Archive for December, 2005

Hibernation nearing end

I am somewhat behind the times-as-reported at the moment, having spent the last week or so in hibernation.

I’d like to note a few things:

  • As skinner kindly pointed out, the Little Red Book spying thing was a hoax.
  • Blinking Lights And Other Revelations, by Eels, is a most spiffing piece of work.
  • The Family Man, starring Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni, and shown on Channel 4 last night, may have been the worst movie I have ever seen.
  • I drove through Drogheda town centre today and it was bumper-to-bumper with zombies driving cars.
  • There will be no ‘The Year in Review’ on this site because my chronological memory is so poor that it would doubtless include events from 2004 and 2003.

Quare stretch in the evenings, what?

Man and Magazine of Tomorrow

Hi Magazine is a magazine funded by the US State Department aimed at Arab youth. The paper version is getting the plug pulled, but it is still available online.

Its online international edition has an interview with former Superman star Dean Cain, who was visiting Kuwait.

He manages to make it through breakfast without interruptions, or even a single stare. Even Clark Kent, Superman’s unassuming alter ego, would have had trouble being so invisible. He’s just the all-American boy next door.

Stop sniggering.

The Munchies at Christmas

Planet Potato on the rules that apply during the Culchie Exodus. I was particularly taken by number 3:

Irish Rail will put out more press releases than extra trains. You will be standing next to the pregnant women all the way to your destination.

People on trains rarely give up their seats to pregnant women. I am reliably informed that this is also the case in the UK. I think Irish Rail should print out cards for women that say ‘No, I really am pregnant’.

People on trains rarely give them up to senior citizens either, but this is because the Darwinian scrum to get on means that senior citizens are usually the last ones onto the train, and remain squashed up against the carriage doors, thus out of view of those who occupy seats.

The notices on the designated priority seats is not clear enough for the virile young pups who occupy them. They say please give up your seat ‘if required’ by disabled or elderly passengers. This seems to be interpreted as ‘do not give up your seat unless someone asks you for it’.

This is a problem for senior citizens, because they are usually very bad at asking for things. As the Irish transport system induces heightened stress and tension among its users, old people can be further inhibited from asking for a seat from the eyes-straight-ahead young man or woman for fear that they get told to get bent.

Planet Potato also notes:

I’ve never actually been in Dublin during the exodus. I have this vision of tumbleweed on an empty Grafton street with Kevin Myers standing outside Bewleys looking like someone from 28 Days Later.

I find that the most pleasant days of the year in Central Dublin are those between the Christmas exodus and the New Year influx. One theory I have about Dublin’s general unpleasantness is that the culchies, or my preferred term, munchies (the use of the term pre-dates the modern usage to describe symptoms of marihuana consumption – I believe it comes from the Irish word ‘muintir’, meaning ‘folks’), used to roaming wide open fields and empty roads, do not receive any guidelines on their arrival for how to live in a city. As a result, they transpose the behaviour of the cattle mart to the narrow streets of Dublin.

Whereas during the rest of the year Grafton Street demands fleet of foot and twinkle of toe to avoid getting floored by rocket-powered shoppers with little sense of direction, one can briefly taste the unruffled life of the flâneur in the last week of December.

A Spy Is Not Just For Christmas

Having spies is all the go these days.

Lord Laird warns of ‘white collar terrorist’ spies in high places in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

George Bush sees nothing wrong with spying without a court warrant, ‘for so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill American citizens’ i.e. forever.

Former Northern secretary Paul Murphy is confident that a spy ring existed at Stormont, but there is no mention of whether British agents were participants.

The spying thing is throwing up some important questions.

How many people constitute a ring? I’d guess at least four. Three, and it’d be a spy triangle. Just two and it’d be a spy line.

How many participant British agents would it take for the spy ring to become an exercise in British state collusion with paramiltaries?

How come Denis Donaldson looks so different in latest photos? The photos released when the initial spying scandal broke, with full head of hair and tache gave him an air of Derek Mountfield in his mid-1980s Everton pomp. Was it a disguise? Did he ditch the tache and the rug whenever he met with his handlers?

Is it just me, or does Gerry Adams’s beard look any different these days?

Gimmeme 5

Maca has tagged me with one of those ‘meme’ thingies that come in handy when you’ve nothing else to write about.

So, five weird habits of mine:

1. If I’ve had a few, before I go to sleep I always try and count the number of drinks I’ve had. The intention is to work out how bad my hangover is going to be.

2. When I’m speaking, I have a rather annoying, but weird nonetheless, habit of not finishing my

3. I suffer from Countdown syndrome with people’s names. When I see a person’s name written down, I rearrange the letters in my head to see if I can make a word or phrase out of them.

4. When I’m out running I don’t listen to music, but there is one song that rarely leaves my head. It is 25 or 6 to 4 by Chicago, sometimes spliced with Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult.

5. I get to sleep at night by naming 11 players from each side in the Premiership, running through the teams in alphabetical order. By the time I get to Chelsea I’m already dozing off.

I’ll not bother naming anyone else to be tagged. If you have a blog and you’re reading this, consider yourself tagged.

