Thursday, 30 August 2012

the stupid left - again

the excellent Michael J. Totten,, whose collection of dispatches from Iraq "In the Wake of the Surge" I recommend, alerts us to the award, by the city of Frankfurt, of a prize worth 50,000 euros to an academic, American I believe, named Judith Butler.  He doesn't say why she is getting this award.  I had never heard of her before today, but it seems she is quite well known, and is a strong supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah.  But she can't be being rewarded for that, can she?  Search me. She describes those two organisations as "left".  Well, I dispute that.  Murder of homosexuals and Jews, destruction of the state of Israel (and there's no nice way to do that) - what's left-wing about that stuff?


Scando lingo

I speak no Scandinavian languages and am not any kind of expert on them.  I have been told the following, which I found interesting, and wonder (a) if it is true and (b) what people think about it.  I haven't Googled anything, just putting this out to try it.

A man from Oslo is married to a Dane. She speaks Danish to him and he replies in Norwegian and vice versa. The language spoken in the Oslo area is a sort of Danish and the language spoken elsewhere in the country is an invented form of Old Norwegian BUT each language has equal status.  So if you go for, say a job in government, you have to show that you are fluent in whichever language is not your native one. TV is subtitled in either language. Icelanders can only understand Norwegian ( a tiny bit). No-one (from the rest of the Nordic group) understands Icelandic.  Norwegians understand Danish and Swedish. Danes understand Norwegian but not Swedish. Swedes understand Norwegian but not Danish.  Finns understand Swedish and some Norwegian but not Danish.  No-one understands Finnish.  So when looking for work within Scandinavia, the Icelanders go to Norway or Finland (where they speak English). The Finns only go to Sweden. The Danes only go to Norway. The Swedes only go to Norway if they must but mostly stay at home.

Update: a reader alerts me to, perhaps inevitably, the Swedish chef from the Muppets - who to Swedish ears sounds Norwegian. 

Sunday, 26 August 2012

one small step...

RIP Neil Armstrong.  I remembered that he actually got it wrong, by saying "one small step for man" instead of  "one small step for A man", showing the power of the article in English  - something I endeavour to get across to my Russian colleagues, with limited succcess.  But he was a native speaker of English and he got it wrong.  It didn't really matter though.  We knew what he meant. I was 15 that year.  The excitement of the new.  Rest in peace Neil.  I remember your colleague Buzz Aldrin punching a moon-landings denier in the face on live TV, which was great fun, but that is another story.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

is she getting it?

fnarr fnarr etc etc.  @pennyred, who is a posh girl called Laura I believe, is to be congratulated for trying to get it right on Assange.  Unlike the middle-aged and elderly males of the "international left" (and George Galloway), who have come out in their droves to say that Assange is a hero and that he should therefore not stand to account for the rape he has been accused of, she has tried to say that no-one should have to choose between freedom of speech and respect for women.  Good for her.  It's only shocking that so many appear to believe, without evidence or due process, that Assange must not stand trial in Sweden.  What message does that send, especially to men on the left?  Laura quotes teenage boys in her piece who say that they do not think what Assange is reported to have done was rape.  What is going to happen in teenage bedrooms, cars and the car parks of night clubs as a result of this?  Does anyone care?  Well, Laura seems to, and I am pleased about that.  Read on in her piece in the Independent (link higher up) and you will see that she says "I believe women".  Well, I don't.  We tell lies.  We shouldn't, but we do.  All humans do from time to time, although we try not to.  Always believing women who accuse men of rape ruins the lives of innocent men, and those of their families and people who love them.  Never  believing them, which is what the elderly male left are telling us to do, creates a world in which women become pieces of property.  Which is obscene.  Laura is tying herself in knots here, but she doesn't need to.  Believing in freedom of speech, and believing that women have the right to the integrity of their own bodies, are not mutually contradictory beliefs.  And Laura is straying on to territory in which that is how they are seen.  And then she spoils herself by saying this:

The answer is, of course, that Julian Assange should be held to account, of course he should, and he should be held to account in a system where due process means something and women are respected, and currently that system does not exist. Come back to me when the 19,000 annual sex attacks committed by members of the US Army and private contractors against their fellow soldiers are prosecuted. Come back to me when Private Bradley Manning is free.

he should be held to account in a system where due process means something and women are respected, and currently that system does not exist  Er, yes it does, Laura, in quite a number of places in the world, and one of them is Sweden.
Come back to me when the 19,000 annual sex attacks committed by members of the US Army and private contractors against their fellow soldiers are prosecuted. Why?  Rape and sexual assault happen all over the world, all the time.  They're not worse when committed by the US military.  I would argue that they are worse when committed, say, against girls in Afghanistan who then have the "choice" of marrying their rapist or being killed by their family.
Come back to me when Private Bradley Manning is free. Why?  He shouldn't be released, not now.  He is to be charged with very serious offences against national security.  What he should have is due process, and the US government, and President Obama, should hang their heads in shame that he has not had it.  They have other things to hang their heads in shame about too, not least failing to intervene in Syria, but that is for another post.

