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

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Not many people know this....

....but the Royal Society of Chemistry has set a challenge: come up with the best scientifically plausible way in which The Italian Job's literally cliff-hanger ending might be resolved in the robbers' favour. The Daily Telegraph has the story.

Even when you know it's likely, confirmation hurts

The BBC have confirmed that David Tennant will leave Dr Who at the end of 2009.


Quite a woman

A interesting obituary in the Daily Telegraph yesterday.

He gets knocked down but he gets up again, you ain't never gonna keep him down... .

Peter Buckley, we salute you.

A man's opponent's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a cheek-guard for?

Women's No Pay Day

For those of you lucky enough (as I am) still to have a job - imagine if today was the last day this year for which you would be getting paid, and that all the time from here to Hogmanay would be unpaid work.

For the men among you - congratulations, now you know how it is being a woman in a nation with a 17% pay gender gap. We all hear figures about the pay gap, but it takes an arresting image like that (thanks to the Fawcett Society) to bring home what they truly signify. There's no room for complacency: in the financial services industry the pay gap is over 40% nationally.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bryan Adams - Glasgow SECC, Monday 27 October 2008

To Glasgow for an evening which turned out to be one of the best gigs I've been to in many years. We can skip over the support (Black Daniel), who were mostly harmless, and cut straight to the man himself. Adams emerged at around half past eight and played for over two hours. He made his initial entrance at the back of the arena (just alongside my seat in fact) and got up onto a little stage there, just him and his guitar, to do Can't Stop This Thing We Started and Please Forgive Me. I managed to take this picture with my phone:

Then it was up to the stage to join his four-piece backing band for an energetic stream of numbers, I can't remember the exact order but we had:
18 Till I Die
I Ain't Losin' The Fight
Kids Wanna Rock
Let's Make A Night To Remember
Summer of 69
(Everything I Do) I Do It For You
It's Only Love
When You're Gone
The Way Of The World
Cloud Number 9
Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman
Cuts Like A Knife
I Thought I'd Seen Everything
The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me Is You
Hearts On Fire
Back To You
Run To You

For When You're Gone he got an audience member (not planted) up to duet with him (first making sure they did actually know the song). This was Shelley, a bingo caller from Fife, who actually did a pretty good job all things considered and wasn't at all overawed by the massive audience. He escorted her off the stage afterwards to get some T-shirts and the like, and the rest of the band did The Way Of The World without him.

I think Run To You was the encore he did with the whole band. He certainly reappeared with just his (Glasgow-made) guitar at the very end to round off the evening with Straight From The Heart and All For Love.

Sometimes you go to to see someone you've admired for years and are disappointed by their live performance. More usually you get what you were expecting, no more, no less. And just occasionally you get far more. Bryan Adams was one of the latter group. It wasn't just that he was good, though he was. It wasn't just that he played a very long set, though it was very good value. It wasn't even the sheer physical energy he brought to his performance, astounding though it was for someone nearing fifty. No, it was that he simply hasn't allowed the fact of having played Everything I Do and Summer of 69 all those hundreds of times make the slightest difference. The oldest songs were played with the same enthusiasm, the same warmth and the same freshness as the ones from his latest album. In that of course he is helped by the tightness and general attitude of his band (whatever the opposite is of going through the motions) but also by the sheer strength of most of his material. In some quarters it's fashionable to knock Everything I Do, for example, but it quite simply has, as Withnail might put it, the finest middle eight available to humanity. (OK, And Your Bird Can Sing and When I Kissed The Teacher run it close. Pretty exalted songwriting company he's keeping there.)

If that was typical of Bryan Adams' performances I can't imagine ever feeling that I'd seen enough of them.

Oh, and I found this on Youtube when putting this post together. Two of my musical idols together, 14 years ago. How perfectly Jean-Jacques Goldman's old hit suits Adams' style, and how well JJG fits in with the BA classic.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Change we can't believe in

And courtesy of my friend Gill on LiveJournal, here is a fun site which you may not have seen. Some of the doors etc need to be clicked more than once.

It was pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and mercy: not to strike without need.

Remember how last week I posted about Troy Davis who was on death row in Georgia for a crime he almost certainly did not commit? well, I've just received an email from Amnesty International as follows:

Last night Amnesty International held a Global Day of Action for Troy Davis. Today, three days before the scheduled execution, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay!

Dear Rob,

I am delighted to share some good news with you! Troy Davis received a stay of execution based on a new last-minute appeal filed this past Wednesday to the federal appeals court in Atlanta. As a result, he will not be executed on Monday, October 27th, as originally scheduled.

Your action has succeeded in putting a spotlight on Troy's case worldwide and bringing about this victory. At least 300,000 individuals have written letters in support of Troy. Additionally, prominent leaders such as former President Jimmy Carter, the Pope, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have all called for justice in this case.

Yesterday, Amnesty International organized a Global Day of Action in which hundreds of activists in dozens of countries around the world came together to stand in solidarity for Troy. From Atlanta to Seattle, New York to Paris and Milan– hundreds of supporters gathered at rallies wearing T-shirts and holding signs that read "I am Troy Davis." On Wednesday, the European Legislature issued a statement calling for Troy's execution to be halted.

While we pause to celebrate this good news, we cannot forget that Troy still faces the very real possibility of execution—despite the fact that no physical evidence tied him to the 1989 murder of a police officer in Savannah, GA, and that 7 of the 9 eyewitnesses have since recanted their testimony.

This case has taken many twists and turns. On September 12th, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency for Troy Anthony Davis, and scheduled his execution for September 23rd. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed Davis' execution just hours before it was scheduled to take place. But in deciding not to hear his case, the court lifted its stay and a new execution date was set for Monday, October 27th.

We now await the decision of the federal appeals court, which will determine whether Troy's case warrants a new hearing. We believe their ruling could happen at any time during the next month.

I want to thank you again for playing such an essential part in Amnesty International's efforts to bring justice for Troy Davis. That's why I hope you'll take a minute right now to join Amnesty International and help us keep up this fight.

To stay informed about Troy Davis' case and to find out how to take additional actions, please visit www.amnestyusa.org/troydavis

In solidarity,

Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn
Director, Death Penalty Abolition Campaign
Amnesty International USA

Huge thanks from me to any of any EKN visitors who added their names to the petition for clemency. To the rest - it's not too late. Troy Davis has only been granted a stay, not a pardon, so his life is still under threat. So please pop over to the Amnesty site and spend what could be the most worthwhile two minutes you'll spend all day.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Good Men Do Nothing

Courtesy of my friend Nel over on LiveJournal, a link to a fascinating piece (and read the follow-up essay too) on the provenance of a well-known quotation.

Here it is.

Incidentally, the precise subset of the quotation in my post title formed the title of a John Brunner novel.

Mary Poppins - Edinburgh Playhouse 17 October 2008

The word is not, in fact, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, but serendipity. I have always liked the film version of Mary Poppins (with music by Sherman & Sherman), and when my daughter was small I read her the Mary Poppins books. I was surprised at how adult the writing was, and the extent to which MP was a mystical figure of real depth. I was also taken with the way the books (especially the forst two) were structured.

So I wasn't exactly fertile ground for a stage version. I didn't see how it could come up to the standard either of the books on the one hand or the film on the other, so I didn't attempt to book for the production when it came to Edinburgh. However, Hilary was offered four complimentary tickets (just about the best sets in the theatre) so it seemed churlish not to go. Well...

