Thursday, March 31, 2005

Yesterday's Pubs

Yesterday's luncheon was taken at the Trafalgar Freehouse, the epitome of the traditional back street London local - the kind of pub that, sadly, is becoming more and more difficult to find in an increasingly uniform capital.

The evening was passed watching the England game in the Kings Head, Tooting which is my favourite pub on the Northern Line. Designed by the prolific pub architect, W. M. Brutton, and built in 1896. An architecturally eclectic confection outside but retaining important remnants of the original building - tilework, screens, etched glass, counter and bar-back and also a large and imposing billiard room.

I recommend both.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Flashy Not Burton

Looking through the Spectator, I have found an interview with George MacDonald Frasier and the splendid news that a new Flashman book is to be published next week (April 4, 2005).


In "Flashman on the March", the celebrated Victorian bounder, cad, and lecher, Sir Harry Flashman, V.C., returns to play his (reluctant) part in the Abyssinian War of 1868 in the long-awaited twelfth installment of the critically acclaimed Flashman Papers.

In the interview with Harry Mount, Frasier also talks about the inspiration for Flashman:

"Everybody thinks he's based on Sir Richard Burton. I knew nothing about Burton. A bit rough on Burton, who so far as I know wasn't a scoundrel and certainly wasn't a coward."

Its easy to understand why people guess at the connection. There is certainly a lot of Burton in Flashman's elan. The passage from Burton's "Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah" that I blogged a few weeks ago could have come straight from a Flashman book, and Flashy's mastery of languages and disguises are also extremely reminiscent of "Ruffian Dick" Burton.

If the juxtaposition is not too bathetic, with Flashy in Africa and the horror in the Sudan continuing, "MPs rap UN over Darfur death toll", its intriguing to remember that in 1877 General Gordon offered Burton the governor-generalship of Darfur.

He turned it down, but its interesting to speculate how that part of the world might be different if he had taken the job.

The governor who was appointed spent fourteen years as personal slave to the Mahdi after the province fell to the Dervishes. I bet things would have turned out very differently if Burton the haji was stirred into the mix.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Cardiff City: A Modest Proposal

I see that Sam Hammam is under siege as it has been revealed that Cardiff City are �30 million in debt.

This could be cleared easily if all 15 of the Welsh Rugby team would simply contribute �2 million each.

Anything else I can sort out for you?

Incidentally, what has happened to "Soul Crew" the film that Irvine "Trainspotting" Welsh was making about City's hooligans? It seems to have dropped off the radar completely.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Skype Callcenters

I came across a great overview in Skype Journal of how Skype might be used for call centers and particularly ad-hoc call centers.

Stuart Henshall's argument runs as follows:

Extensions: You can run Skype under the same profile name on multiple computers concurrently. Inbound calls ring all clients whether in a call or not. Thus you can share the same line on multiple PC's even concurrently talking to different individuals...
SkypeIn: SkypeIn is Skype's new service that allows you to secure "landline" PSTN style numbers for your Skype Account .... Thus if you purchase one SkypeIn number your PC will ring. ...if you are running the same client on more than one PC you can receive more than one SkypeIn call. Take the first call on the first PC from 14151234567 and then on the second PC (same SkypeIn number) take the second call from 1415 7654321.
Voice Mail: Voice mail picks up when there is no client available to take the call or the inbound call is sent / diverted to voice mail.

I think this is a great insight. You can add another "node" to your callcenter simply by getting someone else to log in to the same account and start answering calls.

If this proves to be practical, it could also be a fantastic tool to help emergency services scale up and coordinate information services after disasters and accidents .

In the UK for example, the Police National Information and Coordination Centre (PNICC) is opened to support police forces whenever, in an emergency situation, the issues and resources may be beyond the remit or capacity of any one police force or a group of forces.

It would be a comparatively simple thing for PNICC to set up and run a Skype callcenter if and when the need arose, and, crucially, the callcenter could be manned around the clock with minimal disruption to other Police operations as the load could be spread among the forces simultaneously.

Sunday, March 27, 2005


I have been trying to understand for a while why the Rocco Buttiglione affair has made me so uneasy.

Very briefly, towards the end of last year Rocco Buttiglione was nominated by the incoming president of the European Commission to be commissioner of justice, but his adherence to conventional Catholic teaching regarding, essentially, the morality of homosexual acts was deemed by Euro-parliamentarians to disqualify him from holding high office on the European Commission.

George Weigel's recent piece, Is Europe Dying? Notes on a Crisis of civilization's Morale introduced me to a new term that I think begins to help me to explain my discomfort.

The word in question, suggested incidentally by an Orthodox Jew born in South Africa, J. H. H. Weiler, professor of international law and director of the Jean Monnet Center at New York University, is Christophobia.

In general I think that the witch hunts for isms and phobias that disfigure contemporary public life and the related self censorship that so inhibits real debate is a phenomenon to be disparaged and discouraged, but the coinage christophobia - by putting the boot on the other foot - reveals how fragile the putative European consensus is.

