Friday, February 28, 2003

I got to this Lee Harris defence of the use of the word "Evil" via InstaPundit

"And if you wish to verify this for yourself, ask them what word they would suggest we use when we want to find the proper moral characterization of the gassing of children and the torturing of innocents?"

"Were the Nazis ethically challenged? Was Stalin misunderstood? Were the Al Qaeda hijackers mischief-makers? Was the slave trade misguided?"

"What word may we use, if you have forbidden us the use of evil? What name can we assign to those ghastly horrors that constitute the black holes of the moral universe?"

Well put.
Great piece by Mark Steyn on the notion of "Getting the Palestinian Peace Process Back on Track".

"The problem with Jerusalem is not one of jurisdictional technicalities: it's that a substantial proportion of Palestinians see a two-state solution as an intermediate stage to a one-state solution. You may well agree with the jihadi on that: certainly many Europeans do. But there's no reason at all why Israel should go along with it."

Most critics of Israel just don't get it. The naive notion is that a) Israeli Occupation = Palestinian Suffering, b) Palestinian Suffering = "Political" Violence. If you remove the "Root Cause" then the Palestinians won't be suffering, therefore they won't "need" to terrorise Israelis. Now I don't actually go along with this simplistic formulation but even if a) and b) were true, it doesn't follow automatically that it works in reverse (I intend to expand in a further post about how people often don't appreciate the "ratchet effect") Nonetheless, what this proposition is asking Israelis to do is to gamble their lives and the future of their country on the idea that as soon as the "Occupied Territories" are given statehood, all of the Palestinians will be satisfied. Experience has taught even the most liberal Israeli not to take that on trust.
Celtic will meet Liverpool in the Uefa cup Quarter finals. This should be an interesting tie. I think that, with Lazio requiring an outright win against Kracow or at least four away goals in the event of a draw to proceed, these two teams are probably the strongest still in the competition. A resurgent Liverpool would probably be stronger than Celtic but I think that these games will be more like local derbies and Celtic stand a good chance of knocking the scousers out. As I noted below, it would be a major achievement for O'Neill to bring the Uefa cup home to Glasgow and would alleviate the pain of surrendering the league title to their deadly rivals Rangers.
Andrew Sullivan refers to an incidence of antisemitism in Yale Daily News. The author of the piece, criticising the paper, inferred from the high proportion of Jewish people in the media and government that a subconscious Pro-Israel agenda existed and that somehow this "cabal" was driving public opinion in this area. It strikes me that as well as being antisemitic the author is also displaying the classic logical error made by many on the mainstream left and on the extreme right. It is what I think of as the "Fat Controller Fallacy" the caricature of which is that there is a fat man behind a desk somewhere who runs everything.

What unites anti-semites, conspiracy theorists and people who don't understand market forces (or natural selection for that matter) is the belief that for any given phenomenon there is always a "top down" explanation. The assumption is that "the people" are a lumpen mass, ready to take direction from those "in power".

For example: the idea that corporations relentlessly advertise products people don't "need" and so brainwash them into buying them. Now, anyone with a half-notion of how market forces operate would realise straight away that this is an extremely bad business model. I hope that the following thought experiment illustrates this. Let's say you are head of a soft drinks corporation, and you have a choice of two new products to launch, say one is a blue coloured drink and the other orange. Lets say you have had both drinks tasted and market researched. Result: no-one likes the blue drink, everyone likes the orange drink. Now, which of these products are you going to spend a lot of money advertising? People make cost-benefit decisions all the time and if something is a nonrunner it won't be promoted.

The fact that there are plenty of products nobody "needs" doesn't mean there are plenty of products that nobody wants. You can persuade someone to try something they might not have thought of trying before but no amount of advertising will persuade someone to buy something they don't like. You will make a lot more money finding out what people want and supplying it to them than you will thinking of ways to flog them any old crap.

Government policy and media coverage also follow this "bottom up" model. The fact that Americans are already broadly Pro-Israel "selects" that their government and media are also broadly Pro-Israel. It a simple explanation which doesn't require any major leaps of faith or improbable conjectures.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

A great line by John at Iberian Notes on the verdict of History.....

"Saddam will be remembered for possessing the evil of Hitler combined with the competence of Mussolini"

Nice one!
Author Zadie Smith, in today's Guardian has an angry, wilfully pig-headed, opinion piece. It is illuminating, only in the sense that it shows the pedantic and self-deluded mentality of the urbane cosmopolitan anti-war protester. It begins:

"The utterly fallacious idea at the heart of the pro-war argument is that it is the duty of the anti-war argument to provide an alternative to war."

If you say you don't want war then it is your "duty" to explain why you think war is wrong or unwise, that is just common sense. If you don't want to provide an alternative you can't very well complain when people refer to you as "Pro-Saddam".

Standard issue current received wisdom follows.....

"It would be to consolidate a feeling of injustice in the Middle East, the consequences of which we will reap for generations"

It seems to me that we are pretty much "reaping" this at the moment already. For a little more on this fallacy, see below.

"This is what people mean when they say "Not in my Name" - it is not liberal tosh or soft-headed fantasy. It is a repudiation of the responsibility of that blood."

"Repudiation of responsibility" is a revealing term, it translates as "Not my problem, guv". It also ties into the self-deluding notion that if you ignore a problem long enough it will go away but there is nothing particularly admirable about being indifferent.

"Rather than insane cowboy rhetoric, political fact is requested...."

This is an ingracious, but sadly commonplace, slur. The last time I heard anything approaching "cowboy rhetoric" was after 9/11 when Bush said that he wanted to get Osama Bin Laden, "like it said in the old posters: Dead or Alive". This was an amusing turn of phrase but not "insane". If anything, Bush and Blair have been reserved and patient, the shrillest voices have been Schroeder's and Chirac's.

"....The following questions were asked by Senator Byrd two weeks ago in the senate, a speech which made no appearance in any form in the American press. "

Seeing as Zadie thinks the old Klansman's questions haven't been answered, I'll give it a stab.

"To whom are we handing power after Saddam Hussein?"

I imagine that "we" aren't "handing power" to anyone. The idea would be to depose Saddam and allow Iraqis to determine themselves who will lead them.

"Will our war create chaos in the region and result in a horrific attack on Israel?"

This is a disingenuous question, if the question is "Is it in Israel's interest for Saddam to be deposed?", the answer is undoubtedly yes, indeed it has become an article of faith among the "anti-Zionist" element of the anti-war movement that the interests of Israel are determining US policy in this area. As to the notion of "chaos in the region", it depends what you mean by chaos, it strikes me that a little more chaos in an already chaotic region won't be all that noticeable.

"Will Israel retaliate with its own nuclear arsenal?"

I suppose "It depends" mightn't satisfy Ms Smith and her unlikely bedfellow. Israel has plenty of conventional methods of repelling an attack by Saddam and was restrained and patient during the last Gulf war.

"Will the Jordanian and Saudi Arabian governments be toppled by radicals, bolstered by Iran which, after all, has far closer ties to terrorism than Iraq? "

I was tempted to say "With friends like these, who needs enemies" but instead I would just say that by no means does it necessarily follow that "radicals" would be in any better situation to topple either of these regimes if Iraq is attacked than they are at present.