What I knew about the production: it was produced by Cameron Mackintosh and had most of the Sherman & Sherman music with some additional material.

What I didn't know: it was directed by Richard Eyre, had choreography by Matthew Bourne (of Dorian Gray fame) and a book by Julian Fellowes. The storyline dropped the Disney invention of the child-induced run on the bank and had Mr Banks in trouble for basing investment decisions in judgement of character rather than business fundamentals. (How topical.) More to the point, it introduced scenes from the books which Disney had not used, such as the awesomely old Mrs Corry, and a scene where the children throw tantrums and the nursery toys come alive and punish them.

Things that completely knocked me out: the set by Bob Crowley; the production by Richard Eyre which was as spectacular as any musical I've ever seen (even Wicked!); the performances by all the principals (Daniel Crossley as Bert, Martin Ball and Louise Bowden as George and Winifred Banks, Caroline Sheen as Mary Poppins, and the Banks children - not sure which of the several possibiities we had, but they were exceptional it what must have been very taxing roles.

Things that will stay with me for ever: Bert dancing up the side of the proscenium arch and across the top before delivering a verse of Step In Time upside down. The set for the inside of the bank. Mary Poppins's way of going upstairs. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, whose choreography involved a lot of synchronised movements like a cross between semaophore and signing for the deaf. The actual signer for the deaf, who had to work quite spectacularly hard all night to fit everything in rhythmically, doing a peerless job on SuperCF. I shall never hear that song again without imagining the signer. And finally, Mary Poppins making her exit by flying over the audience.

I would have no hesitation in seeing the show again if the opportunity were to present itself. Colour me converted.

BBCSSO/Rozhdestvensky: A Child Of Our Time: Usher Hall, Edinburgh 30 August 2008

The final concert (barring the fireworks) of the 2008 festival was given by the BBC Scottosh Symphony Orchestra under Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, with Nicole Cabell, Jane Irwin, John Mark Ainsley and John Tomlinson and the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, in a performace of Michael Tippett's A Child Of Our Time.

A friend of ours in the chorus reckoned they all hated being conducted by Rozhdestvensky, who they found unclear. The choruses were OK in fact, but not the shattering events they should have been, especially the spirituals. Even Go Down Moses was a little lacklustre, though I doubt whether any conductor could completely rob it of its magic. The soloists were all quite exceptional, Jane Irwin and John Tomlinson in particular. But the orchestral colour seemed to be thrown away, and overall it was a workmanlike performamce rather than an inspiring end to the festival.

Dorian Gray - Kings Theatre Edinburgh, 30 August

Nearly there with my festival reviews!

We went to see Dorian Gray - one of 2008's hot ticket events - with our friends Chip and Eddie Clark. This was a free adaptation of the Oscar Wilde story as a ballet by Matthew Bourne and the New Directions company. I hadn't originally booked as I'd never seen any Bourne pieces before, but Chip got tickets for the final matinee. I had seen Bourne being interviewed about Dorian Gray on TV, so I knew that he likes to devise his pieces along with the dancers in the course of rehearsal; that his choreography was often criticised for not being dancerly enough; and that the piece was pretty violent.

The first thing to note is that Bourne has updated the storyline to the present day and made it a tale of celebrity culture. Dorian is the face of a mens' perfume, and this allows for some spellbinding choreography when he's at a party being photographed by paparazzi: every few seconds a flashbulb would go off and the appropriate image would be flashed up on a big screen. But the images being flashed up had been photographed beforehand, which meant the dancers had to be exceptionally accurate in their positions and timing for the scene to work. The depiction of the smart London scene is a brilliant and unflattering spotlight which owes a debt to Nicholas Roeg's Performance in its combination of effete elegance and undercurrent of danger. Dorian doesn't have a portrait in his attic, but he does have a Doppelganger who becomes increasingly violent: as much Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as Dorian Gray really. The sets and production were fantastic (in every sense), and Richard Winsor as Dorian was an unbelievably good dancer. Actually they all were, and if the men had better moves to dance than the women, well that's just how it turned out. (They did, but only slightly.) And yup, it is quite violent, but most of all it pull you in emotionally. Quite a feat on a Saturday afternoon.

All in all, I was left with an understanding of why the piece had become so celebrated, and with a strong desire to see some more of Matthew Bourne.

Friday, October 24, 2008

To stroboscopy and beyond

Everyone I know who went to the Disney/Pixar exhibition last year (which is basically all my Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra colleagues) reckoned the best exhibit by far was the amazing Toy Story zoetrope. A classic zoetrope has pictures printed on the inside of a cylinder with sits cut into it, so when the cylinder is spun and you look at it you see the picture spring into animated life. The Pixar one is three-dimensional, and seen at rest it looks like a confection of multiple models of the Toy Story characters. As it's spun up to speed and the strobe lighting kicks in, though, suddenly you just see an animated tableau taking place in the space where this great metal wedding cake had been (the thing is about the width of a 3-seat couch).

I haven't been able to review the video owing to bandwidth restrictions on my dial-up link, but if it shows up look out for the wonderful little bit near the front with the see-saw and the holes on the ground.

Oh Mr Porter

I've been reading through back-numbers of Wagner News while on holiday (as you do). I came across a great article by Reginald E. Porter entitled Heroes and Villains in Der Ring des Nibelungen. Even better, I've found it online, along with several others (some of which I'd read). Two remarks before I post the link:

a) For Wagner enthusiasts, the articles aren't exactly spoofs, just examples of where literal-minded pernicketiness can take you. They are meant to be funny though.

b) For the rest of you - you won't have a clue what they're on about, but I hope the dogged following of ideas to their logical conclusion comes across. And hey, maybe you should give the Ring a shot.

Here's the site.

And for anyone wanting a painless intro to the Ring, here's an animated version of Das Rheingold (the first opera in the series), reduced to half an hour from the full 2 hours 40. It was broadcast in Britain about 12 years or so back in a series of opera animations, and my daughter still remembers watching it as a child. It's really well done, and serves as a reminder that whatever else the Ring is, it's a cracking good story.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Sometimes it's hard to be a Luddite....

....or at least that's how i feel. I've just been tagged by Persephone to do her Fourth of Fourth meme, where the idea is that i go into my pictures folder, find the fourth folder in there and publish the fourth picture from it.

Only problem is that as I don't own a digital camera all the pictures I have are downloads, and I had a major clearout of those only a few days ago. (The Saunders family digital camera is Hilary's toy and she put the pictures onto her laptop and thence to CD.) So right now I have only one folder in there. So I could do Fourth of First, or maybe First of First. Only two problems now: one is that both the pictures concerned are very large (4-5 Mb) and I'll need to reduce that to get them onto the blog. Also, they're both copyright material and I can't find my details of the copyright holder (I probably have it back home, or could get it by asking someone else). So you'll all just have to wait. (Update: photograph by Sandy Young www.scottishphotographer.com. Used by permission.)

Ah, screw it, here is the fourth one.

It's a picture of Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra taken at an evening celebrating Disney and Pixar which the National Museum of Scotland put on (as a tie-in with a big exhibition they had). We were playing a selection of film music, some of it Disney-related, some not, and on this occasion we were conducted by Edinburgh Light Orchestra's James Beyer. You can see his back through the fountain. We were playing in the massive main hall of the museum: this one was evidently taken in between pieces. I'm clearly visible in the front row, left of the fountain, looking at my music. Half visible to the left of me (you can see all of her violin but only half a face) is the lovely Emma, leader of the second violins and my quartet-playing buddy.

