Monday, 26 April 2010

the real thing

On Thursday 15th we went to see The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard at the Old Vic, starring Toby Stephens; we also knew Fenella Woolgar. Hattie Morahan made me think of Cheryl Baker; I'm getting a bit tired of sitting so far from the stage that I can't really see the expressions on people's faces properly, but the theatre is getting very expensive. I enjoyed it more than Bethan did; I like Tom Stoppard's wit and analysis of ideas.

Reviews. Telegraph. Independent. Guardian. Times. Financial Times. The Stage. Londonist. There ought to be clowns blog.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

the past media shutout of the centre party

Nick Clegg's rise could lock Murdoch and the media elite out of UK politics
At the Sun, we deliberately ignored the Lib Dems. The cosy pro-Cameron press may now be left floundering
- David Yelland, Guardian, 18 April

I remember in my first year asking if we staffed the Liberal Democrat conference. I was interested because as a student I'd been a founder member of the SDP. I was told we did not. We did not send a single reporter for fear of encouraging them.
So while we sent a team of five, plus assorted senior staff, to both the Tory and Labour conferences, we sent nobody to the Lib Dems. And while successive News International chiefs have held parties at both those conferences, they have never to my knowledge even attended a Lib Dem conference.
The fact is that much of the print press in this country is entirely partisan and always has been. All proprietors and editors are part of the "great game". The trick is to ally yourself with the winner and win influence or at least the ear of the prime minister.
The consequence of this has been that the middle party has been ignored, simply because it was assumed it would never win power. After all, why court a powerless party?
The fact is these papers, and others, decided months ago that Cameron was going to win. They are now invested in his victory in the most undemocratic fashion. They have gone after the prime minister in a deeply personal way and until last week they were certain he was in their sights.
I hold no brief for Nick Clegg. But now, thanks to him – an ingenue with no media links whatsoever – things look very different, because now the powerless have a voice as well as the powerful.
All of us who care about democracy must celebrate this over the coming weeks – even if Cameron wins in the end, at least some fault lines will have been exposed.

tax evasion costs treasury 15 times more than benefit fraud

Tax evasion costs Treasury 15 times more than benefit fraud
At £30 billion per year, fraud in the UK is more than twice as high as thought, with tax evasion costing the public purse over £15 billion per year and benefit fraud just over £1 billion. Based predominantly on 2008 data, the National Fraud Authority’s first ever Annual Fraud Indicator found fraud against the public sector accounts for 58% of the total fraud in the UK per year. Tax evasion is around 3% of total tax liabilities, while benefit fraud accounts for 0.8% of total benefit expenditure. In the private sector, the report shows the financial services industry recorded the highest loss to fraudsters, estimated to be £3.8 billion, with £1 billion in mortgage fraud and over £2 billion lost in insurance fraud.
-, 22 January

Saturday, 17 April 2010

shot by both sides

Hadn't heard of Kerry McCarthy before, Labour MP/candidate in Bristol, but her interesting blog seems to be named after a punk classic.

ballot boxes: location, location, location...

Ballot boxes: location, location, location...
Clearing up my desk in the study at home - a bit - I came across a fascinating academic paper on contextual priming. I'd forgotten all about it. But now is actually its big moment. The paper studies voting behaviour given the different venues where you can find ballot boxes.
Here is the core point:
American voters are assigned to vote at a particular polling location (e.g., a church, school, etc.). We show these assigned polling locations can influence how people vote. Analysis of a recent general election demonstrates that people who were assigned to vote in schools were more likely to support a school funding initiative. This effect persisted even when controlling for voters' political views, demographics, and unobservable characteristics of individuals living near schools.
So the fact that polling stations are generally located in schools and other public buildings influences how people vote. It makes proposals to protect school funding more potent. And the proposal that supermarkets be used, would also have an impact.
- Times, 12 April

Friday, 16 April 2010

2009 year-end google zeitgeist

2009 Year-End Google Zeitgeist - interesting overview of 2009 through what people Googled. These are the UK figures.

is a labour-tory coalition unthinkable?

Is a Labour-Tory coalition unthinkable? Only until you think about it. Seeing Britain's problems through the prism of a hung parliament could convince the Tories and Labour to do the deal
- Guardian, 31 December

who was jesus' 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, 5 April 2010

'a little person stood next to you shivering'

"A message for the owner of a Range Rover registration xxxx xxx. If there's a little person stood next to you shivering, that's because you've left their coat on your bonnet."
Heard shortly before kick-off at Aggborough ahead of Kidderminster v Salisbury.

