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July 27, 2009

WOMAD 2009

Here’s some typed up gig notes from this year’s WOMAD. Note ratings are entirely opinion, and I didn’t write notes for every gig I heard.

Thursday

Music from the Penguin Cafe

Brief reformation of many of the Penguin Cafe musicians under Simon Jeffes’ son. Good set, especially since it was on the pre-programme. Really ought to listen to some of the original band’s stuff.

6/10

The Skatalites

WOMAD really has a habbit of attracting aging pop musicians, but who are really competent with their instruments. Despite the name the band actually plays a mixture of Ska, Reggae and Rocksteady. Some really nice soloing here. Every year I consider listening to more Jamaican music, but end up getting put off by the pop/dance focussed reggae that seems to have been the overly popular product. Damn you Bob Marley.

7/10

Friday

Victor Deme

Based on writeups I labelled this guy as some what of a wannabe Ali Farka Touré. Impressive soloing, somewhat more traditional compositionally, and I’m sure some of the lyrics would be blatant efforts at catches (what an outrage!) if I understood French. I also listened to his late night saturday set, that was much better – guitarist was showing off more and the audience were into it a bit more.

6.5/10

Cimarron

Fado + Flamenco outfit, nice acoustic sound for the mood I was in at the time, can’t really say they stood out for any reason though.

6/10

Mariem Hassan

Soulful, Bluesey singer from Sahara. Nice, but meh.

6/10

Eliader Ochoa

Former Buena Vista Social Club member, included a few of their songs in his set list. Similar style musically – ought to check out some of his solo stuff.

7/10

Carrivan Palace

How do well sell gypsy Jazz to the younger generation Brain? We do what we do every year Pinky – we put a hot singer on the front and a dj playing incredibly tedious dance beat behind. Crowd were really into it though, and good stae presence.

4/10

Rokia Traore

Does have a good voice, slightly meh otherwise. Allegedly collaboration with the Kronos Quartet, maybe I should listen to that.

6.5/10

The Black Arm Band

Collaboration of Australian musicians presenting a show hilighting aboriginal issues. If Billy Bragg were an australian – he would have been here. I was somewhat disappointed that a lot of the music itself felt very inspired by western protest movements. There were the ballads glorifying the common behaviour of the abused group, we had verses structured as lists of things that had a gone wrong. Pretty basic stuff. But they had a good didgeridoo player, so its all good right? Gave rise to much thought as to whether human rights and poverty issues within third world countries and 1st world countries demanded the same approaches, and the ethic of it all. Heartful performances by all the musicians that really came across live.

7/10

Portico Quartet

Excellent set. Womad used to run a lot of classical music, most notably Indian Sarod and Sitar players, in the evening performance slots – but the change of festival director 2 years ago seems to have purged them from the programme. This is a real tragedy since it used to be a real hilight of the festival for me. This is one of the few late evening slots that I’ve really felt has lived up to that quality of musicianship. The band themselves make a lot out of their use of the hang – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hang_(musical_instrument) – an instrument I’d come across before, but never really seen showcased rather than used occassionally during performances. Here it sets the soundscape and is interspersed with and juxtaposed against some avant-garde jazz sax and bass. I’ll definitely listen to their previous album, and their new one when it comes out in October.

8/10

Saturday

Zambezi Express

Lively show, telling the story of a boy trying to avoid working in a mine by becoming a footballer.

Music itself was pretty boring djembe rythms – 4/10

Dancing and live show was excellent – back flips whilst skipping is quite pro – 8/10

Oumou Sangare

Traditionalist singer. Audience not really into it at the start (it had rained a bit just before the gig) – but she whipped them up a bit and then everything got into full swing. Not really my type of thing but good vocalist. There aren’t enough purely instrumental sets at womad anymore.

6.5/10

Peter Gabriel

Aging rockers always put on good live sets, think its because live sets used to be really important to a Band’s fanbase in the 70s and 80s. I blame MTV for everything. Weirdly Gabriel has now appeared twice in 3 years at WOMAD, previously to celebrate its silver anniversay, and this time round to support his charity .

7/10

Enkh Jargal

Pro mongolian singer and horse fiddle player. Hilarious horse impressions on stage when trying to explain what his instrument’s strings were made from – awesome.

7.5/10

Sunday

Styl’O’Styl

Combination of modern dance and minimalist jazz. Not really my kind of thing, but was an interesting set nonetheless.