"I hope it is not considered anti-American to suggest that when significant questions like these go unreported anywhere in the American media, the pro-war contingent appears to need to add suppression of information to this extraordinary descent into illegal, irrational procedure."

It may not be anti-American to suggest all of this but it is certainly hysterical, inaccurate, and paranoid.
"Grand Designs" on Channel 4 is one of a wave of house-design-related programmes showing on TV these days. I think that, by and large, these programmes have a positive effect. It is generally believed that Doctors bemoan the increase in medical information available to their patients on the internet as many of their considered opinions are second-guessed, often based on incomplete or badly understood information. The opposite is the case for my own profession. The more information clients have about buildings and design, the better in my opinion. For all the benefits of these programmes, however, I find most of them irritating to watch, particularly the "house makeover" types. My uncle, who is a TV sound engineer and who has worked on a few of these, tells me that as soon as the cameras stop rolling many of these redecoration schemes start to fall apart.

Grand Designs is probably one of the best of these as each programme showcases a house project from inception to (usual) completion. It is saddled with a slightly irritating presenter in Kevin McCloud who can tend to be smug and patronising and it can often dwell, voyeuristically, on the pitfalls.

Last night's show was very interesting, involving a self build timber house, deep within a forest in Sussex. Normally the term "Sustainable Development:" grates on me (I think I will expand on this in a later post) but there was something admirable about how "lightly" this particular building sat on the ground. Electricity was by solar and wind power, obviating the need for digging up a track all the way to the main road to connect to the national grid. The building materials were timber from the forest for the structure, studwork, floor structure, floor finish, lath for plastering, cladding and roof shingles. External walls were constructed from straw bales. Walls were plastered in clay from the forest and lime render for the bales. It was extraordinary to see the construction and the attention to detail.

The guy who was building it worked the forest and had lived on the site in tents and a leaky caravan for ten years before he started to build the house. He is a pretty low-maintenance guy, miles removed from my own bourgeois sensibilities. He slept on an outdoor platform under a rudimentary shelter in the few weeks between the caravan packing it in and the completion of the enclosure of the house. Even at the final visit there was still no toilet plumbed and nocturnal defecation would require a trip to an outhouse a little way from the house.
After my post below mentioning difficulties Sinn Fein might have in future, raising funds in the US, I wanted to say a little more about anti-americanism. I think some people are confusing the issue here. The point about anti-americanism as I (and many others) describe it is not that one is "anti" individual americans. Now there is a lot of that about but what's more important than is what's referred to as "Critique of American Foreign Policy". Now it's very easy to say: "Hey, I like americans, american food/music/films/whatever, I'm not anti-american" but this is a bit like saying "Some of my best friends are black/gay/jewish/whatever". What SF will soon realise is that the type of (mostly conservative Irish-american) people in America who they could normally have relied on for support, financial and otherwise think that there is nothing wrong with "American Foreign Policy" thank you very much. Sure SF might have a tiny "Radical Chic" following but most of their money comes from Brooklyn and Boston, not Berkeley.
Group B in Champions league looks interesting again and far more like the "Group of Death" it was originally billed as. After another draw between Ajax and Arsenal and Roma's surprise 3-0 away defeat of Valencia there are now just 3 points separating Ajax in first place and Roma on the bottom. All teams now have a real incentive to win and the last two games for each should be hard fought. A resurgent Roma could even win the group by defeating Arsenal and Ajax. It's too close to call who will get out of this group but Arsenal, Ajax and Valencia have paid the price for being complacent.
Atlantic Blog draws attention to an Iraqi Blood for Irish Oil story. Petrel resources don't want a war to disturb their cushy deals.
I note that Daniel Libeskind is the preferred architect for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center. What an irony for the Islamofascists who destroyed it, that a Jew, responsible for designing Berlin's Jewish museum should oversee it's replacement. I am actually not a huge fan of Libeskind's architecture. I haven't visited the Berlin building but it is impressive and looks a more thorough piece of work in photographs than the contrived drawings for the project originally suggested. His scheme for the Victoria and Albert Museum is just as contrived but I have less confidence that, should the building be built, it would be anything other than an inelegant muddle. I am similarly unmoved by the Imperial War museum in Salford, Manchester, the contrived parti for which is that it is made up of fragments of a "fractured globe": This seems to me to have resonance only in drawings and descriptions and not in built form.

He is however a very interesting person. I listened to an interview with him on BBC Radio 4 a few weeks ago. He is referred to variously as German, Israeli, and American, but he was actually born in Poland. What remained of his family emigrated to Israel and he himself emigrated to America as a child prodigy pianist. He came to architecture late in life and he eloquently described how winning the competition for the Berlin Jewish Museum changed his life.

For what it's worth, I think that the biggest two fingers to the terrorists would be to rebuild the WTC exactly as it was, modified only to make it more structurally sound and safe in the case of a further attack. My view of the buildings would conform to pre-9/11 received wisdom which is that they weren't particularly elegant buildings to begin with but they kind of "grew on you", they looked restrained when the clumsy Cesar Pelli buildings sprouted up beside them and most importantly they defined the Manhattan Skyline. On my first visit to NY as a 13 year old I wasn't overly impressed with Manhattan (a view I've had cause to revise as an adult) but I have fond memories of the observation deck on top of the World Trade Center.

Normally I'm not in favour of rebuilding demolished buildings exactly as they were, and certainly not as a knee-jerk response. There is something necessarily inauthentic and deceptive about doing so but there are some cases where it is appropriate. The rebuilding of Warsaw's old town after it's destruction in WW2, in it's exact pre-war condition was an act of defiance and a similar gesture would be appropriate for the WTC.
On the Last Word radio show yesterday evening, Matt Cooper interviewed Con Coughlin, author of "Saddam: The Secret Life". The interview began predictably for Cooper as Coughlin expanded upon the tenacity and arrogance, not to mention longevity of Saddam, you could sense that Cooper was anticipating some schadenfreude, as wily Saddam would outwit the US and UK, he even made a crack about Saddam being "a good poker player".

Coughlin, however, was impressive and well informed and managed to surprise a Cooper more used to talking to Robert Fisk, whose lazy assertions are never challenged. Coughlin explained that Saddam did indeed have WMDs and the US and UK (as well as, presumably, France and Russia) had very reliable intelligence on this. Cooper seemed sceptical, asking why, if this was the case, the US and UK didn't present this evidence, which would allow "the inspectors to find the weapons". Coughlin gently but firmly reminded Cooper that: a) it was up to Saddam to provide evidence that he had disarmed fully and it there was no obligation on the US and UK to prove anything and b) Why should they risk perfectly good intelligence sources. He left unsaid, but implied, that the inspectors were most likely compromised by Iraqi "penetration". He then noted the link to Al-Qaeda. This caught Cooper by surprise, you could almost hear him spilling his mug of tea, asking, incredulously: "You don't believe there is a link with Al-Qaeda, is there?". Cooper, having heard routine rubbishings of this notion from the likes of Fisk, never thought to investigate it further but Coughlan spelled it out for him simply. No Saddam does not have any influence over Al-Qaeda, but yes, they have some common objectives, yes he has funded training camps in Sudan that A-Q has used and yes Al-Qaeda have also trained in Iraq, he could also have added that an Al-Qaeda faction is doing Saddam's work for him in Kurdish territory. I do hope that exposure to this clear impartial information would move the likes of Cooper to have a more intelligent and informed view about Iraq.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Found this Evil Meter via InstaPundit (who is apparently "Good").

