Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Social Clubs

As befits and becomes a man born in 1961, I find that I am becoming more reactionary practically by the minute and it strikes me that I haven't contributed to Sir Ian Blair's call for a debate on the role and duty of the police.

Any long time reader might guess that I recommend that Sheriff Joe is appointed to a senior role in the Met forthwith and also - hat tip Clive Davis - I'm quite taken with this old school approach to neighbourhood policing:
When George W. Walling was appointed captain of police late in 1853 and assigned to the command of the district, he found the entire area terrorized by the Honeymoon gang. To suppress them he organized the first Strong Arm Squad and inaugurated a method of attack which was used very effectively in later years. Walling had always been impressed by the fact that the gangster would seldom stand up before a policeman armed with a heavy club, and that there was nothing a thug feared so much as a sound thumping. So he chose half a dozen of his bravest and huskiest patrolmen, and sent them forth in the guise of citizens. They simply walked up to the gangsters and knocked them senseless before the thugs could get into action with their sling shots, bludgeons and brass knuckles. After a few nights of this warfare the gang leader withdrew his men from their accustomed posts, but Captain Walling gave them no rest. Every patrolman in the precinct was provided with the names of the Honeymooners, and whenever one was sighted he was attacked and beaten. Within two weeks the Honeymoon gang had been dispersed, and its members had fled south into the Five Points and the Bowery, where the police were not so rough.
From Herbert Asbury's book "The Gangs of New York", not the misfiring film.

I'm also reminded of an old joke of my Dad's.

"Are you in favour of clubs for boys?"

"Only when the cane has failed."

The idiosyncratic blogger at Chase me .. has been considering criminal justice and deterence Stateside as well:
The annual execution rate for prisoners on death row in the US is 2%. The death rate for street-level drug sellers is 7%, so they would be safer on death row.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Eat Your Way Around the World in London

Our regular drinks after work having become somewhat samey lately, Paul and I have decided to embark on a long gestating project: Eat Your Way Around the World in London.

The idea is to dine on fayre reflecting as many of the capital's communtities and residents as possible. This is our own small nod in the direction of multiculturalism and inclusion, but it should be friendlier than other more po-faced initiatives because restaurants are by their very nature convivial places and, when it comes to grub, yumminess is more important than authenticity.

We kicked off last night at Sree Krishna a Keralan place in Colliers Wood.

I started on masala dosai which is a rice and lentil flour pancake filled with potato masala and Paul had a vada which is a deep fried black gram doughnut with ginger, onion, curry- leaves and chopped green chillies.

For the main course Paul had a Karaikkudi chicken stir fry and I had a chicken Chettinadu. We shared a cabbage Thoran (which is fresh sliced cabbage with coconut, turmeric and spices) and some bog standard pulao rice.

When I was in Kerala I ntoiced that the people there ate their own local fluffy rice which is quite different to the hard grained basmati that we are used to, but I've never seen any Keralan rice in the UK.

(Follow the links for our real and imaginary destinations.)

Monday, November 28, 2005


Nigel passed away last night. This morning Jane asked me to think of a cheerful song for him, and its true that he was indeed a cheerful soul and that he loved his music and songs.

One of my most abiding memories of him was how content he was at the cottage in Kent. I remember his string. I remember following it up the drive where he had laid it to guide me. I remember him fishing out of windows with it. And I remember him lost in reverie twirling it joyfully round and round his head in the field.

So regardless of his learning disabilities, Nigel's great gift, and it is a gift not granted many, was the gift to be happy I think.

For me a song from Ken Dodd evokes him. It's from his era and I am sure he would know it.

I can't remember him ever playing it, but I can easily imagine him listening to it, laughing, and conducting - as he so often did - with both hands.

Happiness, Happiness
The greatest gift that I possess.
I thank the Lord that I’ve been blessed
With more than my share of happiness.

To me this world is a wonderful place
I’m the luckiest human in the human race
I’ve got no silver and I’ve got no gold
But I’ve got happiness in my soul

Happiness to me is an ocean tide
A sunset fading on a mountain side
A big old heaven full of stars above
When I’m in the arms of the one I love

Happiness, Happiness
The greatest gift that I possess.
I thank the Lord that I’ve been blessed
With more than my share of happiness.

Happiness is a field of grain
Turning its face to the falling rain
I see it in the sunshine, breathe it in the air
Happiness, happiness everywhere

A wise old man told me one time
Happiness is a frame of mind
When you get to measuring a man’s success
Don’t count money, count happiness.

Happiness, Happiness
The greatest gift that I possess.
I thank the Lord that I’ve been blessed
With more than my share of happiness.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Do Go Gentle

I went to see Nigel in the hospice yesterday afternoon. The nurse at reception told me that although he would recognise me, he can't speak anymore. At first when I looked through the door of his room I thought that the bed was empty, but he was there. It is just that he is so shrunken he barely ripples the bedclothes. He was only diagnosed on October 6.

