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

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Mouselesstrap

I'm blogging this in a car park overlooking the award-winning beach in Durness. As I'm in the car I'm using a touchpad rather than my normal mouse so may be even more error-prone than usual.

Why a car park well, i was full of good intentions when we set out for our week's holiday up here at the top LH corner of Scotland. I packed my laptop and notes on all the stuff I wanted to blog about (2 film reviews and an opera, quite apart from all the things on the must-blog-sometime list). I packed my clever little Vodafone adaptor that lets me blog when I'm at our Ballater flat. Perfect.

Except that there's no mobile reception at all at our rented cottage. Zip. Nada. No phones, no email: totally cut off from the outside world. I half expect a fake policeman to ski up to our window at the start of the second act.

Anyway, that's why I'm up here availing myself of Vodafone's massive 56kbps (so slow I can't even get the logon page of Virgin Webmail to load, though the madhuri email that the blog links to works reasonably). I think it's fair to say that unless I pass somewhere with a broadband connection for hire you won't be hearing much from me this week.

OTOH, it's been a good holiday so far. (I posted some pictures from here last October but I damned if I'm wasting bandwidth finding them now.) Today we went to Cape Wrath (pronounced to rhyme with "bath" rather than "moth", apprently, and derived from the Norse word for "corner"). The area is a military bombing and shelling range (the only one in Western Europe where they drop live 1000 lb bombs) but wasn't going bang today. It has a lighthouse, and a road to the lighthouse, though there is a gap of about 500m in that road where a pedestrian ferry takes you over and a minibus meets you. There is no ferry-free road access to the Cape, which makes it a rather attractive destination for those who like wild places. It boasts the highest sea cliffs on the British mainland (900 ft), and lots of seabirds. We had an enjoyable walk round part of the coastline and got the minibus driver to pick us up on his way back. That may be our only decent walk for a few days, as the forecast is grim. Ah well: plenty of books, and Wimbledon on TV.

See you next week.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Edinburgh Film Festival Monday 23 June 2008 (2) - To See If I'm Smiling

Back again later the same evening to see To See If I'm Smiling.

First things first: it was preceded by a short called Hamdi and Maria about a Palestinian whose car was destroyed by one of two missiles aimed at the car of a Hamas member. Most of Hamdi's family were killed outright: his daughter Maria was paralysed from the neck down, but he himself was unharmed. To their credit the Israeli government admitted its mistake and gave Maria treatment in West Jerusalem's big paediatric hospital. The film is short but very moving, and despite everything, Hamdi doesn't come over as a bitter man.

To See If I'm Smiling is an absolutely extraordinary piece of cinema, comprising interviews (and some military footage) of six female conscripts into the Israeli army (women serve two years from age 18 to age 20). As fast as it confirms stereotypes, this film destroys them. Yes, we see a room full of (male) Israeli soldiers doing a kind of drunken victory dance reminiscent of football hooligans. Yes, one of the women interviewed admits that her troop stripped and beat a Palestinian who had simply made a rude gesture at her. Yes, the same woman made 80 people stand for no reason in scorching heat at a checkpoint because she was pissed off that a friend had been killed the previous day. Yes, a female education officer was ostracised by her entire platoon for whistle-blowing after they'd looted a mosque, after which she reckoned she'd only report really serious violations in future. And no, she didn't report it when they brought in some Palestinian corpses and posed with them, Abu-Ghraib-style. She did, however, say that she knew that wasn't normal behaviour: but as she also said, nothing about being in the Territories is "normal". And she does have a point.

Another woman described how her unit questioned a Palestinian teenager and released him, only to find him later being detained by another group of soldiers who when questioned said they'd been "having fun" with him. The boy was crying, bruised and with cigarette burns on his body. She reported it, and her commanding officer asked the other soldiers' commanding officer for a report. A very truthful account of the beating was duly supplied, whereupon her commander told her to take it back and ask for a report that wouldn't cause trouble. (So much for the IDF always investigating claims of torture!) She said she'd considered, just that once, taking the suppressed report and its sanitised replacement to a journalist. When asked why she hadn't, she became thoughtful and admitted she really didn't know.

The same woman described the sick sense of humour (her phrase) the IDF soldiers had, mentioning an occasion when they'd swapped cassette tapes in a mosque so that instead of the call to prayer the mosque's sound system belted out "I've Got The Power" by Snap. While admitting that it's disrespectful behaviour I have to say I can see the joke there (like the disgruntled organist in Henry Wood's memoirs who sabotaged the organ for his successor so the loud and soft drawbars were swapped round: a joke Wood totally failed to appreciate).

An observer described various operations using her CCTV cameras to guide troops onto stone-throwers, demonstrators, bombers and generally suspicious characters. She described how after guiding them onto a group of stone-throwers she heard on the radio that one of the boys had died, and after that she always thought "I killed a boy". She took it very personally and always felt really bad about it.

The film's title is supplied by the first woman we see interviewed. She was a medic in the IDF
and describes being congratulated by her colleagues on reaching such milestones as her first fatal casualty (as this was a baby girl she didn't feel congratulations were what she needed right then). On one shift she was assigned to wash the bodies of the dead: not a very pleasant task, as for example someone who had bled to death after a non-fatal head injury had lost control of all his sphincters. One corpse developed an erection, and for reasons she couldn't really explain she asked a (female) colleague to take a picture of her with this corpse. So far so good, but over time the existence of this picture, and what it said about her, really began to get to her, and she wanted to go to the friend and take a look at the picture to see what she looked like in it, "to see if I'm smiling", as the thought of the incident now really repelled her. At the very end of the film we accompany her to the friend's house, see her looking through her photo album, and then being given the relevant pictures in an envelope to look at later. We see her opening the envelope, looking at the pictures and starting to cry. "How could I ever have imagined I could just forget about that?" she sobs, and the film ends.

So we hear about IDF brutality and impunity, we discover (if we needed to) that it isn't confined to male soldiers, but we also hear and see the lasting effects of the experience of military occupation on young women, some (most, I would guess) of whom are no more brutal than I am. As I came out, the elderly man who had sat next to me said "That's a whole generation of Israeli women messed up for life", and I had to point out that as the occupation has been going on for forty years there are several resulting generations of screwed-up Israelis, of both sexes.

