RIP, Larry

Larry Kramer has died. His obituary is here, but perhaps this eulogy by Matthew Lopez says more about him in this time of Covid-19.

I have a copy of Kramer’s Reports from the Holocaust in the library, in which he coruscates the US government’s failure to deal with the AIDS crisis. Dr. Anthony Fauci figures in the book. Kramer is his nemesis, and indeed Dr. Fauci came over time to recognise that he was wrong and Kramer was right.

And then there’s Faggots – Kramer’s 1987 novel that caused a furore in the male gay community. That’s also in the library. Time for a re-read, I think.


The cover illustration is by the artist Michael Leonard. Many years ago, I posed as a model, together with a good friend, Kerry, for him – but that’s another story…

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"He has acted responsibly, legally and with integrity."

Boris Johnson’s defence of his political adviser Dominic Cummings is, in a word, unfuckingbelievable.

As John Crace so rightly observes, it is now clear who is running the UK – and it isn’t Boris Johnson.

One law for the little people, and another law for your boss, eh, Boris?

Addendum 27 May 2020: the ever-dependable Marina Hyde eviscerates both Cummings and Johnson; whilst Chris Grey, over at his Brexit Blog, makes similar points about the paradox of populism – in less caustic tones, but none the less salient for all that.

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Enigmatic, Elegaic, Extraordinary

It’s called “Tales From The Loop”. It has taken several forms: an art book, a role-playing game, and now a TV miniseries of eight episodes available on Amazon Prime Video.

It’s a world that has emerged from the imagination of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag. A world that merges a rural landscape with elements of small-town Swedish life in the 1980s and the detritus of yet-to-be invented technology.

You can get some idea of the shape of the landscape and the artist’s inspirations for it from this short film that was made in 2015 for the Kickstarter project to produce the English versions of his books.

While waiting for my copy of the book to arrive at the local bookshop, I thought I would take a look at the TV miniseries. The trailer certainly looked intriguing – and it had the added bonus of having Jonathan Pryce in one of the roles.

I saw the first episode and was instantly hooked. This is my kind of Science Fiction – the miniseries is really eight interlinked tales that explore different facets of the human condition.  They reminded me of the writings of Ray Bradbury; in particular those of growing up in a small town, where the fantastical is glimpsed out of the corner of the eye: Dandelion Wine, and of the tale of growing old: I Sing The Body Electric.

Highly recommended.

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Will Microsoft Ever Learn?

This is an old cartoon showing the organisation chart of Microsoft and its warring fiefdoms.


It was certainly true back in the day when I had business contacts with Microsoft on behalf of my employer.

And it would seem that even today, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

In this time of social-distancing, the need for an easy-to-use video-conferencing tool is self-evident. I needed to find one for our local village community committee (I’m the secretary) so that we could hold our meetings online.

I’ve been a Skype user since its introduction in 2003, and so that was my first thought. However, it was acquired by Microsoft in 2011 and the technology became enmeshed in Microsoft’s internal politics. Microsoft had its own rival technology: Windows Live Messenger, and a shotgun marriage was hastily arranged.

As a result, the evolution of Skype in Microsoft has not been smooth, and even today it looks as though it is the result of ideas that have been thrown at a wall to see if they would stick. There is also Microsoft’s Skype for Business (which, as Wikipedia points out is “Not to be confused with Skype”). Microsoft also announced in 2017 that Skype for Business would be phased out in favour of Microsoft Teams, yet another online collaboration platform.

I took a quick look at the free version of Microsoft Teams to see whether it might be suitable for use in our committee. I was not impressed. I set up a simple team of two users and found that the security hoops that you have to jump through before Microsoft Teams will accept someone into a team would try the patience of Job. It also seems as though having a Microsoft Account is essential for entry, and that is already a stumbling block for many people. I don’t think everyone on our committee has such a thing, and it would be a big ask for them to get one.

I then found that shared documents wouldn’t share – Teams would merely give me a cartoon of a melted ice-cream cone with the words “Something has gone wrong”. Not very helpful. Twenty-four hours later, it seems to have mysteriously fixed itself, but it doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.

So the choice at the moment (in Microsoft products) is between the simpler Skype or the bells and whistles of Microsoft Teams, which is firmly aimed at business and enterprise users.  The choice is not made easier by today’s announcement that Microsoft will be bringing a version of Teams aimed at home users – impinging on Skype’s turf. Skype is also under threat from non-Microsoft rivals such as Zoom. As Tom Warren says in his article in The Verge:

Microsoft wasn’t afraid of ditching the 100 million people using Windows Live Messenger years ago, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the company try and push Skype users over to Teams in the months ahead. Like Microsoft said, “For now, Skype will remain a great option for customers who love it and want to connect with basic chat and video calling capabilities.” The “for now” part of that statement is a telling sign that Microsoft’s focus is now Teams, not Skype.

