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

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.

I found these delightfully bizarre.(via)

I think I like this one best:

It reminds me of me in the mornings.

How could I resist?

The Normblog game, that is.

OK. I selected (from the bookshelf in my Through The Keyhole entry, and in semi-darkness) "Six days" by Jeremy Bowen. On p.200 I found a reference to King Hussein (of Jordan). His birthday was 14 November 1935. Also born on 14 November:

Prince of Wales: his Birkhall estate is in Ballater where we have a holiday flat. Also, our friend Sue Walker from Braemar has been to receptions there, she being on the National Park Board and the Deer Commission and all. Plus, we were only feet from him on Trafalgar Day when he lit the beacon in Ballater.

Wendy Carlos: big fan. Best work maybe in the early 70s, but that was amazing.

Aaron Copland: big fan, and persuaded Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra (of which I was then Chair) to do "Quiet City" a few months back.

Jawahrlal Nehru: love his country, and once sat at the next table in a restaurant (The Spice Route at the Imperial Hotel, Delhi) from his grandson's widow (Sonia Gandhi).

Fred Quimby: have seen gazillions of Tom & Jerry cartoons.

On 1 November 1973, also, Princess Anne married Captain Mark Phillips. At the time, on the next corridor to me in college lived a certain Tim Lawrence, who would eventually become Princess Anne's second husband.

Oh wow.

Thank you Mike for alerting me to Rachel's blog, and to her Sunday Times article which left me reeling as well.

Thank you both also for the Don't Bomb Us link.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Of course, it couldn't happen these days...

Don't try this at home. Please.

Yay! Go me!

I won!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Your Questions Answered # 303897

For anyone who ever wondered what kind of gun and ammunition they should use to blast a padlock off a door: here is the answer.

The unintentional humour of everyday life.

This from Sunday's Going Underground.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


See Lisa's post on the Mojo and Normblog polls on what are the greatest Dylan songs ever.

Of course, the greatest Dylan songs ever are in fact:

1 Like A Rolling Stone
2 Desolation Row
3 Visions of Johanna
4 Not Dark Yet
5 Blowing In The Wind
6 When The Ship Comes In
7 It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
8 I Don't Believe You
9 To Ramona
10 Farewell Angelina

Aren't they?

Giving Thanks

Spent yesterday evening (Thursday) with some American friends for Thanksgiving. First bad news: Eddie had to work Thursday evening (she arrived around 22:45 - thanks Telewest). Second bad news: as we arrived, Chip was alerted to burning smell from oven (but the beans were fine, actually). Terrific evening, with Chip, his (and Eddie's) daughter Clarice, her boyfriend Matt, his Mum (argh - forgotten name), his flatmate (Rob), and Chip and Eddie's lodger Katrina (from Hannover). And the Saunders family: me, Hilary (Chip & Eddie's music lecturer at college), Vanessa (17, of the untidy Through The Keyhole room) and Ruairidh (13). Great food: turkey (duh), corn, potatoes, beans in mushroom sauce, stuffing (even our son loved it), ham, caramelised onions, orange bread rolls (apparently a tradition in Eddie's family - one we all approved of). Friendship, remembrance of things to be thankful for, togetherness, and a lot of good conversation, much of it political. Great to have a political discussion with the UK, the US and Germany all represented, and by a very bright set of people (and I don't mean me). Much enjoyed by all. Thank you, Chip Eddie & Clarice.

Another great post

from Riverbend.

This whole Iraq business is gradually getting me to the point where I can almost understand what it must have been like to be American during the Vietnam era. Not just the "Be the first one on the block/To have your son come home in a box" feeling, but the total weariness of realising that everything your country is doing or supporting there is making things worse, not better.


...the answer to Dooce's question is that he's calling her his Zuckertorte. But I'm happy to be over-ruled if people have better suggestions.

10 out of 13

...is what I scored on Clare's Through The Keyhole contest. Much better than I'd expected. The ones I got wrong were Clair, Zinnia and, er, Clare. Oh well.

A lot of people identified my house as being Zoe's. Perhaps I should rename my blog My Daughter Is A Teenager.

And even with Clare's hints I didn't twig that Pen and Yclepta were one and the same. Duh. Still, I guessed them both so wotthehell.

I hadn't seen Mike's house photo before, but I realised after a bit that I had seen pictures of Joe's living room. Splendid establishments both.

And I'm glad I was right about Lisa's, because it looked the way I imagined Lisa's room would look. Complete with "Kylie" (aka Kathleen Turner...).

Great fun. I look forward to Clare's announcement of the winners. Clare said she got the same score as me, which IMHO makes her "Ms Tery" unless she didn't go public (the only 10 scorer to get both Clare and Zinnia correct). Anybody get 11? 12? 13????

In loco parentis

Regarding this story:

Am I alone in wondering what kind of parent fails to notice when a babysitter has been beating their children that severely for six months? "Everything OK while we were out, Tom?" "Yeah. One of the kids got his liver and bladder ruptured, and his leg got broken, but nah, no problems. Oh - you might want to check out the young 'un's head too. That'll be ten quid. Ta. See ya."

If it ain't broke, don't convert it to a pub

I have seen more films than I can count at Edinburgh's Cameo cinema, which is definitely my favourite "arthouse" cinema, as much for its friendly atmosphere as for the quality of the films it shows.

But now there is a plan afoot to convert the main screen:

into a bar/restaurant area (with a screen) so that instead of sitting in normal conema seating we will be on a flat floor with sofas and tables (and not in the dark). I am unimpressed.

The owners are now threatening to sell the Cameo altogether on the grounds that if they can't have their bar/restaurant, we can't have any of the cinemas. Fortunately the body that runs the Edinburgh Film Festival and the Filmhouse (the other local arthouse) are hoping to buy it if that happens.

I'm not sure whether I am more irritated by the insensitive development plans or the bullying scorched-earth policy of the London consortium which owns the Cameo. If you care about cinema and would like to join the campaign against both irritants, visit this site and sign the petition.

Also as I type this...

I am listening to the Scherzo from Litolff's Concerto Symphonique No. 4 for Piano & Orchestra. Whatever happened to that? When I was little you heard it all the time on the radio. Now even Classic FM seem to ignore it (or perhaps I've just missed it). Great fun. If you recognise the clip, don't know why, and aren't a 50-something, you may have seen the film of "Billy Liar" starring Tom Courtenay and Julie Christie. (It was the theme music. )

As I type this...

...my daughter and some of her school friends are sleeping on the street in George St in a sponsored sleep-out organised by the Rock Trust to raise money for homeless people. Vanessa has obtained about £70 of sponsorship. Sometimes I am very impressed with modern kids. At least it's not below freezing tonight....

