Monday, April 30, 2007

A Shell of Themselves

No time to post anything lengthy today due to a heavy workload but here's something I've just received from my friend Sinéad, her film for Al Jazeera about the Rossport-Shell protests. The episode showed both up once again the disgraceful behaviour of Shell in carving up oil and gas concessions the world over, the craven compliance of the Irish government and the phenomenal backbone and spirit of the Mayo locals in resisting the steamrolling over their community. Principles are something that have been thin on the ground in Celtic Tiger Ireland but this is a heartening example of the reawakening of the people. It would be nice to see Fianna Fail get a bloody nose in Mayo on the 24th of May but that might be expecting too much. Well done, Sinéad and kudos too to Al Jazeera for bringing this to an international public. It would be nice if there were a little more media focus on issues that the consensual Irish media would prefer to ignore.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Electoral Limbo

The General Election has been called, unsurprisingly for the 24th of May, making it five years almost to the day since the last one (for those non-Irish folk looking in, I am talking about the Emerald Isle here). Due to my brother's wedding twelve days beforehand I am not going to be able to take more time off work that month to return home and vote (which I did in 2002, though I had only been gone two months at that time). But I shouldn't have to return home. Depriving tens of thousands of other Irish people living abroad of a vote is a grave violation of democratic rights and is something that shocks foreign friends of mine when I inform them of it. There is no reason that votes cannot be submitted either by post or at Irish embassies and consulates abroad, as most other countries do, but facing an electorate that might have an inkling of how things are done elsewhere is not part of Fianna Fail's electoral engineering.

Insisting on having the elections on Thursday is another example of cute hoorness that obstructs the democratic process. Most European countries hold elections on Sundays for the most logical of reasons: most people are off work that day and it is easier to get to a polling station. Holding an election on a Thursday would be considered insane by most French people. Apparently the Rainbow Coalition are planning to abandon this crooked practice - hopefully they will. As I have said before I am unlikely to be living in Ireland under the next government but until I take out French citizenship or the laws governing elections here change I have no option but to jet back to Ireland come every election and falsely declare residency in order to cast my vote. I may have a touchingly old-fashioned belief in the power of one man, one vote but if it's a delusion, it's a comforting one. Will The Irish Times, so taken with the stirring example of democracy at work in the French Presidential elections, be writing an editorial deploring this scandalous lacuna in the democratic process closer to home?

A Curious Coincidence

I read on the front page of the International Herald Tribune yesterday of the death of the Russian cellist and Soviet-era dissident Mstislav Rostropovich, and later, having just begun reading Kenzaburo Oë's 1983 novel Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age!, I came across this passage on page 20:

Before it had become plain that he was fuming, Mr H had removed his International Herald Tribune from its paper cover and shown me an article whose contents I can convey vividly: it was about the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich's attack on the suppression of freedom of speech in the Soviet Union. Still in Russia at the time, Rostropovich was dedicating himself to defending his comrade Solzhenitsyn, and I had copied his remarks in the flyleaf of the book I was reading that day: "Every human being must have the right to express without fear his own thoughts and his opinions about what he knows and has experienced. I am not talking about simply regurgitating with minor modifications opinions that have been fed to us..."

A strange coincidence, a ghost from the past, almost. That serendipitous passage apart, the novel seems to be - to judge from the first forty pages at least - one of Oë's finest, beautifully written and translated. Like most of his fiction since the amazing A Personal Matter, published the year after the birth of his brain-damaged son Hikari, it is autobiographical and the brain-damaged son features once again, this time a teenager and grappling with the frustrations and fears brought on by puberty. What is most remarkable about Oë's work is that he writes novels about writers and intellectuals without ever sounding dull; when he tells of his experiences travelling around Europe while reading Malcolm Lowry or William Blake in the original, he provides revealing glosses and reflections of his own experiences (the novel also takes its title from Blake). At one point he describes his reading as a young student of French: "I continued to feel that I was reading to forget", something that will be familiar to anybody who has waded through masses of text for academic research. Oë could give John Banville a few lessons

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Another Side of Iranian Society

I wrote last year about a piece in the New York Times on growing up as a Jew in Iran, and the Christian Science Monitor has a great article today on the Islamic Republic's small but ancient Jewish community. Now numbering 25,000 but guaranteed civic and religious freedoms that might come as a surprise to those that see Iran only as the fulcrum of the Axis of Evil, the community sees no contradiction between their religion and their nationality. Recently-deposed Israeli president Moshe Katsav is a native of Isfahan, and there is one Jewish member of the Iranian Assembly. It might be pointed out that there are also many Iranian Muslims that have no truck with the decrepit theocracy that reigns in the country. President Ahmadinejad is, of course, a nasty piece of work and he doesn't stint on the anti-semitism but Iran is a complex country where constituencies overlap - a large sector of the Shia clergy is liberal and pro-reform - and the country, for all its faults, has a remarkable culture and civic society that towers over the wretched pro-West dictatorships of the Arabian peninsula. There are many in the West, like John McCain that think that a bombing of Iran might sort its problems out for good, but as Ciamak Moresadegh, the Chairman of the Tehran Jewish Committee points out, 'if a war were to start, we would also be a target. When a missile lands, it does not ask if you are a Muslim or a Jew. It lands.'

The Christian Science Monitor is a paper that is not very well known outside the US and its excellent online edition and RSS feeds are well worth bookmarking as it is one of the few genuinely independent American news sources.

Jesus Built My Hot Rod

I didn't expect to like Jesus Camp, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's Oscar-nominated documentary, not because of its subject matter - a summer camp for indocrinating American youngsters with the lethal absurdities of Evangelical Christianity - but because I knew what political tack it was going to take. And a shared political viewpoint in a political film can often make for very dull viewing. I found this last year when I went to see Fernando Solanas' The Dignity of the Nobodies, a documentary about the sufferings of working- and middle-class people following the collapse of the Argentine economy in 2001. Solanas is a fine filmmaker and his fictional features are exemplary but the atmosphere in that film, itself a sequel to the more probing Social Genocide, was stiflingly worthy and there was little room to scrutinise.

So I was not expecting too much from Ewing and Grady's film. I did expect to despair at the nonsense that is spouted throughout the film by the charmismatic, ornery preacher-teacher Becky Fischer, a footsoldier in the Evangelical movement that, quite worryingly has the ear of the current US administration. And I also expected to despair at the sadness of hundreds of obese, badly-dressed rubes stealing the childhood years of their offspring, at one point a mother forcefully raises the hand of her toddler to participate in a 'hands-up everyone' activity at one of Fischer's ceremonies, while another child is told in a disturbingly avuncular way by a preacher that she 'looks so beautiful' with her mouth gagged by a 'LIFE' sticker. But that was all going to be so-far so-expected. The cleverness of Ewing and Grady's approach however lies in a deceptively simple conceit: attack the Evangelicals from the perspective of mainstream Christianity, via Mike Papantonio's Air America Religion show 'The Ring of Fire'. It might seem a bit contrived (as Papantonio's show itself is) but it allows a distance that rids the film of the self-righteousness that would otherwise have made it insufferably tedious. Other than Papantonio's sequences there is no narration and the utterings of Fischer and her fellow faithful stand and fall of their volition.

