Wednesday, 26 April 2006
A call to call girls, or The art of intelligence penetration

Without Arab customers, brothels from Bangkok and Bombay, and of course maisons de passe of every kind in Europe,, and the high-end call-girl trade (hotel calls only), on several continents, could collapse.

You can sit right on the water, at a restaurant or café, in Porto Banus, just outside Marbella, and watch the Arab yachts. They come right up to shore, and they are as large as ferries, and like ferries, the cars -- a stream of Mercedeses -- come off, one by one, carrying away for a half-day or the entire evening, or for the evening and a night in a hotel on land, the many wives and many children and their many guards. A half-hour later (it's fun to watch, and I hope the CIA has been clicking away) other cars arrive, but from them emerge girl after girl after girl, and they then are not driven onto the various yachts, but simply walk on, one after the other,while the Arab males on board are waiting for them.

Whatever fantasies you can dream up, whatever kinds of things would promptly get you arrested on five continents, if you were not a rich and immune Arab, is already being lived, quite casually, in the daily lives of a very large number of very rich Arabs, sometimes behind high-walled palaces in Dar al-Islam, where the religious police do not inquire (and since the women or children involved are Infidels, what does it matter?).

One doesn't know if the secret services of the Western world have been taking appropriate advantage of this situation. After all, certain kinds of photographs could further inflame local members of Al Qaeda and other groups at the decadence of princes and princelings. Some of those princes and princelings might be prepared to be a little more cooperative if they were more often made offers they can't refuse. Many clever people, on both sides during the Cold War, would have known the kinds of things to do. Where is Marcus Wolff when you need him? Where is Leopold Trepper and the "Red Orchestra"?

Those willing to engage in acts of derring-do and duplicity could help, and should, defend the West. Return to us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, avec l'enlevement du General Miller, and Reilly and the "Trest," and Moe Berg, and Oleg Penkovsky. Yes, you, an officer in the service of France, alarmed at the Muslim takeover of your country, disgusted by Le Pen, remembering a different France, and that Ecole Jules Ferry that you attended (who did not?), and the gentle instituteur, and your little cartable, and that cahier, and now, you learn, that school has been burned down by Muslim rioters, and everything vandalized, stolen, destroyed. And you are wondering about those now in the army -- not yet in the officer corps, but coming alone. What will happen in France? And what will happen to that force de frappe?

Or you are a German, a member of the "European" Parliament, and have seen with your own eyes the antisemitism (in its supposedly socially acceptable form, that of viciousness toward, based on deliberate miscomprehension of, Israel), and the anti-Americanism that are encouraged by a kind of Islamintern International, and while your father served in the Wehrmacht, as he had to, you have yourself been trying, in your own life, every since, to make amends, and you know that Europe and America must not be sundered, and your daughter worked as a volunteer on a kibbutz, and you too would like to do something to save Europe, America, Israel.

Or you are a Russian, and you have studied at the Institute for Eastern Languages, and you have personal familiarity with Islam, for you worked in Beirut, and then in Baghdad, in the bad old days of Primakov, who as a matter fact is still around, still making trouble. And you have friends in Tiflis, where you used to go, for those riotous never-ending toasts led or assigned by the tamada, and now you hear stories about the Muslim pressures on Christian Georgia, and about atrocities unreported outside Georgia. And your daughter has married an Armenian, and they live near you, and you have suddenly taken a great interest in Armenian history, and the Turks, and the Kurds, and you recognize the Muslim origin of the Armenian massacres; they taught you well -- no nonsense -- at that Institute. And you know why the Serbs went mad out of fear -- you actually read what Izetbegovic wrote. And for some reason, you keep thinking about long ago, about General Yermolov, and how Griboyedov died, and you imagine Vronsky going off to fight in the Bulgarian Wars. And for some reason Vronsky, on Frou-Frou, has the face of a bogatyr in an illustration by Bilibin, in an old children's book your grandmother read you again and again, and you realize that if you don't do something, all by yourself -- you can't trust the government -- you and others, Russia itself could be lost. You don't talk about it, but you walk the streets of Moscow, and look around, and you get reports from the south from your friends. It is the entire Caucasus, it is Russia itself that is threatened. Who,in a hundred years, will be left to read Pushkin? And you realize that no government in the Western world quite knows what to do, but you will pick the one that still looks most solid and sensible --the one in Washington -- and whatever else the faults and innocences of the Americans, they must be kept informed, must be helped.

And there are many others who might be having the same thoughts, and wish to help, all over Europe. Now is your chance.

Posted on 04/26/2006 11:55 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 26 April 2006
Very wise.

From the Eastern Daily Press, a good regional daily.  I have heard of having bats in the belfry.  I have been accused of having bats in the belfry myself.  This is a bit different, and rather nice.

Builders working at a Norfolk school have had to take special care not to ruffle the feathers of one village VIP.

The £1m project at Catfield First School, near Stalham, not only includes plans for a new classroom, hall, library and staffroom… but also a des res in the roof for a resident barn owl.

The work, which started in October, has even been carefully planned to cause the minimum disturbance at the start of the nesting season.

Mary Blackie, headteacher at the 34-pupil school, said: “Barn owls have been roosting and nesting in the roof for as long as anyone can remember.

“Our oldest village resident, Margaret Hubbard, who is 100, did not attend the school, but even she remembers owls nesting here.”

Generations of owls have entered the roof space at the gable end through the same Victorian brick hole, which Ms Blackie said had been specially created at some stage in the school's 150-year history.

“That created an unusual challenge for the builders as owls are a protected species,” she said.

Before work could begin on extending the gable end, local owl experts had to be called in and consulted on the bird's welfare.

Their plan of action included providing a temporary owl box at the far end of the school and building a new hole - using the same Victorian brickwork - into the wall of the extension.