Guess what?...... I'm Evil!!!???
John at Iberian Notes has a characteristically interesting piece on identity in Catalonia. He notes that country folk in Catalonia, though their political views may be different and despite what Catalan nationalists would wish, in their customs, food and behaviour, are very similar to other country folk in the North of Spain and that they all have a lot more in common, culturally, with each other than they do with country people in Andalusia and Southern France.

It occurs to me that you could say something very similar for the two communities in Northern Ireland. Here the difference is that it would apply to the urban working class and not country people. Not only their political aims for the future but also their view of the past and present are wildly different and even contradictory. That said, they have a lot more in common with each other, culturally, than they do with similar urban working class people in Britain and even the rest of Ireland. This is most noticeable in their way of life, customs and their heart stopping food. It is often said that Opera singers have a "store" of High "C"s: there is a fixed amount that they will be able to sing before their voice packs in, similarly, I think that the Northern Irish heart has a "store" of "Ulster Fries".

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Manchester United are through to the Quarter-Finals of the Champions' league for the seventh consecutive season.

A superb 3-0 away win at Juventus' Stadi del Alpi in Turin means that United win the group with two games to go. It was a really great performance against the Italian League leaders and was very comfortable in the end. Gary Neville attempting to chip Gianluigi Buffon in Juve's goal and hitting the woodwork was not a sight I expected to see. Juventus are no slouches, based in the industrial North-East of Italy they are the, er, Manchester United of Italy, but, even though both teams hit the woodwork and Juve had their chances, they were well beaten.

Roy Keane played in defence and both goalscorers were substitutes, Ryan Giggs, who scored two, including a peach of a solo goal for his second, came on after 5 minutes for Diego Forlan. Giggs himself was substituted for Ruud van Nistelrooy whose 23rd goal in 22 European games was a neat pass into an empty net after an appalling bit of defending by Juve. I would name Juan Sebastian Veron as man of the match. This was a much more impressive performance than last week against a now full strength Juve.

We may not catch Arsenal in the league but I feel we might be on a european roll, this result certainly sends a message and we are beginning to acquire that kind of aura that will hopefully intimidate our remaining opponents.
Word pairings that grate with me, first of another occasional series

I mentioned below about how the pairing "Sinn Fein IRA" grates on even light green Nationalists, I was thinking about similarly apparently harmless word pairings that irritate me.

1) "Both Sides"

Here's a thought: What if taking the exact middle point of any dispute between two parties is taking an actual position on it? Well it is, whether you like it or not.

It infuriates me to hear news readers use the term "both sides" in describing any dispute, whether it is striking airline workers picketing the airport, Palestinian suicide bombers or marching Loyalists and residents' groups. They are especially cagey when it comes to industrial disputes and prefer to affect a neutral position. There are always "two sides to every story" but sometimes one side of the story is "Mein Kampf" and the other is "Diary of Ann Frank".

Workers strike for better pay and conditions: that is an industrial dispute, no problem keeping a discreet distance there.

Workers strike and picket somewhere other than their workplace: that is not the same and should not be treated the same as the first. If you take a position halfway between "both sides" here you are actually favouring unreasonable workers over reasonable ones.
I saw a little snippet of Sky News this afternoon, the sound was down and there were subtitles, a correspondent was reporting from Iraq. I didn't need to hear her speak, and for all it matters, the subtitles might as well have been written earlier. Emblazoned across the screen were phrases including: "The Inspections are working", "More Time". I think that there is something Orwellian about these words. They seem perfectly reasonable, Who wouldn't want inspectors to have "More Time"?, especially if the inspections are "Working". These terms assist people in averting their eyes. What do people think the inspectors are there to do?

I know that along with Probability, Scale is a difficult concept for people to instinctively grasp. Iraq is a vast populous country. The (small number of) inspectors are there to examine a disarmament programme that Saddam was supposed to have undertaken since the end of the last Gulf War. They are not there to "disarm" him. How could they do that? they are not armed and they are vastly outnumbered by Saddam's army and police. I'm sorry if it sounds patronising to remind people of that but there seems to be a belief that, by the "inspections working", Saddam is in some way shrugging his shoulders and saying, "It's a fair cop, guv" and handing over weapons as they find them. The only way the inspections are actually "working" is that they are showing that the "Disarmament programme" is a sham. In this manner, what is the purpose of "More Time"? More time for what, precisely?. More time to demonstrate that Saddam is more dishonest?, we know he lied, that's all we need to know. "More Time" won't tell us anything more than that.
I caught a little of Questions and Answers (or "Arguing and Fighting" as my wife calls it) on RTE TV last night. I didn't watch it all as there is usually far more heat than light, but I did catch Martin Ferris, convicted gun-runner, holder of a medical card (free healthcare for the elderly and those on the breadline) and Sinn Fein TD for North Kerry setting out the SF position on Iraq. I thought Ferris was particularly unimpressive, parroting the usual idiotarian nonsense, claiming, incredibly, that "the west" had given Saddam his WMDs. Now, while it may be true that Saddam was tolerated by the realpolitikers during his war against America's sworn enemy Iran, I thought it was taken as understood that he was (conventionally) armed by the USSR and that he develops his own WMDs. Even if it was true that he was armed by "the West", (or perhaps more accurately "L'Ouest") I think that this would suggest a greater, not lesser, obligation to disarm him. Additionally, SF apparently opposes UN Sanctions and Ferriss ranted about all the Iraqi children who have died "as a result of sanctions" . Presumably they wish the troops to be drawn back and sanctions to be discontinued. This would leave Saddam not only carte blanche to continue brutalising his own people but also provide the means to accelerate his weapons programme.

Ferris was countered by Justice Minister Michael McDowell who firmly rebutted each idiotic statement of Ferris', reminding him not only of Saddam's record against his own people but, perhaps more embarrassingly for SF, SF's record in opposing UN military action including against Milosevic and against Saddam, back when he invaded Kuwait! When Ferris referred to North Korea, McDowell reminded him that if it hadn't been for US led UN action in the Korean war there would be no North and South Korea, i.e. all of Korea would be under impoverished stalinist rule.

I think that SF will soon realise that the days of $500 a plate fundraising dinners in the US are over and that Americans are beginning to get an idea of the strain of anti-americanism deep within SF that is artfully suppressed in the Waldorf Astoria.

Monday, February 24, 2003

I realise that pretty much all of Blogistan has probably linked to Lileks' superb spanking administered to the backside of retired revolutionary and former communist Regis Debray after the Frenchman's lecture to America in the pages of the New York Times, but I was particularly tickled by these lines....


"Whence this paradox: the new world of President Bush, postmodern in its technology, seems premodern in its values."


"Somewhere in a Republican Guard bunker, the hard men confess: they have heard rumors that the US will use postmodern weapons! Missiles that dissolve context! High-powered electronic beams that underscore the relationship between power and culture! Rockets that can destroy the legitimacy of the authorial voice within a two-mile radius!"

Hey!, I'm on Mark's Mailbox at with a link!!