I should probably tag someone else, so how about it Chip? and Joe?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mole Of Fortune

Today is Mole Day, celebrated from 6.02 am to 6.02 pm in honour of Avogadro's Number. This year's theme is "Mole of Fortune":

Here is Amadeo Avogadro:

Here is a mole:

And here is a Rhode Island road sign which seems to be a permanent celebration of 6 x 10**23:

Happy Mole Day!

P.S. when I first uploaded the graphic of the laboratory mole to Blogger, the embedding code began to replicate in my blog post every few seconds, suggesting the question "How Do You Stop An Exploding Mole?"

Monday, October 20, 2008

...and more hypocrisy

Meanwhile in Malaysia you don't have to be a gay Hindu to be persecuted: just a Hindu who doesn't like being a second-class citizen.

HINDRAF sounds to me like an organisation worthy of support. So will the parrots who complain about Islamic persecution of Jews and Christians speak up for Malaysia's persecuted Hindus? I bet they don't. Hindus don't have influential lobby groups in London and Washington, and Malaysia is an ally of the United States in the "war on terror". So I guess HINDRAF are stuffed then.

I spy hypocrisy

Wouldn't it be heartening if those who constantly speak out against Islamic persecution of homosexuals came charging to the defence of gays in India? After all, in India, homosexuality is punishable with life imprisonment.

Of course, that would require that their own dubious attitudes towards gays be confronted - so it will never happen. The fact is, these people hate gays only slightly less than they hate Muslims, so why would they waste their time on non-Muslim gays in a distant country where the people talk funny and have brown skins?

As often happens (not only in India) the Supreme Court takes a more sensible - and logical - view on the matter than the government so one can be hopeful. But where is the outcry that we would be hearing if such as case were taking place in Pakistan?

An interesting comment on homosexuality in India here from an Indian blogger, illustrated by Hindu temple sculptures showing homosexual acts. Mind you, Indian temple sculptures show some funny things. (I always liked the woman in the background covering her face in an Oh-for-fuck's-sake manner in that one.)

A shameful story from Israel

From a report in Israel's main daily Ha'aretz.

One has to ask: why is the most heavily-armed nation on Earth (in terms of defence spending per head) so terrified of 16-year-old schoolgirls that it has to use them to demonstrate its utter contempt for democracy and the rule of law?

Oh, wait, I get it: 16-year-old schoolgirls don't fight back. Far easier to bully than those pesky Hamas fighters who would make the brave Shin Bet men crap themselves while running away.

Next time a supporter of Israel bangs on about the importance of academic freedom (when tha means the importnance of their academics staying on the British gravy train) just remember that this "freedom" does not extend to Palestinian teenagers studying for their matriculation exams. Well, there have to be limits to freedom.

Which side are you on?

Barack Obama's support. (Watch video.)

John McCain's support (and how he wishes they'd keep quiet about the lies he's been telling in the vain hope of being elected).

And what's with this "He's not an Arab, he's a decent man" crap? As though there weren't millions of Arabs walking around who are far more decent men than John McCain - and many of his supporters - will ever be.

In all seriousness: if I had to trust my life or that of a family member to a randomly chosen Arab, to John McCain, or to Sarah Palin, I wouldn't hesitate to pick the Arab.

I thought this was an excellent comment on the incident. Not only does it point out how McCain should have handled it if he'd had the vaguest idea about what it means to be an American, and what ideals Americans are supposed to uphold, but it quotes at length a Rush Limbaugh diatribe against Barack Obama and "anti-American Afrocentric black liberation theologists" who are apparently to blame for the present financial crisis. I wonder whether Rush Limbaugh believes that Muslim Satanists in China have been reprogramming God-fearing Americans' toys?

Scary Americans

JoeInVegas recently commented

We've started to get the automated phone calls from the McCain campaign that really hit on Obama and his terrorist background, warning us the country will fall apart if he gets elected. And some people really believe this stuff.

Huh! that's nothing. Some people in the USA believe this stuff.

Because, well, it's obvious that a doll promoting Islam would say "Satan is King" because all these Muslims know they're really Satanists at heart, right? Though as one of the commenters on this story says, the important thing is whether if you play it backwards it says "Paul is dead"….

Save a life

Amnesty International are urgently campaigning to prevent the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, USA. Troy was sentenced to death after being convicted of a crime he maintains he did not commit. In the 17 years he has been on death row seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted or changed their testimony, several citing police coercion. Troy Davis was granted a stay of execution on 23 September, less than two hours before he was due to be executed. Unfortunately this week the Supreme Court have declined Davis' appeal for a proper hearing or a re-trial. His execution date is set for 27 October, one week from today.

I was watching Stephen Fry in Stephen Fry In America earlier this evening. In the programme he visits all fifty states of the USA, and this week he was in Alabama* where he sat in on the Board of Pardons and Paroles. I couldn't remember whether Alabama has the death penalty (it does) but wondered whether, if it did, any of the people who were being considered when Fry was there were on death row. (Probably not, but it was a weird thought.)

Well, by a strange synchronicity, Amnesty are asking us to call on the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant Troy Davis clemency. So let's do it, people!

(*Fry was also in Knoxville, TN where he visited the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthroplogy Facility. He admitted that he'd never actually seen a dead body before: all the more ironic when you consider that he is a recurring guest on Bones as Dr Gordon Wyatt. )

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Calling for more transparency from the student body

While I can see that this is a good way of getting excellent publicity for a student protest over hot water shortages, isn't the idea of protesting supposed to be that the authorities will want you to stop protesting and will therefore accede to your demands? Rather than just turning the water temperature down a bit more?

What's that? the picture from Kiev doesn't give you a very good idea of the kind of protest it was? Dear me:

OK, that's enough political education for today.

The real truth about 9/11

Following my recent post on obsession with, and exploitation of, the September 11th attacks by right-wing politicians (in both the USA and the UK) looking for an excuse to restrict freedom, it was very heartening to read in today's Guardian that Stella Rimington (former head of MI5 and thus someone who might be expected to know a bit about terrorism and counter-terrorism) shares my views. According to her so do most of the intelligence community as well.

Let's read what she has to say, because it can't be said too often:

The response to 9/11 was "a huge overreaction", she says. "You know, it was another terrorist incident. It was huge, and horrible, and seemed worse because we all watched it unfold on television. So yes, 9/11 was bigger, but not ... not ..." Not qualitatively different? "No. That's not how it struck me. I suppose I'd lived with terrorist events for a good part of my working life, and this was, as far as I was concerned, another one."

Read the whole article, which is full of common sense, albeit common sense informed by a career spent stopping spies and terrorists.

Ugly news from an ugly place

Remember Creepy Cinnamon Stillwell and her obsession with "jihadis", by which she meant anyone committing a violent crime who happened to be a Muslim?

