Saturday, June 22, 2024

Visiting Surrogates

This morning V told me a story she'd heard about CR-7: whenever he has some mates over, the first thing he does is sit them down to eat some salads then, before they've had time to finish their healthy greens, he pulls them out onto his private training pitch to knock a ball around, after which he insists that they all jump in his pool.

I think most of us have rubbed up against individuals like that. They come in two basic varieties. 
A) The host who simply has no prior conception of providing an environment where his or her guests feel at ease and end up doing things they might find pleasurable. (To the point of retaining the notion of 'other minds' appropriate to an earlier stage of evolution.)

Or B), the person who is basically miserable most of the time and only ever gets to do the stuff they really want to do when they get to have some friends over and can use them as cover. 
I'm guessing Ronaldo is more likely to belong to group A, but I could be wrong.

Cuando Acecha La Maldad (2023)

As anyone who has come across the fictional work of Mariana Enriquez can testify, Argie horror is a thing.

What makes her stories stand out is the way she applies the genre as a lens for, examining (sub-journalistically) some of the profound historical issues endemic to her country. 

Demián Rugna appears less concerned with reportage and subtexts, but his extraordinary films are located in very specific Argentinian social landscapes. 

Cuando Acecha La Maldad (When Evil Lurks), for example is situated at an intersection of the extreme rural and the very provincial. And the paranormal threat which interposes on this environment operates less on the level of metaphor than of clever suggestion.

After a raft of fairly samey nun movies, it had a freshness of approach which was genuinely startling. For me watching horror is like going on a familiar fairground ride. Under normal circumstances, not having any real personal affinity with any underlying superstitions or metaphysical codes, they rarely GET to me.

The film has been hailed in relevant parts of the interwebs as a masterpiece or at least a near-masterpiece, as it has a few forgivable flaws here and there, but is otherwise remarkable.

Last night we watched Rugna's previous offering Aterrados (Terrified), which turns out to be almost equally good, with a supernatural premise that the non-religious could comfortably decipher as science fiction, and again absolutely relentless from start to finish, eschewing the slow build favoured by Hollywood screenwriters.

The tension grabs you like a hand emerging from a crack in a wall and it won't let go until the credits roll...or indeed somewhat afterwards.

Friday, June 21, 2024

The Real Victims

One thing we've been seeing with extreme clarity these last few years is that once you allow everyone (on principle) to identify themselves primarily through their deepest sense of grievance, it is really not long before the thugs, manipulators and intimidators start piping up.

In fact, being bullies, they barge their way to the front of the queue, because there is nothing they love more than declaring themselves to be the ‘real’ victims.

Cult of the C Words

Our world has a stack of major issues: the Big Cs: Conflict, Corruption, Climate...and then there is the Cult mentioned in the title here.

Dedicated members say they so desperately want to draw attention to the other crises, but in fact only seem to want to draw attention to themselves.

In doing so, they are becoming one of the more intractable parts of the mix.

They apparently want us to think that the pressing nature of other problems gives them a free pass to act like someone with the mental age of a non-adult not yet permitted to vote (or even use the transport system unsupervised)

i.e. "Don't fixate on me being a dick...fixate on the thing I am exclusively fixated on in a completely non-constructive, narcissistic manner".

"And if you don't, then I will throw a real strop and start breaking things."

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Dark Matters

“There are two things you should remember when dealing with parallel universes. One, they're not really parallel, and two, they're not really universes.”

I was thinking about Douglas Adams a few days ago, as I also recalled the undoubtedly poor first impression I must have made with my father’s oldest friend Michele when we visited her Paris flat in the summer of 1982.

She’s the lady on the left of this group in Buenos Aires, 1948. Born a year before Anne Frank, she is now 96, yet still uses the Metro and is dreading the Olympics. (I am yet to sound her out about the snap election.)

That I have managed to maintain long-term regular contact is a wonder to me as our first meeting occurred when I was in my Harry Enfield teenager phase, and had my face permanently planted in ‘Life, The Universe and Everything’. Barely managing a grunt, I possibly fancied I was cloaked by an SEP (Somebody Else’s Problem field) in reverse polarity mode.

Having just taken in the penultimate episode of Dark Matter I have also been thinking about alternate realities lately too.

Douglas Adams had the sense that these are porous, intersecting. Certainly from the perspective of the writer of fiction, this would make them a good deal more interesting and creatively functional.

