Monday, August 15, 2011

UK car thieves won't stoop to stealing the Ford Ka

(This post first appeared on the AGU intranet The Core)

Car thieves have standards. They take pride in their work. Consequently, they seek out vehicles that speak volumes about their aspirations and their status in society.

According to UK insurance data, the Ford Ka is the car least likely to be pinched. A reformed and now thoroughly upstanding member of respectable society and, oh yeah, erstwhile burglar weighed in on why the Ka is so unthievable:

"A Ford Ka is not very likely to be stolen as thieves will view them as cheap, with no power, and no street cred among thieves."

So one would expect the cars that disappear from car parks and parking spaces most frequently to be hot hatchbacks, sleek paragons of German engineering, or dreamy Italian supercars. Er... no. The car most frequently stolen is the not so fast and furious Toyota Yaris! Seems like car thieves have high standards of reliability, fuel economy, and road handling, too!

Read a full article at the Guardian newspaper's website.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Morbid Bleakness (in Real-3D in selected cinemas)

Returning from the trenches of the First World War, Raymond Pennyworth and his shell-shocked younger brother Thomas find their Lancashire hometown not as it once was. The streets seem duller and more hopeless than before. Lacking work, the pair spends their days dismally walking the streets.

They see that despondency and sadness have captured the spirits of every person they encounter. Grief-stricken women weep openly on the omnibus, the faraway horror-shaken stares of fellow men are unbearably familiar to them.

Raymond recognises that Thomas' once-promising career as an apprentice draughtsman is over. Thomas is scarcely able to sleep, so terror-riven are his dreams. Their parents can't bring themselves to face the fact that the fields of Flanders changed their sons forever, so full of pride and denial are mother and father. And Raymond can’t yet face the most painful truth: Caught up in Raymond’s patriotic fervor Thomas was not of military age and lied so he could enlist and join his brother in defeating the Boche.

Their young sister, Tabitha, dreaming of the Bright Young Things she reads about in her tittle-tattle magazines, thinks Raymond and Thomas are just silly boys who just need a good night-out on the town. Tabitha takes them to a dancehall in nearby Oldham, where local 'jass' sensation Dick Skive and his Thighslapping Five play the latest sounds from Chicago, Kansas City, New Orleans, and Rochdale.

Drinking heavily and tapping to syncopated crazy rhythms of "The Tewkesbury Rag", "Fidgety Clogs", and "Take Me By The Mill-Race", Raymond's mood cheers in the course of the evening, especially after a sultry Hathershaw lass comes onto him. As Raymond takes the girl in his arms, he suddenly breaks away seized by an arresting memory of a mildly homosexual encounter one night while sheltering under fire in a bombcrater. He grabs Thomas from the bench where he has spent the evening rocking manically to his own rhythms of self-revulsion and stormily they force-march themselves homeward through driving, midnight rain.

Waking his parents Raymond declares his intention to leave and seek a new life for himself and Thomas over the Pennines in the promised land of Yorkshire and its wind-bleakened hill farms. Father, disgusted at his son's blasphemy, utters a curse that will beset Raymond and Thomas for the brief rest of their days...

Critics rave about Morbid Bleakness

"Their tears were real, so will yours be!"

Morbid Bleakness is a powerful film! By the end I felt shellshocked!”

"The Real-3D depiction of Oldham makes the place seem almost habitable!"

Monday, June 13, 2011

Yonnet's funky harmonica at 2011 DC Jazz Fest

Frederic Yonnet brings his harmonica funk out into the audience. Photo: Paul Cooper

Harmonica player Frederic Yonnet bounded onto the stage at the 2011 DC Jazz Fest. Yonnet's Sunday afternoon set was part of the Jazz on the National Mall event, at the Sylvan Theater in the shadow of the Washington Monument. For nearly an hour Yonnet and his four band members kept the funk flowing and the energy sizzling.

Yonnet is a showman first and foremost. Every gesture he makes while playing his harmonica is huge: he leans forward nigh-on horizontal from the waist as he screeches a high blues note or extends an arm wide out from his body, fingers stretched, to express heart-felt emotion. Though the venue had two jumbotrons set up, everyone in the crowd, no matter how far back, could immediately get what Yonnet was expressing.

Yonnet's playing is stuffed full of startling technique. His harmonica can pop like a funk bass, growl like a distorted guitar, snap like a snare, and glissando like a stately violin. But most of the time, Yonnet plays the harmonica in familiar blues vamps.

