Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Simplicity put on...

 ...is a subtle imposture (La Rochefoucauld).

I have, once again, completed The Sun Also Rises, that novel with an oddly numinous connection to my own existence, taking greater note on this occasion of Book Three than perhaps I have ever done before. 

Written in that slender, almost diaristic style, it should not, on paper at least, be so affecting. 
 

 

For instance, there's a set of descriptions of Jake's brief stay in San Seb. His swim on La Concha, out to a raft, long before the beach was commandeered by surfers. 

As a roller came I dove, swam out under water, and came to the surface with all the chill gone. I swam out to the raft, pulled myself up, and lay on the hot planks. A boy and girl were at the other end. The girl had undone the top strap of her bathing-suit and was browning her back. The boy lay face downward on the raft and talked to her.

Again, on paper, this would seem to be a discardable interlude. Cohn has himself by then been ruthlessly discarded, yet the novel had opened with the suggestion it would be his story. 

I find these passages mesmerising, like the finest travel writing yet carrying the kind of punch that form rarely carries, because Jake is here articulating an aftermath, and all the emotion therewith is somehow cunningly camouflaged within those paragraphs. 

The way he perceives the travelling dust once he finds himself alone again in Bayonne strongly reminds me of the strangely anguished connection with the recent past I felt when I saw a tiny clump of sand on the carpet in front of the pedals in my car, having only recently returned from a truly memorable gathering in Cornwall in 2003...
At the hotel I paid the driver and gave him a tip. The car was powdered with dust. I rubbed the rod-case through the dust. It seemed the last thing that connected me with Spain and the fiesta.

 


 

Delta Sigma Phi

5000 members of this crowd of 53,000 in Cornwall tested positive afterwards — and with a trendy new sub-cepa of Delta which has been dubbed the 'Festival' variant.

I'm thinking that If we can have sub-variants with descriptive, even geographical names, it sort of defeats the object of the whole Greek alphabet lark. Though I suppose there is the danger that all emerging covid threats start to sound like frat houses.

The Duchy is reportedly now host to eight out of the top ten covid hotspots in England.



Such a gathering strikes me as an ill-conceived idea this summer, even for the young and vaccinated. Yet when I was in Manhattan in June this was going on in the lobby and lounge of my hotel...



It possibly adds some fuel to the suggestion in the NYT today that some of the apparent waning effectiveness in vaccine protection can be put down to socio-demographic factors and associated risk-on behaviours.

That did appear to me to be a potential issue with the recent data dump from Israel.

Not only, as I mentioned here, the fact that those with strong natural immunity inevitably represented a sub-set of survivors, but also the possibility that the groups being measured feature conflicting age-groups.

However, it may well be that the key to understanding this is that more affluent Israelis, who were over-represented in the early jabbings, have since reverted to a pattern of behaviour which possibly doesn't work out in the best interests of the whole society.



The White Lotus (HBO)

We both loved this series and kind of miss it already. A further confirmation of my afán for stories set in hotels, a topic I have covered here before, I seem to recall. 

The incidental music could have been scored for my life. 


I've stayed in a similar all-inclusive detention centre, 'tastefully' furnished and ornamented to within an inch of its life just the one time, and then not entirely out of choice, as I was attending a wedding. The horror, the horror...


Poor, multi-tasked Armond


However, to borrow from one of the show's own metaphors, the core of onion was reached a little too quickly and turned out to be a a tad less satisfying than the outer layers. 

And I struggled to see how the Mossbachers had avoided having one of these omnishambolic vacations every single year of their existence as a family unit. 

And WTF with the duvets? 



This pair: Nietzsche and Freud


Without any prior dalliance on
IMDB I had built what I think is a fairly accurate psych profile of the writer-creator (Mike White), wafting like an invisible extra protagonist in the drama. 

Overall the female characters were drawn less sympathetically, with the possible exception of Belinda, but that had more to do with the way she was played by Natasha Rothwell than the lines she was given. 

Armond was a strange amalgam of different roles in a premium establishment like this — Manager, Head Concierge, Maître d. His fate was the one we followed most keenly as that of a possible second series seemed to hang on it. 



