Thursday, 31 December 2009

colourful elephant parade comes to shopping centre

Colourful elephant parade comes to shopping centre: Artists are creating 250 model elephants across London for Elephant Family, the only charity in the UK solely dedicated to saving the Asian elephant from extinction.
- London SE1, 29 December. We've been seeing the painting going on in the unit in the shopping centre. The official Elephant Parade site is here.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

the best viral videos of the decade

The best viral video of the decade: We came, we saw, we LOL'ed and WTF'ed
- Salon, 26 December

down with the kids: christmas charity

Down with the kids: Christmas charity. Our boys have instructed Santa to swoop down to deliver a flock of chickens to an unsuspecting villager in the developing world
Santa – who lives at the Norf Powl, according to the address our six-year-old wrote on the envelope in his charmingly bonkers handwriting – has an extra delivery this year. On Christmas night, operating on written instructions from our two boys, the bearded one will swoop down to deliver a flock of chickens to an unsuspecting villager in the developing world. It's hard to know who will be more weirded-out: the hard-working farmer, looking up to see an overdressed symbol of northern Christian hegemony bearing down upon her with his deeply sinister laugh; or the reindeer, prey animals who will be jittery and nervous as they scent the local fauna; or the chickens themselves, jet-lagged and mad yet no doubt elated to have escaped the northern hemisphere at this dangerous time for fowl. The camera pulls out to reveal the sleigh looking incongruous amid mud huts, while white chicken feathers float like snowflakes through the tropical night. The soundtrack is We Wish You a Merry Christmas played on a thumb piano. That's basically the title sequence of this year's Down with the Kids Christmas special, which is called, A Poultry Donation.
The shot cuts to suburbia with the caption, "three weeks earlier". My family disembarks from our dented Renault Scenic, symbolising our status as westerners. There's a Christmas tree on the roof rack: we take it inside, and stick it in a bucket, and my wife and I exchange smug glances as our boys decorate only the low branches of it and smash only half the baubles. The Christmas presents are all bought, an optimal whisky-to-Nurofen ratio has been established, and our baby girl gurgles happily while Sinatra croons We Wish You A Merry Christmas on the stereo. But wait. There's something missing. Ah yes, that's it: the true meaning of Christmas. We gather the boys and ask whether there's anyone less fortunate than ourselves who we should be thinking of, this Christmas time. "Yes!" shouts our three-year-old. "Lucy!" Lucy is his grandparents' terrier. "Apart from Lucy," we say. Our six-year-old sticks up his hand. "Oooh!" he says, "I know! The poor children!" It seems they've covered this in school, along with spelling and five-a-day vegetables. There follows a genuinely touching scene where the boys race upstairs, empty their piggy banks, and rush back down with a football sock full of pennies. After counting, it turns out the boys have £8.54 to make the world a fairer place. We agree to supply top-up funds in case it isn't enough.
Christmas is a chance to teach kids two things that will serve them in life: compassion, and comparison shopping. We work out how to get the most goodwill for our loot. Live animal donations to overseas farming families quickly emerge as the kids' favourite, and chickens are their preferred option.
It turns out that Save the Children will do 40 chickens to a poor family for £29, or one piglet for the same price. Cafod will do an unspecified number of chickens for £20 but, winningly, they will do two piglets for £25. This is where our Christmas movie borrows a scene from Russel Crowe in A Beautiful Mind. We show our working on the windows with wax pencils. Assuming that the value differential for their chickens is equal to that of their pigs, then Cafod should be providing 64 chickens for £20. The maths behind this is so complex that I go mad while doing it and it falls to my wife to key in the order.
As the end credits roll, Sinatra and the thumb piano merge in unsettling discord. The movie goes to split-screen. In one frame, our three kids are tucked up asleep in their beds on Christmas Eve, while in the other frame, three little kids in Africa are kept awake by chickens.
- Guardian, 11 December

once every village had a wood turner

How to turn a bowl on a pole lathe: Once every village had a wood turner; now there's only one man in the country making a living from his lathe
- Guardian, 12 December

wolves' mick mccarthy floored by arsène wenger's criticism

Wolves' Mick McCarthy floored by Arsène Wenger's criticism
Mick McCarthy last night responded to Arsène Wenger's criticism of his controversial decision to rest all 10 outfield players for Wolves' midweek match at Manchester United by claiming he had "more honesty and integrity in his little finger" than the Arsenal manager possessed.
The Wolves manager, engaging in a colourful press conference, was referring to Wenger's suggestion earlier in the week that he had damaged the "international credibility of the Premier League" by fielding a weakened team. McCarthy refused to accept that argument, admitted he would do the same again and claimed the only manager entitled to complain was Owen Coyle, who brings his Burnley side to Molineux tomorrow.
...
McCarthy said he had received "lots of support" from other managers "because of some of the ridiculous, scathing, outrageous comments that have been made about me". He was particularly grateful to Coyle. "The one person who has got the right to bleat is Owen Coyle. But he didn't. He's seen that it's the right thing to do. He's a proper bloke. He's come up through the leagues."
The Wolves manager later sparked widespread laughter with his suggestion that he has also had messages from further afield. "Some good has come out of it," he said. "I had a lovely letter which read, 'Dear Mick, thank you for taking the pressure off me. I've really had a tough time of late, all the best, Tiger'. I've heard he's driving around Florida in an open-top singing, 'Super Mick McCarthy'. The latest email is from Thierry Henry. He seems to think I've taken some of the heat off him as well."
On a more serious note the Wolves manager said he would "be happy to see anyone" in response to the Premier League's request for an explanation for his team selection. Not that they might want to hear all of his views. "Some of the nonsense being spouted about unfair doing this and that, well, I think it's a little unfair that you should ask teams to come up from the Championship and play against teams that have spent £400m-£500m over the last few years."
An Arsenal spokesman refused to comment other than to say: "The timing of Mick McCarthy's comments came after Arsène Wenger's press conference."
- Guardian, 19 December

an archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have

If Agatha Christie's novels had in them more lines of wit like this from her, quoted recently in the Guardian, they would be a lot better:

An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets the more interested he is in her.

the best "christmas carol" ever

The best "Christmas Carol" ever: Forget Patrick Stewart, Alastair Sim and (please!) Jim Carrey. Nobody gets Dickens like George C. Scott
- Salon, 24 December. interesting article pitching for George C Scott's TV version (filmed in Shrewsbury) as the best Christmas Carol on film. It is an American site, of course. Very faithful, they say. We've watched it, in Shrewsbury. It was quite good. Michael Caine in the Muppet Christmas Carol, I'm keen on also - the whole Muppet CC is very good. We got the Alastair Sim version ourselves this Christmas - we'll see if it's as very good as I remember it.

the atlas of true names

The Atlas of True Names, an interesting photo feature in the Daily Telegraph - 'a collection of world maps that replace the traditional names of the world's cities, countries, mountains and rivers with new ones that reflect their origins and literal meaning'. Available from MapsOnline.co.uk.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

murray puts his religion before rugby

Murray puts his religion before rugby: Scotland prop will miss Six Nations opener after refusing to play on Sundays
- Independent, 16 November. (BBC version here.)

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

I am a closet christian

I am a closet Christian: At least, I was until now. Because in my circle, nothing is more embarrassing than being religious
- Salon, 21 December

living in stephen king’s world

Living in Stephen King’s World: 34 Years Under the Dome
- Salon, 21 December

it's a steal: sales stack up at asda

It's a steal: sales stack up at Asda. The huge Wembley store is expecting to take £1.85m in just four days next week
- Guardian, 18 December

Extracts:
Asda's chief executive, Andy Bond, resplendent in a festive red company fleece, has arrived to help out on the shopfloor – though his attempts at bag-packing are greeted with acute embarrassment from customers and colleagues alike: "He's a very poor packer", says Tracy, the store events manager who is dressed in a Santa suit and is constantly chortling "ho, ho, ho." "Look!" she says in horror. "He's put all that heavy stuff on top of the eggs."
The Wembley store, in the shadow of the stadium, is not exactly your average Asda: 75% of the 70,000 customers who visit every week are from ethnic minorities, so the store sells far less alcohol than other shops and very little pork. Scanning the shelves of Spam and tinned ham, Johnson says they rarely need refilling: "We just dust them."
...
In the grip of recession, the high street has had a tough year. But the supermarkets have proved exceptionally resilient, and Bond reckons sales will be huge next week, possibly 20% higher than last year "because the whole nation is off for four days". Asda has been raking back through its archives to 1998 – the last time Christmas was on a Friday – in an attempt to predict shopping patterns and get the right goods on to the shelves.
...
There are many signs of recession – from lower staff turnover to queues for marked-down goods and a big rise in "put-backs" – where shoppers pick a product and then ditch it in another part of the store or at the till when they realise they cannot afford it.
At this store, put-backs have hit 70-80 trolleyloads a day. If the goods are frozen or chilled, they often have to be thrown away. Wednesdays, which was previously one of the quietest days of the week, is now far busier – Wednesday is also benefits day.

Monday, 21 December 2009

the circle line isn't a circle any more

All change please – how new Tube line left passengers baffled: Where the old Circle line was creaking and unreliable, the new one, which opened yesterday, is incomprehensible, says Andy McSmith
- Independent, 15 December.

This means you can't do what I did once, and stay on the Circle line all the way round till you come back where you started, which I did one Saturday from High St Kensington when I had time to kill between finishing shopping there and going to the cinema there. I sat and read a book on the tube. It took an hour.

jimmy carr and the paralympics joke

Jimmy Carr: 'I thought my Paralympics joke was totally acceptable': The comedian explains, for the first time, why he doesn't regret telling his notorious gag about amputee soldiers
- Guardian, 5 November. That joke seems a lot less offensive than a lot of his material (the article quotes two of his apparently many rape jokes: 'What's the difference between football and rape? Women don't like football'; '99% of women kiss with their eyes closed, which is why it's so difficult to identify a rapist'). But he seems to be using the unsustainable argument that anything goes as long as it's funny, and isn't pressed on how this applies to, for example, racist humour.

