Friday, January 02, 2009

[the skinny] on the fat of the land

So glad the BBC saw fit to publish this.

This is not the time of year to think skinny but to get a bit of body fat on, eat lots of proteins, good carbos and some good fat. A certain amount of exercise and a whole lot of hibernation is indicated.

Good luck.

[palestine] just the facts please 3

It's next to impossible to get a clear picture of the region loosely referred to as Canaan. I've just been reading one, two, three, four and five sources and am no clearer now than before.

The essential problem is that almost all sources set out initially to be unbiased but then twist the narrative as it goes on, concluding that the land belongs to this people or that people and that they've proved it.

There's little doubt that Israel occupied ancient Canaan but I can't see this as any different to the Romans or Anglo-Saxons occupying Britain. The most realistic statement is that there are quite a few tribes or sub-groupings attached to different regions and the hegemony of one or other is a fact of life.

Whites dominate Australia, the dark skinned tribe dominates Italy ... so what? Realpolitik. Given this, I'd like to ask the Arabs in the middle-east two questions:

1. Do a people exist whom the world could refer to as Jews or of Jewish origin? Just that - do they exist?

2. If they indeed exist, then where is their traditional home, if you will not concede it is in Palestine? In other words, if your claim is correct that the Jews do not descend from Canaan, whence do they descend?

Then we come into another area - the people who develop the region. The Jews have obviously turned the area into a fertile land, where once it was a barren home of nomadic groups and people eking out a living. Jerusalem has been associated with Jews millennia earlier than with Muslims, so who can lay claim to it?

[tough men] sometimes need to remember their age

Statue of Ronald Dale Barassi near the MCG

This sort of thing goes on all the time, of course, so why should this one be any different? Well, there's a twist to it.

On New Years Eve, football great Ron Barassi was having dinner with his wife at a St Kilda restaurant, dining al fresco. There was a commotion and the next thing someone crashed into his wife's chair. It was a woman who crashed to the pavement and was then kicked while she was there by an unidentified male.

Ron Barassi sprung up, the man ceased and ran and Barassi chased him through the crowd, when the man turned on him punched him to the ground and started kicking him in the ribs. Then friends arrived and the man ran.

All right, so where's the twist? Ron had forgotten he was now 72 years old and the coward could have been anything from his 30s downwards. Barassi's been good-humoured about it but understandably, there is a groundswell of sympathy for him.

Just a note for non-Australians. Barassi was the famous Number 31 for Melbourne during their golden years and then went on to a distinguished, premiership winning coaching career afterwards. He's generally regarded as one of the greatest football legends ever. What characterized him during his playing and coaching days was his ruthless determination and hardness - he was a tough customer to tangle with.

You have to wonder what the fate of the coward would have been, had the incident occurred 35 years earlier. And Barassi's last words on the matter?

'I'd do it again.'

[eu monster] time it returned to the eec

Interesting thought - a Mediterranean Union

Liam Fox wrote a piece at the Telegraph on the EU defence establishment:

On defence, the treaty gives the EU Commission more influence than ever. The debate is not about whether the treaty affects our defence policy but how far it pushes us from an intergovernmental policy to a supranational one. The newly created High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (the EU's foreign minister) will also serve as a vice-president in the EU Commission.

This in itself is bad enough, potentially blurring executive and civil service roles.
Worse still, he will also head the European Defence Agency (EDA) and have a right of initiative for proposing EU-led military operations. The bottom line is that the EU will get a foothold in our defence policy for the first time.

We did not join the EU for defence purposes – we have Nato as the cornerstone of our defence. For the EU to have a constructive role, it needs to do something Nato does not do.

Mr. Fox is correct - Britain did not join an EU state with it's own defence establishment. Defence in the UK is through our own forces and in combination with NATO. Quite apart form the resources consideration, there is the simple matter of jurisdiction.

Can anyone doubt that the EU sees itself as consuming the members states in all aspects of a government's remit? This body must be resisted with the full force of a nation's resources until they agree to go back to what they once were - the EEC.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

[renegade] or do you prefer trojan horse

Stephen Pollard tells us that Barack Obama's secret service code name is renegade.

This is the Merriam Webster definition of a renegade:

1 : a deserter from one faith, cause, or allegiance to another
2 : an individual who rejects lawful or conventional behavior

Are they trying to tell us something?

[in bruges] requiem for three hitmen

The reason Roger Ebert is such a popular film critic is because he is a good film critic. You don't have to agree with everything he concludes but he's on the money with In Bruges.

