Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Haul

A picture of the Creative Zen Touch

Well, I can’t give you photos of the best present of the day, because we didn’t venture out — but there was rather a lot of snow here on Christmas Day. As we sat, eating and drinking, over a laden table, the snow whirled fluffily through the air outside the big window, and when we reached the pudding, (raspberry crème brulée) we toasted the raspberry canes which were shivering in the frozen soil.

And then, the next morning, it was all gone! Not a trace of snow anywhere! Grr. Hopefully, though, more snow should arrive before the end of winter, since this was an early fall. Anyway, I thought I’d make a slow start to posting by telling you What I Got For Christmas in links.

Snow, Winter, Lost Worlds, World Press Photo, Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old, The Story of Wine. And I partly bought myself a Zen Touch mp3 player from Creative. To a creative mind, these things are all inspirations of one kind or another. And for technophobes: the value of the mp3 player isn’t gadgetlike or as a toy to me: it means I can listen to Bach instead of traffic or screaming children. (If you play, by the way, that Bach link contains sheet music in PDF format - excellent resource.) And while traffic–noise has its place, most of the time I’d really rather not.

Footnote: although presents are certainly one good part of Christmas, I’m actually happier that my big bro and his wife and kids are here for a few days’ stay. They haven’t been here for about ten years, and the kids have never been. It’s a cosy, companionable, homely time…

Another footnote: don’t think for a second that I’ll be posting regularly until the festive season is over. There are more important things to do than blog. For example, right now, I have to feel virtuous by doing a workout so that I can then feel justified in being a pig and gobbling at least 3 mince pies and a mountain of rum butter all in one go.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

White Christmas!

Yes, I know I said I wouldn’t blog unless something earth–shattering happened, but it has. We have a white Christmas! Yay! Great big fluffy flakes, snowlight shining silvery inside a warm house, and the sounds outside muffled by this white winter muffler. And when I stepped outside the door this morning, the first bird to settle on the lawn in front of me and poke for food was — a robin.

Yup, definitely Christmas. :o)

Merry Christmas, everyone

First of all, here’s hoping that whoever you are, wherever you are in the world — and even whether or not you celebrate Christmas, you’ll have a relaxing and restorative few days and the spirit of the time will give you a calm smile!

I’m sorry that I haven’t been posting for the last few days: work, shopping for and preparing food have hitherto made surfing and blogging impossible. Eating vast amounts of food and entering into all the right spirits and wines will make surfing more enjoyable and blogging too much of a hassle over the next few days, so I’ll see you all again around midweek, unless anything earth–shattering happens. Have a good one, people.

And if Santa comes down your chimney, make the filthy old bastard wipe up afterwards!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Lincoln: great thighs!

The latest gay scandal to hit America: Abraham Lincoln was gay. Or maybe he wasn’t, because gay didn’t exist then. Or something. *grin* — And, this is exciting for me anyway — the respected BoingBoing showcases an organ as one of its most recent ‘wonderful things’. Bravissimo, BoingBoing!


It all began a few days ago. Men rushed, yelling, through the streets. Shops were looted. Little old ladies were violently knocked to the ground and stamped on by the throng. Younger women were sexually assaulted. Families, faced with a violated daughter, felt anger but accepted that there was nothing they could do — all the courts and police stations were closed. Mountains of food had been prepared and eaten; the week was marked by permanent hangover.

That was a description of the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, celebrated there between the 17th and (perhaps) 25th of December. Jolly historians like to refer to it smilingly, forgetting for a moment that the period of wondrously frightening excess in food, drink, sex and violence ended apruptly — with the death, by mob, of the ‘Lord of Misrule’, an enemy of the Roman state who was selected, deliberately, for a week–long life of excess and a horrible death. A symbol of the destruction of evil forces.

Weirdly, our Yuletide customs like eating gingerbread men also grew from Saturnalia — eating a human figure?! Ugh! Christian leaders had to let pagans keep their gingerbread men and their Saturnalia because the idea of being a Christian would have been unbearable without them! And lo, the Christian leaders then (rather desperately) decided that, since there was nothing even remotely Christian about Saturnalia, they’d better arbitrarily decide to celebrate Jesus’ birth on its last day. And then follow up immediately with their own twelve–day–long religious feast to balance things out a bit. Aww. Sweet. Ickle baby Jesus! Coochee–coo!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004



‘It’s a sorry day for (democracy/the country/the economy/freedom of speech) when…’

When what?

When honest, hardworking, downtrodden satirico–cultural news–sheet publishers are driven to hand you a Sorry edition of their paper on the streets of your city. It’s a sorry day when they have chosen to exclaim, brightly, “Sorry!” before you even know what they’re trying to give you!

I’m very sorry to report that The Vacuum, an excellent offbeat ‘penny dreadful’ (which doesn’t cost you a penny!) has been embroiled in a funding row by none other than Belfast City Council. I read about the first rumblings of this fiasco months back, and didn’t blog about it then. (Sorry.) The shock, when it emerged that ‘God’ and ‘Satan’ issues had been printed, with lewd pictures! The mortification, as I now learn that the news has made it over the water!

Councillors (yes, City ones, not Church ones!!) were calling it filth, and other encouraging names, and accusing it of promoting devil worshipping.

Basically, what has now happened is that our pedantic, prehistoric, preachy, prurient, patrician Protectors in the City Hall (which looks so warm and welcoming under the Christmas lights, by the way) have decided, in sequence, that:

  • they think it’s offensive but shouldn’t do much about it because of the European Convention on Human Rights;
  • they will change their minds on that, and ignore their Principal Solicitor’s advice instead;
  • they will withhold all future funding unless Factotum, the V’s publisher, “provides an apology for any offence which may have been caused to Members of the Council and the citizens of the City by previous publications and provides an assurance that future publications will meet such criteria as may be established by the Council”;
  • it won’t withhold future funding after all, and won’t seek to impose limits on what the V may or may not print, as long as the V issues “an apology or some expression of regret”.

  • The good of the people of Belfast is clearly at stake here — if The Vacuum doesn’t apologise, it might have to be printed on only a couple of sheets of newsprint in future, instead of a couple more. Belfast would suffer.

    Determined not to deprive Belfast’s upstanding citizens of a good laugh, the publishers have decided to take action! And so, today, on the streets of a wonderful city which I am temporarily sorry to call my own, The Vacuum said sorry in style. And it published a — frankly — sorry edition to commiserate.

    Monday, December 13, 2004

    Get your bits out

    a picture of a priapic vase

    And ward off the evil eye! At least, that’s what the Romans, those superstitious fools, thought your cock did for you - kept you safe. As long as it was actually in phallus form - I think the picture above gives you a pretty good idea about what a phallus is. ;o)

    The ancient Greeks even had a god called Priapus — his name giving rise to the term priapism. His erect penis was taller than his entire body. He was a protector of livestock (baa). Apparently his prodigiously large member ensured superb fertility. But why, you ask, am I mentioning all this?

