30 May 2007

Socialised Medicine

Last night T's (R's?) illness got much worse, turning into a very painful ear infection. This led to new cultural experiences, as medicine, drugs, doctors are all different under the dreaded 'socialised medicine'. Here's the timeline:

9.30pm, last night
I rushed out to pick up some paracetamol, as we had none in the house. So I had to go to a tiny corner shop that was open late, and wasn't even a pharmacy. I expected to pay that ridiculous premium for buying drugs at tiny stores. Sure enough, they only had a small selection of things behind the counter that I had to ask for. Cost for a bottle: 39p.

9.15am, this morning
We call the local surgery. They pick up on the first ring. The conversation goes like this:
T: I've been sick for a week and think I need to see a doctor
Nurse: OK, what's your date of birth?
T: blah/blah/blah
Nurse: OK, how is 10.30 this morning?

10.28: Leave the house for the surgery, it's easily 1/4 mile away.

10.29: Arrive and check in at desk.

10.30: Name called.

10.36: T returns from doctor with filled out prescription

10.39: We drive up the street and arrive at the pharmacy.

10.42: T returns from pharmacy with prescription. Cost: free.

10.44: We arrive back at home.

29 May 2007

under the weather

what does that phrase even mean? when was I over the weather? I've been sick for all of bank holiday weekend, which, while a bit rainy was glorious on Monday, the actual holiday. So I've been out of the loop on the whole 'world events' thing. which is dangerous these days when you're sick:

The bird flu outbreak in Wales
From my favourite epidemiology blog. oh yes. we all should have a fave. Effect Measure is mine.

The story doesn't list where in Wales, as well, it's a smallish place. But mountains make a difference, as does lack of infrastructure joining north and south. luckily for me, outbreak is in north Wales (the 'ol gogledd cymru, folks) near Conwy. Lovely castle town up there. nice bridge.

but not to panic. very rare. I have not plucked any chickens or been near live poultry for many years (blocked memories of farm camp in Byers, CO). so my illness is likely just a run of the mill cold.

it does mean that we've been catching up on the movies. so flash reviews (in order of viewing):

Miami Vice: don't see it. so sad. could have been so great. and yet no.
Inside Man: um, I wanted to see the hotness of Clive Owen [see his hot BMW films--perhaps his best work] and all I got was a horribly-done flashback movie [see here and here] with him in a jumpsuit and mask? I don't think so.
Casino Royale: decent bond film. they actually kept the ending until, well, the end. interesting concept. perhaps something new sweeping Hollywood. doubt it. great baddies (crying blood? love it.) and good bond girl. even some depth. and perhaps most analog and awesome opening chase/stunt scene ever. nice.

Also: Spooks--British TV show--not sure if it's available outside of the UK but it's awesome. It's like Alias. Only good. I know. I just blew your mind.

27 May 2007

Why I'm Failing as A Capitalist Consumer

As most readers already know well, any pretensions I might have toward radical political positions are completely undermined by my enthusiastic enjoyment of capitalist consumption. To be fair, for me it's less a matter of consumption for its own sake, or of the quantity of consumption. Instead, my joy comes from playing the capitalist game as well as I possibly can. Indeed, for me, the 'deal' is almost as important as the object itself.

The high point for me probably came right before the metaphorical internet 'bubble' did its metaphorical 'bursting'. This was a time when even companies that sold actual tangible products had decided that the 'new economy' dictated giving everything away. This made it possible - for a while - to purchase new technology items and then sell them 6 months later on eBay for more than one had paid for them.

So it saddens and frustrates me to find that our new lifestyle just doesn't lend itself to much consumption. I have found the deals, I just don't have any reason to carry through with the purchases. And by 'reasons' I mean to say that even within the terms of constructed capitalist desire and fetishisation, I still can't find a way to 'justify' a purchase. Here are a few items on my list:

What I want: Nokia N95 Mobile Phone

Why I want it: 5 megapixal camera, micro SD, gps sat-nav, wifi, voip, and the list goes on, i.e. it is the cool phone right now, and will be for about a month (here comes the iPhone)

The deal: it's going for £200 or more with expensive contracts, but there's this thing where you ring Vodafone directly and order a pay-as-you-go SIM at the same time, and then....well, trust me, it's quite a deal!

Why I don't 'need' it: I use my mobile for about 40 minutes and 30 texts a month. I have no one to call, really, and those that I would call aren't on their mobiles. In the states I used 750 minutes a month regularly, but not so now.