Quick trivia quiz everyone: Neighbours or Home & Away?
And, name the poet. (Hint, he would not have spelled Labour that way.)


They haven't got around quite yet to a modern reboot of
The Love Boat for cinema. If they do, it surely would have to be along these sort of lines, wouldn't it? 


Friday, August 27, 2021

Biosecurity with Jackboots

The cover article in The Spectator this week refers to Australia as Prison Island, and quotes the late, great Clive James: “The problem with Australians is not that so many of them are descended from convicts, but that so many of them are descended from prison officers.”

Two thirds of resident Australian subjects are currently in lockdown — roughly 18m people, the equivalent of the entire Guatemalan population. 

This week new infections reached a peak around 1000 per day, in other words around half the level Guatemala was reporting at Easter when things were just ticking over here. So, not too serious, but Delta has arrived and seems unlikely to be controlled now by the state-level prison officers. 

A friend in Melbourne bemoaned to me this week how even stricter measures appeared to be in the offing, yet her family are already under a 9pm curfew, unable to move more than 5km, limited to two hours of exercise, prohibited from participating in gatherings, and both kindergartens and schools are closed, while only the most essential shops remain open.

Some of these measures may flatten the curve, as we used to say, but there is a political as well as medical logic behind them, as national and regional elected officials preen and joust. 

The strategy of retreating into a plastic bubble for shortish period, then to emerge once the rest of the world has finished getting sick and dying seemed like a good one in 2020, but has now been rather cruelly exposed.

The global pandemic has lasted longer than they bargained for and the consequences of having to respond in the way western countries did many months ago could be severe. My friend is deeply worried whether her son (Year 8) will ever recover from the lost schooling. 

38,000 Aussies remain stranded abroad as the government is enforcing a quota on arrivals and a fortnight of mandatory quarantine costing around $3000 per person. 

For anyone not a member of the Afghan women's football team, just finding a plane headed for Aus right now is going to be tricky and it would seem that one has to be content to remain indefinitely at whichever large city one arrives at, given that special permission is needed for any lateral movement. 

And leaving is currently harder than returning.

The Guardian Football Weekly's Max Rushden has just moved over there with his Australian wife and is doing the required time. Yesterday he hosted the pod from his quarantine hotel and reported that each morning his wife suggests 'let's go for a walk' and they both laugh.  

In the above-mentioned piece Alexander Downer writes about the situation  with vaccines...

"As things stand, only about 32 per cent of Australians over the age of 16 have had two vaccinations, vs 77 per cent in the UK and 58 per cent in America. It’s not as though Australia has missed out on receiving vaccines: AstraZeneca had a deal to make its Covid jab in Melbourne. But the rollout was derailed by concerns over blood clots. In fact, only seven Australians out of the seven million who have been jabbed with AstraZeneca have died from blood clotting: one in a million. But a little-known body called the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation said the AZ jab should only be used by the over-fifties, then raised that to over-sixties. Now all over-18s have been told to get the shot, but the damage has been done. The fuss played straight into the hands of anti-vaxxers. There is a stockpile of some six million AZ jabs in Melbourne." 

However, few of the commentators on the Aussie debacle have mentioned that it is currently winter down under. Seasonality may cut them a break later this year around the time that the northern hemisphere discovers if boosters are really necessary. 

I have a pet theory that the UK's comparatively admirable position this summer is down to its near unique pandemic history of having got 2020 badly wrong and 2021 relatively right. The screw-ups last year permitted a spread of natural immunity amongst the younger age-groups which has handily complemented the vaccination programme, leaving all but a tiny majority with no antibodies at all. 

And there are indications from Israel that natural immunity is important (even if it means surrendering a few IQ points!). 

A study carried out by Maccabi Healthcare Services, examined three groups. The first consisted of individuals that had had both doses of Pfizer without ever having tested positive. The second of the unvaccinated infected and the third of the single-jabbed who had previously been infected. 

And, slightly alarmingly, they found that overall, the previously-infected had a better chance of avoiding hospital. One has to assume however that this group consisted of people who had survived the disease the first time around, so in that sense the result is a tad skewed.  

