Archive for January 2003
Nice to see somebody in the media industry has a sense of humour, however rudimentary. They’re showing Groundhog Day on TV here, two days too early, but close enough. In the film, Bill Murray’s weatherman experiences the same day, over and over again. So, during the commercial break, we get the same short Cadbury’s commercial, repeated about nine times… funny ha-ha, folks.
boeing… boeing… boeing…
I got bored last night, so I did this animated GIF for b3ta.com. I guess they liked it, since it’s wound up on the front page, where it will stay for a few days. I don’t know what that will do to my website stats, I may be at risk of exceeding some traffic allowance, if I have one. I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it. Now I’m off home.
If you’re wondering why the Millennium Dome appears to be just across the river from the Houses of Parliament in London, blame Microsoft, since this is made from screenshots from Flight Simulator 2002.
Dublin appears to be the only place in Europe that has not yet had any snow worth talking about this winter. The whole of the UK is smothered, with skidding lorries and people sleeping in snowbound cars. I’ve been told there were a few flakes here this week, but not enough to be visible on the ground. The official explanation involves the Gulf Stream, but I think that Thor has got it in for me.
I like snow. I haven’t seen enough of it in my lifetime. I flew to Canada four years ago so I could walk around Edmonton, knee-deep in the stuff at -25°C. Good thing my specs are photo-reactive, or else I would have gone snow-blind – they nearly turned black as it was. I’m tempted to take up skiing, and I see the Dublin Ski Club has a dry slope you can train on, near Dublin. I’ve just checked it out further… It’s not too expensive, and I can get the bus from around the corner from my house. So I have no excuse – I’ll look into it further over the weekend.
I’m reading more books than watching TV at the moment, but I am enjoying the documentary series Jamie’s Kitchen. Jamie Oliver is a “celebrity chef” in London, and this series is about his attempt to set up a new restaurant. Getting the physical building set up is bad enough, but he’s also taken 16 unemployed people off the dole and put them through a crash course in professional cooking, calling in a lot of favours. Part of the project was formal training, but there were also field trips to investigate the source of ingredients. If they complete the course, Jamie will employ them in his new restaurant.
I would have jumped at such a chance when I was unemployed, but these people… well, a couple of them have genuine problems at home, true, but it’s not acceptable to show up hours late, or not at all, without letting people know. Flying into arguments with the boss, poor hygiene, inability to organize anything, inability to handle tools and equipment such as knives and ovens, etc. Then there are the attitudes… oh yes.
I’ve met such people, and did not get on with them. A few can’t grasp the concept that their work genuinely needs to be done, and artful dodges and trying mind games on the the boss will not change that – all they’re doing is dumping work on their colleagues. You don’t have to like your colleagues, but at least respect them and imagine yourself in their shoes. You don’t need to kiss the boss’ backsides – I’ve never even tried that – but if they are any good, you can learn something from them (and sometimes get them to do what you want).
The series tends to focus on the worst students, while the better ones quietly get on with the job. It makes things look worse than they are, but not by much. The students were sent off to restaurants around the country for some on-the-job training, with interesting results, followed by a dress rehearsal at college that leaves some students in tears. Jamie says “when the shit hits the fan, I can’t think of anywhere worse to be (than a kitchen)”. Really? Try computer tech support, pal. The restaurant opened before the documentary series aired: a good thing, otherwise he would have no customers, if this lot are in the kitchen.
Meanwhile, here in Ireland, Shannon Airport is a major stopover for US forces on their way to the Middle East, with much angry debate and accusatory language. The “Green Party” walked out of parliament, accusing the government of having blood on its hands. Today a protester broke into the airport with a hatchet and badly damaged a US Navy passenger plane; her lawyer says her actions were defensible, equivalent to breaking into someone’s house to render assistance to someone else under attack. In other words, she was trying to prevent people getting hurt, by attacking a defenceless Boeing 737. Right…
The work madness goes on. Every member of our team is so overloaded with urgent work that we can’t get to the ongoing matters we need to deal with. Part of our brief is training: we can prevent escalation of serious problems to us, by training the phone support people on the products and the things that can go wrong with them. This helps them resolve problems more quickly, and even prevents escalations. It’s a vicious circle – we can’t reduce escalations through training, because we have so many escalated cases to deal with. When we do get round to training, we find that people are prevented from going or even pulled off, because they can’t afford to lose the phone support staff for the duration of the course. Madness, I tell you.