    Well, in medicine, there’s a discipline called urology which deals with all the medical stuff behind your urinary matters. And there’s a European Association of Urology, believe it or not. And that Association had a Historical Committee (why?!) and its Chairman, Johan Mattelaer MD, has written a very interesting paper about the phallus in art and culture.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that we all go around with erections all the time. Occasionally, it’s pleasant of course. But aside from the danger and discomfort a continuous erection would cause, gay men mostly act far too much like that’s all that’s going on in their lives anyway, and although I’m sure they could give very many fucks, I’d want to be more creative.

    Talking of creation, did you know that the Ancient Egyptian creation myths include these lovely stories?

    …the god Atum appeared on the Primordial Mound out of the void of Nu. As the first “thing” in the midst of nothingness, Atum relieved his loneliness by masturbating. His ejaculation resulted in the appearance of the first god and goddess, Shu and Tefnut, who became the parents of all other elements of the world. An alternate version indicates that the god Ptah, architect of the universe, maintains cosmic order through continual masturbation.

    Are you shocked by that? If so, remember that you’re certainly not the first: the Victorians were so fascinated by sexual matters partly because their social mores didn’t allow them to be discussed, and so scared of sexual matters (wide–ranging link on nudity and sexuality in general) that, in the British Museum in London, some of the racier scenes on Greek vases were turned to the wall where they couldn’t be seen.

    [Disturbingly, when I wandered into the kitchen mid–post, my dad was talking on the phone and said “…and they recommend superlube as the absolute best”. Erm. Fitting.]

    Saturday, December 11, 2004

    If I dug a hole…

    A picture of a map

    …where would I end up? It’s often said to kids in the UK that if they were to go into their back garden with a spade, an extra lifetime and an absurdly thick asbestos suit, they would end up tunnelling to Australia. In fact, we would end up in the sea southwest of New Zealand and this map shows why.

    While we’re on the subject, it’s also a mistake to assume that Greenland is as big as Africa, or that Europe is as big, either. The relative areas of continents are distorted (excellent link) on a variety of earth maps, along with distance, direction, accuracy of outline — and all because it’s impossible to ever accurately map a globe on a flat surface.

    Or is it?

    Personally, I can’t wait for the day when electronic encyclopedias and atlases offer ultra–ultra–high resolution zoomable globes instead of flat projections. [All this is from MetaFilter, but they left out a map of the ocean floor.]

    Tuesday, December 07, 2004

    Boy Butter

    Try squeezing some into your tight agenda today!
    Eyal Feldman, CEO, B.B.I. Inc.

    I saw this and just had to — apologies to Boy Butter (tm) for featuring their trademark, but I couldn’t not, really! *grin*

    “Boy Butter is a revolutionary multi-purpose lubricant, which maximizes the pleasure of sexuality in all its forms and provides guaranteed good times. Preferred by Boys, Girls, Men, Women, Gays, Lesbians, Heterosexuals, Fetishists, Jews, Christians, Buddhists and Muslims alike.”

    Well, there we are then. Furthermore, their President, Eyal Feldman, says he’s not only the President of the company but also its lead researcher. *grin*

    Apparently it cleans up really well too — so no more agonising over whether to shower immediately or lie beside your partner and choose tissues, toilet roll or towel. This could be to lube what the iPod is to mp3 players, mes amis. ;o)

    Sunday, December 05, 2004


    A picture of a weeping Frenchman in Paris

    We’re too close to see whether this man is also clapping his hands, but the woman next to him is crying also, and clapping her hands at the same time. These are Parisians as the Nazi troops march through their city for the first time.

    Just looking at the faces and imagining what it must have felt like, you don’t have to be French or patriotic to appreciate this — which is why I put it here. The library of photos it comes from is fantastic. Via Incoming Signals.

    Saturday, December 04, 2004

    Titanic, June 2003

    If you want to see what the wreck of Titanic, built in dock in Belfast in 1912 — and sunk by collision with an iceberg later that year — looked like last year, go here — photography from the wreck. (I got thie link from alt.history.ocean-liners.titanic) There are more Titanic photos here, here and here.

    And, since I thought it’d be interesting to give the Titanic sinking some historical context, take a look at how the sinking fits into wider history.

    Friday, December 03, 2004

    “Teh gay”, bad words, Micro$oft, and nice pictures

    A photo taken from a model aeroplane

    Censorship has always been all the rage: as long as there is a surfeit of liberty — intellectual, sexual, cultural, you name it — there’s always a movement which disagrees and says, firmly and didactically, that it’s BAD. And this week is the week where we all get to look forward to the 2,004th birthday of Jesus and get hot under the collar about intolerance.

    (Actually, tolerance isn’t that hot either, but moving on…) Utah. Let us wander thither, and note the quite laughably prudish case of a teenager whose principal told him that to take his boyfriend to the prom, he’d have to get a note from his parents first. Aside from the issue of forcing him to come out to his parents to do so (if he hadn’t already) I think you get the idea of how shitty that was.

    Sex education in American schools, with its new emphasis on Federal funding for solely those syllabi which only list the failure rates of contraception, is just as dangerous and twisted. You can’t contract HIV through sweat, or get pregnant from a bit of pussy–rubbing, but this is what these kids are to be taught if the Bush administration gets its way.

    Even blogging isn’t safe from the monolithic censor, as Microsoft’s new online blogging software comes with a built–in engine which prevents you from using words like ‘anal’ or ‘Lolita’ — “Lolita is a novel by Vladimir Nabokov” is an unacceptable blog title but “Dick, Balls, Boobies, Goddammit” is. Heh. Stoopid.

    Film gets it in the neck (erm…) next, with a film about Kinsey being the next target of America’s religious right. Kinsey liked blowing Americans (’ sexual lids off), you see.

    And why all this? Well, according to people who aren’t liberal, being liberal about sex is a very threatening thing because it emphasises us as sexual, and therefore physical, beings — part of a species, not really touched by the divine. Sex is very bad PR for humanity in these people’s eyes. And suicide is very bad PR for the famous MIT and NYU in America. Universities’ corporate arms are scared that parents will sue. So one of them has decided that if you’re feeling suicidal for any reason, you can’t continue to study there. A vicious example of how important money is, to the utter slap–in–the–face exclusion of a rich and rewarding life.

    Luckily, there’s plenty of reward on hand — or on plane — if you’re a radio–controlled model aircraft enthusiast and a photographer: you can take really wonderful pictures!

    Wednesday, December 01, 2004


    Get your (cyberspace) National Gallery Advent Calendar here. — Via MetaFilter, where there are a few more.

    I love times like this. *beams happily* In fact, thinking about it, when I was a kid and it was Advent, I used to enjoy calendars which didn't have chocolates but did have atmospheric little drawings of seasonal scenes. Some things don’t change.

    Advent, for me, is a month like a year — a year of ever more atmospheric, promising months. You don’t have to be a christian to find the magic in a season which promises good food and wine shared with family and friends.

