Friday, December 23, 2005
Since nobody could ever describe TofE as 'listless' (hah!), I will leave 2005 in a traditional manner: with a load of Top Things...
Top 4 Lines to Belt Out Lustily in Christmas Carols and Songs:
1) Lo! He abhors not the virgin’s womb (O Come All Ye Faithful)
2) Don we now our gay apparel! (Deck the Halls)
3) Five Gold Rings! (The 12 Days of Christmas)
4) and best of all: Glooooooooooooooo - oooooooooooooo -ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo -ooooooooooo - ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooria! Hosannah in Exclesis! (Ding Dong Merrily on High)
Top Fifteen Things Compared to Hitler, the Nazis and Nazism on Blogs in 2005:
1) George W Bush
2) The United Nations
3) The Roman Catholic Church
5) The Religious Right
7) Tony Blair and the Labour spin-doctors
8) The Tory party
10) City folk who want to ban fox-hunting
12) The Pro-life movement
13) The Pro-choice movement
14) The War On Terror
15) Harry Potter
Top 10 Reasons Why the World is Going to Hell in a Handbasket:
2) Secular modern rationalism
3) Intelligent Design
4) Binge drinking and 24 hour licensing
5) The War on Terror
6) Janet Jackson’s nipple.
7) The ageing population
8) Economic migration
9) Mobile telephones
10) Harry Potter.
Top 5 Suspect Interpretations of Harry Potter:
1) It is a pagan heresy designed to sneakily undermine religion by encouraging kids to dress up in pointy hats and cast spells
2) It is religious allegory designed to sneakily undermine secularism, with Harry in the role of Messiah and Dumbledore as John the Baptist
3) It is an allegory of Star Wars, which is itself an allegory of Narnia, which is itself an allegory of the Gospels. Harry is Jesus Skywalker the Lion, and Obi Wan Kenobe is Dumbledore the Baptist, or something.
4) It is a racist white supremacy allegory, in which Muggle children are discriminated against and excluded from Hogwarts purely because they are born without magical powers.
5) It’s a children’s story, you know, for kids (not very popular, that one)
Whatever your favourite susperstition, spiritual comfort blanket or soul food happens to be, may it keep you toasty and warm this Christmas.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Skint student's $1m brainwave
An internet brainwave has put a skint student on the way to becoming a millionaire in just four months.
Alex Tew planned to pay off fees on his degree course with his web page - made up of 10,000 tiny advert boxes.
But the idea took off so fast he is set to reach his target of $1million - £566,861 - by Christmas Day, reports the Mirror.
Firms buy a box on www.milliondollarhomepage.com for $100 (£57) which then directs users to their own website.
Alex, 21, of Cricklade, Wilts, England, said: "I have always been skint."
A few weeks ago I read an interview with Mr Tew, in which he explained that the idea came to him one evening that he could make a million pounds if he could get a million people to pay a pound for an advertising space. He went to sleep and in the morning it still seemed like good idea, so he created the milliondollar website. A few weeks later, the cash was pouring into his student account.
Since it is the season of goodwill, I will only say well done to young Alex for his brilliantly simple business idea.
At any other time I would curse him for being a thoroughly jammy little git.
Friday, December 16, 2005
Simon Barnes in The Times
I CAN see it coming and I am beginning to dread it. The massed ranks of England football fans walking to the match with bellies full of beer and the German security forces on all sides. And suddenly it begins: the goose-stepping, the straight-arm saluting, the left index finger across the upper lip. I can tell you from personal experience that the Germans do not find this sort of thing as amusing as we do.
The German response to the years of Adolf Hitler and the Second World War are complex and contradictory, but nowhere does humour play a part. It is, after all, hardly a piece of history that you can laugh off.
That makes the unending British facility for Nazi jokes profoundly baffling to the Germans. This disagreement over the humorousness of Hitler is, perhaps, the greatest culture clash between Britain and Germany. And I really don’t see how it can be avoided in the summer festival of football.
Not only do the Germans fail to find Hitler amusing, they are also mystified at the way Hitler has become a stock part of British humour. Just what, precisely, is it that the British are laughing at? Well, it’s not the Final Solution. It’s not the death camps and the torture, it’s not the warfare, it’s not the pseudo- philosophy and pseudo-science. It’s just that there is something about Hitler, something about Nazism, something about all forms of dictatorships, that is, in British eyes, every bit as funny as naughty vicars, banana skins, mothers-in-law, Scotsmen and women with enormous breasts.
Prince Harry dressed up as a Nazi and was genuinely baffled when people took offence. You may as well berate him for dressing up as Charlie Chaplin. It was a joke. The fact that it was a joke with baggage simply didn’t occur to him. It wasn’t witty, ironic, dangerous humour: it was a piece of dumb slapstick.
But Hitler and Nazism continue to be one of the great British jokes, perhaps most gloriously realised by John Cleese in Fawlty Towers. Here, the joke is specifically against the British — the fact that they can’t deal with the Germans without mentioning a certain subject, and that they find Hitler a subject for burlesque.
But the joke is doubled, although it is against us, for we find the burlesque itself gloriously funny, as well as its inappropriateness. These jokes are even funnier when the Germans are watching, unamused.
The inability to take extreme government seriously is nothing less than an ingrained British trait. P. G. Wodehouse, however, was to become a victim of a peculiarly British conspiracy of the humourless when he made an injudicious — but hardly compromising — radio broadcast. As a result he was, quite absurdly, seen as a Nazi sympathiser. But years before, in 1938, Wodehouse showed us what he really thought when, in The Code of the Woosters, he gave us Sir Roderick Spode, leader of the Black Shorts, an unambiguous skit on Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists.
When Bertie Wooster acts, as ever, the turning worm, he says what Wodehouse thinks about Nazism, fascism and all such forms of extremism, and also what the British themselves naturally think about such subjects and such people. “The trouble with you, Spode, is that just because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of half-wits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you’re someone. You hear them shouting ‘Heil, Spode!’ and you imagine it’s the voice of the people. That is where you make your bloomer. What the voice of the people is saying is: ‘Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?’ ”
Spode is comic, Mosley was comic to the British, and even — especially — Hitler was and is comic. That has been the great British defence against the Spodes and the Mosleys and the Hitlers of this life. The coarse and obvious jokes have been the soundest possible defence against would-be dictators. The Germans will wince when the English go goose-stepping into Nuremberg, but the history of the world would have been very different if the Germans possessed the British sense of humour.
For the British, all politicians are funny, and extreme politicians are extremely funny.
If they also dress up in a silly costume, invent a silly walk, grow a little moustache and take themselves very seriously, they may as well be stood on a stage dressed as a Dame and flinging buckets of custard at the back end of a pantomime cow.
This great tradition is also carried on in the States, where the use of Saddam Hussein as Satan’s randy lover in South Park was inspired.
But even on a more mundane level, humour is an irresistible weapon. If a politician cannot laugh at himself, he is in trouble. And once he becomes a figure of fun, he can forget about his career.
The Tories have suffered particularly from this in recent years, starting with John Major, who never recovered from the Spitting Image sketch in which he constantly professed to ‘liking peas.’ William Hague was plagued by that footage of his conference address when he was a toe-curlingly earnest teenager (though he has bravely reinvented himself as a TV humourist), while Ian Duncan Smith was dead in the water from his first speech.
Blair’s toothy grin is constantly mocked by satirists, but his own sense of humour has saved him. It will be interesting to see if Cameron or Brown can better handle the dreaded caricature.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Dick Van Dyke is celebrating his 80th birthday today.
The rather odd Cockney accent that Van Dyke employed in Mary Poppins stands alone in cinematic history (Wikipedia says it is "still often cited as the worst attempt at a British accent by an American actor"). So as a tribute, we are inviting your impersonations….
Dick’s extraordinary performance surely is the worst filmic attempt at a British accent ever – I don’t think that can seriously be disputed. But in second place must come Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I don’t count Kevin Costner in Robin Hood as he wisely didn’t even bother trying.
The best must be the David St Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel characters in Spinal Tap. Their Estuary English is more convincing than Mick Jagger's (though that's not necessarily saying much).
As for returning the favour, Bob Hoskins might take the prize for terrible American accents. In Who Framed Roger Rabbit? he seems to forget halfway through that he’s supposed to be a hardbitten Noo Yoik cop, becomes a hardbitten cockney DI, before belatedly remembering to be American again in the final scenes.
Friday, December 09, 2005
By Will Pavia
Winnie the Pooh’s owner just wasn't attractive enough, so Disney turned him into a 6-year-old girl
POOR Christopher Robin. For 80 years there has been an enchanted place on the top of the forest where a little boy and his bear would always be playing. But though Winnie the Pooh became a hugely successful brand, Christopher Robin just wouldn’t sell.
“There’s only one thing to be done,” said the executives at Disney, and replaced him with a six-year-old girl.
Among the frantic merchandising activities laid on to mark the 80th anniversary of Hundred Acre Wood, Disney has commissioned an animated series My Friends Tigger and Pooh.
