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, July 31, 2007

Hit Parade

I see that whatever anomaly caused the thousands of EKN hits from people looking for pictures of "wet T-shirt" has softly and silently vanished away, causing my Truth Laid Bear rating to plummet from Slimy Mollusc (down from a high of Flippery Fish) to Multicellular Microorganism. (I assume eventually Bloody Blogger will reflect the change I made to my template.) Damn.

However, I still get hits from people looking for:

beauxbatons Edinburgh
flats lets Keynsham
oldfield horseback score
delaminated passport
nicko mcbrain en victor jara
lonely transvestite needed manchester

Not sure which of the last two to be more alarmed by, really. (Nicko McBrain is the drummer with Iron Maiden.)

It's journalistic incorrectness gone mad!

To celebrate the fact that I've just returned from the Hazards 2007 conference in Manchester (a gathering of trade union health & safety reps from all over the country, and from every union imaginable) which was as usual inspiring- also to save you all from a tedious rant on my part as it's a subject I get excited about - here's a link to a TUC report from last October on "health & safety" myths in the tabloid press.

Question: is it more worrying that we have journalists prepared to print this sort of rubbish, or that we have a substantial part of the population (not by any means confined to the terminally dumb) prepared to believe it?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Begins with Mast, ends with Asian

One might think that everyone knew already that the health risks from mobile phone masts are negligible (well, one might fall over on top of you I s'pose). Still, yet another study demonstrating it does no harm.

After all, Mast Sanity managed to come out with the following gem on being presented with evidence that the sufferers symptoms were unrelated to whether the signal was on or off (bit of a giveaway, you might think):

"History has shown that many now commonly accepted physical conditions were initially dismissed as psychological. Isn't it time that the government woke up to the reality of electrosensitivity instead of attempting to persuade sufferers that it is all in their minds?" said spokeswoman Yasmin Skelt.

This would be the "reality" that has just been comprehensively disproved, would it not?

Yasmin Skelt, you get the Eine Kleine Nichtmusik Nutter of the Year 2007 nomination (so far at least) in your capacity as spokesplonker for Mast Sanity. It isn't just mobile phones they hate: it's wireless laptops and wifi networks, railway signalling transmitters: pretty much any kind of radio really appears the get the blame for all kinds of human illness AND Colony Collapse Disorder among bees.

You wait: it'll be MRI scanners next, and air traffic control radar.

I blame globalisation. I mean, a few years ago people like Ms Skelt and her colleagues would have been gainfully employed in smashing power-looms and spinning jennies, but now they've all been replaced by millions of starving Asian peasant doing the jobs by hand, where's a technophobe to swing his sledgehammer now?

Gordon Brown begins the search for eye-catching initiatives with which he can be personally associated

Oh goody. This is [irony] just what we need[/irony]: powers of arbitrary detention without charge to be doubled. And then what? From 56 days to ...... 112? 224? 448? 896?

Can Jacqui Smith remember 36 years ago? (Probably not: she was only nine years old at the time.) The government brought in indefinite detention wthout trial for "terrorist suspects". And didn't that work well? What? there was no IRA terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s, was there?

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

To put it another way: if this heap of mince gets passed, the terrorists have already won.

Though as the post's title implies, the repetition may be of more recent history, to wit, Pretty Straight Tone's tabloid-driven policy-making. Maybe the cynics who reckoned the Blair-Brown transition would change nothing were right after all. Pity.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Not many people know that

This site was clearly conceived and implemented by someone obsessive. Who likes islands. And, er, lakes. (via)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Diamond Dogs

I loved this story, and of course the picture that accompanies it. All together now:


Monday, July 23, 2007

Putting all our own problems into perspective

Here's Clare's review of Rachel North's new book.

I haven't read it yet. But I shall.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Sometimes comment is superfluous

To lighten the tone a little, here's a story from Aberdeen.

Hilary and I like the thought that the locals have started paying for the gull's crisps. Very British...

A couple of doses of reality

Gary Trudeau also hosts a blog for US soldiers and vets, which makes fascinating reading. It does no harm to remember that, however unjustified and illegal the Iraq war is, the men and women fighting in it sometimes display extraordinary courage, and sometimes are simply caught up in events. Sometimes of course, they behave very badly.

Just to point up some similarities between "our boys" and the enemy, here's Ted Rall.

