Saturday, 28 February 2009

praise the lord and pass the ammunition

Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition: The Bible advises to turn the other cheek. So how do these God-fearing Americans square carrying firearms with their religion?
- Guardian, 28 February. British and American Christians remain mysteries to each other in so many ways; the devotion to the right to bear arms as virtually a Christian principle is one of the more hair-tearing. The online version of the article sadly lacks the photo portraits of the Christians proudly holding some of their guns.

more tube links

A Time Out photo feature on stations at the end of tube lines.

A Time Out article on where tube train carriages can be found now.

Underground History - a photo-filled website mostly on abandoned stations.

Clive's Underground Line Guides - info-packed.

Doug Rose's website mostly on tube tile patterns.

Abandoned Tube Stations - another photo-packed site.

To The End Of The Line - a tour of all the tube stations.

GeoffTech's tube pages.

terry pratchett and dementia

Terry Pratchett: We need to talk about dementia: As Terry Pratchett receives his knighthood, Cassandra Jardine examines how this writer and other public figures have brought a Cinderella illness into the spotlight.
- Telegraph, 18 February.

I'm not sure it merits the 'Cinderella' tag, but it is true that any illness comes more into public awareness when someone famous gets it.

andrew motion and bible knowledge

Students 'do not know the Bible': The Poet Laureate says it is becoming increasingly difficult to teach English Literature because students do not know the Bible or classical mythology.
- BBC, 17 February

Poet Laureate Andrew Motion calls for all children to be taught the Bible: Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, has warned that every child should be taught the Bible at school or they will fail to properly understand culture and literature.
- Telegraph, 17 February

Interesting difference in emphasis.


Jade Goody to wed and die 'in the public eye': The reality TV star will sell media rights to raise money for her children
- Observer, 15 February

Cancer tests go up after Goody diagnosis • Demand for cervical smears up by one fifth • Reality TV star's terminal illness halts decline
- Guardian, 17 February

Stop passing judgment on Jade Goody - she has every reason to see out her short life in front of the cameras: She knows some people may not like what she's doing, but when you're as ill as she is, you should be able to do and say what you want
- Guardian, 17 February

This death in close-up offers more than crass reality telly: Beyond class snarkiness, Jade Goody's story is a testing event in a society that has lost so much of its sense of ritual
- Guardian, 18 February

Terminally ill Jade Goody marries
- BBC, 22 February

Through her dignity in dying, Jade Goody shows us all how to live: By the courageous manner of her very public last days, the former Big Brother hate object has finally earned our respect, says Jenny McCartney
- Telegraph, 23 February

the slow death of handwriting

The slow death of handwriting: Christmas cards, shopping lists and what else? The occasions in which we write by hand are fewer and fewer, says Neil Hallows. So is the ancient art form of handwriting dying out?
- BBC, 26 February

My writing has always been deplorable. I certainly write a lot less than I used to, but amn't sure my writing has actually got worse. Alex has also come across this article.

how do you explain a missing hand to a child?

How do you explain a missing hand to a child?: Parents have complained that a children's TV presenter with one hand is prompting awkward questions from young children. So how should you explain this kind of disability to a child?
- BBC, 24 February

The first time I saw Cerrie I thought, there's something funny with the camera angle that makes it look as if - no, it's not the camera angle.

My Beebies cowatcher has made no comment as yet, which I think supports the points being made in the article (and not those being made by the complaining parents). When every day of your life is full of new experiences, you tend to take them in your stride.

Friday, 27 February 2009

ann widdecombe on single women

[Ann Widdecombe argues that] the word 'spinster' is freighted, in our culture, with barely deserved connotations of bitterness and frustration. Unmarried women in literature, she points out, are generally spinsters by default, waiting for a man to whisk them off to a happy ending. 'Literary spinsters fall either side of an historical line,' Widdecombe explains, 'There are the women in Jane Austen who, unless they were very well off, basically had to marry for economic stability. There is Dickens's Miss Havisham, a spectacularly unhappy figure, and Miss Jean Brodie, the teacher who devotes herself to her charges. These are all women to some extent enslaved by society's conventions. On the other side of this historical line, when women are supposedly free of those conventions, we've become enslaved by sex instead. We are now all so obsessed with sex, it's impossible to portray a perfectly contented single woman. If you think of Bridget jones, she spends all her life trying to get a man, and the women in Sex And The City are obsessed with exactly the same thing.'
In the real world, too, says Widdecombe, women are judged, validated even, by their sexual experience. 'If a woman has been married and is now widowed or divorced or whatever it may be, people perfectly accept that she may then spend decades single and they never query it. But if a woman has never married, or never done it in any other way - if you like to put it like that - people think there's something odd about that.'
- Radio Times, 28 February, in a preview article on radio programme on spinsters in popular culture

