April 30, 2003
FIRE IN THE BELLY
President Putin of Russia talks
like a man of moral and financial substance. But in fact Putin (the former head of the KGB, whose route to office makes that of George W Bush look like the re-birth of Athenian democracy) presides over economic and social conditions that are universally catastrophic -- and worsening. Russia today has simply nothing that anyone would want to emulate. Take fire deaths - highlighted by the recent tragic school blaze
in southern Russia in which 28 children died. Fire deaths in Russia are currently more than 18,000 per year - a rate of over 12.5 per 100,000 of population. In the US (with twice the population of Russia) there were 4,000 fire deaths last year (equal to 1.25 per 100,000 of population) and in the UK just 600
(1 per 100,000). Imagine the authority with which Tony Blair would speak if more than 20 people died in fires in Britain every single day
April 29, 2003
of Aulis Sallinen's
Symphonies No 2 -- the dialogue for solo percussion and orchestra, and No 6. the "New Zealand Diary" -- amazing orchestral evocations by the outstanding Finnish composer whose opera King Lear
was premiered in Helsinki's new opera house
in 2000. Neither Sallinen nor the Swedish composer Allan Pettersson
, with whom he has a stylistic affinity, are nearly as well known outside Scandinavia as they deserve to be.
April 26, 2003
FROM RUSSIA WITH
LOVE MALICIOUS HOOLIGANISM, EXCEPTIONAL CYNICISM AND EXTREME INSOLENCEInterviewer: You were the first openly gay journalist in Russia. Have others followed suit since you?Slava: There are no openly gay authors here, no. Hint
magazine brings news
of Russian journalist-photographer Slava Mogutin's first solo exhibition in New York. Lost Boys
(at the Rare Gallery
, 521 West 26th Street) is a series of portraits -- Russian wrestlers and military cadets, German skinheads and football hooligans, Danish skateboarders and sneaker boys, Californian buddy boxers – exploring "self-identity and awareness in a modern youth culture immersed in lifestyles of fetishes and obsessions" (a colection that, as Hint
put it in a hapless attempt at grunge chic
: "comrades in the international rough sex set get in on the act in images that capture the rawer side of boyhood").
Mogutin moved to Moscow from Siberia (where he was born in 1974) and began a career as a gay writer in the very lasy years of the USSR. Collapse of the Soviet state did not prevent him from government persecution and in 1995 he was the first Russian to be granted politican asylum in the USA on grounds of sexual orientation. He went on to star in Bruce LaBruce's
movie Skin Flick
and Laura Colella's
independent feature Stay Until Tomorrow
, and to work as a photographer for Russian fashions
and American pornography. He discusses all of these things in a recent interview
in another design magazine, Index
, bringing an unexpectedly light and humourous touch to his discussion of such subjects as the differences between American, German and East European gay porn, post-Soviet Russian television, and performances of controversial material (such as his poem "about me being adopted by a military regiment during World War II and getting fucked by all these Russian soldiers, then betraying them by running away to the Nazis. Letting them all be slaughtered because I’m tired of their shit-stained underwear and stinky cigarettes. I want something different. I end up being fed Belgian chocolates, and the Nazis smell of good cologne and know better sex.")
Slava: Initially I got into trouble for outing politicians like the ultra-right wing leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky — who had once offered me a position as his press secretary, incidentally. I outed a couple of the queeniest queens of Russian show biz, as well. One of them, this popular dancer and pop singer called Boris Moiseyev, got totally drunk during his interview with me. He revealed that in order to advance his career he was forced to perform nude at a private event in front of a group of high-ranking Communist party officials during the 1980 Moscow Olympics — and later, "to suck on those elderly communists' filthy peckers."
Interviewer: And you printed it?
Slava: Sure. It caused a brouhaha. It was actually discussed at the Parliamentary level. Criminal charges were brought against me.
Mogutin is most obviously in the "tradition" of Gus Van Sant
, but his ability to take the most outrageous elements and attitudes of gay sub-culture, blend them with surreal humour and translate them onto the avant garde fringe of mainsteam society is something he shares with Joe Orton, Gilbert and George, and Derek Jarman. That he should have achieved this in a repressive Communist state, its disintegrating successor, and then in the United States means that his takes the limitless public libido of homosexuality further than most.
We are going to see Ralph Fiennes
in Ibsen's Brand
at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon tonight. We both like Fiennes a lot, and I am a particular fan of the Scandinavian suffering and anguish of Ibsen - Peer Gynt
(with Alex Jennings) and Little Eyolf
(with Damian Lewis), both at the Swan, were outstandingly good, and I have never seen Brand
before. The Swan production
(directed by Adrian Noble) transfers to the Haymarket Theatre in London at the end of May, so it's nice to have it just up the road for a couple of months.
April 24, 2003
BIGAMY, POLYGAMY AND SODOMY
In America at the moment leading Republican Senator Rick Santorum
of Pennsylvania is under sustained and heavy criticism for having put forward in an interview
a social analysis of homosexuality that classifies it alonngside incest and polygamy, and which speaks of relationships between Catholic priests and boys in the same breath as mature, consenting gay relationships.
That criticism is, of course, thoroughly deserved. Sen Santorum's views
will offend anyone who understands homosexuality as broadly comparable to heterosexuality, however they might understand its differences. But the Senator's comments are not just offenisve to gay people and those who care about gay issues. They represent a general attack on civil liberties, as gay blogger Arthur Silber claims in five lengthy postings on his blog The Light of Reason
(and which are discussed very thoroughly and contentiously in the comments).
