Tear today, gone tomorrow – or Will the Real Halle Berry Please Shut Up?

As my contribution to the environment, might as well recycle last week’s headline – thinking up a new one would probably require beer, snacks, and electrical power for the TV and VCR, so we’re talking non-trivial effort here. Should point out it only makes sense if you pronounce it right: “teer” not “tare”, but such is the price we pay for socially-responsible copywriting. Speaking of booze, first, a note on last week’s editorial on the subject of licencing laws here in Phoenix. Regular Swedish TC-er Sven Taveby writers:

“Sweden has always had a rumour for many rules dealing with the selling and serving of alcohol, at least among Swedes. And never minding the fact that we sell more Absolut to the US than we import any booze from the rest of the world. Interesting to read that Arizona has the same licence system Sweden had ’til 10 years ago. The restaurant had to have 25% of its income from food in order to get a licence for alcohol. So many restaurants served cheap lunches at noon, closed shop til evening and became a bar after sundown… I remember one place that was a bar, and nothing else. I wondered how that was possible until I noticed the small door leading to the pizza restaurant next door, obviously with the same owner. Rumour had it some restaurants wrote “pizza” on the cocktail check, trying to fool the county officials. When that didn’t work anymore, because they could show no record of buying flour, they started to bake pizzas and throw them away, just to make the books look alright.”

Thoughts on last night’s Oscars:

  • It was mildly amusing, but not worth pre-empting Alias. Particularly not if it was a new episode.
  • It was nice to see the mentally ill honoured last night. Not only in A Beautiful Mind, but also by Cameron Diaz’ hair-style, borrowed from a New York bag lady.
  • What were Sharon Stone and John Travolta on? Apart from the brink of obscurity following once-promising careers, obviously.
  • Jennifer Connolly really needs to eat something now and again. Once a month would apparently be an improvement.
  • Never mind winning Oscars, did anyone out there even see Iris? Anyone? Anybody?

After last year, it was, however, largely back to business as usual, with political considerations supplanting anything artistic. With a black presenter and a black lifetime award winner, did anyone really doubt Denzel Washington and Halle Berry were going to win? And Peter Jackson’s chances were slim, since he’s spent the past three years toiling away in New Zealand, rather than on the talk-show circuit like Ron Howard.

The race issue perhaps merits more comment though, especially after Berry set a whole new standard for blubbering drivel in her acceptance speech, surpassing previous efforts by Roberts and Paltrow. Even before an Oscar-worthy performance (either that, or she needs to be committed to a secure facility), it was kinda hard to take Berry seriously since the reports – started by one of the movie’s producers! – that she was paid an extra $500K to spice up Swordfish by getting her tits out. Money wasted as far as I’m concerned; it’s been sitting round here on VCD for a year, and I still haven’t raised the enthusiasm to watch it.

Despite all the self-congratulatory back-slapping from the Academy, it’s hard to take their protestations of diversity seriously. How many Asian actors have ever been nominated? Indeed, how many non-English speakers? Equal opportunity, it seems, extends only as far as the Hollywood freeway. Denzel Washington is less suspect, since he has, at least, a track record of nominations, and no-one has ever claimed he dropped his shorts for money. But did Berry win because of her performance, or because of her skin colour? If it’s the former, then race is irrelevant, and she should be ashamed of herself for making it an issue. If it’s the latter, then it means nothing, and I would frankly be embarrassed to accept such an award.

I have my suspicions, but can’t properly comment, since I’ve not seen Monsters’ Ball. Once I realised it wasn’t a sequel to Monsters Inc., I kinda lost interest. And besides, if I want that sort of thing, I don’t need to go to the cinema, I can see Jerry Springer any afternoon. The thought does arise however: now that it has won an Oscar, will there be a sequel, The Monsters’ Other Ball?

Beer today, gone tomorrow

Healthwise, it’s probably true to say that my lifestyle has not improved since I came to Arizona. I’m eating more, though the absence of Tesco Ready Meals is probably no bad thing, and I’m certainly exercising less – the occasional game of racketball (or racquetball – debate on that one rages in this house, along with correct pronounciation of vitamin: VITE-amin or VIT-amin?) is about all, and that largely consists of us trying to stay in one spot, and waving hopefully in the direction of the ball as it whizzes towards us.