Another extract:
Carr was a Christian until his 20s but has now – under the influence of Richard Dawkins and a friend at college – turned on God with a vengeance. He was very close to his mother, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2001. ("It was a brutal time," he says, "slow and unremittingly bleak.") After her death, he and his elder brother fought a very public battle with their father over their younger sibling, who had chosen to live with his brothers.
In his mid-20s, Carr says, he was so unhappy he could hardly get out of bed. He was a virgin until he was 26 ("it was a weird thing"), hated his job in the marketing department at Shell, chucked it in and turned to comedy (and therapy) instead. He reconstructed his life, with comedy as its driving force.
- I'd heard this about Jimmy before. Bleak amorality as a destination after leaving faith behind is not unusual, and perfectly logical to me really - what else is there?

the fifth plinth

This, The Fifth Plinth, was the best thing I saw on the Fourth Plinth of Anthony Gormley, One and Other. The photographer was on the plinth, and the photographer's companion roped out an area in the square below the fourth plinth and induced people to stand in it, whereupon the photographer took their photo, producing this Flickr gallery of portraits of people passing through Trafalgar Square.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

alternative cracker jokes

The feature in today's Guardian magazine, filling many pages (and two pages on the website - here and here) with a handful of jokes received from comedians asked to provide alternative and better jokes for crackers, was surprising mainly for how few of them managed to meet this simple brief and how many relied on crudity and are apparently unable to come up with a straightforward joke suitable for all the family.

Perhaps surprisingly, Jimmy Carr did the business most straightforwardly ('What’s orange and sounds like a parrot? A carrot.') but Jo Brand's was my favourite:
A French Cat, Un Deux Trois, and an English cat, One Two Three, went for a swimming race round a lake. Who won?
One Two Three, because Un Deux Trois Quatre Cinque.

Years ago I remember John Anscombe, I think (or Alison Lyon, or Alison telling John's story), saying he'd told the first line of the 'What’s orange and sounds like a parrot?' joke to someone, a child I think, and they thought about it and replied 'Ian Paisley'.

elvis movies, david tennant lists

A couple of facts from the Christmas Radio Times radio listings:
- Elvis turned down lead roles in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and West Side Story (his film career could have been something quite different)
- when David Tennant was a boy he had a little book in which he noted what was in the pop charts each week, and once when he got a big box of chocolates he listed all its contents and then noted which ones he ate when.

census discrepancy between christian and churchgoer percentages

The Open University are doing an interesting survey around the discrepancy between the high percentage of people in the UK Census who self-describe as Christians and the much lower percentage who say they attend regularly or are involved in a church. The survey is ongoing, and the stats update as more people complete it.

latest episode in the e&c redevelopment saga

Elephant & Castle: Lend Lease deal under scrutiny. On Monday night members of Southwark's cross-party overview and scrutiny committee examined the council's decision to enter into a heads of terms agreement with Lend Lease Europe for the regeneration of the Elephant & Castle.
- London SE1, 9 December

beatles still saving emi after 40 years

Beatles still saving EMI after 40 years
- BBC, 14 December

Extract:
Not for the first time, EMI's continued survival is due in large part to the fact that it owns the recorded works of the most successful group in history.
In the Beatles' heyday, back in the 1960s, EMI was one of four music companies that dominated the British charts. The others were Decca, Philips and Pye.
One by one, the others fell by the wayside, all swallowed up by what is now Universal Music Group (UMG).
But while they stumbled, EMI coasted through the 1970s, sustained by the enormous worldwide profits that the Fab Four's albums and singles continued to amass.
That leaves it as the last big UK record company, competing with French-owned UMG, US-based Warner and Japan's Sony.
...
EMI is not the only record company turning past glories into a present-day revenue stream, although the near-£200 price tag on its Beatles box sets has angered many fans.
But the latest back-catalogue bonanza could be EMI's last big chance to make serious money from its most valuable tunes - in Europe, at least.
At present, record labels have exclusive rights to sell sound recordings in the EU for a period of 50 years. After that, other companies can put out their own editions.
Unless the law is changed, the first Beatles record, Love Me Do, will go out of copyright at the end of 2012.
In April, the European Parliament voted to extend the copyright protection to 70 years, but the move has still to be approved by the European Council.
In the US, the picture is very different. Thanks to a series of overlapping federal and state laws, virtually all sound recordings are subject to legal protection until 2067.
However, multinational record companies would be reluctant to invest the time and effort that went into the Beatles' remastering if they could not be sure of reaping a worldwide return.
So why is EMI still reliant on music that was recorded in the last century? Why has it not discovered new talents that can reduce its dependence on the archives?
Well, the label does boast the likes of Robbie Williams, Lily Allen and Coldplay on its current roster.
But all those artists were signed before the company was taken over by Guy Hands' private equity firm, Terra Firma, in 2007.
In the two-and-a-half years since the deal was done, EMI has attracted attention in various ways, but musical creativity has not been one of them.
Artists who prided themselves on their originality did not warm to a new boss who was routinely described in profiles as "karaoke-loving".
For his part, Mr Hands took a look at EMI's bottom line and was appalled.
"We discovered that new music over the last 18 months had lost £130m," he told the BBC in January 2008.
"In fact, new music had not been profitable ever since the digital age arrived."
Mr Hands' cost-cutting methods were part of the standard turnaround tactics employed by private equity firms, in their quest to revamp underperforming companies and sell them on.
However, such an approach had never been tried at a record company before - and the results were counter-productive.
...
But the fundamental problem was that Terra Firma had paid too much for EMI at the height of the private equity boom, making the resulting debt - most of it owed to investment bank Citigroup - unsustainable.

red barchetta and a nice morning drive

Interesting article on the day the writer of the short story on which Neil Peart based Red Barchetta, met Neil Peart. The motorbike road trip's not so interesting to me, but the other stuff is, not least how long it was before they connected.

belief discrimination press release article

A press release, in the form of a ready-to-go article, from employment law firm on recent legal cases involving 'belief discrimination' reflecting a broadening meaning of what that might cover.

Friday, 18 December 2009

doyley

"Re: Lloyd Doyley's nickname (Sean Cassidy, yesterday's letters). Surely Watford's player's should just call him 'Doyley' - then at least one of their players could be found on top of the table" - Tom Murray-Rust.
- letter from the Guardian Fiver football email of 10 December

four more from agatha

Mrs McGinty's Dead (1952); The Hollow (1946); Evil Under The Sun (1941); Dumb Witness (1937). Chewing gum for the mind, really. One of them had a cover illustration which gave away a plot twist only revealed on p135 of the 190-page book, which I thought rather careless. A year from now I won't remember who did any of them; in fact I've already forgotten who did the first of the four I read.

The Hollow was another one in which you are reminded that staff were more committed to their employer than to telling the truth to the police, viewed as a rather lower-class institution.

Mrs McGinty's Dead one of those where it's just too hard work trying to distinguish between the interchangeable suspects. A Poirot novel, it's enlivened a little by the appearance of Ariadne Oliver, the lady detective novelist who curses herself for having created a foreign detective character she detests but is very popular with readers, Sven Hjerson. This exchange - with a playwright adapting one of her books for the stage - may be autobiographical, or may just be Agatha teasing her readers (p115 in my 1974 Fontana edition):
'But I really don't feel it's right making him a vegetarian, darling,' Robin was objecting. 'Too faddy. And definitely not glamorous.'
'I can't help it,' said Mrs. Oliver obstinately. 'He's *always* been a vegetarian. He takes round a little machine for grating raw carrots and turnips.'
'But, Ariadne, precious, *why*?'
'How do I know?' said Mrs. Oliver crossly. 'How do I know why I ever thought of the revolting man? I must have been mad! Why a Finn when I know nothing about Finland? Why a vegetarian? Why ll the idiotic mannerisms he's got? These things just *happen*. You try something - and people seem to like it - and then you go on - and before you know where you are, you've got someone like that maddening Sven Hjerson tied to you for life. And people even write and say how fond you must be of him. Fond if him? If I met that bony, gangling, vegetable-eating Finn in real life, I'd do a better murder than any I've ever invented.'

In Dumb Witness, Agatha used the expression 'namby-pampy' (on p90 of my 1970s Fontana edition), which I've only known as 'namby-pamby', and that's how she spells it on p91. 'Negatived' appears on p106: 'I suggested to Poirot that a visit to the lawyer, Mr. Purvis, might be a good thing, but Poirot negatived the idea strongly.' Chapter 18 is called 'A Nigger in the Woodpile'. And an interesting insight into how suffragism might have been viewed, when one character says: 'I think she's rather anti-man. Probably used to chain herself to railings and wave a suffragette flag in good old pre-war days.'

the graduate

Read The Graduate by Charles Webb, which was made into the film. I don't remember the film in detail, but the book is written in a very sparse 'turn me into a film' style, heavy on dialogue and description of action and light on internal monologue and motivation. Perhaps due to the latter, the characters aren't very sympathetic nor their actions very believable.

It reminds me of Catcher In The Rye - which I also found pointless and dull - in that I suspect you have to be close to the age of the protagonist, and possibly also American, to like it. The odd thing about Catcher in the Rye is that I subsequently read I think all of JD Salinger's other books after I came to London, and thought they were great.

Another book in my mental list of 'books on which notable films were based'. Gone With The Wind still sits by my bedside, staring at me like a big brick.