A genuinely thought-provoking and challenging film.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Edinburgh Film Festival Monday 23 June 2008 (1) - Stone Of Destiny

My first visit to the film festival this year was with wife and son, to see the new dramatised documentary Stone of Destiny about the theft of the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey by Scottish Nationalists in 1950. Starring Charlie Cox, Billy Boyd and Robert Carlyle, the film gives a somewhat rose-tinted (or tartan-tinted) view of a daring adventure which has been the subject of TV documentaries but never before of a film. The soundtrack is defiantly anachronistic, and a few anachronisms sneak through into the film (it's amazing how one gets used to high-budget films with loads of digital post-production): double red lines on Westminster Bridge, modern lighting in the Abbey, a modern-style "bend" sign on a road, two-tone sirens on the police cars (they had bells in 1950). Plus a few less explicable blunders: travelling from Edinburgh to London by train doesn't involve the Glenfinnan viaduct however many engineering works there are; the encounter with the gypsies is clearly filmed in summer rather than January.

But overall I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It's good family entertainment, doesn't take too many liberties with the truth, and showcases some great performances by the cream of Scotland's acting talent. you don't have to be a nationalist, or even a Scot, to feel a thrill at the sheer chutzpah of the theft, while if you are either of those things you'll feel a surge of pride in the thought of a bunch of students sticking it to the very anti-devolution Westminster establishment. Alba gu brath!


Only last week I found myself trying to recall the lyrics of this song which I used to own on vinyl (The Valley of Tees, Vin Garbutt) as a student. I managed all bar two lines, so thanks to Bob Bolton for getting all of them. I think he made a couple of errors which I've corrected.

The synchronicity is that Clare has just posted one of her Girls' Fun teenage diary entries from a trip to Staithes.

Lyrics: Barry Slater

Tune: Vin Garbutt (not that that helps much here, does it?)

One fine August day as I was making my way
Along the hardship-cobbled streets of Staithes,
I saw the seagulls flying in the grey northern sky,
Heard the shifting chorus of the waves.
Ah, Staithes looked so fair in the crisp morning air,
Sea mist yielding to fragmented specks of light,
And on the sea wall, though the mist's lifting pall,
An old man sitting there came into sight.

Well, we sat side by side until the turning of the tide
But not a single craft put out to sea.
As the water receded, still unheeded lay the boats,
The pots and nets neglected on the quay.
I asked him the reason why no boats put to sea.
He looked long and thoughtfully at me
And then, with a sigh, he said: "You might well wonder why
For who'd have thought such things could ever be."

"Aye, there's days I remember when from March till November
The men of Staithes set out with net and line,
And every day from morn till night, every man and boy would fight
To fetch the family's living from the brine.
And when the boats came back to land, the women lent a willing hand
To get the hard-won catch safe on the shore.
Hard work for women and for men, pots to pull and lines to mend,
Hooks to bait all ready for the morn."

"But now the boats come empty in, no fish will buy no bread:
To fish today you need a radar screen.
The trawlers with their fine mesh nets are out to take all they can get,
Between them they'll soon fish the North Sea clean.
So Staithes now wears a different face, the fishwives' bonnets trimmed with lace
Are only curios and souvenirs,
And since they've taken berried hens the lobsters too are at an end:
The only fish is frozen now in Staithes."

"So now you see the fishing's gone, the folk are moving on,
If it's Staithes you came to see, you came too late.
Although the seagulls still fly high, our men now work at ICI,
They've moved up to the council house estate.
Ah, think on now you've heard me tale, these cottages you see for sale,
For a way of life they are an unmarked grave."
And on the sea air's salty breath I seemed to catch the smell of death
Along the hardship-cobbled streets of Staithes.

Transcribed from Vin Garbutt's recording by Bob Bolton, and refined in line with my own recollections.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Scottish Bali and Iron Pipes: Gamelan Naga Mas at the Kibble Palce, Glasgow Botanic Gardens, Sunday 22 June 2008

Just the kind of musical quirkiness I like: a Glasgow based gamelan (playing instruments bought from Java in 1990 when Glasgow was European City of Culture and now owned by the city council) playing a mixture of traditional Javanese gamelan music and pieces written by their members. One of the members is J Simon van de Walt (remember him?), and they played a piece of his called Running In the Dark. They also performed some collaborative pieces with a Scottish piper called Barnaby Brown (on highland pipes and scottish small pipes). Another cross-cultural excursion, probably the most successful of the evening, was a fusion of Gaelic canntaireachd (which is the system of vocalisation by which highland pipers passed on pipe tunes in oral tradition without the need for pipes) and kecak, which is a Balinese form combining dance movement and rapid interlicking vocalisations. In the Naga Mas version (called Kecakaireachd!) they sat round in a circle doing a kind of demented hand jive while singing out strange syllables in Balinese and Gaelic (the latter specifying a specific pibroch from the 17th century).. Surprisingly, it worked rather well.

Oh, and they did a gamelan version of Marie's Wedding. As you do.

....an Edinburgh degree for Neil Armstrong

Conferred in Washington on 13 June.

While today we gave a degree to this equally outstanding, if somewhat less iconic, figure from aviation history.

Neither of them could say modestly of their achievements that they weren't rocket science:

A small step for a flag.....

..or The Saltire That Visited the ISS.

Names have been changed to protect somebody, though precisely whom is open to debate

This is a tough one. I mean, yes, accused people and their lawyers need to have some way to challenge the character of witnesses, but there is a long tradition in Britain - as elsewhere - of intimidation of witnesses and of their families. It's hard to know what the best answer would be. One could allow witnesses to testify without anonymity and then give them new identities afterwards, but not everyone would be happy to lose all contact with their previous life: I know I wouldn't. Plus, you'd need to give similar protection to all their family and close friends. Perhaps there is a place for some independent means of vetting anonymous witnesses. Some tough decision-making ahead, and I hope the government at least try to get it right rather than simply rushing through reactive legislation which makes life easy for the prosecution and keep the Daily Mail happy.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Zed and Two Noughts

My main excuse for not blogging last week was that I was busy rehearsing. Firstly for the 30th anniversary of Edinburgh Music Club, for which an evening had been organised comprising items which had been played in the club's early history. I was asked if I'd play a movement from Beethoven's Op 12 No 1 violin sonata with a pianist I hadn't previously met, and I did. This was a slightly bigger deal than you might think, as despite all the orchestral mileage my violin and I have clocked up, plus the quartet playing, the last time I stood up in public with just a piano accompanist was when I was at school (with another Beethoven sonata movement, in fact). Anyway, it all went brilliantly, despite the rehearsal's having been one mistake after another, and occupied the beginning of my week.

