Thursday, 31 December 2009

colourful elephant parade comes to shopping centre

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

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

the best viral videos of the decade

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

down with the kids: christmas charity

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

once every village had a wood turner

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

wolves' mick mccarthy floored by arsène wenger's criticism

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

an archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have

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

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

the best "christmas carol" ever

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

the atlas of true names

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

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

murray puts his religion before rugby

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

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

I am a closet christian

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

living in stephen king’s world

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

it's a steal: sales stack up at asda

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

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

Monday, 21 December 2009

the circle line isn't a circle any more

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

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

jimmy carr and the paralympics joke

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

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

the fifth plinth

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

Saturday, 19 December 2009

alternative cracker jokes

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

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

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

elvis movies, david tennant lists

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

census discrepancy between christian and churchgoer percentages

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

latest episode in the e&c redevelopment saga

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

beatles still saving emi after 40 years

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

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

red barchetta and a nice morning drive

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

belief discrimination press release article

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

Friday, 18 December 2009


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

four more from agatha

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

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

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

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

the graduate

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

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

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

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

doctor who's submarine propellers

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

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

my son died from solvent abuse

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

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

come softly to me

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

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

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

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

family christmas traditions

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

Thursday, 17 December 2009

berneray beach in thai advert

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

Monday, 14 December 2009

the power of pink

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

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

Saturday, 12 December 2009

december ansible extracts

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

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

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

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

- Ansible, December 2009

calvin on genesis 1

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

views from opposite sides of the newspaper pay wall

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

Friday, 11 December 2009

children in art galleries

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

minicab drivers who can play football

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

sigourney basketball; tellytubbie zombies

Two Youtube clips:

Sigourney Weaver really made that basketball shot in Alien Resurrection.

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

Thursday, 10 December 2009

antique mistakes

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

keith joseph; edge hill

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

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

mithridates and poison

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

Fuller accounts of his death on his own Wikipedia entry.

tails of the unexpected

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

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

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

ringing the changes: phone box becomes mini-library

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

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

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

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

Friday, 4 December 2009

azeri snipers

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

Thursday, 3 December 2009

football coaching in england

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

dwight yorke and roy keane

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

sebastian faulks and roy hodgson

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