30/12/03 Best 2004 Prediction [rave]
In 2004, more dumb things will be said by more educated people about the trial of Saddam Hussein than all dumb things about all other major subjects combined...
The BBC News Online has informed its staff that they must not refer to Saddam as a "dictator." The designation "deposed former President" is preferred because Saddam had been supported in a national referendum in which he received 100 percent of the vote. By this standard, Hitler ó who actually won a real election ó should be referred to as the "deceased German chancellor" since he wasn't even deposed. But this is a but a morsel compared to the cornucopia to come in 2004 when Saddam stands in the dock.
( Jonah Goldberg, National Review )

30/12/03 A Theory of Relativity [observation]
It has become commonplace for politicians and interest groups to criticise, or sometimes praise, government policy in a particular area by referring to tables comparing Ireland's performance against other European Union countries. The underlying assumption being that if Ireland is at the bottom of the table then we are doing badly. But judging policies should not come down to some sort of sporting contest. Someone has to be last in such a table, someone has to be first. Those positions are relative, they say nothing about whether the policies are good ones. If the policies are good, then being last is no shame. If the policies are bad, then being first is no honour.

29/12/03 Letter of the Year [rave]
"Our leading bishops demand hard evidence of Saddam Hussein's possessions of weapons of mass destruction. If we were to demand the same level of proof from their profession, they would all be out of a job." (A letter from Avril Segal to "The Times" on January 21)
Seen in The Guardian's roundup of the best reader's letters of 2003.

28/12/03 Language Questions. [observation]
Ever since the film "Love Actually", I've noticed how frequently people use the word "actually". What I can't figure out is whether people are using the word more because of the film, or if it's the case that I'm watching out for it now.
When did it become acceptable in reputable news circles to use "porn" instead of "pornography"? Watch BBC news and they will say that "a person has been arrested for possessing child *porn*". Is it laziness because it's quicker to write? Is it because it sounds more sensational?

24/12/03 Happy Christmas! [rejoice]
December is a time to eat too much, drink too much, watch too much TV, spend too much, and see all of your friends and family at least once. Tomorrow is the highlight of that month. Enjoy yourself, too much if you can!

22/12/03 Mark Steyn on Christmas [rave]
To be honest, I get far more of a kick from the new, culturally sensitive "holiday concert" than I ever did from the old-school Christmas concert. Instead of the same old carols and seasonal favourites year in, year out, one never knows what new horror of an unseasonal favourite the sensitivity police will choose to inflict on the crowd. At my daughterís school, the holiday concert concluded with John Lennonís "Imagine".
The reason for the dearth of Hanukkah songs is that for most of the last century the big-time musical Jews were too busy cranking out Christmas songs - Irving Berlin wrote "White Christmas", Johnny Marks "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer", "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" and a zillion others.
The Jews - the Ellis Island/Lower East Side generation - were merely the latest contributors to the American Christmas. For their first two centuries on this continent, the Anglo-Celtic settlers attached no significance to Christmas: it was another working day, unless it fell on a Sunday, in which case one went to church. It was later waves of immigrants - the Dutch, Germans and Scandinavians - who introduced most of the standard features we know today - trees, cards, Santa. Nothing embodies the American idea - e pluribus unum - better than the American Christmas. This is genuine multiculturalism: If the worry is separation of church and state, the North American Christmas is surely the most successful separation you could devise - Jesus, Mary and Joseph are for home and church; the great secular trinity of Santa, Rudolph and Frosty are for school and mall.
But the new multiculturalism prefers to celebrate our differences... it's no longer about the separation of church and state so much as the separation of neighbour from neighbour, the denial of the very possibility of a shared culture.
If you feel "offended" by songs about snowmen and sleighs and donning oneís gay apparel, then maybe you're the one with the problem. Imagine that.
(Selected highlights from Mark Steyn)

