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Thursday, July 28, 2005

The IRA Statement

This has the potential to be big. More - it has the potential to be real. If it is real, and if the IRA openly gives up its weapons (read: public destruction of the same) and truly abandons its war (read: cease criminal and espionage activities) then this is a very good thing. It would remain a very good thing even if quite a number of current members now drift to the other terrorist groups in Northern Ireland. Today's IRA is of course a split-off group in not totally dis-similar circumstances, and several more extreme groups have already formed from the IRA into their on groups.

Hope can be a fragile thing. We have grasped the olive branch before, only to discover thorns. Hope is eternal, and I hope that this time the two sides, which define themselves by religion, might finally take note of the words of Our Lord. Blessed are the peacemakers. Let us hope the following months will overflow with peacemakers to be blessed.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

More bombings

Tim Worstall has the round-up. Sounds like a copycat attack, and one that hasn't really worked. Time will tell precisely what was going on.

A good morning

Australia down 5 wickets, and not yet even managed to get 100 runs. It is pretty difficult to imagine a better beginnings to the Ashes series for England.

All in all, it's a good thing being on holiday just now.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Going to London

I am heading to London for a few days to see my grandparents, and hopefully to meet up with an old school-friend. Depending on how things work out I hope to visit the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich because of all the Trafalger stuff they are supposed to have there this year.

Blogging will depend on my Nan's internet connection behaving. Cross fingers it should, seeing as she has just upgraded to broadband.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (no spoilers)

Well I read this book today, and my initial impression is more or less what I expected. The short version: a good book, a good story that I am more than happy to have bought, but naturally not upto the hype. There are several dozen books I think are better in various ways, but it is all the same very good, and a very good addition to the series.

Coming in at 607 pages it is more tightly-written than both Order of the Phoenix (which I thought was quite sloppy in places) and Goblet of Fire. In retrospect it seems clear J K Rowling just needed time to get comfortable with the longer format. It reads very easily - I was whipping through at a little over 100 pages an hour - but not simplistically.

In relation to the previous books this one reminds me most of Prisoner of Azkaban, in a number of ways. It starts off with Harry in No.4 Privet Drive, and his obligatory adventure on the way to school. Harry is a more convincing 16- than 15-year old I feel, indeed I feel the characterisation of all the main characters is a good deal better than in Book V. There are two main plots. The 'main' one - or so I think - is by far the best. The second one is weaker, until its culminatio which is really very good. There are of course various subplots, not least the Half-Blood Prince character of the title.

Indeed, in some respects I think it the most interesting title of all the books so far. After all, the title could refer to a variety of people, but I will say more of that in a few weeks time once I've digested a bit more.

There is of course a new teacher, Professor Slughorn, and like all the other teachers he is a wonderful character, stepping full-bodied out of the pages. This is actually where J K Rowling excels, in just creating utterly believeable and imaginable characters, and the series of teachers are a prime example of this.

If people have enjoyed the other Potter books, there is really no excuse not to read this other than penury. If however you loathe Harry Potter this will not change your opinion, and I urge you to save your blood pressure the hassle, unless that is you wish to confirm to yourself what doggerel it all is!

Friday, July 15, 2005

Harry Potter

It seems that there are three sorts of people when it comes to Harry Potter: those who are passionate supporters, those who are passionate opponents, and those who are passionate ignorers of it all. Although, on the basis that I have a copy pre-ordered from Amazon that will hopefully pop through my letterbox tomorrow, I am a member of the first group I do ask myself is it really worth all this fuss. I like the stories, and am very happy that through them loads of people (and not just kids) can come to associate reading with having fun, but this all seems excessive. Why anyone wants to stand outside a shop for a midnight opening defies me. It's just a book, when all is said and done. In a hundred years' time the whole series might well be forgotten. Also, I think the hype is dangerous. Ultimately, nothing can live up to being over-hyped, and that disappointment is damaging. For that reason I am keeping my expectatinos firmly on the ground.

Make no mistake, I like the stories, but JK Rowling is not, in my opinion, a particularly gifted writer. Oh, the stories themselves are inspired, the characterisations clear and engaging, but the writing is nowhere near that high quality. As for the story itself, it has been slowly building, but it will be hard to make the climax worth the build-up. Not impossible, just tricky.

I will give a full report once I have read it, but these are my pre-reading thoughts.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Two different moments

Somewhat inevitably, given their similar timings, slight overlap in characters and commentators, and the superficial similarity in their rhetoric the American and French Revolutions get compared. What is really interesting about these two events though is how fundamentally different they were.

This can, among many other things, be seen in their chosen day of celebration. In the USA it is July 4th, the Declaration of Independence. In France it is today, the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. Importantly Americans choose to honour the crafting of a document, rather than the Tea Party, Lexington, or Saratoga; and likewise importantly the French choose to honour a popular uprising and not the Tennis Court Oath, the Declaration of the Rights of Man, or the end of feudalism.

