Thursday, June 30, 2005

Dull in a hollow sky

I accepted some time ago that R.E.M.'s days of making great records were over, but even I was taken aback by their latest single. I don't know the title and can't be bothered to look it up, but it consists of Stipey chanting tunelessly while the rest of the band play 'The Passenger' by Iggy Pop (who may or may not be credited on the label). If this record were by Natasha Bedingfield or Akon, I'd shrug and turn the radio off. As it was, I felt insulted: Do they expect me to believe this is the best they can do?

Actually, maybe it is. Now that I think of it, this isn't the first time they've done this sort of thing. Up, the album that propelled them gently but decisively over the shark's fin, includes a track that 'contains elements of' Leonard Cohen's 'Suzanne' -- the 'elements' in question being the entire tune and some of the lyrics.

Has their inspiration dried up, or can they just not be bothered any more? Either way, I can be sure that if and when they break up, it won't affect me in the slightest. That's a sad thing to say about what used to be my favourite band.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Mohammad Ali Abtahi on elections

The Iranian blogger Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a former member of Mohammad Khatami's reformist government, reflects on the election of ultraconservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

However, I think Mr. Ahmadinejad was lucky in this election because:

- In the firs round, the three reformist candidates i.e. Karoubi, Moeen and Mehralizadeh and to some extent Hashemi each won part of the votes, so the votes were distributed among the candidates.

- Many of those addressed by reformists, without paying attention to what may happen, boycotted the election.

- Some reformist candidates gave false promises and sounded as if they were going to cheat ordinary or elite walks of life. The slogans which were attempting to cheat elites lead many people think that there are internal wars on the way.

-In the political atmosphere of the advertisements, little was said about the economic issues. We focused our attention on elites and forgot the ordinary people who are trying to get their daily bread.

-Other candidates, including those who cared a lot about the religion, forgot this issue in their advertisements. Even Mr. Rafsanjani failed to mention religious matters in his advertisement. This is while those who are in charge of the religious centers and mosques have access to people who are the service of their emotions and thoughts.

- Reformists' misuse of opportunities also made a lot of disappointments.

-Mr. Ahmadinejad was lucky in the first round specially when organized attempts were done and fatwas' were issued to collect votes for him. As a result even Mr. Larijani and Ghalibaf were defeated and also Mr. Karoubi believes that he was the selected person of the nation. Mr. Ahmadinejad was luckier in the second round.

-The main candidates who could make a change were not allowed in.

-The parties who had to unite with Mr. Rafsanjani could not convey their justification for this surprising selection to the society.

-The immoral behaviors as usual had its own negative effects.

-Mr. Hashemi for the majority of the people symbolizes the wealth and power in the society, which can be a true or a false claim, and Mr. Ahmadinejad, as his rival, used the gap between the government and the people, the poor and the rich and symbolized himself as the one who is going to fight against poverty and make a change in particular for non-elites who are living in suburbs and ordinary people and this worked for him.

I worry that things will get worse for Mr Abtahi and other Iranian bloggers following this election. The rest of us must be prepared to serve as their witnesses and defenders.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Jonah 1:1-9

Sorry for my own lack of contributions recently. I've been quite busy as the end of my Hebrew class approaches. To show what I've been up to, here's one of my assignments -- a translation of the first nine verses of Jonah.

And the word of the Eternal came to Jonah, son of Amitai, saying: ‘Get up and go to Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim to them that their evil rises up before my face.’

And Jonah got up to flee into Tarshish, away from the face of the Eternal. And he went down to Jaffa and found a boat. It was going to Tarshish, and he paid the fare and went into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the face of the Eternal.

And the Eternal hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a great storm in the sea, and the boat was on the point of* breaking up. And the sailors cried out, each man to his god, and they threw the goods that were in the boat into the sea to lighten the boat.

But Jonah went away from them down into the depths of the vessel, and he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. And the captain of the ship drew near to him and said, ‘What are you doing sleeping? Get up and call to your god; perhaps this god will think of us and we will not perish.’