    Tuesday, November 30, 2004

    Back from London

    Well. There’s so much that really can’t be written about in a way which would do it any justice; there are fragments that I can present, like Jonathan opening the door, the activity in the kitchen before Thanksgiving Dinner, the walk along the river in Greenwich, seeing the Oxford Street Christmas Lights from the Docklands Light Railway late at night… all these things.

    There are more, of course — the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhbiition at the Natural History Museum, which was excellent but less so than last year’s and infested with young, male, real wildlife at every turn. The V&A’s new Architecture Gallery which exhibits superb architectural drawings and a truly gargantuan isometric, hand–drawn cutaway of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a superb wooden model of the Tempietto — and there I’ll stop because if I continued, I’d continue all night and that’s not what you’re here for. Yet. ;o)

    What else can I tell you? Not nearly enough in a blog post. Not nearly enough about Saturday night at Retro Bar and Ghetto with Owen and Mage. In short, it was a few days in that most kaleidoscopic of cities, London. Even if Jonathan did feel melancholy sometimes. ;o)

    Saturday, November 27, 2004


    Originally uploaded by peripathetic.
    Ginger, wood, wine, and a big bowl of salad. The aftermath of Thanksgiving night, Greenwich, 2005.


    Originally uploaded by peripathetic.
    The candle is from Greenwich. The leaf is from Greenwich. The table is from Habitat.


    Originally uploaded by peripathetic.
    More from thanksgiving. A happy cat, from Capetown. Supposed to be like a Benin Bronze, I'm told.


    Originally uploaded by peripathetic.
    Something from Thanksgiving night. A corner of the living-room, glowing with warmth.

    Sunday, November 21, 2004


    Haven’t heard any of the songs from this Finnish metal band, but as Giles pointed them out I found the website, and can confirm that I'd definitely give Jukka something to scream about. (He’s the bandana–ed brooder on the first screen of the site.)

    Students as customers, students as workers

    In this MetaFilter thread, there’s a great deal of discussion over the idea that university culture today is one of entertainment over learning. This is, of course, a generalisation and should be criticised as such: scientific, mathematical and engineering degrees are, I’m certain, full of immensely hard work, and while I’m sure they are made compulsively interesting by a few star lecturers, they are likely to be edifying or intellectual rather than actively enjoyable.

    “Colleges don’t have admissions offices anymore, they have marketing departments,” a school financial officer said to me once. Is it surprising that someone who has been approached with photos and tapes, bells and whistles, might come to college thinking that the Shakespeare and Freud courses were also going to be agreeable treats? One result of the university’s widening elective leeway is to give students more power over teachers. Those who don’t like you can simply avoid you. If the students dislike you en masse, you can be left with an empty classroom. I’ve seen other professors, especially older ones, often those with the most to teach, suffer real grief at not having enough students sign up for their courses: Their grading was too tough; they demanded too much; their beliefs were too far out of line with the existing dispensation. It takes only a few such incidents to draw other professors into line.
    Mark Edmundson, Why Read?

    So is this dumbing down? In some universities, undoubtedly. Certainly, my degree was both intellectual and enjoyable. You could get an ‘average’, ‘respectable’ grade if you were intelligent, paid attention and took care over your essays. And if I had coasted along on that, I would have got a 2:2 — not that that would have mattered vocationally, because my degree was in English.

    But in school, and later, in university, I had got into the habit of getting top marks by a combination of going out of my way for them. Not that I mean that coasting felt natural for me — it didn’t. I’m not boasting here, but I was damn good at my literary criticism and research. And I enjoyed tramping through that extra mile of text.

    But did I enjoy it in the sunglasses, lounger, drinks–by–the–pool sense? Of course not. It was hard work, but was always intellectually satisfying and I felt that satisfaction even as the headaches, swearing, panic and late nights came and went. And I didn’t like it when I sensed even the vaguest hint of “Hey! This text is cool!” in a lecturer. I wanted to be taught, by force if necessary, that which would be challenging — and yes, even difficult — for me to learn.

    That’s just really to make the point that there are students out there who do not demand entertainment of their degrees. Now let’s take a look at some liberal arts colleges in America which combine true intellectual enjoyment and rigour with a distinctly non–standard teaching arrangement which avoids cool or uncool by transcending them altogether.

    Deep Springs College educates its annual enrolment of around 30 male students by means of rigorous intellectual academics and manual labour:

    Students often rise before the sun. At 6:00 the dairy boys are already milking cows half asleep when the feedman gets up to do his first feed run. A farm teamer may have been in the tractor baling hay since 4:30. All of these people are especially thankful for the breakfast cook, who’s up early preparing the morning’s fixin’s.

    But they’re not the only ones up. Some people pull all–nighters to get their work done. Others sleep first and wake up excruciatingly early to do classwork. At every hour of the day there are at least a couple people up, discussing Heidegger, playing chess, or strumming guitars.

    If the cows break out of a grazing area, we need to gather them and fix the fence as soon as possible or they could bloat from eating fresh alfalfa and die. Labor emergencies can happen at any time of the day.

    On Tuesday nights the community gathers for Public Speaking. Public Speaking consists of several short (10 min.) speeches, or sometimes lengthy presentations by only one or two students. Other special activities happen at night, too. A poetry reading group meets, committees convene, a bible study group gathers, and other cool things go on. But for the most part, students are hard at work with the next few hundred pages of Proust or Derrida.

    St. John’s College has a single curriculum for all students, which is studied by directly reading the work of the most influential thinkers from Ancient Greece to the 20th century. There are four years of seminar, language, advanced mathematics, three years of laboratory science, and one year of music.

    Students teach themselves by closely supervised discussion and enquiry; there is one compulsory lecture, for all students, at 10pm on a Friday night. Sometimes the lecture may be a concert. Last night’s lecture was “Old Comedy, New Comedy, and the Problem with Tragedy” and last week’s was “The Use of Infinity in Mathematics”

    The following teachers will return to St. John’s next year:
  • Beethoven
  • Euclid
  • Plato
  • Tocqueville
  • Newton
  • Racine
  • Goethe
  • Galileo
  • Hume
  • Liebniz
  • Locke
  • Well, you get the idea. Plenty of different ways to get yourself a non–vocational degree and be pushed very, very hard indeed. If you’re interested in more ‘quirky’ colleges, then look here.

    Saturday, November 20, 2004

    “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

    A picture of a grey cat

    MetaFilter reports on a recent representation to the US Senate by Kansas’ Senator Sam Brownback, who breathlessly pants that we’re all in danger of becoming addicted to online porn.

    Aside from the examples you hear about — the office worker with his own room, playing jerky–jerky under the table for the whole day — I really do think that this is a crock of shit. First, every human being, if they function correctly, likes orgasm. Second, every human being, if they work correctly, gets sexually aroused by suggestive or explicit imagery which matches their sexuality.

    That’s different from addiction, even if people regularly look at porn. Addiction is a big scary word intended to make us believe we’re collective victims of some immensely powerful force we have no power over. Is porn that force? I think not. Besides, there are people in this world who just don’t find porn does much for them; there are people who use the net and have never seen a porn site. (Although I admit that they are somewhat in the minority.) And as for porn destroying lives: no. The reactions of a prudish society destroying the lives of law–abiding adults? Yeah.

