Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Inuit Panda Olympics Special

As you know, the Olympics are taking place at the moment, in Stratford in east London. That is a part of the world with a special association for me. I lived the first part of my life near there, and Stratford was where my father lived when his family emigrated to London. It was also where my uncle lived until his untimely death. So I have found the descent of the Olympics to there fascinating.

While I was in London over Easter I went on a tour of the Olympics site. The tour starts off at Bromley-By-Bow tube station, which is on a busy road in what feels like the middle of nowhere. Across from the station is a derelict commercial premises, reminding viewers of how depressed east London has become. The area is clearly in great need of rejuvenation, but whether the Olympics will bring any lasting redevelopment is of course another question.
Olympics Tour

The tour then brought us by an old mill house. It looks rather dinky, its rustic appearance at odds with the area's reputation for urban decay. Apparently it is the only listed building in the borough of Newham (or so I remember the tour guide saying, but surely that cannot really be the case?). At the time, the building was Danny Boyle's headquarters, in which he was planning the opening ceremony of the games. I did not drop in to give him a few pointers.
The Old Mill

We moved on through a park and then up beside the river Lea. Some have speculated that there may be a crocodile or monster living in the Lea, but this remains unverified. However, as we walked past a housing estate I saw (but did not photograph) a fox, prowling in broad daylight, and a prosperous looking cat.

And then, as we walked up the riverside path, the stadium came into view for the first time, as did the strange viewing platform beside it.
First view of the stadium.

After crossing a big road, we moved on down beside a canal - perhaps the very canal that David Beckham speeded down with the Olympic torch. By now something of a tour group logjam had developed. There was one, just ahead of us.
Tourgroup logjam #1
And then another, close behind.
Tourgroup logjam #2
That building with the crane will apparently be Europe's tallest apartment block when it is finished. I bet it currently serves as an anti-aircraft missile platform.

We soon came closer to the stadium itself, where there was still a lot of construction work going on. The place had a certain concentration camp quality to it.
Welcome to the Olympics

The path into the site is not a public right of way.
This is not a public path.

Eventually we climbed a ridge and had an unobstructed view of the stadium. It looked like a surreal addition to landscape. Or like something that had dropped out of the sky and landed there.
District 9

The viewing tower looked like some kind of demented rollercoaster. I understand, though, that the red scaffolding structures are purely decorative and are not tracks for vehicles. Which is a shame.
Viewing Tower

There was also an exhibition of art and stuff, as well as an appealing looking café in a converted container that we did not visit. Cafe

After that we strolled up to Stratford and had a look at the giant Westfield shopping centre there, a place so terrifying in its vastness that I failed to take any pictures of it.

Should you wish to look at the other pictures I took on my tour of the Olympic site, they start here.

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Latest Baby Bears in Danger Story


Baby bears are always getting into danger. Most recently, three cubs fell into a skip in Ruidoso, New Mexico. Their mother was unable to help them out. However, Shirley and Tom Schenk came to the rescue when they heard the baby bears crying out. They carefully reversed a pickup truck to the skip and lowered in a ladder, before quickly driving away. The bear cubs then climbed out and went away safely with their mother.

There is allegedly a new law in the USA requiring bins and skips to have special bear escape ladders built in, but this particular skip seems not to have been so equipped.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

A Pretty Flower

The BBC has an interesting article on the Rorschach Test by one Mike Drayton. As you know, this is a test done with symmetrical inkblots, where the subject is invited to say what they think the inkblot shows. The test was originally developed by Hermann Rorschach, hence the name.

In popular culture, when someone is shown a Rorschach blot, what they claim it represents is meant to say something about their personality. So, if they say a picture represents a man having sex with a headless donkey then they are obviously some kind of deranged perv, while if they say the picture represents some happy puppies and kittens playing together they are a well-balanced individual. What I found interesting about the article was Rorschach never thought the test could be used as a personality test. Most psychologists now apparently share that view. Rorschach himself used the blots as a test for schizophrenia, as he noticed that schizophrenic patients often had very strange interpretations of them – not that they saw violent or sexual imagery in them, but that they saw things there that the images could never represent to non-schizophrenics.

The writer of the article then goes on to talk about how he uses the blots in his work to encourage reflection and to start people thinking and talking about themselves. Although he does not mention them, this reminds me of my own interest in Tarot Cards – not for divination but as an aid to imagination and inspiration, a tool for connecting to the subconscious.
Read the whole article here. Or listen to Dr Drayton's radio programme on the subject (link from there).