Never mind Islamophobia, we cannot possibly imagine that we live in a viable multicultural society if upholding conventional Catholic dogma excludes citizens from playing a full role in the public life of that society and it is the word Christophobia that has helped me to understand that.

Should I clarify that I do not think that homophobia has anything to do with this at all? As a practicing Catholic, Mr Buttiglione's belief's about many things would mark him as out of step with Brussels' view of the world in all sorts of areas.

No one would suggest, by way of contrast, that a practicing Jew - or Moslem for that matter - who abjured pork would be unsuitable to take a farming portfolio.

The key issue is if the EU can afford to exclude Buttiglione and his sincere co-religionists on this basis. I suggest that it cannot.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Irish Rugby Team

England having jsut beaten Northern Ireland 4-0 at football, I have been reminded of a question that has often puzzled me.

Why does all of Ireland manage to unite for Rugby and nothing else?

I have never met anyone who knows why there is only one Irish rugby team rather than separate Eire andNorthern Ireland teams. Sometimes it feels as if people are reluctant to talk about it in case they break the spell.

Whenever I have been to watch Wales/Ireland rugby matches in Dublin I have also noticed that they never play any anthems. I wonder if this is because of some political sensitivity.

Come to think of it, they have Irish players in the team that I have always called the British Lions.

It would be good to understand a little more about the history of this inclusiveness.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Skype - Free Internet telephony

Skype does one thing superlatively well. It adds voice to the online experience. But it is one of those rare applications that changes how you think about the internet.

The scales fell from my eyes when I was using it to talk through some outstanding items with a colleague who was working from home. Through a decent set of speakers he sounded as clear as if he was in the office with me, and we worked as well as if we were in the same office. (Simultaneous access to our web applications was also vital.)

I have now gone the whole hog, and signed up for SkypeOut which lets me dial out to telephones as well as computers, and SkypeIn which gives me voice mail and a conventional London telephone number at which I can be contacted on Skype from any phone in the world.

We bought a bunch of Logitech USB headsets from for �6.50 each (an amazing bargain) so I brought one back yesterday to bed Skype in at home as well.

As I have been doing this, I thought it was worth noting that the add-ins I use, because I missed them so badly until I set them up on this machine as well; they are:

1. Look2Skype which lets you make Skype IP telephony calls, SkypeOut Skype calls to non-Skype users, and start Skype Instant Messenger chats directly from my contacts in Outlook. This is invaluable. I will be stumping up my �15 on Tuesday well before the 30 day evaluation period.

2. MuteForSype which automatically stops my music when a phone call starts and then starts it again after the call ends. I use this with Microsoft Media Player and have one minor gripe in that it restarts at the beginning of the track rather than carrying on from a pause. This is not a real problem with 3 minute popular music tracks, but plays havoc with longer spoken word files like podcasts, or indeed DVDs. I only tested DVDs out of curiosity but it did make me think that something else I would add to the wishlist would be an interface to Microsoft Media Center Edition. Pausing and resuming TV in synch with phone call interruptions would be fantastic. I have great hopes for MuteForSkype, however, as it is only in Beta 1.

Newtown Cardiff

My father was brought up in a place called Newtown in Cardiff. Last Sunday he went back, along with my mother, for the opening of the Newtown Memorial Garden which has been set up by the Newtown Association.

Digging around on the web, I found a site called Real Cardiff run by Peter Finch that gives some history.

Newtown was built by Bute in 1846 to house Irish workers fleeing the potato famine by sailing from Cork as human ballast on the coal ships that plied industrial trade across St George's Channel. Cardiff was a boom town with a vast need for labour. Docks were to be dug, railways laid, buildings to be slung up, pig iron to be loaded. The district consisted of six streets - Pendoylan Street, Roland Street, North William Street, Rosemary Street, Pendoylan Place and Ellen Street - two hundred houses - jammed, insanitarily, back-to-back, in the sliver of ground between the main rail line and Tyndall Street. A warren of bedrooms used in relays above cramped, over-occupied parlours and damp, unventilated kitchens were home to more than a thousand desperate immigrants. There were shops, pubs (five in one street alone in the early years) and two churches - the Roman Catholic St Pauls's which was permanently full and dominated local life almost as much as the drink did and the Welsh All Saints which scratched a congregation from somewhere, just.

You can read the whole thing here.

I really don�t know anything at all about my Irish antecedents, apart from the fact that my grandfather was born there. I think he must have come over in the early part of the 20th century. We are going to try and get away to Cork for a week or so in the summer. A plan that was in hand before I found out that Cork was almost certainly where he set out from, perhaps even his home. That will certainly make it a lot more interesting.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Incitement to Religious Hatred

Question Number 8 from the Incitement to Religious Hatred FAQ available at the Home Office Website.

