Monday, November 27

Video of the Day Click for more info

The Mario Bros. do Vice City:

And on a tenuously related note, there are only ten days left till the Wii is released in the UK!

Saturday, November 25

Film: Dhoom: 2 Click for more info

Hands up anyone who has already decided how dire this film was going to be? The flying jetskis and literally strung up fight scenes in the trailer didn't really inspire confidence, but then I never really said I wanted to watch Dhoom 2 for its class.

And so perhaps it was because of this low low expectation that I actually managed to enjoy the film after all. It's strange, 'cos I'd still say that the film was mediocre when broken down into its individual pieces; the story was passable, the direction pretty poor and I won't even talk about the stunts and special effects (let's just say flying jetskis were pretty tame compared to what else went on). The songs were a bit naff as well, but I wasn't really listening to the music anyway.

But this is where it gets a bit weird because, although the the acting wasn't spectacular either, the performances made by Hrithik, Abhishek, Aishwarya and Bipasha were all pretty awesome. Funny, serious, with action or heat they each handled in a striking, if a bit unbelievable, way. And that's saying something, 'cos although I've always liked Abhishek, I could never stand Hrithik before now. Even Uday deserves a bit of a mention.

And yes, the girls. Oh my. Bipasha made the screen first, and at the time I was happy. But then Aishwarya came and blew her away. Regardless of who I would pick first, I do believe that I've never seen either of them looking better. I'll say it again: oh my.

So yes, perhaps I liked this film for some shallow (and then some really shallow) reasons. But then I sometimes liked pantomime over theatre for the same so I don't think that there's anything wrong with that.

I don't regret watching Dhoom 2, which is a good thing for a Bollywood flick. It's probably not for those who want to watch something a bit more engaging, but for the rest of us it suits the job just fine.

Can't Cook. Won't Cook. Don't Know How to Cook Click for more info

This was my first Radical Middle Way lecture. Borne out of that Islamic Task Force thing the Government held shortly after the London bombings, The Radical Middle Way has been hailed as a success (albeit only by those involved) so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. What better than to attend a talk about marriage? Not that I cherry picked this, of course; I've just been too busy to attend the others. Ahem.

Unfortunately, the talk failed on a few counts. Logistically, the organisers had totally underestimated the numbers that would attend, meaning we had to endure a bit of a squeeze before moving to another, bigger, lecture room that was still too small. I could have told them that a talk about marriage and relationships would have been popular, but then this was a minor failing and they did good facing it.

But I go to talks for the content and not the seating capacity. Billed as an open, honest and informal discussion, we were supposed to discuss the real life problems facing Muslims and nuptials. We were going to deal with free mixing, dating and arranged marriages. We were supposed to talk about the practical problems before, during and after marriage. You can probably tell by my language that we didn't really do any of that.

The beginning was like an episode of Goodness Gracious Me. We had all the cliched jokes made at the start, about how people are using MSN to chirps (and I use that word only because it reflects the attitude of the talk), how girls were seen as being too demanding and how guys still wanted a wife that will cook and clean. Some people found this funny; I reckon it was funnier five years ago when it was first said. I mean hey: move on people. Still this was only the introduction; perhaps things would get more interesting once the floor was opened up?

Our host, Dr Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, did say that he had originally envisaged this being a debated between 40 people or so; a bit more intimate than the 300 or so that had actually turned up, so perhaps that was the problem. Again (and I'm getting as tired of saying this as you are probably of reading it) the audience didn't help with some asking some especially inane questions ("Isn't it a good thing to go back home for our wives?", "Isn't it really about communication?" and even "How does usury effect the finding of a suitable partner?" were some of the gems tonight). I managed to ask my question, something about whether the real problem we have is the forcing of marriage down the throats of people who might not actually want it, but Dr Abd-Allah seemed to have forgotten to answer it.

But no, despite the audience, the real problem was Dr Abd-Allah himself. Now it pains me to say this because, under any other circumstance, Dr Abd-Allah would have been a brilliantly fine speaker. In fact, he did say some genuinely insightful and fresh things today; they just had very little to do with the subject matter at hand. Add to that the way he spent up to twenty minutes answering a single question (which I'll remind you most of which had been pretty inane) and you end up with a very frustrating evening. Again, perhaps the size of the audience was a problem; this might have worked out much better with a smaller group with more one to one talk time.

