January 30, 2003
NO CHILD IS SAFE
Following the death of an 8-year old schoolgirl, killed
when a tree fell on her primary school in Surrey, there have been calls to chop down all trees in and around school grounds. Parents have urged schools to act quickly before there is another tragedy, and one commented: "These trees are just accidents waiting to happen -- all it takes is a gust of wind."
However, Council officials have been reluctant to endorse the parents' demands. A Council spokesman said:
We are proposing an emergency programme of intensive awareness training and implementation of special safety procedures in schools. We need to make sure children fully understand just how dangerous trees can be, and keep away from them.
January 29, 2003
EYE-OPENERS IN BARCELONA: III
When we chose Barcelona for a holiday, like everyone else, we associated it with the image of the Segreda Família
-- and it prepared us for the remarkable façades of other buildings
by Gaudí in central Barcelona.
But nothing was more delightful or unexpected than Gaudí's use everywhere of broken ceramics to create brilliantly colourful, shiny surfaces on every kind of object --- surfaces that refused to be "reduced" or categorised by the viewer, that constantly changed the appearance and meaning of the objects they covered, and transformed the relationships between architectural features and even structures.
Nowhere was this more evident or more joyous than on the chimneys of the Palau Güell
. On a bright, warm winter morning the roof was a world apart, the city a backdrop erupting medieval towers in the near distance -- yet the complex assembly of shapes seemed to be constantly shifting in the changing light, and so the whole city became part of a moving mental reaction, rather than a static image. How well Guadí knew his city.My own photographs
of the roof of the Palau Güell:
large size (approx 100KB) - 1 2 3
small size (approx 30KB) - 1 2 3
GET IT RIGHT
Modern government produces such a massive, constant flow of material that it is beyond the powers of a sinlgle individual simply to keep track of it, let alone evaluate even a tiny fraction of it. However, when public debate focusses on a specific report or statement, anyone who wants to take part in the debate (and anyone who wants to be properly informed about it) should read the appropriate document.Gary
urges us to examine the actual statements made to the U.N. by the weapons inspectors sent to Iraq, and provides the links to them. I agree with him: I did as he suggested and was surprised to find the Hans Blix report was more critical of Iraq that I'd expected. I would now add on this subject that what Pres Bush actually said in his State of the Union
Address (rather than a couple of soundbites on TV) might be worth reading by anyone who feels strongly about it.
Anyone who has views about the government's policies for higher education
would certainly do well to read the full version of the White Paper
issued last week. The proposal to allow universities to charge undergraduates £3,000 course fees is only one -- and not the most important -- part of it. Proposals to change the very purpose of meaning of universities in this country (by allowing them to undertake no research or higher degree teaching and to offer only lower degrees); and proposals for new 2-year Foundation degrees (to be called the F.D.A. or F.D.Sc.) are far more radical. The fees proposals cannot be understood or considered without taking them into account, something which so far nobody expressing an opinion about fees has troubled to do.
January 28, 2003
I am prompted to acknowledge the paucity and brevity of postings recently -- the excuse is a familiar one: my condition of wage slavery, that leaves me dead beat by the end of the day. I hope things will improve soon.
France has prevented renewal of sanctions
against Zimbabwe. According to Jacques Chirac
, a visit by Mr Robert Mugabe to France might "foster a political dialogue that could promote democracy and the rule of law." Chirac sees exactly what he wants to see. Unprincipled, untrustworthy, irresponsible, no major world leader is more dangerous.
was a lot of fun. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere generate tremendous energy, though for me the most outstanding number (in every way) was Queen Latifah as Mama Morton singing "When You're Good to Mama". Chicago
is a tribute to Bob Fosse
the Broadway legend who created the stage musical of Chicago
in 1975 and directed Cabaret
. The integration of the song-and-dance numbers with the story in the Cabaret
manner, ironically commenting on the action and characters, worked wonderfully. Still the whole film could have been given backbone by moving off the set and bringing in some historical reality from 1920s Chicago, like Cabaret
did with Berlin.
January 25, 2003
I have taken down the original item that I posted here because, on looking at it again, it seemed pretty nasty and unnecessary. What I should have said is that there has been an extraordinary coincidence: all
of my "pet hate" people have been mentioned as possible candidates in the election
for a new Chancellor of the University of Oxford -- Baroness Williams
of Crosby, Chris Patten
, Lord Butler
of Brockwell and Lord Heseltine
Dame Shirley has now withdrawn
her name from consideration, supposedly because of government education policy
. Needless to say, this has not endeared her to me any more than before! However, there is now word that convicted drug-smuggler Howard Marks
has thrown his hat into the ring -- which makes thing much more interesting!