After that I was working towards Saturday's concert by the Sayoyard Chorus and Orchestra of the music of Arthur Sullivan (no Gilbert in this one). We began with Sullivan's overture to Macbeth, written when he was Sir Arthur and at the height of his powers (he'd just written The Yeoman of the Guard). Then we played his Symphony in E (The Irish), which caused a great sensation when he wrote it at the age of 24: he was thought to be the start of a new future for English music. However, even then there was no money in symphonies and plenty in the theatre, so things didn't work out that way. Both the overture and the symphony are really good and well worth reviving. The symphony's middle movements are especially fine, with a magnificent horn tune in the slow movement and an irresistibly hummable intermezzo. Sullivan definitely shows a side you don't often glimpse in the G&S pieces, with very deft scoring and clever modulations.

After the interval we gave a semi-staged performance of The Zoo, an "original musical folly" with words by B C Stephenson (under the pseudonym Bolton Rowe). You can read them here. It dates from round about the start of Sullivan's association with Gilbert, when he still worked with other writers too. While Stephenson is no Gilbert, the opera has some wonderful moments: Eliza's entry in the Quartet (no. 5) with the catalogue of everything her besotted boyfriend has been consuming as an excuse to stay near her; her wonderfully naive song (no. 11); the wonderfully overblown "Fare thee well, Laetitia, fare thee well" at the end of No. 12, and (saving the best for last) the Thomas/Eliza duet in the finale. Eliza sobs that she can't marry him because she can't bear to leave the animals she feeds:

The grizzly one
Will miss his bun,
The bun he thought so nice -
The polar bear,
In blank despair,
Will ask in vain for ice.

but Thomas (aka the Duke of Islington) buys the zoo so that

And every morn,
At early dawn,
The gentle armadillo,
Or rattlesnake,
When you awake,
You'll find upon your pillow.

None of your chocolate mints for this girl.

All three pieces deserve to be heard more than they are these days, and the conductor David Lyle - a hugely experienced Sullivan nut - is to be thanked for giving them another airing. David conducts the Gilbert and Sulliven Society of Edinburgh each year, and it was their principals who sang the main roles in The Zoo: Fiona Main as a wonderfully cockney Eliza (Fiona, you could be Nancy) and Ian Lawson as Thomas stole the show, but Darren Coutts was very good as Aesculapius Carboy, while comparative newcomer to the team Amanda Stewart staked her claim to the G&S light soprano roles with a perfectly judged Laetitia. Simon Boothroyd did what he could with the somewhat ungrateful role of Mr Grinder the Grocer.

Quite apart from his love of Sullivan, David Lyle is an interesting character. Read more about him here.


I mentioned this round (Young Colin Cleaving of a Beam) by Henry Purcell in a comment on Boob Pencil recently. It may come as a surprise to people who know him only as the composer of Dido and Aeneas, or of the tune on which Benjamin Britten based his Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra, that Henry P actually wrote several very rude rounds. The way they work is that the first voice sings the first verse, then someone else comes in and repeats that while the first singer goes on to do the next one, and so on until all the verses are overlaid on top of each other. The humour (and vulgarity) comes from what ends up alongside what. In Colin it's mostly grunts and shrieks so that by the end it's like the diner scene in When Harry Met Sally, only in harmony. In When Celia Was Learning On The Spinet To Play we have the coincidence of "show her" "a long prick" and "I will shake it". In Tom Making A Manteau the fragments are "pulled out", "nine inches", "yet all too short" . I'm sure you're getting the general idea. I expect there are mp3 downloads available but I haven't found them yet. I have them on old vinyl albums by The City Waites, and there are definitely versions on CD.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Crosswords and babies (but no music) from Big Pink

I came across the story on my previous post when flicking through a complimentary copy of the Financial Times which I picked up on my way out of a seminar last week. One of the clues in the crossword was Worker dividing pay in English town(7), and its solution (WANTAGE) reminded my of this old limerick:

There was a young lady of Wantage
Of whom the Town Clerk took advantage.
The Borough Surveyor
Said "You'll have to pay her,
For you've altered the line of her frontage".

The picture above (via) seems especially appropriate for an FT reference (note for non-UK readers: The Financial Times is printed on pink paper). Funnily enough whenever I post something like this I get an increase in blog traffic.......

Oh all right, here's another if you insist:

Let's You And Him Fight

I know in these days of sophisticated markets one can parcel up almost any kind of asset or liability and sell it. However, this one came as news to me, and rather alarming news at that. Put simply, I encourage you to take out a lawsuit against Bigbucks Incorporated; I fund you in this lawsuit; we split the profit if you win. In this way I am effectively buying a share in a lawsuit I deem a good prospect. I can't see any way in which that is a healthy development, so I'm glad that in this case (unless appeal to the House of Lords is successful, which seems unlikely) the funders have had their fingers burned up to the elbow.

In Eric Berne's classic book Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships, one of the games is Let's You And Him Fight. Even if the game itself doesn't quite fit the case here, its title seems an appropriate motto for the litigation funding business.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

More about the American (and British) War on Freedom

Following on from my recent post on the Supreme Court ruling that political prisoners in the American Gulag have human rights after all, here are a few more relevant pieces which bring various aspects of the affair into focus.

Firstly, that it's not just Guantanamo but a huge collection of secret prisons, some established illegally on British soil. Did we complain at our violated sovereignty? Come on, people, this is Blair we're talking about: the torture of a few brown-skinned minions was never going to get him excited, especially if he could pretend it gave him influence with Dubya, or if it made him money. Brown seems to have simply followed the Blair line since taking office: easier than having original thoughts.

Next, that the US Government allows Chinese torturers to torture Chinese dissidents held at Guantanamo. Well, free trade is a two-way street: if other countries get American business out of torturing American dissidents in their countries, it seems only fair that the US should make a profit out of helping the Chinese suppress the Uyghurs.

Finally, a reminder that many if not all of those confined and tortured at Guantanamo are not only innocent but known by the US government to be innocent. (And more here.) So what? It's all about sending the signal that Bush is tough on terrorism, not about catching or punishing terrorists. Which is why after the billions of dollars spent invading Iraq and torturing half the population of Asia, the USA is no nearer to capturing Osama bin Laden than it ever was.

Looks like "Protect children: don't let them breathe your smoke" fell on deaf ears

When I was an undergraduate, one of my friends was a flamboyant gay whose favourite joke was this (you must imagine the cod Scots accents):

"Doctor Finlay, I'm sufferin' from terrible heartburn."
"Ach, pull yersel' together, Janet, and get your tits oot ma porridge!"

