Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A right old-school football bollocking

Also known as the hairdryer treatment (so named because when an English football manager shouted at you in the 1970s, his voice would sound and feel like a hairdryer), this was typical fare for old school style managers like Alex Ferguson, Neil Warnock and Brian Clough. In this clip, John Sitton of Leyton Orient delivers a classic barrage of abuse, captured as part of the documentary "Leyton: club for a fiver". It is potty-mouthed gold.

Readers pan classic '1984' on Amazon

Charlie Stross rounds up the best of the worst of Amazon reviews -- readers decrying Marquez for his lack of understanding of supply-side economics, Romeo and Juliet for being "soooo cliched," Robinson Crusoe as being derivative and hackneyed, and The Grapes of Wrath for having too much profanity. Here's one panning my all-time favorite book by my all-time favorite author.

Caitlyn from Atlanta, GA, wrote: "1984 is the worst book I have ever read. I would advise anyone who is thinking about reading this book to reconcider! George Orwell is not a bad writer, however, this book he does not do evry well on, as some of his others. Prehaps he was getting old and lost his touch. Animal Farm was okay, but 1984 was horrible. It took him forever, it seemed like, to get into the accual book. If someone were to take out all of the useless part of 1984, it would be half as long. Why would he wirte so much about nothing? I havent ever meet someone who could wirte such a boring book about the goverment. I have meet many people who have loved this book, but i dispised it. I am not at all intrested in the goverment. This may be part of the reason that I didnt like it. I would advise you not to read this book."

From the always hilarious Defective Yeti.

Evolutionary basis for self-delusion?

David Byrne posted a thought-provoking rumination on the evolutionary basis for religion, which he maintains to be the highest form of self-delusion — it may help us live longer if we can fool ourselves into thinking that life has a point:

The truth may set you free, but you might not be as carefree and happy. It will eat away at you — what hurts you does not necessarily make you stronger.

I would maintain that a healthy (i.e. substantial) amount of denial is therefore genetically heritable, that it allows us to blithely go on (despite reading Beckett) and to ignore the basic sadness and desperation of life. We can live in an illusion — in fact we are genetically predisposed to do so. These illusions can be small — I am just as good at catching game as Bob, my rival, for example — or they can be very large — that death is not the end and that I will be rewarded for my faith and Bob, the apostate, will rot in Hell.

Either way, they allow me to go on, to persevere in the face of unlikely odds or limited chance of success. We have evolved to be less rational that one might think, and to be slightly more delusional and even stupid.

Prison built to house Pitcairn rapists

Ok, I've changed my mind. All men ARE animals..

Half the men on Pitcairn Island, a remote British colony in the middle of the Pacific, are to be imprisoned in a new on-island jail being built to house them. The men were convicted of rape after a woman left the island to attend school in New Zealand and reported on systematic, society-wide rape of virtually every woman on the island. The convicted men were the only people capable of operating the long-boats that were the only way on and off of the island. The islanders are the descendants of the mutineers on Captain Bligh's Bounty, who took Tahitian wives.

A British Foreign Office spokesman said seven New Zealand prison officers would be dispatched to establish a new prison, Her Majesty's Prison Pitcairn, on the remote South Pacific island. Britain will pay the bill, expected to total about £500,000 ($1.2 million) a year.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said on Monday the six men had lost their appeal to the Privy Council, which rejected their argument that English law had not been promulgated on the island and it was not under British sovereignty.

Stand up if you're funny (Part 2)

Quick, if a comedian breaks up with you, are you living a Greek comedy or tragedy?

I say, comedy, but that's only because I don't believe in tragedy. Everything is funny to someone and you can't argue that schadenfreude is the most effective form of comedy. That's why I love Leslie Thomas so much: he understands this and milks the poignant and the comic out of tragedy with equal effectiveness.

But I digress. Again. Here's the lowdown.

Since A was over last Sunday, I haven't heard a peep from her: emails, text messages, phone calls, forwards....nada. And that's not like her.

Granted, we had a weird session on Sunday (the fact that I'm calling our dates sessions is, I suppose, telling) featuring pacman-like ingestion of various foods (her), inordinate amount of TV watching (her) and various other odd goings on that I didn't bring in to the relationship (which might be what I find endearing about her; she's stranger than I am). Even the sex, while good, was brief and culminated in her convulsing with excitement...only when Little People came on the Learning Channel. Shown up by a midget!

Laugh it up, Cairogal..:)

I think she's uncomfortable around me and not because I've done anything untoward. She's just a nervous person and some people inspire added nerves, in others. It's just the way of things and I'm really okay with that.

I like her but I haven't fallen for her (or anyone else) which makes any kind of break-up...a source of great apathy for me. And since I reconciled myself with my gifts and talents (as well as my cracks and fissures) years ago, my ego has negotiated far worse break-ups with little or no damage. All I care about is making a connection with people so that, when I do, I can determine how little we have in common and proceed to break up with them. If she's pulling the plug, all that means is that the conclusion to our little dalliance has been accelerated.

It's kind of a bummer but since you can't change anyone's mind (and I don't care enough to try), there's no point losing any sleep over it. Plus, she never gave me head once.

I'm sorry, but that's like arriving at a new job and being given an open-plan cubicle.

Dia de los muertos

Sorry for the bait-and-switch, but I'm actually going to talk about my second day on the job. Kind of mixed, actually. As expected, orientation was soul-crushingly dull, but I managed to get through it, without scratching my eyeballs out of their sockets. Being the old pro that I am (or sad hack that everybody wants to be around but nobody wants to keep), I filled my forms out first time and handed them in, all before lunch. I then spent around twenty minutes going around to my different bosses, shamelessly flogging my manufactured enthusiasm and faux desire to start 'real work'. None of them were around. Come to think of it, none of them were around yesterday either. In fact, since the interview took place, all those weeks ago, I hadn't seen any of them. Which means that all my proactive gestures would come to naught, if I couldn't find a way to let them know I'd stopped by, unsolicited.

The humble post-it, strategically pasted on their desk, was the answer. Now, all I had to do was sit back, blog some and wait for the fishies to bite.

I'm very disappointed with my 'cubicle'. First off, I don't even get one-instead, I'm in a semi-open office plan with two (rather obviously) junior writers. I noted, with some bitterness, that the other senior copywriter who was in my orientation was cosily nestled in his office (not even a cube-an office!), happily pretending to do some work. Why the disparity in treatment?

Well, I'm clearly older than him (point one to me), we're both tall (split), kind of forceful (another tie) and my experience is more extensive than his (point two to me). The only differences are that he's in another group (the right boss can get you a corner office and strawberries-and-cream vending machines, in your kitchen) and that he's white. Which, if anyone would bother reading HR files, is actually a tie.

It's true. Social Security, having no classsification for Amaretto-coloured middle-easterners, has designated me as: WHITE (NOT HISPANIC). Anyways, I doubt there's a racial component to this (though, just the fact that I'm even considering it, shows how long I've been here and how well I fit in) but it's fun crying race. Try it and see. It makes one mad without much prodding. Bigotry is entertaining!

Enough foolishness. He has an office, I have a run down, open-office cube. Not only that, the panels are slightly damaged, my chair is stained with a disgusting dried white liquid and the former occupant's files are sitting dolefully, in the corner. Even if there's no racism involved, there's clearly a lack of respect going on. What grates me is that asking for an office places me in a very petty place and, more seriously, forces them to reveal a hand that they're playing: is this an honest mistake, a product of limited spacing, push-over bosses or something more sinister (such as a probationary period). The game is for me to find out their hand without letting them know that it bothers me.

And it does bother me. I used to be the guy who had a smile on his face, didn't care what other people did and didn't play office politics. Now, I've learnt that while it spares you the drama of pitting wits against would-be corporate climbers, it also deprives you of a lot of the spoils. Who do you think HR/ your boss is going to give the juicy assignment and big bonus to: the pain-in-the-ass whiner who's always in their office complaining, or quiet, foreign guy who does his work regardless?

You do the math. Or let me; we immigrants are good at it.

New Brazilian star in the making

His name is Amauri - Carvalho de Oliveira Amauri - and at 26 he seems to be peaking. He has already scored five times this season for leaders Palermo and could teach Adriano a thing or two about the footballing art of playing as a lone striker, although it's not Adriano's fault that Inter has very rarely used him as such.

Amauri scored in Palermo's 2-0 win at Milan and had two at Fiorentina on Sunday, the first a textbook-perfect bullet of a header from 12 metres out, the second - and the visitors' injury time winner - with a right footer from a tight angle after juggling his way past two Fiorentina players who really should have done better.

In the first half, again after shaking off two defenders, Amauri had provided a wonderful 30-metre crossfield pass with the outside of his right foot for David Di Michele to score Palermo's first, and his performances so far have been so impressive that the rumour on Monday was that Brazil coach Carlos Dunga would call him up for the November 15 friendly in Switzerland.

No phone call came, though, and now Amauri may choose to turn out for Italy once he gets his dual-nationality papers sorted out for good (he may be 55 by that time, if you know Italian bureaucracy, but perhaps not, as VIPs usually get preferential treatment here).

An astonishing ascent for someone who went through Napoli (in 2001), Parma, Empoli, Messina and Piacenza without leaving a trace, and only found his feet with Chievo last season, scoring 11 times in 37 appearances.

Once Chievo's Champions League campaign was brought to an immediate halt by Levski Sofia, he joined Palermo for 8 million euros on the last day of the summer transfer window, and has now clearly relegated former starter Andrea Caracciolo to the substitutes' bench.