The thing I seem to remember from the film, though now amn't sure if this is actually the way it goes, is that at the end he arrives at the wedding just after they've actually got married, not before, but she still runs away with him.

doctor who's submarine propellers

Danny Baker mentioned this story on Saturday, and it seems to be true:
'Amusingly, on March 13th [1972], two days after the transmission of The Sea Devils part three, the Doctor Who office was visited by two officials of the Ministry of Defence, who were concerned about footage in the episode they believed was of a top-secret prototype submarine. It transpired that the submarine was actually a model devised by visual effects man Peter Day who, in an effort to make the prop look more advanced, had accidentally included design features -- most notably sleeker propellers -- similar to those the government was actually testing.'
- quote from very detailed Doctor Who fansite

'A model of a submarine was created by purchasing a Woolworth's submarine model kit and then altering the propeller. By chance, the alterations to the model strongly resembled an actual prototype submarine being developed by the Ministry of Defence. After footage of the model was broadcast as part of the story, producer Barry Letts received a visit from two Ministry of Defence officials, who were concerned that the footage was of the prototype.'
- from the equivalent Wikipedia entry.

my son died from solvent abuse

My son died from solvent abuse: In 1988, Barbara Skinner's son Darren died, aged 16, after sniffing solvent from a can of deodorant. She tells Stuart Jeffries about her 20-year campaign to warn others about the dangers of substance abuse from products sold over the counter
- Guardian, 12 December.

Extract: 'Barbara found out all she could after Darren's death. The most amazing fact she learned was that volatile substance abuse (VSA) kills more children aged 10 to 15 than all illegal drugs put together. More than a third of VSA deaths are first-time users.'

come softly to me

Come Softly To Me, by The Fleetwoods. Sometimes you listen to a song which you've known and liked forever and listen to it properly and are struck by how extraordinarily amazing it is. The main theme is one of those whic is so perfectly circular you can hum it all day.

I've never heard anything else by The Fleetwoods, but I would like to - I can't imagine it's atypical of their sound.

I'm In Love With A German Film Star, by The Passions, is a song I love equally, but I find it hard to imagine that if I ever hear anthing else by them it'll be anything like it or anywhere near as good. (I knew it before, but the particular memory I find it brings back is of the cafe at the Aberdeen University Union, where they had it on the jukebox and I used to put it on and eat some barbecue flavour reconstituted meat thing with chips and a pint of orange juice with almost no one else there of an evening. Last time I looked, which was some time ago, there was nothing of theirs available on CD.

Of course the joys of the internet, not to mention Youtube itself, means that I could hear more of both very easily.

family christmas traditions

Family Christmas traditions: Family Christmas traditions are fiercely resistant to change, but is there a compromise to be made?
- Guardian, 12 December 2009

Thursday, 17 December 2009

berneray beach in thai advert

A Thai tourism advert used one of John Kirriemuir's photos of a Berneray beach to represent one of their beaches. Full info and links on his Silversprite blog.

Monday, 14 December 2009

the power of pink

The power of pink: The 'pinkification' of little girls – their clothes, their bedrooms, their toys – is a very recent phenomenon. So why did the launch this month of a campaign against the colour's dominance cause such uproar?
- Guardian, 12 December.

Extracts:
Towards the end of the great war, in June 1918, America's most authoritative women's magazine, the Ladies' Home Journal (it still exists), had a few wise words of advice for fretting mothers. "There has been a great diversity of debate on the subject," it wrote, "but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger colour, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl."
A few years earlier, the Sunday Sentinel had been of the same opinion: "use pink for the boy and blue for the girl," it said in March 1914, "if you are a follower of convention." So accepted, in fact, was this convention that as late as 1927 Time magazine was observing, on the obviously disappointing birth to Princess Astrid of Belgium of a daughter rather than the infinitely preferable son, that the cradle had been "optimistically decorated in pink, the colour for boys".
This is, as you may have noticed, no longer the case. For maybe the past decade or so, little girls have inhabited a universe that is, almost entirely, pink. It is made up not just of pink princesses and fairies and ballerinas and fluffy bunnies, but of books, bikes, lunchboxes, board games, toy cookers, cash registers, even games consoles, all in shades of pink.
...
Back in the 1800s, most children were dressed alike. Gender differences weren't really apparent until they could walk, or later: boys and girls both wore dresses or skirts until they were six or so. By the end of the century, as the Ladies' Home Journal noted, boys' and girls' clothing styles began to diverge. According to Professor Jo Paoletti of the University of Maryland, pink emerged as an appropriate colour for boys because it was "a close relative of red, seen as a fiery, manly colour". Blue was considered better suited for girls because of its associations, in art, with the Virgin Mary.
It wasn't until after the second world war that the colour code was reversed. In 1948, as the author of an authoritative item in the Chicago Reader notes, "royal watchers reported that Princess Elizabeth was obviously expecting a boy, because a temporary nursery in Buckingham Palace was gaily decked out with blue satin bows".
...
A kind of fatalism, Walter says, seems to have crept in. "The view seems to be: 'Oh well, people tried, in the 60s and 70s, they tried all that non-sexist, anti-stereotyping stuff, and it didn't work. There's obviously nothing we can do about it, it's all laid down in our genes.' Whereas in fact that's not true: we never got the equality we set out to achieve. And now we all have to accede to the notion that little girls are naturally drawn to pink, and you're old-fashioned and over-serious and boring if you suggest otherwise."
Some are more explicit. "It's as if the women's movement had never existed," says Ed Mayo of Co-operatives UK, former head of the National Consumer Council and co-author of Consumer Kids: How Big Business Is Grooming Our Children for Profit. "It's staggering, the extent to which parents are now having to trade off their own values against the commercial interest of companies. Today's marketing assigns simple and very separate roles to boys and girls, and whips up peer pressure to police the difference."
All this happened, Mayo argues, "with the emergence of a children's market, and the need to differentiate between boys and girls: the need to make more money, basically. This isn't something that's genetically hard-wired, it's culturally created, and therefore it should be open to question." The children's market has now reached the stage, he says, where "it's no exaggeration to talk of a gender apartheid."
...
Commercial marketing, Palmer insists, is behind pinkification. "When you're two and a half or three,' she says, "you have two key instincts. The first is towards inclusion: the overpowering need to be part of the group. And at the same age, children become aware of gender. So there's this deep emotional need to be part of a group, and the group you want to be part of is your gender group – so that's how you capture them. Quite simply, the medium for catching girls is pink. The marketers have been at it, driving gender stereotypes, for 20 years; it's immensely insidious and it's mostly gone on under parents' radar."
But is it really so important? Do little girls really graduate from playing with pink princesses to wanting to be a WAG? There is, certainly, evidence to suggest "sexualisation" makes girls not just aspire to a particular kind of thing, but actually changes the way they think. A study by speech therapists in Durham found small children able to identify the colour blue, but saying "Barbie" when shown pink. A highly regarded US study indicated that anxiety about appearance can compromise brain function: young girls who had been asked to try on a swimsuit in a private dressing room before sitting a maths test performed notably worse than those who had been asked to try on a jumper.
"In the late 90s," says Angela McRobbie, cultural theorist and co-author of The Aftermath of Feminism, "feminism became repudiated and disparaged, as old hat, anti-fun. In this new era, girls and women are assumed to have gained equality, so feminism's no longer needed. At the same time, consumer culture has penetrated deep into the childrens' sector, and introduced a renewed, hard-and-fast form of gender difference. Consumer culture is exploiting the disappearance and devaluation of feminism – actually, it even claims to replace it, by being a 'champion of girls' in some respects, all the while creating new and younger markets."
So pinkification matters, McRobbie says, because it marks "a return to the past, but with the full force of contemporary marketing. It is so embedded in children's culture that it penalises the non-feminine child. It turns small five-year olds into one-dimensional fashion queens, and it narrows their realms of interest, and imagination.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

december ansible extracts

Terry Goodkind has been cruelly misjudged: 'First of all, I don't write fantasy. I write stories that have important human themes. They have elements of romance, history, adventure, mystery and philosophy. Most fantasy is one-dimensional. It's either about magic or a world-building. I don't do either.' (_USA Today_ interview, August) [RF]

_International SF Reshelving Day_ was announced for 18 November by John Leavitt: a guerrilla-shopper initiative in which sf and fantasy books not so classified would be moved to suitable genre shelves in shops. Richard Adams and Margaret Atwood (who tweeted 'Hilarious! Nov 18 my b'day ...') headed the list. After protests -- the main sufferers would be shop staff who'd need to carry all those books back again -- Leavitt changed his mind: 'Okay. ISFRD is a bad idea. Hell, it's a terrible idea. It's not my first, and I'm sure it won't be my last. But this one I can do something about. ISFRD is cancelled.' (Isfrd.org)

TELL ME THE OLD, OLD STORY. Morena Baccarin, the actress playing the lead alien in the new version of _V_, has a unique insight: 'Science fiction used to get a really bad rap and I think that's really changing. "V" is not necessarily a science-fiction show. It's more about relationships, drama and everyday stuff ...' (_Boston Herald_, 3 November) [DK]
Likewise BBC1's series _Paradox_, featuring Dick-style efforts to avert future disasters displayed by a precognitive computer: Tamzin Outhwaite, playing one of the would-be averters, says 'It's not sci-fi; it's more a police drama with a mad twist.' (_Total TV Guide_, 21-27 October) [MPJ] Ms Outhwaite did not reach this conclusion lightly: 'Initially I thought it was a sci-fi project ... Then I read the script and realised it wasn't. It's about police officers trying to work out whether there is a worm hole between two time zones.' (_Teletext TV Plus_ interview) [DH]