I said hello and saw, I think, in his eyes that he was aware of me. No one else was there and I stayed for quite a while, sometimes talking to him but mostly quiet.

It was peaceful and dignified, and I sensed again the grace that I have been aware of on each of my visits. It is something that I can't explain, but it is real, and when I left, although I was sad, I felt that there was comfort.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Far and Wide

I was lucky enough to sign "A Welsh Born Icon" up for Google Anayltics before demand forced them to pull up the drawbridge while they add new capacity.

One of the reports that they provide is a geographical breakdown of site visitors and I have posted a Geo Map Overlay of a few days worth of data on the left.

Who would imagine that people would be looking at this site from all over North America, from Tokyo and Moscow, from Australia and New Zealand, from China, Bulgaria and Malta etc. etc?

What a strange new world this is! People being what they are though, after looking at the map for a while I find myeslf sulking that I have only got one reader in each of South America and India, and none at all in Africa. Must do better.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Binge Peeting!

Stepping gingerly through the broken glass, the discarded prophylactics and syringes - not to mention the comatose bodies - on my post apocalyptic journey to work now that the licensing laws have been relaxed, I find myself daydreaming in Nadsat o my brothers.

Youth is only being in a way like it might be an animal. But oh, but now with the tonyblairs' alldaylong firegold.

"Not to our blame," sterns the goloss of the millicents.

"All the poor malchicks; all the poor ptitsas; nothing but pyahnitsas," fret the poogied pee and em's. "Alldaylong peeting, a tolchock on the rot, and then - unprotected my bog - the drunken consented in out, in out."

Now, and more responsible like, the tonyblairs governing govoreets, "late licences will curb baddiwad behaviour by stopping peeters from heading domy at the same raz," ha ha ha ha.

(Appy polly loggies to Anthony Burgess.)

Thursday, November 24, 2005


When the Daily Telegraph opines that the Tory party should be more like Linux and Wikipedia than Microsoft and the Encyclopaedia Britannica the world has changed more than even I - a confirmed infomaniac - imagined.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Along with several other voters from the constituency, I met with Paul Goggins MP last night to discuss the “Racial and Religious Hatred Bill”.

His manner was emollient, and I did indeed find him rather a slippery character to be honest. If you’re familiar with the Bill you’ll know that the notion of intent has been central to the discussions. When the minister was speaking to us, he was asserting that for an offence to be committed the provocation must be intended to be threatening, abusive or insulting and intended to stir up racial hatred. Which is all very well, but it is not what the Bill said originally. When I asked him if he was talking about the original Bill, the Lords Amendments, or what might be in the draft for the Third Reading, he just tried to glide past me leading me to lose my rag a little and accuse him of sophistry.

In all honesty, and although I was there to damn the Bill, it is impossible to have a discussion about it when it is such a moving target.

There was another revealing moment, when the minister observed that it was “only a small gap” in the law that the legislation was required to close, someone asked him to explain exactly what this gap was. He appeared to answer in that he opened his mouth and words came out but no explanation was forthcoming.

All in all, I was very disappointed but not surprised by the quality of argument from the Government. On the other hand I was pleasantly surprised by the eloquence and attention to detail evident in the contributions of the other voters who attended with me.

I will just sign off with a couple of other small observations.

We were told that religion is not defined in the law as this will be left to the courts to do. This is madness. Case law and precedence will ultimately make something ridiculous of this.

The Governments estimated costs of the Bill for the criminal justice system are £225,000 in the first year and £109,000 in subsequent years. Yeah right.

Let’s take those numbers for a walk. There are 43 police forces in England and Wales giving them a budget of £211.24 a month each once the system is up and running and assuming that the Crown Prosecution Service don’t spend any money at all. Does that sound feasible at all for support of a system where any decision to prosecute will be taken by the Attorney General personally?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A War Like No Other

I always find Victor Davis Hanson's Private Papers an interesting read, so I lobbed them a donation a couple of weeks ago. In return I got an signed hardback copy of his latest book, A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Sparta Fought the Peloponnesian War, that arrived in the post today.

I'm very interested in the Greeks at the moment. I bought a 6CD audio version of Persian Fire recently. I think that I'll listen to it in the car the next time I drive to Wales and back.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Buddha Joke

From the eccentric, but ever diverting, Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry:
Anyway, so the Buddha goes into a pizzeria and says, "Make me one with everything."

Attention blowhards of the world: Religious Hatred not deliberately incited above.

Stopped Beating Your Wife?

After brooding last night, I've slept on the issue of my chance to lobby on the Racial and Religious Hatred bill and I have decided to go down with all guns blazing condeming the whole thing out of hand.

