December 01, 2007
November 16, 2007
The standard story of how the American GI reacted to the foreign people he met during the course of World War II runs like this: He felt the Arabs were despicable lying, stealing, dirty, awful, without a redeeming feature. The Italians were lying, stealing, dirty, wonderful, with many redeeming features, but never to be trusted. The rural French were sullen, slow and ungrateful while the Parisians were rapacious, cunning, indifferent to whether they were cheating Germans or Americans. The British people were brave, resourceful, quaint, reserved, dull. The Dutch were regarded as simply wonderful in every way (but the average GI never was in Holland, only the airborne).
The story ends up thus: Wonder of wonders, the average GI found that the people he liked best, identified most closely with, enjoyed being with, were the Germans. Clean, hard-working, disciplined, educated, middle-class in their tastes and life-styles (many GIs noted that so far as they could tell the only people in the world who regarded a flush toilet and soft white toilet paper as a necessity were the Germans and the Americans), the Germans seemed to many American soldiers "just like us".
November 11, 2007
ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
November 06, 2007
Son: “Hey, Dad, the other kids at school are allowed chocolate cereal for breakfast all the time and not just three times a year like us.”
Me: “What do you mean three times a year? You’re only allowed chocolate cereal twice a year: Christmas and birthdays.”
Son: “No! Remember - Cousin John got you to agree we could have it at Thanksgiving as well.”
Me: “Oh, right. So, three times a year. What’s wrong with that?”
Son: “Well, the other boys….”
Me: “... don’t live in this house. If they did, they’d have chocolate cereal twice a year."
Son: "THREE TIMES!"
Me: "What!? I didn’t know your friends celebrated Thanksgiving."
Son: "They don’t."
Me: "There you go then - it’d be twice a year."
Son: "But… Oh, never mind."
November 01, 2007
I must admit, when I first started blogging, I had no idea what was going to happen a few years down the track. If someone had told me 4 years ago, when I started blogging, what was going to happen, I would have wondered what weird parallel Universe they came from. But as I've found out, this one is one of the weirder ones.Ain't that the truth.
October 22, 2007
[W]hat would I not have given for a bit of friendly wilderness, where unseen, I might vent my joy in some mad freak, such as idiotically biting my hand, turning a somersault or slashing at trees in order to allay those exciting feelings that were well-nigh uncontrollable. My heart beats fast, but I must not let my face betray my emotions, lest it shall detract from the dignity of a white man appearing under such extraordinary circumstances.From Stanley's account of the meeting, quoted in Niall Ferguson's "Empire".
So I did that which I thought was most dignified. I pushed back the crowds, and, passing from the rear, walked down a living avenue of people, until I came in front of the semicircle of Arabs, in front of which stood the white man with his grey beard. As I advanced slowly towards him I noticed he was pale, looked wearied, had a grey beard, wore a bluish cap with a faded gold band round it, had on a red-sleeved waistcoat and a pair of grey tweed trousers. I would have run to him, only I was a coward in the presence of such a mob - would have embraced him, only that he being an Englishman, I did not know how he would receive me; so I did what cowardice and false pride suggested was the best thing - walked deliberately up to him, took off my hat, and said: "Dr Livingstone, I presume."
Klimas takes porcelain figurines, drops them and then photographs them as they smash to pieces. Creative destruction: I like it.
Here's my top five from his list of "Guess what they tried to teach us in school, today."
1. England conquered America.
2. The moon landings were a hoax.
3. Schizophrenia is the same thing as split personality disorder.
4. Children inherit only about five characteristics from their parents.
5. There are 52 states in the USA.
The thing is, in most cases the Big Fella has tried to point out how and why they were wrong, but the teachers just won't listen: their ignorance is unassailable.
October 19, 2007
October 06, 2007
October 03, 2007
I have registered to play in the PokerStars World Blogger Championship of Online Poker!
This Online Poker Tournament is a No Limit Texas Holdem event exclusive to Bloggers.
Registration code: 9525796
September 27, 2007
There wasn't much there: sea, sand, dunes, some children playing, a couple walking their dog - a peaceful summer's day.
The tide was in, so we just walked the margin. Mac took her shoes off and strolled in the water. "Hey, Hon!" I said, "Now you can say you waded ashore at Omaha Beach." She gave me a weak smile. I smiled too.
Up ahead, the boys were playing in the surf.
September 26, 2007
The head of the Catholic Church in Mozambique has told the BBC he believes some European-made condoms are infected with HIV deliberately.
Maputo Archbishop Francisco Chimoio claimed some anti-retroviral drugs were also infected "in order to finish quickly the African people".
