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, March 29, 2007

And finally.....

...there will be a brief lull while I jet off to Courchevel to ski. And to stand around looking skier-like while conserving my energy for energetic stuff. And to eat raclette. And drink wine.

Courchevel has a nice shop where you can get ace drinking chocolate. It also has a nice resident dog (the shop, that is).

Then at the end, because our flights are a bit weird, we have a few days in Lyon to do the eaty-drinky stuff and look at Roman remains and such rather than looking skierly.

So after my bumper bundle of posts tonight, no more for a little over a week.

However, there are still six first lines unguessed, so you can occupy yourselves with that while I'm gone.

Be good.

Blast From The Past

I've just received an email notifying me of the dispatch of my order of Bollywood DVDs from a website (www.bollywooddvds.com). Which is funny because I didn't think I'd ordered any. On closer inspection this is an order I placed in September......September 2003! At the time I was told the DVDs weren't available, which would seem to have been the case ever since. I have, however, managed to find some of the DVDs elsewhere, seen some films on TV, etc, so don't want any of them after all this time. One trusts that if I send them back in their packaging I can get a Visa credit.

The funny thing is that I'd forgotten the existence of the site altogether (my last order was December 2003), so the confusion may get them some more of my custom eventually.

I haven't posted an Aishwarya Rai picture for a bit. The one above is from Jeans, one of the DVDs I seem to have ordered. I'd agree with the IMDb commenter that it's not a very good film, though it does have a lot of Ms Rai looking stunning, which never makes for an utter waste of time. And, I have just discovered, the quantity of special effects outdid Jurassic Park and lifted Jeans into the record books for a while. So there.


Interesting comments from Steph's Blog in response to a somewhat provocative post contrasting the pro-Mugabe reporting of the Zimbabwean Herald and the pro-MDC reporting of the BBC (both being government-owned, you see). While taking her point I don't agree with Stephi's original post, but it spawned a host of very interesting comments, some anti-Mugabe, some pointing out that Tsvangirai isn't the angel we take him for, and one saying that the West's concentration on Zimbabwe is only because of Mugabe's land seizures from white farmers - if there were any interest in the plight of the blacks then the much worse human rights situation in Nigeria would get more attention. Stephi for her part asks why we worry about rigged elections in Zimbabwe while refusing to recognise the result of the certifiably unrigged election in Palestine, to which the only possible answer is surely "hypocrisy".

Anyway, IMHO this was the best comment:

Zimmie Hippie [Visitor]

16/03/07 @ 15:54
Well, I suppose that one thing we can be thankful for on your site Steph is that generally, the people adding comments regarding the original post are at least able to debate it intelligently; unlike some of the comments on the BBC 'Have your Say' forum!

At first read of your post, and subsequent comments, my blood started boiling. Like many people, I had instant thought of "who the hell does she think she is? When was the last time she lived in Zimbabwe?"
I can see your point about biased reporting, but then isn't that a trademark of journalism?
However, I'd still like to add my 10 pence worth. I was working in my first job, in 1997, when Mugabe decided to hand out ZW$50 000 to the veterans of the Independence War (or Third Chimurenga as they refer to it). It was a decision made, on the surface, because they were threatening violence against him for not fulfilling promises made during the fight for independence, and no doubt he was afraid of losing votes. This distribution of what was then a huge amount (my basic salary, a good one, was $4000 a month) was the start of our economic woes, which everyone conveniently forgets about, preferring to blame the sanctions imposed by the EU et al. The exchange rates took a nose-dive; because the products we sold in the shop I worked in were all imported, we had visions of having to close down and losing our jobs. Needless to say, being Zimbabwean and always able to "make a plan", we didn't.
Fast forward to 1999. Mealie meal (the country's staple) not only sky-rocketed in price, but was also in seriously short supply. I remember standing watching the ensuing riots from the 3rd floor of our building, trying not to suffocate in the tear gas fumes, unleashed by the police on angry (HUNGRY) rioters. Incidentally, this wave of violence was pre-MDC.
A year later, Mugabe, in a rare show of democracy, took his Land Reform proposition to the polls, allowing the people to choose for themselves whether he should be permitted to amend the constitution to allow for his radical reform policies. He lost. And that is when this all began.

No one, least of all the farmers themselves, denied that the land reform needed to happen. At the dawn of independence, the British government offered monetary assistance/compensation to help the transistion. Mugabe, for whatever reason, chose to ignore it for 20 years. During this time, farmers who owned more than one farm willingly offered up their extra farms for the very purpose of handing it over for redistribution; most of them received "Certificates of No Interest".

The point I'm trying to make about the land redistribution, one that the media conveniently glossed over (both local and Western) is that the rules kept changing. One month you were allowed to keep one farm, the next you were not. Then you were permitted to keep farming, 24 hours later a stoned, drunken "war vet" (invariably someone who hadn't even been born until after the war) turned up on your doorstep claiming the farm was his and giving you 60 minutes to pack up your entire life and vacate the premises. One minute the farm staff were housed, fed, educated and had a clinic (built by the farmer) on their doorstep, the next minute they were thrown out, left to fend for themselves - BY THEIR OWN KIND! It was never white against black as the media tried to make out. I'm not even certain it was tribal.

I have driven past the ex-farms of people I knew, farms ostensibly given to "New Farmers". For whatever reason (usually that the ruling elite have snaffled it for their own uses) these subsistence farmers have not been given fertiliser, seeds, access to water, tractors, harvesters. They can't even grown enough for themselves, never mind for the country!

As far as voting goes, do you honestly believe that the last elections were conducted fairly? I was out of the country in 2005, but did vote in 2000. I stood in the queue for 17 hours to vote - now why would I do that to ensure a dictator got back in? I know people who literally spent the entire night in the queues - the MDC is more popular than you give credit for. Do you know what it's like to stand in a voting queue, knowing in your heart that wherever you put your X is not going to make the slightest bit of difference, but you're determined to damn well try against all odds? Many of us have been there, done that.
I've seen intimidation first hand, been on a farm when the Zanu-PF militia came to take the workers away for an all-night "education session", seen them return at 6am, starving, cold and exhausted from being forced to sing pro-Zanu-PF songs all night. If that's democracy, the Queen's arse is a biscuit.

Incidentally, I am not a bitter ex-farmer's daugher or wife; I'm a "townie" but was dating a farmer's son at the time, and the bulk of my clientele in my shop were farmers.

The whole situation is A LOT more complicated than people think, especially, and no offense intended, people who have never lived there and witnessed it for themselves. For those of us who have lived there our entire lives, fought against the Mugabe regime, known people who have been killed in the bid for freedom, sat overnight in petrol queues, or waited for hours in the crucifying sun to cast our votes; it has become extremely emotional.

Understandably, we don't like being told that the same newspaper that almost daily blames every single woe on the whites may have a valid point. You eventually get to the stage where you start wondering, bitterly, why 27 years is not enough time for the black people to take control of their own destinies. Then you remind yourself that they're not all bad; that Mugabe and his ilk are, thankfully, a minority - pity that they're just such a powerful minority. And then, when you've finished listening to Mugabe telling the world that "all whites must go back to Britain" only to be labled a "racist Rhodesian" by some narrow-minded, mis-informed Brits, you give up in despair. I am technically Rhodesian - I was born in 1978 - but does that automatically qualify me as racist? I am white - but I am not British, I am a 4th generation African and Britain will not have me.
In many respects, I feel as though I am in limbo, unwanted by the country I was born and raised in and love and at the same time, unwanted by the country I am being told to "go back to". How can I return to country I never came from?

Finally (and I bet you wondered when that was coming!) I reccomend 3 books for you.
1. "When the Crocodile Eats the Sun" by Peter Godwin
2. "Where we have hope" by Andrew Meldrum
3. "House of Stone" by Christina Lamb.
Those should give you a fairly balanced idea of where us "racist, pro-MDC Rhodie's" are coming from!

