However you celebrate and wherever you’re from (and wherever you’re at for the festive season), I hope you have a very merry Christmas!
For lots more seasonal reading, click the links here!
As today would have been his 75th birthday…
Amongst all his legendarily Gonzo work, Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) is still probably most renowned for his writings on the Nixon era of American politics. He first interviewed the notorious ex-president for a magazine in 1968, meeting Tricky Dicky in a car on their way to the infamous politician’s private campaign jet.
On the airport runway once the interview was over, Hunter said farewell to Nixon and exited the car, immediately going to light a cigarette. Before he could get flame to fag, however, he was rugby tackled from the side and his lighter ripped from his hand:
I thought they had mistaken me for an assassin and they mistook the lighter for some kind of weapon… but the Secret Service agent who tackled me helped me up and began apologising very quickly. It turned out they were fueling the plane and I was standing just a few feet from the gas tank. I could have blown the fucker up and saved this nation a lot of trouble.*
Goddammit Hunter. God. Damn. It. One little cigarette could have changed history….
* ‘Fear and Loathing: The Strange and Terrible Saga of Hunter S. Thompson’ – Paul Perry (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1993, p.130)
On Wednesday, alongside thousands of other sites across the internet, Another Kind Of Mind went dark in support of the anti-SOPA/PIPA campaign. Despite the fact that said campaign still has some way to go, the blackout appears to have had quite an impact already. In advance of next Tuesday’s Senate vote, here are a few eye-opening stats about what has been called “the largest online protest in the history of the internet”:
10,000,000 – The total number of signatories to all anti-SOPA petitions
4,500,000 – The number of people who signed Google’s anti-SOPA petition alone
3,000,000+ – The approximate number of emails sent in support of the anti-SOPA campaign on Wednesday
2,583,000+ – The approximate number of tweets referring to SOPA/PIPA and the protest on Wednesday alone
511,111 – The number of people who ‘liked’ Mark Zuckerberg’s SOPA statement on Facebook (as of today)
115,000+ – The number of (recorded) sites taking part in the protest
45,000 – The number of WordPress sites involved in the protest (including Another Kind Of Mind!)
It was those eyes. Those ridiculous, unfeasible violet eyes. That’s what made me, and millions of other movie-goers, sit up and take notice of Elizabeth Taylor over a film career that lasted more than six decades. A much, much better actress than her voluptuous, glamorous sexiness might, at first glance, suggest, she had an incredible screen presence, a huge acting talent, and the knack of making even the daftest films oddly watchable (Cleopatra, anyone?). Nominated for the ‘Best Actress’ Oscar five times, she won it twice – alongside many other acting awards – and performed with countless members of the Hollywood aristocracy over her long and eventful career.
There is no doubt her life was an intense one by most people’s standards and that she was one tough cookie – anyone who can survive child stardom in the Hollywood studio system of the 1940s, a grand total of eight marriages (two of which were to that notorious Welsh actor and professional hellraiser Richard Burton), well-publicised drug and alcohol addictions, and some very serious ill health would have to be, quite frankly. It was Burton who, half awestruck and half exasperated, described her as “too bloody much”; their tempestuous and profoundly passionate relationship (which began on the set of Cleopatra – see photo, above) made headlines around the world.
Most people, when they hear the name Mae West, think of old Hollywood movies and a brassy bottle blonde delivering comic double entendres in a studied drawl. In fact, there was a lot more to Mae than innocently smutty remarks (although she made those into a cinematic art form – most famously replying to the comment “Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!” with a knowing “Goodness had nothing to do with it” in the 1932 movie Night After Night).
A woman way ahead of her time, she was a multi-talented performer and a very successful and highly controversial playwright – her first play (entitled, with admirable brevity and decades before Madonna, simply Sex) led to her arrest and brief imprisonment during the highly moralistic 1920s. Beginning her career in vaudeville, she became a smash hit on Broadway for both her acting and her plays before moving to Hollywood in the early 1930s, where she became a huge success, again for her acting and writing.
Her distinctive and naughty style attracted the attention of the censors, and her early Hollywood performances were apparently partly responsible for the creation of the so-called Hays Code, which tied the American film industry into a narrowly defined moral outlook for more than thirty years. It was in order to circumvent this new code that Mae developed her now-famous facility with double entendres, a facility that turned her into an icon and one of Hollywood’s highest paid stars.
That this house notes with sadness the 10th anniversary of the death of Bill Hicks, on February 26th 1994, at the age of 32; recalls his assertion that his words would be a bullet in the heart of consumerism, capitalism and the American Dream; and mourns the passing of one of the few people who may be mentioned as being worthy of inclusion with Lenny Bruce in any list of unflinching and painfully honest political philosophers – Stephen Pound MP, in a February 2004 Early Day Motion before the House of Commons.
Today would have been Bill Hicks’ 49th birthday. Born on December 16th 1961 in a small town in Georgia, Bill was about as far away from the stereotypical resident of the Deep South that you can imagine. Discovering at an early age that he had a gift for making people laugh and that he had a lot to say for himself, he grew up to become – without exaggeration – the most influential comedian of his generation and, as Stephen Pound MP pointed out in his extremely unusual EDM, a modern philosopher.
Despite the fact that Hicks had to cross the Atlantic to make a success of himself (he was immediately and passionately adored by us Brits from a very early stage in his professional career), and although his material was frequently outrageous and often very closely skirted the borders of good taste, there were many in his homeland and elsewhere who were inspired into action on hearing his vicious, pin-point accurate critiques of humanity and American culture. He loved and despaired of his country in equal measure, and was never afraid to poke at cultural sacred cows with a pointy stick.
I nearly choked on my coffee when I heard. I checked the date. Nope, it’s not April 1st. Really? Did I misread that? Nope, they really have given the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama. Really?? Once I had finally absorbed this strange bit of information, I sat and thought for a while. It was quite a lot to take in.
I checked the BBC website again, just to make sure. Yes, Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I’m not imagining things again. Or am I? This isn’t one of trickygirl’s ‘funny turns’, is it? Perhaps I should sit down and have a nice cup of hot sweet tea. That’s good for shock.
In the midst of all this confusion, two small but perfectly formed and highly pertinent thoughts managed to crystalize in my poor old politically-addled brain.
I mean, it’s beyond obvious that Obama is a hell of a lot saner, a hell of a lot more sensible, and a hell of a lot more intelligent than the previous resident of the White House, but I had no idea they were giving out Nobel Peace Prizes for simply Not Being George W Bush these days, as destructive as the Shrubby One’s eight-year reign over America clearly was.
More insanity from the front line of the US health care debate….
Last week, the Senate subcommittee on finance met to discuss the controversial issue of whether the federal government should be allowed to define what sort of health care provision should be included in private insurance coverage – a subject which was always going to bring the Republican dingbats out of the woodwork.
And so it did…
Meet Jon Kyl, the Republican Senator for Arizona, a man who clearly hasn’t quite got his head around his own responsibilities as a father and grandfather. How else can you explain this comment?
“I don’t need maternity care, and so requiring that to be in my insurance policy is something that I don’t need and will make the policy more expensive.”
Well, Senator Kyl, you may not personally need maternity care, but, as Debbie Stabenow, the Democrat Senator for Michigan pointedly interjected:
“I think your mother probably did.”
Yes, Senator Kyl, and your wife, and your daughter, and your daughter-in-law – and probably also eventually your two grand-daughters too. Of course, Senator Kyl doesn’t have to worry his pretty little head about these things himself; as a US Senator, he gets free health care. That’s right, free health care. The stuff that the vast majority of Americans will never, ever get if he and his Republican cronies have their way.
*WARNING: POSSIBLE TRIGGERS BELOW*
I was interested to note yesterday that film director Roman Polanski has been arrested in Switzerland. Most reports seem to concur that he has been detained over a thirty-one year old outstanding arrest warrant, connected to the 1978 scandal in which Polanski pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawful sexual intercourse (read: rape) with a 13 year old girl – after which he fled to Europe to escape justice, and eventually became a French citizen.
There has been an awful lot of distinctly male hand-wringing over Polanski’s arrest, with the French culture minister Frederic Mitterrand commenting that he “strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them”. In a way, Mitterrand does have a point, but only sort of – Polanski’s life has not been a bed of roses by any stretch of the imagination, but no amount of childhood ordeals excuse his later behaviour in any way, shape or form. There is NEVER any excuse for rape, not even this kind of hellish childhood…
Born in Paris of secular Jewish parents in 1933, the Polanski family moved back to their native Poland in 1936. They were living in the city of Krakow when the Nazis invaded three years later, and were forced into the Krakow Ghetto soon after. Polanski’s father survived the camps, but his mother died in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942. Polanksi himself only just survived the war in hiding with Polish Catholic families (which may explain why he was so drawn to the idea of making a film of The Pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman’s memoir of life in hiding in the Warsaw Ghetto), before moving back to France and subsequently the US.