Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Broadcasting From A Boat - It's Pirate Radio Anna!

Look everyone! It's our Anna of Little Red Boat doing a whole hour of interview for the radio (of which roughly a quarter got itself broadcast in the programme itself). All about LRB, and blogging, and cheese sandwiches, and buses. But no mice. She doesn't talk about mice.

And Annie Mole sounds fun too, though I haven't listed to her whole interview yet.

Go and listen immediately.

Next week we get Petite and Zoe. Yay!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Return of the Son of 25 First Lines

Usual rules, no Googling, put answers in the comments box; and still I haven't had to repeat any artists (though there are a couple of soloists who've appeared before in combination with other people).

1. You can ask any crap corduroy question
2. My new shoes are pinching, I guess they'll soon wear in
3. They. Say. They don't. Trust. You. Me. We. Us.
t.A.t.U.: "All About Us" - Rachie
4. Look we've seen this kind of thing before
The New Pornographers: "Jackie, Dressed In Cobras" - Jason
5. Close the door, light the light, we're staying home tonight
6. Hey girl, stop what you're doin'
Led Zeppelin: "Communication Breakdown" - Jason
7. Oh there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
8. They say a woman's a fool for weeping, a fool to break her own heart
9. Think I'll pack it in and buy a pickup
Neil Young: "Out On The Weekend" - Phil
10. When I was young I listened to the radio, waiting for my favourite song
The Carpenters: "Yesterday Once More" - Phil
11. Don't wade in muddy water if you can't swim.
12. Il est des mots qu'on peut penser, mais à pas dire en société
13. Is it my imagination or have I finally found something worth living for?
Oasis: "Cigarettes And Alcohol" - Phil
14. It was the third of June, another hot and dusty delta day
Bobbie Gentry: "Ode To Billie Joe" - Jason
15. When the wagons leave the city for the forest and further on
16. I got my first real six-string, bought it at the five-and-dime
Bryan Adams: "Summer Of '69" - Jason
17. She was young, she was pure, she was new, she was nice
Flanders & Swann: "Madeira M'Dear" - Mark Valladares
18. I stood alone upon the highest cliff-top
19. I was nineteen when I came to town, they called it the Summer of Love
20. I don't know just where I'm going
The Velvet Underground: "Heroin" - Phil
21. Oh I'd rather go and journey where the diamond crest is flowing
The Byrds: "Wasn't Born To Follow" - Jason
22. She moves like she don't care, smooth as silk, cool as air
Blondie: "Maria" - Lisa
23. I lost myself on a cool damp night
Elkie Brooks: "Lilac Wine" - Jason
24. Oh my life is changing every day, in every possible way
The Cranberries: "Dreams" - Alan
25. As I got on a city bus and found a vacant seat
Chuck Berry: "Nadine" - Jason


Now where's my sledgehammer?

More evidence that some Americans just don't 'get' geography. We all know of the nuts who think that everything between the Mediterranean and the Jordan (or in severe cases, the Euphrates) is in Israel. I wouldn't put Judith of Kesher Talk in that category, dear me no, but she has just linked to this old post of hers, which suggests that she still hasn't spotted that, yes, actually there is one enormous difference between the wall she cites and the others, which is that they are on the borders of countries, or inside the country building them (Netherlands, Northern Ireland). Israel's wall is the only one to be built in someone else's country, a fact she clearly hasn't yet woken up to. It isn't an "apartheid wall", with or without quotation marks. It's a land-grab wall. A theft wall. An expropriation wall. A Lebensraum wall. With or without quotation marks, but wholly without legitimacy. If Israel doesn't demolish it, eventually somebody else will. Has she learned nothing from Berlin?

Now can somebody reprogram the real one?

This post from Defective Yeti caught my eye as a big fan of "Minority Report" and "Blade Runner" (haven't seen "A Scanner Darkly" yet though.) I wasn't familiar with "The Mold Of Yancy" - in fact I think the only Dick I'd actually read was "The Man In The High Castle" - but following the link at the end of the post brought me to a .pdf file of it, and it's a great story. And Yeti is right: once you've read the story it's hard to see George W in the same way as before.

Festival Report 28 August

The last day of the Fringe, and it was a good 'un. Quite apart from visiting the International Exhibition of Photography as I have done each year now for about a quarter-century, I went to three shows at the Pleasance.

(1) Girl Blog From Iraq: Baghdad Burning

This was an adaptation of Riverbend's blog put on by Barrow Street Productions. Four women and a man covered a range of Riverbend's posts, after which we knew a hell of a lot about the place of palm trees in the Iraqi national psyche; the descent of the country into total lawlessness
since the invasion (including the abduction for ransom of a family member - presented with a wry Iraqi humour as well as real drama); arbitrary arrests and detantion; the loss of infrastructure (electricity, water); and most especially the shift in the place of women in Iraqi society. From having been arguably the most sexual equally society in the Middle East (along with Israel) Iraq has now degenerated into something like Afghanistan under the Taliban, where women cannot work, or leave home unaccompanied by a male relative, and where any female (even non-Muslims) seen outside without a hijab is inviting acid attacks or murder. Sing hey for freedom and democracy. But it's all OK, because Ding Dong the Wicked Tyrant Is Deposed, and you ragheads should all be grateful for being 'liberated', right?.

There were a few unscheduled pauses and dialogue overlaps that suggested that even on the last day of the run a few more rehearsals wouldn't have gone amiss, but the cast weren't put off by them and the overall effect was faithful to the original blog. Maha Chehlaoui and Heather Raffo made a very good impression in their various characters.

Now go and read the blog, helpfully blogrolled on the right, near the top.

(2) Chanbara - The Samurai Sword

This was a show featuring the Taiko drummers of Yamato, and a group of Samurai swordsmen (and -women) performing intricate martial arts routines choreographed by (and in many cases starring) Tetsuro Shimaguchi. He is best known for his work on the "Crazy 88" fight scene in Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill Part 1". Some of the routines were abstract and balletic; some were little fight scenes; and one was slapstick (though very Japanese) silent comedy, with an inept teacher trying to teach two pupils a choreographed fight sequence. The mostly female drummers were almost as watchable as the swordfighters and produced a heck of a racket. The final sequence involved eight fighters weaving in and out in close-to-suicidal proximity to each other while performing intricate kata-type exercises, accompanied by a Japanese xylophone, a tam-tam, two medium size drunms and The Biggest Bastard Bass Drum You Ever Did See. Fascinating.

(3) My Name Is Rachel Corrie - Royal Court Theatre, directed by Alan Rickman

A one-woman tour de force, and while as I wrote that I meant Josephine Taylor's stunning performance it might as well serve as an epitaph for Rachel Corrie herself. One thinks of Rachel Corrie as being famous, but in fact it's only the last five minutes or so of her life which have become well-known, whereas there was much more to her than victimhood, as this play shows brilliantly. It takes her on an emotional journey, beginning as a bouncy, disorganised but idealistic student, and gradually becoming better organised, less bouncy and more appalled at the horrors she was confronted with in Gaza, particularly the IDF's policy of collective punishment of villages suspected of having connections with terrorists. As it's a solo show we don't see any stereotyped Israeli soldiers or Palestinians: we hear of them mostly via Rachel's emails home. Rachel moves from initial shock and confusion at the reality of life in Gaza, to determination and finally close to despair at the level of suffering which the world, and the UN in particular, was happy to turn a blind eye to. in the new post-9/11 world. Her last email home is extremely moving, not because we know it's the last one, but because of her determination to take something positive from the whole sorry mess and devote herself to campaigning back in the USA for the Palestinians. She signs off because one of her neighbours is offering her some peas and won't take no for an answer. Then she walks off to eat the peas. We hear, via a recording of an eyewitness, of her death (let's be kind and call it negligent homicide) when an Israeli bulldozer ran her over, twice, on its way to demolish somebody's home. And then as a final surprise we see video footage of Racehl herself, aged ten, addressing a press conference at some schools conference on world poverty, one of those things schools do as part of civics education. Even at ten, she was remarkably eloquent and focused, and watching the tape reminds us that this was a real person, with potential and a future. It may have been a brief future, but at least she made every day of it count, which is more than most of us can say of our lives.

While I'm not quite reduced to eating my words regarding the RSC's Troilus and Cressida as the best thing I saw in this year's festival, I think I'd have to allow that Josephine Taylor's was the best single performance.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Up Front And Personal

This.

This.

This.

This. (Oops, my mistake.) This.

Does anyone spot a pattern developing here? As a habitual wearer of my heart on my, er, heart, I feel rather vulnerable. Will I be asked to explain my "Spaced Out" Clangers T-shirt? Or my Wily E. Coyote ones? Tintin? Dilbert? The one with examples of Indian English? The Periodic Table of Elements (elements with radioactive isotopes have little glow-in-the-dark radiation warning signs)? My god, that could be information on how to make a "nucular weapon" on a plane! How about I Ching Hexagram 24? Iron Maiden? The Darkness? Brian Wilson? Stereolab? The Trachtenberg Family Slideshow Players? Che Guevara? Free Palestine Now? Stop The War? Say No To Terrorism? 667 The Neighbour Of The Beast? Runrig? Mozart? Beware Of The God? We Are Using Part Of Your Brain For Backup Storage, Please Ignore Any Hallucinations You May Experience? What Part Of (lengthy fluid dynamics equation) Don't You Understand? Amnesty International? Fair Isle Bird Observatory?

