Monday, August 30, 2004

Opening Hooks

The sun rose slowly, as if it wasn’t sure it was worth all the effort.

Terry Pratchett, The Light Fantastic

In these disturbed days in which we live, it has probably occurred to all thinking men that something drastic ought to be done about aunts.

P.G. Wodehouse, Jeeves Makes an Omelette

Browse awhile in the Opening Hooks database.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

God hates it when you get up late

And so, this morning, I got up at just past eleven o’clock and tottered down to teh kitchen in search of the coffee–jar. The post title comes from a wonderful article which reviews Tom Hodgkinson’s How To Be Idle, a book which apparently rhapsodizes on the virtues and really concrete benefits thereof. And, even more encouragingly for me, I’m told, Dr. Johnson once said: “Whoever thinks of going to bed before 12 o’clock is a scoundrel.” But this book doesn’t just deal with blank idleness. It deals with the virtues of sexual idleness, mental idleness (absolutely not to be confused with mental inactivity), etc.

Anyway, another thing about God — or god, to be properly agnostic about it — is that the belief system in this particular being will drive people to believe the strangest things, whatever their religion. And that, argues the writer of another book, is very very dangerous. The thrust of the book, which is ferocious as far as I can tell from the review, is that religion is the only thought system which takes pride in stubbornly refusing to update itself at all, even though it was only perfectly relevant to its own social world about 3000 years ago.

Therefore, since the 21st century is hemmed in by violent politics, catastrophic threats to the environment and our future potential to survive, massively destructive weapons etc., religion by itself is revealed as nonsense when it tries to deal with any of this. And that alone makes its closest adherents – people who believe firmly in what they say – actively dangerous. About as dangerous, he seems to suggest, as a flame in a cavernous petrol–tank. I won’t go into any theorising about 9/11 but I think the author of the book itself does.

The Daily Telegraph has a list of phrases by book reviewers. Phrases that should be banned from articles about books. The list includes: emotional rollercoaster, epic — as if synonymous with “long”, event — “a new epic by Homer is always an event”, heady mix, in his inimitable style — incidentally, inimitable people often turn out to be quite imitable: “the inimitable Sean Connery”, lightness of touch, searing indictment, unputdownable.

What puzzles me is why, in these relativistic times where one thing is supposedly as good as another, reviewers are not taken to task for using this language of ultimate praise. Not that they should be, of course. In books, just as in music or any other art, one thing is rarely as satisfying as another.

Thursday, August 26, 2004


New York’s tube map has undergone a significant revision and Gothamist has the lowdown on it. Here at peripathetic, I’ve posted about newer versions of London’s tube before, and with fond memories. But I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to get used to travelling by subway in New York. Maybe, one day, when Bush has wilted, I’ll get to learn first–hand.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Whistle while you walk…

DieselGT, of, takes a walk, and finds a dropped digicam in the woods! A couple of hundred quid certainly. Takes it home, sees what’s in it.

Posts the results on the net.

Various users’ comments: “Nice finding the camera. Treat it well.” “What the f*ck is that in the fog?” “Reckon that last picture was taken as the camera was dropped? Reckon the reason for it being dropped was because of all of the above?”

Personally, if it was me, I’d drive by the woods and throw the camera out the window in passing. Good riddance. Ugh. [shudder] — Via MetaFilter.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Armed robbers steal ‘The Scream’

Munch: The Scream

Yep, it’s true. Edvard Munch’s The Scream, and his less well–known Madonna, have been stolen by armed robbers from Oslo’s Munch Museum during opening hours.

I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue–black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.
—Edvard Munch

This isn’t the first time this has happened, either. The painting is fragile, which, apart from the theft itself, will be the chief worry for investigators. (Its red sky, by the way, was because of the Krakatoa eruption.)

Once upon a time…

…a little doggy poo lived on the side of a road.

The things you find on the net. Via MetaFilter. See also: Rate My Poo, Poo Price (for calculating how much money is involved in you taking a poo break during work), (still without an owner), and the Kangaroo Poo clothing store.

Thursday, August 19, 2004


Originally uploaded by peripathetic.

This is a BBC graphic of Bush’s Presidential Inauguration route. But I swear I just looked at it and thought: it’s his popularity ratings graph for now until November. Heh.

Well, I can hope, can’t I?!


Originally uploaded by yezbick.

I just saw this cute creature on Flickr. Quite cool.

Even cooler, actually, now that I’ve seen the format of this post, is the way Flickr formats little bitty photoblog posts like this. I like!

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Strange exhibits

The Soap Lady. A massive colon. Foetal skeletons. Wax exhibits of eye diseases. These are all available for you to look at if you visit Philadelphia.

On the other hand, if you live in the UK, you can go to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford (which hosts a vast collection of general, if not always medical, ephemera) or even better, make an appointment to see the Wellcome Institute’s museum in London.

Actually, blogging about this has awakened memories of a lot of other ‘private’ museums around this country, including unreal, violent little collections laid out as real museums inside police stations, normally for police viewing only… if I remember enough, I’ll blog about them another time.