So, Laura, a good try, and your heart seems to be in the right place, but don't spoil it with meaningless anti-Americanism.  Intellectual honesty is not that hard to achieve, if you only try.

Monday, 20 August 2012

OK I've had enough now

of Julian Assange and his posturings that is.  Wikileaks is/was a criminal operation which sold intelligence, including intelligence on the Belarus opposition to that country's totalitarian dictator Lukashenko, using the whore of the fascists "Israel Shamir" as a go-between.  Assange's activities may have been responsible for many deaths, and certainly are responsible for the promotion of antidemocratic activities.  And yet we see him standing on a windowsill in Knightsbridge like the jumped-up pantomime dame he is, spouting anti-American drivel and other such nauseating buffoonery.  Well, OK, he's doing all that because he can, and as smoke and mirrors to distract from the charge of rape against him and the fact that he is a fugitive from justice.  But at the weekend there were people camped in the street outside SUPPORTING him!  What for?  Someone tell me!  He is wanted for rape.  He thinks he might go down for that.  Well, he might, but in Sweden he will have due process.  In Ecuador, or Belarus, he would not.  Neither country has anything much in the way of human rights or the rule of law, to say nothing of democracy.

On the crime of rape, I support anonymity for men accused of it - because the man might be acquitted, because the charges might be false, and because everyone deserves a fair trial.

On Julian Assange I say - send him to Sweden to stand trial.  To the Ecuador authorities I say - how are you going to get him to the airport?  To the people playing games in the street supporting Assange I say - stop being so silly, grow up and take a look at yourselves.

Update: it is being pointed out, rightly, that Assange has not actually been charged with any offence in Sweden, but is wanted for arrest there.  Which makes the posturings even more ludicrous.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Best Blessings of Existence 35

Emma B is with us again, after too long away, and delights us today with Mad Cow Disease - in not especially genial fashion.

The day after the Party’s defeat in 1983; its elderly Leader exchanged the hurly burly of Westminster for the deep, deep peace of his library.  He was replaced by a forty-something trade unionist and faded into obscurity where he remained, until his death, 20 years later, reminded the nation of his existence.      

Just like Betty Stove.

Who could forget Betty?  There she had stood; garlanded with bouquets on Centre Court; prior to the 1977 Wimbledon Ladies’ Singles Final.  She was about to do combat with God (her opponent was an Archdeacon’s daughter) and State (Elizabeth Windsor in Silver Jubilee year) as well as Virginia Wade.

Three sets later; Virginia cradled the Venus Rosewater trophy, whilst her bulky opponent merely shed an unfortunate shadow upon the champion’s pink cardigan. The Dutchwoman departed to a collective sigh of relief.  

That it should come to this…

She deposited the plates (and the remains of chicken liver pate and Melba toast) in 
the kitchen, and took a slug of wine.

The kitchen was really far too small for dinner party cooking and when deciding between buying a hostess trolley and a dishwasher, it had been an uncontested win for the trolley.  So dirty pans and pristine table -ware mingled on the draining board, and ramekins of chocolate mousse thawed gently on the top of the fridge. 

The pate starter; glossy with gherkins and black peppercorns, was a Lilias speciality. It was far too rich, and in her opinion, ruined by the obligatory quarter bottle of cognac that appeared to be the key ingredient in all of the inherited Lilias recipes; but Paul had insisted. 

She felt herself to be  on surer ground with the lamb; a veritable glory of turmeric; prunes and spices from The Good Housekeeping Dinner Party Guide, an initially spurned but now cherished ‘stocking-filler’ from her mother at Christmas.

Paul looks as if he needs feeding up! There’s nothing wrong with a sherry trifle! 

She had taken a personal vow never to serve trifle and the theatrical squeals of delight with which Paul unvaryingly greeted the sight of one; spilling from the confines of its Waterford Crystal bowl in the midst of her mother’s table, led to painful recall of his acerbic judgement:

Do they ever stop eating? – I mean, terribly sweet, but you know, jumped up working class? 

Over the years, this humble dessert had become a symbol for all her feelings of shame and embarrassment, and the very sight of one was enough to inspire murderous ambitions.

She suspected that Paul knew this and exploited it; effusively lauding her mother on the precise mix of cream, sponge biscuits and  tinned strawberries  and  recklessly indulging  in multiple helpings until she felt obliged to make an elaborate show of leaving the  table; denouncing  desserts  en masse and cutting herself  a  bumper slice of consolatory cheese.

In fact, she dreaded eating any meal at her parents’ home in the company of Paul and became alternately surly and snappish; curtailing conversation and pushing food around the plate in mulish fashion.  

