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18 March 2018 @ 09:44 pm
Lucy Mangan, doing an excellent job of making me think I made the right decision in not getting round to watching the latest series of The X-Files. I shall attempt to quote a non-spoilery bit.

The Smoking Man is real, you see. Alive again, he plans to rid the world of the scourge of humanity because – oh, I don’t know. Because he’s evil? Knackered? Despairs, like the rest of us, of ever properly grasping his plot line again? Or simply tired of delivering portentous monologues in voiceover when he should be giving us his Lear at the Guthrie?

The X-Files was always a bit scary for me (am total wimp), and I've seen less of it than I'd have liked. I came to it too late, it stayed with us too long. It should have ended with the first film, Mulder and Scully both have actually seen the space ship and known the truth, and then snogged properly. All would have been happy.

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15 March 2018 @ 08:35 am
Sergei Skripal, the former spy who was poisoned in Salisbury last week with his daughter Yulia Skripal 'pour encourager les autres', has been poisoned by something called Novichok, a nerve agent that sounds nasty even by the standards of nerve agents. I found myself reading on Wikipedia about Russian scientist Vil Mirzayanov, who has been in the press recently commenting on the subject and who in the early 1990s was assigned to a chemical experimentation factory in Russia, which he then exposed globally by publishing an article on the subject in Moskovskiye Novosti and the Baltimore Sun . Wikipedia takes up the tale.

Mirzayanov was immediately fired. He was then arrested on October 22, 1992, on charges of treason, brought by the Russian military industrial complex authorities - he was not allowed to know the exact charges, as they were also declared a state secret. Held in Lefortovo prison, during the resultant court case, the existence of Novichok agents was openly admitted by Russian authorities. According to expert witness testimonies prepared for the KGB by three scientists, Novichok and other related chemical agents had indeed been produced and therefore the disclosure by Mirzayanov represented high treason.[8]

However, the trial collapsed. Mirzayanov was released because "not one of the formulas or names of poisonous substances in the Moscow News article was new to the Soviet press, nor were locations ... of testing sites revealed."[1] According to Yevgenia Albats, "the real state secret revealed by Fyodorov and Mirzayanov was that generals had lied — and were still lying — to both the international community and their fellow citizens."[1]

These days, I found myself thinking, the trial would not have collapsed, if there had been a trial at all.

I have no nostalgia for the USSR, but that's precisely why Putin is so appalling. He wasn't inevitable, there was a possibility for Russia to go another way and he - with the usual vested interests - chose otherwise. Only 9 years after these events he would be president.

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07 March 2018 @ 10:00 pm
Just seen a trailer for a new Danish series on BBC4 this weekend, in English titles Below the Surface, and about people taken hostage on an underground train. With the trial of Peter Madsen* for the murder of Kim Wall on his submarine starting off tomorrow, I winced a bit. I can't help feeling that they might have done better to stick to the original title, which was more along the line of "Taken hostage"**

* He's guilty.

** Gidseltagningen, but I can't get the grammar quite right. The Hostage-Taking?

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03 March 2018 @ 07:43 pm
My neck of the woods had a great deal less snow than much of the country, but still enough to manage a couple of short ski trips around the local park/playing fields/community woodland*. As ever, the wildlife was mostly attested to by its footprints and urine, but I did manage to discover a badger sett, which was suitably exciting. It didn't require a great deal of discovery, since a minor hole was very evident against the snow right by a track, but I did a bit of 'stalking' along the criss-crossed trails to find some suitably clear footprints to confirm it definitely wasn't a fox. Perhaps worth a wander down on a summer evening.

It is definitely thawing, though this evening's forecast rain appears to be decidedly white at the moment. I am happily ensconced with a nearly-ready pot roast pheasant, and tomorrow brings housework in anticipation of next weekend's parental visit (I didn't get a lot done during the Olympics, though my ironing basket was actually empty on Monday evening), and a lunchtime trip to Grave of the Fireflies.

*The bit shielding the playing fields from the ring road. The high winds meant that the actual fields had had most of the snow blown off them, hence park environs only. Fortunately it is a big park.

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25 February 2018 @ 07:07 pm
Hope is always a risk in sport, but when yesterday evening I looked up Marit Bjørgen's results in the 30km and saw that she has only not won the race three times since 2008, I allowed myself a bit of it. And she certainly delivered today with a masterful performance that had me writing all the cliches of sports journalism in my head*. Bjørgen has one individual gold, a relay and pairs event golds, a silver and a bronze (shared!) this Olympics, making her the most be-medalled Winter Olympics competitor of all time.

Marit Bjoergen lifted by her teammates after winning gold in South Korea.

I love the long-distance ski races and both yesterday's men's 50km** and today's 30km were terrific; connoisseurs' events, perhaps, in the way that they unfolded through individual brilliance rather than the fun of a big pack racing together through the distance, but delivering a great combination of individual grit in going it alone and the fun of hot contention for the other medals. I actually found myself yesterday evening looking up cheap flights to Oslo for the Holmenkollen races in a fortnight's time - before I remembered that I'm going to Hamilton with my parents. Standing in the cold for two days probably isn't the greatest idea right now anyway.

Amidst the victory celebrations spare a thought for poor Teresa Stadlober of Austria, who managed to take herself from a good chance of a silver medal to ninth place through going in the wrong direction. Twice. Sometimes it just isn't your day.

And now it is all over for another four years and I can spend my time on something other than watching television and activities that can be done while watching television (finally I have ironed the summer T-shirts at the bottom of the laundry basket). Well, except when I'm watching repeats. Inspired by watching other people working really hard I even took my (kick) scooter out for a spin. Only 3km rather than 30, but a start after an utterly dreadful few months as far as any exercise has been concerned. I can balance again! Always a good thing.

