Friday, March 31, 2006

The State of Music

I was prevailed upon by BondBloke to set some sort of poll on music, so I have so done. The poll asks you to vote for that US state which has, through the sounds and songs and labels and voices of its sons and daughters and residents, contributed most to contemporary music – widely defined. I opted to present a choice of 6 states, though it could have been more. But I’ll defend my selection, briefly, on this entry.

New York needs no justification for being a candidate. Think of the publishing houses that were Tin Pan Alley, the song-writing factory that was the Brill Building; think of Velvet Underground and the birth of punk, and don’t forget Atlantic records. And lots more besides. And, of course, Wild Thing was written by Chip Taylor in NYC.

Illinois – well, just think of Chicago and you need go no further than Chess Records and Muddy Waters. Chess records created the electric blues, as the unemployed delta bluesmen made their way northwards in search of jobs. From Chicago the music made its way to create the British explosion of blues in the early 1960s and gave us – well – mostly everything afterwards I suppose. And while there is more to Chicago than Chess Records, it is Chess that is the jewel in the crown of that state, if not the entire USA.

Michigan might raise some eyebrows, but I wonder if any city ever gave more to musc than Detroit. And I don’t only mean Tamla Motown, though why not? But if we fast-forward to the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s it is Detroit which spawned some of the greatest music ever committed to record, CD or whatever. Hank Ballard wrote and recorded “The Twist” in Detroit; Wilson Pickett; Aretha Franklin and Jackie Wilson. Rap has a presence in Detroit; the new wave of alternative punk/blues is straight outta Detroit. And on and on the list goes.

Tennessee doesn’t need any justification – well maybe 3 words. Memphis, Nashville, Elvis. That should do it. Oh, and maybe Hank. OK – 4 words. The rest is history. Oh, and there's also Stax...

Texas, the Lone Star state, boasts some of the giants of contemporary singer-songwriting. Steve Earle is a Texan. Buddy Holly was a Texan. Then we have Janis Joplin, Kris Kristofferson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Guy Clark, Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson. And the two giants – Kinky Friedman and the late, and the very great, Townes Van Zandt.

California and the beach and the Beach Boys. And a whole lot more besides.

So, what do you think? Vote now…

Update by BondBloke:

I have had a few mails now, some of you are missing the poll for those it is almost at the top of the right hand column...

Civil War

I definitely was not going to post again today as I should be packing, but this little civil war (see the comments) between Jane and Reidski about Jane's post on the bombardment of Dubrovnik during the civil war between Croatia and Serbia from 1991 onwards reminded me of a story I was told when we were there in 2004. As you read it you will realise how it relates to this report about why Europeans move and this report about love. In 2004, I was at a seminar in Dubrovnik with a number of participants from across the states of the former Yugoslavia. In particular, one participant was a woman from Slovenia, who related that she had flown down to Dubrovnik with her aunt. She told us a rather sad story about her aunt. Her aunt had been living in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, in the 1960s. She met a man doing his military service in the Federal Yugoslav Army. Tito's Yugoslavia had a policy of posting men in the army to republics other than the ones from which they came. This man was from Bosnia, and I think he was a Bosnian Muslim. One reason for this policy was precisely to promote intermarriage across the republics. Anyway, they fell in love, and after he had finished his service they settled in Dubrovnik, which is hardly a million miles from Bosnia (like about 10 kms). They married and had two sons. At a certain point, the aunt worked up at the airport, during the 1970s or 1980s when tourism started to take off. One day a Spanish family turned up at the airport, and their luggage had gone missing. Being the hospitable sort (a Balkan trait), the aunt invited the family to stay at their flat until their luggage turned up and they were able to continue their travels. The two families became friends.

In 1991, when the war started, the two boys were called up. I am not sure for which army. Probably the Croatian one. With a Slovenian mother and a Bosnian father. Nuff said. The family got the two boys out to Spain and they have settled there and married Spanish women. The father died soon afterwards - effectively of a broken heart, according to my informant. The aunt lives on, dividing her time between Ljubljana, the city of her birth in the country of her now citizenship, Spain to see her sons and grandchildren, and more recently Dubrovnik. A multinational existence you might say.

But the poigancy of the story lay in the fact that there is no similar mechanism to the Yugoslav federal army to create cross-border love in this part of the world now. The fact that the army is gone is probably a good thing. But the mechanisms for interconnection remain important. The EU is an incredibly important political force in that part of the world, and the prospect of EU membership for states like Croatia and Macedonia in the medium term, and perhaps Serbia/Montenegro (together or separately), Albania and Bosnia in the longer term. TheEU operates as such a broadbased mechanism for interconnection, not least because of the political conditionality which applies to those who seek membership, including rules on regional stabilisation which foster cooperation amongst the formerly warring states. The funny thing about the report on mobility within the European Union reveals that love remains the most important reason why people migrate within the EU. Presumably the same mechanism of cohesion could apply in the event that all of the states referred to here become members of the European Union. In that event, we could be back to the same scenario envisaged by Tito so many years ago.

But I can't finish this post without also linking back to that form of interconnection through which Reidski and Jane met and fell in love. I wonder what harmony it could foster in the former Yugoslavia as well :-)

Do you want an English Parliament?: The Results

I stopped this poll in favour of another because I got bored seeing it all the time, as it seems did 40% of other people, the results:-

yes but only if I can make anonymous comments 13%
yes but only if I can insult and abuse people 13%
yes but only if I can cause economic and political chaos 7%
no because then I would have to seek asylum in Scotland, Wales or N.I. 20%
I don't care as long as there are still page 3 girls in the tabloids 7%
none of the above it's just too boring 40%

A Very Shy Man

I was thinking today about photographs that I took whilst participating in the "Make Poverty History" march in Edinburgh last year, and I remembered this one. I went out with the full intention of photographing anyone who pointed a camrea at me, well fair's fair, after all if you want to photograph someone you should be prepared to be photographed yourself; that is if you have nothing to hide. Obviously this shy gentleman had/has something to hide for as soon as I pointed my camera at him this was his reaction. I did not realise this at the time or I might have asked him for a proper portrait...

It has been suggested that he is looking at the lcd screen on that rather posh, expensive piece of camera kit in his right hand; but I think not, if this were the case he would be shading the lcd screen and not his eyes. As far as I am concerned the jury has found this man guilty as charged. I am not so naive as to think that if one takes part in such events that one is not going to attract the attention of one or other of the security forces. After all one look at this picture is enough for me to rest my case; this man is one or other of the many flavours of security bods who were on display there, and mere curiosity makes me think that I would like to know just who he is so that I could furnish him with a glorious picture of himself at work!

Sometimes I despair

I wasn't going to blog today. But following up some reports at work of the IPPR Report on costs to taxation revenue of keeping irregular migrants out of the properly regulated economy (PS don't call them illegal migrants; no human can be "illegal"), I came across this horrible little report in The Scum.

"Migrants' £1bn tax dodge
ILLEGAL immigrants dodge £1billion in tax a year — enough to clear ALL NHS debts. An army of 500,000 work cash-in-hand in the black economy. But immigration officials don’t have the money or manpower to kick them out."
And so on, and so on. You'll get the drift. Which is that it is irregular migrants themselves who are to blame for the situation. Not the fact that the UK lacks an economic migration policy which is apt to serve its demographic and labour market needs. Not the fact that the interface between the welfare state and much of the service economy is such that with people unwilling to pay the charges for hospitality and many personal care services which would be inevitable if those who in practice provided those services were foresquare within the regulated labour market, the state effectively tolerates a substantial unregulated sector. Oh no, let's blame the migrants themselves. Bastards. Instead, let's remember those who died in Morecambe Bay.