Behaving like a spoilt child

Paul by contrast, was charm personified, playfully joshing her mother; implying that at home he rarely sampled the delights of a proper cooked dinner with gravy that sticks to your ribs!  And there she sat, hearing her mother’s happy rejoinders – and knowing full well that only last month, Paul had responded to Eric’s predictable enquiry as to her parents’ well-being with:

Positively thriving – the eighth wonder of the world when you consider that they live on pudding; vegetable sludge and burnt meat! 

(slicing steak and dabbling a fork in the blood stained juices).

But of course they’re SO good-hearted - salt of the earth aren’t they darling? Although I wish Florence would USE some salt - and as for a spice….!  

With such a back story, she was less than thrilled  when the Dinner Party Guide was unveiled; nestling on its bed of Christmas wrapping  and it was a full two months before she could bring herself to open it.  But when she did, its clever adaptation of sophisticated recipes; using cheaper cuts of meat to create that definitive Langan’s Brasserie effect was a revelation!

She was instantly convinced that her mother had not turned a page before making the purchase because there was a distinct absence of roast beef and gravy; apple tart and custard and sherry trifle and a preponderance of intricate little confections with a jus here and a soupcon there.

It was, in fact, a godsend and had been her first recourse when Paul had bounded through the door two days ago, announcing that he had invited his Departmental Deputy, John Nuttall and wife Kathryn, to dinner.

Could be an ally – needs buttering up. Apparently  she’s a fruitcake -  something  to do with their  kid  --  but  you’ll wave your wand, won’t  you darling?  
Pinny on – trot trot! 

And he kissed the air; patted Vanessa and Splosh and decamped to the Duke.

Initial discomfiture was soon succeeded by optimism.

She had no friends at work; Lynne might as well be on another continent and the female partners of Fatty Hodges and his consiglieres were unspeakable.

It was enforced limbo; a life in abeyance between the end of Dorlich and the start of something else – although they had lived in Binley for thirteen months and if there was anything round the corner it was remarkably coy about taking centre stage.  

The excitement of the General Election and her decision to join a political party had acquired the familiar hallmarks of a false dawn.

A glimpse of the Primary School cum Polling Station en route to the shops stirred a flicker of election fever, but it was hard to maintain interest in face of the deafening silence that had greeted her membership application.  

Days became weeks and she fancied that local Party members, typified by one of the cagoules crossing the road outside the chemist (to avoid her?) were acting upon instructions from nameless officials.  Paranoia set in with evening shadows when Paul was at The Duke and she sat at home;,fortified by off-licence Rocamar and Mommie Dearest from the video rental.  Had they unearthed her failure to vote in 1979? Or election to Union Council in ’75, courtesy of gullible overseas students? 

Or (horror) had Derek said something?
He was an ‘almost local MP’ -- could they know about Pants Ahoy?!!!

God knows what you find to do, drinking on your own and watching that crap!
Paul would observe  as he crossed   the threshold semi-sober; ejecting the film; sliding  his hash stash from behind  the paperback  spine of Mother Courage  and embarking upon  the  serious business of rolling a joint.

This time-hallowed art involved  shaping a square of  cardboard from a  packet of Silk Cut into a filter; mixing grains of  drug with strands of tobacco; using a selected book  as a work bench ( today, Bacon’s Essays )  and fashioning a  functioning cigarette from  the whole.

It was all discharged with an attention to detail deserving of a wider audience and she reflected that it was really rather a shame that the illegality of the process precluded public display. 

Why don’t you get Christine in? She’d be glad of the extra. He took Blood on the Tracks from its sleeve, placed it on the turntable and flicked the switch. 
Staying at home drinking cheap wine while her husband drank at the pub was hardly to be recommended, because it relegated her to the level of a baby-minding 
cook with sexual services available on request.  Occasionally, Nanny Christine would stay late and they drove into Gridchester for pizza at Geppetto’s or bouillabaisse at the fish restaurant overlooking Floribunda Gardens.  It was good food in pleasant surroundings – but conversation was strained because they neither worked nor socialised together and therefore had few points of mutual reference. 
She knew that Paul resented the fact that she rarely accompanied him to The Duke of Clarence and that within his drinking circle, she had become ‘Er at home’ a stuck up killjoy; forever phoning the pub  to say that dinner was on the table and would soon be in the dog  unless Paul returned to eat it.

But there was no solution. 
It was fruitless to explain that spending her salary from GC on babysitter fees in order to join her husband for an evening’s drinking with Fatty; Mick the builder; Kev from the caravan site and their wives or girlfriends was out of the question.

Clodagh and Suze wore stilettos minus tights. Suze ran a catalogue crammed with repulsive tat at exorbitant prices. Clodagh frequented the pub in furred mule slippers and she was damned if she was going to grace an Ann Summers party in pursuit of a black rubber passion tickler or a pair of crotchless panties. And if Fatty, Mick and Kev became rampant animals when ambushed by these wares in the bedroom, she neither knew nor cared. 

Your problem, sweetie, offered Paul, inhaling deeply and tapping his clog to the music 
Is that you are a teensy weensy bit snobbish!