RIP George Best

Growing up in Manchester in the 1960s it was impossible to ignore George Best, even if you took no interest in football. He was a tremendous local character, part of the folklore. On the frequent occasions when clips of his goals were shown on the news, it was impossible not to be impressed by his skill even if one didn't care tuppence whether Manchester United won or lost.

In the twilight of his career he came to Edinburgh and spent a season playing for Hibs. From all accounts the amazing dribbling skill was no longer there, but he could still place inch-perfect 50-yard passes with either foot.

On a television tribute shown earlier this evening, someone said that in the late sixties there were two footballers whose names were known around the world: Pele and George Best. Probably true. Best's misfortune was to have been first: the first of the modern era of football superstars, the first to have the press follow him everywhere, the first to have a coterie of devoted female fans. All those who came after learned from his example (or wished they had).

Let''s leave him with the famous, apocryphal but quite believable, quotation:

"Most of the money I spent on drink, fast cars and women. the rest I just squandered."

I'll miss him.

Friday, November 25, 2005

A small rant.

I just read Roger Munday's letter in Thursday's Guardian. It made me rather cross, and I'm not even a physicist. The most irritating thing is that he doesn't seem to be anti-science; he merely claims that physics in particular has somehow become mathematical and irrelevant. To take a few of his points:

"Most prominent physicists today can better be described as mathematicians."

Why the unnecessary "today"? Newton invented (or co-invented at the very least) the system of calculus on which most modern mathematics - and physics - relies. And I doubt whether most people would get very far with Einstein's papers on relativity without a fair amount of maths.

"For most young people with ambition, playing with numbers for the rest of your life is not an appealing prospect."

So why do so many young people now go into accountancy? It isn't an aversion to numbers, but an aversion to poverty that drives young people away from our under-funded sciences. (Quoth the chemistry graduate now working in I.T.) I suspect more people now study economics than physics, and the former is every bit as mathematically strenuous as the latter.

"A number of scientific writers have said that there have been no significant advances in our understanding of the ultimate structure of matter in the last 70-odd years."

Which goes to show that the amount of bollocks being written by (conveniently anonymous) "scientific writers" remains as high as ever. In my lifetime we have had the proof that the weak nuclear force (which governs radioactivity) and the electromagnetic force are different manifestations of the same thing. When I was a child our understanding of the atomic nucleus went only as far as protons and neutrons, whereas now with quark chromodynamic theory we have a model of the structure of those particles which has demonstrated tremendous predictive power. That we have yet to see a quark directly doesn't mean they aren't real; and even were they not, the model has meanwhile greatly added to our understanding (as the old model of electrons orbiting nuclei like little planets had its value for a while). Thanks to Richard Feynman we have a complete quantum theory of the electron. And thanks to innumerable astrophysicists we have an increasingly good idea of what conditions were like during the "Big Bang", with all that that implies for the subsequent development of energy and matter throughout the universe. We've discovered superconductivity, and explained it in terms of quantum theory; also the weird and (even to the layman) fascinating behaviour of liquid helium. Just because we don't yet have a fully-developed theory of qunatum gravity doesn't mean that physicists have been wasting Mr Munday's precious New Zealand taxes for 70 years.

"Dissecting the atom into more and more theoretical particles, or alternatively calculating the gravitational effects of black holes, is totally unexciting work...."

Uh? By that reckoning, being the first person to posit the existence of the electron or the neutron must have been really boring, until they were discovered experimentally (which would probably never have happened had people not been looking for them). Coming up with a theory and realising that there is a way it can be tested, and then watching as that test is carried out: it's hard to conceive of anything MORE exciting. And I contend that one of the few things in physics that really HAS caught the public's imagination over the past 30 or so years is the idea of black holes, and the realisation that there is one in the centre of our galaxy. (One of the few others is the idea that we are bathed in microwave radiation that is the stretched-out echo of the Big Bang.)

But don't take my word for it. Here's Richard Feynman, in an extract from his Nobel lecture. See if you think he sounds unexcited. See if you don't think it sounds pretty cool, actually.

"One day a dispute arose at a Physical Society meeting as to the correctness of a calculation by Slotnick of the interaction of an electron with a neutron using pseudo scalar theory with pseudo vector coupling and also, pseudo scalar theory with pseudo scalar coupling. He had found that the answers were not the same, in fact, by one theory, the result was divergent, although convergent with the other. Some people believed that the two theories must give the same answer for the problem. This was a welcome opportunity to test my guesses as to whether I really did understand what these two couplings were. So, I went home, and during the evening I worked out the electron neutron scattering for the pseudo scalar and pseudo vector coupling, saw they were not equal and subtracted them, and worked out the difference in detail. The next day at the meeting, I saw Slotnick and said, "Slotnick, I worked it out last night, I wanted to see if I got the same answers you do. I got a different answer for each coupling - but, I would like to check in detail with you because I want to make sure of my methods." And, he said, "what do you mean you worked it out last night, it took me six months!" And, when we compared the answers he looked at mine and he asked, "what is that Q in there, that variable Q?" (I had expressions like (tan -1Q) /Q etc.). I said, "that's the momentum transferred by the electron, the electron deflected by different angles." "Oh", he said, "no, I only have the limiting value as Q approaches zero; the forward scattering." Well, it was easy enough to just substitute Q equals zero in my form and I then got the same answers as he did. But, it took him six months to do the case of zero momentum transfer, whereas, during one evening I had done the finite and arbitrary momentum transfer. That was a thrilling moment for me, like receiving the Nobel Prize, because that convinced me, at last, I did have some kind of method and technique and understood how to do something that other people did not know how to do. That was my moment of triumph in which I realized I really had succeeded in working out something worthwhile."

When you realise you've just done something overnight that some one else took six months to do, and you've done it better, I contend that "playing with numbers" becomes very appealing indeed. (Maybe poor Slotnick would differ!)

"...and particularly so if it has no relevance whatsoever to life on earth."

What can be more relevant than what we, and space, are made of? 70 years ago, in what Mr Munday seems to consider the Golden Age of physics, nobody had any idea how the 92 naturally-occurring chemical elements found their way to Earth (where they patently were not created). Now we not only know that they are created in stars, but that they are disseminated by the explosion of Type II supernovae. To judge from interviews with Moby on the subject of his "We are all made of stars" lyric, that idea in its basic form has caught the public imagination pretty well. How do you define "relevance", anyway? If it's stuff you have to know to get through your life, almost nothing in physics is relevant. If it were, our medieval forebears would have perished for the lack of it. If it's stuff that explains everyday things, where do you draw the line? Understanding the behaviour of electric charges was probably pretty irrelevant until the invention of the lightning conductor. Knowing about the quantisation of molecular rotation is irrelevant until you invent the microwave oven.