How Irish Are You

Remaining in keeping with the theme of recent days try this one. We can't leave the Irish out now can we?

My Result:-

You're 90% Irish
Congratulations, you're a shining example of an Irish lass (or lad).
There's hardly anyone more Irish than you!

Art and Censorship

RoadRunner wrote a piece on Tuesday in which he referred to an article by Harry Reid, in which he reviews the film 'Hostel', a piece which provoked me to think about the whole idea of art and censorship. Reid is fully aware of the problems and says so in no uncertain terms, but I think that he goes a little to far when he says:-

"But Shakespeare was an artist of profound seriousness. He was not presenting
pornography; he was not seeking to titillate, or to exploit gullible consumers
and make a lot of money."

because although he does not explicitly say it he is by implication saying that this film, incidentally a film which he has not himself seen, is pornographic. This is a dangerous thing as there are even bigger problems with the whole art and pornagraphy argument than there are in the art and censorship debate, I will not go into that here as I have covered this topic already, see here. Will Howells at No Geek is an Island reviewed the same film on his blog and came to a different conclusion of the film saying that it is:-

"Effectively directed, suitably eerie, and with a satisfying finale, Hostel also has its fair share of gore - although not notably more than other recent horror films. It is a touch more sadistic, but just about justifies this as a necessary part of the plot."

Will also went on to comment on RoadRunners piece:-

Will said... "I reviewed Hostel on my blog the other day. As these things go, it really wasn't that gory, and it was a good piece of film making. If Harry had seen it, he might know that."

Which I think given the circumstances is a very valid comment, and one with which I agree. I cannot make any personal comment about this film as I have not seen it, nor do I have any intention of seeing it, not my sort of film at all.

Anyone who knows me will know that I have little time for censorship, or for any curtailment of the freedom of speech or the freedom of expression; and although Harry Reid says:-
"Freedom of expression is correctly cherished by writers. Furthermore, censorship is something that any liberal society is rightly wary of."
the genearl tenor of his article is that he is in favour of greater censorship in order that such films are not made. Again these are dangerous waters, and such arguments are very similar to the anti-pornography agrument of such as Lord Longford; and see where all of that has led. If such arguments hold sway we will be in a similar position to that of pornography; pornography was banned and what happened? The answer is simple, it was driven undeground where there was no control over it at all, not a wise decision at all; after all is it not better to have things out in the open where they can be controlled, than under the counter where they cannot? This not advocating censorship by the state, but the self censorship of the artist, filmaker, photographer etc. in that the commonsense rules of taste and decency are applied. To go down the road of state censorship would be a folly of immense proportions, because who is to say that any pressure group could not apply pressure and have anything censored; for example, I am sure that the drug companies would have loved to have been able to bury "The Constant Gardener", incidentally a brilliant film, before it could be shown. My final point is that I would not trust any government to censor the arts in any way, especially given how the arts in general have been treated by successive governments; the governments role should not be that of censor, but more as guardian of the freedom of speech, freedom of expression that we should all enjoy, whilst at the same time ensuring that there are protections in place for the innocent and the vulnerable.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

How Welsh Are You?

Continuing with the nationalist theme, we don't want to be called racist now do we? Try this one.

My Result:-
You are 83% Welsh
Marvellous. Another tattoo, and work on the interior decor, and you'll be perfect.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

EU Shocker!

At last, the EU threatens to do something both useful and popular. At least in this house where far too much money is poured into the throats of mobile phone companies in roaming charges.

No seriously, this is a very good move. And I'm not nearly so Eurosceptic as you might think from the above. Tomorrow I'm even going to a conference on the European Parliament, with famous Orange Booker and former MEP Nick Clegg doing the keynote. I wonder if I'll get a chance to ask him about the (for him) almost calamitous Lib Dem leadership election.

Old Europe

Your Brussels correspondent spent a fascinating evening at the Hungarian House in Brussels the other week while wiling away a period of exile in mainland Europe. The discussion was on the Hungarian revolution and the role of the United Nations - aptly titled to mark the occasion of the 50th anniversary year of the Hungarian revolution in October/November 1956. The speaker, Klara Hedervary, had worked in the political department of the UN where from 1957 to 1963 she had been attached to the Secretariat of the Special Committee on Hungary. This Special Committee had been set up on 7 January 1957 to provide the UN and its General Assembly with as full information as possible about Hungary and the Soviet Union and the use of armed force by the Russians in Hungary when Soviet troops entered Hungary to crush the revolution killing thousands of Hungarians. Witnesses gave evidence to that fateful day in 1956 which for the first time provided a real glimpse into the mechanics of the Soviet Communist state. In June 1957 the report was produced - all 175 pages of it. The Hungarian authorities at that time ignored the report. It was sent to all UN information centres though the Soviets refused it and for the people of Hungary copies were circulated on the black market and mainly in intellectual circles.

In the audience were a number of Hungarians who had participated in some way or another in the revolution. The interesting question was asked as to whether the UN had lived up to the expectations of the people of Hungary but the problem for the UN is that it did genuinely want to do something that it couldn't. The speaker reiterated that officials working on the Hungarian issue did not let the Hungarians down - it cost some of their career and two of them their lives.

Continuing my tour of Hungarian history, I went along to a film that was being shown in the European Parliament called "The Unburied Man" - this was about the life of Imre Nagy, who was Prime Minister at the time of the 1956 Revolution and later executed in 1958 for the part he played.

What is interesting in all of this is just the simple fact that here we have freely elected MEPs from Hungary, along with other EU Parliamentarians in Brussels, marking the 50th anniversary year of the 1956 Hungarian revolution from within the EU. This is the reality of the new Europe, marking and discussing the history of the old Europe. And last week the European Parliament opened an exhibition to celebrate 20 years of Spain and Portugal's membership of the EU and of course central to these celebrations is the role played by the EU integration process in promoting the values of solidarity, peace and democracy in these countries.

So How Scottish Are You?

We had the English one yesterday, and prompted by RoadRunners piece this morning I decided to give you all the chance to try this one.

This is my result:-

You are 100% Scottish, and damn proud of it! As well you should be. You
have a love for the more simple things in life, and don't like it when someone
treads on your territory. You have plenty of attitude, and don't mind sharing it
with others. If they don't like it, they can piss off!
Further to RR's piece you might like to read a piece by a very nice gentleman who I regularly read on the same theme.


I think that this is also worth a read...

Scotland the what?

