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

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pillocks of the Establishment

A propos the general lack of press coverage of the Edinburgh Student sit-in, it is evident that the University's weekly "Student" has for its part deliberately suppressed such coverage. Here's the full story from Jess Chilton McConnell:

Subject: Student Newspaper White-wash

University Newspaper White-wash of Student Occupation...

Instead of covering the student occupation in any meaningful way, Edinburgh
University's 'Student' newspaper has chosen to undermine the editors of the Comment
section to ensure the student body is kept 'in the dark' over what should be a
multi-perspective, unbiased reflection on last week's events.

'Student' senior editors re-worked the 3-page Comment section after the deadline
without consulting its editors, in clear breach of good working practice. Moreover,
they put pressure on those editors over the nature of some of the articles (the
section as a whole was well-balanced but they took exception to those portraying a
pro-Palestine/pro-student occupation stance), to the point where the section is at
risking of losing its editors, who will not stand for being intimidated and

While the whole affair is deeply worrying, two outrageous executive decisions stand

Firstly, an article written by Barrie Levine of Scottish Jews for Just Peace was
removed entirely. He is a guest writer providing a vital Jewish perspective on the
matter and examining the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. This
is the same distinction the occupying students were trying to make throughout the
event itself, when faced with unfounded accusations of intimidating Jewish students.
This is a serious matter that would have been largely dealt with by Barrie's
article. Beyond trying to prolong ill-informed opposition to the occupation, in the
face of wide support and actual understanding, there is no justification for
removing the piece.

Secondly, to add insult to injury, the chief editors hijacked half a page of the
Comment section for an advert for the paper itself! If they wanted to argue too many
articles on the occupation took space away from other issues (a conceivably just
argument) this proves no such logic lies behind their actions.

These actions taken by the chief editors are unprofessional in the extreme and show
prejudice against both the Comment section editors and the occupying students, who
despite having the support of the Rector and many world-renowned scholars and
organisations, and who are now working in a respectful collaboration with the
university administrators, are still being black-balled by a highly-prejudiced
minority of students, including it would seem the chief editors of Student.

Where can all students involved in this situation get a fair hearing if they cannot
rely on their own newspaper? These editors must be bought to account.

Meanwhile, it is more important now than ever before for those in possession of the
truth to share it personally with as many fellow students as possible. Do not let
this white-wash succeed.

In solidarity.

Perhaps the senior editors of Student are hoping for a slice of
Blair's blood-money in the form of a few of those nice scholarships. Maybe they're all planning to work for the BBC.

A bend in the river?

Uri Geller has bought The Lamb, in the Firth of Forth near North Berwick. I think he's been reading too much Dan Brown, myself.

The wages of sin is $1 million

Whoopee. After delaying a ceasefire during the invasion of Lebanon until Israel had cluster-bombed the required number of children to pink paste, and after sitting inactive on his arse throughout the Gaza genocide, Tone the Drone takes his million quid (OK, dollars) pro quo for "his exceptional leadership and steadfast determination in helping to engineer agreements and forge lasting solutions to areas in conflict".

I hope Paolo de Bernardis, Andre Lange, Paul Richards and Robert Gallo aren't too upset that their own awards have been devalued and dishonoured by the presence of the Pea-brained Peculator.

Tony Blair: tirelessly turning dead children into personal profit. Sharing a nationality with him makes me feel ill.

I'm guessing Mr Collins doesn't come out of this well

I found the thought of this irresistible. It started me off thinking of sequels:

Never Say Netherfield Again
Fear of the Darcy
Something Wickham This Way Comes

or perhaps a sideways shift to Concussion (tagline: 'All the privilege I claim for my own sex...is that of screaming loudest, when ribcage or when head is gone").

Or to The Dark Knightley. Or Maneater Park.

I'll get my coat......

Monday, February 16, 2009

Mission Accomplished

Cynic that I am, I never really imagined that the University of Edinburgh students who have been occupying one of the main lecture theatres, and demanding various actions from the university authorities in support of the people of Gaza, would achieve all their aims. Some, certainly, but not all.

Well, I was wrong, and I'm delighted to admit it. What an example for the rest of us: five days of peaceful, non-confrontational occupation, while the business of teaching carried on around them, and with practically no press attention, achieved results which no number of resolutions at the university senate could have managed, and demonstrated eloquently that the fire has not gone out of student politics.

Here's their final press statement:

Edinburgh University Student Occupation for Gaza - Final Press Release

At 8:45 on the morning of Monday 16/02/2009 the student occupation of George Square Lecture Theatre will come to an end.

We, the occupying students have secured the following…
• A complete end to Eden Springs bottled water on campus by the start of the next academic year (2009/10).
• An opportunity to bring our case regarding the university’s unethical investments directly to the University Court.
• Scholarships for 5 Palestinian students in Gaza to study at Edinburgh University, with consideration for fee waivers, reduced accommodation fees, travel allowances and visa support.
• A collaboration between the university management, student body and an NGO to collect various materials for shipping to Gaza and to fundraise for the implementation of this.
• A lecture and debate series, involving university staff and guest speakers, on various subjects relating to the Palestine/Israel conflict. There has already been interest in this from prominent scholars Ilan Pappe and Noam Chomsky.

We feel that this is only the beginning of the movement to end the university’s role in the occupation and oppression of Palestine by the Israeli government and military. There remain serious issues to which the university’s response was completely inadequate, including the active role of arms and defence companies in university research and on-campus recruitment.

The occupation also provided a place to stage educational events, encouraging active engagement and participation about the issues in question. Highlights included a discussion on the ongoing occupation of Palestine, with the participation of the President of Scottish Jews for a Just Peace and a workshop on ‘direct action’ with ways of defusing confrontational situations. As the week progressed, we at times numbered over 60 students, with a total of several hundred passing through the theatre doors.

