Friday, October 29

Heroism.

Humalia Akrawy is a true hero. I know I couldn't have done what she has when I was twenty-two. Best of luck to her.

It hardly seems worth mentioning any more, but a lot of people who claim to be in favour of human rights, workers' rights, and feminism support the men who put sixty bullets into her sister's body. They were trying to kill Ms Akrawy for the crime of working for the wrong employers.

To those who say there was no link between Saddam and Islamacist terror she says this: "When 9/11 happened, Saddam ordered a 3 day celebration with feasts and parades. Some people did not want to celebrate those attacks. He had those who did not participate brutally executed in public."


That is exactly the point missed by those who think we're fighting a court case, not a war.

Kathy Kinsley writes:

The taste of freedom is the one thing that can subvert any tyranny. Fear keeps a tyranny alive. Freedom will kill it. That is why Iraq has become such a battleground. It’s why we must stay until they no longer need us. If we leave now, the results will be as bad, if not worse, than the results of the mistakes of Bush’s father in listening to his “allies". And I will join the chorus of “It’s all our fault!” Because it will be.


Damn right.

Eloquence is overrated.

In a brilliant article in The Telegraph, Janet Daley writes:

Sitting through the final debate and the endless stump speeches in the "battleground states", it was overwhelmingly clear that George W Bush was inarticulate and right, and that John Kerry was articulate and wrong.


And you're not going to find a better summing-up of the differences between the two candidates than that.

Daley goes on to say:

Strictly speaking, Kerry is fluent rather than articulate - a good deal of what he says is so self-contradictory as to be technically meaningless, and the rest is incapable of substantiation.

But he talks without pauses or hesitation, his sentences are more or less grammatical, and they seem on superficial hearing to follow on from one another in some sort of order.


My theory is that, just as some people are too intelligent to be clever (Jimmy Carter springs to mind), Kerry is too eloquent to be articulate. He is very good at talking. He is so good at it, in fact, that he doesn't understand the power of talking less.

In Slate, Chris Suellentrop details Kerry's inability to simply read a speech:

The speeches are supposed to convince Americans of Kerry's fitness for the presidency, but a side effect has been to demonstrate how inept he is at delivering prepared remarks.

The campaign gives reporters the text of each of Kerry's speeches "as prepared for delivery," apparently to show how much Kerry diverges from them.

...

Kerry proves incapable of reading simple declarative sentences. He inserts dependent clauses and prepositional phrases until every sentence is a watery mess.


Here's one of many examples:

Kerry's Script: I believe we need a fresh start on health care in America. I believe we need a President who will fight for the great middle class and those struggling to join it. And with your help, I will be that kind of President.

Actual Kerry: I believe so deeply—and as I go around, Bob and Bill and I were talking about this coming over here from other places—that the hope that we're seeing in the eyes of our fellow Americans, folks like you who have come here today who know what's at stake in this race. This isn't about Democrat and Republican or ideology. This is about solving problems, real problems that make our country strong and help build community and take care of other human beings. I believe we need a fresh start on health care in America. I believe we need a President who's going to fight for the great middle class and those who really are struggling, even below minimum wage now. And they won't even raise it. With your help, ladies and gentlemen, I intend to be that kind of President who stands up and fights for the people who need the help.


Now, what strikes me about this is that Kerry is clearly demonstrating his intelligence and eloquence here. It's not perfectly fluent — he screws up the structure of one of the sentences — but he's ad-libbing, so give him a break. Overall, he's showing a good ability to improvise, to weave on-the-spot thoughts into the flow of the prepared statements: he's showing mental agility. In some of the examples (though certainly not that one), his improvised version is as good as or even better than the original — but only when you consider the segment alone. When you look at the whole speech, the effect of tens or hundreds of little improvements is to dilute its impact and, frankly, to wreck it. I'm sure Kerry's advisors and speech-writers have told him this, but I seriously doubt that he would ever believe them. This man cannot believe that, when it comes to his own strengths, less might be more.

Let me talk about musicianship for a moment.

When you go to see a band who are just starting out, chances are they'll sound really, really bad. Sometimes, this is because they haven't really got any good at their instruments yet, but it's often because of precisely the opposite problem: they're very, very good, highly technically accomplished musicians — and they want you to know it. It takes many years of practice and supreme confidence for any guitarist to do what B B King does: just play a couple of notes, quite slowly. Getting up on stage may be nerve-wracking, but getting up on stage and doing very little, or even nothing, is terrifying. Everyone's looking at you. Everyone's waiting for you to show them why you got on that stage, why they should bother watching you. To stare calmly back at them, doing nothing at all, takes gut-wrenching reserves of self-confidence. It took me years of gigging before I could manage it.

John Kerry is scared.

Thursday, October 28

How would Kerry do in Iraq?

If you've got the time to read it, look at this huge post at Belgravia Dispatch about what Kerry could have done differently in Iraq up till now and what he could do differently from now on, and about the many examples of Bush recognising his administration's fuck-ups and redressing them.

Review Kerry's long voting record (his hyper-reticence to use American forces (or even proxies) overseas whether Desert Storm, Bosnia, Central America and so on--save the uber-safe Kosovo vote and disingenuous Iraq position). Think of how his Vietnam stance reveals much about his worldview. Think of wrong war wrong place wrong time. Ask yourself, will he see Iraq through given such rhetoric? Given his voting record over the decades? Given, as best we can espy it, his worldview? Given his snub of 'parrot' Allawi? I could go on. But I think the answer is pretty clear. It's, much more than likely, a no.

