Saturday 31 March 2007

Friday 30 March 2007


Not the Animal Liberation Front, but the first episode (1986) of one of my favourite TV shows when I was growing up in Germany (the others were Knight Rider and Dougie Howser). ALF stands for "Alien Life Form". The German actor who dubbed the voice of Willie Tenner also did James Bond! I think I prefer the German voice for ALF. His "nul problemo" was better than "no problem". ALF's name - and I didn't know this before - is Gordon!

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Monday 26 March 2007

Limmy's World of Glasgow

Pure fuckin' magic, right. Get yoursel' listenin' tae this cunt: Limmy's World of Glasgow. John Paul is the best. He'll fuckin' chib ye, ya dafty. It's a Weegie retort to Devvo.


Here's an interesting article from National Geographic about "exurbs" in the Orlando metropolitan area.

Sunday 25 March 2007

Hollywood Ending (2002) - ickleReview (HD)

Woody Allen movie about a has-been auteur film director (played by Woody Allen) who is hired by his ex-wife (Téa Leoni) to direct a film set in New York called The City That Never Sleeps. Just before shooting begins, he goes blind and has to bluff his way through the entire movie.

This wasn't released in the UK. It's quite a harsh satire on Hollywood - amusing rather than funny, although there are occasional craicing jokes.

Nugget: not a bad film, but compared to the rest of his oeuvre, it's middling. Some good ideas. Features Debra Messing (Grace from Will & Grace) and Tiffany Thiesson (from Saved by the Bell).

Chocolat (2000) - ickleReview (TV)

Sweet film set in a pious Catholic French village. The comte (Alfred Molina) compels his citizens to fast during Lent. A mother and child arrive and turn the empty patisserie into a chocolaterie, bringing passion and courage back into the lives of the villagers with their secret recipes.

Juliette Binoche is wonderfully charismatic as the chocolate-maker traveller, befriending the friendless, bringing people together, blessing with compassion (not unlike Amélie but with less subterfuge). Judi Dench is reliably accomplished as a grumpy old lady who is forbidden by her daughter (Carrie-Anne Moss) from seeing her grandson. Chocolate brings out the best in people. Johnny Depp then shows up to provide the third act complication and love interest.

A charming film, which seems to have been hack-sawed in the editing room. Characters disappear for longish sections - or are not fully dealt with e.g. in their reaction to a death.

Nugget: sweet like chocolate.

Thursday 22 March 2007

Dr Spock's ears

Q: How many ears does Dr Spock have?
A: 3 - one left ear, one right ear, and one final frontier.

(Source: my housemate Daf, again.)

The Great Global Warming Swindle (2006) - ickleReview (TV)

I heard about this programme on BBC Radio 4's The Moral Maze. I was keen to see it because apparently my party, the Liberal Democrats, had tried to prevent it from being show on Channel 4 television. It is a rare example of a dissenting position against the majority consensus that climate change is man-made and is caused by carbon dioxide emissions. Opponents of this consensus have been portrayed as heretics and deniers (with distasteful connotations of Holocaust denial). Although the science is partly a forecast, the majority of us have faith in what we are being told will happen. The belief in man-made climate change is starting to look like a religion or an ideology.

Now I myself am quite happy to buy into this belief. It fits with my naturally lefty, liberal, environmental, anti-capitalist (or at least anti-relentless economic growth) bent. I do not agree, however, that programmes such as this should be gagged because they offer a different point of view. I'm not sure it's completely trustworthy. I don't understand how much of the other side's scientific evidence they are bending or leaving out. But I do think it is important to hear the opposition calmly, without hysteria.

Some of the cases they make are convincing. I was certainly intrigued by their arguments that it was primarily the sun's activity, rather than carbon dioxide levels within the Earth's atmosphere, that determines climate change. They do practise counter-propaganda by suggesting that a huge $2 billion industry has been created with vested interests in proving the case for man-made global warming. They are also insightful on the way the issue is covered in the media, and how they, too, are eager to report a story with ever-increasing urgency and intensity. (Although they don't consider that the media will always have a story to tell, even if it isn't this one. Just as one story cools and slips down the news agenda, so another will rise.)