What I want: BMW 120d M Sport 3 Dr

Why I want it: RWD BMW goodness, in better-looking 3-dr shape, oodles and oodles of torque, and unbelievably good mileage (around 60mpg combined) and emissions (band C), and £170 gets you free maintenance for 5 years

The deal: around £3k under list through broadspeed

Why I don't 'need' it: well, we've had a car for about 6 weeks now, and it hasn't changed a lot. It looks like we're averaging about 30 miles driven per week, and that's usually taking the car to parking places that don't score high on the Rebecca scale

What I want: Panasonic PHD10 42" Plasma

Why I want it: Panasonic commercial plasma panels are simply the best, in my well-studied opinion, and this is the brand new 10th generation panel in HD

The deal: AV-sales have outdone themselves on a package that includes delivery, along with Panasonic's new 3 year in home warranty

Why I don't 'need' it: We don't watch anything in HD, and the picture difference in SD will be no better than what we already have

21 May 2007

why buying books is good

obviously one need not even argue the above statement. buying books = good. end of argument. QED. But I've gone back and forth on this over the past few years as a global nomad--went on an amazon/bookfinder embargo for a couple of years there, using the library (horrors!) instead of the bookstore. occasionally, when the library didn't have the book and I needed it sometime between now and 5 minutes from now, I've bought the book. But the collection hasn't grown too much over the past few years, and now that we're settled there's been a bit of a loosening of the book purchasing belt, but not too much.

It used to be, when I had no income in grad school and yet I was in grad school and surrounded by used book shoppes, remainder sales from the university press, and obsessive friends who knew the market and their collections by heart, that I bought quite a lot of books. too many, some might say. most might say. did I need the boxed, beautiful Topkapi multi-volume set? probably not. but how pretty! I claimed I could stop at any time, and well, I did. a lot of books I'd buy because they looked interesting, smart, intelligent, and potentially useful. or because they were Important. in 1994. now, not so much.

I learned today, however, what a boon bookbuying is. I was looking for folks who have written on Ambedkar, the advocate for the untouchables and leader of the anti-colonial movement in India who converted to Buddhism towards the end of his life. I haven't ever been fully interested in him before, but I'm looking into the Buddhist symbolism of early Indian nation-building, and finding a lot there. Ambedkar is central. Fishing on google books (favourite pasttime), I found a reference to a book there. partial preview. intriguing. does the library have it? no. wait! do I? huzzah. thank my graduate school self for purchasing the 'it' book of 1996 and keeping it until now. So I'm good to go. probably should start buying books again, right?

must check with budget manager.

13 May 2007

Art and politics

It seems that if one wishes to post on things about colleagues across the world such as this (or here), related to topics such as this, one might consider doing this. the world is a horrid place.

update BBC finally picked up the story

08 May 2007

Four Weddings and a Funeral, 1994

they were showing the above film on tv this weekend, and so of course I got sucked in. and like many of us I imagine watching films of yester-decade, I was surprised at this film and the contrast between what I remember (hilarious hilarious hilarious, sparks of love, touching, hilarious) the film was less of all of that. perhaps it was my inability to force from my mind the philandering of Hugh Grant in later years. perhaps it was the fact that the English stereotype he plays to a T seems, now, in my current context, rather dull and a teensy bit offensive. I realise in my distance and in my space as an expat that this film is indeed for a US audience. only a US audience could buy Grant and 'the american' Andie MacDowell were in love. Yikes is she wooden.

I remember the film as being tightly woven, clever, and well-written—it was some of those things, and the comedy was still there, but it's so unbelievably dated (read: I'm old) and the story isn't really even a story. we have no back-story about the group of wedding-friends, no idea what they do for a living--it's just wedding wedding wedding funeral wedding. Not that they have time for much more, but still.

I had missed the comedy of the serial weddings in my earlier youthful viewing. This film is like a rehash of all films with weddings, except that they start and end with them instead of just ending with them. The Princess Bride wedding (inept priest), the 'forgot the rings' moment, the 'forever hold your peace' not held moment--these are classics. In putting them all together, the filmmakers make a statement about the centrality of the wedding for our tradition of storytelling (esp. comedies) and therefore kind of take it over the top. we see the formerly married couples with a baby at the following wedding, and then two at the next one, heightening that cycle of feasting--sex--babies at the end of every comedic adventure.

I still cried during the funeral. who wouldn't? the tokenism of the gay characters and the painful groping for normalisation of their position within the group is sooooo early 90s, no? And yet in contrast to this-- it is actually spoken in the film--actually noted aloud--that funerals, unlike weddings, are among the few official ceremonies that gay people may take part in (as the central participants) in our culture.

