Archive for August, 2006

30 is the new 29

After what has been the dryest August since records began, at least in terms of content for this blog, we are off to Turkey for a week. Celebrations for my 30th birthday will be held in Istanbul, so it’s only polite that I put in an appearance. I hope to return with batteries recharged, inspiration regained, and youthful optimism undimmed by time’s sickening crimes.

Back on the 6th.

The Burger Test

‘They are so far removed from extremism that they even spent the day
boozing and tucking into a McDonald’s burger.’

How to be moderate, from the Daily Mirror.

Captions Outrageous

Despite my distaste in general for t-shirts bearing slogans and my tendency to avoid loud people, I do have some sympathy for this fellow who was stopped from boarding a plane for wearing a t-shirt that said ‘We Will Not Be Silent’ in both English and Arabic.

At least, that’s what he says it says in Arabic. But on that count, we only have the word of Arabic speakers. For the non-Arabic speaker, it could mean anything. Ok, it could mean something as harmless as ‘Downtown Damascus Donut Dunkin’’, but equally it could mean ‘Frankie Say’. Suppose they let him onto the plane and he started belting out a rendition of Relax mid-flight?

The watchful passengers and the conscientious security personnel deserve a hearty pat on the back for this one.

You can never be too careful when it comes to t-shirt slogans. Take terrorists, for example. More often than not, the modus operandi of the IRA bomber involved walking into a shopping centre sporting a t-shirt that read ‘I am going to blow this place to bits’ on the front in Irish, but, as a means of deceiving the public at large, he juxtaposed this with ‘My mother went to Bundoran and all I got was this lousy t-shirt’ underneath in English.

Via Mother Jones.

Keanu had to learn an Armagh accent for Richard …

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Keanu had to learn an Armagh accent for Richard Linklater’s new film.

Liberation by Linkbox

I apologise for my post on Northern Ireland ‘local interest’ stories the other day. The earth-shattering announcement that they’re planning to erect a monument to one half of Massey-Ferguson has really put me in my place. No, really. The people of Northern Ireland should cherish this sort of thing. In fact, in the interests of national pride, they should stage award ceremonies for young turks inspired by the inventor of the mechanisms of the modern tractor. I am thinking perhaps ‘The Soda Farl Young Innovators’.

Jimi Idyll

Louis Theroux tells of an egregious gap in Jeremy Paxman’s knowledge:

‘I make a point of watching University Challenge. It was odd this week as they had a mistake on that they didn’t acknowledge. Paxo asked a question about Jimi Hendrix, to which the answer was “Voodoo Chile”. The guy gave the right answer, but Paxman didn’t realise it was idiomatic and said “No, it’s Voodoo Chil-e,” pronouncing it like the country.’

It’s hard to take someone seriously after a slip-up like that. But then again, there are plenty of words I have seen written down that I have never heard spoken. Like androgyny (must be down to the company I keep – full of manly men and womanly women and no Placebo fans); idyll (is it ih-dill or does it rhyme with piddle?); turgid (is that a hard ‘g’ sound, or does it rhyme with rigid?).

In Vino Humanitas

It used to be, years ago, that there were so many bomb scares, punishment beatings and arson attacks that Northern Ireland news programmes had little time for the ‘human interest’ stories. On a quiet day, you might see a story about one man’s attempt to bake the world’s biggest soda farl, or about an injured doggy being brought back to consciousness after his owner played him tapes of Brian Kennedy singing.

These days, when I observe local Northern Ireland news programmes and internet sites, I am often tempted to smother myself with the nearest cushion. I have nothing against Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK for as long as its inhabitants wish this to be the case, but I would really love to be spared all the dumb ‘local interest’ stories that have filled the vacuum left by political normalisation. Why do so many of them seem to involve ice hockey rinks? And if it isn’t ice hockey, it’s about the local connection to the latest worldwide news story. In the latter, it’s as if there’s an anxious attempt to legitimate Northern Ireland’s existence by connecting, however tenuously, to the outside world.

Look at this story here. This is an inversion of the ‘every conflict has a silver lining’ stories that frequently get told in Northern Ireland news:

‘The recent conflict in the Lebanon has led to an upsurge in interest in wine from the region, a County Down wine merchant has said.’

Maybe Jim Nicholson was right.

Terrorist Profile-actic

Not content with attempting to destroy our way of life, the terrorists are now shamelessly shaving half-hour chunks off our holidays. Before long, a week in Mallorca will really mean 2 days in Mallorca and 5 days in airport security.

The ‘solution’ proposed to the additional delay is to introduce profiling, touted as a way of separating the peaceful sheep from the terrorist goats. People are also calling it ‘positive profiling’, which is exactly the same thing, only with a positive spin.

It is also getting described as racial profiling, but actual skin colour is unlikely to be a key determinant when building the profile. It just so happens that if you fit all the other criteria for profiling purposes – your name, where you were born, where your parents come from, where you live, what you believe, your travel records – you are highly unlikely to be as white as, say, John Reid.