... does anyone believe Kerry is more likely to increase our troop posture in Iraq than Bush? Or really 'train and equip' better (someone smart on T.V., if there are any anchors so capable, needs to dig in the weeds with a Susan Rice about how, precisely, a Kerry team will train and equip Iraqi forces better than currently underway).

Would the party of Howard Dean go for this? Would John 'wrong war, wrong place, wrong time' Kerry authorize the deployment of an extra 50,000 GIs to Iraq (recall, he explicitly mentioned that any increases to the size of our military did not entail increases to our force posture in Iraq). Bottom line: the most critical mistake of the Iraq war, namely that we never had enough forces in theater, is more likely to be effectively redressed by Bush than Kerry.

...

Bush has shown flexibility in his war tactics. He did so with Sadr (successfully, so far). He did so in Fallujah. He's adjusted forces levels up and down via rotation schedules and the like. He's tried to remedy supply chain issues and getting enough body armor and gear to theater. He make midcourse changes too by bringing in Brahimi to help with electoral modalities. He did so by bumping Garner for Bremer and than expediting Bremer's exit. Some of these changes were forced by events. Some were thought through. Some make sense. Some might prove to have been ill advised. But, again, Bush is not some raging Messiah who believes he possesses the Truth--facts be damned! (There's some pragmatic Harvard MBA in all that born-again evangelicalism!)


Read this piece from Mr Godsavethequeen too.

A contemporary army, especially the American, is utterly dependent on a continuous and massive flow of equipment, spare parts, specialised supplies of all kinds, fuel (again, of specialised types), etc. That has to be brought in from somewhere, usually from the US itself. A lot of it could be brought in by sea - but Iraq only has very limited capacity for unloading. A lot has been done to get Umm Qasr and Al Zubayr up and running ... But they still require a massive effort before they're working properly.

...

Hence the criticality of the airlift.


He links to this:

The airlift operation that has sup-ported US forces in Southwest Asia over the past three years now ranks among the most extensive in history. Taken together, the efforts in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom can be put in the same general class as US airlifts to Berlin (1948-49), Israel (1973), and the Persian Gulf (1990-91). And Air Mobility Command leaders expect no letup for at least another 18 months.

At the same time, the Air Force faces an acute airlift shortfall. The capability of the fleet used in the 2003 Iraq War was well short of requirement; the gap was at least 10 million ton miles per day. Today, AMC leaders say, the gap is wider—at least 15 MTM/D, perhaps 22 MTM/D.

...

It all adds up to an airlift fleet that is too small to carry the load and personnel who cannot maintain a breakneck pace forever.


This doesn't get Bush off the hook entirely, but it should be remembered that military investment is a long-term thing, and that therefore current American airlift capabilities are largely the responsibility of the Clinton administration — and probably Bush the Elder's reign, too. The question is: is Dubya doing anything to fix the situation? And the other question is: would Kerry? I'm not sure about the answer to the first question, but the answer to the second is a clear and resounding "No."

Funny old Web.

Thanks to this post, I am now not merely the top but the only result on Google for "carpet weevil" — even though I lifted that phrase from another web-page. Go figure.

Meanwhile, evidence for Gary's point appears in the form of someone stumbling across this site by searching for "download kenneth bigley scream ringtone". Honestly, some people.

Wednesday, October 27

A big old dog.

The inimitable Fafnir endorses his choice for president:

It is a confusin an frightenin time to be America. Because a 9/11 an these Times Of Change. "Oh no!" says America. "I'm so confused who do I voooote for!" You need steady leadership in times a change America. The steady leadership of a big ol dog.

Some other candidates say they are steady but are they really? Or are they just suspiciously french an ketchupy? "Sacre bleu, vive le France," say some other candidates. "Ceci n'est pas une pipe." Well always know where a big ol dog stands on hard issues like terror!" "HRARRGL HRAARRGL GRRRAAARRRGL," says a big ol dog bitin an spittin an growlin at terror. The dog is also tough on other dogs, postal workers, small children, plants an stuff that looks like plants.


He's got a point.

Nice.

An absolute classic from JonnyB:

Listening to banjo music is a bit like dressing up in women’s clothing and masturbating in front of ‘Bargain Hunt’. Everybody does it, but nobody ever admits to it.

 

Them pesky Jews.

Over at Harry's Place, there's a big argument going on (as usual) in the comments to this post claiming that Mark Steyn is a racist. The claim is bollocks, based on the usual left-wing premises that Islam is a race, not a religion, and that there is no difference between race and culture. But that's not the point I wish to address.

In the comments, someone calling himself "Satmarvellous" (yeah, like I'm in a position to criticise silly names) says:

For some reason Steyn never admits he is Jewish when launching into one of his indiscriminate indictments of Muslims.


DoviD then says:

Steyn never flags up his Jewish background in his articles, and only admitted it in an interview which most of his readers in syndication know nothing about. He should declare an interest when scaremongering about Muslims, as he so often does. A Canadian Zionist Jew for Jesus living in America and writing for the Limey press is sure giving a lot of hostages to fortune. Steyn's disingenuousness (as I think Satmarvellous is arguing) strengthens anti-semitic suspicions. There's enough talk about dual loyalties floating around already. These neoconservative pundits are doing American Jews no favours; most of them are agin Likud and Sharon and are embarrassed by the extremism preached in the name of the community by self-appointed spokespersons.


