Fenwick Elliott's Blogging Diary
Robert Fenwick Elliott's Blogging Diary
30th December 2010
It has not been a good year for the weave-your-own-knickers brigade.
For a start, the climate change thing has been a bit of a disaster for them. Copenhagen a year ago was a wash-out, and since then we have seen extraordinarily cold winters in Europe and North America, and extraordinary amounts of rain in Australia. But they have got far bigger problems than that with their other holiest-of-holy cows: race.
They used to say that race is just skin deep. But earlier this year, the full genome of a Neanderthal was mapped, and shows interbreeding between Neanderthals and Europeans, but not between Neanderthals and Africans. In the last few weeks, we have the genome of the Denisova hominid – again, the evidence shows interbreeding between Denisova and modern humans, the closest match being with the Melanesians. All this, of course, on top of the hobbit.
So, we now have at least 4 sub-species of hominoids wandering around the planet, and occasionally bonking with each other, just 40,000 years or so ago. That is quite a lot later than the 100,000 years ago when homo sapiens sapiens walked out of the rift valley. The absurd notion that today’s racial differences are just skin deep and all due to climatic adaption lies in tatters. The good news is that medical science seems to have quietly accepted this reality, and better treatments have apparently been emerging based on the differing genetic make-up of different patients.
Personally, I have no problem with the idea of being part Neanderthal. They were probably charming people, and deserve all the more respect for the recent discovery that they preferred to eat their vegetables cooked – hurray! Anyway, the English have always been something of a mongrel race – repeatedly accepting and absorbing people from all over the world - and are all the better for it.
Talking of the English, it was good to see the Brits win the Ashes again this week. There were precious few Aussies in the crowd at the MCG on the final day – contrast Adelaide Oval a week or two ago where they came despite the fact that they were being beaten. Suggests that Adelaidians are rather more civilised than Melbournians? Many of the Barmy Army were all dressed up in silly clothes, of course, which all goes to show that they do not take it too seriously – some wag suggested that despite appearances, the Aussies were there on the last day, dressed up as empty seats. Someone who evidently does take it all much too seriously is Aussie fast bowler Peter “Sid Vicious” Siddle, who has been unrepentant about his awful sledging in Perth. He is not a good looking lad, so bad manners from him are all the less welcome. My insider says that Andrew Strauss resolved after the Perth test that the English team would quite simply not talk to the Aussies at all during the next test at the MCG; being ignored must have driven the Aussies to distraction, and poor little Ricky Ponting later complained that Kevin Pieterson had wound him up by winking at him. Winking! What will they think of next? I can imagine that this is a tactic that the English rugby team might take up next time they play New Zealanders. They could chat among themselves whilst the Haka is going on, and then casually turn towards the All Blacks and wink! That should show them who is boss.
My older children are here to stay for a couple of weeks, which is good. Annabel has persuaded me to sign up to Facebook, which I had previously resisted on the grounds that it is for youngies. I am not quite sure how it works yet. How secure should the settings be? Who does one invite to be a friend? I was asked to say where I went to school, and when I left, and Facebook then suggested that General Sir David Richards should be my friend. There was a photograph and everything. We were in the same Day Room at school, but I have not seen him for decades. We were never really close friends, although we were both in the team that won the Quatre Bras, which was a big thing for teenagers who like playing rubgy. It is probably quite fun being a general. I liked the bit in Gladiator when the other prisoners addressed Russell Crowe as “General”. Respect! Bit late now for me, though; I think you have to put in the hard yards of soldiering if you want to be a general. But I could be a Professor, I guess; lots of my mates are Professors. Or a judge. But friends of mine who have become judges say it is lonely, and that no one talks to you outside of court. Would you invite a judge to be your friend on Facebook? Probably not? Anyway, how many friends should one have? Too many suggests trying too hard, but too few is probably a bit sad?
Not sorry Christmas is over for another year. Too much washing up to be done.
14th December 2010
Something Coming DownI woke up early this morning, and sat outside as dawn broke. There was morning light against the backdrop of the mulberry tree, and I am sure I could see something falling through the air. Like rain. About the same speed as rain. But it was not rain: there were no drops on the swimming pool surface.
I have seen this before. What is it, I wonder? Too fast for dust falling, I would guess. What else descends from the sky? Something solar? Beats me.
And another thing. Sometimes, I feel a really vivid sensation of something like bubbles, but more solid, growing somewhere in my conciousness. They grow at the sort of pace that children blow up bubble gum bubbles. But they seem to be coming from inside, each one bearing a definite sensation, like a friendship rapidly blossoming, or the physical feel of rapidly drying off in the sun after swimming. They do not pop suddenly, like a bubble, but instead disperse more slowly, like an orgasm. When they all go, after a couple of munutes or so, they leave a sense of profound well-being. I have experienced this many times in the past: it is always the same. What is going on? This one beats me too.
I am not about to reach for UFO theory on these things, but I would like to know more.
I am SpartacusStanley Kubrik made a rather cheesy movie about Spartacus many years ago, but there was one good moment. Spatacus and all the other rebel slaves were captured, and the Romans demanded to know which of them was their leader, Spartacus, otherwise all sort sof terrible things would be done to all of them. Spartacus called out, "I'm Spartacus" then again, so do upteen others (led incidentally by the recently dead father of the happily still-living Jamie Lee Curtis).
Is the same thing going to have in the Wikileaks saga? "I am the leak" they all will cry? It might not end well. The Romans strung up all the rebel slaves anyway.
PS Apros of the lovely Jamie, she is these days Lady Haden-Guest, since her husband inherited the Barony of Haden-Guest in 1996. From daughter of a Roman slave to English lady in a single generation. Isn't life great? I am a big fan, ever since Wanda.
9th December 2010
Three More Women in Julian Asasange's Life
The Swedish authorities seem now to be pooh-poohing the idea that their persecution of Julian Assange is politically motivated. Well, that is curious, because it does not square with what they said earlier. Karin Rosinger of the Swedish Prosecution Authority was interviewed on television (on AlJazeeraEnglish , somewhat surprisingly) on 22 August, after they had withdrawn the arrest warrant against Assange, and said is was "quite natural" that people would think that the arrest arrest was part of a smear campaign and that she was "not surprised at all". Click on the picture to run the video. Ms Rosinger has not been back on TV, it seems, with any explanation as to who or what it was that caused her office to later revive the charges.
Meanwhile, Assange has found some allies in a group called Anomymous, which has been launching cyber attacks on various parties who have decried Assange. Called Operation Avenge Assage, it calls for web attacks on, among others, Julia Gillard and Sarah Palin (apparently, putting someone's face in a red ring with a line through it is code for "Attack, O cyber warriors!). Julia Gillard's offence is calling for Assange to be prosecuted even though, when pressed, she could not think of a relevant crime to suggest that he might have committed. Sarah Palin wants him "pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders" and thinks that "anything less than execution is too kind a penalty."
Strange bedfellows, one might think! But united in the single cause of trying to conceal their governments' dirty laundry.
8th December 2010
Leaking like a Rabbit
So, Julian Assange has had a couple of one night stands with groupies in Sweden. All
the accounts concur that these liaisons were consensual at the time -
it is only later that the two women decided that they might want to
withdraw their consent, so as to constitute "rape". The
Assange has had a couple of one night stands with groupies in Sweden.
All the accounts concur that these liaisons were consensual at the time - it is only later that the two women decided that they might want to withdraw their consent, so as to constitute "rape". The1st one nighter was Anna Ardin, who had invited Assange to speak at an event and also to stay at her apartment. They had dinner, and later went to bed together. She seemed happy enough the next day; she tweeted:
But then came the 2nd
one nighter: Sofia Wilen (in the foreground with glasses). She
was also at the event at which Assange was speaking at Anna's
invitation, and appears to have little difficulty in getting Assange
back to her place.
I’ve been thinking about some revenge over the last few days and came across a very good side who inspired me to this seven-point revenge instruction in Swedish.
Steg 1 / Step 1
Tänk igenom väldigt noga om du verkligen ska hämnas. Consider very carefully if you really must take revenge. Det är nästan alltid bättre att förlåta än att hämnas
It is almost always better to forgive than to avenge
Steg 2 / Step 2
Tänk igenom varför du ska hämnas. Think about why you want revenge. Du behöver alltså inte bara vara på det klara med vem du ska hämnas på utan också varför. Hämnd ska aldrig riktas mot bara en person, utan även möta en viss handling.
You need to be clear about who to take revenge on, as well as why. Revenge is never directed against only one person, but also the actions of the person.