You can see how this story of tits in a Scottish ashtray brought that memory flooding back.

Monday, June 16, 2008

My Art's In The Islands (and Edinburgh)

My son has been back in action with Lyceum Youth Theatre, performing Fugee once again, this time at the Royal Lyceum Theatre (on Saturday). Fugee was commissioned by the National Theatre for its annual New Connections festival of youth theatre. I am happy to report that the production transferred very well indeed to the larger stage. with Danny Miller and Natalie MacKinnin once again terrific as Kojo and Ara. Ross Donachie, Beth Harris and Becky Harrod were also excellent as Hassan, Roza and the refuge manager.

New Connections featured ten companies in ten plays over five nights. the other production on Saturday was It Snows by Bryony Lavery, Steven Hogget and Scott Graham. This was performed by YUF Theatre, a splendid acronym for a youth theatre group from the north of Shetland, viz. Yell, Unst and Fetlar. I thought their play wasn't as good a piece as Fugee, though their principals Daniel Aquilina and Adel Smith were really good and it did have its moments. The company lacked the strength in depth of LYT, but one must consider that it probably contained very nearly everyone from those islands in the admissible age range. That such a remote and small community can produce a national-class youth theatre group at all is a huge tribute to the work put into it by everyone associated with it, especially Yell Youth Cafe and Shetland arts. Look at the map: Unst is the most northerly inhabited British island, Yell is the one you pass through to get to Unst (the tourist board haven't found a catchy tag to inspire visitors to Yell), and Fetlar is famous as the home of Britains' only colony of Snowy Owls. Personally I love remote islands (though I haven't stayed overnight on any of these three and haven't visited Fetlar at all) and am just bowled over by the quality of the kids' work.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


....to Neil Mantle on the award of an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours. Neil formed and conducts Scottish Sinfonia, an orchestra I used to play with (though not for 18 years now). Indeed with my heavy involvement in Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra, a body performing similar repertoire in the same venue with many of the same players, these days I view SS as a direct competitor. Still, competition is healthy, and Neil has been known to come and swell the ESO horn section when we needed large numbers, so no hard feelings on that score.

Neil has had a central place in Edinburgh's musical life since long before I arrived here in 1986. These days he also conducts the Edinburgh Bach Choir, which I must confess I've never heard, though I hear only good things of them.

I was at a rehearsal today (not ESO), and mentioned the news, figuring that as most people are less obsessive scanners of the listings than I am they probably wouldn't know. The first reaction, from a very well-known Edinburgh musician, was "Was it for services to grumpiness?" OK, Mr M can be a little acerbic from time to time, and even back in my day he had perfected the Conductor's Death Stare. (That I still live speaks only of his shoddy targetting in a large string section.) It has also been said that the Edinburgh music scene can be divided into those he has p***ed off and those he hasn't got round to yet. I must in fairness say that the same VWKEM immediately said that Neil's MBE was very well-deserved because of all he'd done for music in Edinburgh, an opinion generally taken up even by some who definitely aren't still waiting for Neil to get round to them.....

So: well done, Neil: a well-deserved tribute to all the work you've put in over many years to bring your musical vision to Edinburgh. Just don't give Her Majesty the Death Stare: being to blame for King Charles III would be a career low.

Pixels to purge melancholy

Fed up with those depressing news stories? Well, someone decided to make up all the best news stories he could think of, then shove them all onto this fake Google News page. (via)

Eager beavers

It appears that beavers have built a dam in England. Apparently the first for 800 years or so.

Maybe it's because I grew up with a book version of Disney's The Lady and the Tramp, but I've always had a soft spot for beavers.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Further comment superfluous

Just found a fun new blog TheQuacksOfLife. Birds and church architecture: yay!, and double yay!

There's one picture on there I simply must share with you (Pete gives permission unless I'm making money from it). His caption is How to tell if your Mum doesn't love you.

He has a point there.

The link is here.

And McCain would have gotten away with plugging all those terrorists' dicks into the mains if it weren't for that pesky US Constitution

Good news for America's political prisoners (aka "unlawful enemy combatants" in Bushspeak). The US Supreme Court has ruled that they have the constitutional right to challenge their detention in civilian courts. The 2005 Detainee Treatment Act (sponsored by John McCain) prevented the torture of detainees but left it up to the military to decide what counted as torture, and rendered evidence extracted by torture admissible in courts. Some protection. Meanwhile it removed the right of detainees to petition for habeas corpus, thus ensuring that if by some amazing freak circumstance they were to be tortured (in spite of Sen. McCain's best efforts and all that) they had no way to complain about it.

Well, not any more. In Boumediene v. Bush the SCOTUS declared that the right to habeas corpus could only be suspended by Congress in cases of rebellion or invasion. In other words, McCain could stick his torturers' charter where the sun don't shine.

However, let's just remember that the case was won by 5 votes to 4. Daily Kos points out what that means here.

And Senator Lindsey Graham is planning to change the Constitution (crafted, after all, by a bunch of liberals like Jefferson) so as to evade the decision. God knows what he has in mind: abolition of the Supreme Court, probably. after all, this is the same Lindsey Graham you can read about in the link on the Detainee Treatment act above, who tried to persuade the Supreme Court that it had no jurisdiction in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld by citing sections of the Congressional debate which appear to have been faked with the sole intent of misleading the court. Even Justice Scalia, Bush's hawk-in-chief on SCOTUS, took a very dim view of that. So off with his head! Off with all their heads! Checks and balances are for bankers!

This little piggy

A heartwarming tale from the BBC.

Cinders had great big waterproof boots on
Cinders didn't bother with a waterproof hat
Cinders found a great way to keep from being sausages
And that, said she, was that.

(with apologies to A A Milne)

The Physical Impossibility of Injustice in the Mind of Someone Campaigning

From the Hindustan Times.

A few things stand out in this extraordinary story. If Gopi really did commit suicide because of the humiliation rather than because of ill-treatment, it's an attitude that's quite hard for Westerners to get our heads round. Not uniquely Indian: Arabs and Japanese for example care greatly about loss of face, and family honour. But certainly alien to us.

Then, wow. A ghoulish but very effective protest. At least Thankappan lived long enough to see blame being placed where it belonged, and thus to be able to cremate his son with honour.