As I said: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Addendum: I mentioned Zoom above. I see that it has rather become the victim of its own success. Because of Covid-19, the number of users has skyrocketed, and the resulting upsurge in numbers has revealed some rather worrying privacy and security issues in the product. I really don’t want to touch it with a bargepole, and will stick to Skype, thank you.

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Living in Interesting Times

The emergence of the Coronavirus Covid-19 has given us all something else to worry about besides climate change, Brexit and Trump. 

For months now I’ve been leading a workgroup planning two events in our village to celebrate the 75 years since the liberation of the Netherlands.

We were going to have two events in our village hall. On the 3rd April – an evening of drama, song and stories (Freedom Then & Now), with an exhibition of photos, documents, objects, and clothing from 1945 plus drawings, poems, essays from the children in the village school about what Freedom means to them now. On the 4th April: a “Liberation Brunch” with an exhibition of wartime vehicles, and all the children would get a kite and be challenged to draw their symbol of Freedom on it before flying it from the field next to the hall.

Last week, the Dutch government ruled that all events of more than 100 people were forbidden in the Netherlands until at least 31 March – and the Village Hall committee decided to shut the Hall until further notice.

Then yesterday, the government strengthened the rules further. They announced that all schools, children’s day-care, restaurants, pubs, sports clubs, saunas, sexclubs and coffeeshops (this is the Netherlands, after all!) are to shut until the 6th April. Everybody is being asked to keep 1.5m distance from each other – including while shopping. Only children with parents who work in Healthcare, Police, Public Transport or Fire Services are being allowed to go to school or day-care.

Buggeration. So everything has had to be cancelled, and I have no idea when or even if we can resurrect the events… Still, if it helps to stem the spread of the virus, it will be worth it in the end.

As the apocryphal Chinese Curse has it: may you live in interesting times.

Posted in Health and wellness, Society | 5 Comments

Messages of Farewell

It’s the day after Brexit, and I’m still feeling depressed, and angry, about the whole sorry situation. I’ve been reading messages of farewell published in today’s Guardian from my fellow Europeans, and they have put into words the emotions I am experiencing. Two writers in particular capture my feelings, as these extracts may illustrate:

Carlo Rovelli (theoretical physicist)

What breaks my heart in Britain leaving the European project is the dark message that Brexit delivers to the entire planet: every nation for itself, instead of collaborating for the common good; everybody making its own rules, instead of searching for common ground; every group competing with the others, instead of solving the common problems together.

Agnieszka Holland (film director)

Do you really believe that turning your backs on the continent will hold off ecological catastrophe, the waves of migrants, artificial intelligence, the internet revolution or women’s aspirations? Do you believe that globalisation and unfettered capitalism as conducted by China or Trump’s America will give you more affluence and sovereignty than belonging to a community of Europeans, who can achieve any kind of success only by working together, and who are at least trying their best to maintain the values of freedom, equality, fraternity, solidarity, justice and human rights; the rights of all living creatures; and responsibility for the future of the planet?

Adhering to these values is the only thing that can save humanity from sliding into an abyss of evil; we became familiar with this in the terrible 20th century, and the European Union was meant to inoculate us against the temptation to return to dark times. And for many years, together, it worked.

Aren’t you ashamed to be the first to back away from hope? Can you see an alternative? Do you really think that once we’ve broken our voluntary ties things will be just as they were before? No, they will not. So I cannot wish you all the best. I won’t say “Goodbye and good luck.” Because I’m furious with you. I really do like you – your people, landscape, gardens and moorlands; your history, culture and art; your unique British manner, even in its debased form; your humour, eccentricity and bravery. But I am sure you are making a mistake that we’re all going to pay for – you are sure to, but so are we. I am afraid everyone’s going to pay equally for the lies, cowardice and arrogance of the few.

Also in today’s Guardian is Ian McEwan’s withering summary of Brexit. Well worth reading and reflecting on.

I sincerely hope that my fellow countrymen reflect on what they have done, and that this ignominious decision will come, in time, to be reversed. It will probably take at least a generation, and I am very likely to be long dead, but we Europeans will be waiting.

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Brexit Is Not A Cause For Celebration

For me, today is a day of sadness. Britain has turned its back on Europe and is determined to retreat to being an insular nation once more. As an act of self-harm, this takes some beating.

And whilst Johnson and his government may crow that they’ve got Brexit done, the reality is that the hard work now starts, with the hammering out of new treaties and legal frameworks – with just 11 months to go until the end of the transition period. It is also clear from recent statements from the likes of Sajid Javid that the British government either hasn’t got a clue, or is being economical with the verité (as depressingly usual).

Like Chris Grey, I mourn the country I have lost, and fear for the one to come.

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