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30 May 2003

I just found this article that tells everything you ever wanted to know about trainspotting. Did you know they are called "trainfans" in America? Did you know that some misguided people think trainspotting might serve as a cover activity for terrorists?

Have you noticed how my weblog seems to alternate between something really silly, something really nerdy, and something really serious? I am doing that on purpose. I think.

Here's something silly - a television programme for cats. (In the US, of course.)

The half-hour program was developed after research showed that one-third of cats enjoy watching television, said Ira Cohen, marketing director for Meow Mix [developers of the show].

"It's real fun," Cohen said. "The mission of the Meow Mix Co. is to keep cats happy, so we developed this program for cats and the people they tolerate."

The Guardian has a big write-up on Salam Pax, the Baghdad Blogger. This is one of my frequently-read blogs and if you haven't seen it, you should go and have a look. I was not surprised to read in the Guardian article that many westerners doubted either Salam's existence or his authenticity as an Iraqi because of his sophistication and familiarity with western pop culture, nor was I surprised to read that Salam himself was enraged at their cultural arrogance. The only thing that sort of surprised me was that his real name is Salam. (By the way, I see that I mis-spelt Salam's name in my link; sorry, I will fix that tonight.)

29 May 2003

Are you ready for the programmable web? This is a story in the Guardian's Online section about the growth of APIs. Best quote: "For Microsoft and IBM, it's like designing a giant metropolis, laying out the roads, agreeing on traffic regulations, putting in plumbing, and so on. For the hackers, it's more like 'let's build a city: everybody bring a brick.' "

28 May 2003

Amnesty International says : Human rights are trampled and we are all more afraid than at any time since the Cold War. It's not just the US; it's everywhere. The War on Terror is not really working.

Brane(sic) New World

Oh, brane new world! (apologies to Stephen Hawkings for stealing that great pun.) Physicists, pursuing a thought experiment that relates to and builds upon string theory, have been mathematically theorising Plato's universe of the ideal, wherein the perceptible universe is only a shadow play on the wall. Except the physicists wall is not the wall of a cave, but is rather a "brane" (short for membrane), thin foil-like mini-universes that exist in the 10-dimensional space that is the real but never experiencable whole universe.

Oooh. I don't know how I missed this for so long. Brilliant art, social satire - I love it. Its the Rent-a-Negro.com website.

Mathew Yglesias quoting TNR's anonyblogger on the ongoing failure of the US programme to rebuild/occupy/govern Iraq (I say that because they don't seem to be all that clear on it themselves, do they?)

Gen. Tommy Franks says the US military won't do it. The UN cannot do it. There is no government in Iraq to do it. So an independent academic organisation has undertaken to do it. That is, to count the Iraqis killed in the war called Operation Iraqi Freedom. You can see their latest results at www.iraqibodycount.net.

27 May 2003

Strange medical news #1

A miracle baby was born in South Africa - it was gestated in the mother's liver instead of her womb. I wonder if this indicates a way for men to be "pregnant"? Interesting thought.

According to Zoe Williams, Britain's disastrous nul points showing in the Eurovision Song Contest is a warning shot. Now we in Britain can see, if we can bear to look, just how all of Europe thinks of us. And we have only ourselves to blame, with our superior attitudes and stand-offish ways.

"If we take any political message at all from this disaster, it is referendum, and referendum now - if we feel this shame keenly, imagine what it would be like if we didn't get a chance to reject the superstate, before the superstate rejects us."

Hilary Wainwright, editor of Red Pepper magazine, on How To Win Elections and Still Be a Leftie. This proposed strategy sounds amazingly like the doomed (because not followed (don't get me started on the hyprocrisy of it all)) "fusion" strategy of the now defunct New Party in the US. This was a project I was involved with early on, was very enthusiastic about, and was incredibly burned by. Burned, as in taken advantage of, used and abused, and dumped (in fact, though in the minds of the organisers they were "supporting" me) near the finish line. I wonder if it would work here. The New Party went into decline and demise fairly soon after I emigrated to the UK. I had left the party about a year before, but was still supportive of their aims - if only they had ever followed their own programme! There are some remnants of the party still in existence in the form of local electoral organising groups. It appears, on a cursory examination, to have survived best in areas where the Democratic party is weak, or more rightward leaning. But another factor that certainly contributed to its demise was the infection of American politics at all levels by money, and that factor is not so prevalent here. So maybe the UK challenge to New Labour from the left has a chance, where the US challenge to "Tweedledum-Tweedledee two-party politics" did not.

