2010

It was a somewhat strange year. A Knoxplexian one, which to me strongly resembled Perham’s circumnavigation. Nothing untypical about that, to be sure. And yet it was a rather untypical one. For it had a climax that overhadowed all the rest, and because there was a significant shift in my perspective. These things have happened before, more than once. But they don’t happen each decade.

At first backward glance, it looks as though it had one immensely good part and many small, not-so-good or even outright bad ones. As usual, a closer look reveals a more complicated picture. There were several small good parts – and a few not-so-small bad ones.

The fantastic part was of course being in Scotland again. For the third time only and after thirteen years, but also after hours without end when I was there ‘virtually’ via the Web or simply in my mind, everything was so familiar and so unfamiliar at the same time. Maybe because I myself was the same and yet so different from the previous two times round. Had nothing else good happened, this alone would have made this an outstanding year.

Much as the trip occupied and still occupies my mind, other things did happen. For one thing, I lost my job. It’s a bother, but I would most probably leave of my own accord before a couple of years, so I’ve no right to complain. Anyway, I kept it longer and earned more than I had expected even as it is. I just have to find anything which will bring in more than I have to spend during this interim period, which hopefully won’t last more than a year and a half.

Outside Scotland and outside working hours, I spent most of my time at my laptop (or rather, laptops). I daresay I’m reasonably settled computer-wise and Net-wise by now. My habits, Web identity, applications (and their settings), homepages, bookmarked places of interest, dictionaries and other reference sites etc are more or less set and only change gradually as time goes by. It often felt as if this was a year when every now and then some glitch or other occurred, but in retrospect this seems less distinct. Sooner or later those bothering me most, like the problems with antivirus or with watching BBC, were resolved.

I should also mention wiki-editing: the number of my Wiktionary mainspace edits have already exceeded 13.4K and as far as I can tell, thanks to myself Gaelic is now among the 30 languages with most entries there; and the PandaNet which enabled me to start playing go again after several years. Closely related too to spending so much time on the Net were the gaff’s improvements.

Even so I somehow found time to read more books than the previous year. My LibraryThing account says more than two a month, which makes it hard to pick those most deserving to be mentioned; of those I read for the first time I mustn’t forget The Steel Remains, Sailing the Dream and Trainspotting. Untypically though, my greatest art discovery this year wasn’t related to literature, but to music. Ay, my favourite Scottish band of all time, The View. (Incidentally, I did push Hats Off to the Buskers one level up after reading the lyrics.)

There was another book worth mentioning – Daonnan ann an Trioblaid. When, years ago, I began learning Gaelic, I never meant to get as good as to actually read whole articles, let alone stories. Yet I am already doing both, and not only in my well-liked Cothrom. Tha a’ chuid Ghàidhlig agamsa a’ leasachadh fad na h-ùine is thar mu dhùil. Chanainnsa gum fuirichidh i còmhla rium a-chaoidh. Air an làimh eile, I had little time for French, made hardly any progress there and for the time being at least, I’m putting my French studies on ice.

Scotland, Web, books and Gaelic are also filling in the gap created by lack of real-life social intercourse. Apart from blood relations, Dànaidh is almost the only one that I’m exchanging emails with with some frequency; in a way I’ve lost Rob, the best and last friend I had in this city; there was next to no contact with my Tech friends this year; I even failed to attend to the Reid Yaird biennial reunion and my later week’s stay there was rather disappointing. My social life outside pubs had been for years virtually non-existent; pubbing no longer, I’m left with the four things mentioned above.

I’m not so self-centred as not to record here the year’s noteworthy ‘issues of public concern’. I am so self-centred as to put down only those which were of the most interest to me. From this point of view, the two major events were the launching of the Caledonian Mercury website and the May elections. There were others: the Icelandic Eyjafjallajökull volcano’s eruption; the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the unusually cold winters, His Bigotry’s unwelcome visit, Iran and North Korea still playing cat-and-mouse with the West, and more. Oddly, the most interesting GLBT story for me wasn’t marriages vs civil partnerships or the DADT but the David Laws one. Somehow it asked more questions.

But as I was saying, ‘my 2010’ was primarily about the summer trip and about the shift in perspective. Last December, my vision of the next year was overcoming my social phobia and taking part in a package tour to Scotland (‘how the hell did I ever do that?’), and for the following ones it was going on like this, living on the Web, every few years revisiting the country of my heart. This December, my vision of the next year is preparing myself for not prolonging my leasehold contract in 2012, and for the following ones… but I winnae jinx it. Not yet. Tha àm gu leòr ann fhathast.

 

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Over a quarter of ’09 electricity from renewables

The amount of renewable power generated in Scotland increased in 2009 by a fifth, with the total power increasing by 3%, so that over a quarter of this power now comes from wind, hydro and other renewable sources. Almost a quarter of the total power is exported.
BBC: Renewable power rises by a fifth
Just wanted to post something encouraging at the end, ken ;-).
Bliadhna Mhath Ùr!

 

Germans

If you ask several people whether they’re xenophobic or even racist, chances are you’ll get a negative answer from all of them. Yet the matter isn’t so simple. Xenophobia may express itself in three forms: fear, hate or contemp. The first is often justifiable. It’s a logical consequence of one of the basic senses of a living organism, that of self-preservation. The second, despite deriving from the first, is on the contrary hardly something for a rational being to entertain. In G K Chesterton’s words, ‘There is no reason for hating a shark, however much reason there may be for avoiding one’. The latest seems to have a different root: ignorance. If one doesn’t understand something, one tends to disparage it.