Finally finished Red Storm Rising last Sunday – better than I remembered it, though you can clearly see the literary collision between Tom Clancy, the nominal author, and Larry Bond, the war games expert who played out the campaigns with Clancy. Bond later went on to write books of his own, such as Vortex, about a war in South Africa, and Red Storm Rising has reportedly been used as a text book in some military schools. There will soon be a new computer game based on an evolved version of his war games – Harpoon 4. One to watch out for, I think.
I came in to work to upload last night’s writing, to find the Internet in the throes of a major “worm” attack. This one affects systems running Microsoft’s SQL Server 2000 software, which can be hijacked through a known security hole. The hole was fixed six months ago, but the patch has clearly not been applied worldwide. It’s possible that the people behind the worm didn’t see the opportunity until the problem was publicized – there’s a lesson in there somewhere, though I have no idea what it is. Things have calmed down somewhat, since I can get through to post this, but I still see some odd browsing failures.
The RTÉ is again showing the film Bloody Sunday, about the shooting of unarmed protestors in Derry / Londonderry* in January 1972. This award-winning film claims to show the true events of the day, and was positively reviewed here in Ireland, but it’s hardly been noticed elsewhere. The RTÉ also showed it on its release a few months ago, but clearly couldn’t wait to do it again. It shows the British authorities in a poor light, naturally; this version of events claims to show the commanding officer ordering his troops to retaliate severely if attacked in any way. Is this correct, and if so, so what?
I don’t claim to know what really happened; my point is that I probably never will know, now. This government-funded movie version will become the official history, here in Ireland, much as Shakespeare’s plays have to the general public. Outside Ireland, few people care anyway. The truth is almost irrelevant now, after over thirty years “Bloody Sunday” has become a cliché and a U2 hit.
Is it safe for me to criticize Irish popular culture in this way? Though Ireland doesn’t have an official “free speech” policy, there seems to be one in practice, and only bigots have a problem with that. Looking at the history, though…
* The way you refer to Derry / Londonderry marks you down as either Catholic Republican or Protestant Unionist respectively, and there was a time when using the wrong version in the wrong company could get you killed. Some half-seriously refer to it as “Stroke City”, playing on the physical reaction you may experience if asked your opinion. Here in Ireland, the RTÉ likes to give weather forecasts etc. as if there was no border, so you can guess which version they use. The dual naming reflects the city’s status as a pawn in religious battles dating back to the 6th century, when the Catholic monastery was repeatedly wrecked by Vikings. A millennium later, Derry was captured by the Protestant King James I and given to the citizens of London, prompting the change of name and a large settlement of Protestants. It’s not surprising that it’s been a focal point of terrorist activity in the last century. People have long memories, don’t they?
Since I moved to Ireland just over three years ago, I’ve had to learn some Irish history. OK, perhaps I didn’t have to, but this appears to be part of the way I do things – the background information helps when conversation takes an unexpected turn. I did the same, about Islam, when I became friends with a Muslim family in England a few years ago.
Last week saw the completion of the Dublin Spire, which is becoming known locally as the “Stump in the Dump” or the “Stiletto in the Ghetto”, thus joining other Dublin statues such as the “Hags with the Bags” (The Shoppers), the “Tart with the Cart” (Molly Malone), and the “Prick with the Stick” (James Joyce). The “Floozy in the Jacuzzi” is no more, having been removed as part of the O’Connell St. renovation, of which the “Stiletto” is part.
Anyway, the “Spire” is outside the Dublin General Post Office (GPO), which was the main rebel outpost during the 1916 “Easter Rising”, after which the defeated rebel leaders were executed by the evil English overlords. I had to look this up, out of curiosity, after an evening listening to Irish folk songs in a pub, with half the songs referring to those brave martyrs of the GPO.
I wrote a little about this last week in response to a question on a bulletin board, read by mostly American and English people. Their reaction? Didn’t want to know, and I can’t blame them – compared to England and Scotland, Ireland has not much history to speak of, and far too much is made here of the little it has. Even American or South African history can be more interesting to read, and more educational too; despite the relative youth of those countries, they at least had a frontier spirit and big ideas, and didn’t spend centuries mired in smouldering religious prejudice.
The way I see it, the main reason to study history at all is to learn from the mistakes made in the past; a look at Irish history, especially the last century, shows the same mistakes made over and over again. It seems to me that this can be attributed to the insular attitude I see here every day; so much of Irish history could be different, had people heeded the lessons of history learned elsewhere.
