Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I Haven't Felt This Way Since "Funky Town"! (X)

I first heard Tim Buckley's Happy/Sad album over ten years ago in England, on a winter's night not unlike this one. While I dislike the second side intensely, the first side, featuring 'Strange Feeling', 'Buzzin' Fly' and the following song, captivated me immediately, and a decade later, still do. For me, the following song is the purest, most haunting, musical poetry, and I don't feel like saying anything else about it. Enjoy...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Wexford Sights (VI): Hoarfrost

As the roads around my house were too dangerous to drive on this morning, I was unable to go to work and was thus at something of a loss. As I stood outside the door of our shed, watching the sun rise on this, the shortest day of the year (and from tomorrow on it's acceptable to say that there's a grand stretch in the evening!), I noticed that the top of the old wooden fence that separates our house from the field behind us was covered in a fine topping of hoarfrost that glittered in the early morning light. Not wishing to waste an opportunity, I ran indoors and grabbed the camera. What fascinated me was the way that the lines of frost followed the grain and irregularities in the wood, creating an eye out of knotted whorl and a delicate coconut bonbon out of an exposed nail-head. Underneath is the nail-head in the third photo above, after the frost had melted in the weak light of the sun, and hoarfrost in the undergrowth behind our house.

And while we're at it, seeing as we're looking at photos of ice (and as an icy fog is descending on Wexford even as I type this), here's a rather challenging piece of piano music by an underrated Russian composer:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Wexford Sights (V): Sunsets in December

It may be bitterly cold here in County Wexford (by local standards, of course; when it drops to below +5C here in Ireland, we complain furiously about the chill in a temperature that probably would barely register with the average Scandanavian) but the sunsets recently have been breathtakingly beautiful. Of course, it's so difficult to capture a sunset in a photograph, but here are my attempts (taken on Tinaberna and Ballinesker strands). Such glory (the sunsets, not the photographs) is a welcome distraction from the sickening story from Listowel that has dominated headlines here in Ireland (see here and here for more details). And finally, here's a picture of our faithful hound being his usual demented self!
And here's a piece of music I quite like:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

It's An Odd Boy Who Doesn't Like Sport!

The whole noisy controversy surrounding the recent France vs Ireland match, which has certain excitable types on the web and beyond worked up into a veritable frenzy, puts me in the mind of the whole sweaty, repetitive, tracksuit-wearing topic of exercise. Not that I care about the result of the match – I’ve never had the slightest interest in soccer and the weird tribal activity that surrounds it – but this week sees me starting an exercise regime in our local gym and I felt that, in addition to providing a contemporaneous opening to my little article, it demonstrates the total indifference towards sport that has coloured my perception of exercise since my teenage years, and which has left me the physically feeble and puny specimen that I am today. My energy levels are so low that it is affecting my work, and seeing as I have no underlying health problems that could otherwise explain my lassitude, I’ve come to the conclusion that twenty-plus years taking no serious exercise have left me as weak as a rotten twig. This must change. Above pictured is the Egg digging his small vegetable patch, a little garden of plenty to keep all at Chez Doubtful fed next year (for at least a day or two, anyway), the sort of physical activity which, like exercise, has been foreign to me until recently. But no more, as I have transformed from the kind of indolent aesthete who disdains any activity which doesn’t have a fluffy, delicate pastry at the end of it, to a weight-lifting, jogging, sweating, “feel-the-burn” type of keep-fit enthusiast that would bring Charles Baudelaire out in a rash by his very presence.
You know, in school, those guys who are always picked last when teams are being selected for football (or whatever)? That was me, back in my teens (and the end of every year is a celebration for me as it is 365 days further away from secondary school). I was small, frail, wore glasses, read science fiction, and couldn’t see why the hairy hell I should be interested in charging around a muddy field after a ball while some stubbly, hungover adult with a grubby tracksuit and a whistle shouted at me. Doing it was pointless and uncomfortable, while watching other people do it was tedious in the extreme. I also hated the whole competitive aspect of sport; in any match that I did end up watching, I would always take the side of whichever team happened to be losing, and I always felt sorry for whoever didn’t win in the end. So once I shook the dust of my school off my heels, burned my uniform, and flung myself into the boozy, badly dressed, bearded, anarchic world of art college, the part of my time devoted to physical exercise (never that large even in school) shrank down to a tiny point and imploded. And this remained the state of affairs for nearly two decades.
Of course, the side effect of this neglect of the body was a conspicuous lack of energy. My endurance was pitiful, my physical strength laughable, and work colleagues found it hilarious that the most frequently uttered phrase on my lips was “I’m tired!” But my contempt for exercise was such that it never occurred to me that this could aid me in increasing my vitality; besides, working as a waiter kept me on my feet, and cycling around the town no doubt gave me the bare minimum of aerobic exercise needed to prevent total collapse (I am also blessed with a naturally slim physique, so I rarely put on weight). However, as I proceeded into my thirties, and especially once I fled, laughing, the by-then tiresome world of catering, this disregard for my body’s condition began to take its toll on my constitution, and certainly within the last two years it has combined with anxiety and depression to seriously affect both my work and my life. When I read accounts of other people’s lives, I marvel both at their achievements and at their energy, and I began to seriously ask myself: why can I not maintain such a work rate? Why do I get headaches and exhaustion after the slightest exertion? I went to several fine physicians, who prodded me and bled me and gazed knowledgably at various fluids that I produced; they concluded that, slightly high cholesterol aside, I’m as healthy as a well-fed flea. But the real shock was when I went to the gym in a nearby town and did a fitness test, which revealed that I am (unsurprisingly) grossly, even dangerously, unfit; testing my lung capacity, they pointed out that 80-year-old men could do better than I. This clearly cannot stand!
The reason I went to a gym is because exercise is a tricky thing to do down the country. Communal sports (like football) are impossible, as I hate the competitive, tribal behaviour that accompanies them and my endurance is such that I wouldn’t last ten minutes in such a fast-paced environment. Jogging is both excruciatingly boring and hard to do safely, as well as being conditional on the weather; the torrential rains we’ve seen recently add little to the experience. Cycling, which I’ve always enjoyed, is too dangerous on Irish country roads; one quite literally takes one’s life into one’s hands amid the tyre-bursting potholes, hurtling lorries, and careless speed-freak drivers. Besides, for someone as unfit as I, a trained assessment of my capabilities and limitations was necessary before embarking on any life-changing courses of action; I could just picture jogging for six months on the nearby beach and due to my appalling jogging techniques, my kneecaps one day exploding off my legs like mortar shells and greviously injured a passing walker. And so, finally, after several years of prevarication and dawdling, I began my set programme of cardio-vascular exercises, weights, and stretches, which should, in a few months, have me on the road to full fitness, increased vitality, and the ability to crush bowling balls to powder between my thighs (one never knows when that skill could come in handy!). So, as this is my absolute priority for the next few months, I hope y’all wish me luck. And, after two sessions this week, my first response is: “Damn, I’m knackered!” My feeling about sport hasn’t changed, of course, and here’s a song I particularly like on the subject:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wexford Sights (IV)