In Tuesday's newspapers, his agent compared him to Aristoteles, a fictional, saudade-plagued Brazilian footballer in the 1980's cult movie 'L'allenatore nel pallone' who overcame his homesickness to became a star in the most important game of the season.

Are blogs the new secret lovers? [UPDATED]

How many of you hide their blogs from their significant others? It's a secret thrill, isn't it? One small pocket of French resistance (if you'll excuse the oxymoron) amidst a vast sea of Nazi occupation. Or something like that.

I'm even thinking of taking on a second blog...

I'm cracking up..and not in a good way. I hope you'll visit me in the institution.

Actually, I reveal the existence of my blog to anyone who asks, which is a tad unwise. The problem lies when people assume you're talking about them or when you reveal a detail about yourself that impacts them. My thing is, I have an almost unhealthy compulsion to be honest, even when it's detrimental to my interests. Sounds noble, doesn't it? Not really, part of it is masochism and the other part is low self-esteem: I feel that people need to rail against me in order to justify my self-imposed isolation.

If you think this is warped, then you should consider what all the other bloggers are NOT telling you about themselves. I'm convinced I'm no more or no less warped than anyone else.

More Hitchcock Trivia

In 1960 Alfred Hitchcock released a horror film that broke a long-standing Hollywood taboo: Psycho was the first film in history to show a toilet being flushed.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Alfred Hitchcock...recoils in horror

Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion is a rivetting and rational read. And while I disagree with his conclusions, because he bases all his assertions on the mob mentality of religions without taking into account the individual spirituality that a lot of people subscribe to, one story he relays about Alfred Hitchcock had me in stitches:

"Alfred Hitchcock, who was raised Catholic and had a lifelong disdain for religion, was driving through a Swiss city when he suddenly pointed out of the car window and said: "That is the most frightening sight I have ever seen!". Coming from the master of horror, this promised to be quite a sight and his companion turned around to look. He was surprised to see nothing more alarming than a priest in conversation with a little boy, his hand on the child's shoulder.

"Run, little boy," cried Hitchcock, leaning all the way out of the car. "Run for your life!"

Rules are for ugly people (part 2)

Originally, I was going to call this post "Religion is for ugly people" but I thought that would cause too much controversey. What inspired that name was a woman on the subway platform, handing out 'Embrace Jesus' brochures to passersby. The only exception was if a good-looking man or woman walked by her, she would ignore them and not bother trying to hand them a brochure. A dimmer bulb than me would deduce that religion is, indeed, for ugly people but seeing as I'm an avid fan of subtlety, I have a different explanation: pretty people are harder to convert. What's the appeal of selling good times in the afterlife when you're the star of this life right here? And rather than try, she had a feeling she'd be up against it with people who have looks.

For the record, she took one look at me and gave me two brochures...the old bag. I guess if religion is for ugly people, I can expect to become the next pope.

But I digress. The second half of my day was tepid and uninspired: I've been ignored by my supervisors and I hate my new cube (the fact that it IS a cube, not an office, and even as a cube, it's decrepit, poorly-lit and with very little porn-shuei-my back faces a busy corridor, so everyone can see my screen). The IT guy was painfully unfunny (yet singularly unaware of this fact) and the benefits lady looked like she hadn't been to the doctor's in a decade.

I'm aware that the only thing that I hate more than change is the fact that I hate change, which would account for why I torture myself by inflicting more and more change on myself, in a pathetic bid to prove that change doesn't bother me.

Still with me? Well, take this then: I'm on the tail end of a confidence power-surge which is due to expire any day now. It's coinciding with a period where my motivation to define, much less accomplish, new directives is at a low ebb. This has been going on since I got my citizenship and it's an all too familiar strain of mania: my energy is off the charts high, my muscles spasm involuntarily and I can't sleep to save my life. Part of it is the underwhelming feeling you get when you achieve a major life goal that you didn't think you'd ever do (in my case, the citizenship thing). So much so, that I'm not quite sure what to do with the rest of my life, because I never planned for life post-citizenship. I simply didn't think I would need to, which is clearly a mistake. This has exacerbated my usual mania to a point of almost unbearable anxiety and compulsion to move, think, talk, laugh and (*sigh*) buy shit I don't need.

Which brings us to the other side of the coin: once the mania goes away (and I know, in the pit of my stomach, that it's going away soon), the depression that washes over me to replace it, will be pretty substantial. I know this because my depression is almost always inversely proportional to the heights of mania I had reached...and this year's has been higher than usual. It's scaring me because I know I won't be able to cope with it. The older I get, the weaker I feel on the inside, while the outside keeps getting stronger, tougher and more belligerent. It's a sign that changes need to be made and I'm going to have to spend some time carefully considering what that change is going to need to be.

Major change isn't the ideal thing to have on your mind, the first day of a new job.

Rules are for ugly people (part 1)

First of all, allow me to say what a fabulous name the title of this post would make, for a CD, don't you think? I've always wanted to start a band on the sole strength of having a KICKASS name for a band: Circle Jerk. The absence of talent, drive, finances, contacts and dedication all pale when you've got a fantastic name. Picture it: "The new album by Circle Jerk is called Rules are for Ugly People". It's expected to be released November 3rd and most critics expect it to go triple platinum within it's first weekend".

But enough gentle masturbation, today is my first day at the new job. As expected, it's a lot of welcome-to-me hooey, everything from orientation programs to filling out W2 forms, health insurance, direct deposit and so forth. In that sense, it's hard to guage any real vibes when everyone is hiding behind a veneer of corporate respectability. Given time, I'm hoping to identify the different profiles we all run into in a corporate setting: Kiss Ass Guy, Backstab Girl, Utter Moron Man, Spineless Boss, IT Guy-who-can-get-you-anything and so forth. It's the rules of the corporate jungle and if you don't pay attention to them, you get eaten.

Well, break over. They're just about to start. I'll update more soon.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Gorey Details: The works of Edward Gorey

"A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B IS FOR BASIL ASSAULTED BY BEARS. C is for Clara who wasted away. D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh...". I heart Gorey.

No one sheds light on darkness from quite the same perspective as this Cape Cod specialist in morbid, fine-lined jocularity.

By Amy Benfer

February 15, 2000 | P ity the poor books editors in the 1950s when confronted with yet another manuscript by the persistent Edward Gorey. Back then no one knew quite what to call his small gems with their manic pen-and-ink illustrations of overstuffed drawing rooms, set somewhere between the Edwardian era and the 1920s, and with punch lines taken from the unspeakable horror of their well-dressed characters' untimely demises.

Gorey's work was not at first met with open arms by the publishing world -- to put it mildly. Today, however, with his cult of devotees numbering in the millions, his first efforts are collected in three bestselling anthologies: "Amphigorey," "Amphigorey, Too" and "Amphigorey Also." And Harcourt Brace, a longtime publisher of Gorey's work, has recently reissued many of his early books, including his first, "The Unstrung Harp" (1953), and the classic "pornographic work," "The Curious Sofa," which was published under the anagrammatic name "Ogdred Weary" and contains the immortal line: "Still later Gerald did a terrible thing to Elsie with a saucepan."

Putting Elsie's fate out of your mind for a moment, imagine what it was like for Gorey to try to put himself over before he'd become the macabre sensation he is today. Consider the reaction of Robert Gottlieb -- then at Simon & Schuster and later the editor of the New Yorker -- when Gorey's agent presented him with "The Loathsome Couple," a tale based on the story of a British couple who murdered several children, only to be caught when they dropped photographs depicting their handiwork on a crowded bus. (The books frontispiece declares, "This book may prove to be its author's most unpleasant ever.") Gottlieb rejected the book on the grounds that it wasn't funny. An astonished Gorey replied, "Well, Bob, it wasn't supposed to be funny; what a peculiar reaction."

But, of course, "The Loathsome Couple" is hysterically funny. You will be forgiven for finding the juxtaposition of child murders with helpless laughter outrageously blasphemous. The humor in this story comes from the sheer blandness of it all. Mona and Harold, the hapless villains, move from their dismal childhoods to dismal adulthoods of petty crime, to an unsuccessful union (they "fumble with each other in a cold woodshed" after a crime film, and when they attempt to make love, their "strenuous and prolonged efforts came to nothing") to embarking on their "life's work" -- luring small children to their deaths in a rented "remote and undesirable villa." To celebrate their first kill, Harold and Mona dine on "cornflakes and treacle, turnip sandwiches and artificial grape soda."

The problem would persist throughout Gorey's career. Is he writing humor? Are dead people funny? Maybe it's literature: Gorey's prose reads by turns like haiku, or Dadaist automatic writing, and employs more words from the OED than Joyce's does. But his books are illustrated, recalling the work of Aubrey Beardsley, Georges Barbier and Goya. Does that make it art? And they're small, borrowing the nonsense of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, coupled with the grim infanticides of the Brothers Grimm. Could they be books for children?

Perhaps a primal clue to Gorey's perspicacity and morbid taste can be found in his choice of childhood reading material: He read "Dracula" at age 5, "Frankenstein" at age 7 and all of the works of Victor Hugo by age 8. "Of course," he admitted to the Washington Post in 1978, "I was bored by a lot of [Frankenstein]. It hadn't occurred to me that I could skip anything."

