Monday, October 31, 2005

New boots

My little boy has been going to tag rugby coaching on Saturday mornings for a few weeks. Up until now the ground has been dry enough for him to play in training shoes, but this week it was wet and muddy so I decided to take him out to get his first proper studded boots.

We bought them at a sports shop in the afternoon. He was delighted with the grown upness of it all, and I was equally and oppositely thrilled by the cuteness of the tiny things.

Thinking about it in the shower this morning, I remembered my few seasons playing the coarsest of coarse rugby when I first moved up to London.

As God is my judge, we really had a captain who one week gave us the following pep talk.

"It's a horrible wet, windy day lads.

"The ground's treacherous underfoot, and the ball's going to be like a piece of soap.

"This week, they're going to drop it just as much as we do!"

Sunday, October 30, 2005

I Surrender

I've finished reading Surrender or Starve, the book that Robert B Kaplan published in 1988 about the famine and his travels in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea. I finished it a while ago in fact but I didn't know what to say about it apart from the bathetic observation that it was strangely salutary to read a book by someone who was there at the time that mentioned Live Aid but twice and Bob Geldof not at all.

I had decided to read a book written a good while ago to try and help me get some perspective on the problems of 2005, and the depressing conclusion is that nothing much has changed.

God may be responsible for drought in the horn of Africa but people are responsible for famine.

Here is a story from the end of the book. I'm taking the liberty of quoting extensively because it in turn is taken from a story entitled Riding the Lifeline Lorry" (The Times, July 26, 1985) by a journalist called Paul Vallely.

For weeks the requests had been trickling into the old British garrison post of El Geneina, the furthermost town in the west of Sudan....
These particular requests came from the chief of police at Beida, through the cursive handwriting of the little border town's scribe. At first they were for food. Then last week came a plea for shrouds.
"We have nothing in which to bury our dead, and 15 children died yesterday," said the letter addressed to Peter Verney, the Save the Children (SCF) representative in Geneina.
As Vallely related the story, so little food was coming into Geneina from Khartoum on account of floods and other difficulties that there was not enough to send onward to Beida, about fifty miles south along Sudan's western border with Chad. Those dying of starvation in Beida were all Chadian refugees, and the local Sudanese commissioner Sherife was not cooperating in the release of emergency grain. Finally, however, Verney managed to secure 150 sacks of food and seed. Then the head of the Sudanese haulage firm doubled and tripled the price. Verney did not have enough cash on hand to pay for the lorry and in desperation went to the local army brigadier in Geneina, Ibrahim Muhammad, who told Verney, "This is the situation everywhere. No food is reaching the extremities. It reaches the hands but not the fingers. Of course you can have one of my trucks."

Three hours after leaving Geneina for Beida, the food lorry got caught in a torrential rain. Vallely and the driver whom Verney had rented were stuck for nine hours in the mud; sixty peasants helped to dig the two men out.

It was two days before we reached Beida. . . . We were welcomed by Muhammad Ahmed Bashir, the local chief of police. Over sweet tea on the rafia mat before his office he was effusive in his thanks for the food.

"I will put it straight into the store with the other food." The other food? "Yes, we already have 140 bags in store but we have had no authority from Sherife or his nephew Ah Mansour to distribute it."
Because of Sudanese bureaucracy, Chadians were starving to deathwith food only a few feet away. The next day, Alt Mansour, the executive officer of the rural council, agreed to distribute the grain. "You will take my photograph," he said to a news agency photographer with Vallely. "This will be good for me."

The distribution caused a riot among the refugees. Sudanese soldiers responded by lashing at the crowd with whips in all directions. The news agency photographer started snapping away, even though editors had become bored with photos of starving Africans. The photographer confided to Vallely that starving people being whipped had novelty value that would result in his pictures gaining wide distribution. Sure enough, the photos of the riot in Beida were picked up in Europe.

Now read this piece "Darfur's Despair" published earlier this month in the Economist and describing Geneina more than two decades after the incidents described above.

There is nothing more I can say.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Black Day

Back in February, I made a passing reference to the great buzz around an Indian film called Black. I didn't manage to catch it in the cinema in the UK, but I did pick it up on DVD when we were in Dubai in April.

What a brilliant movie it turned out to be. It is the story of a stubborn teacher (Amitabh Bachchan) devoting decades to rescuing a stubborn deaf and blind girl (Rani Muckherjee) from the isolation of her condition and bringing her to a richer relationship with the world. These two actors deliver perhaps the finest pair central performances that I have ever seen, and I can understand now why Amitabh Bachchan was voted the greatest ever star of stage and screen in the BBC's millenium poll above Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness and Charlie Chaplin.

I took the DVD down to Cardiff and watched it with my Mum and Dad, who haven't had my immersion in Indian movies, and they loved it as well.

I'll be astounded if a better film was released last year and I was sure that its nomination - and certain triumph - as the Indian entry for the best foreign film Oscar was assured. I'd give it the overall best film gong if it was up to me.

I was amazed to learn this week that a film called 'Paheli', of which I had never even heard had got the nod ahead of it.

It seems that I am not the only one. This interview, from the Indian press, with the chair of the committee who made the decision contains the following leading questions.

How could Paheli be nominated over more deserving films like Black?
How could Paheli compare with Black on any level? Look at Mr [Amitabh] Bachchan's performance in Black.

You can tell that the interviewer is singing from the same sheet that I am.

When you consider that Black is also a lot more immediately accessible than any other modern Indian film that I have ever seen and that parts of it are in English it seems to me that the powers that be in Indian cinema have shot themselves in the foot here. This could have been a breakout on the scale of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Auntie Cwl

A performance artist's show which saw her spend three hours balancing on a beam while becoming drunk on lager has been defended by theatre officials.
The Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff staged the work in its public bar by Tokyo-based Tomoko Takahashi, who is also known as Anti-Cool.

I was vaguely aware of this stunt, but I only realised when my brother told me yesterday that it took place in Cardiff. None of the acres of coverage around the world, seems to say if she fell off the beam or not. I would be interested to know if it is indeed easier than falling off a log.

I spent many a happy and intense Brains lubricated evening in the Chapter in my youth. It is fun to see it in the public eye like this.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Back in February I joined Amazon's Associates scheme, a programme that meant that I could earn money if anyone who clicked on a specially formatted link on the blog bought the item to which I had referred from Amazon UK.