I've not been writing much recently, due to personal circumstances, so here's a few photographs of a small river near a hydroelectrical station, taken on a forest walk near Castlebridge in Wexford. Some were taken with a long exposure, which I feel captures the velocity and force of the water, which I have rarely seen as turbulent as it was today, due to the extraordinarily heavy rainfall we've had recently. Of the photos below, the top is a delightful (and accidental) shot of my partner's parents' new puppy, and the bottom is of a dead fox washed up on a beach near me. I could make a point about this, life and death and all that folderol, but I'm too tired... (A Doubtful Egg apologises for being such a sour old git, and promises that, once my new regime of healthy exercise (a first for me) and proper eating begins to pay off in terms of both more energy and a sunnier outlook on life, posts here and over at the neglected "... crumpling paper ..." blog will contain more substance and entertainment.)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The NAMA Vote

Seeing as NAMA is one of the most important (and grotesque) pieces of legislation to appear before our Dail, I think it's important to make a list of those who weren't able to make the time to be present to vote, a list I haven't yet seen anywhere else (at the time of writing; if it does exist, please let me know, and do likewise if I've made any mistakes, so I can make the necessary correction).
On the government side, Martin Cullen (FF), Beverley Flynn (FF), Jim McDaid (FF) and Michael Moynihan (FF) didn't vote, nor did Noel Grealish (PD) or Finian McGrath (Independent). All the Green Party were present, and voted in favour.
On the opposition side there was a breathtaking 10 members absent from Fine Gael, including party leader Enda Kenny (!) and George "Economic Superstar" Lee. Other FG non-voters were Sean Barrett, Michael Creed, Lucinda Creighton, John Deasy, Olwyn Enright, Charles Flanagan, Olivia Mitchell, and Alan Shatter. Also missing were three members of Labour: Kathleen Lynch, Brian O'Shea, and Ruairi Quinn. All (four) members of Sinn Fein were present, and voted against. The Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk also didn't vote, but he's not supposed to unless there's a tie.
Those who voted in favour: 81.
Those who voted against: 65.
Those who were absent on the government side: 6.
Those who were absent on the opposition side: 13.
Ceann Comhairle: 1.
Total: 166.
The list of those who voted is here. The bill now goes to the President to be signed into law, and once that's done the real fun commences. And to get that unpleasant taste out of my mouth, here's a really enjoyable and entirely irrelevant pop song.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Two Songs

Where are protest pop songs (such as those presented below) today? Cthulhu knows we need them! (This isn't a rhetorical question, by the way; seeing as I'm hopelessly ignorant about a lot of contemporary pop and rock, I'm genuinely curious. The UB40 song is included because it might be the first politically aware pop song I ever heard.)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Very Belated Accompaniment

This time nearly a year ago I wrote a short piece about Sappho and walking in moonlight (here). I only wish that I had had the following photo (taken this evening on Morriscastle Strand) to illustrate it with back then, but better late than never. (I hope this displays properly on your computer; it's quite dark!)
Here's the same scene without the shadowy figure (my partner, who was very obliging about having to stand still quite a few times while I cursed and tried to get the shot right).

And finally, here's a jolly pumpkin in the window of Chez Doubtful! (I'm off to watch some more horror films now...)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

As It's Halloween...

Seeing as it's Halloween, and therefore everyone's blathering on about 'orror, I felt that I should stick my oar in and make a list of a few interesting films for the discerning fan of cinema's dark side. However, my definition of a good horror film is based on its power to unsettle or disturb me rather than by its ability to frighten me. After all, anyone can yell "boo!" in your face and make you jump; for me, the really good stuff gets under your skin and stays there, like a bad dream. This is why I found The Exorcist or The Silence of the Lambs laughable rather than terrifying; they were so overwrought, obvious, and just plain silly that these days I couldn't even sit through them. But the following ten films have a real sense of flair and imagination, a genuine brush with the downright eerie and disturbing, and/or a nightmarish descent into the dark depths of the soul, and are highly recommended for those who haven't yet seen them. And if you have seen them, why not watch them again? (These are just off the top of my head; this list could change as I rifle through my video collection!)
1) The Haunting (1963 version)
Definitely the best haunted house film ever made, and one of the spookiest, most intelligent horror films of all time (which was remade as a ludicrous atrocity by Jan de Bont in the 1990s; for shame!). 
2) Carnival of Souls (1962).
This is one of the oddest B-movie horror films from the era and a wonderfully imaginative, strange little film. Often touted as an influence on George Romero, but I can imagine that a certain D. Lynch was also paying attention when this little gem first appeared.
3) Night of the Living Dead (1968).
The original, and still one of the best, of the modern-era horror films, as well as being the best zombie film ever made. Thought-provoking, visceral, and with the most audacious endings in the genre. 
4) Deep Red (1975).
Everyone's favourite Italian madman/auteur, Dario Argento, has been off the boil for some time now (since the late seventies, many would say, and even then his ouevre was an acquired taste: lots of style and nightmarish imagery, but let down by terrible acting, preposterous plots, and gaps in logic excessive even for the seventies) but if you're only going to watch one, make it this one: a very weird and convoluted murder mystery with some extremely startling moments and a general atmosphere of twisted decadence. May be too grisly for some, though.
5) Vertigo (1958).
Some might argue against including this as a horror film; however, I've always seen Vertigo as a ghost story (which just happens to have no real ghost). Certainly, it has moments which are truly haunting, and is one of the bleakest, darkest, and most disturbing films I've seen. (It also makes no sense whatsoever...)
6) The Innocents (1961).
This film version of The Turn of the Screw scared the bejaysus out of me when I saw it one evening many years ago, and it ranks up there with The Haunting as one of the best ghost stories on film.
7) Witchfinder General (1968).
Michael Reeves' extraordinarily dark and pessimistic tale of nasty doings in the Cromwellian era remains the best film Hammer never made, and has the performance of a lifetime from Vincent Price (although I have a great fondness for the Corman Poe films as well).
8) Brain Dead (1992).
The ultimate zombie splatter comedy, with possibly the best line ever from a kung-fu priest ("I kick arse for the Lord!") and a no-holds-barred approach to zombie dismemberment that's both utterly revolting and totally hilarious. The best horror comedy since The Evil Dead II ("groovy!"). Strong stomachs are definitely required for this one!
9) Black Sunday/The Mask of Satan (1960).
A wonderfully filmed Gothic tale has atmosphere so ripe you could slice it with a cheese knife and serve it on crackers, and the deathly beautiful Barbara Steele. The other best film that Hammer never made...
10) King Kong (1933).
Need I say more? (The original Kong, like Frankenstein, might not be scary any more, but they're still the best monster films ever. And I hated the recent remake of Kong, which was three times as long and, despite 70 years' worth of special effects' advances, still lacked the charm and pathos of the original (insofar as that which can be possessed by a film about a giant gorilla). When 1933 Kong falls to his doom, I still get a lump in my throat; when 2005 Kong finally plunges to earth, I yell "About bloody time!" )
Having recently watched The Devil Rides Out, with a magnetic Christopher Lee fighting the forces of Satan, I'm keeping the horror vibe going by watching the little-known but recommended Night of the Eagle (from 1962, I think, and about witches) and The Haunted Palace with Vincent Price (based on Lovecraft's Charles Dexter Ward). Happy Halloween, y'all! And here's a suitable song and video:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Turning 100...

