Saturday, April 30, 2005

Brand Awareness

Writing yesterday about President Bush's sporting youth, before he swapped the oval ball for the Oval Office, reminded me of a misapprehension of mine that shows how much the world has changed.

A couple of years ago driving through Twickenham of Richmond I remember seeing an advert for the London Pride Sevens and assuming it was some sort of Pride in the Park gay rugby extravaganza before I realised it was simply sponsored by Fullers.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Strange Creatures

In a 1996 poll of political attitudes commissioned by Boris Yeltsin, three categories ended in a tie: democrats, Communist revanchists, and apoliticals. But one category beat them all: nihilists. Historically, Russia is the only country in which nihilism became an actual popular movement, and now, 150 years later, it has returned: Russian ballots feature the option 'Against all.' In a March presidential poll, it placed second.
The Claremont Institute

Alcohol makes your brain grow

Drinking alcohol boosts the growth of new nerve cells in the brain, research suggests.

I should have a "brain the size of a planet" then, tipping my hat to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Presidential Rugby

I was doing a little research on George W. Bush this morning, and was astonished to find that he played Rugby Union as well as baseball when he was at Yale. I thought only the Welsh played baseball and rugby. I seem to remember, for example, that David Bishop - among others - is a double international having been capped for Wales at both sports.

The photo above is apparently from a 1960's Yale handbook, and I would also note that as well as appearing to throw a "gratifying right hook", the future President is also performing an illegal but gratifying high tackle.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Back from Huntington

On the train back from Huntington to Kings Cross you pass the site where Arsenal's new Emirates stadium is being constructed very soon after the Finsbury Park mosque.

It is very cheering to see a football stadium sponsored by an Arab airline just after the former HQ of the notorious Sheikh Abu Hamza. It would be funny if Emirates has sponsored Tottenham Hotspur's stadium though as it probably wouldn't sit too well with the nickname the yids.

Which reminds me, when I was researching the Qibla after finding one in our Dubai hotel room I discovered that there is one exception to the direction is which a Muslim faces when praying.

Prayer is always offered towards the Ka'aba in Mecca which is the holiest place in Islam. It is a large granite building in the shape of a cube, but if the supplicant is inside the Ka'ba itself, prayer is directed towards its outer walls. Obvious really.

Anthology of Huntingdonshire Cabmen

I am off to a meeting with Cambridgeshire Constabulary this morning. Much to my delight, their headquarters is in Huntingdon, which brings to mind Beachcombers immortal "Anthology of Huntingdonshire Cabmen".

It can hardly be claimed for the newly published Anthology of Huntingdonshire Cabmen that it is, in the words of an over-enthusiastic critic, 'a masterpiece of imaginative literature'. The Anthology consists of the more striking names (with initials) from each of the three volumes. It is a factual and unemphatic work, and the compiler has skinned the cream from the lists. Here are such old favourites as Whackfast, E.W., Fodge, S., and Nurthers, P.L. The index is accurate, and the introduction by Cabman Skinner is brief and workmanlike.

I was introduced to the teeming world of Captain Foulenough, Dr Strabismus, and Thunderbolt Footle etc. in Richard Ingrams' Beachcomber: The Works of J.B.Morton. I can't seem to find it now, which is odd because I distinctly remember buying every single copy for peanuts from a shop in Cardiff when the book was remaindered back in the late Seventies or early Eighties. I wonder if any of the friends that I pressed the book on have managed to keep hold of it. I'd love to read it again.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Back From Dubai


We re back from Dubai with a thousand impressions that I should try and record. I will just note one tonight. I had never been to a Islamic country before and I was surprised to see that the table in our hotel room (see photo above) had an arrow showing the direction to the Kaaba in Mecca so that a Muslim could easily tell the way to face when praying.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

It doesn't matter

One piece of good news is that arts journalism is being transformed before our eyes by the rise of Web-based new media�and just in the nick of time. The old mass media were and are zero-sum operations, as advocates of literary fiction have been discovering to their dismay in recent years. Allocate more space (or air time) to one topic and you have that much less space available for all other topics: novels compete with memoirs, classical music with jazz, theater with film, indie flicks with special-effects extravaganzas. Now that most of us live in one-newspaper towns, and now that newspapers themselves are struggling for survival, that�s turned into an iron law.

