Monday, June 12, 2023

Just be careful what you wish for...

Rather like the post-imperial Romano-Britons when things started to get a bit hairy after the legions left: “What we could really do with now is a whole load of those Angles and Saxons".




97 Minutes (2023)

Explosively stupid in terms of both content and realisation...

Features the unintentionally memorable Alec Baldwin line, “If you have a magic bullet, I’m all ears”.

His career may not not be over, but he’s a ‘with’ for the foreseeable future. 

As for Rhys Myers, he’s clearly arrived at the with Alec Baldwin phase.


(Goose-)stepping over the line...

I'm not one of those atheists who thinks everybody ought to be an atheist.

Indeed, I think diversity of human thought, action and wider culture is an essential pillar of existence that should be diligently preserved, and that this should be one of the key 'progressive' ideals along with the protection of biodiversity.

In my book — one I'd hesitate to have printed — if you think you are right and everyone else is wrong, you are by definition, wrong.

And therewith the problem: this is not an entirely inclusive ideal, and I am going to have to stray into mildly hypocritical territory here when I suggest that certain mindsets do still need to be actively discouraged.
These tend to involve a codification of a more limited worldview.

It all starts with opinions that have gunboats in inverted commas, so to speak. From mild censure we go from lists of individuals who might be 'first against the wall' in some unspecified future, onward to those over-energised late night knockings on the door.

The lines are never quite as clear as anyone lucid would like them to be. Yet who can honestly deny that we now find ourselves in a society built on liberal principles which fewer and fewer seem to instinctively understand and where the goose-steppers once again pretend to be working in the best interests of the under-represented, marginalised and downright oppressed.

Thursday, June 08, 2023

The perfect bar doesn't exi...

In the absence of something so heaven sent, herewith my own current list of preferred drinking holes around ‘this region’…
La Rana Dorada, Panama City
Tántalo Rooftop, Panama City
Stiefel Pub, Otoya, San José, Costa Rica
La Cueva, Trinidad, Cuba
El Barón, Cartagena de Indias
Beer Lovers, Getsemaní, Cartagena de Indias
Tap Ten, Cartagena de Indias
Tokyo Music Bar, Cuauhtémoc, CDMX
Pata Negra, Cuauhtémoc, CDMX
Sabina Sabe, Oaxaca
Cafe Bar Revolución, San Cristóbal de las Casas
Pipiripau, Mérida
Xtabay, Campeche
Caiman Tugurio, Playa del Carmen
The Little Wine Bar, Placencia, Belize
Barefoot Beach Bar, Placencia, Belize

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

The White Ship by Charles Spencer

Diana’s brother Charles has no need of a ghost writer, unlike his nephew Harry. 


His highly competent popular histories have hardly strayed beyond his own family’s apogee, e.g the reigns of Charleses I & II.

Yet it seems he has a fascination with this, one of Medieval history’s dopey yet highly significant misadventures which occurred in 1120, when roughly 300 members of the ruling Norman elite, including the royal heir, set off from Barfleur in the Blanche-Net, the majority of both passengers and crew a little bit juiced up, choosing speed over caution in an effort to catch up with the King’s own vessel, thus encountering some rocks. The only survivor a butcher from Rouen who had boarded in order to chase his bills. 901 years later Spencer led the expedition which located the wreck.

“Game of Thrones, but in the real world” says the dust cover. (Oddly enough, today’s versions attract dust as opposed to repelling it like the old paper ones.) Thrones was based — loosely, let's say — on the Wars of the Roses, a later conflict aroused and fed by the awkward presence on the throne of the two least effective Plantagenets, Richard II and Henry VI, whose impact, domestically and abroad, encouraged their geographically-entrenched relatives to seek alternatives.

“The anarchy” which followed the sinking of the White Ship and the ascension of Stephen* — first (and last) of that name — was instead rooted in earlier dynamics which differed from GOT. The key players changed sides far more often. And if there was one thing the Norman nobility hated it was open battle (except when the other side was obviously French), so we see here how on two significant occasions the antagonists were encouraged by their aristocratic allies to sit down and parley.

