Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Rainy Day Dubrovnik

Yes folks, I am afraid to say it rains here just like anywhere else! Yesterday was pretty windy and cold but dry in the morning and I managed to get out and about whilst BondWoman was doing her stuff, unfortunately I forgot to bring the pics I had lined up for today, so I am afraid that words will have to suffice. I explored more of the Old Town, poking about in the back and side streets looking for some artistic ideas for photographs, found a few but not the one that has that 'WOW' factor, ah well, never mind there are a few days yet. The afternoon was not at all nice as it began to rain, so I abandoned to the hotel and spent the afternoon sorting the pics on my laptop.

The plan for today was to explore a little further afield, but unless the rain stops and some sun appears I think it is going to be very much a day in indoor activities, that is if I can find some, as the girl in the Tourist Information has, to date, proved to be most unhelpful.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Products hard to find in Croatia

I am writing this post in full awareness of the fact that it might upset or distress the more sensitively minded members of the blogteam. But BondBloke assures me that I can discuss this delicate matter without actually mentioning any of the words which I suspect that RoadRunner (yes, it is he) will find distasteful. Anyway, there are certain objects that a woman should not leave home without when she goes on her travels. I am usually well organised, but sometimes for unavoidable reasons one can get caught short, as it were, away from home. Now, could I find supplies in Dubrovnik anywhere? Well, it certainly was a bit of a struggle. I went first to the local general store. No luck. Certain products which might be said to fulfil the same function but which are less intrusive in nature, as it were. But not what I was looking for. This was Sunday. I had to wait until Monday for the pharmacy to open. I thought I would find what I was looking for there. Well, in I went, in the company of BondBloke. Nothing visible in the shop. I asked the pharmacist. She delved into the dark recesses under the counter away from the public gaze and brought out a small packet of the offending objects and handed them over a little reluctantly I thought. And not without looking me up and down, and glancing across at BondBloke, and deciding that letting me buy these was not likely to undermine my ability to make a good match later in my life. I felt like saying: "Look, love, you can see - I'm a middle-aged woman, with an eighteen year old son."

I got the feeling when I left the shop that had I been a local, my name might have been noted down in a little black book!

Coda by BondBloke:
It was a bit as I would imagine buying a Bible in the USSR would have been...

BondWoman at Play

So, the beginning of day two, I have now processed the photos of day one and as you can see it was a really beautiful day. However what does not show in the pic is the fact that there was a quite chilly wind blowing from the north. BondWoman is usually quite coy about having her photo taken, but if she can be caught off guard, as here, she makes quite a good subject, when we get back home the drawing that she was working on here will be scanned for all and sundry to see. For those who may be interested her work can be found here.

It is really good to get a bit of warm sun on the face after a longish dreary winter; even better is to be able to sit in the fresh air with a coffee or, more appropriately to BondBloke, a beer, and just watch the world go by; which we did a bit of yesterday.

This is just one tiny corner of Dubrovnik harbour, but is gives a flavour of the place itself; an extremely picturesque place and one worthy of exploration, especially the back and side streets. If you are a much braver soul than BondBloke a walk on the walls will provide immense benefits for those who like spectacular views. Just out of picture on the right is the restaurant at which we ate last night with some frineds and some of BondWoman's colleagues, good food, good wine and lots of shop talk filled the evening. Ah well, time to stop and go do a little more exploring I suppose, stay tuned for more updates.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Bonds in Dubrovnik

Day One Travelling:

Left home at the ungodly hour of 5:15am to head for the airport and the first leg of the journey to Frankfurt. We had a 3 hour stop over here in this most obnoxious of airports; it is a dirty and smoke filled place with very few places to sit, all in all a national disgrace. Glad to get out of there we take the next leg to Zagreb, a mich nicer place; we have a 6 hour stop over here, so we go off, on the advice of a friend, to a resturant, Mon Ami (which is about 3km from the airport) for a long luxurious lunch. Lots of good food and good wine later we head back to the airport for the last leg. Finally we arrive in Dubrovnik and bed at something like 11pm after a very long day!

Day Two:

BondWoman takes over cos she can tzpe faster - but she too is also struggling with the Croatian keyboard's peculiarities.

We spent today wandering around Dubrovnik taking pictures, and generally chilling out after the journey. The sun was shining mostly, although there was a chilly wind in the shade. Pictures will be updated on the photoblog and flickr later. BondWoman also discovered she could still draw after many months of neglecting this aspect of her life. Goodie. We don't expect to do anything too exciting whilst we are here, especially since BondWoman has some work to do. But we'll post some photos and any interesting anecdotes which happen.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Please alllow me to introduce myself....

Habe nun, ach! Philosophie,
Juristerei und Medizin
Und leider auch Theologie
Durchaus studiert, mit heißem Bemühn.
Da steh’ ich nun, ich armer Tor!
Und bin so klug als wie zuvor;
Heiße Magister, heiße Doktor gar,
Und ziehe schon an die zehen Jahr
Herauf, herab und quer und krumm
Meine Schüler an der Nase herum -
Und sehe, daß wir nichts wissen können!
Das will mir schier das Herz verbrennen.
Zwar bin ich gescheiter als alle die Laffen,
Doktoren, Magister, Schreiber und Pfaffen;
Mich plagen keine Skrupel noch Zweifel,
Fürchte mich weder vor Hölle noch Tuefel -
Dafür ist mir auch alle Freud’ entrissen,
Bilde mir nicht ein, was Recht’s zu wissen,
Bilde mir nicht ein, ich könnte was lehren,
Die Menschen zu bessern und zu bekehren.

(I have outsourced the medicine to my sister)

I hope to be blogging in cognate areas when I feel a rant coming on. But now I am going to the gym and then watching the rugby!

Friday, February 24, 2006

What is Euroscepticism?

I was intrigued by a post on Atlantic Rift musing on the nature of Euroscepticism. Why is it that if the UK and Sweden reject aspects of political union in the EU (and especially show up as less accepting of Europe in Eurobarometer polls) they are accused of being Eurosceptic awkward partner Member States with troublesome citizens, and yet France and Germany can challenge fundamental tenets of the single market and yet still be seen as core Member States, apparently largely untouched by the scourge of Euroscepticism? Interesting question. Fair question. In the interests of balance, however, I do feel bound to emphasise the point that while France in particular - less so, I suspect, Germany - does have some problems with aspects of the single market such as free movement of services, both countries are engaged with one aspect of European integration which neither the UK nor Sweden have yet accepted, namely the Euro. Atlantic Rift appears to treat the question of the euro as a political union question. With respect, I think it is (also) fundamentally an economic one, despite UK sensitivities about sovereignty and the pound. The best arguments against joining the euro are definitely economic, not political.

A Warm Welcome

Welcome to the madhouse, to the two newest members of our expanding group of contributors; we all very much look forward to the enhanced intellectual content that your contributions will provide...

Separation of Powers

The McKie case, which I have commented on already here, continues to raise quite profound questions relating to the unfolding system (and quality) of democracy under which residents of Scotland are now, it seems, expected to live. On Wednesday this week, in the Scottish Parliament, two members of the Scottish Executive – Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson and the Lord Advocate Colin Boyd – both resisted calls from many quarters (inside and outside politics) for an independent judicial inquiry to be held into the circumstances surrounding the case of Ms McKie. Not only does their refusal to hold such an inquiry raise questions about the accountability of the Scottish Executive – accountability to which citizens in Scotland (and within any democracy worth the name) unquestionably have a fundamental right – it also points to the alarming limitation of the Scotland Act’s casual approach to the separation of powers, one that erroneously has imitated UK arrangements.

The arrangement whereby Scotland’s senior Law Officer is both a member of the Scottish Government and Head of the independent prosecuting service for Scotland has now been shown to be deeply unsatisfactory. It is one thing for the Lord Chancellor to be part of the UK Government under the terms of an unwritten constitution dating back many centuries, and quite another for a new ‘constitution’ (i.e. the Scotland Act) dating back only a few years not to explicitly provide for a separation of powers between Executive and Judiciary. Wednesday’s events in Holyrood have laid bare the flaws in importing this particular part of the Westminster system. Surely it is a no-brainer that one of the highest judicial offices in the land must be entirely independent of Government if the people of Scotland are to have confidence that it is free to investigate incompetence, malpractice or even possible criminal activity at whatever level in the justice system these might exist. Let’s hope that the pressure to have a proper judicial inquiry into the circumstances and procedures of this case continue to build until justice is both done, and is seen to be done.

