Thursday, August 14, 2003

A long one today, kids, so get yourself a cup of tea and sit down for a post that rivals Bill's in length!

Long-time (ten dollar!) readers will remember that I bought the first Dark Tower book at roughly the same time that I purchased The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on DVD, and that because in his introduction, Stephen King says that the Dark Tower series, and the first book in particular, is inspired by that film, I held off on reading the book until I'd seen the film. You'll also remember that I had great difficulty getting around to watching the film. Finally, yesterday, I watched it.
It's my Dad's joint-favourite film (High Plains Drifter, a favourite of mine, is the other). It has some kind of mythic significance to it that I've never understood, even though recently I've seen a lot of Clint Eastwood westerns (but Unforgiven still evades me!) and have been struck by how good they really are. Clint became such an icon that everyone sort of got used to him, and the sheen that made him an icon rubbed off a bit. You only have to see him in action in these films to "remember" that sheen. I've also been struck by how much I remember of them. I suspect my Dad watched them with me when I was very young, in a failed attempt at bonding.
Now I do understand. This film amazed me. It didn't give me goosebumps like Spider-Man did, but I could see why it had such an effect on my Dad. It's truly superb. I loved it. I can't describe it. I think this is what alcoholics call a "moment of clarity" (thanks Sam!).
if you haven't seen it, do so. Don't be put off by the three-hours-plus running time, because it doesn't feel like three hours. Just watch it!

As civil liberties are being stripped away every day in America, the ugly face of totalitarianism reveals itself in Britain.

Exam results were released today, back in Blighty, and inevitably, the complaints have begun. Every year it's the same. There's a record number of passes, and of high-grade passes, and the government decides that the exams are too easy, and go to work on them. The next year, pretty much everyone fails, and there's outcry about the exams being too hard, which they are because the government tinkered with them.
It's just digustingly rude to the kids. They're given no credit for actually being clever, and knowing the answers because they learned them. No. We can't be proud of our kids. No. We have to claim that they instead took advantage of flawed exams. That's so rude and dismissive. It angers me on principle, and also because a few years ago, I suffered as a result of it.
My year fell foul of the "tinkered" A-Level exams. The year before had done well, so we got a harder exam, with far stricter marking guidelines. The result was that the majority of our year got lower than expected grades, and those of us in the being-groomed-for-Oxbridge set fell very short of our goals. Only one of us scraped an A in any of their subjects. A letter-writing campaign began almost immediately, and surprisingly there was a response.
The way things are done in Britain, you actually apply to universities before you get your results, based on your teachers' predictions. This is why this thing is so damaging, because it hurts students' confidence as well as their ability to get into the university they want, subsequently changing their future plans a great deal. Anyway, I was lucky enough to get exactly the grades my chosen institution wanted (I was one of the Oxbridge set, but I didn't like Cambridge-far too grey and dreary, plus I'm so working class I would have felt crap going there). Others weren't so lucky.
The response: the exam boards acknowledged their mistake, and regraded people, but only if they failed to get into their chosen university based on the original grades. So I was not regraded, because it wasn't necessary. Which is crap, because what ever happened to self-respect?

Sorry. Rant over.

Dubai seems like a fun place to be. The Guardian calls it the "ostentatious emirate of Dubai", which should really be it's official designation, I reckon. Not only are they building a resort shaped like a palm tree, not only are they building a series of islands that will match the world's geography ("Yes, I'd like to stay in France please"), not only are they going to build the world's tallest building, but they're going to build an underwater hotel. Crazy place. Can't wait to go there.

Finally, a nice piece on racial diversity in America, particularly California. I'm beginning to think that any white civilisation is probably by default racist, although I do think that Britain gets it more right than the US and (particularly) Australia, BNP election wins and Oldham riots aside. It's especially ironic considering the ethnic diversity in these countries, due to decades, even centuries of immigration. Racism is a strange thing, on many levels. I don't understand racism itself, apart from on a purely primal biological level, but I'd like to think we're past that. I don't understand how people's brains can still be wired like that. Surely the intermingling of ethnic groups helps the species as a whole evolve? I don't know. Anyway, I'm rambling. I may have a think about this racist issue, and write something more coherent later. I might not. My thought originally was that this article was an interesting look at the other side of a nation which surprises/disgusts me every day with its xenophobia, racism, bigotry, heck, it's whole philosophy. The silver lining, if you will.

And that's the news. Sorry folks, it's all newspaper links today!

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