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

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Hatto Delusion

Thanks to Gert for posting on the amazing story of Joyce Hatto and the hoax recordings, here and here.

As she says in one of her comments, people will believe what they want to believe, however intrinsically unlikely. And hey, even Gert does the Lottery.....

Monday, February 26, 2007

Malaise en Malaisie

...as the Serge Gainsbourg song has it, though in this case I hope not, as my daughter is heading off to Malaysia on Wednesday morning to spend ten weeks volunteering with Operation Raleigh. So tomorrow we're heading on the train down to London, staying near Paddington, and spending her last evening in Britain going to see Wicked. Then out to Heathrow at silly o'clock on Wednesday to see her off on her flight to Kuala Lumpur.

Hard though it was to believe it last night - when her room was a total mess with clothes to go, clothes to stay and clothes to be sent to charity shops all muddled up - she appears to have got everything packed and ready.

It will seem strange not having her in the house for that length of time; but good practice for the autumn when she's off to college.

P.S. Oh, and she says to tell Lisa she hates her for having met Joss Whedon.

Family Values

How could I forget? Cinnamon Stillwell is (as she proudly reminds us over on her blog) a contributing editor for Family Security Matters, which is an unintentionally hilarious site. I mean, any site which can post, with no sense of irony whatsoever, a piece entitled Ronald Reagan - A Study In Manliness which purports to explain why many consider the old buffoon the be "The Greatest American", has to be worth a visit. Even if its most recent contribution is from the vile Daniel Pipes ("Leading anti-Muslim hate propagandist" according to Left Turn magazine). This is the same Pipes who ran a blacklist of American academics accused of having criticised Israel; the same Pipes who supports a single-state solution to the Palestinian problem, with that state being Israel; and whose level of contribution to the debate on Islam and the West may be judged from his comment in National Review (19 Nov 1990):

"Western European societies are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and maintaining different standards of hygiene...All immigrants bring exotic customs and attitudes, but Muslim customs are more troublesome than most."

And this one in the Jerusalem Post of 22 January 2003:

"There is no escaping the unfortunate fact that Muslim employees in law enforcement, the military, and the diplomatic corps need to be watched for connections to terrorism, as do Muslim chaplains in prisons and the armed forces. Muslim visitors and immigrants must undergo additional background checks. Mosques require a scrutiny beyond that applied to churches, synagogues, and temples. Muslim schools require increased oversight to ascertain what is being taught to children."

Sweet. Heck, even Christopher Hitchens, no stranger to anti-Muslim attitudes, reckons the guy is a liability who "confuses scholarship with propaganda and pursues petty vendettas with scant regard for objectivity". Obviously just the chap to fit in at FSW along with Stillwell.

As for La Stillwell's own contributions, there is this one on how Hatred of Israel and Jews Imperils Us All (though evidently hatred of Muslims and everywhere else in the Middle East is to be encouraged). Best thing in this rant? Her description of Pat Buchanan as "an otherwise intelligent and articulate speaker for the cause of conservatism" before being saddened by his objections to American support for Israel. Or how about this one, where not only does she actually believe that there was a British plot to destroy aircraft with liquid explosives (evidence produced to date: none) but she takes the fact that all the suspects arrested were Muslims to be evidence that this must have been a plot by "Islamic fascists". Which is rather like the joke about the drunk looking for his key under the streetlight, not because that's where he dropped it but because that's where the light is. Clearly the fact that Hitler rounded up Jews after the Reichstag fire must mean that they were responsible for burning it down. Or this one on last September's Hudson Institute conference devoted to planning the destruction and replacement of the United Nations, whose roster of speakers she describes gushingly as

"featuring journalists, politicians, human rights champions and historians the likes of which can only be described as intellectually star-studded"

Oh, that's really not the only way to describe them.....

Let's all just be grateful that after her demonstration that she can't tell the Pentagon from the World Trade Centre it's highly unlikely that even Bush will ever place the Spice Girl in a position where she can actually influence events. She'd be itching to launch a nuclear strike on Gaza and would end up levelling Tacoma.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Oh Cinnamon, Where You Gonna Run To?

I don't have much time for 9/11 conspiracy theorists, who seem to me to be adept at spinning a grand web of paranoia out of a few genuine inconsistencies in reporting.

However, when our old foe Cinnamon Stillwell was caught out publishing an outrageous lie in the San Francisco Chronicle (which the Chronicle had to retract), as its topic was 9/11 it gave the lunatic fringe plenty to crow about, and we can all share their joy at her exposure. See here, here and here.

When not telling her outright lies, Ms Stillwell, as we know already, peddles anti-Muslim hatred. To her, every Muslim is a "Jihadi", and every crime committed by a Muslim is therefore terrorism-related. She also does her best to fit every other stereotype of the ignorant right-wing hack: describing a move by the San Francisco authorities to ban handguns as "creating a police state" and laying into Brokeback Mountain in one of the most pitiful pieces of homophobic filth I've ever had the misfortune to read. No doubt if she had been in Hitler's Germany Stillwell would have worn her yellow star with joy at the thought that at least the filthy gays were having to wear pink triangles and suffer extermination too. She takes wildly swinging sideswipes at Desperate Housewives (my daughter, who unlike Stillwell has seen every episode, tells me she can recall one scene with men kissing - hardly "competing with Brokeback Mountain") and TransAmerica ("Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives fame took on yet another brush with degeneracy...." - not that Huffman's character in DH is remotely degenerate, but Stillwell is never going to allow an inconvenient fact to derail her transport of hatred). Revealingly, she criticises The Constant Gardener for exposing "evil pharmaceutical companies exploiting African natives" as though this is somehow corporate behaviour we should all encourage. (And don't you love that interesting use of the word "natives" slipped in there?) Good Night and Good Luck is apparently an "ode to the glory days of McCarthyism, Communist heroes and old media", and of course no patriotic American could ever criticise good ol' Joe McCarthy who was such an inspiration to Bush and Cheney in their war on American freedom. And so it goes on, and on. Only the minuscule gay population goes to see Brokeback Mountain, whose box-office figures are probably being "inflated by interested parties". BM's publicity was a "propaganda campaign of which Goebbels would have been proud". Well, she ought to know, given her views.

Let's leave the last word (for now) to some feminists who seem to have no more time for Ms Stillwell than I have. I especially like one of the comments:

Under Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship in Iraq, women walked bareheaded in the streets. Since the US has ended his reign of terror, women who walk in public unveiled risk beatings or worse. Which state of affairs do you think Cinnamon Stillwell thinks is better?)

But come on, that isn't even a question. They're Muslim women and therefore Untermenschen by definition: who imagines Stillwell gives a toss about them?


Postscript regarding the situation of women in Iraq: two new posts by riverbend. This. And then this.