My little note to him looks a tad pedantic without a link to my blog post below on the subject of Chirac and Mugabe.
Deyan Sudjic profiles Spanish Architect: Rafael Moneo, winner of this year's RIBA Gold Medal. He notes that some, including Will Alsop, will view this as the RIBA endorsing one side of the debate between "restrained" architecture and "expressionist" architecture.

I actually think that this "debate" is a little one sided. Alsop, in his witless weekly column for the Architects' Journal, regularly bemoans the fact that architects from Sir Norman Foster, down to the small local architect win comissions that he feels should rightly go to more expressionist and "imaginative" architects. In Alsop's view there is no difference between the bland corporate architecture of many Foster projects, the subtle restrained architecture of David Chipperfield and his contemporaries and inoffensive hack architecture. Similarly he imagines the likes of Zaha Hadid (and presumably Frank Gehry) standing alongside him in a battle for more "creative" architecture. I doubt whether any of these architects would see themselves the way Alsop does.

Architects like Hadid and Gehry are unique, literally so, a Hadid building can be exhilarating, a Gehry, iconic. I would be less confident that Alsop's buildings would be similarly inspiring. His recent competition-winning "Fourth Grace" project at Liverpool is a perfect example of they type of idiotic scheme produced when you are surrounded by a team of "wacky" yes-men and yes-women egging you on to more crimes by Photoshop. In any case, however inspiring the works of Hadid and Gehry, a city composed entirely of their designs, or even worse and more likely in Alsop's grand scheme, pale imitations of their designs, would be a bewildering place indeed.

Alsop's campaign would be more irritating than worrying if it wasn't for the fact that the phenomenon of "Star-chitecture" is on the rise, that is: The competition process and the wish to "Do a Bilbao" (Iconic building puts city on the map) are favouring flashy superficial projects over more subtle and perhaps more enduring buildings.
Gerard Houllier prepares his Escape Pod.

As a Manchester United fan, I am obviously pleased with the decline of Liverpool but I am not impressed with their manager Houllier blaming everyone else at the club apart from himself, criticising individual players to the press. This is a real taboo, just ask Ferguson or Wenger, who reserve their most vociferous, er, criticism of their own players for the dressing room.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

More Resentment of the Arab Street: Peter at Green Enigma nails the War = Terrorist Recruitment argument, (as most recently expressed by Joshka Fischer who already knows plenty about terrorism.)

"Ordinary Muslims who go about their daily lives in the middle east may hate US policy. But terrorists are a different breed. They are driven to violence by their own vision of how the world should be, namely a Shari'a society."

"This is a view incongruent with the views of most Muslims, no matter how much they hate the way the US acts in the region. To say that Muslims are just a Gulf War 2 away from signing up to kill themselves and other innocent people is as naive as it is insulting to Muslims."
Nick Cohen, tenacious left wing commentator, spells out, for those anti war protesters who still don't get it, the beliefs of Stop the War Coalition ally Muslim Association of Britain. Get this.

"It is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood which wants a religious tyranny to enforce Islamic law. A supporter explained to the communist Weekly Worker that existing Muslim governments were far too permissive. 'We see no genuine Muslim states in the world today - Saudi Arabia and places like that profess to be Muslim states but this is untrue.'"

Now, these aren't just guys who happened to turn up. As Cohen notes:

"It's one thing, however, to see the upholders of sharia law join your demonstration. It is quite another to invite them to co-host your demonstration and embrace them as brothers."

It seems to me that Anti-Americanism trumps every single other belief the Anti-War Left cherishes.

Meanwhile, also in the Observer, a clarifying explanation by William Shawcross: Why Saddam will never voluntarily disarm.
Emily O'Reilly has an interesting piece in today's Sunday Times (requires registration) about the fact that Fine Gael has found an issue to kick up a stink about: Yes it's the fact that Irish consumers are being "ripped on". Low cost German-owned supermarket chains have moved into the Irish market offering cheaper products. Incredibly, Phil Hogan feels that Irish consumers should be paying more for their food.

"...Phil Hogan, Fine Gael TD and chairman of the Committee on Enterprise and Small Business, whingeing about all these German goods flooding the market and leaving our indigenous rip-offs on the shelves."

"What’s more, Hogan and his committee would like a word with the two gents who are overseeing this national sabotage, Lidl’s Patrick Kaudewitz and Aldi’s Donald McKay, to find out why they’re not stocking up with Irish produce. Gosh, that’s a tough one. Could it be, perchance, that they’re too bloody expensive, Phil?"

Hint, Phil: Studies have shown that there is a significant overlap between Irish consumers and Irish voters. You do remember Irish voters, don't you? They are the people who used to be interested in Fine Gael.

Saturday, February 22, 2003

Manchester United scrape a 1-1 draw against Bolton Wanderers, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's 90th minute leveller at the Reebok stadium preventing Bolton from completing a rare double over United. Meanwhile Arsenal romp to a 5-1 away victory over hapless Manchester City and are now five points clear of United at the top. It's getting harder to sustain my hope that the Gunners can be overhauled. As if that wasn't bad enough, Newcastle in third place rack up three at Leeds and move within three points of United, with a game in hand and a visit to St James' Park in store for us. Wednesday seems so long ago.
I note that on the front page of the Irish Anti War movement's website that they are protesting U.N. Sanctions against Iraq. To be Anti-war and Anti-sanctions at the same time is not just to be "objectively" Pro-Saddam but downright "subjectively" Pro-Saddam.
Ok, Politics? Check, Music? Check, Football? Check, Architecture? well umm...... I haven't exactly posted much on my own area of expertise, saving my saloon bar punditry for topics of which my knowledge is more or less lay.

I wanted to write something about the new spire on O'Connell Street, Dublin but I have decided to reserve judgement until I view it in person. I intend to offer some critiques of buildings, Irish and non-Irish but I thought I'd just do a little bit first on Irish Architecture generally.

Architecture in Ireland has improved immeasurably in the last decade or so. Three factors apply here.

1) Younger talented architects are getting to build.
2) Older talented architects are getting to build the types of buildings they'd like to build.
3) "Hack" architecture now is way better than pre mid 1990s.

There are several reasons for this. I think that we are fortunate in Ireland to have (at least) two very good schools of Architecture, U.C.D and Bolton Street. I don't know enough about the third school in Ireland, Queen's in Belfast.

I think that the standard of architectural education in Ireland has a lot to do with Cathal O'Neill, becoming Professor of UCD's School of Architecture in 1972. Before he took over, UCD School of Architecture was a pretty moribund place. He encouraged a whole generation of tutors and students, students who went on to become tutors and inspire further students at both schools in Dublin.

I was fortunate to study architecture at Richview, the UCD Architecture and Planning Department being "semi-detached" from the main campus at Belfield. Richview began life as a Masonic school but was converted by Professor O'Neill, creating, from a cluttered yard, a quadrangle which all the buildings of the department faced. It was a very pleasant place to study and there was a collegiate atmosphere. I remember it being an apolitical place somewhat removed from all the student politics on the nearby main campus. The thing is, both UCD and Bolton Street produced generally well educated architects, but for a long time the majority of them would emigrate, there being few opportunities for employment in Ireland.