And they said, each man to his neighbour: ‘Come, let us cast lots, and we will know on whose account this evil has come to us.’ And they cast lots, and the lot fell to Jonah.

And they said to him, ‘Please tell us, since you are the reason this evil has come to us, what is your work? Where do you come from, what is your country? And what people are you from?’

And he said to them, ‘I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Eternal, the god of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.’

* The Hebrew literally says 'thinking of,' but I couldn't think of a way to put this in English that didn't sound nonsensical.

Chris joins the media elite!

Chris is far too modest to tell you this himself, so I'll mention that his entry about The Riot that Never Was is being used as a blurb by Testbed Productions, the company that made the programme.

This is why I keep telling him he should post more often!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Distant relatives

I've just done Google's 'similar pages' search for this blog.

I'm confused.

Monday, June 20, 2005


I've written another article, this time about one of my favourite authors: Barbara Grizzuti Harrison.

Just what I needed -- another work avoidance technique!

Friday, June 17, 2005

A blush on the snow

Over on the Snopes message board, an unusually thoughtful discussion of Darwin and Christianity has touched upon the beauty and awe-inspiring power of evolution. As one who believes that God made the world through the mechanisms of evolution, I feel extremely strongly about this subject. To me, the story of evolution conveys God's grandeur far more thoroughly and beautifully than does a literal interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis (although I value Genesis greatly as poetry and allegory).

Another participant in the thread mentions the one-celled algae that, on many high mountain slopes, turn the snow pink. I only recently learned about this, in David Attenborough's
Living Planet book, and was glad to see I wasn't the only one to find it fascinating. Here's Attenborough's description:

These tiny plants take nothing from the world except sunlight and a minute quantity of nutrients that are dissolved in the snow. They feed on no other living thing and nothing feeds on them. They scarcely modify their surroundings, except to bring a blush to the snow. They simply exist, testifying to the moving fact that life even at its simplest level occurs, apparently, just for its own sake.

Lovelier than anything a creationist has told me.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

I Predict A Riot - and I'm wrong

Once in a while, Radio 4 comes up with something fascinating that I didn't know about before. In the throwaway 11:30am slot today we had a nice hidden gem, The Riot That Never Was, a documentary about a 1926 spoof newscast by Ronald Knox that led to mass panic among listeners to the young medium, some twelve years before the more celebrated War Of The Worlds drama.
At the website you can, at present, hear both the documentary and a reconstruction of the original broadcast. And lest you fear the documentary itself to be a spoof, the incident is also mentioned in his biography at Knox himself, as well as being a priest and theologian, also invented Sherlockian studies with a tongue-in-cheek lecture analysing Sherlock Holmes stories in obsessive detail. Not everybody got the joke there either.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Are you pondering what I'm pondering?

I've just discovered that on Amazon's American site, you can vote for Pinky and the Brain to be released on DVD.

I think we all know what we have to do.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Pepperoni rolls

I recently amused myself by writing a Wikipedia article about West Virginia's great contribution to world cuisine, the pepperoni roll. See what you think!

Thursday, June 09, 2005

From 'The Ratcatcher'

Roses are red, brawn is bare,
And the alarm-clock's un-fair.

School! School! School! School!
North-East blowing down your cagoul.

Minute your eyelid opens --
Lessons, lessons, lessons.

Warm as toast, all snug and warm --
'Ding -- ding!' goes the alarm!

Force them open, tight-shut eyes --
Rise, rise, rise, rise!

Get a hold on your brains and heart!
Dark, dark, dark, dark!

Feet -- in the tub.
Hands -- on the tap.

Make-believe's over, doldrums begin.
Lather the bloom of sleep from your skin.

By Marina Tsvetaeva, translated by Angela Livingstone

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

New hope for Marinich?

Cause for hope, however cautious, over at the Volodymyr Campaign. There's been a suggestion that Mikhail Marinich may be released as part of a general amnesty next month.

For the past few months, I've felt compelled to light a candle for Marinich after every Mass. I'll be praying with all the more fervour now.