As he grew to adulthood and his works rose to their odd and just prominence, Gorey's own life was often the focus of persistent myths. Two such myths: that he was A) British and B) dead were put to rest with Stephen Schiff's 1992 profile of Gorey in the New Yorker. Still, it's not hard to see why it took more than a copyright date to dispel this particular lore, since his work so frequently evokes other lands in other times. In truth he has traveled abroad only once, to the outer Scottish Isles, whose Gorey-like names -- the Orkneys, the Shetlands and the Outer Hebrides -- must have provided some enticement.

Gorey was not born in England, but in Chicago, in 1925. His father was a Catholic newspaperman; his mother, an Episcopalian. They divorced when he was 11, and remarried when Edward was 27. In between marriages to his mother, Gorey's father provided him with a rather glamorous stepmother -- Corrina Mura, the chanteuse who sang "La Marseillaise" in "Casablanca."

Gorey's grandmother had once supported the family by drawing greeting cards, a profession befitting a woman of Edwardian persuasion. Gorey's first drawings -- pictures of passing trains -- came at age one-and-a-half, though he told the Christian Science Monitor that he found them highly unimpressive: "I hasten to add they showed no talent whatsoever. They looked like irregular sausages."

Recalling his youth, Gorey once remarked to the Washington Post, "I think of myself as being sensitive and pale and wan. But I wasn't at all. I was out there playing kick-the-can." In high school, according to Consuelo Jourgensen, a friend, "He painted his toenails green and walked barefoot down Michigan Avenue, which was rather shocking in those days."

After a one-semester stint at the Chicago Art Institute (the only formal art training he's had), Gorey spent three years in the U.S. Army as a clerk for Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, a testing ground for mortars and poison gas.

At 20, he showed up as a French literature major at Harvard, where he had the distinction of corrupting a fellow mad genius, the future poet Frank O'Hara. Brad Gooch documents their madcap college days in "City Poet," his 1995 biography of O'Hara. The photographer, George Marshall, said Gorey, who was given to wearing capes and numerous rings, was the "oddest person I've ever seen. He was very tall, with his hair plastered down across the front like bangs, like a Roman emperor."

Gorey and O'Hara quickly made their reputations as the campus dandies, evoking the looks and mannerisms of Oscar Wilde. They read novels by Ronald Firbank and Ivy Compton-Burnett, trolled used bookstores and furnished their campus apartment with white modern garden furniture, including a chaise longue and a coffee table made from a tombstone taken from Mount Auburn cemetery. Gorey was frequently spotted sitting atop their table, designing wallpaper -- a harbinger of the baroque Edwardiana to come.

After college, Gorey installed himself in New York. He worked in publishing as a book-jacket illustrator and became a permanent fur-coated, bearded and white-sneakered fixture at the New York State Theater; for nearly 30 years he missed nary a performance of the ballets of Balanchine, whom he referred to as his "god."

Gorey took quite a while before he saw any clear direction to his life's work. In 1998, he told the Boston Globe: "I wanted to have my own bookstore until I worked in one. Then I thought I'd be a librarian until I met some crazy ones. I hoped to get into publishing, but at 28, my parents were still helping me out. Which wasn't good at all."

After the death of Balanchine, in 1983, Gorey saw little beauty left for him in New York, and that same year he relocated to a ramshackle farmhouse on Cape Cod, Mass., where he's lived ever since as a lifelong bachelor. His only permanent companionship is provided by a flock of cats and, according to visitors, poison ivy that grows through cracks in the walls. The house is stuffed with his various collections -- including "sandpaper drawings," a mixture of charcoal and sand popular with Victorian ladies; tiny teddy bears; a toilet with a tabletop next to the fireplace and, not surprisingly, photographs of dead children from crime scenes. He holds court at Jack's Outback, a cafe near his house. (One interviewer spotted a Gorey-esque placard above the tip jar that read, "Do not forget the widows and orphans.") He never travels -- not even to see productions or exhibits of his work, which have been put on with some regularity since 1978.

He seems to delight in engaging his interviewers with the unspeakable horrors of his life. For example, here he is in 1992, talking to the Boston Globe: "I'm suffering from bronchitis at the moment. Psychosomatic bronchitis, I'm sure. But nevertheless, it's bronchitis. Oh it's all too much, too grim, too lovely, too -- how should I put this? It's general chaos."

And in 1994, at age 69, to the New York Times, soon after he was told he had prostate cancer: "I thought, 'Oh gee, why haven't I burst into total screaming hysterics?'" His answer: "I'm the opposite of hypochondriacal. I'm not entirely enamored of the idea of living forever."

And in 1998 to Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times: "Oh well, you know. I'm just sitting here in an ever-increasing pile of debris. No, I'm just sitting here, coughing."

Gorey belongs on the short list of canonical 20th century artists. The problem is, he seems to be in a canon of one. This isn't his problem: It's the problem of all the rest of us who seem unable to fit "visual artist" and "writer" in the same breath, much less the same person. But the question Gorey raises is why we make such distinctions in the first place.

In the 1950s, when Gorey was establishing himself as a young artist, the New York school and abstract expressionism dominated the art world; art was a manly, gin-soaked profession for men like Jackson Pollock, who could swipe a canvas with the same power with which he swatted his wife. Illustration was a tiny art, a mere hobby, a thing for women, children and effete men -- best kept to fashion magazine illustration, children's books and book jackets (a field that Gorey himself participated in). There are some exceptions: Jean Cocteau illustrated his word portraits with calligraphic swirls, but his drawings were seen more as an embellishment than as a necessary part of the story. In this world, Gorey's closest contemporaries were the cartoonists: Charles Addams was another '50s artist who combined the macabre with high-brow ennui.

If no one else can fathom the work, Gorey reasoned, publish it yourself, which is exactly what he did with much of his writing at his own Fantod Press. (A fantod is described by Webster's as the "fidgets" and by Gorey as "the vapors, the nervous tizzies." Fantods have also shown up in his work as small, winged creatures stuffed in bell jars.) Today, an early edition can go for as much as $750; an original print for $5,000.

Not surprisingly, one of Gorey's early self-published volumes was the sexually explicit -- which means utterly inexplicit by current standards -- "The Curious Sofa." Indeed, in his work, pornography, like horror, is made all the more shocking by virtue of its taking place in the wings. In "The Curious Sofa," the imaginative romps and devices ("thumbfumble," the "Lithuanian Typewriter") are all the nastier for being absolutely indecipherable. It calls to mind the hullaballoo raised last year over a single line in Tom Wolfe's "A Man in Full," where two lovers did "that thing with a cup."

No one, of course, knew what "that thing with a cup" was, but the mystery evoked in that single phrase eventually culminated in a "Talk of the Town" piece in the New Yorker in which socialites and literati were polled to ascertain just how many people had done "that thing." None of their responses, of course, was half as naughty as whatever it was Wolfe seemed to have in mind.

Concealing, not revealing, is the essence of scandal. Gorey knows this well: "I feel that I am doing the minimum amount of damage to other possibilities that may take place in a reader's head." This is a lesson Gorey has learned, in part, from classic silent film. One of his favorites, he told the Christian Science Monitor, is "Vampyr" by the Danish director Carl Dreyer: "You don't see a thing and I think it's the most chilling movie I've ever seen. I think your own imagination does a better job."

In fact, Gorey's work is formatted very much like an incredibly baroque storyboard for a silent film. Each vignette alternates between panels of painstakingly ornate hand-lettered text and black-and-white illustrations. Like silent film, the juxtaposition of image and text allows us time to consider both, as separate but inseparable parts of the same work.

Gorey's prose sometimes resembles the delightful nonsense of Edward Lear and the jabberwocky of Lewis Carroll. He recognizes that the same things that make their work succeed are at work in his own prose: "Nonsense really demands precision. Like in the Jumblies. Their heads are green and their hands are blue. And they went to sea in a sieve. Which is all quite concrete, goofy as it is." But he also evokes high modernists like Gertrude Stein. "L'Heure Bleue" is full of such Steinian wordplay:

I thought it was going to be different;
It turned out to be(,) just the same.
What is food?
It's a small town in New Hampshire.

This could be a phrase straight out of Stein's "Tender Buttons." The crucial difference is that Gorey, unlike Stein, can illustrate his consciousness as it streams. In this case, he makes it a wordplay: "L'Heure Bleue" is narrated by some vaguely canine creatures wearing sinister bandit masks over their eyes and sweaters emblazoned with the letter "T," who hold cards bearing various letters of the alphabet, leaving the impression that the arbitrary story line is the end product of an extended game of doggy Scrabble.

Gorey's phobias may not be waning, but neither are those who adore him for them. There has been talk of an animated TV series (sadly, many among the PBS set know Gorey only for the animated credits he created for the "Mystery" series). Clifford Ross and Karen Wilkin released a monograph on Gorey, "The World of Edward Gorey," in 1996. Tattooed and mohawked young adults lurk around the Gotham book mart, an unofficial museum of Goriana, searching out anything Gorey. Even Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, the minor-league Gothette, gave Gorey the dubious honor of making his video for "The Perfect Drug" into a live-action knockoff of his work. One can also see his influence in the ascendancy of the graphic novel -- and the willingness to take seriously the work of certain graphic novelists, like Alan Moore of "Watchmen" and Neil Gaiman of "The Sandman."

Not that Gorey himself desires cult status, mind you. As he told the Globe in 1998, "When I think of other things that attain cult status, they strike me as somewhat feebleminded. I mean, I suppose it's better being a cult object than nothing at all. But I don't see how anyone has time to be really famous. I might get people dropping by who are slightly -- unhinged."