Cinnamon Stillwell must be so proud of how well the Iraqi security forces and the puppet Prime Minister have been trained in American techniques.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Night They Drove Old Diva Down

Mike (Troubled Diva) has posted an interview with Joan Baez.

Even though I have seen her live, I'm still jealous. I mean, come ON, it's JOAN BAEZ!

Here's why "Percy's Song" had to be written by an American

It may seem illogical when our prisons are overcrowded to saturation point, but I remain in awe of American sentencing for serious crimes. For example, this guy who just got 100 years for rape and murder. Heck, with sentences like that available, why would anyone go for the death penalty? Stay in jail, and just maybe we'll consider you for parole when you're dead: now that's far more of a deterrent than being put to sleep with an injection. (Especially in an American prison.) And for violent crimes such as murder and rape, it seems fair enough to me. Indeed, I have never understood the almost universal British judicial practice when sentencing for multiple crimes of stipulating that the sentences should run concurrently rather than consecutively.

Of course, the problem is that our jails are plugged up with people who have no business being locked up at all, but who should be out there doing community service somewhere, or working to pay off a monster fine, if indeed they should be being punished in the first place.

But I still look forward to the first British rapist to get a hundred-year sentence.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Scam, scam, scam, scam, scam, scam, scam, wonderful scam....

Have you ever been plagued by a kind Nigerian businessman who wants to cut you in on an indecent amount of swag? Of course.

Ever wished there was something you could do about it?

Well my suggestion is, leave it to this guy. Because on different occasions he and his mates have managed to trick these plonkers into posing for ridiculous photographs such as these

Sometimes he gets them, at their own expense of course, to paint large advertisements for his book:

And most recently he has persuaded some of them to video the Dead Parrot Sketch.

Here's how he brought that one off.

Thanks to linkbunnies.

And he went with a quack and a waddle and a quack

My wife had an aunt Addie who was one of those characterful aunts like something out of P G Wodehouse. When Hilary was little Addie used to sing her a silly song she was very fond of, and I can understand why. We in turn sang it to our kids. All together now, to the tune of Sousa's "The Stars And Stripes Forever":

Be kind to your four-legged friends,
That duck may be somebody's brother.
He lives in the marsh and the swamp
Where the weather is always domp.
Now you may think that this is the end,
Well it is.

All of which is by way of an intro to this story from the BBC.

Eine Kleine Nichtmusik - A New Word For Slow

The trouble with only checking my blogroll's top ten on a really regular basis is that I miss stuff in the other ones until it's old news. Such as Clare's announcement in Infantile Disorder (and as she's outed herself as the author I can say that now) that she's pregnant again. Big hooray and lots of hugs for Swollen Boob Pencil Clare. Big hooray and lots of hugs for Ally and Felix. Dog biscuit and lots of walkies for Dipsy.

And let's hope that this time round the next week of pregnancy doesn't see the hyperemesis kicking in.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Pig Pen this here's Rubber Duck and I'm about to put the tipper up....no, wait.....

I saw this on the local news tonight, and thought it looked rather impressive.

It would have been interesting to see exactly what led up to it.....

Hogging the limelight

My little friend Hermione (down there on the right, look) was very pleased by this news.

And here is some background on the research which helped lead to the cull's being abandoned. With some awwww...pictures.

OK, so he's a cowardly liar, but when he's so ridiculous, who cares?

By way of a recap. Over on Kesher Talk, as one of a number of contributors to a post expressing a muted scepticism over global warming (of course.....) we have Ben, who wrote a lengthy essay imagining what might happen if the non-sceptics were right about the dangers of climate change, Hillary Clinton became president, and "by 2010 a comprehensive plan to fight global warming is signed in a star-studded international conference". Among the items in his scenario was this (obvious typos corrected in all Ben's contributions because hey, we all do those, and I'll be correcting some of my own later):

In 2100, 8 million die in the Philippines from massive typhoon damage, and accompanying plague and lawlessness. The UN relief effort stalls when it is found that Manila's surviving hotels no longer provide turn down service - no UN coordinator is willing to work in such miserable conditions.

In my first comment on the post I referred to Ben's "obligatory drive-by rubbishing of anything to do with the United Nations". At the time I thought I was dealing with Benjamin Kerstein, with whom I'd tangled in the past over the UN: hence that "obligatory". Judith (who had assembled the joint post) put me right.

Well, then in romps Ben, with

And what to make of Rob's blathering on about the UN, which does not appear anywhere in my essay?

Er, O..K... Now children, look at the post up there. Do you see not one but TWO references to the UN? Good, well done. So as the fool is too lazy to read his own posts, I helpfully backquoted the extract above. So what comes next? Well, how do ignorant bullies normally respond when their errors are pointed out to them? With bluster:

Well Rob, you caught me on missing the UN reference in my own essay. And to think you are actually offended by this, when it is actually a reference to the UN's real behavior after the I.O. Tsunami. Must have hit too close to home on that one. Rob must be one of those greedy, nasty little UN excrements who "helps others" primarily by ensuring that he is helped first, best and only, or at least he actually supports them.

I must, mustn't I? But I had no time to print that one on a coffee mug and a set of fridge magnets, as almost immediately, in reply to a different point (he'd been talking bilge about how Europe had "no environment worth preserving") we had this wonder:

You are more concerned with insults to your fat and festering bureaucracy, and the sweet graft it can channel, than with actual issues that count, like environmental degradation. That's not liberal. You're just another tool of the neo-fascist kleptocrat machinery.


But our journey isn't quite over, even if we have just reached the best punchline of my blogging career. My response included:

You say that your drive-by rubbishing of the UN is based on actual behaviour after the Indian Ocean tsunami, so I'm sure you will be able to give me a reference from a primary source (not just a mention in another of your student essays), showing that UN workers refused to work somewhere during the tsunami relief operation because they couldn't obtain turn-down hotel service. I had assumed it to be mere rhetorical overkill, but no: you tell me it refers to real events. So no vague bloviation, and no backtracking that the UN did THIS or THAT which is almost half-similar to what you suggest. You have made a specific accusation, so either bring out your evidence - in which case I shall be appalled but grateful - or be named and shamed as a piece of libelling scum.

That was February 13th. Here we are at February 22nd, and I have grown tired of waiting. I have posted this on Kesher Talk (now it's my turn to correct my own typos):

I hear no reply, so I now know that Ben is a libellous coward who pumps out drive-by smears at easy targets which will score him points with his coterie of fellow-travellers, and then runs a mile when asked to substantiate anything.

But how can I despise even a gutless liar such as Ben when he gave me the wonderful gift of that slogan which now proudly adorns my Blogger profile, and has reduced everyone I know to either abject envy or helpless giggles?

"Tool of the neofascist kleptocrat machinery", and proud of it.