To be honest, I only did it out of interest in the mechanism and I gradually got out of the habit, whenever I linked to Amazon, of using my Associate credentials. Imagine my astonishment yesterday then when I received a quarterly statement email from Amazon telling me that two copies of Atul Kochhar's book Indian Essence: The Fresh Tastes of India's New Cuisine had been bought by folk who followed the link from my post about going to his restaurant on my birthday. I haven't made enough money for Amazon even to find it worthwhile to send it to me but I am absolutely flabbergasted. I will certainly use Associates links in future. Truthfully, I get a huge a kick out of the idea that someone bought the book after clicking a link from my site.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

In Our Time

After I wrote about In Our Time last week, my brother said he was sorry he had missed it. Chris Howell's post about listening to a Dylan Thomas story on the radio and via the BBC's website has reminded me that In Our Time also has a wealth of internet support.

You can listen to the current show online at any time or download it automatically as a podcast. I think that the programme was one of the first in the UK to get podcasting. You can listen again to any show on the archive, or sign up to Melvyn Bragg's newsletter.

The latest newsletter begins as follows:
As usual, the cries in the Green Room were full of "oh why didn't we include this, or that?" Angie Hobbs was concerned that we had not talked about masturbation. This, she thought, expressed a great deal of the Cynics' attitude in early Greece. It expressed their belief in self-sufficiency, ie: spermal satisfaction did not need a partner. It was not a form of hedonism: Miriam Griffin said the Cynics reasoned that if they could remove hunger by rubbing their stomachs they could - so masturbation was acceptable because it was a simple way to fulfil a need. Done in public, it showed their shamelessness and their intention to shame others into behaving "naturally".

It does give another perspective.

This week's discussion will be on "Samuel Johnson and his Circle", which will be interesting to me because Johnson and the Streatham Worthies used to gather, very near to where I am sitting and writing, at Streatham Park the home of Henry Thrale, a wealthy brewer with a taste for literary company.

Although Streatham Park unfortunately is no more, it would have been just around the corner from the house where Cynthia Payne used to throw her celebrated parties. What with Madam Cyn and Max Clifford's Colliers Wood sex parties, it does make you wonder what's in the water round here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

define: pandemic

With regards to avian flu, a pandemic or global epidemic is an outbreak of an infectious disease that affects people or animals over an extensive geographical area (from Greek pan all + demos people). Just in case anyone else was wondering after hearing or reading it every bleedin' 5 minutes for the last few days.

1. I wonder how it relates to pandemonium?
2. Whatever happened to the band 'Andy Pandemonium', student-friendly, early 80s South Wales gig stalwarts?

Young, Angry and Muslim

I was idly eating my dinner watching the TV last night when I came across 'Young, Angry and Muslim' at 8pm in the Channel Four documentary strand 'Dispatches'.

At first I was tempted to turn it off thinking it was going to be peddling the same old, same old "we are all guilty", neo colonialist blather, but in fact it was a remarkably wide ranging and nuanced report written and presented by a guy called Navid Akhtar, a British Pakistani Muslim.

Just after the 7 July attacks on London I felt a second wave of intense horror as it emerged that three of the four suicide bombers hailed from my community. Like me they were British, Pakistani-Kashmiri and Muslim.
Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised: they were not the first British Pakistani terrorists, but the successors of young men such as Omar Khan Sharif, who attempted to blow up a bar in Tel Aviv in 2003.
But for many in our community the London bombings were a watershed and left us feeling the time had come to face up to some harsh realities. The community has failed to address a growing crisis of identity.

According to the programme, one million people in Britain (45 per cent of all the Muslims in the county) are of Pakistani origin and 80 per cent come from villages in Kashmir and Punjab.

We now have three generations of Pakistani Muslims in the UK, but we are not part of the 'Asian Cool' success story, like other South Asian groups from India and East Africa. Our community is fracturing - we live in the most deprived areas of Britain, family ties are breaking down, personal conflicts and 'honour' killings are on the increase.We have low educational achievement, high unemployment and one of the largest prison populations for any ethnic group. A once law-abiding community is now plagued by drugs, crime and violence.

Young Pakistanis, he said, are increasingly torn between the oppressive, crushing, all embracing orthodoxy of the elder-driven clan system - called the Biraderi - that they brought from the sub continent and the very different pressures of the individualistic, self indulgent, promiscuous - logo, bling, drink and drug driven - lifestyle of their contemporaries.

He made the startling - at least to me - observation that our home grown terrorists were very often wide boys in the first flush of youth, and in trouble with the police for petty crime etc.

What stands out is the overwhelming sense that the younger generation is being hemmed in by both their own community, with its cultural responsibilities, and a wider society focused on individualism. In this pressure cooker tension, a political Islamic identity offers an attractive alternative. It gives clear answers: good guys, bad guys. You know where you stand.
He also used the example of the Labour party's notorious 2004 vote rigging scandal to explain how young members of the community could be disgusted and alienated by both "community leaders" and the political process, suggesting that it was a cynical attempt by Asian councilors to blunt the backlash against the party because of the invasion of Iraq. (I supported the invasion of Iraq, but how on earth did Blair's party seemingly get away with "electoral fraud that would disgrace a banana republic" in Birmingham?)

All in all, it was a very informative hour. At least you got the impression that the writer and presenter knew more about the matter at hand than you did.

It was worrying though. Although Navid Akhtar didn't make the connection, the historical analogy that was in my mind was the rise of the Nazi party against the decadence of the Weimar Republic.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Nerd Note

I have corrected a couple of longstanding problems on the 'blog today.

The Blogroll links now point to weblogs rather than their associated feeds. My blogroll is generated automatically from my subscriptions in Newsgator. I corrected the links by replacing '$xmlurl$' with '$link$' in the blogroll settings.

Pound signs are now displayed correctly in my Wishlist. I corrected this problem in rendering the JavaScript provided by Amazonbox by changing the encoding from Windows-1252 to Unicode UTF-8. This appears in the opening META tag of the HTML as

meta content="text/html; charset=UTF-8" equiv="Content-Type"

With Blogger, you change this setting in formatting under the Settings tab.

Comments and Trackback

Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth I changed the comment system on this blog so that it used haloscan rather than the native blogger system. I remember that I did this because Haloscan supported trackbacks while blogger did not. This is perhaps ironic because, although I had an intuition that trackbacks might be some sort of technique for interpolating a post on my own weblog into a comment stream on another, I never entirely understood or used them.

Up until last Friday evening I had only ever noticed one comment, but idly paging through my back pages I discovered that - although sparse among the torrent of my blather - I had quite a few.

I shouldn't miss any more as I have subscribed to the RSS feed that haloscan provides for my comments, but I want to apologise to, among others:

Christine Stokes, thanks for information on Merton Abbey and Pope Adrian
Tom and Sue Hathaway, thanks for 'Full Bacon Jacket" and more
Simon Brunning, thanks for for local colour.
"Bill" Bainton, thanks for getting in touch
Island Monkey, thanks for the the Zen ideas
Rhys, thanks for all things Welsh
Norman Geras, thanks for giving me a raft of new six degrees of separation options.