I'll say again that I think Dr Abd-Allah is really good, especially at teaching his audience common sense of an irreligious nature ("One of the most important things for a successful marriage is to always, always defend your wife against your parents"). My biggest regret of this evening is not having had the chance to see him deal with another topic, since it was clear I might have had quite a lot to learn from him.

However with respect to marriage and the problems some Muslims are currently facing with them, today was unfortunately a bit of an wet fish. Shame, that.

Friday, November 24

Religion and Culture

This topic has been done to death and so most of you will have already decided what you think about it. But it's also recently come up in conversation with a friend, so I'm recounting it here for the sake of completeness.

This friend said that they wanted to practise a "pure" Islam, or one that doesn't have the influence of culture that they see in the practice of others. Now, whenever someone says something along these lines I always imagine a pair of lungs. Crazy, I know, but bear with me for a second. I was once told in school that a human can never really exhale fully. There is always an amount of air in your lungs that your diaphragm just cannot get rid of - this is the latent capacity of your lungs.

And it's the same with Islam and any religion really; I think that there is always a latent amount of culture present. In fact, an extreme view some may hold is that religion is nothing but culture. And although I wouldn't quite go that far I do think it's inconsistent to, say, condemn inter-religious unions on the one had while promoting inter-cultural marriages on the other since you're prejudicing on the same lines really.

But back to Islam specifically. I guess my main evidence that culture and Islam go hand in hand is the wide range of practising that goes on in this world today. On the "macro" level we have the geographical differences: Indonesian Islam is very different to African, while Arab practise is very different to that seen in Pakistan. Closer to home, we hear about drives for a uniquely European brand of Islam. On the "micro" level we have differing but equally valid opinions on issues like the veil and hijab, or the haramness of music: is Yusuf Islam a sinner or not?

There are historical and prophetic examples too. Even after Hijrah Madinan Islam contrasted with Makkan Islam. The difference? The latent culture of the respective regions.

We all (God willing) pray and fast and pay charity - for simplicity I'll refer to these as fard (although it's important to note that even these might be influenced by culture - more on this later). And even if we don't practise as much we think we should, we do agree that there are common fundamentals shared between all Muslims. Anything else, in my opinion, is culture almost by definition and, provided it doesn't contradict the fard, totally acceptable. This includes things like local law, arranged marriages and even the finer details of prayer and ceremony, and I think consistency and the avoidance of hypocrisy is much more important than the details you actually practise.

This thinking does not back forced marriages, honour killings or anything else that is clearly prohibited in Islam, but of course this argument is a bit circular since what's fard is an interpretation and opinion which can be influenced by the prevailing culture too. For my argument to hold, these examples would have to be as valid as an opposing stance.

Perhaps culture is instead defined by the prevailing feeling of society, and so if it's acceptable to them then that's all that's required for it to be valid. The implication is that as soon as this prevailing society changes, this validity is revoked too. I think it's safe to say that, in the UK at least, there is a prevailing common culture (and one that a lot of Muslims are sharing), but to discuss how culture comes about is out of the scope of this article anyway.

It would be pretty patronising and outdated to accuse those seeking a "pure" Islam of actually wanting to imitate an Arab (or even Salafi) cultural Islam, so I won't. However, there is little doubt that the "radical" Islam portrayed in the media at the moment is an Islam that is very much that, so even if Muslims don't accept it as the only way it might be likely that non-Muslims do, especially as it's easier to see differences in culture than the similarities. Perhaps it's not just Muslims that need to realise that Islam can be (culturally) practised in more than one way.

In conclusion I guess I'm saying that there is no one pure Islam we should be searching for, but just a bunch of equally valid and equally diluted ones. I don't think that this is an incorrect or bad thing either, since an Islam that is inflexible and doesn't cater for the specific needs of a global Ummah will always fail, whereas one that can be assimilated into the local culture is bound to flourish.

On the contrary, it's the idea that there is only a single specific acceptable practice, or that one is necessarily closer to the truth than any of the others, that is anathema to the religion itself.

Joke of the Day

Q: Why can't programmers tell the difference between Halloween and Christmas?

A: 'Cos to them OCT 31 = DEC 25

Mohoho. Thanks to Kia for the joke.

Thursday, November 23

Shak's Choice: Eva Green

A bit of a no-brainer here. Bond's latest, erm, Bond Girl, Eva Green:

Pretty, elegant and, in the film, sassy and cutting.

