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28 December 2003

Just Keeping In Touch

This is just a note to let folks know I am still around. But around Gulfport Mississippi at the moment.
My Mum got a new computer from my youngest brother for Christmas so this is what I am blogging on. I am going to crash (me not the computer) pretty soon. I got back to my Aged Ps' house from the party, which is why we are all here - it was my middle sister Cindy's 25th wedding anniversary. There were at least 50 people there. There were a lot of nostalgic tears. And no political arguments; in fact no arguments of any kind. Amazing.
I am spending some good time with my grand-daughter. There were two little babies, almost exactly the same age, at this party. Shep, Cindy's husband, is 19 years older than she is, and his grand-daughter from a previous marriage had a baby girl the day after Savannah was born. So my younger sister has a step-great-granddaughter one day younger than my only grand-daughter. Kind of like that old "I'm My Own Grandpa" song. But what's really cute is this baby is named Aspen. So we have two babies at a family get-together not really related to each other, and both named after popular American holiday destinations.
I got a cool new picture of my son Carey, which will be up on the Personal Page after I get home.
We had a lot of good food, provided by my other sister Denise and my youngest brother Scott, who is attending chef school (his second career, after being a radio programme manager for many years.)

25 December 2003

Personal Stuff and Blogkeeping

I have added a few links on the links page, all "borrowed" from the Fat Buddha: The National Security Archive (secret history of the US) and a new news source, the Sunday Herald. At Deborama's Kitchen, I have our Christmas menu and an Indian Christmas menu, the latter also thanks to Pete at Fat Buddha.

I phoned my parents' house in Gulfport last night and my daughter answered the phone. She is there three days ahead of me, because it was the only flight she could afford. I asked her how the flight was, with the almost-four-month-old baby and all. As I expected, baby Savannah is an excellent traveller; not a sob or cry the whole trip, just dozing, nursing, laughing or looking around with all-consuming curiosity, which is pretty much all she ever does, according to both her Mom and mine. And her Mom was the same and so was I, according to mine. Isn't it great how heredity works?

Things sound pretty peaceful there, at least so far. I was a little worried that amongst the three of them - my mother and my two sisters, all fairly pious evangelical Christians, one of them might have a go at Aimee for not being married. (She's planning to marry but Savannah's father is not quite free of his previous marriage yet.) But, I probably shouldn't worry. I am sure that family peace and harmony and getting to see a great-niece or great-granddaughter will outweigh the dubious efficacy of prosetylization.

Louis Theroux and the Aryan White Resistance

Dick Jones' Patteran Pages, a blog I just recently discovered and blogrolled, had a good review of this show "Louis Among the Nazis". I saw it and I was mightily impressed by it, in more or less the same way as Dick. Except for the pity part; I really can't pity white supremacists because they are not harmless and theoretical to me. I have known too many in real life. Of course they love their children and are kind to their friends and occasionally polite to non-white people who either pay them for something or work for them. That only means they're human; it doesn't mean they're harmless.

24 December 2003

Yep, that fits

The UFOs. Fnord.
The U.F.O.s:

You're the secret master, and YOU don't even know
what you're up to.

Fnord.


Which Illuminati are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

23 December 2003

The revolution should not be eulogised

Rebecca Blood, one of the pioneers of weblogging, had this really good article in the Guardian Online section a few days ago.

Too good to only link



Click on the comic to go to the link, where you can see more of the same.

Why the US wants Iraq's debts cancelled - and Argentina's paid in full

Naomi Klein's comment in the Guardian tells the truth about "third-world debt". It's not the ideology, it's plain, old-fashioned greed.

Quake update

This morning I read that three people died in yesterday's earthquake. Not such modest damage after all. Prayers and healing thoughts for Californians.

22 December 2003

Anyone remember the Equal Rights Amendment?

No? Most of you are too young anyway. Elaine of Blog Sisters links to Ellen Goodman with this insight: Three (terrible) things were threatened as consequences of passing the ERA : Unisex toilets! Women in combat !! and [gasp] Gay Marriage !!! Strange thing is, we now have all three, but no Equal Rights Amendment. It does make me tired.

Richter 6.5 but not the big one

A pretty big quake hit California today but caused only "modest" damage. The epicentre was near San Simeon, about 250 miles north of LA.

21 December 2003

Is the end in sight for Denmark's autonomous commune?

The Observer's article on "the commune that kept hippie dream alive" tells of the threat to the the 30 year old self-governing Christiania commune in Copenhagen. The right-wing coalition of parties that has opposed the commune from its beginnings has finally attained a majority in parliament, and although only 45% of the voters want the commune shut down (it is amongst other things a major tourist attraction) there are plans for legislation against it, followed by mass evictions. "Christianites," as the members are known, will not go without a fight.

20 December 2003

Women Under Siege in Iraq

This story is from The Nation, by Lauren Sandler. Many Iraqi women are now trapped in their homes, afraid to venture out on to lawless streets with police and even male relatives considering their plight to be of little importance. Stories of rape and kidnap are angrily denied by authorities, who say that such things reflect "American values" which do not exist in Iraq.

The legacy of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire

The Bookmovision blog by Julia had this great article back in September. If you don't know anything about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, and you think you know American history, you really don't. I hate to be harsh, but there is a lot they don't teach you in school. . . The article is mainly about this book, Triangle: The Fire That Changed America, by David Von Drehle.

18 December 2003

Secularism gone mad

The Guardian columnist Madeleine Bunting responds to the news of the banning of Muslim headscarves for French schoolgirls. The article has some very good and pithy things to say about the difference between the British and the French secular humanist approach to the "problem" of religion in its midst. My take on the issue is a little different, although I don't disagree with anything Bunting has to say here. In America, that great stronghold of religious freedom, I have seen that secular agnostic liberals can be just as wrong-headed as Chirac, and just as dogmatic as any Bible-thumping Christian. What I see here is the ultimate result of that line of thought. It goes something like this:
1. In the Dark and Middle Ages, religion is all-powerful and oppressive
2. There is a Reformation, and a counterforce develops, but still a religion and still oppressive
3. The two powers clash and there is religious conflict; millions die
4. The Enlightenment - an ideal is raised - allow all to be free to practice their own religion, including "none" (e.g. atheism or agnosticism or scientism or secular humanism)
5. In the secular state, where religious liberty is prized, the non-religious feel threatened
6. Anti-religion becomes a third force and develops its own oppressive mechanisms
At this point, game theory takes over. In some states, the "old" religion retains the upper hand but the new is tolerated and agnostics, etc. are tolerated. In some states, either the old or the reformed religion takes the upper hand absolutely; it doesn't matter which one, either way you are back to step 1. And in a few cases, mainly Soviet Russia, but now possibly including France, the agnostics etc. gain the upper hand, still feeling vulnerable to the "oppression" of the devout amongst them. The result is exactly the same: you are back to step 1. In other words, a state where a schoolgirl is forbidden to cover her hair in the name of religious freedom is no more free than medieval Europe, or Afghanistan under the Taliban.

17 December 2003

Saddam's bizarre wager with Allah creates a conundrum for the faithful

There exists in Iraq today, hidden, guarded and a source of deep controversy, a large, beautifully illuminated Koran written in the blood of Saddam Hussein. How did such a repellent thing come to be? It was because Saddam made a wager with his God: that if his regime survived the first Iraqi war, he would write the entire Koran in his own blood. And it did and he did. Not surprisingly, it is a terrible sin to write the word of Allah in blood (which is always impure by Islamic law.) But, on the other hand, it is forbidden to harm, let alone destroy, a Koran. And so the ultimate fate of what one cleric calls "Saddam's black magic" remains uncertain.

In the Kitchen

Today I posted a link to a Gary Younge column in the Guardian over at Deborama's Kitchen because it was about restaurants . . . well, sort of. But also about choice and diversity and New York City (my kinda town! even though I have never lived there.)

16 December 2003

To the tune of "I Can See Clearly Now"

I can sleep safely now that Hussein is caught,
I can feel safer now shopping in the malls . . .


Lorelei at From the inside looking out features hilariously satirical songs to brighten up your cynical, dysfunctional holiday, and now, a topical song to celebrate the capture of the Dictator du Jour! Priceless.

Blogkeeping

Teaser: check out Deborama's Book Reviews and Store for "If Diana had lived ..." a story about the new serialised novel, Balmoral.

