Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Celebrity Endorsement

We buy books for various reasons. Reports from friends. Reviews in newspapers and magazines. Even reviews and recommendations from blogs. Sometimes even buying books because they are a good, fashionable thing to carry around. Sitting in a bar reading The Idiot says more about you than you realize.

But buying a book because it was recommended by Osama Bin Laden?
What does it say about someone who buys a book on that recommendation?
In his recently released tape, Osama bin Laden - or "Binners" as he's now known at the MoD - referred to Rogue State, the book by the American writer William Blum, which seeks to explain why the US is sometimes a target of terrorists. The mention has catapulted Mr Blum's book up to as high as No 21 on the Amazon bestseller list and in this country the mention has had an equally dramatic effect. "It has made a huge difference," said a spokeswoman for Zed Books, which publishes Rogue State here. "We are reprinting now." Could Osama now become a more powerful endorser than Richard and Judy and Oprah combined?
Some bookshop somewhere is going to (no, will already) have a picture of OBL with the message "This guy recommends.."

Monday, January 30, 2006

State Department Full of Marxists - shock!

This discussion of George W Bush, by Justin Webb, argues that Bush's belief in democracy and freedom has a Marxist justification.
Americans are beginning to notice that freedom - to the extent that it has taken hold - has given Islamic religious groups an opportunity to tout their wares in the democratic marketplace.

And the buyers have been queuing around the block , all the way from Baghdad to Cairo, via the West Bank and Gaza.

Even among those clinging to secular autocracy - Syria for instance - there is rising tide of Islamic resistance spurred at least in part by the policies of the Bush White House.


Still the President is sticking to his guns. His view is that "death to America" is an inadequate political philosophy once freedom comes and government beckons.

He will not talk to Hamas but he still backs the process by which the group has come to power. And if he is right, Hamas will be changed by the experience.

Quite how that change happens is left to nervous state department people to explain.

They talk about democracy leading to a reduction in "identity politics" and in the longer term to the building of coalitions built around economic interests.

A fascinating Marxist subtext to the Bush masterplan.
Is much of the pseudo-Left's retreat from the good things in the Left tradition such as internationalism, democracy, anti-Fascism, anti-Oppression and general Enlightenment values happening because some of those values have been taken up by people they disagree with? Or is it they just didn't really like those values in the first place?

Why is Bush hated more than Kim Il Jong? More than Saddam Hussein?


On Saturday went with Rullsenberg to see Munich. To quote someone "Don't believe the hype".

Some critics have accused it of showing moral equivalence between Israeli actions and Palestinian actions. I just didn't see that at all. I did see the film asking questions like is there such a thing as a just vengeance?

Neal Ascherson describes a moving section where
[a]fter one particularly horrible killing, the bomb-maker, Robert, (perfectly played by matthie Kassowitz) breaks down and protests to Avner: 'We're Jews, we are supposed to be righteous, and that's beautiful.'
As Andrew Anthony puts it
as a decent Hollywood liberal, [Spielberg] has made an action thriller that is also something of a morality tale: what happens to a good man, it asks, when he is asked to do bad things for a good cause.

To the question of whether being a Jew in any way skewed or hindered his approach to the subject, Spielberg responds: 'It would have been much more problematic had I been Steven Smith. I made this picture as a committed Jew, a pro-Israeli Jew and yet a human Jew. I made this movie out of love for both of my countries, USA and Israel. It was a struggle to make this picture. I tried to avoid making it and yet I feel that my filmography would not have been complete without this story in some fashion being realised on film.'
Go see.

Sunday, January 29, 2006


Here are two shocking reports on fascism.
  1. Emma Thompson "I am absolutely fascistic about how my tea is made."
  2. Anita Roddick "[husband Gordon] is a bit of a fascist [in the kitchen]."
All from today's Observer Food magazine.

All totally gratuitous uses of the word "fascist".

If "fascist" only connoted images of Emma Thompson in a strop over badly made cups of tea then the world would be a much happier place. But it doesn't.

