Monday, July 24, 2017

Review of 'The Zero Marginal Cost Society' by Jeremy Rifkin

An interesting book with occasional flashes of brilliance - or at least brilliant exposition. It covers much of the same ground as Paul Mason's Post-Capitalism and Kevin Carson's 'The  Homebrew Industrial Revolution' - but in a mode that's less explicitly political and more oriented towards a mainstream business/economics audience. I can't help thinking that in writing this he had one eye on MBA reading lists and future consulting opportunities.

Whereas Mason, and Carson in a different sort of way, appreciate that the tendency of capitalism to reduce the cost of making stuff is a contradiction that can be resolved in a number of ways (not all of them with happy endings), Rifkin treats it as an inevitable 'trend' that's inherent in the logic of technological advance, and more or less inevitably leads to a "sustainable cornucopia" (one of the chapter titles).

On the other hand Mason's analysis is situated within some esoteric debates within the history of Marxism that most normal people don't want to know about, and Carson links his very detailed and careful analysis within the context of 'freed market' anarchism and some equally questionable optimism about decentralised modes of political organising that seem to me to be already trashed by recent history.

Rifkin is a good clear writer, and his heart is in the right place. He knows that more stuff doesn't make us more happy, and that the quest for happiness through stuff is trashing the planet. Still, this seems oddly dated for a book published in 2014. There's no Uber, no Amazon Mechanical Turk, no Deliveroo - the whole idea of Platform Capitalism is unacknowledged even as a possibility.  Bitcoin gets one paragraph and the Blockchain not a mention; so he's soppy about community currencies, most of which have turned out to be disappointments, and the relationship between technology and hyper-capitalism is also not discussed. He's relentlessly upbeat about the sharing economy with no understanding of the potential for a dark side, and apparently no thoughts as to why mainstream corporations are so excited about the Internet of Things or their plans for 'servitization'.

And oddly nothing about the potential for surveillance or data harvesting...was there really no-one talking about that as recently as 2014?

This is definitely worth a read, but it needs to be read in conjunction with Peter Frase's Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, which sketches out alternative, less benign future scenarios. Perhaps also alongside "Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life", which is a sort of mirror-image dystopian version of the same developments, without much acknowledgement of the liberatory potential of the technology that is arriving.

Final thought; I can't help mentioning the irony that I read this book in a dead-tree version that would have cost me £17 if I hadn't borrowed it from a friend.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Review of 'The Mummy'

Probably the worst film I have ever seen - a pointless remake that wastes some box-office names in a meaningless confused hotch-potch without a proper plot or even the most basic sense of geography. Lots of bangs and crashes, and life-sucking demons, but nothing coherent. Utter rubbish. Even Tom Cruise deserves better than this.

Watched in the 'Movie Lounge' of Cap Finisterre, a Brittany Ferries ship crossing from Bilbao to Portsmouth. I watched it because it  passed two hours that otherwise would have been spent looking at grey sea. As it turned out that would have been more enjoyable.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Crowdfunding an arrangement for the Stroud Red Band

Hi All,

I would like the Stroud Red Band to have the song of the Jewish Partisans, 'Zog Nit Keynmol', in its repertoire. That means we need an arrangement for the particular set of instruments that we have in the band; the London Big Red Band has the same set of parts, so they will be able to use this arrangement too, and any other band that we make it available to.

We already had Di Shvue, a famous Yiddish socialist song, arranged for us, by a nice composer-arranger called Lewis Wolstanholme. We'd like to get him to do this arrangement, and he's going to charge £60 - so this is a very small crowdfunding exercise. If it works we can get some other tunes re-arranged for the band.

If a few friends of the band, or people interested in the history that the song represents, would kick in £5 we will be there in no time! Just go to this crowdfunding page and make a small donation.

Thanks,

Comrade Jezza

Review of 'A Bigger Splash'

A film about bored rich people (and obnoxious rich people, at that) doing nothing very much in beautiful locations, I ought to have hated it - but it was actually very good. Tilda Swinton (who I could watch reading the phone directory) is a rock start who has had vocal surgery and is resting on a beautiful island near Sicily, with her boyfriend who is a 'documentary film-maker', only he doesn't actually make any films...and along comes Harry, her former lover, with his recently discovered twenty-something daughter in tow. Harry moves straight into the villa and proceeds to be mind-numbingly vile to everyone, and this continues for three quarters of the film. It sounds awful, but it's so well done that it's impossible to stop watching. It's played out against the background of the first stage of the refugee crisis in the Meditterranean, so there is a counterpoint to the obnoxious rich people; and there is a plot development that is worth leaving as a surprise - I won't spoilt it here. But this film is definitely worth watching.