One hundred posts here at Chez Doubtful ... If you're in the mood for something interesting, please watch the following and see what you think (be warned that it's 18 minutes long). I think it's fascinating, and more information can be found here. (The Dailymotion video isn't as good as the one found at the link, but that video wouldn't embed properly, and the YouTube videos have an annoying habit of putting the title onscreen, thus spoiling any surprise.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Joy of Cooking for Zombies...

You know how it is. You've dined well, perhaps having quaffed a few glasses of ruddy plonk or a wee dram or two, and are sprawled out in front of the telly beside a roaring and horribly environmentally unfriendly fire (while more delicate users of English blanch at such an inelegant set of adjectives). You are at one with the world and radiating contentment like a Fianna Fail TD with a fat brown envelope. Then without warning comes an irregular pounding and scraping at the door, as of several hands beating and clawing its surface, accompanied by a low glottal grunting. A quick glance through the curtains confirms your worst suspicion. Once again, the shambling, brain-eating, ambulatory cadavers known as zombies are massing outside, with one instinct pulsing through their decomposed minds: to feast on your quivering and succulent brains. What to do? While the usual response in this situation is to hammer planks of wood across the windows, grab on to your trusty chainsaw, and once your defenses are breached you start lopping off limbs and heads like a psychotic topiarist on steroids. It's all very tiring, wears out the links on your chainsaw, and covers you with gory goo. A much better strategy, and one rarely seen in zombie films, is to offer the rotting horde a tasty and well-cooked dinner. And what better repast is there for the horrible creatures than Baked Brains and Eggs? Of course, you'll need a lot of frozen brains on standby, but these will defrost while the undead are vainly trying to figure how to break into the house. Here's the recipe (taken from 1931's stupendously exhaustive The Joy of Cooking, written by Irma S Rombauer. Suffice to say that if you ever come into the possession of a porcupine or a woodchuck, this book tells you how to cook 'em. More about the book here.)
1) Preheat oven to 350 (degrees Fahrenheit, I presumes).
2) Soak, skin and blanch two sets of brains (or however many you feel you need).
3) Cut into one-inch dice and place in four small greased casseroles.
4) Skin, seed and dice four tomatoes.
5) Combine the tomatoes with one and a half tbls of hot olive oil, one tsp chopped parsley, one tsp of chopped onion or chives, salt, paprika, and one tsp of brown sugar. 
6) Pour these ingredients into the casseroles.
7) Break into each one egg.
8) Bake for about eight minutes, or until the eggs are firm.
9) Melt and brown lightly one-quarter of a cup of butter and mix with two tsps of lemon juice. 10) Pour this mixture over the eggs.
11) Garnish with parsley.
12) Serve at once (not really a problem if the hungry dead are beating down your door!)
Of course, a huge plate of raw, steaming offal would probably satisfy the more crude and uncouth zombie (and any inebriated Irishmen who'd joined the horde by accident), but the beauty of this dish is that you can partake of it yourself if needs be (not that I've ever eaten brains, in black butter or served any other way). And, of course, while the dead are wolfing down their dinner and snarling at each other for grabbing the last tasty portion, you can heft your trusty pickaxe and bury it in the skulls of the awful creatures. It may not be the best manners to kill your guests while they're eating, but they are zombies!
And for something completely different, I'm not sure why I like this song (by a performer who I know nothing about) so much, but I can't seem to get it out of my head (and it has a very clever video).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An Outrage

This petition for Roman Polanski makes me want to vomit:

"We have learned the astonishing news of Roman Polanski’s arrest by the Swiss police on September 26th, upon arrival in Zurich (Switzerland) while on his way to a film festival where he was due to receive an award for his career in filmmaking. His arrest follows an American arrest warrant dating from 1978 against the filmmaker, in a case of morals. Filmmakers in France, in Europe, in the United States and around the world are dismayed by this decision. It seems inadmissible to them that an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, is used by the police to apprehend him. By their extraterritorial nature, film festivals the world over have always permitted works to be shown and for filmmakers to present them freely and safely, even when certain States opposed this. The arrest of Roman Polanski in a neutral country, where he assumed he could travel without hindrance, undermines this tradition: it opens the way for actions of which no one can know the effects. Roman Polanski is a French citizen, a renown and international artist now facing extradition. This extradition, if it takes place, will be heavy in consequences and will take away his freedom. Filmmakers, actors, producers and technicians—everyone involved in international filmmaking—want him to know that he has their support and friendship. On September 16th, 2009, Mr. Charles Rivkin, the US Ambassador to France, received French artists and intellectuals at the embassy. He presented to them the new Minister Counselor for Public Affairs at the embassy, Ms Judith Baroody. In perfect French she lauded the Franco-American friendship and recommended the development of cultural relations between our two countries."

Here are some of the non-French signatories: 

Woody Allen, Pedro Almodovar, Terry Gilliam, Martin Scorcese, David Lynch, Jonathan Demme, Tilda Swinton, John Landis, Michael Mann, Wong Kar Wai, and Wim Wenders.