But while nothing obliges anyone to advance or approve the kind of arguments put forward by Sen. Santorum, it will always be possible to do so as long as homosexuality does not possess social value in itself, rather than some form of "equality" with forms and expressions of sexuality from which it is different. Women cherish values and esteem qualities that derive from their unique and incomparable social existence as women, and their demand for civil equality with men embraces these differences from them. The same is not possible for gay people because there are no values and qualities recognised by gay people and society alike as the "standard" (and approved) construction of homosexuality in itself (and which describes, and does not impose, wide agreement and conformity by gay people).
It must be highly unlikely that such a core socio-cultural "norm" will ever characterise homosexuality, not least because diversity
appear to be at the heart of the reality of homosexuality as it is lived, and have become increasingly celebrated
respectively. A single "homosexuality" that includes gay men and lesbians is infinitely closer than it was thirty years ago, but once again that does not mean inherent differences have been subordinated to equality. Even if these divisions were capable somehow of being transcended, there is no reason to say that gay people would (or indeed should) believe it was appropriate to do so.
However, as long as homosexuality lacks a recognisable stable social nature, all variations of homosexual personal identity and individual conduct will be equally capable of defining the social meaning of homosexuality. It has long been a complaint of some gay people that widespread negative reactions to activities associated with some homosexuals -- from sex in public toilets, to rampant promiscuity, to participation by S&M groups in Gay Pride marches -- attach to (a presumed majority of) "respectable" homosexuals. Such concern is wide of the mark. It is not that cottagers, cruisers and leather queens give "straight gays" a bad name, but that there is nothing ordinary gay people can do to give themselves a good one. Neither law nor custom distinguishes between long-enduring monogamous homosexual partnership, and any other of the social permutations in which homosexual sex plays a part.
This has many consequences, one of the most important of which is that the public "display" of homosexuality (in reality or portrayal) is almost always scandalous, shocking and negative. Not only is there no general ability to distinguish (without a completely contextualised guide) the homosexual expression of different emotions, but they are all in any case viewed as close to or within the realm of pornography - gratuitous and intended to arouse. The warm intimacy of a devoted young couple and the furious couplings of anonymous pick-ups are part of the same single public vision. The irony is that gay people fully share that conceptual scheme with the rest of the world in which they live.
April 22, 2003
SUBLIME AND RIDICULOUS (2)
I went to this excellent article
(a fuller version is here
) about Wagner, which goes to show that everything there is to be said about the man and his music has not already been said.
But what are the gods? Mere figments, as Feuerbach argued? Or something deeply implanted in the scheme of things, something that precedes and survives us? Wagner's answer is not easily explained in words, although it is transparently clear in music. And it is an answer that makes him supremely relevant to us. For, despite our attempts to live without formal religion, we are no more free than people ever have been or ever will be from religious need.
Wagner accepted Feuerbach's view of the gods as human creations. But human creations include some very real and lasting things, like St Paul's Cathedral. Gods come and go; but they last as long as we make room for them, and we make room for them through sacrifice.
The gods come about because we idealise our passions, and we do this not by sentimentalising them but by sacrificing ourselves to the vision on which they depend. It is by accepting the need for sacrifice that we begin to live under divine jurisdiction, surrounded by sacred things, and finding meaning through love. Seeing things that way, we recognise that we are not condemned to mortality but consecrated to it.
Properly produced, the Wagner music-dramas compel their audience to see things in that way - which is why they are no longer properly produced. The sacred prompts the desire for desecration, and, in those who have turned away from religion, this desire is irresistible.
The article is also a good example of why it is unwise to write off everything by an author with whom one generally disagrees profoundly, as I do with this one. There is good in all of us (isn't there?)
mailed me to suggest that I let people know that "the site where it all started about Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf was CroqueWeb.com
", and that all the jokes all about Comical Ali (and soundboard) can be found here
. Delighted to oblige.
April 20, 2003
AVOCETS AND AMUSEMENT ARCADES
I'm back from the North Norfolk coast. Reports and reflections will follow.
April 14, 2003
THE PRICE OF LAWLESSNESS
The Jamestown Foundation
research establishing the current price list of police bribes
in Russia. It lists the demand in cash for ten different "services", from rural police departments, through the internal affairs directorate of an oblast
, to the central office of the Federal Interior Ministry in Moscow. The cheapest service is a "pardon" for lack of registration by a rural police department, which costs 20 rubles (about 70 cents). The most expensive is illegal release of an imprisoned criminal by the Federal Interior Ministry, which costs $500,000 or more (something which would cost only 1,000-2,000 rubles ($35-$70) in a rural police department). The cost of getting a criminal investigation cancelled was:
city police department: $165-$650 oblast
internal affairs directorate: $2,000-$100,000
Moscow city internal affairs directorate: $10,000-$300,000
Federal Interior Ministry: $10,000-$500,000
THE SIZE OF AN WALNUT
Chris Tarrant is promoting the fundraising Fishathon
of the UK Prostate Cancer Charity
John Neate, Chief Executive of The Prostate Cancer Charity, said: "It fits perfectly because the majority of anglers are over the age of 50 and predominately male. Prostate cancer is most common among 50-year-olds and over and affects men."
