Bled notes 2

Fourteen panellists, including two women (both academics), discussing recent events in Georgia. As before, it’s a public event, but my notes are not for further distribution.

Giorgi Baramidze, deputy prime minister of Georgia: puts Georgian case. Claims that there has been no hassling of Ossetians in Georgia proper. (Yeah, right.)

Dimitrij Rupel, Slovenian foreign minister: rambles as usual. Sorry, I just find him annoying.

Jan Kubis, Slovakian foreign minister: very good (to my slight surprise) – says OSCE collectively failed to resolve this when he was secretary-general. Everyone should realise that if you don’t negotiate the other guy will eventually take unilateral action. EU needs to reflect on the fact that it was unable to exert effective multilateralism.

Carl Bildt, Swedish foreign minister: also very good. Sarkozy plan has not been implemented, hence EU summit tomorrow. Points out that threshold for Russian military action is now lower than we thought. Also boundaries no longer inviolable.

Marc de Brichambaut, OSCE secretary-general: a peculiar speech, saying that it is not all bad, given that Georgian electricity supply has not been interrupted. But we all have to consider situation. Blah.

Aleksandar Yakovenko, Russian deputy foreign minister: Russian viewpoint. Georgians were plotting genocide. We did not attack the pipeline (the problems were in Turkey, nothing to do with us). We have implemented all points of Sarkozy plan. We are ready to discuss future status of these territories immediately.

Matt Bryza, American deputy secretary of state: very effective rebuttal of Yakovenko. Russians are in violation of ceasefire agreement, which specifies only patrols near Tskhinvali, not troops in Poti or on the main highway. Yeah, the pipeline was not attacked, but other fuel supplies were interrupted. Yeah, Georgians shouldn’t have attacked Tskhinvali – and we told them not to – but they were being shelled by South Ossetian militia under effective Russian command. Russians have failed to turn up to meetings in peace processes in Abkhazia.

Peter Semneby, EU Special Rep for South Caucasus: not a very inspired presentation (I know him and he is much better in private). EU needs to discuss its relations with Georgia and Russia, and everyone should work on the conflict. Obviously constrained from saying anything of substance by his position and the situation.

Jean Lamy, from French foreign ministry: the most junior official present, and out of his depth. Energy is very important. French will work to achieve energy security, with the Commission, if they do their job properly, because it is very important. EU-Russia summit in mid-November will be very important.

Alex Cooley, Columbia University: calls for international administration in conflict zones, with resolution of status after 5-10 years. Not a bad idea and I think I actually proposed something like this for Abkhazia while at ICG.

Zeyno Baran, Washington thinktanker: wake up, Europeans! The Russians are trying to stop you from getting fossil fuels from Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, and your inaction in Georgia is making it easier for Russians to bully them. Also points out dangers of Nagorno-Karabakh, and she is dead right to do so. Also thinks that there is a likelihood of a gas cartel to match OPEC which will also screw the EU as Russia and Iran cooperate. And bear in mind Turkey may be under pressure too.

Oksana Antonenko, London think-tanker: she actually helped the Slovenians to broker dialogue between Georgia and Ossetia three years ago, and is deeply saddened by recent events. We have all failed in this crisis; it is no longer even a zero-sum game but a negative-sum game. We need a framework for all parties to sit around the table, if talk of new cold war is not to become self-fulfilling prophecy. But she doesn’t see who can offer that. Central Asia is now frightened of beng made to choose between Russia and the West.

Mustafa Aydin, Turkish academic: worried about being 13th (and last) speaker. Is EU going to develop a single policy? Its indecision is destabilsing. Georgia has been unduly punished for its attack on South Ossetia. EU needs to work on diversification of supply, not allowing Russian clutch on energy supply to intensify. Turkey is vital country in this. Montreux convention has worked for 72 years.

Baramidze: Russians should pull out of non-conflict areas, and stop ethnic cleansing; Georgia needs help to repair damage, including to our protected Borjomi forests. International investigation needed into what happened. We don’t want sanctions against the Russian people, but Russian government should be punished.

Yakovenko: recognition of independence was necessary for security to be preserved. (He was rather brief.)

Moderator asks about China. Bildt says that China will support territorial integrity, for its own reasons. Of course Central Asia important here, but internal Chinese issues even more so.

Moderator asks Bryza if we can go back to the table now? Bryza replies that we have no choice. We will always proceed from principle of territorial integrity. But we always have to find a way to negotiate compromise which includes political principle of self-determination (which is not a legal right). NB we always supported Russian sovereignty in Chechnya. Kosovo is different, different UN mandate.

Turkish diplomat from audience: apologises for foreign minister’s absence. Turkey is very concerned by all this. Georgia’s stability strategically important for us.

Journalist: 1/10 of all European imports at most could come from Caucasus. EU has to act more coherently on energy policy as a whole, includoing guaranteeing construction of pipelines. But interesting consequence of war is intensified rather than weakened commitment to the Caspian pipeline. Russians must now decide how they want the war to end.

Kubis points out that Chinese and SCC members in Dushanbe supported Russian “active role” as well as 6-point plan!

Summary: neither Russians nor Georgians covered themselves in glory here, but also neither did the EU which clearly has no firm plan or strategy. Several non-European speakers pointing out the dangers of Russian control of EU fuel supply. Bryza (who I’ve met a few times) easily the best of the panellists.

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Notes from Bled

This is a public event, being webstreamed as it happens, but my notes are not for distribution.

First session – NB five blokes, one of whom (the moderator) is black, the others being middle-aged European politicians.

Janez Jansa (Slovenian Prime Minister) – keen on EU’s targets (as agreed under his presidency earlier this year). Only one to raise the development agenda – “the last third of humanity needs our help to catch up”.

Mirek Topolanek (Czech Prime Minister) – the most provocative presentation. Is a climate change sceptic! Thinks the EU has written policy at the behest of populism rather than real energy needs. Says nuclear is the solution, otherwise EU is hostage to the Russians and to its own poor infrastructure.

Ivars Godmanis (Latvian Prime Minister) – a rather rambling presentation, on the technical difficulties of creating an EU energy policy. Makes the point that nuclear power stations tend to have massive cost overruns.

Wolfgang Schüssel (ex-Chancellor of Austria) – punchy. Wouldn’t it have been better to hold tomorrow’s EU summit before the war? We all knew it was coming. As for nuclear power, not only do costs always over run, usually in an untransparent way (ask the British) but there just isn’t enough of it. We need to do more on renewables.

