Archive for the 'IMHO' Category

Howard Zinn – a marvelous victory

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

I was very sorry to read that Howard Zinn died last week. He was a compassionate man with an immense passion for justice and fairness.

I remember in the days after the 2004 election feeling overwhelmed and full of despair. Zinn’s essay, the Optimism of Uncertainty, not only reassured me but spurred me to expect and act for change. It affected my life in a modest but very powerful way and over the years I have been repeatedly grateful for and tried to do my part to help to spread the message.

I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.

…it’s clear that the struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience–whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union itself. No cold calculation of the balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just….

Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society. We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. Even when we don’t “win,” there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile. We need hope.

An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

The Optimism of Uncertainty

Things I heard today (Jacqueline Du Pré -Elgar Cello Concerto)

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

Someone whose taste in classical music I admire mentioned Jacqueline Du Pré via twitter and since it was through him I first heard Glenn Gould, I decided it was worth looking into.

I found, Elgar Cello Concerto 1st mov:

It’s lovely – somber and beautiful (and trivia: the woman is the basis for the movie Hilary and Jackie). Also via twitter, Thomas recommended another version (w/ a different conductor). I need a few more listens to try to understand the difference.

And since I mentioned it, here is Glenn Gould, Goldberg Variations:

I’ve listened to these for hours, night after night. I don’t know much about classical music but even I can hear the subtlety, the mastery he brings. I’ve listened to other versions to compare and the difference is appreciable – something in the timing, the smoothness, what I’ve heard described as the importance of the space between the notes. I’d read about these ideas before but it wasn’t until I heard them that I actually understood.

Just because it’s awesome (The National – you know I dreamed about you)

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

I am a huge fan of the band The National. I’m consistently moved by the music, the lyrics and especially the vulnerability and deep, soothing voice of lead singer Matt Berninger.

Baby We’ll Be Fine:

He paints such a picture: “I put on an argyle sweater and put on a smile. I don’t know how to do this” and “I pull off your jeans, and you spill jack and coke in my collar. I melt like a witch and scream”. I love the line: “All we’ve got to do is be brave and be kind” (possibly less of a plan than a plaintive hope?), shining out amongst cascading repititions of: “I’m so sorry for everything”.

Green Gloves (audio only):

Lovely harmonies, lovely singing, soft and deep. In a song about friends (“I have arms for them”), I love the whimsy of: “Cinderella through the room. I glide and swan cause I’m the best slow dancer, in the universe” (check out how good the song is live, too, starting around 0:58).

maybe my favorite of their songs, Slow Show:
I see my own inner worries in the line: “God, I’m very, very frightening. I’ll overdo it” But it is the beautiful and haunting refrain at the end: “You know I dreamed about you for 29 years before I saw you. You know I dreamed about you. I missed you for 29 years” that can make my heart ache, still, after listening to the song for years.

Just because it’s awesome (Hugh Laurie’s “The Gun Seller”)

Monday, October 26th, 2009

I love Hugh Laurie. I’m a fan of him in House, MD and I adore him, as I’ve mentioned before, in Jeeves and Wooster. Fry and Laurie is brilliant and he was my favorite part (and quite a revelation after knowing only Bertie) in Peter and Friends. Not only is he a fantastic actor he’s also an amazing writer.

In his first book, The Gun Seller, the opening just stuns – I can’t think of another like it:

Imagine that you have to break someone’s arm.

Right or left, doesn’t matter. The point is that you have to break it, because if you don’t…well, that doesn’t matter either. Let’s just say bad things will happen if you don’t.

Now, my question goes like this: do you break the arm quickly — snap, whoops, sorry, here let me help you with that improvised splint — or do you drag the whole business out for a good eight minutes, every now and then increasing the pressure in the tiniest of increments, until the pain becomes pink and green and hot and cold and altogether howlingly unbearable?