I saw a report recently of someone arrested near the Houses of Parliament (i.e. in the exclusion zone) for wearing a "Stop The War" or similar T-shirt. Sadly I can't find it now. If anyone out there has a link please tell me.

Screw it, we'll just hide them in the boot

I have three immediate questions arising from this report.

(1) How many people had heard of this already? To judge from the comments thread on the BBC page, not many. I certainly hadn't, and while my children are no longer affected we do sometimes give lifts to my godchildren, at least one of whom might be (I'd need to get a tape measure to check). Presumably to do so legally we will now require to invest (again) in a booster seat. I think the Department of Transport is government is being hopelessly optimistic about the effectiveness of its publicity.

(2) If it is unsafe to wear an adult seat belt of you're under the height of 135 cm, why are adults of less than that size not required to use booster seats?

(3) What imbecile at the Department of Transport imagined for even a second that an eleven-year-old child who thought that having to use a child seat was uncool would be happier to use it if he or she gave it a name?

Coming soon to an ATM in your 'hood, bro

I thought this was pretty funny.

Though I harbour a secret yearning to be Winston Wolf

I think it's the lack of hair that clinched it....

What Pulp Fiction Character Are You?

Tired of being underappreciated and manipulated by powerful "others," you fight back. Though possesssing a cold, violent outside, you have a soft, scentimental inside. You love your partner, you cherish family heirlooms, and you want nothing more than to be geniunely happy -- but you don't mind having to kill a couple of nimrods who happen to clutter your path.

Take the What Pulp Fiction Character Are You? quiz.



(thanks to Lisa for the link).

XXV Answers

Titles in bold remained unguessed to the bitter end. In some cases the artist was guessed following my hints.

1. You're a loser, an abomination in the eyes of any sensitive man
Richard O'Brien: "Duel Duet" (Shock Treatment Original Soundtrack)
2. Who'll bring me comfort when the moon rides in the pines?
Pete Sinfield: "Will It Be You" (Still) - artist guessed by Tim
3. Cold blows the wind to my true love and gently falls the rain
Gryphon: "The Unquiet Grave" (Gryphon) - Jim
4. Mott The Hoople and the game of Life, yeah yeah yeah yeah
R.E.M.: "Man on the Moon" (The Best Of R.E.M.) -
Sam
5. Oh it's a long long while from May to December
Frank Sinatra: "September Song" (The Very Best of Frank Sinatra) -
Phil
6. I'm seeing this girl and she just might be out of her mind
The Offspring: "She's Got Issues" (single)
7. Is it a kind of dream, floating out on the tide?
Art Garfunkel: "Bright Eyes" (single) -
Jim
8. If you smile at me I will understand
Crosby Stills & Nash: "Wooden Ships" (Crosby Stills & Nash) - band guessed by Will
9. Pretty as an angel from the day that she was born
Dolly Parton: "Mountain Angel" (Little Sparrow) - Jason
10. Tud an Argoad ha tud an Arvor
Alan Stivell: "Brezhoneg Raok" (Chemins de Terre)
11. Friar hermit stumbles over the cloudy borderline
Nico: "Frozen Warnings"(The Marble Index) - Jim
12. I was always told that you had to have the balls to break down
Gomez: "78 Stone Wobble" (Bring It On) - Will (band guessed first by Lisa)
13. She used to be my only enemy and never let me free
Spice Girls: "Mama" (Spice) -
Lisa
14. Oh woman get your head out of curlers
The Hollies: "Gasoline Alley Bred" (The Air That I Breathe) Jason
15. Under here, you just take my breath away
Ute Lemper: "Little Water Song" (Punishing Kiss) -
Lisa
16. You gotta speed it up, and then you gotta slow it down
Bucks Fizz: "Making Your Mind Up" (Eurovision Song Contest 1956-1999) -
Lisa
17. Nibbling on sponge cake, watching the sun bake all of the tourists covered with oil
Jimmy Buffett: "Margaritaville" (The Best Country Album In The World...Ever) - Eddie Louise
18. I heard you on the wireless back in '52
Buggles: "Video Killed The Radio Star" (30 Years of Number 1's Volume 9 1977-80) - Phil
19. Well she lives all alone in a house by a pool
The Purple Gang: "Granny Takes A Trip" (The Purple Gang Strikes)
20. With the money from her accident she bought herself a mobile home
Billy Bragg: "Levi Stubbs Tears" (Must I Paint You A Picture?) - Jim
21. Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy
The Rolling Stones: "Street Fighting Man" (Sympathy For The Devil)
Jason
22. Not long ago in a one horse town down south of Santa Fe
Bonzo Dog Band: "Bad Blood" (Cornology) -
Phil
23. Well I'd climb up Snowdon in a snowstorm with the temperature ten below zero
Leon Rosselson: "Not Quite But Nearly" (RosselSongs)
24. Feeling better, now that we're through
The Swinging Blue Jeans: "You're No Good" (25 Greatest Hits)
25. Feelings are strange, especially when they come true
John Prine: "Blue Umbrella" (Souvenirs)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Snake On A Train

And yes, I know it's the same headline the BBC used. It's the same headline everybody will have used. Whatever.

I liked the thought of the snake being impossible to detect with an infra-red scanner because of its cold-blooded reptilian nature.

And "the snake was not poisonous but could easily scare passengers if the train was put back into service". YOU THINK?

Going to the chapel and we're gonna get married...

Am I alone in finding this news slightly sad? I mean, one expects Las Vegas to be tacky and tasteless, and the "Dammit, let's go git married" business was all part of that, along with the morning-after divorces. (What do Nevada's divorce lawyers make of the change? Will they go broke?)

Not that I'm expecting Vegas weddings to become staid anytime soon, at least not while there are still Elvis impersonators licensed to perform them.

Guardian roundup

A few items from the Guardian which caught my attention recently:

This piece from George Monbiot, who may write entertaining bollocks on the environment but who is pretty reliable on other matters. Here he is on the global arms trade, or how UK taxpayers are paying to ensure peace doesn't break out anywhere important. Not unfamiliar stuff if like me you support CAAT, but worth saying in any case.

Agnes Poirier writes a good essay in Saturday's edition on the decline of language teaching in British scholls. Oddly enough she cites the same statistic we had at the Book Festival, of only 3% of the books in British bookshops being translations of foreign works, compared with 25% of those in France.

Finally, and in many ways the most interesting of the three, this very thought-provoking piece by Karen Armstrong on the contradictions inherent in religions and what they imply for our view of the world. Attempting to understand and appreciate incompatible points of view can lead to a deeper understanding which transcends (or simply renders irrelevant) the contradictions, not only in the sphere of religion but in politics and elsewhere. I used to hang out with a bunch of neo-Platonists in my youth (well, by the 1970s, student rebellion just wasn't what it used to be) who tried - without, as I thought, too much success - to ding that very lesson of Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis into me. Unconvinced as I may have been at the time of its general application, I found when I read Karen Armstrong's article that it still resonated. The Jesuits may not have had me as a child, but it seems the Neoplatonists managed to mould me in their image in my early twenties. I could probably do worse.

The Rolling Stones - Glasgow 25 August

What can I say about the Rolling Stones live experience that hasn't been said many times, including in this week's edition of Radio Times? (Saturday's show was recorded for broadcast on Radio 2 on Monday night.) Hilary and I had seen them before, in Edinburgh on the "Bridges To Babylon" tour, so had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Nevertheless, when the stadium lights go down, the introductory video plays, and a stupendously loud firework (the tour title this time is "A Bigger Bang") ushers in the "Jumping Jack Flash" riff on Keith's Telecaster it's still a real thrill, even if their combined ages are two hundred and forty-something and they've been playing for forty-two years. Going through the motions simply isn't what they do; every number gets the full deal from Mick as he gyrates and runs around the stage (how many sixty-two-year-old grandfathers could put a quarter of his energy into an hour and three-quarters on stage?) and from all the rest of them. Brain surgery seems to have done Keith a power of good: unlike last time he stayed facing the audience all the time and looked rather less wasted than in Edinburgh. (I must admit though that his playing was impeccable on both occasions; the guy could probably turn in a decent show when clinically dead.) For the scaled-down R&B mini-set in the middle of the show, the centre portion of stage plus the Stones (but minus backing musicians) rolled forward, right out into the audience like one of those crawler things NASA used to move Saturn V rockets to the launch pad. When they were on the main stage, Jagger used every inch of it, running out to sing to the audience at each side.

