The Space Race series on BBC2 is shaping up to be quite excellent, in my (not very) humble opinion. So far we’ve gone from Von Braun and his engineers trying to escape to American forces in the crumbling Third Reich to the early 1960s. 1961 to be exact. Tonight’s documentary covered the wonderfully tense desperation between the USSR and NASA to put the first human into space. Despite being quite familiar with the history I found myself utterly gripped by this episode; how close NASA was, the dreadful explosion in the USSR. The series has the hallmark quality documentary level of detail you would expect from the Beeb mixed with re-creations.
Only 16 years before the most advanced rockets were the V2s being unleashed by the Nazis, raining destruction down on Britain – the dawn of the ballistic missile, which would cast a long and terrifying shadow across the succeeding decades. And yet 16 years later here was Yuri Gagarin climbing into a primitve rocket, knowing full well just how dangerous it was. That acceptance of danger was something astronauts and cosmonauts had in common; the willingness to push themselves into the unknown.
The Space Race was driven very much by Cold War considerations relating to those ballistic missiles and national prestige, but that doens’t mean for one moment we shouldn’t regard some of those achievements with reverence. Picture Gagarin in a violenty shaking tiny capsule, hurled into orbit; the rocket could explode, the capsule may not make it back – hell, they weren’t even sure a human being could actually survive spaceflight even if the machinery worked perfectly. And yet there was no shortage of pilots willing to fly.
So there is Gagarin, being shaken around and experiencing enormous G-force and suddenly it goes quiet and he is floating in orbit around our little world. The first man in the history to look down on the clouds scurrying across the face of the globe from above; the first to travel round the entire world in less than a couple of hours. Short centuries before the first circumnavigations of the globe were celebrated and took months or even years. Now Gagarin flashed round the Earth in just over 100 minutes.
We tend to forget just how big an adventure space exploration is today – we make jokes about Shuttle flights being delayed and are only reminded how dangerous an endeavour it is when tragedy strikes. We complain about costs (which may be big but are a fraction of what we waste on weapons) and lose sight of the sheer wonder of it all. And yet back then it was far more dangerous and raw and yet they did it. But Gagarin was the first to see our world from space and it was wondrful.
Alexei Leonov (the first man to perform a spacewalk and honoured by Arthur C Clarke by having the ship in 2010 named for him) recalled those days and his friendship with Yuri in his portion of Two Sides of the Moon which details the early space programme from both sides (reviewed here – I treasure the copy I have signed by Alexei’s co-author, Apollo astronuat David Scott (how blown away was I to talk to a man who had walked on the Moon?!?!)). Yuri Gagarin was one of my heroes when I was a boy and this series reminded me of the mixture of fascination and excitement space exploration sparked in me back then; no wonder I ended up selling SF! Perhaps Ken MacLeod’s books are partly a substitute for space travel for me. I don’t have a poster of him anymore, but Yuri is still one of my heroes; I think he always will be. He really did go where no man had gone before and he did it boldly.
Very busy – right from the off as I had a reporter and photographer literally on my doorstep first thing this morning. A little later as I was finding out what an odd experience it is to look at or read about yourself in the papers (and it is odd) and I had several more calls. A very nice lady from my MSP’s office called to say someone from the BBC had tried to reach me via them and she put us in touch. A little later another call and then as I was preparing to head out to the BBC’s new Edinburgh studio (down by the Parliament, across from the Scotsman’s new home) yet another, both from other BBC radio stations and programmes, so I ended up doing three short interviews in a row at the Edinburgh studio for BBC Scotland’s Newsdrive, BBC Radio 1′s Newsbeat and Radio Five Live’s Drivetime. The irony is the last time I was in a BBC Edinburgh studio was to discuss literature and I had been asked in as an expert bookseller from a well-known company. Fate, it seems, never tires of playing silly buggers with all of us…
As if this were not odd enough for me, I decided to walk back since the foul weather had abated. I got as far as the Cowgate when a woman in a car passed by looking at me. She pulled in, got out and crossed over towards me. I noticed the Real Radio logo on the car – it turned out she had been trying to get in touch with me earlier, but of course I had been out at the Beeb. She recognised me as she passed from the morning papers and so there was another quick radio interview, just like that. Isn’t life strange – but would we have it any other way?
Back home and a few more calls and an enormous amount of emails and new comments on the blog, including some more media enquiries. I’m still trying to read through the latest batch of emails and comments. They are incredibly diverse – a spectrum of folk across the online world, from lecturers to booksellers, mountain climbers to lawyers, from China to Texas, Norway to Australia. The inter-connected ‘global village’ – a cross section (one person, Eric I think it was, even quoted a suitable piece from de Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac in his comment – my all-time favourite film – plus one of my favourite poets, Edwin Morgan, does a killer Scots translation of the play!). If there are any anthropologists reading this, I imagine there’s a potentially interesting paper in both the differences and unities among bloggers and other online dwellers and events like this would be a good place to start the study. Cyber anthropology, anyone?
