mardi 13 juillet 2010

The mysterious workings of Jehovah

The Jehovah's witnesses came today. Or rather I came upon them as they were rather snoopily examining all the names on the buzzer board at the foot of the flats "for Romanian names." I came up behind them and asked them if they were looking for someone. They said, "O that's a pretty accent, where are you from?" To which I replied (not yet knowing they were Jehovah's witnesses) "It's a secret. In fact, I'm Belgian." I get rather tired of having an accent when I speak French. I suppose I should work on it. It turns out one of them speaks Romanian, so they are looking for Romanian names on buzzers to practise on. Or at least that's what they tell me. I suppose they could be Petainist collaborators identifying immigrants. That's me. British, in France, slightly paranoid. They looked harmless enough: two French ladies in their late middle years, smiling, un-botoxed.

I like it when the Jehovah's witnesses call, because it is an opportunity to get them to mend their fundamentalist ways, in particular their strict adherence to the Bible as the source of authority on all things, which if it was ever a good idea, even some thousands of years ago, is certainly not today.

My method is as follows: I explain to them that I was brought up a Quaker, which some of them have heard of, and some not, and that the one thing that Quakers and Jehovah's witnesses certainly share is being pacifist. Furthermore I add, with my greatest charm, when I lived in London, the Jehovah's witnesses were just about the only people who would come and knock on your door for a chat, an action which increases conviviality, however misguided the ideas which give rise to the behaviour. A woman from the council did come to suggest I make compost once, but I'd already been making my own for about five years at the time. I lived in a safe Labour seat in London, so certainly no political party ever darkened my door, ever. You have to go out for your politics in London.

Anyway, having gained the witnesses' attention, and assured them that I am friendly--the amount of surly knockbacks they must receive on each evangelical canvassing session must be considerable--I improvise.

Tonight, I satisfied myself by saying I certainly have a bible upstairs--in fact I have several--but I also have a koran, and several hundred other books besides. But I like the Jehovah's witnesses' action, because it makes me think "If you could only have one book, what would it be?" And to consider the days when books were so precious that the average number of books owned by an ordinary person would be approaching zero. "Religion is the scaffold of thought," I say, because I honestly believe that without religion in the past we would have no intellectual heritage today. The French are very keen on harking back to the Greeks and the Romans (wisely leaving out about 15 centuries of medieval stasis til the Renaissance) but anyway, it's a long story, but religions that today insist on the primacy of a single text, without weighing it against others, or considering how texts come into being and are valued, are basically just adding to the smokescreen, not trying to blow it away.

So that's me and the Jehovah's witnesses. I am always very nice and polite, and so are they, and usually they end our interview by giving me a leaflet, emboldened with biblical citation, and sometimes illustrated with pictures of nice multiracial gatherings with a lion lying down with a lamb in the background or somesuch. They definitely have a house style.

I'd like to know more about what leads Jehovah's witnesses to their faith. I suppose in entering such an out group, and believing so strongly in heaven helps certain kinds of humans to deal with being human better than if they were not Jehovah's witnesses, and so, I suppose, good luck to them. Apart from the nagging doubt that their canvassing is designed to detect and exploit minds less robust (hah!) than my own. Knowing that they must have doors slammed rudely in their faces pretty often, but dealing with them in a convivial manner myself gives me a rosy internal glow of virtue, and so for me anyway, they are very good, and a welcome element on the social scene.

I'd quite like to quote from their leaflet to round off this post, but it seems to have disappeared into the literary compost with which I surround myself, or perhaps it's still in my shirt pocket, which is next door, and the baby is now sleeping and a bit poorly, so I'll just have to content myself with quoting my favourite line from the bible, which is this: Ecclesiastes 1:18 For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

Sorry about that.

jeudi 24 juin 2010

It's a wonderful life

I do like films, but for a long time in my former existence as a general practitioner I felt that it was not a time efficient medium for upgrading the cultural programme going on in my head. I certainly didn't have time to watch bad films. For several years I delegated my choice of cinematic experience to my then partner, and a good job she did too. It is a great luxury to see a good film completely unaware of its reviews.

But I do have gaps, especially because I don't watch much telly. Now I've got more time, DVD is a seductive format for catching up, but which films to watch? is a new site with web 2.0 features that enable you to enter your favourites and then, by FOAF magic, find people with similar tastes, and therefore useful suggestions to make about the kind of thing you might like that you haven't seen yet.

Full of youthful enthusiasm I moseyed on over to this corner of the internet, and started furiously entering data in order to receive its recommendations. Unfortunately, by some quirk of the interface I was using, I thought that one had to review each film before one could receive recommendations, and naturally, after 65 entries, they were getting somewhat concise...