The Bear of Very Little Brain will be more active and the characters first rendered by Ernest Shepherd will appear in 3-D computer animation in brighter colours.
But what is most likely to anger longtime Milne devotees is the arrival of the “tomboyish girl” in the role usually played by Christopher Robin.
Disney says that the series will target preschool children. “The young character will elicit physical, cognitive and emotional responses from the viewing audience and will also address them directly,” said a spokesman.
The series is an attempt to increase Disney’s share in the pre-school market, worth an estimated £11.9 billion, the company said this week. Industry observers consider the new character a clever move.
Thomas Ranese, of marketing consultants Interbrand, said: “Pooh appears to be a robust brand that can handle expansion.”
Now this is the sort of thing that can try the patience of even the most Americaphile Briton.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
A bank robber fled empty-handed in Austria after being referred to a different counter.
The clerk he approached told him she did not "deal with those types of queries".
But there was a big queue for the next cashier at the Landeskbank-Hypothekenbank in Vienna. So the man, who was holding a silver box that he claimed was a bomb, fled before repeating his request.
Who needs alarms and armed guards when you’ve got ingrained inefficiency and unhelpfulness? The Post Office is safe forever.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
What planet are the eco-cultists on?
The eco-doom-mongers were speculating on possible changes in thermohaline circulation in the Atlantic - or, as the Daily Mail put it: "Is Britain on the brink of a New Ice Age?" Europe could get so chilly that shivering Muslim rioters might burn the entire Peugeot fleet on the first night. Which would be good for the environment, presumably. After that, they'd be reduced to huddling round the nearest fire-breathing imam for warmth.
But the point is, as Steven Guilbeault of Greenpeace puts it: "Global warming can mean colder, it can mean drier, it can mean wetter, that's what we're dealing with." Got that? If it's hot, that's a sign of global warming, and, if it's cold, that's a sign of global warming.
And if it's just kind of average - say, 48F and partially cloudy, as it will be in Llandudno today - that's a sign that global warming is accelerating out of control and you need to flee immediately because time is running out ! "Time is running out to deal with climate change," says Mr Guilbeault. "Ten years ago, we thought we had a lot of time, five years ago we thought we had a lot of time, but now science is telling us that we don't have a lot of time."
Really? Ten years ago, we had a lot of time? That's not the way I recall it: "Time is running out for the climate" - Chris Rose of Greenpeace, 1997; "Time running out for action on global warming Greenpeace claims" - Irish Times, 1994; "Time is running out" - scientist Henry Kendall, speaking on behalf of Greenpeace, 1992. Admirably, Mr Guilbeault's commitment to the environment extends to recycling last decade's scare-mongering press releases.
"Stop worrying about your money, take care of our planet," advised one of the protesters' placards. Au contraire, take care of your money and the planet will follow. For anywhere other than Antarctica and a few sparsely inhabited islands, the first condition for a healthy environment is a strong economy. In the past third of a century, the American economy has swollen by 150 per cent, automobile traffic has increased by 143 per cent, and energy consumption has grown 45 per cent.
During this same period, air pollutants have declined by 29 per cent, toxic emissions by 48.5 per cent, sulphur dioxide levels by 65.3 per cent, and airborne lead by 97.3 per cent.
Despite signing on to Kyoto, European greenhouse gas emissions have increased since 2001, whereas America's emissions have fallen by nearly one per cent, despite the Toxic Texan's best efforts to destroy the planet.
Had America and Australia ratified Kyoto, and had the Europeans complied with it instead of just pretending to, by 2050 the treaty would have reduced global warming by 0.07C - a figure that would be statistically undectectable within annual climate variation. In return for this meaningless gesture, American GDP in 2010 would be lower by $97 billion to $397 billion - and those are the US Energy Information Administration's somewhat optimistic models.
I've mentioned before the environmentalists' ceaseless fretting for the prospect of every species but their own. By the end of this century, the demographically doomed French, Italians and Spaniards will be so shrivelled in number they may have too few environmentalists to man their local Greenpeace office. Is that part of the plan? To create a habitable environment with no humans left to inhabit it? If so, destroying the global economy for 0.07C is a swell idea.
But even the poseurs of the European chancelleries are having second thoughts. Which is why, in their efforts to flog some life back into the dead Kyoto horse, the eco-cultists have to come up with ever scarier horrors, such as that "New Ice Age". Meanwhile, the Bush Administration's Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate brings together the key economic colossi of this new century - America, China and India - plus Australia, Japan and South Korea, in a relationship that acknowledges, unlike Kyoto, the speed of Chinese and Indian economic growth, provides for the sharing of cleaner energy technology and recognises that the best friend of the planet's natural resources is the natural resourcefulness of a dynamic economy.
It's a practical and results-oriented approach, which is why the eco-cultists will never be marching through globally warmed, snow-choked streets on its behalf. It lacks the requisite component of civilisational self-loathing.
Wake up and smell the CO2, guys. Sayonara, Kyoto. Hello, coalition of the emitting.
Steyn is one of the most popular writers in blogland. This article illustrates why.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Ozzy: Xmas shopping would drive me to drink
Ozzy Osbourne says Christmas shopping with his wife Sharon would drive him back to drink and drugs.
According to Heat magazine he said: "I hate shopping. Especially with my wife! If anything was to drive me back to drink and drugs it would be going to Harrods with Sharon for the day."
You get the impression that Ozzy is probably always on the verge of falling off the wagon, but I know what he means.
I remember reading something that said some men get the same levels of stress from High Street shopping that you’d expect to see in fighter pilots going into combat.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
I say, chaps . . .
Sir, President Chirac can end his address to the nation with “Vive la France”; President Bush says “God bless America”. What can our leaders say to unite and inspire the nation?
Here are my suggestions for expressions Blair and successors could use to wrap up speeches :
1) Carry on, Britain.
3) Confusion to Bonaparte!
4) Still, mustn’t grumble, eh?
6) After all, worse things happen at sea.
8) Nice to see you, to see you…nice!
9) God Save the King!
10) So put that in yer pipe and smoke it.
11) End of
12) Right, anyone fancy a pint?
Monday, November 28, 2005
Video of violent 'initiation rite' for Royal Marines has revived the demands for a secret hotline for victims' complaints
SECRETLY filmed video of a brutal initiation ceremony among naked Royal Marine commandos led to calls last night for an independent system to investigate complaints of bullying within the Armed Forces.
The shots of two naked Royal Marine commandos appearing to take part in some form of gladiatorial fight before one is kicked unconscious by a non-commissioned officer provoked outrage yesterday among MPs and former military commanders.
The graphic film, which appeared to show an initiation ceremony among recently trained recruits of 42 Commando Royal Marines, is now at the heart of a full-scale criminal inquiry by the Royal Military Police Special Investigations Branch.
Oliver’s Army is here to stay...etc.
The interesting anthropological question is not "Why do the Marines have brutal initiation ceremonies?" but "Why are brutal initiation ceremonies universal in armies, gangs, tribes...?"
Three cheers for applause
By Matthew Syed
THE ONE-MINUTE SILENCE HAS BEEN done to death. Most of the time the objects of these desperate affairs — 9/11, the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, 7/7 — have nothing whatsoever to do with football. But still the authorities insist upon ordering the fans to keep schtum in an ultimately futile attempt to demonstrate the sport’s respectability.
And each time the gesture is thrown back at them by a bunch of Neanderthals who rend the air with their pitiful oratory while the rest of us struggle in vain to focus upon the supposed object of bereavement. Whatever the noble intent, these occasions have become toe-curling affairs that most of us approach with dread rather than solemnity.
Thank heavens, then, for the spontaneous ovations at football grounds across the country during the one-minute “silences” in memory of George Best. The stamping, chanting, cheering and clapping drowned out the jeerers in a way that would have brought a smile to a departed genius who knew a thing or two about outsmarting thugs.
But football should bury the one-minute silence for cultural as well as pragmatic reasons. Football stadiums are not libraries or churches. Quite the reverse. Football’s is a culture that not merely tolerates but celebrates noise. Noise as chanting, noise as booing, noise as applauding, noise as cheering. Noise as satire. Noise as censure.
We go to watch football, in part, because it provides an opportunity to ditch the mask of Anglo-Saxon reserve amid an orgy of noise-making. In every football ground in the country, the quality of the spectacle is directly proportionate to the quantity of noise. Noise communicates everything you need to now about football; it is as much a part of the liturgy of the beautiful game as the offside rule.
I’ve been present at several one minute silences at Anfield. They have all been impeccably observed, and they really are quite eerie affairs – 45,000 people all stood in utter quiet. You get that sense of the oxymoronic "deafening silence."
However, as an exercise in focusing on the ‘object of bereavement’, they are hopeless because you spend the whole time tensely hoping some idiot isn’t going to ruin it by yelling.
The 'one minute applauses' around the grounds for George Best at the weekend were moving and much more appropriate for someone who was above all a great entertainer. And if it catches on, it will be yet another way that he has changed the British game for the better.