Prostate cancer has almost no unique symptoms, but one of the most common is a decline in the strength of the urine stream, a fact that has given rise Peeball
-- "the most popular men's lavatory game in history." The online game
features a virtual urinal and pints of beer, and really is a lot of fun.
The amount of factual information available about prostate cancer is in inverse proportion to awareness of it: The Prostate Gland Owners Manual [pdf download and in Arabic] and the Prostate Cancer Tool Kit are full of every imaginable detail, and there are downloadable MP3s of seven men discussing their prostate cancers.
A TASTE OF THINGS TO COME?
Where would you find "six pistols, eight revolvers, five shotguns, a rifle and a carbine, and 800 cartridges"? In the Iraqi Embassy in Madrid. How do we know? The Iraqi chargé d'affaires
decided to confess
. Meanwhile, Hans Blix has confessed
his views of arms inspections, in the light of which his unwillingness to confirm Iraqi non-compliance with Resolution 1441 is not surprising -- or excusable.
HINDSIGHT AND PROSPECT
Amid all the hilarity
about Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf
(aka Comical Ali) the former Iraqi information minister, it appears to have been forgotten that it was he who made all the pre-war public statements on behalf of the regime; that it was he and his department who insisted Iraq did not possess and was not seeking to acquire, weapons of mass destruction. I guess he must have been telling the truth then. We shall see
Meanwhile, the claim that US military action would provoke more terrorist attacks, first advanced as a reason to oppose the US invasion, is being made again -- now with respect to the American presence. The claim is both unverifiable (because we have no idea from what baseline, linked to what motivational triggers, the "level" of attacks might be presumed to be measured) and analytically confused (since the anti-Western fundamentalism of Osama bin Laden, and international Palestinian protest, while related, are distinct). Indeed, it is possible that the opposite is true. The war attracted hoards of extremist suicide fighters from Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East. They were just about the only ones who put up any serious resistance to the US forces, and they were killed in their hundreds. The supply of suicide terrorists has quite possibly been reduced as a result.
In any case, claim is extraordinarily selfish in its short-sightedness. The principal victims of terror attacks have been innocent Israeli people. As Palestinians have openly acknowledged in their sorrow over the fall of Saddam, the Iraqi regime had been one of their principal suppliers of weapons and explosives. No doubt they will seek to find replacements, and will continue their terroristic strategy. But the means to do so, and their morale, have been dealt a hammer blow, for which Israel is, and all of us should be profoundly grateful.
April 13, 2003
COMING TO YOUR LOCAL STREAM
A British national charity
recently launched a fundraising "Fishathon" with appearances by TV gameshow host Chris Tarrant wearing wellington boots and waders. Anglers (who have to pay £5 entry fee plus a pledge of at least £20 to the charity) can land their catches any time in August. Those with the 70 best will qualify for the televised "celebrity final" on September 27th, when they will chase specially tagged fish representing individual prizes including cars, holidays, fishing equipment and cash prizes of up to £100,000. But can anybody say which national charity? And why a fishing competition?
(There is a clue, albeit a pretty weak one.)
April 12, 2003
UP YOUR GRAND CANAL
The latest edition of Benetton's Colors Magazine
has just appeared, and is devoted to the Venice of the North -- which turns out to be Birmingham. Not that the reason for linking Brum with "la Serenissima" is explained by the images that are presented in the on-line Flash version. Clicking Sport
gets you a picture of Birmingham City fans on the terraces with a soundtrack of their chant: "We are Brummies, You are wankers, You are wankers, Yes you are" -- pure Vivaldi
-- now what would it be in Italian?Night Life
features a run-down pub, Dezzy (a DJ at a pirate radio station) and Michelle Brooks, a lap-dancer at "Sensations" who is desplayed with a dramatically shaved pubic area and a very full-chested profile -- all of which immediately make one think of La Fenice
, of course. There are equally graceful pages on Romance, People and Family Life. What next -- "Vicenza, the Swindon of the South" ? No, not nearly shocking enough, when you remember recent editions put Birmingham alongside such featured subjects as Slavery, Prison, Madness, Trash, and Fat.
April 11, 2003
FACING FACTS, NOT FABRICATING FANTASIES
In the comments box for the last posting, after some very nice words of encouragement, Peter
wrote a note of caution that is (as always) on the mark and welcome:
I only hope to "whoever" that you are right, and that the US doesn't eventually do the dirty, bigtime. They can, you know, if they want to.
I posted my reply into the comments box, but it was too long, so here it is....
I don't have any illusions that many difficult problems lie ahead for everyone involved in Iraq, and that it is inconceivable that the USA will address all of them with equal and unalloyed success. But
(1) I do think that those who sought to prevent the war should directly face their moral complicity with perpetuating the Saddam regime, and should not be permitted to turn their pessimistic opposition into propaganda and demands that undermine the American efforts to bring stability, freedom and prosperity to the country.
(2) I think it is imperative that self-fulfilling negative speculation and projection should NOT be permitted to prevail where a neutral and open-minded posture is equally appropriate. The media, commentators and opponents committed continuous, egregious, biased and harmful failures to understand, analyse, predict or anticipate the course, conduct and outcome of the military phase of the war.
Journalists, news editors, and others would be very well advised now to shut up about what they think might be going to happen, or what events "mean", and stick to reporting factually what is actually happening. They have already directly contributed to the death toll and suffering. They should be held accountable for the consequences of irresponsible actions that direct and colour public opinion, when they have no genuine knowledge of or control over what they predict.