The full list (of over 100) is here. Looks like a lot of filmmakers believe there's one law for the little people, and one for themselves... 
Update: I was wondering why the US had decided to arrest him now, then I read this. If you want your crimes to be forgotten, it might be unwise to have a sycophantic film made about them...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Them Bleedin' Cuss Words

[This post is rather long, and contains a lot of swear words, albeit used in a context of analysis (if you wish to call it that) rather than for shock value or any other reason. However, if these words offend you greatly, please avoid. None of the following is particularly original either, but the opinions are ones that I've been casually musing about for some time now. All comments, whether yea or nay, are welcome.]
I was in work recently and half-listening to two people nearby chatting about this and that, when I started to notice that one of them, a middle-aged guy, was swearing continuously. But not in a dramatic or emphatic fashion - he wasn't discussing a stirring event in his life - but used simply as pointless adjectives. "So I went down to the f****n shop to buy a f****n paper, right, and I met this f****n guy I knew..." and so on and so on. I found that it began to bother me, because it coloured his entire discourse with an ugliness which was both unpleasant to listen to and wholly extraneous. Of course, if I had said this, he probably would have retorted "What are you talking about?" (or, more likely, "What the f*** are you talking about?"). The following is my response (a rather excessive example of l'esprit d'escalier, methinks!).
I've been thinking a lot recently about language, and swearing in particular. Or whatever you want to call it: cursing, vulgar/foul/bad/coarse/obscene language, four-letter words, expletives, profanity, et cetera. Essentially, I mean words derived from bodily parts or functions that are unlikely to be used on children's TV or in a church sermon. Such words are commonplace in our society these days, and tend to proliferate in certain circles of the Irish bloggoverse like nettles. Some people dislike them, while others seem to feel that liberally peppering the stew of your speech with cuss words is part of what makes us Irish so wonderfully irreverent and cheeky. It's also tied up in class consciousness; the perception is, it can be argued, that swearing is associated with the working classes because they are coarse, badly educated, and vulgar (but also down-to-earth and unpretentious); while the middle and upper classes traditionally avoid swearing because they're prissy, snooty and repressed, and have Hyacinth Bouquet-style delusions of respectability. It seems to tie into this peculiar horror that so many Irish people have of being seen to be "above" yourself, and that being impolite, brusque and oafish (the Michael O'Leary School of Etiquette) means that you're somehow in touch with the common man and feel no need to put on "airs and graces". I once had an argument with an English English teacher (as in a woman from England who taught English) that the reason that a lot of Irish people swear so much (and we do!) is because they subconsciously wish to deform the language of their oppressors. I do swear myself on occasion, and used to quite frequently when I worked in catering, but then everyone did - it was a way of getting through the evening in a very pressurized and crowded environment. I try not to now, for reasons that I will go through anon.
Obviously, there are times when swearing is entirely understandable. For example, you are out in your dusty garden shed reaching for the shovel when you accidentally fall against the rickety leg of a overladen set of shelves, and the entire structure collapses, bombarding you with paint tins, bottles, boxes of nails, and other sundry junk before a two-litre drum of creosote you hadn't sealed properly bursts open and pours all over you like a tarry, glutinous shampoo. You stumble to your feet like an extra from Dawn of the Dead and lurch out the door of the shed, trip over the aforementioned shovel, and fall headlong on to your future mother-in-law's Pekinese, which has just trotted into your yard to alert you of the arrival of your fiancee's parents, who've held you in contempt ever since you fell in their door blind drunk one night and threw up on their expensive imported carpet. Glued to you by the creosote, the Pekinese begins to howl like the damned as you try to yank it off your person, and when you do finally dislodge the horrid brute it is with such violence that it hits your mother-in-law's gleamingly white and very expensive trouser-suit like a sticky and wailing cannonball. At this point, it is perfectly acceptable to exclaim: "Oh, bollocks!" However, I dislike excessive (or what you might call wallpaper) swearing for a number of reasons, and it especially bugs me when people write it down.
Let us first put to bed that curious notion, espoused by people who support excessive swearing as being wonderful in every way, that they're only words. This shows a fundamental (and self-serving) misunderstanding of language: words are never "just" words. Words represent real things, and can possess enormous power. If you doubt this, fly over to London and take the tube to Brixton, walk up to the nearest black guy in the street and ask directions to Coldharbour Lane, ending your request with the N-word. You will very quickly discover, as a large and angry mob forms around you, that words can get you injured or even killed. Or, for those not adept at outrunning an enraged mob, call your wife/girlfriend/partner a "c**t" or "b***h" casually, in conversation, and see if she minds (perhaps I'm out of touch with the kids of today, but it's my experience that a lot of women have a problem with these particular epithets if directed at them). Or, on a more highbrow level, I remember reading once that the poet and concentration-camp survivor Paul Celan never once used the German word for "race" (as in ethnicity rather than athletics) in any of his poetry, due to its associations with Nazi ideology. Words can be very powerful indeed, which is all the more reason to treat them with respect...
Part 3
Why do I have a problem with swearing? Firstly, swearing is essentially coarse; these words, derived from bodily functions, are designed to be rough and unpleasant to the ear. I never use the word "f***" in the sense of its proper meaning; I would always say "slept with" or just "was with". But in general I feel that both sex and the toilet, from which all swear words originate, are fundamentally private things that should only be discussed with your nearest and dearest (or a doctor if needs be). I'm definitely not a prude as regards bodily functions, which neither bother me nor interest me, but I certainly do not wish to have my attention drawn to those of others. Why should I? They are messy, noisome, and best kept out of sight (especially if you're one of these overfed oafs who boast about the size and effort involved in your bowel movements, as if it's an defining part of your masculinity). My partner was at Electric Picnic last year and was both surprised and disgusted by the amount of Irish guys who'd whip out the chap and urinate in public, often right in front of her. Her point was that it's unhygienic, thoughtless and ignorant. I believe this view is shared by a lot of people, especially women (who tend to be more circumspect in these matters for obvious reasons), so surely common courtesy (seemingly a foreign concept in this brutish land) should dictate that you try to avoid offending people's sensibilities needlessly. Of course, in the privacy of their own homes (or on their blogs) people can roar on all day and all night about what comes out of them, urinate in their kitchen floors, and frame their turds on the mantelpiece if they wish, but in public such behaviour (or discussion of it) is entirely unnecessary.
Secondly, it's more often than not entirely extraneous. I would also say that, for a lot of people, prefixing words with "f*****" has become a habit, in the same way that teenage girls use "like" ("I was so, like, annoyed with this guy, like..." (or whatever)). Most swear words that you hear in public are not being used to describe what they were intended to describe; when they are not being used abusively, they are used as a pointless substitute for other words, or as an entirely irrelevant form of garnish. "I was going down the f****** shops and I passed by this f****** s***hole of a f****** pub. The guy who owns it is a right c***" and so forth. What do these words add to this sentence? Nothing: they don't make it more colourful or exciting or dramatic, but they do make it uglier. And isn't the world ugly and brutish enough? Listen, if you will, to the following video.