In reality there is little point in analysing the beliefs of these people as they are beyond any form of reasoning - however sophistic; the lunatic extremes of other religions, such as Wahhabite Islam, Free Presbyterianism, Hasidic Judaism and Tridentine Catholicism cannot match American Evangelism for supreme barminess. They all have theological underpinnings, however deluded and disingenuous they might be - the Evangelicals reach the parts that theology can't touch. They operate on nothing other than dumb faith - as Church leader Ted Haggard says, 'it's written in the Bible', that's all that's needed - and boy, is their faith dumb.

There is a peculiarly American character to this form of religion - and I don't mean that as a slur on the US - the Evangelical movement gained its momentum from Revivals that swept across the Deep South following the post-Civil War Reconstruction, and it has offered the very thing that Tocqueville recognised in the American character almost two centuries ago: 'a love of physical gratification, the notion of bettering one's condition, the excitement of competition, the charm of anticipated success.' One can be saved almost instantly - it's simply another branch of consumerism - and the saved induce a state of godly rapture in themselves (or are certainly encouraged to do so) and there is a clear pleasure taken by the Evangelicals in their difference from the damned, the evil and the sinners that constitute the rest of society. More than once in the film the comparison with sport is made and of course the biggest ball game of the lot is the Second Coming, which the Evangelicals are in better shape to contest than the rest of us. Thus lies the logic behind the Evangelical's aggressive support for Israel: the Holy Land must be in the hands of allies of Christians in order to allow Jesus' spaceship to land without a hitch when the Coming comes to pass. The helpful Jews will of course see the light and convert in order to be saved, or be consigned to Hell with all the rest of us. Now, according to a rigid reading of the Book of Revolution there is only room for 'twelve times twelve thousand' souls in Christ's spaceship, so we are left with only 144,000 to ascend to heaven. It sounds a bit like Deep Impact to me but I'm sure only the brightest and most brilliant will be selected such as those folks that pray with Fischer to ask the Lord not to permit Satan to interfere with the camp's computer network and Power Point presentations.

The Evangelicals' improbable philo-semitism also incorporates intermittent Hebrew chants, a fondness for Israeli flags, and a strange take on history. Fischer claims that 'this country [the US, of course] was built on Judaeo-Christian values', proving herself to be blissfully unaware of the Founding Fathers' contempt for the theocratic urges of the New England puritans (and their dubious standards of hygiene, as one biographer of George Washington has remarked), and also the long history of anti-semitism in the US, which did not really abate until the 1960s, well after the Holocaust. There are many asinine elements of the European left that profess a similar level of ignorance about the US but they may be forgiven theirs if this is what passes for historical consciousness in the Land of the Free. But then again, the Evangelicals do think that the world is but 5,000 years old so they do have a rather selective historiography.

Jesus Camp, good as it is, would blossom into an especially worthwhile project if it were to become a Seven-Up-type series to see the effects of the brainwashing on the children as they grow up, but I imagine that getting co-operation of the principals might be difficult after the success of this film. As I said, there is no reasoning or arguing with these people: they are quite simply insane. Regime change at the next election will stem their influence somewhat but even so any future Democrat president will keep a close eye on them. Seeing as they are not going to go away perhaps the best containing measure would be one that was suggested over thirty years ago by the maverick political candidate Hal Phillip Walker in Robert Altman's Nashville: tax them. And tax all other religions too. That would soon draw the sting from them. An unlikely development but one that should be kept in the air to see how it flies.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sarkozy Begins to Slip

The French Presidential race has got interesting already. My suspicions that François Bayrou's large increase in the share of the vote could only be explained in the context of a disappearing left-wing vote have been confirmed. According to a Sofres-TNS poll only 25% of those votes are expected to go to Sarkozy while 46% will be snapped up by Royal. The remainder, according to the poll, will abstain. Which leaves everything at the moment at 51-49 in favour of Sarko. Interestingly 25% of Le Pen voters will vote Royal, which many people find incomprehensible but a white working-class French vote is as likely to go to the left as it is to a Le Pen lite in the familiar old garb of the Gaullist élite. Besides, nobody could ever accuse a Le Pen voter of being rational. This leaves everything to play for now. Ségo had just better improve on her embarrassingly bad speech on TV on Sunday night.

Tonight's Match

What a great game at Old Trafford tonight, United showing real mettle to come back after a disastrous first half, two great goals from Rooney (and also from Kaka, though he rode his luck on the second) and some superb football played by both sides. It would be great to see Man U and Liverpool, two sides I have regained an affection for in the past couple of years, fight it out in Athens next month. While United have obviously surrendered an advantage in the two away goals, I think they have enough in them to get the right result in the San Siro. Remember Turin 1999. No prizes for guessing who I'll be supporting at Stamford Bridge tomorrow.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Ibrox says No!

An increasingly desperate New Labour has enlisted the help of a number of Scottish football folk to convince the wee folk north of Hadrian's Wall not to leave the bosom of the United Kingdom. Among those listed are Alex Ferguson, Graeme Souness, Ally McCoist, Walter Smith and Craig Brown, all lads closely associated with, hey, guess who, Rangers. Loyal subjects of the Crown up at Ibrox. Just because they're letting Italian Tims in the gate these days doesn't make it any less so.

Pete Doherty - Class A Muppet

I mentioned a few months ago the death of an acquaintance at a party attended by one Pete Doherty. The ex-Libertines singer has been cleared of any involvement in the death of Mark Blanco though he hardly covered himself in glory by leaving the scene of the fatality to continue partying in a hotel. Now he has confirmed to the world what a pathetic prick he is by posting a video diary on the web boasting about how Paul Roundhill's crackden - where Mark died - can be 'creative' for him 'if drugs and suspicious deaths don't get in the way'. The web and its new social networking receptacles have fostered a rather sad solipsism among many users (the most recent example is Cho Seung-Hu's rant from beyond the grave) but seeing a spoiled junkie rock star elaborating on his 'art' while mocking the death of someone else is perhaps the most distasteful manifestation yet. Stop buying this muppet's records and let's hope he's forced to bring Baby Shambles to Butlin's to finance his smack habit.