Things that make me suspicious

And I am not even sure of what. The Sunday Times (London, not NY) had a cover story about Saddam's fourth wife, Samira. In an interview in Beirut, where she is currently in hiding, she claimed that she received weekly phone calls from Saddam. This was published just hours before it became known in the UK that Saddam had been captured the day before. (When I read this, it was about 9 am, and the TV news began reporting it about that time here. It would have been 4 am EST so the news was available in the US but most people were asleep.) At the time, I thought to myself that there must be a connection between these stories. But to my surprise, the Samira story just vanished from media consciousness. The Telegraph says only:
"It is unclear how Saddam communicated with his followers. There was no confirmation that he was in regular touch with his wife, as was reported over the weekend, or that he spoke by satellite telephone with his sons, Uday and Qusay, before they were killed." And that is the only reference to that story I can find on Google News.
OK, that's fine. The only basis for believing the weekly phone call story is Samira's word, and she seems, from the rest of her interview in the Times, to have a high facility for comforting self-delusion. But still, doesn't a connection between the tracing of the mysterious wife, whose photograph has never been published, and the discovery of the hiding husband, at least suggest itself and seem worthy of discussion?
Or maybe I am just sick of hours of pointless speculation about "Saddam's fate" in the guise of news, and would rather see some speculation about things that may or may not have happened, rather than about things which in any case cannot happen yet. This just tickles another of my pet peeves about the UK: about 90% of the "news" is about the future, and sometimes they seem to just let the present go by in a blur.

Good to see there's some real news making it into the media



Arrogant supporter of losing side takes his "walk of shame" in London.

15 December 2003

The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization

Elizabeth I (1588)
I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and a king of England too. And take foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any Prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm.

Abraham Lincoln (1863)
. . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government, of the people, for the people and by the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Winston Churchill (1940)
. . . we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender . . .

Paul Bremer (2003)
Ladies and gentlemen, [dramatic? pause] we got 'im!

In case this is too subtle on its own, I was not impressed with Mr. Bremer's hip and happening 21st century vernacular. My English husband was frankly disgusted by it. This, from Outside the Beltway, and other posts on a mix of liberal and libertarian/conservative American blogs, makes me wonder about Americans' general reaction to such boorish triumphalism.

Baghdad Blogger

I missed the Guardian's Baghdad Blogger column by Salam Pax last Wednesday (Dec. 10) and my US-based readers (both of you - hi!) may have as well, so here it is. I went to Where is Raed? looking to see if either Salam or Raed had anything pithy to say about Saddam's arrest, but I guess they have more important things to do than blog (hard as that is to imagine.)

14 December 2003

Blogkeeping

Lots of little changes have taken place. At Deborama's Fund of Knowledge, there are additions to the Law and Constitutions and Religion categories, including a wonderful e-text of the highly condensed Mahabharata. At Deborama's Personal Page, there are a few new book recommendations and a link to my new LiveJournal. There are also new posts at Deborama's Kitchen. You may have noticed that I have switched to SiteMeter for page stats, and I put it on all the pages, so that it can track traffic from one to another. (For some reason I can never access SiteMeter from my home computer; does anyone else have a problem with it?)

Saddam Hussein yada-yada

BBC NEWS : Saddam Hussein 'arrested in Iraq'. Of course we will hear of little else for at least the next week, so, enough said. If you want more, watch TV.

Free at last?

Keiko the film-star whale has died in a bay in Norway at the estimated age of 27. His death has caused new arguments to arise over the immorality of using wild animals for entertainment, as well as over whether it is possible to re-introduce a captive animal to the wild, a monumental but failed effort in Keiko's case.

13 December 2003

Communist Anti-war Protesters

It all started with Shock and Awe's post about Instapundit and Communist Protesters. Then there are the comments. But Winston Smith of Philosoraptor didn't just post about it, he tried to explain it (aw, bless.) I know a bit more about the arcane history of leftist/communist movements than most of the people, including Glenn of Instapundit (hint: calling yourself a pundit doesn't really make you one, you know) but I would never have attempted to summarise and make sense of this kerfuffle. Oh, but Philosoraptor does say "Oh, and everything I say could be wrong." Admirably modest.

The Case of Delma Banks

In the legal commentary journal FindLaw's Writ, Edward Lazarus tells of the Supreme Court consideration of "an appalling case," that of Delma Banks, who has been on death row for 24 years. Prosecutors hid evidence from the defendant, and knowingly presented perjured testimony against him at his original trial.

Bad democrats

Not Geniuses post on this is "On Firing Squads..." (Old Lefties will get it.) And ain't it the truth. Tragic and stupid, and yet, how can you prevent it? To paraphrase a gloating Rumsfeld, democracy isn't pretty.

Tolkien and Lewis

Salon.com has a great books feature article about the friendship between C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien and their influence upon one another. I got this link from Alas, A Blog. A word of warning: unless you are a subscriber to Salon, you will need to watch a brief ad in order to read the whole article. In this case, I found it to be worth it.

12 December 2003

A disturbing story

I had a note/task to myself to do a long thoughtful piece about this post in Seeing The Forest. But that was before my little "accident" (see below if interested) and now I just need to go to bed. I hope to address it, and do the rest of my blogging to-do list, tomorrow.

Egad!

Only read this if you're interested in my personal trials and tribulations.

11 December 2003

UrbanDictionary.com

Here is the place to go for a definition of "McJob" or "fisk" or "w00t" or "bling" or any of the other perplexing terms so vital to having a rich modern life. And you can supply your own definitions - it's a participatory dictionary.

Send them all back-packing!

A little humour to brighten your day. Unless you're an Australian living in the UK, in which case you may be offended.

Thanks

Thanks are due to Washington Interns Gone Bad for reciprocally blogrolling Deborama. (Great blog title, by the way.)

Anti-terrorism laws create a "Guantanamo" in the UK

Amnesty International has charged that a "shadow" criminal justice system had been created for foreign nationals living in the UK as a result of the 2001 Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act.

10 December 2003

War Opponents Denounce U.S. Rules on Contracts in Iraq

The Washington Post is one of many sources for this story of "war opponents" being banned from bidding on contracts to help rebuild Iraq. I think this could turn out to be another of those monumental foreign policy blunders that the US falls into every decade or so. Particularly troubling is how it could drive a wedge between the US and Canada, who opposed the war but is contributing (for now) about $225 million. But that money could now well be withheld. Trade ties between Canada and the US are so close, it makes me wonder how they can really enforce this ban; I am sure there are a lot of joint venture companies partly Canadian and partly American - will they be banned as well, or does it only matter which country the firm is headquartered in? It all seems very capricious and unproductive.

09 December 2003

Just the kind of tasty story I like . . .

I love stories about political intrigue. I lap it up when the intrigues are successful, yet barely noticed. I adore political extremism in stories about political intrigue. And George Monbiot, well, I wouldn't object to putting him up in our spare room for a few weeks and picking his brain in my spare time. So this wonderfully Byzantine tale about ultra-leftists who swung violently to the right and then used dirty tricks to subvert public information channels about life-or-death issues is right up my alley.

In fact, I like this story so much I want to share it, so it goes off to Outside the Beltway's Beltway Traffic Jam.

Gore Backs Dean

Could this be a sign that the Democrats are starting to coalesce? One can only hope, but as they say on the telly, it's too soon to tell.

Oh, no! Not Jonny too!

But while Ozzy is on life support, Jonny Wilkinson is unhurt after a car crash in Yorkshire. I wonder if it's the full moon?

Awwww. . .

A dog story, a war hero, a heartwarming tale. I could have linked to anywhere but I chose the Huddersfield Examiner, because I am just like that.

Oh, no, not Ozzy!

I was just casting my eye at Google News UK before going to bed. I wasn't expecting this.

Update (11 Dec. 2003): Ozzy is better now. Links too numerous to provide.

New posts at Deborama's Kitchen

I have finally added a recipe of my own. And a post about CP coffee. And previously I put in a link to a foodie's literary quiz (or a literature buff's food quiz, depending on your POV). Check it out.

08 December 2003

Bloggers in Iraq

This is a very cool thing: all the known bloggers in Iraq, located on a map.

We did it!

BBC NEWS: 'Miserable failure' links to Bush. I was an enthusiastic and early participant in this noble project. And rated a mention in the originator's blog, Old-fashioned Patriot.

07 December 2003

British political blogs

Guardian Unlimited Politics has an article listing and commenting on what they consider to be the leading British political blogs. I didn't even get a footnote! Of course, my blog is far from being all British or all political.

What is Living and What is Dead in Marx?

An editorial in The Leiter Report has addressed this weighty question (well, it is to students of history and philosophy.) After noting all the elements of Marxian thought that have been passed by in the ensuing century and a bit, he notes the remaining tenet that is still correct. Like all universals, it is so simple that it is profound: "Particularly important, in my view, remains the Marxian theory of ideology, which predicts that the ruling ideas in any well-functioning society will be ideas that promote the interests of the ruling class in that society, i.e., the class that is economically dominant." I can't argue with that.

Bush's problematic use of religious language

A great essay in the Nation on Bush's Religious Language traces the evangelical/political history of the Shrub and puts some of his more extreme utterances into context. As a Sunday school lesson, allow me to quote this profound statement from the article: "True prayer does not pretend to tell God what we want Him to do but rather asks that God tell us what He wishes us to do. We do not pray in order to enlist God in our ranks but to examine ourselves, to change and to do God's will."
I found this from a post on Body and Soul, where Jeanne remarks on the good and the bad in the Democrat's use of theological and moral references in the past months.