I'm not sure what I believe anymore. I certainly think we should aim to reduce our energy consumption because fossil fuels are running out and we have not yet developed sustainable and reliable alternatives to replace entirely the energy we generate from fossil fuels. I believe we should be trying to curb our consumption and economic growth and try to redistribute our wealth more evenly within our own countries and worldwide; and to allow the developing world to catch up with us through industrialization, even if that means burning fossil fuels. I guess it will take a few days for this programme to sink in before I really know where I still stand. I'm certainly now more prepared to question what I'm being told, which I think is always a healthy thing in a democracy.

Nugget: this acts as a good counter-weight to the article I posted the other day and Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. A compelling programme. I should go hunting to see if there are any proper critiques of the documentary evidence it uses.

Gauguin and van Gogh

Gauguin walks into a bar and sees van Gogh sitting by himself.

"Alright Vincent, mate," says he, "Fancy a pint?"

"No thanks, mate," says van Gogh, "I've got one ear."

Nice legs!

At the end of every rugby match I referee, I give out two report cards. In senior games, I ask the captains from each team to fill them in. With juniors, I ask the coaches. Last Sunday I refereed Wallingford vs. Chipping Norton U15s. Below is the report card I received from the Chipping Norton coach. I'm not quite sure what to make of it. I was embarrassed when I first read it, thinking it was some sort of come-on from the coach, until I realized the name and phone number were for Roz Fox. I wonder if she knew about it. I'm also unsure if it's sarcastic. I may be fit, but I'm hardly bronzed, being a pasty Scot. I don't see how it will help me become a better referee. They're supposed to give feedback on my performance and point out areas where I can improve.

Wednesday 21 March 2007


Academic: articles in books
Academic: book reviews
  • Review of Karl Beckson, The Religion of Art: A Modernist Theme in British Literature, 1885-1925 (New York: AMS Press, 2006), James Joyce Quarterly, 45.2 (Winter 2008), 377-9 <> [accessed 30 September 2022; subscription required].
  • Review of Sarah Dillon, The Palimpsest: Literature, Criticism, Theory (London and New York: Continuum, 2007), Review of English Studies, 60.244 (2009), 332-4 <> [accessed 30 September 2022; subscription required] (doi:10.1093/res/hgn156).
  • Review of Laura O'Connor, Haunted English: The Celtic Fringe, the British Empire, and De-Anglicization (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), James Joyce Quarterly, 45.1 (Fall 2007), 170-3 <> [accessed 30 September 2022; subscription required].
Academic: journal articles
Academic: conference papers
  • "'What Letter Means Not the Palimpsest': Drafting Shem the Penman", delivered at the "Eire on the Erie" North American James Joyce Conference, Buffalo, New York, USA, 12-17 June 2009.
  • "Gablerizing Error", delivered at the "errears and erroriboose" Zurich James Joyce Foundation Workshop, Switzerland, 3-9 August 2008.
  • "'Piously Forged Palimpsests': The Re-Nascent Quality of Hans Walter Gabler's Synoptic Text of Ulysses", delivered at the XXIst International James Joyce Symposium, Tours, France, 15-20 June 2008.
  • "'Piously Forged Palimpsests': Hans Walter Gabler's Synoptic Text of Ulysses", delivered at the English Graduate Conference, Oxford University, 30 May 2008.
  • "D(a)edalus Retold: James Joyce Rewiting Stephen Hero as A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man", delivered at the Twentieth-Century Research-in-Progress Seminar, Oxford University, 7 May 2007; and "Retelling Tales" postgraduate conference, University of Stirling, 19-20 May 2007.
  • "'A Little Ireland': James Joyce, Dublin and Trieste", delivered at In Medias Res: British-Italian Cultural Transactions, British Academy Colloquium 2: "Exiles and Emigrés", New Hall, University of Leicester, 13-15 April 2007; and the English graduate conference, Oxford University, 8 June 2007.
  • "Modernism and the Palimpsest", delivered at the MSt 1900-Present Day A-course conference, Oxford University, 2 May 2006.
Journalism: features
Journalism: film reviews
Journalism: sport
Journalism: theatre reviews
Online film reviews
Oxford Muse portraits
  • "What you can discover if you do not drink or dance": self-portrait (also available here) (October 2003).
  • "Why being a hairdresser satisfies the need for perfection": Alan Cooksley (November 2003).
  • "How a retired human resources manager copes with being a widower": Brian Edwards (August 2004).
  • "What to do with the clutter of life": Chris Fitzgerald (December 2004).
  • "Why I painted my face, tooth and glasses black": Anna Jackson (February 2005).
  • "Nobody told me about the starting gun: Why the years from sixty to seventy were the best of my life": Eve Hoare (July 2006).
Some of these are also available in Guide to an Unknown City (Oxford Muse, 2004) and Guide to an Unknown University (Oxford Muse, 2006).

