Tuesday, 31 October 2006

too young to write your memoirs?

The BS Johnson question must be asked: aren't you rather young to be writing your memoirs?
Franzen scrunches up his face and thinks hard for a good minute. (This is a habit he has.) 'Only if you consider it likely that something more interesting is going to happen to me in the second half of my life than happened in the first,' he says, eventually. 'I'm doubtful about that.'
- John O'Connell interviews Jonathan Franzen, Time Out, 18 October.

niall ferguson

Interesting article by Niall Ferguson on pardoning of WW1 soldier pardons. I've just started watching his War of the World series, which I've got backed up on video. I enjoyed his series on the British Empire, which some people thought was too right wing and re-revisionist - he thinks the British Empire was a good thing - but I was with him on it. His War of the World series thesis is that the twentieth century was one long conflict, driven not by ideology or nations but by race.

the ipod plant

Thirty-two thousand staff live on-site at the plant in China where iPods are made. (BBC)

just read yesterday's and pretend it's today's

'just read yesterday's and pretend it's today's' - that's what my father used to say to my mother when she was going to buy today's paper not having touched yesterday's. I've taken after my mother in that regard, and have a tottering pile of newspaper backlog. If I lived on my own I'd be one of those old men found crushed under one of his toppled piles of papers, several months after the toppling. 'Just read December's and pretend it's today's.'

philosophy leaves everything as it is

'philosophy leaves everything as it is' - a book review in the Guardian quotes Wittgenstein as having said this.

Monday, 30 October 2006

whipped into a frenzy of moderation

Another quote from David Langford, from an article on HG Wells:
Returning from fiction to real life in the wake of these novels: Wells was now a literary success. A tangible result of the resulting affluence was that in 1899-1900, he had a fine new home built specially for himself and Jane: Spade House at Sandgate, Kent. His recurring utopian dream of a socialist World State inevitably led him into politics, and in 1903 he joined the gently socialist Fabian Society (which, as unkind people remarked and Wells happily agreed, had plenty of nubile female members). The Fabians had named themselves for Fabius Cunctator, the Roman general who used shrewd tactics of delay. They wanted a gradual, almost imperceptible introduction of socialism into English politics. A traditional gibe was the supposed Fabian rallying call as the crowd was whipped into a frenzy of moderation:

"What do we want?"
"Gradual change!"
"When do we want it?"
"In due course!"

ansible: thog quote; evil cs lewis

For a stretch of several years David Langford's articles were the best thing in several magazines I read (roleplaying and Amstrad). I've already mentioned him here. Now he seems to have almost everything he's ever written on his website. I've got a lot of catching up to do (and doubtless I'll end up with a list of fantasy and sci-fi books I'll want to read).

Here's a couple of things from his Ansible newsletter of January 2006 (I thought January's as far back as I should start).

Thog's Masterclass [bad quotes from fantasy and sci-fi]. Dept of Nose Noises. 'But the younger man had a nose for trouble which Acevedo had learned to trust, or at least listen very carefully to.' (David Weber in Changer of Worlds, 2001)

The devout website www.balaams-ass.com exposes [here] `the darker and esoteric meanings of the Chronicles of Narnia', including the author's vile profanity: `The word "ass" appears in 4 of the books. Being British, it probably did not mean the same to him as it does to Americans (as a swear word), but he could have left it out, especially since he only used it four times and did use "donkey" in other places. However, considering the filthy state of his mind, it is possible that he thought this cute.' Other parts of this analysis are, shall we say, less balanced.

music in shops; watt repellent

Two CDs I've bought because they were playing it in the shop:

Different Trains, by Steve Reich. I think it was Electric Counterpoint that was playing. It was a music shop in Milton Keynes, on the day we had a coach trip up there when my then employers were looking to relocate to the area and were giving staff the opportunity to go us and see the area. I remember visiting the giant MK shopping centre (I think I got a couple of second hand books and/or tapes on a stall outside also), and a depressingly tiny show house in a new estate. We relocated to Bletchley in the end. Don't play it much as minimalist, repetitive music does Bethan's head in.

