Archive for July, 2006

Stag-flation

I have to go to a stag do tomorrow. This involves standing around with 20 other men drinking for most of the day and most of the night. Of the 20 other men, I know only one: the groom-to-be. To me these days, the idea of drinking lager all day and talking about football and kebabs etc is as attractive as the idea of being interrogated by the Saudi secret police.

It isn’t just the conversation: my powers of resistance to alcohol have withered over the past 6 or 7 years. Whereas before I could reach double figures with relative ease, these days a glass of wine is enough to set off my lazy eye.

So, I have a rather limited choice: get my round in with everyone else, or stay out of the round and buy my own drinks in order to maintain some degree of self-control. The former will result in me getting a) snattered; b) self-repetitive; c) a delicious kebab; and finally d) a thumping hangover; and the latter in a) teeth-grinding frustration as I feign laughter at the same joke I have heard 6 times in the previous hour; b) long periods of staring into my glass; c)long periods of flipping beer-mats; e) a disgusting kebab.

Gah.

Pig Face

I’m cannot fathom why anyone, let alone a Muslim, would want to get Botox injections after finding out that it contains substances derived from pigs, but the Malaysian National Fatwa Council has decided to ban it anyway.

The Sleeponomic Consequences of the Teas

Like most people from my neck of the woods, I drink tea by the bucketful. For years I have been able to go off to bed with a mug of tea and fall asleep the moment I’ve finished the chapter of whatever Agatha Christie masterpiece I happen to be reading at that moment. And I sleep like a 5ft 11 baby.

I am not, however, immune to the effects of caffeine. A cup of coffee (or, in bygone days, a sup of Buckfast) before going to sleep will not stop me falling asleep, but I’ll wake up –often with a jolt- 2 or 3 hours earlier than I ought to.

Over the last year or so, I hadn’t been sleeping too well, waking up at 4, half 4 in the morning and finding it hard to get back to sleep until about 20 minutes before I have to get up. I decided some time back, in light of this, to refrain from drinking caffeinated tea in the evenings, opting for the decaffeinated version instead. Since then, there has been some improvement.

I would not buy decaffeinated tea for myself, as I think it’s of the same order of goods as Kaliber and menthol cigarettes. My wife buys it though, because she’s a lot more susceptible to the effects of caffeine than I. As it’s in the house, and as I like the ritual of tea-drinking, I drink it anyway, even if it is not conducive to the mildly contemplative state of being that the stimulants in real tea bring.

Last night, it was not my turn to make the tea. When the call came from the kitchen inquiring as to what kind of tea I wanted, I said normal. I thought – why should I be beholden to fear of waking up in the middle of the night- am I not, after all, a man?

I woke up at 4 in the morning, in thrall to the usual phantasms, and after cursing my cavalier attitude to the effects of tea, began the usual ritual to get back to sleep – selecting 10 outfield players by their regular position and 1 goalkeeper from every Premiership team, going through the teams in alphabetical order. Then I started counting all the window panes in our house, and then my parents’ house. (Strangely enough, I can never remember the exact number in either).

None of this guff worked, as I knew it was all in vain anyway due to the caffeine I felt coursing through my veins. I fell asleep the obligatory 20 minutes or so before the time I had to get up. Dull-eyed, I vowed to my wife this morning that, much to my regret, I would not touch normal tea again in the evenings.

She then revealed that the tea she had given me was decaf.

Disconnected

The internet is down in my place of work, and I have been left stranded with my disconnected ideas, a mental amputee.

They were showing Clockwise the other day on the TV, where John Cleese is late for his speech, With Hilarious Consequences. The first time I watched this was in the Salad Days of VHS Rental, and the few minutes I watched the other day were suffused with a strange nostalgia on my part for days when the fact of being late for something held a hint of mystery, and you had plenty of time for conjuring up an excuse.

Mobile technology has done away with all that. Even though I don’t use a mobile phone, I’m still accountable for my lateness from the moment I know I might be late. Whereas before the failure to show on time for an appointment simply meant ‘running late’, a late arrival without prior notice these days is tantamount to being a war criminal.

It’s back up.

Crescendo

One thing (there are others*) that gets on my wick about David Quinn’s article in today’s Irish Independent, is inappropriate use of the word ‘crescendo’. When you see a crescendo symbol in music notation, which looks like a less than sign (
He says:

‘Fuelled by statements such as the above, worldwide condemnation of Israel reached a crescendo.’

When people, of whom a disproportionate number seem to be GAA commentators, say that ‘the volume is rising to a crescendo’, I feel a twinge of unease. ‘Crescendo’ is the Italian for growing. What GAA commentators are saying, then, is that the volume is rising to a growing, which is nonsense.

Whilst Quinn’s misuse is not quite as blatant (it is possible, after all, for a musical piece to reach a crescendo, in the sense that it reaches the point where the crescendo begins), it is clear that he misunderstands the term, because if he really understood it, he would have said:

‘Statements such as the above fuelled a crescendo of worldwide condemnation of Israel.’

