Saturday, December 31, 2005

Did you get one of these for festivus?

Dave Barry reports on Christmas gifts. Among his list of possible festive treats he mentions KISS Celebriducks.
Every once in a while, two entirely different things come together to form something new and wonderful. Peanut butter and jelly. Abbott and Costello. Ham and eggs. Peanut butter and Costello. The list goes on and on.
This gift concept is another example of this phenomenon. What probably happened was this:
Some marketing people were sitting around a conference table, trying to ''brainstorm'' an idea for a product, and they got into an argument. On one side was a guy saying, ''We need to put out a product that would appeal to fans of the legendary rock band Kiss.'' On the other side was a guy saying, ''No! We need to put out a product that can be used as a bath toy!'' And then, just when it looked as though they had reached a stalemate, a light bulb went on over their heads, and they decided to ingest powerful narcotics.
The result is the Kiss Celebriducks, a set of four rubber ducks shaped vaguely like the members of Kiss. They go with pretty much any bathroom decor, and make a fun and educational toy for anybody except children under the age of 21.
As the second KISS link shows this is not a spoof (insofar as anything to do with KISS is not made up).

Friday, December 30, 2005

Only 36 days leave

There is an obituary, in today's Grauniad, of the biographer George Painter. Apparently he was an expert on Proust. A sentence in the obit got me:
he was appointed in 1954 as assistant keeper in charge of 10,000 15th-century books. He had to work on Saturday mornings and had only 36 days' leave a year, but he stayed in the job for 20 years.
Pity the man. Only 36 days leave. That's terrible. Where would the arts be if people could not take off all of August to go to Tuscany? The hardship.

By the way, 36 is the eighth triangular number. It is also square and the first number after 1 to be both square and triangular. Wow.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

God is Patronizing

Norm points out this interview with Daniel Dennett, in which Dennett answers the question why are many natural scientists religious.
It goes together by not looking too closely at how it goes together. It's a trick we can all do. We all have our ways of compartmentalizing our lives so that we confront contradictions as seldom as possible.
[A]re we only morally good so that we get rewarded in heaven; so that God will punish us for our sins and reward us for good behavior? I find this idea extremely patronizing. It is offensive in that it suggests that that's the only reason people are moral.
People are moral because they want to be, and immoral because they want to be. They may construct all sorts of rationalisations for their behaviour but it all amounts to people doing things because they want to do them.

For an answer to the question, does morality depend on circumstances (otherwise known as the starving person stealing a loaf of bread), go get a good introduction to ethics.

Seasons Greetings

May your days be jolly ...

May your festivus be whatever you want it to be.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Dover School Board and Intelligent Design

In the case of Kitzmiller v Dover Area School, U.S. District Judge John E Jones found that Intelligent Design is not science but a form of religious-inspired creationism. That that is what Intelligent Design is should not come as a surprise to anyone reading this.

There is excellent commentary at the splendid Butterflies and Wheels and at the equally splendid Panda's Thumb.

As expected the Discovery Institute has put out a statement. You can read it here. Earlier, when the good citizens of Dover, PA, voted out the Intelligent Design espousing members of the School Board Pat Robertson said "I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city. ... If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them."

He probably can.

Why does Pat Robertson remind me of the televangelist, Reverend Larry, in Repo Man?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Life Reeked with Joy

This is a tale of European history, gathered from credible sources (ok, ok, undergraduate essays).
In the 1400 hundreds most Englishmen were perpendicular. A class of yeowls arose. Finally, Europe caught the Black Death. The bubonic plague is a social disease in the sense that it can be transmitted by intercourse and other etceteras. It was spread from port to port by inflected rats. Victims of the Black Death grew boobs on their necks. The plague also helped the emergance of the English language as the national language of England, France, and Italy.

The Middle Ages slimpared to a halt. The renasence bolted in from the blue. Life reeked with joy. Italy became robust, and more individuals felt the value of their human beings. Italy, of course, was much closer to the rest of the world, thanks to nothern Europe.
Can't wait for 1066 and all that.

Go read the whole piece.

Thanks to Norm.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Delicatessen and the Politics of Salami

Here's a classic description of the delicatessen under socialism. It's so classic I've decided to get the dvd. That means it must be classic as by definition, my dvd collection only contains classics. This episode also contains the lines that made the WRP what it is today:
GEORGE: Yeah. What are you doing with the Daily Worker?

ELAINE: Ned must have left it here.

GEORGE: Your boyfriend reads the Daily Worker? What is he? A communist?

ELAINE: HE reads everything, you know, Ned's very well read.

GEORGE: Maybe he's just "very well RED"?

ELAINE: Communist? Don't you think he probably would have told me?

GEORGE: Well, does he wear bland, drab, olive colored clothing?

ELAINE: Yes, . . . yes he does dress a little drab.

GEORGE: Huh, he's a communist. . . . Look at this. "Exciting
uninhibited woman seeks forward thinking comrade and appearance not important." . . . Appearance Not Important! This is unbelievable. Finally this is an ideology I can embrace.

This comes from Seinfeld epsiode "The Race" (episode 10 from season 6 (the 96th ever episode)).

Friday, December 16, 2005

Money Money Money

Got the Amicus newsletter with last year's accounts (year ending 31st Decemebr 2004).

General Secretary: Derek Simpson
Salary £83,906
Pension Contribution £26,011
Other Benefits £52,246

Also got the Oxfam Christmas Catalogue:

Safe Water for 1,000 people £720.

So that's Derek Simpson or clean water for over a hundred thousand people. What do you think?


That's a correction from the first draft. Some of us can't handle big numbers, we stick at: i, 0, 1, 2, e, pi ... or nada, one, two lots ...

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Am I not a man?

Euan Ferguson feels, like I do, that judging by countless supplements about the gifts to buy the man in your life, we don't count. Gadgets to do things you never wanted to do. His wishlist is amazingly similar to mine.
Here's an idea - rather a good one, it suddenly strikes me, that could keep a billion relationships going much further: don't think of him as a 'man' any more. Think of him as, say, a 'person'.
Give him person things which just suit him because he happens to be a man. Forget the electronic golf gew-gaws.
Give him, say:
  • A small bottle of the world's finest after-shave. It's called No. 88, comes in a little black bottle, and is made by Czech & Speake of Jermyn Street.
  • A really, really nice well-cut shirt which goes with his eyes.
  • A single bottle of the finest malt whisky in the land, which is called Caol Ila.
  • Unconditional love.
Any, trust me, any of the above will do. The whisky, by the way, is the cheapest.
Any of those would do. Even nothing at all.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Radio, Radio, [recorded] transmission

For those lucky people with broadband and some time there's Little Atoms. You can listen to interviews with Harry, Norm, and coming up Martin Rowson.

