Saturday, April 30, 2005

Ivory-billed woodpecker book

If you'd like to know more about the ivory-billed woodpecker, Dover Publications have a 144-page book about it (a reprint of a 1942 Audubon Society report). This week's Dover Sampler includes some excerpts and photos; they'll be online for the next three weeks or so.

Friday, April 29, 2005

New random single post

The record I never intended to buy: Seven Days In The Sun by Feeder.

A monkey mystery

We had a day off work today, so we decided to visit Regent's Park and the zoo again. We saw all the usual suspects (the pottos were having their meal - aaaah) and enjoyed the new squirrel monkey exhibit, but the most remarkable moment came when we were looking at the golden-headed lion tamarin. As we passed the window of their indoor enclosure, they seemed to be watching me and we gradually realised that their attention was fixed on my cheap panama hat. I could see their little eyes move as I moved the hat around (I was holding, rather than wearing, it at this point) and when I hid it behind my back. At first they seemed merely curious about it, but when I brought it back into their line of sight the poor little creatures seemed to be shrinking away from it. Laura even observed at one point that two of them were unable to see it, but the third seemed to be warning them it was still there.
Obviously, I had to do the decent thing and take my hat out of the way rather than torment them. But it was strange to see them so transfixed by what is for us a simple object, and one that surely isn't an uncommon sight in a place frequented by tourists
.

Who's Who in Terrorism

Our friend Russ has started a blog to tie in with his newly completed book, an encyclopedia of terrorists and terrorist organisations. I've been reading through his manuscript (all 900+ pages) and have found it extremely thorough and informative. It covers movements from throughout history and throughout the world, and would be an excellent resource for journalists, historians or students. Please do have a look, especially if you're a publisher.

Back from the dead

The ivory-billed woodpecker, long thought extinct, has been found alive. A beautiful bird it is, too.

The
BBC has some more details on the discovery.

Forever amber?

I know I'm about three days late with this story, but a well-known supermarket has abandoned its "traffic-light" labelling scheme because customers don't understand what an amber light means. It must be them I see when I'm trying to cross the road every morning, then.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Listening: The Wedding Present

I tried not to make this a strictly musical blog because I'm not enough of an authority to confine myself to a single subject. In fact, I tried not to write about it at all for a while, but unfortunately it dominates my thought processes so much I don't have a lot else to say that Laura can't say better. So here goes:
Probably the new record I've listened to most of late is Take Fountain by indie legends
The Wedding Present. Of course, they're noted for their deeply loyal and longstanding fanbase, but I can't claim to be among them. Although I bought
Mini in 1996, mainly because I liked all the car-related song titles, I really got into the works of David Gedge through his other band, Cinerama (thanks Laura). And until a few minutes ago I felt like the only person in the world who'd never heard their supposedly most famous single, 'Kennedy'.
After splitting from his partner (in Cinerama as well his personal life), Gedge reverted to using the old band name and recorded a Peel Session, broadcast in September 2004. Sadly this proved to be their last for obvious reasons (you can view their performance at the tribute night on the
BBC site ) but I heard the lead single 'Interstate 5' and was so captivated by it that I even went to the effort of ordering it off the net. It was a staggering piece of work, an epic six minutes in length but tense all the way through, Gedge picking through the detritus of a failed relationship with palpable (and possibly not simulated) hurt, the pill of his misery sugared only by the harmonies of (female) bassist Terry de Castro. On paper it's not necessarily the sort of thing I like but it's so powerful I couldn't help loving it; just as well, because the version on the album is even longer, with an extended spaghetti-western outro, and the opening title 'On Ramp' is effectively two minutes of build-up to it [the US version omits this in favour of two CD-ROM tracks].
The remainder of the album probably couldn't retain that level of sonic intensity and wisely doesn't try. What it does, though, is reveal some of Gedge's most personal songwriting - not that girlfriend trouble is new territory for him, of course, but there's a clever narrative arc from this point onwards as our protagonist tries to put his life back together, meets someone on the rebound (on 'I'm From Further North Than You', their 18th hit single to date), moves to America to start a new life, attempts further relationships but has to deal with his own emotions. Look away now if you don't want to know the ending, but the final two songs show him finally finding new love, inspiring some superbly fumbling romanticism (always better than the cliched kind): "It's as if you've just appeared out of one of my dreams - I don't care if that sounds weird" as he puts it on 'Queen Anne'. Perhaps the second-best track of all is 'Mars Sparkles Down On Me', which details our man's meeting with his ex's new partner - the central lyric "How can I just shake his hand when it's been all over you" not only sums up the song but also recalls a line in seminal early TWP single 'My Favourite Dress'.
With all this in mind, it was probably only fair of Gedge to make a point of playing this to Murrell before it came out. The music, meanwhile, is a development of the later Cinerama records, combining the delicate chamber-pop arrangements of their first works with traces of the harsh attack of vintage Wedding Present.

I've since bought the album that's usually cited as the band's masterpiece, Saturnalia and though I agree that it's a fine slice of noise (and very useful when your neighbours start playing Sade too loud) I prefer Take Fountain. I recommend it to any fans of either band who haven't already snapped it up, and if you're a novice like I am, then why not start here?
The disc is available at
amazon.co.uk and at hmv.co.uk or at amazon.com , where one customer has helpfully reviewed it in Spanish. I have no personal connection with these retailers except that I've used them myself, possibly a little too often.