We feel it’s important to emphasize that the student occupation should be understood not simply as a tactic or a bargaining chip in getting our demands. Within the space that we took control of, we used consensus decision making to initiate a radically non-hierarchical way of making collective decisions. At its best, the occupation provided a space for a process far more democratic than what conventional university structures are able to achieve. The changes we want to see will be attained through our direct action but also by creating such spaces, and expanding them indefinitely.

Two key outcomes of the occupation…
• A planned open forum for reflection and discussion on the student occupation and the university’s reaction in the context of the Gaza conflict.
• An online network to consolidate the occupation group, welcome all who wish to be involved in future action and to take the movement forward immediately and effectively.

We would like to extend a huge thank you to the countless groups and individuals who provided us with material and moral support.

Lastly, we wish to assure Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank that we will struggle alongside them in solidarity until such time as they are a free and sovereign people.

We will continue posting information here and will soon release details of our new online networt, website and mailing list for information on future direct action for this cause.

This is only the beginning!

Or as Jed Bartlett put it in The West Wing (series 2, I think) : "What's next?"

Playing Catch-up: Celtic Connections Nu-Nordic Night, 23 January 2009

This was a very interesting evening in the GRCH's Strathclyde Suite. The concert opened with a set by a trio of Barry Phillips (Californian cellist playing a 5-string - or 16-string if you count the sympathetic ones - cello made in Calcutta), Sarah-Jane Summers, a fiddler from Scotland, and another Norwegian fiddler called Anne something. They just played as a string trio, with no percussion or vocals, and sounded really interesting. Phillips has recorded a couple of solo CDs, and I believe the trio are planning to make a record. First, though, they will need a name, which they don't yet have.

Then we had a band called Baltic Crossing, a five-piece from Finland, Denmark and Britain. They sounded more conventionally folky than the first group, though with the cross-cultural flavour that characterises Nu-Nordic. I didn't feel inspired to buy their album, but they were good.

After the interval came Ian Carr and Niklas Roswall. I enjoyed them but then I'm a sucker for the nyckelharpa. Again, somewhat conventional compared with what I'd been expecting, but great playing on both instruments.

However, the finale was provided by Fribo, who are an extraordinary band. Led by Ewan Mcpherson and the aforementioned Sarah-Jane Summers, they were everything I'd hoped the evening would be. Supposedly Fribo is a trio, but on this occasion they also had a percussionist and an additional female vocalist (I think from Norway). I have a feeling there was someone else on permanently as well, possibly the other fiddler from the first band. By the end of the set all the earlier performers had come on to join them, hence my confusion. They produced a bewildering variety of sounds, not least when the two singers whipped out overtone flutes and began to play them. And that for me is the essence of what I like in Nu-Nordic: the sense that you never know quite what comes next. Ewan McPherson looked every inch the nerd, the only musician in a suit and tie, but his playing was clearly unaffected and he's one heck of a guitarist. Probably the highlight was a belting version of the Scots ballad Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight (aka May Colven) in which a woman is wooed by a serial killer but outsmarts him and kills him first. I did buy their album, and will look out for future offerings.

A brief mention for Fribo's percussionist, who (I'm guessing by chance rather than design) was the only person in the whole evening not to be introduced by name. As it happens I know her: her name is Signy Jakobsdottir and she ran the Gamelan taster workshop I attended last summer. For Fribo she played part of a drum kit (with hands rather than sticks), some pieces of Gamelan, and a variety of other instruments tuned and untuned. She made a huge contribution to the sound and definitely deserves a credit.

Book meme: Genres

Genre fiction book meme (cross-posted from Head On A Stick)

1) Look at the list, copy and paste it into your own journal.
2) Mark those you have read however you want.
3) Feel free to tell your friends what you thought of them.

I've bolded the ones I've read, put a star beside particular favourites, and put in italics ones I've started but never finished or have only read one of.