Echoes from Africa, by Abdullah Ibrahim. I heard most of it, I think; it was in Top Floor CDs, in the Elephant & Castle shopping centre, which closed earlier this year. Also pretty repetitive, changing harmonies and phrases over repeated patterns, but more bearable to people of a sensitive disposition. I'd like to get more of him, but he's recorded so much and it's difficult to know which would be most like the one I like.

I was playing my Lemon Jelly CD last week when the Rollses were down, and not only did no one else in the room like it, one of the children came down from the bedroom to ask us to turn it down. There's something wrong with the world when that happens, surely.

Another of my CDs - League Unlimited Orchestra's Love and Dancing - also drove my other sister-in-law out of the room last year.

book titles

Two books I can think of that I wanted to read because of their titles:

'We have met the enemy, and they are partly right', by Tony Campolo - about philosophies and world-views in relation to evangelical Christianity. The chapter on Kierkegaard made me want to read more Kierkegaard.

'If on a winter's night a traveller', by Italo Calvino - read it, didn't like it.

kierkegaard in copenhagen cathedral

Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher-theologian, once described how he went into the great cathedral in Copenhagen and sat in a cushioned seat and watched as sunlight streamed through stained glass windows. He saw the pastor, dressed in a velvet robe, take his place behind the mahogany pulpit, open a gilded Bible, mark it with a silk marker and read, 'Jesus said, "If any man be my disciple he must deny himself, sell whatsoever he has, give to the poor and take up his cross and follow me."' Kierkegaard said, 'As I looked around the room I was amazed that nobody was laughing.'
Tony Campolo, It's Friday, But Sunday's Comin'; Word, 1985; p111

'I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight'

There are such things as laughless jokes, what Freud called gallows humour. There are real-life situations so hopeless that no relief is imaginable.
While we were being bombed in Dresden, sitting in a cellar with our arms over our heads in case the ceiling fell, one soldier said as though he were a duchess in a mansion on a cold and rainy night, 'I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight.' Nobody laughed, but we were still all glad he said it. At lease we were still alive! He proved it.
- Guardian, Saturday 14 January 2006

Saturday, 28 October 2006

quartered safe out here

The George MacDonald Fraser memoir was good. It did have some ‘reactionary old man’ passages, but I didn’t mind them really - someone who has fought their way through a war has earned the right to say what he thinks about issues relevant to his experience, and much of what he says is valid. An interesting perspective on the atomic bombs, saying, understandably, that those who wish they hadn’t been used are wishing the death of more allied soldiers, and that he values the lives of himself and his colleagues, and crucially his children and grandchildren, more than any number of others; so the issue in retrospect is obvious, but ‘I have a feeling that if - and I know it’s an impossible if - but if, on that sunny August morning, Nine Section had known all that we know now of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and could have been shown the effect of that bombing, and if some voice from on high had said: “There - that can end the war for you, if you want. But it doesn’t have to happen; the alternative is that the war, as you’ve known it, goes on to a normal victorious conclusion, which make take some time, and if the past is anything to go by, some of you won’t reach the end of the road. Anyway, Malaya’s down that way... it’s up to you”, I think I know what would have happened.’

Another example he gives of how knowledge isn’t what it could be is of one respectable historian wrote that a particular weapon, the piat, was never used in Burma, but in fact GMF himself used it. I knew the Japanese were well-known for not surrendering, but I hadn’t realised the depth of it - the rumour that a man might have surrendered was big news; in one hospital more than a hundred wounded had committed suicide rather than be taken prisoner. The odd but not unusual experience of two sections going into an action or area essentially side by side, and one having its strength reduced by half while the other encounters no one.

It made me realise I know very little of the war in the East (awful POW experiences, and It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum), and should read something more about it. I often see the statue of Slim on Whitehall.