Ms Blackie, who has been the Catfield head since 2003, said: “One of the builders was shocked to discover the owl had not immediately moved out when work started. He peered through the hole and found himself face to face with the owl - it nearly made him fall off his ladder.”

She said work on the extension wall had been accelerated so the new hole was in place for the spring nesting season.

“The owl is still being seen in the area, so hopefully she will be able to nest in the roof this year as usual,” she said.

An unusal sighting in full view: A female Barn Owl spotted roosting in a tree during daylight hours

                                                                Towhit, twohoo

Posted on 04/26/2006 4:56 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Tuesday, 25 April 2006
Belgian demonstration preemptive?
Yesterday, I noted the politically correct press coverage  of a massive strike in Brussels over the mugging death of a Belgian youth. It turns out the authorities misinformed the demonstrators and everybody else as to the origins of the murderers. The Brussels Journal reports:

The Brussels police and judiciary have apologized to the North African community. On 13 April, one day after the murder of 17 year old Joe Van Holsbeeck, the office of the public prosecutor issued a statement saying the murderers were two “North African youths.” This did not seem unlikely because Van Holsbeeck had been knifed and some Muslim youths are skilled with knives. Though it is illegal in Belgium to slaughter livestock at home, this happens on a very large scale in Brussels during the annual Muslim feast of sacrifice.

Yesterday evening, however, the police arrested a 16 year old Polish born youth for the murder. The second culprit, who actually knifed Joe Van Holsbeeck and who is also thought to be a Polish minor, has not been found yet. Belgian radio and television said tonight that he has probably fled to Poland, where the murder has led to widespread indignation.

Large-scale illegal slaughter of livestock in "Belgian" homes?  Who does the cleaning up?  Illegal multiple wives?

Many thanks for the heads up to Dymphna at Gates of Vienna.  Her report here frames the story quite nicely. 
Posted on 04/25/2006 4:07 PM by Robert Bove
Tuesday, 25 April 2006
Europe in the Middle Ages:
"Cesspools for human wastes were frequently placed under the floors (often made of wood) of castles. In 1183, when the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire held a Diet in the Palace of Efurt, the floor of the main hall broke; many of the dinner guests fell into the cesspool and drowned; luckily, the Emperor survived. A similar event occurred in England in 1326: Richard the Raker had just been seated for a meal when the wood floor gave way -- drowning him."
Suffolk County, Long Island, A.D. 2006:
"A simple shortcut in Andrew Palladino's routine nearly cost him his life. It happened Sunday morning when the 71-year-old chose to cut through his front lawn after picking up a copy of Newsday and -- instead of cozily flipping through the pages of the newspaper -- found himself falling into a cesspool. 'I disappeared,' a still shaken Palladino said yesterday. 'Everything caved in.'"
Posted on 04/25/2006 3:01 PM by John Derbyshire
Tuesday, 25 April 2006
Lock, stock and two double barrels

I don’t generally use my full name, Mary-Jane Jackson-Cholmondesley-Featherstonehaugh, for fear it might cause offence in Germany or Slovakia.


A student recently complained that he had been discriminated against by the US Embassy because his name is Mohammed. Somebody once told me that the name Adolf is illegal in Germany. This turns out not to be the case, although it is frowned upon for obvious and sensible reasons. It seems, however, that some less offensive sounding names are illegal.  

LUXEMBOURG -- Young Leonhard Matthias Grunkin-Paul has a problem: His name is illegal.

The German boy's divorced parents want Leonhard to be known by their combined last names, an increasingly common practice elsewhere. But authorities in Germany, citing a law against hyphens, have refused to allow it. So Leonhard, born in 1998, officially has no last name at all.

His passport reads: "Leonhard Matthias, son of Stefan Grunkin and Dorothee Paul." Says his mother: "I don't know how he can go through life like that."

Many Germans have long chafed under their country's rigid naming rules. But a European Union court may shortly deal the rules a blow for at least some of them. A preliminary ruling from the court has found that Leonhard, a German citizen born and named in Denmark, is entitled to his hyphen as a citizen of the EU.

Never let it be said that the EU is an expensive and corrupt waste of space.  

"We have had these rules for as long as I can remember," says Karin M. Eichhoff-Cyrus, director of the state-funded German Language Society, which helps enforce the rules. "Everyone knows you cannot have a name that is 'Refrigerator' or something."

What a shame. This puts paid to the chat-up line: “What’s an ice-girl like you doing in a place like this?”

And why no hyphens? Dr. Eichhoff-Cyrus, who hyphenated her own surname after marriage but is not allowed to pass it on to her children, explains that the concern is hyphenation multiplication. If a double-named boy grew up to marry and have children with a double-named woman, those children could have four names, and their children could have eight, and their children could have 16. The bureaucracy shudders.

All Germans register their names with the Standesamt, or local registry. Standards vary from place to place, and applicants who are turned down can appeal to the courts. Authorities are usually more flexible about first names than last. Among the first names approved over the years, according to the Language Society: Pumuckl, taken from a cartoon character, and Pepsi-Carola, taken from a soft drink. Rejected: Lenin, McDonald, Schnucki and Bierstubl, which translates roughly as "little beer pub."

A Dusseldorf court in 1998 rejected the name Chenekwahow Migiskau Nikapi-Hun-Nizeo Alessandro Majim Chayara Inti Ernesto Prithibi Kioma Pathar Henriko, on the grounds that the mother's wish to honor multiculturalism shouldn't result in an awkwardly long name for the child. A Frankfurt court upheld the name Jesus the same year, in part because it's widely known that Christ was male, leaving little room for gender confusion.

Germany isn't alone in Europe in regulating names. Slovakia, for example, forbids first names that are eccentric, derogatory or ludicrous (parents can't name a child "Cigarette," for instance). It also generally bans hyphenated last names for children -- though the Ministry of Interior says it makes an exception for the children of hyphenated foreigners living in Slovakia. Natives are allowed double surnames without hyphens.