And your problem, she thought but did not say, is that you are a loathsome, selfish pig and I wish that you would stop smoking your horrible drugs anywhere near me, my dog or my daughter.

He was indeed as happy as a pig in muck, she reflected whilst hoovering the lounge; plumping the cushions and lighting a scented candle from the craft shop in preparation for the Nuttalls.   He was fond of the house, the baby, the dog and the pub. 
The Duke, like The Fleece at Necker’s, meant dumbing down; dressing up (flat cap, big boots, flapping greatcoat) and mimicking the local accent.                                                                                                                                                                   

He do the police in different voices.

He was popular with Fatty’s gang.  They were like his former ‘friends’, Reuben and Young George. But he would never have introduced them to Eric. They would have jarred with the Elgar; the single malt and the fine cigars because for Paul, they were not real people. They were amusing, sub-human grotesques.

Like Florence and Arthur - her parents.                                                             

His real life; Fairway Grammar; academic dinners; the occasional by-line in a teaching journal – was elsewhere.  Women? She thought not –or not yet. 

Oh why are we waiting?! shouted Paul cheerily as she stood in the kitchen with Splosh. The scullery kitchen was far too small for dinner party paraphernalia, a hostess trolley and a dog, but Splosh was there for the duration because had tried to mount Kathryn Nuttall’s leg under the table.

Kathryn Nuttall had not liked it although Paul had quipped:

As Twain says, the dog is a gentleman. I hope to go to his heaven not man’s!’

It was difficult to ascertain what Kathryn Nuttall might like, but the list of her dislikes was catholic  and included pate and gherkins; The Eurhythmics; Dory Previn’s Mythical Kings and Iguanas; cigarette smoke; dogs; and lamb in turmeric.

I’m really sorry – is there anything else I can get you? (piling Paul’s plate pyramid –style and sawing baguette furiously).

Oh really darling – I’m covered in crumbs – and steady with the sauce - on the plate NOT IN THE LAP (dabbing at his jeans with a black napkin).

No, no – this is splendid, really! 

John Nuttall, a big, bluff man, patted his wife; worrying at his beard with his fingers.

Kathryn hasn’t been WELL, but this is all just wonderful, isn’t it Kathie – and such an interesting house – such character…

His wife was silent as he filled her plate with rice and prunes from the lamb dish.

She was thin with high cheekbones; no make up and dull blonde hair caught back in an Alice band. She wore a calf length taupe shift dress and black sandals, and did not shave her legs.

Joni Mitchell without the glow

Instinctively, she reached for Blue and consigned Annie Lennox to the discard pile, then immediately regretted it.  Conversation was stilted because Kathryn repelled each and every attempt at conversation by answering questions and asking none.

By the time the lamb was finished, it had emerged that she had a degree in Ancient History; a four year old called Barnaby and had taken indefinite sick leave from her job as an archivist at Fairway Museum.  She had met John in their last year at Graymail University and until her illness they had spent at least a month of every year on archaeological digs, the last one in Carthage.

And she despised her husband and did not care who knew it.

Her methods were crude and included  none too subtle put-downs , such as  the hint that he had exaggerated  by claiming that their Carthage dig had uncovered the tomb of  one of the ancient city’s  founders; or that the Ephesus expedition had led them to the Temple of Diana:

Unproven ….. digs attract some extremely gullible people…


We absolutely love the theatre – and that guy who played Othello at Fairway Royal was as good as Branagh.

If you closed your eyes and stopped you ears (sighing languidly)

And scarcely suppressed irritation:

What do you mean; ‘we’ are sticking with the State system for Barnaby? I haven’t decided ---- lots of kids love boarding…

It was embarrassing and had the effect of making John laugh louder and talk more in a fruitless quest to win a smile, whilst simultaneously attempting to win Brownie points with Paul.
Fairway’s new Head of Department was a breath of fresh air that had blown away the cobwebs; it was great to be a foot soldier in his team.
Paul stroked his lapel, basking in the adulation like a cat on a cushion, until an abrupt mood switch was occasioned by Kathryn scraping her chair; leaving the table and making off in the direction of the bathroom.

The dining room, poky at the best of times, now felt cavernous.
Joni Mitchell had stopped singing.

John drained his glass and helped himself to another; pouring white into the dregs of the red and creating rose. He spoke hurriedly with one eye on the door.

He was sorry; it was too soon; she was still unwell ; the food was lovely, really, they had been so kind; he was so sorry she was still unwell …..

Kathryn Nuttall had a depressive illness that may or may not have been the cause of an eating disorder. She had been twice the size (taking out a battered picture from his wallet of a round-cheeked girl with her hair in plaits) but everything had fallen apart after Barnaby’s birth.

She had been listless; not eating; uninterested in him or the baby – and then police had hauled him out of lessons to say that Kathryn was in custody because someone had reported that she had abandoned a baby in a pram outside the post office and had been seen running down the street at breakneck pace.