defying darwin

Defying Darwin: The fundamental ideas behind the theory of evolution have been scientific gospel for decades - and yet creationists refuse to go the way of the dinosaurs. Who exactly are they? And just what do they believe? Stephen Moss reports
- Guardian, 17 February

parking ticket leads to a virus

Parking ticket leads to a virus: Hackers have discovered a new way of duping users onto fraudulent websites: fake parking tickets.
- BBC, 5 February

gerry rafferty

Missing Baker Street singer Gerry Rafferty is living in hiding
- Guardian, 17 February

watching republicans grieve

Watching Republicans grieve: Filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi journeyed into the heart of the GOP for her new HBO documentary. She discusses what she found there: Denial, depression and a whole lot of anger.
- Salon, 16 February

doing god

At last, Blair is free to 'do God' – and America loves it
- Independent, 6 February

Christian foster mother struck off after Muslim girl converts: A foster mother with 10 years' experience was struck off after a Muslim girl in her care converted to Christianity, it has emerged.
- Telegraph, 8 February


From bedtime story to ugly insult: how Victorian caricature became a racist slur
It was once the second most popular toy and a staple of children's books. Now it is at the centre of the row over the sacking of Carol Thatcher. Jon Henley traces the history of a toxic symbol
- Guardian, 6 February

Paul Vallely: A repugnant caricature that should never be toyed with
- Independent, 6 February

stats rootle beat poetry

Diddums has had another rootle through her stats and lists some of the searches that led people to her blog. As one of her commenters points out, you could read the list as beat poetry:

moomin mugs second hand
does anyone dislike dolce light blue
getting to hope i like you
how could woolworths have avoided closing
woolworths batteries
popular refuge for ratty toad and badger
cat dream in january
how desktop wallpapers affect the mood
pole aerobics brush+photoshop
hum diddums
muesli stomach rumbling
missing link between dreams and reality
cats and lots of women dreams
how do you pronounce toffifee
woodmouse noises
“where do you put the printer?”
coax poetry
irritated gray cat
issues of ageing in poetry and verse
lost in thought blogger
bugs bunny sitting on a deck chair
getting people to like you
negative space of a w
text got accidentally deleted in scribefire
i dont know the difference between reality and dreams
british spelling of supercede

jerry springer's birthplace

I don't remember them mentioning in his episode of Who Do You Think You Are? that Jerry Springer was born in East Finchley tube station (in its capacity as a bomb shelter).


David Cameron's son Ivan died early on Wednesday morning: BBC; Telegraph; Guardian; Independent; Times.

As we did when Gordon Brown's daughter died, we wrote a sympathy card. I took in into town this morning (partly because it's not so obvious to know where to send such a card as when you're writing to the chancellor of the exchequer). A policeman at the houses of parliament directed me up Parliament Street to Derby Gate, where one government building directed me to another one, where my card was passed through an x-ray machine under the eye of an armed policeman and I was able to pick it up and take it through to another building, through a door marked 'parcels', and left it with a man there. An interesting little journey.

the miner and the copper

The miner and the copper: It is one of the abiding images of the 1984 coal strike - Guardian photographer Don McPhee's picture of a picketing miner facing up to an officer. But what happened to the two protagonists?
- Guardian, 24 February


Discovered yesterday in the Cuming Museum (official site; Wikipedia) that Charles Babbage was baptised in St Mary Newington, which is where Thomas Middleton was buried, and of course Michael Faraday was born in/from Newington Butts (which is where Thomas Middleton was living when he died).

