giovedì, luglio 24, 2008

If we took a holiday, come on, come on . . . oh sorry, we can't.

Well, mes petites pommes de terre, the dream is over. France has jettisoned its 35 hour work week, at least for the white collared types, which they call cadres. I always enjoyed being called cadre when I was working there. Made me feel cool. Anyways, Sarkozy's government has reset the rules so that now businesses can negotiate working time directly with unions and employees from the European Union legal maximum of 282 working days a year. The mathematically astute among you may notice that 282 is rather more than 365 - 104, those 104 days representing the 52 x 2 of the year's Saturdays and Sundays. You see, the European Union maximum is calculated on the idea that you get every Sunday off (so much for the secular society) plus five weeks of holiday, plus May 1, or 365 - (52 + 30+1) = 282.

What relationship do the number of working days have with the 35 hour work week, you may ask? Well, as many of you have no doubt been told by francophobe loonies who don't want to admit that those assholes can do anything right (id est, every US and British news outlet), few white-collared types worth paying white collar wages to can get his or her full workload polished off in a mere 7 hours a day. The law in its old form addressed this by giving about 3 weeks of holiday for cadres on top of the normal five weeks (which, by the way, was calculated on the assumption that both Saturdays and Sundays are not working days), meaning cadres effectively got 8 weeks of vacation a year. Or it was addressed by a 4-day work week for some people, especially lady cadres, which was useful considering most French schools still pursue the stupidity of closing Wednesdays, on the ridiculous, fossilized presumption mothers can afford to stay home and take care of the kids.

So. The idea at the moment is that the 35 hour work week continues to be the 'norm', but that employers can 'negotiate' with individual employees how much more they'll work than that, as compensated overtime instead of as days off beyond the legal minimum of 30 days, Sundays, and May 1. And to rub salt in the wound, a further feature of the legislation passed this week is that now employees only get a 10% bonus instead of a 25% bonus for overtime, more than cancelling out the tax breaks that were introduced in France for overtime pay a couple of months ago.

Some people think that little will change in practice because white-collar types are so in demand and no one will want to lose them; I'd remind those people that the 35 hour work week was introduced 10 years ago because there were so few white-collar jobs around, and it was thought the short week would force employers to hire more people. Hmm. I don't think it will be pretty, and I know it will be double plus unpretty for young people just starting out in the workforce, for whom things are already damn ugly in France. And I know it's just cut the already-dwindling chance of me ever moving back there by about half.

But my favourite parts of the story are elsewhere.

First, in the fact that this first major labour reform that snide little cunt Sarkozy managed has targetted the very people who voted him into power - middle class people in the private sector. The douchebag has thus far had relatively little impact on the truly bloated class that the middle class people in the private sector voted him in to deal with - that is, the public sector. Let this be a lesson to you, French yuppies; someone being from Neuilly does not mean he's on your side.

Second, and the winner, is the fact that a motion this controversial, with this much of an impact on so many people's quality of life, went through without much of a struggle in terms of the massive strikes, demonstrations, et cetera that the French workforce is usually so good at, because Sarkozy, that cunning trolly bastard, timed the vote for the end of July. When everybody concerned was on holiday.

mercoledì, luglio 23, 2008

Periodic adventures

Whilst on vacation, got sick of the Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing on trains. Introduced me to some nice people but I don't like Richard Dawkins, and I started having a hard time stomaching his ubiquitous introductions to the authors, particularly the ones he disagreed with. Okay . . . a lot of them are loons, no doubt . . . but I don't need to be told that by the father of something as looney as the Memeplex. And I don't think it was quite the thing for Oxford to issue what's supposed to be a broad writing compilation that's been edited by a pompous goof whose core ideologies are increasingly being challenged but who's got no hesitation in letting his opinionation shine through unobstructed.