The fauna of New Zealand is unique because of its isolation from the rest of the planet. Perhaps the same separation from the main trends of Earth thinking explains Mr Munday's extraordinary letter.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

What She Said

Lisa has a good post on the rape and consent debate which the Amnesty report sparked off see my earlier post), with a couple of good Guardian links. Go read.

Hu's on first

One of Hilary's colleagues emailed her an audio clip of this yesterday. Not new, apparently, but I hadn't heard it before.

It's based on an Abbott and Costello original, "Who's On First". British bloggers are likely to recognise it as the routine that Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) keeps reciting in "Rain Man".

Plus.......Tubular Bells

Until fairly recently I was chair of the Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra, which involved a fair amount of responsibility for what is effectively a club of 80 -100 subscription-paying members. I had to organise and chair committee meetings, sort out concert dates and rehearsal schedules, liaise with rehearsal and concert venues, liaise with our conductor (plus any guest conductors) and soloists, and generally be Mr The-Buck-Stops-Here for problems and issues. Plus sometimes having to sort out inter-personal strife within the orchestra. Quite often it felt like being the responsible adult on a children’s outing.

Anyway, my term as chair expired a few months ago and I resisted suggestions that I should stay on. Instead, I took on the slightly different role of Orchestra Manager. That’s a title that means different things in different orchestras, but for ESO it basically involves being the roadie and organising transport and instrument storage, and making sure that if we need any additional players and/or instruments we get them.

I knew when I started that this first concert would be the trickiest for some time. We’re doing Delius’s “Brigg Fair” so straight away I had to arrange a harpist. That was OK. Then our tuba player couldn’t do the concert, so I helped fix a replacement. But the big problem was always going to be percussion. We’re doing Walton’s first symphony (which needs two sets of timpani), and James MacMillan’s “Confession of Isobel Gowdie”, which requires (deep breath): timpani, bass drum, side drum, clash cymbals, suspended cymbal, 3 tam-tams, timbales, 2 pairs of congas, xylophone, vibraphone, tubular bells and anvil. Professional percussionists can cover that with three players, but for safety’s sake we felt we needed four.

Well, here we are, with one normal rehearsal to go, plus the one in the venue on the day of the concert, and I finally have just about all the equipment lined up. Apart from the things the orchestra already own, I have begged and borrowed from four other places to get all the instruments, which has led (and will lead) to interesting issues of transportation. Never mind Clare and her flat-packs, you ain’t seen an overloaded car until you’ve had a full set of tubular bells in the back (plus a tam-tam and most of a vibraphone). The bells (18 of them, fragile and expensive) were all lovingly wrapped in dust sheets and laid flat on the floor, while the bell frame protruded far over the front seats (both headrests off) so that I drove along on Monday night with it leaning on my shoulder. I have drawn a blank on finding a small tam-tam, but one can do wonders of improvisation with a big clash cymbal hung by its edge; also on the anvil (I considered approaching the ACME corporation who supply Wily E. Coyote, but felt that his bad luck with their products might prove contagious). I’ll think of something. If you're in dinburgh and spot a shadowy figure lurking around skips over the next week hitting pieces of junk with a hammer, say hello.

Getting two players to add to our own two regulars proved even more difficult, especially trying to find ones who could manage at least one rehearsal prior to the concert day. As of yesterday, I believe we are now sorted out, though one (possibly both) will only be arriving on the morning of the concert. Fortunately they’re both pretty good players, and one of them has played both the MacMillan and the Walton before.

After all that, a Pan-Galactic Gargle-Blaster was definitely in order. But, you know, it’s still nice not to have to worry about all the other stuff. Problems with ticket printing? SOP.* Organising a committee meeting? Ditto. I did the programme notes for the pieces ages ago (by brilliant luck, I emailed them off to our publicity-wallah about half an hour before my PC died). At least once the concert is over and the borrowed kit returned I can relax for a while. Next concert is in February, and won’t be nearly as difficult to organise.

(* Someone Else’s Problem)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Defending yourself against a man with a pointed stick

Sweet Jesus. This from Amnesty International.

I am gobsmacked at the stupidity of so many people. Though perhaps I should rejoice for the 66% who didn't think that "behaving flirtatiously" made you fair game to be raped.

I agree entirely with Yclepta when she says that "Rape is not sex - it's violence". I think a lot of our problems with rape in the UK stem from its classification as a sexual offence rather than a crime of violence. That's why the sentences tend to be so light. It's why defence counsel try to attack the sexual mores of the victim. We treat it as part of a continuum from flashing to groping little girls to full-on rape, whereas it should be on the continuum from punching someone to Grievous Bodily Harm to Attempted Murder. Can you imagine a defence lawyer in a case of aggravated assault arguing "M'lud, the witness was wearing a very low-cut dress so naturally my client stabbed her in the face"? Or "my client admits hitting the witness around the head with an iron bar, but he had been led to understand she wanted it"? The majority of rapes are clearly nothng to do with sexual frustration or irresistible attraction, but about the exercise of power. "I can do this to you, so I will." If rape attracted sentences commensurate with, say , assault with a firearm, we might see less of it.

I realise that where there has been no overt violence (e.g. so-called "date rape") the question of consent has to be brought up. On the other hand, in such cases there is normally biochemical evidence of some kind of drugging (maybe good old-fashioned alcohol). If I am drugged and robbed, I am as much a victim as if I were held up with a handgun.

But our champions of Victorian Values insist on pretending that rape is something you graduate to from masturbation and exposing yourself on tube trains, rather than a specialised form of GBH.

Try your luck...

...at guessing whose house is whose.... on Clare Sudbery's Through the Keyhole challenge. You have until 25th November.

There are 13 bloggers taking part including me (so you get at least one if not two picture of my beautiful Edinburgh abode). They are:

Mike from Troubled Diva. He has TWO houses, and a Princess Diana Memorial Garden.

Gordon from, er, Gordon McLean. He lives in Scotland, and is good at computers and stuff.

Pen from A Typical Pen. She's into flowers.

Ruth from Meanwhile Here In France. She's a musician who lives in the French countryside, with her painter husband.

Zinnia from Real E Fun, who directs funerals at a mystery location.

Rob from Eine Kleine Nichtmusik (er, that would be me) , who also lives in Scotland, and is a musician in his spare time.

Vitriolica from Unkempt Women, who lives, and indeed draws/paints, in Portugal with two small children and a professor.

Zoe from My Boyfriend is a Twat. She lives in Belgium. With newts. And a twat.

Clair from Merialc.com: Life in Reverse, who takes lots of great photos and does things backward.