The Web is different: it permits you to publish a "newspaper" or "magazine" of your very own without having to pay for ink, paper, bricks, and mortar - much less a graduate degree in journalism. What it doesn't guarantee, however, is that such "newspapers" will ever be read by millions of people, or that their publishers will be able to give up their day jobs.

Terry Teachout on why it doesn't matter how big an audience is.

Souls can only be changed one by one, and each one is as supremely important as the next. Hence there are no small audiences, only small-souled artists.

So its still valuable if you are your own audience of one I conclude.

Monday, April 25, 2005


As long ago as 1580, an Italian traveller reported that Dubai was a prosperous pearl-diving and fishing community. It was still much the same at the beginning of the 20th century, when over 300 pearl-diving dhows were stationed in Dubai�s creek.

Pearl divers risked life and limb to gather oysters from the sea bed, often diving for more than two minutes at a time, with little more than a nose-clip and a heavy stone to weight them down.

Such was the renown of Dubai's pearls, that pearling continued to be the mainstay of the city's prosperity, until the development of the cultured pearl in the 1940s led to the collapse in demand for the natural variety.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Number 1

We are in Dubai to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of 25 April. So whatever single tops the chart tonight will be added to the series below. It is sure a long way from Sir Cliff's "Congratulations" to Eamon's "F**k It"!

2004 Eamon F**k It (I Don't Want You Back)
2003 Room 5 featuring Oliver Cheatham Make Luv
2002 Oasis Hindu Times
2001 Destiny's Child Survivor
2000 Fragma TOCA'S MIRACLE
1999 Westlife SWEAR IT AGAIN
1998 RUN DMC vs Jason NEVINS Its Like That
1996 Mark Morrison RETURN OF THE MACK
1995 Take That Back for Good
1994 Prince The Most Beautiful Girl in the World
1993 George Michael, Queen and Lisa Stasfield Five Live EP
1992 Right Said Fred Deeply Dippy
1991 Chesney Hawkes The One and Only
1990 Madonna Vogue
1989 Bangles Eternal Flame
1988 S Express Theme form S-Express
1987 Madonna La Isla Bonita
1986 George Michael A different corner
1985 USA for Africa We are the World
1984 Lionel Richie Hello
1983 Spandau Ballet True
1982 Paul mccartney and Stevie Wonder Ebony and Ivory
1981 Bucks Fizz Making Your Mind Up
1980 Blondie Call Me
1979 Art Garunkel Bright Eyes
1978 Bee Gees Night Fever
1977 Abba Knowing Me, Knowing You
1976 Brotherhood of Man Save Your Kisses for Me
1975 Bye Bye Baby Bay City Rollers
1974 Terry Jacks Seasons in the Sun
1973 Dawn Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree
1971 Dave and Ansil COLLINS Double Barrell
1970 Dana All Kinds of Everything
1969 Beatles with Billy Preston Get Back
1968 Cliff Richard Congratulations
1967 Sandie Shaw Puppet on a String
1966 Dusty Springfield You don�t have to say you love me
1965 Beatles Ticket To Ride

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Souks

�Souk� is the Arabic word for market, and Dubai is littered with them. They are a legacy of Dubai�s status as a thriving port, dating back to the 19th century, when traders and smugglers docked by the banks of the Creek to do business. The city�s souks remain beside the famous waterway.

The most acclaimed is the
Gold Souk, on the Deira side of town near the mouth of the Creek. It�s an impressive sight. Rows upon rows of windows filled with elaborate 24-carat gold necklaces, with throngs of Arab and Indian women clamouring for a better view.

This is no tourist trap. People come to stock up on the yellow metal, mainly from India, the world�s largest gold market. Dubai�s bullion market has tailed off since 1999, when India liberalised gold imports, but jewellery is still thriving.

The Spice Souk is the most popular among tourists, thanks to its picturesque narrow streets and pungent smells. But not all of Dubai�s souks are so appealing. The electronics souk in Bur Dubai is a network of shabby, 1970s shopping arcades, where Russian, Iranian and Sudanese �shopping tourists� come to stock up on cheap mobile phones and stereos. The fish souk in nearby Karama is simply a grotty indoor market full of fishmongers; ideal if you need to buy hammour, a local fish, or the magnificent Gulf prawns, but not one for the �must-see� visitors list.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Friday Brunch

Friday brunch is an institution in Dubai. The city's convoluted weekend system means no one seems to be off work at the same time, but this is an exception. Whether it is families out for a pleasant feed, or young expats recovering after Thursday night's excesses, Friday brunch is one of the few pursuits that straddles cultural barriers. Even some of the locals - few though they are - might line up in between their five trips to the mosque.