The Issue of Nader in 2004

It's a no-brainer, even though it is tough to not vote your conscience wholeheartedly. Here is a sampling of the left blogosphere opinions:
Tbagged on The Great Nader Debate
The Leiter Report: Nader Shouldn't Run in 2004
From Talking Points (no title)
One of the most thoughtful and thorough is from the strangely organised The Progressive Southerner, from May 2003.
Also in Salon.com (you have to watch an ad to read it, but they're usually pretty good.)

Yeah, Rush, is that what they teach you in rehab?

"Rush Limbaugh's attorney accused the local prosecutor Friday of having political motives in investigating his client for allegedly purchasing painkillers illegally. "
I saw this posted in Seeing the Forest. I loved his commentary: "Is this what they teach you in rehab? To blame others?"

06 December 2003

Blogkeeping

I have been quite busy in a very short time. Last night I joined LiveJournal, which is another approach to online journalling. Some call it blogging, but it is more personal and more communal than these blogs we have been doing. The look of it is quite customisable (is that a word? probably not; I am sorry) if you pay. I am not paying, so mine is pretty standard. There is a link to it at Deborama's Personal Pages.
I have worked a bit on Deborama's Kitchen. Still no recipes of my own, but they will come. I have moved the cookery books there. Christmas is coming; wouldn't your Mum or significant other like a nice cookery book?
I have figured out how to do TrackBack (from others'; I don't know how to have it on Blogspot, and maybe you need to pay.)
A few more good people in the blogroll, including MyIrony, En Banc, The Journey, by Trishymouse and Outside the Beltway. (See Blogroll; I'm too lazy to link.)

A Poignant Comic



At least I found it so . . .

05 December 2003

Operation "Holy Tuesday"

The German national newspaper Der Spiegel has this amazing story of the whole history of September 11, as pieced together from the interrogations of two major al Qaida leaders taken prisoner in Pakistan and now held by US military authorities. I wonder why this story is not a major news item in the US? This is in English, it is long, and it is an incredible barrage of likely facts. Thanks to Trishymouse for first posting this.
Because I think this is a story that really needs to get out, and not because I think it will increase my traffic or anything, I am sending a trackback ping on this post to Outside the Beltways linkfest The Beltway Traffic Jam; you should check that out too.

Walmart and Asda

I have a bit of a quandary here. There is a Walmart boycott called for in the US, and Walmart own the supermarket chain Asda in the UK. Our town's largest cheapest supermarket is Asda. They irritate me, but DH ain't going to shop anywhere else (except the greengrocers, which is even cheaper - thank God for greengrocers, long may they wave.) So I don't know about this boycott; it is only called for in the US, which makes me think most of the organisers don't even know about Walmarts overseas holdings. And it's a pretty woosie boycott - it's only for the holidays. Hmmm.

Blogkeeping

I have put up my third solution at My Solutions, by Deborama, MBP. Please check it out, especially if you live in the UK, especially if you are a middle-aged woman and live in the Midlands near Leicester or Nottingham. Because this is something I actually want to do.
For some reason, I can blog at work, but only the first post of the day works, and only if it is short and has only one link. Strange, eh?

04 December 2003

Inside Camp Delta

In the Guardian's ongoing special report on the Guantanamo Bay prisoners, James Meek has a two-part analysis of the situation in Camp Delta. In the first part, he offered this frightening possible reason for the existence of the detention camp:

But, as US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the military in a revealing slip in April 2002, "We have been successful in not eliminating al-Qaida." Having failed to find the suspected mastermind behind 9/11, Osama bin Laden, his Taliban ally, Mullah Omar, or much in the way of terrorist infrastructure, the US set about constructing, behind razor wire on a secure Caribbean island, an incarcerated model of what its "war on terror" rhetoric implies. It has gathered terrorism suspects from all over the world, imposed discipline and order on them, encouraged them to hate the US and kept them together for years. It was as if the Bush administration so wanted the Hollywood fantasy of a central terrorist campus to be true that they built it themselves.

I am not the only person to have chosen this particular quote, as it happens, but as I didn't get this from another blog, and in fact was going to post it yesterday but it didn't work on my work computer, I have no reason to credit anyone other than the Guardian. But it gives me a feeling sort of like warm fuzzies to see all these people I never met who think along the same lines.

Was Paul Wellstone murdered?

Yes, in the opinions of quite a few people. I'm convinced.

Anti-Zionism is anti-semitism? The debate

Asserting the question, Emanuele Ottolenghi.
And opposing it, Brian Klug.
Both in the Guardian. This is a toothsome debate. I think I side with Klug.

03 December 2003

Blogkeeping

Well, I did start another blog - this one is called Deborama's Kitchen and yes, it will have some recipes, maybe quite a lot of them, although its stated purpose is more food politics. Soon I will move the foodie blogroll to it and also the cookery books. It's not really ready for viewing yet but if you love me so much you can't wait, it's here.
Meanwhile, view the updated, rearranged Deborama's Personal Page, and while you're there, visit Exquisite Corpse, a really kicking literary journal (from New Orleans?) I knew about this in the 1980s when I was really a big fan of Andrei Codrescu. I had sort of lost track of it, and was delighted to find that it's not only still around, it's now on the web.

Attention, Wal-Mart Voters by Rick Perlstein

The Village Voice Features article that every American should read. Lost jobs and military funerals haunt Bush in the Republican heartland. Small business owners seriously consider voting Democrat for the first time in their lives. Well-paid factory workers in imminent danger of losing their jobs fear Walmart more than WMDs.

02 December 2003

Clark's True Colours?

Some guy called Matt Taibbi, in the Nation, seems to be doing a series evaluating the Democratic candidates. He doesn't seem to like Gen. W Clark very much.

Northern Ireland elections: Sinn Féin's Plans for the future

Guardian Unlimited Politics features the future of the peace process from the view point of the major parties; this one is Sinn Féin's. Who knew Gerry Adams was such a pragmatist? I like his ideas, although some seem a bit over-optimistic.

01 December 2003

Today is World AIDS Day

In the Guardian, Lillian Daka writes of the "Generation of hope", the five-to-15 age group in sub-Saharan Africa. "They have the lowest HIV rates of the entire population, and they can turn the Aids pandemic around."
A heart-wrenching quote: "In an ideal world children shouldn't have to know about sex until they're preparing to join the world of adults. They should be able to learn about it as a physical expression of love and commitment rather than as a potential death sentence. But too many of the blissfully ignorant generation who grew up in the 70s and 80s have paid for their innocence with their lives. The naivety of childhood is a luxury the west can afford, but we have to get pragmatic."
I am not sure the west can afford such luxuries much longer, though.

The Wal-Mart You Don't Know

This is the Fast Company article referred to in the post below "The Walmart Dilemma". It is very, very good. Quite long, but rewards the effort.

Dan Savage's Weird Internet Voodoo

Here's a thing. I have this very strict, yet strangely capricious, firewall at work. It blocks me all the time from seeing quite innocent sites on the basis of foul or inappropriate language or graphics. But so far it has never blocked me from reading the way-out-there column of sex advice Savage Love. Why is that? Does the writer of Savage Love (the exceedingly gay agony uncle Dan Savage) have some mysterious powers over firewalls? Or are firewalls basically just cr*p?

30 November 2003

Blogkeeping

I have some interesting things added. I scanned in a little piece of amateur artwork I did in a drawing class. I have added a second solution on my Bloggers Parliament page. I did not get any new book reviews done this weekend, although I still have tonight, so I yet may. I have a big backlog of books. I also scanned in a lot of photos, many of which are destined for the web, via Deborama's Personal Pages, so look for those in the future.

More on "Amazing Grace"

Snopes.com, the great debunker of urban myths, has more amazing facts about the life of John Newton.

Claim: Having survived a horrific storm, a slave trader promptly gave up his livelihood, became a Christian, and penned the hymn 'Amazing Grace' in thanksgiving.
Status: False.
Origins: A number of legends circulate about why John Newton, a slavetrader-turned-minister, penned the hymn 'Amazing Grace.' Most attempt to explain the seemingly inexplicable: How could one who made his living trading in the misery of others have put into words such a powerful message of personal salvation?
. . .
Newton began to express regrets about his part in the slave trade only in 1780, thirty-two years after his conversion, and eight years after he wrote 'Amazing Grace.' In 1785 he began to fight against slavery by speaking out against it, and he continued to do so until his death in 1807.
. . .
Newton did eventually grow into his conversion, so that by the end of his days he actually was the godly man one would expect to have penned 'Amazing Grace.' But it was a slow process effected over the passage of decades, not something that happened with a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning. In Newton's case, the "amazing grace" he wrote of might well have referred to God's unending patience with him.


I like the true story so much better than the myth. What people who have not experienced conversion, but have seen it on TV or at the movies, do not understand is what a slow-moving, organic, messy process transformation can be. You go down false paths, you think you are "there" long before you are, and yet all the while, there is in fact a moment or two you identify as "the conversion"; nevertheless, the conversion is but the start of "the conversion process", a life-long endeavour.