Clare from Boob Pencil, who has a thing about breasts. (But then, who hasn't?)

Lisa from Rullsenberg Rules, who gobbles up all aspects of culture and lives with a cloud.

Joe from Joe in and around Las Vegas, who lives in Las Vegas. Oh no, was that a secret? Sorry.

And the picture up there? That's Holmwood, A National Trust for Scotland property in Cathcart (Glasgow), designed by Alexander Thomson. Live there? I wish.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Moonshadow again

The regulars will be familiar with Vic by now. A lady with great attitude and relapsing/remitting multiple sclerosis.

I've just found the monthly update page on her site. Make no mistake,
Multiple Sclerosis sucks. The September 2005 entry made me especially angry.

Give her some money for the MS Research Council.

Sounds fair enough

Apparently this is me:

The Hierophant Card
You are the the Hierophant card. The Hierophant,
called The Pope in some decks, is the preserver
of cultural traditions. After entering The
Emperor's society, The Hierophant teaches us
its wisdom. The Hierophant learns and teaches
our cultural traditions. The discoveries our
ancestors have made influence the present.
Without forces such as The Hierophant who are
able to interpret and communicate traditional
lore, each generation would have to begin to
learn anew. As a force that is concentrated on
our past and our culture, The Hierophant can
sometimes be stubborn and set in his ways. This
is a negative trait he shares with his zodiac
sign, Taurus. But like Taurus he is productive.
His traditional lore can provide a source of
inspiration for the creatively inclined, and
his knowledge provides an excellent foundation
for those who come into their own in the
business world. Image from: Morgan E.

Which Tarot Card Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Somebody does it better

Sometimes Dooce's posts are just laugh-out-loud funny. This one is (especially the pictures).

Sometimes they just make you go awwww! (If you do not wish to go awwwww! please do not click here.)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Hogwarts and Durmstrang and Beauxbatons, oh my!

A couple of months since I posted about Harry Potter. Then I'd just read HPATHBP. Now I've just been to see Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire. Which is very good, and as all the reviews have suggested is much darker in tone than the earlier films. (SPOILERS AHEAD) It throws out a lot of what was in the book (which is fine as the book was so over-long). For example, we get Rita Skeeter (brilliantly played by Miranda Richardson) but she isn't as odious as in the book, and therefore doesn't get her come-uppance at Hermione's hands. We get the Quidditch World Cup, but oddly enough with no Quidditch (no "You bust slug!" epoisode with small child and Daddy's wand either, but hey...) We are given various hints (not in the book) about someone making polyjuice potion, and Barty Crouch Senior almost recognises Barty Jnr. But we don't have the scene with Harry and the Marauder's Map showing Crouch (and Moody looking amazed at it and asking if he can borrow the map). We see the results of the Priori Incantatem effect, and Dumbledore names it, but he never explains what exactly is going on. This film really is aimed only at people who are familiar with he book. The effects of teenage hormones kicking in for all the main characters are very nicely dealt with. The Tri-Wizard challenges are very well done, especially the underwater one (actually filmed underwater, in lots of short takes). Especially for Lisa we have both David Tennant and Jarvis Cocker, though the latter only appears in a brief shot and is mostly sound-only. It's worth watching all the final credits to hear his best song (though surely none of the morons who barge out of cinemas while credits are still running would dare to show their faces here?) It's a shame that John Williams isn't doing the music any more, though we still get Hedwig's Theme in a few places.

Worth seeing, though if you haven't read the book you might want to do that first.

They kept my favourite scene, where Moody turns Malfoy into a ferret ("What are you doing, Professor?" "Teachin'.")

This is hilarious

Surprisingly enough the BBC haven't yet complained about this. (via) Clearly not as touchy about copyright as Prince Charles. Or more of a sense of humour.

Mr Blair's thoughts on the matter are not recorded.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Madness of Charles III (coming soon to a throne near you)

This from today's Guardian.

OK, let's see. The Prince of Wales goes, as part of his job, to Hong Kong to take part in its handing back to China. He writes a diary of his visit in which:

  • he makes uncomplimentary-going-on-offensive remarks about the Chinese government;
  • he complains about the "ridiculous rigmarole" of the ceremony (this from someone whose investiture, wedding, and to a considerable extent life have consisted of even more ridiculous rigmarole);
  • he explains how several members of the presumably quite busy diplomatic staff had to waste their time ensuring that His Royal Aloofness would not have to bow to the mere President of China at a ceremony where we were returning China the country we'd been renting;
  • he moans about the Blair government's reliance on focus groups and opinion polls (so maybe there's some hope for him) rather than the experience of people who know what they are talking about (though he spoils things by implying that he is one of the latter);
  • he complains that his nice taxpayer-funded yacht is being taken away to save money ( "If only [the prime minister] could have seen the yacht with the receptions and dinners under way...").

He then circulates this to his chums. The Daily Mail gets hold of a copy and publishes, shortly followed by other newspapers. And now the Prince of Wails decides this Just Isn't Fair, and sues the Mail. He accepts that it's all true, but claims it was private (and obviously you circulate eleven copies of private documents to your friends) and that he owns the copyright. Oh, OK. That'll work......

Not content with making himself look ridiculous (which he does of course every time he writes or speaks), The Oaf That Would Be King is now desperate to look avaricious as well. He's not complaining that he was misrepresented, he's not apologising to anyone; but here's a money-making opportunity which one cannot pass up.

At least HRH's wish-I-was-Camilla's-tampon fantasies made no appearance this time.

This is likely to provide hours of fun. I can't think of very many circumstances in which I would take the Daily Mail's part, but here I hope they win. If Charles has to pay substantial costs - as he probably will - one hopes he will remember his frequent protestations that he pays his own way, and will not pass them on to the British taxpayer.

Chairlie the First he got beheided;

Chairlie the Second he succeeded;

Chairlie the Third he'll no' be needed,

Lucky wee Prince Chairlie.

(from "Bonny Wee Prince Charlie", credited to Berwick and recorded by The Dundonald many years ago).

Lisa's fifteen minutes start now....

The Guardian have linked to this post of Lisa's. Only in the print (or pseudo-print) versions (p.36) so you won't find it online. Yippee - another of my regulars gets some good publicity! Well deserved, too.

Memo to Tony Blair: if you find Haifa Fuad's leg, her family would like it back.

This from today's Guardian. When someone who was imprisoned by Saddam complains about the deterioration in freedom, security and respect for human rights, and reminds us that armed resistance against foreign invaders is legal under international law (which is of course more than can be said for the US/British invasion) - do you think that nice Mr Blair might begin to catch on?