Furthemore, there are two kinds of xenophobes: one kind would maintain they have no problem with such-and-such group of people, only they forget to add ‘as long as they’re far away from me’. I often saw a scary, or at least guarded, look appear in somebody’s eyes when after their claim they had no problem with gays whatsover I grinned and retorted I was glad to hear that as I was one. Added to which, members of other minorities will confirm to you that such claims are nine times out of ten only said as a preliminary to some ‘but …’.

The second kind is quick to generalize unfavourably about other nations, about the other sex and so forth, while getting along quite easily with individuals of those groups. This is not necessarily a better kind of prejudice. Hearing somebody’s ‘of course, I don’t mean you’ after they were badmouthing your sort doesn’t make it any less hurtful or offensive. In fact, it can sometimes hurt or offend even more.

Talking about nations, my own xenophobias didn’t follow the usual pattern of this country too closely. Your typical Czech seldom fears other nations until his land is, once again, occupied; there are a few nations he hates; he has an unfouded contempt for all other nations, which in his eyes are just bunches of stupid gits (except perhaps for the Moravians, but that’s only thanks to the fact that your typical Czech considers Moravians a subset of Czechs, not a nation in its own right). The latest was never my problem. I became a bookworm so early that in a manner of speaking I was growing up in a multinational society.

(I remember that as a kid I once flabbergasted my father by my intention to support Canada against Czechoslovakia at some ice-hockey international (I was maybe reading some Curwood at the time), because the idea that I should as a matter of course support some twenty guys I had never met just because they, incidentally, lived in the same country, simply hadn’t occurred to me.)

Still, some of the common Czech fears and hates were instilled in me, and I had to fight them later on. Roma criminality simply is highly disproportionate. I overcame that during the years of coming to terms with being by default suspicious to others myself. (I didn’t personally know another out gay until I was about thirty.) ‘Russians’ occupied this country three days after my birth. I learned to pedantically distinguish between ‘Soviet’ and ‘Russian’ even before, twenty-three years later, their armies left. Which left the Germans, and that was the hardest bit.

For centuries, Germans and Austrians played in this region a role not unsimilar to the English in Britain. At times of the Austro-Hungarian Empire they usually occupied higher posts, spoke the prominent language (a couple of centuries ago, Czech was a dying language), their culture was seen as more refined, their colleges were more advanced… And then, after just two decades of Czechoslovakia, came the Untermenschen theory and its practical consequences. In my childhood the words ‘German’ and ‘fascist’ were still pretty much used as synonyms. At school they tried to teach us about eastern, socialist and thus ‘good Germans’ and western, ‘bad’ ones; we knew that East meant Prussia.

I was struggling with this ‘last racism of mine’ as I called it for years and only overcame it recently. It’s an established fact that such prejudices are inversely proportional to how many people of the group in question you know. For years I had only personally known two guys in my year at the Tech, and in our leisure time we moved in different circles. Then I got on the Net, and I began meeting others. Especially in connection with Gaelic.

This would be of no surprise to any other learner of the language. A recent program on BBC Alba stated that among learners whose first language isn’t English, Germans are easily the most numerous, confirming what I had estimated myself. One of the guys even disclosed a possible reason – German history having been appropriated and disabused by the Nazis for propagandistic purposes to such an extent that many people are still uncomfortable about showing too much interest in it – so they’re embracing a different tradition instead. (Not all these ‘Gaidheaileamailtich’ are into the language – some are into music or literature and so forth.) Whether that explanation is correct or not, the program is memorable for me for three reasons. First, it was the first BBC program I had the opportunity to watch. Second, one of those who prominently featured there was my FnaG friend Akerbeltz. And third, after its end I realized I had been watching it just as if it were a program about the French or Swedes or whoever.

And that’s how it should be.

Punchline? After retiring my father spent some time looking up his genealogy in old registers. By incident, a few weeks ago he mentioned that although there was no definite evidence (he only got some four generations back), there were strong indications of a bit of German blood running in his veins – and consequently mine…
 

PS In the meantime I developed a new xenophobia – towards the Czechs. Being an entirely different and unrelated process, it is outwith the scope of this post.

 

Trainspotting

I had seen the film twice and liked it, athough admittedly both times I was slightly wasted on booze, so that only a very few scenes stuck in memory. Later, I read Welsh’s Ecstasy, and liked it too, in particular the third part. I was intrigued enough to buy Trainspotting (as in the book) as early as May ’09 within one of my very first Amazon orders.

Nevertheless, I was buying books with a greater speed than I was reading them, and somehow there was always something I wanted to read more – or sooner. I only began reading this one last month, mainly because I missed reading some longer text in Scots. I was pleasantly surprised. I expected it to be good, but not that good.