The alarm had been raised; she had been captured within the hour and discovered by a female Officer, curled into a ball beneath the duvet of a retro-style four poster bed on the fourth floor of Macready’s Department Store in the High Street.

Baby Barnaby was safe, but hungry and covered from top to toe in urine and faeces. His mother had expressed no interest in his whereabouts or welfare and would eat no food although the pockets of her coat were stuffed with half eaten bars of Kit Kat in various stages of decay.

It had been touch and go as to whether charges would be brought; but they were not, on condition that she underwent an intensive hospital treatment programme for suspected postnatal depression. Barnaby had been cared for by John’s parents ,who had moved from Scotland to a bungalow in Fairway to be near their son and grandchild. 

And Kathryn had come home – eventually – as had Barnaby - and she was improving with the help of a Community Psychiatric Nurse. But she still had issues to address relating to food and childcare and had not yet returned to work.

And hated her husband because he was her jailor…. 

Well, onwards and upwards! proclaimed Paul, clapping John on the back and opening a bottle of Bordeaux.

And pud!!! Snap to it darling!

She moved robotically into the kitchen. The ramekins of chocolate mousse were on the floor; two half eaten by Splosh who was licking a third. The fourth lay on its side. 

Making them and waiting for them to set had occupied the best part of her afternoon while Vanessa had watched from her playpen.

Vanessa – who was upstairs in her bedroom next to the bathroom … on the same floor as a woman who ….

For God’s sake! ----- 

She shoved  Paul; nearly tripping over John Nuttall and leapt up the stairs two at a time until she reached the landing and the closed door to her baby’s bedroom.

Vanessa had pulled off her nappy and had thrown it into a corner alongside her feeding cup; musical panda and a chewed copy of Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Alhberg. Some talcum powder had spilled onto the carpet.
But the baby was sleeping and snuffling and making her usual contented Vanessa noises. 

So where was?  ….

The bathroom door was closed and she opened it to reveal - everything in its usual place; towels; dressing gown; laundry basket. 
The toilet was clean.

She crept downstairs to find Paul, John and Kathryn, sitting at the table. The men were eating stilton and Kathryn – was eating the fourth chocolate mousse – licked or unlicked by Splosh who remained a prisoner in the kitchen.  She muttered something about checking on the baby who had been feverish, and finished her wine.

They left soon afterwards.

Brilliant evening – went like clockwork, said Paul, tweaking her left nipple and heading for the bathroom. He had been especially frisky in bed, although her own passion was faked, as so often these days.

She dressed in silence and went downstairs to make a start on clearing the debris; collecting empty bottles; feeding the dog.  Vanessa was still asleep.

It was Sunday. 

Although I think, you were perfectly beastly to Kathie – or was I the only one who sussed that you were on the point of calling the police and getting her locked up?   What did you think she was doing upstairs - ‘Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires,’ as the blessed William would have it?’

He took Songs  of Innocence and Experience from the bookshelf and unwrapped what was left of the hash stash.

She wasn’t having that.

That woman was unhinged. John seems a nice guy and she’s driving him mad – which has to be his choice --- but I don’t want her around my kid OR IN MY HOUSE!!!

Paul smirked; sipping real coffee, freshly ground using the SPONG machine, and took a drag on the joint. He was wearing his new granddad shirt and contemplated his forearms (which were one of his best features) with considerable satisfaction. 

John, my love, is a silly old woman who is enough to drive anyone mental! And I should know – he hasn’t got an original thought in his head and I don’t blame her getting pissed off with him. He follows me round like a sheep at school.
She needs a good fuck – or a passion tickler!! Hey --- why not get her one from Suze?!

There was no answer to that. There was no answer to anything.

She walked into the hall and picked up the neglected post. Electricity bill; letter from her mother (later), gardening catalogue with a special offer for winter crocuses…and something  addressed to her in  a faint, typewritten envelope.

She opened it, pulled out a sheet of paper and read Agenda; Apologies; Minutes of the Meeting; Matters Arising….

And what, said Paul is that?

It’s an invitation to a Party Branch Meeting next Thursday at the St John’s Ambulance Hall behind the level crossing, she replied, feeling the faint stirrings of unmistakable triumph.  And it starts at 7. 30, so you’ll have to look after Vanessa – or make arrangements with Christine…

 It’s darts at the Duke.