(3) A decent amount of time should be allowed before anyone tries to evaluate the results and suggest any improvements. Give Baghdad a week or two for heaven's sake! be prepared to envisage the US and Iraqis working effectively to establish order and good government (and reject firmly the kind of malicious bitterness that Robert Fisk pours out again and again, alongside a tribe of lesser anti-American propagandists).
The way the UN and so-called leaders of the relief agencies have piled in one day after the fall of the regime, and while military mopping-up operations are still taking place, is quite simply exploitation of the Iraqi people, and of suffering, to score political points against the USA. ("The situation is chaotic and catastrophic," International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) medical coordinator Peter Tarabula told AFP).
With control of the airports and roads relief will flow soon into Baghdad, which is not, whatever those agencies claim, not on the brink. Indeed, given that it is a city of 5 million, it is amazing how well-ordered and friendly the situation there is (apart from the presence of the non-Iraqi fanatics).
(4) Despite all the fuss about looting, there is no evidence that private dwelings or other property are being targetted to any extent, except where the homes of former Ba'ath Party leaders are concerned. Rather, the structure of the regime is being very effectively dismantled. The idea that the UN needs some of the records that are being destroyed to prosecute sanctions-busters is absurd, and once again, even in the Kurdish North where there is most reason and likelihood for personal scores to be settled, this is not happening on any scale (yet).
(5) The Americans should be given the benefit of taking their civil and military leaders at their word, including Donald Rumsfeld. The idea that they can all be dismissed as covering other and destructive intentions and commitments is counter-productive, and has no basis. And the idea that they are not aware of such issues as potential ethnic and religious conflict, humanitarian needs, or the necessity of establishing a civil order with rule of law and freedom of speech, is bunkum.
(6) This said, if US and UK forces over the next few months pass up chances to exert beneficial influence, or take actions that they have good reason to know will worsen them, then they will deserve proportionate criticism and, if anyone else has the power and experience, demands that they allow others to take part in decision-making.
If the USA abandons Iraq they will not simply be held responsible for troubles and suffering in that country, but will throw away all the moral and strategic influence they currently possess. They would be very unwise to do this from a selfish perspective, but if they do, it will need to be addressed. There is nothing to be gained from asserting, without evidence, that they plan to, or are pursuing a policy that makes it likely. Just as the carping of the UN and relief agencies need to stop carping (and I will heed my own words and not speculate about the reasons for it) and register the immensely hopeful opportunities (as well as the danger and unpredictability) that now exists.
And as for all the endless self-serving agitation
about the United Nations, all I can say is: vomit
and more vomit
April 10, 2003
CLOUD CUCKOO LAND
They don't fucking give up do they? Kofi Annan, commenting
on the situation in Iraq said first "When you think of the casualties, both military and civilian, the Iraqis have paid a heavy price for this." Was he referring to Saddam's 25 years of murder and war? No, to the American efforts to spare every possible casualty, right down to benign toleration
of the religious fanatics who came from outside Iraq to kill them.
Then Kofi Annan said: "From what we have seen in the reports, it appears there is no functioning government in Iraq at the moment." What does he want, a fucking prize for insight? Of course, one day after the defeat of a dictator, with a party-system of total control, and no civic order, there isn't a "functioning government". What does he expect? A fucking miracle? People to dance in the streets waving constitutional law textbooks? What does he want the U.S. to do -- shoot looters on sight as they leave the Ministry of Torture? Why doesn't he come straight out and say he thinks it's a pity Saddam has been toppled?
Then Mr Annan said he expected UN weapons inspectors to return to Iraq after the war, as their mandate from the Security Council to verify Iraqi disarmament remained in force. Right -- now Saddam is gone. But if Iraq doesn't have a functioning government, then to what does the mandate refer, and who (according to Mr Kofi) is responsible in Iraq for acting under it? Indeed, if Iraq has no government, is it any longer a member of the UN? Whatever arrangements are made need to operate on, and with the agreement of, the interim government, or the Iraqi successor government. Or does Mr Kofi intend to continue to deal with Saddam's ministers in exile?
Although he failed to ask himself, Mr Annan should consider whether there is a Common Sense mandate on him to go and.... beat himself with his shoes.
FRIENDS AND ENEMIES
this morning makes clear why the UN Security Council should not
have any say in the future government of Iraq.
Many people embarked on a new wave of looting, setting fires to some Interior Ministry buildings and making off with carpets, furniture, TVs and air conditioners from government-owned apartments, abandoned government offices and the police academy. Also looted was the German Embassy -- representing a government that had emphatically opposed the U.S. decision to go to war.
Letting countries like Germany, France and Russia -- countries that sought to prevent the liberation of Iraq from Saddam -- have a say in Iraq would be a profound provocation, and a source of grave uncertainty to the Iraqi people, who need to be able to rely securely on new authorities. Meanwhile, anti-war protesters jumping onto a "Hands off Syria" bandwagon should try looking at what the government
of that country is actually like.UPDATE
It is now reported
that the French Cultural Centre has been cleaned out. No doubt Iraqis will be trying to think of something to do with all the pictures of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe they'll have found there.