Cause for concern

Gary Trudeau has been producing the Doonesbury strips since my student days (when his subject matter was Watergate and the like). The strips continue to combine political satire and gentle Peanuts-like humour. However, a current storyline deals with MST (Military Sexual Trauma) and to judge from the comments being posted it's touching a nerve with a number of veterans.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Harry Potter (5)

I can't say I liked this piece much. Sure, there are infelicities in Rowling's prose in places, though I suspect if I analysed it in detail I would find they become fewer as the series progresses: I believe she gets better with practice. I certainly agree that she sometimes shows a tin ear in her choice of proper names for things or her naming of spells: Salazar Slytherin? The Mirror of Erised (which reminds me of something one might find in a Steve Jackson Fighting Fantasy Gamebook)? She gets it right sometimes, though: "Avada Kedavra" is neat, and "Durmstrang" splendid (who says there's nothing in Rowling for the adult? I bet that joke passes most kids by). And even if I wished to do so, I don't think I could find it in myself to be too hard on the coiner of

Sunshine, daisies, butter mellow
Turn this stupid fat rat yellow

which shows a keener appreciation of rhythm than many supposedly better authors could muster. It also demonstrates one of Rowling's great strengths, which is her sense of humour. The collectable card of Albus Dumbledore listing his hobbies as "chamber music and ten-pin bowling". The scene where Professor Moody transforms Malfoy into a ferret. The odd bit of linguistic byplay ("And our Decoy Detonators are just walking off the shelves....") Hermione's dogged attempts to liberate the Hogwarts house-elves whether they want it or not. And the whole business of adolescent males and females which is handled with both sensitivity and humour from Goblet of Fire onwards. The comparison with Jeffrey Archer falls down immediately there: when was the last time Jeffrey Archer made you laugh? For that matter, I didn't find Archer's basic storylines (I have read two of his books - the triumph of hope over experience, indeed) as interesting at the time, or as memorable afterwards, as Rowling's. It's not all about style.

Nicholas Lezard is of course merely part of a long tradition of those arguing for form over content. I don't mean by that that they are saying that content is unimportant, merely that it is of lesser importance than the style in which it is conveyed. As a student, I (and many of my friends in the Durham University Science Fiction Society) had heated arguments with another of our number, a student of English Literature, over the virtues and vices of Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny. She was unable to evaluate it as a story, interesting or otherwise, because she found the (admittedly somewhat pulpish) style so off-putting. Moreover, she was unable to consider the possibility that this was a deliberate stylistic decision rather than an innate defect in Zelazny's writing, and thus could not countenance the fact that he had written other books in a far more serious style (Lord of Light being a prime example). Or to take a more high-flown example, she was unwilling to concede that what lifted Jane Austen's writing above the norm of her contemporaries was not solely her unequalled dexterity with the English language but her unique insight into the provincial society she lived in. While we never exactly saw eye to eye on that issue, or indeed or whether Persuasion was a better novel than Mansfield Park - an opinion she unaccountably held - it didn't stop us being (very!) good friends. I don't know her opinion of the Rowling books, though I would guess she might not care for them much.

Children exposed to this kind of writing aren't learning anything new about words, or being stretched in any way; as Harold Bloom said, they're not going to be inspired to go off and read the Alice books, or any other enduring classic.

Hmm. I grew up on the much more reviled (and it must be said, much less accomplished) Enid Blyton, most of whose works I wouldn't exert myself too hard to defend (though the Adventure series still hold up well, especially with the original and outstanding Stuart Tresilian illustrations, and a good case can be made for the Barney books). Whether one could say that Enid Blyton "inspired me" to go on and read Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, P L Travers and the rest, I don't know. I read them anyway, and in due course progressed to Jane Austen and James Joyce. Blyton undoubtedly inculcated in me the idea that books were a gateway into any number of imaginary worlds. As a child I was probably not too bothered by how competently those worlds were realised, and more concerned with what they were like. Form and content again. (Though in fairness I must say that even as a child I recognised that, say, the Secret Seven books were comparatively poor stuff while the Adventure books were really very good. I also recognised fairly early on that the Five Find-Outers and Dog books were a juvenile version of the Agatha Christie genre of detective story, with all the flaws and foibles of that genre.) An appreciation of the possibilities which reading opens up should precede, both sequentially and in importance, an appreciation of style; at least in my opinion. I entered my teens reading mostly James Bond and Modesty Blaise novels, but that didn't stop me from discovering for myself - and obtaining some appreciation of - Ulysses by the time I was fifteen. (It has only occurred to me at this instant that Ulysses may have been the first work of "literary" fiction - as against thrillers and detective stories - I ever read, unless you count Sherlock Holmes. Which proves, I guess, that progress in literacy need be no more of a linear ascent from darkness to light than is human evolution.) Not everything I read as a child stretched me in any way. Not everything I read as an adult of nearly fifty-two years stretches me in any way. Just because I enjoy reading Andy McNab, I am not ipso facto immune to the delights of Salman Rushdie, or D H Lawrence, or Aristophanes, or Horace. Just because I go to Status Quo gigs, it doesn't make me less appreciative of Wagner or Stockhausen. (Don't get me started....)

