The end

I've just moved all my important emails from my LSE email address to a new account, set up a forward and an put the out-of-office message on. A lot of fond memories. Thanks to all.



The Seventh Seal

I've just watched Ingmar Bergman's classic film, The Seventh Seal. I went though a period a little while ago of buying DVDs on Amazon's second hand shops, so they were cheap and allowed me to feel good about myself by having that sort of film collection.

Anyway, the film. First off, it's beautifully filmed. Some of the scenes are iconic, foremost of which are, of course, the various shot of Death and the protagonist, Antonius Block, playing chess. Bergman said that the image of a knight playing chess with Death for his life come from a 1480s painting in the church at Täby in Sweden. The image of death portrayed by Bengt Ekerod has also become a classic and echoes down, being picked up, I would say, as the Emperor in Star Wars and as Fear in the Star Trek: Voyager episode, The Thaw. I know that Star Trek is seen as being geeky, but I really don't care - I will return to this in another post, though.

Other images come through in the film beyond the chess game. One of the images that really resonated with me was that of the knight speaking at a confessional to who he presumes is a priest about his encounter with death and his chess strategy, thus revealing his position to Death, who he realises is the priest. Bergman's use of light and shadow is beautiful in and of itself, but the meanings behind single frames are potent indeed. One that stuck in my mind is this:

Block has not yet realised that the priest to whom he confesses is Death, but there are several overlaying symbols that encapsulate the film. Bergman is critical of priests throughout the film for using the plague that is sweeping the land, but this moves it on rather.

First off, the knight is trapped by the bars, away from the 'priest'. I won't repeat the centuries-old debate about rood screens and separating the commoners from the priesthood, but this is a depiction of the church as an iron barrier between what humanity, depicted by the knight, seeks and the consolation of knowledge - knowledge that is defined as important by the church.

There is, of course, the fact that the knight mistakes death for the priest. To Bergman, the priest is implicitly death; not to say that the priest directly causes death, but causes a death-in-life by trapping people in their concern about death and a belief in god that they promote to their own benefit - although the priest leads the flagellants, and gains status at least from it, he himself does not take party in the flagellation, preferring to make end-of-the-world predictions and crude rantings about not knowing when you're going to die.

The obsession that the knight has with god and death comes from the church; it is the church that sent him on his crusade for ten years. I do wonder if there is something in Jöns, the knight's servant, being atheistic and fatalistic because he had no choice but to follow his master while Block chose, after a fashion, to go on the crusade.

Ultimately, though, Block's only counsellors are Death, through which he gains the opportunity to commit a meaningful act in allowing the family of artists to escape, and Jöns, through whom he gains an understanding that you can't change everything and some things, even though they are awful, you can at best only mitigate.

I wonder if the same applies to me; am I trapped into a way of thinking because of my upbringing, in terms of environment, culture and education? I have, at times, tried to think whether an action is moral/good/whatever by thinking from a sort of tabula rasa position but I often end up with positions of which Protestant Christianity would approve. Does the indoctrination of the Church mean that we will end up accepting the moral lessons of all or part of our upbringing as default and convince ourselves that that position is, a priori and possibly without god, right?

Anyway, I shall sign off with a picture of Death.




I went to Mattmas the other week and there was an exotic cake from Patisserie Valerie with all manner of unusual fruits on that I'd never even heard of. One, which appeared to be a white kiwi, was in fact a dragonfruit or pitaya (or so Kheng told us). There was another variation, deep red in colour, that we could not identify but turns out to be another version of dragonfruit. Anyway, here's a picture of a dragonfruit. It's well named.



The joys of Mozilla

I recently ran LavaSoft's AdAware - an excellent, free app that removes various forms of spyware and assorted malware - and discovered a worryingly large amount of spyware, particularly data miners, on my machine that had arrived in the form of cookies.

Mozilla allow you to approve cookies, either permanently or for a session, for just that cookie or all cookies on that website. Go to Tools>>Options>>Privacy. It's useful and rather interesting - Googling a search term will allow the first website it finds to place a cookie on your machine.



Time to burn some books

Matt Sinclair asks for book recommendations for his Christmas holiday travelling. I've given some suggestions here.

I happened to come across the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's list of Fifty Best and Fifty Worst Books. Now, I don't know what this organisation is or what it does, but its library appears only to have 49 books as it considers The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley to be the fiftieth worst book and fiftieth best book of all time. The citation for the entry as fiftieth worst is: “
By any means necessary”? No, violence was not, and is not, the answer.
The entry for the fiftieth best, however, is:
The spiritual journey of a sensitive and intelligent man who had to wrestle with his own demons and contradictions while battling the condescension of paternalist
liberals and the enervating effects of the welfare state on his people.
I can't quite square the circle. I know Malcolm X is controversial, but being able to dismiss his life with "no ... not [the] answer" doesn't sit with describing him as "sensitive and intelligent". Had this been the fifty most dangerous books of all time (even from a conservative's point of view) it would be rather different, but this is looking for books that can only be described with the superlative of bad. I can't help but hear someone reaching for the matches to start a good book-burning.