The really good thing about it is that it's convinced me I have to read The Periodic Table. That looks great. And the other really good thing about it is that it convinced me to buy a new book in Barcelona for the train ride back, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I haven't read very many things by Mark Twain, in fact nothing besides The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. His writing gives me the same feeling as a friend of a friend back in Toronto who I always had a feeling I was meant to have an epic sexual encounter with, but something always came up to stop it, like J*Fish (the fucking master of the cockblock - maybe it's just as well he doesn't talk to me anymore) being there, or like me reuniting with my true love and forswearing all others. The feeling, in both cases, is just a sort of disbelief I haven't had that yet.

But while there is now basically zero chance of me ever having that friend of a friend, I can read all the Mark Twain I want . . . it's just that I keep forgetting. I mustn't, and this blog entry must stand to remind me of that. Tom Sawyer was totally charming and I think I have to move into Mark Twain very much big time. The writing is graceful and witty, which is a rare combination.

martedì, luglio 22, 2008

Remembering when Alcopop Lane was Gin Lane

I'm reading a book illustrating yesterday's conclusion – people ain't and ain't never been no good - England in the Age of Hogarth. England in the age of Hogarth was a shithole, and Derek Jarett explores why extremely engagingly and with the ghoulish, obscure primary-sourcing I'm a pig for, illustrating along the way why those people should not be allowed to purchase alcohol 24/7.

It's reminded me that Victorians were Victorian for good reasons, after seeing their parents and grandparents rot to death of syphilis or gin, and it's reminded me that 'women's liberation' wasn't a misnomer. Also convinced me that the adjective 'beshit' must be resurrected. 'Shitty' is great but it's interchangeable with 'bad' and doesn't express that something looks like it's been covered in literal or figurative shit. In the book, beshit came up in the context of Hogarth not liking the appearance of upper-crust French houses – 'all gilt and beshit'. I'm not fond of the French, but a blast of francophobia from a raving limey is enough to make me want us to all get along. Hogarth was as francophobic as they come.

Also, watched Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and liked it full as much as the F-word thought I would. What a nonsense story, like all his movies, but what great characters again, and what a fantastic female lead - Carmen Maura, who Almodovar used again as the mum in Volver. Actresses must cue up to work with him, although it's a true truism that European cinema has better roles for women with agelines than American cinema does. Angela Molina as Clara in Carne Tremula was great as well, as the battered flamenco dancer – forgot to mention that – she's got some damn good lines, and delivery too. He's using her again in Broken Hugs, it seems.

Funny in Women to see Antonio Banderas playing a stuttering nerd with charming subtlety. All the evidence points to him being a good actor, which is amazing after years of seeing him ham it up in execrable American movies. But while Almodovar is famous for the great way he films women, and while his films are littered with simple bad men who get real hurt if they hurt women, he's damn good at filming men too. The cutie who played Victor Plaza in Carne Tremula, Liberto Rabal - that scene while he was in jail staring at Bardem and Neri hugging on television with his chubby suckable lower lip glistening and his eyes smouldering to 'Sufre como yo' . . . oh, convinced tingle. And it would have been so easy to have Bardem's character movie-of-the-week it, what with the paraplegia, and instead we get cunnilingus and 'great, I'll just keep exploiting your guilt complex.'

But in Talk to Her, Marco (Dario Grandetti), the male lead who wasn't fucking the comatose girl, is probably my favourite male movie character ever. In fact, Talk to Her might be my favourite movie ever. It was just perfect. Women wasn't perfect, but it was lots of fun and I became very fond of most of the characters. And the bad simple man, Ivan, was a laugh - look out for the scene towards the beginning where he walks down a street being charming. But Marco is the absolute winner. So sad.

lunedì, luglio 21, 2008

Tuesday morning mounting moral disappointment extravaganza

Hey, all my fellow guinea descendants who are tired of mobster-and-pasta stereotyping - tired of letting ol' Tony Soprano speak for us, especially now that the show's been (belatedly) cancelled - how about a new stereotype? I think we can call it INHUMAN FUCKING CUNTS.