I watched on the TV via my PC and Chromecast, which I finally got to work from Ubuntu by downloading proper Chrome rather than the open-source Chromium alternative. I don't feel great about that, but all the other work-arounds didn't actually work.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Review of 'Istanbul'

A melancholy sort of autobiographical account of the city, interspersed with historical interludes but essentially the history of the author and what it felt to grow up in Istanbul in the 1950s and 1960s. Lots of engagement with the very mixed legacy of Turkish Republican Nationalism, in a way that few other Turkish people seem to want to do; as in 'Snow', he is not a religious fundamentalist but seems to have a certain sympathy for the people that are simple conservative Muslims. He wallows in the city's decay in a way that is a bit like ruin porn, but tied into a certain melancholy awareness that it has lots its role as the capital at the centre of the multinational, two-continents Ottoman empire. Bits of the book put me to sleep, but in other places it was utterly compelling.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review of ' The Professor and the Madman'

I was a speccy, nerdy kid who spent his early childhood lunch-breaks reading from the dictionary, so I've always loved lexicography and etymology. I spent my first ever employee bonus on buying the CD-ROM of the OED...I still have it, though I assume the 3.5" floppy that contains the application is not much use any more.

This book is like a peek under the hood as to how dictionaries get made, with the additional bonus of a genuinely interesting human drama. Lots of period atmosphere, some of it of the implausible and unknowable detail kind; that would be fine as part of the scenario for a TV drama-doc...in fact, this could make a really nice one.

Review of 'The Doomsday Vault'

This book is trash - or at least pulp - but in the best possible way. This is the most enjoyable steampunk novel, with giant steam-powered fighting robots, clockwork automatons, dirigibles...lots of fun. From time to time I began to suspect that there were just too many conceits in it (a 'clockwork plague' that turns most people into zombies but also creates geniuses who are responsible for a ferment of technological development. The plot is preposterous but in a good way, and I rather liked the two main characters. The reading equivalent of junk food, but a guilty pleasure - I will try not to read the others in the series, but I may well succumb.

Pleased to discover that the author is really called Steven Harper Piziks, and that he has a website. I may be forced to write to him.

Review of 'My Cousin Rachel'

Period drama, nicely made with lots of detail that looks well researched. I couldn't tell exactly when it was supposed to be set, which bothered me. There was a Christmas tree in one scene, which puts it some time after 1840, but there don't seem to be any railways - everyone travels by coach. So I guess that makes it the 1840s...?

Relatively faithful to the book, from what I can understand, though I am not sure how ambiguous the ending is in that - here I was still left wondering whether Rachel was, or was not, a murderer who is trying to poison the central male character. Very dark, but good. I must read the book.

Watched at the Vue in Stroud, where the air conditioning was one of the main benefits.

Review of 'Little Men'

A sad film about two boys growing up in Brooklyn whose families are thrown into contact, and then into conflict, because of a legacy - the shop in which one boy's mother runs her business, left to the other boy's family in the grandfather's will. The mother hasn't been paying a full commercial rent and can't afford to, the two families handle it badly, and the boys try to maintain their friendship in the face of this but ultimately fail. The saddest thing about it is that one boy is a marked introvert, and the other (more sociable) boy is the only person he's ever really been friends with - and in the film's epilogue he is shown as a rather sad and lonely character. So the widely held belief that in the end we get over break-ups and separations is shown to be false - the other boy really was special to him in a way that no-one else is ever going to be.

A really good film with a strong story and good characters.

Watched in the middle floor at Springhill via laptop and projector.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Review of 'Eagle Huntress'


Well, everyone loved this, but I was a bit bored. Maybe I was tired, but I kept falling asleep so I missed bits. I didn't see where the girl who the film's about had to deal with the hostility evoked by her contesting an age-old tradition that only men could hunt with eagles. Actually most people in Mongolia seemed really supportive, though there were a few funny expressions on the faces of the grand old men of eagle hunting. There didn't seem to be any resistance at all to her participating in the eagle hunting contest, even though no women had ever participated before (maybe I missed that while I was asleep).