Jansa: the most emotional meeting I’ve had on this subject was with Caribbean leaders in June. They expect and need the EU to give the lead on preventing their countries from being destroyed by climate change.

Topolanek (gives up on English and goes through translator): if the EU’s common energy policy ends up looking anything like the common agricultural policy, better not to do it! As well as nuclear fission, nuclear fusion will be on-line in 20-30 years; until then, we have enough fossil fuel reserves.

Schüssel: there is a popular mood on this: people want to change their habits to be more environmentally friendly.

Moderator (Carlos Watson) points out that this is not true everywhere, esp eg Czech Republic.

Topolanek: it doesn’t matter. Every Chinese and Indian person wants to live like we do, and have their own car. EU’s role is insignificant in this.

Godmanis: 4000 new cars bought in Beijing every day. Then rambles about carbon emission quotas, which he thinks may not work but doesn’t explain well.

Jansa closes by saying that it is possible to have economic growth and reduce carbon emissions – Denmark has done so.

Conclusion: the Czech PM is clearly a dangerous loony. Jansa is not as bad as I had expected – particularly liked his lines about the developing world. Schüssel much the most impressive of the panellists; Godmanis the least.

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How things have changed

Back in the old days, the three things you always had to remember to check before you left on a trip were Tickets, Money, Passport.

At least 90%, probably more, of the flights I take these days are e-tickets, where you get the paperwork issued to you at the terminal on presentation of proof of ID. It is quite unusual to have to worry about a paper ticket as I rush out the door.

Because it is much easier to get money out of an ATM on arrival, and in any case credit cards are almost universally accepted, I literally cannot remember the last time I went to a bank to get foreign currency before I travelled. Of course, a lot of my trips are to euro-zone countries anyway, so I don’t even have to engage “foreign money” gears in my brain.

Of the three, passports remain essential for most international travel. Yet here again, at least in the EU, things are shifting: my flight this morning from Brussels to Ljubljana is within the Schengen zone, so if my Belgian ID card had come through (I’m still waiting for it) I could have left all my various passports at home. If the American authorities were smart, they’d be looking at how to work towards some form of similar arrangement with other countries, rather than continue to inflict ritual humiliation on us at immigration.

In fact, these days it is not so much about what you should remember to bring, more what you should remember not to bring. Specifically, fluids in the hand-luggage; I’ve lost several cans of shaving gel to airport security in the last few years, not to mention the Macedonian wine confiscated because I was not going to risk packing it in my suitcase to get broken in the hold. It’s not just fluids of course – Rosi challenges us to identify a way of hijacking a plane using nail clippers – but that is how it has affected me most.

Hopefully the next generation will catch themselves on about security without losing the conveniences we have accumulated over the last few years.

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August Books 38) Escape Velocity

38) Escape Velocity, by Colin Brake

Well, well: a Doctor Who book partly set in Belgium! Aliens, companions and the Doctor wandering round the Grand’ Place, the Atomium, Waterloo and the European quarter (one character practically walks under the windows of my office). Of course, I did the inevtable thing of checking for mistakes (it’s Boulevard Adolphe Max, not Rue Adolphe Max, and anyway I think he means the Boulevard Anspach; the EU district is described as southwest rather than east of the city centre, but otherwise the geography is right) but generally I liked being on familiar territory. The book was written in 2000 and is set in early 2001, so it is a time when we were already living here, and I imagined how I might have brushed past the characters on my lunch break (in those days I occasionally wandered down from CEPS in the Place du Congrès to the city centre for lunch).

The story: is a pretty standard alien invasion of Earth story, combined with introducing new companion Anji, which is always interesting, and a partial resolution of continuity I haven’t read with the Doctor apparently recovering from amnesia after causing some major catastrophe (I shall eventually get to whatever novel that happens in, but am not rushing to it). But I quite enjoyed the scenery, with different factions of aliens squabbling over their human allies, and some nice character sketches; the French millionaire perhaps a little too one-dimensionally villainous. There is lots of horrible slaughter, but that is often the way with alien invasions.

There were also a couple of nice nods to other parts of Who. Anji’s boyfriend is revealed as a big fan of the cancelled long-running TV show “Professor X”, whose more civilised British fans are disturbed by the arrival of Americans in their fandom via the internet. <irony> I wonder what Brake could have had in mind? </irony> And at the end of the book, the Doctor, Fitz and Anji leave the present day to materialise on a prehistoric landscape, and a shadow falls across the sand. Nice.

Fails the Bechdel test, I’m afraid; every one of the few conversations between female characters ends up being about a man.

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August Books 37) Henry VI Part 1

37) The First Part of King Henry the Sixth, by William Shakespeare

So, having finished Proust and the Who novelisations, I have identified another literary project to work on. I had the usual bits of Shakespeare inflicted on me at school, but suddenly got my interest in him engaged several years ago by being sucked into the authorship debates on the h.l.a.s usenet newsgroup. The striking thing there was just how inarticulate and irrational the anti-Stratfordian camp were, be they partisans of the Earl of Oxford, Sir Francis Bacon or Christopher Marlowe as the true author. Without knowing much about the issue I found it painfully easy to pick holes in their arguments.

But that was all years ago now. The availability of texts and other resources on the net, and of my own time while commuting, makes the 38 plays a reasonable target over the next x months, where x is between 4 and 9. I’ve got the whole text on the Palm Pilot, and ripped all the CDs of the Arkangel Complete Shakespeare to listen to. I’m listing this as bookblogging rather than audio plays basically because I’m working from the script with audio enhancement. I’m doing them in what is generally given as the chronological order, since that seems the most sensible approach. We therefore start with the late Plantagenet tetralogy, the three parts of Henry VI and then Richard III. The part of Henry VI on the Arkangel CDs is played by a young actor called David Tennant; I wonder what he is doing now?

The first play is really much more about Talbot, the English commander in France, and Joan La Pucelle, who inspires the French to treacherously resist their English rulers, than about King Henry, who doesn’t even appear until the third act. The story is of increasingly united and successful French prevailing against the divided English, who come to identify their factions with red or white roses. King Henry is rather innocently being manipulated by the factions (including into a rather bizarre arranged marriage in the last act, organised by Suffolk who is deeply in love with the future queen himself).

Talbot gets the best two scenes, at the end of the fourth act, in rhyming couplets with his son as they go to their doom in combat. It’s not surprising that the most explicit contemporary record of Henry VI Part 1 being performed is Nashe’s note about a play about Talbot. The moral lesson of the play is that thanks to the power-hungry squabbles of the English leadership, Talbot’s courage and leadership are lost disastrously (there is also a very peculiar scene with the Countess of Auvergne who attempts to capture him, but apparently ends up being seduced herself). The play runs out of steam and direction after his death.