You may be inept at slandering people who are your moral superiors in every way (the toilet cleaners at the UN have more claim to my admiration than you) but you're one of the most ridiculous and risible idiots I've ever been overjoyed to encounter online. So thank you, Ben.

Since I'm sure the United Nations has more important claims on its resources than setting its libel lawyers onto "Ben" (who, let's face it, probably doesn't even post under his own name, never mind actually live in New York) the best thing the rest of us can do is make the poor clown look immoral, mendacious, and - best of all - unbelievably ridiculous. And all we have to do to achieve those goals is to publicise the poor boy's rancid fantasies.

I promise not to be greedy, and to share with you any more of them that I find.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

St Giles's at Six

Second attempt at this, which Blogger just ate....some things don't change....

This was a concert of music by post-graduate composition students at the Ian Tomlin School of Music at Napier University (which is coincidentally straight across the road from our house). We were drawn not by that geographical proximity but by the fact that two of the students were our friends Chip and Eddie Clark, from whom I had my first-ever Thanksgiving dinner, and whose first Munro-bag was in our company.

The pieces were all being given by the Edinburgh String Quartet (Napier's quartet in residence) with assistance from various student musicians. I am relieved to be able to report that Chip's and Eddie's pieces were both excellent pieces in ther different ways. Put it this way: I snoozed through one of the pieces in the programme, and it wasn't either of theirs.

Eddie's piece Sleepless Night for string quartet is described thus:

Plagued by a relentlessly dripping tap, a would-be sleeper reacts with minor frustration and mounting stress; leading to tossing and turning, sighing and moaning, and finally complete wakefulness. They say "If you can't beat 'em - join 'em!" and our wakeful sleeper begins to imagine other rhythms joining the drip, playfully exchanging frustration for delight in the ensuing water dance. The play of the imaginary water begins to lull our sleepless one, but as the illusory ballet fades with his descent into unconsciousness, the steady drip once becomes prominent and drags him back to wakefulness.

Chatting after the performance, Eddie said that the moment when she thought maybe she'd nailed the piece was at the Edinburgh Quartet's first read-through. After playing a number of introductory drips, the viola player stopped and said "How long does this need to go on?" As the cello was about to enter on the very next beat, Eddie responded "that long".

Chip's piece Aegidios for guitar and string quartet was a homage to St Giles (in whose cathedral it was being premiered). Just as Bach and Shostakovich encoded their names or initials into their music as B-A-C-H and D-S-C-H (for a German speaker H is B natural and Es is E flat) Chip coded A-E-G-I-D-I-D(o)-S(o) with I as C sharp and Do and So in the key of A being A and E. This motif is expounded first by the guitarist (Andrew Stowell) and then progressively worked up by the strings. At the very end of the piece the motif in harmonised form is pumped out by the whole ensemble, and a splendid sound it is too.

Also worthy of note were Stuart Mitchell's highly tuneful Despero for clarinet (Jennifer Cochrane) and string quartet, and John Eccles' setting for tenor(Andrew Stowell) and string quartet of Siegfried Sassoon's Sick Leave. The original poem was written while Sassoon was recuperating at the Craiglockhart hospital (now part of Napier University)

The ability to write music at all is fairly awe-inspiring (it's as much as I can do to play the damned stuff) . It's not surprising, then, that so much of what is written is either very safe easy-listening pastiche, which may take you to the giddy heights of Classic FM's composer in residence, or is terribly cerebral stuff that totally fails to engage the listener's emotions. It is only composers at the very top of their game who manage to challenge both the intellect and the feelings of the listener: Reich's Different Trains, Stockhausen's Stimmung, Berio's Folk Songs, Giles Swayne's Riff-Raff. It says a lot for the Napier students that for the most part they are, if not yet strolling down the dotted white line in the middle of the musical highway, at least avoiding the gutters and roadkill......

All My Sons

A belated review of the production (now finished) at the Lyceum Theatre of Arthur Miller's All My Sons.

Because of our various other commitments I saw this on a differnt night from the rest of my family. My son Ruairidh reckoned that Richard Conlon as Chris was the best thing in it, while my wife and daughter thought it was Stuart Milligan as Joe (the only genuine American in the cast).

I go along with my son: I thought Conlon's portrayal of Chris was exceptional, though I have to say that everyone in the cast punched above their weight on this one. I hadn't known the play before I went, other than having heard it decribed as the standard Arthur Miller plotline, viz. middle-aged middle-class American male disintegrates. Yeah, well, it did what it said on THAT tin. A good play though (not that Miller needs praise from me). The set (pretty tightly described in the script) was well designed. There was an interesting reference to Miller's future HUAC tribulations in the pre-curtain set which was a microphone and lectern behind which was a Congressional insignia (these were whisked away, never to return, when the play began).

Milligan says in the programme that he especially enjoyed playing Joe as he'd played Chris many years earlier and now got to do the other side of the dialogue. The acting all seemed extremely naturalistic, by which I mean it seemed to approach Stanislavsky's ideal where learning lines is no longer necessary because the actors have internalised their characters to such a degree that they simply say what their character would say under the circumstances. As well as Joe and Chris, Kathryn Howden as Kate seemed to reach that level.

I had thought Richard Conlon looked familiar, and looking through the programme I seem to have seen him in Dundee Rep's Flora The Red Menace (a fabulous and under-rated musical from the creators of Chicago).

Next up at the Lyceum is Mrs Warren's Profession (a joint production with Nottingham Playhouse, so maybe we can discuss it at Lisa's Nottingham blogmeet!)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Happy Birthday..............

............to the best Scottish, and probably the best British, novelist around at the moment.

Iain Banks is 53.

(Actually, so is Iain M. Banks. )

I'm looking forward to the arrival of The Steep Road To Garbadale, an extract from which he read at the Edinburgh Book Festival last summer.

Anyway, let us raise a glass of single malt (what else?) to Iain. (And another to Iain M.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Drug Store Truck-Driving Man

You may remember that back in 2003 Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, on tour on Britain, made the comment that she was ashamed that George W Bush was a Texan. To a British audience the only surprise there was that she wasn't ashamed he was an American, in the same way that most of us were (and are) ashamed to share a nationality wth Tony Blair.

Anyway, as a result of her comment, the Dixie Chicks became the target of death threats as well as a massive boycott by redneck radio stations. Unbowed, the Chicks released an single entitled "Not Ready To Make Nice" and an album entitled "Taking The Long Way", and flipped the metaphorical finger at the country music establishment.

As the Chicks walked off with five Grammies this week, demonstrating that it hasn't upset their career one bit, maybe a few other people will be inspired to speak out for what they believe in, and screw the organised bullies of the American far right. One can only hope so.

It won't stand up in court

I have a certain amount of sympathy for this guy.

Actually, make that a lot of sympathy.