Strangely the clincher has been the proposed PEN freedom of expression amdment that nothing in the bill "shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytizing or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practicing their religion or belief system.

Let's imagine for a second how that would read to a pious Muslim for whom Islam would be to all intents and purposes synonymous with religion. Such a person would be entirely justified in reading the amendment as saying that nothing in the bill "shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of Islam or the beliefs or practices of their Muslims, or proselytizing or urging Muslims to cease practicing their religion or belief system.

Why on earth should we enact such a law? A law that by failing to prohibit or restrict, permits "expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse"?. Why can't the Government just shut up for five minutes? Putting such a thing on the Statute Book as an amendment is an act of lunacy comparable to the original tabling of the legislation. It is clear to me now that once one gets involved in the detail of drafting such laws, almost every wording carries a risk and threat like the unanswerable "have you stopped beating your wife?" question.

The Victorian prime minister Lord Salisbury's maxim on foreign affairs seems apt for this situation: "Whatever happens will be for the worse, and therefore it is in our interest that as little should happen as possible."

Sunday, November 20, 2005

What is to be done?

My meeting with Paul Goggins on Tuesday is fast approaching so I guess I need to start to think about what I am going to try and achieve.

First off the bat I believe that all hate crime legislation is an insidious dead end, bad for society and disastrous for jurisprudence. I would like to see it all overturned tomorrow. Specifically:

1. Many if not most crimes are committed with an element of hate, so defining a specific subset of laws as 'hate crimes' is meaningless
2. These very laws in fact imply the inequality of citizens before the law (as they grant 'castes' of special sub-groups privileges other groups do not enjoy).
The government should outlaw actions, not thoughts or states of mind.

That position, however, is unlikely to get me very far in the current climate of opinion. (I'm scarcely hiding it though as I'm publishing it here.)

I've been corresponding with PEN about the NO Offence campaign. The line that they are taking is that because Labour has made this a manifesto commitment, it is unlikely to get voted down completely so they have been working with the House of Lords to try and make sure that the Bill is amended so that its nastier implications are strictly contained.

So, while they purport to recognize the government's good intentions in putting forward this bill, they say its very loose drafting means that it is open to a great many abuses which will cost society a great deal as the bill is likely to be read as a de facto extension of the blasphemy law that will have to be tested time and time again in court cases and police investigations of complaints; and further that it will be used to intimidate writers, directors and performers.

So they support the Lords amendments which spell out in great detail requirements for
  • the protection of free expression
  • the need for an 'intention' to incite hatred to be written into the face of the bill
  • the words 'insulting and abusive' to be removed so that what is criminal is what is threatening.
They think that the last is the least important, but they're adamant on the first two.

There are negotiations going on in the upper house at the moment and quite soon there will be a third reading which will include some amendments as concessions.

The PEN Amendment for the Protection of freedom of expression reads as follows: Nothing in the Racial or Religious Hatred Bill "shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytizing or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practicing their religion or belief system."

Which seems reasonable enough until you start going round in circles thinking, in that case why have the blasted bill in the first place? Which is of course where I started off.

So again, while not deluding myself that I have any influence, should I decry the whole deluded misadventure or soberly boost the first two PEN objectives? As of today I just can't decide.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

What are the Police For?

Sir Ian Blair in this year's Dimbleby Lecture (transcript here) has said that the public must decide what they want from the Police.

What the police are for is a surprisingly difficult question. The first time I ever saw it addressed was in a a remarkable article called "Broken Windows" published in the Atlantic in 1982.

Broken Windows has cast a long shadow. It is really the inspiration behind "zero tolerance", neighbourhood policing, and all sorts of initiatives.

You can read it (in Adobe Acrobat format) at

Friday, November 18, 2005

On Acting

I'm off with Andy - younger than me, erstwhile Thump the Clouds stalwart, brother of Phil and widower of Sara - tonight to see Kurt Elling in the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Elling's 'Flirting with Twilight' is one of my most treasured albums, and Moonlight Serenade - the opening cut - is one of the tracks I would take to a desert island.

I can't remember how or why I became aware of Elling - I bet if I was blogging at the time I would - but I'm really looking forward to this evening.

I remember that back in 1989, Andy's father was working at Matthew Hall in London, pretty much opposite the theatre where Dustin Hoffman was playing Shylock in a production of the Merchant of Venice directed by Peter Hall. The show was sold out, but Andy's Dad decided to check for return tickets at the end of each day on his way home. When he eventually got a ticket, I remember him comparing the production to a recent RSC version with Anthony Sher ans saying that, although Anthony Sher convinced him, he wasn't really convinced that Hoffman wanted the pound of flesh.

At the time I took that as a criticism of Hoffman's performance. However, as it happens, the South Bank Show shot a documentary around the rehearsal's for the Hall/Hoffman show, and in that when it was screened several months later I remember Hoffman saying that - in his take - Shylock didn't actually want Antonio's pound of flesh; he just wanted to humiliate him; a point of view he evidently managed to communicate on stage in character.

