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I suppose people have always insulted their political opponents: "Tory scum" is hardly a new coinage. But it's only recently (in this country, at least) that people seem to have started suggesting that their political opponents are so irresponsible/evil/stupid that they should not be allowed to vote, or that their votes should be ignored.

I won't say it began with Brexit, but it's been very noticeable in its wake. The narrative that those who voted Leave should be overruled because they were a) too racist, b) too stupid, c) have probably changed their minds by now, etc., kicked in pretty much immediately after the vote. Even if all these things were true, though, it doesn't change the result: in a democracy, even stupid people get a say. If you don't like it, then why not just come out and say honestly that you would rather have a different kind of political system - a government of technocrats, for example, like Mario Monti's or Xi Jinping's? A case could be made, I'm sure. What you don't get to do is call the result democratic. Yet, in a wonderful but it seems unconscious irony, one of the movements to overturn the referendum result and take the power to decide on Brexit away from the voters has named itself "the People's Challenge". That kind of double-think is not untypical of political discourse in the UK today.

The result of the last Labour leadership election (and probably the next) is another case in point. The determination of many people not to see Corbyn's victory as legitimate, except in the trifling and legalistic sense that he got more votes than anyone else, is bolstered by a move to delegitimize the views of those who voted (or intend to vote) for him. Here I don't refer to the literal disenfranchisement of 130,000 Labour members by the NEC, though that's not irrelevant, but to the dismissive way in which those who support Corbyn's position are routinely described: they are members of a cult, they are bewitched, they are too young to understand the issues, they have had their arms twisted by Trots, they are Trots, they are "Nazi stormtroopers", or simply (as Financial Times journalist Janan Ganesh has it) "as thick as pigshit". Otherwise, they wouldn't be voting for a "lunatic",* would they? Given that, their views and votes can be safely ignored, and we can start undermining the result the day after it's announced, secure in the knowledge that we are defending democracy, war is peace, freedom is slavery, etc.

* Copyright Owen Smith.
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I thought it might be fun to look at the Olympic gold medal table, adjusted for things that (one might expect) would make a big difference to the number of golds a nation is likely to win - namely, population and GDP. After all, the bigger the population, the more chance of its containing a winner; and the richer the country, the more resources it can throw at things like training facilities. Because I'm lazy, I've only used the top ten countries in the medal table as of this afternoon.

Golds

The UK does okay on all three charts, but the Netherlands is the unexpected star of the show. And oh dear, China.
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Okay, I just watched the short anime, Little Witch Academy, a post-Potter take on the magic school genre, featuring a "Sorceror's Stone", a snobby trio of pupils and a ragamuffin trio to put up against them, including our heroine, Akko. So far, so generic.

Except... when we listen in on their lessons, the teacher begins by mentioning that their school is built on a confluence of ley lines, as advocated by Alfred Watkins (and, indeed, The Old Straight Track is mentioned on the blackboard). Rowling's magical authorities are mostly invented (Nicholas Flamel excepted), but Watkins is of course very real. Once again I'm impressed and curious at the titbits of Western magical lore that have found their way to Japan. Ley lines don't form a major part of the plot, so it's an interesting insertion.

But then the teacher reads a quotation from a book called "Wizardly Eudaemonics" by one T. S. Daniels, to the effect that those that cannot control magic will be destroyed by magic. Watkins being a real person, it seems reasonable to wonder whether Daniels is too, but I've never heard of him or her, nor does Google supply a ready answer.

Any ideas what may be being referred to here?
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Today was the last day of Bristol's annual balloon fiesta, so I got up before 5am and went with my friend Htay to see the morning ascent an hour later. The fiesta takes place at Ashton Court, a stately home owned by the city (as is proper), just on the far side of the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Htay and I were far from alone, despite the hour - we had to queue a long time to get in, then joined the snaking throng that was winding its way past the deer park to the balloon field. When we arrived, the balloons were still laid flat.

Balloons below the cut )

Oh, the title of my post? As well as being a reference to David Niven's autobiography it's a literal description of Luke Jerram's latest artwork, which we didn't get to see today, alas, but which you can read about here. Sadly, it burst....

Triolet

Aug. 11th, 2016 08:55 pm
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If not my cats, then who will eat me,
When I have my fatal stroke?
Even now, their purrs entreat me -
If not my cats, then who will eat me?
Will earthworms nibble, then excrete me?
Will I be lost in lifeless smoke?
If not my cats, then who will eat me,
When I have my fatal stroke?
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Diana Wynne Jones once told me that this diagonal path through a graveyard in Clifton was a place she considered magical, and it's not hard to see why.