It's also got loads of good links. Have a damn fine cup of coffee, settle down and listen.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Not Quite Oulipo

It's not quite Oulipo but this Pakistani textbook poem has potential.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Holocaust Deniers and Rhinoplasty

Maureen Lipman describes an encounter with a Holocaust denier.

Go read it.

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.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Vive La Constitution!

The Iraqi constitution, for all its flaws *, has been passed overwhelmingly.

Harry posts here, here and here.
the struggle is not yet over. It is likely that the 'resistance' will respond to this with another round of attacks and the young democratic state, still lacking experienced defensive forces will continue to need the fraternal assistance of friendly outside forces. Renewed terrorism will be portrayed in the media as some sort of sign that the constitution has 'failed to end the violence' despite the fact that no-one expects the referendum to result in the surrender of the counter-revolutionaries. Revolutions almost always face violent counter-revolution and the consolidation of the state will take time. How long the international military presence should remain in Iraq is of course related to that consolidation but is a question for the Iraqi political process to answer.
The specific form of Iraqi democracy remains open and the secular forces will need all the help they can get.

Help Iraq1.

1That is a reference to Kathe Kollwitz's 1921 etching of "Help Russia" owned by the splendid Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham, UK. See it here.

*This phrase was originally suffering from an apostrofly attack.

Monday, October 24, 2005


Didn't watch Waterloo but had a splendid Steiger fest.

On Saturday Rullsenberg and me watched the splendid On the Waterfront,in which Rod Steiger plays Charlie the Gent, the brother of Terry Molloy.
Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, "Kid, this ain't your night. We're going for the price on Wilson." You remember that? "This ain't your night"! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn't have to take them dives for the short-end money.

We followed that with In the Heat of the Night, in which Rod Steiger plays Billy Gillespie, the Southern police chief. Splendid film with a splendid soundtrack by Quincy Jones and title song by Ray Charles. What could be better? Who can forget Sidney Poitier's cry of dignity
They call me Mister Tibbs!
Brilliant. All you (well, I) want from a movie.

Poems for the Norm Blog Poll

Norm requested people's top three poets for a Norm Poets Poll. Here are mine.

1) Percy Shelley

For The Mask of Anarchy, Men of England, and Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

2) Walt Whitman

For Leaves of Grass and Democratic Vistas. And for "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"

FLOOD-TIDE below me! I see you face to face!
Clouds of the west — sun there half an hour high
— I see you also face to face.

Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes,
how curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross,
returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose,
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are
more to me, and more in my meditations, than you
might suppose.

The impalpable sustenance of me from all things at all hours
of the day,
The simple, compact, well-join'd scheme, myself disinte-grated,
every one disintegrated yet part of the scheme,
The similitudes of the past and those of the future,
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and
hearings, on the walk in the street and the passage over
the river,
The current rushing so swiftly and swimming with me far away,
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them,
The certainty of others, the life, love, sight, hearing of others.

Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shore
to shore,
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west,
and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east,
Others will see the islands large and small;

Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun
half an hour high,
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence,
others will see them,
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the
falling-back to the sea of the ebb-tide.

It avails not, time nor place — distance avails not,
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever
so many generations hence,
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
Just as you are refresh'd by the gladness of the river and the
bright flow, I was refresh'd,
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift
current, I stood yet was hurried,
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships and the
thick- stemm'd pipes of steamboats, I look'd.

I too many and many a time cross'd the river of old,
Watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls, saw them high in the
air floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies,
Saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies and
left the rest in strong shadow,
Saw the slow-wheeling circles and the gradual edging toward
the south,
Saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water,
Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams,
Look'd at the fine centrifugal spokes of light round the shape
of my head in the sunlit water,
Look'd on the haze on the hills southward and south-west-ward,
Look'd on the vapor as it flew in fleeces tinged with violet,
Look'd toward the lower bay to notice the vessels arriving,
Saw their approach, saw aboard those that were near me,
Saw the white sails of schooners and sloops, saw the ships
at anchor,

The sailors at work in the rigging or out astride the spars,
The round masts, the swinging motion of the hulls, the
slender serpentine pennants,
The large and small steamers in motion, the pilots in their
pilot- houses,
The white wake left by the passage, the quick tremulous whirl
of the wheels,
The flags of all nations, the falling of them at sunset,
The scallop-edged waves in the twilight, the ladled cups, the
frolicsome crests and glistening,
The stretch afar growing dimmer and dimmer, the gray walls
of the granite storehouses by the docks,
On the river the shadowy group, the big steam-tug closely
flank'd on each side by the barges, the hay-boat, the
belated lighter,
On the neighboring shore the fires from the foundry
chimneys burning

3) Charles Reznikoff

For "Holocaust", perhaps the 20th century's most important poem, proof that, contra Adorno, there can be poetry after Auschwitz.

4) Langston Hughes

For "Let America Be America Again". For a discussion see here.

These our are my current top four. I think the top two, Shelley and Whitman, will always be there but the other two are the winners of a rough, and tough, contest.

On not getting wikipedia

These people just do not get wikipedia.

If you find an article that's wrong, or inaccurate, correct it. Or rewrite it.

How can you trust it when it's covering an area you're not that familiar with? Use more than one source.

As the woman said "using one source is plagiarism, more than one is research".

Three cheers for wikipedia.
Hip - Hip - Hooray

Thursday, October 20, 2005

New Zealand Welcome

This chap swam a great distance to land in New Zealand.

What did he get? A whack on the head, that's what.

Perhaps these people can investigate?

It's a good job New Zealand is also known as Land of the Long White Cloud1 otherwise I'd be concerned when I arrive at Immigration.

1Not to be confused with Land of the Thin White Duke. Thankfully, the Thin White Duke is not native to those shores. Neither is this creature.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Rullsenberg reminds me of Norm's Poets Poll.

Keats, Shelley, Ginsburg, Dickinson, Tennyson, Browning, Barratt Browning, Ferlinghetti, Whitman, Wordsworth, Langston Hughes ...the list goes on.