Note to self: what I had taken for criticism was in fact the success of a precisely articulated and achieved performance,

Thursday, November 17, 2005


I asked my five year old this morning why he was always starting fights with his older brother.

"I don't start the fights," he said. "It's just that whenever I punch him he starts a fight with me."

Out Come the Freaks

For anyone who doubts that the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill will aggravate community relations, spur bigots and loonies to stir up trouble and waste our institutions' time with vexatious complaints and campaigns; for anyone who doubts, in short, that it will have precisely the opposite effect to that intended and promulgated, this from Christian Voice.

Christian Voice opposes the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill as an illiberal attack on freedom of speech. It actually does nothing about racial hatred, that’s already on the Statute Book, but it brings in a subjective law against religious hatred which we say will stop legitimate criticism of religions. We want the freedom to preach the Gospel, to say Jesus Christ is The Way, The Truth and The Life, and that the gurus and prophets of other religions lead nowhere except to hell.

Odd but true: the Bill was only brought in to buy Muslim votes at the last General Election. Muslim leaders see it as a Bill which will stop anyone criticising Islam. The Rt Hon Charles Clarke MP, Home Secretary, wrote to every mosque in the country before the election promising to bring in this Bill if re-elected. We shall continue to fight the Bill, by the grace of God. However, if this Bill is passed, we shall do two things, God willing and as He gives us strength and courage:

(1) Report Islamic Bookshops for selling the Quran and Hadith, which, if they aren’t hate speech, nothing is. In fact, Muslim leaders have already tried to have the Quran exempted from the Bill - and failed. (2) We shall be quick off the mark and fearless in His strength alone in pointing out what is wrong with other religions and what is right with Christianity. If anyone is going to be a ‘hate speech martyr’ it must be a Christian, and not the leader of the British National Party, who would love that distinction.

Though I wouldn't presume to offer any advice to Christian Voice about reporting Islamic bookshops for selling the Quran, perhaps I can pass on some from St Augustine: "hold thy peace".
Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love, and do what thou wilt: whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.
I don't hear a great deal of love in the tone of Christian Voice.

(Bizarrely St Augustine has been in the back of my mind since, channel hopping the other night, I stumbled across Robbie Williams, apparently paraphrasing the great Church Father, singing, “Oh Lord, make me pure . . . but not yet,” on a track from his new album.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Weighty Matters

Let's take a break from the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill for a moment or two.

When I finished in the gym today I was pleased to see that I weighed 88.9 kg, essentially dead on 14 stone. That is a milestone and, I think the lightest I've been for a long time. I'm not really sure how long however, which - in a way - is why I'm recording it here. In the future I would like to know what I weighed in November 2005.

When I started recording my weight towards the end of September this year I weighed 14 stone 9, so apart from the occasional lapse, I've been shedding pounds at a steady but not spectacular rate. When I think that I've been working out since the beginning of June, however, I shudder to think how much I might have weighed then. Wobble to think might indeed be more appropriate than shudder, as I'm not dieting and I still drink like a fish so I've probably been shrinking for all of the over five months that I've been training.

Projecting trends into the future is always hazardous - I remember my friend John Carter warning me, in the early 80s, that "at the present rate of growth every other man in the USA will be an Elvis impersonator by the year 2000" - but my current rate of shrinkage would take me down to 80kg in another five months.

I'd be happy with that, hence I am officially adopting 80kg as my target weight even though I'd still like to think that the Lobster Challenge has a place in my future.

Power and Responsibility

Further to my post yesterday, I have found that Parliament published the the text of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, as introduced in the House of Commons on 9th June 2005 here, along with Explanatory Notes to the Bill, prepared by the Home Office.

I've also been looking at the Press Release that Charles Clarke issued back in May introducing his new team at the Home Office.

This is interesting as it clarifies more about the range of Paul Goggins responsibilties in supporting Hazel Blears. He has particular responsibility for:

Serious and organised crime
Asset Recovery Agency
Security Industry Authority
Public order, sex offences, roads policing, animal extremism, internet crime, child pornography and football disorder
Voluntary and community sector, community cohesion, faith and race equality

Another Minister at an equivalent level in the Home Office Fiona Mactaggart - the Parliamentary under Secretary supporting Patricia Scotland - has particular responsibility for:

CJ system including race, victims and witnesses, inspection and IT
Criminal law
National Offender Management Service casework and restorative justice
Criminal injuries compensation
Criminal Cases Review

Which is also interesting to me because the bulk of our work is in Criminal Justice (CJ) Information Technology (IT).