Cruel and sadly all too usual

Terrific post over at Shakespeare's Sister on rape in America's prisons. I thought one of the best comments was:

It's interesting that there is an enormous amount of political effort being exerted to prevent consensual homosexual relations, but those same folks don't have a lot of energy at all invested in preventing same-sex rape. To me that says a lot about their priorities.

I haven't seen any comparative statistics on rape in British v. American prisons, but anecdotal evicence would appear to suggest that it's less prevalent here. Anyone have detailed comparisons? And if it is less common, any suggestions as to what we're doing right?

I am SO getting a T-shirt with this on it

I haven't had any silliness to report from Kesher Talk for over a week (though La Stillwell's piece of odious racism was cross-posted there). But this one's splendid. In among the comments on a fairly turgid post about global warming I had a set-to (still ongoing) with a twerp called Ben. This is not the same as Benjamin, the paranoid Islamophobe I mentioned a few weeks ago, but he's just as funny in a bang-your-head-on-the-table way. It's funny enough that he denies writing something which is sitting in full view a few hundred lines up the column; it's hilarious when he declares that the European environment isn't worth preserving because he can throw a Frisbee the length of a European national park; but the icing on the cake is when he describes me as a

"tool of the neofascist kleptocrat machinery"

which is damned near as good as being a drink-soaked Trotskyite popinjay. I have added it to my Blogger profile.

Little Mosque On The Prairie

I must say this does sound promising. I know these things are often only funny for a couple of episodes, but it's a nice idea. I especially liked the idea of Muslims in the far North pondering how to observe Ramadan when it's dark almost all the time.

If you're going to San Francisco, Be sure to wear a clothes-peg on your nose.

It isn't the Muslims we're engaged in a "clash of civilisations" with: it's people like this Cinnamon Stillwell woman who can post, in all seriousness, this.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Whaling is abhorrent, but piracy is worse

Saving the whales: that's probably where most of us started out with environmental campaigning, isn't it? And the Japanese with their "scientific" whaling are exploiting a legal loophole most nations don't even consider exists.

So why do the antics of the Sea Shepherd guys down in the Antarctic make me feel queasy? Well, I have my doubts about anyone steaming around in a ship with a bloody great ram (the "tin-opener") attached to it for the purpose of making holes in other ships. When two of the Sea Shepherd activists were left drifting out of control, the Japanese whalers turned around to help search for them. Are Watson and his crew of eco-terrorists going to help pick up the Japanese when they've holed the Nisshin Maru?

Then again, read this.

That's right, the terrorists (I don't think I can describe them any other way) are using chemical weapons against the Japanese. What does Watson have to say? Let's run through it.

According to Japan's Fisheries Agency spokesman, Hideki Moronuki, the two Japanese crewmen sustained injuries from the attack after one was hit by an empty container of acid and the other had acid squirted in his eye.

"Nice try, but a total fabrication," said Captain Watson. "The butyric acid is contained in one-liter glass bottles, all of which broke upon contact with the flensing deck of the Nisshin Maru. These bottles are sealed and the acid released after being broke, so it is impossible to be hit by an empty bottle. Secondly, no one squirted butyric acid into anyone's eye, and even if they did, this is a simple non-toxic butter acid, basically rancid butter. It will not cause eye injury. If we had tossed marshmallows on the deck of the Nisshin Maru, I'm sure the whalers would try to claim they were injured by them"

OK, so they were throwing glass bottles, which broke, releasing acid. So someone being hit by an empty bottle was presumably hit by broken glass (likely to cause injury) and splashed with acid. I suspect "squirted" is a dodgy translation of "splashed".

"Simple, non-toxic butter acid"? Apart from wondering what on earth a butter acid is meant to be, it's easy to nail that lie of Watson's. See here. Or here. And finally here.

Quite apart from wondering what part of "Corrosive: may cause skin burns. Splashes may cause eye damage" Watson has trouble understanding, I liked the bit in the third link there, where it says "Do NOT let this chemical enter the environment. " Never let it be said that these eco-terrorists allowed a little toxic pollution of the sea to get between them and their intended victims.

And as for the marshmallows: well, why weren't the Sea Shepherd people tossing marshmallows onto the whaler's deck? Because that would have been a waste of time, right? So why was throwing this "harmless butter acid" deemed worthwhile (and the butyric acid worth buying)? Not for its harmless properties, that's for sure. I dare say the corrosive nature of the stuff was a mere fringe benefit, and that it was bought because it smells of vomit and tends to make people throw up when they inhale the fumes. Rather like some of the gases police forces use for riot control. As I said: chemical weapons.

In another post on the same site the Sea Shepherd vessels are described as "attacking" the Japanese ships. Watson also proudly states that his ships are technically unflagged pirate ships, and could be attacked and confiscated at will by any nation. War on terror, anyone? Maybe Canada would like to reel in their pirate captain before he actually kills someone. "It could all be prevented by upholiding international law" says Watson. It could indeed, and Captain Watson may get a nasty shock if someone decides to do that.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Bent Spoons by C. Utlery

Here it is: the most eagerly awaited book of 2007.

No, not that Harry Potter thing.


Now all join hands and do the Book-Be-Published dance. And hurry up, 'cos I want to read it.

Travels With A Tangerine

When I was in Ballater this weekend the weather was pretty grim: on the way up I had to drive round via Aberdeen as the more direct high-level roads were all blocked with snow. So, a weekend of DVDs, the Guardian, snow-clearing, and general chilling-out. The Internet cafe in Ballater was closed, presumably because the owner lives up a rural byway and was busy digging his way out to the road. Ah, the wonders of country life.

If I'd had web access, I could have told you about this wonderful programme before it had aired. (It was on BBC4 at 21.00; the repeat has just started.) Not only is the basic travel story extremely interesting, and not only is Tim Mackintosh-Smith the ideal person to tell it; the programme is a timely reminder for those who need such things that the Islamic world is (a) diverse (b) not entirely composed of violent fanatics (c) mostly unconcerned by Westerners except when they invade their countries. Of course, those who most need that kind of lesson are unlikely to be watching travel documentaries about the Arab world because they KNOW already what Muslims are like.