This is something one sees a lot these days: the belief that anyone with a Jewish surname must have a hidden agenda when they discuss Muslims, or Arabs or Israel or Iran or a whole host of other issues. It's an insidious bit of nastiness that I feel very strongly about. I reproduce my response to it here.

Look, no other race gets this shit. "You must declare your ancestry so that people can see you have an interest." West Indians don't get this when writing about Africa, white people don't get it when discussing England, there are never calls for anyone discussing Algeria to reveal that their great-grandfather was French. It's only the Jews. Because, as we all know, while other races are capable of diversity of opinion, all Jews think alike on all issues: they all hate all Muslims, for example. Oh, no; hang on: you've just written about how Steyn's opinions actually differ from those of the majority of American Jews. Amazing. So what is your problem? If different Jews have different opinions, why on Earth should Jews have to declare their ancestry when writing about politics?

I fail to see the difference between asking why Jewish jounalists don't declare their race so that their readers can divine their real agenda and claiming that Jews are involved in an international conspiracy.


Incidentally, Mark Steyn isn't Jewish. Just inheriting a surname from Jewish ancestors is enough to spark off this particular type of racism.

John Peel, RIP.

The thing about John Peel was that he was not merely a great broadcaster with a cool voice, but that he was a nice man and his niceness came across. That is why people who never listened to or cared about his show are saddened by the news of his death. The world needs more nice people, not fewer.

Inappropriate impartiality.

Newton Emerson, author of the spectacularly funny Portadown News, has written an equally brilliant, but not actually funny, opinion piece about the nature of political humour.

The bogus concept of impartiality is a lead weight tied around the ankle of Ulster humour. Viewed from a sufficient distance it may well be true that both sides are as bad as each other but having to say so at every turn blurs the detail up close and takes the edge off sharp observations.

Day to day, issue to issue, both sides are not always as bad as each other or, at least, may be equally bad in very different ways.


It strikes me that it's not just Ulster humour for which this forced impartiality is a problem.

Tuesday, October 26

Unintentional hilarity.

I used to think that Ian Mayes, The Guardian's readers' editor, was pretty good. He has, in the past, happily written articles full of common sense and reasonableness. Then he spoils it all with this bollocks, containing some of the most stupid sentences I've read in a while, even by the standards of Operation Clark County.

For more than a week the Guardian has been under an unprecedented email bombardment from the United States.


You might think that this was a brilliantly ironic preamble to an honest assessment of the situation. Unfortunately not.

Although the G2 article did not presume to say which way it wanted the unaffiliated citizens of Clark County to vote, the front page of the main broadsheet that day carried the open declaration: "What you can do to beat Bush - with a little help from the folks in Ohio."


Again, apparently no irony intended here. He really does mean that the campaign's intention was merely to influence the election, not to influence it in a particular direction. Had Guardian-readers written to US citizens urging them to vote for Bush, the paper would have counted that as a major success. Mmm.

It was clear that a "spamming" campaign was involved.


Ah, what refreshing honesty. Oh, hang on: he only means the responses to the campaign, not the campaign itself. Writing to a citizen who has not subscribed to a mailing list and who probably does not read your paper to give them your unasked-for opinion is, apparently, not spamming. Writing to a journalist in order to give your opinion of a campaign that that journalist's paper is running is, apparently, spamming. Right.

One Guardian journalist, with dual American and British nationality - a strong supporter of the exercise - believed the reaction illustrated the intimidatory tactics of the angry right.


But the campaign itself, apparently, illustrated neither the condescension nor the stupidity of the angry Left. For some reason.

The intention was to smother free speech. The G2 exercise sought to open up debate.


This is becoming quite fascinating. I simply can't see the difference between the two: Guardian-readers wrote to people to give their opinion; people wrote to Guardian jounalists to give their opinion. Free exchange of ideas, right? Apparently not. I suspect this is a demarcation issue: it is a journalist's job to tell people what to think. You can't have just any untrained pleb writing his opinion, least of all writing it to a journalist. I wonder if the NUJ are going to get involved.

my own view is that the paper in carrying out the exercise through the intrusive use of the voters' list, has prejudiced some of the goodwill it has built up in America and unnecessarily excited its enemies.


The last four words are right, at least, but does this man really believe that his paper has built up goodwill in America over the last three years? Really?

It has sought to intervene in the US election, with unpredictable consequences.


Unpredictable? By whom? A quick browse around political blogs in both the US and the UK will reveal predictions of exactly this result, all published the moment the campaign was suggested. Ian Katz, the editor behind the campaign, has admitted that The Guardian received accurate predictions of their campaign's result before they even went to print, but just refused to believe it. What utter eejits.

The editor of the Guardian, defending the exercise, said it was a crucially important election in the face of which many felt a sense of impotence. "What we did was simply to invite personal acts of communication from one individual to another. ..."


