Archive for March, 2004

another dead phrase

Tuesday, March 16th, 2004

I caught myself writing “It certainly seems likely” just now. Why? Is there any moment when this phrase is to be preferred to “it is likely” or “it seems likely”?

Tales from the Arabian nights

Tuesday, March 16th, 2004

Though horrendously frightening.

One story doing the rounds in my neighborhood was of a small girl who was abducted on the way back from school. A telephone call was made to her parents informing them that they had 10 days to gather the $10,000 ransom or they would never see her again. The mother fell into hysteria as their financial situation was so bad they had no hope of ever gathering such an amount. The poor father went round to his relatives and friends and managed to raise about $4000. On the 10th day, the kidnappers called and were told that this is all the family could raise. They slammed the phone down and the family were left fearing the worst. A few days later, one of the gang of kidnappers called the girl’s home late in the night and told them where they could find their daughter. He gave an address of a house in an industrial area of Baghdad which is particularly dangerous to walk through at nights. Apparently an argument had broken out between the gang and this man had enough of a conscience to call the family. The father went straight to the police, but they told him they would not come out with him at this late hour (it was about 2am) because they were too scared. The father resorted to calling a few friends and relatives who armed themselves and went to the address given. Upon entering, he found dozens of small children and young women in a large, dark room. He started calling out his daughter’s name and he heard her reply but as if being dragged away. He realised there was a staircase next to the room at the top of which some woman was trying to push his daughter. He got hold of his daughter and left the building, giving the police the entire details. Apparently some 20 families received their loved ones back when the police raided the building the next day. These stories are rife on the streets and provoke much fear, among the rich and poor equally.


Open for business

Monday, March 15th, 2004

Jonny Boatfield, a remarkable local artist, deserves to be better known (and better paid). He’s a fishing buddy of mine, and a cousin of my wife’s. So, as a holiday project, my daughter built him a web site. The World of Jonny Boatfield has opened up. He really is extraordinary, and worth a visit. I only wish we could fit the whole animal frieze on the site, but it would scroll for six feet to the right.

Asia begins at the Landstraße

Tuesday, March 9th, 2004

said Metternich and I used, when I stayed in Vienna, to walk to that dusty street to feel it. I couldn’t feel anything. But it’s still a wonderful sentence, in some ways unsurpassed until the morning of March 9th, 2004, when PNH wrote “$3 mass-market sci-fi/fantasy paperbacks are obviously no good, since as we all know, literature begins at $22.95.”

The opposite of support

Saturday, March 6th, 2004

Sometimes I think that anyone who has ever used Linux should be banned from any contact with the public. The trouble is that they can almost communicate with normal humans. They use the same words. But they only have one message. Whatever the problem, their answer is “use Linux”; I’d simply add that if the answer to your problem is in fact Linux, you need professional help.

This comes up frequently on the Openoffice mailing lists. Someone will ask about compatibility with Word, and get a long lecture about the wickedness of proprietary file formats, the superiority of OOo’s native format and how they need to send the file as a PDF, or send the recipient a copy of openoffice, or any number of damn fool things like that, when all the poor fish wants to know is how to save as .doc files.


Tuesday, March 2nd, 2004

If anyone is reading this in the neighbourhood of Bath and Bristol, do come along to the two shows I am doing at the Bath Literary Festival tomorrow. There is a talk at 4.30pm in the Guildhall, which I think I shall call “The Selfish Phenotype”; and, between 7.30 and 8.30, in the same place, Alison Jolly and Elaine Morgan will discuss sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, socialism and anything else they feel like: I will attempt not to get in the way as chairman.

a tasteless anecdote

Monday, March 1st, 2004

In my hotel brochure in Jerusalem there was a story about a sculptor, the daughter of a holocaust survivor. Almost all her mother’s Polish family had been killed — Grandpa had gasoline injected into his vein; one brother was made with a bunch of other starving children (described as ‘Muslims’) to run round a table full of food, and anyone who touched it was shot. I have to say that I found these stories suspiciciously individual and interesting. I don’t doubt for a moment the fact of the holocaust, but the overwhelming majority of those 6m deaths were without melodrama or special cruelty. That was the point. Murder became an industrialised routine.

I watched half Shoah; I couldn’t sleep for two nights afterwards, and never managed to watch the second half; and what I remember most is that the haunted faces belonged to the survivors. The perpetrators’ faces had the fleshy stolidity of candlewax. Only the people who had suffered there could not forget the evil. It’s not just that we can’t look straight at the horrors of the world: we can’t see them straight, either.

A peculiarly grim example of this was supplied at the end of the story. The sculptor’s mother had survived Auschwitz, and had discovered, thirty years after the war, that one of her brothers had too. They had been reunited, which was horrible, in some ways, for both of them. But after that, her children had prayed that God relieve her of her tormenting memories. And, the article continued, their prayers had been partly answered: she had developed Alzheimer’s. So now she can’t remember what happened last week, but the holocaust is still vivid to her.

I don’t know whether it is worse that this story should be told as if it justified prayer, or that it should be told in a hotel brochure, whose purpose is to drive tourism.

Six million degrees of separation

Monday, March 1st, 2004

Transcribing the Benny Morris interview, I stumble over a name. It is “Henry ?Pullen”, a Cambridge historian, under whom he did a PhD. So to Google, where eventually the name of Henry Pelling turns up in the context of a Spectator review of Churchill biographies. It just doesn’t look like the Spectator’s web site; and after a few minutes, I realise that I am in fact on David Irving’s site, where he has reproduced the review because it quoted the judge’s demolition of his character in the Lipstadt trial. ewww.

A small Jerusalem statistic

Monday, March 1st, 2004

The Moment café on Gaza Street in Jerusalem serves very good sandwiches. I know because I ate there twice, appreciating also the fact that it was never in the least bit crowded. At least before nine I never saw more than about 20 people there. One reason emerges from a quick google: in the evening of Saturday 27th Feb last year, there were at least 63 people there, because 11 of them were killed and 52 injured when a suicide bomber went off by the door.

A techie question

Monday, March 1st, 2004

I have had to re-reconfigure the wireless network on my return from Jerusalem, since the hotel I was in didn’t use any WEP encryption on their network. I can never remember how to generate a WEP key and there seems to be no way to save it when I switch the encryption off. So I switched off all WEP encryption back here and simply locked down the router so that only the card in the laptop could access it. Is this really secure? In one sense, I know it is, since it would be a very lucky hacker indeed who found a parking place in range of my network. But I assume that if you had a sniffer and a parking place, you could now eavesdrop on my network, even if you couldn’t get access to the internet from there.