Clippings available on request. Oxford Student and Cherwell articles are badly formatted in the online archives.

Found by a man walking his dog

Why is it that whenever somebody is found dead in a field or by some railway tracks that the body is always reportedly found by "a man walking his dog"? Why is it always a man? I can see that the dog might be crucial to the situation - it is the one, after all, most likely to sniff something out; but the media almost always use the same, anonymous formulation. It's like those other journalistic formulae, such as "the boy, who can't be named for legal reasons" and "Partick Thistle 0". Maybe it's a governmental code, a trigger signal, like the complicated system of flaps and pats that baseball coaches use to tell the batter when to bunt, when to swing to help the runner on first steal second, when to fly out and so on.

I bet it was a man walking his dog who found Dr David Kelly dead in the woods near his home in Oxfordshire. Kelly, remember, was the government weapons inspector killed by over-exposure in the media in July 2003. Actually, I think it was the police who found him, but of course they would claim the credit; they would never say it was just "a [police]man walking his [sniffer]dog". The day he went missing, Kelly left his home telling his wife that he was going for a walk. I wonder if he had a dog. That would be bizarre: for once the man walking his dog would be the victim; but unless he was prepared to murder the mutt as well, the quadruped might actually have the opportunity to garner all the credit for itself. "What's that Lassie? Dr David Kelly has committed suicide in the woods on Harrowdown Hill, near his home at Southmoor in Oxfordshire? You ran all the way home? And he wasn't properly dressed to go out? He didn't have a jacket with him? Now, Lassie, don't be bolshy: not everyone carries their fur coat around with them all the time, you know. Have you told the police yet? No? You thought you'd come home for dinner first? I see. It's a bit early to start barking about the New Year Honours List; but maybe if you could loan the Labour party some money, that nice man with the sweat stains on his shirt might be able to find you a seat in the House of Lords."

Come to think of it, it was probably also a man walking his dog who found how to split the atom and map the human genome. Do you really think Einstein did all his thinking in the lab? Everyone knows all the great ideas are found when out a man...with one's dog.

On the other hand, it could be a euphemism for God. Bit too much of a coincidence that it's always a man and his dog, donchathink? Or even A Man and His Dog. Maybe the police just don't want to reveal their direct line to heaven and feed the press this bullshit just to protect their sources. It could be another one of those public secrets, like Charles Kennedy's drinking problem. Maybe one day it will out.

Is it the same man and his dog who stand on the touchlines at football matches, just out of sight of the TV cameras but ever-present when the match is between the Red Lion and the King's Arms in your local Sunday league? Is it, in fact, the same man every bloody time - the poor man's superhero: Man and His Dog-man in the amazing adventures of one man and his dog. See how they discover mysteries and forgotten treasure, spot drowning water-skiers, and rescue small children trapped under the ice of a frozen pond! Where are these men in the movies? They may find the body in murder mysteries, particularly ones set in incomparably violent rural English villages, but do they ever get a show just to themselves?

Is it the same as the Alsatian sniffer dogs trained to find drugs? Is the man blind and the dog his guide? Why is the dog never given top billing? "A body was discovered today on the toe-path of the Manchester Ship Canal. Police say they were notified this morning by a dog who had been out walking with its owner. Their names cannot be given because its voice was too ruff Rover the phone."

I wonder how often the phrase appears in the press. At the time of writing [April 2006], there were 33 stories in the Guardian online archive containing the phrase "a man walking his dog"; only 14 for "a woman walking her dog". Google News listed 40 stories with man and mutt. But, surprisingly, 54 hits were about women dog-walkers. Maybe the man is now so busy reporting all the dead bodies he's discovering that he no longer has time to walk his dog.