The stage clothes were less dramatic than on the last tour (though Mick still had about eight changes). Charlie of course simply wore a plain white T-shirt and exuded normality, as ever. Ron Wood grinned broadly the whole evening and played like a dream. The whole band were as together as only hundreds of hours of rehearsal could make them, while still sounding fresh. I have no idea how they do it. Keith Richards reckons he still finds something different to do with "Satisfaction" each time, and I believe him because that's how it sounds.

The Glaswegian audience were in singalong mood, starting their "whoo-whoo"s the instant the opening of "Sympathy For The Devil" began (and in some cases continuing them out to the car park afterwards....) The set list contained three or four numbers from "A Bigger Bang" ("Oh No Not You Again" and "Rain Fall Down" certainly), a few comparative rarities ("She's So Cold", "Sway"), a couple of numbers I didn't recognise, sung (sort of) by Keith, presumably while Mick rested his recently-recovered voice; and a bunch of old favourites, though not the same ones as on the last tour. We had "Honky Tonk Women", "It's Only Rock and Roll", "Start Me Up", "Tumbling Dice", "Ruby Tuesday", and finished with "Brown Sugar" and more spectacular fireworks, before the Stones reappeared for "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and "Satisfaction". To judge from the Radio Times's description of their Amsterdam set list they change it around quite a bit.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening, and I'd cheerfully watch them again tonight. Or indeed in five years' time or whenever the greatest show on earth next rolls into town.

Here Comes The Udge

Some lovely writing (and delightful reminiscences) from Udge here, continued here.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

How many miles must a rock sweep clear before they call it a planet?

The IAU have changed their mind about Pluto. And also about Charon and presumably Ceres. Not sure about UB313 - has it cleared out its orbit or not?

When the original story broke I loved the idea that the Moon would qualify as a planet in 40 million years' time. I don't think I'm quite so keen now on that event (the shift of the Earth-Moon barycentre outwith the surface of the Earth) as it appears now that the Earth may stop being a planet for the same reason.

Maybe now they should rename planetaria as rockaria. (Except that ELO has the copyright on that....)

Festival Report - 23 August

Our sole visit to the 2006 Edinburgh International (i.e. "official") Festival was to the Royal Shakespeare Company's "Troilus and Cressida" directed by Peter Stein. I hadn't known the play before, though I figured it would be fairly bleak. Actually it has a lot of moments of broad comedy, many of them centred around Ajax, who is portrayed as a complete blockhead (the kind who used to chant during the Falklands War "If you have a low IQ, you can be a Para too...."). Clearly Shakespeare had had enough of writing sympathetic female roles after Twelfth Night, and allowed his misogyny free rein when depicting the faithless Cressida. He also clearly had it in for Achilles, who (contrary to Homer's version, with or without Brad Pitt) was beaten by Hector in their fight and spared by him, only to sneak up later with a gang of thugs when Hector was unarmed and murder him. Bad Achilles.

The set design was high-tech minimalist: there was very little scenery apart from a couple of half bell tents (which were joined together when a tent was needed centre stage for Cressida's betrayal of Troilus), and a large metal wall which moved forward and back as well as tilting down to about a thirty-degree angle to form part of the battlefield. Paris's and Helen's lurv-nest was a riot of red brocades, lowered from the flies with the pair inside it.

The cast were great. Henry Pettigrew as Troilus was amazingly making his professional stage debut, and what a way to do it. Annabel Scholey (Cressida) also had a brief CV as she was very young, and both of them were well-nigh perfect in their roles. Achilles (Vincent Regan) looked very convincing, as my daughter put it, as someone who'd spent five years not keeping in training. (Not Brad Pitt, then, but a dead ringer for Pink Floyd's David Gilmour.) There wasn't a single weak player in the cast, so I'd run out of space if I named everyone who shone. However, Ian Hughes's complex Thersites, Julian Lewis Jones's wonderful Ajax, and Richard Wills-Cotton as a broodingly good-looking Diomedes made particular impressions on me.

When you see productions like this you realise the difference between the official festival and even the best of the Fringe (though I suppose I may have to eat those words next week if Alan Rickman's "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" is as good as it's cracked up to be). Let it be said, the RSC are the real deal. And our tickets were £10 each. Troilus and Cressida is at the King's Theatre until Saturday, and you're a mug if you miss it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Voices of Reason

To see how far the people at Kesher Talk, the wingnuts to whom they post links, and their fellow-travellers in the US are from mainstream Israeli opinion, it is necessary only to read Ha'aretz. Here is a piece from Bradley Burston reflecting on the devaluation of the memory of the Holocaust by the casual depiction of one's opponents as Nazis. Alan Dershowitz, who comes in for particular criticism in this regard, is a hero to the wingnuts (and especially Benjamin Kerstein, new nut on the block at KT). I have yet to find anyone this sde of the Atlantic who can read Dershowitz without either throwing up or subsiding into helpless giggles at the private universe which, Zarniwoop-like, he inhabits.

And here is another piece from Amira Hass on the double standards and hypocrisy which permeate Israel's dealings with the Palestinians (and Israeli Arabs) it arrests.

Beat me, Daddy, Six to the Star

Why do I keep going back to Kesher Talk, which is run by lunatic ultra-rightist "Friends Of Israel"? Or by New Yorkers, which comes to the same thing, or may be worse, I'm not sure.

Here's why.

Not only could I not make it up, I would never have found it were it not for Van. So thanks, fella.

I shall repeat his warning about the non-work-friendly nature of some of the links in there..... The KinkyJews logo is wonderful. And I liked Van's last three sentences. Clearly he's learning about this joke business.

I wonder where Hezbollah got the idea?

An interesting piece from Ha'aretz by Amira Hass. (Via.) The third paragraph is especially good: Israeli commentators (and especially the strident supporters of Israel in the US) are forever harping on about how wicked Hezbollah and Hamas keep their weaponry in civilian areas so they're solely to blame when the Israeli Air Force kills hundreds of civilians. Well, whoops, so do the Israelis. You probably knew that anyway, but I bet you didn't find it out from watching or listening to our supposedly rabidly anti-Israeli BBC coverage.

Festival Report - 22 August

A final visit to the Book Festival tonight, bracketed by two trips to the Film Festival.

At the Book Festival I saw David Sedaris (the American columnist and broadcaster) reading a new piece about death and morgues (which after sufficient honing in front of audiences is slated for broadcast on Halloween) and an older New Yorker column about a flight where the neighbouring seat contained the passenger from Hell. He answered questions on various topics, including the problems of including your family in your work, and how his books sell in foreign countries. Interestingly, in view of the discussion a few days ago, he never expects his books to sell abroad: "Other countries have their own great funny writers - why would they want to read me?" And the dumb question he keeps getting asked and having to smile tolerantly at when he wants to start swinging an axe is "Do you talk pretty yet?" (See here for explanation.)

Before that I saw "KZ", a documentary by Rex Bloomstein about the Holocaust (specifically about the concentration camp at Mauthausen). Unlike most such documentaries, there is no music, no archive footage, no interviews with camp survivors. Instead, we see the view of the camp a visitor gets, joining a guided tour. We see (and hear) tourists, and also their guides (a full-time guide who has become obsessed with the Third Reich and its horrors, and blames his depression and alcoholism in part on his job; also four guides doing 12-month tours of duty as an alternative to military service). We see the local people: the jolly cider garden fifty metres from the camp; the young residents in what was once SS accommodation, who tell us of the tasteless jokes their frends made when they moved in; the villagers who think only about the beauty of the area, and the older generation who remember the war (some of whom remember distressing scenes and a profound wish not to know what went on inside the camp walls; one of whom was married to an SS officer and never knew anything about death and brutality in the camp, apparently). Also an ex-Hitler Youth member who still considers the communists, homosexuals and Slavs who made up most of the camp population were enemies who deserved to die. The alcoholic guide told a group of schoolchildren that when he started out there were 14-16 shower heads in the gas chambers (used to wash away blood and excreta after gassing) but these had all been stolen as souvenirs. Also someone had stolen the picture of one of the significant victims from the memorial in the chamber, and scratched a swastika where it had been. "So don't think all this has nothing to do with your generation" he said. A grim and very unusual film.

Finally "Air Guitar Nation" by Alexandra Lipsitz, which follows the first-ever American entries in the (2003) World Air Guitar Championships in Finland. As befits a nation which won Eurovision with a heavy metal number, the Finns take the whole thing very seriously, with sessions for contestants in, for example, "Maintenance of Your Air Guitar". A couple of air guitarists from the film (the wonderfully-named Bjorn Turoque and the twice world champion Zac Munro) were at the Q & A session afterwards, and were also promoting "Aireoke" nights in Edinburgh. (I'm half sorry I can't make them....) Surprisingly good fun, and a very exciting film in many ways.

Sometimes it's hard to be (born) a woman

Punjab has the highest male:female ratio of all India's states. And here's one of the reasons why.

Even Saddam never thought of this one

Thanks to Tony Blair and John Reid (following in the footsteps of John Major and Michael Howard) you can now be sent to prison, not for illegal acts but for impure thoughts. Yes, you can now be convicted of creating child pornography even when no child has been involved in any way, at any stage of the process.

