Christmas review

We’ve had a lot of guests this year, which has been great. Almost all family, with the exception of and who dropped over on Thursday for the afternoon. But we had Anne’s sister here from the Thursday before Christmas, her brother from Christmas Eve (with all his worldly goods, his plan to move to Baden-Württemberg not having worked out), and my sister and her husband from Tuesday. B went off to her respite care that day, but Anne’s parents then arrived on Wednesday so we had eight adults and two children in the house. (That night we had a large Chinese take-away.) Thursday was a day of departures, Anne’s brother off to a New Year party in the Baltic States first thing, then my sister and her husband mid-morning, then Anne’s sister dropped to Leuven station along with and in the evening. On Friday I had to spend most of the day at work, but picked up B in the evening through an unpleasant snow storm, so now with all three of our children and just Anne’s parents it almost feels normal again.

We did manage to have a five-player go at “Europa 1945-2030”, a game I’ve had for years but rarely get to play.

The game is basically about constructing a united Europe, and forces players to colaborate. We did rather well in the first round:

You probably can’t see, but by 1973 we had not only the original EU-6, but also Switzerland as member states. Things continued to go well:

By the time Communism had fallen we had not just the EU-15 of 1995 but also Switzerland, Norway and Iceland – the European Economic Area, in fact. But then one sharp-eyed player noticed that we had been interpreting the rules a little too generously, so expansion in the next round was slower if none the less a little dramatic:

That’s all 25 current member states, with the peculiar exception (sorry, ) of Lithuania, but with the addition of the three EEA states, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia (yay!) and, gloriously, Russia. We called it a night there rather than play the final round, with my sister and my mother-in-law joint winners.

There was also a cake, though not the traditional Christmas version, much enjoyed by all:

And much watching of Doctor Who. But I’m saving that for another post.

Happy New Year, everyone. We will have a wee glass of bubbly at midnight.

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Those Father Ted Mastermind Questions In Full

Some kind person has posted these as a comment to an earlier entry:

  1. Father Ted repeatedly makes what claim about the missing money that was the cause of him being sent to Craggy Island?
    It was resting in his account.

  2. Which unfortunate priest is frequently distracted by phone calls from Ted doing activities like knife throwing, downhill skiing, and being held at gunpoint?
    Larry Duff.

  3. In the first episode what song does Father Dougal slip into his recitation to the Lord’s Prayer?
    Papa Don’t Preach.

  4. In Grant Unto Him Eternal Rest, under which statue does Ted say he has left the money for the milkman?
    Our Lord Being Embarrassed By The Romans.

  5. As physiotherapist to the over-75’s football team what does Dougal believe the magic sponge does?
    Soaks up germs.

  6. What’s the headline on the front page of the newspaper that someone is trying to show Ted while he is denouncing hypocrisy to Neve Connelly in Rock-A-Hulu Ted?
    Ted has described the lovely girls as having lovely bottoms.

  7. In Competition Times Ted is seen reading which glossy magazine which has a picture of The Pope on the front?

  8. During the protest over the banned film The Passion of Saint Tibulus, Father Ted has a placard with “Down with this sort of thing”. What’s on Dougal’s?
    Careful Now.

  9. In Tentacles Of Doom, what does Father Dougal think bishops do until Father Ted puts him right?
    Fumigate houses.

  10. When the parochial house is infested with rabbits Father Ted says he won’t rest until there is only one rabbit left. Which one?
    The one in Dougal’s head.

  11. What make of ear clamps for stopping crows from pinching glasses are advertised in opticians on the mainland?

  12. According to Ted in Entertaining Father Stone, what was the only side-effect of Dougal being struck by lightning?
    Balloons stuck to him.

  13. In the episode Hell, Mrs Doyle said she had put cocaine in the cake but then realised she meant what?
    Cinnamon. (WRONG, the right answer was raisins.)

  14. In the final episode of Series One how does an exasperated Ted suggest Dougal managed to get into the priesthood?
    He gets in on crisp packets.

  15. In his escape from the airplane in Flight of Terror, Father Jack wants one parachute for himself and one for what?
    The drinks trolley.

  16. In the first episode of Father Jack’s Dream about taking a group of schoolgirls for volleyball practice, what is written on the blackboard behind him?
    Natural Procreation.

  17. In the beginning of New Jack City which horse is Ted cheering on in the race he is listening to on the radio?
    Divorce Referendum.

  18. In Cigarettes and Alcohol and Rollerblading, what does Ted suggest that Dick Byrne should give up for Lent?
    Being the biggest eejit in the parish.
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One or two bits of this are actually imaginable if the relevant people could be brought together…

nhw’s LJ New Year Party (Now At Least 8% Politically Correct!)

Started : 01st January 2006 12:29:11 AM
Ended : 01st January 2006 03:17:47 PM
Alco Money! : $ 667

Guests of Honour

nrivkis is a powerless Buddhist. nrivkis drank 7 Pilsners, 1 Hot Toddy.
leex is a paranoid Hindu. leex drank 11 Gins, 4 Champagnes, 4 Sambuccas.
mylescorcoran is a poignant Wiccan and an all around space cadet who’s mind has been destroyed by beer over the years. mylescorcoran drank 1 Champagne, 3 Pulques, 2 Goldschlagers.
h0pal0ng is an unhappy Hindu and an all around space cadet who’s mind has been destroyed by beer over the years. h0pal0ng drank 9 Pulques, 8 Sherrys.
swisstone is an easy-going Buddhist and a fiery pint monster. swisstone drank 14 Ciders.
slovobooks is a hung-up Muslim who deliberately wastes police time during natural disasters. slovobooks drank 7 Stouts, 4 Aligator Bites, 4 Aftershocks, 4 Tequilas.
eimear_rose is a hearty Muslim. eimear_rose drank 8 Bloody Marys.
bugshaw is a vile Agnostic who constantly reprimands children for typos on internet forums. bugshaw drank 1 Rum, 12 Stouts, 1 Vermouth, 1 Rum.
bring_back_food is a sexually repressed Atheist. bring_back_food drank 9 Cosmopolitans.
nhw is a jaded Buddhist. nhw drank 9 Everclears, 2 Mint Juleps, 1 Cosmopolitan.
ianmcdonald is an edgy Buddhist and is dedicated to furthering scientific research into alcohol poisioning. ianmcdonald drank 11 Pilsners, 6 Red Wines, 1 Vodka.
james_nicoll is an abhorrent Fundementalist Christian and a prolific barfer, particularly at parties such as this who insists that their farts are aromatic and alluring. james_nicoll decided to not drink because of their religious beliefs.
eyeliner297 is a depressed Muslim and an overweight, boozed up – spadehead. eyeliner297 drank 4 Poteens, 2 Pernods, 3 Aftershocks, 2 Stouts.