    Anyway, Senate is being told to fund billboards warning people against porn. I wonder what effect that will have? Penultimate word goes to Brownback:

    Brownback, a Republican from Kansas and an outspoken Christian conservative who has championed efforts to curb indecency on television and the Internet, said the public is beginning to realize “they don?t just have to take it.”

    Heh. Quite so. I quite like giving it, too. Har. ;o)

    Mom’s Cancer

    “…it's as real as I can make it while condensing more than a year’s worth of events into comic strip form.”

    I’m utterly speechless. What a synthesis of humanity and art.

    Another true story: my mum’s cancer. (PDF)

    Off to kitchens old…

    …quite soon, and I’m not sure when I’ll be blogging before that, so I thought I’d queeze in one large post or a few smaller ones between now and then. We’ll see how it goes before Greenwich sees more of me.

    At this time of year, my thoughts turn increasingly to the contrast between the cold, crisp dark outside and the warmth inside. Particularly since we’ve some very cold weather in the past few days, with snow here in Belfast on Thursday night.

    When I think warmth, I think company, something to eat and drink — therefore food. And by food I think rib–sticking, rich stuff. So it’s nice to see a fittingly warm E–cookbook (by which I mean that the book is electronic, not the cooking): All About Apples (PDF download from the linked page).

    Aside from weather and food, presents are increasingly in my mind, and I’ve already earmarked this book, all about lost things, for my dad. He never reads this, so I’m quite safe. Sticking with winter, The Polar Express (the book behind the film) is on sale for those of you who need to tell Santa. And as for Santa, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Father Christmas Letters, first published in 1976, is a superb book. Try and get hold of the original imprint, rather than the revised edition. It’s made up of picture–letters full of elves and bears and snow, which Tolkien supposedly wrote to his children, and is as magical for grown–up children as it is for juvenile ones. ;o)

    What better to go with your books and your winter than some wine? Some 2001 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley for example? In a bottle which holds 1,200 glasses of the stuff? It’ll cost you — at this stage, $27,000 and upwards. The bottle is called ‘Maximus’, by the way. And you thought Nebuchadnezzars were big…

    Sunday, November 14, 2004

    The Uncanny Valley

    Still from 'The Polar Express'

    No, this isn’t a late Hallowe’en post, or a landscapes post. It’s about the reasons behind many reviewers’ distaste for the big animated Christmas movie, The Polar Express. From what you can see in the trailer (Quicktime needed), it’s been drawn by computers in the style of the original picture–book, but what really gets people is the inexplicably disturbing faces.

    And why are they creepy? Because our emotional response to anything humanoid but human–created (like toy robots, cartoons, animated characters) rises steadily as the humanoid looks more human.

    But there’s a critical point, just before any humanoid figure looks fully human to us, where our emotional response plummets to zero: we mistrust. We feel distaste, or fear — and that drop in the graph is called The Uncanny Valley (via Kottke). Why all this is so, nobody knows yet. But it’s interesting nevertheless, so I thought I’d share. Anyone have any ideas?

    I reckon it might be that figures like the characters in The Polar Express, which look very modelled, would be looked at like disfigured or plastic–surgery people if they were human, and that’s why we feel the usual distaste.

    Saturday, November 13, 2004

    Firefox vs. Opera

    Get Firefox!

    Get Opera!

    So, here we are in late 2004, and it looks like Microsoft’s cherished preserve, the web browser, is finally becoming less of a Microsoft thing.

    Firefox, which is produced as a small and fast–to–run, fast–to–view browser, is developed by many geeks throughout the world, and is attached to The Mozilla Foundation.

    Opera, which has recently posted its 7.60 (preview release 3) version, is produced as a small and fast–to–run, fast–to–view browser, and is developed by only a few geeks in Opera Software.

    First question: why the fuss about Opera over Firefox? Firefox over Opera? What is the difference?

    In a nutshell, web pages are written in either html or xhtml language, and this language has a correct ‘grammar’ for usage. If you use bad grammar, your pages won’t be perfect and some of their elements may fail on browsers which are built to decode the language completely gramatically correctly. Conversely, if you use perfect grammar, your pages will display perfectly on web browsers which are built to decode the language correctly.

    Except with Internet Explorer. Because Microsoft doesn’t use use perfect html on its websites and products, Internet Explorer is designed to display Microsoft’s bug–ridden pages as if they were written perfectly. It’s not using correct grammar to translate and display html for you. It’s like deliberately adjusting the prescription on your spectacles to be wrong, in the hope of making some weird things look right. But with the same specs you won’t see normal things correctly anymore. And that’s IE in a nutshell.

    The next question: why does it matter?

    It matters because every business in the world is mad about the internet, and therefore every product you buy, from your mobile phone to your computer to your bank account, uses the net. And so the net has to encourage its users (and creators) to all use the same correct grammar, otherwise things won’t be compatible with each other — in so many ways.

    So, since Opera and Firefox are both correct, why do we need both? Surely one would do? And since Opera arrived before Firefox, why is Firefox all over the news and Opera isn’t?

    Aha, good question. Well, Firefox is a tiny little browser with not too many features. You can add loads and loads of features to it really easily, but it doesn’t arrive with them all installed. Opera is a tiny little browser with an email program, a chat program, a flash plugin, different versions for your PDA and your internet–enabled mobile phone. But. The Mozilla Foundation, which makes Firefox, isn’t a company and it has hordes of admirers all over the world who collaborate on writing the software and are fanatical about promoting it. They’re going to take out a fullpage ad in the New York Times, for example, to let the masses know about Firefox. Opera Software, on the other hand, has a loyal multitude of users who have been around for years and greet each new release with microscopic eyes, finding out what can be made better but not being able to help in its evolution: the company does that side of things. And since it’s a company, you either have to let Opera display text or graphical ads, or pay a small one–off fee to disable them. Or you could just go here instead.

    Tuesday, November 09, 2004

    Movers (and shakers?)

    Over at ubiquity, Americans are being urged, with a gently serious grin, to move house if they want to influence the 2008 election. The rationale is that if you’re blue and you live in a blue state, you move to a red one and make it less red. After saying “Gosh,” (and let me tell you, I hardly ever say that word, either out loud or in my head) “how inspired!” I did a bit of thinking.

    I reckon that it’d be interesting to see just how many blue people you’d need in, for example, a state like Texas to really make a difference. There are an awful lot of very, very blue people in America right now, but here at peripathetic we suspect that they’ll become less blue with the onset of Christmas and the prospect of wine and firesides and pumpkin pie.

    Also — think of all those abandoned loft apartments, mansions, condos, streets and cardboard boxes in New York. The place would be like a ghost town! The Museum of Modern Art would lose its curatorial staff, creating a thieves’ open season, (does anyone know what, if anything, has become of The Scream?) and all the good male strippers would suddenly find themselves in a land of pole–less bars and hostile Sundays.