April 09, 2003
HEART BREAKING JOY AND GRATITUDE AS BAGHDAD FALLSJubilant crowds swarmed into the streets, dancing, looting and cheering U.S. convoys. A Marine tank helped residents topple a giant statue of Saddam in a sweeping, symbolic gesture. Cheering Iraqis, some waving the national flag, scaled the statue and danced upon the downed icon, now lying face down. As it fell, some threw shoes and slippers at the statue -- a gross insult in the Arab world.
"Welcome, welcome!" Baghdadis cried out in English, as young people took off their T-shirts and waved them in joy in front of the US soldiers.
"This is the greatest feeling I've had in my life, after spending 11 years in military service because of all the wars Saddam has put us through," said one.
"Thank you, thank you, Mr. Bush," some shouted.
An elderly man beat a portrait of Saddam with his shoe, while a younger man spat on the portrait.
"Good, Good, Bush!" chanted cheering crowds in a northern district of Baghdad as a US Marine convoy passed by, as elsewhere angry crowds defaced and destroyed symbols of Saddam's regime.
Others marked the regime's dissolution more passively, picking flowers from a garden and handing them to Marines. Yahoo News Service
AXIS OF INSANITY
Pravda also carries a report
about one of the Mayor of Riga's advisers, who declares:
Hussein was ready to disarm the country completely. Saddam Hussein is a dictator, but he is the president of the sovereign state, he was elected for that position legally. I do not like him, but there are moral rules, which say: never hit a man when he is down.
Among the authorities on which he claimed to rely were his conversations with army officers during a sky-diving contest in Saudi Arabia in 2001. Well, I guess that clinches it. Well, it makes more sense than Tony Benn.
THROWING UP INTO THE WIND
The English version of Pravda
, the Russian news service, reports
"Today's Russian-German dialogue focuses on discussing prospects of the Iraqi settlement and bringing it to the UN Security Council aegis", [a] spokesman for the Russian Foreign Minist[er] Alexander Yakovenko said in an interview... [about] the forthcoming visit to Russia by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
President Jacques Chirac has made the utterly predictable "demand" that the UN should control post-war Iraq, echoed (equally predictably) by China and Russia
, and (without any apparent irony) Syria
. This rapacious pack is as uninterested in the fate of Iraqi as they are desperate to push their way into it, and they are joined in their power plays by Kofi Annan
insisting the UN must dispense legitimacy.
But while an obvious role exists for the UN's humanitarian food, medical, children's and refugee agencies, I cannot see what possible reason (other than the protection of the economic and diplomatic interests of France, Russia, Germany and China, and of the political-territorial interests of Syria) there can be for involvement of the UN Security Council.
What would the large European countries do except (in view of their deep and long-established ties with Saddam) compromise and endanger civil order while jockeying for influence? What possible reason would Iraqis have for trusting these countries, or believing that they would do what they promised? Why on earth should Syria (every year on the list of countries aiding terrorism, home of Hammas, and run by another Ba'ath Party dictator) have any say at all in the future government of Iraq? What is the point of involving countries like Cameroon? What would Pakistan contribute except igniting religious fanaticism and conflict?
Fortunately, it is clear
that the US will be getting on with things as it deems best. But can anyone make out a reasoned rationale for Security Council control of government in post-war Iraq that addresses these issues, and explain what the UN Security Council would actually do. The issue of legitimacy is examined with merciless precision in this posting
(on the excellent blog Setting the World to Rights
for the discovery of which I have 2 Blowhards
to thank), and the notion that China, Cameroon, Pakistan, Guinea, and Syria
are in any position to confer statehood would have Saddam splitting his sides in his bunker. Most of all, how would the UN Security Council establish order, institute the rule of law, introduce freedom of speech and contain ethnic rivalries?
Demands for UN control are completely irresponsible. France and Russia were directly responsible for Iraqi pre-war non-compliance, and then, when the war started, for Iraqi resistance. They gave Saddam good reasons to hope that divisions and opposition would restrain the US, and then derail and abort its invasion. As Nobel Prize winner Elie Weisel commented
at the weekend, if these countries had put the same pressure on Saddam that they put on George Bush, Saddam could well have been dislodged with minimum force. But their unforgiveable encouragement of Saddam has cost many many lives and incalculable suffering. These countries must not be allowed to pile more misery on Iraq when the war is over.
They don't even have a euro or a rouble to spare for the rebuilding effort. If they really care about the future of multilateralism, they will set about reconstructing the UN itself -- and passing some resolutions that focus on Yassir Arafat, as he tries to destroy
the Prime Minister he was obliged to appoint.
April 08, 2003
SUBLIME AND RIDICULOUS
The approach of Easter brings performances of paschal classics like Bach's Passions, Handel's Messiah
and... Wagner's Parsifal
, which can be heard live from the Metropolitan Opera House New York on BBC Radio 3 on Saturday
(12th) from 5.00pm. Placido Domingo sings the title role and Kirov maestro Valery Gergiev conducts. Wagner is also on the schedule on Radio 3 on Friday
(11th) at 10.00am, with excerpts from Götterdämmerung
(in recordings with sopranos Helen Traubel, Kirsten Flagstad, tenor Lauritz Melchoir, and conductors Arturo Toscanini and Bruno Walter).The same programme includes a rare opportunity to hear Milt Franklyn conduct his own arrangement of Wagner, What's Opera, Doc? Brünhilde is sung by Bugs Bunny (wabbit) and Siegfried by Elmer Fudd (bawitone) with the Warner Brothers Studio Orchestra.