Well, given the appalling state of Arab-Jewish relations in Israel (of which more anon) it's hardly surprising to find the same attitudes there. At first sight, an East Jerusalem Arab hitting fifteen Israeli soldiers in West Jerusalem with his car, injuring two of them seriously, is a fair contender for a terrorist attack. (Though, aren't we always being told that the difference between Palestinian terrorists and the incredibly "moral" IDF is that the former target civilians while the latter supposedly don't? So if a Palestinian deliberately attacks Israeli soldiers instead of civilians, doesn't that mean he can't be a terrorist?) A little examination of the evidence shows however that (a) the driver didn't have a license (b) he lost control of the vehicle and hit a traffic island before mounting the pavement and hitting the soldiers, who were waiting to cross the road, before finally hitting a wall (c) the 19-year-old driver was upset at having had a proposal of marriage turned down. Now it sounds much more like an enraged and upset teenager grabbing his Dad's car, which he doesn't know how to drive, and heading off with unknown intent (kill himself? kill the girl? kill anyone who got in his way? drive around until he ran out of petrol? pick up a hooker?) The soldiers would seem to have been unlucky: he could as easily have ploughed into a bunch of Palestinian kids. Nobody intentionally attacks people by bouncing off a traffic island into them.

The guy clearly deserved to spend a good while in jail, pondering his good fortune that nobody was killed in his crazy escapade. However, that didn't happen for the same reason that we don't know exactly what he planned, which is that someone was in fact killed in his escapade: him. His vehicle had come to a halt, he was unarmed and was making no attempt to flee or to threaten anyone, but the Israeli police simply shot him dead as obviously being a terrorist (you know, from East Jerusalem, looks Arab and has just hurt some Jews). So there you have it: summary execution for reckless driving while being an Arab. Let's remember that none of the soldiers ded, and only two were seriosuly hurt. That's two too many to be mown down by a moron, but no justification for murder. And certainly not for Ehud Barak's suggestion of a pogrom (Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, called for the home of the attacker to be "destroyed as soon as possible" in order to dissuade others from carrying out similar acts. The practice of destroying Palestinian attackers homes was halted several years ago after an Israeli supreme court justice ruled it did not deter attackers. The practice of destroying Palestinian attackers' homes was halted several years ago after an Israeli supreme court justice ruled it did not deter attackers.)

Was the Israeli police man perhaps suffering from Sudden Cowardly Murder Syndrome? And Ehud Barak, was he under the influence of Sudden Zionist Ethnic Cleansing Syndrome? Maybe one should just blame the effects of living on a country where they may have the vote but where its value is minimised by the constitutional provision that bans parties from the Knesset which wish to have a political system where the country is not run solely by the Jews for the Jews. A country where every week in that Knesset there are calls for Israel's Arabs to be ethnically cleansed. Where the purchase of land in large areas of the country is permitted for Jews only. Where if an Arab strays into a Jewish area his car is stoned and he has to flee for his life before being eventually placed under house arrest as the Jewish community launches a pogrom with the connivance of the authorities. Where mayoral candidate Rina Greenberg in Carmiel can openly call for apartheid:

"Carmiel," she says, "is different from Acre, which has always been defined as an ethnically mixed city. There is no need for Carmiel to become a mixed city. We can have harmonious relations with the Arabs, but the Arab and Jewish communities must live separately." Haaretz, 17/10/2008

Where Palestinian farmers trying to harvest their crops are assaulted by illegal Israeli settlers who also attack journalists, and where the police come, take no action against the "settlers" but ban the farmers from continuing with their harvest.

No wonder the Jews of "evil" "anti-Semitic" Iran wouldn't move to Israel if you paid them (which Israel tried to do, so desperate is the Israeli government to try to retain a Jewish majority and stave off the day when the Arabs whose basic human right it denies become a majority and all pretence that this squalid little theocracy is in some miraculous way "democratic" becomes utterly untenable.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

They also serve who only stand and wear a badge

Re my post on the civil rights protest at the Mexico Olympics, I have since found a very good piece on the guy in the picture who isn't black and isn't saluting - indeed who isn't even American - but whose career was still ruined as a result. Ladies and gentlemen, in Silver Medal position, I give you Peter Norman.

And let's remember that while the USA has got over its shock to the extent of erecting a statue to Smith and Carlos at San Jose State University, Australia not only banned Norman from taking part in the Munich Olympics (the only ones ever without an Australian sprinter) but couldn't even see fit to allow one of their greatest athletes (still the Australian 200m record holder today) to take a lap of honour with the other "great Australians" at the Sydney Olympics. So this story shouldn't really come as a surprise then.

Lies, damned lies, and the myth of a "war hero"

"Hello. I'm calling for John McCain and the RNC, because you need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge's home, and killed Americans."
-- McCain campaign robocall currently being made in Nevada, Wisconsin and at least twelve other targeted states

Well, the best way to fight McCain's lies is with McCain's truth. Here's an article from Rolling Stone telling the truth about McCain's less-than-stellar military career.

Oh, and as someone said this week, "Sure, John McCain spent five years in a Vietnamese prison. So did Gary Glitter, and I'm not voting for him either."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Citius, albius, fortius

I liked this article in today's Guardian, which reminded me not only of David Hemery's outstanding achievement in Mexico for Britain, but also of the sheer magnitude of Bob Beamon's record-breaking long jump.

The article also mentions the podium protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, givers of the most famous black power salutes in history. There was a recent documentary on the protest and its background (on Channel 4, I think) which pointed out that one of the main things the athletes were protesting against was that the head of the IOC at the time was a racist. And not just any old racist: Avery Brundage was the official who oversaw Hitler's 1936 Berlin games and so pleased the Fuhrer that his building firm was given the contract for the Nazis' new embassy in the USA. It's good that the men's protest is being remembered, even if Brundage's departure (which it helped to precipitate) was followed by the arrival of Antonio Samaranch, a Franco-supporting fascist.

What's black and white and red all over?

I'm currently reading the excellent Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq edited by David Miller. Many of the essays in the book cover familiar ground such as the UK government's exaggeration of the threat from Iraq, as well as the convenient overlooking by the media of the fact that the very worst of Saddam's oppressions of his people (including his only use of chemical weapons) came at a time when we (the US and the UK) were supporting him in it because he was at the same time fighting a war against Iran which we had encouraged.

One of the best pieces in the book is this one by Edward Hermann on the supine compliance of the UK and especially the US mainstream media with their governments' view of events. But the palm has to go to this amazing piece by Phillip Knightley on the problems faced by reporters on the spot. Once again, as with the previous post on Israel and the UN, while I was aware of such notorious attacks on independent journalists as the bombing of the al-Jazeera office in Baghdad, nothing ever made it through the British media's self-censorship to alert us to the fact that journalists - even British and American ones - who had not renounced their impartiality to become "embedded" with coalition forces were deliberately targetted for murder. No, I didn't believe it either, until I started looking for corroboration.

Next time you hear a British or American politician moaning about the lack of press freedom in some foreign country or other, remember this: the US and UK murder dissident reporters.

In which even I am surprised by the extent of Israeli treachery

Here, courtesy of al-Jazeera, is a near-perfect summary of the situation vis-a-vis Israel and the United Nations. It has always seemed strange to me that a nation which owes its entire existence to the United Nations should be so contemptuous of it. In recent years it could be said to have taken its cue from the USA, which showed its own utter contempt for the UN not only by its illegal invasion of Iraq but also by its (fortunately brief) appointment of John Bolton as its ambassador to the UN.