Thursday, 26 February 2009


I watched the second half of the BBC drama Margaret tonight, about the final days in leadership of Margaret Thatcher. I like to remind myself every now and again of what a vile and hateful force for evil she was. Like Tam O'Shanter's wife, nursing my wrath to keep it warm.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

stand on zanzibar

'People are going around marvelling at the fact that there's a solid scientific basis for palmistry. Anybody with a grain of intelligence could have said, directly the notion of the genetic code was formulated, that there was no a priori reason why the pattern of the folds in the palm should not be related to a person's temperament by way of an association of genes sharing the same chromosome. Indeed, there were all kinds of reasons for assuming this actually was so, because we aren't totally stupid - as I've pointed out before - and unless there was in palmistry some element of relevance to real experience we'd have given it up and gone chasing some other will-o'-the-wisp. There's no shortage of them.'
- p148, John Brunner, Stand On Zanzibar, 1969 (Arrow edition, 1978)

Shalmaneser. That real cool piece of hardware up at the GT tower. They say he's apt to evolve to true consciousness one day. Also they say he's as intelligent as a thousand of us put together, which isn't really saying much, because when you put a thousand of us together look how stupidly we behave.
- p306

Stand On Zanzibar by John Brunner was a fat book which won awards, including the Hugo, and is on quite a few of my various science fiction lists, but was quite disappointing. The big theme was world overpopulation and its implications. It was unnecessarily long - the first half was really a set-up for the story in the second half, and used what he called a 'mosaic' approach, with fragments of scenes and stories from various characters to give you a picture of the world, but it was just long and confusing; there was a 'what happened to them all' bit at the end, and it was hard to remember who most of them had been. The kind of book that makes me less than confident in the value of the lists, prizewinners or otherwise; I really didn't see why it was impressive, other than that people might have liked the taking of a big idea dn running with it, but it was a plod to read.

Coincidentally I read in the last couple of days a mention of another book by John Brunner, The Squares Of The City, which was based on an actual chess game of 1892.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

the world's best passenger complaint letter

Virgin: the world's best passenger complaint letter?: Here we reproduce a complaint letter sent to Sir Richard Branson, which is currently being emailed globally and is considered by many to be the world's funniest passenger complaint letter.
- Daily Telegraph, 30 January

frank skinner stops swearing

Frank Skinner: How I stopped swearing on stage: Removing the swearwords from his stand-up act was a revealing experiment, says Frank Skinner
- interesting article in the Times, 16 November.

I didn't realise Frank had a column in the Times. Here's one from 23 January on appearing on Panorama.

snow links

Some links to the BBC coverage of the snow at the start of February - or rather the user-generated content. The Editors blog says they got photos and videos sent in by thirty-five thousand people. BBC London photos, BBC News photos and BBC News videos, and related BBC news story.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

walking the tube lines

London Photo Project: Walking between all the stations of all the London Underground tube lines.

This fellow, Mark Moxon, Tubewalker is the website, did the same thing subsequently, more quickly. He wrote it up in more detail.

And then there's a Tubewalkers community on LiveJournal, amazingly enough; looks like they do a walk every second Saturday afternoon.

appointment in samarra

O'Hara's title for his novel set in America during the Depression is brilliant [Appointment In Samarra] but would, of course, be meaningless if he hadn't prefaced it with the short fable about Death encountering a servant in the market place. The servant returns to his master, terrified because Death has met him and made a threatening gesture towards him. He must escape immediately and hide himself in Samarra. Later that day his master goes to the market and, encountering Death, asks why he made a threatening gesture, to which Death replies: 'It was not a threatening gesture, merely one of surprise. I did not expect to see your servant in the market as I have an appointment with him this evening in Samarra.'

- p96, Time To Be In Earnest - PD James's diary/autobiography (she kept a diary for a year, intended for publication, when she was 77 (the title is from a Samuel Johnson quote, 'At seventy-seven it is time to be in earnest'), which includes a lot of autobiography), where I seem to be noting almost every page number as having something worth copying out.

ian mcewan's reviewing friends

Fans of McEwan's novels will be interested to learn that before he finishes any book he has it read by three friends - Amis firmly not being one of them. "I don't want a novelist reading my work, thank you very much!" McEwan says.

The three are the Oxford historian and Guardian columnist Timothy Garton Ash, the poet Craig Raine, and the philosopher Galen Strawson. Garton Ash persuaded him to drop the "An" from the title of his novel An Atonement. Raine berates him whenever he slips into cliche, as he once did with the phrase "flickering log fire" - they now have a running joke of marking f.l.f. in the margins of each other's work.