1. *The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien Well, duh.
2. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
3. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien Got bored and abandoned it.
4. Foundation series, Isaac Asimov
5. *Robot series, Isaac Asimov For all their "Three Laws" cleverness these stories are as much about Susan Calvin as about the robots. Asimov at the top of his game.
6. Dune, Frank Herbert
7. *Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein
8. *The Earthsea series, Ursula le Guin
9. Neuromancer, William Gibson
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
11. The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham Like Intertext, I liked Chocky better (and not just because my copy was a Christmas present from one of my LJ readers[g])
12. A Book of the New Sun series, Gene Wolfe
13. Discworld series, Terry Pratchett Yes, but I've never gone overboard for them like some of my friends.
14. Sandman series, Neil Gaiman
15. *The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams Loved the books but loved the radio series even more.
16. Dragonriders of Pern series, Anne McCaffrey
17. Interview with the Vampire series, Anne Rice .
18. The Shining, Stephen King
19. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula le Guin
20. The Chronicles of Amber, Roger Zelazny . Read three of them and keep meaning to finish the set. My favourite RZ is Lord of Light though.
21. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke
22. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke Found it rather disappointing.
23. *Ringworld, Larry Niven. I liked the sequels as well.
24. Elric of Melnibone series, Michael Moorcock
25. The Dying Earth series, Jack Vance
26. Lyonesse series, Jack Vance
27. *The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever, Stephen Donaldson. I really liked the first series though they are over-written, I thought the way the second series was linked to the first via the Staff of Law was very clever, though I didn't much care for Linden Avery. Second series good in parts. Best Donaldson by a mile is the Mordant's Need series, though I keep waiting for someone to make a film of Animal Lover (short from Daughter of Regals)
28. A Song of Ice and Fire series, George R.R. Martin
29. The Worm Ourobouros, E.R. Eddison
30. Conan series, Robert E. Howard
31. Lankhmar series, Fritz Leiber
32. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick. Great film though.
33. The Time Machine, H.G. Wells
34. The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells
35. The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells
36. Eon, Greg Bear
37. Book of the First Law series, Joe Abercrombie
38. Miss Marple stories, Agatha Christie
39. Hercule Poirot stories, Agatha Christie
40. Lord Peter Wimsey stories, Dorothy L. Sayers . I've read one and can't remember which it was. Saw quite a fw on TV though.
41. The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
42. The Thirty-Nine Steps, John Buchan
43. Sherlock Holmes stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The Valley Of Fear is best.
44. *Cthulhu Mythos, H.P. Lovecraft. Best horror ever.
45. Inspector Wexford stories, Ruth Rendell
46. Adam Dalgliesh stories, P.D. James
47. Philip Marlowe stories, Raymond Chandler
48. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
49. The Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsyth. Good fun, though the famous method of obtaining a false passport had been done years earlier in Adam Diment's The Great Spy Race
50. The Fourth Protocol, Frederick Forsyth
51. Smiley series, John le Carre The first one was OK though the plot wasn't as confusing as I''d been led to expect. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold: now that's a complicated plot.
52. Gentleman Bastard series, Scott Lynch
53. The Malazan Book of the Fallen, Steven Erikson
54. Watchmen series, Alan Moore
55. Maus, Art Spiegelman
56. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Alan Miller
57. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
58. *Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling. I didn't actually cry during the last one but it was a close thing. And I'm prepared to forgive any number of infelicities from the author of Sunshine, daisies, butter mellow/Turn this stupid fat rat yellow.
59. Chrestomanci series, Diana Wynne-Jones
60. Ryhope Wood series, Robert Holdstock
61. Wilt series, Tom Sharpe. Funny-ish. Couldn't read his Porterhouse Blue without thinking of my old Durham college (and college bedder!)
62. Riftwar Cycle, Raymond E. Feist
63. Temeraire series, Naomi Novik .
64. *Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis. Duh, again.
65. His Dark Materials series, Phillip Pullman
66. Dragonlance series, Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman
67. Twilight saga, Stephanie Meyer
68. The Night's Dawn trilogy, Peter F. Hamilton
69. Artemis Fowl series, Eoin Colfer. I like the idea of the high-tech fairies.
70. Honor Harrington series, David Weber
71. Hannibal Lecter series, Thomas Harris The first one especially chills the blood more by what he leaves unsaid than by the words on the page.
72. The Dark Tower series, Stephen King
73. It, Stephen King
74. The Rats series, James Herbert
75. Dirk Gently series, Douglas Adams Liked the first much more than the second, though Catastrophic Structural Exasperation Syndrome is a great coinage.
76. Jeeves and Wooster stories, P.G. Wodehouse Read What Ho, Jeeves! Loved the Fry & Laurie TV versions..
77. The da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
78. The Culture Series, Iain M. Banks
79. The Duncton series, William Horwood
80. *The Illuminatus! trilogy, Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson Utter genius.
81. The Aberystwyth series, Malcom Pryce. A new word for surreal, and irrestistible.
82. Morse stories, Colin Dexter
83. Navajo Tribal Police stories, Tony Hillerman
84. The Ipcress File, Len Deighton
85. Enigma, Robert Harris
86. Fatherland, Robert Harris
87. The Constant Gardener, John le Carre
88. The House of Cards trilogy, Michael Dobbs
89. The Dark is Rising saga, Susan Cooper
90. Psychotechnic League and Polesotechnic League series, Poul Anderson
91. Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton
92. Star Wars: Thrawn trilogy, Timothy Zahn
93. Ender's Game series, Orson Scott Card
94. *Gormenghast series, Meryvn Peake I did cry when reading Gormenghast, twice. (Fuchsia's death and Flay hearing the Twins' cries but not being able to find them.) Never got into Titus Alone though.
95. Miles Vorkosigan saga, Lois McMaster Bujold
96. The Once and Future King, T.H. White . Odd-numbered books great, even-numbered, meh. Lancelot fighting his way out of Guinevere's bedroom is still vivid after more than 30 years. 97. Fighting Fantasy books, Ian Livingston & Steve Jackson . Who needs computer games?
98. The Stainless Steel Rat series, Harry Harrison . Hilarious. Moreover, I have a Fighting Fantasy-type book based on these! And Harrison's Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers is simply the funniest SF ever: even better then HHGG.
99. The Lensman series, E.E. 'Doc' Smith
100. The Cadfael stories, Ellis Peters

Some I haven't read stare accusingly at me from the bookshelves.

Ten which were not included but should be:

101. *The Falco series, Lindsey Davis. Best historical detective stories by far, with wonderful detail and characterisation.
102. *Flying Dutch, Tom Holt. A hilarious exploration of the myth of the Flying Dutchman. All his books are great fun though.
103. *The Tarot trilogy, Piers Anthony. Thank heavens for the SF abbreviation: are these fantasy or science fiction? Very clever and unusually for PA, not funny (though there's a caricature of Aleister Crowley in one that had me howling with mirth).
104. *The Brentford trilogy, Robert Rankin. Rankin is a genius in general, but these first efforts are his best.
105. *The Mma Ramotswe stories, Alexander McCall Smith. Laid-back and humorous detective stories written wih real affection. His other (Edinburgh-based) books are great too.
106.*The Restoration trilogy, Neal Stephenson. Best big historical fiction series since Dorothy Dunnett, and just as exciting.
107. *Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson. Probably my favourite SF novel of all time. A writer who can have you on the edge of your seat wih suspense over a pizza delivery: what's not to like? 108. *The Max Curfew novels, John Brunner. Thrillers where the hero is a KGB-trained black man, which makes for some interesting perspectives.
109. *Stand On Zanzibar, John Brunner Cleverly structured dystopia.
110. *The Jerry Cornelius books, Michael Moorcock Indescribable. No, really.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

This guy scores 11/10 on the Cool-o-meter.

I was listening to BBC Radio 4's The News Quiz just now and they were talking about TV game shows. Someone mentioned this really cool guy who was the first $1,000,000 winner on the US version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, and I remembered I'd seen a clip of him winning. I found it here on Youtube (embedding disabled). What's so cool about him? Just watch.