Joe in Vegas frequently comments on my posts to the effect that I'm posting stuff that was never widely reported in the States. Well, while we all know in the UK that Israel has since 1967 been ignoring UN resolutions telling it to get the hell out of its illegally-held territorial conquests, I certainly had never seen it reported here that Israel had not even bothered to abide by the conditions of its original establishment (specifically resolution 194 regarding the return of refugees). I must say that it takes a fair amount to surprise me concerning either Israel's dismissive attitude to the agreements it signs, or the disinclination of the pro-Israel British media (headed of course by the disgracefully biased BBC) to report on anything not utterly in line with the view from Tel Aviv. But that revelation managed it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A message from Reprieve

This Wednesday 15th October, Lush Cosmetics is calling for a nation-wide hunger strike to draw attention to the torture and illegal imprisonment of British resident and Reprieve client Binyam Mohamed. From noon on Wednesday, Lush shop staff in stores across the country will go without food for 24 hours to as a sign of solidarity with Binyam, who has been tortured and denied justice during his six-year ordeal at the hands of the US authorities. The Lush hunger strike coincides with the return of Binyam’s lawyers to the High Court in London to hear whether the government can deny them access to essential evidence needed for his trial by Military Commission at Guantánamo Bay. Despite a ruling in August that the evidence is vital for Binyam’s defence, the government is arguing that its disclosure will undermine US-UK relations.
Reprieve is enormously grateful for Lush’s support this year, and we hope that you can pay a visit to one of Lush’s stores this Wednesday to support this worthwhile initiative. More information on Binyam can be found here.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in government.....

.... the House of Lords has resoundingly thrown out the government's completely unjustifiable proposal to allow it to lock us up without charge or trial for six weeks. As we already have (at four weeks) one of the longest periods of detention without charge in the suppposedly "free" world (think of it as being thrown in jail without anyone having to explain why, to you or anyone else) their Lordships found it difficult to understand why the government was so scared of the rule of law that it needed 50% more time when the law could not be used to defend its citizens.

The Home Secretary made a typically crass remark (worthy of the Blair himself): "I deeply regret that some have been prepared to ignore the terrorist threat, for fear of taking a tough but necessary decision." What she ignores is that (a) the Lords made the "tough but necessary decision" in view of the fact that (b) the "terrorist threat" is the same as it ever was, so why does the government suddenly need more power to oppress its citizens?

Amnesty International made a great little film on the subject with a soundtrack by The Orb and a voiceover by Christopher Eccleston. It's maybe a little early to relax our vigilance, but definitely today is a day to celebrate.

On the other hand....

...the same idiotic Home Secretary has decided to listen to Chief Constables (and we know how sensible they are) rather than the government's own professional advisers (The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs) when it comes to sentencing policy on cannabis. So much for freeing up police resources to concentrate on heroin and cocaine. Maybe the ACPO found that the heroin and cocaine dealers gave better bribes. I imagine the coppers' actual knowledge of illegal drugs is on a par with that of the prison officers at Manchester's Strangeways Prison in the early 1980s, who on finding a small quantity of cannabis in a cell immediately began a search for the syringe the prisoner must have had to go with it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Definitely living in interesting times

Having begun my full-time working life as a civil servant before moving into banking, it seems a little weird that I shall soon be working in a company almost half owned by the British government. Still, better than the alternatives, I feel: certainly as far as people's jobs are concerned (my own included). The government's plan shows an uncharacteristic degree of imagination and boldness: not qualities one normally associates with either Gordon Brown or Alistair Darling.

(Incidentally, why does the BBC's headline describe our share price as falling despite the government's plan when the second and third paragraphs of the report correctly explain that the fall is a natural result of it? Is reality not dramatic enough for the headine writer?)

And it could be much worse: I could live in Iceland, where the entire economy had a worse capital ratio than my employer ever did. As someone on The News Quiz remarked last week, the country's only been independent since 1944 and its economy has already been run into the ground.

Also not at all nice (unlike the chips, which are all good)

Not only is John McCain's US presidential campaign (I was going to refer simply to "the McCain campaign" but then realised that I might get British readers who thought I was talking about advertising for oven chips) giving support to racist attacks on American children, but it is silent in the face of murderous rhetoric from his supporters against Barack Obama, while making sneaky use of guilt-by-association, known lies, and even quotations from a notorious anti-Semite who regretted that President F D Roosevelt had not been assassinated and looked forward to the day when Robert Kennedy was shot. (This was Westbrook Pegler, who managed the extraordinary feat of being thrown out of the John Birch Society for his extreme right-wing views.)

I've heard a number of Americans say that the prospect of Sarah Palin as VP makes them ashamed: one hopes that the prospect of McCain's presidency shames them equally. Barack Obama is no saint, and to European eyes he's another hopelessly right-wing American politician (the people who refer to him as a Socialist simply show that they haven't a clue). But McCain's politics are beginning to show a win-at-all-costs ugliness that calls to mind the worst of GWB or Nixon.

Not so nice

Still on the topic of Hindus (and with the bit in that poem about sticking to caste still fresh in our minds) we turn to this story. Dalits are what used to be called "untouchables". Unfortunately such violence against dalits is all too common, though not invariably fatal. Overt caste discrimination is illegal in India, but - as elsewhere - old attitudes die hard.

One should note in passing the wonderful (and wholly typical) vocabulary of Indian newspaper crime reporting, where police conduct raids to "nab" people, where dalits "succumb" to gunshots or are injured in "stone-pelting", and of course where "Singh is absconding".


A rather nice story from the Hindustan Times. One can only wish the couple well. At least they won't have the problems that come from mixed-religion marriage.

While realising that Muslims form the second-largest religious grouping in India, I hadn't realised that there are substantial numbers of Hindus in Pakistan, despite the overtly Islamic nature of that state. Still, there they are, nearly two and a half million of them: a tiny part (around 1.5 %) of the Pakistani population, but equivalent to about half the population of Scotland. To coin a phrase, Holy Cow!

(A poem creeps unbidden to my brain from somewhere long ago. Presumably it was inspired by those grainy newsreel images of Gandhi:

The poor benighted Hindu
He does the best he kindu
He sticks to caste
From first to last
For clothes he makes his skindu.)

Dish of the Day

You may remember that back in March I expressed disgust that the UK government appeared to be considering withdrawing funding from the Jodrell Bank radio telescope, and asked all my readers to sign an online petition to save it.

Well, whether as a result of the petition or not, there seems to be good news. I received a reply from the Prime Minister's Office at the weekend, as follows:

The University of Manchester and the Science and Technology Facilities Council have agreed a way forward for funding e-MERLIN which should ensure that Jodrell Bank remains as a global centre of research excellence in radio astronomy. The UK has an acknowledged international leading position in the development of radio astronomy facilities and science and the Government has no intention of letting that slip.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and its predecessor Research Councils, has provided grant funding for Jodrell Bank to carry out a number of research projects over the years.

The STFC has recently carried out a review of all its programmes, including the e-MERLIN project which is run by Jodrell Bank and involves a network of seven UK radio telescopes. This review, which involved advice from independent scientists, has been used to help set investment priorities for this spending review period (2008/9 – 2010/11). While the Government sets the overarching strategy, the research community itself, the Research Councils and researchers, set priorities and distribute funds through a process of peer review in line with the long-established Haldane principle. STFC released the results of its Programmatic Review on 3 July and announced a three year £1.9 billion investment programme which keeps the UK at the forefront of scientific excellence. Details of the results of the Programmatic Review can be found on STFC’s website (www.scitech.ac.uk).