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Rorschach blots

Thursday, July 26, 2012

More Public Notices

I mentioned the other day that some public notices have been appearing on the streets of Dublin. Here are two older ones that may or may not come from the same source. They are formatted a bit differently, notably lacking the header "Notice" or "Public Notice", so that it is not obvious that they are a notice. They also deviate from the previously mentioned examples in that they neither refer to the Irish constitution nor warn entities tha they are not mentioned in it. However, there is a certain similarity of tone that suggests at least the possibility of a shared origin.

First up we have this one, from the Euro Stability Thing referendum campaign, advancing the claim that the unelected European Commission makes Ireland's laws:
Lies
I am not sure that this is an accurate description of the EU legislative process.

Then there was this poster that also appeared during the referendum campaign:
12 Foot Lizards
Sadly, I did not make it to this public meeting, whose precise location was not specified.

If there are any further developments in this area, I will keep you posted.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

More issues of Before Watchmen

Nite Owl #1 by J. Michael Straczynski, Andy Kubert, and Joe Kubert
Ozymandias #1 by Len Wein and Jae Lee
Minutemen #2 by Darwyn Cooke

Danger, Danger, here be spoilers. Not spoilers to the Watchmen prequels, but to Watchmen itself. If you have never read Watchmen then don't waste your time reading about the prequels, get a copy of Watchmen and read that instead.

Yes, readers, three more issues of the widely hated prequels to Watchmen. Nite Owl seems to be primarily about dorky superhero Daniel Dreiberg, the second Nite Owl and one of the main Watchmen characters. It shows him at the point of taking over from Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl. He seems like an ironic version of a real life comics fan - whereas nerds now obsess about fictional superheroes, Dreiberg obsesses about real superheroes, in particular Nite Owl 1, seeking originally to become his sidekick and then carrying on his work when Mason retires.

In and of itself it is not unentertaining, but it is not really doing much more than pointlessly filling in Watchmen back-story. I did like how Mason is presented as being a bit more edgy than he is in the original Watchmen, with the Kuberts' art helping to make him feel like a more dangerous character. But I thought the straight lifting of a frame from Watchmen was a bit poor. Overall I would judge this title to be quite good, but I am not sure I will bother with #2.

Ozymandias presents itself as being Ozymandias recording his thoughts just before he triggers the climactic giant squid attack on New York. The framing device is something of a supervillain cliché/trope, but it does not really work for Ozymandias. His plan only works if no one finds out that he did it, so why would he record his thinking? That aside, the title is quite entertaining, mostly thanks to the art. It is sumptuous coloured work but has a stylised quality that stops it being merely pretty. The story is grand - part of it is rehash of the Watchmen stuff about Adrian Veidt travelling the world before he became Ozymandias, and then we have the now incredibly rich Veidt deciding to become a costumed crime fighter because his girlfriend dies of a drug overdose. That was a bit of a surprise - not so much the overdose, but the Veidt having a girlfriend, as I had come round to the idea that the character is meant to be homosexual (mainly based on the idea that he is a smart dresser and knows how to look after himself, unlike the other losers in Watchmen).

One thing that I find amusing about Ozymandias is that it is written by Len Wein. Wein was the original writer on Swamp Thing, the comic with which Alan Moore later made his US writing debut. Some people have objected to the Before Watchmen comics on the basis that it is just wrong for other creators to use the characters created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. As Moore had already taken over Wein's Swamp Thing, you could see this title as the favour being returned. Wein was also the editor on original Watchmen, so his involvement with these characters goes back a long way.

Again, though, there is the question of whether Ozymandias is doing anything other than providing an unneeded fleshing out of back-story already sketched in Watchmen. At the moment I would say probably not, but the art and feel of this are sufficiently strange that I will probably keep buying this one.

And then we come to #2 of Minutemen. The appearance of this issue annoyed me. Not because of anything contained in it, but because I wanted to read all the #1 issues of the Before Watchmen comics before having to think about which ones I wanted to keep buying, if any. But then this came out, before the first issues of Rorschach and Dr Manhattan. Bah. I bought it anyway. This continues to be an enjoyable read, set among characters who do not get too much of a look-in in real Watchmen, so you miss that annoying "yeah yeah I know all this" feeling. Instead we have the late 1930s heroes teaming up to fight crime and stuff. Only the team is being run to create favourable publicity for the heroes, ultimately as an income-generating project. Darwyn Cooke's vintage-themed art continues to be perfect for this kind of thing. The story is impressive too, particularly the later section where Nite Owl, Silhouette and Mothman investigate an unsavoury case of the kind that does not generate feel-good publicity.