That's all fair enough. I don't object to Operation Clark County on principle; I just think it was phenomenally stupid, since it was guaranteed from the outset to increase support for Bush (which is fine by me, but not, I think, what The Guardian had in mind). What I don't get is why some personal acts of communication from one individual to another consitute "a spamming campaign", "the intimidatory tactics of the angry right", an attempt "to smother free speech", while others are OK. I can only conclude that what they really mean is that they wanted to invite personal acts of one-way communication from one individual to another and not back again. But we knew that.

This is very interesting:

In a poll I conducted among Guardian staff who had been following the story, of 71 respondents, 13 thought it a legitimate and worthwhile exercise, 14 were undecided and 44 were against it. Among the reasons given by the latter, reflecting complaints coming from the US, were that intervention in the democratic processes of another country was not "legitimate newspaper behaviour"; and that it was arrogant and self-aggrandising.

Several were dismayed that the internet effect had apparently not been anticipated, one saying that the speed with which links to the Guardian story spread showed that "this perceived insult has legs". Another commented: "It seems a shame that, in this interactive age, with email and weblogs all around, we rejected any attempt to have a real conversation with US voters."


Amazing: it looks like the majority of The Guardian's staff have common sense and a true sense of democracy. I hope some of them get promoted. Maybe we can look forward to better editorial policy in the future.

I can't remember who it was who first said it, but they were right: one of the great strengths of George Bush is the way that his very existence reduces his opponents to lunacy — not just to imprudence or to anger or to militance, but to actual frothing-at-the-mouth, counting-to-three-on-your-thumbs lunacy. Which, for connoisseurs of human stupidity, is yet another good reason to vote for him.

Monday, October 25

American airport security.

There's been much talk of the increased security measures at US airports since 9/11, especially of the increased officiousness, small-mindedness, pettiness, and stupidity of American baggage screeners and the rules that they have to follow. Now I've been though it three times, I can join in.

I went through O'Hare, Hartsfield-Jackson, and JFK. There seemed to be one or two of the annoying, uninterested, unhelpful staff that everyone's been complaining about, but, for the most part, they were quite friendly and cheerful, especially in Atlanta. I had to take my laptop out of its bag, which is a bit of a pain, but that's not just an American thing: I've had to do that in Europe, too. It seems that it's only the British who have perfected the new seeing-a-laptop-through-its-bag technology. I didn't experience any of the exasperation many travellers have reported at the way security dutifully pick out every sixth person in the line, even when this means searching little old ladies while ignoring angry-looking young Arabic men, because all three of the security checks I went through searched everyone — which, as far as I'm concerned, is fair enough. We weren't sure, but it looked like the group of which I was a part were singled out for special attention because we were from Northern Ireland. Again, this is fair enough, though I have a handy tip for American security staff: the Northern Irish people who are involved in international terrorism tend to use Irish passports, not British ones. Oh, and they usually carry invitations to the Whitehouse with them. (The New York cab driver who drove us from JFK asked us where we were from. "Northern Ireland." We awaited the usual Oirsh blarney-and-shamrock oh-isn't-Dublin-lovely-begorrah comments, but instead got "I gave that Gerry Adams a lift once." Hmm.)

Anyway, everyone getting on every one of my flights had to be thoroughly swiped by metal detectors until no beeping occurred. The detectors were quite sensitive but a bit erratic: they picked up at least one woman's bra strap, but ignored the buttons on my jeans. Anyone whose shoes beeped, and plenty of people whose didn't, had to take them off. Most people were manually frisked. It was all very thorough, but also very time-consuming.

And that was what struck me the most about the whole thing: not rudeness or stupidity, but how long it took. The staff at O'Hare were taking upwards of three minutes per passenger, which is unbelievable, and bloody awful when you've got, say, eight people ahead of you in the queue. They didn't look slow; they appeared to be hurrying through the work as quickly as they could; yet, for some reason, they took bloody ages.

I should make it clear here what I'm comparing them to. I flew between Glasgow and Belfast and between London and Belfast back in the early Nineties, before the cease-fire. In those days, every single passenger getting on a plane in or out of Northern Ireland was frisked by an armed police officer. They were very thorough. They were at least three times faster than the Americans are. I wonder why. Is it just a matter of practice?

All of this has to be considered an improvement over pre-9/11 American airport security, though. I never travelled through it myself, but recently made a discovery that tells me all I need to know about it. I remember hearing at the time that the hijackers had used box-cutters to overpower the crew, and, not being American, vaguely wondering what a box-cutter was. Everyone was saying how it had simply never occurred to airline security that a box-cutter could be considered a dangerous weapon, so they weren't actually prohibited on board planes: if they searched you and found your box-cutter, they wouldn't confiscate it; they'd let you take it on board. Accordingly, I concluded that a box-cutter must be some tiny, seemingly inoffensive tool for, er, cutting boxes. Then I discovered a few weeks ago that "box-cutter" is American English for "Stanley knife". American airline "security" staff considered that a Stanley knife could not be used to harm anyone. There is simply no other conclusion to be drawn than that they were grade-A fuckwits.

Friday, October 22

Oo, I am so clever.

Norm has an interesting logic puzzle up on his fine blog. I have solved it.

You and 5 unfortunates are [to be] locked up [somewhere]. You all know that there is a single toggle switch initially in the UP position[,] to be found in a special room. Prisoners are kept apart and cannot communicate once the [period of imprisonment] starts. Prisoners are taken from their solitary cells one by one and one at a time, in no [particular] order, to this control room.