April 06, 2003
IT'S A FIRST
Exactly one year ago, on April 6, 2002 "Here Inside" was published for the first time.
The Symphony No 4 ("The Inextinguishable") by Nielsen, in the extraordinary performance with Launy Grondahl
conducting the Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra, recorded in 1951. Long one of my very favourite symphonic works, and one of the greatest 20th Century symphonies, Nielsen's Fourth Symphony is revealed and realised by Grondahl in a way no other conductor comes near -- despite the fact that Blomstedt, Rattle and others have made superb recordings too. No better way to mark my first blogging anniversary, and my feelings about events.
OXFORD BY A HEAD
In view of the extemely close result
of the annual University Boat Race, "Here Inside" felt the title should really go to the best looking crew. So here they are. Although Oxford (on top) had the advantage of a better photographer and a session with the stylist, they still seem on balance to be the clear victors. Anyone think the Cambridge crew (on the bottom) should get it?
If you want to examine things more closely for yourself, the links to individual rowers' bios and pics are all on this
page, and each of them (if for any reason you wish to examine them particularly closely) can be downloaded in a huge high-resolution JPEG file of more than 2MB. Don't ignore the Isis and Goldie boats either -- there was some very fine talent in the "seconds" like Samuel Parker
FATTER THAN EVER
We have a full-length mirror on the landing. It's a feeble, flimsy, low-grade item bought at Ikea a few years ago. When (eventually) the builders consent to come and do the work they have promised to carry out, the mirror will go out. Till then its lease of life has been extended because of its utility. Until yesterday, when I fell against it and bent the backing. We now have one of those crazy fair-ground mirrors: stand at a distance and it gives you tiny little legs, a huge bloated tummy and a strange wiggly head; move nearer and the legs get all long and spindly, the tummy almost disappears and the head goes flat with widely separaed eyes. Move around in front of it and all sorts of strange things happen. Most of the time I look enormously pregnant. I love it: there must be a permanent place for it somewhere. W. hates it. The only place it's going as far as he'd concerned is the rubbish tip. How will I save such a subversive article from destruction?HUGELY PREGNANT
We enjoyed the little exhibition
of pieces by Ron Mueck
at the National Gallery
in London -- not that there was very much of it. The hyper-realism, combined with extraordinary changes in scale do make for breath-taking creations. I was hugely (sic) impressed by the upward stretching oversized expectant female, and by the application of hair to all of the models. Where will this go, I wonder.
April 05, 2003
SADDAM-LOVERS' LAST STAND
I see more anti-War protest demonstrations are being organised for today. More than ever those who march will be shouting their support for Saddam Hussein. Anyone who allows him/herself to be counted behind the banners of the Stop the War
march in London will again be endorsing the Muslim Association of Britain
and its support of the Palestinians, who parade with hundreds of pictures of Saddam, chanting their love of him and calling for him to be their leader (although it's significanct that MAB has recently been burying its Palestinian agenda deeper and deeper in their website -- and so much of what I downloaded for reference a few weeks ago has gone completely); it means they'll be listening to speeches by George Galloway (Glasgow Labour MP) who called British soldiers "wolves" and implored other Arab countries to attack them; it means they'll be trying to get the Kurds abandoned and betrayed into gassings and death camps again
; they'll be protesting for terrror and torture, and against democracy and freedom.
Will the Liberal Democrats be there, like they were on February 15th -- you can be bloody sure they won't. Even Germany and Russia have suddenly abandoned the anti-American camp, leaving only France and the fascist dictatorship of Syria (which has been making valliant efforts to supply arms to Saddam). Just what is it that makes the most vile regimes in the world so worthy of support? Does middle class anger have no limits in its moral bankruptcy?
SEA, SAND AND SEALS
We've booked a short holiday next week on the North Norfolk coast
near to Blakeney Point
. Sufficiently far away from any centres of population, we're hoping for a quiet time, a chance to do some walking, watch the bird life, and perhaps take a boat
to see the Grey and Common Seal colony (which apparently numbered almost 400 until the recent seal-flu virus struck). Of course, the North Sea can be very unforgiving at any time of the year, so we'll also be prepared for gales and rain.
April 04, 2003
GETTING INTO DUTCHMAN'S BREECHES
Spring is everywhere in the air, from the birds at the back of my house (the blackbirds have been joined by a
pair of coal tits and a pair of robins) to the daffodils that almost line my route to work. But I can't help wishing I could be in N. Carolina and see the glorious wild flowers of the Eno River Valley
. You san see the fresh delicate blooms of pendulous Dutchman's Breeches (r.
, top pic) along with bloodroot, trailing Arbutus, Catesby's Trillium, crested drarf iris and the swamp rose here
. The way in which the Eno River was saved
from damming, made a State Park and continues to be conserved
shows that preserving and cherishing nature involves much more than government policies or activism (though they played their part). It needs an active love of wildlife and spending time in the wild -- hiking, walking, mapping, bird-watching, recording species -- and the generosity of people who give money, time, and land.
In the past four decades, the Eno River State Park has grown from a few hundred acres to 2,694 acres. With the addition of the Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area, the community has come far towards realizing its preservation goals, but not far enough. Serious threats to the Eno and its surrounding watershed have not eased, and over the years have included a belt-thoroughfare, a city landfill, two sewer systems and a series of fish kills. A grassroots team led by the Eno River Association rises up to meet each of these challenges. Our members also congregate every year at the Annual Meeting and Spring Picnic, volunteer at the Festival for the Eno, and spread the word to friends and neighbors about the river. Best of all, protected for much of its thirty-five miles and host to a number of endangered species, the Eno flows on.