And once you are suspected of being a 'sex offender' (see above) even perfectly innocent, non-pornographic pictures of children (such as your family photographs) may be added to the citation as further counts of indecent images, as they could be digitally manipulated to create pornographic pseudo-photographs.

So non-pornographic pictures of children = child porn. Pornographic pictures of non-children = child porn. basically, if the police have decided they want you locked up, any picture, of any kind, is now potentially sufficient to get you jailed.

Expect revelations of child pornography found on all those thousands of CDs and data sticks seized from the "terror" suspects. How could it not be?

P.S. I am amused that the "forensic computer analyst" for Cleveland Police is called Ray Savage. Does anyone remember this sketch from Not The Nine O'Clock News? (I am also amused that in the German website's explanation of the references in the sketch they think the SPG was something to do with London Zoo!)

P.P.S. Cleveland Police. Hmm. Now why do the words Cleveland and trumped-up child abuse charges go together so well?

Don't even joke about taking "Fahrenheit 911" aboard. Or even "Fahrenheit 451".

Murder In Samarkand, by Craig Murray, appears to be on a list of titles banned from being taken on board aircraft flying from Britain. Does anyone know any others? Of course, Murray, previously our ambassador in Uzbekistan, fell from favour when he was insufficiently upbeat about our Uzbek allies in the "War On Terror", especially their propensity to murder their citizens, and said as much to his bosses in the FCO. As a well-known critic of the government, and especially of its current FUD-mongering, it's not too surprising that his book is on the list.

I feel the least we can do is buy a copy, or order it from the library. Anything the government wishes to prevent us from reading is probably worthwhile.

Tough on art, tough on the makers of art

Meanwhile, by way of contrast, here's what our government is doing for its musicians.

An ill woodwind that somebody blew good

Ustad Bismillah Khan, the greatest exponent of the shehnai (= Indian oboe) has died. I have a CD of his which I bought when I was in Delhi, and it is very fine indeed (as well as being rather different from most of the North Indian classical CDs available in the UK).

What struck me about the BBC report, though, is that the Indian government has decelared a day of national mourning (and gave him a state funeral.) Imagine that happening in Britain: perhaps for George Harrison, or Benjamin Britten. Aye, right.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Festival Report - 21 August

The first outing today was to one of the Film Festival's hottest tickets, "Wristcutters - A Love Story" directed by Goran Dukic. Based loosely on a novella (Kneller's Happy Campers") by Etgar Keret, it is the story of a man who commits suicide only to wake up in an afterlife very like the one he left, only worse. This world is populated only by suicides: nobody smiles, everyone is pale, all the cars, houses and other objects are cracked and broken, and there are no stars in the night sky. He discovers that the girlfriend over whom he had killed himself has also commited suicide, so he sets out with his best friend (a failed rock musician who killed himself by pouring a bottle of beer into his electric guitar) to find her. So, an afterlife road movie. Very funny, very touching and with an upbeat ending. Oh, and Tom Waits plays a weird guru-type guy, and is great. When it comes out on DVD this is one I shall be getting. It may get a cinema release of some kind: try and catch it if it does.

Next to a hot Fringe Ticket. Well, Judith Owen was hot, and Harry Shearer was just the ticket. (Sorry.) Their show "This Is So Not About The Simpsons" is subtitled "American Voyeurs". Oh, just to explain the title, Harry Shearer's face is most familiar as the bass guitarist of Spinal Tap, or the bassist from The Folksmen in "A Mighty Wind". However, among his many famous voices are those of Mr Burns, Smithers, Principal Skinner and Ned Flanders in "The Simpsons".



Their show was broadly satirical, with a mix of musical numbers and spoken material. Not all the songs were exactly funny - some were just pointed - but some were (the final country number "Let The Flag-Burners Fry On The Fourth Of July" was great). They targeted not only the anti-flag-burning monomaniacs, but the Hollywood obsession with cosmetic surgery, televangelists, Dick Cheney, the fact that everyone in LA (even the dentists and ER nurses) all seem to have screenplays or demo CDs they want you to examine, and many more. Judith Owen has a singing style not unlike Carole King (except CK wasn't Welsh), and the pair of them work together really well. Quite apart from the joy of seeing Spinal Tap's bassist on stage (so to speak), it was great. (Assembly Rooms.)

Welsh As She Is Spoke

This is hilarious.

The Power of the Dark Side

First proof of the existence of dark matter. (Via)

Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy Blog has of course commented on it, basically by posting an onward link to a very interesting post on a blog called Cosmic Variance, which looks interesting.

The post at CV concludes "Stay tuned, as darkness gradually encroaches upon our universe, and Einstein continues to have the last laugh".

Coming up later in the bulletin...

The Swedes find a way of getting more people to watch the news....

Q & A

Everyone seems to be asking why the Metropolitan Police have released an unprecedented amount of detail concerning the eleven people they have charged with terror-related offences, and the evidence gathered on them. That isn't too difficult to work out. By releasing so much detail early, they make it almost certain that the case will be thrown out on the grounds that the defendants cannot get a fair trial. If that happens, weaknesses in the 'evidence' will never be exposed, and the blame for another mighty waste of police and court time can be dumped on judges and lawyers who "just don't get it" instead of on the police. The eleven guys get their lives ruined just as effectively as if they'd been convicted; the public becomes even more paranoid about anyone with an Asian appearance; the tabloids can go to town on crazy judges who care more about terrorists than victims (though in this case there are no victims and probably no terrorists); and the requisite levels of fear, uncertainty and doubt are maintained. Glorious.

Regarding the "evidence", this post from Blairwatch does what I always enjoy doing, which is applying basic arithmetic to police (or government, or anyone else's) hype.

12 Hints for 25 Songs

You're past the half-way mark on my most recent 25 First Lines quiz. Here is some help:


1. From an under-rated musical, the follow-up to a massive cult hit from the same (British) writer (and many of the same performers, at least on film). Even a couple of the characters are the same. This song is a slanging match between two brothers.

2. From the only solo album by a guy who is best known for writing lyrics for prog-rock bands he didn't appear with. (Well, if the band name is just the names of its members I suppose you have to keep it small.) A couple of his songs have appeared in earlier lists. (Pete Sinfield guessed but we still need the song.)

6. From a single that did quite well a few years back by a grunge band. The lyrics ontinue "But she's got baggage and it's of the emotional kind". Which may help.

8. From the first album by a 1970s folk-rock "supergroup". Even if your band name is made up of members' names you can squeeze another small one in, as these guys proved shortly after this. (Crosby Stills & Nash guessed but we still need the song.)

10. Fairport Convention may have invented electric folk but across the Channel this chap caught on pretty quickly. He used it as a vehicle for Celtic nationalist sentiments, as in this song all about the central importance of the Breton language to Brittany's cultural identity. He also gave a boost to the popularity of his particular instrument, though not other many people ever played it with an electric band. The lead guitarist with his band put together a mixed Celtic ensemble (including Capercaillie's Karen Mathieson) as France's unsuccessful Eurovision entry about ten years ago.

12. The first single by a Southport band. It also appeared on their first album, which won the 1998 Mercury Music Prize.

13. If you were embarrassed to admit to knowing Bucks Fizz, don't even think about answering this one. Chart-topping fourth single from the first album by a female band who were originally called "Touch". Their first single was the biggest-selling debut single of all time. The album was the biggest seller of 1997. A poll for "Trivial Pursuit" voted them the top cultural icons of the 1990s. And one of their dresses is in the Guinness Book of Records as the most expensive piece of pop star clothing ever auctioned.

15. The brooding Australian who wrote this one has already been in an earlier list, but hasn't recorded this song himself. Recently featured on the soundtrack to "Romance and Cigarettes" (where it accompanies a scene with Kate Winslet underwater), the singer has appeared on screen herself, nude and extremely pregnant in a Robert Altman film.


20. John Peel's Record Of The Year in 1967, this was recorded in the same week as Pink Floyd's "Arnold Layne", with the same producer. Reportedly when Syd Barrett heard it he said "They can have No.2 and we'll have No.1". Sadly, the BBC banned it on the strength of the title (if they'd actually listened to it there are in fact no drug references at all).

23. A singer/songwriter best known for his political songs, often to be seen on the same bill as Billy Bragg, who recorded a cover version of one of his best-known songs (and still plays it regularly live). He also writes love songs such as the present track.

24. For goodness sake….(oops, wrong song). I'm surprised nobody has guessed this. A big hit for a Liverpool group whose show at the Cavern once featured the up-and-coming Beatles as guests. They appeared on the very first Top Of The Pops, though not with this song. This one was subsequently covered by Linda Ronstadt.

25. This American singer-songwriter was hailed as the 'next Dylan' on his debut. Along with Steve Goodman, he was discovered by Kris Kristofferson. He's had songs covered by 10,000 Maniacs and Bonnie Raitt. The refrain of this song runs "Just give me one good reason and I promise I won't ask for any more / Just give me one extra season so I can figure out the other four."

