Thursday, June 30, 2005

Chicago crime database

The Chicago crime database is a freely browsable database of crimes reported in Chicago that uses Google Maps. This is just like part one of the ideas for "keeping the public safe and geeling safe" that I was proposing in May, that is it enables the public to find incidents that have occurred nearby.

Also rather happily, part 2 of my idea - using feeds to keep the public informed of developments - is also rather neatly covered by Microsoft's wide ranging announcement of support for RSS at Gnomedex last Friday.

Everybody Goes to Rick's

Paul and I picked my four year old up from nursery after work yesterday afternoon as Jane was ruuning late. When she got in, and as we were setting off for Tooting she recommended that we eat at Rick's Cafe (122 Mitcham Road, Tooting, SW17 9NH tel: 02087675219). This had the unfortunate effect of bringing Bogie and Bergman's Casablanca to mind causing us to waste most of the next couple of hours trying to remember the name of the actor who played Capt. Renault. (It was, as any fule kno, Claud Rains.)

En route we had a pint in The Gorringe Park (London Road, Tooting, London, SW17 9JR) and then one in the The Railway Bell (284, Mitcham Rd, London, SW17 9NT), both of which were pretty disappointing, but then we bowled up at The Ramble Inn (Amen Corner, Mitcham Road, Tooting, London, SW17 9JG) which was great.

The Amen Corner address also had the advantage of reminding me of Welsh Born Icon Andy Fairweather Low (Cardiff 1948) so I serenaded any passers by with "Bend Me Shape Me", "Half As Nice", and "Wide Eyed and Legless" as we proceded from there up to the ever reliable Rick's where I enjoyed croquettes of Spanish ham with sauce vierge then char grilled rib eye steak, chips and green peppercorn sauce and a bottle of Rioja.

The only downside was that Paul, fresh from the Claud Rains triumph, decided to regale me with a tidal wave of Casablanca trivia and demand that I publish it here.


After shooting, the producers wanted to remove "As Time Goes By" as the song identifying Rick and Ilsa, but couldn't manage it becaue Ingrid Bergman had cut her hair very short for For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) which was shooting at a distant locale and she therefore could not re-shoot already-completed scenes that had used "As Time Goes By".

The final scene includes midget extras as aircraft personnel walking around a model cardboard plane, because of budgetary and wartime rationing constraints.

etc. etc.

I don't know where he gets it all from. I've looked at the Trivia for Casablanca (1942) page today however and found a great modern story.

In the 1980s, this film's script was sent to readers at a number of major studios and production companies under its original title, "Everybody Comes To Rick's". Some readers recognized the script but most did not. Many complained that the script was "not good enough" to make a decent movie.

There is more poignant stuff as well.

Conrad Veidt, who played Maj. Strasser, was well known in the theatrical community in Germany for his hatred of the Nazis, and in fact was forced to hurriedly escape the country when he found out that the SS had sent a death squad after him because of his anti-Nazi activities.

Many of the actors who played the Nazis were in fact German Jews who had escaped from Nazi Germany.

Google Maps API

"The worlds most intriguing company" has finally made a Google Maps Application Programming Interface (API) available.

This will let developers embed Google Maps in their own web pages with JavaScript, add overlays to the maps (including markers and polylines) and display shadowed "info windows" just like Google Maps.

This is going to supercharge the display of geographical data on the 'net.


I updated to Newsgator 2.5 yesterday, and noticed as I was fooling around with the online component that it included the facility to publish a "Blogroll".

My blogroll is simply a list of the RSS feeds to which I subscribe. I have put the list under the Archives on the left of the page. You can go straight to it by clicking here

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


We are off to Tooting Railway station and environs tonight for the last Wednesday pub crawl before Abbeyfest.

That reminds me of the old story of the American couple in London who wanted to go to the Tutankhamen exhibit at the British Museum.

Flagging down a taxi, they instructed the driver, 'Take us to Tutankhamen!' and off they went.

Some time later, the driver delivered them to Tooting Common.

William Donaldson

Another great Telegraph obituary.
William Donaldson, who died on June 22 aged 70, was described by Kenneth Tynan as "an old Wykehamist who ended up as a moderately successful Chelsea pimp", which was true, though he was also a failed theatrical impresario, a crack-smoking serial adulterer and a writer of autobiographical novels; but it was under the nom de plume Henry Root that he became best known.

I remember Henry Root although I was still a teenager when the letters saw the light of day. (I can't help but wonder if they played any part in the inspiration of Ali G.)

Willie Donaldson's alter ego was a Right-wing nutcase and wet fish merchant from Elm Park Mansions, SW10, who specialised in writing brash, outrageous and frequently abusive letters to eminent public figures, enclosing a one pound note. Donaldson's genius was to write letters that appeared absurd to the public but not to those to whom they were addressed. The recipients duly replied, often unaware that the joke was on them.

Root chastised the Archbishop of Canterbury for failing to thank him for the five pounds he had donated towards roof repairs; suggested to Margaret Thatcher (who kept the enclosed one pound) that Mary Whitehouse should be made Home Secretary; sympathised with the Queen about the "problems" she was having with Princess Anne ("My Doreen, 19, is completely off the rails too, so I know what it's like"); and told the Thorpe trial judge, Sir Joseph Cantley: "You tipped the jury the right way and some of your jokes were first class! Well done! You never looked to me like the sort of man who'd send an old Etonian to the pokey", a communication which brought a visit from the police, investigating allegations of attempted bribery.

He volunteered to run sundry failing football clubs; to visit the Chief Constable of Manchester with his newly formed-group The Ordinary Folk Against The Rising Tide of Filth in Our Society Situation (TOFATRFLOSS); asked Angela Rippon to send him a photograph of Anna Ford and enquired of the Tory Party director of finance the going rate for a peerage. He wrote to the late Sir James Goldsmith urging the elimination of "scroungers, perverts, Dutch pessary salesmen and Polly Toynbee". "Dear Mr Root", Goldsmith replied, "Thank you for your letter which I appreciated enormously."

Some recipients were puzzled, some furious, and some swallowed the hoax, hook, line and sinker. Nicholas Scott MP answered Root's letters about his love life, claiming that all was well between himself and his wife. The Foreign Office replied to Root's enquiries as to whether Mrs Root might be assaulted by "local Pedros" on holiday in Ibiza, informing him that "the activities to which you refer are indeed apt to occur in most popular tourist centres". When he told Sir David McNee, then Police Commissioner at Scotland Yard, that it was "better that 10 innocent men be convicted than that one guilty man goes free", he was told: "Your kind comments are appreciated."
He had an unerring eye for the approach which would rankle most with his recipients. Writing to Harriet Harman, then of "The National Council for so-called Civil Liberties", he began: "I saw you on television the other night� Why should an attractive lass like you want to confuse her pretty little head with complicated matters of politics, jurisprudence, sociology and the so-called rights of man? Leave such considerations to us men, that's my advice to you. A pretty girl like you should have settled down by now with a husband and a couple of kiddies." If she must work, he continued, she should consider a career such as "that of model, actress, ballroom dancing instructor or newsreader", before enclosing a pound for her to buy a pretty dress and urging the future MP to get in touch with "my friend Lord Delfont".

Compiled and published in 1980, The Henry Root Letters became the number one best seller... It was claimed that one of his more redeeming features was that while he hated pomposity and hypocrisy in others, he disliked himself even more.

This might have been so, had he not enjoyed hating himself so much: "The salient features about me are laziness, self-indulgence and sex addiction," he confessed, in his characteristic melancholy drawl. "I'm genuinely shocked by my own behaviour."

Although the potted biographies of the eccentrics are a thing of beauty and a joy forever, it is also worth reading the Telegraph's obituary column to salute, sixty years on in their twilight, the generation that fought World War II. It is genuinely humbling to read of apparently ordinary people who performed extraordinary feats of valour in the Fourties and then returned to steady jobs and allotment tending, seldom it seems even raising their voices again. (I always find it amazing, as he is so modest and unassuming, that Kevin's dad fought his was up through Italy with the Eighth Army and had a good friend and comrade shot dead as they stood shoulder to shoulder. What an easy life I have by comparison.)

Physics Lectures

I picked up a great story from O'Reilly Radar.

After winning the Nobel prize, Max Planck went around Germany giving talks. His chauffeur heard the talk so many times that he had it by heart, and so one time, he asked Max Planck if he could give the address. Planck agreed, they changed places, and the lecture came off famously. But then came the Q&A, with the very first question being one that the chauffeur had no hope of answering. The chauffeur replied: 'I'm surprised to hear such an elementary question on high energy physics here in Munich. It's so simple, I'll let my chauffeur answer it.'