The other fascinating character is Joan La Pucelle. The English (and some of the French) accuse her of being a whore and a witch, but there is nothing in the script of the first four acts to support this; I must say I was expecting her to be a misguided idealist à la Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan. So it actually came as rather a shock in the last act when she did, in fact, turn out to be consorting with demons and pleaded to be spared execution on the grounds of pregnancy, though she couldn’t remember who the father was (the implication is surely that she is just making it up). Of course, there is a large element of simple anti-French propaganda operating here; but I was surprised that her transformation into panic-stricken witch in the last act seemed so sudden.

Anyway, it is generally a good read; the battles would require careful and diligent staging, to keep the different factions distinct and give clear outcomes to the various sieges and other engagements, and that’s one thing that just doesn’t come across on audio.

Fails the Bechdel test, as I imagine most of these will do.

Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love’s Labour’s Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night’s Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All’s Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter’s Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)

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August Books 33-36) The End of the Classic Who novelisations

So, that’s it: after five months of concentration, mostly on the daily commute, I have now read all but one of the Classic Who novelisations (the one exception being an unofficial fan publication which is not available outside certain circles in New Zealand). I’ll do a roundup post on the novelisations as a whole next, but this is the roundup of books covering Season 26, plus some observations about Mel, Ace and Seven.

33) Doctor Who – Battlefield, by Marc Platt

I’m not the greatest fan of Ben Aaronovitch, who wrote the original script, but Platt has taken the story and makes it work really well on paper. It makes you realise just how much of the TV version’s problems were down to poor direction, bad music and lousy acting. We get some lovely back-story for the Brigadier and Doris; we get just enough explanation for the Doctor being Merlin to leave room for further speculation without just being stupid; we get the Bambera/Ancelyn relationship decently treated as well. Interestingly Platt has broken the story up into four parts which more or less coincide with the episodes as broadcast, the only novelisation where I remember this being done.

An easy pass for the Bechdel test, with Ace and Shou Youing defending each other against the forces of darkness (in the book, we are not distracted by their awful acting).

34) Doctor Who – Ghost Light, by Marc Platt

After enjoying most of Marc Platt’s oter work, including his novelisation of Battlefield, I was looking forward to reading this. I’m afraid I was disappointed. Once again, I realise just how vital the direction and acting of the TV version can be; and the intensely visual and subtle original just loses most of its vitality and mystery on the printed page. In particular, we lose the striking visual appearance of Nimrod the Neanderthal and of Light himself, who comes across as just some random and rather dull megalomaniac with super powers.

Scrapes through the Bechdel test: in most of the Ace/Gwendolen scenes they are talking about Josias and/or the Doctor, and the one exception is when they fight, and are then interrupted by Control. A fight is barely a conversation, but I suppose it will have to do. (Mrs/Lady Pritchard appears to communicate with the maidservants by telepathy.)

35) Doctor Who – The Curse of Fenric, by Ian Briggs

Ian Briggs, on the other hand, does a masterful job with The Curse of Fenric, perhaps the most adult of any of the Who novelisations (in the sense of talking about sex). The most striking change from the TV original is that the vicar, Mr Wainwright, is explictly young (rather than Nicholas Parsons). Apart from that, the whole narrative feels very soundly rooted both in itself and in Who – particularly with Ace’s introduction in Dragonfire (which of course Briggs also wrote). For once, the Doctor’s-hidden-past motif actually seems to make sense rather than feeling like a bolted-on idea (the only other story that achieves this is The Face of Evil). An excellent read.

Also a comfortable pass for the Bechdel test, what with Phyllis, Jean and their landlady on the one hand, and Katharine, Audrey and the Wrens on the other, with Ace wandering between them.

36) Doctor Who – Survival, by Rona Munro

Well, a decent novelisation of what I felt was not such a great story. The whole thing seemed a bit more coherent on the page than on screen, and Ace’s reactions to returning to Perivale somehow made more sense here. A reasonable effort with unpromising material, with the Cheetahs’ planet much more convincing (and an interesting digression on the Master/Doctor relationship which I may copy separately). Passes the Bechdel test thanks to the Ace/Karra scenes.

I forgot to give Mel a valedictory write-up after finishing Doctor Who – DragonfireBang-bang-a-boom and Flip-flop. But she is sadly the least memorable Who companion on screen since Dodo, apart from Kamelion who barely counts, and that’s not really Bonnie Langford’s fault.

The big problem with the TV version of Ace is that, to be honest, Sophie Aldred was rather variable as an actress. She has highs and lows – in Battlefield she is particularly dire, but in both Dragonfire and The Curse of Fenric she is rather good. The plot concept of giving her a Past would have been rather good if consistently developed, but it feels a bit bolted on in the last season as it is. The character gets much better development in the New Adventure books, and Aldred herself is good though not excellent in the Big Finish audios: I guess I would pick out Colditz, featuring as a guest star someone called David Tennant, as my favourite of those featuring her so far; though I also liked Dust Breeding, The Genocide Machine and The Rapture. (Audio-only companion Hex has not yet convinced me.)

Sylvester McCoy was more fortunate with the scripts than Colin Baker; though Time and the Rani did worst of any Old Who story in my poll a few weeks back, I concur with fannish opinion that things had started picking up towards the end. Of the books, I really enjoyed Ian Briggs’ Doctor Who – The Curse of Fenric and Doctor Who – Dragonfire, with an honorable mention to Doctor Who – Remembrance of the Daleks. As well as the Mel and Ace audios mentioned above, there are a couple – Excelis Decays, Last of the Titans and the second half of Project: Lazarus – where McCoy does an excellent solo performance. He is criticised by some as being too comical, but I think he does bleak!Doctor rather well.

I’ll do a roundup post of the novelisations as a whole, but I think not tonight.

