Thursday, 30 April 2009

those ignorant atheists

Those ignorant atheists: In this witty book, Terry Eagleton argues that Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and their ilk are shockingly ill-informed about the Christian faith.
- Salon, 28 April

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

afc wimbledon promoted

Tears of joy as AFC Wimbledon prove they are in the wider interest of football: The south London club built by and owned by its fans has taken another step towards the Football League
- Guardian, 28 April

dinah and ella

Also via the Word email, YouTube clip of nice duet by Dinah Shore and Ella Fitzgerald.

autotune the news

Via the Word email, links to this very good YouTube clip made I guess by putting actual speech through AutoTuning software to turn it into melody: AutoTune the News 1. AutoTune the News 2 isn't so good. Martin Luther King sings sounds less like singing than his actual speech delivery

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

tough fa cup runs

Before beating Manchester United, Everton beat Aston Villa and Liverpool. They are going to play against Chelsea on 30 May. That means, if they will able to win the Cup, the four teams out of the first five in Premier League table will be beaten by them on the road," notes Firat Topal, speaking on behalf of a number of Everton fans who emailed us this week. "Has this ever happened before? Has any team ever had to take a tougher road to winning the FA Cup?"
- see The Knowledge, 22 April, for the detailed answer

online integrity for churches

Pastoral Integrity in Online Ministry Involves Much More than Avoiding Pornography
- Interesting article from Christian Computing magazine. Key points: answer your emails, be explicit who's answering them, credit ghostwriters.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

my first fashion show

Just before lunchtime, working at home, I was thinking I could do with a fashion-related photo for something I was working on. I looked on the Time Out website to see if there was anything in particular on, otherwise I could perhaps go to some fancy shopping street and get shop windows. But it turned out this week has been Alternative Fashion Week, with catwalk shows each day in Spitalfields Market at 1.15pm. In the blink of an eye I was on a bus, and got there before half one. It was packed with people, and to the untrained eye seemed to be a proper fashion show, with rows of seats down each side of the catwalk and at the end of the catwalk a tiered stand for massed ranks of press photographers, and then a few hundred other people watching, most of whom seemed to have cameras, like myself.

It was a fascinating experience, and actually I would happily have gone along on more than one day, even though fashion is hardly my thing. I was for most of the time in quite a good position where you could see the models lining up to go out on the catwalk and could also get photos of the mass of photographers taking photos of the model out at the end (which was the shot I was really after). Most of the clothes were for women. From memory I'd say it was a balanced mixture of clothes you could imagine people wearing on the street and clothes that would never be worn anywhere other than on a catwalk; it would be interesting to talk to someone who knows about fashion to find out just what the point of the latter kind is. The designers were a mixture of professionals and students; the same was true of the models, it seems. Some models and some outfits were particularly striking, for good and bad reasons. The music was a live jazz band. The archetypal sullen stride was much in evidence. The students in particular had a lot of friends in the crowd I think.

The info on the Alternative Fashion Week site is all PDFs so can't be linked to. According to the info, the designers I saw were: Cristiane Chaves, Chelsea College of Art & Design, Louise Crockett, Ismail Erbil, Lu Firth, Grace Maran, London Printworks Trust, Gillian Ramsay, Sahhara, Alicia Stone, TRAIDremade, Joanna Tulej, UCreative at Rochester, Waltham Forest College. Maybe one of them will be famous in the future; though I don't know who was who.

Here's an article from the Guardian dated this evening. Here's a CNBC slideshow. Here's the Vogue round-up page. I guess if I looked on Flickr next week there'd be photos up there by then.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

child labour in bangladesh

Set of photojournalist's photos of child labour in Bangladesh, mentioned in the Word email.

london belongs to me

The man who stood up to Orwell: Norman Collins and the middlebrow panorama of capital life
- interesting review of London Belongs To Me, a popular novel from 1945 by Norman Collins, in the TLS of 15 April


Revealed: Government helpline tells children 'cannabis is safer than alcohol': Children calling the Government's drugs helpline are being told that cannabis is safer than alcohol and that ecstasy will not damage their health, an investigation by The Sunday Telegraph has found.
- Telegraph, 20 April

those now attacking Blair over religion are missing the point

John Rentoul: Those now attacking Blair over religion are missing the point. The idea that the former PM hid his faith when in office is absurd
- Independent, 16 April

