Tuesday, 25 April 2006
Oriental shadow president unveiled
I don't have the heart to provide the pic. Go here for the full story: "Well Hung."
Posted on 04/25/2006 7:58 AM by Robert Bove
Tuesday, 25 April 2006
Why we share our passions: it's all about belonging
Alfred Hitchcock or John Carpenter would have loved it. We had planned a sunny, springtime break in Whitby. But as we drove into the piquant Yorkshire resort where Bram Stoker imagined Dracula unsheathing his fangs for the first time on British soil, a thick mist rolled in from the North Sea. And there it stayed for two days. High above the town the ruined abbey became an eerie silhouette — jagged walls briefly glimpsed through swirling murk. The infamous 199 steps curving up to the graveyard where poor, sleepwalking Lucy succumbed to the Count’s fatal embrace seemed as sinister as footsteps in a deserted street. The mournful moan of a foghorn added to the sepulchral aura. If the Flying Dutchmen had stepped ashore that afternoon, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised.
Then I saw them, looming out of the mist. Hundreds of ghoulish figures in black or funereal purple, their faces as fey as natural yoghurt, their hair as black as Whitby jet, their garb impeccably mid-Victorian but with transsexual embellishments. Fabulous creatures, of every shape and age, gliding through the streets as if summoned to some great vampire ball round the gravestones.
Curiosity overcame me. “What are you?” I asked one. “A Goth,” he replied with a twirl of his mail-order cane and a proud swish of his M&S cape. “But why are there so many of you?” I persisted. He looked stunned by my ignorance. “It’s Whitby Goth Weekend,” he said. “Check out the website.”
Of course, as soon as the obvious is pointed out you see clues all around. Twice a year Whitby goes Goth-mad. Shops, pubs and B&Bs put up “We Welcome Goths” signs. The Whitby Gazette organises a Journalists v Goths football match. Hotels host sales of Goth-gear: lashings of black eyeliner, fishnet stockings and silky corsets . . . and that’s just in menswear. Bands with names like Zombina and the Skeletones descend on every venue. There’s even a Goth Service in the parish church, with Goth music instead of hymns and a priest preaching a sermon on “self-harm”. I presume he was against it.....
......Of course that’s partly because the Goths, in spite of their efforts to project themselves as Satanic bloodsuckers, corpse-botherers and insatiable sexual deviants (not necessarily in that order), are actually a pretty nice bunch.......
Even so, for a bluff Yorkshire community such as Whitby to welcome so warmly this invasion of weirdly-garbed outsiders is a shining example of how society ought to work all the time. If we want to build a harmonious world, the grip of “tribal mentality” on our thoughts and deeds is not something we should be trying to break. History shows that to be impossible. Instead, we should be encouraging people to gravitate towards tribes that bring communal joy to their members without harming or antagonising others. It’s when there are no benign tribes around that people drift towards the more unpleasant sort.
A thriving civilisation is not a homogenous monoculture imposed from above. That was tried in Russia and Germany in the 1930s. It’s the reverse. It’s a society that glories in the multiplicity of a million grass-roots idiosyncrasies, a million creeds, a million nutty hobbies, freely and flamboyantly expressed. Goth Weekend was a reminder that, even in an age of increasingly prescriptive “ consensual” politics, nobody does eccentricity better than the British, or accepts it more cheerfully. It was a joy to behold — if only by accident, and through a dense fog.
Read it all, and the next short article by Richard Morrison where he continues this theme of unity through diversity after his encounter with some enthusiastic birdwatchers on the way home from Whitby. I am not a Goth, although I have Goth friends (and they are indeed lovely) but we love Whitby.
And remember, from above
"A thriving civilisation is not a homogenous monoculture imposed from above. "
Whitby Abbey (in daylight, beware!)
Posted on 04/25/2006 2:54 AM by Esmerelda Weathwax
Monday, 24 April 2006
Never a cross word
Isn't this a good joke to make about crossword puzzles? Or so I thought. But I was google-thwarted again. Tony Augarde got there first:
Cryptic crosswords are particularly good devices for exercising the brain, since compilers deliberately make their clues mysterious and often ambiguous
This compels would-be solvers to use lateral thinking. It sometimes deters newcomers, who think that such crosswords are difficult - as, indeed they often are. Yet crossword setters tend to use a limited number of types of clue Once you are aware of the range of possibilities, cryptic crosswords may not seem so daunting.
Probably the commonest type of cryptic clue is the anagram, in which the letters of the word being clued are rearranged somewhere in the clue.
Thus the clue 'Mixing a pink gin makes you a VIP (7)' can lead to kingpin (an anagram of pink gin), while 'Lacking resolve, Tories rule badly (10)' leads to irresolute (an anagram of Tories rule).
Note how, as well as the anagrams, each clue includes a definition (VIP and lacking resolve) as well as a word like 'mixing' or 'badly' which suggests that an anagram is involved.
These 'anagram indicators' comprise almost any word that signifies rearrangement or disturbance: like awkward, irregular and tangled.
Anagram clues do not always include such indicators, as in 'The beadiest disease (8)' (= diabetes) or the phrase included in a Christmas crossword set by Araucaria in the Guardian with the clue 'O hark the herald angels sing the boy's descent which lifted up the world' - a brilliant anagram of 'While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground.'
A similar device is the reversal, in which the clue suggests that you have to turn a word back-to-front. So 'Have a little look round part of castle (4)' gives you keep (which is peek, 'a little look', turned round). Again, the word 'round' is an indicator that you are looking for a reversal. A particularly ingenious clue is 'Row back and forth in boat if fitter (4)' - a clue to tiff, which is a kind of 'row' and is found both forwards and backwards in the phrase 'boat if fitter'.
This leads us on to another common form of cryptic clue, in which a word is hidden in the letters of a phrase.
The most usual indicators here are words like 'in', 'around' and 'about'. For example, 'He is beaten in a close-run race (5)' leads to 'loser', which describes a person who is beaten and is hidden inside the phrase 'close-run'.
Similarly 'Nothing seen in prize rose (4)' leads you to 'zero'. One of my favourite such clues - apparently referring to the composer Chopin and his lover George Sand - is, 'Tingle concealed by Chopin, Sand - needlessly (4, 3, 7)' - a clue to pins and needles.