What's Up, Clock?

And now, following my alarm clock, and the clock in the video recorder (fortunately the film my son wished to record was being repeated the following day), we have what may be the final Saunders household timepiece to be polluted by British Summer Time, namely the EKN sidebar clock.

You were all just being kind, weren't you? Or maybe you thought I left it on GMT as a kind of statement?

What an excellent idea... (works html magic)....now we have two clocks, clearly labelled.

Location, location, location

First of all let me make it clear that I make no claim to any special knowledge of exactly where the British sailors were when they were arrested by the Iranians. They may have been in Iranian waters, or Iraqi waters, or in a warehouse in Ealing for all I know. However, it strikes me that Iran has nothing to gain right now from manufacturing a border incident, and indeed the Iranian government has made no demands on the British except acknowledgement that they were in fact in Iranian waters. Tony Blair, on the other hand, is bearing the end of his political career and is desperate to ingratiate himself still further with the the Bush regime, since it seems likely that Blair's future after leaving office will be on the American lecture circuit. (Apparently Americans are prepared to pay to hear him, unlike the rest of us who would gladly pay to shut him up.) How better to do that than by manufacturing an excuse for an attack, naturally by the British first but doubtless with prompt assistance from our "partners in peace". Before you can say "violation of sovereignty" all Iran's nuclear installations will have had exchange visits from American atomic warheads. So forgive me if I'm sceptical about our government's strenuous denials that our guys were anywhere near Iranian waters, Heck, the very fact that Blair is insisting on it makies me pretty sure it's a lie.

Craig Murray (famous British dissident, fired as our ambassador to Uzbekistan for being more concerned about atrocious Uzbek human rights violations than about potential profits for Britsh oil companies, and whose book on the subject is banned by Luton Airport from being taken onto flights) makes some interesting points: not only that we've violated Iranian waters before (though that time we apologised and were allowed to bugger off), but that there is in fact no agreement over where the Iraq - Iran border actually is in the Persian Gulf. (Though these days we just call it the Gulf, to be on the safe side...) See his posts here, here, here and here.

There are other dissenting opinions around on the blogosphere too.

Thank heavens the UN are showing some sense over this.

Shifty Whoever Walden Woop Woop Woop Woop Marmoset?

A couple of great cartoons to share with you:

This from Ted Rall.

And this from David Malki at Wondermark.


Oh, all right then, by way of a bonus, also this one from Wondermark, which I meant to post a couple of weeks back.

Our Art Belongs To Dada

I had to laugh at this post from Anna. I especially liked the bit about her allergy to Streets of London, as it's an allergy I share, as does my big brother. In my teens we played in a folk group along with Joe Beard (formerly of the Purple Gang*), and on one memorable occasion we collaborated with around a dozen assorted regulars at Poynton Folk Club to put on a distinctly Dadaist version of the Ralph McTell classic. If you've heard the Bonzo Dog Band doing "The Sound Of Music" you'll have some idea of what we aware striving to achieve. (If you haven't, it starts 3:05 into this clip.) Basically we did a verse and chorus straight, then jump-cut to "Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear", then another verse, then cut to "Champion The Wonder Horse", and I think Handel's "Arrival of The Queen Of Sheba" may have been briefly alluded to somewhere, before a final chorus with the full Bonzos treatment applied. I'm happy to report that audience reaction ranged from gleeful appreciation to a wish to drag us from the stage, with a healthy smattering of stunned silence.

It made me a little nostalgic when my quartet's recent performance of Hindemith's Minimax, a piece which the Bonzos would surely have appreciated, elicited a similar spread of audience responses from Edinburgh Music Club.

* Be warned - the link to the Purple Gang's home page was crashing my browser tonight, though if you bring them up via Google other pages on the site seem OK.

Something to look forward to

Chris Morris is apparently planning another spoof documentary (presumably a "Brass Eye" special), this time on suicide bombers. As with his previous efforts on drugs, science, animal rights, paedophilia etc, it's a subject where prodigious amounts of rubbish are spouted regularly on television and in the press. It will be interesting, since it's clearly not a secret that he's planning it, whether he'll be able to do his normal trick of persuading celebrities to send themselves up / make total a*rses of themselves in pursuit of a few quid (IMO you can tell which by whether they complained about the programme afterwards...), as in the Paedophilia special:


VOICEOVER : The latest menace to require urgent warnings from expert communicators.

NICHOLAS OWEN (ITN Reporter) : Right so if you could just take that and hold that right under the camera.

BARBARA FOLLET (MP Labour) : Pantou the dog, a child's game on the internet. But look again. An online paedophile has converted that eye to work as a webcam to look at the child player.

NICHOLAS OWEN (ITN Reporter) : Sometimes the child can glimpse the molester in that kennel bouncing around and waving.

PHILIPPA FORRESTER (Presenter) : Wearing a t-shirt like this, the online paedophile can disguise himself as a child.
(holds up tshirt with crudely drawn small body on the chest)

BARBARA FOLLET (MP Labour) : So the child thinks it's playing with another child.

KATE THORNTON (Broadcaster/Journalist) : It's called a HOECS game. A Hidden Online Entrapment Control System.

NICHOLAS OWEN (ITN Reporter) : Singapore police have sent us these pictures. This man has plugged his groin into his computer to get sexual pleasure from the actions of a child playing with Pantou.

RICHARD BLACKWOOD (comedian/musician) : So every time your kid tickles Pantou, the paedophile gets his rocks off, and it doesn't stop there.

BARBARA FOLLET (MP Labour) : In this shot, Pantou the dog has told the boy to press his face onto the soft screen. Online paedophiles use special gloves to feel and palpate the child's face.

PHILIPPA FORRESTER (Presenter) : In fact with gloves like these the manipulator can molest any part of the child's body placed against the screen.

KATE THORNTON (Broadcaster/Journalist) : We even have footage that would be too alarming to show you of a little boy being interfered with by a penis shaped sound wave generated by an online paedophile.

SYD RAPSON (MP Labour) : We believe that paedophiles are using an area of the internet the size of Ireland and through this they can control keyboards.

RICHARD BLACKWOOD (comedian/musician) : Online paedophiles can actually make your keyboard release toxic vapours that make you suggestible. (sniffs keyboard) You know I must say I actually feel more suggestible and that's just from one sniff.

KATE THORNTON (Broadcaster/Journalist) : HOECS games can cause serious damage. One child was trapped online for a whole night and, according to a psychiatric report, came away with the jaded listless sexual appetite of a 60-year-old colonel.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

If you read the Undergound map as a piste map then I suppose Angel is on a black run

I'm off ski-ing next week, but I shan't be preparing by doing anything like this.

Before I watched the video I was interested to know what happened when the guy hit the horizontal floor at the bottom. Non slip tiles so a sudden stop, certainly, but I had wondered whether the skis would survive the impact, or whether they'd flex so much they'd bounce the guy into the air. The latter seems not to have happened, though the skis may have broken (can't tell). Broken or not, I definitely wouldn't use them again after that kind of punishment!

What next? The emergency spiral stairs at Hampstead? Or maybe a skateboard slide down the Angel escalator handrail? Or how about a mountain bike Angel descent?

Return of Ben

I promised to keep you informed of any more outstandingly crass contributions to the blogosphere from Ben, he who dubbed me a "tool of the neofascist kleptocrat machinery". Well, there's a brilliantly dense series of comments from him underneath this post. The post itself concerns "Individual Jihad Syndrome" and is merely a depressing piece of Muslim-hatred. However, Ben's response to one of my comments thereon is a peach (# 5 in the comment stream). Pointing out the errors in something comprising only errors seems almost sacrilegious, but a man's gotta do etc etc. Hence comments #6 and #7 (so many errors, I missed one the first time). Then more in the same vein.

Read and enjoy. It's worth it.

