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, October 30, 2007

A Whole New World, or a New World Hole

This article makes me rather sad.

Oh for the love of Hephaestos....

In his Saturday column in the Guardian, Simon Hoggart mentions a book by Christopher Booker and Richard North, Scared To Death, which discusses various media-hyped scare stories including "the most perfect scare of all, the Y2K or millennium bug terror, which was going to end civilisation.......In the end, among other minuscule catastrophes, some bus ticket machines in Australia failed to work."

We in the IT profession have become used to taking the blame when highly-visible SNAFUs occur, and to being taken for granted when our efforts mean they don't. With Y2K, though, we weren't so much taken for granted as accused of having manufactured the while thing as a way of boosting our earnings. Ed Yourdon (a demigod to coders of a certain age!) made some pertinent observations right back on 1/1/2000. But I think the best rebuttal of the Hoggarts is to be had by looking at the birds and the B(MW)s. Let me explain.

Back in 1972, the environmental movement was just gathering momentum. Edward Goldsmith came and gave a talk at my school in which he discussed the Club of Rome's report Limits To Growth, on which his magazine The Ecologist had just run a feature. This was the famous report that informed us all that the world's oil would run out in 1992. (As you can see from the link, it wasn't quite that simple in fact, but the environmentalists themselves were happy to be misinterpreted in that way as it garnered more attention). Ten years earlier, Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring had alerted the world to the devastating environmental effects of pesticides, and painted a bleak picture of a future where many species such as peregrine falcons would be wiped out.

Well, as you can see, it didn't happen. There's still plenty of oil and plenty of peregrines. So where did it all go right? It went right precisely because of Rachel Carson and the Club of Rome. People read Silent Spring and suddenly became much more aware of the toxic stuff (to humans too in many cases) they were scattering around their houses and onto their crops. So they stopped using them. Not overnight, and not totally, but to a considerable extent. Limits To Growth told the oil companies nothing they didn't already know, but suddenly their investors were more easily persuaded to put money into prospecting in places where extracting the oil might be expensive, and into developing fancy techniques to permit such extraction. (A friend of mine wrote a text-book back in the 1980s on drilling round corners: in 1970 there would have been little market for it.) As the price of oil rose thanks to OPEC's machinations, it became steadily more economical to extract oil from unlikely sources, and new supplies kept on coming onstream.

So both Silent Spring and Limits To Growth were wrong in the end, and were wrong because they had first been right, and been taken seriously. If they'd been dismissed as more cranks (as they were by some folk) then we'd be living in a different world today. In the same way, if nobody had taken the Y2K bug seriously there would have been some rather worse things happening on 1st January 2000 (or maybe 4th January, or 29 February) than bus ticket machines failing. In Bank of Scotland, for example, the first sign of the approaching millennium was in (I think) 1998 when the first batch of Visa cards with an expiry date of 1900 was produced. That was easy to fix (give all new cards a two-year rather than three-year life) but provided a concrete example of the kind of thing we were working to prevent. Over the life of the Y2K project (on which I was one of the lead testers for the bank's batch systems) we uncovered a few instances of actual Y2K bugs, none of them dramatic, but by the time 2000 rolled around we could be pretty sure that we weren't going to encounter serious problems. And when I say serious, remember that the entire banking system, world-wide, depends on the electronic transmission of money; that these transactions all have date and time stamps; and that a transaction coming in with the wrong date will usually be rejected. Or imagine that the program calculating how much interest you owed on your mortgage decided that between 31st December 1999 and 4th January 2000 you'd accrued 36,528 days' worth instead of four.

So poke fun all you like, Messrs Booker and North. I'm happy to have done my job so well you never noticed.

Oh, and don't all post comments telling me that the year 2000 wasn't the millennium, because I'm well aware of that. That's why I call it the Y2K bug, not the millennium bug.

Context Is All

A wonderful poem from 1988, by a Burmese comedian currently then imprisoned by the authorities and now locked up again.

However, as I read it, I can't help thinking that if Zargana had been, say, an Iraqi Muslim instead of a Burmese Buddhist, the Guardian would have been inundated with protests that it was glorifying suicide bombing.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Buying the chainsaw from Acme was probably a mistake

You've Been Framed (German equivalent: Bitte Lächeln) is a British TV show where viewers send in video clips of people making *****s of themselves by doing stupid (and unintentional) things on camera. And if anyone around me had had a video camera yesterday you'd be seeing me on it.

In our garden there stands (or stood) a pine tree. Hilary and I planted it about twenty years ago, since when it has continued to grow until it eventually outgrew the capacity of the soil where we'd planted it, and died. Wishing to cut it down, we acquired a chainsaw (and I bet most stories including that sentence end badly). Actually, the chainsaw part worked fine: a Health & Safety conscious wuss such as I was never likely to amputate bits of myself or anyone else. No, it was the tree which didn't co-operate. I'd removed branches with loppers as for up as I could reach (the tree was about fifteen feet high), and decided to drop the tree (if possible) straight into our yard area, alongside the wall separating it from the street. This nearly worked (to the delight of my watching family) except that the falling tree slightly fouled the wall, whereupon the weight of the still branch-laden top flipped it over that wall into the street. Fortunately nobody was walking by. Fortunately the car parked outside was ours. Fortunately the tree missed it (just barely). Fortunately nobody was videoing proceedings.

I must say that as I watched the tree pivot over the wall my thoughts were like those of Obi-Wan Kenobi as he watches Jango Fett's ship plummet over a precipice and realises he's still attached to it: "Oh, not good".

I'd like to be able to claim that my Jedi reflexes and command of the force are what saved our car, but (continuing with the SF metaphors) I think a Teela Brown gene is closer to the real reason.

The tree is now in many small pieces for our cheminea, and some larger ones for a friend's wood-burning stove. Plus a heap of pine twigs which makes the yard look like a Norse artist's impression of Christ's entry into Jerusalem. Revenge is sweet.

I concur

Clare and Lisa are absolutely right: Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips is officially a work of genius.

No, really. The best piece of fiction I've read for years, and really, really funny.

So now I'm wishing I'd stuck my hand in the air for an invitation to her invitation-only blog before it closed. Yes, I know she has another one, but as we don't seem to have any TV programmes in common except Doctor Who, this may not work out.

Anyway. Go. Buy. Read. Before I send Ares round.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Davy Graham - Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 27 October 2007

This gig was a strange experience. To give you the back story, Davy Graham has been a hero of mine since my big brother got a vinyl EP back in the 1960s called 3/4 A.D. (I now have my own copy) . This contained, among other guitar instrumentals, one which would become one of the most famous of all time: Angi (sic - it was respelled with a "J" by some later imitator) . Graham's influence on British and other folk-rock guitarists has been immense ever since (for example, he is responsible for popularising the DADGAD tuning). His album with Shirley Collins (Folk Roots, New Routes) is usually cited as an essential precursor of the whole electric folk genre, and he is held largely responsible for bringing North African and Arabian influences into the British folk-blues scene . Davy hasn't performed in public for many years, which makes his recent return to touring all the more eagerly-awaited. On the other hand, he hasn't performed in public for many years, so one may assume that he's a bit rusty.

So I approached this gig with high expectations of a very special evening, and almost equally high ones of a disappointment.

I suppose in the event I got both. Graham performed about ten numbers (not incidentally including Angi or any other famous blasts from the past) and was mostly fairly competent: good rather than exceptional. I think he was nervous: although he wasn't evidently drunk or high* he was forgetful a couple of times (titles, intros). Just once or twice (most notably when he did Banish Misfortune) we could see flashes of the old genius. It all came together and we were in the presence of magic.

(* Unlike Bert Jansch theone time I saw him, who was unable to get more than a few seconds into a number without having to restart while mumbling drunkenly to himself.)

So while I was watching him I kept holding my breath and praying that each number would go OK. Mostly they did, and sometimes they were more than OK and I stopped holding my breath.

Sometimes being in the presence of a legend is sufficient reason to go to a gig, and so it was tonight. If I'm disappointed that there weren't more flashes of genius, well, that's my problem. It's a minor miracle that he's back performing at all, and that he's done so in a place I could get to will probably be a permanent bone of contention between me and my brother (the tour isn't going close and he's no longer mobile enough to trail huge distances).

And I'm glad he didn't do Angi: because if he'd played it less than brilliantly then I would have felt cheated somehow.

Here he is in a film clip from the 1960s. The comments under the YouTube clip suggest that I may have been lucky with tonight's gig.

Supports were Mark Pavey and John Smith (the latter was much better than when I saw him supporting John Martyn). Also one number from Davy's nephew Magnus Graham who happened to be in the audience: he was lent Mark Pavey's guitar and did a Stefan Grossman number - which was, I must confess, the best guitar playing of the evening.