The National Conservative Weekly lists the Ten Most Harmful Books - harmful, not bad. Some of the books on there I can understand - this is a conservative publication, and so Marx's Capital and the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels are to be predicted, and very few would dispute the inclusion of Mein Kampf. Keynes' General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money is also unsurprising. The Kinsey Report is also there; the major problem cited is that:
The report ... said that 37% of adult males had had at least one homosexual experience.
which it puts alongside saying that sexual relationships between adults and children could be beneficial. I think comparing homosexuality to paedophilia, as the National Conservative Weekly does, is indicative of how far we have to move things in the US. I will leave it at that and save venting my spleen.

The NCW report includes some honorable mentions that are unsurpising - Gramsci, Darwin, the Webbs and Ralph Nader are mentioned. I would say here that I think the reason for the inclusion of On the Origin of Species and the Descent of Man is that they made people think about God in the same way that the Kinsey Report made people think about sexuality and challenge the beliefs of their forbears. The very idea, it would seem, that there is a person somewhere who works hard, pays their taxes, gives to charity and is generally good is horrifying and a cause for moral outrage if that person loves someone of the same gender or doesn't believe in God or, horror of horrors! is gay and atheist.

Perhaps not that surprising - one of the books included is On Liberty by John Stuart Mill. They could have chosen utilitarianism, but instead chose to say that the right exists to interfere with another even if they're doing no harm to you.

Two things before I sign off - I own books on the 50 best list from the MMICI (Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars and Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy). Secondly, Matt is lovely and in no way part of the stereotype above - his post just set me thinking.



Bela Lugosi's Dead

One of my favourite songs has come up on the iPod – Bela Lugosi’s Dead by Bauhaus. It was the first song they released and is a classic. The bossa nova version by Nouvelle Vague is also recommended. It’s worth finding a copy. Anyway, here are the lyrics:

White on white translucent black capes
Back on the rack
Bela Lugosi's dead
The bats have left the bell tower
The victims have been bled
Red velvet lines the black box

Bela Lugosi's dead
Undead undead undead
The virginal brides file past his tomb
Strewn with time's dead flowers
Bereft in deathly bloom
Alone in a darkened room

The count

Bela Lugosi's dead

Undead undead undead

Oh Bela
Bela's undead



Bob Piper to stop blogging

After the furore over the blacked-up David Cameron picture, Bob Piper is stopping blogging. As Guido puts it, he's not racist but he was badly wrong on this one. It would appear that the barrage of criticism, some beyond the pale, that he and, it would appear, his family have received have led him to step away from the blog, at least for a little while. There is a mistake in making the distinction between online and offline life. The messages that can come through over email can be just as hurtful and threatening as ones through the post or over the telephone. Equally, the ramifications extend beyond the online world; it's easy to think that a blog is hardly read or only read by a self-contained group when the readership is much wider and essentially random.

Similar sentiments from Iain Dale - he links to Dizzy Thinks; I've tried to leave forums and ended up coming back to them.

Hope Bob'll be back soon.


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Pub Quiz Triumph

Every Monday during the university term at ULU, I play for a team called the Kim Jong-il Appreciation Society in the pub quiz league. Said team has won the league for this term, the prizes being cocktails top trumps, playing cards, a keyring, a hangover eyemask and a hipflask, all branded with Jack Daniel's (except the keyring, which is Smirnoff). Best of all, though, was a case of beer for each of the six people in the team.

Amusingly, the Jack Daniel's Cocktails Top Trumps has, on the back, a warning that it is not suitable for children under three. Give that four-year-old a Manhattan.

Just for the record, the final points were:

28 - We Are Scientists
33 - Five Geographers but one of them's Lost
49 - Lego Fan Club
59 - Team Titwank
68 - The Winning Team
72 - The Left Bollock Collection Fund
83 - Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap
85 - The Hollow Brains
89 - The Kim Jong-il Appreciation Society



A gem from the archives

Dennis Skinner is pro-choice. He is sufficiently pro-choice (and, I suspect, keen to expose some of Parliament's more arcane procedures as such) to organise a three-hour filibuster using the issuance of a writ of election, amongst other tricks, to prevent restrictions on abortion. It should be noted that this was constitutional trickery to prevent constitutional trickery,

The Speaker at one point had to come out with the classic
No, I shall not take a point of order. I shall take the closure motion. I ask the House to listen carefully to the Question. The Question is, That the Question, That the Question be not now put, be now put.
Anyway, here is the debate in all its glory.