But they also found that twice-jabbed, previously-uninfected people were 13 times more likely to get covid than people with some kind of natural antibody protection. 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Reminiscence (2021)

 



This Italian poster is suggestive of the chin-scratching potential of this movie. Granular time. Call in Carlo Rovelli...

Unfortunately Lisa Joy’s feature debut is textbook disappointing.

Visually, and to some extent intellectually, it appears to have much to offer. But all this is smothered by the unfledged flow of the drama and the frustrating blobbiness of the characters.  

Perhaps then, no surprise that the writer-director is the producer of Westworld. (And she's borrowed a pair of her favourite demi-humans.) 

I suppose in essence this is The Drowned World meets Who Framed Roger Rabbit? It made me think of Kim Novak in Vertigo as compared to Rebecca Ferguson here, playing a slightly less 3D version of Jessica Rabbit. 

On paper the plots of these movies would both sound contrived and silly. Yet, during first viewing, Hitchcock made me engage with his protagonist and his dilemma in a manner that I sorely missed here. 

Sadly the sci-fi noir storytelling clichés end up completely inhibiting the narrative in Reminiscence, which is an utter shame, and throughout the running time I found myself longing for more of the background, those incredible set piece vistas of inundated Miami, rather than the distraction of the mopey femme fatale journal at the forefront. 





The Scooter-Bazooka


A rather 'targeted' model of the classic Vespa adapted for peculiarly French needs... like the Renault Twingo.

I've checked, but Max in La Antigua has no plans to stock.


Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Hedonics

Alfred North Whitehead is often (mis-)quoted as observing that western philosophy consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.

In a more general sense, the whole of western civilisation strikes me as an (albeit interesting) appendix to the glass of red wine, plate of cheese and bowl of olives, e.g. a collection of 'nice-to-haves'.
I read recently how archaeologists have unearthed amphorae at Tintagel in Cornwall dating to the late fifth century — when all around the world was in ruins — which show signs of having contained wine and olive oil. Nearby were found some examples of fine tableware of the same period.
Maybe they no longer had underfloor heating or built-in plumbing, yet such things are not necessarily prerequisites for the good life — just as long as that boatload of goodies kept coming from the Med every so often.
Instead of learning to make bullets, Eugene in The Walking Dead should be producing CHEESE.




Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Publicity

The small print added to the State of Calamity in Guatemala, via a rather tedious public announcement on Saturday evening, included provisions for penalising any 'publicity' deemed to be geared towards the spreading of panic. Vague enough to be used in ways that it shouldn't, you might surmise. 

A more thoughtful administration might also have considered discouraging the promotion of activity likely to lead to the polar opposite of panic, carefree gregariousness. 

I don't want to sound like a total kill joy here, but the current restrictions require a sacrifice from almost everybody. The existing models suggest Guatemala will be reporting in excess of 200 deaths per day by Halloween — if nothing changes — and this week our local state-run hospital reported itself to be chocka

In such circumstances it is easier to suck up the fact that I cannot walk my dog in the deserted street outside my house after 10pm. But pardon my resentment if local hospitality businesses are actively promoting irresponsible social mingling earlier in the evening, often with freebies, at the same time this blanket curfew is in place. 

I understand that they have a basic need, if not a right, to make a living. But active publicity is a different thing, as we see already in the case of harmful products like cigarettes or with any advertising directed at vulnerable groups like children. 

And in the end it could be self-defeating, as the way we are going right now we could well see another more draconian ley seca imposed from 6pm before the wet season is through. 

And then nobody will be able to buy even a can of Modelo along with their paracetamol at Fenix, and we will all be moaning even more about government heavy-handedness

What we need right now are more targeted restrictions which aim to limit the obvious spreading opportunities. We are told that 50-60% of the spread is coming from unnecessary social interaction, but it would be useful to know how that breaks down. How much of this is 'in public' for example, at bars, at churches and so on. 

England went all out with a straightforward cap on the numbers of people who could meet both indoors and out and enforced it. I cannot see that working here, but surely it is not beyond the authorities in Guatemala to actively discourage events featuring large-ish gatherings of people who could use the excuse of consumption to remove their masks, particularly those that deliberately suck in out-of-towners? 

And instead of sending in pick-up loads of men and women in black boots once things are in full swing, a set of measures to stifle the publicity would be a good place to start. 



