Archive for January, 2002

Image of the Week, #5

January 14th, 2002

OK. In the end, I couldn’t resist this photo, from the BBC, which shows the result of the notorious encounter between W. and the terrorist pretzel. Best joke so far is that it serves the teetotal W. right for attempting to eat pretzels without beer.

Nick wrote [17.1.2002]: Avidly following the weblog (as ever), I thought you’d enjoy this.


January 14th, 2002

The bobblog is flourishing again, after a lengthy gap, during which Bob went jobhunting, and a period of only intermittent posting in late December and the New Year. But he’s back on form now with a lot of good stuff — including yet more mockery of W. (this time for his failure to eat pretzels), and the text of an advert for a language course which asks “Wouldn’t you like to communicate with your Spanish speaking domestic help? … Learn specialized vocabulary, phrases expressions and the basics to give instructions in Spanish for house cleaning, food preparation, child care, yard and garden and errands”. And — better yet — he has a job to go to in the Sociology department of St. Lawrence University in upstate New York. Well done, Bob (since I know he visits these columns from time to time): this is very good news indeed.

Bob wrote [14.1.2002]: Thanks for the plug in the blog…and for the nice words. You sure do know how to make a guy blush… ; ) I’m honored. I enjoy your blog as well, and I have to admit, I laughed out loud at your newest entry on GWB re: the pretzels and beer. Keep on bloggin’!

January 14th, 2002

Wow. If you haven’t yet been, do visit the multimedia spectacular over at

Sarah [15.1.2002] recommends

Thinking of Etonians…

January 14th, 2002

Where are our old tutorial partners now? One of them was on this morning’s Today programme, on Radio Four. (For American readers of the weblog, think NPR’s Morning Edition):

James Naughtie: Twenty five minutes past eight. Well, Afghanistan is still in a strange state but it hasn’t deterred someone called Rory Stewart from turning up in Kabul as a tourist. Now, he’s a former British diplomat, he’s 29, he’s walking across Asia, he’s going to be writing a book, almost needless to say. He was in Peshawar in Pakistan and decided on a diversion into Afghanistan. He’s going to visit some of the historic sites, presumably those where the Taliban didn’t blow up the statues, and he’s going to go trekking. Now shortly after he arrived in Kabul, Mike Wooldridge, our correspondent, asked him whether he’d ever thought twice about coming where few tourists might fear, might dare to tread.Rory Stewart: Yes, many second thoughts. The road I came in on has had four journalists killed there five weeks ago. And so obviously I was very worried. On the other hand I have been walking on foot across Asia through relatively dangerous areas over the last year and a half. I’ve been walking through Nepal during the Maoist insurgency, through Kurdish areas of Turkey and Iran. And I think if you’re relatively careful and do your planning correctly — I tend to travel in as low key a fashion as possible — you should be all right. I wear Pakistani-stroke-Afghani clothes. I talked at the border with the authorities there. I hired a car which I knew was tied in to the local commander…

Mike Wooldridge: Did they actually at the border take some convincing that you should be allowed through?

Rory: I think their basic interest is financial.

Mike: So you mean you had to pay your way in?

Rory: Well, I certainly had to pay quite a lot for the taxi, and how much of that goes to the commander I don’t know.

Mike: I suppose I have to ask you: do you feel it’s right to be a tourist here at the moment? I mean you could obviously run into difficulties, and then there might be security risks for others trying to rescue you if that were to happen.

Rory: I think that’s absolutely right. The British Embassy’s got a very clear travel advisory against people coming here, so people shouldn’t be encouraged to come here.

Mike: Which you would know very well as a former diplomat.

Rory: Which I know very well as a former diplomat. And I realise very well the amount of trouble you cause for people if you do get kidnapped. Other people have to risk their lives and it causes a lot of problems. On the other hand I do belive that for countries like Afghanistan, tourism is good, and I think this is a very important time for Afghanistan. I think the country’s turning round. There is the possibility of a renaissance and future security. It would be very nice if the world began to realise what hospitable and warm people Afghanis are, to overcome the impression that the place is a desperate war zone…

What a loony. Thanks to Olly, the perennial Radio Four listener, for drawing this to my attention. (I was asleep at the time). If you never saw Bachman Reza’s letter to the London Review of Books, responding to Rory’s essay on walking through Iran (LRB Diary, 6 September 2001), do have a look. It is also very funny.Dave wrote [14.1.2002]: Thanks for sending me that. I haven’t knowingly spoken to Rory since 1990, which is an enormous shame, because he certainly seems to live an interesting life. And a double shame, since he was my very best friend in the world at two times – 4 and 16!