Another _V_ star, Elizabeth Mitchell, joins the peer group: '"I'm a dork and a nerd," admits the actress, who once breathlessly approached the son of _Dune_ author Frank Herbert in a bank. "They know I'm one of them. Completely. Like a wolf in sheep's clothing. I'm a sci-fi fan -- with a soccer mom on the outside."' (Dan Snierson interview, _Entertainment Weekly_, 6 November) [MMW]

- Ansible, December 2009

calvin on genesis 1

Amidst the plethora of anniversaries during the year 2009, it might have been easy to miss that of the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth in 1509. It was therefore appropriate that our last two Faraday Research seminars of this term tackled topics of relevance to Calvin and his theology. Prof. Paul Ewart from Oxford spoke on ‘The Necessity of Chance: Randomness, Purpose and the Sovereignty of God’ and Prof. Alister McGrath on the topic ‘Calvin's Contributions to the Emergence of Modern Science’. As Prof. McGrath pointed out, it was Calvin’s particular way of handling Scripture that was important in allowing natural philosophy to pursue its exploration of God’s universe without being distracted by the idea that the Bible was given to teach science. As Calvin wrote in his Commentary on Genesis, remarking on Chapter 1: “Nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere.”
- from the Faraday Institute newsletter, December 2009

views from opposite sides of the newspaper pay wall

Views from opposite sides of the newspaper pay wall
Lots of folks are writing these days about Rupert Murdoch's recent statement that News Corp. plans to stop its newspaper stories from being indexed by Google when it throws up a more comprehensive pay wall next year. His comments came days after the American Press Institute released an intriguing report on digital business models that exposed a gap between the industry's sense of its content's value and the public's perception. Hmm, "gap" isn't exactly the right word. Make that "yawning chasm."
API and ITZBelden surveyed daily-newspaper executives in North America in August and September, reaching a total of about 7% of the publications in the U.S. and Canada. Their responses were compared with results from consumer surveys aggregated by Belden earlier this year. The comparison revealed that news execs believed their stories were more valuable and harder to replace than readers did. For example, 52% of the readers surveyed said it would be somewhat easy or very easy to find a substitute for the online content that news industry websites were providing; 68% of the executives said the opposite.
- LA Times, 10 November

Friday, 11 December 2009

children in art galleries

Children in art galleries: an accident waiting to happen? Art galleries and museums are trying to make themselves increasingly family-friendly. Does it work – or are buggies and Bacon just not a good mix?
- Guardian, 1 December

minicab drivers who can play football

On his R5 programme last Saturday, Danny Baker said that a friend of his had said that professional footballers were essentially minicab drivers who could play football. He had the level of intellect, conversation, interests and abilities in mind - if they couldn't play football, they couldn't do anything else. Danny obviously felt he'd hit the nail on the head.

sigourney basketball; tellytubbie zombies

Two Youtube clips:

Sigourney Weaver really made that basketball shot in Alien Resurrection.

This is one of the most peculiar things I've ever seen, a gory zombie shootemup adapted (how?) to change the zombies into Tellytubbies. Not for the fainthearted, this one.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

antique mistakes

Olive oil bottle not the first antique cock-up revealed by Fiona...
Sadly we will not be seeing the moment when a collector is told on Antiques Roadshow that the bottle he had spent over a grand on was, in fact, an empty Tesco's olive oil bottle circa 2008.
Presenter Fiona Bruce revealed that the man's blushes will be spared. This has now become my second favourite antique mix-up story. Nothing can beat the case of the supposed Roman sestertius coin, "minted between AD135 and AD138" exhibited in a South Shields museum in 1971.
However, Miss Fiona Gordon, aged nine, pointed out that it was, in fact, a token given away free by a soft drinks firm and thus the dating was in her view, almost 2,000 years out.
The museum admitted eventually "we construed the letter 'R' on the coin to mean 'Roma'. In fact it stood for 'Robinsons'".
Moral of the story, antiques experts, is... get your eyes tested, and avoid girls called Fiona.
- Stuart Maconie, Daily Mirror, 27 August 2009. I didn't know he had a column there.

keith joseph; edge hill

Few people now remember Sir Keith Joseph, although he was the John the Baptist of Margaret Thatcher. For quite a while he was the industry minister, but he found it hard to cope with the demands of new technology, even the more primitive technology of the day.
During the recent recess, our colleague Brian Shallcross died of cancer. He was a wide-ranging political correspondent, perhaps best known for his ability to conduct a radio or TV interview extempore. Once he interviewed Sir Keith in the Midlands. The minister had begun by talking near gobbledygook for a minute and a half. When the interview ended, he told Shallcross: "You must take out the first 90 seconds of that."
"But we can't, secretary of state. It was live, and has already been seen by millions of people."
So Joseph replied: "And I don't want any of your technical excuses."

To a field in Warwickshire last weekend for the annual bash thrown by Bertrams, the giant book wholesaler that supplies nearly all independent bookshops.
...
Another speaker was Allan Mallinson, whose history of the British army is just out. He said that the army we have today was created by the battle of Edge Hill, which was a scrap between two ill-directed rabbles, ending with no real winner but 4,000 dead. Both sides then realised that they needed planning, organisation and discipline. What made the talk especially piquant was that we were in a sort of space bubble on top of the Heritage Motor Centre near Banbury, and you could clearly see Edge Hill from the windows.
- Simon Hoggart, Guardian, 17 October

mithridates and poison

Mithridatism is the practice of protecting oneself against a poison by gradually self-administering non-lethal amounts. The word derives from Mithridates VI, the King of Pontus, who so feared being poisoned that he regularly ingested small doses, aiming to develop immunity. Having been defeated by Pompey, legend has it that Mithridates tried to commit suicide using poison but failed because of his immunity and so had to resort to having a mercenary run him through with his sword.
- Wikipedia

Fuller accounts of his death on his own Wikipedia entry.

tails of the unexpected

Tails of the unexpected: Roald Dahl's children's books are full of barely submerged misogyny, lust and violence. The new film version of Fantastic Mr Fox is an ideal introduction to this fabulous, cruel world
- Will Self, Guardian, 17 October 2009.

Extracts:
A few months ago, I was coming out of the lavatory at Maison Bertaud, a fusty old patisserie in Soho, when I saw the familiar full-moon face of Simon Callow – actor, playwright, director, indeed all round homme de théâtre – eclipsing the window. For a moment I experienced the giddy thrill of fandom, and had to restrain myself from striding across the room and pumping him by his hand while exclaiming, "You're Simon Callow, aren't you?" I had to restrain myself not only because I dissent from the assumption that notoriety is a licence-to-accost, but also because this rhetorical question would then have mutated into the no doubt unwelcome encomium, "I just love your talking book of The Twits".
Who knows, perhaps Callow would be completely relaxed about my regarding his reading of Roald Dahl's children's story as his chef-d'oeuvre, but somehow I doubt it. After all, not long after this near encounter I saw him effortlessly upstage Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, playing Pozzo to their distinctly sweet-cured Estragon and Vladimir in a grown-up production of Waiting for Godot. But while Callow's Pozzo may have been magnificent, no recollection of it will ever fill my heart with joy the way his fabulously orotund declamation of the opening lines of The Twits does.
...
Dahl mimicked to perfection a believable child's-eye view, that, looking up from below, sees the adult realm as foreshortened, and adult foibles as grossly elongated. I say this with confidence, but I'm not the ideal critic of Dahl's children's writing, for the simple reason that I was never exposed to it during childhood. In theory, I could've read – or been read – James and the Giant Peach (1961), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) and The Magic Finger (1966), but by the time Dahl published Fantastic Mr Fox (1970) I was out of the zone. Children's literature is in this respect rather like pop music – until it reaches classic status it has a rigid generational stratigraphy.
...
I was once with Martin Amis when he was asked if he'd ever consider writing a children's book. He thought for a few moments before drawling: "I might . . . if I had brain damage." I don't take that view – for me a great children's book transcends the age group of its intended readership as completely as a great science fiction or detective novel transcends its genre. And it takes a fully engaged writer to write one; after all, Lewis Carroll may have been a repressed paedophile, but he certainly wasn't cognitively impaired. With Dahl there does seem a case for suggesting that it was the beneficial loss of at least some of his faculties that transformed him from a so-so writer for adults into a masterful one for children.
...
I'm more interested in Dahl's children's fiction as a perfectly achieved analogue of his distinctive worldview, with those elements that are wholly unsuitable for children obliterated – as if by some insult to the brain – yet their ghosts informing what remains. Dahl had a good war: an RAF fighter pilot, he achieved record numbers of "kills", and his early short stories traded on his wartime experiences. And yet can there ever really be such a thing as "a good war"? Even from the air the obliteration of human life is a vile business, while especially from up above, the pretensions of human morality are miniaturised. In Dahl-world, political institutions are shoved well to the background, while the notion of an orderly society is never seriously entertained: at best we have a little community anti-authoritarianism, as in Danny, the Champion of the World.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

ringing the changes: phone box becomes mini-library

Ringing the changes: phone box becomes mini-library. Village that was set to lose its traditional red phone box and library service comes up with plan to save both
- Guardian, 30 November

shirley williams: 'I didn't think I was good enough to be leader'

Shirley Williams: 'I didn't think I was good enough to be leader'. Shirley Williams talks about a political career that has spanned almost 60 years, and taken her from Labour to the SDP, then the Lib Dems and now the House of Lords.
- Guardian, 19 October.