Monday, August 23, 2021

The Green Knight (2021)

Any would-be film adapter of the Arthurian cycles has some interesting choices to make. Should this world look more like the Dark Ages or perhaps the period nine centuries later when the 'romances' were thriving. Should it look like the Middle Ages or how the Middle Ages saw themselves? Should it be more Celtic, English or French in sensibility? 





I think David Lowery has found a happy enough medium here. I particularly liked the way The Lord's castle where Gawain finds himself tarrying resembles one of those buildings in late medieval illuminated manuscripts, the graphical novels of the genre.

Yet if anything, it's the feel rather than the look that is all-important. The more successful and memorable renderings of Arthurian lore are explicitly weird and oneiric to the point of disturbing — Excalibur (1981), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Wagner's Parsifal (1882), the original 1973 adaptation of Gawain etc. — whilst those that treat these tales as straight, if bogus history are almost always immediately discardable. 

I'd be lying if I said I didn't suffer from spontaneous recall of this scene during my viewing of The Green Knight


'Now we see the violence inherent in the system...'


That movie was as much homage as spoof, rather like Don Quixote, a work we know Terry Gilliam has a particular fixation on. 

And Terry Jones was deeply immersed in the absurdist tropes of the chivalric quest, having written both a convincing de-bunking of the self-image of Chaucer's knight and the screenplay for Labyrinth (1986).  
 
Full disclosure: I too am a total fanboy having spent much of my youth devouring this stuff from the original texts through to the various nineteenth century poetic re-imaginings.

Lowery brings his own package of ironies and dark humour to his script. The 'go and get my head' sequence in this movie is the one that has the most overt Pythonesque overtones, with some deliciously dry lines written for Winifred in particular. 

There is much of the same playfulness we witnessed in A Ghost Story (2017), where the director had the recently-deceased Casey Affleck haunting his former residence covered in a white sheet. 


Dual-roled Alicia Vikander



In most of the significant categories that receive awards at the Oscars this movie is excellent. There are captivating performances from just about everyone with a speaking part and there really can have been no better choice for the role of Gawain than Dev Patel. 

But it also has qualities which cannot be hinted at by IMDB listings and I would hesitate to provide any sort of detailed exegesis here, as much as I would with say Parsifal

Beyond the fact that for the anonymous author of the source poem Gawain was pure, yet just dishonest enough to survive the game, and Lowery appears to be suggesting an inversion of that disposition in his update. 

He has understood that there is no authorised version of these stories sitting there waiting to be remade. Every incremental adaptation has added something new or borrowed. 

And this one is beautiful. 





At the end of his review for the New York Times A.O.Scott suggests that a second viewing is almost mandatory. 

And it's true that we do now feel this need to circle back as it is only at the conclusion that Lowery provides the (almost) finished key to understanding how he has moved beyond medieval allegory into more modern dilemmas and ambiguities. 

Yet if we do watch it again, we'll be partaking of a privilege one never has with actual dreams, especially those that appeared to make an urgent kind of sense whilst we were asleep, yet rather less so the moment the credits had rolled. 



Pax Romana

I suppose I had long assumed that the Roman legions departed Britain in the fifth century in much the same way that western armies have now abandoned Afghanistan — packing up quietly in the night and making for the exits with barely a 'seeya, wouldn't wanna be ya', in effect leaving the locals to get on with the Dark Ages.


Truth is, it was a more complex and drawn-out process. 

It all began with what we now tend to refer to as a humanitarian crisis. Various Germanic tribal types had been living fairly peacefully at the edges of empire yet suddenly found themselves ruthlessly attacked in the rear by rampaging horse-borne Huns. The Romans kindly allowed the Goths safe passage over the border into full citizenship-land, and were very soon rueing that decision. 

The endemic insecurity provided by all these poorly-assimilated barbarians in the west led to some chopping and changing of the executive arm and its associated administrative hub, which shifted from Trier to Milan and back, with the imperial mint eventually settling in Ravenna, notably distant from our island. 

Britania had benefitted from close ties to the elite in Trier, then part of Gaul. As political and economic power was shunted further away, the province suffered. When London stopped minting coins in the late fourth century, the quantity of currency in circulation dropped off and one can assume the legionaries were not getting paid quite so formally or with the same regularity. 