Me neither.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The devil may have the best tunes but the Other Guy has some decent staff

An amusing page from a sometime college friend of mine, now Vicar of St Matthew's, Fairfield, Grimsby-ish. Many's the time I sat drinking coffee in Dave's room, listening to the noise of his rock tumbler. (These lapidarists, eh?) Once I attended a party upstairs from him which managed to cause his sink to exude a fountain of vomit and shit by blocking the main drain out of the keep of Durham Castle. And when he and his fiancee Viv attended a somewhat crazed fancy dress party I threw with three friends (with no less than six fancy-dress themes which had been announced to different subsets of guests - and nobody got wise to them all before the party) Viv greeted the appearance of my best friend Bill (in full drag but retaining his splendid beard) with "Eeeh, David, this is the first time I've seen a man in drag and it's REVOLTING!" (For best effect, repeat line in able-to-cut-sheet-steel-at-fifty-metres West Yorkshire accent.)

Hi Dave!

On a cheerier note

Not so good for the credit card balance, but I have recently taken delivery of some rather splendid CDs. To wit:

Dangerous and Moving (favourite tracks "All About Us" and "Gomenasai") .

Aerial which really is as good as it's cracked up to be.

Lou Harrison's concertos which are a blast. (Thanks to Mark Morris for turning me on to Harrison.)

Richard Thompson's "Grizzly Man" soundtrack which is a strong contender for my record of the year.

This record of Ligeti piano music. How could I not love someone who can write an 11-movement piece (Musica Ricercata) in which the first movement uses only two notes (plus their octave transpositions), with an extra note added each movement until finally he uses all twelve notes. That may sound arid and intellectual but actually it's anything but. Richard Thompson once reckoned the perfect guitar solo would consist of a single note, completely worked out. In the Ligeti piece I found myself fascinated by how much mileage he could get from one note (the second only enters as the very last note of the piece). By the time he has worked up to four notes the music is getting sufficiently elaborate that without the sleeve note you might not realise the constraint he was working under. By the time we get to nine tones it's hold-onto-your-head time. Awesome.

This could spoil your whole day

So there I was, working my way down the blogroll, being uplifted by Clare's excitement at her weekend plans, Mike's B-side reviews, Matthew's plane trip, a bottomless Petite with her legs in the air, Joe's visitors, Lisa's link to Jane's happy ending.... and then I get to Baghdad Burning and this from Riverbend.

She may not post very often, but it's always worth reading, though often (as here) grim stuff.

Tony, George - remind me again exactly how this is an improvement on Saddam? For the Iraqis, that is, not your polling numbers back home.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

How SAD.

This caught my eye in Wednesday's Guardian.

Please stop killing teenage schoolgirls. Is that too much to ask?

I address that plea to the Palestinian bombers who from time to time take it into their heads to attack a bus or a restaurant in, say, Tel Aviv. But not only to them.

When I read something like this

This explains the irrational double standard to which Jews have always been held. Look at what is happening in Israel today. The Arabs have rejected genuine offers for peace, have tried repeatedly to obliterate the State of Israel through wars and terrorism, have killed hundreds of innocent civilians and have permanently disabled thousands more, and the world utters hardly a word of protest. In contrast Israel does not try to wipe out its neighbors, does not intentionally attack civilians, and yet so many people are only too eager to condemn Israel with boycotts, sanctions, and Security Council resolutions. They may not even be aware of what fuels their passions. But it must be something deeply imprinted in the psyche, something dark and irrational; otherwise it would be impossible to explain the callous disregard of the facts that these critics of Israel never fail to exhibit.

(from this site, though it is typical of thousands of similar outbursts)

it irritates me. But when I then read this story it makes me very angry indeed. Because of course "Israel does not intentionally attack civilians", and to suggest otherwise is to show a "callous disregard of the facts" and to hold Jews to an "irrational double standard".

Read. My. Lips. If a paid employee of the armed forces of, say, Syria, were to shoot a 13-year-old girl whom he knew to be unarmed, and who was running away, clearly terrified, I would be angry. If that soldier then fired a further sixteen shots to make sure she was dead, I would be angry. If he bragged to his colleagues that he would have done the same had she been three, I would be angry. If a military investigation decided that he "had not acted unethically", I would be angry. If, following complaints to the press by his more moderate colleagues, he was investigated a second time, but not charged with murder, I would be angry. If he was acquitted of even "illegal use of a weapon" and "conduct unbecoming an officer", I would be angry (and half the world would be complaining that Syria was soft on terrorism).

If I read tomorrow that a Palestinian terrorist has exploded a bomb and killed an Israeli soldier, I shall be angry. But if I were to discover that that soldier was "Captain R", I think I would be rather glad.

So sue me.

Being followed by a Moonshadow....

This from the BBC. Hoo-bloody-ray. Nice to think that maybe when Vic is too ill to run her website (see my earlier post here), she may at least have some effective pain relief.

Of all ideals they hail as good, the most sublime is motherhood

I thought this post summed up the whole generational thing rather well.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Sad but oh so true

In an interview in Saturday's Guardian, the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman said something I thought worth quoting here.

"The risk of the Holocaust is not that it will be forgotten but that it will be embalmed and surrounded by monuments and used to absolve all future sins.....When Cheney, Blair and Berlusconi go to celebrate the memory of the Holocaust, it acts in such a way that it allows them to say: 'Whatever we do is against evil.'"

There, in a nutshell, the recipe for Israel's policy in the Occupied Territories. There the genesis of the War against Terror. "Somebody once did something really bad to us. So we can do anything."

In which we celebrate the great British press (hysterical giggles) ... sorry, couldn't quite type it with a straight face

I was reading a set of statistics today (the printed version is prettier) showing the proportion of the population in each EC country who consider the European Community a good thing/a bad thing. Unsurprisingly, Britain came out as the most Eurosceptic (Europhobic might be a better word) European nation with 38% good/22% bad (EU average 56% good/13%bad). The Danes, often thought of as our colleagues in Euroscepticism, come out at 61% good/13% bad. Luxembourg (well, duh) voted 85% good/4% bad.

To give some perspective, no other country had so few "good" votes (nearest was Latvia at 40%). The only country with more "bad" votes was Sweden (24%), but they had 48% "good".

To quote the report ("Key Facts and Figures about Europe and the Europeans", European Commission Publications Office):
"The country with the least public enthusiasm for the EU is the United Kingdom, which has a notably ‘Euro-sceptic’ press."

You can say that again. So here, to honour our notable (or notorious) Euro-sceptic press, is a link to a wonderful site I found a few weeks ago. Then there is this related one which is even better. Worryingly, not even The Guardian is immune.