Clean up at nhw’s place! Urgh bejesus man, there’s soup pieces in this barfpile! Fucking ell theres 7 of them!


At approximately 06:03:49 AM james_nicoll attempted to summon the demons out of mylescorcoran by baptising them over the toilet. The police were summoned shortly before mylescorcoran‘s soul could be saved by Holy Jesus.

As per usual bring_back_food was the first person to pass out in the party – james_nicoll tried to captalise on this by flogging the alcoholic to near-death with the King James Version. bring_back_food is currently making a steady recovery in hospital.


Last night someone told slovobooks and bring_back_food to get a room and they sure did. We now await the patter of tiny feet! Lets hope that the child does not lool like slovobooks! Oh god no, the humanity!

The Drunkest

leex was by far the most pissed by the end of the night and even admitted to being
rather partial to the odd Coldplay track.

Random Events

ianmcdonald called swisstone a “Heathen Bastard!!” before attempting to baptise them over the toilet bowl with bleach.

bugshaw made violent love with james_nicoll on top of the television.

Oh the powers of persusasion! nrivkis managed to convince a less than sober bring_back_food that the milkman had run away with their dentures. bring_back_food began chewing on the sofa, realising 5 hours later that they had a healthy set of teeth!

Happy New Year!

Do you believe in all of that New Years Resolution shit? If not, celebrate the New Year as you mean to go on with the ultimate new years party from hell!

Enter your name below to experience the ultimate in complete useless bollocks!

Your Hero God Loves Coke.

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Reading Resolutions

We’ve just been to the about-to-close American bookshop in Leuven and spent vast amounts of money, as my Library Thing catalogue bears witness. This brings me to my resolutions for reading books in 2006. I made two posts this time last year about the books I hoped to read in 2005, and have to report not total success:

In this post I resolved to finish reading Crime and Punishment, Don Quixote, Little Women and The Trial. I managed the first and last of these but have not re-opened either Cervantes or Alcott. I also resolved to at least start reading some or all of The Brothers Karamazov, Catcher in the Rye, In Search of Lost Time, Mrs Dalloway, Things Fall Apart and The Tin Drum. I haven’t touched a single one of them. So, I hereby resolve to finish both Don Quixote and Little Women in 2006, and to read two of the other six.

In this post I resolved to read Foundation’s Edge, The Snow Queen and The Wanderer, completing my set of the Hugo-winning novels. I managed to read all three of them by quite early in the year. I also resolved to read all the 2005 Hugo nominees, and indeed did so. I also resolved to re-read Dangerous Visions and to read at least five of A Clockwork Orange, The Space Merchants, A Princess of Mars, City, Babel-17, Tau Zero, Grey Lensman, Again, Dangerous Visions, The Female Man, Last and First Men, Deathbird, and Dhalgren. Here I was less successful, managing only the Simak and one Delany. I therefore resolve to read five of the others in 2006. I also resolved to read a few more of the Time list of 25 must-read comics and in fact read four, all of them pretty satisfactory. I therefore resolve to read another four in 2006.

There are seven Nebula winning novels that I have not read (The Einstein Intersection, Rite of Passage, A Time of Changes, The Falling Woman, The Healer’s War, Stations of the Tide, and The Terminal Experiment). I hereby resolve to read at least four of these in 2006.

My Library Thing catalogue currently lists 130-odd books as “unread” (ie I plan to read them some day, as opposed to other books on my shelves which I doubt I will ever read). Some are already covered above. Purely for personal reference, to cross off as I read them in 2006, they are:
The True Knowledge of Ken MacLeod
Wandering Stars: An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction
What Ifs? Of American History: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been
The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen
Μακεδονία (Macedonia): A Greek Name in Modern Usage
Hotel Rwanda: Bringing the True Story of an African Hero to Film

Little women Louisa May Alcott
Trillion year spree : the history of science fiction Brian Wilson Aldiss
Sunrise Alley Catherine Asaro
Persuasion Jane Austen
After Dinner Speaking Fawcett Boom
Villette Charlotte Bronte
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee : an Indian history of the American West Dee Brown
Notes From a Small Island Bill Bryson
The Conquest of Gaul Julius Caesar
The Complete Enchanter L.Sprague De Camp
Oscar and Lucinda Peter Carey
Wild Swans Jung Chang
Alexander Hamilton Ron Chernow
The Faded Sun Trilogy C. J. Cherryh
Appleseed John Clute
Shadowkings Michael Cobley
Lord Jim Joseph Conrad
The Prince of Tides Pat Conroy
The Road from Coorain Jill Ker Conway
The Red Badge of Courage Stephen Crane
Astra and Flondrix Seamus Cullen
Daughter of the Drow Elaine Cunningham
The Age of Kali William Dalrymple
The Ill-Made Mute Cecilia Dart-Thornton
Dhalgren Samuel R. Delany
The Prisoner Thomas M Disch
The great English pilgrimage Christopher Donaldson
The Man in the Iron Mask Alexandre Dumas
Teranesia Greg Egan
The Mill on the Floss George Eliot
The Enchanted Isles K.C. Flynn
The Wreck of the River of Stars Michael Flynn
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire Amanda Foreman
Anansi Boys Neil Gaiman

