Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Why I smile sweetly and seethe at genealogists

Today's Grauniad has another tale of how yesterday's women are so much much more amenable than those of today, in the minds of those who pursue genealogy. I agree with the historian (let's call him A.J.P. Taylor-Schama-Elton-Plumb-Macaulay-Fisher) who remarked
[amateur genaealogy] is nothing more than narcissism dressed up in a wig and breeches. In the process, all the complexity, difference and integrity of "then" is turned into a pale facsimile of "now". Hand over the past to enthusiastic amateurs and they can be guaranteed to turn it into a kind of waiting room to the present in which people a lot like them hang around in funny clothes, waiting to be born.
Any interest in history is to applauded but so much family history is nothing of the sort. It's often nothing more than a record that tab A was inserted into slot B and out popped C. It's instructions on how to construct a pop-up paper theatre. The sort of theatr that shows tableau of Carry On films. Beyond several generations real relationships get lost. All that can ever be discovered is what was recorded in official records. The fact that Elmer Fuddle's biological father was really Squire Trelawney's gamekeeper, Porky Pig, but the official register of births, deaths and marriages has it down as Elmer P. Fuddle, gets lost.

Most family history is a triumph of biology over what really matters, in any meaningful history: social relationships. As an adoptee I feel that my family is my adopted parents and adopted sibling. As the song goes, "the time it takes to make a baby is the time it takes to make a cup of tea". What matters is time, the relationship thus built and the wider relationship with environment and society.

A begat B begat C begat D begat E begat D or
1:2 Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; 1:3 And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; 1:4 And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; 1:5 And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; 1:6 And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias; 1:7 And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; 1:8 And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; 1:9 And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; 1:10 And Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; 1:11 And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon: 1:12 And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; 1:13 And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; 1:14 And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; 1:15 And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; 1:16 And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
Interesting but hardly the stuff of narrative history. What really brasses me off is amateur genealogists who insist "I can trace my family back to 1066". My first retort is "Are your papers in order. Are you claiming asylum? Interested in being on the front page of the Daily Express?" That's the Daily Express who's editorial meetings appear to be made up of a random collation of the phrases "asylum seeker", "celebrity", "tax", "plot", "scheme", "scrounger", and others of that ilk.

My second retort is "How interesting. How accurate and painstaking was your research? Did you make any leaps, like Sir Nookie Bear was born in the same parish as my great-great-great-great-great uncle Rupert Snookie therefore they must be related?"

My third retort is "how interesting" , said with a Roger Moore-esque raised eyebrow.

Biological determinists make me A-N-G-R-Y.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Hunting in packs

When the media go after a target (and boy, they are like a pack of wolves, or an under 8s soccer team) all other stories get swept asunder. Mick Hartley has a tale that was ignored by much of the mainstream media (and also, sadly, by much of the blogosphere).

It's a tale of kidnapping, sexual slavery, China and North Korea. Two defectors from North Korea, Kyeong-Sook Cha and Soon-Hee Ma, appeared before the House Committee on International Relations, and provided firsthand accounts of widespread tragedy occurring in the Sino-North Korean border areas.
Kyeong-Sook Cha went [from North Korea] to China with her younger daughter to look for her older daughter, who had disappeared. In the process, she witnessed widespread sexual slavery of North Korean women in China. Cha and her younger daughter were likewise kidnapped, sold as sex slaves, captured by Chinese police, repatriated to North Korea, abused by North Korean security agents, witnessed torture of pregnant women and babies, escaped to China and repeated the experience that would have broken most women the first time. [...]

Unfortunately, no one from the mainstream media was present to bear witness to their moving testimony. Their misfortune was that the hearing took place on Oct. 27. The media in Washington, D.C., were in a feeding frenzy over the Harriet Miers withdrawal and the "Scooter" Libby indictments. Cha's and Ma's tragic stories were ignored.

In exasperation, Suzanne Scholte, of the Defense Forum Foundation and North Korea Freedom Coalition, remarked the media were "more interested in bringing down George Bush than Kim Jong-il." [...]
It's that mentality of think local and screw the global. I don't like my leader. He is so evil. Your leader is not as evil as mine. Is. Is not. My leader in trouble gets more viewers, sells more papers than whatever your leader does.