    Jonathan invites foreigners to marry into America to further swing the vote. I would… but… oh, never mind. ;o)

    Elsewhere, Slate says of the 9–11 Commission Report: ‘How a Government Committee made a piece of Literature’ and thereby reveals its complete philistinism — or that of the unfortunate who wrote the standfirst. You don’t ‘make’ literature — it’s not like a bed or a sandcastle. And what’s with ‘a piece’ of literature?! Huh? *sigh*

    The taller the building…

    …the longer the fall, and so it’s proved at Ground Zero in New York City. As the Twin Towers continue to endlessly fall, invisibly, violently and silently through the fabric of the country, so the site where they fall claims another life. A young man who was said to be depressed — so depressed, in fact, by the re–election of Bush that he shot himself within the Twin Towers site. The first person to do so. In a way, I think it’s all a bit kitschy but I’m not sure why.

    Elsewhere, a shot across the bows of the good ship Tobacco, with her grimy smokestack, from Gothamist — who seems to avoid answering the question of whether a woman living somewhere above a cigar–shop is being cigarred to death, and if so, what anyone at all should do about it.

    It’s fitting that so much talk of death should be punctuated by new life, and lo, the –ists brought forth a new baby, and called it Londonist, and laid it in a server–stack because there was no room for it in Covent Garden. Whether its location shall be marked with a star or you’ll journey to worship it is entirely up to you.

    A rather interesting meta–ish, meme–ish thing: 10X10. A hundred words and pictures that, according to MetaFilter, define the time, but which I think just tabulate the news in a cool way. (The site takes an idea from WORDCOUNT and makes good use of it.)

    Friday, November 05, 2004

    Helping America or hurting Kerry?

    Next time we Americans need help in an election, we’ll ask for it, OK?

    says Michael Schaub from Bookslut today. He’s talking, of course, about the recent Guardian letter–writing campaign to Ohio’s voters, urging them to vote. (You can see more about this in the October archives.)

    Michael seems to think that the Guardian’s intervention, although well–intentioned, did more harm than good. Maybe, but that’s simply an opinion: I’d want to see the numbers before I started using words like ‘more’ in that particular sentence.

    And that is precisely the problem. We haven’t seen the numbers. Hell, even America hasn’t seen Ohio’s numbers! And why? Because in Ohio (and the other States) it seems that a Presidential election is perfectly fine, and can be properly over even when hundreds of thousands of votes haven’t even been looked at and will go straight to the pulping machine!

    Now, I ask you. Is that electoral disenfranchisement, or is it not? Sheesh. The mind boggles. Why are these people not shouting to get 100% of their votes counted instead?! Beats me.

    (Oh. Hang on. Maybe it’s because, at the end of the day, the value of a person’s vote being counted rests on whether or not that vote makes a statistical difference. And in America it doesn’t because of the Electoral College. Hmmmm. I wonder what help America could give itself in advance of the next election…?)

    Meanwhile, take a look at the spread of votes in America not simply by State, but by County, here. And remember that maps don't assume an equal spread of population.

    Wednesday, November 03, 2004

    He’s back — but Kerry conceded early

    I could go into the facts and figures; the arguments; the disagreements; the technicalities. But it would all be in vain, and in any case I’m sure I’ll be blogging about the various consequences of this over the next few years.

    O villain, villain, smiling, damnèd villain!
    My tables,—meet it is I set it down,
    That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain[.]
    —Shakespeare, Hamlet I,v,106-08

    [This post was eaten by Blogger so I had to repost and lost an eloquent comment or two. Sorry.]

    Saturday, October 30, 2004

    Nothing like a balanced opinion

    I’m laughing uproariously and it’s not even comedy:

    George W Bush is… well, he’s… Jesus, where do you start? He blinks, he mumbles, he lets a sentence trail off, starts a new one, then reverts back to whatever he was saying in the first place. Each time he recalls a statistic (either from memory or the voice in his head), he flashes us a dumb little smile, like a toddler proudly showing off its first bowel movement.

    The rest of this is here, but sadly not on its original website — the Guardian, of all newspapers, took it down because of its final sentence. Grr.

    Chapel of the Snows

    Chapel of the Snows, McMurdo Station, Antarctica - (c) Keith C Dreher

    Why start with a photo of a distinctly average–looking chapel? Because this is the romantically–named Chapel of the Snows, which is the world’s most southerly place of worship. Not surprising, since it’s located at McMurdo Station, Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica.

    The history of the place is fascinating. I won’t go into the geology, as the respectful conflict between human and landscape here is what interests me, and what made me discover more about the area. Ross Island was discovered in 1841 by James Clark Ross who sailed the area in his ship Terror, whose Lieutenant, Archibald McMurdo, inspired the naming of McMurdo Sound.

    In 1902, Robert Falcon Scott landed on Ross Island from his ship, the Discovery, and used the area as a base, building a hut there in the same year. He — and, later, Shackleton — used the hut as an exploration base.

    Since the 21st we have had a continuous gale WSW and SW. We had fuel to make two cups of tea apiece and bare food for two days on the 20th. Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far.
    It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more.

    R. Scott

    Last entry.
    For God’s sake look after our people.

    Scott and his men had placed the first ever building on Antarctic ice, and the hut is still there today, protected as a historic site under the Antarctic Treaty (which also rather chaotically divides the continent into different ‘claims’ like this. Some news links: Antarctic Huts Conservation Cash Plea (a couple of weeks ago), Exploring Nations Asked for Help (end of July 2004).

    The hut is kept locked at all times, and undergoes a programme of patching and restoration, but will eventually disintegrate. Stepping inside really is like entering a time capsule as all the original fixtures and fittings are there: the men’s bunks, the stove — and outside, a dead seal which has lain there for nearly 100 years: no–longer–needed dogfood. (Since seals are the only viable local food source for sledge–dogs, instead of killing the seals, dogs have been banned from setting paw on Antarctic ice since sometime in the 80s.) People do steal things from inside the hut — one guy returned a stolen biscuit after 30 years of guilt.

    McMurdo Station, a US base, was first established early in the 1950s and has grown from a tiny outpost next to Scott’s hut to a sprawling complex which houses 1,100 people and yet still does not dwarf the strong historical presence of the hut (excellent photo here).

    A fascinating page about the conservation of the Scott Hut, and others, with photos, is here.

    Wednesday, October 27, 2004

    Law Enforcement

    I just found this fucking wonderful prose–poem by Jay Orff in the latest GutCult. It’s one of two published; the other one I read first. It seemed lighthearted and had a jocular, conversational tone. At the start, I was able to approach this one in the same way, — but my grin became raised eyebrows and sombre, open eyes. Go. Read. Shoo!