The basic problem of “many worlds” for writers was explored by Larry Niven in his story ‘All The Myriad Ways’, in which mankind has found a way to mine the multiverse for its intellectual property, but along the way discovered that choice is somehow meaningless, a realisation that leads to a spate of murders and suicides. If all possible choices are made, the creator of fictional narratives might as well give up, if not exactly euthanasiastically.

Inside the box you have your dead cat/live cat...or do you? Are these mere potentialities and ultimately only one of them is realised? But, if the smallest bits of our mysteriously granular reality can genuinely be in more than one place, WHERE exactly are these other places?

I mention this because we don’t actually need superposition and a manufactured box to take this particular journey, because it is a little mentioned consequence of our current standard cosmological model that many (and I mean MANY) different versions of us exist in basically the same physical space that we inhabit.

Indeed, it has been calculated that the nearest arrangement of protons and neutrons that exactly duplicates the one that I regard as ‘me’ can be found at a distance of 1 followed by a billion billion billion zeroes, metres from my current location. (My gut feel is that Guatemalans won’t have to travel quite so far in order to confront their doubles, but given the way distances work here, the trip may take a lot longer than one might otherwise anticipate just by contemplating all the zeroes.)

This rather startling ‘fact’ is a consequence of the theory of inflation in which we find ourselves in one of a likely infinite number of ‘bubble universes’, yet because the internal dimensions of this are ‘to all intensive purposes’ (as my mother used to say) infinite, and the number of different ways protons and neutrons can be assembled are finite, it follows that there is a good deal of duplication ‘out there’.

Popular science is always a bit cagey about the parts of theory that arise from evidence and the parts which are like placeholders for a lack of it. And alternate versions of ourselves that are a long way away are somehow less immediately intriguing than those that are perhaps right here in the box with us.

I am still struggling a bit with the box in Dark Matter though. There’s only one layer of realities where its construction makes sense, so in all the others did it just materialise like a TARDIS, and why does nobody seem bothered? (The reason why the TARDIS first appeared as a London Police telephone box is that, out of the factory, it came with its own version of the somebody else’s problem field.)

What exactly is superimposed inside this big cube? Is it just the choices of whoever is inside and has taken the drug? In other words does it somehow isolate only the universes which apply to the ‘free’ choices of one human individual, and if so, doesn’t blending two conscious minds into this process add a level of unappeasable confusion?

For want of a better phrase (the one that springs to mind belongs to a parallel reality where politics were never corrected) causation is the dead cat in the box here. It doesn’t ‘choose’ to be alive or dead, it just is...or isn’t.

Our latest little 🐈‍⬛ has been dubbed ‘Hanky’ after the affectionate apodo Michele always applied to my father, born on the same date, with the name Henry on the certificate, but some time later occasionally referred to as Hank following his evacuation to an American high school environment during WWII. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Firulais Tasting Menu


One of the most jarring — off-putting even — restaurant names in Antigua, Quiltro being the affectionate name Chileans give to their street dogs🐕. A bit like Chucho here. 

I suppose we might put this down to a small failure of hispanohablante linguistic due diligence, if not alongside, then surely somewhere on the same spectrum as the Mitsubishi Pajero (“Wanker”).

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Restless energy somtimes gets found out...

In the beginning there was a ‘false’ quantum vacuum filled with ‘restless energy’.

In this early environment energy violates its own basic rules like vampires that refuse to die when you stake them, by seemingly appearing from nowhere, but then disappearing again, apparently too fast for this to matter (somewhat literally). 
I have seen this compared by one science writer to borrowing your dad’s car at night and returning it before he notices. 
And that reminded me of the occasion I did just that, well, almost. 
V and I took his jag up to Oxford for a university party c1992, up and down along the M40. What a joy! That engine...
The first problem to be solved was the parking space back in Chelsea. (No ‘garage’ in this instance, you see.) Finding the original one empty on our return late at night would have been too much to expect. 
At that stage we were living in a small mews house behind my parents’ home. My father was retired and so unlikely to use his car at the crack of dawn, but that was precisely the moment we had to go out and watch carefully as the spaces emptied out as the day shift departed. As soon as the relevant spot transitioned into another sort of flawed void we gleefully re-filled it. 
All in all it seemed like the perfect crime. But we were undone by one small detail. We’d played with the driver’s seat settings and not managed to get them back to the precise position he was accustomed to.


Monday, June 10, 2024

Hit Man (2024)

Richard Linklater's Netflix offering is almost compulsory viewing over here as one of its stars is the daughter of Ricardo Arjona (still) officially the world's most famous Guatemalan (but, for how long..?), an actress who is also (still) Hollywood's second most famous 1/2-Guatemalan behind Oscar Isaac, and now seems to have become Aquaman's real life girlfriend. 