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Part of its charm is the occasional Narnia-esque lantern dangling from the foliage, the copper-green arch supporting it almost invisible amidst the leaves.

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I was walking that way to get to Goldney Hall, a place that has something of a Hunsdon House vibe, being open only one day per year. I think I posted pictures from here a decade or so ago, but much has changed since then... Then as now, though, it's a place of early eighteenth-century follies, including a gothic tower (built to house a beam engine) and a shell-lined grotto dedicate to Neptune.

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Also, a statue of Heracles trying out for the Mets.

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My favourite such monument in Bristol, though, is the statue of Neptune in Warmley in the east of the city. This clinker-cloaked god once stood in the middle of an ornamental lake in the grounds of the house of zinc pioneer William Champion, around the same time Goldney was being grottified in rich Clifton. Neither house nor lake survives, but clinker Neptune stands tall to this day, in the middle of a caravan park:

warmley neptune

I think we can safely say that the Warmley Neptune is the real deal. Clifton is pretty, but in terms of sea-gods it's just playing around.
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As part of my KonMari tidying binge, I divided my food cupboard into Japanese (top shelf) and the rest (bottom shelf):

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In that spirit, I decided to set natto against Marmite...

If you're interested in how to prepare natto, there are some pictures of the process below the cut:

Natto prepping )

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I have to tell you that both were delicious in their way, but that Marmite won, by dint of being so... Marmitey. That said, I've now reached the stage where my hypnogogic phantasies are usually conducted in (very bad) Japanese, so it may be that by this time next year the answer will be different.
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I'm getting stronger slowly, but I'm definitely in that perilous zone where I may be tempted to do too much, then crash. Almost every day I still need to sleep during the day - not my usual fifteen-minute power nap, but something deeper and longer, and hopefully more healing.

In the week or two before my operation, many of the things I owned broke in sympathy - including my car, in a very terminal way. So, for the last seven weeks I've been carelessly carless. Since I was unable to drive anyway it was as good a time as any for that to happen, and strangely liberatory. I even got a small road tax refund from the DVLA. The other day, though, coming to the end of my driving moratorium, I thought I should do something about getting a replacement, and (having intended merely to make tentative enquiries) ending up buying a second-hand Ford, which now sits outside my house. Though normally cautious and risk-averse, I occasionally buy very expensive things more or less on impulse. That's how I got the house itself, in fact. (Albeit it's a cheap house - for a house.) The new car has number plate that I particularly like, since it (almost) spells "LOL JOY". This makes up somewhat for its being grey.

The other day I went with my friend Htay and some of her circle to the Chinese restaurant over the large Chinese supermarket near here, to celebrate her birthday. Our populous party ate dim sum, which gave me a chance to try many new things, all of which I liked - except for ducks' tongues, which surprised me by consisting mostly of gristle. I swore then and there never to French-kiss a duck, even if it is a prince in disguise.

That Chinese supermarket has many interesting goods, though to my regret I've never been able to find nagaimo there, with the result that my okonomiyaki never have quite the right texture, but on this occasion I noticed that they had some natto in the freezer section. I've eaten natto only once, last year at the ryokan in Hakone, and I'm sure I did it inexpertly enough, so I'm keen to give it another go.

Natto is the Japanese equivalent of Marmite; not that they taste anything alike, but both have the reputation of being "love it or hate it" foods. So for lunch today I'm going to do a "natto and rice" versus "egg and Marmite soldiers" face-off.

Which will win?
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I often watch this Youtube channel, first without and then with subtitles, as a way of attuning my ear to spoken Japanese. The topics aren't always particularly interesting, but in this case I did find the answers fascinating, even allowing for possible edits, sampling errors, etc.



That Perry's name crops up a lot isn't surprising, though it's a bit of a cheat when the question is about non-Japanese historical figures, since (as far as I know) he's only famous in a Japanese context. That's a little less true of Francis Xavier - but I'm struck by the happenstance of his being remembered because his picture is on the cover the school history text book in a cool pose. (It reminds me of the fashion-conscious teen who went into a shop and asked for a cross to wear round her neck: "Do you have the kind with the little man on the front?")