I have no idea why this difference, but I feel it might well be an important one. Something to ponder.

UPDATE Just a note to thank Donald Sensing for his kind link, and to welcome anyone still coming over. Welcome.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

All-Star 2005

Just finished watching a delayed showing of the All-Star game having somehow successfully managed to avoid reading any info about it. A minor miracle in and of itself.

I wouldn't blog about it at all, apart from the very nice touch in the opening ceremonies when a brass band played God Save the Queen - and there seemed to be a big Union Jack there as well - preceeded by a moment's silence. Whoever organised that deserves a serious pat on the back.

A though did occur though that, when put together with the flag-flying at the State Department, a few people are probably stirring in their graves!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Home-grown suicide bombers

Which is increasingly look like the people immediately responsible for the attacks last Thursday were (BBC article). There are obviously a number of ramifications to this, not least is that hopefully it will be a kick up the backside of the Muslim community in this cuontry to the problem in their own midst. Hope is a cardinal virtue they say, perhaps because it is so often frustrated.

Of course, what the story above floats is an 'outsider' expert, which may well be why there has been a lot of noise about the guy in charge of the Madrid attacks, and would well explain the similarity if he was actually responsible for both.

On another note it appears that this story is set to enter in the mythlore of CCTV. While certainly anything that can add to the police's information is good each story like this reinforces the image of CCTV et al being a good thing. Nothing is for free, alas. But that is a fight for another day.

Monday, July 11, 2005

FEd up with blogger

Just a housekeeping note that I am, in all probability, going to shift over to Typepad sometime in the next month. My patience with Blogger is finally at an end.

Remembering Srebrenica

It is the 10th anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica. Once more, an organisation founded on the principle of "Never Again" placidly allowed it to happen, all over again. It would be some years yet before the Western World - principally the Western European part of it - would develop enough bottle to confront Milosevic and the demons he had unleashed, and by that time it was too late.

I have to ask myself, how many people in the Islamic world saw and read about those massacres, and came to the conclusions that (1) the West was spineless, the epitome of a decadent society that barked but could not bite, (2) that all our fine talk about democracy was just for show, that when it came down to it we would back people we "could do business with", and (3) that they had no one else prepared to fight for their perceived interests.

The Western world not only failed the victims of Srebrenica ten years ago, it failed itself. Bin Laden was already active, and what excellent propaganda for his cause. For that matter, the very war itself in Bosnia with its three-way ethnic/religious split was an opportunity for him to beat those war-drums, drums that would see te hijacking of four planes six years later.

We could have acted sooner, and engaged the nascent threats of this age at one of its springs, but like a Baldwin-ostrich was refused to see the evil that was laid out before us. Our job today is far more difficult. I certainly pray that we and future generations might finally manage to learn something of the lesson that history teaches us today.

Yet around that grand thought, at the centre of it in fact, are the murdered people of Srebrenica. What was their crime, and unless we act in the defence of such as they, who will come to our defence when we need it most?

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Book review: The Black Company series by Glen Cook

These are The Black Company, Shadows Linger, and White Rose.

I have been recommended these books a number of times, and finally I have gotten around to reading them. They are excellent.

These are fantasy novels set around the Black Company, a mercenary outfit with a pretty fearsome reputation. The main character, and sometimes narrator, is the Company physician and Annalist, Croaker. It is through his eyes we see the Company traces its employ to the Lady, a sorceress Empress who would give Palpitine a run for his money.

These are in some respects quite dark books, in that there is no real good/evil divide, just evil/evil or, from the Company's persepective, them/us. Not so long ago I read a book on the English mediaeval mercenary John Hawkwood and I was very remembered of the situation in 14th century Italy in that regard. It is as a result a quite gritty tale, though there are moments of humour that simply better illuminate the darkness.

There is also a fourth book, Silver Spike that is something of an off-shoot from the above series, also good fun, but does not actually follow the ongoing tale of the Company. I don't have the books from that series yet - they don't seem to be published in the UK - but Amazon has once again come to my rescue and they are now winging their way across the Atlantic and scheduled to arrive on my doorstep around my birthday. Convenient that.

Anyway, I highly highly recommend. Go read.

The Battle of the Easts

Just looking at the MLB standings right now, it is amazing how similar to the two leagues are shaping up. Both Central Divisions basically seem decided, barring a catastrophe on the part of either the White Sox or the Cardinals. Both West Divisions see teams with solid leads, but still within reach. And in the East divisions things are interesting.