What's refreshing about Yonnet is his enthusiasm for his instrument and for bringing the fun to his audience. Early on in his set he asked us to forget worries: To forget what happened earlier this week, forget what happened yesterday, forget what happened this morning. We were to all just enjoy the music. (Over-reading a wink in his eye when he asked us to forget what happened earlier this week, I thought he was referring to the fall from grace of New York Representative Anthony Weiner.) He was persuasive; many of the audience accompanied his grooves with clapping on the second and fourth beats as suggested.

Twice Yonnet came down from the stage and played while walking through the audience. The first time Yonnet's bass player followed him, both wired up to radio mics so everyone could hear. You can see the crowd who gathered around them in the photo. As he moved across the area he got audience members out of their lawn chairs or off their beach towels to dance with him as he played, or tried on their hats, or in one case got cheek-to-cheek with one lady and took a photo of the two of them (now probably posted as a prized Facebook snap).

Yonnet schooled the audience a little towards the end of his set about how the harmonica is typically heard, in blues and rock, and asked if we'd heard him play anything more than that. Someone shouted out that she'd heard 'all music'. That's overly generous, but certainly Yonnet encouraged me to see more potential in the instrument. Above all Yonnet’s enthusiasm made his audience forget cares and lose themselves in his formidable playing.

Visit Yonnet's website for upcoming appearances!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

They’re not so different now, and that’s not good.

The royal wedding on Friday 29th April 2011 should be the monarchy’s final act. As soon as the nuptial landau leaves the Abbey, the Queen should thank everyone for turning up or tuning in and, with a gracious wave, say that it’s all over. No one will then begrudge them their blow-out wedding parties in the sure knowledge that an unjustifiably vestigial part of society is finally doing the decent thing, self-immolation - noblesse oblige indeed!

First principles

Monarchies are predicated on being different, superior to their subjects. By definition, a monarchy is not of the people, egalitarian, or an equal opportunity employer. If a monarchy can make any claim to authority, that authority usually involves God. The monarch has been singled out by God for a special duty – preservation of a nation and a land.

A divine analogy

Compare the language of the King James Bible with that of the Good News Bible. The King James has majesty and awe that inspires devotion and admiration even from atheists. The Good News is fish and chip wrapping in comparison. The monarchy should not be people you fancy having a pint with. You should sense myth about them; you should feel tremulous in their presence. They are legend, while the most you can make is history.

Monarchy needs to be separate from its lumpen subjects in order to maintain the myth. Fawning articles about Will and Kate’s ordinariness break that foundational illusion. Of course they’re human beings, but constantly letting us know how like us they are surely makes us question why we should bother holding them in high esteem at all. I don’t tug my forelock at my doctor though I respect her acumen and rely on her expertise; why should I bow before exorbitantly funded mediocrities who fanny about in Klosters and witlessly prattle on about darlings and parties?

Return on investment?

Despite the UK national debt being over 900 billion pounds and the government eviscerating social services, hospital funding, and higher education with austerity measures, the UK taxpayer still has to fork out tens of millions each year for the royal family (‘the civil list’). We’re subsidizing their lavish lifestyle as our own well-being evaporates. At least have the decency not to patronize us that we’re equals!

The end apparent

Everyone has known for at least a decade that the end was coming. The collapse started as everyone lost their minds in indecorous grief at Princess Diana’s death. How suddenly the population forgot the snide comments about her fad-hopping: from colonic irrigation to consulting of astrologers - Diana wasn’t much different from Edwina in Absolutely Fabulous, though unquestionably less amusing (unless one casts Sarah Ferguson as Bubble!).

Charles didn’t help those trying to make a case for sustaining the monarchy. His list of missteps is at least as long as his ex-wife’s: with his ill-informed judgments on architecture; his misguided conversations with potatoes; his ill-chosen guru, Laurens van der Post; and his ill-judged comments about the form in which he would like to be reborn (=a feminine hygiene product). Rather than engendering respect, the pair were begging for mockery - not the typical English vice, but they asked for it.

The Charles and Diana marriage, plump with pratfalls, well-informed leaks, and attempts to malign each other was so obviously a cock-up that no one could sanely hold on to the fiction that the royal family was above us, divinely ordained. The high-toned pageant of the ages had descended into an ineptly scripted, tawdry soap opera.

The common touch and relevancy

The Queen has recognized that the charade is up for quite a while now. Her annus horribilis Guildhall address in1992 was a conspicuous attempt to illicit sympathy. It was as though she was asking her subjects to forget class distinction and divine right of monarchs. The queen wanted us to see her as the head of a dysfunctional family, coping with multiple divorces and trying to get the insurance company to hurry up with the reimbursement cheque to start repairs on her recently burned down house. “Feel sorry for me,” said Liz, “if you had the family I have, you too would be wallowing in the gin by now.”