So what has changed? I imagine the left wing view would be that the government is taking design more seriously and spending more money on architecture and on projects that "rejuvenate" certain rundown areas but I think that this is back to front. While I recognise the importance of a project like Temple Bar in showing people the possibilities of a contemporary contextual architecture, the simpler, more elegant (in my view) explanation is that, as Clinton said,"it's the economy, stupid".

Ireland's economic success has had a major impact on the quality of design. It's a regular assumption that, the richer a society gets, the "tackier", and presumably gaudier it gets. This is a lazy assumption, based on the excesses of bad taste of some extremely wealthy individuals. Here are a few effects of Ireland's economic success that have led to better quality architecture.

1) Increased spending power and cheaper travel means that more Irish people are travelling more often. Exposure to other cities broadens their ideas of "what buildings should look like" and raises their expectations. This affects not only the actual designers, but also the people architects have to persuade: clients and, maybe more importantly, planners who are in a position to grant or refuse planning permission.

2) Increased workload from economic success and the housing boom means many architects are in a position to choose the type of work they prefer to do and can mean there is a better "fit" of project to architect.

3) Increased consumer spending on luxury goods, designer clothes, in restaurants and cafes and nightclubs. These products and services generally require elegantly designed buildings and interiors.

These are just a few examples but each has a "virtuous circle" type effect of making better quality design more widespread.
I would like Irish antiwar protesters to read Glenn (aka InstaPundit) Reynolds' well intentioned advice.
More Last Word Watch (or should that be Last Word Listen"?). Drivetime infuriation last night was supplied courtesy of Matt Cooper's interview with the preposterous, pretentious popinjay, Michael D. Higgins. Now for those of you who aren't Irish and don't know who Michael D is, I'd just like to say that I envy you, I really really do.

If I tell you that he is a Labour party TD, considers himself a poet and has recently visited Iraq to "monitor" the situation there you might get a little flavour of the man but to really understand what a self righteous, pompous, self regarding fool he is, you could always visit his website and read some of his grandly titled "Statements". Laughably, he is being considered seriously as a potential presidential candidate for Labour to challenge Mary McAleese seeking a second term. No clearer indication could be provided of how disassociated the Labour party is from the electorate than this ridiculous idea.

The occasion for this interview was a suggestion by PD Leader and Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister), Mary Harney that anti-war protesters were being used by far left groups to stir up "anti-americanism". Now you might disagree about how aware the average Joe and Josephine Peacenik are of the affiliations of those who organise these protests, at least prior to the actual marches and you might disagree that they were "used" exactly. Surely, however, there can be no doubt that the protests are organised by extreme left wing groups, including actual living and breathing communists. Not "communists" but actual communists. There is a whole separate discussion that could be had about why communists get good press and why nostalgists for Stalin don't receive the opprobrium that nostalgists for Hitler, rightly, get, but that's not my argument here, the point is that it is simply accurate to characterise the organisers this way.

Of course the "interview" began badly with Cooper stating that they contacted Ms Harney to see if she could come on the show but a spokesperson said she was too busy. Cooper relayed this with a little note of scepticism in his voice, as if he couldn't believe that her diary might be a little full and fitting in a slot on his show at short notice might be tricky. Someone whose diary is never full and can always be relied on to supply overheated rhetoric and windy indignation is Michael D who, of course disagreed with "every word" that Mary Harney spoke. (I suppose this means that he disagrees with "peace" and "war" ,"US" and "Iraq" along with more commonplace words like "and" and "the"). Cooper didn't so much interview him as toss him points to elaborate on. I don't think that it was what Cooper intended but it was a perfect strategy to help Michael D make a(n even bigger) fool out of himself as he got more overwrought. Of course Michael "cleverly" noted the similarity between the words "Anti-Americanism" and "Un-American (Activities)" and couldn't resist a charge of, guess what......."McCarthyism"

Now, last time I looked, "McCarthyism", used in a pejorative sense, was understood as incorrectly and maliciously identifying someone as a communist, not correctly identifying self described communists as, well, communists.

UPDATE: More on this from Atlantic Blog. 23/2/03 3:57 PM

Friday, February 21, 2003

Further thoughts about voices.

I mentioned below about Today Fm's poor choice of contributors from an "aural" point of view. Well, I was reminded of the polar opposite to Marlow's strained diction. The poet, Ursula Rucker probably has one of the most aesthetically pleasing spoken voices I've heard. If she was a doctor, she could make the news of imminent painful death sound soothing, I'd wager she could even make Will Hutton's turgid prose and muddled logic sound elegant and inspiring.
Ross Allen stood in for Gilles Peterson this week and played a killer track from an album I'm eagerly awaiting, Carl Craig's The Detroit Experiment : Cover version of Donald Byrd's "Think Twice", and it's excellent: those chords!, those licks! I must say, I'm quite partial to a bit of Space-Jazz-Funk.

Atlantic Blog has noticed that President Josiah Bartlet heads a campaign for a "virtual march" against the proposed war with Iraq.

I think we need..... President David Palmer!
Interesting comment by Jacob Levy on the Volokh Conspiracy on a possible silver lining to a Turkish refusal to allow the US to use Turkey as a base for an attack on Iraq. That is that the US wouldn't have to pander to Turkey about the Kurds. I have to say I had wondered how things were going to pan out for the Kurds. The Kurds in Northern Iraq enjoy some limited autonomy at present and would presumably still wish to enjoy this in a post-Saddam situation. Self determination for Kurds would be resisted by Turkey which of course contains quite a bit of "Kurdistan".

UPDATE: Turkey is on board. For an other angle on this, Norman Stone, in today's Times, has a view from Ankara. Note that I am careful above to put "Kurdistan" in quotes. My view would be that it would be regrettable if internal Turkish interests led to restrictions on Kurdish freedom within Iraq. I would not want it to be read that the US should pressure Turkey in relation to Kurds within Turkey. As we know in Ireland, ethnic disputes and territorial claims are usually more complicated than they seem to outsiders. 22/2/03 3:00PM
Congratulations to Celtic on their 3-1 home victory over Stuttgart in the Uefa cup. They have a very good chance of progressing now. Stuttgart have an away goal which means that a 2-0 away defeat in the second leg would be enough to knock Celtic out but they have every chance of getting an away goal themselves or at least stopping the Germans from bagging a brace. This is a major achievement for Celtic who haven't been "in Europe" after christmas for quite a long time and could prove a better chance of silverware for them than the Scottish League title which I fear is heading Rangers' way. Also it will be valuable experience for a more sustained assault on the Champions' League next season.
Just a quick post about comments: When it says "No Comments" below a post, that just means that none have been made, it doesn't mean that none are welcome.
Two for the price of one.

RTE Radio 1 this morning has credulous Marian Finucane interviewing credulous Tony Benn about the time he "interviewed" Saddam Hussein.

I can do no better than the Guardian's David Aaronovitch in ridiculing Benn so here he is.
Lara Marlow reports in today's Irish Times that at the Paris summit, Jacques Chirac greeted each of the African leaders with a Gallic kiss to each cheek, except for Robert Mugabe, who he greeted with a firm Anglo-Saxon handshake!

Oh that's Cold, Jacques!, Cold Blooded. I'd say the old tyrant put on a brave face but inside he was dying. Dying, just like his compatriots are, except only on the inside.