It’s hard to tell whether I would have enjoyed it as much if I weren’t an alkie after a three-month stay in a rehab where some three quarters of patients were speed freaks and junkies. As it was, I had insight enough. Once again I had my ancient theory that in principle there are very, very few principal differences between alkies and junkies confirmed. Despite the brutality of some scenes, there are other, humorous ones so masterly written that I laughed out loud like I don’t remember laughing over a book for months, if not years. And sure, I wrote down several quotations, like

Sometimes ah think that people become junkies just because they subconsciously crave a wee bit ay silence.

or

The old drunkard sees that the young man enjoys his company and his drink. He remembers when he himself was in that position. The enjoyment and the company faded away, but the drink didn’t. In fact, it expanded to fill the gap left by their departure.

which I find pretty much about my life (or some parts of it anyway) as well.

Needless to say, I enjoyed Welsh’s changing of language registers appropriately to speaker (and indeed the fact that there were several speakers) and context. Finally, there are many books that are very good throughout, but have a somewhat weak, likesay, last paragraph. Not this one. I don’t remember how the film ends and I don’t care. If it disnae end like the book, then it fuckin should huv.

If the truth be told, Mark’s running away may have been the last straw to eventually make me fully decided to sooner or later get the fuck out too. Thanks, Rents.

 

Rob

On 22 December 2000 I concluded I was in love with him. Which is my personal idiom for being both turned on by somebody and yearning to be his friend. (As usual, if not always, the former came first in his case.)

Once again, the miracle which had previously happened with Jamie and a few others took place. On 4 May 2003 I had to conclude that we had, against all probability, indeed become friends.

Over the following years he came to be, together with Jamie, Falcon and M.o.t.W., one of the four most important people in the story of my life. He still is.

Many a time I got into a jam because of him. Many a time he helped me, even saved me. Likewise, he knew that even booze can hardly prevent me from being there if he needed me.

Fifteen years younger than me and totally hetero, I still learned a lot from him. Hopefully I gave him something too.

Since I returned from the Yaird our paths gradually diverged. Like they did with the other three after we left the Tech.

So I’m sitting here a day after the anniv and ponder whether I’m still in love with him and whether we’re still friends.

I guess so – in the sense in which this appplies to Jamie and Falcon. He still thrills me, I still love to meet him, however seldom this happens, I’m still ready to help him anytime he needs it, I’m still sure he won’t let me down if I need it.

But I no longer see everything through his eyes as well as mine.

And the fear of losing him can no longer stop me from moving on.

I no longer have him in this sense anyway.

 

BBC’s rephotography

I guess I read about rephotography for the first time about a decade ago in some magazine. Since then, I occasionally came across more examples. They were always in the form of two photos next to each other. Last week, the BBC went one better and posted on its website six pairs in a different way. You see the old snap and using a slider gradually change it to the new one. As usual, it’s easier to see and understand than to explain or describe:
BBC: Scotland’s ever-changing scenery
I was particularly interested when seeing the Loch Tummel (didn’t know it grew so large only after a dam had been built), the Duchray Valley (as an example of Scotland’s shy but existent reforestation) and the Chapelcross one (having spent seven years at the construction of another nuclear power station with four cooling towers).

 

Diamond Sutra

Since my adolescence I was somewhat interested in Buddhism. Partly under the influence of George Harrison and David Salinger, partly as a result of having read Mipam by Lama Yongden and Alexandra David-Néel, but without ever having actually read any of the Buddhist texts themselves.

The other day I began to read the Diamond Sutra (or Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, or Vajra Sūtra). I read it here and I have to admit it was a great disappointment. For all its shortness I didn’t even finish it. Two other literary works, or rather, parts of them, kept recurring to me: Joseph Heller’s Picture This with its

He [Socrates] mistrusted books, he said in the Phaedrus, because they could neither ask nor answer questions and were apt to be swallowed whole. He said that readers of books read much and learned nothing, that they appeared full of knowledge, but for the most part were without it, and had the show of wisdom without its reality.
He said this in a book.
The book, though, is by Plato, who denounced dramatic representations as spurious because the writer put into the mouths of characters imitating real people whatever the author wished them to say.
Plato said this in a dramatic representation, in which he put into the mouth of Socrates and other real people exactly those things Plato wanted them to say.
Socrates did not think much either of lectures and lecturers. This should have soured Aristotle, who taught by lecturing.
Said Socrates in Plato’s Protagoras, of teachers who lectured: “If anyone asks them a question, they are as incapable as a book of answering it or themselves putting a question. They behave like a brass pot which gives out a continuous ringing sound if you strike it, till someone puts his hand on it. So the orators, at the least query, go off into a long-drawn speech.”
This sounded to Aristotle like a lecture or a long-drawn speech.

and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle and the very first verse of The Books of Bokonon:

All of the true things that I am about to tell you are shameless lies.

Whether or not has Vonnegut read the Diamond Sutra, he seems to have fully retold it in fifteen words. Which words, mind you, keep Bokononism the religion closest to my heart.

But I’m afraid it will last some time before I venture into reading another sacred Buddhist text.

 

Tobar an Dualchais / Kist o Riches

A new website comprising over 15,000 recordings in Gaelic and Scots, from ones made on wax cylinders in 1937 to others recorded on Radio nan Gàidheal, was made available for free sometime recently. The address is:
http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/
Why do I say ‘sometime recently’? Consider this:

On Mon, 29 Nov Ruairidh MacIlleathain’s Litir Bheag announced ‘And much of the material that Calum Maclean recorded with him is to appear on a new website next week. That’s the site of Tobar an Dualchais.’
On Thu, 9 Dec a BBC post claimed ‘So far almost 12,000 hours of archive have been digitised and will be made available free of charge on the project website.’
And on Tue, 14 Dec, Scots Language Centre announced ‘The Kist o Riches project aims to digitise, catalogue and disseminate Gaelic and Scots sound recordings. A new website for the project was this week launched in Edinburgh’.