I was at a really nice party last night, attended by a wide range of very interesting folk. In order to protect the innocent, and with apologies for being so damned enigmatic, it’s probably best for all concerned if I don’t reveal the occasion which prompted this mid-week soiree. But as I mingled with other guests, as I do particularly engagingly after a couple of glasses of fiz, I found myself chatting to a well known face from Scotland’s television media – now I don't mean to face-drop, but this is one that even my mother would recognise! Anyway, being ‘guid Scots folk’, he and I immediately struck up a conversation on the pressing question of the moment here in the North of the Queendom which is – what tune should Scotland adopt as its official national anthem? Suffice it to say that this debate has occupied many column inches of our national press in recent days and remains, as yet, firmly unreseolved. Seemingly this very question had been the subject of recent discussions at his place of employment, and a colleague – whom he steadfastly refused to name but who I suspect is an equally weel-kent face up here – had come up with the obvious answer. Bearing in mind that an anthem has to be (a) relatively easy to remember, (b) strike at the heart of national identity, and (c) be timeless in the message it imports, the colleague proposed (and here I need to exercise self-censorship in case my Mum reads this)...well, let me just say it is a song frequently heard at national sporting occasions involving Scotland and England, is sung (always rousingly by the Scots) to the tune She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain but with a changed lyric. You’ll know the one I mean if I simply report that the recurring refrain opens with "If you..." and ends “…clap your hands”. Repeat endlessly...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Hurrah for Harry

As one who has twice taken exception to Harry Reid’s column in The Herald newspaper on this blog, I feel honour bound to draw attention to the fact that Harry has, in my eyes at least, aspired to a somewhat higher standard of journalistic endeavour in today’s issue of that newspaper. I suspect his topic will appeal to Bondbloke as it deals with the thorny question of art and censorship. In his column, Harry argues that a movie called Hostel, which apparently is part of the ‘gorefest’ genre, contains so much in the way of gruesome horror and graphic violence that it should not have been certified for general release. Censorship and art…heady stuff indeed. But it isn’t the question of censorship per se that I want to focus on. Instead, it is Harry’s admission that he has reached this judgement despite not having seen the film for himself. In defence, Harry writes

“…I am not certain that you need to experience something before you can condemn it. I do not need to have been at Belsen to know that it was a terrible place to be”.

Now, I find myself agreeing one hundred percent with Harry on that one. It reminds me of the dark days of apartheid when apologists for that particularly vile regime would almost always end up attacking their opponents as being unqualified to comment as they had never visited South Africa. Yes, surely Harry is right – you didn’t have to be there to know it was wrong. And we all have a moral right if not obligation to speak out when an event or a law or an activity violates the fragile and largely implicit and inherited codes of behaviour which we understand to constitute the fabric of our civil society. And when that activity is formally constituted by an action on the part of the State, then that moral obligation becomes a fundamental duty. I'm not saying that I agree with Harry in this specific instance, but I think the general point he makes is a rather sensible one.

Which leads me – rather neatly I think – to something I read yesterday on Normblog which greatly puzzled me. It was this (albeit in edited form), which refers to a longer piece (see end remark) that Nick Cohen wrote in Sunday’s Observer on the Kember rescue by members of the UK’s special forces. This passage, by Cohen, struck me particularly forcefully:

“Yet at least Kember and his colleagues made a commitment to Iraq. They may have done no good, they may have put better and braver men in danger, yet they strike me as preferable to the majority of European liberals who have sat out the conflict…”

It isn’t entirely clear where Nick Cohen is going with this, but it begins to smack very much of the age-old view which says that if you ain’t part of the problem then you can’t be part of the solution. Well, many of us have not been part of many problems whose legacy is all around us, including in our written laws (national and international) and (largely unwritten) social mores (pace Harry Reid). In that way we are all playing the hand of cards which history (in the shape of our predecessors) has dealt us, and we in turn are all the dealers of the cards which those who come after will have to play. So, to Nick, I might say; (a) as Harry Reid puts it, not to be engaged in a conflict is not to disenfranchise oneself from judgement over the rights and wrongs of that event – immediate impact and historical legacy is a matter for us all, (b) someone who opposes the policies of the British and American governments is no more, and no less, sitting out a conflict as is someone who is supporting them – in your terms almost everyone (and certainly the majority of journalists and bloggers) is ‘sitting this one out’ except, of course, those who have no choice, and (c) from where I sit a great many “European liberals” have taken a fairly unambiguous side in the conflict, albeit it is a side that you might oppose. As custodians of the present, we all have an legitimate and equal responsibility for the future.

Oh to be in England

Hello folks, my role here will be to, occasionally, cover English matters; I realise that there have been some problems in this area recently, and I hope to correct any such misunderstandings that may occur in the future. I will not be making regular appearances here, only when I have something to say, or when I have been asked to comment, even arbitrate, on a sticky problem. I thought I would begin by asking:-

What is it to be English?

For a start to be English is to be slightly uncomfortable with the very concept of "identity"; after all we English are famous above all for being somewhat insular, maybe this has something to do with being an island race. I am not talking a cut-off mid-oceanic island here; but rather, an island that is within swimming distance of mainland Europe - an island that can be easily invaded, or employed as a base for invasion. Our insularity has, in the past, been convoluted by two striking incongruities; our ethnic dilution and our history-making inclination to export, even to deport, people; and nations have been founded by this very inclination. We have a language that, due in part to its extraordinary capacity to borrow and assimilate words from other languages, has become pretty much a global lingua franca. However, there are parts of “this sceptered isle” where one is barely able to understand a single word that is uttered; I am thinking of those places where the local dialect is still strong.

We English have a defensible reputation for being powerful and mundane, yet we have excelled in all the arts. We are often seen as being shy and retiring, even affected to the point of effeminacy; however few peoples have shown a more fearsome and merciless talent for aggression. Our fondness for gardens and animals is something of an international joke, however there is scant evidence of that tenderness we lavish on, for example, dogs in our dealings with “Johnny foreigner”, when it is our natural inclination to practice gunboat diplomacy. The general temper is distinctly repressive and autocratic allowing the cult of aristocracy and hierarchy to remain astonishingly tenacious.

50 Books that Shaped the World

I've just received a Blackwell promotional email. Usually I delete these things without even looking at them. Getting them is one of the joys of subscribing to Blackwell journals, having a Blackwell bookshop almost opposite the office (where I spend more of my salary than I should do), and having one of their bloody loyalty card thingies which at least allows me to get some of said salary back again in the shape of yet more books. This email is much more interesting, and offers the opportunity for you to win fifty books which shaped the world, in the unlikely event you would have space on your shelves suddenly to accommodate fifty new books all in one go. I know we don't, so don't even think about entering the competition, BondBloke. But it's worth publicising the competition with a view to getting a discussion started on the topic.

As ever with these things, there are some odd inclusions and some odd exclusions. In view of his comment on a recent post about marital bliss and (by implication) traditional values, I am sure that the keeper of the Shrine of the Blind-Winger Jones will be relieved to see that Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management is included. I wasn't actually sure that Felicity Lawrence's Not on the Label has so far had a chance truly to shape the world. But more seriously, Madry will be appalled at the failure to include Goethe's Faust, and the absence of any Nietzsche. For myself, I am saddest about the absence of War and Peace, a seminal example of the "big book" which has, I think, shaped many lives (and probably deaths...).

Well, that should be just about enough controversy to get some discussion going.

So, How English Are You?

Try this quiz and find out!

My Result:-
England's so-called national customs have little emotional hold on you. You're aware of your roots but you're happy to take on board the best of other cultures.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Most Southerly Point

This is about as far south as you can walk in mainland Britain without getting your feet wet. This was a glorious September day in 2001; I was returning to Cornwall after about sixteen months away and I had just met BondWoman and was still in love (pass the bucket PLEASE!). It was a bloody awful trip, it meant that I had to have contact with my family, which just confirmed my reasons for leaving in the first place. However that does not spoil some beautiful memories of the place, the sights and the general atmosphere of God's Own Country!

Btw, for those who don't know, the most southerly point of mainland Britain is the Lizard Point.

Render unto Caesar...?