My view runs counter to a consensus emerging among many commentators. The consensus (both among those who supported and opposed the invasion of Iraq) is persuasive. It says that in terms of political “capital”, there is little left to be gained or lost from Iraq as a domestic controversy in Britain and America. It accepts that the outlook in Iraq itself is not encouraging, but questions what further impact this is likely to have on the fortunes of those who led the invasion.
A core of opinion (says this consensus) holds that the invasion was a crime and a blunder; the other core holds that it was the right thing to do; both cores are now fairly impregnable to impact from future facts. Everybody agrees that what’s done is done; and those who turned against their political leaders because of the war have done so already. Anti-war parties have already taken their profits from the investment they made in opposing the war; pro-war parties like new Labour and the Conservatives have already taken their knocks. Hostilities may or may not continue, but domestic politics has moved on. The Iraq factor can therefore be more or less removed from domestic contests still to come.
To join me in challenging this consensus you will have to accept my unspoken main premise: that nobody seriously now thinks the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a good idea or is going anywhere useful. You will not lack for evidence against my view. Take Tony Blair. Probably he thinks he thinks he was right, though I doubt anyone else in the Cabinet does. Among the commentariat, admirable figures such as David Aaronovitch, Michael Gove, Daniel Finkelstein and whoever writes the leading articles for this newspaper and others remain as gallant as they are eloquent in their support for the war and occupation.
But people have unconscious minds and a nation has a collective unconscious. It is possible to consult an unconscious mind but you must be armed not with a questionnaire and a pencil, but a tape recorder and stop-watch. Don’t ask “Are we right: yes or no?” or the conscious man will at once tick the “yes” box. Ask instead: “Imagine you were to wake up tomorrow and realise all this invasion of Iraq stuff had just been a dream. Would your waking thought be ‘Aargh! Bad news. We aren’t in Iraq after all. We must occupy that country at once — no time to lose!’ Is that what you’d think?”
Even to that question, expect the conscious man, if he’s on record as supporting the war, to work out that logic requires a “yes”. Ignore his answer. Instead, time the delay before he gives it, and listen for the hesitation in his voice. Here is the unconscious mind speaking. All the rest is a mix of pride, loyalty, self-justification and the urge to sound consistent.
Come on, chaps. It proved a mistake and in your hearts you know it. In return for your admitting as much, we who opposed the war should concede with better grace than we have, that you who supported it genuinely followed conscience and intellect in the stand you took.
Matthew Parris was generally brilliant when he was the Times’s Parliamentary sketch writer, so it pains me to see him reduced to something so weak, and so silly, as this.
Even if it is true that most people would answer his ‘unconcious mind’ question the way he claims, the whole premise is irrelevant for two reasons.
First, what we wish were the case in an ideal world has no bearing on what we ought to do in the unpleasant reality of the actual world.
For example, ask any man on the morning of a dentist appointment: “do you wish that you could wake up and all this stuff about the toothache and the dentist appointment were a dream and you could have fun all day instead?” Of course he’d say yes – but that has no bearing on the fact that he ought to go to the dentist.
Secondly, by a simple rephrasing of the question you will get a different answer. Try asking this question of your unconscious mind: “Do you wish that the genocidal dictator Saddam Hussein was still in control of the lives and future of the Iraqi people?”
Friday, November 25, 2005
Diana tragedy turns into a French farce
From Charles Bremner in Paris
A GLAMOROUS princess catches her husband in adultery, then revenges herself, becoming a global star and charity saint. She takes her gym instructor to bed, manipulates the media against the Royal Family, gives a devastating British TV interview and is killed falling off Tower Bridge.
Although not exactly the life story of Diana, Princess of Wales, this familiar tale is the plot of an all-star comedy film that opened in France this week to high acclaim and packed cinemas.
Palais Royal, written and directed by and starring Valérie Lemercier, a leading French actress-comedian, is set in a dysfunctional French-speaking royal family somewhere in Europe. But even without its extensive London scenes, there is no doubt about its subject. Palais Royal is the first big budget satire on the life and times of Princess Diana.
It is also difficult not to see a little Franco-British one-upmanship behind the lavish launch that the French media have given the film, in which Catherine Deneuve is a diabolical Queen and Lambert Wilson plays a tiresome, polo-playing Prince.
The Princess Diana send-up is obvious from the opening scene, in which mourners pile teddy bears, flowers and notes at the palace gates and a female pastiche of Sir Elton John warbles a joke Candle in the Wind at the funeral service for “Princesse Armelle”.
At the opening night in Paris on Wednesday, the audience roared with mirth as Lemercier camped up the trouble-making Princess, who joins the Royal Family as a virginal speech therapist. She imitates Princess Diana’s gestures and magazine photo-shoots and copies her Muslim head-covering while on charity missions.
The French proudly cherish their unique ability to irritate. They’re the national equivalent of the child who pesters and prods and provokes her older brother until he finally snaps, gives her a thump, and off she goes screaming for Mummy.
Actually, this film might be quite funny, if a little like shooting fish in a barrel as far as satirical targets go.
Almost as soft a target as that of this joke:
Q: What do you call 100,000 Frenchmen with their arms in the air?
A: The Army.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
IAN BOTHAM is 50 today. Because he once said, with customary abandon and uncomplicated humour, that Pakistan would make as good a place as any to send your mother-in-law on a single ticket, it is a delicious irony that that is where he should be spending his birthday, commentating on the England cricket tour…writes John Woodcock...
IAN BOTHAM was to England cricket in the ten years after his first appearance in 1977 what Andrew Flintoff is to the present team and W. G. Grace was to the earliest England sides — the hub of the team, the inspiration, the big man, the one for whom no challenge seemed too big…writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins
If the natural heirs to the great British military heroes like Nelson, Wellington and Cochrane are now to be found instead in the world of sport, then Botham is up there with the best of them.
He ticked every box for national hero-worship: the never-say-die attitude, the larger-than-life personality, the ability to defy impossible odds with sheer force of will, the ability to inspire the mediocrities around him, and of course the deep flaws that generated so many tabloid headlines.
Sadly, England only managed a draw today in Faisalabad, but Happy Birthday anyway Beefy - the world would have been a measurably poorer place without your mighty mullet and miraculous victories.
An International Republican Institute (IRI) poll conducted November 1-11, 2005, found that once again an overwhelming majority of Iraqis plan to vote on December 15 to elect a permanent national assembly, which will be called the Council of Representatives. Eighty-five percent of Iraqis plan to go to the polls to choose their representatives under a new constitution adopted on October 15 in a national referendum.
As the December elections approach, and Iraqis prepare to meet the third and final deadline set in the Transitional Administrative Law to establish a new government, optimism for the future remains high. Of those polled, 53 percent feel things will be much better or better in six months, 65 percent in one year and 72 percent in five years.
Confidence in the government also remains high. A majority of Iraqis, 55 percent, strongly approve or somewhat approve of the performance of the current Iraqi National Assembly. Fifty-six percent of Iraqis feel their new constitution represents the will of the Iraqi people. This is compared to only 15 percent who feel the constitution represents the will of only certain ethnic or religious groups or 13 percent who feel it doesn't represent the will of the Iraqi people at all. Sixty-four percent of Iraqis have a very favorable or somewhat favorable impression of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq.
Freedom and democracy is the reason most given by Iraqis who feel the country is headed in the right direction. Iraqis also cite the existence of a nationally elected government, improved infrastructure and having a constitution as reasons why the country is moving in the right direction.
Better planning for the post-war Al-Qaeda ‘insurgency’ could have made the aftermath less bloody. There are no excuses for the behaviour of the Americans in Abu Ghraib.
Those are two legitimate criticisms of the Coalition. Once we’ve made them, let’s admire the achievements and attitude of the Iraqis. They’re more optimistic about the future of their democratic country than the race riot-ravaged French are about theirs.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Puritans are taking political correctness to another level — and they want us in their pious band, says Mary Braid
Beware the onward surge of the killjoys. Once we used to see them in little groups in the veggie cafe, muttering over their Fairtrade coffees about the iniquities of cheap diesel; or at the school gate tut-tutting as another child was dropped off from his parents’ SUV. But now, according to one Scottish researcher, they are so numerous they have become a new model army on the march. Meet the latest breed of puritans who have been dubbed the neo-Cromwellians.
The neo-Croms (the diminutive makes them seem only a little less threatening) are a group of sour-faced individuals who won’t let their children eat sweets, but will piously buy organic local produce. They eschew cheap flights and religiously travel by train. Most importantly of all, they want you to do the same.
According to the social forecaster Jim Murphy, in the neo-Crom world smoking and fizzy soft drinks are a distant memory...
Hey Skipper of the Daily Duck often observes that irony appears to be the driving force of the universe. Here’s another story to support his theory.
According to a survey for Bupa, more than a third of Britons think that smokers should pay for their own NHS treatment, while a hardline 8% think that they should actually be refused any kind of treatment at all.
The argument being, why should we non-smokers pay for the illness they’ve brought upon themselves? Smoking-related diseases cost the NHS some £1.7 billion per year.