I have much more in common, I think, with this guy. Not least the fact that I adored the Anthony Powell series when I first read it (out of the library, around 25 years ago); equally enjoyed the television series (which I suspect was most people's first encounter with the mighty Simon Russell Beale, who played Widmerpool); and now own a set and intend to re-read them all.

But first I have Harry Potter to deal with.

Addendum: Clare seems to agree with me. Unlike her I didn't much like The Da Vinci Code, but then I not only found the puzzles pretty easy but I found the whole thing highly reminiscent of this (though of course a court case has cleared Dan Brown of direct plagiarism...) Why should one person dictate what another should read, or presume to judge them as being inferior on that basis? Why indeed? Why should people be surprised at my turning up to a rehearsal of the Berg Violin Concerto in an Iron Maiden T-shirt?

Harry Potter (4)

Having read this story in the Guardian, I appreciate all the more this one at the Daily Mash.

Harry Potter (3)

There are some strange people about. I could just about see why the Christian lunatic fringe worked themselves into a frenzy when The Exorcist came out in my student days: at least that was about a battle between a priest and the Devil (though I would have thought if anything was likely to discourage dabbling in the occult that film might do it). But Harry Potter? The Potter stories firmly avoid any discussion of God, gods, goddesses, the devil, reincarnation or indeed any overtly religious ideas. Indeed, magic in JK Rowling's books is presented wholly as an alternative form of technology (bringing to mind Arthur C Clarke's dictum that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic", and Larry Niven's riposte that "any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology"). Souls are talked about, and Voldemort said to have effectively traded parts of his for a limited kind of immortality. Voldemort, though, is the only character we know (up to now at least) to have been involved in any kind of reanimation of the dead or other jiggery-pokery with souls, and he is very clearly The Bad Guy. (He Who Must Not Be Imitated.) The Good Guys, on the other hand, place much emphasis on Love, Pity, Truth and Justice. Where's the problem?

Evidently that isn't enough, though, for some people.

Personally I'd love to know where they found references in Harry Potter to Tarot cards and Ouija boards, because there are none. There may be a crystal ball somewhere in one of Professor Trelawny's lessons, but none of the main characters have much time for Prof. Trelawny in any case, considering her rather a loser (albeit an amiable one). I'm thinking that the guys at chick.com aren't quite as much into Truth, let alone Love, Pity or Justice, as they might be. Nope, I'll stick with Harry Potter. Or even, you know, Jesus.

Yecch. Now I'll need to go and watch my DVD of The Wicker Man (the original one, obv.) to remove the nasty taste left by that comic strip.

Harry Potter (2)

I'm re-reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ready for the arrival tomorrow of the final volume from Amazon. We're going away until Sunday, so it will just have to wait. Not so, however, for my daughter Vanessa, who is queing as I type outside Waterstones in Princes Street where she has reserved a copy for 00:01 tomorrow. This being the last such opportunity she'll have, she's gone the whole Hogwarts (so to speak) and dressed as Tonks (pink wig, my old college gown, home-made "Weird Sisters World Tour" T-shirt). She is inordinately pleased that she doesn't have to be at work tomorrow until 11.00, which means she has a good chance of some sleep after finishing the book.

P.S. My daughter has come home and I have now seen a real copy of the final book. She's read the first chapter and found it highly depressing. But then, did anyone expect otherwise?

Harry Potter (1)

Went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on Wednesday, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It isn't my favourite book of the series (it's the only one I really feel is overlong) but the film prunes it very effectively. Everyone will have some favourite episode omitted (I mourn the loss of Fred & George's portable swamp) but on the whole they do pretty well. I wondered why they bothered with Kreecher's rather cameo appearance: apparently the original plan had been to cut him altogether but JKR hinted that they'd have trouble when the seventh film came round if they did that. Again, the presence in the basement of the Ministry of Magic of an archway full of, er, death is put into context in the book but not in the film. There are one or two seemingly capricious alterations, and I do rather miss the sheer creepiness of Voldemort's appearance on the scene in the book ("Can't I, Harry?"......) But overall I'd give it 7 out of 10, I think. Michael Gambon is proving to be a solid replacement for Richard Harris as Dumbledore, and I suspect as we continue to move into darker territory in the next film he will really own the role.

The final thing I missed from the book: the weirdness for Ron/Hermione/Ginny of flying on animals they couldn't see. (Trying not to spoil too much here for readers who don't know the storyline.)

The geeks, of course, shall inherit the Earth

Thanks to a link from Joe, I now know how much of a geek I am:

75% Geek
That puts me 2% behind Joe. Oh well, there you go.

The same site also furnished the information that

as well as


This is the same site that produced my (and Joe's) recent R-rating, BTW.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A soft answer turneth away wrath, and a Chateau Malescot St Exupery transforms armed robbery into group therapy

And then there was this story in Saturday's Guardian.