I knew beforehand that the programme would be great, first of all because I've read Tim Mackintosh-Smith's books on Ibn Battutah (there's at least one more to come)., but also because I've met him. Roughly twenty years ago, Hilary and I visited her cousin (and cousin's husband) in San'a in what was then the Yemen Arab Republic. We spent a fascinating couple of weeks exploring Yemen, which even now doesn't attract many tourists. The place reminded me forcefully of the pictures that used to illustrate Bible stories; it had only recently begun to bother with the twentieth century (San'a still had fairly complete city walls, and up to the mid-1960s the gates were closed at sunset in best medieval manner). Anyway, Hilary's relatives taught English at the British Council, and one of their colleagues was an Oxford Arabic graduate who had very definitely gone native. He lived in a wonderful house in the old part of San'a (not unlike this one)

spoke fluent Arabic, and (like the Yemenis) spent his afternoons sheltering from the heat and chewing qat, which resembles privet leaves and contains a natural amphetamine. Come the afternoon you'll be hard pressed to find a Yemeni male anywhere whose cheeks aren't bulging like a hamster's with a wad of psychoactive privet. He took us into the depths of the suk, where we had a very fine lunch in a restaurant none of the rest of us would have found, eaten sitting on the restaurant's roof along with packing-cases and a number of cats. Then we went qat shopping, then we retired to his flat and chewed away. I can't say it did very much for me, but as Tim says in the TV programme, it's a taste that needs to be acquired, rather like real ale. SO it was very evocative to see Tim tonight, twenty years older, but still in the same house (at least it looked the same) and selecting his qat with the same care. He was very good company back then, and one feels he would be very good company still.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Funnily enough one of the references is to Galatians 6:11 of which a large home-made copy in Greek used to decorate my wall as a student

DON'T look up the title verse yet (do the quiz first) but you'll understand why it was on my wall when you do. It tells you something about my sense of humour, then and now.

OK, so a commenter on this post was kind enough to suggest a much more challenging Biblical quiz here. So I had a shot:

You achieved a score of 14%!

...Let me explain. See, some people have this skill called "reading", and they apply it to a "book" called "the Bible"...

The Bible Quiz of Greater Ultimacy
Quizzes for MySpace

Yup, definitely more challenging. My score is around the expected level for random guessing, and there's a reason for that....

OK guys, let's see you take it from cold, no peeking, no preparation, not a books-open quiz - and see how you do?

Friday, February 09, 2007

First Munro of 2007 (though not a new one)

I was up at the Ballater flat last weekend as well, and as the weather last Saturday was absolutely perfect for a walk I drove up to the car park at Spittal of Glenmuick, from where I climbed Broad Cairn. I didn't do Cairn of Gowal or Cairn Bannoch this time, having ticked them off on an earlier ascent about 25 years ago.

Here are a couple of pictures (not mine - didn't take a camera with me):

And here is the map. I started at the car park, went along the south side of the loch and then up the zigzags on the track that just vanishes off the bottom of the map, where there is a hut from which a path strikes up the SE slope of Broad Cairn.The first picture is taken from quite near the start; the second looking back from from part way up the zigzags. On the way back I came down the little path in Corrie Chash rather than down the zigzags. I love that path: known as the "Streak of Lightning" on account of its appearance as seen from the loch side, it is wide enough to be safe but narrow enough to be almost invisible until you're on it. If walking in a little oasis of flatness on a 45-degree sideways slope (check out those contour lines) doesn't sound attractive, one to avoid. Otherwise a gem.

A fantastic day: marvellous views in all directions from the top, though it was starting to haze over a bit to the East. The summit cone is very bouldery and had a couple of big snow patches (a great combination for breaking limbs, so care needed). And although the weather was very mild, there was a very strong wind on the summit. As it was blowing from the west there was shelter all the way up then WHAM! Loads of people about: I met nine on the summit cone alone, including a mountain biker (who had left her bike somewhere on the way up from Glen Clova).

SpongeRob DickHead

Reasons for washing my car in the dark this evening

1. It had spent a lot of time this week parked alongside a building that was being demolished, and had therefore become extremely dusty.

2. It was getting difficult to see out of the windows, one of which was also liberally covered in magpie-poop.

3. Tomorrow I would be leaving straight after work to drive to Ballater, and wanted to be able to see if I was about to run into a herd of deer.

4. It was dark when I got home. and parked outside our house.

Reasons for not washing my car in the dark this evening

a. I had washed the whole of the upper part and was well round the lower part of the car before I noticed my car sitting, forlorn and still dust-and-poop-covered, about six metres away and realised that

b. I had just washed most of somebody else's car.

Which, to be quite fair, was the same colour and manufacturer and very similar in shape. Oh all right. Shut up.

It wasn't our next door neighbour's, at least. I have in fact no idea who it belongs to. I imagine their joy at finding the car nice and shiny bright tomorrow morning may wear off when they realise they have the de-icing job from hell before being able to see out of any windows.

My (sheepishly and belatedly washed) car is meanwhile sitting out of sight (and unfrozen) in the garage.

(Hurries off whistling nonchalantly)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

As a schoolboy I always enjoyed Isaiah 36:12

This quiz was briefly amusing.

You know the Bible 100%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
Create MySpace Quizzes

My sense of achievement is only slightly tarnished by the feeling that knowing The Lord Of The Rings not to be part of the New Testament, that Mary and Martha did not live in San Francisco, and that Jesus did not feed the five thousand with Chinese takeaway scarcely qualifies me as a "Biblical scholar".....

NASA's Webb: Radiant

Scientists have finished making the mirror for the next generation of space telescope. Unlike Hubble, this one has a mirror made of sections, which means it can be both light (despite its hugeness) and foldable. I suspect an even bigger plus for the mission controllers is that, because the configuration of the 18 mirror elements is controlled from the ground, if something goes pear-shaped (if one can have a hexagonal pear) it's quite likely that a little tweaking of the configuration will fix it without the need for a shuttle mission.

And that is one seriously big light collector. It should be the same sort of step up that brought us from ground-based telescopes to a beast capable of this picture of the Abell S0740 galactic cluster:

I won't even try to imagine what we will see with the James Webb. Nobody could have predicted the way in which the Hubble pictures would catch the imagination of even our mostly wonder-resistant public. Though the story of NASA's balls-up and the need for a shuttle mission to fit the Hubble with glasses, so to speak, helped to put it in the public eye.

Talk and song from tongues of lilting grace, sounds caress my ears

Also concerning Muslims, though these ones are several thousand miles and five time zones away: this from the BBC is heartening news. We British bear a heavy responsibility for the situation in Kashmir, having failed to assign it definitively to either Pakistan or India when concluding the partition terms, so any good news from the region is welcome, and not only because it may mean that the most sublimely beautiful part of the sub-continent becomes once more accessible to tourists.

Saving money by combining the positions of village doctor and village idiot

The last post was getting a bit long so I though I'd give Dr Mick Russon a post of his own.

Of course he's entitled to his views, and depriving a remote community of its doctor, however temporarily, is a significant step to take. If someone shoved a similar pamphlet of pseudo-religious lunacy (an appropriate word considering his obsession with moon gods) into my house I'd probably read it and have a good laugh. However, if I found I knew the author personally I might find it a little creepy. If I lived in a remote community where I would be thrown into that person's company on a regular basis, I might be even more alarmed. The thought that someone so barking might be in an authoritative position in the community would be worse still; and to have someone so unbalanced dealing with my family's health would be the last straw, I suspect. So I'm not surprised at the strength of feeling on both sides. I think the Health Board have done the right thing in the end though.

