Archive for January, 2006

Back In The USSR

Sunday, January 22nd, 2006

Ukrainian subway, originally uploaded by Zoomtard.

I spent the last week biggin’ it up Commie style. The Soviets got so good at building underground bunkers, control centres, torture chambers and athelte doping hqs that when they got around to putting undergound rail systems into some of Ukraine’s lesser known and appreciated cities in the 1960s, they turned on the interior decoration style.

As you can see, today’s Ukrainian citizen seems more intent on getting themselves made in the mafia, drunk on vodka or a sup of milk for the babby rather than appreciating the delightful temples to mass transit.

I don’t want to bore you with my long-winded thoughts on society in Ukraine. Now that I’ve spent a total of 4 weeks there I think I am entitled to pass myself off as an expert. Well, compared to you Mr. Know Nothin’, I am an expert. It is a strange and mesmerising land which doesn’t seem to have much emphasis placed on ideas like sobriety, laughter or salad. Instead it gets by on a large dose of horse tranquilizers slipped into the milk supply, a timeshare system for crooked politicians to each get a go at running the government and hog fat rendering plants on every corner. Ukraine is a country famous for tractors, wheat and exploding nuclear power plants.

It could be known for a religious revival as well. Since liberation, there have been 6000 Orthodox churches built every year across the former Soviet states. Work that one out- it is an astonishing return to faith. But this resurgance has come at a price. I paid a little bit of that debt on an overnight train from Kiev at the start of the trip. Myself and my two Irish companions thought we had lucked out when our bunk room was unoccupied. We shut the door and settled down for a nice evening of eating doghnuts that turned out to have grey-flavoured marzipan in them. But a fight broke out in the corridor. It may have been a fight or it may have been old friends reuniting or it might have been a prayer session- every dialogue in Ukraine takes place in battlemode. Anyway, Sasha was meant to be in our cabin and in he came. He offered us potato vodka and we turned him down, partly because we were already knackered from the 17 hours it had taken to get this far and partly because his potato vodka was likely to be laced with some toilet bleach his aunt found while clearing out a shed in Chernobyl and which subsequently was discovered to lend a unique kick to home brew spirits.

We were the first foreigners Sasha had ever met and talked to and the conversation quickly turned to Christianity. Of course it did. Ukrainian society only ever discusses weighty important things. No tabloid magazines and soap operas thriving in their cultural exchange. Instead everyone is reading historians and post-structuralists discuss the optimum method for distributing tax revenue without applying VAT to alcohol. In the course of this conversation, Sasha made some fairly outrageous claims. He felt that Satan kept him from waking up on a Sunday morning to go to church. Allegedly his mom was only 10 when she gave birth to him. This got even more difficult to believe when he brought his brother Vassily in to chat. Vassily showed us his passport in an endearing attempt at cross-cultural dialogue in a language-less vacuum. He was 5 years older than Sasha meaning Mommy was barely in school when she popped him out.

As it happens, complications over simple numerical concepts was going to be the order of the day. They introduced us to their uncle, Séamus O’Shasnocovivich, who was totally sloshed out of his head and who looked like an elderly bachelor farmer from Offaly after a long night at the local GAA bar. Unlike his apostate nephews. Séamus was a devout believer. He inspected our Bibles carefully to make sure we were kosher and not one of those Jehovah Witness or Mormon teams who were plaguing the land. His unfamiliarity with anything except Cyrillic didn’t stop him from surmising that something fishy was up.

Séamus found his faith after the fall of Communism and now he was seeking to protect it against any false ideas that might slip in through Boryspil airport. He asked us what we thought of Jesus and whether he was the Son of God. We had to answer that question about 6 times before he was reassured. Then the numerical challenge tripped him up as he asked us how many Gods there were. “One” we answered, in a trinitarian unity. This did not please him and with the aid of violent gesticulations he forcefully made his point, “No, no, no! 3 Gods!” Now we understood what he was getting at and it all clicked into place because Orthodox Christianity relies so explicitly on theology drawn from the Trintarian form of God. We gently seek to dispel any doubts he has as we almost whispered, “3 persons, 1 God”, over and over. For about 5 minutes we went back and forth, with the 3 of us at one end of the cabin restating our position in English, Irish (we were vexations to his spirit) and pigeon Russian, Séamus in the doorway now with three fingers up, now with one finger up and Vassily and Sasha looking on amused at how easily these Christians can lose track of themselves.