Yet here’s the irony: smokers contribute approximately £8 billion per year to the Treasury, so that’s a profit of £6.3 billion on the face of it.
But what you also have to bear in mind is that even vegetarian, non-smoking, fairtrade, organic-eating, bicycle-riding tee-totallers eventually get old and die. What’s more, they take longer about it, so not only do we have to fund their NHS treatment when they finally succumb, we also have to pay for their state pension while they take an age getting around to it. Bloody freeloaders!
Friday, November 18, 2005
RUGBY is a game of violence. It is supposed to be. Both codes. It is a game of brutal physical confrontations: individual against individual, group against group. That is, if you like, the point. All the territorial ball games are mimic battles and rugby is the closest sport gets to the real thing. All the more reason, then, for it not to go over the edge.
Without violence, rugby is nothing. Would the streets of London have been lined for the winners of the Touch-Rugby World Cup? I think not. But violence is not the whole of the game. Rugby is not 15-man or 13-man boxing. Violence is the setting, the context. Without violence there is no courage, without mayhem there is no grace, without pain there is no exalted relief in victory.
Both codes of rugby are now professional. In the Eighties, I spoke to many rugby players on the hot issue of the time and one thing united them, at least in their public utterances. Whatever happens, no one must ever, ever be paid money for playing rugby union. To trade violence with another human in the way of pleasure was one thing; to do so in the way of business quite another.
But now both codes are played for money. That is to say, they are played to amuse those of us who watch. It is time, then, to wonder what we spectators want of such activities.
We must do so in the light of a weekend of violence in both codes of the game. Paul Deacon, playing league for Great Britain against New Zealand last Saturday, received life-threatening injuries after an illegal tackle from Nigel Vagana. And as New Zealand played Ireland at rugby union the same day, Ma’a Nonu executed a spear tackle on Gordon D’Arcy. In other words, he slammed him head first into the ground from a great height.
This reignited the case of the infamous spear tackle on Brian O’Driscoll, the Lions captain, in the opening moments of the first international of the tour to New Zealand, an incident from which O’Driscoll is still recovering. Such a tackle is illegal, career-threatening, potentially disabling and potentially lethal.
The New Zealanders throw a fit of righteous indignation every time the O’Driscoll tackle is mentioned. Vagana said of his own tackle: “Unfortunately, we’re not playing netball.” In other words, there is a school that thinks violence of this nature is part of the game.
But in all these cases, the violence was illegal and therefore not part of the game. The question, then, is whether or not illegal violence is acceptable. […]
It is rum that these three violent incidents have all been perpetrated by people playing for New Zealand. Before engaging in violent sports, it is the New Zealanders’ custom to stoke themselves up with an eye-popping, vein-bulging war dance. If ever anything were designed to give its performers a feeling that they were part of a group with unique privileges in the world of violence — special people for whom the normal constraints do not apply — it is the haka.
Slice it which way you will, a war dance is no sane precursor to an afternoon of wholesome amusement […]
Let us accept, then, that rugby that involves unrestrained violence is unwatchable and therefore uncommercial. Rugby needs to maintain its violence at precisely the optimum level and last weekend this failed to happen. What does rugby do about it?
The New Zealanders have demonstrated fairly unequivocally and unrepentantly that players themselves are not to be trusted. There is too much at stake. The officials have demonstrated, equally clearly, that they are not prepared to take the matter on. Certainly that was the case with the O’Driscoll business, which was one of the most disgraceful bits of home-town decision-making sport has seen for a long time. Vagana got a one-match ban and a £500 fine.
We won’t all walk away from rugby because someone thumped somebody. But we might lose our enthusiasm for rugby if premeditated acts of violence compromise the narrative of the game.
Victory may be everything to the players. But this is not the case for even the most fanatical followers. Courage is grace under pressure. Violence is one of rugby’s key areas of pressure. But without the grace, rugby is just a punch-up. Where’s the beauty, where’s the satisfaction, where’s the poem, where’s the epic in that?
Memo to all who run both codes of the game: rugby is a mimic war. When we want real war, we turn to the front of the newspaper.
On Saturday 25 of June, the Lions’ captain Brian O’Driscoll, having consulted with Maori elders for the correct response, faced the haka alone and at its conclusion, plucked a blade of grass and tossed it high in the air - to terrific cheers.
A few minutes later he was spear-tackled out of the tour.
With hindsight we can now see the incident for what it was: a cynical, pre-planned action that ruined what should have been a high point in the history of the sport of rugby.
The All-Blacks involved showed that they had no regard or respect for their opponents, the spectators or the game, and the only thing more disgraceful than the tackle was the clumsy, half-arsed cover-up by the Kiwi rugby authorities.
Threats to man who shot domino-toppling sparrow
An animal worker who shot a sparrow after it almost wrecked a world record domino toppling bid has asked for police protection after receiving death threats.
Several international animal rights groups expressed outrage over the killing of the sparrow that toppled 23,000 of the four million dominos set up for record attempt in Holland.
Investigations into the legality of the shooting in Leeuwarden have also been launched.
A representative of the animal management company that employs the man said: "We have not made an official complaint as that would be no use.
"But if an idiot comes around here, we want a direct line to the police so they can come quickly to help us."
Organisers of the upcoming event have hired extra security staff following the death threats and an offer of £2,000 made on Dutch radio to anyone who topples the dominos prior to the event.
This extraordinary tale of those 'crayshee dutch' raises far more questions than it answers.
But surely any man who has seen 23,000 painstakingly erected dominoes prematurely collapse, yet still has the speed of thought, accuracy of aim and taste for cold revenge to shoot and kill a sparrow – a sparrow no less! – should be employed in some sort of James Bondish secret agent role in the War on Terror?
From the 'Someone Else's Life' blog:
British women have the biggest breasts in Europe. Yes, confirming something that I have personally researched in depth over a period of many, many years (all in the interests of science, of course), the boffins working on behalf of a British bra company have discovered that the British Woman has a far heftier décolletage than her European counterpart. They went on to say that over a third of British women wear a bra with a D Cup or greater.
As if that wasn't enough, respected market analysts Mintel recently issued a statement that British women's breasts are getting bigger, too. Apparently, British girls average an extra two inches up front when compared with figures from ten years ago. What it means is that the typical bust now measures 36 inches, up from 34 inches in 1995, with cup sizes increasing from a modest B to a fuller C or D. Which is great news if you live here in England but not so good if you live in France.
The Anglo-Saxon model triumphs again.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Why new Pride & Prejudice is abridged in Britian
From Chris Ayresin Los Angeles and Jack Malvern
HOLLYWOOD has finally discovered what followers of the England football team have long suspected: the British do not like a happy ending.
The proof came when executives at Working Title, the British film production company, cringed at the ending to their adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and decided to lop it off.
As a result, the British version of the film is an estimated two minutes shorter than its American equivalent, after the producers at Working Title Films had a change of heart and left their Hollywood-style “pay off” shot on the cutting room floor.
“You got the more sugary one,” Matthew MacFadyen, who plays Mr Darcy to Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennet, revealed to a USA Today reporter. “The Brits hated it.”
The British version of the film instead concludes with Elizabeth’s father (Donald Sutherland) giving his consent when Mr Darcy asks for his daughter’s hand in marriage. “And if any young men come for Mary or Kitty, send them in, for I am quite at my leisure,” he declares, in the film’s final line. American audiences, however, are treated to a lingering shot of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy kissing under moonlight, on a terrace. Mr Darcy asks his new wife how he should address her. Should he, he inquires, call her Mrs Darcy? She replies that he should only call her that if he is absolutely in love with her.
“Mrs Darcy . . . Mrs Darcy,” he repeats as the credits roll.
The change came about after executives watched a screening of the longer film in America. David Livingstone, vice-president of Universal marketing and distribution, said that the American audience loved it but the British executives had reservations. “There was a moment when somebody said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if it ended with Donald Sutherland?’,” he told The Times.
The extra scene was kept for the Americans, as well as some Asian territories that prefer emotion to be “laid on quite thickly”, Mr Livingstone added.
Clichés and national stereotypes are generally clichés and national stereotypes because they are true.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
But like Hitchens, he refuses to don the Dunce’s cap when it comes to Iraq and the ‘War on Terror’.
This interview is from Der Speigel, and came soon after the London bombings, while McEwan was promoting his book based on terrorism, "Saturday”:
SPIEGEL: A lot of the themes of your book are being played out on the streets today, particularly the idea that there is no refuge from terror. Even the family refuge is not safe.
McEwan: Exactly. There is no refuge and if you want to be in a city like London, with its relatively successful racial mix, it's impossible to defend. That's the other thing I wrote at the end of my book, that these possibilities were lying just open, so easy to do.
SPIEGEL: How can cities protect themselves?
McEwan: Inevitably, we're going to start seeing around the preposterous political correctness that allows us to have radical clerics preaching in mosques and recruiting young people. We have been caught too much by a sense that we can just regard these clerics as being like English eccentrics at Hyde Park Corner. But the problem is that their audience has already been to training camps.