Update: Dr Russon has been reinstated by Shetland Health Board, but there is no word yet as to whether he will be allowed to return to his original job.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

To hate all but the right folks, is an old-established rule

Following Ally Fogg's recent post on multi-cultural Britain, along with the installation of Islamophobia Watch on my blogroll, let's have a wee round-up of recent items on Muslims in Britain.

First of all, this brilliant article in last Friday's Guardian, pointing out the similarity between Britain's attitudes to, and treatment of, Muslims today and its treatment of Jews in the early twentieth century. The parallels are astonishing, including the accusations of international terrorism, complaints about use of religious dress as a mark of separation, along with all the now-familiar rhetoric of a "clash of civilisations and the establishment being in denial concerning the threat in our midst.


The article mentions the Islamophobe's poster-Muslim, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, properly Ayaan Hirsi Magan: the false name was adopted, like so much else in her story, as part of a fraudulent application for asylum in the Netherlands ("fleeing war-torn Somalia", "escaping an arranged marriage" - both lies; I believe she did undergo genital mutilation as a child though, which is horrible enough). Once in the Netherlands she obtained the free education she had come for, and entered on a joint political and literary career. The former saw her rising though the ranks of the far right and calling for more curbs on illegal immigrations, which curbs when implemented resulted in her exposure as a fraud and loss of her Dutch citizenship (see? there is such a thing as poetic justice). Not that you'd know that, or indeed that she left Somalia at the age of six for a comfortable life in Nairobi, in this lazy interview where she is described as a "Dutch-Somali human rights activist". Allowing that she was born in Somalia, one out of three is a little careless, as the only human rights for which Ms Magan has ever had much time are her own. Her literary career certainly gave her cause for concern on that score, as her collaboration with renowned ultra-rightist film-maker Theo van Gogh led to his murder and death threats against her. Now she is passing through London to promote her new autobiography, and gave this interview to the Evening Standard. The basic line is that Islam = fascism, as simple as that. Spouters of racist tosh like Magan apparently see themselves as anti-fascists. Marvellous. Anne Frank and all the other Dutch victims of real fascism would be turning in their graves if they had any.

It's interesting that in the interview she admits to having supported the fatwa against Salman Rushdie back in 1989. She considers this a sign of optimism, because if she can change, so can other Muslims; the change of course being conversion to not being Muslims. Some might consider it more of a case of hypocrisy and bandwagon-jumping: among Kenyan Muslims, she's a bloodthirsty Islamofascist, but when comfortably installed with a bunch of European racists she is reborn as a lover of peace and hater of Muslims.

In the light of that Guardian article, Magan's assertion that "Violence is inherent in Islam – it's a destructive, nihilistic cult of death. It legitimates murder." can be seen as the exact parallel of the old anti-semitic blood libel, that Judaism is by its very nature a murderous cult which kills Gentiles.

One can see why American right-wingers (every one a purveyor of freedom and the American way) took so strongly to her when she'd been given the bum's rush by the Dutch. Though why we would allow her into Britain to spread her poison here, God only knows.

My favourite moment in the Evening Standard interview: when this brave champion of liberty has a sudden burst of panic at the thought that she might actually still be in Britain when the interview is published. Talking big about the evils of Islamofascism is one thing; sticking around to take responsibility for her lies quite another. She's like a kid with a spray-can writing "Pakis Go Home" on a mosque (or maybe a Sikh Gurdwara - nice distinctions and inconvenient facts aren't such people's strong points) and then legging it before anyone spots her. Champion of human rights? Don't make me laugh. Champion of the drive-by slander, more like. Let's hope it's a long time before America sends her to darken our country again.


Then there's this post concerning the loathsome Michael Gove, the Conservatives' answer to Uriah Heep. It was Gove's repellent mixture of racism. anti-European rants and Zionist extremism in his columns in the Times that drove me away from that paper, of which I had been a reader for about twenty-five years. That he is the Conservative MP for Surrey Heath shows, I think, the difficulty David Cameron will have in passing off his party as one of
caring multiculturalism. This week, Gove has been spouting rubbish about Dr Muhammad Naseem, which is almost funny, as one of the few things I knew already about Dr Naseem was that he was praised by both Tony Blair and the police in the aftermath of the July 7th bombings for his condemnation of violence and attempt to calm the situation down.


Finally, this reminds us that despite all the rhetoric surrounding the supposed plot to kidnap and behead a British soldier, that's all it is: rhetoric. Here is a post from the Guardian's commentisfree blog. I was actually looking for the Moazzam Begg post (or comment) on the raid printed in Friday's Guardian, where Begg (a Briton formerly held as a political prisoner in Guantanamo who was fortunate enough to be released) wrote:

The growing scepticism with which such headline-grabbing plots are met even has the police calling for a calm and responsible approach.

A lot of that has to do with the track record of at least some of the high-profile cases: the ricin plot, in which there was no ricin; the Forest Gate raids, where an innocent man was shot; and, most disturbing, the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes.

Most of the comments on Azzam Tamimi's post are the usual Islamophobery. But someone linked in this quote from Craig Murray (also on my blogroll) written in the wake of the famous "plot" to blow up transatlantic aeroplanes using iPods and baby milk, or whatever it was. It's difficult to remember, as the story changed so often and not a scrap if evidence was ever produced to support any of it. Anyway, Murray (former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, kicked out for voicing concerns over Uzbek human rights at a time when Blair wanted to cosy up to the dictator there) had this to say last August - and it's just as true and relevant six months on:

In all of this, the one thing of which I am certain is that the timing is deeply political. This is more propaganda than plot. Of the over one thousand British Muslims arrested under anti-terrorist legislation, only twelve per cent are ever charged with anything. That is simply harrassment of Muslims on an appalling scale. Of those charged, 80% are acquitted. Most of the very few - just over two per cent of arrests - who are convicted, are not convicted of anything to do terrorism, but of some minor offence the Police happened upon while trawling through the wreck of the lives they had shattered.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Don't diss Dooce

It may be fashionable to diss Dooce. It may not be a cool thing to put up posts about one's children.

But when I read something like this, I understand why she continues to be nominated for Bloggies. Even though my own children are 18 and 14, and therefore arouse very different emotions in me (no you can't have the car/can you keep that drumming down?) I can remember when they were each three, and I would say Hilary and I felt pretty much the same way as Heather and Jon do now.

To write something specific that anyone can relate to - that boiling-down of the general to the particular - takes talent. It may be effortless, or may take hours of work; but the talent has to be there to begin with. And that's why Heather keeps getting Bloggied.