Monday 19 March 2007

Spurs manager offers cheaper car insurance

Tottenham Hotspur manager Martin Jol; Churchill Insurance dog

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Warm

John Lanchester writes in "Warmer, Warmer", a long article on climate change:

"It is strange and striking that climate change activists have not committed any acts of terrorism. After all, terrorism is for the individual by far the modern world’s most effective form of political action, and climate change is an issue about which people feel just as strongly as about, say, animal rights. This is especially noticeable when you bear in mind the ease of things like blowing up petrol stations, or vandalising SUVs. In cities, SUVs are loathed by everyone except the people who drive them; and in a city the size of London, a few dozen people could in a short space of time make the ownership of these cars effectively impossible, just by running keys down the side of them, at a cost to the owner of several thousand pounds a time. Say fifty people vandalising four cars each every night for a month: six thousand trashed SUVs in a month and the Chelsea tractors would soon be disappearing from our streets. So why don’t these things happen? Is it because the people who feel strongly about climate change are simply too nice, too educated, to do anything of the sort? (But terrorists are often highly educated.) Or is it that even the people who feel most strongly about climate change on some level can’t quite bring themselves to believe in it?"

Read it in full in the London Review of Books. Then watch this controversial documentary from Channel 4, which offers a sobering counter-argument.

Varsity boxing

The 100th Varsity boxing match heavyweight bout between Oxford captain J. Webster (Oriel) and Cambridge captain E. Andrews (St John's), Thursday 15 March 2007, York Hall, Bethnal Green, London, E2.

Round 1:

Round 3:

The judges' decision:

Every keyboard should have one

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The Mayfly Project 2006

A great wee idea keeps going. The biography of a mayfly: "Born. Eat. Shag. Die." Sum up your own 2006 in 24 words. Reflect on what was important, defining or constant last year. Mine is: "Completed master's (with distinction). Joyce in Trieste. Fell in love four-ish times (unreciprocated as always). Did the same to someone else. Started my doctorate." What's yours?

Go to The Mayfly Project to post your own.

Luminox: medieval modernity

On Thursday night I left the library at closing time just before 7pm. I walked up Catte Street to unlock my bike and cycle home for dinner. As I was crossing the lane underneath the Bridge of Sighs, I thought "What the fuck?!" as I saw flames coming from the New Bodleian. It was on fire. When I was closer I realized it was a deliberate fire: a huge globe of little flames in flower pots, smoking incense.

I stood on the corner outside the History Faculty, drinking tea from my flask, taking in the wonderful scene. I love how Oxford can surprise you like this. The whole of Broad Street was transformed. Wires of lights were suspended from the Clarendon Building and the Sheldonian Theatre.

There were braziers in the middle of the street.

Further up, there were metals columns above a bowl of fire, with some sort of gear-wheel mechanism controlling the supply of oxygen, so they would periodically explode a fireball from the top. They were being operated by men in black suits wearing black hats. I thought they might have been local gypsies, celebrating some kind of rite of spring or the Ides of March. (14 March, I discovered, is Pi day: if you write the date the American way, 3.14, it's the first two decimal places of Pi.)

(Pardon the lopsided orientation of this video. I still haven't got used to the fact that you can't hold the camera in portrait upright fashion when taking videos.) There were also little carvings in metal.

A fountain.

And a massive star-shaped chandelier suspended from a crane opposite Balliol College.

There was a brilliant atmosphere of excitement, wonder and calm. I was torn between trying to enjoy the moment and wanting to share it with other people. I toyed with the idea of going home for my camera. I texted a few people to tell them to get down here, even tried phoning. I was quite glad no one came, though. I was happy soaking it all up by myself, trusting my own impressions.