Edinburgh University students occupy George Square lecture theatre

On the morning of Wednesday 11th February Edinburgh University students occupied the George Square Lecture Theatre. We have acted against the university because of its financial and commercial links to the apartheid state of Israel, in addition to its unacceptable silence in response to the Gaza conflict, described by the UN President of the General Assemby, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, as “genocide”. We will sit-in until the heads of the university agree to the following demands…

Broadly, we demand that our university demonstrate what should be its inherent opposition, as an educational institution, to Israel’s illegal and shameful behaviours.

Specifically, to ensure the university publicly manifests its position, we demand…

1. BOYCOTT – That the university immediately suspend all contracts and relations with companies enabling the conflict and/or occupation, including Eden Springs. This demand is contingent on access to information to establish which other companies are implicated.
2. DIVESTMENT – That the university divest from and cut all links – specifically on-campus recruitment – with BAE Systems, QinetiQ and all other “arms and defence” manufacturers whose products are proven to be in use by the Israeli military.
3. SCHOLARSHIPS – That the university make full scholarships available to at least 5 students in Gaza, allowing them to attend Edinburgh University. This is a response to the destruction of their universities by the Israeli military, and to other barriers, physical and psychological, which restrict their right to education.
4. AID – That the university collect and make available non-monetary donations to war-damaged Gazan schools and hospitals, including but not limited to text-books, chairs, computers. 5. EDUCATION – That logistical and financial support are provided for a series of informative lectures and debates at Edinburgh, involving university staff and guest speakers, on the Palestine/Israel question during the academic year 2009/10.
6. STUDENT SIT-IN – Lastly, we demand that no legal, financial or academic measures be taken against those participating in, or supporting, a peaceful sit-in to ensure our calls are answered.

There will be rallies and other activities throughout the sit-in, both inside and outside the building. We will endeavour to hold talks and debates, show documentaries and create solidarity artwork. We aim to create an open space, allowing for the constructive and creative spread of awareness on the Gaza conflict and continued oppression of Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territories. Come and see for yourselves!

In solidarity,

The occupying students of Edinburgh University

I find the news of this occupation rather heartening. First of all I find myself in agreement with all the aims of the students involved. Secondly, because the university, far from over-reacting, is engaging in dialogue. But most of all, the whole thing is just being so civilised. It's the first time I've heard of students occupying a building but allowing classes to carry on undisturbed around them.

And I was interested to read that one of the university staff who dropped by in support had taken part in the Berkeley University anti-Vietnam war protests. Kathy Jenkins is someone I know slightly because she organises health & safety conferences, so I must ask her about those days some time.

I'm not surprised that The Scotsman covered the story (very briefly on Thursday): not only is it on their doorstep, it's the latest in a wave of similar sit-ins at Scottish universities. I expected that the London papers might have a brief mention, what with student activism being a rare thing these days, but not a word. Nothing from the BBC of course: even BBC Scotland ignored the story totally. Funny, with them being so pro-Palestinian and never missing a chance to bash Israel and all that.....

The students' blog is here, and their Facebook group is here.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Song for Valentine's Day

From Tim Minchin. Well, it amused me, and seemed vaguely appropriate.

Of fish and bicycles

Hee hee. In this post we see some of those creationists whose "refutations" of evolution were debunked by Ken Miller at the Dover trial saying that they were misinterpreted. If only they'd left it at that and not felt the need to add

Bicycles have two wheels. Unicycles, having only one wheel, are missing an obvious component found on bicycles. Does this imply that you can remove one wheel from a bicycle and it will still function? Of course not. Try removing a wheel from a bike and you’ll quickly see that it requires two wheels to function. The fact that a unicycle lacks certain components of a bicycle does not mean that the bicycle is therefore not irreducibly complex.

And if only the video camera had never been invented:

And following from one of the comments on that Discover magazine post, here's a functioning bicycle with no wheels at all.

P.S. one of the other comments was just so delicious I had to link to it. Best thing since Intelligent Falling.

Wonders of Nature

I wouldn't want anyone to think that my juxtaposition of the Gettysburg address as a celebration of Lincoln's birthday and of Gary Larson cartoons to celebrate that of Darwin was intended in any way to be disrespectful of Darwin. So here are a couple of video clips which eloquently demonstrate some of the evidence for Darwin's theory, as well as the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the believers in "Intelligent Design". The 'trial' referred to in the clips is Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (2005), where a group of concerned parents took the Dover School board to court over its proposal to teach Intelligent Design (i.e creationism) in science classes. (The parents won.)

Here is an excellent interview with Ken Miller. I especially liked the following:

I'm a scientist and I have faith in God. But that doesn't make faith a scientific proposition. Faith and reason are both necessary to the religious person for a proper understanding of the world in which we live, and there is ultimately no necessary contradiction between reason and faith.


Q: Does science have limits to what it can tell us?

Miller: If science is competent at anything, it's in investigating the natural and material world around us. What science isn't very good at is answering questions that also matter to us in a big way, such as the meaning, value, and purpose of things. Science is silent on those issues. There are a whole host of philosophical and moral questions that are important to us as human beings for which we have to make up our minds using a method outside of science.

Q: Can science prove or disprove the existence of a creator, of God?

Miller: Whether God exists or not is not a scientific question.

Now stop worrying and enjoy your life, whether you believe in a God or not.

Thag Simmons R.I.P.

Thinking of Gary Larson, I love the thought that one of his cartoon coinages has been taken up as a genuine term in palaeontology. See here.

"Now this end is called the thagomizer, after the late Thag Simmons."

The Disney animators on Fantasia had no doubt of the thagomizer's purpose, as can be seen seven and a half minutes into this clip:

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

I've just had it pointed out to me (Bear Of Very Little Brain that I am) that not only was Thursday Charles Darwin's 200th birthday, it was also Abraham Lincoln's. Born on the same day of the same year.