The girls is all salty / The boys is all sweet / The food ain't too shabby / And they piss in the street / In France

Clare drew my attention to this post of Petite's about the neighbourhood reaction when a Chinese grandfather was arrested outside a Parisian school for not having the correct papers. What makes it heartening is that the protestors weren't Chinese and seem mostly not to have been from ethnic minorities. Here in Britain the police are too busy harassing Muslims to worry about the Chinese, but it would be wonderful to think that such an arrest would spark a similar degree of multicultural community spirit here. Maybe it would, though as one of Petite's commenters said, we'd probably all stand around being polite and doing nothing.

Looking forward to visiting France again on Saturday for a week and a bit (Courchevel, then Lyon).

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

And you thought we had a pension shortfall now....

A wonderful headline in today's Daily Express (I'm not making this up!):


Even if it only applies to women, one in four women living forever is quite a breakthrough, no?

Funnily enough, even when you read the article - rather than just the headline - it makes no more sense:

The study, reported in the respected Journal of the American Medical Association, found that women who took between one and 14 pills every week containing 325mg of aspirin - a far higher dose than the 75mg tablet used in Britain - slashed their risk of dying from any cause by 25 per cent. (Emphasis mine.)

My guess that the Journal of the AMA said no such thing was only partially borne out: here's the abstract of the research article, which states:

In women, low to moderate doses of aspirin are associated with significantly lower risk of all-cause mortality, particularly in older women and those with cardiac risk factors. A significant benefit is evident within 5 years for cardiovascular disease, whereas a modest benefit for cancer is not apparent until after 10 years of use.

Moral: researchers should be careful when using expressions such as "all-cause mortality" in a specific way relating to a single study, when lazy journalists are simply waiting to pounce.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Cute Overload Warning

..or what Alcibiades of Kesher Talk described as The Obligatory Aw Knut Post. She's not wrong.

Say hello to Knut, the hand-reared baby polar bear at Berlin Zoo.

I'll wait for "Your daughter's bedroom is more of a mess than the occupation of Iraq"

I loved these ads. Thanks to Judith of Kesher Talk for alerting me to them, even if she was hoping we'd all call up to harangue the company.

Oooh, this makes me mad...MAD!!!

From today's Daily Record.

The basic story was covered slightly less sensationally here.

I'm not surprised that the Daily Record trivialises and misrepresents mental health issues. I am somewhat surprised - and disappointed - that Scotland on Sunday is nearly as bad.

Some common elements in the tabloid and broadsheet coverage:

  • > blaming the release of the men from Carstairs on European human rights laws;
  • > the implication that the transfer to medium security accommodation has been undertaken with no proper review of the level of threat posed to the public.
Only in Scotland on Sunday:
  • > "lack of proper facilities to receive patients"

Only in the Daily Record:

  • > "deranged knife fiends" "only place for these savages is Carstairs" "maniacs on road to freedom"
  • > mention that the Edinburgh facility is "next to a primary school"
  • > "with a view to their eventual release back into the community"

Let's find a way out of this maze of misdirection (the SoS article does have most of the relevant facts, albeit effectively buried).

The Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act 2003 was introduced, in part, so that the treatment of mental patients in Scotland would be in line with European human rights legislation. Specifially, it provides patients with a right to a hearing at a mental health tribunal. For high security "restricted" patients the tribunal always includes a Sheriff, so the assessment is judicial as well as medical. So despite what "Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie" might think, there is no question of any patient's being moved anywhere without a proper assessment of whether they still prove a risk. It would be nice to think that "the public will be aghast" at Goldie's utter cluelessness, but I'm sure she has correctly judged the intelligence of most of her supporters.

There is no question of European law requiring anyone to be released, or indeed moved. All the law (our own law, upgraded to European standards) requires is that the patients have the opportunity for review of their status, in the same way that convicted criminals in prison have their cases reviewed for granting of parole or remission.

The "lack of proper facilities" seems to refer to the not-yet-complete Stobhill Hospital unit. There is no suggestion that the facilities at the Orchard Clinic or at Leverndale are in any way inadequate, and nobody is going to Stobhill until it's ready. So what's that all about?

"Fiends", "savages", "maniacs": we can always trust the Daily Record to hurl dehumanising abuse at its target du jour.

Neither of the "maniacs" complained of by the Record had a record of violence or sexual misconduct towards children, so why the emphasis on the nearby primary school? Actually, the site contains a much larger secondary school: would that be less of a problem if they had been a particular threat to children? If they still posed a general threat to the adult public, is the proximity of the school more relevant than the equal closeness of the busy Morningside shopping area? It's probably as hard to get into a school nowadays as it is to get out of a mental hospital, but you can wander into a supermarket or a Starbucks.

"Eventual release"..."road to freedom". According to the Daily Record; not according to the people in change of looking after the guys. They will be in locked wards, possibly allowed out under escort. Release is a long way off, with plenty more tribunals and assessments ahead.

As a resident of Morningside, where the Orchard Clinic is situated, I have to say we have got rather used to the presence of a mental hospital in our midst. It's been there for almost two hundred years, and is the one in whose grounds the Orchard Clinic is situated. It had locked wards long before the Orchard Clinic was built. When I first moved here, the site across the road frm my house, which is now a campus of Napier University, was home to the Thomas Clouston Clinic, a low-security outpost of the REH.

As for public meetings having to be held in an effort to reassure worried locals, having attended the meetings as the then secretary of my local residents' association I can report that the worries were more about the funnelling of construction traffic along narrow roads (near that primary school...) than with the nature of the future occupants. Of course the purpose of the building was an issue we considered, but as I say, we've all got used to having a major mental hospital on our doorstep.

I'll give the last word to commenter #15 (theredwizard) on the Scotland on Sunday article:

Some of the previous comments are purely offensive and illustrative of the ignorance, prejudice and discrimination still prevalent in Scottish society. These decisions are just, not taken lightly and in accordance with legislation passed in Scotland not Brussels. Not everyone in the State Hospital have committed criminal offences and many would have exhausted a period of imprisonment imposed by a court and spent in prison, long ago. These PEOPLE deserve to progress to conditions of lesser security and deserve our support in their recovery.

And so say all of us.

Twelve first lines

Yes, it's that time again too.

As usual, first lines (not containing the song title) from the Saunders record collection. Guesses (title and artist) in the comments box please. A couple of tracks exist in multiple cover versions, and I'll be generous if you pick a different one from the one here.

1. Bless my cotton socks, I'm in the news
The Teardrop Explodes: "Reward" (guessed by Phil)

2. I can feel a new expression on my face
The Searchers: When You Walk In The Room" (guessed by Phil)
(I also possess covers of this by Agnetha Fältskog and by Status Quo)

3. We're lit by a torch as we kneel in the court of the king

4. Her name was Mia, from North Korea

5. If I give up the seat I've been saving, to some elderly lady or man
Gilbert O'Sullivan: "Nothing Rhymed" (guessed by Tina)

6. The bugger in the short sleeves fucked my wife
John Cale: "Guts" (guessed by Udge)

7. Dawn of light lying between a silence and sold sources
Yes: "The Revealing Science Of God (Dance Of The Dawn)" (guessed by Mike)

8. Across the evening sky all the birds are leaving

9. I can wash out forty-four pairs of socks and have 'em hangin' out on the line
Maria Muldaur: "I'm A Woman" (guessed by Mike)
(I did say I'd be generous regarding cover versions - this one is a Peggy Lee original and damn near everyone seems to have had a crack at it. Ms. Muldaur's version takes a lot of beating though.)

10. I've seen the bright lights of Memphis and the Commodore Hotel
Little Feat: "Dixie Chicken" (guessed by Phil)
(I also have a cover by John Sebastian)

11. It's quite possible that I'm your third man girl
The White Stripes: "Ball And Biscuit" (guessed by Alan)

12. Crossin' the highway late last night, he shoulda looked left and he shoulda looked right
Loudon Wainwright III: "Dead Skunk" (guessed by Phil)

I'll cross lines off the list as they're guessed correctly.