I sometimes wonder if those people who so delight in flailing American consumerism, churning out more UNFCCC
documents and disparaging Pres Bush for withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol
, ever do anything a fraction as worthwhile as the residents of the Eno River Valley.
OLDER, FATTER AND MORE BORING
A gay friend of mine at college used to have three lists of invitees for his parties: the people he didn't want to invite but had to, the people who'd come whether he invited them or not, and the hot young studs he'd love to invite but didn't know their names. Unfortunately he wasn't at my 25th reunion dinner on Saturday, but I think most of those attending would have been on his first list anyway. My expectations (that it would be great fun, or ghastly beyond all belief) were not met -- it was all rather low-key. There is very little you can do to bridge 25 years spent without exchanging a single word with someone. Jobs, places of residence, number of children (if applicable), and that about does it. No mention of deaths, disappointments or divorces. My one effort to engage a handsome guy (now a vet) that I didn't recognise, and had never met, foundered quickly in a sea of mutual incomprehensiuon. The faces from the past were older and fatter, and the personalities animating them, for the most part, I think, nicer . Nobody tried to impress me with the size of their salaries, cars or anything else. The biggest talking point among an overwhelmingly bald or balding and grey or greying assembly was my own full head, untinged by a single silver hair. Only one thing made me angry -- until I decided I really didn't care after all...
M., one of my closest and best gay friends at college had not begun to "come out" until his second year, by which time he had already become part of a circle that was remarkable only for its ordinariness and normality. M.'s gay friends weren't interested in them, while they viewed gay carryings-on with undisguised horror. M. remained in the closet, torn between the two. Unable to do without a gay life, he could find no way to disengage from the others. He protested that he liked them both. We were not impressed. Two school friends who were at the same university came out as gay. Things got worse as we chased these two good-looking guys and M. ran around in all directions. Whenever members of either of M.s groups met, he would go white with embarrasment and fear. Some wicked queens even made a sport of it, and when M. was with them the pedestrian group (and M.) were subjected to onslaughts of outrageous Divine
-inspired campery. Of all things, I was often blamed for this!
M. and I got closer after we left college and M. moved to London. The closet problems fell away, and we had great times together in the 1980s, from the opera to other low gay dives, we talked and danced and laughed like lovers. We stayed over with one another, shared new friends, were on top of the world. Then, in the mid 1980s, the guy he shared a flat with died of AIDS, and M. found a lover, J. They moved to Paris, I moved to New York. We lost touch.
M. was at the reunion dinner, to my surprise. We bumped into one another almost immediately. We chatted. He still lived in Paris with J. Then he rushed off and we didn't speak another word. He buried himself deep in a group of his first-year friends. When I walked over he ignored me. I can't imagine what they talked about. Perhaps they knew all about M. and everything was completely cool. Perhaps not. Time heals, and it also destroys.
April 03, 2003
WAITING FOR THE GAY BARS IN BAGHDAD TO OPEN
There is a depressing grim seriousness, borne of specious moralism, that informs the representation of British and American armed forces fighting in Iraq. These men and women deserve our gratitude and applause -- not the intellectual sniping and small-minded scrutiny they are saddled with. As a force and as individuals they do indeed excite my admiration - for their bravery, for their dedication, for what they are achieving. If we recognised them as we should there would be warmth and comradeship across the miles, and they would feel we at home valued them and cared about them. In such an atmosphere gay men would be turning their powers of innuendo to every opaque phrase of military-speak, and photos like this would elicit verbal wolf-whistles galore: so, with a cheer and a leer I say, this guy can liberate me any time
. (The full size photo that appeared on the front of today's Times
can be viewed here
April 02, 2003
WINE, WOMEN AND HOLY ROMAN EMPERORS
We are going up to London at the weekend. The main objective is to see The Handmaid's Tale
by Poul Ruders at English National Opera on Saturday evening (in which the music will have an awful lot of work to do to overcome my resistance to the ghastly story -- but reviews from Danish performances have been excellent, and it is impossible for it to be anywhere near as awful as Maw's Sophie's Tale
at Covent Garden last December). But we're also planning to go to the Titian exhibition at the National Gallery
in the afternoon.
I was suprised to learn from the National Gallery's Titian pages
that this is "the first major exhibition in Britain devoted to the work of the 16th-century artist". I'm very excited. The last single artist "show" I went to was a Léger comprehensive
at the Fundación Joan Miró
in Barcelona, which I found distinctly under-whelming (especially alongside the magnificant Miró permanent collection
). I'm not expecting that to be the case this time. Titian occupies a pivotal place in the development of western art -- comparable to that of his contemporary Michelangelo. His extraordinarily long creative life connected the world of high Italian renaissance artists like Giovanni Bellini, Mantegna, Botticelli and Raphael, with that of late renaissance and Mannerism painters like Tintoretto, Veronese and El Greco.
No national collection provides the key to exploring all these connections and comparisons, or even following Titian's individual technical and stylistic development. This exhibition brings together major works from Florence, Rome and Naples, Madrid, Berlin and Dresden, Washington DC and Edinburgh. There will be a novel opportunity to see the four paintings
of Alfonso d'Este's camerino d'alabastro brought together
reunited from the public galleries to which time has dispersed them. The third and most famous (Bacchus and Ariadne
, its central figure almost as universal an image of masculine dynamism as Botticelli's Birth of Venus
is of feminine serenity) is in the National Gallery in London, while the others come from Washington and the Prado.