Now, call me a prude but I don't like the way Colin Farrell operates in real life. On screen though and especially in this film, he's the goods. As Ebert says:

Farrell in particular hasn't been this good in a few films, perhaps because this time he's allowed to relax and be Irish. As for Brendan Gleeson, if you remember him in "The General," you know that nobody can play a more sympathetic bad guy.

This is a superior film, despite its lukewarm box office reception. The cast is talented and Clémence Poésy is so uncannily like someone I know well in Russia that the film would be memorable just for her. Thekla Reuten [photo below] maybe even overshadows her although her role is smaller.

Actually, it's a great film in itself. Ebert again:

If the movie accomplished nothing else, it inspired in me an urgent desire to visit Bruges ... The movie does an interesting thing with Bruges. It shows us a breathtakingly beautiful city, without ever seeming to be a travelogue. It uses the city as a way to develop the characters ... But [the film] accomplished a lot more than that.

It's dark, there are quite a few threads and the black, grim humour runs below the surface the whole way through. It's atmospheric and lush and yet it does something else only a few might enjoy - it allows nothing particularly active to happen for long portions of the run time.

Then it finally comes together. Ebert:

Without dreaming of telling you what happens next, I will say it is not only ingenious but almost inevitable the way the screenplay brings all of these destinies together at one place and time. Along the way, there are times of great sadness and poignancy, times of abandon, times of goofiness, and that kind of humor that is really funny because it grows out of character and close observation.

All the above is probably telling you what you already knew.

In Bruges.

[bloghounds] stirring myself to write on us

Bloghounds is an unusual combination of bloggers and it confuses those outside of it.

Someone says, "What's happening with Bloghounds?" and I reply, "We're hibernating just now." He might reply, "Hibernating? Moribund more like."

Bloghounds would be likely to reply, "Well, we're sorry you feel this way."

Actually that statement is to misunderstand what BH is about. It's more like a label, a badge. Does anyone ask, "What's Pajamas Media been doing lately?" Well nothing, actually. It just is.

We do have plans to run a Fun Awards early in this new year and the categories are almost ready to present to members. Some of them are quite funny and we should be cutting loose soon. But don't hold your breath.

I suppose the best way to describe it is that BH is a loose affiliation of very busy people who have a real life out there and not much time to blog. We are often bemused the way we're viewed by the outside world. Any action tends to happen inside the site but we've also been criticized for being too nice to each other in there.

BH is most certainly democratic and that's why I don't dare post this over there without member approval, nor did I visit my issue from 2008 over there either. We'd definitely support a universal cause or a blogger who was being oppressed by Evil Powers.

We don't lay great claim to defending the blogosphere, per se and we don't canvass for members although we did at the start, wanting to get the right people in there early.

Bloghounds was born out of a mini-crisis in this corner of the sphere but very soon began to develop its own persona, via the members and though there are differing opinions about how large we wish to become [we've recently admitted two more members] and whether we should set anything in writing, we've been fairly easy-going up to now.

That's the special feature I particularly like about BH which makes me happy to be a member. No one bothers with quotas and votes and the like and the reason is at the point of inclusion of new members. We regard this as fundamental - that new members adopt the spirit of BH, such as it is and as Wolfie said, "We don't have many rules but those we do have we like to see observed."

So, we press on, as and when we can and occasionally even get ourselves into a loping stride but more often than not, we snooze by the fan or the fire, depending on the season.

[cassilis] liam is back

[exclusivity] it's all about privacy and immediacy

Photo 1 - Rayavadee accommodation, set in the forest

Rayavadee Premier Resort in Thailand, where the esteemed Wolfie is staying, raises for me some interesting issues. Hopefully, this photo post will illustrate these.

Let’s just say you’ve come into a few thousand euros and you and your partner plan to travel. You now get down to priorities. Do you want:

1. some base away from it all, with mod cons;
2. a slice of another culture, relaxing away from the madding crowd;
3. to “do” a country, seeing absolutely everything in a given time;
4. a bit of excitement and adventure in your life?

Photo 2 - Rayavadee eating area

Also, there are three components to your stay –

1. flight and transfers;
2. the resort itself;
3. the excursions.

How much of the kitty do you disburse into each of these areas? Whenever I went away, I was looking for a break from the pressure of work, so N2 [immediately above] was the key and N3 was second. My partner had N3 up front but she also liked her comfort. Faced with a finite sum of money, she opted for N2 next.