An associated kind of clue is known as the 'container and contents' type, where one word is hidden inside another. One or both of the words may be an abbreviation, as in 'Devout acknowledgment of a debt in a postscript (5)' = 'pious' (that is, IOU in PS) or 'Look! the fly has swallowed a penny! (7)' = 'inspect' (p inside insect).
Once again, notice how a straightforward definition of each word ('devout' and 'look') is included alongside the cryptic part of the clue.
This is an important aspect of the best crossword clues - they say what they mean at the same time as trying to conceal what they mean.
Abbreviations are frequently used in crosswords, as in 'Peel's creation, initially (6, 9)' which leads to 'police constable' (with the initials PC).
Abbreviations can betray the archaic world inhabited by some compilers, who still use 'EP' for the (obsolete) extended-play record, refer to a sailor as an 'AB' (or even a 'tar' and think that a penny is still 'd' rather than 'p'.
My two favourite crossword clues of all time are:
Apotheosis of the palindrome (seven letters)
The overloaded postman (mailman to Americans)
How many letters?
Answer: too many
Posted on 04/24/2006 2:22 PM by Mary Jackson
Monday, 24 April 2006
Thousands converge on Brussels for no reason
Posted on 04/24/2006 7:56 AM by Robert Bove
Monday, 24 April 2006
Waiting in vain
I caught the first part of “Start the Week” on Radio 4 this morning. The guests were Sir Peter Hall (founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company), Simon Callow (actor), Neil Biswas (screenwriter) and Ruth Scurr (biographer), and the subject was “Waiting for Godot”.
A “gang of four” is a common format for a radio discussion programme. Usually there will be some disagreement and lively debate. I waited eagerly, and in vain, for somebody to say something critical. But on the subject of “Waiting for Godot”, and Beckett generally, the panel was of one mind. Sir Peter Hall’s view, expressed a couple of years ago in a Guardian article, prevailed:
It is often thought that 1956 and the first night of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger was the reinvention of British theatre. It is certainly true that Osborne changed a generation. So out went the slim volumes of verse and the imitations of Lucky Jim, and the Royal Court revolution was under way. All this was wonderful, but faintly parochial, which Godot certainly was not. Look Back in Anger was a play formed by the naturalism of the 1930s and the cosy craft beloved of the old repertory theatres. It now looks dated because it uses the convention of the well-made play. I think also that my generation heard more political revolution in it than was actually there, largely because we needed to.
By contrast, Waiting for Godot hasn't dated at all. It remains a poetic masterpiece transcending all barriers and all nationalities. It is the start of modern drama. It gave the theatre back its potency and its poetry.
Perhaps Sir Peter is right about “Look Back in Anger”. Most plays date, and only a few stand the test of time. But does it follow that a conventional play, one with a plot and credible characters, or a play rooted in time and place, cannot also stand the test of time? Chekhov’s plays are very much of their time and place, sometimes claustrophobically so, but they are also timeless. "Waiting for Godot", on the other hand “transcends barriers and nationalities” merely because there is no plot and the characters could be anybody.
We Beckett haters are swimming against the tide, of course. But will the tide ever recede? It’s possible. Who, these days, thinks Brecht is anything other than a king-sized yawn?
No dissenting views were expressed by the panel, but Sir Peter did quote Bernard Levin’s comment in his review of the original production of Godot. I will leave the last word to him, after which I will shut up about Beckett:
Mr Samuel Beckett (an Irishman who used to be Joyce's secretary and who writes in French, a combination which should make anybody smell a rat) has produced a really remarkable piece of twaddle.
Posted on 04/24/2006 5:13 AM by Mary Jackson
Monday, 24 April 2006
St George and the Dragon - Sunday 23 April 2006
Yesterday was St George’s Day patron saint of England (and lots of other places). There are more and more celebrations of St George's Day in England these days, encouraged by our brothers and sisters in the rest of the UK who celebrate the days of St David, St Patrick, St Andrew, St Piran, etc with vigour. This despite the moaners who seem to think that St George and his flag are some sort of affront, and despite certain obnoxious far right groups who use the flag, which we are now reclaiming for its proper use. I couldn’t write and post anything on the day, because I was actually out celebrating it, as we try to do every year.
This year we visited my in-laws who live in retirement at the seaside. And after dinner (not roast beef unfortunately) we went to the sea front to watch the St George’s Day parade. The Scout Association and the Guide Association have always celebrated St George’s Day and yesterday Scouts, Guides, Brownies, Cubs, Beavers, Rainbows, Sea Scouts, Rangers, from miles around assembled by the pier and to the tune of the band playing While the Saints go Marching In, they marched down the prom to the theatre when the mayor was waiting for them, and an afternoon of celebration inside. The rain (we are suffering a drought in southern England, there is a hosepipe ban on, so why does what little rain we get always fall when I am out and about, at an event I want to report here? – note to self – get out more, the country needs the water) didn’t dampen their enthusiasm, and it was good to see young people showing that most of them don’t deserve the criticism they receive.
Elsewhere things were even livelier. Even Ken Livingstone arranged that events be organised in London around the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre on the South Bank, and the nearby London Bridge. This is the procession thorough Sandwell to West Bromwich, led by veterans from the British Legion, and you can hear some traditional music in the background. These photos also give an idea of the sort of thing that has been going on.
This is my favourite - “Things aren't looking good for the dragon as the celebrations turn violent in Coventry”
I didn’t catch any Morris Dancing this year, although I will next weekend at a different festival. The Story of St George and the Dragon is an ancient theme of Morris dances and Mummers plays, especially at Christmas and Easter.
So a good day, which could be better.
‘Cry God for Harry, England and St George!’
Henry V Act 3 Scene 1
Posted on 04/24/2006 4:02 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Sunday, 23 April 2006
Speaking of the Queen
I watched a disappointing production of the Queen Elizabeth I story on HBO last night. Of course these productions always tell us more about the lens in which moderns view the world than about how the Elizabethans themselves did, and this was no exception. They don't even try anymore to make historical dramas that would give one a real feel for the time and the pressures contained within it.