None of her fellow schoolgirls are at all interested in learning to hunt, so this is more a plucky individual triumph than a feminist film. The men in her family, and her mum, are all really supportive.

Lots of beautiful shots of the Altai mountains, with great aerial photography. But it is about hunting foxes...funny how the audience is all rooting for the girl and the eagle, rather than the fox, whereas if it was being hunted by hounds in the English countryside we'd all be on the side of the fox.

Watched at Lansdowne film club.


Review of 'Beauty and the Beast' (2017)

Pretty much a live action remake of the earlier Disney cartoon, with CGI used to provide the spellbound characters turned into household objects. A mild feminist message (Beauty likes to read books even though she's a girl) but other than that it's straightforward fairy tale romance. It's supposed to be pro-diversity in that there is a gay character, though he's more fay than gay - it's not exactly as if he is depicted having a same-sex relationship, he just talks and gestures in a 'gay' way. Also quite a few of the servants who have been enchanted into household objects turn out to have been black people when they are dis-enchanted back into servants, and that's obviously pro-diversity too; and Emma Thompson's teapot character speaks in a ghastly mockney accent, so that's a bit more diversity for you.

Still, it was mainly a sweet film, with some beautiful shots of the frozen enchanted castle, and some good scary wolves in the forest scenes. I also quite liked it when the villagers, whipped up by the evil Gaston, prepared to storm the Beast's castle, but of course they are turned back by the brave servants/household objects. Funny how we are never meant to identify with castle-stormers in movies.

 If anyone knows of any films where the peasants storming a castle are (a) the goodies and (b) successful then please let me know.

Watched in the Middle Floor at Springhill, obtained via informal distribution.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Review of "Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer"

A strange, uncomfortable film. It's a US-Israeli collaboration, but as I watched it I couldn't help thinking that this was the sort of feature film that anti-semitic conspiracy theorists would make if they had any sophistication. Richard Gere plays Norman, a sort of luftmensch lobbyist. He's not exactly shabby, but he manages to convey that impression. He has no background, no context, no family or friends - just his work as a fixer, brokering his tenuous relationships for cash and influence. He strikes up a relationship with a rising Israeli politician by buying him an expensive pair of shoes, and then uses that relationship to develop more links to business people. It's pretty clear that what he is doing is both immoral and illegal, but he has no compunction about it, though he does have a very strong sense of loyalty to the people in the network of relationships - most of all to the Israeli politician, who ends up becoming a peace-oriented Prime Minister whose enemies use his connections to the fixer as the basis for accusations of corruption.

There are several scenes of Norman in a synagogue, listening to a choir or talking the rabbi - about donations and benefactors, of course. There's something unattractive about this, though it's hard to put a finger on what it is. The film ends with Norman demonstrating that he has his own moral code of loyalty (to his friends, to Judaism and Israel) and remains true to it, even it's not the same as everyone else's. It's also made clear that he isn't motivated by personal gain or wealth for himself, which he seems not to have or want.

It's well acted and good to look at it, and interesting - but not what I could call enjoyable.

Watched at the Phoenix in East Finchley at what seems to have been a special showing - no ads, no trailers, and I don't think the film is on general release.

Review of "Twelve Monkeys"

Re-watched after several years...I thought I'd have more time to focus on the look of it, because I wouldn't need to follow the rather confusing plot so carefully. But in fact I'd forgotten a lot of the plot, and could follow it more carefully. Even so I sort of missed the significance of one of the plot twists, and Ruth had to explain it to me.

This is probably one of the best films that Terry Gilliam has ever made (probably Bruce Willis's best film ever too). The look of it is great (I noticed in the credits that the design of the interrogation room is based on the work of American architect Lebbeus Woods, who I had never heard of. There is a lot of 'ruin porn' - not only in the future-set scenes, which are supposed to be after an apocalyptic disaster, but also in the scenes set in the 1990s.

Unlike in some other Gilliam movies, there are proper characters, with proper relationships between them, and a well-developed story with pace that stays the length of the film. Surprising that it wasn't based on a book, but instead was a sort of homage to La Jetée, a short (28 minute) French film that miraculously manages to cover much of the same plot within the time constraint.

Watched in the middle floor at Springhill, via an informal streaming site rather than my usual informal distribution network.