Away with the Bonds

Exactly half (as things stand - we're still hoping for an increase in the Team) of this BlogTeam are going away next week - specifically to Dubrovnik. I promise you, the weather is unlikely to be good. The last time we went there in late February, I came back with windburns on my legs, acquired through my trousers - the wind off the Adriatic was bitter. So blogging may be lighter next week from BondBloke and BondWoman, depending, that is, upon how serious BondBloke's recently acquired blogdiction has already become.

Hat tip: Ham of London Daily Photo

Yet Another Erosion of Democracy

Livingstone suspended for "Nazi" jibe - Yahoo! News UK

I do not in any way condone the comments made by Ken Livingstone, but neither do I in any way condone the way that the LES journalists have hounded him over the years; if the truth were told I am only surprised that he had not made such comments long before he did. The fact that he can be suspended by a panel of unelected people is completely outrageous; if anyone should sit in judgment it should be a panel of elected members who are answerable to the public who elected them. Anyone who has followed the career of Ken will know only too well that it is his style to be rude to journalists, especially if they are as obnoxious as those from the LES have been to him; personally I thought that journalists had thick skins, apparently this one was a sensitive little flower, highly unusual for a journalist!

An Excellent Idea

This is more in the nature of an internal memo, but is posted here to allow others to see the how BondBloke's mind works! Yesterday BondWoman posted a piece about National Pub Week, and had the temerity to remark that the pub was the natural habitat of BondBloke; a scurrilous rumour I hasten to add! RoadRunner responded to this almost immedately:-

RoadRunner said...
"Seems to me there is an opportunity here to have a 'pub-of-the-week (month)' slot on Bondbloke's blog...then bloggers could provide an insiders' tour of local hostleries (history, culture, amenity, range of drink, etc.) with a view to providing a much-needed guide for locals and visitors alike!"

Now, I have mused long and hard upon the wisdom of these words, and I think that there is more than some merit in them; I think that it is the social and civic duty of the BondBloke Blog community to make this ultimate sacrifice, at least once a week, and to go forth into the denizens of this great and beautiful city and check out its watering holes for the quality of their historic, cultural, alcoholic values/virtues marked alongside any other amenities which they might offer.

So, be warned landlords we might descend on YOU!


In several posts now I have hammered home my point of view on the freedom of speech, and I make no apology for it, or for returning to it, as it fundamental to my belief system. However, my sense that people should be allowed to say what they think does not extend to the freedom of speech that leads to disrespect of people from other cultures; Margot Wallstrom makes the point better than I can:-

"There are things I do not want to see in the comments section of my blog: As the Moderator has said before, I do not want to see racist, xenophobic, homophobic comments or personal abuse of anyone. I do not want to see attacks on people based on their religion or nationality."

I had some of this a few days ago (
see here), and I whole heartedly agree with Margot, I do not want to see this; now this is not saying that I am trying to bury my head in the sand, I am perfectly aware that such views exist. What I am saying is that I don't want it thrust in my face, that I DO NOT want the obnoxious people who promulgate these vile ideas in my space; if they want to hold such views they are more than welcome to keep them to themselves, not force other people to listen to them. The people who promote these vile messages are even worse than those of the religious cults that knock on doors and try to force their religious beliefs on others, at least the religious cults are, in the main, quite harmless; whereas those who promote racism, xenophobia, homophobia etc., are dangerous people and I for one would actively campaign to deny them any platform for their vile views and obnoxious, malevolent messages.

More power to the elbow of people like Margot Wallstrom!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Destroyer Dick

I feel pretty much blogged out after yesterday's rant; so today I will just leave you with THIS, enjoy.

National Pub Week

I saw a post on Richard Bloomfield's blog last week about National Pub Week. I've since met Richard at the Scottish blogweek and realised that one of his natural habitats is definitely the pub; rather like BondBloke, in fact. :-) Richard was wondering what National Pub Week was, and bemoaning the absence of information on the CAMRA website, even though it is a CAMRA initiative.

Now I've seen a snippet on the Guardian blog which starts to reveal one of the awareness campaigns that CAMRA is trying to run. This is on Pubs Through Time, identifying pubs with particular historical associations, such as the Eagle in Cambridge, where Crick and Watson dined almost every evening whilst discussing their latest project - i.e. the discovery of DNA. Now, that's very interesting, and since no Edinburgh pubs are included, and Edinburgh has lots of historical pubs, I would be interested to know from the Edinburgh blogging cognoscenti, of whom there are plenty, which pubs they think ought to be included in the list, and why.

But since this promotion has hardly been very well publicised, I wonder whether better use could not have been made of the blogosphere to get the information out and about. To my mind, given the frequent reference to hostelries in blogs, it seems to me the information would have spread like wildfire, if it had been disseminated in the right places initially.

"Edinburgh Conversations"

Earlier this week, I went along to a lecture given in honour of the late Professor John Erickson, who was in the Politics Department at the University of Edinburgh. The lecture was given by George Robertson, lately Secretary General of NATO and previously Secretary of State for Defence between 1997 and 1999. He was speaking about Russia, especially in the context of relations within Europe. John Erickson is now justly famous in defence studies circles for the Edinburgh Conversations, conducted throughout the 1980s on a more or less confidential basis, bringing together defence officials and serving force personnel on the two sides of the Cold War. They provided a framework within which such personnel could see the other side of their respective coin, and reduced the likelihood of either Nuclear Armageddon, or serious geopolitical face-offs involving the two superpowers. Of course, they didn't prevent, or particularly alleviate, the war in Afghanistan, and we all know some of the consequences of that, but they did provide a framework within which tensions could be significantly reduced and transitions effected more smoothly after 1989 and during and after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

And the point of this? Well, the question is whether there is anything comparable to this going on today, in the context of the geopolitical and religious tensions that we know there are at present. I am thinking, particularly, of relations with Iran, because it seems to me that issues such as this will not be solved by domestic policies on terrorism or on multiculturalism, but by effective international relations and diplomacy. And here I am not optimistic at the present time - and I was curious to see that this pessimism was echoed from a very different perspective by Francis Fukuyama in yesterday's Guardian in a rather odd piece about neoconservatism and geopolitics. Anyway, I was disheartened to see a senior EU official saying publicly that there are no talks going on between the EU and Iran. Also, remember that the Cold War was never, by any means, accompanied by the type of micro level phobias and conflicts which accompany the global clash between the so-called "Western liberal world" and the "Islamic world". That makes me even more depressed. Those who "escaped" from Communism were generally welcomed with open arms as political refugees in the West. Ah, but then they were more like us, weren't they...few of them were Moslems. I wonder, are there people out there who are as prescient in the 2000s as Erickson was in the 1970s and 1980s about the bases of international understanding and conflict avoidance, and who are able to facilitate the types of exchanges that were needed. I wonder. Because if such "conversations" are going on, they would have far, far more capacity to make me feel safe than the sight of policemen with submachine guns in Edinburgh airport, or spot checks on bags on the London Underground. For then, the politicians would lose the great alibi for taking away freedom - in the name of security.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Apologies to all of those people who have been posting interesting comments - due to one idiot, and my response to his/her comment BondBloke will be moderating comments in the short term.

On Neo-Fascist Morons!

I have thought long and hard before commiting myself to this post, and whether or not to share it with you...

Last night I posted a piece on an interesting lecture that I went to at Edinburgh University; the speaker talked about Freedom, Human Rights and many other topics, and was a very competent and thought provoking speaker. However, it seems to me that there are those out there who could not be provoked into thoughts beyond those moronic, racist, sexist, imbecilic, neo-facist ideas that all of us 'thinking' members of society hate, loathe and detest. RoadRunner used a phrase yesterday, "half-baked and misleading" which struck a chord with me when I read a comment that had been left on the post overnight (now deleted); to say that the author was half-baked would be accrediting him/her with far more intelligence than he/she apparently possesses. I have said quite a bit about my views of freedom of speech recently, and I stand by every single word that I have written; however when faced with such vile filth as this:-

"Lectured on freedom by a Muslim Paki? She is simply simulating Western cultural attitudes and has no real idea of the concept. A few years spent back in her ancestral village-full-of-shit in Trashkanstan being raped by the local landlord should set this impudent Shitskin straight."

I begin to wonder if I am right to hold these views on freedom of speech. Here is an example of the sort of unmitigated excrement that the neo-fascist morons, of the type who belong to, and support, organisations like the BNP. I do not usually publicise my views on such people as I think that they are beneath contempt, and I would not give them the effort of thinking about them; however when they encroach into my space they have to be prepared to take as much faeces thrown at them as they throw at me. Oh, dear me, I can just see them all now scuttling off to find a dictionary to look up some of the words used here!