Death of Pinochet 3/3

In response to Iain Dale.
Not sure I have an awful lot more to say. Brutal Dictator. Supported us during the Falklands War. UK House arrest was a disgrace. Not shedding a tear. End of story.
Oh, he supported us in the Falklands War? That's OK, then. After all, he was our military dictator. Galtieri wasn't, so his crimes are terrible while Pinochet's should not have been prosecuted in the UK.

I don't know where I stand on the Falklands, not having studied it at any length. Generally, military dictatorships invading outposts of democratic countries is bad. Stalin's intervention in World War Two was good, but it didn't justify the various Stalinist purges. Had Stalin ended up in Britain, would it have been right to let him go because he'd been useful in the past? After all, we removed Saddam despite the fact he was very useful against Iran.

I recommend Ariel Dorfman's play, Death and Maiden.



Death of Pinochet 2/3

Inti-Illimani made the song "El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido" famous when, during an overseas tour, Pinochet came to power and they recorded a version. They took up exile in Italy.

There is a right-wing blog that I suspect, but do not as yet know, would have supported Pinochet ' Samizdata. According to that site, the definition is
Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR
[Russ.,= self-publishing house]
It involved receiving a copy, making a few copies and passing them on to others who would be expected to do the same. Inti-Illimani's lyrics were passed around Chile by this method. The Salar mentioned in the song is the world's largest salt flat.

El pueblo unido jamás será vencido,
¡el pueblo unido jamás será vencido!

De pie, cantad, que vamos a triunfar.
Avanzan ya banderas de unidad,
y tú vendrás marchando junto a mí
y así verás tu canto y tu bandera florecer.
La luz de un rojo amanecer
anuncia ya la vida que vendrá.

De pie, luchad,
el pueblo va a triunfar.
Será mejor la vida que vendrá
a conquistar nuestra felicidad,
y en un clamor mil voces de combate
se alzarán, dirán,
canción de libertad,
con decisión la patria vencerá.

Y ahora el pueblo que se alza en la lucha
con voz de gigante gritando: ¡Adelante!
El pueblo unido jamás será vencido,
¡el pueblo unido jamás será vencido!

La patria está forjando la unidad.
De norte a sur se movilizará,
desde el Salar ardiente y mineral
al Bosque Austral,
unidos en la lucha y el trabajo irán
la patria cubrirán.
Su paso ya anuncia el porvenir.

Y ahora el pueblo que se alza en la lucha
con voz de gigante gritando: ¡Adelante!
El pueblo unido jamás será vencido,
¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!


The people united will never be beaten
The people united will never be beaten!

On foot, sing, that we will win
Already flags of unity are going forward
and you will come walking next to me
And so you will see your song and your flag flourish
The light of a red dawn
heralds the life that will come

On foot, struggle,
The people will win,
The life that will come will be better
And the shout of a thousand combative voices
will rise, and they will say,

Song of liberty,
with decision the country will win through

And now the people that rises to the struggle
Cry with a giant's voice: Onwards!
The people united will never be beaten
The people united will never be beaten!

The country is forging its unity,
From the north to the south they will come,
From the shining, mineral Salar
to the southern forest,
united in the struggle and the work they will go
They will cover the country
Their steps announce the future

And now the people that rises to the struggle
Cry with a giant's voice: Onwards!
The people united will never be beaten
The people united will never be beaten!



Death of Pinochet 1/3

When Francisco Franco died, one of the songs that people sang in celebration and mourning was "Yo pisaré las calles nuevamente" by Pablo Milanés. The song was written in 1974 as Pinochet began his long reign over Chile that would lead to death, torture, disappearance and fear for many. Although sung at the end of Franco's reign but the beginning of Pinochet, it encapsulates the sentiments very well.

The song's lyrics are (quickly translated into English by me):

Yo pisaré las calles nuevamente
de lo que fue Santiago ensangrentada,
y en una hermosa plaza liberada
me detendré a llorar por los ausentes.

Yo vendré del desierto calcinante
y saldré de los bosques y los lagos,
y evocaré en un cerro de Santiago
a mis hermanos que murieron antes.

Retornarán los libros, las canciones
que quemaron las manos asesinas.
Renacerá mi pueblo de su ruina
y pagarán su culpa los traidores.

Un niño jugará en una alameda
y cantará con sus amigos nuevos,
y ese canto será el canto del suelo
a una vida segada en La Moneda.

Yo pisaré las calles nuevamente
de lo que fue Santiago ensangrentada,
y en una hermosa plaza liberada
me detendré a llorar por los ausentes.