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

pets who want to kill themselves

I laughed at the title of this blog and one of the photos alone, when mentioned in another article: Pets who want to kill themselves. Ignore the useless captions the photos have been given; just look at the pictures and imagine each pet saying to itself 'I want to kill myself'.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

america is not a christian nation

America is not a Christian nation: Religious conservatives argue the Founding Fathers intended the United States to be a Judeo-Christian country. But President Obama is right when he says it isn't.
- Salon, 14 April

People sometimes say that Britain used to be a Christian country but isn't now, but I don't think that's the case either. Define what a country would have to be like to be defined as a Christian country, and then name a year in which that was true of Britain: I'd contend that can't be done (for Britain or any other country), using any acceptable definition. (Is there slavery in your Christian nation? Can women vote? Do black and white have equal civil rights? Is abortion legal? By those four parameters alone (in fact, the last two alone), the USA's potential 'Christian nation' years are limited to 1964 to - at the most generous - 1970, which I don't imagine are the peak years any proponents of the theory have in mind. A similar exercise for the UK wouldn't require many more parameters, if any, to get to a similar point.)

(Later: another parameter could be 'Is there capital punishment?', which would be a definer in either direction, and also highlights the fact that getting Christians to agree on what 'the' Christian political position would be, even on such straightforward yes/no fundamentals as this, is impossible.)

the andrews sisters

I've been watching a variable series of documentaries on BBC4 under the heading Legends, about singing acts from various eras. The thing I remember most from The Andrews Sisters one was that in the early years of their success the sisters and their parents were living in a hotel apartment/suite, but one of the sisters was secretly married to their manager - it was a couple of years before they told the rest of the family.

Monday, 20 April 2009

'why religion can't be just for consenting adults'

Why religion can't be just for consenting adults
When I worked as a stay-at-home mother and housewife I was very progressive in my ideas about children. I did not want to teach my son that there was any authority in the world above reason, so in all the wearying contests of will that are a part of raising toddlers, I would try never to say just "No", but something gentler, like "I don't think that's a good idea". I thought I was being reasonably successful until he started talking English (much of our ordinary interactions had been conducted in Swedish) when his first useful word was "Idea!".

"Idea!" he'd say: "Idea! Idea! Idea!" when I wanted him to put on warm clothes for the snow outside. What he meant, of course, was "no!". We both understood this perfectly well. So after a while I started to use the more normal English word for it – "No. You can't do that."

So much for bringing up children to appreciate the force of reason and the primacy of ideas over authority.

I'd like to think that I made a reasonable shot of this as the children grew up. But what I learned from the experience is that there is an enormous amount of extremely important knowledge that can only be taught by authority. In particular, this applies to rules of conduct and other forms of implicit knowledge. Running out into the snow in your indoor clothes is just wrong, and so is running into the road. These are things which children must be stopped from doing long before they can understand why. But so are various forms of social misbehaviour: hitting other toddlers, stealing, lying, and so forth. The important thing is to stop them and to inculcate the need not to do them; this comes long before reasons can be given.

In any case, for most people, there is never much need for moral reasoning even after they have grown up, or if there is a need it goes largely unmet. What keeps them going is a set of rules that say "people like us" (whoever we are) "don't do things like that" (whatever that is).

This is disappointing, of course, if you want humans to be ruled by reason. But it is also just about inevitable. To be ruled by conscious reason is noble and worthwhile. But it is also hard, and requires moral effort at least as much as cleverness – probably rather more, in fact. Self-deception is much harder to overcome than mere stupidity. But in any case, the point is that before we can learn consciously, we do most of our learning unconsciously, the way that small children learn grammar and syntax.

Most learning, in other words, consists in the acquisition of habits rather than chunks of articulate knowledge.