I've found it interesting over the last couple of days to discover what a good tool a 'blog is for supporting research. I hadn't realised when I just used it for odd jotting and musing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Free Expression

It seems that PEN and Penguin are bringing out a book of essays 'Free Expression Is No Offence' containing essays by, among others, Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi, Monica Ali, Hari Kunzru, and Howard Jacobson that will try an coalesce opposition to the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill and explain why such opposition is necessary. It isn't coming out until a couple of days after my meeting unfortunately.

Hansard's account of the progress of the Bill in the Lord's on Novemebr 8th is given here. I imagine that what I need to track down next is the complete text.

Monday, November 14, 2005

I stand by my words

I'm reading Istanbul at the moment, Orhan Pamuk's impressionistic meld of memoir, history and guide to his birthplace. Still living at the age of fifty in the same apartment block in which he was raised and his extended family has long lived, Pamuk comes across as something of a homebody.

A simple orderly life is now a thing of the past. According to The Observer recently:

It began with an off-the-cuff remark in an interview with a Swiss newspaper. While discussing curbs on freedom of expression in Turkey, Pamuk said that 'a million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in this country and I'm the only one who dares to talk about it'.
Last August, an Istanbul public prosecutor charged him with the 'public denigration of Turkish identity'. The trial is set for 16 December. If convicted, Pamuk faces three years in prison.
There was a time when an offence like "public denigration of Turkish identity" would have sounded sound preposterous in the United Kingdom. That time is long gone, and the 'Racial and Religious Hatred Bill' is going to take us further down the slippery slope.

Paul Goggins is the Home Office Minister who has the unenviable task of steering this bill through Parliament. He is the Parliamentary Under Secretary who assists Minister of State Hazel Blears who is responsible for policing, security and community safety under the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke.

As I wrote yesterday, I'm going to get a chance to meet him later this month to talk about the Bill. As part of my research, I've found an interview and brief profile of him in the Tablet.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Paul Goggins MP

Any long term reader of this weblog - if such a creature exists - will know that the Government's proposals to enact laws against "Incitement to Religious Hatred", are a particular bete noire of mine and that I have had a couple of exchanges about it with my MP.

I got a letter from her this morning however which said:
I am writing to invite you and a guest to meet the Government Minister responsible for a new law to outlaw religious hatred, Paul Goggins MP. This is an important subject, and I want to thank you for drawing your concerns to my attention. I have organised this special event in the House of Commons to give you a chance to raise your concerns about the new law directly with him, and to listen to his reasons for thinking it is so important to press ahead.

The meeting is later this month and I have replied accepting with alacrity, but I can see I will have to do some preparation over the next week or so.

This is a development I wasn't expecting. It does seem a very positive feature of a parliamentary system.

More later.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


It is strange and disturbing that the day following Armistice Day is the anniversary of the 1938 meeting where Herman Goering announced:
I have received a letter written on the Fuhrer's orders requesting that the Jewish question be now, once and for all, coordinated and solved one way or another... I should not want to leave any doubt, gentlemen, as to the aim of today's meeting. We have not come together merely to talk again, but to make decisions, and I implore competent agencies to take all measures for the elimination of the Jew from the German economy, and to submit them to me.
This was to be the Final Solution. It is indeed salutary and sad to note that Armistice Day is bookended by Goering's exhortation of 'competent agencies' and the preliminary horror of Kristallnacht on the 9/10 November.

When I was younger these events seemed impossibly distant, but now I remember that in 1938 my father was was five years old. That is the same age that my son is in 2005. For some reason that strange symmetry brings the Nazi horror into my compass in a way it has never been before.

Friday, November 11, 2005

swords to help combat violent crime

According to their website and RSS feed:
Cleveland Police are launching a two-week Weapons Amnesty to encourage people to surrender firearms, ammunition, knives and swords to help combat violent crime.

I know times are hard but you really would think that the police would be able to buy their own weapons rather than rely on donations.

Epitaphs of the War

It is Armistice Day today. 87 years since the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front that ended the Great War.

Try reading Kipling's Epitaphs of the War.

I often think of the bleak 'Common Form'.

If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.

It is difficult to read the heartbreaking 'A Son', knowing that Kipling lost his own boy in the trenches.

My son was killed while laughing at some jest. I would I knew
What it was, and it might serve me in a time when jests are few.

I read that Hilaire Belloc lost a son, Louis, in the First World War and then another, Peter, in the Second. which led him to quote Herodotus.

In peace sons bury their fathers; in war fathers bury their sons.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


Woody Allen once said,
If I were to come back in another life, I would like to be Warren Beatty's finger-tips.
Well, 'The Melody at Night With You' has finally arrived from Amazon. It is indeed as sublime as I hoped, so if I were to come back in another life, I would like to be Keith Jarrett's finger-tips.

I've read somewhere that Warren Beatty is a competent piano player, so perhaps - as a compromise - I could come back as his left hand and Jarret's right.

