Category Archives: Fire and Light

The Missing Staircase

Sometimes I dream that the staircase is missing. I’m in a large building and I don’t know my way around. I enjoy the feeling of being lost, but I know I have to get to the next level up. It can be a huge mansion, or a block of flats. Once it was a tower block with a crazy elevator system running around the outside. Another time it was a hotel lobby with ceiling several hundred feet high and only a hydraulic platform to take us up to our rooms, high above. Last night, it was just a stairwell in a run down block.

Sometimes there are other people. Last night there were other people. They were all taking the elevator. The lift. I didn’t want to take the lift. My instinct told me there was something wrong with it. It was broken. So I tried to see if I could find a toe-hold where I could jump across the missing stair and grab on to the edge of the floor above. There wasn’t.

Then a single person elevator stopped, ding, right next to me. I got in. The door closed and somehow it became a carriage on a train. Trains are good in dreams. Not just the ones that take you through tunnels. Trains are full of interesting people, going on interesting journeys. Trains can take you anywhere. They can also dump you out in stations that look familiar, like somewhere in London, but with no-one familiar around and all the landmarks in peculiar places. Once you’ve gone up the stairs into the sunlight.

One time I was living in a building without stairs right at the top. I worked my way around the tiniest scrap of ledge, no more than a picture rail, on the top floor of a building just to get the door to my room. Another time I discovered a secret society thanks to an elevator that circled a new tower block and descended underground to the hidden railway system. And then again, there was the time where it was simply an enormous train station and no trains. I wound up in the pub next door, which was warm and cosy and full of friends.

This morning, my elevator train sped me across a huge bridge, across a river. I thought we were going to shoot up into the air because I could only see out the top and it looked as if tracks went across the roof and the roof looked like a ski jump. But we pulled safely into a station. I knew I’d have to make it back across the river, over the bridge. It looked like a long way although we’d got there really fast. I like these dreams. Where the staircase is missing and the trains are crazy. I like the feeling of being lost, the sense of exploration, of discovering the unknown.

Many mansions and fascinating places wait to be discovered. I’ve seen some of them in my dreams. I’ll see them again in real life. And I’ll open every door and discover all of the hidden staircases. Then I’ll walk on air without realizing I’m flying until I look down to see my feet aren’t touching the ground.

I Have A Dream

And it’s about cushions…

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Day here on the blue fringes of Jesustan and I was out filming a symposium at the university. While I’m doing this, Laura is discovering Rachel Stevens of S-Club 7 so, y’know, the world has started spinning off its axis. Poptastic. Anyway, I now type to the sound of “Sweet dreams, my LA ex!” Bizarre really, when just a few short months ago I was putting out S-Club TV shows on the BBC kids channels. I digress.

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Day. And I was out filming. A symposium. Some people lecturing, if you will. One of them was Mary Sue Coleman, the president of the University of Michigan in who’s office, you may remember, I left one of my business cards a few months back. In her dictionary. Anyway, she’s just taken a case for pro-active admission of minorities all the way to the Supreme Court. And won.

I’ve no idea if Mary Sue has found the Ascalon Films card yet but there she was, looking right into the camera every so often, as she described the UofM’s commitment to equal opportunities. Also on the panel was Henry Cisneros and he mellowed me out. Henry cracked some jokes, described how he was once introduced as “Henry Cheesenachos” and then spoke about Martin Luther King.

MLK, said Henry, didn’t change the message for different audiences. He believed in everyone’s ability to achieve more than they expect of themselves, to stretch themselves. MLK gave the same message wherever he went. He didn’t talk down to people. He expected them to keep up or find out for themselves what he was about. He believed people could be taught. So does Mary Sue Coleman. And I find this at odds with my rant of the other day. At least generally. Which is a good thing.

Henry, unfortunately, blew his wad several years ago by cheating, lying, and helping the FBI waste money in unneccessary investigations, although I suspect his political enemies were just looking for an excuse. Which is a shame. Because some of the things Cisneros said, when quoting MLK, were right. And they might get ignored because of the aforementioned. You need character, belief and optimism to change things. And more, we all need to learn “the simple art of living together”.

I think I, like most people, have slipped into sloppy thinking. The kind of sloppy thinking that’s led to the dumbing down of the BBC and the news media in general. I remember Grelle White asking me what veridian was and I explained it was a shade of green. She changed my copy because the readers of the Watford Observer were expected to be dumb. I still regard that as an error, although Grelle as a person is terrific. I prefer to think people are capable of more.

Which makes it hard to live in a world where people do so many dumb things. Take Ariel Sharon, for instance. Please. Sharon is the leader of the world’s most evil regime, without any doubt. His latest call to crackdown on Palestinians because their new leader hasn’t done enough is a sick joke.

“Despite the change in Palestinian leadership, we have yet to see them taking any action against terror,” Mr Sharon told his cabinet.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had been elected less than a week.

