Archive for March, 2007

The Unexpected Hits You Between The Eyes

Gordon Brown on ‘surprise‘ visit to Afghanistan. Because he is a spontaneous individual, make no mistake.

Does anyone get real surprises these days? I can’t remember the last time anything happened where I immediately thought, ‘well I certainly wasn’t expecting that to happen’.

The problem with surprises is that it is as though the realm of the possible has contracted. British troops get captured by Iranians. Is it that a surprise? Maybe it would be if they had been captured while watching Norwich City playing at home. To be captured while sailing in an area where no agreed maritime boundary exists between Iraq and Iran is not all that surprising.

Similarly, there doesn’t seem to be any surprises in everyday life these days. I was out for dinner in a restaurant last Saturday night, and there was a ‘surprise’ birthday party being held for someone at a few of the other tables. The birthday celebrant came in, saw all her friends and family there proudly assembled, and I watched her as she briefly tried her best to feign surprise. The lack of surprise was almost gloomy.

Even most nasty surprises aren’t really all that much of a surprise. Bad things happen, but they happen within a rather narrow set of possibilities. It would be a nasty and authentic surprise to get mauled by a polar bear when you open your fridge, but to fall ill to some common disease, while certainly nasty, is only a ‘surprise’ because you haven’t entertained the possibility of it happening. In the case of a polar bear ripping you to shreds in your own kitchen, the idea is unlikely to ever have crossed your mind, since it lies well beyond the realm of reasonable probability.

For most of us, with the exception of politicians and debt collectors, even surprise visits are out of the question these days, due to matters of protocol. If you call in on people unannounced, it is because you are fairly sure that they a) will be there; b) they will not have made other plans; and c) they will be happy to see you. And if you can be sure of all three, then you can also be pretty sure that your visit won’t be that much of a surprise at all.

Perhaps it was ever thus.

Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb…(Enter Country Here)

The British nightmare is a repeat of the 1979 hostage crisis that humiliated President Jimmy Carter.

So says the BBC’s Paul Reynolds, in a piece purporting to analyse a ‘propaganda war‘ between the British and Iranian governments. Not that the BBC could ever play its part in a propaganda war or anything. The British Broadcasting Corporation rises above such unedifying spectacles. And by unedifying spectacles I don’t mean Dame Edna Everage.

Did I ever tell you about the time a gull perched in silence on my bedroom windowsill? It was a repeat of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Tiswas Or Not Tiswas

Plonked in front of the screen in his private cinema deep within the caves of the Vatican, the last Pope is reported as having said “It is as it was.” after sitting through a showing of epic slasher Mel Gibson movie The Passion of the Christ.

These words were taken to constitute some sort of papal approval of the historical veracity of Gibson’s blood-and-guts fest, when, in fact, a more plausible explanation is that Pope John Paul II had sat in the room in the dark, and then the light was shone on the screen, a flurry of images appeared before his eyes, then, as the film ended, darkness enveloped the room once more. “It is as it was,” said the Pope, to the rejoicing of anti-Semitic Christian sado-masochists everywhere.

Any film supposedly based on historical events will provoke, if subject to a proper PR campaign, a debate in the popular press about whether or not it is ‘historically accurate’. It was thus with Michael Collins, In The Name of the Father, Schindler’s List, The Passion of The Christ, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, Munich, Star Wars etcetera.

And so it is with the latest I-Am-A-Warrior! bollocks from Hollywood, 300. I was giving a friend a lift the other day, who had been to the Irish premiere the previous night, and I asked him about the content of the film, naturally intrigued as to the supposed significance accorded to the 300 hardened freedom-lovers knocking the lining out of 250 billion Persian savages.

He answered -rather disappointingly, since I was about to begin a speech- that he didn’t like to politicise everything the way I did, and that he only went along to see the kick-ass fight scenes.

Ring of Secrecy

El País has an infographic of Fidel Castro’s three recent operations. Apparently Castro now has an artificial anus after nearly shitting himself to death.

Signs of the Times

At the shop I noticed one of the tabloids has printed a shock provo horror picture on its front cover of Steve Staunton being attended by a security guard with a logo on his jacket commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Hunger Strikes.

Sinn Fein later issued a statement denying any involvement with Steve Staunton.

Anniversary celebrations of this type -25th, 30th, 50th- have always struck me as silly. What makes 25 more important or interesting than 24 or 26? The fact that it’s a multiple of 5? Well then, what makes 5 more important or interesting than 3? Someone explain, please. Ideally a numerologist or a tarot card reader.

Reds Above The Beds


I am told that the presence of ladybirds in one’s garden is very good, since the colourful creatures have a healthy appetite for aphids that might otherwise feast upon tender plants. Here is one, spotted, today.

Voicing Opinions

At this moment in time [and I use this cliché because I am still incapable of managing to make the computer recognize my pronunciation of the three letter word that indicates something happening in the present tense], I am at a loss for something to say.

The intention when I set up the voice recognition software was not to write posts of less than three lines, but long and luxurious pieces full of diverting digressions and terrifyingly fluent tangents. However, I presently find myself speaking like Steve Staunton after a 6-0 home defeat to Liechtenstein.