6.5/10

Ba Cissoko

Excellent progressive Kora player – really going in different direction to his contemporary Diabate. Occassionally picked up the talking drum during set as well, when he was singing. Good stuff.

7.5/10

Youssou N’Dour

Yeah, and its not the first time I’ve seen him either. Screw you!

Once you get past the pop crap (the sung the chorus to 7 seconds and thats all in this set) – you realise that he’s actually rather a good musician, and he’s surrounded by good musicians. Last time I heard Youssou N’Dour he was playing more traditional, griot oriented stuff – this set was more modern, mblax focussed stuff. He works the audience well to, just a shame it was raining. (Why do idiots bring umbrellas to festivals, rather than ponchos?)

8/10

Roy Ayers

AWESOME. Second time I’ve heard him live. Started off with minimal actual playing (I was unduly worried, though he barely touched the vibes during his opening number) and playing some of dance/funk/pop numbers that he’s famous for, including the obvious irony of ‘everyone loves the sunshire’ whilst it was raining heavily in wiltshire. My Dad and I had been singing the song all afternoon – I was ridiculously up for this gig. The gig then turned into a 20 minute cover of classic jazz standard ‘One night in tunisia’ by Dizzy Gillespie which was basically an excuse for some seriously epic jazz soloing.

9/10


March 09, 2009

Watchmen

Writing about web page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchmen_(film)

Its been a while since I last posted something worthy on my blog, and even though there have been many issues cropping up, especially with the economic crisis I’ve not really felt much like actually blogging. Hopefully this, and the need to avoid planet uwcs getting completely overun by Dan will kick start things off again.

Caveats: minor spoilers & I’ve not read the comic book.

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In my opinion the film adaptation of the watchmen was always bound to never be considered as influential within the medium of film, or even within the genre of comic book adaptations, as the comic book is to comic books. When people mention The Watchmen with reverence, they consitently mention its post-modernist content (self concious and self-reflective defiance of convention) and violence. One can see both of these attributes within the adaptation, but this isn’t anything new in the current climate. It was decided before 2009 that all comic book adapations worth their salt had to delve into their characters dark past, and attempt to create interesting characters, either by setting in a wold realistic and situation enough for one to empathize with them (for example Batman fighting terrorism with technology) or by making them charasmatic enough for one to like them (Hellboy’s cigar and willingness to sticky it to Jeffrey Tambor). I can’t really decide whether it is an innate failure as a film on these grounds, or merely minorly disappointing because of its flaws – perhaps I am setting the bar a little too high.

The story itself follows a group of super heroes trying to save the world from nuclear warfare between fictionalized American and Russian super-powers in an alternative Cold War. There is much to like about this scenario, the dangers are to humanity, by humanity, rather than a threat caused by a super-villain. The heroes themselves are second generation, allowing the story to deal with the issue of having to live up to the expectations of ones parents. The scenario itself has Nixon in a 5th term in office, having won the Vietnam war with the help of the super heroes, and American on a moral and social decline. It forgoes the now cliche’d origin-story in favour of an opening montage, possibly the best part of the film, combined with occassional flashbacks. All but one of the heroes is essentially an superior mortal, rather than an übermenschlich.

The one other hero, Dr. Manhattan, has had the mandatory radiation exposure and consequent super-powers that seem to prove remarkably statistically likely to happen in comic book stories. His character plays an important role in the film, a God with existential angst, loosing his humanity and unable to decide on what his true position in life is. I felt his story was well portrayed with the exception of a hard to swallow turn towards the end of the film. I was also highly appreciative of the use of some of Philip Glass’ score for Koyaniqatsi, since Dr. Manhattan genuinely is life-out-of-balance. Unfortunately this is really the only attempt to meaningfully reference popular culture in a level above the superficial.

Rorschach is another character worth mentioning – apart from his masked face he is essentially a prototypical hard boiled detective, complete with the kind of narration one would expect from Raymond Chandler. Unfortunately he doesn’t get all the trappings of the film noir genre, and the cynical and amoral world that exists around The Watchmen is used to neither counter point their fundamental belief in justice, nor as a reflection of their frailties in comparison with traditional superheroes.