January 24, 2003
EATING IN BED
If you haven't done so already, you have got
to read Marcus's account
of his visit to Amsterdam.
January 23, 2003
After a night with the pick-up from heaven, why not exchange the perfect mementos quickly knocked up using one of these
SHORT HAIR DAY
One of the stable points of my existence, a reassuring oasis of reliability, was my hairdresser, M. Greatly in demand and much appreciated by men and women alike, she could achieve exactly the effect you wanted -- even when you didn't know what that was yourself. From her expertise flowed the rest of my appearance, and my confidence in it -- for seven years
. Then, four months ago, she moved to manage a new salon 20 miles away. One complete disaster with my best hope for a replacement has been followed by three months without a cut. I have been getting comments about my long, untidy hair for some time now. But the thought of letting anyone except M. near my scalp is worse than the prospect of dental extraction. Finally, I accepted the only solution: I have an appointment with M. on Saturday morning. Never has a 20-mile trip seemed more completely worthwhile.
"LIKE INVITING SADDAM HUSSEIN TO A G8 MEETING" (Morgan Tsvangirai)
Writers who hold our leaders to the highest standards of conduct, association and integrity rarely miss a chance to bad-mouth President Bush. His every fault and failing is sezied on. I hope we'll see some similar treatment dished out to
the ghastly Pres Jacques Chirac of France.
He and his closest associates have been comprehensively linked
to embezzlement, fraud and corruption: nearly fifty
are awaiting trial or imminent criminal charges. Chirac himself has engineered immunity from questioning till 2009.
He has now extended his established support for Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe by inviting
him to a Franco-African summit in Paris (and negotiating British complicity). Chirac deliberately ignores world opinion to court a man who, in addition to stealing elections and using famine as a political punishment, has probably the worst record on gay issues of any world leader (as Peter Tatchell's
actions have highlighted).
Will commentators on the latest
consistent and statesmanlike
opportunistic stand by Chirac on Iraq
remember this record, or will praise be heaped on him and the kinds of standards applied to Bush be forgotten?
January 22, 2003
A WASTED LIFE
Obituary notices in both the Guardian
and the Observer
portrayed Renée Short (1916-2003) as a fearless campaigner for one fine cause after another. They are a distortion of history.
As the far more detailed account
in the Times
demonstrates, she in fact spent most of her time as a Labour MP (from 1964 to 1987) as an apologist for the Soviet Union, and active supporter of the Communist Party dictatorships in Eastern Europe. She helped Trotskyites and Communists hold on to Labour Party membership and positions of power. Only when the hand with which she fed the left was bitten by those with designs on her parliamentary seat did she abandon her principles and support Neil Kinnock's party "reform" efforts.
Renée Short's political life ended in the 1980s as the Communist bloc (of which she had been such a loyal defender) finally disintegrated, and the full extent of the evil, corruption, mendacity and popular loathing of those regimes was revealed. Short had denounced and sought to thwart the policies that had protected the West and helped bring about collapse of the Soviet system. The only thing that can be said to excuse this determined blindness and deception is that she was in the company of many equally pernicious and more influential fellow travellers. That the Guardian
should ignore the inconvenient facts of this woman's life inspires no confidence in the reliability of its reporting of contemporary
events and ideological conflict.
For all of her reformist rhetoric (and that of some of her memorialists), Short's was a life wasted supporting foreign dictatorships and denouncing honesty, far-sightedness and courage. Extraordinarily, she does not lack disciples and imitators even today.
January 21, 2003
I cannot understand why this
German movie has never gone on general release in the UK. It has English sub-titles after all...
Killer Condom (1998) is set in New York's seedy Hotel Quickie, where the male clientele is falling prey to a invasion of fanged, mutant, penis-chomping prophylactics. It's up to a gay detective and his straight partner to stop the rampaging rubbers.