So call Christine…

And a wail from afar announced that Vanessa was awake and required bathing and changing as usual, before breakfast.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Kurdish issues

outside my workplace there is a permanent vigil, so described, for Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) who is serving I believe 99 years in Turkey for terrorist offences.  They say they will stay there until he is released.  They sometimes march and chant, and a couple of times have got into one of the buildings.  Well, Ocalan is never coming out, is my firm belief.  The Kurds are the largest population group in the world without a country, and as they are in the Middle East, and Muslim, but not Arab, and as they are, pretty  much, hated by the leaders of all the countries they are in (with the possible exceptions of those unlikely bedfellows Iran and Israel), it's going to be difficult for them to find one.  There are of course emigre Kurdish communities in most of the world, including the neighbourhood I live in in Strasbourg.  Successive conflicts, persecution and massacres have driven them away.  Michael Totten has spent a lot of time in Iraq, including with the Kurds there, and has written some interesting dispatches which he has now edited into a book "In the Wake of the Surge" which is worth reading.  Like me, he was plunged into profound gloom at the slaughter which took place after the overthrow of the Saddam regime, and depressed by the gleeful Guardianista wallowing in gore at that time.  But the surge, the brainchild of General David Petraeus, did the job, and Iraq is stable now, much more so than many in the region.  Totten cites an index of liberties which places Iraq third in the region (not including Israel in the count, obviously) after Lebanon and Morocco.  Unlike me, Totten has spent years in the region, is well connnected there, and has a deep knowledge of the politics and issues.  So, while he may not be right about everything, he is writing from experience and what he has seen, rather than from Guardian editorials as too many do.

Anyway, the Kurds have a measure of self-determination in Iraq now.  Good.  They like the US and Israel and are cheerfully, and disgracefully, racist about Arabs from anywhere.  Women are not covered ,and the sexes mingle socially.  Opposition parties and media flourish.  Iraqi Kurdistan is not a paradise - there is huge corruption - but I'd rather visit there than, say, Saudi Arabia.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

The Greenhouse, Audur Ava Olafsdottir

you guessed it, Icelandic.  From a strange and beautiful country I had the privilege to visit once, and will  again before I die.  Scandinavia is generally cool at the moment, especially for its detective and thriller fiction.  This remarkable book is neither.  It has been beautifully translated by one Bryan Fitzgibbon, who apparently also does literary translation from Italian and French into English as well as from Icelandic.  I am glad he has done it, so that I and other anglophones can read this book, especially as so little is translated into English.  This book was translated into French some time ago (it came out in 2007 in Iceland), but I hadn't heard of it then.  Its title in French is "Rosa candida".  I suspect that before long there will be no demand at all for translation into English of any kind.  In respect of literature, that would be a great pity.  I have already started reading Spanish and South American books in French, because they get translated into it and not into English.

This book is, if you want to place it into one of the seven plots there allegedly are, a coming of age story. The protagonist and first-person narrator is a young man of twenty-two, who has unintentionally and almost without noticing become a father, and whose mother has been killed in a car accident, leaving him with his father and autistic twin brother.  He exiles himself to another country, which may be Sweden, or somewhere else, but is not named, and dedicates himself to the transformation of an ancient monastery rose garden.  And the story unfolds.  As much as it is "about" anything, it is about fatherhood.  The author is female, and has done this quite wonderfully.  This is her third novel.  She is a professor a of art history, and this shows in the pictures she draws with her words.  I was impressed, and will read her others.

As an aside, I was also impressed with the way she handles technology, which is a big challenge for modern writers.  Why do you think so many turn to historical fiction?  This book seems to be set in the recent past, but it is actually hard to tell when.  The protagonist's mother had and used a mobile phone, but he does not, and uses a telephone box quite frequently.  The films watched by one of the monks seem to be on VHS, but a monk might well have that kind of collection even today.  There are no false notes at all.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Leanne Shapton, "Swimming Studies"

this is a book all on its own.  Its author is a noted artist and writer in Canada, new to me, and in her teens was a serious competitive swimmer, who went I think twice to Olympic trials.  As she says, "I was pretty good, but not the best."  When you go to Olympic trials for  your country you have to be first or second to make the cut.  Several female members of my family, including my daughter and my niece, have been competitive swimmers - when I was at school, age about 12, I was asked to join the training squad, and declined.  To my everlasting regret.  We seem to have the physique that cuts it in the water.  Most swimmers are fairly tall.  This swimmer, Leanne Shapton, has a mother who originates form the Philippines,and thus she is not that tall, which might explain (she wonders) why she did not make the Olympics.  Who knows.  I was interested to read her book, because these days I am a competitive swimmer myself, though competing only against myself, and not always that successfully, but at least seriously.  Shapton says "When I swim now, I step into the water as though absentmindedly touching a scar".  This is after she has stopped competing.  Me, I am doing it the other way round.  Hurting myself, because doing it hurts, and the wound from the hurt creates a scar, which later I shall touch - perhaps.

There are fascinating details about the lives of competitive swimmers, which I am ashamed to say I have never asked my daughter or my niece, both of whom have experienced these things, about - I knew that swimmers shave off their body hair, to reduce drag.  I didn't know that teenage girls shave each other's backs before a swim meet (gala, as they were called when my daughter was competing, late 80s, early 90s, around the same time of the competition history in this book).  Who knew?  I do not think I have ever had hair on my back, and I do not think teenage girls ever do.  Do they get stubble afterwards???  Shapton includes paintings and sketches in the book, beautiful drawings of swimmers' heads, and also lovely photographs of vintage swimming costumes, which apparently she wears, for preference.