My brother used to be an academic at ETH, the famous Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Once, after giving a guest lecture he was asked a question he couldn't understand, "I'm sorry I have no idea what you mean", he replied.

His interlocutor tried a follow up. Vince was still genuinely baffled and perhaps a little uncomfortable, yet afterwards several people quietly, and individually, approached him to thank him for putting down a notorious bore, hair-splitter, and obfuscator. "I've been waiting to see that bugger put in his place for years", said one. Dr. Browne's genuine bewilderment having come across as withering scorn.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Government Bills

With the Bill to introduce ID cards getting its second reading in the Commons today and the Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill at the committee stage, it has struck me quite forcibly (and embarassingly) that I do not have a very clear idea of the procedures by which the Houses of Parliament acutally pass laws. Here then, is the skinny on the overall system. Perhaps the committee stage and the process of amendment will become clearer to me as events roll along.

Public Bills can be introduced into either the House of Commons or the House of Lords. As a rule, government bills likely to raise political controversy start in the Commons, while those of a technical but less party-political nature often go to the Lords first. Bills with a mainly financial purpose are always introduced in the Commons. If the main object of a public bill is to create a public charge - involving new taxation or public spending - it must be introduced by a government minister in the Commons.

The procedure of passing a Public Bill is similar in both Houses. The stages are:

first reading
second reading
committee stage
report stage
third reading
passage through the other House
Royal Assent

The first reading of a public bill is a formality. Once formally presented, a bill is printed and proceeds to a second reading. Amendments can be made at the committee and subsequent stages.

The Bleat

James Lileks' daily Bleat is always a treat. Have I recommended or linked to him before? I'm not sure, but I should have. Yesterday, he was hitting all the buttons in full "Night Hawks" and "One for my Baby" mode;

My wife, child and mother-in-law left Friday for the outlands of the state, leaving me and the dog to amuse ourselves in the time-honored method: staying up until 3 AM watching Star Wars with the stereo pumped up to 11. ........ But that's all I'm left with: me myself and rye.

What I really want to do is sit in a vacant bar listening to the jukebox, scraping the labels off the Shiners, smoking Winstons, staring at the bottles. Somewhere in the bottom of every man's heart is just such a place, waiting. The bar is long and dark and full of scratches; the bathroom stinks, and there's a rotary-dial pay phone in the back. No one uses it much because no one has anyone to call. The bartender doesn't like you but that's just fine, because you don't like him either. It's night; it's summer; when the jukebox stops you can hear the traffic on the highway outside. Or you could, if there was any.

I've been there. A few years ago when the family left a couple of days earlier than me for a break at a cottage in Kent, I remember hiring a DVD of American Beauty, and buying a case of Stella, because I hated the film so much that I wanted watch it drinking and sneering at Sam Mendes' director's commentary. Screaming "tell me again why a plastic bag swirling in the wind is a breathtaking image of meditative and unforced beauty, you sonovabitch!" over his rationalisations was indeed deeply satisfying.

Masour Pulao

Reza Mahammad was on the BBC's Saturday Kitchen this weekend. I've seen him before on a show about Indian food called 'Delhi Belly' that he did with Sanjeev Bhasker. He is an hilarious natural on the TV; think Freddie Mercury at the tandoor.

He cooked a Masour Pulao (layered minced lamb with rice), that I want to note for future reference in case it disappears from the BBC website - especially as we brought plenty of saffron back from Dubai and we have still got sacks of cinnamon from Kerala.

1 tsp saffron strands
600g/1 lb 5oz basmati rice (uncooked weight)
50g/2oz red masour lentils or puy lentils, soaked according to packet instructions, or tinned green lentils
150ml/5fl oz vegetable oil
4 onions, thinly sliced
4 whole cinnamon sticks
6 to 8 whole cardamom pods
2 tsp fresh root ginger, finely grated
1 tsp garlic, crushed
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 green chillies, halved
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp red chilli powder
450g/1 lb minced lamb
1 tbsp plain yoghurt
handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped
small bunch mint leaves, chopped
For the garnish
3 boiled eggs, shelled and halved
1. Make the saffron water by soaking the saffron strands in 200ml/7fl oz of hot water. Leave to stand until needed.
2. Wash the rice in warm to hot water and leave to soak in a bowl of water while you prepare the other ingredients.
3. Add the lentils to a large pan filled with 400ml/14fl oz hot water (you can use some chicken stock instead of the water to give more flavour if you prefer). Place over a low to medium heat and cook for approximately 30-45 minutes, until the lentils are tender. If necessary, add more hot water during cooking. If using tinned lentils you can omit this step.
4. Heat two thirds of the vegetable oil in another large pan and heat until smoking hot. Add half the onions and fry until they are golden brown and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen paper to drain. Set aside.
5. Leave the oil in the pan and add the cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods. Allow the spices to sizzle for a few seconds then add the remaining raw onions and fry until golden brown.
6. Now add the garlic and ginger and stir for a few seconds.
7. Add the chopped tomatoes, green chillies, ground cumin, garam masala and red chilli powder and stir for a minute or two.
8. Add the minced lamb and cook until browned then add the yoghurt and stir through. Cover the pan and cook on a low heat for 30 minutes.
9. Meanwhile, bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the rice. Add three teaspoons of salt and a drizzle of oil to prevent the rice from sticking. Cook until the rice becomes tender but not completely cooked through - about three minutes. Drain well and leave to stand.
10. Add the remaining oil to the empty rice pan and add a layer of the crispy-fried onions and a drizzle of the saffron water.
11. Next add a thin layer of rice, then a thin layer of the lentils and some of the lamb mixture.
12. Repeat the above several times until all the ingredients have been used up and you have a number of layers. Finish with a layer of fried onions and sprinkle over the chopped coriander and mint.
13. Cover the pan with a clean, dry cloth and steam over a low heat for 10 - 15 minutes.
14. Transfer to a large platter and garnish with the boiled egg halves. Serve.

On the show, he missed out the garnish,finished the dish in the oven under foil in the oven, and then tapped it "whole" out of the inverted dish to serve.

I need to put his restaurant the Star of India (154 Old Brompton Road, London, SW5 0BE tel:020 7373 2901) on my to do list.

I have found out that he's also made a series about Kerala, India called "Coconut Coast", exploring the exotic and delicately flavoured dishes influenced by the spice traders and merchants from Portugal and the Gulf." We all fell in love with Kerala when we were there so I would love to see that. Come to think of it cookery shows might be a great thing for Google Video.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Google Video

John Battelle's Searchblog has got a scoop saying Google will launch online video playback today.

I've confirmed that Monday Google will launch an in-browser video playback feature based on the open source VLC media player. This is the logical next step for Google's video search and upload function, which began taking uploads from anyone who cared to submit back in April.

I'll try and embed an example in the blog once its launched. With Google providing the hosting and streaming - plus, possibly a payment mechanism - this could really throw the doors open to smaller content providers. Google as a TVOD channel?

Piles of Poles

According to the magazine with Saturday's Times,"London is one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities - with the food to prove it. Jenny Linford's guide lifts the lid on a melting pot". She says:

Finchley used to be very Japanese, but the Japanese have now moved out to Acton. I went to check up on an Iranian food shop there, and there was a sign up in Polish. I went in, and half the shop has now become Polish, full of cabbage and sausages and pickled herring. That�s been a big change, that sort of compromise.
Everywhere is becoming Polish as far as I can tell. The finest example I have come across is that the Pakistani grocer in our High Street sells curry powder imported from Poland!

The fourth edition of Food Lovers� London by Jenny Linford is published by Metro Publications on July 23 and is available from Books First priced �7.64 (RRP �8.99) plus 99p p&p on 0870 1608080. I will try and remember to invest in a copy.

We want RSS everywhere

Here's the BBC coverage of Microsoft's RSS announcement at Gnomedex on Friday.
Microsoft's next version of its browser, Internet Explorer 7, will make it easier for people to keep automatically aware of website updates. IE7 will have an orange button on the toolbar which will light up when it detects a Really Simple Sndication (RSS) feed on a site.

Users can click on a 'plus' button to subscribe to the site's feed, as they would with a bookmark. The new browser is due to be released this summer.

It had its public debut at the Gnomedex technology conference in the US city of Seattle on Friday.

The open-source browser, Mozilla Firefox, already lets web users subscribe to feeds of websites they read regularly, such as weblogs and news sites.

The move is part of wider plans Microsoft has to integrate RSS formats throughout its latest version of Windows - Longhorn - which it sees as a major step forward.

'We are making sure that throughout Windows the experiences for users are easy,' said Dean Hachomovitch, general manager of Microsoft's Internet Explorer team.