By way of a tribute to one of them, here is my favourite piece of English prose:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government : of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Darwin's writings can't match that, but his ideas were as much of an inspiration as Lincoln's and have become as much a part of our common heritage. Of course, some people don't get it, but then some people still think democracy is a bad idea.

I like to think that maybe the Wainwrights in this Gary Larson cartoon were creationists:

Blazing Saddles

I thought this looked a really interesting idea for getting rid of nuclear waste. I'm all for recycling the stuff rather than dumping it in the ground.

Reducing the quantity of dangerous nuclear waste in landfill, producing energy, reducing fossil fule dependency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions: it's a fair bet that Greenpeace will hate it. After all, who wants improvements to the environment when doom and gloom are so much more lucrative?

Here, though, is a suggestion for how we could all do something for climate change. As I read it I kept remembering a scene in Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander. Googling to be sure I wasn't getting mixed up, I found this Wikipedia article. Isn't the internet wonderful?

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Their Countries Needed Them

This time last week we had just discovered who was going to represent the UK in this year's Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow. We'd also just heard all three finalists in Your Country Needs You singing the song which Andrew Lloyd Webber and Dianne Warren have written to be our entry. At the start of the series ALW was seen talking to various people connected with the competition from around Europe, and one thing that struck me was the number who said that Britain would have more chance of winning if we seemed to be taking the contest seriously rather than just messing about. Well, getting the Warren/Lloyd Webber team to write our entry sugests we're trying to win this time, and I have to say the song is pretty good. Not outstanding in an oh-my-god-if-this-doesn't-win-we'll-know-it's-been-rigged way, but better than most of our recent efforts. At least we won't be relying on a gimmick. All the finalists were good (I'd hated The Twins at first but they'd learned to sing in tune by the final, even if their dancing skills were best glossed over). After the car crash that was I'd Do Anything, (with winner Jodie apparently being voted in by the Great British Public not in spite of her lack of talent but because of it, as some kind of protest against the "elitism" of the studio judges, most of whom had consistently pointed out that she sang and moved like a foghorn loosely strapped to a WW1 tank) I'd pretty much assumed that anyone good would be weeded out early, but both Mark and Jade made it to the final, and they (and the Emperors Of Soul) had been stand-outs from the beginning. Funnily enough when it came to singing the ALW song in the final, the Twins did the best job. Still, going for a safe pair of lungs suggested one of the others, probably Jade, and despite having almost eliminated her the previous week the public backed her. Now of course the hard work of polishing begins.

My son was saying that at Lyceum Youth Theatre they'd been drawing up lists of totally pointless things, and one that most of the kids agreed on was Eurovision. Hmm. I realise it's long outgrown the original excitement of the one time each year when you got to see broadcasters from other countries ("Hello Madrid!") and hear their pop music. Certainly its quality is patchy, but I wouldn't diss it too much. Let's consider a few blasts from the past.

Let's start with Britain's last winner, Love Shine A Light by Katrina and the Waves in 1997. I first heard that the day before the contest: I was sitting in my car waiting to turn right from Lothian Road into Castle Terrace in Edinburgh. Yes, it made that much of an impression: I remember thinking "This has got to win". Which it did, by one of the biggest margins ever. It remains one of my all-time favourite Eurovision songs, along with... but we'll get to those. Incidentally, one of the few Eurovision winners (or indeed entries) not to feature a key change.

Since then the British entries have been a pretty lacklustre collection, though I feel I should put in a word for Daz Sampson whose Teenage Life failed to win in 2006. Yes, it had a gimmick, but it also had a decent tune and intelligent lyrics. The problem (leaving aside block-voting conspiracy theories) may have been that the intelligent lyrics go mostly over the heads of a non-Anglophone audience, so unless your tune is outstanding they go to waste.

An earlier winner with quite clever lyrics and a great tune was of course Waterloo with which Abba won in Brighton in 1974. Another of my favourites. Whenever I see this I remember reading an interview with Katie Boyle, who hosted the 1974 show. The BBC people had discovered about two minutes from the start that her panties were visible on camera through her dress, so the only option in the time remaining was for her to be cut out of them and do the show knickerless. Given the reason for the alteration, it's no surprise that in most shots you see Katie standing with a strategically placed clipboard......

The other great landslide win in Eurovision history, and another song which you knew was going to win the moment you heard it, was Ein Bißchen Frieden (Nicole, 1982). A few interesting facts about the song here.

In 1969, of course, Lulu won with Boom Bang-a-Bang. That year is memorable for the only tied winners in Eurovision history (they have effective tie-breaking now), when not just two but four entries shared the win. Along with Britain there were songs from The Nethrlands and Germany, as well as the Spanish entry which I must confess I liked best on the night. It was Vivo Cantando by Salome.

In 1981 the UK had its last win before Katrina and the Waves, when Bucks Fizz narrowly beat Switzerland and Germany to win with Making Your Mind Up. The trouble with gimmicks is that even when your song is good (and this one stands up very well after 28 years) it's the gimmick that people remember. (Non-British readers will have to watch the clip until 1:38 to know what I'm talking about.) While the song (and the legs) retain their appeal, the dance routine looks pretty dated (and wow, microphone stands.....). And I'd forgotten that all the music was played by the house band in those days, which is why the actual Eurovision backing isn't quite as punchy as the more familiar single version. Still good enough to beat Johnny Foreigner though. Oh, and that was one of the years Norway got zero points, in the years when we could still laugh about that.

Another of my all-time favourites, and the song often considered to have brought Eurovision out of the age of light entertainment and into the age of pop, was Poupée de cire, Poupée de son by France Gall which won for Luxembourg in 1965. Written by Serge Gainsbourg (best known for Je t'aime (moi non plus)) it was the first non-ballad ever to win. and it still crackles with energy. More info here. If you have clever (and untranslatable) lyrics you can get away with it when your tune is that good. Another winner without a key-change, by the way.

