Saturday, April 30, 2005

Ivory-billed Woodpecker

That bird, the one they saw in Arkansas, the ornithological equivalent of finding Elvis alive -- no photo (copyright stuff), but you can hear one.

Brit election

All manner of stuff in today's Guardian, including:
I spoke to several (foreign journalists) struck by the aggressiveness, even downright rudeness, of the exchanges between candidates and voters. "I have never in my life seen a head of government treated that way," one US correspondent told me, shocked by the mauling Tony Blair received from the (radio and TV broadcast) Question Time audience on Thursday. Calmly and coherently, people first booed Blair then told him, to his face, that he was a liar - something no American had ever done to George Bush.
The foreign press have been impressed by the degree of interrogation the British party leaders face each day. "Blair takes more questions in a morning than John Kerry took all year," says another US colleague, envious of the British daily grilling. The Americans particularly admire our ban on paid TV advertising, which forces candidates to slug it out on "free media": news programmes where they are challenged at every turn.
Rest of that story here.

The F- word

Michael Quinion's weekly World Wide Words newsletter pops into my email inbox every Saturday. It usually includes a Q&A. As Quinion explains in the newsletter for 30 April 2005, he had to obfuscate in order that not every ISP on the planet bounce the email. Hence "F- word".
Question: I remember someone telling me once, long ago, that actually the F-word is an abbreviation. The last two letters of the word were, I believe, contracted from the words "Carnal Knowledge". Could you help me out here, perhaps with some additional etymological data? [Heres Snijder, Canada]
Quinion's knowledgeable and unexpurgated account will be here in a few hours. His newsletter goes out some hours in advance of the website's update. [Update: wrong, wrong, wrong. I checked his website and it says in small print somewhere: later in the week]. While you wait, you can always look at back issues, and subscribe to the newsletter.

Annie Dillard, again

Must Be Something in the Air Department: In this weekend's Guardian Review, Robert Macfarlane sings the praises of Annie Dillard.
The best thing is her glee, a pied-piperish glee at being in the world, which she evokes better than anyone else: "I go my way, and my left foot says Glory and my right foot says Amen: in and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise." When Dillard is in such a mood, it's hard not to follow her recommendation that, on an "excellent" day, you go out for a walk, and "take huge steps, trying to feel the planet's roundness arc between your feet."
Still, when I am in that kind of mood, I don't think such walks are limited to the natural world. That glee 'at being in the world' can be experienced on any walk on the wild side, wherever that may be. Nevermind that beneath the pavement is the beach.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Friday, already

Fridays, I generally take the ferry from a little island to the Big Island. To share some space/time with friends of mine. Whoever and wherever you are, I hope your day goes good for you.

Annie Dillard

I've read a couple of books by Annie Dillard. Her words on paper are just beautiful. Dillard is lyrical, erudite, passionate, a keen observer of the natural world, a (Catholic) Christian who believes her God has a laissez-faire policy. Here's a summary of her latest book, For the Time Being:
"Here is a natural history of sand, a catalogue of clouds, a batch of newborns on an obstetrical ward, a family of Mongol horsemen. Here is the story of Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin digging in the deserts of China. Here is the story of Hasidic thought rising in Eastern Europe. Here are defect and beauty together, miracle and tragedy, time and eternity. Dillard poses questions about God, natural evil, and individual existence. Personal experience, science, and religion bear on a welter of fact. How can an individual matter? How might one live?"
Another book to add to my wish list.

One scoop, or two?

Companies are pouring lots of money into the emerging field of 'social neuroscience', or 'behavorial neuroscience'.
"This is the first time that we've been able to show that ice cream makes you happy. Just one spoonful lights up the happy zones of the brain in clinical trials."
Research paid for by Unilever, using their Walls ice cream. Report in the Guardian. Heh-ho, the Holy Grail here is understand where and how thoughts and emotion work in the brain and nervous system, then you can manipulate them. For good or evil. Old graffito: Walls have ears, I know I found one in my ice cream too.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Dim sum: topic of conversation

A report by Hong Kong government suggesting that eating many kinds of dim sum regularly may be bad for your health has provoked a strong reaction.
Full story here.