The spirit of constructive criticism is not always happy. When they met to discuss The Comfort of Strangers, Raine told McEwan: "Listen, love. It's complete crap, and you should put it in a drawer and forget it." McEwan refused to speak to him for almost two years.

- article on Ian McEwan, Guardian, 16 February

Monday, 16 February 2009

theological point that was lost in translation

Paul Vallely: Theological point that was lost in translation: The idea the Pope was 'gay-bashing' to celebrate Christmas is seriously ill-informed
- Independent, 24 December

Sunday, 15 February 2009


Interview with Clint Eastwood in yesterday's Guardian Weekend magazine. He's 80, and has seven children who rang in age from early 40s to 12. Of the younger ones he says, 'I don't think they think of me as a guy who should be their grandfather. I used to joke about it: that my kids didn't give me any grandchildren, so I just had my own grandchildren.'

The interviewer also asks him who's going to play Nelson Mandela in the film he's going to direct about him. He says, 'I'm going to play him. I'm going to show you my versatility.' It's Morgan Freeman.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

bbc alba

Further to gaelic/scots division in Scottish history, one of the difficulties in promoting and sustaining the Gaelic language has always been that it has never been a national language and that so much of the Lowlands-based Scottish media and political world (and general public) are unsupportive at best and antagonistic at worst. Probably matched by the way that people like me respond to their attempt to elevate what is little more than an accent of English with some regional words into a language called Scots. (And which is highlighted by the Northern Irish nonsense of having official documents translated into 'Ulster Scots' (to match the translation of those documents into Irish Gaelic).

Which is all by way of preamble to this story from The Sunday Times of 1 February -
Gaelic TV station loses a third of its viewers: Viewing figures drop by a third on the £15m BBC Alba channel but are still bolstered by Scottish Premier League matches
- which I was led to from a scathing version in The Register of 2 February -
- BBC pumps 60 quid a head into Gaelic: Dead language not responding to flogging
- which I was led to from its reproduction on 2 February in what was Angus Nicolson's blog, entitled 'As others see us', with a tail of arguing commenters.


On Tuesday I arrived a little late for Sharp's. In the first half I did a fragment of Formby (the first section of 'ain't nobody's business what I do' from a medley), in the second half The Loch Tay Boat song. It was quite a good evening. Ruth said that seven people had made it in the week before, through the ice and snow.

I mentioned to Toby that there had been someone, obviously well-known to folk, there two weeks ago who was on his way back to Cameroon; he said that he'd been coming solidly for a year - his partner is one of those who got the club back off the ground in the early 80s - and was still seeing people for the first time who would be described to him as regulars, and he also said that Syd was in fact the High Commissioner to Cameroon, which indeed he is. Someone's even done a Wikipedia entry for him, which seems largely based on the biog on the Cameroon HC website; in the strange world of Wikipedia, it may be that someone has taken it upon themselves to do entries for all British ambassadors and high commissioners - the fact that there is a group set up for such entries suggests that there are people engaged in it.

animal groups in bitter cash row

Animal groups in bitter cash row: The Scottish SPCA has accused the RSPCA of "stealing food from the mouths" of animals north of the border by taking donations intended for Scotland. The SSPCA has launched a campaign calling for the organisation for England and Wales to stop fund-raising and advertising north of the border. Newspaper adverts warn the public that any donations made to the RSPCA will not save animals in Scotland.
- BBC, 3 February

a history of scotland

Also recently finished watching Neil Oliver's BBC series, A History of Scotland, which I enjoyed a lot. Very interesting on the fragmented nature of Scotland for most of its independent centuries. A good episode on the division between gaelic and scots scotland which the scots won out. Also interesting how powerful and political, and unafraid of murder, the bishops were.

BBC's Scottish History site. The Open University's related site. I didn't see him much in Coast, but I enjoyed the series he was in earlier, Two Men In A Trench, archaeological investigations and reconstructions of British battlefields, with a guy who reminded me of Jon Kearney (Tony Pollard, I am reminded).

us skydiver lands dead instructor

US skydiver lands dead instructor: A US soldier on his first skydive has landed safely despite the death of his instructor during the descent.
- BBC, 3 February

tube links

The London Underground blog had a trip underground to see the night workings. That posting referred to a Time photo article on the night workings. Londonist interviewed Annie Mole of London Underground blog, and were also on the night workings trip.

folk america

Just started watching the Folk America series, all of which I've videoed. The hard disk recorder has changed our tv watching patterns already; we tend to watch something recorded and let something that's on record even if we're in - you can either video two channels and watch something recorded, or video a channel and watch another live; so you might as well video more, and in any case you're more likely to have a backlog to watch of the series that's on just now. You can set to record a whole series, so you end up recording things you'd probably not have videoed if you were out on some nights. I'm gaining quite a big backlog of things Bethan doesn't want to watch.