Stanley ‘had been in the o.p. with Wells, and when Jap arrived they had cut out for the wire. Stanley had made it into the perimeter, only to find that there was no sign of Wells. So he had slipped out again, without a word to anyone, when the fighting was at its height, into the Jap-infested dark, to look for him. By sheer luck he found him, near the o.p., dying of bayonet wounds; there was no way of helping him, but Stanley had stayed with him; he could have sought cover for himself, but he didn’t. I suppose he brought the dead man in at dawn, but my informant - who was not Stanley himself - wasn’t sure of all the details: he had only learned the bare facts months later. ... whenever I hear the word “hero” loosely used, as it so often is of professional athletes and media celebrities and people who may have done no more than wear uniform for a while, I think of Stanley going back into the dark.’

‘My parents knew I was in Burma, and that (with the possible exception of air crew) it was generally believed to be the worst ticket you could draw in the lottery of active service. Those months must have been the longest of their lives; whatever anxieties the soldier may experience in the field can be nothing to the torment of those at home. I don’t know how parents and wives stand it. Perhaps family experience is a help: every generation of my people, as far back as we knew, had sent somebody to war, and my grandmother’s comment on Chamberlain’s speech on September 3, 1939, had been simply: “Well, the men will be going away again.” Her uncle had served in the Crimea, her brother had died in the Second Afghan, two of my aunts had lost sweethearts in the Great War, my father had been wounded in East Africa, and two uncles had been in the trenches; probably it was a not untypical record for a British family over a century, but whether it made my absence easier or harder to bear, who knows?’

A fellow soldier was shot in a battle and actually shouted, ‘They got me! The dirty rats, they got me!’

A Highland and a Gurkha unit go into action next to each other against a Japanese position in trees. ‘One of the Highlanders told me later that when they came out again they found the ground before the position littered with Gurkha rifles: most of them had gone in with kukris alone.

‘There was another occasion when a Gurkha platoon close to us held a position against two companies of Japanese who wouldn’t take no for answer, but kept coming time and again, yelling “Banzai!”; the Gurkhas just stood fast and stopped them until the position was littered with Jap dead. When the Gurkhas were finally withdrawn it was discovered that they hadn’t a single round of ammunition among them.’

‘It’s all in the point of view: armchair strategists can look at the last stages of a campaign and say there’s nothing left but mopping-up, but if you’re holding the mop it’s different.’

Monday, 23 October 2006

darling buds of may

This is an interesting story from the Guardian, from someone who has a good case for suggesting that his family on holiday was HE Bates's inspiration for the Larkin family.

good old l ron

We had a diversion from Queen Victoria Street on our way to church yesterday. It turned out to be the opening of the Scientologists' new London HQ (in a building originally built for the British & Foreign Bible Society).

Links to reports in the Guardian, Observer, Times and Independent.

Clambake is a pretty comprehensive Scientology-rebuffing site.

I saw their logo on the outside of the building on the way home from church last week, but it was so enormous, garish and cartoony that I took it for a filming prop.

Saturday, 21 October 2006

milton jones

While my mother was down and available for childminding at very reasonable rates this month, Bethan and I managed to get out on three evenings.

On the first we saw Milton Jones at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden on Wednesday 4th. Our first time in that theatre - a small one above a pub. We'd seen him before, at BBC radio recordings of one of his comedy series, The House of Milton Jones. We liked him a lot - Bethan tends to steer clear of live comedy because of the swearing and crudity (which you can't always reliably gauge from their tv and especially radio appearances), but we felt on safe ground with Milton Jones. The Very World of Milton Jones series was excellent; if it had been scripted by himself, I have a feeling that perhaps it would have been viewed as a classic series, but it was written by a team of non-performing writers, so no sense of one genius author, like Spike Milligan (who it probably most closely resembled, with a bit of ISIRTA perhaps).

Like a slower, more surreal Tim Vine. (We've got Tim Vine's DVD, which is really good. Last time we looked, the Milton Jones radio series weren't out on tape, which was surprising.)

We went midweek, and thought he'd be safe from drunk hecklers, but there were a couple of women in the front row (it was almost full, but still only about forty people there) who just kept talking to him, which he weathered very well.

who by?