When Elizabeth (played ably by Helen Mirren) vacillates and despairs over the death of Mary, it seems like a ridiculous and selfish gesture after we were treated to scenes of Elizabeth cutting off the hand of an unfavorable pamphleteer and screeching for the disembowelment of seditious Catholics (which we got to see in all its gory technicolor detail)...oh and did I mention torture on the rack for a would-be assassin? We were given nothing to make us understand the concept of the divinity contained within monarchy. Elizabeth is just another weak and flighty woman constantly bordering on confusion and hysteria by turns.
It seems to me the status of women in the western world been in decline lately and this production reveals this most markedly. Elizabeth is propped up (literally in most scenes) by the trusty Earl of Leichester (played wonderfully by Jeremy Irons). Especially ludicrous was the scene of Elizabeth's great speech before the coming of the Spanish Armada. In HBO land, Elizabeth is just Oprah Winfrey in funny clothes. She cannot simply stand before the soldiers and deliver her speech, she must walk among them like Elizabeth Dole. But the real kicker, came as Elizabeth and the Earl are walking toward the stage and she turns to him, "what shall I say?" and he gives her the famous line, "you have the heart and stomach of a king." And then the whole speech comes off like an off the cuff remark.
Elizabeth the hypocritical populist.
Part II, of which I have only seen the previews seems to dwell on her interest in the (much, much, much younger) Earl of Essex, to whom Elizabeth was "given" by the Earl of Leichester on his death bed. "Take care of her, she needs caring after" or some such nonsense.
Give me Bette Davis!!!
Posted on 04/23/2006 10:36 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Sunday, 23 April 2006
"The US and UK are working on a strategy to promote democratic change in Iran, according to officials who see the joint effort as the start of a new phase in the diplomatic campaign to counter the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme without resorting to military intervention." - from this story
"Democratic change"? Look, take care of the nuclear bomb project, and after a month or two or three of rally-round-the-flag support for the Islamic Republic by many who detest it, that support will end, and the full humiliation of what has occurred will embolden all enemies of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the more corrupt mullahs will begin to be liquidated, and the end will be, if not nigh, nigher than it was before. Do not believe those transparent remarks -- by the likes of Gary Sick, say -- that an attack on Iran would "set back" forever the cause of democracy and reform. It wouldn't. And even if some (not all) anti-regime Iranians begin to feel more nationalistic, and assume that the regime will fall and then they, the good guys, the sane ones, will be in possession of those nuclear weapons, keep in mind that had the Shah's regime obtained nuclear weapons, they would now be in the hands of the regime that followed him. It is not the Islamic Republic of Iran that must be kept from getting nuclear weapons; it is Islamic Iran, an Iran that is full of Muslims, and that at any point in the future, might begin --as Turks despite Kemalist constraints have begun -- to feel that old Islamic feeling, and we all know what that means for Infidels.
One does not wish to "democratize" Iran. One wishes to zoroastrianize or christiainize or otherwise de-islamize Iran. It can't be done from outside. It can only be done, if it can happen at all, by those within iran depicting Islam, truthfully as it turns out, as a vehicle for Arab linguistic, cultural, and other kinds of imperialism. It was Arafat and the PLO that helped bring Khomeini to power. It is the attempt to be plus islamiste que les arabes that is causing the Islamic Republic to threaten, and no doubt to mean its threats, to destroy Israel (we did it, you Arabs couldn't do it -- so we get to be seen as the bestest Muslims of all time).
Again, if this "strategy" is a substitute -- who's in charge of this "democratization project" --Cheney's daughter? -- for the sensible and time-honored "strategy" of bombs (missiles) away, it is a threat to clarity and therefore to our, Infidel, safety.
If the English are involved, this is silly for two reasons. First, Straw and the Foreign Office will always try to find ways to keep those "hot-headed" Americans from behaving as they should behave. Second, Great Britain is regarded as the cunning, manipulative hereditary enemy of Iran, not of the Islamic Republic but of Mossadegh, and the left. Having Great Britain involved shows American naivete, and ignorance of that long history of suspicion of what is seen as British imperialism. That should have been kept in mind.
But several weeks ago, on NPR, I heard a leading American general (General Scales? I can't remember his name), giving his reasons for not invading or attacking Iran. And he blithely asserted that Iran was very different from Iraq because in Iran "all the people are Persians and are united." There goes the whole idea of working to weaken the Islamic Republic by encouraging the Kurds, the Baluchis, the Arabs in Khuzistan, even possibly the Azeris, to begin to show their disaffection with rule by the Persians. With that kind of ignorance being so casually and self-assuredly displayed by one of the highest-ranking and most relevant generals, what do you expect of our policies? How can anything requiring detailed knowledge, and then the imaginative ability to figure out the thousand cuts that might be inflicted, ever be presented, and adopted as policy?
Posted on 04/23/2006 9:48 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 23 April 2006
You vill haf fun
We are told over and over again that Islam is a religion of peace. Nobody feels the need to say this about Buddhism. Why would that be?
Similarly, we do not hear people protesting that the English can indeed laugh at themselves, or that the French can cook after all. We take it as read.
The latest stereotype to be shot at dawn is that of the Germans. From The Telegraph:
Germany's ambassador to Britain will use the World Cup to promote his country as a modern, party-loving nation, and banish images of Nazism and the Second World War once and for all.
Wolfgang Ischinger said that this summer's tournament provided "the perfect opportunity" to present Germany as "a vibrant country of the 21st century" and change the perception of his compatriots as humourless, hard-working disciplinarians.
Those perceptions, eh?
Sitting beneath an imposing portrait of Otto von Bismarck, the 19th-century "Iron Chancellor", Mr Ischinger said that, far from being disciplined, hard-working robots, Germans were, in fact, people who liked to have a good time.
"Germans like to have parties and they have parties more than most other people," he said. "There are beer festivals and wine festivals all over the country, and they are celebrated with vigour and also with quite a bit of alcoholic beverage, which is not much different from the British."
I can’t speak for my fellow countrymen, but I’m not sure that “vigour” is quite what you want at a party. Then again, perhaps we English don’t take our fun seriously enough. A portrait of Bismarck might help us maintain the appropriate standard of vigorous enjoyment. 7.30 for 8. Bring a bottle and an Iron Chancellor.
So how to dispel these misconceptions?