STFC made clear the strategic importance of e-MERLIN to the future of UK radio astronomy. It stated that it would continue working with the facility owners - the University of Manchester, and other stakeholders to find a solution for the financial support of e-MERLIN operations in the medium term on a shared cost basis. As a first stage in this process STFC has confirmed that it will continue its current contributions to the operating cost of e-MERLIN for the next 2 years.

The Jodrell Bank Observatory is involved in a number of other radio astronomy activities in addition to e-MERLIN. Researchers at Jodrell Bank and in Manchester are leading the consortium in Europe to design the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio astronomy facility. The proposed Square Kilometre Array will be a telescope array with unprecedented sensitivity, but it will need to be sited in a remote radio-quiet location for uninterrupted observations, and away from densely populated areas with significant radio interference, such as most of the UK. The Square Kilometre Array will be a global project, likely to be built in Australia or South Africa, and represents the future of radio astronomy. The Government is determined that UK researchers should maintain their leading role in the SKA project, which in time will support world class research. Jodrell Bank already heads the global design office, and the Government has indicated that it is willing to invest some of the capital proceeds from the forthcoming auction of analogue TV spectrum to ensure continued UK leadership in pathfinder projects for the Square Kilometre Array.

Manchester will also host the UK’s Atacama Large Millimetric Array (ALMA) support centre, with support provided by STFC. ALMA is a multi-million Euro telescope project under construction at a remote site in Chile, to which the UK contributes via its membership of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). The regional ALMA centre will provide the key focus for the UK community in the use of this world-leading development utilising the skills of researchers and academics at Jodrell Bank and the University.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Whirling Dervishes of Turkey - Istanbul Music and Sema Group - 29 August Edinburgh Festival Theatre

This was an interesting evening which suffered from an identity crisis. It was billed as part of the Edinburgh Festival's dance programme, which was a bit tenuous as the first half consisted solely of music: some instrumental, some sung. The musicians were all very good, though after a while the music became a little monotonous: I enjoyed the performance but wouldn't want a recording of it.

The second half wasn't strictly dance either, being the religious ceremony of the Mevlevi order, in which they rotate so as to become closer to God. In the same way that T'ai Chi is a kind of moving meditation, so the whirling of the dervishes is a method for attuning themselves to a different reality. Anyway, it isn't dance, and I suspect there may have been people who were nonplussed or disappointed by it.

Visually it was entrancing. The turning dervishes wore long white robes with weights in the hem of the skirt which caused them to billow out in a characteristic way (the skirts must have been cleverly shaped, as they spun out into a wave shape rather than a simple cone). Sometimes they were illuminated with coloured lights.

The overall effect was a little like watching a staged version of a Catholic Mass - a little weird but very interesting and aesthetically very pleasing. I can't help wondering how it feels for the dervishes, performing their religious rituals night after night in front of paying audiences I'm sure while they're performing they don't feel odd (they will be, after all, in a trance-like state) but they must feel odd before and after the ritual.

Questions Expecting The Answer "No"

Someone reached my blog by Googling the question "Was Dorothy Dunnett anti-Semitic?"

Er, no.

Interestingly, the first page returned by Google for that search was this one of Amazon reviews, which (insofar as I know he books concerned) I commend to you. I have long been a Dunnett fan, both of the Lymond books and especially of King Hereafter. Haven't yet got round to completing the Niccolo series, which I found less engaging. The Mary Stewart Merlin trilogy is simply wonderful.

Not so much "unworthy to unlatch his sandal" as "unable to identify a sandal without instructions from the Israeli Foreign Ministry"

I recently read Jimmy Carter's excellent book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. I have to say it didn't tell me very much I didn't already know, apart from details of some of the peace negotiations. I was aware (is anyone still unaware?) that the 1967 Six-Day War was begun by Israel (who after all continually boast of having destroyed their opponents' air forces on the ground), after - one must add - provocation from Egypt that they could hardly have ignored. I'd forgotten (though it's easily checked) the fact that the 1973 Yom Kippur War was not an attack on Israel at all: Egypt and Syria were advancing into their own territory, illegally retained by Israel in violation of international law for six years. (Amazing though, how often these wars are spun into treacherous attacks on plucky little Israel.)

Anyway.... Carter's book has attracted a whole lot of ill-informed - no, dammit, uninformed, as most of the critics have clearly not bothered to read the book at all - criticism. If indeed one can dignify ignorant name-calling with such a description. Most of the critics, for example, appear to think that Carter is accusing Israel of being an apartheid state. If one actually reads the book (even the title would do) he is referring only to the Occupied Territories, which have never been (and one hopes never will be) part of Israel. Carter has also been accused of taking all the credit for the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt (for which Begin and Sadat received the Nobel Peace Prize). Not in his book, he doesn't. Mind you, the "critic" there is our old friend Benjamin "BCK" Kerstein, who is interested in nothing he didn't write himself, who believes that the ability to write ad hominem abuse in Hebrew qualifies him as an intellectual, and who fled the USA for Israel either to escape persecution or to find a university which would accept him despite that solitary talent (pick whichever story you find more credible).

In the post I cited, Norman Finkelstein mentions Kenneth Stein as one of Carter's loudest critics. Stein, according to wikipedia, is "William E. Schatten Professor of Contemporary Middle Eastern History, Political Science and Israeli Studies and Director of the Institute for the Study of Modern Israel of Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia", which calls to mind Andy Hamilton's description (on BBC Radio Four's News Quiz) of the academic who believed that teenagers didn't buy Beatles records in the 1960s as "Professor of Madeupology at the University of HisHouse". The impression is strengthened, not only by his ignorance of the basic facts of UN resolution 242 as pointed out by Finkelstein, but by his following up his attention-seeking resignation from the Carter Centre with signature of a petition. This petition, from the hugely credible and balanced Simon Wiesenthal Centre (/irony) states

"President Carter there is no Israeli Apartheid policy and you know it. I join with the Simon Wiesenthal Center in respectfully reminding you that the only reason there is no peace in the Holy Land is because of Palestinian terrorism and fanaticism."

For the Simon Wiesenthal Centre to have failed to notice the small matter of forty years of brutal and illegal military occupation is scarcely a surprise, as the SWC concerns itself wholly and exclusively with injustices visited on Jews by non-Jews. For a self-styled expert on the Middle East to share that blind spot beggars belief. About his resignation from the Carter Center, Stein said: "I had to make a clean break.... My professional reputation was being affected." What professional reputation? Indeed, what kind of "professional"? A professional Israeli lobbyist? A professional liar? No wonder Kerstein is such a fan: even he could probably be accepted as a student by such a powerhouse of thought. Someone who proudly adds his name to piece of drivel which isn't even decent English - can these charlatans not be bothered to make the effort even to lie convinclingly? - is hardly going to worry about Kerstein's thousand-word sentences conveying only that he failed high school physics. Truly, they deserve each other: a pair of dim bulbs desperately pretending that they have something to contribute to grown-up debates.

I recommend Carter's book, which is neither long nor (to a European) remotely controversial.

Of course, while Jimmy Carter doesn't accuse Israel of being an apartheid state, it is clear from stories such as this one (in the Jerusalem Post) that it is in danger of becoming exactly that.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Birthday Greetings

Before I post anything else this evening, may I wish a very happy birthday to two of my regular commenters: Lisa Rull and Chip Clark?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Tin Soldiers and McCain Coming

Scared of the wrong bogeymen indeed. Here, in a story that I didn't see covered here (maybe it was buried somewhere) is a report from Dayton, Ohio, of a terrorist attack on children at a mosque.

