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, May 31, 2007

Aalst - Traverse Theatre, 19 May 2007

A delayed review of a strange and disturbing play. Aalst is a play by Duncan McLean from the Dutch original by Pol Heyvaert (with Dimitri Verhulst). Heyvaert himself was directing this production and had been heavily involved in the creation of the new English version.

Aalst is a (very slightly fictionalised) account of the trial of a Belgian couple who murdered their two children in a hotel room in Aalst (near Ghent) a few years ago. It is effectively a two-hander, with David McKay as Michael Delaney and Kate Dickie as Cathy Delaney. Readers may remember my enthusiasm for Kate's work in the film Red Road earlier his year. She's just as good on stage, and McKay is right up there with her. There is also the disembodied voice of the trial judge, played by Gary Lewis, though as he took no curtain call his contribution was clearly pre-recorded.

The two actors sit on chairs confronting the audience, and what makes the confrontation most disturbing is that they seem so normal. At least, "normal" as against "clearly psychopathic". It becomes clear that both are totally amoral scroungers, almost tabloid caricatures of "social security fraudsters". Both had had very disturbed childhoods in different ways, and neither was remotely ready for the responsibility of parenthood. From their viewpoint, once they realised that their children were likely to be taken away and placed in care, they reasoned that as being in care was not a Good Thing (from their experience) the best thing they could do for the children was to kill them.

While these people come across as not psychopathic, it's hard (impossible for me) to feel sympathy for them. Especially when in the closing moments of the play you realise that they have been playing the court for sympathy all along, and you have to re-evaluate everything you've heard.

The actual killings are described in clinical detail, and the play in general is pretty disturbing. So it's all the more disorienting when you find yourself laughing at lines of dialogue, as happens quite a lot. Examples (not a feat of memory - the programme contains the whole text of the play):

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Did you ever drive cars?

Michael: Yes

But you didn't have a licence.

Michael: No.

And those cars you drove, were they registered?

Michael: No.

And were they insured?

Michael: No. You'd have to be pretty thick to take out insurance for a car that isn't even registered.


+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Cathy: We're always slagged off for having five stereos, but no one ever mentions they aren't paid for yet.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Wasn't there a refrigerator thrown out of a window, Mr Delaney?

Michael: A what?

A refrigerator. A fridge.

Michael: Well, the person who says that obviously can't tell the difference between a fridge and a telly! Imagine what their home's like! 'Anything good on the fridge tonight, dear?'

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

As in Macbeth, the comedy serves to release tension before the grim parts. And they are grim: a daughter smothered, a son stabbed in the back with scissors as he pled for his life.

At the end of the play, I didn't feel any kind of identity or kinship with these people; they weren't "just like me". But they weren't so horribly alien that I could easily dispose of them as clearly insane either. The phrase "the banality of evil" was coined to describe the behaviour of some concentration camp guards last century, and it would seem apposite here. Just your ordinary everyday lack of a moral compass, and one day you cross the line from fraud and shoplifting to murder. "Tonight thank God it's them instead of you", as the song has it.

Even a week later I'm still working through the play really in terms of my reaction to it. What is undeniable is the brilliance of the actors' assumption of their roles. They convinced totally, as totally as any performance I've ever seen. Every gesture, every hesitation, went to make up the characters. The emotion was completely genuine, and it reminded me of Simon Callow's description of the Stanislawski approach as not learning lines but becoming the character so fully that when you opened your mouth, what came out spontaneously was the lines as written, because your reaction, your feelings, were those of the character. How Kate Dickie and David McKay have the fortitude to put themselves through that night after night I can hardly bear to contemplate.

This was the first production by the new National Theatre of Scotland I'd seen, and if it's typical then there are very interesting times ahead. I remember the ostensibly similar old Scottish Theatre Company putting on Waiting For Godot, Mr Gillie, Galileo, The Wallace, Let Wives Tak Tent and Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaites (twice, memorably, in the Edinburgh Festival) and I have missed it since it went away. New faces, new writing, but the same commitment to excellence.

If you have the chance to see Aalst I urge you to do so; though be warned, it isn't easy viewing.

Infinite Improbability Dive


My daughter has just received her certification (in the form of a couple of laminated cards) as a qualified advanced diver, having taken her qualifications while in Borneo. She was chatting about the various things she is and isn't qualified to do (e.g. not yet qualified for dry-suit diving so not able to dive in Scotland yet) and one of the categories of diving was "Altitude Diving". Now while I assume this is actually "diving in lakes miles above sea level" my immediate and unprompted thought was of the opening of Magnolia. OK, so we all know it's an urban legend, but it is an arresting image.

What Kind Of Atheist Am I?

Scientific Atheist

83%

Spiritual Atheist

67%

Agnostic

50%

Apathetic Atheist

50%

Theist

33%

Militant Atheist

17%

Angry Atheist

17%

What kind of atheist are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Muslims and Christians and Jews, oh my!

Those who (like the vaginally-obsessed Benjamin Kerstein) who prefer to live in a fantasy world rather than reality are happy to post bollocks like this lovely piece of ad hominem nonsense. The connoisseur of Orwellian doublethink will enjoy seeing Mr "you called me anti-Muslim on no basis whatsoever" Kerstein not only implying (via heavy sarcasm) that the "real problems facing the world" are not, apparently, poverty, homelessness or lack of health care but "Islamic terror and the clash of civilisations". (Gosh, those millions of kids in Africa dying from water-borne diseases - to think it's all the fault of wicked Muslim terrorists and we never knew.) But for those of you who can bear to hack your way through the spittle-drenched expletives and the comparisons to Hitler (you must remember that anyone Ben disagrees with is ipso facto a Nazi) which take the place of any kind of argument, there is this gem to be had:

(Tony Kushner) lumps together "Muslim and Christian and Jewish fundamentalists" without the slightest understanding of the fact that Christian and Jewish fundamentalists haven't been flying planes into buildings anytime in the recent past.

Now let us leave the fetid swamp of right-wing Israeli extremism (you'll see why I waded into it in a moment) and turn to this interesting (and vastly better-written) post on a story (only covered here as far as I can tell in Britain) from the Huffington Post. I give you the tale of Mark David Uhl, America's very own Christian fundamentalist bomber:

Uhl was an a devout evangelical Christian who advocated religious violence in the name of American nationalism. Uhl's blog, featured on his Myspace page, offers a window into the political underpinnings of his bomb plot. In one post, Uhl implores Christians to die on the battlefield for "Uncle Sam." He justifies his call to arms by quoting several Biblical passages and reminding his readers that the "gift of God" is eternal life.

"Christians, we have been given life after death and we should help others receive it and not sit here in our big buildings and sing to ourselves so we can go home and feel good about ourselves," Uhl writes. "Christians, fear of death, fear of death. The fear of death shows you don't believe."