Nighty Night

Not sure if many of you have seen this series, but it's one of the darker things on television and, by extension, one of the funniest. Julia is an English housewife whose husband has been diagnosed with cancer. This serves as the excuse she's been looking for to start living again, from joining a local support group and claiming her husband has "passed in the night" to joining a dating service. All this while the poor man lives on.

Her attempts at reclaiming her life find a focus when a couple composed of a woman with MS and her dishy doctor husband (Angus Deayton) move in next door. She is determined to win him for herself and gets up to some pretty elaborate schemes to do it including faking a lump in her breast, and introducing his wife to a crackpot cure for MS based on celibacy...and then offering herself to the husband with a coy "If you ever need a shoulder to do anything with".

I laughed.

Stand up if you're funny (Part 1)

I may have mentioned this (and I'm too tired to go through my blog) but I've been dating a stand-up comedian. Up until this point, it's been strangely exhilirating on all fronts, from shared interests, conversation, intellectual stimulation and physical attraction, except for one unexpected area. The comedy has been a little lacking. Allow me to explain.

If I were dating a porn star, it wouldn't be unreasonable for me to expect my short-term future with this porn star to include a vast array of carnal delights. I'd expect sex acts and positions so perverse that most civilians wouldn't have names for them, and neither would most gymnasts. Sex acts so far removed from the mainstream, only other porn stars (and maybe some clergy) would recognize them and know what to do. It's just the expectation and you can see where it would come from.

Similarly, seeing as how I'm dating a comedian, it's not unreasonable for me to expect to laugh until I bust a gut.

But that hasn't really been the case, up to this point and I don't mean her show. Her show IS funny, but it's funny in that poignant, confessional, I-lost-80-pounds-and-endured-lots-of-horrible-shit-from-people kind of way. It's not going to make me gasp for air and I noted that women in the audience loved it while men smiled and allowed themselves the occasional chuckle. My problem here is that she doesn't say anything funny in our day-to-day.

I know this might be an unfair expectation, but I'm obsessing about it. Part of the appeal of dating a comedian was the lack of pressure to make her laugh, because I figured the pressure would be on her. This has not turned out to be the case...and I'm dealing with that.

It's part of maturity, you know. We can't always get what we want.

Next time, I'll tell you about A's friend, R, a cancer-surviving comedian who performed in the set after hers.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Why Mido is good for Egypt

Mido is a polarizing fellow. He's infuriated coaches, fans, fellow players and managed to play for five top flight clubs in five countries, all before the age of 22. Egyptian fans hold a special disdain for Mido due to his actions in the African Nations Cup semi-final, when he tore into coach Hassan Shehata in response to being substituted. He's arrogant, disrespectful and wholly uninterested in the feelings of those around him.

Which are all characteristics that make him a superb striker. Given enough players like him, Egypt should have no problems qualifying for the World Cup on a regular basis.

Every country has a nationl identity. And with it, comes strengths and weaknesses. No where are these strengths or weaknesses more clearly hilighted than in the field of sports and you hear about this all the time from foreign national coaches. Zico famously tore into his Japanese national team players because they couldn't seem to shed their procilvity for politeness, on the pitch. English team players are hailed for their "honesty" and their sense of fair play...but the reverse side of that is that, to a man, they all lack any sort of guile or inventiveness, which you need at the top level.

And it's the same with Egyptians. While the Egyptian character is famous for it's simplicity and it's humour, it also has a savage fear of failure and a societal fear of individuality. This lack of confidence can be traced back to the shadows of the pyramids which our forefathers built (both a source of pride and an obstacle to further achievement) as well as our long colonial history and present autocratic regime which, in it's bid to maintain control, suppresses all freedom of speech and expression. It's a cancer that has never been addressed and without an almost staggeringly obnoxious level of self-belief, we'll never overcome an almost staggeringly obnoxious level of suppression.

That's what Mido brings to the table, and that's why he's reviled by the Egyptian media and instinctively disliked by Egyptian fans. It takes an individual to leave one of the biggest clubs in Egypt (Zamalek), travel to Belgium and play his way to the top, all before the age of 19. It takes someone without a shred of self-doubt to criticize Sol Campbell before a game against him (he called him "one of the easiest defenders I've ever played against") and to take on a National team coach in front of millions. And from episodes like that, we need not to recoil, as our instincts tell us to and I'll tell you why.

Most coaches will tell you they don't want a player to be happy about being substituted. It's a sign that they want to be out there, they want to be on the front line and they want to chase the glory. Hassan Shehata ought not to have taken the bait, but if you watch the video again, he prolongs the exchange and defaults to that classic Egyptian gesture of opening his arms and raising his shoulders ("2a3meilak eih ya3ni?"). He reacted to his player because he isn't (and will never be) secure in his position. For that, I have no sympathy for him.

Secondly, all the great players/ artists/ performers have clashed with authority. It's what defines their greatness, their willingness to take on the institution, tear it down and replace it with their own vision. Now, Mido is far from a great player, but his spirit is that of a great player, someone who plays above his abilities and limitations, and if you don't know how to tap into that as a manager, you don't deserve to coach the game.

Lastly, results are what should always define us, not words. Even when we don't like the words, we can't let our sense of outrage to interfere with our desire to win. Mido may have been (is, in fact) guilty of hubris, but that's the reverse side of being a tremendous competitor. If we box all the players we have into shapes that we determine for them, we won't get the full benefit of their ability and that can only hurt us.

And the last one is just as true for children and co-workers as it is for atheletes and professional sportsmen. And if we, as a nation, are ever going to shed our history of underachievement, we need to embrace values we're not too familiar with: fearlessness, confidence, desire and toughness. And when we see someone like Mido showing us these values, we ought not reject them, just because we don't like him. It's called not letting your personal feelings get in the way of the greater good. Another thing Egyptians suck at.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Big Cable's ridiculous Net Neutrality smear video

The neutricidal maniacs at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association have fielded this embarrassing anti-Net-Neutrality advertisement. Net Neutrality is the idea that your ISP should just send you the data you ask for, instead of charging each Internet service for "guaranteed delivery" to your computer.
As Craig "craigslist" Newmark put it, imagine if you tried to order a pizza and the phone company said, "AT&T's preferred pizza vendor is Domino's. Press one to connect to Domino's now. If you would still like to order from your neighborhood pizzeria, please hold for three minutes while Domino's guaranteed orders are placed."

The cable operators' PSA is a dishonest, steaming pile of FUD about neutrality, calling it corporate welfare for dot-com billionaires who want you to pay more for their services. There's no rebutting this, it's just a lie.

Net neutrality is about whether telcos get to charge you for your DSL, Internet services for their DSL, and then each carrier gets to shake down each of those already-paying services for even more money for "guaranteed delivery." Talk about corporate welfare! These greedheads already get the priceless government-granted rights-of-way into our homes (imagine if every time a wire crossed a property line, the telco had to negotiate with the owner). If they can't make enough profits with that enormous gift from the public coffers, let someone else take over their wires.

Rogue Elephants?

It's like something out of a Jeff Minter game..

There's an amazing article in the NY Times about rogue elephants — they rape and kill rhinoceroses; attack villages with intelligent measures like blocking escape routes and pinning down humans before goring them to death; and display psychological traits previously only observed in people.

In fact, these attacks have become so commonplace that a new statistical category, known as Human-Elephant Conflict, or H.E.C., was created by elephant researchers in the mid-1990’s to monitor the problem. In the Indian state of Jharkhand near the western border of Bangladesh, 300 people were killed by elephants between 2000 and 2004. In the past 12 years, elephants have killed 605 people in Assam, a state in northeastern India, 239 of them since 2001; 265 elephants have died in that same period, the majority of them as a result of retaliation by angry villagers, who have used everything from poison-tipped arrows to laced food to exact their revenge. In Africa, reports of human-elephant conflicts appear almost daily, from Zambia to Tanzania, from Uganda to Sierra Leone, where 300 villagers evacuated their homes last year because of unprovoked elephant attacks.

I was shocked to read that researchers are thinking of this as a sort of emergent species-wide emotional breakdown resulting from human interference over long periods of time and the consequent destruction of important social bonds for the elephants.

Elephants, when left to their own devices, are profoundly social creatures. A herd of them is, in essence, one incomprehensibly massive elephant: a somewhat loosely bound and yet intricately interconnected, tensile organism. Young elephants are raised within an extended, multitiered network of doting female caregivers that includes the birth mother, grandmothers, aunts and friends. These relations are maintained over a life span as long as 70 years. Studies of established herds have shown that young elephants stay within 15 feet of their mothers for nearly all of their first eight years of life, after which young females are socialized into the matriarchal network, while young males go off for a time into an all-male social group before coming back into the fold as mature adults.

Even the more well-known elephant behavior of mourning their dead is now understood in much more precise terms and extends to perceived harm:

When an elephant dies, its family members engage in intense mourning and burial rituals, conducting weeklong vigils over the body, carefully covering it with earth and brush, revisiting the bones for years afterward, caressing the bones with their trunks, often taking turns rubbing their trunks along the teeth of a skull’s lower jaw, the way living elephants do in greeting. If harm comes to a member of an elephant group, all the other elephants are aware of it. This sense of cohesion is further enforced by the elaborate communication system that elephants use. In close proximity they employ a range of vocalizations, from low-frequency rumbles to higher-pitched screams and trumpets, along with a variety of visual signals, from the waving of their trunks to subtle anglings of the head, body, feet and tail. When communicating over long distances — in order to pass along, for example, news about imminent threats, a sudden change of plans or, of the utmost importance to elephants, the death of a community member — they use patterns of subsonic vibrations that are felt as far as several miles away by exquisitely tuned sensors in the padding of their feet.