Astral Weeks

Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. I bought the album a couple of months after it was released. Back in the day. I see that phrase more and more. Google it, it comes up a zillion times. I digress. Astral Weeks... one day, a long time ago, I walked out one particular door and never came back. Left everything. Almost everything. The only things I took away with me turned out to be memories. Later, even the memories became too painful. So painful I even stopped listening to the music of that time. Later on, much later, I stumbled into some people who offered me their help. Thanks to them, my life has slowly turned around.
Fast forward. Last December I had to fly to England. Family emergency. When it was over, before I left, I found myself in a record store... and bought my brother a copy of Astral Weeks. He may have played it, or not. Up to him.
I came back to a little island. Christmas, New Year, Chinese New Year. Until three weeks ago, I thought: Yes! Astral Weeks.
So I bought a copy. The cd has been getting regular play eversince. From the begining. And what a beginning. Guitar and (acoustic) double bass, then Morrison kicks in:
If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dreams
Where immobile steal rims crack
And the ditch in the back roads stop
Sublime. Thanks, Van.

May day, May day!

Finnish Labour Day Party on a little island is on Saturday. No doubt there'll be music. How about a singalong to the song of the labour movement worldwide: the Internationale?
English, French, Finnish, German and Chinese (Putonghau), here: listen/download.
Tagalog or Farsi, anyone? Orchestral, military, brass bands? Norwegian a cappella?. The site has them all, and more besides. A one, a two... a one, two, three...

Bun Festival blues: update

I thought I'd roll on down to Pak Tai temple to take a look-see at the imitation Long March rocket foisted on a little island. [See earlier post "Bun Festival blues".]
Quelle surprise! Yes, Long March is standing, forlorn and erect in the lower section where the kids usually play football. So what about the basketball area closer to the temple? Same as ever. The big bamboo opera house has already gone up.
However, there is still the usual clutter of bamboo and twine.
Why? The local bamboo-tower builder is putting his finishing touches to the three bamboo towers. The locals are going ahead as per usual. We have, ladies and gentlemen, competing towers.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly

Still no white or black smoke. For the election of John Bolton, Bush 2's nominee for ambassador to the United Nations. Ho-hum.
Still, it is interesting. Life, that is.
I was reading today's NYT, about some gay Republican operative (42) who died in Carrie Fisher's bed. True, true, you can read it all here (reg required). What really caught my eye was this:
In 1992, Mr. Stevens, 30, went to work for the Republican lobbying powerhouse of Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly.

Roger Stone, a former partner, remembered Mr. Stevens as a "very engaging, fun guy to talk to" and a "quintessential staff man, very thorough and focused."

Early on, Mr. Stevens made clear he wanted to work overseas, Mr. Stone said, and the firm, which played a behind-the-scenes role in elections in Angola, Kenya, Nigeria, Thailand and the Philippines, among other countries, was happy to oblige.

Angola? Kenya? Nigeria? Thailand? The Philippines? Elections? Behind-the-scenes role? Among other countries? Our man must have really clocked up some air miles working for Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly.
A Republican lobbying powerhouse? So, who were/are BMS&K?
Well, I dug around, and it ain't easy. They were part of Burson-Marsteller. The people who do PR on behalf of unsavoury dictators. Strike unsavoury. It's redundant. But what of BMS&K these days? I looked and looked, and then did what the NYT reported Mr Stone did -- rolled elsewhere.
Still, you know how it is when you don't see someone for three years and then bump into them twice in a week?
Why, look! The first paragraph of an awkward 15 April 2005 letter Melody Townsel wrote to the Senate committee:

I'm writing to urge you to consider blocking in committee the nomination of John Bolton as ambassador to the UN.