But in Belgium, authorities in 1997 told children of a Spanish-Belgian marriage they could not switch to a Spanish-style double surname: "There are insufficient grounds to propose to His Majesty the King that he grant you the favor of changing your surname." They appealed to an EU court and won. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, imposes almost no rules.

Give them time. This Government has made rules about everything else. Why should we be allowed to play fast and loose with names and hyphens?

Posted on 04/25/2006 9:14 AM by Mary-Jane Jackson-Cholmondesley-Featherstonehaugh
Tuesday, 25 April 2006
Oriental shadow president unveiled
I don't have the heart to provide the pic.  Go here for the full story:
 "Well Hung."
Posted on 04/25/2006 7:58 AM by Robert Bove
Tuesday, 25 April 2006
Why we share our passions: it's all about belonging
Alfred Hitchcock or John Carpenter would have loved it. We had planned a sunny, springtime break in Whitby. But as we drove into the piquant Yorkshire resort where Bram Stoker imagined Dracula unsheathing his fangs for the first time on British soil, a thick mist rolled in from the North Sea. And there it stayed for two days. High above the town the ruined abbey became an eerie silhouette — jagged walls briefly glimpsed through swirling murk. The infamous 199 steps curving up to the graveyard where poor, sleepwalking Lucy succumbed to the Count’s fatal embrace seemed as sinister as footsteps in a deserted street. The mournful moan of a foghorn added to the sepulchral aura. If the Flying Dutchmen had stepped ashore that afternoon, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised.

Then I saw them, looming out of the mist. Hundreds of ghoulish figures in black or funereal purple, their faces as fey as natural yoghurt, their hair as black as Whitby jet, their garb impeccably mid-Victorian but with transsexual embellishments. Fabulous creatures, of every shape and age, gliding through the streets as if summoned to some great vampire ball round the gravestones.

Curiosity overcame me. “What are you?” I asked one. “A Goth,” he replied with a twirl of his mail-order cane and a proud swish of his M&S cape. “But why are there so many of you?” I persisted. He looked stunned by my ignorance. “It’s Whitby Goth Weekend,” he said. “Check out the website.”

Of course, as soon as the obvious is pointed out you see clues all around. Twice a year Whitby goes Goth-mad. Shops, pubs and B&Bs put up “We Welcome Goths” signs. The Whitby Gazette organises a Journalists v Goths football match. Hotels host sales of Goth-gear: lashings of black eyeliner, fishnet stockings and silky corsets . . . and that’s just in menswear. Bands with names like Zombina and the Skeletones descend on every venue. There’s even a Goth Service in the parish church, with Goth music instead of hymns and a priest preaching a sermon on “self-harm”. I presume he was against it.....

......Of course that’s partly because the Goths, in spite of their efforts to project themselves as Satanic bloodsuckers, corpse-botherers and insatiable sexual deviants (not necessarily in that order), are actually a pretty nice bunch.......

Even so, for a bluff Yorkshire community such as Whitby to welcome so warmly this invasion of weirdly-garbed outsiders is a shining example of how society ought to work all the time. If we want to build a harmonious world, the grip of “tribal mentality” on our thoughts and deeds is not something we should be trying to break. History shows that to be impossible. Instead, we should be encouraging people to gravitate towards tribes that bring communal joy to their members without harming or antagonising others. It’s when there are no benign tribes around that people drift towards the more unpleasant sort.

A thriving civilisation is not a homogenous monoculture imposed from above. That was tried in Russia and Germany in the 1930s. It’s the reverse. It’s a society that glories in the multiplicity of a million grass-roots idiosyncrasies, a million creeds, a million nutty hobbies, freely and flamboyantly expressed. Goth Weekend was a reminder that, even in an age of increasingly prescriptive “ consensual” politics, nobody does eccentricity better than the British, or accepts it more cheerfully. It was a joy to behold — if only by accident, and through a dense fog.

Read it all, and the next short article by Richard Morrison where he continues this theme of unity through diversity after his encounter with some enthusiastic birdwatchers on the way home from Whitby.  I am not a Goth, although I have Goth friends (and they are indeed lovely) but we love Whitby.

And remember, from above

"A thriving civilisation is not a homogenous monoculture imposed from above. " 

 Whitby Abbey (in daylight, beware!)

Posted on 04/25/2006 2:54 AM by Esmerelda Weathwax
Monday, 24 April 2006
Never a cross word

Isn't this a good joke to make about crossword puzzles? Or so I thought.  But I was google-thwarted again. Tony Augarde got there first:

Cryptic crosswords are particularly good devices for exercising the brain, since compilers deliberately make their clues mysterious and often ambiguous

This compels would-be solvers to use lateral thinking. It sometimes deters newcomers, who think that such crosswords are difficult - as, indeed they often are. Yet crossword setters tend to use a limited number of types of clue Once you are aware of the range of possibilities, cryptic crosswords may not seem so daunting.

Probably the commonest type of cryptic clue is the anagram, in which the letters of the word being clued are rearranged somewhere in the clue.

Thus the clue 'Mixing a pink gin makes you a VIP (7)' can lead to kingpin (an anagram of pink gin), while 'Lacking resolve, Tories rule badly (10)' leads to irresolute (an anagram of Tories rule).

Note how, as well as the anagrams, each clue includes a definition (VIP and lacking resolve) as well as a word like 'mixing' or 'badly' which suggests that an anagram is involved.

These 'anagram indicators' comprise almost any word that signifies rearrangement or disturbance: like awkward, irregular and tangled.

Anagram clues do not always include such indicators, as in 'The beadiest disease (8)' (= diabetes) or the phrase included in a Christmas crossword set by Araucaria in the Guardian with the clue 'O hark the herald angels sing the boy's descent which lifted up the world' - a brilliant anagram of 'While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground.'