Again, while we've heard of the anti-Muslim hate video Obsession over here, I hadn't realised the McCain campaign was distributing it.

So once again, as with his plan to capture Osama bin Laden (but not yet), we have McCain supporting terrorism for electoral gain. Never mind Sarah Palin, the man's a disgrace all on his own.

Hmm. The gassing children thing. I wonder where they got that idea? And how long before they start using this stuff instead of whatever they sprayed in last week?

Imprisoned by the USA for trying to stop terrorist murders

I was thinking of doing a post on the Miami Five, but I can't imagine doing a better job then Cloud so here's his post instead. (Worth reading the comments too.)

In this style: 9/11

Just been catching up on Joe's blog. He posted a great video clip of an NBC editorial on the topic of 9/11, and especially the way it has been hijacked by both the Bush administration and the McCain campaign for their own political ends.

While I suspect I make my own irritation at 9/11 fetishism fairly plain each year, the fact is that if the Republicans ever shut up about it for a single moment the anniversary of the day itself might evolve into a decent and dignified commemoration. As it is, 11th September each year is nothing more than a renewed opportunity to sound the "9/11" "9/11" "9/11" klaxon. Worse still, we get it over here from imbecile neocons like Melanie Phillips (and of course Tony Blair) who are forever telling us that "9/11 changed everything" when in Britain it did nothing of the kind, unless you were a politician planning to take cynical advantage of it, as of course Blair did.

As an aside, would it not be wonderful if some cartoonist could do George Bush as the Mad Hatter in Tenniel's illustration for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland? Not just because Bush is as mad as a hatter, but because the ticket in his hat would read (of course) "9/11"

Anyway, by way of restoring my faith in intelligent Americans' ability to see through the droning drivel of "9/11" as well as through Rudy Giuliani's supposed heroics, here is that editorial by Keith Olbermann. I hadn't heard of him before but he sounds an interesting guy and certainly lays it on the line for Bush, Giuliani and McCain.

Taking Over: The Asylum

I found this interesting article yesterday by the BBC's Robert Peston (definitely the man of the moment in financial reporting, he has broken all the major "credit crunch" stories in Britain) concerning the impending takeover of HBOS (my employers) by Lloyds TSB. What he has to say is very sensible. Like him, I read the reported quote in the Guardian from the "major investor" with a feeling of disbelief.

Mariinsky Opera Company: Krol Roger, 27 August 2008, Edinburgh Festival Theatre

It's always interesting to see an opera one has never seen or even heard before. When the opera is by Szymanowski, a composer much of whose music is highly perfumed exoticism - though very enjoyable to listen to - and the performers are from one of Russia's most esteemed opera companies, the anticipation is all the greater. This performance of King Roger did not disappoint. To be sure, it isn't an opera in which there is much physical action: like Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande, it mostly consists of people standing (or sitting) and singing at each other. A lot of intense psychological states, then, but if you like your operas to be full of bodies in sacks, frenzied mobs hunting child abusers, elaborate stings to catch philandering aristos, or consumptive courtesans, this one isn't for you. What it did have, according to the programme, was "partial nudity". This, we found, meant "only some of the cast are completely naked in Act Two".

OK, the story is loosely based on The Bacchae by Euripides. An enigmatic religious figure (The Shepherd) turns up and begins attracting converts to his hipyish cult of peace and free love. The church isn't at all happy, and King Roger is about to have the guy locked up when the queen falls under the Shepherd's spell. She convinces Roger to talk with the Shepherd before judging him. When the shepherd arrives, all the king's household are won over and indulge in an orgiastic dance before the Shepherd leads them all away with him, the queen included. Too late, King Roger realises that he wants to fllw him as well. He spends years searching for the Shepherd. When he is dying, his wife appears to him, then the Shepherd in the guise of the god Dionysus. Roger makes a sacrifice to him and dies as the day breaks.

It's not the kind of opera where I feel you gain too much by detailed following of the story line, weird as it is. Better to sit back and let the sensuousness of the music wash you away, which it certainly did on this occasion. Roger was sung by Andrzej Dobber, the Shepherd by Pavlo Tolstoy, and Queen Roxana by Elzbieta Szmytka. Valery Gergiev conducted, and it was ravishing. The sets were simple but striking, and the whole effect quite wonderful. This isn't an opera that I'm ever likely to buy on record, and I doubt I shall see another production, so it had an ephemeral quality as well which seemed not inappropriate for such a Dionysian work.

Alle Menschen werden....Zuschauern?

My wife used to work with someone who was forever getting stroppy TV license demands despite having no television. It could have been worse.

When my daughter drew my attention to this story I suggested a new verse for the Ode To Joy, beginning:

Please don't send me your reminders,
I've been dead for centuries:
Hence I am immune to threats of
Jails and penitentiaries.

Important safety tip......

......don't fall off the board!

Meanwhile in the Bush administration

.....the great thinker is attempting to reduce the incidence of abortion in China by increasing it in Africa.

No, really.

Please support abortion rights for women in Northern Ireland

I received the following email yesterday from the Family Planning Association (via my trade union):


Women in Northern Ireland want abortion services. Some 2,000 women pay privately and travel to England and overseas every year to have the abortion they cannot have in their own country.


If MPs and organisations who believe in a woman’s right to choose are going to win the vote to amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill for Northern Ireland, we need your help. We must send a strong message telling all MPs in Parliament they must vote for change. Send an e-postcard or write a letter to your MP and sign the petition to say you support the women of Northern Ireland from these links.

Postcard: http://www.fpa.org.uk/news/campaigns/current_campaigns/detail.cfm?contentid=989

Letter: http://www.fpa.org.uk/news/campaigns/current_campaigns/detail.cfm?contentid=991

Petition: http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/abortionNI/

Myths and Realities of abortion in Northern Ireland: http://www.fpa.org.uk/attachments/published/1061/PDF%20Abortion%20in%20Northern%20Ireland%20myths%20and%20realities%20briefing%20sheet.pdf

Over 80,000 Northern Irish women have been forced to travel overseas to pay for a private abortion since the Abortion Act of 1967. You can stop this now and give the next generation of women in Northern Ireland the right to choose.

More details about fpa’s campaign can be found at our website www.fpa.org.uk. You can also find out about the only unplanned pregnancy counselling service in Northern Ireland run by fpa, and what happens to women we see.

Thank you for your support.

Rebecca Findlay

Press and Campaigns Manager, fpa

DL: 020 7608 5265
Press Mobile: 07958 921060
50 Featherstone Street


This seems a worthwhile cause for which to take up the cudgels (shillelaghs?) I have signed the petition and written to my MP, and I would urge any UK voters reading this to do the same. I remember the sense of outrage among gay friends when Scotland and N.I. lagged many years behind England and Wales in the decriminalisation of homsexual acts. I have no problem with devolution (well, duh, I live in Scotland) but as abortion law is an area of legislation reserved for the Westminster parliament I fail to see why there should be such major anomalies. If it's too important a matter to devolve, it's too important to be the source of discrimination.

Still scared of the wrong bogey-men

I thought it was time to update the figures from this post on the incidence of terrorism across Europe. So how does it look for 2007?

Here's the Europol report. Are you ready for this?