What has this got to do with religion? It shows up the absurdity of the demand occasionally heard here that children should be brought up without religion, and should only be counted as believers after they have reached maturity (whenever that may be). This might make perfect sense if religion were something like economics, and the different faiths corresponded to different schools of economic thought. A five-year old calling himself a Keynesian is no more an economist than a twenty month old child shouting "idea!" until he's scarlet in the face is an intellectual. But religion is not like that. Any religion is much more a matter of "Yes" and "No" – things that any child can understand, and can't in fact be brought up without.
- Andrew Brown's blog, Guardian, 20 March

People often say either that they don't think people should force their children into their religion or that they will let their own children decide for themselves when they grow up about things, but it's surely obvious that the alternative isn't neutrality - everyone is biased, no one is objective. You just have to think of the equivalent in politics - does the socialist couple say they will let their child decide their politics for themselves when they grow up, and avoid any coversations relating in any way to politics. If the parents ideals and beliefs - be they political, religious or whatever - mean anything, they will try to pass them on to their children and bring up their children to live by them.

the alastair campbell fallacy - 'we don't do god'

The Alastair Campbell fallacy: As Suzanne Moore's spat with the New Statesman shows, many on the left have decided certain views should not be heard
- Guardian, 24 March

Suzanne regards Campbell as a "vicious spin doctor", and was upset that his hand had been on our tiller, if only briefly. But what I found particularly instructive was her reaction to the inclusion of a piece by Tony Blair, Why we must all do God. "Christ!" wrote Suzanne, "I picked up my phone to tender my resignation…" (she had no position from which to resign, but that's by the by).

She may not be alone in having her stomach "turned" by "Blair's ramblings on conscience"; that is a legitimate point of view, and one shared by many of our readers who were outraged that our mostly secular pages had been soiled by a pro-religious standpoint. But this immediate and instinctive revulsion at the thought of the former PM talking about faith crystallises a key failing of the left. For all the talk of tolerance, there are some who believe that certain subjects simply cannot be aired. And foremost among them is God (on whom – or which – the NS is shortly to publish a special issue).

Yes, it was Campbell who once declared that "we don't do God", but that was not an issue over which his detractors on the left took him to task. He was reflecting the Labour view that their then leader's piety was even more embarrassing than John Major's family connection to the garden-gnome-manufacturing business.

Yet this, more than any attachment to Tawney or GDH Cole, was what brought Blair into politics in the first place. Any analysis of his principles that overlooks it presents a seriously incomplete picture. An extreme aversion to the role of faith in politics meant that Blair's motives and philosophy were never properly examined during his entire period of office – quite an extraordinary omission. It was also a view that denied the enormous debt Labour owes to its Christian socialist past: one that Harold Wilson acknowledged when he said that his party had been influenced more by Methodism than by Marxism.

The wider point is that too many on the left have the habit of deciding that certain views, articulated by certain people, should just not be heard.

man follows sat nav to cliff edge

Man follows sat nav to cliff edge: A car was left teetering on a cliff edge after the driver followed sat nav directions down a Pennine footpath. Robert Jones continued to follow the instructions when they told him the narrow, steep path he was driving on in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, was a road. Mr Jones, from Doncaster, South Yorkshire, only stopped when his BMW hit a fence above Gauxholme railway bridge on Sunday morning. Police have charged Mr Jones with driving without due care and attention.
- BBC, 25 March

thai 'spider-man' to the rescue

Thai 'Spider-Man' to the rescue. An unusual disguise has helped a Bangkok fireman rescue an eight-year-old boy who had climbed on to a third-floor window ledge, Thai police say. The firefighter dressed up as the comic book superhero Spider-Man in order to coax the boy, who is autistic, from his dangerous perch.
- BBC, 24 March


Won't cause much of a twitch on the worldwide web, but I'm going to take this blog behind a private wall next week. Reducing the online footprint; and also, as the subtitle says, it is just notes to myself, really. Maybe I will make more comments on other people's blogs and forums, pseudonymously or otherwise. Maybe I won't. Everything takes time.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

childhood's end, rendezvous with rama

I read Childhood's End about a year ago, recently finished Rendezvous with Rama. I realise Arthur C Clarke can be easily overlooked as one of those significant giants of the past you take for granted and perhaps assume hasn't stood the test of time, but he deserves his reputation and writes well (like Agatha Christie as far as the former goes, but not the latter). I enjoyed them both a lot. Rendezvous with Rama, I kept thinking special effects had caught up with sufficiently to make a tremendous film, but the ending, in which nothing happens, is just right for the book but would surely never work for a film.