Number 45 on the top

This morning, I was singing some of my favourite hymns and spirituals softly to myself (as you do) in order to lift my spirits from some non-specific malaise. And I had this insight brought on from singing "Amazing Grace": the difficulty with the correct use of "less" and "fewer" dates back to the early 19th century at least. That's because I just noticed for the first time, after knowing this hymn for over 20 years, that there is this line "We've no less days to sing God's praise". Now, if you're going to tell me, no, you mean the late 18th century, I must correct you there. You see, I always do my research, even for the simple things like this (some would say simple-minded, but just shut up.) It appears that, although John Newton wrote the words in approximately 1779, the last verse, in which the stanza quoted appears, was added by an unknown author, and first appears in 1829 in the Baptist Songster, by R. Winchell (Wethersfield, Connecticut), as the last stanza of the song “Jerusalem My Happy Home.” So there.
This website has the full story of John Newton and Amazing Grace. The story is quite different from what I have heard in a sermon, and yet in some ways, better. I only knew that Newton had been a slave ship captain, had a conversion that changed his life, and wrote Amazing Grace. I did not realize that he continued in the slave trade for some years after his conversion, nor that it was decades between the experience it tells of and the writing of the song. But then I also did not know of the brutality of his early life, that he was a self-taught clergyman, an admirer of John Wesley, and a hugely popular preacher who strongly influenced the famous abolitionist William Wilberforce. The title of this post refers to "Amazing Grace's" designation in the Sacred Harp tradition.

Guantanamo Britons to be sent home

There is thorough coverage in the Observer of this story, which I heard on the news on TV this morning and also read in The Agonist and several other blogs. Very good news.

29 November 2003

Hardline victors reject Good Friday agreement

Ian Paisley's DUP was victorious in the latest round of elections in Northern Ireland. What does this mean for the future of devolved government in Northern Ireland? Well, the results were: DUP - 28 (seats); UUP - 25; Sinn Fein - 24; SDLP - 18.
The DUP wants a full renegotiation of the 1998 peace accord, claiming the election proves it has now been rejected.
On Thursday, Mr Paisley grabbed a reporter by the lapels and shouted: "No, I'm not talking to Sinn Féin and the party's not talking to Sinn Féin."
Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin president, said in a direct appeal to Mr Paisley: "I am not a Christian clergyman. I am not the leader of a church but I do not know of any Christian philosophy which is not about dialogue."

28 November 2003

Sad Green Beret story "fixed" below

If you tried to view the link in "Forgetful Green Beret ..." (below) and were frustrated by an "archive wall" at the LA Times news site, I have fixed the linkrot by linking to a different site. Sorry for any inconvenience this may cause to your journey, as they say on the trains. (Every bloody day!)

Why it is so hard for Americans to remain in the middle class . . .




And almost impossible if they have any children. This excellent and fact-rich cover story from the City Pages weekly newspaper tells some hard truths about what is happening in the US economy and how the major culprit is - surprise! - private health care.

If you live in the US . . .

here is where you should buy books of a political nature. This is one of many sites selling through booksense, which means that the books are shipped by a local independent bookstore, aiding in the fight against the hegemony of the huge chains (including unfortunately Amazon, with which I am affiliated.) Of course, if you live in the UK, you should buy them from my website links to Amazon.co.uk. (I fear it's already too late for the UK on the independent bookstore front.)

RFK, Jr. on America's slide into fascism

This time the use of fascism is not empty rhetoric, but a real and historically-based analysis of the forces of corporate control of the government. This post in Notes from Atlanta links to the Salon.com interview with RFK, Jr. There is heavy quoting but it is all right on target.

Powell says UK detainees have not been interrogated

There was outrage from human rights groups and lawyers for the British detainees at Guantanamo when US Secretary of State Colin Powell tried to explain the long delays in "processing" prisoners at Camp Delta. It sounds like the hoped-for swift resolution is not going to happen. He also alludes cryptically to "complex legal issues" around the two detainees who have been "processed" and are due to be tried.

27 November 2003

Germaine Greer on her sex-obsessed school days

An extract from Germaine Greer's new book, Convent Girls. I adore Greer's writing. This goes a long way to explaining where she is coming from in her fiercely independent feminism.

Well, that was . . . predictable

Rasta poet Benjamin Zephaniah publicly rejects his OBE says the Guardian, even though they also carried his exclusive public written rejection notice.
In fact, Zephaniah had served notice of his feelings at least three years ago with this excerpt from his poem Bought and Sold:

Smart big awards and prize money
Is killing off black poetry
It's not censors or dictators that are cutting up our art.
The lure of meeting royalty
And touching high society
Is damping creativity and eating at our heart.

The ancestors would turn in graves
Those poor black folk that once were slaves would wonder
How our souls were sold
And check our strategies,
The empire strikes back and waves
Tamed warriors bow on parades
When they have done what they've been told
They get their OBEs.
(Taken from Too Black, Too Strong. Published by Bloodaxe Books (2001))

26 November 2003

The moral myth

George Monbiot says: just because you can make a moral argument for a war does not mean that you have a moral reason for the war. In fact, he argues, superpowers do not go to war for moral reasons, but for strategic ones, even if they do append a moral justification on to what they need to do.
"It (the US) armed and funded Saddam when it needed to; it knocked him down when it needed to. In neither case did it act because it cared about the people of his country. It acted because it cared about its own interests."

Blogwatching

If you are interested in books, you might want to check here periodically. You may like the margin features, including "These look interesting" where I provide Amazon links to books I have heard about and definitely mean to check out as soon as possible. (If you want to help me out, you can buy any of them at Amazon.co.uk as a gift for me; I will always remove them from there and post a book review as soon as I have read them.) I mention this as I am just about to go to Blogger and add this new book to the list: The Girl Who Played Go, by Shan Sa, translated by Adriana Hunter.
There is also on the same page a blogroll of writers, book reviewers and librarians.

Blindingly obvious or amazingly subtle?

Philosoraptor has a good post about the gay marriage controversy which is invading the presidential race in the US. This is inspired by a conservative who argues in defence of gay marriages, but, in Winston Smith's opinion, for the wrong reasons. Here is the bit that, when I read it, struck me as something we have all always known and yet never expressed so well (hence the title of this post):
"In fact, it seems to me that the best way to increase our respect for marriage is to make it clear that it isn't for everyone, and that it should be entered into only after careful consideration. The best way to destroy the institution is to misrepresent it as the only morally permissible venue for love and sex. If you want to decrease the divorce rate, be honest with people about the nature of marriage, and be honest with them about the alternatives."

24 November 2003

Latest pictures of Aimee and Savannah



Click on the pic to see another one (then use the "back" button on your browser.)

23 November 2003

Forgetful Green Beret Misdiagnosed as Derelict

This is the most tragic story I have read in ages - the story of a Green Beret who was an exemplary soldier, who contracted CJD, and was demoted, shamed and disgraced, sent home from Kuwait and scheduled for court martial, before his parents' intervention led to a proper diagnosis.
Update:
This post suffered from instant linkrot* and so I have a new link to the same story.
*Linkrot is the term for links that "break" over time; in the case of news stories this is usually due to news sites that stash stories behind an archive wall that requires at least registration and sometimes payment before they can be viewed. The site used in this story, LA Times, archives daily. Good sites like the Guardian require no registration for any archived story. Not so good sites like the NY Times require registration but at least it's simple and lasts forever if you use cookies. Really bad sites like the Wall Street Journal charge for everything.

22 November 2003

A war that can never be won

The Guardian's Jonathan Steele has an essay about the escalation of the terror campaign. It makes the brilliantly obvious point (but unfortunately not obvious to Bush and Blair) that "war on terror" only works as a metaphor. We can no more "defeat terror" than we can defeat crime or poverty or death itself. This is because terror is not an enemy ideology, nor an enemy nation; it is simply a technique that can be used by any ideology and those beyond the reach of nations. When the evidence is so overwhelming that making war in Iraq or Afghanistan is not only not defeating terror, it is not even weakening it, one would think that they would get the message, but it is hard to reason with a man in the grip of eschatological oratory.

The Walmart Dilemma

How to Save the World has an excellent article that explains everything you need to know about globalisation and free trade and macro-economics using superlative visual aids and the real-life case of Walmart as a model. This is highly recommended, even if you think you don't like or understand economics.

More Rugby World Cup stories

Isn't it amazing how fast they can get things on the internet these days?
Guardian : Wilkinson takes England to glory
Sport.telegraph: England win World Cup in Sydney thriller
Ananova: Jonny Wilkinson clockwatch
Sport.scotsman.com : Carling hails Woodward's wonders

RWC 2003 - England WINS!

I have just finished watching the Rugby World Cup final. It was the most exciting sports event I have ever seen and am ever likely to see in my life. England is the first northern hemisphere nation to ever win the Rugby World Cup, so this was already a game of historic importance, and their opponent in the final was arch-rival and twice World Cup winner Australia. But what an incredible game! The score was level 14-14 and went into extra time, which is two 10 minute halves. Each side scored 3 points on a penalty kick and at almost 100 minutes it was still tied. In the very last seconds of extra time, fly-half Jonny Wilkinson kicked a drop goal to win.