No self-respecting Eurovision nerd (not a contradiction on terms, let me assure you) would restrict a list like this to winners only when there are so many great songs that just missed out(or sometimes sank unfaiirly without trace). In 2002 when Latvia won with I Wanna, the close second place was Malta's Ira Losco with the cracking 7th Wonder. And somewhere down in the also-rans was Maja Tatic of Bosnia-Herzegovina with Na jastuku za dvoje. I thought it fairly rocked, myself.

And let's not forget the sometimes outstanding interval pieces with which countries promote their domestic culture. The most famous (and rightly so) is the one put on by Dublin in 1994, a little seven-minute extravaganza featuring their folk music and especially their step dancing tradition. I remember coming into the room just after it had started and being absolutely mesmerised by it. That, of course, was Riverdance, and I remain unconvinced that working it up into a full-length show was any kind of an improvement, because it was damned near perfect to start with.

Good luck to Jade for Moscow 2009!

Human shields in Palestine

The Israeli Army ordered its soldiers to stop using Palestinian civilians as human shields back in May 2002. Until then, it had been commonplace.

That report from (I think) the Daily Mail of April 23rd 2004 suggests that the order was not always respected: or perhaps the Border Police considered it didn't apply to them. Rather surprisingly the BBC covered the story as well, though if course they made sure to include this gem:

Israeli police spokesman Gil Kleiman said: "It's unclear what happened, we do not expose civilians to physical damage willingly."

Given the evidence of a police Land Rover with a Palestinian child plasticuffed to it, one can only assume that poor policemen were coerced by intolerable pressure, such as being scared to get out of their Land Rover to confront unarmed kids without one should perhaps call the "enhanced armour option".

Anyway, they're still at it. As the guy from Adalah said, it's more common for human shields to be used in military operations than against stone-throwers (why waste a useful resource on unarmed kids you can simply shoot?) Now they use them to set off booby-traps and be shot in ambushes.

This report from the BBC quotes Amnesty International as calling for both sides to stop endangering civilians. Let us leave aside, as AI correctly does, any question of whether it is more culpable to shoot from near civilians (Hamas) or to take civilian hostages (IDF), However, the BBC reporter appears to think the Israeli Supreme Court banned the IDF from pushing civilians ahead of them to trip booby-traps and so on only in 2005 (perhaps he was familar with the 2004 story above and -naturally - assumed the Israelis had acted legally). He also seems to think the IDF stopped using human shields once it was made illegal. (Umm, yes, like the government demolished all the West Bank settlements once the Supreme Court declared them illegal.)

Yet the overwhelming impression from the British media (banned from entering Gaza during the offensive and gratefully swallowing everything the Israeli government supplied) is that it is Hamas who were using "human shields" and that the IDF were taking great risks to avoid civilian casualties. (Don't you love the way Israeli spokesmen kept stressing that they'd sent mobile phone messages to Gazans telling them to flee? Q1: Flee to where exactly, since the borders were sealed? Q2: Just how many mobile phone masts do you imagine were still working after the Israeli airstrikes? Q3: In a country with no electricity thanks to the Israelis, what are these mobile phones supposed to run on?)

Truly, Israeli propaganda is (in Norman Finkelstein's memorable phrase) Beyond Chutzpah.

This is the kind of news I like

Remember Waltz With Bashir? Well, apparently it's banned in Lebanon (boooo!) but is being screened privately and distributed on the streets as bootleg DVDs (hooray!)

It's not often I cheer for bootleg DVDs.....

Two posts that caught my attention in different ways

Norman Finkelstein on why Israel had to launch the Gaza offensive.

And a strong contender for any "unfortunate post title" award:
Cat Stevens sings for Gaza; Jordan's queen calls it "hell"

Friday, February 06, 2009

Tirly Tirly Truly Truly

My daughter is very keen on translations into other languages of songs from Disney musicals, and trawls Youtube looking for good examples.

So she might already be aware of these translations of "Oo-de-Lally" from Robin Hood. (via)

For the rest of us, they're rather jolly.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Pirates of the Southern Ocean

I have been accused, like everyone else who criticises Israeli policies, of believing that everything bad in the world comes out of Israel. I think such a criticism greatly overinflates Israel's significance to the world, but in any case, I don't. Tony Blair didn't come out of Israel (indeed, one of the problems in his "job" as Middle East Peace Envoy is that he hardly ever does come out of Israel, for example to visit Gaza). Robert Mugabe didn't come out of Israel, nor did Milosevic, Mladic, Karadzic and the rest of that gang. The governments of Myanmar and China aren't Israeli: I don't think Israel even sells them weapons.

And then there's this lovely guy, whom we met last year. He's not Israeli, or indeed Jewish: he's Canadian, and Canada doesn't produce many weapon-grade assholes (correct me if I'm wrong, Persephone). Anyway, he's at it again: piracy and use of chemical weapons. Rather than whingeing about the Japanese ship using an "anti-personnel weapon system" (and your point is what, Mr Watson?) he should be thankful that his ship was only hit by a (low-velocity) "metal object". If the Japanese took the same robust attitude to piracy that the Indian navy does, he would have been sunk by artillery. If only......

Rain of terror: reign of lies

We hear a lot (from the BBC we hear little else from Israel and Gaza) about the "rain of rockets" being fired again across the border into Israeli teritory. And the rockets must stop.

But we don't hear about the rain of bullets across the border the other way, every day, targeting Palestinian farmers working their fields.

We hear about the cease-fire which began on January 18th, and was breached by Hamas when an Israeli soldier was killed by a bomb on January 27th. Did we hear that Israel had breached the cease-fire on the first day? We did not. Here is the cached version of the BBC's first report. Later they had more detail.

And of course the BBC continues to repeat the lie that the invasion of Gaza was a response to a Palestinian breach of an earlier cease-fire by firing rockets into southern Israel. What they didn't mention was that Israel never implemented its side of the cease-fire agreement in the first place. Nevertheless, Hamas kept its side of the deal and stopped its attacks, until Israel breached the cease-fire by sending its soldiers into Gaza on November 4th and murdering six Palestinians.