Actually, it's a reasonable question

I was rather taken by the idea of a Club de Chefs des Chefs. It put me in mind of the Junior Ganymede Club in the Jeeves and Wooster novels of P.G. Wodehouse.

I should mention my son's reaction to this story. He has mild Asperger's Syndrome, one of whose symptoms is a certain fussiness about food. (The narrator of The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time, who has a worse case of AS than my son, won't eat anything brown or yellow. As my son's favourite foods, eaten every day in the normal way, are bourbon biscuits (4) and bananas (2), you can see that not all AS sufferers are alike.) Anyway, my son eats bourbons and bananas every day, as well as apples and sugar-free Robinson's apple & blackcurrant squash. He is also inordinately fond of pizza (cheese and tomato, or pepperoni), and has been known to eat a pizza in a restaurant followed by an identical pizza for dessert.

So when he read the comment by the Queen's chef that "If I mentioned Her Majesty's favourite, chefs would recreate it for her everywhere she went - she would be served it so many times that it wouldn't be her favourite any more" his comment was "Why would it stop being her favourite food because she had it every day?"

All of me, why not take all of me...

Sir Liam Donaldson, England's Chief Medical Officer, wants to move to an opt-out system of organ donation where the presumption is that people are willing to donate organs after death. Such systems are already used in many European countries. His Scottish counterpart Harry Burns, on the other hand, rejected the idea, saying that there was no evidence that the Scottish public would support such a move.


May I say, right here, right now, that I think it would be a tremendous idea, and I know many Scottish people who feel the same way. Yes, some people have strong feelings about what happens to their bodies after death; but those are the people who would make damned sure they opted out of donation (in the same way that I made damned sure I opted in - and carry two donor cards to make them easier to find). The people who would be affected by this change are the huge mass of people who don't care/can't be bothered/haven't got round to filling out a card. Fine: if they don't care, they don't care. Excuse me while I whip out your kidneys/liver/heart/lungs/corneas and anything else that might be useful. Ta.

Of course, the people who will be most affected by such a change will be the thousands who will live who would otherwise die for the lack of an organ donor. I bet that's a section of the Scottish public Harry Burns didn't consider: sick people. People who might get sick. People with sick children. People with sick partners. People whose partners or children might get sick. But hey, why would he care about sick people: he's the Scottish Health Minister, so only cares about healthy people. And especially the ones who are too stupid or apathetic to fill out an opt-out form; the ones who'd rather sit on their backsides and whinge until they get their innards harvested, whereupon their equally useless relatives will take up the whine. Do you detect any sympathy here? (Hint: I did own up a few posts back to having a low tolerance of stupidity.)

Perhaps he thinks only stupid people would vote for him. And perhaps he's right. I'd certainly vote for a Health Minister with a working brain and a working conscience in preference to the Burns Muppet.

Anyway. Readers, in whatever country you may be. Get yourself added to the Organ Donor register now. (The link is to the UK scheme, but whether you're in Belgium, Germany, Namibia or wherever, there is likely to be some scheme available to you.) Carry a donor card. And do CARRY it; it's no use sitting at home. Don't put it off: you could get run over tomorrow, or have a heart attack.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Winners can be losers

I missed this story last week and picked up on it via linkbunnies.

If it really is true, it's very funny. Though I must say the final line gives me cause to wonder whether it is, in fact, a "slow news day" hoax by someone at the Beeb. In which case it's still funny but in a different way.

The reason so many Wimbledon players grunt a lot

Or so this piece by Henry Purcell would seem to suggest.

And yes, when you have all three parts of the round going together, the cacophony of grunts is wondrous to hear.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Weirdness 101: At the Newsagent

Overheard this morning from a young lady in front of me as I queued to buy my Radio Times:

(To the shopkeeper): "What sort of cigarettes should I buy if I want to be politically correct?"

And no, I don't know what she ended up with.

Moon. Rock. Whatever.

I thought this was rather fine.

I remember being similarly put in my place by my daughter when she was small. She came in and announced excitedly that she'd just given Derry her biscuit! (Derry was her grandparents' dog.) I responded "And did Derry say 'thank you very much'?" only to have my anthropomorphic suggestion met with a withering look and "No Daddy. Derry didn't say anything because {pityingly} Derry is a dog."

Proof of age may be required

Online Dating

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

bomb (5x) suicide (3x) bastards (2x) sex (1x)

You can have endless pleasure keying in your favourite blogs and seeing how they come out. I won't spoil your fun except to point out that so far the only fellow R-raters I've found are Joe, Clare and Aric (who is studying for the ministry in California). Girl With A One-Track Mind, on the other hand, is G-rated (suitable for all ages). Figure that one out.