A few weeks ago I attended a lecture by Irene Khan in the University of Edinburgh (as reported here by Bondbloke). One of the interesting points Irene made was the way in which the US and UK Governments used carefully selected terminology to make more acceptable certain of their ‘war-on-terror’ related actions which we (as decent human beings) otherwise would immediately (and hopefully unreservedly) condemn as fundamental violations of human rights. Her example was the use of the phrase ‘rendering’ to describe the alleged kidnap and transportation of terrorist suspects by the US authorities (and probably with the connivance of the UK authorities) for interrogation in countries which do not respect the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. And as Irene suggested, the verb ‘to render’ resonates of something that happens to dead animals – to meat – rather than to humans. Indeed, a simple google search of ‘to render’ directs one to the website of ‘Render – The National Magazine of Rendering’, a US publication that defines the activity in the following terms:

The rendering industry processes or "recycles" animal by-products such as animal fat, bone, hide, offal, feathers, and blood into beneficial commodities including tallow, grease, and protein meals.

Consequently ‘we’ – probably – both individually and collectively find it easier to de-link and divorce ourselves from just what is going on; certainly more readily than had the activities been described in phrases using words like ‘kidnap’, ‘forced transit’, ‘torture’. And finally, it is after all the US authorities that are doing this, not ‘us’ and not in ‘our name’.

But, sadly, this technique of deliberately using distracting, or misleading, terms to describe deplorable and shameful official actions has now arrived in Scotland. I refer to the use of the term ‘removals’ to describe the forced ejection of unsuccessful asylum seekers from Scotland, in some cases many years after they have settled in, and contributed to, Scotland. The appalling treatment meted out to those people – dawn raids, detentions and splitting-up of families – is something which has no place in a civilised society. It is, of course, welcome that the international opprobrium justifiably heaped on Scotland’s Government last year in response to the disgraceful actions in Scotland of officials acting under instruction from UK immigration authorities apparently has led to some re-thinking by UK Government. Such a review is long overdue. Let us hope that is delivers a better system than we have at present – mind you, it’s really hard to imagine a worse one. But when we come to the crunch, and when the revised arrangements are presented for public scrutiny here, in Scotland, can we please not have our sense of right and wrong, our senses of decency and humanity, betrayed by governments who use weasel words – ‘removals’ – to render (sic) more acceptable those activities which none of us (I hope) would ever wish to see done in our name. After all, we are responsible for what happens in Scotland. Sure, immigration is a reserved matter, but that doesn’t mean that we in Scotland can simply blame ‘them’ in Westminster.

Turin Fountains

Having had to attend one of these work-conference things in Turin (bummer, eh?), I decided to make the weekend of it in Italy's winter Olympic city. And a lovely place it is, crowded with all those large and lavish monuments to both aristocracy and church that Italians seem to do so well. Pointless though pretty I guess. But my interest was taken by a considerably more modest structure – a fountain in a public park on the banks of the Po. This small fountain seemed to have a disproportionately large number of spouts through which water was projected with varying force in many different directions, all choreographed (really rather well) to well-known pieces of classical music. It was like one of these fireworks-to-music shows, but with water rather than explosives. There was no ‘operator’ visible and the whole thing seemed essentially very simple and low-cost. And all sorts of people were gathered around the fountain thoroughly engaged by the spectacle. That is in Turin. At the other end of the spectrum, Edinburgh has a rather large, Victorian fountain in a prime site – Princes Street Gardens – which in over 30 years resident in the city I have never seen doing what it is I assume fountains are best suited to doing. Maybe this somewhat overdue new initiative for improving Edinburgh's parks can borrow some simple and inexpensive ideas from our Italian friends…at least on those few remaining inner-city areas of parkland which the Cooncil hasn't sold to property developers on which to build (and profit from) lavish (and distinctly non-affordable) houses...

Numptie Speaks Out

I appear to have acquired a new sobriquet, Numptie, now I am not sure whether to be flattered by this or not, especially given its accepted definition "a foolish or ignorant person". I am also not sure if the English person who appears to have provided this label is aware of the word's Scottish origin.

On reflection I think that this is not such an insult after all as I would rather be "a foolish or ignorant person" than a self satisfied know it all who preaches to others thinking that they are always right and that everyone else is wrong. I was once told by a teacher that as I went through life that I would find that ignorance was the best form of knowledge; it now seems that I have achieved this ignorance, and in so doing have also attained this best form of knowledge. This, however, does pose a real problem for me, as I now wonder what comes next, and what do I do with this "best form of knowledge", do I pass it on and become that most annoying self satisfied know it all, or do I remain selfish and keep it to myself? Decisions, decisions, I have been encumbered with this heavy burden of knowledge, but it does not give me any answers at all, just more questions...

Where the Hell am I

Oddly Enough News Article

I think that there is a simple answer to both Blair's question:

"I'm thinking, so where the bloody hell am I?"
and the Australian PM's question:

"Well where in the hell have you been?"
and that is "Up shit creek without a paddle!"

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Plagiarism is all around us

I think I originally decided to join BondBloke's blog because I thought I might post quite a lot about European politics. My desktop is in fact cluttered with half written posts about such matters, such as the status of workers from the new Member States, and exciting stuff about the reform of the German federal system and what happened when Paolo di Canio met holocaust survivors in Italy. But I guess that I often get stymied by the need to do thorough research on such matters before posting, and so I end up writing nothing. Which brings me to the subject of this post. Plagiarism. I.e. what happens when you cannot be bothered to do any proper research before writing, or at least when your research is limited to copying what other people have written. I learned this afternoon via Opinio Juris (although they got it from someone else), that Vladimir Putin's economics PhD thesis is allegedly plagiarised. A report appeared in The Australian. This follows hot on the heels of the allegations of serial plagiarism, many emanating from the blogosphere, against Washington Post Blogger/Columnist of the right Ben Domenech. As an academic, I have come across many minor instances of plagiarism, and I have been part of a panel considering one serious allegation of academic malpractice which had plagiarism connotations. However, much of the plagiarism we find around us is of a much more banal character. For example, I once found a couple of sentences in a book proposal which I saw had been drawn from a PhD thesis which I happened to have in my possession. I drew the attention of the publishers to this, and declined to comment further or make any accusations.

It is so easy, of course, to plagiarise - and even to do so rather unconsciously - when using the internet. The cut and paste facility may be used at one point to create a quotation. Somehow the quotation marks get lost and the sentence becomes assimilated into one's own text. It's frightening to think how easily this could happen, and how serious the consequences would be. At the same time, especially when using hyperlinking online, it is so easy to reference one's sources, and it's important to do that when blogging as it is when writing in other contexts. I hope we've always managed that so far in our meagre efforts.

Ee's a miserable git

That BondBloke, that is. You would have thought he would be grateful to be taken out for the afternoon, distracted from his worries, given some necessary exercise, etc. etc. And all he can do is insult my camera and my photographs and complain about the "torture". Since it has been me with the dodgy knees for the last six months or more, not him, you'd think he'd have sympathy for me. However, I should admit that I am certainly stiff too.

Well I think this little picture of him striding on ahead without regard for my interests tells you everything you need to know. The rest can be found here on Flickr. They're not that bad, honest. I don't know why he has to diss my camera...