Thursday, April 21, 2005


A long time ago I worked as a Corporate Development Executive at George Wimpey PLC. At that time Wimpey was a large international construction group - it has since shrunk but that is another story. One of my jobs there was to follow what the construction analysts in the big stock brokers were saying about us.

At first I was a bit intimidated by these apparently giant brains and their predictions, but after a while I hit on the plan of reading what they had been saying a year ago before reading their current prophecies. The old stuff was invariably rubbish in retrospect, plausible as it had been at the time.

Since then I often like to look back a year to put things in perspective. As we are going to Dubai until the middle of next week, I will probably not be able to update this log, until we get back, so I have decided to put up stub posts in advance covering those days so that there will be year old posts next April.

On Wikipedia, a stub is a short article. When writers begin a new article, they use the word stub to mean that it is still very short and that people can add a lot more useful information.

I may come back to the stubs if I have time, but I may leave them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Conner

William Shakespeare's father was an ale-tester or 'conner'. The 'conner' tested the ale by pouring some upon a bench and sitting on it while drinking the rest. If there was sugar in the ale, or it was impure, their leather breeches would stick after sitting for half an hour or so.
History of Beer

Where do babies come from?

"Pop star Britney Spears has confirmed she is pregnant with her first child, following weeks of intense speculation" reports the BBC.

Speculation is one word for it I suppose.

When you think that the same organisation recently told us that "Parliament must debate whether terminally ill patients should be given the right to die as early as possible after the expected election", it does make you wonder if the budget extends to a sub-editor at BBC online.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Serendipity II

Just after posting about the Banana leaf, I have found that Google Maps for the UK has just been launched. Coming on the heels of BlogMap I think that Geo coding RSS feeds could be very significant for our work never mind my personal blogging.

Anyway, if you are hungry and in the neighbourhood, you can find the Banana Leaf here, courtesy of the associated Google Local service with directions from our office.

Serendip SW17

The word serendipity, which means the making of happy and unexpected discoveries by accident or when looking for something else, was first committed to paper by Horace Walpole in a letter he wrote on January 28, 1754 in the library of his gothic mansion Strawberry Hill in Twickenham. In the letter he says that he formed the word from the title of the fairy-tale `The Three Princes of Serendip', the heroes of which `were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of'.

Serendip is an old name for Ceylon which in turn is an old name for Sri Lanka, and a serendipitously discovered advantage of living and working within walking distance of Colliers Wood tube is access to a great range of South Indian and especially Sri Lankan restaurants.

Yesterday's lunch was masala dosai - served on a banana leaf, along with chicken biryani prepared with curry leaves and green chillis, and egg masala at the aptly named Banana Leaf, for about the same as it would cost us to go to Burger King.

We need to count the pennies as we will be eating at Verre, Gordon Ramsay's restaurant in Dubai on Monday. As Derek Smalls and David St. Hubbins of Spinal Tap have noted, "people should envy us.... I envy us.... yeah I envy us too".

Monday, April 18, 2005

Wikipedia: Merton Priory

Wikipedia is a Web-based, free-content encyclopedia, which is written collaboratively by volunteers. It consists of 195 independent language editions sponsored by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. Its purpose is to create and distribute, worldwide, a free encyclopedia in as many languages as possible. Wikipedia is one of the most popular reference sites on the Web receiving around 50 million hits per day.

Wikipedia contains approximately 1.5 million articles, more than 500,000 of which are in its English language edition.

After being surprised to find a Wikipedia entry for Colliers Wood last week that mentioned Merton Priory I decided to create an entry for the Abbey. (I assume that the Abbey and the Prioiry are one and the same thing).

My new entry is at Creating it was piece of cake.

I put a paragraph or so in that included internal links to Adrian IV etc. and edited the Colliers Wood entry to include a link to my new page. Since I did that someone else has come along and added the categories Merton and Abbeys in England.

All in all Wikipedia is very impressive. I must find out more about it.