20 November 2003

Transcript: the Bush-Blair press conference

As published at Guardian Unlimited Politics. No, there is no joking going on here. Just make of it what you will. I will say only this: notice how old Tone squirmed out of the Guantanamo question.

19 November 2003

Blogkeeping

In Deborama's Fund of Knowledge, I have added a new category : Laws, Constitutions and Cases, where you can find such things as the Constitution of India and a database of all the US Supreme Court case opinions.

Jessica Lynch's case as a tool against equal opportunity in the military

From a blog called Intel Dump authored by a self-described "former Army officer, journalist and UCLA law student" comes one of the best analyses of the wrongness of trying to use the case of Jessica Lynch to roll back "Clinton era" reforms allowing women a wider role in military operations (and thus better career opportunities). I got to this link from Diotima.

Slugger O'Toole Archive: Northern Ireland bores the UK rigid

You must read this excellent post in Slugger O'Toole about the reaction of the British to an all-NI edition of Question Time. "Most seemed thoroughly bemused at a spectacle that most people in NI have simply become so inured to that it just seems like natural politics."
This is sparking a Blogger's Parliament solution idea. Check there in the next day or so for my fully-hatched solution.

18 November 2003

Ban on gay marriage ruled unconstitutional!

Big, big news from Massachusetts.

The Military Draft: A Call to Decisiveness

Johann Christoph Arnold of the Bruderhof Communities was a conscientious objector during Vietnam. However, he welcomes the rumours of an impending return to the draft in the US, providing it has a provision for conscientious objection. He believes it is good for young men to have to choose.
I don't agree with this position; I was an anti-draft activist both during and after Vietnam. A big conundrum about the draft is the fact that it is for men only, always a terrible injustice and a huge anachronism in today's world. Given the Bruderhof's old-fashioned take on sexual relationships, I doubt very seriously if Brother Johann would advocate the draft for women too.
Still, I am very glad to see this out in the open, and I think it needs to be picked up in the Blogosphere and given a good debate. And thanks to my good friend Lance for the link.

Get mad - and get even

I only wish. Gary Younge in the Guardian (sorry for blogging so many Guardian comments today, but it's a big day for them, what with Bush visiting and all) says that protesting against Bush, while necessary, is not efficacious for Brits. It is up to the opposition in the US to get Bush out of office, and it is up to the opposition in the UK (what opposition?) to do the same for Blair. Of course, in the US, most of the people opposing the war never voted for Bush, whereas most of the people opposing the war here did vote for Blair. It's a funny old world just now.

Brilliant as ever - Zoe Williams

Guardian columnist Zoe Williams explains who puts the demo in democracy. This sort of continues the theme from the last post, from another vantage point. She concentrates on the ways that "democratic" authorities use clever tricks to control the outcomes of popular movements.
"The real intention behind this endlessly name-checked democracy/protest dyad is to tap the conviction of the protesters for some kind of warped endorsement of the very system they are protesting against. If protest is part of democracy, and democracy has given us this government, then hey, guys, we're really all on the same side."
Very incisive piece; go read it.

George Monbiot: Rattling the bars

Covering the European Social Forum 2003, Monbiot says the young don't reject politics, just politicians. And points his irony at the media, who cover in exhaustive detail a meeting of a few hundred mostly old conservatives in their annual conference, but have barely one small notice per paper of a meeting of 51,000 mostly young people in Paris. (Of course we know why that is - the 51,000 non-elected activists have less than a tenth of the power of the several hundred office-holders and party hacks. Unpleasant, yes, un-democratic, maybe, but the way it "works").

17 November 2003

Helicopter crash update

The death toll on the crash of two helicopters near Mosul is in fact 17, not 12 as in the early reports cited below.

Blogrolling all better now

I have no idea what happened. When I went to my Blogroll maintenance page, the whole blogroll was filled with 150 or so entries of one site, this being one I had never heard of. Half an hour later it was back to normal. Oh, well.

Blogkeeping - the minor disaster

I think I have been hacked. I have been amazingly lucky for the 10 years I have been very actively "on" the internet - no hackers, viruses, remarkably little spam. But now my blogroll seems to have 150 occurrences of one (probably pornographic) site and nothing else. So I have taken steps. And in the interim, there is no blogroll.
BUT on the bright side, there is a beginning, feeble though it may be, to my activities in the Bloggers Parliament (see sidebar to the left.) Also, I did get a few new book reviews up, so see that blog as well.

I am thinking of adding yet another blog - a food-related one, very rich in recipes and food politics. If anyone would read such a thing, let me know (when the comments come back - we are having those technical problems, too.)

Update: it may not be hacking but just a weird temporary glitch at Blogrolling's site. My other two blogs that have a real Blogroll (as opposed to a hand-built one - safer, but a lot more work) are showing blank lists for the Blogrolls. Hmmm. I love a puzzle, but right now I am not in the mood.

16 November 2003

If I could talk to the animals

This story in How to Save the World about experiments and experiences with talking animals just blew me away. The story of the grey parrot is about - I kid you not - a parrot that appears to be teaching himself to read. But Dave's point is - why aren't we trying to learn their languages?

Childhood betrayed

Mary Riddell in the Observer covers the disgraceful story of Patricia Hodge, Minister for Children (but not for much longer.) Riddell shows that the disaster of the Children's Ministry is about what can be expected, given the status of children's rights and welfare in the current political consciousness.
"The Children's Minister, a woman properly described as able, seems sometimes to be treated almost like a child herself. That is not only down to her cloddish self-preservation tactics, but to the status the Government confers on young people. Like Alice in Wonderland swallowing currant cakes and cordial, children grow large and small alternately."

'Shoot-to-kill' demand by US turned down by Home Secretary

This story in The Observer about all the bizarre "requests" from President Bush's security team is just mind-boggling. I am speechless. Just read it.

15 November 2003

The Subtlety of British Humour

Latest disasters from Iraq

A crash of two U.S. helicopters killed 12, in the latest of the now almost daily incidents of RPG fire at coalition aircraft. Also in the same story, the bodies of the 16 Italian military and 2 civilians killed in Iraq were met in Rome today "by grieving families and military honours." In the US, all they have is the grieving families. And if you come home alive but mutilated, you are hidden from the media and have your disability pay pared to the bone. (Mustn't complain; don't you know there's a war on terrorism?)

Deborama's Periodic Spasm of Geekiness

The Official String Theory Web Site
Satellite Tracker Web Site

14 November 2003

Blogkeeping

Another burst of template-dressing has taken place. I now have some worthy causes you can support if you wish (to which have just been added three tonight). I have added some more blogs to the blogroll annex as well as the blogroll, and moved out a few to make room (it's still too big for my liking but as soon as I take one away it might get interesting!) I have added a new "News Aggregator" (Buzzle) on the Fund of Knowledge page, and a quirky link (the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition) to the Personal Page.
I have a huge backlog of book reviews to do, which I hope to get to this weekend, so watch this space.

Bush (and his little dog To-To) devise a last-minute exit strategy

A wicked, wicked Steve Bell cartoon. (Aren't they all?)

European Social Forum 2003

Guardian Unlimited Politics has a special report on the European Social Forum, a huge gathering of international anti-globalisation and social justice activists in and around Paris. This consists of a journal from Matthew Tempest, who is covering the forum for the Guardian - very entertaining read.

13 November 2003

Treetop Protest at Tasmanian Logging

From the Guardian, via Buzzle, the story of the world's highest tree-house, built in the name of protection of old-growth forests in Tasmania. The protest is a joint project of Greenpeace and the Wilderness Society.
The project organisers have a blog-like site with updated campaign news with pictures.

12 November 2003

Libby Brooks Talks to John Simpson

John Simpson, veteran BBC reporter, talks about his anger about the 16 journalists killed in the Iraq War, and the case of survivor guilt that hit him after the death of Kurdish interpreter Kamaran Abdurrazaq Mohammed.

11 November 2003

I missed it!



But here's a nice picture of it anyway. (Click on small image above to go to original full-size image at www.abmedia.com).

Baghdad Blogger on BBC

I saw Salam Pax on TV last night. And his mother, and all his family and Raed and the house he designed (he says he is a "really bad architect") and the place where he "stocked up on liquor for Ramadan". Although he didn't look like I imagined him (no one ever does; I have learned that in 10 years on the internet) he did look, act and talk like someone you could be friends with, just a regular guy, y'know?

Crisis in British dairy industry

BBC NEWS reports on the really serious crisis in the dairy industry in Britain. Even large dairy farms are struggling, as evidenced by the decision of the Co-operative Groups "Farmcare" dairy farms to cease operations in the spring of next year. Many dairy farmers are operating at a continual loss, and selling the cows won't even save them from bankruptcy as the whole sector contracts and imported milk is cheaper than British milk in most areas.

Three excellent pieces from the Guardian daily comment

Giles Fraser: The evangelicals who like to giftwrap Islamophobia. Roy Hattersley doesn't give a toss really what Prince C did or didn't do and with whom; the monarchy should be abolished despite, not because of, royal behaviour. And finally, Hywel Williams on the irony of all the mis-remembering that happens on Remembrance Day.