Surprisingly, this was our first time on the Pentlands since we arrived here more than twelve months ago. And they are certainly proper hills and all that, but also remarkably quiet. Today wasn't such a lovely day as last Sunday, but it was a perfectly respectable day for walking, so I thought that somewhere as close to the city as Hillend would be rather busier than it was. Well, I am certainly not complaining. Next Sunday I shall be in Ann Arbor, Michigan (hopefully - and not in an American prison cell), preparing for the lectures I have to give there during the following week. So it was great to get some Scottish fresh air on the weekend before I leave.

Before leaving I thought it would be a good idea to upload all my Dubrovnik photos (see here); and I decided to take the opportunity afforded by sorting out my photos to entertain you with this - a photo of Junior Bond (the one in the black shorts) enjoying a successful adult senior boxing debut in Edinburgh earlier this week. Now there's a difficult one for all the mothers out there. What would you do if your son decided he wanted to do this? I suppose it is better than smashing up bus shelters and robbing grannies, but possibly not that much better. It's a shame Jane is away in Dubrovnik, because I am sure she would have something to say about this.

A Walk in The Pentlands

BondWoman dragged me out for some torture walking in the Pentland hills, just south of the city, this afternoon, and I have to confess that I now realise just how unfit I am. To say that I feel stiff would be an understatement, to say sore would be even more so, and all of this despite a stop at one of Edinburgh's nicer pubs, The Sheep Heid in Duddingston, on the return journey for a couple of pints; this is a great pub serving good beer, good food, and what appealed to us right from the start was the no smoking policy even before today's ban came into force.

Back to the torture walking, it was a pretty good walk even though the start was pretty steep uphill for a goodly distance, and when we got a bit higher there was the wind to contend with, which I have to say was pretty strong on the tops; but as it was more or less a south westerly wind it was not at all a cold wind, unlike that of recent days. It was not the clearest of days, but even so the views from 1617 feet were pretty good; unfortunately I forgot my camera (I was actually not in a mind to go out as I have an essay to write), but BondWoman had her little excuse for a camera so I am pretty sure that pictures will be forthcoming from that direction. All in all it was pretty good to get out of town and to get some fresh air...

Update 19:40

I notice the BW has the temerity to mention that I insulted her photographs, well I would give her the same advice that I was handing out to those English Nationalists last week; go and read my words! What I actually insulted was her "little excuse for a camera"...

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Faust Part Two

I know that regular readers will have been eagerly awaiting this post, completing the theatrical saga for the Bonds which began with the trip to see Faust Part One on Tuesday (see here for my earlier ramblings). We saw Faust Part Two last night, and it evoked some quite different reactions amongst members of our party. I found Part One quite dramatically satisfying, covering the age-old tale of a man who sells his soul to the devil in return for pleasure, and ends up betraying the woman he falls in love with. Part One contained not only some classic philosophical declamations on "the meaning of life, the universe and everything", especially by Faust, but also some pleasing comedy of a verbal and a visual nature, and some quite effective relationship construction, especially between Faust and Mephisto and between Faust and Gretchen.

Last night's helping of theatre was about Faust's turn to power, and the way he ages as he destroys all those around him, including this time Helen of Troy. There was some obvious political commentary going on, including references to the American attack on Falluja and the war in Iraq generally, as well as some pointed critique of cruel and despotic political regimes generally. However, at the end, when Faust yields himself to Mephisto, when he admits that he wants a particular moment (of total power) to last for ever, somehow Faust is still 'saved' (and Mephisto loses his power) - it would appear because of the power of the female in a play which made much of the power of the turn to the female and the mother. I have to admit I was a bit lost here, and maybe my fellow bloggers and other commentators could help me out with further illumination. But the result was that I found it a rather unsatisfactory ending. I also found that while the play as a whole contained some powerful set piece presentations of argument and emotion, it lacked the same dramatic narrative qualities of Part One. Silly me, I seemed to be expecting a bit of a story which I could more or less follow, and what I got with Part Two was something that seemed a bit all over the place. I think this is something to do with Goethe's original which was not produced until 30 years after Part One and only when Goethe was an old man, and less to do with the adaptation; it certainly had very little to do with the performers who were as powerful yesterday as they were in Part One. But I was left standing at the edge of a big drop at the end of yesterday's episode, and I don't quite know where we go from here.

Anyway, I am very glad we went. Perhaps we'll make it to more plays during this year's Festivals.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Intellectual Voyeurism

I am shocked, nay, horrified by BondWoman's confession in her latest post. This is nothing more that the cyber-space equivalent of watching Corrie or East Enders, not to mention Neighbours! I think that this displays a voyeuristic side of BondWoman that I was completely unaware of; even I, a simple country lad (oik if you would rather) would not be caught dead watching such inane rubbish, let alone reading it! Although I suppose that it is not surprising, the medium does make it so much easier to pander to such intellectual voyeurism!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

On gossip

This short reflection is motivated not only by recent events on this blog, and by Martyn C's reflections at North Yorkshire Times (btw Martyn your posts are definitely not crappy and don't you dare stop blogging), but also by my reading of a few other blogs which my fellow bloggers here at "Thoughts" probably don't know about. Martyn refers to "reading blogs of late where people have been posting about people they know in really quite pathetic ways". I don't know what he's referring to, but given my sad attraction to gossip, I'm sure I'd like him to tell me. They certainly aren't on his blogroll as far as I can see, any more than such blogs are on ours. But some of them are on my private blogroll on Bloglines. I need to lay bare my soul at this point, and admit to being an addict of a blog, which appears to be genuine, called The Darbyshires. This is (in their own words) "the adventures in married life and the political experiences of two hyperactive 20 somethings". If only everything were so sweet and innocent. The rather excessively overdetailed and twee blogging style of the Darbyshires, which was also combined (and continues to be combined) with some very pointed criticisms of others, resulted in a parody blog being established called The Leicestershires, which has now disappeared. People ask from time to time whether The Darbyshires is in fact a spoof - most notably in a quite generous article which recently appeared in the New Statesman. I mean, I ask you, a blog which is not politically serious, and is not seriously funny like the recently discovered My Neighbours are Hoors, seriously explicit like Milady de Winter, or seriously engaged like Rachel from North London, actually getting coverage in the mainstream media? Whatever next?

It seems to me that what makes such blogs addictive, and makes a sad blogger like me use links and search engines to find the objects of their ever increasing ire when they turn nasty, as well as those who are laughing and snorting like drains as they rapidly lose their sense of proportion, is obviously a base human attraction to gossip and personal detail which I share (but which I think will make my fellow bloggers on "Thoughts" disown me...). Humans are often like that. Even about themselves sometimes. RoadRunner is often heard to relate the story of a mutual friend of ours, late one night in his flat years ago, after a few whiskies, being heard to say: "Right, any more gossip? If not, I'll just have to gossip about myself..." going on to relate a fascinating tale about himself which all present still remember vividly.

But the point is how quickly things turn nasty on blogs. This must be something to do with the absence of reasonable external controls imposed by the medium of blogging (especially the attraction of going anonymous in some cases), and the failure of some people to apply the necessary self-control to compensate. That doesn't mean to say that personal blogs cannot work. They don't all become too self-indulgent. Or bitchy. Or overdetailed. Sometimes they just work. Like, for example, another blog that I've been reading recently. Dear Readers, I give you Pat The Chooks. Go on, read it. You know you want to.