(Thanks to Sandalstraps' Sanctuary for the link.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Stand and deliver

That last Daily Mash piece reminded me of this which I found while digging around on the bomb scares. A Radio 2 special on Barbara Windsor on my birthday: how thoughtful. There is of course much more to the lady than a pair of boobs: she worked with Joan Littlewood for ages, including Oh What A Lovely War. And I think I read somewhere that she did Beckett's Happy Days once. Whether or not, she'd be great in it now. (Now that would be a birthday treat.)

Talking of treats, here is Barbara dressed (so to speak) as a highwayman in Carry On Dick:

And later in the same scene with the late great Bernard Bresslaw (6'7" to her 4'10"):

An outstanding performance from the Carry On crew's leading pair (fnarr, fnarr).

Light relief

To lighten things up a bit, here is the Daily Mash on the bomb scares in London and Glasgow. And on their NHS links (and again).

And here it is on threat levels and paranoia.

And on a different subject, this is very funny.

Sense and nonsense about the bombings

Good sense in the aftermath of the Glasgow and London car bombs from Craig Murray (to whose appearance in the Edinburgh Book Festival I am very much looking forward). While there can be no doubt that we're dealing with Islamic terrorists here, to suggest that it's anything to do with al-Qaeda beggars belief. When did you last hear of al-Qaeda funding people whose ability at bomb-making appears to be limited to setting fire to cars (and there are a lot of people in Glasgow who do that regularly with no al-Qaeda funding at all)? Or a "suicide bomber" who (a) fails to notice that the bit of airport he's ramming has a crash barrier in front of it? Or who tries to run away? The history of Palestine is littered with suicide bombers who kill nobody except themselves, but these guys seem to have taken it to the next level by not even killing themselves, like the old joke about the dumb Kamikaze pilot who flew ten missions.

So the whole business makes me angry but it doesn't instil in me the Islamophobic panic that the press appears to think it should.

Of course, the Daily Express manages to work the attacks into its usual ranting about the NHS by suggesting that the reason the bombs didn't go off was because of "dud NHS syringes".

Did you notice the huge TV and press coverage for this Glasgow attack where someone rammed a car into a building and set it on fire? Me neither. But then, the victims were Asian.

And I bet you didn't notice this either. Trevor Kavanagh in the Sun clearly didn't, as he thinks that "Muslim extremists are the only ones trying to blow up Britain today". As Martin Sullivan says in that Islamophobia Watch response, the answer to Kavanagh's stupid question "When did a Hindu protestor last put a bomb in a mosque" is probably May 18th. But if the man ever read a newspaper he'd know that Shiv Sena and the like not infrequently bomb mosques and other places where they can target Muslims. And as for when a Jew last put on a belt of explosives: well, suicide belts aren't their style, but if you pop back to the final paragraphs of this post a couple of months back you can see that it doesn't cramp their style too much.

And from the fact that this story (which briefly made the headlines here) has fizzled out completely, I'd have a good guess that the plotters turned out not to have a Muslim connection at all. And (see above) who wants to hear about non-Islamic terrorism?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I bet the Israeli satirists are having fun right now

Also from Ha'aretz: this story.

I in no way condone violence in the Knesset, and I think de Hartuch should definitely be punished, either by a ban, a fine, or both. However, I can't help recalling the huge fuss among British and American Jews when Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, compared a journalist to a concentration camp guard (with no justification as far as I am aware). Meanwhile, in "democratic" Israel, MK Yakov Cohen seems to have escaped even mild censure for saying that de Hartuch (who had the temerity to oppose one of Cohen's pet gravy trains) was "more evil and terrible than the Nazis". Political pluralism? Opposition? Debate? Not for our Yakov. (Mind you, de Hartuch didn't respond according to democratic norms of conduct either.)

It's true what the "Friends of Israel" are always saying: we do hold Israel to a different standard from that which we apply to other countries. In other countries, comparing a Jew to the Nazis is seen as heinous anti-Semitism and if done by a public official leads to calls for resignation. Not in Israel, apparently.

Furthermore, I've always hated the term (beloved of the Jewish-American Right) "Self-hating Jew". But Yakov Cohen seems to fit the description better than anyone I've previously heard of. And if I despise the term, well, I reserve the right to despise Cohen as well.

Reality Check

I liked this piece by the comparatively sane Bradley Burston in Ha'aretz. I especially liked his analysis of what, exactly, is wrong with the Israelis and Palestinians:

* They are profoundly, irreparably childish in a way only adults deprived of a childhood can be.

* They are addicted to blame as a way of life. They cannot look at themselves as anything other than victims. They cannot look at the other as anything other than usurpers.