Fortunata and Jacinta Benito Perez Galdos
Jennie Paul Gallico
The Mabinogion Jeffrey Gantz
White Crow Mary Gentle
The epic of Gilgamesh
Rocks of Ages Stephen Jay Gould
Sacred Visions Andrew M. Greeley
Misspent Youth Peter F. Hamilton
First Man the Life of Neil Armstrong James Hansen
The go-between L. P. Hartley
This Was Not Our War Swanee Hunt
Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro
Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 Tony Judt
Sailing to Sarantium Guy Gavriel Kay
The Way to Babylon Paul Kearney
The Prisoner of Chillon James Patrick Kelly
800 Years of Womens Letters Olga Kenyon
Athens-Skopje: An Uneasy Symbiosis Evangelos Kofos
Crooked little heart Anne Lamott
Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century Mark Leonard
The Search for Roots Primo Levi
The pilgrim’s regress C. S Lewis
Shutterbug Follies Jason Little
Red Branch Morgan Llywelyn
No great mischief Alistair MacLeod
Learning the World Ken MacLeod
Endgame in Ireland Eamonn Mallie
The Sunday Philosophy Club Alexander McCall Smith
The Kalahari typing school for men Alexander McCall Smith
The full cupboard of life Alexander McCall Smith
Southern Fire Juliet McKenna
The Bessarabian Question in Communist Historiography Wim P. Van Meurs
Three to see the king Magnus Mills
Once in a Blue Moon Magnus Mills
The Cornelius Quartet Michael Moorcock
Spin State Chris Moriarty
Beloved Toni Morrison
Cities of salt Abd al-Rahman Munif
Dreams of the Compass Rose [Excerpt] Vera Nazarian
God’s Clockmaker John North
Democratisation in Southeast Europe Dusan Pavlovic
The English: A Portrait of a People Jeremy Paxman
Master of Earth and Water Diana L. Paxson
Kosova Express James Pettifer
A hat full of sky Terry Pratchett
Science Fiction and Postmodern Fiction: A Genre Study Barbara Puschmann-Nalenz
The Crying of Lot 49 Thomas Pynchon
The Duke And I Julia Quinn
Blind Voices Tom Reamy
The triumph of the West J. M. Roberts
Gilead Marilynne Robinson
Quidditch through the ages J. K. Rowling
The God of Small Things Arundhati Roy
Blindness Jose Saramago
The Shore of Women Pamela Sargent
The embarrassment of riches Simon Schama
The Reader Bernhard Schlink
Malachy Brian Scott
England’s Troubles Jonathan Scott
The lovely bones Alice Sebold
Wilt In Nowhere Tom Sharpe
Hitchhiker : A Biography of Douglas Adams M.J. Simpson
In the Company of Cheerful Ladies Alexander McCall Smith
Galactic Patrol E. E. Smith
Grey Lensman E. E. Doc Smith
Second Stage Lensmen E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith
The Stories of Elizabeth Spencer Elizabeth Spencer
The Druid King Norman Spinrad
Last and first men Olaf Stapledon
The System of the World Neal Stephenson
The lady of the shroud Bram Stoker

Star songs of an old primate James Tiptree
Resurrection Leo Tolstoy
Music & silence Rose Tremain
Alternate Generals Harry Turtledove
Great War Breakthroughs Harry Turtledove
The Art of War Sun Tzu
The Devil’s Highway Luis Alberto Urrea
Battle of Forever A E Van Vogt
The color purple Alice Walker
The Discovery of the Germ John Waller
The revolution of the saints Michael Walzer
Joan of Arc : the image of female heroism Marina Warner
National Lampoon’s Doon Ellis Weiner
The Secret Visitors James White
The Happy Prince and Other Tales Oscar Wilde
Peace Gene Wolfe
In Search of the Dark Ages Michael Wood
The Phoenix Exultant John C. Wright
The Golden Transcendence John C. Wright
Islam in Azerbaijan Arif Yunusov
An intimate history of humanity Theodore Zeldin
Hidden Camera Zoran Živković

Getting through a third of them, including especially the history ones, seems a reasonable target.