I've also got trackbacks, but they will have to wait for another day when I have time to figure them out.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


I took the boys to the hospital yesterday to see Nigel. He is not doing all that well, but he is a brave and cheerful soul. He was on a paracetemol drip - at least it isn't morphine yet - and having a blood transfusion in the same way but he was remarkably chipper under the circumstances.

Years ago on a visit to the same hosptial when Jane's gran was ill we saw Kylie Minogue sitting outside a nearby coffee shop. She was on her own and very low key, minding her own business. I doubled back to check that it was her while pretending to read the menu in the window.

"Who's Kyle Minogue?" asked Raybs when I told him.

"You know, the singer," I said.

"Why didn't you get his autograph?" he asked. Fame is fickle. These were the days before "Can't get you out my head" put her back on top again. He would have been unlikely to mistake her for a bloke if he'd seen that video.

I couldn't help but like the unassuming cut of her jib that day. It is sad to think that she he fighting cancer just like Nige now.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Lobster Challenge

Here's Toby Young writing in the Evening Standard
For the past year or so I've been meaning to get in touch with McDonald's to see if they'd be interested in funding a riposte to Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock's attack on the fast-food corporation. If you recall, the 34-year-old documentary-maker ate nothing but McDonald's for a month and then recorded the effects on his health. Not surprisingly, he gained 25lbs, his cholesterol level shot up by 60 points and his liver turned to foie gras. My idea was to make a similar film, only I'd spend 30 days eating the most expensive food in the world rather than the cheapest. I can absolutely guarantee that by the end of this experiment I'd be every bit as unhealthy as Spurlock.
If I ever make this documentary, my first port of call will be the Big Easy Bar BQ Crabshack. Since opening its doors in 1991, this American surf 'n' turf restaurant on the King's Road has been renowned for its huge portions, but at the beginning of this month they went one better and introduced the Lobster Challenge. This is a plate of food that includes a 2lb steak, a 1lb portion of chips and a 4lb lobster, making it Britain's most calorific meal. If you can finish it in one sitting, your name goes up on a board in the basement.
John is due up from Wales for a visit soon, and I think the Lobster Challenge could well be on the agenda. I've seen him polish off an enormous steak in Florida in a not dissimilar challenge years ago. Raybs says he is up for it as well, but I have seen him off on donuts without breaking a sweat whenever he has been foolish enough to challenge me. is the website of the establishment.

I think that it is a nice contrast that I am writing this in Virgin Active already having been to the gym this morning.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Small Values of Cool: Colliers Tup

I just discovered via Simon Brunning's Small Values of Cool, that a local called the Colliers Tup has WiFi.

I wonder if it is free or how much it costs. The booze there is certainly expensive enough to subsidise it.

In Our Time - Cynicism

Radio 4's In Our Time explores the history of ideas, particularly in philosophy, science, literature, culture and religion. I listened to the evening broadcast of this week's programme on cynicism last night. Here's Melvyn Bragg's introduction.

Eating live octopus with fresh lupins, performing intimate acts in public places and shouting at passers by from inside a barrel is behaviour not normally associated with philosophy. But the Cynics were different. They were determined to expose the meaninglessness of civilised life by action as well as by word. They slept rough, ate simply and gave their lectures in the market place. Perhaps surprisingly, their ideas and attitudes were immensely popular in the ancient world.

But how coherent was cynicism as a philosophy? What was its influence on literature and politics and is there any truth to the contention that Jesus himself was influenced by the Cynics?

From Midweek's row between Joan Rivers and Darcus Howe on Wednesday to Melvyn and chums on Thursday , what a great radio station it is. My one caveat is that I can't listen to John Humphreys - Welsh born though he may be - on the Today programme in the morning without wanting to smash his face in.

Anyway, back to Cynicism, I wasn't aware that Cynics form the link between Socrates and the Stoics.

Impressed after a meeting with Diogenes - a famous early Cynic - by his toughness and indifference, Alexander the Great apparently declared, "if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes." I hadn't heard of this before, but it is very striking to me how similar it is to Arrian's report of Alexander's encounter with the Brahmin in India.

There is also Calanus, the Indian who joined Alexander in India and when he fell ill in Persia refused to live as an invalid, mounted his own funeral pyre and was consumed without flinching. I wonder what influence he had on the Stoics and Romans.

"More things in heaven and earth, Horatio."

Here is the further recommended reading from the show's website.
Miriam Griffin, Seneca: A Philosopher in Politics (Clarendon, 1992)
Miriam Griffin, The History of Cynicism: From Diogenes to the Sixth Century A.D. (Bristol Classical Press, 1998)
The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Political Thought (2000)
Donald R. Dudley, History of Cynicism: From Diogenes to the Sixth Century A.D. (1967)
Horace, Satires, (Penguin Classic, 1973)
Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers (2 vols, Loeb, 1925)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Plant Photography

Joan Rivers is my new heroine and "Andrea shall we talk about plant photography?" is my new catch phrase.

Here is the whole exchange from yesterday's Midweek on Radio 4.

Howe: Since black offends Joan I will make it..
Rivers: Wait. Just stop right now, Black does not offend me. How dare you, how dare you say that. Black offends me? You know nothing about me, you sat down here. How dare you.
Howe: The use of the term black offends you.
Rivers: The use of the term black offends me? Where the hell are you coming from? You have got such a chip on your shoulder. How dare you say that to me.
Howe: I think this is a language problem.
Rivers: No I don't. I think this is a problem in your stupid head. You had a child, you left them, your wife said you weren't there. You married a woman, you deserted her, now your son comes back he's got problems. Where were you when he was growing up, until he was eight years old?
Howe: May we continue?
Rivers: How dare you. Please continue, but don't you dare call me that. Son of a bitch.
Purves: Right Darcus, can we just say you don't think Joan is a racist and then perhaps we can move on?
Howe: I don't know whether she is a racist or not. I don't care.
Rivers: You just said the word black offends me. That's the stupidest thing I ever heard.
Howe: Normally I wouldn't ever meet you in my life.
Rivers: No normally would I meet you, nor would I choose to meet you.
Howe: No she's not a racist.
Rivers: OK please continue about your stupid film.
Purves: Right can we talk about your tour Joan?
Rivers: Talk about anything you want.
Howe: I don't think you brought me here to be insulted.
Rivers: No I don't think I was brought here to be insulted by someone, to be called a racist.
Howe: Let's go on with my film please?
Rivers: Please go on with your film.
Purves: Well we have to move on for time reasons. (To photographer Andrea Jones) Andrea shall we talk about plant photography?