I liked not knowing what it was all about at first, what it was in aid of. It felt pagan, medieval, properly old English. And yet everyone was desperately trying to record it with the camera phones and digital cameras, and even I was using my mobile to try to contact people. Eventually I was given a leaflet explaining what it was. The bandstand in the middle, with some book* music from Jali Fily Cissokho, a Mandinkan Griot and kora player from Senegal - an instrument played between the legs like a cello, looking like a sitar/guitar, and sounding like a harp - was part of a festival organized by Oxford Contemporary Music. The huge pendulum of fire, which I didn't notice on the first night because a crowd of people surrounded it, is supposed to swing around 1,000 a night, marking the 1,000 years of Oxfordshire. It's all part of a cultural celebration initiated by Oxford Inspires, the company that was formed after Oxford's unsuccessful bid for European Capital of Culture in 2008.

These photos and videos I took on Friday night. Going back wasn't quite as special. There wasn't that sense of surprise and confusion. I also didn't look at things in the same way, as I was always thinking of the photo, of which settings to use, where to place my camera. That was why I didn't want to spoil Thursday night. I wouldn't have experienced it in the same way. I wanted to veer more towards the medieval than the modern.

* "book" is what predictive text spells when you type 2665 for "cool". I believe it has become (and probably ceased to be) playground slang for "cool".

Friday 16 March 2007

Wednesday 14 March 2007

State of the Nation

Spring Training is underway. It's less than three weeks till Opening Day, 2 April, when the Boston Red Sox will face the Royals in KC. For three seasons now I'm after watching State of the Nation to keep up-to-date with all the Red Sox news (my first season we won the 2004 World Series!). There's a full archive of all three seasons. The first season of the show in 2004 began after the All-Star break. The latest episode came out on March 6 and brings early news from the Bo' Sox's pre-season base at Fort Myers, Florida. Ah, to be sure, it's a grand habit to pick up.

Monday 12 March 2007

Barbarians vs. New Zealand All Blacks (1973) at Cardiff Arms Park

There are a lot of things to note about this video. I didn't realize the greatest try was scored so early on in this match (within the first 5 minutes). I also like some of the period features of rugby 34 years ago: the immediate engagement at the scrums; the condensed, unlifting lineouts with wingers throwing in (with a particularly odd overarm bowling style from the Kiwi no. 14 B. G. Williams); the under-rehearsed Haka (hardly as fearsome as it is today); the generally effeminate, schoolmasterish look of most of the players and the referee (these are amateur athletes); the heavy ball; the no longer practised straight-on toe-poke place-kicking technique of the Kiwi full-back, J. F. Karam; the deliberate pendulum passing style; the good sportsmanship. Some of the rules have changed since then: technical offences at the scrum, such as a squint feed or foot up, are now only a free-kick offence, rather than a penalty, as it was in the 1970s. I was impressed by the utter dependability of the Welsh full-back, J. P. R. Williams and the smooth running of Mike Gibson the Irish inside-centre and D. J. Duckham, the long-legged, blond-haired English right wing. The players were noticeably tired in the second half, which petered out in the last 20 minutes. Nevertheless, a real treat.

Friday 9 March 2007

Darfur, Iraq: same difference?

"The similarities between Iraq and Darfur are remarkable. The estimate of the number of civilians killed over the past three years is roughly similar. The killers are mostly paramilitaries, closely linked to the official military, which is said to be their main source of arms. The victims too are by and large identified as members of groups, rather than targeted as individuals. But the violence in the two places is named differently. In Iraq, it is said to be a cycle of insurgency and counter-insurgency; in Darfur, it is called genocide. Why the difference? Who does the naming? Who is being named? What difference does it make?"

Thus writes Mahmood Mamdani in the London Review of Books this month, in an article on "The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency". I hadn't stopped to question the way the war was being covered in the media. To be honest, I'd switched off. I'm quite apathetic to human evil. It doesn't surprise me any more and I don't know if there's much I can do about it, or whether I should even be trying to do something. On which moral ground would I be standing? The only way I can see to downscale this kind of bloodshed in the future is to control the sale of arms and military expertise that our governments and companies offer to other countries. There's a nuclear non-proliferation treaty. How about a general weapons non-proliferation treaty? How many more deaths have been caused by common and garden guns compared to nuclear devices? Has there been anything since America dropped the bomb twice on Japan at the end of the Second World War? Would it be better to take away the guns and let the tribes fight it out? I don't believe Iraq should stay as one country if the people living there don't want it. Perhaps Sudan should be allowed to fracture in its own way, as happened in the former Yugoslavia.

