Archive for October, 2006

Worm turned to compost

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

I just learned that my Worm’s eye column has been shot with immediate effect. It’s a great shame. That was one of the two or three most enjoyable jobs I’ve had in journalism — another was the long Saturday Review profiles which went when the Guardian did its redesign last autumn.

Losing the money hurts, though I am still on a contract that keeps me solvent, and leaves time to make it up on other projects. But what really stings is the knowledge that I’m good at the writing part of the job. I’m thoughtful, quick, and well-informed about quite a lot of things. In many ways I am a better writer than when I was young and brilliant. But I am not good at marketing myself and not good at getting the stimulation I need to be interesting. All my best work has been done when I believed there was an editor taking an interest in what I was doing. Also, I am fifty one. Perhaps I should just cash in my savings, fly to Arizona, and eat myself to death. Another, possibly better, plan would be to get on with the Swedish book.

A rather drastic cure for snoring

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

Round where I live,the cure, or at least the treatment, for Obstructive Sleep Apnoea is a mask that pumps air into the sufferer at night. At least some American surgeons are more ambitious

An unspeakable thought

Monday, October 30th, 2006

The notion of women as property is terribly widespread. What do women get out of it? Not a lot, obviously. But perhaps more from being private property than communal. Obviously a woman in a burqa is not valued for herself. But she is valued for something more than just sex. The common shore — the woman who is treated as property of a gang of men is even worse off than she who is treated as the property of one man and her children less likely to survive. So, if there were genes for male possessiveness, they would spread at the expense of (equally hypothetical) male lack of jealousy.

Of course, all this is wandering off into the question of “genes for” and back to my argument with Larry Moran. But I don’t mind talking about “Genes for” providing that we realise that the causality is all with the thing they are “for”.

A test of your age

Sunday, October 29th, 2006

I was sitting here idly listening to a 1973 Little Feat bootleg from the Internet Archive and when they got to Willin, Lowell George introduced it with the words “This one goes out to one of my favourite groups, Slade”. If that made you smile, you’re too old. If it didn’t, you might as well be dead.

Later, LG explains that the only club he ever goes to is the Whiskey-a-Gogo, and “all the English groups play there”. So perhaps Slade did attempt the American market. The mind reels.

(The wikipedia article claims that they were the originals for Spinal Tap. Lick my love pump, baby!)

Art and light

Sunday, October 29th, 2006

I have been in Paris most of the week (half term). Hence no contemporaneous blogging, and some notes now on all the culture around which I was dragged by the more refined members of the family:

The Centre Pompidou –- a huge Rauschenberg exhibition. Some of it quite good. A real feeling for colour and perhaps texture, though there is in fact no painting which can be improved by adding a dead bird, something demonstrated inadvertentlyseveral times over here. More fun is Yves Klein, a frightful old fraud who got pretty models to roll on large sheets of paper, and squidge themselves enticingly against it. Aesthetically, none of those was much cop though he did have some quite lovely sheets of burnt pasteboard, and good paintings into which some of his sponges had been incorporated. Also, there was a film of M. Klein applying paint to one of his brushes with a rag, and then directing her around the canvas while he held his cigarette at an imperative angle. The FWB and I got the giggles and had to leave.

There was a distinct and non-aesthetic thrill to seeing the prints of a model’s underparts on the paper. So much more erotic than what was on offer at the Sexodrome and similar establishments up between the Place Pigalle and the Place Clichy. Our landlady, a thin-nosed, perfectly Parisian woman, said that it had been much nastier, but was all right now that the excuser le mot –- racaille -– had been removed.

One of the best bits of Yves Klein was in the very entrance to the exhibition,a large white room hung with six our eight large rectangular canvases, all entirely of the same shade of blue. [Thanks to Ian Douglas for the link] Against that background, the ensemble was simple and moving. But it seems to me that the curator and the the man who arranged the temperature of the lighting deserve at least as much credit for the final effect as the painter. I would have liked to take pictures of the Rauschenbergs, but it was of course forbidden. I didn’t trust anyone else’s reproductions to capture the colour (though, who knows? perhaps the 52€ catalogue has them right). It must be part of the specification of these non-figurative, colour dependent paintings that they be exhibited in a particular temperature of light. Where is this explained or talked about?

No more than a ludicrous filigree

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

On the real tragedy, but the retreat of the warhards is now like the retreat of the Iraqi army from Basra in the first gulf war, when tens of thousands were killed by Allied aircraft. This morning’s papers are full of commentators running full-pelt from the enemy. At the head of them is the Daily Telegraph — yes — that Daily Telegraph, which under Conrad Black was the most completely neoconned and -conning paper in the business.

Students of military history will know that this is the most dangerous moment of all for the retreating army. Better, surely, to mount a despairing bayonet charge towards the enemy, hoping to frighten them back to their lines. And so we must read Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail today.

Washington is buzzing with rumours that the US is considering inviting Iran and Syria to help restore order in Iraq and that the President is desperately looking at all suggestions for an early exit strategy. Almost every day brings out of the woodwork yet another Republican or military or intelligence type to intone the funeral rites over Iraq.
Well I’m going to stick my neck out and defy the received wisdom to say that all this is so much hooey. The biggest danger that we face — and it is fast being realised — is of talking ourselves into defeat.
… For sure, plenty of mistakes have been made and need to be corrected. But that does not mean the strategy of remaining in Iraq until the insurgency is defeated should change. The security of the region and the world depends on it.
Those of us who have always supported this war must concede that Iraq has indeed become a central hub of jihadi terrorism. But the idea that we would all have been safer had Saddam remained in power is wrong.