09 November 2003

It ain't MY flag, hoss.

A post in the apostropher discussing the fallout from the "unfortunate" comment of Howard Dean's about guys with Confederate flags on their trucks is wonderfully to the point, especially with this:
"Alabama and Mississippi aside, the South is not lost to the Democratic Party or progressive politics in general, but the guys with the Stars and Bars in their trucks are. Permanently. And you don't want them back - they are diametrically opposed to the ideals of the Democratic Party." I say Amen.

Private Jessica says President is misusing her 'heroism'

There are so many different versions of the Jessica Lynch story flying around that it could make your head spin. A balanced synopsis that covers most of the bases is available in this story in the Guardian's Sunday counterpart the Observer. One thing is clear to me, it is not Lynch's fault that the media is ignoring Shoshana Johnson and Lori Piestewa. Piestewa was killed, not captured; she was a friend of Lynch's and Lynch says it was Lori, not herself, who fought off the ambush. Johnson was also captured and was exhibited on TV in a move that was used at the time to show the inhumanity of the Iraqi captors. She got such a measly discharge "package" that she is now living on $500 a month, and no one is offering her book deals or talk show appearances.

08 November 2003

Tory Leader "Michael Hecht"?

A comment column by Nick Cohen from last Sunday's Observer, What's in a name? imparts a bit of the all-but-hidden family history of new Conservative leader Michael Howard nee Hecht, the son of an asylum-seeker. The obfuscatory stance of the Tories on this is contrasted sharply with Arnold Schwarznegger's capitalisation on his self-made immigrant status. A quote:
"If British Tories wanted to emulate the success of the American Right, then Michael Howard would have said last week: 'My father found sanctuary in Britain 60 years ago. He was saved from the gas chambers and welcomed with opened arms. The Kurd who is granted leave to remain must be as precious to us as the Queen . . . The Tory party will soon boast that it is living the British dream. In Michael Howard it will have its first Prime Minister who is the son of an asylum-seeker.'
"If you are holding your breath until Howard acknowledges that his very existence depends on the right to asylum, I must warn you of the dangers of suffocation. It's a fantasy to imagine that a politician might praise refugees and point out that he is a walking advertisement for successful assimilation."
Blogauthor's clarification: British politician, that is. I wonder why?

07 November 2003

"7 Men Smile and Laugh As They Take Control Of Your Uterus"

Eschaton gives the above wonderful caption to a photo of Resident Shrub signing the Partial Birth Abortion Act into law, while yep, six Congressmen look on and chortle.

Iraq is not America's to sell

Naomi Klein's latest incisive column in the Guardian. As she says, just pulling out the troops, even if it meant handing security over to the UN or the Iraqis, holding elections and a restoration of some kind of civil order, would not be enough to undo the damage already done by a wholesale and wholly illegal privatisation.

John O'Farrell on What that Guy left us

From the Guardian Unlimited :What that Guy left us is a comic expose of the ugly truth about the fifth of November. A quote will let my stateside readers have a little glimpse of what I was on about in the Remember, remember ... post below:
" 'The discovery of this fiendish plot of dire combustion shall be celebrated
evermore,' wrote James I, '...by teenagers chucking bangers at the swans in
the park, and the letting off of airbombs outside the old people's home at
two in the morning.' And so, 400 years later, from the beginning of October
to the middle of November, we celebrate the fact that an explosion didn't
happen by letting off 2,000 decibel explosions in the shopping precinct
after closing time and seeing how many fireworks it takes to set a telephone
box alight. It costs a fortune to get those telephone boxes back to normal.
Highly trained BT engineers often have to install brand new boxes before
ripping off the handset, sticking up prostitutes cards and urinating in the
corner."

I promise I won't talk about my dog anymore

No, not me. And we have two dogs, anyway.



Alexander Chancellor has been documenting his relationship with his little puppy, Polly, and his attendant potty-training struggles, etc. Apparently it was all too much for exactly one reader, but that was enough to cause Chancellor to recant. (Also, the fact that he was receiving wildly contradictory advice from his readers on his dog-training methods and often of a very emotional nature had led him to see that it was better to discuss something else.)
Chancellor also writes: "I know from my mail that a few of you will be disappointed by this decision. There are some people, even among Guardian readers, who are not really interested in anything except dogs. Their lives are governed by dogs, and their minds are so clogged up with doggy matters that there is no room in them for anything else."
I think I may be married to one of those . . .

In case you need proof that Deborama is a geek

From the Seattle Times, more about how the Voyager space probe is (maybe) venturing beyond our solar system.

Kids and Maths and a cute joke

From Ellen and Robert Kaplan, founders of "math circles", a charming
anecdote:

"Take the counting numbers, which go on past any number of particles in the
universe, past any span of time you can conceive of," Robert Kaplan says.
"Is there a last counting number? In our math circle, it is a question that
I will ask of our class of six and seven-year olds: 'Is there a last
counting number?' Once a little girl said: 'Yes.' I said: 'Good, what is
it?' She said: '23,000.' 'Ah,' said I. 'Hmm.' A little boy said: 'What about
23,001?' And she said: 'Well, I was close.' "

More about the Math Circles (or Maths Circles in the UK) here.
Books by Robert and Ellen Kaplan : The Art of the Infinite: Our Lost Language of Numbers and The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero.

A view from inside of Pentagon decision-making

This is terribly out of date (well, 6 weeks, anyway) but I am working through my backlog of things to blog and I thought it was just too important to let pass. "Pentagon decision-making flawed", an opinion piece written by a retired US Army Lt. Col., says that as an insider in the DoD/Pentagon, when she came to experience the decision-making processes of the new Bush Pentagon "what I saw was aberrant, pervasive and contrary to good order and discipline." She identifies three "prevailing themes" in the internal culture of the organisation that propelled the world into the Iraq war:Functional isolation of the professional corps, cross-agency cliques, and a predominant "groupthink" mode of communication. Frightening.
Thanks to my best friend Joani for e-mailing this link.

The Uncertainty Principle

From City Pages (Twin Cities weekly serious tabloid) Can Theoretical Physics Save an Iron Range Town? Local Minnesota interest and extremely high geek factor.

06 November 2003

An angry star?

Am I the only person weird enough to see this connection? (Yeah, probably.) One story in the news is about the Voyager One which has just reached the outer edge of the solar system. (Opinions vary as to whether it has actually "crossed" a boundary or not, but in any case it is in the zone.) Another major story concerns the ever-increasing intensity of a phenomenal bout of solar storms. These are surpassing records for intensity every day. As one scientist said: "This is an R-5 extreme event; they dont get much bigger than this."
Well, look, you have an object crossing a boundary of the Sun's own system - something that has not happened before. It's possible that natural space junk of some kind "passes through" the solar system, but after reading this. . .
"One team reported Wednesday that the craft apparently crossed a turbulent boundary near the edge of the solar system, where supersonic "winds" of charged particles from the sun collide with matter from interstellar space. No spacecraft has ever come close to the boundary, known as the termination shock" . . . I sort of think that an object would have to be propelled somehow to get through the boundary. And then at the same time, you have activity on the surface of the sun, that, while admittedly cyclical, is exceeding all previously recorded activity.
So, it makes me think that Sol is angry and throwing a little hissie fit. Of course, it (or should I say he?) probably doesn't know that Voyager is anything to do with Earth and indeed the solar storms shower everything in their path with the same magnetic bombardment; as the sunspots where these originate "turn away" from Earth, we will be spared their effects for a couple of weeks. But it could be back with the rotation of the sun, and scientists don't know how long it will last or how intense it can get.
It's just a thought.

05 November 2003

Remember, remember

I used to think it was cool that my birthday was a holiday in the UK. Then I went to York on a day trip and learned what Guy Fawkes Day is all about. Now, living in the UK, I am in the ridiculous position of looking forward to my birthday (I have always loved birthdays, I don't know why) and yet dreading "Bonfire Night". In fact I dread the whole fortnight starting at about the 29th of October. That's when the neighbours starting playing with fireworks, and "Fraidy-Dog", aka Desmond, starts cowering under the furniture and refusing to go walkies after dark.
Of course, it's really bad on the night. The loud booms are beginning to frighten me now, because they seem to be coming right through the wall about a foot to my right. I never appreciated so much living in places where personal fireworks are illegal until I lived in a place where they're permitted. Just give it a rest, will you?
I am 51 now, by the way. Thanks for the e-card, Joani. Thanks for going out and getting me ice cream, Lewis. And now, if this temporary lull in the noise means that next-door have used up all their exploding toys, I'm off to bed.

04 November 2003

And what do you do?

A great quote from Zoe Williams, one of my favourite Guardian columnists. This is relating to a poll that found that xx% of Britons in the x to x age-group (you don't really care and it's in the link) could not identify various photos of government ministers:

"Before resigning, ministers simply won't say anything about their area of expertise, beyond "I support the government in everything it does". So, this is the only fair way to test our ignorance or otherwise - not "who is minister for X?" but "who used to be?" I'd go one step further, in fact, and say the minute you can remember who's in charge of what, that person is probably for the chop, since they've already transgressed the first and most important rule - dovetail with the government so quietly and faultlessly that no one can remember who you are. Bad news for Geoff Hoon; good news for that bloke who does Northern Ireland."