An interesting comparison could be made between, The Incredibles and The Watchmen. On a stylistic level these have nothing in common – the watchmen is moody and dark, whilst The Incredibles is as jazzy and exciting a film as I’ve ever seen. In the incredibles, humour is naturely part of the setup, while Watchmen artificially injects bad jokes into the fabric of a serious film, fundamentally undermining the emotional payoff of several scenes. In both films, however, self-reflection on super heroes is put to the fore-front, but while The Incredibles explores Nietzsche (“When everyone is special, no one is”), watchmen looks more broadly at what super heroes would be like if they were more human, perhaps less morally absolute, afraid of living up to their parents, or unsure what to make of themselves. For me, this is where Watchmen falls down – its an interesting ‘what if’, brilliantly visualised and intelligently conceived, but I don’t want to go and see a film to gain insight into the lives of super heroes, I want to gain insight into the real world around me: people, politics, philosphy and I can’t say I leant anything meaningful about them from this visit to the Cinema.


July 30, 2008

Womad

Writing about web page http://womad.org/festivals/charlton-park/

Background Information

This is my 6th year going to WOMAD which happened over the weekend just gone. It originally started off just my Uncle, then I started going with him, and for the last 3 years, inclusively, Dad has come along as well. I’ve always meant to write notes on the festival, both because every year people ask me what its like and I go “oh quite good – I enjoyed whatshisface’s set”, well no longer! This year I actually wrote some notes whilst I was there and on the way home in the car, so I thought I’d publish them on my blog.

General Comments

The lineup this year wasn’t as good as the past festivals I’ve been to – I appreciate that last year was a 25th anniversary, so had a very strong lineup, but this didn’t even really compete with previous years before that. I still enjoyed it, and will probably go again, but it give me pause for thought.

The weather was very hot – despite the Met Office predicting a small amount of rain. Last year the weather had a really negative impact on the festival – there was huge amounts of mud all over the place, and since the soil in the local area is clay it began so stick to boots like glue. Just walking between tents had become a difficulty. This year – the heat was quite draining, energy wise, but much preferred to the rain.

WOMAD has a vaguely interesting history, since essentially it began as a way of Peter Gabriel marketing so called ‘world music’ to a UK audience. Fortunately that audience managed to attract a boatload of hippies who succeeded in bringing a rather nice atmosphere to the festival. This leaves it in an interesting position of both being one of the most commercial festivals around (everyone who plays has some relationship with Real World Studios) and simultaneously one of the most leftwing.

There follows a listing of most of the sets I heard during the festival (though some I left early to ensure good positioning for preferred sets). The rating is a rough guide (out of 100) as to how much I enjoyed the event. Please note its hard not to enjoy a gig so < 60 is basically epic failure. The description is my notes from the day and may be incredibly inaccurate/complete rubbish.

Friday

Tashi Lhumpo Monks
30
Tedious + Repetitive religious ceremony, establishes some atmosphere, but fails to provide any real drive or interest.

Rumberos de Cuba
50
Traditionalist rumba outfit parading african influence bequeathed to Cuba. Basic evidence of griot techniques include narrative driven lyrics and expositional dancing.

Kenge Kenge Orutu Systems
60
Upbeat Kenyan group mix traditional instrucments with a more modern structure. Probably more interesting for dancier folks. Excellent audience involvement.

Billy Cobham + Asere
70
Veteran percussionist Cobham teams with a cuban outfit to produce a jazz and Son Cubana influenced fusion. Cobham provides surprising subtlety to his performance (at past gigs I’ve noted a tendance to dominate the proceedings). Strong soloing added a touch of class to the performance.

Toumani Diabate
85
Great set.
Diabate started this performance with two quite intimate Kora solos, showcasing his ability to communicate emotion through his instrument. The remainder of the set he was backed by his talented band, including his Kora playing son. Strong solos all round.

Bedouin Jerry Can Band
65
Several instruments consist of reused equipment from the 6 day war. Song structure involves more traditional arabic folky work. Simple rhythms, fat men dancing, plenty of facial. Good fun, but not the most sophisticated outfit.

Nathan ‘Flutebox’ Lee
0
Combined flutist/beatbox is as shit as it sounds, but the kind of collab that womad organisers seem to have a hankering for. I am perenially unimpressed by beatboxers. It seems like an incredibly easy to learn skill, something I really need to sit down for a week and learn purely to point out how shit they are. My main problem is their replication of very simple dance tunes and distortion. When someone has a beatboxer who can perform Mahler’s 5th symphony please come and talk to me.

Flute playing had merit but showmanship overode musical talent – The guy spent as much time shouting ‘give it up for x’ where x is an accompanying musician as he did playing his instrument.