Update Friday 12.45pm Biscit points out in the comments and on his blog that he was not laughing, but experiencing "extreme horror, bewilderment and incredulity, and [is] extremly dismayed at the general level of mirth out there." I apologise for my linking to him in that context, but I must have been bamboozled by the title of his blog 'I don't wish to spread any gossip, but...'. I should instead have linked to this. The fact of the matter is that we are all getting pulled into talking/blogging about this issue.

Neo ConMen - Bash Bush

As usual I need say nothing about this it speaks for itself!

And so does this!

Old Clive's Old Tortoise

Oddly Enough News Article

So, Clive of India had a tortoise; he must have been a regular enough sort of bloke if he had a pet tortoise. Funny, in all of the books that I have read he came across quite differently, after all he was spearheading the Empire's raping of the Indian subcontinent. I bet that old fellow, the tortoise that is, had a few tales he could have told. But seriously, I mourn the passing of this gentle old animal that had managed to outlive many, many generations; in a world lived at the pace of modern society the animal that lives life at a gentle plod is fast becoming redundant. We could learn so much from this tortoise if we only stopped and understood that a slower, less stressed life is so much better for our health than the constant tearing around chasing the next deal, the next shag etc. etc. We could even learn that living in harmony with our environment, not to mention our fellow man, on this tiny, tiny speck of dust in the universe would be so much more beneficial to all of us. So, let us take a moment of reflection to note the passing of an object lesson to us all...

Faust Part One

Right, time to move on.

BondBloke and I are in the middle of attending the new adaptation and production of Faust Parts One and Two at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. This is a production which has been extremely well received by critics in the local and the national press (see here, and here and here), mainly receiving four and five star grades, if that is the type of thing which impresses you. I think I could safely say that neither BB nor I are particularly the "theatre type". Generally, we would prefer the cinema (which is usually but not always a less emotionally demanding, if not to say cheaper, medium), or - in BB's case if not mine - the opera.

I'm glad we've made an exception for this. It's a visually and aurally stunning performance of a well known tale, given a distinctive contemporary dramatic edge. It's certainly lewd and in-yer-face, and there some who would undoubtedly be offended by that. I guess it is meant to shock, at a certain level, but also to make us ask questions about the banality, and sometimes the banal violence, of our relations with others and with our environment. Some might consider some of the references and imagery (e.g. the criticism of the language of learning objectives and module descriptors) to be a little closed. Appropriate in a university city, perhaps, but maybe not likely to travel effectively to all parts of the known theatrical universe. That is a minor quibble, however.

I studied Faust in the original when I was in my first year at University more years ago than I can recall. This bold reworking of the original, while faithful to the underlying issues of the nature of the soul, of goodness (and badness), and the banality of existence, far exceeds what my limited literary imagination derived from Goethe's language. I'm looking forward to Part Two on Friday - after which I hope that BB might give you his views.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

They Don't Give Up!

From the CoSG Blog:

Anyone can register and post on this blog or the forum (anyone except Russian spammers that is!) yet Mr Bond deletes all comments to which he does not agree on his site.

Just to set the record straight BondBloke does not delete comments that he disagrees with, he deletes comments that are offensive, insulting and downright vulgar. BondBloke is perfectly willing to enter into a reasoned debate with anyone and to prove it they can go and READ HIS WORDS!

I cant wait for more from this whining hypocrite.

Now this really is a case of the POT calling the KETTLE black! Not even worth the effort of responding to it.

I have come to the conclusion that I don't have to say that much, these people seem to know exactly what I am thinking without even READING MY WORDS!

The English Debate Continues

More from the small minded Cross of St. George carriers, to which I will respond as these are reasonable comments (except for one), although, to be honest, this is becoming almost as boring as listening to the Llama Song!

Can't add a comment, but I've written it so if someone who can wants to then
here it is:

Well, I am making your comment public here!

Well you certainly got one thing right - the debate is indeed 'much more complex than that'.

If you had actually taken the trouble to READ what I wrote (in both posts) rather that just picking on something that suited your purpose and twisting it you would know that I never actually said that the debate was anything more than complex.

The English flag doesn't 'belong' to the BNP and neo-fascits, it belongs to
the people of England - these come in every shape, size, colour and political
creed; some are bad people but the vast majority are good and I think your
comment was mean and offensive.

The English flag might not belong to the BNP, but they have certainly hijacked it; and if you had taken the trouble to READ all of what I wrote you will find that I also stated that "I am not saying that everyone who carries the English flag is one of these right wing supporters, far from it". Most English people are quite reasonable people, however, there are the small minority whose sole aim is to cause mischief, and to stir up trouble. And if you think I mean all of you with that comment well that is your prerogative, as I was meaning a small minority of trouble makers within pressure groups in general.

I am an English nationalist but have a degree of sympathy for the Cornish
nationalists - I don't want them to feel smothered in an England they don't
feel part of. I don't know what the answer to the Cornish question is but I try
to keep an open mind - this is sadly something you don't appear to do with
regard to the English.

I hate repeating myself, but if you had been kind enough to READ what I wrote I think that you will find that I have a very open mind about the whole topic, which appears to be more than the comments that have been levelled at me seem to indicate about you people.

Saying 'it will never happen' is offering a prime hostage to fortune. Many
unlikely things have happened in the past, and a reasonable demand by a very large and growing number of franchised people in a democracy is one of the things in this world that is most likely to happen - watch this space my friend, I know I will

READ all of what I wrote and I think that you will find that I have said "I was not saying that changes do not have to be made, what I was saying is that an ‘English Parliament’ will not happen in the way that the CEP want it". I think that most English people, who are prepared to enter into a reasoned argument, would agree that some sort of reform is needed; however trying to enter into a reasoned debate with people who constantly attack those with whom they disagree, and who do this with insults and vulgar remarks, is simply impossible.

Looks like he is from Edningburghg, so a West Britain racist by the looks of

Well this is just laughable - poor spelling - lack of geographical knowledge (Edinburgh is actually on the EAST coast of Scotland) - racist, not even worthy of comment!

This person appears to call himself a Cornishman, well he wants to be
careful that the BNP don't appropriate the Cornish flag. No reason why they
shouldn't. Perhaps someone should suggest this to the BNP.

Oh, this is so boring! READ the words PLEASE! I do not 'appear' to call myself Cornish, I DO call myself Cornish! I was born in Cornwall and lived there for most of my life before moving away in May 2000. I am proud of my heritage and not afraid to say so. As for the rest of this, well it is just nonsense!

I'm not suggesting these organisations are far right, but I am suggesting that this blogger is sugesting they are. I just ignore these particular organisations myself (unless I am making a point as now), as do so many other English people who fly the English flag.

I was not suggesting that organisations like the BNP are far right, I was actually SAYING it, again a failure to READ what I wrote!

This person is typical of the liars who spout off about England, call us
racist while stupidly exposing their own racism as they do so.

Ah, so, a liar as well! Yet another failure to READ the words, at no point did I use the word 'racist' other than to counter the fact that this term had been levelled at me; which in its way could be read that the person who called me a racist was actually being somewhat racist themselves.

I also hope that this goes some way to negating the accusation that I am censoring these people; I have no time for censorship of any kind, but neither do I have time for those who only want to use the freedom of speech to attack and insult those who disagree with them.