A similar device is the reversal, in which the clue suggests that you have to turn a word back-to-front. So 'Have a little look round part of castle (4)' gives you keep (which is peek, 'a little look', turned round). Again, the word 'round' is an indicator that you are looking for a reversal. A particularly ingenious clue is 'Row back and forth in boat if fitter (4)' - a clue to tiff, which is a kind of 'row' and is found both forwards and backwards in the phrase 'boat if fitter'.

This leads us on to another common form of cryptic clue, in which a word is hidden in the letters of a phrase.

The most usual indicators here are words like 'in', 'around' and 'about'. For example, 'He is beaten in a close-run race (5)' leads to 'loser', which describes a person who is beaten and is hidden inside the phrase 'close-run'.

Similarly 'Nothing seen in prize rose (4)' leads you to 'zero'. One of my favourite such clues - apparently referring to the composer Chopin and his lover George Sand - is, 'Tingle concealed by Chopin, Sand - needlessly (4, 3, 7)' - a clue to pins and needles.

An associated kind of clue is known as the 'container and contents' type, where one word is hidden inside another. One or both of the words may be an abbreviation, as in 'Devout acknowledgment of a debt in a postscript (5)' = 'pious' (that is, IOU in PS) or 'Look! the fly has swallowed a penny! (7)' = 'inspect' (p inside insect).

Once again, notice how a straightforward definition of each word ('devout' and 'look') is included alongside the cryptic part of the clue.

This is an important aspect of the best crossword clues - they say what they mean at the same time as trying to conceal what they mean.

Abbreviations are frequently used in crosswords, as in 'Peel's creation, initially (6, 9)' which leads to 'police constable' (with the initials PC).

Abbreviations can betray the archaic world inhabited by some compilers, who still use 'EP' for the (obsolete) extended-play record, refer to a sailor as an 'AB' (or even a 'tar' and think that a penny is still 'd' rather than 'p'.

My two favourite crossword clues of all time are:

Apotheosis of the palindrome (seven letters)

Answer: deified


The overloaded postman (mailman to Americans)

How many letters?

Answer: too many

Posted on 04/24/2006 2:22 PM by Mary Jackson
Monday, 24 April 2006
Thousands converge on Brussels for no reason
Authorities remain perplexed over what drew 80,000 silent Belgians to the same spot in Brussels yesterday. BBC commentators noted that there had been some sort of youth violence in or around Brussels recently, which may or may not have been "racial in character." "Take a look at this crowd," said one analyst on the scene, reluctantly forced to speak for the mute masses, "and tell me these people aren't racially motivated or something."

BBC demographers, in red
shirts, wade into Belgian crowd
Posted on 04/24/2006 7:56 AM by Robert Bove
Monday, 24 April 2006
Waiting in vain

I caught the first part of “Start the Week” on Radio 4 this morning. The guests were Sir Peter Hall (founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company), Simon Callow (actor), Neil Biswas (screenwriter) and Ruth Scurr (biographer), and the subject was “Waiting for Godot”.


A “gang of four” is a common format for a radio discussion programme. Usually there will be some disagreement and lively debate. I waited eagerly, and in vain, for somebody to say something critical. But on the subject of “Waiting for Godot”, and Beckett generally, the panel was of one mind. Sir Peter Hall’s view, expressed a couple of years ago in a Guardian article, prevailed:

It is often thought that 1956 and the first night of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger was the reinvention of British theatre. It is certainly true that Osborne changed a generation. So out went the slim volumes of verse and the imitations of Lucky Jim, and the Royal Court revolution was under way. All this was wonderful, but faintly parochial, which Godot certainly was not. Look Back in Anger was a play formed by the naturalism of the 1930s and the cosy craft beloved of the old repertory theatres. It now looks dated because it uses the convention of the well-made play. I think also that my generation heard more political revolution in it than was actually there, largely because we needed to.

By contrast, Waiting for Godot hasn't dated at all. It remains a poetic masterpiece transcending all barriers and all nationalities. It is the start of modern drama. It gave the theatre back its potency and its poetry.

Perhaps Sir Peter is right about “Look Back in Anger”. Most plays date, and only a few stand the test of time. But does it follow that a conventional play, one with a plot and credible characters, or a play rooted in time and place, cannot also stand the test of time? Chekhov’s plays are very much of their time and place, sometimes claustrophobically so, but they are also timeless. "Waiting for Godot", on the other hand “transcends barriers and nationalities” merely because there is no plot and the characters could be anybody.

We Beckett haters are swimming against the tide, of course. But will the tide ever recede? It’s possible. Who, these days, thinks Brecht is anything other than a king-sized yawn?

No dissenting views were expressed by the panel, but Sir Peter did quote Bernard Levin’s comment in his review of the original production of Godot. I will leave the last word to him, after which I will shut up about Beckett:

Mr Samuel Beckett (an Irishman who used to be Joyce's secretary and who writes in French, a combination which should make anybody smell a rat) has produced a really remarkable piece of twaddle.

Posted on 04/24/2006 5:13 AM by Mary Jackson
Monday, 24 April 2006
St George and the Dragon - Sunday 23 April 2006


Yesterday was St George’s Day patron saint of England (and lots of other places). There are more and more celebrations of St George's Day in England these days, encouraged by our brothers and sisters in the rest of the UK who celebrate the days of St David, St Patrick, St Andrew, St Piran, etc with vigour.  This despite the moaners who seem to think that St George and his flag are some sort of affront, and despite certain obnoxious far right groups who use the flag, which we are now reclaiming for its proper use.  I couldn’t write and post anything on the day, because I was actually out celebrating it, as we try to do every year.