Steg 3 / Step 3
The principle of proportionality.
Kom ihåg att hämnden inte bara ska matcha dådet i storlek utan även i art.
Remember that revenge will not only match the deed in size but also in nature.
En bra hämnd är kopplad till det som gjorts mot dig.
A good revenge is linked to what has been done against you.
Om du till exempel vill hämnas på någon som varit otrogen eller som dumpat dig, så bör straffet ha något med dejting/sex/trohet att göra.
For example if you want revenge on someone who cheated or who dumped you, you should use a punishment with dating/sex/fidelity involved.
Steg 4 / Step 4
Gör en brainstorm kring lämpliga åtgärder för kategorin av hämnd du är ute efter. För att fortsätta exemplet ovan så kan du paja ditt offers nuvarande relation, fixa så att dennes nye partner är otrogen eller se till att han får en galning efter sig.
Do a brainstorm of appropriate measures for the category of revenge you’re after. To continue the example above, you can sabotage your victim’s current relationship, such as getting his new partner to be unfaithful or ensure that he gets a madman after him.
Använd din fantasi!
Use your imagination!
Steg 5 / Step 5
Tänk ut hur du kan hämnas systematiskt.
Figure out how you can systematically take revenge.
Kanske kan en serie brev och foton som får den nya att tro att ni ännu ses bättre än bara en stor lögn vid ett enstaka tillfälle?
Send your victim a series of letters and photographs that make your victim’s new partner believe that you are still together which is better than to tell just one big lie on one single occasion
Steg 6 / Step 6
Ranka dina systematiska hämndscheman från låg till hög i termer av troligt lyckat genomförande, krävd insats från dig samt grad av tillfredsställelse om du lyckas.
Rank your systematic revenge schemes from low to high in terms of likely success, required input from you, and degree of satisfaction when you succeed.
Den ideala hämnden ligger givetvis så högt som möjligt i dessa staplar, men ofta kan en ökad insats av arbete och kapital ge säkrare output för de andra två, egentligen viktigare parametrarna.
The ideal, of course, is a revenge as strong as possible but this requires a lot of hard work and effort for it to turn out exactly as you want it to.
Step 7 / Step 7
Skrid till verket. Get to work. Och kom ihåg vilket ditt mål är medan du opererar, se till att ditt offer får lida på samma sätt som han fick dig att lida.
And remember what your goals are while you are operating, ensure that your victim will suffer the same way as he made you suffer.
Then enter 3 more women, this time all Swedish prosecutors:
Far too many women in Assange’s life, it would seem. There are a number of interesting things about this story (all of which, incidentally, is readily available on many sites on the net):
5th December 2010
All in a bit of a latherThe flat weave carpet we have in our dayroom was getting really quite dirty. Beyond mere hoovering. It needed a wash. But how do you wash a carpet?
My bright idea was to wash it in the spa. Nice warm day; why not? Mildly to my surprise, it seems to have worked.
Still a bit bothered about a certain bird eying up our fish.
Cricket the Game
Fun day at the Adelaide Oval yesterday.
Pieterson scored a double century and looked happy:
14th November 2010
One Play to the Tune of Another
We have just got back from Sydney, where we took took the children to see the Bell Shakespeare Company's Twelfth Night at the Sydney Opera House.
I had been looking forward to this. I like this play as much as any of the comedies. It is clever and funny, and its social comedy has survived the intervening centuries really well. It is a celebration of cultivated wit, and of the triumph of the traditional twelve days of feasting and drinking ending on 6th January in defiance of winter. And of course, because of its connection to the Middle Temple, it is one for the lawyers to particularly enjoy.
But pretty much nothing has survived in this awful production, which destroys virtually all the jokes, and indeed most of everything else in the text. It is set in some sort of underground homeless refuge, with cardboard boxes, discarded supermarket trollies and a huge pile of old clothes in the middle of the stage as the scene throughout. We learn from the notes the the director thinks that the play is an exploration of loss and suffering, which is about as close to the mark as thinking that Faulty Towers is all about Marxist dialectic. Imagine Basil Faulty played as a Glaswegian tramp, Sybil Faulty played a la Kath and Kim, and Polly played by Eddie Izzard; you would then get an idea about how grotesque this production is.
Not content with this, the production then ruins the essential dramatic devices in the play. Instead of being cast shipwrecked upon a foreign land Sebastian and Viola are supposed to be firefighters who have not left home at all. This utterly destroys the whole point of the play. The actors double up their roles in a ludicrous way, and then stay on stage during the action, so that characters who are not supposed to know what is really going on are watching the whole time. Duh! Apart from anything else, this sort of half-baked claptrap carries the danger of rendering Shakespeare back into the hands of the literalists. Peter Hall and Trevor Nunn did great things with clever modernist twists, and the Royal Shakespeare Company have done some great modern dress productions, and it is shame to see that style being cheapened.
The Aussie loved it however. Maybe the production was playing to the local crowd - turning Shakespeare into crude slapstick might, I suppose, be part of some, "Jack's as good as his master" agenda. And my young children liked it too, which is good news even if I have got them not an inch closer to understanding why Shakespeare is so wonderful.The cast were all really good actors, and their songs - whilst hardly appropriate - were really well done. It was a shame the cast could not have been given a better production to work with.
went to the street market at the Rocks in Sydney. I do not
generally like street markets, but this one was brilliant.
Virtually no tat, and lots of really well done things. We ended up
with a chess set, cushion covers, jewelry and other good stuff.
My daughter Lucy has collected signatures from most of the English cricket team, who were in the Qantas Club at the airport today. They were charming. When asked who among them was truly the most famous, they chose Monty Panesar as, "Our most famous Sikh", so we tracked him down and Lucy got him to sign as well.
11th October 2010
Up down and aroundMy friend JD (I do not name him) has complained about my piece "Going Up Going Down" because he says governments are not like credit card addicts. He says that "the credit card borrower (ie, the government) who's doing the spending during the recession is a different person from the broke individual and has ways not open to the individual of grabbing the spondulicks needed to pay of the credit card debt if (as to which see further below) and when the economy picks up again - ie, taxation."
OK, so in my example let us say that the credit card debtor is a stay-at-home mum. She always has the means to grab some more spondulicks off her husband as and when he collects his next pay check. Like a government, the money she deals in is not really her money; it is money given to her on the quasi-trust basis that she will spend it on household expenses, just like we give our tax money to the government on the understanding that the government will spend on roads and hospitals and other stuff that we need - not on some hare-brained scheme the purpose of which is to prop up the vanities of the the government, or to enable it to bribe us at the next election with our own money.
So, is the Keynesian Theory that you can fix an economy by spending - priming the pump as Keynes called it - a hare-brained scheme? The fact that it has been quite popular with government in recent times provides it with no legitimacy at all if, as its critics asset, it is simply a convenient cover for politicians to (a) indulge their personal socialist whims and/or (b) improve their prospects of reelection on a short term election cycle? There are plenty of economists on either side of this fence, so that does not help either, and anyway, there is precious little weight that can be put on a view that will earn its proponent political favour.
So, time to go empirical. What is the evidence in terms of whether Keynesian theory works out in practice?
I am not an economist, but the track record for Keynes does not look too good. The Cato Institute says
Real-world evidence does not support the Keynesianism perspective. In his four years, Herbert Hoover ...boosted government spending by 47 percent in just four years... He entered office in 1929, when there was a surplus, and he left office in 1933 with a deficit of 4.5 percent of GDP.3
...Roosevelt followed the same approach... Government spending, of course, skyrocketed—rising by 106 percent between 1933 and 1940. This big-government approach didn’t work for Roosevelt any better than it did for Hoover....
International evidence also undermines the case for Keynesianism. The clearest example may be Japan, which throughout the 1990s tried to use so-called stimulus packages in an effort to jump-start a stagnant economy. But the only thing that went up was Japan’s national debt, which more than doubled during the decade and is now even far more than Italy’s when measured as a share of GDP. The Japanese economy never recovered...
Now, it may be though that the Cato Institute is a bit right wing? But there are stonks of papers which all suggest the same thing - that in practice, Keynesian spending does not generally work out too well in practice. So what does the European Central Bank's June publication suggest? It is not exactly a light read, but the general drift seems to be that the empirical evidence is that Keynesian stimulus spending does not work in practice, and that spending cuts are a much surer way to fix an ailing economy. They say on page 86:
Moreover, case studies conducted for Belgium, Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands and Finland found that fiscal consolidations based on expenditure reforms were the most likely to promote output growth, especially when combined with structural reforms. Overall, it appears that expenditure-based fiscal consolidations are more successful and have more beneficial effects on long-run economic growth than revenue-based ones.