I think the first of his I read was 2001, which came after the film, which was based on the short story; it was an inauspicious start, as I found it dull, like the film (footage of Harris, supposedly, notwithstanding).

As always, it's interesting how the big ideas are futuristic but the little details are striking. In Childhood's End there's a facsimile machine, already obsolete (Wikipedia indicates a surprisingly early date for fax technology, or at least the patenting of it (a Scotsman, hurrah!), but it was the 70s when it came into its own as a commercial technology).

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

statues on buildings in london

A nice page, from the Knowledge of London website, of photos of statues in London, mostly on buildings above head height (the page is called Rooftop Statues, but that's not strictly accurate).


Two interesting Columbine-related articles from Salon, one recent, one older.

What you never knew about Columbine: As a Salon reporter, Dave Cullen exploded myths about the tragic school shooting, now the subject of his new book. He talks about what the media bungled -- and what still surprises him.
- Salon, 6 April

Inside the Columbine High investigation: Everything you know about the Littleton killings is wrong. But the truth may be scarier than the myths.
- Salon, 23 September 1999

Saturday, 4 April 2009

parents feel excluded by children

Parents feel excluded by children: Many parents feel "excluded" by their children's reluctance to tell them anything about their time spent at school, suggests a survey. The survey from the government's educational technology agency, Becta, suggests children do not like to be "hassled" by parental inquiries. It found that 82% of parents wished they had more information about their children's school life. Only 16% of children volunteered information about their day at school.
- BBC, 23 March

science journalists? don't make me laugh

Science journalists? Don't make me laugh
Science is not difficult to explain. Today we will see how British journalists go out of their way to cherry-pick which evidence they cover, and then explain the risks and benefits in what has been shown to be the single most unhelpful way possible.
"Screening all older men for prostate cancer 'could reduce deaths by a fifth'," said the Mail. "Prostate cancer hope" said the Mirror. "Calls for new policies on NHS cancer tests" said the Independent. "Prostate cancer screening could cut deaths by 20%" said the Guardian. "Better cancer screening is every man's right" was the editorial in the Scotsman, where they wound themselves into a froth of indignation.
But was this just British journalists finding something to complain about? Because all around the world, people were saying something completely different, on the same day, about the very same academic publication: "Prostate cancer screening may not reduce deaths" said the Washington Post. "Studies cast doubt on leading prostate cancer test" said USA Today. "PSA testing may not save your life after all" said Scientific American. "Prostate cancer blood test does little to decrease death rate" said the Sydney Morning Herald. And so on.
Why would the American and the Australian journalists say something completely different to the British ones, about the very same evidence?
First, our journalists were simply confused. Not a single newspaper managed to clearly explain the risks and benefits of screening in the trial they were writing about. It's very simple: the study took more than 160,000 men between the ages of 55 and 69 and randomly assigned them either to get PSA screening, or to be left alone. The differences were marginal. Yes, there were 20% fewer deaths in the screening group. What does that mean in terms of real people, in real numbers you can understand, not percentages?
First, 1,410 men would need to be screened to prevent one death. Second, for each death prevented, 48 people would need to be treated; and prostate cancer treatment has a high risk of very serious side-effects such as impotence and incontinence.
These figures are not hard to find: they are in the summary of the research paper. For complex risk decisions such as screening, it has been shown in three separate studies that patients, doctors, and NHS purchasing panels make more rational decisions about treatments and screening programmes when they are given the figures as real numbers, as I did above, instead of percentages. I'm not saying that PSA screening is either good or bad: I am saying that people deserve the figures in the clearest form possible so they can make their own mind up.
It gets worse. British journalists also deliberately ignored one whole half of the research, and I'll confess I've slightly lost my sense of humour over this. There were in fact two large studies on PSA testing published in the New England Journal on 18 March 2009, not one. They were both published on the same day, in the same journal, they are side by side on the same contents page. British journalists discussed only one of them - the one that said PSA screening does reduce deaths.
- Bad Science, Guardian, 21 March

skyscrapercity videos

Skyscrapercity video channel on YouTube. Videos mostly of London building projects and sites, including at the Elephant (part 1 and part 2).