You're not going to hear much of this on the radio, alas, but that's another rant altogether. I wouldn't have heard this without the Internet, so I've assembled a couple of links:
Their American record company made them set up a
blog, where you can hear excerpts.
You can see streamed videos for the singles and a live film of 'Perfect Blue' (all taken from the DVD single) at
the website of the German magazine Spex.
And if you want a real mine of Gedge info, head for www.somethingandnothing.net.

Give Fascism the Finger



I know I'm the last person in the blogosphere to write about this, but I've only recently received my T-shirt and can now vouch for its quality. All proceeds go to support Iraqi labour unions, whose members live under constant threat of murder by the insurgency.

You can
buy a shirt from Labour Friends of Iraq. The organisation's blog is also well worth a read.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

1 Thessalonians 1:1-5

Paul and Silvanus and Timothy to the community of Thessalonica in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, grace to you and peace.

We are always thanking God for all of you, making remembrances in our prayers, unceasingly remembering the work of your faith and the struggle of your love and the endurance of your hope from our Lord Jesus Christ before our God and Father; knowing, brothers beloved by God, your chosenness; for our good news did not come among you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and in fullest assurance, just as you knew what sort came among you on your behalf.


(my translation)

Gide's potto

I haven't had much luck tracking down the story of Gide's potto. It appears the book, Dindiki, is out of print in both French and English; there's a secondhand copy going on amazon.fr for 76 euro.

An
essay by Pierre-Edmond Robert reports that Dindiki, sadly, did not live very long. No wonder, since Gide fed him on jam and condensed milk (here's what pottos in captivity should eat).

There's a picture of Gide with Dindiki
here. A lot of writers refer to Gide's pet as a sloth or a monkey. It seems to be the fate of prosimians to be misunderstood!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Girard on the Paraclete

From I See Satan Fall Like Lightning:


The principal meaning of parakletos "lawyer for the defense," "defender of the accused." In place of looking for periphrases and loopholes to avoid this translation, we should prefer it to all others and marvel at its relevance. We should take with utmost seriousness the idea that the Spirit enlightens the persecutors concerning their acts of persecution. The Spirit discloses to individuals the literal truth of what Jesus said during his crucifixion: "They don't know what they are doing." We should also think of the God whom Job calls "my defender."

The birth of Christianity is a victory of the Paraclete over his opposite, Satan, whose name originally means "accuser before a tribunal," that is, the one responsible for proving the guilt of the defendants. That is one of the reasons why the Gospels hold Satan responsible for all mythology. The Passion accounts are attributed to the spiritual power that defends victims unjustly accused. This corresponds marvelously to the human content of the revelation, to the extent that violent contagion permits it to be understood.

The anthropological revelation is not prejudicial to the theological revelation or in competition with it. It is inseparable from it. This union of the two is demanded by the dogma of the Incarnation, the mystery of the double nature of Jesus Christ, divine and human. ...

To highlight the role of the Holy Spirit in the defense of victims, it will be useful, finally, to take a look at the parallelism of two great conversions that occur in conjunction with the Resurrection. The first is Peter's repentance after his denial, so important that we can view it as a second and more profound conversion. The other is the conversion of Paul, his famous "road to Damascus" experience.

On the surface these two events seem completely different: they don't occur in the same texts, and one happens at the very beginning, the other at the end of the crucial period of Christianity's infancy. Their circumstances are very different. The two men are very different. But the profound meaning of the two experiences is nonetheless exactly the same. What the two converts become capable of seeing, thanks to their conversions, is the violent social instinct, the adherence to the will of the crowd, which neither knew possessed him. This is the violent contagion that compels us all to participate in the Crucifixion.


From The Scapegoat:


When the Paraclete comes, Jesus says, he will bear witness to me, he will reveal the meaning of my innocent death and of every innocent death, from the beginning to the end of the world. Those who come after Christ will therefore bear witness as he did, less by their words or beliefs than by becoming martyrs and dying as Jesus died.
Most assuredly, this concerns not only the early Christians persecuted by the Jews or by the Romans but also the Jews who were later persecuted by the Christians and all victims persecuted by executioners. To what does it really bear witness? In my thinking it always relates to the collective persecution that gives birth to religious illusions. It is to this that the following sentence alludes: "the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God." Witch-hunters are encompassed by this revelation, as are totalitarian bureaucrats of persecution. In future, all violence will reveal what Christ's Passion revealed, the foolish genesis of bloodstained idols and the false gods of religion, politics, and ideologies. The murderers remain convinced of the worthiness of their sacrifices. They, too, know not what they do and we must forgive them. The time has come for us to forgive one another. If we wait any longer there will not be time enough.


(Hat tip: The Girardian Lectionary.)

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Green capitalism

This week's Economist has an exciting article and leader about how market forces are being used to promote environmental goals.

As the article explains, the key is to put a cash value on the benefits of protecting nature. Once this is done, businesses and governments often find it is much cheaper to conserve the environment than to deal with the effects of its destruction.


Early attempts at such valuation resulted in impressive but unsound figures that were seized on by environmental advocates and then, when they were discredited, used by opponents to tar the whole idea. Now, though, things have improved.