The BBC: Britain's leading Israeli propagandists

Another fine example of the BBC toeing the Israeli line here. I was especially taken by

Israel claims Jerusalem as its "eternal, undivided" capital, but the Palestinians want the eastern half - occupied by Israel in 1967 - as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

It isn't a question of "the Palestinians want" anything. The eastern half of Jerusalem is not part of Israel and never has been, and under international law Israel is obliged to withdraw its occupying forces from it. There is no such legal entity as the "undivided" Jerusalem to be the capital of either Israel or Palestine. How can you have as your capital city a place that isn't even in your country?

As for Obama's comments, I'm disappointed but scarcely surprised.

The BBC, even-handed as always on Israel/Palestine

This made me see red:

"Hamas, shunned by Israel as a terrorist group, claims to be the legitimate government in the occupied Palestinian territories after winning parliamentary elections in 2006" (emphasis mine).

No, Hamas became the legitimate government after winning parliamentary elections. as you do.

Could the Beeb not be bothered fact-checking the Israeli government Hasbara they transcribe?

Dog Years

A rather good short film here for anyone who likes dogs (via).

She's looked at clouds from both sides now

This, from Dooce (Heather Armstrong). She's already used the line about lemons and lemonade, so I'll just say it's a great example of a blessing in disguise. Helluva disguise, mind you.

And take a look at that list she links to in the Guardian: there's some good stuff in there. (Also Michelle Malkin, but you can't have eveything.)

The Wasp Factory, Cumbernauld Theatre Company, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 6 June 2008

How do you turn a book like The Wasp Factory into a play? Actually, that falsely implies that there are other books like The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, whereas it is a total one-off: a debut novel in which Banks was still groping toward the mature style he would attain a couple of novels further on (with The Bridge) but in which the sheer fertility of his imagination was showcased in a way he has never quite surpassed, even in his Iain M. Banks science fiction.

So how do you dramatise and stage a novel of which much is internal monologue; told from the viewpoint of a castrated teenager whose obsessive and abusive father believes the earth is shaped like a Mobius strip; who indulges in strange ritual animal sacrifices; who has killed three children; whose highly unstable brother has just escaped from his locked ward and is coming home; whose home is on an island in the north of Scotland somewhere?

Well, for a start you reduce the cast to three people: Frank (Nicola Jo Cully), Eric (Robbie Jack) and the Father (Ian Saxon). Other characters are played by off-duty members of the trio, sticking their heads through a profusion of doors and windows in the set, or by dolls brought on by cast members. The sea (and a stream) is represented by a pool of real water. The central event which pushes Eric over the edge isn't dramatised at all, just retailed by Frank with Eric standing behind providing facial expressions and other reactions.

And it works, far better than it has any right to do, thanks to superb performances by all three actors but especially by Nicola Jo Cully as Frank. Frank's world is so bizarre, his actions so completely over-the-top, that it would be easy to lose the audience, either in the sense of losing their sympathy and identification (and these characters are hard to identify with unless you're Hannibal Lecter or David Koresh). Doesn't happen, and that's a tribute to her, and their, skill. Also to that of the director (Ed Robson) and the author of the play, Malcolm Sutherland.

All in all, a great evening at the theatre, and to judge from the conversations overheard on the way out, a stimulating one.

Let her promise to atone, let her shiver, let her moan, I'll slam the door and let the hellcat FREEZE!

A rather good discussion of the background to Ireland's referendum on the Lisbon Treaty (they in fact voted NO earlier tonight). A pundit interviewed by the BBC suggested there were three ways forward: (1) shred the treaty as now unratified and hence dead; (2) amend it so as to be more acceptable to the Irish electorate (if anyone knows how to do that without alienating the other 25 million or so Europeans); (3) keep presenting the same treaty for ratification until Ireland votes YES. He forgot option (4) fling Ireland out of the EU altogether if it doesn't want to play nicely with others. I don't suppose for a moment that (4) will happen, though given Ireland's position as the EU's biggest beneficiary (at least until the recent enlargement) it would be poetic justice. And the Irish love their poets.

And come on, let's have someone identify my title quotation.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Have a cow, man.

So then I thought, blow it, if Mike can post a recipe I can post a recipe. The one Mike posted sounds quite nice though my taste in curries is for less sweetenss and creaminess than the recipe would seem to suggest (I like my vindaloos quite vinegary, for example). Perhaps before posting the recipe whose output I ate tonight I should post a link to my (so far) favourite source of wonderful curry recipes: Cooking Like Mummyji. I defy my readers to cook any of the dals (especially) in that book and not keep going back to them: it is no exaggeration to say that I have acquired at least half a dozen regular dishes from that book.

Anyway: this one isn't a dal, or even a curry. It comes from a newspaper clipping, from the Times to judge by its typography, which I remember as being from Superbowl weekend 10-15 years ago. It is, therefore, a chilli recipe. (I understand this is traditional Superbowl-watching fare.) The accompanying text (which I have not retained) was at pains to point out that most British people's experience of chilli was flawed in two ways: (1) they imagine it to be a dish full of kidney beans (2) they imagine it to be based on minced beef. Wrong, and wrong, said the article (by Alasdair Riley). if you want to add beans later that's up to you, but a real chilli just contains finely chopped (not minced) steak and spices, tomato, onion and beer. If that is what the tin says, this recipe delivers. I give you:

Mom Hensey's Sleepy Hollow Chilli
(serves 8)

3 lb stewing beef, cubed, trimmed and finely sliced
1 lb round beef, cubed and finely sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 15 oz can tomato sauce (I use a 700g jar of passata)
1 can Budweiser beer (I normally use part of a bottle of Budvar: one has some standards to maintain)
3 fresh green chillis, chopped
2 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp chilli powder
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp pepper
cooking oil

(Feel free to play around with the spicing. This time one of my fresh chillis was red -all I could get - and my chilli powder is quite hot, so I omitted the pepper. It should end up fairly spicy but not for issue to law enforcement personnel only.)

Brown the meat (not minced, but cubed) in your favourite chilli pot. (Cast iron casserole with close-fitting lid is mine.) Soften onion and garlic, add tomato sauce, beer and the rest of the ingredients.

Simmer very gently with the lid on for four hours, adding water (or beer) if necessary. The final thickness should be between a sauce and a stew. (Though if you want a more solid version, simply unlid the pan and give it another 30-60 minutes to reduce.) Check for taste and strength halfway through.

Serve with cornbread or corn chips, green salad and a Bud. We had ours with lettuce, sour cream, refried beans, salsa and pickled chillis (2 kinds) and corn tortillas. It really is a serves 8 - don't be tempted to increase the portion size, it's rich stuff: better to add side dishes, however hungry you are.