Never mind sanctions, just fix him with that steely gaze right into his eyes and grip his hand forcefully, he'll know that the EU means business.
Hey! a link from Green Enigma


Thursday, February 20, 2003

Very thought provoking article on whether Euroland could go the way of Argentina , (via Conor)

It seems that the market hasn't copped onto the fact that as far as currency is concerned the Euro zone countries are no longer sovereign, but when they do.......

One quote amused me in passing

"Euroland is competing to a large extent with Asia and other low-cost producers for the world market. It is not clear that Euroland wants to engage in a race to the bottom, or that it could win such a race"

It is similarly "not clear" that Bears defecate in areas other than those that are heavily forested.
I was listening to The Last Word earlier and there was a discussion between Matt Cooper and Lara Marlow, the Paris correspondent for the Irish Times , about the African Pow Wow going on in Paris at the moment. Cooper made some good points including whether the African leaders felt patronised by Chirac, to which came the idiotic reply from Marlow that if they felt that way why would they come. Cooper had the perfect retort for this when he suggested that maybe they just fancied a trip to Paris, you know, "Spring time in Paris" and all that, a tetchy Marlow rather pedantically corrected Cooper informing him that it was still winter. I didn't catch all of it, though, because, by God it was hard work. Now, both Cooper and Marlow are perfectly competent hacks and eminently readable in print, but on the radio it's a completely different story. I mentioned below about Cooper's dull dreary blocked nose tones, but here I had to listen to this counterposed with Ms Marlow's unremitting whine. It would be too harsh to say that her voice is marginally more pleasant than a nail scraped against a blackboard, so instead I will compare her to a plaintive kettle, of the old fashioned type, alerting you, over a long long time, to the fact that the water has boiled.

UPDATE: I was thinking again about my cruel comments here and I feel I should expand a little. I wouldn't dream of criticising either of the "dream team" for their voices, about which they can do little, if I had met them in person, or overheard them speaking in a private capacity. My criticism relates specifically to their suitability for radio. 21/2/03 9:40 AM
Sapphic Symian Shenanigans, from today's Guardian.

You Go, Girls!
Polite Fictions: Things we don't like to admit in Ireland.

2) To being Right Wing

There are certain "triggers" when you talk or discuss politics with Irish people, like "The North", or "Neutrality" which can cause a previously rational discussion to veer off track. It's as if by their mention they cause the other person to reassess everything you just said and retreat into their comfortably unquestioned views/prejudices. Well another of those "triggers" is "Right wing politics". Notice how cagey I am below about my political affiliations. Even I don't want to admit to being right wing.

To say that you are "right wing" is to invite comparisons with variously, Religious Conservatives, Wealthy Farmers (even though they are major recipients of subsidies), Anti-Immigration loons like Aine ni Chonaill, Margaret Thatcher (still a figure of hate among the Media, if not particularly the public) or the Blue-shirts (Ireland's own rather limp vaguely fascist grouping from the 1930s) None of Ireland's political parties want to admit to being right wing. The vaguely Neo-Conservative/classic Liberal "Progressive Democrats" are routinely referred to as "right wing" by the media. This is intended as an insult, and the PDs always deny they are right wing. After the last election in which the middle of the road Fine Gael were slaughtered (along with Labour, who put a better gloss on it as they didn't lose as many actual seats in the Dail) the wily political operative and self-confessed spin doctor, Eoghan Harris described an earlier meeting with then Fine Gael leader John Bruton. He suggested to Bruton that Fine Gael reposition itself to the right. Bruton, considered a rightwinger by his own party and the media, was horrified. FG, he told Harris, was a Centre Party. This is plain tosh of course and perhaps if FG had carved out a more distinctive neo-conservative set of policies they might have done better. Even the catch-all "Party of the Nation" Fianna Fail has been described as "left of centre" by it's leader, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

I used to feel that the terms "Right wing" and "Left wing" were a bit anachronistic. The terms being of greater use during the Cold War when they might indicate relative positions along a political line from Washington to Moscow. Now this is a relative political line of course. The British Labour party (generally, if not all of it's individual members), even during the darkest days of the early 1980s, was always closer to Washington than Moscow, the important point was that it wasn't as close to Washington as the Tory party.

I think now that it's not so much that the terms are anachronistic but they are crude descriptions, insufficient for many debates. To think in terms of strictly right and left assumes a linear progression from far right on one side to far left on the other. In reality, I think that it's multi-dimensional, spatial even. To think in this way results in many errors, like, for example lumping together the likes of Pim Fortuyn with Jorg Haider and Jean Marie Le Pen, because they are all "right wing". Another error is, because of this one dimensional line, to think that extreme right wingers are like ordinary right wingers, only "more so". It also proves difficult, in this theory, to describe parties like Sinn Fein who have as many right wing as left wing policies, but are no "centre" party. There are left wing and right wing nationalists, left wing and right wing isolationists, left wing and right wing internationalists. There are right wing people who believe that society is decadent and sinful, there are left wingers who believe that society is decadent and sinful (except they use different terms, like "hostile environment" or "phallocentric oppression") and there are right wing and left wing people who cherish their freedoms and, rightly, chafe against any attempt by the first two groups to restrict those freedoms.

Having said all that, as a type of short hand, and with qualifications, the terms can be useful. Pundits in Ireland (left-ish of course) regularly bemoan the fact that Irish Politics doesn't split along right-left lines. The Labour party regularly promises, more in hope than anticipation, a reforming of the politics landscape along left/right, presuming, in error, that they will end up being the leader of the opposition, in preparation for government. The irony is that quite a lot of Irish people are actually quite right wing, in good ways and bad ways but they don't like to admit it.

For example: nobody in Ireland, outside media pundits, wants taxes to be raised. They figure, rightly, that their tax euros won't be spent wisely. One little illustration of this phenomenon: Our local health board, which by the way is letting the local hospital run down to the ground, employed a colleague of mine to refurbish one of their buildings. The job entailed replacing all the existing doors throughout the building with self-closing fire doors of 30 minutes fire resistance. When he informed them that the existing doors were indeed self-closing fire doors of 30 minutes fire resistance, they instructed him to replace them anyway. They had budgeted for this amount and if they didn't spend it this year it wouldn't get allocated to them next year. So a whole buildings worth of perfectly good fire doors ended up in a skip, courtesy of my "tax euros".
Polite Fictions: Things we don't like to admit in Ireland. The first of an occasional series.

1) That Sinn Fein and the IRA are part of the one organisation

This is a curious one really, I don't think I know anyone who maintains that SF and IRA are completely separate, I don't think anyone actually believes that they are. Whether you are a dyed in the wool "Republican" or Unionist or anything in between or outside, you just know this to be true. But yet, almost everyone of, even the lightest green, nationalist persuasion bridles at the term "Sinn Fein-IRA" especially when uttered in a Northern (presumably protestant) accent or a languid upper class British Tory drawl. I think the reason for this is similar to the irritation felt among supporters of the Irish football team when they hear the chant from the more extreme section of England football fans: "No Surrender to the IRA" It's not that they disagree with the sentiment, just that they don't particularly like the person(s) uttering it.