Brief linguistic interlude - she is apparently an Anglophone Canadian, and she calls a magnifying glass a "loupe" - which is the French word for it, in my experience.  Is this normal in Canadian?

Shapton mentions something I have discovered only recently - that serious swimming, whatever your level, hurts.  "Pain on land was there to remind me to get back in the water, where after a certain threshold, the pain went away.  For an athlete pain is not a deterrent, because the only place the pain will be eclipsed is in practice and in competition."

She ends, a Canadian swimmer, whose life, as all competitive swimmers' lives, has been punctuated by 5 am starts in winter, "ever present is the smell of chlorine, and the drifting of snow in the dark".

You don't have to be a swimmer, or interested in swimming, to be interested in this book.  It's worth looking at for the paintings of swimmers and the vintage costumes alone.  But it's something unique.  I think everyone will find something different, and worth experiencing, in it.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

the Filth gets it wrong on Israel - again

what follows has been published in the Guardian's Corrections and Clarifications column, dated 7th August:

A correction to a picture caption said we should not have described Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. It went on to relay the advice in our style guide that the capital was Tel Aviv. In 1980 the Israeli Knesset enacted a law designating the city of Jerusalem, including East Jerusalem, as the country's capital. In response, the UN security council issued resolution 478, censuring the "change in character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem" and calling on all member states with diplomatic missions in the city to withdraw. The UN has reaffirmed this position on several occasions, and almost every country now has its embassy in Tel Aviv. While it was therefore right to issue a correction to make clear Israel's designation of Jerusalem as its capital is not recognised by the international community, we accept that it is wrong to state that Tel Aviv – the country's financial and diplomatic centre – is the capital. The style guide has been amended accordingly

Well, quite. But look here - the UN certainly did issue that resolution, but the UN is not "the international community", which is a nebulous and ill-defined concept.  The UN is the UN.  And - sigh, again - any sovereign nation, and Israel is that, damn it to hell for its pesky equal rights for men and women, gay pride, and, er, democracy - decides for itself what its capital city is.  No other nation has the right to "recognise" that decision, or not.  I could decide that I don't recognise Paris as the capital of France, but that decision is not mine to make.  Paris is the capital as long as the government of France says it is.

Oh, and while we're in the region, you did know that the blockade of Gaza (remember, "giant prison camp", all that), in connection with which some soldiers have just been killed, is carried out by, er, Egypt?  You did know that, didn't you?  Anyone? *sound of tumbleweed*

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

you heard it here first

French sleb mag Gala, front page


 some silly Stoppers and similar have been tweeting that the USA boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games because the Soviets were occupying Afghanistan, and that - you're ahead of me - it is the USA which is occupying Afghanistan now.  Well, it's perfectly true that the US has changed sides on Afghanistan - in the 1980s they deemed it right to give covert support to the Taleban - but they were of course right to change sides, and are on the correct side now.  The Soviet Union is long gone, and the world has changed.  That said, I was a strong supporter of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979-80.  If something isn't right, it's wrong.  Blowing up girls' schools, with the girls inside them, is wrong. Come to that, banning music is wrong, but I wouldn't invade a country for that.  Under the Soviets, girls went to school and the literacy rate climbed.  There were women in professional and public life.  They were all sent home when the Taleban, so beloved of the keffiyeh-wearing Guardianistas, came back.  But there is a whole generation of Afghan women, now in their forties and fifties, who are mothers and grandmothers, and influential in their families if nowhere else, who can read and write and who keep hope alive for Afghan girls and women. That's a good thing, hein?  Stay and finish the job, say I.  If the Taleban can be smashed for ever as the evil they are, good.  If not, help to keep a regime in place which is strong enough to ensure that those barbarians never get the chance to run the show.  Oh, and nationalise the poppy fields while you're about it.  Tankie, much?

Monday, 6 August 2012

that pesky election count incident again...

in May, at the election count in Reading, a violent incident was reported to have happened.  Gareth Epps it was, LibDem of this parish, who broadcast that an incident had taken place, in which he, Epps, was violently attacked, perhaps head-butted, by a Labour activist, George Loughlin.  Later, Epps apparently reported the incident to the police.  No other witness has come forward, though Epps and Loughlin were presumably not the only occupants of the room at the time.  Was has not left this alone, and posts about it from time to time.  The LibDem hierarchy appears to have taken it as true that an incident of this kind did happen, according to an email from one of them he quotes.  Other parties have not denied that an incident happened, although Labour has said things like "If an incident did happen..." Loughlin's name has disappeared from later mentions of the alleged incident, so it is my unalloyed pleasure to place in print again the name of that thuggish little git, George Loughlin, for whom a violent attack of such a kind would be entirely in character.  However, that is not to say it did happen.  Was says that Epps is a liar.  He may be right, I wouldn't know.  Was also says that the LibDem hierarchy believe Epps and do not check allegations he makes.  This is what party hierarchies tend to do in respect of their favourite sons, unfortunately.  What interests me here is that Labour has not denied it, so in the unlikely event of there having been no Labour witness to any incident, Reading Labour believe it is possible that such a thing happened.  They are right.  We do not know yet what if any view is taken by Her Majesty's Constabulary.  So this story needs to be kept alive, in my view, for what it has already exposed, and what it may yet expose.  An aside - Was informs us that Epps was intending to take a dog-whistle to the Church ward count.  Why did he not do so?  If I had been there I certainly would have done so.  Which leads us to...