Extracts:
She doesn't think Brown is bonkers, as a matter of fact. She thinks he is rather a good thing – to the consternation of some in her party she became an adviser to Brown on nuclear proliferation when he became PM – but recognises that emotionally he is hopeless. "Gordon is such a complicated man," she says. "As a person to work with he is terrific. You can talk to him, he is open to ideas, he's interested, he's intellectually connected. There's a lot of me that respects a lot of him, but his inability to communicate and this extraordinary inability to feel what the public mood is is very strange. It's worse than it was. When he used to spend a lot of time in Scotland, he wasn't like that and people saw him as being very much in touch with the public mood. But not now, I think partly because he's absolutely wrung out with work. His response to everything is to work harder, but he's already working as hard as it's possible for a human being to work."
...
And what if she had accepted Peter Mandelson's olive branch in the mid-90s and returned to the Labour fold? Might she, as an elder stateswoman, have tempered Tony Blair's excesses? "No," she insists. "Blair was a very considerable politician and a brilliant communicator, but he took the view that he could learn nothing at all from the past. I remember Jim Callaghan saying to me on one occasion that he thought Blair had probably seen Thatcher three times as often as he'd seen him. Callaghan was quite pained by that, because what was clear was that if Blair had wanted to continue with the Labour tradition he would have talked to Jim. But he didn't. He talked to Thatcher because he essentially saw the country as a business. You remember all that stuff about Britain plc and so on? All absolute rubbish: you can't run a country as if it was a company."

Friday, 4 December 2009

azeri snipers

Before kick-off at Azerbaijan v England in 2007, an Azeri army sniper team based in a tower next to the away section politely asked some supporters not to tie an England flag in their 'vision of fire'. Despite regiments of Azeri army conscripts being stationed around the pitch to beef up security and add to the match atmosphere, it was left to England keeper Paul Robinson to apprehend a lone Azeri pitch invader during the match. I sometimes wonder how that protester is shaping up today as the last time I saw him a soldier appeared to be dragging the unfortunate off the pitch by his scrotum.
- from a letter from Paul Whitaker in When Saturday Comes, November 2009

Thursday, 3 December 2009

football coaching in england

England has far fewer qualified coaches than any comparable footballing nation. By 2012, the FA predicts that just 40 more Englishmen will obtain the top qualification, the UEFA Pro Licence, bringing our total to just under 150 (Spain has 2,140). Things get worse further down the scale: there are 895 UEFA 'A' qualified coaches in England. In Spain, there are 12,720. This culture extends deep into the youth system, where the decent coaches complain that they're judged solely on results and argue in vain that playing to win might not bring the best out of a nine-year-old child.
- When Saturday Comes, November 2009

dwight yorke and roy keane

Dwight Yorke still has the shocking, X-rated and abusive text message Roy Keane sent him after walking out on his first job in management.
Yorke pinged his old Manchester United team-mate a heartfelt phone text, commiserating with him after Keane dramatically quit Sunderland.
But Keane's blunt three-word reply still shocks his fellow United Treble winner to this day.
And Yorke reveals: "The rumours of his departure had been flying around for a while, but when it happened it was still a surprise.
"So I sent him a text saying how sorry I was how things had turned out, but thanking him for the chance at Sunderland and wishing him all the best for the future.
"Ten minutes later, I got my reply: 'Go f*** yourself.'
- News of the World, 27 September

sebastian faulks and roy hodgson

Sebastian Faulks, keen to add authenticity to his latest novel, A Week in December, arranged for a meeting with a Premier League football manager to bolster his knowledge of the lifestyles of soccer stars. He chose Roy Hodgson, manager of Fulham, thinking that a few well-chosen questions would elicit all the information he needed. It was not to be. Hodgson, an unusually cerebral coach, would answer Faulks’s questions briefly before he asked: “But tell me, what do you think about J. P. Donleavy?”
- Times, 9 September

Sunday, 29 November 2009

royal household football team; death row team

In the show of Saturday 7 November, Danny Baker took an email from Daniel Robinson whose London Saturday football team about five years ago played a team called Royal Household, a team made up of Kensington Palace staff. Their home ground was a pitch in the palace grounds that doubled as Princess Anne's helipad. Their match was interrupted, they took the goals off and stood well back, the helicopter landed and a Bentley drove on to pick her up.

The story reminded them of a story they'd had in the past from someone who refereed a game in Hong Kong involving a church team going into a prison and playing a death row team, and they wondered how ineffectual yellow cards might be against the latter.

danny kelly sees the who with a car battery

According to Danny Baker, on his show of Saturday 17 October, Danny Kelly saw The Who at the Valley, Charlton Athletic's ground, where seventy-five thousand people saw them play the loudest open air concert ever, and he took a car battery and a portable television with him, because England were playing a match at the same time.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

peter pan and the princess

Peter Pan and the princess: Sir James "JM" Barrie, author of Peter Pan, was revealed yesterday to have undertaken an unusual royal collaboration.
When Princess Margaret unveiled a plaque commemorating the 85th anniversary of Peter Pan's statue in Kensington Gardens, she recalled how she was befriended, at the age of three, by the celebrated writer.
Sir James was so impressed with the young princess that he used her words in a play and paid her 14 newly minted pennies by way of royalties.
Princess Margaret explained how Sir James sat next to her at her third birthday party and later wrote a description of their meeting for Cynthia Asquith's book The King's Daughters.
He said: "Some of her presents were on the table, simple things that might have come from the sixpenny shops, but she was in a frenzy of glee over them, especially about one to which she had given the place of honour by her plate.
"I said to her as one astounded, 'Is that really your very own?' and she saw how I envied her and immediately placed it between us with the words 'It is yours and mine'."
Soon after the party, the princess heard someone speak of him, and remarked: "I know that man. He is my greatest friend, and I am his greatest friend."
Barrie incorporated the phrases in his last play, The Boy David, and when he next met the Princess, agreed that, as a collaborator in the production, she would receive a penny for each performance.
The play closed after a short run and Sir James assumed Margaret had forgotten his promise. However, in 1937, her father, George VI, wrote Barrie a playful reminder that, if he did not pay up, he would hear from the royal solicitors.
So the writer drew up a formal agreement to pay, which still exists in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle. It was the last thing Barrie wrote. He died on 19 June, 1937.
- Independent, 2 May 1997

nick griffin's views are far from outdated

Nick Griffin's views are far from outdated: In the past, discussions over population were often overshadowed by ideas of 'Us' and 'Them'
- Ian Jack, Guardian, 24 October

Extracts:
However foolish Nick Griffin may have been on Question Time, one thing he said rang true: that if Winston Churchill were alive today, the British National party would be the only party that would have him. Churchill had notably racist opinions. About Indians, as the historian Ramachandra Guha has written, he could be "truly dreadful". Leo Amery, his long-suffering secretary of state for India, recorded many Churchillian moments in his diary. One from September 1942 reads: "During my talk with Winston he burst out with, 'I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion'." The next year hundreds of thousands of people lay dead or dying from starvation in Bengal. When the cabinet was discussing the possibility that grain might be sent to relieve this appalling famine, Amery writes that the prime minister butted in with "a flourish on Indians breeding like rabbits and being paid a million a day by us for doing nothing about the war".
In the end Amery wondered if his boss was '"really quite sane" about India.
...
Thompson's figure has yet to be reached – the UK population now stands between 61 and 62 million – but the projections carry on. Last year the European Union forecast 76.7 million by 2060 to make the UK the most populous country in Europe. This week the Office for National Statistics calculated the figure would hit 70 million by 2029, with two thirds of the increase coming from new migrants and their children. But just as earlier projections couldn't factor in unknowables and yet-to-come-ables such as the effects of war and immigration, the present ones can take no account of a possibly severe alteration to the British economy.
What does this history tell us? That, in McCleary's words, "attempting to forecast the future arrangements of human society is notoriously a hazardous undertaking". Some things are unimaginable. Could Charles ever have imagined a UK population of 70 million? Could Churchill have imagined that the British steel industry would be owned by the beastly Indians? In this complicated, hazardous world, the BNP is the stupid voice of certainty from another time.

michael green: master of the universe

Michael Green: Master of the universe. Michael Green is the new Lucasian chair of mathematics at Cambridge – following in the footsteps of Newton and Hawking. So does the pioneer of string theory think he holds the answers to life's mysteries?
- Guardian, 24 October.

Extracts:
Usefulness can be a bit of a fraught word in the looping corridors of the Centre for Mathematical Sciences at the leafy edges of Cambridge, however, not least because of recent suggestions from the Science and Technology Facilities Council that levels of future funding will be linked to the degree to which research might contribute to the British economy. Science has, on balance, been very well funded by Labour, says Green, and particle physics and astronomy have so far been more or less exempt from such requirements, but the whole idea has the potential to be "disastrous for certain types of science". (Though "it would be much more disastrous for non-science. I have colleagues who are historians or linguists or whatever who have no idea what's going to happen").
"Throw your mind back to when Faraday was working on electromagnetism, when there was apparently no use whatsoever for electricity OR magnetism. There's a famous quote – I think it was Gladstone – who asked, 'What use is it'? And Faraday is reputed to have said, 'Someday, sir, you will tax it'."
...
I wonder if his parents were religious, and whether he is: I cannot but imagine that routinely contemplating 11 dimensions and a constantly expanding universe (only 20% of the matter in which is currently understood, the rest being dark matter. And that's not to mention dark energy, or the multiverse) might induce a kind of existential vertigo, and thus nihilism, or belief, or total rejection. Some properly thought-through accommodation with the idea of divinity, at least. Dimensions, particularly, seem to me to require a certain leap of faith. He admits to regularly feeling awe, but the dimensions don't seem to trouble him much – mostly because, rather than trying to imagine them in space, they generally exist, for him, as letters and numbers in equations.
He doesn't believe in God. "My parents were very unreligious. Extremely. I presume they influenced me. I'm sort of jealous of people who do have faith. I suppose it depends on the sort of god you have faith in, but it gives you security, I guess.
"I get angry with people who are wildly atheist, because they sort of deny any humanity whatsoever. They deny the poetry – and they talk as if we understand everything, including love, and actually there are beautiful things which can move you in ways that presumably can be understood entirely in terms of complex pathways in the brain, but that's still not a useful way of thinking of them. So I get annoyed by ultra-atheists who aren't willing to tolerate anything – I suppose I'm less atheist than that."

