More great reading

On the day that Scotland’s First Minister announced he would not be attending the Open at Muirfield in protest at the golf club’s men-only policy (yes, readers of the  21st century, you read that correctly), it was no small pleasure to discover this blog – SF Mistress – completely by accident.

I’m looking forward to spending a good few hours reading about books in my favourite genre that don’t feature a current/ former assassin/ special forces/ master criminal dude out for revenge against a vastly superior/ evil/ nefarious enemy but instead are thoughtful, well-written, undiscovered literary treasures.  Did I mention that this is a blog dedicated to books by women?  That’s right, I didn’t need to because it doesn’t matter, you just want to discover books that may have escaped review elsewhere.

(And when I spell-check this blog, I realise that this is not only the only time I will probably ever write about golf but very likely the only time that Scotland’s leading politician will appear in a blog post about women writing science-fiction… weird)

The oldest national flag in the world

Now, I didn’t know this but it turns out that the flag of St. Andrew, also known as Bratach nàiseanta na h-Alba or more simply The Saltire, is ‘the oldest flag in the world…’

Now, I didn’t believe the person who told me but they refined their remark to mean that Scotland’s flag has been in continuous use for the longest period of any flag in the world.  How did this conversation come about?  Well now…

Unionists are using the Diamond Jubilee as an excuse to wave their rag in our faces and given the wall-to-wall coverage by those who’ve taken to calling what was previously known as a ‘meritocratic democracy‘, a ‘constitutional monarchy‘, I’ve been wondering when my fellow Scots (and English Republicans) are going to get around to having their own little tea party.  It was rather cheering then to note that the bunting in Kinghorn is not coloured by the unionist rag but is formed of The Saltire.  I was talking about this phenomenon with a work colleague who argued that the bunting should be made from the flag of Union.

My argument was this: the royal family in England have their own flag, the Royal Standard (for which the Queen uses a slightly different version here than is seen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland).  The Union flag was devised to celebrate political union (the Act of Settlement in which Scottish and ‘English’ being earlier), surely to show loyalty to what many in Scotland consider a foreign monarch, Unionist Scots should be offering their own national flag in support if they’re not going to wave the royal standard?  My colleague (correctly) pointed out that the Royal Standard is used to denote the Queen being in residence and I agreed: what better way to indicate her rule in all the parts of her kingdoms than to exceptionally have the Royal Standard flown across the territories?

We were both corrected by someone who had overheard us and who had some expertise in heraldry: the correct flag to be flown during jubilee celebrations was the respective national flag of each of the kingdoms .ie. flag of St. Andrew in Scotland, flag of St. Patrick in Northern Ireland, flag of England and the flag of Wales.  The wee village of Kinghorn had therefore got it correct*.

The current design of the Union rag dates from 1801 and is therefore not even as old as the Act of Union.  Perhaps the use of The Rag has become common only for propaganda/ TV purposes.  Just think of how those long view, pan-and-scan shots would look to the world’s media if they showed four different flags across the British Isles…. folks might even be given the idea that there were four countries taking part in the Jubilee.  While I could be asking how the UK got its name, I prefer to play the game of spotting which businesses here in Scotland are flying The Saltire and the Lion of Rampant of Scotland.

* When I thought about the conversation later, I realised that I’m actually glad that so many people got it wrong.  First, The Saltire remains something we can use post-independence without having to think about the last time it was waved enthusiastically.  Second, as supporters of independence, we get to see which businesses are no longer going to receive our custom.  Third, like the wearing of certain football colours, it makes it really easy to spot the numpties

The Great Divide

Nothing highlights just how out-of-touch are those that claim to rule over us than this news article in today’s Guardian.  I’ve been unemployed and am fully aware that if searching for a job is itself a full-time occupation, I can’t imagine how difficult searching for work must be in the current economic climate.  But this?  It is no exagerration to say that the conditions these folk were made to endure so that some parasite could have a little boat ride down a river, put the modern British state into the same slave-market economy as Rome two thousand years ago.  No-one made these folk work at the point of a sword (or to really challenge assumptions, the barrel of a Nazi German rifle) but how are employment prospects served by making people work a fifteen -hour shift, unpaid, without access to proper sanitation for 24 hours on threat of losing the benefits they receive?

Stealing Dreams

There have been many articles written about Christopher Nolan’s latest film, ‘Inception’ and most of them complimentary.  As with anything held in such high regard by so many, there are some nay-sayers but one in particular struck me as particularly off-target.  The point of the article posted on the Comics Alliance blog seems to be that comics are under threat from a film that borrows from some conventions used by graphic novels.

