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

Saturday, June 30, 2007

If this is technically within the code the mind boggles at the dress-down days

This from the International Herald Tribune, supplied by LabourStart (it may still be on the "Trade Union News" feed over there on the right).

I liked "But a few times in the past year, male controllers have worn dresses or kilts to work". A bloke in a kilt probably wouldn't raise an eyebrow in our office, though men in dresses would be strictly for dress-down Fridays.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Knock knock, who's there?

...being a further selection of the search terms that have led people to my blog door (and not, as you might have thought, a celebration of Mary Hopkins's second-placed 1970 Eurovision entry).

Napoleon XIV ha ha
Dilbertisms
what was the name of Pugwash's boat
Justin Hawkins pulls button off Ed Graham
Duchy of Westminster
fat man being arrested
erymas dies in chapter 16
the best of Al Stewart +blogspot
cartoon turkey
"what we did on our holidays" by Rachel fan fiction
analysis of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
operation +yeti paedophile
montmartre steps great race

Axis of Evil

After reading this one really does wonder why anyone would want to visit the United States right now. (Hat tip: Islamophobia Watch.)

(It's OK Joe - I'll come and visit once democracy has been restored.)

The Silence Of The Newts

From a comment on a post over at Jews Sans Frontieres about Tony Blair's unforgivable appointment as Middle East Envoy:

Tony Blair reminds me of Hugh Laurie playing Bertie Wooster (P.G. Wodehouse's thick as a brick aristocrat). There's this marvelous glassy-eyed stare Laurie did whenever Bertie didn't understand something. You got the impression that early on Bertie realized that there was going to be A LOT that he didn't understand, but that it didn't matter. As long as he remained affable and likeable that would be enough to get by on. And so it's proved for Tony Blair.

Unfortunately while Bertie had Jeeves to help him out, Tony has always been stuck with a clique of butt-licking advisors with the intellectual depth of Gussie Fink-Nottle. But without the newts.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

You couldn't make it up

...and would you want to if you could?

The man whose sole contribution to the politics of West Asia was to delay the ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon while he worked on his soundbites, thus causing a few thousand more civilian deaths, has been appointed the Middle East envoy of the Quartet (USA, Russia, EU and UN).

What in the name of Christ/Allah/G_d could they have been thinking of? Did they try Salman Rushdie and get a refusal? Was Osama bin Laden not answering his telephone?

Could they have found anyone less qualified for the job? Former Foreign Secretary Lord (Douglas) Hurd described Blair as "uniquely disqualified" for the job. It is rather like giving Josef Mengele the contract to design a Holocaust memorial.

Still, one must concentrate on the important question: what are the eye-catching initiatives with which Bliar can be personally associated? Would that be the Lebensraum Wall? The uninspected and unregulated Israeli nuclear weapons programme? Or the continued refusal of Israel to permit Palestinians to attend university (while bleating about suppression of academic freedom if its own access to the British gravy train is threatened)? I'm sure that any of those victories for the Blairite way would amply supplement the legacy of a liar to Parliament, a murderer of British soldiers and Iraqi civilians, and an accomplice of corrupt arms dealers.

The best one can hope for, I fear, is that he rapidly stops a bullet that might otherwise have killed someone of value to humanity.

Beep beep.

I read this and it reminded me of Wile E. Coyote and his Acme Rocket Sled. I'm sorry, but it did.
















Which then brought to mind this wonderful piece of humour.

Haggis Sophia

This is just weird. (Thanks to Boing Boing for the link.)

The Saunderses had a long weekend in Lyon earlier this year. Just think what we missed....

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

2 + 2 = 5 for very large values of 2

One of the questions on Feeling Listless (see preceding post) was:

What do you feel provides the human race with answers closest to the truth, Science or Religion?

Stuart came down on the side of science, as did most of his commenters. (See here.)

I personally thought the question posed a false dichotomy, and said so. And as I wrote my extensive comment, I thought I might as well stick it on EKN and invite my own readers to submit their tuppenceworth. Here we are, then.

===============================

Um. If one takes the question as being a valid one then I think Stuart's answer is the only one possible. But is it a valid question, or is it like asking "Which provides answers closer to the truth, cookery or football?" However much the creationists might wish otherwise, science and religion were never intended to provide alternative answers to the same questions. If you want to know why your arm feels cold when it gets wet, you don't ask a priest. But if you want to know whether my feeling of "cold" is the same as Stuart's, you wouldn't ask a scientist either. You'd ask a philosopher, and in my book there's pretty much a continuum between philosophy and religion, with the differences coming down to branding. Some brands place more value on individual thought than on group conformity, others don't. It has often been said that there is nothing intrinsic to Buddhism, for example, which makes it a religion rather than a philosophy. Belief in a god, for example, is optional.

Philosophy, in my opinion, can answer questions that by definition fall outwith the purview of science but which are interesting for all that. If our universe came into existence at the instant of the big bang, was there nothing at all prior to that (in any sense) or merely nothing - obviously - in our universe? Might our universe be part of a greater "universe2"? If our universe is open and thus does not recollapse, what implications might this have for any underlying "universe2"? What does it mean to be conscious? What does it mean to be intelligent? Are the two questions the same, related, or completely independent? If we created a machine, how could we establish whether or not it was conscious? If it was, would we have created a form of life, regardless of its replicative power?

Questions like these are by their nature not amenable to scientific answers. Scientists are quite capable of making the distinction: when I was a (chemistry) undergaraduate my physicist buddies had classes on The Interpretation Of Quantum Mechanics. These didn't discuss the (universally true in gia's terms) equations which are the heart of QM, but discussed the various ways in which physicists have attempted to give meaning to what those equations represent, whether by means of "hidden variables" (Einstein/Rosen/Podolsky) or "parallel worlds" (Everett/Wheeler/Graham) or whatever. A purist would say that it's the equations that perfectly describe reality, with the various interpretative paradigms just enabling us to make sense of it, like the shadows in Plato's cave. And that, surely, is what the whole (false) science/religion dichotomy comes down to. Science tells us more or less perfectly how the world works, and even (up to a point what it IS. Religion tells us what it means, and boldly treads beyond any point science could reach even if it wanted to, in suggesting what it is in a (warning: loaded language coming) more fundamental sense.

Let me finish by pointing out that Plato identified more kinds of knowledge (and hence truth) than just scientific and religious, or even philosophical. His system made room for aesthetic truth (opening a whole other can of worms: why is it that one work of art comes closer to universal appeal than another? can you disentangle cultural conditioning from intrinsic value? aaargh....) but perhaps more interestingly he distinguished between mathematical truth and scientific truth. And of course he was absolutely right about that: a mathematical truth can be proved true. A scientific truth can simply withstand disproof. It's like the difference (which once caused a lot of excitement) between formal proof of correctness of computer programs, and rigorous and thorough testing thereof. One can imagine worlds where the laws of physics are different from our own: think of George Gamow and his Mr Tompkins stories, where the values of h and c are tweaked. It's difficult, though, to imagine worlds where 2 + 2 is not 4. (Though less basic concepts can bend: think of the sum of the angles of a triangle on surfaces of varying curvature.) And since Godel's Theorem, we have had to admit that even mathematical truth has limits. And is that fact (a mathematical truth) significant? Bring on the philosophers, priests and shamen to answer that.

Bouncing around the blogosphere

I've just had one of those funny passages of blogging where I followed a link, found something, followed another, did a scan to find something else and suddenly was confronted with not only a new blog but what looks like a rather splendid post thereon to unwrap at my leisure.

I'd been over at Mad Musings of Me to get Gert's email address so I could tell her I'd tagged her (see previous post). While I was at it I mentioned that I'd recently linked to a piece of musical humour she might enjoy.

Which put me in mind of where I'd found it, so it was off to 2nd Altos Like The Bottom Parts where I read Jocelyn's comments on the BBC's Glastonbury coverage. She mentioned that her other blog had had to be taken down, and I realised I couldn't remember its name, hence the Googling. And while I had a page of hits up for "Halle Choir" AND "Jocelyn" I found a reference to her in a list of Mancunian blogs on The Manchizzle. And next to that I found a reference to this post on what would seem to be a promising blog. I'm looking forward to reading the extended answers to the highly varied questions his readership came up with.

And every time I visit The Manchizzle I begin to feel a little homesick for Manchester. Only a little, mind, seeing as how I last lived there (actually a few hundred metres outside Greater Manchester, in Cheshire, if I'm pedantic) full-time in 1973 and moved out altogether on August Bank Holiday 1977. I was born there, though (bang in the middle, diagonally across the junction from what's now the Palace Hotel, and thus where this picture was taken from). Lots of happy memories.