I'm particularly looking forward to seeing the first, The Feast of the Gods
, both because it almost represents a moment in the transfer of aesthetic control from one generation of pioneers to the next (Titian re-worked a canvas by Bellini to render it stylistically more consistent with his own later paintings), and beause the subject is so particularly ribald
It will also be good to get a deep immersion in the Italian
renaissance, since the works of the northern renaissance -- Grüewald
, Bruegel the Elder
-- have in recent years become such a dominant part of English popular culture. Titian encoded the political, religious and cultural values of the Habsburgs and the Holy Roman Empire, the Venetian oligarchy and the Catholic Church before and during the massive upheavals of the German reformation -- to sustained applause from those at the pinacles of power. How should we prepare our minds to enter this world? what kind of approch would enable us to understand it? what intellectual and spiritual benefits do we hope to gain?
April 01, 2003
MAKING ROOM FOR THE WELCOME MATOne villager told British soldiers that there were "eyes and ears everywhere -- these are the men who dis-appear when you turn up, and come back to frighten us when you go."
The following pooled report
Greg Swift that appears (among other places) in today's Times
says more than anything I could write about the central importance of the Ba'ath Party, the so-called
"humanitarian crisis" in Iraq, the degree of resistance, the absence of local uprisings and of welcome for allied troops, and the desperate need for a US-UK administration after Saddam's regime is broken. Let those who want the UN to run post-war Iraq explain how it would deal with the power of the Ba'ath Party.
British forces staged a dawn raid on a Baath party headquarters [in Basra] yesterday after receiving intelligence that it was being used to exert President Saddam Hussein's will. Five people were arrested and taken away for interrogation in a swift assault designed to send a powerful message to the intimidated local population that the Baath party's reign of fear is over.
The two-storey complex stood on the southwest edge of the Basra national oil refinery, three miles from the port city and surrounded by a shanty town. A sniper team from Zulu Company, the 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, kept the building under covert observation all night before the attack. At exactly 5.30am local time, a 36-tonne Warrior armoured vehicle crashed through the perimeter wall. At the same time the vehicle's rear hatch opened and a section of infantrymen kicked down the front door and stormed the complex. Amid the confusion, the Fusiliers systematically scoured the complex hunting for Baath party members. One by one, doors were smashed down before soldiers with fixed bayonets burst into the rooms.
Once inside the sprawling HQ, the opulent lifestyle enjoyed by Saddam's henchmen -- in stark relief to the poverty just yards away -- became clear. Leading from each side of the grand entrance stood two huge kitchens with extensive cooking facilities. From these ran two cavernous store rooms filled with food. While local Iraqis are short of even the most basic items, the Baath party HQ was crammed with enormous humanitarian aid relief sacks of rice and grain. Fresh garlic, tomatoes and sauces stood alongside chest freezers filled with meat and frozen produce.
Along wood-panelled corridors the British soldiers raced through a series of comfortable bedroom suites, each one made up of two rooms in which a television, armchairs, a sofa and a bed were placed. In the heart of the complex a number of imposing rooms fanned out from a central reception area. In one was a bar and a snooker table with cues still resting on the green baize. In another an office had been set up, documents lying across a mahogany table.
In a filing cabinet were two bottles of single malt whisky. While an Arabic-speaking soldier trawled the paperwork for possible intelligence, the rest of Z company poured into a large dining room. Around a table capable of seating up to 40 people were chrome-plated dining chairs. On the table, knives, forks, glasses and salt and pepper pots were neatly arranged over a linen cloth. At the far end of the room was a huge, smiling picture of Saddam. Upstairs, dozens more bedrooms were searched until the whole building had been cleared.
The ferocity of the raid stunned locals who, still fearful of the malign influence of the Baath party, were reluctant to approach the newly cleared building. Major Duncan McSporran, the officer commanding Z Company, told the villagers that the building now belonged to them. Within an hour soldiers returned to patrol the area to find it being looted. Captain Alex Cartwright, 28, a Grenadier Guardsman attached to 1st Battalion, said that he was happy to allow the mob to continue. "Normally we would stop looting, but in this case we decided that it would send a powerful message -- that we are in control now, not the Ba'ath party."
Captain Cartwright said that villagers had pointed out a number of men who were considerably better dressed and groomed than the locals and who appeared to be agitated by what they saw. "It was also noticeable how the locals' body language and attitude changed -- they became more fearful, more cowed," he said. "One villager, having warned us that there were 'eyes and ears everywhere', said: 'These are the men who disappear when you turn up and come back to frighten us when you go.'"
"We wanted to arrest these guys and so appealed to their vanity by inviting them into the building explaining that we needed to talk to them in private. Once they were in the building, they were told they were under arrest and were coming with us. They protested, we searched them and then they were made forcibly aware that they were under arrest."
Under the rule of the Geneva Convention captured prisoners of war are not allowed to be paraded, but Captain Cartwright said that he made sure that all the villagers could see the men being led into the back of a British army Warrior in handcuffs." That will have done our cause here immeasurable good because the people here now know that we are right behind them, doing everything we can to rid them of the regime that has blighted their lives for so long."