Laughter in the Dark Part II

Now that Tony Blair has been defeated over proposals to extend the time that the police could detain terror suspects without charge from a fortnight to three months, it may be a good time to tell a story about a terror suspect who turned out to be innocent.

Apparently after Jean Charles de Menezes had been gunned down in Stockwell tube station, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police phoned the Home Secretary.

"Terrible news," he said. "We've shot a Brazilian at a tube station".

"Oh no," answered the Home Secretary. "How many is a brazzillion?"

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Consider the horror

Christopher Hitchens writing in Slate quotes Johann Hari:

At last, some good news from Darfur: the genocide in western Sudan is nearly over. There's only one problem - it's drawing to an end only because there are no black people left to cleanse or kill.

Then, in his last paragraph he nails it.
Nonintervention does not mean that nothing happens. It means that something else happens. Our policy in Darfur has not just failed to rescue a stricken black African population: It has actually assisted the Sudanese Islamists in completing their policy of racist murder. Thank heaven that we are tough enough to bear the shame of this, and strong enough to forgive ourselves.

Something so evil has gone on quietly yet unabashed while the guitars were strummed at Live8 and the UN shmoozed Mugabe, that in a strange way black humour - the laughter in the dark epitomised by words like Hari's - is, perhaps the only way to approach the horror without abandoning faith in the human race.

"Sudan Must've Worked Itself Out", The Onion laughed through the tears in June. I smirked that "Sudan and Wales Protest" back in March, but now I feel ashamed.

I read and researched and concluded that nothing had changed.

Sometimes I just feel like I want to dig a hole in the garden and bury my heart in it.

I would like to be able to vote that we should intervene; intervene directly and militarily. Does that sound naive or even neo colonialist? Who cares?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Another No

I left a comment over at the Another Constable blog yesterday, pointing to some of my old ideas about how the Police could take advantage of RSS feeds.

He's not convinced and says:
Nice idea, but in practice, police IT is so far in the past, I bet nobody that matters in the procurement game has even heard of RSS. We're still using Windows NT4 with products designed years and years ago running on it (some of them still have the windows furniture from version 3). Coming from an IT background myself, I'm shocked at the state of our IT. Our new Chief is more forward thinking on IT (giving us mobile data terminals in all vehicles to access PNC, is very pro ANPR, etc) so hopefully things will improve.

I'm still hopeful. I've noticed that Wiltshire, Cleveland and ACPO all have feeds on their sites now. The latter courtesy of us.

Avian Flu Evolution

I found what I think may be a good overview Avian flu and the possibility of a pandemic, or maybe I'm just reasssured that the guy who wrote it thinks the pandemic unlikely.

Here's part of the section on evolution of new strains of flu. Avian flu is an example of Type A influenza. Type A has the potential to be so very deadly because it can mutate in a host through an astonishing process called genetic reassortment.

If a cell is simultaneously infected by two different strains of type A influenza, the offspring virions may contain mixtures of each parents' genes!


These newly created mixed genomes are very different from their parents and (probably) have never been "seen" by your immune system - or for that matter, anyone else's. This form of viral evolution is called antigenic shift, to differentiate it from antigenic drift (which occurs slowly and without a change in the gene associations). These new combinations present us with such a unique strain of virus that our immune system has to start all over to make new antibodies to combat it.

As if that weren't amazing enough, influenza A can infect other mammals (other than humans) and even birds! It's VERY unusual for a virus to have such a wide host range, but influenza A somehow manages this trick. It probably has to do with the fact that the virus gains entry using receptors common to many species. That means a strain of influenza A may worry one species for decades and then suddenly jump to a new species! This sudden jump, due to antigenic shift, can produce a very serious epidemic. For example, about a decade ago many seals washed up on the eastern seaboard of the USA dying from a strain of influenza A that, until then, had only been found in birds! Horse and swine influenza A have turned up in humans. Influenza A is the nightmare of science fiction - a virus that normally causes only a slight illness, undergoes genetic recombination with other species and comes back as a killer virus! Fact is, influenza A has been conducting random, unlicensed recombinant genetics "experiments" for centuries and will continue to do so regardless of our feelings on the subject.

Monday, November 07, 2005

From the Tup Stammtisch

We made it to the Tup, so I'm, posting this over a lager while waiting for my Chilli burger.

We've got 48Mbs over the free wireless connection and I can get onto the office VPN and access Terminal Services. In essence no ports seem to be blocked, so I could work from here if my liver could stand the strain.

Thus, on a local note, I have read that the sale of Colliers Wood community centre has been discussed by Merton Council. No details about selling it to Cynthia Payne or Max Clifford though.


I've had yet another purchase on Amazon from this site. I'm pretty sure it was my brother buying Shoalin Soccer.