As far as I can tell, this is a polite way of saying that, if you are a government, it is much better to stop spending money you do not have than to spend away like a drunken sailor on shore leave and then tax the crap out of your people when the bill comes in.
There is another view, of course, that the net effect of "stimulus spending" is to redistribute money from the rich to the poor, and that there is never a better time to do that than when the poor are having a harder time of it than usual. That is a view that anyone is entitled to have, although it is hardly very smart (a much smarter way to achieve that objective would surely be to raise tax thresholds, so as to reduce the tax burden on the poor, and thereby allow them more of their own money to spend). What is much less admirable is for government to pretend that it is somehow good for us to have our economy's guts ripped out by massive and draft public spending on, well, just about anything really.
Anna KI re-read Anna Karenina the other day. I had read it couple of time when I was much younger, and was hugely affected by it.
This time around, I was surprised to find it a much slighter work than I remembered. I guess the thing about Tolstoy is that he amazes us by noting stuff that the reader had thought that only he/she could possibly know about. But as the reader gets older, there is less and less that the reader sees as unique about himself/herself. These revelations by Tolstoy start to look pretty routine stuff, and so as a writer he loses a lot of his star quality. This does not make Tolstoy any less great as a writer; just a lot less interesting to the grown-ups.
The thing to remember about Tolstoy, I reckon, is that, even when he took to wearing peasant costume in his latter years, he still wore silk underwear underneath. That little fact is, I find, strangely humanising and reassuring.
26th September 2010
Jeanie is away for a few days. The best diet in these circumstances, I have always found, is whisky and scotch eggs. It is hard to find scotch eggs in Adelaide, but they are quite easy to make, provided you can get the right sized eggs. You want them fairly small – not as small as quails’ eggs, but not giant either. What used to be called “standard”. Here, the eggs tend to come in three sizes:
I spoke to the guy in the local shop about this lack of choice, and he offered me extra super jumbo, not really understanding at all that anyone would want eggs that are smaller. But then I found some, in the local supermarket. Brilliant.
What is not so brilliant kitchen-wise is the Thermomix. This is a sort of German version of a Magimix. Bigger, noisier, more expensive, and with the added twist of heating as it chops. It is rather like having a Tiger tank in the kitchen; impressive in its own Panzerkampfwagentine way, but not really very relaxing. It is everything that slow, pleasurable cooking is not. It is for people who want to bring fast food to their own home. Personally, I think it somewhat horrid, and would banish it to the cottage but for the fact that Jeanie finds it useful.
According to Richard Attenborough, the female cuttlefish accepts sperm, not in an orifice adjacent to her evacuatory organs, but in a special place next to her mouth.
Now, I have always been perfectly content with the female human form as it is. But then again, it is an interesting thought, that cuttlefish do it so very differently from the rest of us.
I have started doing a podcast for the Society of Construction Law Australia. It involves interviewing people, and making up quizzes, and stuff. Quite fun, really.
Summer is icumen in
Sunday. And the first nice day of the year. Children in the spa (and Jamie in the pool). Barbecue. Quick afternoon nap on the sun lounger. This is why people leave England and come to live in Australia.
20th September 2010
Our local early morning classical music on the radio person, Emma Ayres, came up with an interesting piece of trivia the other day. What is the connection between Frideric Handel and Jimmy Hendix? It turns out, according to Emma, that they were next door neighbours, in Brook Street, London. Not at the same time, obviously, any fole kno that. But interesting anyway.
There was no Emma last week. She was in the mountains, learning to ski, she tells us. Maybe we will get interesting facts about skiing over the coming week.
We all like Ms Ayres. She is from Shropshire, and rides a motor bike.
Do not overtake Turning Vehicle
There is a sign on the back of lorries here (trucks, they call them) which says "DO NOT OVERTAKE TURNING VEHICLE".
What the hell does that mean? Could it be
Nice BristolsMy friend Lyn Osman has pointed out that there is a well-made video about Bristol cars at http://www.angelsaint.com/25629/cool-hunting-video-presents-bristol-cars/.
5th September 2010Now here is an interesting thing. We all know that the Chinese economy is growing, while the USA is in recession. And India is growing, and Brazil, and Australia. And lots of other countries.
According the CIA (who seem to monitor who has some money as well as the spying thing) 113 countries have economies in growth at the last count, as opposed to 99 in negative territory. Sure, the USA, Europe and Russia are down, but the rest of the world is up.
There may be a couple of things to draw from this. One is that much of our news is extraordinarily North Atlantic-centric. The Americans are the worst offenders, of course - they assume that what is happening to them must be happening to the rest of the world.
The other is to highlight the daftness of the assertion by the Australian Labor Party that the Rudd government saved the Australian economy from collapse by its efforts to stimulate the economy by spending money. I have always been deeply suspicious of the notion that you can make a depressed economy better by taking lots of taxpayers' money, then borrowing a load more money at taxpayers' expense, and spending the lot on - well - pretty much anything. It seems to me like trying to fix the financial woes of an individual with excessive credit card debt by saying, "You need to cheer yourself up. Go spend a load of money on your credit card this weekend!" You can be pretty sure that the majority of the world's economies have not been achieving their continued growth by spending public money on home insulation schemes, or building pointless drill halls in every school garden.
Helmets and books
A couple of things haunt me a little from my recent trip to London.
One was seeing, and holding, Jamie Ede's wonderful Corinthian helmet. Jamie is a dealer in antiquities in Brook Street, and a likeable fellow. There are not many things I miss about not being silly rich, but this is one of them, and if I had £125k knocking around without any other use, I would buy this wonderful object like a shot. It is extraordinary to think that such a beautiful and functional (well, functional if you plan to wander around somewhere where people might hit you on the head with a bronze sword) is over 2½ thousand years old.
Jamie told me that this example is an officer's helmet, as evidenced by the holes for fixing the crest on the top. Ordinary soldiers had the crest fixed fore and aft, whereas officers' crests went side to side.
To touch such a thing is make a bridge - curiously potent - with a completely different age.
The other thing arose from a lunch with my old friend Will Hopper at the Garrick, followed by a visit to the club's library, which contains a good number of decently old books, duly falling apart.The librarian explained the problem. Old libraries stored books flat. So it was fine for the cover boards to overhang the pages. But then - while a while ago now - libraries started storing books upright, such that the end boards but not the pages are supported by the shelf, leading to the binding inexorably pulling itself apart as the pages drop down to the shelf.
did someone not fix this problem long before the invention of the
paperback (which does not suffer from this problem)? I am stumped by
1st September 2010
Guess what his lady is not very famous for. Answer below.
My old O2 XDA II smartphone ceased being my telephone a while ago, when it refused to talk to my car hands free system, and also refused to talk to Windows Vista. But for a while, it continued to do service as my car’s GPS, hooked up to an external GPS aerial. For some reason I cannot explain, I had it set to talk to me in French. Normally, of course, the French are very annoying, but somehow being told when to tournez a gauche or tournez a droite is a shade less intrusive than the same thing in English.
Now that too has failed, and so I have bought myself a new Navman GPS. This too I have set to talk in French. The tone is very different. The old one was quite upbeat, as though my progress mattered to her in some way. The new one by contrast is dead bored – she sounds like she could not give a monkey’s whether I turn gauche or droit, or indeed whether I get anywhere at all, and she is far more concerned about painting her nails. This attitude, of course, is far more authentically French and curiously I do not find it annoying at all.
Every once in a while, I stop drink for a month. Some puritan streak tells me this is a good idea, not least to ensure that it does not become too much of a habit to have a decent sized whisky at the end of the working day, and then a glass or two of wine with dinner.
August has been my month this time. After a month in Europe, catching up with old friends and family lunch after lunch, dinner after dinner, I was feeling a little sluggish. But I will be glad when the month has ended now. A bit of alcohol seems to be good for one.
Megrahi Bad - MaybeThe world seems increasingly to hold the view that, if the majority of people think something is true, then it is true. The Americans are particularly into this.
It seems somewhat likely that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was not in fact responsible for the Lockerbie bombings. It was well be that an uncomfortable feeling that there was a miscarriage of justice influenced the decision by the Scottish Parliament to release him. But in America, it seems, the people have no such doubt.
Zardari Bad - Oh Yes
We are seeing some requests for financial help for the people of Pakistan, who have suffered hugely in recent flooding. What we are not seeing is any very visible move by Pakistan’s president Zardari, to make available any of the country’s funds that he has embezzled over the years.
