giovedì, febbraio 28, 2008

The Red Dragon is a rolling stone

Heh. Heh. Sarkozy tries to shake the guy's hand, and the guy says 'no, don't touch me', and Sarkozy says 'bugger off then', and the guy says 'you'd dirty me', and Sarkozy says 'bugger off then, you lousy dick'. Heh.

I'd love to go off on how lame the French are for electing this strangely compelling, emotionally unbalanced, foul-mouthed megalomaniac troll into their nation's highest office, or tell you about all the ass-licking ministers who rode to Sarkozy's defence in the media, or about how Sarkozy edited in a pseudo-apology to the 'town hall' interview rather than actually say it out loud, but I am just in too much of a shitter today.

Last night my best girlfriend here told me she'd just been offered a big pile of money to move back to San Francisco. She has quite compelling reasons to do it, aside from the money. Problem is, first, that I'm going to miss her like crazy, and second, that I have abandonment issues. Don't we all, you'd say, quite rightly, and I daresay mine are no worse than others, but they are byzantine enough in their complexity to fill ten pages of tightly-written double-sided foolscap (at a guess). And this is why for the last twelve years of my life I've devoted significant energies to being the abandonner. Ending relationships before the other has a chance. Moving into my own bachelor the second the lease expires. And of course, fucking off to different countries every couple of years.

Well. Brussels is not the town to have those sorts of issues in, because it's a what the yuppier among us call a 'starter town'. Take towns like Toronto, Los Angeles, London, Paris, New York. What they all have in common is that millions of people from smaller towns move there to make money, but the cost of living is so high relative to the salaries that you end up staying there once you're in - both because there's so much to enjoy spending your money on, and because you can't fucking save money, as your rent, et cetera, is so steep.

Brussels isn't like that. The salaries are high for corporate expatriates like me and my colleagues, and RETARDLY high for the international organizations. I have a friend seconded to one of them who's privy to the pay details, and Americans - I think I know where your tax dollars are going. These salaries are disbursed in Francophone Belgium, and don't let all the EU rigamarole and Beethoven's Ninth fool you; Art Nouveau buildings aside, Francophone Belgium is a post-industrial shithole where nobody has any money. I would never consider working in Belgium without an expatriate contract because of the tax burden (50% income tax as soon as you hit Euro 30,000). A tax burden, I might add, which is NOT justified by the level of public services Belgians enjoy. But I've given up ribbing on this country for Lent so I'll move on.

This means expats are making big piles of money in an impoverished country, paying a pittance for their rent and a fraction of what they would in a town like Paris or Amsterdam for amusement. So they make and save lots of money, but few stay on permanently (though the special expat contracts here are open-ended); either something is pulling them back home, or else they're repelled by the weather, angst over pulling in a pay cheque which is absolutely disproportionate to the incomes of the residents of the country they're crashing in, the feeling among those of us of breeding age that the place is crawling with paedophiles, et cetera.

So people stay between two and five years. More than enough time for me to get attached (I've only been here ten months or so), and then in plenty of time to break my little heart by fucking off. I tell you, this town has the conditions to drive me mentalist in a whole new way. It's so transient.

But it has made the F-word and I think a little bit more concretely about when we in turn will fuck off. It will be years, and not months. But that too will come.

mercoledì, febbraio 27, 2008

Dear David Cronenberg:

You totally almost got me there. There were several points during Eastern Promises that I actually thought I was watching a good film. Like that naked fight scene in the steam room that catered to all my filthiest, sickening, buried, maenadic sado-masochistic tendencies, or when the camera lingered on Viggo Mortensen looking cynical and Slavic, or when you showed Vincent Cassel looking closeted-gay and vulnerable behind the alcohol-and-Oedipal-fuelled madness. Even Naomi Watts convinced me that she gave a shit over what was happening from time to time. I really liked her motorbike too. Good for you.

But it was really a bit of fluff, wasn't it? Besides the acting, the best thing I can say about it is that it took advantage of how crazy we all think the Russians are less pretentiously than Martin Amis's last novel. It wasn't pretentious at all, in fact; it was the most Hollywood thing you've ever done - Hollywood in the sense that we need to be swept up by our emotions (Russians are crazy! They can be crazy to nice people too! I could have ended up as a 14 year old prostitute! It's great when pretty people kiss! et cetera), to suspend our disbelief, so that we can be wafted up and over the massive, gaping plotholes.