Les Irish Times et ses conneries

There are few things in the world more pompous than the sounds of an Irish Times editorialist opining on France, and today's leader is a classic specimen. Because of the delusions of grandeur that persuade the Old Lady (late) of D'Olier St that anyone could be arsed paying €79 per year to access material, much of which can be found elsewhere for free on the Net, most of you will not be able to read it. But here is a taster of it from the first paragraph (the headline is 'A Triumph for French Democracy'):

French voters reaffirmed the basic right-left cleavage of their politics yesterday by deciding that Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal will compete in the final round of the presidential election on May 6th. It was a magnificent demonstration of democracy in action, as 85 per cent of voters turned out compared to 60 per cent in the first round five years ago. They have opted in a politically coherent way for the two most serious candidates.

Democracy lives again, as long as it is returned to a two-party system. Do Madam Kennedy and her boys and girls not find something hollow in that affirmation of the 'triumph' of liberal democracy? A turnout of 85% is remarkable but people voted less out of any duty to the Republic and its high-flown notions of participatory democracy than out of fear and shame after what happened last time, and also to express either their revulsion at or admiration for a personality as poisonous as Nicolas Sarkozy. There has been much rot spoken about the rejection of 'extremes' in this election, which is a typical liberal lie; the extremes have not retreated at all but have been endorsed following their co-option into Sarkozy's rhetoric and program. To imagine that the French body politic has suddenly cleansed itself simply because Le Pen's vote dropped to a still depressingly high 11% - his votes moving to a more pragmatic version of his old self - and the centre-left garnered a high score from a terrified resorting to utilitarian ballotting, one has to be either a knave or a fool. And I think Ireland's 'Quality Daily' has it well within its capabilities to be both.

Celtic Better Than Drugs?

After much ado, and surrendering much of their lead over Rangers, Celtic finally tied up a second successive Premiership title with a last-gasp win over Kilmarnock. There is a mitigated joy in all this, given the awfulness of their performances since their Champions' League exit to Milan over a month ago. But it's another title, number 41 and Gordon Strachan is keen to emphasise his own excitement - the Herald Tribune reports him as saying: "I can't explain to anyone what this is like. I would love to but I can't. I've never taken drugs but I wonder if it's a bit like this." The drugs don't work if you're thinking on those lines, Gordon.

Lyon also wrapped up their sixth successive French title, aided by the manifest mediocrity of the rest of the division. Things are so desperately bad these days that Toulouse, a French equivalent of Coventry City, have moved themselves into contention for a Champion's League spot. The fact that Toulouse might be represented in Europe next year in football and not in rugby, due to the French clubs' boycott of the Heineken Cup, is so surreal as to be mind-boggling. The last team to win the championship before Lyon, Nantes, are in danger of facing the drop for the first time ever (they are also the only team in French football never to have tasted life outside the top flight) following a 4-0 thrashing by Paris Saint-Germain (a team Seanachie was hoping would go down, but it's looking unlikely now). Lyon's controversial Czech semaphorist Milan Baroš, meanwhile, has found little sympathy in his native land, where at least two newspapers have deplored his racist gesture towards Stéphane M'Bia. Still a lot of explaining to do.

Les résultats

I was more vigilant for this Presidential election than for the last one; on the 21st of April 2002, having been in France only one month, I worked until 7am in one of Paris' many awful Irish pubs and, after winding down with quite a few Leffes, tumbled into bed at about noon (just as Lear's Fool does when he disappears from the play). I woke up later that night and missed the riots at Place de la Bastille because I didn't leave my flat and I had no TV at the time. Like many on the left I took it for granted that Jospin would not only advance to the second round but win the election itself. When I saw the front cover of Libération the following day with a photograph of the ogre himself Jean-Marie Le Pen, with the word 'NON' above his mocking face, I suffered a delayed reaction of the same sort suffered by right-thinking French people twelve hours before.

I spent most of today out of my flat but I was apprised of the results as soon as they became available, as most people I know in this city are politically-minded (and overwhelmingly anti-Sarkozy). The results were not terribly surprising, except for the poor showing of Le Pen, which proves that Sarkozy's hard-selling of himself as a new-improved xenophobe to the FN's electorate worked very well. Ségo took almost 25% of the vote, which is as much as Mitterand took in 1981, though the overall left-wing vote was far stronger then than this year (it was five years ago too). The prognoses for the second round are not too cheery, IPSOS predict a 54%-46% divide in favour of Sarkozy, which is not too surprising either, but the Bayrou effect may be crucial too. Considering that he increased his share of the vote from 5% five years ago to 18% with what one can only imagine are left-leaning votes, there may be enough there to benefit Royal. And then there are the televised debates. Hopefully Sarkozy will get a bit hot under the collar up there. I'm sceptical but it's all to play for yet. All the fringe-left candidates call for a vote for Ségo in the second round. Well, they would, wouldn't they?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Election Day

The polling stations have been open for over five hours now and the French people have started voting in the first round of Presidential elections after a campaign that was viewed by some as unprecedentedly energetic, though I have to say it struck me as lacklustre. As anyone who has been reading my occasional posts on the subject will know I am supporting Ségolène Royal, though more out of opposition to Nicolas Sarkozy than any enthusiasm for the potential first Presidente. It is a common accusation levelled at those on the left that they define themselves more by what they oppose than what they support, and in this election that is definitely the case. There are many on the left that are aghast at the prospect of having to vote for Royal - and many of them have switched over to the Centrist candidate François Bayrou - mainly because of questions of competence. There have been a few gaffes, such as declaring that she supported Quebecois separatism, meeting Hizbollah (where an embarrassing, campaign-destroying quote was waiting to happen), and, more recently a failure to realise that the Taleban were no longer running Afghanistan. Whether this renders her unfit for office is debatable but it is not as if she will be running everything in a dictatorial fashion. She has surrounded herself with many of the Socialist Party old guard, such as former finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, her partner and Party chairman François Hollande and Mitterand's culture minister Jack Lang. They may be guilty of cleaving to old ways but their records in goverment under both Mitterand and Chirac are reassuring.

The main reason so many people are voting for Royal however is because of a revulsion for the candidature of Sarkozy. There has never been a personality in French politics that polarises in a way that Sarkozy does - not even Chirac and Le Pen have managed to raise such strong feelings among French people. Walking past a number of election posters in the Marais last Monday morning, I noticed a strong smell of piss right where Sarkozy's face, embellished with a Hitler moustache, stood. Sarkozy comes from the Millwall school of politics - it's not quite 'everyone hates us and we don't care' but half of everyone does. He is a ruthlessly ambitious and manipulative politician who shafted his own boss Charles Pasqua to take his place as candidate for Mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine at the age of 28, while Pasqua was hospitalised. Sarkozy boasted at the time of fucking everybody over.