You’d say this gets us to 9 – 14 Dec, they had delayed the launch for one week when Ruairidh’s Litir was already out and what’s my problem. My problem is that I came across the site, apparently in working order, through Google when looking for words of one of the songs from Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle, and even posted the relevant link to the Tobar an Dualchais website… as early as 12 November. The proof is here. Go figure.
 

ETA: The website’s database is created partly in Benbecula, as documented by the Guthan nan Eilean project.

 

Soho Revues

In a way it was another act of severing myself from this country.

The umbrella association Union of Homosexual Citizens’ Organizations (Czech abbreviation SOHO) was created in the follow-up of the ’89 events and I knew it existed almost as early. But only on 25 May 95 I noticed, waiting for my 0625 bus to work, a Soho Revue magazine displayed at the bus stop’s kiosk. Out for years by then, I didn’t hesitate and bought it. I wasn’t disappointed. It was no porn mag. A quality magazine covering just about any pertinent topic. News, gay history, the registered partnership bill, HIV, relationship to religion, stories and so on – and yes, there were male nudes (from amazing to utterly ridiculous).

I became a subscriber and stayed so until the end. These monthlies were my only connection with the GLBT community (except for the memorable time when in ’97 in Edinburgh I bought the September Gay Times issue – the one with Chris Morris as the cover boy – and an occasional piece of news on BBC World Service). It took a year before I for the first time didn’t read every single article of an issue. I even had each year bound in hard cover.

As the years passed, either the initial fascination evaporated or the standard of the magazine was, if slightly, deteriorating. They have always been struggling to survive and despite Absolut Vodka’s later coming in as a sponsor their May ’99 issue was the last. Obviously beloved by many, there were still not enough of us to keep it afloat.

A few years ago the idea of re-reading the numbers I had entered my head. However, before I read through the first year I got online and there was somehow no longer any reason, other than nostalgia, to continue. The Web is full of information, up-to-date and more easily searchable. Maybe not so much so in relation to this country’s affairs; but I’m no longer interested in those anyway. And yes, the Web is full of snaps and videos of handsome guys.

In the recent months I just leafed those back copies through, taking digital photographs of a (very) few pictures and articles I still couldn’t bear to lose, and discarded them. In a way it was another act of severing myself from this country. In another one more sign of my mind’s gradual getting more interested in the future than in the past.

 

Vommittee

Do committees make you sick? At first glance it would seem that’s what they do for the author of this article, but the probable explanation is simpler. Typos are an inseparable part of writing in spite of all the spellcheckers in the world and some just look like unconscious puns. When I realized that V is just next to C and more to the centre – an ideal place for creating a typo – it occurred to me to try and Google the word. I’ve got 24 hits, and a few of them really made me smile:

local medical vomitee
Code of Conduct Vommittee
United Nations Ovum vommittee

My favourite? A real beauty:

no more vommittee teas

 

Britons topping EU overweight chart

According to the OECD, over half the adult EU population is now overweight or obese, the British coming out worst with almost a quarter of them obese. The UK is followed by Ireland and Malta, while at the other end of the chart are Romania, Switzerland and Italy.
BBC: Half of Europeans are overweight, a report shows
Whatever criterion they used (probably the BMI which classifies me as underweight) I wouldn’t expect this. During my summer trip to Scotland it certainly didn’t seem to me as if the people were any worse than those I see daily. On the other hand I have always maintained that I lived in the ‘fattest’ region of this country… Anyway, the full chart looks like this.
The BBC article also surprised me by citing some other report according to which a third of African women and a quarter of African men are overweight. Africa, the continent firmly connected in our minds with malnutrition?

 

Ah yes, Wikileaks

Hardly a day passes without some news about the latest development or commentary upon the affair of the leaked US diplomatic cables. It’s the more surprising that I haven’t seen anyone asking one important question yet.

I don’t mean the importance of the leaked ‘information’, although that is an interesting aspect as well. Having a look at the items highlighted by the BBC, in more than half the cases the saying ‘surprise, surprise’ comes to mind. “Berlusconi admires Putin’s macho, decisive, and authoritarian governing style, which the Italian PM believes matches his own.”. “The UK has deep concerns about the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.” “Gadaffi has been described as both mercurial and eccentric, and our recent first-hand experiences with him demonstrated the truth of both characterisations.” You hadn’t read this a thousand times in the media before those leaks?

What I have in mind, however, is how nobody seems to question the reliability of the leaks. “A terrible by-election defeat in Scotland has left the Labour Party reeling and fuelled fears among MPs that Brown’s premiership may now be beyond repair.” And? Being a US diplomat makes your opinion about the Labour more worthy than if you were, say, a top UK political newspaperman? “China was becoming frustrated with North Korea’s behaviour and was coming round to the view that the Korean peninsula should be reunified under Seoul’s control in the long term.” A leak to that effect from China or the CIA might arguably be worth something, but from a US ambassador?