In the late summer of 1994, I worked as the subcontracted leader of a US AID project in Kyrgyzstan officially awarded to a HUB primary contractor. My own employer was Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly, and I reported directly to Republican leader Charlie Black.

Yes, BSMS&F.
Subcontracted leader, that I understand. What I don't understand is how she can work for one company but report to someone else. But it was for US AID, so I guess that's OK. What were US AID doing? USA Today, 21 April 2005 edition, (don't ask), to the rescue. Rather than just carry agency reports, USA Today also interviewed Ms T by telephone.
She (Ms T) alleged that Bolton harassed her in 1994 when she was working as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) on an advertising campaign supporting privatization in Kyrgyzstan, then a newly independent former Soviet republic. [My emphasis.]
An advertising campaign. Supporting privatization. Methinks that's code for: sell to foreigners.
Hmm, Angola, Nigeria, Kyrgyzstan: oil, oil, oil.
What was the deal in Kenya, Thailand, and The Philippines?

Feet Me

Famous feet and their footware.
Curiously compelling.

Party Animal

Said in an earlier post I'd write some more about the party last Saturday on a little island. Well, a fine time was had by most everybody. As far as I can tell.
People came from far and wide. On the inter-island ferry. From the Big Island. Several were in town for the FEER wake. Plus, the usual suspects. Old friends and new. I don't go to many parties these days, partly by choice. But I am glad I went to this. Again, thanks Fred and Delia.
Another party coming up on Saturday: The Finnish Labour Day Party!
Will post a bit more about that on Thursday. Stay tuned.
Oh, this in from Barbara in Brighton, the weird cycle lanes of Brighton. Thanks, Barb!

Visions of Johanna

Beacon Theatre, New York City
25 April 2005
Streaming audio here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Music while you work

DB: "Hope some of this is enjoyable."
Me: "Yes, it is."
Streaming audio: a wide variety of music on Radio DavidByrne.

The prime minister is a war criminal

A specialist in Latin American affairs who worked in the 1960s at the University of Chile, Richard Gott is a former Latin America correspondent and features editor for The Guardian.
"Like Chamberlain in the 30s, Blair is an appeaser of a dangerous global power. He should be in prison, not standing for election."
On Blair and Chamberlain, New Labour, the Tories, Lib Dems, tactical voting in the 5 May 2005 British general election, and the advantages of a hung parliament, complete article here.

Max Raabe

Listen/download great Roaring 20s-style versions of:
"We will rock you"
"Oops, I did it again"

Monday, April 25, 2005

Chinese goddess

It's been bugging me why I don't know why we are having all these lion dances and whatnot. I thought it might be for Kwan Yin, goddess of mercy.
Then the light went on: ask someone.
So I did.
The mini-festivities are in honour of Dao Ma.
Close, but no cigar.
Back home, a quick search finds this very useful Who's Who of Chinese gods and goddesses. Wherein is:
Goddess who supervises the register where all births and deaths are recorded. She is worshipped by those wishing a long life and personal compassion. Portrayed sitting on a lotus throne and has four heads, with three eyes in each, and eight arms.
No photo, yet. Meantime, the first line of one of Samuel Beckett's last poems, Imagination Imagine, although apropos of something else may help here: Imagine yes all this.

Sound of Music

For the last couple of days, there have been lion-dance processions weaving their way around a little island, with much loud crashings of cymbals and beatings of drums. Cool, eh!
Mid-afternoon, today, I cycled down to Sai Wan. I had a feeling something was going on down there.
Yes! Not only is there a temporary open-sided bamboo theatre, but there was a show.
Monday afternoon, full-house. So I sat on my bike.
A costume drama Cantonese opera in full throttle. With a reproduction of a Chinese painting in the classical style featuring a crane [the bird] providing the backdrop. The costumes, singers and sound of the production suggested this was the work of a professional company.
I know that sort of music is not everyone's cup of tea, but I can't resist taking a small sip from time to time. It seems to have some sort of restorative effect if taken in very small doses. For me, anyway. Your mileage may vary.