Sarkozy is popular in the English-speaking world because many see him as the reforming economic liberal that will regenerate France's sluggish, sclerotic economy, though many Anglophone liberals - including The Economist which is nonetheless supporting him - have cast cold water on his liberal credentials. He is an old-style Gaullist mercantilist and though he certainly is more of a liberal cut than Royal or Bayrou, there is no guarantee that he will implement sweeping reforms (nor that Royal won't - campaigning on an economic reform ticket in France just doesn't happen, it's like evoking gun control in a US election or abortion rights in an Irish one: electoral suicide). Sarko might see himself as the sort of authoritarian capable of facing down his opponents on the French street but his years as Minister for the Interior have shown him to be quite an inept governor, inflaming already delicate situations in the banlieue with the use of insensitive language such as racaille and Kärcher (his supporters point out that he targeted specific groups with these words but the gross assumption he made in saying them to people that take exception at being spoken down to calls into question his ability to rule effectively). Sarkozy has also manipulated crime statistics according to his needs and there is the old Gaullist whiff of corruption around him, particularly the recent allegations that he has made a deal with Chirac to give him immunity from prosecution for corruption after the current President leaves office.

Sarkozy is popular with certain French people for different reasons; there are among his supporters people that see in him the impetus for economic change, but many more are swayed by his tough stand on immigration and law and order. He is in effect, a sublimation of the racism of many French people, a more acceptable version of the Front National's unelectable huckstering and racial policies. Though I am not fully convinced that Sarkozy is racist, he certainly has no qualms about playing the racial card and his proposed 'Ministry for Immigration and Integration' has an unpleasant whiff of Vichy-era administration about it. Some of his English-speaking supporters prefer to soft-pedal his lurches to the far right; in a supremely mendacious article in the International Herald Tribune last Monday, John Vinocur dismisses worries about this, claiming that such policies were 'unscary enough' when implemented in the Netherlands and Denmark. The very opposite is true, and in both countries those measures followed the accession of the far right to coalition governments. Supporting Sarkozy's economic policies while ignoring his social policies is throwing the baby out with the bathwater, something that could well prove to be irreversible. Economic reform is all very well - if it comes - but it will be to nought if large parts of French cities are turned irrevocably into no-go areas, drawn out on class and racial lines. Economic damage is relatively easy to rectify, societal damage a good deal more difficult. What Sarkozy is doing in effect is consigning Le Pen and the far right to history by stealing their thunder, in much the same way as Blair and New Labour rendered the Conservatives redundant. The worry is that a trend will be established for authoritarian government in Europe (and a trend for 'selective immigration' of the sort proposed by Sarkozy). The US has already seen its institutions being threatened by six years of rogue governance by the Bush administration and it will be picking up the pieces for a long time to come. For the same thing to happen in Europe would be disastrous. That is why a vote for Royal is better for France, and Europe.

While much anti-Sarkozy rhetoric is hysterical and disproportionate, many of the arguments against him are sound; here is a sober critique of the man from the responsible Edwy Plenel, editor-in-chief of Le Monde, a newspaper that would not be entirely at odds with Sarkozy's economic program but which sees the real danger to France's institutions and to the social fabric of the country.

Baroš Kicks Up a Stink

News here at the moment is the controversy over an alleged racial gesture committed by former Liverpool and Aston Villa striker Milan Baroš in a scoreless draw between Lyon - his current club - and Rennes on Wednesday night. The picture to the left shows Baroš holding his nose and fanning the air just after a brief contretemps with the young Cameroonian defender Stéphane M'Bia. Baroš claims that he was just articulating something that he was unable to say, as he doesn't speak French - the gist of the gesture meant to be 'give me some space' and not 'you stink', which would have an ugly racial resonance, and his club and manager Gérard Houllier have stood by him. Some people see a witch-hunt led by do-gooders willing to see racism in every small detail, others are adamant that it is clearly a racist gesture committed in the belief that it was off camera. I incline towards the latter opinion, mainly because Baroš' explanation is not too convincing, and there would have been various better ways to intimate what he claims he wanted to. He may yet find himself in deep trouble.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Chargers or Horses?

France's Le Nouvel Observateur is not too impressed by Yawn Banville's Booker Prize-winning The Sea, just translated into French. Here's what they say:

'John Banville writes well - there's no doubt about that. He writes well, and that impresses, and wins awards... Stendhal could never understand why certain writers prefer 'charger' to 'horse'. Banville is no Stendhalian. He prefers 'charger' to 'horse'. What's more he judiciously saddles the charger with an adjective - it is a 'wild' charger - the better to spur the old nag on.

'Banville is Irish. You'd hardly think it, given the general speed of his compatriots' speech. A sort of urgency to tell all. A narrative euphoria that sends the writer off on a merry gallop. That said, one shouldn't weigh oneself down with superfluous words. With John Banville, there are too many words, an excess of rhetoric.'

And it finishes with:

'Ah! If only Banville were to give up his chargers to the benefit of horses, how great he might be!'

I have not yet read The Sea (and apologies to those that have for the translation into English of a review of a translation of the book, thereby occasioning some slippage in interpretation) but this review sums up quite well my views of all the books of Banville's that I have read. He writes well but his books are dull as hell. The French seem to have it right on this one.

Sexy de ser Cansei

I had intended writing a longer review of Wednesday night's CSS gig at the Elysée Montmartre but the days have passed and I no longer feel the urgency. Though the gig was enjoyable it disappointingly lacked the chaos of their last Paris concert at the much smaller Point Ephémère last November. The bigger venue and the panoply of cameras that appeared to be filming the show for MTV robbed the occasion of most of its spontaneity - the clearly langered keyboardist Ana provided most of the fun, wandering off stage at one point to grab another beer, even though she had two unfinished bottles sitting in front of her. But overall the band appear to be suffering from touring too much - they have now been on the road worldwide for ten months and the spark is diminishing. There's very little new material either - only two new songs played the other night. Though you can hardly blame them for milking their rise to fame for a decent financial return, it might be time for them to take a break and get back to the studio, to give the music a bit of freshness. They're even playing Carlow and Limerick next month (as well as the Trinity Ball), next they'll be household names in Athlone.

John McCain's Sing-Song

On the subject of Iran, here is US Presidential hopeful John McCain's joking views on what the White House should do to it. Charming stuff, and this is the liberal wing of the Republican Party.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Can I Have a Doggy Bag Instead?

A Hong Kong restaurant has taken to fining customers 64¢ per pound for their leftovers, in order to cut down on food waste, which, according to this article in the Christian Science Monitor, is becoming a serious problem on the island. From my years in the restaurant business I know how bulky - and heavy - food waste can be so the measure is understandable, if draconian. Does this mean that the custom of the mainland Chinese detailed in the above ad from HSBC does not apply in Hong Kong?