Gone to the Dogs!

Oddly Enough News Article Reuters.co.uk

I always knew that the U.S. a bit off centre, however I did not realise that it had completely gone to the dogs...

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Is it a record?

I went to Manchester today on Virgin. The trains were on time in both directions (well, 6 minutes late arriving in Manchester apparently counts as on time...). Is this a record? It feels like seeing snowdrops in November.

Incidentally, revisiting Manchester Piccadilly station for the first time in more than fourteen months reminded me of a post by Norm the other day extolling its virtues in comparison to Leeds' station. Having regularly commuted between the two for about three years, I can see where he's coming from, although I have some pretty horrible memories of the trains coming out of Manchester of an evening to get back to Leeds. But one has to remember the one key point about Manchester Piccadilly Station. It is simply, by definition, on the wrong side of the Pennines.

BondWoman is a Yorkshirewoman in exile...

“The War on Terror”… A War on Liberty?

Tonight I went to a lecture at Edinburgh University given by Irene Zubaida Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International; her topic was “The War on Terror”… A War on Liberty? It was the first lecture in The University of Edinburgh Enlightenment Lecture Series, and was an extremely thought provoking lecture indeed.

She started off by saying how the thinkers of the Enlightenment sowed the seeds of Freedom and Human Rights that we have today; and how the language of Human Rights has founded political change; then went on to describe how today’s struggle for ideas is as prevalent as it was in the Enlightenment. She then went on to talk about the way in which Amnesty International condemns the way in which terrorism is handled by governments, and how high is the personal cost in the battle between security and Human Rights. Her most interesting point here was the idea that if a government over reacts it endangers the very society which it is trying to protect.

Her next topic was torture and the ways in which the definitions of torture differ, highlighting the fact that the U.S has a different definition of torture, and how torture is the ultimate corruption of society. She went on to argue that when it comes to matters of security there is a shift away from judicial involvement towards internment, albeit by another name ‘control orders’. She expanded this to say that all this does is to create in society a mistrust which is all too easily exploited by militant and terrorist groups. She was quite enamoured of the fact that the Home Secretary (Charles Clarke) accused Amnesty of being ‘neo-colonialist’, which got a laugh, both from the audience and Irene Khan herself; she thought that this was quite funny given her background, Asian and Muslim. She was not denying that there are security issues that need to be addressed, but argued that Human Rights must be at the centre of such discussions, and that principles and aspirations cannot be subordinated to security.

In the question session at the end she expanded on several of these arguments, and in answer to one question argued that the ‘War on Terror’ is causing many problems in that by holding suspects without trial or access to the legal process the U.S, in particular, is undermining the ability to highlight Human Rights abuses around the world.

This is only a very brief summary of the more important points of the lecture, there was much more content but it was so interesting that I neglected to take full notes.

Pointless Euro-Journalism

This post is really apropos a few of the comments on this Brussels Journal-related blog posted Monday by Bondwoman. And it relates to this piece that I was bemused to read in the G2 today. I’m simply unsure what point this seemingly pointless piece of Euro-journalism is trying to make. It reveals little understanding of, or sensitivity to, the genuine complexity of democracy within the uniquely trans-national setting that is the European Union. And, indeed, it displays little or no understanding as to either the current state of play of the EU Constitutional Treaty, or indeed the prevailing arrangements for ratifying same in the unlikely event that such ratification should ever be called for.

In the spirit of constructive engagement on EU issues, I’d bring the following to the attention of the author of the piece. One: courtesy of the French and Dutch, the EU Constitutional Treaty is already dead – and, by the way, even if it wasn’t it is worth pointing out that it would do nothing (at all) to extend EU competences over the concerns he assigns to our Finnish colleagues - fishing nets, spring duck hunts, and chewing tobacco. Two: the domestic constitutional arrangements whereby member states ratify (or not) new (or revised) EU treaties is entirely a matter for the member states themselves. Anything else would be unacceptable – properly so. If the arrangements described in the article accurately reflect the Finnish constitutional provisions, then it is entirely democratically legitimate (in EU terms as well) that the Alanders can veto Finland’s ratification of EU Treaty amendment (and thereby end the 'life' of that Treaty across the EU). Three: the broader principle that one member state can ‘scupper the plans’ of the rest (and this includes 500,000 or so Luxembourgers or Maltese) by vetoing an EU Treaty (or Treaty revision) reflects that we live in a Union of member states, rather than a Union of citizens. Much of this piece conflates the two. Four: in the absence of an EU demos, it is entirely inappropriate to assume as being identical (or interchangeable) the criteria for a well-functioning and just democracy at the level of the member state and one (and the EU is the sole example) at the trans-national level. Finally – it is not ‘Aland V Europe’, as the title would have it. Rather, it is Aland and Europe. Europe – at least that configuration of Europe that is described as the EU, is the sum of its member states. Its policies and fledgling ‘constitutions’ are the stuff of democratic politics as conducted within, and between, its member states according to rules that we recognise as being properly democratic.

There is no confusion about the democratic rules of ‘constitutional’ engagement in the EU – the rules are entirely clear and very well understood - at least by those who study EU issues if not by journalists. There is an entire literature on legitimacy and democracy at the level of the EU and, in the absence of the emergence of truly trans-national political parties, I suspect that the current arrangements are precisely where the matter will – and probably should – rest. Pan-EU democracy is just as sui generis as is the EU as an international order. So - yes - let us have an informed and a critical debate on the EU. But - please - first off can we ditch some of the half-baked and misleading journalism that appears in otherwise serious newspapers?

Irving Jailed

THIS is something that I really wish had not happened! I know that in yesterdays post I said that I have no time for such people and that I "in fact would actively campaign to shut them up"; that might have come across as meaning that I wanted such people locked up. I confess to not having chosen my words properly, and consequently did not make my thoughts totally clear; I was trying to say that I would actively campaign to prevent such obnoxious people having a platform to promote their vile message.

So, Irving has been jailed, and as I say it is something that I wish had not happened; all this has done is to make a martyr of someone who is a leading exponent of this vile message. It has given him the publicity that he, and those who think like him, are constantly seeking, and this is exactly what we should be denying them; it is far more effective to ignore such people than to pander to them and give them what they want.

This also links, albeit indirectly, into something that BondWoman brought attention to yesterday, another vile messgage that is being voiced by The Brussels Journal. I am not sure which is worse, the denial of the Holocaust, or the use of the Holocaust to promote a vile anti-Muslim rant! I am a great supporter of the freedom of speech and abhor any infringements of it, especially when they are as stupid as this blogged by Will Howells; but I have no time for the messages being promoted by Irving or the BJ, in fact I think that what is to be found on the BJ is, in many ways, far worse than the Danish Cartoons, as it is actually putting the anti-Muslim message into words.

Monday, February 20, 2006

True Love???

I know that it is a few days late to be relating Valentine's stories, but I just could not resist this one. Before I go any further; don't be getting any ideas there BondWoman! I think that this guy actually deserves some credit; not for the gesture of 'love' (pass the bucket please), but for the sheer determination to repair his partners car for her instead of allowing it to go to that great car park in the sky. Now, I think that the case here was not so much about love of his wife, but more about love for the car, and the pain that would have been endured at its loss... Call me a sentimental old cynic if you like!

The Brussels Journal

On Bloglines, the tag line of the Brussels Journal is "news and opinion not fit to print". A recent post tends rather to prove that point: Europe Got Muslims for Jews. Beginning "We killed six million Jews and replaced them with 20 million Muslims", the post extracts, without commentary, two paragraphs from an earlier post on another blog which in turn says it is a translation of "an article from a Spanish newspaper. The truth must be told! All European life died in Auschwitz By Sebastian Vilar Rodrigez". I have no way of telling whether this article really exists or whether the translation is correct. All I know is that it is reproduced without comment in the Brussels Journal. This is a terrible piece of racial and religious stereotyping, which is just as ghastly which ever social or religious group it is aimed at. If you want to know how bad it is, then read the originals. I won't dignify the racism that is expressed by extracting quotes on this blog. Suffice it to say, this is not "fit to print". I can only hope all those other bloggers who see fit to adorn their blogs with the Danish flag, in "solidarity" with Denmark, as the Brussels Journal does, do not want in similar terms to give succour to vile racism.

