Saturday, June 28, 2008

Pay no heed

Well, folks, I'm off on my mission. If you don't see me back here in about a week and a half, call in the rescue squad. Meanwhile I'm looking at pictures of the teeniest member of the clan, whom I will get to meet after all this is over. I can't wait to go.

Well, maybe coffee first.

(There is a very small chance that I will blog remotely. Probably not though.)

Friday, June 27, 2008


I am not talking about the red alert, box-cutter-wielding, suicide bombing sort. That is probably a good thing. No - I am talking about my personal terror at presenting in a few days. You know, I've never been very nervous about presenting. I'm a decent public speaker, and usually pretty good at winging it. When I took this assignment I thought something along the lines of "My, aren't I selling coals to Newcastle." Meanwhile I have come to believe that I am not so much selling coals to Newcastle as selling tires to a Formula 1 driver, assuming my knowledge of tires to be no greater than it actually is. Hence terror. Like when I was in college and performing Julius Caesar with our Eng Lit prof in the audience, except that here I'm playing Brutus (rather than a random minor character) without the supporting cast, without necessarily knowing my lines, and with a small, aggressive robot named Smee shouting abuse at me and trying to shoot me; and instead of an audience with a prof, there is only him, and he is less of a persnickety hamster and more of an armed Eng Lit fascist, with a moustache, sadistic tendencies and a detailed knowledge of Shakespeare's work, life and hygienic habits. And my career here kind of depends on this presentation. The only thing that could make it more terrifying would be a shark tank. Or maybe a couple of alligators; no, make that crocodiles.

That kind of terror.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Time for another book rant, methinks; though rant isn't really the word. The book in question is Catch-22, origin of one of the best, most accurate expressions in the English language*; and I have no question in my mind that it is an overpoweringly good book. Heller is one of those few writer whose one book I read discourages me from trying to read any of his others simply because I cannot image them even coming close. I read Catch-22 years ago, and remembered little of it except the description of catch-22 and the pivotal scene which I won't describe so as not to spoil those of you who haven't read the book. If you haven't read the book, you need to read it. There are few books which I think one needs to read. Tolkien, Wilde, Rushdie, Joyce - all very lovely, but not necessary. Important, yes; worthwhile, certainly; adding to one's joy and personality, absolutely. Not necessary. Catch-22 on the other hand, stands with Art Spiegelman's Maus as a book which is in some ways essential to understanding who we are as people, as a society, what hope we have (or not).

Perhaps literature matters after all. I'm not kidding: I've wondered. I think, in the final analysis, that it does, and certainly Catch-22 is on the short list of what to get to if you live in the west (I don't want to speak for anyone else). Along with the Bible and Hamlet, probably, though for other reasons. And frankly, you could probably skip Hamlet as one might easily be tempted to give up the arduous quest for good performances.

Why this book then, this convoluted, irrepressible, impossible book? Well, if you make your way through the story it brings you right up to what you are as a person. The narrative, I realised/remembered on re-reading it, is set up as a spiral, a path leading up a mountain, revisiting the same situations as the reader is led closer to the center, seeing bigger patches, until the top is reached and the full view unfolds. It gives you no room for manouever - only the confrontation; which is no more painful than it needs to be.

*other magnificent examples I have to cite being Douglas Adams' "Somebody Else's Problem Field", Bunyan's "Slough of Despond" and possibly Douglas Coupland's description of cubicles as veal-fattening pens.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Not what

I wanted to post a clip of yesterday's appearance of Cookie Monster on the Colbert Report, which was wonderful, but copyright got in the way. Alas. I hope many of you saw it.

So...instead here's Moxy Fruvous.

Also, what's the deal with Jerry Yang on Fake Steve? I miss Steve. And Bike Helmet Girl.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Not a whinge

Today is somewhat worthy of a whinge, but it would be ungracious to complain when the weather is nice, life is pretty good, and I have cherries ready to be eaten.

So...let me unabashedly share a happy thought. Amazing that I never thought to search youtube for this before. It's from Cambridge Spies, the beloved mini-series, and very funny.

I heart Tom Hollander. He is so small and fierce.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mix and match

You know, the other day I was thinking something along these lines - "Gore. Where is Al Gore? Here are the most exciting primaries in twenty years (or longer - it's not like I actually know) and Al Gore, formerly the Man Whom Everyone Tried to Convince to Run, is nowhere to be seen. What is he doing? Is he saving baby seals? Is he making powerpoint presentations? Is he hiding in a Hungarian vineyard with a bottle of 2003 Kadarka?" Well, I would kill for a nice bottle of Kadarka right now, or at least steal, but anyway, wherever Gore was, it seems like he has found his way back to civilisation so that he can endorse Obama. Funny, that. He could have been a kingmaker if he wanted, but as he made so abundantly clear last year, he Does Not Want. I guess it would have been a no win for him to endorse anyone before. If he endorsed Clinton, he was bound to look like a crony; if he endorsed Obama he would have looked like a backstabber. I can't help it folks, whenever I look at Al Gore I wonder how he went from being a Kerry-esque bore to being this hip, Apple affiliated, world-saving person, and why he didn't do it when he was running. My conclusion: he never really wanted it. Maybe he wanted it abstractly, for the greater good, but he tried too hard to be something he is not. Ah well, that's all familiar enough stuff.

