Thursday, November 25, 2004


We had a little earthquake at about midnight last night. Enough to make everything shake. It is the first one I have experienced, and it was a little bit spooky.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Health for life: only £150!

Who says Neocons can't do irony? Bush has chosen his new education tsar: Miss Spellings!

In Britain, meanwhile, the Cabinet have gone all metapysical on us. Ben Bradshaw assures us "There are very real challenges to be faced in Iraq." How real, Ben? I mean, are they challenges that can be faced physically, or do spiritual challenges lie ahead? What is the relative reality of securing the energy supply, and persuading the Kurds not to join the anti-occupation revolt? By what standards should this reality be judged? Number of civilian deaths, number of dollars of reconstruction contracts awarded, or level of hassle to your good self?

Fresh from using that measure of most dubious constitutional status, the Parliamnet Act, to force through the foxhunting ban, the danglies have turned their eye to a different sort of fish altogether: pheasant shooting. This is different because the pheasant which are reared in the semi-wild are then shot for food, which foxes clearly are not. When asked why this was a more important target than battery farming, the animal rights lobby argue that shooting is wrong because people take pleasure from it. To get things in perspective, the number of battery chickens killed each year is in the hundreds of millions, the number of pheasants shot in the tens of thousands. The pheasants live wildly on managed estates, until they are induced into the air and shot in the hunting season. Both end up on food markets. The logical point of debate, which has been universally ignored is this: notwithstanding the fact that conditions for battery farmed animals are worse, is it better to produce animals for the food market in a way which gives some humans pleasure, or in a way which brings pleasure to nobody? The only possible opposition to shooting would be some kind of Victorian 'moral degeneration' argument, but in a world in which Abu Ghraib and Guantanomo Bay are the results of the export of "freedom" I think a few shooting toffs are of the least moral significance.

So come on animal rights campaigners. I challenge you all. I want to hear a logical, convincing representation of your position.

SantaMariaDellaSalute-VeniceIn about 1699 Venice suffered a terrible plague. The people of the city built a big Church to Madonna della Salute, and the plague went away. Every year everybody in the city crowds to the Church, buys a two Euro candle from a street vendor, and lights it in the church, which bestows on them good health for the next twelve months. It is much cheaper than the NHS or Bupa. It was a joy to see the legions of Italians pouring out of the Church and lighting cigarettes. Now thats what I call faith.

Finally, Big Ron is making his tentative steps down the comeback trail. He has astutely but indignantly pointed out that his sacking for calling Desailly "a f****** lazy n*****" would never have happened if he had used the word "Frog" instead. Not quite the penitent approach that trial by media demands, Ron...

Friday, November 19, 2004

"White girls shake your ass. Black girls shake your ass. Everybody shake your ass."

membersThe immortal words of the seemingly mortal Ol' Dirty Bastard of the Wu Tang Clan, who passed away this week. It seems he collapsed in his recording studio having taken large amounts of crack. Which is nearly a rock'n'roll death, but just not quite. Still, he died aged 35 leaving 13 children by an unknown number of mothers behind him, so perhaps a wierd Wu Tang style Wilson Phillips will follow eventually. Beloved of metal and rap fans in equal measure, the Clan will live in my memory for attracting some of the worlds scariest moshpits, and for being one of the few bands who could empty the floor at Hatfield's legendary Haunted Hangar.

The Beta Band are also drawing their last breaths, and Matt was lucky enough to catch up with their farewell tour in Cardiff. I guess they will never make that record every music journalist said they had in them. I like the material the singer has done as King Biscuit Time, though, so perhaps it isn't quite the end.

Being stuck in Italy will only MTV Europe and "AllMusic" to supplement the Cds we have over here forces you to listen to the European top 10 more than you might otherwise. Here is what I have learned.

1) Destiny's Child are very, very good at what they do.
2) Eminem will never become less annoying.
3) Manufactured pop can get in your head and stay there, with varied effects - Ashley Simpson is not harmful; Jojo is.
4) Anastacia is awful. Go away.
5) Nelly's duets with various people are always better than I expect them to be.
6) Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama are top of my wish list.

Si has joined the blogging community, so for everything you never knew you wanted to know, visit ukplc.

Finally, I just read Hamlet again. How the modern editions of the play came into being from the three main seventeenth century editions seems to be quite a mystery. It makes you wonder how worthwhile some of the analysis of the play as a 'work' is, whien the total text is only provisional. So speaks somebody who has been reading too much Ricoeur. Still, nearly finished. "Brick Lane" is next on the fiction list, which promises to be good.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Blogging thing

ludditeIt seems that since about 3rd November, links I have included in posts have not worked. They do now. Sorry.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Flags maps and museums

conceptsI have been reading Ricoeur's "Time and Narrative", and it has led me to wonder about the place, if any, of nations in twenty first century geopolitics. There was a time, as the British Empire collapsed, when self-determination was tied to some degree to military might. We now live in a world where military might has exceeded itself; mutually assured destruction leaves military innovation essentially redundant. The Arab-Israeli conflict illustrates perfectly why nation states are not a workable solution to the world's problems. What kind of social world can be imagined and constructed for the twenty first century? The current problem is that matters of security have not been solved in situations where the state has broken down, as the recent histories of Russia and Rwanda would suggest. That the British government believes citizenship to be the missing element in British nationhood at the moment is illustrative of the problems in attempting to imagine an alternative state.