    Vermont …sigh…

    Someone doesn’t seem too happy with the countryside life:

    I’m not falling for the pumpkins this time. No amount of fog–on–pond in the morning, red maple trees, or fresh cider is going to distract me from what the state so desperately wants me to forget: winter is coming… There was hoarfrost on the grass along the road to work a full three weeks ago. In the mornings now there is a bite and a chill; the dogs fill the air with steam when they run out to the pond… I am living somebody's bucolic rural fantasy. I wake up in the morning to slanting yellow sunlight, many times with cello music filtering up from the room below (I live with a concert cellist). The sound is soft but fills the entire house, now that the birds have flown and the frogs are sleeping somewhere in the muck… Whoever this bucolic fantasy belongs to (and I suspect it's some burnt out middle-aged city dweller who wants to drink cocoa and wear reindeer sweaters), they are welcome to it.

    Well! The ungrateful woman! She wants her city life back and is moving to New York! Oh! The shame! [cheeky smile] Well, Maciej, there’s a twentysomething guy right here in a city who’s not burnt out or middle–aged at all, and who’d love that kind of winter — for a winter or two. I’d not go for an escape as much as a change: I love my technology and my city life. But as a writer I’m always aware that if I was dragged somewhere I didn'’t have those things, I’d definitely write more. These days I write best over winter. And since that’s so, a Vermont winter is as good, if not better, than any other. Sign me up!, and have my bedroom.

    Although I suppose the cello tuning could get a bit much.

    And here are some outrageously cute, big–eyed Swedish kittens. (via Incoming Signals.)

    Sunday, October 24, 2004

    Do you believe in time travel?

    If you think it’s all a crock of shit, chances are that you’ll hate this review. Just thought I’d say that before we get started.

    I’ve been thinking of writing a combined review of the original Donnie Darko and the Director’s Cut ever since I watched the latter. And I was aware that, in writing a review, I’d need to be able to explain the film’s more… surreal aspects.

    So I did a lot of thinking. And got a few passing headaches. Now, for all you confused people, I’ve written a description of the film’s own narrative from start to finish, to remind you of the important bits, and an explanation of the time–travel elements of the film. It opens in a new window because it’s large, but it’s on this site, don’t worry. It will ruin the film for you on so many levels if you haven’t yet seen it so spoiler warning! Click here for it.

    The first thing to say about Donnie Darko is that its construction is of secondary importance to its sheer quality as a satisfying piece of film art. By art I don’t mean craft; by craft I don’t mean ingenuity. I mean characters, the resourcefulness of Jake Gyllenhaal, the steely sensitivity of Katharine Ross, the sardonic benevolence of Drew Barrymore.

    The story is a paragon of ingenuity — although not in terms of the sinuous and infuriating plot. In a phase of cinema history where both Titanic and Schindler’s List, even though on very different ends of the artistic scale, are both pitched so that 100% understanding of the screened visuals and emotional content are expected by 100% of the audience, Donnie Darko deliberately pitches itself higher.

    In the cinema on a first viewing, an average viewer will get the point of only 80–90% of the visuals and about 50% or less of the content; an attentive viewer may get the point of 100% of the visuals but there will be a good 30% of film time that he or she just doesn’t understand. And yet — and this is down to the acting and direction — everyone leaves the cinema fascinated, asking questions, wanting more.

    It’s no accident that such an emotionally honest and violently compelling film was made by a young man. Richard Kelly was 26 when he directed this film, and must have been 24 when the first ideas took hold. The sheer amount of fight inside Donnie’s character can be seen as a reflection, in a way, of how much Kelly must have had to fight to get Donnie Darko made. In the original version and Director’s Cut, it shows — although less in the Cut. The effects had to be scaled down during filming. Patrick Swayze and Drew Barrymore would have been the only recognisable names in the cast list, and it was undoubtedly Barrymore’s involvement as a producer which gave the film its first legs.

    But it’s the predominant youthfulness of the film as a piece of art which both glorifies and damns it. Glorifies to almost every receptive person under about 35, and damns it to more or less everyone over 40. Its lead character is a scary six–footer of a bunny; its chief protagonist a charismatic, depressed teenager. What takes place in the plot includes swearing, frenzied learning about the world which only happens during your teenage years, telling teachers to do some unspeakable things with their anuses (heh! heheh!), all overlaid by a gentle… adulthood, barely expressed, but omnipresent.

    What the Director’s Cut adds, apart from a remastered soundtrack and some upgraded effects, are several diegetic insertions (essentially, unseen chunks of film slipped in for the first time) which change things emotionally — and a swap–around of some of the songs. Mad World is still the coda, but the original music has been restored to the second sequence and it tones down the mystery. Perhaps a good thing.

    Certainly, though, the introduction of Roberta Sparrow’s book The Philosophy of Time Travel as a superimposed image at the start of the acts change things immensely. Instead of making them grasp at straws, Kelly lets his audience see where things are going. And this isn’t a bad thing, just different. Donnie’s journey instantly seems more tragic in the classical sense, because he is being pulled by a fate we now clearly see, and can still do damn all about. There are subtle changes in the effect of the special effects, too, but I won’t spoil things for those who want to watch the Cut ‘fresh’.

    Essentially, the difference between the original and the Cut is that the Cut takes away some mystery — but replaces it with intensity. The two are subtly different films, and both are superlative achievements. Go watch.

    Saturday, October 23, 2004

    They made me do it

    Frank in Donnie's eye, by Astek

    This is a warm–up to a review which is on its way. And also because I can’t be arsed with trawling around the web at the moment. *grin*

    Wednesday, October 20, 2004


    Internet Map by

    the internet. Actually, it's not really a map as such: it doesn't have domain names and if it did, this colourful splurge would have to be the size of a few football pitches. Strictly speaking, it’s a graph. I think. Anyway, read more by clicking the link.

    I’ve posted before about the film Donnie Darko but have never reviewed it. I went to see it when everyone was still asking “Is that a movie?” instead of saying “I should maybe see it sometime”. And even then, five big gold stars would have been pinned to its weird little bunny suit by my willing hands.

    But now there’s an even better excuse for me to get my head out of my solar plexus and get writing: Donnie Darko The Director’s Cut is out. And yes, I’ve bought a copy. Haven’t seen it yet. But watch this space! (If you’re wondering how on earth 20 minutes’ worth of extra footage could make a difference, apparently it does, and it’s not just thematic or narrative either. For those unafraid of spoilers, a pretty much exhaustive changes list is here.) And the website is here.

    We say ‘Please think’ — they say ‘Fuck off’

    Here are a few choice replies from some Americans — with comments on their replies — to a recent letter–writing campaign in which the Guardian newspaper asked UK citizens to write to known undecided US voters in the State of Ohio.

    Have you not noticed that Americans don’t give two shits what Europeans think of us? Each email someone gets from some arrogant Brit telling us why to NOT vote for George Bush is going to backfire, you stupid, yellow–toothed pansies…
    —Springfield, Ohio

    This is the worrying thing. Getting a letter from any foreigner at all about an election in which you are a voter and not them would tend to piss you off. It would cause you to act out of understandable human spite and consider voting for the candidate who the letter–writer railed against.

    Unless, of course, the politics of the entire planet carry the pervasive stain of his policies and a middle–eastern country has been reduced to a nest of vipers because of decisions which he and his administration made, which make your country less safe, and which would not have been made if he was not in power.