Must get my entry in Norm's Poets Poll.

Hush Hush

Obsessives unite. You have nothing to lose but your anoraks.

Black Triangle reports on a complaint from the isle of San Serif about L.A. Confidential.
L.A. Confidential (1997, Warner Bros.). A highly regarded film, tightly written, well-acted, beautifully filmed, but pretty mediocre in its use of type. This one is set in the early ’50s, but the type was clearly not. “HUSH-HUSH,” a Hollywood gossip magazine, is featured prominently sporting a logo set in Helvetica Compressed (1974).
There's more in that vein here.

(Via:netcetera via Black Triangle)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

My Life with Lev Yashin

Last weekend Rullsenberg and me went to see my parents for the last time before they emigrate to New Zealand.

In sorting out his affairs my dad had decided to sell his World Cup programme from 1966. At the final he had bumped into Lev Yashin and got him to sign his programme.

So last weekend I touched something that had been touched by Lev Yashin (holder of the Order of Lenin).

Today I find a splendid piece on Norm's blog by Ramachandra Guha, that eulogises the book Football in Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano, that mentions Lev Yashin.
Galeano can write as evocatively about the Russian Lev Yashin and the Hungarian Ferenc Puskas as about footballers from Latin America, while James could frankly admit to, and document in detail, his admiration of the extraordinary English cricketer W.G. Grace.

One might say that football has been to Latin America what cricket once was to the West Indies: not just a sport, but the chief vehicle of cultural expression, with the play and the players half-consciously mirroring the dilemmas and aspirations of society as a whole.

Yet Galeano, like James, is no arid sociologist: he is a true lover of his game, steeped in its folklore and deeply knowledgeable about its practice and practitioners. The shelf of books on sport that count as literature is a small one. But on this shelf one finds both Football in Sun and Shadow and Beyond a Boundary, perhaps nesting - as they do in my home - side by side.
As E.M. Forster said "Only connect".

Let's leave with a quote from the great Lev Yashin
"What kind of a goalkeeper is the one who is not tormented by the goal he has allowed? He must be tormented! And if he is calm, that means the end. No matter what he had in the past, he has no future."

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Found a splendid, informative, campaigning blog, Sudan Watch.

It’s none too enamoured of the "inane comments" a post on Sudan inspired on DSTPFW but I’ll forgive them that.

It’s an informative, campaigning blog that’s well worth a regular look.
It also introduces the Genocide Intervention Fund.
Today, as genocide rages in Darfur, Sudan, the world stands by, failing the vow of "never again" that it made after the Holocaust and reaffirmed after the Rwandan genocide. The genocide in Darfur has claimed 400,000 lives and displaced over 2,500,000 people. Five hundred people continue to die each day; fifteen thousand die every month.

Government-sponsored militias raze villages, systematically rape women and girls, abduct children, and destroy food and water supplies. While the UN warns that "there is no other place in the world where so many lives are at stake," governments and the UN have failed to mount an effective response.The silence of the world's leaders has given birth to the Genocide Intervention Fund (GIF), which aims to provide critically needed supplies to African Union peacekeepers on the ground in Darfur, increase public awareness about genocide, and pressure the international community to fulfill its Responsibility to Protect civilians targeted by genocide.
Read the whole piece.

Make a contribution.

Get involved.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Foxes and Hedgehogs

Geoff Dyer writes
although we live in a time that sets great store by measuring progress ("research" in academic parlance) in precisely demarcated areas of knowledge, real advances are often made by people happy to muddle along within the splendidly vague job description advanced by Susan Sontag, whose "idea of a writer [was] someone interested in 'everything'". Why, realistically, would one settle for anything less?
This piece was crying out for Berlin's Hedgehog and Fox essay but Dyer didn't use it.

Was this to deny reader expectation?

Because he doesn't like Isaiah Berlin?


Norm blogs on Madeleine Bunting's piece on listening:
...the internecine factionalism of minority community politics is confusing. The irony of course is that when Muslims do speak with one voice - on British foreign policy - Goggins and his government colleagues refuse to listen.
As Norm puts it
Translated, this means that the government should be guided by what she, Madeleine, thinks is right.
Those in favour of "Taliban and Baathist tyranny" raise your right hand. And keep it there. No flagging.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The movie of my life

Pish. This life is rated 12.

My life has been rated:
Click to find out your rating!
See what your rating is!
Created by bart666
Suitable for 12 years or older, but under 18s must be with an adult. This is virtually identical to the 12 certificate, in that we'll have some adult-themed storylines, but no real meat or detail. No scary bits, but some language and maybe a bit of skin.
Examples: Die Another Day, Lord Of The Rings
There was me thinking I was a dangerous kind of guy, living on the edge. Disillusioned or what?

(Hat Tip: Will)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Flying by the seat of your pants

Here's some pictures taken inside Katrina.

One of those things you're glad someone has done but glad it's not you.

(Hat tip: Norm)

Late Night Brancusi Seminar

Found this splendid site.

Some would say this is very amusing.

Others would demur. But they would be those with no sense of humour.

(Hat tip: Mick Hartley)

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The crisis in Sudan is nearly over...

Johann Hari writes:
At last, some good news from Darfur: the holocaust in western Sudan is nearly over. There’s only one problem – it’s drawing to an end only because there are no black people left to cleanse or kill. The National Islamic Front government has culled over 400,000 “Zurga” – a word which translates best as “niggers” – and driven two million more from their homes in its quest to make western Sudan “Zurga-free”. Their racist Janjaweed militias would love to carry on rampaging and raping, but the black villages have all been burned down and the women have all been raped with “Arab seed” to “destroy their race from within” – what’s a poor militiaman to do? The first genocide of the twenty-first century has proceeded without a hitch, and the genocidaires have won.
He adds
China and France both have oil interests in Sudan – so they told Kofi Anan they would veto any attempt by the Security Council to end the genocide. At the height of the murders in Darfur, the United Nations itself appointed the Sudanese government to a three-year term on the UN Human Rights Commission. The jihadists who claim to be fighting on behalf of Muslims from Palestine to Chechnya to Iraq have said nothing to condemn the mass slaughter of 400,000 innocent Muslims in Darfur. No: they support it, because the Khartoum government imposes sharia law wherever it goes and even invited their hero Osama Bin Laden to make Sudan his home from 1991-6. Major corporations – including Siemens and Alcatel – continue to work and pay taxes in Sudan even though they know the money is being funnelled towards mass murder. The Darfur holocaust is a bleak demonstration of how little the most powerful institutions in the world are motivated by basic human morality. Confronted with a clear example of the most terrible crime of all, they have all conspired to carry on working with the killers as if the holocaust in Darfur is at best a minor inconvenience.
Genocide happens and nobody feels anything. It passes beneath the radar of media consciousness. Hidden by "news" of celebrity drug busts. Hidden by "news" of royal birthdays. Hidden by "news" of stage-managed party conferences. Hidden by "news" of the detritus of everyday life in the rich North.