Holocaust Denial

BBC NEWS World Europe Irving Holocaust trial under way

Are those who deny the Holocaust stupid or simply so blinkered that they do not see the evidence that they do not want to see? The evidence for the Holocaust is ovewhelming, and yet there are people out there who actively deny that it happened and claim that it was all a hoax. My usual inclination when I disagree with someone's views is that although I may disagree with you I defend your right to say what you think; however, this is one area in which I would never defend anyones right to spout such rubbish, and in fact would actively campaign to shut them up. The frightening thing is that most such people are intelligent, thinking people, and yet they still hold such outlandish, obnoxious views.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Gordale Scar

We've been playing with flickr this evening, uploading a lot of photographs from when we lived in Leeds and from earlier holidays. It's been quite fun and also becomes a little bit of a trip down memory lane. I very much like this photograph of Gordale Scar in North Yorkshire, because it insired me to do one of my most satisfying paintings, which is hanging on the wall behind me in the flat right now. I'm putting in a link to the painting on the website artvista.co.uk, but please bear in mind that BondBloke is in the process of drastically updating this website, and in the meantime has been seriously distracted first by blogging and now by flickr...The pleasures of online life.

Blogmeet: the Bond View

Just echoing thoughts of other ScotBloggers about the blogmeet yesterday which are starting to appear on the web here [with list of attenders], here [with photos, the first to blog], here [with so far nonfunctioning video clip] and here. To complete the set, you can see our photos here. Hope you approve of them all. We've only deleted a couple. I particularly like the stray hand pointing at the toilet sign. With that much beer being consumed, we were regular users of said facility.

It was a very interesting experience. We stayed much longer and consumed far more alchohol than we expected/planned, and this set me to thinking why that might be so. One blogger, like ourselves, a virgin at such an event, described it as a "blind date", and I must admit I was a little nervous when we arrived at the pub and just had to go up to the likeliest looking table and ask the people "are you the bloggers...". [There were no really obvious clues like a laptop on the table, or someone with a wireless router embedded in their skull. Interestingly enough what gave the group away to me was the mix of ages and the diversity of the group.] Of course, we were made welcome in the conventional way. But usually when you meet people for the first time at a dinner party, for example, you stick well away from all the usual dodgy topics such as politics, religion and so on, and you stay on safe ground discussing work, families, and loft conversions. The fun of it was going straight to the heart of the matter, and having no holds barred conversations in the areas which are usually no go areas, and coming away thinking you have learnt something. Actually, I probably learnt more than I can remember, but have forgotten a fair amount as that was far, far more beer than I have consumed in a long time.

The Day After!

After a very interesting BlogMeet yesterday, at which vast qantities of alcohol (see left) were consumed, the Bonds slept late. After breakfast it was decided, by BondWoman, that some exercise was needed and a cycle ride was suggested to a not very enthusiastic BondBloke, that's his arm on the right protecting his pint! We have pretty easy access to a cycle route which keeps us away from traffic so we decided to head off on a circular ride of about 10-15 miles. On looking out of the window before leaving BondBloke commented that it was "going to rain before long" (maybe not in that exact terminology) and sure enough about five minutes into the ride down it came; oh, well, not to bother there's a good hot shower waiting at the end. All was well until about a mile and a half from home, when BondWoman gets a puncture and was not that amused to be told that the tyre was only flat at the bottom! So, we wound up walking and pushing the bikes the last bit of the route, as BondBloke did not think that it would be fair just to ride off into the distance leaving BondWoman to fend for herself...

Friday, February 17, 2006

More on blogging and humour

If you were to read this, this, this and this (and remember you should be reading all the (100s of) comments on the first three as well), and then you were to tell me which providing the most pointed critique of the smoking ban in England, I would not be at all surprised to hear you say 'the fourth one'. I'm not saying the first three aren't funny. They have elements of fun - slapstick, hellraising for the sake of it, hyperbole - but it is the nicely pointed humour of Mr Kirk Elder, Senior Citizen from Peebles (who is not as much of blogging innocent as he makes himself out to be sometimes...) which wins hands down on really making you think about the issue from his point of view.

Cornish Pasties

I was horrified to read in Friday's Guardian that pupils at a Cornish school have rejected the humble Cornish Pasty on "health grounds"! Obviously these pupils have been given misleading information, because a properly (see here) made pasty is not a health risk at all as only the best ingredients are used; lean (all fat removed) beef, onions, potatoes, and turnip (what most people call a swede (however I am not getting drawn into THAT argument)), all put in a pastry overcoat and accordingly cooked. Of course there is a much different Cornish Pasty, and that's the mass produced product which bears absolutely no resembalnce to the true Cornish Pasty at all (and one very much doubts that it is made in Cornwall at all, so how can it call itself Cornish?), now that is a health problem, and I would go as far as to say that it is a positive environmental health hazard! If these pupils were provided with the proper Cornish Pasty it would do them no harm at all. I have no problem with the "brown baguettes and jacket potatoes", but kids need protein and the good quality beef provides just that. With regard to the "white flour" argument, I have no objections to pasties being made with brown flour, no objection at all.

What qualifies me to make this argument? Simple answer 50 odd years of eating and drinking all of the things that health bods now seem to think are bad for us, for example unpasteurised milk, among other things that are a "health risk". All I can say is that I have survived this long and am reasonably healthy, a little unfit but healthy, so I see no problem at all with the humble Cornish Pasty as part of a healthy diet!

BondBloke is a Cornishman in exile!

Arthur Elwen Cameron

Am I being oversensitive, or am I right to worry that Arthur is not such a good name to burden a child with? Does it work in the playground? Anyway, following the naming of Arthur Elwen Cameron, I feel moved to tell readers that my grandfather was called Arthur. He was a Tory too (am I making unwarranted assumptions about Young Arthur?) but not from an Old-Etonian background, but from the South Yorkshire (former) coal-mining village of Darfield in South Yorkshire. A Tory miner, eh. I feel this politician son-naming business is getting too close for comfort as I have a son called Leo. But, on the other hand, there is no one in my family called Donald. But then we know what happened to his father, don't we?

Update: I feel I need to point out, before any accusations start arriving in my direction, that I thought of Leo before TB did.

America the free

I did once experience the unpleasantness of US Immigration Officers, and that was in 1998, before 9/11. It was not nice at all, but it all seems much much worse now. Since I am going to the US at the beginning of April to give a few lectures, I was most perturbed to see this report of the jailing of an Irish-born academic at an Italian university for having the temerity to turn up in the US without having his papers in order. I can see how it happens. Have you ever tried to negotiate the minefield of US visa requirements? I have, and it's not easy. Anyway, the whole thing certainly looks like a disproportionate reponse to me. The exquisitely bureaucratic mindset of the US is beautifully demonstrated by the final sentence of the report:

"Kelly Klundt of the Department of Homeland Security said if Prof McCourt had been fined instead of jailed, he would not have been allowed to re-enter the US."

Ah, so jailing is good for you then...

I have duly emailed my hosts to ask for the relevant assurances that my papers will be in order when I arrive there. I'll keep you posted.

Hat tip: Normblog.


Last night BondWoman and myself went to the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh to see what can only be described as an amazing group of Japanese drummers - Kodo. These guys, and girls, have such vast quantities of energy it is almost unbelievable; they attack the drums with such vigour and verve that one is left wondering how the drums survive the onslaught. A quote from Time Out/UK, on the Kodo website, describes the experience far better than I ever could:

"Dynamic, electrifying vision ....Nothing will prepare you for the 1,000 lb. drum assault, the precise timing or the wall of sound. An essential experience."

"Precise timing", well, I think that is an understatement, one piece involved seven drummers and a guy banging a gong; it didn't take long to work out that this piece was representing rainfall and thunder; the point is that at times the seven drummers were all beating out different rhythms. The control and concentration that they were exercising was absolute; control in that the range of sound they were producing from the drums ranged from the almost inaudible (a fine drizzle), to an overwhelming deluge of sound (the heaviest rain you could imagine); concentration in that, as I say, at times all seven were beating their own rhythm with six different rhythms going on around them. The quote refers to a wall of sound, and that is exactly what it is, as even sitting well back from the stage you can feel the vibrations passing through your body, making it, in some ways, a very intimate experience. However, it is not all about pounding drums, there are some quieter haunting, eerie moments with other traditional Japanese instruments and voices which are very beautiful in their own way. Were anyone to tell me that they were thinking of going to see Kodo I would say "don't think, do it!", it is an exquisite and unique experience, and one not to be missed.