Some might say I’m being pedantic here, and if in common usage ‘crescendo’ means ‘clamour’, then tough tits, since when did failed musicians dictate the popular lexicon? But I feel the urge to protest nonetheless, because I am very much in favour of the use of musical terms to describe extra-musical phenomena. Crescendo would be a most elegant word indeed if people actually knew how to use it properly. But a failure to use it properly simply indicates that the user has cloth ears, and is only able to divide music into loud bits and not so loud bits. But ‘crescendo’ does not even mean a very loud bit. You can have a crescendo where the volume simply increases from very soft (pp) to soft (p).

If we think of the totality of a language as an orchestra, and each speaker/writer as a musician, perhaps the failure to use a word in a recognised context could be considered a bum note. And bum notes linger for the rest of the performance, and even long after the performance has finished.

*Other ‘bum notes’:

1. The anxious attempt to sow doubt about the extent of IDF destruction of Lebanese civilians in spite of declarations from, say, the Lebanese Prime Minister, that the death toll has reached hundreds, with hundreds of thousands displaced.

2. Denouncing Palestinian militants for using civilians as human shields whilst ignoring certain inconvenient facts, e.g. Israeli troops use civilians as human shields; living in the same residential block as someone doesn’t constitute using them as a human shield;

3. This sentence here: ‘How strange it is that they can never seem to produce their own Gandhi or Mandela, who would seek to achieve their aims through peaceful and non-violent means.’

As if:

a) Palestinians were congenitally incapable of achieving ‘their aims’ through peaceful and non-violent means (ergo the only thing they understand is violence);
b) Mandela and the ANC sought to achieve their aims through peaceful and non-violent means;
c) No Palestinian could possibly want to live in peace;
d) A necessary, nay, expected outcome of dispossession and brutal military occupation is the production of Men We Can Do Business With;

I do agree with this bit, though:

The Palestinians and their allies also have a responsibility to call off the dogs of war.
Until we pressure them to do that, until we call them to account – until we give up our infantile view of Middle Eastern politics – the carnage will continue.

Well, I agree with it apart from the Pauline ex-pulpitum paternalism where he calls his readers infantile.

That, and the fact that he expects the Palestinians to come up with a Gandhi or a Mandela, but talks about ‘us’ pressuring ‘the Palestinians and their allies’. Is he an ally of the Palestinians? If he is not, so be it, but if he is not, it’s a bit rich of him to engage in disingenuous musing about Mandela and Gandhi, implying on the one hand that the Palestinian aims are just, but on the other that it is not worthy of his support. Or is he arguing that the Palestinian aims are unjust precisely because they have not produced a Gandhi or a Mandela?

But still, in my agreement with what he is saying about calling off the dogs of war, I issue my own call on Israel (I’m sure they’re reading) to cease its bombardment of Lebanese civilians, to cease its bombardment of Palestinian civilians and to end its preparations to invade and re-occupy Lebanon, to exchange prisoners with Hizbullah, to release all administrative detainees. Like most of the governments of the civilised world say, there ought to be an immediate ceasefire, after which point it is difficult to see why Hizbullah would continue firing rockets into Israel as it is doing at the minute, killing Israeli Jew and Arab civilians. Palestinian aggression against Israeli civilians must also stop, including, of course, the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel (have they stopped yet?).

Underpinning the present conflict between Israel and Hizbullah -a prelude to Israel’s reoccupation of Lebanon- is the logic of the bodybag, as employed by Billy Wright and the Mid-Ulster UVF/LVF in the years preceding the IRA ceasefire.

People think of Billy Wright as a crazed criminal, and he certainly was, but he was capable of logic, however immoral the consequences. The logic was: we can’t defeat our enemy by military engagement, so we’ll make sure the people who would support them suffer as much as possible, and our enemy will soon stop when they see the bodybags stacking up.

The approach is logical, but it is also madness.

Nunca te acostarás..

This article says that George Orwell spoke neither Spanish nor Catalan.

Doesn’t Think, Stinks Nonetheless

IT was an image that captured the nation’s hearts and brought home the full force of the tragedy unfolding in the Lebanon.

For the Irish Independent, the nation can only appreciate the full force of the ‘tragedy’ if prompted by a photo of a winsome little Irish girl crying. But it’s all ok now, because she’s back home and smiling. A nation of Irish Independent readers can now breathe a sigh of relief.

Eye Dandy

Here, I bought the Divine Comedy’s new album the other day, and it’s probably his best one since Casanova. In fact, it might be even better than Casanova, but it’ll need another couple of hundred listens to compare.

You really have to wonder what was going through the man’s head when he recorded Regeneration (if that was indeed his last album – I lost interest after that).

In Mother Dear, Mr Hannon muses on the influence of his mother’s gaze:

‘If I ever get arrested by the CIA
Because they take me for a foreign spy
They won’t need no lie detector
All they’ll have to do
Is make me look into my mother’s eyes
And I’ll tell them any think they like..’