godel

Philip Welch who, to my astonishment, I discovered, after the programme, was appearing on radio for the first time (the seam of academics who can richly reward listening to appears to be endless in this country) was of the opinion that Gödel was now rather overplayed. He said that somewhere in the world at the moment, there would be someone writing an essay or book about Gödel and economics, or Gödel and politics, and it was mostly nonsense. Gödel existed in a specific area of mathematics and the idea of universal application did not hold water.
...
Marcus, a fanatical Arsenal supporter, is making a series about mathematics and he is doing something on Gödel and Hilbert on 27 October on BBC4 (this is the first known plug in an infinity of newsletters). But it’s relevant to our programme because he went to Vienna and found out more about Gödel. One of the things he found out was about Gödel’s marriage to a nightclub singer. A divorcee, a few years his senior, who saved him from the Nazis. Gödel was not a Jew but had worked with and was very sympathetic to the Jews and the Nazis came for him. They found him at the top of some steps (outside a nightclub? I did not clear that with Marcus). His wife saw them off. They retreated in front of the nightclub singer and Gödel retreated to America where he met up with Einstein, with whom he used to walk to university every morning. When Einstein had a celebratory occasion and people wrote celebratory things about him, Gödel’s contribution was to solve some of Einstein’s unsolved equations! Gödel died of malnutrition in his 70s because he became convinced that someone was trying to poison him.
...
PS: John Barrow, the only academic since about the 16th century to hold two professorial Chairs at Gresham, in his case astronomy and geometry, said that people who met Gödel in Princeton were left literally speechless. After their opening remark, he would work through the way in which the conversation would logically proceed and to an end in rapid order.
PPS: I’m very sorry we did not get around to Leibnitz’s logic machine, in which all things would be fed and out of which would come answers to every question in the universe.
- extracts from Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time newsletter of 9 October 2008 (sic)

boris johnson 'actively trying to broker' elephant & castle regeneration deal

Boris Johnson "actively trying to broker" Elephant & Castle regeneration deal: Mayor of London Boris Johnson says that Elephant & Castle's prospective developers Lend Lease are in a "dire position" as a result of the credit crunch.
- SE1 Direct, 10 November

celebrities lead charge against scientology

Celebrities lead charge against Scientology: Hollywood figures quit 'rip-off' church as Australian prime minister threatens parliamentary inquiry into its activities
- Observer, 22 November

wikipedia shows signs of stalling as number of volunteers falls sharply

Wikipedia shows signs of stalling as number of volunteers falls sharply
- Times, 25 November

how david arnold got the james bond gig

On the Robert Elms best of the week podcast of 30th October David Arnold told Gary Crowley - who was sitting in for Robert - how he became the James Bond soundtrack composer. Barbara Broccoli, the producer, was looking for ideas for a new composer and went to a record shop to get some ideas. She took a bundle of CDs to the counter, the assistant noticed that they were all film soundtracks, and she told him what she was doing. He told her she should get David Arnold's Shaken and Stirred, a CD with new versions of various old Bond themes, which she did, and she chose David Arnold as a result. Wikipedia isn't up to speed on this, interestingly, saying it was John Barry who recommended him.

'someone is *wrong* on the internet'

Found my way to xkcd.com after a long time because this cartoon was on someone's blog:
- Are you coming to bed?
- I can't. This is important.
- What?
- Someone is *wrong* on the internet.

Posted at...

Friday, 27 November 2009

boris; caroline

I have lunch from time to time in the cafe in the lower floor of City Hall, the Mayor's office - it's a short menu, but it's subsidised (by us, of course) - and this Tuesday Boris nearly jumped the queue in front of me for paying, but then realised his mistake; I smiled at him but made no smart reply. It used to be easily open to the public, but now you have to go through security, which isn't a problem but does mean that it's not obvious to many people that it's open to the public.

I've also met Caroline Pidgeon there and spoke to her about a letter I'd written - she's a Lib Dem London Assembly member, but also one of our three local councillors (don't know how long that'll last now that she's in the LA. When I saw her first at a TRA meeting I thought - not in a bad way - that she was someone who might be going places politically (here's a post on that theme in praise of her from another Lib Dem).

paul cornell

Paul Cornell's Wikipedia entry includes this:
In an interview on the Doctor Who: DWO Whocast, Cornell stated that this entry in wikipedia described him as "..both a Christian and a pagan..", which he has chosen not to correct as it illustrates his sympathies for the pagan world. He then goes on to state that he is an Anglican but is very "..Low Church, almost a Calvinist.." and this is partly because he doesn't enjoy hymns.
Spiritual themes are not uncommon in his work (for example his novel Something More). Other frequent references in his work include owls.

This is his blog.

exploded: the myth of a miracle bomb detector

Exploded: the myth of a miracle bomb detector
- Bad Science, Guardian, 14 November.

Extracts:
Similar devices have been tested repeatedly and shown to perform no better than chance. No police force or security service anywhere in the developed world uses them. But, in 2008, the Iraqi interior ministry bought 800 ADE651s for $32m (£19m) and they've ordered a further shipment at $53m. These devices are being used at hundreds of checkpoints in Iraq to look for bombs.
...
General Jabiri challenged a New York Times reporter to test the ADE651, placing a grenade and a machine pistol in plain view in his office. Every time a policeman used it, the wand pointed at the explosives. Every time the reporter used the device, it failed to detect anything. "You need more training," said the general.

record review

The Guardian Guide on 14 November describes Florence and the Machine's new single, You've Got The Love, as 'so shamelessly geared towards office Christmas parties that it may as well come with a great big print-out of your employer's sexual harassment policy.'

john hurt and religion

Hurt came from a family of working-class high achievers. His father studied maths at Cambridge before becoming an Anglican clergyman; his mother was a draughtswoman. He had a good sense of humour, but was strict and dogmatic; she was aspirational and didn't like young John playing with the "common" local children. Hurt felt stifled by the attitudes, the godliness, the smallness of their lives. The second world war had turned everything on its head – after all the destruction and austerity, Hurt belonged to a new generation that wanted to experiment and create.
...
By 16, he was bored with school, had given up on God and was headed for art school. His new-found agnosticism would have caused ructions in the family were it not for the fact that his older brother Michael had created a far bigger shock wave by joining the Catholic church. "That was the blackest day in the family history ever; that was my brother joining the Antichrist. It acted as a complete smokescreen to my agnosticism, so I got away with it." His brother went on to become a monk at Glenstal Abbey in Ireland, then left the order and fathered three children, before returning as Brother Anselm.
...
And he talks about the relationship between science and godlessness. "Of the last 100 Nobel prize winners for physics, only one was a Christian, all the rest were atheists." What a weird fact to know, I say. He laughs. "I'm interested... It's something Richard Dawkins brings into his book The God Delusion." Hurt so wanted to agree with Dawkins, but found him every bit as dogmatic as his father had been, only in the other direction. "I liked his early books, then when I read The God Delusion, I thought, you're making a huge mistake, you're being so strident and you can't back it up. I kept thinking, you haven't proved a thing, and you're going on about science having to have the proof. We still don't know what the business of life is, and I'm perfectly happy not to know."
- interview-based article on John Hurt in the Guardian, 21 November

gordon brown's allegedly strange pronunciations

Gordon Brown's strange pronunciations, part 87: the prime minister has been making much of the Conservative party leader David Cameron's "cast-iron" promise, now abandoned, of a referendum on the Lisbon treaty.
"I suppose that is a cast-iron promise!" he says sarkily of any proposal the Tory leader makes. Though sometimes he gets it the wrong way round and calls it an "iron-cast promise".
It's rather spoiled, though, by the fact that he seems to be the only person in the English-speaking world who pronounces the letter "r" in "iron", thus: "cast eye-ron promise." It brings you up short and makes it hard to concentrate on what follows.
- Simon Hoggart, Guardian, 21 November. He's made comments before about Gordon Brown's 'strange' pronunciation: it's as if he's never heard anyone Scottish speak ever before.

down with the kids: victorian values

Down with the kids: Victorian values. My son's school project on the Victorians taught me the dangers of the internet for research
- Guardian, 21 November.