And in another piece of serendipity, the Google scan that found me the Palace Hotel picture also returned this beauty.

Oh you'll never see my face, or hear the sound of my feet
While there's a moon over Whitworth Street....

Mi chiamano Meme

Clare Sudbery of the Crayonically Capacious Boobs has tagged me with a meme, thusly:

(1) Tell your readers three things about you that would make you the Ideal Housemate if you were imprisoned in a house with ten random strangers for weeks on end. Then three things that'd make you the Housemate From Hell.

(2) Think very hard about whether you would like Clare, the creator of this wonderful meme, to win
Big Blogger 2007. And then vote for her anyway. Because, well, she's ace, and... ah what the hell. Just vote for her. She's ace.

(3) Tag as many people as possible with this meme. Quickly! The voting ends at midday on Mon 2nd July!

OK then. Ideal Housemate Dept.:

(a) I'm not too bad at cooking.
(b) Although I'm not a tidy person I do generally clean up after myself.
(c) I'm pretty good at sympathy and hugs.

Housemate from Hell Dept.:

(a) I snore. Loudly.
(b) I hate reality TV shows so have only the vaguest idea what's supposed to go on in the Big Brother House. Apart from making racist remarks, and I'm crap at that. The one time I watched Big Brother for about two minutes, the camera was showing an empty room. That's it. Wow.
(c) I don't have a very high tolerance of stupidity. Sorry.

Tagging. Um, who hasn't Clare already tagged? Strictly, nobody, but let's see. Who are my regulars? How about Joe and Phil? And Gert? And Rachie? And ooh, ooh, she didn't get Neil Cloud.

Now vote for Clare anyway, because she rocks.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

It's legacy time

Not being a regular Independent reader, I missed this article listing the various fundamental rights enjoyed by all our EU partners which the government was at such pains to ensure were not to be shared with its own citizens. (Hat tip: Blairwatch)

Protection from eugenic practices
Protection from torture
Protection from removal to a state where there is a serious risk of torture
Protection from slavery

Good for a start, eh?

Right to freedom of association
Right to freedom of assembly
Right to protection of personal data
Right to strike

Gosh. How relieved I am that our government has saved us from receiving these rights and protections.

I had to laugh at an article in the Guardian at the weekend which was expressing relief that Blair had not managed to "persuade" Brown to take us into the Single European Currency. As though the most Eurosceptic Prime Minister of my lifetime (and no, I haven't forgotten Thatcher) ever had the slightest intention of doing any such thing. To be honest I'm surprised Blair - with his policies perennially driven by the reactions of Daily Mail readers - didn't withdraw us from the EU altogether.

is it just me....

...or does this story smack of a set-up?

I mean, coincidence is a wonderful thing. There just happened to be a "prominent human rights activist" in the vicinity when Cameron Diaz was visiting Macchi Picchu. And he just happened to be able to read Chinese. And he recognised (of course) the exhortation "Serve the people", far from being an innocent call for democracy and humility, was a quotation from Chairman Mao. whose ideology had been used some years ago by Sendero Luminoso to justify their reign of terror.

What were the odds? Read Chinese/recognise quotation/be a human rights activist (because simply being a peasant wouldn't carry the implication that Diaz was in some way infringing the Peruvians' rights)/happen to be in the same place as Diaz when she was carrying the bag.

Sounds like a manufactured story to me: reporter in Lima (or wherever) notices bag, wonders what it says, gets translation done, sees opportunity to create a marketable story by making mischief, phones ahead to pal in Macchu Picchu to watch out for Diaz, "chance" spotting of bag, fuss, story, $$$.

Call me cynical by all means, but I think the whole thing stinks.

UPDATE: Here is a Peruvian who agrees with me that the whole thing is a fuss about nothing (at least he does if my nascent Spanish and BabelFish's surreal suggestions grasp his meaning aright.) He doesn't go as far as I do in proclaiming the whole thing a set-up; to him it's merely a non-story.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

....and thanks for all the fish

Going away for a few days. Back soon.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Responses from the Norm

I hope Norman Geras won't mind my posting an email exchange we have just had, as I did say I would be posting a clarification. Further to my post on his post, he sent me this:

Dear Rob

Thanks for the link and the discussion. I'll have to read the post again and when I'm less pressed than right now, but I certainly don't agree with this...

To deny the divinity of Jesus would be harder to prize apart from mere anti-Christian bigotry, especially if it were done in deliberately offensive terms (such as describing Christianity as a religion of sublimated cannibalism).

I do deny the divinity of Jesus but don't consider myself an anti-Christian bigot, and while I try not to be offensive about the religious beliefs of others, people can be offensive about beliefs without vilifying those who hold them.

Best, Norm

=======================================

Dear Norman

Reading it again, I don't agree with it either. I don't think I meant to use "deny" there; I suspect I was trying to avoid repetition of "criticise" and got the wrong word. "To castigate belief in the divinity of Jesus...." is the idea I had in mind, my point being that it's a central tenet of the religion rather than one which is the subject of debate among adherents. Now one can disagree with it (and non-Christians obviously do) but it's a difficult trick to do so without suggesting that
holding the belief is in some way worse, or less valid, than not holding it. Beliefs imply believers, and it then gets very easy to impute stupidity, or worse, to the latter if one is careless in one's criticism.

I remain unconvinced, for example, that one can describe a religion as "backward" without implying a similar backwardness in those who choose to follow it. And as a religion in itself has no way of being "violent", the violence can only come from its followers. I don't deny the possibility of an impersonal critique such as you describe, but I cannot agree that Hirsi Ali's attacks can be viewed in that light.

When I get home I'll clarify my meaning, but feel free to comment before then.

And I'm quite sure you're not an anti-Christian bigot. I don't suppose Richard Dawkins is either, but from time to time his rhetoric runs away with him and he falls in to the trap I describe above.

Regards

Rob

=========================================

Dear Rob

Dawkins certainly does fall into the trap - but then he just does stray from criticizing religious belief to ridiculing people who are religious.

It may well be that if I say upfront that a particular belief is nonsensical, someone who holds that belief will feel hurt. I have sometimes found that, myself, when people dismiss Marxism in very belittling terms. But this doesn't mean anyone is obliged to speak gently when they speak about beliefs - so I defend the distinction. Otherwise we'd all have to be respectful of all beliefs, however wrong we may think them, for fear of offending people.

Best, Norm


==========================================

So: thanks to Norman for pointing out that I hadn't written what I intended (DOH!) and for the interesting exchange of views.

I don't think, though, that we need to be respectful of all beliefs for fear of offending people. Sometimes people deserve to be offended, or shamed. But let's be clear about when we're making respectful points about beliefs and when we're firing salvoes. I have no doubt that Norm can tell the difference, but Ayaan Hirsi Ali? Not so much, in my opinion. Her collaboration with Theo van Gogh makes it at the very least a credible supposition that she is deliberately denigrating the holders of the beliefs she despises.


P.S.

***I hope Norman Geras won't mind ***

...and he didn't, though he was a little surprised at my breach of blogging etiquette for which I have duly apologised.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

They were probably hoping for "Farewell Aldebaran" or "Die Tote Stadt"

Some Neds broke into my car today and nicked the CD player and some CDs. They may get a shock though, as the CD player was on its last legs (several legs had already fallen off: it jumped every time I drove over a speed bump or hit a rough surface, the controls were getting very hit-and-miss, half the backlighting didn't work and it had stopped playing some CDs altogether).

They may get an even bigger shock with the CDs. They have: a compilation of Les Soeurs Goadec, Mahler 5, a collection of Soviet trumpet concertos, the most recent Thomas Truax (Why Dogs Howl At The Moon); also The Best of Ute Lemper, a Peggy Lee album (Black Coffee / Sea Shells) and The Nauka Charitram, which is a kind of Indian opera. Not exactly the kind of stuff there's a ready market for (though I suppose I've done my involuntary bit to spread the word about Thomas Truax).

I rather like the thought of the thieves sifting through their haul of CDs and thinking WTF?

Film Quote

You don't understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been an EineKleineRob.

Which movie was this quote from?

Get your own quotes:


Via Lisa and many others.

All the myriad ways

Search terms by which EKN has been found recently:

Napoleon XIV blogspot

rolling stones greatest hits "shuffling down the street"

i am a sundial, and i make a botch

autograph man pope joke

Islam misogyny

"the amazing mr. w"

and my personal favourite.........

sophia loren bdsm

Plus of course the normal ragbag of "see-through T-shirt", "hand turkey" to which I can now add "Alan Dershowitz" and "Anthony Julius", (as a pair of tits, or a pair of turkeys; either way).