The movie is almost great and she is almost great in it. She seems to be channeling one of those arch Latina female archetypes laid down by the likes of Salma and Sofía. One kind of knows that part of the over-acting and over-emoting we see is here called for by the role, but which part? She's helped by the fact that we've lately seen her in Andor doing non-identarian 'normal' quite successfully. 

The premise, that hit men are a fictional contrivance we have all come to believe in is kind of fun. There are a number of other typically heavy ethical and existential ideas in the mix which the director handles with insouiciant levity.
We watched it on the back of a series of movies which turned out to be unexpectedly, creep up behind you, dark. Linklater adds a barely perceptible swerve into darkness at the end of this movie, one of those with one foot still planted on the light side. I have not quite made my mind up how well this ultimately works

Absurdity Perpetuated

The thing I find most absurd — to the point of unethical — about the role of UNRWA within the Middle East conflict is the way it embodies an ultimately exclusive perspective thereof.

If there can be any justification for the UN in today's world of nations, it is as a platform for the application of multilateral thoughts and actions, cutting across perilous polarities.

As an institution UNRWA was perverted at the stage of its foundation by outside interference in its charter. Even so, under its initial leadership, facing considerable, open hostility from the Arabs, attempts were indeed made to follow the standard playbook, rehousing and rehabilitating the displaced peoples of the 1948 war.

Yet these efforts were actively resisted by the Arab League as likely to lead to acceptance of some of the humiliation of defeat in the war they had started. 
So already in the 1950s a single clear political goal (the eradication of the Jewish state) was prioritised over the living conditions and overall wellbeing of hundreds of thousands (now millions) of Arabs. Remember that the next time you see or hear the term "refugee camp" in a mainstream media report. 
And now, decades after UNRWA's efforts to resolve the initial problem were stymied, the organisation has become fully politicised and Palestinianised, perpetuating, not just though obstinacy, but actively through education as well, the need for its charges to subsist on aid provided by foreign taxpayers — backed by the utterly partisan rationale that this situation manifests to the world a dogged refusal to ever accept Jews as political equals, and a forever rejection of the international imposition of partition in the twentieth century. The latter represented what the UN was set up to do. Discover and manage compromises. UNRWA absolutely does not. 
We are collectively being made to pay, indefinitely, via one of our own international bodies, for the westernised wickedness of imagining a trade-off.

Sunday, June 09, 2024

12th Century Influencer

A remarkably well-informed if rather judgemental review of London as a venue for city breaks in the twelfth century by Richard of Devizes, then a monk and ‘influencer’ at St Winifred’s in Winchester. 

Richard was the first to use the term Holocaust to refer to the mass murder of Jews, then also a feature of London life.

Indeed, the Chronicon he penned, from which the above is an excerpt, is written in character — that of a French Jewish cobbler providing travel tips and up-to-date goss on the goings on in England and the Crusader states of the Levant. 

Some modern scholars have interpreted the document as a cunning satire on some of the antisemitic prejudices of the time, sending up in particular a regional-historical variant of the blood libel, in which Jews were thought to prowl around Winchester hunting young Christian boys in order to carry out ritualistic murders.

He also famously described Robin Hood’s erstwhile foe ‘bad’ King John as a raging madman who "emitted foam from his mouth", another characteristisation/media cliché which has survived almost 800 years. 

Monday, June 03, 2024

Libel as Propaganda

The purpose of the genocide libel is really rather simple. It’s not your war, but making one side in this war a violator of international norms gives you a cover for your strange obsession with it, which might otherwise be characterised as antisemitic. (It also obviously geared to undermine the moral case for the formation of Israel after the Holocaust via a cynical appropriation of Jewish history.)

The war is several generations old. One side basically just wants to survive. The other side, the one that started it, is consciously conducting a fight to the death. Whether this necessarily infers a war of extermination is moot.

This conflict should have ended decades ago, in compromise, but one side has ‘eternalised’ its sense of grievance deriving from the war’s origins and initial result. This has been done by decking out the culturally-specific sense of lasting dishonour that defeat engendered as a ‘calamity’ worthy of more universal empathy.

Hobbes said in Leviathan that nobody weeps for an old calamity, but he was English and perhaps never came across an Arab with a grudge. Nor did he ever have to deal with a multinational body like the UN intent on codifying such grudges into perpetual, unresolvable problems.