It's strange we hear none of this when the BBC is supposedly so pro-Palestinian.

Nor have we been hearing from the "Israel-hating" BBC about the deliberate fouling of Gazan homes by the "moral" IDF.

Strange, that. (The lack of reporting, I mean, not the shitting. We already knew the IDF were excrement-smearing thieves from their 2002 occupation of the Fatah offices in Ramallah. Not from the BBC of course, but from Ha'aretz.)

Rod Liddle in the Spectator takes time out from telling us why the BBC was right not to broadcast the Gaza charity appeal to observe:

George Galloway, with whom I was privileged to ‘debate’ the issue (there is no debate, of course), asserted that the BBC had shown long-standing and extreme pro-Israeli bias. Is it even remotely possible to believe such a thing without being quite mad?

Yes it is, Rod. Indeed, it is impossible to disbelieve it without being deaf and blind. Or, of course, quite mad.

(Though I did like Liddle's later remark about one of his fellow-columnists:

Melanie Phillips said that it was right that the film shouldn’t be shown but that the BBC continued to spray out pro-Palestinian propaganda whenever it covered the whole issue. I suspect my colleague Mel won’t be happy with the BBC’s coverage until it’s presented by the Stern Gang, in fatigues, but there we are. )

Murderer Watch

Since nobody seems to be too bothered by the forty-year-long illegal occupation following Israel's land grab of 1967, it's refreshing to discover a website listing some of the most culpable of Israel's war criminals, along with their photographs and the details of their crimes. (Hat tip to Barbaric Document.)

If they are ever unwise enough to set foot in Europe, let's hope they get arrested before they can escape back to Israel.

So is it the British or U.S. government interfering with the investigation of torture?

Reprieve client Binyam Mohamed is a victim of “extraordinary rendition” and torture. He was initially held illegally in Pakistan for four months, where a British intelligence agent interrogated him under circumstances later found to be probably illegal by the British court. He was rendered to Morocco by the CIA on July 21, 2002, where he was tortured for 18 months, with the British government apparently supplying information and questions used by the Moroccan torturers. On January 21, 2004, he was rendered a second time, to the secret “Dark Prison,” an underground prison in Afghanistan, where his torture continued. Since September 2004, he has been held in Guantánamo Bay. He has never been tried for any crime.

Yesterday the High Court in London held in a judgment that details of Binyam’s ill-treatment at the hands of the US and Pakistani authorities should not be published because the US authorities had threatened to withhold intelligence sharing with the UK, should the information be made public.

The Judges stated that they had been informed that the threat remained in place even after the change of administration in the US. They were deeply critical of this stance, which prevented them from ordering disclosure of information they ‘consider so important to the rule of law, free speech and democratic accountability’. They noted that no national security interests were at issue in the documents themselves. However, the Judges stated the US threat to downgrade its intelligence relationship with the UK would harm UK national security.

In an astonishing sequence of events following the judgment, the Foreign Secretary conceded that the Obama administration had not actually been approached and stated that in fact no threat regarding intelligence sharing had ever been made by the US. These admissions by the Foreign Secretary would seem to undermine the whole basis of the Court’s reluctant decision to refuse to publish details of Binyam’s torture.

Leigh Day & Co Solicitors and Reprieve are accordingly seeking to re-open the case (Mohamed v. Secretary of State) on the basis that the judgment relied on ‘misleading evidence’ provided by the UK Government.

Georgia On My Mind

Any day now, the US 11th Circuit Court will decide in favour of life or death for Troy Davis, who has been waiting on Death Row in Georgia for over 17 years.

Troy Davis was convicted in 1991 of the murder of 27-year-old Officer Mark Allen MacPhail, white, who was shot and killed in the car park of a Burger King restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, in the early hours of 19 August 1989. Davis was also convicted of assaulting Larry Young, a homeless man, who was accosted immediately before Officer MacPhail was shot.

At the trial, Troy Davis admitted that he had been at the scene of the shooting, but claimed that he had neither assaulted Larry Young nor shot Officer MacPhail. There was no physical evidence against Troy Davis and the weapon used in the crime was never found. The case against him consisted entirely of witness testimony. In affidavits signed over the years since the trial, a majority of the state’s witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony. In addition, there is post-trial testimony implicating another man, Sylvester Coles, as the gunman.

In March 2008, the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, joined by two other Justices on the Court, wrote that,:

"In this case, nearly every witness who identified Davis as the shooter at trial has now disclaimed his or her ability to do so reliably. Three persons have stated that Sylvester Coles confessed to being the shooter. Two witnesses have stated that Sylvester Coles, contrary to his trial testimony, possessed a handgun immediately after the murder. Another witness has provided a description of the crimes that might indicate that Sylvester Coles was the shooter."

The Chief Justice wrote that, "the collective effect of all of Davis's new testimony, if it were to be found credible by the trial court in a hearing, would show the probability that a new jury would find reasonable doubt of Davis's guilt or a least sufficient residual doubt to decline to impose the death penalty".

Despite a number of stays of execution, Troy Davis is still on Death Row. Why not email Georgia State Governor Sonny Perdue on his behalf?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Tell me about your childhood.....

By way of Cloud I was directed to a psychoanalytical tool for blogs, which derives a Myers-Briggs personality type indicator for the blog.