More than just a label

Rachel Papo's photographic essay Serial No 3817131 is a study of women in the Israeli Defence Force. Her description of the piece includes:

Rather than portraying the soldier as heroic, confident, or proud, my images disclose a complexity of emotions. The soldier is often caught in a transient moment of self-reflection, uncertainty, a break from her daily reality, as if questioning her own identity and state of contradiction. She is a soldier in uniform but at the same time she is a teenage girl who is trying to negotiate between these two extreme dimensions. She is in an army base surrounded by hundreds like her, but underneath the uniform there is an individual that wishes to be noticed.

However much one may deplore some of the IDF's actions, pieces like this which demonstrate (as if it were necessary) that it is made up of real - sometimes vulnerable and confused - people who are more than simply caricatures are very valuable. I though some of the pictures were nothing short of brilliant.

Now I await something similar showing that Palestinians are not all mindless Jihadis.

(Via.)


Phew.




Your Vocabulary Score: A+



Congratulations on your multifarious vocabulary!

You must be quite an erudite person.



(Via.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

An idea whose time has come. Or will. Or maybe already did.

This is rather cool. Both the actual science and the way it's being funded.

I liked "Almost everything in quantum theory is mind-boggling and outside the box, sometimes transforming the box into an inverted spherical cube of infinite volume or forcing an entirely new definition of the essence of boxness".

And the fact that Cramer is ready to learn things even from the failure of his experiment is the sign of a decent scientist.

A departure from the Norm

I hesitate to say this, he being a living legend and all that, but Norman Geras (of Normblog) is wrong about Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

May I say at the outset that, unlike some of her critics, I have no desire to see her dead. Actually, despite her much-reported beauty, and despite my Lord Chancellor-like susceptibility, I have no desire to see her at all. Nothing would please me more than that she stayed in the United States and never again cast her shadow on European soil.

I have two problems with AHA. One relates to her, one to her hordes of admirers. The latter, for whatever reason (and many of them are undoubtedly using her to promote their own agendas) are eager to repeat every falsehood she has ever uttered as gospel truth. Thus in Julie Szego's article AHA "fled to freedom in the Netherlands". Well, actually that's bollocks. AHA was an economic migrant, "fleeing" the relative poverty of peaceful middle-class Nairobi for the better prospects of the EU. I don't have a problem with that, but to gloss it as a flight to freedom is to devalue the journey of every genuine asylum-seeker. Nor was she fleeing a forced marriage, merely an arranged one: more Bollywood than Amnesty International.

One also has to question the motives of her supporters when they elevate Theo van Gogh (the film-maker with whom AHA collaborated and who was brutally murdered) into some kind of secular saint. This is someone who would have scorned Norman's nice distinction between criticism of Islam and vilification of Muslims: he regularly referred to Muslims as "goatfuckers". He was also a notorious anti-Semite who accused a Jewish critic of having sexual fantasies about Josef Mengele, and who referred to "having sex Treblinka-style, in the gas chamber". Yet because of the manner of his death, AHA's work as his scriptwriter for what can only be described as a piece of anti-Islamic pornography is invariably presented by her apologists as a championing of human rights, rather than as the tawdry example it is of money-driven collaboration with racist evil.

To return to AHA herself, let us first dispose of her hypocrisy. As one who had lied to gain entry to the Netherlands, she devoted much of her political career to preventing asylum-seekers fleeing real danger from entering in her wake. Her much-vaunted (by herself and her cronies) work for Muslim women in the Netherlands does not appear to be much valued by those she supposedly helped, who would rather have done without her self-promoting "assistance".

But most damning of all, in view of Norman's insistence on the important distinction between criticism of Islam and vilification of Muslims, is that AHA makes no such distinction, whatever Julie Szego may say. AHA explicitly denies that there is any difference between "extreme" and "moderate" Muslims. In other words, Islam is completely homogeneous. When she decries it as a "backward faith based on misogyny, violence and total submission" she allows no room for individual differences of approach among Muslims. All are by her definition wedded to the ideas she posits as "Islamic" (no matter that they are far from universally held by real Muslims).

Let me make the point clearer. We are not talking here about a polite discussion of points of Islamic theology. It is as though I were to describe Judaism as a primitive faith based on animal sacrifice and with a history of the use of human blood in its rituals. (Yes, I know it's not true: a consideration which doesn't stop AHA and her fans.) Imagine how convincing I would sound if I protested that I was only criticising Judaism and not beng anti-Semitic.

Norman's distinction is a good one if one allows that not every adherent of the religion being criticised agrees with every official tenet of the religion in question. Then it works. For example one might criticise the Christian doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. To deny the divinity of Jesus would be harder to prize apart from mere anti-Christian bigotry, especially if it were done in deliberately offensive terms (such as describing Christianity as a religion of sublimated cannibalism).

It is interesting that in Szego's article AHA is at pains to point out that she is critical of Islam, not Muslims, conveniently overlooking that the terms in which she chooses to "criticise" render the distinction irrelevant. She emphasises, for example, that female genital mutilation is un-Islamic, yet is content for her followers (including Szego) to treat it as an Islamic atrocity. Most damning of all, she feels the need to state that "the prophet Muhammed was a paedophile by contemporary standards". Quite what we are to make of this irrelevant comparison between 7th century Arabian sexual mores and those of 21st century Britain I'm not sure. However: (a) it is utterly without relevance to any discussion of Islam, being a purely ad hominem attack, one moreover on a 1400-year-dead Arabian (b) it is chillingly reminiscent of the British National Party's preferred description of Islam as "The Cult of the Dead Paedophile" - strange bedfellows indeed (c) by the same reckoning, as women generally married between the ages of 12 and 14 in Judea at the beginning of the Christian era, that would make Joseph - and, er, God - paedophiles "by contemporary standards".

Norman's distiction is indeed a valuable one, but to is not one to which Ayaan Hirsi Ali herself subscribes. Her rise to personal glory has been achieved at the expense of thousands of exploited and betrayed compatriots, while AHA was busy raking in the proceeds of her collaboration with a worthless racist. If she wishes to tell lies about Islam, about what Muslims (by her reckoning, all Muslims) believe, she is at liberty to do so. Forgive me if I don't join in the uncritical chorus of Islamophobic hatred. And forgive me too if I'm saddened that Norman Geras appears to do so.

If arm falls off, reattach and play much slower

I thought this was one of the funniest things I'd found on the Internet in years.

I'm prepared to admit that its humour is targeted at musicians, though I don't think you need to read music to find it funny. (It's even funnier if you do, though.) The more you look, the more funny things you find, including the instruction I used as the title.

As right now my own (right) arm isn't working well enough to play my (newly re-varnished and with Tacoma-Narrows-warped bridge replaced) violin, owing to some kind of playing-related RSI in my shoulder (awaiting physio), that one seems extremely apposite.....

(Via.)

...or are you just pleased to see me?

An interesting article here on Phantom Vibration Syndrome. Never had it myself, thoug I do sometimes imagine I've heard the (landline) phone ring when it definitely hasn't (my not being at home is quite a giveaway for that one). (via.)

Us and Them

I thought this was an incredibly heartening story, about a restaurant in Ahmedabad where the food is prepared and served entirely by HIV-positive people. As a way of getting over the message that they won't hurt you unless you have unprotected sex with them, or share hypodermic needles (and it isn't either of those kinds of establishment!) it's hard to beat.

I know we in Britain like to think we're more enlightened about that kind of thing, but when you consider that the BNP likes to claim that tuberculosis is a result of immigration, maybe we need a restaurant like the Ahmedabad one here in Britain. At least it would be somewhere you could be sure of not meeting BNP members....

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Wit of Jane Austen

Over on Normblog, Norm posts on the wit of Jane Austen. His examples are fair enough, but omit my personal favourite, so I shall add it here. It is, simply, Chapter Two of Sense and Sensibility. I can't say in honesty that it reduces me to a puddle of hysterical giggles when I read it: it isn't Reggie Perrin, or Bertie Wooster, but it never fails to raise a smile. What it is, is a perfect (I don't think I overstate) description of a self-seeking person deflecting a well-intentioned one from his intention by systematic dilution. We have all known people like that (the deflector and the deflectee), but how many of us could put so much deadpan humour and dry wit in their description?