26 May 2003

I have been feeling rather hopeless and un-communicative today. Hubby and I have been trying to find a car to buy. Shopping for anything in Britain is a very depressing experience but shopping for cars is right down there, possibly the worst time you can have without being under arrest or an actual victim of a crime or a war. Ok, I exaggerate slightly, but it is pretty dire. Mainly it's the shockingly high prices, which I will never get used to.

Anyway, back to the wider world, where the outlook is not one bit better than in my own little private limbo. To be getting on with, I offer this article about Bush and his dry-drunk thought patterns. Lovely.

25 May 2003

OK. this is just plain weird. This little bit in the movie reviews claims to answer the question (so absurd I thought it was a joke, but it isn't) - Why does Dr. Cornel West have a cameo appearance in The Matrix Reloaded? But after reading it, I must say I am none the wiser.

Another of my obsessions - the writings of Harold Bloom. Today he has published an essay - Emerson, the Sage of Concord - to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Emerson's birth.

Sidney Blumenthal, special advisor to former US president Clinton, has a book released today - The Clinton Wars. If you have ever wondered about the "vast right-wing conspiracy" alluded to by Hillary Clinton, this book will tell you a lot about it, from someone on the other side who had a confidante formerly involved in the conspiracy itself, or "the Arkansas Project" as it was called. Excerpts from the book were published in the Guardian (links at the bottom of the review).

24 May 2003

Here is a list of fish that are advisable to eat (if you eat fish at all, and if you care about preserving vanishing stocks) in an article entitled What You Can Do To Save Fish. (Vegetarians, you are already doing all you can, and for that we thank you.)

23 May 2003

Two stories are in the news today about food standards, and in both cases the Food Standards Agency does not show up very well. In So What If It's Legal? It's Disgusting, Felicity Lawrence discusses the scandal of cheap chicken adulterated with water and "protein from beef or pork" (?!?) In another story, Michael Meacham, UK Environment Minister, is losing patience with the FSA and their refusal to study the possible health, safety or environmental benefits of organic food and production methods.

Overthrow horitcultural hegemony

In this little piece, Simon Busch deconstructs the bourgeois and Protestant gardens of Britain, and proposes an "anti-garden", that "would reek of healthful feculence and rot", that would "overthrow horticultural hegemony".

22 May 2003

Rachel Corrie, Jessica Lynch

This hurts to read, but we need to hear it: Naomi Klein on Rescuing Jessica Lynch, Forgetting Rachel Corrie.

21 May 2003

Cannes, darling

Here's a link for anyone who wants to read about the Cannes festival in French. (Even if you don't read French, just think how much you will impress anyone looking over your shoulder. See, I always knew you were a poser!)

World Bank, explained

The IMF, the World Bank and the WTO explained, by Larry Elliott of the Guardian. Greatly edited version: "The Bretton Woods institutions were the economic arm of the new world order designed to ensure there was no repetition of the Great Depression. . . But over the years, the IMF changed. . . The IMF (and the World Bank) [since the 1980s] reflected the economic orthodoxy, championing privatisation, liberalisation and tough anti-inflation strategies when they became fashionable in the west. . . [A better programme for today] would involve the Bretton Woods recognising that in a deflationary world there is a need to return to their original pro-growth mandate. . . . " "The WTO is a different beast. Created in 1995, it has two safeguards to protect the interests of smaller countries: a one-member, one-vote decision-making structure and an arbitration system . . . Although many in the US strongly oppose the neo-conservative agenda, there are two problems for those seeking change. The first is that the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO are largely friendless bodies. . . [The other is that . . .] the one arena where the EU flexes its muscles is the WTO, but only to put European corporate demands on the global agenda. . . Something better would include an open and meritocratic system for the top jobs at the World Bank, IMF and WTO, rather than the unseemly horse-trading that currently takes place. It would include stopping the IMF and the Bank colonising the territory of other UN organisations. And it would involve the other big shareholders - the Europeans - acting in concert to put pressure on Washington."

"The truth is that you can't defend what these institutions currently are", says Kevin Watkins of Oxfam, "but they were part of a Keynesian political project, and it is up to the left to make them into something better."

Jim Hightower's tribute to librarians

I always knew it would come out this way. American integrity, the ideal of democracy and Western Civilization As We Know It are being saved by . . . wait for it . . . librarians! (From the website of Jim Hightower.)