Amazon provide an online wizard that you can use to build Associate links to their site, but it is a bit of a rigmarole so I have been doing a bit of research on making it easier and there is a much simpler method.

If I search Amazon for Shoalin Soccer, the full URL that I get is:

If I remove the session ID and ref tags that follow the ASIN number I am left with just:

All I need to do then is to append my ID to give:

The link above takes me to a purchase page. I can go to the exact original page that I started with by adding ref=nosim after the ASIN number to give:

I turns out then that all I have to do to get a link is navigate to the product and replace the portion of the URL after the ASIN number with:

Couldn't be easier.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Stammtisch Table

I've stumbled on a great new - or at least new to me - German word in, of all places, the print version of Time Out; Stammtisch.

Stammtisch is a 'regular's table' where people meet week after week after week and discuss what's going on in the world. Apparently, most large bars and restaurants in Germany even have a Stammtisch Table with a 'Stammtisch' sign on it for the regulars. The word 'Stamm' is very old, it means tribe or clan. One could say tribe's table or clan's table.

A Welsh Born Icon was originally subtitled 'Nick Browne's Commonplace Book' then, earlier this year, it became 'Nick Browne's Spindrift Pages' in homage to Dylan Thomas.

Lately its become a much more social space. Comments, trackbacks and links from elsewhere are much more frequent, Simon Brunning is proposing that the Colliers Wood blogger's meet up, and the blog has even turned up on Norman Geras' blogroll (honest, it is there between Welcome to the Breakdown Lane, and What is Liberalism).

In honour of this I have decided to change its subtitle - at least for a while - to 'Nick Browne's Stammtisch Table', a change I intend to launch officially by posting from the Collier's Tup lunchtime tomorrow.

PS I suppose it is worth reiterating that 'A Welsh Born Icon' is an anagram of Nicholas Browne rather than incipient megalomania.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Penny for the Guy

I'm taking my five year old to the firework display at Morden Park later. A prospect which has inspired a curmudgenly meditation on why it is that "Trick or Treating" on Halloween - an American import unknown when I was a boy, has replaced "Penny for the Guy", the more venerable British tradition for kids putting the bite on adults at this time of year.

It used to be that we would make make a Guy by stuffing some old clothes with newspapers, craft a head out of material, and either draw a face on it or buy a special cardboard Guy Fawkes mask and then push it around in a pram or pushchair demanding a "a penny for the guy" from passers by. The pennies were spent on bangers. Ordnance that is now illegal I think, never mind banned from sale to kids.

(I remember my father saying that when they were boys they dressed my Uncle Joseph up as they guy to save assembly time and some bloke started poking him with a stick claiming such a poor Guy wasn't worth a penny.)

The British have been burning effigies to mark Guy Fawkes' treason for almost 400 years. The tradition started in 1606, the year after the Gunpowder plot failed. In these first bonfires, called 'bone fires' at the time, it wasn't an effigy of Guy Fawkes that was burned, but one of the Pope. It was not until 1806, two centuries later, that the people started burning effigies of Guy Fawkes instead. Even as a cradle Catholic, I do hope that they burn a Guy at Mordern rather than defer to some imaginary sensibilities. I never met a Catholic who could give a monkey's about it, never mind get offended or mount a high horse.

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes, guy, t'was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England's overthrow.

By god's mercy he was catch'd
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.

And what shall we do with him?
Burn him!

The only thing I can grudgingly say in favour of the shake down custom imported from our cousins in the US is that - much to my delight - Raybs used to think it was called "Trickle Treat".

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Melody at Night With You

I turned on the radio when I was out in the car on Wednesday night and caught the last thirty seconds or so of a very beautiful understated version of 'Someone to Watch Over Me' on SmoothFM. When it finished I was surprised to hear that it was by Keith Jarrett, someone to whom I have never paid much attention as I associated him with long complex modern jazz improvisations. Not that I ever heard such a workout, I just can't remember experiencing any 'difficult' music ever without wishing it was impossible.

With Google and the internet it was the work of moments to find that the track was from a solo piano album he made album called, 'The Melody at Night With You'. I couldn't get it on Napster so it is winging its way to me from Amazon.

In Jarrett's Wikipedia entry it says:

In the late 1990s, Jarrett was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and was confined to his home for long periods of time. During this period, he recorded The Melody at Night, With You, a solo piano record consisting of jazz standards presented with very little of the reinterpretation in which he usually engages. The album had originally been a Christmas gift to his wife.

That's a bittersweet but uplifitng story, especially if the music is as good as I am expecting it to be.

A few 'lessons' struck me.

Before the internet, I don't think I would really have had the time or inclination to track the music down. (I remember a traumatic episode at the HMV in Hammermsith when I tried, and failed, to identify Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings by humming the tune to the guy behind the counter, not an experience I - or I imagine he - would be keen to repeat.)