James Joyce

January 13th, 2002

From “The Dead”, in Dubliners:

It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

In memoriam James Augustine Aloysius Joyce, died this day, 1941.

Harry’s Drug Shame

January 13th, 2002

“Etonian smokes dope” is about as much of a non-story as the “students get drunk” stories we were served up towards the end of last year after various goings-on at St. Catherine’s College in Cambridge. The real pleasure of today’s Harry’s Drug Shame stories, of course, is that we will be treated to more of the ruminations and calming words of Lord St. John of Fawsley. The story was of “no public interest whatsoever”, he solemnly told the BBC. Please report further sightings of the nation’s favourite “constitutional expert”.

Chris adds [14.1.2002]: Perhaps there have not been as many sightings as I had anticipated. Here are a couple: “Lord St John of Fawsley told the BBC the News of the World’s revelations were serious, but should not be blown up out of proportion. ‘Prince Harry was the member of the Royal Family who suffered most from the death of his mother,’ he said. ‘The News of the World should have some concern for this boy and not expose him to this kind of publicity because there’s no public interest in that whatsoever.’ [Not everyone agreed with the noble lord: Guy Black, director of the Press Complaints Commission on the other hand said to the BBC that “It is important to underline that this was an exceptional matter of public interest”.] And according to Reuters, Lord St.J. of F. told BBC radio that “the person who has come totally well out of this is the Prince of Wales, who has acted as a responsible parent who hasn’t thought about the public issues but has taken his son along to get expert help”.

W on the People of the Subcontinent

January 11th, 2002

On Monday, W. spoke to reporters about the crisis in South Asia. Here’s what he said:

I don’t believe the situation is defused yet, but I do believe there is a way to do so, and we are working hard to convince both the Indians and the Pakis there’s a way to deal with their problems without going to war.

Not all the news reports mentioned his use of the word “Pakis”. The Reuters report has “Pakistanis”; the BBC dropped the offending clause altogether; and the later report in Newsday conceded that the President had used a “slang term” which it described, in unexplained, unsourced quotation marks, as “definitely a derogatory term for Pakistanis”. W.’s spokesperson later denied he meant to be disrespectful; and on the strength of a statement from a spokesperson at the Pakistani embassy that “he did not consider what Bush said to be an insult”, the people at Opinion Journal decided that
“the whole ‘controversy’ in other words, seems to have been an invention of the White House press corps”. Some useful discussion is over at

Band left nameless by holy terror

January 11th, 2002

From today’s New Zealand Herald:

New Zealand’s greatest rock band, Shihad, are changing their name because of its similarity to jihad – the Islamic term for holy war – fearing a backlash as they try to make their mark in America.Osama bin Laden has called a jihad against the United States following the September 11 attacks.

A new name is yet to be decided on. Shihad drummer Tom Larkin said the decision was a tough one to make given the 13 years they had spent under the banner. It had been devastating to consider the implications of changing their name, he said.

“We’ve just spent four months in the US and every news item talks of the ‘Jihad against America’. As far as 99.9 per cent of Americans are concerned, ‘jihad’ means fundamentalist terrorist war against all Americans’.

“We wouldn’t get played on radio, we wouldn’t get tours and what would be the point?”

The name Shihad comes from the misspelling of the word jihad the band lifted from the novel Dune.

The group aim to have the new name in place before playing the Australasian Big Day Out tour, which starts in Auckland next Friday.

Thanks to Aziz, for drawing it to the attention of the weblog.


January 10th, 2002

There’s some entertainment over at the ever-dreadful CNN:

“A gaffe,” Michael Kinsley once observed, “occurs not when a politician lies, but when he tells the truth.”

CNN made a terrible gaffe over the weekend and told a terrific truth.

It was refreshing to see somebody finally spit out what we all know but what the networks go to ludicrous lengths to deny: They hire and promote news stars based on looks and sex appeal.