It refers to this guy and this guy, this guy, their followers, and their activities.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Holocaust Memorial Day: Update

Holocaust Memorial Day is today.

Stop. Pause. Reflect.

Think what it means.

Here's item 12 from the list of aims of the day:
  1. Assert a continuing commitment to oppose racism, antisemitism, victimisation and genocide.
How could you oppose that?

Unless you supported those things, which of course no-one does. Do they?

UPDATE: This year it was moved back by one day to avoid clashing with the Jewish Sabbath. And nobody told me. Apologies. Sentiment still stands.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

New York City Subway - Going Underground

Having been there, and bought the t-shirt (#3 Harlem to Brooklyn, if you're wondering) I was interested in these pics.

Click on the image and a new image appears (or even use the << prev, next >> links in the top lhs).

Some of the trains look old enough to have appeard in Pelham 1-2-3.

(Via Norm and A Special Way of Being Afraid)

Exercise, schmexercise

There was me. Announcing I'm off to the gym. Put my coat on. Left the office. Walk over Trent bridge. Get to the gym. Notice on the door. The gym is shut for painting on 25th and 26th January.


I had intended to go yesterday but pressure of work meant I couldn't.


So I had a good stroll without reason. And a good stroll without reason is exercise. Or something.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Russians are coming

Mark Almond, (not that one) argues that the West is still fighting the cold war against Russia.
Iraq's bitter experience before and since 2003 shows that fossil fuels are no use if you cannot export them. Export or die is the watchword of energy-rich states. Insurgent attacks on pipelines in Iraq reminded America that Kiev, not the Kremlin, controls the bottleneck of Russian energy exports.

Ukraine's Orange revolutionaries repaid their western sponsors by switching the direction of the Odessa-Brody pipeline to suit US strategy last year. Around the same time, America and Britain were gloating over the completion of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline that cut Russia out of Caspian oil exports. Next they announced a trans-Caspian pipeline to suck central Asia's gas westwards without passing through Russia, let alone paying Putin transit fees. The west is making the running in global pipeline politics, not the Russians. In reality, the west advances as Russian troops retreat from the Caucasus and central Asia. Gazprom is upping prices to ex-Soviet republics to compensate for Moscow's loss of geopolitical clout.
Did Ukraine really switch the Odessa-Brody pipeline to suit "their western sponsors" or did they do it because it served Ukrainian interests to be less reliant on Russian goodwill? According to this source, from 2004 the Russian request to reverse the pipeline would have strengthened Russian influence in energy markets in Ukraine and Europe. The original, and final, decision will lead to greater ties between Ukraine and Europe. Surely, this is a good thing.

There are valid reasons why the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline is a bad thing. There are enviromentnal, social and political impacts which are less than good. It also supports the autocratic regime of Ilham Aliev. This is not one of the world's most enlightened regimes. It gets criticism from every human rights organisation going, including Human Rights Watch who issued a damning report on the November 2005 elections.

But this does not support Mark Almond's thesis that Someone is still fighting the cold war, but it isn't Russia. The chill wind that has been blowing towards the Kremlin for decades is still coming from the west.

At a time when Putin has signed laws governing the activities of Human Rights groups any chill wind blowing toward the Kremlin is of Russia's own making.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A word in your shell-like

Norm posts on language. This is what he says:
Sometimes, before getting to the message itself, the person delivering it inadvertently gives away what the message is going to be. Julia has been for a job interview. She's waiting to hear from a friend - Anne - whether she's got the job or not. Anne works in the organization where the job is on offer, has inside information, and has undertaken to let Julia know the outcome of the appointments process before applicants are informed officially. Julia is waiting for Anne's call. The phone rings, Julia picks it up and the voice at the other end says:

Hi Julia, it's Anne, I'm afraid.
What can Julia infer? Let us consider.
  • the obvious - "sorry: you haven't got the job".
  • the sardonic - "you'll be working with me. It'll be terrible. Just you and me. Together. All day. Everyday. We'll begin to hate each other."
  • the cynical - "why do you want to come and work at a disfunctional organisation like this?"
  • the humorous - "Can you start monday?"
It depends, partly, on tone of voice. It also, partly depends on the character, the relationship, and the sense of humour of Anne. As Johnny Five says "Need more input".