(Thanks to Dragonthief
EYE-OPENERS IN BARCELONA: II
I was surprised to discover that the actor Juan Diego Botto
is a big name in Spain. The Argentinian-born actor has, I found out, made a long list of Spanish-language movies, as well as TV, and is magazine front-cover material. But I had only just become aware of him from The Dancer Upstairs
, which stars another top Spanish actor who arrived suddenly in the English-speaking film world, Javier Bardem
Botto plays the dogged and loyal assistant to Bardem's battling police detective, as Marxist terrorists trigger military rule in a South American country. Much of the good critical attention
the film received focussed on John Malkovich
, making his directorial debut. But for me it was the nuanced performance by Juan Diego Botto that really stood out, calling to mind the Oscar-winning Benicio del Toro
. Like Antonio Banderas
, Botto has great looks, and can act far better. If he lands a few more good English-language parts he could become just as popular.
BLINDED BY HATRED OF JEWS
It was instructive to hear the interview on Channel 4 News that followed its report
about the police raid on the Finsbury Park mosque, which discovered an illegal stun gun, a CS-gas canister, an imitation firearm, forged passports, counterfeit credit cards and faked identity documents.Andrew Dismore
, the Labour MP for Brent (who has a Commons record of special interest in terrorism issues, and who recently attacked
lurid press reports of a thwarted gas attack on the Underground) supported the raid. The police action was intelligence-led, and aimed at making arrests as well as seizing evidence.
Denouncing the raid was Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad
, who declared that the objects discovered in the mosque were irrelevant to the crime of violating the house of god. Somewhat quaintly he described the items seized as property which the mosque was keeping safe for their owners, who had accidentally left them behind.
Sheikh Bakri then launched an attack on Mr Dismore, calling him a "Jewish Labour MP", which meant his views should be discounted from the start. Mr Dismore replied that he is not, in fact, Jewish, and that Sheikh Bakri's comments demonstrated ingrained anti-Semitism. Indeed, for a Hendon MP, Mr Dismore has been very vocal
in support of Muslims and Islam, and of the Palestinians.
Rather more relevant, perhaps, is Sheikh Bakri's record as spokesman for the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders, who as early as 1999 urged the use of biological weapons
against non-Muslims, and stated that he had actively sought recruits
for groups such as Hamas, Hizbollah.
January 20, 2003
After five years of rain-sodden Summer holidays in Britain -- from the Scottish Highlands to the North Cornwall coast, from Pembrokeshire to the Isle of Purbeck -- we have finally decided that we just can't stand another miserable wash-out. Sardinia in late June looks very attractive. All I need to do (apart from find the money to book) is lose a few stone so I can get into my g-string skimpy Speedos.
January 19, 2003
The third volume
of English Songs from Naxos
-- a CD of Vaughan Williams
, with Simon Keenlyside (whose strong baritone makes these beautiful songs glow intensely) and Anthony Rolfe Johnson. The CD includes the sumptuously melancholy On Wenlock Edge
, settings of poems from A Shropshire Lad
by A. E. Housman, which Vaughan Williams wrote between 1906 and 1909, ten years after the poems were published. Vaughan Williams's evocative and sensitive settings lift Housman's poems of shifting meaning into a shimmering plane of emotional uncertainly. Even without knowledge of Housman's homosexuality
these are poems (and settings) of deep unease. The song-cycle includes two of Housman's poems of early death, Bredon Hill
and Is My Team Ploughing (XXVII
), while the title poem
expresses his bleakly modern view of life.
INTOLERABLE TORY PARTY IRRESPONSIBILITY
A Labour amendment means another effort will be made in the House of Commons to repeal the irrelevant but rhetorically charged Section 28
. The Conservative position
is to allow their MPs a free vote, while proposing an amendment to give parents
a say (amounting to a veto) over what schools teach in sex education.
The free vote is intended to prevent a tiny (but disproportionately influential
) number of Tory MPs from throwing a public tantrum, as they did over adoption
; and the proposal to allow parents to directly control part of the school syllabus is in effect a way to sustain the Party's anti-homosexual stance, and appease its supporters. However, unlike opposition to repeal of Section 28 (which is bigoted, but imposes no change on local administration, and would have no practical impact) the "parent power" proposal would involve major reorganisation of educational administration, would have significant financial costs, and could have unexamined impacts on the whole of educational practice.
The Conservative "parent power" proposals are not advocated because they are deemed beneficial (having been thoroughly examined); or because they have long been Conservative policy; or because people are calling out for them; or because they are widely recognised as long overdue. No, proposals that would disrupt people's lives, cost public money, and have dubious results are put forward simply to help the Conservative Party avoid internal division. That is an abuse of government, and political deception. It is not what MPs and parties are there to do. A party acting this way does not deserve anyone's vote.