One plus is that my alcohol consumption has also declined, and become…well, less regurgitated. In the 16 months since getting here, I haven’t once found myself contemplating the toilet-bowl from the inside. [Not something I miss, at the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious] The reasons for this are largely logistical, rather than any conscious choice. You pretty much have to drive everywhere in Phoenix, so either I’m behind the wheel, or Chris is, and it seems totally ungallant to get pissed while she sips on a Diet Coke. Besides, where’s the fun?

The only times we ever get moderately drunk is when we take a walk up the road. Though there are no dedicated bars in the immediate vicinity (not like Tulse Hill, where there were three within as many minutes), we have are a couple of restaurants with bars attached. The reason for this is, there’s a fixed number of bar licences available in Phoenix: you can only get one by purchasing it from the owner of a place that’s closing, which can cost $100,000. But if you get a certain amount of your sales in food, you can get a restaurant licence instead, and that’s only $2,000.

So most places allow you to combine food with alcohol – usually margaritas for Chris, beer for me (and it’s amazing how Mexican beer tastes ten times better when taken with Mexican food) – followed by a gentle stagger home. Occasionally, this meanders via Best Buy, for the purpose of cheap DVD acquisition. Though I’m not certain whether a bout of vomiting would be preferable to the Anna Nicole Smith double-bill, purchased on one such inebriated spree.

Our favourite haunt is Don Pablo’s Mexican Restaurant, most notable for the fact that we’ve never actually seen any Mexicans in there, either eating or (more remarkably) serving. This is in a state where virtually every low-paid service industry job (gardening, cleaning, etc.) is dominated by immigrants – legal and otherwise – from across the border. Yet Don Pablo’s appears to bar them from employment, at least in the front house.

This may be because it’s a Mexican restaurant, aimed at people who don’t actually like Mexico much (or perhaps, more pointedly, Mexicans). The interior is the sort of thing you’d see in Disneyland or a Las Vegas casino. Just as New York, New York is decorated to evoke the spirit of the city – without the rude residents, of course, so Don Pablo’s has a faux-Mexican style, designed to give the feeling of eating in a little provincial village – without the flies and subsequent bout of Montezuma’s Revenge.

My cynicism is, admittedly, from a point of view of ignorance, since I’ve never been to Mexico. But it’s not something I really want to do, and going by the face Chris makes whenever the topic arises, she doesn’t want to go either. Think it’s some kind of Hispanic caste thing, her being Cuban and all – the same way there’s a hierarchy of English speakers, with Scots at the top, naturally. 🙂

But I’ve heard too many horror stories – TC-er Andy Collins was mugged on a recent trip…not particularly unusual, perhaps, except in his case, it was by the police. He still loves the place though, but I suspect cheap tequila may be influencing his opinion. Me, I think I’ll be happier sticking to the fake version, available five minutes walk down the road.

It’s the End of the World As We Know It…

“(CNN) A sizable asteroid zipped near our planet this month without anyone noticing because it traveled through an astronomical blind spot, scientists said. The space boulder passed Earth within 288,000 miles on March 8, but since it came from the direction of the sun, scientists did not observe it until four days later. The object, slightly larger than one that flattened a vast expanse of Siberia in 1908, was one of the 10 closest known asteroids to approach Earth, astronomers said.”

Bit of a close thing, then – not really the sort of rock you want coming at a populated area, given that the one in Siberia, known as the Tunguska event, knocked down trees over a couple of thousand square miles. Though there’s actually some doubt over what that was – biological mutations and the lack of fragments have led some to speculate it was a UFO whose power plant blew up. Between that and Roswell, it’s quite reassuring to discover that ET’s can’t drive either.

Whatever it was, it landed in about the best place possible, from our point of view. Had it come down in water, as the odds favour, a tidal wave would have been the likely result. Had it hit Western Europe, one estimate puts the death toll at half a million. Instead, the main impact was an entry in the Guinness Book of Records, under “World’s Largest All-you-can-eat Barbecued Reindeer Buffet”.

Back in the present day, I find it interesting that news of the near approach was relegated to a minor report (no mention at all on the BBC web site, for example), after the fact. For it strikes me that, if any extinction-level event were ever in the offing, the general public would be the last people to know. Even NASA admits this: “The most likely warning today would be zero,” says their FAQ on the topic.

The mathematics involved don’t help. If we don’t know precisely – and I mean, precisely – how much an object weighs, we can’t tell how its path will be affected by other bodies in the solar system. A tiny error of just one-hundredth of one degree, over thirty million miles (a relatively small distance in astronomical terms), ends up more than 5000 miles out. Quite enough to make the aforementioned “bit of a close thing” become “straight between the eyes”.