This irritated regular users of the site: new reviews show up on all kinds of public timelines, and one in particular, a M. Sketchbook, was somewhat scornful of my admittedly brief reviews. Inspired by him (or her), I wrote this:


I am sorry to tell you, M. Sketchbook, that each of the first 65 or so films I reviewed on the site, anxious for its automated recommendations, now has a review of similar brevity...

Horreur! Au boulot.

"You've never seen "It's a Wonderful Life"?
"I'm afraid not."
"But it's a wonderful film. It's on the telly every Christmas."
"Let's watch "It's a wonderful life" on the video."
"What, you haven't seen it?"
"No, just never have."
"Can't we watch something else? It's on every Christmas."
"Oh, OK."
"Let's watch "It's a wonderful life" on the video."
"What, you haven't seen it?"
"No, just never have."
"Oh, but you have to watch it at Christmas."
"Look, we didn't have a television, and then when we did, we certainly didn't watch it at Christmas."
"Oh. No, let's watch this one."
"Oh. OK."
"Oh great! you've got "It's a wonderful life" on DVD. Can we watch it?"
"What, you haven't seen it? But it's on every Christmas."
"So I understand. But I have somehow managed to get the age of 44 years old without ever watching it, and many people have spoken to me about it over the years, even quoted it, told me how great it was, but a viewing has always eluded me. Please can we watch it?"
"But it's April."
"I know. But, please, can we watch it?"
"Oh, alright. I don't mind watching it again I suppose. Can't you wait til Christmas?"
"Can't we just watch it now?"
"I guess so."
"Great. Would you like a cup of tea first?"
I watched "It's a wonderful life" in the sixth month of my forty-fifth year as a screen-dwelling inhabitant of the third planet out from an undistinguished star somewhere in a not much more interesting spiral galaxy.
It is undoubtedly a well-made film. I hope the male lead, James Stewart, was rightfully proud of a fine performance. I can see why people like it. Religion and suicide are meaty topics that artists must address. I am glad its simple moral falls 'gainst self-slaughter. The Everlasting would have it so.
But it is somewhat mawkish, and its politics arguably bollocks (big capitalist/little capitalist FFS), and though I watched it with interest and enjoyment to the end on this occasion, I doubt if I would do so again. So yes, a charming film for the popular canon, if somewhat over SENTIMENTAL. In my humble opinion.
Keep goading me M. Sketchbook. You inspire me. I will tighten my belt and give you my words for free, for as long as people are willing to read them. But like George Bailey, I too have a family, and a living to make in the capitalist system [spits], and life is short even if you don't kill yourself, and maybe there are other things to do, apart from gawp at the telly, and then writing about it after on the intertube. Bisous.


lundi 24 mai 2010

on boredom while cycling

That's twice I've been told now, in the last year, by people I care about—my nephew and my lovely—that they can be bored when they are riding a bike. This has happened to me in the past, but very rarely—I hesitate to say never—does now.

I've made a start on trying to explain why that might be:

jeudi 13 mai 2010

Con Dem gov? Same old, same old

M. Cameron and M. Clegg's love-in was most moving and affecting. We watched the complete press conference coverage as part of an hour on the UK election I curated for Madame Beezer yesterday evening.

I have not seen M. Clegg speak at any length before, and he is most able and inspiring. Madame Beezer accused him of being a mumbler, but he was clear enough to me. He does say "you know" a lot in unscripted speech, a verbal tic that is irritating if pronounced. This is occasionally shortened to yeena and then abruptedly swallowed, presumably because some political coach has advised him not to say "you know," and he tries consciously to suppress it, not always succeeding. It is perhaps an irony that his accent, if this is possible, sounds posher than Cameron's.

As after M. Obama's inauguration, one left with an impression of intelligence, ability, and good intentions, even if these are mired in false ideology and bankrupt culture. My mood after watching them was better than before I started, which is pretty rare praise I assure you.

Whether the first coalition government of the UK for sixty-five years can endure is still an open question. Their differences on many issues, and particularly on electoral reform and Europe, could not be greater. M. Clegg does indeed hold an axe over M. Cameron's continuation in office, but it is an axe he can only wield once. The announcement that their package of electoral reforms will include introducing fixed term parliaments is in fact a concession that secures M. Cameron's position rather more than it does M.Clegg's, though he has played a very good hand in the negotiations since the election. One undoubted effect of coalition government is that formal decision-making returns to the place it properly belongs in the UK system: in its Thursday morning cabinet meetings. This should be an advance on the sofa slackness of recent years.