Acceptable racism

George Monbiot's opinion piece in the Guardian is about a shocking racist incident that occurred just last week in rural England, and is apparently not even considered a crime or racist by most. In fact, the MP for the area where it occurred blamed the whole thing on the victims. What group is it that can be insulted and assaulted with impunity in modern Europe? (Indeed, this group suffers less in the UK than in many other countries.) They are the gypsies, or "travellers" as they are called here, or Roma, as is their offcial designation. Monbiot then turns to the question of why the racism against the Roma is so acceptable, and I have to say his thesis is a bit of a stretch. I think he got it the first time - they are stateless, therefore without rights, and with fearful barriers to organising to better their lives.

Another story about the betrayal of the US military

Tristero reprints this story from the "totally liberal and Commie-run Army Times".

02 November 2003

Gone Native (sort of)

In order to self-medicate with the flu, I am now consuming a Whisky Mac. Except it has about 6 parts ginger wine to 1 part Scotch. But it's not the best Scotch.

Blogkeeping Again

I have been sick with the flu since Friday, so there's not much in the way of real posts. I missed my drawing class Saturday morning and last week's was cancelled. I am hoping to be well enough to go to my yoga class tomorrow night but it's looking doubtful.
I tried to really cut down my Blogrolling list but I see it is still pretty long. Again, some that have "disappeared" are really moved to another page. But I did delete a few, the criteria being that they were silly, not posted to enough and that I hadn't looked at them much. They had to meet all three criteria but then my definition of silly might offend the blog owner. Or maybe not; some people mean to be silly. I am silly myself, occasionally, just not all day, every day.

31 October 2003

I Remember It Zell

Atrios has posted this letter from a Georgia Democrat to Sen. Zell Miller taking him to task for his turncoat routine. I do remember Zell Miller when he was a young idealist and I was - young.

Now he has gone over to the dark side.

A Crime of Stupefying Proportions and Why I don't publish certain pictures

I have just discovered this great new blog: Dave Pollard's How to Save the World. There is a post there with the title A Crime of Stupefying Proportions, with a really gruesome picture from a slaughterhouse. The post, riffing off of a reading of J. M. Coetzee's book Elizabeth Costello, is a long and thoughtful piece about how to react to the overwhelming evil in the world. Here is a longish quote:
"Our world, past and present and probably future, is full of these horrors, this massive tide of suffering and blood. When we show pictures of malnourished children, when we give them money and food to prolong their lives until the next famine or crippling disease, when I force you to look at the picture at the top of this post and tell you that all of these horrors happen millions of times every day, in every neighbourhood on Earth, is that a wake-up call, probably repulsive and probably ineffective but an important service nevertheless, or is it an obscenity, something no one wants or needs to see or hear or learn about?"
I had to bring this up because when I posted about the California fire I was tempted to post pictures, many of which are awe-inspiring, but a little voice kept whispering "disaster porn" in my ear and I just couldn't use the sufferings of others to give my blog some visual punch.
In a related but different dilemma, there is a widely circulating photo of Miss Afghanistan in a bikini. I would really like to post that picture with the question "Is this what the liberation of women looks like?" I would love to get the debate out there, raise a little consciousness. The problem is, my own answer is a resounding "No" so I would be feeding the very flame I want to put out.
But to get back to Dave's original question, I don't have an answer to that either.

Rummie's memo

A Memo That Speaks Volumes is an opinion piece in the LA Times about the confidential memo from Sec. of Def. Donald Rumsfeld. Gideon Rose notes that critics focus on the bleak assessment of the Iraq situation vis-a-vis the "official" happy-talk, while Rummie's fans give him credit for his tough approach. But Rose says they both miss the point; tough or not, Rumsfeld et. al.'s prescriptions will not work. The thing that no one gets in the Bush administration, whether they talk tough or spin it happy, is that "coercion and manipulation" will not "win hearts and minds". It didn't work in Vietnam and it is not going to work anywhere in the world today. Only when people are offered an alternative to weak or oppressive governments will they side with their "rescuers".
(By the way, I notice that this editorial makes a lot of the same points as Paul Krugman's, cited below. Is nobody listening?)

And speaking of Indians and wildfires...

Wampum, a blog focusing partly on American Indian issues, has a post about the effects of the California fires on Indian lands, homes and lives.

Solar Storms


Been having trouble communicating, blogging, or watching TV? This might be why. From New Scientist.

29 October 2003

California fires

Still raging on, still killing people and destroying lives. This is now a major story everywhere in the world.

A Willful Ignorance

Paul Krugman, in the New York Times, dsicourses on the cultural/religious blinders of the Bush administration and how it hampers the real efforts to halt terrorism (as opposed to the phony "crusade" which is like pouring gasoline on a fire.)

28 October 2003

Rugby World Cup Miscellany

From Guardian Unlimited Sport, three handy guides for those interested in rugby union but not yet very knowledgeable. First, the very basics: for those who wonder just how a rugby fifteen is composed. Second, good preparation for a trivia contest, a brief history of the sport. And finally, to be truly erudite and hold your own in any rugby-oriented gathering, the rugby jargon-buster.

There's something very creepy about this . . .

Well, now that I think about it, there are several things creepy about it. West Bank settlers turn to pigs for protection. From ABC Net (Australia).

27 October 2003

Who's a Miserable Failure then?

What a brilliant idea from Old Fashioned Patriot! OK, I'll do my bit.

Miserable Failure

There, done it.

Meaningless mayhem in Iraq on the first day of the holiest month

I don't know what to think about this. I mean, I know what I feel, but I don't know how to understand it. The news from the media is all too dry, lacking commentary or emotional probing, so I check the blogs, starting with those on the scene, and I find this at Healing Iraq. The actions of these particular terrorists seem more irrational than most, which is extreme, given that irrational is almost a defining characteristic of terrorists anyway.

California wildfires

I'm sure most people in the States know about this already, but it only gets a little coverage over here. For quite thorough reporting and pictures and videos, check the story at CNN.com. At least one blog-friend, Joel, has been affected by the fire. I have also heard some first-hand stuff from a mailing list I am on with numerous California members.

26 October 2003

The Making of Modern Iraq

This is a scholarly article from the Wilson Quarterly on the history of British involvement in the middle east and how Iraq was formed in the aftermath of World War I. Link borrowed from Fat Buddha.

Don't see the fnords

It all started with browsing my now seriously depleted bookshelves (but it's OK, the 4000 are boxed up in the cupboard under the stairs). I noticed the large hardcover Foucault's Pendulum that I bought a few months ago online, to replace a much-loved first edition that I lent to some "friend" who "forgot" to return it (I wish I could remember who it was so I could insult them online.) I have been meaning to re-read that book anyway, so I carried it into the bedroom and dropped it on the bed. As I was doing this, I wondered if my daughter Aimee had read it, and I thought that I would recommend it to her by saying it is the thinking person's "Illuminati", because I remembered that she had read the Illuminati trilogy and liked it. This made me think of the Illuminati game, which I used to play - oh, wa-a-a-ay back in the mid-1980s - with Aimee and Carey, when they were little, and Doug, my partner at the time. So I went to the trusty old internet and looked up Illuminati the game and bingo! It's there. (What DID we ever do before the internet?)
Here is the Illuminati Home Page. I am going to buy one, even though I will never find anyone to play it with. Wait, maybe I'm not - I just saw the price. The one I bought from Uncle Hugo's SF Bookstore was about $8.00. What a difference 20 years makes.

25 October 2003

Wellstone World Music Day

Today is Wellstone World Music Day in the Twin Cities. If I were there, I would go . . .

Blogkeeping

I have been busy over at the Book Reviews and Store blog: I have added five book reviews in three posts, all related in the fact that these books were purchased (and mostly read) during my trip to Minneapolis, about two months ago. I only visited one bookstore (I have to ration myself somehow) and that was Once Upon A Crime. If you live in or near Minneapolis, you should read the book reviews and then go and visit Once Upon A Crime. Tell them Deb Wordkeeper sent you, even though they will have no idea what you're talking about.

24 October 2003

Oops!

I am going to be strong. I am going to rise above it. I am NOT, despite any low temptation, going to blog about Princess Diana's letters. No, I'm not .... oh! Damn.

The lost boy

This very moving article in the Guardian Unlimited Film section asks "Where would River Phoenix be today if he had lived?" I was one of those who idolised River when he was alive, in a very maternal sort of way. I cried for days when he died, not like a son of mine had died, but like a son of a best friend had died. This story, telling of all the films that he would have made or might have made, and all the lives he touched, and how the fickle media has all but forgotten him, made me very sad.