No Mean Sidhi

This could be interesting, especially as Edinburgh is one of the two places being considered for it. Edinburgh University already has the Arthur Koestler Chair of Parapsychology, so we're used to being laughed at. And in just the same way that the Koestler chair isn't in my opinion a matter for laughter (it's about investigation, not belief) I'm sure Donovan's institution will be interesting. While I have little doubt the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is a businessman who has found a great way to get rich (an impression confirmed when I attended one of his road-shows as a student) , I don't have a problem with the benefits of meditation per se.

Though I have my doubts about yogic bouncing flying....

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Craig Murray is back!

And he's here.

One of his posts altered me to this strange story. I agree with him that as the bloke was in his room, in private, it's hard to see what the fuss was about, let alone why he should be put on the Sex Offenders Register and have the rest of his life ruined.

Not all doom and gloom, though, dear me no. This post contains the full text of his Rectorial Address to the students at Dundee University, which is hilarious (while probably making the university authorities squirm uncomfortably at the description oif their democratic deficit). It's worth reading the full thing, though here's a brief sample:

Becoming Rector here fulfils two of my great ambitions in life. The first was when I had a Highland Reel named after me, written by in my view Scotland’s best traditional music exponents the Battlefield Band. Sadly the great Jimmy Shand is no longer with us, but I like to imagine it at ceilidhs – “Our next set is a highland reel, with The Lang Heid followed by Lady Margaret Campbell of Glenlyon followed by Ambassador Craig Murray of Tashkent.” That will confuse them.

So my very own reel a great honour, and my first ambition. My second was to become Rector of the University of Dundee.

I might have to give up on the third, as I don’t suppose Kylie Minogue would be up for it.

Arcade Fire, Glasgow SECC, 26 October 2007

I managed to miss the first support (Clinic) but caught most of the second (Wild Light), whio were pleasant indie fare, not unlike a less numerous and less orchestral Arcade Fire, in fact.

Arcade Fire themselves were wonderful, all ten of them. Their stage lighting is much more elaborate than I'd expected given their liking for small, intimate performances, but they are certainly geared up for the big venues now. They did quite a lot of stuff that wasn't familiar: one was introduced as an old song but others may have been new material. I went through the albums again and I don't think I was just being dumb: some of it really was different stuff. Some of the songs sound quite different live, though.

Numbers that I did recognise (and can remember!) were their opener (Black Mirror), Antichrist Television Blues, Tunnels, The Well and the Lighthouse, Power Out, Rebellion, Keep the Car Running, Intervention (first encore) and Wake Up (second encore, and with audience singing probably audible in Carlisle). They used quite a few video clips, including one of a crazed televangelist ranting which suddenly had me wondering if the band were about to morph into the Alabama 3 and do Mao Tse-Tung Said.

The vocals seemed rather muddy early on but seemed to be mixed further up later, though Regine's voice was still a bit thin. The instrumental mix was spot on, though, with Intervention sounding especially grand with its two violins, two French horns, pipe organ and glockenspiel (it sounded even better than on the album). I was a tiny bit disappointed that they didn't have a harp with them, as the harp parts on both albums are especially fine (and Wake Up in particular has a very prominent part). Still, mustn't grumble. The violinists (actually, one may have been a viola) appeared to be decorative as well as enthusiastic (I really should have taken binoculars, as the seated area in the SECC is some way from the stage). The pipe organ dominated the set though not (except on Intervention) the mix. And I was trying to remember when I'd last seen a French horn on stage in a rock concert (Hilary reminded me: The Polyphonic Spree).

One thing I found sometimes amusing and sometimes just plain distracting was Will Butler's onstage antics. (Not to be confused with Wim Butler, who just gets on with singing and playing.) When called on to play glockenspiel, Will would be waving his beaters over his head as though trying to have the instrument accepted as a new event in the World Air Guitar championships. When playing cymbals he roamed around the stage clashing them in a life-threatening manner, up close and personal (though perfectly in time, of course). For his one number on guitar he ran repeatedly from side to side of the stage when playing, exactly like a stressed-out zoo animal in a small enclosure. And while playing glockenspiel during Wake Up he managed to knock over a suspended cymbal stand with one of his wild gestures. Not sure whether he was high or simply hyper-active: either way he was still getting the job done musically, but I did find myself wondering for each number what he'd be getting up to.

A good evening, though I can see why they prefer smaller venues with more audience rapport. A shame they didn't do their wonderful cover version of Serge Gainsbourg's Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son as they did last time they played Glasgow: now that would have been perfect.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Wakey wakey

I've only just realised that I never dropped the other shoe (or two shoes) regarding the "Wake Up" themed first lines back in May. So here is a link to the now-revealed answers.

Wake up indeed.

Tireless foes of freedom, energetic supporters of terrorism

American-style "academic freedom" comes to Oxford, courtesy of London Zionist Paul Ussiskin. How proud he must be. But what was the Oxford Union thinking of, caving in to him?

Update: why am I unsurprised that the dead hand (and moribund intellect, but sadly all too healthy remainder) of Alan Dershowitz turns out to have been behind this disgrace?

Further update: no need to say why I'm unsurprised that Harry's Place (washes out mouth) is adding to the lies circulating.

Meanwhile here we have Daniel Pipes (a doughty battler against academic freedom wherever it rears its head in the USA) indefatigably supporting a terrorist organisation banned by the US State Department. Because, you see, it only slaughters Muslims. Here he is again, cheering on the murder of Muslims by Iraqi insurgents and expressing satisfaction that the civil war in Iraq will slow down the spread of democracy in the Middle East, because that would be terrible (having elections might legitimise governments with Muslims in them). So: terrorism good, democracy bad. Murder good, elections bad. Iraqi insurgents good, US government bad. That this ape is organising fascist rallies in the USA right now instead of being waterboarded in Guantanamo says more about the pervasiveness of the "Israel Lobby" than anything Mearsheimer and Walt could come up with.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

American Idol, and Licks from Leipzig

While watching the banjo video clip from a few posts back, I noticed this one in the sidebar. Yes, that's right: the besuited youth with the banjo and guitar would in only five years be Eight Miles High, and the following year would be cynically reflecting:

So you want to be a rock 'n' roll star? then listen now to what I say
Just get an electric guitar and take some time and learn how to play
And if your hair's combed right and your pants are tight it's gonna be all right

Then it's time to go downtown where the agent man won't let you down
Sell your soul to the company who are waiting there to sell plastic ware
And in a week or two if you make the charts the girls'll tear you apart

Nobody, though, was tearing apart the Chad Mitchell Trio.

The times were, indeed, a-changing.

P.S. This video from the same site puts me in mind of the line from one of the Star Trek films where someone quotes Shakespeare and another character says he like the line even better in the original Klingon. Well, here is Bach on the original banjo. What?

Right Brain or Left Brain?

(Final item for now from linkbunnies.)

In a class by itself is this animation, designed to tell whether you use mainly the left or right half of your brain. I persistently see the figure turning clockwise, which makes me a right-brainer. Moreover, I have tried to see it the other way and can't get it to flip.

And no, I'm not left-handed.

Miscellany Three - General

(Still more from linkbunnies.)


Ten reasons why gay marriage is un-American. Who says irony is dead?

Surprise! Unfailingly amusing.


Swearing at work boosts team spirit. Well, duh.

Poster displayed in Dutch doctors' waiting rooms. To remind patients how much worse things could be. Perhaps it should be displayed in cinemas for people coming out of Sicko.

Miscellany Two - Music Videos

(More from linkbunnies.)

What's this guy's problem? Oh yes, he plays the banjo.

I thought the Star Trek White Rabbit was wonderful. Then I spotted the even better Star Trek Time Warp on the same page. I am in awe of people who know the programmes and films so well they can make things like these.

Miscellany One - Wackos on Wheels

I've been catching up over on linkbunnies.org, surely one of the best sites for directing you to the weird and wacky. And what have I found?

Well, there's a maniac riding a mountain bike downhill at 130 mph..

Then there's someone even nuttier equipped with rollerblades and a tiny toboggan (the "skeleton" kind) descending the Grimsel pass. I keep wondering how her/his hairpin bend technique would have withstood one of those oncoming motorbikes.....

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I must share this site - a collection of shaggy dog stories - with you (why should I suffer alone?).

They missed this:

Many years ago, Ari Onassis and his new bride, Jackie Kennedy, were photographed on the French Riviera as they viewed Buster Keaton's old digs. The tag line on the picture read: Aristotle Contemplating The Home Of Buster." (Thanks to this site for that.)

Also for Death Of A Foy by Isaac Asimov:

Death of a Foy

by Isaac Asimov

It was extremely unusual for a Foy to be dying on Earth. They were the highest social class on their planet (with a name which was pronounced -- as nearly as Earthly throats could make the sounds -- Sortibackenstrete) and were virtually immortal.