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Just got memed by Snappy Cat. So I'd better do it then. Coffee mug in hand here I am.
  • 7 Things to do before I die
    1. run a marathon
    2. play the trumpet
    3. bet $10 on red at Las Vegas
    4. drive a car from New York to L.A.
    5. complete a cryptic crossword. I've got close. But never close enough.
    6. visit Tibet
    7. improve everyone's literacy
    8. improve everyone's numeracy

  • 7 Things I cannot do
    1. Sing in tune
    2. Play a musical instrument
    3. Stop thinking
    4. Find Jimmy Carr amusing. I think it's his impenetrable regional, some may say "thick" accent. Or it may be because he's a smug, misogynistic, reactionary, racist, sexist, bigoted, talentless gimp of a twonk.
    5. Find numbers boring
    6. Understand the appeal of motor sport. The point of a motorcar (or bike) is to get somewhere. Do something. And, maybe, return. Going round in a rough approximation of a circle. What's that about? Apart from being a euphemistic and metaphoric willy waving contest.
    7. Draw. Anything. Apart from geometric figures.
    8. Be incurious

  • 7 Things that attract me to crows
    1. They are not unblack
    2. They star in Hempel's paradox
    3. They exude intelligence. An IQ of 140 I've heard said.
    4. ...er - that's it.

  • 7 Things I often say
    1. So it goes. So it goes.
    2. I'm going to have a damn fine cup of coffee
    3. Fancy a cup of tea
    4. Twonk!
    5. I'm shocked. Shocked I tell you. Shocked.
    6. Double espresso
    7. That's bollocks

  • 7 Books I'm currently reading
    1. The Jew of New York by Ben Kantor
    2. Berlin 12 by Jason Lutes
    3. Architects of Annihilation - Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction by Gotz Aly and Susanne Heim
    4. Power and the Idealists by Paul Berman
    5. Q by Luther Blissett
    6. Elements of UML 2.o Style by Scott Ambler
    7. Oracle Data Dictionary Pocket Reference by David C Kreines - highly recommended iff you are into Oracle databases otherwise you can easily get through life without picking it up. Trust me.

  • 7 Films I watch regularly
    1. This one's easy. See Rullsenberg's answers.
That's it. Tout le monde has been memed.

Nu? Nu! Nu.

Came across this glenzndik piece.
Above all, Yiddish - the Yiddish of the shtetl, the Yiddish of the Garment District - is a social language of community and commensality. Listen to its rhythms: questions answered with more questions; the elaborate, pardon-me-for-breathing apologies; the self-neutralising curses. The terrible mock - lig in drerd! - apotropaics. The awful, majestic fluency of the thing. It scolds and remonstrates; praises; tells stories; keeps you in your place; addresses our common humanity; abjures, in its very bones, privacy. Polite English maintains, wherever possible, an even surface upon which nothing - success, failure, disease, injustice - ever impinges. Confronted with the even keel so treasured by the English tongue, Yiddish has nothing whatever to say. It is only at home with the truth: the world is a very odd place populated by fools and incompetents (but few morons or thugs), where the quotidian virtues - a nosh, a klatsch, glik, kholems - take centre stage, where we might as well be honest because in the end we got bubkes and we shouldn't let it utz us.
Ah. Leo Rosten, sir, we salute you. For bringing us the delights of Mr H*Y*M*A*N K*AP*L*A*N. This piece amuses.
Our two most famous "Prazidents" he listed as "Abram Lincohen" and "Judge Vashington." The principal parts of the verb "to fail" he gives as "fail, failed, bankropt"; those of "to die" as "die, dead, funeral." The opposite of "new" is "second hand," and the comparative degrees of "bad" are "bad," "worse," and "rotten." His wife, he says, suffers from "high blood pleasure." One of Kaplan’s sentences in a business letter to an uncle reads, "If your eye falls on a bargain please pick it up"; and when a classmate presumes to ridicule the sentence, Mr. Kaplan’s triumphant rejoinder is "Mine oncle has a gless eye." When in a burst of eloquence Kaplan uses a "beauriful" word (the word is "megnificent"), an admiring Mr. Bloom asks him after class, "How you fond soch a woid"? "By dip tinking," answers Mr. Kaplan, striding out like a hero.
Why is it that the books about Hyman Kaplan are funny and witty yet the 70s British sitcom "Mind Your Language" ploughing the same furrow was racist, unfunny and generally crap?