But even if an amateur astronomer was to discover something barreling in this general direction, the people with the knowledge and computing power to work out whether or not it would hit the Earth are few and far between – it’s not something your average citizen could work out on a beer-mat. Such academics are also likely to be heavily reliant on government funding, and so probably would be amenable to pressure. Would any of them be prepared to go public?

The past history of such things, and human nature in general, combine to make me pessimistic. The last thing governments want is widespread panic, so I suspect any warning would be self-generated, extremely brief, and go something along the lines of, “What’s tha…”. It is ‘comforting’ to discover that we now have the Torino scale, which reduces the complex nature of all such threats to a number from 0 to 10. I firmly expect the needle to remain rooted at zero, right up until the North American continent becomes a smoking crater. We’ll then hear the line familiar to all bikers: “Sorry, mate, I didn’t see you!”.

Though actually, I can see the point of keeping it quiet; telling the general population wouldn’t help much, and would probably just cause a lot of senseless milling-around. There’s no way to tell exactly where any impact would occur – the wildly inaccurate stabs made whenever satellites come down tell us that much – and the old Protect and Survive saw about no place being safer than any other actually rings partly true, especially given the possibility of tidal-waves if it lands in the water. Better for the powers that be to get on quietly with firing Bruce Willis into space – an idea so appealing it might be worth faking it, merely to prevent any possibility of Hudson Hawk 2.

A couple of final thoughts – as Jerry Springer might say, if he were to host a show entitled When Near-Earth Objects Attack. In the process of researching this piece, I found a link to a document called “The Probability of Collisions With Earth” at Los Alamos National Laboratory. I note, with some alarm, that the file in question now needs a username and password to access it. I’m sure this is just a coincidence – nothing to worry about. And astronomer Duncan Steel has estimated that a rock of about 50 metres in size – big enough to wipe out New Jersey (not necessarily a bad thing, I grant you) – can be expected to hit Earth about once every 100 years. It’s been 94 years since Tunguska. Pleasant dreams.

Gun Culture

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

U.S. Constitution: Second Amendment

First, it’s free speech. Then – before anything about fair trials or unreasonable searches – it’s the right to bear arms. Thus wrote the founding fathers of the country in which I now live, and that’s why, more than two centuries later, I was at the Arizona State Fairgrounds, in the presence of more firearms than I had ever seen in my life before. And that includes the time spent watching John Woo movies.

As a Briton, I find myself vaguely troubled by the free availability of weaponry. We do very well without it in Britain, with our unarmed bobbies, and have a much lower murder rate there (and would you like a cup of tea?). However, in America, you’re much more likely to find your mugger or burglar has a gun, and the best defense against that…is a bigger gun. Which is where the gun shows come in, letting anyone with a driving licence – and I suspect even that would probably be superfluous for the private sales taking place at the fair – and money accumulate sufficient firepower to re-enact Columbine, Dunblane and Hungerford.

They say an armed society is a polite society, and certainly, an armed show is a polite show – despite the crowds, I’ve never heard “Excuse me” and “No, after you” used with such frequency. The guns were perhaps the least interesting things on display since, hey, you’ve seen one revolver, you’ve seen ’em all. I was more interested in the stuff around the edges, some of which was fascinating, some of which was, frankly, disturbing.

On the one hand, you could buy copies of the American consitution, and targets with Osama Bin Laden’s face on them, things which celebrated America, and all that’s good about it (the first amendment, for example, the one about freedom of speech). On the other hand, you could buy copies of Mein Kampf and even letters from inmates at Dachau. Those interested in owning that kind of shit are the sort of people who really should not be permitted to own weapons.

But yet, this is the dilemma. Who am I to judge who should and should not have the right to bear arms? There’s really no difference from censorship, where someone else says what you have the right to watch. As a firm believer in everyone taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions, people should have the right to own guns – but if they abuse that right, then the full weight of the law should come down on them immediately. Yet, with so many guns around, how do you keep them out of the grasp of criminals? Laws aren’t really the answer for those who have shown themselves happy to break them.

Part of me feels sure that if the founding fathers were writing today, they’d not be quite so liberal. Perhaps therein lies the solution: you get to have any weapon you like – as long as it was available in 1789. I think at the very least, we’d see a drop in the numbers of drive-by musketings.