Every Foy, of course, came to voluntary death eventually, and this one had given up because of an ill-starred love affair, if you can call it a love affair where five individuals, in order to reproduce, must indulge in a year-long mental contact. Apparently, he himself had not fit into
the contact after several months of trying, and it had broken his heart -- or hearts, for he had five.

All Foys had five large hearts and there was speculation that it was this that made them virtually immortal.

Maude Briscoe, Earth's most renowned surgeon, wanted those hearts. "It can't be just their number and size, Dwayne," she said to her chief assistant. "It has to be something physiological or biochemical. I must have them."

"I don't know if we can manage that," said Dwayne Johnson. "I've been speaking to him earnestly, trying to overcome the Foy taboo against dismemberment after death. I've had to play on the feeling of tragedy any Foy would have over death away from home. And I've had to lie to him, Maude."


"I told him that after death, there would be a dirge sung for him by the world-famous choir led by Harold J. Gassenbaum. I told him that by Earthly belief this would mean that his astral essence would be instantaneously wafted back, through hyperspace, to his home planet of Sortib-what's its name -- provided he would sign a release allowing you, Maude, to have his hearts for scientific investigation."

"Don't tell me he believed that horse excrement!" said Maude.

"Well, you know this modern attitude about accepting the myths and beliefs of intelligent aliens. It wouldn't have been polite for him not to believe me. Besides, the Foys have a profound admiration for terrestrial science and I think this one is a little flattered that we should want his hearts. He promised to consider the suggestion, and I hope he decides soon, because he can't live more than another day or so, and we must have his permission by interstellar law, and the hearts must be fresh and -- Ah, his signal."

Dwayne Johnson moved in with smooth and noiseless speed.

"Yes?" he whispered, unobtrusively turning on the holographic recording device, in case the Foy wished to grant permission. The Foy's large, gnarled, rather tree-like body lay motionless on the bed. The bulging eyes palpitated (all five of them) as they rose, each on its stalk, and turned oward Dwayne. The Foy's voice had a strange tone and the lipless edges of his open, round mouth did not move, but the words formed perfectly. His eyes were making the Foyan gesture of assent as he said:

"Give my big hearts to Maude, Dwayne. Dismember me for Harold's choir. Tell all the Foys on Sortibackenstrete that I will soon be there --"

Remember The Alamole!

Yes, folks, it's October 23rd once more and Mole Day is upon us.

Not the kind of green development George approves of

In a similar vein, this Doonesbury cartoon (and this one) reminded me of this thought-provoking article by George Monbiot.

Now he just needs to corral some of those Black Widows into a pit

I 've been catching up with a week's worth of Dilbert, and when I got to this one I thought immediately of Joe, who I know has two monitors at work.

Monday, October 22, 2007

That would probably explain the wet t-shirt as well

I've just been reading Gert's review of the Covent Garden Walküre (strictly, of Acts I and II) and I'm very jealous of her seeing PD as Siegmund.

I hope she won't mind my quoting a small extract....

And then the singing starts! At which point I realise that my binoculars, slung round my neck, are still in their case, and I have to, micron by micron, unfasten the velcro and discard the case. Then I realise that through the binoculars the stage looks very far away...yeah, I'm using them upside down. Then I realise that the four pieces of glass are grubby; the lower ones from sticky finger prints, the higher ones from make-up that comes off from around my eyes. So I have to set to and clear them, whilst never taking my eyes off the stage or my ears off the music, especially the singing, especially the singing of Siegmund. The seats in the Amphitheatre at Covent Garden are very closely packed, and any excess arm movements are very annoying to one's neighbours. Fortunately, I am blessed with permanently erect nipples which are very handy for cleaning binoculars. And I'm sure that's way too much information.

.....after which I shall never look at opera glasses in quite the same way again.

For the bigger bottom

I thought this story was wonderful.

Here's another view of the toilet-shaped house, showing the, er, business end.

Surely confusion may arise between the Korea-based World Toilet Association and its elder sibling from Singapore, the World Toilet Organisation. Perhaps they need handy little symbols to put on their doors to avoid embarrassment........

However, my first - and abiding - thought on reading the story of Korea's "Mayor Toilet" was that someone with his name and obsession in Britain would undoubtedly be dubbed "Toilet Duck".

Some real fascism to be aware of

Resources for countering prominent American racist David Horowitz's "Islamofascism Awareness Week".

Let's not pretend that they aren't needed in the UK as well, where we have the likes of Melanie Phillips and Martin Amis pumping out hatred on a regular basis.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Of Ravens, Romans and Radios

Back home after a great week in Ballater. The weather stayed good so we got plenty of walking and cycling done as well as the obligatory pottering, scone-eating and shopping. Got a good view of some ravens on Meikle Pap, heard dozens of stags bellowing (both very close and loud, and distant, echoing and atmospheric) and kept our distance from the people (evidenced mostly by their Land Rovers and ponies) taking advantage of the last few days of the deer stalking season. Oh, and we watched Dil Se and most of I, Claudius on DVD.

Now I'm catching up on radio programmes I missed. The BBC, bless them, are serialising Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams, and while it's not the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy it is a very good book. It's therefore with some relief that I can report that they're doing a good job, with Harry Enfield surprisingly good as DG, and Billy Boyd as Richard Macduff demonstrating that his appalling acting in LOTR was just an aberration. The cast also includes Robert Duncan (Gus from Drop The Dead Donkey, one of my all-time favourite TV comedies) and Andrew Sachs (Manuel from Fawlty Towers).

I've also begun to catch up with Old Harry's Game, most of whose first episode I caught one night on the car radio. And I'm looking forward to listening to this week's Friday Play, which I might have overlooked had it not been for Lisa.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Of Black Lists, Death Threats and Failed Academics - a Campus Watch update

Further to my piece on Campus Watch, they have published this transcript of Phil Donahue of MSNBC interviewing Daniel Pipes of CW and Hamid Dabashi, a professor at Columbia University who appears on one of CW's blacklists. Clearly Campus Watch think Pipes comes out of it well, or they wouldn't draw attention to it.

He doesn't.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

No sex please, we're bdelloid rotifers

I thought this was an interesting story. Rather like Alberich's renouncing love for ever in Wagner's Das Rheingold in order to rule the world, the bdelloid rotifers abjured sex in order to be able to survive against the odds. Fifteen million years in, they probably felt pretty good about it as the dinosaurs and much of the rest of Earth's life-forms softly and silently vanished away. Then just 65 million more years of nookie-less existence. Ho hum.

So next time you think it's been a while since you had sex, think of the upside. When global warming has dried the planet out, you'll be laughing.

A bunch of failed American ex-academics trying to blacken the name of a real one (well, several actually)

I'd been meaning to post a link to this piece in 5th October's Guardian, as it summed up a lot of my feelings on the matter. While not supporting a generalised boycott of Israeli academia, I have some misgivings about such a boycott's having been declared unlawful, especially as no reasons have been given in support of such an opinion.

The threats cited by Dr Gopal to academic freedom in the United States are well-known:

Organisations such as Campus Watch monitor what academics write and teach, compile blacklists and attempt to shut down debate, despite their claim to support free speech. Respected scholars who have faced campaigns include Columbia University's Middle East specialist Joseph Massad, who was accused and then cleared of anti-semitism; outspoken Michigan professor Juan Cole; and Norman Finkelstein, refused tenure and forced to resign after DePaul University came under external pressure.

Well, clearly she touched a nerve at Campus Watch, as their apparatchik Winfield Myers (apparently a "journalist and public intellectual") published this attack:

A cursory look at CW's web pages would have saved Gopal from, at least, errors of fact, if not from those rooted in her ideology.

To state the obvious: CW does not compile blacklists; where does she see them on our site?

Well, to state the obvious, things can exist without being publicised on a website. (I have a diary, but you won't see it here.) Anything better?

As for the tired charge that CW aims to "shut down debate," it is rather the case that Gopal and her allies are so unused to debate of any kind that the mere appearance of alternative views causes them to swoon and cry foul. I invite critics to tell us precisely what mechanisms we use for achieving this grand claim. They cannot, of course, for we neither wish it nor have it within our means to achieve it.

Well, if you visit the "About Us" page at CW's site, it lists its aims as:

Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum, reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America, with an aim to improving them. The project mainly addresses five problems: analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics, and the abuse of power over students.

Then it defines all these "problems" in terms of specific opinions which academics ought or ought not to hold. For example:

...out of the Middle East Studies Association's four-day conference in November 2002 where more than 550 papers were presented, exactly one dealt with Al-Qaeda and one with "fundamentalism." "Militant Islam" was not the subject of a single paper.

Gosh. it's almost as though the Middle East Studies Association made up its own mind as to what were significant topics of discussion rather than bowing to the ill-informed prejudices of a bunch of journalists with no credibility in the subject. But Winfield Myers is still hopping about with a foot remaining to shoot off:

Gopal objects to CW's research on Joseph Massad, who was, as those who can discern gold from brass know, "cleared" only to the degree that an internal committee at Columbia denied that he is an anti-Semite.... the committee's conclusions hardly settled the matter to the satisfaction of many outside observers and members of the Columbia community.