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Wrong Trousers

Andrew Shanahan writes
The fact that I'm too fat for at least half of the clothes in my wardrobe.
Hanging in my wardrobe is the most amazing pair of trousers. I wore them once in 1998 and women stared longingly at me, men wept openly and teenagers I didn't know kept high-fiving me. I should need to be comprehensively greased if I put these wondrous trousers on today and, if I succeeded in getting them on, by lunchtime my legs would have absorbed the trousers by osmosis. Every morning I look at the trousers and acknowledge that there is more of me than there once was.
I empathise. To get back into those trousers I am
  • walking more
  • moving more
  • rowing more. That's at the gym. My rowing on water is a sight to behold. Round and round he goes.
  • eating more fruit and veg
I suggest everyone does the same.

[Andrew Shanahan wrote it in today's Grauniad but I cannot find it online.]

Friday, January 13, 2006

Ming the Merciless and this is not CGI

You know how special effects tend to be introduced into films with great triumphalism.

"Never before has a man been able to walk with dinosaurs" sort of thing.

"Look how realistic it looks".

The audience in cinemas walk out (not before the end) going "Wow".

Then 5, 10, or 20 years later you watch it and laugh at the appalling special effects.

Back in the early 1980s my brother and me were watching Flash Gordon and the Claymen. Here's a description
The serial was Flash Gordon and the Claymen, which was quite scary as the Claymen materialised from the walls of caves. Flash's spaceship had been shot down by rocket ships of his enemy, the merciless Emperor Ming and Flash had taken refuge in a cave with the Professor and Dale Arden, his female assistant. Just when he thought they were safe, the Claymen appeared from the walls and surrounded them. The episode ended.
We had been warned of this scary film by our dad who had seen it in the Penn cinema in the early 1940s.

All I can say is the special effects on Dr Who in the 1960s looked like no-expense-has been-spared-state-of-the-art in comparison.

Quote for the day.

Norm's profile today is Slugger O'Toole. He comes up with a cracking quote:
in The Reinvention of Politics Ulrich Beck quotes Kandinsky's 19821 essay 'And'. Beck writes: 'While the nineteenth century was dominated by Either-or, the twentieth century was to be devoted to work on And. Formerly: separation, specialisation, efforts at clarity and the calculability of the world; now: simultaneity, multiplicity, uncertainty, the issue of connections, cohesion, experiments with exchange, the excluded middle, synthesis, ambivalence'. I'm not sure Kandinsky's timing is so clearly defined by history. But hints at the multiple richness of Joyce, a literary precursor of the internet interconnected age, and the black and white days of the cold war. The simple truth is also complex. Conversations are vital in clarifying, polarizing, connecting and ultimately moving on.
This quote also pops up here, an interesting essay on Beyond either/or: the politics of 'and' in ethno-nationalist conflicts by Robin Wilson published in Democratic Dialogue in September 1999. Another thing I need to read. That pile of things I need to/want to read is just gettign bigger and bigger. Surprisingly the pile of things I need to/don't want to read is very, very small.

1I think this must be a typo. Wassily (or Vasily) Kandinsky lived 1866 to 1944 so writing an essay in 1982 must have been some feat. Unless it's some other Kandinsky? In which case I've got totally the wrong end of something, the name of which escapes me, which reminds me of another point. For which you have to see another post, probably the post above this one.