First of all, science is producing abundant evidence that the natural environment provides a wide range of economic benefits beyond the obvious ones of timber and fish. Ecologists now know a great deal more than they used to about how ecosystems work, which habitats deliver which services, and in what quantity those services are supplied. Last month, for example, saw the publication of the
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the first global survey of ecological services. Its authors warn that attention will have to be paid to these services if global development goals are to be met.

But the only way this can happen is if ecological services have sound, real (and realistic) values attached to them. As “Valuing Ecosystem Services”, a report written recently for America's National Research Council, points out, the difficult part is providing a precise description of the links between the structures and functions of various bits of the environment, so that proper values can be calculated. What this means is that the more there is known about the ecology of, say, a forest, the better the valuation of the services it provides will be. Fortunately, according to two reports published by the World Bank at the end of 2004, significant progress has been made towards developing techniques for valuing environmental costs and benefits. There is, says
one of these reports, no longer any excuse for considering them unquantifiable.

The turning point for this way of looking at things was in 1997. In that year, the city government of New York realised that changing agricultural practices meant it would need to act to preserve the quality of the city's drinking water. One way to have done this would have been to install new water-filtration plants, but that would have cost $4 billion-6 billion up front, together with annual running costs of $250m. Instead, the government is paying to preserve the rural nature of the Catskill Mountains from which New York gets most of its water. It is spending $250m on buying land to prevent development, and paying farmers $100m a year to minimise water pollution.

When valuation has been done, payment can follow. In Cape Town, South Africa, for example, it proved cheaper to restore the town's watershed to its native vegetation than to divert water from elsewhere, or to create reservoirs. And there are a wide range of other cities and towns in the poor world that use ecological payments to protect their water supplies—from Quito in Ecuador with 1.2m people to Yamabal in El Salvador with only 3,800.

Meanwhile in Colombia and France, there are schemes financed entirely by the private sector. Large agricultural producers in the Cauca Valley pay fees for watershed-management projects, such as erosion control and reforestation. And Perrier-Vittel, a bottler of mineral water, has found it necessary to reforest parts of heavily farmed watersheds and also to pay farmers to switch to modern facilities and organic farming in order to preserve the quality of some of its products.

Putting a proper value on ecological services is bound up with another economic anomaly that haunts environmental economics. This is the creation of what economists term externalities—economic impacts made when those taking a decision do not bear all the costs (or reap all the gains) of their actions. When a piece of natural habitat is ploughed, for example, the conversion may make sense to the land owner, but it may also damage fisheries downstream, increase flooding and clog rivers with sediment. This makes those who lose out angry. It can also, in some circumstances, subtract from, rather than add to, a country's total wealth.

In such situations, the first reaction is frequently to legislate to try to ban the externality. But a more efficient solution can often be what is known as a cap and trade scheme, in which legislation creates both an overall limit to the amount of the externality in question, whether it be a polluting chemical or the destruction of a type of habitat, and a market in the right to impose the externality within that limit.


Sadly, the magazine suggests that many environmentalists have yet to catch up with such innovations:


If environmental groups continue to reject pragmatic solutions and instead drift toward Utopian (or dystopian) visions of the future, they will lose the battle of ideas. And that would be a pity, for the world would benefit from having a thoughtful green movement. It would also be ironic, because far-reaching advances are already under way in the management of the world's natural resources—changes that add up to a different kind of green revolution. This could yet save the greens (as well as doing the planet a world of good).

“Mandate, regulate, litigate.” That has been the green mantra. And it explains the world's top-down, command-and-control approach to environmental policymaking. Slowly, this is changing. Yesterday's failed hopes, today's heavy costs and tomorrow's demanding ambitions have been driving public policy quietly towards market-based approaches.

If governments invest seriously in green data acquisition and co-ordination, they will no longer be flying blind. And by advocating data-based, analytically rigorous policies rather than pious appeals to “save the planet”, the green movement could overcome the scepticism of the ordinary voter. It might even move from the fringes of politics to the middle ground where most voters reside.


I've long thought it sad that environmentalism has become associated almost exclusively with the left, and hope that developments like these will encourage centrist politicians to reclaim the issue.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Hello, Monkey Face

A study from the University of Sheffield finds that babies start out able to recognise individuals from all species, and only later learn to specialise in humans.

Even more interestingly, it seems they can retain their knowledge of other species with practice:


Researchers at the University of Sheffield have shown that babies can be taught to distinguish between different monkey faces in the same way that they distinguish individual human faces. The team had previously demonstrated that babies begin life with a general ability to distinguish faces, regardless of species, but that this ability becomes more specialised around the age of 9 months. However, this new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that children can retain the ability to distinguish between other species’ faces if they are exposed to them on a regular basis.

Dr Olivier Pascalis, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Sheffield explains, “Face recognition is remarkable in that it is a cognitive development that actually involves a loss of ability. Basically, until around 6 months old babies can recognise individuals from any species but, by the age of nine months they have ‘tuned in’ to human faces, giving them an ability to spot smaller differences between human faces, but eroding the ability to recognise animals from other species.

“Our experiment aimed to discover whether this ‘tuning in’ effect was due to babies being exposed to human faces more often than to other species, or whether it is something that happens over time, regardless of environment.

“The babies in our experiment were shown pictures of monkeys for one to two minutes every day between the ages of six and nine months. The control group weren’t shown the pictures.