When I subscribe I can say what is interesting to me, the machine can do the work, and I can enjoy the fruits of its labour

'We want RSS everywhere. I want it in more than just the browser and aggregators. We want to help RSS get even bigger and better than today.'
Appropriately, Microsoft's RSS team has an MSDN RSS feed MSDN RSS feed that we can use to follow developments and a blog at

At Coraider we have been building RSS into almost everything we have done for several years and working hard on evangelising it to the UK Police. I gave this presentation at several forces in 2003. I still think it holds up well.

Maybe at last we will start to get some benefit from all this work.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Ebay Bargain

A radio presenter who flirted on air with Jodie Marsh has paid a terrible price. Kerrang 105.2's Tim Shaw told the glamour model that he'd leave his wife and children for her, little suspecting that his wife, Hayley, was listening. In revenge she sold Shaw's �25,000 Lotus Esprit Turbo for 50p on eBay.

The description read: 'I need to get rid of this car immediately - ideally in the next two to three hours before my husband gets home to find it gone and all his belongings in the street.' Hayley, 27, told The Birmingham Post:

'He was all over her during the interview. It was pathetic. The car is his pride and joy, but the idiot put my name on the logbook. I am sick of being disrespected.' A Kerrang spokesman said Shaw was 'gutted'.
Times Online via Normblog.

New Zealand 21-3 Lions

We don't subscribe to Sky Sports, so I would have had to go down to the pub to watch the Lions play the All Blacks on Saturday morning.

Regarding the odds of me watching a rugby game in a boozer without drinking, "it is difficult to be precise, Captain: I should say approximately 7824.7 to one", so rather than write off a Saturday I had to pass.

From what I have heard, I am certainly glad that I did. Surely after this spanking, and with Brian O'Driscoll injured Gavin Henson must get a start in the next Test?

(I haven't always avoided beer for breakfast watching sport in a pub, nearly ten years ago my brother John and I watched an England Euro 96 soccer game in a bar in New Orleans' Irish Channel. An afternoon match in Blighty translated to a very early kick off in the Big Easy. My recollections of the rest of the day are, to say the least, hazy which is probably a good thing.)

Refutation Thus

There are two famous put downs of Bishop Berkeley's views. Boswell writes in his famous Life of Johnson:

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, "I refute it thus."
Mgr Ronald Knox, coined both the limerick summary I posted yesterday and his own response in the same form.

Dear Sir: Your astonishment's odd:
I am always about in the Quad.
And that's why the tree
Will continue to be,
Since observed by
Yours Faithfully, GOD.

Saturday, June 25, 2005


For this weekend's poems I am jumping from Berkeley Square to Bishop Berkeley. George Berkeley was one of the three most famous eighteenth century British Empiricists (along with John Locke and David Hume). He was an idealist: everything that exists is either a mind or depends for its existence upon a mind. He was an immaterialist: matter does not exist. He accepted the seemingly outrageous position that ordinary physical objects are composed solely of ideas, which are inherently mental; a view neatly summarised in a limerick.

There was a young man who said, God
Must think it exceedingly odd
If he finds that this tree
Continues to be
When there's no one about in the Quad.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Benares Berkeley Square

Jane booked a table at Benares Restaurant for my birthday after we saw the chef/proprietor Atul Kochhar on television.

He was on a SkyTV show in which the best chefs in Britain prepare, cook, debate and present what they consider to be the Greatest Dishes known to man. In the first episiode he was competing with Gennaro Contaldo, Alexis Gaulthier and Angela Hartnett to produce the best starter in the world and his Galawati Kebab won out over Soffritto Napoletana, Soup with Black Truffles and Frogs Legs Mouselline.

The meltingly delicate Galawati kebab was apparently created for a toothless Nawab of Lucknow, but it won our hearts as well so we had to investigate further.

When Kochhar was the head chef at the Tamarind restaurant he was the first Indian chef to be awarded a Michelin star and Benares is certainly a class act. The decor is quite dark and the ambience is very cool, with a series of water-filled pools decorated with gerbera flowers and lillies.

We were a little bit disappointed to find that the Galawati kebab was not on the menu.

I had Subj Bahar - cumin scented pan-fried potato cakes, grilled pickled paneer, tandoori closed cup mushrooms & tomato with basil oil & garlic vinegar dressing - to start, and then Parda Biriyani - a pastry sealed pot of fragrant rice and lamb served with raita. I also ordered a black dal.

The waiter, very politely, over ruled my red wine choice and steered me to a Napa Valley Zinfandel which certainly did complement the spicy food wonderfully well.

It was a great gastronomic experience. The Benares website says, "the presentation may be lean towards modern European, but the heart of each dish can be traced to individual households across India" which is pretty much on the button. (I also found myself wondering whether or not there is any French/Indian hybrid cooking, maybe from around Ponicherry?)

Kochhar's book Indian Essence: The Fresh Tastes of India's New Cuisineis now winging its way to me from Amazon and I am looking for some chums to come along and take one of his master classes with me. Any takers?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Patrick Pakenham

Two great stories from a Daily Telegraph obituary.

During his legal career, Pakenham became something of a legend, and, 25 years on, accounts of his exploits are still current. During his appearance before an irascible and unpopular judge in a drugs case, the evidence, a bag of cannabis, was produced. The judge, considering himself an expert on the subject, said to Pakenham, with whom he had clashed during the case: "Come on, hand the exhibit up to me quickly." Then he proceeded to open the package. Inserting the contents in his mouth, he chewed it and announced: "Yes, yes of course that is cannabis. Where was the substance found, Mr Pakenham?" The reply came swiftly, if inaccurately: "In the defendant's anus, my Lord."

Pakenham's final appearance in court has been variously recorded. As defence counsel in a complicated fraud case, he was due to address the court during the afternoon session, and had partaken of a particularly well-oiled lunch.

"Members of the jury," he began, "it is my duty as defence counsel to explain the facts of this case on my client's behalf; the Judge will guide you and advise you on the correct interpretation of the law and you will then consider your verdict. Unfortunately," Pakenham went on, "for reasons which I won't go into now, my grasp of the facts is not as it might be. The judge is nearing senility; his knowledge of the law is pathetically out of date, and will be of no use in assisting you to reach a verdict. While by the look of you, the possibility of you reaching a coherent verdict can be excluded." He was led from the court.

Guys and Dolls

I went to Piccadilly yesterday to see Ewan McGregor as "Sky Masterson", Jane Krakowski as "Miss Adelaide", Douglas Hodge as "Nathan Detroit" and Jenna Russell as" Sarah Brown" in Guys and Dolls.

'Guys and Dolls is the One, the greatest of all the great Broadway musicals' - Daily Telegraph
'Ewan McGregor's charm makes fairy tale of New York a hit' - The Independent
'Jane Krakowski - well worth queuing for' - Daily Express'
Douglas Hodge - a great comic actor' - Daily Telegraph
'Jenna Russell - a delight' - Daily Telegraph

'Guys and Dolls' is a dramatisation of stories written by Damon Runyon, and Runyon is supposed to have based the character Nathan Detroit on a legendary New York figure called Arnold Rothstein (who was also the inspiration for Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby). Arnold Rothstein was gambling, and Arnold Rothstein was money. He was Mr. Broadway and had his own booth at Lindy�s restaurant in Manhattan where he held court.

He is remembered to this day as the rumoured mastermind of the �Black Sox� scandal, the fixing of the World Series. In 1919, baseball was truly "America�s pastime." Because they considered themselves grossly underpaid by team owner Charles Comisky, eight members of the Chicago White Sox, led by first baseman Chick Gandil, conspired to lose the World Series to the Cincinnati team� if they could find a gambler willing to pay them to lose.

Gandil approached a former featherweight boxing champion who had fought under the name "the little Hebrew" and in retirement, served in Arnold Rothstein�s entourage. He told him told him that, for $100,000, he could guarantee that his teammates would lose to Cincinnati.

In 1921, the eight players were convicted of fraud and banned from baseball. The go-between was was convicted of trying to fix the Series, but Rothstein, who never met the players, testified on his own behalf and was acquitted.

The retired featherweight intermediary was a famous figure in his own right and classed by Damon Runyon himself as "one of the five greatest fighters of all time."

Nat Fleischer, publisher of Ring magazine and probably the world's foremost boxing authority, named him as at least the third greatest fighter his class ever produced, behind only Terrible Terry McGovern and Cardiff's Jim Driscoll, with whom he had fought a ten-round no-decision bout eleven years before his day in court.

Yes, it was the fight I wrote about yesterday, and the conspirator was none other than Abe Attell. "I love it when a plan comes together".