In an attempt to break down anti-German prejudice and demonstrate a willingness to laugh at themselves, the embassy has engaged John Cleese, the creator of the goose-stepping Basil Fawlty, to promote an essay-writing competition, entitled But Don't Mention the War, for British students to discuss their impressions of contemporary Germany.
Yes, that will do the trick. Not once, in writing their essays, will British students be tempted to think of this:
Cleese, who seems to have turned terribly earnest since he went live in America and started writing about psychotherapy, denounces his goose-stepping incarnation with the zeal of a convert.
Cleese puts the jackboot firmly into his most celebrated character. "I'm delighted to help with trying to break down the ridiculous anti-German prejudices of the tabloids and clowns like Basil Fawlty, who are pathetically stuck in a world view that's more than half a century out of date," he says.
Well, John, in your own words, you started it.
Posted on 04/23/2006 5:51 AM by Mary Jackson
Saturday, 22 April 2006
December 7, 1941: FDR declares war on aviation
A very scary time traveler visits novelist Dan Simmons and says, "America’s vacation from knowing history ends very soon now..."
Read the rest here
--but not just before going to bed.
Posted on 04/22/2006 2:22 PM by Robert Bove
Saturday, 22 April 2006
The late night show with Begum Nawazish Ali
Pakistan's military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf, has tussled with Islamist terrorists, fundamentalist mullahs and liberal intellectuals in the struggle to shape Pakistan's identity. But he is now facing an altogether different foe: the cross-dressing son of a retired colonel.
Ali Saleem, 27, has shot to fame as the most famous television personality in the predominantly Muslim, male-dominated country by donning a silk sari and adopting the alter ego of a flirtatious widow hosting a chat show.
Such is the popularity of Late Night Show With Begum Nawazish Ali, that Pakistan's military leadership has threatened to take the programme off air.
The Begum [the honorific in Urdu for Mrs] has ruffled feathers in a country where, despite the existence of a marginalised group of transsexuals that performs at weddings and birth blessings, cross-dressing is generally frowned upon.
"We decided to create a larger-than-life character to host a talk show where the host would be flirtatious and look good so she would be on a strong footing with her guests," said Mr Saleem.
Posing controversial questions that journalists routinely steer clear of, Pakistan's Dame Edna Everage tackles taboos as a routine. He questions prominent Islamic religious figures, celebrities and politicians on issues such as Pakistan's support for the US-led war on terror, Gen Musharraf's dictatorship and discrimination against women.
I remember a Pakistani colleague telling me about a family wedding where the local transvestite entertainers turned up (often uninvited, and they had to be paid to go away, sometimes welcome and considered fun and traditional) and he pondered why their antics were tolerated when any banter between men and women was forbidden. This was at the time when the Hudud laws had just been re-enacted.
It makes Dame Edna and Mrs Merton ("Tell me Debbie, what first attracted you to millionaire Paul Daniels?") look very ordinary. Although I think Granny Kumar would be up to it.
And I bet his hair doesn't cost £275 a day either!
Posted on 04/22/2006 7:35 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Saturday, 22 April 2006
We are all Elizabethans now
Much as I like to mock our Royal Family, I am a staunch monarchist and would defend this irrational and old-fashioned institution against any criticism from outsiders. Here she is again, looking pretty in pink:
Here are some reactions from The Times:
Ye Harte and Garter had not seen such a flurry of activity since Shakespeare’s day. Then it was the Windsor hostelry where a drunken Falstaff recovered from his dunking in the Thames. Yesterday it was the place where the world’s television network tried to make sober sense of the mysterious British royalty.
Hundreds of millions of viewers around the world watched the Queen stroll down Windsor High Street. “The Brazilians love her hat,” said Ilse Scamparini, of Globo television… “Many English people have known no other monarch,” said Karin Webb, the (German) presenter. “She is their equivalent of Helmut Kohl.”
A panel of experts shook their heads at the comparison and moved the discussion on swiftly to even higher levels of devotion.
“The Queen is a supernatural being,” said Norbert Loh, royal-watcher for the magazine Die Aktuelle. “Elizabeth has this unbelievable sense of mystery.”
This was the key to the international interest. Stories about royalty sell better in republics than in monarchies. The camera team sent by the European Broadcasting Union fed their footage across Europe but not to the monarchies of Sweden, Norway or Spain, where there appears to be little television interest.
So the teams that piled into Windsor came from South America, Germany and the United States. Their fascination was endless. Even a shop offering “Elegant Hats for Hire” became a focus of interest, an apparent sign that the Queen’s influence delved deep into British society.
Agnes Reau, a producer for the CBS network of the United States, admitted that fashion was a prime concern of her viewers. “There is always a bit of suspense about what the Queen is going to wear,” she said.
But the huge news budget was at least partly justified by the discussion on air about the royal succession. “New York wants to know — what's going to happen next? Is this the beginning of something new?”
Not really, but one hopes – I’m sounding like Her Maj now – that it isn’t the end of something old and valuable. Tom Utley in yesterday’s Telegraph discussed how Queen Elizabeth has united our society more than any mere politician or president could.
I still have the occasional fantasy that one day I will be walking along the Mall as the Queen is driving past in her carriage. A would-be assassin leaps out from behind a tree in St James's Park and levels a gun at her. Valiant Tom Utley interposes his person between his sovereign and the gunman, and takes the bullet for her. (In my fantasy, I suffer only a flesh wound, which doesn't hurt a bit, but I am lavishly rewarded for saving the Queen's life: "Arise, Sir Thomas; do stay for tea".)
I suspect that many fewer people have such dreams and fantasies these days than in the 1950s and 1960s when I was growing up. But it is a huge credit to the character and conduct of Queen Elizabeth II that she remains as widely admired as she is. When we ask ourselves what we have in common with our fellow subjects - black, white, brown, rich, poor, young, old - one of the answers is not only that we all owe allegiance to the same sovereign, but that the great majority of us think that she is a Jolly Good Thing.
Elected presidents, with their partisan political allegiances, are much more divisive figures - as witness the recent upsurge of hostility across the Channel to that preposterous fraud, Jacques Chirac.
No patriotic piece would be complete without a pop at the French.