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Festival News - 19 August

The first of this year's visits to the Film Festival, to see "Iceberg". Directed by, scripted by and starring Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon, this is an offbeat but very funny film. At least it is if you're a Jacques Tati fan; if you're the kind of person who doesn't 'get' Tati then "Iceberg" may not be for you either. The basic story: female worker at Belgian fast-food restaurant gets accidentally locked in freezer overnight, after which she becomes obsessed with cold and frozen things, including icebergs. She leaves her husband and kids (who don't notice for quite a while) and runs off to France where she meets a deaf and dumb sailor whom she persuades to take her in his boat (called "Le Titanique") to find an iceberg. Husband, meanwhile, is in pursuit. Some marvellous sight gags, and not much dialogue. My favourite gag was probably the husband trying to kill the sailor by hitting him with an anchor, except that the anchor cable is about a foot too short to reach. (The sailor has his back to all this, so being deaf is totally oblivious.) I also liked the introduction from an Eskimo, which includes the great line "As you can see, it's Spring": this against a totally white background. Unlikely to be on at a cinema near you, sadly, but worth watching out for if it makes it to the television.

Then to Greenside for "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change", a musical by Joe DiPietro & Jimmy Roberts. We'd only heard of it because one of the numbers ("Single Man Drought") had been done in a cabaret evening put on by Chip and Eddie a few months ago. Funnily enough that number had been cut from last night's version, but that really didn't matter. The musical was being done by Perfect Stage Productions. The cast comprised two men (George Rae, Jez Unwin) and two women (Alana Bell, Rachel Spurrell) , accompanied by John O'Brien on piano and Una Palliser on violin. And it was first-rate. ILYYPNC is all about relationships between men and women, from pre-first date up to post-widowhood. It's very funny (quite moving in places, but mostly just very funny), and the cast (all professional) did it proud. They did it last year at the King's Head in London, apparently. As is usually the case with musicals, description in print misses the point. Just, you know, go and see it. If you can't catch the Edinburgh one, find some other performance. I can't understand why this musical has been around for ten years without my having heard of it at all. Early days yet, but this was the best thing in my 2006 Festival so far.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Festival News - 18 August

Only one show today, which was rather a spur-of-the-moment thig. One of Hilary's work colleagues is playing saxophone in a late-night revue not far from where we live, so we went to see it. It is "Showbiz Express" by Tempo Productions, and is a fairly rude take on musicals in general. A lot of the numbers are straighforward parodies, and I think most are original (though "Wee Andy Webber's Scottish Singalong" has been doing the rounds on the web for ages). As the blurb put it, not one for people who love musicals; or at least not for those who love them too reverently. Some high spots:

"Oklahomo" featuring the title number (Brokeback Mountain has a lot to answer for) , "The Cowboy And The Actor Should Be Friends" (ditto), and the wonderful "I'm Just A Girl Who Can't Say No" sung by three heavily pregnant farmgirls.....

"Bless My Beautiful Voice" (Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, anyone?)

"I couldn't hit the note, I couldn't hit the note,
Until they dropped the key....." (to the tune of "I Could Have Danced All Night")

A marvellous number all about the frustrations of being a chorus alto, and featuring snippets from dozens of great numbers, only with the alto lines instead of the big tunes. Very clever and very well sung.

"The Song That Goes Like This", based on all those big Lloyd Webber duets, and featuring two very good and very immodest singers upstaging each other as much as possible.

A wonderful pastiche of "Tomorrow":

"I'm forty years old tomorrow, tomorrow, and haven't worked
Since I sang 'Annie' on Broadway....."

The same singer came back later, more raddled, to do "I'm sixty years old tomorrow..."; and eventually for a final shot, too shrunken and withered to reach the mike before being escorted off the stage.

A send-up of those WW2 entertainments for the troops, with "The Andrews Sisters" doing "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" before being joined by three soldiers-in-drag clones. Cue every possible slipping-falsie joke, executed very slickly while singing very well (all six).

Also some fairly funny drag numbers (after the first three songs I was starting to wonder if the whole show was going to be drag numbers; then we had Annie).

Much better than we'd expected it to be, to be quite honest, and cheap at £8.00 a shot. The band were (of course) very good indeed. Of the singers, special mention to Charles Munro ("Bless My Beautiful Voice"), Gabrielle Pavone (the eternal alto) and Norma Kinnear ("I Couldn't Hit The Note..."). At least, on the basis of the tiny pictures on the programme I think that's who's who. Apologies if I misidentified anyone.

Oh, and there's a bar. Worth an hour and twenty minutes of your time if you're at a loose end in Morningside late in the evening. Hurry though: Saturday is the last night. (St Oswald's Church Hall.)

Friday, August 18, 2006

In Search Of Angels

These pictures are rather splendid. I dare say Cloud approves.

Festival News - 17 August

Two translation-related events in the Book Festival today. Firstly there was "Germany Translated", a discussion with Richard Kämmerlings of the Frankfurter Zeitung, Michael Krüger who runs a Munich publishing house, and Boyd Tonkin, literary editor of the Independent. The discussion centred on the statistic that in most European countries round 30-40% of the books published are works translated from other languages, whereas in Britain the figure is around 3%. Reasons for this were suggested, which included the comparatively small number of British publishers able to read foreign languages, and thus the reliance on reports from a small number of translators (which tend in any case to be ignored). Also the cultural arrogance which imagines that because English is the dominant world language we have no need to experience the world through the eyes and writing of non-English speakers, even though these give a quite different perspective. The reading public are happy enough to read translated works if these are publicised (as when "The Shadow Of The Wind" became one of Richard and Judy's selections). mass-market booksellers are however reluctant to stock them (though outside large cities and university towns this is true in Germany as well).

The second event was another panel discussion, this time on "The Trade Of Translation", with Anthea Bell (translator, most recently of Leonie Swann's "Glennkill" but also of Willi Brandt's diaries and - most famously - of Asterix), Amanda Hopkinson, director of the British Centre for Literary Translation at UEA, Pete Ayrton of Serpent's Tail, and Boyd Tonkin again. This discussion covered similar ground but with more focus on the translators rather than the books. Anthea Bell was of the opinion that ideally the translator should be invisible; that one should only becoem conscious that one is reading a translated work in those rare cases where stylistic or other quirks in the original force the translator to create afresh. (My favourite example, though not referred to today, is George Perec's "La Disparition", translated as "A Void", and in both French and English wholly without the letter 'E', which stunning piece of re-creation was carried out by Gilbert Adair, and continues to astound me.)

The hot tip out of both forums for a superb novel in translation (from the German) is Daniel Kehlmann's "Measuring the World" (due to be published later this year). This book outsold Dan Brown and Harry Potter in Germany, despite its slightly exotic subject matter, to wit, the explorer Alexander von Humboldt and the mathematician Carl Gauss.

Finally, this evening, I saw Carrie Quinlan in a stand-up show entitled "Fear of a Beige Planet". For some reason - possibly the photo in the Fringe brochure - I had been convinced that Carrie Quinlan was Joy off "Drop The Dead Donkey" (actually Susannah Doyle). However, while Carrie Quinlan is only Carrie Quinlan, she' a pretty funny lady. And a funny pretty lady, I suppose. Not oh-my-aching-sides funny, but the hour she was on stage flew by very agreeably. My favourite part was when she was talking about the various celebrity TV shows such as "Celebrity Mastermind" and "Celebrity Come Dancing". I loved her imitation of "Celebrity Newsnight" with Jade Goody reporting from Beirut.....

Oh, and I booked for this. Well, I saw Stanshall without the Bonzos as a student, so it seems only fair.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

He who lives by the doggy treat shall die by the doggy treat

A great video clip showing a very patient dog..... (via)

Charon The Community

If your reaction to the news report tonight that the International Astronomical Union have decreed (subject to ratification tomorrow) that Pluto is officially still a planet, now joined by Ceres, Charon and UB313, was to wonder how they were defining planet so as to include Pluto's former moon Charon but not our own moon, wonder no more. Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy Blog explains it all. Though he doesn't mention, as ITN did, that UB313 (not a reggae band) is unofficially known as Xena (as in Warrior Princess). Maybe the next planet (sorry, pluton) we find can be called Xander. Or Willow.

So now will the American Museum of Natural History be restoring Pluto and adding its new fellow plutons? Or leaving out the plutons but adding Ceres? (Which would give us back nine planets but require a new mnemonic, something like "My Very Eccentric Master Chef Just Served Us Nachos" .)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Festival News - 16 August

First of all a couple of stories from yesterday. Apparently something jammed big-time on the set of the Peter Stein/RSC "Troilus and Cressida" yesterday, forcing abandonment of the performance halfway through, However, it must be pretty good because when the audience were offered the choice of a refund or tickets for later performances most of them went for tickets. We're going next Wednesday (the only event in the Official Festival any of us is going to, in fact) and very much looking forward to it.