In the NL of course all five teams are either around or quite a bit above .500, and it is still quite conceivable any of the five might manage to win the pennant - though there are of course two main contenders. In the AL things are even more interesting, given that all of the Red Sox, Orioles, and Yankees are within 2.5 games of each other, and that the Blue Jays are not so far behind either. You get the feeling in both divisions it could go right down to the wire. Hopefully the second half of the season will not disappoint.

At a guess, from this point I'll say Atlanta and Boston will win the pennants, the Nationals and Orioles will get the wildcards - but that's just my enthusiasm speaking!!! If Sammy Sosa actually managed to bat anywhere near the others in the order it might be different, but at the moment even watching him play (as I did last night) it even looks like the Orioles are dragging some deadweight there.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

John Derbyshire in the Corner

Anyone who has read much of The NRO Corner the last couple of days will have seen John Derbyshire, imo, make an utter fool of himself. I know us Brits can be of a somewhat gloomy disposition, but he is really going for a record. He seems so convinced that we in the UK will fall to this evil that he has already convinced himself that nothing can stop it. It almost sounds to him as if our defeat is a given fact of the future, and he is merely morosely awaiting its realisation.

It was precisely this attitude that caused the post-imperial slump in the first place. Combating this attitude was one of the things that made Maggie Thatcher's period in office so important.

Over an event when one of the starkest messages of defiance came from Ken Livingstone, of all people, I sincerely hope John Derbyshire realises that there is not only room for hope, but a reasonable expectation that hope shall be realised.

Update: A further thought. Part of John Derbushire's depression comes from the fact he seems to think we gave into the IRA. Perhaps he should remember that the IRA currently have no authority in Northern Ireland, no do formers members, on account of the power-sharing bodies being closed down after proof of IRA infidelity. And by their own actions they raised the bar to the resumption of those institutions. That is called carrot and stick, and is part of all counter-terror options, where at all reasonable. The situation in Northern Ireland is far from perfect, but perhaps John Derbysihre should address what is current, rather than how bad he seems convinced it should be.

Just evil part II

Over at Hear the Hurd Al offers some thoughts on my decision below.

I suppose I just want to elaborate, since I don't actually disagree with anything Al writes in his thoughtful (and somewhat lengthy) comment.

The fact that the terrorist evil that we face takes the guise of Islam does require addressing - in particular by the Muslim community itself. I personally believe that we can root this evil out, but if we do it from the outside the process will inevitably be less effective, more bloody, and take longer. The people who will suffer most will be Muslims, and that will be the price they will pay for allowing this evil to operate in their midsts. One should not sup with the Devil, not even with a long spoon. It remains a truth that through their co-operation and active help this evil will be defeated all the quicker, and with far less bloodshed. However, it is not our decision, and the Muslim community will have to bear responsibility for their actions and its consequences.

For all that, and for all the other issues/concerns/disagreements I have with Islam - which I will not bother to list - I refuse to let this evil infect my own view of Islam. It is a small defiance, a personal one, and only important in that scheme of things.

Al is certainly right Islam needs to reform. However, I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Just evil

The last 24 hours I have done some serious thinking, and I have made a definite decision to conciously try never again to refer to these terrorists as being 'Islamic' or 'Muslim'. I know that is how they identify themselves, but that does not matter. To allow them force us to mis-use the name of Islam, just at the IRA forced a mis-use of the term 'Catholic' - is to grant them a power they do not deserve. These people are not Muslims, they are simply evil.

I believe that Islam has its problems, and Terror is one of those problems, but Terror is not Islam.

Just a slight shift in my way of thinking.

Fear and panic, or not as the case may be

It may be recalled that press release from the organisation apparently claiming responsibility had a little line that read:

And this is Britain now burning from fear and panic from the north to the south, from the east to the west.

Well Taunton, which is really South-West (but it is too much to expect terrorists to understand geographical nuance when their history is so deficient), was remarkably absolutely the opposite. Yesterday it was discussed in work as news came through, today hardly at all.

A strike at London is unevitably a strike at all of us. There are very few people in the UK who do not have friends and family who live and work in and around London, who might be passing through the centre on any given day. The quoted line confirms this was the intent.

Nothing makes our attackers more impotent than their irrelevance, and apart from some obvious inconvenience (but no more) in London they are truly irrelevant throughout the country today.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Further thoughts

The terrorists struck, I would imagine, because of this summit. It is I think no co-incidence. For the first time in a very long time there is an international summit that actually looks likely of being able to do some good on the global scale. Not the pointless leaps of faith like Kyoto, but small certain steps. These small steps will, in time, be our surest and most successful challenge to the Evil that we face. Each small step drives the stake deeper into its black heart.

In the words of someone rather famous:

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

That is our legacy. I do not doubt that we will honour it.

George Galloway

George Galloway is nothing if not consistent. That's alright. He is not the first, and certainly will not be the last, member of Parliament who aids and comforts our enemies in this country's history.