During the Victorian and Colonial eras (c. 1830 – 1940), we see the same basic pattern repeated again and again: if a country was part of the British Empire, you would find some (never all) of its native people trying to throw off the “colonial yoke” with varying degrees of success. This would usually involve some form of half-baked armed uprising, sometimes so poorly-planned that London hardly noticed. If it did, however, the British Army would come down on the rebels like a ton of bricks, crushing the rebellion by any means necessary. London would only negotiate from a position of strength, but could be surprisingly accommodating when that was the case.
This is what happened in Ireland (1916-1924), and they clearly hadn’t taken note of what happened in South Africa (1899-1910); the 1899-1902 Boer War saw the first large-scale use of concentration camps, and while Winston Churchill was making a nuisance of himself, he also took home some useful ideas, such as guerrilla warfare and the Commandos. South Africa then gained self-governing dominion status in 1910, as Canada has now, less than a decade later. Did Ireland need to go through all that? After eight years of civil strife, it got its independence in 1924, but at the cost of losing the Ulster provinces to Britain, because of their Protestant population.
Other examples are Burma (1885-1890), but an exception to the pattern was India; because there was no significant armed uprising, the non-violent protests by Gandhi were more effective in getting the British to the negotiating table, leading to improvements in conditions long before the tumultuous formation of India and Pakistan in 1947. Then the trouble really started, with internal migrations leading to the deaths of a million people within weeks, and sporadic internal uprisings and skirmishes between the new countries ever since.
Tonight is Burns Night, the main annual cultural celebration in Scotland. Though I am Scots, and enjoyed most of the Burns that I read, I am not convinced he would have been so prolific had he foreseen the long-term effects of his work. His style, language, and thinking have dominated Scottish culture since his time, shaping everyone’s perceptions of Scotland. Echoes of Burns, and reactions against his work, can be found everywhere today, from Iain Banks, to Billy Connolly, to Trainspotting.
Edinburgh is the popular seat of Scottish culture today, the first stop for American tourists searching for their Scottish roots. It’s no accident that the film Trainspotting starts with an American tourist, visiting Edinburgh, getting mugged by a local junkie – it symbolizes Irvine Welsh’s reaction to the Yankee invasion. I took a day trip there last year, but spent only two hours looking around before jumping on the train back to Glasgow.
Edinburgh is also the world capital of Hogmanay, with several hundred thousand people converging on the place last month to get drunk and stupid, and sing Auld Lang Syne without understanding the words. The Encyclopaedia Britannica has “Scottish Cuisine” in its index, but with only one related entry: haggis.
On the topic of Scotland and my culture, the following words are more meaningful to me. I don’t think I’m exaggerating to describe Stuart Adamson as another great Scots poet and songwriter, worthy of a place up there alongside MacDiarmid and Burns. These words came from his liner notes to the reissue of The Seer, the 1986 album by Big Country:
I came to one day in 1985 and found I had been around the world several times in a chaos of bagpipe guitars and cold small beer. I had been translated and subtitled from the sack to the mill and came home to a place that didn’t look like the press kit.
I was aware that I was carrying more than just some cheap luggage around with me, especially when I spoke in an accent deemed everything from cute to impenetrable, depending on who was doing the listening. It seemed that all I did was defined by my being Scots, and all of it someone else’s definition.
So I opened my eyes, I looked, I listened, I read, and made tangible for myself what had been instinctive. Somewhere between Alex Harvey and Hugh McDiarmid, Glencoe and Hampden Park was a culture, and it was mine. It too had been packaged and marketed, but it was there, tucked away in a corner below the whisky and shortbread crates.
So I took it out and dusted it off, and there it was. It wanted to be outward looking and forward thinking, freed of the misty sentimentality of nationalism, but aware of its continuity. Where have we been, where are we going, what can we give, what can we learn?
Me? I just brought it to the party.
© 1996 Stuart Adamson
Stuart died just over a year ago, a victim of both his failures and his successes. Tonight I will raise a glass of something “dry” to the memories of Adamson and Burns. Cheers.