Uhl concludes, "God needs soldiers to fight so his children may live free. Are you afraid??? I'm not. SEND ME!!! "


What's the Christian for "Jihad"? Sudden Bibliolatrous Murder Syndrome, maybe?

The Christian right has warped religious doctrine to advance a Utopian political worldview that promises to purify the land of liberal decadence. Through one of its flagship universities, the Christian right produced a terrorist.

And if he turns out to be the only one, I'm Marie of Roumania.

So I'm inclined to go along with Tony Kushner on this one. Jewish, Christian and Muslim fundamentalists should all be treated with the same suspicion that they just might turn into deranged murderers. And of course ordinary Jews, Muslims and Christians should in no way be held guilty by association because of their crazed co-religionists.

Though what's the betting that Kerstein the seldom-relevant (but never, he keeps whining, anti-Muslim) will insist that only Muslim fundamentalists fly planes while benign Christian and Jewish ones use bombs and machine guns to carry out their murders (or attempted murders)?

P.S. For the sake of fairness and completeness, a few representative examples of Jewish fundamentalist terror:

Baruch Goldstein. And his fan club.

The King David Hotel murders (still celebrated and commemorated with an official plaque).

Some terrorists who hide behind IDF uniforms.

Some who hide as peace-loving "civilian" (but armed to the teeth) "settlers". (See p.2 of the AI report : Attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories.)

But, yes, Ben, I admit it: not a Boeing 757 anywhere in sight. Clearly a completely different class of fundamentalist murderer.

Peace Through Superior Legal Power


Raise a glass, champions of legitimate protest everywhere (yes, including Venezuela), to the good jurors of Bristol. The jurors were not allowed to express an opinion on the legality of the Iraq war itself, but they were invited to consider whether the B-52s being flown from the US air base at Fairford might, just possibly, be on their way to commit war crimes against Iraqi civilians and criminal damage to Iraqi property. They decided that they were, and thus that the (not very well-executed) attempt by the Phil Pritchard and Toby Olditch to sling a few nuts and bolts into their engines was a reasonable response to the failure of all other means of legitimate protest against the war.

I know it isn't a binding legal precedent, but I look forward to more of the same, expecially next time an American planeload of political detainees on their way to a third world torture chamber attempts to refuel at Prestwick or Edinburgh.

Don't cry for RCTV, Venezuela

Lest anyone should think it's only Fox News and similar bogus US media that carry fake news stories, the BBC seem to be trying to keep up, as part of its mission to broadcast only the news the Blair administration would like to be true.

Just to make things clear:

1) RCTV has not been closed. It hasn't, indeed, closed. Its free-to-air broadcast license has not been renewed, but it is still free to put out its programmes via satellite and cable, as before, with no censorship or other government interference.

2) RCTV is far from being the only independent television station, or the only opposition voice in the Venezuelan media. 80% of Venezuelan radio and television stations are privately owned, and many are frequently critical of the Chavez government. There is no press censorship, and the country's newspapers are almost all privately-owned.

3) RCTV has not lost its license because of its political colour, or because it preferred to show soap operas instead of presidential speeches. It has lost (part of) its license because, during the attempted overthrow of the elected Venezuelan government in April 2002, RCTV sided unashamedly with the plotters. It broadcast lies intended to inflame violence; it broadcast fake news of Chavez's resignation; and it refused to allow its reporters to file any actual news stories which would have exposed those lies. If a British or American TV station had done something similar (perhaps by broadcasting that President Bush had been killed in the 9/11 attacks and blaming the attacks on the Jews), how many Americans would be howling for about free speech if the station suffered subsequent restriction of its license?

The voices complaining about Chavez's unacceptable "authoritarianism" are the same people who moan constantly about the lies and propaganda which al-Jazeera transmits. Yet when faced with an far worse example they just lap up the lies, the incitements to violence, and the hatred. It isn't about freedom: it;s about whether the lies and propaganda are orchestrated by a group it's officially cool to hate (Arabs) or against such a group (South American socialists).

If the EU swallows the officially-promoted lies about RCTV as an excuse this week to discriminate against Venezuela, it will demonstrate yet again the open contempt of the European establishment for elective democracy (already amply shown by its shameful punishment of the Palestinian people for electing the "wrong" government). It will also underline the EU's craven disinclination to do anything not in the best interest of the United States.

Last night, Andrew Marr's History of Modern Britain covered Macmillan's humiliation by De Gaulle when he first attempted to join what was then the EEC. De Gaulle was concerned, in part, by the "special relationship" between the UK and USA , distant though it was by comparison with the Blair-Bush cosiness. For De Gaulle it was out of the question that the US should be encouraged to play any significant part in European politics. I never thought I'd say this, but we could do with someone like that now instead of the spineless nonentities of 2007.

What I did on my Bank Holiday Monday

1) Stayed sober (I was on call).

2) Did a load of housework (hoovering, dusting, floor washing, loo cleaning...)

3) Loaded the breadmaker with what would become pizza dough

4) Took my long-suffering violin in for an overhaul:
  • * new strings

  • * new bridge (the current one must be the most warped bridge since Tacoma Narrows)

  • * general clean-up of the varnish and fingerboard
5) Watched the weekend's Dr Who episode (Human Nature) - terrific stuff, even if the scarecrow monsters were less scary than the Radio Times seemed to think we'd find them. The sniffy alien things were however definitely creepy, and the whole plot device of having the Doctor hiding out as a human being, only to fall in love, was extremely clever.

6) Coughed a lot. But I'm starting to improve now, thanks.

"If you see her say hello." Well, actually, don't: dial 0800 555 111 instead and turn the bastard in.

Felicity Jane Lowde is still stalking Rachel, who could use some help.

Here are a couple of pictures of the convicted (but still smiling) criminal:

Help Catch Felicity Jane Lowde

Note from Rachel on the picture:

It is a nice picture, but it is c. ten years old. The police are unable to release her arrest photo, but say she has aged and put on considerable amounts of weight since it was taken.
Age 41 ( police say she appears older). 5'8 tall.
Size 16/18 ( police say overweight for height)
Eyes brown/green with unusual squinting appearance in one eye
Hair mouse/light brown, possibly some grey
She usually uses internet cafes in London, usually between 4pm and 6pm.
Also likely to be found in public libraries and anywhere with cheap or free internet access. She periodically travels to North Oxford, where she lived before the trial.

Bloggers of the world unite: you have nothing to lose but a nutty cyberstalker who could come after you next.

You're doing fine Carcinoma, Carcinoma? Oh fuck

I know it's fashionable in some blogging circles to diss Dooce, because, I don't know, she's won loads of awards and has made a success out of blogging for a living having been dumb enough to get fired for it in the first place. Whatever. Personally, I've always walked a fine line between fashionable and unfashionable, just before swinging wildly off to the unfashionable side by way of Don't-Give-A-Fucksville. So I like Dooce.