I think of these three, Minutemen wins. It feels the most like something that has an independent existence from real Watchmen, even if it contains characters from it.

I should also mention the short Curse of the Crimson Corsair stories that appear in the back pages of each Before Watchmen title. They are two page episodes in an ongoing tale that is meant to be another of the pirate comics popular in the Watchmen world. They are drawn by John Higgins, original Watchmen colourist, and written by Len Wein. Back in the 1970s and earlier Wein would have been working on this kind of lurid fare, so this must be an amusing journey down memory-lane for him. I will need to read more of them before passing any real judgement on them.

More Before Watchmen chit chat coming soon… though not too soon, as I am skipping the second issues of Silk Spectre and Comedian.

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Nite Owl image source

Ozymandias image source


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bear Goes Shopping

Consternation ensued in a Pennsylvania shopping centre when a curious bear wandered into a department store. The somewhat dopey human shoppers initially failed to realise that they had been joined not by another person but by a young female black bear, but once they did they ran for their very lives. The bear, meanwhile, wandered around the shop for a bit before getting stuck between double doors. The bear was then tranquilised by wildlife officials and taken away, presumably to be released back into the wild, though the BBC article on this does not state this explicitly.

The BBC also has some footage of this incident, preceded by the usual annoying advertisement.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Public Notices

Someone has been posting up public notices in Dublin. They typically reveal that something this anonymous person does not approve of is not mentioned in the Constitution and so has no legal place in Irish society. First up he informed the Bar (by which I think the legal profession, particularly barristers, are meant) that there are no provisions for them in the Constitution and that they must leave henceforth.
Notice to all members of the BAR

Then it was revealed that income tax is also not mentioned in the Constitution, which means that you do not have to pay it if you do not want to. Notice
I think this may not be a standard interpretation of taxation law in this country. I would urge people to seek the advice of a legal professional before acting on this revelation, but as the legal profession have been sent their marching orders it is hard to know who to turn to.

Most recently this person has posted a public notice stating the text of Article 41.1.1 of the Constitution, which deals with the family. However, the text differs from the actual English-language text of that article.
Public Notice

I await further instructions.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Nicola Cox Memorial

Memorial to Nicola Cox
Just south of the Baggot Street bridge, on the west bank of the Grand Canal, there is a memorial to a woman called Nicola Cox. I discovered it by chance a while ago and have been fascinated by it ever since. I have taken a number of photographs and posted them on Flicker. You can see them here.

Nicola Cox memorial
Originally I had no idea who Nicola Cox was. I think other people may also have been perplexed, as I notice a lot of people coming to my pictures of the memorial after searching on Google for things like "Nicola Cox Canal" and the like. Two comments eventually provided some information. One said that the memorial had been created by a man called Paul, partner to the late Nicola Cox. Another comment was posted by Nicola Cox's brother, saying that she had met her end through unresolved foul play.

Wind Chimes
Nicola Cox has had a beautiful memorial created to her. My pictures do not really do it justice, so I encourage you to go and see it yourself. An otherworldly peacefulness to be had when looking at the decorations on the tree, listening to the sounds of the canal and the faint ringing of the wind chimes above.
Memorial to Nicola Cox

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Private Memoirs of Mademoiselle Bourienne

A thing people do sometimes is write novels where the main character is a minor character in another novel, usually one that is out of copyright, telling the story of that minor character. I suppose the most famous example of this might be Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (which is not a novel, but you get the idea). I wonder if you could do something similar with the likes of War and Peace, perhaps with someone like… Mademoiselle Bourienne.

As readers of Tolstoy's classic will recall, the French Mlle Bourienne lives with Old Prince Bolkonsky and his daughter Marya and is described as the latter's companion for all that their relationship is rather fraught. She also seems to have no first name. Mlle Bourienne is a fairly minor character, painted rather unsympathetically as a coquette and a gold-digger whose behaviour towards Marya can be a bit nasty, whether it is trying to cop off with some shifty character who has come to propose to the wealthy Marya or, later, preventing Marya from having a true tête-à-tête with her brother's fiancée. And of course she later seems to shack up with the Old Prince and assist him in his cruel behaviour towards his daughter.