Oh, and a warning: don't, uhh, go searching for pics of her on Google. She's done more than her fair share of boutique shots it seems.

Nemi Click for more info

Nemi appears to be my cynical cooking twin:

I feel her pain. Perhaps she should ask her mother for advice?

Tuesday, November 21

Video of the Day Click for more info

You know I've been blogging too long when I revisit a particular topic or person. In this case it's Melissa Theuriau, super-pretty French newsreader. No more words, just watch:

Yup, she's still got it. Thanks to Zubs for the painful reminder. If I was a woman I'd just give it all up right now.

Sunday, November 19

Film: Casino Royale Click for more info

From the opening chase scene to the final shot fired, Casino Royale was a wonderful film.

Before the specifics, let me cover the whole "comparison to the usual" thing. Firstly, this was not as far removed from Bond as I was led to believe. It had the gadgets, it had the cars and it had the women, and there was no doubt that this was the Bond we all know and love.

Paradoxically, however, there were many times at which I forgot I was watching a Bond film at all. Apart from the obvious disorientation you get when transitioning to a new face, there was the already reported brutal and bluntness present that was always missing from the other Bond movies (perhaps with the exception of OHMSS): this "get the job done" attitude isn't demonstrated more than in the opening chase scene. And not just with Bond himself; even the bad guys were more simple and straightforward - there were no laser satellites or weapons of mass destruction here. It was all so fresh, and all so totally welcome.

Daniel Craig did a fantastic job as the damaged spy and it's hard to see how his predecessors could have ever managed in the same way; they are all positively camp in comparison. In saying that, however, the implication is that he might not be the best bond. I think we'll only really know after a few more films with the new 007 image.

Eva Green was just plain gorgeous.

The film was superbly shot too. Cameras swooped and panned where necessary, with cut-away flawlessly used otherwise. The story and plot were not so good; this was more a series of Bond filmettes than a movie and there may even have been a few plot holes as a result with the ending appearing quite incomplete after initial consideration. But that didn't really matter - Casino Royale was more about the new Bond than any tangible storyline and I tended to forgive all the discontinuity since I was having so much fun.

So yes absolutely recommended. The film was ace even without the Bond franchise, but even so this is still Classic Bond - he still is the man we are all in awe of and I so want a DBS like he had. And after that, a Vesper too.

Last Train

I'm not sure exactly why, but I had chosen to use public transport for tonight's outgoings. That decision was a bit strange to say the least, since I know it would be a late one and on any other occasion I wouldn't have hesitated to drive. It's a shame that I did though 'cos it meant I had to rush the close of the evening in order to make sure I got a ride home from Mr Friendly Tube Driver. In fact, the rest of the party stayed well into the night.

Not that I know when a last train is, of course. The last time I took the last train home was way back in college. I had just seen Miss Saigon with some friends and had underestimated the time needed to chill out at Leicester Square's Haagan Daaz afterwards. In fact, it was worse than that since we actually got chucked off the last train at Holborn. Night buses are fun, but oh so scary too.

This time I was jammy though. To be honest, I was wondering why Oxford Circus was so busy and why there were so many people running around. When I usually use the Tube late (where "late" is around 10pm for me) it's pretty dead, so this was all very surreal for me. It only clicked after a while (oh, OK, my much more experienced cousin had to explain it to me); everyone was rushing to get the last train home. We hurried and ended up being a good ten minutes early for the last Epping train (and if you know anything about the Central Line you'll know how frequent Epping trains are. Not).

And so we got home safely. Still, it's not something I'd want to get used to. Where I live now is probably safer than Leytonstone, but I don't feel comfortable walking home at 1am wherever I am (in London, that is. Abroad it seems to be much more acceptable). Oh, and of course there is another reason why I wouldn't want to get the last train home ever again: avoiding being greeted by a massively irate mother when all you really want to do is crash in bed. I think you can already guess the last time she was that angry.

Food: Haandi Click for more info

Those of you who went to IC will know of this place already. I haven't been since well before I started this blog so haven't really mentioned it before, but this is a relatively classy Indian place in Knightsbridge. I had good memories of the food here, so it would be interesting to see how well this long overdue revisit panned out.