Good grief

I normally laugh at the suggestion that there's a left-wing, anti-Christian conspiracy in the media.

But sometimes I wonder.

(Hat tip:
Victor Lams.)

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Runaway monkey comes home

A colobus monkey that escaped from Belfast Zoo last week has returned, although the rebellious adolescent could not be reconciled with his family.

Mr Challis said: "He really is a cheeky monkey - he was spotted sitting around near the giraffes and we raced up there and managed to get a dart into him.

"He was asleep for about 15 minutes and in that time, a vet gave him a quick once over and he seems to be in great health - he certainly hasn't lost any weight and probably had the time of his life during his adventure.

"We have decided that there will probably be a permanent problem between him and his father so he will not be returned to his enclosure - he is probably too old to be there now.

"We are concentrating on giving him some rest and relaxation and then we are going to try and find him a new home at another zoo."

While on the loose, the monkey turned up in several suburban gardens and was fed by local children.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Putin's rabid response

Satire by Maxim Kononenko from The Moscow Times:

One day Vladimir Vladimirovich™ Putin was sitting in his Kremlin office and reading about rabies in a medical encyclopedia. "The symptoms of this disease include profuse salivation and a drooping tail," Vladimir Vladimirovich™ read, and then put aside the encyclopedia and picked up a memo on the state of Prime Minister Mikhail Yefimovich Fradkov's health. Suddenly, the tall doors of Vladimir Vladimirovich's™ office burst open, and a bearded man in a white gown carrying a large bag walked briskly into the room. "Hey, pal, who are you?" Vladimir Vladimirovich™ asked in surprise.

"I'm a doctor. Time for a routine checkup." ...

Read the rest. I also recommend Konenko's web site, which has a series of these vignettes. It reminds me of a comment made at last weekend's conference of student pro-democracy activists in Tirana:

"We mocked the power as much as possible," said Alina Shpak from Kiev, explaining her Pora movement's triumph in unseating the old Kuchma regime in last winter's Orange Revolution. "You can't be afraid of someone you're laughing at."

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Under Mount Olympus

As a child obsessed with Greek mythology, I dreamed of seeing Mount Olympus for myself. Twenty years later, walking among the ancient temples at Dion at the foot of Olympus, I could see why the ancients considered the site to be divine. On the day we visited, the air smelled of thyme and mint. Clusters of red poppies grew on top of the ruins; electric-blue and -green dragonflies landed and spread their wings just long enough to tease the eye. Large frogs leapt in and out of the water around Aphrodite's temple, making a low cackle I had never heard frogs make before -- and I suddenly realised that this was Aristophanes' 'Brekekekex.' (You can hear the frogs' call for yourself on this page.)

Since the purpose of our tour was to look at Byzantine buildings, it's ironic that my favourite parts took place outdoors. Besides Dion, the highlights of the trip for me were visits to Aristotle's birthplace at
Stageira (still being excavated, and as yet very un-touristic) and a cruise round Mount Athos.

And the churches and monasteries? I shouldn't admit it, but Orthodox churches all look the same to me. The only time the art captured my interest was when it seemed to deviate from the normal style. For example, in one of the monasteries at
Meteora, a section of the wall painting showed Adam naming the animals: the surprisingly realistic elephant and monkey (as well as a somewhat less realistic dragon!) looked delightfully whimsical among the wooden-faced saints. The Church of Prophetes Elias had an unusually expressive icon of Elijah looking lost in thought, as if waiting to hear the Lord in the breeze. In a church dedicated to St Marina, an icon showed the saint about to strike the Devil, a laughing, gesticulating silhouette that came up to her knee. The image was startling and reminded me of another Marina -- Tsvetaeva -- and her own supposed encounter with the Devil.

Although I tried hard to understand what the icons and wall paintings meant to Eastern Christians, I could find no opening into their spiritual world. In fact, when I went for a walk in Thessaloniki and came across what appeared to be the city's only Catholic church, it was a relief - a homecoming - to see Western religious imagery again. Entirely my fault, of course, not the East's.