It will be interesting to see if anyone else takes it upon themselves to improve the page I added. We have arranged to visit the Chapter House on Wednesday lunchtime so I may be able to update it myself after that.

Browsing the connections from Saint Thomas � Becket to the Priory to Walter de Merton to Merton College Oxford to T. S. Eliot, makes me think it would be fun to see Murder in the Cathedral in the Colour House Theatre on the site here.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Church Going by Philip Larkin

A poem for Sunday.

Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new -
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Colliers Wood - Wikipedia

Blimey, there's a Wikipedia entry for Colliers Wood! All that ever comes up on Google News is the football team.

Would you Adam and Eve it?

(Thanks to Simon Brunning.)

Friday, April 15, 2005

Random Vin Diesel Fact Generator

Did you know that Vin Diesel's long-time friendship with H. P. Lovecraft was the inspiration for the Beatles' "White Album? Or that before he came to this planet, Earth didn't spin? Or that he invented the spoon but then was so enraged by it that he invented both the fork and the spork to destroy all spoons?

Log on to this site, and abandon any thought of doing any work for the next half hour or so. Refresh it for new facts to add to:

The Shroud of Turin is actually the remains of the arena that Jesus indian-wrestled Vin Diesel in. The imprint is the result of Vin Diesel's 'Flamboyant Piledriver' move.

Vin Diesel created Earth as an expansion pack to Command & Conquer.

Vin Diesel was originally cast as the main character in the film, �Searching for Bobby Fischer.� He was deemed unusable halfway into shooting for two reasons. 1) Legally he was Bobby Fischer. And 2) in a pivotal scene where the main character�s rival makes a move and says �Trick or Treat,� Vin Diesel jumped over the table and murdered the kid.

Hat tip to Empire

Samuel Johnson's Dictionary

I noticed on the Wikipedia home page today that it is the 250th anniversary of the publication of Samuel Johnson's dictionary. (I also saw that it is 20 years since Marvin Hagler beat Tommy Hearns in one of the greatest fights in history. That makes me feel old.)

Some quotations from the dictionary courtesy of

Dull: Not exhilaterating (sic); not delightful; as, to make dictionaries is dull work.
Excise: A hateful tax levied upon commodities, and adjudged not by the common judges of property, but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid.
Far-fetch: A deep stratagem. A ludicrous word.
Jobbernowl: Loggerhead; blockhead.
Kickshaw: A dish so changed by the cookery that it can scarcely be known.
Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.
Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people.
Patron: One who countenances, supports or protects. Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence, and is paid with flattery.
Pension: An allowance made to any one without an equivalent. In England it is generally understood to mean pay given to a state hireling for treason to his country.
Politician: 1. One versed in the arts of government; one skilled in politicks. 2. A man of artifice; one of deep contrivance.
To worm: To deprive a dog of something, nobody knows what, under his tongue, which is said to prevent him, nobody knows why, from running mad.

I must be a bit of a jobbernowl myself as I have never heard of kickshaw. I wonder where I can get a recipe.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Geocoding Investigations

I have a strong feeling that services like Blog Map, which seems to be based on Microsoft technology, and Google Maps, could be very useful for Police investigations.

I wrote a paper, "RSS at the Tipping Point" in 2003, where I talked about the idea of Public Facing Investigation Blogs.

What I said then was

RSS feeds are often associated with Weblogs. Weblogs are online chronological journals that are used for a variety of personal and professional purposes. They are a hugely popular Internet phenomenon.

A Weblog could be a very useful tool for distributing information to the public and the media for ongoing investigations.

The Surrey Police Miller Dowler page on looks very like a Weblog.

Associating an RSS feed with this page would enable journalists and interested members of the public to follow the case. The likelihood that local Webloggers would link back to the page (a practice called Blogrolling) would also increase the visibility of the information.

I noted last month that, after all this time, the Police may have made a break through in the Milly Dowler case and were looking for information about a car that was at the scene of the probable abduction three years ago.

Blog Map lets you:

  • Geo-code a blog feed
  • Browse blogs by location
  • Search for local blogs
  • Find blogs in your neighborhood
  • Get local BlogRoll in OPML format

Wouldn't that be tremendously useful for maintaining public attention on a long running investigation with its own weblog and feed?