Researches are attempting to use methods of treatment that are essentially the same as those used for people with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Under a “non-dominance system,” they eschew discipline, retaliation or withholding of food, water and treats, in favor of providing a sense of safety, freedom of choice, and continual social interaction with humans who substitute for missing matriarchal elephant figures.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Belgariad

When will someone make a movie out of The Belgariad? How good does a fantasy series have to be (better than pompous guff like Lord of the Rings or pedestrian faux-mythology like Eragon) in order to get immortalized on celluloid. I guess it speaks volumes that classics like Watchmen and Belgariad haven't even gotten a second look by studios while fluff like Dark Man and The Shadow are already ten years old.

Still, buy The Belgariad people and read the first book. If you're not hooked, I'll castrate myself. It is devastatingly entertaining. I'll admit, it's not particularly deep or anything and the second Quintology (The Mallorean) is a bore, but it's escapist sword and sorcery fantasy at it's finest. Tolkien, you are an utter bore.

Fake Ramblefish

So, I was over at Gayyash's blog when I noted, with some satisfaction, that he had my website as one of his links. Obviously, the boy knows quality when he sees it...except it wasn't really my website. Oh, sure, it's called Ramblefish, and it's run by someone called Mo Nassar (even the address is monassar.blogspot.com) but it ain't mine!

Too fishy to be a coincidence, don't you think? I believe this is what they call Splogs, or Spam Blogs, and I'm flattered to have one of my own. It's a sign that I've arrived. Kind of like a comedian being roasted at the Friar's Club.


While this reviewer isn't exactly lavish with her praise, I've kind of decided I want to see this movie. His earlier flick "21 grams" didn't impress me, but I can't deny that he's a talented film maker. I like movies that make me feel something..anything.

Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett star in this ambitious, seductive, but ultimately disappointing film.

By Andrew O'Hehir

Oct. 27, 2006 | I've seen "Babel" twice now and had exactly the same reaction both times, which is pretty unusual in itself. An hour or so in, I found myself swept up in the picture, utterly seduced by its ambitious blend of colors, cultures and sensual experiences. It felt like a transformative experience, the kind of movie that reaches for the ineffable, combining prodigious cinematic technique with impressive human range. Then, somehow, over the last third of the film the energy gradually dissipates, leaving me asking a question that in this case doesn't bear close scrutiny: What is this movie, shot on three continents in at least seven languages, actually about?

There's a marvelous scene just past halfway where we experience the pulsing light and sound of a Tokyo nightclub through the eyes and ears of a deaf teenage girl. Or, to be more accurate, we go in and out of her perceptions: Sometimes we see Chieko (the lovely Rinko Kikuchi) from the outside, seeing her captivated by the press of dancers, the explosive overhead light show, the dance remix of Earth Wind and Fire's "September" away. And sometimes we see and hear the club from her point of view, with the music reduced to a floor-thumping bass beat and a dull, whispering roar.

It's the kind of electrifying, almost ecstatic moment that reveals Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu ("Amores Perros," "21 Grams") as one of the purest talents to emerge in this medium since Scorsese. Beyond cinematic daring, the nightclub scene seems to capture, if only for an instant, the themes that Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga fumble with over the course of this sprawling two-hour-plus film. We are all connected, your experiences of joy and pain are closely akin to mine, but we can only pierce each other's consciousness in fleeting, split-second increments.

Personally, I believe all that, or I think I do. But the risk that "Babel" takes, in laboriously and lovingly connecting the private tragedies of four families in four different countries, is turning that observation, which may be lovely as a momentary flash of insight, into a stoned college freshman's profound theory about the universe. Tremendous resources have been expended here so that Cate Blanchett can lie on a dirt floor and moan, while we ponder why we can't all get along, and whether we aren't all the same under the skin.

Last spring at Cannes, Iñárritu won the best director prize for "Babel," which seemed to me, even at the time, like a way of saying: We can't tell if the movie's any good in the end, but it sure looks great. (The cinematography, as in his other films, is by Rodrigo Prieto.) Mind you, the journey in this case may be well worth it, even if the destination turns out to be the same dusty corner we started from.

Scene by scene and storyline by storyline, "Babel" is a wrenching, engaging picture with tremendous tonal variation. While Chieko, the brassy, horny Tokyo teenager, is trying to get laid and dealing with the prejudice and disdain of hearing teens, many other things are happening at other points in the movie's space-time continuum. (This film's interlocking chronologies are nearly as complicated as those of "Memento" or "Pulp Fiction," but they're elegantly handled. By the end we know what has happened and in what order.)

Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Blanchett) are a California couple taking a bus tour through the Moroccan desert, in an attempt to repair their failing marriage. In the mountains they're passing through, a Berber farmer named Abdullah (Mustapha Rachidi) has just bought a rifle to protect his goat herd and entrusted it to his sons, Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid) and Ahmed (Said Tarchani). Back in San Diego, Richard and Susan's kids, Debbie (Elle Fanning) and Mike (Nathan Gamble), are under the care of Amelia (Adriana Barraza), their beloved nanny, who needs some time off to visit her home village in northern Mexico for her son's wedding.

Something goes badly wrong in Morocco, though, and you can probably guess what. (This plot point is revealed near the beginning of the film, but if you really don't want to know more, move on to another article right now.) Hanging around on a desolate slope with the goats, Yussef and Ahmed persuade each other to take potshots at various distant targets. They shoot at the bus from a mile or more away, not understanding that they're firing a high-powered Winchester hunting rifle. They turn away, bored with the game. And then the bus screeches to a stop, and they hear distant screaming.

So begins an odyssey that will bring Richard and the critically injured Susan to a remote Berber village, where a veterinarian -- the only "doctor" anywhere in the vicinity -- stitches her wounds without anesthetic and an old woman gives her something to smoke that eases the pain. (One guess!) Meanwhile, Abdullah's family becomes the object of a manhunt by the ruthless Moroccan police, and the U.S. government makes angry noises about terrorism.

Arriaga and Iñárritu have structured "Babel" so that we already know the ending of Richard and Susan's story before it begins. This is a technique that always works better than it should: For some reason, telling the audience what will happen, but withholding the details, only heightens the suspense. We don't know, however, what will happen to Amelia, who can't find anybody else to sit for Debbie and Mike and impulsively decides to take them to Mexico in the tricked-out Virgin-of-Guadalupe ride driven by her nephew Santiago (Gael García Bernal).

All the story lines in "Babel," even the one about Chieko and her doleful business-tycoon dad (the great Japanese actor Koji Yakusho), involve children in peril and will engage the most elemental fears of any parent in the audience. I'm not sure if this is actually cheating or not, but there's certainly nothing subtle about this movie's emotional appeal. Even though these events are not contemporaneous, what we see is Susan, bleeding out in somebody's stone hut deep in the desert, while her kids cross the Mexican border for parts unknown, in a car driven by a total stranger.

González Iñárritu wants to engage the majority audience's likely prejudices but also tweak them in a few different directions. It's clearly not a brilliant idea for Amelia to take these two blond-white children on an impromptu road trip to some dusty hamlet of white plastic chairs, Corona beer and norteño music -- but why not, exactly? Anybody who's traveled to Mexico with children knows how incredibly helpful and solicitous Mexicans are toward little kids, and Amelia's love for Debbie and Mike is palpable. So they'll learn some new Spanish phrases, eat some new kinds of food, see chickens killed by hand and drunken men firing pistols in the air -- what's the problem?

Of course the director and screenwriter are on home turf in Mexico, and I don't think gringo filmmakers could get away with a character like Santiago, a cheerful lowlife borracho whose pent-up resentment ultimately leads his little traveling party into big trouble. Bernal lets his dubious sideburns do most of the talking in this part, but it's a masterful, economic performance. Ultimately, Barraza's noble, flawed Amelia feels like the tragic heroine of the entire film. In contrast, the film's purported stars don't make much of an impression. They never do anything remotely unexpected; Blanchett yowls convincingly into her blankets, while Pitt sets his glorious American jaw and curses out everybody within earshot.

Amelia and Santiago's story, in fact, is a lot more interesting and original than the Yanks-in-danger saga of Susan and Richard, which, thanks perhaps to its movie star cast and "exotic" setting, feels more and more like a conventional Hollywood thriller as it goes along. Chieko's quest for love (or at least for action) deep into the Tokyo night also possesses a thrilling energy and haunting power that's quite different from anything in the film's central narrative.

What does the Mexican-Moroccan storyline have to do with Chieko, you may be wondering? Almost nothing. She sees reports about the American tourists shot in Morocco on TV and keeps flicking through the channels; a circumstantial connection is finally revealed, but it's a mighty thin one. I guess that's the point: Our actions may have consequences we can't imagine, halfway around the world; when a butterfly bats its wings a baby is born, and all that. OK, but in the case of "Babel" what that produces is two powerful and intriguing mini-films whose only connection to each other is a third one that's barely half as good.