'A shambles that beggars belief'

With the Northern Ireland peace process hanging by a thread, this might be a good time to check out a blog called Slugger O'Toole and get seriously clued up. Or, for the long view, try CAIN (Conflict Archive on the Internet) (not a blog). Both of these are non-partisan sources, that could really teach Faux News what "fair and balanced" actually means.

23 October 2003

Blair: Guantanamo Row Should Finish Soon

The Guardian reports the latest word on the Guantanamo "row". Blair mentioned the Camp Delta detainees yesterday in PMQ, and today at a news conference at No. 10, said that he expected a resolution "within the next few weeks".

New energy source from tap water & other environmental news

I thought that this science story was pretty interesting. I will be watching it to see if it develops into something practical or just mysteriously vanishes like so many promising new power source stories.
Other environmental news stories : a total ban on cod fishing is being proposed. This is the most drastic step yet mentioned in the crisis over dwindling populations of cod due to overfishing.
Zoologists working to save African elephants from extinction have indicated that rising prosperity in China is fueling demand for ivory and endangering the elephants.

22 October 2003

Something interesting?

I was looking through the now quite large Blogging Brits list and found this: Blogger's Parliament Home. I haven't had a chance to fully explore or participate yet, but in case anyone else might be interested in such things, I thought I would plug it now and look into it later.

19 October 2003

Ramallah's first shopping mall

Ramallah's first mall offers more than retail therapy. This article from The Age (Australia) tells of the enormous impact the newly-opened retail centre can have on the blighted lives of Palestinians. An article in the Telegraph relates the long difficult road to building the mall, and the perseverance and vision of its founder, American born tycoon, Sam Bahour.

As sun sets on Concorde, the super-rich go private

The very last Concorde flights will touch down in Britain later this week. Stephen Khan, writing in the Guardian, reviews the often sad history of the Concorde, and asks what VIP luxury options will be available in the post-supersonic era of commercial flights.

'I'm a father, that's what matters most. Nothing matters more'

One of my favourite people in Britain is interviewed after the happiest moment of his life. Chancellor Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah welcome their baby son, John, into the world, a little less than two years after the premature birth and death after 10 days of their daughter Jennifer. The Chancellor will take two weeks of paternity leave and try to hone his nappy-changing skills.

17 October 2003

Not the End Times yet, then

So the times are not so miraculous after all; the Marlins will be going to the series. In a lingering apocalyptic note, they are now referred to as the anti-Cubs, and are trying to get used to being the most hated team in baseball. Said one clever pundit: "There's a Cub nation out there. But . . . they can wait another 95 years.''
Still can't understand (or maybe have never heard of) the Cubs mystique? This article from Jean Marbella explains it about as well as anyone can.
And the other almost as perennial underdogs the Boston Red Sox? Yep, they lost too.
From Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:
"Thursday night proved it once and for all.
A large banner at Yankee Stadium read: 'Mystique Don't Fail Us Now.'
And it did not.
Another banner read, simply: 'Destiny.'
And it crushed the Red Sox. Again."

16 October 2003

The Anglican church summit


Guardian Unlimited : Another priceless Steve Bell cartoon.

Red Cross report on Guantanamo prisoners

Guantanamo Bay is the subject of a special report by the Red Cross. This site also features a full report of the BBC visit to Camp Delta, which includes an audio recording.

Monsanto to quit Europe

Monsanto, the world's largest GM seed company, is pulling out of its cereal business in Europe. The company says that the genetically-engineered wheat market had "failed to grow" in Europe. Read our lips, guys: There is no market in Europe for GM crops. That's no market, as in zilch, nada, bupkis.

15 October 2003

Blogkeeping

You may have noticed that the Blogroll on this page got a bit shorter. Never fear, I only deleted inactive blogs. Others have merely been moved, some to here and some to here.
There are new book reviews at Deborama's Book Reviews and Store. And more coming soon, probably at the weekend.

Michael the Mum : my verdict

Well, it was a good show. And Michael was a good sport. He was very sincere in his dismay over his failures and over the post-show criticisms of the real single mum, when she came back to re-clean the kitchen he had just scrubbed up and tell him where he went wrong with the kids. In many ways it was painful to watch, that last scene. Mothers get so emotional about the issue of parenting, and their own kids' personality traits. I can remember (vaguely) feeling like that - always on the verge of some emotional meltdown and smiling through incipient tears. And Mr. Portillo, MP, for all his admitted and not at all apologetic class consciousness, was not condescending, not for a moment. I'll give him that. Yes, he was a good sport. A true Englishman.

City Pages: White Meat

The Minneapolis School Board is in a shambles. And it appears to be at least 80% style-over-substance type politics. In other words, the structural problems facing Minneapolis schools, although not trivial, are not different from those in most cities, and not as bad as those in many. But the personalities involved are making the worst of the situation.

When Michael Portillo Became a Single Mum

Tonight on the BBC: a childless Conservative MP takes on the life of a low-income single mother in Merseyside for seven days, while she observes him via video-camera from a nearby flat. (How I would love to see the equivalent to this on American TV - sadly, only in my dreams.) He will care for her four children and attend to both of her low-paid jobs and struggle to provide for the family with her budget of £87 (about $130) per week. I expect him to be humbled by the experience; I will report back later.

From LA Weekly: Black Like I Thought I Was

Here is a very interesting story about a Louisiana man in California who thought that he was black. That was, until he got an "ethnic DNA test" to find out what he could about his African heritage, only to discover that he had none. I have a feeling that DNA testing is about to overturn our centuries old misconceptions about race, and possibly even lead to the very concept of race becoming a quaint anachronism.

14 October 2003

Singer's punch 'was self-defence'

Read this and then tell me if you have ever in your life heard a less convincing "defence". Pitiful, just pitiful. I saw a picture of the victim, Sophie Amogbokpa, in "the free paper on the train" but I can't find it on the web to put a link here - she had one eye swollen shut and half her face was bruised.

TV vicar leaves parish

This story from the BBC is sort of sad; I meant to watch the show and somehow never found the time. If it was just that he had to quit the show because of excess strain of being a celebrity that would be one thing, but the parish has lost a great vicar, after being forced to share him with the "viewing public."

12 October 2003

Pax is back in Iraq and so is Suzanne G.

Salam Pax is back from his book-promoting and interviewing tour with two or three juicy posts about his adventures in London and the difficulties ordinary Iraqis have in getting out of or back into their country.

In an unrelated story, Suzanne Goldberg, who covered the build-up and opening stages of the war from Baghdad for the Guardian, has also returned to Iraq, and reports on some of the ironies (if you want to call it that) of the coalition occupation:
"A more substantial assault on Saddam's legacy is under way in the Republican Palace, where the occupation authority is making preparations to dismantle the food distribution system which gave free rations of flour, rice, cooking oil and other staples to every Iraqi.
"Described by the UN as the world's most efficient food network, the system still keeps Iraqis from going hungry. But the US civilian administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer, views it as a dangerous socialist anachronism. The coalition provisional authority (CPA) is planning to abolish it in January, despite warnings from its own technical experts that this could lead to hunger and riots."

However, she reports, the coalition has decided that there is nothing anachronistic about Saddam's security network, so many old Ba'athist intelligence officers and secret police are being brought back by the new coalition run Iraq police force, along with, no doubt, their old corrupt and brutal practices. And, just for a laugh, the former second-in-command of the Iraqi Information Ministry has been hired by - wait for it - Fox News!

10 October 2003

The Theological Implications of Recent Near-Miraculous Developments in Baseball

Jim Wallis in Sojourners has an article titled Baseball and the end times. "A World Series with truly eschatological implications is now possible after the surprise play-off victories of two of the most long-standing underdogs in baseball - or maybe in all of sports.. "

It also made me think of one of my sig file quotes: "While conservatives tell you, leave things alone and no one will lose, and liberals tell you, interfere a lot and no one will lose, baseball says: Someone will lose . . . So that baseball achieves the tragic vision that democracy evades."

09 October 2003

The Single Bitter Announcement Weblog

The Single Bitter Announcement Weblog. (Just what it says in the title.) I love it.

08 October 2003

Blotting my copybook again

I just can't seem to be serious. The more depressed I get about current events the more I reach out blindly for humour, trivia or various legal but unhealthy forms of self-medication. So I thought I would check in with all the Californians in my blogroll and see what they were saying. Body and Soul's Jeanne was sad and angry and - hmm - almost elegaic about -- lost innocence? Maybe. Very close to how I would feel if I were a Californian and if I didn't make this silly retreat into foolery. Pacific Views has thoughtful stuff and the observation that California is practically un-governable, which makes one think that Arnie may have made a major strategic blunder being the fall guy at this point in history. Joel at Pax Nortona for some reason has not even blogged at all; is he too upset or is he above all that? But it was on ZOTA in a post called Blot that I found the register of my moody reaction: he's discussing the kinds of alcohol most appropriate to use in the attempt to forget. (I am sure there's a wordplay on Total Recall in there somewhere but i just can't get it.) The funny thing is I didn't know until now that Zota was in California; I only blogrolled it to have something presentable that started with "Z". (There, now everyone knows what a tragic little OCD person I am.)

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