The only way out... is if one of you declares correctly that all of you have visited the room at least once. The downside is that you will [all] stay there [forever] if the statement when uttered is made incorrectly. You have a few moments together before the [period of imprisonment] starts[,] to set up a strategy. No one else may interfere with the room. How can you arrange for one of you to be in a position to know that 'we have all of us visited the room at least once'?


I don't wish to spoil Norm's fun, so am not going to post my solution here without his permission. I have emailed my solution to him, however, and I'm sure he'll get me a knighthood or something as acknowledgement.


Update:

See? I was right. I redirect your attention to the title of this post.

More Noo Yoik.

Bloomingdale's may be a bit shite, but Macy's is fantastic. Where Bloomingdale's gives the impression that you should consider yourself privileged even to be allowed in, Macy's goes out of its way to try and make its customers happy. And the restaurant's great, too.

The Empire State Building, on the other hand, is the single worst tourist attraction I have ever been to, a total waste of money and time. You go downstairs to queue for twenty minutes or so for a ticket in a stuffy area with no air conditioning. Then you go upstairs again with your ticket and queue for about ten minutes to go up another escalator, at the top of which is a queue that takes about thirty minutes or so to reach the elevators, again in a stuffy confined space, again with no air conditioning. You finally get in an elevator, under the impression that you've made it, but it only takes you most of the way to the top: you get out of the elevator to find a long queue to get to the second elevator. That queue takes maybe another fifteen minutes. At no point in the entire experience is there anywhere you can sit down. Not a single chair. How utterly fucking crap. We got to the top knackered and pissed off and eager to get back down again (for which yet more queuing is required), and, frankly, didn't think much of the view.

Note to Empire State employees: there's this dead useful thing called "writing" that allows you to record speech permanently in a way that other people can easily access. When you have a message to give your customers, you can "write" it on a "sign" and put the sign where your customers can "read" it. That way, you can stop bloody shouting at everyone the whole fucking time.

Oh, and, no, we're not from Dublin, England. The eejit Empire State employee who suggested that is going to get a slap from someone sooner or later, but perhaps we should be grateful that he's being equally offensive to Northerners and Southerners. And the English.

On the up side, we got honey-roasted nuts from a street vendor, and they are delicious. And we got back to our hotel to find two Chinese takeaway menus shoved under our door. I love the food here.

But I am really pissed off by America's shoddy mobile phone reception, specifically the way that GPRS appears for the occasional random couple of minutes before vanishing again for hours or even days at a time. I wrote most of this post a few days ago, and it's been sitting in my phone ever since. We're leaving tomorrow, and it's looking more and more like I'm going to have to wait till I'm back in Blighty to get a connection. So much for the travelog. Yet American streets and American television are covered with adverts for the very latest photo-sending, email-checking, web-surfing phones. Why? You can't use the bloody things here. Weird.

Whinging aside, this country is truly great. We'd like to stay a few extra days. We're definitely going to go back to Chicago one day. New York's not as good, but it's pretty cool nonetheless. Central Park Zoo is excellent: I've never seen such an active red panda. The Brooklyn Bridge is every bit as impressive as it looks in films. Grand Central Station is one of the greatest buildings I have ever been in, and certainly the best train station. The eateries are great: we love Jimmy's on 6th Avenue. Went to see The Producers tonight, which was very silly and great fun. We've had a good time, all in all.

As we were arriving in Manhattan, driving over the Queensborough Bridge, our cab-driver pointed out the UN and said "We call it the National Bank of Saddam Hussein." This may be a Democrat town, but they're not stupid.

Sorry for this post's ramblingness, but phones are not the best text editors. Normal service resumes next week. For now, that is all.

Saturday, October 16

More America.

Further to my slagging-off of Atlanta, I should add that we went to visit some old friends out in Roswell, in the suburbs, and the area was beautiful and lovely, as was practically every inch of the drive out there. From my brief and limited experience of the city, it appears that it's only the city centre that's shit. Oh yes it is.

We're now in New York, New York, and it is pretty damn good. But it's not up to Chicago's standards. The people are nice and friendly, but not as friendly as in Chicago. The architecture is impressive, but not a patch on Chicago — and, interestingly enough, you can photograph it properly: film footage of New York does capture the city as it really is. Bloomingdale's is much overrated — it's just a department store, much like any other — whereas Marshall Field's is utterly astounding. Oh, but the food here is fantastic. New York wins the culinary battle, I reckon.

This will come as a surprise to no-one, but Irish Americans can be a total pain in the arse if you're from the North. As an acquaintance of mine said yesterday, the trouble with Americans is that they don't even know they're insulting you. Saw Jim Sheridan, the film director, give a speech yesterday, and he was entertaining and hilarious and entirely non-political, then spoilt it all by ending with "Up the rebels!" We weren't exactly surprised, but he can still fuck off.

One other thing about America: their GPRS reception is extremely unreliable. Which is a bugger when you're trying to blog from your phone.

Bye for now.

Wednesday, October 13

Photographing a city.

Chicago, I noticed, cannot be photographed. Sure, you can point your camera at the place, but there is no way of really capturing its beauty on film. No, I am certainly not the world's greatest photographer (though I'm not bad), but I'm not just talking about my own attempts here. I've seen hundreds of films set in Chicago over the years, and the only one that comes even remotely close to capturing what the place really looks like is The Untouchables — which, if I remember correctly, was filmed largely on sets. So it's not just me: the world's greatest film directors can't capture Chicago on film either. Interesting phenomenon.