I find this kind of behaviour disgusting. Ariel Sharon is clearly trying to force armageddon. It behooves us (and I think I can say “behooves” because I think you, dear readers, are smart), it behooves us to stand up in the face of people like this and say, “No, you’re behaving in a self-serving, violent way. We won’t sell you arms. We won’t buy goods or deal with your country. We don’t recognise your authority and we are issuing sanctions against you. You are a malicious occupying parasite which trades on a bankrupt stock of pro-semitic sympathy that Israel no longer warrants.”

Then last night, I viewed more films for the Ann Arbor Film Festival. We get a lot of one hour documentaries, clearly geared for TV slots. They’re usually forgettable, dull, unimaginative and easily ignored. One of them wasn’t. It was about environmental activist Judi Bari, arrested for allegedly causing an explosion that almost killed her. Earth First campaigned for nearly 12 years to clear her name, fighting stalling by the FBI as the logging companies decimated thousands of acres of ancient redwood forest and loggers milled away their children’s futures.

What impressed me was Judi’s ability to change things by actually working with the loggers, rather than against them. Pointing out that the forest is a limited resource in small communities and enlisting support from the loggers themselves. That’s incredibly powerful. Change can happen, although the mill owners switched from creating planks to pulping the wood, which is less labour (spelled correctly) intensive while hugely more destructive. Change can yet happen. Bari showed it happens when the protestors work with–not against–the people they want to change. The art of living together.

What also impressed me was the determination of Earth First as they fought their civil suit against the FBI. They showed that people can make a difference, right can triumph over wrong, good over bad.

There must be good people in the FBI who roll their eyes every time cases like these come up. Equally, there are good Jewish people in the world who abhore violence done in their name in the middle East. I was reminded of that today–that large organizations and groups are not homogenous entities to be tarred with broad brushes–when I read a report in the New York Times relating to a story carried on Laura, Alex and Joseph’s website, Martini Republic. I thought the NYT piece was well-written, accurate and balanced. And it reminded me that there are good journalists out there, reporters with integrity. The publishers and broadcasters might be out to make swift bucks or gain some kind of political capital, but most reporters are just doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. Likewise, I’m sure, most FBI folks. It’s a few idiots who’ve got positions they shouldn’t have who erode the credibility of the rest.

Which kind of brings us back to Prince Harry, doesn’t it? Maybe. Or Sarah Ferguson, who’s dopey visage yet grins dimly from the brightly lit magazine racks at the book shop in the mall. I had to avert mine eyes lest I be struck to somnabulance. I found both respite and inspiration in the pages of this month’s National Geographic, my favorite (spelled USA correctly) source of photographic inspiration. Last night I felt much more positive about the whole stupid world things than I had felt the other day. And I too had a dream. But I don’t think it will help anyone because, unlike MLK, I’d had a beer. Or two.

I dreamt I was learning to be a judge. The court was convened in a branch of Woolworths and my teacher and I were sat on a stage atop the cushion display as we dispensed justice. At one point I stood up–and some bastard nicked my cushion! When I sat down, boomf, hardness. I checked and the cushion cover had been replaced. They’d just stolen the filling. I leapt down to the floor and found these two guys walking out with what was clearly an overstuffed cushion that they’d only paid a regular price for. I grabbed it, unzipped it, and three cushion fillings came out. I immediately sentenced them for contempt.

If you can explain this. Please. Don’t bother. Laura is now playing, “For what it’s worth” originally by Buffalo Springfield and the pop has ended. I think Buffalo Springfield originally formed on my birthday in 1964. They sang about a pointless war, which shouldn’t have been waged. And the world changed. The world can still change. It takes a whole lot of optimism, and less sitting on the cushions, but the system is actually good and we can all use it. It’s not the stupid people make me angry. It’s callousness where responsibility should be the norm. We still need to learn that simple art of living together.

Gumby Watch

Britain’s royal potsmoking slacker Prince Harry stunned the world with an outstanding lapse of judgement last week when he wore a nazi uniform to a fancy dress party. Now everyone knows that only Mel Brooks can get away with that, not royal heirs in sleepy backwater countries like Britain.

Still it’s good to know that, despite getting only a B and a D in his A-levels, Harry will soon be off to the military elite training school, Sandhurst, where he’ll be assigned to defending a once great nation and such freedoms as, oh, how about freedom of the press. Or maybe they’ll keep him away from anything too sensitive. We can only hope.

The BBC, weary of tsunami deaths over a couple of weeks, got very excited about The Sun’s revelation and published several pages on their website about Harry and the Royals. I dread to think of all the ghastly pundits who must have slithered out of the woodwork for TV interviews and obsequious Radio Four talk shows. I only saw the internet version but it must have made Right Thinking Joe Public’s skin crawl.

One brilliant webpage put up by the state-funded media purported to detail The Blunders of Britain’s Royals. Okay, you can always rely on the Duke of Edinburgh to say something crass so it’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. Nevertheless, some of the Beeb’s blathering was clearly written by zombie scarecrows searching for fresh brains.