Challenging monarchy

American readers, and some British readers, may find this hard to believe, but it is a crime punishable by life imprisonment to advocate in print the abolition of the British monarchy, even by peaceful democratic means. The Guardian newspaper is attempting to challenge that law, but without actually risking anyone going to prison, by asking for a court declaration that the law is incompatible with the EU guarantee of the right of free speech. The court refused to hear the case, claiming that "a ruling in favour of the Guardian would open the civil courts to being asked to give advice on whether or not an action would be a criminal offence". What rubbish! We can't allow you to have basic human rights, or everyone would want them. And what is worse, people in this country have nothing better to do than waste the courts' time coming up with frivolous questions, at the costs of thousands of pounds. (Lawyers may find this hard to believe, but most people dread going to court and will in consequence put up with all kinds of crap before they go see a lawyer to try to find relief.)

The chronology is as follows: 1) Guardian asked Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, for the court declaration, 2) Goldsmith refused to rule on the question, 3) three appeals court judges overturned his refusal to rule and sent it back to him, and 4) Goldsmith is now appealing that ruling at the house of Lords, the final appeal. OK, the way I look at it is this: people in these circles are very motivated by a desire for the rewards that are found only in a system with a monarch at the top and a vast pecking order of nobles, knighthoods, QCs and other titles. How is it going to look on their CVs if they were instrumental in throwing open the door to a peaceful challenge to the monarchy itself, upon which the whole house of cards rests? Or worse still, what if someone is steadily advancing his or her career toward the expected knighthood, and then the monarchy is actually abolished just as they come within sight of their goal? And somehow, I don't expect the House of Lords to be the most sympathetic venue to hear this appeal. But then again, maybe they will surprise me. After all, there are a lot of Labour-appointed Life Peers in there now, and they have already got their rewards.

20 May 2003

Politics and the English Language

I just happened upon this really brilliant essay by Caroline Arnold, printed in the Kent-Ravenna Record Courier, about rat-kings, the media, war, toast buttered on the wrong side and talking to each other. This is as good as, and would indeed make a companion piece to, Orwell's Politics and the English Language. Or, alongside 1984's famous "Slavery is Freedom, War is Peace . . ." litany, put this from Arnold's essay: "popularity is goodness, conformity is loyalty, and money is value. . ."

Keeping up with the Shetterly-Bulls

I was misinformed about Will Shetterly and Emma Bull. They are still a couple, a married couple. Will also has a very good weblog. Will and Emma no longer live in Minneapolis either - they are in Arizona. Emma's brilliant first novel The War for the Oaks has been reissued in the past couple of years and I highly recommend it. While we're on the subject of Minnesota connections, check out the music of Greg Brown, Boiled in Lead, and the long unavailable Cats Laughing.

19 May 2003

Norwegian bachelor farmers

Norwegian Bachelor Farmers in the kitchen - a time and motion study. Predicted to be a cult classic film in the near future.

The French Gnome Liberation Front appears to have struck again, according to AFP, with the disappearance of Snow White and her seven dwarfs (Blanche-Neige et les sept nains) from the garden of a house in a southern suburb of Paris.

"Liberated" gnomes are usually relocated and rearranged in a park or woodland location by the Front pour la Liberation des Nains de Jardin (FLNJ). But these seem to have been treated unusually roughly. Two of the ten victims were found smashed on a nearby pavement.

We don't get many ferrets on this train . . .

"We don't get many ferrets on this train." ("At these prices I can see why" replied the ferret, as he stole the driver's lunch.)

This is a Midland Mainline train and the ferret got on at Leicester station. I do the same thing almost every morning.

Animal rights

Some Are More Equal. Peter Singer (Animal Liberation, 1975) on the current state of animal rights in the world, as part of National Vegetarian Week.

18 May 2003


As you can see, my links are now restored, and added to. One new link is the link to the small but perfectly formed weblog of Steven Brust, formerly of Minneapolis (like me) and a writer of science fiction and occasional song lyrics (not like me, although I have written one song.) I first became aware of Steven Brust because one of his books was called "Brokedown Palace" and I read it obsessively trying to find if there was any clue as to whether he was or was not a Grateful Dead fan. Finally, I had to give up guessing and go to a panel discussion that he was on, and just ask him. He seemed surprised that I couldn't tell. I believe there was at that time a very small collective of midwestern sf writers that include Steve and also a couple (at the time) Emma Bull and Will Shetterly (who were also on the panel). Some years later, I read and enjoyed books by both of them as well. Then I was briefly associated with Will in a political context when he ran for governor of Minnesota on the Grassroots Party ticket and I was on a committee with the Progressive Minnesota Party. And then not much later than that, my two kids, who were teenagers at the time, introduced me to the Sandman comics and we went to a Neil Gaiman reading (in aid of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund?) and there was music performed there by the Flash Girls, one of whom looked vaguely familiar and turned out to be Emma Bull. (There's a link for Neil Gaiman's weblog and the Flash Girls home page down the side there.) That's what I love about the Twin Cities - it is such a social nexus, all these busy, buzzy, hard-working talented people. You get involved in one or two things, and pretty soon you know everybody.