Two Way Traffic

It has been reported that 20th Century Fox is to remake a blockbuster Bollywood movie, "Munnabhai", about a thug, played by Sanjay Dutt, who enrolls in medical school to win back the confidence of his father. This is apparently the first time a Hollywood studio has bought the rights to an Indian film, although there has been a lot of traffic the other way.

I particularly love "Kaante" which delivers value for money by remaking "Reservoir Dogs", "Heat" and "The Usual Suspects" all in one. It is interesting when you think of Reservoir Dogs' debt to Ringo Lam's Hong Kong action film "City on Fire" to trace the influences as Kaante, 'Dogs and City on Fire all lead up to a Mexican standoff in a warehouse and the unmasking of an undercover cop.

I think that the first Bollywood DVD that we saw at home was Lagaan. In those days I didn't realise that Indian movies usually weigh in at over three hours so we would stop them late at night and catch up with the second half the next day.

I remember watching the end of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham one Sunday morning, with tears streaming down my face and realising, after about 20 minutes, that I hadn't turned the English subtitles on. That surely must be great film making if I could follow the story in Hindi, but then again KG3, like about three quarters of Bollywood films does follow the formula of a headstrong son clashing with and then ultimately being reconciled with a stubborn father, so joining the dots in the third reel seldom overtaxes the old noggin.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The English Pope

Our offices in Merton Abbey Mills are on a site where a knight called Gilbert (who was granted the estate by Henry I in 1114) founded an Augustinian priory in 1117 at the point where the old Roman road crossed the River Wandle.

The stories of the Priory and the site are fascinating. One of the Abbey's many claims to fame is that it was the alma mater of Nicholas Brakespeare, who is known to history as Adrian IV, the only English man ever to become Pope.

Adrian's most controversial act was a bull that allowed Henry II of England to annex Ireland to his kingdom. "...[S]trive to imbue that people with good morals, and bring it to pass, as well through yourself as through those whom you know from their faith, doctrine, and course of life to be fit for such a work, that the church may there be adorned, the Christian religion planted and made to grow, and the things which pertain to the honor of God and to salvation be so ordered that you may merit to obtain an abundant and lasting reward from God, and on earth a name glorious throughout the ages," he wrote the king. ........ The pope based his authority on the Donation of Constantine, which was later shown to be a forgery. Although a few scholars deny that Adrian issued the troubling bull, the evidence is convincing that he did.

Strange how actions reverberate through history. The "Donation of Ireland" was around 1155 and 850 years later the dispute is still going strong.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A Nice Knock Down Argument

The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry

12. That the definition should be:

'A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person'.

13. That the term 'racist incident' must be understood to include crimes and non-crimes in policing terms. Both must be reported, recorded and investigated with equal commitment.

14. That this definition should be universally adopted by the Police, local Government and other relevant agencies.

Lewis Carroll

'But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument',' Alice objected.

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master -- that's all.'

Time for me to jump on my soapbox again. The recommendations of the 1999 MacPherson report have been adopted. Read through the left hand column again and imagine that you are a UK Police Officer dealing with, for example, name calling by children; a non-crime in policing terms, that you must report, record and investigate as if it was a crime if it is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person. Imagine the paperwork required for you to be able to demonstrate that you have discharged your duty in this respect. Imagine your reaction next time you hear the Home Secretary promising to reduce bureaucracy in the force.

Web Performance Tip

When generating hyperlinks, always include a trailing slash if possible. For instance, navigating to takes one more roundtrip than When the browser navigates to the /ie url, the server merely sends down a 301 to the /ie/ url. Both links work, but the second version is faster.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The Sin Eater

There is an old Welsh tradition of the SIN-EATER, a man who for trifling payment was believed to take upon himself, by means of food and drink, the sins of a deceased person.

Usually each village had its official sin-eater to whom notice was given as soon as a death occurred. He at once went to the house, and there, a stool being brought, he sat down in front of the door. A groat, a crust of bread and a bowl of ale were handed him, and after he had eaten and drunk he rose and pronounced the ease and rest of the dead person, for whom he thus pawned his own soul.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Catharsis by my Window

A little way into a conversation this weekend it emerged that I thought we were talking about Auden,

while Jane thought we were talking about Jordan.

I think Jane's imagined conversation was the more interesting one.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

The Sage of Fresno

I have been reading a lot of Victor Hanson - farmer and classicist - lately.