SECTION 28 -- THE TORIES' CLAUSE FOUR?
Gay issues like Section 28 have bcome the Conservatives' equivalent of Labour's Clause Four
in the early 1990s. It is not that the people at large care about Section 28 (or want it repealed). They did not care about Clause Four (if, indeed, they knew what it was) or what happened to it. But they knew that it was important to Labour and said more than anything else about what the party was like.
Until the Conservatives show they have made a real
change in the whole Party position on gay people -- rather than just redesign of their "image" or leave the issue to "individual conscience" -- nobody will believe they have really changed in any other respect.
Until enough people in the Labour Party were prepared to support Tony Blair, and remove the outdated rallying-point of the extreme Left inside Labour, too few voters would ever believe it was "New Labour", or safe to elect to government. Until a majority of Conservatives are prepared to make repeal of Clause 28 the Party's policy, thereby removing the outdated rallying-point inside the Party for unreconstructed bigots, nobody will believe they have made any other real
changes to what the Party stands for, or would be likely to do if elected to government.Anyone
who thinks the fact that Labour's "albatros" was part of the Party's historic constitution, which is something the Conservaties don't have, misses the point. Both Clause Four and Section 28 are about showing, in an irreversible way, what the Party is like
-- they are defining symbols, and the lifelines of the old guard. The big difference is that in the 1990s Labour's leader, Tony Blair, initiated the political campaign for change the Party; in the 2000s Ian Duncan Smith is trying to avoid change, or opposes it.
January 16, 2003
EYE-OPENERS IN BARCELONA: I
One of the things that made Barcelona so enjoyable was the sheer number of things we discovered
- things which were enlightening in themselves, or which revealed new perspectives of the familiar. It created a feeling of fulfilment and anticipation, a kind of relaxed excitement.
In the collection of Catalan paintings in the Museu d'Art Modern
ered the amazingly rich work of Ramon Casas
(1866-1932). An artist profoundly influenced by long periods spent in Paris, Casas com-
bines Impressionist representation of the "moment", and the nineteeth century Realists' close depiction of everyday life. His handling of large urban crowds is stunning -- I was mesmerised by Sortida de la processó
del Corpus de l'església de Santa Maria (1898), and long to see Garotte Vil
in Madrid. His intimate
depiction of women of the time combines many levels of meaning.
His technique is both suggestive and extraordinarily explicit, avant-garde and painterly. It is perhaps no surprise that he was the most commercially successful painter in Barcelona and the sponsor of the new generation of ground-breaking artists like Picasso and Miró. Yet, like the German Adolf Menzel
(1815-1905) whose work is also on the cusp of Realism and Imp-
ressionism, Casas is hardly known
outside Spain, or held in especially high regard outside Catalonia. Yet his works are vital for the viewer, and worthy of study by today's artists.
YOUR WILDEST FANTASIESThis
naughty - and hot! (via Dave
January 15, 2003
A TASTE OF THINGS TO COME?
One of England's most interesting and most widely-read bloggers has been sacked for blogging
When my employer expressed his concern, I immediately offered to stop updating the blog forthwith. However, this was not enough and I was fired on the spot. As there is a procedure for disciplinary firings that follows a path of oral and written warnings, I was also surprised that this was not followed. It appears that my employer considered this serious misconduct, on a level with theft and sexual harrassment, thereby justifying an immediate termination.
There is no established employment law in this area - what is the significance of the use of work time, the nature of content, and identification of the blogger (even if blogging is done at home on one's own time)?
January 12, 2003
- my tits are raw and my arse is sore. Now I know why everyone is so crazy about Barcelona
. No -- only kidding! Sex hardly played any part in my first touristic visit to the capital of Catalunya
(we went out one night to check out some of the gay bars and that was just about it). Our stay (one of the very best holidays we have had) was made up of unbelievably full days of cultural sight-seeing -- we were really stunned by the quality and richness of all the architecture and art in the city. On top of that, our local Metro stop proved a perfect vantage point to watch one of the city's big festival processions
on January 5th -- Reis Mags
-- on our return from one of our many Gaudí
Returning to the UK is a veritable Grungefest -- freezing fog greeted us at the airport, newspapers screaming hysterically (it had been bliss without them for ten days), dismal shopping at Sainsbury's, drunken yobs shouting and vandalising their way across town -- and now today I've got the mother of all head-
aches. Britain - who wants it?