The coins that do turn up in the archaeological record from after the start of the fifth century tend to have been clipped, presumably in order to recycle the edges into additional currency, such that the money ancient Brits had for their housekeeping was steadily shrinking in size. 




Industry was simultaneously collapsing with basic manufactured items like decent pottery and iron nails starting to vanish. 

This week, various high-minded Tory types with direct personal experience of the war in Afghanistan have been remonstrating about our apparently sudden withdrawal over there, making comparisons with the relative patience involved in other 'missions', such as Korea*. 

But on the Korean peninsula the Americans have been providing the same service that the Roman legions had in ancient Britain — peacekeeping — pretty much the opposite of what they have been up to much of the time in Afghanistan. And one must not forget that in the case of imperial subjects like us Brits, it was the local not the Italian taxpayers paying for all this pax, and as part of the deal they could not carry their own weapons.

The Roman armies began to depart Britain in chunks, not so much because they were ordered to, but because they kept rebelling against the big boss and marching off with their own alternative candidate, never to properly return. 

And that brought an all too obvious end to the Roman end of the bargain; peace. 

So then the civilians in turn revolted, declaring their distaste for central government in ways we are currently very familiar with, expelling Roman magistrates and setting up a plethora of their own alternative, rather localised systems — 'self-governing administrative units' familiar from shows like The Walking Dead, many fronted by despots. 'The King of the North' back then was one Coelius, 'Old King Cole' of the rhyme. 

Eventually, a final belated appeal was made to the emperor Honorius, who told the Brits to ede faecam, and thus ended the Roman era in Britain. 

I realise now that I am probably drawn to the parts of history where nobody can really say definitively what was going on. We can only really surmise how total the failure of civil society ultimately became at that time. It seems fairly certain that the clippety-clop of three of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse could be heard around the land, with a fourth, Conquest, very much on his way in the form of pagan Saxons. 

The idea of hiring a splinter group of these, famously led by a pair known to the legend as Henghist and Horsa, in order to help repel the raiders from overseas and up north turned out not to be a particularly good one — though the Brits had some military success at the close of the century (i.e Mons Badonica, 490), which eventually coagulated into the myth of King Arthur and Camelot. Some more on that another day, when I review The Green Knight. 

The Saxons took longer than the Taliban to complete their political ascendancy, roughly one hundred years, and tended at first to adhere to the old British tribal boundaries. At London they set up shop outside the city walls in the area now known as Aldwych, content to leave the native administrative and mercantile structures intact inside. 

These were epochs of quite startling changes of climate. The lucky Italians had timed their arrival to coincide with a period where the weather was warmer than at any time in subsequent history. At the time of their departure conditions were markedly colder and wetter, and by the late sixth century sunlight was said to be at a premium, so the 'Dark Ages’ may have deserved their name in this respect at least. Alfred the Great is said to have invented a kind of clock that permitted him to predict when the sun would be veiled by fog. **

Unpredictable harvests were indeed bad, but it may have been a pandemic that finally settled matters in favour of the newcomers, as they appear to have been less susceptible than the natives to the great outbreak of Bubonic plague that reached Britain from the eastern Mediterranean in the mid-sixth century: the so-called Plague of Justinian. 


*In the 80s, given the number of US bases we then had, there was a tendency to refer to the UK as a 'floating aircraft carrier', yet surely all aircraft carriers float, and maybe islands don't?

** The climate improved markedly during the boom years of the eleventh and twelfth centuries only to tank again in time for the omni-shit fourteenth. 


Sunday, August 22, 2021

Cadena Nacional

Last night, instead of Dr G, a bloke almost nobody recognised, clearly hired for his pompous radio voice, with little TV experience — and crucially in dire need of some emergency autocue training — read out some tedious lists from PowerPoint slides for the better part of thirty minutes. 

The nation was duly bored into submission. This is almost always authoritarianism’s favoured Plan B…



Saturday, August 21, 2021

Stillwater (2021)

Stillwater is trying to be both a French movie and an American movie at the same time and the result, inevitably, is a bizarre but occasionally endearing muddle. 