* They desperately need help and advice, but cannot bring themselves to accept it. They tend to be unable to help themselves. They tend to act in ways which defeat their own declare aims. They tend to declare aims which defeat their own ability to reach a solution. They tend to be unable to shed or modify the aims which keep them from providing for the welfare of their own people, aims which keep them from making peace with their neighbors.

* Their spiritual advisors, who, it turns out, are also political kingpins, insist that scripture is proof of real estate ownership.

* Their hardliners, bolstered by their supporters abroad ? who are often even more extreme in their views, equate compromise with treason, failure of will, selling out, crimes against history.

* Convinced of its own moral purity, neither side can abide the idea of moral equivalency any more than it can accept the concept of shared responsibility for the problems and their eventual solution.

All of it very true, and it needed saying. And please understand that Burston's comments apply to the Palestinians every bit as much as to the Israelis.

One of those weeks (contd.) (contd.)

Mordechai Vanunu

Mordechai Vanunu, the whistle-blower who exposed Israel's development of weapons of mass destruction (to this day still uninspected, unregulated, utterly illegal) and who had already served 18 years in solitary confinement as a prisoner of conscience following his kidnapping by the Israeli secret police, has been jailed again for the heinous crime of talking to foreigners. At least after this latest disgrace maybe people will stop pretending that Israel is a "democracy" with any credibility as a respecter of human rights. (No, seriously, there really are idiots who do.) It's a theocracy run by bullies and thugs, and long ago forfeited (and regularly continues to forfeit) any claim to moral superiority over the equally thuggish theocrats who are its neighbours.

Hint: in democracies, such as the United States, "whistle-blowers" who expose evildoing are celebrated. Think of Sherron Watkins who blew the lid off the Enron scandal; or "Deep Throat" (W Mark Felt) who told Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein about the Watergate cover-up. In Israel, they're kidnapped, given show trials, locked up, and then re-imprisoned on trumped-up charges when they're released. No, of course the Israeli government can't be compared to the Nazis: they're far too busy trying to emulate Stalin (same human rights violations, better PR).

What a bunch of sick bastards.

Paris Je T'Aime

Saw this at the cinema last week. I'm a sucker for multi-director compilation films on a theme like Aria or 11'9"01, and this was as good as either of those masterpieces. I also love films with a vivid sense of place, like Before Sunrise, so a film made up of eighteen short episodes each based on one of Paris's arrondisements (apparently they made all twenty but two of the results were unsuitable for some reason) was always likely to get my vote. It had some lovely performances, moving, witty, sad; and some very big names indeed, most of whom gave brilliant performances (and none gave duds). I think my favourite of the star turns was Steve Buscemi, thoughNick Nolte and Elijah Wood were great too. Best sad moment: the black guy getting mugged for his guitar. Best comedy: the whole Eiffel Tower mime sequence.

Seriously: you should see this film.

One of those weeks (continued)

Dr Who

Everyone has had their say now about the two-part finale of series three (and it still seems weird to me to call it that when the real series three was back in the 1960s). I'll just add a few observations:

Use of music - wonderful (John Simms prancing around to the Scissor Sisters was priceless).

Deus ex machina (or what someone called the whole Dr Who/Neo thing) - less than impressed.

Death (???) of the Master - very nicely handled.

"You could go anywhere in the universe. Twice: the second time to apologise."

"The Face of Bo" - tee hee.

A dignified exit from Martha.

Logical flaws - if everything was restored back to the time between the assassination of the US President-elect and the opening of the rift, why does everyone on Earth not remain freaked out by having seen aliens offing the Pres? And does nobody wonder where their Prime Minister has gone (or the Cabinet for that matter)? And wouldn't the Archangel network still be transmitting its drumbeats?

But wotthehell - DT was fantastic, and so was JS, and it all just about came off.

Rather cheesy lead into the Christmas special, I thought.

Kylie to star opposite DT in the aforementioned special: now that's what I call a team.

And Catherine Tate is to return as the Doctor's companion for the next series. Seems OK to me: I'd never seen her before The Runaway Bridegroom, and I thought she was promising in that. As someone said in a comment on Rullsenberg Rules, at least we should avoid unrequited love this time then.

One of those weeks....

...when I've got behind with all the blog posts I meant to write. So here is a kind of "news in brief" round-up, starting with sport.


Jamie Murray and Jelena Jankovic. (Jummy.) It's rather amusing that the year Andy Murray has to miss Wimbledon through injury, his big bruv becomes the first Scottish Wimbledon champ since the late Permian or whatever. We watched J & J's last three matches and they were excellent throughout: it's not just that they played good tennis, and entertaining tennis, but they were so obviously having a ball. The only player these days in the singles (of either sex) who ever seems to have that same air of having real fun on a tennis court is Andy Roddick.