Abe Attell

A postscript: One of my brothers tells a story about chancing on a bar near Broadway, when he was in New York, where all the guys kept their hats on and talked out of the sides of their mouths. It was a shrine to Abe Attell just like the Royal Oak's tribute to Driscoll in Cardiff more than three thousand miles to the East.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Birthday Presents

Q: What do you give them man who has everything?

A: Penicillin.

Peerless Jim

In the late Seventies and early Eighties, I used to drink in the Royal Oak in Cardiff. There was boxing gym on the on the first floor, and the front bar was crowded with fight photos and memorabilia but dominated by a huge photograph of the legendary Cardiff boxer "Peerless" Jim Driscoll.
When he died in 1925, its reported that 100,000 people lined the streets of Cardiff and that the funeral procession was over over a mile long.

Driscoll learned his trade in the boxing booths and won the British featherweight title, but the legend was really forged in the USA where he travelled next.

This was the era of the no-decision in America, where the rules stated that if a boxer was not knocked out then the fight was declared to have no result. On the night of February 19th 1910 just ninety-eight days after his first fight in America, the Driscoll stepped intothe ring against the reigning featherweight champion of the world, Abe Attell, a true great who had held the title since 1901.

The reporters all gave the verdict to Jim Driscoll, who claimed that Attell had agreed to be bound by the newspapers decision. An agreement Attell did not recall.

Nat Fleischer when commenting on the fight said 'Driscoll was easily the best. The Welshman easily outpointed Atell and virtually took his title away from him. He definitely proved, as far as I am concerned, that he was the best featherweight in the world'.

The Police Gazette said, "Jem Driscoll gave Abe Attell an artistic trouncing, luckily the law forbade the rendering of decisions, otherwise Driscoll would have taken the featherweight title away with him." While Tad Dorgan wrote, "Abe Attell found his reign as premier featherweight boxer in the world had come to an end. ...At the National Athletic Club on East 24th Street the little Briton opened the eyes of the crowd and closed one of Abe's. ..there was no question as to which was the better man."

Harry Shaffer has noted that, "at this point in his American tour Driscoll was as great a draw as any fighter, most entertainers, and far greater than the heavyweight champion of the world, Jack Johnson."

This makes what happened next all the more remarkable. When the representatives who were handling Driscoll's affairs in America, went to see him at his hotel they had great plans, but they found Jim all packed, ticket in hand. He was ready to sail for home to keep a promise to take part in an exhibition bout at the Park Hall in Cardiff, in aid of his favourite charity, the Assault at Arms Committee, which supported Nazareth House, where the Sisters of Nazareth cared for scores of orphans. Driscoll kept his promise appearing, as always, for free.

He was to return to America only once, in the Spring of the following year, on the promise of a championship fight, but that was not to be, "Attell proving as elusive outside the ring as Driscoll was inside", and he returned home already suffering from the early stages of the lung disease that would take his life at the age of 44.

Which is why, in a way, this is a story for my own 44th birthdday today

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Farr v Louis

After writing a post yesterday that mentioned both Joe Louis and a Welsh heavyweight, I couldn't really let the matter drop without reference to Tonypandy-born Tommy Farr's 1937 fight with the "Brown Bomber". (By coincidence, it was Louis's first defence after taking the title from Jim Braddock who is currently being portrayed by Russell Crowe in Cinderella Man).

Like Jimmy Wilde and Jim Driscoll before him, Tommy Farr came up through the boxing booths. Almost unbelievably, he had his first official fight - a six round points win - when he was twelve. By the time he faced Louis he was still only 23 years old but had been involved in more than 200 fights if you include the boxing booth bouts. At the weigh in when Louis noticed the scars on his back, (which were a result of Farr's days in the coal mines) and asked him how he had got them, Tommy is supposed to have replied, "Oh, they're nothing, I got those fighting tigers!"

It is said that everyone in Wales listened to the fight. I remember Kevin's Dad many years ago assuring me that Farr had won and been robbed in a shameful home town decision.

"How can you be sure?", I asked.

"I heard it on the radio", he said.

Well courtesy of BBC Wales you can hear the last couple of minutes radio commmentary on the fight again nearly 70 years later. It sure sounds like he was winning to me.



I have found Bono a faintly ridiculous figure ever since my mother reacted to a TV appearance by observing, "isn't that Bozo out of OoBeeDoo", but I do think that the design above that seems to be what he wore on a headband at the U2 gigs in Twickenham over the weekend is striking and apt for the people of the book.

And do not dispute with the followers of the Book except by what is best, except those of them who act unjustly, and say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our God and your God is One, and to Him do we submit.(Qur'an 29:46)

Monday, June 20, 2005

Pessimism for Beginners

Here, via normblog, is a modern poem by Sophie Hannah in the fine tradition of last week's 19th Century Pessimist.

When you're waiting for someone to e-mail,
When you're waiting for someone to call -
Young or old, gay or straight, male or female -
Don't assume that they're busy, that's all.

Don't conclude that their letter went missing
Or they must be away for a while;
Think instead that they're cursing and hissing -
They've decided you're venal and vile,

That your eyes should be pecked by an eagle.
Oh, to bash in your head with a stone!
But since this is unfairly illegal
They've no choice but to leave you alone.

Be they friend, parent, sibling or lover
Or your most stalwart colleague at work,
Don't pursue them. You'll only discover
That your once-irresistible quirk

Is no longer appealing. Far from it.
Everything that you are and you do
Makes them spatter their basin with vomit.
They loathe Hitler and Herpes and you.

Once you take this on board, life gets better.
You give no-one your hopes to destroy.
The most cursory phone call or letter
Makes you pickle your heart in pure joy.

It's so different from what you expected!
They do not want to gouge out your eyes!
You feel neither abused nor rejected -
What a stunning and perfect surprise.

This approach I'm endorsing will net you
A small portion of boundless delight.
Keep believing the world's out to get you.
Now and then you might not be proved right.

Oh My God

From the Evening Standard today:

A ban on any mention of religion in civil wedding ceremonies is set to be relaxed after over-zealous officials prevented the playing of Robbie Williams's song Angels.

A ruling from the Registrar-General in 1995 prohibits any reference to 'a god or deity, prayer or worship, or church or temple' at a civil ceremony.

Banned works include poetry by Shakespeare, readings from EM Forster's Howard's End and Aretha Franklin's song I Say A Little Prayer.

A review by current Registrar-General Len Cook today recommends a relaxation to allow 'readings, songs or music that contain an incidental reference to a god or deity in an essentially non-religious context'. The Government is supporting the proposal, with the public and churches being invited to express their views.


The 1949 Marriage Act, still in force, says that civil wedding ceremonies should not include any "religious service". But the ban was strengthened in 1995 to include pop songs and literary readings with only incidental references to religion.

In a test case last year, a couple were refused permission to have a reading of the Elizabeth Barrett Browning sonnet which begins, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..." because it includes the words God and grace.

Some Bible readings will also be permitted under the new rules if they are not particularly religious in content.
Ministers intend to introduce changes to the guidelines later this year.

One issue under consideration is whether to permit the singing of hymns, or whether they should only be played in instrumental versions. At present they are banned.

Couples arranging civil ceremonies in recent years have been refused permission to play instrumental versions of Ave Maria, Pie Jesu and Zadok the Priest.

Once again, the government's doodling with religion in public life is beyond parody. I would say that the proposition that "some Bible readings will also be permitted under the new rules if they are not particularly religious in content", represents the current high- water mark of the ridiculous genre.

Registrar-General is particularly sinister sounding post don't you think?

Tom, Katie, and Ron

Here's a story about Scientologists which I should republish while I can.

Katie Holmes may have fallen for it, but Tom Cruise's sci-fi seduction technique scared the bejeezus out of Scarlett Johansson, a source close to the actress says. Weeks before he began wooing his brainwashed bride-to-be, Cruise made repeated phone calls to the 19-year-old starlet - who was then set to co-star with him in Mission Impossible III - imploring her to meet him at the Scientology Celebrity Center in L.A. But when the actress finally agreed, the supposedly professional get-together took an oddly spiritual turn. '[Cruise] took me into this room, which was stifling hot, and was showing me all kinds of info about joining the church,' Johansson told our source. 'The whole time he didnt even offer me a cookie!? Instead, he offered her dinner'and a glimpse into the Twilight Zone.