A flute-playing friend of ours attended a flute recital yesterday morning by Emma Beynon (with Andrew West on piano). The playing (Prokofiev, Debussy, Poulenc) was stunning; and then at the end Ms Beynon made an announcement thanking various people. It seems that as a result of the current panic over baby food and paperback books on flights her instrument (forced into the hold) had been lost by British Airways. never mind, she thought, my spare is in my suitcase.... also lost, along with music and dress. She had been loaned an instrument by The Wind Section (an Edinburgh instrument shop), and had got some music from the Edinburgh public library and some from one of the other shops. What she did about the dress we don't know, but she pulled off a splendid performance on a borrowed flute and with unmarked music.

(Meanwhile, our wonderfully enhanced airport security today allowed a 12-year-old boy to board a flight to Portugal with neither passport nor ticket. Bloody marvellous.)

OK, on to today's events. This evening it was time for The Goodies: Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden live on stage, and Bill Oddie in video segments rather neatly synchronised in. The basic format was T and G answering questions they'd been asked concerning how they met, details of stunts, etc. They played a lot of Goodies clips including "Greased Cycling", a chunk of "Ecky Thump", the whole "Goodies Movie" segment, Tim as Timita (singing "Don't Cry For Me Marge and Tina") and others. They also had a video clip from "At Last The 1948 Show". Live, as well as reminiscing they re-enacted a sketch from "I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again". Graeme and (on video) Bill also re-enacted their Cambridge Footlights auditions (Tim had auditioned them). The Goodies have long had a cult following in Australia, and they played various bit of shows that the Aussies had deemed unsuitable for family viewing. Also the very funny sketch from the first series where Desiree Carthorse commissions them to do a sex education fim with no sex. (Apparently they had been mortified to discover that Mary Whitehouse was a fan, and went out of their way to wind her up, something they completely failed to do until the "Saturday Night Fever" sketch where we see Tim getting dressed in a pair of underpants decorated with a carrot.) The Goodies are on at the Assembly Rooms, and well worth seeing.

Moving along the road to the Book Festival, today it was Iain Banks (whom I saw and thoroughly enjoyed last year). This year he was being interviewed by Janice Forsyth for broadcast on Radio Scotland. He read a substantial extract from his next novel, a mainstream (Iain Banks without the M) one entitled "The Steep Approach to Garbadale", due out next March. It was very funny, mostly a description of getting excessively (and of course highly riskily) drugged-up in Singapore. Apparently the book concerns an old family firm whose fortune comes from the invention of a 19th century board game called "Empire!", a kind of hybrid of real-life Monopoly and Risk. The firm is still a family business, now diversified into computer games and facing a takeover by an American games company. Audience questions covered his imagination (he thinks the reason he has really boring dreams is that he has daytime access to the subconscious bits the rest of us only reach in dreams, and by night-time they're knackered), his childhood (once at a signing an American student though IB must have had a disturbed childhood to have written "The Wasp Factory", and as it happened IB could refer him to his mother who was at that particular signing, "rather like Woody Allen wheeling out Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall", as he put it). A really nice guy, and of course a terrific author.

What goes glug, glug, glug, BOOM!?

The current chaos in our airports has been occasioned, apparently, by the threat of liquid explosives being smuggled on board disguised as drinks or other innocuous fluids. So what might these explosives be? A trawl around the internet suggest that there are various nitromethane-based possibilities, but these would be instantly picked up by a sniffer dog or electronic equivalent. The frontrunner as far as the press are concerned is acetone peroxide, about which more here. If any bombers intended to smuggle on acetone peroxide monomer, which is a colourless liquid, they would probably be exposed when the security guy chucked their bag into the scanner and it destroyed the security hall. The sensitivity of the stuff is worse than nitroglycerine (which is notorious for triggering sniffer alarms even when being carried in pill form for heart conditions). The dimer and trimer are both white powders, not what the government is looking for, but both still super-sensitive. If we assume the 'bombers' intended to synthesize the stuff in the plane's loo, they'd need the means of keeping the temperature below 10 degrees C unless they wanted a premature detonation. (And this stuff is weight for weight nearly twice as powerful as TNT.)

Someone out there suggested that as many Muslim countries have a lot of experience of demining operations, they might be familiar with this stuff, which sounds a lot safer to use. And the details are available under its patent application.

Someone thought a "liquid bomb" sounded like a heavy-duty cocktail, and requested suggestions for actually flammable, yet drinkable, concoctions. The best I've heard so far involved high-alcohol vodka (e.g. export strength Smirnoff Blue Label at 50%) with 'ice cubes' composed of frozen high-purity hydrogen peroxide with a coating of water ice to delay the fireworks. As the ice melts, BLAM. (On an ATC camp once I saw a demo of high-purity hydrogen peroxide which was part of the fuel for Blue Streak stand-off nuclear missiles. When poured onto a piece of cloth it caused the cloth to burn very rapidly indeed.

Stating the bleeding obvious (and being crucified for it)

After my various recent posts on matters concerning Israel, Palestine and Lebanon, here is somebody else with a supremely sensible view of the situation. That his article has been hit on by the pro-Israel fanatics, most especially by Julie Burchill, that scion of honest journalism, only strengthens my admiration for Matthew Parris.

Festival News - 15 August

Today it was Moazzam Begg at the Book Festival. Begg is a British Muslim (from Birmingham) the author of Enemy Combatant, an account of his abduction from his home (at the time) in Pakistan and his imprisonment without charge in Guantanamo Bay. As one might expect from the book, he comes across as not only extremely eloquent but totally devoid of bitterness. Though he declined his publisher's suggestion of a tour of the US to promote the book as it is published there.... The questions and answers covered not only his experiences as a British Muslim post-7/7 (for example he felt he really had to travel to Edinburgh by train despite having already booked a flight, as he felt that he'd be freaking people out right now) but also his motivation for having gone out to Bosnia with a Muslim NGO during the conflict there, and why he had felt the need to move his family to Afghanistan during the Taliban era. He didn't shy away from any of the questions (mind you, he'd already answered them in the book) and in general came over as the sort of calming influence we need more of. If you haven't read the book, do.

XXV Lines - again

Same rules as before. Still just managing not to repeat artists, though that will have to stop soon.

1. You're a loser, an abomination in the eyes of any sensitive man

2. Who'll bring me comfort when the moon rides in the pines?
Pete Sinfield (track unguessed as yet) - Tim

3. Cold blows the wind to my true love and gently falls the rain
Gryphon: "The Unquiet Grave" - Jim
4. Mott The Hoople and the game of Life, yeah yeah yeah yeah
R.E.M.: "Man on the Moon" - Sam
5. Oh it's a long long while from May to December
Frank Sinatra: "September Song" - Phil

6. I'm seeing this girl and she just might be out of her mind

7. Is it a kind of dream, floating out on the tide?
Art Garfunkel: "Bright Eyes" - Jim

8. If you smile at me I will understand
Crosby Stills & Nash (track unguessed as yet) - Will

9. Pretty as an angel from the day that she was born
Dolly Parton: "Mountain Angel" - Jason

10. Tud an Argoad ha tud an Arvor

11. Friar hermit stumbles over the cloudy borderline
Nico: "Frozen Warnings" - Jim
12. I was always told that you had to have the balls to break down
Gomez: "78 Stone Wobble" - Will (band guessed first by Lisa)
13. She used to be my only enemy and never let me free
Spice Girls: "Mama" - Lisa
14. Oh woman get your head out of curlers
The Hollies: "Gasoline Alley Bred" - Jason
15. Under here, you just take my breath away
Ute Lemper: "Little Water Song" - Lisa
16. You gotta speed it up, and then you gotta slow it down
Bucks Fizz: "Making Your Mind Up" - Lisa
17. Nibbling on sponge cake, watching the sun bake all of the tourists covered with oil
Jimmy Buffett: "Margaritaville" - Eddie Louise
18. I heard you on the wireless back in '52
Buggles: "Video Killed The Radio Star" - Phil

19. Well she lives all alone in a house by a pool

20. With the money from her accident she bought herself a mobile home
Billy Bragg: "Levi Stubbs Tears" - Jim
21. Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy
The Rolling Stones: "Street Fighting Man" - Jason
22. Not long ago in a one horse town down south of Santa Fe
Bonzo Dog Band: "Bad Blood" - Phil

23. Well I'd climb up Snowdon in a snowstorm with the temperature ten below zero

24. Feeling better, now that we're through

25. Feelings are strange, especially when they come true

Some hints for unguessed lines can be found here.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Festival News

What with going away, I never mentioned that on 4th August I went to see Cerys Matthews (ex-Catatonia) who was appearing as part of "T on the Fringe". I hadn't heard any of her stuff since her Catatonia days, though I knew she now lived and worked in Nashville. She didn't disappoint. I don't know whether her voice has actually improved or whether the rough edge so familiar from Catatonia albums only comes across in recordings; either way, she sounded great. Most of the material was new stuff, with only one Catatonia classic ("Lost Cat"). She did a killer version of "All My Trials", which is a song I hadn't heard for many years. Good band too (they kept swapping instruments round until I lost track of who was nominally on which).