And, to tell the truth it doesn’t seem to be saving me all that much time at the moment. It would have been just as quick for me to type the above two paragraphs. The point wasn’t to save myself from repetitive strain injury to my fingers, but rather to use more fruitfully the time I have to write this wedlock. (That should be weblog – I’m just leaving it in so you can see what I have to put up with)

Maybe the best approach to writing posts, at least interesting ones, would be to jot down a few ideas beforehand and then simply talk through them slowly. It is too much to expect that wondrous words will appear on the screen by the mere act of opening one’s mouth, especially given the constraints imposed by the culturally imperialistic software supplied by Microsoft. Wait a second – I spoke too soon. If I say the aforementioned three letter word meaning ‘presently’ with a Lurgan accent, it recognizes it. Maybe Microsoft kidnapped an entire housing estate from Craigavon to perform their user acceptance testing.

On the other hand, when I try to say <typing>How Now Brown Cow</typing>, it comes out as ‘pioneer and Harry’.

I was going to write another post, the first words of which were supposed to be ‘Denny Sausages’. Microsoft Word recognised it as ‘Denise of the Jews’.

Phoning It In

OK. The other day I threatened to start to use some sort of voice recognition software since I was feeling rather indolent. Well, the indolence has deepened and this is the first weblog entry that I am going to write using MS Office’s speech recognition instead of the normal process of thinking using my fingers.

In order for the machine to understand what I’m saying, I need to speak more clearly than what I am used to. And if I want the computer to understand me without having to go back over it and do countless corrections, its easier for me to speak using American accent. I now think I have some idea of what it must feel like to work in a call center in Bangalore.

To give you an example, here is the first sentence of Dialectic of Enlightenment:

In the most general sense of progressive thought, the enlightenment has always aimed at liberating men from fear and establishing their sovereignty.

And here it is, read briskly in an American accent:

In the most general sense of progressive thought the enlightenment has always seemed at liberating man from fear and establishing their sovereignty.

And in a Northern Irish accent:

And the most general sense of repressive fraud indictment has always seemed that every inning man from fear and establishing their sovereignty.

So it seems like there is a long way to go, but dictating posts does have its advantages. I am able to stand up and look out the window to see the young children torturing cats and breaking sapling trees while at the same time deliver my thoughts to the computer screen. However the price I must pay for this comfort is that I must speak either like a middle ranking civil servant from London or a telecommunications engineer from Dallas, and I am uncertain as to how to this might affect the way I think.

Yes, We Have No Death Squads

The paper found that Chiquita exposed entire communities to dangerous U.S.-banned pesticides, forced the eviction of an entire Honduran village at gunpoint and its subsequent bulldozing, suppressed unions, unwittingly allowed the use of Chiquita transport ships to move cocaine internationally, and paid a fortune to U.S. politicians to influence trade policy.

Amy Goodman on Chiquita, formerly the United Fruit Company. You can’t peel a banana these days without wondering if you’re simultaneously pulverising a Honduran village.

Where The Heifers Graze In Clover Fields Without The Sound Of John Deeres

Is it possible to be affected by sentimental lyrics or poetry even when you know they are terrible? Words set to music have a different power to words alone, so I will consider them first.The song I have in mind is Indian Sunset by Elton John. If you don’t know it, it’s the one that was sampled in Ghetto Gospel by 2Pac.

The sunset of the song’s title is a metaphor for American Indian life getting destroyed out by the encroaching white man. As tunes go, it’s one of Elton John’s best: baleful and tremulous, with an epic production. But the lyrics are as kitsch as a row of porcelain King Charles puppies. Nothing wrong with kitsch, but the subject matter is important. I find it difficult to see what new light kitsch can shed on the topic of eliminationist expansionism.

It begins:

As I awoke this evening with the smell of wood smoke clinging
Like a gentle cobweb hanging upon a painted tepee

[what’s clinging? The smell of woodsmoke? The singer? How are cobwebs gentle? Can you have harsh cobwebs? What would wood smoke clinging like a harsh cobweb hanging upon an unpainted tepee smell like?]

You can read the rest of the lyrics here.

One thing you often find with lyrical or melodramatic portraits of other cultures and civilisations is that they often place a strange declarative language in the mouths of the subjects, purely for informational purposes, e.g.

Oh great father of the Iroquois ever since I was young

I’ve read the writing of the smoke and breast fed on the sound of guns

Let’s leave questions of historical accuracy (Who was the ‘great father of the Iroquois’? And was getting breastfed into adulthood a common feature of Iroquois life?), and concentrate on what the singer is telling his father. The fact that he has read the writing of the smoke is probably of no particular interest to the father, but it’s interesting to us, especially if the use of smoke signals was common. It would be like saying ‘oh great father of the O’Malleys, ever since I was young/I’ve eaten spuds for my dinner’.

But I guess my point is that despite the pretty silly lyrics, I still find the song quite affecting. No, despite isn’t the right word. I find the song affecting because of the awful lyrics. I don’t know. The clumsiness of their depiction of Indian life, suffused with silly melodrama and pointless detail seems to point towards the fact that I don’t really know all that much about what really happened, since so much of it has been effaced from history by the winners.

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March 2007