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August Books 32) The Carhullan Army

32) The Carhullan Army, by Sarah Hall

I got this because it won this year’s Tiptree Award, which seems to me to put forward some reasonable challenges to the Hugo/Nebula establishment. I thought it was a very good book. The setting is a near-future Britain, underpopulated and oppressed due to climate change and war; the narrator, a woman known only as “Sister”, flees her native town to join a community of women in the Lake District, and they spend the rest of the book preparing for their struggle with Authority (ie the government). This is the kind of story that is often done embarrassingly badly (see, for instance, Sherri S Tepper on occasion, or The Rising of the Moon) but Hall does it well; Carhullan is emphatically not a utopia, nor is it destined to be a permanent answer to an unjust society, and the leader Jackie and her colleagues are memorable figures. Some readers will be reminded of The Dispossessed, or The Handmaid’s Tale, and I guess it’s fair to say that if you didn’t like either of those books The Carhullan Army will leave you cold. But actually I felt it was also perhaps a response to John Christopher’s The Death of Grass, where the protagonists are engaged in essentially a selfish struggle to get through their post-apocalyptic landscape to (if I remember rightly) the Lake District; the Carhullan Army have a more altruistic and redeeming purpose.

Not surprisingly, a rather easy pass for the Bechdel test. Also in response to ‘s query, the text in my edition starts on page 5 and ends on page 207, with several blank pages in between, so I reckon under 200 pages of actual story.

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August Books 31) 1690: Battle of the Boyne

31) 1690: Battle of the Boyne, by Pádraig Lenihan

Another in the Tempus series of monographs (like Maria Kelly’s Black Death) on Irish history. Lenihan takes the 1 July battle and examines it in depth from military, political and above all psychological perspectives. His unpacking of what James II, William III and Louis XIV were really up to is most enlightening – he doesn’t believe James had aimed at much more than the restoration of Catholic rights before 1688, which chimes with my instinct, but then goes on to say that in 1690 William’s hold on Britain was still far from complete, and the Irish campaign was necessary as much as anything to satisfy the Westminster Parliament.

Lenihan’s analysis of the military styles of the kings on each side of the Boyne and their commanders is even more impressive: William and Schomberg were second-rate (and he gives examples from William’s other battles to support this), but James and Lauzun were third-rate – the best evidence of this being that the battle took place at the Boyne at all, rather than the much more strategic Moyry Pass, abandoned by the Jacobites without a fight.

The description of the Boyne battle itself is a forensic dissection, with Lenihan slightly (and unnecessarily) apologetic for the amount of detail, honest about the gaps and inconsistencies in his sources, and also honest about the fact that the most decisive moment in the battle was something which didn’t happen on the previous evening, when William was grazed on the shoulder by a cannon-ball; had he been killed at that stage, his forces would probably still have won the battle (if it went ahead) but certainly lost the war, or at least concluded it on much less favourable terms. But the fact that William, though wounded, carried the field, while James fled despite a surprisingly low number of casualties, was enough to set the mythology of the battle and the reputation of both men.

Having said up front that I really enjoyed the text, I am sorry to say that there are several aspects of its presentation which fall below the standards I would expect from a responsible publisher. The maps are too few, and are confusingly placed and labelled, which is something you really don’t want in a book on military history. As with Kelly’s book on the Black Death, the index has serious deficiencies. And James II’s own memoirs – a key source!! – are confusingly cited; it is implied that they are reproduced in Clarke’s 1816 biography, but it would have been nice to be clear. Despite all this I’d recommend the book unreservedly to anyone who already has a decent idea of the historical and geographical terrain.

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DWCon and disrupted night

A very nice day at Discworld yesterday, mainly for catching up with lj folks, some of them (, , and especially ) for the first time in the flesh; good to also see , , , , , , , and Charles, and anyone else I’ve failed to mention. Also I actually attended two panels, Jacqueline Simpson talking about the folklore of Discworld and Jack Cohen on sex and reproduction in Discworld. I was interested to note that both panels had a single speaker, in contrast to most sf con panels I have attended. (Also put me right about the early history of the game of Thud!

Anyway, good stuff, and I may try and attend for longer at some future event.

Last night was very disrupted by little U deciding that 3 am was the right time to wake up. She has been entertaining us all in her own special way for the last five hours or so. We are returning to Belgium today, but will be starting very slowly.

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August Books 30) Islands in the Net

30) Islands in the Net, by Bruce Sterling

A really good read, set in an early 21st century future but written in 1988. It is of course not intended as a work of prediction, but it’s impossible not to read it in that way now – yes, end of Cold War; no, didn’t see collapse of communism; yes, video-recorders obsolete; yes, non-state actors capable of major damage to industrialised society; no, rogue states on the whole not providing havens for “data piracy”. The passages explaining how fax machines operate seem particularly quaint – were they really so unusual back in ’88? But on the whole, this was an interesting envisioning of the future we are now in.

The central character, Laura Webster, is taken on a tour of the underside of her world – I hoped at first that the “islands” theme would be consistently maintained, as she starts on Galveston Island in Texas, then goes on to Grenada and then to Singapore, disaster following her as she goes. But she then ends up in the desert of northern Africa, which is about as far as you can get from being an island. (Though that is perhaps too literal – she is certainly pretty isolated in Mali.) I would have preferred also if a bit more of the climax had happened on-screen, as it were, given how much of the setting depends on the concept of the Net, the wired world in which everything is observed by anyone who wants to observe it. But these are fairly minor quibbles – it’s a great story of a world which, twenty years ago, was just coming into existence and now is pretty much here.

Bechdel test: a very easy pass, as Laura has numerous female peers. She also talks to her baby daughter, if that is allowed to count.

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Barack’s Choice

Glad to see (assuming it is confirmed) that Joe Biden has got the nod for the VP slot. If they win, then some of my friends in DC may end up with interesting changes of job…

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August Books 29) Liberal Democracy and Globalisation

29) Liberal Democracy and Globalisation, compiled and edited by Graham Watson MEP and Katharine Durrant

A collection of 21 short essays by 23 MEPs of the Liberal group (and two credited research assistants), addressing the subject in the title of the collection. Actually the more generalist pieces tend unfortunately toward waffle, and some of them, written immediately after the French and Dutch referenda, have been overtaken by subsequent events; the ones that jumped out at me were by Jelko Kacin on Turkey and the EU, by Philippe Morillon on Bosnia and France, and by Emma Nicholson on international adoptions and Romania. Still, it’s reassuring that the MEPs do have some however vague concept of ideology informing their thoughts.

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Season 25, and August Books 26-28

This journey of mine through the years of Old Who is nearly over, with only the four books of Season 26 left to go. I have already written up Resurrection of the Daleks (TV original and novelisation) and the TV version of The Happiness Patrol, so we start here with the novelisation of the latter.

