Archive for August, 2006

Shorten your life by two four minutes

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Beowulf: the truth that liberals tried to hide. Actually, I think this is rather sweet. It reminds me of a point that a priest friend made years ago about the people who think there are demons in nicotine etc: that they have probably never read a novel in their lives. The argument that it is terribly wicked to tell children lies like that is oe of the points where I part company with pharyngular atheism.

Click and watch. I think my mother may actually be a reincarnation of this kitten, whose attitude to a Mac is very similar to hers, if a bit more active.

And now back to work.

Bonus hatred

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

A CNN anchorwoman had an unfortunate accident during President Bush’s visit to New Orleans at the anniversary of hurricane Katrina. She nipped out for a pee with her wireless mike still on and the sounds were broadcast live in the background of his speech. There doesn’t seem to have been anything very embarrassing said — certainly no thunderous outbursts of flatulence and vomiting, which listening to the president might have provoked in some people.

In fact, most of what could be heard in the background was absolutely sweet. She was talking to some unidentified woman at the hand basins and said ” I’m very lucky in that regard with my husband. My husband is handsome and he is genuinely a loving, you know, no ego [unintelligible] you know what I’m saying. Just a really passionate, compassionate great, great human being. And they exist. They do exist. They’re hard to find. Yup. But they are out there.”

The whole thing was excavated, though, by some bunch of right-wing loonies who believe that CNN is a socialist and anti-American organisation; and if you go to the site where they have posted the video and transcript you will find at the end of the story this curious piece of boilerplate: “Love what you see here? We need your help to continue exposing liberal media lies”

I know that almost everyone in television lies almost all the time about everything. That’s just the way the business is. But it is still a remarkable testament to the frothing hatred that powers much of the American Right that this woman talking unaffectedly about how much she loves her husband should be jammed into the template of “liberal media lies”.

Gift horse looks you in the mouth

Monday, August 28th, 2006

I am not posting these pictures here. I have rather creeped myself out with them. Who would have thought that a horse’s eye could be so very alien? Perhaps I like them because I was caught in a field with three large horses with my sister when I was eight. I don’t think I have ever been more frightened than when they came and stood around us, snorting.

We don’t need no reformation.

Monday, August 28th, 2006

Anyone who tells you that “Islam needs a reformation” is being polite and saving you time: you know after those words that the rest of their opinions can also be safely ignored. Similarly, the idea that the bombers are going back to the past is at best partially true, in the sense that Goths from Croydon would like to go back to the Dark Ages. The suicide bomber, cloistered in his bedroom and dreaming at the keyboard of a martyrdom on video is an entirely modern or post-modern figure.

There’s a very lucid and thought-provoking piece by Faisal Devji in the FT today, probably paywalled, which makes these points more clearly and with greater authority. Two quotes:

Advances made in countering terrorism have been technical; politically there has been little improvement. After each crisis there is a focus on the Muslim community not doing enough to root out militants, although the families of the terrorists have had no inkling of their doings. Statements are made about multiculturalism preventing the integration of Muslims in the west, although the terrorists are completely integrated in ways such as speaking English and participating in wider British society. Attention is concentrated on mosques and madrassas, although militancy is developed in secular spaces not religious ones. Immigration is seen as a problem, although the terrorists were born in Britain, their immigrant parents being the most law-abiding of citizens.

Immigrant Muslims who attend mosques or madrassas and are not integrated into British society are least likely to become terrorists. The Islam of the suicide bomber is the product of a global modernity, not of some traditional or cloistered society.

In colonial times liberal institutions and education were promoted on the presumption that both were lacking. This presumption no longer holds because the London bombers were not ignorant either of the theory or the practice of liberalism. The government’s breathtaking ambitions to help reform the faith of more than 1bn adherents in Britain and abroad will be frustrated because Sunni Islam has already been reformed.

The London bombers were products of a Sunni reformation that has been fragmenting the structures of religious authority since the 19th century. It is this democratisation of Islam that allows members of the laity – such as Mohammad Sidique Khan, the suspected leader of the bombers – to claim religious authority for their actions. The comparison with Shia Islam is striking, for Shia radicalism has not yet made one attack of the al-Qaeda sort. One can talk to traditionally organised Shia militants, as in Iraq or Lebanon, but with individualised forms of Sunni militancy we are faced with an impossible task – putting Humpty-Dumpty together again.

An Opera irritation and its cure

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

Sometimes1 a message with a malformed attachment will crash Opera hard, and all subsequent attempts to restart will also be aborted by a crash. This should not happen to a mail program. Also, a mail program should have a better editor than Opera’s, very much better handling of address books, and it should know about MAPI. I put up with all the disadvantages because Opera indexes every word of every email so that I can find anything in moments.