Who really cares about genocide? Not the BBC. Not the United Nations. Not the African Union.

Who really cares, apart from you and me?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Hippocratic Hypocrisy

Norm points out how new U.S. Department of Defense guidelines
contravene international principles of medical ethics by permitting physicians to facilitate and monitor abusive interrogation practices, according to a commentary published in the Journal of the American Medical Association for September 28.

"When the DoD guidelines came out, they looked similar to the United Nations guidelines," lead author Leonard Rubenstein told Reuters Health. "So we took a closer look and the differences were strikingly significant and very disturbing, not just because they seem to undermine traditional and well established ethical principles."

"It seemed clear that the ethical guidelines were designed to accommodate the kinds of roles the military wanted health care professionals to play in interrogation rather than starting with what the right ethical stance was," he added.
Norm goes on to add
For reasons which I won't insult the reader by spelling out, the use of doctors or other health care people in the abuse of human beings is a particular obscenity, over and above the more general one of the abuse itself. It disfigures the project and aims being fought for in the war against terror, and for democracy in Iraq.
Indeed it does. It is also wrong. That is, W-R-O-N-G.

Torture is one of those universal things that everyone should be against in all circumstances. And that includes the ticking-bomb case.

Torture is always W-R-O-N-G.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

I was Lost and then ...

That's Lost, the tv show.

  • "Oh no. We're going to crash."
  • "Oh no. We're on a deserted island."
  • "Oh no. There's something in the woods."
  • "Oh no. Where's Eric?"
And that's all there is.

    Wednesday, September 28, 2005

    Fruitcake corner

    Offensive. Rabidly raving religious nutters.

    [Hat tip: Stoa]


    BBC's Arena by Martin Scorsese on Bob Dylan was spectacular.

    Must get hold of the dvd for the extras.

    So many damn fine songs. There's a need for a quote but there's too much choice.

    Bombing Nomenclature

    Should people who blow themselves, and others, into smithereens be known as suicide or homicide bombers?

    Norm blogs on a New Republic article that examines, among other things, the national origins of such bombers.
    [O]f the fighters expressly identified by country of origin, 175 are Saudi, 50 are Syrian, 28 are Iraqi, 15 are Kuwaiti, 13 are Jordanian, and a handful are from other Arab countries, including a few young men who had lived in France, Denmark, and Spain.
    They are even less comfortable articulating the fact that the vast majority of victims in suicide bombings are ordinary Iraqis. Take the description of Walid Al Asmar Al Shammari's death: "Walid Al Asmar Al Shammari was martyred in Iraq on 14 June, 2004... His family received condolences in Hail, northern Saudi Arabia, after they got a call from Iraq confirming his death when he carried out an operation with a car bomb. He drove it into a crowded area in central Baghdad last Tuesday. In addition to Al Shammari, the operation killed 16 people, including two Britons, a Frenchman, and an American." The other twelve were Iraqis but were not identified as such, a telling omission.

    That omission suggests a critical weakness in the jihadist movement and its recruitment efforts. Imagine how the biography of the "hero" Al Shammari would read if it were juxtaposed with the biographies of the people he killed? What might readers in Saudi Arabia, Syria, and elsewhere in the Arab world make of a companion volume to "The Martyrs" in which each suicide bomber faced his victims, not as statistics in a war against the infidels, but as individuals in their own right?
    Some deaths are not counted because to do so would be a mite inconvenient for those in whose cause the people died.

    The isolationist, reactionary anti-war argument1 runs thus: "Iraqi deaths at the hands, accidental or otherwise, of coalition forces should be counted". As to Iraqi deaths at the hands of the insurgency, the isolationist reactionary anti-war movement2 remains silent."

    1 Is there any other kind?

    2 Is there any other kind?

    Friday, September 23, 2005

    In the backrow of the movies ...

    This guy, not to confused with Mr. New World Symphony, likes watching movies at home.
    Now with the DVD and the so-called home theater, the average experience is simply better at home. You can stop the movie when you want. You can eat dinner while watching. You can pause the movie and examine a scene more closely. The only thing you really miss is the group experience of sitting in an audience with a hundred or more strangers who react to the film, which is an important form of socialization. Of course, that experience has to be balanced by the idiot with the hat sitting in front of you or the girl who keeps getting up every five minutes to go to the bathroom or make a call.
    Did Huston, Ford, Leone, Hitchcock, Welles, Godard, Truffaut, Bergman et al, really make movies to be paused at will; make movies to go with steak tartare; make movies to go with Tuscan soup. I think these considerations passed the great auteurs by.

    Ok there are downsides to cinemas:
    • smells of crappy food.
    • mobile phones ringing.
    but you also have to look at the upsides
    • feeling an emotion as part of a largish group.
    • isolation from telephones, cats, and as Eric puts it, "small people".
    And being part of large group laughing, crying, sitting on the edge of your sets, and having the other emotions you have in a cinema is a G-O-O-D thing.

    Even a collective recognition that this movie is over-rated tosh can be a G-O-O-D thing.

    For further discussion see Norm and Eric.

    Friday, September 16, 2005


    There's a new on-line journal that "aims to contribute to a renewal of the politics of democratic radicalism by providing a forum for serious analysis and debate".
    Democratiya believes that in a radically changed world parts of the left have backed themselves into an incoherent and negativist 'anti-imperialist' corner, losing touch with long-held democratic, egalitarian and humane values. In some quarters, the complexity of the post-cold-war world, and of US foreign policy as it has developed since 9/11, has been reduced to another 'Great Contest': 'The Resistance' (or 'Multitude') against 'Imperialism' (or 'Empire'). This world-view has ushered back in some of the worst habits of mind that dominated parts of the left in the Stalinist period: manicheanism, reductionism, apologia, denial, cynicism. Grossly simplifying tendencies of thought, not least the disastrous belief that 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' are once again leading to the abandonment of democrats, workers, women and gays who get on the wrong side of 'anti-imperialists' (who are considered 'progressive' simply because they anti-American).
    Give it a go.