American food is fantastic. I am throwing on weight. Anyone who comes to the US and doesn't get fat is clearly insane.

Must dash.

Georgia on my nerves.

Many people claim that Atlanta is a wonderful, wonderful city. They are all wrong. It is squalid and dull and ugly, and not even ugly enough to be interestingly ugly. Being here, suddenly REM's music makes sense: boring music from a boring city.

Off to New York tomorrow. It'll have its work cut out to come even close to the standard of Chicago, but it will, I am sure, beat Atlanta hands down. But then, so does Kilmarnock.

Sunday, October 10

Well, that didn't go too well.

Mere seconds after I sent that last post, the bus stopped to let on a large number of obnoxious late-teenage boys, who sat in front of, next to, and behind me. I usually sit by the emergency exit, which has the great advantage of extra leg-room, but the disadvantage of being at the back of the bus and therefore popular with antisocial bastards. These particular antisocial bastards spent the rest of the journey "chatting" at about four thousand decibels, quaffing foul-smelling alcoholic beverages, and demonstrating their astonishing collection of really irritating laughs. Meanwhile, I let my jacket hang over the seatbelt's mechanism so that I could ever-more-desperately fiddle with the bloody thing while appearing nonchalant. To no avail. At Dublin Airport, I had to resort to clambering and contorting my way out of my seat while being loudly mocked by the surrounding wankers. Oh, joy.

Aer Lingus had insisted that passengers arrive for check-in at eleven-forty-five, but refused to allow us to check in until twelve-thirty. So I had to lug my suitcase around the dump that is Dublin Airport as I tried to get some breakfast. Negotiating your way through a cafeteria with a tray of food, a drink, a large suitcase, and a laptop bag is tricky, let me tell you. I should get a medal.

One of the first things to happen on the flight was that one of the stewardesses spilt orange juice on my lap. I was disappointed to discover that hundreds of pop videos and sit-coms, in which stewardesses' standard response to such accidents is to bend over and dab gently and erotically at the passenger's crotch while presenting their busts a couple of inches in front of his face, are lies. They did apologise a lot, though.

Apart from all that, the journey was fine.

I'm in Chicago, and it's great.

Saturday, October 9

Why me?

So here I am on a bus, heading south from Belfast to Dublin Airport. Only just made it, due to oversleeping, due to staying up packing till about three-thirty. Anyway, it's one of them new buses with seatbelts, so, not being keen on entrusting bus-drivers with my life to any greater extent than absolutely necessary, I used mine. I have now observed that the seatbelt's release mechanism is broken, to the extent of not working. I have an hour or so to quietly figure out how to release myself from this seat's clutches without looking like an utter pillock. Failing that, I shall need to cry for help.

I could ask the couple across the aisle if they have an axe I could borrow.

Friday, October 8

To the Great Satan.

Blogging might happen over the next two weeks, but might not. Here, that is; blogging will obviously occur all over the place, unless there's some sort of bloggers' plague. I'm off to Chicago, then off to Atlanta, then off to New York. Life is sweet.

Totalitarianism.

Shot By Both Sides draws our attention to legalistic goings-on in France.

A CRACKDOWN on drink-driving in France entered new territory yesterday when a couple went on trial for allowing an intoxicated dinner guest to drive away from their home and cause a crash that killed him and four others.

...

The couple are charged with “failing to prevent a crime or lesser offence causing bodily injury”. The prosecution arose from a night in February 2000 when Frédéric Colin drove away at 3.45am from dinner at the Fraisse’s home at Maizières-les-Metz in Lorraine.

He went the wrong way up a motorway and collided with a car carrying a family of five. M Colin died, along with the parents and two children in the other car. The grandparents of a surviving five-year-old boy applied for proceedings against the Fraisses when Colin was found to have a blood alcohol level of 2.4 grams a litre. The legal maximum is 0.5. An investigating judge later dropped the case, but it was reinstated by an appeal court.

The Fraisses said that they did all they could to prevent their friend driving home. “We tried to take his keys but he wouldn’t let us,” Mme Fraisse said. “I suggested that he spend the night with us, but he didn’t want to. The prosecutors think I should have called the police but that is not realistic. ...”


In other news, the French authorities will now jail you for allowing cars to overtake you when you're driving at the speed limit, failing to disarm bank robbers, or not telling them that everything in every Parisian street market is nicked. (OK, not everything.)

This summary of the debate's a bit odd:

Safety campaigners are hailing the case as a sign that the state is getting serious with the alcoholic driving that plagues France. Motoring orgnisations are depicting the Fraisses as victims of a new “blame culture”.


Why motoring organisations? Why would they feel any need to speak up on this couple's behalf? They didn't get in a car; they didn't do any driving. Why isn't it justice organisations or civil rights organisations or a major political party who are up in arms? Or, if they are, why aren't they making enough noise to be noticed by The Times's reporter? And are all safety campaigners in favour of this, as the article implies? Somehow, cynical though I can be about the French, I doubt it.

A café owner in Burgundy was given a two-month suspended prison sentence last year for “complicity in drunk-driving” because he had served a bottle of wine to a client who was intoxicated.