I don't think they'd have bothered printing it if it was inaccurate, but there was a letter in last week's Radio Times saying that on Newsnight, when talking with Jeremy Paxman in relation to his new book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins said, 'I have not been put on this earth to be comfortable!'. I'm sure there's little than annoys him more than people who push his buttons by saying that he's a man of great faith, but he is, it's just not faith in God.

tesco - how did this happen?

An article in a recent Evening Standard about Tesco had some interesting stats, including:
- it has 30% of Britain's grocery market, nearly twice that of Asda and Sainsbury's
- it has 250,000 employees, making it the biggest employer after government

marvellously honest work

Before the tour began, the guide (Michael, a charming, middle-aged actor resting between jobs) asked if anyone needed the loo. One girl put up her hand. "I do," she said, "but I won't - I don't like weeing in public toilets." There was a pause. "Excellent," beamed Michael. "I can see we're going to have some marvellously honest work out of you this afternoon." I love actors.

- Lucy Mangan acts as a chaperone to a school group visiting Shakespeare's Globe in last Saturday's Guardian.

wim wenders' favourite book

according to last Saturday's Guardian Weekend's Q&A, is Eugene Peterson's translation of the New Testament, The Message.

some local colour

Two local stories relating to Saturday 14 October 2006.

Memorial unveiled to victims of Blitz entombed in park shelter
The mass grave of scores of unidentified victims of one of the worst civilian disasters of the Blitz, forgotten except by those still living in the surrounding streets, will finally be marked today.
The memorial is in Kennington Park, south London, where a 50lb German bomb fell directly on to a trench shelter on October 15 1940. That night, rescuers dug as the walls fell in around them, but only managed to remove 48 identifiable bodies of the estimated 104 victims. The rest were covered in lime, and the trenches filled in on top of them. They still lie buried below the grass.
The complex of shelter trenches, like those dug in several London parks, were lined with timber, and later with thin concrete slabs, roofed with timber and earth. They flooded from the start and there were always doubts about their strength.
The tragedy is not in any accounts of the worst civilian disasters of the Blitz. However, in the streets around the park, it remains vivid oral history to this day.
Kay Coster, a guest of honour at today's ceremony, only learned the details in the years before her father's death in 2002, after decades when he could not bear to speak of it. James Holland was 14 when he rushed to the park with his parents. They both died, and he was the last person dragged out alive, badly injured.
- The Guardian


Clubber critical after shooting
A man who was shot in the head when he was caught in the crossfire of a shooting outside a club is in a critical condition.
He was hit when a man opened fire near the Ministry of Salsa nightclub in Walworth Road, south London. Moments earlier the gunman had shot another man who had left the nearby Ivory Arch club. He was shot in the buttock and is in a stable condition. As the first victim fled the gunman chased him and continued firing. During the chase in the Elephant & Castle area, he shot the second victim, a 26-year-old man, in the head. The injured man was taken to hospital where he is in a critical condition. The first victim, aged 28, made his own way to hospital and is in a stable condition. Detectives from Operation Trident, the Metropolitan police initiative to fight gun crime in London's black communities, are investigating the case.
- BBC

Lots of police tape up on Sunday (outside Ivory Arch and Ministry of Salsa), even more by Monday morning (all the open space between the shops and the entrance to the subways), but gone by Monday evening except just outside the Ivory Arch. The yellow police incident boards from last month's serious assault outside the Ivory Arch were still up. Never been to the nightclub, but they do good Indian takeaways.

biblical literature

Bonkers article in last Saturday's Guardian, which I won't dignify with a link, from a senior Anglican cleric talking about the 'obviously' gay relationships in the Bible. David and Jonathan, of course, but also Ruth and Naomi, which was a new one on me. A completely anachronistic, non-contextual reading of the text. Reminds me of the CS Lewis essay, possibly Fern Seeds and Elephants, where he writes about idiot theologians who talk about the mythical nature of the Bible writings, and says no, I know mythical literature, and this isn't it, if it is it's many centuries ahead of its time, the people writing it are writing non-fiction, historical literature.

