Monday 30 May 2011

American (and Canadian) regional accents

This subject has got me gripped. Thanks to 'Anne Marie of Philly' for provoking it by mentioning accents after my comment on Cubby's posting of his 'Rings around Uranus' on his PatentlyQueer blog - and Cubby's own further information about distinct regional American variations.
It's a subject that is just never discussed in the U.K. because to us Brits, with very few exceptions (I mentioned the deep south, as well as there being the clear Texan accent), most Americans all seem to talk the same way. (Do I hear the sound of collective jaws dropping?). Offhand I still couldn't point to the difference between the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, though I bet someone's going to tell me that not only are there crucial ones but there are also discernible variations in how far north or south on that particular coast one goes. Are there, for instance, distinctive Florida or Washington State accents?
More than once, on my holidays in Europe, having met a guy whom I assumed to be an American, have I been gently corrected by being told that I was speaking to a Canadian. Although I was embarrassed I bet most Brits would have made the assumption that I did. I wonder if the accents of people from, say, Vancouver and Newfoundland are as far apart as their geographical locations are?
I once met an absolutely stunningly beautiful bearded leather guy in a hotel in Cologne (before I moved to that city myself) who could speak only French. My not unreasonable assumption on commencing a somewhat limping conversation with him was that he'd just hopped on a train in his home country, probably from Paris, and arrived for a weekend of fun - as I had. It turned out that he was actually from Montreal - which thereby gave me a chance to practice my tongue on him; but that's another story. However, I dare say that any Frenchman would have known within a second or two that he wasn't a native of France.

I see that there are audio illustrations on the Internet of the various regional American accents, which I am now going to explore and, hopefully, make me much more knowledgeable on this subject.
Oooooh, this is so exciting!!!

Tuesday 24 May 2011

An open letter to GOD.

Dear Almighty Being,
I hope that Thou willst look kindly on this little missive written by myself, an humble homo.
In recent days we've been hearing much of Thy purported intention to bring an imminent end to life on earth. I must say at the outset that since this planet has existed for some 4.500,000,000 years (minimum) - though according to 'The Holy Book', some interpret this figure to be erroneous, and that the actual age of the earth is less than 10,000 years, with human beings and prehistoric creatures existing simultaneously, (Alas, I'm not knowledgeable enough to argue with any expertise on the subject, but I do know which possibility is the more likely!) - I do feel privileged to be alive (for the moment) at this particularly auspicious time.
Now we've heard from Thy disciple, Mr Camping, who freely admits that he erred in his forecast date, but that the 'end' will now definitely occur on October 21st this year. I must express my gratitude that Thou hast kindly spared us the previously-promised five months of agony and terrorised anguish leading up to this apocalyptic date. Oh, the frailty of our human condition in making mistakes! Unlike Thee, Almighty Sir, Thou hast bequeathed fallibility to all of us - that is to all except for our Holy Father, Thy universally-revered, Pope Benedict, appointed by Thyself through Thy Divine inspiration to our noble, gracious and eminent body of Cardinals. Although Thy Supreme Pontiff is infallible only when he deigns to speak to us ex cathedra, I accept that with that singular august exception we are continuously at the mercy of human error.
Now I appreciate that I have never displayed adequate contrition for my grievously sinful past. Indeed, I have at times absolutely revelled in my indulgence of a certain 'unnatural' activity which comes so easily to me. I know that, along with eating shellfish, wearing garments of differing weaves or materials, children being disobedient to their parents (and many other such heinous crimes committed against Thine eternally-wise strictures), all of which deserve the just and ultimate penalty of death, I have frequently participated in 'abominations of the flesh'. Indeed so many times have I performed such acts that I cannot recall more than a fraction of them. And it gets even worse. Even if 'love' or 'affection' could ever be used as a mitigation of such activities (which, of course, they can NOT, in any circumstances) it wouldn't apply in so many instances of my life where the entire motivation was to experience pleasure. And it gets yet still worse. I have committed these acts of abomination even with strangers - men (yes, all MEN) whose names I didn't even know either before or after this utterly disgraceful conduct. I'm assuming that I am correct in thinking that whenever Thou decideth to pull the curtain down, I shall be destined to reside in Hell-fire for EVERMORE, because of my sinful ways.
But it would behove me ill to implore Thy forgiveness. The simple truth is that I am NOT sorry. Thou hast created me as a mirror of Thine own unparalleled, ineffable goodness, and I am merely following the dictates of my nature - yes, nature - in doing what I feel I want to within this pathetic mortal shell of flesh and bone. My rule of thumb has always been - "As long as it's not hurting anyone else who is not party to the particular actions one makes or decisions one takes then there's nothing wrong with it".

Just one final point, if I may, please. If Thou really art going to ring the death knell of this wonderful planet which Thou, in Thine infinite wisdom, didst create, willst Thou please quit piss-farting around and just fucking DO IT!
Yours faithfully,
Your humble, arse-licking (mmmm!), homo servant,

P.S. Any chance of sending a hairy (male) hunk in my direction? Ideally aged 30-50 and preferably 'uncut' - though I won't quibble too much about the latter.