Reading Labour racist dog-whistle
Oh yes, she's one of us.

Friday, 3 August 2012


photo from WeAreTeens Facebook page
is a very hard thing to endure.  Believe me I know, I have been there.  The picture is posed, but is realistic.  Adults behave exactly like this too.  One of the more difficult things is that each incident is trivial in itself.  No-one sitting next to you, no-one answering when you say hello, the use of the word "we" to make clear that you are excluded from a group, none of these things is major.  What constitutes bullying is that there is a pattern of behaviour, and what defines it is that the negative behaviour towards a person by another person or group is motivated not by anything they have done but by who they are.  Australian trade unions are trying to develop a code for workplace bullying which defines what can be called bullying.  It includes, interestingly for me, "glaring".  Boy do I know what that's like.  But enough about Reading Labour Party.

When someone being bullied tries to complain to a person in authority, that person, who may be well intentioned, usually approaches the alleged bullies about it, to receive a straight denial that such behaviour ever happened, often with aspersions on the mental health of the complainer.  And the person in authority may wonder if they are right about that.  So nothing happens.  There may be picking apart of a series of trivial incidents, with the conclusion that "there's fault on both sides".  No there isn't.  If someone is being bullied it is NOT THEIR FAULT.  Never mind if they are ugly, stupid, clumsy, incompetent, lacking in social skills, or all those things.  No-one deserves to be bullied.  No-one.

I believe tht adults are bullied every bit as often as children and teenagers are.  It's just that bullying tends to happen within closed organisations - like schools - from which there is no escape.  It happens in workplaces, but the person being bullied can leave, and very often does.  Never mind, there will soon be a new victim.  And it happens, especially, in voluntary organisations.  Because you have chosen to join the organisation, you don't want to leave it.  You don't see an alternative.  There isn't usually an alternative political party with the same values, or charity supporting the same cause you believe in, or church which gives space to your strand of belief, round the corner waiting for you.  And so you stay.

If you see someone being bullied, speak out.  Shame the bullies, in public.  It'll be easier for you to do it than it would be for the victim.

Lift up the stone, and watch them run.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Erwin James at Greenbelt

Greenbelt is a UK arts festival of long standing, with I understand a broadly Christian focus, and faith as one of its elements.  I have never been to it.  I might go to an arts festival, I might even go to a Christian festival, but it seems to me that any festival which tries to combine the two is unlikely to succeed.  However.  It has been going for 40 years. Someone called Erwin James is going to appear there this year, and I was struck by this piece on Harry's Place, "the murderer at Greenbelt".  Erwin James is the nom de plume of James Monahan, who is indeed a convicted murderer and who is thus given a platform by the Guardian.  I wouldn't know, as I do not read that filth.  But he is.  He has been writing for it since 2000, we are told.  The murders Monahan committed, in the early 1980s, appear to have been of the homophobic persuasion.  So naturally just right for the Guardian.  Their favourite Islamist hate preachers must just love him.

Now if someone has committed a crime and served their time, they should return to society and have the opportunity to make a contribution in whatever way they can, right?  Right.  But the piece raises issues which are kind of interesting.  Monahan appears to have made up some of his history.  He won't be the first or last ex-con to do that.  But there appear to be those, at the Guardian and at Greenbelt, who know this and are conniving at it.  Why?  Monahan appears, from the quotes attributed to him, not only to have no remorse  (I do not think remorse is always compulsory) but not to believe that he has committed a crime at all.  Here we are getting into a whole other scenario.  That of the psychopath.  That of the abuser who genuinely believes the victim wanted the abuse.

Welll, it made me think, anyway.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

the complications of modern life, 2

I am going to spend Christmas with my mother this year, in Cornwall, just the two of us.  And why not?  My new grandchild (did I mention that?) is due on 2nd January, and I am determined to be there at the time of the birth.  So, I'll stay on after Christmas until the baby comes.  Simple, huh?  Not really.  Not if you do not live in the UK and are not rolling in money.  Book a flight now, no-show if the baby comes late, get a late ticket?  Expensive, that.  Book Eurostar and buy the insurance so get refunded if do not travel then?  Still have to get expensive late ticket and wait for refund.  Plays havoc with the cash flow.  What would you do?