Tragedy loses out to farce. You too can have a cool windbreaker like Kim Jong-Il.

Oxfam bookshops

Oxfam bookshops are both wonderful and strangely evil. They lure you in. You begin to browse. And then you feel guilty and have to buy.

Today I wandered in. I was enchanted. I was ensnared. I began to read The Rationality of Science by W.H. Newton-Smith. Now it's all mine to take home and put on the pile of books to be read.

Someday that pile will begin to shrink.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Norm posts on Baudrillard.

Here's an image of Neo, sorry, Jean Baudrillard.

And here's a Baudrillard lookalike (scroll down to Prospero). And here's someone else made famous by the Baudrillard lookalike.

Now our Baudrillard lookalike was playing Prospero. Here's the quote you've been waiting for.
PROSPERO You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
As if you were dismay'd: be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vex'd;
Bear with my weakness; my, brain is troubled:
Be not disturb'd with my infirmity:
If you be pleased, retire into my cell
And there repose: a turn or two I'll walk,
To still my beating mind.
That's Act IV scene 1. Notice how it's almost, but not quite, all that is solid melts into air.


Here's some sporting anagrams. They're not that difficult.
  • Endurance - it's them (10,6)
  • Synthetic cream (10,4)
  • No odd fixture (6,6)
  • Fortnights on team (10,6)
  • Town hampers novel drawer (13,9)
Most of these came from the Grauniad Quick Crossword. Some didn't.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Grauniad and Rullsenberg

Over breakfast, bagel, bacon and Philly cheese if you ask, Rullsenberg discovered she was cited in the Grauniad.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Pere Ubu and a talentless fool

This piece reassesses Alfred Jarry and Ubu Roi. It begins
On December 10 1896 at the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre in Paris, an actor named Firmin Gémier strode down to the front of the stage, looked out over the mincily sophisticated Parisian crowd, and shouted at the top of his voice, "Shit!" (Or "Merde!" to be precise.) Many would have us believe that theatre was never the same again.
He was playing the lead in a new play, Ubu Roi, by a peculiar young malcontent from the west of Normandy, Alfred Jarry.
It goes on to describe how Jarry and a school mate concocted embarrassments and agonies for their physics teacher.
It's a standard schoolboy tactic - take a loathed authority figure, make him behave in the most degrading manner possible, and simultaneously drench him in shame and blood and shit. Ubu is one of the first examples of a student prank being translated into something considered a major work of art.
The description of Jarry's talents goes
He had a remarkable lack of ability as a playwright - no ear for speech, no complex psychology, no sense of texture, no narrative purpose. His ability to spin his one gift, for wilful outrage, into a passable imitation of genius is the reason why he is the patron saint of the talentless. Any of the many 20th-century writers who can't write, but can manufacture studenty confections that other begrudging folk will talk up as art, has Alfred Jarry to thank.
So, how much was Pinter inspired by Jarry?

The piece ends with praise for iconoclasm:
Artistic rebellion at a certain pitch of courage - or produced by folk so steeped in absinthe they don't know what courage is any more - provides its own reward. Simply forcing the door open into the modern, and being the first to walk in new rooms, creates an energy. Ubu is full of that delirious freedom.

The punk desire to howl the house down shouldn't create anything enduring, but it does. Will Never Mind the Bollocks stand up in 500 years' time, if there are enough cockroaches left around to pogo to it on their mini-iPods? For all that it's a pile of naive, posey, opportunistic twaddle, the answer is still undoubtedly yes. And will they enact Ubu with puppets on their blasted waste-grounds? Probably.
Just one real criticism. How can you discuss Ubu Roi and its legacy without mentioning these guys?

That's 300 000 laptops

There's a project to supply sub $100 laptops to children in developing nations.

Wind-up laptops. Cool. Or kewl. Whatever. Answers to some questions:
Why is it important for each child to have a computer? What's wrong with community-access centers?
One does not think of community pencils—kids have their own. They are tools to think with, sufficiently inexpensive to be used for work and play, drawing, writing, and mathematics. A computer can be the same, but far more powerful. Furthermore, there are many reasons it is important for a child to "own" something—like a football, doll, or book—not the least of which being that these belongings will be well-maintained through love and care.