In 1996, Prince Philip made headlines when he questioned whether the media would call for a ban on cricket bats if someone used one to kill people. What the media wouldn’t say was that Philip was right. The British media is, tragically, reactionary–at least on a national level–because they have to keep selling newspapers, filling the airwaves and churning out the copy. And they feel it’s their duty to keep issues in the spotlight, lest their dimwitted readers lose the sense of moral outrage. At least until something else comes along.

So a gun crime results in an irrelevant ban on all guns. A stabbing results in a bizarre call for banning knives–all knives, including kitchen knives. And a bus crash caused by a driver having a heart attack results in a call for seat belts for bus passengers. Regardless of the fact that such measures would have had no effect on the fatalities in any of these cases. Prince Philip was exactly right to point out how ridiculous all this is with his reductio ad adsurbdum. But he’s said dim things before so this must be dim too, right? Wrong.

Prince Charles was criticised more recently for his remarks about education, when he wrote about the UK’s learning culture:

“What is it that makes everyone seem to think they are qualified to do things far beyond their technical capabilities?” he wrote.

He blamed a “child-centred system which admits no failure” and tells people they can achieve greatness without “putting in the necessary effort or having the natural abilities”.

The BBC seems to think this is worthy of inclusion in a page on blunders. I submit that the person who included this, who thought it was newsworthy in this context is exactly the sort of stupid person Prince Charles was talking about. Someone who got their position more through contacts than hard slog. Some representative of the not-very-bright individuals who think the world owes everyone a living regardless of how hard they work or how much talent they have.

Britain’s education system, like the US, is suffering from this and ultimately the countries’ economies suffer too. Schools don’t actually teach that mediocrity is desirable and intelligence is bad, of course. Instead they use social engineering to ensure an essentially communist agenda is met. Smart children can’t be separated from the rest, streamed into a higher set, because then the rest might feel bad. The result is, well it’s Prince Harry with a B and a D grade in two A levels and dropping out of a third. What everyone sees is that Harry’s off to Sandhurst despite of his lack of effort.

Yet still Prince Charles was spot on with his comments about education. Nobody can fail, mediocrity rules. I sit and watch hours and hours of turgid mediocre videos every week sent to A2 Film Fest because everyone now has the technology to make moving pictures. Similarly the internet is full of dull, boring hackery because everyone has a keyboard. But most of these people aren’t filmmakers or writers. And you know why. Because either they haven’t applied themselves or they haven’t studied or they have no talent.

Uh oh. I said it. What if I’m a hack too? What if I have no talent as a filmmaker? Okay, I can face that. But I believe I can see the standards, the real external standards. And I know exactly where I’m falling short. I don’t believe most of the people now typing for the net or sending their work out to film fests can tell the difference between good and bad writing or filmmaking. Everyone watches movies and TV but few really see the details, when it’s great or why it sucks.

Education is failing because the criteria for success are being set by the students, not by the teachers. Likewise economies are failing because companies are being allowed to get away with appalling lapses in social responsibility. This isn’t just inappropriate; it’s wrong. Some forms of success have to be defined by external forces.

Not everyone is a winner, only a very few are outstanding. Prince Harry clearly isn’t one of the latter but he won’t fail because he was born into a family with the right connections. Most people don’t have that. B grade students used to have to work harder to get to the top, but they used to do it. B grade students often surpassed A grade students who found it all too easy to coast while their slightly slower counterparts applied themselves more.

Now we’re seeing the D, E and F grade students get everything, regardless of where they started. I think it’s largely because they’ve got a monopoly on noise. Stupid people can be painfully loud and smart people hide from the noise so that they won’t have to work harder by slowing their minds down to communicate with them. We’d rather they just went away, somewhere else. Quietly. Instead, the emporer is naked and everyone’s cheering.

Smells Like A Conspiracy Theory

It wouldn’t be America without a good conspiracy theory would it. So, here it is. Two states made the biggest difference for Bush. Two states with new electronic voting systems and no paper trails to check if anything seemed amiss. Funnily enough, those states with e-votes were ones where naughty voters apparently bucked the trend of the paper balloted states and lied to the folks conducting exit polls.

Daily Kos thinks this might be worth a few minutes of people’s attention. Here’s a nice clear illustration so you can judge for yourself.

Meanwhile, the BBC reports that the election was “free and fair” according to the international monitors. Ah, but, here’s the nice bit for the conspiracy theory: they didn’t allow those election monitors into the polling stations in–you’ll never guess–Florida and Ohio. Surely not.

Nah, it’s just some bitter Kerry supporters. It’s not like the voting machine manufacturer promised Ohio to Bush beforehand or anything. That would be silly.

Anyway, it strikes me that …Hey, is that a black helicopter? Jesus is watching. Thwup thwup thwup…


Yet more evidence is being presented that the vote may have been hacked. Too late now, though. Kerry already capitulated.

Thwup thwup thwup…

Aged 19-24?

Thanks for not voting. It was your last chance. Didn’t want to stand out in the rain? Didn’t want to wait because the lines were longer than your cable TV-created ADD could tolerate? Born again for Jesus were you, down there in Ohio? You just flushed your future. Enjoy watching your parents spend your inheritance. And enjoy the draft.