Once I'd tried this, my personal bar was raised thereafter for chilli everywhere, and I don't kid myself that it had much to do with my merely competent realisation: this is simply a great recipe.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I'm surprised they haven't asked her to run for Vice-Honky Bitch

My friend Eddie Clark recently posted a link to this piece in the Washington Post. As she said, just try to imagine the oh-so-funny comments about Hillary being directed, not at women, but at blacks, jews, gays, amputees.....

What I want to know is when this kind of open hatred masquerading as campaigning or commentary became acceptable in the USA. Because as the article says, hardly any Democratic Party leaders voiced any complaints; nor did Barack Obama.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cue silly grin now

A propos pieces of classical music that I relate to in a thoroughly un-highbrow way, try this on for size. It's the last movement of Weber's Grand Duo Concertant for clarinet and piano, performed in this YouTube clip by Michael Han Kim and a sadly nameless pianist. It's especially unfortunate that we don't get her name considering that her half of the Weber Grand Duo is no less demanding than his. (Update - the clip now has her name on it: Woori Koo.)

I have an elderly vinyl recording of this piece by Janet Hilton and Keith Swallow, which I love to bits. (It's available on CD now.) In this movement especially, their ensemble is so tight it's spooky. While I can quite understand why MHK speeds up toward the end (live performance, debut recital, let's go out with a real bang) and while he and his pianist have no trouble staying together (I've heard a commercial recording at that speed that was a total mess), Hilton and Swallow simply don't need to speed up to sound awesome. Indeed they take the whole movement at a slightly more laid-back tempo than MHK, but because their playing is so totally joined-at-the-hip it simply sounds nonchalantly brilliant. They manage to inject terrific energy into the final section (from 3:47 onwards on the clip here) just by...oh, I don't quite know how they do it. Maybe they simply use The Force. Actually, I suspect they drop the volume a little and then turn it up as they roar up to the bit (3:58 here) where the pianist breaks out in an absolute torrent of notes. I am utterly incapable of listening to that bit without a huge and stupid grin covering my face. This whole movement is definitely one of my feel-good pieces, and even if MHK and his partner aren't quite as amazing as Hilton and Swallow, they're pretty darned good (and of course they're performing live, which is always tougher). Oh, and he is only eleven years old, so I'm prepared to cut him plenty of slack. Enjoy it.

If 42 is the answer, what was the question again?

So the House of Commons has passed Gordon Brown's pet piece of legislation, the one that will allow the police to lock people up without charge for 42 days. Why he imagines this will enhance his reputation can only be guessed at. After all, imprisonment without trial was such a terrific success against the IRA.....

Following internment a serving officer of the British Marines declared, "It (internment) has, in fact, increased terrorist activity, perhaps boosted IRA recruitment, polarised further the Catholic and Protestant communities and reduced the ranks of the much needed Catholic moderates." (Hamill, D., Pig in the middle: The Army in Northern Ireland, London, Methuen, 1985)

Perhaps our not-so-esteemed leader is hoping that banging up innocent Asians (and does anyone imagine the provision will not be primarily used against the Asian community?) for a mere six weeks will only slightly increase support for terrorism in the future: which the way he's going is unlikely to be his, or NuLabour's, problem. He just doesn't get it: there are thousands of lifelong Labour voters out there who were giving him the benefit of the doubt because they imagined that under Brown the government might rediscover old-fashioned Labour principles and consign the worst excesses of the Blair Nightmare to history. Well, they ken noo, and while they certainly won't be voting for Cameron next ti,me they won't be voting for Brown either. With the boundary changes in our constituency, we now have a decent Labour guy (Nigel Griffiths) as our MP instead of the utter waste of space (Linda Clarke) we suffered for years. I didn't vote for him last time because nothing would persuade me to vote for a party led by Blair, but I had been thinking of voting for him next time. However, like, so many of my fellow Scots, I am beginning to feel that nothing short of independence from the Tory and NuTory (sorry, NuLabour) losers at Westminster will restore any kind of trust in politics.

While I was disappointed that the bill was passed, I was appalled by the smug confession (on the BBC radio news) by several of its NuLabour supporters that they hadn't actually approved of detention for 42 days, but they wanted to send Gordon a signal of their support. Christ almighty: thesesupposedly responsible representatives of the people care so much about the poor dear's troubled perception that nobody loves him (everybody hates him, he's going down the garden to eat worms....) that they are prepared to vote for a measure they don't believe in, involving massive potential violations of human rights, to give him a warm glow. Could these morons not have sent a greetings card, or flowers?

Still, most people reckon the bill has very little chance of passing through the House of Lords. One can only hope......

DT or not DT

Andrew Marr interviewing David Tennant about being a Time Lord and Hamlet (not both at once).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sometimes I sits and thinks, but mostly I just sits.

An interesting piece by Clare (of Boob Pencil) here, all about the supposed dichotomy between popular and literary fiction, and between popular and intellectual culture in general.

I posted a comment on Clare's article to the effect that I don't have a problem with approaching "intellectual" music in a compeletly non-intellectual way. I mean, while I'm perfectly capable of discussing how Holst achieves his orchestral effects in The Planets (and indeed of playing them), when I stick the CD on I just want to turn it up loud and be pinned to the back wall by the raw power of Mars. I enjoy listening to Stimmung by Karlheinz Stockhausen, which might be considered a fairly "difficult" work, just as pure sound. It doesn't have to be either/or: I can enjoy Iron Maiden intellectually and Mozart emotionally.

I suppose the crowds of people who used to faint at Dickens's readings of Nancy's death from Oliver Twist demonstrate that there is a kind of literary equivalent. Not only was what is now seen as "literary" then very much a part of popular culture, but people responded to it in a directly emotional manner.

I'm not saying that there aren't pieces of fiction or music where it really helps to be able to understand how they work. Georges Perec's A Void (with no letter E in the entire volume) is a case in point, or maybe the Berg Violin Concerto. But not many, certainly as far as music goes. It may add to one's enjoyment, but it's rarely essential.

What do other people think?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Try twinning it with a Paisley scarf

Sticking with the airport theme, this story is truly pathetic.

As I now have a BA flight from Heathrow T5 to Denver booked for next April, I shall now spend ten months agonising over what to wear. The T-shirt with a cartoon of the WTC burning surrounded by a red circle with a line through it and captioned "Say No To Terrorism!" ?

Don't touch my bags if you please, Mr Customs Man

For those of you wondering how this story turned out...