Beignets are Back

I see from Normblog that ABC have reported that Cafe Du Monde reopened yesterday for the first time since it was shuttered at midnight on August 27th as the hurricane approached New Orleans.

This is great news, the Cafe Du Monde describes itself as "the original French Market coffee stand serving cafe au lait and hot beignets 24 hours a day year round".

Indeed cafe au lait and beignets are all they serve, but to linger over them opposite the wrought-iron balconies of the French Quarter and across from Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral is a great Nawlins tradition.

In New Orleans, caf� au lait is strong dark roast coffee and chicory, served with equal part hot milk. In the early history of Louisiana, chicory was added to coffee to stretch dwindling supplies and now they prefer it that way. As for the beignet, it is believed that the Ursuline Nuns of France, who came to Louisiana in 1727, brought this simple pastry to the city. The recipe remains the same to this day. The beignets are hand rolled and deep fried then covered with heaping amounts of powdered sugar.

I had a fine old time in New Orleans all those years ago. I wonder if the Central Grocery has started dealing out Muffuletta sandwiches again?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Ryan Giggs

Although he broke his cheekbone and the game itself was a disappointing draw, last night's fixture with Lille was Ryan Giggs' 1ooth European match for Manchester United. That is a remarkable achievement, and his incredible run dates back to a Cup Winners� Cup encounter against Atletico Madrid in 1991. He must be the most experienced player in the Premiereship by now and he played for Wales when he was seventeen.

A Welsh Born Icon indeed.

He hasn't always had the easiest life I believe. I remember being surprised to learn that his father was a black Welsh rugby player, Danny Wilson, and, as the Cardiff born product of a mixed marriage, Giggs had to endure racial taunts in his youth. Even worse, perhaps, was the shadow that his father's violent, promiscuous behaviour cast over the family. "A real rogue", he had, in Giggs's words, a "bullying, aggressive nature", one that led to his being arrested for beating up his wife when Giggs was just three.

He seems to be a far more private and reticent man that most current professional footballers. I have got a pet theory that one of the best things that ever happened to him was the later rise of David Beckham who revelled in the spotlight in a way that Giggs never could and distracted unwelcome attention from him off the pitch.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Australia is the only country whose representative to a UN meeting boycotted a 'disgraceful' speech by Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said.

Mr Mugabe used the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) anniversary meeting in Rome to launch a withering denunciation of US President George W Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The Zimbabwe president described them as 'the two unholy men of our millennium', comparing them with Hitler and Mussolini.

Mr Downer said Australia's representative at the meeting had walked out prior to the speech.

'I thought his speech was absolutely disgraceful,' the foreign minister told ABC radio.

Fair dinkum.


He asked me this morning if he could have a robot bone for his robot dog. I have no idea what he meant but, for some reason, I am delighted by the question.

Joshua Nkomo

Writing yesterday about Robert Mugabe and starvation in Zimbabwe has reminded me of the late Joshua Nkomo.

During the struggle for Rhodesia, Nkomo lead the Soviet backed ZAPU while his former lieutenant Mugabe lead ZANU which was supported by China. They were both involved in the negotiations that lead to the Lancaster House accord, but subsequently Mugabe stitched him up like a kipper in the aftermath of the 1980 elections.

Anyway, history lesson aside, back in the day the wife of a friend of mine was a nurse who worked for the dentist that Nkomo visited in London. I learned from her that he was so fat that they had to remove the armrests from the dentist's chair before they could fit him onto it for his treatment.

If there is a word in English for the combination of humour, horror, pity and disquiet that that image conjures up in while the people he supposedly fought for go hungry in 2005 I don't know what it is.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Beyond Tears

Here via normblog, on a day when Robert Mugabe has been accepted an invitation to address the UN on hunger are some more bulletins on Zimababwe.

Cathy Buckle's latest letter from Zimbabwe came out on Saturday.

Dear Family and Friends,

I am writing this letter from a very tense Zimbabwe where the situation is changing rapidly. Here are just a few things that have happened in the last couple of weeks.

The inflation rate jumped 94 percent in a month, going from 265 percent in August to 359.8% in September 2005.

In the last sixteen days the price of a standard loaf of white bread in Marondera has almost tripled in price from eight to twenty thousand dollars.

The four pack of toilet paper that I wrote about last week, the one that cost fifty two thousand dollars - this week that same pack costs ninety one thousand dollars.

In a country where at least 2 million people face hunger this Christmas and where the government has to import 37 000 tons of maize a week, productive farms continue to be invaded. In the last few days 2 farmers were evicted in Manicaland, another was shot in the shoulder and the CFU said 25 other farmers had been ordered to be off their properties by the end of the month. The Governor of the Reserve Bank said that these invasions were fuelling inflation and just had to stop. He said all productive farms should be regarded as sacred but again his words fell on deaf ears as they are not backed up with political intent or action.

Zimbabwe's only tyre manufacturer, Dunlop announced that they have been forced to stop production and sent over 800 workers home as they have no foreign currency for critical imports.

National Foods, the country's biggest miller has said that the closure of its mills in Harare and Bulawayo is now in sight as they have nothing to grind, mill or refine - no wheat and no maize.
..... read on .....

Sokwanele has also reported today that "the potential for mass starvation in Zimbabwe is now so real and close that Cardinal Wilfred Napier, President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, and Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo have both, separately, called on the United Nations' Security Council to take responsibility for the crisis and act immediately".

Life expectancy in Zimbabwe has plummeted to just 33 years. Here is a link to my earlier post with the contact details for the Food and Agriculture Organisation.


Something my five year old said in frustration that I want to remember, "I've only got two pairs of hands!"

When I was small I apparently used to introduce myself as "Nicholas Browne with two knees" after misunderstanding the information that my surname was "brown with an E".

Snouts in the Trough

The United States has expressed 'amazement' at a United Nations invitation to Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe to address a hunger conference in Rome on Monday to mark the 60th anniversary of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

'I find it amazing they've invited Mr Mugabe to speak at the 60th anniversary, who in a way has done so much to hurt the hungry, and who has absolutely turned his back on the poor,' said Tony Hall, US ambassador to the UN food agencies in Rome.

'I find it amazing. What can he possibly say to us at the conference, when he has done so much to hurt his own people? Food has been used as a weapon against his own people,' Hall said late on Friday.

Well Mugabe is certainly an expert on hunger. Here are the contact details for the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation just in case you feel like contacting them to express an opinion. I certainly will be.

Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
00100 Rome,
Telephone: (+39) 06 57051
Cable address: FOODAGRI ROME
Telex: 625852/610181 FAO I
Fax: (+39) 06 570 53152

I can't help wondering if the twenty first century wouldn't be better off if the UN when the way of the League of Nations and retired in its sixtieth year.

This fiasco is just the latest. Mark Steyn says there is no cure for the UN.
Mr Annan�s ramshackle UN of humanitarian money-launderers, peacekeeper-rapists and a human rights commission that looks like a lifetime-achievement awards ceremony for the world�s torturers is not a momentary aberration. Nor can it be corrected by bureaucratic reforms designed to ensure that the failed budget oversight committee will henceforth be policed by a budget oversight committee oversight committee. The oil-for-food fiasco is the UN, the predictable spawn of its utopian fantasies and fetid realities. If Saddam grasped this more clearly than Clare Short or Polly Toynbee, well, that�s why he is � was � an A-list dictator and they�re not.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Not Alone

At last I have found an addict - Jane Kramer of the New Yorker - with a cookery book jones worse than mine.
I read cookbooks. I am addicted to them. I keep a pile on the floor of my study in New York, knowing that if I manage to write a couple of decent pages I can treat myself to a $4.50 Chinese lunch special in the company of Richard Olney or Jasper White or Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray, thinking of all the succulent things I would cook for dinner if I didn�t have to go back to work in the afternoon. I keep another pile on my bedside table, knowing that if I wake in the middle of the night I can pick one up and drift off into a soothing dream of Jo�l Robuchon�s mashed potatoes or Claudia Roden�s pumpkin dumplings or Marcella Hazan�s red-and-green polenta torta, with a layer of onions, pine nuts, and ground pork between the spinach and the tomato. ... read on ...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Welsh Skittles

I am off to Cardiff this morning to take my five year old to a US style ten pin bowling alley and this has started me wondering about skittles. It is a game I remember fondly as I used to get bribed with lemonade and crisps to set up the pins when people played after rugby on Saturday afternoons when there was an alley at the old "Old Illt's" club.

It turns out that Skittles or Nine Pins is indeed the forerunner of 10 pin bowling and all forms of Skittles feature projectiles being propelled from one end of an alley in an effort to knock down nine pins stood in a square at the other end. I have been delighted to learn though that that is about all that many of the games do have in common, though, and over the years, Skittles developed regional variations in skittle size and shape, skittle alley length, use of a kingpin, size and shape of the balls and the rules began to vary quite radically.

Old English Skittles or London Skittles is a majestic sounding game in which the alley is around 21 feet, the bomb-shaped pins are 14 1/2 inches high, 6 1/2 inches across the middle (3 inches diameter at either end) and weigh 9 pounds. The discus-shaped cheese, which is used instead of a ball, is enormous varying from 8 1/2 to 12 inches in diameter and weighs between nine and twelve pounds. None-the-less, the cheeses are hurled with the objective of hitting the skittles directly without touching the floor first. The game is now very rare but can still be played at the Freemasons Arms in Hampstead and at the Powerleague Norbury. Norbury SW16 5QN ought to be in striking distance for me I think.

The Welsh version is more sedate and apparently conventional, but there is plenty of variation in Wales as well. Welsh players tend to use thinner pins than those used in England. The styles can vary but often they are thin with a nobble on top. 10 inch pins tend to be used in the Glamorgan while 8 inch pins are often found in the Rhonda and 9 inch pins are popular around Newport. How's that for bloody mindedness?

You can buy your Welsh skittle supplies here. Better than that American rubbish any day I say. Skittles for the cousins next time. It is their heritage. I wonder if there is an EC grant available.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Ramones Project Management

This appears to be a genuiune essay by two US Air Force Majors on what the Department of Defence could learn from the Ramones. Maj. Quaid is assigned to the Technical Executive Office of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and Maj. Dan Ward is assigned to the Air Force Research Lab.
The Ramones were some of the first pioneers of what came to be known as punk rock. Their music was hard-driving, stripped-down, and straightforward. They didn't embellish their tunes or themselves with the baroque flourishes and fancy fluff of their glam-rock colleagues. Perhaps that's because they only knew three chords between them, but more likely their decision to avoid gold-plating and hairspray was a practical expression of a deeply held philosophy that rejected extraneous trills in favor of a driving beat. Had they become PMs for the DoD, they undoubtedly would have pursued simplicity and maintained a laser-like focus on achieving their real objectives.
You just couldn't distract these guys--they knew their business and got right down to it. They would never have tolerated the No-Value-Added nonsense that often springs up in our bureaucratic organizations, no matter how well intentioned. And that makes them pretty good examples for the rest of us to consider. ..............

To be honest it may also be as good an insight into why large government IT projects fail as this much longer and more earnest piece from Prospect which makes a similar point like this

Big IT projects everywhere are far more likely to fail than small ones. A high proportion of government IT projects are, by necessity, very large. A change in taxes or benefits will involve thousands of new procedures, interacting in unpredictable ways. Ian Watmore, chief information officer, says that services that other large countries might organise at a state or regional level, such as driving licences, are run as national systems in Britain. But big organisations in Britain, like the NHS, also seem to seek out large-scale suppliers to match large-scale projects, whereas in the Netherlands (see the argument in the last section of this article) public agencies split up contracts into very small packages of work.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Surrender or Starve

I'm reading 'Surrender or Starve: Travels in Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Eritrea' by Robert D. Kaplan next. It was written some time ago - well before the current Sudanese crisis - about the regions of the Horn of Africa and examines the factors behind the area's famine-related problems, citing ethnic, religious, and class conflicts.

It is very clear to me that I know almost nothing about Africa in general and that area in particular.

The problems in the Sudan exploded in the media almost immediatley after Live8. It is easy to sneer - and indeed sneer I did - when Coldplay's Chris Martin announced from the London stage, "[This is] the greatest thing that's ever been organized in the history of the world" but it isn't really constructive.

Try reading this article 'The Utopian Nightmare' by William Easterly in Foreign Policy which says:
This year, economists, politicians, and rock stars in rich countries have pleaded for debt relief and aid for the world�s poorest countries. It certainly sounds like the right thing to do. But utopian dreams of alleviating poverty overlook some hard facts. By promising so much, rich-world activists prolong the true nightmare of poverty.

I hope this isn't true, but I have the ugly feeling that there might be a lot of truth in it. From another perspective there was a very impressive profile of Bono and his work for Africa in The New York Times Magazine (registration required) which is more hopeful.

I'll make some notes on what I've learned after I finsh the book.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Secret History

I finished reading Donna Tartt's 'The Secret History' over the weekend. I'm always pleased to discover a book in which the protagonists drink nearly as much as I do.