Here is a profile by Jonthan Kay that was originally published in the Weekly Standard.

"Multiculturalism, in preference to a multiracial embrace of Western culture, has become what pulp was in the 1950s," he tells me as he navigates the truck between a rotting sofa and a bed frame. "Plato told us this was inevitable: The more you embrace a state-mandated egalitarianism for its own sake and radical democracy, . . . the more you will be driven to the common denominator of a therapeutic, happy-go-lucky culture, simple stories, lowbrow entertainment, minimal expectations--rather than the hard work of using education to uplift the majority."

I love that line, "as he navigates the truck between a rotting sofa and a bed frame".

I am also pleased to note that his grandfather was Welsh.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Jeweller's Shop

Reading about the John Paul II over the last week or so I have started to learn a little from George Weigel and Michael Valpy of his ideas on how culture far more than political ideology or economics shapes humanity's path through history.

I don't know enough about them to comment yet, so I just thought I would lighten the tone on a sad funereal day, by taking a moment to celebrate the fact that he put his money where his mouth was by the delightfully unlikely achievement of writing a play that became a Burt Lancaster film, and having "Writer - filmography" credits on his Internet Move Database entry.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Farce will be with you, always

Star Wars fans have started queuing seven weeks early for the opening of the final movie - but appear to have camped outside the wrong cinema.

Dedicated fans are lining up outside the famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood but have been told it will open on 19 May at a cinema a mile away.

Producers opted to open the film at the ArcLight cinema, making it unlikely other cinemas in the area will show it.

But the fans are refusing to move, believing the news to be false.


The Machine Stops

I have come across an eerily prescient short story by E.M. Forster from 1909 about a dystopia in which Vashti - the protagonist - is initially content with her life, which is spent alone in her room generating second-hand 'ideas' and communicating them to others via "the machine".

Let me think, of whom am I reminded?

Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance. There are no apertures for ventilation, yet the air is fresh. There are no musical instruments, and yet, at the moment that my meditation opens, this room is throbbing with melodious sounds. An armchair is in the centre ........ read on......

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Bill Kill

I am delighted to learn that Lady Scotland has announced in the Lords that the proposals to outlaw incitement to religious hatred were dropped from the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill yesterday because opposition in the Upper House meant they could not be passed before Parliament is dissolved.

On the radio last night, I heard a petulant Peter Hain attempting use this to provoke discord in religious communities. I can't find a transcript yet but the Scotsman reports:

Earlier Commons Leader Peter Hain had told MPs the Opposition bore full responsibility for blocking the measure and Muslim communities across Britain would take very careful note of that.

HE should be deeply ashamed of that blatant attempt to inflame Moslem people.

I also remember him attempting to make the utterly ludicrous point that the proposals would have extended the protection already available to Sikhs to Christians. This is so irrelevant to the day to day concerns of the British that it beggars belief.

By way of contrast, something I have long quietly admired about Catholic public life in the UK, is that there is very little bitching and moaning about the issue of royal succession even though - as the Telegraph observed recently:

Imagine a religion that was once considered so abhorrent that a country's head of state is still forbidden not only to belong to it, but also to marry anyone who does. Moreover, even his or her distant relations become ineligible to become head of state if they marry someone who adheres to this faith.

The country is modern Britain; the religion in question is not a sect of hooded satanists, but the world's largest Christian Church. The legislation barring "anyone who should profess the Popish religion or marry a Papist" is the Act of Settlement of 1701, which was intended to be - and remains - profoundly offensive to Roman Catholics.

Now I don't think Catholics particularly care about this in general, never mind being profoundly offended and I believe that this reveals a mature political sensibility. It is understand that all things being equal, it should be repealed but its not the most urgent priority, and in the meantime we can even laugh that:

Prince William or, for that matter, Zenouska Mowatt (37th in line to the throne) may wed a Zoroastrian or Scientologist without losing the right of succession, but not a member of a Church to which five million Britons belong.

It is wrong to encourage everyone in the country to define themselves by identifying with groups that are sanctified by victimhood. And it is unhealthy to be over sensitive to any percieved slights.