What about connectivity? Aren't telecommunications services expensive in the developing world?
When these machines pop out of the box, they will make a mesh network of their own, peer-to-peer. This is something initially developed at MIT and the Media Lab. We are also exploring ways to connect them to the backbone of the Internet at very low cost.

What can a $1000 laptop do that the $100 version can't?
Not much. The plan is for the $100 Laptop to do almost everything. What it will not do is store a massive amount of data.
Access to information is a vital part of (economic, personal, intellectual, social) development but not the whole enchilada.

As a part of development this project is A G-O-O-D T-H-I-N-G.

Friday, November 11, 2005

$30 Million Dollars

Yes. I have been offered a share of $30 Million dollars. I am so excited.
Dear Sir,

Our present situation has made us decided to send you this mail that I am sure will come to you as a surprise. Please we mean you no harm only we are in a desperate situation and need urgent help. After going through this letter it will be your decision, whether to help this bereaved family or to leave us to our faith, but whatever you decide, bear in mind, that we are in trouble and need your help.

I am Mrs. Jennifer Ngdala, the wife of late Mr. Brown Ngdala the Zimbabwean farm lord, one of the major victims in the land reform crisis in Zimbabwe. You might have read or heard about it. We obtain your contact privately and decided to contact you in view of your profession and confirmed reliability.

Our country Zimbabwe is in a near civil war with no end in sight. The President Robert Mugabe had introduced a new land reform act meant to deprive and relocate all the major Farms in Zimbabwe. This has resulted in the Zimbabwean war veteran and black mob killing, looting and displacing the entire major farms in Zimbabwe. Thousands have been killed and my husband and my three children are among the victims, as we own one of the biggest modern farms in the Southern Africa region.

Before my husband was murdered in cold blood, he traveled to South Africa due to the rage and killing and deposited the sum of USD$ (Thirty Million United States Dollars) in a security company in South Africa, it was deposited as a family valuable to avoid unnecessary attention and high demurrage payment as this money was actually meant for the development and building of an ultra modern farms in Southern African region with all its machineries, but he did not live to accomplish this dream.

Faced with this situation, I ran to South Africa with my remaining family where we are currently residing as political Asylum.

Now, to claim this fund (USD$ from the security company, we will require your candid assistance as a foreigner to retrieve this fund and subsequently plan for a profitable investment where part of this fund could be invested in.

Please do understand that there is no risk of any kind involve in this, as all modalities are already in place for a successful conclusion of this transaction. All that we require of you is your reliability and trustworthiness not to take advantage of our vulnerable position in this matter. We have resolved to reward you with 15% of the total sum after a successful completion of the business transaction, 5% will be to offset every expenditure that we might incure as a result of this transaction, 70% will be for proposed business investment and 10% will be used to purchase country home for me and my son Frank. This money is all we have left for my remaining family and me. I am presently on a sick bed; my ill health is due to the trauma from what I have been through. More so I will need your assistant to help us migrate over immediately this fund is transferred to your account. We need not remind you of the confidential nature of this transaction, please keep it as such.

Contact my son Frank with the email address below he is presently in charge due to my ill health.


Yours faithfully,

Jennifer Ngdala.
Unfortunately I am unable to avail myself of this kind offer. I just hope Jennifer gets better.

Bleak House

The Beeb's Bleak House is excellent.

It gets plaudits from me, from Rullsenberg and from Norm.

Here's a sourpuss article explaining why this guy is not watching. There's always someone, somewhere. That's not to say Philip Hensher has a big nose just that his ill-informed witterings make Mrs Honeyman seem like a paper of record.
Catriona Davies said that "to those who have ploughed through all 1,088 pages of Charles Dickens's novel Bleak House, it may seem like an unlikely book to be transformed into a populist drama".

Not having seen any of it, I can't say, but it seems very unlikely that this dramatisation adds to the quality of the greatest novel in the English language. For a start, I've heard that there is no fog to be seen anywhere, which seems rather like filming Moby Dick without the sea. Vegas is surely rather adventurous casting for a character who is 76 years old, described on first appearance as "short, cadaverous and withered."