“At nine months of age, the babies returned and completed a face recognition task. The infants were first familiarised with a monkey face and then presented with a pair of pictures: the familiar face and a new face .We looked at the amount of time the baby spends on looking at each picture, based on the finding that a child will spend more time looking at something new if they can recognise it.

“The experiment showed that the babies who had been regularly shown the monkey faces had retained the ability to distinguish individuals, whereas the control group had lost this skill.”


Presumably the babies involved were British. It would be interesting to know if the '"tuning in" effect' occurs to different extents in different cultures. In cultures with stronger ties to nature, do children retain more of their recognition of other species? Perhaps this would help explain why hunter-gatherers, for example, have what seems to Westerners like an almost supernatural understanding of animals.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Kyrgyz love song

At a library sale yesterday I picked up a wonderful CD of folk music from Kyrgyzstan. Upon first listen, my favourite track is the traditional song 'Bozoygho' ('To the Shepherd'):


If I could be the air that wraps around your body
We would never be separated
We could intertwine our destinies.

If there were a lake in the pasture
There, where you might rest
Then I would become a white swan
And secretly I would fly down to it.

If I could be a spring-time shower
If you could be a cherry on the branch
And ripen in the shade
Then I would pick this cherry.


There's more information about Kyrgyz music here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Benedict XVI

It's going to be an interesting papacy.


In the joy of the resurrected Lord, we go on with his help. He is going to help us and Mary will be on our side. Thank you.


The Economist on domestic violence

Domestic violence in Britain has fallen by half in the past decade. The Economist has an interesting article on the phenomenon:


The most obvious change is that there are fewer wives to beat. The number of married couples in England and Wales fell by 900,000 between 1991 and 2001, according to the census. Cohabiting couples increased in number by the same amount, from 1.1m to 2m. Couples are delaying marriage—the average first-time bride is two and a half years older than a decade ago—and living together for longer beforehand. That matters because, in about half of all cases, domestic violence takes longer than a year to emerge. When it does, women find it easier to dissolve a cohabiting relationship than to divorce.

Although open-minded police officers insist that every woman is a potential victim of violence, some are at greater risk than others. Home Office statistics show that women under 30 are most in danger—largely, it seems, because young men are more violent than middle-aged men. The poor also face higher risks, as do mothers of young children. Emma Williamson of Women's Aid says that abuse often begins or worsens during pregnancy, when a man's sense of control is jolted.

Youth and pregnancy used to coincide. But the average age at maternity has risen along with the average age of marriage. In the ten years prior to 2003, the number of births to women under 30 fell by 27%. Many women are embarking on motherhood at a less dangerous time.

Monday, April 18, 2005

New Blogtone

Our blog now has its very own theme tune, thanks to the fabulous Victor Lams. Click the player to hear it:



You can get a tune for your own blog by contacting Victor. It's free, although he does ask for a small donation if you like what you hear. It's well worth it!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Yehudi Menuhin

From Far East's 'Panorama' section:


Celebrated violinist and human rights activist Yehudi Menuhin wrote in his autobiography how he came to be named 'Yehudi', which means 'Jew' in Hebrew: 'Obliged to find an apartment of their own, my parents searched the neighbourhood and chose one within walking distance of the park. Showing them out after they had viewed it, the landlady said, "And you'll be glad to know I don't take Jews." Her mistake made clear to her, the antisemitic landlady was denounced, and another apartment found. But her blunder left its mark. Back on the street my mother made a vow. Her unborn baby would have a label proclaiming his race to the world. He would be called "The Jew."'

Friday, April 15, 2005

Belsen anniversary

Richard Dimbleby's radio report from 15 April 1945 can be heard on the BBC's web site.

I noticed last night that cryptofascist scum on the University of London campus have commemorated the various WWII anniversaries by defacing the Royal British Legion's posters.

I wouldn't bet on that

VNUnet reports on a new monkey species named after a gambling website following a charity auction for conservation.


GoldenPalace.com has announced that the common name, or name that people will use to refer to the new species, will be 'GoldenPalace.com Monkey'. The formal Latin name will be Callicebus aureipalatii.


The article continues on another topic:


In an unrelated announcement today US President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld all had slime-mould beetles named after them by Dr Quentin Wheeler, head of entomology at the Natural History Museum in London.

That's all right, then

'It's true that we're currently at 1 or 2 per cent in the polls, but that's only if you ask people how they're planning to vote in the current election.'

-- Some twat from UKIP, the Today programme, this morning

Thursday, April 14, 2005

'The world's best-kept secret'

The Salt Lake City Weekly has a piece about the Catholic Worker house in Albany:


Fred Boehrer’s voice fills the gym of St. John the Evangelist School in Schenectady, N.Y., prodding, but also understanding how much he is asking. “Pray for your enemies? Pray for people who plan to execute people, bomb people, torture people, hurt other people, hurt their own people? This is tricky stuff. … Some of the stuff Jesus comes out with is a little off the hook.”

The hundred or so high-school students sitting in long rows of folding chairs—white, well-dressed, many who walked in talking on cell phones—are silent. They are here to hear Boehrer speak as part of the social-justice and service units of their confirmation class. One of the first things Boehrer had asked when he started to talk was how many kids were there because they wanted to be. Only about six had raised their hands, but at this moment, at least, he has all their eyes. No one rises to the bait though. At least not out loud.

Later, when Boehrer tells them about a Russian family that couldn’t stay in the homeless shelters because of problems with their documentation, one girl whispers derisively to her neighbor, “In other words, illegals.”