It's not a position with which he has any sympathy:
The message in effect is: moderate or silence your criticisms of some reactionary theocrat and/or murderous thug, for otherwise you give aid and comfort to the warmongers of the right. Should you enquire of such experts in the intricacy of political positioning whether they ought, then, to moderate their criticisms of Bush, Cheney and co, so as not to make life more comfortable for the Ahmadinejads and Hezbollahs of this world, you would find them reeling in shock at so flagrant a misunderstanding of the nature of their democratic obligations.Indeed.
September 25, 2007
Prior to the cataclysm of 146 [the destruction of Corinth in 146 BC] there had been some confusion among the Greeks as to the precise definition of "freedom". When the Romans claimed to be guaranteeing it, what did this mean? One could never be sure with barbarians, of course: their grasp of semantics was so woefully inadequate. All the same, it did not take a philosopher to point out that words might be slippery and dangerously dependent on perspective. And so it had proved. Roman and Greek interpretations of the word had indeed diverged. To the Romans, who tended to regard the Greeks as fractious children in need of the firm hand of a pater familias, 'freedom' had meant an opportunity for the city states to follow rules laid down by Roman commissioners. To the Greeks, it had meant the chance to fight each other.
September 24, 2007
"If you can't buy it on Gloucester Road, you probably don't need it."
Well, that's what I always say. Now, I learn from the Independent that Gloucester Road is "one of the last traditional high streets in Britain".
I always knew we were blessed.
September 22, 2007
September 21, 2007
September 20, 2007
Sir, All items of clothing worn in hospitals, including trousers,
carry bacteria. The Health Secretary's decision to banish long-sleeved white coats from hospitals (report, Sept 17) brings to mind work carried out by the Public Health Laboratory Service several years ago. Researchers found that the least spread of bacteria from surgeons occurred if they were naked and lightly oiled.
September 19, 2007
There has been the occasional crisis, of course, life is not without its little ups and downs. But, on the whole, all my problems have been small ones - which makes a change.
One of the small problems has been an infestation of Araneus diadematus [or should that be Araneus diadematii?]. They moved into the house while we were away and they're still all over the place.
We don't kill spiders - mosquitoes, fleas and clothes moths we'll happily do away with but most other things, well, it's live and let live. They don't bother us, we don't bother them.
Except in France: for some reason, every time the boys saw a creepy crawly over there, they wanted to gas it. The second night we were there the Big Fella found an insect in his room and got all overexcited. "Dad! Dad! Come quick! There's a bug in my room with more legs than sense!" I went and looked: "It's only a centipede. Leave it alone."
He wasn't entirely convinced - as far as he was concerned it looked far too exotic to be benign - but he let it be. Admirable self-restraint in a 12 year-old - when he was small he used to eat ants. They taste quite sour, reportedly.
August 03, 2007
Here are five books I’ll be taking with me:
Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku, the figure-skating string theorist.
The Great Transformation by Karen Armstrong - the Guardian reviewed it last year.
Londonistan by Melanie Phillips.
What’s Left by Nick Cohen (Oliver Kamm gave it a positive review, Johan Hari didn’t and Cohen‘s response features in the Summer 2007 issue of Dissent.)
Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic by Tom Holland.
July 27, 2007
I donned my helmet and vest, hopped into the backseat of a Humvee, and headed into the streets of the city with two dozen of the first infantry soldiers deployed to Iraq for the surge. The 82nd Airborne Division is famous for being ready to roll within 24 hours of call up, so they were sent first.
The surge started with these guys. Its progress here is therefore more measurable than it is anywhere else.
July 17, 2007
We saw ourselves as part of the intellectual elite, full of ideas about how the country should be run, and yet with no involvement in the process or power to do anything about it. Being naive in the way institutions actually work, yet having good arts degrees from reputable universities, we were convinced that Britain's problems were the result of the stupidity of the people in charge. We ignored the tedious practicalities of getting institutions to adopt and implement ideas.
This ignorance of the realities of government and management enabled us to occupy the moral high ground. We saw ourselves as clever people in a stupid world, upright people in a corrupt world, compassionate people in a brutal world, libertarian people in an authoritarian world. We were not Marxists but accepted a lot of Marxist social analysis. Some people called us arrogant; looking back, I am afraid I cannot dispute the epithet.
The airplane is the size of a jet fighter, powered by a turboprop engine, able to fly at 300 mph and reach 50,000 feet. It is outfitted with infrared, laser and radar targeting, and with a ton and a half of guided bombs and missiles.
The Reaper is loaded, but there is no one on board. Its pilot, as it bombs targets in Iraq, will sit at a video console 7,000 miles away in Nevada.