And hi, Leta! Happy birthday!

Damn you Matthew Baldwin: vodka fired from the nose is vodka wasted


Butt and Ben

A prize (or at least, my command of cyberspace not running to the materialising of pots of gold, a round of applause) to any reader who can explain what Benjamin Kerstein of Kesher Talk is wittering on about in this typically interminable post. Kesher Talk staffers and their family members are sadly debarred by the competition rules from receiving the round of applause but are welcome to enlighten the rest of us anyway.

If it helps anyone with the guessing, Ben Kerstein describes himself as having "escaped" from Boston to Israel, since Boston was full of - whisper it - liberals; and liberalism (he had been forced by his tragic teenage experiences to conclude) led inevitably to wicked anti-semitism. Thus to avoid having to wear a yellow star and shun buses, cars and bicycles while trudging to Jewish-only shops and having his property confiscated by the secret police, he fled to somewhere where his brand of Islamophobic paranoia would be greeted with rapture rather than derision. He's a student at Ben-Gurion University.

His post on Spielberg's Munich (which I haven't seen) caught my attention chiefly for its drive-by rubbishing of Schindler's List (which I have). I must say I'd never seen it criticised before for being over-sympathetic to the Nazis. We live and learn. Gosh: it's almost as though Ben had been born less than 33 years after the camps were liberated and thus had some clue of what he was talking about, so immediately do his emotions resonate with the reader.

Of course, if you get fed up with trying to find a shred of meaning in the tons and tons and tons of self-aggrandising verbiage that comprise his post on Jewish liberals/illiberals/doubleplusungood/whatever/zzzzz, you can always giggle at the poor sap. Giggling is good. And Ben has already told us that he regards gratuitious insult as the highest form of flattery, so you'll be doing him a favour and having fun at the same time. Win/win.

You mean to carry carpets in? No. Made of.

Ally (yes, Clare's Ally) now has a blog. Everyone go and visit immediately.

Go on. Now.

You heard me....

Honestly, people these days....

His first post is great, and well worth a look even if you haven't a clue who Clare or Ally are. Next time you're exposed to the racist ranting of Melanie Phillips or whoever, just come back and read Ally, and then see which side of the multiculturalism vs "clash of civilisations" debate you come down on. Oh, and if it's Ms Phillips' side, don't rush back here. I mean, come back if you like, but we'll get on fine without you.

Have a nice day now.

I prescribe Byron and Beethoven, or perhaps Marvell and Monteverdi

An interesting piece of self-analysis from a famous thinker. (Via.)

"....if I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week...."

Can't argue against that as a way of preventing staleness setting in.

All suffused with an incandescent glow

I hadn't realised when I wrote my previous post that tonight the BBC would be screening one of their Nuclear Secrets drama-documentaries on the topic of Mordechai Vanunu and Israel's nuclear arsenal. How very timely. Normally I don't much care for the drama-documentary as a genre, but given the continuing incarceration of Vanunu (specifically, he is forbidden from leaving Israel, forbidden to talk to any foreigner, or any member of the press, or to approach within 500m of the border) it's difficult to see how else his story could be told. And it should be, if only to remind the world that there are decent Israelis; that the stereotypes of the IDF soldier shooting randomly into a crowd, or the illegal settler machine-gunning a mosque full of worshippers, may be true but aren't typical. That Israel, in spite of everything, is worth preserving. That some Israelis still have a conscience. And thank God for that.

Let us also recall Cheryl Bentov, the delightful young lady who was instrumental in Vanunu's illegal abduction and incarceration. No doubt Mossad are proud of having made use of her services. No doubt she was prepared to run risks, and was a brave servant of her adopted country. Now living as Cheryl Hanin, a real estate agent in Longwood, Florida, she must spend her time looking over her shoulder waiting for someone to put a bullet through her head. At least, if such a thing as poetic justice exists, one can only hope so. Even in Florida, evil should not prosper forever.

And for once let us thank the Sunday Times, without whose publication of Vanunu's story he would undoubtedly have been murdered without a trace.

Meanwhile, Vanunu has come to the end of his sentence and been released; though of course this doesn't mean that he is free in any sense that citizens of a democracy might understand the term. "Internal exile" was not the sole preserve of the Soviet Union.

And of course Israel still has its enormous and unregulated nuclear arsenal, to be used against whomsoever it chooses, at a whim. Someone remind me why it's Iran whose nuclear aspirations I'm supposed to be terrified by, rather than Israel's half century of lies, deceit, hypocrisy, and very real nuclear threat to world peace?

Lest we become too depressed, let me leave the last word to Tom Lehrer:

When you attend a funeral,
It is sad to think that sooner or'l
Later those you love will do the same for you.
And you may have thought it tragic,
Not to mention other adjec-
Tives, to think of all the weeping they will do.
(But don't you worry.)

No more ashes, no more sackcloth,
And an arm band made of black cloth
Will some day nevermore adorn a sleeve.
For if the bomb that drops on you
Gets your friends and neighbors too,
There'll be nobody left behind to grieve.

And we will all go together when we go.
What a comforting fact that is to know.
Universal bereavement,
An inspiring achievement,
Yes, we will all go together when we go.

We will all go together when we go.
All suffused with an incandescent glow.
No one will have the endurance
To collect on his insurance,
Lloyd's of London will be loaded when they go.

Oh we will all fry together when we fry.
We'll be French fried potatoes by and by.
There will be no more misery
When the world is our rotisserie,
Yes, we will all fry together when we fry.

Down by the old maelstrom,
There'll be a storm before the calm.

And we will all bake together when we bake.
There'll be nobody present at the wake.
With complete participation
In that grand incineration,
Nearly three billion hunks of well-done steak.

Oh we will all char together when we char.
And let there be no moaning of the bar.
Just sing out a Te Deum
When you see that I.C.B.M.,
And the party will be come-as-you-are.

Oh, we will all burn together when we burn.
There'll be no need to stand and wait your turn.
When it's time for the fallout
And Saint Peter calls us all out,
We'll just drop our agendas and adjourn.

You will all go directly to your respective Valhallas.
Go directly, do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollahs.

And we will all go together when we go.
Every Hottentot and every Eskimo.
When the air becomes uranious,
We will all go simultaneous.
Yes, we all will go together
When we all go together,
Yes we all will go together when we go.

Monday, February 05, 2007

And they wonder why they're considered the biggest threat to peace on the planet

Unlike "Alcibiades" at Kesher Talk, I find nothing remotely heartening in this story.

Once again, the only nation in the region with weapons of mass destruction appears (if the supposition of Mossad involvement is indeed correct) to be happy to indulge in criminality of whatever kind to preserve its monopoly of the tools of mass murder.