[Boehrer] plays some excerpts from Seinfeld’s “Muffin Top” episode, in which Elaine and an acquaintance open a shop selling only muffin tops (because everyone knows those are best part!). Looking to get rid of the less-desirable muffin bottoms they’re not selling, they drop them at a homeless shelter, only to get harangued by the shelter director for assuming the homeless should be grateful for second-rate food.

On the show, the enraged shelter director is played for laughs, but Boehrer asks the kids to take her seriously: What could the store owners have done instead? He gets several ideas—give the shelter money, bake them some bread—but what he’s looking for is much simpler: They could have asked. “Part of what we’re called to do as Christians is to listen,” he says.

“They say Catholic social teaching is the church’s best-kept secret,” says Boehrer with a laugh, quoting from a 1998 report by the U.S. Conference of Bishops. In response to that report, Catholic social teaching is supposedly being given more attention in Catholic schools and religious education programs, but it still faces some serious competition from the secular world, as Catholics have become a more affluent, and less isolated, cultural group.

The social activism of Catholic Workers bears little resemblance to what is thought of as Christian politics today across much of the country. Emmaus House holds regular vigils against the death penalty, and is active in the antiwar and restorative justice movements, while casual conversation there often includes references to gay-friendly Christian retreats or groups that support women’s ordination. “Jesus never said a word about contraception and homosexuality, but he said a lot about compassion, mercy, justice, the poor,” says Chura. “You have to look at the Gospel as a whole.”

Catholic Workers’ relationship with the left-leaning activist culture with whom much of their politics naturally lines up is also not so simple. Many of those activists are generally suspicious of religion, especially Christianity.

“We hope to show them that our faith brought us to this place,” says Longobucco, when asked about working with secular activists. “The most important thing the peace movement needs to do is define what peace is. For example, I don’t think shouting curses during a peace rally is peaceful.” A few minutes later he rephrases, with more emotion. “The curses at peace rallies, it just shrivels my soul sometimes. It really takes it out of me.”

“Sometimes it’s the folks who talk the most about diversity who don’t seem to realize they have a discriminatory policy of their own,” says Chura. “One of the problems I think is ignorance: People of a secular mindset have a very narrow view of what religious people are.”

Boehrer places some of the blame for that on the media. The late Pope John Paul II gave a long, detailed, impassioned speech about how the war in Iraq is unjust and wrong, he says, but if he tacks on one little line about a matter of sexuality, that’s what the media will cover.

For their part, “What’s their stand on abortion?” is usually the first or second question out of the mouths of secular social-justice activists when one brings up the Catholic Workers. And more often than not, they don’t quite believe the answer, which is that it is not an all-consuming priority. “We tend to focus on areas that don’t get the kind of attention they would otherwise get, whether it’s from the media or from the pulpit,” says Boehrer.

Though most Catholic Workers will say that they are anti-abortion, many are sensitive about being painted with the same brush as religious right zealots who oppose abortion but won’t support programs for poor or immigrant children. “We’re committed to nonviolence and nurturing life,” says Boehrer carefully, “but what’s more important than where you stand on an issue, is what are you doing. How has your lifestyle been changed? . . . So [for example], if people are morally opposed to abortion, are they willing to host people who [otherwise] would be considering that?”

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Langurs everywhere!

Yet another François' langur has been born at San Antonio Zoo (although the local reporters think it's a lemur and can't even spell that right).

The zoo's web site has a
page to announce new arrivals.

King on Dworkin

When I heard of Andrea Dworkin's death yesterday, I remembered some praise she received from an unlikely source: the hilarious conservative commentator Florence King. In a review included in her collection Lump It or Leave It, King wrote:


I panned Intercourse and Ice and Fire in a dual review in Newsday three years ago and fully intended to do another hatchet job on Letters From a War Zone. But I can't. As they say in the soaps, I tried, God knows I tried, but once I got into this book I kept running up against an indisputable fact: Andrea Dworkin emerges here as a rock 'em, sock 'em Carry Nation who has won my admiration and respect. ...

As for the endless academic research about the effects of pornography, Dworkin, who describes herself as a self-educated writer [Actually, she went to Bennington. L.B.], replies with the horse sense so often found in people who did not go to college: 'I am entirely outraged that someone has to study whether hanging a woman from a meat hook causes harm or not.'

Dworkin's difficulties in getting articles past editors who abhor censorship are legion. ... In her assessment of this run-around Dworkin manifests a refreshingly unfeminist dry wit: 'Why did I have to run this gauntlet to get this essay into print? Misogyny, stupidity, and the arrogance of children aside, this editing business has gotten out of hand; it has become police work for liberals.' ...

The stern purity with which Dworkin views her calling serves as an inspiration to conservative writers in a liberal-dominated industry: 'Writers get underneath the agreed-on amenities, the lies a society depends on to maintain the status quo, by becoming ruthless, pursuing the truth in the face of intimidation, not by being compliant or solicitious.'

... I can't remember when I have been so happy to be wrong about someone. I began reading this book in a spirit of such unabashed prejudice that I was even prepared to blame Andrea Dworkin for the Orioles' loss of the American League East, but now I like her.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Nine Masses for the Pope

I spoke last night to a friend, a retired priest, who said he had just returned from the last of the nine Masses for the Pope. I wasn't familiar with this tradition before, although the priests at Catholic Ragemonkey have written about observing it in their parish.