22/12/03 Speaking Out [rave]
"I'm left on a lot of things. If two gay guys want to get married, I couldnít care less. If a nutcase from overseas wants to blow up their wedding, thatís when Iím right. I do think we live in dangerous times, and anybody who looks at the world and says this is the time to be a wuss - I can't buy that anymore."
(The irrepressible Dennis Miller in an interview for Time magazine.)
One could be forgiven for thinking that every media celebrity was against the war in Iraq, and thinks that 'dead white males' are responsible for all the world's ills. So it's refreshing to read Miller and something like this from John Rhys-Davies, the actor who plays Gimli the dwarf in "Lord of the Rings":
"What is unconscionable is that too many of your fellow journalists do not understand how precarious Western civilization is and what a joy it is. From it, we get real democracy. From it, we get the sort of intellectual tolerance that allows me to propound something that may be completely alien to you around this table... The abolition of slavery comes from Western democracy. True democracy comes from our Greco-Judeo-Christian-Western experience. If we lose these things, then this is a catastrophe for the world.
There is a change happening in the very complexion of Western Civilization in Europe that we should think about, at least, and argue about. If it just means the replacement of one genetic stock with another genetic stock, that doesn't matter too much. But if it involves the replacement of Western Civilization with a different civilization with different cultural values, then it is something we really ought to discuss."

18/12/03 The Return Of The King [rave]
"At that very moment, away behind in some courtyard of the City, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, reckoning nothing of wizardry or war, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn. And as if in answer there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns. In dark Mindolluin's sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the North wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last." (JRR Tolkien, "The Return of the King")
No matter what superlative I use, it does not seem to do justice to this incredible film. For me, the cavalry charge of the Riders of Rohan on the Pelennor Fields is up there with the greatest epic scenes in film history, such as the chariot race of Ben Hur. This is a brilliant film - dark, intense, brutal, captivating. Can you find fault with it? It's a long film to sit through, but I'd have to say that this film could have been even better if all of the final part of Tolkien's trilogy had been filmed. Powerful scenes are omitted, and I suspect only some will make it onto the extended edition DVD release - which I can't wait to buy. Next December will be emptier without a journey to Middle-Earth to look forward to.

17/12/03 The New Religion [rave]
"Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it's a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths. There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe."
You simply must read this brilliant speech from author Michael Crichton. (Spotted in Tallrite Blog)

17/12/03 Correction [erm]
For some reason, I thought that the first powered flight took place on December 10th. Doh!

16/12/03 My Christmas Reading List [observation]
Jon Latimer - Deception in War
Milton Friedman - Free To Choose
The Harvard Lampoon - Bored of the Rings
Barry Unsworth - The Songs of the Kings
Susan Brigden - New Worlds, Lost Worlds (The Rule of the Tudors)

16/12/03 Book of the Year: Non-Fiction [rave]
I'm almost tempted to nominate Matt Ridley's "Nature Via Nurture" (quotes) as my favourite for its title alone, capturing neatly as it does a way of looking at human development, but thankfully it has more than just that going for it. In the book, Ridley persuasively argues that "Nature versus Nurture" is a false view. We become who we are as our nature (genes) absorbs from, and expresses itself in, our environment (nurture) rather than through a struggle where one attempts to overwhelm the other. An enjoyable and informative read.

16/12/03 Book of the Year: Fiction [rave]
"He wants to say, 'I am tired of these horns and all that they mean'. Not brilliant, but certainly not the sentiments of a complete fool. The problems lie in articulation and enunciation. No matter how sweetly worded or wise the Minotaur's ideas may be, when he puts them to tongue, terrible things happen."
Imagine a book that tells the story of the Minotaur of Ancient Greek Myth, now working as a cook in a diner in America's Deep South. That is the intriguing idea behind Steven Sherrill's "The Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break". Not an awful lot happens in this book, it aims for subtlety and tenderness over cheap shocks. It is an intelligently observed description of a vulnerable being's attempt to live in our human world. I can't wait for Sherrill's next book, "Tales From A Drowned Girl".