Naturally I tried to think of British equivalents, but could do no better than Julius Caesar (Perry) and St Augustine (Xavier). Pytheas of Massalia might do for Marco Polo at a pinch. None, apart possibly from Caesar, is likely to come up on a similar interview conducted on a British street.

About Spanish Napoleon and Russian Shakespeare, the less said the better.

Hustings

Jul. 23rd, 2016 08:14 am
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Well, now there's a Labour leadership election, and I'm going to try to take it seriously - in the sense of listening to the arguments, if any. There are three questions that need answering, to my mind.

a) what do they propose to do?
b) are they competent to do it?
c) should I trust them?

a) I know a lot of Corbyn's general policy positions, and generally approve them. It would be good to have more detail though. Smith (unless I missed it) has not set out many policies, except that he will out-Jeremy Jeremy when it comes to being anti-austerity. Well, they both have plenty of time to fill in the gaps during the campaign - I look forward to that. I have a lot more time for Corbyn's anti-nuclear stance than Smith's support for the current "weapons of mass destruction (for us but not other people)" policy.

b) this is really a two-parter. The first question is, are they competent in an ideal world, and the second, are they competent in the present circumstances?

I think Corbyn's instincts are excellent (on many of the occasions he's run against the political consensus he's been proven right over time), and he's as much of a details man as Cameron ever was, but I don't think he'll ever be a wonk. I'm not sure that's a bad thing if he recognises it and can delegate to trusted colleagues. The question is, are there enough colleagues he can trust, and can he bring himself to do it? More generally, however competent he may be personally, can he make the Parliamentary machine work in an atmosphere where there is talk of splitting the party should he win, or making the leadership challenge an annual event until he loses or gives up?

That question goes wider than the leadership debate - it's a matter of the subversion of the party's constitution by certain members of the PLP, and if that really is the attitude then I would be in favour of deselection, messy though that would be. The PLP can't be allowed to be a dog in a manger to thwart the democratic choice of the party at large (any more, in my opinion, than Parliament should attempt to thwart the democratic choice of the electorate over Brexit, though many people are calling for that, too).

Smith has done a decent job as Shadow Work and Pensions minister, I understand, and obviously he'd have the PLP behind him, at least to begin with. (If they get a taste for the blood of leaders, he shouldn't count on having it long term.) However, he's pretty untested in most policy areas, and has already shown himself gaffe-prone on the few appearances he's made on television, notably by accidentally (I assume) saying he was pro-austerity, and then declaring that he is "normal" because he has a wife and three children - which, however innocently meant, tells you quite a lot about the narrow parameters of his thought, and was particularly stupid when his rival at the time was a lesbian - especially with the recent fall of Andrea Leadsom for similar remarks being in everyone's mind. I honestly can't imagine Corbyn ever saying something like that, and not because he's too canny - he simply doesn't think that way.

c) Here Corbyn scores highly. He has been consistent in his principles for many years, even to the detriment of his career. Smith is again an unknown quantity, but his conniving in the relentlessly ad hominem campaign against Corbyn, and particularly joining in the suggestion (without evidence) that Corbyn was somehow encouraging intimidation, does not incline me to trust him at all. Or rather, he strikes me as neither more nor less trustworthy than most ambitious politicians - that is to say, not very.

So far, in other words, Corbyn is well ahead in the court of my personal opinion. But we have a month to go, so have at it, gentleman! Queensberry rules only, if you please. (Some hope.)
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Alas, the original Bramley apple tree, planted in 1809, is dying. I was amazed to find (a few years ago) that it was even alive, but now I feel robbed. Damn you, 2016!

We owe that wonderfully tart cooking apple to a young girl, Mary Ann Brailsford, who planted the original pips - just around the time the ten-year-old Mary Anning began scouring Charmouth beach for ichthyosaurs. 1809 is also the year in which Tom Stoppard's Arcadia is set, featuring the precocious Thomasina Coverly with her anticipations of chaos theory and the second law of thermodynamics - a figure no less impressive for being fictional. Ada Lovelace and Grace Darling wouldn't be born for another six years, but I can't help feeling that there's an earlier squad of bad-ass nineteenth-century girls here (call them the Mostly Marys) who really need to be given life by Kate Beaton, or possibly Henry Darger - if he hadn't died half a lifetime ago.
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Pokemon Go has brought millions of otaku stumbling into the light and made them walk huge distances in search of prey. Soon, inevitably, they will become a muscle-bound master race, combining brains and brawn in an unbeatable combination. Nintendo, what have you done?