Thursday 19 May 2011

Film:'ATTACK THE BLOCK' - yes, but why attack the audience too?

Yesterday went to see this new alien-invasion/comedy-thriller British film which has had some very favourable reviews. (South London mixed-race gang team up with their former female mugging victim fight to fight aliens attacking their apartment block). It's one of the laudable breed of film made on a relatively small budget - as was last year's 'Monsters' , which itself was an object lesson in showing how you don't need anywhere near the millions of bucks to create a worthwhile entertainment that can easily stand up against or be superior to so many of the multi-million blockbusters, which often end up provoking more yawns than true excitement.
But this new film was painful - literally. Why did this cinema (Odeon multiplex, Brighton) have to have the soundtrack turned up to such an ear-splitting, brain-bashing, mind-mashing level of volume that it not only distorts the words of conversation (and I refer here to normal talk, not shouts) as to make them near-indecipherable, and actually causing physical pain? As for when background music or sudden, far-too-frequent extra-loud thuds and crashes happen (intended to make you jump, but you can see them coming a mile off), apart from the agony they give rise to, they are counter-productive because the unnecessarily fortississimo sounds actually distract from what's going on on the screen. But I wonder if it's just me? Do the younger generations, towards which films like this are primarily aimed, have their hearing sensibilities already so damaged by the constant thud-thud-thuds found in night-clubs, bars and discos? - and then so many of them have those ubiquitous MP3 players plugged in all the time. Is that the reason why they can take these absurdly loud sounds without feeling the level of pain that I experience?
At the other extreme, I complained that last year's much-praised film 'The Social Network' was ruined for me because I just couldn't make out what they the characters were saying amongst all their under-the-breath mumblings. So if I also can't enjoy films like 'Attack the Block' for precisely the opposite reason, surely it can't be that my own hearing is at fault. Or could the rather scary truth be that my age is making me intolerant at both ends of the sound-spectrum? However, Ive not noticed any deterioration of my hearing in other aspects of my life - certainly not in face-to-face conversation, so I can't explain it.
Well, I suppose the next time I go to the cinema I ought be armed with cotton balls and be prepared to stuff them into my auricular orifices when necessary. As for this particular film - I'll grudgingly award it a 5.5/10. I really wanted to like it more.

Sunday 15 May 2011

Eurovision Song Contest - same old outcome but I still love it!

So, Azerbaijan triumphs in Dusseldorf with a song which I'd have placed around 20th out of the 25 finalists. It invariably happens that way for me.
I've just looked up the country in my atlas and though I knew it was somewhere in the Black Sea/Caspian Sea area I wouldn't have had any confidence about giving its exact location - and even harder pushed to have named its capital (Baku) .
Anyway, if that song was what people wanted, who am I to argue?
I got a little consolation in that my second-favourite song also finished second, even though commentator Graham Norton seemed intent on running it down. ("Who would have imagined that a song like that could have finished in the top half, never mind in such a high place!")
Final results:-
1. Azerbaijan
2. Italy
3. Sweden
4. Ukraine
5. Denmark

My own placings:-
1. Iceland (Actually finished 20th)
2. Italy (2nd)
3. Ireland (8th)
4. Switzerland (25th = Last!)
5. Spain (23rd)

I suppose it just goes to show how my own tastes are largely out of tune with prevailing moods.

United Kingdom came 11th (a considerable improvement on last year's - last) with, for me a run-of-the-mill song performed by resurrected quartet 'Blue', even now reminding me too much of 'All4One's' biggie of 20 years ago, 'I Swear'. (The song's title 'I Can' tells its own story).

With TV audiences this year being allowed to vote from the time before the first song was even performed (why?) it was inevitable that regional rivalries would predominate yet more than usual with countries largely voting for their neighbours as they are not allowed to vote for their own country. We are assured that countries bordering each other do actually have strong rivalries, which I am ready to believe, and that they really vote for the cultural familiarity of a song, though I rarely notice any marked difference in the songs performed. They seem more or less interchangeable, especially when so often the song's composers come from a country other than the one the song is representing in the competition. If it's true that they really do tend to vote for their neighbours, then we in the west of the continent must be at a disadvantage as the break-ups of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia have resulted in a myriad of smaller countries, each carrying the same voting weight as the bigger states in the west, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the U.K.
Well, it's an oft-voiced argument but no one seems to have any idea of how to rectify the balance. But must we get so worked-up about it? It's only an entertainment, a game, a bit of fun, for heaven's sake!

Okay, then. Roll on 2012! The U.K. haven't won for 14 years now so let's see if the the gloves aren't off. Let's show all these 'Johnny Foreigners' how to beat them at their own game. HAH!!!