I get very tired of Connolly's continuous use of the word "f***", primarily because his material is so weak that it comes across as a desperate attempt by a self-impressed but uninspired comedian to make himself sound edgy and outrageous. It comes across as forced, but once you notice how ugly it sounds, it becomes unbearable, primarily because it’s so unnecessary. The sense of his discourse would not change one iota if you simply tweezed all the swearing out. But swearing, in this instance, is also a way of showing how unconcerned you are with social mores; like smoking, getting wrecked on cider and drugs, and listening to the music of [fill in the blank] it's thumbing your nose at respectability, and demonstrating how much of a rebel you are. You're just another celeb now, Billy, so stop pretending you're an angry young man! "I might be rich and famous, and a pillar of the Establishment I once professed to despise, but deep down I'm still an anarchist at heart! Listen to how f***** irreverent I am!" But, crucially, in addition to being extraneous, it also adds a strong sense of aggression to his performance, one of the other things I dislike about swearing. If I can once again test your patience, watch the following Connolly video (back when he was a lot funnier):

I remember that at one stage I had a temperamental video player, which would most often act up when I'd fallen in from work in the middle of the night and wanted nothing more than to watch something I'd taped earlier to chill out. I'd pop the cassette into the machine, and it'd spit it out. I'd pop the cassette into the machine, and it'd spit it out. I'd pop the cassette into the machine, and it'd spit it out. I'd pop the cassette into the machine, and it'd spit it out. This could happen up to thirty times before it'd accept the tape. By this stage I was gibbering and screaming like a psychotic on steroids, shrieking foul-mouthed abuse at this infuriating piece of equipment. It was therapeutic, though, and better than breaking the bloody thing. However, as said before, it points to a key feature of swearing: it is often an accompaniment to heightened passions, especially aggression. If you watch a film like GoodFellas or Glengarry Glen Ross (the scene with Alec Baldwin in particular) it's clear how the non-stop swearing is a major factor in increasing the film's underlying sense of threat and anger, the way it is used as a non-physical form of violence. Watch the following, and see how the swearing increases the temperature of this rather odd scene:

But a problem arises when swearing is used continually, especially in writing. Not all swearing is meant aggressively, but without facial or other cues it can come across as unnecessarily belligerent and confrontational. This may be your intent - you may be a belligerent and confrontational person, whose idea of debate is shouting your opponent down with insults rather than dealing with the substance of their argument - but I certainly find it wearing. Too often "belligerent and confrontational" can mean "bullying and abusive"! I hate confrontation, dislike raising my voice, and view argument as a way of pleasantly discussing ideas rather than competitively scoring points off the other person. But swearing also has the effect of diminishing the power of anything serious that a person writes, by reducing the impression that they are in control of their emotions and transforming their argument into a rant. And I am so tired of reading rants! Some bloggers obviously believe that it makes them sound uncompromising and hard-hitting, that it adds to the force and immediacy of their writing, but I would argue that it does the opposite. A quiet, calm, controlled voice always carries more gravitas in an argument than the swearing ranter! Of course, as said earlier, the occasional swear word, judiciously inserted, can pack quite a punch, but an unremitting barrage just becomes tiresome. Brian Aldiss once compared horror to salt: wonderful as a seasoning, but indigestible as a banquet. The same applies to swearing, in my opinion. Unless you're the sort of person who believes that statements like "Brian Cowen is a fat c***" are the height of political satire, this kind of abusive, foul-mouthed "commentary as entertainment" (a phrase I heard on the radio recently) comes across as diatribes pandering to an immature audience rather than being the challenging, daring analysis their creators imagine them to be. And, as I said before, isn't the world ugly enough, that we should try and avoid making it uglier with our language?

At this stage one one may hear the phrase "freedom of speech" come looming into view. "Why shouldn't I be free to say whatever I want?" shouts the inveterate swearer. Well, bearing in mind that you're not free to say whatever you want - make a slur on a public figure without facts to back it up and m'learned friends will give you an expensive demonstration of this - there is also the question, as I said earlier, of simple courtesy. I'm not saying that people should be prohibited from swearing by law, but that in a public place the hoary old concept of respect for others should be exercised. In the same way that a person shouldn't play their stereo too loud in an apartment, because those living downstairs have a right to peace and quiet, so a thoughtful person shouldn't swear in public, because people who dislike swearing should not have to listen to it. Seeing as swearing is, as pointed out above, usually extraneous to conversation in any case, this shouldn't be too hard. In my case, I would never swear in front of strangers or children, and try to avoid using such language altogether unless the person I'm with approves of it. It's not prissy, or prudish, or repressed, nor am I embued with a "superstitious" fear of certain words. I just believe in good manners, in trying to use language properly, and I'm sorry to say that this is a concept upon which a lot of my countrymen (and women) seem to place no value.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Venting Some Spleen: Yet Another Rant About Ireland, Saying Nothing That Hasn't Already Been Said Elsewhere, But With An Amusing Song At The End...