Ok, so it's not really a "robot attack squadron" as USA Today calls it, but it is the future of military aviation.
Lt. Gen. Gary North (commander of air operations in Iraq and Afghanistan) is quoted as saying: "With more Reapers, I could send manned airplanes home."
July 16, 2007
July 06, 2007
The commutation of Lewis Libby’s sentence presents yet another fetid example of the Bush Administration treating the Executive Branch merely as vehicle for governance by quasi-autocratic fiat. There are reasons, after all, that the Framers attempted to inject constitutional checks and balances, not only to escape the legacy of monarchical England, but also because they realized concentrated power too often corrupts terribly. The gross over-reaching of the Executive Branch in the Bush Administration, in areas ranging from detainee treatment, to a politically inspired putsch of federal prosecutors, to the Vice-President’s primitively brazen ‘argument’ his office is not even a part of the Executive Branch, all have conspired to badly shake the public’s trust in our system of government.Sounds about right to me.
Whatever happened to One Nation Conservatism?
Anatole Kaletsky was right to argue on these pages last week that what he called the “underclass” in Britain is one of knottiest problems a new British prime minister faces. It becomes ever clearer that it is falling behind. Politicians and experts call for “ladders out” for the poorest.
Have we considered the possibility that these ladders may be the problem, not the solution? There are already ladders out. There have never been more. People who can climb have climbed them. Those who are left cannot climb. They represent an expensive nuisance, disproportionate to their numbers, but they can be fenced and contained.
The barbarian onslaught that overheated commentary thinks they threaten will be easily repulsed. They are more pathetic than fearsome. They are irrelevant. That is the tragedy.
July 05, 2007
New discoveries about another universe whose collapse appears to have given birth to the one we live in today will be announced in the early on-line edition of the journal Nature Physics on 1 July 2007 and will be published in the August 2007 issue of the journal's print edition.Loop Quantum Gravity is looking more and more like a promising alternative to String Theory.
"My paper introduces a new mathematical model that we can use to derive new details about the properties of a quantum state as it travels through the Big Bounce, which replaces the classical idea of a Big Bang as the beginning of our universe," said Martin Bojowald, assistant professor of physics at Penn State.
July 04, 2007
Out and about
Last weekend we took the boys over to The American Museum in Bath.
They had a number of special events organised including a display by The Crown Forces of 1776: scarlet coats, Brown Besses and a short six-pounder that seemed to shake the whole valley each time it was fired.
When we arrived the Red Coats were already drawn up on the lawn in front of the Great House engaged in diverse drills. Second Son, his blood up and a sparkle in his eye, suggested we go stand in the tree line and take pot shots at them.
Unfortunately we’d left our Kentucky Long Rifles at home.
Lacking the wherewithal to harass and impede the enemy’s maneuvers we retired to the terrace for a nice cup of tea and a sit down.
July 01, 2007
Of course, that's one of the problems with living in England: it's hard to tell if you've become the focus of a sustained campaign of low level intimidation or just the random violence of drunken yobs.
June 30, 2007
June 28, 2007
[T]he fact [is] that (as most of you may have figured out by now) the word “cialis” is embedded in the word “socialism.”Lol.
I currently have blocked about fifty drug names on this site; if I hadn’t done so, there might be upwards of a fifty or so pharmaceutical spam comments here a day. Cialis, of course, is one of them, and the unintended consequence of blocking Cialis is to block socialism.
You know what, I decided about lunchtime yesterday that I couldn't take any more. The whole thing was turning into a blubfest of nauseating proportions. First we had the Pyongyang-style standing ovation, in which hundreds of hypocritical parliamentarians clapped their hands sore in celebration of Tony Blair - when a great many of them have spent the past 10 years actively trying to winkle him out of Downing Street, a group that includes many on his own side, and above all his successor.Heh.
Then poor Margaret Beckett was so overwhelmed that she started to weep, and had to be "comforted" by John Reid, a procedure that is surely enough to make anyone snap out of it. And then we had the cavalcade moving off to the Palace, and what with the hushed tones of the newscasters and the thudding of the television helicopters overhead, the whole thing started to remind me of Diana's funeral.
June 27, 2007
June 26, 2007
June 25, 2007
Still, I managed to take it all with good grace, though I couldn't help guffawing when he started quoting Chomsky. Luckily, I was cooking that evening so I had plenty of opportunities to absent myself from the pre-dinner conversation.
All in all, I feel sorry for him, not because of his views or the people they've led him to associate with, but because underneath that thin veneer of studied radicalism you could sense the fear and confusion of a young man uncertain about his place in the world and not knowing what to make of his life.