Far Eastern Economic Review: death by a thousand cuts

This week just gone by dozens of people who used to work for the Far Eastern Economic Review flew into town. They came in from all over the world. Why? For a belated wake for what was once a great magazine.
It was. Best one on the block. During the 1980s, the FEER was a must-read.
Then Dow Jones turned its minority share into full ownership. He who pays the piper, plays the tune. The tune became less and less interesting. Fewer and fewer people wanted to hear.
Fast forward: Dow Jones announces death of the weekly in October 2004. A day or so later, the South China Morning Post publishes a long article by Philip Bowring. Bowring -- who started working for FEER in 1973 and was its editor from 1987 until 1992, was understandably sad and angry. There is a naming of names, the whole kit and caboodle.
The piece later shows up in the International Herald Tribune. Without naming so many names. Perhaps the Trib's lawyers took fright?
Whatever, Bowring's original J'accuse is here.
Publish and be damned!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Afflicted Powers

Spectacle and September 11, blood for oil, permanent war and illusory peace...

An account of world politics since September 11, 2001. Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War is due to be published by Verso on 1 June 2005. The London Review of Books is currently featuring a long essay from the book. I suggest speeding through the first paragraph, to read the rest slowly.

Lonely planet

Yesterday, Saturday, I went to a tapas party on a little island. Hosted by Fred and Delia, thanks to the both of you. More about the party later.
One of the guests had just spent several days at some key international travel trade shindig hosted in Macau. I mentioned an article I'd read earlier in the week about Tony and Maureen Wheeler, founders and publishers of the Lonely Planet travel guides. The books, backpackers, the Lonely Planet effect, the ups and downs of the publishing business. Tony's seemingly compulsive quest to go down the road less travelled to discover what there is beyond the road's end.
Long, informative and often funny, an armchair traveller's read, it's in The New Yorker magazine.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Good Friday

Fridays, I generally take the ferry from a little island to the Big Island. To share some space/time with friends of mine. Whoever and wherever you are, I hope your day goes good for you.


Fishy business

Live and Learn Department: the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department has as director the man who is also the director of the Fish Marketing Organization. The latter manages the local wholesale fish markets. That info comes thanks to WWF HK's full-page ads in today's local English and Chinese papers.
WWF HK's awkward questions.
There is a Legco panel debate next week on long-awaited restrictions on fishing. Given the AFCD's apparent dismal record of leaning more to port than starboard, maybe WWF HK sensed how the wind was blowing and decided on a bit of pre-emptive boat rocking?

Canon and Nikon digital SLRs

The New York Times [reg required] looks at two new digital SLRs: Canon Digital Rebel XT and Nikon D70S. Launch prices are around US$1,000, but expected to drop soon enough. By all accounts, beautiful cameras. I drool.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Levi Stubbs' Tears

With a mate of mine, a while ago while driving around the glorious Gower peninsular, Pembrokeshire, Wales; at one point he put a fresh CD in the player and said: "listen to this."
So I did.
Stark, choppy, angular guitar work, a Sowff London singer, an awesome trumpet accompaniment toward the end. Once it had stopped, I asked my friend who the singer was. "Billy Bragg," he replied. Then we listened to the song again. Those of a certain age will recognise the name Levi Stubbs: lead singer of the mid-1960s Tamla group The Four Tops. Braggs' song is about the power of music to carry us through when the going gets tough.
Here's the chorus:
"When the world falls apart some things stay in place
Levi Stubbs’ tears run down his face..."
Some things do stay in place. The music other people make, that's one of them. The friends who share their music taste, that's another. In truth, the list is long.

Thanks, Everybody

Every picture tells a story

Photos of this little island would be nice, wouldn't they? I am looking to buy a digital camera, nothing horrendously expensive. Meantime, I am going to see if I can borrow someone else's. Then we can all see, among other things, the island's answer to the Long March rocket [see posting below about Bun Festival].