I don’t know whether we ever passed his test or whether the lure of the booze-up elsewhere on the train was too strong but he and his nephews eventually went on their way. Then they turned to heat up to 25 Celsius and I spent the night listening to Bright Eyes and Sufjan Stevens and dreaming of home. The week was fascinating and successful and fun. The snow was magnificent, the weather was an intimidation we overcame and time spent with our Ukrainian colleagues in gangster hang-outs was so good, there were times we forgot we were eating cubic lard in a sea of buckwheat. Roll on the next visit in July!

Your Correspondent, Now named Mother Shubbubbu.

My Grapes of Wrath

Friday, January 13th, 2006

I wish I had done this sooner but there were was never a chance. Some blogs, new and newly reborn should be brought to your attention. Particularly the Angry French Belle and her experiences of hell in Franceland. Well, I presume she thinks it hell seeing as FRANCE IS HELL.

Betamaxnomates is lying because I am his mate. In a “Awright Guvnor” Jamie Oliver sense. In a “My mate Betamax, top bloke, thouroughbred horticulturist” sense. He doesn’t know anything (that I am aware of) about flowers though so that would be a lie. One of the few topics he is not an expert in.

Then there is El Liamo. His website is disgusting and there is no reason on God’s green Earth that someone as funny as he should languish at that God-forsaken ass-end of God’s virtual playground that is ***MySpAcE***!!!!1!!!1!!!!!!

You know Sideways might be the most over-rated film in history. I only say might because it is not finished yet but I look forward to consuming enough beer (and none of your twitty wine thank you very much) that by the end of the movie I need a new liver. I paused the film, drove down to the off licence and bought some Dutchie, leaving the classier beers in the fridge to wait for a more appropriate time to enjoy their rich aromas at my leisure. Sideways must feature so much drunk driving because that is what the script writers were doing when they wrote it. It isn’t bad for a multi-task.

Let me share some of the script with you so that you can spare yourself the indignity of seeing Paul Giamatti in something so bad.

No, but I do like to think about the life of wine, how it’s a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing, how the sun was shining that summer or if it rained… what the weather was like. I think about all those people who tended and picked the grapes, and if it’s an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I love how wine continues to evolve, how every time I open a bottle it’s going to taste different than if I had opened it on any other day. Because a bottle of wine is actually alive — it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks — like your ’61 — and begins its steady, inevitable decline. And it tastes so fucking good.

There is one funny point where the guy who used to be in Ned and Stacey runs like a maniac at a golf buggy. Otherwise, this one stinks worse than a rotten egg sitting inexplicably at the bottom of the Merlot you were saving for that date with the chick from the Buyandsell ad.

I was at a conference this week with the big honchos from the Irish church scene. They didn’t find me out. That was sweet. Also, DA Carson spoke amazingly about a huge range of topics. He doesn’t have a blog but that was one of the things he talked about. He reckons that there might possibly be a role for bloggers as this generation’s replacement for Billy Graham style mass evangelistic events. If that is going to be the case, I had better dumb this site down. He doesn’t have a blog because to do it justice he would have to give it, he feels, 2 hours a day. If he did that he might not publish 163 books a year.

Maybe soon I’ll get around to writing about the psuedo-Christian violence committed in Uganda over the last few months or respond to the serious theological issues raised quite superbly over by that patch of YellowSnow and Teragram. But between now and then, I am off to the Soviet Union.

Your Correspondent, Never drinks and dials.