(The following is a short and rather unfocused rant brought on by depression at the current situation in Ireland. Please disregard if you're not in the mood and skip straight to the song at the end, which is entirely unrelated!) 
Reading about the John O'Donoghue expenses scandal recently (for those of you from abroad, O'Donoghue is a senior member of Fianna Fail, our governing party, who racked up an outrageously extravagant expenses bill over several years when a minor minister during the Celtic Tiger era), I am disgusted, but also surprised that anyone would be surprised by this. I mean, what did the Irish electorate expect to happen if they put a bunch of venal, irresponsible, arrogant chancers into office and give them carte blanche with their expenses? It was in 2006 when O'Donoghue took the now-notorious trip on the government jet to a constituency function (details here), and I can't imagine that he hid this fact as he was slapping backs and shaking hands in Kerry that night. Yet they weren't concerned with this staggering waste of taxpayers' money; instead, they voted him back into office the following year. In fact, he got 23% of the vote, the highest of all the candidates in his constituency. Or, if you want to despair, read this
It has been clear since the 1980s that Fianna Fail are the most corrupt, gombeen-ridden, unprincipled party in this country, who already bankrupted the state once with their reckless policies, yet it's only when the biggest bubble in Irish history inevitably collapsed that quite a lot of people have suddenly realised that electing such people to manage things in the first place might not be sensible. Where was the anger before? How come practically every FF minister topped the poll in the 2007 general election? Since the days of Charles Haughey, the most contemptible politician this country has produced so far, Fianna Fail have never greatly disguised their corruption and cronyism. When FF bigwigs were yakking it up with property developers in the VIP tent at the Galway Races, where were the protests? Where was the righteous fury then? The leader of the party was himself under investigation for extremely dodgy transactions, which later forced his resignation (when he wasn't recommending that people who weren't happy with the economy should commit suicide), yet a substantial proportion of his constituents, and the nation at large, didn't seem to care. If there was ever an international prize for Closing The Door After The Horse Has Bolted, the Irish should be a shoo-in. And it seems unlikely, with NAMA poised to screw the country for the foreseeable future (the last act of the Great Property Swindle, as it were), that anything is going to change. "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face ... for ever." So said George Orwell in 1984. Well, if you want to see the future of Ireland, replace the boot with a golf shoe, picture the likes of Seanie FitzPatrick and Bertie Ahern doing the stamping, and the face as that of a mentally ill homeless guy, and you might be closer to the truth. Except there'll be some red-faced, big-bellied local in the background defending the politician: "Shure, he's a great fella all the same, hasn't he been great for the local people? So what if he kicked a homeless guy to death for the fun of it? Twas just a bit o' craic, like? It's all them Dublin media types pickin' on him!" And so on and on and on...
My apologies for this rant, but I'm so depressed and angry about what's happening in this poisoned little country that it is at times hard to think straight ... In fact, I feel better after getting that off my chest, and to apologise for that splenetic eructation, here's a song that makes me chuckle:

Saturday, September 5, 2009

An Update

In my last-but-one post, I wrote about a stained glass window in a church in Wexford which still displays a dedication made by Ireland's most notorious paedophile priest, and I mentioned that I had written to the bishop of Wexford, from whom I still await a proper reply. Now, obviously the bishop is a very busy man, but I did hear him on the radio during the week exhorting everyone to pray to God for an end to the recent rain, as it's causing great (and justified) worry to local farmers. I don't really see the point of this, seeing as God regularly fails to heed the prayers of, say, the parents of terminally sick children, but each to their own, I suppose. (I am reminded of a line in that awful film The Island, where Steve Buscemi says: "Well, you know when you want something really bad and you close your eyes and you wish for it? God's the guy that ignores you.") And for something related to that, here's a song. 

Monday, August 31, 2009

An Amusement (XVIX)

The picture below (all captions refer to the pictures below them, by the way) was taken by pointing the camera at the back seat of the car without looking or checking the settings, so it's wildly overexposed, but I like it anyway.

Taken (by my partner) near the entrance to the woods in Courtown, and yes, I know it's a bit of a cliche, but it's still an interesting image.

This one's for you, Stan...

All distance is relative...

Another fine day out in County Wexford...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

One Of Those "No Way" Moments (III)

A friend of mine recommended that I should visit the parish church in Ballymurn if I wanted to see something rather surprising. So off I went one fine day, and while wandering about the inside of the church I noticed a modern stained-glass window behind the balcony (pictured above). However, my eyes nearly popped out of their sockets and shattered the glass when I saw the dedication on the left window (pictured below).

As is well known, Fr. Sean Fortune was a Catholic priest and serial child rapist who killed himself in 1999, before his trial for multiple counts of child abuse against 29 victims. A documentary, Suing the Pope, which was devoted entirely to his monstrous activities and the role of the Church in covering them up, was broadcast in 2002 by the BBC. Yet seven years later, and ten years after he killed himself, the dedication is still there (as of two weeks ago, when I photographed it). To me, it beggars belief that the people in the parish would not have demanded its removal, and boycotted the church until this was done. How difficult would it be to simply paint over it with opaque red paint, if they can't afford to remove the actual pane? I mean, would an Austrian church keep a window with a very visible dedication from Josef Fritzl on display? Or a Cheshire church keep one from Harold Shipman? Just what is wrong with this country that the name of a notorious predatory paedophile can adorn the window of a church, and nobody cares enough to have it removed? Here's a description of Fr. Fortune's behaviour in Ballymurn, from The Sunday Business Post in 2005 (full article here):
So, despite the numerous complaints and warning signs over the previous years [in Ferns], Fortune was allowed to make a full-time return to parish life in September 1989, when he was appointed to the Co Wexford village of Ballymurn ... As part of the job, he was appointed chairman of the board of management of Ballymurn National School, and gave classes in religious instruction in the Bridgetown VEC. Serious problems arose during Fortune's time in Ballymurn. Complaints were made in 1991 by a number of parents about the content of religious classes given by Fortune. They said he encouraged children to tell lewd jokes, used sexually inappropriate language and "asked prurient questions while hearing confessions". When confronted once again by [Bishop] Comiskey, Fortune vehemently denied the allegations. He was forced to leave his VEC position in 1991, but remained as curate and on the primary school board until December 1995, at the nomination of Comiskey. “He also continued to give classes there until he was arrested by the gardai in March 1995,” said the report.
Curiously, the offending panel has been airbrushed out in the church's official website, seen here. (There's no link to the exact page, but click on 'Photo gallery', then 'Ballymurn Church', and it's the last picture in the row). I wrote a letter to the bishop of Wexford recently about this and, while I received a reply from his secretary, I am still awaiting his response. The following is the text of the letter (I won't publish the bishop's reply as it would be discourteous, for I didn't inform him that I have a blog when I sent the message).
Dear Bishop Brennan, I was recently in the church in Ballymurn and found it to be well maintained and very interesting, especially the Meyer of Munich stained glass window. However, I was extremely surprised - shocked may be more appropriate - to see there a modern window containing the inscription "Dedicated by Fr. Sean Fortune 31st Oct. 1993." I was curious as to whether there are any plans to replace this with glass which doesn't contain the name of this ... well, it is hard to think of a phrase that one would use in civilised company to describe him, frankly. Omnium bipedum nequissimus, I think. (I notice that the offending phrase has been airbrushed from the photo of the window on the parish website.) Although I am not a practising Catholic, I feel that from a community - indeed, from a human - viewpoint, to have the name of this person on display is grossly inappropriate. I was wondering what your feelings are on this matter. [The Latin phrase translates as "Of all two-footed creatures the worst".]