Well exactly. Of course. The right thing to do, the only thing to do, is to get it over with as quickly as possible. Break the arm, ply the brandy, be a good citizen. There can be no other answer.


Unless unless unless.

What if you were to hate the person on the other end of the arm? I mean really, really hate them.

This was a thing I now had to consider.

I say now, meaning then, meaning the moment I am describing; the moment fractionally, oh so bloody fractionally, before my wrist reached the back of my neck and my left humerus broke into at least two, very possibly more, floppily joined-together pieces.

The arm we’ve been discussing, you see, is mine. It’s not an abstract, philosopher’s arm. The bone, the skin, the hairs, the small white scar on the point of the elbow, won from the corner of a storage heater at Gateshill Primary School — they all belong to me. And now is the moment when I must consider the possibility that the man standingbehind me, gripping my wrist and driving it up my spine with an almost sexual degree of care, hates me. I mean, really, really hates me.

He is taking for ever.

His name was Rayner. First name unknown. By me, at any rate, and therefore, presumably, by you too.

I suppose someone, somewhere, must have known his first name — must have baptised him with it, called him down to breakfast with it, taught him how to spell it — and someone else must have shouted it across a bar with an offer of a drink, or murmured it during sex, or written it in a box on a life insurance application form. I know they must have done all these things. Just hard to picture, that’s all.

Rayner, I estimated, was ten years older than me. Which was fine. Nothing wrong with that. I have good, warm, non-arm-breaking relationships with plenty of people who are ten years older than me. People who are ten years older than me are, by and large, admirable. But Rayner was also three inches taller than me, four stones heavier, and at least eight however-you-measure-violence units more violent. He was uglier than a car park, with a big, hairless skull that dipped and bulged like a balloon full of spanners, and his flattened, fighter’s nose, apparently drawn on his face by someone using their left hand, or perhaps even their left foot, spread out in a meandering, lopsided delta under the rough slab of his forehead.

I mentioned the book in conversation the other day and found an excerpt and was blown away again reading it so wanted to post some of it – though I really recommend reading the whole thing.

The writing is so good – funny and beautifully crafted – combining violence and tough guy swagger with aching awareness of his own failings like the best of Raymond Chandler (and that’s saying a lot). Global poltics, espionage and a little love story (or two) are thrown into the mix. The story is good but it’s the writing (“unless unless unless”) that just sings.

Remember – this is his *first* book.

Things I saw today (opening/end credits)

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

Casino Royale is on and again, I was struck by how stunningly beautiful the credits are:

Seeing it again I noticed details I’d missed like Vesper’s face as the Queen as the gun sights move past it and how the hearts on the 7 card become broken.

I was trying to think of any other credits that I’d been so impressed by and I remembered I thought Iron Man’s end credits were great when I saw the movie and so I looked again for them, but I have to say, though very good, they’re not quite as amazing as Casino Royale (still really good).

(update: Unfortunately, they’ve removed the audio from the video and it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere else. Not worth watching now – boo hiss WMG!)

Things I saw today (beautiful words)

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

Wordle: words

Book Ninja notes an online dictionary’s list of the 100 most beautiful words. For years I have thought about words I like and don’t like and funny words or just jarring words so I was curious to read it.

There were some I agreed with, or thought sufficiently nice to plump out a list if you had to get to 100. A few I really liked:

11. chiaroscuro: The arrangement of dark and light elements in a picture.
15. cynosure: A focal point of admiration.
30. eschew : To reject or avoid.
48. imbroglio: An altercation or complicated situation.
51. ingenue: A naïve young woman.
54. inure: To jade.
61. lilt: To move musically or lively, to have a lively sou
72. odalisque: A concubine in a harem.
98. seraglio: Housing for a harem.

but there were a few I was really surprised at:

12. cockle: A heart-shaped bivalve or a garden flower.
Cockle is too harsh, too agressive a sound to be beautiful to me. The “k” is sharp, spikey in any word (though I know it is reckoned to be a good word for comedy as it ‘sounds funny’) but with the “coc” sound in front the word and the buzz of the “le” sound at the end it becomes a bit jagged and rough to my ears).