I will walk the streets of what was bloodied
Santiago as a new person
an in a beautiful square now free
I will pause to cry for the missing

I will come from the burning desert
and from the woods and the lakes
and on a Santiago hill I will remember
my brothers who died before

They will give back the books, the songs
That they burned with murdering hands
My country will be reborn from its ruins
And the traitors will pay for their crimes

A child will play in a garden
and will sing with new friends
and that song will be the song from the floor
to a life cut short in La Moneda

I will walk the streets of what was bloodied
Santiago as a new person
an in a beautiful square now free
I will pause to cry for the missing



Just Post Bello and Jus Militebus

Since the Second World War, the concepts of Jus Ad Bello and Jus In Bello have become important parts of just war theory – justice on the way to war and justice in the war itself respectively. These can be briefly summarised as the justifications for war in the first place and using it as a last resort for Jus Ad Bello while Jus In Bello is not killing civilians etc. There is a third that is not as well known, Jus Post Bello or justice after war. The ever wonderful Wikipedia gives five themes for Just Post Bello.


  • Just cause for termination - A state may terminate a war if there has been a reasonable vindication of the rights that were violated in the first place, and if the aggressor is willing to negotiate the terms of surrender. These terms of surrender include a formal apology, compensations, war crimes trials and perhaps rehabilitation.
  • Right intention - A state must only terminate a war under the conditions agreed upon in the above criteria. Revenge is not permitted. The victor state must also be willing to apply the same level of objectivity and investigation into any war crimes its armed forces may have committed.
  • Public declaration and authority - The terms of peace must be made by a legitimate authority, and the terms must be accepted by a legitimate authority.
  • Discrimination - The victor state is to differentiate between political and military leaders, and combatants and civilians. Punitive measures are to be limited to those directly responsible for the conflict.
  • Proportionality - Any terms of surrender must be proportional to the rights that were initially violated. Draconian measures, absolutionist crusades and any attempt at denying the surrendered country the right to participate in the world community are not permitted.


I would add some others. One should be an undertaking to reconstruct the damage caused during the war, whoever caused it. The big one, though, is that you should pay for it. In Iraq, oil has effectively been privatised to pay for the US and others’ costs without any reference to the wishes of the people of Iraq. There should be commitments to long term support of the country to guarantee its stability. One of the reasons that the transitions to democracy in Spain, Portugal and Greece were so successful was the pouring of money by Europe into those states to prop up democracy, invest in infrastructure and relieve tax pressures. Where was the twenty-year plan for Iraq?


Some will say that we should not put these restrictions on ourselves as there are bad people out there who won’t play by the rules. The fact that someone else behaves immorally doesn’t mean that you should. Moreover, by not upholding such norms it allows other countries to behave in that way and perpetuates the double standards that cause problems in international relations.


Another should be an automatic commitment to a complete, public review of the war of conflict so that lessons can be learned in maintaining useful parts of the former regime’s apparatus and how the war was conducted.


This leads me onto Jus Militebus – justice for the soldiers. I would say that, if we are going to commit troops, they should be well-protected. The arguments for this are widespread – increases the troops’ security, cost-effectiveness, less stress, it’s the right thing to do – but it’s worth remembering that equipment shortages in Iraq are nothing new. One of the reasons a lot of people died when HMS Sheffield was sunk in the Falklands conflict was that the then-Tory government had decided, to cut costs, on uniforms that ignited very quickly despite service chiefs’ protests. It also applies to Courts Martial; I can understand why in some circumstances a very quick decision would have to be made, but are troops in Aldershot under so much pressure that they have to be denied due process? Hmm… as I’ve said before, an armed forces union might be interesting.


It also means looking after ex-service personnel properly after they return from a conflict and when they’re discharged at the end of service – helping them adapt (from an institutionalised setting to normal living and perhaps dealing with PTSD etc. as well as physical damage) and keeping an eye over the years.




Not-so-green Cameron

A silver Lexus pulled in front of me yesterday going into Norman Shaw by the Red Lion on Whitehall. It's a shame that I didn't have a camera on me, because the passenger was one Mr D Cameron, and not a bicycle clip in sight.




The House of Commons Procedure Select Committee is holding an evidence session on Early Day Motions. The topic is so unimportant that it's being held on the same day as the Pre Budget Report, but it would be of interest to, er, me.

Sadly, I don't think I'll be able to see it as I'll be dealing with the PBR, but it should be of interest nonetheless. Constitutional wonks at the ready. EDMs are, though, a good way of raising attention to a subject, expressing a detailed opinion or gauging support, even if sometimes it's done by homophobes.

The details of the session are here. The witnesses are Dr Malcolm Jack, Clerk of the House and Mr David Natzler, Principal Clerk, Table Office, House of Commons.



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