With Blair spending all his time cosying up to the press it's no surprise that our relations with Europe have gone from "grudgingly tolerated by the rest of the EU" to "treated as an irrelevance at best and a global danger at worst" on his watch. Oddly enough, he's having trouble imposing his listen-Johnny-foreigner-this-is-what-you're-getting budgetary proposals on the other member states, who presumably are content to wait until our presidency expires and they can deal with a government that at least appears to take an interest.

Worrying in all kinds of ways

Weirdness. (via)

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Everything comes of itself at its appointed time.

A very moving post from Lisa on her blog. Oddly enough, this weekend is the first anniversary of the death of a good friend of ours who lives in Braemar. We see his widow and children on most of our Ballater visits (we're their godparents).

My own parents died within six months of each other, roughly twenty years ago. I don't miss them any less; now I just miss them differently.

The title of this post is from hexagram 24 of the I Ching (not one of the bits Syd Barrett set to music for Pink Floyd). I always rather liked it - in fact I have it on a T-shirt - and it seems apposite.

If there is a point to spam this must be it.

Matthew Baldwin over on Defective Yeti has a really funny post about spam. And in the comments there is a link to this equally funny one.

Incidentally, his (draft, un-proof-read) short detective story is worth a read too.

Friday, November 11, 2005


Blogger is adding all my posts tonight to the November 2005 archive but not displaying them in the main blog, no matter how often I republish.

Clearly this is computers-are-all-out-to-get-Rob day.

This is hilarious

After my recent inability to tell spoof from reality(look in the comments), I should be cautious of stories like this, but I can't resist it. Anyway, Clare put me onto it....

Don't Panic...yet

Looks like Windows on my home PC is knackered, so I' m getting the guys at PC World to back up all the essential data files. and I'll reinstall it. Assuming they back up everything I asked the to I should be OK (give or take the odd program reinstall). Hilary and Ruairidh use networked laotops nowadays, so it's just me and Vanessa. We're not quite sure where MSN Messenger stores its address lists, so there may be some people she loses touch with until they next ping her.

Anyway, long story ---> short, normal blogging will be resumed eventually. I will try to get some "Through The Keyhole" pictures taken and sent to Clare via Hilary's laptop.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Mark Morris Rules OK

I promised a review of Friday's performance by the Mark Morris Dance Company, so here goes. I don't know if you're familiar with Mark Morris, but he is a big bear-like American who writes the most extraoordinary dances, and sometime performs them too. His most famous pieces are probably The Hard Nut (his take on the Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker) and Dido and Aeneas, in which he danced the role of Dido. If you can't imagine a big bloke dancing women's roles, you'll just have to imagine harder. When he brought The Hard Nut to the Edinburgh Festival a few years back, he danced the Arabian dance in the "characteristic dances" section (for those who use Disney's Fantasia as an aid to orientation, it's the one with the tropical fish). He was dressed in a collection of veils, and I swear he floated over that stage. Absolutely extraordinary.

So, he and his company were back in Edinburgh as part of a UK tour whose London appearances had attracted rave reviews in the Guardian (Here and here. ) What we had last Friday was basically the first of these programmes, but with From Old Seville replacing Tamil Film Songs. We were also treated to a post-performance talk by the man himself. The evening began with Somebody's Coming To See Me Tonight, a setting of a number of Stephen Foster songs. Right away you hit one of Morris's characteristics, the imaginative choice of music to write dances to. Also, the music is performed live, with real singers: something else he feels strongly about. The dances were very beautiful and often very funny (imagine a line of men, with women successively running out of the wings to embrace each man in turn... except the last who always ends up with a man running to him instead). Then we had the much more pared-down and abstract All Fours, set to Bartok's Fourth String Quartet (a piece that terrifies full-time professional quartets, never mind an ad hoc one formed from Morris's musicians). As regards that dance, I can't improve on Judith Mackrell's description in the first Guardian piece. Morris told us in his talk that he generally writes his dances so that each dancer is following a single line of the music: so you might be dancing to the second violin line, or the cello, rather than the whole thing. It certainly makes for very intricate work. After the interval we had the laugh-out-loud funny From Old Seville. Three people: a bloke who basically stands at a bar smoking a cigar, and an energetic woman who keeps hauling her man (Mark Morris himself) onto the dance floor. His dancing starts off as a little over-the-top, and gradually degenerates into outrageously over-the-top, like a middle-aged drunk at a disco. He keeps breaking off part way through the dances and heading back to the bar, with the woman glaring when she notices. terrific fun, and over all too quickly. This one, incidentally, was danced to a recording. Finally we had Grand Duo, set to Lou Harrison's piece for violin and piano. This was very abstract and very energetic, finishing up with one of the most amazing closing numbers I ever expect to see. Apparently Morris choreographed that movement (Polka) some time before the rest of the piece, and used it as a stand-alone finale for all his shows. Smart choice, as you couldn't possibly follow it. The phrase "Corybantic antics" kept running through my head as I watched. The while company started in a circle, and wound all kinds of odd spirals in and out of each other while shooting arms and legs out in unexpected directions at unbelievable speed. My parents-in-law were sitting at the front, and apparently Mark Morris was in the wings for the finale and joining in vigorously. I have added it to my personal Greatest Dance Hits, along with the Ride of the Valkyries from Maurice Bejart's Ring um den Ring, the Phoenix Dance Company's Firebird, and most of Jerome Robbins' The Concert.

A fantastic evening, which left me wishing I'd been able to see it twice. Roll on the company's next visit.

Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn

I'm an incorrigible churner out of verse parodies and other doggerel (you can see some of my efforts in a sort of "Duelling Double Dactyls" comment thread on Little Red Boat. (I located it via Google, and amusingly Anna's archive seems to be on her sister's website.) That thread, incidentally, records the first blogging interaction between Clare and me. Ah, nostalgia.


...I found a totally ace parody on a site I reached via several hyperblog jumps from Velveteen Rabbi. It is
(a) technically well-done
(b) very clever with regard to its parodic content
(c) extremely funny
(d) unlike 99 out of 100 such attempts, it fits the tune it's designed for.

I am overcome with jealousy, but here it is anyway. Clearly another blogroll candidate.

All We Are Saying......

I've just added a few blogs to my blogroll, including the marvellously named Velveteen Rabbi, where I found
this post which I rather liked. I was watching a tape of William Dalrymple's recent Channel 4 programme about music and Sufism last night, and one speaker after another was emphasising the unity between Christians, Jews and Muslims rather than their differences. Watching that, and reading Velveteen Rabbi, it's good to be reminded that there are a lot of people out there who are "Pro-Jewish, Pro-Arab, Pro-Peace" to quote the tagline of semitism.net.

Don't panic...