...i.e. he was cleared but Campus Watch don't like it and will carry on pretending he wasn't....

Gopal's inclusion of Finkelstein and Archbishop Tutu in her list of supposedly silenced heroes further exposes her lack of research: we have never commissioned a single item on either man, as Campus Watch does not take positions on questions of tenure or on campus speakers.
Oh, right. I'm sure that's true, but by a strange coincidence if you click on the tab labelled "Moonlighting: Non-specialists in the News" (a bit rich, one might think, from an organisation entirely made up of non-specialists) you will see links to these articles:

The Finkelstein Affair [on former DePaul professor Norman Finkelstein]
by David Bernstein, October 2, 2007 - The Volokh Conspiracy

Profile of Marc H. Ellis: Director of the Center for American and Jewish Studies at Baylor University
September 19, 2007 - DiscoverTheNetworks.org

The Passion of Norman Finkelstein
by Steven Plaut, September 17, 2007 - FrontPage Magazine

The "Fink" in Finkelstein [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Ryan Masse, September 13, 2007 - The Badger Herald (Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison)

Israel/Palestine, week 1 [on "Israel/Palestine Legal Issues," a course at Harvard Law taught by Duncan Kennedy]
by Joel Pollak, September 12, 2007 - Guide to the Perplexed Blog

Michigan Resumes Distribution of Anti-Israel Book [on "Overcoming Zionism" by Joel Kovel; Pluto Press]
by Scott Jaschik, September 12, 2007 - Inside Higher Ed

Anti-Zionist Book Will Be Distributed in U.S. [on Joel Kovel, "Overcoming Zionism"; University of Michigan Press; Pluto Press)
by Elizabeth Green, September 12, 2007 - The New York Sun

The Next Piece of Housekeeping for DePaul? [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Steven Plaut, September 6, 2007 - FrontPage Magazine

Finkelstein and DePaul Settle
by Scott Jaschik, September 6, 2007 - Inside Higher Ed

DePaul University's Finkelstein Quits
September 6, 2007 - Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Tenure Dispute at DePaul Ends With a Settlement and Professor's Resignation [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Paula Wasley, September 6, 2007 - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Embattled US Professor Who Accused Jews of Using Holocaust to Stifle Criticism Agrees to Resign [on Norman Finkelstein]
September 5, 2007 - Associated Press

DePaul, Embattled Professor Settle Dispute [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Ron Grossman, September 5, 2007 - Chicago Tribune

Finkelstein Resigns at DePaul U., After Deal Forestalls Threats to Defy University [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Paula Wasley, September 5, 2007 - The Chronicle of Higher Education

DePaul U. Memos Accuse Professor in Tenure Dispute of Being Disruptive [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Elizabeth F. Farrell, September 4, 2007 - The Chronicle of Higher Education

DePaul Memos Tell of Run-Ins with Professor [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Ron Grossman, September 3, 2007 - Chicago Tribune

Defending Fink [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Marty Peretz, September 2, 2007 - The New Republic

Denial of Tenure Defended [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Dave Newbart, September 1, 2007 - Chicago Sun-Times

Controversial Professor Plans to Risk Arrest After University Cancels His Classes [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Melissa Drosjack, August 30, 2007 - Fox News

Walt, Mearsheimer to Protest Finkelstein Firing [on Norman Finkelstein]
August 30, 2007 - Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA)

In Wonderful Company [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Jamie Kirchick, August 30, 2007 - The Daily Dish (Andrew Sullivan's blog)

Not the Norm [on Norman Finkelstein, Thomas Klocek, AAUP]
by John J. Miller, August 29, 2007 - Phi Beta Cons (NRO)

Holocaust Academic Vows to Fight Axe of University Class [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Donald MacLeod and agencies, August 29, 2007 - The Guardian (U.K.)

DePaul University Cancels Class Taught By Professor Critical of Israel [on Norman Finkelstein]
August 28, 2007 - Associated Press

DePaul Pulls Plug on Controversial Professor [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Ron Grossman, August 28, 2007 - The Chicago Tribune

Terminating the Terminal Year [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Scott Jaschik, August 27, 2007 - Inside Higher Ed

DePaul U. Cancels Courses of Professor Who Lost Tenure Bid, but He Plans to Teach Them Anyway [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Jennifer Howard, August 27, 2007 - The Chronicle of Higher Education

CCUS Professor Looks at Middle East from Psychological Perspective [on Moises Salinas]
by Lisa Kingstone, August 15, 2007 - The Jewish Ledger

Tenure Decisions at DePaul U. [letter to the editor re Norman Finkelstein]
by Anne Clark Bartlett, July 27, 2007 - The Chronicle of Higher Education

DePaul Flubs Up on Finkestein
by Anthony Paletta, June 29, 2007 - Minding the Campus

Students Will Begin Hunger Strike in Support of DePaul Professors Denied Tenure [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Sierra Millman, June 25, 2007 - Chronicle of Higher Education News Blog

Finkelstein's Sexism
by Alan Dershowitz, June 25, 2007 - FrontPage Magazine

DePaul University Students Fast for Academic Freedom [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Daniel Klimek, Victor Lang, et al., June 25, 2007 - Monthly Review

Finking on Finkelstein
June 25, 2007 - Reason Online

Outwit. Outplay. Outlast. Outtenure? [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Dave Newbart, June 22, 2007 - Chicago Sun-Times

Students Protest Tenure Denials at DePaul U. [on Norman Finkelstein, et al.]
by Sierra Millman, June 22, 2007 - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Muslims Need More Creative Voice [interview with Karen Armstrong; ref. John Esposito]
by Aniza Damis, June 18, 2007 - The New Straights Times (Malaysia)

The Fight Against the Israel-Haters in Academia [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Asaf Romirowsky, June 15, 2007 - San Diego Jewish World

Norman Finkelstein: The Case Against
by Alan Dershowitz, June 14, 2007 - Comment Is Free (The Guardian, U.K.)

Students Ordered to Leave Chief's Area [on Norman Finkelstein and DePaul U.]
by Dave Newbart, June 14, 2007 - The Chicago Sun-Times

DePaul Chief May Face Vote of No Confidence [regarding Norman Finkelstein]
by Dave Newbart, June 13, 2007 - Chicago Sun-Times

ADL Reacts to DePaul's Denial of Tenure to Prof. Norman Finkelstein
June 11, 2007 - Anti-Defamation League

DePaul Denies Tenure to Controversial Political Science Professor [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Ashley M. Heher, June 11, 2007 - Associated Press

DePaul Rejects Finkelstein
by Scott Jaschik, June 11, 2007 - Inside Higher Education

DePaul Denies Tenure to Finkelstein
June 11, 2007 - Jewish Telegraphic Agency

DePaul U. Turns Norman Finkelstein Down for Tenure
by Jennifer Howard, June 11, 2007 - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Outspoken Political Scientist Denied Tenure at DePaul
by Patricia Cohen, June 11, 2007 - The New York Times

Controversial Professor Denied Tenure at DePaul
by Ron Grossman, June 10, 2007 - The Chicago Tribune

Finkelstein Rejected from U.S. College
by Yaakov Lappin, June 10, 2007 - YnetNews.com

No Tenure for Controversial Professor
by Maudlyne Ihejirka and Dave Newbart, June 9, 2007 - The Chicago Sun-Times

DePaul Rejects Tenure Bid by Finkelstein and Says Dershowitz Pressure Played No Role
by Jennifer Howard, June 8, 2007 - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Finkelstein's End
by Martin Peretz, June 8, 2007 - The Spine (TNR Online)

Radical Reverse Psychology [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Alan Dershowitz, June 4, 2007 - FrontPage Magazine

Student Group Petitions Against Prof [on Norman Finkelstein]
June 4, 2007 - Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA)

Free Speech Has a Price: Common Sense [on Shiraz Dossa]
by Dan Leger, June 4, 2007 - The Chronicle Herald (Halifax, Nova Scotia)

Academic Freedom and the Tehran Conference [on Shiraz Dossa]
by Sean E. Riley, June 2, 2007 - The Chronicle Herald (Halifax, Nova Scotia)

Match Point [Noam Chomsky Vs. Alan Dershowitz on Norman Finkelstein]
by Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz, June 1, 2007 - The New Republic Online

Canadian Professor Defends Attendance at Tehran Holocaust Conference [on Shiraz Dossa]
by Karen Birchard, May 30, 2007 - The Chronicle of Higher Education

An Unstable Academic Threatens Alan Dershowitz [on Robert Trivers, Norman Finkelstein, Alan Dershowitz]
by Steven Plaut, May 29, 2007 - FrontPage Magazine