The rituals involving the death of a Pope are all new to me; for Fr Peter, in his early 80s, they're old hat. In historical terms, Chris and I are quite unusual: we've lived for three decades and can clearly remember only one Pope during that time. When my father was my age, he'd lived through the reign of
four Popes already.

They say that after a long and eventful papacy, the cardinals usually look for an elderly caretaker to keep the Papal throne warm for a few quiet years. The Holy Spirit sometimes has other ideas, though. The cardinals tried this strategy after the long reign of Pius XII, which is how Angelo Roncalli became
John XXIII.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Anti-Semitic attacks in Bethnal Green

The Daily Telegraph reports:


The campaign for what promises to be one of the most bitterly contested parliamentary seats got off to an explosive start yesterday when the MP Oona King was pelted with eggs and vegetables as she attended a memorial to Jewish war dead.

Miss King, 37, the black Jewish Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, was attacked as she joined mourners to commemorate 60 years since the Hughes Mansions Disaster, when 134 people, almost all Jewish, were killed by the last V2 missile to land on London.

The eggs missed her, but one hit a war veteran, Louis Lewis, 89, in the chest and an onion struck Richard Brett, a bugler from the Jewish Lads and Girls Brigade who sounded the Last Post at the ceremony.

The incident demonstrated how high feelings are running in the east London constituency, which has 55,000 Bangladeshi Muslims, more than half its electorate, most of whom bitterly opposed the war in Iraq.

Such is the resentment that George Galloway, one of the leading anti-war MPs, has targeted the seat for himself and his newly formed Respect party.

Even though he has no connections to the constituency - his former seat is 400 miles away in Glasgow - he hopes that personal animosity towards Miss King will help him overturn her 10,000 majority.

Yesterday's display of hatred proved he may be on to something. Even a police van called in to make sure the ceremony remained peaceful was pelted with eggs.

Ibn Alkhattab, 21, said: "It will be all about the war. There is enormous anger. No one will vote for her."

His friend added: "She represented these people and then voted for the war. We all hate her. She comes here with her Jewish friends who are killing our people and then they come to our back yards.

"It is out of order. What do they expect?"


(Hat tip: David)

You're working for no one but me

It seems a car maker that isn't very good at making cars has borrowed some money from me so it can keep on making them anyway.

That's odd, because I don't remember saying it could.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Ook! 2

About nine months after a rare François' langur was born in London Zoo, Belfast Zoo has seen the birth of another of these red-headed babies.

There's a very cute picture on the BBC.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Bait and switch

In February 2003, Chris and I joined the massive protest march in London against the impending Iraq war. I, for one, make no apology for this: I acted in good faith. I believe that war should be a last resort, and I didn't think we had fully exploited other possibilities. I thought pre-emptive war would set a very dangerous precedent. I was disturbed that Britain and America were going against the will of the international community (and, in Tony Blair's case, the will of his own people). And, of course, I didn't want innocent people to die.

That's why I marched, and I expect that's why most of the other million or so participants marched. But as I have come to realise in the ensuing two years, that's not why the organisers of the march called us there.

My growing discontent with the 'anti-war' movement reached its peak when I read the web site of Respect, the political party founded by the
disgraced ex-Labour MP George Galloway. This party has promoted itself as the only 'anti-war' choice in the current election. Here's what they have to say on the subject of 'war and imperialism':



1. That the defeat of the US led occupation of Iraq is critical if the global economic and political offensive begun by the US state and its allies at the time of the first Gulf War is to be defeated.
2. That the resistance in Iraq is engaged in a battle to liberate the country. That resistance is composed of elements which are Islamic, nationalist and socialist. It is a national liberation movement.
3. That the anti-war movement has a crucial role to play in forcing the imperialist governments to leave Iraq.


Not 'a crucial role in opposing needless war,' but a crucial role in ensuring the 'imperialists' lose.

I asked a group of Respect followers how they could support a 'resistance' that set off car bombs on crowded streets, kidnapped and beheaded innocent civilians, and threatened to kill their fellow citizens for voting in an election. I was told: 'Well, what else are they supposed to do?' And: 'It's a shame innocent people have to die, but it's necessary to defeat American imperialism.' And: 'It's war, after all, and what side are you on?'

That last statement holds the key. This 'anti-war movement' was never opposed to the war. For many of its members, the war began long before Bush invaded Iraq. It's just that they're on the other side.

If I had to do it again, would I still oppose the war? Probably. Would I join the march or give any other support, however indirect, to the 'anti-war' movement? Absolutely not. As far as I'm concerned, there is no moral difference at all between these people and the warmongers they claim to oppose. Both view the lives of other human beings as tokens that can be expended in the name of their ideology.
I don't care if you call that 'anti-imperialist' or 'pro-democracy.' I call it evil.

Google links to Nazi news

A couple of weeks ago, Harry's Place reported that Google News had removed the neo-Nazi Vanguard News Network from its sources. Unfortunately, this appears not to be true. I've just received a Google Alert dated 8 April that links to an anti-Semitic Vanguard screed dated 4 April.

They support Lukashenka, apparently.

Acronyms matter

These good folks in Gainesville, Texas, are certainly doing a valuable service by cleaning up litter, but when they were choosing their name they probably should have thought about the possible effect of their initials.

