Friday, 30 October 2009

waterstones and the bookseller

Private Eye, 16 October, reports on The Bookseller carrying a story (3 weeks after Private Eye did) on how badly Waterstone's book stock control and distribution Hub was working:
'What was the reaction of Waterstone's MD Gerry Johnson - whose baby the Hub very much is - to this news? He promptly posted a message on the company's internal computer system - but not a terribly reassuring one. " is not necessary for our day-to-day business activities and the contents can be misleading," staff were informed. "Therefore, from today, it has become a restricted site and access has been removed."
'Staff in the chain's stores, incredulous at the idea that as booksellers it was unnecessary for them to keep informed about bookselling, have reacted by firing up their home computers and adding well over 200 comments to the offending article.'

Thursday, 29 October 2009

play it again, dad

Play it again, dad: how to turn your kids on to the art you love. You own 7,000 records, but all she likes is disco … What's the best way to get your children into art without putting them off for life? Our critics reveal their own successes and failures.
- Guardian, 25 October

joshua bell busking

Pearls Before Breakfast: Can one of the nation's great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let's find out.
- Washington Post, 8 April 2007, account of what happened when famous violinist Joshua Bell went busking

pointless key changes in songs

I can't bear pointless key changes in songs - even the best do it, but it just demonstrates a lack of imagination and ideas, and you'd be better cutting the song short than extending it by that means.

Anyway, The Truck Driver's Gear Change Hall of Shame website feels the same way. And it also comes complete with an essay analysis by Dominic Pedler of the practice, which incorporates a case for why the Beatles don't do it even when it appears they do, which is leaning on an open door with me (as Danny Baker says).

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

monopoly locations in london

It's not as easy as you'd think to find pictures of the British monopoly board online. It's surprisingly easy to find websites describing how to do pub crawls visiting all the Monopoly locations; you can also I think do 'sponsored crawl' type things. Yesterday and today I visited all the Monopoly locations for a photo feature, aiming to get one street sign photo and one street view photo for each location (27, including the four stations and a jail). I achieved that, though we'll see how it turns out in print.

Here's a page by someone (Peter Stubbs, now based in Edinburgh) who took photos at all the locations twelve to fifteen years ago. Interesting how old some of the photos look.

A couple of the photos I took were similar to his. I took a photo of the front of the Bell Foundry, the back of which I presume is what he's taken the photo of - I'm surprised you could get round there. I took the photo of the dancer statue in Bow Street. We did different Vine Streets and Marlborough Streets, though I agree with Tim Moore's interpretation of which Vine Street and Marlborough Street it was. In his book on the Monopoly locations, Do Not Pass Go, which I read earlier this year, he says the theme of the orange set is crime and punishment, which makes sense. Vine Street was the last street I visited and is a stubby wee dead end, with a couple of rear entrances into places, but the building on the corner used to be a police station. Marlborough Stret TM reckons Marlborough Street to be Great Marlborough Street, as there was a court there.

We both did Pentonville Prison. And of course Mayfair's a district rather than a street, although there is a Mayfair Place. Same photo of the front of Fenchurch Street Station - the first time I'd ever been to that obscure little station (they picked an odd set of stations, although of course I had no idea of that growing up). Similar Regent Street and Liverpool Street Station photos. He's got a photo of the Saudi embassy for Mayfair, without the railings, so he must have stuck his camera through the railings. I was there today too (I didn't know that's what it was until I got there, though I remember passing it on the way to the Curzon cinema in years gone by); there were police on duty outside, and when I came up to the railings with my camera someone inside wandered over to me. We had a pleasant chat, I told him what I was up to, and he asked me not to take a photo through the railings from this side of the street but suggested I go over to the other side, which I didn't mind.

The only other person who asked me what I was up to was someone who I'd registered as a paparazzi while I was waiting outside the Mayfair Hotel for a car to move so I could get a better picture; he came over and asked if I was waiting for someone, obviously wondering if I knew that someone was coming or going, so I told him I wasn't. When I was on Great Marlborough Street there were quite a few camera folk outside Liberty's, so someone was obviously due along there.

I also printed out this page which was quite handy: 'A geographically accurate map of the elements of standard London Monopoly.'