But the Queen is not the head of a household; according to sources she’s the CEO and COO of the Firm. If her employees were screwing up (and around), it was her responsibility to terminate their employment, as Henry VIII would have done. The squabbling between Charles and Diana and their proxies proliferated into a slew of media-driven [noun]-gate stories (Squidgygate being one of the more memorable ones) and simpering interviews with media flacks like Martin Bashir.

The House of Windsor’s clumsy attempt to achieve damage control by claiming relevancy and partial equality to the people left out one critical element: accountability. The firm forgot that it is part of a compact with the nation. The consequence was that the British never saw them as serious, committed superiors and lapped up ever more laughably squalid tales. The Waleses and their enablers saw each press-pack as an opportunity to overshare, as if by oversharing they could encourage sympathy and tolerance of their foibles. How mistaken they were! The British don’t have a word for Schadenfreude but the nation experienced it every time one of the Firm gaffed or gossiped. How the mighty (whose antics and opulent lifestyles we have to pay for) are falling over themselves! What idiots! Laughing at them alleviated the pain of paying the enormous costs of keeping the House of Windsor in limousines and luxury!

Diana’s children as distraction

Diana’s children were a way for the Firm to kid the nation into accepting a hamfisted common touch. The world watched William and Harry grow up without their mother (or for some, Diana was angelically guiding them). One would have to be pretty cold-hearted not to feel bad for the boys. William especially seemed to be pushed out in front of his father, whose fatuousness seemed to increase daily.

Rather than attempt to convince her subjects that Charles would ever become king, the Firm prodded us into thinking that wholesome William would be the next monarch. Charles’ payoff was being permitted to marry the third person in his previous marriage, Camilla. William took up Diana’s mantle of conspicuous charity and good works (Harry went in more for high jinx and high explosives). At school and college William far exceeded his parents. At the University of Saint Andrews the House of Windsor’s downward stooping trajectory from aristocratic aloofness towards relevancy coincided with the Middleton family’s upward social movement from cabin crew to ladies-in-waiting. Kate Middleton was cast in the role her mother could never have - princess.

“I once was a stewardess now I am going to be the king’s mother-in-law”

The House of Windsor is unaware of a glaring inconsistency. By permitting a parvenu member of the middle classes into the highest echelon of society (and one with such a family history of shameless social climbing), the Firm has denied that the monarchy deserves any reverence or deference whatsoever.

Previously, monarchs and their houses were held in highest esteem because of their aloofness and their nigh-on otherworldly lives and pursuits. Shorn of such esteem, why should one bow and scrape? Without the veneer of majesty, isn't Buckingham Palace but a costly public housing complex?

In its zeal for relevance and acceptance the Firm fell into the trap of making finding a wife for the heir into a reality tv programme, The Consort. Of course the tabloids became gluttons for this reality show narrative - Kate’s tenacity and aspirations summed up in the moniker, Waity Katie. Not entirely a result of showing off her boyish body in a revealing dress at a student fashion show the determined girl from the Party Bag family won the contest and got the ring. But had any of the other players been as strategic, tactical, and above all, tenacious, Wills could have been wed to a hodcarrier’s daughter or a stockbroker’s girl.

Royal marriages were once dynastic allegiances and political bargaining. How much more indication of political and societal irrelevance that the House of Windsor settled for a girl whose preeminent qualities are persistence and self-delusion?

Supposing she genuinely loves William for who he is and not for what he is, wouldn’t she work with him to find the best way out of this inept indefensibly privileged family? That would be genuine modernization rather than the Firm’s pandering to the demands of a public trained to be distracted away from hardship and joblessness with dreams of effortless celebrity and unrealistic aspirations.

The after party

So what if the Queen doesn’t dissolve the monarchy after the ceremony is over? What’s ahead for the Firm? Well, Kate does bring some fresh genetic material into the monarchy; but it’s hardly fair or conceivable that she alone will be able to engender some intellect and hybrid vigour in the gene-pool of barely-even mediocrities.

Nature can’t do all the work, nurture has a substantial role to play. In a toff environment where intelligence is not desirable (count all the Tim-Nice-But-Dims and Henwiettas), what hope can any offspring have for more than shallow lives in gilded cages? If they are truly favoured, they will be sufficiently imbecilic to be unaware of their role within the inevitable crumbling of a vestigial irrelevance.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008