8. Will religion be defined? Will the definition include cults?

In keeping with similar legislation, the proposals do not define the meaning of religion. 'Religious hatred' is defined as 'hatred against a group of people defined by their religious beliefs or lack of religious belief'. Explanatory notes have been published which provide a non-exhaustive list of widely practised religions and clearly explain that the protection also covers people identified with a particular branch of a religion. They also stress that the protection of the offence covers Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics. When the circumstances are unclear, the courts will decide whether a particular group of people is protected, in the wider context of the criminal behaviour being considered. If the courts ruled that a new religious movement qualified as a religion for the purposes of the new offence, that would not prevent criticism of the practices of that movement.

This really is beyond parody. Within the 'Alice In Wonderland' world that this law's framers inhabit it makes complete sense for Atheism to be covered.

It was not so long ago that "Jedi Knight" made it to the list of religions for the 2001 UK census. You can get the complete list here. Other highlights include Druidism, Satanism, Wicca, and Celtic Pagan.

Given this precedent, I think we can confidently expect many interesting cases in which the courts are required to rule if a movement "qualifies as a religion for the purposes of the new offence."

Prince Charles famously wants to be Protector all All Faiths if and when he is King. He is going to be busy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

US judge denies feed-tube request

Living as I do with my head in the clouds, I had no idea until I heard of the Terri Schiavo case that being "allowed to die" was a euphemism for being starved and dehydrated unto death.

I really can't see what the difference is between this and tipping the patient into a coffin and burying her alive.

Does it really happen all the time?

Legal Equality

David Green on the Human Rights Act from the Civitas weblog articulates something that has been nagging at me.

The British have always been keen on their rights, but until recently a right meant an entitlement to be protected against the abuse of power by the government or powerful private organisations or individuals. Today a 'right' is less an entitlement to protection against the abuse of power (a protection we can all share with each other); rather it has become a claim against other people, an opportunity to gain financially or to secure preferential treatment at the expense of others. Rights as 'opportunities for private gain' instead of 'protections for all', has encouraged a 'compensation culture' based on the exaggeration of grievances.
It has also distorted the law-making process into a scramble for preferential treatment for groups who are sufficiently well organised to secure political designation of their victim status. There are already six official categories for preferential treatment (gender, race, disability, religion, age and sexual preference) under the Governments proposed Commission for Equality and Human Rights.

It puts me in mind of a letter from the Fiona McTaggart, a Home Office Minister in the Times last week defending the proposed new law on stirring up religious hatred in which she said:

The same arguments have been offered in debates since the 1960s against provisions on incitement to racial hatred, yet the success of this offence has demonstrated that the right to freedom of expression and the right to live without the fear of hatred need not be mutually exclusive.

I think this reveals a strange attitude. How can an offence be a success?

Monday, March 21, 2005

Happy New Year, Iran

No Ruz, new day or New Year as the Iranians call it, is a celebration of spring Equinox. It has been celebrated by all the major cultures of ancient Mesopotamia. Sumerians, 3000BC, Babylonians 2000 BC, the ancient kingdom of Elam in Southern Persia 2000BC, Akaddians all have been celebrating it in one form or another. What we have today as No Ruz with its' uniquely Iranian characteristics has been celebrated for at least 3000 years and is deeply rooted in the traditions of Zoroastrian belief system.
....... read on

I'm Nobody! Who are You?

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us -don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring blog!

Apologies to Emily Dickinson

Paddy Irish

I went back home to on Saturday Cardiff to watch Wales beat Ireland and win the Grand Slam for the first time since my teens.

A ticket was impossible to come by, so I watched the game at home on the TV with my Dad and was rewarded with a fine story.

In the 1950's South Wales apparently, the archbishop banned Catholic priests from playing rugby out of concern for the chance that injuries incurred on Saturday afternoons might hinder them from carrying out their duties on Sundays.

This ruling was reportedly disregarded by a Father Clancy who turned out in the centre for Pontypool under the nom de guerre, "Paddy Irish".

Because of his need for anonymity, he couldn't appear in the team photos from that era which are always a player short, but he was eventually rumbled because he hit such a vein of form that the Irish selectors came to watch him because he was under consideration for a cap.

Friday, March 18, 2005

This is your country

A great anecdote from Mark Steyn's piece on John Bolton in the Spectator

Twenty years ago, the then Secretary of State George Schultz used to welcome the Reagan administration's ambassadorial appointments to his office and invite each chap to identify his country on the map. The guy who'd just landed the embassy in Chad would invariably point to Chad. 'No,' Schultz would say, 'this is your country' - and point to the United States.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Lesbian Cow Horn

Google's custom logo has reminded me that it is Saint Patrick's day, and brought Saturday's Wales Ireland clash in Cardiff to the front of my mind.

In relief that Rhys Williams has been passed fit for the National Stadium game after scoring two tries at Murrayfield last week, I have developed the nerve steadying anagram "Rally, I'm swish" from his name.

Further, "A Welsh Born Icon" is to Nicholas Browne as "Rally I'm swish" is to Rhys Williams, but I have discovered a new anagram of my given name in "Lesbian Cow Horn".
If Wales don't beat Ireland on Saturday I may change the name of the blog to that new anagram in disgust.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Save Wimbledon

I have been stung to action by the figures from the Office of National Statistics showing that the average gross weekly pay packet in Wimbledon dropped by nearly 10% over a year.