Here's a photo from high-up of the Strata tower going up.

more from the knowledge

"Is it true that a Newcastle United player invented the windscreen wiper?" asks a disbelieving Warren Rose.
Almost, Warren, almost. Football can indeed claim for itself a part in the invention of the windscreen wiper, but it was a Newcastle fan rather than a player who came up with the idea.
It's now more than a 100 years since Gladstone Adams drove his Darracq car to Crystal Palace Park for the 1908 FA Cup final between Wolves and his beloved Newcastle United. Adams' side were the overwhelming favourites against Second Division Wolves, but the underdogs ran out 3–1 winners, handing Newcastle their third final defeat in four years.
It's fair to suggest then that Adams wasn't in the best of moods on the journey home. And his disposition would have deteriorated further when he found himself in the middle of an unseasonable snowstorm. Back then, windscreens had to be cleared by hand and it was on one of these frosty-fingered breaks by the side of the road that Adams came up with the idea of a mechanised blade that could run whilst the car was in motion.
Unfortunately, Adams has a fairly lonely place in the pantheon of football's inventors. Generally, the sport has borrowed ideas from elsewhere. Turnstiles, for example, were originally used in agriculture as a form of stile, allowing ramblers and farmers to access fields while keeping the sheep and cows in. Shin pads, permitted in the FA rules as early as 1874, were a ripped off, cut down version of the cricket pads of the time.
These days, inventive bods have come up with all sorts of nonsense — 'Football mania while urinating' and 'Mr Soccer Robot Football' — but little, as far as we can tell, that originated with a game of 11 v 11. It's not a particularly satisfactory result from 140-odd years of Association Football, so if anyone has can help out in the search get in touch at the usual address.

"Lloyd Owusu began the season at Yeovil, moved to Cheltenham and is now on loan at Brighton," wrote Tom Brabin last week. "It's not beyond the realms of possibility that all three teams could get relegated from League One this season. Has one player ever played for three relegated teams in the same season?"
With Brighton and Cheltenham in the relegation zone and Yeovil only three points clear, things aren't looking too good for Owusu — if all three drop down to League Two, the striker seems certain to set a new record. Thomas Prime (no relation to Optimus) writes in to suggest Neville Southall in 1997-98.
"That season he played for Stoke, Southend, and Doncaster Rovers, who all got relegated," says Thomas. "He also played for Everton, who only stayed in the Premier League on goal difference." Unfortunately Southall played for Doncaster in the following season, not during their relegation campaign.
The Welsh goalkeeper joins a plethora of players who have experienced double demotions — just last season David Bell (Luton and Leicester) and Steve Howard (Leicester and Derby County) joined that ignominious list.
The closest we can get to Owusu's potential achievement is the 1999-2000 campaign of Junior Agogo. The Ghanaian striker was on the books of Sheffield Wednesday (relegated from the Premier League) and had loan spells at Chesterfield (relegated from what is now League One) and Chester City (relegated from what is now League Two). Agogo, however, made his only appearances for the Owls in the preceding two seasons.

Over the past couple of weeks we've been investigating football's worst cases of fixture congestion, and basically coming to the conclusion that today's top-flight players don't know how lucky they are. This week another couple of reader missives piqued our attention.
Firstly to Bryan Jones, who claims that "in 1994, Gremio set a record when they had to play three times on the same day for different tournaments", though we can't find any corroborating evidence.
And this little gem comes from Adam Wilson: "This could be classed as the most useless fixture pile-up: I present you with Nottingham Forest v Luton at the end of the 1987-88 season. Every other team had played their games and headed for the beach, but neither Forest v Luton game had been played. So on 13 May and 15 May Division One was played to its pointless conclusion. Forest, in third, could not finish second. Luton, in ninth, needed to win both games to finish eighth. Both games ended 1-1."
- Guardian Knowledge, 18 March