It's that time of year again

The time when I wish a plague of boils (in addition to whatever torments he is already suffering in whatever afterlife he has been consigned to) on the inventor of Daylight Saving Time, that vile artifice whereby morons who wish to get up an hour earlier in the summer, rather than simply getting up earlier insist that everyone in the country must alter every timepiece they possess in order to go along with the delusion that it's the same time really.


And yes, as a matter of fact I did forget to reset my alarm clock. Why do you ask?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bisy Backson

Sorry, been a bit taken up with other things. Normal service should be resumed on Sunday or so.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The RDS: as used in the MSM

Thanks to the ISM. For a larger version click here.

Thank you for your unsolicited and irrelevant opinion on Norway's foreign policy. Please hold

Awwww, bless.

I'm sure the Norwegians will be desolate that Israel won't talk to their government any more. Israel being so relevant to Norway, and all that. (Note to Norwegians they're the bunch who came to your capital, had their pictures taken signing a peace deal, then ignored it. Remember them now?)

But we quite understand. It's terrible when the representatives of two sovereign democracies talk to each other WITHOUT ASKING ISRAEL'S PERMISSION. Insupportable.

Let's remember that Israel is a country where - more than half of the citizens believe that it's acceptable for diaspora Jews to criticise Israel. Wow. As though anyone cared whether they thought it acceptable or not. I don't remember anyone bothering to poll Britons about whether it was acceptable for the Americans, French, Israelis, Irish, whoever, to criticise us. But that's the point. Evidently a majority of Israelis are so unbelievably arrogant that they consider they have the right to decide who in the world can criticise them and who cannot. (And 35% will only allow criticism if it isn't, you know, critical.)

Hate to burst your bubble, guys, but really, nobody gives a flying f*ck about your opinions. Did you forget that there are countries out there that you haven't invaded yet?

The real patriots

The wingnuts are full of the weekend's peace protest in Washington and how a couple of dozen Vietnam vets turned up to scream abuse at it. The latter - the "Gathering of Eagles" if you can believe it - are apparently being held up as exemplars of the American Way. Strange days.

However, today we have some bona fide heroes, actual veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, showing the pathetic "Gathering of Vultures" saddoes something about being prepared to stand up for what you believe in; about doing something more than stand on the sidelines and shout. Funnily enough, they seemed less than impressed by being tricked by a bunch of lying profiteers into invading a country that posed no threat to America. And less impressed still that their buddies are out there being shot to bits for no reason whatever.

I wonder who made the bigger impression overall: a bunch of old guys reliving their gook-gutting days by striking attitudes for the cameras and howling obscenities, or a bunch of disciplined soldiers fresh from a war zone showing Americans in a satirical way what it's like to be invaded.

It would be wonderful if some "9/11 Republican" was been forced, even for a second, to feel what the "3/19 Iraqis" have suffered for the past four years. If only.

Thanks to Shakespeare's Sister for the link.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Me, Encapsulated

I tried putting it in my sidebar but its width kept forcing my blogroll and everything else down below the last post. Never mind.

(Thanks to Udge for the link.)

So farewell then, Pangloss

If this story (also covered on the ITV news tonight in the UK) doesn't fill the pro-war lobby with shame, there's no hope left for them.

Here is a man who was jailed for nine years by Saddam because he had the effrontery to expect to be paid for the motorbikes Saddam's sons had taken from his shop. Members of whose family were executed by Saddam. Who had tears of pride in his eyes as he smashed at Saddam's statue until his hands bled. Yet he now wishes Saddam had never been overthrown, and that the Americans had never come. He reckons life was better under the regime that jailed him on a whim than under the Americans' benign rule.

And watching the news tonight, seeing the family simply thrown out of their home in Baghdad onto the street because the Americans want to use it as a military base: why would these people not want to go out and become suicide bombers? If the US Army or anyone else threw me out of my Edinburgh home and claimed it was for my own good, you bet your behind I would be out there cooking up all kinds of explosive and chemical mayhem for the nice invaders. (Chlorine? They'd be begging for something so gentle.) Yet the American troops interviewed by ITN seemed mystified that the Iraqis were so ungrateful as to fire mortar shells at them when they were trying to help them. Aye, right. Tell that to Kadhim al-Jubouri.

I dare say the self-styled 9/11 Republicans (more properly 9/11 fascists) will describe the likes of Mr al-Jubouri as "self-hating Iraqis". After all, the "self-hating" label is their stock response to criticism from anyone who self-evidently knows more about a subject than they do (and on international matters that will be practically everyone, given most Americans' notorious pride in their ignorance of other countries). One only has to look at the absurd wriggling of the neocons over the conviction of Liar Libby to see how far from any kind of acceptance of reality these people are. (Presumably the jury who convicted Libby were self-hating Americans.)

How You Can Blow a Horn With a Brassière

A great obituary in the Guardian. Now there's a role model for International Women's Day.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Is that a Swiss Army knife in your pocket....

Lisa and Neil were mightily impressed by the size of my tool last weekend at the blogmeet. But imagine if I'd whipped out one of these.....

I couldn't possibly comment...

...on this.(Another gem from NewsBiscuit)

There's a profound truth in there somewhere

I was reminded of this post, and of Lisa's comment responding to it, when I read this from NewsBiscuit.

Band of Bloggers

Lisa has eventually got round to listing the people who turned up at the Nottingham blogmeet.

And gentlemen in England now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here
And hold their manhood cheap while any speaks
Who blogmet with us upon Saint Himelin's Day.

Or maybe just hold their manhood. Whatever.

P.S. While I was in Wikipedia checking out saints' days, I discovered that March 10th was the birthday not only of Lorenzo da Ponte, Arthur Honegger and Bix Beiderbecke, but also of both Osama bin Laden and Morgan Tsvangirai.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Not a good year so far for the arts

First this.

Then this.

And this.

But it's not just Banksy who's suffering.

What next? Will Mike's Red Nose Day book get pulped by accident?

If proof were needed of his unfitness to be PM, here it is

I heard Blair making a complete tit of himself on the radio last night. He was responding to Sir George Mathewson's support of the Scottish National Party as a good way to end Scotland's dependency culture. Now nobody expected that Blair would consider this a good thing, especially as the SNP are doing exceptionally well in the Scottish polls (and Labour especially badly) ahead of the May elections to the Scottish parliament. But to dismiss Sir George's comments by a comparison with "real businesses" who support the union was just crass. So the Royal Bank of Scotland Group (fifth largest banking group on the planet, and one of Britain's most successful companies) isn't a "real business"? Hello? Mr Blair? Anyone in that head of yours?

In any case, WTF does Blair know about "real businesses"? He's never worked for one. The guy's a lawyer, for Christ's sake.

Please will someone rid us of this cretinous oaf? Gordon Brown? Al-Qaeda? Anyone?

Sleep. Walk. Wake. Uh-oh.

See here for the source of this snippet:

Ambien Army

Phyllis Graham of North Texas is just one member of the growing "Ambien Army", regular users of the popular sleep medication Ambien (aka Lunesta, aka Zolpidem), one side effect of which causes them to rise from their beds and do things they do not subsequently remember doing. On a good morning, Graham wakes only to discover that she has ordered a load of jewellery from a shopping channel in her sleep. On a particularly bad morning she wakes to find herself in Arlington jail, charged with crashing her husband's truck into a nearby house. She tells the Dallas Morning News that she intends to plead innocent. "I was not aware of anything," she says. "I don't even drive my husband's truck to begin with." Other members of the Ambien Army have binged on food, had sex, cooked meals and placed phone calls while asleep, prompting the Food and Drug Administration to call for warnings on labelling.