I was most pleased with my Whitehall photo, which was a photo of the cabinet office entrance with the door open and a yellow sign up on the floor saying something like 'Caution, cleaning in progress', but that'll be too small to be legible in print.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

james i and oliver cromwell

Listened yesterday to the In Our Time on the death of Elizabeth I, which was a good one. One interesting nugget was that James I, on his slow progress down from Scotland to take the throne (down the route of the A1, essentially, they said, slow because he was trying out all the hunting which he'd heard the lords had on the way), stayed on the eve of Elizabeth's funeral at the home of Sir Oliver Cromwell, the uncle and namesake of the man who would put his son, Charles I, to death. The occasion is noted on this page of the history of Hinchingbrooke House.

how to write badly well

Also via the Word email, some good posts on Joel Stickley's blog, How To Write Badly Well.

lulu and the lampshades

Sweet video, via the Word email: as the email says, ' lovely, clever performance from Bristol-based Lulu & The Lampshades. Involves fine singing, hand-claps and empty Waitrose cartons'. Funny old world where that little clip recorded in someone's kitchen has been watched a hundred thousand times. This is their Myspace page.

emptying beijing

Word podcast 114, of 14 October, Fraser Lewry, who likes going on holidays places like North Korea, told of being in Beijing earlier this year when they were rehearsing for a celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the Communist party, and for the rehearsal they emptied the city so that no one would see it. The city is surrounded by three ring roads, and they emptied everyone from the second ring road in. And if you had a job that meant you couldn't leave, they posted someone there to make sure you didn't look out of the window. The joys of totalitarianism. Which is also why the London Olympics festivities won't be as spectacular as the Beijing ones were.

two season tickets

A man phoned Danny Baker show on 3 October to say that his wife used to work with someone who had two season tickets for Halifax Town - one for himself and one for his flask. I'm not sure I believe that, but the man and his wife clearly did.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

who owns your stuff on facebook?

Anything you put on a Facebook page belongs to Facebook. This Straight Dope answer covers the issue (and also mentions that Straight Dope themselves have, via their user agreement, irrevocable rights to anything you post on their message boards. It's probably quite common. No one reads those agreements.

cycling for formosa

A call on Danny Baker on 19 September from a woman, who had just confirmed this family story with her 79-year-old father, that her dad competed as a cyclist in the 1948 Olympics for England, and he took part in a massed start time trial in Richmond Park, and he should have competed as the last English cyclist, Mr Keith Ewing, but there was an administrative error and he ended up being listed and competing in the trial as Mr K E Wing, the first cyclist for the Free Republic of China, Formosa. And because all of the time trial results were listed cumulatively, the Free Republic of China didn't do very well, which meant that her dad didn't get to go through to the next round.

I don't know if I believe that (you'd think it would have meant that the English total was implausibly low), but she certainly did.

alison graham

A lot less trendy than Charlie Brooker, but Alison Graham, the TV editor of the Radio Times, writes really good analysis columns on TV in the RT. I don't know if the entries in this Alison Graham blog on the RT website are those columns, as I've just come across it.

capuchin monkeys cracking nuts

Nature documentaries showing animals using intelligence are always impressive, more so than clips 'just' showing something beautiful or purely physical. This BBC clip on Youtube of a capuchin monkey using a stone to crack a nut is made more striking because of the extent to which the monkey looks like a child. Anthropomorphism is to be resisted, of course, and broadly speaking BBC docs are better at avoiding that than American docs, but it's hard to squash that inclination in the viewer.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

unoccupied, unloved: london mansions

Unoccupied, unloved: London mansions left to crumble by elusive offshore owners. Council official despairs at total of 1m empty homes in London and across the UK
- Guardian, 16 October

vivaldi on the accordion

A YouTube clip of some impressive Vivaldi played on a mighty accordion.

postman on the lrb

A postman writes an interesting account of the modern postman's lot, in the London Review of Books.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

fridtjof nansen

My hero Fridtjof Nansen, by Sara Wheeler
- Guardian, 17 October.

Nansen was born near Christiania, the former name of Oslo, in 1861, and in the course of a tumultuous life became an outstanding scientist, diplomat and humanitarian as well as an explorer. He was a founder of neurology, discovering that nerve fibres, on entering the spinal cord, bifurcate into ascending and descending branches. They are still known as Nansen's fibres. A Nobel peace prize was among many laurels bestowed for his work as a League of Nations high commissioner, in the course of which he had originated the Nansen passport for refugees.

Following independence in 1905, he became his country's first ambassador to the Court of St James's, and at one point almost rose to the position of Norwegian prime minister.

- I met Sara Wheeler once, briefly, as Marion used to be her nanny, around the time of her writing the biography of Apsley Cherry-Garrard.

a childish joke

A childish joke I thought up:
Why did the boy's hair laugh? Because he slept on it funny.