Enough politics. Really, my interest is in bright colours and shiny things, as the Spouse will confirm. Well, and literature. I just finished Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination, which was lent to the Spouse by one of his Awesome and Science-Fiction Obsessed Friends, and which I subsequently stole. I was going to say "it is really very good"; but that is the least descriptive way to say what I mean. It is astonishing to find a sci-fi book fifty years old that has not dated. Neil Gaiman says in the introduction that it requires more effort than a contemporary sci-fi book. Neil Gaiman is mistaken, at least as far as I am concerned. You could perhaps say that it is a challenging book; but it is not a hard read. I finished it in a few days, even in these times when I don't read much. It reminds me of nothing so much as Camus's L'Etranger, which I read a very long time ago and don't much remember. The incapability of responding to human morality resonates in The Stars My Destination; but the book comes to a decidedly non-existentialist conclusion.

Bester's characters are incredibly fascinating, and his reference to Blake tiger poem made me almost want to read Blake so I could understand the book better. Not quite, because Blake is one of the items on a long list of things I don't get, along with cricket, ponchos and Wagner. Sometimes the logic of the story is a little strange, or rather, sometimes the other characters, like the incredibly kickass women, behave in a way that does not seem realistic to me; but who am I to judge future/past women? Their covert desire for conventionality is perhaps understandable in a world where women are confined to traditional patterns...

Monday, June 16, 2008


Marriage is a good thing, especially when it involves wine, cheese and good conversation. All I need now is some shoes with ostrich feathers so that I can be properly bourgeouis.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Well done

Perhaps I have too much anger in me, but I am so done with people being such a bloody load of work. I thought I had given this up, this business of working hard for little return in making friends. Screw that. I am done inviting people who don't return invitations/don't respond/don't show up. I am done trying to befriend people who give nothing back. I can feel the difference when I am with people who do, and suddenly none of it feels like work, suddenly I get things back I didn't expect. I don't mean anything physical; just time and energy; empathy sometimes. It's so much nicer to hang out with people who think of you sometimes when there's something fun to do, some play to see, or festival to go to. And the rest of them can just make dinner for themselves.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Not in good faith

The BBC is my friend. Really. I can get annoyed with it (Justin Webb) but it is still my friend. Today I am at the outer edge of my patience with it though, and not over Amercan politics. Over Northern Irish politics. I should have known. Sadly, what upset me was not Iris Robinson's intolerable comment. Iris Robinson is with the DUP, Ian Paisley's party, home to hatred and immovable views. Does it surprise me to hear her describe gays as an abomination? It really doesn't. Would it surprise me from Martin McGuinness on the other side of the aisle? Only a little. Northern Ireland is not a good place to be gay. It is too pre-occupied with its other problems to notice that in the outside world, homosexuality is no longer classed as a psychiatric issue. Some days I think NI is trapped in an alternate reality.

So from these politicians it disappoints me, but does not surprise me. What shocks me is to hear the BBC host siding with the vile politician. See the podcasts here. Pleae do at least have a look. He defends her free speech - fair enough. But, ladies and gentlemen, this is not a private citizen; this is a politician. Even in the deepest south, in fact perhaps especially there, no high profile politician could say that gays/African-Americans/hispanics are "vile and disgusting" and have a career. And yet Stephen Nolan insists on repeating the phrase, time and time again - Lakoff would say, if you're using their (Robinson's) frame, it doesn't even matter what you do with it - you're telling their story. He insists that Robinson has a right to her opinion, in spite of listeners' comments that she is not representing her constituency when she makes such statements, and that she is disregarding their right to be spoken for. He doesn't mention that she is reinforcing the ideas that get gay people beaten up. Nolan even proposes that perhaps psychiatric treatment is an option (as Robinson suggests), in spite of centuries' worth of evidence that attempts to "turn" gay people don't work. Or rather: they may succeed in turning a functional human being into a deeply miserable, dysfunctional liar. To even entertain the option is to blatantly disregard all evidence. I feel exactly like I would if he were doubting evolution - perhaps people out there, for their own crazy reasons, doubt scientific fact - but surely the BBC knows better?

The best comment (of course disregarded) came from one man who pointed out how similar all this nonsense about "love the sinner, hate the sin" is to some other problems they had in their neck of the woods, when people used to say they didn't mind the people, they only minded their religion...