    Thursday, September 15, 2005

    Palast v Galloway

    Grep Palast writes
    I have to say, Mr. Galloway, you are a charitable man with a big heart. But the charity is for whom? You founded something called the Mariam Appeal for Iraqis suffering under UN sanction. You raised cash on your solemn promise that, "The balance after Mariam’s hospital bills have been paid will be sent as medicine and medical supplies to the children she had to leave behind." But little of the money seems to have gone there, isn't that correct, Mr. Galloway? It seems that nearly a million dollars can't be accounted for. And the diversion of most of the money was, you said, for "emergency" purposes. One of those emergencies was the payment to your wife -- isn't that correct, Mr. Galloway?

    And the source of nearly half a million dollars of that money, Honorable Sir, came from a trader in the corrupt Oil-for-Food program. The payment was equal to the profits earned by this oil trader who was blessed with discount oil from Saddam. Is that correct?

    So if we add it up, Mr. Galloway, while you were railing about medicines denied Iraqis by Messrs. Bush and Blair, you were taking money skimmed from the program earmarked to pay for those medicines. And other moneys donated for medicine for Iraqis you and your group also skimmed off for "legitimate expenses" of yours, is that correct?
    For more questions about the indefatigible one read the whole piece.

    Via Harry's Place.

    Thinking about Rosenberg

    No. Not that one. Or this one.

    A play.

    Based on the Rosenberg trial.

    Wednesday, September 14, 2005

    How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

    How many angels can dance on the head of a pin, and other questions of grave importance, are suggested by this piece on the Defence Systems and Equipment international (DSEi) exhibition currently taking place in Docklands, London:
    ... the Ministry of Defence (MoD) revealed that a number of countries whose human rights records had been criticised by the Foreign Office had been invited to the show, which is taking place at the ExCel centre in London's Docklands.

    But MoD spokesman Stephen Bethel denied that the invitations undermined the Foreign Office's stance. He said: "You must draw a distinction between delegations invited to attend and countries that the UK government offers an export licence to. The distinction is: just because a delegation from a country is coming to the exhibition does not mean that British companies are going to be free to export to those countries."

    Any UK company wanting to export to a foreign country has to apply for an export licence. The Foreign Office played a big part in making that decision, Mr Bethel said.
    So, that's all right then.

    "Come and look at our goods. That's it. Come on. Have a feel. You don't get quality like that these days. Feel the width. Feel how light it is."

    "You want to buy some? Oh. Where is it you're from?"

    "Oh. Dearie me. I'm not allowed to sell to you."

    "You're prepared to offer how much?"

    "Meet me round the back later."

    Songs in the Key of Life

    Walter Benjamin asks "What form do you suppose a life would take that was determined at a decisive moment precisely by the streetsong last on everyone's lips?"1

    A Radio 4 announcer writes "London Calling, by The Clash, did it for me".

    Ian Paisley, Jr shouts "I am Curious Orange by Mark E Smith and his merry men set my life on its anachronistic course".

    Cloud says "This Charming Man, by The Smiths, and I'm still pushing my punctured bicycle up a hillside, desolate".

    1: Walter Benjamin, SURREALISM, The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia,1929.

    Monday, September 12, 2005

    Oona King

    The Berliner Grauniad has an interview with Oona King after the battle of Bethnal Green. She discusses reasons for losing her seat:
    There was legitimate anger about her support for the war in Iraq, she says, which cut great swathes into her 10,000- strong majority. "It's rational to be incredibly angry about what's going on in Iraq, and there are many principled arguments against it. Having said that, my opponent possibly wouldn't know a principled argument if it hit him over the head."

    But she says there were other, less legitimate reasons for her unpopularity, too. "When you graft racial stereotypes and bigotry and religious stereotypes on top of everything else ..."

    What does she mean, racial stereotypes?

    "We have a huge amount of Islamophobia in this country, and possibly as a response to that we have a huge amount of anti-semitism." ... "And that [anti-semitism] was used really effectively during the campaign in a way that didn't exactly shock me, because I'm aware of its existence, but in my life it had always been the black part of me that attracted the most prejudice. And suddenly it was the Jewish part of me."

    She says that bizarre rumours kept surfacing, during the campaign, that she wanted to ban halal meat. "And this was on top of the usual, exaggerated Jewish conspiracy theories. A similar thing happened in 2001, when there were rumours spread that I was funded by Mossad. I used to laugh with my assistant that, given we sent people out to nick stick-it notes, they weren't funding us very well. Then in this election I realised that people were taking it really, really seriously. That was confirmed to me when my Muslim assistant knocked on the door of a Bengali man who said, 'I voted for her both times before, but I just can't do it this time.' She said, 'Is it Iraq?' And he said, 'No. I'm very angry about Iraq, but what I cannot stomach is that my member of parliament thinks it's all right to spend her parliamentary salary on paying the Israeli army to bomb the Palestinians.' And that's where rational debate ends."
    Yes, the end of rational debate, as advocated by Madeleine Bunting, also in the Grauniad.
    erstwhile left-wing liberals ... raise their standard on Enlightenment values - their universality, the supremacy of reason and a belief in progress.
    And that's a bad thing?

    For a discussion of Bunting's article see Marcus at Harry's Place.

    Nine Theses

    Salman Rushdie nails his nine theses for a reformed Islam to the door of The Times.

    Harry gives a splendid summary. Go and read. And think.

    Friday, September 09, 2005

    Agreeing With Naomi K

    Well. Who'd have thought it? Naomi Klein writes a good piece in the Guardian. She argues that instead of becoming a place for business to exploit workers "low wages, low taxes, more luxury condos and hotels" New Orleans should become a city for the people most damaged by Katrina.

    Reconstruction for the people. Reconstruction by the people.
    Before the flood, this highly profitable vision was already displacing thousands of poor African-Americans: while their music and culture was for sale in an increasingly corporatised French Quarter (where only 4.3% of residents are black), their housing developments were being torn down. "For white tourists and businesspeople, New Orleans's reputation means a great place to have a vacation, but don't leave the French Quarter or you'll get shot," Jordan Flaherty, a New Orleans-based labour organiser told me the day after he left the city by boat. "Now the developers have their big chance to disperse the obstacle to gentrification - poor people."