And lo, there appeared a giant stegosaurus…

The American religion and the ‘dinosaur Gospel’:

I can recognise three prime stigmata of the American religion: spiritual freedom is solitude, while the soul’s encounter with the divine (Jesus, the Paraclete, the Father) is direct and personal, and, most crucially, what is best and oldest in the American religionist goes back to a time-before-time, and so is part or particle of God. Every second year, the Gallup pollsters survey religion in the United States, and report that 93% of us believe in God, while 89% are certain that God loves him or her on a personal basis. And 45% of us insist that Earth was created precisely as described in Genesis and is only about 9,000 or fewer years old. The actual figure is 4.5 billion years, and some dinosaur fossils are dated as 190 million years back. Perhaps the intelligent designers, led by George W Bush, will yet give us a dinosaur Gospel, though I doubt it, as they, and he, dwell within a bubble that education cannot invade.

Harold Bloom, in Saturday’s Guardian Review

The Unexpected Hits You Between The Eyes

The BBC reports on Dick Cheney’s surprise visit to Iraq.

I can understand why the man’s visit might be newsworthy, but I find it hard to see why the element of surprise is worth emphasising:

The visit was kept so secret that it is thought even the Iraqi prime minister was not told beforehand.

National sovereignty concerns aside, it must have been a rather unpleasant surprise to find Dick Cheney on your doorstep and not a child in the house washed. However, I suspect that this is not the reason for the ‘surprise’ slant.

Cheney is old, he’s got a bum ticker and a bit of a rep for approving of torture and general bad-assed nastiness. The ‘surprise’ bit reads like something straight from his PR agency, to give the impression that he’s a lot more sprightly and spontaneous than you might think.

Bacharach and David under surveillance?

I just got out my little red book
The minute that you said goodbye
I thumbed right through my little red book
I wasn’t gonna sit and cry
And I went from a to z
I took out every pretty girl in town
They danced with me and as I held them

Then I got approached by the feds.

via Juan Cole.


‘The enemy is within the gates; it is with our own luxury, our own folly, our own criminality that we have to contend’ – Cicero

The suffix –gate, used to indicate a scandal, after the original Watergate scandal, is a piece of self-referential press shorthand that obscures more than it informs. Political corruption and misdeeds precede Richard Nixon by thousands of years, yet it seems that any press revelation of intrigue or deceit can be neatly encapsulated by appending –gate at the end.

What would a public inquiry for the so-called Stormontgate reveal?

That MI5 has no interest in devolved government for Northern Ireland? Of course it hasn’t. Its only brief, one imagines, is security for the British state and its interests.

If this means that a decades-long façade of democracy, or of endlessly collapsing institutions, needs to be maintained in order to avoid sustained attacks on high-profile targets in English cities, then so be it. For them, the IRA’s courtesy in ringing through notice of bombs is probably preferable to the random horror of the suicide backpacker, but one can be sure that the intelligence services do not want to have to deal with both at the same time. For them, the only consideration is security.

Would the inquiry reveal that, because of spying activities, Sinn Fein has no interest in devolved government for Northern Ireland? Hard to say. After all, whilst Denis Donaldson has been outed as a British agent, there can be no means of demonstrating that other participants in the affair, already implicated or otherwise, are not also British agents.

It is likely that the job description of high-ranking mole involves a lot of sitting on one’s hands while other things happen. Assuming that spying took place, and that Donaldson knew something about it, what hat was he wearing when the spying took place? For the purposes of a public inquiry, he is unlikely to have submitted a timesheet for his hours as a British agent, and a separate one for his hours as a SF head of administration.

Back to the –gate bit. To talk of “Stormontgate” perhaps presupposes that there is a good old fashioned story – a finite set of facts that can be apprehended by a public inquiry and sleeves-rolled-up journalism- which, when told, will cast light on subversives, rotten apples and dirty deeds. As if. Just in case anyone has forgotten, this is Northern Ireland.

To talk of “Stormontgate” also presupposes that the people to whom this ought to matter most – those who live in the North – would be able to take action in light of the findings. As if. As the acquittals last week demonstrated, a precondition for Northern Irish truth is security.

No truth here. Please shut the gate on the way out.

Disordered Thoughts

There is a great joke in Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland. It goes:

How many people with MS does it take to put in a light bulb?

Answer: Five million – one person to do it, and four million nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine to write depressing on-line web logs.

Writing about being sick comes naturally. Quite a common theme in the private correspondence of 19th-century writers is disease and infirmity. Troublesome boils, weeping carbuncles and the like.

So there is a precedent for writing about illness. Luckily, I have no pustulating sores to detail, but I think I may have this.

Over the last number of years I have seen a regular pattern emerging: leaving home in the dark and arriving home from work in the dark, I lose all motivation to do anything of any consequence.

Whereas during the rest of the year I spend a fair amount of time reading, listening to music and (for the first few months of this blog) writing, I have managed to read about 3 books in the last 2 months and have been treading water blog-wise. I have listened to the same album for the last 3 weeks, simply because I can’t be bothered changing to something else (Twin Cinema, by the New Pornographers. I suppose it could be worse. One year it was American III by Johnny Cash. Try listening to ‘I See A Darkness’ and ‘The Mercy Seat’ ten times a day for a month and see how you get on.) .

In work, where I am hardly the most conscientious of drones normally, I cannot summon the wherewithal to do anything. When other people say ‘I did nothing today’, they mean that they did little by comparison to what they usually do. When I come out of work these days and say the same, it is because I have done nothing. Nada. Rien. Niente. If you were to ask me how much money I earn a year, an honest answer would be three quarters of my salary.

Oh well. Only another 5 days to go before we start noticing a stretch in the evenings.

I on Twitter

December 2005