For those who are really interested in actually READING what I wrote the whole thing can be found:

Here - here - and here

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Press Gangs

As avid followers of this blog will know, one of my favourite subjects is the quality of Scotland’s political commentators – or, more accurately, the lack of quality in same (it is worth remembering that we are the country who gave the world, amongst others, James Cameron and Neal Ascherson – whatever happened?). Harry Reid, columnist in The Herald, is rapidly becoming my favourite example of this decline (collapse?) of our national journalistic standards. I mean – take today’s piece in which Reid mulls over the current controversy of the funding of the UK’s political parties – and comes up with some stunning insights and not an inconsiderable number of dubious statistical relationships. I won’t bore you with any of this – read it yourself – but I just couldn’t avoid citing my very favourite bit, when Harry opines, sagely:

If less money is spent on election campaigns, the role of advertising agencies will diminish – and that of the media will increase. That might be no bad thing… Some might say that the growth of the internet and blogging will enhance the democratic process, but I'm not so sure, given the amount of misinformation, malice and mischief that pollutes cyberspace.”

Now, to be sure – as evidenced in recent days on this very blog – cyberspace can and clearly does attract its fair share of individuals hell-bent on misinformation, malice and mischief. But Harry – PLEASE. The media as the defenders of truth, fairness and integrity? If only…

A Break from The Insanity

Just a plain and simple sunset taken near one of the most peaceful places we have visited on the West Coast of Scotland, Craobh Haven. A rather calming influence compared to recent stresses.

Small Minded or Just Blinkered?

I just thought that it would be fun to share the comment of some very small minded individuals with you. These are the people who will take one sentence of a post twist it to their own ends and then go on the attack with the sort of insults that you see below. Please note there is not a reasoned argument to be found anywhere here, just plain old fashioned insults; and just to prove the point I will include the link to where this came from in order that they cannot refute that they have made these comments, which I am sure they would try to do if they could (but due to their obnoxious behaviour in my personal space they have been blocked). I am actually quite interested in this forum, especially as a couple of the forums, particularly one on Immigration and Asylum issues are not viewable by the public,whereas most otf the others are, which begs the question what are they hiding? Hiding, now there is a very good word indeed; most of these people when leaving comments on blogs prefer to hide behind that old chestnut 'anonymous', they do not have the courage of their convictions, and most probably never will have. I actually don't give a flying fig what they call me, as I actually KNOW that I am none of these things, and I also know that they are no better than playground bullies. Then we have the rank hypocrisy of these people who seem to think that is is OK to publish someone's email address, for the purposes of what I can only assume is spamming me, but can any contact addresses be found for them? I fear not! However, they do seem to be doing their utmost to spread my reputation far and wide, for which I am very grateful indeed, as not all of the people who read such rubbish as is to be found below think like them, some of them at least will be rational people who like an informed reasoned argument. Great stuff lads you are doing me a very big favour, whilst you are promoting me I don't have to promote myself, carry on the good work and whilst you are at it you might actually take the time to READ what I write! Particularly READ THIS!

Comments posted on the Cross of St George forum:-

"beware the dragon that blandishes with the head and smites with the tail." --- Richard Rolle de Hampole, English hermit and mystic; 14thC

Does this link work ?

Quote: Does this link work ?


Yes, the site must have been down, try again.

"beware the dragon that blandishes with the head and smites with the tail." --- Richard Rolle de Hampole, English hermit and mystic; 14thC

Site is very slow.

This Bond guy is a moron that uses lies.

A quote at the bottom of his page says

Quote: They try to censor me - they haven't a snowball in hell's chance
Well Mr dickhead your the only one thats censoring anything.

Quote: ##### said...
This post has been removed by a blog administrator. Saturday, March 18, 2006
Bonds arguments go along the line of Quote: Funny I thought that the English Flag belonged to the BNP and the neo-fascists these days;

Bond you are a moron.

Not worth reading.

I agree, I tried to comment back but its so slow I gave up.

Quote: Moderation I want to apologise to regular readers for having been put in the position of having to moderate comments; this is due to a few idiots who think that it OK to throw accusation, insults, and claims that what I write is offensive. They seem to think that it is OK to insult and offend me, but if I respond with a reasoned argument to their insults and offences there is a hue and cry of foul! I can no longer be bothered to even engage with these sad people.. - From Mr Bonds site.

Bond, you call English patriots neo-fascists because they wave their St George Flag, then moan when people insult you. Your the sad person that seems real desperate to dirty the English name.

Quote: The most notable characteristic of a fascist country is the separation and persecution or denial of equality to a specific segment of the population

A Perfect description of the Scottish Raj!

I guess ###### just found you amusing and wanted to share the joke He has deleted all posts, what a total tosser, they think they can denigrate the English without any come back. it is because they are conditioned to it, they think no one cares. <--his email

you cannot comment untill he approves it now.

He isn't a blogger, bloggers have balls. This guy is a utter moron.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Anonymous Comments Blocked

I have taken the decision to block all anonymous comments on this blog because of people like this who want the privilege of attacking those who do not hold their point of view but do not want the consequences that the person they attack might have the temerity to answer them; hence their complaints that they can no longer leave comments. I also notice that they have posted one of my email addresses; so I will give them fair warning to save them wasting their time, this mailbox has now been deleted, so it will be of no use to them whatsoever. I do take note however that they do not have the courage of their convictions; it is fine for them to publish someone's email address, but nowhere is there to be found a contact address for any of them, this strikes me as rank hypocrisy.


This is what happens when you try to put forward a serious, reasoned argument.

Art or Pornography

BondWoman’s post this morning set me to thinking about the relationship between art and pornography, and where the line can be drawn between the two. I suppose that really it is all a matter of definitions and boundaries and whether or not there is actually an overlapping of the boundaries between the two. Wikipedia defines art in the following way:

“By its original and broadest definition, art (from the Latin ars, meaning "skill" or "craft") is the product or process of the effective application of a body of knowledge and a set of skills; this meaning is preserved in such phrases as "liberal arts" and "martial arts". However, in the modern use of the word, which rose to prominence during the Renaissance, art is commonly understood to be the process or result of making material works (or artwork) which, from concept to creation, adhere to the "creative impulse"—that is, art is distinguished from other works by being in large part unprompted by necessity, by biological drive, or by any undisciplined pursuit of recreation.”
This is by no means a full and accurate definition, but it will suffice for this post. Wikipedia defines pornography in this way:

“Pornography is the representation of the human body or human sexual behaviour with the goal of sexual arousal, similar to, but distinct from, erotica, though the two terms are often used interchangeably.”
Again not a definitive definition but sufficient; however, a comparison of these definitions tells us absolutely nothing about the relationship between pornography and art.

Kant gives us a starting point in his “Critique of Aesthetic Judgment” in differentiating between the experience of the beautiful and the experience of the sublime.

“The beautiful in nature is a question of the form of the object, and this consists in limitation, whereas the sublime, is to be found in an object even devoid of form, so far as it immediately involves, or else by its presence provokes, a representation of limitlessness.”

Kant Critique of Aesthetic Judgment

He is saying that whereas the beautiful has an existence in a limited manner (i.e. the contemplation of a framed picture) the sublime challenges such judgmental acts by implying the existence of form beyond limitations.