....now you know.

The naked truth

"But Ms Alaska, when you said you were posing for a pin-up photoshoot naturally we assumed....."

All is explained here.

Go on, look at the link, there's an even bigger picture there.....

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Gene Genie

Joe in Vegas recently posted a video clip I rather liked, as part of a post on intolerance by religious groiups and John McCain's suggestion that if elected he'd forbid same-sex marriages. I thought it was very funny, so here it is.

Figuratively Blogging

One of the reasons I've been busy this week has been that the orchestra I play for (and do admin of various kinds for, especially the kind of admin that involves having a xylophone in one's garage and a car boot full of tubular bells) has been involved in preparing for this concert. Chip and Eddie Clark are regular commenters here, and Chip has blogged fairly extensively about his compositions. So let's cut to the chase: we did the concert, I provided the comic interlude as Orchestra Manager Despatched To Get Blinding Spotlights Turned Off And Not Back When The Conductor Comes On Stage (and later on did the dramatic coda as Orchestra Manager Plaintively Seeking The Missing Foot Of The Gong Stand When Packing Up)(it turned up, hiding in a shadow - serve it right if an anaemic Vashta Nerada ate it). We were reviewed by Susan Nickall in the Scotsman, and while I can see where she is coming from I don't totally agree with her.

Most people I spoke to liked the quartet a lot, but Susan Nickall dismisses it (a shame for the Edinburgh Quartet, who presumably put a lot of work into preparing it*). While it "cited rock influences such as Yes and Pink Floyd", the tunes "were bland and repetitious and not developed in any coherent way". (OK, so more the first Steve Howe solo album than Yes**. ) I would accept that Chip is better at invention than development, but I think she was rather harsh there. I intend to get hold of a copy for my own quartet to have a crack at (in the privacy of our homes rather than a concert hall).

She liked It Must Be Fate better, though she felt it couldn't decide whether to be "Tommy or Tosca". A splendid metaphor, and I know exactly what she means: I felt Jared's solo didn't so much contrast with the other music as declare war on it. Still, it is still a work in progress and I expect it will undergo all kinds of changes before Chip & Eddie are through with it. The review is spot on in singling out Jayne Anne Craig's performance: she eclipsed everyone else. For me, though, the least successful piece of the evening.

Chip on his blog notes various things that came adrift in the symphony: for once I can say that (save one place where the front desk came in a bar early after a page turn) the second violins weren't one of them. If it makes him feel any better, we did a performance of Mahler's Fifth Symphony back in February that (for various reasons) was a real train-wreck, with orchestra members coming off the platform feeling really down about the whole thing: but the audience loved it. (Chip and Eddie were in that audience - wonder what they thought?) It was a classic example of the dictum that that if you play a wrong note one or two of your colleagues will notice, and maybe an audience member or two if it's really bad. If you play the right notes without conviction everyone in the room will notice. We played a heap of junk then (our fault, not Mahler's!) with real conviction, and the audience responded. I think we played with conviction on Wednesday too. FWIW I think the first movement of the symphony is a bit too long, and like everyone else I know I liked the third movement ("You Can't Catch Rabbits With Drums") best. My prediction is that in ten years time the symphony will be wholly forgotten, but "Rabbits" could well have acquired a separate life of its own, like Saint-Saens "The Swan" or the Scherzo from Litolff's Concerto Symphonique No. 4.

Though I caught myself humming a bit of the first movement in the loo just now....

How many composers can you think of, incidentally, whose first symphonies are played much? Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Prokofiev, Elgar and Berlioz certainly; Sibelius and Vaughan Williams rather less. Even composers thought of as symphonists can have disappointing beginnings: how many people can hum anything from Bruckner 1, Schubert 1 or Shostakovich 1? And when it comes to bland and repetitious tunes not developed on a coherent way, just don't get me started on Schubert's Ninth, OK?

* Heh: the Edinburgh Quartet decided to programme Chip's quartet again tonight and to add it to their programme for the coming season. Which will be worth more in publicity than a more favourable Scotsman review would have been and will presumably bring in performance royalties.

**An amusing aside. Chip gave the orchestra CDs of his symphony for practice purposes. These were generated by the scoring software (Sibelius) so had a very synthesized sound, and my very first thought when I listened to the opening of the symphony was "Rick Wakeman".

Friday, June 06, 2008

מנא ,מנא, תקל, ופרסין

Everyone (well, except the odd Hindu extremist) has been celebrating the recent transformation of Nepal from a Hindu kingdom to a secular republic.

Coincidentally, the day I read that story I also read about the Another Israel touring exhibition whose various panels can be seen here. After the letter from South Africa I published recently it is heartening to know that despite the appalling human rights abuses being perpetrated both within West Asia's only nuclear-armed theocracy and in its illegal colonies, there are many, many Israelis with principles and courage who are prepared to put themselves at risk to do something about it. Let's be optimistic and call them a fledgling Israeli pro-democracy movement.

Keep that in mind as you read the grim catalogue of torture, murder, military impunity, institutionalised racism, mass political imprisonment, collective punishment, exploits and outright theft which these Israeli heroes and heroines are resisting.

One of the organisations listed in the exhibition (third panel: Civil Inequalities) is Ka La'oved (Workers' Hotline). I'd heard of them before via my trade union connections, because one of the issues on which they campaign is the abolition of slavery in Israel. Yes, you read that right. Israel's own High Court of Justice ruled over two years ago that the "binding" of migrant workers to specific employers was a form of slavery and should cease. So what do you think has changed since then? Not much. People trafficking, too, is illegal under Israeli law, but who bothers about mere laws when there are migrants to exploit? Not the Israeli authorities, who are happy to flout the rules or simply make them up. (And continue to do so.)

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a toast. Democracy: next year in Jerusalem! (the Israeli part as well as the Palestinian one). And all across Israel.

And to all the asses' jawbones who insist on describing Israel as it presently exists as "the only democracy in the region", let us optimistically respond "Not yet: but we're working on it".

Oh, the title? See here.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

And you get to see his bum at the end of the clip

I was thinking only the other day about a TV series I remembered from way back, starring Ken Stott as a failing DJ who took a job running hospital radio in a Scottish mental hospital. I was trying to remember who played the inmate whom he coached and who eventually did so well that he got the real radio job that Ken Stott's character had been going after. I knew it wasn't anyone well known, and of course at the time it wasn't. But we know him now, boys and girls, oh yes we do: one David Tennant in his first television role with more than ten lines in it. Something of a virtuoso performance, and it's no surprise I remembered it.