After two hours of proselytizing, our source says Cruise opened a door to reveal a second room full of upper-level Scientologists who had been waiting to dine with the pair, at which point the cool-headed ingenue politely excused herself. Soon after the meeting, Johansson dropped out of Mission Impossible III, reportedly due to scheduling conflicts. Asked about the incident, Johansson's momager, Melanie Johansson, referred Radar to a publicist, who did not return calls or emails seeking comment. After striking out with Johansson, Cruise reportedly turned his attentions to 24-year-old Jessica Alba, 22-year-old Kate Bosworth, and 18-year-old Lindsay Lohan, before settling on the 26-year-old Holmes. As far we know, Cruise's War of the Worlds co-star, Dakota Fanning, was never under consideration.

We should really stop laughing long enough, however, to wonder what the famously litigious Church of Scientology will be able to try on in the courts once the British Government adds the Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill to its arsenal. There is interesting coverage in Wikipedia.
Critics charge that the ultimate aim of Scientology lawsuits is to completely destroy their opponents by forcing them into bankruptcy. A frequently quoted statement by L. Ron Hubbard regarding the use of lawsuits was quoted by Judge Leonie Brinkema in the case of Religious Technology Center vs. The Washington Post, in 1995:

"The purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than win. The law can be used very easily to harass, and enough harassment on somebody who is simply on the thin edge anyway, well knowing that he is not authorized, will generally be sufficient to cause professional decease. If possible, of course, ruin him utterly."�L. Ron Hubbard, The Scientologist, a Manual on the Dissemination of Material, 1955

The Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill is in effect a tool of intimidation that will be seized on by fanatics to silence critics and punish apostates. Passing it will be an act of madness.

Human Cannonball

Todd the human cannonball, a circus act blasted through the air at 60mph, has been fired because he's afraid of flying. Todd Christian, 26, was sacked by the Cottle & Austen circus because he refused to travel to South America for a training course. 'I know it sounds silly because Im a human cannonball, but if I'm on a plane for a long time I start to panic,' he said."

Soft trumpet and a bell

In1962, after he'd beaten his closest rival, Floyd Patterson, and become Heavyweight Champion of the World, Sonny Liston said, "Some day they're gonna write a blues song for fighters. It'll just be for slow guitar, soft trumpet and a bell."

I've been thinking about heavyweight careers since Mike Tyson retired on his stool at the end of the sixth round after a desperate performance against Kevin McBride last week. It just seems inevitable that Tyson is going to join the long list of former champions that end up with nothing to show for their careers. Tyson's tailpsin is pobably going to make Joe Louis' troubles after he retired look like a holiday.

At least world heavy weight champions do get to see some money even if it is only fleetingly. I was in university in Swansea in 1981 when a local fighter called Neville Meade - who worked as a waiter in a curry house near Singleton Park - won the British Heavyweight crown. I was astonished to find that the pugilist was still working there the next time that we bowled up for a chicken Madras "half and half" a few weeks later. So, I think it safe to assume that his purse for winning the title must have been less than spectacular.

He certainly, however, made you think twice before attempting to run out without settling the bill.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Experience: "Nurses Song"

When voices of children are heard on the green,
And whisperings are in the dale,
The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind,
My face turns green and pale.

Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down,
And the dews of night arise;
Your spring and your day are wasted in play,
And your winter and night in disguise.

William Blake

Two poems and two nurses. The healthy nurse of Innocence empathises with the children's wants and can even indulge them. The nurse of Experience is a corrupted figure who only finds realisation in domination as a refuge from the terrors of the memories of a distorted childhood.

Of which does the Peter Pan of Pop remind you?

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Innocence: "The Nurse's Song"

When the voices of children are heard on the green
And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast
And every thing else is still

Then come home my children, the sun is gone down
And the dews of night arise
Come come leave off play, and let us away
Till the morning appears in the skies

No no let us play, for it is yet day
And we cannot go to sleep
Besides in the sky, the little birds fly
And the hills are all cover'd with sheep

Well well go & play till the light fades away
And then go home to bed
The little ones leaped & shouted & laugh'd
And all the hills ecchoed

There is a "Nurse's Song" by Blake from both the Songs of Innocence and the Songs of Experience. I mean to publish one each day this weekend contrasting them as a sort of abtruse comment on the Michael Jackson trial.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Hateful Things

From Reflections on the Revolution in France, by Edmund Burke (drawn to my attention in Red's Bookshelf):

We do not draw the moral lessons we might from history. On the contrary, without care it may be used to vitiate our minds and to destroy our happiness. In history a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials fo future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind. It may, in the perversion, serve for a magazine, furnishing offensive and defensive weapons for parties in church and state, and supplying the means of keeping alive, or reviving dissensions and animosities, and adding fuel to civic fury. History consists, for the greater part, of the miseries brought upon the world by pride, ambition, avarice, revenge, lust, sedition, hypocrisy, ungoverned zeal, and all the train of disorderly appetites, which shake the public with the same
- troublous storms that toss
The private state, and render life unsweet.

These vices are the causes of those storms. Religion, morals, laws, prerogatives, privileges, liberties, rights of men, are the pretexts. The pretexts are always found in some specious appearance of a real good. You would not secure men from tyranny and sedition, by rooting out of the mind the principles to which these fraudulent pretexts apply? If you did, you would root out every thing that is valuable in the human breast. As these are the pretexts, so the ordinary actors and instruments in great public evils are kings, judges, and captains. You would not cure the evil by resolving, that there should be no more monarchs, nor ministers of state, nor of the gospel; no interpreters of law; no general officers; no public councils. You might change the names. The things in some shape must remain. A certain quantum of power must always exist in the community, in some hands, and under some appellation. Wise men will apply their remedies to vices, not to names; to the causes of evil which are permanent, not to the occasional organs by which they act, and the transitory modes in which they appear. Otherwise you will be wise historically, a fool in practice.

Seldom have two ages the same fashion in their pretexts and the same modes of mischief. Wickedness is a little more inventive. Whilst you are discussing fashion, the fashion is gone by. The very same vice assumes a new body. The spirit transmigrates; and, far from losing its principle of life by the change of its appearance, it is renovated in its new organs wtih the fresh vigour of a juvenile activity. It walks abroad; it continues its ravages; whilst you are gibbeting the carcass, or demolishing the tomb. You are terrifying yourself with ghosts and apparitions, whilst your house is the haunt of robbers. It is thus with all those, who, attending only to the shell and husk of history, think they are waging war with intolerance, pride, and cruelty, whilst, under colour of abhorring the ill principles of antiquated parties, they are authorizing and feeding the same odious vices in different factions, and perhaps in worse.

Read that last paragraph and especially the last sentence again. Now consider the a BBC report from yesterday afternoon Boys 'used for human sacrifice'.

Children are being trafficked into the UK from Africa and used for human sacrifices, a onfidential report for the Metropolitan Police suggests.

Children are being beaten and even murdered after being labelled as witches by pastors, the report leaked to BBC Radio 4's Today programme said.

That's not all.

It said that people who are desperate seek out churches to cast spells for them.

"Members of the workshop said for spells to be powerful it required a sacrifice of a male child unblemished by circumcision," the report said.

Contributors said boys were being trafficked into the UK for this purpose, but did not give details because they said they feared they would be "dead meat" if they told any more.

There were also claims that youngsters were being smuggled into the UK as domestic slaves and for men with HIV who believed if they had sex with a child they would be cleansed.

Fortunately, the punditocracy is on hand to cut through all this verbiage to the heart of the matter.

Dr William Les Henry, a lecturer in sociology at Goldsmith's College, said there was an element of racism about the report.

For as we all know the Police are institutionally racist, but at least the report:
acknowledged the sensitivity of the issue as the abuse was a product of individuals' faith and beliefs.

Well that's alright then. Thank goodness the government is moving at breakneck speed to introduce legislation that will demand that we are legally bound to be circumspect in any criticism of such faith else we incite religious hatred.

All the sensitivity training in the world is not worth one weal, cigarette burn, or bruise on the black skin of a brutalised boy. One of the things that I loathe most about the notion of hate crime law is that it is so bloody prissy; its real purpose is to help its drafters and supporters feel good about themselves. If they need to feel guilty about something, they should feel guilty about the hideous inversion where the mindset it has brought forth is responsible for the abandonment of children to unimaginably degraded fates beyond the hope of any deliverance in this world.

PS I just looked up Dr William Les Henry on a search engine. There is a profile of him here. "He�s a far cry from academic stereotypes" apparently. I'll bet he is.


I have just realised that by appending my own surname to yesterday's 80's portmanteau being I get the still valid Boy George Michael Jackson Browne. Is this a record?

Also a propoos of nothing it has always amused me that Prince, Madonna, and George Michael's given names are Prince Rogers Nelson, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone, and Georgios Krylacos Panayiotou respectively. So Mr. Michael is the only one who adopted a stage name, leaving aside for the moment the vexed issue of Mr. Nelson's squiggle which I always felt was a bit of a put on anyway.