I have a friend who regularly sleep-walks and has to move furniture to make it difficult for herself to do anything too stupid. Before she sorted that out she was once collected in the small hours of the morning by her husband from the middle of a York street, stark naked.

All I ask is, why do none of these people live near me? It could be endlessly entertaining, and I would happily return any naked sleepwalkers to their homes. Free, even. Mind you, the crashing trucks sound a bit scary.

Maybe the Perth guy was on Ambien?

There is no way this is going to end well

And another post from Rachie which I unsuccessfully nominated for Post Of The Week, its being (a) topical and (b) with a different POV from most of what we read about Zimbabwe in Britain.

Today's Guardian has enough on Zimbabwe to depress anyone.

When I think of Zimbabwe I remember a (white) guy from Bulawayo whom I met on a course run by NCR on a new piece of development software they'd produced. He looked like a young version of Fagin, and I remember he was assiduously combing Birmingham for porn to smuggle back in, anything with so much as a nipple being banned by the Zim authorities. As this was in the early 1980s he probably had to do a fair bit of combing.

Another fin mess

A post from Rachie containing a magnificent malapropism from her boss.

Curse these pensioners' cheap double bills of "Easy Rider" and "The Straight Story"

My wife drew my attention to this story today.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Shaggy Blog Stories

Here at last is Mike Diva's (and Anna Boat's) instant (or at least remarkably quick) book. Go and buy it. Cost £8.96, of which £3.63 will go to Comic Relief. You don't have to wear a stupid red nose. You don't have to watch the appalling drivel that purports to be comedy. You can read really funny posts. I can say that 'cos I'm not in it : my post about washing someone else's car in the dark having inexplicably failed to make the cut. Still, if you go to Mike's blog you can see who did make it, and they're a pretty funny lot.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a virtual book launch to return to. I'm in my pyjamas and a dressing-gown, and sitting under the kitchen table with Sam (Problem Child Bride) swapping my frozen vodka for her Islay malt (let's guess that it's a Bunnahabhain) until we both have our own red noses.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Common People

This post has been nominated for Post of the Week, and I'm not surprised. It came as news to me and I live in Edinburgh.

Yum yum

Today is International Eat a Tasty Animal for PETA Day (that sounds like a link from Round The Horne, doesn't it? like "Festoon a Gnome With Bacon Rind Day", or - my favourite - "Smear A Traffic Warden With Bloater Paste For Asia Day"), when we all do our best to be non-veggie, just to annoy PETA (by way of revenge for their over-the-op and tasteless veggie propaganda). I didn't organise anything, but I made a point of eating a delicious bacon sandwich mid-morning (just in case my lunchtime sandwich turned out to be veggie, though in fact it was ham).

Proof that the quartet is not simply a figment of my overheated imagination

Sorry, Joe, no CDs likely in the near future (though I dare say there will be more live performances - I have a yearning to do Schoenberg's arrangement of "Silent Night" and "Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen" next Christmas) but here is a camera phone picture of our quartet in action (or more accurately in inaction while I explained some of the puns in the Minimax movement titles).

From left to right: me, Emma, Rebecca and John. An IT engineer, a biochemist, a clinical psychologist, and an electronic engineer.

For now it's back to playing stuff just for fun again, the "stuff" in this case being the Tippett F sharp quartet.

Update: now with a slightly better photograph.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Doing it in public for the first time

FWIW our quartet's (debut) performance of Hindemith's Minimax at Edinburgh Music Club went really well. Our performance was fairly accurate (I came in a third high on one entry, and our cellist muffed a repeat once) and delightfully over-the-top (for the "two distant trumpets" Emma and Rebecca were dispatched to the far side of the room where they played their parts while John and I accompanied from centre stage). We definitely got some laughs, which is really what the piece is about: I described it beforehand as a sort of precursor of Hoffnung and PDQ Bach. The organiser of the evening thanked us profusely and said we'd played it really well even though he didn't like it. Not sure whether I'd have been more flattered if he'd liked the piece more and us less, given that we were the conduit for the piece (I'm positive nobody there had heard it before). Anyway, four happy bunnies. Emma got someone to take some pictures on her camera phone, so if they're any good I may post them.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Maybe someone told Bush that Libby was being persecuted and needed support, and he got a bit confused


Let me get this straight. On the one hand, Iran. It has a civilian nuclear programme and swears that it has no intention of building bombs. The US doesn't believe this, and threatens all kinds of action up to and including invasion. Iran hasn't taken any offensive action aghainst the US since the hostage crisis back in Jimmy Carter's day. (Despite the US Navy's shooting down one of its civilian airliners because they couldn't tell an Airbus from an F-14.)

On the other hand, Libya, which downed the TWA flight at Lockerbie killing a lot of American and British people, and was implicated in bombings in Germany. Libya, which Ronald Reagan bombed (from bases in Britain, in case there was any retaliation, of course). Libya which has a civilian nuclear programme and swears it has no intention of making bombs. The USA believes this, and offers to help with building a reactor.

I don't have any special problem with a Libyan reactor: in fact I think the more nuclear power we have the better, given the reality of global warming. Nor do I think Gaddafi particularly wants nukes, though if they were easy to achieve why wouldn't he? I am surprised that the USA is prepared to accept Gaddafi's assurances so readily when it is (probably rightly) sceptical of Ahmedinajad's.

The best thing about this though is that I imagine all the "9/11 fascists" like Creepy Spice are vomiting blood at the very thought of America helping Muslims get nuclear technology.

Not That The Israeli Government Is Obsessed With Its Image Or Anything

Good to know Israel has its priorities right. Because there's nothing more valuable that two reserve generals and a law professor could do with ten days of their time.

Wonder what the name will be? It will have to be something that avoids connotations of thousands of murdered civilians, or attacks on ambulances and UN observation posts, while skirting the uneasy resonances of "getting its ass kicked by Hezvollah".

Operation Teddy Bears' Picnic, perhaps. Or Operation Fluffy. Operation Purity of Arms. Operation Well It Was Their Own Fault For Living In A Muslim Country.

I can hardly wait.


From Defective Yeti.

It is. And they are. But it's a funny comment nonetheless.

The Roads To EKN

More recent searches that have landed their hapless initiators up in the web of EKN, ha-ha!

Siegfried Sassoon - "sick leave" analysis
Galloway pays homage to Saddam on the tube
kleine maze
sheet music Litolff scherzo

Nice to be a hit for that last one, being a fan of the piece. (Why don't we hear it more on Classic FM? It used to be ubiquitous when I were a lad. And it was used as the theme music for "Billy Liar", Julie Christie's first film.)

Q: Has she no shame? A: Duh.

More Islamophobic rubbish from the con-artist formerly known as Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Ms. Hirsi Ali notes Muslim birth rates are vastly outstripping those elsewhere (particularly in Western Europe) and believes this is a conscious attempt to extend the faith. Muslims, she says, treat women as "these baby-machines, these son-factories.... We need to compete with this," she goes on. "It is a totalitarian method. The Nazis tried it using women as incubators, literally to give birth to soldiers. Islam is now doing it."

I've always reckoned it was a good rule that the first side in an argument to compare its opponent to the Nazis lost. QED.

If I had to choose between a Muslim and a pathological liar who spent years sponging off my taxes, I'd take the Muslim every time.

Saying "Scottish £50 note" is like saying "Glasgow football team"; and the Clydesdale Bank are Partick Thistle in this analogy

Apparently the new Bank of England £50 notes featuring Adam Smith will be the first BoE notes to feature a Scotsman. Also, apparently,"Scottish £50 notes" already show Adam Smith.

Note for the BBC: there are three note-issuing Scottish banks (thank you, Sir Walter Scott) , and the one I work for doesn't have Adam Smith anywhere. What they mean is, the Clydesdale Bank £50 note features Adam Smith. And it does. Look:

Well done that man

I note that my Member of Parliament has just shown some moral fibre and resigned his government post over the proposal to rush ahead with a Trident replacement.