And David Cronenberg, this is so disappointing for two reasons.

First of all, it's hard to suspend your disbelief when a heroin-addicted 14 year old Russian prostitute who doesn't speak English dictates her diary posthumously in English. And it's hard to suspend your disbelief when all the Russian characters carry out all of their key communication in English, and only switch into Russian for the 'atmospheric' bits we don't need to understand to follow the story, and which you've chosen not to subtitle.

David Cronenberg, have you seen a little movie called The Passion of the Christ? I haven't, because my filthiest, sickening, buried, maenadic sado-masochistic tendencies don't extend to watching snuff films about Jesus. But it did rather well at the box office - Wikipedia says it was the highest grossing R-rated film of all time - even though the whole thing was subtitled. Subtitles are allowed now, David Cronenberg. Why the fuck couldn't you use subtitles? Apparently all the actors could manage to pretend to talk Russian. Why not make them do that, and let us at home suspend our disbelief so that we could ignore all the plotholes better?

Is it because the film played so viciously on stereotypes of Russians that you couldn't get enough Russians involved in its production to pull that one off? Tell me, David Cronenberg. Because you need a fucking excuse.

The other reason that I'm disappointed, David Cronenberg, is because while I've always been a distant fan of your visual style in a revolted sort of way, I have to say I really fucking loved A History of Violence. I thought you'd done something, if not revolutionary, at least really fucking awesome in terms of using your sick visual style in exploring the violent undertones of men and women in a way that was also Hollywood-y, emotionally cathartic, and revelatory of Viggo Mortensen's bum. But Eastern Promises seemed to indicate that was a bit of a one-off. I won't give away the plot twist, since you've asked people not to, but as far as I'm concerned it siphoned off almost all the interest I had in the emotions of the main characters.

Anyways, I still like you better than Atom Egoyan.

All the best,

Mistress La Spliffe

martedì, febbraio 26, 2008

All the serotonin was for nought

So, how about those SSRIs? What fucking gets me about this story, this bit of research, is that it's not really research, beakers-and-burners-speaking. It's a literature review - going over the results of existing clinical trials, either published ones or unpublished ones that had been obtained through that delightful Freedom of Information Act. In other words, the fact that SSRIs don't work except for the most depressed people should be old news. Doctors need to present their excuses for not being aware of this news and for massively overprescribing that shit.

It's nice that the UK health minister was quick on the uptake in terms of announcing injecting all those talky-therapists into the system over the next few years. Which boils down to how this is actually all about me. It's making me think again that Jung school might be viable for me, if public funding changes and the talky therapy starts being a right under a viable health system instead of being a bourgeois institution wherein I'd have to listen to bourgeois people like me talk about their bourgeois problems all day while there are children starving in Africa and women being marginalized in council flats.

Notice I linked to The Independent. It's finally happened. I've turned to reading the last pinko mainstream paper in the Anglophone world, and a kind of boring one at that, because The Guardian has just got too fucking stupid. And it was an article about this issue that tipped me over the annoyance edge. First suggesting the study was only about one brand in the headline (it's also about your old friend Effexor, Baywatch, among others), and then this retardment of a paragraph:

"The only exception is in the most severely depressed patients, according to the authors - Prof Irving Kirsch from the department of psychology at Hull University and colleagues in the US and Canada. But that is probably because the placebo stopped working so well, they say, rather than the drugs having worked better."

Fuck, that's ugly. Ugly. If I wanted ugly, I'd go to work and write an industrial market report for a European ESL audience. In fact, I don't want ugly, but I have to do that now anyways. So the last thing I need is the fucking Guardian uglifying my life even more.

lunedì, febbraio 25, 2008

Why Ralph Nader is a fucking dick

You know what's hilarious, like, Russia-hilarious, about the United States? Even the Lebanese laugh at it and, you know, their country's been blown up. It's the absolutely unrepresentative nature of the national executive structure. And until this structure is changed, third parties in the presidentials are tools the two main parties welcome with open arms, and Ralph Nader is a fucking dick.

The reason third, fourth, fifth, sixth, et cetera parties count in normal, functioning democracies isn't simply because they exist; it's because of their ability to form coalition governments with larger parties and shape policy through these coalitions. This way they demonstrate their effectiveness, and then win or fail to win the trust of the electorate. But in the U.S. presidentials, you're voting for a president and a vice president - one winner. Votes that go to candidates from a third party are gone forever. Sometimes that works out for the Democrats (like when Ross Perot split the dingbat vote), and sometimes for the Republicans (when Ralph Nader being a fucking dick in 2000 helped them mask that the recounts weren't making sense).