Literary Pub Crawl

Paul and I went up to London Bridge for a drink after work on Wednesday. We turned right when we came out of the station this time and worked our way east along the river and then back again as follows:

The Copperage (48-50 Tooley Street, SE1 2SZ)
The Horniman (Hay's Galleria, Tooley St, SE1 2HU)
Dean Swift (32 Lanfone Street, SE1 2LX)
Anchor Tap (28, Horselydown Lane, Bermondsey, SE1 2LN)
Elusive Camel (186, Tooley St, SE1 2TZ)
Bunch of Grapes ( 2, St. Thomas St, SE1 9RS)

The Dean Swift has large framed photos of Robert Maxwell and Richard Nixon on the wall. "Ho, ho. Very satirical."

Near St. Saviour's Dock, we stumbled - I think that is the operative word - upon "Jacob's Island" in which Bill Sikes meets his nasty end in Oliver Twist. So Dublin is not the only place for a literary pub crawl.

Here is Dickens' description of the area:
"... crazy wooden galleries common to the backs of half a dozen houses, with holes from which to look upon the slime beneath; windows, broken and patched, with poles thrust out, on which to dry the linen that is never there; rooms so small, so filthy, so confined, that the air would seem to be too tainted even for the dirt and squalor which they shelter; wooden chambers thrusting themselves out above the mud and threatening to fall into it - as some have done; dirt-besmeared walls and decaying foundations, every repulsive lineament of poverty, every loathsome indication of filth, rot, and garbage: all these ornament the banks of Jacob's Island."
And to think you imagined we were out having fun. Speaking of fun, due to some last minute cancellations and rearrangements in the giddy social whirl, there seems every danger that tonight I might be exposed to:

Solo banjo chaos, featuring original material and the works of The Ramones, The Clash, a 19th Century romantic Spanish song and a Gaelic rendition of a Roy Orbison classic.

Pray for me.

Brief Encounter

I took the kids to see Batman Begins last night, and I for one thought it was great.

With Christian Bale (born Haverfordwest 1974) fimly ensconced as Batman and Ioan Gruffudd (Cardiff 1973) due as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic in the Fantastic Four next month, 2005 is shaping up as the year of the Welsh super hero.

Marvel and DC comics are all very well I suppose, but if only an enterprising studio would bring Viz's Felix and his Amazing Underpants to the silver screen with Rhys Ifans (Ruthin, Denbighshire, 1968) in the title role my life would be complete.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

yes I said yes I will Yes

I was just - rather indulgently - reading my own weblog when I noticed that immediately before my Bloomsday post, there is another post quoting William James' idea that "drunkenness expands, unites, and says yes."

Serendipty again, as Molly Bloom famously is given to saying yes as well

'...I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. '

Interesting to note perhaps that James' "view of 'stream of consciousness' (Principles of Psychology-1890, as well as the chapter with that title from Psychology-1892) has been associated with Joyce's use of the technique in Ulysses (1922)."

There is much to chew on here. For the time being I shall merely imagine a portmanteau being William James Joyce to join my Eighties creation Boy George Michael Jackson.


"What's wrong?" asks The Professor.
"You just made my drink with Irish whiskey instead of straight rye." He takes a sip, and says, "It's darned good, though. And remember, mistakes are the portals of discovery."
"It's a quote from James Joyce -- didn't you learn anything on that literary pub crawl?"
"I had no pen, no ink, no table, no room, no time, no quiet, no inclination," The Professor quotes Joyce back to Doc.
"And the drink you're sipping is now officially called the James Joyce Cocktail."

The James Joyce Cocktail
1 1/2 ounces Irish whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce triple sec
1 ounce fresh lime juice
Shake all the ingredients over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Happy Bloomsday, 101 years since Leopold Bloom's odyssey through Dublin. There's a guy publishing Ulysses one page a day at which has also got an RSS feed to bring you a page a day automatically. He started on the centenary last year and is due to run until the last page is served up on June 14, 2006.

Page 366 is up today. The last line is, "frailty, thy name is SCEPTRE", which has prompted me to notice that SCEPTRE is an anagram of SPECTRE which we noted last week is an anagram of RESPECT. Where will it all end?

Don't Discriminate

"The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour. Sobriety diminishes, discriminates, and says no; drunkenness expands, unites, and says yes."

William James 1842-1910.

So sobbriety is discrimatory, while the government continues to pass and tighten anti-discrimination laws I think our duty is clear.

The Pessimist

Nothing to do but work,
Nothing to eat but food,
Nothing to wear but clothes
To keep one from going nude.

Nothing to breathe but air
Quick as a flash 't is gone;
Nowhere to fall but off,
Nowhere to stand but on.

Nothing to comb but hair,
Nowhere to sleep but in bed,
Nothing to weep but tears,
Nothing to bury but dead.

Nothing to sing but songs,
Ah, well, alas! alack!
Nowhere to go but out,
Nowhere to come but back.

Nothing to see but sights,
Nothing to quench but thirst,
Nothing to have but what we've got;
Thus thro' life we are cursed.

Nothing to strike but a gait;
Everything moves that goes.
Nothing at all but common sense
Can ever withstand these woes.

Benjamin Franklin King (1857-1894)

For some reason this popped into my head as I was walking to work today. Amateur psychologists are invited to make of that what they may.

Ego, Superego, ID cards

To think that only last Friday I was writing, "as regards ID cards, I'm not familiar with the details of the proposals yet but I just cannot imagine how they can possibly work in practice". Who would have imagined that a "dapper dog singing and the cutest puppy pianist on the planet" would take it upon themselves to explain it to the world and to give me a chance to practice publishing flash animations directly onto the weblog.

This is great. I wonder if I can find some work for Ecelectech and Mr Doghorse. They Will Flash for Cash.

The world today is filled with villains stealing one's identity
And terrorists intent on acts of violent extremity
Our citizens are prisoners, our criminals at liberty
Our nation at the mercy of felonious proclivity
Our very own Home Secretary will rebuild our society
A model of sagaciousness and picture of propriety
It's patent that protection of the future of humanity
Relies on Mr Clarke to put an end to this insanity!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


"It is immoral to get drunk because the headache comes after the drinking, but if the headache came first and the drunkenness afterwards, it would be moral to get drunk."

Samuel Butler 1612-1680.

Just thinking about that gives me a headache.


Newsgator - the Outlook hosted RSS aggregator - may well be the program that is most valuable to me day to day. I leave it running on my work PC 24/7 so that it synchronises with Exchange and I can reed my feeds from anywhere. This is less than ideal so I was delighted to read in Greg Reinacker's weblog that DINO (the NewsGator Enterprise Server)is in beta.

Imagine NewsGator Online, picked up and installed on a server behind a corporate firewall. Imagine it also (optionally) connecting with Active Directory and Exchange server. No longer would a system administrator need to go install NewsGator Outlook edition on 3000 desktops; rather, with Dino, they could install a single server, make some configuration choices, and employees will just get 'more stuff' somewhere in their Exchange mailbox without having to install anything on their own machines. Outlook; Outlook Web Access; Blackberry; Exchange ActiveSync; all of this is enabled by the Dino/Exchange integration.

I certainly can imagine. Anticipated v1 ship date is in early Q3. We will be licensing it on day one. Maybe it can give us the last push we need to persuade our clients about RSS in the enterprise.

The Nitro Gang

Writing about Frankie Fraser reminded me of a little anecdote an old school cop told me the other month. In the good old days - it seems - safe crackers used nitrolglycerin as a tool of the trade. It was so unstable, however, that they had to carry it in balloons that they would suspend in harnesses in the boot of a car when it was being transported to a job. Pretty obviously when you are driving a car with a trunk full of high explosive you tend towards a light touch with the brake and accelerator. Further,

Nitroglycerin breaks down into nitric oxide which helps relax blood vessels to improve blood flow. However, to accomplish this it robs the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase from the mitochondria. This can cause premature aging, impaired healing, and all kinds of additional health problems. Studies indicate that long term use of nitroglycerin is bad for the heart and cardiovascular system.

So if you ever found yourself behind a few broken down old geezers in a car crawling along at twenty miles an hour it might be a pensioners outing, but it might be a peterman and a gonif or two off to a box-job.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Bubba Ho-tep

The DVD of Bubba Ho-Tepis on my birthday list, giving me an excuse to add online Microsoft Media video to my weblog.

Based on the Bram Stoker Award nominee short story by acclaimed author Joe R. Lansdale, Bubba Ho-tep tells the �true� story of what really did become of Elvis.