Iranians Get Animated

I mentioned last year the film adaptation of Marjane Satrapi's brilliant comic book Persepolis ('graphic novel' is a superfluous and pretentious term that I refuse to use for works by Satrapi and other great comic book artists). The film is now going to be premiered next month at Cannes and its French-language version will be released on the 27th of June. In the French version Satrapi and her mother will be played by real-life mother and daughter Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni with Simon Abkarian as her father and veteran actress Danielle Darrieusecq as the grandmother. Satrapi and her co-director, fellow artist Vincent Paronnaud aka Winschluss have set up a MySpace page for the film, on which there is a running series of Making of... films, which are interesting though not terribly useful to those that don't speak French. From the stills alone it appears that the book's unique visual style has been preserved, and by the look of certain plates redolent of German Expressionist cinema, even improved upon. I can't wait to see it and with its English-language version starring Mastroianni also, with Gena Rowlands replacing Deneuve, hopefully it will be a huge international success, giving Westerners a more balanced view of Iran than what has been displayed by Mad Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country's Western detractors recently.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Irish Pint Glasses 6% Smaller Than in 2001

New from the people that brought you Census 2006: the Central Statistics Office (and, of course, those plucky fellows at the Revenue Commissioners) report that alcohol consumption per adult has fallen in Ireland by 6% since 2001 (I was wondering why those heady party days of the turn of the Millenium have never been matched of late). Cynics might point out that those under the adult-drinking age may be offsetting this at the very least, but that's something for another survey, and anyway minors don't pay tax so the lads at Dublin Castle are fecked if they could be arsed. How long will it be before the shirts start being sold off the backs of the country's long-suffering publicans (or, ahem, 'vintners'), following this calamitous news?

MIchel Platini's Euro Vision

Poland and Ukraine have surprisingly beaten off Italy (and less, surprisingly, Hungary and Croatia) to win the right to host Euro 2012. Just as with Austria and Switzerland next year, two exceptionally uninspiring teams have a direct ticket to the finals. Rumours that Steve Staunton has already revised his four-year-plan to a six-year one to concentrate on these finals remain unconfirmed; in any case the FAI's efforts to make it easier for him by getting UEFA to agree to extending the finals to 24 teams, have failed for the time being. Michel Platini's pledge to do more to help football in Eastern Europe seems now to have been delivered upon. Platini has also said that he wants to return to the practice of presenting trophies in the stands, rather than on the field, as has been the case in recent years, something that Old Football devotee Seanachie fully supports. And make them give us a few words as Gaeilge as well.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Seanachie Jumps on the Amy Winehouse Bandwagon

There has been little posted here of late, mainly because of it being an unseasonably warm 27 degrees here - you'd stay away from your computer too - but I now have some time to catch up. I've been meaning to pen something about Amy Winehouse for a while, because I had avoided her music for far too long, partly because of fatigue at all the tabloid stories surrounding her drinking and so on, partly because I was sure that she was going to be yet another example of well-bred coffee-table soul, à la Norah Jones or Joss Stone, the sort that is strategically groomed for consumption by three-CD-a-year-man or woman. Seeing the video for 'Rehab' on YouTube wasn't too ominous either, with its lazy retro styling, the usual slapdash kitsch packaging given to mainstream soul music by the braying asses of the music industry. A sure-fire way of killing off interest among those that might be into it.

A couple of friends of mine persuaded me to give 'Back to Black' a go and after a couple of listens waiting for the catch, I acknowledged that it was not bad at all. I'm still waiting for the catch too. Winehouse is best known for her outstanding voice, which is like a contemporary female version of Stevie Winwood's, another white Londoner whose voice could allow him to pass for Black American. Soul is one of those things that has long been neglected by the music industry - perhaps because it sounds irreducibly dated, and the trade feels that it can only be marketed by resort to gimicky window dressing such as the 'Rehab' video. While there has been no shortage of good soul around these past few years, much of it, such as D'Angelo, Angie Stone, JackSoul, Quantic and the resurrected Sharon Jones has been more derivative of funk or smooth 70s soul rather than the more raucous, raunchy 60s variety. Even music hacks are similarly inept at dealing with soul; I have seen Winehouse repeatedly compared to Aretha Franklin, a no-brain allusion as anyone with an ear for soul knows that Aretha was a gospel singer. Winehouse is more like other, more peripheral female soul singers of the era, such as Bettye LaVette, Betty Davis and Doris Troy, and she also takes a certain dose of the insouciance of the Queen of Rock Steady, the Jamaican Phyllis Dillon, though Winehouse is a heavier, deeper vocalist.

The stand-out tracks on the album are the title track, the Northern Soul throwback 'Tears Dry on their Own', and 'Me and Mr Jones' - a sly nod to the Billy Paul classic and apparently about Winehouse's fling with the rapper Nas. If Winehouse's perfect pitch and pendulous tones and her sarky, dirty lyrics are the spine of the album, then one must also give credit to the arrangements and production of Mark Ronson, who coats the recording with a sound that sounds at first smooth, until after a few listens the extra layers reveal themselves. It's a long time since a soul record with this much exposure sounded so fresh and so expert.

Winehouse also appears on Ronson's own album 'Version', a producer's album of cover versions of an eclectic mix of songs by a motley crew of artists. Her own version of the Zutons' 'Valerie' is another track that wouldn't have sounded out of place at the Twisted Wheel, and it has almost instantly rendered redundant the original. There is also Lily Allen - she too of the Ronson stable - finding surprisingly interesting things in the Kaiser Chiefs' 'Oh, my God'. Most fun is offered by the late Ol' Dirty Bastard, twisting Britney Spears' 'Toxic' within an inch of its life, while Robbie Williams has a decent stab at the Charlatans' 'The Only One I Know' (though the drowning out of his vocals shows a momentary failure of nerve on Ronson's part), and Phantom Planet's cover of 'Just' reminds you of what good songwriting often gets lost in Thom Yorke's dreariness. There are many that dislike Ronson - the Arctic Monkeys and a horde of humourless Smiths fans are among the latest - and it may be that he has little other than a barrage of hackneyed funk licks, hammond loops and muted brass to paper up an inherent conservatism, but for the moment 'Version' and the work he has been doing with both Winehouse and Lily Allen is sufficient unto the day.

Love is Der Drug

The German Army, the Bundeswehr (look at it in passing, and it does look like 'Budweiser') is embroiled in a scandal over encouraging troops on manoeuvres to imagine they are picking off African-Americans in the Bronx (all part of being in the army as Patrick Mercer, late of the Shadow Cabinet would say); Brian Ferry admits to a fascination with the aesthetics of National Socialism, and his manager urges us all to calm down, it's not like he actually believes in Nazism; meanwhile Richard Gere puts his Bollywood career in jeopardy by chewing the face off Shilpa Shetty in a most vulgar fashion at an AIDS awareness rally in New Delhi. Has the world gone mad?

