Friday, March 31, 2006

Bye for Now

As of 6:00pm, I'm between contracts (yay!) and am off on holiday (big yay!).

I may post a little bit while away, but normal service is resumed on May Day.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

It's 'That' Day Again

It's that day again, and something has gone very wrong as I'm stuck in an office and typing with two fingers.

Now, according to Plan A, I was supposed to celebrating my first year of retirement in a converted Greek farmhouse, and writing the Greek version of A Year in Province, only my version would have insights into local culture and be funny.

Plan B is to keep working for while longer. It might be quite a long while actually...

No worries, in another 48 hours I'm off for some well deserved leave and hopefully no fewer than six manuals and some other assorted crap will be complete.

Unless I crash the car or find the flat has burnt down, today won't be very memorable, but there have been a few in the past. For instance:

  • 25 years ago celebrating in the back of a bus in Northern Italy, somewhere between Sienna and Florence.
  • 20 years ago celebrating with a load of friends at Guy's Court, a few miles from Preston.
  • 11 years ago celebrating with a load of friends in La Coupole, next door to La Rotonde, in Paris.
And so it goes...

May all your Plan As be triumphant.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

I found Serenity

Actually, a kind friend loaned it to me...

Firefly was an odd-ball American TV sci-fi series devised by the talented Joss Whedon, who had a big hit with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Cancelled after 14 episodes, in it's short production run it managed to pick up quite a cult following although it's never been shown on mainstream TV in the UK.

Slipping the first of the four DVDs into the player, it took me a while to get into.

Set at some point in the future (the box says 500 years), humanity has left earth and colonised/terra-formed a series of planets, at least 70. The inner worlds are technologically and socially quite advanced, the outer worlds much less so, a sort of cosmic third world where people still ride horses and live in a sort of 19th century poverty and society. It's hard to cope with all this, especially when it's such an obvious excuse for doing lots of Western type scenes with horses and gunfights (groan).

And yet... once I'd endured the sheer awfulness of Episode 3, I started to get it. The Serenity is the name of the Firefly class of cargo ship that is home and business to our heroes. She's unarmed, which in the staunchly conservative world of TV sci fi might make her unique. There's no teleport technology so the crew have to land everywhere they go. And what a crew it is - nine very different characters, of which at least five are quite interesting and complex.

The acting is pretty good, too and it's not that easy, as the language of the time is weird mixture of 19th century demotic American "You're not the only one who shares that notion..." and Chinese, which (bravely) is never translated. Nathan Fillion brings a suitable gravitas to the role of the captain, while the improbably named Jewel Staite is perfect playing a character who, in the hands of another actress, might be truly irritating. Only the wooden Morena Baccarin lets the side down.

Far from perfect then - but a nice way to spend a few cold evenings in front of the telly.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Rachel Corrie (1979-2003)

It's three years since the Israeli Defence Forces, in a typically glorious feat of arms murdered 23 year old Rachel Corrie.

They killed Rachel but they couldn't kill her essential message, which goes from strength to strength.

Thanks to Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner, the play "My Name is Rachel Corrie" has sold out for two seasons, and will shortly start a third at a new venue, the Playhouse in London.

The play was due to be put on in New York recently, but some people were so scared of its power, they managed to persuade an artistic director to indefinately postpone the production.

Of course this cowardly act of self-censorship has caused more publicity than anyone could have asked for.

All this will never bring Rachel back, but it's inspiring to see the Zionists so rattled by the words and deeds of a 23 year old American woman.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

We're Still Led by a Coward

Foreign Secretary Straw Man

We are the hollow men,
We are the stuffed men,
Leaning together,
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when,
We whisper together,
Are quiet and meaningless

- TS Elliot 1925

Actually there’s no “we” involved here, instead it’s the pathetic performance of the Straw Man yesterday that’s the issue.

Faced with a tricky situation in the Palestinian prison of Jericho, the Straw Man writes a few letters to the marginalised Palestinian Authority President, and then cuts and runs leaving Palestinians (once again) to be invaded, killed and captured by the Israeli terror machine.