About 10 times over the weekend, CNN ran an ad promoting Paula Zahn’s new morning show, “American Morning,” with a male announcer purring, “Where can you find a morning news anchor who’s provocative, super-smart, oh yeah, and just a little sexy?”

The word sexy then flared onto the screen, accompanied by a noise that sounded like a zipper unzipping.

The ad’s naked truth stunned television insiders. “If they’re sexy, so be it,” said Don Hewitt, executive producer of “60 Minutes.” “It ain’t necessary to say it. It’s undignified.

“Whatever Paula brings to television,” he said, “it’s despite the fact that she’s nicely put together. It diminishes a first-rate woman journalist to label her sexy. Why doesn’t CNN say that Wolf Blitzer is sexy? He must be sexy to somebody.”

On Monday the embarrassed CNN chief, Walter Isaacson, yanked the spot. “It was a bad mistake,” he said. “I’m really sorry. The promotion department didn’t get it cleared. You can say sexy about a man but not about a woman.”

A CNN spokesman explained that the noise was not supposed to be a zipper sound, but more like a needle scratching across an LP record — a sound effect sometimes used on “Ally McBeal.” …

From Maureen Dowd’s column, in yesterday’s New York Times.

Living with the Whites

January 10th, 2002

British Asian novelist Rajeev Balasubramanyam has some opinions he’d like to share.

Hollywood, literally, is full of it: “buddy films”, like Lethal Weapon, with the black man as loyal sidekick to the white man, or Seven Years in Tibet, where Brad Pitt�s sidekick is none other than the Dalai Lama; or the inter-racial love story; or films like Biko, Hurricane or Amistad (returning to the abolitionist root of it all) which appear to be about black heroes, but turn out to be about white heroes who make black heroism possible….

From his new essay, “Living With The Whites”, available only at The Voice of the Turtle.

Yesterday in Parliament

January 10th, 2002

From today’s Hansard:

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway): In anticipation of tomorrow’s important debate, will the Prime Minister consider what is the point of replacing a second Chamber that was rotten because of inherited patronage with a second Chamber that is rotten because of contemporary patronage?

The Prime Minister: First, the independent Members of the House of Lords will be appointed by the independent commission. Secondly, the political appointments can be made in one of two ways. Those Members could be wholly elected — some people here in the House agree with that — or they could be appointed through the political parties. In either event, those would obviously be political appointments. That is a matter for the House to debate, and of course we will listen carefully to the House’s views about the right way to proceed with House of Lords reform. However, I have to say to my hon. and learned Friend and other hon. Members that, listening to those views, it is clear that there are almost as many different views about what should happen with the House of Lords as there are Members of Parliament.

It’s nice to know that when voters elect someone to represent them in Parliament, the Prime Minister thinks this is a “political appointment” functionally indistinguishable from the exercise of arbitrary patronage by party bosses.

Nun will die Sonn’ so hell aufgehn

January 8th, 2002
Nun will die Sonn’ so hell aufgehn,
Als sei kein Ungl�ck die Nacht geschehn!
Das Ungl�ck geschah nur mir allein!
Die Sonne, sie scheinet allgemein!
Du mu�t nicht die Nacht in dir verschr�nken,
Mu�t sie ins ew’ge Licht versenken!
Ein L�mplein verlosch in meinem Zelt!
Heil sei dem Freudenlicht der Welt!
Now the sun will as brightly shine
As if the night had brought no misfortune.
The misfortune fell alone on me;
The sun shines on everybody.
You must not clasp the night within you,
Iit must sink away into everlasting light.
A little lamp has gone out in my house!
Hail to the joyful light of the world!

The poem is by Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866); it is also the text of the first song in the Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the death of children) song cycle by Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), written one hundred years ago (though not performed until 1905).

Sameer wrote [15.1.2002]: You may want to have a look at Mallarmé’s “Pour un Tombeau d’Anatole”, written in reponse to the illness and death of his eight-year-old son. Fragmentary, agonised, grappling – incredibly human and touching – especially for one whose reputation is so glacial and literary. Just this overwhelming sense of helpless love and sacrifice. Also see Paul Auster’s essay on it – the only bit of Auster I’ve ever read (the “New York Trilogy” stands uncracked on my shelf), but a keen response.