Gustave Courbet painted two pictures (
The Origin of the World and La Source which can be used to illustrate the point admirably; and whilst today we see them both as ‘art’ this was not always the case as Tamar Garb points out:

“The context within which a work was intended to be shown may presuppose a certain viewing position, both physically and in terms of a set of intellectual and aesthetic predispositions. Courbet's Origin of the World, for example, commissioned by the Turkish diplomat Khalil Bey, was made for an entirely different audience from his La Source shown at the Paris Salon. They conform to different notions of decorum in their representation of the female body, the one provocative but acceptable as public display in the mixed context of the Paris Salon of the 1850s the other an arguably pornographic work directed to a private, exclusively male world of exchange.”
This tells us that the categorisation works produced for different audiences is very much dependent upon viewer and context, Tamar Garb again:

“Artists may, therefore, arrange their compositions, decide on scale subject-matter and materials in relation to the intended viewing context of their works and an imagined spectator for them. Some idea about the potential viewing content of a work is usually operative therefore at the moment of making, and the evidence for this may be traceable in the work. But this does not necessarily determine or circumscribe the subsequent meanings of the work. Once it enters into the public domain its potential signification shifts and alters constantly depending on the uses to which it is put, the context in which it is viewed, and the community by which it is viewed. Certain ways of looking may predominate at given historical moments, conforming to their own commonsense, their own logic and truth. Once these shift, so, necessarily, do the possible meanings attributed to cultural artefacts.”

Tamar Garb: Modernity and Modernism,
1993, The Open University pp.276-277

So, the distinction seems to be dependant, to an extent, upon societal norms, and these can change with time. This tends to indicate that we can only make judgements about what is art and what is pornography within the framework of the society in which we live; this I find difficult to accept

A larger part of the problems we have with defining the boundaries stem from “Pornography: The Longford Report” which had the effect of driving pornography underground where it has been impossible to exercise any meaningful control over it. The objectification of women in art has long been the subject of debate which, to my knowledge, has not yet come to any satisfactory conclusion, and is one which I suspect will rage for as long as women are portrayed in art. None of this really helps us in defining the boundaries; but Kenneth Clark, in his submission to the Longford Report, may be able to help us with his notion of the effect of art, and where it oversteps the mark:

“To my mind art exists in the realm of contemplation, and is bound by some sort of imaginative transposition. The moment art becomes an incentive to action it loses its true character. This is my objection to painting with a communist programme, and it would also apply to pornography. In a picture like Correggio's Danae the sexual feelings have been transformed, and although we undoubtedly enjoy it all the more because of its sensuality, we are still in the realm of contemplation. The pornographic wall-paintings in Pompeii are documentaries and have nothing to do with art. There are one or two doubtful cases - a small
picture of copulation by Gericault and a Rodin bronze of the same subject. Although each of these is a true work of art, I personally feel that the subject comes between me and complete aesthetic enjoyment. It is like too strong a flavour added to a dish. There remains the extraordinary example of Rembrandt's etching of a couple on a bed, where I do not find the subject at all disturbing because it is seen entirely in human terms and is not intended to promote action. But it is, I believe, unique, and only Rembrandt could have done it.”

Kenneth Clark: quoted in Pornography: The Longford Report

Clark is arguing that an image ceases to be art and enters the corrupted domain of pornography the moment that it becomes “an incentive to action”; he is saying that sensuality plays a critical role as a form of sexual content deemed to be permissible within the concept of art; whereas sexually explicit images which could be deemed to provoke an action are relegated to the realms of pornography. Therefore we can say that the mediated sexual image can be seen as art, whilst the unmediated sexual image is categorised as pornography. Although I still have problems even with this, I can accept that such a definition of the boundaries is reasonably clear, even though it does not completely prevent there being some degree of overlapping.

I know there will be those who will criticise this, and I would ask them to bear one thing in mind; this is a vast and wide ranging topic which has been the subject of a great many books. All I have done here is to scratch the surface and put forward what I think to be a sensible starting point for any argument of this topic.

Small facts which prove nothing

Via Gordon, I learned this morning that the Isle of Man has won its first gold medal for 20 years in the Commonwealth Games (Mark Cavendish, in the cycling, the men's scratch, whatever that is). That means that the Isle of Man has one won gold medal for every 75,000 inhabitants, which is a remarkable success (and because it also has a bronze in a shooting event, it has won one medal for every 30,000 inhabitants). India, with 12 golds so far, has won only one gold medal for every 9 million inhabitants, and with 23 medals overall, has won one medal for every 4.7 million inhabitants approximately. Like I said, some facts (and some comparisons) prove nothing.

This is just pants

You will probably recognise the image on the left as one drawn from the recently launched Home Office anti-rape campaign on consent. There has been some interesting comment on the "messages" of this poster (and indeed the other campaign poster which you can find here, along with some Home Office explanations). Just a sample of the thoughts from Mind the Gap and Rhetorically Speaking will suffice to make the point. ...

..."the horrible association made in the text between entering the woman sexually and entering a prison..." (MTG); a campaign which "seems more concerned with protecting men from accusations of rape than protecting women" (MTG); "this woman here is not represented as a person. She is reduced to her crotch, a nameless, faceless cunt which exists to be penetrated. How can we fight the objectification of women with .... the objectification of women? We need a campaign which asserts the personhood of all women" (MTG);..."the sanitisation of assualt that worries me, a clean passive headless white body" (RS);"... "Respect for the person you want to sleep with has been ignored for scare tactics" (RS).

There is nothing more I can add to these arguments (rightly lauded in Tim Worstall's BritBlog Roundup #57). They show - depressingly - that little appears to have moved on in relation to discussions about sexual violence since earlier waves of feminism in the 1970s and 1980s were trying to bring these issues to more prominent attention. The sad thing appears to be that - without any irony of purpose - public institutions have adopted these problematic images in order, ostensibly, to put across a message of respect.

When I initially saw the campaign poster, it put me in mind of something else I saw earlier this year which, I think, intended to be an ironic comment on a female body (the European Union - of the feminine gender in almost every European language I can think of) and the question of entry (i.e. enlargement). That is the image, here, of a woman in "Eurostar" panties in a sexually provocative position.

This is a photograph by Serbian artist Tanja Ostojic, part of an exhibition organised in Austria which to commission controversial artists to produce billboard posters which were displayed at the beginning of the Austrian EU Presidency at the beginning of this website. If you check out all the posters here you will see that this is hardly the most controversial of them. Controversy exploded quickly in Austria and many of the billboards were taken down, as the posters became known as the "porno-posters". However, unlike the Danish cartoons affair, a storm of campaigning for free speech didn't seem to be the result!

More background to the debate is provided here, on the Brussels Journal, which gives the following more detailed explanation of the poster and its link to "Europe":

"When the leftist Austrian art collective 25 Peaces recently approached the Austrian government with a proposal to have 75 European artists make a series of 150 posters celebrating Austria’s presidency of the European Union, it was no surprise that Ostojic, with her leftist feminist and Europeanist political ideas, was asked to participate. She presented a picture of a woman’s crotch dressed in briefs adorned with the EU flag. The work was clearly inspired by Gustave Courbet’s 1866 oil canvas of a vagina, entitled “The Origin of the World.” As one can imagine Courbet’s work, currently at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, would have caused an uproar when exhibited in the 1860s, but it was never exhibited. Courbet’s painting was not government-funded, nor were people who did not want to see it confronted with it in the streets. In those days Europe was still, well, a civilized society, where artists could do as they pleased (at least if they provided for themselves) but certain sensitivities were respected in public."

How do we evaluate the sexual politics of this poster? Does it matter that it was composed and presented by a woman? By an artist? Is the irony lying behind what it expresses sufficient to offset the visual objectification of a woman's body and her vagina as a point of access in particular? And is that irony the precise point of differentiation from the contested Home Office "No Entry" poster?