Monday, 19 October 2009

radio four

I was remembering the other day that the first place I remember hearing the midnight news on R4, and then Sailing By and the shipping forecast, was in Douglas's house in Helensburgh. I was never much of an R4 listener growing up, the occasional comedy aside.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

the fourth plinth: it was just big brother all over again

The fourth plinth: it was just Big Brother all over again. We saw sea monsters, Nazis, football referees and – inevitably – plenty of nudity. But was Antony Gormley's One and Other actually any good?
- Guardian, 9 October

In the National Portrait Gallery around the corner, a monitor showing webcam images of the participants is accompanied by a text describing this as a modern, anti-hierarchical portrait of the many, in contrast to traditional portraits of the famous. A portrait of Britain in our time; a celebration of the creativity of ordinary people – One & Other has been widely seen as all these things, as well as a sophisticated art work in itself, a kind of humane successor to Andy Warhol's Screen Tests. In my view all these glowing accounts are so impervious to the physical and visual experience of the work that they are close to deliberate distortions.
Quite why so many people would want to believe and disseminate dishonest views of an artwork, I don't know; but the cultural rhetoric around it seems to be so captivating that everyone wants to join the party, even if it means ignoring the blindingly obvious truth. I believe Hans Christian Andersen wrote a story that may be pertinent – except Gormley's participants weren't encouraged to appear in the altogether.
Let's start with the webcam mounted on the safety net structure that surrounds the plinth. Its images proved a summer hit for Sky Arts, and provided the pictures that have made One & Other famous. Yet nobody who has been to see the living sculpture in Trafalgar Square will have seen anything like these webcam pictures. The camera is far, far closer to the participants than any spectator can get.
Suppose you have been following the project via webcam, and you want to see this moving spectacle for yourself. You buy your train ticket and head for London. As you walk expectantly into Trafalgar Square, you see ... an ordinary day. Buskers, lions, buses. It takes a moment to make out the small figure on the plinth. It also takes a moment to get used to the lack of excited crowds. Where is the great democratic spectacle, which from the early reviews you took to be a cross between VE Day and the Sex Pistols at the Roxy?
Come closer. Stand under the plinth. A bearded man is standing up there, drinking a can of Strongbow and playing house music on a portable stereo. (This is someone I watched last Friday afternoon.) There is a small group of spectators, made up of friends of the participant, tourists and the briefly curious. Sometimes the crowd grows, as when a man campaigning for an Alzheimer's charity throws down T-shirts. Any giveaway seems to increase interest. One woman has a fishing rod that she uses to lower little bags full of mosaic artworks made by schoolchildren; a helper below tries to explain what they mean.
Here, right here, is the true essence of the work. The mosaicist up on the plinth, giving away these works she made with her art classes, can't make her own voice heard up there. Instead she uses this homemade contraption to reach out over the safety nets. She's a small figure, removed from even the closest observer by the immensity of the plinth and its safety apparatus; the only way she can communicate is by lowering down these little yellow packages on a string, and finally putting up a sign advertising her wares.
Far from being a Chaucerian gathering of larger-than-life British citizens, this is a diminishing, isolating image of the individual. There's a simple problem: the plinth is very big. It does not function as a grand, eloquent podium but, on the contrary, removes the performers from the social world. It is not a stage. It is a hermit's platform.

- the presence of the camera certainly skewed the way people on the plinth behave, as they almost all oriented themselves to the camera rather than the square, and many didn't really attempt to make things legible or audible from below, as long as they were so on camera. Few people did anything really interesting or artistic.

michelle obama's family tree

In First Lady’s Roots, a Complex Path From Slavery
- New York Times, 8 October


Lookalikes suggested on Danny Baker's show:
- Danny Baker and Andrea Dworkin
- Cristiano Ronaldo and early Cliff Richard

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

guantanamo guard becomes muslim

'I questioned things at Guantánamo from day one': Six months into his stint as a guard at Guantánamo, Terry Holdbrooks converted to Islam. What made him do it, asks Sarfraz Manzoor
- Guardian, 7 October

kit don't fit

A 'kit don't fit' story from the Danny Baker show of 26th September (he's on Saturday mornings on R5 now), from a listener in New Zealand, who said his dad was conscripted for the Korean War; he was lining up for kit, and they were asking what size feet people had, to issue them with boots; he didn't know, and didn't know what to do as he got closer to the front of the line; in the end he said the same size as the person in front of him had said, so he went through the Korean War wearing boots a couple of sizes too big for him, with socks stuffed down at the end of the boot, and the boots curling up.

billy bookcases

The Billy bookcase: 30 and still going strong. Why Ikea's iconic design is still the toast of cash-strapped bibliophiles everywhere
- Guardian, 5 October. Lucy Mangan salutes her, and my bookcases

roman polanski's extraordinary childhood

Why did Roman Polanski risk it? Roman Polanski, the controversial director arrested in Switzerland last week after more than 30 years on the run from US courts, has long flirted with danger. But there may be no escape this time, says his biographer Christopher Sandford
- Daily Telegraph, 3 October