SPIEGEL: But isn't the West providing the best advertisement for terrorist recruiters by being in Iraq and killing Islamic civilians, torturing Muslim prisoners a la Abu Ghraib and spreading pictures of the deeds around the world?
MCEWAN: I don't think terror needs a breeding ground. I don't buy the arguments in the Iraq war. What keeps getting forgotten here is that the people committing massacres in Iraq right now belong to al-Qaida. We're witnessing a civil war that's taking place in Islam. The most breathtaking statement was the one of al-Qaida claiming responsibility for the London bombings saying it was in return for the massacre in Iraq. But the massacres in Iraq now are being conducted by al-Qaida against Muslims. I also think it's extraordinary the way in which we get morally selective in our outrages. When there was a rumor that someone at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a Koran down the lavatory, the pages in The Guardian almost caught fire with outrage, but only months before the Taliban had set fire to a mosque and destroyed 300 ancient Korans.
SPIEGEL: In your book, the Iraq war still hasn't happened yet. And the day in which the book takes place, Feb. 15, 2003, is the day in which massive peace demonstrations took place in London. Henry's daughter Daisy is among the protesters and he is full of ire and sarcasm about them. He doubts they can rightfully claim morality for themselves. Do these passages echo your own ambivalent views on the matter?
McEwan: Yes, it does. I never thought that in the run up to the war we were discussing simply the difference between war and peace. We were discussing the difference between war and continued torture and genocide and abuse of human rights by a fascist state. I missed any sense of that complexity in the peace camp. I certainly had the feeling that whatever the strong moral arguments were for deposing Saddam, the Americans would not be good nation-builders. But I had a moral problem with this view among the 2 million protesters that you should leave Saddam in power in a fascist state with 27 million Iraqis under him. The problem is that they felt good about it. I thought they should have opposed the war but also felt bad about it.
SPIEGEL: Do you think invading Iraq was a mistake?
McEwan: I think if Bush and Blair could press a button and we could all fast forward backwards, rewind the tape, they'd probably do this differently. But I don't think they fully grasped, and even the anti-war (movement) could have never fully grasped the fantastic viciousness of the insurgency against its own people.
In the full interview McEwan also talks about Blair and the legacy of Thatcher.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
The Palestinian-born wife of George Galloway, the Respect MP, is accused today of receiving $149,980 (about £100,000) derived from the United Nations Iraqi oil-for-food programme.
A report by an investigative committee of the United States Senate says the money was sent to the personal account of Amineh Abu Zayyad in August 2000.
The report includes bank records showing a paper trail from Saddam's ministries to Mrs Galloway. It states that the Iraqis handed several lucrative oil-for-food contracts to the Jordanian businessman Fawaz Zureikat, an old friend of the Galloways. A month later, on Aug 3, 2000, Mr Zureikat allegedly paid $150,000 minus a bank commission of $20 from his Citibank account number 500190207 into Mrs Galloway's account at the Arab Bank in Amman.
The senate team also says that a $15,666 payment had been made on the same date to a Bank of Scotland account belonging to Mr Galloway's spokesman, Ron McKay. Last night Mr McKay said he had no recollection of the alleged payment.
The oil-for-food programme was designed to help Iraq's needy but was misused by Saddam to reward friends and allies.
And here's a couple from the BBC:
UN report deals serious damage
Each time Paul Volker delivers one of his interim reports, the United Nations receives another body blow and its tarnished reputation suffers yet again.
This was the third of Mr Volcker's reports and in many ways the most damning yet. Until now there was the strong whiff of scandal, but no direct blame.
This report, though, pointed the finger straight at the former head of the oil-for-food programme, Benon Sevan. It concluded that Mr Sevan "corruptly benefited" from his role with the UN - that he had received kickbacks worth almost $150,000 from a small company called Amep, who he had helped profit from the sale of Iraqi oil.
Mr Sevan denies the allegation and insists he received that money from his aunt.
The Annans: Story of a father and son
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan must have hoped that a March 2005 report into the Iraqi oil-for-food programme would help put his ship back on an even keel - but it turns out there are still squalls ahead.
The report effectively cleared him of corruption, saying there was "no evidence" of "improper influence by the secretary general in the bidding or selection process" under which the Swiss company Cotecna was chosen to run the programme.
But three months later, new memos have surfaced which appear to suggest that a top Cotecna executive not only met Mr Annan days before the firm won the UN contract - but that he told colleagues their firm could "count on the support" of Mr Annan's "entourage".
That may muddy the conclusions drawn by the earlier report, which found that the evidence was "not reasonably sufficient" to show that Mr Annan had known about the Cotecna bid which came when his son, Kojo, was employed by the company.
Even that report found him guilty of complacency. The chairman of the inquiry, Paul Volcker, a former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, said there had been an "inadequate" investigation by Mr Annan's office into the links between Kojo and Cotecna after it was given the contract.
The problem for Mr Annan, the report found, was that his own son did not tell him the truth. It turned out that Kojo's employment by Cotecna as a "consultant" in fact continued after the contract was granted.
Now Galloway may have known nothing about the money, Annan may have known nothing about who his son worked for, and Sevan may have got the money from his aunt.
But why isn’t Michael Moore making a film about this? There’s so much suspicion of corruption, nepotism and whitewashing to hand that he’d barely need to pad it out with the usual insinuation, out-of-context quoting, pointless stunts and bullying interviews with vulnerable/senile/grief-stricken subjects.
Except that isn’t an interesting question. Moore is just a dunce. The interesting question is, why is there a Confederacy of Dunces?
How did it come to be that people will believe any old rubbish so long as it hints at American imperialism or corruption and conspiracy in the black heart of the Bush administration (try this one on your friends: “of course, they only started the war so that McDonald’s could open up a chain in Baghdad”), yet Kofi Annan enjoys the beatific status of a Nelson Mandela, a Mahatma Gandhi or a Princess Diana, while the bodged and fudged pronouncements of the UN, the committee to end all committees, are treated as if they come on tablets of stone from Mount Sinai?
How did it come to be that this year’s recipients of the Nobel prizes for Peace and Literature were respectively the useless but American-baiting head of United Nations nuclear agency Mohamed ElBaradei, and one Harold Pinter?
And above all, how did the belief that the military removal of a genocidal dictator was unjustified and immoral become not only widely held by many otherwise sane people, but passionately, even rabidly, argued, protested and demonstrated about?
Christopher Hitchens poses this question in his barnstorming essay Democratization, Iraq: A War to Be Proud Of:
This state--Saddam's ruined and tortured and collapsing Iraq--had met all the conditions under which a country may be deemed to have sacrificed its own legal sovereignty. To recapitulate: It had invaded its neighbors, committed genocide on its own soil, harbored and nurtured international thugs and killers, and flouted every provision of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The United Nations, in this crisis, faced with regular insult to its own resolutions and its own character, had managed to set up a system of sanctions-based mutual corruption. In May 2003, had things gone on as they had been going, Saddam Hussein would have been due to fill Iraq's slot as chair of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament. Meanwhile, every species of gangster from the hero of the Achille Lauro hijacking to Abu Musab al Zarqawi was finding hospitality under Saddam's crumbling roof.
One might have thought, therefore, that Bush and Blair's decision to put an end at last to this intolerable state of affairs would be hailed, not just as a belated vindication of long-ignored U.N. resolutions but as some corrective to the decade of shame and inaction that had just passed in Bosnia and Rwanda. But such is not the case. An apparent consensus exists, among millions of people in Europe and America, that the whole operation for the demilitarization of Iraq, and the salvage of its traumatized society, was at best a false pretense and at worst an unprovoked aggression. How can this possibly be?
How indeed? In Old Europe, the answer is easy. Anti-Americanism is prevalent enough to be scarcely worth commenting on. In a way, you can hardly blame the French since their media is so overwhelmingly Yankophobic that when the statue of Saddam came toppling down so soon into the campaign there was widespread bewilderment among the French public, who had been continually told that the Coalition was being routed on a daily basis and was being sucked into a ‘quagmire’ to make Vietnam look like a tea-party.
So much for the Europeans, but what about the Not-in-my-name Britons?
In February 2003 a million or so people marched through London in protest against the invasion of Iraq. Why were they protesting against it? Since we already knew what a hell-hole Iraq was, the only conceivable rational arguments could be:
(1) Maintaining the official legal superiority of the UN is more important than any benefits of a military action carried out without the official sanction of the UN;
(2) A war is the worse of two evils, in that the benefits of removing from power a genocidal dictator and introducing democracy to Iraq are outweighed by the blood that will inevitably be shed in a military action that includes bombing and fighting in civilian areas. (This could be further justified by a claim that Saddam could somehow be removed and democracy somehow be given to Iraq peaceably, though nobody seemed to come up with a practical suggestion).
Given this, you might have expected the Great March to be a sombre affair, comprising a set of deeply troubled and deep-thinking people rationally but reluctantly plumping for one bloody evil over another, and supplemented perhaps by a small band of bespectacled legal-technicality nerds swayed by argument (1).