So far so bad, but the way this terror machine swung into action a mere 20 minutes after the British and American monitors left the prison makes a bad decision an abysmal one.

There is just no way that a full scale invasion and assault could be planned and started in that time. Straw’s insistence that there was no collusion insults the intelligence of anyone who cares to listen to him.

But what if Straw Man is telling the truth?!? The only plausible explanation then is that the leak came from the Americans. If so, Straw must go public with this information, and threaten to withdraw British troops from Iraq as payback for the danger caused to British nationals and property all over the Middle East.

But of course that requires courage from the Hollow Man, the Straw Man.


Monday, March 13, 2006

We Were Cowards Once, and Weak

Picture by Ron Haviv
As part of an article on the problems of prosecuting war criminals, the excellent Max Hastings has the decency to admit he was wrong about Britain’s cowardly response to genocide in the Balkans in the 1990s:

Those of us who opposed military involvement in early-1990s Yugoslavia were probably wrong. The fact that it was difficult to do something should not have become an excuse for doing nothing.

I’m very pleased about this because it gives me another opportunity to type the most beautiful phrase in the English language:

I told you so.

But to be fair, Max is being a little harsh on himself. It was stinking bad luck for the former Yugoslavia that Britain and France, the only two European powers capable of effective military intervention, both suffered a crisis of leadership in the early 1990s.

In Britain, Prime Minister John Major was leading a divided, discredited, and ineffective government, with a shrinking majority in the House of Commons. All these factors lead the PM to shy away from controversial decisions, if we assume that the prevention of genocide is controversial.

None the less, nice guy John made the decision to do nothing, and when public opinion and the news coverage of the massacres and “ethnic cleansing” got intolerable, the policy changed to doing as little as possible.

This policy was fully endorsed by foreign secretary Douglas Hurd, a liberal sadist. In his article, Max reveals that dear Douglas (christened by the Americans “Douglas Turd” for his vacillating windy indecision) now has doubts about his policy of leaving the Serbs alone to massacre their opponents:

"I hope that history does not judge that it was easier than it seemed to us at the time, to act in the Balkans."

Well Doug, history’s answer = Yes.

In France, we now know that far from ruling the country, President Francois Mitterrand was mainly occupied with dying of cancer. Never a delegator, the net result of his illness was something close to the feeble British policy, but with a very French bureaucratic twist. On one
infamous occasion, a French commander refused to provide air support to a Dutch unit because the request was written on the wrong form…

It’s to Europe’s lasting shame that effective intervention finally came from the US military lead by an exasperated President Bill Clinton. If ever there was a moment that the European Union project lost its way, not just with us sceptics in Britain but in the European heartland, it was at the sight of a pathetic European leadership having to be led by the Americans to ‘do the right thing.’

Small wonder American foreign policy has drifted towards unilateral action in the last decade…


Friday, March 10, 2006

Citroën SM

A car in a field

The drive to work today was enlivened by the sight of a rare beast indeed. It was a Citroën SM, which stands for Sport Maserati.

The product of an insane partnership between Maserati and Citroën (have two companies ever been less alike?) the SM was most technically advanced car of it's era. It featured hydo-pneumatic suspension, brakes, steering, gearchange, and headlights that rotated with the steering wheel (allowing the car to "see" around corners). The engine was a rather fetching all-alloy quad-cam 3.0-litre V6, as used in the Maserati Merak.

I've never seen an SM on the road before, and admire anyone brave enough to own such a complex and barking mad vehicle.

You can learn more about them
here, and here.


Monday, March 06, 2006

Empty Life

Sorry, but the cold weather and general boredom of my life means I've not found a thing to rite about recently.

Of course there's always something to rite about, be it finally sourcing a new/old oil tank from a 1983 911 - part of the wonderfully pure dry sump lubrication system or Christopher Logue's amazing and inspiring rewrite of the Iliad, but neither seems to suit my mood right now.

Roll on Spring, I've had enough of this long cold winter.