"Don't do it, Romek!" These were to be words Roman Polanski (whom friends still call by his childhood nickname) would hear often throughout his life, and which he almost invariably ignored.
On this occasion, he was 15 and had agreed to meet a young man named Janusz Dziuba, who had promised to sell him a new racing bicycle at a good price. That summer morning in 1949, Polanski took a friend with him to the rendezvous opposite the secret police HQ in central Krakow. When the wild-eyed Dziuba arrived carrying something bulky wrapped in a newspaper, and announced that the bike was in "the bunker", a foul-smelling air-raid shelter left behind by the Nazis, his friend grew uneasy. "You stay here," Polanski reassured him. "I'll be fine."
Dziuba led the way down a series of mouldy, graffiti-strewn passages, which levelled off into a vault-like room some 30ft below ground. The bike was just ahead of them in the corner, he murmured. Polanski had taken two steps when something caught him hard on the back of the head – a rock which Dziuba had concealed inside the newspaper. When the haze cleared, he became dimly aware of his assailant standing above him, demanding money. Polanski claimed to have none on him. Dziuba then relieved him of his watch and other valuables, before leaving him semi-comatose on the concrete floor, covered in blood.
Dziuba made his escape into the park, but was spotted and tackled by an alert lorry driver whose suspicions were aroused by the sight of a blood-spattered young man emerging from the bunker at a run. Polanski was taken to hospital, where 18 stitches were inserted in his scalp. It later emerged that Dziuba had assaulted at least eight previous victims, three of whom he had bludgeoned to death. He was tried and hanged for his crimes in December 1949.

Monday, 12 October 2009

photographers rights and the law

Two websites on photographers rights and the law: Sirimo, and Urban75.

the becontree estate

Barton's Britain: The Becontree estate. Built to replace East End slums, it became home to football managers and archbishops
- Guardian, 9 October

'I am coming on'

Mark Watson on Fighting Talk from Saturday said he was at an outside court at Wimbledon some time ago and the player was getting angry with himself - the question was your favourite sportsperson of some former Soviet country, possibly Ukraine since England were playing them that night - and someone shouted 'Come on!' and he said, 'I am coming on!'

Sunday, 11 October 2009


I was in the Plaza shopping centre on Oxford Street today, and the escalators were made by Schindler, a manufacturer I hadn't noticed before (their names are often engraved where you step on or off, at least). I'm sure I'm not the first person who has wondered if they also do lifts.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

sons of temperance friendly society

We pass the Sons of Temperance Friendly Society building on Blackfriars Road most weeks. This is the building; this is the official site; this is a BBC news story.

Monday, 5 October 2009

no country for old men; rendezvous with rama

Went to the library a couple of weeks ago to see if they had The Road by Cormac McCarthy, after Alex's recommendation. It wasn't in, but I did get out No Country For Old Men instead, which I've just finished. A good read, but brutal. No surprise it was made into a film, as it reads very much like a film, heavily dialogue and straightforward description of action. I found it a little hard to keep track of some of the minor characters who were involved in the chasing, and killed in it, or to keep distinct some of the lawmen, but it didn't really matter. It was a good read, but yes, sparse and brutal.

I remember reading Carrie and thinking, probably even more, that it read just like a ready-to-go film.

I remember from Mark Kermode's film review radio programmes that there was dissatisfaction with the ending of the film of NCFOM and him saying that was exactly how the book ended, and I can see how the inconclusive ending might not be satisfactory for everyone, but it resembled real life in that regard. I presumed that the film stuck close to the book, and this from the Wikipedia entry suggests that was so: 'The script was so faithful to the novel that Ethan described the screenwriting process by saying, "[O]ne of us types into the computer while the other holds the spine of the book open flat."'

It reminded me in that regard of Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C Clarke, which I thought would lend itself very well to being filmed, especially in these days of special/digital effects, but which had no real ending that would satisfy a film audience. I enjoyed RWR a lot. Here's a quote from p47 (start of chapter ten):
*The* authority on life-support systems, Mercer had written some of the standard textbooks on the subject. He had personally checked out innumerable types of equipment, often under hazardous conditions, and his biofeedback control was famous. At a moment's notice he could cut his pulse-rate by fifty per cent, and reduce respiration to almost zero for up to ten minutes. These useful little tricks had saved his life on more than one occasion.
Yet despite his great ability and intelligence, he was almost wholly lacking in imagination. To him the most dangerous experiments or missions were simply jobs that had to be done. He never took unnecessary risks, and had no use at all for what was commonly regarded as courage.
The two mottoes on his desk summed up his philosophy of life. One asked 'What have you forgotten?' The other said 'Help stamp out bravery'. The fact that he was widely regarded as the bravest man in the Fleet was the only thing that ever made him angry.

My library copy of NCFOM had two bookmarks in it. One, less than halfway in, was a receipt from a Quick Deposit envelope filled out in March for £220; the other, quite near the end, was a laminated postcard flyer for Miami Spring Break holidays in March (so perhaps the same reader's bookmarks), which included some terrible spelling and erratic capitalisation, including Bahamas as 'baharmas' and 'bharmas', car rentals 'wordwide', and misspelling their own email address.