    Here's a better idea: New Orleans could be reconstructed by and for the very people most victimised by the flood. Schools and hospitals that were falling apart before could finally have adequate resources; the rebuilding could create thousands of local jobs and provide massive skills training in decent paying industries. Rather than handing over the reconstruction to the same corrupt elite that failed the city so spectacularly, the effort could be led by groups like Douglass Community Coalition. Before the hurricane, this remarkable assembly of parents, teachers, students and artists was trying to reconstruct the city from the ravages of poverty by transforming Frederick Douglass senior high school into a model of community learning.
    Indeed. It is far better to empower people by giving them responsibility and power to reconstruct the city than by giving big juicy contracts to organisations such as Halliburton.

    Go and read the splendid piece from Naomi Klein.

    Thursday, September 08, 2005

    New Orleans As it Is

    John at Counago and Spaves has this account of life in New Orleans.

    Go and read it. "Working-class heroes", indeed.

    Wednesday, September 07, 2005

    Toynbee on Education

    Polly Toynbee comments on education.
    It is not philistine to suggest that most humanities students might have their minds stimulated by a more general curriculum across a range of disciplines, opening wider windows instead of treating them all like trainee academics. As for the value of some research, no politician dare touch that domain. But here's a new research project from Birmingham University: "The cognitive measurement of consumer criteria for manufacturer parameter values in biscuit texture." (It means studying how much people like the crunchiness of biscuits.)
    A broad, general humanities curriculum is a good idea. Everyone (including scientists and engineers (like me)) should have a broad understanding of things like probability, economics, politics, history, literary theory, poetry, statistics, languages, literature et al. But isn't that the preserve of what Richard Rorty calls the socialisation stage of education? Pre-university should be all about
    socialization - of getting the students to take over the moral and, political common sense of the society as it is. It is obviously not only that, since sympathetic high school teachers often assist curious or troubled students by showing them where to find alternatives to this common sense. But these exceptions cannot be made the rule. For any society has a right to expect that, whatever else happens in the course of adolescence, the schools will inculcate most of what is generally believed.
    University should be about individualization -
    self-individualization and self-creation of that human being_ through his or her own later revolt against [socialization].
    Rorty writes
    Suppose we succeed not only in inculcating such a narrative of national hope in most of our students but in setting it in the larger context of a narrative of world history and literature, all this against the background of the world picture offered by the natural scientists. Suppose, that is, that after pouring money into pre-college education, firing the curriculum experts, abolishing the licensing requirements, building brand new, magnificently equipped schools in the inner cities, and instituting Hirsch-like school-leaving examinations, it proves possible to make most American 19-year-olds as culturally literate as Dewey and Hirsch have dreamed they might be. What, in such a utopia, would be the educational function of American colleges? What would policymakers in higher education worry about?

    I think all that they would then need to worry about would be finding teachers who were not exclusively concerned with preparing people to be graduate students in their various specialities and then making sure that these teachers get a chance to give whatever courses they feel like giving. They would still need to worry about making sure that higher education was not purely vocational - not simply a matter of fulfilling prerequisites for professional schools or reproducing current disciplinary matrices. They would not, however, have to worry about the integrity of the curriculum or about the challenge of connecting learning - any more than administrators in French and German universities worry about such things. That sort of worry would be left to secondary school administrators. If Hirsch's dreams ever come true, then the colleges will be free to get on with their proper business. That business is to offer a blend of specialized vocational training and provocation to self-creation.
    Don't you love that phrase "provocation to self-creation"? On education I think that Rorty is bang on the money (to coin a phrase).

    And so back to the Toynbee. The quoted research on biscuits is not new, it got on the website of the Plain English Campaign in 1998. In fact that's the sole google reference for the phrase "cognitive measurement of consumer criteria for manufacturer parameter values in biscuit texture". If you are in the business of making, and marketing, biscuits wouldn't how to make biscuits that people like be important stuff to know?

    Tuesday, September 06, 2005

    Ditch Monkey

    This bloke is spending a year living in the woods and commuting to his regular job. I heard about him here:
    It is the ultimate in downsizing. The 32-year-old has given up every luxury to spend a year living outdoors. He hopes to prove he can lead a full and fun life with a fraction of his normal comforts.

    'I want to make people think about how much they consume that is not necessary,' said Sawyer, who has been living in the woods near the village of Lewknor, Oxfordshire, since June. 'I am trying to prove it is possible to do everything you normally do, maintaining a full existence, while cutting back. I have realised I can lead my life without television, carpets, sofa, electricity, chairs, tables, a fridge and a freezer.'
    All fine and dandy. I began to think it was a spoof when I came to this bit:
    When he first moved into the wilderness, it shocked his then girlfriend, 24-year-old Natalie Skidmore. 'I was really confused and not sure if he was serious,' she said. 'My friends think it is strange when I say he lives in the woods but now I am really proud of him.' But the student at the London School of Economics admits it shocked her parents. 'They were a bit disappointed he wasn't a home owner and were certainly perplexed.'
    Run that by me again: 'They were a bit disappointed he wasn't a home owner'.

    Surely no-one can be that shallow and materialistic. It must be a spoof. Right?

    Monday, September 05, 2005

    Scrumping the Bishop's Blackberries

    Yesterday, Rullsenberg and me went to Lincoln. The weather was splendid. We explored the cathedral. A splendid building it is too.

    After walking down Steep Hill (that's a name with face validity - i.e. it passes the ronseal test), and back up, we went to the site of the Bishop's Palace and scrumped the Bishop's blackberries.

    The bishop of Lincoln was a major force in medieval English politics, so scrumping the Bishop's blackberries may still be a capital offence. The names of those involved shall remain anonymous.

    Redbeard the Accountant.

    There is a spectre haunting the world. A spectre of double entry bookkeepers wanting their pieces of eight. Making economies walk the plank. Prem Sikka argues
    An accountancy firm partner was bold enough to state recently: "No matter what legislation is in place, the accountants and lawyers will find a way around it. Rules are rules, but rules are meant to be broken." Evidently, what ordinary people regard as antisocial and corrupt is a matter of pride in accountancy firms.
    He adds
    Major casualties of the tax avoidance industry are ordinary people, who are forced to pay higher taxes while corporations and the rich avoid theirs. Individuals on the minimum wage have to pay income taxes, but some 65,000 rich individuals living in the UK are estimated to have paid little or no income tax. The top fifth of earners pay a smaller proportion of their income in tax than the bottom fifth. Corporate tax payments now account for just 2.5% of national income, the smallest share ever.