There are very, very few people who wish her anything but the happiest of 80th birthdays today. Our shared and unforced affection for her is one of the glorious marks of a free society. Long live the Queen! And long may she reign over us!
I’ll drink to that. But then there is not much, if truth be told, that I won’t drink to.
Posted on 04/22/2006 6:05 AM by Mary Jackson
Friday, 21 April 2006
Why Russia backs Iran
"Our advice to our Iranian colleagues and friends is to complete work with the International Atomic Energy Authority and to calmly continue its nuclear energy programme... and on this path we are ready to provide assistance to Iran," Sergei Kislyak, the Deputy Foreign Minister, told a security conference in Moscow.
The Russian rulers see America as darkly plotting to weaken Russia when the American government hardly knows where to put its feet and hands. And the bombing of the Serbs was not based on some kind of anti-Slav campaign.
The Russian rulers lock up the best of the bunch of semi-demi-hemi-bankers in the semibankirshchina, the one who actually wanted to do political good with his Lukos money, and now one wonders, after his being slashed, whether he will ever get out alive.
The Russian rulers view the world as a series of overlapping or intersecting conspiracies, with Russia as the target, when everyone in the Western world, if it bothers to think of Russia at all, wishes it would come to its senses.
The Russian rulers think that they can win friends among those who run the Islamic Republic of Iran, and that this, somehow, will sate rather than whet the Muslim ambitions in the Caucasus; they are willing to throw not only Israel to the wolves, but Armenia and Georgia as well.
The Russian rulers are not keeping track of demographic trends in Russia itself -- even in Moscow itself. Just look around. Who will be left to read Konyok-Gorbunok to the children? Who will be left in a century to recite from "Evgeniy Onegin" -- a distinctly un-Islamic book, by that most thoroughly un-Islamic of writers, Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin?
The American government was stupid, in the way that it regarded Islam as a "bulwark against Communism." It no longer does that, but it still has a long way to go. And now the Russian government is stupid, for it is beginning to view Islam as a "bulwark against America." Or at least its policies suggest that such idiocies are wandering the halls, and even being admitted to the reception rooms, of the Kremlin.
Posted on 04/21/2006 8:14 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Friday, 21 April 2006
It's only rock and roll, but I like it.
Earlier this week I rather factitiously commented on one of the Samuel Becket items, indicating that the song Waiting for an Alibi by the rock band Thin Lizzy was rather more to my taste than Waiting for Godot.
Valentino's in a cold sweat, placed all his money on that last bet
Against all the odds he smokes another cigarette
Says it helps him to forget
He's a nervous wreck
It's not that he misses much
Or even that he lost his lucky touch
It's just that he gambles so much
And you know that it's wrong
Waiting for an alibi
Waiting for an alibi
Waiting just to catch your eye
Waiting for an alibi
The lyric to that song has been going round my brain ever since. I had a discussion with someone who knows about poetry recently, about how I find poetry that was meant to be sung or read aloud more accessible. Although I did not have this in mind; at the time I was actually thinking of the folk songs of Ewan MacColl.
Unfortunately none of these appeared in the vote for the UK's favourite song lyric. This was an unfair contest as the voters were given a selection of 100 lyrics to choose from. Too many of which were from the Smiths.
I very much doubt that any line from this new song will grace a list of future favourite lyrics. World at your Feet by Embrace is the England World Cup 2006 anthem. Alternative title, Die Welt zu deinen Füssen as it has been suggested that England supporters in Germany in 6 weeks might like to sing songs in German to show that they appreciate their welcome. This is a football anthem that fails to mention the beautiful game.
With the world at your feet
There’s no height you can’t reach
This could be the one
It’s calling, it’s calling you now
You know it’s going to be our time
’Cause the world is at your feet, yes the world is at your feet
Presumably With the world at your feet There’s no height you can’t reach is because you are standing on the world in order to gain height? I have only heard the tune on-line so it may grow on me. And the music industry has to take notice of my opinion. Mum rock is a formidable marketing force.
According to the Telegraph
Music industry figures show that album sales have risen 18 per cent in the past five years, with the over-40s now spending more than the under-30s.
Women are responsible for an ever bigger share of this market, in a trend that has been dubbed "mum rock". The artists benefiting from this trend range from young singer songwriters such as James Blunt and Katie Melua to old crooners such as Neil Sedaka, Barry Manilow and David Essex.
I do still like David Essex. The last CD I bought was a present for my husband, On an Island by David Gilmore. For myself I have replaced a cassette of Deep Purple's House of Blue Light, have some Spocks Beard lent to me by a friend who insists that I will love it, some Dave Swarbrick and 450 Sheep by Zdob si Zdub. No problem with the lyrics there. Dave Swarbrick is mainly instrumental fiddle and Zdob si Zdub sing in Moldovan.
As there are real musicians, and real poets on this site lets leave it there, for tonight.
Note Mary has expressed some interest in Zdob si Zdub. They were the Moldovan entry in the Eurovision song contest 2005. They play a lively punk/folk rock using some traditional instruments which I rather like. This is a link to their website.
Posted on 04/21/2006 5:24 PM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Friday, 21 April 2006
Happy Birthday, Ma'am
The Queen, Gawd bless ‘er, celebrates her 80th birthday:
She’s in good nick, isn’t she? Of course she can afford the best doctors and the best moisturisers. Forget free radicals – her radicals cost a Royal Mint. But for somebody who, as a late relative once told me, never goes to the toilet – or if she does, she closes her eyes for the Royal We and Royal Flush – she looks radiant and happy. Many Happy Returns, Your Majesty, and long may you continue to reign over us, if only so that the jug-eared plant-fancier doesn’t get a chance to rain over us.
It is good to see that the Queen has got over that bad case of annus horribilis she had a few years ago.
(As a little aside, one of Edinburgh's many private schools, which had better remain nameless, sent out letters advising parents about yet another rise in fees. Unfortunately, they made a spelling mistake and said that the fees would be payable "per anum" instead of "per annum". One parent wrote back and said he was prepared to pay the new amount, but would rather continue paying through the nose...)
The annus horribilis may have passed, but the state of Her Majesty’s vowels is another matter altogether. “Another metter,” she might have said at one time. But no longer:
Once she sounded like Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter. Now, according to Australian researchers, the Queen sounds just a little more like Jonathan Ross in Film Night.