One wonders if Ferry's album sales and air play will suffer in a similar way to Gary Glitter's after his own series of faux pas some years ago. I don't think I can give up 'Pyjamarama' that easily - I'll probably have to wait for his outing as a card-carrying party member for that. You can stuff 'Avalon' though, a song so sickly could only have been written by a Nazi.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Blair's Witch Project for the Scots

The petty, craven mendacity of Blairite Labour, even in its death throes, continues apace. Aghast at the prospect of losing the Scottish Parliamentary elections to the Scottish National Party (shouldn't have allowed the SNP to out-left you then), they have resorted to scare tactics about the mooted independence for Scotland, producing a party political broadcast that shows the effects SNP tax increases would have on an 'ordinary family', an ordinary family that happens to have at its head a former Deputy General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party. Blair has since conceded that the scare tactics aren't really working and has instead decided to question the wisdom of anybody wanting to leave the Union. 'Of course Scotland can be independent,' he said, 'But why? At what cost and to what purpose?' Maybe because Scotland is as differently culturally and institutionally from England as Norway is from Sweden or Portugal is from Spain, and self-government and independence would be more fitting to their political economy. There is no guarantee that Scotland will do any better economically from independence - nor do I think that the Union is responsible for all their economic ills - but it is unlikely to be disastrous either. Playing the Tartan Tory card doesn't work anymore for Labour when decrying the SNP as they themselves are well to the right of the Nationalists. Scotland is a different country to England, if not necessarily a better one, and the old principle of self-determination, so beloved of Blair when his boss in Washington was the huggy Bill Clinton, should be applied in their case. If the Scots want to remain part of the Union, let them, but Labour should stop insulting the intelligence of the Scottish people.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Supermarket Sweep

Ballymote, Co. Sligo, where I had my first experiences of the ways of the world appears to be a hot ticket for powerful men scrambling for votes these days; last summer Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg jetted in (and back out again rather quickly), and this week it was the turn of the State Wine Waiter-in-chief Mr Bertie Ahern, who was in town to open the newly-refurbished Kane's Supermarket (refurbished to the tune of €4 million, how times have changed in Ballymote). Bertie's intervention is doubly significant as the chief rival of Kane's is Perry's Spar Supermarket, owned by local Fine Gael deppity John Perry. I am not going to vote for either Perry or any of the specimens put forward by Fianna Fáil - nor am I going to be spending my pennies any time soon in either shop - but I am amused at this little piece of political theatre (or maybe 'vaudeville' would be a better word). Text-book Irish bad form. And there was me, wasting my time on Nicolas Sarkozy

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"They're looking for what?"

I posted last month on the number of web searches that find their way to this blog as a result of looking for content that is, by Underachievement's own standards, a bit racey. There have been people looking for info on Kira Eggers, 'Glimpse-It', a British website with a strong focus on micturation (and since that last post, the number of people happening upon the blog using that search has increased, possibly triggering deadly paranoia in those poor thirsty souls). And then there is the perennial demand for pictures of Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc in his birthday suit. Naturally, Seanachie is no longer shocked by any of this, though he was taken aback yesterday by a request for nude photos of Northern Ireland manager - and new Fulham caretaker boss - Lawrie Sanchez. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there was nothing of that sort that remained after Lawrie's brief tenure in charge as Sligo Rovers manager ten years ago, a time when Lawrie's physique might have been more worthy of such close scrutiny. I will endeavour to supply the goods for that user of a Dutch-language version of Internet Explorer based in Madrid.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Plague on Both their Houses

Things have begun to get dirty in the French presidential election with Jean-Marie Le Pen accusing the stealer of his thunder, front-runner Nicolas Sarkozy, of not being sufficiently French to occupy the Élysées Palace. Sarkozy is the son of a Hungarian immigrant, and a quarter Jewish on his mother's side. Le Pen sidesteps the issue of Sarko being as little beholden to immigrants as he himself is, but he does evoke the cases Henry Kissinger, Arnold Schwarzeneggar (and Madeleine Albright) being ineligible for the US Presidency due to their being born abroad. His point is naturally irrelevant as Sarkozy was born in France and is a French citizen. Personally I don't think Sarkozy is any fitter to run France than Le Pen is though I don't really have such a problem with him not being 100% français de souche, unlike the self-styled 'candidat de terroir' Le Pen, who, one might be pedantic and point out, is actually Breton. 100% French? Maybe not. In any case I am secretly beginning to enjoy the prospect of the two of them tearing each other apart, provided of course that they don't both survive to face one another in the second round.

No Comment

Much has been written this past week about the Blogger's Code of Conduct drawn up by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Tim O'Reilly, particularly with regard to comments posted on blogs, in the wake of death threats made to American blogger Kathy Sierra. As one reader pointed out (in a commentary) a few weeks back, Underachievement is not laden down with comments, despite the fact that I have turned Comment Moderation off in the past couple of weeks to see if I would survive a prospective onslaught of spam commentary - and, remarkably, thus far I have. I am not sure why there are so few comments posted, perhaps it's because the blog is too wide-ranging to interest everybody all of the time (and there is no shortage of readers of day, regulars as well as casual ones) or maybe it is because I am not too pro-active myself when it comes to posting comments on other people's blogs. This may well be the main reason, and one can accept that you have to give as well as take. Either way I am not being sniffy about the lack of comments - Seanachie is not so precious a sort - and there have been those of you that have contacted me directly too, all of which is greatly appreciated. The Blogging Code of Conduct is probably not too applicable to such a modest enterprise as Underachievement but don't be afraid to leave a comment if you want to; I will read it as will others - I hope. Go nuts, kids.

Wilfing and Two Films

A few days off as I decided to lay off the wilfing for a while. Among other things this past weekend I saw two enjoyable, if modest films, the Argentinian El Custodio, the Pialet-esque tale of a governmental bodyguard and the petty humiliations he suffers on a daily basis. Though the dénouement is a bit improbable the film is a diverting and intelligent portrayal of middle-aged angst. It also features a large number of point-of-view shots of the ministerial car driving around Buenos Aires, the engine humming pleasantly and a rosary dancing suspended from the rear-view mirror. I don't care for cars much but I have always found such scenes beguiling. Funny that.

There was also Jérôme Bonnell's J'attend quelqu'un, a pleasing domestic drama set in a suburb of Paris, about a brother and sister, played by Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Emannuelle Devos, whose mother has been stricken with Alzheimer's. Darroussin's is experiencing financial difficulties and chronic loneliness, having an infatuation for his whore that is reciprocated only platonically. There is also a youngster, played by Stéphane Dieuade, who is a former student of elementary school teacher Devos, and who has a hidden history with a local woman, whose boyfriend he befriends, with dubious motives. It is a familiar scenario and almost wilfully unadventurous but the performances, particularly from the hangdog Darroussin, help things along. In the absence of a more ambitious film, it'll do for the time being.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

A Greater Ireland

Ireland has just got bigger. According to reports from RTÉ and The Irish Times (registration required for the Times), Ireland has just been given the right by the UN to extend its continental shelf to beyond its current 200 miles, though we are not told by how much. Minerals in them there waters apparently. Next stop, Rockall...

