Christian Bale's Muddled Trans-Atlantic Accent Syndrome

Christian Bale on a rant. I really wish people weren’t so obnoxious to each other, life is too short for this kind of unpleasantness.

What struck me about this audio is just how muddled Bale’s accent has become. At times he comes over all South London. At other times he has an American drawl, complete with the idioms.  He was probably so red faced, he couldn’t hear it properly.

I quite understand how peoples who share an language can evolve different accents over time (e.g. Antipodean, Southern African, North American, The British Isles).  But I’m never quite sure how it can happen within a single person?  When I lived in Scotland, it was easy to pick up the idoms (“a wee baby” &ct), but not the accent.

Other people afflicted with Muddled Trans-Atlantic Accent Syndrome include Julie Andrews, Anthony Hopkins, and Madonna.  Blogger Andrew Sullivan has it too.  Who is your favourite?

Sentamu and the moral leadership of Anglicanism

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu gave a speech to the Smith Institute last week, ‘Regaining a Big Vision for Britain’, as part of their ‘Reinvigourating Communities’ lecture series. Its available to view via Policy Review TV:

He outlines the Big Vision of the Beveridge Report, and the influence of William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury of the time, in the development of the Welfare State. The Big Vision, Sentamu argues, was built on a distinctly Christian ethic and conception of humanity. Now we need a new vision, which leaders must articulate, so that we can all once again pull together to realise the social and economic changes required to mend our fractured society.

Archbishop Sentamu clearly believes that the Church of England has a role to play in articulating, and providing moral leadership, on this new Big Vision for Britain. But I see some pitfalls along the way. First, he acknowledges that communities and families are the blocks around which a society should be built. But the Church’s conception of these building blocks is very traditional: Communities built around a parish, a place of worship, or at least a shared location; and families in the hetrosexual, nuclear sense. It comes into friction with the non-traditional versions of these same building blocks: communities built online, say, or homosexual couples. Its not clear to me how Anglicanism can claim particular expertise in building these new groups into a grand coalition that will move us forward.

The Archbishop also repeats his analysis of how the policy of multiculturalism went too far in favour of minority cultures, at the expense of any respect for the idea of Britishness (this is something I have taken issue with him before). He asserts that if we want integration, there must be a strong, broad, primary culture available to integrate with! This is fine, but I do wish that the Church of England would apply this insight when managing its own multicultural issues, as found within the world-wide Anglican Communion. The British approach is supposed to be a core principle of the Communion, yet many of its constituent Churches have, in recent years, seemed to reject that approach. If the Church of England cannot provide a common moral vision for the world-wide Anglican Community, why should we suppose it would be any better at providing one for 21st Century Britain, diverse, modern and glorious?

Meanwhile…

… over at the Secular Right blog, Heather MacDonald writes on the phenomenon of “Drive-Thru Religion”, and how the rise of secularism does not seem to have resulted in a country-wide a descent into Sodom and Gomorrah:

Only a quarter of Americans attend church weekly. Yet moral chaos has not broken out; society has grown more prosperous as secularism expands. Empathy with others, an awareness of the necessity of the Golden Rule, survive the radical transformation of religious belief, it turns out. Perhaps because a moral sense is the foundation, not the result, of religious ethics.

(Via teh Dish). Applied to the British case, perhaps the values of the Anglican Church have arisen due to the values of British culture, and not vice-versa. Given that the Church of England grew out of the reformation, and the freedom of non-conformism was a hard fought for political fight, that analysis seems more accurate to me. Its not a binary argument of course, but it seems to me that Archbishop Sentamu is on uneven ground if he is claiming the great social achievements of the past century to be a product of the Anglican approach, even if William Temple did have an hand in the Beveridge Report.

Stressing Similarities

Time to bang this particular drum, again, methinks. Here is Barack Obama campaigning in Virginia, taking on the divisive rhetoric of McCain-Palin:

This is the real war that is being fought, on every longitude around the globe. Between those who seek to divide and rule, and those who seek to unite us in our shared humanity.

Where does multiculturalism sit in all this? Perhaps it is a means to this end. Multicultural policies are essential in a diverse society to allow everyone to flourish. And done right, they can also foster better understanding of our shared humanity. From my conversation with the Dalai Lama:

“Actually, my rough impression is that in the UK, ‘multiculturalism’ means a society where there are people from different backgrounds: Multi culture, multi racial, multi religion. In this sort of society, it means we need harmony, respect each other, and recognise others rights.”

The Dalai Lama suggests that most cultures and the morals that underpin them are based on religious faith, so to talk of multiculturalism is really to talk of ‘multi-religious faith’… What is important is finding the common ground between religions and therefore cultures, identifying those common morals that can unite us all. Multiculturalism, then, is not so much about celebrating differences, but emphasising our similarities.