It certainly is a gripping page turner. I didn't start to think how strange the recreations of sinister ancient Greek shenanigans were until after I'd finished reading which is a testament I suppose to the power of the prose to carry you along.

One small thing that I found bizarre was that the royals with whom Julian was peripherally involved were described as being from a country called Isram when they were obviously modelled on the Shah of Iran's family. I wonder if the 1989 fatwa on Salman Rushdie cast a shadow over the author and/or editor and/or publisher here.

I've read the odd interview with and profile of Donna Tartt and it has made me laugh that she appears to be the tiny dark haired spitting image of Mona Beale the "kind of a slut" with a jealous football playing boyfriend that Richard Papen sleeps with after a party. What a minx to slip herself into her own book like that if I'm right.

Call ... on the name of the Lord

Here are the chips you need if that Saturday Night poker game edges into Sunday.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Keep Cookin'

Keep Cookin' is a voluntary, grassroots effort. It is not a formal organization, but rather an ad hoc group of concerned individuals. We're contributing our time and services to ensure that Louisiana Cookin' Magazine continues to be published despite the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina & the New Orleans flooding on the magazine's publisher and staff.
[Our e-mail address: helpkeepcookin (at)]

As individuals, the entire staff of Louisian Cookin' Magazine have each been dramatically impacted by natural disaster. They are each evacuated to different parts of a five-state region and are faced with a myriad of personal challenges.

Romney Richard, the owner and publisher of the magazine, has lost her home and office and is currently in temporary quarters in Baton Rouge. Hearing of her plight, and wanting to assist her and her staff in keeping the popular magazine alive for its staff, advertisers and readers, a group of individiuals in the magazine publishing industry are volunteering their services to temporarly 'adopt' or 'foster' publish the magazine.

I think the Keep Cookin' blog is a fine idea. I'm subscribed and it is in my blogroll. Let's see what happens.

Did you know that in the Cajun-Creole tradition they call onions, green bell peppers, and celery the holy trinity?


Apart from a coda in the last paragraph listing Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Verdi, Tolstoy, and Yeats, this article on youthful genius from the Guardian is essentially an elaborated list of the following luminaries in the following order:

Orson Welles
James Dean
Michael Jackson

...... Charlotte Church!

To rank at such a tender age as such an apotheosis is indeed both tidy and dead lush.

I salute her as the youngest Welsh Born Icon to date.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Three charged with Murder

I have a Google Alert running that sends me an email every time Colliers Wood is in the news. Last week this sent me an article about three men being charged with a murder that took place very close to home.

As I've written before, I think it would be a good idea for the local police who have already have a home page made a lot more information available to help local residents inform themselves about things like this.

When someone gets beaten to death in the street a short walk from home I want to know everything about the circumstances that I can, just as I did with the armed robbery on my route to nursery. The Chicago Crime Database has set the bar here, although that still doesn't really cover clean up rates and ultimate outcomes.

I might well not even heard about last week's incidence without Google to point me to the local paper.

The victim was called Horace Wright, and the three alleged assailants - one of whom lives in the next road to us - are Lithuanians called Aurelisas Pranskaitis, Vilius Silingas, and Arvydas Kunickis. A Polish builder got 10 years not long ago for raping a woman after she was dropped off by a cab in Colliers Wood High Street in the early hours of the morning.

I do hope that this doesn't lead to tension between the local community and all the East Europeans in the area. I wonder if there is anything constructive I can do, any ideas?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Colliers Would Be's

From Craig Brown's review of Max Clifford's autobiography in The Spectator this week:
At one point he boasts of 'protecting and helping those most in need' and at another of the 'legendary' sex-parties he would arrange in Colliers Wood in the 1970s, at which he would introduce young actresses desperate for Equity cards to agents 'who would issue false contracts for sexual favours'.

I wonder what the venue was. It is difficult to imagine them in the Community Centre or St Joseph's church hall.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Single Spies

After Nigel on Thursday, we get a card from Shane and Caroline this morning thanking us for our wedding present. This arrives the morning after I hear from her mother-in-law that Caroline's twin brother has died after a stroke and heart attack at the age of 29.

Something Lana says strikes me somehow, Caroline has never known a birthday without him.

Never take sides against the family affairs again

My brother has precised a great American film in the style of Family Affairs.

Vito is hosting his daughters wedding and granting audiences organised by Tom. Sonny listens in as he will one day take over the family business. Genco is in dying in hospital and vito takes all the family to see him. Later scolotso proposes drug distribution through the family, the Don doesn't like the idea but Sonny makes it known that he would be interested. Scholotso and the Tataglias attempt to kill Veto ! Yikes ! The Don is shot but not killed. Sonny takes over the family while the Don is out of action. He has Bruno killed which causes a rift in the five families so they hit the mattresses. Bruno's family arrange to Hit Sonny on the Causeway, Ouch ! When Vito hears this he will want to call an end to the war but is he still a Target for Scolotso? Michael shoots Scholotso in the finest Italian veal restaurant in the city ! Mike is sent away while things settle. The Don is back in control and in a meeting with the heads of all the families, he realises Bardzini is behind the whole scholotso business ! Mike returns and takes matters into his own hands killing the dons on the day of his daughters christening, Cheeky ! Does his sister dare ask the new Don about Fredo's demise?

It inspired me to try my hand at a great American novel.
Tom and Daisy invite Nick to dinner. On his way home Nick sees his neighbour Gatsby. A while later Gatsby invites Nick to one of his famous parties. Cool. Jordan tells Nick that Gatsby has been in love with Daisy since before the war. Gatsby and Daisy rekindle their affair. Gatsby, Jordan, Tom and Daisy meet for lunch and Tom is jealous and suspicious. They drive to the city and on the journey Tom sees his mistress at her husband's garage. Oops. The gang meet up in a hotel to drink Mint Juleps. Gatsby tells Tom that he loves Daisy and Daisy loves him. Gatsby and Daisy roar off in a car and accidentally run over and kill Myrtle who is Tom's mistress. Nick lies to George who is Myrtle's husband, and tells him that she was Gatsby's mistress. George shoots Gatsby as he swims in his pool and then turns the gun on himself. Nick organises Gatsby's funeral but no one comes except the minister and Mr. Gatz who is Gatsby's father from Minnesota.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Amphibious Houses

The Dutch are gearing up for climate change with amphibious houses. If rivers rise above their banks, the houses simply rise upwards as well. Such innovation could be good news for hurricane and flood-stunned America. But are water lovers prepared to live on swimming family arks?
Could this be the answer for Nawlins? Read on ....