Minor Update:

More information can be found:-

HERE - a review


HERE - a photo gallery

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The night I met Chip Taylor

Prompted by this by my friend, I thought I’d recount briefly the time I met Chip Taylor. And exactly who, I hear you ask, is Chip Taylor? Well he’s the guy who wrote what is, arguably, the anthem of the 60s – ‘Wild Thing’ (Troggs, Hendrix). But he wrote more, much much more, than that. He wrote ‘Angel of the Morning’ for PP Armold. He wrote ‘Try (Just A Little Bit Harder) for Janis. He wrote "I Can't Let Go"' for the The Hollies. Well, maybe not for them exactly, but certainly as immortalised by them. I met Chip at the world famous Bein Inn in Perthshire – a small, out-of-the-way hotel, pub and music venue which holds a maximum of around 50 persons who turn up to see and hear the legendary artists who, maybe astonishingly, agree to perform there. Anyway, Chip and his singing partner Carrie turned up there a few years ago and played a marvellous set of Chip’s new and – thankfully – old songs. It was an intimate and magical setting for one of the truly great and influential song writers of his - of that - generation (just remember the times we lived in when Wild Thing hit the charts on both sides of the Atlantic). After the gig a few of us got talking to Chip. And what a guy. He’s penned and recorded many, many songs, most of which belongs to the Country and Western rather than Rock genre. But, still, he’s the man who gave us Wild Thing. And I was talking to him. Wow. What a night. A couple of years later, late on a damp and dismal Sunday evening, I was walking through an almost deserted Manchester Airport on my way to some conference or other. You all know the type of night I'm talking about. And there he was again – walking towards me with Carrie. I couldn’t help myself. I stopped him. I said “you’re Chip Taylor”, as if he himself might have trouble remembering this. He confirmed, pleasantly, that indeed he was and we got talking again. He was warm and pleased to be recognised. We spoke. Again. Me and the man who wrote ‘Wild Thing’.

Scotland needs a united SNP

Although not an active supporter (nor ardent opponent) of the Scottish Nationalist Party, I was saddened though by no means surprised by the tone of this report in today’s Herald newspaper concerning the selection battle that has waged in the west of Scotland over the SNP nomination for the Argyll and Bute seat ahead of next years’ Scottish Parliamentary elections. The contest was fought between two extremely bright individuals – Jim Mather (currently MSP) and Mike Russell (currently not). Surely only a political party that was simply brimming with talent wouldn’t move mountains to find a realistic electoral slot on their candidate roster for both. But not the SNP. Instead, as Douglas Fraser reports, Mike Russell has been a victim of “vicious SNP infighting…”, this by way of explanation both for his failure to be re-selected at anything approaching a winnable position on the SNP regional list ahead of the 2003 election (after having completed a stint as SNP MSP in the inaugural Holyrood sitting), and by way of prophesising that his future electoral prospects don’t necessarily look any brighter. Personally, I have enormous respect for both men, although I hold no particular candle for either.

But, and maybe in common with many other non-aligned voters in Scotland (I’ve never managed to ‘float’), I might actually campaign for the SNP were it able to demonstrate a unity of purpose and commitment to bettering Scotland’s future by, among other things, calling on all the available talent at its disposal. To my mind, this is emphatically not being done in this case. My ire is raise because the SNP Russell-spat raises questions beyond petty internal party squabbles. It also raises questions about the urgent need for a high quality of debate - and debaters - in our still-new Parliament. Notwithstanding the rather strange (and – post-Dunfermline – getting stranger) position of the LibDems in Scottish Politics, the best description I can find for Scotland’s political firmament is that it is effectively a one-party state. All sorts of political clichés spring to mind – most of which I will spare you. But the one that can’t be avoided is the old adage that the Government is only as good as the Opposition requires it to be. And in Scotland – with the SNP as the official opposition – the Government is very, very bad indeed: ergo, so is the opposition. The latest outrage – the truly awful and increasingly sinister Shirley McKie fingerprint case and the thundering silence thereon by our Justice Minister – simply reeks of non-accountability and political arrogance. And all the while the fiddlers fiddle and Rome – or in this case Scotland’s once respected criminal justice system – burns. The tragedy for Scots is that this Government simply is allowed to get away with this (and much more) without being held properly to account.

So, for everyone’s sake we need (and we deserve) a serious political opposition in Scotland and, at least for the foreseeable future (maybe), that has to be the primary responsibility of the SNP. And if the SNP is to achieve this then it has to become a broad church and it has to find a place for all of its talent – including failed leadership contenders. This is the art of leadership – just as much as is kissing babies and shaking hands. C’mon Alex – lead for goodness sake! You’re big enough!

Humour BondBlokes View

Picking up, and running with BondWoman's theme "Blogging and Humour"; I don't think that it is quite so cut and dried. It really depends on which definition of humour we are going to use; as we know humour can cover a very wide range of topics:-


Political Humour

Crazy humour (i.e. The Goons)

Childish humour

Black humour

to name but a few. BondWoman says that "the key aspect of much humour is its closeness to embarassment" which is very true, but I think it goes beyond that; humour used in specific ways can also be thought provoking, for example Mark Fiore's cartoons.

The Danish Cartoons were dreadfully inept both in their artfulness and their publication; but the protests are not due to the hurt caused, but more about the fact that they are depictions of Mohammed who is supposed never to be depicted. The interesting thing here is that faced with a similar situation, say The Life of Brian for instance, the majority of Christians would shrug it of and ignore it; yes, I know that there have been recent Christian protests about the Jerry Springer thing, but that is quite unusual, and the protesters are not mainstream Christians but more fundamentalist. I also agree, to an extent, that as bloggers we have to be careful about causing hurt to those more sensitive souls who put themselves in the limelight, but we have to balance this with freedom of speech and freedom of expression. This is a very fine line that we are walking, and if it is any further eroded then it is going to get even finer, making it that much more difficult for those of us who legitimately want to protest, or draw attention to injustice, to have our say.

Apologies to BondWoman for muscling in on her thoughts...

Blogging and Humour

A bit of a nasty little spat between Bob Piper and Iain Dale in relation to a post by Iain Dale which said at the end "Note to Bob Piper. This is meant to be funny. A joke. It's called humour!" Later on we got this exchange in the comments:

"Bob Piper said...
Hey, Iain... you don't like the comments, I'll take them elsewhere. As Michael Howard never quite managed to understand, and DD has a similar problem, if people don't think your jokes are funny, it might just be that they aren't funny.
4:57 PM

Iain Dale said...
Bob, I appreciate your comments just as I apreciate everyone's (sic). But you do seem to have a problem in understanding humour. This is a trait I have discovered many socialists have.
5:06 PM"

Beyond the immediate reaction of "what about the whole leftwing alternative comedy circuit then", this got me to thinking about what humour is and how it interacts with blogging. Of course, the key aspect of much humour is its closeness to embarassment, but then the thing with embarassment is how closely linked in turn to hurt and upset that is. We've seen that so clearly with the recent Danish 'Toons debate (couldn't see the humour there myself, but there we go), but it is as true about most cartoons and caricatural representations. I am sure that no matter how thick skinned and 'able-not-to-take-themselves-too-seriously' they are, doubtless most figures in the public eye who appear in cartoons and caricatures are hurt and upset by some representations of themselves. Blogging has an immediacy of impact that means, possibly, that we have to be either doubly thicked skinned (as the objects of humour) or possibly doubly careful about the hurt we can cause (as the perpetrators of humour).

Berlusconi and Mussolini in Election Pact

Definitely has the capacity to shock, doesn't it, that headline? It's stolen from EUPolitix which contains also links to newspapers (in Italian, French and Polish, mind) reporting that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (this is the best post I've seen about him recently, mind you) and granddaughter of Benito Mussolini, far right politician Alessandra Mussolini have entered into an electoral pact. Does this demonstrate that "Jesus" is getting desperate? The sad thing is that the alternative is worthy, but desperately, desperately dull and hardly a happy set of campers anyway. See here on OpenDemocracy for some thought provoking commentary on what a real democratic alternative in Italy might look like from Geoff Andrews.

Update, five minutes later - there I was thinking I was being quick and smart on this one, and getting the hang of this blogging business and woe is me I have a quick look at Europhobia, and he has it too. I wasn't copying, promise.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Seat of Scotland

This is where it all happens these days, from whence Scotland puts England to shame; for example bringing in a smoking ban at least a year before England can get its act together.

The Scottish Parliament

Personally I am not impressed with it and think that it was built by IKEA, but that is a very subjective opinion; although it is not as violent a reaction as those who would like to see it demolished. I have nothing against the building as such, I think it has a tendency to grow on one; however, I think that it is completely unsuitable for its purpose as it lacks the gravitas that a parliament building should have.
Posted by Picasa

Blogging and Politics

A propos of nothing specific really, except the huge fizzing in the blogosphere with campaigns to unseat labour with a lib/con coalition of bloggers, and the invocation of Henry II's 'troublesome priest' cry by Nosemonkey amongst others - all of which makes me wonder whether we'd have had less than the eighteen years of Tory misrule which blighted the first part of my adult life if we'd had the internet tools, including blogging and newsfeeds back in the 1990s? I wonder.