Whatever.

Let's all cut her a little slack right now because she's just been diagnosed with skin cancer again. You know, they cut out a chunk of shoulder the first time and reckoned they'd nailed it. Sadly not.

Get well soon, Heather.

Pay no attention to the torturers behind the curtain!

There has been a certain amount of comment in the blogosphere about the supposed "al-Qaeda Torture Manual", apparently found by American troops in an "al-Qaeda safe house" in Iraq. A few posts ago EKN had a troll who posted the URL along with a comment echoing most of the others out there, to the effect that "this is real torture, so all these commies like B'Tselem and Amnesty International who complain about torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib, or of Palestinian prisoners, can just shut up because that's not real torture like having holes drilled in your hands."

Leaving aside the fact that this news item seems to have originated with Fox News, and I've seen no independent verification of any connection of it with the US military;

leaving aside the total irrelevance of the argument that "our American/Israeli torture is OK but this Arab torture is terrible";

leaving aside the fact that all the torture methods depicted are ones that non-Arabs have been using for years (the IRA were using most of them forty years ago) - a fact overlooked by those ignorant clods who think terrorism began when Americans first noticed its existence in September 2001;

and that the Inquisition were doing things a hundred times more imaginative and painful half a millennium ago.

Leaving all that aside, can I just make a few observations? Some have been made already on other blogs, some I think may be new.

1) Al-Qaeda is a funding and facilitating body. They don't go in for having people on the ground; they leave that to others (like the 9/11 hijackers), while they sit at home in Peshawar or Riyadh or wherever watching the results on TV. So the idea of an "al-Qaeda safe house" or an "al-Qaeda torture manual" is as ludicrous as a "Barclays Bank safe house" or a "Halliburton torture manual".

2) Why would torturers need cartoons to remind them of which end of the drill goes in the other guy? Or how you put someone's head in a vice? Do Fox really think these people (who seem to be running rings round the American and British troops, BTW) are that stupid?

3) Doesn't it seems atrange that these supposed Islamic extremists have only pictures showing Arabs being tortured? No wicked American infidels? No Jews? How different from all the propaganda the actual extremists put out.

4) These guys are supposedly fanatical Muslims, the kind that chop your head off for going out of doors without a veil. Right? So explain to me how come they suddenly ignore the Islamic prohibition on the artistic depiction of human beings and produce this series of (admittedly amateurish) cartoons which will guarantee them several thousand centuries of afterlife torment. Because no Muslims get upset about cartoons, right?

Gosh, it's almost as though these crude propaganda drawings were created by someone with no knowledge of Islam and a total contempt for Arabs, in a crude attempt to distract attention from the torture routinely carried out by American and British forces in Iraq (and in Cuba and other countries where they can do it more easily). Our troll, revealingly, tried to use it to distract attention from Israeli torture as well.

Listen up, morons. Never mind the clear fact that these drawings are as genuine as a three-dollar bill. If you're trying to tell us that because the nasty Arabs use drills and electric irons while the nice Americans and Israelis prefer methods that don't leave inconvenient scarring, then consider this. When Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote The Gulag Archipelago, he said that the worst form of torture used by the Soviets was crushing prisoners' balls, especially having them crushed under a female officer's boot. Now that clearly is nowhere near as mediaeval as drilling holes in hands or crushing heads in vices; so you're really trying to tell me that all the torture carried out by the USSR was a mere trifle, and that Amnesty International and the others who protested about it for decades should have shut up and concentrated on "real" torture. Perhaps you'd like to tell Mr Solzhenitsyn that to his face?

Now if you've quite finished mouthing off about your fake snuff porn cartoons, I've got some real torturers to go and annoy.

The blog as virtual shed: discuss

My daughter Vanessa has recently returned from ten weeks of volunteering in Malaysia with Operation Raleigh. And has fired up her dormant blog. Do pay her a visit. She's still finding her way around html and stuff so don't be too hard on her just yet.

I remarked once (maybe on EKN, maybe not) that a lot of men on reaching middle age build sheds. Some of us start blogs. The basic principle is the same: somewhere to go where one can appear to be doing something constructive while actually simply messing about and avoiding housework and gardening.

I can see what's ahead now my daughter has entered the blogosphere. Nag, nag, nag. "Daddy, you haven't hoovered the living room." "Can I borrow the Saxo"?" Blah, blah, blah. Nag, nag.

I hear the sound of a collapsing shed.......

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Achoo. Coff. Coff.

I shall be pretty glad when I get to Monday. The past three weeks have been hectic to put it mildly. By the end of today (Sunday) I shall have played four concerts in the past sixteen days, all containing different musical programmes (1: Berlioz/Franck/Faure/Honegger; 2: an evening of film music; 3: a mixed programme of light orchestral stuff; 4: Schubert/Brahms/Mendelssohn). For the first two I was involved in organisation and instrument shifting (orchestral roadie) as well as playing. Stressful AND sweaty. Yum.

So in addition to doing a full-time job (and contracting a bitch of a cold about half-way through), my diary shows the past three weeks to have had

12 rehearsals (plus home practice)
4 concerts
About a day and a half of instrument shifting (ranging from wheeling six timpani and a xylophone across a pedestrian crossing to get them from Greyfriars Kirk to the National Museum of Scotland's goods lift, to lugging a set of borrowed crotales halfway round Edinburgh in my car boot).

Also one gig (blogged) and three theatre visits (one blogged so far).

I celebrated Towel Day (on Friday) by carrying around some paper towels to blow my nose on. Not as soft as tissues but capacious as well as Hitch-Hikingly appropriate.

No wonder I'm feeling knackered (and camping out downstairs to avoid disturbing Hilary with night-time coughing).

But Monday is a holiday! (Well, an English Bank Holiday, but the UK banks all synchronised on the "English" ones a few years ago). Yay! OK, so I'm on call, but with any luck I can spend most of the day blissfully inactive. Or doing housework.

Anyway, hope to be back up to speed with reading other people's blogs and posting on this one by the middle of next week.

Given the standard of my archery these days this seems apposite



From despair.com (hat tip: Lisa).

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Early Days

A motion worthy of support.

I see that my MP (Nigel Griffiths, Edinburgh South) wasn't a signatory. However, he has shown in the past that he has some principles, so I shall cut him some slack for now. I'll write to him, though.

John Cruddas, referred to in the post, is my union's preferred candidate for the Labour Party Deputy Leadership. Hmmm.

Man Of La Mancha, Lyceum Theatre, 15 May 2007

I'd never seen Man of La Mancha before, and knew it only as the source of The Impossible Dream. Lyceum's production, then, was something of a revelation, even though I'd read up on the story beforehand. First of all, the small cast (11, plus two non-speaking parts) not only acted and sang all the parts, they played all the instruments as well. Let me restate that: there was no separate band, just the onstage musicians. They were all good players, good actors and good dancers. The vocal quality in the singing was a little patchy (especially Pauline Knowles as Aldonza) but one has to make the odd sacrifice. Special praise for James Spilling as the Captain, the Padre and the violinist, and for Nicholas Pound as Cervantes, Don Quixote and mandolin. The set, too, was both ingenious and visually impressive.