What the fuck is the matter with us, anyways? Any Italian you meet will be able to explain some of the modern unpleasantnesses of our culture by telling you about the years of oppression in the countries they immigrate to and the centuries of oppression in Italy itself, but you know what, assholes? So could the Irish, Spanish, and everybody from Asia, and you don't hear about THEM fucking sunbathing next to children's corpses. Or voting for that grinning cunt-eyed motherfucker Berlusconi. Fuck me.

And while we're on the subject of vicious retardation, how the fuck is this shit legal, let alone vastly profitable? My last job in advertising brought home to me that the moral corruption of the entertainment industry is greater than any hysterical Biblesucker who doesn't like seeing gays kiss could imagine. And my present job is bringing home to me that the way we've been dealing with capital, at least over the last 100 years, is how a clever pan trog chimp would deal with a machine gun. Adam Smith's Invisible Hand does indeed exist; the Market is using it to wank its Invisible Penis, spilling its Invisible Jissom into your coffee, and using its other Invisible Hand to wipe Invisible Tears of laughter from its Invisible Eyes over what a fucking sucker you are.

Sometimes I feel like if there is a Satan, he'd be feeling really redundant these days. Silly to feel that way, of course. People have always found a way to be congratulated for doing bad things, and people have always sought to do bad things not out of naughtiness, but because they seemed the thing to do. People ain't no good. Sigh.

domenica, luglio 20, 2008

Paraplegic pussy nuzzling Sunday matinée spectacular

We took it real easy on Sunday after having drank rather more than we'd planned, and I'm not sure there's an easier fit-for-print way to take it real easy than to watch an Almodovar film during breakfast. In this case, Carne Tremula. The F-word wanted to see it again, and I was agreeable because I usually find his movies really soothing, and because I wanted to see Javier Bardem nuzzle pussy. I think he's got the face for it, and before I'd only seen him in that crappy Fargo brothers thing being a sexless asshole without enough screen time, and in Before Night Falls being gay, if picturesquely so.

The only problem with Carne Tremula is that it made me dislike Volver more, because it made it seem like even more of an anomaly. Talk to Her, All About My Mother, Bad Education, and Carne Tremula - I love them all because they take an utterly ridiculous story and do justice to the characters caught in that story, explore people who'd be one-dimensional if most directors took a crack at them. The F-word pointed out that Almodovar movies have something in common with Tarantino's last few movies, in that when you see a man hurt a woman you can be sure you'll see something awful happen to him soon. But while that seems to be an excuse for Tarantino to tug off over a one-dimensional dominatrix archetype, in an Almodovar film everybody keeps being human beings. Volver, though, was just an utterly ridiculous story with no justice to the characters. Sure, it looked really great - his movies always do. But I didn't give a good goddamn about any of the people in it, whereas in his other movies I've seen I give a good goddamn about the whole ensemble.

In Carne Tremula, that good goddamn went all the way from Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem's mum, who had a brief scene together at the opening of the film, through the two male leads and all the way to Francesca Neri, and not only because of the beautiful way Almoodovar shot her. There's one scene towards the beginning of the movie - the second, you feel, when she falls in love with Bardem's character - that makes her look absolutely unearthly in a beautiful way. And Javier Bardem is one of those ridiculous actors who are geniuses. He plays a paraplegic professional basketball player, and whilst pulling off this massively physical stunt still turns in a great emotional performance. There's a line he delivers at one of the painful emotional climaxes - 'Great, I'll just keep exploiting your guilt complex' - that was so good on his part, and so good from the writer too (who I think was also Almodovar) that I had to laugh.

Anyhow, we'll see the rest of Almodovar's films - the F-word thinks I'll like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and generally he's right about these things. I'm just hoping the new one he's working on, Broken Hugs, isn't as crappy as Volver.