August Books 26) The Happiness Patrol, by Graeme Curry

I wasn’t overwhelmed by the original TV story, but Curry has produced a novelisation which is passionate and convinced – the rather odd plot holes remain, but liberated from cheap-looking special effects, it turns into rather a good yarn. Definitely one of those where the book is an improvement. Also an easy pass for the Bechdel test, with Helen A and her women warriors running around after Ace.

People had warned me that Silver Nemesis was pretty rubbish, and I’m afraid it is. One of my frequent complaints about bad Who, and indeed bad sf, is that all too often the means and motivation of the bad guys make no sense. In Silver Nemesis, the means and motivation of the hero make no sense: how and why did the Doctor launch the rocket into space in 1638??? The basic plot of three different sets of baddies (Cybermen, Nazis and Lady Peinforte) trying to get the McGuffin is comprehensible, but little else is. Am I unusual in finding Fiona Walker’s performance as Lady Peinforte rather poor? She was way better in CLAVDIVS. And the bit with the Queen is pretty silly.

August Books 27) Doctor Who – Silver Nemesis, by Kevin Clarke

Clarke used the opportunity of adapting the script for novelisation to put back some of the material which apparently ended up on the cutting-room floor, but the result is if anything even more confusing. Where the TV series can just about get away with characters being darkly mysterious, the written word demands a bit more clarity (thinking especially of the portrait of Ace in Windsor Castle, never explained). Fails the Bechdel test, unless the cook who Mrs Hackensack’s ancestor bribed away from Lady Peinforte was a woman. (Hackensack is a much less likely name than the TV series’ Remington for a 17th century English aristocrat; but then, so is Peinforte.)

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is not a bad end to the season (and indeed to my watching all of Old Who). It looks generally good, and performances are all pretty convincing. I did once again find myself wondering about the means and motivation of the villains, in this case the Gods of Ragnarok; and I was left a bit confused by how the Psychic Circus fitted into the planetary society (and also a bit confused by the ending). But it was all fairly watchable. Now I can go back and do it all again.

August Books 28) Doctor Who – The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, by Stephen Wyatt

Wyatt’s book is not really an improvement on the TV original. Shorn of (for once) decent production values and the compelling performances of the actors, the holes in the plot and clunky scene-setting are more apparent, and Wyatt, having written a TV script, is reduced to reporting what we saw on screen without being able to add much to it. Fails the Bechdel test – each female character is rigidly paired off with a male, and on the rare occasions that they converse it is always about one of the men (usually the Doctor).

I should have done a Mel retrospective with my last Whoblogging entry, but that can wait.

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I bought some tarragon leaves from the supermarket yesterday; when I got out the packet to start chopping them up, I noticed that the country of origin was marked as “West Bank”. Does this mean that it is Palestinian tarragon? Or (as I fear is more likely) that it was grown in one of the Israeli settlements?

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August Books 24-25) The Office

24) The Office: The Scripts: Series 1, by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant
25) The Office: The Scripts: Series 2, by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant

I caught most of the first series of The Office (the BBC original, not any subsequent version) on TV, and of course found it cringingly hilarious – appalled moments of recognition combined with surrealism (eg the stapler in the jelly). Rereading the scripts (which are nicely illustrated with screencaps from the series, particularly catching people’s expressions at crucial moments) brought back fond memories.

I haven’t seen any of the second series, and in fact I think that dramatically it works a bit better – the two parallel love affairs of Tim and Dawn, and David Brent with himself, give itmore of an emotional edge – it is a situation comedy, of course, but the characters, unusually, do change and develop (or regress) by the end of the series.

Highly recommended. But totally and utterly fails the Bechdel test.

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South Ossetia

Once again, I want to strongly recommend OpenDemocracy, this time for its series of articles on South Ossetia and its consequences. Today’s article is by my good friend Ivan Krastev, arguing inter alia that Russia may be a loser as well. At the start of the war they ran a good piece by Caucasus vetern Tom de Waal, “An Avoidable Tragedy”. See also these pictures by the children of South Ossetia, and the various other pieces they have done on the region. And in general, keep an eye on the feed, or however you prefer to read it.

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Telecoms package latest

As a result of my activism a few months ago, I have just received a reply from Flemish Socialist MEP Saïd El-Khadroui:

Daarnaast zijn er echter inderdaad een aantal amendementen van parlementslid Syed Kamall goedgekeurd vanuit de Commissie Burgerlijke Vrijheden die erg veel vragen oproepen. De amendementen hadden tot doel om toe te laten aan operatoren en instanties om gegevens over dataverkeer te raadplegen om inbreuken vast te stellen.
De socialistische fractie in het EP heeft tegen deze amendementen gestemd in de Commissie Burgerlijke Vrijheden, maar toch kregen ze een meerderheid en werden ze dus goedgekeurd.  
Door de parlementaire procedure van versterkte samenwerking tussen commissies, waren de leden van de ten principale bevoegde Commissie Interne Markt en Consumentbescherming echter niet in de mogelijkheid om de gewraakte amendementen van Kamall uit de Commissie Burgerlijke Vrijheden weg te stemmen.
Na overleg met de socialistische fractie en leden van zijn eigen fractie (EVP), zou Kamall echter ingezien hebben dat zijn amendementen reële gevaren inhouden. Samen met de andere fracties zou hij bereid zijn om de situatie in de plenaire stemming in september recht te trekken en amendementen in te dienen die de gewraakte voorstellen verwijderen uit de definitieve tekst die het EP zal goedkeuren.
Uiteraard zal ik er samen met mijn fractie voor blijven ijveren dat de burgerlijke vrijheden niet in het gedrang komen door deze nieuwe wetgeving. Ik zal er dan ook met mijn fractie over waken dat de gewraakte amendementen niet in de wetgeving terecht zullen komen.

My translation:

[after detailed explanation of the communications package as a whole> In addition, however, the Committee on Civil Liberties approved a number of amendments from Syed Kamall MEP. The amendments were intended to permit ISPs to examine data traffic in order to identify violations.

The Socialist Group voted against these amendments in the Civil Liberties Committee, but they were supported by a majority and therefore were approved.

Due to the parliamentary procedures regulating the relationship between the committeed, the Internal Market Committee, which generally should have the lead on this issue, was not able to overturn Kamall’s contentious amendments.

After discussions with the Socialist Group and members of his own EPP group, however, Kamall appears to have realised that his amendments contain real dangers. With the other groups, he is apparently ready to rectify matters at the plenary sitting in September, and to propose amendments which will remove the contentious elements from the definitive text which the European Parliament will approve.

In any case, I and my group will continue working to ensure that civil liberties are not put under any threat from this new legislation. I and my group will ensure that the contentious amendments do not end up in the law.