2005: Working it like Jake Gyllenhaal

Monday, January 2nd, 2006

So the first day of the rest of your life has just ended. January 2nd is about 11 minutes old as I write this and you’ve already ruined your New Year’s Resolutions by eating a whole tub of Strawberry Cheescake ice-cream and making snide comments non-stop as your family tried to watch Coronation Street. Don’t feel bad though. Let us act like the last few days haven’t happened and we’re still in 2005, where handsome Jake is still famous for Donnie Darko and not for gay cowboys (as if that has ever happened!) and Gulf War heroes.

Did you know that there was a hacking scene in Sleepless in Seattle? The little boy’s little girlfriend hacks into the airline software to rob an air ticket to New York. Why are the nerds not out there wearing t-shirts with Meg and Tom’s silhouette printed on them? If Hackers and Sneakers and Anti-Trust (my personal favourite) are laughable cool, then give it up to the rom-com pioneer geekoids. The King of Nerds commands you!

I am the King of Nerds by the way. Even more than Potato, who seems like a brainy nerd, in a good way. He claims that my woman’s website is the funniest Irish blog. This entry, which is one of the best, if you ask me, was highlighted for special attention. The kid with the Women Priests book has since become one of my favourite students. I kind of feel guilty that he is, unknown to himself, immortalised on an effective stranger’s website.

Also, Tom Hanks lives on a houseboat in Sleepless in Seattle. Just like McGyver. Give it some love people. Also, the little boy is called Jonah and lives on a boat. I hope there is a secret director’s cut where he gets eaten by a whale.

As far as I know, only one of my colleagues knows about this site. If others know, they need to tell me during a long seaside walk later this week. But he lives on the northern tip of this island where for 8 months a year, the light of culture doesn’t shine. He and his buddies make Best-Of lists at the end of every year, cobbled together from whatever imported magazines and smuggled books they have been able to get past the Bible-belt brigade. Darn it if I don’t just love their moxie so I am going to copy them this year and force, unrequested, my best of lists onto you, Mr. Deserving Reader. Or Ms.

5 Books I Read That You Should Read
Summer was drawing to a close when the cultured member of my work team gave me Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller. Not since Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace? has a Christian book struck such a resonant note with me. I love it. Everyone else loves it. Even Neuro. I know some readers have already heeded my advice and stocked up on the Don Miller good stuff but if you haven’t- do.

Coming at you in fiction are two books that weren’t written by Cecilia Ahern. When people saw me reading “We Need To Talk About Kevin“, they laughed. But it is one of those books that is so well written that it takes your breath away. You will race through its 400 pages and feel really pissed off that you didn’t take longer to savour it. The Kite Runner is a book that you could mine 100 weekends for sermons. I know that for sure because Trevor Morrow seemed to reference it every time I heard him speak this summer and a recomendation from him is worth 14.63 thumbs-up from Zoomtard.

Over Christmas I suffered a phenomenally painful trapped nerve (the divident from years of slouching over my computer pretending to programme and more lately, pretending to read brainy websites) and I had to stay in bed and all I could do was read and so I ended up reading most of Miroslav Volf’s new book, Free of Charge. What a day! It is astonishing. I would happily give Blue Like Jazz to anyone, regardless of what they believe. The same can be said of Free of Charge. Read the sample I linked to so as to get a better idea but the picture Volf paints of God as the unreceiving giver is so beautiful that it should come with a health warning on the cover. This one might make you change your perspective.

Finally, although I will have to read it and reread it and read it again before I get it all, NT Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God is the best book I have read this year. I can’t compact the argument into a paragraph (by CS Lewis’ standards I therefore probably don’t understand it) but it is, amongst other things, a historical assessment of the likelihood of Easter having actually happened. Wright’s ultra-convincing argument is based on the historical fact that a bunch of Gallillean fishermen started talking crazy about a carpenter who had conquered death and somehow managed to convince enough people to believe in it that within a few centuries, they would be blamed for the downfall of the Roman Empire. Why’d that happen? There is no plausible explanation beyond the fact that those Gospel records might be telling the truth.

I would love to do him more credit and I doubt that any of you will spend the fortune on the 740 page tome because some web-based opinion peddler told you to, but maybe you could visit the well named NT Wright Page and check out some of his many papers.

So with the books accounted for, let us roll on to film.

