Archive for November, 2005

Shorter Tori Amos

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

She seems to have two songs: “Oh God, oh God, I can’t find my vibrator!” and “Oh God, Oh God, I’ve found it!”

UPDATE: in the interests of balancing misanthropy, a story. My impression of TA comes from the (otherwise) flawless Future Wolf Biologist playing her for an hour or so every day between school and homework for the last two months.

Among the FWB’s accomplishments is drawing (she did the front page rollover in the lower right quadrant when she was twelve) but as she has grown older, her quick portraits have become less and less flattering. In fact she appears to draw people not as they are, but as they will be after several days on their deathbed.

The other night we were sitting in a pub with my visiting Aunt Vicky, and when the meal ended, the FWB sketched while we talked. First, her great aunt, looking like Oetzi’s sister. Then me. “My God!” I said. “I look like Iain Duncan Smith after he’s been dead for three days.”

“No!” said Vicky, “You look exactly like his father. They had a house near us in Cork.”

Horrors of war

Monday, November 28th, 2005

There is a video going around (I’ll not link to it) apparently made by British mercenaries in Iraq. It’s shot out of the back of a moving truck/SUV which is driving down the fast lane of a dust-coloured concrete dual carriageway. There is quite a lot of civlian traffic in the inside lanes. Sometimes other cars are visible in the fast lane behind; whenever this happens a gun fires from the right of the camera position. You see the muzzle sometimes, and sometimes ejected cartridges jerk across the screen.

There’s one sequence where a white Mercedes comes fast round a bend, so he couldn’t possible have seen the mercenaries riding ahead, and the firing goes on until the Mercedes lurches abruptly to the right and crashes into the rear quarter of a car in the slower lane. Both vehicles stop. The doors of the car that was crashed into open. Two men get out and run across the remaining traffic for the verge. For some reason. I had expected to see them rush back to help the wounded or dead people in the car that had hit them after being machinegunned by the British mercenaries. I don’t know why this struck me as more terrible than the murders themselves but it did.

Even worse was something you couldn’t see at all: the whole video sequences — and there were three or four scenes, obviously carefully edited — had been given a soundtrack, of Elvis singing “Mystery Train.” And I suppose there is more chance that the perpetrators will be done for copyright infringement than for war crimes.

Been all around the world.

Monday, November 28th, 2005

I was wandering around net and found this map of Swedish bloggers. Clicking on the smallest red pimple in the heart of nowhere I was whisked to Sorsele (see photo above) where the first snow has just fallen. However, the blogger reporting this seems to be writing from Luxembourg. All very confusing.

I note from the curious map I signed up (look down the right-hand column) that I appear to have a reader on the west coast of Hudson’s Bay. America is quite well spotted: there are a couple in Peking, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sydney … none at all in Scandinavia. I’m pretty certain that I recognise Florence. Send our love to the greyhounds.

A silly question deserves

Friday, November 25th, 2005

A silly answering machine. I will at some stage put together a feed for the Troll blog. For the moment I am happy to have it looking fairly OK.

It was a dark and stormy night

Friday, November 25th, 2005

When I finally left the London Library, clutching the second volume of Selma Lagerlöf’s Troll och Människor. Now, perhaps, the world is ready for my favourite of all the stories. The first installment is over on the troll blog right now. Posting may be slow over the weekend. I have work to do, a visiting relative, and I can see the site needs faffing over in a css-ish way.

The running dogs of capitalism exposed

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2005

One of the minor consequences of the present catastroophe is that it lets us lose the Cold War in retrospect. I mean that for generations it has been an article of faith among liberals, conservatives, decent socialists, and everyone who was not a paid Communist hack that the Moscow show trials were an evil farce, and that none of the accused were guilty of anything more than losing a power struggle. Yet they confessed. That was the evidence against theim, their full and detailed confessions, extracted after months of interrogation.

Up until now, we have always dismissed this as the consequence of torture. But now it turns out that they weren’t tortured at all. All of the “variety of unique and innovative ways” methods of interrogation that the CIA uses are not torture. So they weren’t torture, either, when the KGB used them.1 And the information that the KGB got from them must have been every bit as accurate as the information that the CIA is getting out of its prisoners. Bukharin really was working for British intelligence all along.

I am going to have to find the Gulag Archipelago and roll it through the scanner in order to stand up this parallel exactly — but if you want to read it yourself, there’s a relevant passage here.

And if you still can’t believe that Bukharin worked for British intelligence, in collaboration with the international Trotskyist conspiracy, come to Downing Street on Sunday. Wear black; we’ll be in mourning.

1 I know this makes them a little less unique, but how many forms of sleep deprivation, hunger, thirst and mock execution can you come up with?

A wormseye

Monday, November 21st, 2005

This is offered in the spirit of the playground pusher: try it, little girl, you might like it. The Worm’s eye View column is normally available only to Wrap subscribers. On the other hand, there is a promotion on at the moment, which lets you get four weeks free. For those who are allergic to signing up for anything, here is a one week only free offer:

What would it be like to live in a world where health — and not just life — could be prolonged at will? Who would we kill to make room for us, the lucky ones? No one ever imagines what it would be like to live in a world where it is other people have their lives almost eternally prolonged, and we, the imaginers, who must die in the ordinary way. That’ s remarkable, because the thing we can’t or don’t imagine is in fact the condition of most of the people alive in the world right now, who know from their television sets, how much better and longer life might be.


David Austin 1935-2005

Monday, November 21st, 2005

Funny people aren’t always nice, and they don’t often feel the need, in person, to make you feel the world is a better place than you’d supposed. David Austin did that.

I don’t know whether his cartoons or his company were more cheering and he was also enormously funny. I never saw him regularly after I stopped drinking with the Spectator crowd, though sometimes we would bump into each other at the Guardian. This is one of his pictures, bought at a show in 1994. I asked him if I could use it as my Christmas card that year. I wish I’d never had to use it for this.

A Flying bishop in his flying palace, on the M25.


Sunday, November 20th, 2005

And it’s not even my bandwidth but the Guardian’s. I read Slashdot with the comment threshold at four, which cuts out most of the crap, but even there you find someone complaining that there was no mention of Richard Stallman. Free software is not a cure for restrictive IP. It’s an inflammatory reaction.

An experiment in generosity

Saturday, November 19th, 2005

Magnatune” lets customers choose, within limits, how much they want to pay for music. But everyone knows that half goes to the artist. This seems to me good business and good psychology — surely people will pay more when they know that it is in a good cause? But the transaction is anonymous. There is no way for the artist in question to know to whom they should be (pathetically, snivellingly) grateful. How much do we value the gratitude of those we help? Well, an experiment was made. The front page was changed to say that the artist would be told who had given them how much. Immediately, the average price paid rose by 25%; but the number of people buying anything at all dropped by 35%. I think this shows that many of the customers believed that they were ripping off the artists at the old price, and were ashamed to have it known. they would rather rip them off entirely, by listening to the music stream, and not paying anything, than have it be known how little they were really prepared to pay. An interesting example of the internalisation of norms: we have just enough generosity to make us ashamed, but not enough to make us generous. This could be generalise dto other virtues.