Last night I went to the first night of "Starship Pinafore", produced by the St Andrews University Gilbert & Sullivan Society. The music was left alone, and the words changed just enough to relocate the action to a Trekkie starship. The transformation gave us Captain Kirkoran and little Robocup, and for that alone would have been worthwhile. It was very funny, and well sung for the most part. Imogen Leigh Howes as Josephine was particularly good both at singing and acting, as was Rachel Middle as Robocup. Chris Charlton as Ralph Rackstraw was OK but a little underpowered: sounded as though he was naturally more an alto than a tenor. Jennifer Thomson as Cousin Hebe was another cast member who sang and acted really well; my only cavil is that she is such a hottie that it was impossible to believe that Sir Joseph Porter would hesitate for a microsecond about marrying her! Sarah Burrell on the keyboard struggled occasionally with the torrent of notes that a piano reduction of G&S always involves, but always came out on top and accompanied both reliably and sensibly. On for a couple more weeks, and definitely worth seeing. (Upstairs, at 24 Calton Street.)

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

Over on my favourite source of ultra-rightist lunacy, Judith posted this back on 27th July. I'm not going to waste time discussing the anti-UN rhetoric, because it's all over the site (and plenty of other wingnut blogs). What I do wish to draw attention to is the comment from the UN guy (Ping Myiagi) on 4th August drawing attention to the fact that the "UN ambulances ferrying around Gaza gunmen" are nothing of the sort (UN ambulances have blue lights, and red crosses and crescents). In a point-by-point repudiation of the comment, someone called Ben curiously omits that part (and only that part - he responds to everything else). I drew Judith's attention to the dodgy labelling, wondering whether any of the KT video clips might be actual fakes, never mind wrongly labelled. In response she asked me to post any evidence of faking I had, ignoring altogether the point about the video purporting to show what it doesn't.

Meanwhile, after all this time, and a further comment from me inviting it, there has been no denial of the fraudulent description that Ping exposed; also no retraction, apology, or correction.

So there we are. Kesher Talk publishes a video clip with an anti-UN label which it knows to be a lie.

I was about to link to the August post where they nevertheless whine about Palestinian photo fraud (where basically the same picture was used to illustrate the aftermath of two different Israeli attacks) but it no longer displays properly so I can't. How convenient.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Some more catching up

I thought this article by George Monbiot made interesting reading while I was away, principally as a reminder that Hezbollah's attack on, and kidnapping of, Israeli soldiers was only the latest in a long chain of border violations by both sides. The speed with which the invasion of Lebanon was put into action also suggests that it was planned well in advance and was awaiting only a suitable excuse.

However, like the first of the letter writers here I disagree with George's suggestion that Israel should have released the prisoners demanded by Hezbollah. Israel's mistake has been to be too ready to enter into prisoner exchanges in recent years, which has undoubtedly contributed to the recent open season on kidnappings of its soldiers and civilians).

(An aside: how is Gilad Shalit - the kidnapped soldier being held in Gaza - getting on? With all the noise from Lebanon, the UK media have rather lost track of him.)

The second letter-writer in that last link makes a good point about the 2002 Beirut peace proposal which was rejected out of hand by Israel. Here is a link with more detail. A good one to remember when Israel's supporters are banging on about how Israel has always wanted peace and the wicked Palestinians always reject it because they want Israel destroyed. Bollocks, bollocks and more bollocks. Here we have an offer not only of recognition of Israel's right to exist but of peaceful relations with it, in exchange for compliance with UN General Assembly resolutions 242 (Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories) and 194 (right of return of Arab refugees provided that they are prepared to live in peace with Israel). Moreover, the Beirut plan apears to have envisaged only limited return of refugees. Nevertheless, Israel not only refused to consider it, it prevented Yasser Arafat from attending the peace conference. (Presumably so that they could accuse him once again of not being interested in peace.)

One has to admit that Ehud Olmert's 'convergence' plan (a half-hearted, partial compliance with the bits of UN Resolution 242 he likes, only thirty-nine years late) is winding up the Israeli opposition (and especially Israel's neocon suporters in the US) into a mouth-foaming frenzy at the very thought of a single hectare of stolen land being returned. Welcome though that is, the plan itself is as it stands scarcely a serious move towards peace in the region. The main worry is that Olmert's domestic opponents will seize both on that and on his acceptance of a Lebanese ceasefire (tomorrow, after a last-ditch weekend orgy of increased destruction, and in return for practically all Israel wanted and with no Israeli concessions required) as an excuse to topple him in favour of Benjamin Netanyahu. Remember him? Famous mainly as the person who resigned as Finance Minister because he felt Ariel Sharon was being insufficiently hawkish in his dealings with the Palestinians. Also recently the star guest at the public celebration of Sixty Years Of Zionist Terror organised by the Menachem Begin Centre on the Diamond Jubilee of the King David Hotel bombing. (Isn't it nice to know that the indiscriminate bombing of civilians can be not only tolerated but heroic?*) When he was Prime Minister he was due to be charged with massive corruption while in office, but despite protests from the police the Israeli Attorney General decided to drop the case. How Israelis must yearn for his return....

And if any more reason were needed to despise the loathsome Netanyahu, here it is. With every pearl of his statesmanlike wisdom reverentially reported by the supposedly antisemitic BBC, we have Bonkers Ben trying to climb up Brave Tony's asshole. And to judge by the vigour with which our Tone opposed a Lebanese ceasefire right up to the end, I guess he succeeded.

Incidentally, the Israeli site from which the detail of the Beirut plan was taken is worth a look, especially if anyone was tempted to imagine that all Israelis are blood-crazed rejectionists when it comes to peace.

* And yes, I do know that the Jewish National Council condemned the bombing at the time. Nowadays, though, I suppose they would be decried as "self-hating Jews".

Waiting impatiently...

...for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

As my daughter put it: "It's got Matthew Perry! And Bradley Whitford! And it's written by Aaron Sorkin! How can it go wrong?"

All it lacks is David Tennant, really.

Also this is coming out on 2nd October. Yippee!

Books - a danger to civilisation

And now, as a result of the scaremongering, passengers to the USA are no longer allowed to take books onto their flights? And those of us going to less oppressive destinations can take books, but only crappy stuff that we buy airside. Is Dan Brown now in charge of airport security? Or Rupert Murdoch? How exactly is a paperback book, which can be opened, riffled through, read, waved at sniffer dogs, X-rayed, whatever - how exactly does that pose a threat to the security of the aircraft or its passengers? What exactly can be hidden in it which would survive even a cursory search?

And my personal favourite? The report on the BBC on Friday that passengers were being made to taste baby food before it could be taken into the cabin. OK, they're trying to stop people smuggling on liquid explosive. But think about it. You're trying to smuggle on a jar of baby food containing explosive. You will be on the plane when it explodes, therefore you are expecting to die. Even if the explosive is highly poisonous, will you hesitate for a second before eating some of it? What part of "suicide bomber" do these imbeciles have difficulty understanding?

Meabwhile, any sensible tourists will be avoiding air travel altogether. (What's that? No more trips to the USA? Hold me back.) The most sensible of all will be avoiding Britain and going somewhere with less stupidity and hysteria. And we won't get them back, ever.

Let me make another prediction. When Blair swans back from his Caribbean holiday to see how he can do even more damage to Britain, nobody will be restricting him to a clear plastic bag containing his passport and wallet.

Lies, Damned Lies, and the "War on Terror"

I realise I'm probably about the last person in the blogosphere to post on this stuff, but I was away so have some catching up to do. When I read John Reid's knuckle-headed pronouncements on Thursday, my first thought was that the one who "just doesn't get it" is Reid.*

"Sometimes we may have to modify some of our own freedoms in the short term in order to prevent their misuse and abuse by those who oppose our fundamental values and would destroy all of our freedoms in the modern world," he said.


Well, if there were any such people that might be the case. However, all the international terrorists I've heard of since September 11th 2001 supposedly changed everything (because this time it was Americans and not Europeans being blown apart) have neither "opposed our fundamental values" nor wished to "destroy all of our freedoms". They have instead been motivated by a desire to kick the United States and its Saudi and Israeli proxies out of the Middle East, which isn't at all the same thing (though I admit it sucks if you're Israeli or Saudi). Bin Laden has always been quite clear about that, so why does Reid feel the need to lie about it?

Meanwhile, all the rest of us are expected to roll over and play dead while Reid actually does destroy rather a lot of "our freedoms". Any political opposition is painted as support for terrorism, as is being an uncorrupt judge or an honest journalist. Sweet. This place gets more and more like the US every day.