So, even though the vast majority of people know that the IRA and Sinn Fein are part of the same organisation, the media here collude in this fiction and scrupulously refuse to say anything that might sound similar to that casual conjunction: "Sinn Fein-IRA" This, of course, has an obvious downside. Any interview with SF is necessarily hampered by this avoidance of an obvious truth and allows further room for manipulation and dissembling.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Manchester United have beaten Juventus 2-1 in the Champion's league.

This means that we are sitting pretty on top of the Group table, 5 points clear of Juve and If we get a draw next week in Turin we are in the quarter-finals. This almost makes up for last Saturday's defeat by Arsenal. It was hairy at times and, I think 2-1 is a fair result. The Italians scored in injury time but we would have been flattered by 2-0.
I was thinking about my earlier post about the French and I feel I should expand a little. I don't mean it to be read as an anti-French rant. I think the French people are perfectly nice people as people go and don't expect that they are any different, as you find them, from people from any other nation, but...

The "but" is that I think they are irresponsible politically. Way irresponsible. The point is that there is this strange combination of a grand social consensus and loonie loudmouths. The system is a typical stable/stagnant, high tax/high spending (low growth) economy. I was struck by the contrast between Nice and another mediterranean city I visited a few weeks back. Barcelona is a vibrant, busy city. It seems to me that if you want to buy something, those Catalans are quite happy to sell it to you. Shops, bars and restaurants open late, sure, some older businesses close for "siesta" but they're the minority. Nice, by contrast has a "convenience" store, I think it's a chain, it's not called 7/11, it's called "8 a huit" as in: it opens in the morning at 8am and closes in the evening at 8pm. Ok, maybe that's not exactly most people's idea of a convenience store. Even in my sleepy Irish village they wait until 10pm to close, but its even worse than that, they close for lunch!, for two whole hours! that's french enterprise for you.

Everyone seems to agree with this bland social democratic model but yet they tolerate extreme loony politicians from left and right. I say "tolerate" but it's probably more accurate to say that they encourage them. An assorted parade of trotskyists, stalinists and anti-semites stood up to be elected President and the mainstream "left" candidate Jospin was beaten into third place by Le Pen and his Front National. This meant that when the second round came you got to chose between the preening "egoiste" Chirac and the odious Le Pen. Now this is nobody else's fault but the French people's. None of the people who voted for the assorted loonies seriously expected them to get through to the second round so they thought it would be "cool" to vote for them and not have to worry about the consequences. Well one of the loonies got through.

The point here is that French politics is infected by a similar "adolescence" that runs through the movements like the anti-war or anti-globalisation movements. You can indulge the most idiotic political beliefs and you never really have to worry about the consequences of your actions.
Jonathan Freedland's piece in the Guardian today on the necessity for the anti-war crowd to have a realistic peaceful strategy to liberate Iraq has been commented on by Atlantic Blog and Instapundit. They cover it pretty well but I'd just like to add that his stance here reminds me of an earlier piece of his from July last year about the "Future of capitalism" no less. He seems to strain to identify with the left-wing anti-globalists but his writing betrays him. He doesn't seem to realise that his argument about ways forward for the anti-globalisation movement is a pretty good explanation of what's wrong with this movement, in describing examples of "good" globalisation (like Nike opening a factory in Vietnam) he inadvertently puts the case for everything the whole movement opposes. It's as if he wants to think he is on the same side as the youthful protesters just because he considers himself to be "Of the Left" As if there is such a thing as an "anti-globalisation" movement that recognises the benefits of free trade and open markets.

Likewise, it strikes me today that Jonathan is smart enough to understand the reasons why Blair and Bush want to go to war and deep down understands that the only way to liberate Iraq is by force but he just can't shake this image he has of himself as a "Person of the Left" . He describes himself as being allied with the anti-war movement but the implications of everything he says are the opposite to what the anti-war crowd believe.

UPDATE: Peter from Green Enigma has some further thoughts on Mr Freedland. 20/2/03 10:44 AM
I was amused by the following quote on Virginia Postrel's Blog about "Whacking the French"

"Plus, I'm still ticked that I wasted my youth learning their useless language when I could have been learning Spanish."

Why do we learn French? I was taught Irish and French in school and was surprised to find on a recent visit to Nice ( My unthinking answer to many queries on arriving home: "It was nice") that my French, "n'est pas trop mal" I would say that I could probably construct a lot more intelligible sentences in French than in my own official language. But how useful is it to me or the millions of my compatriots?.

I would also prefer to have been taught Spanish, or even Portuguese. How many francophone countries are you likely to visit apart from France? At least with Portuguese you can visit the biggest country in South America: lusophone Brazil. You could understand all those great Brazilian lyrics. Actually come to think of it, maybe it's better not to know the banal pedestrian phrases uttered so seductively in Brazilian-accented Portuguese.

But Spanish, surely it is the most useful second language, after English? Not least because the most popular holiday destination from Ireland must be Spain, There are so many Irish expats living in Alicante that it celebrates St. Patricks day! But Spanish also opens up most of Central and South America not to mention so much great Spanish language music.

I think the reason that we learn French is the same reason that France is a permanent member of the U.N. Security council. We all collude in France's self-deception of the scale of their power and influence. Perhaps when the French were liberated, the U.S. and the British felt that it would be prudent to let the French believe the myth of the "Free French" forces and "the Resistance" and allow a broken nation to rebuild itself with pride rather than guilt, bitterness and resentment.

But this comes at too great a price today. I was surprised at how pleasant the people of Nice were. I was also surprised how relaxed the place seemed and even at the apparent level of racial integration. This is the area of France that voted for Le Pen! I think that often people don't think of the gap between their rhetoric and reality and think that their utterances have no consequences. It is a form of dilettantism that I think is reinforced by the rest of us pretending that France is important, in a way that a similar sized country, like Spain, isn't.

UPDATE: I was thinking about this some more and I think I was a little harsh on the French language. You get French Cinema which is not too shabby, I was going to say that French music was rubbish, but that's not strictly true, French (mostly instrumental) dance music is great but french pop is crap. French also opens up, to you, parts of Belgium, Switzerland and a good size chunk of Africa. I think that on balance French shades Portuguese but I still would prefer to have learnt Spanish. 20/2/03 10:32 PM

I was just thinking about the "Resentment of the Arab Street". This is something which is often raised as an argument against the proposed war against Sadaam. You know the sort of thing: "If you invade Iraq, you risk fanning the flames of resentment in the Arab Street"

This is one of those arguments that sounds great (I was going to say "superficially impressive" but I've said that already, a few lines below about Arsenal vs. Roma) but is in reality rather weak. The thing is there are probably two types of "resentment" in that Levantine Boulevard.

Resentment Type 1) All these Infidels and Jews with their wicked decadent ways are preventing the establishment of the Umma (Worldwide Islamic Empire). They must die!!!!!

Resentment Type 2) Why do we have to be ruled by these Monsters/Creeps/Thugs/Thieves (delete as applicable)?????

It strikes me that the only thing you could do to ameliorate the first type is to convert to (Wahaabist) Islam (as urged by Indonesian Al Qaeda). As for the second, well maybe you could, you know,...liberate them?
Hey!, a mention from William Sjostrom of Atlantic Blog

I wanted to write something about (of all things) snare drums. I was listening to Gilles Peterson's Worldwide show on BBC Radio 1 last week and it was guest-presented by Ahmir "?uestLove" Thompson, the drummer from The Roots. He's an interesting guy and likes to talk.