The problem is that states exist partly in order to consolidate themselves. As Hobsbawm pointed out, this is the function of universal state education. However, unlike in the time of Rousseau, there is no option to live outside the state. You are born into a socail contract which you cannot leave, less still dissolve.

The popularity and success of Sertorius' alternative state in Spain under nominal Roman control suggests that imperial powers can be resisted or subverted. Nevertheless, constructing a viable, attractive alternative to the nation state is not easy. It should not be forgooten that most nation states are very young. We cannot turn the clock back, but we can recognise that they do not represent a norm in the organisation of society. Thinking about where to begin constructing plausible alternative models is not easy, but until it happens, people will continue to massacre each other in large numbers all over the globe.

Monday, November 15, 2004

"Not every truth is the better for showing its face undisguised; and often silence is the wisest thing for a man to heed" - Pindar

Here is a rather good Titian [Cain and Abel for the infidels] we found in a church. How the Old Testament should be: frightning.titian

I have read a few popular books recently, which is unusual for me. First up was Dan Brown's "The Davinci Code," which is to literature as Gilbert and Sullivan are to music. Next up was the "the Girl with the Pearl Earring" by somebody. It tried earnestlt to be good, but had all the hallmarks of somebody who had endlessly studied "write your own novel" handbooks. Oh, and I read a book Susie has called "PS I love you," which compared with the others has the relative merit of only aspiring to be the literary Hollyoaks, an ambition which it largely fulfills. And I read Bill Bryson's "History of Everything" or whatever it is called, but i don't like Bill Bryson anyway, and I have spent enough years with people who know a lot about Astrophysics, Biology and Paleoanthropology to know that most of it was pre-digested to the point of being useless anyway.

Spending Remembrance Sunday in Italy was remarkable only because they forgot. But then Venice's big hero is Francesco Morosini, whose grave inscription says (in Latin): "Here lies the bones of Francesco Morosini, Venetian emperor of the Peloponnesos." He is remembered for being the bloke who, with startling accuracy for the 17th century, fired a bloody big bomb into the Parthenon.

It did make me think, though, that the misplaced aspect of the Greek's whining about the Parthenon marbles is that were it not for the British/French/German Neoclassical Romantic movement, those stones would still lie where Morosini left them. Had the ancient world not be constructed as a cultural icon before the formation of a conciousness of modern Greek nationalism, it is unlikely it would ever have been appropriated as a pre-existing nationalist template. The comparison with the approach to the past of other areas with an equal heritage (eg Iraq and Afganistan) is enough to illustrate this.

Imagine a country where how and what you ate and drank was controlled by the government. Where visitors were taken on carefully managed tours, to shield them from public opinion. Where local authorities were competant to decide how people should dress in public. Where the government shamelessly manipulated the results of public votes.

Yesterday's Sunday Times carried the following stories:

1. Smoking is to banned in all restaurants and 80% of the floor area(!) of all pubs; Walkers crisps and others are to be banned from advertising on TV.

2. Dubya is to visit the UK before the next election. Will we see a repeat of last time when his tour was micromanaged to mask the existance of (massive) dissent. British citizens were not allowed to speak freely.

3. Local authorities have been given the power to ban people from wearing "hoodies", not because they can lead to "harder" fashion crimes like the mullet and the shellsuit, but because they are, it would seem, the germ from which sprouts anti-social behaviour. How perfectly, quaintly, Victorian.

4. Labour are looking for ways to not lose the referendum on the EU constitution. They have hit on the idea of allowing EU citizens living in Britain to vote. What majestic logic.

Anyway, it is not all bad. After all, the PM has supported the idea that some schools should be allowed to teach a creationist biology curriculum, on the basis that: " In the end, a more diverse school system will deliver better results for our children." Burk.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Come or the stellar tide will slip away

Maybe God is an electron. My sub atomic physics aren't great, but all this stuff about being everywhere but nowhere... I had always wondered what quarks were. This term was coined as a cover all to simplify the mystifying spectrum of sub atomic particles. No less involved is the angel hierarchy. Perhaps they are the same thing.

Good the scientists and god bothers can bugger off and fight amongst themselves.

The astute will already have spotted the Venetian connection in today's title. Ezra Pound is buried on the frankly wierd cemetary island here. It is currently invisible from my window, due to a disgusting blustery storm. Winter is here at last. The Italian news has been full, for reasons I find hard to discern, of a young lady called Claudia Pandolfi. I have no idea who she is, but still, to warm the cockles of my legions of readers, and make up for the fact that the only women yet to feature has been the frankly knarly (unless you are Rick) Claire Ward...