The Guardian this week featured an interesting interview with Donna Franceschild, who wrote it, and I was overjoyed to discover that it's getting a DVD release at long last.

Monday, June 02, 2008

That reminds me

It doesn't take Hercule Poirot to work out the train of thought that led from the previous post to this one. One of my utter favourite 1960s pop songs, in a cover version by one of my favourite singers, and all the more welcome for its marking her emergence from self-imposed post-Abba retirement.

Agnetha Fältskog sings When You Walk In The Room.

Ooh! Ooh! Here she is doing I Can't Shake Loose (I couldn't remember who did the original but it seems to have been the Supremes).

Interesting in the context of I'd Do Anything to think that Agnetha's big break came as Mary Magdalene in the first Swedish production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Vashta Nerada till we meet again...

(With apologies to Abba).

I'm sure there are hundreds of blog posts out there on the topic of Silence in the Library, so I'll restrict myself to just a couple of comments, apart from the sound of awestruck admiration.

Firstly, my favourite exchange, possibly of the whole series:

Doctor: You're archaeologists?

River Song: Do you have a problem with that?

Doctor: I'm a time traveller. We point and laugh at archaeologists.

And finally, FWIW (probably not much but I haven't read any spoilers so it's a genuine guess)(I nearly said a shot in the dark....) I have a theory about how 4,022 people were saved but none survived. I remarked to my daughter that both that statistic, and the comment that Donna Noble had been saved, were uttered by The Library's computer. And what might a computer mean when saying that something or someone had been "saved"? I think they may all turn up digitally manifested in the universe's biggest hard drive, down there in the planet's core.


Tagged by Lisa:

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.


Photograph - Nickelback

My son played me this on a car journey earlier this year and it's stuck with me. I must admit I actually quite like Nickelback in general, but I always like to hear "heavy" bands playing against type. Good lyrics.

Luka - Suzanne Vega

Amazingly, I hadn't heard this until about three months ago, whereupon I went out and bought the album (Solitude Standing).

Open Your Heart - John McLaughlin

This one I've known and loved for years, having taped it from a friend's LP when I was a student. Now I have it on CD, which is nice as the tape was getting a bit worn. This is JM in his pre-Mahavishnu days, from the acoustic album My Goal's Beyond. No words, and on this track nothing but two tracks of guitar, but a tune and an arrangement that stay with you.

Ballad of Lucy Jordan - Dr Hook

I picked up a Greatest Hits album a while ago, to get Sylvia's Mother as much as anything, and was very taken with this song which once again I hadn't known. Maybe it wasn't a big hit in Britain? "At the age of 37, she realised she'd never ride through Paris / In a sports car, with the warm wind in her hair". A sad song of lost illusions.

Estampie - Lou Harrison (played by the Kronos Quartet)

The other instrumental in my collection, and my particular earworm right now. I was looking through the SheetMusicPlus catalogue for 20th century music that my quartet might have fun trying out, and noticed String Quartet Set by Lou Harrison. Harrison is best known for percussion pieces (and other pieces with a lot of percussion in them) using items such as car brake drums, oxygen tanks and the like, so I wondered what he'd do with a string quartet. Well, I listened to some clips courtesy of Amazon, and the answer is that he produced a piece based largely on medieval models, completely tonal and quite fascinating. But it's this movement that really grabbed me. The second violin just chugs aways with a rat-a-tat of the same note repeatedly, the cellist doesn't bother with a bow (or indeed the strings) but simply whacks various parts of her instrument with her hands like a demented bongo player, and the first violin and viola trade verses of the most amazingly sinuous dance tune. I haven't bought the sheet music yet, though I shall (I think we could probably play it, though I doubt we'll summon up the swagger that the Kronos give it; and it would be worth it just to see our cellist using his instrument as a drum). I did, however, buy the CD it's on (The Music of Lou Harrison in the CRi Masters series). I like the whole CD, but this track gets played a lot just on its own. Sheer fun.

Mao Tse Tung Said - Alabama 3

What can I say? Also sheer fun,. From Exile On Coldharbour Lane. Let the night roar!

Defying Gravity - Idina Menzel (from the Broadway cast recording of Wicked)

Not really my favourite song from Wicked, but ever since Samantha performed it on I'd Do Anything a week or two back I've had it stuck in my head.

OK, who to tag? Joe, Phil, Persephone, Udge, King of Scurf, Chip & Eddie, and Jane.


Sunday, June 01, 2008

Simulacra and Simulation

Obviously it may not get printed, but I just wrote the following letter to the Guardian in response to an article yesterday by Mark Lawson.


Mark Lawson's article (This loophole is real. But the remedy is really perverse, 31 May 2008) is welcome, but not as timely as he imagines. British law has made no distinction (other than in sentencing guidelines) between real and computer-generated or otherwise faked indecent images of children since the Protection of Children Act 1978, whose paras 7.7 and
7.8 state

(7) “Pseudo-photograph” means an image, whether made by computer-graphics or otherwise howsoever, which appears to be a photograph.

(8) If the impression conveyed by a pseudo-photograph is that the person shown is a child, the pseudo-photograph shall be treated for all purposes of this Act as showing a child and so shall a pseudo-photograph where the predominant impression conveyed is that the person shown is a child notwithstanding that some of the physical characteristics shown are those of an adult.

I haven't read the new proposals in detail, but they would appear to change only the applicable penalties rather than introducing any new legal concepts more sinister than the existing ones.

So there will be no need to rename 2008 as 1984: people have been criminalised for possessing wholly imaginary images for thirty years now. But thank you, Mark, for drawing attention to this "perverse remedy".


Just for completeness, I should add what I omitted from the letter, which is that in Scotland the cited paragraphs appear as the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, Part IV, paras. 52(2A) and 52(2B). The law is the same, only the citation is different.

When I last posted on this topic I hadn't realised that the law involved had been around for so long. It seems likely that it only began to be used to a significant extent with the advent of widespread internet access and availability of applications such as Photoshop, all of which were some way in the future back in 1978, when the Commodore Pet and the Apple II were state of the art. Even the Sinclair ZX80 wouldn't arrive until 1980.
Update: as Gill O points out, it was printed in Wednesday's edition, alongside one from David Hockney. Never mind Keith Flett: being published alongside DH gives me the same kind of vicarious thrill as did graduating from Edinburgh University at the same ceremony in which Hamish Henderson was awarded an honarary D.Litt.