Watched Gordy this afternoon. As the Wikipedia entry indicates, it was overshadowed by the other, far better, talking pig film Babe released later the same year. A Disney film, but really very poorly performed. By popular acclaim the video will be going back to a charity shop, where it came from, rather than staying on our shelves.

october ansible

DAN BROWN's latest shows his mastery of classic 'As You Know, Bob' exposition: '"Peter," she said, "you already told me that the Egyptians knew about levers and pulleys long before Newton, and the early alchemists did work on a par with modern chemistry ..."' (_Financial Times_ review, 19 September) [MMW] Elsewhere, a minion opens his info-dump to the hero with: 'As you probably know, Professor ...' [MW]

URSULA K. LE GUIN laments the passing of the squid: '[L]ast night on the Lehrer news hour Margaret Atwood did not say she did not write science fiction because she did not write about talking squids, but said that she did not write science fiction because she did not write about talking cabbages. I am pondering the significance of this change from sea beast to land vegetable, but so far it escapes me. She was otherwise charming, and I do think _The Year of the Flood_ is good science fiction even though its cabbages are speechless.' (23 September) Those eloquent cabbages presumably live on Planet X: the indefatigable Ms Atwood told the _New York Times_ that her work is not sf since 'I don't write about Planet X, I write about where we are now.' (21 September)

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON took a poke at the Booker Prize in the _New Scientist_ sf special of 17 September, calling sf 'the best British literature of our time' and complaining that Booker juries 'judge in ignorance and give their awards to what usually turn out to be historical novels. [...] these novels are not about now in the way science fiction is. Thus it seems to me that three or four of the last 10 Booker prizes should have gone to science fiction novels the juries hadn't read.' [] In response, Booker judge John Mullan (as befits a professor of English at University College London) ringingly affirmed his sf ignorance and 'said that he "was not aware of science fiction," arguing that science fiction has become a "self-enclosed world". / "When I was 18 it was a genre as accepted as other genres," he said, but now "it is in a special room in book shops, bought by a special kind of person who has special weird things they go to and meet each other." (_Guardian_, 18 September) [KM/CP] Could he mean literary festivals? [] According to _Private Eye_, 'Whispers from the judging room suggest [the Booker] panel were stunned by the awfulness' of some submissions including Margaret Atwood's _The Year of the Flood_: 'is she turning into Doris Lessing, from feminism to sci-fi daffiness?' (18 September) This was the only sf novel ('No it isn't!' -- M.A.) submitted by any Booker-seeking UK publisher, and this is the reaction Atwood wriggles so hard to avoid: the _Eye_, like at least one Booker judge, automatically equates sf with 'no good'.

COURT CIRCULAR. The Tolkien Trust/New Line Cinema lawsuit for non-payment of royalties has been settled on deeply confidential terms. Everyone claims to be happy, and the planned films of _The Hobbit_ can go ahead. The Warner Bros president/CEO thanked the unsung little people, saying that Warner 'deeply valued the contribution of the Tolkien novels to the success of our films ...' (_Guardian_) [JS]

_District 9_ offended Nigeria's government, which told cinemas to stop showing a film that according to Information Minister Dora Akunyili 'denigrated Nigeria's image by portraying us as if we are cannibals, we are criminals.' Actor Eugene Khumbanyiwa pointed out: 'It's a story, you know ... It's not like Nigerians do eat aliens. Aliens don't even exist in the first place.' (BBC, 19 September) [MPJ]

- October Ansible extracts

most babies born in britain will live to 100

Most babies born in Britain will live to 100: Scientists highlight dramatic rise in life expectancy in world's richest countries
Most babies born in Britain today will live past the age of 100, scientists say. Life expectancy soared by more than 30 years in richer nations during the 20th century and shows no sign of slowing. It has risen steadily, by three months every year, for the past 160 years, and there is no reason to think it has hit a limit.
In Japan, female life expectancy at birth reached 86 in 2007, surpassing what was thought to to the human limit of 85, as assessed by scientists as recently as 1980.
Researchers say that we are living better for longer, and spending fewer of our extra years disabled and dependent on others. In the early part of the last century, improvements in infant and child survival contributed most to growing life expectancy, but since the 1950s, the biggest gains have been in the over-80s, who now have more than twice the chance of surviving to be 90.
- Independent, 2 October

Saturday, 3 October 2009

what stormtroopers do on their day off

What stormtroopers do on their day off - an entertaining set of photos, entertaining for one visit at least. They're a selection from this Flickr set, one being taken each day for a year, still ongoing.