The musical was probably long overdue for a revival. When I was in my teens The Impossible Dream was as ubiquitous as some of the Lloyd Webber tunes nowadays (Memory, anyone?) Perhaps that familiarity bred contempt; maybe there was a feeling that a British audience would be insufficiently familiar with the book to take to the musical. That would be right about the unfamiliarity, but the musical is charming and stands on its own merits. Quite apart from TID, stand-out numbers included I'm Only Thinking Of Him, Golden Helmet of Mambrino, and To Each His Dulcinea.

I came out wishing that I could see the show again. While as far as I know this wonderful production isn't touring, I commend the show to you whoever is doing it.

No surprises here

An interesting report from B'Tselem and Hamoked on the torture of Palestinian prisoners by the Israeli authorities. The Israeli government has responded angrily (of course), and I would indeed advise a certain amount of caution when reading the report: even its authors don't claim that it's based on a representative sample, so one certainly shouldn't run away with the idea that every detained Palestinian is being abused. But then: the defence that "we only torture a few of our prisoners" isn't the best I could think of, even if true. And when the Israeli High Court of Justice rules that torture is sometimes OK, it not only tells you all you need to know about Israeli contempt for international standards of legality, it renders somewhat irrelevant any claims that such things don't happen in West Asia's "only democracy".

More from Him Who Shall Not Be Pissed On Though He Were On Fire

Like the number 23, Benjamin Kerstein keeps turning up in unexpected places. I was Googling for something entirely different and found this gem from an old blog of his (most frequently occurring phrase: "0 comments") on 27/04/2003:

Ahahahahahaha! George "never met a terror supporting dictatorial mass-slaughtering thug I wouldn't defend in public" Galloway gets slammed again, this time from an American paper. When is the Times going to run with this? (And that ridiculous little puff piece they ran the other day is not what I'm talking about.) This is about to be the biggest scandal to hit Britain since the Profumo affair and almost nobody in America knows about it, why?

Of course, if you click on the link you'll find out why. It's the Christian Science Monitor piece alleging that Uday Hussein paid George $10 million, which was proved long ago to be a total fabrication. The CSM, to their credit, put a large note to that effect at the head of the article, apologised to George and paid him a (fairly substantial) sum in damages. None of that from oor Ben of course; why let the facts get in the way of a good smear? Though to judge from those underflowing comments boxes nobody read his rubbish anyway.

Oh, and I did eventually read all of his blogged "novel" Josef6. It's bilge (and surely the shortest "novel" since John Fuller's Flying To Nowhere) . The much-hyped (by Ben) "plot twist" is signalled several chapters out (the narrator turns out to be "Josef6" - the boy has evidently read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd if nothing else) . Prose: leaden throughout. Character development: nil. Characters: cartoons at best. Believability of plot (leaving aside the aforementioned scientific howler): zero. (One nuclear bomb on the Eastern seaboard unravels the whole of US society and causes a major geopolitical power vacuum: aye, right.)

An hour of my life I shan't get back. Be warned.

P.S. I did find out where Benjamin may have got the idea for the -562 degrees Celsius (not 563 - my bad) business. Maybe he has a Svarowski ATS80 HD birdwatcher's telescope (see the last full paragraph of that review for a wonderful triumph of marketing over physics). So while his error is no more irrelevant than if he'd put San Francisco on the Eastern seaboard, he's not alone.

P.P.S. Don't fret, I haven't really acquired the psychopathic obsession with Big Ben that he accused me of. Just a happy coincidence, is all. It's not as though my blog was called Diary of an anti-Kersteinite or anything unhealthy like that....

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Smack my bitch up

An astounding post from Joss Whedon, courtesy of Lisa.

(Be patient if you get a bandwidth error. If you click it, it will come...eventually.)

Perhaps those of us with our normal complement of sins should indeed do something about the next stoning we encounter, whether real or metaphorical.

Oddly enough I was talking only a couple of days ago - with the van driver who shifts my orchestra's equipment - about dowry-related murders in India. The maltreatment of women really is an issue for all of us, in all cultures and societies. Not just Muslims, or Hindus; not just tribal Africans who indulge in female genital mutilation; not just people who read about murdered prostitutes and reckon "they had it coming".

All of us.

Monday, May 21, 2007

High up above the clouds, the great Valerio is surfing

The Augean Stables is an eminently missable Israeli neo-con blog.

However, I found a link to this post which blew me away (pun entirely intended). Ignore the anti-Muslim rhetoric and just marvel at the pictures of a sandstorm sweeping in from Sinai.

And then there's this. Only a touch less awesome, and with a bunch of crazed Australian glider pilots surfing it. Dude!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Keep Watching The Skies

A few months ago I bemoaned the closure of the London Planetarium. Well now a brand new state-of-the-art planetarium is to open at the Greenwich Royal Observatory.

"Madame Tussauds said it was in the entertainment, not the education business, and that's fair enough," said Roy Clare, director of the Greenwich museum. "We like to think we are in the education and entertainment business."

Quite.



On a related note, I found this nice picture of the big Grubb 28" refractor in the "Onion Dome" at Greenwich, which is the largest telescope through which I have ever observed. When I lived in London my astronomy evening class were taken out there by Heather Couper who was then (I think) director of education at the observatory. I remember viewing some spectacular double stars; and also remember Heather and Nigel Henbest completely failing to locate the Crab Nebula on that occasion, much to everyone's amusement. These things happen.

I also remember getting extremely cold when the dome was open. Astronomy: it's not for wimps.

Serendipity

I was looking back through the Kesher Talk archives and came across this one from Van, which I had missed when it was first posted. As Van says, it's thought-provoking.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Diddly-dum, diddly-dum, diddly-dum, dum-dum, diddle

What Kind Of Whovian Are You?
Your Result: Classic series n00b

You were recently compelled by the crackly black & whiteness to investigate further...but you don't really see what the fuss over the new series is. god bless you, young padawan...

New series n00b
Laddyfan
Hard Living Demon Fan
Good natured jumper wearer
Frothing fanboy
What Kind Of Whovian Are You?
Make a Quiz

But I do like the new series! Oh well. Just because I can remember William Hartnell in An Unearthly Child.....

Thanks to Joe (who is the same kind of Whovian) for the link.

I suppose it's keeping him off the streets

Hands up (or click here) anyone who would like to see a neo-con nutter losing the plot completely in a comment thread on Kesher Talk.