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What I’ve read this year

SF (79)
Cultural Breaks (Aldiss coll)
Saliva Tree (Aldiss coll)
Foundation’s Edge (Asimov)
Darkness That Comes Before (Bakker)
Algebraist (Banks)
Moving Mars (Bear)
No Enemy But Time (Bishop)
Numbers Don’t Lie (Bisson)
Cities in Flight (Blish)*
Keepers of the Peace (Brooke)
Hallowed Hunt (Bujold)
Erewhon (Butler)
ThiGMOO (Byrne)
Heartfire (Card)
Imperial Earth (Clarke)*
Reach For Tomorrow (Clarke)
Babel-17 (Delany)
Best of the Best (ed. Dozois)
Dangerous Visions (ed. Ellison)*
Wind from Bukhara (Engh)
Chick is in the Mail (ed Friesner)
Sandman: The Dream Hunters (Gaiman)
Smoke and Mirrors (Gaiman coll)
Emerald Magic (ed. Greeley)
Stamping Butterflies (Grimwood)
Science Fiction – the Best of 2004 (ed Haber and Strahan)
Travelling Toward Epsilon (ed Jakubowski)
His Majesty’s Starship (Jeapes)
Wind’s Twelve Quarters (Le Guin)*
Wanderer (Leiber)
Doctor Who: Genocide (Leonard)
Magic for Beginners (Link)
Emerald Eye (ed Ludlow & Gourdriaan)
Ten Years To Oblivion (Macartney [ie Flackes])
King of Morning, Queen of Day (McDonald)
Assassin’s Edge (McKenna)
Light Ages (MacLeod)
Feast for Crows (Martin)
Counting Heads (Marusek)
England Swings SF (ed. Merrill)
Iron Council (Miéville)
Cloud Atlas (Mitchell)
Ethos Effect (Modesitt)
Dancers at the End of Time (Moorcock)
Altered Carbon (Morgan)
Broken Angels (Morgan)
Third Policeman (O’Brien)*
Nineteen Eighty-Four (Orwell)*
Mirror For Observers (Pangborn)
[Doctor Who] The Dying Days (Parkin)
[Doctor Who] Lungbarrow (Platt)
Going Postal (Pratchett)
Hogfather (Pratchett)
Lords and Ladies (Pratchett)
Forty Signs of Rain (Robinson)
[Doctor Who] The Well-Mannered War (Roberts)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Rowling)
Sevenacide (Shuster)*
Tomorrow’s Worlds (ed. Silverberg)
World Inside (Silverberg)*
City (Simak)
Olympos (Simmons)
Triplanetary (Smith)
Accelerando (Stross)
Clan Corporate (Stross)
Family Trade (Stross)
Hidden Family (Stross)
Iron Sunrise (Stross)
Man Who Fell to Earth (Tevis)
Snow Queen (Vinge)
Prize in the Game (Walton)
Banner of Souls (Williams)
Book of the New Sun (Wolfe)
Tough Guide to Fantasy Land (Wynne Jones)
We (Zamyatin)
Creatures of Light and Darkness (Zelazny)*
Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth (Zelazny coll)*
Manna from Heaven (Zelazny coll)
Nebula Award Stories #3 (ed Zelazny)

Comics (8)
David Boring (Clowes)
Ice Haven (Clowes)
Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron (Clowes)
Boulevard of Broken Dreams (Deitch)
Strangers In Paradise vol 2 (Moore)
Safe Area Goražde (Sacco)
Bone (Smith)
Nu We Toch Hier Zijn (Stok)

Other fiction (10)
Days of the Consuls (Andric)
Da Vinci Code (Brown)
Crime and Punishment (Dostoyevsky)
Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture (Doxiadis)
Skinny Dip (Hiassen)
Trial (Kafka)
Balkan Trilogy (Manning)
Black Tor (Manville Fenn)
A Personal Matter (Oe)
Knight in the Panther/Tiger Skin (Rustaveli/Rust’hveli)

Non-fiction (34 + 6)
Getting Things Done (Allen/self-help)
Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway (Barry/satire)
Emergency Sex (Cain, Postlethwait and Thomson/peace-keeping)
Peace Without Politics? (ed. Chandler/Bosnia)
7 Habits of Highly Successful People (Covey/self-help)
Star Factory (Carson/Northern Ireland)
Jewel-Hinged Jaw (Delany/about sf)
Macedonia (Evans/Macedonia)
Never Eat Alone (Ferrazzi/self-help)
Theft of a Nation (Gallagher/Romania)
Last Journey of William Huskisson (Garfield/biography, British history)
Tolkien and the Great War (Garth/Tolkien)
Georgian Feast (Goldstein/cooking, Georgia)
Knowledge, Power and International Coordination (ed. Haas/international relations)
Cyprus – the Search for a Solution (Hannay/Cyprus)
Investing in Prevention (HMG/peace studies)
Rise and Fall of the House of Medici (Hibbert/Italian history)
A Very British Genre (Kincaid/about sf)
Up Through An Empty House of Stars (Langford/about sf)
‘with all faults’ (Low/autobiography)
Best of Xero (Lupoff/about sf)
Aldiss Unbound (Mathews/Aldiss)
Better To Have Loved (Merrill & Pohl-Weary/about sf, biography)
Blowing my Cover (Moran/spying, Macedonia)
Collision Course (Norris/Kosovo)
Orientalist (Reiss/biography, European history)
Alphabet (Sacks/alphabet)
Island at the Center of the World (Shorto/New York)
Banovina (Stancic & Lazovic/Vojvodina)
12 Caesars (Suetonius/biography, Roman history)
The Rules of Management (Templar/self-help)
With Stars In My Eyes (Weston/about sf, autobiography)
Pilate (Wroe/religion)
Truth About The Armed Conflict In Slovenia (Yugoslav People’s Army/Slovenia)

Around Washington, D.C./New York City/Boston with Kids (McKay/Bailin/Oppenheimer)
Journey Around New York, Washington, Boston from A to Z (Zschock)

* = reread

Copying ‘s statistics:

Short story collections and anthologies: 15 – 19% of my sf reading, 11% of my total reading
Non-fiction: 40 – 29%
SFnal – 79 fiction, plus 8 non-fiction (and Bone; not so sure about Clowes) = 64% of my total reading.
By women (counting books edited by women or where at least one named author of several is a woman): 28 = 20%

I am struck that apart from the non-fiction tally, these figures are very close to ‘s.

Best books of the year in each category:

Non-fiction: 4th:
Donka Stancic and Miško Lazovic’s little book on the architecture of the main government building of their home region: The Banovina. A lovely little case study of politics and architecture.
Non-fiction: 3rd: The collection of essays on Knowledge, Power and International Coordination edited by Peter M. Haas; very insightful into how experts can affect the global policy process.
Non-fiction: 2nd: Dave Langford’s collection of literary essays, Up Through An Empty House of Stars.
Non-fiction: 1st: Russell Shorto’s history of New Amsterdam, The Island at the Center of the World – an absolutely fascinating look at a completely forgotten historical period.

Non-sf fiction: Ivo Andric’s novel, The Days of the Consuls – a brilliant account of encounters between cultures, with I think a subtly hidden subtext about the author’s own context.