Yet more importantly: what makes people think that just because a cable is classified its writer must have been telling their mind? No, I’m not Ahmadinejad to imply some Wag the Dog-like cospiracy here. But if Assenge and his team had simply hacked all those documents, do you take it for granted they are publishing them indiscriminately, unedited? If they came into their possession through some ‘sources’, do you really think those sources didn’t just hand in what they saw fit?

It reminds one of the uncritical acceptance of the Communist secret police forces’ files afer the ’89 overthrow. Why should those people, so good in lying to the public, always tell the truth to each other? It reminds me of the time when I worked at the construction of a nuclear power station and one green organization published some ‘shocking leaks’ about that. I could have supplied them with much more shocking documents, but why should I have? So they could, lacking inside knowledge as they were, misinterpret them as monumentally as the documents they did get?

In other words, it may well be that the diplomatic world was taught a lesson about secrecy in the age of the Internet. It may well be that Assenge did rape somebody and it may well be that this is just a slur, a counter-move like freezing his Swiss bank accounts. (On the other hand I can quite understand Amazon rejecting Wikileaks hosting. They’re a business, not a charity. Why should they risk a cyber attack for such a fishy affair?) But don’t kid yourself into thinking that thanks to some leaks, Internet or otherwise, you’ll ever know what’s really going on in high places.

Or have you solved the JFK assassination mystery already?

 

Cothrom 65

Coltach ris an dà iris a fhuair mi roimhe seo, làn aistean inntineach. On nach urrainn dhomh sgrìobhadh mu dheidhinn gach dhiubh, innsidh mi guth no dhà mu dè bha a b’ inntinniche dhomh fhèin.

Cha do leugh mi ach trì irisean den ràitheachan ach tha mi mu thràth a’ feitheamh ris an ath Langanaich Alison agus Saoghal Sheonaidh oir tha mi gu math cinnteach nach bi mi mì-riaraichte. Agus tha mi a-nis a’ feitheamh ris an fhilm aig Alison, Caithris na h-Oidhche, mar an ceudna.

Chuir e iongnadh orm gun do dheasaich fear Nicolai Haltukov faclair lèigh Gàidhlig-Bulgarach agus gu bheil e ag obair air dà fhaclair eile: Beurla-Gàidhlig-Bulgarach agus Bulgarach-Gàidhlig. Cha chreid mi gu bheil cus chànain a thuilleadh air a’ Bheurla is a’ Ghearmailtis aig a tha faclair Ghàidhlig!

Tha dà aiste san iris mu thimcheall a’ Mhòid Nàiseanta Rìoghail ann an Gallaibh [nach robh air a thòiseachadh aig àm foillseachaidh na h-irise] agus gu nàdarrach cha do sheachain iad a’ cheist dè tha na daoine ionadail a’ smuaintinn mun chùis.

‘S e an tiotal aig an dealbh-fhaclair mu dheireadh Coiseachd anns a’ Mhonadh agus bha mi glè thoilichte gum faca mi dealbh bròige ann leis na h-ainmean de na pàirtean àraidh dhi.

Agus am measg nan lèirmheas tha fear mu dheidhinn Eadar Dà Sgeul – bha mi air an leabhar a cheannach bho Chomhairle nan Leabhraichean mar thà agus thòisich mi ga leughadh dìreach an dèidh dhomh leughadh a’ Chothruim a chrìochnachadh; agus bha am fear mu dheidhinn The Edinburgh Companion to the Gaelic Language cho gealltanach gun do cheannaich mi esan agus thòisich mi ga leughadh an latha eile mar an ceudna.

 

This year’s last leg

Sometimes, not too often, all things seem to fit together. For once, the weather even agrees with the calendar.

It’s St Andrew’s Day, the last day of November. Ay, winter will semi-officialy only begin in three weeks’ time with the coming of the solstice, but who did ever perceive December as an autumn month? And as if to confirm this, the night before the last the first real snow of this winter fell down. This morning my outdoor thermometer showed the first below-zero temperature. I followed suit by taking out my anorak, beanie and gloves and donning these instead of my leather jacket and baseball cap.

Another thing coincides with this. Yesterday I obtained the announced notice, so in a ‘subjective metaphorical sense’, as Rushdie might call it, my winter at the firm has begun as well. Two more months to go. In a way I could well do with one more year there; in another I’m almost looking forward to getting away. It’s good for my wallet and bad for my health.

Nevertheless, in the end I decided not to take this as a reason for speeding up the Dunkeld vow’s fulfilment. 2012 will have to do. There’s still too much to finish here before I’m prepared to leave.

Contrary to my habit I won’t dwell for long on the tasks I’d like to complete by Hogmanay. I’ll just mention the main one – to finish, mostly over the Christmas holidays, describing my August trip both in my ‘visits of Scotland book’ and here. Funny it takes so long. It’s because of, not despite, my being still so full of it.

Anyway, today marks no change in my style of living. I’m tolerably satisfied with the way I have been going for the last one and a half months. Which basically means developing my capability of telling the importance of things and acting accordingly. So if anything, I want to continue even more like that.

And that’s probably how it should be. Until I’m ready to get the fuck out of here to…

 

Lies and alibis

In my first full-time job I was, more or less, on a managerial position on the lowest rung of the ladder. In all those following I was a blue-collar worker – because I was determinedly looking only for blue-collar jobs. I was so fed up with having to negotiate.