Estimates vary as to how much he has stolen; a typical estimate is around $1.5 billion. That is quite a lot.
Views in Pakistan are mixed about Zardari. He has spent around 11 years in jail for murder and corruption (see eg Wikipedia). The people I have met on my visits to Pakistan over the years take it as true beyond any doubt that Zardari – Mr 10% as he is sometimes called – and his now-dead wife Benazir Bhutto – are guilty of taking bribes on an absolutely massive scale. It has always seemed rather odd to me that the liberal intelligentsia in the West was prepared to overlook this somewhat marked character flaw in Benazir’s case. Pakistani politics is distinctly tribal, and the Bhutto dynasty is one of the most powerful in the feudal pecking order. For this reason, many Pakistanis also have been prepared to forgive Benazir and – by extension – Zardari for robbing them blind.
The Pakistani people plainly need help. And they should get it. But it does stick in the craw that their own President will not use the money has stolen from them to help them in their hour of need. And one wonders how much of the aid money flowing now will end up extending his personal fortune yet further.
See Guess Who above. It is Janeisha John, who came last, poor thing, in this year's Miss Universe competition, for the US Virgin Islands. Is there a moral here? Maybe it is just, "Go easy on the false eyelashes"?
The lady from the British Virgin Islands, Josefina Nunez did much better. She seems to take a more relaxed view about dieting - good for her. So maybe that is the moral. Or maybe British virgins are just a bit nicer the American virgins?
15th July 2010
There are, of course, good things about Paris. People can bicycle around without having to wear helmets. They have great bread. Nobody but nobody waits for the green man before crossing the road. They let dogs into the cafes.
But overall, it is too noisy, too crowded and it stinks of stale tobacco. It is yesterday's city; there is a sense that its charm – such as it is - is essentially based on a Quixotic determination not accept what the modern world brings with it.
The Modern Way of Doing Things
I had heard reports that the Centre Pompidou in Paris was looking a bit tired. But I was nevertheless taken back somewhat by how extraordinarily tatty it now is. The main problems are rust and dirt. The exposed steelwork is corroding all over the place, and whole place looks like a cross between an East European oil platform and a London tube station. It is hard to blame the maintenance people – the place is impossible to clean. And so a structure built 30 years ago looks ready for demolition now. The buildings around it built 300 years ago look fine.
Acoustics seems to be another area that many modern designers ignore. The family went to a Pizza Express in London for lunch – it was so noisy that it was it was really hard to hear what was being said at the table. We might as well have been eating in a steel mill. It is time to start a reaction. Never mind about “My Body is a Temple”; I want “My Ears are a Temple”. Of course, I would rather eat McDonalds in a comfortable, quiet environment than a gourmet meal in a shouty echo box. But it is more than that. I blame all the noise for street violence, television programs like Big Brother, world greed, and architects who design buildings that look so awful.
The South of France
I have always liked the south of France. We stayed in a villa near Uzes that has been recently renovated by some old friends. Heaven, reading Stieg Larsson by the pool. The wine in France – I mean the run of the mill stuff that costs 5 bucks a bottle that is on every supermarket shelf – has got much better; it is now pretty much all perfectly drinkable. My mate Crick, who we met up with in Aix, says its because the French now employ Australian winemakers to sort out their hundreds of small and previously incompetent wineries. He is probably right. The Australians treat the making of wine as a science, and they use proper chemistry instead of alchemy. I am all for it.
Staggering. It is nigh on 8 years since I last saw the M25, and they are still digging it up, like an army of Wagnerian zombies doomed forever to circumnavigate London with their baggage train of JCBs and traffic cones.
30th June 2010
New York SquawkWent to Wigmore Hall last night to hear Andras Schiff play Beethoven chamber music. Fabulous playing, but why did they give him a New York klaxon to play, in the form of a Steinway concert grand? I can see the merits of such a thing if a pianist needs maximum volume, competing with an orchestra in the Carnegie Hall. But in a smaller venue, it is hard to see the advantage of such a discordant instrument: if these things were not so ubiquitous they would be risible. It would have been a much greater to hear Shiffy playing a period instrument, or at least a Bosendorfer, which makes a wonderful sound.
Miklós Perényi played the cello. Fantastic.
A Shameful PlugThe Safety Precautions and Maintenance page - page 5 of the manual - for a Panasonic TH-42PZ81B television says
"Wipe the mains plug with a dry cloth at regular intervals"
I find myself wondering what sort of person is going to
It is not just the hassle of getting to the mains plug. The maintenance instructions are clear that we must remove the mains plug from the socket before carrying out these maintenance operations, so we are not talking about just a quick bit of buffing up of the back of the mains plugs. Oh, deary me, no. We have to get it out, and polish away between the prongs. A good way the remember to do this would be to wipe the mains plug immediately after flossing our teeth. Having pulled the plug out, all of the programming will presumably be lost, so having wiped the mains plug with a mains cloth, and put everything back, we will then have to reset the television: the instructions for doing this are on pages 32 to 44 of the same manual. It is quite complicated, so will take up a good bit of the "regular interval" of itself.
This will probably cause you so much irritation and gnashing of teeth that you will soon have no teeth left to floss. And then you will have to come up with another way of remembering to wipe your mains plug at regular intervals..
24th June 2010
Ha! Told you so! As soon as Kevin Rudd was elected as Prime Minister of Australia, I said that that Julia Gillard would be knifing him in the back any time soon. The situation was, I said, reminiscent of the moment when Labour Party moderate Andrew McIntosh won the Greater London Council elections in 1981, only to be deposed in short order by Ken Livingstone, who had much better trade union support within the party. It was widely thought at that time that Ken Livingstone would have had no prospect of persuading the London electorate of his charms, although curiously he later mellowed in the public mind, and later did twice win elections for Mayor of London.
The parallel is not exact, of course. Whilst Julia Gillard apparently has the Trade Union support that Kevin Rudd so lacked (the Australian Labour party is absolutely riddled with trade unionists), she has never had the "rabid socialist" look about her. She combs her hair nicely, and uses language in terms that suggest a responsible approach to policy issues. Might all be an act, of course, but she looks good. She doesn't sound good, on the other hand, having affected a terrible urban-feral accent, in order presumably to appeal to the trade union constituency. People I know who knew young Julia when she was in Adelaide say that she spoke perfectly normally then, and the accent she now affects only surfaced later in life.
It is hard to tell how she will get on. My guess is that she will be something of a trade union puppet. The trade union caucus put her in, and they could just as easily put her out again. In the meantime, she will be immediately abandoning a couple of deeply unpopular policies on climate change and the supertax on mining companies, and trying to reformulate them into something more palatable, so that is good.
Bose Noiseless HeadphonesI brought my noise-cancelling headphones on this trip. The noise presently being cancelled is the noise that should be coming out of them - the rechargeable battery efforts are refusing to recharge. Which is a nuisance, because they are very good when they are working.
PS to this entry: I went into the Bose shop in Regent Street. They identified the faulty component in a jiffy, and replaced it gratis and with charm. So my headphones are happily back to their serene selves.
The trip to London - June 2010
I am in an aeroplane. A Boeing 777, apparently. The seat is a “pod” which is the most unpleasant little tub I can imagine right now (maybe I will imagine something worse later. But right now this is Numero Uno Nasty).
I am flying “business”. This used to be a synonym for “comfortable”. No more. I am sitting in a nasty little plastic cubicle, reminiscent of a primary school, in a seat apparently stolen from a suburban bus. I would be on a Qantas flight, which would probably be much better, but I tempted fate by changing flights. Got bumped onto a BA “joint partnership” flight.
What is wrong with it? Well, I will tell you:
It is not so much then physical discomfort that I dislike. It is the lack of humanity.
Here I am stuck in a small plastic box, with no connection with the real world at all. The previous business class was almost like a civilised room. Several people sat there, by and large bothering no-one else. The seats are arranged such that I am facing someone else nose to nose, as if in a love seat. Now, as it happens, the lady I am facing at uncomfortably close range looks perfectly charming, and in a parallel world I suppose that I might well be shoveling snow for her while she nurtures my children. But that is not the point: we are not in any such parallel world, and we ought not to be forced into such intimacy. There is a little screen which separates us: the cabin crew keeps lowering it while my neighbour quite reasonably repeatedly raises it (I would too, if I had knew where the button is).
The man in the tub in front of me is coughing every few seconds. Heaven only knows how many squillion germs are already running around the whole air conditioning system in the plane.
Beef Somethingortheother. Can't tell exactly what this is. But, as it happens, perfectly nice what ever it is. Would have been even nicer with a drop of wine.