Comics: Joe Sacco’s account of war-time Bosnia, Safe Area Goražde

SF: With great difficulty I have pruned the list down to thirteen best books, excluding rereads, here listed in no particular ranked order:
Moving Mars (Bear)
ThiGMOO (Byrne)
The Best of the Best (ed. Dozois)
Magic for Beginners (Link)
King of Morning, Queen of Day (McDonald)
A Feast for Crows (Martin)
Counting Heads (Marusek)
England Swings SF (ed. Merrill)
Hogfather (Pratchett)
The Clan Corporate (Stross)
The Prize in the Game (Walton)
The Tough Guide to Fantasy Land (Wynne Jones)
We (Zamyatin)

I’m surprised to see that I don’t appear to have picked up Dozois’ or Hartwell’s Best of 2004 collections. They did come out, didn’t they? And I just missed them somehow.

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Another one bites the dust

I don’t believe it.

The American Book Centre in Leuven is closing – on Saturday. For good.

That’s the second of my favourite bookshops to close this year. (And I understand there have been a couple of prominent casualties in Dublin.) What a bummer.

OK, Belgian folks, get into Leuven as quickly as you can in the next few days and buy up the remaining stock. I think this must have been a really sudden decision. I guessed things were not going well when they closed the upstairs section and moved the bargain books downstairs, but still I hoped they might keep going a bit longer.


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December Books 11) The Georgian Feast

11) The Georgian Feast: The Vibrant Culture and Savory Food of the Republic of Georgia, by Darra Goldstein

I don’t usually blog books until I’ve finished reading them, but this has to be an exception, as I will take several more months to absorb the full range of possibilities here. Georgian food is very yummy indeed (as those of you reading my July entries will be aware). Have been working through these recipes, and while my natural instinct of to try and cook those with the most unpronounceable names (Tklapi, Chkmeruli) in fact I’ve been restricted by availability of ingredientrs and my own willingness to experiment with new cooking techniques. So, basically, we’ve had grilled trout, cheese with mint, chicken stew and salmon stew (that last for the in-laws last night, while Anne and I went out). It all tastes yummy. No wonder this book won the Julia Child Cookbook of the Year award.

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Christmas report

Tree with presents before everyone else woke up

U with new doll

F with Thunderbirds sticker book

B happily raiding the kitchen

I got some nice things:
God’s Clockmaker: Richard of Wallingford and the Invention of Time, by John North (2005)
England’s Troubles: Seventeenth-Century English Political Instability in European Context by Jonathan Scott (2000)
Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 by Tony Judt (2005)
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
Pyramids of Mars on DVD
Twelve Monkeys also on DVD

I cooked roast boar with juniper berries for lunch, and a Georgian chicken herby stew (“Chakhokhbili”) for dinner; both seemed to go down well.

Doctor Who – good with some great lines (“Arthur Dent”, “Lion King”). Looking forward to the new season.

And so to bed. A good day.

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On a slightly seasonal note

My holiday project is to transcribe my great-grandfather’s diary of his Easter pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1858. On 29th March, the Monday before Easter, he visited Bethlehem:

Arrival in time to join the procession to our Saviour’s crib, which is a part of the monks daily duty here, and about Jerusalem in commemoration of our Saviour’s sufferings. We each received a bleſsed candle for attending these two processions. At Bethlehem the stations were the altars of St Jerome, Paula and Eustacium [sic – should be Eustochium], Catherine of Alexandria, St Eusebius and the crib in which our Saviour was laid. The Greeks & Armenians have also the right of visiting the Holy crib. We descended by a few steps into a subterranean grotto. The spot on which our Saviour was born is marked by a silver star. Hic natus est Jesus Christus de Virga inscribed round it. Opposite this is the altar of the manger, Gold and silver lamps burn day and night in this holy place.

Anyway, when I have the whole lot transcribed (it will be a bit short of 8000 words) will put it on my website along with existing ancestral reminiscences and post a link here.

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I popped across the road to borrow matches from the neighbours last night for Ursula’s cake. The parents were out, but the two boys (aged 14 and 11) were in, along with a friend of the older one; they hurriedly found me what I wanted, though I couldn’t help but notice a strong smell of cigarette smoke. Which leads me to this interesting question:

(Anne and I don’t smoke; the parents do.)

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December Books 10) Boulevard of Broken Dreams

10) Boulevard of Broken Dreams, by Kim Deitch with Simon Deitch

Another one of Time‘s Must-Read 25. To be honest, after I’d read the first quarter, I thought I was probably going to have to write this up as a dud; after ten really good recommendations from the Time list, the law of averages must mean that one wouldn’t work out. Deitch’s style is very close to Robert Crumb’s; I find it crowded and grotesque, I had difficulty telling the difference between some of the characters, and it all seemed to be about the difficult life of the graphics artist (though specifically here on animated films rather than dead tree comics).

But then I started reading the next section, and suddenly realised that this was a rich, multi-layered narrative, where the same events were told over again from different points of view, and that was in fact saying much more about human relationships than about the comics writer’s lonely life. I put it down with difficulty last night, half way through; then read it to the end this evening and then went back to the start to pick up things I had missed first time round. I still don’t much like the drawing style, but am prepared to put that aside for the story.

What’s it about? Well, on one level it’s about the Mishkin family, Ted Mishkin being the graphic ilustrator who is the central character, and their various professional acquaintances; but on another, we have the cryptic figure of Waldo The Cat, visible only to Ted (and later to his nephew Nathan) and in a sense his Muse, but also the star of the cartoons that he writes successfully. There’s also a certain amount of history of the industry mixed in – I assume that the depiction of vaudeville cinematography in 1910 is more or less accurate, and the skewering of Walt Disney in person is a brief delight. An animated excerpt (with no spoilers for the rest of the plot) can be found here. On balance I would recommend this, but it makes you work harder than I sometimes like to do.