15/12/03 The Next Challenge [observation]
"How to dispose of a fallen dictator is a problem of immense complexity for victor states. Dictators have been sovereigns, as Saddam was, de facto if not de jure. Sovereign states shrink from disposing peremptorily of sovereign rulers. The process, whichever is chosen, always threatens to set inconvenient precedents. Since 1648, when the Treaty of Westphalia created the principle that sovereign states, and therefore their sovereign heads, are both legally and morally absolute, there has been no legal basis for proceeding against such a person, however heinous the crimes he is known to have committed. A fallen ruler is therefore an acute legal embarrassment, as first became apparent with the flight of Napoleon from France in 1815."
In the Daily Telegraph, Sir John Keegan puts the capture of Saddam into a historical context.

13/12/03 My Year In Music [rave]
Gigs of the Year:
 Lifehouse, 5th September in The Village, Dublin.
 Matchbox 20, 6th September in Wembley Arena, London.
 Autamata, 9th October in The Village, Dublin.
My Album Playlist for 2003:
 Dave Matthews Band - Everyday & Before These Crowded Streets
 Autamata - My Sanctuary
 Lifehouse - No Name Face & Stanley Climbfall
 Mundy - 24 Star Hotel
 Heather Nova - Storm
 The Tycho Brahe - This Is The Tycho Brahe & Love Life
 Kate Rusby - Underneath The Stars

12/12/03 The Florida Myth [observation]
Myths, once they have entered the popular consciousness, refuse to go away no matter what the facts turn out to be. The story goes that George W Bush stole the US Presidential Election in Florida. In National Review, John Lott Jr. gives the definitive refutation of it.

10/12/03 A Century of Flight [observation]
"When the Wright brothers rose off the ground, we all rose off the ground."
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight, by the Wright brothers. Thomas Sowell examines how we have all benefitted from the achievements of the Wright brothers, who are now dismissed by some as 'dead white males'.

10/12/03 Poverty or Inequality? [observation]
In today's Irish Independent, David Quinn has an article (registration required) discussing how Ireland's current measure of poverty is inadequate, and how it is only really measuring inequality. Ireland's leading think-tank, the ESRI has outlined details of a new defintion which is more realistic, and which shows that 'consistent' (read: actual) poverty has fallen from 15% in 1994 to 5% in 2001.

09/12/03 TV Programs of the Year [rave]
This year, there was no single standout television program for me to pick as the series of the year, so instead I'm picking standout episodes, and they are:
The West Wing (Season 4 closing episode, "Twenty Five")
Dawson's Creek (Series Finale, "All Good Things Must Come To An End")
Foyle's War (Season 2 opening episode, "Fifty Ships")
On the non-fiction front, an honourable mention goes to the first episode of "Rebels and Redcoats", presented by Richard Holmes.

08/12/03 A Worrying Trend [observation]
Time magazine publishes an important article about the rise of racism, hate and especially anti-Semitism in Europe.

06/12/03 Christmas Is Coming Sign [observation]
"Eastenders: Knowing full well that every festive occasion is only another excuse to show just how much misery they can inflict on the unfortunate residents of Albert Square, the scriptwriters now seem to behave like Olympian gods messing with their subjects to a degree that even this bunch of thin-lipped, scowling Neanderthals must feel is unfair.
Fair City: Christmas special will perhaps explain to viewers why every family seems to feature children who come from entirely seperate parts of Dublin and how their accents are completely different. Or maybe not.
Hollyoaks: Will feature plenty of teenage girls wearing short Santa suits, with, hopefully, Elize Du Toit being one of them."
Ian O'Doherty giving his own unique Christmas TV preview in "The Evening Herald". Can't wait for the Christmas RTE Guide for the full listings!

04/12/03 Christmas Is Coming Sign [observation]
"Your goal should be to get your Christmas shopping over with as quickly as possible, because the longer you stay in the mall, the longer your children will have to listen to holiday songs on the mall public-address system , and many of these songs can damage children emotionally. For example: 'Frosty the Snowman' is about a snowman who befriends some children, plays with them until they learn to love him, then melts.
And 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' is about a young reindeer who, because of a physical deformity, is treated as an outcast by the other reindeer. Then along comes good, old Santa. Does he ignore the deformity? Does he look past Rudolph's nose and respect Rudolph for the sensitive reindeer he is underneath? No. Santa asks Rudolph to guide his sleigh, as if Rudolph were nothing more than some kind of headlight with legs and a tail. So unless you want your children exposed to this kind of insensitivity, you should shop quickly." (Dave Barry)
The Christmas parties have started, the christmas decorations are appearing... only 3 weeks to go!