Meanwhile, people are casting around for other reasons for moral panic. How many more children must get lost in caves in Somerset while searching for Clefairy? What's the best way for Pokemon gyms to exploit the situation? Can African Americans play Pokemon Go without being shot for loitering? Is the sight of large groups of people enjoying themselves proof that the game has "gone too far"?

My daughter, a Pokemon fan from her cradle, has of course downloaded the app, but being almost housebound I still haven't done so. By the time I do, I dare say everyone will have got sick of it, and Pokemon will be Gone.
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So, then, it's to be Theresa May. I suppose she's the lesser of two evils, but still. My only comfort is that a I called it the day after the referendum, which enhances my reputation as the new Nate Silver. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to Ladbrokes in time.

Meanwhile, my recuperation continues, as detailed (if obliquely) in today's Awfully Big Blog Adventure. More soon on everything, I hope.
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For some reason I'm unable to post to, or indeed read, Livejournal from this hospital, but my link to Dreamwidth is up and running.

As mentioned in my last, I'm very squeamish, so don't expect to find this account full of surgical details. Suffice it to say that the op went well, and I'm recovering according to schedule. Today the dressing came off and I was able to see the surgeon's handiwork for the first time, at least in a mirror. Some bruising apart, I've got to say it looks pretty good - and yes, much more the kind of thing my brain seems to expect. Mostly at the moment I'm just relieved by the lack of outright gore, though.

I'd been really worried about having anaesthetic, not having enjoyed it all on the previous occasions (twice with gas in the dentist's chair as a child, and I still remember the nightmares I had involving the Red Queen from Alice, and twice by injection on the surgeon's slab, which left me nauseous; I recall trying and failing to direct my vomit into the inadequate kidney dish being proffered by a nurse, and overhearing her complaining about it afterwards, but after all I was only ten; being the only child on an adult ward was not fun). Anaesthetic has certainly moved on in the 38 years since the last of these occasions: it was just Out, and then Awake, no mess, no fuss. A bit like the Last Trump, probably, but without the horsemen.

Since then I've been slowly shedding wires. The day before yesterday my glucose drip went, then the canula, and the things that massage your calves to prevent embolisms, and today I waved bye-bye to my catheter - rather regretfully, truth be told, as I'd got used to not having to get up to pee. But that's progress. Meanwhile, I've graduated from Nil by Mouth to a liquid diet of sorbets and consommé, and thence to white bread, rice, and similarly unfibrous things, and today I'm being eased into normal food. Pumpkin and aubergine madras is on the menu for tonight, and I'm peckish.

Anyway, here's the view from my window. The sea is that big blue wet thing in the distance.

IMG0018A
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Probably Lacanian cultural criticism is not the most sensible thing to read on the train to one's GRS operation. More than once I was tempted to declare in a Crocodile Dundee voice, "That's not castration anxiety! This is castration anxiety!" And so it is, though not in the Freudian sense - just in my fear of anaesthetic, dislike of pain and general squeamishness. Anyway, I'm now in my room, with a seaview and the mewing of baby kestrels from the nest box nearby.

Posts over the next few days may be disrupted...
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Right now there is a strong belief among many in the Tory party the their new leader should be a Remainer, like most of their MPs, but not a gung-ho one - to avoid alienating the people in their party who voted Leave. The obvious candidate is Teresa May, whom I predicted on the 24th (and still predict) will be the next Tory leader, at least if its pragmatic wing wins out.

Labour are in a similar position: most of their MPs are strongly Remain, but many of their supporters voted Leave. Happily, they already have a leader who is, like May, a slightly reluctant Remainer. Being the Labour party, however, they see this as a reason to sack him.
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In my Madoka Magica psychodrama, the part played by Sayaka Miki is of course central, and never more so than in her attitude to irrevocable decisions and regret. (No, this is not a post about Brexit.) Before she decides to become a magical girl she worries about regretting it later; having taken that step, the refusal to regret becomes for her a test of her own moral worth, and she constantly monitors herself for signs of it. It's a test she cannot possibly pass in the long run, of course. When the consequences become too painful for her to bear, she cuts herself off from her pain (using magic, but alcohol is an alternative).