    Consider this: stay out of American electoral politics. Unless you would like a company of US Navy Seals - Republican to a man - to descend upon the offices of the Guardian, bag the lot of you, and transport you to Guantanamo Bay.
    —United States

    A supporter of a political party is under no obligation to support the party’s leader. It follows that there is no obligation for a Republican to support Bush for President of the UNited States, given the global reach of even its Federal views, let alone policies, and the character of his policies and understanding of the world and his country’s place within it politically.

    I do not say that America is a shit country, nor that UK troops should attack Republicans. I do say that there are certainly a lot of Republican Navy SEALs who would demand Bush’s resignation as Commander in Chief of the US military.

    Shame on you for using the people of Ohio like this. The US presidental election isn’t just about foreign policy, it’s about healthcare, taxes, education, transportation, natural resources and all manner of issues with little to no impact on the people of Britain.
    —Washington DC

    Of course — I agree. It isn’t just about foreign policy. Millions of US voters will vote with domestic issues only at the forefront of their minds. But millions of others will vote in the knowledge that to safeguard their country, their domesticity, and their rightful place in the wider although admittedly rather remote world, they should choose a leader who will ensure that the USA is respected rather than feared.

    (The same Washington voter also makes the point that it is our leaders who are our problem and not the leaders of America. True. But they are only a problem because they prove impotent in severing us from an almost personal alliance with Bush’s neoconservative global policies. An alliance which is too personal because it no longer depends on policy but on an amorphous and ill–defined ‘special relationship’. That relationship used to be based on an unstrained mutuality regarding political liberty worldwide.Tony Blair continues to pretend that its basis continues to be so. That is wrong.

    I enjoy reading your paper and agree with your politics, but this is really too much.Your plan, if carried out, will hurt the Bush opposition TERRIBLY. We cannot afford to have this associated with John Kerry or anyone else. It will be; the press is going in for a kill, days before the election.
    —United States

    This is certainly possible, and shows how much this election teeters on the finest of balancing–points.

    Keep your noses out of our business. As I recall we kicked your asses out of our country back in 1776. We do not require input from losers and idiots on who we vote for in our own country. Fuck off and die asshole!!!!!
    —Knoxville, Iowa

    Since we’re losers and idiots, could you please give the UK your input and tell that to our Prime Minister? Personally? Please? With any luck, he might then think again about committing further loser, idiot British troops to help in Iraq. Since you don’t require our input, and all. ;o) *sweet smile* *dies*

    Saturday, October 16, 2004

    “They’ll like her bum…”

    “…in this photo,” said the pallid executive. Heavy cufflinks scraped the boardroom table as he sorted through papers and proofs. To his right, a man from Finance nodded approvingly. “Projected sales for the first week?” he asked. An eyebrow was cocked across the room; a gold pen moved down a list. "Enough for a few years in the sun for you, Max.” A chuckle.

    A scenario roughly like this one is repeated, several times, every time the latest hot female artist in whatever area of music is close to completing the song which marks the ‘two–thirds of another album’ mark. Sometimes it happens earlier than that. There are variations, of course: the bum may be a breast; it may be a face. The woman may be a man. The adult, a teenager. The executive might prefer an alpine retirement.

    But in all the possible variations on this theme, there is one thing which never changes. The company is in charge. The artist is, at best, under a tight corporate leash, and at worst, of no musical merit — on the company’s books because of her appearance, fame, or sex appeal.

    Where the product is intensely musical, the music is better left ignored, and is crushed under a double desire: to market a product without reference to the creative process, and to convince the public to get their wallets out by promising that the music provides some sort of satisfying quasi–intellectual experience.

    But at the same time, the ads don’t tell you anything about the supposedly perfect fit between the musical language, and words, of a supposedly good song. They just show you the artist’s bum. Or screaming mouth. Or piercings.

    The illusion of a social preference for light music as against serious is based on that passivity of the masses which makes the consumption of light music contradict the objective interest of those who consume it. […] They are only still manipulated for reasons of marketability. The hit song enthusiast must be reassured that his idols are not too elevated for him, just as the visitor to philharmonic concerts is confirmed in his status. […] For musical vulgar materialists, it is synonymous to have a voice and to be a singer. In earlier epochs, technical virtuosity, at least, was demanded of singing stars […] If one dares even in conversation to question the decisive importance of the voice and to assert that it is just as possible to make beautiful music with a moderately good voice as it is on a moderately good piano, one will immediately find oneself faced with a situation of hostility and aversion.
    —from The Culture Industry by Theodor Adorno

    Hmmm. Listeners as people wronged by shit music. Betrayed by the soulless production–line and the contents of their wallets. I’ve just started to read this book, and I haven’t made up my mind yet whether I think it’s a correctly stinging critique or a bit of an overreaction, but I can’t deny that when he talks about music he’s on the right track.

    There is a lot of music today which is so intellectually empty that it demands no thought, so emotionally repetitious and flat that it gives no new thoughts or insight or redress to the poor sod who paid quite a lot of money for it, and finally, so technically unskilled that its only hope for the admiration of potential fans is by including strange sounds. But that’s not the whole story, so I guess I’ll keep reading and thinking about it.

    Thursday, October 14, 2004

    The Great Fire

    The roof of the buildings in Royal Avenue, Belfast

    Of Belfast. This disturbs me because as well as the damage to a couple of characterful buildings, we have lost (at least for a time) one of Belfast’s major bookshops. We have two branches of Waterstone’s here, and the Royal Avenue branch, in the heart of the blaze, was better by far than its counterpart in literature, poetry and graphic novels, as well as having a longer–established staff.

    Fires are common occurrences in cities with old buildings, but this one was particularly fierce — twenty appliances were fighting it through the night. The good news is that they can hopefully reopen, given time and a bit of rebuilding. It scared me though.

    Other fire links: some people can’t find the inferno at ground zero. The Great Fire of London, 1666. Spontaneous human combustion. California Wildfires, as seen by the locals.

    Monday, October 11, 2004


    (As MetaFilter would say.) — Jacques Derrida is… not.

    So, the man who famously said “The center is not the center” has died. Academic criticism in the humanities in general was enriched – some would say messed up – by his work. From the rather turgid theorising of Wordsworth and Eliot, and Saussure’s theoretical robustness, literary criticism was dragged kicking and screaming into a new age where authors didn’t get to be authoritative about their own works and where the act of writing was (fittingly) inscribed in the brain of the reader. Anyway. You probably don’t understand this. I didn’t either, for a while. But if any of it interests you, the links are there.

    Elsewhere, things magazine tells interesting stories about demolished Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, including a hotel in Tokyo whose façade has been recreated in an outdoor museum. Fitting, since Fallingwater abruptly fell down today.

    A link from Bookslut about that most marvellously jarring of words: buggery. (Hey, at least it’s better than chinchilla sex.)