Having said that, next time he calls me "bourgeois" I think I'll clout him.
June 24, 2007
Pakistan has told Britain that Salman Rushdie's knighthood breaches a United Nations resolution aimed at calming tensions between different religions, The Observer has learnt. The highly unusual warning was made during a meeting with the British High Commissioner in Pakistan and reveals the extent to which senior Pakistani politicians fear the award will damage relations between the countries.Pakistan’s approach to religious tolerance is set out in the latest report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are a particular focus for concern as they are often used “by extremists to intimidate members of religious minorities and others with whom they disagree.”
“Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are inherently arbitrary, and they de facto restrict freedom of speech and other freedoms guaranteed by international human rights norms,” said Felice D. Gaer, Commission Chair. “These insidious laws lend themselves to misuse and abuse, resulting frequently in severe violations of freedom of religion or belief in Pakistan.”[For more on the discrimination faced by Ahmadis in Pakistan see here.]
The blasphemy laws are one of the many ways in which the government of Pakistan severely violates the internationally guaranteed right to religious freedom. Other abuses include the laws violating the rights of the Ahmadi community, the persistent sectarian violence targeting Shi’as, Christians, Ahmadis, and Hindus, and the Hudood ordinances, which violate the rights of women in Pakistan.
Hmm, maybe I've got it wrong but it doesn’t look like Pakistan is overly interested in calming tensions between different religions.
All in all, I think Stephen Pollard gets it about right:
Do you long to free yourself from the shackles of convention? Do you gaze into space, bemoaning the fact that your life is one long obligation to family, work and friends? Are you panting with anticipation at the thought of this week’s Glastonbury Festival, knowing that for just a few days in the year you will be free to be yourself, free to commune with Nature and free to indulge in the hedonism you think life should really be about?Read the rest.
Then grow up.
June 23, 2007
I recently watched “Where the Boys Are” - it’s a hoot (well, as much of a hoot as a dated and stilted teen movie from the early sixties can be) and I found myself asking whatever happened to the female lead. Hart was good looking, personable and a talented actress, but apart from a couple of films she made in the late fifties playing opposite Elvis Pressley, I couldn’t recall seeing her in anything else. So what happened?
I figured death, drink or debauchery had cut short her career, but no - turns out, at 25 she gave up acting to become a Roman Catholic nun, eventually becoming Prioress of a Benedictine Abbey in Connecticut. Not really what I expected!
According to Wikipedia (I know, I know), “she’s the only nun to be an Oscar-voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.”
Scott over at the Daily Ablution hasn’t posted for over a month (look who’s talking!). Clive Davis has gone corporate and now blogs at the Spectator (which takes the shine off a little) and Mr Smash has been recycling his posts from the Sandbox – all very poignant but what’s going on?
On the plus side: Norm is still posting with his usual vim and vigour, Gregory Djerejian continues fighting the good fight (see Torture Corrupts, Absolutely) and Ophelia Benson (whose Notes and Comment I read religiously) has been on top form - well, she's had a lot of material to work with recently.
As for the rest, the standout for me is Zoe Brain. You never know where life is going to take you and life has taken Zoe to some strange places over the last couple of years. It's to her immense credit that she's managed to blog through the experience with her dignity intact. In her own words:
Keep it up Zoe.
Mention "transsexuality" on any blog or forum, and lots of ugly opinions crawl put of the woodwork, mostly based on ignorance and misinformation. In my experience, most people are basically good. It's because they're good that they have such strong opinions in matters of morality, ethics, and the health of Society. Point them towards the facts, cure their ignorance, and you don't have to worry about changing their attitudes. Their consciences will do the work for you.
Not everyone can be reached that way: but if you respond to insults, abuse and derision in a calm, dignified and forgiving way, for every active participant in the dialogue, there's likely a dozen of readers who will favourably impressed by your civility, and unimpressed by the self-evident unintelligent bigotry.
Abusive e-mails I can take, but when someone goes to the trouble to track down your home address and telephones you on a daily basis to let you know that they have “concerns” about your blog before hanging up – well, that’s just freaky. And I don’t mind telling you it weirded me out for a while there.
June 18, 2007
May 01, 2007
I blame my height - at 6'6" I have what my doctor calls "a large perpendicular moment about the base of the spine". In other words, I have a long back. And right now it hurts like hell.
Excuse me while I reach for a couple more painkillers.
April 27, 2007
Allen Lee, an 18-year-old straight-A student at Cary-Grove High School, was arrested Tuesday near his home and charged with disorderly conduct for an essay police described as violently disturbing but not directed toward any specific person or location.So much for freedom of speech.