football punishments; sub goalies

"You hear a lot about players' win bonuses, like those apparently handed out to Manchester City's players," wrote Glen Reilly last week, "but which teams have dished out punishments to their players in the event of defeats?"
Plenty of managers have emphasised the stick over the carrot, some good-naturedly, some in an utterly abominable manner. In the former camp is Sam Hammam and the Wimbledon squad in 1998-99. A contract clause meant that, if the Dons lost a game by five clear goals, Hammam could force the squad to attend an opera and eat an array of offal-based dishes at a Lebanese restaurant. "It's all in writing," said Robbie Earle, the Wimbledon captain at the time. "If we lose by five clear goals, Sam can make us eat a meal which has to include sheep's testicles and all sorts of brains, intestines and horrible-sounding stuff." The threat worked, though Earle and co did come close to an ear- and taste-bud bashing when losing 5-1 to Arsenal in April 1999.
It seems bizarre punishments were very much de rigeur in 1998-99. Jon O'Neill writes to point us in the direction of Burkino Faso where, in that same season, 11 players from the army side Armed Forces Sporting Union had their heads shaved and were thrown in jail for the night after losing a decisive game. "It's true that it was only football but the people concerned must realise that they are soldiers and playing football in the army is not simply sport but is a mission," said the club president, Commander Zoumana Traoré. "If I had them shaved it is to show that every time they have to defend the army's honour they must undertake their task with all seriousness."
The following year, an Ivory Coast squad containing Olivier Tebily and Ibrahima Bakayoko were detained in an army camp by the military following their exit from the African Nations Cup, with the government claiming it was for the players' protection lest angry fans seek reprisals. "Some reports claim the players were also made to frog-march and attend lectures on patriotism," writes Jon.
But most disturbing is the case of Uday Hussein, Saddam's son, who was placed in charge of the Iraqi Olympic Committee and therefore the national football side. "Punishments" – for they seem to have been dished out almost at random – included beatings with electrical cables, being forced to kick a concrete ball, and having their feet scalded and toenails pulled out. As Suzanne Goldenberg reported in these pages in 2003:
Footballers say he never really understood or showed much interest in the game itself, but was desperate enough for a win that he would phone up the dressing room during half-time to threaten to cut off players' legs and throw them to ravenous dogs.
As football overseer, Uday kept a private torture scorecard, with written instructions on how many times each player should be beaten on the soles of his feet after a particularly poor showing.
Sharar Haydar, a former player for the national side, had an even more horrific tale:
One time, after a friendly [match] against Jordan in Amman that we lost 2-0, Uday had me and three team-mates taken to the prison. When we arrived, they took off our shirts, tied our feet together and pulled our knees over a bar as we lay on our backs. Then they dragged us over pavement and concrete, pulling the skin off our backs. Then they pulled us through a sandpit to get sand in our backs. Finally, they made us climb a ladder and jump into a vat of raw sewage. They wanted to get our wounds infected. The next day, and for every day we were there, they beat our feet. My punishment, because I was a star player, was 20 [lashings] per day.
"Has anyone ever subbed their keeper specifically for a penalty and/or a penalty shoot-out?" asked Eduardo Panizzo, back in the day.
It's happened several times. In the 1996 First Division play-off final, the Leicester manager Martin O'Neill decided to bring on the 6ft 7in Aussie keeper Zeljko Kalac for Kevin Poole, who is barely 5ft 11in in his boots.
The substitution had the desired effect – but not in the way everyone expected. With the score delicately tied at 1-1 deep into extra-time, Crystal Palace failed to deal with a Garry Parker free-kick and as the ball was nodded into the penalty area, Steve Claridge "shinned a volley into the top corner". Well, so say objective Palace fans.
And then there's the case of a famous German keeper, who shall remain nameless for now. Said keeper had just moved to Milan after a successful spell with Schalke, but during one game of his five-match spell with the Rossoneri (in October 1998), he managed to upend the Cagliari forward Roberto Muzzi and concede a penalty. Milan's coach Alberto Zaccheroni had seen enough and immediately brought on Sebastiano Rossi for the beleaguered keeper. Rossi saved Muzzi's ensuing spot-kick, but couldn't stop Cagliari winning the game 1-0. The substituted keeper was soon on his way back to Germany, signing for Borussia Dortmund, from where he moved to the Premier League. Step forward, Jens Lehmann, we salute you.
A reader named Abbey draws attention to another case. When the African Champions League final between Enyimba FC of Nigeria and Tunisian side Etoile Sahel went to penalties after the two-legged tie finished 3-3, the former opted to switch keepers.
Off came Vincent Enyeama, with the penalty specialist Dele Aiyenugba taking his place. Aiyenugba duly saved Ben Frej's effort as Enyimba prevailed 5-3 and retained their crown. Incredibly, Enyimba had done exactly the same thing in the semi-finals against another Tunisian side, Espérance, where Aiyenugba saved two penalties and saw two others missed.
Finally, in Joe McGinnis's book The Miracle of Castel di Sangro, which follows the fortunes of the team from the Abruzzo as they play their debut season in Serie B in 1996-97, he describes how they gained promotion in a play-off v Ascoli in June 1996.
"The game went into extra-time goalless, and was still 0-0 with one minute left on the clock before the penalty shoot-out that would decide who was promoted when Osvaldo Jaconi, the Castel di Sangro coach, took off the keeper that had played every minute of the season so far and replaced him with a 34-year-old reserve, Pietro Spinosa," says Alan Edgar.
"The first 12 penalties of the shoot-out saw the score level at 5-5, then Castel di Sangro scored and Spinosa saved the next spot-kick from Milana of Ascoli to put Castel di Sangro into Serie B for the first time in their history.
"The Italian press referred to this event as 'di miracolo in miracolo', hence the title of the book."
- Guardian Knowledge, 30 September