This is an instance of a more general rule, that being able to find the stuff you have written is in the long run more useful than almost anything else. I am probably going to go back to using Word just for this reason — Yahoo Desktop Search, which is easily the best and most comprehensive content indexing program, doesn’t know about OpenOffice v2 files.

So, when it does crash, the answer is to delete the ‘Lexicon’ folder in the mail store, and to restore the previous copy of “Index.ini” from the automatically generated nightly backups. So far, this has worked every time.

1 Three times this year.

Growing up in Black America

Friday, August 25th, 2006

A chillingly matter-of-fact piece in Salon today about what could get you killed in the inner cities of America twenty years ago — wearing anything that made you look rich or successful. Today, however, you will get killed and they won’t even bother to rob your corpse. Being a known killer conveys worthwhile status, whereas the kind of possessions which can give status are now completely out of reach — Bentleys, for example. You can’t steal one of those from a corpse in the streets.

That this story should be the latest example of nostalgic writing about how things were better when the author was a boy — because then he knew what might get him shot — is not something I might ever have imagined. Absolutely everything I believed about progress when I was a child was wrong, except, perhaps, that it can always go backwards.

The interesting question is how we might stop such a development in Europe. Clearly, American model capitalism won’t do it. Prosperity on its own won’t do it, either, even if it is on offer, which may not be the case.

w00t, as we educated types say: w00t!

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

I take back everything I have ever said about the dumbing down of British education. It is clear that this year’s GCSEs are exceptionally rigorous and discerning exams after the FWB got one B (Textiles), two As (maths and Art), and all the rest A*. She also had a letter telling her that she had scored one of the top five marks awarded to anyone in her English literature GCSE. That’s the one which was taken this year by 362,438 pupils.

Oh yes – she also got an A for the history AS level, taken a year early.
</Mary Ann Sieghart>

Entry 1200

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

Is, like so much else here, a joke I borrowed. Talking last night to my friend Julian, he said, “I realised I had been reading the Racing Post too much when I heard a newsreader say, ‘Our correspondent is in Tyre’ and I thought, ‘Why on earth would we think he was gelded?'”

Monday Morning

Monday, August 21st, 2006

I woke up with an ear infection that made me feel as if my brain were floating in a viscous bath inside my head, so that any sudden movement would set it rocking. There are pills that cure this, but they take about half an hour to work, and wear off, too.

Then some of the print on the monitor started to crawl in front of my eyes. It started to quiver in front of other people’s eyes, too, which looks like an early sign of failure. I’d rather the monitor failed than I did, but still.

Then Opera crashed on startup. There are some malformed attachments which will do this. The cure is to look at the webmail with some other browser and delete all the evil spam before restarting Opera, but this didn’t work at all today and I had to delete all the index files bofore the porgram would even start.

Driving to the station in the rain, I discovered that the car roof was leaking, and water dripping down the back of the drivers’ mirror. No, I don’t want to buy a new car, either.

All in all, a day to make me feel like a very angry swan. You know the thing that swans do when they are in a mood to break a man’s arm with one blow of their wings, and they rise up and shake their wings like the last thing Leda saw? It’s majestic, terrifying, and I fear I more resemble this cygnet, spotted yesterday at Eyebrook Reservoir, trying to frighten me away.

If you prefer your cygnets sharp, there are some here. It’s interesting that jpeg compression just can’t deal with the complexities of downy plumage.

A limited range of emotions

Saturday, August 19th, 2006

So I was reading Mills on music, and the examples he gave of sublimity were Mozart and Weber’s Oberon. Right, then, off to eMusic to see what Weber sounds like. The first discovery is that Emusic has been “improved” for British users, which means that it costs more, and, presumably, offers fewer tracks. In any case, I found the overture in question, downloaded it, and then had to find it on disk. There is a script for MediaMonkey (the music player that I use) which will show all newly added, unplayed tracks. That seems to have fallen off in a recent reinstall, so I Googled it, and found a young man who wanted to classify his music collection – like this:

custom1: Thrash, Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Speed Metal

custom2: Epic, Suffocating, Fierce, Crunchy, Thuggish, Rambunctious, Menacing, Earnest, Angry, Uncompromising, Tense/Anxious, Searching, Nihilistic, Hostile, Gritty, Gloomy, Bitter, Fiery, Intense, Theatrical, Cerebral

Someone to avoid at parties, I rather think.