At Sharp's on Thursday someone mentioned Tom Paley was in the series - in his youth and being interviewed, and he was there in the first one. Very well done so far, on the earliest days of recording. Reminding that those doing the recording acted as folk song collectors by accident, for financial reasons; that those being recorded often copyrighted the songs they sang but weren't theirs; that a lot of the folk songs were written by songwriters in the 19th century; didn't say, but reminded me that when the recorders recorded the early black blues people in particular, they sang or wanted to sing all kinds of songs including 'white' music like show tunes, but the recorders were only interested in the blues material, which gave a false impression of the purity of their devotion to the blues. I seemed to have recordings of most of the people mentioned.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

'this is all we can do for you now'

The commentary on 1 Samuel by Dale Ralph Davis which I'm reading just now had the below illustration. It sounded suspiciously apocryphal, and almost all the few results of a google on 'This is all we can do for you now' are sermon illustrations. But one of them is an Amazon page for the book The Fall of Fortresses, a non-fiction book which several of them reference and which tells it as a true story. It's also here in a history magazine article about a reunion visit to US air bases in East Anglia.

The version of the story below is from a comment on the Amazon page.

Contains the account of a run over Kassel, Germany, in which a bomber was barraged by flack by Nazi anti-aircraft guns. That was not particularly unusual, but on this particular flight the fuel tanks of the plane were hit. The crew was amazed that the 30 millimeter shell piercing the tank didn't cause an explosion. The following morning, the pilot, Bohn Fawkes, asked the crew chief for the shell as a souvenir of their unbelievable luck.

Bohn was told that not just one shell had been found in the gas tanks, but there were actually eleven. Eleven unexploded shells. It truly seemed to be a miracle.

The shells were sent to the armorers to be defused, and there Intelligence picked them up. Later they informed the Tondelayo crew that when they opened the shells, they found no explosive charge in any of them. They were clean and harmless. One of the shells, however, was not completely empty. It contained a carefully rolled piece of paper. On it was scrawled in the Czech language, "This is all we can do for you now."

a good war for british publishers

A good war for British publishers: How books survived the Second World War
- interesting review in the TLS of 11 February.

Full of interesting details, including this:
The Red Cross and the Order of St Johnm collected and distributed millions of books for the war-wounded and prisoners- of- war. When Germany and Britain agreed in 1941 to allow prisoners of war to sit examinations, an international inter-library loan system was organized from the Bodleian Library, using Basil Blackwell’s book-dump in Geneva. Two Oxford dons, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, devised – and marked – an English Honours degree for “kriegies” behind the wire.

jesus in the public services

Nurse suspended for offering to pray for elderly patient's recovery
A nurse has been suspended from her job for offering to pray for an elderly patient's recovery from illness.
- Telegraph, 1 February

NHS staff face sack if they discuss religion: All National Health Service employees risk losing their job if they discuss their religious beliefs with colleagues or patients, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.
- Telegraph, 6 February

Christian nurse row: now teachers could be disciplined for discussing religion: Teachers could be disciplined if they discuss their religious beliefs with pupils, it has emerged.
- Telegraph, 9 February

Primary school receptionist 'facing sack' after daughter talks about Jesus to classmate: A primary school receptionist, Jennie Cain, whose five-year-old daughter was told off for talking about Jesus in class is now facing the sack for seeking support from her church.
- Telegraph, 12 February

The Daily Telegraph has picked this up and is running with it as a theme, to the extent of having started an online petition for the nurse's reinstatement. The child being told off seems the most surprising thing, although the article doesn't focus on it; I wonder what the details were.