Most conflicts that didn’t result in treaties were characterised by a string of sieges. Other than Masada, these have never made for good TV.

But there is some fun stuff here, including a defenestration enacted by the future Henry I himself, the victim a commoner (merchant) who had forgotten the golden rule of feudalism — flexibility was for the landed elites only, everyone else had to abide by their oaths, or else.  
* Only a bad case of the runs had prevented the then Stephen of Blois from boarding the doomed longship at Barfleur.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Hypnotic (2023)

"Preposterous tosh from start to finish" was Mark Kermode's take. He's not wrong, though we did kind of enjoy it.


I was thinking about the recent unfortunate cancellation of 1899, supposedly because a statistically-significant portion of the audience somehow lost the will to continue after an episode or two. 

Right now we are watching Apple's Silo and the phrase Dark for dummies springs to mind. 

And so perhaps we might describe Hypnotic as Inception-lite. 

Perhaps ironically when I watch a Christopher Nolan movie or a Baran bo Odar series, my inner mental state could well be represented thus...


With Hypnotic the only real swirling confusion surrounded the lackadaisical nature of the underlying ground rules and crucially, I never felt the urge to reach for my notebook because an interesting thought had been prompted to pop up inside my head. 
But maybe there really is a market for middlebrow mindbenders, and Netflix, having been burned by 1899, might be best placed to find it.

Minor spoiler alert: I did enjoy the way Robert Rodriguez taunted viewers for much of the movie with the sheer corny fakeness of everything (Mexico in particular, which should have hoisted a few fed flags), only to have an answer ready as the third act kicked off...though this was a new form of silliness.


After WWII Isaiah Berlin finally made it to Moscow. Following the cacophony of the United States, it was the silence he found there that was most disturbing. In November 1946 he wrote that the “slow humiliation of poets and musicians is more awful in a way than outright shooting”.

He was aware that Russia had always favoured authoritarian rule and that the Tsars had attempted to suppress creativity, yet in the nineteenth century this had had the effect of turning that nation into an almost unprecedented creative and intellectual hothouse. 
Something was different under the Soviets, he speculated, something that permitted him to conclude that not all authoritarianisms are equal in this respect, be they political or religious, and the defining factor had to be the ideological component. 
This ties back to my observations yesterday about the suppression of free discourse at places like the Oxford Union. Those whose point of view is backed up by a rigid, take-no-prisoners ideology usually don’t even wait to hear what potential opponents have to say before silencing them.
For it is one of the key assumptions held by those under the sway of Marxism, for example, that you can tell if someone deserves to be heard just by noting what sort of person they are — their socioeconomic (these days also identitarian)...and therefore historical status is the very gist of their winning/silencing argument.





Outside the arena of elite sporting competition this is a matter of frankly marginal importance for the majority.

Yet it is generating an undoubted hubbub, which is permitting the louder voices on both the left and the right to distort one of the really fundamental truths that ought to be understood by all members of a functioning liberal democracy: neither your tomes of sacred ideology nor your peer-reviewed books of agreed facts will dispense with the contradictions of either present day life...or history.



As many of us as possible surely need to be vocal pluralists (and part of that commitment involves acknowledging that it will never be all of us), which means recognising the need to balance and sometimes revise the assumptions that make collective existence bearable. 
People at the political extremes want to pretend that the world can somehow be made to reflect the simplicities of their own thought processes and that they owe respect only to those who are similarly, single-mindedly convinced.

Men are men and women are women is an over-simplification. Yet so too is men can be women and women can be men. 
There is clear and obvious room for open discussion here and the spaces where such parley traditionally occurs need to be protected from the authoritarian minorities. 
Look under the bonnet of anything coherent and you will soon spot incoherence. Similarly, anything apparently trouble-free rather often portends a good deal of trouble. 

With rationalism there is always an element of prejudice dressed up as common sense.  

The hard truth is that neither off-the-shelf theories nor rational guidelines absolve us from the need to acknowledge, even cultivate complexity even at its most awkward. 
And right now, this is what we are losing track of...again!