The End of the Affair

Fed up with his twin, Justin and Marc agree to let Ben stay on their sofabed indefinitely. Conrad steals a photo of Tanya on her wedding day from Gary. George is frustrated after Dr Hector demands cash for his broken organiser. Meredith and George are shocked when Dr Hector turns out to be the person viewing their spare room to rent! Eileen is overjoyed when Doug and Cat reluctantly agree to hand over the Black Swan. Triumphant, she kicks out Katie. Meanwhile, Sami tells a lying Max that Carrie is welcome to him.

I'm exhausted after a week of of breathless synopses of Family Affairs episodes and the crew packed up and left yesterday.

It also seems that the episode that we saw them put in the can is one of the last as the BBC has reported that
Five has axed Family Affairs after more than eight years and 2,250 episodes. The last episode of the long-running soap, launched in March 1997, will be broadcast at the end of the year.
Soyanara baby.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Ask me no more

Nigel diagnosed today. Sara gone in March, and David taken the June before that. I am weary of the toll of cancer. Is that a wicked thing to think when I am well?

Ask me no more: the moon may draw the sea;
The cloud may stoop from heaven and take the shape,
With fold to fold, of mountain or of cape;
But O too fond, when have I answer'd thee?
Ask me no more.

Ask me no more: what answer should I give?
I love not hollow cheek or faded eye:
Yet, O my friend, I will not have thee die!
Ask me no more, lest I should bid thee live;
Ask me no more.

Ask me no more: thy fate and mine are seal'd:
I strove against the stream and all in vain:
Let the great river take me to the main:
No more, dear love, for at a touch I yield;
Ask me no more.

Gather no ...

Kate Moss goes to a party where she runs into Jeremy Clarkson...

Kate: "What do you do?"
Jeremy: "I do Top Gear"
Kate: "Great! I'll have four grams!"


If and when Chris gets his new sword will he have any use for tsuji-giri, a fine Japanese word from samurai days meaning, "to try out a new sword on a passer-by?

From 'The Meaning of Tingu and other extraordinary words from around the world', by Adam Jacot de Boinod as reviewed in The Independent.


Today on family affairs ...
Eileen's skulking around, knowing all eyes are on her. Cat goes into shock after Eileen tells her that she's contesting Pete's will; she wants everything. Eileen is lost after Katie kicks her out of the pub flat. Nurses Meredith and George have a room spare but would they want 'Wanton Eileen' in there? Ignoring Yasmin's advice, Sami tells Max that he kissed Brett. Will's kicking himself after Katie refuses to talk things over with him. And Alex is nervous about proving himself on the pitch. He scores, but did he get it in the right goal?

Noodling around on the web I was amazed to find that the show has an entry on the wonderful Internet Movie Database site.

Did you know that when it was first launched on the web, and before it was bought by Amazon, this compendium of all things filmic was called the Cardiff Internet Movie Database and hosted on servers at the University of Wales?

I have consulted with the committee and we have agreed that this makes it the first website worthy of the honourific - hitherto confined to human beans - Welsh Born Icon.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Pin the Blame On

From This is London:
Prison officers who wore a St George's Cross tie-pin have been ticked off by the jails watchdog.

The English national flag could be 'misinterpreted' as a racist symbol, Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers said in a report on Wakefield prison.
Really? Just as I was trying to point out yesterday, things are much more tangled than we sometimes imagine. I can make a case for the tie-pins as celebrations of multi culturalism.

The St George Cross is also the symbol of Milan, Genoa, Freiburg and Montreal. Its used in the flag of the city of Barcelona in Spain, and it appears on the flag of Georgia. The Lega Nord, a popular Italian political party campaigning for the independence of Northern Italy, also uses the St George Cross as an official symbol.

St. George is venerated not just by the Church of England, but by the Catholic, Orthodox and Coptic churches. He is the patron saint of Aragon, Bavaria, Catalonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Germany and Greece; and of Moscow, Istanbul, Genoa and Venice (second to St Mark).

Further, in the twelfth century Richard the Lionheart - who was the first English king to put his armies under the protection of St George - adopted the star and crescent as a royal badge. He took if from the Emperor's standard of the Governor of Cyprus after capturing the island. He also granted it to Portsmouth - where it is still used - as the heraldic crest of the newly incorporated Royal borough.

The symbol didn't become associated with Islam until after the fall of Constantinople much later in the fifteenth century, but if you could go back in time and jog the right elbow perhaps the star and crescent would be on the flag of England instead of the Saint George cross.

Would that set the cat among the pigeons?

Wednesday's Affairs

They've started dressing the set for today's filming. It's furnished with Christmas trees and decorations which I guess gives an idea of the lead time of these things. As I was getting a coffee, a woman told me it is confusing her little girl who is now demanding a bike as a Christmas present.

Anyway, onto the summary of today's thrilling episode. The plot thickens.
After all the kerfuffle Becky, had already guessed that her dad is gay and doesn't mind. Max has something else to worry about now; he slept with Carrie last night! Later, his mother walks in on him kissing Sami. Meredith wants revenge on Dr Hector after he makes life and finances difficult for her and George. Ben flirts with Meredith until Alex vomits over her. Nice. After a visit to his solicitor, Doug admits that Eileen has a strong legal claim on the pub. Ros tells Sami that Max slept with Carrie after their row.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Augustine, Mani and Pelagius

Ironically, one of the most pernicious effects of blaming an oppressive Western hegemony for all the troubles of the world is that it stifles our imaginations and blinds us to how cosmpolitan thought and culture has been in the past.

Here's a quick example that has struck me lately. It's probably an illustration of how lazy we have become if it seems surprising.

St Augustine of Hippo was an African who lived from 354 until 430. Catholics consider him the most significant Doctor of the Church, while Protestants claim him as a major influence on the Reformation.

In his life, he battled two great heresies; Manichaeism and Pelagianism. The heresies themselves are outside the scope of the point I want to make, but briefly Manichaeism was a dualistic religion founded in the second half of the third century by the Persian Mani who claimed he was the Paraclete promised by Jesus, and Pelagius was a British born monk who denied the doctrine of Original Sin.

So, to summarise, in the Fourth century, a great African theologian clarified much Christian thinking in conflict with the teaching of two men who we would probably identify today as an Iraqi and an Englishman.

Culture has long been bigger and the world smaller than we flatter ourselves to think today.