I feel I'm closer to voting for him than ever before (though he only became my MP at the last set of boundary changes - NOTHING would have persuaded me to vote for Lynda Clarke, who was the most useless MP ever).

Shrewd of him to realise that as soon as he showed himself to possess a spine there would be no place for him in a New Labour administration.

If the ants are falling from a bodhi tree is being bitten an out-of-Bodhi experience?

This from the BBC.

I'm impressed by the Abbot "letting go" the pain. Now that's leading by example.

Also impressed by the earlier "Hey, a cobra in our meditation room! Cool!" attitude.

Most of all by "If somebody were coincidentally to turn up and nuke the bastards that would be the will of the universe".

Time to fire up those Jedi mind tricks then.

John Bolton's performance as US ambassador to the UN, to name but one example, would have been vastly improved by a ball gag

I swear on my parents' ashes that I would find this story funny whichever country the ambassador was from, though I dare say every reporter using the story has been described as an anti-semite by now (especially those "self-hating" ones at Ha'aretz).

My favourite part is "Reports say he was able to identify himself to police only after a rubber ball had been removed from his mouth". Well, duh. Maybe until then they thought it was the Bishop of Southwark.

Mostly it's still wet t-shirts and hand turkeys

Some recent searches that have landed people up in my blog:

Lovelock on Lomborg
difference between spaetzle and gnocchi
guyana school hoot fuck

I'm still puzzling over that last one.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Maybe this is why in the Scottish Opera production there was a fridge full of beer on the Valkyries' rock

I have just been reading this hilarious piece in a back number of Wagner News, and was delighted to locate it online so I could share it with you without getting RSI and letters from copyright lawyers.

If you're familiar with Wagner's Ring cycle it's funnier, but I suspect even non-Wagnerites can find plenty to giggle at in his general approach and deadpan wackiness.

For further examples of similar inspired lunacy click on the "Reginald Porter" tab at top left of the linked page.

Nottingham Blogmeet 10 March 2007

So there we were, at 2.00 pm in the bar of the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham. Me, and Lisa, and Neil, and Mike, and Michelle, and Alan, and other people whose names I forget. There was a sign saying "Nottingham Blogmeet". There was one saying "Will Blog For Hugs". There was one saying "Get Off Of My Cloud". Wines and beers (including fruit beers) were consumed. Liquids were spilled onto floors and people. "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Cud was enthused about. "Li'l Beethoven" by Sparks, not so much. Michelle amused us all with her tales of government telephone information lines. Non-bloggers moved away a bit. Also tales of yearning for oiled Nubians. Non-bloggers backed off some more. Pan-galactic mega-bloggers Mike Diva and Alan Nomad were brilliant and charming. People began to drift off. Michelle noticed a photograph of hers being used with somone else's name attached. Non-bloggers dived for cover. Talk continued until there were only Lisa, Neil and myself left, then we upped sticks and went on the tour of Nottingham, viz. the Trip, where we saw Morris dancers, the Castle, an Indian restaurant where the food was ace and the proprietor gave me a beer glass to take home, and then finally some "R&R" at the Rullsenberg&Roberts establishment, where I was staying.

Not as well attended as Clare's 2006 Manchester blogmeet, but I think we made up in enthusiasm for the lack of bodies. (The comparative lack, that is; I wouldn't want anyone to think we were all spectral beings like Caspar the Ghost.) I hope this becomes a regular fixture on the blogmeet calendar. Many thanks to Lisa for organising it and Neil for supporting her. More details on Lisa's site here.

No, not the "Girl With A One-Track Mind" kind of Shaggy Blog Story

Mike over at Troubled Diva has found a great way to turn blog posts into charitable donations for Red Nose Day. And you don't have to wear a stupid red nose or pretend to enjoy Dawn French or anything. No, just submit a funny blog post to him and he'll put it into a book, which he will then be selling. Read all about it here.

I sent him this one. Could a red nose be more embarrassing?

And re GWAOTM: plenty of her posts are of course hilarious, and I hope she does send one in.

Sloop John A

Talking of Les Barker reminded me of this classic which I felt I should share with you:


We looked for the Sloop John A; We looked for it all day;
Round Nassau Town we did roam,
A man on the pier, Said it wasn't here;
We didn't find it, And then we went home.

Where can the John A be? Maybe the A's at sea;
We had a good look round, Then we went home.
Then we went home, We had to go home.
We didn't find it And then we went home.

The first mate was not there, Maybe he was elsewhere;
Maybe he was on board the Sloop John A;
Wherever he was, We didn't meet him because
We didn't find it, And then we went home.

Where can the John A be? Maybe the A's at sea;
We had a good look round, Then we went home,
Then we went home, We had to go home.
We didn't find it, And then we went home.

The day was a non-event, It seemed the A had went;
Then they told us that there's another called B.
B was OK; I had my heart set on A;
We didn't find it, And then we went home.

Where can the John A be? Maybe the A's at sea;
We had a good look round, Then we went home
Then we went home, We had to go home. I wanna go home.
We didn't find it, And then we went home.

Lyrics: Les Barker, published in 'Sitting With My Dog On Display'.

Oh, go out and buy it.

Creepy Spice Defiles International Women's Day

Here is Creepy Spice with what she considers an appropriate celebration of International Women's Day. I don't have too much problem with the post in itself, silly though parts of it are. However, she refers in there to an SFGate piece entitled "Today's True Feminists?", which is laughable in a number of respects, and emetic in others.

First of all, as could be predicted without even looking, the con-artist formerly known as Ayaan Hirsi Ali/Magan appears in the list, and Stillwell perpetuates without comment the exploded myth of Ali's "arranged marriage". But it's the description of Ali as "a longtime critic of the practice of genital mutilation in Muslim North Africa" that brought me up short. I don't think either Ali or Stillwell is complaining about male genital mutilation, though coming from a culture which doesn't generally practice it I consider that pretty barbaric too. Female genital mutilation I wholly agree is a vile practice which should be opposed wherever it occurs. It is a widespread tribal tradition in many parts of Africa, which will come as no surprise to anyone who read "Possessing The Secret Of Joy" when it first came out fifteen years ago. It is not, however, a common Islamic practice, generally occurring among Muslims only in the aforementioned areas of Africa. So why does Ali criticise it only in Muslim North Africa? Because she's a hypocrite who continues to exploit women's suffering in her vendetta against Islam, would be my guess. ("Sorry, my dear, I can't campaign to have you left intact because you're not being oppressed by a Muslim. Now please excuse me as I have another Islamophobic porn movie to write. Try not to scream too loudly.")

Then Stillwell's piece moves from tragedy to farce:

In addition to the brave women referenced above, there is another group that deserves mention. While some merely talk the talk, it is the women warriors of the U.S. military who are on the front lines bringing justice to the Muslim world. They face challenges in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond, but this does not diminish their accomplishments. If just one girls' school is reopened, one woman goes back to work, one burka is discarded or one stoning is prevented, we have made a concrete difference in the lives of Muslim women. Restoring freedoms and providing medical care, humanitarian aid and protection, women in the military are the true feminists.

Before the US-led invasion, women in Iraq were employed as doctors, teachers, engineers, computer programmers: all manner of things. They could move freely on the streets, unveiled, and had more equality with men than anywhere else in the region. Since the invasion, they are prevented from working, their jobs have been given to men, and if they set foot unveiled on the streets they risk stoning or shooting.

So the US military has made a "concrete difference" in the lives of Iraqi women, and they should hang their heads in shame for it, whatever benefits they may have brought in other spheres, for Iraqi men. And to laud this great achievement on International Woman's Day is akin to praising the concrete difference Hitler made to the lives of Jews, and doing it on Holocaust Memorial Day. (And I dare say there are some sick bastards out there who do that too.)