You know you're in trouble when the Spectator (not an organ generally considered a bastion of liberalism) runs a piece which reckons an Israeli nuclear strike on Iran in the next year or so is highly likely (as conventional bombs as in Operation Opera couldn't penetrate the bunkers in which Iran protects its facilities).

Oh, and the same article reckons that if Iran wants a bomb (and wouldn't you, under the circumstances?) it will simply have bought a couple of ex-USSR off-the-shelf ones while waiting for its own programme to be completed.

One wonders how much sympathy the rest of the world would have if Israel were, in fact, to launch a nuclear strike on Iran, however deftly targeted? Maybe Tony Blair was right, and we do need to replace Trident to assure our safety against nuclear-armed nutters.

It's funny, isn't it, that Iraq, who had been inspected by the UN and found to be free from WMDs, was invaded because, well, Tony Blair sincerely felt the inspectors might have missed something. Meanwhile Israel, which has never permitted UN inspectors to see anything, and which has no civilian nuclear energy programme (just bombs) to justify its "research" reactor at Dimona? Israel with dozens of breaches of UN resolutions, with thousands of its troops illegally occupying neighbouring territories? Gosh, surely the UN would have done something about that by now? Being so systematically anti-semitic, and all that?

Yeah, right.

Of Shakespeare's Sister and a bunch of carpet-munching Texans

Incidentally, while poking around over on the Truth Laid Bear site, I had a look at some of the Large Mammals (it seemed appropriate, given the reason I was there). These are pretty big hitters in blogging terms, ranked 101-1133 on the list. I went down the list clicking on interesting-looking names until I got to number 300 or so. I turned up a few amusing blogs:

Planck's Constant looked promising, and had a few good posts, for example here.

This one is so breathtaking that I really did have to check to make sure that, no, it isn't a parody. I'd expected to find a bunch of wingnuts like the ones I referred to in this post last year. An unexpected bonus basket of humour, though, was occasioned by my visiting just after the publication of the IPCC report on climate change. You know how when the report came out, everyone said that whatever disagreements still remain, from now on outright denial of the reality of global warming, or of the human contribution to it, would be the sole preserve of those desperately out of touch with reality? Well, here are five such wonders. Enjoy. Despite all the global-warming-is-a-commie-hoax-to-steal-our-SUVs posts, my favourite rug-chewing moment was :

"George W. Bush IS a Globalist, just like his Daddy, and he doesn't give a DAMN about the USA as a power unto itself and he doesn't give a damn about the LEGAL citizens of the USA..... In MY opinion, Bush will try to achieve some sort of North American Union before he leaves office and if given the time would plunge us into a One World Government..."

Did someone say "out of touch with reality"?

But the best find in there was a blog I had in fact heard of before, just never visited: Shakespeare's Sister. Description would be superfluous; extraction of individual posts unfair. It's all magnificent, and my heart now sinks at all the hours it will take to read the archives.

Oh, all right then, you can have this post and this one as contrasting examples of what makes SS a marvellous site.

John Martyn, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Monday 29 January 2007

A delayed review, this, of a concert I'd been looking forward to for some time. I'd had to miss a couple of good gigs in the Celtic Connections festival this year (Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, and Beth Neilsen Chapman with Teddy Thompson) so I was very pleased to be able to get to last Monday's main event. John Martyn, singer-songwriter of great renown ("legendary" is too much of a cliche, though probably accurate) would be doing a live version of all the songs from arguably his best-known album, Solid Air. While I was never really a John Martyn fan back in his heyday, one shouldn't read too much into that: I wasn't a Nick Drake fan either, and in both cases (especially the latter) it was more from ignorance than disdain (and I made up for it later). I liked the John Martyn I'd heard; I just hadn't heard much. When I did eventually hear Solid Air I fell in love with it; a love affair which continues. The Glasgow gig would be only the second time Martyn had done the whole album live.

Well, I wasn't disappointed. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from a live performance. I knew JM was in a wheelchair (half a leg amputated), and had been warned that his delivery is somewhat more slurred than on record. And oh, it is: not only were the songs more laid-back (is that possible?) but the between-song patter was almost totally incomprehensible. And I say that as one with some experience in decoding the meanderings of Glaswegian drunks. However, he was great. He did indeed play the whole of Solid Air, though he warned the audience in advance (in a comprehensible bit) that he wouldn't be doing it all in the same order as on record, because that would be a bit much. He did four or five other songs as well, of which the only ones I recognised were Rock Salt & Nails and Glorious Fool. For the most part the Solid Air songs came obver even better live than on the record. There were a few nods toward the original arrangements, such as the mandolin on Over The Hill, but mostly he did the songs the way he wanted them done now, and his three-piece backing group supported him to perfection. Paradoxically, or perhaps not really, the only song with which I felt a little disappointed was May You Never, which is my favourite song on the album. Maybe I'm just too attached to the recorded version, but I felt that his indistinct singing got in the way of that one on the night. Don't get me wrong, it was still a thrill to hear him sing it, but it could, I thought, easily have been so much better. A minor gripe, though, in an otherwise very enjoyable performance. Not, maybe, quite up there with hearing Brian Wilson do Pet Sounds, but pretty damned good.

There were two supporting acts. First we had Dan Arborise, a sort of bargain-basement Nick Drake, who could be accurately characterised as "Harmless". Next up there was John Smith, a wonderful guitarist, a forgettable songwriter, and a sadly unforgettably awful singer. The only good point in his set was when he did a cover of Tim Buckley's Song To The Siren. The weird shouty vocal mannerisms were put aside, the brilliance of his playing was even more evident on slide guitar, and you felt that here was a person to whom you could listen quite happily for as long as he kept playing. Of course, Buckley's enchanting song would have had something to do with that. Still, when it came to an end we were plunged back into shouty weirdness (think of someone doing a very bad, and very loud, impression of Gomez's Ben Ottewell and you might come close) and I was happy when the interval came.

Making a right * tit of myself (*left, if you're being pedantic)

I checked my stats recently, having not done so for a while, and was surprised to find a huge increase in hits. The increase in traffic, for example, shifted my Truth Laid Bear designation from Flippery Fish to Crawly Amphibian, and checking my current ranking that means I must have gone up 250 places at least.

There's a reason of course, which is funny in both ha-ha and peculiar senses. You may remember a post I wrote last year about people being arrested/thrown off aeroplanes/ejected from shopping malls because of the T-shirts they were wearing. In among the links to those news stories I slipped a little humorous diversion. And it's that which is now generating my traffic, in some strange reversal-of-polarity way. I think what's happened is that my link to the page has found its way via one of Google's algorithms onto a search list. Certainly it's easy to find the image (at the site where I referenced it) via a Google search, but I don't quite understand how EKN has got into the loop.

Still, it's an ill wind..... (In this case most likely a chilly one created by a fan just out of shot.)