Name-Calling and a Canceled Lecture [on Robert Trivers, Norman Finkelstein, Alan Dershowitz]
by Scott Jaschik, May 29, 2007 - Inside Higher Education

Political Scientist Responds to School's Stance on His Attendance at Holocaust Conference
by Laura Fraser, May 29, 2007 - The Chronicle Herald (Halifax, Nova Scotia)

Professor Who Attended Holocaust Conference Blasts Critics as Islamophobes [on Shiraz Doosa]
by Michael Valpy, May 28, 2007 - The Globe and Mail

The U.S. Supports and Exports Racism--Because You Allow It! [on Shahid Alam]
by Ami Isseroff, May 28, 2007 - Zionism and Israel News

Scientist Says Harvard Canceled Talk [on Robert Trivers, Norman Finkelstein, & Alan Dershowitz]
by Marcella Bombardieri and Brian Ballou, May 27, 2007 - The Boston Globe

Dershowitz V. Finkelstein
by Pauline Dubkin Yearwood, May 25, 2007 - The Chicago Jewish News

Taking the Bait [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Alan Dershowitz, May 21, 2007 - The New Republic

Democracy Not! [Dershowitz on Finkelstein]
by Alan Dershowitz, May 16, 2007 - Frontpage Magazine

Distortions Fill the Air at Colleges [references Norman Finkelstein]
by Marcos Bretón, May 16, 2007 - Sacramento Bee

Author is Invited by Muslim Student Group to Discuss Jewish 'Exploitation' of the Holocaust [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Stephen Magagnini, May 15, 2007 - Sacramento Bee

Finkelstein Brings ASUCD-Funded Hate Speech
by Shira Rawlinson, May 15, 2007 - The California Aggie (UC Davis)

UC Davis Campus in Jewish-Muslim Spat [on Norman Finkelstein]
May 15, 2007 - The Washington Times (UPI)

Tenure or trouble? [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Dave Newbart, May 14, 2007 - Chicago Sun-Times

What Does Kanan Makiya Think Now About the Iraq War?
by Thomas Padilla, May 14, 2007 - History News Network

Principal Says "Salaam" to Gibran School [on Khalil Gibran Academy]
by Dana Rubenstein and Ariella Cohen, May 12, 2007 - The Brooklyn Paper

DePaul's Disgrace [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Martin Peretz, May 12, 2007 - The Spine (TNR Online)

Steve Emerson and Alan Colmes Go at it Over Anti-Semitic DePaul Professor [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Bryan, May 11, 2007 - Hot Air

Academic Questions [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Editorial, May 10, 2007 - The Jewish Exponent (Philadelphia)

Academic Repression Update / A Question of Scholarship: On the Tenure Controversy of Prof. Norman G. Finkelstein
by Christopher Brown, May 4, 2007 - The Advocate (CUNY Graduate Center)

Finkelstein's Bigotry
by Alan Dershowitz, May 4, 2007 - The Wall Street Journal

The Unsolicited Outside Letter; A Regular Part of the University Tenure and Appointment Process [on Norman Finkelstein, Alan Dershowitz, et al.]
by Emmet Trueman, May 2, 2007 - Solomonia Blog

The Chutzpah Industry [on Finklestein and Dershowitz]
by Jon Wiener, May 2, 2007 - The Nation

Finkelstein Calls Israel a Human Rights Abuser, Following Brief Protest [on Finkelstein's lecture at Brandeis]
by Lital Shair, May 1, 2007 - The Justice (Brandeis Univ.)

Finkelstein Distorts Facts to Fit Agenda
by Benjamin Berg, May 1, 2007 - The Justice (Brandeis Univ.)

Finkelstein Discusses Israel's Human Rights Record [also Jimmy Carter]
by David Pepose, April 27, 2007 - The Brandeis Hoot

Up for Tenure and Under Fire [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Michael Scharff, April 20, 2007 - The Daily Princetonian

Dershowitz, Finkelstein, and a Bitter Tenure Battle
by Michael Lando, April 19, 2007 - The Jerusalem Post

Motivated by Hate [on Finkelstein's talk at the University of Massachusetts]
by Ben Duffy, April 18, 2007 - The Daily Collegian

Finkelstein Gives Impassioned Talk
by Andrea Milne, April 17, 2007 - The Bi-College News (Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges)

Administration Wants to Be Notifield Before High-Profile Speakers Are Invited [on Jimmy Carter; ref. to Norman Finkelstein]
by Dan Hirschhorn, April 17, 2007 - The Justice (Brandeis Univ.)

Stanford University Officials Bar Public from Panel Featuring 'Ex-Terrorists' [references Finkelstein]
by Nanette Asimov, April 13, 2007 - San Francisco Chronicle

Inspiration Under Attack [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Claire Sherman, April 13, 2007 - The DePaulia

Finkelstein In Nasty Tenure Battle
by Stewart Ain, April 13, 2007 - The Jewish Week

Harvard Law Professor Works to Disrupt Tenure Bid of Longtime Nemesis at DePaul U. [on Alan Dershowitz & Norman Finkelstein]
by Jennifer Howard, April 5, 2007 - Chronicle of Higher Education

Will America's Largest Catholic University Give Tenure to a Fan of the Hezbollah? [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Steven Plaut, April 5, 2007 - FrontPage Magazine

Furor Over Norm Finkelstein
by Scott Jaschik, April 3, 2007 - Inside Higher Education

Upcoming Lecture Puts Bryn Mawr in the News [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Andrea Milne, April 3, 2007 - The Bi-College News (Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges)

Palestine Day Engages Students [campus events ahead of lecture by Norman Finkelstein at Bryn Mawr]
by Andrea Milne, April 3, 2007 - The Bi-College News (Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges)

Professor Whose Works on Israel Stirred Controversy Is in Tenure Fight With DePaul U. [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Jennifer Howard, April 2, 2007 - Chronicle of Higher Education

Appearance of Staunch Israel Critic Sends Penn Campus Into a Tailspin [on Norman Finkelstein at Penn]
by Bryan Schwartzman, March 29, 2007 - The Jewish Exponent (Philadelphia)

Behind New Sponsors, Controversial Middle East Writer Norman Finkelstein to Speak
by Miranda Neubauer, March 27, 2007 - The Justice (Brandeis Univ.)

A Campus Divided Over Israel [on speakers at Brandeis]
by Sierra Millman, March 23, 2007 - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Letters to the Editor: [on Norman Finkelstein, Alan Dershowitz, Avery Goldstein]
by Susan Landau, et al., March 23, 2007 - The Daily Pennsylanian

Finkelstein Receives Support; Speech Back On
by Miranda Neubauer, March 23, 2007 - The Justice (Brandeis Univ.)

Letters to the Editor: Norman Finkelstein [on his lecture at Penn]
by Stephen Gale, Barry Morrison, et al., March 22, 2007 - The Daily Pennsylanian

Terror Supporter and Antisemitic Conspiracy Theorist Teaches at Dalton State College, Georgia [on Hassan A. El-Najjar]
by Rusty Shakelford, March 22, 2007 - The Jawa Report

Poli Sci Department Sponsorship Unduly Legitimizes Finkelstein's Work
by Julie Siegel, March 21, 2007 - The Buzz (at the Daily Pennsylvanian)

Fostering Dialogue: The Political Science Department Was Justified in Bringing Norman Finkelstein
by Opinion Board, March 21, 2007 - The Daily Pennsylanian

Amid Debates, Contentious Prof Speaks [on Norman Finkelstein at Penn]
by Rebecca Kaplan, March 21, 2007 - The Daily Pennsylanian

Norman Finkelstein Gives Lecture on Israeli/Palestinian Conflict
by Roger Weber, March 21, 2007 - The Daily Pennsylanian

Upholding Academic Freedom [on Norman Finkelstein at Penn]
by Avery Goldstein, March 21, 2007 - The Daily Pennsylanian

Letters to the Editor: Norman Finkelstein
by Ezra Billinkoff, Shira Goldberg, Max Schapiro, March 20, 2007 - The Daily Pennsylanian

UA Avoids Debate on Divisive Speaker [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Rebecca Kaplan, March 20, 2007 - The Daily Pennsylanian

Letters to the Editor: Norman Finkelstein
by Matthew Richman, Sara Barclay, Alexis Orenstein, March 20, 2007 - The Daily Pennsylanian

Letter to the Editor: Finkelstein Is Dishonest and "Inimical" to Truth
by Jonathan Abbett, March 20, 2007 - The Justice (Brandeis Univ.)