Currently, these are my all-time favourite rock & pop albums, in order by artist:
- Big Country – Peace In Our Time (1988)
- Faith No More – Angel Dust (1992)
- King Crimson – Discipline (1981)
- Marillion – Afraid Of Sunlight (1995)
- Metallica – … And Justice For All (1988)
- Muse – Origin Of Symmetry (2001)
- OMD – Architecture & Morality (1981)
- Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)
- Rush – Signals (1982)
- David Sylvian – Gone To Earth (1986)
- Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing (1986)
- Talk Talk – The Colour Of Spring (1985)
- U2 – Achtung Baby (1991)
- Yes – Yessongs (1973)
A few of those will be swapped out by this time next week; even though all but one of those albums are more than five years old, the list is not static. The last year has seen a couple of new contenders to the list, such as the Doves. Jazz and classical are another matter entirely, I think I need to hear a lot more of both before I can start making lists, and those would be of composers and artists, not albums.
Some great bands produce inconsistent albums, and a prime example from my collection is Dream Theater. I found that about half of each of their albums is great, the other half mediocre. Rush have the same problem to a lesser extent, though they were hitting the spot around 1980-ish. Then there’s Genesis, which is a topic for another day, with all the spin that surrounds them, pro and con.
The Big Country album I’ve chosen is not considered their best by most fans, because of the polished production. I actually like that aspect, and the songs are all excellent in their own right. Marillion too – many fans turned their backs after 1988, when Fish left, but they are still going strong and planning their next moves at the moment.
I’m listening to a Muse live bootleg at the moment, and I can hear Matthew Bellamy playing bits of Plug-In Baby wrong – or is he? They’re his guitar parts, after all. Great stuff, regardless, it’s part of a positive trend in music over the last few years, kick-started by Radiohead – the return of bombast, and over-ambition in music, that got me interested again. Roots are fine, they tell me where you’ve been; but where are you going?
I’m grateful that most communication here in Ireland is carried out in English, compared to what I saw in France last month. There they dubbed everything into French, but I didn’t mention that I also saw a bit of a French remake of “Absolutely Fabulous”, with local actors and a feature film format. Back here, though, we have “The Muppet Show” with all the characters speaking Gaelic, but not the guest stars. At the moment we have Kermit The Frog talking (in Gaelic) to Charles Aznavour, who replies in English, describing how he can say anything to Miss Piggy in French and make her swoon. He goes on to prove it by reciting the phone number of the Paris garbage dump: “neuf trois deux un…”.
That’s it – TV’s going off, and it’s back to my book. I’m re-reading Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy and Larry Bond. It came out in 1986 and I last read it over ten years ago. From what I remember, it’s been quite prophetic about some things, and thankfully wrong about others. Middle East Oil plays a huge part, almost foreshadowing the Gulf War, and it was clear even then, three years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, that the Communist Bloc economies could simply not continue as they were without something drastic happening. Clancy gets a lot of criticism in the USA for his slightly right-wing views, and has even tackled such questions as tax reform, once his long-standing character Jack Ryan became President. He knows his field, though, and it’s not wise to simply dismiss his work as fiction.
More ominously, Clancy later foresaw the use of an airliner in an attack on a public building. Or, what if terrorists read Tom Clancy novels too? In Debt Of Honor the main target was the Capitol building in Washington DC, and that may have been the target of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001.
Tributes are pouring in for Maurice Gibb, the second of the Bee Gees to die. I know it’s in poor taste to criticise someone who has just died, and I won’t go quite as far as Denis Leary did in No Cure For Cancer after Andy Gibb died: “One down, three to go!” Now it’s “two down, two to go”, but it would have been enough for the band to break up, as long as the “music” stopped. “Here’s ten bucks, bring me the head of Barry Manilow. I want to drink beer out of his empty skull… you write the songs, we’ll drink the beer out of your empty head!”
Half-watching Indiana Jones: the Last Crusade, featuring some of the most bizarre action sequences. Spielberg seemed to be working hard to avoid many of the usual clichés here; when Indy jumps in to a speedboat in Venice, you expect that he’ll soon be speeding through the canals, but no, he heads straight out to sea. Great dialogue between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery too. “You call this Archaeology?!”
Friday evening was spent first at the pub, then at someone’s house playing table tennis in a cold, wet and draughty garage, fortified by a pretty good curry and cans of Budvar. Not a bad evening, but it definitely led to my coming down with a cold, waking up both yesterday and today at 5am with everything hurting. I’m debating whether I should go to work; an hour ago it was definitely off, but a couple of ibuprofen tablets have kicked in and I’m feeling almost human. I’ll probably go in and see what happens, perhaps leaving early. I have another conference call with Istanbul this morning.