This year we visited my in-laws who live in retirement at the seaside. And after dinner (not roast beef unfortunately) we went to the sea front to watch the St George’s Day parade. The Scout Association and the Guide Association have always celebrated St George’s Day and yesterday Scouts, Guides, Brownies, Cubs, Beavers, Rainbows, Sea Scouts, Rangers, from miles around assembled by the pier and to the tune of the band playing While the Saints go Marching In, they marched down the prom to the theatre when the mayor was waiting for them, and an afternoon of celebration inside. The rain (we are suffering a drought in southern England, there is a hosepipe ban on, so why does what little rain we get always fall when I am out and about,  at an event I want to report here? – note to self – get out more, the country needs the water) didn’t dampen their enthusiasm, and it was good to see young people showing that most of them don’t deserve the criticism they receive.


Elsewhere things were even livelier. Even Ken Livingstone arranged that events be organised in London around the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre on the South Bank, and the nearby London Bridge. This is the procession thorough Sandwell to West Bromwich, led by veterans from the British Legion, and you can hear some traditional music in the background.   These photos also give an idea of the sort of thing that has been going on.


 This is my favourite -  “Things aren't looking good for the dragon as the celebrations turn violent in Coventry


I didn’t catch any Morris Dancing this year, although I will next weekend at a different festival.  The Story of St George and the Dragon is an ancient theme of Morris dances and Mummers plays, especially at Christmas and Easter.  

 Rogue's Gallery

 So a good day, which could be better.

Cry God for Harry, England and St George!’

Henry V Act 3 Scene 1 

Posted on 04/24/2006 4:02 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Sunday, 23 April 2006
Speaking of the Queen

I watched a disappointing production of the Queen Elizabeth I story on HBO last night.  Of course these productions always tell us more about the lens in which moderns view the world than about how the Elizabethans themselves did, and this was no exception.  They don't even try anymore to make historical dramas that would give one a real feel for the time and the pressures contained within it. 

When Elizabeth (played ably by Helen Mirren) vacillates and despairs over the death of Mary, it seems like a ridiculous and selfish gesture after we were treated to scenes of Elizabeth cutting off the hand of an unfavorable pamphleteer and screeching for the disembowelment of seditious Catholics (which we got to see in all its gory technicolor detail)...oh and did I mention torture on the rack for a would-be assassin?  We were given nothing to make us understand the concept of the divinity contained within monarchy.  Elizabeth is just another weak and flighty woman constantly bordering on confusion and hysteria by turns.

It seems to me the status of women in the western world been in decline lately and  this production reveals this most markedly.   Elizabeth is propped up (literally in most scenes) by the trusty Earl of Leichester (played wonderfully by Jeremy Irons).  Especially ludicrous was the scene of Elizabeth's great speech before the coming of the Spanish Armada.  In HBO land, Elizabeth is just Oprah Winfrey in funny clothes.  She cannot simply stand before the soldiers and deliver her speech, she must walk among them like Elizabeth Dole. But the real kicker, came as Elizabeth and the Earl are walking toward the stage and she turns to him, "what shall I say?" and he gives her the famous line, "you have the heart and stomach of a king."  And then the whole speech comes off like an off the cuff remark. 

Elizabeth the hypocritical populist.

Part II, of which I have only seen the previews seems to dwell on her interest in the (much, much, much younger) Earl of Essex, to whom Elizabeth was "given" by the Earl of Leichester on his death bed.  "Take care of her, she needs caring after" or some such nonsense.

Give me Bette Davis!!!

Posted on 04/23/2006 10:36 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Sunday, 23 April 2006
Democratizing Iran?

"The US and UK are working on a strategy to promote democratic change in Iran, according to officials who see the joint effort as the start of a new phase in the diplomatic campaign to counter the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme without resorting to military intervention." - from this story

"Democratic change"? Look, take care of the nuclear bomb project, and after a month or two or three of rally-round-the-flag support for the Islamic Republic by many who detest it, that support will end, and the full humiliation of what has occurred will embolden all enemies of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the more corrupt mullahs will begin to be liquidated, and the end will be, if not nigh, nigher than it was before. Do not believe those transparent remarks -- by the likes of Gary Sick, say -- that an attack on Iran would "set back" forever the cause of democracy and reform. It wouldn't. And even if some (not all) anti-regime Iranians begin to feel more nationalistic, and assume that the regime will fall and then they, the good guys, the sane ones, will be in possession of those nuclear weapons, keep in mind that had the Shah's regime obtained nuclear weapons, they would now be in the hands of the regime that followed him. It is not the Islamic Republic of Iran that must be kept from getting nuclear weapons; it is Islamic Iran, an Iran that is full of Muslims, and that at any point in the future, might begin --as Turks despite Kemalist constraints have begun -- to feel that old Islamic feeling, and we all know what that means for Infidels.

One does not wish to "democratize" Iran. One wishes to zoroastrianize or christiainize or otherwise de-islamize Iran. It can't be done from outside. It can only be done, if it can happen at all, by those within iran depicting Islam, truthfully as it turns out, as a vehicle for Arab linguistic, cultural, and other kinds of imperialism. It was Arafat and the PLO that helped bring Khomeini to power. It is the attempt to be plus islamiste que les arabes that is causing the Islamic Republic to threaten, and no doubt to mean its threats, to destroy Israel (we did it, you Arabs couldn't do it -- so we get to be seen as the bestest Muslims of all time).

Again, if this "strategy" is a substitute -- who's in charge of this "democratization project" --Cheney's daughter? -- for the sensible and time-honored "strategy" of bombs (missiles) away, it is a threat to clarity and therefore to our, Infidel, safety.

If the English are involved, this is silly for two reasons. First, Straw and the Foreign Office will always try to find ways to keep those "hot-headed" Americans from behaving as they should behave. Second, Great Britain is regarded as the cunning, manipulative hereditary enemy of Iran, not of the Islamic Republic but of Mossadegh, and the left. Having Great Britain involved shows American naivete, and ignorance of that long history of suspicion of what is seen as British imperialism. That should have been kept in mind.