As he played "Aquarius" (one of the best tracks) from Common's latest (excellent) LP, he described the recording of it and how they didn't think this track was going to make it to the album so his drumming was a bit "lazy", but one thing was surprising to me was that he played with a sweater on top of the snare drum. He says it's a trick he picked up from Sigma Studios in Philadelphia where all the great Gamble and Huff productions were recorded. He went on to say that he was more of a "break beat" type of guy and usually preferred to hear the "crack" type sound than the muffled discofied snare.

It occurred to me that the sound of the snare drum has a far greater influence on the overall mood of a track than I would have thought. That muffled snare lends a shuffling groove to all those Philly Classics like MFSB's "Love is the Message", and the O-Jays' "I love Music". The sharp rim-shot of Roy Ayers tracks like Ramp's "Daylight" and Ubiquity's "Everybody loves the sunshine" really tightens up their mellow sound and if you are familiar with Brazilian Music it seems to me that the principal difference between "smooth" Bossa Nova and "raucous" Batacuda is the fact that the former is tapped out by rim-shots and the lattter by a far more noisy snare sound.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

I referred below to the notion of a "shortage" of housing. I suppose I should elaborate. Now this "shortage" is supposed to affect what are called "key workers" like teachers, policemen and firemen*. What this really means is that in certain "swanky" areas public sector workers cannot afford to buy a home. Curious that this problem seems only to affect public sector workers isn't it? Leaving aside the fact that owning your home, though desirable, is not strictly "necessary", the problem here seems to me to come down to central pay bargaining. If you set pay rates broadly the same across the country for workers in the public sector workers in less salubrious locations are probably being overpaid and workers in the fashionable areas are being underpaid. This seems to me to suggest that decentralisation is the solution here instead of subsidised housing.

*Note by the way that I am deliberately using the now unfashionable usage for the latter two, but I believe these terms to be sex-neutral and more accurate than the current usage. I suppose I could live with "police officers" (all officer class now?) but the one that irritates me the most is "fire-fighter" I don't think I'm exaggerating too much when I say that not much of the Fire-fighter's time is spent actually "fighting" "fire" and most are male anyway, aren't they?
After the disappointment of watching my beloved Manchester United getting unceremoniously dumped out of the F.A. Cup on Saturday by Arsenal, next to my rabid Gooner brother no less, I can at least take some small comfort from the Gunners' unimpressive showing tonight, drawing 1-1 at home to Ajax, a game my brother travelled to London to watch - Ha!

It's my theory that Arsenal are overrated. Now I admit that I am biased and I acknowledge that they are a strong team, particularly in the Premiership but they are very ordinary in Europe. Soccer writers routinely tip them for the Champions' League. I predict that whatever they win this year, Arsenal will not win the Champions' League. I'd be surprised if they made it to the semi-finals and I wouldn't be surprised if they failed to reach the knockout stages. A superficially impressive opening win at Roma looks less so now with the Italians rooted to the bottom of the Group B table. Arsenal have now drawn both of their home games against their likely rivals for the top two positions in the group and must get points from both their remaining away games to progress.
Pertinent questions from David Aaronovitch in today's Guardian for the anti-war protesters. The conclusion

"Finally, what are you going to do when you are told - as one day you will be - that while you were demonstrating against an allied invasion, and being applauded by friends and Iraqi officials, many of the people of Iraq were hoping, hope against hope, that no one was listening to you?"

I wish that the protesters would just think things through instead of parroting pet theories that don't stand up to any kind of serious analysis. There are valid arguments against war, not least the law of unintended consequences but virtually none of the protesters seem to be making them.

I'm also tired of "Pacifism" being lauded as somehow being a more "moral" stance. It seems that "Cowardice" is a more accurate description of what passes for "Pacifism" i.e the argument that Sadaam/Osama's beef is with the U.S. and we in Europe shouldn't get involved in case we provoke retaliation.
Great column by Mark Steyn about the peaceniks.

He notes correctly that many simply refuse to believe anything that contradicts their "Universal Theory". This is a phenomenon, I believe, far more prominent among the well educated middle class. At the moment I am listening (reluctantly) to the dull tones of Matt Cooper on Today FM (Not so much a face for radio as a voice for newspapers) and it's the same old dreary arguments trotted out again and again about the war. There is this notion of "Bush the Cowboy" and "Blair the Poodle" and no evidence that contradicts this view is countenanced.
I subscribe to the Architects Journal and it usually arrives late. So today's issue is dated 30/01/03.

Anyway there's an article in it, (not online sorry) describing yet another scheme for modular housing in the uk. This seems to come up every now and then: a "solution" to an imagined "problem" which is the supposed shortage of housing*. Now there are a lot of clever ideas here, Units that conform to the size of standard shipping containers so that you can detach your pod from the tower and a lorry can drive it to Paris or ship it to Boston whenever you want to move and I'm sure that the designers think that they are "Thinking outside the box", but it strikes me that this represents a serious lack of imagination on their part.

Sure, it is "imaginative"-looking but it seems as if the, presumably young, urban and childless, designers cannot imagine a lifestyle where the "advantage" of being able to move continents at the drop of a hat is far outweighed by more pedestrian concerns.

* Clue: it depends on how you define "shortage"
Ok, some stuff about me.

I am Irish, I am an architect and up until today was an avid blog lurker. Many times I have read something and it irritated me or inspired me but I never had the opportunity to vent my spleen, well now I do!

I guess most of my posting will be political. I don't like to define myself strictly politically but if you read more you will probably make up your own mind. There isn't a political party in Ireland that commands my loyalty but there are some individuals I admire more than others. I will also post on other topics that interest me, including Architecture, Music and Football (Soccer for any american readers)
People you admire frequently let you down, for example: Nelson Mandela's position on Iraq , but one person in particular has really disappointed me recently.

Richard Dawkin's eloquent demonstration of Natural Selection inspired me and it always seemed to me that he was a good example of "Clear Thinking" by which I mean that he would follow a thought to it's conclusion without a predetermined agenda. In retrospect, maybe I should have noticed that his atheism was evangelical. Now, for what it's worth, I consider myself to be an atheist. One thing that definitely swayed my mind on this was a real eye-opener of a book by Daniel Dennet: "Darwin's Dangerous Idea". The principal argument for me was that there was a convincing hypothesis for how we have arrived "here" without the necessity for a divine creator. This is somewhat of a negative argument really and it's not the same as saying that it's "wrong" to believe in God.

John Carey's excellent review of Dawkin's latest book in The Sunday Times covers some of these errors in Dawkin's thinking but doesn't refer to the one thing that disappoints me the most. That is Dawkin's original support, now partly withdrawn for the academic boycott of Israel.

This boycott infuriates me for many reasons but it is also counterproductive. Even if you believed (Not that I do) that Israel should be pressured to alter it's behaviour with respect to the Palestinians, this is a pretty feeble way of doing it. All that this boycott does is allow academics to parade their pro-Palestinian credentials. It is a very clear example of "Muddled" thinking.
Ok, this is my first post and I don't expect anyone will be reading yet. Every time I read of bloggers in "Old Media" they usually use this curiously long-winded term: "Internet Commentator" so I thought it would be cool to use this as my title. I will add more later about me and my interests.