Rachid Taha
70
Excellent mandolute + sax soloing raised this set from mediocrity to quite an enjoyable event. strong ambience to music and good showmanship from Mr. Taha carried through. Basic rhythms and simplistic song structure.

Speed Caravan
65
Electric Oud playing offered something a little different. DJ backing gave atmosphere (think Leafcutter John in Polar Bear) whilst shredding on an oud sounded really good. Strong rock sensibilities to composition gave a different setting to the oud and darabouka (which was also accompanying) which I haven’t heard through a more traditional setting.

Even band has an achilles heal – here it is their friendship with MC Spex, ex asian dub foundation, who came in one song and basically destroyed my enjoyment of this set. In my opinion promoting your latest outfit’s absence of talent by invading someone else’s gig is incredibly rude, no matter whether they asked you to perform or not. If it hadn’t been for this, I would have given an enjoyment rating of 8.

Malam Mamane Barka
80
Only living Biram master brought an african blues sound to the evening. Harplike sound of his unique instrument offers the soul of a nomadic existence to the audience. This is the cure to that tit Spex.

Terakraft
60
Admittedly I was tired by this stage of the evening, but this was an incredibly boring set. The whole Etran Finatawa & Tinariwen sound seems really staid to me at the moment. No real cockups, but really repetitive.

Saturday

La Cor de La Plana
55
Occitan singing + drumming, quite simple – but really rhythmic performance.

Monobloco
40
Lively + Upbeat samba collective failed to impress me. Uninteresting instrumentals and several Covers. Filler

Wasis Diop
55
Last minute booking, for a slot TBC’d on the programme. Uninventive trio, but solid set. Main focus of the songs seemed to be lyrics, which might have been more appreciated by someone with a better understanding of the French language.

Dengue Fever
65
Interesting 6 piece, strong sax + guitar soloing, clearly charasmatic cambodian lead singer. Awesome beard on lead guitarist.

Eddy Grant & the frontline Orchestra
75
I really enjoyed this, when on paper it should be something I’d hate. Pop twist on classic calypso and saco song structure. Not the kind of thing I’d normally listen to. Superb showmanship and crowd interaction.

Sufi Evening (Sheik Taha/Monajat Yulchieva)
60
Asif Ali Khan (highlight of this mini-lineup) was cancelled. Focus on Qawwali, a kind of sufi religious song driven music. Bit disappointed that with all the ouds and daraboukas around there was little in the way of instrumental interest.

Sunday

Little Feat
70
Eclectic country outfit offer interesting fusion with strong jazz and funk influences. Interesting solos, cool set. Its a shame their original band leader has been dead 30 years.

Ernest Ranglin
65
Siam tent was packed, so didn’t really see him properly. This sounded like a really good set, but the heat reduced my enjoyment and sapped my energy. A lot of instrumentals and soloing livened up the reggae.

Bassekou Kouyote + Ngoni Ba
75
Good set, griot storytelling, but subtler and more focus on the ngoni rather than the raucus riot of dance driven effort that seems to be used by many other groups.

Orchestra Baobob
70
Good set, very old school senegalese music group. Nice horns section.

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80
80
I really enjoyed this set – certainly a lot more than I had originally expected. Having heard recordings of his father’s gigs with this group, I was interested in hearing Seun Kuti’s work. Certainly a good performer, though a lot of compositions seem to be from his father’s day – so its hard to give credit for them. Even though the band lead has passed from generation to generation, the commentary on african politics seems as relevant as ever. I recall Femi-Kuti’s enjoyable gig from a couple of years ago and this has a very similar, afrobeat sound.

Quotes/Puns

A food stand calling itself ‘Pie Minister’
Little Feat, when trying to encourage audience participation stated, “Just try to sing like Bob Dylan. Hold your nose and talk.”
The moto of the Workers Beer Co, “Thirst Amoung Equals”


July 10, 2008

Election Update

I haven’t blogged in a while, and haven’t blogged about US politics in ages, so here we go.

Presidential Election

Obama finally put Clinton to bed. This has been inevitably basically since super Tuesday when Clinton blew her load and didn’t really get much of a win. Whats interesting has been the national polling of Obama against McCain. During the latter phases of the primaries Obama was heavily campaigned against by Clinton and also was undergoing Wrightgate, and consequently fell behind McCain in the national polling. This was up to 5% and over 100 EC votes at some stages.