The funny thing is, I wasn't arguing with him about Israel, or about the Bush administration, or about anything political. I simply pointed out (not for the first time) a couple of basic scientific errors in the novel (Josef6) he cross-posted on the site. And before you can say "Isaac Asimov" he's calling me a "pathetic little neo-Nazi cunt".

Little? Moi? There in a single word we see his grasp of reality.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Benjamin Kerstein of Diary of an Anti-Chomskyite. ("This blog is dedicated to the permanent and total discrediting of the work of Noam Chomsky and his fellow travelers.")

And he has about as much hope of that as he has of attaining -563 degrees Celsius with his liquid nitrogen cooling.

Freedom, as in Fries

Until I saw this cartoon I had no idea such a thing was being planned. But really: just look at the website and the list of worthies being given "Truman-Reagan Medals Of Freedom" following the dedication. William F Buckley Jr.? Henry M Jackson? Margaret Thatcher? Hell, couldn't they have dredged up a descendant of Hitler to receive a medal on his behalf? He was, after all, a great campaigner against the evils of communism.

I am mollified though by the realisation that as the "Medal of Freedom" has Reagan's name on it, it is clearly a joke, so presenting one to perhaps the greatest living apologist for fascist terror is an act of satire.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Back in the days when he made funny films

This story from the BBC reminded me of Woody Allen's second film Bananas. You must remember it: the one with him trying to buy a porno magazine surreptitiously in a store; the one where he helps someone park ("Back...back...come on...back....[CRASH OF COLLIDING VEHICLES]...OK, stop")*. Woody plays Fielding Mellish, who is a product tester, and in one of the first scenes we see him testing the Execusizer, a desk fitted out with all kinds of exercise gadgets such as springs fitted to the telephone handset, file drawers linked to weights, etc.

It didn't end well. (Well, the film ended OK for Mellish, but for the Execusizer, not so much.)

* My family once saw someone do this in real life, in the car park of a supermarket in Aboyne: they guided someone back into a space until the car hit a lamp-post.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

SZMS - you read it here first

In view of the propensity of Islamophobes everywhere, and especially Jewish Islamophobes on the American far right, to ascribe every violent act committed by a Muslim against a non-Muslim as an instance of Sudden Jihad Syndrome (and to have a good try even when the perpetrator isn't even a Muslim), may I be the first to unveil to the world....

Sudden Zionist Murder Syndrome.

Look out for further instances of this malady. Unfortunately. But don't expect any of the abovementioned Jewish-American right-wingers to mention them, because I have a feeling that their eyes simply aren't attuned to the frequency of this kind of terrorist murder, any more than to this kind.

Come ON, people

Would anyone care to post answers to my Four First Lines post? It's clear from the comments that Lisa, at least, knows two of the songs and the link, so let's have some answers! Then other people can try for the remaining songs.

What's Behind The Blouse?



....of this young lady?

Bollywood fans will know at once that the answer is "my heart" (and shame on the rest of you).

The lady in question is Madhuri Dixit, seen here singing probably her most famous (or infamous) song Choli ke Peeche (which translates to the title of this post) in the film Khal Nayak.

Madhuri is, with good reason, one of Bollywood's biggest female stars, and turned forty on Tuesday. Her most famous role, outside India at any rate, is as the courtesan Chandramukhi in Devdas.



Here, finally, is a little more Madhuri and a little less blouse (and that sounds so wrong....)



Happy birthday, Madhuri.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Spreading Good Vibes Since 1977

Anna is thirty years youthful today.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANNA! (waves).

Happy boaty to you
Happy boaty to you
Happy boaty, still afloaty
Happy boaty to you.

(Cheers, applause, streamers and popping of corks.)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Oh look, another example of Israeli rejectionism

Further proof of how serious the Israeli government is about peace in Palestine.

Still, if they really want a one-state solution to the problem I'm sure the rest of the world will be happy to implement one. Trouble is, I don't think the one state they'll get will be the one Olmert has in mind.

I bet I can guess which one is being better treated by his captors

I would like to ask all my readers who have blogs to add the Alan Johnston button to their sidebars as a gesture of support. And, of course, sign the online petition for his release.

However, let us also remember another journalist abducted, tortured and illegally held hostage, this time by those supporting the illegal occupation of Iraq rather than by those resisting the illegal occupation of Gaza. (I'm assuming it isn't in fact the Israelis holding Johnston as part of their programme of total media control concerning the occupation, though they have more to gain from his absence than the Palestinians). Unfortunately I couldn't find a button for your sidebars for Sami al-Haj, even though he's been held for over five years rather than Johnston's two months. Maybe you should just make a point of bookmarking al-Jazeera's site instead. It's a pretty good site, actually. For example, it headlines this story which I hadn't seen elsewhere.

Rocket To The Moon

It's good to know that, like Cuba, we in Scotland can confer the benefits of civilisation on countries unable to afford them. Or, in the case of the USA, too mean to spend the money on them. Strathclyde University is providing funding to send law graduates to defend prisoners on death row in the USA, most of whom are forced to rely on state-appointed lawyers who are mostly hopelessly inadequate (and sometimes actively corrupt). The scheme is in partnership with Reprieve, the charity established by Clive Stafford Smith, best known for his work exposing the horrors of Guantanamo Bay. (The only place in Cuba, incidentally, where torture routinely occurs.)

Escape (the Luis Posada song)

So now I guess it's official that the USA isn't fighting a war on terror, just on democracy. After all, a convicted terrorist mass murderer (mostly, but not entirely, of Cubans) released, while five Cuban anti-terrorist investigators still languish in jail after a show trial.

One can only assume that the US administration hates Cuban freedom. Or perhaps it's simply jealous of its vastly superior medical service, despite 50 years of illegal blockade by the USA which makes some medical supplies hard to obtain. Castro was quick to offer the services of his country's doctors to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, but of course the Bush administration turned the offer down (because, as you know, they had everything so well under control). (Not.) Cuban males have a greater life expectancy than American males, which probably has more to do with healthcare than with the undeniably lesser risk of being shot to death in Cuba. (And that's despite the disadvantage of their having to listen to Castro's speeches every year, which must raise the suicide rate.)

Or maybe the US government is just pissed off that half a century of its lies, invasions, assassination attempts, terrorism and economic strangulation have left the Cuban revolution as strong as ever. Indeed, in better shape than Bush will leave American democracy when he bows out.

Ray Davies, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 7 May 2007

A long-awaited gig, this. Not just because he was due to play back in autumn 2006 and had t cancel and reschedule, but two of his earlier visits to Edinburgh had been at times when neither Hilary nor I could go. Either we were out of Edinburgh or we were playing a concert somewhere. I was beginnign to think I was fated not to see Ray Davies. (In the same way as I kept managing to miss the film "Dark Star". One time after a few years of near misses, I was settling down to watch it on television and the TV packed up about 30 seconds in: unbelievable.)