Either way these marginal third parties are something that the two main ones welcome and incorporate into their electoral strategies, in terms of dealing with each other - not in terms of how it works in France, for example. France features multi-party presidential elections followed by a two-party run-off election, in which the smaller parties that don't make it into the run-off still manage to frame the debate there by endorsing the best of the front-runners, for example, or by forcing the front-runners to adopt part of their platform to capture new run-off voters. Ralph Nader does not frame the debate. Ross Perot did not frame the debate. When there is only one winner in an ideologically blah, one-run system, all a third party does is make the party least like it more likely to win. There is no scope for debate-framing for smaller parties in a one-off presidential run - the scope is limited to vote-splitting.

That's hilarious. It means that not only is voting for a third party a way of participating in the strategy of the two main parties, but also that voting for a third party is an utterly ineffective way of seeking electoral reform, which the United States is in such crazy need of, because it's participating so effectively in the strategy of the two main parties. And thus the absolutely unrepresentative nature of the national executive structure suffers zero challenge.

So far, so already covered by dozens of 'center-left' broadsheets. But surely calling Ralph Nader a fucking dick is slightly harsh? No. He's a fucking dick and I don't trust him as far as I can throw him.

The thing is, though the United States is one of the more fucked up of the major democratic systems, they do have some of the 'checks and balances' that they claim to have, or at least they have Congress. Theoretically, at least, voting blocks can be formed in those houses, and, say, the Green Party could have a major voice in terms of passing and funding legislation, or a large-ish independent party with even a few congressmen could make major electoral reform part of its platform and bargain aggressively for it through their coalition or voting agreements. That's how non-direct democracy works, when it works. Messy and sometimes effective.

So why does Nader silently hold his hose during the congressionals? Why not found or find a party he can run with or endorse, why not make some goddamn speeches or something during the congressionals, if not run? Why not give up trying to raise the cash to run for the president and devote that cash to running a viable party in the congressionals? Why not pursue a long-term plan to form a national party that the electorate will find credible instead of throwing in his own little hat every time the presidentials roll around? In short, why not make one of his vaunted bids for democratic reform when reform is actually possible, instead of during the presidentials, when it isn't?

I haven't met the man so I can only guess. None of the guesses do him credit. And all of them, at their fundament, boil down to him being a fucking dick.

domenica, febbraio 24, 2008

Quirk you, buddy

Funny mood all weekend. I think I might be going mad, in part because there was a five second space on Sunday when the words donkey and monkey had exactly the same significance for me. Otherwise, cooked and wrote a lot, had some friends over, realized that the reefer butter works now, and spent the maximum time outside enjoying springtime, which it now indisputably is; I'll put up some pictures later to illustrate and annoy for those of you still living in snowbound frozen climes.

At some point in the weekend finished reading The Happy Islands of Oceania, the Paul Theroux book about paddling around in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia until he gets over being divorced and finds a new life in Hawaii. The story may be a bit banal as far as narratives go but the anecdotes, as always with his travel books, are great. It's taken me a long time to get through it, having started in January, but it kept getting pre-empted by other books, including Theroux's The Stranger at the Palazzo d'Oro, which I finally gave up on. There is a way, which certainly isn't just Theroux's way, of writing about sex that annoys me - that by adding an element of ugliness or absurdity that amounts to quirkiness, even really hot and heavy sex can stop being pornography and can be taken more seriously. But it's no more real than pornography, no more descriptive, though to me much more annoying.

In this way of annoying writing about sex, besides the odd absurd or ugly detail, depending on the gender of the author the rest of the prose follows with such punctiliousness either the Great Male Fantasy (overwhelming female excitement over how great it is that they get to fuck the man in question) or the Great Female Fantasy (surrender of control to a competent lover) with such heat, such a lack of self-consciousnesses, and such utter respect for sexual convention that the absurd or ugly details feel absolutely tacked on; something to convince us that we're not just reading the transcription of the author whacking off.

The problem is that I've got no problems reading a hot whack-off fantasy, especially from a good writer. And I've got not problems reading an account of a perverse encounter, or a disappointing encounter, or a hilarious encounter. But what gets annoying is when authors try to make hot whack-off fantasies quirky. Hot sex isn't quirky. Jesus.