Extracts:
Our six-year-old's school project this half-term is the Victorians. It's a big project, as of course the Victorians invented everything good that exists in the world, except for the modern and still relatively untested concept of letting foreigners run their own countries. The Victorians certainly invented everything our own kids love: trains, jelly babies and toilets. As our six-year-old pointed out, before the Victorian age you would have had to fly everywhere in planes, eat Smarties, and never do a wee or a poo, ever. "They just had to really … hold … it … in," he suggested, making an agonised face.
School projects are brilliant. When else do you get to answer questions such as, "Daddy, did sabre-toothed tigers die out in Britain before or after you had to go out when it was dark and do a wee all alone at the end of the garden?"
...
As my wife is from Paris, the most exciting part of the Victorian project has been the discovery that the French and the English do not agree on one single thing that happened between 1837 and 1901. We believe that Fox Talbot invented photography. In France, they say Daguerre. We insist that Cunard ruled the waves. The French are equally adamant that it was the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. Our kids witnessed what became a spirited project-work dispute. The French thing was awkward. But what can you expect from a degenerate nation whose only answer to our bracing soft-porn depictions of Ophelia was the work of Monet and Cézanne? To end the argument, for the sake of our son's project, we decided that the Victorian world didn't include France – a state of affairs that the French were indeed keen to maintain at the time.

joe meek's session musicians

Coverage of the Joe Meek biopic, Telstar, which would be good to see sometime, reminds me that his session musicians included Chas Hodges, Ritchie Blackmore and Mitch Mitchell. Features from Sunday Times and the Observer have some of the pertinent facts, including that another of the musicians, Clem Cattini, was a session drummer who subsequently played on more No 1 records than any other musician. 304 Holloway Road isn't far from where I used to live.

patrick stewart: the legacy of domestic violence

Patrick Stewart: the legacy of domestic violence. As a child, the actor regularly saw his father hit his mother. Here he describes how the horrors of his childhood remained with him in his adult life
- Guardian, 27 November

alan bennett and the question of innocence

Johann Hari: Alan Bennett and the question of innocence. In his new play, [Bennett] takes his dark analysis of pederasty further
- Independent, 27 November

the dark side of the internet

The dark side of the internet: In the 'deep web', Freenet software allows users complete anonymity as they share viruses, criminal contacts and child pornography
- Guardian, 26 November

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

dull videos of streets in our area

Dull videos of streets in our area are on AmeliaStreet's YouTube channel - dull in terms of action, but hey, they're our streets. Amelia, Penton, Crampton, Iliffe, Peacock.

how belle de jour's secret ally googlewhacked the press

How Belle de Jour's secret ally Googlewhacked the press: British blogger called Darren worked out identity of blogging sensation but kept it secret for almost six years
- Guardian, 18 November. I'm less interested in the Belle de Jour story than Darren's detective work and impressive technological tripwire trap.

missing canadian teenager survives three days on ice floe

Missing Canadian teenager survives three days on ice floe: Search team finds teenager Jupi Nakoolak 'in decent shape' after drifting in -15C temperatures with polar bears
- Guardian, 10 November

trapped in his own body for 23 years

Trapped in his own body for 23 years - the coma victim who screamed unheard • Misdiagnosed man's tale of rebirth thanks to doctor • Total paralysis masked fully functioning brain
- Guardian, 23 November

Monday, 23 November 2009

gordon banks's 'greatest save of all time'

On Second Thoughts: Gordon Banks's 'greatest save of all time'. Countless keepers have displayed sharper reflexes, superior athleticism and more deliberate and admirable technique than Banks did against Brazil
- Guardian sport blog, 18 November. Paul Doyle says what I've always thought.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

abuse on the internet

Previous story via Private Eye, where this was part of a spoof story:
Meanwhile, celebrities everywhere were devastated at the news that an ordinary member of the public had used the internet to call Stephen Fry 'dull'.
'I would never have guessed that people were using such highly derogatory words such as "dull" when discussing celebrities on the internet,' said a horrified Britney Spears. 'I certainly hope no one has ever been as abusive as that about me on the net.'
'I always assumed the internet was a lovely, kind, forgiving, gentle place,' added a crestfallen Lindsay Lohan, 'but if people are using horrible words like "dull" on it, then obviously I must be wrong.'

Also a cartoon of J Keats Fruiterer behind his stall telling a woman, 'That's not mould, love, that's mellow fruitfulness that is...'

south africa pigeon 'faster than broadband'

South Africa pigeon 'faster than broadband'
Broadband promised to unite the world with super-fast data delivery - but in South Africa it seems the web is still no faster than a humble pigeon. A Durban IT company pitted an 11-month-old bird armed with a 4GB memory stick against the ADSL service from the country's biggest web firm, Telkom. Winston the pigeon took two hours to carry the data 60 miles - in the same time the ADSL had sent 4% of the data. Telkom said it was not responsible for the firm's slow internet speeds. The idea for the race came when a member of staff at Unlimited IT complained about the speed of data transmission on ADSL.
He said it would be faster by carrier pigeon. "We renown ourselves on being innovative, so we decided to test that statement," Unlimited's Kevin Rolfe told the Beeld newspaper.
[continues]
- BBC, 10 September

Thursday, 19 November 2009

filming down our way - caine and eastwood

We've always been used to filming going on near our church - the City being virtually empty at the weekends, especially Sunday. We seem to get more filming near home than we used to, though. The emptying out of the Heygate Estate has made a difference, I'm sure, as it has become a more viable location for gritty inner-city council block filming. The empty lot at the top of Walworth Road, west side, where the petrol station used to be, is often used as a location base, so I don't know if thta availability has also made a difference.

Michael Caine recently filmed Harry Brown on the Heygate Estate, and of course he's from inner south-east London; it came up quite a bit in the publicity for the film. Evening Standard article ('Michael Caine: We've left children to rot, now they are animals'). Film Shaft ('Daniel Barber: Harry Brown Is “Born Out Of Reality”'). Daily Express ('The violent Britain of today scares me'). Daily Telegraph ('Sir Michael Caine: Harry Brown filming taught me of 'wasted generation'. Sir Michael Caine believes society has created a 'wasted generation' of children in Britain's inner cities.'). Metro ('Michael Caine channels Harry Brown: Actor found filming in his old neighbourhood depressing'). Daily Mirror ('Harry Brown star Sir Michael Caine says kids need our help').

And at the moment, Clint Eastwood is filming Hereafter around here. He used the Heygate too. At the moment they're 'set dressing' Iliffe Street and Crampton Street for filming next Tuesday. I took a couple of photos this morning, but I'm sure there'll be more online before long that I can link to - it'll be easier to take photos there than of the Heygate. They're putting old-style wall-painted adverts and notices and shop fronts up, and making the ground floor frontage of the row along Iliffe Street all grimy and grubby. Some articles and pics South London Press. SE1 Forum. Zimbio.

Film London is the official body for arranging filming locations. They have a location of the month feature - the current one is Heygate Estate.

I'll be looking out for London Boulevard too, the film starring Keira Knightley and Colin Farrell for which they filmed a scene in our local pub, the Hampton Court Palace, earlier this year.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

dune

I also recently read Dune by Frank Herbert, breaking the back of it on some long train journeys to and from Inverness. It was okay, but I don't feel the need to read any of the many sequels. I was surprised to find the extent to which it was essentially a fantasy novel with a very light science fiction framework (it could have been easily managed without it), and also the extent to which the religion in the book seemed to draw on Islam. It was long, and it dragged in stretches, though I'm not sure but that that may have coincided with my reading pattern - did the first part seem to go more quickly because I read it in longer stretches, while I read a lot of the second part in smaller stretches, me rather than the book? Top of a lot of SF lists, but not anywhere on mine.

(Coincidentally not long before I'd watched the BBC documentary The Conspiracy Files: 7/7, based around a conspiracy theory video - which they went on to debunk - which was the work of someone calling themselves 'Muad'Dib', which sounded Islamic but which was taken from Dune, and the man behind it was an old white nutter (The Independent review).)

Just one small quote, p447 in my relatively modern NEL edition (no edition date, for some reason):
'Give as few orders as possible,' his father had told him . . . once . . . long ago. 'Once you've given orders on a subject, you must always give orders on that subject.'

make room make room

Just finished Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison. Published in 1966, it shares with Stand On Zanzibar by John Brunner a couple of years later a plot based on the extrapolation of population growth and its implications, with added depletion of food and energy resources and apparent climate change. It was good fun and a quick read, where Stand on Zanzibar was something of a plod, but not a classic (although like Stand on Zanzibar it's on a lot of lists of SF classics, perhaps more reflective of their impact at the time and in the history of SF); it petered out a bit (Soylent Green is based on it, but the film's twist isn't in the book), but it did work the implications out quite well through the characters and their stories without too much sermonising, much better integrated than SOZ.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

cartoon readings

In Private Eye of 30 October, a cartoon of a playpark with a parkkeeper saying to a woman, 'We've renamed it to try to attract kids out of doors', and there's a sign beside the slide which says 'Nintendo Wheeee'.

silence in the square

On Wednesday morning I went into town to take photos of Armistice Day things - I'd particularly seen that at the end of the British Legion's Silence in the Square event they put poppy leaves into the fountain which might make a good photo, and when it came to it there seemed to be as many people taking photos of it as there were putting poppies in. If I'd stayed longer I might have got photos with more poppies in them, but I went back down Whitehall past the Cenotaph again and then to Westminster Abbey, where they were having a special service to mark the fact that this year the last WWI veterans died. I'd hoped to get photos of the Field of Remembrance there, but they'd cordoned a lot of it off so you couldn't get near - there was quite a crowd of folk, who had obviously watched everyone go in and were waiting for them to come back out, but I had to get back to work and my camera battery was running out. I went back on Thursday to the Abbey and got some better photos of the Field of Remembrance.

I'd got to the Square in plenty of time, having got off the bus in Parliament Street and taken photos at the Cenotaph (which was quieter than afterwards) and then around the Square. When I'd taken enough photos I went to the stage area, which is why I ended up being right at the front, at the barrier front left - at house group on Thursday Ria said she'd seen me on the news. I wasn't sure what the event would be like, as it might be tricky to manage the tone, since you're having performances for an hour in advance of the two minutes' silence, but it was fine.

Links. The British Legion page on the event, which gives this summary: 'In London the sun shone as Ben Shephard introduced a moving programme of musical performances and readings leading up to 11.00am on the 11th day of the 11th month. Only Men Aloud, Cerys Matthews, Mark Knopfler and Athlete all performed and George Taylor and Stephen Fry read poems. After observing the silence, the crowd were invited to place poppy petals in the fountains.' Blink and you'll miss me in one of the clips on this ITN page - the first one that came up when I looked at this page. A BBC report of the day. Here are two clips of Cerys singing Arglwydd Dyma Fi - this from a tv programme, this from a live concert (I see from the blurbs that she'd done this on an album).