28. epiphany: A sudden revelation.
I like the word ephiphany. The movement from the lower “e” to the higher point of the “pi” noise is perhaps an aural metaphor for ascending and also, questioning (questioning phrases ending on a higher note). With the coming down of the smoother “phany” sound following, it neatly includes question, ascent and continuation. But the transition from the “pi” sound to the “ph”, takes over the word a bit too much for me to find it as roundly flowing as I tend to like. So I’m pro-ephiphany as a word, I just can’t say I find it exactly beautiful to hear.

and 41. fugacioius: Running, escaping.
Really? that’s beautiful? The short dull punch of “fug” with the slippery “acious”? I just don’t hear it.

To be fair I’ll put myself on the line and open myself up for judgement by listing some of words I think are beautiful:


There are words l really like to say but don’t necessarily find beautiful like:

fumble (or rumple – very similar)
flim flam

Honorary mention: “elbow.” I read that the band Elbow (of whom I’m a great fan) chose the name when someone said it was the most sensuous word to say – the way the mouth itself moves when saying it. I’d never have thought it on my own but just say it a few times and see for yourself.

And speaking of “sensuous,” that is one of my sister Krissy’s least favorite words. Over the years we’ve developed a list of words we hate (it often seems to come up with us at seafood restaurants due to the 3rd word). I think I’m forgetting a few but the big ones are:


Now that I’ve been adamant with my Strong Opinions on words, I must admit that the preferences I outlined above are doubtless influenced by my own accent – the way I hear the words in my head. I know, for example, that if I were to say “Glastonbury” it would sound rather nasal and a bit stilted but I know from research for an earlier blog post that I find it to be very warm and rolling when said in the Northern UK accent). A lot of things sound nicer in a Northern UK accent to my ear (along w/ some other UK regional accents). I generally find my own US regional accent rather nasal and flat (though not as much as some other US accents) but I can quite like the accent from a few parts of the US South. I find Italian to be an absolutely gorgeous language, full of curves and flourish and melody.

I love the way Australians say “nice,” “where” and “better” (anything ending in with “er” really). The French accent can make just about anything sound more beautiful (get Coralie to say the word “moron” or “Nascar” sometime and you’ll see what I mean). I like how Brits can say “water” and make it sound so crisp and sharp and how people from where I grew up say “door” as though it has two-syllables.

I hadn’t seen this before but I found Monty Python’s ‘Woody and Tinny Words’ sketch and of course it’s great (the girl reacting to “leap” and “tin” is pretty close to how Krissy can get about the word “fondle” and me about “ointment”. Dinner at seafood restaurants with us are great fun, I can assure you).

Eggelston – eccentric beauty and wonder

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Untitled (St. Simons Island, Georgia), 1978

“Untitled,” circa 1975

“Untitled,” 1973

Peter Schjeldahl, in his New Yorker review Local Color: William Eggleston at the Whitney states:

You can always tell a William Eggleston photograph. It’s the one in color that hits you in the face and leaves you confused and happy, and perhaps convinces you that you don’t understand photography nearly as well as you thought you did. To view “William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008,” at the Whitney, is to be pummelled by eccentric beauty, and to wonder about it.

Schejeldahl’s review is is lucid, poetic and charming. He encapsulates so well the appeal and art of Eggelston’s work. Heres another gem:

…there’s no gainsaying Eggleston’s results. He shoots like a shutterbug and executes like a painter. Synthetic gorgeousness iconizes pictures that flaunt the nonchalance of snapshots.

I only disagree with Schjeldahl’s assertion that:

… the emotional key to his genius is a stoical loathing, unblinking in the face of one scandalously uncongenial otherness after another. His subjects have no ascertainable dignity, except that of stubbornly existing.