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Season of peace

News items (and blog entries about news items) tend to be pretty depressing. One cheerful piece of information that has not had much publicity (though my boss has been mentioning it) is that the University of British Columbia’s Human Security Report finds, against the conventional wisdom, that the world is in fact becoming a safer place:

Over the past dozen years, the global security climate has changed in dramatic, positive, but largely unheralded ways. Civil wars, genocides and international crises have all declined sharply. International wars, now only a small minority of all conflicts, have been in steady decline for a much longer period, as have military coups and the average number of people killed per conflict per year.

The wars that dominated the headlines of the 1990s were real—and brutal—enough. But the global media have largely ignored the 100-odd conflicts that have quietly ended since 1988. During this period, more wars stopped than started.

The extent of the change in global security following the end of the Cold War has been remarkable:

  • The number of armed conflicts around the world has declined by more than 40% since the early 1990s.
  • Between 1991 (the high point for the post–World War II period) and 2004, 28 armed struggles for self-determination started or restarted, while 43 were contained or ended. There were just 25 armed secessionist conflicts under way in 2004, the lowest number since 1976.
  • Notwithstanding the horrors of Rwanda, Srebrenica and elsewhere, the number of genocides and politicides plummeted by 80% between the 1988 high point and 2001.
  • International crises, often harbingers of war, declined by more than 70% between 1981 and 2001.
  • The dollar value of major international arms transfers fell by 33% between 1990 and 2003. Global military expenditure and troop numbers declined sharply in the 1990s as well.
  • The number of refugees dropped by some 45% between 1992 and 2003, as more and more wars came to an end.
  • Five out of six regions in the developing world saw a net decrease in core human rights abuses between 1994 and 2003.

The positive changes noted above date from the end of the Cold War. Other changes can be traced back to the 1950s:

  • The average number of battle-deaths per conflict per year—the best measure of the deadliness of warfare—has been falling dramatically but unevenly since the 1950s. In 1950, for example, the average armed conflict killed 38,000 people; in 2002 the figure was 600, a 98% decline.
  • The period since the end of World War II is the longest interval of uninterrupted peace between the major powers in hundreds of years.
  • The number of actual and attempted military coups has been declining for more than 40 years. In 1963 there were 25 coups and attempted coups around the world, the highest number in the post–World War II period. In 2004 there were only 10 coup attempts—a 60% decline. All of them failed.

International terrorism is the only form of political violence that appears to be getting worse, but the data are contested. Although some datasets have shown an overall decline in international terrorist incidents since the early 1980s, the most recent data suggest a dramatic increase in the number of high-casualty attacks since the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001.

There is, of course, no room for complacency, especially with regard to Africa where more than half of the world’s conflicts are currently raging. (I tell everyone who asks me that West Africa is the place you really ought to be studying right now if you want your career in international relations to take off in the next few years – there have been two successful coups d’etat there this year, and be honest, did any of you notice? But very few ask me, and fewer listen.) But it’s fascinating and encouraging stuff. Those of us who make our living from analysing conlict would much prefer it if there was no need for our services.

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Visa madness

A few weeks ago we published a report on the EU visa regime for the Balkans, arguing that it needs to be liberalised and that the EU’s policies are deeply counter-productive. It’s had a number of very positive spin-offs, including contact with a Novi Sad NGO who have been collecting the most insane examples of EU bureaucracy in action for honest Balkan travellers wanting to visit Western Europe.

Further confirmation has reached me today, in the form of an email from the Serbian writer, Zoran Živković, who tells me:

As I said in one of my recent interviews, with my red communist passport I could have entered all but two countries in the world, while now, with my blue passport, the very symbol of “freedom and democracy”, there are only two states left where I can enter without a visa…

In the same interview I also mentioned a personal episode that tells more about the hypocrisy of the current EU bureaucracy than entire volumes. I was invited by my publisher to a Schengen [ie EU other than UK/Ireland] country to take part in the launch of a series of my books just published there. I didn’t get a visa, however, because I simply refused to provide a medical certificate, worth 120 euros, that I, a 57 year old male, was not pregnant. That certificate wasn’t on the list of officially required documents for a visa, but still was needed unofficially with the prime purpose to discourage and humiliate applicants…

If this is Europe we are all supposed to eagerly wish to join, then I’ll be the first one to vote against it. Let Europe have only my books if I am not good enough for it…

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My Livejournal Year – Another Take

A different way of looking at it: these were the 31 posts of the last twelve months that gathered 15 or more comments. Not always the ones of which I am proudest…

Autobiography: 19 December ’04:  Student politics – 20 comments
Meme: 2 January:  How nerdy are my friends? – 32 comments
Politics (Irish)/Sex: 1 February:  Homophobia – 19 comments
Autobiography: 20 February:  Ten things meme – 15 comments
Alphabets: 24 March:  Funny letters – 20 comments
Whinge: 2 April:  [protected post] Lightning strikes twice – 21 comments
Autobiography: 11 April:  Interview meme – 22 comments
Politics (global): 19 April:  New Pope – 36 comments
Autobiography: 20 April:  Three interviews – 17 comments
Family: 1 May:  [protected post] First Communion – 15 comments
Alphabets: 5 May:  Vote! Vote! – 18 comments
Politics (Irish): 13 June:  Ludicrous – 15 comments
Politics (Belgian)/Sex: 30 June:  New Belgian tax instructions – 15 comments
Science Fiction/Sex: 20 July:  Ten characters meme – 25 comments
Politics (Irish): 28 July:  IRA statement – 18 comments
Science Fiction: 9 August:  The Empty Child – 17 comments 
Politics (Irish): 17 August:  Political Correctness gone mad – 34 comments
Meme: 19 August:  Baaa! – 16 comments
Science Fiction: 31 August:  Worldcon question – 21 comments
Work: 2 September:  What I’ve been doing – 15 comments
Science Fiction: 8 October:  Updated Irish sf list – 15 comments
Whinge: 11 September:  ..and to make it a perfect day… – 15 comments
Cool Sites: 20 September:  Library Thing – 20 comments
Whinge: 24 October:  [protected post] Bah! – 28 comments
Politics (global): 5 November:  Chomsky on Srebrenica, again – 45 comments
Politics (global): 9 November:  Where’s France? – 16 comments
Family: 13 November:  Rabbits! – 20 comments
Whinge: 14 November:  [protected post] Whining – 21 comments
Science Fiction: 19 November:  Geek Books revisited – 37 comments
Good Advice: 3 December:  [protected post] The Art of the Media Interview – 17 comments
Science Fiction: Doctor Who: Children in Need Special – 15 comments
Self-promotion: 12 December:  Inventing a new verb: – 24 comments