Both men were full of the need to govern with "fairness" in the "national interest", each man repeating the phrase at least twice, as though that were some uncontentious catechism. I prefer the term the "public interest." Although on an island it is easy to make the fundamental error that the two concepts are contiguous, they are not. In an age of atmosphere change and peak oil, perpetuating the error will doubtless have grave consequences.

It will be interesting to see what the new administration makes of the results of the Chilcot inquiry. M. Clegg's party will hopefully ensure that no part remains buried. Whether we shall have legal opinion thereafter advising that the prosecution of the key players would be in the public interest is another question. The political class naturally reject this option with horror. Peaceful transition between successive administrations (rather than bloody coups) IS the hallmark of democratic government. Threatening to jail your opponents if you win the election has an understandable chilling effect on the political discourse. The world finds that sleeping dogs must be left to lie.

But we do not, of course, have to accept their lies. The point of prosecution is above all to state society's disapproval of the crime, not necessarily to punish any individual involved.

Well, we shall see. I wish Mssrs Cameron and Clegg bon appetit! as they consume their miel de noces and await further developments with interest.

lundi 3 mai 2010

In praise of... M. Dennis Skinner MP (with an eye to his successor upon retirement)

If there is ever a wikipedia page more entertaining than this one do let me know. M. Skinner's catalogue of parliamentary heckles down the years are most amusin' and affectin'. He is like a trusty family retainer, charged with the supply of shafts of wit on state occasions, Black Rod's very own poet laureate. It is sad that one day he will have to retire, but nevertheless the rest of us must give some thought to his eventual successor. I saw no reason why this online Guardian article should be so down on the estimable M. Brand as a contender for replacement "Beast".

lundi 29 mars 2010

a few things I've discovered about myself

Occasionally people who knew me from before ask me, by email for example, "Who is Julius Beezer?" I could point them to an earlier somewhat cryptic post but I generally don't bother. I thought it would be amusing, if rather up my own arse, to look for those emails I sent, and publish the edited highlights here see if any pattern emerges.

In fact there were only two emails.

[For T. ]

Julius Beezer is my nom de plume online. He writes a blog in English and one in French, which may be already one too many.

He is a grumpy old man who has retired from London society to better
direct his ire at the many failings of his former culture :-) He has a
special green ink hotline
to the Guardian's comments pages.

Actually, I'm really not at all grumpy. It would be a lie to say anything else. I'm much less grumpy as a French person; though it would be socially acceptable for me to be grumpy, it doesn't really work for me, and I don't enjoy it. Better to eschew grumpiness and guard your sense of humour.

[For A.]

Someone has been telling tales about Julius Beezer though: I did hear tell of a retired French provincial lecturer determined to spend his retirement studying and eventually enlightening British culture (which he naturally detests). In order to achieve his ultimate goal, he maintains a blog in English as a cultural and linguistic exercise in his adopted tongue. His grammar is almost always impeccable, though his posts suffer from occasional literals during rapid editing. I hope he is slightly stiff and uncomfortable in his new intellectual posture, and attempts to submerge any possible offence in a politeness that can be icy, but is most often warm.

He can't be both, for this would be to depart into the realm of fiction, deprecated not least by 17th century puritans. Putain! It's a problem. For now anyway it's all as true as wot I can make it, artistic exceptions and deviations aside.

samedi 6 février 2010

Through a Lentz darkly

Some underling has told poor old Jim Lentz (of sticky accelerator fame) he is going to have to explain it all to the intertubes.

The process chosen for this God-like dialogue with the screen-dwelling inhabitants of the third planet out from an undistinguished star somewhere in a not much more interesting spiral galaxy is a Digg survey.

I must confess, I generally can't be arsed with all the tedious repetitions involved in gaming such systems manually, and sending some bot off to do my evil bidding is a) beyond my competence; and b) hardly sporting.

But nonetheless, it did strike me as a potentially democratic methodology, and I did have a naughty little giggle of glee at the thought of M. Lentz being forced to answer such questions as:

"Do you own a samurai sword? or "Where can I get corporate hair?" or even "Should I be concerned about the accelerator on my Toyota bicycle?"

It's cruel to mock the disabled. Interpret the tears rolling down my cheeks as you will. If you're still reading this in a gaping hole of idleness, "Have there been any problems with Toyota bicycles?" is my pick for the question that will have maximum comedy value if included in {accent_en_us} the top ten questions Lentz MUST answer Monday 2pm PST.{/accent_en_us}