Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde. Second in the Thursday Next series of comic metafictional novels where a character jumps into various books from a parallel universe.
Pretty good fun. I think it's a common thing with series that the second book is better than the first as the author gets the hang of things: there's a great flurry of creativity here. In this case though, there's a continuing plot so you'd be better starting with the first.
What I'm Reading 2
Superman: Redemption. Grabbed this comic from the library as the concept looked interesting: Superman clashes with a religious rival superhero who claims his powers come from the prayers of his church.
Not bad, makes a bit of a change, but ultimately ducks all the tricky issues as you'd expect. Superman remains safely non-denominational. I think the constraints of the DC universe mean you can't really deal with religion in it. Given that it's full of magic, supernatural powers and various gods; you could pretty much lock any stubborn atheist away in Arkham Asylum with the other nutters.
The last issue is a dream-based standalone story which works very well.
What I'm Reading 3
Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher. Second book in the Codex Alera fantasy series, where humans control elemental spirits called Furies.
Don't like this as much as the Dresden Files series, it doesn't have the humour and is heavier on the clichés, but it's still good entertainment. Plenty of action in this instalment too.
I think this play more than most is particularly well fitted to the Globe. There are a lot of nods and winks to the audience from Falstaff and in the tavern scenes, so with the groundlings packed around the stage and illuminated, the interaction really works well.
In the past I've complained about the trills of fake "look how clever I am" laughter that sometimes accompany Shakespeare's less amusing lines. Or, sometimes the audience laugh sincerely at the comic business, pratfalls and mannerisms that the actors put on, but you get the feeling they'd laugh just as much if the actors were reciting "rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb". But this is one of the few occasions I've seen where a whole audience has been convulsed with genuine belly laughter, because of the actual comedy.
The battlefield scenes also work well on the Globe's large stage. They use steps up to the stage to provide entrances and exits in all directions, making it fluid and turbulent, especially if you're standing and they actors are rushing up behind you.
There's not so much serious tragedy in Part One, but in Part Two the actors managed to keep the deathbed scene pretty poignant in spite of the comedy beforehand.
Overall then, very good production of a very good play that really works well in its original setting. If you're going to see any two Shakespeare plays at the Globe this year, make it these two.
Have been on a Werner Herzog kick lately after seeing Bad Lieutenant.
Grizzly Man is a documentary about a man called Timothy Treadwell who was obsessed with brown bears living in the Katmai National Park in Alaska. He fantasized about being a researcher and protector of the bears, though his research seems to non-existent, and the bears were not in danger (except possibly by his own behaviour is accustoming them to humans.)
He seems to have taken gradually greater and greater risks, getting closer to the bears and finally going back out of season. Inevitably he ended up eaten: tragically his girlfriend was killed too, as she tried to help him.
Powerful documentary, with a calm tone that highlights the extremity of the situation.
Even Dwarfs Started Small is a strange art movie from the Sixties, with a group of characters in an unspecified institution rebelling against the director, and gradually descending into destructive anarchy.
All the characters are played by dwarfs, including the director and a random passer-by, though the props are the usual size.
In the commentary Herzog explains, not entirely convincingly, that the dwarfs are supposed to be the normal ones, and he wanted to generate a feeling of horror at a world suddenly grown disproportionate.
Liked this one too: strangely compelling in spite of the slow pace. Herzog seems to be specialize and be very good at the "gradual descent into madness" thing.
Aguirre, Wrath Of God is a movie about a conquistador on a river expedition that suffers a gradual descent into madness.
Couldn't really get into this one. It predates Apocalypse Now which was heavily influenced by it, but having already seen Apocalypse Now, it seems a bit small by comparison. The wobbly camerawork and synth-heavy soundtrack got a bit distracting too.
Klaus Kinsky did go crazy quite effectively, though he may not have been acting.
I might just have been Herzogged out, so I'm calling a halt for now. He's worth watching though. One virtue is that his movies are quite short and crisp. I had the vague impression beforehand that he did lugubriously long, poker-faced epics; but they're actually pretty funny.
Politics: ConDems so far
The ConDems have been in power a couple of months now. It's a bit early to say what effects their policies are having, but I think we're beginning to know what their policies are.
Good to see that they're actually carrying out the civil liberties side of the agenda: fortunately this bit doesn't cost money. ID cards are scrapped, and they're acquiescing to the European Court and ending the notorious Section 44 stop and search. They've been pretty quiet about scrapping the Human Rights Act too: that's one campaign promise I'll be glad to see broken.
Also Kenneth Clarke seems to be pretty sane about prisons, though some seem unhappy with him. Whether he'll have the money to do much is doubtful, but at least he's not on some crazed lock'em'up crusade.
Got my hopes a bit cruelly dashed on the NHS. From the hype and the speech I thought they might be doing something like the proposal in my manifesto, with a genuine market but the state paying for the bulk of it. The actual White Paper quickly disillusioned me though: it's exactly like Blair.
Real markets are efficient through mechanisms like price-signalling.. In this system prices are still set by a central bureaucracy.
Money "follows the patient" so a
Primary Care Trust GP Consortium doesn't have a
direct financial interest in seeking low prices (like my insurers
would, who are spending their own money gathered from vouchers).
Looks like there's even more bureaucracy now, with more "currencies"
and more record-keeping.
It's yet another cargo-cult pseudo-market. You have things that look a bit like companies, but they lack the actual mechanisms that make them work.
Also, in order to pretend they're doing something different they're having yet another grand reorganization to so they can pretend that the pseudo-market-buyers are magically different to the old pseudo-market-buyers .
Still, I'll call it Middling not Bad, since it's no worse than the last government, but practically identical.
I've already mentioned the budget so I won't go on too much here, except to note that it's much more extreme than we would have expected.
I also mentioned the voting malform so won't go on about that too much either, except to note again that it's cynical gerrymandering.
I think I should mention that I did get something badly wrong in my post-election diary when I said:
A minority or coalition Conservative government is hostage to different interests: those in other parties. It will be forced to be more moderate.
That was a stupid mistake because it's exactly the opposite of what I argued in the old PR threads. In those, The PR fans would explain that coalitions produce moderate policies that reflect the whole electorate, and I would object that the closed back-room deals, the lack of transparency, and the lack of accountability might well produce less representative policies.
The budget and the electoral changes seem to me to reflect the latter. The Lib Dems have been bought off with a voting change and cabinet posts that also put them on the memoir/directorship gravy trains. In exchange for that, the Lib Dems are selling an ultra-Thatcherite budget to their supporters. So, the coalition has resulted in more extreme policies than a majority government could get away with.
Good, middling, or bad, apart from civil liberties, it's striking that almost none of this was in the manifestos. Freed from scrutiny and accountability, the Political Class can do whatever they want. Fortunately coalitions are rare in first past the post: we can only hope that the electoral changes are rejected and we don't get this kind of bait-and-switch forever and ever in the future.
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