Paul and I will therefore be visiting the reportedly snooty Wimbledon Village after work this evening where, briefed by the invaluable Beer in the Evening website, we will be injecting money into the local economy via the following conduits:
The Brewery Tap
68-69 High St, Wimbledon, London, SW19 5EE [020 8947 9331]
The Common Room
18, High St, Wimbledon, London, SW19 5DX [020 8944 1909]
The Dog and Fox
24 High St, Wimbledon, London, SW19 5DX [020 8946 6565]
Finch's Wine Bar
High St, Wimbledon, London, SW19 5DX [020 8944 6686]
The Firestables
27-29, Church Rd, London, SW19 5DQ [020 8946 3197]
The Rose and Crown
55 High St, Wimbledon, London, SW19 5BA [020 8947 4713]


Yesterday's note about India, reminded me what an wonderful place Kerala is and what a great time we had there at the end of 2003 and the beginning of 2004.

It is certainly an idiosyncratic place. In 1957, it voted in the first democratically elected Communist government anywhere in the world. I imagine that the CPI, in the photograph below that I took there, refers to the Commumnist Party of India. I wonder if there are many other places in the world these days where you are presented with the hammer and sickle in day to day politics.

Kerala Hammer and Sickle

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Searching for the Welsh-Hindi link

A BBC journalist is urging helpful linguists to come forward to help solve a mystery - why the Hindi accent has so much in common with Welsh.

Sonia Mathur, a native Hindi speaker, had her interest sparked when she moved from India to work for the BBC in Wales - and found that two accents from countries 5,000 miles apart seemed to have something in common.

Ms Mathur explained that when she moved to Wales, everyone instantly assumed she was Welsh from her accent.

"I would just answer the phone, and they would say 'oh hello, which part of Wales are you from?'," she said.

We tend to pronounce everything - all the consonants, all the vowels

"I would explain that I'm not from Wales at all - I'm from India.

"It was just hilarious each time this conversation happened."

Her interest aroused, Ms Mathur spoke to a number of other people whose first language is Hindi.

One Hindi doctor in north Wales told her that when he answered the phone, people hearing his accent would begin talking to him in Welsh.


No-one in Kerala or Bangalore over Christmas and the New Year last year mistook me for an Indian because of my voice. Maybe its because my accent has moved up the M4 over all the years I have been in London, but then again they are not really native Hindi speakers in Kerala and Bangalore where the local languages are Malayalam and Kannada.

In fact I got the impression that, in Southern India, Hindi was rather resented as a Northern imposition. In the big towns in Kerala all the signs were in Malayalam, English and Hindi but as you moved out to smaller places the Hindi disappeared although the English almost always remained.

Kumakorum; Malayalam and English but no Hindi.
(Click for a larger image)

One remarkable language experience that I did have in Bangalore was a visit to a call centre.

They have a device there called a dialer that is constantly calling target numbers. I learned that this only connects you to an operator in India if you answer the phone. Also, the operator's rig over in Bangalore does not even have any mechanism for him or her to finish a call, or "put the phone down". The conversation will not end until the person on the other end calls time. There is a socket in the rig however that will allow a roaming manager to jack in and take over the call if it gets too fraught.

The class room was great as well, as you could see the training materials pinned to the wall to support the high intensity instruction in Eastenders, David & Victoria Beckham etc. that is deemed necessary to comprehend the culture of UK residents while dealing with them.

DEATH be not proud

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

John Donne

Milly Dowler

The Police may have a breakthrough in the murder of 13 year old Milly Dowler who was abducted nearly three years ago. They are trying to identify the red N registration Daewoo Nexia in the photo below.

The Surrey Police Miller Dowler page looks very like a Weblog in that it is a collection of notices in reverse chronological order. It is very disappointing to see that at the time of writing however it has not been updated with the latest appeal, but please go to that page for contact details if you know anything about the car.

I have thought for a long time that a Weblog could be a very useful tool for distributing information to the public and the media for ongoing investigations.

Associating an RSS feed with the Milly Dowler page would enable journalists and interested members of the public to follow the case. This could be particularly important in cases like this tragedy where progress is sporadic as subscription would allow automatic notification to any interested person or system. The likelihood that local Webloggers would link back to the page, or add it to their blogrolls would also increase the visibility of the information.

In a similar vein and more generally, Neighbourhood Watch web sites - for example - based on Web Log Technology could utilise RSS easily and cheaply to mirror information from the Police etc. to keep themselves up to date.

1795 Treason Act : Part II

Last week I wrote about the government's confusion about the repeal of the 1795 Treason act. The story was so odd that I thought I might have misheard the report on Radio 4's Today programme.

It turns out that the BBC makes an audio archive of the show available broken down into manageable sections. You can listen to the report here.