Mind you, I come from West Virginia, home of the Association of Retired School Employees.

Important note for Volodymyr readers

If you've looked at the Volodymyr Campaign website during the past couple of days, please read this.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Pottos in French literature

I wrote a good bit of the Wikipedia entry on pottos, and at the end I decided to include a paragraph about pottos in the arts. The only examples I could think of were Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels and a single James Thurber drawing, plus the fact that Virginia Woolf's nickname was 'Potto.' So I was delighted when another contributor added that André Gide wrote a story called Dindiki ou le pérodictique potto. It's off to Amazon for me!

Did I really hear that? Rides Again

Apparently, somebody called Ginger McCain said "Women don't win Grand Nationals". He's right you know - it's usually a horse.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

'Volcanoes' update

There's been some good news since I last posted about Volcanoes of the Deep Sea, the IMAX documentary banned by some Southern cinemas for mentioning evolution. Following public interest in the story, theatres in North Carolina and Texas have decided to show the movie after all.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Aaah, bless!

Castle Rock Brewery in Nottingham are very proud that David Attenborough dropped by to sample their 'wildlife beers.'

Naughty Manics!

The Manic Street Preachers are on tour. Yawn. But it appears they or the company handling their concert tickets have been a bit mean. The doors opening time printed on the tickets is much later than the real one. People who show up at the time given will still see the Manics, but will miss their opening act, the fabulous Delays. This meant that many Delays fans missed their set when the tour came to the band's hometown in Southampton.

Personally, if I had tickets to this tour my only interest would be in Delays, so I'd be pretty annoyed. My advice is to wait till Delays tour on their own, when the tickets should be cheaper anyhow.

Caught in the crossfire

Have you ever stepped unwittingly into the middle of other people's power struggle? While it isn't the most painful experience in the world, I think it must cause a unique kind of stress. The hapless third party finds him/herself on the receiving end of extreme and seemingly completely irrational behaviour from both sides, often with little idea of what he/she has done to provoke such fury. It's like falling down a particularly sinister rabbit hole.

The ironic thing is that the 'power' being struggled for is often meaningless to anyone outside the immediate situation.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

PSA (Bad Day)

Apparently our electricity meter needs replacement. So we were told anyway, and the well-known engineering company that does this OBO the electricity company agreed to an appointment on Saturday, between 8am and 1pm. Now, I'm not a huge fan of vague appointments, but I can understand that there are good practical reasons why they can't be precise. And my boss's husband is a window fitter, so I have some idea of how annoying it is for people on the other end to turn up and find no householder. We sat there for the five hours, with me taking a torch into the bathroom just in case they had to turn the power off while I was in there. I even resisted the lure of the Net for most of the morning to minimise the number of things that would need switching off.

1pm came and went, and no engineer appeared. We were, it's fair to say, less than happy about this because it always seemed to be an unspoken part of the bargain that the less specific the appointment, the less right they have to miss it. We did consider calling to complain but, of course, they wouldn't pay anyone to give up their Saturday and answer the phone. Eventually, we decided to take advantage of what good weather remained and take our recycling out, since Harrow Council, in their infinite wisdom, won't collect it from flats. We knew the bottle banks had been moved to a new (and better) location, but what they'd neglected to tell us was that the paper bank hadn't gone with them. Still, it's not all bad news - according to
their website, they plan to try out a scheme using lockers in Autumn 2004, presumably to avoid the spectre of empty-peanut-butter-jar-theft.


There was one upside though. The new home for the bottle banks is in a car park we'd never previously had cause to visit. Happily, it turned out to have a path through an Open Space. There was nothing all that remarkable about the path itself, which led us behind houses in the approximate direction of Pinner, but it was away from the main road, and I always enjoy the experience of taking a road I've never seen before in a place I know well. I'm by no means a hiker - not even an urban one - but it was fun to reach a familiar destination by a route I didn't know existed. For all its faults, I'm proud of this borough's greenery.

Has anyone seen my sunglasses?

Just thought I'd better check before I finally admit I've lost them and buy a new pair.

From 'Material'

by Karol Wojtyla


Hands are the heart's landscape. They split sometimes
like ravines into which an undefined force rolls.
The very same hands which man only opens
when his palms have had their fill of toil.
Now he sees: because of him alone others can walk in peace.
Hands are a landscape. When they split, the pain of their sores
surges free as a stream.
But no thought of pain--
no grandeur in pain alone.
For his own grandeur he does not know how to name.


Translated by Jerzy Peterkiewicz

(Thanks,
David.)

Sunday, April 03, 2005

I hope that's a typo

I stopped my direct debit to The Tablet a couple of weeks ago; a thought-provoking journal of liberal Catholicism under its previous editor, it's become stodgy and run-of-the-mill under the new one. I'm still getting issues, though, so I flipped through the latest one and found the Sakharov Museum story under this headline: Russian museum director incited religious hatred. No inverted commas; it's just stated as fact.

The article itself is pretty neutral, so I can't tell if the headline actually reflects the paper's stance or is just a case of bad subbing (of which there has also been plenty since the change in editor). Either way, it makes me glad I've cancelled my subscription.