While you’re reaidng this, it might interest you to know that US police keep *all* evidence from *all* major crime–scenes — at least that’s how it appears. Recently, the Sheriff’s Office which dealt with the school shootings at Columbine laid out a one’day evidence exhibition for relatives and friends of the victims. Apparently everything was there. All the spent shotgun shells, for example. And that’s just the start.

Makes you wonder what else the police hold. The gun which killed Kennedy, for example? And if they throw these things out, where do they go? What happens to them? Could my dinner knife me made out of reconstituted steel from the World Trade Center, someday? And if they keep everything for ever, where does it go? I ask sincerely — it’s interesting and vital. If you know, please say.

Monday, August 16, 2004


Taking a look at Coudal recently, I came across this superb recipe. Your Vermouth, sir:

The motions and steps are all ordered to bring everything together at the holiest moment. There are many ways to describe the final product. Clean, precise and transcendent come to mind. But none of it is possible without cold. Cold in all its meanings. Unfeeling. Stoic. Mathematical.

[…] Pour the ice and Club Soda out of the glasses. The Soda enables the trace amount of Vermouth in the drink to cling to the side of the glass surounding the pure slurry of Vodka and imparting a hint of taste with each sip. Trust me.

11. Uncap the shaker and pour the drinks. An occasional back and forth rotation of the shaker will facilitate the process. The final product will be thickish, with a slightly slushy quality.

12. Drop in the olives.

13. Enjoy slowly. Chat about the issues of the day. Smoke.

14. Repeat as necessary.

This reminded me, in its bone–dry warmth and passion for its subject, of a similar recipe by Luis Buñuel, but his was for a Martini, and was inspired to some degree by Thomas Aquinas and virgins’ hymens. If you don’t believe me, go search. ;o)

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Did 9/11 change journalism?

Joho blogs a thoughtful article in Pressthink, which asks, among other questions, what journalists tell themselves about their reporting of the Iraq war, of 9/11, etc. It asks if journalistic ethics today are the same, and whether they are just as adequate as they were before. It asks unanswerable questions and might therefore be a bit of navel–gazing but that’s what most blogs are anyway.

So, to gaze at my own intellectual navel: I think journalistic real–life ethics change from month to month and story to story, regardless of the codes that sit astride them. Their adequacy is only the adequacy of how a human being responds to a particular situation — after all, journalists are human beings, just as militants are. Just as Osama bin Laden is.

I also think Joho was on to something in his post about the article. He points out:

Journalists are always embedded because they are human. We humans are fallible, context–bound and self–interested. Our glory is that we can be less so rather than more so. But, we’re stuck with being bodies born into history.

Therefore, he says, American journalists should (and I’m paraphrasing) reclaim the free press as truly free, and discard the lies of omission and poor focus found in many Iraq articles. They should cite troop hopelessness and well as troop strength. They should be open about Bush’s alleged schizophrenic behaviour. They should knock down the taboos while still retifying their journalistic codes of conduct.

As a result, more terror laws would be carefully considered before being passed or shelved. The public would be forced to think harder about many more issues before going to the polls. Journalists would have to really understand what they were writing about before they started to write. There would be a sense of accountability to an overarching intellectual frankness and transparency. I reckon that would be a good thing.

I think journalists tell themselves that they’re doing a great job of reporting Iraq. They aren’t. And, as for the ridiculous notion that ‘embadded’ journalists are really part of the war because they inform the policy–makers: don’t get confused and confuse one concept with the other.

Journalists are no more part of this war in that very very deep sense than they were part of World War 2. As their presentation of the war to the public gets more censored and insipid, so it appears plausible to think of war as political machinations with a few guns involved — and therefore to think of journalists as able to influence its course.

When a war is shown in all its fullness, as last happened in World War 2, and to a certain extent, Vietnam, it is plain to anyone that journalists of any kind are never part of it. They exist outside, at most, as very well–educated gawpers. When reporting of a war sinks to new depths of laziness and the war appears somehow facile, it’s easy for the public to think that journalists really do have access to the war’s heart, and a part to play within it. Wielding their sharp, glinting pens, they roam across the world on their dashing white printing–presses.

What crap. So, no, 9/11 didn’t change journalism that much. Journalists got more self–important as they got the first war–meat of their careers. Laws of freedom of expression were melted and twisted by the so–called cleansing flame of George “burning” Bush. But journalism itself? Changed?! Heh. Heheh.

Saturday, August 14, 2004


in America, while here in Belfast, we have sticky southerly winds and the risk of thunder on Monday.

Elsewhere: in Greece the Olympics have started. As I walked past the living–room last night, the TV showed the new stadium awash with camera–flashes and fireworks. I chose not to sit down, but passed through and went upstairs to my bedroom wondering where I could get hold of any decent photos of Ian Thorpe, Australia’s star swimmer.

Ian Thorpe: photo from BBC

This beautifully curved arm, well–padded with 21–year–old muscle, (*Pete drools*) is Thorpe’s. Not that I'm just after Thorpe: there are plenty of swimmers and gymnasts and rowers to watch. Well, maybe not the rowers.