Regardless of corporate hype the internet is bound ultimately to be good for music and artists if not for record companies. The overheads in recording a solo piano album at home and distributing it digitally would be close to zero.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

How to be Top

According to, the greatest conquerors of all time, in terms of square miles taken are:

1. Genghis Khan (4,860,000) [Mongolia]
2. Alexander the Great (2,180,000) [Macedonia]
3. Tamerlane (2,145,000) [Turkestan]
4. Cyrus the Great (2,090,000) [Persia]
5. Attila the Hun (1,450,000) [Hun Empire]
6. Adolf Hitler (1,370,000) [Germany]
7. Napoleon (720,000) [France]
8. Mahmud of Ghazni (680,000) [Afghanistan]
9. Francisco Pizarro (480,000) [Spain]
10. George W. Bush (423,424) [United States]

They say that the last one is partially tongue in cheek, and point out that someone has commented;

If Bush invades Canada, as I believe he should, he will overtake Alexander the Great, but still be a Napoleon short of Genghis Khan.

How Much?

My blog is worth $1,129.08.
How much is your blog worth?

That's not counting the £2 plus that it has earned from Amazon, or the 33 cents I got from messing about with Google's AdSense for search back in February.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


As promised, I've started to look at TrackBack. I sent a TrackBack to Another Constable yesterday, and - to be honest - it didn't seem to be any improvement over leaving a comment and using my post's permalink as the home page reference. I can see however that if I had combined both of my first two posts of yesterday I could have used Trackback to link to Brian's Brief Encounters at the same time as Another Constable. It is scarcely mindblowing though.

It turns out that TrackBack was initially developed by Movable Type, the blogging software developers.
In a nutshell, TrackBack was designed to provide a method of notification between websites: it is a method of person A saying to person B, "This is something you may be interested in." To do that, person A sends a TrackBack ping to person B.

They also say ...

Although TrackBack's most prevalent use thus far has been as a form of remote commenting, a more exciting use has been emerging: using TrackBack to aggregate content into topic-based repositories. This was actually the original intended use of TrackBack--the remote commenting grew out of a special case of a topic-based repository, the "topic" being a single weblog post.

I can understand that in theory - one way links are a great shortcoming of the web - but it seems to me that - at least for the moment - apart from rare occasions, where one might need to notify many sites at once of a relevant post, the complexity of using trackback rather than a simple comment will render it a tool for a minority.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

About last night

I went out for drink or two after work with Paul last night. While he was at the bar in the Standard, I noticed Bob Brunning having a quiet solo pint a couple of tables away so I introduced myself to thank him for all that he does for music in the area with his Blues Club and AbbeyFest. He was very gracious. Noodling around on his website today I found out that he is Simon Brunning's father. Small World.

Paul departed after several million pints and I also treated myself to a take away chicken dhansak, pulao rice and sag aloo. The net result of all this I found out at the gym lunchtime is that I weigh 2.9 pounds more than I did yesterday morning. I wouldn't have thought that was physically possible. The human body is indeed an amazing thing.

Speaking of curry, I was astonished to find that someone has bought yet another copy of Indian Essence: The Fresh Tastes of India's New Cuisine yesterday after following a link to Amazon from this site. That's three I've been instrumental in selling now. Amazing.

A Word To The Wise

I tend to run through my blogroll alphabetically on my aggregator of a morning. So I pick up Brian's Brief Encounters - an unofficial Metropolitan Police fanzine, brought to you from a small corner of the throbbing metropolis - shortly after Another Constable, life through the eyes of a brand new british bobby.

I've blogged about Another Constable's post on case files already this morning so it was interesting to read this piece in Brian's Brief Encounters as I think it explains why the Home Office change the MG Forms every year. It is because they are always collecting different statistics.

When he says ...
Yes, I realise that you may consider yourself to be British but not ‘white’. Like I said, this isn’t one of our questions and you’re only allowed to describe yourself as British if you also describe yourself as ‘white’ because the Home Office says so. Even if your ancestors have been in Britain for multiple generations or you’ve passed the citizenship test.

... he's talking about a taxonomy called '16 Point Self-Determined Ethnic Classification System'. He's right as well. I'd never thought of it that way before.

Here it is in all its glory.

Any other White background
White and Black Caribbean
White and Black African
White and Asian
Any other mixed background
Asian or Asian British
Any other Asian background
Black or Black British
Any other Black background
Chinese or other ethnic group
Any other ethnic group

In Brief

It tickled me when I was directed to our Corporate Criminal Justice document on how to properly complete a prosecution case file and found that the link to the document entitled "Getting It Right First Time" was followed by the legend "(revised version)".
This post on the Another Constable weblog made me chuckle. One of our products is a set of Word templates designed to ease the assembly of MG Forms into a case file. It has always bemused me that the Home Office feels the need to tinker with them every year.