Of course, there is the typical political thing of making it look like it is all the doing of El Khadroui and his Socialist colleagues; but the central message is clear – the relevant amendments are likely to be withdrawn, and our activism of early last month did have an effect. I hope that there will be a chance to have another go before the plenary session.

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August Books 23) The Execution Channel

23) The Execution Channel, by Ken MacLeod

A departure from MacLeod’s previous space-opera stamping grounds, this is a thriller set in the present or near future of a slightly alternate earth – Gore was elected in 2000, 9/11 hit Boston, and the War on Terror resulted in military operations in Iran and Central Asia as well as Afghanistan and Iraq. Secret technologies, disinformation through blogging, and confused but lethal rivalry between intelligence services all play a part, but the emotional dynamic that drives the narrative is the father-daughter relationship between the two key characters, perhaps the most successful characterisation in any of MacLeod’s novels. There is a very memorable climactic scene set in the main square in Oslo as well. Really good stuff.

Bechdel test: scrapes a pass. The daughter has numerous conversations with other women, of which almost but not quite all are about men.

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August Books 22) Finding Time Again

22) Finding Time Again, by Marcel Proust

Well, I’ve done it: finished the final volume of the Penguin set of À la recherche du temps perdu, a year and a half after starting them. Like the previous one, I found the last volume very lucid and involving; I wonder if this is really the case, or just reflects my increasing comfort level with Proust’s prose? It’s quite a break with the previous volumes in some ways, chronicling the effects of the 1914-18 war on France, on Paris, on the places the narrator loves and on his social circle; then an accidental encounter with a gay brothel; then a fifty-page reflection on memory while the narrator walks upstairs from the courtyard to the Guermantes’ party; then further meditations on age, on death, on what has happened in the previous volumes and on what drives the narrator to write it all down and turn it into a book. It is very satisfying, and now I want to go back and read it all again (though I may read the Alain de Botton book first).

Bechdel test: as hinted previously, I am inclined to give this volume (like others in the series) a passing grade. Even though it is told entirely from the male narrator’s point of view, there are numerous conversations between women characters reported, observed or imagined; and in this volume they talk about death and each other at least as much as about men. (He doesn’t know what the Duchess is discussing with Rachel when he sees them talking on page 300, but from the context it is probably poetry despite their mutual links with Robert de Saint-Loup.) Given the admitted influence of Proust on Alison Bechdel, it is just as well that he passes her test. I imagine she would be prepared to stretch a point for him if necessary.

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Season 24, and August Books 18-21

I actually finished watching the last stories of Classic Who a couple of weeks ago, but am only now getting around to writing them up, just as I work through the remaining novelisations. So I’ll start with Season 24.

August Books 18) Doctor Who – Time and the Rani, by Pip and Jane Baker

The Sixth Doctor gets a bit more of a send-off at the start of this book than he did on TV, but that is not hard. However, the writing is still naff and there are way, way too many exclamation marks. After my third consecutive novel by the Bakers, my brain was in danger of exploding. (I’d seen the original a few months back.) It also fails the Bechdel test – on the rare occasions that female characters actually talk to each other, it is about the Doctor or another male character.

I actually loved Paradise Towers, apart from the music and one ill-inspired character. The whole concept of the abandoned tower block with its feral inhabitants is done, not fantastically well I admit, but at least with the courage of its convictions. Richard Briers as guest star clicks with the show in a way that Paul Darrow utterly failed to do in Timelash. The Kang chants and warping of familiar phrases are also great, and Mel actually gets something to do. This is more like Doctor Who than anything broadcast since The Caves of Androzani. (The two flies in the ointment are the awful music and the character of Pex – some blame Howard Cooke for his performance, but basically Pex doesn’t fit awfully well with the setting.)

August Books 19) Doctor Who – Paradise Towers, by Stephen Wyatt

Wyatt has the courage of his convictions here: a reasonably strong story in the first place, and the opportunity to overcome the weaknesses of the production (the Kangs on paper can be teenagers, and we don’t get the awful music, though Pex as a character is still an anomaly). An easy pass for the Bechdel test, with the scene where the old ladies are about to eat Mel a particular delight.

I am afraid that Delta and the Bannermen failed to grab me. The one thing it did well was the 1950s setting, which looks credibly of its time in the way that Remembrance of the Daleks so totally doesn’t. Oh yeah, and the Ken Dodd cameo is fun rather than embarrassing. But the plot seemed to me to lack much internal coherence, with the added insult of the Stubby Kaye storyline obviously bolted on. I really never quite grasped what the Bannermen were trying to do, or why we should care.

August Books 20) Doctor Who – Delta and the Bannermen, by Malcolm Kohll

Alas, Kohll doesn’t really augment what is already a weak story in his adaptation. The writing style is too childish, the Stubby Kaye plotlkine appears even more irrelevant (despite his attempts to give it more background) and one is left feeling that while the author thinks it’s funny the rest of us don’t really get the joke. Indeed the whole setting – and this is something I’ll return to at the end of the post – just doesn’t seem Whovian.

However it does pass the Bechdel test reasonably well, with Mel, Ray and Delta conversing about numerous things other than the Doctor or the Bannermen.

I felt that Dragonfire came very close to working well. There is a certain unevenness of tone between slapstick and serious, and, alas, the production values are characteristic of the era, but it is all at least interesting to watch, especially new girl Ace, the return of Glitz, and of course Patricia Quinn. But it doesn’t quite hang together.

August Books 21) Doctor Who – Dragonfire, by Ian Briggs

Briggs is able to overcome a number of the problems of the story as televised – in particular, the dodgy special effects and patching some of the more peculiar plot holes – to produce the best of the four novels from this season. There are even hints of various characters getting it on with each other – Tat Wood points to Glitz and Ace, but I would add that the Mel/Ace relationship in the book is very affectionate. (An easy pass for the Bechdel test here.)

It struck me as worthy of note that the stories in this season, particularly the last three, all share the background of a human-dominated space-opera-type future. Indeed, once I worked this out, I felt I detected a run of this going some way back, to the last Fifth Doctor season. In this universe, humans are generally in control though other species are running around too; rebel Time Lords like Azrael and the Rani may casually take over planets; the 1950s are an exotic environment compared to the daily routine of spaceship maintenance; now that we have moved off Gallifrey, the Doctor is a player in other people’s histories, rather than his own (compare the run of twenty consecutive stories from The Invasion of Time to Castrovalva which all feature at least one extra Gallifreyan). It has got more coherence than I had realised, and reading these four novels made me feel that while this is not the Whoniverse I know, it none the less has a certain gutsy consistency. (Shame that this then gets lost with the next season.)