Except it wasn’t. It was a big old jolly face-painted, horn-tooting, whistle-blowing, sing-along street party, led by the usual intellectually-challenged pop stars and made up mostly of Guardian-toting middle-class weekend-warriors too posh to go to the annual May Day riot, and not posh enough to join in with the Countryside Alliance’s jamboree*.
What fun they had, and how indignant they were, how scandalised that Tony Blair barely batted an eyelid at this singular demonstration of the madness of crowds. This is a democracy, why won’t he listen to the people? Bush’s poodle!**
Somehow sane argument got drowned in a Leftist soup of stupidity that has been bubbling up for years. The basic ingredients include a lingering colonial guilt, and more insidiously, a lame-brained cultural relativism that amounts to: “Who are we to judge their culture? Democracy is just a white western construct – these Iraqis are used to tyranny and torture, you know, like wearing burkhas and driving on the other side of the road.” It’s a short hop from the “who are we to say we’re right and they’re wrong?” argument to the “they are right, we’re wrong” one. There’s a certain self-flagellating element in western culture that loves nothing more than to hear that it’s been wicked. Maybe we should blame it on the Fall.
And of course there’s the baggage that comes with Bush: the cringeworthy attempts at public speaking, the little ‘doubleya’ to distinguish him from Daddy, the Born-Again babble. That puke-inducingly predictable gem “my favourite philosopher is Jesus Christ.” And neither he nor Blair can escape blame for the bungled way they presented the case for war, nor for the lack of planning for handling the aftermath. Too much waffle about WMDs, too much banging on about 9/11. It would have been far better to concentrate on the failure of the UN to effectively do anything about this horrible man Saddam and his wrecked country.
Even so, chuck all these things in one side of the scales and it will barely register against the long-term benefits for Iraqis of a Saddam-free world, which should surely have been obvious to anyone with eyes to see.
Despite the doom-saying of the French, the rantings of Galloway, and despite the so-called ‘insurgents’ (‘insurging’ against what? The word is ‘criminals’) continuing to blast pathetically away at the newly-fledged citizens of Iraq, those citizens have nonetheless managed to create in record time a constitution and the basis for a democracy.
Which is how history will remember the great Iraqi adventure: as the imperfect but ultimately successful removal of a bloody tyrant, and the creation of a new democratic state. Sanity usually peeps through in the end. There are still protestors, but ultimately you need something to protest against, and the active ones have dwindled to a bunch of oddballs saying nothing much more than Father Ted’s “Down with this sort of thing”.
There remains however, a massive Left-wing resentment of Bush’s war, and an unhealthy eagerness to portray every setback as a disaster, and every step forward as inadequate. But that is what happens when your television screens and your fashionable politics are controlled by a Confederacy of Dunces.
(*Nothing personal, you understand. Some of my best friends are Guardian-toting weekend-warriors. But madness is madness).
(**Although funnily enough, polls a few days before the invasion found a majority of the British public in favour of the war, as the pull of British patriotism is so strong when the military actually gear up to go, that it overrides even the madness of crowds. A couple of years later, Blair won a general election, with the equally pro-war Tories making gains and the LibDems singularly failing to cash in on their supposed anti-war trump card, but by this time everyone had switched to Making Poverty History anyway).
An Indian has taught a marathon non-stop, no-sleep English grammar class for three days to 60 students in the city of Mumbai (Bombay).
Sanjay Kumar Sinha taught for 73 hours and 24 minutes in an attempt to get into the Guinness Book of Records for the longest lesson.
Three days? We used to measure out Latin lessons in decades.
Friday, October 21, 2005
The first is from 7 November 1805, which carries the first report of the Battle of Trafalgar (three weeks after the event), and the second dates from 10 January 1806, with an account of Nelson’s funeral.
The Trafalgar issue was a ground-breaker in that it was the first edition of the paper to carry a story on the front page. Three of the four columns normally reserved for adverts were swept aside to allow room for Vice-Admiral Collingwood’s highly exciting account of the battle. The style could be straight out of one of Patrick O’Brian’s wonderful Aubrey/Maturin novels.
(You can read Collingwood’s report in full, as it was reproduced in the The London Gazette Extraordinary, here.)
But what really amuses me is the front-page juxtaposition of the report of this uniquely significant battle, which changed the course of history for all three of the nations involved, with the homely small ads that remain in the left-hand column.
Two of the gems include:
A FINE MARE to be SOLD, the property of a Gentleman, warranted sound; walks, trots, gallops and leaps remarkably well. To prevent trouble, the price is 40 guineas. Trial allowed
and the very poignant:
LOST, an OLD POINTER DOG, white with red spots, answers to the name of BASTO; almost blind, one eye quite gone.
Any person bringing the said Dog to No. 158, Swallow-street, Piccadilly, shall receive ONE GUINEA Reward, and reasonable expences paid. – N.B. No greater Reward will be offered.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
This amazing and romantic picture shows a solitary peregrine falcon sending a flock of starlings into turmoil. It won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award for Manual Presti.
It immediately reminded me of something, but it took a while to remember what exactly. then I realised it was my favourite sporting photograph....
What kind of fascist oppressive regime won't let a man experiment with the materials required for germ warfare
The Guardian gives us this jaw-droppingly absurd story:
On May 11 2004 Steve Kurtz awoke to find his wife dead beside him. He would come to refer to this date as "5/11"; it was the day his life took a Kafkaesque turn. When paramedics arrived at his house in Buffalo, New York State, they noticed a makeshift laboratory on an upstairs landing, with an incubator full of toxic-looking bacteria, and alerted the police.
Kurtz assured them his lab was, in effect, his studio; that he was an internationally recognised artist, as well as an art professor at the University at Buffalo, who used molecular biology in his work…. They thought I'd germed her to death," Kurtz says. An autopsy later showed that Hope, his partner of 27 years, had died of heart failure in her sleep.
The day after the death, however, when Kurtz returned from the funeral home, three car-loads of FBI agents were waiting for him. He was now suspected of bio-terrorism. His house was quarantined with yellow police tape. In what became a media spectacle ("Bioterrorism Blunder?" asked NBC news), five regional branches of the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defence, the Buffalo police, fire department, and state marshall's office swarmed over Kurtz's home. They were protected by white chemical suits and wore breathing apparatus…..
Last June a federal grand jury was convened to evaluate bio-terrorism charges against Kurtz. He was indicted, but not under the biological weapons anti-terrorism act. He and Robert Ferrell, a professor of human genetics at the University of Pittsburgh, were charged with mail and wire fraud, accused of colluding to illegally furnish Kurtz with $256 (£146) of harmless bacterial cultures. The crime carries a sentence of up to 20 years. Kurtz's lawyer, Paul Cambria (who defended pornographer Larry Flynt against obscenity charges), is arguing the case should be thrown out of court. The government's "paranoid over-reaction" is, he says, a political attack on Kurtz's subversive art.
The artistic community has rallied to the cause, staging protests and organising an auction - with work donated by 50 artists, including Richard Serra, Hans Haacke, Cindy Sherman, Mike Kelly and Sol LeWitt - that raised $170,000 (£97,000) for his defence. His case has not yet come to trial but Kurtz has already become, as the New York Times put it, "an unlikely art world martyr-hero". Perhaps, as a sticker on his fridge puts it, he might be better described as a "prisoner of art".
In 1986, Kurtz and his wife co-founded Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), a small artists' collective "dedicated to exploring the intersections between art, technology, radical politics and critical theory".
In CAE's most recent manifesto, Molecular Invasion, Kurtz encourages his readers to carry out other acts of "fuzzy biological sabotage". "The fuzzy saboteur," the book declares, "has to stand on that ambiguous line between the legal and the illegal (both criminally and civilly), in areas that have not yet been fully regulated." The reader is advised to avoid direct sabotage, such as arson, in favour of "pranks". Cues are taken from the CIA - their lacing of Fidel Castro's cigars with LSD is considered model behaviour. One idea is to release genetically mutated and deformed flies in biotech research facilities and nearby restaurants to stir up paranoia.
When the FBI raided his house, Kurtz was researching the history of germ warfare for a new project. He was growing simple types of bacterial cultures, routinely used in high-school biology classes, that could also be used to simulate the mushrooming of anthrax and plague.
Over some steak Kurtz tells me that his persecutors "have to have something to show for the millions of dollars they've spent on this. They're trying to create a kind of hysteria, a horrible kind of vigilantism. It's right out of Hitler's handbook. The final goal is to silence and intimidate voices of dissent."
Ah yes, the good old ‘Bushitler’ argument.
When such prize boobies as Steve Kurtz say things like "it's right out of Hitler's handbook", and "the final goal is to silence and intimidate voices of dissent", not only does he defeat his own argument merely by the fact that he can state it, but he insults the memories of the thousands of people who really did die or suffer because of Nazism, and the millions more today who genuinely live under tyranny and repression.