Imagine Taken had starred Damon instead of Neeson, with the thriller elements dissolving into a study of the psychological inadequacies of an iconic kind of American in Europe. 

Director Tom McCarthy has offered a partial explanation for how this came about. He started off trying to fashion a screenplay based more explicitly on the Meredith Kirschner murder case and along the way found himself diverted into this tale of an all-American male who becomes a fish out of water in Marseille in order, ultimately, to become a fish out of water back home in Oklahoma. 

And in that he can perhaps be forgiven, for the only really interesting part of events in Perugia from 2007 onwards was the manner with which the case was investigated, not the follow-up. 

The attempt to mix oil and water is nowhere more apparent than in the slow-burn relationship between Bill, Damon's latently violent 'fuck-up' of a God-bothering, one cap roughneck and his host, bohemian thesp Virginie, played by Camille Cotton. The actress starts off appropriately rude and French and then turns increasingly saintly. And we soon know that romance is permitted, as Bill got off voting for Trump on a technicality. 

There are one or two plot points you could have written down on your bingo card at the outset. And one, about a suicide attempt, that is a forlorn orphan within the story. 

Overall, it sort of works and it sort of doesn't. The scaffolding from "true events" is rather awkwardly still visibly attached. 

Hard to tell if Amanda Knox would have been even crosser had it been just a tad more coherent and suspenseful, and thus more about her analogue Allison.


 

Friday, August 20, 2021

Nowhere Special (2020)

Films about the dying can be awfully mawkish, often more deserving of the category Exploitation Movie than those with a far more substantial body count. 



This take on the topic, which follows a father suffering from terminal illness in his quest to find a permanent new home for his young son Michael is both subtle and humane. 

The peculiar circumstances of 2020 seem to have resulted in a number of fairly high profile actors taking on quieter roles. Norton is superb here in this European co-production, successfully smothering almost all of the psychotic public schoolboy vibe that he more commonly exhales. He's very much at the warmer end of calculating here. 

The subject matter ends up being the least depressing thing about Uberto Pasolini's movie. Instead, most of the truly downbeat notes emanate from the Ulster locations, rather aptly described by the title. 


Thursday, August 19, 2021

El Burro Por Delante


When this bit of children's entertainment kicked off a few days ago I was prepared to cut poor Joe a good deal of slack. 

But then he said that America's only significant interest in Afghanistan had always been 'counter-terrorism' and this was such blatant b/s that I have been seriously cross with him ever since. And then there were those ill-advised remarks about the Afghans being cowards.
The Donald at least seemed to have what Edmund Blackadder and Baldrick always used to refer to as a 'cunning plan' 

e.g. without obviously understanding any of the entry-level rules of The Great Game, nevertheless appear to strike a PR-tastic deal, and thus take ownership of the transition in such a way that the USA would not chaotically surrender its regional interests to the dubious-sounding Shanghai Cooperation Organization. (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and soon also Iran.)







 

Juntos Saldremos Adelante

In The Spectator this week, Ahmed Rashid writes...

The last time the Taliban took over, there were three phases. The first was public relations: promising to end corruption, deliver food, services and all the rest of it. Then came the second phase: public mismanagement, economic disaster, food shortages and a drug crisis. The Taliban was just not ready to govern. Then the final phase: all-out conflict with the public — Sharia punishment, beheadings, hand-chopping, and the subjection of women. 

Hand and head-choppings aside, this does not sound so markedly different from one of Guatemala's time-limited, quadrennial mis-governments. 





Travel Jitters

 


I have some trips to look forward to in the near future: five fascinating and rather distinct cities, all in this hemisphere. 

I find however I am already more jittery about these journeys than others I have made since the pandemic started. 

Indeed, when I look back on my trip to Mexico last March I'm amazed that I was brave enough to do it before I'd been vaccinated. 

The virus did appear to be suffering a temporary dip in form at the time and the absence of crowds and the protocols observed at the airports and by the airline were reassuring, as were the half-full flights. 

Yet when I flew to Newark in June the carrier made no similar effort to prevent everyone standing up in the aisle at the same time, nor did the cabin crew distribute alcohol gel, though they did enforce the mask mandate. As elsewhere, one could hear the increasingly audible patter of creeping complacency. 