I may have been fortunate in that I never studied Jane Austen at school; I'm not sure she's ideal teenage fiction in general. My introduction to her was from a girlfriend when I was twenty. I read P&P, Emma, then S&S. I never warmed to Persuasion as much as the other novels (much to my girlfriend's disgust as it was her favourite) but the three I have cited made a great impression on me; and I suspect it may have been the unexpected humour in them that won me over. If Emma had been less amusing, would Clueless have been so funny? I doubt it.

New kid on the blog

An interesting new blog here. True stories from Manchester, well written and troubling. (Hat tip: Ally Fogg).

A sad day for academic freedom

Alan Dershowitz, ambulance-chasing lawyer and dishonest academic, has got his way and denied Norman Finkelstein tenure at DePaul university. Indeed not only has tenure been refused, Finkelstein's contract is being terminated. And anyone who believes that Dershowitz played no role is naive: the Personnel Committee explicitly refers to a "dossier" which from the context is clearly the defamatory dossier circulated by Dershowitz.That the university president felt the need to lie on this issue tells us all we need to know about his integrity and his commitment to academic freedom. For thirty pieces of silver he has sold out a decent man to appease a hypocritical bully.

Wouldn't it be good if a British university offered Finkelstein a position and demonstrated to the USA what academic freedom means? (No point trying to demonstrate it to Dershowitz, who is clearly incapable of getting his third-rate mind around such awkward concepts.) As Dershowitz is planning to demonstrate his commitment to learning and freedom by bankrupting British universities anyway, he can hardly threaten them further.

In any case, Finkelstein deserves better than whiling away his life in a nowhere college like DePaul. Good luck to him in finding something better.

Monday, June 11, 2007

There's always room for another decent cartoon

A fun cartoon series I hadn't seen before (thanks to Cloud). Here's my favourite so far.

Nice to have something positive to report from Israel for a change

An interesting piece by Bradley Burston in Ha'aretz on a peace plan being relaunched by the (Israeli) Labour Party's leadership candidate, Ami Ayalon.

The Ayalon plan has a lot going for it, not least a degree of give and take not normally associated with Israeli notions of "peace" (or, one must add, Palestinian ones). It calls for a withdrawal to Israel's 1967 borders, without which no peace plan can even pretend to be worthy of the name. The idea of land swaps is a clever one, avoiding some of the political difficulty on the Israeli side that would come with simple erasure of the illegal settlements. On the other hand, if the land given to Palestine was that currently occupied by Israeli Arabs the process would be (correctly in my view) be seen as ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Israel. If there are to be no Israeli settlers in Palestine, what other pieces of Israel could be exchanged? So modified rapture there.

BTW, to answer Joe's question in his comment on my previous post, I have always taken Israel's borders prior to its June 1967 invasions to be the legitimate and inalienable extent of Israel. While logically separate from the Palestinian question, it would be tidy - and would help to draw a line under the whole illegal occupation nightmare, ending Israel's worldwide pariah status - if the Golan Heights were given back to Syria as part of the same withdrawal to within Israel proper. (If Lebanon wishes to contest ownership of the Shebaa Farms area, it can do so with Syria following the Israeli pullout.)

On the question of the "right of return" of Palestinians to Israel, I think the Ayalon plan also gets it right. I can understand why return to their expropriated lands is important to the exiled Palestinians, and I know that there are UN resolutions supporting it. But just think. If every exiled Palestinian were to return, the effect would literally be to roll back the creation of Israel altogether. As the UN was instrumental in that creation, that cannot be its intention. One could envisage some kind of (presumably international) adjudicating body ruling on which Palestinians were to be allowed to return to Israel under some kind of quota system, but how could that be done fairly? It would be a recipe for resentment just as bad as that existing now. No, the only fair way in which the right of return can be handled is as a compensation issue: though it won't come cheap. The plan is wise to recommend international contributions to the fund, as left to fund it entirely alone Israel would almost certainly underestimate the sum required. The rest of the world has been guilty of letting Israel shirk its responsibilities fr forty years; why shouldn't we pay a share of the compensation of those we ignored?

Jerusalem too is handled equitably, though given the degree of encroachment by "settlers" into Arab neighbourhoods over the past forty years one must be careful to distinguish neighbourhoods which were Arab in 1967 and those which remain Arab. Perhaps Ayalon's "return to 1967 borders" means rolling back that expansion, but maybe it doesn't. I'm not necessarily saying it should: there may be room for compromise, perhaps via more land swaps.

The international community would need to be serious about shouldering the burden of enforcing Palestinian demilitarisation as well. We would need to accept that yes, British, American, French, Algerian, Indian etc soldiers will certainly be killed in the process; there will still be plenty of people on both sides (Israeli and Palestinian) with a vested interest in wrecking a peace deal. Israel need to recognise that we will be shooting to kill their homicidal nutters as well as the Palestinian ones. It might be necessary to station an international force in parts of Jerusalem to guard the holy sites, or even (by analogy with pre-unification Berlin and at the risk of sounding as though I'm simply quoting from The West Wing) place the whole city under some kind of international governance.

I hope Ayalon becomes Prime Minister and has the opportunity to put his plan before the Knesset. Of course, even if 70% of Israelis support it, it is much less likely that the Israeli political class is ready to turn its back on forty years of obstructionism and embrace a serious peace proposal. The same goes for the Palestinians: despite Israeli rhetoric and Hamas propaganda, most Palestinians have no desire to see Israel destroyed and are well aware that that has never been a remotely possible aspiration. They simply want to be left alone; no house demolitions, no checkpoints, no Lebensraum wall, no settlers shooting their children. I can well believe that 70% of them, would support the plan: the question is whether their leaders will give them the opportunity.

As Bradey Burston says, some plan like the Ayalon one will eventually be the basis for peace in the region. the question is simply how many Israelis and how many Palestinians have to die before the penny drops for their respective leaders.

Update: he didn't become party leader anyway. Maybe Ehud Barak does have a better chance of keeping out Benjamin Netanyahu, in which case I'm glad.

Beyond Chutzpah

More proof, if any were needed, that Ehud Olmert not only isn't interested in peace with Israel's neighbours, he simply hasn't the faintest clue what peace might consist of, or what Israel's legal obligations are.

To spell it out: yes, of course Israel will return the Golan Heights to Syria. And in return, Syria will: say thank you. The Golan Heights belong to Syria, have always belonged to Syria, and have been illegally occupied by Israel for forty years. To make stupid demands in return for fulfilling its most basic obligations under international law (viz. giving back territory stolen from neighbouring countries) is as though the European Community were to offer not to send any more Jews to gas chambers in return for Ehud Olmert's resignation.

Thieves caught red-handed don't get to make deals about giving back the stolen property, and only the most shameless criminal would think for a moment that he could.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

There is no God but God, and....well, that's pretty much it

BARUCH SHE'AMAR

Every sunrise and sunset, birth
and death, storm and flood, blossom
and snowfall. Every lip balm,
paperback novel, beggar and bowl
and hair salon. Every glass of water,
muddy gorge, mother
and market and corrugated roof.


Rhododendrons, dirty oil barrels
filled with groundnut paste,
filligreed teapots, emerald beetles,
scrolls, wooden tulips, bottles of beer.
Sequoias, crepemyrtle, dwarf birch.
Every rubber band. Every paperclip.
Every open sore and aching tooth.


How does Your mouth not tire
of speaking the world into being?
Almighty, Your creations cannot imagine
infinity without growing weary.
It's hard to remember
Your mouth is purely metaphor
though Your speech is real.


You speak every atom in the universe,
a mighty chord resonating.
Every fold of skin, every grain of sand,
every iceberg and hibiscus come from you.
If You ever chose silence, even for an instant,
we would blink out of existence
as though this experiment had never been.


By Rachel Barenblat at Velveteen Rabbi.

Showing that Judaism can subscribe to a very similar interpretation of ultimate reality to that of Vedanta or other Far Eastern traditions: the universe as an illusion (what we would think of as virtual reality, except this is our "real" reality) sustained by the imagination of a "God" which is the sole underlying reality. (In Vedanta God is playing all the parts at once, and immerses himself in each one completely so as to forget that it's a part.)

Jewish readers may disagree with my interpretation of the poem, but it certainly struck a chord with me. Especially "It's hard to remember/Your mouth is purely metaphor/though Your speech is real".

Islam, of course, has room for similar ideas. And so has Christianity.

Paris et Circenses

Another really good post from Waiter Rant. Damn, it's been too long since I visited the bottom of my blogroll.

Dish Of The Day

Flash-Fried Dog with a Hand-Churned Rue
Stir Fried Hamster with a Smoked Chutney
Basted Zebra with a Barbasol Vinaigrette
Seared Dormouse with a Deviled Egg Ragout
Bangkok Coyote with a Butternut Compote


If none of those take your fancy (and actually the hamster and dormouse both sound good to me) try visiting this site to generate some new suggestions. (Hat tip: Waiter Rant.)