I am not anyone's victim thank you very much, and for the Leader of the House of Commons to try and persuade me that I am discriminated against with regard to Sikhs is beyond preposterous.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

American Torturing Jobs Outsourced

WASHINGTON, DC-AFL-CIO vice president Linda Chavez-Thompson, representing the American Federation of Interrogation Torturers, released a statement Monday deriding the CIA's 'extraordinary rendition' program, under which American torturing jobs are outsourced to foreign markets. 'Outsourcing the task of interrogating terror suspects to countries like Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia is having a crippling effect on the Americans who make a living by stripping detainees nude, shackling them to the floor, and beating the living shit out of them,' Chavez-Thompson said. 'And specialists within the field - corrosive-material chemists, ocular surgeons, and testicular electricians - are lucky to find any jobs at all. How are they supposed to feed their families?' Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defended extraordinary rendition, saying the program will create jobs in the long run by fostering a global climate of torture tolerance.

More genius from The Onion

Monday, April 04, 2005

Dying after the election

According to the BBC, "Parliament must debate whether terminally ill patients should be given the right to die as early as possible after the expected election, peers say."

I think it is possible that there are some terminally ill patients who may wish to live as long as possible regardless of the election or indeed the election result.

Update: April 5, 6:30 am Just as Norman Geras predicted , the BBC have improved the first paragraph of their report to "Parliament must debate as early as possible after the expected election whether terminally ill patients should be given the right to die, peers say." I wonder if this was an internal process or if they picked up the blogosphere comment. Very interesting if it is the latter.

Mea Culpa

The world is saturated with coverage of the life and death of the Pope today, but I haven't seen any comment on one of the most important themes of John Paul II's pontificate, repentance for the sins of the Church.

A few years ago an Italian journalist wrote a book in which he calculated that John Paul II had publicly admitted Church culpability 94 times, on topics ranging from the inquisition to the treatment of women.

This does seem to be in profound contrast to the authoritarian Papal image with which we are so often presented.

I remember being amazed and impressed myself when, in 1992, 359 years after the Galileo trial, John Paul II issued an apology, lifting the edict of Inquisition against Galileo, which said:

"Galileo sensed in his scientific research the presence of the Creator who, stirring in the depths of his spirit, stimulated him, anticipating and assisting his intuitions."

After the release of this report, the Pope said further that "... Galileo, a sincere believer, showed himself to be more perceptive in this regard [the relation of scientific and Biblical truths] than the theologians who opposed him".

How's that for the Long Now?

(The Long Now Foundation is a fascinating organisation set up to promote "slower/better" thinking. I must write something about them and their marvelous clock one of these days.)

The Galileo affair also appears to have provided the Pope with material for jokes. In 1994, after fracturing his thigh in a bathtub fall, he hobbled slowly to his presiding chair in a roomful of bishops in the Vatican, lowered himself with great difficulty into his seat and muttered to the assembly: Eppur, si muove � "And yet, it moves," Galileo's defiant declaration to his Inquisition judges in 1633 after they had sentenced him to life imprisonment for declaring Earth orbits the sun, not the other way around as implied in Scripture.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Welsh Wealth

1 (New entry) Michael Moritz, finance �1,350m
2 (1) Sir Terry Matthews, telecommunications �1,300m
3 (2) Albert Gubay, property and fitness clubs �650m
4 (3) David Sullivan, media �575m
5 (5) Stanley and Peter Thomas, property �250m
6 (4) Lord Heseltine, publishing �241m
7 (6) Tom Jones, music �175m
8 (7) Catherine Zeta Jones, films �170m
9 (8) Sir Chris Evans, biotechnology �158m
10 (New entry) Henry Engelhardt, motor insurance �145m

I'd never heard of Michael Moritz before I read this BBC NEWS report. He's from Penylan in Cardiff originally. Like what I am as Ernie Wise would say.

The old cropped photo in the report seems to imply that he is some sort of Howard Hughes recluse.

I googled him however and found his page on the sequoia capital website. That's got an up to date photo and his email address. How difficult could it be for the BBC to find that?

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Loss and Fate

I am still brooding about loss and fate after yesterday, so here is Yeat's extraordinary existential stoic "An Irish Airman foresees his Death".

I KNOW that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan�s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Rage Against the Dying of the Light

As the Pope receives the last rights, Terri Schiavo dies in Florida, and I am on my way to a funeral of someone who died selflessly too young, Dylan Thomas' words take on new meanings.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.