falluja’s strange visitor: a western tourist

Falluja’s Strange Visitor: A Western Tourist
- New York Times, 6 February, on an Italian tourist on the loose in Baghdad and Falluja

cia cocaine contras

Reading an article in an old Granta reminded me of the stories from the Reagan era of Oliver North, drugs for guns, hostages, and the CIA's dark arts. The article itself was on the CIA-facilitated trade in guns and drugs for the Contras, flying arms out and cocaine back in to the USA. The ends justifying the means.

more darwin

Charles Darwin wasn't an enemy of Christianity: Charles Moore reviews Darwin and God by Nick Spencer and wonders what the Christian narrative is now.
- Telegraph, 6 February

Half of Britons do not believe in evolution, survey finds: More than one-fifth prefer creationism or intelligent design, while many others are confused about Darwin's theory
- Guardian, 1 February

Nick Spencer, and the survey, are both Theos-related.

Monday, 9 February 2009

learning from secular nations

Learning from Secular Nations: In 'godless' Scandinavia, people are content. Is that enough?
- interesting review from Christianity Today of Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment. The reviewer seems to conclude, among other things, that the difference is less to do with religion than socialism v capitalism - which I think is probably right, but is also funny, because she's obviously a little less comfortable with that idea, as an American Christian, than I, for example, am.

robert graves's dogs and cat

Robert Graves used to say that his novels—I, Claudius and so on—were dogs he raised and sold in order to buy food for his beloved cat, Poetry.
- from Christianity Today's Books & Culture email, 3 February

Friday, 6 February 2009

the onion

Onion Nation: If its absurdist twists and wicked parodies of conventional journalism are just a joke, the country's leading satirical newspaper is having the last laugh
- Washington Post, 16 November. Interesting article, especially in revealing that they come up with the headlines first then write the articles, which reflected my experience in reading them in Our Dumb Century, it wasn't too long before I stopped reading the text and just read the headlines, which are very good.

group think

Group think: The turn to online research is narrowing the range of modern scholarship, a new study suggests
- Boston Globe, 23 November

does religion make you nice?

Does religion make you nice? Does atheism make you mean?
- Slate, 7 November

Thursday, 5 February 2009

how churches resemble helicopters

A wander along some links led me to this blog post, which I thought was rather good:
This was the best line of a sermon I heard yesterday: “Church can be like a helicopter. We do not get too close for fear of being sucked up into the rotas”.

- if the blog header photo reflects the blogger's location in any way, he's not far away from us.
On the same journey I also came across a blog by an Ian Macdonald. When I started out this blog for a while I did posts linking to photos of other Iain MacDonalds; when I've got time (ha!) maybe I'll pick that up again.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

allergic to oxygen; the genre that dare not speak its name

SECTOR GENERAL LIVES! Heart-warming public safety news from a writer who worked on a UK patient information leaflet for oxygen, as supplied in cylinders to hospitals: the regulator insisted that he include the words 'Do not use if you are allergic to oxygen.'

- from February Ansible,

which also has a link to this article on the Guardian book blog of 28 January:
Science fiction: the genre that dare not speak its name: Mainstream authors and publishers seem happy to appropriate the tropes of science fiction but not the label itself

What do novels about a journey across post-apocalyptic America, a clone waitress rebelling against a future society, a world-girdling pipe of special gas keeping mutant creatures at bay, a plan to rid a colonisable new world of dinosaurs, and genetic engineering in a collapsed civilisation have in common?

They are all most definitely not science fiction.

Literary readers will probably recognise The Road by Cormac McCarthy, one of the sections of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway, Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood from their descriptions above. All of these novels use the tropes of what most people recognise as science fiction, but their authors or publishers have taken great pains to ensure that they are not categorised as such.

snowing on mars

It's snowing on Mars ... or at least in the sky above it. This is just one extraordinary piece of information being sent back to us by the landers, probes and rovers scanning the planet. Home to the largest mountain in the solar system and a canyon as long as the US is wide, it is a world as fantastic as any imagined by JG Ballard
- Guardian, 27 January.

Here are more of the extraordinary photos. It's hard to believe we've had such success sending probes out and getting material back, as hard to believe as the extraordinary achievement of getting men to the moon and back, but it's all true, whatever the conspiracy theorists say.

anti-atheist buses

I saw the TBS bus adverts which they've produced as a response to the 'atheist' bus ads - 'The fool hath said in his heart "There is no God".' Again, doesn't really seem to be the best way to engage with people you disagree with, if you actually want them to think about things, by appearing to insult them and call them fools.