The 4 Movies I Feel Like Talking About
I won’t besmerch the delightful Merry Christmas by writing its title in pig latin, or whatever they are calling French these days, but this movie rocks in all the ways you want it to. It makes you cry over the heroism of veterans, cry over the futility of war, cry over the power of music and finally cry that not enough people will get to see it.

Narnia is an even better film. But I am biased. And I could bore myself over it.

I saw Descent with a busload of my closest friends while on holiday in Galway. Man it was great. It is so scary and action packed and funny and bitchy and all nodding and referencing to other Horror classics and it made Teragram cry with a delighted fear that she may not yet realise is delighted. But next Friday, get some pizza and beer and watch it in the company of your friends. Then send me some nice chocolates as a thank you for the tip-off.

Finally, the worst movie I have seen this year beats back the fiercely disappointing Everything Is Illuminated and Gus Van Sant’s snooze fest Last Days and in its sheer pointlessness I question the sanity of the reviewers who acclaimed it around the world. I wrote about You, Me And Everyone We Know here so you don’t have to waste time on it.

The 3 Best Concept Albums of the Year
Sufjan Stevens amazing Illinois is the kind of musical experiment that doesn’t feel like you, the schmuck listener, is the subject. Let me not add to the 1000s of column inches other web nerds have already gushed on it.

Although William Shatner’s Has Been was released last year, I only got it this year (many of these things here listed are from previous years). When you run out of illustrations or allusions from The Kite Runner, just start ripping off The Shat. I know he is held up as the paragon of ironic iconic cool but hand-on-my-heart, I think the guy is a genius. Ben Folds wrote the music. The Canadian wrote the lyrics and then speaks them. They are touching and honest and funny and brave. I love it. The cover of Common People captures the empty anger of a life lived for no good reason far better than Pulp’s ever did.

Finally, I love Aimee Mann and The Forgotten Arm is an Aimee Mann concept album. The concept album’s renaissance is complete. Forget The Floyd, 2005 is the year of stories hiding out as albums. Click on this link if like me you think it funny that one of America’s finest song-writers would be interviewed by Elle Girl. Those 14 year olds who were looking for make-up tips will be disappointed with well crafted melodies and razor sharp observations. Maybe I’m just being a snob though. If I am, blame Ddmmyy who has returned recently. Yay!

Now that I think about it, Magnolia is like an Aimee Mann concept album in the form of a movie.

The 2 Things We Will Hate 2005 For
Although we could blame the years he was in the army for not seeing him killed in a tragic galloping foot-rot accident, 2005 brought James Blunt to my attention and yours too. I only have the for-free Irish stations so the crazy fog thing hasn’t affected me. Blunt and his curly-haired face and his whiney voice and his truly preposterous lyrics and his ever-present status on the wireless has made me thank God that 2006 has come, freeing us from the grip of the insanity. Now though, misery on misery, the new romantic comedy about an architect who falls in love with a ghost has it as its trailer soundtrack. 2006 at least has the dignity to get its annoying crap out of the way in January. (Come back Sleepless In Seattle, all is forgiven) Maybe Karma will pop into existence sometime this year and kill Mark Ruffalo, Reese Witherspoon and Corporal Blunt in a horrible cheese smothering incident. Here’s hoping.

The absolute most annoying thing about 2005 has to be Tom Cruise. There was the Oprah craziness. There was the water-in-the-mic prank tantrum. There was the denying psychiatry exists interview. There was the truly creepy Katie Holmes affair. And all this on top of the Scientology insanity. If Cruise actually ever dies (maybe he’ll just transport himself to Venus someday), the biography that details what drives this guy will be fascinating. While he is still alive though, I hope he does a Sly Stallone on us and fades into obscurity because he is a little scary.

I still love his movies though.

My One Best Girl of 2005

I hope 2006 brings a Dutch victory at the World Cup, some movies about straight cowboys killing each other and a great Douglas Coupland novel. But until it starts delivering, I’m going to stay firmly so last year.

Your Correspondent, Never Leaves His Best Girl Home On A Saturday Night