    Saturday, October 09, 2004

    Friday night paraphernalia

    Austrian Cultural Forum, New York HQ. This building is 24 storeys tall but sits on the tiny footprint of a townhouse. Image (c) ACFNY

    I’m in the mood for New York, since this weekend is their Open House - but even so it’s far less impressive than London’s events, which is a shame because a city like New York should play host to well over a hundred ‘Open Houses’ rather than tens. If you don’t know what an Open House is for a city, it’s when loads of buildings you don’t ever get to see suddenly allow you to walk around for a couple of days. Amazing.

    And for the characteristically peripathetic link of the week, something that seems random: the Scottish Enlightenment. No, it’s not what hapens when you see just exactly what’s really under a Scotsman’s kilt, but a cultural explosion of a couple of hundred years ago. I particularly like the e–texts page. And why? Because this is one of the things I studied in uni – pretty unsurprisingly, since uni was in Aberdeen.

    Thursday, October 07, 2004

    Oh, too much!

    There is far too much to write about tonight so I’ll stick to generalities. First, the pleasures of meaningfully pleasureable conversation over a warming dinner, while outside the clear air gets colder and reminds you of the time of year when frost gathers…

    The inspiration of such talk, which drives you upstairs to the piano, where you find it comforting that you have lost some technique and have to work carefully and slowly at the familiar tiny flexes and extensions of the muscles again…

    A lamplit Scottish chapel in the middle of winter, where the only sound in–between your musical phrases was the sound of the wind against heavy wooden doors… Bach and sea winds go well together…

    A new bottle of bourbon which you read, and think, deeply about before even breaking the seal — how estranged it seems, here in its bottle, and how at home in the glass in your hand…

    Monday, October 04, 2004

    I like my coffee hot

    But this is sort of cold.

    Gothamist pointed me to this new coffeeshop venture in New York: the design above, by Hariri & Hariri (architects) is what appears ot be a finalised plan for the flagship store, on pavement level in Manhattan.

    The store, which will be run by the National Federation of Colombian Coffee Growers, will give the US another example of ‘ethical’ coffee–buying, whereby what you hand over at the counter will mostly go into the pockets of the workers involved in production (and retail, obviously) rather than being creamed off — no pun intended — by some faceless thieving bastard company.

    With such moral warmth and cosiness behind the venture, I find the design to be its architectural opposite: cold. Or lukewarm at best. The front of the store (which is shown in Gothamist’s post) is highlighted by a room–height chevron of thick brown teak (incidentally, a wood which we shouldn’t *really* be using these days). Go in the door, and you are standing against its right–hand side, and can walk down its length, past the counter, to get to the back, which is where peripathetic’s viewpoint is taken from. For the entire length of the place, there’s this shapeless jellylike white plastic wall, which apparently forms some seats too, and lots of brushed steel.

    It looks like a meeting–room in a futuristic office rather than somewhere to relax with your coffee. And while those who work freelance and yuppie around in Manhattan might like to work from a place like that — and it’d probably be a fitting place to do so — I’d not want, or be able, to relax there.

    Here in Belfast, Clement’s and Caffe Casa are places where relaxation comes naturally. And I just happened on James Street South’s website: a restaurant, named after the, erm… boulevard.

    Sunday, October 03, 2004

    I set that man above the gods and heroes —

    all day, he sits before you face to face,
    like a cardplayer. Your elbow brushes his elbow —
    if you should speak, he hears.

    The touched heart madly stirs,
    your laughter is water hurrying over pebbles —
    every gesture is a proclamation,
    every sound is speech . . .

    Refining fire purifies my flesh!
    I hear you: a hollowness in my ears
    thunders and stuns me. I cannot speak.
    I cannot see.

    I shiver. A dead whiteness spreads over
    my body, trickling pinpricks of sweat.
    I am greener than the greenest green grass —
    I die!

    Sappho’s wonderful Poem of Jealousy, translated by the Boston Brahmin Robert Lowell. On this page (via MetaFilter) are 26 translations of the same poem, beginning with Sappho’s original of around 500 BC and ending up in the 21st century.

    If you can be bothered to read this, you might start to appreciate how bloody difficult poetry translation can be!

    Friday, October 01, 2004

    Perverted Books?

    Foreword has disappointed me today, because as a site which is dedicated to a particular strand of the love of books, (although perhaps more the design than the content in some cases) it has an implied duty to respect the democracy of book content and book choice, just as much as the democracy of book design.

    Today, Amanda posted about noticing a copy of the Kama Sutra on someone else’s shelves and feeling disillusioned in that person. Even more prudishly, she then assumed that she had a right of control over someone else’s bookshelf by asking her readers to help her decide what to do:

    a. Ask to “borrow” the book and then let it slip accidentally into a mud puddle?
    b. Provide an alternative book jacket in catering to the sensitivities of other nosy patients?
    c. Leave behind anti–porn religious tracts the next time I’m at the good doctor’s office?

    She then signs off as ‘terribly embarrassed’ — as well she might be, after just being so presumptuous. I’ve never yet noticed a book on someone’s shelves which has disillusioned me, but if I did, I imagine that as a book–lover who respects other people’s right to read what they want to read, I’d recognise it wasn’t my place to shove my oar in unnecessarily. *disillusioned sigh*

    Monday, September 27, 2004

    If this entry was a hamper

    and you liked picnics, I guarantee you’d have a somewhat grassier bum after this post. If you like the kind of online food I like, that is! *grin*

    I started my online peregrinations today with Incoming Signals which I haven’t looked at since at least March; I could have browsed there all day but ended up thinking that branching out should be done. So, following a link from it, I found a [really good] history resource which then linked me to the frankly amazing Timelines of History. You want something from the past? Need to look anything up in a hurry? Even recent history? It’s all there.

    Since I’m reading about the alphabet at the moment (as well as about 10 million other things) I looked on Languagehat, which apart from being a brill read in itself also led me very seriously astray, in the nicest way possible. To a collection of 100 old Japanese Tanka. Unfortunately the translation rhymes, and I squirm at that because there’s really no fucking need for something to rhyme completely and cringeworthily in English when it only half–rhymed (and was more beautiful) in Japanese. Grr.

    From Languagehat I moved, also, to the very cultural wood s lot. One selected glint from the riches — a piece of Turkish delight poetry:

    To think myself happy
    I don’t need a piece of paper or a pen;
    A cigarette dangling between my fingers
    I enter the blue
    Of the painting on the wall.

    I can’t remember how I got on to Rich Language but I did, and was pleased to find that an online Etymology Dictionary is mentioned there. (I love sites by people who are addicted to something. They’re so infectious and thorough.) Etymology isn’t definitions of words, but histories of words, how they were first used, that sort of thing. See bum as an example. And via Inappropriate Response, a weblog, here’s news of a couple of really really old American skeletons. And via MetaFilter, the mystery of one more. Via The Minor Fall, The Major Lift comes inhalable alcohol. Good news for those of us who can’t stomach more than 4 pints at once.

    Finally, one serious link and one not serious one. It’s entirely predictable that the world’s most active online Dictionary of Literary Terms should be French. And it’s entirely surprising that I live just east of Ered Luin, south of the Ice Bay of Forochel, and not in south Belfast at all.