Oh, and far less excitingly, we will be gracing England with our presence from 21st to 30th December.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

How Imperialism Works

GPS is great. It lets you bugger off to the Artic, get horribly lost, and then get found quickly when you are cold or bored. It was developed by the US military, who let civvies use it for free. Why? To prevent anybody else needing to develop a rival system. So should they end up in a tricky warfare situation (think Vietnam) they have the aid of this capability, and they can block the signal to the enemy, giving them an edge.

The EU is a trading conglomeration which some European countries allow to dictate various laws and crazy rules. It doesn't want to fight the US. It does have (far) more money than sense. So it is developing an alternative to GPS called Galileo, which will be better than GPS and not have any military involvement.

The US are cross, and are already warning that if they suspect Galileo is being used by terrorists (aka enemies of America) they will blow up the satellites. If you want to know how scary these people are look at this extraordinary policy document, produced by the US military, and called Vision2020. It includes the frightning assertion that: "The medium of space is the fourth medium of warfare, along with land, sea and air...Space superiority is essential." Yikes!


While I was cooking last night a large blob of hot oil jumped from the pan onto my arm. It is now black and blistered and spiky painful, dammit. News of Tom's Eccle's cakes disaster makes me wonder whether British students head for foreign climbs somewhat ill equipped for providing for themselves. I never did Home Ec at school.

I finished reading "The Age of Consent" about a week ago. Simon, having only read the first fifty pages was right about it: Monbiot is a good critic but a rubbish visionary. The first half is entertaining polemic, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

I'd like to read everybody else's favourite book. So I have created a guestbook where people can post reading suggestions and comments about books they have read, or one's other people have mentioned. In return, I will read as many recommended books as I can get my hands on in this foreign place.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

"The real problem is what to do with the problem-solvers after the problems are solved." Gay Talese

Simon sent me this email. I feel the need to add nothing:

"This just appeared on the FT website:Blair targets chewing gum spittersBy Simon Briscoe in LondonPublished: November 2 2004 18:38 Last updated: November 2 2004 18:38

In a fresh sign that action against anti-social behaviour will play a vital part in the next UK general election, Tony Blair's government on Tuesday identified a new target in the effort to clean-up the country the nation's 28m gum chewers, or at least those who discard gum “inappropriately”. The target was revealed in a 160-page government-commissioned report that divides offenders into those who know it is wrong to drop gum, do it discreetly and feel guilty for doing so and hard-line miscreants the so-called “Bravado” group, who enjoy “spitting and kicking” used gum with little regard for its impact on the environment.

The research says a range of solutions is required to tackle the problem. Specially designed “fun bins” with targets or the supply of cigarette-type papers will work for some it says, while advertising and better education could harness the “guilt and revulsion” of others. The department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says the deployment of chemicals, machines spraying water jets and even lasers, to clear up gum costs authorities “many millions” of pounds. Peter Gibson of the charity Keep Britain Tidy says each local authority receives an average of 1,600 complaints a year from the public amounting to over 500,000 in England and Wales last year. However the British government will be aware that when Singapore introduced an outright ban on the sale of gum in 1992 it was ridiculed. The city-state was forced to reverse the decision to allow the marketing of gum meant for dental hygiene or as an anti-smoking aid./
Additional reporting by Jack Burton in Singapore.///

A quick visit here http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/localenv/litter/index.htm will reveal that in October 2003, a "Chewing gum action group" was formed by Defra. You can view the entire 160-page report these bozos have generated from that page, and see how the Gum Droppers Segmentation Survey has evolved since January.

It's lucky comment is unnecessary, because I am literally speechless. Si."

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

It's immoral to send someone so young

"It's immoral to send someone so young." So said Samira Abdullah, the grief stricken mother of Amar al-Far, a 16 year old Palestinian who blew himself up in Tel Aviv on Monday, killing three and injuring 32 others. In response the Israelis have razed his house. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3974557.stm. This just about sums up the intractibility of the situation. While having every sympathy with Palestinian claims to an independant territory, the route there will take more than a roadmap to find it. If Tony Blair really wants to leave an international legacy, a mutually accepted solution to this situation is where he should be focusing his attentions.

If you think the US elections are becoming a farcical mess, it is nothing compared with the Ukranian elections. You couldn't make it up. http://www.taraskuzio.net/elections2004/elections2004.html

MPs were due to vote today on a total ban on smacking. However, the government has supported an amendment, which means they are now going to ban only smacking which causes bruises or mental harm.

On 12th June 2003 Alan Milburn, then Health Secretary, quit the cabinet to spend more time with his children. Just over a year later, he has had enough of home life, and is back to mastermind Labour's election campaign.


Could these two stories be connected? I really do think we should be told...