Archive for June, 2005

La preeminence grise


Sitting looking at this blog, trying to think of something to post, it occurred to me that the site is very grey. I’m thinking of brightening it up a bit.

The Incredible Hulk also started out grey, but I have no inclination to change the colour of this site to bright green, as some may construe it as shamelessly narcissistic.

But grey is associated with some rather uninspiring characters (see left). Should any of my legion (*cough*) readers prefer another colour, they should let me know and I shall happily oblige with a paint job.

Alternatively, if you believe that the colour reflects the content, I would also appreciate being told.

I Have A Cunning Plan, My Lord

Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian on changes to American foreign policy

After Bush’s speech the other day:

Consider. Three years ago, when the Bush administration started ramping up the
case for invading Iraq, Afghanistan had recently been liberated from both the
Taliban and the al-Qaida terrorists who had attacked the US. There was still a
vast amount to be done to make Afghanistan a safe place. Iraq, meanwhile, was a
hideous dictatorship under Saddam Hussein. But, as the United States’ own
September 11 commission subsequently concluded, Saddam’s regime had no
connection with the 9/11 attacks. Iraq was not then a recruiting sergeant or
training ground for jihadist terrorists. Now it is. The US-led invasion, and
Washington’s grievous mishandling of the subsequent occupation, have made it so.
General Wesley Clark puts it plainly: “We are creating enemies.” And the
president observes: our great achievement will be to prevent Iraq becoming
another Taliban-style, al-Qaida-harbouring Afghanistan! This is like a man who
shoots himself in the foot and then says: “We must prevent it turning
gangrenous, then you’ll understand why I was right to shoot myself in the
foot.”

Which is fair enough, I suppose.

On European onlookers:

It would be suicidally dumb for any European to think, in relation to Iraq, “the
worse the better”. Jihadists now cutting their teeth in Iraq will make no fine
distinctions between Washington and London, Berlin or Madrid. Any reader tempted
to luxuriate schadenfreudishly in the prospect of a Vietnam-style US evacuation
from Baghdad may be woken from that reverie by the blast from a bomb, planted in
Charing Cross tube station by an Iraq-hardened terrorist.

Indeed.

But it is a fair and justified historical observation that American policy has
got better – more sober, more realistic – at least partly because things in Iraq
have gone so badly. This is the cunning of history.

Which is a bit like saying that it is more sober and realistic for a heavy drinker to switch from Buckfast Tonic Wine to Carlsberg Special Brew: correct, but of little cause for celebration among concerned onlookers. As for what ‘the cunning of history’ is, well, I’m stumped.

No, wait:

It is an error to imagine that civilization and savage cruelty are antitheses.
On the contrary, in every organic process, the antitheses always reflect a
unified totality, and civilization is an organic process.

From Richard L. Rubenstein, The Cunning of History

found here. Search engines are fun.

Marriage Hearses Also Available in Pink

Gay marriage is being legalised in Spain. (Spanish-speaking anoraks can read the amendment to the Civil Code here.)

One wonders if the protests against the upcoming Pride march in Belfast will match the colour (well, there’s plenty of red and yellow there anyway) of the anti-gay marriage rally held a week or so ago in Spain. Experience tells me that this might not be the case. As I was saying to the N. Irish Magyar, the protest last year didn’t seem to amount to much. There were a few evangelical Christians bunched together, reading scripture and holding up placards and preaching at passers by. Same as any normal Saturday in Belfast, really. (UPDATE: amusing Back Seat Drivers post)

Anyway, the BBC’s correspondent ends her report on how this legislation with a dizzying flourish:

Spain is fast becoming the Sweden of the Mediterranean.

Nice one. Which country is the Spain of Scandinavia?

Aborted Musical Experiment

I decided I wasn’t going to post anything today, but I changed my mind.

I have no great technological curiosity. However, I had my music set to ‘Shuffle’ on Windows Media Player this morning, and I couldn’t help think that there was some similarity between each track selected and the preceding track. Granted, this perception may be down to a relatively homogeneous taste in music, or a suggestive nature, so I have jotted down the last thirteen tracks listened to in order to see if there is any sort of discernible logical progression.

(I accept that this is about as scientific as pissing in a fridge)

The Ledge – Fleetwood Mac

Go All The Way – The Raspberries

Old Man – Neil Young

The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress – Jimmy Webb (high pitched male singers for the last 4 songs)

Might as Well – The Raspberries (definitely on a 70s roll here)

White America – Eminem (Er, no obvious connection here)

Instrumental Suits – High Llamas (A kind of Bacharach/Surfs Up-era Beach Boys instrumental doodle that bears no resemblence whatsoever to the previous tracks)

Black Dog – Led Zepellin (no connection, apart from the first few bars, before the song starts good and proper, where it sounds like Jimmy Page is messing around with a violin bow on his guitar, making a kind of helicopter sound. The same sort of thing you hear on High Llamas tracks)

Cool Cool Water – The Beach Boys (in white rock terms far away from Black Dog as you can get. Which might be the point. The thing is coded to find contrasting styles!??)

Approaching Pavonis Mons – The Flaming Lips (an instrumental track that bears superficial resemblance to the High Llamas one)

No One Knows – Queens Of The Stone Age (this experiment is starting to wear thin, methinks)

God Loves Everyone – Ron Sexsmith (sentimental and maudlin folksy plod)

Alfie – Burt Bacharach. (OK I give up.)