Photo 3 - Sai Yok National Park falls

The reason Rayavadee is interesting is that it doesn’t seem to go the polished wood, brass and glass route. Look at photos 5 and 6 and tell me if you see something wrong here? Possibly you don’t see it. For me, they’re too sanitized, too international, too “cocoon” like, too expensive in style. Don't get me wrong - the service was exquisite and the layout open and vast.

I don’t want to pay for glitter and shine or for westernized samples of a country. I want to be deep in the heart of a place, speaking with locals and getting a feel for my surroundings. Of course, paying those prices, you’re never going to be slumming it with the locals but you can come to a sort of compromise.

Photo 4 - Sai Yok National park

When we went to Thailand, we were based at the Royal Cliff but half the trip was at the Sai Yok National Forest encampment near the Burma border and we both voted that infinitely better.

We were actually on the river on a barge with a house on it, our meals were taken on the restaurant barge which would come away from the river bank and be towed downstream and unlike the glassed in, polished wood barge of photo 8, we were on a wood-planking, thatch-roofed raft, complete with servant boys and yet the same food the Thais were eating themselves.

The raft would then jam right in under a waterfall and we could walk out to the end and let the waterfall tumble over us. That’s where we discovered how heavy water really was. We’d hear tales of the wet season and how the river would rise almost up to the high bridge, we’d speak in broken Thai to the staff. In the evening, we’d be sipping on drinks on that barge, as the river flowed beneath us.

Photo 5 - the view from my favourite terrace restaurant at Royal Cliff

I suspect that that’s what Wolfie was looking for.

In my eyes, exclusivity means to be able to reduce the population around you to the point where you can handle it. If I were in prison, for example, I’d hope to be in solitary confinement. I’ve read that people go mad from that but I’d welcome it.

Exclusivity does not have to mean you think you’re better than someone else. It doesn’t have to mean obscene amounts of money although it’s becoming increasingly the case that you can’t find space unless you pay big for it.

Photo 6 - a bit above the accommodation we had but not unlike it

IMHO, it means a degree of privacy and it means you can choose whom to have around you. What I didn’t like about Pattaya was the vastness of the complex although they couldn’t have provided all the ancillary services, such as ludicrously discounted Mercs to Bangkok or the dazzling array of bars and pools unless they were pulling in large numbers of guests.

That’s why I only once went down to the pools and never went to the bars. It was like being in the crush of London or Moscow all over again. You might like the sheer weight of huge numbers swirling around you in the clubs or bars but it’s not for me.

That’s also the beauty of the area where I’m now living – it’s on the edge of civilization, is quite low density and is set close to forest with the water not far away.

This, to me, is what luxury is all about.

Photo 7 - night time dining al fresco

May I give one more example from Russia? No one understood why I opted to travel on the ancient, decrepit tramvai which rattled and squealed along the rusting tracks when there were modern, heated buses and my own car to take into town.

There were two reasons:

1. There was hardly anyone on the tram and it would amble along without restriction, past the clogged road traffic and down some scenic routes which had not changed in fifty years;
2. It was part of the specific culture of the town and opened up interactive possibilities which were just not possible the other ways.

Photo 8 - the type of bland, cocooned tastefulness which removes you from the experience

Finally, the question of envy. I don’t envy Wolfie one little bit although I’m happy he’s happy. I don’t envy you who are living in mansions and driving Mercs either although I can see the allure. There’ve been enough fascinating times over my life to keep me in memories until the end.

What I do envy is the person who has his own little world and is happy in it, who’s surrounded himself with what he likes and enjoys and does it his way. That, to me, is worth all the tea in China.

[optimism] better for the mental health

Le figaro is running a poll:

L'année qui vient de s'achever a vu le monde se transformer profondément, avec les conséquences de la crise économique et financière mais aussi les espoirs portés par l'élection de Barack Obama à la Maison-Blanche. Pensez-vous que 2009 sera une bonne année ?

Will 2009 be better, in other words?

Oui 39.81% Non 60.19%

That's as maybe but the economic situation is not always the be all and end all. A close lover and/or great friend can be an immense boost. Spiritual calm is the best lift of all.

Sometimes it's just one lucky little break which can do the trick.

I suppose all I'm trying to say is that we needn't be slaves to our situations, even if we can't escape them. Keeping the spirit up in 2009 seems the only way. On the other hand, there are one or two people I'm missing something awful and what makes it worse is that I can't make contact, can't get through.

C'est la vie.