But seriously, before everyone reading this starts thinking I'm nothing but a perv, I actually think watching gymnasts at almost any standard, and particularly at an Olympic standard — and the same goes for swimmers — is actually compelling and impressive. It's the mixture of grace a power: a very difficult mixture to execute correctly. Whereas the body both seeks to decrease its resistance to water in swimming, and fights it at the same time, in gymnastics the body must look as if it is no longer subject to the natural forces of gravity and average human strength. That’s why watching the events on TV is really the thing to do. Photos never give a good impression of the athletes’ efforts - or their physical presence.

But if anyone does turn up some good photos, let me know! *grin*

And going back to America again, I have learned that people from Utah are called Utahns (which seems a bit of a messy word) by reading this story about the declaration of gay marriages as null and void after California ruled that the Governor was acting illegally in issuing them. You can get legally married in Massachusetts, and in Vermont there are recognised civil unions. I guess Vermont’s welcoming stance would induce a bit of mental relaxation for a lot of gay people, in a way, and it may be all the more reason for me to live in Vermont someday, and do this. Although it’s not really the real reason. I just want to, anyway.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004


COPYRIGHTED IMAGE - Fair Use. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, in Columbine High School

…for the break in postings; I haven’t been too good at doing anything in the past few days. The weekend was taken up with vegetation, realising that Dad was going away to the Isle of Man for a week, and before all of that, going out to a gay bar in Belfast with a new friend who is in the strange position of knowing quite a lot of people on the scene and at the same time actually being a very nice talkable–to person.

So, we went to this bar. And upstairs in the bar — I’d never sat upstairs there before but it’s very nice with square wood and leather chairs — I experienced some of the old–time atmosphere of sitting in an Aberdeen bar with uni people who I'’d known (seemingly) my whole life. It was just one of those moods. I felt relaxed and at home and in charge. And at the same time reaching out. I thought of Jonathan and wondered why he was missing all this, for example. I thought of Patrick and how, when he next visits, I’ll bring him here.

Anyway. Over the weekend that followed, I spent a lot of time pursuing a really random and quite macabre avenue of web research. The Columbine Massacre - the school shootings in Littleton, Colorado. There are a lot of very informative websites out there. A lot of labyrinthine ones. And a lot of really damn unsettling ones. Here’s a snippet by one of the killers:



This is all the more extremist–sounding and unsettling when you consider that the guy who wrote it was a teenager. Now, as creative writing this is pretty good, powerful, punchy stuff. But taken beside what we now know of how exactly his life was to end, and what lives it was to take with it, it seems to resage what happened and it gives me chills. And even after staring myself bug–eyed at this stuff and all the crime scene reports over the weekend, I still can’t stop myself from thinking: don’t dismiss them as wacko bastards. Because they weren’t.

And then I think of all that flows from that… There’s a poem or ten in here somewhere.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Women’s classic traits: Listening, welcoming, humility, faithfulness, praise and waiting

The Pope, officiating at a weekly Mass in St Peter’s Square, Oct. 2003. Photo: Massimo Sambucetti, AP

…at least, they would be if you’re the Pope. His Holiness has recently given the nod to an encyclical issued by Cardinal Ratzinger. That makes it official doctrine. Among other points, it states that women should be present in the world of work because they have something unique to contribute — how very generous of the church to say so!

Predictably, more or less every woman who’s not Catholic (and quite a few who are) have gone very red in the face, and not just from the exertion of scrubbing the family crucifix, either. One of them is the redoubtable Germaine Greer, who delivered this withering attack in today’s Guardian:

When it comes to excoriating feminism, tight–lipped Ratzinger, head of the Vatican Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, once known as the Inquisition, allows himself to babble like an advertising copywriter. The church, run by celibates and pseudo–celibates in their own interest, is declared to be “expert in humanity”, a claim that those of us who endured Catholic schools from the ages of four to 17 would find ludicrous.

Women of reproductive age, aware that in practising contraception they are considered to be living in sin and unfit to receive the blessed sacrament, are staying away from mass. Their children will stay away, too. […]

In June this year, Ratzinger issued “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion. General Principles”, arguing that support for abortion rights and euthanasia would render a Catholic unworthy of receiving the sacrament. The purpose of this paper, which was originally written in English, was to pressure American bishops into refusing to allow John Kerry to receive communion, thus effectively excommunicating him, and frightening Catholics away from voting for him. […]

Catholic feminists who snatch at the straw of the Pope’s statement that housework should be paid for should remember that Wojtyla cannot imagine a world in which housework is done by anyone but women. His Holiness’s lavatory is cleaned by nuns.

Remember all those games you played when you were a kid, where either you or your friends had to do something you didn’t really want to, to fit into your role for the game? For a while, it was kinda fun, you had a job to do, you were part of what was going on. And then you realised that all you were really doing was being a willing accomplice to being dicked around. I can only hope that the Catholic women who take this seriously at first will very soon feel the same way.

(I wonder if it’s nuns who lift the Pope onto the toilet every night? Oh, the irony. He can’t shit without women to help him. To quote Hamlet: ‘What a falling–off was there!’ Well, we can but hope…)