When Churchill said that a Socialist state couldn't work without something along the lines of the Gestapo, he was mocked.

American election latest.

The incomparable Fafblog on John Kerry's debate performance:

He showed strength an directness which musta been tough for him, on accounta he usually likes to discuss foreign policy by mincin around in a tutu goin "I'm John Kerry, blah blah blah! Oh I am long-winded and effeminate! Allow me to read from the Paris telephone directory! ... Oh, I am made of ketchup! Oh, I throw like a girl!"

 

Sweet potatoes.

Time for another recipe, I think. I hereby present the Squander Two method of preparing sweet potatoes. (When I was a kid, they were generally known as "yams", but "sweet potato" seems to have taken over. I wonder why.)

Peel and chop the sweet potatoes and put them in a pan of boiling water. They'll take about 15 minutes or so to cook.

Meanwhile, dice a red onion and start to fry it in olive oil. As it's frying, grind on plenty of black pepper and sprinkle on some decent chicken stock powder. Ideally, of course, you want Telma chicken soup mix for this, as there is no better chicken stock in the world. Knorr do some pretty good stuff, though, too, which I use because I haven't yet found anywhere in Belfast that sells Telma. Oh, and you can get really good Klare Suppe mix from Germany, which is handy if members of your family go to Germany frequently, or if you live there, but useless otherwise. Anyway, you sprinkle plenty of it, whatever it is, on to the red onion and turn the heat down low and fry it for as long as you can without it all burning. Start the frying before you even start to peel the sweet potatoes, if you like. If the pan starts to dry up and things look like they might burn, add a very small splash of water. Sometimes I add teriyaki sauce, too.

You can tell when the sweet potatoes are ready by sticking a knife into them. They shouldn't offer much resistance: you don't want any crunchiness left in them. When they're ready, drain them, mash them, add the chicken-flavour fried onions and a small amount of grated cheddar, mix well, and serve. Good with sausages or burgers.

Always make sure you make more than you need, by the way, 'cause the leftovers are a bit useful. You mix in a beaten egg, shape it into little cakes, and fry them.

Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 6

Gibberish.

I mentioned before that great musicians occasionally talk utter crap. And then today I stumble across J. M. Nasim. I have yet to listen to his Psychedelic Jew's Harp music, so cannot say whether it is any good. (I suspect it might well be.) But, really, listen to this:

I create this music live. No multi-tracking, no playback of pre-recorded material, no sampling. The raw signal of voice and Jew’s Harp feeds into a portable bank of automated processors. Here, various programmatic, architectonic sound spaces frame rhythmic zones within which certain acoustic potentialities reside. These sonic holograms manifest my musical explorations as shape-shifted sound. Seminal acoustics are gestated into new aural forms to birth multi- dimensional soundscapes of interpenetrating pulses and harmonics.


Would you want a conversation with this man?

Something else he says is interesting. I have no idea whether it's true, but I sincerely hope so.

The Jew’s Harp’s power as a courtship instrument from Bavaria to the Philippines alludes to a potent psychosexual association.


I wish I'd known that ten years ago.

Political correctness gone weird.

Speaking of political correctness, here's a nice little story from Ulster, related to me a few weeks ago by a friend of mine.

As you may but probably don't know, Israeli flags are becoming a commonplace sight amongst the Union Jacks on Northern Ireland's Unionist estates. Many Unionists feel that they want to express solidarity with Israelis: they too are victims of terrorism and they too are widely vilified by most of the world's population. Anyway, the UVF, a Unionist "paramilitary organisation" (terrorists), have been developing quite close ties with the BNP of late. I suppose the BNP are also a Unionist paramilitary organisation, in a way, so you can see why such an alliance might form. But, of course, this raises a problem.

So a BNP speaker was coming over to give a speech in a UVF-controlled area, and his hosts went round and took down all the Israeli flags so as not to offend him.

Political correctness gone mad.

Sure, that's an overused phrase, but it wouldn't be if political correctness didn't keep going mad.

So I was reading this interesting discussion over at Harry's Place, and it reminded me of something.

I lived in Glasgow for seven years. As visitors to the city will know, Glaswegians swear quite a lot. A hell of a lot, in fact. And it's not just a street thing: they routinely swear at work, in conversation with their employees or bosses. Yeah, there are always some Glaswegians who wrinkle their noses in disgust, but they're a tiny minority.

A friend of mine is the manager at a branch of Burger King in Glasgow. It's tricky to enforce discipline, he says. Burger King have a nationwide policy that employees may not swear at their superiors, on pain of discipliniary action. Except at their Glasgow branches. Burger King's HR department have decreed that swearing is a part of the native culture of Glaswegians, and it would, of course, be wrong to discipline someone for practising their native culture. Therefore, Burger King employees in the Glasgow area are allowed to tell their bosses to go and fuck themselves, and their bosses aren't allowed to stop them.

Tuesday, October 5

Why I don't watch the TV news any more.

Yesterday was, in historical terms, a great day. SpaceShipOne achieved its second successful space flight in a week, winning ten million dollars for its trouble. The age of commercial space travel arrived.

Usually, I don't watch the news on the TV much. Like many people, I've become depressed by it's piss-poor quality, its bias, its utter failure to comprehend anything even vaguely scientific, and the way its schedules are decided by infighting between politicians and journalists. But yesterday was different. Dale Amon has been giving great coverage of SpaceShipOne from the very start, but I wanted to see moving pictures, damn it. So I turned on the TV.