Let me conclude with a wise saying of Les Barker, which comes to mind whenever I read Creepy's diatribes. "Remember, some people are only alive because it is illegal to kill them."

A good point

Following on from Ally's post on Kareem Amer, I found this interesting piece over on Abu Aardvark's blog. Which serves as a reminder that in Egypt you can be too Islamic as well as too secular.

Friday, March 09, 2007

With enemies like these, who need further validation?

Honours continue to be showered upon me by the kooky rightists in the USA. First there was the "tool of the neofascist kleptocrat machinery" compliment from one of Kesher Talk's contributors, and now I have been banned from an Islamophobic hate site.

The site is Cinnamon Stillwell's little sewer of love, with which my regulars will be all too familiar. Cinnamon (of course) has not had the courtesy or guts to tell me that I am banned; it's just that none of my comments makes it through moderation any more. (It may be because of me that moderation has been applied to the site's comments. I'd like to think I'd given her some extra work.) I do realise that some of my comments have in the past been, well, less than complimentary. However, that one and others like it remain on display. Having edited my most recent comments down to a much more bland critique, I conclude that I'm being blocked by email address or IP address, and I can't be bothered to find which.

Frankly, I feel honoured to be blocked from such a site. The amusing thing is that as Cinnamon cross-posts the majority of her material on Kesher Talk, where they have a better understanding that comments need not always be always fawning licks of the jackboot, I can in fact still comment on it whenever I wish, and do so in a site with many times more readers than her own. (I cannot of course respond to the rug-chewing lunacies of the fan-club she permits to comment. Though as you will have spotted from the ones who have poked their heads in here, they're not the sharpest knives in the box, so I think I may survive the lack of that shooting-fish-in-a-barrel exercise.) So all Creepy Spice has shown is the shallowness of her commitment to freedom and democracy, which I think we all guessed already.

I shall of course continue to comment here on her more outrageously stupid posts.

Update: I find that in addition, all the EKN entries in Creepy's "Links to this post" tabs have been deleted. Wow: the full totalitarian "non-person" treatment. I'm prepared to bet she's asked Kesher Talk to ban me; and I'm prepared to bet they told her to sling her hook, given that some of the administrators there have a faint grasp of all that democracy stuff Creepy slept through in school.

Dido & Aeneas - Stevenson College Edinburgh 1 March 2007

This production was staged at St Bride's Centre in Gorgie, as the new performaing arts cenre for Stevenson College is still being completed (though I gather the production will be receiving a repeat performance in the new venue this summer). Let me state my partiality straight away: my wife was the musical director and played the continuo (her colleague Laurie Crump conducted).

OK. As far as intrumentation is concerned, the view was taken that while Dido is normally done with an orchestra of strings, the whole idea of an orchestra was still very fluid in Purcell's time so that need not be the end of the matter. For this production, the orchestral passages were varied: sometimes strings, sometimes an ensemble of flutes and clarinets, sometimes saxophones, sometimes a brass consort. Also, the instrumentalists all sang as necessary to bulk out the chorus. Where Purcell used a lute, Stevenson had three (acoustic) guitars and a bass as a sort of super-lute.

The singers were outstanding, which is even more impressive when one learns that all except Dido (Jayne Anne Craig) and Sailor (Jenni Baillie) are first-year students. David Fettes as Aeneas, Tanaz Ghaffarsedeh as Belinda and Matthew Todd as the Sorceror were every bit as good as the more experienced pair.

Anne Young's direction was unfussy but effective, with interesting use of masks for non-speaking roles; while Joanna Kleszcz's design worked perfectly in the St Brides space.

To sum up: while this was the first production of Dido I'd seen, it fully met the standards I would have expected from a professional company. As somebody said, now the bar has been raised for all subsequent Stevenson productions.

Well, duh

Why is this even news, when it's been common practice for years? Presumably the Herzliya faction have been pushing hard at the "Purity of arms" myth again, and the gullible BBC lapped it up, as they generally do with Israeli propaganda.

"The use of human shields is illegal under Israeli and international law". As though the IDF had ever cared about either. Summary executions are illegal under Israeli law. The Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories are illegal under intrernational law. Meanwhile, the settlements expand, and unarmed Palestinian teenagers continue to be shot in the back of the head.

What next in big stories from Palestine? Jews and Arabs both have bits of their dicks cut off? Come ON, people, and tell us something we didn't know. The IDF are cowards who hide behind Palestinian civilians? Wow, big surprise there.

It's Good News Week......

In UK news recently, this is heartening. Yes, I know the real battles probably start now when there's a credible threat to the status quo. But as someone who has wished we had an elected second chamber since I was in my teens, to have the House of Commons coming out so strongly in favour of it that the effect of tactical voting can be neglected: that's marvellous.

Also this. Again, people have been saying as much since I was in my teens, but this may be the first time that anyone with influence has paid them any attention.

Either of these issues would make a fabulous item for Tony Blair's legacy. But to take an interest in either would require him to take an interest in something other than Tony Blair, so he will go down in history as responsible for (a) the illegal Iraq invasion (b) probably the most corrupt administration in British history (c) ID cards (d) ASBOs.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

As a famous man once said, "Woman is the nigger of the world"

Iranian women march in Tehran on IWD.

Just in time to post that today is International Women's Day. Yay. Go women.

With special thoughts for Muslim women, who as a subset of a minority get seriously shat upon, and get shat upon even worse where Muslims are not a minority, such as Iraq (one of the ways in which Iraq is now a worse place than it was under Saddam).

And let's hear it for female bloggers.

I would love to have seen the press conference where Greenpeace called for a ban on pthalates in sex toys

As an accredited trade union health & safety representative, I have to link to these two posts. Clearly a toxic hazard, though not a significant workplace one, one hopes.

(Thanks to Van of Kesher Talk.)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Defying Gravity

Wicked - Apollo Victoria Theatre, London, Tuesday 27 February

When Vanessa and I were down in London last week en route to Heathrow, we paid a visit to the Apollo to see Wicked - The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman. We were familiar with the New York cast recording, featuring Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda and Idina Menzel as Elphaba. I at least had read the Gregory Maguire novel it's based on. And we both loved The Wizard Of Oz (and indeed Return to Oz, inspiration to the Scissor Sisters) .

We arrived just in time, so didn't have long to gaze at the splendours of the restored Apollo (though on a post-show trip to the loo I rather enjoyed them). And the curtain went up and.....

...it was one of the best shows I've ever seen. The set was fantastic (in every sense): Vanessa most liked the Emerald City, when the whole thing lit up in green lights. Kerry Ellis, who had fairly recently taken over from Idina Menzel as Elphaba, was quite up to the latter's exalted standards both in acting (so far as I could judge from the brief excerpts I'd seen of Menzel) and singing, while Helen Dallimore was a very serviceable Glinda. If her voice didn't quite have the excellence of Chenoweth's, her acting was great: Magically Blonde, so to speak, through and through. Nigel Planer deserves special (and surprising, as I'd never liked him as a comedian) mention as the Wizard; Miriam Margolyes was a great Madame Morrible; and the other minor characters didn't drop any stitches either.

But this is Glinda's and Elphie's show, and their big numbers singly or collectively make it or break it. "What Is This Feeling?" must be one of the funniest duets ever in a musical, or at least since "Oh Happy We" in Candide (coincidentally, Kristin Chenoweth was a knockout Cunegonde). "Popular" is a Glinda showpiece with great wordplay ("Don't be offended by my frank analysis/Think of it as personality dialysis") reminiscent of Sondheim. "The Wizard And I" and "Defying Gravity" let Elphaba show what she is capable of emotionally and vocally, as does "No Good Deed", and this Elphaba is capable of a lot. Finally (emotionally if not temporally) we have For Good, which is one of the best two-women duets since the days of Abba. "Who can say if I've been changed for the better/But because I knew you/I have been changed for good".