Anyway, he didn't disappoint, though he did surprise in some ways. The first surprise was that he had no support band: there was just him and his backing band (guitar, keyboard, bass, drums) for two and a half hours (including a 20 minute interval). Value for money there, and an admirable work ethic. The second and biggest surprise was how bloody LOUD he was. I know the Kinks and the Who were rivals back in the day, but the first half of his concert was louder than any gig I've been to in the last twenty years (including, BTW, The Who). However, the volume came down a notch or two after the break, so I'm guessing (a) someone had a word with the sound crew (b) it wasn't intentional. Certainly it took me back to my much younger days of undiminished teenage hearing and of having to tell myself to relax and wait for my brain to make the necessary adjustment so it stopped being uncomfortable and distorted. The third surprise was that he did Autumn Almanac, which clearly he hadn't rehearsed with the band so did solo. Nice to see such spontaneity in someone who could simply be dialling in his performances after all this time.

Knowing how much material Davies has written over the years I wasn't really expecting a solo gig to be a Kinks hit-fest, but in fact out of the 23 songs he performed, 17 were originally done by the Kinks. I suppose someone as conscious of his roots as Davies would always tend to celebrate his personal history rather than try to put it behind him. He made a joke that he gets fined £10 by the band every time he mentions The Kinks on stage, but he is very obviously devoted to their memory.

His introductions were all amusing and interesting. The best was his description of two black guys in New Orleans (where he lived until recently - not sure if he still does) talking, and one saying "You see that honky guy over there? Well, he's the guy wrote that faggot song Lola." He also brought out his "favourite weapon in my arsenal", a 1957 Gibson hollow-body electric guitar. "I don't play it much, 'cos I'm not good enough" he quipped. (The band's guitarist used it on Sunny Afternoon and Dead End Street.)

And he hasn't changed a bit; well, the clothes, obv. The voice is exactly as it was. Ray Davies Is The 1960s Kinks Preservation Society. And, of course, much more.

Set list (I may have messed up the order a bit in the first half):

I'm Not Like Everybody Else
Where Have All The Good Times Gone?
After The Fall
Well Respected Man
Autumn Almanac
Next Door Neighbours
Celluloid Heroes
Till The End Of The Day
The Tourist
Twentieth Century Man
=======================
Nobody Listens To Me
Come Dancing
The Village Green
Sunny Afternoon
Dead End Street
Tired Of Waiting
All Day And All Of The Night
A Long Way From Home
Getaway (Lonesome Train)
Lola
Days
Waterloo Sunset
You Really Got Me

Four First Lines

Why only four? Well, there is a common element in these which I dare say you'll spot fairly easily. The songs themselves are quite diverse. One is moderately obscure, which undoubtedly means it will be the first to be guessed. Guesses in the comments box please, and I will score out lines as they're identified (title and artist(s)).

Here we go then:

1. Summer's gone, days spent with the grass and sun
The Boo Radleys: Wake Up, Boo (guessed by Phil)
2. Somethin' filled up my heart with nothin'
Arcade Fire: Wake Up (guessed by Lisa)
3. Come on, although ya try to discredit, ya still never edit the needle, I'll thread it
Rage Against The Machine: Wake Up (as used in the final sequence of The Matrix)
4. Unlock the door, it's time again to leave you
Roy Wood: Wake Up (from his album Boulders)

You should be able to infer the link now, which may jog the memory for numbers 3 and 4.

Although I wasn't thinking of a cinema link with #1, #3 does in fact have one. And #4 is an admittedly somewhat obscure track by a very far from obscure English rocker.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I suppose a shag (or even a gannet) is out of the question?

Poor old Albert. Let's hope he finds a compliant gannet who is into inter-species dating.

A shag shouldn't be that hard to find in Sulasgeir.

Local News

This story takes place in my local high street, indeed in a charity shop I sometimes go into.

Alarming.

Scots Wha Hae Nae

Joe asked in a comment:

Before the election there were some news stories here about Scotland separating from the UK as part of this election. What did they mean by that?

OK, for the non-Scots (and especially the non-British) part of my readership, a quick run-down on the Scottish National Party (SNP) which is now the largest party in the Scottish Parliament and is likely to be forming a minority administration with the Greens.

The SNP was formed back in the 1930s by a number of prominent and politically engaged Scots including Robert Cunninghame-Graham and Compton Mackenzie (of Whisky Galore fame). Its basic platform was home rule for Scotland, and there has always been a certain tension between those members who wanted home rule within the UK and those who wanted full independence. Since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament (or more correctly its re-establishment) the goal of home rule within the UK could be said to have been achieved, although the scope of the powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament is still a matter for vigorous debate. Devolution is seen as a given by all the main parties, though the UK Independence Party (a fringe right-wing bunch whose main concern is withdrawal from the European Union) campaigned on the basis of considerable dilution of it. The unique selling point of the SNP these days is that they are the only mainstream party committed in the long term to Scottish independence, i.e separation from England and the rest of the UK. (The Scottish Socialist Party and Solidarity share that aim, but they are small parties and neither obtained any seats this time round.) The SNP's manifesto included a pledge to conduct a referendum on independence by 2010. This is the commitment which has proved a sticking point regarding a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. As I said in the post on which Joe was commenting, if they had such a referendum now it's very unlikely that they'd win it, so refusing to join them and facilitate it seems short-sighted of those parties that believe in the continuation of the UK.

Commentators in such august newpapers as the Financial Times have recently voiced the opinion that the Scottish economy could survive outwith the Union. Dissatisfaction with Tony Blair, perhaps most particularly with his lukewarm attitudes to Europe and to devolution, also lend support to the drive for independence. It's not all people with Saltires dyed onto their faces, baring their arses at the English. Scotland has always been more left-wing than England, and of course there is great pride in our historic separate nationhood (after all it was a Scottish king who assumed the English crown, rather than vice versa).

So with the SNP being the probable next (minority) government, independence is going to be the elephant in the room, even if no referendum takes place.

When I first came to Scotland I lived in Stirling. When I drew the curtains in the morning I saw the Wallace Monument on Abbey Craig; every day I crossed Stirling Bridge (a later medieval structure roughly on the site of William Wallace's famous victory); and I regularly passed through Bannockburn. A good place, then, to be a newly-arrived Englishman....

OK?

(BTW, the title of this post is taken from an album of Jacobite and Scottish Nationalist songs recorded back in the 1960s by an ad-hoc group calling themselves The Dundonald. One of the latter was entitled Passing The Word, hence the title of my earlier post.) (I suppose my possession of that record underlines my status as a music nerd....)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Guilty as charged

What Be Your Nerd Type?
Your Result: Musician

Doo doo de doo waaaa doo de doo! (<-- That's you playing something.) Everyone appreciates the band/orchestra geeks and the pretty voices. Whether you sing in the choir, participate in a school/local band, or sit at home writing music, you contribute a joy to society that everyone can agree on. Yay! Welcome to actually doing something for poor, pathetic human souls. (Just kidding.)