Jean-Marie Le Pen Really is a Wanker

In a news item that has interested El País but not the French media, man of the world Jean-Marie Le Pen, at a debate organised by the French edition of Elle advised women to resort to masturbation as a means of contraception. What makes him think that many of them are not already resorting to both?


The Stations of the Cross kept me from here yesterday, and the day also passed without a US attack on Iran, as had been suggested by some sources last week. No mea culpa from Seanachie, I never exactly said that I thought it was going to happen. Well, the British prisoners returned from Iran (unlike the British media, I don't think journalistic impartiality would permit them to be called 'hostages') and they are telling all about their ordeal, which included being blindfolded and being subjected to the sound of guns being cocked around them. I am given to a certain degree of scepticism here as the prepared statements no doubt have Whitehall's imprimatur on them, and I trust the Blair government no more than I trust the current administration in Teheran (and I will make no apologies to anyone for such 'moral fudging'). And, in the latest, hilarious twist to the story, Teheran has accused the British of dictating the sailors' testimony. But, as I said earlier this week, I would not like to be held prisoner by the Revolutionary Guard and the reported treatment is not entirely incredible.

What is particularly repulsive is the treatment of the released detainees by the armchair generals of the British media: 'the seized personnel lost no time in admitting to having trespassed and in apologising for their mistake. The old military practice of giving name, rank and number, and no more, has obviously been abandoned,' muttered the Daily Telegraph, sore at Britain having been 'humiliated'. While it is true that Blair handled the crisis in an atrocious way and played right into Ahmadinejad's hands, it is only those moronic old Imperial nostalgists such as the Torygraph and Geoffrey Wheatcroft (a man who questions the right of the Irish to commemorate the 1916 Rising) that will feel the sharp pang of humiliation.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

This Wee Man Would Like to See Your ID

Seanachie's old friend Nicolas Sarkozy has been catapulted into the news again having been warned of a possible terrorist attack at a meeting in Lyon tomorrow (the fact that he will be attending with his old nemesis, the bourgeois battleaxe Bernadette Chirac, was shocking enough to my sensibilities). The terrorist had the decency to announce his or her intention to strike 24 hours in advance - in e-mails to TV5 and an employee of the Socialist Party - which allows Sarko the opportunity to organise better security, as well as gain a bit of valuable publicity for the forthcoming election.

Old Nick, never a man to waste an opportunity for creative demagoguery, announced the other day that he intends to tighten the screw on 'immigration gone mad' by imposing citizenship tests, to be administered, no doubt, by his brand new 'Ministry for Immigration and Cultural Identity'. He is quoted in Libération the other day as saying that

'I would like legal immigrants to bring their families here only in the case of their having learned, before entering our territory, to speak French...that one would not settle long-term in France without taking the trouble to write and speak French. Because, at the heart of French national identity is, of course, the French language. French is the cement, French is a culture, a way of thinking, a form of resistance to the homogenisation of the world'.

'A form of resistance to the homogenisation of the world'? We're a long way now from the enthusiastic pro-American Sarkozy of not too long ago, the same man that was afforded an audience with Tom Cruise and told him how much he admired the 'American way' (Sarkozy clearly has less of a problem with some religious fanatics than with others).

I agree with him of course about the centrality of the French language to French culture and to the country itself but I would say the same thing about Slovene, Lithuanian, Farsi, Italian and even any of the Scandinavian languages, among many others. But Sarko knows very well that most of the people that he has a real problem with (and who have a problem of similar magnitude with him) are immigrants from the former colonies, such as the Maghreb, Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Togo, Congo and Cameroon, and most of them speak at the very least a decent level of French before 'entering our territory'. Language is not really the problem at all, unless Sarko is talking about the verlan spoken by the sons of Johnny L'Étranger in the banlieues. Or perhaps he is really talking about the English speakers living in France, a depressingly large amount of whom never make any effort to learn any French or to interest themselves in the slightest way in French culture (while not foregoing the right to whinge about the French at every available opportunity)? If Sarko were to implement his pre-election plans with a firm consistency, France's language schools and Anglophone bars could be a thing of the past come September. But it may be that he is only creating bogeymen to facilitate his resistible rise.

Sarkozy refused a challenge to an Internet debate by third-place runner François Bayrou the other day, claiming, in a flourish of mendacity previously unrivalled even by himself that he would only take part if all twelve candidates took part. He said, 'either a debate with all 12 candidates or none at all. It is artificial to choose one candidate over the other and it even shows lack of respect towards the other candidates.' The man's principles are endless, and if we don't like them, well, I suppose, à la Groucho Marx, here are some more. A French TV journalist suggested to the BBC that Sarkozy is wont to lose his cool and was worried about the negative publicity that might follow such a scenario. Not totally unlike his Irish counterpart Michael McDowell, who threw a hissy fit in the Seanad recently, and who has a similar propensity to act the bully casting himself as the victim, a ploy that was used to some effect by a certain political party that enjoyed great success from 1931 to 1945...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Earley Bird Catches the Worm

My fellow Ballymote-man Lieutenant General Jim Sreenan's relatively brief tenure as Irish Defence Forces Chief of Staff has come to an end but the Connacht mafia remains in power in Óglaigh na hÉireann (official branch) with the appointment of former Roscommon GAA star Dermot Earley (or Major General Dermot Earley to you and me) as his replacement. Typical, the Irish army goes for the glamour candidate. I'm sure that Maj Gen Earley will be well up to the job though, but I wonder are there any other former sports stars in history that have had the opportunity to run an army? Answers on a post-card, please... I just hope that Dermot doesn't lose the run of himself and set out to exact revenge for the 1980 All-Ireland final.

Inland Empire: Any Questions?

There are two things that I am not going to do regarding Inland Empire, the latest offering from David Lynch. One is refer to it in block capitals as Lynch prefers (the title - mentioned only once in the film, in Polish - refers to a residential area on the edge of the desert in L.A.) The other thing I am not going to do is review it, because I found it for the most part impenetrable, his most opaque work since Eraserhead and little I could say would illuminate the film anyway. Suffice to say that for a three-hour-long plotless art film with multiple confusing segments and a family of giant rabbits, Inland Empire is remarkably watchable.