During June, the month following Obama’s primary victory, he made a considerable comeback. Polling showed him gaining against McCain nationally, taking tracking polls averaged from key pollsters late last month had him over 150 EC to the good. Since then coverage has been more negative towards Obama, commenting on his movement towards the centre, and polls have fallen back.

Senate Elections

Since primary season is over, a lot of senate races have become clear, so here’s a brief summary of a few of them.

Alabama
Two term senator Jeff Sessions seems to be strongly leading (65-35) his democratic opponent, Vivian Figures, in nearly all polls. Despite democratic strength in the current electoral cycle, some places are still out of reach for them.

Alaska
Ted Stevens (whose claim to fame is being the oldest republican in the senate and stating that, “The internet is like a series of tubes”) is having a hard time, despite his position as a longrunning incumbent, against Begrich. In some polls he’s still ahead, others behind. Steven’s senility is probably a campaigning drawback, hopefully he’ll be out of office come November.

Colorado
Mark Udall is looking to take this seat for the democrats, and is polling about 10% ahead against Republican opponent Schaffer. This fits in well with Howard Dean’s strategy of hitting hard in the western states, traditionally a republican stronghold. There might be some synergy between this campaign and Obama’s national effort in Colorado.

Iowa
Tom Harkin will retain his senate seat, continuing Iowa’s swing to the democrats over the current election cycle.

Kansas
Two term incumbent Pat Roberts has a 10% or so margin above his democratic opponent, Jim Slattery. I don’t really know much about the candidates or polling issues here.

Kentucky
Mitch Mcconnell, current senate minority leader, holds a narrow lead over his democratic challenger, proving that even high ranking republicans aren’t impossible targets. He’s a stalwart conservative on nearly all issues. Interesting the libertarian party candidate is Sonny Landham who is a former porno actor who also starred in Predator. Despite his high profile, I doubt that he will really impact Mcconnell’s re-election bid too much, and Mcconnell is apparently fundraising well, so will probably be re-elected.

Louisiana
Incumbent Mary Landrieu is being challenged by a defectee to the republican cause, current State Treasurer John Kennedy. Landrieu is currently maintaining a razor-thing lead. I imagine the result of this will go down to the wire.

Massachusetts
Early on in the election season it looked like John Kerry was going to be strongly challenged, but the polls have slowly slipped his way, as one would expect of a leading democrat in a democratically leaning state in a democratically leaning year. He’s currently miles ahead of his republican opponent Jeff Beatty and his re-election looks like a sure thing. Part of Beatty’s problem is that few locals even know who he is, polling data suggests that 44% of them have no opinion of him.

Michigan
Jack Hoogendyk, Michigan house of reps member, is running against 6 term incumbent Carl Levin. He’s behind in the polling, and was the only republican running for the position. In 1996 Levin was opposed by Ronna Romney, who is Mitt Romney’s sister in law.

Maine
Susan Collins, centrist republican incumbent, is leading democratic challenger Tom Allen in polls, but by a narrowing margin. Joe Lieberman has stated that he might campaign for her.

Minnesota
If you thought the pornstar running in Kentucky was interesting, this is a minefield. The incumbent is Norm Coleman, a strong Bush supporter was one of the people who accussed Galloway of abusing his relationship with Saddam Hussein. Al Franken, well know comedian, SNL alumni, author, etc. is running against him, with a strongly leftwing agenda, note the title of one his books, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right”. Currently Al Franken is behind in polls, though I’m sure his campaign is entertaining. On 9th July Jesse Ventura, former professional wrestler and governor, announced that he may run for office. Now Ventura bear Coleman in his 1996 election campaign, his entrance into the the campaign makes what the wrestling community might call a ‘3-way dance’. On his previous election effort Ventura won on the back of the Reform party ticket, its unknown who would back him this time. Ventura claims organised religion is a shame, has made numerous comments about drunken Irishmen, heavily invested in mass transit during his period as governor, is now massively bald, supports gay and abortion rights. He is generally fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Its already amusing, and if Ventura runs it will become hilarious.

I’ll leave it at that for now. Perhaps I might get round to finishing off the rest of the alphabet at some point in time.


February 04, 2008

Drama

With Lost returning to the television screens, and its mass fans worldwide, its easy to ignore the fact that its an inconsistent program. Sometimes its plotting drags, and whilst most characters are well developed now, both Hurley and Charlie started out as joke figures in my mind. With this in mind I decided to list a few programs that I feel ought to be viewed by anyone interested in serious drama. This is by no means an exhaustive list – since I generally don’t watch much tv drama (too much crap around).