We find the King (Bruce Campbell) as an elderly resident in an East Texas rest home, who switched identities with an Elvis impersonator years before his �death�, then missed his chance to switch back. Elvis teams up with Jack (Ossie Davis), a fellow nursing home resident who thinks that he is actually President John F. Kennedy, and the two valiant old codgers sally forth to battle an evil Egyptian entity who has chosen their long-term care facility as his happy hunting grounds�

Bogie on Booze

After yesterday's humdinger from W.B. Yeats, I have decided to inaugurate an occasional series of quotations on the demon drink.

Humphrey Bogart - the Oscar winning County Arms regluar - used to say, "the whole world is about three drinks behind".

Presumably when it was someone else's round.

Mad Frank

I drove past the Revolution in Clapham on Sunday. It's a bar I've only ever been to once, and that was a couple of years ago. Back in 2003 when we went there we just missed one of the most bizarre events I have ever heard of: Speed Dating with Mad Frankie Faser.

I would love to have collected a poster or ad for it, but I have dug up a listing from Google that proves I am not hallucinating. Click here.

Now Speed Dating with Darren Day, the UK's foremost B list show biz love rat, I could possibly understand, but "Mad" Frank? Over forty years behind bars and a night spent in every prison in the country seems odd preparation for playing Cupid.

For those who may not have heard of Frankie Frasier, I have discovered that he has a website It doesn't seem to have been updated for a couple of years, but it does contain some nuggets. "Frankie has worked on an album with rap star Tricky called 'Product Of The Environment'. It also features other gangland figures of the sixties including Charlie Richardson, Jack Adams, Tony Lambrianou, Tommy Wisbey and Freddie Foreman. It is now available on The Durban Poison Label".

The Guardian reviewed the site back in 2002.

By way of marking an unlikely marriage between traditional thinking and modern technology, we are pleased to install as website of the month.

"Dubbed the most dangerous man in Britain by two home secretaries," the home page announces, "here Frankie Fraser gives an insight into the life of a top gangster. Hear about his exploits with the Richardsons and the Krays and tales of murder, extortion and torture.

Enchanting as it all sounds, even more enticing are the forays into political analysis.

Under the section Mad Frank: A Not So Mad Viewpoint, the man who pioneered anaesthetic-free dentistry before Lawrence Olivier in Marathon Man emerges as a bafflingly underrated social commentator.

"Why is the quality of life for the ordinary citizens of this country not reflected in the modern technological advances that make the quality of life so much better or people in other developed countries?" asks Frank.

"To find the answer does not require a complicated intellectual cause and effect interpretation."
How about a "Gangland Tour"?

First Stop is Charlie and Eddie Richardson's scrap metal yard.
Elmington Estate where the 'Great Train Robbery' was planned.
Turnmills the place where Frank was shot in 1991.
Where they Krays lived when they were arrested
The place where Jack 'The Hat' was murdered.
York hall and a tour of the Repton Boxing Club.
The street where the Krays lived as boys.
The London hospital Whitechapel ...a story in regards to Eric Mason.
The pub 'The Blind Begger', and a stop for a drink and sandwiches.
The pub 'The Grave Maurice' where Ronnie, Reggie and Frank used to meet up for their private chats.
And then back to Browning Street.

"The Cardiff Mob" loved it, according to their thank you note.

Hi Frank, Just to say thanks for a great day, we really enjoyed the tour and meeting you was even better than we thought. Thanks for the signed photo of yourself and Reggie Kray, it's now framed on our wall! Hope to come again on another birthday.

Monday, June 13, 2005

140 today

Happy birthday W.B. Yeats born June 13, 1865. I've posted a serious poem of his before, so let's celebrate him by quoting a zinger of a one-liner.

"The worst thing about some men is that when they are not drunk they are sober."

Ruby Banner

From today, Jane's designs are available at a a jeweller called Oi, in Portobello Road in Notting Hill, as well as from Craft Connection in Abbey Mills.

I wrote some copy for the new display:

Beads have been used throughout the ages and in virtually every culture.

They have been fashioned in an almost limitless variety of colours, shapes and patterns from a huge range of materials, and they can be combined and recombined in endless configurations.

At Ruby Banner we take these beads and reset them in exclusive modern designs that remake them for the future while respecting the past.

The latest silver and pearl designs are inspired by Arabia; by the people, the landscape, and the culture. And spiced up in the souks - the markets where we bargained and bartered.

The pieces include

  • the Silver Seven necklace: chiming blue and pink agate
  • the DaSilva necklace: objects of power
  • the Huddle Collection: mixed beads and real pearls that move with you
  • the Two Tier Twinkle necklace: large and small pearls offset
  • the Leather Strand necklace: stunning and very unusual.
Let�s talk.

African Queen

Last Saturday, The Times came with a a DVD of John Huston's classic movie "The African Queen", as a free gift.

A long time ago I rented a house in Hall Road in Isleworth and used to take an occasional drink in the County Arms, the pub on the corner. A story that I heard in the pub but never thought too deeply about was that "The African Queen" had been filmed near by and that there was a photograph - that I never saw - in existence of Humphry Bogart drinking in the County. It seemed like an outrageous urban legend.

For some reason the free DVD dislodged this memory for me so I decided to follow it up via Google.

Lo and behold, the website for CP Cases Ltd - a company in Worton Road just around the corner from the County arms says:

In the 1940s and 50s, our building was a "sound stage" within the Isleworth Studios complex. Legendary director, John Huston, completed the watery Congo scenes from the film "The African Queen" in our factory building. What a unique sight� Humphrey Bogart (who in 1952 won an Oscar for his performance) hauling the boat, The African Queen, through a tank of freezing water - covered in live leeches - not something we subject our visitors to!

So it seems it is entirely likely that Bogie did indeed socialise in the County Arms of an evening, while relaxing from delivering the only Oscar winning role of his career round the corner in Worton Road.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

No Offence

Before the recent election, I emailed my MP expressing reservations about the proposals to introduce a crime of incitement to religious hatred that were then part of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, and - as chance would have it - received a reply just as the benighted proposal was relaunched as a Bill in its own right.

Here's the letter.

Thank you for taking the trouble to write to me about proposals to introduce new laws banning the incitement of religious hatred. First of all, I really must apologise that it has taken so long for me to reply. Your email arrived just as the General Election was commencing, and as MPs were forced to empty their offices once it was called. I had to move a lot of paperwork, and unfortunately the printout of your email has only just surfaced.

I wanted you to know that I appreciate your comments, but it is important to stress that this law is needed to fill a hole in current legislation. At the moment there is no law against incitement against religions, even though there is a law against attacking Christianity. Similarly, there is currently a law against incitement to racial hatred, and I am sure that you do not want to get rid of this law. A new law would simply correct these anomalies, and would provide reassurance for people of other religions.

There is in my mind a clear distinction between the human right to observe a religion or make fair comment about religious extremism, and inciting hatred against those who follow it. Ministers earlier this year met campaigners about this, including Rowan Atkinson who was concerned thatit would prevent comedians or writers (such as Salman Rushdie) from making legitimate observations about religions. I understand the meeting went well, and helped reassure people about the intentions behind the legislation. If more meetings are needed, I hope they take place.

I think that most of us have a clear idea as to what is incitement to religious hatred, and most of us consider it to be wrong. If we were called to be jurors in such a trial. I am sure we would take a sensible approach. I acknowledge your reservations, but in my view there is a need for this law, and I believe that it will be workable.

I hope that this explains my position. Thank you again for sending me your views. I have noted them, and will bear them in mind in the future.
It will surely be no surprise for me to confirm that I disagree with pretty much every sentence of this, but for now let us confine ourselves to the "Atkinson" meeting described in the third paragraph. The meeting she refers to was held on 25 January this year, when a delegation from English PEN � Salman Rushdie, Geoffey Robertson QC and Lisa Appignanesi - along with Rowan Atkinson - met with Home Office Minister Fiona MacTaggart.

You can see from PEN's press release that the comment that saying the "meeting went well, and helped reassure people" is fairly wide of the mark. In fact it specifically states, "the PEN delegation pointed out that they were in no way reassured by the Minister�s words".

Although my MP comments that, "if more meetings are needed, I hope they take place", she appears to have been somewhat overtaken by events as the incitement to religious hatred bill had its first reading last Thursday and the second is scheduled for June 21.

It seems clear to me that the Government is trying to rush the Bill through in order to avoid proper public debate.