Terrorist incidents went up to 583, a 24% increase. Of these, 517 were carried out by separatist groups on Spain and France.

Across the whole of Europe, two people were killed in terrorist attacks (both in the same one carried out by the Basque separatist group ETA).

And once again, how many attacks by Islamic terrorists? Four, all unsuccessful. Half were in Britain with the other two in Denmark and Germany.

So that's a 33% increase in failed attacks, and no increase at all over the whopping nil from 2006 for successful ones, or for people harmed by Islamic terrorism.

Now look at this report. In Britain alone last year there were 587 fatal injuries at work. that's more people killed, just in Britain, than there were terrorist attacks of all kinds in the whole of Europe. More British members of the public died in agricultural accidents than died in terror attacks in the whole of Europe. Yet the likes of the Daily Mail complain that we're needlessly obsessed with health and safety regulations at the same time as they call for more Islamophobic racism and more restrictions on human rights in the name of the "war" on "terror".

As a point of information for Phillips and her cronies: last year a contractor working in England at one of my employer's sites was working on a ladder, sent the lad minding the bottom of it to fetch something, reached too far sideways, and fell to his death. I have, however, had no reports of an Islamic terrorist attack on any of our sites, not ever. Islamophobic abuse by callers to our call centres, yes.

The Blair Ditch Project, Pt 2

Much as I dislike Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London (not to be confused with the Lord Mayor of London, who is the one with the silly hat rather than the silly hair), I have to say that I found myself cheering one of his actions yesterday, That was when I found that he had forced the pathetic Sir Ian Blair to resign as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, the first Commissioner to go early since the First World War.

As so often, the Daily Mash is spot on.

You'll believe an embassy can fly

I see the United States is to move its London embassy from Grosvenor Square to Nine Elms in Wandsworth. A significant change: the US embassy has been in Grosvenor Square ever since John Adams was appointed ambassador by George Washington.

Mention in the Daily Telegraph of "the lease arrangement with the Duke of Westminster" , however, reminds me of this post from a few years back (specifically my aside after the 8th clipping).

Anyway, here's an older and more famous Nine Elms landmark hosting what looks like an early visit by the US ambassador. Or is it one of the cast of the Simpsons?

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

We went to see The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas tonight, which I thought was rather good. Yes, there is a degree of disbelief to suspend: the camp seems remarkably free of perimeter guards or watchtowers, for a start. A number of reviewers have commented that a child of Shmuel's age would have gone straight to the gas chambers on arrival. And if we are dealing with a full-blown extermination camp (Auschwitz is strongly implied in the book, and the scene with Bruno's father examining plans for a fourth gas chamber suggests the same in the film) what were Shmuel and Pavel doing on work duties outside? IIRC the whole point of Schindler's List was that Oskar Schindler was certifying as many Jews as possible as essential labour so they wouldn't be taken from him and put into Auschwitz, but left in Plaszow (a work camp). Auschwitz was like Hotel California: you could check in any time you want, but you could never leave.

That said, it's a work of fiction after all, and very moving. Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful was even more moving despite being even harder to believe. We were sitting in front of a couple of noisy, giggly teenage girls to begin with, who had become piles of sniffles by the middle of the film, never mind the end.

My son, who knows plenty about the Holocaust, had never before been confronted with the physicality of a gas chamber in use (so hadn't realised exactly how the gas was generated) and found it horrifying. Though he had in fact previously stood in a gas chamber in Dachau, he was a little young to take it in then. (FWIW the Dachau chamber was only used to the extent that it was tested - presumably on Jews - but was never brought into production. That renders it no less vile as a place to stand.) For my part, I was impressed by the use of the old propaganda film footage of the happy Jews playing games and eating cakes in their happy camp (and the way it was integrated with the reality toward the end).

Some reviewers, and some of the more idiotic commenters, have complained about the upper-class English accents of Bruno and his family. Consider that the film is in English, and they are portraying members of the Berlin elite. How should they be speaking? In cod-Cherman accents like ze vuns in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

And this foolish reviewer refers to the "lachrymose score by the dread James Horner", which made me see red. Quite apart from the fact that I thought the score pretty good, and that lachrymose is maybe how you want the score of a film about mass murder and childhood innocence: what's with the "dread" James Horner? Let me guess. The reviewer didn't like the score of Titanic. But I'm prepared to wager that he couldn't name a single other film that Horner scored (not without looking them up). What is supposedly dreadful about the music for The Mask of Zorro? Or Field Of Dreams? Or Sneakers?

Very well worth seeing.

P.S. Looking James Horner up on IMDb I find he's done more good scores than even I had realised. I've watched Willow dozens of times without realising it was one of his. Or Apollo 13, or Iris.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Elementary, my dear Lehrer

Via the sidebar on Youtube while watching the Master Singers clip (see previous post), I found this animation of Tom Lehrer's "The Elements". This is a list of the periodic table (OK, OK, the first 102 elements thereof....pedants....) set to Sir Arthur Sullivan's music for "A Modern Major-General" from The Pirates of Penzance. The song itself is great fun (and do watch the other Lehrer clips on there, especially if he's new to you) but the animation makes it even funnier. You may need to slow it down or pause it (having made a note of the order the elements are presented in) to appreciate all the jokes.

Having done just that, I think the funniest are Silver and Scandium, though Iridium is rather cool and I liked Potassium.

For some reason when I first listened to the clip I thought I heard "Chromium" twice, but when I checked one of them was "Bromine".

A Song For Every Season

Having inspired this post by Phil, I ended up adding various comments. Which led me to thinking that there were questions I'd love to know my readers' answers to:

1) Do you sing to your children?
2) Were you sung to as a child by your parents?
3) In each case, was it only when in bed or on other occasions?
4) What other occasions for general song than the ones mentioned (football matches, coach trips etc.) can you think of?
5) What would be your contenders for "songs most likely to enter the oral tradition"?

6) Any other comments?

I've subsequently thought of college dinners, when we sang scurrilous ditties about neighbouring colleges and grandiloquent ones about our own. And then of course there's church: hymn singing might not be what one thinks of as a folk activity (though there's a discussion to be had there) but it's an opportunity for non-recorded, participative singing. I doubt the trick would work now, but in my youth a group called The Master Singers had a (recorded) hit with a rendition of parts of The Highway Code set to popular psalm chants. Very C of E, very 1960s. There may even now be church choristers who say "Yay! a Highway Code chant!" when one turns up in a service. I certainly found the years falling away as I listened to the Youtube clip: extraordinary how potent church music is.

Petty France

The first of these stories, had it taken place in an HBOS branch, would have led to a member of staff being severely - and rightly - disciplined. The second is reminiscent of the Italian driving while being gay case.


Clare alerted me to this site's existence, and this is the best post I've found there so far.

No, really, how can one not love a country that names its legislative assembly after the act of playing hide-the-sausage ?

I discovered today that I have not in fact been selected for redundancy in the current round of divisional restructuring by my employer HBOS. Which isn't to say that I won't be when Lloyds TSB take us over (I'm still assuming they will, as the alternative is too unpleasant to contemplate, as well as highly unlikely). I doubt the Angel of the Sack will be calling me for some time yet though.

So the deliberations of the US House of Representatives are more than usually irritating right now (saved from redundancy for the US Congress to piss on our economy: gee, thanks).

Hence the pleasure with which I read this. One of the Daily Mash's better efforts, I thought.