03/12/03 The Onion Horoscope for the Week [observation]
Under no circumstances should you take no for an answer this week. You'll wind up in jail or hospitalized, but the stars will have fun watching.

30/11/03 Are You Anti-American? [observation]
The Spectator provides a helpful questionnaire.

25/11/03 Will It Happen Again? [observation]
"More people in Britain voted on the popular TV show 'Big Brother' than bothered to turn out for the European elections... the ungrateful people, it appeared, were loving the wrong Big Brother."
(Nigel Farage, MEP for the UK Independence Party)

24/11/03 Why Would You Do This? [rant]
A recent study discovers that travelling by train is the most stressful mode of transport in Dublin. As someone who commutes by DART to work everyday, I can well believe it. Do public transport advocates think people who drive cars are stupid? Yes, if you drive a car you're going to lose time in traffic, but you're sitting in a comfortable seat, in a warm and dry car, listening to the radio. Alternative: Stand on an exposed platform waiting for a train that probably won't come on time (be relieved that it comes at all) and when it arrives is packed to the brim with strangers (think yourself lucky if you fit in).

23/11/03 Foyle's War [rave]
"Death seems to follow you around, Mr. Foyle."
"Quite the opposite, I follow it."
The best thing on TV at present (apart from repeats of Sherlock Holmes) is ITV's "Foyle's War" which follows Detective Chief Super Christopher Foyle, a man who investigates murder in a time of war, (England, 1940) when thousands of innocents are being killed. The cast is excellent - Michael Kitchen stars as the enigmatic Foyle, with the fabulously named Honeysuckle Weeks as his plucky driver Sam (there are no men to spare). 1940 is not viewed through rose-tinted glasses, there are looters, racketeers and deserters who seem to be even worse than the Luftwaffe; but it was a special time and Foyle's War does its best to recreate it. Although, in the brilliant first episode of this season, an aircraft was shown with RAF markings and I'm pretty sure it was an American C-47 Dakota which should not have been available to the British at that time. Also, in the second episode the alcohol seemed to be flowing a bit too freely in a club visited by RAF officers - I thought that rationing would have had more of an impact. But these are minor quibbles, turn on ITV on sunday nights to immerse yourself in a different time and place: as an added bonus next week's episode guest stars the beautiful Emily Blunt (of Boudica & Henry VIII).

22/11/03 Thought of the Day [observation]
England have just won the Rugby World Cup, beating hosts Australia with a last minute drop goal. I confess I don't know much about rugby, but commentators criticise England's style as being dull and boring - which reminds me of the criticisms directed at Italian football when two Italian teams contested a dreary Champion's League final. Australians, however, don't need even a pseudo-justification to slag off England, and the run up to the final saw a fever pitch of "Pom-bashing", which seems to be Australia's national sport. All this led to a biting riposte from Martin Samuel of "The Times":
"To hand the World Cup over to the Poms in Sydney would be a nightmare as great as discovering that your main contribution to popular culture in the past five years is Holly Vallance."
Ouch! But I think I speak for the not-too-bothered-by-rugby section of the male population when I say that we'd be happier with our country producing more Holly Vallances than being the best at rugby.

19/11/03 The Onion Horoscope for the Week [observation]
Don't take next week's failures too hard. No one could have foreseen the sudden appearance of so many ax-wielding monkeys.