Friday, July 24, 2009

An Amusement (XVIII)

A Doubtful Egg is on holidays. Please feel free to browse through the archive, and if you find anything that interests you, let me know. I'll be back in a couple of weeks. Here's a suitably themed video.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Deleted Scene from "Oldboy"

[Warning: The following contains major spoilers for the film Oldboy (in fact, it reveals the whole plot) so don't read unless you've seen it]

A deleted scene from Oldboy

Revenge-obsessed villain (ROV) and evil henchman (EH) are seen sitting in ROV's office.
ROV: Remember that guy who spread the rumour that I was doing my sister in school? The one that made her commit suicide?
EH: Yeah, I do. (To himself:) You dirty bastard...
ROV: Well, I want to get him for that. I settle his hash alright.
EH: So what d'ye want me to do? Get a few of the lads, drive the guy down to the warehouse, and torture the shit out of him? That'll learn him!
ROV (shaking his head): No, no, no. That's too simple. I want his family to suffer too.
EH (getting visibly excited): We'll kidnap his kid and kill her in front of him, then torture him too! That'll really learn him!
ROV: Oh, EH. (Shakes head ruefully) You just don't see the big picture ... Here's what we'll do. We'll kidnap the guy and toss him into a room for 15 years. Then we'll hypnotise him so that when he gets out, he'll sleep with his own daughter. But we won't tell him why he's been shut away for 15 years, so he has to find out for himself, like a detective. Then, when he's discovered everything, he'll be destroyed and I'll shoot myself! Brilliant, eh?
EH: (Stunned silence.)
ROV (imperiously): Well, what do you think!
EH: Oh, it's fantastic, pure genius! There's no way I'd ever think up anything like that. So we'll lock the guy in a room for 15 years - wait, won't he be horribly weakened and disturbed after 15 years of solitary confinement? Like, if you let him out on the street you'll be lucky if he makes it ten feet before collapsing. He'll need months in hospital and a team of psychiatrists to get him over it! 
ROV: He'll be fine. We'll keep an eye on him while he's locked up. 
EH: But 15 years in a single room with no sunlight and eating nothing but dumplings will destroy his constitution. An infection, or even a single dodgy dumpling, could kill him!
ROV: He's strong; he'll be fine!
EH: But when he gets out, even if he's not horribly weakened and psychologically unable to function, he'll be incredibly disorientated. What if he gets run over by a truck, or falls down a flight of stairs, or gets killed by a mugger? That's 15 years of planning down the toilet, isn't it? 
ROV: I'm getting a bit tired of all these objections.
EH: And it'll cost you a fortune. You'll have to pay for his kid's upbringing and to keep this guy locked up (and what if she dies before the 15 years are up? Or turns out to be a lesbian? What if he's impotent after all that time?) And what if the guy's too thick to figure out the mystery? You'll just have to go in and tell him, which'll spoil the mood. What if you die before he gets out? You going to leave him a letter?
ROV: Shut up.
EH: Isn't it an incredibly roundabout way of getting revenge? Why not just shoot the guy? I mean, the guy gets out after 15 years and you tell him he's just slept with his daughter, right. And he could say: "Hell, that kid wasn't mine; my wife had an affair with the postman. Me and the wife had a long talk, and decided to keep the baby and raise it as our own." Or he could say: "Oh, that's horrible, but after being locked up for 15 years I'm not really bothered." And when you go on about how awful what he's done is, he'll just say "Oh great, lectures on morality from the guy who slept with his own sister! Pot and kettle, huh?" You really don't know how he'll react after all that time.
ROV: Shut up!
EH: Alright, alright; you're the boss. (Stands up to leave, muttering to himself:) Oddball...
ROV (puts feet up on his desk, and opens a box of Blue Dragon dumplings): Ah, dumplings! The perfect side dish for .... revenge! Now to listen to the radio. (Turns on the radio, which plays the following song. A frown crosses his face...)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Giant Wasp Terrorises Small Irish Village

The sleepy hamlet of Ballygombeen was thrown into chaos today by the appearance of a gigantic wasp, which flew over the village and devoured several citizens before noon. The army, which would normally deal with such monstrous insects, was unable to respond as all military vehicles in the province were being used by government ministers to protect themselves from enraged constituents. "I don't know which is worse, An Bord Snip Nua or this," quipped one unemployed builder as the wasp partially demolished the roof of his house while seeking victims to feed upon. Local GAA players pelted the beast with sliothars to no avail, and it was only when the Holy Stump of Rathkeale was rushed to Ballygombeen in a white Hiace van that the enormous bug fled. It is speculated that the wasp was part of a publicity stunt that went horribly wrong, and locals are already blaming Bono, for no reason other than that nobody can stand him.
[Some of the above may be lies. Thanks to my partner of taking and altering the photo above on her fancy new camera.]

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

An Amusement (XVII)

It's raining again, which is as good a reason as any to post the above picture, taken last year in the Alcazar in Seville on a blazingly warm day (in October!). It's on days like today, staring out at the rain-soaked dreariness of an Irish town, that I get the overwhelming desire to be in Andalucia, munching of tapas, being astounded by some of the most dementedly overdone Baroque churches in the world, marvelling at the beauties of (what's left of) Moorish treasures, and surreptitiously ogling Spanish women when my partner's not looking (I know, it's naughty!). It's just that at the moment I can't think of one single goddamn reason that isn't negative (i.e. my mortgage) as to why I should stay in this gombeen-ridden, crooked, callous, miserable backwater of a country. Oh, here's a reason: 

I'm not sure if he'd be a happy hound away from the beaches and muddy lanes of the South East! And just for closing, here's a photo of a rude vegetable, and something amusing:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wicklow Sights (I)

As I was passing by (or indeed, bypassing) Arklow today, I decided to pull into the town and take some photos of the attractive St Saviour's Church, located near the town centre. I took two pictures, one a straightforward view from the road, and the other a David Hockney-style collage (shame on me for mentioning my effort in the same sentence as the master!). The collage allows one to get more detail by giving a closer view of the building, while the one-off picture gives you the accurate height of the steeple (which looks a bit squashed in the collage). The harmonious interior of the church, which dates from the late 19th century, is very nice also (and has a fabulous vaulted oak ceiling) but I don't have any pictures from there as my camera's batteries went dead. I hope you like the pictures.