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Shakespeare chronology

List of Plays with Estimated Dates

(Dates in parentheses indicate the date of first publication only.)

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August Books 17) The Faded Sun Trilogy; and the Bechdel test

17) The Faded Sun Trilogy

Having rather bounced off both Cherryh’s Hugo winners, Cyteen and Downbelow Station, I’m glad to report that I found the Faded Sun trilogy much easier to get into. She slightly lost me at the climax of the last book, but apart from that I found them all very readable. It’s a story of questing for destiny and of relationships between three different species, humans, the warrior mri, and the regul. Cherryh gives her aliens an effective and convincingly different psychology, particularly by having us follow the human characters who try to get closest to them.

All three books pass the Bechdel test, if we allow it to apply to female aliens: Melein, a mri priestess, is one of the key characters and she confronts other priestesses at several crucial points (notably the climax of the second book).

On the Bechdel test: a couple of people queried whether it is really meaningful or reasonable to apply it in this way. To be honest, I am open-minded as to whether or not I will get much from doing this, but it seems to me a worthwhile and easy experiment. I was inspired by Charlie Stross’s applying it to his own work and ‘s Bechdelian analysis of Doctor Who, and thought that while there is no way I’m going to apply it retrospectively, I can easily enough track the Bechdel score of books I read from now on. I admit that there is an immediate problem of applicability, in that the classic Bechdel test explicitly applies to the cinema rather than the written word; and a slightly more subtle issue to do with background rather than foreground activities (does Proust pass, when his male narrator hears about hot girl-on-girl action offstage? I would say yes). But I’ll give it a try for a few weeks and see what I learn from it.

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August Books 16) A History of the Black Death in Ireland

16) A History of the Black Death in Ireland, by Maria Kelly

Prompted by young F’s fascination with the subject, I bought this from the remainder pile in the University Bookshop in Belfast the other day. Given the extreme paucity of sources, Kelly has done a very good job – she makes the most of what few records there are, signals clearly where there is disagreement in the secondary literature, and is honest about the extent to which she is arguing evidence of absence from absence of evidence. It builds up into a convincing story: the 1348-50 outbreak of plague was devastating to Leinster and Munster, and much less so to Ulster and Connacht; and in particular it was devastating to the towns and communities of Anglo-Irish settlement, some of which never recovered – she estimates the pre-plague population of New Ross, Co Kilkenny Wexford, at over 12,000; today it is less than 8,000!

The result of this was a depopulated and reduced area of English control in Ireland, retreating into the Pale, and an effective decentralisation of power to the Gaelic and Anglo-Irish chieftains and intensification of warfare between them, all in the context of a devastated economy – merchants and sailors were especially badly hit, so trade effectively vanished, and meanwhile the price of labour soared, and the plague had literally killed off any chance of importing workers from England. The Irish population may not have returned to pre-plague levels until the 18th century. If anything Kelly slightly undersells the huge impact of the plague on Ireland, given the evidence she presents.

Kelly mainly draws on administrative and archaeological evidence, but there are a couple of personalities who stand out. One is Richard FitzRalph, the Archbishop of Armagh, who preached fiery sermons while worrying about church administration (especially staffing levels, for obvious reasons). The other is Friar John Clyn of Kilkenny, who chronicled the advance (and symptoms) of the plague from the Dublin ports across Leinster, seeing it as the end of civilisation and the first step of the apocalypse, before himself falling victim to it; the closing words of his chronicle, written perhaps when he already knew he was ill, are poignant.

Anyway, a good book, though I have a serious complaint about the index which has completely inaccurate page numbers.

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William Thomas White, of Knoxville

I spent yesterday doing a bit of research into the sixteenth-century Sir Nicholas White. My researches threw up this surprising biographical note:

White, William Thomas, educator; born in Wahala, S.C., May 12, 1859 ; son of Thomas Warren and Margaret Branchefield (Keough) White. His father was a planter before the Civil War, and lived in South Carolina ; after the war he moved to Knoxville, Tenn., and engaged in real estate business. His father served in the Confederate Army. His great-grandfather was Sir Nicholas White of Leixlip Castle, Ireland, who was a Knight of Malta, and a lieutenant in his uncle, Sir Arthur Dillon’s Irish Regiment, that fought in the French Army in the American Revolution, 1778. He is a direct descendant of John White, who Sir Walter Raleigh commissioned as “Governor of the City of Raleigh,” 1587. A duplicate of this John White’s will, copied 1698, is still in the family archives. He was a cousin of Senator Stephen Mallory White of California, and of this family is Chief Justice White. His maternal grandparents were Edward and Margaret (O’Donnell) Keough. He was a nephew of Col. Myles Branchefield Keough, U.S.A., who was killed with Gen. Custer by the Sioux Indians near Yellowstone River, and for whom the American Army have named an important post in Montana in his memory — Fort Keough. His mother’s ancestors, John and James Keough, were Revolutionary soldiers of Virginia. He was educated in the University of Tennessee, and graduated in June, 1879, with B.A. and M.A. degrees, and prospective candidate for Doctor of Philosophy in 1914. He was principal of the Knoxville High School for over thirty years. He conducted normals in North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. Writer for daily press and educational magazines, collector of books and owner of one of the largest private libraries in the south. Conversant with German, French, Italian and Spanish tongues. Sinking fund commissioner for City of Knoxville, Tenn., 1889-91. Member and officer in the National and Southern Educational Associations. Member of the National Historical Association, Association of Advanced Science, Classical Association of Middle South, The Society for the Promotion of the Aims and Objects of The Hague Conference, Society for Celebrating the Hundredth Anniversary of the Signing of the Treaty of Peace between England and the United States; a member of the Irving Club, University Club and a Knight of Columbus.

This is from a 1916 Who’s Who-type of book called Builders of Our Nation, published in Chicago. I was immediately interested in, and also suspicious of, the reference to “Sir Nicholas White of Leixlip Castle, Ireland, who was a Knight of Malta, and a lieutenant in his uncle, Sir Arthur Dillon’s Irish Regiment, that fought in the French Army in the American Revolution, 1778.” While we do indeed have a Knight of Malta called Nicholas born in the mid-1750s in the family tree (we even have a contemporary document of his joining the Knights in the early 1770s), I thought that the Knights of Malta a) were celibate, b) didn’t use the honorific “Sir and c) were still in Malta in 1778. Maybe I am wrong on those points – the circumstantial detail is remarkable, and I’ve seen elsewhere a reference to “le chevalier Nicholas Whyte Seyslip” who did fight with Dillon’s Regiment in the War of Independence. And someone born in 1754 could quite reasonably have a great-grandson born in 1859, which is a 35-year gap between generations. (Thomas Warren White, William Thomas White’s father, was apparently born in Rathkeale, Limerick, in 1825.)

