April 24th, 2004



Up at 9:30 so that I can pop into town and pick up keys for spaj. The rental place closes at 12 and he arrives from the barren wastes of Belfast sometime this afternoon, having driven over (via the ferry, one assumes, his divinity not being _that_ overt).

No real plans for the rest of the day. May just wander about yawning.

(no subject)

To understand what is happening in the Middle East, you must first understand what is happening in Texas. To understand what is happening there, you should read the resolutions passed at the state's Republican party conventions last month. Take a look, for example, at the decisions made in Harris County, which covers much of Houston.

The delegates began by nodding through a few uncontroversial matters: homosexuality is contrary to the truths ordained by God; "any mechanism to process, license, record, register or monitor the ownership of guns" should be repealed; income tax, inheritance tax, capital gains tax and corporation tax should be abolished; and immigrants should be deterred by electric fences. Thus fortified, they turned to the real issue: the affairs of a small state 7,000 miles away. It was then, according to a participant, that the "screaming and near fist fights" began.

I don't know what the original motion said, but apparently it was "watered down significantly" as a result of the shouting match. The motion they adopted stated that Israel has an undivided claim to Jerusalem and the West Bank, that Arab states should be "pressured" to absorb refugees from Palestine, and that Israel should do whatever it wishes in seeking to eliminate terrorism. Good to see that the extremists didn't prevail then.

In the United States, several million people have succumbed to an extraordinary delusion. In the 19th century, two immigrant preachers cobbled together a series of unrelated passages from the Bible to create what appears to be a consistent narrative: Jesus will return to Earth when certain preconditions have been met. The first of these was the establishment of a state of Israel. The next involves Israel's occupation of the rest of its "biblical lands" (most of the Middle East), and the rebuilding of the Third Temple on the site now occupied by the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosques. The legions of the antichrist will then be deployed against Israel, and their war will lead to a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon. The Jews will either burn or convert to Christianity, and the Messiah will return to Earth.

The true believers are now seeking to bring all this about. This means staging confrontations at the old temple site (in 2000, three US Christians were deported for trying to blow up the mosques there), sponsoring Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, demanding ever more US support for Israel, and seeking to provoke a final battle with the Muslim world/Axis of Evil/United Nations/ European Union/France or whoever the legions of the antichrist turn out to be.

By clicking on www.raptureready.com, you can discover how close you might be to flying out of your pyjamas. The infidels among us should take note that the Rapture Index currently stands at 144, just one point below the critical threshold, beyond which the sky will be filled with floating nudists.

We can laugh at these people, but we should not dismiss them. That their beliefs are bonkers does not mean they are marginal. American pollsters believe that 15-18% of US voters belong to churches or movements which subscribe to these teachings. A survey in 1999 suggested that this figure included 33% of Republicans. The best-selling contemporary books in the US are the 12 volumes of the Left Behind series, which provide what is usually described as a "fictionalised" account of the Rapture (this, apparently, distinguishes it from the other one), with plenty of dripping details about what will happen to the rest of us. The people who believe all this don't believe it just a little; for them it is a matter of life eternal and death.

And among them are some of the most powerful men in America. John Ashcroft, the attorney general, is a true believer, so are several prominent senators and the House majority leader, Tom DeLay. Mr DeLay (who is also the co-author of the marvellously named DeLay-Doolittle Amendment, postponing campaign finance reforms) travelled to Israel last year to tell the Knesset that "there is no middle ground, no moderate position worth taking".

The electoral calculation, crazy as it appears, works like this. Governments stand or fall on domestic issues. For 85% of the US electorate, the Middle East is a foreign issue, and therefore of secondary interest when they enter the polling booth. For 15% of the electorate, the Middle East is not just a domestic matter, it's a personal one: if the president fails to start a conflagration there, his core voters don't get to sit at the right hand of God. Bush, in other words, stands to lose fewer votes by encouraging Israeli aggression than he stands to lose by restraining it. He would be mad to listen to these people. He would also be mad not to.

There is now screaming going on in my head. It's possibly the only coherent explanation I've heard for the combined US actions recently (Well, there are others, but they require an amazing mixture of cunning and incompetence).

Read the full article at The Guardian.

(no subject)

yonmei pointed me towards this project to produce 50-word versions of favourite stories.

A few favourites of mine so far:

Shakespeare, Hamlet :
Hamlet: You killed my father, prepare to die!
Everyone (including Hamlet) : *dies*

The Female Eunuch
Greir: "Men are evil. Did you really need to pay $5.25 to find this out?"

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
Humbert Humbert: Woe is me! I love little girls.
Dolly: Fabulous. Give me your money. I'm out.

Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
Machiavelli: In a perfect world you will be loved and people will let you lead. This isn't that world. If you can't control them, kill them - all of them.

Good Omens
Earth: I'm a Libra.
Crowley: It's a baby! It's the Apocalypse!
Aziraphale: It's the Apocalypse! It's ineffable!
Adam: I am Just William! Only with powers!
God: Well, fuck. What went wrong? Everyone was supposed to die.
Nightingale: *sings*


Went into town. Picked up keys for Adam/Bekka. Sat in Prices Street Gardens and read The Collected Short Stories of Vernor Vinge unti; Adam called me, then walked down Leith Walk to Hopetoun Street, where they've moved into a new(ish) flat for 6 months. Met them and handed over the keys, then helped unpack both cars. Then walked back to Princes Street and grabbed a bus back.

It's gorgeous outside, it's gorgeous in Adam's flat and the Vinge stories aren't bad (although the earlier ones are somewhat clunky).

Good day, so far.

Women Suck!

Studies have shown that girls do better in all girl's schools than they do in mixed schools.

Which makes this study particularly interesting.

It's hard to summarise more than it already is, but it shows that when women compete with men and women they don't improve their performance significantly, whereas men do. Women competing solely with Women _do_ improve their performance, it's just when competing in mixed circumstances that they don't seem to improve as much.

I'm not sure what's going on, but it definitely deserves researching in more details to see what's going on.

(no subject)

I find this conversation fascinating. It's about characters that are changed or just vanish early on in an ongoing tv series, comic, etc.

Like John's original roommate in Garfield. Or Ritchie's old brother in Happy Days. Or Mandy in West Wing.

No explanations, just whoosh.

This one is my favourite so far:

There is the famous missing Martin family member on "All My Children" who, legend has it, walked upstairs in the 1970's one day, and never came down. About thirty years later, a scene took place in the Martin's attic, and one character saw a skeleton in the corner, and wondered aloud about that person's fate.


Due to the wonders of axial tilt, during the Winter it barely gets light in Scotland, whereas during the summer it's still light enough to read outside at 10pm.

I just compared Edinburgh to London and discovered that dusk here is at 8:36, whereas it's 8:08 in London. 20 minutes more sun for me!