... if I don't post as often as usual over the next few days. My home PC has taken to asking for hardware device it hasn't got and then not booting up when it can't find them, so I'm getting it sorted out. Assuming it reappears with all its data intact* I should be fully back on-stream next week some time, but for now it's blogging-from-work only (unless Hilary lets me borrow her laptop).

* cf my favourite "Windows haiku":

Three things are certain
Death, taxes, and lost data.
Guess which has occurred.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Plus ça change.......

Speaking of Noam Chomsky, I missed an interview with him in last Monday’s Guardian, so went looking for it on the Guardian Unlimited site (now with new improved search facility).

Here’s the interview. Even if I’d read it without awareness that it had generated a lot of critical letters to the Guardian, I could hardly fail to notice that it had been written by someone who clearly set out to do a hatchet job on Chomsky. Nor that the article was composed of at least as much opinion by Emma Brockes as speech by Noam Chomsky.

To give just one example:

This is, of course, what Chomsky has been doing for the last 35 years, and his conclusions remain controversial: that practically every US president since the second world war has been guilty of war crimes; that in the overall context of Cambodian history, the Khmer Rouge weren't as bad as everyone makes out; that during the Bosnian war the "massacre" at Srebrenica was probably overstated. (Chomsky uses quotations marks to undermine things he disagrees with and, in print at least, it can come across less as academic than as witheringly teenage; like, Srebrenica was so not a massacre.)

It comes as no surprise, then, that the interview as published generated a number of letters, mostly highly critical. Here are some. Here are some more, including one from Chomsky himself.

The letter from Jill Abson includes this link to an article by Gen. Lewis Mackenzie on the Srebenica massacre and what led up to it. It makes very interesting reading.

Leaving aside the issue of what did or didn’t happen at Srebrenica, where does that leave us with Noam Chomsky? Well, reading the Guardian interview again it’s clear that he isn’t saying that Diane Johnstone was necessarily correct in her article, but that she’d done her work thoroughly and that it deserved to be published rather than suppressed. Not that you’d know that from the selective quotation with which Emma Brockes opened her piece:

Q: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated?
A: My only regret is that I didn't do it strongly enough

This all sounded very familiar to me, because we’ve been here before. Nearly twenty-five years ago, an essay by Chomsky on freedom of expression was used as a foreword to a book by French holocaust-denier Robert Faurisson. Despite Chomsky’s repeated statements (in line with his previous publications) that he considered the holocaust to have been real and terible, Chomsky’s critics took evident delight in confusing his defence of the right to publish unpalatable views with his support of the views themselves.

Here is a useful article on the whole Faurisson affair, and here is an essay by Chomsky on the matter.

So here we have history repeating itself: the first time as farce, the second time as a polemic in the Guardian masquerading as an interview.

It came as no surprise, either, when Norman Johnson (an odious right-winger who seems to have found a foothold in the Guardian, one hopes not for long) wrote fawningly about Emma Brockes (sorry, "lovely, leggy" Emma Brockes) and put down Chomsky as an "unfeeling appeaser", a "do-nothing conservative" and a "wannabe-seer"..

I’m beginning to wonder about the Guardian.

1, 10, 14, 25, 97

... are the positions my nominees for Top Public Intellectual in Prospect magazine's poll finally achieved. My 'bonus ball' nominee (Peter Brook) didn't register. Ah well. Here are the results in full.

But the question that arises is: how the hell did Bono pick up 23 bonus ball nominations? Maybe he has a big family?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

My last TV-related post for today. Honest.

I see Channel 4 are showing Dil Chahta Hai late next Thursday night. Possibly because it's on Channel 4, the Radio Times only gives it two stars. Ignore that. For my money it's the best Bollywood film ever. It has a good story, realistic acting, and terrific music which is actually integrated into the rest of the film. Plus, of course, as my wife and daughter would sighingly confirm, it has Aamir Khan in it.

Seriously. If you don't think you like Bollywood films, this one may change your mind.

Another of those times

It's hard to miss in this week's Radio Times (being on the cover and all) that the Beeb have a new season of "contemporary reworkings" of Shakespeare plays. Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Taming Of The Shrew. I have no problem with updated versions of classics: Clueless is one of my favourite films (as indeed is Forbidden Planet). I love Bride and Prejudice, and intend to watch O when Channel 4 show it later in the week. No, the problem comes when the adaptors see themselves as doing the original author a favour, or rescuing the work in question. Trust me, the favours are all in the other direction, all the time.

The perpetrators of the new BBC Shakespeare-Lite come out with some marvellously revealing lines:

"You have to fill in the gaps for a 21st-century audience" (Peter Moffat). Because they're all stupid provincials and it's my lofty destiny to feed them crumbs of culture watered-down so as not to upset the poor dears.

"Shakespeare very often leaves things unresolved, whereas the rules of television say you have to finish what you've begun." (Peter Moffat) No comment necessary.

"We had to find a way of making that a believable relationship." (Peter Bowker) Shakespeare, of course, was always writing unbelievable relationships. Who nowadays could believe in people like like Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Desdemona, Prospero and Miranda, Lear and his daughters? Nowhere near as realistic as the Mitchells.

"The original Hero just wouldn't sit happily in the 21st century, for the simple reason that it's acceptable and expected now for young girls to be their own people." (Billie Piper) And characters in plays all have to do what's "acceptable" and "expected", because otherwise that would be weird, innit?

"We live in a very different society these days - if something goes wrong, you don't just kill someone" (Sarah Parrish) Quite apart from the fact that it wasn't the norm in Shakespeare's time either, has she not noticed the number of tooled-up gang members these days who get on the news for doing exactly that?

My daughter Vanessa (17 and a paid-up member of the iPod generation) became incandescent with rage, not so much at the unnecessary "improvements" (though that too) but at the comments by the writers on what the originals had been "all about" before they hacked them apart. Vanessa didn't buy the idea of Dream being primarily about a woman forced to marry by her father. Yes, it's in there, but it's hardly the central point. Nor could she see what was being "improved" by making Theseus and Hippolyta Hermia's parents. And in Much Ado, she pointed out that Claudio isn't filled with remorse and forgiveness because he thinks Hero is dead, but because he realises she was innocent.

Meanwhile, my 13-year-old son Ruairidh (no stranger to updated versions of Shakespeare himself) greatly enjoyed As You Like It recently at the Lyceum, unbuggered about with except for the final appearance of Hymen (and he didn't understand the way they'd done that any more than anyone else I spoke to). He is very much looking forward to seeing Twelfth Night tomorrow, with Matthew Kelly as Malvolio and not a drug dealer or TV anchorman in sight.

