Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy New Year

Webber Street

Probably my last picture for 2009

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Enough BS, Monsignor!

We learn today that two Argentinian gay men, Alejandro Freyre and Jose Maria Di Bello, had to literally go to the end of the world for the opportunity to get married (BBC News, includes video). Becoming the first gay couple in south America to get hitched, they had tried to tie the knot once already but had been denied by some "militant jusge" no doubt!

But they have finally made it and all my congratulations and best wishes go to them.

Once again, however, religious people are meddling with things that don't really concern them and as is so often the case, are talking through their hat in another desperate effort to keep their so-called moral ascendant.

How exactly would that marriage be "an attack against the survival of the human species", as Bishop Juan Carlos of Rio Gallegos worded it, I would truly like to know.

Those two men are gay, they are not going to reproduce whether they get married together or not. Furthermore their marriage is not stopping anyone else from procreating. So what is the problem, exactly?

Enough bullshit, Monsignor (and friends)! You may be against gay marriage and that's your right but you should not insult people's intelligence by coming up with such bogus "arguments" and state real, rational reasons for your opposition.

We will all be waiting with bated breath I am sure!

Friday, 25 December 2009

Pictures of Deserted London

Lower Regent Street

A series of pictures of various London landmarks without cars or people, taken on Christmas day between 9.30 and 10.30am, can be found on my flickr account here.

A selection of these pictures appeared in Londonist here.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Avatar - A Review

When you enter a cinema showing what is reportedly the most expensive movie ever made, you have a right to expect something outstanding. And in many ways Avatar, James Cameron's latest offering is quite outstanding.

Set in the future, on a fictional small earth-like planet inhabited by the na'vi people, called Pandora, the film tells the sotry of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a disabled former marine, sent to the planet to take over his dead twin brother's avatar, a man-made human/na'vi hybrid body used to make contact with the indigenous people.

The humans have discovered mineral resources on the planet that they intend to plunder but the na'vi people, who are highly in tune with their ecosystem, are in the way. Sully finds himself stranded with a na'vi tribe and gets to learn their ways and finally becomes one of them. Soon he has to choose between humanity and his adoptive people.

The plot is to a large extent fairly conventional: the hero finds his true self and rebels against a corrupt and oppressive system. Where things are slightly different however for a Hollywood block-buster is in the fact that the humans are the evil group and (warning: slight spoiler ahead) are the ones who lose in the end (which is very open and clearly gives spaces for the two sequels that have alreadry been announced).

It is obviously no coincidence that the planet where the story takes place is named after a character of the Greek mythology famous for releasing all the evils of mankind. Cameron portrays (most) humans as greedy, delusional and warmongering "morons" while the planet and its inhabitants hark back to some primeval Golden Age where senscient beings remain in tune with nature.

Cameron's message against war (I heard people chuckle with me at the famous phrase "we have to fight terror with terror") and in support of a more considered and respectful approach to nature is both quite obvious and rather unusual in this type of film. It is to Cameron's credit and (hopefully) a sign of a change in mentalities that this should happen when Hollywood is known for its rather conservative approach to social and political issues.

From a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans (LGBT) perspective, it is also very easy to identify with what Sully is going through. Like most LGBT people, he has to go through a sometimes difficult process of change and learning, finding along the way a new group to which to belong. Then there comes, for some of us anyway, the realisation of the oppression endured by that group and a decision to stand up and fight for the rights of this new "family", sometimes at the risk of betraying old allegiances.

For most people however the main appeal of the film is the use of 3D technology and the world created by Cameron to set his story (He even asked some university professor to create a new language specially). And there is little doubt that the film is indeed visually stunning. The 3D works very well; it is, most of the time, unobtrusive and only very occasionally a bit clumsy.

Neytiri teaching Jakesully how to use a bow.

The Computer-generated imagery (most of the film, I would imaginge) is absolutely flawless (none of this floating impression you usually get) although I have some reservation in the design of some of the creatures that appear in the film. While the Banshees (loosely based on pterodactyls) are convincing, the ground animals are not so much. They seem much too similar to earth animals and the decidion to six legs instead of four to make them look different doesn't make much evolutionary sense.

There are also some improbabilities: Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver)'s smoking in air-tight environments (her first line in the film is to ask for a cigarette, presumably as an easy and lazy way to make her look like a rebel, someone who thinks and acts differently). Another issue is the fact that although Pandora seems mostly covered in lushious rainforest, it doesn't seem to rain there.

Finally, the character's and particularly Sully's change of body happens much too easily. Considering that a na'vi body is about three times as big as a human one, getting used to using such a different set of limbs would probably take much more time than is shown in the film.

But on the whole, Avatar is a hugely enjoyable and entertaining piece of cinema. Despite the length of the film (close to 3 hours), the story, however lacking some may chose to portray it, carries the viewer throughout without a moment of boredom. Highly recommended.

Plus you get to look like this!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Is Homophobia Really a Ugandian Value?

After reading some of the despicable comments left on the edition of the BBC's Have Your Say asking "Should homosexuals face execution?" (see previous post on this here and my complaint to the BBC here).

This "brilliant" piece of investigative journalism comes in the context of the debate around Uganda's proposed bill that would have enshrined death penalty for homosexual acts in law and also encourage people to snitch on others for fear of being prosecuted themselves. Although it seems that the people involved are now backing down and will remove the death penalty element from the bill in favour of "a more refined set of punishments".

Without going into what is wrong with the very fact that the BBC should feel it appropriate to ask such question - Should blacks face execution?, Should Jews face execution? - I would like to answer one of the recurrent arguments I have seen (not just on the BBC's site) in that debate in response to the international negative reactions and pressure to the bill. Sign a petition here.

The argument is that Ugandians (and Africans) should not allow western values to dictate what they do in their country. Fair enough BUT - and what a big but this is - things are not that simple.

This is forgetting the fact that influence from right-wing American christian groups has been clearly exposed and established in the creation of this bill.

More profoundly though, what those people seem to forget when they claim that they hatred of homosexuality is rooted in traditional african values is that it is in fact rooted in Christian values and that those values are another product of western influence, via colonisation.

So one is left to wonder is if homophobia really is a Ugandian value or are the supporters of the bill simply trying to have their cake and eat it.

Sadly it seems that some people in Rwanda have been inspired by the Ugandian bill.


More seriously though, here is the text of my complaint to the BBC:
How utterly heartless, disrespectful and depressing that you should think it appropriate to ask your reader if homosexual should face execution.

The BBC is supposed to be a bastion of quality and I am afraid in this case the urge to give in to sensationalism has been the stronger.

I trust you would never dare publish a similar request for "debate" about Jews and balck so why did you judge it legitimate to be asked about gay people?
You too can complain here.

Congratulations to the BBC News Online team

I would like to publicly congratulate the BBC News Online team for being so daring and forward thinking in setting up the edition of Have Your Say asking people if homosexuals should face execution.

By doing this, the team shows how at the cutting edge of true journalism it really is, valiantly flying in the face of any moral or ethical consideration (and the fact that death penalty will probably be removed from the Ugandian bill the tabling of which started the whole story) and going straight(!) for subjects that really matter.

In the same spirit I would like to suggest to you a couple of other subjects for future editions of the page which will no doubt help further and enhance your reputation as fearless seekers of the Truth.

How about: "should blacks face execution?" and then I would follow up with the always popular "should Jews face execution?". I trust the team will embrace those subjects too and I am very much looking forward to reading all the enlightened and enlightening comments these will no doubt generate.

If you don't agree with the above, you can make a complaint to the BBC here.
(the text of my own complaint is here)