OK, the special of Rotisserie Weasel with a Banana-infused Couscous sounds good too.

Maybe I've sent too long today cooking spiced vegetable crumble.....

The Law Is For Protection Of The People

This from Socialist Worker. (Hat Tip: Osama Saeed.)

The picture is of Charles Cunningham Boycott


I've been planning to write this post for some time, but every week - every day, almost - seems to bring a further development. OK, Pai Mei: here I go.....

Attentive readers may remember that back in May 2006 I wrote a post criticising the call by NATFHE for a boycott of Israeli acedemics unless they were willing to voice opposition to "Israeli apartheid policies". I took issue with both the wording of the motion and the broad-brush approach to Israeli academia, suggesting instead that boycotts were a last resort (the proposed NATFHE one in any case smacked dreadfully of gesture politics) and that the Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace had a better plan, which included a much more specifically targetted boycott of the College of Judea and Samaria, situated in the illegal settlement of Ariel in the Occupied Territories.

In September 2006 I pointed out that the Israeli government is no supporter of academic freedom. In October I added that neither is the USA.

Now then. On 21 April this year the Guardian had two interesting letters on boycotts, and I'd like to comment on them both. First the letter from Roger Lyons, with which I agree. Only a couple of years ago I attended the STUC annual conference and saw representatives from Histadrut and the PGFTU sharing a platform and calling for constructive engagement between trade unionists in the Scotland, in Israel, and in Palestine. This is the policy of the STUC, and of the TUC, and incidentally of my own trade union (whose forthcoming conference agenda contains a motion expressing solidarity with Palestinians in the occupied Territories but makes no mention of any kind of boycott or divestment). Imagine, then, my surprise to be informed on the website of the Stop The Wall campaign that the PGFTU is now endorsing a campaign calling for trade unions to boycott Histadrut! The only conclusion I could draw from that, assuming the document calling for a boycott wasn't a total fabrication, was that the PGFTU is riven with as much internal disagreement on tactics as any British trade union, and that its left hand knows not what its right hand is doing. I'm somewhat relieved to discover that this does seem to be the case. As Stephen Hawking used to say in the BT ads, the important thing is to keep talking.

Moving on the the second Guardian letter, from 130 British doctors and calling for the expulsion of the Israeli Medical Association from the World Medical Association. That seems to me more reasonable. It's targetted at the IMA which has sat on its hands during for 40 years of flagrant violations by the IDF of international conventions on provision of medical care. The letter points out that, frankly, they don't meet the required standard and should be flung out. Specific and productive: pretty much in line with the call to boycott the "Israeli university" built in an illegal Israeli settlement, and a long way from the sweeping boycotts proposed by the NUJ or the NATFHE. I look forward to hearing more of this one, and hope something comes of it.

In the past two weeks we have had the UCU (heirs and successors of NATFHE, post-merger) passing a motion, not (let us note) calling on anyone to boycott anything, despite what its hysterical opponents have been claiming. It calls for the UCU to circulate a boycott call (which appears to be the one to which I linked above under the "boycott Histadrut" tag) to its branches for "information and discussion". The president of UCU, Sally Hunt, believes that UCU members do not want a boycott, and that a ballot of all members would show that, even after the "information and discussion". I suspect she's right.

Anyway, the UCU are damned if they do and damned if they don't. Had they actually called for a boycott the reaction could hardly have been more unpleasant; and according to the Guardian at least one prominent opponent considers the motion calling for discussion to be even worse than a boycott call. This is Anthony Julius, visiting Professor of Law at Birkbeck College - not, one has to say,one of our more distinguished law schools - of whom we shall hear more later:

"Going for a boycott is gesture politics in the first place but a resolution that comes close but avoids actually spelling it out is a gesture wrapped up in a gesture - it's nothing more than a bad smell."

One wonders how this oaf became a legal professor at all, but let's leave that aside for now.

1979 Nobel Physics Prizewinner Steven Weinberg has weighed into the UCU row, by cancelling a planned lecture in Britain as a result.

There are those who consider that academics should not pontificate on matters outwith their particular fields of expertise. Curiously, Noam Chomsky and his opinions on US foregn policy and the Israel-Palestine situation are usually what these people have in mind. Perhaps they should also consider Professor Weinberg. His physics writings are brilliant, and include probably the best book of popular cosmological physics ever; coming to Steven Hawking's A Brief History of Time after Weinberg's book, I found it contained (a) no terrifying difficulties and (b) nothing significant I hadn't already learned from Weinberg. However, on the subject of Israel Weinberg talks unmitigated rubbish, in spite (or perhaps because) of being on the board of governors of Tel Aviv University. Here are some extracts from a (subscription-only and unlinkable) piece he wrote last year (but quoted extensively on this anti-boycott blog):

If the lecturers' union Natfhe votes to boycott Israeli academics who refuse to oppose Israel's policies, then it will deserve the moral condemnation of the world. Israel is a democracy that extends full civil rights to all citizens - Arabs as well as Jews. It is in the course of withdrawing from Gaza and most of the West Bank, and it actively pursues ties with Arab academic institutions.

Oooh, Israel extends full civil rights to all citizens, Arabs as well as Jews, does it? That isn't the opinion of the US State Department (see section 5 "National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities"), or of Human Rights Watch; nor indeed of Israeli Jews who take the trouble to meet their Arab countrymen before mouthing off.

And as far as "withdrawing....from most of the West Bank" goes, not only does the Israeli government have no such plan, it has exacted a promise from President Bush that no such withdrawal will be required of it by America. Ehud Olmert has explicitly ruled out any return to Israel's legitimate borders. Oh, and further illegal settlement is planned. Far from withdrawing, Israel is consolidating and increasing is presence in the West Bank, and a reinvasion of Gaza seems not wholly unlikely. The even-handed Israeli "democracy" is kidnapping political opponents in Palestine and threatening them with execution at home. Yet somehow for Professor Weinberg it is NATFHE, not Israel, which deserves the "moral condemnation of the world"? Dear God, how Britain will miss the opportunity to hear him babbling at first hand.

Perhaps one could look beyond the issue of discrimination and boycott academics in North Korea, which has the most repressive government on Earth, or those in Gaza and the West Bank, where a government of terrorists has just been elected...

I don't remember complaints from Steven Weinberg when terrorist Menachem Begin was elected Prime Minister of Israel.... And let's remember that both the Israeli and US governments explicitly approved the participation of Hamas in that election. Their volte-face came only after the wrong side won.

The Natfhe draft proposal blames Israel for "construction of the exclusion wall". This barrier does impose a nuisance on both Arabs and Jews. However, it is not being built because Jews do not want to associate with Arabs. It is because they do not want to be murdered by them.

There was no thought of a wall until the intifada in 2002 reached new heights of brutality. In fact, the Israeli wall is not very different from the 13-mile "Peace Line" in Belfast, built to curb violence between Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods. Even though incomplete, the barrier works: it has already greatly reduced the number of deaths of Israelis at the hands of suicide bombers. Since the wall saves lives, one marvels at the callousness of a call for Israelis to die so that Arabs will not be inconvenienced.


Well, as far as I am aware, none of the Catholics or Protestants in Belfast had their houses or land confiscated by the government as a result of the building of the "Peace Line". The "Peace Line" was built by the British government, but the difference is that they built it in Britain rather than extending it several miles into the Republic of Ireland and illegally annexing territory. For the rest, I can't improve on Ellis Sharp's comments. so I shan't try.

Mind you, what kind of penetrating political analysis should one expect from a man who told one of his academic colleagues in all seriousness "Don't romanticize Palestinians just because they are primitive" ?

Finally back to Anthony Julius, who has joined forces with Alan Dershowitz to threaten any British trade union foolish enough to believe that it can take decisions all by itself without the permission of a pair of celebity legal ambulance-chasers (Dershowitz defended Claus von Bulow and O J Simpson; Julius was Princess Diana's and Heather Mills's divorce lawyer). Dershowitz, an apologist for US government torture and Israeli killings of civilians, has threatened to sue any professor who votes against the tenure of another based on the candidate’s ties to Israel. Yet nowadays Dershowitz himself is mainly known for his intemperate campaign to deny tenure to Norman Finkelstein of DePaul University, based on Finkelstein's unfavourable response to Dershowitz's book The Case For Israel. And it is [irony] this brave champion of academic freedom[/irony] who has declared that he will "devastate and bankrupt" British academia. Well, well.