And then of course there was the suspiciously opportune discovery of a 'terror plot' to destroy transatlantic airliners. We had dozens of arrests of Muslims up and down the country on the strength, it turns out, of an anonymous informant in Pakistan (where of course nobody ever makes false statements under torture and the police are famously incorruptible). Let me make a prediction. Most of these people will be released without charge because there will be no actual evidence against them whatsoever. A few unfortunates will vanish into semi-permanent detention without trial because although there will be no evidence with which to charge them, the government will feel it has to be seen to be locking somebody up. The plot to destroy the airliners will turn out to be as real as the chemical weapons factory in Forest Gate, the plot to poison our water supplies with ricin, Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and Jean Charles de Menezes' suicide bomb. All fabricated to let the government look tough and to provide more excuses for clamping down on civil liberties. Maybe it's true; maybe there really was a terorist threat to airliners. But after all the lies, is anybody going to believe it on this government's say-so?

The best way to reduce the terrorist threat to Britain? Get rid of Blair. Though sacking Reid would be a start.

(* When I wrote that I hadn't read this. Ah well. I'm in good company at least.)

Some friendly advice

You may have missed this post on Kesher Talk (it's scrolled off into the August archive now). Initially I read it as just another piece of ultra-rightist lunacy, but then I thought "this guy needs help". Not just in the therapeutic sense, though clearly that too. No, he clearly hasn't got a clue what makes a joke funny. He's like a four-year-old who thinks that randomly linking a question and an answer makes a joke (Q: what do you call a horse with no legs? A: a bucket, hahahahaha!) So I proffered the following suggestions:

Hi Van. The post was evidently intended to be funny, but wasn't. Don't get me wrong, I'm not getting upset because my liberal worldview is being lampooned, or because the piece was in bad taste, or any of that crap. No, it wasn't funny because the joke doesn't work.

See, if you'd made it Saddam's rectum being bequeathed to Cindy Sheehan, that might have been funny, because there's an Iraq war link between them. Or maybe you could have had Castro leaving his asshole to Hugo Chavez; again, there's a hero-worshipping kind of link which would make it funny. (Kind of.)

Of course, maybe the trouble isn't that you're clueless about humour: maybe you're one of these Americans we hear so much about who can't point to Iraq on a map (and have trouble with Canada). Cuba is in the Caribbean, near Florida. Its main export is Jeb Bush supporters. Iraq is a big country in Asia, just along a bit from Saudi Arabia. Its main export used to be oil but is now dead Americans. (See, I really don't have a problem with tasteless humour.)

Don't feel bad about mixing them up though. There are plenty of similarities between Cuba and Iraq. They both have four letters for a start, and both have (or had) leaders with facial hair, funny hats, and a love for the sound of their own voices. There are slight differences, though. The United States invaded Iraq without provocation, deposed the president, and then proceeded to get its ass kicked by the unimpressed locals. The United States also invaded Cuba without provocation, but was unable to depose the president because the unimpressed locals chased it back into the Bay of Pigs before it even got close.

Hope that helps. Keep trying with the jokes and I'm sure you'll manage one soon.

Pigs On A Plane?

An article from a rather odd site. (via)

And no, the site does not seem to be a spoof. Susblood Labs appear to be based in Nevada.

Is it just me, or is the idea of tens of thousands of ultra-orthodox Jews carrying water-pistols filled with 'liquid lard' (no, I don't know either) in order to defend Israel against suicide bombers a bit Pythonesque? Except of course that if any TV show had suggested the idea it would have been removed from the air the following day for wicked antisemitism.

What next? Perhaps Susblood will take inspiration from this and diversify into cow products for use by Muslims against Shiv Sena, LTTE and other Hindu terrorists.

Truly, the world is getting stranger. Or at least Nevada is.

A Nasty Smell From Kesher Talk

...though on this occasion it has nothing to do with the ultra-rightists moaning that Olmert hasn't killed enough Lebanese to be allowed to remain in office. Nope, this time Judith has kindly posted a link to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden's webcam of its Titan Arum (named Baby). Large, impressive, and intensely stinky (Baby, that is, not Judith). The various sidebar links on the webcam page are interesting. Baby has a blog too. Go take a look (you'll just have to imagine the stench).

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Call It Freedom

This from riverbend.

Congratulations, Tony Blair. Congratulations, George W Bush. Under Saddam, women in Iraq could walk the streets in safety; could drive cars, even. Now it isn't safe for women to be seen driving; it isn't safe for them to be seen in public not wearing a hijab. Let's get this straight, then: you invaded Afghanistan to get rid of the religious fanatics terrorising an unwilling populace; and you invaded Iraq so as to give power to religious fanatics who terrorise an unwilling populace.

But if you're male (ideally white, with shares in an oil company) it's a wonderfully free place these days.

Pillocks.

25 More answers

17 out of 25 guessed: excellent work, everyone. The lines in bold remained unguessed. Album titles in brackets. Surprising that no old hippies got #8 or #23; and clearly the Darkness and Police fans all stayed at home. Phil reckons (and I expect he's right) that he guessed the bands for #14 and #24 after my hints, but hung back in case someone got the track titles.

1. It's a fact, at the most uninvolved unexpected moments, the most inopportune,some see the flesh before they see the bones
Stereolab: "Super Electric" (Switched-On Stereolab) - Phil
2. It's true that all the men you knew were dealers who said they were through with dealing
Leonard Cohen: "Stranger Song" (Songs of Leonard Cohen) - Sam
3. She came without a farthing, a babe without a name
Queen: "All Dead, All Dead" (News Of The World) - Gordon
4. He's the kind of guy puts on a motorcycle jacket and he weighs about a hundred and five
Mimi and Richard Farina: "Hard Lovin' Loser" (The Best of Mimi and Richard Farina)
5. She sits alone, waiting for suggestions
Rod Stewart: "D'Ya Think I'm Sexy?" (The Best of Rod Stewart) - Gordon
6. Sun so bright that I'm nearly blind
Spiritualized: "I Think I'm In Love" (Ladies And Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space) - Phil
7. Cast your mind back ten years to the girl who's next to me in school
The Move: "Fire Brigade" (Fire Brigade) - Phil
8. And the slightest confrontation was dissolved before the start

Jon Anderson: "The Flight Of The Moorglade" (Olias of Sunhillow)
9. LA's fine, the sun shines most of the time, and the feeling is laid back
Neil Diamond: "I Am...I Said" (The Ultimate Collection) - Phil
10. And the night comes again to the circle-studded sky
Phil Ochs: "The Crucifixion" (American Troubadour) - Lisa
11. The coat she wore still lies upon the bed
Gerry Rafferty: "Her Father Didn't Like Me Anyway" (Can I Have My Money Back?) - Sam
12. When I was a young man I used to dress so neat
Mr Fox: "The Hanged Man" (Mr Fox) - Ted Amos
13. Her new name was tattooed to her wrist; it was longer than the old one
Janis Ian: "Tattoo" (Working Without A Net)
14. I was just sitting there, eating a salmonella sandwich

Half Man Half Biscuit: "Sealclubbing" (Back In The D.H.S.S.)
15. Another suburban family morning, grandmother screaming at the wall
The Police: "Synchronicity II" (Synchronicity)
16. Me no bubbleicious, me smoke heavy tar
Robbie Williams (with Kylie Minogue): "Kids" (Sing When You're Winning) - Gordon
17. I used to wake up in the morning, I used to feel so bad
The Who: "Pictures of Lily" (Meaty, Beaty, Big And Bouncy) - Phil
18. I used to have a notion, I would swim the length of the ocean, if I knew you were waiting for me
The Only Ones: "The Whole Of The Law" (The Only Ones) - Phil
19. You've seen life through distorted eyes, you know you had to learn
Black Sabbath: "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" (We Sold Our Soul For Rock And Roll) - Tim
20. There's no point in asking, you'll get no reply
Sex Pistols: "Pretty Vacant" (Kiss This) - Phil
21. When I was a young man I carried my pack and I lived the free life of the rover
The Pogues: "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" (Rum, Sodomy And The Lash) - Gert
22. On a night like this I deserve to get kissed at least once or twice
Boomtown Rats: "Someone's Looking At You" (The Fine Art Of Surfacing) - Kate
23. My, my, the clock in the sky is pounding away

The Monkees: "The Porpoise Song" (Head)
24. The sky is crying, the streets are full of tears

Dire Straits: Hand In Hand (Making Movies)
25. You are drunk and you are surly in Latino lover mode

The Darkness: "Get Your Hands Off My Woman" (Permission To Land)

Friday, August 04, 2006

Confusion Reigneth

OK - so now we have Phil posting a response to my 25 Lines hints but doing it under the Book Title meme post. Meanwhile, the comment under the 25 Lines hints, while not devoid of interest, is so bizarre and irrelevant that at first I thought I'd been spammed; however, it contains no advertising or links so I'll just score it as a 10 on the weird-shit-ometer. From work I can't open Blogger to see who "Jim" is. Thanks for the information, Jim: actually I knew all that once but had forgotten it.

Talk of the Sabine women always brings "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers" to mind. Drat: now I'll be wandering round my office humming "Sobbin' Women" all afternoon.

And never mind Livy, if someone doesn't guess #16 soon I'l sit in a nice warm bath and open my veins like Seneca (with the appropriate scene from Monteverdi's "L'Incoronazione di Poppea" playing in the background, of course).