Social Nerd
Drama Nerd
Literature Nerd
Science/Math Nerd
Artistic Nerd
Gamer/Computer Nerd
Anime Nerd
What Be Your Nerd Type?
Quizzes for MySpace

The relative sizes of the bars seem about right.

Thanks to Judith of Kesher Talk for the link.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Passing The Word

Good news: the SNP is the largest party in the new Scottish Parliament. (OK, old news, but I've been away.)

Bad news: much angst ahead as Salmond tries to build a workable coalition. My guess is he'll end up with an ad-hoc arrangement with the Lib Dems (their manifestos are about an 80-90% fit in any case) that falls short of a tight coalition (the LDs still being sniffy about an independence referendum which Alex is hardly going to jettison, it being the SNP's Unique Selling Point).

Worst case is that the Lib Dems and Labour will stitch the Nats up and form a coalition. As more people voted for the Nats (and specifically on the ballot papers for "SNP Alex Salmond For First Minister") than for either of those parties, that is liable to lead to a lot of rancour, and presumably a total SNP landslide come the next election. I hope they won't be that stupid, but Nicol Stephen is such a dolt and Jack McConnell so desperate (and so much under Downing Street's thumb) that I wouldn't rule it out.

I don't understand why the Lib Dems (and indeed Labour) aren't encouraging Salmond to have his referendum as soon as possible. If he had it today he'd lose by a huge margin, and (fan of independence though I am) I find it hard to see it being won other than after a long softening-up campaign. Denying the Nats the chance to put the question merely keeps it alive, and if they get a bigger majority next time they might have a chance of getting a Yes vote. If the question is put soon, and lost, it's kicked into touch far more effectively. That, after all, is what happened with the first devolution referendum back in the late seventies. Even though there were complaints about moved goalposts regarding the percentage of yes votes needed, the issue was effectively killed off for twenty years. As at present the Lib Dems could dictate the form of the question(s) to be put I cannot understand why they haven't grasped the chance to do some effective sabotage. Clearly Nicol Stephen really is as stupid as he appears.

The number of spoiled ballots is disgraceful, though some of the disgrace has to be laid at the door of the electorate. I mean, the papers really were not that difficult. The PR system for the parliament was the same one we've used in two other elections. Does the way the boxes are laid out on the paper really make that much difference? Have we reached a new low in literacy, such that people are unable to read the paper when they are filling it in? OK, the government was advised not to carry out two elections on the same day using different PR systems, and I can see that that was good advice. I certainly don't understand the minister who considered that having the two on the same day would make it easier for voters. But come on, guys, it isn't rocket science. The forms and instructions were perfectly clear. Look.

What is a scandal of a much higher order is the number of Scottish voters who were denied the chance to screw up their voting forms because they never received them. I refer to the unprecedently high number of postal voters who simply never received ballot papers at all. Now that really is a disgrace.

Best election night comment must surely be from Tommy Sheridan, having just failed to be elected to a Glasgow Regional List seat. Asked what he thought had gone wrong, he said "Well (name of interviewer), the people of Glasgow failed to vote for me and for my party in sufficient numbers". A dignified response to a damn fool question.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

There's no way Elizabeth I of England is coming out of this well

I was just looking (online) at the British National Party's Manifesto for the Scottish Parliamentary Election. The section on education policy ("including the reintroduction of corporal punishment") contains the following gem which I had to share with you.

While it is in some cases wholly appropriate to include study of foreign languages, customs, history, geography and religion, this should be done in the context that they are foreign.

I'm sure the BNP will be pleased when schools from Kyleakin to Kirkcaldy begin to stress in that their classes that Edward II was a foreign invader, and when Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in Skye stresses that English is a foreign language whenever they use it in a class. There will be no more of those wicked Church of Scotland prayers without a stern reminder that Calvin was Swiss and Luther a German. Popish Roman nonsense will have no place in the BNP's brave new Scotland, having in any case been imported from Ireland by St. Columba, St Ninian from England, and all those other incomers who forced out the perfectly good pagan religion that had served this country for generations. I expect the BNP will require all Scottish schoolchildren to watch The Wicker Man. (The 1973 original with Edward Woodward, naturally, not the Nicolas Cage remake.)

But the BNP needn't worry. Any Scottish school child who looks round the Halifax Bank of Scotland Museum (a fascinating place, incidentally) at The Mound in Edinburgh, can see a splendid collection of Scottish coins, all informatively and appropriately labelled. The most recent ones, for example, are from the reign of Elizabeth I and II. No, we're in no danger here of forgetting the essential foreign-ness of southern incomers such as myself. However, because of the inclusive multicultural society the BNP rails so strongly against, I have never for one moment felt unwelcome in my adopted home.

Ute Lemper, Usher Hall Sunday 29 April

I was chatting to the pianist Richard Beauchamp at the interval. We'd both originally had seats in the Upper Circle and had been upgraded to the Grand Circle because the Upper Circle wasn't being used. We agreed that it was surprising that an Ute Lemper concert hadn't managed to fill the Usher Hall. I'm still amazed afterwards, because it was a heck of a concert.

We began with the support act, (The Real) Tuesday Weld. I knew the name: they're a strange amalgam of jazz and drum machines, and evidently are the crowd responsible for the music for the recent-ish Lucozade ads with the surreal assembly line. (This was obvious because they used animations by the same guy as backdrops to their act.) Musically they were very good if a little lacking in variety.

Ute Lemper herself was gorgeous in every way. Some people give concerts, others put on a show, and Ute is in the latter category. She began her evening with a Yiddish song cycle, moved on to Kurt Weill (Surabaya Johnny, Bilbao Song, Die Moritat von Mackie Messer), Jacques Brel (Amsterdam) and Kander & Ebb (All That Jazz, segueing into Weill's Alabama Song and showing just how well Lemper can do scat singing as she duetted with each of her four backing musicians in turn). She did Lili Marleen, she did They Call Me Naughty Lola (from The Blue Angel) and a couple of songs of her own, Blood and Feathers and Ghosts of Berlin, the latter inspired by Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire and telling the story of the 10,260 days of the Berlin Wall from construction to demolition. ("Actually I have to tell you that the wall stood for 10,258 days, not 10,260. But it was harder to make that rhyme.") And by way of more variety, a terrific version of Van Morrison's Moondance.

We could have listened to her all night.

Thee's gotten where thee cassn't back'n hassn't?

You know those "Police Aware" stickers that you see on abandoned cars? Do you think the Mumbai police have put one on this?

However, the BBC's description "The driver has not been seen since" isn't a patch on the standard Indian newspaper-speak for such cases, "The driver is absconding".

