Evil Empire II – the sequel

Alan Sullivan says:

Robert Spencer has written a book to challenge conventional views of Islam. He contends that the jihadists have interpreted their tradition correctly. It is the ‘religion of peace’ apologists who promulgate a heresy. The Islam of Osama bin Laden is quite authentic. I wonder if the American President realizes this, but attempts to conjure a milder version of Islam by promoting a fraud, or whether he’s simply clueless. The latter, I fear.

I have various problems with this. Firstly I have a general uneasiness about people who proffer opinions about the ‘correct’ form of religions which they themselves are not members of. This isn’t out of some kind of cultural relativism; I just think it’s dishonest for George Bush, or Tony Blair, or, I assume, Robert Spencer, to claim to identify the true nature of Islam when they presumably believe that Muhammed was a false prophet and that all forms of Islam are, fundamentally, false. I certainly feel that for myself; as an atheist I’m not about to offer an opinion about the ‘true’ version of Christianity, or Islam, or Hinduism – what the hell would it mean?

Islamic cultures have varied considerably from place to place and over the 1400 years of its existence. Theological interpretations have also varied. I have strong opinions about some kinds of society and behaviour being preferable to others, and for that reason I would look favourably on any strands of Islam that tend to fit with my views; but I’m not about argue the case in terms of Islamic theology. It would be intellectually dishonest and, I should think, counter-productive. If you can persuade people of the moral case, they’ll find ways to adapt the religion to fit. That’s what Christianity has always done.

I’m especially uneasy with the use of terms like ‘heresy’. I can see no reason at all to start using the language of fundamentalists and arguing on their terms.

I also don’t see what the advantage is of branding Islam as some kind of evil ideology fundamentally opposed to the Western way of life. It’s not a polticial system like Nazism, with a single leader and administration that can be conquered, or even a broader ideology like communism which is the product of a recent historical moment and which can easily(!) be replaced by a new political structure; it’s a centuries-old religion which is a deeply-held part of the identity of what, 1.5 billion people? What are you going to do to combat that – invest in missionaries? As far as I can tell, the only advantage to be gained by demonising Islam is that, by dehumanising Muslims, you make it easier to blow them up. But again, are you going to blow up all 1.5 billion, in an attempt to exterminate the religion from the surface of the earth? Obviously you can start with the most threatening states, like Iran, and pick off the Islamic world one country at a time, but I can’t help feeling that all the other Islamic countries would start getting pretty peeved pretty quickly, and you might find it rapidly got harder to keep the situation under control.

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napowrimo sitrep

I’ve decided to try to get to thirty poems, but loosen the time constraints. Just FYI.

Spain Bird List

I’ve divided the list into not-very-taxonomically-coherent chunks to make it easier to read.

Little Grebe
Great-crested Grebe
?Mediterranean Shearwater

Little Bittern
Cattle Egret
Squacco Heron
Little Egret
Grey Heron
Purple Heron

White Stork
Glossy Ibis

Greylag Goose
Red-crested Pochard

Griffon Vulture
Short-toed Eagle
Booted Eagle
Black Kite
Marsh Harrier
Lesser Kestrel

Red-legged Partridge
Purple Swamphen

Black-winged Stilt
Collared Pratincole
Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Grey Plover
Curlew Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Black-tailed Godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit

Black-headed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Audouin’s Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Little Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Royal Tern (!!)
Whiskered Tern

Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Great Spotted Cuckoo
Little Owl
Pallid Swift
Ring-necked Parakeet
?Blue-crowned Parakeet

Crested Lark
Calandra Lark
Sand Martin
House Martin
Tawny Pipit
White Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail

Garden Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Dartford Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Zitting Cisticola
Savi’s Warbler
Cetti’s Warbler
Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
Melodious Warbler

Spotted Flycatcher
Pied Flycatcher
Great Tit
Blue Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Short-toed Treecreeper

Woodchat Shrike
Azure-winged Magpie
Carrion Crow

Spotless Starling
Golden Oriole (heard)
House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Corn Bunting


Nintendo have announced that their new games console, referred to previously as the ‘Revolution’, is actually going to be called the ‘Wii’. Personally I think that ‘Revolution’ was a fucking awful name – or at least a leadenly literal-minded and unimaginative one. I can’t quite decide about ‘Wii’, although it does make a good logo:

I think it’s a good thing that it’s neither too techy-sounding or too macho, but it may have strayed too far into Hello Kitty territory. Nintendo are keen on the association with ‘we’, but I’m not sure that makes up for the associations with small Scottish things and urine. If they were going to go for a clean, modern sounding monosyllable, how about Kii? Or something.