New Random single post

Sorry to break the mood a little here, but I've written up another one: 'You Will You Won't...' by The Zutons.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

May he rest in peace

The Economist's coverage


Pope John Paul would not have been true to his own deepest beliefs if he had been concerned, first and foremost, with how things seemed in the eyes of the world. He regarded himself as accountable to God; and how he fared by that measure is not something that any human being, whether believer or atheist, may presume to judge.

Polish Jews pray for Pope

Haaretz reports:




Poland's chief rabbi Friday praised Pope John Paul II for promoting reconciliation between Jews and Roman Catholics, and members of Warsaw's small Jewish community gathered to pray for the pope's health.

"We Jews feel a special attachment to Pope John Paul II because of everything he has done for us," Michael Schudrich, an American, told The Associated Press before the service.

"Through his teachings he created that space in the life of Poland today in which Polish Jews can try to live in Poland again."

Most of Poland's Jewish community was exterminated during Nazi Germany's occupation of Poland in World War II. Only an estimated 20,000 Jews live in the country of 38 million people today.

During the ceremony, attended by about 40 people, Schudrich recited psalms and traditional Hebrew prayers dedicated to the ill.

"We are here today to pray for the health and well-being of Pope John Paul II because this is a person who dedicated his life to teaching all of us that we have a fundamental obligation to respect one another just because we are the children of God," Schudrich said.

"Pope John Paul II has changed the soul and spirit of the church so much that we have no choice but to continue his work," Schudrich said.

John Paul worked during his long papacy to reconcile Jews and Catholics by speaking out against anti-Semitism and increasing dialogue between the two faiths.


On the other side, a commentator on the BBC's page (link below) rants that John Paul II has 'set back the human rights of women, gays and lesbians.' Your assignment for today:


  1. Compare the worldwide state of women's and gays' rights in 1978 to their worldwide state in 2005.
  2. Explain precisely how they have been 'set back.'



I guess saying 'I disagree with the Pope' just wasn't inflammatory enough.

Media circus, 1901

From The Style of the Century by Bevis Hillier:


Queen Victoria died on January 22. Queen for over sixty years, she was 81, and had been ailing for some time. Journalists gathered round the gates of Osborne, on the Isle of Wight, where she lay dying. Starved of information, they invented their own, as Eric Parker, who was present, recalled in Memory Looks Forward (1937): '"What have you said her last words were?" asked the one. "I've made her say God Bless my people," answered the other. "I thought of that," said his friend, "but I thought I'd get something better. I've made her send for her favourite Pomeranian dog."' The four o'clock bulletin the next day, signed, 'James Reid, R. Douglas Powell, Thomas Barlow', was short: 'The Queen is slowly sinking.' At 6:45 pm an official of the Royal Household came to the gates to make a simple announcement: 'Gentlemen, I regret to say that the Queen passed away at half-past six.' What happened then is indignantly described by Parker:


At the words a number of representatives of newspapers dashed for their bicycles, and rode off helter-skelter, yelling and shouting, down the road to the Cowes post office.

It was the most disgraceful thing of the kind I have ever seen. It was described afterwards by the representative of The Times as more like a fox-hunt than anything else.


Bernard Falk, also present at Osborne, recalled in Bouquets for Fleet Street (1951) that one reporter was sacked because 'the goody-goodies' reported to his editor that he had sung out, as he raced for the post office, 'All right, boys, the old woman has gone!'

Friday, April 01, 2005

John Paul II and the Internet

I've been reading James Lileks' blog, with which I have a love-hate relationship. It turned out to be his last entry for a while. He writes:



I’m tired of reading blogs and bulletin boards and noting that it’s OK to joke about one dead person, perfectly fine to kick the Pope when he’s about to give up the ghost, but a breach of human decency to be less than reverential about the passing of a comic who specialized in dope humor. That sort of thing is expected on the internet, but what makes me weary is the blogligation to have an opinion about it and bang it out so the whole world knows I stand four-square against bashing near-dead Popes.


I'm not giving up the blog, but I know what he means. The jeering hasn't really upset me. I always knew that when this day came, the usual bores and boors would step forward to grind their axes. I do have a couple of observations, however:



  • As expected, lots of people have accused the Church of keeping poor countries poor by opposing birth control. Now, leaving to one side the fact that many of the world's poorest countries aren't Catholic, have these people thought about the implications of what they're saying? Those countries aren't poor because of corrupt governments or unfair trade; they're poor because those brown people are having too many babies. No need to share our resources; let them shrink their numbers till they can live on what they've got.
    Also, historically a society's birth rate has fallen as a reaction to greater wealth (and has done so since long before the days of the contraceptive pill); there's no evidence that the process works in reverse.

  • On one message board, an anti-Pope poster identifies herself as an 'ex-member of the British Communist Party and proud.' I mention this because it illustrates the strange inconsistency of the far left: They'll excuse Lenin for spawning the gulags, but they won't forgive the Pope for opposing condoms.
    (Note also that if someone says, 'Hitler had the right idea but went about it the wrong way,' people see through it instantly; but saying the same thing about Stalin or Mao is somehow legitimate. But that's a whole other rant.)


Beyond that, not much to say. I sent a comment to the BBC this morning (it's near the bottom of the page), and I'm anxiously checking the news like everyone else.

April Fool

You're going down, Homer. I'm gonna fool you!
You talk better than you fool.
I'll fool you up real nice.
You couldn't fool your mother on the foolingest day of your life if you had an electrified fooling machine.

(Update: Turns out
two of these were true. D'oh!)