is google killing general knowledge?

Is Google killing general knowledge? General knowledge, from capital cities to key dates, has long been a marker of an educated mind. But what happens when facts can be Googled? Brian Cathcart confers with educationalists, quiz-show winners and Bamber Gascoigne ...
- Intelligent Life magazine, Summer 2009 (from the Economist). The first para is striking for more than one reason:
One day last year a daughter of Earl Spencer (who is therefore a niece of Princess Diana) called a taxi to take her and a friend from her family home at Althorp in Northamptonshire to see Chelsea play Arsenal at football. She told the driver “Stamford Bridge”, the name of Chelsea’s stadium, but he delivered them instead to the village of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, nearly 150 miles in the opposite direction. They missed the game.

leibniz v newton

Jackie Stedall made the point afterwards that it’s not really until the second half of the 20th century that we have anything like all the evidence. Newton’s manuscripts are still being published. Leibniz is still being published. He produced so much work that there are dozens of potential volumes in the offing. Leibniz published only one book in his lifetime, Theodicy, on the nature of evil. This came out of a series of conversations with one of the aristocratic ladies with whom he was in constant and intense correspondence and to whom he confided a great number of his ideas. Patricia Fara spoke of the influence of generally aristocratic women on Leibniz and on the intellectuals of the time, as they were often the most sensitive to and interested in new ideas.
Patricia Fara wondered why we were so very absorbed in this particular dispute. Partly it is the old question – who got there first? To the South Pole? To the top of Everest? And, of course, to the discovery of almost every important discovery. There’s also the English versus the Continental clash and the algebra versus geometry rift. More than that, the personalities are so different. Leibniz seems to have been (until he got entangled with Newton) a genial, philosophical, pacific man. Newton is more and more revealed as a monster. In the 19th century he was seen as the epitome of the Christian scholar gentleman. Flawless, a genius, untouchable. As the evidence has grown over the last few decades, he appears more to be secretive, mean-minded, perhaps a bit of a plagiarist (Patricia Fara thinks certainly a bit of a plagiarist) and when he was in charge of the Royal Mint, an utterly ruthless operator. None of this takes away at all from his genius and his prime place in the history of science.
- extract from Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time email, Leibniz vs Newton, 24 September

confessions of a home-schooler

Confessions of a home-schooler: Call us crackpots, but our kids spend their days at beaches and museums, not in school
- Salon, 28 September

Unusual article on homeschooling as the US parents involved are not Christians (or hippies). Homeschooling very popular in the US in particular among Christians. Christian schools more popular in other countries. Most Christians in the UK do neither, and are often looked upon by Christians from oher countries who do one or the other as if they are throwing their children to the metaphorical wolves.

lucy dies

Beatles song 'inspiration' dies: The woman who was said to have inspired the Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds has died at the age of 46 of the immune system disease Lupus. It was rumoured the song featured on the Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album was about the drug LSD. But Lennon insisted it was inspired by a drawing by his son Julian of Lucy, a classmate while they were at a nursery in Weybridge, Surrey in 1966.
The St Thomas Lupus Trust said Lucy Vodden, of Surbiton, died on Tuesday.
- BBC, 28 September. Longer version here (though both above and below are extracts only):

Real-life 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' dies at 46
Lucy O’Donnell was 4 years old when her classmate at nursery painted a picture of her, surrounded it with stars and squiggles and took it home to show his parents.
“It’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds,” Julian Lennon told his father, inspiring one of the Beatles’ most enigmatic songs and carving his friend a slice of musical immortality.
Real life could never match that and yesterday St Thomas’ Hospital, Central London, said the woman the world knew as “the girl with kaleidoscope eyes” had died on holiday in Norfolk after suffering for years from lupus, a vicious disease of the immune system that causes the body to attack its own cells. She was 46.
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was written in the midst of the Beatles’ psychedelic period and featured on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album in 1967. Its dreamy, hallucinatory lyrics owed more to John Lennon’s favourite writer, Lewis Carroll, than they did to his son’s playmate.
The real Lucy hated the song that she inspired because “I don’t feel I can relate to it. I just don’t like it. I don’t see a four-year-old kid running around with kaleidoscopic eyes. It doesn’t make sense.”
She met Julian in Weybridge, Surrey, where the family recall he would be dropped off at Heath House nursery school in a Rolls-Royce. She went to St Maur's school in Weybridge, college in Guildford and later moved to Surbiton.
The little blonde girl in Julian Lennon’s watercolour sketch grew up with a love of children. Illness prevented her having her own, but she studied nursery nursing and worked with special needs children, running a specialist nanny agency until she began to suffer from the autoimmune diseases psoriasis and lupus in her thirties.
She married her childhood sweetheart, Ross Vodden, in 1996, and Julian Lennon, whom she had seen only once since their nursery days, sent a note to the wedding.
- Times, 29 September