Before I run EKN through it, I should state that I have been evaluated twice using a Myers-Briggs questionnaire, About twenty years ago I came out as an INTJ ("Masterminds")

INTJs apply (often ruthlessly) the criterion "Does it work?" to everything from their own research efforts to the prevailing social norms. This in turn produces an unusual independence of mind, freeing the INTJ from the constraints of authority, convention, or sentiment for its own sake... INTJs are known as the "Systems Builders" of the types, perhaps in part because they possess the unusual trait combination of imagination and reliability. Whatever system an INTJ happens to be working on is for them the equivalent of a moral cause to an INFJ; both perfectionism and disregard for authority may come into play... Personal relationships, particularly romantic ones, can be the INTJ's Achilles heel... This happens in part because many INTJs do not readily grasp the social rituals... Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, is that INTJs really want people to make sense.

while about five years ago I came out as an ENTJ ("Fieldmarshals")

ENTJs have a natural tendency to marshal and direct. This may be expressed with the charm and finesse of a world leader or with the insensitivity of a cult leader. The ENTJ requires little encouragement to make a plan. One ENTJ put it this way... "I make these little plans that really don't have any importance to anyone else, and then feel compelled to carry them out." While "compelled" may not describe ENTJs as a group, nevertheless the bent to plan creatively and to make those plans reality is a common theme for NJ types.

For all that I normally test as extravert rather than introvert, I can see slightly more of myself in the INTJ, though there's an element of truth in both. I am, for example, a pretty good committee chair, I believe.

OK, let's see how Eine Kleine Nachtmusik stacks up.

Apparently, like Cloud's own blog, EKN is an ISTP ("Crafters"). Hmm.

ISTPs excel at analyzing situations to reach the heart of a problem so that they can swiftly implement a functional repair, making them ideally suited to the field of engineering. Naturally quiet people, they are interested in understanding how systems operate, focusing on efficient operation and structure. They are open to new information and approaches. But contrary to their seemingly detached natures, ISTPs are often capable of humorously insightful observations about the world around them, and can be closet daredevils who gravitate toward fast-moving or risky hobbies (such as bungee jumping, hang gliding, racing, motorcycling, and parachuting), recreational sports (such as downhill skiing, paintball, ice hockey, and scuba diving), and careers (such as aviation and firefighting).

Engineering, check (Chartered Engineer, that's me). Humorously insightful observations, check (and better spelling than Wikipedia also). Closet daredevil? Not sure about that one.

As an IT worker for a bank, I suspect I'm closer to Chartered Accountant than to Lion-Tamer. I don't even have a lion-taming hat.

Now I'm thinking of the scene in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi where nerdy Surinder (Shah Rukh Khan) takes on a massive Sumo wrestler to win a trip to Japan to please his wife. I suppose that might be me, but then, romantic relationships are the INTJ's Achilles' heel.....

The moral: people are just plain complicated. FWIW, in many respects the description of an INTP fits me best. I definitely seem to be a Rational type anyway. Isaac Asimov was an INTJ and as he's one of my lifetime heroes (chemistry! science fiction! Gilbert & Sullivan! dreadful puns!) that will do for me.

Good news from Israel

I note from Cloud that the ban on two Arab parties in the upcoming Israeli election has been overturned in the courts.

To those such as Adam Holland who perceive me as having "extreme anti-Israel views", I would respond that while I have no respect for the IDF and little for most current Israeli politicians, I have always been - and remain - a supporter of Israel's right to exist, and hence of a two-state rather than a one-state solution to the Palestinian Question. Whatever the inequities of its establishment, Israel is a fact and will - must - survive. However, let us not kid ourselves. Its present constitution defines it as a Jewish homeland, and its Jewish inhabitants are privileged by law over non-Jews in terms of proprty rights, employment and political representation. It has long been the case that parties wishing to alter the constitution so as to give all Israel's citizens equal rights are banned from taking seats in the Knesset. The recent ban on contesting the election merely went a step further. So while I am absolutely not anti-Israel, please let's not befoul the word "democracy" by pretending that it is one. However, its Supreme Court clearly gives more weight to the idea of Israel as a democracy than to the one of Israel as a Jewish state, so who knows? If there is one decent democratic organ alive and well in Israel (and actually its press isn't bad either, which is why I quote so often from Ha'aretz) then there is hope for true Israeli democracy to blossom in the future.

BBC bias: some get it, some don't

Here is the redoubtable Craig Murray (the Ambassador we recalled from Tashkent because for some unfathomable reason he wasn't prepared to stop complaining about political dissidents' being boiled alive by one of Tony Blair's business buddies) on the BBC's reporting of the invasion of Gaza.

Of course, some people prefer to live with blinkers on. Back in July, the ludicrous Adam Holland replied to one of my comments with a screed of untruths ending with

If you see BBC as being pro-Israel, that says quite a bit about your extreme anti-Israel bias. Try citing examples if you can find any to make your case.

Once I'd stopped laughing I duly supplied him with a list of examples, along with other rebuttals, which he duly ignored completely. As in, didn't allow through "moderation". Shortly after that I realised that Holland is one of those fools who believes the way to conduct debate on the internet is to start an argument, then either wilfully misinterpret your interlocutor or just make stuff up, then suppress any further replies to make it seem that you've vanquished the foe with the power of your logic. Jeez. I give Judith Weiss credit for not stooping to that level at least: she may have banned me eventually, but she simply banned me and said so. (OK, she made up a few ludicrous lies about me afterwards, but what self-respecting apologist for Israel wouldn't do that?) However, whenever she issued a "put up or shut up" request, when I duly "put up" she published my comment. After that she invariably went very quiet on the topic concerned, but she didn't in general go in for sly, cowardly censorship of Mr Holland's kind. There are a few more posts (mostly on media coverage of news from Israel or the OT) where the pattern was repeated, which is when I decided it was a waste of time encouraging him. I'd forgotten him until I dug up an old shortcut.

Anyway, Adam, if you drop by wondering who on Earth has been visiting your blog, you now have a further set of examples from Craig, not to mention this, this, this, this, or this. And if you publish a comment, well, I might let it stand or I might delete it. If I wish to uphold the standards of the BBC or your own good self, my readers will never know whether you commented or not. If I wish to uphold the more normal standards of decent folk, then if you have anything worth saying in response, say it.

As a famous (Jewish-American) man once said, it depends on how I'm feeling.