    Unless stopped, the tax avoidance industry will destroy nation states and the very idea of democracy. Without adequate tax revenues no government can deliver its legislative programme, provide public goods or redistribute wealth.

    We can be persuaded to vote for governments that promise to invest public revenues in education, healthcare or public transport. But the tax avoidance industry exercises the final veto by shrinking the tax base and eroding tax revenues.
    To add insult to robbery, the same accountancy firms running illegal and immoral tax avoidance schemes are also consultants to the same governments they are robbing. And they expect to be paid out of the reduced tax take they are responsible for. It's like having your house burgled and the burglar leaving a bill for security consultancy services. What's worse is you feeling perfectly happy to pay up.

    Have governments been watching too many movies - "Keep your friends close and your accountants closer"?

    Tuesday, August 30, 2005

    Murderous Misogyny

    An excellent post from Hak Mao on murderous misogyny in Guatemala. Much of the info comes from an article in the Sunday Times, but don't let that put you off.
    "Neither the police nor the government are taking this seriously. Yet what we are observing is pure hatred against women in the way they are killed, raped, tortured and mutilated," says Hilda Morales, the lawyer heading a network of women's groups formed as the problem has escalated. The situation is unlikely to change, she argues, unless international pressure is brought to bear and foreign investors are made aware of what is going on in the country and start questioning their business dealings there.

    Claudia Samayoa, another member of the network, says: "Fifty years ago, the UN signed a declaration decreeing we all have certain basic human rights . With so much conflict in the world, if anyone were to say a choice must be made between helping us and helping those in Darfur, we'd say help Darfur. But how does the international community make such selections? What are the agreements they sponsor worth if there is no follow-through to ensure they're met?"
    What are Human Rights worth if there is no international force prepared to enforce them?

    Read the whole piece. And do go to Amnesty International's links.

    Saturday, August 27, 2005

    Sleb Spotting

    Okay. I admit it. This is is as trivial as it gets.

    Today I spotted Eddie Izzard in Ballater.

    He was wearing a very fetching kilt.

    Tuesday, August 23, 2005

    Underrated Book

    I read Martin Amis's Koba the Dread last year and it crystallised what I was feeling at the time. I had read Money back in the 1980s. I thought it over-rated but it did sum up the style and culture magazines obsession with the lifestyle of the Yuppie. In Sunday's Observer Andrew Anthony (scroll down) makes the case for Koba the Dread:
    Almost by definition, decent people universally accept that Hitler's regime was a monstrous catastrophe, but there remains even today a reluctance to see the Soviet Union for what it was. Juvenile ideas of 'revolution' and 'class struggle' continue to cloud the subject. One critic savaged Amis's book for its historical revisionism - and, alas, he wasn't being ironic. His argument, in a dim echo of Holocaust denial, was that deaths caused by Stalin had been overestimated and, in any case, most of them were from famine.

    The book's finest achievement is that it exposes this kind of intellectual evasion not as a 20th-century historical blip but a product of self-loathing that is deep in the human soul. Today as the apologists for Islamic totalitarianism try to find their voice, Koba the Dread is a reminder that terror is not just a political means but, for the true zealot, the end itself.
    Go read Koba the Dread. And forgive Martin Amis for John Self.

    Thursday, August 18, 2005

    Intelligent Gravity

    The Onion posts on Intelligent Falling.
    KANSAS CITY, KS—As the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state. Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held "theory of gravity" is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling.

    "Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, 'God' if you will, is pushing them down," said Gabriel Burdett, who holds degrees in education, applied Scripture, and physics from Oral Roberts University.

    Burdett added: "Gravity—which is taught to our children as a law—is founded on great gaps in understanding. The laws predict the mutual force between all bodies of mass, but they cannot explain that force. Isaac Newton himself said, 'I suspect that my theories may all depend upon a force for which philosophers have searched all of nature in vain.' Of course, he is alluding to a higher power."
    Go read the whole piece. And laugh. And cry.

    [Thanks:Brad Delong]

    Tuesday, August 16, 2005

    Happy Birthday

    That's to my brother over in New Zealand.

    And not Madonna. Or George Galloway. Or James Cameron.

    Monday, August 15, 2005


    Rullsenberg blogs our cinema trip to see Crash. Here's a synopsis.
    A Brentwood housewife and her DA husband. A Persian store owner. Two police detectives who are also lovers. A black television director and his wife. A Mexican locksmith. Two car-jackers. A rookie cop. A middle-aged Korean couple…They all live in Los Angeles. And in the next 36 hours, they will all collide…

    A provocative, unflinching look at the complexities of racial conflict in America, Crash is that rare cinematic event – a film that challenges audiences to question their own prejudices. Diving headlong into the diverse melting pot of post-9/11 Los Angeles, this compelling urban drama tracks the volatile intersections of a multi-ethnic cast, examining fear and bigotry from multiple perspectives as characters careen in and out of one another’s lives. No one is safe in the battle zones of intolerance. And no one is immune to the simmering rage that sparks violence – and changes lives...

    Funny, powerful, and always unpredictable, Crash boldly explores the gray area between black and white, victim and aggressor…and finds no easy solutions. The dynamic feature directing debut of Emmy Award-winning writer/producer Paul Haggis, Crash stars Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, William Fichtner, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe and Larenz Tate, from a story by Paul Haggis and a screenplay by Haggis and Bobby Moresco. Crash is produced by Cathy Schulman, Don Cheadle, Bob Yari, Mark R. Harris, Bobby Moresco and Paul Haggis.
    Every bloody synopsis describes the shop owner as "Persian". No. He's Iranian. Persia is a historical entity. His country of origin is Iran. Minor quibbles aside it's a damn fine movie. Go see.

    As basic as it gets

    How do you unblock a lavatory?