*As a friend who learned Russian through the medium of post-match interviews in football and ice hockey put it, context gives you great clues. You are always going to get "the ref was blind,", "the boys done good", or "we were robbed". Likewise by halfway through the races of today and yesterday we were guaranteed to get "en maktdemonstrajon" and "ensom majestet" in the first two sentences.

** Iivo Niskanen, Finland.

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Sofia Goggia, women's downhill ski race gold medalist shows 'em how it's done! Not only does she know all the words and sing them loudly, but she also does the "pom pom pom" bit of every self-respecting national anthem. Fortunately for her it has a jollier tune and much cooler words than God Save the Queen*, not least that the shout of Si! appears to be official.

*Surely a dirge that ranks high in the list of the world's most terrible national anthems, both for music and lyrics.

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21 February 2018 @ 09:47 pm
It's a good thing that the Winter Olympics are only ever four years, because I've not been getting a lot else done over the past couple of weeks - and I'm still going to have to watch some events on catch-up.

* The lack of crowds at some events is still an issue, but otherwise the organisation continues to be impressive and this Olympics is certainly producing good events. For all the jokes about the cross-country skiing course being on a golf course, golf courses actually provide really good terrain and this year's course has some nice hills - though I hope that the 50km finds a slightly longer route. It helps that this week's weather has been kinder.

* The weekend's cross-country relays were amazing. It helped that the right country won (Norway), but both the women's and men's were both really exciting races. A bit too exciting at times with big swings between the leads. There have been medical studies about mortality in major public sports events, I wonder whether any have ever been done on fans, such as whether there is e.g. a slightly higher or lower rate of heart attack following close races or penalty shoot-outs?

* Thanks to Yuri on Ice for renewing an interest in figure skating I haven't really had since childhood Sunday tea times and Katerina Witt (when it wasn't Ski Sunday, Narnia, or Antiques Roadshow. I'm really dating myself now). Even more thanks for the little graphic in the LH corner telling the viewer how the points are stacking up.

* Is Alina Zagitova the women's equivalent of Nathen Chen? Too much skating aimlessly backwards across the ice, punctuated by jumps. She has much better costumes though. I am regretting that I didn't realise how strongly I felt about costumes when writing In the Studio so that I could include backstage bitching about it them. Skaters should definitely lose points if they are boring.

* Speaking of which, does anyone else look at Virtue and Moir's short programme costumes and think they look like they're characters from the Vampire Chronicles? I liked the other Canadian James Bond routine, but the best cosplay really has got to go to German Paul Fentz for his Jaime Lannister tribute.

Photo of German figure skater Paul Fentz

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15 February 2018 @ 09:40 pm
...it turns out that I can get up and have washed my hair and dressed by 6:45am - not to get to work for an early meeting (although I did), but to sit down on the sofa and watch the women's 10km cross-country event from the Winter Olympics. And well worth it, too. Tomorrow is the men's 15km at 6am, though I can give it fifteen minutes for low-seeded starters.

I am enjoying the Olympics enormously. Some high points:

* All the cross-country races! I always like the skiathlon, and the tracks and conditions made for two nicely competitive races, even though the lack of crowds for the events rather dampens the atmosphere. The timing is surprisingly manageable for live viewing (at least if you work from home for the sprint... Alas despite decent UK chances in the team sprint I shall be in meetings).

* 7th place for Andrew Musgrave, by far the best result for a UK skier ever (his own previous best was 29th in the Sochi sprint, but this performance wasn't 22 places up, it was really incomparable) with a Norwegian clean sweep of the medals. I don't think he could have won a medal had he not fought so hard to follow the gold medallist - he would certainly have been swept over by the superb Norwegians so he might as well have tried for the top step.

* BBC coverage is overall proving very good (topped up occasionally by Eurosports), although I could live without seeing any more Elise Christie hagiography.

* I am vastly entertained by the Japanese skaters using the Yuri on Ice theme music. Twice. Perhaps a good idea not to do Stammi Vicino though, you might look a bit conceited. And speaking of ice skating, a triple axel in the women's competition again. And the happy Germans today!

* Commentator Rob Walker has a serious case of commentator's curse in the biathlon.

Less good:

* No gold yet for Marit Bjørgen! Come on, Marit! Silver and bronze is good, but let's see one more individual gold (the 30km* most likely, I think.)

* The weather. I don't blame the organisers, these things happen and an event held in the Alps could have equal problems with heavy snowfall. But given the area is known for wind they perhaps ought to have built temporary structures that could withstand it. My brother-in-law's company provides the power and apparently the engineers are finding the cold + wind incredibly challenging (and partly as a result, brother in law didn't get to go and bring me back a hat, boo!). Hopefully the better conditions of today will last.

* The crowds. Disappointing in pretty much everything outdoors, really. And Beijing will be worse.

* Mike Pence being an arrogant idiot. Look, we all know that you can't possibly trust that the North Korean government is genuinely interested in a bit of detente, but anyone with half a brain at this point would behave as if they were. It isn't about you.

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12 February 2018 @ 06:28 pm
In a meeting today I heard the chair, a senior academic, use the phrase "Let's agenda-ise that". I'm all for the wonderful flexibility and invention of the English language, but there are limits!

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07 February 2018 @ 06:18 pm
Advert seen on some website or other (news?) for Eurowings, formerly Germanwings:

Kiss Goodbye
Let's hit the sky!

Given the reasons that Germanwings no longer trades under that name, this did not strike me as entirely reassuring to the potential customer.

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