If you’re not on the relevant filter, ask and I just might add you 😉

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Job hunt latest

This has often been a time of year when job prospects mature. Well, twice; I got my job with NDI in Bosnia on Christmas Eve 1996, which really started me on this whole international politics thing, and then just over two years alter got my job with CEPS in Brussels on 4 January 1999. We’ve been in Belgium for almost seven years.

So, I finish 2005 with a few irons in the fire. Most recently, the lobbying firm I saw a few weeks back. It took me until last week to send them my sort-of job application for a position for which I have already had a first interview and which may not anyway exist. And I had a chat just now with one of their senior associates, who I already knew through work (a former US congressman); he wasn’t able to offer me much information, though did offer moral support.

Secondly, I popped up to NATO on Wednesday for a chat with a senior official (ex-Deputy Assistant Secretary General) there. I did apply for a NATO job last year, but nothing came of it. Anyway, my high-level contact on the inside told me that if the right job came up, I’d be a good candidate. More to the point, the bloke of about my age who currently has a decent NATO job is likely to be moving on in February, and I would be an obvious candidate for his current position. (Problem is, not sure if I actually want to do that particular job!)

My two NGO prospects are both somewhat dim at the moment. Haven’t heard any more from either of them in terms of their getting funding together. And in any case, I think I prefer the idea of getting out of the NGO sector after 7 years…

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December Books 8) Triplanetary

8) Triplanetary, by E.E. “Doc” Smith

Over the last week or so, when I got tired of concentrating on downloaded Doctor Who novels on my PDA screen, I’ve been turning for variety to this classic novel, the first in Smith’s famous Lensman series. I bought a whole bunch of them at Worldcon; hadn’t read any before; and to be honest it will be a while before I try getting into them again. Humanity is the battleground for the centuries-long struggle for galactic domination between the Arisian and Eddorian civilisations. We start with a snapshot of an ancient high-tech Atlantis, wiped out by atomic war, and then a rather puzzling vignette from Rome under Nero; then the first and second world wars. And then a third of the way through the book, we’re in space opera territory; our heroes are kidnapped by space pirates, re-kidnapped by an amphibian race, themselves under attack by other forces:

[The attackers were] fish some five feet in length. Fish with huge, goggling eyes; fish plentifully equipped with long, arm-like tentacles; fish poised before control panels or darting about intent upon their various duties. Fish with brains, waging war!

The war between the alien amphibians and humanity is resolved, the Earth is saved (apart from Pittsburgh), and the pirate captain, in fact an incarnation of the evil Eddorians, escapes to the next novel.

I can see why this (and I suppose the rest of the series) is a taproot text for so much sf – direct or indirect descendants must include ‘s Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise, much of Bujold, Ender’s Game, etc etc etc. The amphibians’ habit of sucking all the iron out of planets they encounter reminded me of Douglas Adams’ Doctor Who story, The Pirate Planet. But I can’t really pretend that it was very good.

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December Books 7) [Doctor Who] Lungbarrow

7) [Doctor Who] Lungbarrow, by Marc Platt

Well, this is supposed to be the book in which all is revealed about the Doctor’s true family background, in line with the master plan of Andrew Cartmel in the final three seasons of Doctor Who’s original run on BBC. Lots of stuff to absorb; ultimately I wasn’t completely satisfied. I felt very much in sympathy with Finn Clark’s review, collected by the Doctor Who Reader’s Guide: “Love the scenery, shame about the plot.” (Downloaded from here.)

The scenery is indeed fantastic. I love the two K9s coming together as a team – and it occurred to me that the Fourth Doctor left a K9 to all three of his departing female companions, as we will be reminded next year. I liked Leela and Romana, I liked the Seventh and First Doctors, and I very much liked the back-plot of conservatives trying to launch a coup against the new progressive presidency. (Having missed most of Ace’s appearances, and all the previous books with Chris, I wasn’t so excited about them. And I thought that, especially in comparison with Bernice in Human Nature, Chris’ reaction to losing his partner seemed rather minimal.) I even liked the Gormenghastly setting of the House of Lungbarrow itself, though from the architectural engineering point of view it was a bit over the top. (But the Doctor’s robot companion was a bit too much.)

But the plot? Resolution? Meh, not really. If the Time Lords are being woven out of Looms these days (thanks to what sounds like a non-scientific magical curse), how come Andred has retained enough plumbing to reverse the curse and impregnate Leela? I felt none the wiser about where Susan came from; perhaps I missed the crucial passage. Fairly clear that the Doctor is the Other reincarnated; but, in a very real sense, so what? I didn’t like the Hand of Omega in Remembrance of the Daleks, and didn’t much like it here either. Anyway, entertaining enough.