The Barnetts of West Lothian

Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland?

I was interested to read Iain MacWhirter’s piece in today’s Herald on the much debated West Lothian question. The particular slant he took on this occasion was to ponder the silence "in the English shires"... on the question of whether or not Westminster MPs representing Scottish constituencies should, or should not, be permitted to vote on legislation that does not affect Scotland by dint of devolution. "The dog that didn't bark..." as he describes the silence in the south. This is, as Scots know only to well, a long standing controversy, the most recent contributor to which is the SNP MP Pete Wishart who, as MacWhirter reports:

“…declared that all Scottish MPs should exercise constitutional coitus interruptus and withdraw from such [UK Parliamentary] votes [not affecting Scotland]. What right do Scottish MPs have to decide health policy in England, he says, when English MPs have no say on health policy in Scotland?”

This is all very well but there is a problem. And it is this. Changes in (health) policies in England (or more acurately, the rest of the UK) which are, under the Scotland Act, devolved to Edinburgh (including, of course, health though extending to many other policies) will – to a lesser or greater degree – impact on the total public expenditure allocations to Whitehall Departments. These allocations might rise or, in the current low-tax mentality world, most probably fall. And while not all such legislation has a public expenditure consequence, most certainly some does. And to the extent that it does, then the total public expenditure changes that result from 'English' policy choices will impact directly on the block grant available to finance spending in Scotland under the terms of that much loved institution – the Barnett Formula. So, whilst applauding Mr Wishart’s sense of self-denial, it is well to point out that a necessary corollary to his proposal is full fiscal autonomy for Scotland – an argument with which I most heartily concur. But unless that is granted, then I’m afraid to say that there remains a pressing case for ‘our’ MPs to continue to influence all policies in the rest of the UK.

Underground Music

Tube-ular Bells…

OK - an anorak I might be, but I have to confess to being hugely impressed by the musical imagination and knowledge of Dorian Lynskey, whose pictorial poster representation of (some of) the history of 20th Century development of music via the template of the map of the London Underground arrived in my morning post. Sure I have gripes about inclusion and (mostly) exclusion – no mention of this man on the East London route is almost unforgivable – but on balance it is a most remarkable artistic achievement. I look forward to enjoying even more (than this) endless hours of tracing musical influences, crossovers, embarking on new journeys and moving along the many spurs which the author proposes. But as a newcomer to this blogging lark, I have to confess at being a tad surprised (and a little disappointed) at some of critical (and the less than courteous) comments made on this effort by individuals who posted comments on the Guardian web page. Me - I love it; unashamedly! And those of a similar disposition to myself might be interested in catching the final episode of this wonderful production!

St. Mirren V Spartans a Comparison

I have just read a report on the very match that RoadRunner has covered this morning and it bears no comparison to the quality of his reporting; quite frankly RoadRunner's report is far superior and much more entertaining than that provided by BBC Sport. It is good to have quality on board and long may it remain so!

And an update from BondWoman: RoadRunner comments that the visitors at St Mirren came from the East. They were the only thing that did. He omits to note that what was coming from the West, throughout the second half, was sheets and curtains of lashing rain, which did, thank goodness, almost nothing to spoil the match as a spectacle. However, what it did do, thanks to a quirk resulting from the absence of coordination between meteorologists and those who run the St Mirren stadium and decide who sits where, was drench the majority of the most vocal St Mirren supporters who were located in a stand facing west, looking straight into the rain. That seems to me bad design... But we did have a giggle about it.

Spartans - The Replay

Roadrunner Reports

Alas the dream is over for another year. I am referring of course to the not inglorious exit of the Spartans from the 2005-6 Scottish Cup last night at Love Street at the hands (or feet) of First Division leaders, St Mirren. To what was – even by Paisley standards – an otherwise thoroughly dreich night, the Spartans and their estimable support brought a dose of old-fashioned Roy-of-the-Rovers romance, colour and (at least after half-time) footballing passion. True, the dream faded early in the match as the Saints snatched two goals in quick succession early in the first half. To a team with lesser character this could have presaged a collapse followed by an avalanche of goals from the Paisley full-timers. And no doubt that is what the increasingly rain-swept Buddies support expected. But the Spartans were not for capitulating. Marshalled by the truly outstanding Seeley at centre-half, the defence re-grouped and held firm the line against wave after wave of Saints attack – much of which was courtesy of some outstanding play down the left wing (just smashing to see an old fashioned winger work his magic). Down 2-0 after what was a somewhat nervous and unconvincing first-half for their forwards, Spartans came out for the second 45 with all guns blazing, bringing out a couple of very good saves from the excellent Tony Bullock in the Saints goal. This early spell after the break saw the Spartans’ Corinthian spirit in full spate, and what a marvellous sight it was to behold. The St Mirren defence was frequently stretched by the aggressive attacking play and somewhat robust tackling of the non-Leaguers from the East. It easily – and entirely deservedly – could (should) have been 2-1 after that spell, and who knows how the game might have unfolded thereafter. The third Saints goal was the killer, and despite throwing on attacking substitutes, the tiredness in the legs of the Spartans began to show and it looked liked the Saints were easing into the comfort zone. And who could blame our heroic Spartans had they sought then to put up the shutters and allow the game to just quietly peter out over that last 10 minutes? But this is not the stuff of which the Spartans are made. Forward they went in their droves seeking out that goal which surely no one – not even the not-quite-so-hardy Paisley supporters who, assured of victory, had by then begun to leave the ground in their hundreds – could have begrudged them. The last few minutes said everything there is to say about the Spartans. Corner followed corner, and they charged the Saints goal to come oh so close to snatching that consolation goal. But it was not to be. The final whistle saw the Spartans do a much-deserved lap of honour, paying particular homage to their own fans and donning the many sombreros that were tossed to them by their adoring followers. What a night. What a team. What a support. And what a victory for the game of football.

A Smoke Free Environment

Not before time have MP's seen sense and voted for a total ban on smoking in enclosed environments! Of course, as usual, Scotland is leading the way yet again with a ban coming into force in March, at least a year before that south of the border; and I for one am looking forward to it. But I digress, that is not the purpose of this rant as we all know, without it being reinforced, that Scotland is a much more enlightened place. What really annoyed me this morning was hearing one of the pro-smoking lobby raving on about the infringement of the civil liberties of smokers. Well that is rich coming from a minority of people who are hell bent on polluting the atmosphere and endangering the health of all that they come into contact with (that they are endangering their own health is a matter for their own conscience); the question I have is, what about the civil liberties of all of us non-smokers? Oh, sorry, I forgot, the smokers are a poor down trodden minority and need all the help that they can get! Well I for one am looking forward to the day when I can go to the pub and come home again smelling as fresh as when I went out and not stinking of cigarette smoke, with no sore throat from breathing the pollution caused by smokers, and best of all having enjoyed my evening to an extent which is not at present possible!

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Brits

Well, the Brits are almost upon us. As an almost-fanatical devotee of much of British (and other) rock music (and history thereof) over the years since the 1960s, I find the Brits to be a singularly dreadful, and indeed depressing, occasion. In fact, to be entirely honest I wonder how it is that ‘we’ have arrived at this very sorry and very talent-less state of affairs. OK – you might well question the relevance to today’s music scene of someone who remembers the 1960s. But that would be unfair. I reckon my collection would stand up reasonably well to at least the casual scrutiny of many of the current crop of apprentice anoraks of the music scene. In any event, anyone who wants to defend a celebration of music through an award ceremony which has a category of award sponsored by Mastercard (for goodness sake) can hardly be snooty towards those of us who – in our modest way and on our day – could reasonably be described not only as rebellious, but regarded in some quarters as constituting a threat to the very moral order of society as then it was known. I doubt if many of the Brit nominees of 2006 fall into such threatening (and classy) company. For all their sheer (and lets be honest – highly lucrative) unpleasantness, there is nothing in Oasis that comes close to the music that emerged from the deep sense of political and social outrage that informed the punk era, or indeed the hippie era some 20 years earlier. And when we get to thinking about the origin of the blues…well, enough said. As for this bunch…Will Young? Coldplay? Franz Ferdinand? James Blunt? The list of trite mediocrity (at best) goes on and on. The Brits are, no doubt, relevant to a UK music industry which, as the Guardian timeously reported here, earned £1.24 billion in 2005 alone. But for the rest of us, the Brits are simply another instance of offensive banality from an entertainment media that used to be so important, and which comprised artists who not only had something to say that was worth saying but who also had the talent to make us hear it. No wonder we have stopped listening.