Thursday, October 06, 2005
'It's Christmas," Noddy Holder used to scream. But if memory serves, that ghastly record only came out about a week before the big day in 1973 (and then shot to the top of the charts). Noddy probably wouldn't have thought of marking Christmas in the balmy days of early October - but that was then. In 2005, Christmas starts NOW.
Pope Benedict XVI, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other fuddy duddies no doubt think Christmas should start, at the very earliest, in early December, with small, tousle-haired children lighting advent calendars in freezing churches. But somebody far more important - the boss of global superpower Tesco - has decided that it should start just as the cricket season ends.
My top 5 of Traditional British Things That Everyone Moans About In Exactly the Same Way Every Year But Which Never Change and Never Will
5. The Clocks Go Back to GMT in October and it’s Too Dark When You Leave Work
4. Tim Henman Fails to Win Wimbledon (this will soon be replaced by Andy Murray Fails To Win Wimbledon)
3. They Enforce a Hosepipe Ban in July Even Though it’s Rained Every Bloody Day Since Last November
2. The Great GCSEs/A-Levels Are Getting Easier versus Standards Are Improving Debate
1. The Shops Start Selling Christmas Stuff Before Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night
Complementary therapies should be given a greater role in the NHS, a report commissioned by the Prince of Wales is set to say.
The report, by economist Christopher Smallwood, will say patients with conditions such as back pain and stress can benefit from some of the therapies.
However, there is a shortage of treatments such as acupuncture and osteopathy in poor areas, it will say.
Prince Charles, an enthusiast for alternative medicine, commissioned the independent economist to compile the report nine months ago...
Poor old Prince Charles. If there is a prize buffoon anywhere in the world, Charles is that prize buffoon.
There is no such thing as 'alternative medicine'.
There is medicine that works, and medicine that doesn’t work.
Or to put it another way, there is medicine and there is quackery.
There’s nothing secretive or elitist about what counts as medicine: if it can be shown to work in a properly conducted double-blind test, literally anything is allowed in. And then it is no longer ‘alternative’.
If it can’t, it should have nothing to do with the NHS. Anecdotes are not tests.
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Created in 1885 by José da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino, it was intended as a Portugese-English conversational guide. However, the Portugese authors chose to go about creating it in an unusual manner.
Having already created a Portuguese-French phrasebook some years earlier, they decided to translate it into a Portugese-English phrasebook. Unfortunately, all they had to go on regarding the English side of things, was a French-English dictionary.
The results are wonderful. We are introduced to such handy phrases as: “Have you forgeted me?” and "They fight one's selfs together". Not to mention the indispensible "These apricots and these peaches make me and to come water in the mouth."
We learn that an English gentleman, perhaps a “Porkshop-keeper” by trade, might get up, put his “buskins” on “the fat of his leg”, and go to visit his “quater-grandmother”, all the while pondering to himself the truth of the phrase: “A horse baared don't look him the tooth.”
We are also given some typical English dialogue:
To Inform One'self of a Person:
How is that gentilman who you did speak by and by?
Is a German.
I did think him Englishman.
He is of the Saxony side.
He speak the French very well.
Tough he is German, he speak so much well italyan, french, spanish and english, that among the Italyans, they believe him Italyan, he speak the frenche as the Frenches himselves. The Spanishesmen believe him Spanishing, and the Englishes, Englishman. It is difficult to enjoy well so much several languages.
Mark Twain said of the book:
It is not a fraud who speaks in the following paragraph of the author's Preface, but a good man, an honest man, a man whose conscience is at rest, a man who believes he has done a high and worthy work for his nation and his generation, and is well pleased with his performance:
"We expect then, who the little book (for the care what we wrote him, and for her typographical correction) that may be worth the acceptation of the studious persons, and especially of the Youth, at which we dedicate him particularly."
You can find read more about the fine book here. And the full text is available here.
I think if I was an evil scientist, I might be tempted to see what would happen if I kidnapped an infant and educated him solely using English as she is spoke for language, William McGonagal for poetry, 1066 And All That for history, and the films of Ed Wood for culture.
And before anyone says, ‘George W Bush’, I’ve said it first.
Friday, September 30, 2005
Watching No Direction Home on Tuesday and Wednesday this week - Martin Scorcese’s epic but hypnotic documentary about Bob Dylan’s career up to 1966 – was an eye-opener.
I’ve always known (and loved most of) the songs, but known virtually nothing about the man. The picture you get is that Dylan is a rare thing – a genuine enigma.
Virtually everything he says is a quite absurd, profound-sounding epigram that flutters on the edge of meaning something, though you’re not quite sure what. But at the same time he couldn’t be described as pretentious because he’s not pretending and he isn’t bothered about impressing anyone.
Several things struck me while watching the film. The first is that, as a person, nobody’s ever ‘got’ him, ever. Because of a few anthemic songs (Blowin’ in the Wind, The Times They Are A-Changing etc), his love of Woody Guthrie and his sympathy with the civil rights movement, he is held up as the darling of the folkie Left protest scene.
But, no matter how much he is cajoled by the likes of Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, he never turns up to any of the protests.
He is utterly indifferent to politics. Of Pete Seeger’s blacklisting, Dylan says “I guess I heard he was a Communist, I don’t know. I didn’t really know what a Communist was.” One of his contemporaries says “We thought Dylan was hopelessly politically naïve. But with hindsight maybe he was much smarter than we were.”
There’s a lot of footage of his 1966 tour, just after he infamously ‘turned electric’. The folk-loving audience, who’ve paid to see him, boo continuously throughout his set. One guy shouts out “Judas!” But Dylan barely flinches. He just carries on playing even louder with his band.
Dylan does what Dylan does, and if anybody else likes it, good. If not, Dylan does it anyway.
The best bits however, come in footage from various press conferences as he tours the world. He sits there all by himself while journalists ask him ever more ridiculous questions. One chap presses him to explain the spiritual significance of the motorcycle T-shirt he’s sporting on the cover of Highway 61 Revisited. “It’s just a T-shirt I happened to be wearing when they took the photo, man.”
Another drongo asks him: “How many protest singers are there following on from you, in America?”
“136” says Dylan, perfectly deadpan.
“136? Is that, is that an exact figure?” asks the hack, uncertainly.
“Actually, it could be 142.”
Time and again he’s given the opportunity to blow his own trumpet, to declare his own genius, to explain how his lyrics are insights into profound truths about the Human Condition.
But he’s just not interested.
So is it a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes? Is there nothing there at all behind the bizarre poetry?
I don’t think you could call honestly it empty.
‘My love, she speaks like silence’ isn't empty, it's Byronic. It could have been Coleridge dreaming about dancing beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea.
He just seems to pull lines like “How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?” out of the ether, and then be as surprised as everyone else that he’s done so.
The best description I could think of, watching No Direction Home, was idiot savant.
It seems that, not content with bringing out a set of stamps to commemorate the Ashes victory, they've gone and made two of them 68p.
Which is how much it costs to send a letter to Australia.
Now I'm the last person to complain about excessive gloating, but I can't shake the uneasy feeling that somehow, someday, we're going to pay for all this....
*....for an instant dole of praise.
From England's Answer by Rudyard Kipling
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Traditional tea drinkers have reached boiling point over the state of the nation's cuppa, saying the standard of preparation is a disgrace and the taste so poor that the resulting brew often has to be thrown away.
A cup of tea in most public places is a "complete rip off", say the majority of over-50s, with the biggest gripes being paper or plastic cups, poor quality tea, tea bags with "silly little strings attached", plastic stirrers, and "awful little cartons of long-life milk".
But while British cafes and tea rooms are rated poorly, France emerges as the country that makes the worst tea in the world. Spain also gets the thumbs down, as does America - which many think has never learned the art of tea-making - the Greek Islands, and Italy.
Valery McConnell, the editor of Yours magazine, which commissioned the survey among 2,000 of its readers, average age 67, said: "The art of making the great British cup of tea has been lost and the tea-loving over-50s have reached boiling point at the downgrading of their favourite beverage.
"The rise of American and continental style coffee chains has also brought with it American and continental-style tea - and we all know how that tastes."
…. On average every person in Britain drinks three cups of tea a day.
It also points out that when taken with milk, as is the preference of 98 per cent of the population, four cups of tea a day provide significant amounts of the recommended levels of nutrients, including calcium, zinc, folic acid, vitamins B2, B1 and B6, manganese and potassium.
Three cups a day? That average must include all those who never drink it, since I know few tea drinkers who don’t have at least six.
When venturing abroad, we all know that a healthy supply of PG Tips should go into the suitcase before even the sun-tan lotion. The Germans are ok at providing ‘Tee mit Milch’, but everyone else is clueless.
In America I’ve experienced two amusingly different reactions. One very nice lady serving the coffees at a conference in Chicago got into a terrible fluster when she found that there was a Briton in the group. “Tea! We need to get you some tea! Oh my God, we haven’t got any tea!” – as if I was genetically incapable of consuming coffee. I hadn’t even asked for tea.
The other reaction that I’ve had in several diners and cafés when requesting tea with milk was an ‘eyes-to-heaven-is this guy for real?-Goddamn Limeys’ look of despair.