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poetry madness

Taking out a copy of his grandfather’s Varsity Rag album, he mixed Death in Leamington into the Josh Wink dance hit Higher State of Consciousness.

You couldn’t make it up. A mind-boggling article about John Betjemen in the Guardian.

#22 – ‘the little screen’

On the little screen
that shows the progress of the flight
Europe is a blob of green
between the beige and blue and white.

Sand and sea and snow,
expanses that once defined
the limits of the known,
the limits of the mind.

We no longer need to wonder
at the unfamiliar;
the wild places just pass under
while we drink our cans of beer.

Figgy Dowdy, Sussex Pond Pudding and English food

I got back to England to find, appropriately enough, that some food blogs, English or otherwise, celebrated St George’s Day (Apr 23rd) by cooking English puddings, cakes, biscuits and other sugariness.

Why British food has such a bad reputation, and whether it’s deserved, is a question for another day. One kind of British food that has always been easy to defend is the baking; and one of the nice things about it is that it seems to be a genuinely popular tradition. Despite the good work done by Tea Shoppes in the Lake District, to a large extent, the cake-making tradition of Bakewell tarts, fruit cakes, tea cakes, spice cakes, lemon drizzle cakes, oatmeal biscuits [etc etc] is passed on through local charity cake sales and coffee mornings. I almost feel moved to make some parkin. Mmmm, parkin.

Another British tradition that is perhaps less lively is the steamed suet pudding. And yes, that is indeed a dessert made with beef fat and steamed. With central heating, we just don’t have the same appetite for piles of calorific stodge any more. But excitingly, two food bloggers tried particularly noteworthy steamed puddings: Sussex Pond Pudding (which I’ve wanted to try for some time) and Figgy-dowdy (particularly vital reading for fans of the Patrick O’Brian novels). Both of those bloggers do a far better job of explaining the dishes than I could.

A round-up of other entries can be found at Becks & Posh.

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#21 – ‘Too much espresso…’

Too much espresso
on an empty stomach.
I’d almost forgotten what it’s like;
the jitteriness, the edges of the world exaggerated,
so each lamp-post is a monolith
against the sky.

How wise he was,
that Ethiopian goatherd who, seeing
that the berries of a certain bush
had made his flock
go wild-eyed and nervous,
decided he should try them.

He understood that sometimes, people need
to be uneasy in their skulls,
to whet their senses until
they can almost see
all Plato’s demons in the walls.

#20 – ‘extreme sports videos…’

Extreme sports videos
are always better with the sound turned off:
a restless arrangement of white and blue.
And at the centre, a twisting figure
fighting to find the simple path
through chaos.

Now three days behind. Oh well.


I love the fact my camera has a macro mode. There’s something very satisfying about getting really close to things and taking pics of them.

The sand dunes are just covered in flowers – vetchy type things in scarlet, spikes of ghostly broomrape, mesembryanthemums, pink thistles, big daisies, all sorts of things in all shapes and colours.


One of the minor joys of the brave new electronic age is the ease of buying the UK papers abroad. Not because I desperately want to keep up with the British news – I mean, really, whatever the fuck David Cameron has just said about the NHS can wait a couple of weeks, by which time everyone will have forgotten about it anyway – but because it’s nice to be able to sit in a cafe somewhere with a caffe solo and read the paper. I suspect that’s the key truth for anyone wanting to run a newspaper; no one is buying it to learn what’s happening in the world. We have TV, radio and internet for that. What we want is something that will keep us occupied, entertained, and very gently stimulated for about three-quarters of an hour. In the long run, incredible ground-breaking scoops that shake governments are less important to your circulation figures than a good crossword and some mildly amusing columnists.

None of which offers much incentive for journalists to do the useful job of keeping politicians on their toes.

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#19 – kitty ditty

How did I get two days behind? Oh well.

Kitty Ditty

Kitten pie, kitten pie,
it makes me sad, I don’t know why;
perhaps because their lives were brief;
perhaps the fur caught in my teeth.