After tuning in to three decades of Christmas messages they found that, over the years, the royal vowels had shifted daintily down the social scale.
"Our analysis reveals that the Queen's pronunciation of some vowels has been influenced by the standard southern British [SSB] accent of the 1980s, which is more typically associated with speakers younger and lower in the social hierarchy," said Jonathan Harrington and three colleagues at Macquarie University in Sydney. "We conclude that the Queen no longer speaks the Queen's English of the 1950s, although the vowels of the 1980s Christmas message are still clearly set apart from those of an SSB accent."
The researchers report in Nature today that they see the gentle shift from cut-glass to cockney as part of the blurring of class distinctions in Britain. Modern received pronunciation, for instance, resists the dropped "h" of those born within the sound of Bow bells, but there is a cockney-influenced tendency to pronounce the "l" in milk as if it were a vowel. Some of these changes have been led by younger people who reject establishment pronunciation, the researchers say. Could the older generation have resisted the influence of the young?
So Dr Harrington and his colleagues went straight to the older generation at the pinnacle of the British establishment. "The Queen's Christmas broadcasts were ideal for addressing this issue. Firstly they have been annual for a long period of time; secondly the Queen's accent is obviously not going to be influenced by geographical changes; thirdly any changes we observe are not going to be influenced by changes to style and content of the messages, because these have been quite consistent throughout."
With the blessing of Buckingham Palace and help from the BBC archives, the team compared the royal vowels of the 1950s and 1980s with the vowels of other female broadcasters. They found that in each case the Queen's accent had drifted towards the vowels of the younger generation.
"We are all familiar with the change that has taken place in the vowels of words like 'that man' where, in the 1930s, we still had something like 'thet men,' " said Jonathan Wells, professor of linguistics at University College London. "She is only following along trends that exist in any case. She still remains well behind them, shall we say, and of course she still sounds upper-class, the way she always did."
At least the Queen still says “orf”. I have never met anybody who says “orf”. They are a bit thin on the ground where I live. In fact, I’m probably one of about three people in my street who have ever said “whom”. But it is good to know that, where it counts, people are still saying “orf”.
It is said that Prince Harry once attended his brother William’s fancy dress party, not as a Nazi, but as a character from the children’s television series, “Vision On”. “What have you come as?” asked Prince William. “I’m Morph,” said Prince Harry. Prince William looked disappointed. “Must you go so soon?”
Posted on 04/21/2006 10:02 AM by Mary Jackson
Friday, 21 April 2006
Ed Driscoll has posted at his blog a United 93
. No special software required: It's You Tube
. From Deroy Murdock's review
of the film at NRO
"This is no PC film crafted by moral relativists in Malibu. As soon as Universal Studios’ logo fades to black, a man quietly prays in Arabic. He holds a small Koran in his palms while sitting atop a motel bed. 'It’s time,' one hijacker announces, and their murderous journey begins."
Posted on 04/21/2006 7:30 AM by Robert Bove
Thursday, 20 April 2006
DESPAIR IS THE NEW IRRITATION
"X is the new Y." I groaned at the title Ann Coulter gave to her piece on the illegal-immigrant demos the other day: "Brown is the New Black." (Gay was the new black about 10 years ago, I recall.) Reading that Hugh Hefner thinks that "80 is the new 40" was the last straw, though. Could we retire this one, please?
After I posted this at the Corner, a reader, responding to my plea for the "X is the new Y" rhetorical figure to be retired.
"Retirement is the new beginning."
Please make it stop.
Posted on 04/20/2006 2:45 PM by John Derbyshire
Thursday, 20 April 2006
Mark your calendars
It's never too early to begin planning your Flavio Biondo Day festivities. Biondo
(1392-June 4, 1463), of course, coined the term medieval (medievale, in the Italian), his description for the era beginning with the fall of Rome and ending on the doorstep of his own miraculous era, the summa of all previous eras. That would be the Renaissance. (Such is the vanity of the living--even of living historians, who should know better.)
Now, ahem, as to the term: If not cliched, it is certainly overused. But so is the term Victorian. Big deal. So are a lot of words. My specific complaint is over its use in describing anything related to Islam. I suggest that the term civilization also is misapplied to things Islamic. Not that Islam lacks a history that can be divided into discernible eras; not that it fails to organize society in discernible ways. By all means describe the history accurately. By all means analyze how Islam organizes society, starting with male-female relations and moving on from there.
But, like Biondo, we should coin terms when we do. The folks in the Middle Ages (or in the Renaissance) didn't gaze upon Islamic navies poised off shore and say, "Gee, better put out the good silver--we've got civilized guests!"
Posted on 04/20/2006 1:51 PM by Robert Bove
Thursday, 20 April 2006
Taking the ......er, em, ........mickey.
Jail toilets face away from Mecca
Facilities in a prison are being built so Muslim inmates do not have to face Mecca while sitting on the toilet.
The Home Office said two new toilet blocks are being installed as part of a refurbishment at Brixton jail in south London.
Faith leaders had told prison bosses it was unacceptable for Muslim inmates to face Mecca while using the toilet.
"The refurbishment has been carried out with due consideration for all faiths", a Home Office spokeswoman said.
My first thought was “all faiths”? What other religion has issues with the direction of a former market town in the Middle East?
That aside I can think of better things that the Prison Service could spend its money on. Vocational training courses in things like bricklaying, or even Braille transcribing have been cut these last 15/20 years. And it is only common sense that a man or boy released with better job prospects and a better trade is less likely to re-offend. Cut backs in staffing levels hamper the control of drugs, to name but one problem.
There was a time when a toilet, and not just in prison was a luxury. I don’t advocate a return to the practice of slopping out. For those who don’t remember this controversy this was the use of a slop bucket (with lid) for use when locked in the cell. Emptying and cleaning was called slopping out. By 1999 all prison cells had en suite facilities. I know the buckets had lids after a particular visit I did to a busy local prison some 15 years ago. The post I had at that time within the Department of Lightbulb changers frequently involved me visiting certain prisons to interview inmates. Because of the pequliar nature of this particular case I was, most exceptionally, allowed to conduct the interview in his cell, chaperoned by officers who discreetly ensured that all was tidy before introducing me.