Can anybody remember why the 1795 'Treason Act', had been repealed? Ministers pondered on that question yesterday in parliament.

Still sounds astounding to me, and maybe as scary as it is funny.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Pie, Mash and Liquor

Popped into Harrington's when I was in Tooting over the weekend to get outside some traditional London grub. I was too nervous to try eels, so I had pie, mash and liquor. The liquor seems to be some sort of parsley sauce. I found it all rather bland to be honest, but almost everything is bland compared to the Lahore Karahi nearby.

I will steal myself to go again and try the eels, but I think that may be my lot.

Hang Venison

To commemorate Wales' fine win over Scotland this weekend I have worked up another player anagram.

"Hang Venison" is to Gavin Henson as "I'm a Welsh Snail" is to Shane Williams.

Some of them can read

Robert Sullivan's delightful and revolting Rats... is .... the most exhaustive, nauseating and pleasurable compendium of rat facts ever set down. Facts such as: wherever there are human beings, there are rats. China is where the rat originated, and where you can find it on restaurant menus. Rat populations increase in times of war. New York City battled an epic rat infestation at the World Trade Center site after 9/11, and was obliged to fill the ruins with poison. A third of the world's food supply is consumed or destroyed by rats. Rats have eaten cadavers in the New York City coroner's office. Rats have attacked and killed homeless people sleeping on the streets of Manhattan. There are more rodents currently infected with plague in North America (mostly in rural western states: Wyoming, Montana, Colorado) than there were in Europe at the time of the Black Death. Whenever we see a rat, it's a weak rat, forced into the open to look for food; the strong ones stay out of sight. Brown rats survived nuclear testing in the Pacific by staying deep down in their burrows. There have always been rats in the White House. Exterminators will always have work. 'Rats that survive to the age of four are the wisest and the most cynical beasts on earth,' an exterminator told Mitchell sixty years ago. 'A trap means nothing to them, no matter how skilfully set. They just kick it around until it snaps; then they eat the bait. And they can detect poisoned bait a yard off. I believe some of them can read.' A pest control technician - as they're now called, 'exterminator' having a deceptive air of finality - told Sullivan that a 'sniper with a night-vision scope' is the only way to kill a rat of the semi-literate kind.
LRB | Sean Wilsey:

Kite man's rifle delivery shock

A man who ordered parts for a kite buggy was shocked when he received two Winchester rifles instead.
Andy Coptcoat, from Berkshire, ordered two steel tubes through Bristol-based Atmosphere Kites, who forwarded the order to its suppliers in France.
'I thought the shape of the package looked strange and when I checked it, the two firearms were inside,' he said.
A spokesman for carrier Business Post, blamed human error, saying there had been a mix-up with labels.


New Boys

The computer game industry seems to have made things for new boys without even looking at them (ah, the exuberance of popular culture). The marketing for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, for example, continues in the vein of revenge and violence as the hero Chuck is framed for homicide by two corrupt cops and must journey across San Andreas to take control of the streets. Yes, the boys we interviewed a few months ago were enthusiastic about the game. But the reason they gave was that they could drive right by their houses, because the game purported to model the actual geography of their urban areas. Curiosity and the coolness of a detailed simulation that maps onto reality seem to be the motivators. Stealing cars and driving them dangerously were just the side-show.

Today's Rant by Brenda Laurel.

Good to find her site. How long ago did I get "Computers As Theatre" I wonder. Really was back in the day.

Oy Vitae

The first presenters, a couple of scientists, summarize the state of stem cell research. When they're done, a soft-spoken young priest in the front row raises his hand. 'In a case of aneuploidy, it may be possible to laser ablate one or two of the blastomeres,' he says. A priest in the back row asks about 'aberrant silencing of the IGF and IGF2 receptor.' I can hardly believe what I'm hearing. Afterward, I ask the first priest, Father Tad Pacholczyk, where he learned this stuff. Turns out he's got a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Yale, plus a research stint at Harvard Medical School and undergraduate degrees in biochemistry and molecular biology. Around the room, half the guys in collars are scientists. A couple of weeks ago, there was a conference here on the concept of brain death, which the Vatican is reconsidering in light of new findings.
Jews vs. Catholics in the stem cell debate. By William Saletan in Slate

Friday, March 11, 2005

Long Walk to Forever

I was packing up a couple of boxes of paperbacks last night because we have bought a four seater couch that means I have to sacrifice a corner bookshelf in the front room.

Perhaps, more accurately I should explain that my four year old was throwing the books to me and I was packing them away, because Vonnegut's Welcome to the Monkey House fell open at "Long Walk to Forever".

"Could you come for a walk?" he said. He was a shy person, even with Catharine. He covered his shyness by speaking absently, as though what really concerned him were far away--as though he were a secret agent pausing briefly on a mission between beautiful, distant, and sinister points. This manner of speaking had always been Newt's style, even in matters that concerned him desperately.

"A walk?" said Catharine.
"One foot in front of the other," said Newt, "through leaves, over bridges--"

What a great writer he was and is when on song.