I’m slowly but surely getting older and the idea of looking for a paperwork rather than manual job again began occassionally entering my head when after a day’s work I’m too physically exhausted or cold or something like that. It never lasts long.

The last week I was watching John Swinney defending the way the SNP government handled the tartan tax affair. It felt as though I was back at some of my first job’s negotiations. Each side evading as best they could any reaction to what it was accused of having done and trying to divert the discussion to the other side’s faults. And using one of the basic tactics: pick up the one thing in what your opponent said you can easily attack and ignore all the rest. How important that one thing is when compared to the others doesn’t matter. You’ll have the initiative.

And then an article about the EU opening a website to endear itself more to the British led me to discovering that the EU believes that ‘Language is a living, breathing thing that shouldn’t be regulated, which can be demonstrated by a 1979 directive thatcontains an obligation that the term ‘marmalade’ can only apply to products made from citrus fruits’. Go figure.*

I guess I’ll have to get much older, sicker and more tired yet before I return to that world.
 

ETA, 4/12/10: As if on clue I came across a news telling me you can’t name your product ‘pure chocolate’ lest the EC takes you to court and bans your unregulated idea.

 

Quote: John Steinbeck: Cannery Row

It’s all right not to believe in luck and omens. Nobody believes in them. But it doesn’t do any good to take chances with them and no one takes chances.

I’m putting this here partly because I’ve recently read the book, one of my Steinbeck favourites, for the first time in the original, and partly because by sheer incident I came across the verb ‘jinx’ today – one I almost lost all hope existed. I’m not superstitious and no superstition influences my behaviour so much and so often as the fear of jinxing something.

 

Mike Perham: Sailing the Dream

I’ve already mentioned here my interest in this circumnavigation story more than once. The book about it surprised me more than once as well. First, by having been apparently written by Mike himself – I had expected a ghost writer. (If there was one, they did an amazing job.) Second, by being really good. Sure, Mike was blogging all along the way, but blogging is easy. Even I can do that, but for all my graphomaniac tendencies I wouldn’t trust myself to write a readable book. Consequently it surprises me that eight months after its publication I’m still the only one admitting its ownership at LibraryThing.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t say a new Steinbeck was born. But I did enjoy it about as much as Travels with Charley, although inevitably for different reasons. One was reading about something I had been, so to say, watching live while it lasted. Another was the book’s motto, ‘You’re only as big as the dreams you dare to live’. I’ve no idea who this was stolen from but it’s great. And there were original words as if written about myself, for example ‘My mind never let me rest for long. I was always thinking of jobs that needed to be done’. Or:

Everything was going so well.
Of course, you know it’s never going to last.

Which brings me to the most important reason for liking the book. It’s not about extreme hardships successfully overcome. It’s about persevering despite being constantly hindered by unexpected delays, technical malfunctions and the like. Things tiring you and tempting you to give up not by their immensity, but by their seeming pettiness and perpetuality. By there always being some new bother just behind the corner.

Still, however many times you may consider giving in, in the end you don’t, and at long last you get to the end of the journey.

As far as I can tell, Mike is in most things totally different from me. I daresay we have something in common too.

 

Angry young man and the Bible

With the upbringing I had received I began to read the Bible somewhere in my late twenties quite unprepared for what I would find. That was good. Not having it pre-interpreted by either a follower or an adversary of Christianity, I was reading what it really said.

(This is not exactly true. As I realized much later, I did have it pre-interpreted – by James VI’s translators. Consequently, what follows here is about the King James Version, although it might apply to others, maybe even to the original texts.)

I used to summarize each book after having finished it in a few words or sentences for future reference, eg listing Jacob’s sons etc. The other day I came across those notes and wondered whether over the years my mind had exaggerated the feeling of disgust I had often felt during the reading. Surprisingly, I had obviously been fiercer in my condemnation then than I am today (when I’m content with simply stating it’s the most immoral book I’ve ever read).

So if you’re inclined that way, you may get amused or abhorred (as the case may be) by some of the comments I put down back then. (And by my then level of English. Each time you meet a seeming typo imagine a [sic] behind it.)

NUMBERS: [….] God lusts for blood, Israelites for ground. [I think I meant ‘land’.]
JOSHUA: [….] Not all the land conquested, not all inhabitants murdered, and Joshua dies. God is sadistic.
JUDGES: [….] In the end Benjaminites fuck a woman to death. This is avenged. [….]
ESTHER: [….] Not a single mention of God in this book!
JOB: A talkative crap, the lesson of which is this: Because the God has the power, a man should be faithful that he (God) has the truth as well, always, ought not to doubt [….] Sickening. ‘The Party, in its inscrutable wisdom…’ (Gellen)
PSALMS: Somehow like this I always imagined [quasi-folk songs]* celebrating Stalin during his realm. Servile, orthodox.