I grew up, as did many children post war, in rooms in a shared house with no bathroom or running water, the toilet in the garden reached by the family upstairs through our kitchen down stairs. Because I was an only child we did not qualify for a council house as it was considered acceptable for me to share a bedroom with my parents up to the age of 9 by which time Mum and Dad had taken the huge leap into home ownership. Once the house was locked up for the night no one wanted to stumble down the garden so every bedroom was equipped with a bucket. This sounds revolting to modern thought but my dad smoked, not just indoors but in the bedroom. He had a cigarette on waking; I would lie in my cosy bed, watch the glow, hear the hiss as he threw it in the bucket and know that all was right with my world. My dad was awake, and nothing could harm me while he was around.
So I never felt quite the revulsion to the concept of slopping out as many people did. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, speaking on the Soviet Gulag practice of restricting access to toilet facilities as a means of discipline, said it was not the presence of the slop bucket that was an affront to humanity, but its absence.
But to have proper facilities available for prisoners is the right thing to do. I just don’t see why they have to face any particular direction.
They will be asking for their own exclusive purpose built mosque next.
Posted on 04/20/2006 1:43 PM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Thursday, 20 April 2006
Rise and shine. Breakfast is ready:
Looks lovely, doesn't it? However, the great British breakfast is under threat from Continental-style snacks of croissants and lattes. From The Telegraph:
A survey found that almost one in three people was aware of a café closing down in their neighbourhood, and in London the number of independent cafés has declined by 40 per cent since 2000.
Meanwhile, there has been an explosion of coffee shop chains across the country, and the likes of Starbucks, Caffè Nero, Coffee Republic and Costa Coffee now represent nearly a third of the market.
The Save the Proper British Café campaign is to ask members of the public to sign an online petition, and buy brown rubber wristbands to show their commitment to the cause. Hundreds of café owners will be doing their bit by offering an extra breakfast free with every one purchased.
The Save the Proper British Café campaign? Now there's an initiative I can support.
Paul Harvey, a spokesman for the campaign, which is backed by HP Sauce, said cafés were a "national institution", but he feared they could almost vanish by 2010.
"Britain has already suffered the demise of institutions like the red phone box and the faithful Routemaster bus, which is why it seems so important to start this campaign to Save the Proper British Café." ...
With the regeneration of the area in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics, he fears new competition from American-owned coffee shop chains.
Overpriced, over-clean and over here.
"They have no soul," he said. "They seem so impersonal. I know all my regulars and their likes and dislikes. People are always going to want a proper breakfast. There isn't much call for croissants from the Irish labourers who come here."
Well that's a sweeping generalisation if ever there was one. Before he was famous, Samuel Beckett once worked on a building site, and he didn't achieve the tortured artist look by eating fry-ups. A croissant would be much more his tasse de thé. (The site foreman was naturally unimpressed by this weedy intellectual, and asked him whether he knew the difference between a joist and a girder."Easy," said Beckett, "Girder wrote Faust and Joist wrote Ulysses.")
The Telegraph leader gives food for thought:
To eat well in England, Somerset Maugham said, you should have breakfast three times a day. In our own time, it would be a start to have it once. As we report today, cafés serving traditional breakfasts are dwindling, just as the health benefits of early morning ballast are being realised.
Breakfast is the glory of Britain, and breakfast isn't breakfast without cutlery. The takeaway muffin and the cardboard cup of coffee are the flaccid fodder of failure. Knife, fork and spoon (greasy or not) instil sociability, teach dexterity and allay anxious hurry.
The most famous victories were won on the breakfast plates of Britain. Without breakfast, schoolchildren absorb nothing more at their lessons. Without solid fuel, the sterling British workman cannot run at full power. The future of Britain is the future of breakfast, that most forward-looking of meals. "Hope is a good breakfast, but a poor supper," wrote one of our finest stylists - who else but Bacon?
Off at a tangent here, but what is The Iconoclast for if you can't go off at tangents? From my childhood I remember a comic strip called "Ivor Lott and Tony Broke", a latter-day prince and pauper. Here they are. Marx would be turning in his grave, that Communist Plot in Highgate Cemetary:
Ivor Lott had a "pater" and ate at the Restaurant du Posh. Tony Broke had a "dad" and ate at Joe's Caff. But he always managed to come off better than Ivor, and the two boys were often able to bridge the class divide, with Ivor Lott treating Tony Broke to the occasional posh nosh, or "slap-up meal". Invariably, the slap-up meal consisted of a pile of mashed potato with sausages sticking out at all angles. Quite why this was regarded as haute cuisine I never knew, unless it prefigured the kind of nose to tail eating you now get at classy restaurants like the St John's in Clerkenwell.
Posted on 04/20/2006 4:58 AM by Mary Jackson
Thursday, 20 April 2006
Beckett - the lost plays (1)
Adapted from this entry on an obscure website:
Samuel Beckett, the lost plays: "Waiting for Vladimir and Estragon" (1954)
A country road. A tree. Evening. Godot, sitting on a low mound, smokes a cigarette and checks his watch.
GODOT: "...Bloody tramps..."
GODOT: "...Sod this for a lark. I'm going home to watch Top Cat."
Posted on 04/20/2006 4:24 AM by Mary Jackson
Wednesday, 19 April 2006
James Joyce Underappreciated Society
The annual meeting of the James Joyce Underappreciated Society will this year be held at 7 Eccles Street, Dublin, on a date to be decided. Under no circumstances, however, will the date chosen turn out to be June 16, for all the obviously obvious reasons. We've had quite enough, thank you, of Bloomsday Ceremonies, marathon readings by too-enthusiastic enthusiasts, agents the Irish National Tourist Board, and the rest of it, on poor little over-exploited June 16 in dear dirty Dublin.
There is a Call for Papers. Topic:
A Cross Examination of "Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress."
Special attention will be given by prosecutors and defenders alike to the contribution to "Our Incamination for Factification of His Exagmination of Work in Progress" by the late Vladimir Dixon (whose papers are preserved in western Massachusetts). Despite his Christian name, Dixon was not quite as Russian as Barclay de Tolly or even Baudouin de Courtenay, but he was chosen as the main subject of this year's Underappreciatd Society meeting because Beckett had come into the discussion above and, as many by now have hastily or even hostily guessed at this informative website, the name "Vladimir" for a certain personage's name in "Waiting for Godot" was first suggested by the first name of Beckett's fellow contributor to "Our Factification Round His Exagmination for Incamination of Work in Progress." Even the crisrixians have missed this.