A new Slant on Exercise

Hmmm... and I was always told it would stunt your growth and make you go blind!

This was taken from the NHS Direct website

Get more than zeds in bed

If you’ve found yourself struggling to slot a fitness regime into your daily routine - forget about jogging round the block or struggling with sit-ups, and get yourself a better workout between the sheets!

Why not warm each other up more often this winter with a good bout of ‘sexercise’ - one form of exercise that you're guaranteed to want to make time for. Sex uses every muscle group, gets the heart and lungs working hard, and burns about 300 calories an hour!

Also, orgasms can actually make you glow with health. The increased production of the hormones will make your hair shine and your skin smooth. And if you’re worried about wrinkles – orgasms even help prevent frown lines from deepening.

So, regular romps this winter could lead to a better body and a younger look…as if you needed another excuse!

Feel better

If you’re lucky enough to have a healthy sex-life, you probably already know that sex can be good for the soul. But a good lovemaking session can do more than make you smile. When we orgasm, chemicals called endorphins are released into the brain; these ‘happy hormones’ make us feel instantly calmer and banish stress.

Orgasms even release painkillers into the bloodstream, helping keep mild illnesses like colds and aches and pains at bay, and produce extra oestrogen and testosterone hormones. These hormones will keep your bones and muscles healthy, leaving you feeling fabulous inside and out.

Sleep better

Sex is a great means for feeling happier and less stressed – many people with sleep problems swear by it.

Sex with a little energy and imagination provides a workout worthy of an athlete, leaving your body tired and in need of a good rest to recharge those batteries.

But as well as that, the toptastic, ‘post-coital’ period after sex may be one of the few times you’ll completely let go, surrender and relax. In fact, following a satisfying session you might find that what’s been playing on your mind has vanished, you sleep more deeply and restfully, and awake the next morning ready for seconds…

Live longer

As if you needed another reason to enjoy…sex can actually help you live longer.

The endorphins released during orgasm stimulate immune system cells, which helps combat illness, including cancer. Orgasms also boost your circulation, helping the body rid itself of harmful toxins. Regular sex can even keep your heart healthy and lower your risk of heart attack.

So…healthy blood, healthy heart, healthy body and a calm, peaceful mind – all thanks to the healing powers of sex. Sound good?

High culture and highly expensive sport

It's all very well for BondBloke to cast aspersions upon the blog-writing capacities of fellow Blog members, but some of have more than just essays (for which read 'books') to write. For starters, coming out in sympathy with BondBloke and his literature course, I have been watching DVDs of Macbeth and Death of a Salesman, and - what is even more worthy - ploughing through Tess of the d'Urbevilles. I always thought Hardy was wordy when I was forced to read him at school, and I get rather irritated by all that Wessex country bumpkin stuff, but I guess Tess is in its own way quite an absorbing read. Whether I'll be absorbed for another 300 pages, only time will tell. In addition, we had our very own "blog" outing (no - nothing to do with the Liberal Democrats before you ask) to Craignethan Castle on Saturday when, suffice it to say, the sunny vistas visible on the website linked to here were not really in evidence. Now RoadRunner tells me he wants to do "more castles". I thought it was just that he wanted to revisit somewhere he hadn't been since he was in short trousers - the old nostalgia trip. But now it looks as if it is shaping up for the full Scotland Historical Tour...We'll keep you posted. Anyway, it was lovely to be chauffeured by RoadRunner, especially since the BondMobile is in very bad shape at the moment.

So much for the high culture. What of the expensive sport? Now, like many others in the UK I was briefly absorbed by the sight of (mostly) middle-aged women with sweeping brushes four years ago. No, this was not a response to Godfrey Bloom's famous exhortation to women, but rather the triumph of Rhona Martin and her team in the 2002 Winter Olympics at the esoteric sport of curling. Perhaps I will feel that I should start watching the TV transmissions again at later stages of the event, but even if I do, it is likely that for the most part most of what happens at the Olympics will pass me by (apart from the toe-curlingly ecstatic clinch between Laura Bush and Cherie Blair which was pictured on the front of the Observer over the weekend (sorry can't find it anywhere online...but you can imagine what I mean)).

Now the viewing habits of a middle-aged woman in Edinburgh are one thing, and they are probably shared by most parts of the viewing public even though I see that Google have gone and put a little image of the Games on their home page, but perhaps a more serious criticism is how few parts of the global sporting body the Winter Olympics manages to touch. In an excellent piece in the Washington Post entitled Where the Rich and Elite Meet to Compete, Paul Farhi tells us that "the Winter Games are ... elitism, exclusion and the triumph of the world's sporting haves over its have nots." He goes on to provide the details we need:

"Throughout most of the Winter Olympics' history, the parade of participating nations has been a short one. Until as recently as 1994, fewer than a third of the planet's countries took part. This year, in Turin, Italy, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) expects delegations from about 85 countries, an all-time high, but still barely 43 percent of the world's total. Even that exaggerates the extent of participation. Many of the nations in the Opening Ceremonies will be represented by tokens, some consisting entirely of sports bureaucrats, not athletes. Ethiopia, a nation of 73 million, will send its first "team" to a Winter Olympics this year -- a single skier...

In the history of the winter competition, dating from its inception in 1924, competitors from only six countries -- the Soviet Union/Russia, Germany (East, West and combined), Norway, the United States, Austria and Finland, in that order -- have won almost two-thirds of all the medals awarded. Only 17 countries have ever amassed more than 10 medals during the past 19 winter Olympiads. Only 38 countries have won even one medal."

And so on, and so on. Now I am sanguine enough to realise that the Summer Games are hugely (and cynically) commercialised and increasingly provide an advert fest for the Olympic movement's (a private concern, after all) "preferred partners", which are themselves huge global brands. I also recognise that access to training facilities and the purchasing of the necessary time to train, in all sports, is often as important as "natural" talent. But that having being said, it is certainly clear that the Summer Olympics are something much, much closer to a global festival of sport than are the Winter Olympics.

Toon Trouble

I am going to make no comments about the 'Danish Cartoons' beyond those that I have made previously; I am going to let this work speak for itself!

It's all too Quiet

Nothing posted for at least three days - shocking!

I know I have been too busy with other things, like a two thousand word essay on Macbeth to contribute, but the other members, particularly BondWoman have no excuse. C'mon folks we're letting our readers down...

Friday, February 10, 2006

England Argues - Scotland Takes Decisive Action!

Roll on April when I will be able to enjoy a pint in a completely smoke free environment! Whilst the English are still arguing and prevaricating over a total ban up here in Scotland decisions are made, whether or not they are pouplar decisions is another matter, at least the decision is made. I suppose that this is the problem when you have a government that has a morally bankrupt leader who twist and turns, changes his mind with the wind, tries to be all things to all people and fails miserably; it is just a recipe for poor legislation. How many times now have ammendments been made to various bills to try and prevent the back benchers revolting, how many pieces of knee jerk reaction legislation have had to be tinkered with to get them right after the event? The CSA being a case in point, agreed it was set up by the Tories, but Blair has had something like eight years to get it sorted, with what effect, just a whole load of tinkering and throwing money (our money) at it with no result! It just seems to me that the poodle (Blair) is incapable of doing anything without the approval of the chimp (Bush); a thought, there's another who is not averse to lying and twisting events to save his own ass from burning! Given that I think that the poodle better watch his own ass for a change just in case the chimp decides to throw him to the wolves!

An Aside:-

I thought that I might refrain from, pointing out that Labour, sorry New Labour, got its collective ass well and truly kicked in yesterday's by-election; but then I thought what the hell, why not rub his cold wet nose in the doo doo...

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Art and Craft

A news item this evening started me thinking about the relationship between art and craft and just where the boundaries lie; when does something, other than what is accepted as art, that is handmade become a piece of art; could a painting, or a sculpture, both of which are after all handmade, not be classified as a piece of craft? It is very difficult to distinguish the differences between art and craft, and even more so when some 'works of art' have no apparent aesthetic merit at all, and some 'craft works' are oozing aesthetic merit in bucket fulls. The whole aesthetics argument could keep us entertained for decades and still not give us a clear understanding or solution to what aesthetic merit is, or is not; suffice to say that it is very subjective and individual.