Would the Political Science Department Invite David Duke? [on Norman Finkelstein at Penn]
by Alan Dershowitz, March 19, 2007 - The Daily Pennsylanian

Radical Student Alliance/SDS Disavows Member, Finkelstein Visit [on Norman Finkelstein]
by David Pepose, March 16, 2007 - The Brandeis Hoot

Timeline of Finkelstein Event [on Norman Finkelstein & Brandeis]
by David Pepose, March 16, 2007 - The Brandeis Hoot

Finkelstein Visit Loses Club Support [on Norman Finkelstein & Brandeis]
by Claire Moses, March 13, 2007 - The Justice (Brandeis Univ.)

Professor Finkelstein to Visit Brandeis after F-board Approval
by David Pepose, March 2, 2007 - The Brandeis Hoot

Tentative Date For Israel Critic At Brandeis [on Norman Finkelstein]
by Larry Cohler-Esses, March 2, 2007 - The Jewish Week (New York)

Post-Carter Showdown At Brandeis Over Speakers [on Norman Finkelstein & Brandeis]
by Larry Cohler-Esses, February 23, 2007 - The Jewish Week (New York)

Admin Rejects Finkelstein Visit
by Claire Moses and Justin Sulsky, January 30, 2007 - The Justice (Brandeis Univ.)

Prof. Eric Lawee on Canadian Prof's Presence at Iran's Holocaust Conference [on Shiraz Dossa]
by Eric Lawee, December 22, 2006 - Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME)

Even a Scholar's Academic Freedom Has Its Limits in Canada
by John Ibbitson, December 14, 2006 - The Globe and Mail

Canadian Prof's Presence at Iran Forum "Abhorrent": University
December 13, 2006 - CBC News

Canadian Prof Attends Tehran's Gathering of Holocaust Deniers [on Shiraz Dossa]
by Doug Saunders, December 13, 2006 - The Globe and Mail

It is quite true that CW claims to take no position on academic tenure in general or Finkelstein in partucular, but that list tells a different story: dozens of links to articles critical of Finkelstein and none to the equally numerous ones supporting him. Even if one could accept that CW had no opinion on Dr Finkelstein's tenure, they act as a willing and conscious platform for those who have very strong opinions indeed. However, one can accept no such thing, as CW's founder and director Daniel Pipes has publicly described Norman Finkelstein as a Holocaust denier. This tells us a lot more about Daniel Pipes than it does about Norman Finkelstein, whose parents - unlike Pipes's who fled to America - survived both the Warsaw Ghetto and the camps (his father was at Auschwitz and his mother at Majdanek). But Finkelstein expresses dissident opinions, not rubber-stamped by Pipes and his Stalinist buddies: not over the truth of the Holocaust, or its scale, or Hitler's culpability, but over the extent to which it has nowadays become a brand, a commodity, which can be called into action to excuse any kind of law-breaking or immorality. Pipes can't deny this, so has to resort to smearing his opponent's parents. Yet Myers expects us to believe that Pipes has no opinion on Finkelstein's suitability for tenure, or that he somehow sheds his visceral hatred of the man when he logs onto Campus Watch. No wonder Myers is a "public intellectual" (i.e. a free-floating ego nobody pays to hear).

No, these guys are kooks, and dangerous kooks at that, who dream of establishing accountability among America's academics (i.e. teach what we tell you), who "look forward to the day when scholars of the Middle East provide studies on relevant topics" (just talk about terrorism and how Islam is evil - oh, and don't mention Israel at all, ever) and who call upon Middle East studies specialists to recognize their "correlative obligations" (whatever the hell they are).

Fortunately Campus Watch's inquisitorial writ doesn't extend to Oxford, where we still have people with brains and morals such as Priyamvada Gopal. That those who have neither have hounded Norman Finkelstein from office in a flurry of lies and ad hominem attacks is bad enough: that they don't even have the courage to admit it tells you all you need to know about these heroes of "academic freedom". They're liars and cowards, who couldn't cut it in academia themselves and are driven by hatred and envy. I've mentioned Pipes before, here and here. I havn't changed my opinion of him, nor my hope that if he ever comes to the UK we arrest him for incitement to racial hatred and deport the evil lunatic.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Wilkinson soared

England 14 - France 9

Both pretty playg actually

I particularly enjoyed this post of Matthew Baldwin's at Defective Yeti.

And this one holds more truth than one would like.

Insert joke about Chicken Kiev here

Scotland 3 - Ukraine 1

Cinnamon Stillwell would probably call it Sudden Ruminant Rage Syndrome

Tomorrow we're off up to Ballater for a week. Given the number of deer we're likely to encounter during that time, this piece from the Financial Times gives me pause for thought. (Via.)

Cartoon courtesy of this web site.

Some people have all the luck

Mike at Troubled Diva has just posted his interview with Donny Osmond. Of which I am very jealous.

Perhaps not surprisingly I wasn't a fan of The Osmonds as a band: caught me at the wrong age, I guess, and not really my style anyway. But Donny's later career has impressed me: not just Joseph, but guesting on Dweezil Zappa's version of Stayin' Alive. The man has class.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A post that starts in one place and ends in another

I found this blog by accident (its owner posted a comment just above one of mine on EKN regular Phil's blog The Gaping Silence). A German political blog sounds promising in any case, but what brought me to a gobsmacked halt was this post on the questionnaire sent to the long-term unemployed by Hamburg City Council (among others). The council withdrew it: I wonder if withdrawal was preceded by the kind of outcry I suspect we'd get in Britain under similar circumstances?

Incidentally the post of Phil's where I read KMS's comment is worth reading too. Very often Phil's posts leave me feeling rather awestruck, and I slink away wishing that I'd got round to reading Das Kapital (and that's not an emotion too easily aroused) or consoling myself that however bottomless my ignorance on some matters where Phil is clearly very well-informed, I can probably give him a decent contest on Schoenberg chamber music, St Kilda, or sulphur-nitrogen compounds. (Actually, the last was more for alliterative effect: while that was a set of undergraduate lectures I didn't sleep through I don't think I've actually retained very much of them.) Anyway, this post of Phil's crossed into an area I actually know something about: Phil may have recently become a folkie, but I - lapsed though I am these days as a performer - was putting in the hours on stage with my fiddle, and occasional (guitar, vocals), when I was still at school 35 years ago. My finest hour was being part (to wit, fiddle) of a hastily-assembled band led by Trevor Crozier (author of "Don't Tell I, Tell 'Ee") and Joe Beard (formerly of The Purple Gang) which actually achieved a slot on Main Stage 2 at the Cambridge Folk Festival in (I think) 1976. Introduced by Martin Carthy, followed by The High Level Ranters, my seven minutes or so on stage passed as in a dream. Anyway, for once, therefore, I actually had something coherent to write in a comment!

Goddamned uppity ragheads, thinking their lives are worth as much as Merkin soldiers'

This story isn't really making waves this side of the Atlantic as much as one might expect. (I thought we were all supposed to be anti-American?) If it makes you feel ill, though, you are not alone. Maybe the US State Dept. is channelling Mrs John Dashwood......

Hat tip to Ted Rall.

P.S. Privatised security is causing problems in Palestine too.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I was disappointed to receive a text this morning to say that the Glasgow gig by The Decemberists tomorrow has been cancelled.


I am an Antichist, I am an analyst....

This cartoon appealed to the anarchist in me. And, of course, the Chartered IT Practitioner .

Nun sei bedankt, mein lieber Schwan

Tonight my children and I (Hilary was playing in the pit for an opera) went to hear a talk by Robert Swan, the first man in history (as he puts it) stupid enough to walk to both the South and North poles. While most of his talk described his various expeditions and exploits, the focus of his career has very much been on protecting the environment. I suppose it's not surprising that he would be excited by the need to protect Antarctica: when walking to the South Pole he suffered some facial damage and eye damage (his irises changed colour, for heaven's sake) from the intensity of UV, which was worse than had been anticipated because of the not then well-known hole in the ozone layer. Still, as he pointed out, the ozone hole is a very good example of what can be achieved when governments and industry decide to take an environmental problem seriously: it has now stabilised and is expected to repair itself over the next 20 years or so. But, he asked, did we know about that? Mostly not: because it's a good news story about the environment, and it's doom and gloom that sells papers.

In general - as that remark might suggest - he seems to take a very sensible line on environmental matters. For example, while he praised Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth, he did say that not everything in it was correct. And one of his remarks echoed one that I make so often that my kids make bo-ring faces at it: a lot of people talk about "saving the planet" when the planet will look after itself just fine - it's continued human involvement in it that's under threat. But he definitely walks the walk (no pun intended) as well as talking the talk, and next year he will be living in Antarctica for a few weeks, kept alive solely by renewable (solar and wind) power - the first time anyone has attempted such a feat.