The Sopranos

Now complete family crime drama, the show juxtaposes the family and business interests of its main character, Tony Soprano. This allows for in detailed characterisation, and the opportunity to bring a variety of characters together, from his daughter’s university friends to hardened criminals. Tony is a fascinating study in and of himself – my personal favourite is the manner in which he eats, it has a very special idiom to it. He plays with his food obsessively, then eventually his takes his fork, stabs one element of it, and eats it – swallowing quickly. Often it seems as though his eating habbits are a compulsion, a comfort for a man who has difficulty expressing his emotions. The strong supporting cast and character driven nature of the show are also highlights.

Dexter

The show is set from the point of view of its serial killing title character. Fascinating insite is given to the relationship between people, through Dexter’s description of how he ‘fakes’ human emotions. The show is driven forward by his discovery of how Dexter became the way he is. Another point of interest is they way his moral code guides the way he acts and the judgements implicit and explicit within its development.

Oz

This nineties prison drama, set primarily in the experimental wing of the Oswald State penitentiary. The fast moving plot frequently focusses on the infighting between different ethnic groups within the prison. Overall narration is done in the style of classical greek theatre – with interludes where the key theme of each episode is discussed. The show deliberately chooses to offer ambiguity in response to key criminal issues – such as the debate between reforming and incarcerating prisoners.

House of Cards

Miniseries from 1990 that charts the rise of its lead character – Francis Urquhart – in a post Thatcherite conservative party. The series had the good fortune to be aired at the same time as the internal struggle surrounding Thatcher’s departure, however, it still stands the test of time. Urquhart is portrayed as a Machavellian political machine, only interested in his own political rise. The show depicts the corresponding fall of those manipulated by Urquhart’s underhand dealings. There are frequent parallels with Shakespearean work, notably Richard III. My favourite aspects are the short solliloques, and frequent glances to camera given by Urquhart that reveal his true intent and the brief shots of rats that increasingly appear at times throughout the show.


January 07, 2008

Debates

Follow-up to Iowa Followup from True Contradictions

I previously said I would try to watch the debates and comment on them, here we go:

This republican debates were interesting, as the double penetration of Huckabee and McCain into Romney became really publically obvious. Whether that will really help them is another matter, as Romney managed to garner more time on the mic than any of the other candidates, or at least I got that impression. Guiliani won the Reagon-O-Meter for mentioning his name over 10 times in the ABC debate alone.

What was most interesting was the ABC people asked the republicans basically to attack Obama and in the democratic debate asked Obama to reply. I’m still not sure whether this is yellow journalism or a really interesting tactic yet. Either way it proved to be more interesting than the republican candidates. I was quite surprised when none of them stated “Amnesty, Abortion and Acid”.

Ron Paul would be interesting, except for the fact that all he talks about is Iraq and the gold standard. You know its a commonly stated opinion, but here it is again for the record – Ron Paul is an honest guy, but he should really be institutionalized rather than elected for his support of the Gold Standard. It just shows a complete lack of understanding of basic economic principle.

Another group I’m going to have a dig against is Fox news, who after their debate had a ‘focus group’ after their republican debate who said that Romney came out best and Thompson came out worst. Lets have a quick think about this – Thompson, who recently voiced his disgust for the process and particularly the media in an interview on Fox, got slated. At the same time Romney – fighting against Huckabee (dislikes big business and viewed by trad republican leadership as questionable) and McCain (sometimes seen as too centrist) – was backed by the ‘focus group’. Lets face it Fox can’t fail to be partisan when even reporting their own side.

As to the democrats, Clinton made a strong showing despite her recent loss in Iowa. It was interesting that two people I was speaking to (almost simultaneously) last night observed that Edwards would make a good running mate for Obama. Edwards does make an impressive debater and is a really strong candidate. Running mates are really hard to judge, since historically one chooses someone who provides things they are weak at (think Reagan/Bush, Gore/Liebermann) but in recent times fairly similar candidates have been chosen (Clinton/Gore, Bush/Cheney) as well. I think Richardson would really boost Obama in areas where he is weakest (Foreign Policy, experience) whilst Edwards perhaps wouldn’t necessarily help add votes to the ticket. I suppose there are plenty of other potential running mates outside of the candidates to be considering as well.

