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What would Burns have done?

Monday, 8 September, 2014 0 Comments

Born in 1759 in Alloway, Robert Burns died in 1796 in Dumfries. Because of the Acts of Union of 1707, both places are now part of the United Kingdom. But for how long more? The national poet of Scotland savaged the Scottish aristocrats who had been bribed by the English to agree to that 1707 Union of Parliaments in “Such A Parcel of Rogues in A Nation“:

What force or guile could not subdue,
Thro’ many warlike ages,
Is wrought now by a coward few,
For hireling traitor’s wages.
The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour’s station;
But English gold has been our bane —
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

Despite this, Burns recognized that there were good sides to the Union, and he saw that an alliance of all the British peoples offered Scotland considerable advantages. He had his loyalist, royalist moments, too, and one imagines that today’s news from Clarence House would have pleased the man who penned “Does Haughty Gaul Invasion Threat:”

“… For never but by British hands
Maun British wrangs be righted!”
Burns was even prepared to toast the monarch:
The next in succession I’ll give you’s the King!
Whoe’er would betray him, on high may he swing!

The same poem contains the couplet: “O let us not, like snarling curs / In wrangling be divided.” Depending on how one reads Burns, and when, and where, he can be construed as an “Aye” and a “Nae”.

Meditation on the images of 9/11

Sunday, 7 September, 2014 0 Comments

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1996 was awarded to the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality.” Her meditation on the fate of those who plunged to their deaths from the burning Twin Towers on 9/11 ponders those unforgettable, searing “fragments of human reality.”

Photograph from September 11

They jumped from the burning floors —
one, two, a few more,
higher, lower.

The photograph halted them in life,
and now keeps them
above the earth toward the earth.

Each is still complete,
with a particular face
and blood well hidden.

There’s enough time
for hair to come loose,
for keys and coins
to fall from pockets.

They’re still within the air’s reach,
within the compass of places
that have just now opened.

I can do only two things for them—
describe this flight
and not add a last line.

Wislawa Szymborska (1923 — 2012)


Saturday, 6 September, 2014 0 Comments

Nice beats here by Spooky Black from St Paul. There’s lots more at SoundCloud. Fans of the American hip hop scene will be aware that in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Twin Cities played a significant role in the American hip hop scene with artists such as Atmosphere and Brother Ali.


Friday, 5 September, 2014 0 Comments

Rainy Day is now being powered by version 4.0 of WordPress, named “Benny” in honour of jazz clarinetist and bandleader Benny Goodman. Blurb: “Paste in a YouTube URL on a new line, and watch it magically become an embedded video. Now try it with a tweet. Oh yeah — embedding has become a visual experience. The editor shows a true preview of your embedded content, saving you time. We’ve expanded the services supported by default, too — you can embed videos from playlists from YouTube, and talks from TED.”

The best job?

Thursday, 4 September, 2014 1 Comment

A famous professor once said: “When I was an engineer I was happy once a month, when I got my paycheck. When I was teaching, I was unhappy once a month, when I got my paycheck.”

Putin’s peace plan

Wednesday, 3 September, 2014 1 Comment

“When I left Russia in 2006, I was exhausted by it,” says Oliver Bullough. Since then, he has recovered his energy and his analysis of the country’s murky workings is always refreshing to read. His pointed tweets on the peace plan produced today by Vladimir Putin are very funny.

Writing: a corrective to the curse of knowledge

Tuesday, 2 September, 2014 0 Comments

From How to write, by @OliverKamm in The Times (£) last week:

“The best piece of advice I’ve ever had on professional writing was from James Harding, then editor of The Times, when I joined as a leader writer in 2008. The big news story was the banking crisis. I knew the technical details very well and wrote many columns on the same subject. They weren’t very good.

James, having listened to me in the leader conference one day, urged me to write down what I’d just said — literally what I’d said and how I’d said it, instead of trying to affect a tone of gravity appropriate to the subject. Writing as if you’re having a conversation with someone who knows at least as much as you do, but different things, is a valuable corrective to the curse of knowledge. As a guide to writing, it’s more useful than following made-up rules about when to use less and fewer, or hanged and hung, and the rest of the pedants’ catechism.”

Typos suck

Monday, 1 September, 2014 2 Comments

“We can become blind to details because our brain is operating on instinct. By the time you proof read your own work, your brain already knows the destination.” So writes Nick Stockton in “What’s Up With That: Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos.” The reason it’s so hard to spot the errors, according to Stockton, “is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.” And that is what happened with the makers of this in-house publication in Aberdeen. Sometimes, we are unable to see what is before our eyes.


Seamus Heaney remembered

Sunday, 31 August, 2014 0 Comments

It’s been a year since the Irish poet Seamus Heaney died. His last text message to his wife was Noli timere — ‘Do not be afraid’. He made his publishing debut in 1966 with Death of a Naturalist, from which “Blackberry-Picking” is taken.


Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

Seamus Heaney (1939 — 2013)

Tina Dico

Saturday, 30 August, 2014 0 Comments

The superb singer-songwriter Tina Dico has just released her ninth album, Whispers. The recording also serves as the soundtrack of “En du elsker” (“Someone you love”) by Pernille Fischer Christensen. Great Danes.

Israel and the Kurds

Friday, 29 August, 2014 0 Comments

The complexities and the absurdities of the Middle East are such that the very admission of a relationship might terminate that same relationship. Consider this: “Kurds are apprehensive of the reaction of the Iraqi government and fellow Iraqi citizens who might label them as traitors while Israel is cautious not to embarrass them or to appear to be inciting Kurds against the Iraqi government. Practically speaking, both parties have been reluctant to admit the existence of any kind of relations.” So writes Ofra Bengio in the most recent issue of the Middle East Quarterly. Bengio is a senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University and the author of The Kurds of Iraq: Building a State within a State. For the Kurds, the Islamic State (IS) is now an existential threat, but whether this will see the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) seeking public support from Israel depends on the region’s countless variables. Bengio writes:

“Looking to the near future, it appears that relations between Israel and the Kurds are doomed to continue in the shadows. However, should the KRG declare independence, this might change the picture on both sides. Jerusalem might be one of the first governments to recognize Kurdistan as it was with South Sudan. A Kurdish state would in turn like to have Israel’s support. After all, besides the affinity between the two nations, they have common interests in the continued existence of each other.”