Two things are certain. One is that Dershowitz and Julius have no interest whatsoever in academic freedom, though they are probably anticipating fat profits from any legal actions they initiate. The other is that their intervention is most likely to harden attitudes in favour of a boycott (though come to think of it if they're in it for the money that is probably the idea).

Strangely enough, I heard no protests from Dershowitz, Weinberg, or even Julius (who as a British resident is more likely to have noticed, though perhaps he was busy working out his earnings from the Mills-McCartney divorce) over this egregious example of a politically-motivated threat of academic boycott, right here at home. Perhaps when a major donor to a British university threatens withdrawal of funding solely because she dislikes one of the students' personal websites (unconnected with the university) that doesn't count for the Dershowitz-Julius axis of hypocrisy as a threat to academic freedom? Of course, the student was a Palestinian while the boycotter was a British Jew, [irony]which may be relevant[/irony]. Moreover, Stowe is apparently an "expert in divorce law", so Julius would hardly wish to antagonise her: one must think of one's future cash flow.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Sorry, I must have dozed off

Just realised that I never posted the answers to the last "first lines" meme. So:

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
4. Unlock the door, it's time again to leave you
Roy Wood: Wake Up

I assume you can work out what connects the four tracks......

The Roy Wood track is from Boulders, a marvellous album on which he plays practically all the instruments. Percussion on the track apears to consist of RW stamping gently in a bowl of water.

The Rage Against The Machine track was used in the closing credits of The Matrix.

Oh Frabjous Day!

Felicity Jane Lowde , Rachel's cyberstalker, has been arrested.

Best news I've heard all week.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I wonder if Fiji was their first stop. Now THAT would have been really funny.

I shouldn't find this amusing, but I'm afraid I do.

Best bit?

"I don't look like a terrorist and there is no reason to point a gun at me," backpacker Nimrod Lahav wrote to the ambassador, Nati Tamir.

I don't look like a terrorist? What, not like Lee Harvey Oswald?













or Theodore Kaczynski the Unabomber?














or, heaven forfend, Baruch Goldstein?














Oh, wait, I get it: he thinks only people who look like Arabs should be suspected of terrorism. No wonder Fiji didn't want the little shit. I hope if he ever comes to Britain we throw him out on his ear.

And for all his whining there is no reason to point a gun at me, now he's experienced about a hundredth of what every Palestinian in the OT has to put up with every day. Guns pointed by soldiers, who don't let you through checkpoints (not for a holiday, but to go to work, or hospital) because they don't feel like it. Guns pointed by "settlers" who will kill you without compunction if there's nobody looking (or nobody except the IDF who can be generally persuaded to ignore such minor inconveniences). And has he not noticed that most non-Israelis arriving at Ben Gurion airport (or leaving from it) have guns pointed at them while their luggage and/or body cavities are thoroughly searched, and while not infrequently their cameras/films/souvenirs etc are confiscated, damaged or destroyed? Perhaps he thinks Israel is a welcoming place to visit? Ha! only for "returning" Jews, or VIPs the government wants to impress.

I dare say the Fijian immigration official will be disciplined, and that's only fair. But the whole business is worth a thousand boycotts. Expulsion at gunpoint: it's the only language these people understand.

Of course, Israeli tourists have a bad reputation for arrogance in Europe, and apparently even more so in India and SE Asia (Malaysia refuses to let them in at all as ordinary tourists), so maybe the Fijian official simply assumed they fitted the stereotype of the Israeli backpacker. Tut. At least - unlike Nimrod the Mighty Whinger - she didn't fall into the more serious stereotype trap of assuming that undesirables all have brown skins and copies of the Koran. In fairness to Israeli tourists, there seems to be general agreement on the web that the worst offenders are young male Israelis in large parties, and that there are plenty of charming Israelis out there. Someone reckoned that Israelis, at home and abroad, don't feel the need to be polite to strangers, which is another way of looking at it. Anyway, their reputation goes before them, like English football supporters. If they can't stand the heat, stay home in the kitchen.

Sometimes, of course, the reputation falls short of the actuality. None of the Israelis' behaviour reported here justifies the 2002 attack (I doubt the terrorists were even aware of it, and in any case the bombing killed Africans and Israelis, victims and abusers, alike). I am aware that British and other "sex tourists" have done similar things, if in a less concerted manner, all across SE Asia. I like to think, though, that even Nimrod Lahav and his buddies might be sickened by this. Assuming they weren't part of it.

The future's bright: the future's orange

More good news from the USA, where Lying Libby, darling of the neocons (who were all certain that he'd be acquitted; then that he couldn't possibly be jailed; and who are now pinning their hopes on on a Presidential pardon that it seems even Dubya is disinclined to serve up for them) and apologist for vindictive acts of treason, has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

Rumsfeld no more
Bolton no more
Wolfie no more
Libby no more........

What other corrupt and/or incompetent politicos are left unaccounted for?

Bring me the head of Diego Garcia

I missed this story last week, though by a strange synchronicity I was watching some programmes last night which I'd taped a few years ago, and one of them was John Pilger's excellent documentary Stealing A Nation.

Lovely to have what may turn out to be a happy ending, though I'll believe it when I see it: the whole point of last week's case is that the British Government simply ignored (and then circumvented) the 2000 ruling that the dispossesion of the islanders had been illegal. There's still time yet for Blair and his cronies to cram the rabbit back into the hat and then deny the hat ever existed, at least until the last Chagossian has died.

It was perfect, and it changed

Now I'm just jealous. My favourite musical just got even better. I shall console myself with the thought that if such a thing ever came to Britain it would probably be Edinburgh that got it.

Still lost in admiration


My gob is utterly smacked by this climbing wall at a Tokyo fitness centre. The designers' website is here.

There is no reporter but ala and drumsolo is his prophet

A little back story so you can appreciate this.

Anna (of Little Red Boat) has recently been in New York to collect an award on behalf of her employer, the Guardian newspaper. (The Guardian was once famed for its misprints, and was usually referred to in the satirical magazine Private Eye as the Grauniad, or sometimes the Guradian.) The award (for the Guardian Unlimited blog) was a Webby, and the thing about Webbies is the rule that acceptance speeches should be a mere five words in length. The Guardian had asked for suggestions; Anna came up with the best one; Anna got to go to NY to collect the Webby. Yay!

Now. Anna has not said (or hadn't last time I looked) what that winning entry was. However, the Webbies have a web page (duh!) listing all the winners. And there, just beneath the BBC's speech ("Allen we're thinking of you") comes the Guardian's ("Please free, ala drumsolo now"). Which puzzled even the Guardian's technology blog editor.

A commenter on LRB established via another source that it should have read "Please free Alan Johnston now".

Oops.

Update: darn it, they've now corrected both the misspelling of "Alan" in the BBC entry and the surreal mess in the Guardian one. Boo, hiss. Though interestingly the impenetrable Radio 1 speech ("free the yonkoves") abides yet. Maybe it too is a reworking of "Alan Johnston".

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

This may yet prove to be an even more shameful part of the Blair legacy than Iraq

This is Stop The Arms Trade Week, which this year is concentrating on Britain's trade with Saudi Arabia, and especially the corruption charges which were not-so-mysteriously dropped after threats from the Saudis of pulling out of another lucrative deal unless investigations (by the Serious Fraud Office into kickbacks related to the al-Yamamah contract) were dropped immediately.

Meanwhile, from CAAT's website, here is some fantastic news.

Seven Things About Me That May Surprise You

...or may not, depending on whether I've told you before.

1. I do not possess an iPod or other mp3 player. I do however own a slide rule. Which rocks.

2. I once had a job as a security guard at the Buxton Pop Festival. Not many people remember that Buxton ever had pop festivals.

3. One of my contemporaries at college was Tim Lawrence, who went on to marry Princess Anne.

4. While a student, I melted a drainpipe in my college. I was demonstrating the mellifluous tones the updraught produced when you lit a small fire of newspaper in the bottom. This fire also produced a temperature greater than the melting point of lead, of which the drainpipe turned out to be made. Last time I visited the college, the drainpipe had of course been repaired long ago but the drain cover under it was still covered with drips from the molten lead.

5. I once shared a sleeping compartment overnight between Bikaner and Delhi with an under-14 girls' handball team from Uttar Pradesh. My lips are sealed.

6. At various times I have belonged to the Buddhist Society, a Pythagorean Fellowship and a neo-Platonic order.

7. I own a first edition box of Dungeons and Dragons by Gygax and Arneson. Bought new, and used as a student. (The early editions were boxes containing three A5 manuals. I also bought the Greyhawk and Eldritch Wizardry supplements.)