Contrary to the crap you read in the papers about stout-hearted British resistance to terror, a lot of British people are actually very skittish about it, egged on by an increasingly overbearing and authoritarian Labour government, and its media accomplices. Nowadays, four out of five Britons think that the west is losing the ‘war on terror’.

Somewhat ironically, the ones calling most forcefully for profiling to be introduced appear to be the same people who bemoan the lack of Muslim integration. Also ironic is the fact that if British Muslims don’t like it, they can always stay in Britain.

I am pretty sure that I had the privilege of being positively profiled by British security forces. Or maybe everyone else was positively profiled and I was negatively profiled. Anyhow, between 1994 and 2000 I flew back and forth from England to Northern Ireland upwards of 20 times. My baggage was subjected to a ‘random’ security check on quite a few of these occasions, which generally involved me lugging over my luggage to a square-headed guy called Graham who would have a brief root through my dirty underwear to check that it contained no bombs. If my success at getting selected for a random check could somehow be translated into success at backing horses, I would be living on my own Caribbean island by now.

I always found these ‘random’ checks a pain in the hole. When you’re not actually a terrorist or a member of a guerrilla organisation, you don’t tend to think of yourself in terms of how likely you are to blow something to bits, so it always comes as a bit of a surprise when someone else thinks that you might do just that. If it does happen, you might start to perceive an essential difference –in national, perhaps even ethnic terms- between yourself and the security guard copping an eyeful of your Makin’ Bacon boxer shorts.

In Northern Ireland, though, where ladies’ handbags would get checked for weapons on entry to Marks and Sparks, there was a degree of equality, since everyone was suspected of being a terrorist, and it was therefore reasonably bearable when Darren from Shrewsbury with a machine gun and a red searchlight stopped you and asked where you were off to that evening. After all, it was the sort of question he asked everyone, so it wasn’t as if you were being singled out for special treatment.

Some might say that the point of Darren being there, stopping you on the way to evening Mass, wasn’t to foil bomb plots per se, but to suggest to you rather subtly that armed separatism and challenging the power of the state wasn’t really worth the hassle.

Now, given that there was quite a lot of bombing about, I think we can be sure that it was part of the security forces’ brief to detect and arrest people with bombs. What is less clear, looking back, is how much the practice of road blocks, checkpoints, car boot searches, handbag searches and all that malarkey was intended to render the general population submissive to the requirements of the British state.

But now that the Provos are gone, this practice is surplus to requirements. (Although, 16.5% of MI5’s counter-terrorism budget is still spent on Northern Ireland, and annual spending has not changed that much) I’m sure former Stalinist John Reid can be fully trusted to carry out his responsibilities in dealing with international terrorism without recourse to NI tactics i.e. heavy state surveillance by lots of public displays of men with machine guns. Indeed, who better to lead the fight against extremism than a guest of Bosnian Serb mass murderer Radovan Karadzic? OK, slap me, I’m being cynical. He was a rather moderate Stalinist really.

As a side note, it is quite interesting, looking at MI5’s website, that the sort of ‘bomb’ ‘plot’ ‘foiled’ last week would appear to fall under the rubric of international terrorism, whereas Northern Ireland-related terrorism is domestic. So, if the IRA receives arms from Libya, that is domestic terrorism, but if Englishmen acquire arms from Sainsbury’s, Dixon’s and Boots, that is international terrorism.

Prod Mile Failte

I was up in Donegal at the weekend. As usual, it pissed it down a fair amount of the time. On the way back down to Dublin we went through Rossnowlagh, which is famous for hosting an Orange Order parade in an atmosphere of calm and tolerance. We passed a lorry trailer parked in a field on the way in. There was a tricolour painted on it, and in thick blue paint it said ‘Prod’s Out IRA’. Beside that it said ‘EIRE’ in big letters.

Photoshop Will Absolve Me

I see some bloggers have been poring over the bed-ridden Castro picture where he is apparently holding a copy of Granma with the headline ‘ABSUELTO POR LA HISTORIA’, claiming that the photo is doctored.

Read this for a forensic approach:

. . a close examination at 1000% magnification of Fidel’s right hand in the first photo, where he is holding the newspaper at the bottom, shows a perfectly straight line of vertical pixels where his thumb and fingers meet the newspaper. This type of artifact is usually a sign of photo manipulation, although that is not definite.

1000% magnification! It’s the friggin’ X-files. Back in the real world, a man with one blind eye and one wooden one could spot that the photo is doctored.

Although not a regular subscriber to Granma (it is an extremely dreary read, as I found out in Havana), I would be very surprised if it chose to publish an edition, on the event of Castro’s hospitalisation, which made direct reference in its headline to Castro’s famous ‘History Will Absolve Me’ speech. (The translation of the ‘headline’ is ‘Absolved By History’) Well, maybe it would do, but only if he was already dead. This begs the question for a worldwide legion of seat-sniffing photoshop enthusiasts: is Castro dead?

The photo was deliberately doctored by some wag having a larf. Or someone out to impress Gloria Estefan.

If I am proven wrong, I have no fear: I can be confident that the Internet Will Absolve Me.

I on Twitter

August 2006