In describing what Jason Michelitch believes to be the film’s failings, Jason says that ‘Inception’ suffers from its choice of subject matter and that “[b]y declaring loudly that it is about dreams, the film calls direct attention to its own paucity of imagination.”  The dreams, of course, are the context, the background against which a story is told describing one man’s difficulty in coming to terms with his wife’s suicide.

If you haven’t seen the film yet, here’s a plot summary of the movie.

As with any film that reaches a large audience through word-of-mouth recommendation (the box office has sustained momentum over a number of weeks here in the UK), it is a writer and director’s understanding of the so-called ‘human condition’ which is what touches the audience: it is perhaps that the focus of the article is so definitely tipped toward some agenda, that it may be amusing for a few minutes to tear it apart, after all, with more than 160k votes at time of writing, Inception is scoring 9.1/10 on IMDB…

1. “It all doesn’t amount to that much more than an exercise in plot mechanics…”
Plot is character.  In any film, character development – taking a character or ensemble from opening titles to final credits – is what a film does.  ‘Plot mechanics’ is how one scene moves into another.

2. “The settings in Inception do not function like dreams.”
No, they don’t because they are designed by an architect to allow the team to move more easily through a subject’s subconscious.

3. “Everything is painfully literal…”
That would be because the audience isn’t in the subject’s head with the team.

4. “During one sequence, DiCaprio’s character spends decades building one dream world out of his utmost fantasies, and comes up with nothing more interesting than a series of sleek high-rise buildings just like ones he admired in real life.”
That would be building the dream world with his now dead wife… they were both architects and in real life, architects – as with other creative professions – design buildings that are influenced by the work of other architects.

5. “Hundreds of millions of dollars flow into making virtually anything appear on a movie screen through the wonders of special effects, enough to give even the most improbable visions substance, and what are those dollars spent on? Bigger guns. More impressive explosions.”
The budget for this film was less than ‘hundreds’ and if you haven’t yet seen the film yet, surely the big money was spent on the hotel corridor sequence which succeeds on being an unexpected thrill.

6. “In dreams we often see recurring symbols of our deepest anxieties, and clearly Hollywood’s is that the great mass audience will turn on them if they try too hard, if they act too smart, if they make people feel challenged or confused. The best thing to do is to not expect too much of the audience, to reassure them and over-explain things, and to make sure to throw in a half-clever twist so that the mass walks out of the theater feeling smart. Given that the most frequent compliment to “Inception” I’ve heard is that “it never loses the audience,” their strategy seems to have found fertile ground.”
Clearly, wrong: you pay for your ticket on the way into the theatre but further, as mentioned above, ticket sales have been consistently high with many people returning to see the film again.

7. “…make no mistake, ‘Inception’ is a quintessential glimpse into the world of big-budget film. It is Hollywood speaking through Christopher Nolan to expound its ultimate statement of artistic principles: when told to dream bigger, just think up a better gun and a more convoluted way to say what your predecessors have already said in order to seem like you’re saying something new. Don’t change too much. Don’t risk the audience turning on you. Just blend in, trick your marks out of their money, and disappear before the lights come up and they realize what happened while they were asleep.”
Conspiracy theory?  Hollywood ‘speaking through’ Christopher Nolan?
The script for ‘Inception’ was first written 10 years ago.  Nolan had to wait until technology advanced sufficiently before being able to make his film and given that Hollywood’s primary concern is money and shareholder value, it must have taken considerable negotiation – and not inconsiderable sucess with both of the most recent Batman films – for Warner Brothers to put up the money for the director’s personal project.

Rather than picking on a film that did not originate in a comic book, Jason would have been better picking a target such as the Iron Man sequel, a film which is so devoid of a moral core that it doesn’t even ask the audience to celebrate an arms manufacturer as a hero but instead invites us to be seduced by his wit, charisma and wealth.

There are more of these adaptations coming to cinema screens soon.  That a film with an original script and big budget can still be made at great risk to the studio – and writer-director’s reputation – is cause to celebrate and not to gurn.

April Fool?

Well, it’s about time someone stuck the boot into the Eton Toffs who are gearing-up for another decade (and more) of rewarding the same big businesses who ruined economic and social stability in this country: why else would the toffs be going to such trouble to defend The Indefensible aka ‘Lord’ Ashcroft?

Pity the above is only an April Fool’s joke.  I’d vote for that.