...and I'll tak' the low toad

So now we know what strange beastie lurks at the bottom of Loch Ness. OK, so it's a wee bit smaller than the Highlands and Islands Tourist Board might have hoped for. But there it is.

You mean not everyone finds tax returns erotic?

From our (guest) conductor at tonight's rehearsal:

"Come on, this is Berlioz. If it isn't over the top it's underdone. I mean, anyone with that hairstyle...."

"This is a love scene. You're supposed to be talking about love, not discussing how to fill out your tax returns."

"Rostropovich, God rest his soul, said 'I love to play pianissimo. Then to relax, I need to play fortissimo.'"

"Louder please, clarinet. Yes I realise it's marked pianissimo, but the violins down here are playing something I'd really rather not hear."

"That was miles better. Ladies and gentlemen, a tribute to the miraculous power of tea!"

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

So it's come to this

Posts from Riverbend are always welcome, especially as they have become less frequent these days. This one, though, is particularly sad, not so much because of the turning point it represents for her and her family but for the fact that so many of her fellow Iraqis suffer much worse, and all for nothing.

Mona Gowan, Saturday 28 April

Last weekend I was up at the Ballater flat. I had a few odds and ends to do online, so spent Saturday lunchtime in Cybernaut, blogging and emailing while paying my respects to Merlin (local four-legged celebrity) who repaid them by allowing himself to be patted before lying down and snoring loudly. In the afternoon, as the weather was wonderful, I decided to climb Scraulac, a small hill off the Tomintoul road. Once I was up that, as it was a long time to sunset and nothing other than Dr Who called me back to Ballater, I figured had time to walk over to Mona Gowan, which is a Graham (a hill between 2000 and 2499 feet in height with a 150 foot drop all round). The terrain wasn't terribly interesting (basically a grouse moor) but the views in all directions were superb, from Bennachie to the Hill of Fare, and from Morven to Mount Keen, and on to Lochnagar (still with a few patches of snow) and thence to Ben Avon (with rather a lot of snow). Underfoot conditions weren't too bad as it was a dry period, but the combination of thick heather and deep peat wherever the paths gave out must be grim in the wet. I saw hundreds of grouse (well, duh, it's a grouse moor), dozens of hares (even if they were repeat sightings I saw a minimum of four), and a couple of very large, very croaky crows which might have been ravens (though I'm always sceptical - they may have just have been very large and loud carrion crows). As I was walking up Scraulac there was a Land Rover ahead of me on the track. I never saw it again all afternoon. That's what I love about Scottish hills, that you can simply lose a Land Rover in them. I saw no other walkers, and nobody else. Walking by yourself in places like that is slightly risky, but worth it for a degree of solitude which nowhere else in Britain can supply.

I must mention a delightful optical illusion furnished by Mona Gowan. Have a look at this map (if you want a smaller scale one to locate the mountain, or pictures of the summit, Google can provide them):



Looking from Scraulac (on the left) over to Mona Gowan, one sees one hill with a cairn on it and assumes it to be Cairnagour Hill. It isn't though: that hill is just below the horizon, such that the large cairn on Mona Gowan appears to be a normal-sized one on Cairnagour Hill. A neat trick.

New horizons in self-delusion

So Donald Wolfowitz may be willing to resign, but only if all the charges against him are dropped. Hmmm. Let's see: how likely is it that he'd stick to that agreeement, given that it's a breach of an earlier undertaking by the amazing Mr W (not to involve himself in the personnel management of his girlfriend) that has led him to where he is? Not very, I suspect.

"The goal of this smear campaign, I believe, is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy that I am an ineffective leader".

No, Donald, the goal of this campaign is to point out not that you are ineffective, but that you are corrupt. A crook. Swindling the World Bank to enrich your girlfriend. Altogether too effective at that.

"I will not resign in the face of a plainly bogus charge of conflict of interest."

Stick around and be ignominiously fired, then. It's just a pity that every day you stay you damage the organisation you patently couldn't care less about other than as a means of self-enrichment. Just another Bush appointee utterly disgracing your office, like Rumsfeld and Bolton, though they were simply mendacious incompetents rather than crooks.

"Only when the cloud of these unfair and untrue charges is removed, will it be truly possible to determine objectively whether I can be an effective leader of the World Bank."

No, I think the answer to that one was clear when you were caught with your hand in the till. How can you be effective when nobody in the world trusts you?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Anna Was Right!

If you click on this link you will get nothing else done for about an hour, Or possibly a day. Or a lifetime....

Just as Anna predicted.

The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today

As Lisa has eloquently pointed out, it's May Day. But I knew that, and so did you. (However, it's easy to forget exactly what the "International Workers' Day" was originally established to commemorate, so here is a reminder.

As she has also pointed out - and which I didn't know - it's also Blogging Against Disablism Day 2007. Read all about it over at Diary Of A Goldfish (pausing only to admire that blog's splendid URL).

Reading about May Day, and maypoles, reminded me that when I lived in London I saw a maypole (sadly a Victorian replica rather than a real medieval one) which hangs near where my wife used to work in Leadenhall Street. It's still there, as is the nearby church of St Andrew Undershaft whose name derives from its having been annually overtopped by the original. Nowadays it is more spectacularly overtopped by the somewhat less phallic (though more Gherkinoid) Swiss Re building.

Maypole riots, labour riots; workers' rights and the trade union movement's equalities agenda; English history, American history; sermons and blogs.

Now I think I shall go and listen to my CD of Frederic Rzewski's The People United Will Never Be Defeated.....

And sent him pollwards to vote again

Not for the first time, Phil (I used to be able to specify ActuallyExistingPhil but now it's GapingSilentPhil, which doesn't sound as cool) has hit the nail on the head over the dilemma facing the left-wing voter this week. His hammer is here.

At least up here we now have PR for both Parliament and Council (top-up lists and STV respectively). So it's possible both to cast a protest vote and to have one's vote count. Perhaps unsurprisngly, the SNP, who might reasonably hope to be the main beneficiaries of the average voter's disgust with New Labour, are not encouraging such a use of the votes, but campaigning for voters to use both their parliamentary votes for the SNP. Ditto, mutatis mutandis, for the Greens, SSP, Solidarity etc.

Last time I voted for the Scottish Socialist Party, but after all the high-profile infighting over Tommy Sheridan's libel action I'm disinclined to do that again, as I suspect a number of the SSP leadership did in fact take the opportunity to stitch up Mr S. And even if the Sheridan flag is still flying high, Solidarity is a mere shadow of the party the SSP used to be: even smaller than the rump of the SSP we're left with now. So a plague on both their houses: I shall be voting SNP this week, for the Parliament at least. I might give one of the more left-wing parties my first preference in the council vote. To be honest I'm not sure what the council ballot paper looks like, except large. The Regional List ballot paper is pretty big, with all the loony parties represented, and I imagine the council election may be even more diverse.

Interesting times.