We've got access to all the main twenty-four-hour news channels, which seemed like a good bet. Nope. Flicking between CBS, Sky, BBC, Fox, and some others for half an hour yielded nothing. Not only nothing, but I couldn't help but be struck by the stupidity, pettiness, and pointlessness of the stories they were showing. Mount St Helena is going to errupt — fair enough, tell us about that. Ongoing coverage of events in Iraq — again, fair enough. But what else were they devoting airtime to? Tory conference, with lots of footage of speeches. Who cares? Peter Mandelson's first day in Brussels. He made a speech in French about how he can speak a bit of French but is generally going to stick to English. They played all of it. Something to do with Manchester United FC. Various other items so uninteresting that I can't even remember them.

Then, finally, ITV News mentions it: "Coming up after the break," apparently. So I wait till after the break, but then they have the interminable sports results. Then the weather. Then about five seconds of footage of SpaceShipOne landing (as if trundling along a runway was the great achievement), followed by a brief snippet of interview with Richard Branson about the flights Virgin Galactic hope to start running three years from now. No words from, and not even a picture of, any of the team behind the achievement. Not even a picture of the pilot. You know what this means? A one-minute-long segment after the sport and weather? That's the dead donkey slot. Seamus the skateboarding jack russell; the schoolboy who's invented a new type of whistle; the ninety-seven-year-old lady from Hertford who rides a Harley. This is what our mainstream news journalists think of one of man's greatest technological achievements ever. What a shower of useless dullards.

Today's papers are the same. SpaceShipOne should be on every front page. It's not on one.

Now, I realise that not everyone shares my interests. I realise that some people are very interested in the goings-on at Man U or what the Tories have to say for themselves. But look at it this way. Twenty years from now, every news broadcast will contain an item mentioning the anniversary of yesterday's flight. By then, commercial spaceflight will either be an everyday thing or, perhaps, it will have ended in accidents so horrific that no-one will have any intention of trying it again. Either way, the date of its dawn will be mentioned. Even wilfully obscure trivia-obsessed "On this day in history" columns around page 41 of the Sunday papers won't mention Peter Mandelson's first day of work in Brussels.

Go read Dale Amon's coverage on Samizdata. We don't need moving pictures. We need vision.

Monday, October 4

Some ideas are both good and bad.

As Gary mentioned once before, cleaning a George Foreman grill can be a tad tricky. There is a special knack to it, which I have, but I always strive to improve where I can, so I decided to experiment a bit the other night, with mixed results.

The knack to cleaning a George Foreman grill without going mad is to clean it while it's hot. Covering it in soaking kitchen towel while it's switched on works pretty well. But then that Harriott bloke started advertising Fairy Power Spray as being the answer to all your cooked-on-food problems, and, well, it was worth a try. In retrospect, I made a couple of mistakes, not including listening to the dish-washing advice of a man who has people to do that sort of thing for him.

Fairy Power Spray, it is my duty to report, does work pretty damn well. I'm not sure it's all that much better than plain old undiluted Fairy, to be honest, but it has the gimmick of a spray-gun, and I like a good gimmick. However, if I could make one criticism of it, it's that the spray action is over too tight an angle. This means that, to cover your dirty pan or grill, you have to use rather a lot of it. This can cause problems.

Anyway, so I dowsed Mr Foreman's grill with Power Spray, switched it on, waited a couple of minutes, and started scrubbing with a wet sponge. Not bad results, from a cleaning point of view, though no improvement over my old method. Like I said, there were a couple of things I would recommend doing differently.

My first mistake was simple overkill. Too much of the power spray, yes, but also there was no need to switch the grill on. I was striving for more sheer cleaning power than man was meant to mess with, frankly: water plus heat is good, water plus detergent is good, but water plus detergent plus heat is just too much, damn it.

Those of you of a scientific (or simply non-stupid) bent may have divined my second mistake upon reading the words "detergent plus heat". My second mistake was, of course, breathing in the same building as large quantities of roasting Fairy Power Spray.

Not disabled enough.

This is just insane.

Mark Fosbrook, 28, from Cheltenham, has been training to compete with the British wheelchair rugby team in Athens.

The teacher said he was "devastated" when the ruling body for the sport told him he was too able-bodied to play in the Paralympics, which start on September 17.

Mr Fosbrook, who competed with the British Paralympic volleyball team in Atlanta in 1996, said he felt "frustrated and annoyed".

He said: "I am annoyed because I am sure I am eligible. I was born with no feet and just two fingers on each hand.

"I have been training with the squad and now I am going to miss out. I am absolutely gutted."

The International Wheelchair Rugby Federation rejected Mr Fosbrook's appeal against their classification decision.

They ruled that his hands scored three points - four being the level classified as able-bodied.

His body also scored a point as he has full use of his abdominal muscles.

This means Mr Fosbrook has four points which is too many to compete at a national level.

A spokeswoman for the International Paralympic Committee said wheelchair rugby players must qualify for one of seven groups from 0.5 to 3.5 depending on their functional ability.


I'm not sure what this is a better example of: of how attempts to define phenomena often lose sight of that which they are supposed to be defining, or, yet again, of the unintentional but inevitable malice of bureacracy.