Monday 9 May 2011

Gore Vidal - a man never to be overlooked

I picked up for a song at a car-boot sale the other day this hardback edition of Gore Vidal's biography by Fred Kaplan (1999) - and am getting much pleasure from it. This 800+ page tome is every bit as dense on detail as Vidal's own novels, of which I've read about half a dozen, even though I confess that I rarely remember them afterwards. To be honest, I seem to find that his erudition gets in the way of his story.
Vidal is a figure I've been more fascinated by rather than admired outright. For me his talks and participations in discussions have outshone the undoubted literary merit of those works of his which I've read - but, my God, he was such a precocious writer from such an early age!
At the turn of the millenium BBC TV had a 20-part one-hour weekly discussion series about the history of Christianity, covering one century per week. Vidal was a guest on several of them, joining various notable philosophers, not all of them Christians, or even theists, as well as prominent religious clerics of various denominations. He never let the chance go to make a withering comment on religion, especially Christianity of course, and, above all, Roman Catholicism. It was worth watching the entire series just to catch his put-downs.
I've just read on the Internet some of the reviews of this biography. They are by no means all favourable but the majority seem to think it a good or (often) a very good work, which I, reaching now its half-way point, would largely go along with.
Vidal, no matter what you think of him, was never one to suffer fools gladly. His enormous capacity for sexual high jinks right from his teenage years and well into adulthood (mentioned in passing rather than described in detail here) make me quite envious. But even without that aspect he's led such a colourful, eventful life - and the people he's met and known, in the arts and politics in particular, is a name-droppers cornucopia.
Now in his mid-80s he is obviously close to, or even now running, his final lap. It would be impossible to write a critique of American gay culture without mentioning his name several times, though he would be scathing about being included in it as he doesn't recognise that a specifically gay culture has even existed. Be that as it may, for me he remains one of the really significant figures of 20th century America.

Friday 6 May 2011

Why don't religions kick the hell out of each other (figuratively)?

I'm baffled as to why there seems to be such a dearth, or even total absence, of sound, intellectual, public debate between religions, despite each of them claiming that it and it alone uniquely possesses the 'absolute truth'. All their common fire seems to be directed at those who do not believe in any omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent Creator, rather than aiming at those believing in a Supreme Being at complete odds to their own belief - though Paganism does actually sometimes attract censure too. (On the grounds of worshiping 'false gods?)

I feel intensely irritated that whenever the question comes anywhere close to going asked, the topic is always closed down by a statement of the analogy "Ah, but you see, there is more than one path which leads up to the summit of a mountain." (or similar words), and this platitude is then left as being a satisfactory response. Well, as no one else will probe deeper, I shall.

So, presumably, what is meant is that there is more than just one way of reaching Heaven/Paradise/Nirvana, or what you will - and, further, I suppose, it's irrelevant which path you take as long as you finally reach the 'peak'. Is that really what they mean?
Let's ask a few questions:-

Does a Protestant Evangelical Minister really believe that it doesn't matter if you think that the Pope is God's sole representative on earth?

Does a Rabbi think it unimportant if someone refutes that the Jews are 'God's chosen people' and publicly states that anyone believing in a 'Second Coming' of the Messiah' is deluded?

Is an Imam unconcerned if one of his congregation converts from Islam to Christianity, thereby rejecting the belief that the Archangel Gabriel ever appeared to Mohammed? (Btw the single greatest 'crime' in Islam is apostasy.)

Is it of no consequence to the Roman Catholic hierarchy if the Virgin Birth is denied? - as well as the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary and the Assumption into Heaven of Mary, body and soul - the latter two being the subject of infallible Papal pronouncements ex cathedra and therefore 'beyond dispute as fact'. Likewise are they not bothered that Muslims don't believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead - or, as some believe, was even crucified at all?

Does a Mormon hold that someone's religion is irrelevant? I heard only yesterday that in their (grotesque?) post-death 'baptisms' of anyone in the past whom they wish to 'enrol' to their faith, they now claim that Anne Frank, of all people, is now a Mormon!

Don't other religions really mind that the reincarnation doctrines of Buddhism and Hinduism are in direct contradiction with their own 'one chance in one lifetime' beliefs?

I could go on and on but it's more than a little curious that religions seem so reluctant to disagree with each other publicly when I should have thought that it would have been the core of intellectual debate. It's almost as though there was an unwritten agreement not to diss each other but to focus their attacks on those whose reason casts doubt on the existence of any Supreme Deity.
Of course no one ( at least no rational being) would like to see a return to inter-religious wars, crusades and slaughter which have pervaded history, though, as we all know, there are regretfully still parts of the world where exactly this is advocated and, indeed, practiced. But, as I say above, it's strange that they seem to get most excited by those of us who don't subscribe to any of their faiths. It's like one is required to believe in some god - but it doesn't really matter what sort of god that is. (I think many betray their ignorance of Buddhism in particular, which does not hold to there being any individual Creator-Deity) .

So turn your cannons round, all you religious people. Be fair and also attack ALL those who think that your own particular beliefs are absurd and simply false.

Meanwhile, as long as the current situation prevails, it's all very peculiar - and exasperating.