Films that most people don't rate

Just been tagged by Norm for 'two films I think are good and most people don't'. That's tougher than it first appears. But, I'll give it a go.

First choice is Hudsucker Proxy. Many fans of the Coen's hate this movie. It's never given as much regard as The Big Lebowski, Fargo or Barton Fink. Roger Ebert possibly explains why, in his angel and devil review. I don't think his devil is justified. Sure, the style is wonderful, but it doesn't overshadow the substance. It's an enjoyable romp of a movie with a wonderful performance from Jennifer Jason Leigh. As Ebert's angel says
Tim Robbins stars, as a mailroom clerk who finds himself thrust into the presidency of the giant Hudsucker Corporation. Paul Newman is the gray eminence behind the scenes, who engineers Robbins' ascendancy because he believes the kid is hopelessly incompetent, and will drive the stock price down - just what Newman desires. And Jennifer Jason Leigh has been studying Rosalind Russell in "His Girl Friday," and has the part down perfect: The hard-bitten, fast-talking girl reporter who sits on your desk, lights a cigarette, and lays down the law.
Okay, he then goes off asking is there again to care about in the movie? I empathise with "Pulitzer Prize" winning Amy Archer. Her editorial meetings are filled with such zinging dialogue it stings. It raises the question, like Alasdair Gray's Kelvin Walker, what is it a successful CEO actually needs to know? It's a screwball comedy with zing. Great characterisations. Highly recommended, by me.

My other choice is Repo Man by Alex Cox. People I've played this film to tend to go "that's the most bonkers thing I've ever seen". I take that as a compliment. It's got L.A suburban punks. Aliens. Men in black. Repo men. Repo women. Cars. A great soundtrack. A very quotable script.
  • "[A]n ordinary person spends his life avoiding tense situations. A repoman spends his life getting into tense situations." - Bud
  • "Let's go get sushi and not pay." Otto's friends
  • I DO want your money, because God wants your money! - Reverend Larry (who is the spit of Pat Robertson)
Where would Pulp Fiction be without Repo Man? Nowhere, that's where.

This meme began with Eric 'Stakho' the Unread.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A sled - my kingdom for a sled

This guy misses his sled.

Perhaps he is better at sledging than Rullsenberg is at skiing.

Apparently "ggggUK4agg" is the line from Richard III, Act 5 Scene IV in textese.

How I ever lived without that info I'll never kno..........................

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Ex-Members of The Fall Club

This guy is trying to find all 43 ex-members of The Fall.
For all that he can be surreally funny, [Mark E] Smith's intent is deadly serious. As a man called Eric the Ferret - the band's bassist in 1978, and one of the people at whom Smith threw a chair - comments, sagely: "The Fall don't cruise." Among Smith's tactics for instilling the required creative tension, the trump card is threatening the sack.
Sometimes he recruited the members of the support band as The Fall, if band members were late. Sometimes he recruited the whole support band.

There's a cracking album Perverted By Mark E. - A Tribute To The Fall that includes the splendid tune: The Ex-Members of The Fall Club by Container Drivers. There's another splendid song, on the same compilation, The Story of The Fall by Jeffrey Lewis that says The constant new members kept the Fall from sounding lame.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

West Virginia

Rullsenberg posts on the West Virginia Mining Disaster.

It's an excellent post. Here's a snippet:
Listening to the news last night, all the expectation - the unspoken reality - was that it was highly unlikely any would be found alive. First thing this morning, it seemed from the commentary of families that a miracle had happened; but the more I listened to how the news had spread, the more concerned I was. Clearly someone in the International Coal Group that owned the Sago Mine felt able - wrongly, OH SO WRONGLY - to inform the families of the improbable survival and cue the prayers, beliefs and thanks. Still, how can we be really surprised at such an immense screw up from those involved with this mine?
The International Coal Group has an infamous record on safety violations. See here.

For further info see this blog Minesafety Watch.