On Sunday, I shall be watching ITV, where The South Bank Show is continuing its look at Peter Hall's 50 years in theatre. (His first major production was Waiting For Godot which opened at the Arts Theatre on the day I was born.) The first part was intercut with footage of him rehearsing a new production of .... Much Ado About Nothing. Compare and contrast: a bunch of nonentities trying to "make Shakespeare relevant", and a master of his craft demonstrating that he always was, and still is.

Sometimes I hate the BBC

Bleak House is good, isn't it? We're still catching up on episodes via the magic of video. We taped Thursday night's, but were in rather a rush tonight as we were off to see Mark Morris (see later post). Never mind, we thought, it's repeated on Sunday. It was last week, and the Radio Times said it was this week.

The Radio Times, of course, lied through its teeth. It's repeated on Sunday if you live in England. Here in Scotland we clearly are not expected to look up from our porridge and tweed-waulking long enough to appreciate Dickens, so instead we have an onibus edition of Eastenders, displaced from its south-of-the-border slot by an omnibus edition of River City.

Thank heavens for Telewest, our cable provider, who have felicitously just introduced the ability to replay programmes from the past week. Supposedly; when I tried just now it was "temporarily unavailable". Maybe it will appear before Bleak House rolls off on Friday.....

Friday, November 04, 2005

Showing once again that Rullsenberg does indeed rule

Great post. (via)

I always have trouble taking full-length leather pants seriously. Leather shorts, now, of the Austrian lederhosen type, look awesome on suitable female wearers, though merely somewhat eccentric on males.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

They've probably corrected it by now...

.. but the Guardian's coverage on Saturday of the Lewis Libby indictment contained this absolutely glorous misprint or malapropism or whatever:

"Mr Rove found Mr Bush as a gland-handling good ol' boy trading on his family name and his charm. He turned him into an effective candidate, and eventually, a president."

So what we all need to know now is, whose glands was Mr Bush handling? His own, or someone else's?

When it comes, the correction must surely be a classic.

Compare and contrast

A dangerous lunatic speaks:

"As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map" (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian President)

A far more dangerous lunatic speaks:

“If they carry on like this the question people will be asking us is — when are you going to do something about Iran?" (Tony Blair, British Prime Minister)

Let's see, which one has a track record of translating that kind of statement into actual military action?

And then I woke up and it had all been a dream

I have just read, in last Saturday's Guardian, that HRH The Prince of Wales (or for Scottish bloggers, HRH The Duke of Rothesay) is undertaking a tour of the United States in which, inter alia, he will receive an award for his services to architecture.


I am reminded of Tom Lehrer's comment when he announced his retirement from songwriting, which was along the lines that the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger had rendered satire obsolete by demonstrating that real life was more bizarre than anything a satirist could create. And thus it is with His Royal Carbuncleness.

When asked what was the most difficult part of his job, HRH responded:

'The most important thing is to be relevant... It isn't easy, as you can imagine, because if you say anything, people will say "It's all right for you to say that." It's very easy to just dismiss anything I say..... It's difficult.'

Question One (10 marks)

Is the funniest thing about the Prince's statement

(a) that he clearly imagines that he has ever in his life said anything relevant to any of his non-royal countrymen?
(b) that he puts dismissal of his wacky views down to his royalty rather than his being a fruitcake?
(c) that he answers a question about the difficulties of his supposedly arduous job by whinging about being misunderstood?
(d) that his expensively wasted education hasn't taught the future guardian of the King's English not to split infinitives?

His heart is in the right place

Ben Goldacre writes the Bad Science column in the Guardian's "Life" supplement. A few weeks ago I sent him the following email (entitled "Putting Your Own House In Order").

I found what seems to be a good example of bad science in the Guardian's own Weekend magazine (12 Oct 2005) on page 79:


"Computers [like all electrical equipment] emit electromagnetic fields, which have been linked with insomnia, high blood pressure, anxiety and general ill-health" says Jane Alexander, health expert and author of The Holistic Therapy File (Carlton, £14.99). "Unplugging your computer when not in use [rather than just switching it off] makes a huge difference, and there's evidence that certain plants can help soak up EMFs, as well as negating pollutants such as formaldehyde, benzene and trichlorethylene".

1) My computer doesn't emit electromagnetic fields when it's switched off. Um, that's what switching it off does for you.
2) The ones it emits are of a level that may have "been linked" to bad health, but not causally, in any experimentally robust manner.
3) The only way I know that plants "soak up EMFs" is by absorbing light for photosynthesis. My computer doesn't emit anything much in the frequency range plants use for that. Otherwise, they just block EMFs by getting in the way, and used in that way they make the screen difficult to see through the foliage.
4) I can believe that plants can metabolise benzene and formaldehyde (after all we do, though very inefficiently). But trichlorethylene? I doubt it: that sounds like a job for genetically engineered bacteria. So how do they negate it?

I realise that anyone plugged as the author of "The Holistic Therapy File" could be said to come with a "Warning: bollocks ahead" label. But even so, this is surely egregious rubbish? Not so much "too many computers" as "too few sub-editors", methinks.

His reply (sadly I no longer have it available to post here) was a phonetic representation of someone sniggering. I couldn't quite decide whether this was meant to show amusement at the Guardian's naivete at publishing the rubbish, or mine at expecting him to take it up. Ah well, if the latter, after all these years of writing letters for Amnesty International I have become impervious to being ignored.

On the other hand, I have to hand it to him. Over the past three weeks he has been running illuminating articles in his column about Chemsol Consulting and its director Christopher Malyszewicz. Not only do I applaud them as marvellous exposures of pseudoscience and its deification by the media, I admire them as a comparatively rare example these days of crusading journalism. Power to his elbow.

Here are the columns:

October 15th
October 22nd
October 29th

So I'll give him the benefit of the doubt about his reply to me. Ben, you're a star. Probably.

Unfair: now America is doing eccentric geniuses better than we are.

Head over to Boob Pencil and have a read of this post concerning Thomas Truax Esq. Having just bought his CD (I'm listening to it as I type) I can vouch for his (a) insanity (b) genius. Definitely a one-off; I can't think of any illuminating comparisons. The only CDs I possess of similar weirdness are those by Momus (oh come on, the Moroccan heavy metal and Okinawan pop CDs don't count) and Truax is no Momus.

Despite what I posted in Clare's comment box, either CDBaby screwed up or (more likely) I clicked the wrong picture in a bourbon-soaked haze because I am in fact now the proud owner of the CD that doesn't have The Butterfly and The Entomologist on it. But it's still great, and I can easily get the other one too. And you know what? I think I will.

The good news is that to judge from his website, he appears in Edinburgh most years. So by this time next year I may have caught up with Clare and Ally and seen him live.