The situation mentioned in the previous post provides ground for additional anxieties. The partially-vaccinated friend I mention there contracted covid while wearing a mask during a hospital visit. 

At least we are not as burdened in this part of the world with the complexities of the UK's travel guidelines and testing/quarantine requirements, although I do still feel personally burdened by them as they continue to prevent me from visiting family and friends across the ocean. 

Still, by vaccinating with a degree of enthusiasm the Brits have arrived at a situation that looks a lot more like old-normality. The current complexities of travel are inevitable given that we now have a kind of three tier world of the almost immune, the hardly immune and then the countries whose immunity is basically fake, because they have achieved it by boxing themselves in without much of a Plan B, apparently. 

In this perhaps China can be more easily forgiven, relative to say, Australia, because they are going to need something like 3bn doses of vaccine to get close to the required levels of immunity.

There was a worrying article in today's Guardian which quoted Sandra Carvão, chief of tourism market intelligence at the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), who noted that there are approximately one billion fewer tourists floating around the world these days than in 2019 and that “We are back to levels of travel we saw 30 years ago" — which could lead to a $4tn GDP loss overall across the globe, a vast human cost and little hope for any sort of recovery before 2024.

"Developing countries are predicted to take the biggest hit, with Central America suffering the most", the piece concludes.

 

Tapering

The major US stock indices are currently worried about tapering, of two rather distinct kinds...




A major study which looked at 700,000 cases has found that half of fully-vaccinated people infected with Delta will develop symptoms of some sort. (With Alpha the equivalent figure was 10%.) The good news is that vaccines appear to reduce the chance of infection by just over half, though both time and the Delta variant appear to be eating into that protection too. 

Anecdotally I can recount the recent case of a close friend who became infected the day before he was due to receive the second dose of AZ. He reported no symptoms and emerged from quarantine today. (I had a worse time from the vaccination itself!) 

Astra-Zeneca does seem to provide better protection from even just the initial dose, something which is also claimed by the makers of Sputnik V, if we are to believe them. As for AZ's longer-lasting immunity, Tomas Hanke, prof of vaccine immunology at the Jenner Institute, Oxford has this to say...

"When you deliver RNA, like the Pfizer vaccine, you deliver a finite number of mRNA molecules which are eventually cleared from the system,” he said. “But when you deliver the adenovirus, as AstraZeneca does, you deliver a template which then keeps producing these mRNAs that then produce the spike protein, so there’s no ceiling."

This molecule-clearing process appears to take a bit longer with Moderna's vaccine which contains three times as many of them as Pfizer's. 

Aside from the calculations affecting each of us as individuals, the tapering effect should be important for policy-makers too — particularly, I would suggest, in nations like Guatemala which are going to take many (many...) months to vaccinate more than half of their populations. 

If the mRNA jabs lose effectiveness fast (and remember they are more expensive and logistically cumbersome) the prospect is duly raised of chasing our tails, as protection wears off for the first groups to be vaccinated, substantially before any sort of stable herd immunity can be achieved by widening the programme.

The relative durability in the case of Astra-Zeneca may be one reason that the UK has had some success in restoring a degree of normality this summer, though luck may also have had a part in this as in temperate zones the pandemic appears to have some seasonal patterns. 

And although we have our fair share of dunderheads in Britain, they would appear to be less densely clustered than in the US...











Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (2021)

If 2020 was the year of better than expected B movies, 2021 may prove to be that of rather dull and disappointing A movies.

There are certainly people out there who are just glad to be back at the multiplex watching stuff getting blown up.

I'm not one of them and I have never really been a fan of superhero movies, though recent experiences with Black Widow and The Suicide Squad have tempted me back to the genre in spite of the agonising disconnect from anything approximating to the real world and its arduous issues. 



As franchise reboots based on toys go, this is far from execrable. 

But it lacks anything comparable to the invention of the aforementioned flicks, in effect loading up on tenderised clichés from more adult fare — notably The Villainess and Kill Bill  — and then adding a 'nuclear gem' prop worthy of 70s Doctor Who

That a potential summer blockbuster can be held up, in the main, by a group of British East-Asians is maybe something to applaud. Henry Golding in particular seems to deserve something more than romcoms, though his performance here is a bit one note and he's let down by a screenplay that singularly fails to commit to whom the audience ought to commit. 