So, to vent my anger, and because I need to believe that these people will not win out:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Two years

It has been two years. When I got here off that delayed flight, I had just finished some last-minute pre-US travelling, packed up back home and then left. I got here, and it was my fourth international move in three year, and I thought - that's it; I'm done. I'm staying here for at least two years. I'd exhausted all of my copious desire for international living. Two years later, I am here still, comfortable. Now, for the first time since I moved here there is a twitch, a faint prospect of adventure. Now, when I look at that June, I feel kind of wistful at how filled it was with great things (lots of travel, lots of great new experiences, and getting married). This June, instead, is filled with crazy scheduling of the non-pleasant kind for both of us.

It is the impossible balancing act: on the one hand there is adventure, plans, hectic scheduling, the discomfort of change and uprooting; on the other hand there is comfort, community, stability, boredom and routine. What do you do?

Part of me is envious of the Spouse. I'm used to being the one taking on the adventures, getting the opportunities; and most of all I am used to doing whatever I want. Now he's getting all that. He's deserved it, and I've had my turn. Whatever the next adventure is, it is likely to be his, and I'm happy to go along with it. I think.

So, after two years...? I'm happy to stick to the original plan - at least two years - and up to five. I like it here. Most of the time.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

It is too warm here


It is all I can do to remember that there are places where if they're lucky, they get about a week of summer. I am, of course, referring to Northern Ireland. Like in this Northern Irish song with its accurate depiction of average weather. Great song for a chilly day at the end of May, except we don't have them here.

Friday, June 06, 2008


I have just kicked the Justin Webb's blog off my list. He has been annoying me for some time. So he's pro-Obama. Ok, fine, it's a blog, and it is a valid opinion. He has been getting progressively more anti-Hillary, and me, I'm fed up. I don't know whether my sympathies lie with Obama or Clinton. It doesn't even matter. But good grief, have some manners man. Just because you report on politics doesn't mean you have to use that same antagonistic rhetoric. Maybe I'll put in Matt Frei instead, to keep up the BBC participation.

By the way, while I'm on politics, did anybody notice that there is some suggestion, apparently from John McCain, that it would be a good idea to introduce Prime Minister's Questions in the US, making it President's Questions? While I am not sure that it will happen, I do think that this is a wonderful idea. PMQs are the 30-minute summary of democracy, and it exemplifies all that is best in the British Parliament. I loved watching it as a teenager, I really did. Tony Blair questioning John Major; it was so polite, yet so rude; so rowdy; so political, yet so compelling. You know, perhaps it is time for me to thank Margaret Thatcher for perhaps the only positive thing I can trace to her: the televising of PMQs. And really, it is surprising that the US never noticed that it suits the system here well - it epitomises accountability in a first-class entertainment format. Moreover, it makes sure that whoever is in charge has to be able to hold his or her own without any cronies or speech writers. So bring on the infotainment and, to quote E.M. Forster, two cheers for democracy.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Travelling, or not

Maybe I'm hallucinating, but I think I just read that US Homeland Security will start requiring visa waiver visitors to register online three days before their visit. Somehow this is supposed stimulate tourism and make travel easier, as well as making it possible to screen visitors beforehand. The information to be filled in will match the information currently required on an I-94. For those of you who are blissfully unaware of I-94 forms, it asks you about your travel, where you will be staying, and whether you were a nazi, or are a terrorist. In that order. So this will help Fight Terrorism, this new rule. Ok. Whatever. I am not sure how, but then no such details have been released. It is not this that concerns me. The thing that really gets me is that all of this is somehow, by some warped logic, supposed to stimulate tourism. I'm trying to understand how this will work. Here's my pro/con analysis of the status quo versus the new rule:

Tourism pro: one fewer paper to fill out during one's event-filled and riveting descent towards the United States. You'll still have to hunt for you pen, though, because there will still be customs forms. Still, it is one less piece of paper. You will still have to go through customs and immigration, waiting in line and fingerprinting and all.

Tourism con: you will now have to remember to register your visit three days ahead of time. If you happen notto own or not be near a computer, tough luck. If you forget...tough luck. If US Homeland Security finds something it objects to - well, who knows what happens then. Will they let people know? Or will they just lock them up on arrival? I guess it might stimulate the non-travel of the non-wealthy. Other than that...I don't see it. Perhaps someone can explain?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


I feel like after last night's post I owe it to my poor harassed readers to post something a little more intelligent. After all, I have a decent education, perhaps even the odd interesting thought. Or maybe I used up my quota of intelligent commentary on Barbara Kingsolver earlier. Maybe I should stop reading my silly (but fun) Entertainment and read something Intelligent to make me more suitable for public viewing.

So here's a porcupine.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Meryl Street, I love you

What better way to indulge oneself on a Sunday evening than by watching The Devil Wears Prada again? Sometimes superficial is good. Especially when it involves Chanel and Meryl Streep. And maybe a drink.