I've been learning her signature theme, "Decretum", for some time now, and had hoped to upload a piano version of it before going to the hospital tomorrow, but it's not quite there. So, I'll have to make do with what for my money is the most painful of Sayaka's scenes, which features "Decretum" in full and, appropriately, much cutting off of heads.



じゃ、またね。
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Percentage of Scottish voters who voted Remain: 62. A resounding endorsement justifying a second referendum to split Scotland from the UK.

Percentage of Labour voters who voted Remain: 63. A woeful performance justifying a vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn.
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In a locked post today an LJ friend makes a number of characteristically interesting points about the EU referendum and its likely aftermath, most of which I agree with. However, I'm not so sure about his assertion that Jeremy Cobyn is "toast", no-confidence motion or no.

It's true that Corbyn has never been very gung-ho about the EU as an institution, and his support for Remain (much like my own, which may bias me) always had a tinge of "The EU may not be great, but the alternative you're being offered is hell of a lot worse" - which may not be a cry to get the blood up, but has the merit of being true, or at least honestly meant. Unlike some of those who now wish to depose him, he never coasted in the slipstream of the Brexiteers' anti-immigrant rhetoric, but pointed out that immigrants actually more than pay their own way in taxes, and that if local services are stretched that's because of cuts imposed by Government, who wish to spend the nation's wealth in other ways. Conversely, he didn't connive in the lie - known to be such by both tellers and told - that one could set an arbitrary upper limit to immigration under freedom of movement rules.

So, what he had to say - about preserving workers' rights, environmental protections, opportunities for young people, and the rest from racist demagogues like Farage and Johnson - was pretty reasonable.

But perhaps he didn't say it enough? In fact, the BBC (and a fortiori the rest of the media) went out of its way not to report his many appearances up and down the country. Take this screenshot from a couple of weeks ago, on the day he was due to give a big remain speech. If you look very carefully you may spot the very small headline mentioning that he is going to be speaking, somewhere near the very big headline about a union leader complaining of his silence.

corbynspeech

Later that day, after the speech had been given, this was the BBC news front page. See how long it takes you to spot the mention of Corbyn's speech.

corbynspeech2

So, anyway, now there's a move to unseat him for not leading a vigorous enough campaign for Remain. Note that the reason Labour lost the last election was in large part the defection of many of their traditional working-class English voters to UKIP or Netflix on polling day. And now, they propose to reverse this trend by replacing Corbyn with someone more outspokenly pro-EU? I can't see how that works at all.

I also don't think the coup will work - the membership won't allow it.

Though, admittedly, my record on political prognostication is pretty dire.

How about directing your fire at the enemy for a change, comrades?
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All my possessions seem to be winding down in sympathy with me, dimly cognizant perhaps that my life, like the hinged year, is at a turning point. Yesterday I said goodbye to the car I'd had for ten years, waving it off as it disappeared on the back of a "dismantler"'s lorry. (I did rescue Littly My from the rear view mirror first, though.) Later, getting a taxi to the station, my phone slipped from my pocket, taking my numbers with it. The phone itself was a temporary - £15 - replacement for the £20 one that died the other week en route to the States, but I regret the numbers. My PC is currently refusing to talk to my screen, and altogether I feel like some kind of techno-Job, being stripped down to a poor bare forked thing ahead of next week's naked encounter. At the larger level, of course, this may be the day that the UK strips itself down to being (pace Donne) an island. It's hard not to get all Elizabethan-World-Picturey about these weird correspondences of inner and outer, macro and micro.

Not that I've had time to dwell too much. Last weekend I was helping run the Roald Dahl conference in Cardiff, and today I'm in Nottingham to examine a PhD. In between there have been exam boards, a quick visit to my mother, and my daughter making her last appearance before she turns 18 (another turning point - eep!).

At Bristol Temple Meads station yesterday there were many Glastonbury goers set for their annual bout of trenchfoot, but as yet their wellies gleamed green as emeralds. It's Midsummer Eve, a day that is of course ripe for magical transformations. Seeing the revellers (just at the moment I was leaving my phone in the cab) brought back sharply that other June 23rd-4th, in 2007, which I spent being quizzed all night by Tony Robinson in the British Museum, returning in the morning in a train slathered with the mud of Glastonbury's fallen, and going on to work, only to find that one of my friends had died at a meeting that morning.

But, enough. Have a picture of the peaceful Trent, taken as I walked back to my hotel from a nice pub supper yesterday.

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There's something very grounding about water.

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