No dignity?

The girl at the commonplace counter with her red hair glowing like its own sunset stands as regally as the famous Elizabeth Siddal (Rossetti’s muse and a painter in her own right) whom she so resembles.

The girl lying sprawled on the grass is like a modern Ophelia (camera in hand, not flowers) who will, after soaking up the sun, not drown but jump up and run around the yard again.


I think Eggleston’s subjects, prosaic as they are, are fascinating precisely because of their homely rightness. His work does not look like loathing to me, rather detached observation but not angry, not demeaning. His photos are fascinating precisely because of their normality. A good photographer can make an attractive photograph out of a beautiful sunset or view or model but for me, the artistry, the genius of Eggelston is that he finds and distills the the interesting or the beautiful out of the dull or garish or common that surrounds us all the time.

(see more images at Time and The New York Times and The Eggelston Trust)

Obama (Massachusetts primary elections tonight)

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

We are choosing hope over fear, we are choosing unity over division and sending a powerful message that change is coming to America.
-Barack Obama

a beautiful image from Obey Giant.

For the past eight years I have been horrified and angered by this current administration’s human rights and civil liberty abuses; their war-mongering; their betrayal of the poor, minorities and the environment; their deliberate maneuvers to retrogress the country in humanist, cultural, educational, religious, economic and scientific realms; and the fear, weakness and apathy in fighting these offenses by the legislative branches, courts and public. It feels both exciting and vulnerable to dare to hope for change and progress in this country.

I do hope. I think that Obama is our best chance for real progress.

I see others hoping too, eg: thoughtful and well written posts by: Obey Giant, Aaron Swartz, Sandro and xkcd.

Things I remembered today (G-Force)

Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

Battle of the Planetswas awesome. Also, 7-Zark-7 should be a band, domain or blog name.

A clip via Dean.

flags, nations, people, football (4th of July)

Tuesday, July 4th, 2006

In Put away the flags Howard Zinn writes:

On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism — that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder — one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

I have thought, when I see “God Bless America” bumper-stickers, that America is fortunate in so many ways, that we have so much, in fact, that we should ask (if one believes in such things) for God’s blessings for other less fortunate countries as well (especially those countries for which we might be in some way involved in their misfortune). I’ve also thought: “there’s a sneezing joke in there somewhere” too, so take whatever I might say on this topic with a grain of salt.

A friend and I once had an interesting conversation about our respective national anthems. He was a bit surprised when I noted that the idea of attachment to the flag (and now that I consider it, something to do with violence or war) is probably largely unconscious but encouraged in the US since the American national anthem is about a flag during and after battle (with maybe the most stirring musical part occurring with lyrics about: ‘the rockets’ red glare, bombs bursting in air’).

I have a tendency to castigate myself personally on behalf of my country (reinforced at one point by lots of: “I hate the US and think Americans are scary, bible-thumping, jingoistic morons. Uhhh, not you, of course…” talk from people from other countries I was hanging out with at the time). And my instinct is still to think that while celebrating the things for which Americans might be proud that we should also remember the things for which we should, as a nation, be ashamed or outraged (Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, Guantanamo, Katrina, etc).

Zinn goes on to note:

We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history.

We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.

Another friend, while very much opposed to any kind of racism (except ‘those pommy bastards’), noted that the recent reading of statements against racism at the World Cup games is a bit odd when the whole notion of the games are nation against nation, ethnicity against ethnicity.

That article linked above has a great quote from South African civil rights activist Tokyo Sexwale:

Which football fan of sound mind would want to separate Eto’o and Beckham, Rooney and Drogba or Franz Beckenbauer and Pele?”

Though it is sports-talk, I love the succinctness of this notion that racism and nationalism ultimately fall away when considering that in humans which is wonderful, unique and awe-inspiring. I also love the quote because I thought for a while I’d painted myself in a corner in between Zinn and football and had no idea how to end the entry.