Archive for March, 2007

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.

A Little Bit Country

The whole read-a-book-a-week-and-lighten-your-load idea has taken a dive, since I haven’t read anything this week. I started David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green last week, and got well into it, particularly since as a child I spent a short spell in the Worcestershire countryside (where the book is set thus far) , round about the same time that the book is set. This gives the book a certain personal and sentimental appeal that a book about, say, a band of Mexican revolutionaries might not have.

Nothing further to say about the book at this point. But it has prompted me to think about the English countryside and how it compares with the Irish countryside. From what I’ve seen, I’d opt for the former every time. It feels far more…established, perhaps for obvious historical reasons. The trunks of trees are thicker, the leaves are..leafier. The fields are bigger! And they have lots of blasted heaths and windswept moors and things for acting out period dramas.

Leaving aside the mountainy areas, which are wild and spectacular, but wet and windy, all you have in the Irish countryside are streams full of agricultural waste and sheughs full of prams and Argos catalogues.

I like almost everywhere I’ve been in the English countryside: the Cotswolds, and Worcestershire and Malvern, the Fens, Kent, and Cumbria. Yorkshire I’m not all that familiar with, but it certainly looks nice on Emmerdale. Occasionally I read someone in England say stuff like ‘I’d love to retire to a little house somewhere in Ireland’ and I think: is this person off his head? Do they mean the Ireland in John Ford films, or do they really want to live in a tiny-windowed bungalow two miles from the nearest shop with a pair of white eagles wearing trousers perched on the gateposts?

I wouldn’t live in what’s left of the Irish countryside if you paid me. I wouldn’t live in any countryside, but that’s beside the point.

Paramilitaries, Patrick, Police

Some Northern Ireland stuff:

The British government has declared its intention to fund a loyalist paramilitary group to the tune of 1 million of your English pounds, sir. Two notable things about this action: a) this time, it has declared its intention of making funds available; b) this time, they’re being paid to stop activity, which seems as clear a case as ever there was of throwing good money after bad.

On St. Patrick’s Day I was in Newry. I always associate Newry with car sickness. This is because the fields on the main Armagh-Newry road are always stinking of pig or chicken manure, so you have to go up hill and down dale with the windows of the car shut tight.  Anyway, there was a PSNI presence. One of the coppers had a sub-machine gun (at least I think it was a sub-machine gun, I’m not big on guns) and a pistol, just in case some terrorist dressed as St Patrick whipped an armalite from under his emerald green cloak.

Well, give the PSNI a Farley’s Rusk, I say. This refined display of power, of course, is all part of their mission statement, or brand statement, or whatever the hell you call it:

Making Northern Ireland Safer


Through Professional, Progressive Policing

The capitals are in the original. (I’m not in the habit of shouting.) I like the alliteration at the end. It reminds me of P-p-p-pick up a Penguin.

Patriarchal Pedantry

Mr Márquez, the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, as well as The Autumn of the Patriarch, a veiled portrait of the commandanté, is one of the few figures outside the Cuban leadership to have been granted access to Mr Castro.

It is news to me that The Autumn of the Patriarch is ‘a veiled portrait of the commandanté’, especially since the book was written in 1975 when Castro was a sprightly fortysomething. I suspect that since Castro is now on the way out, lots of people use the term ‘the Autumn of the Patriarch’ to describe this time, in allusion to García Márquez’s book, and the reporter has taken this to mean that the book is actually about Castro.

Leaving to one side the matter of the extra ‘m’, what’s the deal with the fada on the last ‘e’ in comandante?

This reminds me of when I used to work in a fruit and veg shop, and the boss made out a label reading ‘mangé tout’. When I tried correcting him, he swore black and blue that his rendition was correct, that I knew nothing, and that the pronunciation ‘mange tout’ had only become popular through Only Fools and Horses.

Perchance to get some shut-eye

I am tired. Not in some airy-fairy world-weary philosophical sense, but in the sense that comes from not getting enough sleep.

I woke up at 4 this morning after dreaming that I could speak Chinese (remarkably, it was very similar to Hiberno-English),  and feel like I should put my head down on my desk and just nod off for a couple of hours. Just as when a car is making strange noises you don’t just tramp the shit out of it regardless, you shouldn’t do similar things to your body. Not that I think of my body as a machine. Far from it. Machines serve some pre-ordained purpose, like juicing oranges, unblocking drains, or emitting a high-pitched sound to ward off vermin and protesters.

Being born to fulfil a particular purpose is a favourite subject of our popular musicians.

You have:

  • Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen
  • Born to be Wild, by Steppenwolf
  • Born to Be With You, by Dion
  • Born to Be A Loser, by Ramblin’ Joe Durbin
  • Born to Be A Raver, by Rockin’ Johnny Austin
  • Born to Be A Traveller, by Andy White
  • Born to Be A Trucker, by Sheb Wooley
  • Born to Be Bad, by Neil Sedaka
  • Born to Be Black, by Tapper Zukie
  • Born to Be Blue, by Mel Torme
  • Born to Be Large, by Rodney Jackson
  • Born to Be Loved, by Kings X [I beg to differ-HG]
  • Born to Be My Baby, by Bon Jovi
  • Born to Boogie, by T-Rex
  • Born to Die, by Millions of Dead Cops
  • Born to Fail, by Synthetic Mind Decay
  • Born to Live and Die, by Pluzwun [What next – born to be born? – HG]

And the list goes on. Not off the top of my head mind, but off the list compiled by the ASCAP.

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March 2007
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