Mind you, I didn’t just carry on presuming every next book would be as bad. I noted about Proverbs that ‘at last it seems that the writer of this part of the book could be discussed with, which can’t be said about those who preceded him’, or about Ecclesiastes ‘Eventually something I could agree with in that it’s no use in planning as though the future was eternal, but that one should make the best of the present, although I disagree with his claim that this can’t be done by having a good time but only by diligent work’ or, surprisingly, about the Song of Solomon ‘not a bad love-song’. But after that the prophets came on the scene…

ISAIAH: A heap of crap by a fascist hateful preacher of doom and destruction, boring to death.
JEREMIAH: Ditto, by probably a later stupid. Seems God is interested in nothing but obedience. Seems also God is angry with the Jews, so he himself makes other nations destroy them (virtually), for which not He but the nations will be later punished. It’s very dialectic [….]
EZEKIEL: Unlike Isaiah & Jeremiah, this one has a little talent for artistic speech, though indeed a little one, but otherwise [….] the same crap as most of what preceds it.
DANIEL: A fairy-tale at the motive of “how hloupý Honza came to luck and half-the-kingdom” (a whole one in here) in the talkative Old Testament style, hallucinations of the hero of course not omitted.
HOSEA: Another Sodom-and-Gomorrah prophet.
AMOS: Another madman with extremely narrow mind.
JONAH: A fairy-tale with a moral. Not bad for five-year-olds.
MICAH, NAHUM, HABAKKUK, ZEPHANIAH: More representatives of the literary school founded by Isaiah.
HAGGAI: [….] There’s no hate or sadism in this one, which makes it look better than that it actually is.
MALACHI: Yet another blah-blah-blah we heard so many times before; luckily, by this one the Old Testament ends.

I was then recovering from the experience for a few years before commencing to read the second part. If I had any initial hopes it would be better, they were futile. In the end, although I read it through, I stopped making notes after Philemon.

MATTHEW: [….] Not as bad as the Old Testament, but nothing special as well. Jesus morally not (worse or) better than the ordinary man, though posing sae.
JOHN: [….] The Gospels as a whole: not exactly compatible, now and then various gospels claim various (sometimes even opposite) things. [….] Jesus looks much preferable to Jehovah, bot his character is by no means unblemished by fanaticisms, intolerance an other vices.
THE ACTS: [….] First harbingers o fight for power an influence using this particular religion – both internal and external.
ROMANS: The brain-washing idea that faith is what matters stressed again; on the other hand, hints tae the theory of predestination, of “the elect”. The beginning openly homophobic.
II. CORINTHIANS: Mair ado anent how “we are the champions”.
GALATIANS: [….] Liberty (ie blind-obediance tae Paul’s ideas) is better than obediance tae the law (o someone else’s makin).
PHILIPPIANS: [….] Theoretically, the Bible disapproves of [the end justifying the means], but in everyday reality Paul diz approve o’t. (Gin it helps himself).
I. THESSALONIANS, II. THESSALONIANS: Anither twa letters fae a guru tae his disciples [….]

Did it make you wince too often? Well I’ve warned you my English wasn’t too good back then (to say nothing about Scots). Let me atone by a quotation from a master of pen, Joseph Heller, who in Good Knows has king David say something I believe about myself just as well:

I have my faults, God knows, and I may even be among the first to admit them, but to this very day I know in my bones that I’m a much better person than He is.

 

* actually I wrote ‘častušky’ but I find I misunderstood that word

 

A few funny chess problems

My grandfather taught me the rules of chess when I was seven years old and since eight to eighteen years of age I attended, with interceptions, a children’s chess club. I was never much good at it though. Partly, as I only realized much later, because I was more interested in all the fun associated with it than in the game itself.

For example, my favourite variant wasn’t ‘the real thing’ but tandem chess (which for some reason we called Dutch chess). I enjoyed the tournaments and summer camps I took part in more because of the feeling of belonging to some fraternity than because of what was actually happening on the chessboards. I was less interested in the scholar’s mate which often happens among beginners than in the fool’s mate which is very unlikely – but the shortest possible one. (Although in fact, two and a half year’s ago I could hardly believe my eyes when playing against a guy who after 1. f4 Nc6 2. c4 e5 3. g3 exf4 actually did play 4. gxf4 and waited until I hesitantly finished with 4. … Qh4ǂ.) And I was yet more proud of being able to show off my knowledge of the shortest way from the initial position to stalemate, which can be done in ten moves (needless to stay, both sides must co-operate).

Similarly, I was always more interested in bizarre chess problems than those ‘White checkmates in two moves’ which could actually help me improve my playing capabilities. Some of these included, like the stalemate thing, both sides co-operating, and even doing something which normally isn’t done:

1) White: Kh5, Black: Ke8. White to undo his move, Black to undo his move, Black to play differently, White to checkmate.

Others were simply tricks made for fun:

2) White: Kg1, Rh1, Bb5, Bd8, Black: Kf8, Rg8, pg7. White checkmates in half a move [sic].
3) White: Kc6, Rf2, Bd3, Bh2, Nf3, Nh6, pd4, pg5, Black: Kf4, Rg3. White checkmates without a move. Checkmate in zero moves, so to say.

Still, some of my favourite problems were fun without defying or twisting the rules. Like this one, in which seemingly White can only capture Black rook, which means stalemate. Wrong. He can win.

4) White: Kb3, Rh3, pb2, pc2, pd2, pe2, pf3, pb6, pc7, Black: Ka8, Rf3, pb7. White to win.

I’ll end up this blog with a real gem: despite stalemate danger, once again White wins. There’s no monkey business, and yet…

5) White: Ke5, Bh7, pc5, pe6, pg5, pg6, Black: Kh8, pc7, pe7, pg7, pf5. White to win.
 