Save the British Bumblebee

Save the British Bumblebee! Here's how, and why.

17 May 2003

Brave Girl of India

An inspiration and a role model! Nisha Sharma, who called off her wedding at literally the last moment and phoned the police, when her intended's family made a last minute demand for an extortionate dowry. The greedy fiance was thrown in jail and Ms. Sharma is now an international celebrity and soon to star in an Indian comic as "Brave Girl".

The Saving of Private Jessica

The only mainstream American newspaper I know of to pick up the story, widely published here in the UK, about the fraud behind the "story" of Jessica Lynch's "rescue" is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which was my hometown newspaper about 19 years ago. Good on ya', Journal-Con! I think I will put them in my news links list.

16 May 2003

Thou shalt hate?

Are the Bible and the Quran hate literature? A fierce debate in Canada is going on over the introduction of laws making it a crime to incite hatred against homosexuals.

Guide to British Folk Rock

I happened upon this guide to British folk rock by an American "child of punk". What no Maddy Prior?

15 May 2003

Charles Clark University

Charles Clarke University. Where you can get simultaneous degrees in Walking and Chewing Gum! Assured career paths and many fabulous prizes!

Pity poor Poland

Pity poor Poland, forced to take up the white man's burden, getting all of the danger without ever having had an empire of their own. How IS this going to work, having a Polish occupation zone in Iraq?

Tony's legacy

Are you listening, Tony? Some representative quotes from historians predicting T. Blair's "place in history" in the Guardian's How Will He Be Judged?:

Constitutionally, his place in history will be as the prime minister who, when things seemed to be going well, ran a pseudo-presidential system which, as well as being alien to the British constitution, was monumentally inefficient. (Lord Gilmour)

History, I believe, will judge Blair harshly. I think what most historians will emphasise is the profound disappointment Blair engendered. . . (Richard Overy)

British politics doesn't appreciate Caesarism or the Bonapartist style. (Lord Morgan)

By stealing the Conservatives most radical Thatcherite policies - war and privatisation - while offering the left nowhere to go, Blair's period in office could be seen in retrospect to mark the death of British politics. (Mark Almond)

Blair, Short suggests, is really a Tory who has little interest in either constitutional matters such as reform of the House of Lords, or in quotidian, but vital, domestic issues such as genuine equality of opportunity in health or education. He wants in with the ... deliverers, the saviours, the victors crowned in battle. And that, she was saying, is not what the Labour party is, or should be, all about. (Stella Tillyard)

Since the days of Thatcher, Britain has never been so respected (which is not to be confused with liked) abroad than under a prime minister who bestrides the world stage with energy and purpose. (Michael Burleigh)

Plenty of fish in the sea?

It turns out that there aren't plenty of fish in the sea after all.

14 May 2003

Molly and Ellen on William "Mr.Virtue" Bennett

Ellen Goodman on William "Mr. Virtue" Bennett, his gambling jones, and Mrs. Bennetts' sangfroid in the face of it. All old news by now, but we didn't really get this story in the UK and I only found out about through idly surfing away from reading Molly Ivins. About the story itself, let me say this: Difficulties discussing money in a relationship? Ah, yes, I could write a book about it. At least, I could if only for the fact that the whole subject makes me so crazy that I cannot form one coherent sentence about it. If you don't believe me, ask my husband.

13 May 2003

"Googlewashing" is a new word with a very frightening history. This article in the Register describes how a bland, cleverly apolitical website thrown up by a blogger with super-connections in the tiny subculture of technical blogging effectively neutered a powerful new term : " second superpower", thus instantly (well, in a matter of weeks) depriving the anti-globalism and anti-war organising forces of a concept that had the power to transform thought. Subtle, but creepy.

Hola, young lovers

A quixotic attempt to improve the social lives of 20-somethings in Spain is a proposal from the Green party. Catholic pressure group Opus Dei threatens the proponents with hell.