Tuesday's Affairs

After yesterday's dismissive post, I have to recant and say that I am finding the potted summaries of the upcoming episodes of Family Affairs strangely compelling. I have decided to run them each day this week in honour of the local filming. Here is what is coming up today.
Katie reads an incriminating text message from Eileen on Will's phone. Oops. Katie then gets Dan drunk to get the truth from him and has an excruciating confrontation with Eileen in front of the entire pub. While Sami feels life is passing him by because Yasmin and Brett are out clubbing, Max wonders how to tell Becky, his daughter that he's gay. Sami tells Max that he's tired of always coming second to his family. Max finds comfort in the arms of Carrie! Alex knocks Marc off his bar stool and now has to play football in his place.
Part of the genius I think lies in running it all together in one breathless paragraph.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Family Affairs

Two young ladies just popped their heads in asking if I had a key for the empty office suite next to ours. It seems that they are shooting for a Channel 5 soap called Family Affairs here on Wednesday and Thursday.

I googled the show and found its home page. This is the scenario for the episode that is going out at 6:30 this evening.
Katie's found the red knickers and wants to know: a) who they belong to and b) what are they doing in her kitchen. She calls Dan because Will said he had brought a girl back, but will Dan fall in with Will's cover story? Love is in the air once again; Max has returned with gifts for Sami and says he wants him to get to know the kids better. They'll be staying over more. Meredith and George still owe Justin money for the deposit on the house. Meredith tries the old flirting tactic to get around the money owed, but will Justin fool for it?

Doesn't look like I'll be setting the video for it unfortunately.

Schopenhauer in SW19

As I have mentioned him this morning, and sitting as I am in London SW19, I thought I should add that it always lightens my mood somehow to remember that Schopenhauer - the philosopher of pessimism - spent some time in school in Wimbledon.

I got a similar frisson a few years ago walking down Twickenham Road and noticing a Blue Plaque commemorating the fact that Van Gogh had lived there while teaching nearby in Isleworth.

An End to Suffering

For some reason I haven't been using this space to record the books I read. I think that's an oversight that I intend to start correcting.

This weekend I finished Pankaj Mishra's 'An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World' which was a very peculiar book indeed. Charitably, one might consider it a mixture of memoir and travelogue with historical , political and philosophical treatise; less charitably, an aimless, meandering self-indulgent volume.

For myself I could certainly have done without all exposition of Schopenhauer and particularly Nietzsche who apparently found much to admire in Buddhism. I also thought for a few horrible moments that I was going to presented with some daft idea that "Buddhism" was invented by the Orientalists who unearthed and proved its Indian provenance but that danger came and went.

There is also a surreal section in which the narrator goes to stay in East Sheen and stumbles upon Richmond Park the relevance of which entirely escaped me.

That said, for all the book's disorganisation I have learned a lot more about Buddhism, which interests me more and more as a moral philosophy.

It seems to me that it is about as far away as it is possible to be from the California cartoon caricature of Zen. It is an austere discipline with a prime objective of improving character through diligence. I wonder how it got mixed up with hippy notions of reverie and abandon? Perhaps through some confused and bastardised inheritance from Ginsberg and the Beats?

I find Buddhism very similar to Stoicism - and so does Mr. Mishra. He quotes Marcus Aurelius, sounding very Buddhist, on constant self awareness

Everywhere and at all times, it is up to you to rejoice piously at what is occurring at the present moment, to conduct yourself with justice towards the people who are present here and now.
I'm now reading, at Chris and Kim's recommendation, Donna Tartt's 'The Secret History' which is a thriller about a what happens when a cadre of students attempt to summon Dionysus by recreating a real, ancient Greek bacchanalian ceremony. This is a long way from Buddha and the Stoics.

I read chapter one yesterday. I can't help but laugh every time the twins "Charles and Camilla" turn up. I guess those names didn't have the same resonance when the book was published in '92.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Lawyer Jokes

I don't know how many people read these ramblings but, of the couple of readers I know, one is a solictor, hence
A favourite American riddle runs: �What do you call six hundred lawyers at the bottom of the sea?�. The answer is �A good start�. The riddle itself makes a good start to an inquest on lawyer-bashing, but it is not �the single most prevalent of all current lawyer jokes� in America. That is the one which says that research laboratories are using lawyers instead of rats, the three main reasons being that lawyers are more plentiful, that lab assistants don�t get attached to them, and that there are some things a rat will not do. Other ingeniously wounding reasons have been added. According to Marc Galanter, ten variations appeared in Lame Duck�s 1998 Lawyer Joke-a-Day Calendar; and for the benefit of doubters, or fellow researchers, with access to old unused tear-off calendars, he lists the actual dates on which these jettisonable squibs appeared. ..........more

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Do you know what it means?

Do you remember the stories of murder, rape and unspeakable atrocities by gangs of vicious thugs in the New Orleans Superbowl in the aftermath of Katrina? Here is a more recent report from The Times-Picayune, the local paper:

After five days managing near-riots, medical horrors and unspeakable living conditions inside the Superdome, Louisiana National Guard Col. Thomas Beron prepared to hand over the dead to representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Following days of internationally reported killings, rapes and gang violence inside the Dome, the doctor from FEMA - Beron doesn't remember his name - came prepared for a grisly scene: He brought a refrigerated 18-wheeler and three doctors to process bodies.

"I've got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome," Beron recalls the doctor saying.

The real total was six, Beron said.

Of those, four died of natural causes, one overdosed and another jumped to his death in an apparent suicide, said Beron, who personally oversaw the turning over of bodies from a Dome freezer, where they lay atop melting bags of ice. State health department officials in charge of body recovery put the official death count at the Dome at 10, but Beron said the other four bodies were found in the street near the Dome, not inside it. Both sources said no one had been killed inside.

Hugh Hewitt asks a pertinent question of the mainstream media - MSM.

And since the MSM was willing to ask the "hard" race questions in the storm's aftermath, when will it ask itself whether such rumor-mongering and the attendant suspension of ordinary journalistic standards was possible because the elites in MSM were willing to believe the worst about the generally African-American underclass at both locations?

You betcha they were. From my point of view, stereotyping and besmirching folk for what the look like or where they live, believing the worst of them at a drop of a hat while condescending with apparent concern and empathy is a stomach churning vice that makes open prejudice seem almost wholesome. We have seen and heard too much of this dishonesty lately.

When my brother and I went to New Orleans years ago we were constantly entreated not to go to this area or that area or even to cross to the opposite side of the road that our first hotel was on. What a load of cobblers. The very first thing that we did once we had checked in was to start busting these taboos. We went everywhere and we never had any hassle at all from anyone.

Looking in the good side, another happy memory of New Orleans is the day I spent in cooking school there, let's all cheer ourselves up with A Confederacy of Lunches - New Orleans' best meals, and how to make them. By Sara Dickerman.

I hope the good times roll, again.