Some Thoughts on Milk

A while back, I wrote about my dislike of the standard Hollywood biopic here. My biggest issue is that I don't trust them to be straight with me, and facts that may complicate the audience's perception of their protagonists are often airbrushed out for commercial reasons. With that in mind, I watched Milk last night, a film about noted gay activist and politician Harvey Milk, who was gunned down in 1978 by a fellow official. It wasn't brilliant, but it wasn't bad either; however, there are two facts the filmmakers decided not to share with us which I'd like to jot down here (again, mainly culled from Wikipedia). I wish to point out that I'm not seeking to denigrate Milk's achievement in any way; he spoke out as an openly gay man at a time when, to utilise that old chestnut, it was neither profitable nor popular, and put his life at risk by doing so. However, there is a real danger, especially if the person died tragically, of elevating such individuals into iconic martyrs, a status which often ignores the fact that they were only human beings, with the same flaws and blind spots as anyone else. In Milk's case, the fact that he stood up for an oppressed minority meant that at times he was willing to overlook certain ethical considerations (the end justifying the means, in other words), and to include the facts below would have given us a more flawed, but also more real and accurate, portrayal of the man.
1) On September 22nd, 1975, an ex-Marine called Oliver "Billy" Sipple prevented the assassination of President Gerald Ford by a woman called Sara Jane Moore, who pointed a gun at Ford as he left the St Francis Hotel in San Francisco and was about to fire when Sipple deflected the shot. Sipple was gay, and had been at one stage the lover of a man who attempted suicide after Sipple left him; the same man had previously been involved with Harvey Milk. Milk decided that it would be good publicity to out Sipple as a gay man to the media after his heroic act, regardless of the fact that many people, including Sipple's parents, didn't actually know that he was gay. Although Sipple apparently held no grudge against Milk for this, the excessive media attention caused him an awful lot of problems and led to an estrangement with his mother, a Baptist. Many people have strongly criticised this action by Milk, stating (rightly, I believe) that the decision to expose someone as gay is one that should never be taken except by the person themselves or with their explicit consent, rather than, as in this case, to drum up positive publicity for the movement. (Facts taken from an article on Sipple here.)
2) Another aspect of Milk's life which the film ignores is the political connections that both he and Mayor George Moscone, who was murdered by the same guy who shot Milk, had with the notorious Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple (sic). From Wikipedia (click here for the unedited article):

Harvey Milk, who later became a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, first became acquainted with the Temple while running for a seat in the California State Assembly against Art Agnos. Jim Jones initially telephoned a Milk campaign worker and stated that he wished to back Milk, apologized for earlier backing Agnos and said he would "make up for it" by sending volunteers to work on Milk's campaign. When told by friend Michael Wong of Jones' earlier backing of Agnos, Milk retorted "Well, f**k him. I'll take his workers, but that's the game Jim Jones plays." Temple member Sharon Amos organized the Temple's leafleting campaign for Milk. Amos requested the delivery of 30,000 pamphlets and Milk's campaign delivered them to the Temple ...
While the Temple aided some local politicians, it did not do so entirely without suspicion. For example, Harvey Milk felt that Temple members were odd and dangerous. When a Milk aide became wary of the Temple's large and imposing security force following a delivery of election pamphlets, Milk cautioned the aide "Make sure you're always nice to the Peoples Temple. If they ask you to do something, do it, and then send them a note thanking them for asking you to do it. They're weird and they're dangerous, and you never want to be on their bad side." Jim Rivaldo, a political consultant and associate of Milk's said that, after later meetings at the Temple, he and Milk agreed that "there was something creepy about it." ...
Similarly, Milk was enthusiastically received at the Temple several times during his visits, and he always sent glowing thank-you notes to Jones after visits. Milk ally Richard Boyle recalls "[b]oth Milk and I spoke at the temple to the cheers of thousands of Jones' followers and won their support." Following one visit, Milk wrote to Jones: "Rev Jim, It may take me many a day to come back down from the high that I reach today. I found something dear today. I found a sense of being that makes up for all the hours and energy placed in a fight. I found what you wanted me to find. I shall be back. For I can never leave." In a hand-written note, Milk wrote to Jones "my name is cut into stone in support of you - and your people." Jim Rivaldo, who attended Temple meetings with Milk , explained that, until Jonestown, the church "was a community of people who appeared to be looking out for each other, improving their lives." Boyle explained that it was vital for both his campaign and Milk's that they be received well at the Temple "because Jones was not only Moscone's appointed head of the Housing Authority but also could turn out an army of volunteers." ...
While most influential allies broke ties with the Temple following Jones' departure after increasing media scrutiny, some did not. For example, Willie Brown stated that the attacks were "a measure of the church’s effectiveness." San Francisco columnist Herb Caen wrote "Hot story, but where's the smoking gun?", concluding, "so far lots of smoke but no gun." The Sun Reporter also defended the Temple. On July 31, 1977, just after Jones had fled to Guyana, the Temple conducted a rally against political opponents attended by Willie Brown, Harvey Milk and Art Agnos, among others...
Harvey Milk remained popular among temple members. Two months before the tragedy [in Guyana] Temple members sent over fifty letters of sympathy to Milk following the death of Milk's lover, Jack Lira. The letters were formulaic and one typical letter ended, "You have our deepest sympathy in your loss and we would be glad to have you with us [in Jonestown], even for only a short visit." ...
[O]n Sunday February 19, 1978, Harvey Milk wrote a letter to President Jimmy Carter supporting Jones and making statements about Timothy and Grace Stoen. Milk wrote "Rev. Jones is widely known in the minority communities and elsewhere as a man of the highest character." Regarding the Stoens, Milk wrote "Timothy and Grace Stoen, the parties attempting to damage Rev. Jones reputation". Milk also wrote "[i]t is outrageous that Timothy Stoen could even think of flaunting this situation in front of Congressman with apparent bold-faced lies." The letter ended with "Mr. President, the actions of Mr Stoen need to be brought to a halt. It is offensive to most in the San Francisco community and all those who know Rev. Jones to see this kind of outrage taking place." ...
Milk spoke at a service at the Temple for the last time in October 1978 ...
[And finally:] On the evening of November 18, 1978 in Jonestown, Jones ordered his congregation to drink potassium-cyanide-laced Flavor Aid. In all, at Jonestown, a nearby airstrip and Georgetown, 918 people died, including over 270 children, resulting in the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until the incidents of September 11, 2001. Congressman Leo Ryan was among those killed at the airstrip.