18/11/03 Thought for the Day [rave]
"The fanatical Muslims despise America because it's all lapdancing and gay porn; the secular Europeans despise America because it's all born-again Christians hung up on abortion; the anti-Semites despise America because it's controlled by Jews. Too Jewish, too Christian, too Godless, America is also too isolationist, except when it's too imperialist.
Too Christian, too Godless, too isolationist, too imperialist, too seductive, too cretinous, America is George Orwell's Room 101: whatever your bugbear, you will find it therein - for the Continentals, excessive religiosity; for the Muslims, excessive decadence; for Harold Pinter, excessively bleeding rectums." (Mark Steyn, "The Daily Telegraph" )

13/11/03 Cypher [rave]
What would it have been like had Alfred Hitchcock directed an episode of cult scifi series "The Prisoner"? I think it would have turned out a lot like "Cypher", a film currently on limited release in Ireland. It stars Jeremy Northam as a mild mannered office worker whose exposure to industrial espionage puts him in way over his head; and Lucy Liu as an enigmatic agent who may or may not be trying to help him. If "The 39 Steps" is ever remade, Northam would be perfect for the role of Richard Hannay, although I've read reports that Cypher might increase his chances of being the next James Bond. Cypher is an enjoyable, if slight film - a great diversion for a few hours.
Cypher was directed by Vincenzo Natali, who also directed the low budget "Cube". As a scifi film Cube was more memorable, if less satisying than Cypher.

10/11/03 The Sweet Hereafter [rave]
"Egoyan's film is not about the tragedy of dying, but about the grief of surviving... yes, it is told out of sequence, but not as a gimmick: In a way, he has constructed this film in the simplest possible way. It isn't about the beginning and end of the plot, but about the beginning and end of the emotions."
(taken from Roger Ebert's review)
"The Sweet Hereafter" is the finest film so far from director Atom Egoyan. I first came across Egoyan's work through his clever "Exotica", only to be disappointed with "Felicia's Journey". In Herefater, Egoyan explores similar territory to Exotica, but for me it is a deeper and more powerful film, examining how a small Canadian town copes with the tragic crash of their local school bus. Egoyan regulars Bruce Greenwood (as a grieving father) and Sarah Polley (as a crippled teenage survivor) put in brilliant performances alonside Ian Holm. I hardly recognised Greenwoord at first, he was so submerged into the role.
I can't recommened this film more highly.

07/11/03 This Happened, It's Not The Onion [rave]
Hereditary Peers By-Election Result (seen on Andrew Sullivan)
Nominations for the by-election to replace Lord Milner of Leeds closed on 24 October. 11 candidates registered to stand for election, as follows:
Lord Biddulph
The Earl of Carlisle
Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
Lord Grantchester
Lord Hacking
Viscount Hanworth
Lord HolmPatrick
The Earl of Kimberley
Lord Monkswell
Viscount Samuel
Lord Vaux of Harrowden

The result was announced by the Clerk of the Parliaments in the House at 3 pm on Thursday 30 October 2003. Three votes were cast. Lord Grantchester received two first-preference votes and Viscount Hanworth one. Lord Grantchester was therefore the successful candidate.

05/11/03 The Onion Horoscope for the Week [observation]
You will suffer dire consequences after toying with powerful forces you do not understand, namely gravity.

03/11/03 Thought for the Day [observation]
"The world is my lobster."
Keith O'Neill, former Irish soccer international, looking ahead after injury cuts short his career.

02/11/03 The Game's Afoot [rave]
"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."
Sherlockians everywhere rejoice! BBC2 are showing "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" on Saturday afternoons, beginning with "A Scandal in Bohemia" next week. This version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories was produced in the 1980s by ITV, and stars Jeremy Brett. Brett, for me, is easily the best Holmes.

01/11/03 Is Anti-Semitism Left or Right? [observation]
"If I told you I thought the world was controlled by a handful of capitalists and corporate bosses, you would say I was a left-winger, but if I told you who I thought the capitalists and corporate bosses were, you'd say I was far right." (Anonymous anarchist demonstrator quoted in Pravda)
In an article for "Foreign Policy" magazine, Mark Strauss traces the anti-Semitism which has united both the far Right and Left, flowing from their opposition to Globalisation and Israel.


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