I had put off going to see it for six weeks, not out of fear of its inaccessibility but of its length; when I told this to a Lithuanian acquaintance, he laughed and said 'it's only three hours, it's not as if it's a 20-hour film by Jonas Mekas'. That put me in my place. I went to see it with my friend Tim and we both arrived at different times - I missed the first five minutes and he about twice that - so that we both probably missed some vital clues as to the film's overall meaning, if such a thing exists. I had just had a falafel and the temperature in the cinema was conducive to drowsiness, so within twenty minutes I was nodding off (not an unusual occurrence chez moi). I asked Tim later if I had started snoring (the worst thing about falling asleep in public) and he said 'No, you just started breathing heavier', a piece of Lynchian dialogue if there ever was one. There was a touch of Matthew Barney's Cremaster cycle about the film but Lynch is not near the chancer Barney is and his production values - digital video with wilfully amateur camerawork - are a good deal lower on this one. It reminded me of what the man who introduced me to Lynch at the age of 16 said about Eraserhead: 'it's not bad, but there's no way in the world you can say you love it'. Or maybe the inverse is true: Inland Empire may not be good but there's no way in the world you can't say you love it. We stumbled out of the cinema after a bizarre title sequence that made the rest of the film seem like a Julia Roberts film. We went across the street for a drink and chatted about Middle Eastern politics with the Lebanese barman. Now, that's easy.

Public Blogging

Last summer I posted on La Petite Anglaise, the blog written by a Parisian 34-year-old English expat woman (her identity has since been revealed as Catherine Sanderson) and her sacking for gross misconduct as a result of her blogging. Last Friday however she was absolved by an Employment Tribunal and her former employers, accountancy firm Dixon Wilson have been ordered to pay a year's wages as compensation for unfair dismissal as well as the unemployment benefit that Sanderson had been receiving since her sacking.

Sanderson is not the first to have lost her job as a result of her blogging and in her case the sacking was egregiously unfair as the references to her job or her workplace were both rare and suitably oblique. There is little on this blog that would be likely to jeopardise my own employment (except perhaps for an admission a few months back that I am not the world's greatest teacher); that said I have told nobody at my current job about this blog, mainly because it is nice for there to be a space in my life where it doesn't exist. Everyone at my old place of work knows about it (and one or two read it regularly) but in an age where people surrender their anonymity willingly online it is a pleasure to lurk in the background for a change.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


The International Herald Tribune is the most ubiquitous English-language newspaper around this city, not surprisingly as it is published here. It is a thin, lightweight affair with a faux-earnest authorial style familiar from American papers, given occasional ballast by syndicated articles and columns from the Boston Globe and the New York Times. But the Trib does have its better qualities too, most notably a good design section - a rarity in English-language newspapers - and, from yesterday's paper is a nice piece on the Helvetica typeface, which is the subject of an exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art and which celebrates its fiftieth birthday shortly. Helvetica is most familiar from the logos of companies such as Lufthansa, American Airlines, American Apparel and from the signage for the New York Subway, and I myself own a favourite tee-shirt, designed by Angry of Dublin, which is emblazoned with it, to good effect. Those that know me will also know the tee-shirt. Long live Helvetica. The best thing to come out of Switzerland since the cuckoo clock (well, maybe since Le Corbusier).

Iran: Any Link Between Two Stories?

The Iran prisoner's crisis continues apace, with the British breaking off all ties with the Islamic Republic while the Iranians appear content to call their bluff with each carefully calibrated release of yet another confession. While displaying captured military personnel on TV is clearly in breach of the Geneva Conventions, and I would not be too keen to be in the custody of the People's Revolutionary Guards - even in the full glare of the world looking on - there is something discordant in the outrage being expressed by Downing Street over the detention and treatment of the fifteen sailors. Both Terry Jones and Ronan Bennett have pointed out in The Guardian the apparent softness of the Iranian handling of their prisoners compared with the Coalition of the Willing's at Camp X=Ray and Abu Ghraib, while Bob Fisk over at the Indy has a lucid, and by no means complaisant analysis of Teheran's brinksmanship.

Meanwhile there is almost unanimous lack of interest in the story that was posted here last week (and also in the Jerusalem Post on Sunday) about a putative US missile attack on Iran on Good Friday. While the hits have been flowing into Underachievement headquarters (and quickly, out again, it must be said) in a way that has never happened before and is unlikely to again, over at the Post's message boards, many believe that it is a sick April Fool's joke. It has however been in the ether for at least a week though and it went up here last Wednesday. Which is not to say that it guaranteed true either. But if this is the case, what is it that interests Israel's premier English-language newspaper more than any other mainstream media source (including Al-Jazeera, it must be remembered)? And is the current Iranian prisoners episode only a charade to serve as a preamble to an attack on Friday?

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Weekend's Entertainment

A brief post this evening about two films watched over the weekend: I had written more extensively on André Téchiné's fine drama Les Témoins (a fictionalised account of an early French AIDS case from 1984) but just as I was about to post, Camino crashed and removed all trace of the text, making me think of going back to Firefox, despite the trouble I had been having with it for a while. I have neither the time nor the will to reconstruct the post so I will just recommend the film in passing, an unsentimental yet discreetly affecting tale about a group of friends coping with bereavement. Great acting all round, particularly from Sami Bouajila and Michel Blanc.

There was also Tough Enough, an uneven but diverting German film by director Detlev Buck. The tale of a 15-year-old plunged into a rough school in Berlin when his mother gets kicked out of home by her rich lover. He quickly becomes the object of some brutal bullying by some of the rough lads, only to fall into favour (in a rather contrived fashion) with an Arab gangster. Despite some terrible plotting - as well the deus ex machina intervention of the local caid in question, the film's peripheral characters come and go perfunctorily, often when they are beginning to get interesting - the film is directed with a good deal of verve and is at times credible enough, being a suitable companion film to last years's violent Kurds and Turks abroad drama Fratricide. Worth a look.

Is Angela Merkel a Secret Blueshirt?

Speaking of April Fool's, surely this can be the only explanation for the story from the 'Irish' Examiner, telling us that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has concerned herself with Irish domestic politics and endorsed a vote for Fine Gael in the forthcoming election. C'mon, you're having us on, aren't you, lads?

Seanachie and the Jerusalem Post: United for Once!

Never before has an Underachievement post attracted so much attention: my ephemeral piece the other day about the planned US attack on Iran on Good Friday (next Friday, to all you fellow a-Christians) has been chanced upon by a number of readers who have got wind of the same thing. So far there have been no Western media willing to run with this story, except one. Earlier on today a friend of mine, who is a journalist with extensive experience in the middle east pointed this out to me and the online search bears this out also. It is only the Jerusalem Post that has carried this as a story thus far; while knowing that April Fool's Day has just passed, I wouldn't expect the Israelis (particularly the Jerusalem Post) to be so wacky as to use it to break such news. So, one must ask how a story that has been mooted (however speculatively) by Seanachie and the right-wing Israeli media, could go so unnoticed by the media in Europe and North America? I hope I am wrong about the Good Friday bombings but I am beginning to think otherwise.