Still, now that I have reached the part of War and Peace where Napoleon is invading Russia, I have found myself thinking of how things must look from Mlle Bourienne's position. She is a Frenchwoman in a country that is becoming rabidly anti-French. She seems to have no independent means of support and is entirely dependent on the generosity of the Bolkonskys, in particular that of the Old Prince. Given how erratic he has become, she could find herself cast out into destitution at any moment. I wonder, therefore, could you write an interesting book from her point of view? It could focus on her precarious life and her ever-present fear of finding herself without a roof over her head.

A first person narrative might work well for such a book, particularly if you made Mlle Bourienne a self-serving and not-entirely reliable narrator. She might be at pains to make her actions seem more honourable than Tolstoy does. So, perhaps, her dalliance with the shifty Anatole Kuragin was designed so that Marya would discover it and be spared the horror of marriage into that sinister clan. Her apparent taking up with the Old Prince becomes not the action of a gold digger, but an abusive relationship forced on a vulnerable woman, with her subsequent actions towards Marya being forced on her by the sadistic Old Prince.

I am not sure how this could develop. With War and Peace little over half way through, it is not yet clear how Mlle Bourienne's story will play out. She might not even be in a position to write her memoirs by the time the book ends. We will see.

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Monday, July 09, 2012

His very meat was polluted: the death of Sulla

"Notwithstanding this marriage, he kept company with actresses, musicians, and dancers, drinking with them on couches night and day. […] By these courses he encouraged a disease which had begun from some unimportant cause; and for a long time he failed to observe that his bowels were ulcerated, till at length the corrupted flesh broke out into lice. Many were employed day and night in destroying them, but the work so multiplied under their hands, that not only his clothes, baths, basins, but his very meat was polluted with that flux and contagion, they came swarming out in such numbers. He went frequently by day into the bath to scour and cleanse his body, but all in vain; the evil generated too rapidly and too abundantly for any ablutions to overcome it. […]

"However, he could not refrain from intermeddling in public affairs. […] And the very day before his end, it being told to him that the magistrate Granius deferred the payment of a public debt, in expectation of his death, he sent for him to his house, and placing his attendants about him, caused him to be strangled; but through the straining of his voice and body, the imposthume breaking, he lost a great quantity of blood. Upon this, his strength failing him, after spending a troublesome night, he died, leaving behind him two young children by Metella".

- Plutarch, translated by John Dryden

image source

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Friday, July 06, 2012

INVASION OF THE SLUGS

Britain is in the midst of an invasion – an invasion of SLUGS. Not just any slugs, but Spanish Stealth Slugs. You think the ordinary British and Irish slug is bad, but wait till you see the Spanish Stealth Slug. These slimy horrors are bigger than the British slug. And they reproduce quicker too. So although they are just a small colony now, it is only a matter of time before we are up to our necks… in slugs.

Scientists are urging people not to panic and denying rumours that these squamous horrors can suck the flesh off a human body in a matter of minutes. "There is no need to panic", claimed a government source, speaking anonymously from a highly fortified compound in the Shetland Islands.
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Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Lost Dog and Owner Reunited by Twitter

Staff at Pearse Station in Dublin were astonished when a train arrived in at 8.00 am and discharged some early commuters – and a Jack Russell dog. The station workers took a photo of the little dog and posted on the popular social networking website Twitter. While waiting in hope for his photograph to make its way to the dog’s owner, the little fellow was able to stay in the station office where he proved to be "very friendly" and was given the nickname Checkerby the Iarnród Éireann staff. They were apparenty thinking of offering him a job.

After being re-tweeted some 500 times, the little Jack Russell’s photo was seen by his owner, Ms Deirdre Anglin, who was herself posting photos of him on Facebook. She came in to collect the wayward canine, whose name is Patch. As she was bringing him home on the train, people apparently kept asking if he was the dog from Twitter.

Patch thanked all the nice people in Iarnród Éireann and commented that he had had the best day of his life. He has also started his own Twitter account.

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Sunday, July 01, 2012

New Honours for Uggie

Clever dog Uggie, the star of The Artist has been honoured by having his paws imprinted in the cement outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. He is the first dog to receive this accolade. The occasion marked Uggie's retirement from the world of film making; the ten year old Jack Russell suffers from a neurological disorder that makes acting difficult for him. He hopes to continue appearing at charity events.

Uggie met another dog at the event - one of the many who have played Lassie over the years. Lassie advised Uggie on the fickle nature of fame.

Footage of Uggie at the Grauman Theatre (with mandatory ad for beer)

And if you have never seen it, here is Uggie visiting the Guardian newspaper earlier this year.

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