But several weeks ago, on NPR, I heard a leading American general (General Scales? I can't remember his name), giving his reasons for not invading or attacking Iran. And he blithely asserted that Iran was very different from Iraq because in Iran "all the people are Persians and are united." There goes the whole idea of working to weaken the Islamic Republic by encouraging the Kurds, the Baluchis, the Arabs in Khuzistan, even possibly the Azeris, to begin to show their disaffection with rule by the Persians. With that kind of ignorance being so casually and self-assuredly displayed by one of the highest-ranking and most relevant generals, what do you expect of our policies? How can anything requiring detailed knowledge, and then the imaginative ability to figure out the thousand cuts that might be inflicted, ever be presented, and adopted as policy?  

Posted on 04/23/2006 9:48 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 23 April 2006
You vill haf fun

We are told over and over again that Islam is a religion of peace. Nobody feels the need to say this about Buddhism. Why would that be?


Similarly, we do not hear people protesting that the English can indeed laugh at themselves, or that the French can cook after all. We take it as read.


The latest stereotype to be shot at dawn is that of the Germans. From The Telegraph: 

Germany's ambassador to Britain will use the World Cup to promote his country as a modern, party-loving nation, and banish images of Nazism and the Second World War once and for all.

Wolfgang Ischinger said that this summer's tournament provided "the perfect opportunity" to present Germany as "a vibrant country of the 21st century" and change the perception of his compatriots as humourless, hard-working disciplinarians.

Those perceptions, eh?

Sitting beneath an imposing portrait of Otto von Bismarck, the 19th-century "Iron Chancellor", Mr Ischinger said that, far from being disciplined, hard-working robots, Germans were, in fact, people who liked to have a good time.

"Germans like to have parties and they have parties more than most other people," he said. "There are beer festivals and wine festivals all over the country, and they are celebrated with vigour and also with quite a bit of alcoholic beverage, which is not much different from the British."

I can’t speak for my fellow countrymen, but I’m not sure that “vigour” is quite what you want at a party. Then again, perhaps we English don’t take our fun seriously enough. A portrait of Bismarck might help us maintain the appropriate standard of vigorous enjoyment. 7.30 for 8. Bring a bottle and an Iron Chancellor.

So how to dispel these misconceptions?


In an attempt to break down anti-German prejudice and demonstrate a willingness to laugh at themselves, the embassy has engaged John Cleese, the creator of the goose-stepping Basil Fawlty, to promote an essay-writing competition, entitled But Don't Mention the War, for British students to discuss their impressions of contemporary Germany.


Yes, that will do the trick. Not once, in writing their essays, will British students be tempted to think of this:



Cleese, who seems to have turned terribly earnest since he went live in America and started writing about psychotherapy, denounces his goose-stepping incarnation with the zeal of a convert.

Cleese puts the jackboot firmly into his most celebrated character. "I'm delighted to help with trying to break down the ridiculous anti-German prejudices of the tabloids and clowns like Basil Fawlty, who are pathetically stuck in a world view that's more than half a century out of date," he says.

Well, John, in your own words, you started it.

Posted on 04/23/2006 5:51 AM by Mary Jackson
Saturday, 22 April 2006
December 7, 1941: FDR declares war on aviation
A very scary time traveler visits novelist Dan Simmons and says,  "America’s vacation from knowing history ends very soon now..."

Read the rest here--but not just before going to bed.

(Via TigerHawk)
Posted on 04/22/2006 2:22 PM by Robert Bove
Saturday, 22 April 2006
The late night show with Begum Nawazish Ali

Pakistan's military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf, has tussled with Islamist terrorists, fundamentalist mullahs and liberal intellectuals in the struggle to shape Pakistan's identity.  But he is now facing an altogether different foe: the cross-dressing son of a retired colonel.

Ali Saleem, 27, has shot to fame as the most famous television personality in the predominantly Muslim, male-dominated country by donning a silk sari and adopting the alter ego of a flirtatious widow hosting a chat show.

Such is the popularity of Late Night Show With Begum Nawazish Ali, that Pakistan's military leadership has threatened to take the programme off air.

The Begum [the honorific in Urdu for Mrs] has ruffled feathers in a country where, despite the existence of a marginalised group of transsexuals that performs at weddings and birth blessings, cross-dressing is generally frowned upon.

"We decided to create a larger-than-life character to host a talk show where the host would be flirtatious and look good so she would be on a strong footing with her guests," said Mr Saleem.

Posing controversial questions that journalists routinely steer clear of, Pakistan's Dame Edna Everage tackles taboos as a routine.  He questions prominent Islamic religious figures, celebrities and politicians on issues such as Pakistan's support for the US-led war on terror, Gen Musharraf's dictatorship and discrimination against women.

I remember a Pakistani colleague telling me about a family wedding where the local transvestite entertainers turned up (often uninvited, and they had to be paid to go away, sometimes welcome and considered fun and traditional) and he pondered why their antics were tolerated when any banter between men and women was forbidden. This was at the time when the Hudud laws had just been re-enacted.

It makes Dame Edna and Mrs Merton ("Tell me Debbie, what first attracted you to millionaire Paul Daniels?") look very ordinary.  Although I think Granny Kumar would be up to it.

And I bet his hair doesn't cost £275 a day either!

Posted on 04/22/2006 7:35 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Saturday, 22 April 2006
We are all Elizabethans now

Much as I like to mock our Royal Family, I am a staunch monarchist and would defend this irrational and old-fashioned institution against any criticism from outsiders. Here she is again, looking pretty in pink:



Here are some reactions from The Times: 


Ye Harte and Garter had not seen such a flurry of activity since Shakespeare’s day. Then it was the Windsor hostelry where a drunken Falstaff recovered from his dunking in the Thames. Yesterday it was the place where the world’s television network tried to make sober sense of the mysterious British royalty.