Whales watched.

The whales behaved very prettily – a group of Long-finned Pilot Whales came over and swam around the boat so we could see them. Also Common Dolphin and Striped Dolphin. They saw the first Sperm Whale of the season yesterday, apparently, but no such luck for us.

Also saw what I’m pretty sure must have been a pair of Balearic Shearwaters – the proportions seem wrong for Cory’s and the pale underside wasn’t that striking – but not being familiar with either species and only seeing them fleetingly, I don’t know if I can count it.


I’ve booked a whale-watching trip for tomorrow. I suspect this means a few dolphins and a pilot whale if you’re lucky, rather than enormous skeins of sperm whales stretching as far as the eye can see. But I figure it will also be a good way to see some pelagic birds – skuas, shearwaters, petrels and suchlike. It certainly seems worth a punt.

I am slightly worried that the famous local windiness will result in a trip mostly memorable for the vomiting, but hey-ho, the wind and the rain.

#18 – Tarifa


It seems like this should be
one of the great myth-places of the world;
where the churning grey of the Atlantic meets
the winedark Mediterranean,
where Europe extends towards
an Africa which seems so close
that Jesus could lean out across the Strait
and share a manly handshake
with Muhammed.

It’s not, of course. It’s just
a windy beach resort
where sunburnt men in flipflops
drink caipirinhas and discuss the surf.

Cultural geography is not so literal-minded.
Europe can as easily meet
Africa in the plantations of Jamaica,
or Islam in a tunnel under London.

Perhaps a landscape should not mean, but be;
a curve of bluegreen water
breaking against the beach,
thistles flowering on the sand dunes.


I’m in Tarifa. Tarifa is the southernmost point in Europe – or at least the point closest to Africa or something – which is why I’m here. Migration. Huge flocks of raptors flying across the straits on their way north. Theoretically. It’s also the kite-surfing capital of Europe, so if I suddenly get the urge to get a tattoo or a pair of baggy shorts, I’m in the right place.

The kite-surfing thing is because of the wind system created by the meeting of the Med and the Atlantic. So I may also end up a bit sand-blasted.

#17 – ‘The mysterious…’

The mysterious translucence of candied peel
is a proof of the existence of God.
Stained glass just does the same thing,
See also: rainbows, sunsets,
and backlit copper beech trees
in the spring.

#16 – a bit of Lorca. Sorta.

This requires a note of explanation. I thought I’d have a go at doing a version of one of Lorca’s Sonnets of Dark Love that maintained the form. I only managed the first quatrain, but it looks enough like a stand-alone poem that it’ll do. The poem this is taken from is much more interesting than my slightly wishy-washy rendering of the first four lines would suggest, but hey-ho. The Spanish for translate is ‘traducir’ and I can’t help feeling I’ve traduced a bit here, but never mind, he’s been dead for 70 years, so it can’t do him much harm.

I must not lose the mystery
of the polished stone of your eyes,
or the mark that is left upon me
by the rose of your midnight sighs.

Lorca is definitely worth reading; I was particularly struck by the Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías, of what I’ve read so far.

#15 – ‘Poetry is a prestidigitation…’

Poetry is a prestidigitation
of the tongue;
wordy gesticulation
designed to misdirect,
distract, deceive
and help the audience believe
you really do have nothing up your sleeve;
to make it clear
an elephant can disappear,
a rabbit can become a bunch of flowers
and a rose can be
death, or purity,
or love,
or all of the above.

#14 – a skipping rhyme

A Skipping Rhyme

These are the end times
how do I know?
Three little birdies
told me so.
‘Death’ said the robin
‘Famine’ said the wren
‘Plague’ said the sparrow
and just then
who came along
but old Jack Daw
and all four together said
‘War! War! War!’


5 6 7
8 9 10
back to the start
and go again

#13 – a poet’s lament

A Poet’s Lament

I should try to write something good
instead of all this froth;
I should search out some inner flame
then find my inner moth.


I actually came in to check my email, but for some reason this computer won’t let me access it. Some stupid security setup I expect. So I’ll anecdotalise instead.

I went into a restaurant for lunch today – Easter Sunday – and they were playing the ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ soundtrack on the stereo. Sly satire?