I would dearly like to be able to respond individually to each person who has taken the time and trouble to contact me, but there are too many to keep up with right now – it really is overwhelming in all senses, but also quite wonderful. Rest assured that I thank you all very much (and for the person who asked what sort of fashion victim I was with beard and bandana I’d have thought it was obvious I was a buccaneer you cheeky scamp – as my cutlass was out of shot and the parrot had been eaten by the cats I understand your confusion, nameless one, arrrrrr).
The fact that so many diverse people from around the world have taken time in their lives to offer sympathy and support even although they have never met me is uplifting; it is also a nice illustration of the way in which technology allows many of us to connect with others. I’ve always enjoyed that aspect of the web (even back pre-web when it was just a mostly text-based internet many of us enjoyed online discussion groups). I’ve connected with a number of folk through the web over the years, some of whom have become very dear friends and who I would never have met otherwise. It’s also been nice to hear from some folk who found that they enjoyed the Woolamaloo in general, never having heard of it before recent events (a point I’ve tried to make – this was just one among tens of thousands of blogs).
Common themes emerging seem to be about the possible erosion of the freedom of speech and expression (considering what it cost for us to have freedom of speech this is most understandable, as is the desire to protect what was so dearly bought) and the intrusion of the corporate world into the personal; how far should a company have influence into the personal life of staff? Where do you draw the line? How much of your life is your life?
Quite a few folk have commented on how they have experienced similar problems with other companies. Two folk here in the storm-lashed UK have told me that they lost their jobs over their blogs, so the news articles aren’t quite right on the claim some made that I was the first to be ‘dooced’ (as the term now is) in the UK – JGRAM has his blog on his upsetting experience here. Another contributor going by the wonderful moniker of Dykenee Crossroads (superb!) told me she lost her job in September 2003 because of work mentions on her blog. I suspect that there will be further problems in the future, which is probably one of the reasons the media have become so interested. The public reaction and the inter-connection and support of bloggers and other web users shows that it is something of a Pandora’s Box for employee and the employer and both have to be careful. It can be scary, but I still say there’s a lot to be said for being a Virtual Citizen.
The online version of today’s Guardian article, with related blogging articles.
The Scotsman article (I’m indebted to one contributor who drew my attention to the adverts beneath it – have a look!) and also the Edinburgh Evening News – BTW the Scotsman group generally requires you to register to use all of the facilities, but it is free (and useful) – go to www.scotsman.com to register.
I’ll need to try and post some more links as time allows (job searches and application forms to fill in, talk to bank etc).
Who the bloody smegging hell helped Hutton write his report? Was it the same group of people worked on the Warren Comission who proved that Kennedy and the Texas Senator were all shot by a single magic bullet fired by Oswald? Tony Blair, his government and, even more incredibly, Alastair Campbell, the most evil and canniving of all the evil gang of sub-humanoids sent by the Lord of Hades to plague mankind (that’s Spin Doctors I’m talking about in case you didn’t get it) are ALL TOTALLY FUCKING INNOCENT, FRESH, FRAGRANT!!!!! THE BBC ARE THE SPAWN OF EVIL ATTACKING THAT POOR MR BLAIR….
Does anyone with a brain and eyes still believe a fucking word of what’s going on here? No wonder there are so many consporacy theorists out there when shit like this is pulled on the public. Blair’s still pretending to be a man of the people while fucking every student in the land, being a good leader while taking his own party to the edge of destructionto satisfy his own ego, pretending to be a civlised man while sneind British forces out on an unprovoked war of agression and pretending it was all for our own good and that those pesky weapons we went to war to defend the world against will turn up anyday… He’s been taking lessons from that smeghead Bush in artificial reality poltiics, hasn’t he?
Okay, the Beeb fucked up seriously in the way they handled the whole tale. However they did, as public service broadcasters, have to report the allegations. And given the utter lack of WMDs found, still a relevant story. And frankly, I cannot believe for a moment that Campbell’s spin office did not have a hand on the whole Dr Kelly name leaking. Nothing, but nothing is released by this paranoid and control-freak led government without going through a carfeul airbrushing from what was then Campbell’s office. And if he was in on it then so was Blair since he faithfully reports all to his master.
Paranoid? Look at it this way – Blair just this week took his own party to within 5 votes of defeat and possible government collapse over student top up fees and variable charging at universities. When your party has a majority in parliament which runs way into three figures then coming within 5 votes of defeat takes some skill. And shame on almost all of the Scottish Labour MPs who voted for Blair to save his worthless ass – including my own MP Alistair Campbell (the same one i pillorried a few months back for not even being able to recall we have a parliamen tin Scotland and not a mere ‘assembly’ even although it sits inside his constituency). Shame on you all for abandoning all of your principles and those your apry stood for for decades to protect your political careers. And Blair? Well, not doing all of this was a MANIFESTO PROMISE! He promised the British people if elected again he would not do this. He was then prepared to split the government over it. HE LIED! Yes, folks, he fucking lied and broke a promise. Now how can we possibly beleive anything now from or about a man who cannot keep his word?
I’m now waiting ont he blockbuster, four-hour movie that Oliver Stone is going to make of the whole thing… “Blair and to the right…Blair and to the right…”
The BBC – yes those pesky evil doers who I still trust more than any government on the planet – have the entire report available to download here.