Hundreds of millions of viewers around the world watched the Queen stroll down Windsor High Street. “The Brazilians love her hat,” said Ilse Scamparini, of Globo television… “Many English people have known no other monarch,” said Karin Webb, the (German) presenter. “She is their equivalent of Helmut Kohl.”

You wish.

A panel of experts shook their heads at the comparison and moved the discussion on swiftly to even higher levels of devotion.

“The Queen is a supernatural being,” said Norbert Loh, royal-watcher for the magazine Die Aktuelle. “Elizabeth has this unbelievable sense of mystery.”

This was the key to the international interest. Stories about royalty sell better in republics than in monarchies. The camera team sent by the European Broadcasting Union fed their footage across Europe but not to the monarchies of Sweden, Norway or Spain, where there appears to be little television interest.

So the teams that piled into Windsor came from South America, Germany and the United States. Their fascination was endless. Even a shop offering “Elegant Hats for Hire” became a focus of interest, an apparent sign that the Queen’s influence delved deep into British society.

Agnes Reau, a producer for the CBS network of the United States, admitted that fashion was a prime concern of her viewers. “There is always a bit of suspense about what the Queen is going to wear,” she said.

But the huge news budget was at least partly justified by the discussion on air about the royal succession. “New York wants to know — what's going to happen next? Is this the beginning of something new?”

Not really, but one hopes – I’m sounding like Her Maj now – that it isn’t the end of something old and valuable. Tom Utley in yesterday’s Telegraph discussed how Queen Elizabeth has united our society more than any mere politician or president could.

I still have the occasional fantasy that one day I will be walking along the Mall as the Queen is driving past in her carriage. A would-be assassin leaps out from behind a tree in St James's Park and levels a gun at her. Valiant Tom Utley interposes his person between his sovereign and the gunman, and takes the bullet for her. (In my fantasy, I suffer only a flesh wound, which doesn't hurt a bit, but I am lavishly rewarded for saving the Queen's life: "Arise, Sir Thomas; do stay for tea".)

I suspect that many fewer people have such dreams and fantasies these days than in the 1950s and 1960s when I was growing up. But it is a huge credit to the character and conduct of Queen Elizabeth II that she remains as widely admired as she is. When we ask ourselves what we have in common with our fellow subjects - black, white, brown, rich, poor, young, old - one of the answers is not only that we all owe allegiance to the same sovereign, but that the great majority of us think that she is a Jolly Good Thing.

Elected presidents, with their partisan political allegiances, are much more divisive figures - as witness the recent upsurge of hostility across the Channel to that preposterous fraud, Jacques Chirac.

No patriotic piece would be complete without a pop at the French.

There are very, very few people who wish her anything but the happiest of 80th birthdays today. Our shared and unforced affection for her is one of the glorious marks of a free society. Long live the Queen! And long may she reign over us!

I’ll drink to that. But then there is not much, if truth be told, that I won’t drink to.

Posted on 04/22/2006 6:05 AM by Mary Jackson
Friday, 21 April 2006
Why Russia backs Iran

"Our advice to our Iranian colleagues and friends is to complete work with the International Atomic Energy Authority and to calmly continue its nuclear energy programme... and on this path we are ready to provide assistance to Iran," Sergei Kislyak, the Deputy Foreign Minister, told a security conference in Moscow.

The Russian rulers see America as darkly plotting to weaken Russia when the American government hardly knows where to put its feet and hands. And the bombing of the Serbs was not based on some kind of anti-Slav campaign.

The Russian rulers lock up the best of the bunch of semi-demi-hemi-bankers in the semibankirshchina, the one who actually wanted to do political good with his Lukos money, and now one wonders, after his being slashed, whether he will ever get out alive.

The Russian rulers view the world as a series of overlapping or intersecting conspiracies, with Russia as the target, when everyone in the Western world, if it bothers to think of Russia at all, wishes it would come to its senses.

The Russian rulers think that they can win friends among those who run the Islamic Republic of Iran, and that this, somehow, will sate rather than whet the Muslim ambitions in the Caucasus; they are willing to throw not only Israel to the wolves, but Armenia and Georgia as well.

The Russian rulers are not keeping track of demographic trends in Russia itself -- even in Moscow itself. Just look around. Who will be left to read Konyok-Gorbunok to the children? Who will be left in a century to recite from "Evgeniy Onegin" -- a distinctly un-Islamic book, by that most thoroughly un-Islamic of writers, Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin?

The American government was stupid, in the way that it regarded Islam as a "bulwark against Communism." It no longer does that, but it still has a long way to go. And now the Russian government is stupid, for it is beginning to view Islam as a "bulwark against America." Or at least its policies suggest that such idiocies are wandering the halls, and even being admitted to the reception rooms, of the Kremlin.

Posted on 04/21/2006 8:14 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Friday, 21 April 2006
It's only rock and roll, but I like it.


Earlier this week I rather factitiously commented on one of the Samuel Becket items, indicating that the song Waiting for an Alibi by the rock band Thin Lizzy was rather more to my taste than Waiting for Godot.


Valentino's in a cold sweat, placed all his money on that last bet
Against all the odds he smokes another cigarette
Says it helps him to forget
He's a nervous wreck

It's not that he misses much                                                               

Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy performing on Top of the Pops

Or even that he lost his lucky touch
It's just that he gambles so much                                                             
And you know that it's wrong

Waiting for an alibi
Waiting for an alibi
Waiting just to catch your eye
Waiting for an alibi


The lyric to that song has been going round my brain ever since.  I had a discussion with someone who knows about poetry recently, about how I find poetry that was meant to be sung or read aloud more accessible.  Although I did not have this in mind; at the time I was actually thinking of the folk songs of Ewan MacColl.