I remember a devastating image from a piece he wrote about a PEN sponsored visit to Biafra when he looks down and finds that an emaciated child has attached him or herself to each of his fingers as he walks through a camp.

He really is a canary in the coal mine.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

What Classic Movie Are You?

I'm Apocalypse Now! Cool, but could I be an errand boy sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill?

Richard F Burton's Grave in Mortlake

A photograph I took last year at Richard F Burton's Grave in Mortlake. I posted this as a test after installing Picasa and Hello on my portable. Click on the image for a larger version.

Burton is a hobby of mine. I paid for the restoration of his Letters from the battle-fields of Paraguay in the British Library in their Adopt-A-Book scheme. The grave is modeled on a Bedouin tent of the type in which he doubtless spent much of his time during his travels in Arabia. If you climb the ladder and the back, you can peer in at a window to see his coffin, along with that of his wife, and an array of artefacts like lamps and bells.

It is a strange monument to see in a Catholic church - Saint Mary Magdalene - in a suburb.

Reading Lolita in Tehran

I have been reading Azar Nafisi's extraordinary memoir.

It describes a period about a decade ago during which the author - after resigning from her job as a professor at a university in Tehran - invited seven of her best female students to attend a weekly study of great Western literature in her home.

Not on the face of it an idea you would pitch to the head of a movie studio, but I have found it to be extraordinarily affecting. Normally I wolf books down in great gulps, but I have found with this that I have to pause and reflect after each, brief, chapter.

What is so dispiriting is that the oppressors of these poor girls are so mean, petulant and dull. It really does make your heart ache. I have finally come to a passage, however, that made me smile when one of her students, Nassrin, says, "I have to tell you that the Ayatollah himself was no novice in sexual matters," ........... "I've been translating his magnum opus, The Political, Philosophical, Social, and Religious Principles of Ayatollah Khomeini, and he has some interesting points to make."

"But it's already been translated," said Manna. "What's the point?"

"Yes," said Nassrin, "parts of it have been translated, but after it became the butt of party jokes, ever since the embassies abroad found out that people were reading the book not for their edification but for fun, the translations have been very hard to find. And anyway, my translation is thorough�it has references and cross-references to works by other worthies. Did you know that one way to cure a man's sexual appetites is by having sex with animals? And then there's the problem of sex with chickens. You have to ask yourself if a man who has had sex with a chicken can then eat the chicken afterwards. Our leader has provided us with an answer: No, neither he nor his immediate family or next-door neighbors can eat of that chicken's meat, but it's okay for a neighbor who lives two doors away. My father would rather I spent my time on such texts than on Jane Austen or Nabokov?" she added, rather mischievously.

We were not startled by Nassrin's erudite allusions to the works of Ayatollah Khomeini. She was referring to a famous text by Khomeini, the equivalent of his dissertation�required to be written by all who reach the rank of ayatollah�aimed at responding to the questions and dilemmas that could be posed to them by their disciples. Many others before Khomeini had written in almost identical manner. What was disturbing was that these texts were taken seriously by people who ruled us and in whose hands lay our fate and the fate of our country. Every day on national television and radio these guardians of morality and culture would make similar statements and discuss such matters as if they were the most serious themes for contemplation and consideration.

I wonder, will I still be allowed to encourage anyone to laugh at this if the Government manages to push the new offence of incitement to religious hatred through in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

MCE Geek Dinner: (London)

Sean Alexander is looking to put together an MCE Geek Dinner when he is in London in May.

I would be interested to come along swap experiences.

I run an MCE 2005 based Toshiba Qosmio G10 as my main machine.

I can contribute one question and one tip now.


How can I get the MCE version of Newsgator in the UK when it doesn't appear in the Spotlight section?


The fact that you can't join the MCE to a domain is a real nuisance if you are using it as your main box in the office. A feasible workaround is to run Virtual PC on it, install a copy of XP Professional and join that to the domain. Works like a charm.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Societa Operaia

This is a mural from the working men's club in Sorrento taken by me last August. I posted it using Picasa and Hello. Posted by Hello
Not exactly the Wheeltappers and Shunters.

Improving Slate RSS

Paul Boutin responds to an idea of mine for improving Slate's RSS feeds by including the author's name and the section of ther magazine in which it is published. He is also and soliciting email from anyone who agrees or has any other ideas.

The Internet and Arab Politics

Interesting article by Joseph Braude in .The New Republic

He concludes that it seems likely that the web's most crucial impact on Arab politics won't be in alerting the west to human rights abuses or rallying support in the international community; it will be in allowing Arab dissidents to talk to one another and coordinate their activities. I recently read extensive Arabic blogging, dated from January and early February, on behalf of an anti-Mubarak group called the People's Peaceful Front for the Rescue of Egypt. A series of rambling entries began with an invitation to join an anti-government demonstration planned for Alexandria, "place and time to be announced shortly, God willing." Stay tuned, apparently.
The New Republic

Blake and Kipling

Was just pondering Blake's "Auguries of Innocence" when I was struck how similar a lot if the sentiment is to Kipling's "If".