Saddam was a godfather of terror. If he had not been deposed, we might now be facing a major threat to our security from his nuclear programme — just like North Korea, whose own nuclear ambitions Saddam helped realise.

… for all the violence, Iraq represents an achievement of the first magnitude. Who would ever have imagined that its previously murderous rival factions of Shia, Sunni and Kurds would now be co-operating in running the country after being democratically elected?

The insurgency is actually failing in the first and most important of its objectives — to destroy this political settlement. For all the appalling carnage, Iraq’s government continues to function. Far from civil war, it has passed a new plan for peace and reconciliation backed by all factions pledging to act together.
In short, Iraq is holding up heroically. But the insurgency is well on the way to achieving its second objective — a collapse of nerve in the US and UK.

I would like to believe that she is the only person who believes that the way out of the present difficulties is to widen the war “One of the reasons for the continuing violence in Iraq, after all, is America’s spineless failure to hold Iran and Syria to account for their sponsorship of terror in Iraq and elsewhere.” But this is the logic of the neocon position and there may be others like her in Washington who think that they must rescue their position with a bombing campaign.

Next to her, by the way, is a British nationalist leader saying that the war is a disaster, and the British implicated in this catastrophe.

I quote Melanie Phillips at length because I don’t think she is just completely mad — though, of course, on the war, she is. The things that frighten her frighten me, too. But if her remedies are the only ones, then we really are all doomed.

Sunday morning cheer

Sunday, October 22nd, 2006

This has been the week when half of our problem became obvious: the war is lost. What hasn’t yet sunk in is the other half of this catastrophe: we can’t afford to lose it.

Apologies to commentators

Friday, October 20th, 2006

For some reason, this has been a very bad week for spammery. Bastard the first started to use the domain as the return address on a bunch of stock-pumping spams, so that at one stage I was getting twenty to thirty bounce messages every five minutes addressed to entirely fictitious inhabitants of this domain. Once that was dealt with, by the crude method of discarding all bounce messages to anyone at this domain, I started to get huge quantities of comment spam here — well, about fifty a day, which is a lot, on a sustained basis.

This was unusual in that much of it is in Italian, and the rest is trying to sell cars as well as the usual offers to extend my phenotype (or shrink some of the larger parts), In any case, I have been tuning the comment junking settings, only to discover that three of the saner and more rational commentators have had their efforts junked. So the threshold has been lowered again.

I miss, though, the way that earlier versions of MT would just let me kill co0mments on all posts older than x days automatically.

Rural pursuits

Friday, October 20th, 2006

I had meant to return Cicely Hamilton’s Modern Sweden to the London Library yesterday, but I started to reread it on the train down, and I could not quite bear to return it. It is an account of a journey around Sweden in the late 1930s (published in 1939) undertaken by a woman of intelligence and energy but no Swedish.

She has the rare gift of writing with non-destructive wit about very boring things. Here is her account of the founder of Swedish gymnastics:

while Jahn, in Germany, was raising the banner of physical culture, the same thing was happening on the other side of the Baltic; Ling, the Swede, was evolving his new methods of mental and physical training. Like Jahn, his motives were largely patriotic; like Jahn, he desired to work on the minds as well as on the bodies of his pupils; and — again like Jahn — he started his work in a nation exhausted by misfortune. When he began to teach, it was but a year or two since his country had emerged from an inglorious war with the Russian empire, a war which had ended with the Tsar’s an­nexation of Finland and left Sweden drained alike of her wealth and her power. But in Sweden, as in Germany, disaster was followed by revival of the national spirit, and Per Henrik Ling, of gymnastic fame, was among the men whom his country’s misfortune stirred to desire of service. In his earlier years his patriotism expressed itself in verse which, unlike his system of physical culture, was not destined to influence succeeding generations and carry his name round the world; even in his own day Ling’s lengthy poems found few admirers and it was when he discarded literature for gymnastics that he entered on the work of his life.

I love that last sentence.

But her life was not all finely turned epigrams. She was also shown the activities of the Young Farmers’ Union (or “league” as she mistranslated it) and here you can catch a glimpse of the real hardships of a foreign correspondent:

The activities of the league are many and various; its aim is not only to train good landworkers but to bring interest and amusement into the landworker’s life. Some of these activities I had a glimpse of, in the course of a day spent with one of its officials and his kindly wife in the southern province of Halland — which is among the best agricultural districts of Sweden. One of our excursions was to the scene of an open-air competition where eight young people raced against each other in the thinning of a field of root-crops. The competitors, girls as well as boys, were waiting at the field as we drove up — a sturdy, jolly company of youngsters and all of them eager for the fray; each was allotted three rows to thin out — three lengthy rows, for the field was by no means small. The prize to go to the lad or lass who came in first — the requisite thoroughness being, of course, understood.
This form of competition is only one of many organ­ized by J.U.F. — as the league is called for short; prizes are given for all sorts of agricultural accomplishments; the care of animals, the growing of fruit and vegetables.
Although the girl-member of J.U.F. is instructed in the field-work she shares with her brother — the planting of beans, the thinning of root-crops and the like — is also encouraged to perfect herself in the necessary arts of the housekeeper; I did not see a cookery lesson in progress but I was shown a photograph of a group of girls displaying a row of outsize sausages — their recent achievements in the kitchen.

I imagine her sitting up late over a typewriter in her hotel room that evening, staring back at a sheet of blank paper with the expression of a cornered rat.

Sometimes a caption

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

Sometimes a caption is worth a thousand pictures …
from the Svenska Dagbladet RSS feed I take this one, to a story about a power cut: “The cat in the picture is not the same cat as entered the electricity substation”