Unfortunately none of these appeared in the vote for the UK's favourite song lyric.  This was an unfair contest as the voters were given a selection of 100 lyrics to choose from.  Too many of which were from the Smiths.


I very much doubt that any line from this new song will grace a list of future favourite lyrics. World at your Feet by Embrace is the England World Cup 2006 anthem. Alternative title, Die Welt zu deinen Füssen as it has been suggested that England supporters in Germany in 6 weeks might like to sing songs in German to show that they appreciate their welcome. This is a football anthem that fails to mention the beautiful game.


With the world at your feet
There’s no height you can’t reach
This could be the one
It’s calling, it’s calling you now
You know it’s going to be our time
’Cause the world is at your feet, yes the world is at your feet


Presumably With the world at your feet There’s no height you can’t reach is because you are standing on the world in order to gain height?  I have only heard the tune on-line so it may grow on me.  And the music industry has to take notice of my opinion. Mum rock is a formidable marketing force.


According to the Telegraph

Music industry figures show that album sales have risen 18 per cent in the past five years, with the over-40s now spending more than the under-30s.

Women are responsible for an ever bigger share of this market, in a trend that has been dubbed "mum rock". The artists benefiting from this trend range from young singer songwriters such as James Blunt and Katie Melua to old crooners such as Neil Sedaka, Barry Manilow and David Essex. 

I do still like David Essex. The last CD I bought was a present for my husband, On an Island by David Gilmore. For myself I have replaced a cassette of Deep Purple's House of Blue Light, have some Spocks Beard lent to me by a friend who insists that I will love it, some Dave Swarbrick and 450 Sheep by Zdob si Zdub. No problem with the lyrics there. Dave Swarbrick is mainly instrumental fiddle and Zdob si Zdub sing in Moldovan.


As there are real musicians, and real poets on this site lets leave it there, for tonight.              


Note Mary has expressed some interest in Zdob si Zdub.  They were the Moldovan entry in the Eurovision song contest 2005.  They play a lively punk/folk rock using some traditional instruments which I rather like. This is a link to their website.             

Posted on 04/21/2006 5:24 PM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Friday, 21 April 2006
Happy Birthday, Ma'am

The Queen, Gawd bless ‘er, celebrates her 80th birthday:



She’s in good nick, isn’t she? Of course she can afford the best doctors and the best moisturisers. Forget free radicals – her radicals cost a Royal Mint. But for somebody who, as a late relative once told me, never goes to the toilet – or if she does, she closes her eyes for the Royal We and Royal Flush – she looks radiant and happy. Many Happy Returns, Your Majesty, and long may you continue to reign over us, if only so that the jug-eared plant-fancier doesn’t get a chance to rain over us.


It is good to see that the Queen has got over that bad case of annus horribilis she had a few years ago.


(As a little aside, one of Edinburgh's many private schools, which had better remain nameless, sent out letters advising parents about yet another rise in fees. Unfortunately, they made a spelling mistake and said that the fees would be payable "per anum" instead of "per annum". One parent wrote back and said he was prepared to pay the new amount, but would rather continue paying through the nose...)


The annus horribilis may have passed, but the state of Her Majesty’s vowels is another matter altogether. “Another metter,” she might have said at one time. But no longer: 

Once she sounded like Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter. Now, according to Australian researchers, the Queen sounds just a little more like Jonathan Ross in Film Night.

After tuning in to three decades of Christmas messages they found that, over the years, the royal vowels had shifted daintily down the social scale.

"Our analysis reveals that the Queen's pronunciation of some vowels has been influenced by the standard southern British [SSB] accent of the 1980s, which is more typically associated with speakers younger and lower in the social hierarchy," said Jonathan Harrington and three colleagues at Macquarie University in Sydney. "We conclude that the Queen no longer speaks the Queen's English of the 1950s, although the vowels of the 1980s Christmas message are still clearly set apart from those of an SSB accent."

The researchers report in Nature today that they see the gentle shift from cut-glass to cockney as part of the blurring of class distinctions in Britain. Modern received pronunciation, for instance, resists the dropped "h" of those born within the sound of Bow bells, but there is a cockney-influenced tendency to pronounce the "l" in milk as if it were a vowel. Some of these changes have been led by younger people who reject establishment pronunciation, the researchers say. Could the older generation have resisted the influence of the young?

So Dr Harrington and his colleagues went straight to the older generation at the pinnacle of the British establishment. "The Queen's Christmas broadcasts were ideal for addressing this issue. Firstly they have been annual for a long period of time; secondly the Queen's accent is obviously not going to be influenced by geographical changes; thirdly any changes we observe are not going to be influenced by changes to style and content of the messages, because these have been quite consistent throughout."

With the blessing of Buckingham Palace and help from the BBC archives, the team compared the royal vowels of the 1950s and 1980s with the vowels of other female broadcasters. They found that in each case the Queen's accent had drifted towards the vowels of the younger generation.

"We are all familiar with the change that has taken place in the vowels of words like 'that man' where, in the 1930s, we still had something like 'thet men,' " said Jonathan Wells, professor of linguistics at University College London. "She is only following along trends that exist in any case. She still remains well behind them, shall we say, and of course she still sounds upper-class, the way she always did."

At least the Queen still says “orf”. I have never met anybody who says “orf”. They are a bit thin on the ground where I live. In fact, I’m probably one of about three people in my street who have ever said “whom”. But it is good to know that, where it counts, people are still saying “orf”.


It is said that Prince Harry once attended his brother William’s fancy dress party, not as a Nazi, but as a character from the children’s television series, “Vision On”. “What have you come as?” asked Prince William. “I’m Morph,” said Prince Harry. Prince William looked disappointed. “Must you go so soon?” 

Posted on 04/21/2006 10:02 AM by Mary Jackson
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