Stories about stories

In the 'new' Johnny Depp drama Minamato, the protagonist — a photo-journalist — reminds his bosses that the subsequent story of the cover-up will be at least as big as the story itself. 

Depp has of course had some very personal experience of this phenomenon in 2020, which is why this film has taken a while to hit our screens. 

Us too, both from recent personal experience and from more ancient professional wisdom. 

In 2018 several crimes were committed against us in our neighbourhood. Since then there has been a cover-up, or at least a pretence by the aggressor to position himself as the victim. 

When this sort of thing happens, one has to maintain a clear head. The story itself and the story about the story are two very distinct things. Once they are confused, some of the limpidity takes a hike. 

The story about the story is, in a sense, political. One can easily jump to take sides based on one's existing convictions. The other side will consider you wrong, but nobody can deny you a right to that sort of wrong-headedness. 

But in the case of the original offence, you can be wrong like the people who believe covid is a hoax or that evolution is a lie. Actually factually incorrect. Dumb. 

Nobody has a fundamental right to be mistaken in this way, and although every one of us, in a functioning legal system, is surely entitled to a defence, nobody, especially an outsider, is entitled to shamelessly exploit the weaknesses of the justice system in a country such as this. 

When the infraction is clear-cut, captured on camera and so on, to deny it, or to construct another more complicated narrative in order to divert attention away from this untaintedness, is indeed effectively another crime, one that permits the perpetrator a defence from ever so slightly higher ground — and undeservedly so. 



Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Naked Singularity (2021)

This is a movie that is trying to be several things at the same time and if one seeks out the reviews it has already had, the consensus seems to be that it succeeds at being none of them. 




I have no idea if the source novel by Sergio de la Pava serves up a more successful blend, but let's assume the additional space available to the author allowed him to make more of some of the thematic weirdness that has been attached to the heist plot — and that all that stuff about social justice, alternative realities and the cosmic fabric collapsing into or perhaps out of a singularity, was delivered with a bit more coherence and heft. 

Anyway, whilst I kind of have to in principle agree with those of the critics who have thrown their arms up in despair, I couldn't help but enjoy this movie, and in the end that has to be chalked down to the likeable quartet of non-American thesps that are fronting it, with a special mention for Olivia Cooke as Lea. 

They add a certain comic charm to proceedings, which complements the kookie sensibility of the story and allowed both of us to avoid getting all het up about anything going on beyond these characters. 


Monday, August 16, 2021

Becket (2021)

 "So...it's the communists who want to kill me?"

This from the titular non-character, a personage so sapless, that at this stage in the plot we have absolutely no idea whether he actually believes this or not. 

About ten minutes before that V had experienced a sudden moment of doubt, prompting her to ask if I had put on a movie from the seventies. 

The cinematography, ardent German activists, cold war-style kidnappings and sinister conspiracies would all support that suspicion. 

But in the end this is a movie about a very dull man who, while on holiday in Greece, gets Alicia Vikander killed in a particularly gormless fashion and then — rather coincidentally — pays for it, big time, having to spend the rest of the movie's run time, doing just that, running, though usually at such a malcoordinated totter that it's a wonder that all the folk out to get him, don't. 

 

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Swarm / La Nuée (2020)

Director Just Philippot's last feature was about an acid cloud. Here he turns to another, more actively ravenous migratory pest in the air. 



I came across this paragraph on the interwebs after watching this film about a widow who goes a bit too all-in on her locust-breeding farm in southwestern France...

"Locusts are usually solitary, but under certain circumstances, they become more abundant and change their behavior and habits, becoming gregarious."

After an almost painfully slow build-up, the conclusion of this film felt unsatisfying and a little less 'gregarious' than it perhaps needed to be. 




For the above-averagely bug-phobic it will no doubt prove to be suitably disgusting and for a subset also oddly pleasurable on that level, but I couldn't help feeling that at almost every phase, the key elements — character, story, scene, symbolic payload and so on — were being under-utilised.