pick up boot

This from a Guardian article about father and son actors Timothy and Sam West. I've definitely seen this story before. Sam speaking:

We share quite a lot of tastes and sensibilities. But we are quite different as actors. When we worked together 10 years ago in Henry IV, he was Falstaff and I was Hal so we were on stage together in the first scene and I picked up his script and he picked up mine. At one point I had written, "palliate the follies I can neither avoid nor deny". At the same spot, he had written, "pick up boot"!

curmudgeon

I've still got somewhere a page of quotations appropriate to me that SB gave me when we were at University. Two I remember are 'He said he was against it' and 'Thank heavens, the sun has gone in and I don't have to go out and enjoy it'. Oh, how I've changed, eh?

Friday, 13 October 2006

george macdonald fraser

Douglas lent me the first Flashman novel recently. Although I really enjoyed George MacDonald Fraser's short stories about life in the postwar army - and they were as good when I reread them recently in The Complete McAuslan before lending them to Douglas - I had never been interested in the Flashman novels, mainly I think because I have an aversion to historical fiction (why read a fictional version of a historical event rather than a non-fictional account, is my general rule) and in particular the idea of basing them on an unpleasant peripheral character in another work of fiction. But I've learned that these are very well researched, and it was fine.

I've just started reading Quartered Safe Out Here, which is his memoir of his time in the war in Burma, and it's shaping up well. He's written a later volume about his screenwriting career, which will be interesting too, although by all accounts those bits are interspersed with 'old right wing man railing against the government and political correctness' passages, but I'm sure I could put up with those.

I've no idea how I came across the McAuslan stories in the first place, during my schooldays - probably picked one up at a sale of work. It's quite often pretty random what you discover and what passes you by.

QSOH has at its start a section from Kipling's Gunga Din:
You may talk o' gin and beer
When you're quartered safe out here,
An' you're sent to penny fights an' Aldershot it,
But when it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An' you'll lick the blooming boots of 'im that's got it.

In First Year English at Uni one of the set books was a volume of Kipling short stories, which I enjoyed. Accounts featuring interviews/contributions from ordinary soldiers make clear how often they are operating in combat on little food and no sleep, and no idea of the bigger picture.

From GMF's introduction to QSOH: 'With all military histories it is necessary to remember that war is not a matter of maps with red and blue arrows and oblongs, but of weary, thirsty men with sore feet and aching shoulders wondering where they are .... I must emphasise that at a private soldier level you frequently have no idea where you are, or precisely how you got there, let alone why.' He understand much more now, having read military histories, of where their little activities and actions fitted into bigger strategy and circumstance.

One of his reasons for writing his war memoir is 'to assure a later generation that much modern wisdom, applied in retrospect to the Second World War, is not to be trusted. Attitudes to war and fighting have, as I said earlier, changed considerably, and what is thought now, and held to be universal truth, was not thought then, or true of that time.' He's scathing of the revisionists and the fashionable and the backward imposition of the modern worldview on the past. Later generations, he says, 'have a tendency to envisage themselves in the 1940s, and imagine their own reactions, and make the fatal mistake of thinking that the outlook was the same then. They cannot see that they have been conditioned by the past forty years into a new philosophic tradition, requiring new explanations; they fail to realise that there is a veil between them and the 1940s. They want to see the last war in *their* terms; they want it to conform to *their* notions. Well, it won't.' Such modern views are false, and also dangerous, because they 'may be taken as true by the uninformed or thoughtless, since it fits fashionable prejudice. And that is how history is distorted. You cannot, you must not, judge the past by the present; you must try to see it in its own terms and values, if you are to have any inkling of it. You may not like what you see, but do not on that account fall into the error of trying to adjust it to suit your own vision of what it ought to have been.'

anytime soon video

One of my favourite new songs from last year, Anytime Soon by Marshmallow, has this sweet video.

from this week's private eye

Late Church School News
The Church of England today confirmed that it will in future be opening up 25% of spaces in its classrooms to the children of parents who actually believe in God. 'Formerly, of course, 100% of places at our schools went to the children of parents who attend Church grudgingly every Sunday so as to avoid having to send their children to local rubbish state schools. This we now accept was discriminatory and (cont p94)'

Nice cartoon of 'Green Tories' carrying placards saying 'Cars for the rich only', 'No foreign travel for the poor', and 'It's holidays in Blackpool for you, Johnny pleb', being told 'Um, perhaps we need to stress the green a little more, and the Tory a little less'.