And one hears that Mrs Pardiggle has been left out altogether. Frankly, a Bleak House that leaves out Mrs Pardiggle, and above all, the five- year-old Alfred Pardiggle, that most unwilling contributor to the Infant Bonds of Joy, is not a Bleak House I have any great desire to watch. Of course, he, and about a hundred others, contribute hardly anything to the plot, but what else can be left out? Prince Turveydrop? Volumnia Dedlock? The Military Bassoonist? Mr Chadband's reflection, saying grace, that without "refreshment" "our legs would refuse to bear us, our knees would double up, our ankles would turn over"?

The main reason for not watching this dramatisation, or, in fact, any dramatisation of Bleak House ever again is that one knows one would sit there with gritted teeth waiting for some magnificently unnecessary moment, groaning with pain at its omission or suffering an only temporary relief. Does it, for instance, include that incomparable passage, Krook's list of the names of Miss Flite's 25 pet birds: "Hope, Joy, Youth, Peace, Rest, Life, Dust, Ashes, Waste, Want, Ruin, Despair, Madness, Death, Cunning, Folly, Words, Wigs, Rags, Sheepskin, Plunder, Precedent, Jargon, Gammon and Spinach?" It seems fairly unlikely; but, really, I just don't want to know.
Yes, it does. Every point Hensher makes about things missing from Bleak House is based on hearsay. Hensher knows someone who knows someone who was jogging past someone's house when they noticed Bleak House on telly and there was no Mrs Pardiggle. It's time Hensher found things out for himself rather than relying on the ill-informed gossip of others.

Can I start the campaign to make wilful ignorance a crime?

As Tony Kushner writes of Maurice Sendak
Maurice is a child of the Great Depression and of Jewish Depression, if I may generalise. Jewish Depression is that inherited awareness of the arduousness of knowing God, the arduousness of knowing anything, an acute awareness of the struggle to know, the struggle against not knowing; and it is that enduring sense of displacement, yearning for and not securely possessing a home. Maurice's is a Yiddische kopf, a large, brooding, circumspect and contemplative mind, darkened by both fatalism and faith.
The "arduousness of knowing anything, an acute awareness of the struggle to know, the struggle against not knowing" is, if not universal, at least something I identify with.

Is Philip Hensher interested in where the wild things are?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Where's Your Trews?

Rullsenberg blogs on a sales pitch for a pair of trousers.

The article is in the paper of choice of fashionistas everywhere. Here's a taster.
I would like to emphasise that aside from trying these pants on, they have never, ever been worn. In public or private.

I have not worn these leather pants for the following reasons:

I am not a member of Queen.

I do not like motorcycles.

I am not Rod Stewart.

I am not French.

I do not cruise for transvestites in an expensive sports car.

These were not cheap leather pants. They are Donna Karan leather pants. They're for men. Brave men, I would think. Perhaps tattooed, pierced men. In fact, I'll go so far as to say you either have to be very tough, very gay, or very famous to wear these pants and get away with it.

Again, they're men's pants, but they'd probably look great on the right lady. Ladies can get away with leather pants much more often than men can. It's a sad fact that men who own leather pants will have to come to terms with.
And I so wanted a pair of leather trousers. But that was then and this is now.

The thinking person's Keith Flett

There is a letter from Pooter Geek Senior in today's Grauniad.

Maybe I'm naive, but what kind of socialist buys shares (Blunkett faces new conflict of interest claims, November 1)?
Greg Counsell
Tamworth, Staffs
This man is rapidly becoming the thinking person's Keith Flett.

I was shocked when I found that there is not a Wiki for the prolific letter writer and founder of the BLF.
Keith Flett, of the Beard Liberation Front, said: "Beards are part of the tradition of the Labour movement, but I don't think new Labour likes them. People seem to think men with beards are dodgy or have something to hide. I've been shouted at by youths and van drivers just for having a beard. There is discrimination and we need to broaden the opportunities for people with beards."
None of the above in any way implies that Pooter Geek Senior has, or has ever owned, a beard.