My own reluctant conclusion, after three films of González Iñárritu's career, is that he's a brilliant, intuitive director who's also kind of an intellectual lightweight. That's no crime when it comes to filmmaking; nobody ever accused Scorsese or Fellini or Hitchcock of philosophical profundity either. I hate to criticize anybody for artistic ambition, but the problem with "Babel" isn't that it's a bad movie. It's a good movie, or, more accurately, it's several pieces of good movie, chopped up in service of a pretentious, portentous and slightly silly artistic vision.

Lower East Side Grind

I put a new song on the MP3 player, just beneath my links. It's an instrumental that was used as the soundtrack to an old 1977 East Coast porn flick called "Barbara Broadcast" and it's called "the Lower East Side Grind". It was running through my head as I was hanging out tonight on the LES.

I love that part of New York, because it's one of the few places that has preserved it's grungy 1970s feel. Too much of Manhattan is now all touristy and really just commercial as hell. It's a crying shame that the city that's lauded for it's rough edges, is going all vanilla and shit.

Anyways, enjoy the track (it's got a very catchy 1970s funk rock feel) and please tell me what you think of it.

Mido scores a brace

You can watch the goals from Spurs vs MK Dons here.

Beyond the Multiplex

Documentaries a-plenty and what a fine crop it is, too.

By Andrew O'Hehir

I covered "The Bridge" extensively at Tribeca last spring, so I won't repeat all that. But yes, this is the movie whose makers trained a series of wide-angle and telephoto cameras on the Golden Gate Bridge for an entire year (it was 2004), and photographed most of the 24 people known to have jumped off it during that year. Much has been written about the juxtaposition of awesome scenery and personal despair that has marked the history of that impressive work of engineering, and Steel's film imparts that message as pure image.

"The Bridge" isn't pure horror, although we do indeed see people, several of them, plunge off the bridge's eastern pedestrian walkway, against a spectacular California sky, for the four-second drop into infinity. Steel tells the stories of several of 2004's jumpers, and forces us to face the most painful facts about suicide: Sometimes it seems completely unnecessary, the semi-random result of a depressive or psychotic episode; but in other cases -- the people who plan for years, building their lives around impending death -- it seems nearly inevitable. This is a shocking film, but in its own way a profoundly humane one.

"The Bridge" opens Oct. 27 in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, with a national rollout to follow.

"Death of a President": The assassination of George W. Bush considered as a downward spiral into tragedy
Much controversy has surrounded British director Gabriel Range's TV docudrama "Death of a President," which purports to report, from some future date, on the assassination of President Bush outside a Chicago hotel in October 2007. Inevitably, most of it is made-up controversy, fomented by possibly well-intentioned people (but also by boobs and morons) who haven't seen the film and who ascribe powers to mass-culture products that they don't actually possess. Nobody's going to kill Bush because it happens in a movie. Any lunatic who may have such aspirations already possesses them, and Range does not depict the assassination or its aftermath as positive events for anyone.

CNN and NPR are refusing to carry ads for the film, and several of the country's biggest theater chains are refusing to show it. That's their right, of course; it's not censorship. It's just chicken-hearted, pants-pissing cowardice (and free publicity for the filmmakers). All that said, of course this is a hot topic: Range ingeniously blends actual news footage with fictional elements and "Zelig"-style digital insertions to depict the killing of the current, real-life (and widely disliked) United States president by -- well, by somebody.

In the film's universe, Bush is shot after giving a standard speech (one of his better ones, actually) defending his aggressive posture to the world before a group of Chicago business leaders. The assassination itself is a blend of familiar elements: a sniper in an office-tower window (à la JFK), a moment of exposure amid the random crowd outside a hotel (à la Reagan). The event itself is surrounded by angry protesters (drawn from images of real Chicago protests over the last few years), some of whom have successfully broken through police lines and entered the Secret Service "containment zone." It's chillingly and convincingly rendered: A couple of loud pops, a man falls to the ground amid chaos and screaming, a limo squeals away at high speed toward the nearest hospital.

I can state with some authority that Range's depiction of the antiwar movement is rather thin, and to pretend that a demonstration of 10,000 to 12,000 people for a presidential visit is a large protest is nonsense. (There have been at least two antiwar marches in the United States since 2003 that drew upward of 500,000 people, probably larger than any comparable events of the Vietnam era.) But it isn't entirely misguided to suggest that a tiny, hateful minority exists within the antiwar movement, and it's clearly true that the weight of law enforcement would come down hard on anarchists, radicals and other nonconformists in any future 9/11-level national disaster, as happens here.

But who actually did it? Is the shooting in fact the work of left-wing antiwar agitators, a conspiracy by al-Qaida and various Axis of Evil states (as the newly enshrined Cheney administration is eager to assert), a disgruntled lone nut or somebody else? Range's whodunit is reasonably clever, even if most viewers will guess right away that the Syrian-born software engineer who's immediately arrested is the wrong guy. But the mystery really isn't the point of "Death of a President." Range has a marvelous feel for the clichés and conventions of TV-news documentary, and the tone of mournful elegy he strikes here is both convincing and -- believe me, I'm shocked to be writing this -- moving.

Range deploys elements of Ronald Reagan's state funeral for his own purposes, even editing Dick Cheney's oratory on that occasion so that it appears to be that of a new president mourning his fallen predecessor. I don't imagine this will make the film's conservative critics any happier, but it forced me to consider certain things about George W. Bush I am generally reluctant to face. Watching this film in late 2006, when Bush is already "dead" in the political sense -- a lame-duck president, likely to lose his congressional majorities -- carries a particular, painful pathos.

I find myself agreeing both with the Bush-hating demonstrators and with Cheney, and if I read the film correctly, Range is inviting us to make that bizarre leap of imagination. Bush has been partly responsible for a historic decimation of the U.S. Constitution and for an unnecessary war that has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, but he did so because he is/was a man of profound personal conviction, and misunderestimated intelligence, who firmly believed he was doing the right thing for the future of his country. If the assassination of Bush might lead America, as in the film, even closer to becoming a police state, wouldn't that be a fulfillment of his vision, and that of many others among our fellow citizens?

"Death of a President" opens Oct. 27 nationwide.

"The Wild Blue Yonder" by Werner Herzog
I suppose in some technical sense "The Wild Blue Yonder" is Werner Herzog's first new fiction film since whenever -- since "Invincible" in 2001, I suppose. But like all of Herzog's recent films (except, I guess, the relatively straightforward "Grizzly Man," which I liked) this evokes a sort of blissed-out, contemplative mood where questions of fiction vs. reality seem unimportant.

There's a plot, kind of, with Brad Dourif as one of the last of a group of aliens from a distant galaxy who settled on Earth, only to discover that they'd lost all their scientific knowledge and couldn't succeed in our society. ("I hate to tell you this," he says to the camera, "but aliens all suck.") Most of the film consists of footage Herzog has pilfered or extracted from real-life NASA space missions and Arctic underwater exploration, all to tell the tale of Earthling astronauts' long and desperate voyage to the Andromedans' home planet, made possible by various discoveries in chaos-theory mathematics that piss the Dourif alien off.

The equations that might make long-haul space travel possible are real, if entirely hypothetical, and the images in this short, witty, dream-state film are lovely. But Herzog and Dourif make no real effort at rendering a convincing science-fiction universe, and such is not the point. The "dying planet" in this parable is not a distant one, and the "disrespect" the human astronauts show for Dourif's world and its lonely, abandoned wildlife hits pretty close to home. Not a major Herzog work or one that will draw a large audience, but a must-see for those who suspect (as I do) that he's one of the greatest talents now working in this medium.

Opens Oct. 27 at the IFC Center in New York; available on DVD in mid-November.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Noir style portraiture photography

San Francisco photographer Jim Ferreira shoots film noir style portraits. I love the lighting and angles. Check out his website.

'There's nothing he wouldn't eat'

A recent inquest found that a man had died swallowing a screw, a pen top, some coins and a magnet. Emine Saner reports on pica syndrome - a rare but deadly condition

Last month, an inquest was held into the death of Dewi Evans, a 61-year-old man from south Wales. Mr Evans had been a patient at a psychiatric hospital in Pontyclun and was suffering from pica, a rare disorder which makes the sufferer feel a compulsion to eat non-food items. He had undergone surgery twice before, but died this time, after attempts to remove objects including a screw, a pen top, a magnet and some coins from his bowel. At the inquest, the hospital's deputy manager explained how an extra fence had to be erected around the hospital to stop Mr Evans going looking for things to eat, and how staff had to constantly monitor him in case he tried to swallow objects or drink bottles of cleaning fluid.

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Common cravings in people with pica include the urge to eat soil, coal, rust, chalk and paper (in the 16th century it was given its name from the Latin for "magpie" due to the sufferer's often indiscriminate eating), although people have been known to ingest anything from animal faeces to bits of metal.
"Pica usually appears in people of a low mental age," says Gregory O'Brien, professor of developmental psychiatry at Northumberland University. "So it affects young kids and people with severe learning difficulties." Professor O'Brien says 1%-2% of people with learning disabilities suffer from extreme pica. "It's really not very common but when it occurs, it can be bad."

It can cause digestive problems - ingesting soil can lead to worm infestations and damage to teeth. It can also have grave consequences if the items consumed are poisonous or, as in Mr Evans's case, cause an obstruction in the intestines.

In 2002, a 62-year-old French man with a history of mental illness went to hospital complaining of stomach pains. An x-ray showed he had swallowed five kilograms of coins, necklaces and needles; his stomach was so heavy it had been forced down between his hips. He died after an operation to remove the objects. In 2000, Edward Cope, a 33-year-old man with autism from Manchester, died from complications after swallowing 10 buttons, a drawing pin, pieces of chain and bone and a large amount of black foam rubber.