Thursday, 12 October 2006

the mysterious appeal of garrison keillor

A Prairie Home Conundrum: the mysterious appeal of Garrison Keillor is an interesting article from online magazine Slate. I've enjoyed what I've read of him - although Lake Wobegon Days took a bit of getting into - and I've been enjoying the Prairie Home Companion that they've been doing on BBC7 on Saturday lunchtimes.

astroturf in the tunnel

The covered lane that joins the dressing rooms with the pitch usually consists of nothing more than a pair of white-painted breezeblock walls and a concrete floor that is generally covered with Astroturf as if the players, like young cattle, need to be lured out of their cosy bedding by the prospect of fresh grass.
- Harry Pearson on the tunnel, in Guardian’s football season guide of August 2006.

cd sales

More than a quarter of all the CD albums bought in Britain during last year were purchased in a supermarket.
- The Guardian, 9 September 2006

the capital punishment lottery

I missed Genius on R4 last week, with Dave Gorman, but I learnt of one of the ideas - which amazingly wasn't considered Genius - from the Radio Times: The Capital Punishment Lottery. The names of everyone who has voted to bring back the death penalty are stored until someone is wrongfully executed. A draw follows for a pro-capital punishment voter's name to make up for the innocent life that's just been taken.

rushdie on kipling

His literary enthusiasms embrace problematical writers - from a colonial point of view - such as Conrad and Kipling. "Lord Jim is a book that I kind of hated but couldn't get out of my head. The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' is awful, but unforgettable." Similarly, he has had "many of the difficulties with Kipling that a lot of people from India have, but every true Indian reader knows that no non-Indian writer understood India as well as Kipling. As a child I loved the Jungle Books, long before I realised that there were ideological problems with them. If you want to look at the India of Kipling's time, there is no writer who will give it to you better."
- Guardian, Saturday 30 September 2006.

everything about nothing, nothing about everything

They say of people who specialise, especially academically, that they learn more and more about less and less until eventually they know everything about nothing. I can see the appeal of that - it's nice to have a sense of control over and understanding of even a tiny part of the wide world - but have always tended to the opposite, of being interested in too many things, so that I'm learning less and less about more and more. I am approaching the point at which I will know nothing about everything.

best top 10 album chart ever?

For 40th birthday reasons I found out the UK Top 10 Albums from 8 October 1966, and found it contained four albums that regularly appear in 'best ever' lists, including two - Revolver and Pet Sounds - that often top such lists:

1 Soundtrack Sound of music; 2 Beatles Revolver; 3 Walker Brothers Portrait; 4 Beach Boys Pet sounds; 5 Spencer Davis Group Autumn 66; 6 Various Stars charity fantasia Save the children fund; 7 John Mayall/Eric Clapton Bluesbreakers; 8 Herb Alpert Going places; 9 Kinks Well respected Kinks; 10 Bob Dylan Blonde on blonde.

The Save the Children album isn't available on CD; the others are or probably will be eventually. Sound of Music clogs up the album charts for a large part of the mid-Sixties.

For comparison purposes, here's my birthdate chart, which isn't nearly so good:
1 Soundtrack Sound of music; 2 Monkees More of the Monkees; 3 Monkees Monkees; 4 Beach Boys Best of the Beach Boys; 5 Tom Jones Green green grass of home; 6 Walker Brothers Images; 7 Four Tops Four Tops live; 8 Seekers Come the day; 9 Trini Lopez Trini Lopez in London; 10 London cast Fiddler on the roof.

It's harder to find charts - as opposed to No1s - than you might think. Album charts courtesy of this site - the most extraordinary thing about which is that it's been done by a woman. I'm not sure which chart she used, but it's good enough for me.