Of course the men's and women's finals were good matches too. But doesn't it just demonstrate how completely the singles matches dominate the media? If Tearful Tim had won the singles (ever) (in a competition you'd heard of) the papers would have been full of it for a month. But when we actually get a British champion at Wimbledon, because he's in the doubles he ends up on the inside pages, or relegated to the end of the sports news. It isn't even as though doubles wasn't as much fun to watch: some of those rallies go bloody fast. AND Murray and Jankovic are incredibly photogenic. Oh well. YAY US! (Cheers, waves wee Scottish saltire flag....)

Le Tour de France

Or, to begin with, d'Angleterre. Dramatic stuff on all four days so far:

Prologue - London looking beautiful, very fast times, Andreas Kloeden blowing the competition away by about ten seconds, then Fabian Cancellara blowing HIS time away by a further twelve seconds. Talk about Wile E. Coyote and Road-Runner. Beep, beep.

Stage One - Kent looking even more beautiful, wonderful French titles on the TV ("la côte de Southborough" was my favourite), Robbie McEwen falling about 10 km from the finish and reappearing from nowhere to win the final sprint. Does this man have a Tardis?

Stage Two - spectacular crash almost at the finish, fortunately not causing much in the way of serious injury (though one guy broke his thumb in five places - how do you do that?). I liked the ITV4 commentators discussing one rider who had thought he'd broken his collar-bone "but he'd forgotten that his collar-bone was mostly titanium plate from an earlier crash and is virtually indestructible". Brit David Millar got the polka-dot "King Of The Mountains" jersey. (What mountains? you ask - this is Belgium we're talking about after all.)

Stage Three - high drama as a group of four riders who had broken away very early began to look, abiout 30 km from the finish, as though they might actually not be caught by the pack. They were, though only just, and the surprise stage winner was in fact the overall leader Fabian Cancellara.

Oh, and shrewd timing to release The Flying Scotsman at the time of maximum national interest in cycling.

The Joys of Blog Housekeeping

It was with enormous pleasure that I deleted the "Free Alan Johnston" button from my sidebar last week after he was, indeed, released. I don't suppose the efforts of the world's bloggers made much difference (unlike the other button I recently took down which called on people to look out for Felicity Lowdes, where bloggers' efforts may very well have contributed to her capture).

Arms And The Man

If this turns out to be true it's the most cheering piece of domestic news for years.

It's both wonderful and amazing to think that the investigation into this criminal waste of money began while Blair (one of the arms dealers' biggest friends) was still in power. And it says a heck of a lot for the Treasury (backed, one assumes, by Gordon Brown's not inconsiderable clout) that they were able to carry out an unfavourable review of Tony's pet without TB closing it down as he did with the Serious Fraud Office's investigation into BAe's corrupt dealings with the Saudis.

I'm starting to like the Brown regime already.

Fast Spin (Delicate)

We've just been to see The Flying Scotsman, which is the film about Graeme Obree which opened last year's Edinburgh Film Festival and has now had a full release. The posters describe it as "Chariots of Fire meets Rocky meets Shine....on wheels" and one can see what they mean. The story of a Scot who (just about) overcame depression to become world 4 km pursuit champion (and record holder) and to set the one hour distance record (twice), and who did so on a budget of bugger-all using a home-made bicycle which incorporated bits of washing machine, despite continual changes in regulations by cycling's governing body deliberately aimed at excluding him : what's not to like? Jonny Lee Miller puts on a great performance as the damaged but ultimately triumphant Obree, and it's nice to see Billy Boyd (as his friend and manager) showing that his awful acting in The Lord of the Rings was an anomaly. The story is slightly fictionalised for dramatic purposes (the minister played by Brian Cox is an addition, for example) but sticks pretty close to the truth. Steven Berkoff as the vindictive head of the "World Cycling Federation" (actually in real life it's called the UCI, the International Cycling Union) is excellent: his character may seem to be almost too villainous to be true, but the UC really did keep making arbitrary rule changes regarding cycle design with the deliberate intention of keeping Obree and his bike out of contention.

And I'd been trying all evening to work out where I'd seen Laura Fraser (playing Obree's wife) before, and now IMDb has furnished the answer. I may not have watched Casanova, nor seen Vanilla Sky, but eleven years ago I did watch the extraordinary Neverwhere (by Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry) in which she played Door (one of the main characters) . Now that is a series I could stand to see again.

Why oh why oh why?

Does anyone know why Blogger won't allow me to move my cursor to the "Title" box so I can add titles to my posts? At least, not without refreshing my screen umpteen times? (Four in the case of this post, and about eight for the previous one.)