- one of the 'Stadium announcements of the week' from the sports quotes of the week BBC email of 31 March

peter and christopher hitchens

Can faith bring back the Prodigal Brother?: 'The Rage Against God’ by Peter Hitchens shows how extraordinarily complicated everything to do with religion is, writes Charles Moore.
- Daily Telegraph, 29 March

First there was Cain and Abel, and then there was Christopher and Peter. The brothers Hitchens are engaged in what Peter, in this book, calls “the longest quarrel of my life”. Sometimes it has been about politics. Both began on the extreme Left, but Peter moved much more quickly than Christopher to the Right. But really, as so often with disputes which appear to be political, this quarrel is about religion.
... So this book tries to do two things at once. One is to bash up modern militant atheism with all the author’s polemical skill. The other is to give an autobiographical account of how, in our time, an intelligent man’s faith may recover. Parts of the book are a thorough-going exposé of how godless utopianism – above all, in the Soviet Union – has given a uniquely powerful licence to tyranny. Other parts are about how Peter loves the smell of graveyards and the Prayer Book’s “Forms of Prayer to be Used at Sea” (“You could almost hear them being said in slow West Country voices, as the rigging creaked and the slow-matches smouldered, and the ship turned towards the foe”).
The two forms of writing do not sit easily together, but that is a good thing. It brings out just how extraordinarily complicated everything to do with religion is. And it is that complication which today’s fundamentalist atheists, such as Richard Dawkins and Hitchens ma (as he was presumably known when the two first duelled at public school more than 40 years ago), resist.
Peter Hitchens is quite right that one of the strongest and strangest beliefs of such atheists is that religious faith is a mark of stupidity. “How could any intelligent person believe such obvious nonsense?” they often exclaim, and it is not a question to which they seriously seek an answer. They are like those clever, literal-minded 14-year-old schoolboys (girls, by the way, much more rarely think in this way) who return from the lab one day to proclaim that “science” has “disproved” religion. Their devotion to one particular, valid, but limited method of intellectual inquiry blinds them to everything else. Proud of this insight, many of them now organise on the internet as “the Brights”. In their view, their intelligence gives them the right to dictate. Richard Dawkins, for example, thinks that it should be against the law for parents to teach religious precepts to their own offspring as being true, whereas people like him should inculcate all children in “the truths of evolution and cosmology”.
Surely any dispassionate observation would suggest that utterly brilliant people can be believers, as they can be agnostics or atheists. The Church has not proved the most durable of all the institutions in the history of the world by being stupid. But it is also a key part of Christian understanding that truth is not necessarily discerned by an intellectual elite alone. Christianity’s radical and paradoxical message is that weakness is strength, poverty is wealth, giving is receiving, dying brings life. In the story of the Passion, commemorated this week, the most intelligent person, apart from Jesus himself, is Pontius Pilate. His brain power does not lead him to make the right decisions.

granny's death in fios

In the Ness fortnightly newsletter, Fios, of 12 March:

It is with much sadness we report the passing of Christina Morrison of 18 Outer Adabrock (Taigh Uilleam a Ghladstoin) on 3 March. Cairstiona was 89 and will be sadly missed in the neighbourhood and throughout the villages. A much loved lady in the extensive family she married into, Christina will be fondly remembered by them all for her kindness and her ever-friendly welcome to the home. A familiar figure in earlier years going about the daily tasks of raising a family - some remember Cairstiona coming to tobair Alasdair Buachaill where she always had a kind word for the little ones messing about at that busy water spout. We fondly remember these days and those who were part of another age.
Cairstiona was a gifted raconteur and enthralled and enriched many by the tales told in the ancient style of the oral tradition. We got an insight into lives and times that most of us have never experienced and for that we are indeed privileged.
Cairstiona was widowed in 1981 - Uilleam was 65 when he died in March of that year. To their family, Domhnall, Cairstiona, D'll Uilleam and Cathie we offer our sincere condolences and to their families. We extend sympathy to all who mourn and have precious remembrance of Cairstiona.
There was a large attendance at the funeral on Saturday at Cross Free Church. In the absence of the minister of the congregation, Rev Kenneth M Ferguson, Rev Donald Macdonald (Retired) officiated, assisted by Rev James Maciver and Donald Morrison (Cross) and Alex John Morrison (South Dell).

granny's death in gazette - death notice

Granny's death notice in the Gazette, 11 March:

Passed away peacefully at The Western Isles Hospital on March 3, 2010, Christina Morrison of 18 Outer Adabrock, Ness, aged 89 years. Widow of William Morrison, caring mother of Donald, Christina, Cathy Mary and Donald William, mother in law, granny, great granny and friend to many. Much loved and sadly missed by all.
Psalm 23:6

granny's death in gazette - butt to barra

From the Gazette's Butt To Barra section of Thursday 11 March, this was the only item in the Ness section:
Adabrock Death - On Wednesday, March 3, the people of Ness and many outwith the Ness area, were sad with the news that Christina Morrison (Cairstiona Mairi) of 18 Outer Adabrock, had passed away in the Western Isles Hospital where due to failing health she had latterly been attended to.
Christina, who was aged 89 years, will be remembered with affection as one whose personality and loving nature endeared her to all who knew her, and also to all who had the opportunity of visiting her home in Adabrock through the years.
She will also be remembered by Radio Nan Gaidheal listeners, when with her retentive memory she reminded us of a past local environment in Ness in the days of her grandmother, in the programme 'Catriona Iain Oig'.
On the evening of Thursday, friends gathered with the family for worship in the home in Outer Adabrock, and on the evening of Friday, in the absence of the Rev Kenneth Ferguson, wake worship in Cross Free Church was conducted by Rev Iain Murdo Macdonald, Ness Church of Scotland.
On Saturday, March 6, a large number of people assembled at Cross Free Church where the funeral service was taken by the Rev Donald Macdonald (Retired), former minister of Carloway, assisted in prayer by the Rev James Maciver, Knock. Singing of praise in Gaelic was led by Alex John Morrison, elder, South Dell, and in English by Donald Morrison, elder, Cross.
The Rev Macdonald officiated at the graveside on Habost machair with a short address to a large crowd gathered there suited to the solemnity of the occasion.
in their bereaveament we share our thoughts in sympathy with her two daughters, Christina and Catherine Mary, her two sons, Donald and Donald William, all the grandchildren, all others in the close family circle, and the many friends who now mourn in the passing of Christina.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

april ansible:dr who not sf; the war against tourism

Steven Moffatt explains the inner non-sfness of his show: 'For me, Doctor Who literally is a fairy tale. It's not really science fiction. It's not set in space, it's set under your bed. It's at its best when it's related to you, no matter what planet it's set on.' (_Guardian_, 22 March) [JM]

Peter Watts, Canadian sf author beaten up and pepper-sprayed by a US border guard in December (see _A270_), was convicted on 19 March for 'failure to comply with a lawful order'. Apparently it's a felony to be even slightly groggy and hesitant when told to lie down on the ground by someone who has just punched you repeatedly in the face for asking a question. Sentencing should follow in late April. As they phrased it at Making Light: 'Peter Watts has been found guilty of being assaulted by a border guard.' Another notable victory in the War Against Tourism.
- from April's Ansible email

live updating earthquake map

An online map plotting all the 2.5+ earthquakes which have occurred in the last seven days around the world.

badly-spelled protest signs

Hard to believe that some of these aren't Photoshopped, although the implication is that the poster took all the photos (ah, a note in the comments indicates they're gathered from the net), but this is a Flickr stream of illiterate, ignorant homemade signs at right-wing rallies in the US. Doubtless you could do a similar thing with signs at left-wing rallies in the US. If there were such a thing as a left wing in the US.

Friday, 2 April 2010

stephen sondheim's childhood neighbour

I hadn’t time to stay and do the usual chat with BBC tea because I had to race off and see a rough cut on Stephen Sondheim who is in the South Bank Show Revisited series. Since I talked to him a few years ago, he has allowed a biography to be written about him in which he spoke about his childhood. It was extraordinary and I felt permitted to ask him about it. Extraordinary not only in its detail of divorced family etc, but in the luck of his mother buying a farmhouse near Oscar Hammerstein, who had a son the age of the then 12-year-old Sondheim who became his best friend and whose father (Oscar Hammerstein) became a father figure to Sondheim. Sondheim said, “If Oscar had been a geologist, I would have been a geologist”. But Oscar took up the boy who wrote his first musical by the age of fifteen and informed him: “this is the worst and most terrible thing I’ve ever read in my life and I’m going to tell you why”. Sondheim then recounted what Hammerstein had told him over the next few hours and said that in that afternoon he learned more about musicals than most people get to know in a lifetime.
- from Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time newsletter, 29 March

the prime minister's easter message

Warmest wishes for Easter from the PM
The Prime Minister has wished those celebrating Easter all over Britain and the world a happy Easter. Gordon Brown said how “incredibly grateful” he was to Christian churches for all that they do. The PM said this year was a particular reason to celebrate, as 2010 will see the first official visit of His Holiness the Pope to Britain.
The PM said:
“Easter is the most important date in the Christian calendar, because it is when we reflect on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Christians all over Britain and the world will be celebrating in their homes and churches and thinking about the redeeming power of faith.
This year we have particular reason to celebrate, as 2010 will see the first official visit of His Holiness the Pope to Britain and also the 5th anniversary of the Gleneagles G8 summit where Christians of every denomination were instrumental in the securing greater justice for the poor.
"The Christian churches are the conscience of our country, always ready to bear witness to the truth and to remind us of our responsibilities to what the Bible calls ‘the least of these’. I am incredibly grateful for all that you do to ensure our public square is more than a place of transaction and exchange and remains always, as it should be, a place of shared values and social justice.
"With warm best wishes to you and your families for a Happy Easter,
- press release, 2 April

'or scottish, which is the quick way of saying it'

She's funny and clever and gorgeous and sexy. Or Scottish, which is the quick way of saying it.
- Dr Who head honcho Steven Moffat, of Karen Gillan, Dr Who's new assistant (from Inverness), Radio Times, 3 April

nick baines sticks the boot in

I don't mourn the passing of deference [to Christian culture], but I do think that what has taken its place isn't very impressive. Richard Dawkins isn't alone in excelling in one field - such as biology - while being awful in another - such as 'thinking'. Some commentators have a shockingly misplaced confidence in demolishing religious straw men that even I don't believe in.
- Nick Baines, Bishop of Croydon, in Radio Times, 3 April

Thursday, 1 April 2010

heygate estate

A set of links relating to the Heygate Estate and its emptying and demolition.

The last days of Elephant and Castle's 1970s housing project - a Guardian photo gallery article, 26 March.

Living in Ghostland: the last Heygate residents: It was once home to 1,200 families. But now just 54 souls can be found on the Heygate, the south London estate condemned years ago. So why are they still there? Charlotte Philby finds out - Independent, 29 March.

Southwark Notes - regeneration: an anti-regeneration/gentrification website, very detailed on the area. I'm always suspicious of the agenda of folk like this, though; romanticising poverty and decay or a lifestyle on the fringes of society, a different kind of snobbery, an equally selfish economic model but at the other end of the spectrum, one that wouldn't be possible without the working conformity of others they profess to rebel against; and no indication on the website as to who they are.

Live From The Heygate blog - 'notes on the Heygate and after', with lots of links.

band performs ‘guerrilla gig’ outside NME offices

Band performs ‘guerrilla gig’ on back of lorry outside NME offices: Passers-by in Southwark Street on Wednesday lunchtime got a surprise when they found a band performing on the back of a lorry outside NME magazine's offices at the Blue Fin Building.
- SE1 Direct, 24 March. I saw them getting ready for this from the RV1 bus.

extraordinary things republicans believe of obama

On the heels of health care, a new Harris poll reveals Republican attitudes about Obama: Two-thirds think he's a socialist, 57 percent a Muslim—and 24 percent say "he may be the Antichrist."
To anyone who thinks the end of the health-care vote means a return to civility, wake up.
Obama Derangement Syndrome—pathological hatred of the president posing as patriotism—has infected the Republican Party. Here's new data to prove it:
67 percent of Republicans (and 40 percent of Americans overall) believe that Obama is a socialist.
57 percent of Republicans (32 percent overall) believe that Obama is a Muslim
45 percent of Republicans (25 percent overall) agree with the Birthers in their belief that Obama was "not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president"
38 percent of Republicans (20 percent overall) say that Obama is "doing many of the things that Hitler did"
Scariest of all, 24 percent of Republicans (14 percent overall) say that Obama "may be the Antichrist."
- The Daily Beast, 22 March