As if tea-drinking was an affectation, rather than an addiction.
A truth universally acknowledged, of course, is that nobody else knows how to make a proper cuppa except you.
But what I’ve come to realise about tea is that, unlike most things, which we try to get to taste nice, the ideal cup of tea should taste of nothing. Nada. Zilch. You shouldn’t even notice that you’re drinking it.
It’s just hot, delivers a small quantity of caffeine, breaks up the day into manageable sections, provides an excuse for aimless chatter, allows you to listen to the agreeable sound of a boiling kettle, is something respectable to hold when you’re watching telly, and is a small peace-offering/plea for leniency for builders, electricians, plumbers etc.
That it should taste good is irrelevant.
Indeed, people strive to get it to the right level of neutrality for them. If it’s slightly too bitter, add sugar. Too strong, add more milk. And so on and so on until you can taste absolutely nothing at all, and then you can smack your lips, make that ‘aaaah’ sound, and properly describe it as a ‘nice cup of tea.’
Monday, September 26, 2005
Funniest moment 1:
As the umpires discussed coming off for bad light on the fourth day of the Final Test, with England wanting to waste time and the Aussies needing all the time they could get, the fans tried to swing the decision. England fans put up umbrellas and peered as if into pitch darkness, while Aussie spectators took off their shirts, squinted into the ‘sun’ and made expansive “phew, too hot!” gestures.
Funniest moment 2:
After the first break for bad light, all the Aussie players returned to the field sporting dark sunglasses.
Funniest moment 3:
Ponting’s foul-mouthed tirade after being run out by sub Gary Pratt.
Funniest moment 4:
Freddie Flintoff’s face on the parade bus, following an all-night drinking session
Most astute crowd chant:
“There’s only one Aussie bowler”. Both a tribute to Shane Warne, and an indictment of the rest of the Australian attack.
Best commentator: Mark Nicholas (Channel 4)
Richie Benaud deserves a mention as he retires from commentary in England, but Mark Nicholas’s smoothie style and penchant for hyperbole came into its own this series. He’ll be missed now that Sky have gobbled up Test cricket.
Best expert: Rod Marsh (BBC Radio)
The archetypal Aussie bloke was an endless source of amusement.
Before the series: Twenty20 bouncers
‘It’s only a bit of fun’, laughed the Aussies, as England crushed them by a startling 100 runs in the first international Twenty20 game between the two sides. They weren’t laughing so much during their batting innings, when Harmison and Flintoff bombarded them with aggressive short-pitched bowling.
It should have been clear to the Aussies then that these were not the usual Pommie pushovers.
Before the series: Gillespie and Pietersen at Bristol
In Gillespie’s first over in the first one-day game against England, he bowled four leg-side wides and a no-ball to increasing jeers from a baying Bristol crowd. In the next over, he misfielded horribly at fine leg right in front of the noisiest section of that crowd . In that moment, his long and fine international career was effectively over. I was there, and I’ve never seen a professional sportsman so visibly go to pieces.
Eventually he was dropped, and the Aussies great three-man attack became a two man attack. That was enough at Lords, but then when McGrath was injured, even Warne couldn’t make a one-man attack do the job, though he came pretty close.
The other crucial element in that game was Pietersen’s dashing 91 not out to win the match. He earned himself a place in the Test team, and Graham Thorpe retired.
Three great Harmison deliveries
Steve Harmison, previously considered England’s only strike bowler, ended up being the least effective of the four seamers, but he still played a key part in swinging the series England’s way.
On the first morning at Lords he bowled a spell of sustained aggression, the like of which the Aussies had rarely seen before. He hit Langer and Hayden several times, but the most brutal delivery was saved for Ponting, leaving the Aussie captain with blood pouring from his cheekbone. The great Aussie batting order was out for 190 by tea, and only England’s nervous start, and McGrath’s excellence, won the game for Australia
The two other key Harmison balls came at Edgbaston: a slow one to bowl Clarke on the last ball of the penultimate day, leaving Australia with a mountain to climb, and of course the bouncer that Kasprowicz gloved to Jones, mere inches before they reached its impossible peak.
Edgbaston: Stray balls and balls-ups in the hours before the Test
After England won this series-levelling match by 2 runs – the narrowest margin in Ashes history – Channel 4 rushed out a DVD called “The Greatest Ever Test”. The unbearably tense finishes that followed at Old Trafford and Trent Bridge made that title look premature, but now we can see that, in the context of the series, they had it right.
Australia had won the first Test easily, with McGrath wiping out the England batsmen. But warming up on the first morning before the second Test, he stood on a stray cricket ball, damaged his ankle and had to be replaced by Kasprowicz.
Then followed the worst captain’s decision since Hussein inserted Australia in the first game of the previous Ashes series. With his key seam bowler out and a decent batting pitch, only sheer arrogance can have persuaded Ponting to ask England to bat first. They duly did, walloped the remains of the Aussie attack to all parts of the ground, and made 407 in one day.
Edgbaston: Flintoff becomes a national hero
He made 0 and 3 at Lords, later admitting that he was too anxious to play his normal game. Then at Edgbaston ‘Freddie’ imposed himself on the national consciousness with a display, including 141 runs and six wickets, that makes him a dead cert to win the 2005 Sports Personality of the Year.
Three key moments: Flintoff and Simon Jones make 51 for the last wicket in the first innings, including some brutal sixes; Flintoff bowls an unplayable over of swing to remove both Langer and Ponting; and Flintoff creates the image of the series by consoling Lee after Australia agonisingly fail to snatch the unlikely victory.
Hoggard and Giles see England home at Trent Bridge
Every man in the country was a gibbering wreck on the final day of the Fourth Test, as England – or rather, Shane Warne and Brett Lee – made the molehill run chase of 129 look as easy as climbing Everest in a diving suit. Warne looked like getting a wicket with every delivery.
When Geraint Jones holed out to deep mid off with a stupid slog to make it 116 for 7, it became unwatchable torture. But then the two least sung of England’s heroes, Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard, held their nerve and calmly knocked off the remaining 14 runs to give England a 2-1 series lead.
Nothing epitomised England’s emphasis on the team over the individual better than the fact that it was these two workhorses who saved the day.
Warne’s drop at the Oval
A dreadful irony, that Shane Warne, who was virtually playing England on his own for much of the series, should be the one to spill a straightforward catch when Pietersen was on 15. KP went on to make 158, the match was saved and England won the Ashes for the first time in 18 years.
The crowd baited the great bowler with chants of “Warney dropped the Ashes”, but then immediately showed their appreciation for him in his last Test on English soil with bursts of “There’s only one Shane Warne” and “We only wish you were English” that left him visibly moved.
Killed in action
Jason Gillespie (0/10)
His confidence was shattered in the one-dayers. The cowardly Aussie selectors continued to carry him for the first three Tests before replacing him with Shaun Tait. From a deadly weapon to a liability virtually overnight.
Damien Martyn (0/10)
Entered the series in prime form and with an average over fifty. Never once threatened the England bowlers, finished with a series average of 19 and has since been dropped from the Australian squad. Looked lazy and arrogant.
Michael Kasprowicz (2/10)
Hard to believe now that prior to the Ashes he was keeping Brett Lee out of the team. Toothless.
Matthew Hayden (3/10)
Saved himself with a scrapping century in the last Test, but only by the skin of his teeth. England had the measure of him all series.
Ricky Ponting (4/10)
Batting was fine, but his credibility as captain took a battering. For a decade or more Australia have only needed a Plan A: batsmen score shed load of runs, Warne and McGrath bowl out opposition. When Plan A failed, Ponting was unable to invent a Plan B. Made to look foolish in the Gary Pratt affair.
Adam Gilchrist (4/10)
The most feared batsman in the world was tamed by Flintoff in probably the most important individual duel in the series. Top score of just 49.
Simon Katich (4/10)
Kept starting well and then blowing opportunities to make a name for himself. Averaged just 27.
John Buchanan (3/10)
The coach’s reputation as an eccentric genius took a hammering. Selectors were dreadful too.
A few cuts and bruises
Michael Clarke (6/10)
Managed a 91 and looked a good player, but was unable to swing the game despite consistent starts.
Justin Langer (7/10)
Finished top of the Aussie averages at 43.77, but only one really long innings.
Glenn McGrath (7/10)
Man of the Match at Lords but after his injury England had the measure of him. Before the series he predicted a 5-0 Aussie whitewash. Ha ha!
Shaun Tait (5/10)
Bowled ok as a novice quickie, but got jeered for clumsy fielding and was under-used by the hapless Ponting.
Glorious in defeat
Brett Lee (8/10)
Bowling was inconsistent but his appetite for the fight was inspiring. Involved in all three of the tight finishes and won the hearts of the English crowd with his gutsy bowling and batting.
Shane Warne (10/10)
The pantomime villain and the man we love to hate, but we’ll miss him. It soon became clear that it was England versus Warne as he took virtually every wicket and smashed sixes with the bat. Singlehandedly made the middle three games, which England dominated, unrealistically close. Should have been captain.