It also occurs to me that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with its talk of freedom of religion &tc, is a multicultural document (that’s a good excuse to link to this animated version). The paradox is, that by accepting and allowing that people want to live in different ways, we recognise a shared humanity. (I’ll try to put this more eloquently some other time).

Caucus Conflict II: Them and Us

A second point in Stan Rosenthal’s article:

South Ossetia has its own culture and language, and is essentially part of North Ossetia, which is inside Russia and very much orientated towards Russia in a way that the South has never been orienated towards Georgia.

Isn’t this always the way? Like a set of Russian dolls, if you try and explore the ethnic make-up of any country, there always seems to be smaller, more well defined ethnic sub-groups within that country. Perhaps a more apt metaphor is the fractal. The outline of the shape (or country), looks quite simple from far away. However, as soon as you zoom in, you notice ever more levels of detail and complexity.

I said earlier that Georgia’s rulers have created problems for which their people are now paying. In South Ossetia, it looks as if they have been suppressing a minority for a political win. Again: Isn’t this always the way? Accentuating differences, exploiting divisions, demonising the Other. Multiculturalism can guard against this, by saying “here is someone different from you, and yet they have value,” although stressing the similarities between cultures may, paradoxically, be the best way to convince people of that value.

Clay Shirky’s comments, about how technology might actually entrench cultural differences, is worth recollecting here. In this era of digital communications, it is possible to travel globally but live locally, maintaining your cultural roots and relationships with ever more efficiency. Technology could mean that ever smaller cultural groups remain viable, when in the past they would have been assimilated. This, in turn, could see an increase in conflict, as these smaller groups assert their right to self-determination.

Here Comes Everybody

I’m looking forward to reading Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody after listening to the Demos Podcast of their event with him earlier this month.

Particularly interesting are his musings on the future of the Nation State. Since the internet allows people to associate with people in geographically disparate areas, and to associate on ever more specific grounds. If people live and love online, then other types of ‘polity’ might become more politically relevant.

This is a really crazy moment in the history of the Nation State… The pull outwards into smaller, more ethnically coherent groups is actually overcoming what was, in the 20th Century, and argument for economies of scale in Nation States. Whether that is good or bad , I don’t know, it would be such a profound shift that it would transcend good and bad, it would be a new world order.

He was talking specifically with regards to ethnicity – Tiawanese students reading the Taipei newspaper online while studying in New York, say, or Indian immigrants watching nothing but Zee-TV on Sky. I haven’t thought about the implications for multiculturalism in this, but if true, it seems an essentially insular development, where the chance of exposure to new and different thoughts is reduced. In this sense, it is similar to the social gerrymandering that is occurring in the USA, with families moving homes and states in order to surround themselves with like-minded people.

However, I wonder whether the most profound shift might come when people transcend ethnicity as well as geography. With people spending so much time, and actually making money in worlds like Second Life, or building large guilds of allegiences in Eve Online or WarCraft, perhaps those bonds could be the basis for some other kind of nation or ‘polity’ with real power and relevance.

Dialogues of Rain and Bamboo

Dancing in the Rain

“Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun!” wrote Noel Coward. I think he missed a trick: there was no corollary ditty, about mad Scotsmen going out in the rain.

Many of my recollections of peace and contentment take place in the rain. Playing cards under a canvas canopy of an eight-man Stormhaven tent on a scout-camp; Sitting at an old desk and writing a diary during the afternoon storms in Zimbabwe; Leaning against the door-frame of a rural Brazilian villa, watching clouds sweep through the valley. Sure, rain prevents you from stepping out into the street, but it also protects you. It creates a barrier you can hide behind. It isolates you like an incoming tide. It enforces privacy. Sometimes there’s nothing better to be stranded indoors by the rain. Open the window and listen to it fall.

Although, if you’re caught out in the rain, you might as well pull a Gene Kelly, and stay out. There’s a serenity to that too. A favourite quote:

There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.

A great deal of this stoicism was displayed at the weekend, at the Dialogues of Wind and Bamboo event at the Royal Botantic Gardens Edinburgh. The sky was not kind, and we were rained upon from start to finish. However, I had the sense that sheer bloody-mindedness would prevail amongst both performers and performance-goers, and that nothing would be postponed because of the weather.

And so we persisted, but some things are obviously odd when performed in the rain. No sane person would wander out and do Tai Chi in a cold, damp park, and I felt sorry for those giving a demonstration of the art, who did their best to ignore the rain. It must be extra difficult when people with brollys are stomping past. I think this point is true of the dance pieces too – the audience were probably not as relaxed as they could have been. And if you are distracted during a performance, it precludes the possibility of giving yourself over to the dance, incapable of submitting to the pure movement.

However, I think the traditional Chinese music gained something through being played in the storm. The hum of the rain was like a backing track, which bedded very well underneath the stringed notes.

Susie Brown’s installation Natural Progression, persists until 29th June. It consists of a set of painted bamboo sticks set into the ground, forming a fence-like barrier which slithers accross the lawn. Like an organic Fred Sandback installation, it delineates the open space and makes you think twice about crossing the imaginary boundaries it seems to define. It therefore takes a little courage to engage with the piece, which you can do by blowing across the tops of the bamboo to ‘play’ their notes.

Back in the RBGE glasshouse life was much drier, although the towering, anorexic palm trees occasionally drip onto you. FOUND and the Shanghai Jazz Project teamed up to give a performance. The glasshouse, with its collision of nature and human technology, is precisely the sort of odd venue I expect from FOUND. I’ve seen them in Warehouses and Chinese Kitchens, and they’ve played in portacabins before too.

FOUND are known throughout Scotland for their love of sampling stuff, mixing and remixing what they collect into their music. For this performance, we heard them sample an old 1930s Jazz recording, supplied by the Shanghai Jazz Project. We heard the familiar hiss and crackle of the old recording, and I remember thinking that this was not unlike the patter of the rain ouside.

Dialogues of Wind and Bamboo was the brainchild of Kimho Ip. Over at the project’s website, there’s an interesting podcast discussion with Stephen Blackmore, Regius Keeper, about the twin pleasures of nature and music, and their importance in the increasingly frenetic modern world.

"We All Have A Piece Of Each Other"

We discussed ‘bloodlines‘ earlier this week. Here is Presidential hopeful, Senator Barack Obama:

The mixing of races, and the making families with people from elsewhere, from other cultures: It is at this level, I think, that multiculturalism works best. Noting the differences, noting the similarities… and enjoying the fact of both.

More on multiculturalism within a person, here. David is interesting too.

Purity is Incestuous

An interesting post on the Daily Dish about miscegenation:

For older people, and people who live in areas that have long been predominantly white, the miscegenation issue is the last bastion of knee-jerk racial identity. And whites are not alone in this. Every well-defined racial and cultural group has this taboo actively at play, even today, regardless of political bent.

[When] a young West Virginian hankers for someone a bit more “full-blooded” than Obama, they are using code-words for the ultimate threatening “other”, the other that sneaks into your home and screws your daughter and destroys your bloodline.

The idea that there is any value in a pure ‘blood-line’ in has to be one of the most evil concepts invented by man. As Hanif Kureishi reminds us, “purity is incestuous”. Worrying about your ‘blood-line’ is against nature.

Here we go again

A classic multiculturalism scare story without substance, now honed to a fine art. This time, Ben Elton is the stooge:

Ben Elton has said the BBC is too “scared” to broadcast jokes about Muslims for fear of provoking radical Islamists… [he] added that the broadcaster would “let vicar gags pass but would not let imam gags pass”.

I’ve dealt with the difference between vicar gags and imam gags before (though I can’t seem to find the appropriate comment at the moment). Vicars are inherently more funny, especially to the British mind-set which sees more humour in taking the piss out of the familiar, than the exotic.

The other strand to the story is the second-guessing among well-meaning yet ultimately clueless decision makers. The story here is not “muslims can’t take a joke” or even “BBC thinks muslims can’t take a joke” but the ridiculous third degree of separation: “Ben Elton thinks that the BBC thinks that muslims can’t take a joke.” Is this what passes for discourse now?

As an aside to all this, may actually be the case that taking the piss out of minority religions could actually signify integration an acceptance, rather than intolerance.

Shakespeare the anti-semite

Another day, another clash of cultures story. This time, some Jewish school-girls have refused to answer questions in an English exam on Shakespeare because he was apparently anti-semitic. Seth Freedman makes some comments at Comment is Free. By his analysis, since the head teacher (a Rabbi at an Orthodox School) is condoning the girls’ boycott, its a slippery slope into all kinds of intolerance.

However, as with other examples of multicultural friction, liberal democracy looks robust, and does not seem to be at all threatened. No concessions whatsoever were made to the girls’ religious beliefs, and they failed their exams accordingly.

On a separate note, the boycott itself is surely silly and counter-productive. In a similar manner, one might refuse to study the Declaration of Independence on the basis that its authors were a bunch of slave owners. Regardless of whether Shakespeare was an anti-semite or not (and, given his portrayal of Shylock, he probably was), the man has had such a huge impact on the English language that to ignore him is hugely disadvantageous from an intellectual point of view. Critically analysing a text with reference to an artist’s life an opinions is a crucial tool, which these pupils are denying themselves. Likewise, critically analysing an artists output with regards to their times is important too. Was Shakespeare any more or less anti-semitic than his contemporaries, say? How do the views of the playwright compare to the views of the rest of his society? What role does the character of Shylock play in the history of Judaism? I fear that the quest of these girls to maintain some kind of intellectual purity might result in intellectual ignorance. And that outcome will not help them, their community, or their beliefs.