You can reach PEN's No Offence campaign on the web by clicking here.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Real Man

Russell Crowe seems to be becoming the de facto theme of my attempts to teach myself how to present inline video on the blog. I embedded a QuickTime video in my last post about him, so here is a Real Media video of his mea culpa for the phone incident on the Letterman show. Right click on the panel below and select play.

Friday, June 10, 2005


According to Empire Online, there is going to be a film of Halo, the game whose availablilty at its launch put the original XBox on the map. (It damn near took over our household for a few weeks.)

The sequel - Halo 2 - famously took more money in a single day when it was launched than any blockbuster movie in history, and Bill Gates is apparently planning the release of Halo 3 to coincide with and distract from the launch of Sony's PlayStation 3.

Given how many computer game inspired films have been made, it can't be much of a surprise that Master Chief - the Halo protagonist - is coming to celluloid (although insipid may be a better adjective than inspired for the films of games to date), but I must admit Empire's take on how the deal was made surprised me.

Universal and Fox have teamed up to buy the script for the film, bringing Halo one step closer to the big screen. Microsoft commissioned the script from novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland (The Beach; 28 Days Later) and shopped it around the Hollywood studios with an asking price of $10 million and 15% of the film's gross box office. Reportedly, however, the studio knocked the price down to $5 million upfront instead.

When Microsoft starts taking to commissioning scripts and pitching them to Hollywood studios, the world is changing even faster than I thought. Watch this space.

Happy Slapping Crows

According to ThisisLondon:
Joggers are today being warned about violent crows in London parks after an attack left a man bloodied and needing hospital treatment.

Justin Keay was swooped on by two crows in what experts have called a severe case of 'mobbing' - where two or more birds gang up ...

Surely legislation is required. Should we expect a entirely new initative to deal with this menace, or will Ministers merely amend the Violent Crime Reduction bill?


You know that I love anagrams; "a Welsh born icon" is an anagram of "Nicholas Browne" and I was grateful learn in an interview with Christopher Hitchens in the Telegraph that "spectre" is an anagram of "respect", because the spectre of the Tony Blair fostered "culture of respect" is about to start haunting us with a vengeance.

I'll tell you a true story. I had a meeting recently with the head of communications at an NGO for whom we occasionally work. I asked her how things were going as we exchanged pleasantaries. "Oh fine," she said, "the Government is very quiet this morning".

This morning! This was a 10 am meeting and she felt like she was free wheeling because no initiatives requiring her attention had emerged from the belly of the beast so far that day. Well I suppose Parliament was in recess.

Its only 26 days since I noted that the Government had created 1,018 new criminal offences since 1997. Well the tap is truly back on again. Look at the snapshot below of what Google News served up when I searched for "bill published" yesterday.
Violent Crime Reduction Bill published
Security Park, UK - 3 hours ago
The Violent Crime Reduction Bill will ensure that police and local communities have the ecessary powers to reduce violent crimes involving imitation guns ...

Religious hate bill published, UK - 1 hour ago
Plans to create a new offence of inciting racial hatred have been published by the Government. Te Racial and Religious Hatred Bill will enable authorities to ...

ID card cost soars as new bill published
Guardian Unlimited, UK - 25 May 2005
The price of an identity card will be higher than previously thought at �93, the Home Office amitted today, as it published a new bill to introduce the ...

Is it really possible that all these new laws are necessary, thought through, competently drafted and deliverable? Why can't we just concentrate on applying the laws we've already got?

Looking back over my posts, I see that I have expressed my opnions about the insanity of the creating an offence of the incitement to religious hatred half a dozen times already this year. Here's a link to a random screed.

As regards ID cards, I'm not familiar with the details of the proposals yet but I just cannot imagine how they can possibly work in practice unless draconian powers to force people to carry and produce them on demand are implemented, and even then I don't understand how they would deter malefactors. As for how much the scheme would cost, I shudder to think.

I suppose I'm just really girding my loins here for the battles and debates to come. It ain't gonna be pretty.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Gloves off in Cardiff?

According to the BBC:
WBC and WBO lightweight champion Diego Corrales is ready to step up a weight and fight Ricky Hatton in an amazing double-bill involving Joe Calzaghe.

Corrales wants to face Hatton on the same card as Welshman Calzaghe's projected super middleweight unification with Jeff Lacy in November.

Gary Shaw, who promotes both Corrales and Lacy, says he is already in talks to hold the fight in Cardiff.

That proposal would see 60,000 fans packed into the Millennium Stadium.

I hope that is works out. I've long thought that Joe Calzaghe deserved a much higher profile. He never lost the WBO title after taking it from Chris Eubank in 1997. I can't think of a longer reigning British world champion. (I'm no expert though.)

Can it really be nearly twelve years since Lennox Lewis beat Frank Bruno in the last big promotion in Cardiff's National Stadium? That was an extraordinary night, everyone you have ever heard of seemed to be there. I remember seeing Richard Branson walking down St. Mary's Street. At first - from a distance - with the teeth, the beard and the V-neck jumper I thought it was someone dressed up as him, but it turned out to be the genuine article.

The day after the fight, we were driving by Queen Street railway station a white stretch limo pulled out immediately in front of us, and Lennox Lewis himself opened the sun roof, poked his head through it, and stood up to wave at kids who were chasing after the car.

I had been surprised to read before the fight that he had a bigger chest and biceps than the extravagantly muscled Bruno, but he is the most gigantic man I have ever seen in the flesh. Just the action of him rising through the roof seemed to go on for ever. I can clearly remember that he was wearing a while polo neck sweater and the muscles in his shoulder writhed like pythons as he raised his arms aloft.

I would not want him to punch me under any circumstances.

Flickr: London Geek Dinner

This is interesting, it seems that Flickr (a service I've not used) supports group photo pools, so everyone at an event can put their photos in one place and a onehas been set up for pictures of this week's London Geek Dinner. There are 240 images in the gallery at the moment.

I'm afraid to say that the face on the front of baldy grey head in the centre of the phot0 below belongs to me. I wouldn't have recognised myself, Paul pointed it our for me.
It comes courtesy of Geoff Jones.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Sudan Must've Worked Itself Out

Comment from Ellen Turlington.

I was pretty worried a year or so ago when the news came out that thousands of people had been indiscriminately slaughtered in Darfur. It was unsettling to hear that citizens of one ethnicity (Arab, maybe?) were systematically mass-murdering the population of some other ethnicity (Was it the Ganjaweeds? It's been so long since I've read their names!) But lately, the main stories in the news seem to be about Deep Throat, the new summer blockbusters, and something about stem cells. Since I'm sure I would have remembered if the U.S. had intervened in some way to stop it, I can only assume that the whole genocide-in-Darfur thing has somehow worked itself out.

Well, that's good news then, isn't it?

I also seem to recall that this genocide was causing a massive exodus of displaced refugees, with millions starving to death while attempting to flee to neighboring nations. Since I haven't seen any petitions or heard any emotional entreaties for somebody�anybody�to please, for God's sake, do something... Well, I'm gonna guess that the major humanitarian crisis must be over. And thank God, too! The whole situation sounded really awful.

Not that I wanted to be an alarmist, but when I first heard about the Darfur conflict, I thought to myself, "Uh oh! Sounds like another massive ethnic cleansing, not unlike Bosnia and Rwanda!" Those genocides sure were unfathomable! And not only because of the inhumanity of the acts, either�the blind indifference with which the world allowed the killings to continue unchecked was upsetting, too.

Well, someone must've invaded or overthrown a corrupt government or something like that. I know it wasn't the U.S., though. I may not be all that up on current events, but I do follow the news enough to know when my own country attacks another country. Maybe it was one of those genocides that solves itself without substantive international intervention. Well, that's one less horrific reality of modern geopolitics hanging over our heads!

Good thing, 'cause for a while there, it seemed like the Sudan situation was pretty serious, especially when both President Bush and Sen. Kerry talked about it in the presidential debates. Heck, that the Darfur conflict qualified as genocide was practically the only thing they agreed on! So, if both presidential candidates acknowledged on TV that genocide was taking place, it's pretty safe to assume that someone stepped in before more innocent victims were systematically butchered. Right?

What a great turn of events! Frankly, I'm relieved that all the horror, death, and human agony is over. I mean, after all those reports of ongoing murder, rape, and looting, I confess I was a little surprised when I didn't hear much more about it, beyond some international sanctions and aid packages. Ah, but what's the point in belaboring the grisly details? Why go on and on about which paramilitary militias were killing and raping which women and children? The important thing is that the conflict's apparently over.

Evidently, the hatred has been healed, peace has been restored, and the perpetrators of this unimaginable crime have been brought to justice. It sure is good to know it all must've turned out all right. It's like they say: No news is good news! Right?

The Onion