A remarkable man, and I'm glad I got to see him. Incidentally, the name of his web site refers to the fact that in 2041 the current legal protections on Antarctica expire and if governments haven't been persuaded of the need to keep Antarctica as a jointly owned nature reserve, it could be opened up for mining. He said that the craziest thing he knew of in his lifetime was the frenzy by the USA, Russia, Canada and Denmark to establish ownership of the area around the North Pole. The reason for the struggle is that because of global warming it's now accessible, and the motivation is the rights to sub-Arctic mineral wealth, especially oil....use of which is a major contributor to that same warming that has made it accessible. Aaargh. (Or as Richard Wagner put it, "Wahn, Wahn, überall Wahn!")

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Things that make me mad (1) and (2)

(1) Reading this story and imagining how much more the maximum sentence would have been if Messen had been driving a car on the pavement when he killed Mr Green.

(2) Then realising that although the maximum sentence could have been 15 years rather than two, that the chances are that the guy would have got off with a fine.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Le Rouge Et Le Blanc

It's that time of year again, and the White Poppy campaign is always worthy of support.

A few points of clarification:

1. While I don't personally do so, many people wear both red and white poppies together. The white poppy is simply more inclusive, commemorating both military and civilian casualties. Thus to the commenter on the BBC website who said that as she'd recently visited Dachau she would be wearing a red poppy with pride in memory of those who died to protect us from that, I would say "Great! but if you wore a white poppy too you could commemorate the people who died in Dachau as well as those who liberated it."

2. Red poppies commemorate British servicemen and women who gave their lives not just in the two World Wars but in all the conflicts since (actually, I think we should backdate them to include British troops who died in the Crimea, at Waterloo, fighting off the Roman invasion: whatever). Brave men and women all, and nothing in the white poppy campaign in any way diminishes their sacrifice, or the appreciation of it by those of us who have come after.

3. Bringing it up to date: the red poppy honours our soldiers who have died in Iraq an Afghanistan. The white poppy also honours, not only the Iraqi civilians killed in the conflict, but the men and women who died in the WTC and the Pentagon.; not only the British soldiers killed in Northern Ireland, but the victims of IRA bombs.

Please support the campaign.

Glass Half Full

Meanwhile, halfway round the world, another bunch of thugs have stopped suppressing the operation of their dissident bloggers.

There's a moral there somewhere, and I think it has something to do with Usmanov's being even more deeply unpleasant than the Burmese junta.

I am not Spartacus, but I know his URL

Craig Murray, our former ambassador in Uzbekistan and the author of Murder In Samarkand (another book of which I'm proud to have a signed copy) has had his blog closed down. He had written an uncomplimentary post concerning Alisher Usmanov, friend of dissident-boiler Islom Karimov and now part-owner of Arsenal FC, and Usmanov's lawyers began a campaign of intimidation. I call it intimidation because they have decided not to bring any kind of legal action against Craig Murray, but nevertheless threatened Fasthosts, his ISP. Even though Murray had pulled the offending post, Fasthosts closed down his blog. For good measure, they took down a number of others with which it shared a server, including that of Boris Johnson, Conservative candidate for Mayor of London. Read the story here and here.

A number of bloggers, mostly ones domiciled outside the UK or who have no seizable assets, have posted the text of Murray's post directly on their blogs (in an I-Am-Spartacus campaign which is being cited as a case study in cyber-activism). Not falling into those categories, I shall confine myself to this link.

Though I can't resist linking to this just for Craig Murray's comment in the final paragraph. To help you understand what he means, here's a picture of Mr Usmanov.

If life hands you lemons, make lemonade...

....but if it hands you a few million moths we recommend an omelette or stir-fry.

Well, you know what they say: you can't make an omelette without breaking wings.....

And so say all of us

The Mersey Sound

If you watched Sunday's South Bank Show on ITV you won't need reminding that this week is also the fortieth anniversary of the publication of Britain's best-selling, and arguably most influential, anthology of poetry: The Mersey Sound (aka Penguin Modern Poets 10) by Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten. Sure, the beats were great, but these guys were our domestic product, and they rocked. Hilary and I managed to see themn in the Festival Fringe a few years ago (oh God, I just checked and it must be 22 years ago in fact) when they were promoting the follow-up anthology New Volume, a signed copy of which now graces our bookshelf.

Here in commemoration are my favourites from the first anthology by Henri, McGough and last but probably best-loved, Patten.

It was 40 years ago today......

....he was murdered by the CIA.

In memoriam.

And here is a good article about Che and why his legacy remains important in Latin America.

Go, Ted, Go

Ted Rall is full of surprises. His many critics on the right who like to portray him as wholly one-dimensional must have neen taken aback when he came out strongly against the Jena 6. Though he makes a good point.

Still, sometimes he comes out with a cartoon that say so exactly what I feel that I have to cheer. Like this one.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Well I never

Your Dominant Intelligence is Musical Intelligence

Every part of your life has a beat, and you're often tapping your fingers or toes.

You enjoy sounds of all types, but you also find sound can distract you at the wrong time.

You are probably a gifted musician of some sort - even if you haven't realized it.

Also a music lover, you tend to appreciate artists of all kinds.

You would make a great musician, disc jockey, singer, or composer.

Musical links I have nicked

Jocelyn Lavin over at 2nd Altos Like The Bottom Parts posts a few very interesting links.

First this one explaining how the fireworks for the Edinburgh Festival fireworks concerts are synchronised with the music (and explaining why the famous "waterfall" effect didn't appear this year until right at the end!).

Then an informative and funny A-Z guide to Wagner's Ring cycle.

Jocelyn links to a Youtube video about how to write a fugue based on Britney Spears' "Oops, I Did It Again". I didn't think that much of the video, but the Youtube entry linked to the fugue itself as a pdf file. Enjoy (especially if you play piano).

But the best one, which made me laugh out loud a lot, was this rider (i.e. list of equipment and other requirements for a concert) written by roadie Jos Grain for Iggy Pop and the Stooges. 18 pages long and every one a gem. (Well, OK, page 7 sags a bit....)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

You're bard

I noticed Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled on Amazon, and was taken by the sample quoted of his poetry:

Lesbian Sappho made this form
With two beats to the final line.
Her sex life wasn't quite the norm
And nor is mine

It put me in mind of the Poetic Forms Personified list.

And how could I have forgotten that it is Fry who gave us the priceless haiku:

Writing a poem
With seventeen syllables
Is very diffi-

But I must confess my bias here. You see, I'm a terza rima:

I'm terza rima, and I talk and smile.
Where others lock their rhymes and thoughts away
I let mine out, and chatter all the while.

I'm rarely on my own - a wasted day
Is any day that's spent without a friend,
With nothing much to do or hear or say.

I like to be with people, and depend
On company for being entertained;
Which seems a good solution, in the end.

Apparently if I weren't terza rima I would be a sonnet:

I am the sonnet, never quickly thrilled;
Not prone to overstated gushing praise
Nor yet to seething rants and anger, filled
With overstretched opinions to rephrase;
But on the other hand, not fond of fools,
And thus, not fond of people, on the whole;
And holding to the sound and useful rules,
Not those that seek unjustified control.
I'm balanced, measured, sensible (at least,
I think I am, and usually I'm right);
And when more ostentatious types have ceased,
I'm still around, and doing, still, alright.
In short, I'm calm and rational and stable -
Or, well, I am, as much as I am able.
What Poetry Form Are You?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Something good out of Texas

WASHINGTON, Oct 4 (IPS) - A sudden halt to executions in Texas, the United States's most active death penalty state, may signal that there is now an unofficial national moratorium in place across the nation, pending a ruling by the Supreme Court on whether a specific lethal injection cocktail is legal.

Read more here.

Islamophobia - especially in Scotland and the USA

A selection of interesting recent posts and links from Islamophobia Watch.

1. "Now why is it that whenever we speak of Islam and Muslims today, some of us think they have the license to drop their IQ level by a hundred points or so? Is discussion on Islam a license to say anything dumb, offensive and provocative just for the sake of riling up the masses and grabbing a few headlines? A politician in Holland has even stated that there should be a ban on any reading of the Quran, on the grounds that it can be compared to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Others claim that all Muslims are determined primarily by their religion which happens to be irrational, unscientific and anti-Enlightenment."

A thoughtful piece by Farish A Noor in Pakistan's Daily Times.

2. A letter to The Scotsman demonstrating just the kind of attitude Noor is talking about. I suppose it displays commitment to freedom of speech that the paper published such an overtly racist letter, though I can't say it increases my pride in my adopted home. Oh, and here's another,with a rag-tag of supportive comments from as far away as New York. One commenter with whom I am ashamed to share my city asks " name me a few bomb attacks carried out in the name of Christianity". Will this do? And this?

3. Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be Muslim.

4. Especially for far-right racists who believe that if a Muslim deliberately drives his car at a non-Muslim this is an example of "Sudden Jihad Syndrome" (I'm not making this up), here is an example of a far-right racist deliberately driving his car at a Muslim.