I think that’s it for my exploration of the Doctor Who ebooks on the BBC site, at least until they start putting them into a more PDA-friendly format. I’ve read four, really enjoyed one (Human Nature) and felt the other three were all right but not worth paying money for. However I have as a result discovered the joys of the Discontinuity Guide and the Doctor Who Readers Guide, and may well take some time to browse thrugh them and see what other books are considered particularly good. (I have already spotted that reviews of Stephen Marley’s Managra are very positive.)

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Identity theft

Just been re-watching Dopplegängland, surely one of the greatest Buffy episodes.

Giles: She was truly the finest of all of us.
Xander: Way better than me.
Giles: (nods decisively) Much, much better.

Buffy: Giles, planning on jumping in with an explanation any time soon?
Giles: Well, uh… something… something, um, very strange is happening.
Xander: Can you believe the Watcher’s Council let this guy go?

Anya: Vampires. Always thinking with your teeth.

Willow: (appalled) It’s horrible! That’s me as a vampire? (Angel closes the door) I’m so evil and… skanky. (aside to Buffy, worried) And I think I’m kinda gay.
Buffy: (reassuringly) Willow, just remember, a vampire’s personality has nothing to do with the person it was.
Angel: (without thinking) Well, actually… (gets a look from Buffy) That’s a good point.

Percy: Okay, so I did the outline for the paper on Roosevelt. (hands it to her) It turns out there were two President Roosevelts, so I didn’t know exactly which one to do, so I did both.

Anyway, it occurred to me that I really enjoy these stories of playing with people’s identity, including also of course Buffy 4:16, Who Are You. (Perhaps this is some kind of counter balance for my animus agains anthropomorphic robots.) For that reason, among others, I enjoyed the last Doctor Who novel I read; also Zelazny’s little-known Today We Choose Faces has always been among my favourites of his novels, though it seems to be a minority taste. Any more recommendations along the same lines?

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The year in review

1. What did you do in 2005 that you’d never done before?
Went to Worldcon. Visited Albania and Ukraine.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Most of them, though I still owe Infinity Plus a bunch oif reviews.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Three friends had babies in the second quarter of the year. And the Belgianwaffles had twins in September.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
My uncle.

5. What countries did you visit?
Italy, Slovenia, Serbia, UK, Greece, US, Germany, Albania, Sweden, Austria, France, Georgia, Ireland, Macedonia, Kosovo, Croatia, Netherlands, Montenegro, and Ukraine.

6. What would you like to have in 2006 that you lacked in 2005?
More time. A new job.

7. What dates from 2005 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
10 March was the day that we had Ursula’s condition confirmed. 24 October was the day I had a small car accident on the outskirts of the Hague.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
This piece about Bosnia got a great deal of positive feedback. Other things we have done at work seem to have moved various peace proceses forward. I found myself in the odd position of being the person who actually communicated the Georgian government’s July plan to the South Ossetian government. And getting (most of) my family to the US for a week for my brother’s wedding

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not completing the third Moldova report.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Various nasty colds, but no more than a day or two off. Shaken but not physically hurt by my car accident.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Books!!!!! And Buffy DVDs. And a digital camera.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My wife, as ever.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Members of the European Parliament, twice. In March there was a disgraceful meeting of the foreign affairs committee in which all the members who spoke sympathised deeply with the Croatian prime minister about his not getting to start EU entry negotiations. And in September there was a meeting on the situation in Vojvodina, at which Hungarian MEPs yelled at the most moderate politicians imaginable from Serbia for two hours. Apart from that, Seamus Close.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Of my spare money, after necessities, on books.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

16. What song will always remind you of 2005?
Don’t think there is one.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder? About the same.
b) thinner or fatter? Fatter; need more exercise.
c) richer or poorer? About the same, though we seem to have saved reasonably effectively despite the year’s exxpenses.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Spent time with friends and family.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
With my family, and my wife’s brither and sister, here in Belgium.

21. Did you fall in love in 2005?

22. How many one-night stands?

23. What was your favorite TV program?
Doctor Who.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Not really.

25. What was the best book you read this year?
“The Island at the Center of the World” by Russell Shorto.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?

27. What did you want and get?
A digital camera.

28. What did you want and not get?
More time. A scanner.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I addressed the Belgian Senate. I was 38.

31.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Either of my daughters talking.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2005?

33. What kept you sane?
Going out for dinner with my wife.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Not really sure…

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
The EU membership talks with Croatia, Turkey and now (yay!) Macedonia.

36. Who did you miss?
My father.

37. Who was the best new person you met?
Everyone at Worldcon (and Picocon, and the Silver Cross in March).

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2005:
Check the tyres; and get up in time to take the train if you can.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?
Don’t really have one.

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December Books 6) [Doctor Who] Human Nature

6) [Doctor Who] Human Nature, by Paul Cornell

This Seventh Doctor plus Bernice Summerfield New Adventure is really rather good. Paul Cornell here asks the unaskable: what if the Doctor were to try being human for a while, to live and love like the rest of us? He has managed to get to the heart of the Doctor’s mythos. I found it very satisfying, and raced to finish it, to the point of waking up early this morning to do so. It’s the first of the Doctor Who books I have downloaded that I would really like to spend money on for a dead trees version.

Bits I particularly liked: I thought the character of Verity resonated particularly effectively. “Verity” of course means Truth, and she holds the key to the truth about the Doctor’s character; the name of course also recalls the real-life origins of Doctor Who

  • “You may know me as mild-mannered John Smith, history teacher, but secretly I’m the Doctor, universal righter of wrongs and protector of cats.”
  • “So what did you say to him,” the Doctor asked.
    “That he believes in good and fights evil. That, with violence all around him, he’s a man of peace. Thet he’s never cruel, or cowardly. That he is a hero.”

    Sure, the book has its flaws, as mercilessly pointed out by some of the Doctor Who Ratings Guide reviewers (though most of them loved it). I’m with the Discontinuity Guide folks, though. I don’t think I’ve read a better Doctor Who novel.

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