Personally I think that if something made of glass, for example the works of Renee Lalique, ceramic, for example the work of Lotte Glob, or any other material make one stop and examine it with interest and stirs some sort of desire for that object then it should be classified as a 'work of art'. I know that this is a very simplistic argument and that the whole thing is much more complex than this simplicity, but surely our reactions to thing of beauty are quite simplistic because we know what we like, we have our own preconceptions of beauty. I have visited this topic before albeit from a different viewpoint, and have come back to it because I am fascinated by the whole idea of what is art and what is craft, and whether or not there is an overlap between the two; I happen to think that there is, but where the boundaries are is still unclear to me, so there is a distinct likelihood that I will be returning to these thoughts in the future.

Johnny Cash

I have this horrid feeling of being in a minority of one. Many have seen it, and many have applauded it – if not swooned (see Normblog) over it, but I was left feeling distinctly unmoved by the experience. I refer to my reaction to watching the much lauded biopic ‘Walk the Line’. First things first – no question that it was brilliantly acted, stunningly shot, and dramatically scripted (I will pass on the quality of the music – have you really heard Cash singing ‘I Walk the Line’ for goodness sake?). And those features are necessary conditions for a great movie. But taken alone, they are not sufficient. I went along wondering what it was that the film was trying to achieve. And I left the cinema quite unclear. As a biopic, much of the movie made me feel uncomfortably voyeuristic. Peering into the darker recesses of a complex person through the lens of a scriptwriter. Undeniably factual in its structure, nonetheless I felt I was being asked to take sides – uncritically so. Take sides for June against Vivian; take sides for redemption against eternal purgatory’; take sides for hope against disappointment; take sides for the Folsom prisoner against the Folsom prisoners’ victims; take sides for unspoken and myriad social injustices which this Johnny embodied, just because this Johnny embodied them. I like to think I am on Johnny’s side, but hey – its way more complicated than this! But what really suffered in this movie was the music – or rather Johnny Cash’s contribution to the music. Where was the music? If I had gone to the cinema knowing nothing about Cash’s contribution to 20th century music, I very much doubt that I’d be any the wiser on this score coming out. Sure, we have scenes of fable-like quality where an almost mystical Cash pens the classic ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ and ‘Walk the Line’. And we have the Sun Studio scene involving a young Cash convincing a sceptical Sam Phillips of his musical merits. But, for me at least, the rest of the music in the film disappointingly is little more than a backdrop (a score for heavens sake) to a factually-rooted love story involving June and Johnny. Maybe that is my greatest disappointment – the music was left out in preference for the standard star-crossed love story which Hollywood does so well, or not. Sorry, but I didn’t come out of this thinking ‘Coal Miners Daughter’ but rather ‘Titanic’ or ‘Gangs of New York’. This just didn't do it like Clint Eastwood’s ‘Bird’ – a film which did so much better in weaving the story of the complex and profoundly compromised man and his music than did ‘Walk the Line’. Nor was it ‘Ray’, a movie which wonderfully depicted Ray Charles’ contribution to the music, albeit against the backdrop of a similarly troubled person. This film did the opposite, and that, for me at least, is its weakness. Doing a passably good impression of Johnny Cash does not make a movie…

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Walk the Line

I know that there will be other comments posted here about "Walk the Line" as the majority of the contributors to this blog, including two potential new members went to the cinema specifcally to see this film. I won't anticipate the comments that the other members may leave here and will constrain myself to my own opnion. Personally I thought that it was a cracking good film, and that it documented the rise, subsequent drug related breakdown, and the recovery of Johnny Cash absolutely brilliantly. I have to admit that it more than makes up for my disappointment of Brokeback Mountain, which I thought was a truly awful film.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Enough Of the Bloody Sport Already

OK, if all of this footie related stuff continues I will start upping the intellectual content and bring on the Opera complete with audio visuals SO be warned people; the choice is now with the public, not that this miserable, intolerant old git will take a blind bit of notice of them either!

Sport and Blogging

BondBloke can carry on hoping that sport leaves "his" blog behind. RoadRunner and I are off to Paisley for the reprise of Spartans v St Mirren, this time at Love Street. Probably tells you all you need to know about the various members of this blogging team when you work out which of them would rather watch a Scottish Cup Replay on Valentine's Day than do lovey-dovey stuff...

At last, some sense

This is lazy blogging, but this is absolutely the most sense I have seen written about the cartoons saga, and it comes courtesy of the excellent Eurotopics, a service from the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung/bpb in cooperation with Perlentaucher Medien GmbH and Courrier International which you can subscribe to here. It is brilliant because it provides translated snippets from a range of different language newspaper. I am taking the liberty of reprinting their dossier compiling the views of moderate Muslim intellectuals on the cartoons saga. There is nothing I can really add to comment upon the heartfelt views here, except to say how sincerely I hope these views prevail. But maybe I am being naive, especially about the international relations aspects of what's going on. The only thing I would say is that all these articles taken together demonstrate in an interesting way that in some ways we are starting to see an increasingly transnational media sphere in Europe. The internet and blogging definitely have something to do with that. I just hope that this helps to calm, not inflame, passions, but judging by some ill-judged anti-Islamic websites I have seen in the last few days, I fear that the latter is the case not the former.

Society/ Global: Cartoon dispute - the views of Muslims living in the West
The violent protests against the Muhammad cartoons are spreading and putting the lives of Western Europeans living in the Arab world at risk. Now Muslim intellectuals are also voicing their opinions in European newspapers. They see the confrontation as a chance to modernise Islam.

+++ Denmark - Jyllands-Posten. It was bound to come to this clash between the civilisations, says writer and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali in an interview with Orla Blog. She adds that, even though it may sound cynical after the attacks on Western diplomatic buildings, the conflict still offers a great opportunity. "Thanks to these cartoons, Islam could make the progress of centuries within just a few years. It's high time there was an uprising. Had the cartoons not been published, the discussion about the Prophet Muhammad would never have arisen.
It's important to remember that Islam hasn't undergone all the reforms and adjustments which Christianity and Judaism have undergone over the past thousand years. On the contrary, Islam is stagnating. Its laws are geared towards tribal society. Now all Muslims in Denmark and Europe are being forced to reflect on what their attitude should be towards Muslim taboos that are incompatible with modern democratic society." +++

+++ Austria - Der Standard. "The Arabs and Muslims themselves are mainly responsible for the defamation of this religion and of the Prophet Muhammad's image, because they convey a distorted picture of this divine and immortal message and its revered prophet. We should all ask Mohammed for forgiveness for defacing his image," writes Arab author Baha al-Musawi, and asks: "Why don't we portray Muhammad as a devout, honourable and tolerant human being, instead of letting him be reduced to an image of Osama bin Laden, of a sword, of killing, of the Taliban, of beheadings and suicide? How can we permit the murder of the unbelievers when Mohammad honoured them? How can we oppress women when Mohammed revered them? How can we spill blood when Mohammed has forbidden it?" +++

+++ Germany - Die Welt. Irshad Manji, a Canadian and Visiting Fellow at Yale University, asks why people shouldn't be allowed to make jokes about Muslims. "We Muslims can't pretend to have the integrity to demand respect for our religion if we don't respect the religions of others. When have we ever demanded that Christians and Jews be allowed to set foot in Mecca? Only when they come for business reasons are they allowed to enter.
As long as Rome continues to welcome non-Christians and Jerusalem welcomes non-Jews, we Muslims should be protesting against more than these cartoons." +++

+++ United Kingdom - The Guardian. Tabish Khair, an author, english professor and self-professed "moderate Muslim" says he has remained silent on the cartoon controversy "because there is no space left for me either in Denmark or in many Muslim countries. ... Between the Danish government and Islamist politicians, between Jyllands-Posten and the mobs in Beirut ...The moderate Muslim has again been effectively silenced. She has been forced to take this side or that; forced to stay home and let others crusade for a cause dear to her - freedom - and a cultural heritage essential to her: Islam. On TV she sees the bearded mobs rampage and the clean-shaven white men preach. In the clash of civilisations that is being rigorously manufactured, she is in between. ... She cannot scream. Come to think of it, can she really express herself at all now?"+++

+++ France - Le Monde. Abdennour Bidar, a philosophy professor in Nice, shares his views on "the profound democratic changes to Islam" in Europe brought about "by the daily reality of Muslims living there". "The shift is characterised by what I call a 'self-Islam', that is to say, a culture of autonomy and personal choice, thus a culture based on diversity and differentiated identity - an Islam of individuals, and not of the community! ... 'Self-Islam' is, in fact, the expression of a culture that has radically mutated beyond its original authoritarian form, and which has become democratised via a process through which each European Muslim, looking to his conscience, has appropriated the question his own identity. Let's acknowledge this change and adjust our understanding of European Islam by working to deconstruct this 'community' fantasy." +++