Besides, freedom of speech (and the freedom to be a total twit) is one of those things that makes us different from the creatures who committed these acts today. While I am sure Mr Galloway is incapable of understanding that - given that he surrendered his reason a long time ago - we still are, and we can celebrate his continued existence because it is the very confirmation we need of our own superiority.

This England

These words of the Bard himself seem a relevant reflection today:

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England


It is, of course, an excerpt from John of Gaunt's speech in Richard II.

Bombs in London

Regrettably the stream of bullets that we have been dodging for so many years seems now to have finally found some marks. We have been fortunate, but fortune does not last. We are looking now into the face of the same evil we have looked at many times before. And I have no doubt that we will face it down as we have done so before.

It would be easy to be angry at the bombers themselves, but they are simply tools. We must look beyond the mere perpetrators to the evil that drives them, twists them, and destroys their most fundmental birth-right, their own humanity. There is a failure of apprehension that it is simply this group or that one, this or that blood-soaked movement. It is to the deeper evil that we must turn a baleful glare.

And it is evil, and I only hope more people over here will begin to understand that now. The price of ignorance is far too high.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Not seeing War of the Worlds

This review by Donald Sensing over at One Hand Clapping has pretty much confirmed my desire not go and see Steven Speilburg's version of this tale I love so well.

I do think he contradicts himself at the beginning by saying that the movie's fealty to the book is detrimental, and then lists a couple of ways in which by not sticking the book weakens the movie. But basically, I have a hard time taking the idea the movie is loyal to the book when it transplants the story 100+ years and 3000+ miles. However it is Rev Sensing's comments about the lack of it being a 'war' in the second half of the review that clinches it for me. The whole business about a guy looking for his kids is just the icing on an already baked cake.

Sounds like too much Hollywood, and/or Saving Private Ryan with tripods. I didn't particularly like that film either. Felt it relied too much on its opening sequence to make up for what I felt was a vacuum of plot and acting thereafter (I realise other people hold different opinions on this). Rev. Sensing's closing remarks about special effects lead my thoughts there as well.

Oh well. One day perhaps someone will make a proper film of this wonderful tale. But from all I have heard (not just this review) this latest offering is not it. And I am certainly not intending on wasting my money to find out one way or other.

London 2012

So it looks as if the Olympics will be heading this way next decade. I doubt it will be long before our wonderful political parties start fighting over it. You can depend on them.

I am though quite pleased. I am, of course, especially pleased that we beat France. In many respects beating France was more important than winning the Games themselves. Who says this 900+ year antagonism isn't petty and all-encompassing? Or, for that matter, very much alive.

Jacques Chirac must be wondering what he has done to deserve so many breaks against him. Strangely I am not the least bit sympathetic to his plight. Tony Blair, on the other hand, is flying high.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Being pointless at the G8

In the last few weeks I have read several times that the G8 Meeting is technically described as a conversation between the countries involved. I suppose it could also be described as a conversation between the G8 and everyone else. Conversations rarely produce great action, and certainly not immediately. The very word 'conversation' conveys something rather more sedate and laid back. These are not treaty summits, they are an exchange of views. Indeed, the G8 has no power to compel anything, and as such is a rather amusing target for the ire of the extremists who protest so violently at these events.

Of course, there are different sorts of protests. Live 8 was a form of protest after all, a demonstration. Most demonstrators and protestors at these events have far more important things than violence on their mind. They wish to take part in that conversation.

And then some loud drunken braggart comes into the room and starts shouting and waving his arms about, not caring whom he hits or what he damages. An idiot who does not realise that his antics regresses the agenda he supposedly supports. Nothing is more pointless, or counter-productive, at a meeting of the G8 than an anarchist protestor.

Monday, July 04, 2005

July 4th, 1776

I do not know much about the detail of these early days of revolution, that I freely admit, but I do wonder what the atmosphere would have been like in Philadelphia, and around the Thirteen Colonies as the news spread, a few days later, when the heady euphoria began to fade and the the scale of the task become clear. Any who thought it would be an easy war were surely quickly shocked into understanding, but likewise those who thought it was the war that had to be won were equally wrong. That was made cruelly plain not a hundred years later, when Americans would again divide into two camps, only this second time they would slaughter each other with a ferocity so far unrivalled (thankfully) in their history.

On one level the Declaration, and the war that followed, changed very little. The main trade routes were restored, the farmers still had to be farmed, and Europe waited for the next round between England and France. After all, from a certain point of view the American Revolution is nothing more than one of a series of wars between England and France in their long battle for supremacy. If you blinker a view too much, however, you are blinded to the whole.

On one level very little changed, but the modern world cannot be understood without reference those goings on, on a July day, two and a bit centuries ago.

Happy Birthday America.

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