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Thought for the day

28. Ta Kuo / Preponderance of the Great
Wilhelm/Baynes commentary:
Extraordinary times when the great preponderates are like flood times when the lake rises over the treetops. But such conditions are temporary. The two trigrams indicate the attitude proper to such exceptional times: the symbol of the trigram Sun is the tree, which stands firm even though it stands alone, and the attribute of Tui is joyousness, which remains undaunted even if it must renounce the world.
leading to:
36. Ming I / Darkening of the Light
Wilhelm/Baynes commentary:In a time of darkness it is essential to be cautious and reserved. One should not needlessly awaken overwhelming enmity by inconsiderate behavior. In such times one ought not to fall in with the practices of others; neither should one drag them censoriously into the light. In social intercourse one should not try to be all-knowing. One should let many things pass, without being duped.

Me: Time to go and make a cup of tea.

Other smoke signals

Neither black nor white smoke signals coming out of Washington yet. Will Bush's man John Bolton become Witchfinder General at the United Nations? Chimney watchers wait.

Our Man in Roma

Secretive, hierarchical, traditionalist, with a penchant for discreet mortification of the flesh, and a history of supporting fascist and authoritarian regimes: Opus Dei. Founded in 1928 in Spain, Opus Dei and Pope Jean Paul II were very buddy buddy. Now, Opus Dei have a new guy in place: Cardinal Ratzinger, aka Benedict XVI.
Read The Da Vinci Code? Half the world and his wife have. I found it a rattlingly good page turner, but as stories go not half as good as Umberto Eco's 1988 Foucault's Pendulum. I don't know what Opus Dei think of Eco's book, but this is what they say about Brown's.
Listening yesterday to the CNN-ized BBC Worldservice, I learned that Popes have taken a nom de plume since the sixth century when someone called Mercury was elected. Since that name was the name of a Roman god and thus "pagan", Merc chose a culturally and spiritually more agreeable name: Benedict.
Which prompts the question: why has Ratzinger chosen Benedict? Well, it means: bless well. But why stop there? A look at the life of the previous Papal Benedict may offer further clues. Or not, as the case may be. So who was Benedict XV?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Bun Festival blues

There's a story in today's South China Morning Post about the upcoming Bun Festival. Since the online SCMP is by paid subscription, and I haven't subscribed, I can't link to the story or copy judicious bits to here. No matter.
Here goes:
For as long as anyone remembers, the Bun Festival was organised and put on by the locals. That has changed. Firstly, the quango-like and gormless Tourist Authority started pestering the locals to fix a regular date for the festival. The timing of which until then seemed to depend on lunar readings, tidal flows and how the incense sticks fell in the local temple. Nobody local seemed to know until about six weeks beforehand, but it all seemed to work out allright on the night. A fixed date, however, for the elephantine and over-bloated TA means: 'lead time'. It means a regular fixture in the annual calendar to 'target market' the Festival to its 'target markets'.
Whoever runs this island finally agreed.
Fifteenth of May, it is.
Somewhere along the way, the Leisure and Recreational Services Department also got involved.
The result?
This year, thanks to the TA, LRSD, and whoever on the island thinks they can make a buck, we now have a very tall steel, yes steel, structure going up. It really does look like a Long March rocket.
Bye, bye, three bamboo towers.
The powers that be have also recruited some people to climb this thing -- but they will have to do some sort of mountaineering course beforehand with helmets, ropes and buckles and stuff.
No kiddin'.
What was a vibrant and organic local event is now commodified and gutted.
Time to bring out the Blessed Oscar W: "they know the price of everything and the value of nothing."
So it goes.


Monday, April 18, 2005

memo from rupe

rupe, aka the Dirty Digger, aka Rupert Murdoch, spoke on 13 April 2005 to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. His subject? The challenges of the digital age, blogs and the like, and what this all means for the well being or otherwise of newspaper and magazine publishers, editors and journos.
Not much new here, but rupe is worried. Which in and of itself is cause to rejoice. But rupe is talking about the future not just for himself but for the whole industry. Paper and ink aren't going to disappear, but the times they are a-changin'. Yes, indeed.
Rupe, however, really ought to hire a new copy editor to sort out that lower case "napoleon" and "1990's" business.