People with pica have to be watched constantly. Vivien Cooper founded the Challenging Behaviour Foundation (thecbf.org.uk) to give parents of children with behavioural difficulties information and support. Her son, Daniel, who is now 21, has Cri du Chat syndrome, a genetic disorder that results in a range of learning disabilities and challenging behaviours - one of which is pica. "There is nothing he wouldn't consider eating," she says. "If we go to the beach, suddenly you'll think 'did he put something in his mouth?'. He has eaten sand, pebbles, stones, cigarette ends, pen tops, the ends of plastic razors, string, Sellotape. When he was younger, he drank a bottle of washing-up liquid. If he cuts himself, we can't put plasters on him because he'll eat them. He lives in a residential centre and recently ate some disposable rubber gloves. When he was younger, he learned that he could rip open a teddy and eat the stuffing."

Because Daniel's pica is inconsistent, Cooper says she, and the staff who help look after him, have to be always on their guard. "We have had to take him to hospital many times, mainly just to check something hasn't got stuck if we suspect he has swallowed something. You have to be constantly aware but in a way that doesn't inhibit his life, and you have to make sure his environment is right - he has laminate flooring in his room and an indestructible mattress."

There is no explanation for Daniel's pica. "He was given blood tests for zinc deficiency but nothing showed up."

In one American study, 25% of patients in psychiatric care were found to have pica and it appeared in 60% of people with autism (pica tends to be a symptom of something else rather than a disorder in itself).

There are two main types of the condition, says O'Brien. "Food pica, where what a person eats is edible but is not prepared for eating - for instance, I have had patients who would eat a catering-sized tin of coffee powder or gorge on marmalade or potato peelings - and non-food pica, where people eat anything else. Once it starts, it can be difficult to control."

Pica can also appear in young children who go further than just putting things in their mouths. It is normal for infants and toddlers to put things in their mouths but 20% of children will have pica (identified by eating a non-food item repeatedly for more than a month) at some point. Most will outgrow it but the disorder is commonly associated with autism and other learning difficulties, or in children who have suffered brain damage. "If it appears in young children, for the most part it improves with age," says O'Brien. "By two, they should really have stopped trying to eat non-food items. Most parents will watch them and try to divert them with something else."

It is also more common in severely neglected and deprived children who do not necessarily have a learning disability. "I have seen children in orphanages in the Ukraine and parts of eastern Europe who had been totally lacking in stimulation and some of them showed signs of pica. They would eat fluff off the floor and blankets, anything for a bit of stimulation," says O'Brien.

Some forms of pica can also be cultural. Geophagia (the consumption of earth, typically earth that has a high percentage of clay) is considered healthy in many places because people believe it can cure diarrhoea, stop nausea and remove toxins (kaolin is a clay mineral often used in commercial diarrhoea remedies). In some countries in Africa and south America, clay is sold to pregnant women as a "medication".

Although little research has been done on pica, many doctors believe that in some cases, it can be a sign of deficiency in some nutrients, especially iron, even when the items eaten do not contain the nutrients needed. Anecdotal evidence suggests that prescribing iron supplements can reduce or eliminate pica. Pagophagia is the compulsive consumption of ice and is thought to be a response to anaemia, perhaps because it soothes a swollen tongue, one symptom of low iron.

Pica can also start in pregnancy. Around 40% of pregnant women experience cravings and a small proportion of these will crave non-food items. Doctors and midwives have reported women craving coal, chalk, even cigarette ash. "There is a theory that it is linked to iron deficiency," says Gail Johnson, education and professional development adviser for the Royal College of Midwives. "For most women who have pica, it comes and goes and it usually only happens in the early stages of pregnancy. On the whole, most women are sensible and stick to an appropriate diet even if they do have cravings for odd things - we certainly don't recommend women go out and eat soil".

A Truly Infernal Affair

So I saw "The Departed" yesterday, with Riro, and I have to say I was kind of disappointed. The crazy thing is that until the last five minutes, I was loving the movie: the pace, the electricity, the inventiveness, the dialogue is all vintage Scorcese. As far as the characters are concerned, Leonardo DiCaprio was sensational as usual, but the real scene stealers were Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin. They were simply terrific. Matt Damon was tepid and as for Jack Nicholson, his problem is the same as Al Pacino: they bring too much baggage to any role they play and find it hard to convince you they're anyone but the same character they've been playing for the past ten years.

Anyways, for those who don't know, "The Departed" is a remake of a terrific Hong Kong movie called "Infernal Affairs" starring Andy Lau and the superb Tony Leung. Scorcese adapted the movie...and then decided to change the ending! Not only was the string of violence that capped this 2+ hour feature, comical...it was clear that the ending had been changed so the bad guys don't appear to win (trying not to give too much away here).

"Infernal Affairs" rightly let the bad guy escape as an indictment of the corruption and moral ambiguity of the "good guys" whom we elect and rely on to serve and protect us, but it seems that Scorcese (or maybe the studio and their focus groups decided, who knows) that that kind of ending wouldn't work for an American audience who seem to need to be rewarded for their self-rightousness by clearly seeing vengeance meted out on those who would transgress.

It's classic Hollywood playing down to the lowest common denominator, or maybe it's to the current political climate. Whichever it is, it's a copout and Scorcese should be ASHAMED of himself for ruining a perfectly good story. I'm truly disgusted. One of the all time greats compromising himself in that way. The day that the film industry starts catering to the great unwashed masses, instead of showing them art and shineing a light to lead them, that's when you know a country is in cultural decline. I'm bitterly, bitterly disappointed.

Ok, maybe not bitterly, but bummed out all the same.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"What, you gay and shit?"

I walked into a chinese restaurant for lunch today, ordered the Chow Mein Lunch special. The guy went to the back, prepared it, brought it out, added a coke into the bag and handed it to me. I took it and walked out...all without paying! I forgot and he forgot.

A couple of hours ago, I ordered some Thai, paid for it...and then realised that they only charged me for the salad, not the basil stirfry! That's over $12 they forgot to add on to the bill.

Initially, I was going to go back to the Chinese place and pay them...but now I'm not too sure. I can't keep running all over town, chasing absent-minded restauranteurs who seem to have forgotten the basic tenets of capitalism.

Oh, and I tried to stare a 14-year old gangster kid on my block, as I walked home. He sneered at me and said "What, you gay and shit?". I stared blankly at him, then walked away.

The world's on drugs today and I'm the only one with a clear head.

"We don't see things as they are; rather, we see them as we are." ANAIS NINN

Halo 3...to be released by Christmas 2006?

I had pre-ordered Halo 3 for the Xbox 360 from Amazon, a couple of months ago, and the advertised release date was always March, 2007. Today, this date disappeared from the main Halo 3 page on Amazon.com and the "estimated date of arrival" is now listed as December 28, 2006.

Surely, this is some kind of mistake. Does anyone know about this?

Feminist Junk

I've always hated the way female sexuality is applauded and celebrated while male sexuality is derided and discouraged. But then again, I don't mind it that much. Sexuality is a private issue and your opinion, or the opinion of society at large, won't make me lose much sleep. What I do mind is the underlying hostility that some women exhibit to men, especially in the workplace, and then when the man responds, it's his crime. The sexuality point may be a tenuous link but it just seems that men can't say anything about women without them being perceived as oppressors. It's social cuckolding at it's finest.

Yes, I had just such an experience at work today. Thank God, tomorrow is my last day at that godawful place. My boss is a woman: big, fat, ugly, with plenty of lip but precious little wit, grace or talent. We had a run in, a few weeks ago, which finally convinced me to leave this place. Today, she came in and pushed some buttons, tried to throw her (considerable) weight around and, then, when that didn't work, she asked me if I was pleased about lying to HR about her role in my departure.

For the record, all I said with HR was that her attitude had played a part in my decision to leave and I did NOT elaborate. Secondly, the exit interview was at 11:30 in the morning; she was in my office, trying to piss me off by noon. I know the walls have ears but I didn't realise they travelled that quickly (pardon the mixed metaphors).

Anyways, I told her I only told them she had a bad attitude and that while I could take it from people I respected, I wasn't going to take it from her.

She went purple.

Then she told me, she knew guys like me all her life. That we were all the same, that we didn't care about the work or the rules, that we thought the world was our playground (!), that we didn't respect anyone because we didn't respect ourselves (that bit's true enough), that sooner or later I'd realise how conceited I was and-the coup de grace-that she was glad she'd gotten rid of me, because she couldn't have an asshole like me working for her, because I clearly had an issue working for a woman.

I let her finish and then I said: "I really had no idea you were a woman, so I don't know how you can accuse me of that. But now that you've let me in on this state secret, I can tell you that eventually, I could learn not to be all the things you say I am. You, on the other hand, will always be a cunt who's uglier on the inside than the outside. Which takes some doing, by the way".

She took one look at me, burst into tears and ran to her office. I laughed and went back to work. Nobody has called me in to ask me to explain what I said, even though I saw her crying in our bosses office. I also saw a bunch of people in her cube, and I later got the cold stare from them. Fuck 'em. I'm purging them from my goodbye email anyway. Bunch of fucking sheep, anyway.

A fight is a fight. She went on a verbal attack and I responded, only I went for the jugular. This is what a lot of people don't understand about fighting: inherently, it is unfair, that's a, and b, win or lose, you move on with no crying or gloating.