Solutions:

0) Stalemate in 10 moves: 1. e3 a5 2. Qh5 Ra6 3. Qxa5 h5 4. h4 Rah6 5. Qxc7 f6 6. Qxd7+ Kf7 7. Qxb7 Qd3 8. Qxb8 Qh7 9. Qxc8 Kg6 10. Qe6 ½-½

1) White undoes capturing black rook (Kg6xh5), Black undoes capturing White queen (Rh8xh5), Black castles kingside, White checkmates by Qh7ǂ.

2) White finishes kingside castling by moving his rook from h1 to f1.

3) White turns the chessboard 180°, so his pawns move in the other direction.

4) To avoid White Rh8ǂ, Black cannot refrain from checking White. Contrarily, White doesn’t want to take the Black rook as that would only achieve a draw through stalemate. Thus, White begins by offering Black two of his pawns:
1. e3 Rxe3+ 2. c3 Rxc3+
then starts running in front of Black in a zigzag fashion:
3. Ka2 Ra3+ 4. Kb1 Ra1+ 5. Kc2 Rc1+ 6. Kd3 Rc3+ 7. Ke2 Re3+ 8. Kf1 Re1+ 9. Kg2 Rg1+ 10. Kf3
This way White forces Black to take a third pawn, thus giving White rook horizontal play, and begins to zigzag back
10. … Rxg3+ 11. Ke2 Re3+ 12. Kd1 Re1+ 13. Kc2 Rc1+ 14. Kb3 Rc3+ 15. Ka2
Black checks once more and White checkmates taking his rook.
15. … Ra3+ 16. Rxa3ǂ

5) White to win: The clue to this situation is that Black’s last move must have been f7-f5. Consequently, White captures en passant:
1. g5xf6 e.p.
Black now has three options, yet all of them losing:
(1) 1. … c6
White takes care to avoid a stalemate after 2. f7. Instead he changes pawns 2. fxg7+ Kxg7 3. Kd4 and as Black cannot leave the f-file because of White’s g7 – g8Q threat, White king casually travels via the a-file to capture Black’s pawn and make a queen out of his one on the c-file.
(2) 1. … exf6+
White merely sidesteps 2. Kd4 safe in the knowledge that in two moves he checkmates whatever Black does: 3. e7 4. e8Qǂ (or, indeed, e8Rǂ)
(3) 1. … gxf6+
This is the trickiest possibility for White, but he moves his king 2. Kd5 and has enough time to either return for capturing of the black f-pawn if it moves to f5 prematurely, eg 2. … Kg7 3. Kc6 f5 4. Kd5 Kf6 5. g7 5. … Kxg7 6. Bxf5 etc, or to take Black’s c-pawn and promote his own sooner than Black can promote his f-pawn, eg 2. … Kg7 3. Kc6 Kh8 4. Kxc7 f5 5. Kd7 f4 6. c6 f3 7. c7 f2 8. c8Q+ 8. … Kg7 9. Qg8+ Kf6 (or Kh6) 10. Qf8+ and White captures the Black pawn on 2nd rank in the next move. The rest is a piece of piss.

 

Facebook

I suppose I’m spending most of my leisure time on the Net, but I’m not on Facebook and I don’t mean to ever be if I can help it. Several of my friends are and a few even send me invitations, but I always declined. I have good reasons why I don’t like it – or at least, reasons good enough for me.

For one thing, I detest being told that first of all I have to create my own account. In effect I would be buying a pig in a poke, and so far I’ve seen no indication there might be something on offer worth taking the risk. It has nothing to do with privacy. It stinks to high heaven of commercialism. Whatever they say, I can’t believe they don’t use your data for advertisement purposes.

Secondly, what can they offer that can’t be get elsewhere? Contacting your friends? There are emails, there’s Skype, ICQ… Blogging? Blogger, LiveJournal… Photos? Flickr, possibly others. Music or videos? YouTube. And so forth. On Facebook you can find all that in one place? Maybe. You can also find all kinds of merchandise in a single hypermarket. They offer just about everything – and just about everything in mediocre diversity and/or quality. Good for you if you’re the McDonald’s type. I’m not.

Furthermore, according to Alexa, Facebook is the second most visited place on the Web, just behind Google. Which again makes one think about analogies with hypermarkets. Or Microsoft, for that matter. If you’re as paranoid as me, even about the possibilities of brainwashing and crowd manipulation this provides.

Just as importantly, for all the time I spend online, I only have so much of it. I’m (almost) always glad when one of my friends sends me an email, but I’m buggered if I’m going to follow every post that even my best friends feel like making. I do follow a few blogs, but blogs (like emails) usually take some thinking to write, they’re not just a shout accomplished within a couple of minutes on the spur of the moment. (Your guess is right: it’s easier to get in touch with me by texting than by ringing me up and my friends know it.)

All that said, I absolutely believe lots of people enjoy Facebook and I see no reason why they shouldn’t. Then again, lots of people enjoy soccer, soap opera, tabloids, mainstream music radios, &c, &c… I’m sure I wish them the enjoyment with all my heart. But there’s nothing in it for me.
 

ETA, 29/1/11: I’m no admirer of Julien Assange either, but I came across this and couldn’t supress a wry grin.