A high old time should be had by all, especially during the planned climb of the Hill of Howth. The High Kings of Connaught have written that they plan to attend.
Posted on 04/19/2006 8:19 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 19 April 2006
Four years today. Celebrating? Sure--dinner with Harvey Mansfield (& 15 other guys). Been reading his book--much harder than I'd thought. "Thus science is unpretentious on behalf of mankind but in a manly, pretentious way; this is the wrenching complication to which Nietzsche compels manliness to perform..." ( p.115). Um, right. Note to self: Give those Teaching Company Nietzsche disks another try. In event failure, GIVE UP ONCE FOR ALL THIS PRETENSE OF BEING INTELLECTUAL, write geometry textbook.
Posted on 04/19/2006 4:35 PM by John Derbyshire
Wednesday, 19 April 2006
Dalrymple in City Journal
NER's own Theodore Dalrymple gives us his usual interesting insights in City Journal:
The newspapers confirmed what I had long perceived before I left Britain: that the zeitgeist of the country is now one of sentimental moralizing combined with the utmost cynicism, where the government’s pretended concern for the public welfare coexists with the most elementary dereliction of duty. There is an absence of any kind of idealism that is a necessary precondition of probity, so that bad faith prevails almost everywhere. The government sees itself as an engineer of souls (to use the phrase so eloquently coined by Stalin with regard to writers who, of course, were expected to mold Homo Sovieticus by the power of their words). Government thus concerns itself with what people think, feel, and say—as well as with trying to change their freely chosen habits—rather than with performing its one inescapable duty: that of preserving the peace and ensuring that citizens may go about their lawful business in confidence and safety. It is more concerned that young men should not smoke cigarettes in prison or make silly jokes to policemen than that they should not attack and permanently maim their elders and betters.
One definition of decadence is the concentration on the gratifyingly imaginary to the disregard of the disconcertingly real. No one who knows Britain could doubt that it has very serious problems—economic, social, and cultural. Its public services—which already consume a vast proportion of the national wealth—are not only inefficient but completely beyond amelioration by the expenditure of yet more money. Its population is abysmally educated, to the extent that in a few more years Britain will not even have a well-educated elite. An often cynical and criminally minded population has been indoctrinated with shallow and gimcrack notions—for example, about social justice—that render it singularly unfit to compete in an increasingly competitive world. Not coincidentally, Britain has serious economic problems, even if the government has managed so far—in the eyes of the world, at least—to paper over the cracks. Unpleasant realities cannot be indefinitely disguised or conjured away, however.
Therefore I have removed myself: not that I imagine things are much better, only slightly different, in France. But one does not feel the defects of a foreign country in quite the same lacerating way as the defects of one’s native land; they are more an object of amused, detached interest than of personal despair.
Posted on 04/19/2006 4:25 PM by Rebecca Bynum
Wednesday, 19 April 2006
Kuwait, Qatar and other sheiklets, and the Other Big Bad Wolf of the region, Saudi Arabia, are less likely to scream in feigned outrage over an attack on Iran if it takes place while large-scale Sunni-Shi'a hostilities are taking place. And if those hostilities should include signs of Iranian intervention in attacks on Iraq's Sunnis, and if further Hezbollah forces from elsewhere (e.g. Lebanon) were to join the fray, and if it were clear that fears of Shi'a loyalty to Iran, the kind expressed so helpfully by Mubarak last week ("Shi'a are not loyal to Arab regimes, but are loyal only to Iran"), at the very least the Americans might have to endure a slightly less shrill pan-Muslim outcry, as Sunnis take grim satisfaction in the damage done (after all, those potential Shi'a bombs might have someday been used to blackmail or actually be used, on them --there's no telling with those wild-and-crazy Iranians, is there?
One more reason to get out of tarbaby Iraq, as if even one more were needed. Obstinacy, a refusal to change policy, an inability to see that Shi'a-ruled Iraq could never, will never be a "Light Unto the (Sunni Arab) Muslim Nations," and the colossal waste of men, matériel, money, and of morale, both that of the military, and that of civilians who need to have their enthusiasm for war, war using all kinds of instruments, carefully husbanded rather than recklessly squandered -- all this needs to be articulated by someone in public life.
Someone, anyone -- Tancredo, Weldon, or a Senator or two.
What about those generals? Well, there one must be careful. Zinni did not serve in Iraq, and Zinni hates Rumsfeld, and Zinni is a long-time self-promoter of the Scowcroft appeasement-of-the-Arabs school. He in fact wants to get rid of Rumsfeld, but like the silly Lawrence Wilkerson, wants the American forces to remain in Iraq to ensure "stability." The other five generals are different in their criticisms. But all of their criticisms are, and because they are generals, must be, about tactics: how many men were sent, whether the Iraqi army should have been disbanded, etc. Those generals have been taught that they have no role in discussing strategy, so none of them do -- they do not say, as they should: We who served in Iraq now realize that the idea of an "Iraqi" army or an "Iraqi" police force is a will-o'-the-wisp, that will keep receding as we keep marching toward it; that the hostility felt by Kurds for Arabs, and Shi'a for Sunni, and Sunni Arabs for everyone who wishes to take power from them, ought rather to be exploited for the aims of Infidels.
No, they can't say that, those generals.
But we can. And so can those in Washington who become aware of -- as they should -- what has appeared, without change, and with the validation of developments in Iraq and outside Iraq, at every single step -- as both prediction, and as prescription.
There is no other place where one can scroll back in time and find such a record. Surely that entitles those making such predictions, and suggesting such prescriptions, to be at least read, and possibly -- if obstinacy in pursuing a policy based on ignorance both of Islam and of Iraq can can be seen not as virtue but as vice --even heeded.
There will be no charge for saving this country another trillion dollars in Iraq, and allowing the armed services to be used more wisely.
That would appear to be a bargain.
Posted on 04/19/2006 3:21 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald