Wednesday, 31 March 2010

strata tower article

London landmark building will generate 8% of its energy needs: Rooftop turbines on the 'Razor' are first in world to be built into fabric of apartment block
- Guardian, 14 March. An associated set of photos is here. I wonder if it will become known as 'the razor', as they suggest. I have kept expecting to see three eyes of Sauron being installed, rather than wind turbines, but the turbine posts have gone in. The blades aren't in yet, which according to the article should have been in by now.

shakespeare's lost play double falsehood 'not a hoax'

William Shakespeare's lost 18th Century play Double Falsehood 'not a hoax': It may be a case of all’s well that ends well, or simply much ado about nothing, but an academic claims to have solved a mystery which intrigued Shakespeare scholars for hundreds of years.
- Daily Telegraph, 16 March

Saturday, 27 March 2010

stickler update

I had my double vision appointment a week ago last Monday, and my post-op follow up appointment the day after. I saw the same ?ophthalmologist as I'd seen the time before. He was happy with how things were going, still wasn’t sure what had caused it, and said he would arrange to see me again around the time of my next appointment with the eye clinic. He left the prism on the lens as it was.

My post-surgery check-up appointment at the eye clinic was a bit disappointing for me but not for the doctor (who was a lady who I hadn't seen before). It was all a question of tenses: I thought my recovery was going well, she thought it had gone well. So they’re not really expecting much improvement to the vision in the right eye beyond where it is now. Also my right pupil has not returned to its usual shape. I mentioned this to the ?ophtalmologist who was giving my eyes the preliminary check before she put the drops in, and she said she'd get the doctor to have a look before she up the drops in. She asked me if I'd had a blow to the eye or an eye injury recently; I said only the surgery. It turns out that the muscle in the iris has been damaged, so that’s going to be permanent now; it will leave my right eye a bit sensitive to light, and not as good at focussing as it used to be, but she didn’t seem to think it was a major cause for concern. They are going to see me again in four months, just because there’s some blood in the bottom of the eye (which she presumed was associated with the iris muscle injury, and which ties in with the doctor on my first post-op check-up saying that there had obviously been a bleed at the front of the eye (I'm glad I mentioned to him how I thought I'd poked myself in the eye putting my glasses on just before he saw me after they had taken the dressing off on my first return to hospital after the op, in case that had caused the bleed, and he indicated that it hadn't, though I still worried that it had; I also wondered if it had been because I'd kept insufficiently still during the laser surgery, since the surgeon had to tell me at one point to keep still; but whatever, there's no use crying over spilt milk)) which they want to keep an eye on - apart from that they would have discharged me. It may be that I can go to the optician to have my right eye retested for a new strength of lens in my glasses, which might improve the vision there a little, but I shouldn’t do that before my appointments four months hence - the doctor seemed to take a bit of an 'if it'll make you feel better' approach to me raising that question, but it's certainly true that I can improve the focus in my right eye a little by moving my glasses away from my face, so there's obviously some room for represcribing there. She also had no opinion on the double vision question, essentially leaving it to the double vision man. I forgot to ask also about the potential need for a cataract removal op on that eye and when that might arise - the way the appointment went took me by surprise, really, as I wasn't expecting it to be the end (the double vision man I guess wasn't expecting it to be the end either), which it nearly was.

My gas bubble finally disappeared completely on Wednesday just gone.

So I've been back at work a couple of weeks now, and getting used to being back there. The hardest thing is not just going straight back into the style of computer work as before, but taking regular breaks - it was clear from what various doctors said that computer work isn't a problem if you do it the way we're all meant to do it anyway, with regular breaks. On Monday on the way home from the office I went into the 98p shop and got a kitchen timer, and have started using that, which definitely helped me. Work continue to be very good and making it clear tha they'll help me in any way that I need help. I've got a screen in box to use, once I've cleared some space on my desk by doing some filing, which I'm doing in my computer breaks, which is one of these that you hook your laptop up to.

what are the chances

There was someone on Bethan's bus to work yesterday telling someone on the phone about the strange behaviour of one of her female flatmates the night before, who seemed to have been wandering around the flat naked the night before. On our bus home from the theatre last night we were sitting in front of two of the other flatmates talking about the same incident. Unless the same thing happened in more than one flat in Camberwell on Thursday night.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

longest neither promoted nor relegated

"With Rochdale on the verge of promotion, their record of being in the same division for 35 years looks like ending," writes Phil Rhodes, poking fate with a big pointy stick. "We all need to know who outside the Premier League will have been in the same division the longest if Dale get promoted. A list of the five teams who follow Rochdale in the current list may make for interesting reading and also show how fluid the Football League is."
Indeed Rochdale have been neither promoted nor relegated since 1973-74 and with their League Two rivals currently indistinct dots in the Spotland rear-view mirror, their 36-year drought may be about to come to an end. But who will replace them as the Football League's most entrenched club?
Darlington, who have been bobbling along in the basement since 1992, are on an 18-season stretch in the same division. The Quakers could well drop into the Blue Square Premier at the end of this season, at which point their title would be taken by Oldham, who have been in the third tier for 13 seasons. The top five, we reckon, looks something like this:
Darlington 18-season run (relegated 1991-92)
Oldham 13-season run (relegated 1996-97)
Lincoln 11-season run (relegated 1998-99)
Macclesfield Town 11-season run (relegated 1998-99)
Preston 10-season run (promoted 1999-2000)
- Guardian Knowledge, 10 March

men at work lose plagiarism case

Men At Work lose plagiarism case in Australia
The Australian band Men at Work are facing a big legal bill after a court ruled it had plagiarised a Girl Guides' song in its 1983 hit, Down Under. Larrikin Music had claimed the flute riff was stolen from Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree, written by Marion Sinclair in 1934. The federal court in Sydney ordered compensation to be paid. That amount has yet to be determined but Larrikin's lawyer said it could reach 60% of income from the song. "It's a big win for the underdog," said Larrikin's lawyer Adam Simpson after the judgment. Sinclair, who died in 1988, wrote the song for performance at a Girl Guides Jamboree in 1935. Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree has since been sung by generations of Australian schoolchildren.
- BBC, 4 February. Seems rather harsh given it's just a part of the flute riff

is charles veley the world's most-travelled man?

Is Charles Veley the world's most-travelled man? A millionaire in his thirties, Charles Veley decided he wanted to "go everywhere". Ten years on, he has visited 806 of 871 "countries" and is looking to complete the set. Tim Adams joins him in Heligoland to find out why he has to keep moving
- Observer, 28 February

the photograph that defined the class divide

The photograph that defined the class divide: In 1937, five boys were famously snapped standing outside Lord's. But who were they, what were they doing there – and what happened to them? The answer is surprising . . .
- Guardian, 23 March

curing christians' stats abuse

Curing Christians' Stats Abuse: The statistics we most love to repeat may be leading us to make bad choices about the church.
- Christianity Today, 15 January)
Once a choice morsel of misinformation gets out, it multiplies faster than dandelions in the spring. We have all heard these soul-seizing yet false factoids. Some of us have even repeated them:
"Christianity will die out in this generation unless we do something now."
"Only 4 percent of this generation is Christian."
"Ninety-four percent of teenagers drop out of church, never to return again."
And perhaps my favorite: "With its 195 million unchurched people, America has become the new mission field. America has more unchurched people than the entire populations of all but 11 of the world's 194 nations." The "195 million unchurched people" statistic is all over the place—from books to blogs to church bulletins. And those who quote it often attribute it to researcher George Barna.
The problem is, it isn't true. That's not what the research showed, and Barna wasn't the one who conducted the study.
The original stat came out of a project I was a part of while working with the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board (NAMB). We researched the number of unbelievers in the U.S., not the number of unchurched people. But someone somewhere changed the language, and thus the meaning.
Three years ago, Christianity Today sister magazine Books & Culture carried a provocative article by Christian Smith entitled, "Evangelicals Behaving Badly with Statistics." Smith, a highly respected professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, declared that American evangelicals "are among the worst abusers of simple descriptive statistics."
He went on to dissect an advertisement for a summit that declared, "Christianity in America won't survive another decade unless we do something now." The summit organizers claimed that only 4 percent of today's teenagers would be evangelical believers by the time they became adults. "We are on the verge of a catastrophe!" the advertisement screamed.
As it turns out, that 4 percent statistic comes from an informal survey of 211 young people in three states conducted by a seminary professor nine years earlier. Smith affirmed the professor's approach but explained that an unwarranted inference was drawn from a small, non-representative sample to reach conclusions about the future faith conditions of entire generations.
Smith wrote, "Why do evangelicals recurrently abuse statistics? My observation is that they are usually trying desperately to attract attention and raise people's concern in order to mobilize resources and action for some cause …. Evangelical leaders and organizations routinely use descriptive statistics in sloppy, unwarranted, misrepresenting, and sometimes absolutely preposterous ways, usually to get attention and sound alarms, at least some of which are false alarms."
My friends at NAMB and my boss, Thom Rainer (the originator of the 4 percent statistic), accurately reported their methods and conclusions. But the research took on a life of its own. Unfortunately, good people who are trying to help the church change its bad habits in order to reach a lost world often misappropriate the research. Evangelical Christianity in the U.S. undoubtedly faces serious challenges, but hyperventilating doesn't help—even when the statistics are accurate. Crying, "The sky is falling!" might sell books, but it never fixes problems.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

christian tories rewrite party doctrine

Christian Tories rewrite party doctrine
A Conservative MP was stage-whispering in the leathery, dark Pugin Room of the House of Commons late last year. With a view of the Thames, teacup in hand, he hissed at me: “They’ve campaigned to change the processes so that they can bus in their voters, stuffing the selection meetings with their people. They don’t outnumber us, but they can out-organise us. They’re taking over the party.”
“They” are evangelical Christians, and the MP was prompted to speak by a meeting a week earlier. The party had held an “open primary” (in which members of the public can vote) to choose a candidate to stand for a safe Tory seat – Congleton, Cheshire – in this year’s general election. The two leading names on the ballot were Matthew Hancock and Fiona Bruce. Both are well-known within Tory circles. Hancock is an economic adviser to the party, Bruce a solicitor who fought valiantly, if unsuccessfully, for a seat in the north-west in the 2005 general election. The main difference is religion: Hancock is secular, Bruce an evangelical Christian.
Bruce won comfortably, taking a majority of the 220 votes cast in the first round. But a rumour soon spread that most of her votes had come from members of the New Life church, a local evangelical congregation. Buses were alleged to have ferried 150 Christians from the church.
In truth, according to churchgoers and constituency officials alike, only between 40 and 60 of the people voting were parish regulars, and they made their own way to the meeting. Bruce had addressed the church shortly before the selection – but, then, all candidates had been welcome to do so.
Still, the Pugin Room MP continued: “You know, the Christians send e-mails to one another asking them to pray for them at selection meetings, but the point of the messages is to make sure that they all know who is standing where and when.”
As Conservatives grasp the real possibility of victory this year, some are asking what degree of power a few evangelical Christians – only 3 per cent of the party members, according to one poll – will wield. The answer will determine the shape and sturdiness of any Conservative government.

As wary as some Tories are of their evangelical brethren, their current opinion poll lead comes in large part on the back of an alliance between secular liberals and a small core of evangelical Christians. In December 1990, weeks after the internal party coup that toppled Margaret Thatcher, a group of young Christians at Exeter University founded the Conservative Christian Fellowship (CCF). “It was at a time when Tory MPs had appeared to abandon a moral case for conservatism and become narrowly economic,” says Tim Montgomerie, one of the founders. “We hoped an organised Christian group could reignite the party’s compassion.”
Two years later, when he left university, Montgomerie – the son of an army officer – joined the Bank of England. But away from work, he concentrated on running the CCF, and, in 1998, gave up his job to run it full time. The Tory party, meanwhile, was slumping into oblivion. It had been devastated in the 1997 election. Staff at Conservative Central Office (CCO) recall speculating about what politics would be like “after the Tories”.
CCO came up with “Listening to Britain”, an exercise to reconnect the party to voters. And as part of a deal with the party, in which he was given a desk and a telephone, Montgomerie started an offshoot, “Listening to Britain’s Churches”. He contacted 300 churches around the country to ask about their concerns. Through this, he realised that the political priorities of church leaders were “much more linked to poverty, debt and drugs than they were about sexuality or bioethics”. Montgomerie is staunchly anti-abortion, and had been influenced by US Christian conservativism, but he recognised that if Christian Tories were more interested in solving social problems than debating moral flashpoints, the party should respond.
Early on, most of Montgomerie’s important allies were not Christians. He met with Jonathan Sacks (now Lord Sacks), Britain’s chief rabbi, who helped line up £300,000 funding from Sir Stanley Kalms, a Tory donor. The only condition was that the organisation be non-denominational – and so Renewing One Nation was born, to run alongside the CCF. The new group largely recruited from the CCF and continued its policy work on poverty. Within the party, David Willetts, the Tories’ foremost intellectual and my former employer, became a helper despite his own agnosticism. The atheist Oliver Letwin, now the Tory head of policy, also offered support. And the Jewish Daniel Finkelstein, then head of party policy and now executive editor at The Times, backed the project, too. Of Montgomerie’s notable internal supporters, only one was Christian: David Lidington, an MP in the party’s higher echelons.
Montgomerie’s most important ally, however, was Iain Duncan Smith. Elected to the party leadership in 2001, the Roman Catholic was best known for his staunch Euroscepticism. But during a visit to the Easterhouse Estate in Glasgow in 2002, he became convinced of the need for social reform. Poverty moved up the agenda, and Montgomerie rose to become chief of staff.
. . .
“No one wants to cast a vote that makes them feel selfish,” Montgomerie says. This attitude extended beyond poverty. As Duncan Smith’s right-hand man, Montgomerie also advocated a more liberal line on sexuality than most of his co-religionists would be comfortable with, recommending, for example, that the Tories vote for the abolition of “section 28”, a clause in the Local Government Act that forbade the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools. “[The legislation] was supposed to stop some of the odd things local authorities were giving kids,” he says. But many people saw it as homophobic in its singling out of gay-related material. Montgomerie agreed. “They were giving kids all sorts of objectionable things. I thought it was absolutely wrong to pick on gay people.”
The social conscience at the top of the party did not last long. Duncan Smith was ousted in 2003 and replaced by Michael Howard. Though Howard had promised to continue the focus on social policy, leading from “the centre”, the party tacked to the right and poverty became a backwater issue. Supplanted, Duncan Smith decided to carve out a new role. With Montgomerie and Philippa Stroud, another Christian activist, he set up the Centre for Social Justice – a successor to Renewing One Nation. While secular in its arguments, the CSJ was Christian in tone and hiring.
In 2005, Howard resigned the leadership after another general-election drubbing for the Tories. A leadership election followed that turned into a contest between David Cameron, known as a modernising liberal, and David Davis, the shadow home secretary and a “security Tory”. Neither contender initially had social conservatives in the bag. Cameron, however, won over suspicious rightwingers with Eurosceptic pledges and a promise to continue the work on social policy that had begun under Duncan Smith – endorsing an early proposal by the CSJ to introduce an income tax break to support marriage.
Christians were a small part of the coalition that won Cameron the leadership battle, but they became crucial to him in office. His mission was to “decontaminate” the Tory party’s “devil take the hindmost” image. Along with environmentalism, poverty became one of his big themes. But the older right-of-centre think-tanks rarely looked at welfare – only the CSJ devoted resources to it. In the words of one research department official, when it came to starting the push on social deprivation, “we had no support at all. Our family and welfare policy was all outsourced to the CSJ. Oh, and Frank Field [a prominent Christian Labour party MP].”
Soon after Cameron’s election, Duncan Smith was invited to write a series of reports on poverty as part of the party’s policy review. And while some at the CSJ were concerned about losing their independence, it was worth what they won: relevance. Two years after being exiled by Michael Howard, a small group of Christian Tories was defining the party’s social policy. Today, the CSJ says it has crafted a full 70 Conservative policies.
Among the secular members of the party machine, there is unease about that sort of influence. The use of the CSJ’s research, in particular, causes concern. One official – who, like all party staff I spoke to, refused to go on the record – said: “Their hearts are in the right place, but loads of their stuff is ropey. They just seem to make up statistics or use dodgy assumptions.” The think-tank’s support for subsidising marriage through the tax system is a particular bugbear. Another official said: “The CSJ claims that there is evidence marriage helps the poor. But you have to chase down a jungle of references to find anything serious. It’s mostly rubbish that doesn’t overcome the self-selection problem [that couples who choose marriage are more likely to have qualities that make it easier to stay together and be good parents]. We have repeated some wholly indefensible claims.” The CSJ stands by those assertions. A spokesman said that “it is not simply a matter of selection. Regardless of socio-economic background, cohabiting couples are at least twice as likely to break up as their married counterparts and new research has revealed that 97 per cent of intact families with children aged 15 are married. To dismiss marriage as irrelevant is to ignore the evidence: children need stable, two-parent families and in the vast majority of cases, this means marriage.”
Cameron’s public position on tax and marriage has been undermined by murmuring from party apparatchiks, some of whom insist the marriage support proposal will never be implemented. As one adviser put it: “Will we really spend billions of pounds subsidising middle-class women to stay out of work if unemployment is rising? Of course not.” This whispering campaign meant that when Cameron seemed to shift his position on marriage last month, the social conservatives and the rightwing press had every reason to think the worst. But the party scrambled to reassure them. The alliance between social conservatives and the party’s metropolitan leadership has required tending; Cameron will not, at least ahead of the election, allow it to fail.
The tensions within the party, however, run deeper than concern over a few pieces of disputed research or a single policy. Last year, Samantha Callan, who produced the CSJ’s policy review papers, took up a post in the Tory internal policy unit. There, she produced a position paper on the “commercialisation” of childhood, in which she proposed a tough line on sexualisation of young girls. The government, she said, should “extend the rules on teenage magazines and give them a statutory underpinning by applying them to all magazines with a significant readership of under-18s”. The vague proposal could be interpreted as advocating government censorship, and received a frosty reception from the largely secular staff of Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ), as CCO is now known. Callan endured a number of bitter arguments with party colleagues about a long-mooted proposal to abolish the formal distinction between the UK’s current same-sex marriages – civil partnerships – and heterosexual civil weddings. After only 10 months within CCHQ, she left – frozen out by a Tory apparat that is overwhelmingly liberal, particularly on sexual mores and civil liberties. This division may be a harbinger of things to come.
. . .
That is not to say the Christians will be completely disappointed by a Cameron government. Even if they lose all their fights with the party machine, on issues where CCHQ has no say, such as abortion, traditionally a “free vote” topic, policy will change. FT research, looking at polls of parliamentary candidates and the existing stock of MPs’ voting records, suggests that a Tory government elected with a single-digit majority would probably have enough support in the House of Commons to tighten abortion laws. Senior Tories expect that the cut-off dates for abortions under ordinary circumstances will be reduced from 24 weeks after conception to 20. This is not an indicator of growing religiosity among the Conservative party, nor renewed pro-life fervour. Rather, it is a herd effect. A liberal Tory adviser described it, tetchily, as “rightwing political correctness”. “They think it goes with the package: pro-nuclear power, pro-nuclear weapons, pro-army, pro-life.”
While the votes may come from secular Tories, the ringleaders of any abortion-tightening attempt will be Christians. In 2008, when parliament was debating embryology, Nadine Dorries, a high-profile backbench Tory MP, led the charge against abortion – and says she is informed by her Christianity (though “if you mention God in an argument in the UK, you lose,” she says). One leading anti-abortion activist noted that behind the scenes the Christian Medical Fellowship and the Lawyers Christian Fellowship were “absolutely indispensable. They did most of the heavy lifting on research. But we could never acknowledge their role. Never. People would never take us seriously again.” (Dorries says another reason she avoids talking about faith in parliament is out of fear it will set a precedent by which Muslim MPs could express – and impose – theirs. “There is no place for sharia law in Britain and as politicians we have to be aware and vigilant to ensure that we don’t ease or facilitate its acceptance,” she says.)
As well as tightening the abortion laws, Dorries expects to launch an attack on the Embryology Act. In parliament, she compared the current law’s provisions to (false) claims about Soviet research programmes: “Stalin told his top scientist, Ilya Ivanov, to turn his skills to breeding an ultimate soldier by crossing human beings with apes … The Department of Health says that what we do today will never be abused or subject to experimentation in the future, but I would not be so sure …” In contrast to the abortion debate, however, on embryology Dorries and other Christian Tories will fail. As Boris Johnson put it to MPs as they went through the lobbies, it’s a vote “for science or against science” and fewer MPs are willing to obstruct medical research than tighten abortion restrictions.
. . .
At last year’s party conference, Cameron delivered an angry riff on the UK’s poverty trap – and received a standing ovation for it. Montgomerie says it brought tears to his eyes. After all, it was the culmination of two decades of largely behind-the-scenes work. Now the 39-year-old is a more public figure. Five years ago, he set up the website ConservativeHome. Thanks to its strong following, he is seen as the voice of the conservative grassroots. Having built a research machine to craft the party’s policies on poverty, he now has a weapon to force the party to follow through. If Cameron does renege on his tax and marriage promises, for example, Montgomerie will make his views heard.
During the election campaign, Montgomerie will behave himself. He has made little of recent Tory gaffes and has called for activists to remain loyal. But, in the past, he has proved willing to stand up to CCHQ. In 2005, he successfully opposed plans to strip party activists of their votes in leadership elections; in 2007, he was a driver of a political argument about grammar schools that helped lose the party its opinion poll lead. Individual MPs are worried. Andrew MacKay, who was forced to stand down in the expenses row, credits Montgomerie for his scalp. Another MP says of his vote on abortion laws: “I don’t want to be just a constituency MP, answering letters. I want to be a minister. And the last thing I want is for ConservativeHome to take against me because I dared to vote against the approved Tim Montgomerie line.”
The party machine is worried, too. One central office adviser said that “Tim’s name is probably mentioned more [inside the party headquarters] than any other single outside observer, pressure group or journalist”. (A shadow cabinet minister attempted to play down his influence: “Well, I wouldn’t put Tim in the inner circle. He’s probably not even in the top 10 most important people in the Tory party.”)
In the past decade, Montgomerie has worked to build a broad, inclusive conservativism. In the coming decade, he could play a role in splitting the party. As he said last year, about Europe, where Cameron is planning a purely cosmetic Eurosceptic policy: “If Britain’s relationship with the [European Union] is fundamentally the same after five years of Conservative government, the internal divisions that ended the last Tory period in government will look like a tea party in comparison.”
And while poverty brought Montgomerie and Cameron together, another “decontaminating” element of the modern Tory platform may yet divide them: climate change. Montgomerie has become increasingly vocal in his scepticism. As he said just two months ago: “It is an issue that can split conservative parties around the world.” Cameroons, take note.
- Financial Times, 12 February. The second such 'scare story' I've read recently, though this has more detailed analysis and less 'scare' than the other (which may have been an opinion piece in the Independent, if I remember rightly).

Friday, 19 March 2010

buckets of rain vs seaside shuffle

Buckets of Rain is Seaside Shuffle slowed down.

Buckets of Rain and Seaside Shuffle on Youtube. Interesting how Youtube, a video site, has become such a reliable site to link to for pieces of music without videos.

london street food; len deighton london guide

An item in The Economist of 1 March ('Honest grub') leads to a Guardian article ('Where to find London's best street food') of 25 February and a Londonist feature going chapter by chapter through Len Deighton's London Dossier, a guide to London published in the Sixties.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

whip our weight in wildcats

The episode of the Ken Burns documentary on America in WWII, The War, which we watched this evening well after the fact, had a quote from Ernie Pile on a defeat in North Africa. I found the extract, and longer, on this blog posting.

“You folks at home must have been disappointed at what happened to our American troops in those Tunisian battles. So were we over here. Our predicament was damned humiliating, as General Joe Stilwell said about getting kicked out of Burma the year before. We lost a great deal of equipment, many American lives, and valuable time and territory — to say nothing of face.
“The fundamental cause of our trouble over here lay in two things: we had too little to work with, as usual, and we underestimated Rommel’s strength and especially his audacity.
“Both military men and correspondents knew we were too thinly spread in our sector to hold if the Germans were really to launch a big-scale attack. Where everybody was wrong was in believing they didn’t have the stuff to do it with.
“Personally, I feel that some such setback as that — tragic though it was for many Americans, for whom it would always be too late — was not entirely a bad thing. It was all right to have a good opinion of ourselves, but we Americans were so smug with our cockiness. We somehow felt that just because we were Americans we could whip our weight in wildcats. And we had got it into our heads that production alone would win the war."

Friday, 12 March 2010

flat earth society president interview

The Earth is flat? What planet is he on? The Flat Earth Society has become a byword for sticking your head in the sand, whatever the scientific facts. David Adam tries to make sense of its new president, Daniel Shenton
- Guardian, 23 February. Fascinating interview-based article, in which it appears that he does really believe the world is flat.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

'if you had more faith that wouldn't hurt'

A nice apocryphal story (told as such) from an old Web Evangelism Bulletin I've just looked at:

I was listening to a lady who called a radio pastor. The pastor was a wise, grandfatherly gentleman who has that calm reassuring voice that can melt all fear.
The lady, who was obviously crying, said, "Pastor, I was born blind, and I've been blind all my life. I don't mind being blind but I have some well meaning friends who tell me that if I had more faith I could be healed."
The pastor asked her, "Tell me, do you carry one of those white canes?"
"Yes I do," she replied.
"Then the next time someone says that hit them over the head with the cane," he said. "Then tell them 'If you had more faith that wouldn't hurt!'"

It also had this puzzle:
You are driving in a car at a constant speed. On your left side is a big drop, and on your right there is a fire engine traveling at the same speed as you. In front of you, running side by side, are a pig and horse. You cannot overtake them. Behind is a helicopter chasing you at ground level. What can you do to safely get out of this dangerous situation?
Answer: get off the children's roundabout.

joanna trollope on chelsea

Interview with Joanna Trollope in the Telegraph of 22 February, the best bit being the section on football:

Anyway, all of this makes it very difficult to imagine the 66-year-old grandmother – the author of such works as The Rector’s Wife, The Choir and Other People’s Children – on the terraces at Stamford Bridge, cheering on Chelsea.
But this is exactly where you will find her every other Saturday or so; a new-found passion that she has embraced with gusto. “Oh, Chelsea,” she sighs, her face flushing as if talking about a great romantic love.
“It was awful when Didier Drogba was in Africa [at the Africa Nations Cup, where one team bus was shot at]. I didn’t think he should go to Angola. Very dangerous, I thought. But he’s back now.” She allows herself a relieved sigh.
Who does she go to the football with? “Oh just by myself. It’s very well-organised nowadays. You are perfectly safe on your own. There’s a little bus that goes almost from outside my door to Stamford Bridge. I put on my beanie hat and my glasses.
The best stand for the effing and blinding is the Matthew Harding stand. I love it, these walls of men yelling filth at Michael Ballack. I don’t join in but I do rather like it going on around me. I mean, it’s terribly exciting.”
We talk at length about John Terry – “he’s very childish, but I do wish that Toni Terry hadn’t immediately taken herself off to Dubai of all places to sulk in public” – and WAG culture – “I think it will pass; there will be a moment when even the dimmest and most indulgent footballer will think 'I am being exploited by a girl whose medical history I know nothing about’” – before belatedly alighting on the subject we have come here to talk about, namely her 15th novel.

god collar

The Independent's review of Marcus Brigstocke's show, God Collar. I've liked him in everything I've seen or heard him in, and it's no surprise that his show sounds more nuanced than some might expect.

As the review says, 'His gift of balancing gravitas and gall makes him one of a group of comedians, along with, for example, Daniel Kitson, Stewart Lee, Robert Newman, Robin Ince and Paul Sinha, who you go to see for how they think and what they think as much as to laugh at the product of the two.'

Another extract:
Taking care to bash the foibles of the holy trinity of religious targets, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, Brigstocke leaves us in little doubt that the "God-shaped hole in his life" that he had recently started to feel, was never going to be filled by dogma. During his irreverent journey through religion he mixes up the shoes at a mosque, keeps Jehovah's Witnesses in a near-hostage situation and takes a series of pot shots at the easy target of the Pope, including: "The Pope went to Poland last year – something he very much wanted to do as a younger man..."
Disgusted that the same belief system lies behind his grandmother's wish to see her late husband in heaven and the supposed heavenly rewards of the 9/11 terrorists, Brigstocke's ire towards some of his targets leads him to end some routines by cursing them in a way that seems smug or gratuitous or both.
Meanwhile, atheists are very much in his line of fire too, and perhaps more creatively so. "You're not cleverer than everyone else" he reminds those in the audience who have identified themselves as such (the vast majority of the room). The perceived monopoly of truth and intelligence by atheists seems to have been fuel to the fire of Brigstocke's personal spiritual meanderings and he reserves one of his most savage satires for Richard Dawkins. Brigstocke portrays him as prissy, preening and smug, and sums up one of the chapters of The God Delusion as saying: "Occasionally people have things called feelings. These are best avoided."

spoof tory election posters is a site hosting a range of spoof versions, some very good, of the Tories' recent set of three posters, headed Airbrushed For Change.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

national theatre customer details affected in hacking

National Theatre customer details affected in hacking: More than 17,500 customers of London's National Theatre have been advised to reset their online passwords after the organisation's website was hacked.
- BBC, 2 March. Not surprised this reached the news since the list of customers must have included many media types.

how online life distorts privacy rights for all

How online life distorts privacy rights for all: People who post intimate details about their lives on the internet undermine everybody else's right to privacy, claims an academic.
Dr Kieron O'Hara has called for people to be more aware of the impact on society of what they publish online.
"If you look at privacy in law, one important concept is a reasonable expectation of privacy," he said."As more private lives are exported online, reasonable expectations are diminishing."
The rise of social networking has blurred the boundaries of what can be considered private, he believes - making it less of a defence by law. We live in an era that he terms "intimacy 2.0" - where people routinely share extremely personal information online. "When our reasonable expectations diminish, as they have, by necessity our legal protection diminishes."
Dr O'Hara, a senior research fellow in Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton, gave the example of an embarrassing photo taken at a party. A decade ago, he said, there would have been an assumption that it might be circulated among friends. But now the assumption is that it may well end up on the internet and be viewed by strangers.
- BBC, 8 January

interesting simon mayo interview

Simon Mayo on the move to Radio 2 and his new Telegraph column
From Radio 1's top spot to an award-winning talk show on 5 live, Simon Mayo has had an eventful career. Now, at 51, he is back on the music track, headed for Radio 2's 'Drivetime' and a column in Weekend. He talks to Jasper Gerard.
- Telegraph, 9 January

who was jesus's grandfather?

Who Was Jesus' Grandfather? What the two genealogies of Christ, found in Matthew and Luke, are really trying to say.
- Christianity Today, 21 December

Monday, 1 March 2010

why does God allow natural disasters?

Why does God allow natural disasters? At the heart of Haiti's humanitarian crisis is an age old question for many religious people - how can God allow such terrible things to happen? Philosopher David Bain examines the arguments.
- BBC website, 19 January. Interesting article reflecting on the old issue which faces those who believe in God. The comments seem to be a filtered selection, so are less blood-boiling (from both directions) than usual in these cases.