Update: I checked the Blogger help page and it seems this has been broken since Friday when Google made a (clearly badly-tested) change to Blogger. The technique, for all the rest of you sufferers out there, is to move your cursor slowly up to the top edge of the title field, near the middle, where it will turn into an insert cursor (the I-shaped one) instead of an arrow. Then you can type into the title field. The "Edit HTML" and "Compose" tabs had a similar thing last week, where there was only one point in the tab where the cursor caused them to highligh so they could be selected.

One has to ask what kind of chimps, precisely, are managing software implementations at Google. To have a serious error of this kind not only go unnoticed in testing but to remain unfixed three and a half days later in very definitely not acceptable. Of course, maybe instead of firing the implementation manager Google have fired all their developers instead, which would be very Dilbertish but would at least explain the lack of a fix.

Happy Boobday!

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday dear Cla-are
Happy birthday to you

(blows squeaky thing)

Clare Sudbery, walking pencil case* and thoroughly nice person, is a year older today. Yay!

*Far more interesting and decorative than any of the pencil cases I got as presents when I was a lad.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Civilised Western Christian supporter of the ideals of America and Israel and proud of it

I just read this piece of drivel (helpfully linked via Islamophobia Watch).

"The other day when he was asked to react to the attempted car-bomb attacks on London, the city's mayor, Ken Livingstone, called for tolerance. Fair enough, you might say. But at whom was his call for tolerance directed? You are probably thinking, if you are a logical sort, that the call must have been directed at the fanatics who had come within an ace of killing and maiming possibly hundreds of people. But you would be mistaken. Instead Ken directed his call at his fellow, non-Muslim, Englishmen. He said that in the past Jews, the Irish and gays had been persecuted in England and now it was the turn of Muslims.....On almost every one of these shows the secular left representative did his or her best to impersonate Ken Livingstone..... Essentially you had the guardians of tolerance siding with people who would crush homosexuals under walls if they could, and who would turn women into property given half a chance. And why this horrid sympathy? It is because the secular left's hatred of Western civilisation, and certainly Christianity, America and Israel, is such that they will side with anyone, no matter how unsavoury, who shares that hatred."

1. Ten out of ten to Ken Livingstone for noticing what the Irish visitor clearly did not, to wit that Britain's Muslims are now the most persecuted group in the country,

2. Why should I stand by and allow an avowed Catholic (i.e. an adherent of the religion that recently suggested excluding members of the Scottish Parliament if they failed to oppose civil partnerships for gay couples) to suggest that I (as a member of the "secular left") am the one siding with homophobes? Perhaps hypocrites like David Quinn could be usefully crushed under walls, but I have no sympathy for those (like Mr Quinn) who support (explicitly or implicitly) the victimisation of homosexuals.

3. I am fascinated to discover that, contrary to my own understanding and that of all my friends, I hate "Western civilisation, and certainly Christianity, America and Israel". I would agree that I have little sympathy for the current administration in the USA, but I understand that I share that view with a great many Americans. I believe this is what is known as "pluralistic democracy", one of the values of the Western civilisation I apparently hate. The same goes for the present Israeli government, and I will cheerfully admit that along with the UN, Amnesty International and most of the rest of that "Western civilisation" I abhor the illegal forty-year-long occupation of the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. I deplore the institutionalised discrimination against Israel's Arab minority. I deplore the refusal of successive Israeli governments to open their nuclear weapons programme to international inspection and verification. However, anyone wishing to destroy Israel will obtain no sympathy or comfort from this blogger. It would, after all, be illogical of me to demand adherence to UN resolutions from a country if I did not accept the legitimacy of its establishment under the auspices of that same United Nations.

As to my hatred of Christianity, while I will confess that I last attended mass in September 2001, I am still officially a communicant member of the Episcopal Church of Scotland (in probably its most High Church congregation, Old St Paul's, Edinburgh); and one of the wonders of the Episcopal denominations is their broad compass, such that even a mystically-inclined heterodox Christian such as I can feel accepted. I surmise that my supposed hatred for Christianity, America and Israel comes down to an unwillingness to accept Roman Catholicism, Republicanism and Zionism. I do not, however, "hate" those who do accept those creeds , any more than I "hate" Muslims, Creationists, Scientologists or the adherents of any other religions or sects. I can believe that they are mistaken without hatred.

So I ask Mr Quinn, soi-disant representative of a religious sect famous for its lack of toleration of opposing viewpoints, what gives him the right to denigrate my beliefs in such a bigoted and prejudiced manner?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Anniversareeee!

To EineKleineRob!


But we can still dream

And let's celebrate the Fourth of July with everyone's favourite shot from Independence Day.

Unfortunately it's only a special effect, and our American colleagues are stuck with B and C until they pull their fingers out and impeach the bastards.


Two years ago today I posted this.

I seem not to have marked this date last year. Too busy formatting the answers to my first ever First Lines quiz to notice.

Happy birthday, blog.