I’ll be posting New Hampshire predictions sometime today/ early tomorrow, though its highly likely that Obama will feature in his usual place.


January 04, 2008

Iowa Followup

Follow-up to Iowa from True Contradictions

Now the Iowa caucuses have happened we can do some vague analysis of how my predictions stacked up.  Lets look at the democratic results table to begin with: 

Actual Predicted
Obama Obama
Edwards Clinton
Clinton Edwards
Richardson Richardson
Biden Biden
Dodd Kucinich
Kucinich

Dodd

Obama took first place as I predicted, however Clinton did rather more poorly than I originally anticipated, only placing 3rd.  This isn't that surprising if you read the polling data for that in Iowa.  Some of her campaign people were on TV before the results were out saying that it wouldn't be too tragic if she was 3rd.  She also managed to avoid doing a Howard Dean-esque post Iowa TV meltdown, which is a shame really because "The Clinton Scream" or "The Hillary Scream" is a term I would very much like to enter the 2008 lexicon.  I wouldn't worry too much if I were in her position, its just given people more opportunity for "comeback kid" reference to abound after NH.  (Though I may predict Obama there, which will doom her)

She certainly did a lot worse than me on the night, with a mere 0.57 average place difference between my predictions and the actual results within the democrat results.  <insert gloat here>  Probably the biggest issue is that I had forgotten that Mike Gravel was still in the race, but apparently so did the electorate, since he placed joint last with Kucinich.  

The republicans, however, were a hard race to predict and I didn't come off quite as well, though I was still respectable.  Have another table of results:

Actual Predicted
Huckabee Romney
Romney Huckabee
Thompson McCain
McCain Giuliani
Paul Thompson
Giuliani Paul

I think a lot of this was due to not emphasizing importance on last minute shifts, in the electorate.  For example the Thompson bounce that took him above McCain happened (if one is to believe the polling data) within the 2 days before the election.  In other words - after my predictions!  I think for N.H. I shall be leaving it to the last minute, in an attempt to improve accuracy, I notice most of the polling people don't actually predict until the evening of the caucus.

My average deviation was 4/3 places from the actual result, so still not too tragic, but none of the candidates were accurately placed on my behalf.  More of a surprise for me was not that I didn't do as well as for the democratic race, but that Huckabee took a lot more votes than Romney, 34% vs 25%.  Thats an incredible swing compared with only a month ago.

Huckabee has been rising in the polls for only about 2 months and fairly solidly, but it looked only 2 weeks ago as though he had topped - unfortunately for Mr. Romney he topped at the top, which I guess is a good place to stop.  Everyone expected Rudy Guiliani to do badly, he never really tried in Iowa, so in some sense this isn't a terrible loss for him.  It was interesting to here old Pat Buchannan on the radio last night claiming his strategy was terrible.  The issue for Guiliani is that he needs to pickup some momentum BEFORE Florida now, since Huckabee is now leading in the polls in Florida.  Since he won't be doing well in New Hampshire either, this means he needs something from South Carolina to give him a boost going into Florida. He has a chance in South Carolina- but not if he doesn't campaign there, he also needs to do this in a way that doesn't sound like an about face in terms of strategy.


I also said that I suspected that some candidates would drop out after the race, Chris Dodd and
Duncan Hunter (Democrat radio stations refer to him as "Duck and Cover" - how witty are they?) have fulfilled that element of my prediction.  Unfortunately Fred Thompson did better than expected and so is still in the race, the rumours that claimed he was going to concede and back McCain appear to have been people going all Mark Twain on him.


My only remaining comment is roll on New Hampshire.  There will be two republican debates before then (one on Fox, so that should bring out the wacko crowd) that I shall attempt to watch. I'm sure we will be hearing a lot from the democratic candidates as well.  I suspect that there will be N.H. predictions and breakdown as well.


August 23, 2007

Match Point

I’ve watched a few (mainly mediocre) films recently, but one that caught my eye was Match Point. Actually this is a lie, Woody Allen caught my attention. The film received a lot of buzz stateside, but wasn’t so well received in europe. Its worth comparing for example, Bradshaw’s review with that of Ebert.