12 May 2003

Deborama reacts with disgust to the unprecedented sight of a US president in military dress

Does Bush merit the "f" word? I'm afraid that the answer is, at long last, yes. (The first American president EVER to wear a military uniform while in office is the same GW Bush, who, incidentally, was never punished for his year AWOL from the National Guard, never saw wartime service, and apparently didn't read much history at Yale, or if he did, he didn't care.)

A Tale of Two Blairs

... and neither one of them named Tony. Yesterday's Observer featured a wonderful retrospective of George Orwell (née Eric Blair.) The main focus of the article was his meticulous and troubled search for truth and clarity in journalism, and how he set the standard for Observer journalists for the next fifty years. Today's story is of a very different Blair - a feckless 27-year old who is (was) both high-flyer and pathological liar - Jayson Blair, late of the New York Times.

The Troubles

They are turning over most of the rocks in the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and they all have slithery, filthy things under them. This latest one is the slimiest so far.

Bad to worse in Iraq

Meanwhile, back in Iraq - oh dear, things are not going so well, are they?

10 May 2003

Really bad films

It's always fun reading reviews of bad stuff. Especially reviews of bad films. Or reviews of stuff Madonna has done lately. (See, I can now bash Madonna as casually as anyone at the Guardian, probably because of three years of constantly reading the Guardian.) So how much fun is it to read a brilliant summary of what makes a bad film bad, comparing and contrasting Madonna's latest (straight to video!) Swept Away with the worst films of all times. Lots of fun.

Honda commercial

With this link you can view the Honda commercial anytime you want.

Lord X and his potted shrimps

Giles Coren of the London Times is the kind of snob I like. He ended this little piece with the reassuring comment that Ryan will be helped more than hindered by being expelled from his posh school. But read this for the first vignette, about Lord X and his potted shrimps. The kind of subtle humour that reminds me why I am, despite all I know now, an Anglophile.

Ryan's class act

Ryan's Class Act, with an unhappy ending worthy of GB Shaw. This just infuriates me. There is something so - I can't think of a word, but it makes me cringe, whatever it is - about the British attitude towards race and class, and yet most white Britons are convinced that they are so very, very racially tolerant compared to Americans. More like so very, very, utterly clueless about how arrogant and condescending they really are.

08 May 2003

Tony Benn on Glastonbury

Tony Benn - way out in Left Field at the Glastonbury Festival.

Pax is back!

Big news in the "blogging community" - Salaam Pax is back. And with a backlog back to the day in March when he stopped posting, as the bombs started falling. His posts are routed via e-mail through a blogger in the West - but hey, you can read all about it yourself. Fascinating stuff - no particular political agenda, except survival, pride, curiosity and a very tolerant attitude, considering what he and his compatriots have just been through.

07 May 2003

The mind of T Pynchon

If you want to take a "journey into the mind of Thomas Pynchon," both P and I suggest that you read one (or all) of his books, rather than view this documentary which promises just that but obviously fails to deliver. Why do I say obviously? Because Pynchon, in case you didn't notice, is a novelist, and sometimes literary critic and pundit. Therefore, the way into his mind is through his writing. Since he is not a fashion model, a lifestyle guru, an actor or a "celebrity", seeing shadowy possible video of him, hanging around outside his apartment, going through his garbage and other forms of 21st century stalking are not going to tell you a thing about his mind. (D'oh!)

Oscar Wilde quiz

How much do you really know about Oscar Wilde?

Boomer Zeitgeist Redux

I seem to be making a habit of this! Here's another article which deconstructs the state of the Zeitgeist through the eyes of the boomer generation, rock music and Tony Blair! This one focuses on the seminal King Crimson song 21st Century Schizoid Man. Hmmm.

06 May 2003

Voodoo economics at the World Bank

Why are we not surprised to hear that they employ "Voodoo Economics" at the World Bank when calculating the supposed fall in absolute poverty between 1990 and 1999? A thoughtful and thought-provoking article, containing a link to the study on how not to count the world's poor.

03 May 2003

Boomer Zeitgeist

Stories about my generation abound these days. It must be all the famous people turning 50 (T Blair) or 60 (M Jagger) this year. This one was very touching - "The Hardest Working Band in Britain".

02 May 2003

North Korea

The North Korea Connection, from Fortune magazine.

01 May 2003

Welcome to the 21st century, Ma'am

Whew. Maybe now I can finally believe that it IS the 21st century. No more bowing and curtseying at Wimbledon.

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