The Only Men Aloud choir were fine, though it was hard to fully appreciate how good they might be because their backing track was too loud - it would have been a lot better if the backing track was a quarter of the volume, or not there at all. They sang at the start and the end. One of the most unusual thing about the event was that the first two songs were the same - the Welsh hymn Arglwydd Dyma Fi (the one the end of the chorus of which in English is 'wash me, cleanse me in the blood that flowed on Calvary'), which Only Men Aloud sang, and then almost immediately afterwards Cerys Matthews sang with just an acoustic guitar. They were both stirring in different ways, but Cerys's was certainly classier and more natural; it ran into an English hymn which I didn't recognise, and then she did Love Me Tender. I don't know if that hymn has a particular association with the military in Wales; they did mention that Cerys's performance was being beamed to the sister event in Swansea, so I'm sure she wanted to do something with them in mind if nothing else. I also enjoyed Mark Knopfler's song, Remembrance Day, done with the men's choir and a children's choir as well as his band. And Athlete were okay too - they played what I presume is their hit, which I did recognise, and then a song specially written, with an interesting story: the singer/writer's grandfather was wounded at Arnhem and as he lay for twenty hours before being picked up, he wrote a letter to his wife/girlfriend, presumably anticipating he would die, but he didn't, and the song was inspired by that (although I'm not clear on whether the words draw on the words of the letter). Stephen Fry read well, though I got the impression he was rather rushed, as the hour was approaching.

I wore a poppy, which isn't my usual practice (that's another story), since I was at an event actually organised by the charity so it would be at the very least discourteous not to, and also because I was there in a work capacity, taking photos for possible future use, and not just there on my own behalf. The photos before and after were what had taken me there really, but it was good to be at the event also.

Friday, 13 November 2009

spare us the phoney poppy apoplexy

Spare us the phoney poppy apoplexy: The vitriolic campaign to bully all Premier League clubs into wearing a poppy on their shirts shames the memory of the fallen
- Marina Hyde, Guardian, 5 November

environmentalism is given the same weight as religion in british employment laws

A matter of faith: Environmentalism is given the same weight as religion in British employment laws
“A belief in man-made climate change and the alleged resulting moral imperatives is capable, if genuinely held, of being a philosophical belief for the purpose of the 2003 Religion and Belief Regulations.”
Those were the words of an English High Court judge, Mr Justice Burton, on November 3rd as he ruled that green beliefs deserve the same protection in the workplace as religious convictions. A person’s right to believe in anthropogenic climate change, and not be hounded out of his job because of it, is now enshrined in law.
[continues]
- Economist, 9 November

newspaper pay walls have a lot of confused writing on them

Newspaper pay walls have a lot of confused writing on them: As Murdoch hesitates, there are no simple solutions over charging for digital content
- Guardian, 8 November

teachings of jesus are a ‘good guide’ to life, says cameron

Teachings of Jesus are a ‘good guide’ to life, says Cameron
David Cameron has admitted his Christian faith may not always the rock it should be, but is nonetheless a good guide to get through life.
In an intimate interview with the Evening Standard, the Tory leader spoke openly about his fluctuating faith.
When asked if his faith was important to him, he said: "If you are asking, do I drop to my knees and pray for guidance, no. But do I have faith and is it important? Yes. My own faith is there, it's not always the rock that perhaps it should be.
"I've a sort of fairly classic Church of England faith, a faith that grows hotter and colder by moments but ... I suppose I sort of started life believing that one's individual faith was important, but actually the institutions of the church were less important.
"I do think that organised religion can get things wrong but the Church of England and the other churches do play a very important role in society."
Mr Cameron, who was confirmed at 18, admitted to being in his younger years a “good, sceptical, questioning” Christian who liked to think his faith through.
"I think that it's perfectly possible to live a good life without having faith, by which I mean a positive and altruistic life, but I think the teachings of Jesus, just as the teachings of other religions are, a good guide to help us through,” he continued.
"Do unto others as you would have them do to you; don't walk on by. These are good and thoughtful ideas to bring to life."
[continues]
- Christian Today, 6 November

the church's abortion mistake

The Church's Abortion Mistake: By focusing exclusively on the abortion issue in the health-care debate, James Carroll says the Catholic Church is sabotaging its broader moral mission.
- The Daily Beast, 12 November

poppies

TV matters: Poppies. The wearing of poppies by TV presenters is getting earlier and earlier
- Mark Lawson, The Guardian, 12 November

maclaren bows to pressure over pushchair safety kits

Maclaren bows to pressure over pushchair safety kits: UK customers concerned about safety of its pushchairs can now obtain hinge covers previously offered only in US
- Guardian, 12 November

disgruntled star editor takes constructive revenge

Disgruntled Star Editor Takes Constructive Revenge
Earlier this week the Toronto Star announced, among other changes, that it was planning to outsource some one hundred in-house, union editing jobs. In the press release issued by the union in the wake of the announcement, union chief Maureen Dawson explained that "Journalism is a collaborative effort, the product of a team of reporters, photographers and editors working in concert to produce the kind of activist agenda that has served Star readers and our community so well for so long...To remove a critical element of that work is to shortchange everyone who depends on it."
Now, one (apparent) editor at the Star has decided to show us all the benefits of collaboration. An extensively marked-up copy of Publisher John Cruickshank's internal memo announcing the changes was sent to Torontoist by a self-described "intermediary who was asked to send this for a friend who works at the Star" this morning; it's, allegedly, "the work of a Star editor."
- the Torontoist article which this is from, has an image of the marked-up letter in question. Good work.

london in colour 1927

The Open Road London - a lovely colour clip of London from 1927 on Youtube, part of London's Screen Archive.

playing with the moon

Playing with the moon - a nice set of photos from humor-articles.com.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

stadiums from trains, abandoned matches

Today's Guardian Knowledge has a lovely map of stadiums viewable from trains, and an interesting item on the latest times of abandoning matches. The article linked to about the Barrow Gillingham game also entertaining.

micro men

Just watched and enjoyed Micro Men, which we recorded from BBC4 a few weeks ago. Entertaining, and a memory rush, and a reminder of how far we've come in such a short time. BBC Micros appearing in one room - the computer lab - in school, Spectrums or similar in rare homes.

Some reviews and related articles, with interesting content - unsurprisingly, several from geeky sites I've never come across before when searching for reviews. Games Industry. Daily Telegraph. Drobe interview and review. The Arts Desk. Guardian. Den of Geek. TV Throng. The Sci-Fi Gene. The Inquirer. Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

Unusually, the comments section at the end of the Guardian review has an interesting exchange. X: 'Very entertaining portryal of the Curry/Sinclair rivalry. But why the portrayal of male-only geeks? Wikipedia reveals that the Acorn employee who designed Acorn System 1 was Sophie Wilson. Maybe they'd have had to choose a different title for the programme, but couldn't we have a bit more accuracy please?' Y: 'Sophie used to be called Roger.'

Monday, 9 November 2009

war photography

'I was there': From Roger Fenton's prints of the Crimea to mobile-phone images of Baghdad, every era of war photography has been marked by new technology. But what has always mattered more than technical brilliance, argues Geoff Dyer, is getting close enough to the epicentre of history
- Guardian, 18 October 2008.

Extracts:
Robert Capa's 1936 photograph The Falling Soldier shows the moment of a republican soldier's death in the Spanish civil war. Or so it was claimed and widely believed. Then doubts began to circulate. Perhaps the picture was posed, fake. Capa's biographer, Richard Whelan, has gnawed away at this issue for decades. The explanation put forward by him in the catalogue accompanying an exhibition at the Barbican is that, during an informal truce, a group of soldiers simulated a bit of a battle charge for the benefit of the camera. Fearing a genuine attack was being mounted, enemy troops opened fire. The trigger was pulled, the camera clicked simultaneously - and a man died. Make-believe became tragically real.
Whelan's explanation is unlikely to be improved on, but it is worth considering something that David Simon, in his book Homicide, learned from ballistics experts: that "no bullet short of an artillery shell is capable of knocking a human being off his feet". This is not to say that people don't fall down when shot. They do, but only as "a learned response. People who have been shot believe they are supposed to fall immediately to the ground, so they do."
...
Capa said that he would rather have "a strong image that is technically bad than vice versa". He realised early on that a little camera-shake created a dangerous air of bullets whirring overhead. In certain circumstances, then, technical imperfection could be a source of visual strength. When his pictures of the D-day landings were published in Life magazine, a caption explained that the "immense excitement of the moment made Capa move his camera". The blurring actually came later, as a result of a printing error at the lab in London. In the excitement of receiving Capa's films, most of the 72 pictures were completely ruined. Eleven survived, all wounded, maimed, but the darkroom accident imbued them with sea-drenched authenticity and unprecedented immediacy.
...
One of the emblematic images from the Vietnam war shows a severely injured civilian woman lying covered in blood, a soldier crouching over her protectively. It was taken in Saigon in 1969 by Larry Burrows. And by Jones Griffiths. The two photographers were right next to each other, snapping away at the same moment. So these pictures are emblematic less of the Vietnam war than of the way images are gathered and presented. A recent documentary showed a correspondent in close-up, reporting on the latest bloodshed in Iraq. The tight camera added to the intensity of the scene - and, the documentary revealed, hid the fact that, a few feet away, another correspondent was doing his to-camera version of the same story.
...
A few yards away from this photograph is a display case containing equipment used by a tank commander, Gordon Hassell. First deployed successfully in the Battle of Cambrai in 1917, the tank was a radical technological innovation, one requiring new, specially designed masks for the crew. Imagine what this mask looks like - a version of a pilot's or motorcyclist's helmet? - and then think again. The top part is solid dark, heavy metal, moulded round the bridge of the nose with slits for the eyes; the bottom half is a kind of chain-mail drape. It looks as if it was made for King Arthur and his knights. In the adjacent case is an even more ancient-seeming exhibit: a club, fashioned from a length of wood, used for hand-to-hand fighting in the trenches.