That’ll be a no then.

As I was doing the exercise, I think I know where I may have acquired the idea in the first place. (The book, not the page)

We have a lot of hard work to do today…..

David Vance has a post on A Tangled Web about Endings And Beginnings to songs.

Today I shall not be blogging. The reasons for this remind me of one of my favourite beginnings to a song, that of Government Centre by Jonathan Richman. Even though I don’t work for the government.

Spoken
You know, we’ve got a lot of hard work to do today
(Background voices): What might that be Jonathan?

Singing begins:
Well we’ve got alot alot alot of hard work today
We gotta rock at the government center
To make the secretaries feel better
When they put those stamps on the letters

And they got alot alot alot of great desks and chairs
Uh huh, at the government center
We gotta make the secretaries feel better
When they put those stamps on all those letters

continues

The Final Countdown (groans)

In a blow to retired people and indolent students throughout the UK and Ireland, Richard Whiteley is dead. This is sad news. I was a big fan of Countdown in the days before I had to go out and get a job.

It is a bit of a conundrum deciding what to write in tribute. He seems irreplaceable. Perhaps the move to recruit a replacement will become known as the DAILY WRETCH HIRE?

When You’ve Bin Had

In the area where I live, it seems like the only place there are bins is in the railway station. And those were only put there last week.

The same goes for any area of Dublin outside the city centre.

Running my first marathon some two and a half years ago, a street urchin from Dublin 12 ran up alongside me clutching a shiny bar of something, saying ‘here mister, take wunna deeze. It’s wha Sonia O’Sullivan eats’. As I was beginning to hit what some people call ‘the wall’, it felt like a good time to get some extra energy. 30 seconds and one mouthful of sickly sweet banana-flavoured chewy plastic later, I needed to find a bin without breaking my stride. If I broke my stride, I wasn’t sure I’d get it back. This particular stretch of the marathon wound through quite a few roads of the estates on the south side of the city, so I was confident of finding one sooner or later.

20 minutes later, now half way through Phoenix Park, I was beginning to worry that my finishing line photograph would show me crossing the line with a half-eaten banana bar in my hand. Being a bit of a stickler for civic responsibility, I was loathe to throw the bar on the ground for someone else to pick up. I had run 3 miles along the roads of Dublin’s south side without finding a single bin. In what seemed a cruel parody of a relay race, I ended up passing the bar to a rather tougher and grimier street urchin from Dublin 7, asking him to dispose of it. Load lightened, I headed for the finish line.

Clarityn O Clarityn

I thought I could go through the hay fever season without resorting to steroids. The word steroids makes me think of shiny, angry weightlifters in posing pouches.

The cold turkey method is not working. I write this with puffy eyes and and a red raw septum. I look like a coke fiend. This evening I took a stroll down to the shops for a loaf of bread and sneezed the whole way back. While washing the dishes my nose unleashed a sudden Niagara of watery snatters that dropped into the sink.

On Intervention

God I hate the Guardian. Nearly half of the links on this damned page bring you to some Guardian article or other. I should rename this site Bored Wage Slave Meta-Guardian Review. But I’d rather stab my own eyes out with a fork than have to sift through the Irish Independent or The Daily Telegraph regularly for something worth commenting on.

Anyway, here’s another.

Starting with the tale of a stolen iPod (has anyone else noticed how many stories of stolen iPods there are circulating nowadays? It has to be an Apple ad man’s dream. Untold amounts of free plugs with the message that people are prepared to resort to violence to get their hands on one) Jenni Russell wonders why so few people in public spaces are able to intervene on behalf of others:

’..people appear increasingly reluctant to intervene in public places. They are scared, or indifferent, or embarrassed, or afraid of being accused of assault themselves. Nor does anyone have any confidence that, if they do intervene, they will be backed up by others.

It’s not just London either. Happens in Dublin regularly too.

She continues:

In all the discussion of antisocial behaviour, we seem to be missing an essential element. The police cannot prevent crime, intimidation or harassment. All they can hope to do is occasionally catch a perpetrator. They are meant to be the enforcers of the rules that we as a society have decided to live by – not the only upholders. If we see people being mistreated, then surely we cannot just turn away and thank God that we are not the targets. If that is what we are doing, then we are starting, literally, to become less civilised.

Too right.

I think that one of the reasons for this failure to intervene may be down to the fact that most labour in urban areas these days is done in front of a computer screen. The most physically strenuous part of most people’s days is to carry home the laptop or the shopping. This leaves many of us alienated from our own bodily strength and robustness. What we need to do is send off for a Charles Atlas magazine, and perhaps lose the fear of taking a punch in the face.

There is another side to this, which is the fading of eccentricity in modern life. Not ‘eccentricity’ in the conventional sense, e.g. sporting a handlebar moustache and carrying around one’s own sachets of Earl Grey, but in the refusal to conform. In an article a few weeks ago in El Pais, Javier Marias wrote about how stifling conformity in contemporary schools had led to a far greater degree of bullying. His argument was that in times past one could always rely on an ‘eccentric’, a child from within the circles of popular, physically strong and athletic children, who would have enough confidence in himself to defend the weaker and more vulnerable class members from predatory bullies, but that the overwhelming need to conform had put an end to that.

On U2

God I hate U2. If you’re like me, you might like this.


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