Rich food and nice atmosphere were the orders of the day. I went for the Chicken Chennai Special, a boneless (as usual) chicken dish with a coconut gravy. It was just as yummy as the menu had described and I hated having to share it, but not too much since almost everything we had ordered was really good too.

Price was okish; we all had eaten comfortably and hit 17 quid per head, which although isn't the cheapest Indian I've had ranks high in the value for money stakes as the food blatantly outclassed what these other places offer. My only beef was with the time taken to be served - we waited for almost an hour for the food; that was probably due to the size of our group more than the level of service itself.

If you're in Knightsbridge and you're looking for somewhere to eat you could pau much more for much worse. Recommended.

Bar Hopping

Me and a few friends decided to check out some of the more swanky hotel bars around London. The original plan was to just spend the whole evening hopping from one to the next, but that was kinda negotiated down to to bars and dinner, just to make it more accessible. It seems that some of these guys (all Muslims, by the way) weren't really comfortable with the idea. Crazy, eh?

We started the evening in The Blue Bar at The Berkeley. Now bearing in mind this was a Saturday night and how the place could only really handle 100 people maximum, and we end up with quite a cramped and awkward experience. Still, we grabbed our token non-alcoholic drinks, hung out for a bit, and then made our way. We had dinner to go to after all. Oh and on the way out we saw an SLR.

Dinner was at Haandi, which you should be able to read about in the post above. Unfortunately dinner took a while to be served, and when we were heading to our final spot it was quite late. But still, The Library at The Lanesborough was worth waiting for.

Terribly posh (sir) and full of character (I was asked if I needed help within a minute of entering. Ahah), this really was a nice place. Hell even my hot chocolate came in a little teapot thing (and I still think we should have ordered one between two). The "library" in the name is literal - the main bar had shelves of books along every wall, while the decor (wood panelling, fire places with *REAL* fire) helped the place look the part.

My only regret was that it was late, and I couldn't hang out as long as I wanted to. And on the way out we saw an SLR parked. Those Mercs are pretty common now, it seems. But anyway, it was a fun night and one we'll probably continue at another time; we still have those other bars to hit after all.

Thursday, November 16

Looking To Get Married

Contrary to popular belief, I wouldn't say I'm "looking to get married". Before you all go off and start looking for flying pigs, I don't think it's accurate since a) it's not a priority and b) I don't feel that I need to get hitched (as opposed to want, or don't mind). Sure, this state of mind is different to what I had at other times in my life, and will quite possibly change again in the future, but for now, at the time of writing, it's true.

What image do you get when someone says that they are though? It's not a trick question or anything, and if your initial impression is "desperate" then I reckon you're not alone. Personally I can't help but imagine them with a map of the town or city in which they live, with a big red "X" marking the spot. Or on their hands and knees searching for something they've lost.

But are these reactions unfair? Maybe, but I'm not sure that they're too unreasonable. Let's consider an unemployed someone who claims to be "looking for a job". Now usually, job-searching is a focused, stressful time-taking chore. The individual concerned becomes someone else, and judgement is sometimes impaired. It's uncommon for a person to be as they usually are, and sometimes they do act kinda desperate. They'll even admit to as much.

Potential rishtas are now literally interviewing for a specific role. Interviewers, as they become more frustrated with applicants, begin to search for the best that's out there; whatever will do. It becomes practical and clinical.

I think that one shouldn't be too preoccupied with marriage. As romantic as the notion might be, I don't think a marriage completes the people involved, rather it enhances them to the stage where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And, to be honest, it concerns me when people say that they're looking to get married, not because I think that they're desperate, but rather 'cos it might mean that they don't think they're whole otherwise.

I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with someone that needs me in this way, since on some level it means that, potentially, anyone else could have filled those shoes. The job example then becomes more than just an analogy.

In fact the opposite might even be more attractive: someone who is perfectly happy and secure alone, someone who doesn't need anyone else to carry on, someone who gives up an existing rich single life to try something much more risky.

I'm always raising an eyebrow at those that claim to be looking to get married. And that's why I'd possibly prefer someone who isn't looking to get married at all.

Monday, November 13

Book: The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini Click for more info

When so many people recommend a book you can't help but think it's going to be good. Unfortunately in this case I was wrong. The Kite Runner really is nothing special.

Adequately written at best, this book was never going to rely on its technical brilliance to sell copies. No, the tactic used here would be to blatantly pluck on as many emotional strings as it could - and judging by the number of people who thought this was good purely 'cos it made them cry proves how good it is at doing just that.