It's quite a dark story for a musical, though less so than the book and with a somewhat less depressing ending. All through the evening there are little references to The Wizard Of Oz ("What's in this punch?" "Lemons and melons and pears." "Lemons and melons and pears, oh my!") and some wonderful puns ("Attention all Ozians: there is a goat on the lam").

The production has already toured to various parts of the USA (Chicago, Philadelphia) as well as London, and no doubt by the end of next year we'll see one in Edinburgh. As with Mamma Mia before it, I shall be there for a second dose (and indeed as with MM, a third). If it comes to your town, on no account miss it or you will be passing up what I predict will remain one of the classic 21st century musicals, and indeed one of the all-time greats. You may wish to take out a second mortgage to buy tickets: take out that mortgage.

How Do I Hate Thee? Let Me Count The Ways

It being round about the anniversary of the event that put the word "Dooced" into the language, Heather Armstrong posted a link to this, one of the posts that contributed to her firing.

As Abraham Lincoln would have said had he not gone to the theatre instead of inventing the Internet, we don't all feel like that all of the time but.....

Trade Unions Under Threat In Iraq, Again

On 23rd February 2007 US and Iraqi security forces raided the headquarters of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW).

Over at Labour Start there is a page where you can email your condemnation of the raid.

Please do. (Thanks to Neil.)

Iraqi Trade Unions (and their members) were severely persecuted under Saddam Hussein's despotic rule. It is deeply saddening to see that, in some quarters, old habits die hard. Even if it turns out - as I suspect it will - to have been a matter of personal revenge (let's say an anonymous caller with a grudge against a GFIW member) rather than a matter of policy, it needs to be stamped out now, and appropriate reparations made. Otherwise why would anyone believe things have improved?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

If this blog were in Egypt it would have been shut down by now

A cause worth supporting. (Thanks, Ally.)

Dust off those emailing fingers, and say "Hi" (nicely now) to some Egyptian officials.

Oh, and link to irrepressible.info like Ally and me.

And Another One's Gone, And Another One's Gone, Another One Bites The Dust

For once, cheering news (and indeed simple cheering) from the United States of America. We may never know who in the Bush/Cheney White House valued spiteful revenge on an articulate opponent of the Iraq war over national security; but at least one of the people who lied to ensure we wouldn't find out is going down. I dare say in a few years' time he'll be coining it in as an after-dinner speaker like the Watergate "plumbers", with hordes of adoring fans.

Until that day dawns, Scooter, enjoy one more US Government freebie.

Rumsfeld, Bolton, Libby...the Augean Stables are gradually getting hosed.

How Many Voters Must A Government Let Down, Before They Call It An Opposition?

And this is simply shameful. A Labour government, with 115 Labour party members turning up to support a Labour MP's private member's bill which in any decent country would have been enacted forty years ago, not only deliberately blocking its passage but preventing any debate on it. If Jim Fitzpatrick is "Minister for Employment Relations" it shows exactly what the current government thinks employment relations consist of. Why not call him "Minister for Exploiting the Vulnerable"? Perhaps that would be too honest an action for this deeply corrupt government.

"John McDonnell, leftwing leadership contender, said the minister's action made him ashamed to be a Labour MP."

John, it makes me ashamed to be British when the British can elect such unprincipled scum. Yet just wait: come the next election, they'll be begging the trade unions to support them once again. The same trade unions who are still waiting for the government to keep any of its undertakings in the Warwick Agreement, on the strength of which the unions pulled together behind Blair (and Brown) last time, in spite of huge reservations. Because this is a government which thinks workers are basically too stupid to remember being lied to and cheated, and which thinks it will always be believed when it says it's a friend to working people. "Minimum wage!" they'll shriek, as though that single, grudging, stingy good deed made up for ten years' worth of shaftings at every turn. This is the government, normally inimical to anything to do with Europe (certainly anything that could benefit its citizens, such as the Social Chapter provisions) which fought desperately to have a European law introduced which would have diluted the legal protection for workers in foreign-owned companies to the level prevailing in the country of ownership. So if you worked for a Slovenian company, you'd get Slovenian health & safety standards. Fortunately that grand plan for allowing British workers to be killed and maimed without the need for all that dreadful compensation fell through.

Fortunately people such as Fitzpatrick, Brown and Blair do NOT have employment protection, as they are likely to find out fairly shortly with behaviour like this. Yes, I know the Conservatives will be awful - seriously awful - but I refuse to believe that they can be more unmitigated swine than the current bunch of crooks.

Not so much "Labour Isn't Working" as "Labour Hasn't Twigged Yet That There Are Some Horrid Little Oiks Who Actually Have To Work To Make Money, And Who Can't Get Daddy To Tide Them Over With A Few Million If They Get Laid Off or Injured".

Not much of a judge of wine

This report from Saturday's Guardian is worrying in so many ways. The scariest bit is the judge's remark:

The judge said the spiked drink had been a "deliberate attempt to weaken [the woman's] capacity to resist any sexual activity you might make towards her.

"I have to regard your behaviour as a determined effort to get your way to some kind of sexual overture to the complainant by underhand means, irrespective of her wishes. I am quite satisfied here, despite this behaviour on this evening, you did not pose any significant risk to any young woman of serious harm."

So. There it is. Attempting to drug and rape someone does not constitute a risk of serious harm.


Would it have been different if Murphy's modus operandi had been to whack his victims over the head with something heavy before raping them? Or rendered them unconscious by strangling?

I know there is a lot of rubbish talked about judges, who I feel on the whole do a pretty good job in th eface of somtimes appallingly badly-planned legislation. But Judge Colin Smith, stand up and take a bow as someone who clearly does "pose a significant risk to any young woman of serious harm".

OK, then he did put the would-be rapist away for two years, but he'll only serve a further three months because of time already served. Comments like the above help nobody, and certainly contribute to a climate where women don't bother reporting such incidents because they don't expect to be taken seriously.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A miscellany

It's hard to imagine any reason for Blair's opposition to an elected second chamber, apart from the money he makes from selling places in the current one. Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian rails against the absurdity of the House of Lords, still unreformed after ten years of Blair and his election promises.

It hadn't occurred to me that any of Thomas Hardy's theatrical group still survived, but the original stage Tess Durbeyfield is still with us. I so wish I could arrange to be in Dorchester on 11th March.

If only the International Narcotics Control Board would stick to this sort of thing instead of this.

It isn't necessary to be any kind of a fan of the late an unmourned Slobodan Milosevic to find this piece intriguing. Especially the comment that

(The International Court of Justice's) jurisprudence is based on the anti-war sovereignty-based philosophy of the Nuremberg trial and the UN charter. In the international system, born out of the second world war, war is illegal except in a very restricted cases. States have no right to attack other states, not even on human rights abuse claims. This position is based on the understanding that there are no war crimes without war, and that war always makes things worse.

How very true. It will be interesting to read the ICJ's ruling in detail.

This site would seem to be of interest to anyone with a predilection for numbers. (Via.)

OMFG. (Via.)

PC phone home. (Via.)

But wasn't it the German ones that were nicknamed "potato mashers"?


But were they organic potatoes? Given the appalling laxity of quality control after harvesting, and the fact that these were bought in a market, it wouldn't surprise me.

It feels queer passing the Lockerbie exit from the motorway too

My daughter will now be up and about on her second full day of volunteering in Malaysia. I saw her off on Wednesday morning at Heathrow having accompanied her to London the day before. As we passed through Edgware Road underground she had a sudden shock of recognition of one of the 7th July bombing sites (I pointed out that we's already been through King's Cross underground which had been the site of a much worse disaster, but the fire there was before her time.

It struck me that I'd had a similar odd feeling when this business with the serial killer in Noida hit the news, as Noida is where I worked for four months about five years ago. For all I know, some of the dead children were ones who used to knock on my car window at traffic lights and try to sell me Ikea catalogues.