    Here's a tale I recognise.
    I had hoped for a lazy, if not downright idle weekend. Instead, I've spent most of it trying to unblock a lavatory.
    Yes. That was so my weekend.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2005

    Too Phat to Dance

    The retro band The Magic Numbers stomred out of ToTP because of a comment of the presenter Richard Bacon who
    said the band had been put in a "fat melting pot of talent" - and they left in protest at the "derogatory, unfunny remarks".
    The group said they felt they had to "make a stand and leave".
    Perhaps Bacon meant the word "phat" as used over 5 years ago by that epitome of phat, the management guru and prestidigitator Tom Peters. Or maybe he didn't and thought the band should go to the same fat farm as David Aaronovitch?

    Monday, August 08, 2005

    The wonderful Mr Pooter

    Just found these two excellent posts on PooterGeek.
    • This needs no further comment
      No one who has any time for the views of a bunch of Jew-hating, woman-beating, Moslem-killing, gay-hanging, Koran-thumping mass-murderers is any kind of man of the Left, but then I’m biased by my weakness for logic.
    • This wonderful skit also needs no further comment. Go and read it. And laugh. And cry.
    Both splendid pieces.

    What I did on my holidays

    Caught train to London on thursday. Flaneured our way around town.

    Went to see "Death of a Salesman" with Brian "Belly of an Architect" Dennehy at the Lyric. Excellent performances all round but I came out emotionally drained. Wandered around Piccadilly and Regent Street in the rain.

    Friday got up and went to the "Impressionism Abroad: Boston and French Painting" show at the Royal Academy. Some good pieces and some not so good.

    Spent the afternoon in the National Portrait Gallery. To counterbalance the overemphasis on people from the world of the creative arts there's a section on figures from science and commerce. Science okay, a good idea. But, yes commerce is important, the board of Vodafone? Are these people important in the scheme of things. No.

    Up to the new bar for a drink. Spent an age waiting to be served but it's worth it just for the view.

    Into SoHo for dinner.

    Saturday to Tate Modern. Didn't get to the Frida Kahlo but the wall of pictures outside the exhibition is splendid.

    Afternoon met up with a group of friends to discuss beer, politics, film, the class basis of punk and why modern music is rubbish (apart from Arcade Fire, who are wonderful).

    Walking back to our hotel along the South Bank came across Friches Theatre Urbain's Macbeth. Macbeth on stilts. In French, Spanish and English. Charging up and down the South Bank, from the National Theatre to the Hayward Gallery. Pyrotechnics. Stilt dancing. "Out, out damn spot". And the line Rullsenberg remembered
    Out, out, brief candle!
    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
    And then is heard no more.
    It is a tale
    Told by an idiot,
    full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.
    Amazing performance. A damn fine weekend.

    Thursday, July 28, 2005

    Perfidious Albion

    The Kapecha deportation case is disgusting.

    It's time for a total overhaul of immigration policy. It's currently racist and unfeeling. The Kapecha story is of a family living in Dorset with widespread support among the local community, of all backgrounds. The campaign to let them stay joined together Ann Widdecombe and George Galloway. A letter in today's Grauniad says:
    Local residents have organised marches. There have been sponsored walks by schoolchildren and students. A delegation has visited the House of Commons and there have been many letters (including my own) sent to the Home Office pleading the case. Now all this is to no avail and the family is to be deported. The minister talks about abiding by the regulations but, as always with this government, what he means is that "targets" take priority over case histories and people.

    Every day, hundreds of people are allowed to stay because it is too hard to apprehend them, while others who can be caught - frequently those in real danger - are sent back to make up these purely notional numbers.
    In brief, the Kachepas' crime was to be visible, to have a home, a united family, an identity and a place in the community; not, in fact, to be on the run. That was their mistake and now Verah and her four children, Natasha, Alex, Antony and Upili must fly out to an uncertain future in Malawi, a country that is no longer their home and which offers them no security. I do not think immigration should be unlimited. I would only argue that there should be a cogent policy in place that makes more sense than the ramshackle and arbitrary injustice that the present officially sponsored chaos inflicts on innocent citizens.
    Julian Fellowes
    Dorchester, Dorset
    Immigration should be about more than targets and following procedure. It should be about people. Making their lives better. A society that deports people against their will, and the will of a community, is not the kind of society to which I wish to belong.

    Let them stay. The Kachepa's have a better life here than in Malawi.

    Tuesday, July 26, 2005

    Against Intellectuality

    No, not me. But this guy is.
    Sheik Khalid Yasin, the executive director of the Islamic Teaching Institute which is dedicated to the work of promoting Islam, told a large gathering of young muslims at Bankstown Town Hall in Sydney last week that muslims could not be friends with anyone who did not share their faith.

    "They're not your friend because they don't understand your religious principles and they cannot because they do not understand your faith," he said.

    The sheik said young Muslims should not attend university because they would lose their direction.

    "University is a gateway for deviation," he said.

    "You forget your Islamic direction. Now you have become compromised through some kind of intellectuality."
    Don't think, be.

    It's possible to have endless debates about the meaning of meaning but this guy is cutting things a bit short. Isn't a literal interpretation of, almost anything, a bit of an infantile disorder?

    "Intellectuality" of the non-organic variety can be problematic but this appears to be a total "stay as unthinking jihadi-fodder or else".

    Yep, that's what's required - more unthinking. Welcome to the brave new world of the middle ages.

    Avicenna is spinning...

    (Thanks: Hak Mao)


    Last night I watched this BBC programme on the internet and al-qaeda. This should not come as a shock to anyone but there is an irony in the internet, initially funded by DARPA at the Pentagon, being used as a tool in a war against the very secular enlightenment values that founded it.

    That aside, there is something inherently distasteful about the gloating nature of many of the websites that show videos of mutilations, bombings and beheadings.

    The programme challenges the webmaster Mohammed Al-Massari, who runs a website from his home in London and sees nothing wrong with such images being shown on his site.

    As "Islam is a peaceful religion" and Al-Massari is glorifying death and destruction does not that make Al-Massari someone who has turned against Islam and therefore an apostate?

    R*E*S*P*E*C*T to shoot!

    I must admit when I watched the Esler Galloway ding dong on Newsnight a fortnight ago I didn't believe my ears but here's the proof.
    Gavin Esler: So what do we do - engage with them (the terrorists)?

    Galloway: No...

    Esler. Do we lock them up?

    Galloway: Yes; of course we lock them up....shoot them; do anything we can to stop them.
    That then is R*E*S*P*E*C*T policy. The Jack Bauer approach to suspected terrorists is supported by RESPECT.