I was not picking on her; The fact that she was a woman was a marginal point; Me behaving like this is not suddenly a pattern of behavior commonly found in men toward women; just because she is a woman does not mean she gets a pass on starting fights.

The feminists will argue that for thousands of years, the opposite had been taking place and this should help me better understand the struggle of women for equality and expression.

I say fooey to all that. First of all, I'm 35 years old, not thousands of years old and neither are any of you: you didn't suffer from any of that injustice any more than I was responsible for it. I refuse to pay for somebody else's injustice or even to apologize for it. Not only that, I resent my being associated with misogynists and gender bigots of days gone by, just because we both happen to be men. I'm taking a long, hard look around and, at least in my world, women are every bit as well equipped, employed, empowered, remunerated and respected as any man. If there are isolated incidences where they aren't, they're just that. Not every injustice perpetrated against women is a gender discrimination just like not every setback a man of colour experiences is due to racism.

What I especially resent, are women who think their entitlement to express themselves and rail against a society which they perceive to be discriminatory, extends to attacking any man they meet. They have names for people like that and it's assholes, certainly a gender neutral word if there ever was one.

A woman's word can be very damaging these days, and I accept the consequences of that. What I will not accept is being cuckolded into censoring myself, simply because if a woman calls me a name and I respond, people will wonder if I'm harboring misogynistic tendencies. Political Correctness be damned, an asshole is an asshole and if you give me any shit and I call you an asshole, don't run off and cry-like a woman-and then use this to reinforce your view of men as oppressors.

Back from the Brink: Paul McGrath

As we go down into the darkness, sinking towards the depths of Paul McGrath's harrowing story, everything slows and tilts until it seems as if we are looking out at the world through the bottom of an empty bottle. Even the name of the swish hotel in Birmingham, where the battered old Irish footballer talks so movingly of his lost life, reminds us of his demons. In the bar of the Hotel du Vin, among elegant decor punctuated by row upon row of green and black bottles, all uncorked and drained of champagne and wine, the 46-year-old alcoholic licks his lips and asks for a sparkling water.

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McGrath looks what he is - a man trying to stay "dry" in a place of pitiless temptation, a man who uses the word "well" time after time to nail the life-saving need for him to stay sober. The big defender cackles softly when I suggest that the publishers of his gripping book, Back From The Brink, might have opted for a more sensitive venue for this interview. His unflinching autobiography, after all, is more concerned with a life ruined by alcoholism than celebrating his once dazzling football career. "I did notice all the bottles when I came in," McGrath says, "but drink is everywhere now. If you tried to hide from it when you're feeling well I don't think you'd be solving anything."
His story is as complex as it is moving, as vulnerable as it is brutal. For a while, even though he is by far the most thoughtful and likeable footballer I have ever met, we seem unsure where to begin. But this mutual shyness helps, allowing McGrath to ease himself into talking deeply rather than rattling through a list of questions which want him to explain glibly how an illustrious career, culminating in two World Cup finals tournaments for the Republic of Ireland and the 1993 PFA Player of the Year award, was framed by alcoholism, two divorces and four attempts to end his life.

The first of those failed suicides came in 1989, soon after he and Sir Alex Ferguson had fallen out for the last time and Manchester United sold him to Aston Villa. "I was in trouble with the club," McGrath says. "I'm drunk and ashamed, on the edge of my bed, and reaching for the knife. I remember the blood pouring across the floor and the screaming of the nanny looking after our boys."

His first wife, Claire, the mother of his three eldest sons, rushed home before the ambulance arrived. She knelt in front of her sobbing husband and tried to ask him what was wrong. It was the first time she had seen him cry, and the sounds falling from his mouth spoke of a new horror.

With a surreal ability to mask the depth of his problems, McGrath soon returned to football. Graham Taylor, the sympathetic Villa manager in whom he confided, played him in midfield against an Everton side featuring McGrath's former Old Trafford drinking partner, Norman Whiteside. McGrath wore wristbands to hide his wounds and inspired Villa to a 6-0 lead. While their defence missed his uncanny gift in reading opposition attacks and conceded two late goals, that victory prompted a run of 35 straight league games for McGrath. Villa nearly won the championship and McGrath was voted the supporters' player of the year.

His respect for Taylor, who would soon move on to manage England, is in marked contrast to his muted appraisal of Steve McClaren. Professing himself to be "amazed" at the rise of England's current coach from the anonymity of being No2 at Derby County, another of McGrath's former clubs, the Irishman warns that, "You have to have so many gifts as an international manager. Fair play to [McClaren] being nominated for the job, let alone getting it. But it looks a step too far . . .

"From obscurity he was suddenly picked as Sir Alex Ferguson's No2. If he hadn't been given that break at Manchester United it would never have happened."

McGrath, however, now steps back from the feud with Ferguson which resulted in his transfer to Villa. "We were on a collision course, me and Alex, because he was out to seize control of the club by barking at everyone. He had me and Norman in the office all the time, shouting and fining us, but it didn't work. We were injured a lot of the time and we'd be at a loss after rehabilitation work in the morning, so inevitably we'd end up on a bar-stool in the afternoon saying, 'Aw, let's just go for it.'

"I'd had lots of knee operations by then and Alex thought, 'Hang on, this is a drinker with rotten knees . . . ' He was right and, if I'd been him, I'd have kicked me and Norman out a long time before then. He saved me in a way. When he let me go to Villa something welled up in me and I wanted to prove I could really play. The next five years, whenever Villa played United, we walked past each other in the corridor. And then we beat United in the [1994] League Cup final and, afterwards, Alex put his hand out and said, 'Well done, big man.' It made me wish I had gone up to him first."

Three years later an ageing McGrath, almost crippled in the knees and by the drink, was voted man of the match at Old Trafford during a shock victory for Jim Smith and McClaren's Derby County over a title-chasing United. Ferguson remembers turning to his assistant, Brian Kidd, and saying: "You have to wonder what a player McGrath should have been." He also believes that "Paul had similar problems to George Best [but] he was without doubt the most natural athlete in football you could imagine".

When McGrath talks about Best, he could be describing himself. "I met George on and off down the years and you couldn't meet a lovelier person. He was quite shy and he had a gentle way when he wasn't on the drink. We were often at functions when the drink was flowing but I never really went on the tear with him."

It will be 11 months tomorrow since Best died and McGrath says: "I always hated hearing George was back on the drink. And when he died all the people who love me said: 'This is where your path also ends.' But I'm a Jekyll and Hyde character and when I drink I become a pest. I get loud and end up hating myself in the morning. It's just a chronic lack of self-esteem - thinking you're going to be better with a skinful."

The reasons for McGrath's turmoil are plain. Born to a white Dublin girl, Betty McGrath, and a Nigerian father who disappeared soon after his conception, Paul was given up by his traumatised mother when he was only four weeks old. She had travelled in secret to London to have her illegitimate child - terrified that her father would find out she had become pregnant or, even worse, that she had slept with a black man. His mother would eventually track him down again, but McGrath - then called Paul Nwobilo - was still shunted from one orphanage to another.

"I would be the only black child in my class and when it came to history and they started to talk about Africa I would just shrink. I'd pray it would go as quick as possible - and that seems such a shame because I'm so interested in history these days. I'm close to my mum now, and she is a real witty old Dublin woman, but I guess when you look back there are reasons for my troubles."

His subsequent drinking never really stopped and was eventually joined by another addiction - to tranquillisers. They were used for another suicide attempt, in 1997, and yet little can prepare us for his further revelation that "towards the end of my second marriage I was so desperate for a drink that, when the cupboards were empty, I filled a pint glass with Domestos. I drank it in one and went upstairs and waited - for oblivion or death."

McGrath was suddenly filled with terror and spent the next hour drinking water in an effort to drench the terrible burning. He managed to get himself to hospital, where it was found that, miraculously, his internal organs had been relatively unscathed.

In a Manchester prison cell for the night McGrath "hit a new low. But then the shutter on the door slid back and this police officer says 'Paul, I used to watch you on the Stretford End. You were a hero of mine. I hope you get well'. Even in my quivering state, I knew someone was again trying to be decent."

For all the grisly details, I also find something irreducibly decent in Paul McGrath. He only wavers briefly when asked how long it's been since he stopped drinking. "A few months now," he says. "It might not sound that long - but it is to me." Yet I had heard that earlier this month he had checked himself into a clinic in Wexford, in Ireland, where he now lives.

"Well," McGrath hesitates, "I haven't really said to anyone where I've been. To be honest I don't want people to have to answer questions about me but, yes, I did go in somewhere and I got a lot of great help. There are special people around me in Ireland. I turn to them when I need support."

An hour earlier McGrath had introduced me to his eldest son, the 21-year-old Christopher, who had travelled down from Manchester to be with him in Birmingham. Chris put his hand on his father's shoulder when they parted and we wheeled away to talk. Remembering that moment I ask McGrath if he can imagine himself a year from now in a sober place, somewhere he might describe as "good and safe", with his family and free from drink.

"I can," he says. "I had 16 months when I was really well and it was my prize for staying sober. But then I fell and it was hardest for my boys, because all their hopes had been built up. I'm not a very confident person but I'm trying again. I know that prize is still there if I stay dry. But talking about it is one thing. I have to really prove it now."

Back From The Brink: the autobiography of Paul McGrath, is published by Century at £18.99.