Atheists offer to care for Christians' pets after the Rapture: It's a question that all animal-loving Christian evangelicals must address: who will look after their pets on Earth when the Rapture comes and they are taken up to heaven?
- Daily Telegraph, 29 August. According to the article, this service was inspired by this:

Christian service 'sends email from the dead': A new internet service allows Christian subscribers to send emails to non-believing friends and relatives after they have died.
- Daily Telegraph, 11 June 2008

Friday, 2 October 2009

internet overtakes television to become biggest advertising sector in the uk

Internet overtakes television to become biggest advertising sector in the UK: Record £1.75bn online spend makes UK first major economy to spend more on web ads than TV, says IAB
- Guardian, 30 September

suicide woman allowed to die because doctors feared saving her would be assault

Suicide woman allowed to die because doctors feared saving her would be assault:
Doctors allowed a young woman, Kerrie Wooltorton, to kill herself because she had signed a “living will” that meant they could have been prosecuted if they intervened to save her life.
Miss Wooltorton, 26, who was suffering depression over her inability to have a child, drank poison at home and called an ambulance. However, she remained conscious and handed doctors a letter saying she wanted medical staff only to make her comfortable and not to try to save her life.
Doctors said her wishes were “abundantly clear” and although it was a “horrible thing” there had been no alternative but to let her die.
They feared they would be charged with assault if they treated her because they believed she understood what she was doing and was mentally capable of refusing treatment.
It is thought to be the first time someone has used a living will to commit suicide. The documents are more commonly associated with patients who are terminally ill and want to refuse treatment.
Miss Wooltorton’s family have since criticised the doctors, saying they should have intervened to save her.
The case will revive the “right to die” debate days after new guidelines on assisted suicide were published, saying those who help terminally ill patients to die are unlikely to face prosecution unless they stand to gain financially.
So-called living wills – or advance directives – allow patients to set out what treatment they do not want should they become seriously ill. They were introduced following the 2005 Mental Capacity Act.
The General Medical Council has told doctors that failure to comply with the directives could lead to them being struck off.
Experts said that before the new laws came in, doctors faced with a similar case to Miss Wooltorton’s would have been likely to insist the patient be treated.
Doctors debating the case online said her history of mental illness could cast doubt on her ability to refuse treatment. Some argued it was not uncommon for people who attempt suicide to refuse treatment, only to change their minds later.
Campaigners gave warning that living wills were not designed for patients who wanted to commit suicide and questioned whether someone who had repeatedly tried to kill themselves had the capacity to refuse treatment.
The inquest into Miss Wooltorton’s death heard that she had drunk the poison up to nine times in the year before her death and each time doctors had flushed the toxins from her system.
She drew up her directive on Sept 15, 2007, stating in the document that she was “100 per cent aware of the consequences” of her actions and did not want to be treated.
Three days later she called an ambulance after drinking the poison at her flat in Norwich.
She was taken to the accident and emergency department of Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and handed over her letter and also made her wishes clear verbally, the inquest was told.
The letter said that if she called for an ambulance it was not a plea for treatment, but because she did not want to die alone and in pain. She lapsed into unconsciousness and died in hospital the next day. William Armstrong, the Norfolk coroner, recorded a narrative verdict that did not blame the hospital for her death. He stated: “She had capacity to consent to treatment which, it is more likely than not, would have prevented her death. She refused such treatment in full knowledge of the consequences and died as a result.”
- Daily Telegraph, 30 September

Thursday, 1 October 2009

beatles and tony sheridan

Listening to my 2CD (mono and stereo) The Beatles' First featuring Tony Sheridan (Wikipedia page), acquired from Fopp last week for £4, I came across this quite detailed page on the history of those recordings and releases, with lots of photos of sleeves and labels. The page belongs to this home page of Frank Daniels, which looks like it's worth exploring further. Sometime.

I'd heard the Tony Sheridan tape before of course, a tape borrowed from Roddy in school I think, I don't think I owned it. As the sleeve notes of the CD confess, they're not even the backing band on all the tracks.