In that sense, it's very much like the Bollywood film Baghban. That too unabashedly used strong emotional themes to provoke a response from its audience. That didn't make it a good film though, and the same is true here for this book.

There's just a big anticlimatic feel to it - Hosseini seems to continually skim over the important bits in order to dwell on the more boring parts. I got the impression that the author had quite a big chip on his shoulder when writing this; most have I suppose and it sometimes helps in writing. But this novel was almost self-involved.

It also relies way too much on the more abstract cliches (even though the book itself warns of this). In fact, I got so used to the continual bad luck of the characters within that I became insensitive to the next. It really was as predictable and irrelevant as a Saturday morning weepy TV movie. I could almost hear the theme music in the background.

Characterisation was also below par. There was no depth to the characters here, even though it was obvious how desperate the author wanted to provide it. The trick missed by Hosseini is that it's the reaction to normal, everyday events that brings a character to life, not just the extreme ones that only happen in the world of fiction. I rolled my eyes more than once at some of the experiences in these pages.

In the end, The Kite Runner is not much more than a page turner. This in itself is only bad since it tries to be much more, so much so that I couldn't help but feel a bit conned after completing it. Unfortunate.

Film: The Host Click for more info

This was one weird film. And by "weird" I'm not only referring to the strange mutated fish-monster that's stalking the citizens of Seoul.

No, I'm talking about the stuff aside from the plot. Like the characters, from the main five (each weird in their own way) to those in a more minor role (including a Pakistani family having their own on screen conversation in Urdu). The direction is fast paced and keeps us on our toes by deliberately digressing all the time.

That's not to say that The Host is bad, of course. Quite the contrary in fact; this Korean horror manages to provide humour and frights in equal measure. And it is very straightforward and simple too (although I did notice more than a couple of plot holes). It's just not very conventional, is all.

Unfortunately "interesting" isn't really enough to recommend The Host - which is a shame, 'cos it's unlikely that this film will have the same effect if watched off of a DVD. Only watch if you've already been waiting for a foreign monster flick; I don't think there'll be one as good as this for a while.

Saturday, November 11

Film: The Prestige Click for more info

There are three people who watch magic: those that want to be told how the trick is done, those that want to figure it out on their own and finally those that don't actually care either way. So it's quite ironic that The Prestige, a film about the rivalry between two stage magicians, caters for all three audiences.

Twisting and turning for most of the two or so hours, the hardest thing about watching this film is keeping track of which time it is flashing back to. I counted three separate spans (but I may have missed a fourth) and it was confusing at first as the later ones referenced things that may not have happened yet. But as you get your head around this (and begin to recognise the visual cues indicating the current span) you also appreciate why the story is presented in this way. I can imagine a DVD on screen bonus marking which period the current scene is in.

The acting has little to complain about, and the production as a whole makes you wonder why other films find it so hard to do. But for me, the real genius in this film was how it was accessible by all - if you didn't pick up on the clues and twists it takes time out toward the end to spell it out for you. And unlike other films figuring out the twists doesn't actually spoil the film. Quite the opposite, actually.

So yeh. Good stuff. Go watch. And if it does manage to confuse you then you'll always have the DVD to finally figure it out with.

Game: Elite Beat Agents (DS) Click for more info

The US-ified version of Ouendan, Elite Beat Agents brings us nineteen new tracks to hit dots to the beat of. Gone is the quirky Japanese Pop, now repleaced by quirky US fare (things like Sk8er Boi, Material Girl and YMCA are included, along with many I don't recognise), but then this series was never just about the music itself.

The comic strip story presentation is still there, although if I'm honest it does feel like something has been lost while moving to the English language. The game itself has been updated - you can now save and trade replays and play co-op wirelessly too.

So, better than Ouendan in some ways, yet worse in others, EBA is just as brilliant overall. The more tracks the merrier, I say.

Friday, November 10

Game: Street Fighter Alpha Anthology (PS2) Click for more info

This disc contains the three Alpha (or Zero as I knew them) brands of Street Fighter games (I'm not counting Gem Fighters). The ports are pretty good, although not quite as complete as the PS1 versions my friends and I pumped so many hours in back in the day. SFZ3 was my favourite version of the ten or so SF games and I'm glad that I finally have access to a version again. A few minutes in and I was back to creating 17 hit combos with Ken, but then my hands started to hurt; yet another indication that I'm losing (if not have lost) my gaming prowess as I get older.