5. The appalling David Horowitz takes his quasi-Stalinist campaign for American academics to toe the Islamophobic ideological line or lose their jobs to colleges across the USA. Are we surprised that the "Nashville Cab Jihad" racist from the previous paragraph is his number one groupie? We are not. As the article says, "David Horowitz and his fellow Islamophobes should be confronted and exposed for the bigots they are - at every campus they show up on, and everywhere opponents of war and racism raise their voices."

People never think how things affect the plumbing of the henchman

I loved this post of Anna's. It reminded me of my favourite bits in Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery, the ones where he's just killed an evil henchman and we cut to a scene with the henchman's grieving family or friends:


A pleasant-looking MIDDLE AGED LADY answers the phone.

Yes, this is Mrs. Harwin.
Yes, I have a son named Steve Harwin.
Yes, that's right, he's a henchman in Dr. Evil's Private Army.
What? Killed?
Run over by a steamroller? Oh my God. Thank you for calling.


Hi Mom! When's Steve coming home? He said he was going to teach me to play ball.

Sit down, Billy, I have some bad news. As you know, your brother Steven was a henchman in Dr. Evil's Private Army.

Was? What is it, Mom?

Your brother was run over by a steamroller.

A steamroller?
(bursting into tears)
No, not Steve! Since Dad died, Steve's been like a father to me.

I'm sorry son. People never think how things affect the family of the henchman.
(hugging him)
I love you, Billy.
(to herself, out loud)
I wonder if we'll be able to receive Steve's henchman's comp.

CAMERA PANS to a high-school photograph of Steve on the wall.



It is a sports bar-type restaurant that has scantily clad BUSTY WAITRESSES.


At a table we see fifteen or so TWENTY-SOMETHING GUYS, scouting chicks, drinking ugs of beer.

I can't believe John Smith is getting married tomorrow.

Where is Smittie anyways? It's not like him to be late for anything, especially his own stag party.

Well, you know he's a henchman for Dr. Evil. Sometimes they work late. Can I just say something that may sound a little sappy? I think it's a testament to our friend John that so many of his buddies showed up in his honor. There's a lot of love in this room.

A large-breasted WAITRESS approaches with a phone.

Hi, I have a phone call here for the John Smith party.

Yes, I have a friend named John Smith.
That's right, he's in Dr. Evil's private army.
What? He's dead?
Decapitated by mutated flying sea bass? Oh my God! OK, thank you.

He hangs up.

(to Guy 1)
Hey Bill, what's wrong? Was that John? Is he coming late?

Guys, John's not coming.


He was decapitated by mutated flying sea bass.

Oh no, oh my God, etc.

All right, to Smittie!

Everyone raises their glasses.

To Smittie!

(excerpts from AUSTIN POWERS: International Man of Mystery by Mike Myers)

Kula Shaker - Queen Margaret Union, Glasgow, 4 October 2007

With impeccable timing, I became a Kula Shaker fan a matter of a couple of months before the band broke up, a trick I also achieved with the Boo Radleys. So when I noticed that they had reformed and were touring I was very pleased indeed. I had no idea of what to expect from them live: did they tour with half a sub-continent of shehnai players, or would they have turned their backs on the old material in favour of stuff from the new album?

In the event, they entered in the wake of a video collage of the flogging scene from If, nuclear tests and Wicked Witch of the West, with Crispian Mills dressed in tails in homage to the If schoolboys. There were just four of them, and as well as doing several new songs they threw themselves enthusiastically into a lot of the old stuff. They opened up with Hey Dude, and followed it with Jerry Was There and a performance of Shower Your Love which took on a whole new aspect from being shorn of all its Indian musical trappings. They worked extremely hard, and had the audience eating out of their hands pretty much from the beginning. I had wondered whether their following would turn out to be mostly ageing hippies of my generation, but they clearly have a young audience as well, and the largely student crowd at QMU responded joyfully. I hadn't heard Kula Shaker cover Deep Purple's Hush before, but clearly most of the audience had (I gather they do it on the soundtrack of I Know What You Did Last Summer) and went wild. Other songs I recognised were Tattva, Into The Deep, and a final segue from Great Hosanna into Govinda in which they were lustily joined by the audience. They came back to do a belting Sound Of Drums before running up against QMU's fairly rigid closedown time and having to finish.

Mention must be made of the two supports. Firstly we had Ivyrise who were well worth turning up early enough to see; then the amazing Dr Joel, who would have been worth going to see all by himself. One of the reviews on his Myspace site describes him as the "Ivor Cutler of the subcontinent", which captures part of his charm exactly, though it misses his vocal percussion skill and the sheer good humour of the man. I shall look out for him in future.

Thinking of oddball solo performers with quirky lyrics suddenly had me trying to imagine a collaboration between Dr Joel and Thomas Truax. I think they might be rather a good fit, actually, and I'd pay serious money to see it. If you're reading this, guys, think about it, OK?

Enigmatic, that's the word. Well, that or "dentist".

After the women came home, I did two things. The most recent (while blogging, in fact) was to knock out a tooth filling on a spicy green pea (mild ouch). The earlier, courtesy of a late night showing at our local arthouse cinema, was to see Hallam Foe. This time Hilary and Vanessa had seen it before me, and had reported well of it, so I was puzzled when I spent the first 15-20 minutes finding the plot and characters so unbelievable that I wondered if I was going to get through the film without walking out. I'm glad I persisted, though, as after about 20 minutes it picked up (about the point where Hallam goes to Edinburgh). As the girls said, it's rather nice to watch a film and know all the locations, and from there on I did. Jamie Bell was excellent in the title role, showing that there is life beyond Billy Elliott, while Sophie Myles acted her socks - and other things - off as his girlfriend (and is surely now destined to hoover up many of the roles which used to go to Kate Winslet) . It was strange, though perhaps it shouldn't have been, that the minor characters were less well acted (not wooden, just less well-defined) with the glorious exceptions of those played by Ewan Bremner and Maurice Roeves. It just shows that they are famous actors for a reason. Good credits, great soundtrack. Not my film of the year, but I very much enjoyed it.

Exit, pursued by a bear

Tonight my wife and daughter went to see Shakespeare's The Winter's tall at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre. Ruairidh and I went to see it earlier in the week. The production is directed by Mark Thomson, and has attracted a certian amount of comment for being weird: which, frankly, it doesn't deserve. It's done in modern dress, and on a plain white set furnished with ingenious openings for entrances, exits, attempts at both, and flashes of off-stage action (rather as though it had been designed by Ann Summers, though it wasn't). The controversy, I suspect, centres on the way in which the Act 4 appearance of "Time, as Chorus" has been staged. I can see that the portrayal of an allegorical figure as an entr'acte in an otherwise earthbound drama is always going to be troublesome; and that simply using a voice-over has probably been done so sften there's some kind of ban on it. So how do you personify "Time" in the 21st century? Perhaps an electric wheelchair suspended in mid-air, surrounded by clouds of dry ice and occupied by someone speaking in a synthesized voice is as good as we'll get, though my daughter in particular thought the concept didn't work. I must agree with her that as Time's dramatic purpose is to imnpart information, it would have helped if his electronic voice had been more readily understood: the real Stephen Hawking is much easier to follow than this one was. That aside, I had no complaints with the production, and thought the acting in general very good. The best-known player was Una McLean as Paulina (doubling as Dorcas - all the Sicilans doubled as Bohemians). I always like to see actors better known for panto and comedy doing straight theatrical work, and Una did not disappoint. Liam Brennan as Leontes handled his fairly swift descent into insane jealousy quite believably, while Selina Boyack was a dignified Hermione who managed an impressive immobility for the statue scene (which must be a nightmare). Pride of place among the actors, though, must go to Alan Francis as Autolycus, not just because he doubled as the very unfunny Antigonus (whose final exit has the famous stage direction of the post title) but because he was compulsively watchable: when he was on stage, that was what you were looking at. I susoect that is as much a gift as a talent, but either way I salute him for it.

Seated One Day At The Organ

Our friends Chip and Eddie Clark of Ed's World brought us a gift last week from Chinatown in San Francisco.

The packaging is just as much fun as the figure. "Mission: Write music to the glory of God." "Download and print a Fold-Up Clavichord for your Bach Action Figure."

Thanks, guys!

Friday, October 05, 2007

While we're on the subject of people getting away with murder....

....there's this from Guatemala, courtesy of the IUF. Please send an email to Oscar Berger, the President of Guatemala, to try to end the turning of a blind governmental eye to the murder of trade unionists in his country.

International Day of Protest for Myanmar

Details here.

More actions here.

If the history of the former Soviet Union shows us anything it's that protests aren't always in vain: though if China would give less support to the Burmese economy that might speed things up. As it is, any UN resolution that, say, the US proposes to impose sanctions may well get vetoed by CHina. While it might be good for the American delegation to understand how the rest of the world feels when it routinely vetoes any censure motions against Israel, the people who suffer will be the Burmese. And they've suffered enough.