Mamdani concludes: "The worst thing in Darfur would be an Iraq-style intervention. That would almost certainly spread the civil war to other parts of Sudan, unravelling the peace process in the east and south and dragging the whole country into the global War on Terror."

Where's Chomsky when you need him?

Wednesday 7 March 2007

Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) - ickleReview (cinema)

In my review of Flags of Our Fathers (2006) I noted the facelessness of the Japanese enemy in that story told from the American soldiers' point of view of the WWII battle for the island of Iwo Jima, from where the Americans would then start an attack on the Japanese mainland near the end of the war. Letters from Iwo Jima, a companion film also directed by Clint Eastwood, brilliantly fills in those missing perspectives and surpasses the slender merits of Flags of Our Fathers.

Downfall was set in Hitler's bunker during the fall of Berlin. Letters from Iwo Jima portrays the last stand of the Japanese imperial forces, fighting on to certain death. The charismatic General Kuribayashi is drafted in to lead the depleted forces, bereft of any support from the destroyed naval fleet. His men are suffering from low morale and dysentery. They have no hope of withstanding an American attack. The US have more advanced military technology, aerial dominance and vast numbers. The shots of the American flotilla as they approach the island - borrowed from Flags of Our Fathers - are staggering (and almost certainly computer generated).

The film focuses on two main characters: Kuribayashi, who had spent some time in America before the war; and Saigo, a lowly private, who has left behind a wife and child, who had not yet been born when he was drafted. He tells his buddy about how the war effort put his bakery out of business. Also reporting for duty is Baron Nishi, an Olympic equestrian champion and celebrity. He wanted to serve under General Kuribayashi, even though he knew the situation they would be fighting in would be futile and lead to almost certain death.

Inevitably with subtitles, some of the conversations feel a little contrived and the narrative flashbacks are a rather tired part of cinematic language, particularly when the characters' eyes glaze over before and after the cut away, as if we wouldn't understand that what we were about to see is in their mind's eye.

Nevertheless, the film as a whole is a success. At times it is sick-makingly gruesome because it doesn't flinch from showing the brutality of men at war. It is also morally ambiguous, investigating the complicated Japanese code of honour, serving emperor and country. There is not the same brotherhood of soldiers that is common in American portrayals of active service. This film, on the contrary, investigates the troubling dilemmas of fighting on the losing side; of following orders one knows is futile; and on whether there is a right and wrong on the battlefield. It is appropriate that they are fighting in caves as sometimes one realizes perhaps we have not advanced much beyond the ethics of the neolithic.

Nugget: by no means a flawless film. It is an unusual look at the enemy, who are rarely given such depth of character. The lasting impression is the utter futility of war. What on earth were the Japanese fighting for anyway? There is in fact a flashback scene when Kuribayashi envisages fighting alongside the Americans in the war, not against them. It overlaps cleverly at times with Flags of Our Fathers, sharing some of the same shots and showing the same situation from an entirely a different perspective. Neither film would work quite as well on its own without the compliment of the other, but Letters from Iwo Jima is definitely the stronger.

Tuesday 6 March 2007

Google Docs & Spreadsheets

This looks pretty fucking cool. I wonder if I will write my DPhil thesis on this in the end. Can it do footnotes, I wonder? Maybe I could send drafts to my supervisor this way. Footnotes would be good, though, and some sort of compatibility with EndNote or RefWorks. I actually wrote this post in Google Docs & Spreadsheets and posted it to my blog from there. This is really just a trial post, playing around with it.

This is what quotations look like. I hope there isn't a box around this.

I imagine in future journalists will be using this kind of thing - if they aren't already.

Doesn't look like the title of the document has been imported into Blogger. It should be called Google Docs & Spreadsheets. I'll write my ickleReviews with this in future. Better than using the WYSIWYG editor in Blogger, although that has improved; and better than posting them by email, which sometimes messes up the formatting.

Sunday 4 March 2007

Craic pot

Q: What's the fastest cake in the West?
A: Scone.

"Doctor, doctor! I've got a strawberry up my nose."
"Don't worry. I can give you some cream for it!"

Source: Radio 4 (via Moira, the mother).