If there was one thing I was good at when I was young, it was Street Fighter. Yes, every guy my age thinks they were good at this game, but in terms of win/loss ratio I really was the best person at the game I knew of (I obviously didn't know that many people back then).

During our regular SF sessions 20+ game streaks were the norm for me, and once I had even reached the dizzying heights of over 120 in a row without loss. I could even play (and win) using one hand and my nose. But I didn't do that too often since people tended to stop playing when I did. I was that guy who resorted to using Zangief just to provide some kind of challenge.

My understanding of the game went past what I saw on the screen - moves were hard wired like reflex arcs, I played "within" animation frames and I had a sixth sense which enabled me to know a few seconds in advance what my opponent was going to do, just like a good Chess player does in their game. I'll say it again: If there was one thing I was good at when I was young, it was Street Fighter.

All this kinda explains why I spent a tenner plus change on what is essentially a collection of 8-11 year old games. I don't even own a PS2 (I have this one on loan) and don't really have anyone to play with now, so purchasing this was even more of a waste.

Well in theory anyway. This game was clearly bought for sentimental reasons, as a tribute to my past or even to provide some kind of closure. I've played for around half an hour today, but if I'm honest I've had my fix and probably won't ever play it again. But the thing is that even if that turns out the be the case, the game itself serves as a postcard from my youth just sitting there on my shelf.

Video Of The Day Click for more info


Thanks to Zubs for the heads.

Memorial Gates Click for more info

I was invited to attend a ceremony to commemorate the Memorial Gates down on Constitution Hill. This is only across the road from where I work so I thought it would be worth checking out without taking too much time away from my desk.

It was smaller than I thought it would be. There were around 250-300 people there, and the formal ceremony lasted for around thirty minutes (although I seem to have missed the minute silence at 11am).

Otherwise it was as expected, with Baroness Flather, Lord Bilmoria and The Bishop of London all briefly speaking followed by bugles and bagpipes as the more important people laid their wreaths. It was a sombre affair. Pictures are on Picasa (or should be soon).

One thing the Baroness said struck a chord though. She mentioned how it was a shame that those in the sub-continent, for whom this memorial was really for, didn't really feel a need to recognise it; most probably didn't even know about the contribution made by the millions from their lands.

I guess I'm lucky in that I actually knew about the memorial and had visited it in the past - purely by luck mind, and only 'cos it's on the way to and from the mosque I go to pray Jummah in. But then, it isn't the first thing I suggest visitors from Pakistan and India to go and see, and I can't say I've ever told friends and family about it either.

So I guess that's what I'm doing now by writing this article. If you're in London and happen to be passing though the Hyde Park Corner area, how about taking five minutes (since it won't take much more than that) to check it out? I'm not guaranteeing emotion and I don't even saying that you have to reflect or anything, but it's not really something that takes much effort to do.

I'm the last person to ask about the Indian contribution to The Second World War, but regardless of my ignorance it is hard not to appreciate what the memorial is trying to symbolise.

Wednesday, November 8

Food: Tinseltown Click for more info

A place that I had previously sworn never to go to, Tinseltown wasn't actually all that bad.

My main fear was that it would turn out as sleazy as people had made it out to have been. And, to be honest, it kinda was; the average age appeared to hover around the 20 year old mark, and it was quite obviously the place students go to to hang around in their mixed groups, undercover, while listening to the MTV Base playing in the background.

But it was clean and the food was pretty good too - I struggled to pick my Chicken Burger with Bacon (which was actually beef; everything in Tinseltown is halal) from the wide selection of food available, and settled for a banana milkshake for drinking. All in all it came to around a tenner which, in retrospect, seems a bit steep, but is the price to pay for something that is pretty unique for being both halal and accessible.

Thinking about it now, it's the kind of place I would have enjoyed going to when I was younger. No, not 'cos of that (like anything has changed in that respect since), but more for the need to reconcile being relatively social with being relatively religious. But that's something I (and others in the same situation) dealt with before the likes of Tinseltown existed, so it's interesting to see what role places like these will serve today.

Sunday, November 5

Film: Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan Click for more info

I actually thought Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat was more funny than his Ali G. There was something a bit more subtle about a Kazakhstani TV presenter trying to make his way in the west, and as a result finding Borat funny placed you with "us" rather than "them".