Unfortunately I’m more inclined to align myself with Bradshaw’s opinion of the film. Its necessary at this point to echo his desire for a new period of brilliant Allen cinema, I really enjoyed the various Allen films I’ve seen, most notably Annie hall, Manhatten, Hannah and her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors. The big difference between them and Match Point is that the former stand out at the viewer with their stylish dialogue and complementary look. Allen used to be a small scale experimentalist, sometimes this worked (opening sequence of Manhatten) sometimes this didn’t (John Carradine’s dialogue from EYAW2KAS). Either way it was unique, of interest to the viewer, and most importantly endearing.

It was a strong film, well acted, good characterisation etc. But one has to expect more of Woody Allen, especially in the dialogue department. In his classic films he managed to produce ‘overly-clever’ conversations without causing one to question the believability of the characters involved. Part of this comes down to his well calculated ‘artist uber-nerd’ image, but equally important was that the viewer was so interested in the phrase that had just been uttered that they didn’t have time to consider whether it was viable for a normal person to perform the uttering. The idea that there is more luck in people’s lives than we are willing to admit is frankly tedious and unimaginative, even if it may contain more than a grain of truth.

I remain optimistic that we will see another great Woody Allen film, but this is probably more a hope than an expectation.


April 17, 2007

Satan's Tango

Movie image
Title:
Satantango
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I don’t really do reviews, which is probably why I’ve never written on my blog. But I suspect any thoughts commenting on the film in question could be considered a review, so I’m going to claim this as such. (Note to self don’t self-contradict in the opener)

Other-disclaimer: minor spoilers, nothing you need not know before you watch.

So I got round to watching Satantango on Sunday evening. No mean really – its a 7 hour film, so finding the time in one block to actually watch it is a worthy achievement in itself. That patting you’re hearing is my hand on my back. Many films have had people comment on the nature of the effect that they impose upon their audience, however, I doubt many of them are related to the length.

This is an important point because the thing that struck me most about Satantango wasn’t its story or characters, despite the former being interesting and the latter all well developed. The real impact comes from the aura of complete cynicism towards both mankind and the nature of politics that emanates from this film.

The bulk of the film’s plot revolves around a the political machinations of a group of villagers attempting to get away from their qualid lives. This tale is extolled in two components: the first one critiques individualism, the second collectivism. Neither comes off lightly. Nor do the villagers, who are portrayed, as in the opening scene, as a group of cattle desirous of direction and control.

Within the context of broad daylight after a sunny Tuesday – one can question these assertions that Bela Tarr puts forward. Whilst watching the film, however, one’s cognitive abilities are suppressed by his stark cinematography, dark narrative, and stress inducing runtime. Here one realises the power of the cinema – the power to manipulate one’s view of humanity.

Interesting to note at this juncture the narrative of the two films most often cited in connection Satantango. Gus Van Saint’s Jerry and Elephant – the former about two two youngsters without food in the desert and the latter about a high school murder (coincidentally topical). Perhaps its not just the extended takes and discordant background noise that are referenced.

At this point its worth admitting that I do value the aesthetic and visceral elements of cinema as much as the more intellectually stimulating. I proffer this a reason for my liking of Cronenberg’s blood baths and Woo’s vacuous, but elementally beautiful slow motion set pieces. Even on this level Satantango fails to disappoint. The extensive scenes of characters, and animals, simply walking around being tracked by the long camera shoots are ofe not on this front, particularly when the character has ‘the wind at their backs’.


February 05, 2007

Palestine Solidarity Week

This week is Palestine Solidarity Week, all events, bar the charity dinner are free.  The schedule for the rest of the week is as follows: 

Tue Children of Palestine Charity Dinner 8pm, Ramphall

8pm, Ramphall Building, buy tickets in advance


Wed “Visit Palestine” Film Screening 6pm, S0.13

Award winning film on life under Israeli occupation

6pm, S0.13

Thurs Hamas in Power: Continuity or Change? 4pm, H0.52

Khaled Hroub- author: “Hamas: Political Thought and Practice”

Towards a Just Peace in Israel-Palestine 6pm, H0.51

John Hilary – Director, War on Want NGO

Jeremy Corbyn MP

Daphna Baram - journalist for The Independent, Ha’aretz

John Rose – author: “The Myths of Zion”

Fri Israel, Palestine and the British Media 4pm, H0.51 Dr. Mike Berry, author

“Bad News from Israel”

4pm, H0.52

Closing Address: Campaigning for a Free Palestine

Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian Ambassador to the UK

Debke Dancing Evening, the Union

Palestine’s National Dance performed by the Arabic Society

I hope to see you at one of the events. 


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