Likewise the reference to the famous John White – while it would be thrilling to add him to the family tree, the fact is that we know that the direct ancestors of the 18th-century Knight of Malta alive at the time of the doomed Roanoke venture were the jurist Sir Nicholas White (who died in 1592), his son Andrew (who died very young in 1599) and Andrew’s son, another Nicholas. And it is interesting that the White family of Knoxville claimed to have a copy of John White’s will, given that according to Wikipedia his document trail evaporates in Munster in the early seventeenth century.

A new name to me was Senator Stephen Mallory White. His grandfather, Edward White, emigrated from Limerick to Binghamton NY in the 1820s, where he founded a college for women. The family were all Catholics. The Limerick connection does make this one a bit more plausible; Edward could well have been the uncle of Thomas Warren White.

I also had not heard of Chief Justice Edward White, appointed by President Taft in 1910 (and succeeded by ex-President Taft in 1921). His immediate ancestors were also notable – his father was a governor of Louisiana and his grandfather, James White, was the first US representative from what became Tennessee. His father is thought to have emigrated from Ireland (I haven’t seen any more specific reference) to Philadelphia in the first half of the eighteenth century. Again, they were Catholics.

So there’s a certain amount of suspicion in my mind that William Thomas White was pulling together prominent Catholic Irish-Americans with his surname to claim as relatives. But there may be a bit more to it than that.

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Apple juice

The carton of apple juice I got from our local supermarket the other day comes from Poland. It’s obviously made for export, as the contents are described thus on the side:

  • Apple drink
  • Яблочный напиток
  • Obuoulių gėrimas
  • Ābolu dzēriens
  • Ябълкоба напитка
  • Suc de mere

What struck me (apart from the sheer mind-boggling fact that these languages, firmly behind the Iron Curtain twenty years ago, are now on display in Tesco’s) was that the root for “apple” (and Dutch appel, German Apfel; plus, I am told, Irish abhal and úll and Welsh afal) clearly also lies behind Russian яблоко, Lithuanian obuolys, Latvian ābols and Bulgarian ябълка. A bit of googling reveals that this is an ancient root, but one found only in the northern European languages, which makes me suspect it may not be quite as ancient. Though the Finnish and Estonian words, omena and õun, look quite different and perhaps closer to Hungarian alma, Turkish elma, Mongolian alim. But perhaps not.

(The Romanian word măr is presumably from Latin malus/malum, badly corrupted I admit but no worse than Spanish manzana or Portuguese maçã.)

Rather surprisingly, the root of Romanian “suc” meaning “juice” is thought to be completely different from the root of Slavic “sok”/”сок” also meaning “juice”. Which seems a bit improbable to me; one almost imagines Slavicists bending over backwards to prove the relationship of sok/сок with the Albanian word for blood and the Latvian and Lithuanian words for tar rather than accept the possibility of an early derivation from Latin sucus.

Only the Romanian translator was bold enough to call the liquid in the carton “juice”, everyone else going for “drink”. The Slavic verb пить/пити is related to Latin bibere and its descendants (French boire, Italian bere) and more obviously to Greek ποτο. Meanwhile the Latvian and Lithuanian words dzēriens and gėrimas come from an Indo-European stem meaning “devour” or “consume”, which appears indeed in the second syllable of “devour” and in Russian “жрать” meaning the same.

So that’s what I learnt from my breakfast drink.

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The 20 Books from 20 Years meme

See here for explanation. Bold if you’ve read (all of) them, italicise if you’ve started but not finished (inc some but not all of a series) and strikethrough if you hated them.

The Culture Novels, Iain M Banks (starting 1987) – definitely.
The Hyperion Cantos, Dan Simmons (starting 1989) – read the first two, liked them but was warned off the others.
Grass, Sherri S Tepper (1989) – agreed; I love this book.
The Aleutian Trilogy, Gwyneth Jones (starting 1991)
The Mars Trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson (starting 1992) – agreed.
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson (1992) – agreed.
The Flower Cities sequence, Kathleen Ann Goonan (starting 1994) (read Crescent City Rhapsody, quite enjoyed it)
Fairyland, Paul McAuley (1996)
Diaspora, Greg Egan (1997)
Revelation Space, Alastair Reynolds (2000) – it didn’t do much for me, but I seem to remember reading it on a long plane flight.
The Arabesks, Jon Courtenay Grimwood (starting 2000) – agreed.
Light, M John Harrison (2002)bounced right off it.
Stories of Your Life and Others, Ted Chiang (2002) – agreed.
Evolution, Stephen Baxter (2003)no way!
Pattern Recognition, William Gibson (2003)agreed.
Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)agreed.
Air, Geoff Ryman (2004)liked it but not totally sure.
River of Gods, Ian McDonald (2004) – agreed.
Accelerando, Charles Stross (2005)agreed.
Spin, Robert Charles Wilson (2005)agreed.

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Food meme

That food meme that’s going round: Bold what you’ve eaten, strike through what you would never eat.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros – not sure, I’ve had a lot of egg variations in New York for breakfast – this one is eggs with tortillas and a chilli sauce
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht (properly борщ)

10. Baba ghanoush – wasn’t sure what this was: apparently it is an aubergine mush served in the Eastern Med, and therefore in Lebanese restaurants
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich – I hate peanut butter. Also this is an American meme so “jelly” = “jam”.
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses – a cheese I don’t recall ever trying.
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
– assuming this just means dim sum
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes – definition debatable, but I’m sure I’ve had them
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
– what’s so exotic about that???
25. Brawn or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper – don’t think so, not sure.
27. Dulce de leche in ice cream – don’t think so, not sure.
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala – Britain’s favourite dish!
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer – I think so, not sure.
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
– live in Heilbronn for a few months, they were inescapable.
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV – yeah, I live in Belgium!!!
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake – basically anything made from deep-fried dough.
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost – don’t think so, not sure.
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant – not sure if it was the tasting menu, but I ate at one a few months back. (Someone else paid.)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano – don’t think so, not sure.
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

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