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.


The prince's robes and beggar's rags
Are toadstools on the miser's bags.
A truth that's told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.
It is right it should be so:
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know
Through the world we safely go.

for example.

I wonder if there was a conscious echo or influence.

Just as Blake's wanton boy that kills the fly channels Shakespeare's as flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport.

Very different emphasis in Lear though.

Welshman named Chairman of Sony

In a surprise move, Sony Corporation has appointed Sir Howard Stringer as the new Chairman and Group CEO. This is the first time that a non-Japanese has been put in charge of a company that has an almost iconic status in its home country. PC Pro.

Another Welsh Born Icon. Cardiff born to be precise.

1795 Treason Act

I was listening to Radio 4 in bed this morning to an odd story on the Today programme that seems to have been somewhat overshadowed by the bloody nose that the House of Lords have given the government over their anti-terrorism bill.

It has emerged from questions tabled by Lord Tebbit that the 1795 Treason Act was repealed in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, without the Government being aware of it.

This seems to be an extraordinary state of affairs and makes me wonder how much competent scrutiny legislation actually undergoes these days and what other oversights may be unearthed.

It bizarre to hear Lady Whoever-it-was (I was half asleep at the time) apologising to their Lordships but reassuring them that the 1351 Act was still applicable.

I can't find any timely coverage of this at all on the Internet. Maybe I don't know where to look.

It struck me as I was writing this that Christopher Marlowe, the bizarre accusations against whom I was noting yesterday, lived almost exactly half way between 1351 and 1795. The 1351 Act would have been old news when the Privy Council was being told that he held that "he had as good Right to Coine as the Queen of England, and that he was aquanited with one Poole a prisoner in Newgate who hath greate skill in mixture of mettals and hauing learned some thinges of him he ment through help of a Cunninge stamp maker to Coin ffrench Crownes pistoletes and English shillinges",

Monday, March 07, 2005

Marlowe's 'Damnable Judgement'

Marlowe's life was full of libels--attacks upon him circulated like flies long before his corpse was in the ground--but two in particular sealed his fate. On the night of May 5, 1593, an anonymous set of rhyming couplets appeared on the wall of the Dutch churchyard in London. The poem threatened the city's commercial immigrants, whose presence was protected by the Queen; it alluded to two of Marlowe's plays, and was signed simply 'Tamburlaine.' Three weeks later, the Queen's governing Privy Council received a document titled 'Note Containing the opinion of one Christopher Marly Concerning his Damnable Judgement of Religion, and scorn of God's word.' The note was signed by Richard Baines, an old acquaintance of Marlowe's: The two men had been jointly investigated a few years earlier for counterfeiting currency, and Baines was well-known as a spy and double agent. According to Baines, Marlowe believed 'that Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest,' 'that St John the Evangelist was bedfellow to Christ' and 'that all they that love not boys and tobacco are fools.' The combination was lethal. Marlowe was summoned to appear before the council, and a week later was stabbed to death in a bar in Deptford by a government agent.

From a review in the Nation of a new biography of, and novel inspired by, Christopher Marlowe.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Sudan and Wales Protest

The government of Sudan is angry that a cancer-causing dye at the centre of a food scare in the UK is named after the north African country.
Sudan's ambassador has written to the Food Standards Agency, asking it to change the name of Sudan 1 to prevent further harm to Sudan's reputation.

A Welsh spokesman is angry that in North America the practice of cheating by avoiding payment of a gambling debt is named after his country.
He is to write to PEN asking it to insist on synonyms for welshing to prevent further harm to Wales' reputation.

Maybe even 300,000 deaths aren't enough

The Government of Sudan is refusing to grant visas to a World Health Organisation team seeking to conduct a study of mortality in Darfur, which should come as no surprise.
The lack of access serves those complicit in the atrocities very well. The most commonly cited figure is that there have been 50,000 deaths in Darfur. The source of this number is a WHO report on those who died from disease in camps for the displaced between April and September 2004. The conflict in Darfur has now been going for two years so we know that the 50,000 figure is a gross underestimate.
To begin with, the 50,000 figure does not include direct killings. A recent study of Darfurian refugees in Chad by the Coalition for International Justice conducted randomised interviews with 1136 refugees.
It found that 61 per cent had seen a family member being killed. If this is representative of the total displaced Darfurian population, the toll from direct killings is more than 200,000. Assuming the rate of death from disease has remained constant in the camps since the September report, another 50,000 is added to this toll. Include the 500,000 people inaccessible to humanitarian agencies, and use the USAID Crude Mortality Rate indicator (which suggests that under the conditions we can expect 10 deaths per 10,000 people a day) and a total death toll near 300,000 could be realistic.

Words fail me. Perhaps they think they can alleviate this by using new words for dying and death as well as for the dye.