Blind Willie McTell

Bob Dylan. Since he hired fiddler player Elana Fremerman, from Texas' Hot Club of Cowtown, a month or so ago, the Never Ending Tour has taken a new direction. It is reported that Dylan can't stop smiling at her when they are on stage; and that she can't believe she is playing with Bobby. [Previously, Hot Club of Cowton opened for Dylan for a couple of months late last year.] Whatever. The set lists for the three Dylan shows just performed in Boston are just jaw-dropping... look at this one:

April 16, 2005
1. Maggie's Farm
2. Forever Young
3. Cry A While
4. Bye And Bye
5. Ballad Of Hollis Brown (acoustic)
6. If You See Her, Say Hello
7. Lenny Bruce
8. Honest With Me
9. The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll
10. High Water (For Charley Patton)
11. Every Grain Of Sand
12. Highway 61 Revisited
13. Blind Willie McTell
14. Like A Rolling Stone

Hollis Brown! If You See Her Say Hello! Lenny Bruce! Every Grain of Sand! Blind Willie McTell! These are songs that Dylan has performed live only once in a blue moon. Two of them -- Lenny and Every Grain -- from the underrated album Shot of Love, which should also have included Blind Willie McTell, but didn't because Dylan vetoed it. Why? Who knows but he. That opus only surfaced later on the official Columbia bootleg 1-3 triple album. Anyway, although Dylan never plays the same songs from one night to the next, this set list is just awesome. I see I need to get to grips with figuring out how to do bit torrent. As no doubt at the show there were tapers in the audience... and this show will get distributed.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Life's a beach, here's the local one

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The post-1917 Constructivists art movement in Russia is much admired in the West. Many of the works of the Constructivists never got built. Here is the 1930s unrealised Moscow House of Books. For more amazing-looking Soviet projects go here. Or you could take a trip to China, where loads of this stuff is going up right now in hundreds of Chinese cities.

Resentments and revenge

To wit, the last paragraph of Italo Svevo's funny yet sad novel Confessions of Zeno. The novel was published in 1923.

"When all the poison gases are exhausted, a man, made like all other men of flesh and blood, will in the quiet of his room invent an explosive of such potency that all the explosives in existence will seem like harmless toys beside it. And another man, made in his image and in the image of all the rest, but a little weaker than them, will steal that explosive and crawl to the center of the earth with it, and place it just where he calculates it would have the maximum effect. There will be a tremendous explosion, but no one will hear it and the earth will return to its nebulous state and go wandering through the sky, free at last from parasites and disease."

Les routiers sont sympas

Once upon a time, I went to Paris. Ostensibly, to work. But really I wanted to leave England, live in another country. Paris. I had been there briefly once before. With someone who I was breaking up with. She wanted us to spend one last weekend together. In Paris. So we went. And then she and I never saw each other again. I sometimes wonder how she is, hoping that her life worked out OK. I didn't treat her well at all. Knowledge that I will carry till my dying day.
A couple of years later, I went back. Ostensibly, for a job. But there was much more than that: a leaving and a going. Start anew. Reinvent myself. Learn French. Which meant, among other things, listening to the radio. Which is where I discovered the achingly funny Coluche. He must be one of the funniest political comedians that ever walked the earth. I am grateful I was around when Coluche was. I left Paris in 1980. Coluche? He died in a motor bike accident in 1986. Thus was a life cut short. I have added his name to the Wikipedia list of people known by ONE name -- there are quite a few. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Another day, another year

ways of seeing

Another day, another year

"A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since, that I haven't thought of that girl."
-- Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane) "Citizen Kane"

Monday, April 04, 2005

Bonjour, tout le monde.