My best defence against jet lag is to set my watch to arrival time asap. It is now 10.30 in the morning. But the sky is dark, and so is the cabin. I hate long haul flying. My back hurts.
Hours and hours later
The movie system in the plane is good. I liked both The Blind Side and The Last Station, notwithstanding that Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side reminded me of my first wife, and that Helen Mirren in The Last Station reminded me of my first serious girl friend; this might be a tough trip in terms of Proustian Madelaine-cake-style flashbacks. After 30 hours or so of traveling, I have slept for about 5 hours, which could be worse; I really should not be having waking dreams. The guy in front has woken up and resumed hacking. Painkillers and bacon rolls are my breakfast. The substitute crew keep offering more bacon rolls to everyone (including me; I have another, which is a mistake) and the rabbi sitting in the next row of plastic tubs (which offer is also a mistake, obviously one might think).
So now I am back in London, for the first time in 8 years. The young people in the street look very grey, overweight and badly dressed. The whole place smells less than wholesome. Walking around involves far too much closeness to and contact with far too many of the people. It is really good to see old friends, but I find myself wondering how they can bear to live in such a ghastly place. What one is used to, I suppose; I used to live here, after all.
My daughter has bought me dinner in an exotic restaurant in the West End called Archipelago: crocodile, gnu, zebra etc. It turned out to be all rather good, if a bit whacky.
I tried buying a pair of jeans in a shop for my son (his old pair has holes in places where jeans should not have holes, even by today's weird standards). The shop was like a cross between a prison workspace and a refuge for Jamaicans in Smolensk. I found the right waist size, but not the right length.
“All der same lenf” announced the attendant youf. What about people with long legs? I asked? (this was not a mere matter of curiousity; Charles is 6' 4” or so)
“Wah, dey do all come art long”. What about people with short legs? I asked (this was mere curiousity now).
“Wah, yer can wear 'em a bit higher, innit. Gotta twy em, reely”. I realised that there was not going to be very much point in mentioning that no amount of trying on would reconcile the differing sartorial needs of a 6'4” beanstalk and a 5'4” whippet.
Jermyn Street, on the other hand, was much more satisfactory. I picked up some shirts, and a off-the-peg suit that fits surprisingly well, and a summer dressing gown. It is odd: Australia is hot, so one needs a summer dressing gown, and it is rich, and it has stonks of cotton. But will they sell you a decent cotton dressing gown down under? Will they heck! I also got some English shoes. You can get good R M Williams boots in Adelaide, or some Italian correspondent shoes if winkle-pickers are what you like (I don't), but there are no decent penny loafers or Oxfords: most Ozzie men wear shoes that look like Cornish pasties, with soles that look like they are made out of hastily reclaimed car tyres.
My brother took me to lunch at Brooks'. Very civilised. Lord Monckton was there, sitting just behind me,and I was tempted to lean over and tell him what a fantastic job he had done in Australia recently in tipping public opinion against the now-abandoned carbon tax. But that is not the sort of thing one does in a decent London club. The death mask of Napoleon was there too – upstairs in the library - and I was tempted to whisper to him that he was a psychopathic little mobster with a surprisingly big nose. And I reasoned that this would be OK in a decent London club, so I did. And felt all the better for it.
Bowlhead GreenStaying in the country, being introduced to the music of Henryk Gorecki and Arvo Part. Bliss. I am particularly liking the Arvo Part, and cannot work out quite why I have not cottoned onto him before. Best thing since the recent recordings of the new Keith Jarrett concerts in London and Paris, which are just a tiny bit cheesy in a John Dowland sort of a way, but which nevertheless make me cry with happiness.
30th May 2010I (mentioned 5th March) that my view that sunscreen tends to cause rather than prevent cancer has been becoming mainstream. My daughter Annabel has pointed me to more reports of research saying just that. Here in Oz, research a few years ago showed that there is a fair bit of vitamin D deficiency, and hence cancer, but they still slop the sunscreen around like billio. Especially, when they go outside to play sport.
Speaking of which, I was briefly introduced to Dennis Lilley on Friday, and later had a look at his aluminium cricket bat. It was not, in truth, an entirely pretty thing. But the great bowler himself turned out to be very engaging: he was entertaining the people at a large lunch.
8th May 2010
Our OriginsA couple of really interesting things have come out of DNA analysis recently.
First, an analysis of the bone found in the Denisova Cave in Southern Siberia shows it to be previously unknown hominid. What is interesting is that is only about 40,000 years old. So we have the hobbit, and probably homo erectus in Java, and now this one, and the picture emerges that quite recently (and after the time that the Aboriginals become separated from the rest of the human population in Australia) there were a number - probably several - different sorts of hominids wandering around the face of the earth.
The other interesting thing is that the recent mapping of the Neanderthal genome shows that Europeans and Asians - but not Africans - have Neanderthals genes in us. The paper by Richard Green of Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology et al estimates between 1% and 4% of our genes are Neanderthal. An earlier study by Jeffrey D. Wall et al had found much the same result for Asians, but a significantly higher figure - 14% - for Europeans. Nobody - not even the the most fervent of the Only Out of Africa brigade - appears to be doubting this new evidence. There was interbreeding with Neanderthals. And if that, why not with other humanoids also?.
You do not have to be a racist nutter to observe that there are some material differences between the peoples of the world, and the evidence is thus now beyond doubt that these differences are not merely "skin deep" but are genetic. Hopefully, we can now move to a more grown up approach to issues of race relations, abandoning the potty notion that "we are all the same" with a more humane understanding, that everyone is entitled to be treated with equal respect regardless of our differences. It should also open the door to more effective medicine, education, social services and all sorts of other things as we can drop the "one size fits all" approach.
The UK Election - What is a vote worth?
We all know that the first past the post system favours the major parties, and there are pros and cons about that. This time, the system slightly favoured the Labour party, but no by much. They got a seat per 33 thousand votes, whereas the Conservatives got a seats per 35 thousand votes.
More interesting is the spread among the minor parties. The current is hugely biased in favour of the Celts, in the sense that the English minor parties needed far more votes to get seats than the Scottish, Welsh or Irish parties. With just one result to come, here are the numbers:
Thus we see that UKIP got many many times more votes than the Irish DUP, but got no seats to the DUP's 8. The English minor parties are all served badly: the Celts are all served well.
Largely, of course, this is to do with concentration of votes. The votes for the DUP and Sinn Fein are concentrated in the relatively few Irish constituencies. But is that really a good reason why these minor Irish parties should get such a significant representation, when other much more popular parties get little or none?
It is also in part to do with the size of constituencies. Scottish, Irish and Welsh constituencies are much smaller than English constituencies, so the Celts get far more MPs per voter. Average Welsh constituencies are around 55 thousand voters, Northern Ireland around 60 thousand , Scotland 65 thousand, and England around 70 thousand. Put another way, that is around 27% more Welsh MPs than there should be on an equal basis. The Electoral Commissions have proved ineffective to correct these imbalances: they appear to be built into the present rules, at least in part.
The anomaly is furthered by the West Lothian Question: how can it be right that a Scottish MP sitting at Westminster has power to vote on matters affecting England, but not those same matters affecting Scotland (where such matters are within the purview of the Scottish Parliament).
My guess? We are in for an uneasy political time, without any party having won an overall majority. If the Tories do a deal with the Lib-Dems, it might well be that they will tempting for them to sugar the pill for their English supporters of some uncomfortable compromises by having a crack at redressing some of this imbalance.
The old answer for Northern Ireland, in the days when it had its own parliament, was to allow it a reduced number of Westminster MPs. Hard to fault that logic.
30th April 2010
This has not been much of month, in terms of getting work done.
The family spend 10 days or so on holiday in New Zealand. Despite taking “Freddie” (our tiny notebook computer) I did not look at my emails once. Jeanie worked pretty much all the time of course. I could not possibly match her ability to just keep working and working, even when she is supposed to be having a rest, and I would no longer want to.
We went to the Chiefs-Bulls game in Hamilton. Super-14s Rugby is a huge thing in New Zealand. It is roughly to the Southern hemisphere what European football is in the North. The stadium in Hamilton was really impressive for a regional venue, and the quality of the rugby was excellent. The South African Bulls won the match as they deserved to for their more accurate and cerebral game: the Chiefs were much less disciplined, and their supporters got no marks for whistling and jeering during the Bulls’ place kicks – a nasty habit which has unhappily spread around the world, it seems.
No sooner had we got back to Adelaide than I was in hospital for a planned operation. The stitches from a childhood operation had eventually failed, and I had a series of hernias up my belly which needed repair. The operation went unnoticed, of course, but the aftermath has brought some considerable pain, and I am still at home, hobbling around like those old boys on the croquet lawns whose bodies unwillingly traipse around 15 yards behind them. I have been taking some fairly woofy painkillers, which make me somewhat spaced out at times, but I have been trying to take advantage of the opportunity to read as much as possible. I am liking my Kindle, and its reassuring Cole Haan cover.
Andrew Rawnsley’s The End of the Party was a compelling read. It paints a convincing picture of just how much of failure New Labour was in the UK in everything other than its ability to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes. Time after time, Tony Blair turned in brilliant performances when he talked the talk, but was absolutely hopeless when he tried to walk the walk: weak, misguided, mendacious, untrustworthy and vain. I was staggered to read that his government introduced 3,600 new criminal offences during its years in office – can that really be right? Brown fares even worse in the analysis. Curiously, it is the final and most derided of them all – Peter Mandleson – who comes out as the least unattractive as a person. It is an appalling thought that the polls might be right – and that despite the likelihood of getting less votes that the Tories or the Lib-Dems, they might yet hang on to power via a hung parliament. The rise in popularity of Lib-Dem’s Nick Clegg is a curious thing: his policies are barking mad (he wants to turn Britain into a 2nd rate European province with no independent economy, no Trident submarine replacements or modern fighter planes, no nuclear power stations, with all the focus on new “faith-based” schools that will not be allowed to discriminate on the basis of faith, and all employers being required to recruit staff “blind” to ensure that there is no discrimination on the basis of gender orientation) but such is the absurd state of a nation that has been spun into a confused apathy that no-one seems to care. If the Lib-Dems get hold of any sort of power sharing, it will be a disaster, I fear.
I liked Ian McEwan’s Solar. I put a review of it up on Amazon, as follows:
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
McEwan on Devisive Ground, April 12, 2010
Reviews of Solar vary greatly.
It is not as fine a work as Saturday,
or as achingly touching as Chesil Beach,
but it is nevertheless an excellent book.
None of three people who reacted to this review found it “helpful”? Well, hey ho. What I say to those three people – whoever they are – is “sorry”. If you (I do not mean you if you are one of the three people who have already said “not helpful”) are reading this – and you think that the review is “helpful” you could go to the Amazon website and vote for the helpfulness of the review. I would vote for its helpfulness myself, but I guess that is a bit cheesy – like writing your own Wiki entry. But really, people, the review is pretty helpful. It tells you want you want to know: that this is a great book, that you will probably like unless you are a fully-fledged up-your-own arse Al Gooey Gore acolyte, in which case it will probably piss you off. So that’s it. Helpful? Yes, I’d call that helpful. Might save you a fair bit of time. Which is always helpful. So go vote for “helpful”. And as for the three of you who found my review unhelpful, having said “sorry”, permit me to fart in your general direction.
Rose Tremain’s Trespass? Good. A bit slight compared to her bigger stuff like Restoration, but a good read along the Swimming Pool Season line.
Her husband Richard Holmes’ In the Footsteps of Churchill? Not so compelling as his stuff on Wellington, to be honest. Wellington’s flaws made him all the more noble, in a way, but Churchill’s failings smack somewhat of the tacky, and reading about them is a bit hard-going.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is amiable, feel-good syllabub. It is a story written by a dog about his master. Well, not really written by a dog, but as if it were written by a dog. It helps if you like dogs, which I do.
Ian Rankin’s The Complaints is wonderful. This remark presupposes that you think the Rebus series was wonderful. But you would. Woooouldn’t you?
Fear of coughing. It hurts these days. I guess laughing might hurt too, but it is a while since I have heard anything all that funny.
Fatter, and further to the right
There has been a bit of a fuss in the UK recently about the number of top scientists who are women. Not many. The feminists have been saying it is the result of sexism. But Professor Richard Lynn, who knows quite a bit about all of this, has written to papers to say that it is least partly because women tend to have slightly lower IQs than men, and that furthermore that the male spread of IQs is greater: that is to say that compared with women, there are more men with either very high or very low IQ. Indeed there are many times more men with very high IQ than women, and presumably also a disproportionately high number of very very stupid men.
This is not to say, of course, that all men are cleverer than all women. Oh no. It just means that the bell curve of male IQ is a bit fatter and a bit to the right of that of women.
Now, what is interesting about this is that the reaction, or relative lack of it. A few years ago, Professor Lynn would have been hounded out of academic circles, being branded as facist, or a sexist pig, or some such nonsense. Now, what he reports seems to be the orthodoxy. In a sense, of course, the shift in understanding is now irresistible. MRI and similar techniques show without any real room for doubt that males tend to have more grey matter in their brains, whereas women have more white matter. So the old clichés about the differences between the way men and women think appear to be firmly based after all. And the nonsense about men doing better at IQ tests because the IQ tests are devised by men is also fading away; what are Harriet Harperson and her merry band of feminists supposed to say – that the MRI machines only show the grey-white imbalance because they were engineered by men?
In Darwinian terms, there might be perfectly sound reasons for these differences. It would pay for a population to have a few genius males to invent new methods of hunting and so forth, even if the price is that those individuals cannot remember if today is the day for putting out the empty bones for collection, and even if the price for having some very bright males is that there are few more really really dumb males. After all, only a few males are needed for reproductive purposes. On the other hand, pretty much all the women are going to bear children, and need the essential competencies for them to care for them.
Just a few years ago, Harvard president Lawrence Summers was hounded out of the university for making a similar point to Professor Lynn. Similarly Professor Helmuth Nyborg of Aarhus University in Denmark was suspended (albeit eventually reinstated) for daring to report the male-female IQ differential. Chris Brand was similarly drummed out of Edinburgh University, and never got reinstated.
Both Lynn and Brand have also broken another taboo by publishing the average IQs of various nations. The UK and New Zealand both score 100. The US, France and Australia each score 98. Ireland gets 93. African countries like Zimbabwe and the Congo and Ethiopia are down in the 60’s. Again, it used to be said by the PC brigade that there was no such thing as race, and that these apparent differences are merely the reason of culturally-based bias in the testing. But again, modern genome analysis quite plainly shows certain genes such as duffy, ABCC11, SLC24A5, called ancestry-informative markers, have quite difference distributions among different racial groups, and these genes affect a wide variety of physiological manifestations such as appearance, strength, susceptibility to various ailments and so on. It beggars belief to deny that they do not also affect IQ.
So, where does all of this take us? It vindicates a number of very satisfactory approaches to life:
But I notice that he also regards my condition as a green light for a bit of a power grab. He reckons that if I am immobilised, that puts him as #1 in the household pecking order. He has become disobedient and stroppy, and has even taken to barking at our kookaburras, even though he knows I think he should leave them alone. Ha! It will take more than a hernia operation to have me settle into some sub-canine role, and the kookaburras are not impressed either.
21st March 2010
There was an election here in South Australia yesterday. It was a dreary affair.
The incumbent was Mike Rann, a tired-looking Labour Party spin merchant, who was pretty popular back when spin merchants were all the rage, but who is now more widely perceived as an untrustworthy barmaid-fiddler. He would probably have won easily had he not - rather to everyone's surprise - made a public statement denying any affair with the barmaid in question.
The challenger was Isobel Redmond, a mumsy suburban solicitor who nobody had heard of until she was chosen to lead the state Liberals a few months ago. Her principal feature seems to be an indifference to usual political bluster, which has made her surprisingly popular.
Redmond appears to have won the popular vote quite easily, but nevertheless, pending the counting of postal votes and preference votes, it looks like Rann will be back with 25 seats to the Liberals' 18. How come that winning many more votes leads to winning several fewer seats? It seems that this is simply the way the votes get counted around here. There will be no talk of the election being "stolen" as there was when Bush narrowly beat Gore for the US presidency, since the media here are traditionally on the political left.
The Labour party hardly enhanced its reputation on election day by having its activists impersonate officials of the Family First party and hand out fake pamphlets in order to mislead voters about where that party was asking its supporters to cast their preference votes. The perpetrators of this trick described it as "just democracy in action", and it can hardly be any great cause for celebration that they have got their hands on the controls for another 4 years.
Talking of dreary, last weekend's Grand Prix was hardly uplifting. Set at an apparently empty circuit in Bahrain, they all drove around in procession, with virtually no no one able to overtake anyone else. The fuel stops, which used to provide an opportunity to overtake someone in the pits, have this year been banned. The Ferraris won. Schumacher was slower than his teammate, Rosberg, so that much-heralded return was less than exhilarating. Jenson Button, having been faster than Lewis Hamilton in practice, had a poorish qualifying lap, and so spent the race trapped behind slower cars, unable to overtake.
Do I have any remedies for this situation? I do, yes. Oh yes:
RoundaboutsReal roads have roundabouts. Putting a roundabout on a race track would provide a good opportunity for overtaking. If the car you are following goes to the left, you go to the right. And vice versa. At first, all the Brits and Aussies will probably keep to the left, and all the continentals will go round the right. But they will soon get the hang of it.
There would have to be a central reservation for some distance before the roundabout, so that the cars do not clash in the braking zone. The mere fact that the following car will not be braking in dirty air if it takes the other side will of itself make a big difference.
Bus StopsSome race tracks now have chicanes in the form of "bus stops". Again, the bus stop could be divided into two, so that cars would have the option to take either the first or the second route.
Crown exitsReal roads often have a crown i.e. the middle of the road is higher than either side. Creating a crown at the exit of a corner would mean that there would be two alternative ways of taking the corner, either by keeping to the inside on the exit (thereby obtaining a banking effect) or going to outside, which means a less tight corner (good) but with adverse camber (bad). The balance needs to right, of course, so that the two routes are equally quick: the corners could be fine tuned by using movable barriers on the outside of the corner.
Water VergesSlow speed chicanes are often a bit of a joke these days, since drivers run over the kerbs, thereby cutting the corner. The system whereby stewards penalise recidivist offenders is somewhat ineffective and random.
A better idea might be to get rid of the kerbs, and replace them with water ditches, with the water, say, 3 inches deep. That way, a driver who cuts a corner will get his tyres wet, and will be likely to lose his position to a following driver. And anyway, the splashing should be fun. Keep the ducks on their toes.
WingsAll the cars have (since 1969) had wings, fore and aft, which keep them pressed to the ground and hence give more grip. They also have the effect of hugely disturbing the ambient air, so that a following car's own wing effect is compromised. In other words, a leading car will always have an advantage over a following car. Before wings (i.e. in the 1950s and 60s), it was the opposite, since a following car could slipstream a preceding car, and this led to much closer racing and more overtaking.
So, ban wings, I say. They are vulgar things to have on a car anyway. Look to the side at traffic lights, and if the car beside you if fitted with a silly wing on its boot, pound to a penny the driver will be a prat.
These are all brilliant ideas. I bet Jeremy Clarkson wishes he had had them.
5th March 2010
Kindle TimesJeanie has given me a Kindle as an early birthday present. It is Amazon's book reader - a slender gadget the size and shape of a book, designed for reading books, which can be downloaded from the Internet. In the past, I have tried reading books on my PDA, but that is pretty hopeless since the screen is far too small. The Kindle, on the other hand, is easy to read, even outside in daylight.
One thing the Kindle does, on subscription, is to deliver newspapers, so I subscribed to The Times. It is quite a groovy idea: you have a single gadget as your reader, which you can read in bed, on the loo, in the train or wherever, and the day's newspaper is always there. But the execution leaves a fair bit to be desired - The Times comes through with pretty sloppy formatting, so that one article runs into another, editing notes appear in the text and so on. And the absence of the pictures is, well, a bit annoying really. So I will continue to get The Times via my computer instead.
Meanwhile, it is pouring with rain here in Adelaide, and in Oz. Queensland is flooded. Melbourne has had over an inch of rain in just one hour. Dams are overflowing. Reservoirs are full. Just when dear old Professor Flannery predicted just a few years ago that we would now be experiencing back-to-back droughts, to go with a melted-away Arctic. Bless.
Told you soI have, as followers of these pages well know, been banging the climate change drum for quite a while now, pointing out that the Warmist Emperor had no clothes, even when that view was widely regarded as somewhat heretical. Now that the warmist bubble has substantially burst, Jeanie tells me I had better think of some other unpopular cause to espouse.
It is not that easy. Take the origin of man, for example. I have long expressed the view that there was bound to have been some interbreeding between modern homo sapiens and Neanderthals in Europe during the period of coexistence (around 50 thousand to 30 thousand years ago). I have not been entirely alone in this, but the orthodoxy over the last few decades has been that we are all exclusively born "Out of Africa" and that racial differences between the three great peoples (Negroid, Oriental and Caucasian) have nothing whatsoever with any hanky panky with any other humanoids. We were told that there was no way that modern homo sapiens, or cro-magnons, could possible have bred with the brutish Neanderthals, who were a quite different species from us, and that the DNA evidence was clear.
But the scientific community has now pretty much come around to my way of thinking. The range of sensible opinion now ranges from, "Yes, there was interbreeding, but few or no Neanderthal genes found their way into modern man", to "Yes, there was interbreeding, with some modest gene exchange in each direction". We will have to wait at least until the completion of the Neanderthal genome until we know more. Some say that the commonality of the variant of the FoxP2 gene suggests gene exchange during this period; others say the gene must have been there right back when modern homo sapiens and Neanderthals parted genealogical company hundreds of thousands of years ago.
It is hard to disagree with Svante Pääbo (Director, Department of Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig), who has said:
But I have a feeling about how we speculate about the Neanderthals. I often like to say that it's more about our world view than anything that happened back then. If you are a racist, you could play it either way. One could say that if the Neanderthals contributed to current day Europeans and if the Erectus in Asia did the same to Asians, there must be old variants adapted to living in Europe which had been there for hundreds of thousands of years. This means there is this group that was adapted to living in Europe, say, which was living there and then started to move around the world. You can start telling stories like that.
But you can equally do it some other way, saying that the people who left Africa were the more innovative advanced people who exploited new territories. That they were able to go out and do these things and that this was somehow in the genetic subset of what existed in Africa. You can spin it either way you like. I don't think that there's any scientific knowledge or insight that will convince people to change their ingrained ideas about this.
We now know that there were at least three waves of emigration from Africa, with interbreeding each time, from the work of Alan Templeton, and my own guess is that a modest degree of interbreeding may well have something to do with the modest genetic variations in modern people around the world.
Anyway, the potty notion that all people around the world are genetically identical is now as dead as a dodo, so that one gets knocked off my list.
Staying out of the sun? My views on the benefits of getting out in the sun a bit are now mainstream too.
2nd March 2010I started a trial yesterday, but we settled at lunchtime on the first day. So today, I get an easier day - no meetings until the afternoon. Indolence - or at least a bit of breathing space - is hugely underrated, and I am hopeless at it. I sit down with every intention of doing nothing, and the next moment, I am up again doing something that I think needs doing. Probably doesn't at all - in the overall scheme of things, who cares if I write another book or develop another house or win another case or improve another croquet mallet or, even more absurdly, complete the Times Crossword puzzle?
8th February 2010
EarthcakeMy daughter Lucy decided to help the victims of the Haiti earthquake, and came up with the idea of a an earthcake stall outside our house on Saturday morning. Despite the fact we live in a pretty quite spot she raised over $200, which was pretty good, owing to some astute marketing, including a mail drop the day before. Passing dogs got free water and free jerky treats: their owners had to pay for their cupcakes, biscuits etc.
5th January 2010Prosecutions are likely, it seems, for some UK MPs who have fiddled their expenses. Most of them Labour, it seems, which all goes to prop up the traditional pattern that Labour MP get caught with their hands in the till, whilst Tory MPs get caught with their hands in the wrong person's knickers. These people are all trying to make up for what they would not have in everyday life?
Talking of which, Mike "Teflon" Rann, this state's Labour premier, is in a bit of strife. Having denied having an affair with a married waitress, his position in the opinion polls has plummeted, and he is now trailing the opposition in the polls with just a month to go to the state's elections. The main issue seems to be public trust in him. He would have done better to have said, "Mind your own business", which would have been a perfectly acceptable response to the allegations.
Skive day today, after several days of very hard work in the office. Cleaned the pool. Got my hair cut. Picked up a couple of things from the shops that I had ordered. I have left all the dirty crocks unwashed. The fierce ladies are coming, and I reckon that if they have to load up the dishwasher, that is a bit less time available to them to hide my things.
Road deaths here this year are already well over double the recent norm, which suggests that the current frenzy of revenue-raising on the roads is hardly in the public interest.
Disappointingly, McLaren are not going to race in British Racing Green this year. Bad mistake. I reluctantly predict success for one of the teams which is proud enough to race in its national colours: either Germany or Italy.
Loud calls for Pachauri to go as IPCC chairman. Even Greenpeace, who are as nutty as fruitcakes, agree that he has to go. The tide has well and truly turned now. Even Kerry "Bigears" O'Brien ran a piece on Lord Monkton's tour of Australia this week on the ABC's 7.30 report: if even the ABC is running stories about how the global warming thing is a big beat-up, it is Goodnight Vienna for Pachauri, Mann, Wong et al.
30th January 2010
Marine NoshWe had a great time the other day at the Flying Fish, which a great restaurant on the beach at Port Elliot. Marrin (small lobster) and big prawns with a couple of glasses of wine, then delicious cheese with muscat.
Then a bit of time on the beach. I am not a huge fan of sandy beaches as things for sitting on, but all the right stuff was there: boys doing backward somersaults off the jetty, teenage girls trying not to look impressed, women with a bit too much weight to wear bikinis looking pretty good in their bikinis and the odd middle aged bloke reading Sebastian Faulks and sleeping in the sun. The girls buried Jamie in a sand mermaid, with seaweed hair and everything.
Going for BrokeIt would be hard to ruin Australia. It is vast, and vastly blessed with valuable minerals, good agricultural land, great climate and natural beauty. Its population is generally well-educated, hard-working, well-disposed and charming.
The man who seems to have had the most determined crack at ruining it all was Gough Whitlam, who was Prime Minister from 1972 to 1975 when, having beggared the nation's economy and having been caught trying to borrow $4 billion from middle eastern financiers, he was removed from office by the Governor-General. His attempts to regain office with the held of $500,000 of election funding from Iraq were unsuccessful. He seems to have been an Aussie version of Jim Callaghan, Michael Foot and Bob Maxwell all rolled into one.
I mention this because The Australian newspaper voted him Australian of the Year following his election. A historical curiosity with the benefit of hindsight, but it came to mind when the same newspaper similarly named Kevin Rudd the other day. The Rev Kev has also been working hard at ruining the economy, by massive and pointless expenditure and a planned massive tax as part of his global warming goose chase, but it will probably be another little while before his reputation hits the same rock-bottom as Gough Whitlam's.
Meanwhile, Tony Blair has been examined over the origins of the Iraq war. I was always against it. It seemed to me a war that would be easy to start and hard to finish. At the time, it was generally thought that Iraq may well have had weapons of mass destruction, but that seemed to me (and still does) to be a lousy reason for a war even if it were true (which it wasn't). It would, for example, have justified the US going to war against the USSR, and vice versa. In any event, Saddam was one of the few secular leaders in the Middle East, and invasion was always certain to turn an anti-fundamentalist country into a hotbed of Islamic radicalism.
I do not say the war is always wrong, but I reckon that there is a 1/3 rule: only about a third of wars that are in fact fought out to have been fought. And the answer to fundamentalist Islamists is, "Leave them alone".
Meanwhile, fundamentalist Christians here are busy trying to get a 19th century nun called Mary MacKillop kitted out by the Pope as a saint. To get to be saint, it seems you need a couple of miracles. The Catholic Journal Kairos tells the story:
Now, what is odd about this story is its reception. If there are nutters out there who want to believe that praying to a nun who died 100 years ago is going to cure you of cancer, well, it's a free world and as long as they don't do it in the street and frighten the horses, away you go. But curiously, the nation seems to have suspended disbelief, and is busy hoping that Aussie Mary will make it through. The fact that this is all barking mad superstitious claptrap fades into irrelevance. For the Aussies, it is like cheering for Kleyton when he is two sets down.
24th January 2010
Safety LastI have been fined $250 for doing 59 kph in a 50 zone. That is just 5 mph over the posted limit! I spend enough time at it is looking at my speedo instead of the road - it must surely be dangerous to take such an absurdly rigid approach to speed, but I am sure that it is revenue that drives it. It is particularly unfortunate that the avarice of the politicians causes the police to be involved in their grubby tax-raising policy.
Meanwhile, my motorbike is away have its highly efficient modern braided brake lines replaced with old-fashioned rubber ones. This is in order to satisfy the Vehicle Inspection people here. They said, "Yes, we know that your lines comply with the rules, but they do not have the required stamp on them referencing the Australian standard. So we will not allow you to drive your motor bike until you remove them." These are the same people who insisted that I remove the safety mirrors and the padded sun visors from my Bristol before they would pass that. Apparently, safety mirrors (i.e. the ones which are slightly convex, so as to provide a bigger field of view) are banned, because someone thought that maybe a driver would be fooled into thinking that reflected objects are further away than they really are. As far as I can see from my research, accidents are not caused by a driver being so fooled, bu there have been many, many accidents caused by drivers pulling out without having seem a car behind them. There are papers showing that convex mirrors are safer. So are we allowed to make up our own minds about which sort of mirror to have? Oh no! For a while I drove around with the regulation flat mirrors, but I found it was so dangerous that I had the safety mirrors put back on. Quite why padded sun visors are illegal is a complete mystery to me. Perhaps they think that I will play with them like a child with a teddy bear until a wire comes out and pokes me in the eye.
I have water lilies now in the new garden pond. I wanted ornamental pond fish (koi carp) by they are illegal here. Perhaps they think they might escape and bite the sharks. Hamsters are banned here too, presumably in case they escape and terrorise the dingoes. So I have bog standard goldfish. They seem perfectly happy though, and thrash around expectantly at feeding time. And Cricket is probably happier without hamsters.
India's senior-most glaciologist V K Raina published some research a little while back saying that the Himalayan glaciers were not going to have melted away by 2035, as predicted by the IPCC, and and response the IPCC Chairman Dr. Rajenda Pachauri described Raina's work as “arrogant” and “voodoo science“. The IPCC has since reluctantly admitted that Raina was right. Here is a cartoon from the Times of India. But here in Australia, there is still a widespread feeling in the media that taking the piss out of the climate change industry is a sort of blasphemy.
We watched TV last night: Lleyton Hewitt played Marcus Bagdadis at the Australian Open. The Aussie are so sports mad and competitive that they were all supporting Lleyton (pronounced, properly, Kleyton if you pay any attention to the double "L", which his parent probably did not) as the Aussie. But my sympathies were with Bagdadis, who seems an imaginative and attractive player. Whilst Lleyton behaves like a graceless bully.
Why is it, by the way, that so many Spanish players, both men and women, grunt so much as they play? It is not nice.
Anne Robinson is reputed to have made a killing from her investment in the movie Avatar. Which is kind of fitting, really.
17th January 2010
Driving ColoursAustralian media are still very quiet about climategate. Nothing here like the hour-long treatment by John Coleman in the USA. If the opinion polls are anything to go by, all this thoroughly worthwhile if mildly folksy sort of debunking may all be irrelevant: what is concerning the people of today is not how to save our planet, but how to save Pandora. Or perhaps just how to get hold of a 10 foot tall blue girlfriend. I suppose it is a harmless enough fantasy, particularly if you are living in the the Northern Hemisphere and being snowed on all day long. Although it seems that a number of people are getting depression after seeing it, as the dreary truth dawns on them that this fabulously beautiful make-believe world is not really real. Jeanie bought me a copy of Avatar, the Game, but it is disappointing, with none of the great special effects from the movie. Odd. You would have thought that having gone to the trouble of creating all the virtual people for the movie, they could readily be moved across to a PC environment, but no. A much more satisfying visual impact is achieved by the unpromisingly-named Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, which is great, as far as that sort of thing goes.
Here in Australia, the weather is just perfect: not too hot, not too cold, but just right. I have been reading Iain Bank's book on whisky, which confirms all one's suspicions about his character that emerge from reading his science fiction. It seems odd that such a rabid socialist could also be a petrol head, but apparently he has now sold all his fun cars and bought a hybrid. Iain Banks does, incidentally, appear to be wrong about at least one of his motoring stories: at page 164 he says a Jaguar E-type was responsible for bringing in speed limits following a 150 mph test on the M1. In fact it was an AC Cobra Coupe doing 185 mph early one summer morning, as a warm up for Le Mans. I remember the fuss at the time: there was even a Giles cartoon on the story.
This promises to be an interesting year for motor racing. For the first time in a long while (ever?) this year will be a 3-corned fight on national, or at least cultural, lines. The Brits have two world champions, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, driving for McLaren. The Germans have multiple world champion Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg driving for Mercedes. The Latins have the Spanish former world champion Fernando Alonso and Brazilian Felipe Massa driving for Ferrari. And then, just to add a dose of neutrality, there is the Austrian team Red Bull.
I liked it when the cars were in national colours: Red for Italy, silver for Germany, British Racing Green for the Brits, blue for the French and so on. This year, Ferrari (as usual) are in red. Mercedes will probably plump for silver. Will McLaren go for green?