The rules:

1. Add a direct link to your post below the name of the person who tagged you. Include the city/state and country you’re in.
Nicole (Sydney, Australia)
Velverse (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
LB (San Giovanni in Marignano, Italy)
Selba (Jakarta, Indonesia)
Olivia(London, England)
ML (Utah, USA)
Lotus (Toronto, Canada)
Tanabata (Saitama, Japan)
Andi (Dallas [ish], Texas, United States)
Todd (Louisville, Kentucky, United States)
Miss Kendra (los angeles, california, u.s.a)
Jiggs Casey (Berkeley, CA, USA! USA! USA!)
Tits McGee (New England, USA)
Kat (Ontario, Canada)
Badgerdaddy (Ludlow, Shropshire, England)
Dandelion (England, Great Britain)
All Cobblers The Sticks, England.
JoeInVegas (Las Vegas, Nevada, USA)
Rob (Edinburgh, Scotland, UK)

2. List out your top 5 favorite places to eat at your location.

a) Kalpna - one of the best vegetarian restaurants anywhere, and a great place to try different Indian dishes
b) Parrots - eccentric, certainly, but the food is wonderful without being tied to any one kind of cuisine. While the desserts are the main attraction, the main courses are substantial and enjoyable.
c) Est Est Est - it may be part of a chain, but the food here is magnificent. Our children (and their friends at party time) used to love the ability to create their own pizzas which would then be baked for them. The grown-ups just liked the food, and the wine list.
d) Mangiatoia - this one is in our other location, in Ballater. It isn't the grandest restaurant in the village, but having tried the others we think it's the best. Unpretentious but imaginative Italian cooking, and not expensive.
e) Abdul's (2nd review on this page) - our local Indian takeaway, with food superior to nearly every sit-in Indian restaurant I've eaten in. A seriously special eating experience, though you do have to be hungry.

plus....

f) Home - where both Hilary and I are capable of producing seriously good food when we have time (Me: ratatouille, onion soup, many kinds of dal, chilli, stir-fries; Hilary: tortillas, risotto, black pepper ice-cream, vegetable crumble, turkey stuffing)

doubleplus....

g) If I were allowed one out-of-location restaurant (and screw it, this is MY blog) it would have to be this, probably the best restaurant of any kind I've ever visited, anywhere. With this as runner-up.

3. Tag 5 other people (preferably from other countries/states) and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Nah...the two people from whom I picked up this meme (Joe and Lisa) didn't find it necessary to tag individuals, and on the occasions when I've done so they've usually ignored me. So sod it. Any reader who wants the meme, can have it.

It was forty years ago today.....


A couple of posts from the International Solidarity Movement's site, by way of commemorating forty years of illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights. Not that anyone cares. Why would a theocracy with a penchant for attacking its neighbours and stealing their land, a record number of UN resolutions (all contemptuously ignored) condemning its gross violations of international law and human rights, criticism from the US State Department of institutionalised discrimination against domestic racial and religious minorities, a history of ethnic cleansing, torture, hostage-taking and extrajudicial executions, and an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction which it has never opened to inspection - why would such a nation attract any kind of attention? OK, if it were Iraq that had been guilty of those things (as it was, for a few of them), then of course it would. But Israel? Hardly. Because, as we're always being told by its apologists, Israel is held to entirely different standards from those applied to the rest of the world. How despicably true. Well, let's ask the British government to help bring Israel up to everyone else's standard. Even the most primitive society surely deserves the chance of reform......

Anyway, those posts. First this, on a demonstration in San Jose, CA. I loved Mr Grossman, who tried to have a conversation with a couple of students disguised a soldiers but to no avail. “They said they did not have to speak to me. They did not want dialogue as they had an agenda,” Grossman said. Aww, bless. I wonder how much conversation he would have had from real IDF soldiers. And the sweet "Jewish students" who staged a counter protest wearing shirts reading: “If I were a suicide bomber, you would be dead.” How cute. Next time, the protestors acting the part of IDF soldiers must make sure and have T-shirts under their uniforms ready for display which read "If I were an IDF soldier the blood from the multiple exit wounds in your chest would have rendered your pathetic jibe illegible". In Hebrew, of course.

And this, on the IDF's famous purity of arms, or some such bullshit. Why anyone wastes breath pretending these piles of walking crud are in any way the moral superiors of suicide bombers is a question you may wish to ponder. (And I know not every member of the IDF is like that, but it isn't for the want of indoctrination and training.)

The saddest thing about it all? Forty years ago we may all have been proccupied with the holes in Blackburn, Lancashire rather than the ones in Judea and Samaria, but I don't know anybody who wasn't supportive of Israel during the Six-Day War. OK, we all took Israel's description of it as a purely defensive action at face value, which in retrospect was rather naive, but in those far-off days the Israelis were the white hats and the Arabs the black headdresses. What changed? Well, until the temptation arose of grinding down an occupied nation as the Jews had been ground down, the IDF did show a remarkable degree of morality and restraint in combat. In those days they trained to fight people in tanks, and ignored kids. Now they train to kill kids with rocks and make their excuses and leave (using the kids as human shields) if anyone shows up with serious weaponry.

Someone once said that the Germans could never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz, and there is certainly a special discomfort in being forced to confront the evil that one has condoned on the past. Well, there are millions of people in Europe who spent decades feeling guilty for the horror visited on Europe's Jews, and who consequently came to idealise the Jews of Israel. The Six-Day War; the manhunt for the Munich murderers; Eichmann's seizure and (scrupulously fair) trial; Entebbe. We cheered Israel on in every one of them. Now we feel dirtied by what Israel has become, in the way so many early supporters of Mussolini were repulsed when he took up with Hitler. I like to imagine that Israel's fall from grace was less predictable than Mussolini's, but I know I'm deluding myself. After all, Deir Yassin and a host of other genocidal attacks were a quarter of a century old when I still thought of plucky little Israel. Our only excuse was ignorance of Israel's history; that, and a penchant for belief in fairy tales.

So maybe Europeans are harsh on Israel today. It's the harshness of disillusion: of thousands of "George Davis Is Innocent" slogans after George Davis was caught red-handed in a robbery being replaced by "George Davis is Guilty OK"; of the mother who has stuck up for her child only to find that he really is the school bully; of the husband getting into fights to defend his wife's honour and then discovering that the whispered stories were all true.

I want Israel to survive, and I admire what Israel still could be. Despite all the rhetoric, Israel has never been in the slightest danger from its neighbours. The real danger that Israel faces is that one day the rest of the world will stop picking up the tab for its occupation (there goes Israel's economy) and will start thinking about regime change (and there, if it isn't very careful, goes the whole Israeli experiment). The only people who can destroy Israel are the Israelis. Let's try to persuade them not to do that. Forty years is enough.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Sunshine On Leith - Edinburgh Festival Theatre 22 May

I'm always rather wary of musicals based on pre-existing pop songs. Still, Mamma Mia worked because its creators had the luxury of extremely strong starting material (from Abba), covering a wide emotional range; and because they had the imagination to stage them in wonderfully counter-intuituive ways. Sunshine on Leith, based by Stephen Greenhorn* on the songs of The Proclaimers, works every bit as well, and for all the same reasons. Better: some features of the original songs which could be viewed as drawbacks are turned to ingenious and positive use. Take the interminable play-out of "Oh Jean" (Love her I love her I love her I love....) which I find gets really annoying on record. However, in the show it accompanies a roomful of people getting carried away dancing, with one character trying to make an exit and being continually caught up in the crazy round. Again, the "Lochaber no more" episodes in "Letter From America" might seem difficult to work into a staging of the song (and given that one of the main characters emigrates to America at the end, you knew this song was coming) but it's done in a really ingenious way (the emigrant-to-be is looking at old holiday photos of the Highlands with her Dad - it sounds like a recipe for tackiness but actually avoids it entirely). "Let's Get Married" is sung by a pub full of Hibees** talking about popping the question in between watching football on TV.

Part of the fun of Sunshine on Leith for an Edinburgh audience is the large number of local references. If you live in New York you probably get fed up with songs about your neighbourhood, but in Edinburgh it's not so common. Trainspotting had us on screen (though the book was definitely Leith - and locals make the distinction even more than residents of Manchester and Salford). Dozens of Inspector Rebus stories have us in books and on telly. But musicals? Not so much, until now. I delighted in a scene set in my local (the Volunteer Arms, universally known - as here - as the Canny Man's) as well as several set on Blackford Hill (which overlooks my mother-in-law's flat and my orchestra's rehearsal room). Even the Royal Yacht Britannia has its place. Which is as it should be, because the Proclaimers' songs are full of a sense of place.

The production, by Dundee Rep, was flawless, and there were no weak links in the cast at all, which probably explains the abundance of five-star reviews which the show has received. Emily Winter as Yvonne was familiar to us from having seen Dundee Rep's production of Flora The Red Menace - a somewhat obscure piece by the creators of Cabaret and Chicago - a couple of years ago (she was Flora). While she was brilliant, she by no means outshone her fellows, with John Buick as Rab, Anne Louise Ross as Jean and Gail Watson as Liz deserving special mention.

In the show, someone was accused of sounding English, which was met with the reply "Ah, they'll just think you're from Morningside". My daughter exclaimed that she was always getting that (she is from Morningside, and is accused by Scots from elsewhere of sounding English). ****

The show is truly remarkable, and deserves to be a huge hit. It is a real shame that (a) the Proclaimers, despite Children In Need or whatever, remain little known outside Scotland and (b) London audiences would probably demand surtitles because of the accents, Morningsideness notwithstanding. I have no hesitation in recommending it, though, whether you be from London, Las Vegas or Lithuania.

======================================

*If the name sounds familiar, it's because he wrote the recent Dr Who episode The Lazarus Experiment. He also adapted The Wide Sargasso Sea shown last year.

**Supporters of Hibernian Athletic Football Club (Hibs), the only decent football team in Edinburgh. And don't let any Jambos*** tell you otherwise. Hibs' ground is at Easter Road, close to the Edinburgh/Leith boundary, though I'm never quite sure which side it's on. The Proclaimers are Hibs' biggest celebrity fans, and "Sunshine On Leith" has become one of the team anthems, like "You'll Never Walk Alone" for Liverpool.

***Supporters of Hearts of Midlothian Football Club, aka Hearts (hence jam tarts, hence Jambos), a vastly inferior bunch of no-hopers. I am proud to say that the only time I have ever seen Hearts play live, they were resoundingly cuffed by Hibs.

****Mind you, people at English blogmeets accuse me of sounding Scottish, which is a cause of great hilarity to both my family and my Scottish friends.

Romanes eunt domus?

A glorious letter in The Independent (23 May) from Caroline Butler of St Paul's School:

'Independent' Latin deemed infra dig

Magistri discipulique Scholae Paulinae salutem dant editori Independentis. cum, domine, in libello tuo Idibus Maiis legissemus de eis qui linguae Latinae student in scholis Britannicis, primum maxime gavisi sumus nuntii felicissimi causa. mox tamen gaudium omne in lacrimas gemitusque versum est: foedissimum, taeterrimum, etiam turpissimum videtur hunc nuntium laetum scriptum esse a barbaro quodam, qui nec clivos Parnassi nec Musas colit.

exemplum praebeamus, ut omnes ignorationem huius perspiciant: si locutionem "qui vir odiosus" Anglice recte reddidisset, "what a hateful man" scripsisset; videtur tamen putare locutionem "what a bore" significare. at oculis in titulum conversis, vix credere possumus rem tam atrocem, tam scelestam, tam nefariam in libello probo inveniri. nam "id quod circumiret, circumveniat" legimus, quae locutio, nescioqua ratione, praeterito subiunctivi modi utitur, tum praesenti; nonne "id quod circumit, circumvenit" scribere debuit? ululemus, pectoribus percussis, genis laceratis, crinibus passis, hanc summam diem et ineluctabile tempus.

CAROLINE BUTLER

HEAD OF CLASSICS, ST PAUL'S SCHOOL, LONDON SW13


Helpfully - and rather well - translated by a later correspondent (Jennifer Richards, 29 May):

Rediscovering the joys of Latin

Sir: Many thanks to Caroline Butler of St Paul's School (Letters, 23 May) for inspiring me to dig out my old text books and rediscover the joys of the Latin "unseen". Thanks, too, to The Independent for publishing her letter.

I have found my school Latin studies to be an enormous asset in the writing of correct English and the understanding of grammar. I have made a very loose translation of the letter, and would be very grateful if someone would be kind enough to point out the mistakes that I have more than likely made:

"Greetings to the Editor of The Independent from the teachers and pupils of St Paul's School. We were, at first, really delighted to read, in an article in your edition dated 15 May, of those favouring the teaching of Latin in British schools. Soon, however, all our pleasure turned to tears and groans. This disgraceful, hateful and awful piece appears to have been written by a foreigner who respects neither the mountains of Parnassus nor the Muse.

We'll give you an example, so that you can all see the lack of knowledge: if the phrase "qui vir odiosus" were translated correctly, it would read "what a hateful man". Yet the writer seems to be under the impression that it translates as "what a bore". We can scarcely believe that such an awful, disgraceful and terrible article could be found in your excellent newspaper. Also, in the phrase "id quod circumiret, circumveniat", the subjunctive, for no reason, is used, first in the past tense, then in the present. Shouldn't it be written "id quod circumit, circumvenit"? As a result of this, we now spend the whole time howling in despair, with mutilated knees, pulled-out hair and broken hearts."


The absence of Latin in our schools has contributed greatly to the current rise in students finding it hard to communicate both orally and verbally. As to the readers who have been vociferous in their complaint at the publishing of the letter, it's not too late for them to learn Latin if they feel frustrated because they couldn't understand it.

JENNIFER RICHARDS

TENBY, PEMBROKESHIRE


Which attracted only a single correction, today:

Ritual mourning for a slip in translation

Sir: Jennifer Richards' felicitous translation (letter, 29 May) of the Latin letter from St Paul's School after the language had lain dormant in her brain for many years pays tribute both to her own education and to the lasting pleasure even a little Latin has given to those who have learnt it.

There is one correction. Genu, meaning "knee", is a fourth declension noun, giving the ablative form genibus; gena is first declension, giving the ablative form genis. The St Paul's pupils have not scrambled about on their knees but torn their cheeks in accordance with ancient Roman mourning ritual.

SARA WOOD

LONDON NW3


Read the original article here

And the frustrated curmudgeon?

No Latin-lover

Sir: I bought a copy of your paper today (23 May). I am educated but not a classics scholar; the language of your newspaper is English and I resent being presented by a "clever" epistle written in another language. We should strive to ensure that the maxims of the Plain English Campaign are promoted so that our language becomes inclusive and not exclusive.

JEAN HOWARD

STREET, SOMERSET

The acquisition of Latin might or might not have been of benefit to Ms Howard, but a little more attention to the "maxims of the Plain English Campaign" might have enabled her to distinguish between "presented with" and "presented by". Perhaps she is of the opinion that "presented" means the same as "confronted", which does retain its meaning with either preposition. Perhaps until she can write her own language correctly she should stop complaining about those who are able to manage the trick in more than one.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Please wait....

My blogging problems, viz. inability to open any Blogger-hosted blogs as well as some other sites (e.g. The Independent) without their timing out, seem to be down to Virgin Media rather than Blogger itself or my PC. Given that a whole district of Edinburgh (not ours) lost all broadband and TV service a few days ago I'm not all that surprised, but some kind of acknowledgement wouldn't hurt. Anyway - Lisa, Joe, I'm not ignoring you, I just can't read you (the work firewall blocks you and I can't get at you from home either right now).

Update:

Ticket Number 482088
Time Stamp 01/06/2007 11:27
Priority P1
Status Opened
Department blueyonder Technical Support
Estimated Time Fix 4 hours
Customers Affected Broadband Internet
Raised By Neil Bishop
Detailed Description
Some customers in the Edinburgh and Glenrothes areas may currently be unable to access some websites and use some secure access type services. This is particularly affecting some secure websites but is not limited to these.

Our engineers are currently investigating this issue.

Virgin Media would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused.

- Virgin Media Technical Support


Well, four hours was clearly optimistic, but as they hadn't worked out what the problem was I can sympathise there. So OK, thanks guys.

Meanwhile, as I can't add to the comments on here: Joe, the "shooty-dog thing" reference was in a post about the Dr Who episode "School Reunion" featuring Anthony Stewart Head (Giles from Buffy) as well as K-9, the SDT referred to. And both Joe and Lisa: I'm intending to do a Seven Things meme once service is restored.

I have a half-drafted post whose remainder is mostly held on the Independent's site. If nothing has got better by the time I'm next home on Sunday, I'll access it from work, email the stuff home and upload it that way. Sheesh! There are other things I can post on, but it's annoying to get halfway into something and then be bounced.

Buggerbuggerbuggerbugger.