Marlowe and Intolerable Cruelty

It lies not in our power to love or hate,
For will in us is overruled by fate.
When two are stripped, long ere the course begin,
We wish that one should love, the other win;
And one especially do we affect
Of two gold ingots, like in each respect:
The reason no man knows, let it suffice,
What we behold is censured by our eyes.
Where both deliberate, the love is slight:
Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?

Running on from my last post, I remember that Marlowe's "who ever loved, that loved not at first sight" is quoted by George Clooney to Catherine Zeta Jones (a Welsh born icon) as they spar in Intolerable Cruelty.

Strange how the mind meanders.

Stagecoach and Marlowe

I've been on a bit of a Christopher Marlowe jag this week, inspired by all things by Doc Boone intoning,

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.

to Dallas towards the beginning of Ford's Stagecoach.

Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah

Ali Agha, in spite of all my endeavours, reeled down the stairs, and fell upon the sleeping form of the night porter, whose blood he vowed to drink - the Oriental form of threatening "spiflication." Happily for the assaulted, the Agha's servant, a sturdy Albanian lad, was lying on a mat in the doorway close by. Roused by the tumult, he jumped up, and found the captain in a state of fury. Apparently the man was used to the master's mood. Without delay he told us all to assist, and we lending a helping hand, half dragged and half carried the Albanian to his room. Yet even in this ignoble plight, he shouted with all the force of his lungs the old war-cry, "O Egyptians! O race of dogs! I have dishonoured all Sikandariyah - all Kahirah - all Suways." And in this vaunting frame of mind he was put to bed. No Welsh undergraduate at Oxford, under similar circumstances, ever gave more trouble.

The great Captain Sir Richard F. Burton from Chapter 7 of his Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah. Even in the Nineteenth Century it seems, the Welsh set the high mark to which all others aspired for carousing.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Yahoo turns 10

Yahoo is ten years old, and a decade ago its home page looked like this.


[Menu Bar]

There are currently 31897 entries in the Yahoo database

Although we didn't really get going until the end of '96, 1995 was also the year that I bought Coraider Services as an "off the shelf" company. Tempus Fugit.

A Taste of Neath

A food competition in Neath is being rebranded due to fears the original title gave a poor image of the town.
Flyers promoting 'The Tastiest Tart in the Town' event have been hastily withdrawn from circulation.
Organised by the town centre forum and Neath rugby club, catering businesses were asked to put their baking skills to the test by cooking home-made tarts.
Now the competition will go ahead under a different title because some local forum members objected.
The aim was to promote and celebrate local produce on sale in the market and surrounding shops.
Last year's competition saw a quest to find the best faggots ...........


Scott Gibbs Bridge

ThisisLondon: There is nowhere else on the planet which occupies such a special place in the hearts of England football fans.

Wembley is not just the home of English football, it is the stuff of legends. It is where FA cup finals have been held since the days of baggy shorts and Brylcreem, it is where England made World Cup history - and it is where every English schoolboy dreams of scoring the goal that wins the cup for their beloved Chelsea/Man U/Leyton Orient.

So when it comes to finding a name for a footbridge at the new Wembley stadium, one might have assumed it should be named after some suitably English sporting icon. The Stanley Matthews bridge, perhaps? Or Geoff Hurst? Alf Ramsey? Or even just 1966?

But no. A competition to find a name for the footbridge - which will link the national stadium with the town centre - has been hijacked by mischievous Scottish, Irish and Welsh fans who want it to remember one of their own homegrown heroes. Thanks to an email campaign, nearly 90 per cent of the 80,000 suggestions that have been put forward so far have been for non-English players.

....... the Welsh have thrown their weight behind Scott Gibbs, who scored Wales's winning try during their famous victory over England in 1999.

Vote here.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Colliers Wood Tower Tops Demolition Poll

The Tower in Colliers Wood is topping polls to decide which of the country's most hideous buildings deserve to be demolished as part of a Channel Four programme.

The makers of the forthcoming show "Demolition" have received a high number of votes from viewers suggesting the Tower should be chosen for demolition.

Lucy Cooke, director of Demolition, said: "Our nomination lines only opened last week and we've been surprised at how inundated we've been with nominations for the Tower in Colliers Wood."

Most nominations for the Tower complain of its ugliness and strange effects on the weather around it.

I couldn't agree more. I walk through the park to work just to avoid it and the wind tunnel it generates.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Derbyshire's premier resort

I stayed in Matlock Bath last night as we were working at Derby university and was surprised to see that it was for all the world like a British seaside town set down among the cliffs in the middle of the country.

According to the Derbyshire UK website;
Matlock Bath in Derbyshire, became an instant tourist resort for the wealthy and influential, when warm springs, at a constant temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit, were discovered back in 1698. The upheavals in Europe in the later part of the 18th century onwards discouraged the wealthy from making the Grand Tour and they diverted their attention to places like the Peak District. Matlock Bath was a beneficiary of this new era in travel.

No disrespect to the good people of Matlock, but I think it might be a bit of a disappointment compared to the treasures of Rome and Naples.