And finally, for those who know the series, did this life totally steal its grab bag of characters from this film? hm. discuss....

05 May 2007

a film we actually enjoyed (and other strange things)

saw Walk the Line last night, finally, after waiting until we had a worthy sound/tv set up, which, well, we do now. Again with the flashback framing, which was not super annoying but at this point my bar is pretty high for the use of the flashback. you better have an incredibly good reason to use it, and most of the time you don't. that aside, the film was a nice change. I'm not a biopic fan--perhaps it was an overdose of VH1 behind the music in the mid-90s. But this one manages to do the spiral into drugs rehab narrative a bit differently--not that there's not a spiral into drugs/withdrawal narrative going on here, and not that the parallel love narrative doesn't in the end produce/enable the redemption/rehab. It's that the story is told differently: she doesn't 'save' him by giving herself to him (although she does) it's that he saves himself with her help, she sees that, and they work as a pair. a nice representation of relationships, I thought.

Plus, there's a queerness represented through the early history of the woman-as-rockstar identity that Reese Witherspoon's brilliant acting makes completely clear. Particularly in the context of the blues/gospel heritage that these early musicians were so reliant on, the Christian thread running throughout the film is nicely handled. June Carter's very public living of her life, divorcing at a time when that was considered utterly taboo, and living her relationships partly on-stage--we see all of that in the film, plus her space within the group of guys (Elvis, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash etc.) that shows how strange and out-of-sync her life is with the world's expectations at the time. Or even now: how many people would think it's okay for mothers to spend weeks and weeks away from your children while on tour? Completely 'not acceptable'--Witherspoon gives us June Carter's strength as someone who does do this and yet still remains a 'good mother' to her children.

I guess for me the film was about June Carter. If you haven't seen it definitely worth watching.

03 May 2007

Constant quasi-aesthetic, predictable, bleeding-heart liberal nonsense

In the interest of upping our post count, we're thinking of turning el segundo americano into a movie review site - by which we naturally mean a site for reviews that are actually ranting critiques.

Hard for me to say all the ways I hated Constant Gardener, but we can start with the fact that the opening 5 minutes show you the climax of the film that will come halfway through. What is up with this trend of telling you what's going to happen first, and then tracing out the logical story toward its happening? Worse still, 15 minutes into the movie you know EXACTLY what is going to happen and why. It's told like a mystery/thriller, but there's absolutely nothing mysterious here. It's painfully obvious from the very beginning what's going on. In the end, I suppose liberals are supposed to feel good about the fact that there was great acting and good cinematography, and the message was put out (but without causing any real conflict) that it's a bad thing to, as Bono puts it, 'flush the continent of Africa down the toilet'.

But the movie isn't willing to say that; instead it tells us that 'each and every life is precious', although the narrative itself doesn't believe that since we're clearly meant to greive for the white woman (and to nominate Ralph Fiennes for an Oscar because of how well he grieves - though mainly he keeps his English stiff upper lip and looks pretty).

And finally, as Rebecca points out, who the hell writes hand-written letters today?

02 May 2007


I was going to title this post 'April is Not the Cruelest Month'. But then, I thought to myself, 'where does that line come from'? Yes, it's Eliot's The Waste Land. I think I knew that and then forgot it, but I don't think I'd ever read the poem. And it occurred to me that perhaps I should, since maybe Eliot didn't really mean that April was cruel in the first place. After all, the opening lines read:

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
This all set me off on a long detour of reading the poem and trying very hard, but utterly failing, to understand it. Eventually I just tried to grasp the first section, and maybe I got some of it, but I'm still not certain whether he meant to say that April was cruel or not.

And this meant that I couldn't really use that title for my post, and besides, I'd now wasted all the time I was going to spend describing what went on in April (and trying rather lamely to justify or explain my blogging absence) – I'd spent that time reading Eliot and realising once again that I'm just not cut out for poetry exegesis.

those apple folks are genius

Two words: Save PDF to Web Receipts Folder.

Obviously. This is what I do all the time in order to record my on-line purchases and keep track of them without actually having to keep track of them--I print the receipt as a pdf and store it in my 'receipts pending' folder on my desktop. wha? you don't have said folder? you don't normally use words like 'pending' in your own personal space? well sure. but now the glorious people at Apple have added the above selection to the drop-down menu in all print dialog boxes. It's so exciting. I can't tell you. go try it now. super fun. go buy stuff so that you can try it. very cool.

and you know what? it doesn't matter that it just automatically saves it under whatever random name the webpage has. that's what spotlight is for. huzzah.