So it's a bit surprising how I didn't find this feature version of the sketch as hilarious as the Ali G equivalent. I mean, sure, it was funny at times and did draw you into the whole mocking of the US theme, but it wasn't as pant-wettingly entertaining as I was expecting it to be.

The film was a bit predictable at times, possibly due to the extended coverage the film has received in the past couple of weeks, and that didn't help. The resorting to slapstick humour was a bit cheap too (although since it made me laugh anyway this is less than a criticism than it seems).

Still, it's difficult to advise people to rush out and watch this now. It would probably be a better idea to watch it privately at home in the background with a group of friends and for that reason you should probably wait for the DVD.

Saturday, November 4

Not So Surprising Birthdays

A friend an I were thrown a bit of a surprise birthday tonight. I say "a bit", because I can't quite claim that it was totally unexpected for me. Not that it wasn't totally appreciated and humbling of course, but unlike my friend I wasn't caught off guard. I think with this particular group it's a good thing to always expect to be stitched up in some way. Still, it was both sweet and flattering; and I even got a cake with my name on it and everything.

The whole episode and how I handled it says a lot though. Amongst other things, I have concluded that I'm:

  • Smart, since I had figured out something might have been up.
  • Psychic, but in a practical sense since I didn't have much to go on. A bit like how I can guess the ending of film.
  • Presumptuous, since I was expecting it.
  • Arrogant, since part of coming to this conclusion was thinking that I was special enough to warrant it.
  • Paranoid, since everyone is plotting behind my back and out to get me.
  • Self-involved, since even though it was a gathering for me, I needed the evening to be even more about me. And that doesn't even consider my writing this kind of blog.
  • Self-conscious, since I needed people to know that I knew.
  • Insensitive, since the most polite thing would be to allow myself to be surprised.
See? This is why I don't like birthday parties thrown for me. It totally messes me up, man.

Thursday, November 2

In Conversation with Jack Straw MP Click for more info

I wouldn't usually have attended something like this (especially on a Thursday), but I seeing as it was on the way home and promised to end by 730pm, I thought I'd give it a go.

But despite overrunning (even politicians can be tardy, it seems) it wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be. Yes, unfortunately it was mainly about those veil comments, and yes, 80% of that was a waste of time too, but what was left behind was worth listening to. I guess all the usual cliches (there were student protesters outside, and some vividly single minded people inside) just come with the territory.

After the pre-preamble, Sir Sigmund Sternberg (of the Three Faiths Forum) spoke about the importance of inter-religious dialogue, paying homage to the Labour party while doing so. He then introduced the main speaker for the evening, Jack Straw MP.

Unlike certain other members of his party, Straw seems much better at delivering prepared statements than being put on the spot. Still that's not a bad thing since he did a good job of defending/explaining/backtracking on (depending on your viewpoint) the whole veil thing. For me, a notable point was that although he would often request a visitor take off their veil, he wouldn't let any denial of that request hinder any help he could offer to them. Thank goodness for that.

He would also be against any change in the law that would ban the wearing of the veil (although in retrospect this doesn't really mean much. It's not like any such ban wouldn't be so obvious). Anyway, although I reckon he said enough to alleviate his mainstream critics, I'm not sure he tackled any of the more pragmatic concerns people have, like the ones I've described previously here (for a self-publicising example).

Not that I had a chance to raise them today. Yet again we had the same obvious, repeated and largely irrelevant questions asked by an audience more interested in scoring points than debate. And if that makes me sounds bitter, it's probably because I am. Still, I don't think that it's unreasonable to get frustrated at yet more accusations of breeding Islamophobia or at the umpteenth reference to the Iraq war. It also didn't help that Jack Straw struggled to respond to most of them.

So anyway, yes, tonight was interesting, but again it was more 'cos of the interactions and reactions of everyone involved rather than what any single person had to say. It's also amusing to compare my thoughts on event to that of others including the general press (The BBC and the second Guardian article linked below are especially head-scratching).

I hope I'm not being a sucker when I say that Straw now stands a bit taller in my eyes. That said, I still think he's weird for allowing a piece of cloth get in the way of effectively talking to someone. I wonder if he'll ever get over that.

More info and coverage at The BBC, The Guardian, Google Blog Search and The Guardian again.