This reminded me of this piece of research here:

In a finding that will have office managers everywhere scurrying for the
photocopier, researchers have discovered that merely a picture of watching eyes
nearly trebled the amount of money put in the box.

Incidentally, my mother reads this weblog. For this reason, it is free of foul language.

Killer Facts

I am about one-third through The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy by Adam Tooze. I may attempt to write a full review when I finish, but I just felt the need to register my approval at this early stage. This is an utterly engrossing and pretty damn scary piece of economic history, although because it’s been a few years since I tackled this sort of stuff, a brief refresher course in international economics might have come in handy before starting. No matter how many times I read about the balance of payments, the gold standard and currency devaluation, I keep having to rebuild the concept in my head from scratch so that I can figure out what exactly is going on. It says a lot about his book that I have been taking the time to read the same page 2 or 3 times in order to make sure I’m understanding things right.

Intention, Complicity, Disproportion

Some bits and pieces of things that have caught my eye on Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon.
Ilan Pappe has a terrifying piece on the intentions of the IDF:
I know these generals as well as one could know them. In the last week, they have had a field day. No more random use of one-kilo bombs, battleships, choppers and heavy artillery. The weak and insignificant new minister of defense, Amir Perez, accepted without hesitation the army demand for crushing the Gaza strip and grinding Lebanon to dust. But it may not be enough. It can still deteriorate into a full scale war with the hapless army of Syria and my ex-students may even push by provocative actions towards such an eventuality. And, if you believe what you read in the local press here, it may even escalate into a long distance war with Iran, backed by a supreme American umbrella.
As’ad Abukhalil highlights the complicity of Arab regimes:
I think that there no doubt Arab countries are in cahoots in this particular conspiracy. There was a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo two days ago, and the minutes were leaked to the Arabic press, including to As-Safir, among others, and there was a clear intention. The Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Kuwaitis, as well as the Saudis, primarily the Saudis, are participating in this campaign in order to disarm and weaken Hezbollah. What they don’t know, however, is this is going to have reverberations that is going to affect their own stability.
Just yesterday, a group of Saudi dissidents, intellectuals from inside the country, may of whom are Shiite, released a strong denunciation of the policies of the Saudi government. Inside Egypt yesterday, a large group of the most well known Egyptian writers, intellectuals, leftists, released another statement denunciating the position of the Egyptian government, and there were demonstrations in Jordan about that. So, of course, they are part of the conspiracy that I speak of. The Arab governments are working side-by-side with the United States and with the Israelis. As far as the U.S. is concerned, and the United Nations, of course, we have too much respect for the audience to speak about these entities as if they are independent operators on the world stage.
Dennis Perrin addresses the question of disproportionality with a detailed counter-example:
Let’s say that not only was Lebanon bombing the holy fucking bejesus out of Israel, targeting its infrastructure, hitting civilian convoys fleeing the carnage, but that Lebanon had a history of doing this. Not only that, but that Lebanon occupied a chunk of northern Israel for 18 years, in violation of international law, UN resolutions, etc., and brutally repressed the Jewish population there, herding them into camps, torturing suspected “terrorists” and Zionist “militants,” and were assisted in this criminal venture by a Palestinian Muslim army who used this opening to further repress their religious enemies, engaging in random murder and overall humiliation of the domestic population. Then let’s say that after 18 years of this, the Lebanese army and its Palestinian clients were finally forced by the Israeli resistance to end their occupation and return to the other side of a still-disputed border area. Both sides remained tense and on-guard, with border skirmishes a common occurrence. Then, a few years later, Israeli militia members capture two Lebanese soldiers and kill several more in this disputed area, and take their prisoners back into Israel. The Lebanese Prime Minister calls this an act of war while some of his military officers openly talk about bombing Israel back to 1948, if not further. (“We’ll bomb them back to Herzl,” brags an unnamed Lebanese general.) The Israeli government has no control over the northern militia, which came into being as a response to the repressive Lebanese occupation. No matter — the superior Lebanese air force begins bombing Ashkelon, Tel Aviv and Israeli West Jerusalem, among other targets, killing mostly Jewish civilians, many of whom have no love for the ultra-Zionist militia that gave Lebanon the pretext to attack. The United States, which gives billions in annual aid, military included, to the Lebanese state, sits back and does nothing, save to denounce the Zionist militia for its terrorism and say that Lebanon has “a right to defend herself.” Meanwhile, the bombs keep falling all over Israel, while some Zionist militia rockets hit Lebanese targets, killing and wounding civilians as well, but not to the degree that Israel is enduring. And as of this writing, that’s where the situation stands.
Now, what would you think of those Lebanese apologists in the US who, while supporting the terror bombing of Israel, quipped that perhaps it was “disproportionate”?
Meanwhile, the Irish Independent and other Irish papers publish a picture of a distressed little blond-haired girl on their front pages.

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July 2006
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