(Actually, I expect that someone somewhere in Illinois will eventually stumble across a copy of the Constitution and notice the First Amendment. But I'm not holding by breath.)
April 26, 2007
1. Step by Step Indian Cookbook by Mridula Baljekar. Favorite recipes: Onion Bhajiyas, Kofta Bhuna, Chicken Korma, Keema Mattar.
2. The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces by Diane Seed. Favorites: Trenette al Pesto, Spaghetti Maria Grazia, Pasta alla Primavera, Pasta con le Fave al Proscuitto.
3. Supercookery! edited by Isabel Moore, for Lamb Ragout, Hoppin' John, Fenouils a la Grecque.
April 22, 2007
April 21, 2007
I'm keen to ensure that all the boys can cook before they leave home and they’re rising to the challenge.
But teaching them to clean up after themselves, now that’s a different matter.
April 20, 2007
April 18, 2007
April 17, 2007
For some (strange and possibly unknowable) reason, reading the tributes to Kurt Vonnegut Jr put me in mind of one of the poems of Edwin Brock.
Five Ways To Kill A ManSo it goes.
There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man.
You can make him carry a plank of wood
to the top of a hill and nail him to it. To do this
properly you require a crowd of people
wearing sandals, a cock that crows, a cloak
to dissect, a sponge, some vinegar and one
man to hammer the nails home.
Or you can take a length of steel,
shaped and chased in a traditional way,
and attempt to pierce the metal cage he wears.
But for this you need white horses,
English trees, men with bows and arrows,
at least two flags, a prince, and a
castle to hold your banquet in.
Dispensing with nobility, you may, if the wind
allows, blow gas at him. But then you need
a mile of mud sliced through with ditches,
not to mention black boots, bomb craters,
more mud, a plague of rats, a dozen songs
and some round hats made of steel.
In an age of aeroplanes, you may fly
miles above your victim and dispose of him by
pressing one small switch. All you then
require is an ocean to separate you, two
systems of government, a nation's scientists,
several factories, a psychopath and
land that no-one needs for several years.
These are, as I began, cumbersome ways
to kill a man. Simpler, direct, and much more neat
is to see that he is living somewhere in the middle
of the twentieth century, and leave him there.
April 16, 2007
April 14, 2007
Chicken FajitasLooking at that list, I've got to wonder how well we're integrating. I mean, it's not very British, is it? Though to be fair, the Big Fella is also very fond of roast lamb and Toad in the Hole.
[You might want to Google that last one - I had no idea what it was until the first time Mac cooked it.]
April 13, 2007
Since I closed down my old site a year ago, I haven't had any more phone calls from people with Middle Eastern accents complaining they had "issues" with my blog. And that's a Good Thing.
But I could have avoided the problem entirely if I'd followed the Beeb's advice. And yes, occassionally those phone calls still worry me - they know where I live.
April 12, 2007
I think it's a shame the series won't be examining the roots of British anti-Americanism. But still, it's a start.
The US is perceived by many as an international bully, a modern day imperial power. At this critical moment in history, Washington correspondent Justin Webb challenges that idea.
He argues anti-Americanism is often a cover for hatreds with little justification in fact. His three part series takes him to Cairo, Caracas and Washington but it begins where anti-Americanism began - in Paris.
April 11, 2007
April 10, 2007
Today, Greg Djerejian imagines the reaction in the US if the captured personnel had been Americans.
It's not flattering.
April 09, 2007
April 08, 2007
I see him walking on like Mr Bridger from the Italian Job, doing
that funny little Queen Mother wave: “Too kind, too fearfully kind. You’re mocking me with kindness. Please, please, no more. Madam,” he would say, "you are Deirdre. Deirdre – how charming. Now I see you in the light, I realise you couldn’t be anything other than a Deirdre – a name you have utterly, utterly made your own. I forbid anyone else ever to be called Deirdre.
“Now, Deirdre - Dear, dear Deirdre – promise me, whatever pitiful little nest egg you take away from this farrago, you won’t do a thing with your hair. You will promise me, Deirdre, won’t you? You will leave it just the way it is. It’s so blissfully, blissfully you.“Now, Deirdre, which numbered box do you wish to broach? Sixteen? The common little man with the appalling necktie? You think he’s hiding a fortune, Deirdre? He’s certainly ugly enough. I have always found wealth to be nature’s consolation for Medusan hideosity. Well, common little man, reveal the contents of your cartouche. Oh, Deirdre, the wretched little man has purloined your dreams. If that’s the damnable banker again, tell him I’m entertaining and unavailable. The impertinence of tradesmen.”