Later: related article, Times, 6 February

julie burchill's faith again

For the love of Christ: I'm a Christian Zionist, a Christian feminist and a Christian socialist. But the Christian part has become the most important
- Julie Burchill in the Guardian, 14 August 2008. She's some girl.

the other darwin; in our time

The Other Darwin: The nineteenth-century naturalist gets emotional
- interesting article from The Walrus (which I'd never heard of before picking this link up in Arts and Letters Daily, which I've been revisiting recently), September 2008, covering along the way, among other things, some of the less charming of Darwin's theory's children. I'm not sure how people don't think you can blame darwinism for social darwinism.

Also reminded me of the In Our Time about neuroscience in which Melvyn's neuroscientific comparison were very dismissive of the idea that there was still even a mind/brain question to discuss - everyone thinks they have a mind, one of them said in effect, but everyone's wrong, we have brains and our thoughts are the product of the physical activity within them. Wholly deterministic, and certainly no less hard to get your head round or accept than - and in fact not much different from - the Christian tension between predestination and free will.

This, tangentially, is from Melvyn's email after that episode:
'I don’t know how the discussion drifted to the subject of experiments on animals but it did. All three were very sensitive to the strong feelings held on both sides. A few points emerged, however, which might interest you. One of the great centres of study, St Andrews in Scotland, has been closed down. They used to experiment with chimpanzees. The experiments now take place in Texas which has gone way ahead. And many of the academics from St Andrews have gone to Texas. Others are going to China. Others are going to anywhere in the world except this country, which used to be in the lead in looking for cures to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and the general problems of old age.'

The first week of January had a set of In Our Times on Charles Darwin, which I got on the podcast. Very interesting in many ways, not least that he didn't seem to see his theory as evidence for or against God or absence of God. I should, like Alex, tackle The Origin of Species in this anniversary year, but it's a mighty Victorian tome to embark upon.

nothing to be frightened of

Michael Dirda on 'Nothing to Be Frightened Of': Memento mori.
- interesting review of Julian Barnes' book on death from Washington Post of 31 August 2008

kippery goodness

I'm sure it was because I genuinely couldn't work out what they were singing, rather than an affectation, that as a boy I thought that in the advert for fudge they sang, in the finger of fudge song, 'it's full of kippery goodness, but very small and neat'. Cadbury goodness, that'll be. I did stick with kippery, though, even after I realised it was meant to be Cadbury; I like the idea of kippery goodness.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009


No shortage of photo of the snow down here.

These just those linked from the SE1 Direct forum: James Bardolph; Mark Adams; Paul Holmes; and SE1's Flickr set.

The Guardian on yesterday's weather.

The BBC on today and yesterday in London.

And a nice column from the Guardian today: London's day of innocence: Stuart Jeffries revels in the hush, the beauty, the joy and the anarchy of a city magically transformed.

I'm never averse to being critical of the English tendency for everything to grind to a halt when it rains or snows, as if it was the first time it had ever rained or snowed, but it was justified this time. I've never seen so much snow in my time in London - they keep referring back to eighteen years ago, but I don't remember that. I remember the time Bayble School was closed early and I went back to Angus's and ended up staying the night there, there was very deep snow then. I associate Hit Me Wth Your Rhythm Stick very clearly with that escapade, which would make it December 78/January 79. I also remember at some point in secondary school being up the castle grounds and people sliding down a snowy hill by moonlight, probably with people like Douglas and Alex, which would make it 82/83, but I don't remember that being so deep.

Bethan measured at least six inches on Monday morning on the trampoline and shed roof in the garden. Monday was a lovely day to be out in it. From mid-afternoon it didn't snow, but it didn't thaw, and did freeze in the night, so it was a lot less pleasant to walk out in today - teetering on textured or smooth ice rather than crunching through snow - although ironically many more people made it to work. By this evening everywhere that people had been walking was a lot less attractive, either cleared or very muddy snow or ice. The photogenic stage is past. Though they say more snow is due on Thursday or Friday - but then, they said more was due yesterday late afternoon and it didn't materialise.

We took loads of photos, but they're more of historic than artistic value I think.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

'what song is it you want to hear?'

"What song is it you want to hear?"
- a nice little item from Salon of 29 January on Billy Powell, who played keyboards on Freebird and has recently died.