Monday, 9 October 2006

ted nugent

Some of Ted Nugent's views are a bit scary, but this is funny.

'And yes, he did make the comment in a May 2006 interview conducted by a British journalist Robert Chalmers for The Independent on Sunday, the expanded Sunday version of the UK newspaper The Independent:

'"What do these deer think when they see you coming?" I ask him. "Here comes the nice guy who puts out our dinner? Or, there's the man that shot my brother?"

'"I don't think they're capable of either of those thoughts, you Limey asshole. They're only interested in three things: the best place to eat, having sex and how quickly they can run away. Much like the French."'

maps in fantasy novels

An interesting article on maps in fantasy novels.

'I would also be much intrigued if anyone had ever managed to get any help from the map of the underground city of Menzoberranzan in R. A. Salvatore's Homeland, a map with a note which speaks for itself: "Only major stalagmites are shown for clarity."'

favourite geek joke

(Nerd has fallen out of favour rather, hasn't it? We're all geeks now.)

There are 10 types of people in the world. Those who don't understand binary and those who do.

(There are two types of people in the world. Those who believe there are two types of people in the world and those who don't.)

Which puts me in mind of another number joke I might have put down here before:
What did the 0 say to the 8? Nice belt!
(I saw in a review of the paperback of The Stornoway Way that that joke's used in there too.)

winchester - jane austen

While in Winchester, visited, as on previous visit, the two Jane Austen sites - the cathedral where she's buried and the house nearby where she spent the last few weeks of her life.

As with so many 19th-century authors, it was taken for granted at the time that she was a Christian (as the inscriptions make clear) and is taken equally for granted today that she wasn't. I think there is a resistance today to the idea that someone with an artistic soul could have been really a Christian, but rather was constrained by or keeping their head down in or rebelling against the Christian sea in which they found themselves swimming.

Friday, 6 October 2006

goodbye, blog: the friend of information but the enemy of thought

Very interesting article from Christianity Today about blogs - the author had hoped they heralded a revolution in exchange of thought and ideas, especially via the 'comments' facility, but they haven't.

'Debate after debate — on almost every site I visit, including the ones devoted to Christianity — either escalates from rational discourse into sneering and name-calling or just bypasses reason altogether and starts with the abuse.'

And an interesting comparison to the Reformation and the invention of printing: 'As I think about these architectural deficiencies, and the deficiencies of my own character, I find myself meditating on a passage from a book by C. S. Lewis. In his great work of literary history, Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century, Lewis devotes a passage to what he describes, with a certain savageness, as "that whole tragic farce which we call the history of the Reformation." For Lewis, the issues that divided Catholics and Protestants, that led to bloodshed all over Europe and to a seemingly permanent division of Christians from one another, "could have been fruitfully debated only between mature and saintly disputants in close privacy and at boundless leisure." Instead, thanks to the prevalence of that recent invention the printing press, and to the intolerance of many of the combatants, deep and subtle questions found their way into the popular press and were immediately transformed into caricatures and cheap slogans. After that there was no hope of peaceful reconciliation.'

gulf stream myth

This article from American Scientist (no idea how reputable that is) asserts that the idea that Britain's climate is kept warmer by the Gulf Stream is a myth.

Monday, 2 October 2006

execution more expensive than life imprisonment

Interesting Guardian article on possible shift on views on death penalty in America, for pragmatic rather than moral reasons (my reader will be interested to know that that reflects my own view - in favour of the death penalty in principle, but not in practice). Interesting that some anti- campaigners seem peeved that it's miscarriages of justice which are changing minds and that not all their fellow anti- campaigners are against it on moral grounds. Most interesting, counter-intuitive, fact: 'A typical capital case costs at least three and a half times as much as lifetime incarceration. New Jersey has passed 60 death sentences, overturned 50 on appeal, and still not executed any of the 10 men left on death row. Having spent more than a quarter of a billion dollars executing nobody, it's expected to abolish its death penalty this year.'